Category Archives: Family

My bed is in a small town

It should not have come as a surprise that it gets dark earlier in New Jersey than it does in Los Angeles, yet somehow this phenomenon caught me off-guard.  Even after experiencing the pitch-dark London winter afternoons, I somehow had forgotten that moving north moves up December evenings rather dramatically.  It is dark here early.

In Los Angeles, I never noticed the nighttime like I do here.  There were streetlights and store lights and so many homes close together with car doors slamming and teenagers laughing.  Night was never really night because there were always sounds and sights to break into it.

Here, in this little town, they have night.  Real night, disturbed by relatively few streetlights.  The Christmas lights on most of the houses break up the visual silence right now, but the cars are few and far between after 7:00.  People are home, and there is no place to go.

I am living in a small town.

Not since I was (as they say) knee high to a grasshopper have I lived in a place like this.  I spent my teen years in a busy suburb that at the time seemed dead to me, so I set off for an urban campus and never looked back.  For almost twenty years I have lived in or very close to cities, as long as the likes of Chapel Hill and Charlottesville can be called cities.  They can be, I think, because they have that intense walkability, where ice cream shops and bars are all a quick stroll at the end of a busy day.

It bears repeating: this is a very small town.  There are no bars or, come to think of it, ice cream shops.  There aren’t any coffee shops, book stores, toy stores, Gymborees, Gaps, sporting goods shops, or gelaterias.  Of course, those things are all a quick drive away, either one town over or just up the highway.  We are not, after all, in the Himalayas.  It is weird, setting out along the highway and entering the world of commerce, because here in town there are the following businesses: one sandwich shop, one restaurant, one car repair shop, one hair salon, one dentist, and one Lionel train enthusiast store.  That’s it.  People who live here have chosen a life without quick access to the flotsam and jetsam of American commercial life, and so they come home at night and stay at home.

Urban life affords a certain anonymity that I had come to take for granted.  Not so here.  Dropping Zach off at kindergarten the first day, the aide looked up and smiled.  “Oh, you just moved in down the street from me!”  Recalling the previous day’s bike ride, which featured me hollering repeatedly at Benjamin to stay to the side of the road, I tried my best to smile in return.

After that first kindergarten drop-off, I drove the 27 seconds down the road to Benjamin’s preschool.  If we buy in this town, we hope to buy closer to the elementary school so that I can walk that short distance.  Yes, I mean to use the definite article here, as there is only one elementary school.  And two preschools.  Dropping off Benjamin, I see many of the same mothers I have seen just moments before outside the elementary school.  Because they are almost all mothers.

I took Benjamin into his classroom.  His preschool teacher smiled at me.  “You just moved in down the street from me,” she remarked.  Fuck.  Note to self: stop yelling at the kids in public.

We have chosen this town because it allows us to slow down.  Despite being an hour from New York City, this town is a throwback to a quieter time.  There is a town Christmas tree lighting, featuring Santa arriving on the fire truck.  A week later, as a nod to the changing times, the town has a menorah lighting.  Mid-morning, if I am out driving or walking, the dog-walkers and joggers wave, just in case I am someone they know.  Across the street from our rental house is a boy from Zachary’s kindergarten class.  It is charming, but I fear it will start to chafe.

No, I know it will start to chafe.  There will be a long period of discomfort, after the novelty has worn off, when I realize I have intentionally denied myself the energy and vitality of the urban life.  Yet, I believe, I truly do, that once we get past that period, we will find something less glittery than urban conveniences that is nonetheless worth putting up with everybody knowing our business.

Unclear on the concept

“I am NOT wearing a coat,” Zachary exclaimed.  “I am NOT cold.”

“Dude, that’s because you’re inside,” I explained.  To my child, this was faulty logic.  If it is warm enough inside, it is most likely warm outside.  Welcome to the reasoning of the five-year-old transplant from Southern California.  He complains bitterly about wearing a coat in the car or even to go outside.

His brother, on the other hand, has embraced cold-weather fashion.  Having inherited Zach’s old pink mittens from London, Benjamin insists upon putting them on every time he leaves the house, even in the middle of a mild afternoon.  He also wants a hat, a coat, and – if we would allow it – his snow boots.

Lilah, wisely, has figured out that a coat means she gets to go outside.  So she has stopped fighting it.  But the hats?  She is pissed about the hats.  And mittens restrict her thumb access, so you can probably figure out how well those go over.

Imagine my surprise when – the second day of school – Zachary informed me that he had worn his coat all morning.  “You wore it all day?” I asked, glancing up at the teacher.

She shrugged.  “We asked him several times if he wanted to take it off.”

“It’s cozy,” Zach explained.  So, let me get this straight.  He won’t wear a coat in the car, bitches about it outside, and yet wears it all morning in a public school that is comfortably heated to something just under tropical.

I think my kids are a little confused by the move.

The other thing that seems to be causing trouble is this whole multi-level house thing.  Having lived in a little ranch house, they think the tiny three-floor rental is a goddamned palace.  A dangerous palace, however, as they keep tumbling down the stairs.  I have provided them with slippers, but they seem to think those work better as weapons than as protection for their feet.

Zachary scored the best room in the entire house – the attic.  Seriously, if there were a way to get the king-sized bed up there, I would totally switch rooms with him.  He is delighted to have his own space, and he has meticulously laid out trinkets, toys, and books on perfect angles.  Unfortunately, he is also totally freaked out by being up there alone.  Both boys, in fact, seem to be terrified of being on a different floor by themselves.  Like twenty-something women on their way to a restaurant bathroom, they require company every time they go upstairs to get something.  Which can be awfully complicated as they inevitably get into a fight and end up falling down the stairs once again.

It’s all so confusing to them.  The kids pull out their umbrellas at every chance in the house, but then they drag those umbrellas behind them, upside down, in the rain.  Benjamin, having learned from his teachers that December has started and snow will be arriving, keeps asking, “It’s December yet?  Is it snowing out?”  Since he is looking out the window and there is clearly no snow falling, the only thing we can determine is he has absolutely no idea what he’s looking for.

I’ll bet you can guess which book I read eight times today.

Where they have to take you in

The kids and I have been staying with my in-laws for eleven days now while J finished up at his Los Angeles job and a truck with all our worldly belongings traveled across the country.  J is now up in New Jersey, meeting with movers, registering for school, waiting for the cable guy, visiting the DMV, and generally being useful.  He will drive down to meet up with us either late today or early tomorrow, which means he’ll be traveling just before Thanksgiving along with 97% of the other vehicles on the West Coast.

All I can say about how staying with my in-laws is going is that we are damned lucky they haven’t thrown us out yet.  The house is filled with all sorts of exotic accents that are irresistible to my children.  Like stairs.  Lilah, not used to having stairs around, is obsessed with climbing yet not necessarily particularly skilled at the return route.  Fortunately, her grandfather took it upon himself to give her some tutelage on how to descend the steps, somewhat alleviating my anxiety.

Another fancy touch they have here is the toilet paper.  At child-level.  We don’t really keep toilet paper anyplace children can reach it in our house, so all three of my kids think it is some sort of newfangled toy.  At one point, Benjamin and Zachary removed all the paper from all three rolls of paper in the powder room and also emptied the box of tissues, while at the same time their sister was upstairs diligently unraveling another two rolls of paper in the hall bathroom.

Slightly more unusual is the laundry chute.  I, myself, think it is kind of cool.  The boys cannot get over it.  There is a lid they can lift plus a hole they can throw things in.  It’s basically begging for experimentation in the laws of gravity.  We have learned thus far that a box of diaper wipes does clog the chute while board books and sippy cups slide right on down.  Envelopes with paid bills in them only get stuck in the chute if inserted after the box of diaper wipes, whereupon my mother-in-law spends an hour-and-a-half trying to find the envelope she knows she left sitting on her bed.

Unfortunately, because we have so diligently enforced “yellow let mellow” in our own house, flushing the toilet is also a novelty.  So, Benjamin decided to test the mettle of the toilet by flushing down his toothbrush.  Plumbers are much more expensive on Saturdays, in case you were wondering.

He is lost, my Benjamin.  He cannot understand fully that he is going to a normal place with a normal school and lots of nice children.  He just does not have the cognitive ability to comprehend that the world is not flat, and we are not about to jump off the edge.  All he knows is he has been ripped out of one place, is only temporarily in this other place, and there is a big void in front of him into which he is about to be shoved with absolutely no warning.  So, while Zachary verbalizes his anxiety and Lilah suddenly learns how to talk and walk, Benjamin acts out.  We have swept up one glass and one bowl, loosened all the light bulbs in his bedroom, and – it goes without saying – revoked all unsupervised toothbrushing privileges.

This Thanksgiving, I will be grateful for many things.  We are back on the East Coast.  We will be heading up to our new home on Friday.  The kids will be starting school on Monday.  Our family is entering a new situation that could really improve our quality of life.

Mostly, however, I will be grateful that J’s parents haven’t thrown us out on our asses.


We spent last week in an empty house, sleeping on borrowed air mattresses.  I say “we,” but my husband was away on business – the last such obligation for the old job – so it was me and the three kids in a house pretty much devoid of belongings, save a couple of sippy cups.  To make matters more complicated, there was no school on Wednesday.  Too much of a wimp to face an entire day alone with three kids in a completely empty house, I took all three to Day Out With Thomas.  We had a blast.  I looked around for the t-shirt that said “I survived Day Out With Thomas alone with three small kids,” but I couldn’t find one.  Apparently, I’m the first to make it out alive.

Lilah felt it the most.  She’s at that age when she is exploring things, but there were no Things to explore.  Plus, Benjamin was alleviating his boredom by punching and sitting on her.  I tried to give him time-outs, but where the hell was I supposed to sit him?  In the middle of the living room floor?  I tried the empty closet.

“Close the door,” he commanded as I turned to walk away.

“No.  I am not going to shut you in the closet.”

“Why not?” he wanted to know.

“Because it’s dark and scary in the closet with the door closed.”

“Close the door,” he repeated.  I stood outside the closet as he opened and shut the door from inside, turning the only possible method of discipline into a game.  I guess at least he found something to entertain himself.

The airport hotel Friday night was only marginally better, mostly because J was there.  We were awfully relieved to get to the airport on Saturday.  We rushed through security and made a potty break.  While J went to buy the water we’d need for the flight, I had the boys play a running game that we do before every flight to get the wiggles out.  They did fine with running and touching a sign down the hall.  Then I told them to run around a group of chairs three times.  I forgot to give Benjamin the crucial instruction to look ahead of him while he ran.  Which is how, on the second go-round, he ran straight into the corner of a public telephone.

Head wounds bleed a lot, as we have discovered on several previous occasions with this child.  But we had 20 minutes before our flight.  The flight we were taking to move a family of five across the country.  If the child wasn’t vomiting and there were no bones sticking out, we were getting on the damned plane.  We scored a Band-Aid from the woman at the gate and figured we’d deal with it when we landed.

Five hours later, he had definitely bled through the Band-Aid.  My father-in-law bought us a new Band-Aid as we made our way towards baggage claim, while my mother-in-law emailed a plastic surgeon she knows.  Two hours later, we were in the ER, getting Benjamin’s head sewn back together by a top-notch plastic surgeon.

So, here we are – bunking with relatives while our stuff travels across the country and waiting for Benjamin’s head to heal.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sweeter than sugar

We have always been a low-sweets household, but we’ve not wanted to be the parents who say their kids can never have sweets.  We all know how those kids turn out.  I have tried to ferret out the hidden sugar in breads and processed foods so that we can surreptitiously cut back on the kids’ intake of partially hydrogenated corn syrup and sugar without them recognizing our tight fist of authority.

Recently, we came to the conclusion that Benjamin has a bit of an issue with refined sugar.  Namely, he cannot seem to control himself.  I don’t mean he cannot control himself around sweets.  I mean he is totally insane.  I often suspect he misbehaves not because he wants to but because he simply cannot help himself.  We decided to limit his sugar intake even further to see if that would allow him to remain in control.

But, not wanting to be those parents, we figured there should be exceptions for birthday cakes and occasional nights out for ice cream.  Both of which he had last week.  And after both of which we found him pissing all over the bathroom floor, cackling with glee.

OK, maybe no sugar at all for awhile.  Cutting sugar from my diet has made a huge difference in my mood swings, so we think he may have similar trouble processing it.  I informed his teachers, since he gets most of his sugar at school.

Let’s pause for a minute and review that statement.  Does anyone see anything wrong with that?  His school is giving him sweets.

Whenever I have brought it up, albeit tentatively, the response has been, “You have to give kids treats now and again.”  To which, sure.  But shouldn’t the right to hand out sweets be reserved for the person who is also doling out the broccoli?  Why does the school get to give out all the treats and Mommy has to be in charge of vegetables?  That hardly seems fair.  I think teachers should hand out sugared stuff in a one-to-ten proportion to nutritious food.  If all the snacks are asparagus and fava beans, sure, go for it, pour the kid some grape juice now and again.  If, however, snacks are regularly Goldfish and graham crackers?  Well, you’ve kind of already used up your allotted portion of empty calories and partially hydrogenated anything.  You don’t get to hand out sugared sweets.

Between the birthday celebrations (and why are parents encouraged to bring in cupcakes for that?), classroom parties for Grand Day and the umpteen Jewish holidays the children must celebrate, and the regular use of Cheerios as snacks, there is a hell of a lot more sugar flowing out of that preschool than there ought to be.

Hence my comment to the teachers last week.  “We’re trying to severely limit his sugar intake,” I told them as Benjamin attempted to climb the built-in cubbies.  “For obvious reasons.”  I reminded them on Friday, when I was in the class for Shabbat, another “special occasion” that falls every week and seems to call for cup after cup of grape juice.

So, imagine my surprise when I walked into the classroom yesterday and saw packs of Oreo cookies on the table.  (And why is a Jewish preschool using Oreos instead of Hydrox?)  “Are you feeding those to him?” I asked.

“We’re making edible dirt today!” the teachers gushed.  “Crumbled up Oreos in chocolate pudding with gummy worms.”  Oh.  Because that’s so much better.

“I told you we’re trying to keep him away from sugar.”

“Well, we won’t let him have much.”  OK, that is so not the point.  The point is that we are trying to see if completely cutting out sugar helps him to control himself.  We are doing an experiment here.

And so, when I picked him up at school and was handed a cup of “edible dirt,” it took all my self-control to keep from flinging it at the teachers.  Now, I can either be unfair to my kid by telling him he cannot eat it or by putting him in a position where he cannot control his behavior and then gets punished for it.

For the record, I chose Option A.  I’m OK with being Mean Mommy.

Halloween is coming, and we’re going to have to get creative.  We’re also skipping as many birthday parties as possible.  But, ultimately, it won’t matter, since clearly the teachers plan to keep slipping him the stuff on the side.

Hunchback of West L.A.

“Stand still,” my husband told me, staring hard at the back of my head.  “Lift up your hair.”  He ran his hand along my spine at the base of my neck.  “I think you need to see a doctor.”

“Why?” I replied in my can-we-be-paranoid-some-other-time-I-am-sorting-laundry voice.


“I don’t have osteoporosis,” I told him, handing him cleaning rags to put away.  “I’m thirty-five.  I take a calcium supplement and drink milk.”

“Yeah, and it’s all going right back out to her.”  He indicated Lilah, our third child and a dedicated nurser.

The next day, I decided it was all the fault of the Baby Bjorn, which was Lilah’s preferred method of transportation/nap position.  I pulled out the back carrier, gave away the Bjorn, and figured I had heard the last of old Hump on My Back.  Except that the bump did not go away.  Over the next month, it remained, all the more visible because I never have time to wash my hair, which is perpetually pinned up.  Fine.  I’ll see the doctor.

Don’t worry: I do not have osteoporosis.  I merely have an acute case of Carrying Children Around.  It probably doesn’t help that I contort my body to reach my laptop with one hand while breastfeeding the baby.  How else am I supposed to get any writing done?

I’ve been juggling writing and children for over five years.  I revised my dissertation in Philadelphia when my first child, Zachary, was seven weeks old.  I would put him down for a nap, then rush into my study, where I would pump because everyone told me I had to make him take a bottle so that I would not be tied down.  Then, I’d ferry the milk down to the fridge, race back up to my study, pull out my dissertation director’s list of comments, implement three changes, and then go back in to get the baby who somehow needed to eat once again.

Perhaps I would have gotten more done had the child actually ever taken a bottle.  Instead, he would scream until my breasts appeared.  One memorable conversation with my dissertation director featured me whispering so as not to disturb the nursing infant while I took notes with one hand.  Now, that’s the way to makes a professional impression.

I started writing creative non-fiction in London while my second child, Benjamin, was still taking morning naps.  I’d drop Zach off at preschool, then skedaddle home, all the while hoping Ben would not fall asleep in the stroller and thereby deprive me of 45 minutes to write.

And what was I writing about?

My children were my muse.  I was learning so much about them and me and parenting that everything they said was an inspiration.  The time I spent with my kids was the flip side of my writing time.  Parenting and writing were part of the same creative act, inextricably linked with one another as I developed both my writer’s voice and my maternal identity.

It is two years later, we live in Los Angeles, and I have three children.  Firing off an essay before the children get up in the morning is no longer invigorating.  The days are long enough already, with far too much to fit in.  Every time I try to write, I am torn.  When the youngest two are napping, I could force out half-processed thoughts or I could work with Zachary on his reading.  When the boys are at preschool, I could revise lusterless prose or I could actually focus on their sister.  And sometimes, when I sit down to nurse, I don’t want to look at a laptop screen and type with one hand.  I want to look down at my last baby.

Even if I had the time, what would I write about?  I don’t go anywhere or see anyone, unless the playground and the preschool count.

My children have made my breasts limp, my stomach flabby, and they have given me a hunchback.  They are gorgeous, but their beauty has come at the expense of my own.  I do not begrudge them my youth.  I have passed it along to them willingly.  But, some days their young minds seem to be growing only by draining my own intellect, and that stings.

My lovelies, you may not be sucking all the calcium from my bones, but there are moments it feels as though you are drinking my creativity for breakfast.

Lines written as I wait for my three-year-old to come running out of his room at bedtime

I worry about Zachary, who is so up in his own head sometimes that he makes his life more complicated than it needs to be.  I have a vague suspicion of where that trait may have come from, and I feel sorry for a child who over-thinks everything from the play dates that he builds up in his little head to the reward he wants for his sticker chart.

I worry about Lilah physically.  I was never one to run to the doctor, but with this little girl I am there every other week.  Perhaps it is because she got Benjamin’s pathetic immune system (thanks to Daddy) combined with Zachary’s diminutive stature (thanks to Mommy).  Or perhaps it was the pneumonia last year that landed her in the hospital for a week as a newborn.  Or maybe she really does get sick a lot.

But the one I worry the most about is Benjamin.  Because I just don’t get him.

He seems so heedless of rules and other people’s opinions that it’s easy to believe he is actually heedless of rules and other people’s opinions.  He runs off laughing maniacally when asked to brush his teeth, he makes his body go limp when we try to get him into the house, and he screams loudly just to hear the sound of his own voice.  On Sunday, I caught him sitting on top of his baby sister.  I think he was trying to ride her.

I suspect, however, that he actually does care.  I think there is a bravado there, covering a sensitive kid with a desire for constant stimulation.  He wants to rocket around the house, but he wants us to find a way to stop him before he hurts himself.  He wants us to be engaged in his game, even though his game is getting us to stop him from scraping his fork over the table.  And we cannot find an effective way to stop him.

Stop right there, because I know you are going to offer advice.  If you are going to suggest any of the following, don’t bother, because we’re already doing it:

  • sticker chart
  • yelling
  • not yelling and talking firmly
  • taking away television privileges one minute at a time
  • removing the fork from his hand
  • time outs
  • praise for good behavior

I’m also not interested in hearing any suggestions that we give him some special time each day just with a grown-up unless the suggestion comes with an offer to babysit the other two kids while I am patiently playing knights with Benjamin.  We do the best we can to give him individual attention, but it seems the suggestion that we spend time alone with each kid each day never comes from people with three kids five and under.  (What I am looking for in posting this, in case you are wondering, is commiseration.)

Benjamin is the kind of kid who, if he lived in a house of spanking, would try to get himself spanked, just to push the envelope a little further.  He loves rules, because without them there would be nothing to break.  He is charming, he is smart, and he is loving.  He will make a mighty fine adult some day, if we can keep him alive that long.

But there are going to be some mighty tough teen years in the middle.  Perhaps I had better alert the police department now.

I’d like to lodge a complaint with the universe

It has long mystified me that otherwise rational people willingly choose to pour artificial coloring and flavoring down their gullets by the canful.  Seriously, people, if beverages were meant to be bright red and filled with tiny bubbles, nature in her wisdom would have filled the rivers with Diet Cherry Fresca or whatever that crap is called.  I just don’t get the appeal of soda, which is way too sweet and in no way resembles an actual food source.

My husband, on the other hand, loves that shit.  He drinks at least ten cans of diet soda on any given weekday.  No joke.  He claims he needs the caffeine to stay awake, which makes sense given that he is never quite sure what time zone he’s in, but it’s still absolutely astounding that the man has an esophagus left.

He promised me before we had kids that he would not let them see him drinking that crap, because for all that I want them to learn to drink alcohol responsibly, there is no earthly reason for them to think soda is an acceptable beverage.  I think he’s slipped up a bit, since every time we are in the grocery store, they point to the soda aisle and proclaim, “Daddy’s drink!”

So, when I saw in the bottom of our stroller a crushed green can with a little bit of pink residue around the rim, I knew to whom it belonged. Unlike paper bits or leaves, there is only one person in our household who buys, refrigerates, or consumes soda.  And there was no way I was going to throw it away for him, because it’s bad enough I sometimes have to get his damned soda cans out of my car.

Now, keep in mind that we fold up the stroller and put it away every night.  OK, sometimes we forget, like one night last weekend.  But most nights we bring it in, and I just left that can in the basket and folded it away.  Last Saturday, J noticed and even commented on it, whereupon I told him he could throw his own damned can into the blue bin.  Yet, come Monday morning, when he left for his business trip, there it sat, swinging along under our umbrella stroller.

Maybe it was the sick au pair who weakened me.  Or maybe I was grateful that her key had finally arrived and she could move back into her room.  Or maybe it was just because it was Wednesday and our bins were down at the curb, making it easier to empty out the rubbish in the bottom of the stroller.  Whatever the reason, I reached down to throw away the crushed diet soda can.

Sitting coyly underneath were Jeanette’s keys.

It is a credit to my sense of humor that I did not file for divorce at that moment.  I do not know whether we should blame Jeanette for leaving the keys there, even though she swore up and down she had locked her door.  Or if we should blame J for not throwing away his soda can.  What I do know is that there is one adult in this scenario who had nothing to do with the house keys sitting out in front of our house all night long, the police arriving on Saturday morning, and the au pair crashing on the couch while breathing flu-infected fumes all over the place.  Nonetheless, I managed to see the whole thing as kind of funny.

Until Lilah woke up at 3:00 from her nap with a deep, seal-like cough.  The baby had been sporting a runny nose all morning, but the cough sounded just like what Jeanette had before she developed full-blown flu.

I called the doctor’s office and made an appointment for the next morning – Thursday.  The receptionist said she’d talk to the doctor about whether Lilah should be seen sooner.  When I hadn’t heard back by 5:30 and the cough was getting worse, I called the office again.  The service picked up and said they’d page the doctor.

Fortunately, we were armed with some information.  We knew just what this illness would look like another day in, because Jeanette had already gone through it.  Plus, we knew that Tamiflu would cure this virus, because it had worked on Jeanette.  The doctor was able to call in a prescription from her car.  The only problem was how I was to get to the pharmacy to pick up said prescription.  Because by now it was 6:30, someone had to watch the kids, and Jeanette still couldn’t be near the as-yet-asymptomatic boys for another twelve hours.  Nor does she drive.  The drugs were in one place but the sick baby was in another.

I called a friend, who will hereby be known as W, since she has objected to the pseudonym of Wanda.  She came, picked up Lilah’s insurance card, and spoke to me in very calm tones while I hyperventilated before she headed off to CVS,.  Where she proceeded to wait for two hours.  It seems that the CVS did not have the dosage the doctor had prescribed, nor were they particularly willing to call around looking for it at this time of night.  Only when W insisted did they call the doctor to try to work out an alternative.

Finally, at 9:00, W arrived back at my house with capsules for me to split in half and somehow shake the dust into Lilah’s mouth.  Whatever.  At that point, I would have accepted the medicine dissolved in a large can of Diet Coke.

I took Lilah in yesterday morning for that appointment, where I was informed by the good doctor that, given that it is early October, this is probably not seasonal flu.  And, given that the baby responded to Tamiflu, it is probably H1N1.  A nasal wash would not be conclusive, as Lilah had already taken two doses of the white powder.

Fanfuckingtastic.  Needless to say, I headed right for the preschool and picked up my sons.

Because we caught it early, the Tamiflu is very effective, and after two doses Lilah had stopped sounding like a four-pack-a-day smoker trying to do a triathalon.  As of this writing, Benjamin has also begun to show symptoms.  His nose was runny and he was coughing deeply, which is usually cause for me to tell him to go get a tissue, but given the circumstances means he, too, is infected.  He started on Tamiflu last night.

My au pair is back in the saddle and no longer contagious.  Zachary has no symptoms yet, but he is pissed as hell that he cannot go to school just because his brother and sister are sick.  Today is Simchas Torah, and there is a big celebration planned.  I called all the parents in Benjamin’s class to warn them that if their kids suddenly started with runny noses and deep coughs, they should probably call the doctor.  J got back from the East Coast late last night and had to push past the police tape marked “Plague” to get to the front door.  I think he slept in contamination gear last night.

And me?  Well, my throat is a bit sore and my neck and shoulders ache.  But somehow I think that is just as likely exhaustion as anything viral.  On the bright side, with all the stress, I have baked three batches of muffins this week.  They turned out great, and I’ll post the refined recipes next week.  There’s nothing like fresh, home-baked, healthy muffins when you’re sick.

My husband, however, prefers diet soda.

Railroad train pajamas

Our new au pair has a boyfriend.  Even though she has her own private space in our detached, converted garage, we have set the house rule that he cannot stay overnight, lest our home become a den of iniquity.  He is only in town every so often, as he is a consultant, but we would prefer not to be his landing pad when he is here.  He stays with an uncle.  Perforce, Jeanette decided to travel to Atlanta this past weekend to visit him, even though she was under the weather when she left on Friday.  We put off her flu shot till this week, once she got over her cold.

Saturday morning, I looked out the window across the yard and noticed the door to her room was hanging open.  This I found disconcerting.  I called her in Atlanta, and she assured me she had locked it before leaving.

Which is how we ended up with two cops in our backyard, cautiously entering the detached garage with guns drawn.

It turns out that Jeanette had locked it improperly.  J has the spare key on his keychain, so he locked it and sheepishly thanked the nice officers for their time.  We went about our weekend, and then Monday morning, he left for his usual week of business travel, with the spare key safely tucked onto his keychain.

The smarter among you have probably figured out where this story is going.

Yes, a few hours after J had safely landed in San Francisco, Jeanette arrived home in Los Angeles, dug through her bag, and discovered she did not have her keys.  She clearly had not locked the door to her room because she had left the keys inside.  Inside the locked room.

You may be wondering why my husband has the only spare key when he travels at least four out of every five business days.  What can I say?  We just haven’t gotten around to moving the key to my keychain.

It is all OK, because we have a very comfortable couch.  For twenty-five bucks, J Fed Exed the key back to us, to arrive Wednesday morning, and our au pair hunkered down for a couple of days couch-surfing.

Whereupon she promptly developed something that resembled the plague.  That cold she had taken with her to Atlanta was a lot worse by the time she came back, oddly not ameliorated by the cross-country flight and the weekend canoodling with her boyfriend.

Tuesday morning, it was clear she was in a bad way.  Her health was probably not improved by my children awakening her at dawn’s first light.  Her eyes were barely open and she was coughing hard.  I left to take the boys to school and kept Lilah out till 10:30, hoping that would give Jeanette a chance to sleep it off.  When she came on duty at 11:30, she looked like partially digested cottage cheese.  I ran out to get Benjamin, admonishing her to wash her hands regularly in very hot water, not touch her eyes, and touch the baby as little as possible.

I also told her to make a doctor’s appointment.

When I returned, I was ever-so-pleased to learn the only appointment she could get was 2:15, when the two little ones are sleeping and I need to pick up Zachary.  I sent her off to spread contagion among the people on the bus while I frantically scrambled to find a friend to pick up Zachary while I simultaneously put the two kids down for their naps and called a locksmith.

I also baked a batch of muffins, because I still needed something to pack in the next day’s lunches.

It was rather clear to me that no one’s best interests would be served having her sleeping on the couch for another night.  It was time to pay the $75 to get her back into her room.  To her credit, Jeanette offered to pay for the locksmith.

The locksmith arrived, only to tell me that this kind of lock is impossible to open without a key and that the only thing he could do for me would be to drill out the lock on our very expensive doors.  Thanks but no thanks.

Not long after, Jeanette called to tell me she had been diagnosed with the flu and conjunctivitis.

To recap: I had an au pair who was locked out of her room and sleeping on my couch, breathing flu and smearing conjunctivitis on us all.  I had a baby who had not gotten a flu shot due to a suspected egg allergy.  I had a husband out of town on business, although that’s pretty much par for the course around here.  And I had an apparently impregnable lock on Jeanette’s door.

We dug out some hotel points and booked Jeanette a room for Tuesday night.  The last thing Lilah needs is the flu.

I decided that the boys would be getting a little extra television time while I marshaled my forces for the siege ahead.  I used a good portion of that time trying to turn off the oven light, which had been on since I removed the muffins from the oven, despite the fact that I had never turned it on.

For dinner, we ate carrots, muffins (Zachary rejected his, as they hadn’t baked as thoroughly as usual), peanut butter and jelly (except Lilah, because we didn’t have the allergy blood test results back yet), and pasta (on my portion, I put butter, olive oil, soy sauce, and parmesan cheese; don’t say a damned thing or I’ll make fun of your comfort food).  About three-quarters of the way through dinner, the doctor called to discuss Lilah’s blood test results.

As we talked, I finally figured out why I hadn’t been able to turn off the oven light after baking the muffins.  One side of the door wasn’t closing properly.  This explained why the muffins hadn’t baked quite right.  I opened the oven to try to jiggle it back into place, all the while listening to the doctor and keeping an eye on Lilah to make sure she wasn’t choking to death.

Again, I am going to guess that some of you know where this story is going.

The oven door fell off in my hand.  Actually, only half of it fell off, so I kept clutching it to keep the other half from coming off.  I stood there, still trying to listen to our doctor, holding the oven door up with one hand.  Whereupon Benjamin started talking.

Now, at this point, I probably should have asked the doctor to hold for a second and used both hands to reattach the door.  I also probably ought to have the spare key to the back room on my key chain.

I did not ask the doctor to hold on, because I she is a busy woman.  She is also a soft-spoken woman, and I have two very loud sons.  Who would not shut up.  I could not go in the other room because I was still holding the oven door on with my right hand.  Every few seconds, I had to interrupt the doctor to admonish my sons to be quiet for a minute.  No one will be surprised to learn that I got increasingly less patient as they continued to try to talk to me about whatever dross seems to be of the utmost importance to them, while I was on the phone getting the baby’s blood test results and holding the oven door on with one hand.

Given the frustration she heard in my voice, the doctor may be calling in the next few days to inquire if I am feeling overwhelmed.  I will politely direct her to read this blog post.

Lilah, it turns out, is mildly allergic to almonds, peanuts, egg whites, and garlic.  The hives that she gets every time I cook?  Probably due to the fact that I put garlic in pretty much everything short of chocolate chip cookies.

The oven door was pretty easy to reattach once I had both hands free.

My sons bit one another while I was washing up from dinner.

My au pair is out of commission for a good couple of days, at least.

And, tragically, I cannot drink, because I am still nursing the baby.

Some days are like that, even in Australia.


Lilah, who just rounded a year old, is an elegant eater.  She prefers to dine, picking up one pea at a time, as her older brothers storm through the meal beside her.  Benjamin eats like a caveman and Zachary eats like a compulsive dieter.  Their baby sister eats like a girl who realizes her mother has enough drama without more dinnertime histrionics.

She eats what we give her, selecting from amongst the morsels with measured enthusiasm.  While she prefers beans to chicken, she doesn’t whine or cry if the dinner is not her first choice.  She just eats it.  Then, when she is finished, she looks at me and starts talking as she clears off her placemat.

She is asking for dessert.

I bring in fruit, and she eats that for awhile, too.  Meanwhile, Tweedledum and Tweedledee have left the table twenty minutes ago and are pummeling one another in the living room.  J and I sit at the table, deflated, trying to pretend for a few minutes that Lilah is an only child.

It is a pleasure to feed this little girl, truly it is.  Except.  And here’s the big except.

The hives.

Oh, my god, the hives.  Everything she eats seems to make her break out in hives.  First, it was just all forms of squash.  OK, we can avoid squash.  Then it was eggs.  Fine.  Daddy and Zachary are allergic to eggs – we can handle that.  But then we noticed a few other things seemed to trigger the problem.  Like lentils.  And possibly other beans.  And tomatoes.  And chicken.

Who the fuck is allergic to chicken?

How exactly are we supposed to get protein into a child who has only one tooth but is allergic to everything?  I would prefer to limit her soy exposure, as I don’t want her getting bosoms before she leaves preschool, yet a (hormome-free) t-bone is out of the question.  She doesn’t even have enough teeth for hamburgers.  Plus, of course, I need to be cooking food for the entire family, which means that it has to be something that suits Benjamin’s tastes, Daddy’s peculiarities, and my rather high health standards.  Since Zachary doesn’t actually eat, he gets no vote.

(By the way, don’t even try to suggest things to feed her.  Please trust me when I tell you that I have thought of every possible permutation and there is some problem with every conceivable meal.  Either Benjamin doesn’t like it or J won’t eat it or it makes Lilah’s head spin around and sprout horns.)

We need to figure out to what she is allergic, as baby Zyrtec is currently her third biggest source of calories.  When Zachary got his allergy tests, they poked his back with a series of plastic prongs and then looked for the reaction, a procedure that he is in no hurry to repeat, allow me to add.  They decided he was severely allergic to eggs, which we could have told them.  He has always had a reaction to anything made with eggs unless it involves baking them with lots of grains to absorb whatever proteins make him ill.  There also seems to be a tree nut allergy, which is fine, as I cannot imagine him requesting something like a handful of walnuts or a bowl of toasted almonds.  Thank god there was no reaction to peanuts.

They prescribed an epipen, a nifty little device that his exemplary parents manage to forget to bring with them about 92% of the time.  Fortunately, Zach promptly vomits up all egg products, so we will probably never need the thing.

Lilah, however, seems to be a lot more sensitive and she is still tiny.  She needed blood tests to determine exactly what she can safely consume.  We were able to narrow the possibilities down.  I rarely feed her processed foods, so I know all the ingredients in everything she eats, but it still involved a very long line of little vials they needed to fill.

So, I was assigned the task of holding her down with my body while three technicians sucked seven vials of blood from her arm.  Baby girl did her job, too.  That consisted of screaming with fury as she vainly attempted to get to her right thumb, which was tragically the same arm out of which they were removing a third of her blood.

As soon as the technicians were finished, she stuck that thumb in her mouth and then sat on my lap and whimpered.  Eventually, when I felt strong enough to walk, I took her out to the parking lot and managed to get her to the car without hyperventilating.

As I was strapping her in, a man walked by with his child in a wheelchair.  It was clear this little boy was severely disabled, both physically and mentally.  He and his family face enormous challenges every single day.  What ails that child will not be healed with a few tubes of blood and some Zyrtec.

Lilah’s blood tests haven’t come back yet.  Yesterday, baked beans gave her hives.   I suspect there are a few more epipens in our future.