Monthly Archives: March 2010

Scene from a preschool bathroom

The girls’ room at Benjamin’s preschool is pink.  The toilets are low, requiring more concentration than I usually put into that particular activity, but the sinks are normal height.  There are stools near the sinks, usually used by three-year-olds for hand-washing, but also a lovely spot for Lilah to sit, kicking her legs and smiling, while she waits for me to pee.

As I tinkled and Lilah sat, a teacher walked in with two girls.  “Well, hello!” she exclaimed.  Lilah responded with a noise of reciprocal delight.

I zipped up and came out of the stall.  This was not one of Benjamin’s regular teachers, but she is occasionally in his classroom and knows me by sight.  She turned to Lilah.  “You must be Lucy.  Benjamin was talking a lot about you today.”

I sighed.  “No, actually, this is Lilah.  Lucy is Benjamin’s hand puppet.”

The poor teacher looked rather abashed.  “Oh, I just thought…”

“I know.  He talks about Lucy as if she were alive.  And he talks about her a heck of a lot more than he talks about his sister.  In fact, he probably would gladly trade this one in for Lucy.”  I smiled as reassuringly as I could and then led my toddler from the lavatory so we could go wait for Benjamin to come out of his classroom.  As we stood there in the hall, another teacher walked by.

“Hi, Lucy,” she sang out, patting Lilah on the head.

Kill the girls

“Today at school we played ‘Kill the Girls,’” my kindergartener tells me as I work on his sister’s lunch.

“Oh, really?” I respond.  “That doesn’t sound like a particularly nice game, Zach.”  I pull last night’s tortillas and beans out of the fridge, grabbing some leftover squash for good measure.

“I didn’t get to make a kite in school,” Benjamin whines.  “Mrs. A didn’t call me.”

“NA!” Lilah screams, which is how she says “snack,” a word that refers to any and all comestibles.

“I’m getting it, baby.”  I dump leftover Monterey Jack on the tortilla and turn on the burner.  “You’ll probably get to make one tomorrow.”  I pour more milk into Lilah’s cup then grab her to wash her hands. I turn to add beans and another tortilla to the quesadillas.

“Some kids hurt me in school,” Zach tells me.

“Who hurt you?”

“The girls in the other class.  They held me.”

“Well, what happened?”

“Ian tried to help me.  He told them they couldn’t.”

I flip the quesadillas too early and beans fly out.   “Lilah, go to your seat.  Lunch is almost ready.”

“NA!” she cries.

“It’s almost ready.  But you have to go to your seat.”  She starts toddling off to her chair, belly arriving a good fifteen seconds before the rest of the child.

“I didn’t make a kite,” Benjamin tells me.

“I know, Ben.  Zach is trying to tell me something.”  I turn the food out of the pan and grab the pizza cutter.  “First, I’m glad your friend tried to protect you.  It’s nice to have such a good friend.  You should be sure you try to defend your friends.”

“Yes, I do but they called me a name while they were holding me.”

“Here,” I say, tossing quesadillas on Ben’s and Lilah’s plates.  “What did they call you?”

“’Weak boy.’”

“They called you ‘weak boy’?”


“Mrs. A. didn’t call my name,” Benjamin mourns.

“Ben, just tell her you want to make a kite tomorrow.  But, please, let your brother finish telling me. So, did you tell the teacher afterwards?

“I couldn’t do anything.  I just went back to playing.”

Lilah is grunting and gesticulating towards the food.  I hand her another.  Then it dawns on me.  “Zach, was this while you were playing ‘Kill the Girls’?”

“Yes,” he replies, as if there is no connection between the game they were playing and the attack upon his person.

“Well, do you think that maybe they didn’t like that you guys were trying to kill them and they were trying to defend themselves?”

“Yes, but then my guards tried to stop them.  I think they learned the better of it.”  At this point, I am not sure I want to know how exactly the girls learned the better of it.  On the one hand, I am thrilled he is being included in the reindeer games, being treated as one of the guys.  If he were an outcast, he’d have been left out of the game or – as we all know – grouped with the girls.  Instead, he is definitely considered part of the group.

On the other hand, I’m not particularly thrilled with the reindeer games they are choosing to play.

“But, I didn’t get to make a kite today.  Mrs. A. didn’t call my name.”


Musings on a six-year-old

When I posted that there was much I couldn’t write about Zachary because I did not want to invade his privacy, many of you send supportive emails saying you were facing the same issues writing about your kids on your blogs.  I invited one blogger to guest post here anonymously so that she could write about the problems her son is having without fear of reprisal for him.  So, here is her post.  Please, read and respond to the below guest post as you would if you were responding to something of mine.  Help her with some support or ideas or answers (if you got ’em).


Having a boy means phone calls from school.  Since starting first grade, J’s teacher has contacted us a couple times.  Typical of a six-year-old, he never revealed there was trouble until we found out from the teacher, which resulted in some stern discussions about honesty and forthrightness.

One afternoon, after the standard, so how was your day? he breathlessly informs me it was fine and I know it was fine, so you don’t need to email [my teacher]! Red flag.  I gave him the look.  After a bit of finagling, he reveals there was an incident in gym where he made a very adult, very rude hand gesture at a classmate.  Not surprisingly, he had no idea what it meant.

After multiple deep breaths, I sat him down and insisted he tell me WHY it happened.  What had spurred such a dramatic response? I got a blank look and the standard I don’t recall. For a minute I thought I’d given birth to [insert politician’s name here].

Over an hour later he tearfully informs me that the gym teacher was giving instructions and another student was talking in his ear.  Mommy, I was trying really hard to pay attention, and he just kept talking and talking.  And I wanted to hear what the teacher said!

And that made you really frustrated, huh?

Uh huh.

Do you have trouble in the classroom, hearing the instructions?

Mmm huh.


Most parents would have been immediately been discussing how out of line his response had been.  How a distracting classmate does not merit an angry meltdown and an obnoxious hand gesture.  How inappropriate it was (because that is our generation’s parental catch phrase).

But remember the last time you tried to have a conversation in a noisy bar?  Maybe that was a long time ago, so we’ll wait … now, remember how frustrating it was?  Remember how you got some of the information wrong?  Remember the annoying guy at the movies that wouldn’t shut up?  You wanted to make an obnoxious hand gesture didn’t you?  Now imagine that your entire day is like that.

Like many parents of a child with a learning difference, I’ve known for a long time that something was off, different, an issue.  Little things are coalescing into a bigger picture.  Just a little speech therapy for an articulation problem here.  A little OT for some fine motor delay there.  Some clumsiness here, a bit of social awkwardness there.  What it all adds up to is a very loved  (yet at times very frustrating), and very bright little boy who will face a challenging time.

Most likely my son has an auditory processing disorder, along with some visual processing problems.  He is behind in reading.  He has difficulty paying attention.  He has trouble following directions.  He has a poor concept of time management.  He is not savvy in the social element of elementary school.  He cannot ride a two-wheeler bike.  He does not understand knock-knock jokes.

Although there have been preliminary evaluations, we have not embarked on complete educational testing, that will come in time.  Right now we are feeling our way forward.  Getting outside help.  Dancing around the system.  Getting ready for the day we need to push for more.

I think facing this is, and will continue to be, my biggest challenge as a parent — maybe even in my life.  The more I learn about his problems, the more certain aspects of our life make sense.  The spill over for kids with LDs goes far beyond book learning.  Social and interpersonal skills are impacted equally, and at this age these deficits feel even more prominent than his delayed reading or poor penmanship.  I try to share this with my husband – school him on the need for patience, more realistic expectations.  And yet the next day, I find myself losing it over the exact same issues.

We are fortunate.  Our son is bright and enthusiastic about learning.  He enjoys school (so far).  He will certainly be able to finish high school and likely go on to college.  However this is going to be a bumpy road.  And I worry about some pretty big pot holes.  There are days it makes me angry to have to deal with it, sad to see him face it, reluctant to give up more of myself to it.  At a time I thought I’d be rejoicing in his independence, I’m worrying about hours spent advocating, tutoring and remediating.  That makes me feel selfish, like a bad mother.  Will I fail him?  Will his younger siblings lose out?  Will our marriage suffer? What if he learns to read, but not to really make friends?  How do I explain his social awkwardness to others without penalizing him?  He needs greater consideration in some areas, but do I really need to brand him LD to everyone?  What is the right thing to do?  I hate the uncertainty.

Just Posts for a Just World

Please go over to visit Collecting Tokens or Cold Spaghetti to read some of the finalists for the Best Just Posts of 2009.  I am honored to be among the finalists, but I am not asking you to vote for me.  Rather, I am asking you to support the Just Posts and to read some wonderful writing by bloggers looking to positively affect their world.


Being something of a Luddite, I have a long, slow learning curve on new technology.  I have had an iPhone for two years, but only recently has it occurred to me that I could use the thing to play music.  I had been relying upon a few old CDs and this quaint little device called “radio.”

My husband, fed up with my backwardness, finally decided to take the bull by the horns.  A year ago, he set me up with an iTunes account and bought me this neat little cord that connects my iPhone to the car so that I can play songs directly over the car radio.  He put hundreds of songs from our CD collection on the iPhone, then showed me exactly how to download music of my own.

I used the cord once.  It requires access to a frequency on the radio not used by any station, which is does not exist in LA.  Mostly, I just got static.


But then, just a month ago, my husband got me a different cord.  Once that plugs directly into the auxiliary station on the stereo, without requiring radio access.  I am sure you’ve all heard of it and it has some iName, but I don’t know what the hell it is called.  All I know is that it works.

We dumped all the adults’ music in one folder and the kids’ music in another, the latter of which I promptly forgot about because who the hell wants to listen to kids’ music?  I want to expose the kids to the best of the music I love – Simon & Garfunkle, Pete Seeger, Norah Jones, and – this goes without saying – the theme song from Greatest American Hero.  So, we just play grown-up music, with me shouting back the names of the artists.  True, I get a little nervous when “Run to You” comes on, but honestly, it’s not like they’re paying attention to the lyrics.

And so it was that yesterday, I had Gloria Gaynor playing when Benjamin asked me a question.  I turned down the music.  “What was that, baby?”

“Mommy,” he asked.  “Can I survive?”

I think there may be a few Janis Joplin songs I ought to censor.

I can see clearly now

It was a Lion day on Saturday, with strong winds and aggressive rainfall.  It was a day for staying inside.  And we all know the best way to pass a day in the house: organizing.  In the late afternoon, as a chicken slowly roasted in the oven, I went through a batch of hand-me-downs to figure out what is going to fit Lilah as the weather gets warmer.

I have a frequently-stated policy that my kids can have dresses when they are old enough to ask for them, so Lilah – the proud possessor of a grand total of nine words – has never worn a dress.  As I went through the clothes, I pulled out a little short-sleeved, purple dress with giant white spots and two red butterflies on the pocket.

“Yeah, we tried that one on earlier today,” my husband said.  “She really likes it.”  Not that he had to tell me, as my eighteen-month-old was laughing, squealing, and pointing to her chest as she tried to tear off the cozy little overalls I had dressed her in.

She may not talk much, but I guess she’s old enough to ask for a dress.

I pulled out some other, slightly more weather-appropriate, items.  “Lilah, can you just try on these leggings?”

“Uh-uh,” she replied, shaking her head rather emphatically.

“Let’s see if this shirt fits.”

“Nah,” with a little dismissive wave of her hand.

Red corduroys, a pair of jeans, even long-sleeved dresses.  She was having none of it.  The only thing she let me put on was a pair of purple-with-white-polka-dots bloomers that match the dress.  Whatever – we were inside, she wouldn’t freeze.  I could eyeball the rest of the clothes.

“What about this?” I asked her, holding up a pink onesie with rhinestones spelling “girly girl” across the front.

“Yay!” she yelled, both hands up in the air.  Much to the amusement of my husband.

Clearly we need to get this child a subscription to Ms.

Lilah preened around the living room, stopping every time anyone said the word “dress” to pull at her chest and giggle.  The boys jumped on the couch and the smell of roasting chicken filled the house.

Then I saw several large cables falling down in my front yard just as the house went dark.

“Everyone to the back door!” I yelled, and bless their little hearts if they didn’t actually obey.  Immediately.  J ran to pack the diaper bag, while I started putting Lilah in some warmer clothes.

Whereupon she screamed at me and began flailing her arms as though under attack.

So, let’s recap.  We had three children in a house with no power and live wires down in the front yard.  We had a toddler in what basically amounted to lingerie.  And we had a half-cooked chicken in the electric oven.  Needless to say, we left the chicken, let Lilah stay in her summer get-up, and high-tailed it out the door to the car.

Our neighbor was standing on the street, cell phone in hand, hollering something to me through the winds.  Not that I could hear him until I got to the end of the driveway.

“You’re not going to be able to get out!” he shouted, which was pretty evident from that vantage point.  The downed lines blocked the road just to the left of the driveway, while a large tree blocked the road a few houses down to the right.


We buckled Tweedledum, Tweedledee, and Tweedledette into the car anyway.  If we had to, we’d drive out over the back yard.  We were not keeping these kids in the house with downed power lines.  To be fair, I wasn’t entirely sure what kinds of lines they were, but when there are four giant black cables spread out across your yard, you leave first and ask questions later.

Our neighbor directed us as we backed out and drove over a small part of his yard.  Just then, the police arrived to set up barriers, and we left the problem to the nice folks at the power company.  We went out to dinner.

If only we had remembered it was Saturday night before St. Patrick’s day.

There we sat, eating dinner and surrounded by drunken revelers wearing green facepaint.  Lilah was dressed for weather a full thirty degrees warmer.  Benjamin huddled in his new pirate rain gear, hoping for the nine hundred and seventy-second time that all this rain and snow would turn out to be some sort of horrible dream and he would wake to find himself back in the SoCal sunshine.  Zachary did the Word Find on his placemat, carefully highlighting each word in yellow after he had circled it.  Back at home, a chicken began rotting in the oven and our cellar – deprived of the benefit of a sump pump – started oozing water over all our stored belongings.

Every now and then, Lilah would throw back her shoulders, smile proudly, and point to her dress.  I think she was trying to reassure us all that spring is on its way.

And maybe she was right, because today, after four days of miserable weather, three days of no power, four inches of water in the cellar, and forty-eight degrees of temperature in our house, the sun is shining.

Sorry so silent

If I had power or Internet access, I would be posting. For the last three days, we’ve had no heat, hot water, phone, or stove. What we do have is four inches of water on the cellar. Maybe our landlords should have considered the sump pump with the backup battery. I’m just sayin’.

In which Emily overuses tree metaphors

Every time he goes outside, Benjamin points out the grass as though that evidence of spring means it will never be cold out again.  He desperately wants winter to be over.  “I don’t like this weather,” he told me a month ago.  “I like warm and beaches.”  I couldn’t help him, so I just shoved his hands into mittens and sent him out to the schoolyard to play.

But, now, little flowers are poking up and the snow is melting and we have separated the liners from the shells on their coats.  There will surely be one more snowstorm – there always is – but we are in final negotiations with winter.

Unfortunately, we are not in final negotiations on the big yellow house.  There has been one holdup after another and sadly we have had to walk away.  Which leaves us back at square one.

Not exactly square one, since we know this is the town where we want to settle.  The schools are good.  The people are nice, especially the kids, who have been amazingly welcoming.  But, the town is tiny, and so the housing stock is limited.  We need to choose carefully, because this is where we will stay.

We hope.

For a long time.

I have lived widely.  I have moved and seen and done more times than I can even count anymore.  I have experienced a great deal and have grown from the cultural grazing in which I have indulged.  I have lived abroad.  I have lived on both coasts of the U.S.  I have met fascinating people and made wonderful friends.   I have lived widely.

I have never lived deeply.

We have not, as a family, lived deeply.

I think some people are raised with long, deep roots, and those people feel the need to spread themselves as they grow older.  Others are raised with wide, spreading branches, and they feel the need to burrow down as they grow older.  My husband and I have spent our adult lives spreading, but now we both know it is time to watch the seasons pass from the same vantage point year after year.

And, to be quite honest, we think a highly sensitive five-year-old who has been moved four times in his life deserves a chance to feel like he belongs somewhere.  Even rock-solid Benjamin needs that, although I think he’d prefer to be settling on a tropical island somewhere.

I welcome the chance to live deeply, to get to know myself and my family without running all the time.  But it scares the shit out of me.

What if I discover that I don’t like myself?

Ruler of all she can see

I’m in the kitchen, peeling carrots.  I hear familiar footsteps, and turn to see her, politely standing next to me.  She is holding a large piece of semi-sheer pink fabric, bought years ago from the fabric shop up the street from our house in London.  We had bought many such remnants – a pound apiece – for Zachary to use for dress-up, and they have gotten their use over the years, even as they have been slowly chipped away for art projects, Valentine’s decorations, and – most recently – wedding dresses for Lucy.

Lilah holds up the fabric to me, grunting at me and gesticulating towards her head.  “You want me to put it on your head?” I ask.  She smiles and laughs, so I give it a shot, draping the fabric over her.  She turns and walks away, fully shrouded from head to toe and trailing a two-foot pink train behind her.

Three minutes later she is back, holding the same pink cloth and holding it up to me.  It has fallen off, and she cannot get it back over her head.  I cover her once again, and she toddles away once more.  We repeat this four more times during the course of my dinner preparations.  I never do follow her to figure out what exactly she is doing, completely covered in pink fabric.

For the next several days, she will periodically show up next to me, holding that cloth, satisfied only when she is in the full burka.  Sometimes, a girl just wants to be fancy, I guess.


We are on the floor reading books.  It is bedtime, and there is one child on either side of me, plus a Benjamin in my lap.  Lilah gets up and walks to my other side, where her oldest brother is sitting.  Without so much as a sigh, Zachary gets up and moves to my other side, ceding his seat to her.

She displaces him twice more before her turn on my lap.  It happens again the next night, too.  “You don’t have to move for her, you know,” I tell Zach.

“I know,” he answers.  “But I just like to make her happy.”


On mild winter days, Lilah has been wearing an olive green hand-me-down coat from her brothers.  With spring peeking out the last couple of days, however, I pull out a yellow windbreaker someone else handed down.  Delighted, Lilah pats her chest, indicating that she wants to wear this bright and flashy item to take her brother to school.

Later in the day, as we prepare to go for a walk, I think perhaps she should wear something heavier, so I bring out the olive green jacket.  She screams at me, clearly feeling betrayed.  Baffled, I grab for the yellow windbreaker.

“Is this what you want?”  She smiles, laughs, and pats her chest.

I am not looking forward to this child’s teenaged years.


One of the moms I met in Lilah’s swim class is a lesbian.  Whereas this fact would not have been particularly notable when we lived in Los Angeles or London or even Philly (maybe especially Philly), here in WhiteStraightChristianland, I was a bit startled to discover someone batting for that particular team.  We don’t get a lot of lesbians out here in Rockwelland.

I mentioned this strange hetero homogeneity to a woman with whom I have become friendly.  She herself had lived in cities most of her life until a year ago, when she moved out here.

“Well, you’re in the suburbs now,” she sighed.

People keep referring to this town as the suburbs, but it’s hard for me to really define the town that way.  Suburbs are less than an hour train ride into the city.  Suburbs don’t feature things like bears and mountain lions.  Suburbs are bristling with self-importance because they are Part of the Big City, only with bigger yards and two-car garages.

To me, we are way out in the boonies, far from the hustling crowds.  The biggest events here are the high school production of Guys and Dolls and the monthly pancake breakfasts at the Masonic Lodge.

And that’s what I like about it.

While the monochromatic population is bizarre, being this far from a city seems to level the population.  Folks are pretty down-to-earth.  Yeah, there are name brands and social jockeying, and really the North Face obsession is a little out of hand.  But, for the most part, people seem to be grounded.

People spend time with their kids.  Families are large and siblings play with one another.  People skate on the lake or hike or ski.   We’re just a little town out among a lot of other little towns, sandwiched between a bunch of highways because, after all, this is New Jersey.  We are far enough from the city that we all know we’re not hip or cutting edge or whatnot.

J and I have lived for so long in cities that consider themselves the center of the universe: London!  Los Angeles!  Washington!  Here, we know we’re not the center of anything, except a state highway and a couple of Interstates.  We’re just a town with some nice old houses, a few lakes, and some excellent hiking trails.  There are other equally inconsequential towns all around us.  Here, people seem just to live their lives, without the constant battle to declare themselves important.

I miss the diversity of the city.  I miss the convenience of the karate studio down the street.  But, I do not miss the noise, the congestion, or the pretension.

The teenagers across the street babysit for us.  The eldest is hearing from colleges, many in large cities.  She should go to a big city.  She should learn that there is a wide, wide world out there and many exciting things to be done in an urban center.  Someday, our kids should go to school in a big city and learn those same things.

We, on the other hand, already know that, and we are looking forward to the next pancake breakfast at the Masonic Lodge.