Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Gross Anatomy of Childhood

Fair warning: this post is gross. If you don't like feet, toes, or doctors, stop right here.

Still with me? You sicko! 

Childhood health is strange. I don't remember being sick at all as a kid, not until chicken pox in the first grade, really. That's good, because it gives me hope that my children will also block out their own childhood maladies. What seems so minor can turn into a BIG THING pretty quickly.

Today, we headed out to one of my fortresses of parenthood survival, the Coastal Children's Museum in Rockland. It's a bastion of peace for parents of small children. James and Violet can both run amok in the place, and as long as we all keep the various toys in the rooms in which they belong (which is apparently much less complicated than doing the exact same thing at my house) and don't cause injuries that leave scars on other kids, it's all gravy. 

On the way there, Violet wouldn't stop screaming, "Ow! Hurt! Hurt! Toe! Hurt!" I reached back, took her socks off, and felt her feet - they seemed fine. She kept screaming, and I began to wonder if we had different ideas about what "hurt" meant. Like, maybe she meant, "It's a pain in the ass to be strapped to this lousy car seat!" For 45 minutes, from Belfast to Rockland, she screamed at me about how much she hurt. She would grab one foot, and then the other, and then yell.James, who was in the best visual proximity, told me that her feet looked fine to him. 

After 45 minutes of yelling, we finally made it to the museum, all slightly deaf, I'm sure. Why, you might ask, didn't I stop before then? Well, once I determined, from feeling and from seeing-eye-James, that there was no blood and no bones were broken, I figured that whatever it was would be best served by arrival at the museum.

I parked the car and immediately turned around to examine her feet in greater detail. To my surprise, I discovered the source of the problem almost immediately - it's easier to do a visual assessment when your eyes aren't supposed to be, you know, on the road, to prevent certain death and all. Violet had an ingrown toenail. I was completely flabbergasted, though. Not because James hadn't seen it - I mean, how the hell would he know what an ingrown toenail looked like? He had never had one! But that's where my confusion came in - I didn't know kids could get ingrown toenails. And I sure as heck had no idea what to do for one on a kid. If it was me, I'd go to the doctor and have it cut out, or cut it out myself. I can handle pain. I'm a grownup, most of the time. But a toddler? The thought made me wretch.

"Violet, do you still want to go to the museum?" I asked.

"YAH!!" (Violet's a closet German right now)

"But does this hurt too badly to play?"

"NO. Hurt. Want moo-em." 

I gathered, correctly, that meant her toe hurt but she was going to be damned if she let that stop her from wreaking havoc at the children's museum. I looked up "toddler ingrown toenail" on my phone. Some people said go to the doctor, some said soak it three times a day in warm water and use antibiotic ointment. I opted to initially try the latter, especially since she was determined to go. So, gingerly, I put her socks back on (no bare feet in the museum, because ick, feet) and we headed in.  She and James ran up and down the climbing structures, the slides, hammered nails, banged on drums...all as per normal, and lasted their average hour and a half before getting hungry for a healthy lunch. (Ahem. I'm not going to admit right here what they really had for lunch.) 

She started complaining about her toe hurting again in the car, but I gave her a bottle of milk so that she would at the very least forget about it for awhile and doze. She is no longer what I call transferable, though - as soon as I placed the car in park in our driveway, her eyes flew open. 

"Violet, do you want a bath?" I said.


"With bubbles?"


The bubble bath lasted about ten minutes, longer than usual, before she wanted to run around the house screaming like a naked, wet banshee. But while she hadn't complained of pain while in the tub, as soon as she got out and started to run, she started to cry.

This was not okay with me. 

Both of my kids are tough. I think kids in general probably are, when given the opportunity. This particular kid had a big fall two days prior that resulted in a bloody scraped knee, and she didn't even cry. So crying in pain meant something really hurt.

I called the doctor's office. First, they had an appointment with Dr. K. I barked, "No, not Dr. K. She doesn't believe in modern medicine, she'll send me with instructions on homeopathy or something. Someone else." See, Dr. K's crusade to fight the over prescription of antibiotics - an excellent crusade, by the way - manifests itself in an unwillingness to give anyone antibiotics, ever. And if my kid's got a damned infection that hurts, I want someone who prescribes them when they're needed. 

The receptionist chuckled. "Okay. Dr. N has an appointment at 5." Fine. Dr. N's good. He has sent me home telling me I'm overreacting to something and he has also sent me home with prescriptions for stuff when needed. I trust his opinion and I trust that whatever ideological crusade he's on won't completely cloud his decisions one way or another.

Well, poor Dr. N. He ended up with us in the exam room for nearly 45 minutes. We both wrestled with trying to keep the topical anesthetic on her toe for long enough to numb it and she kept doing her best to thwart our efforts. Dr. N did an awesome job speaking to Violet like a person, too, which is good, because she's pretty verbal and responds well to people who do that. And she IS a person, for goodness' sake. But she was frantic. She didn't understand what the word "numb" meant and she sure as heck didn't embrace this concept of "waiting" or, especially "sitting still."

I won't go into further details, but by the end of it, some of the topical anesthetic had managed to stick around, some small amount of stuff had been trimmed and sterilized, and a strong antibiotic to combat what I now understood was an infection was prescribed. Every three hours, as needed, she could have Tylenol or Ibuprofen, alternating. And, last but not least, it was highly possible that both Dr. N and I would be needing hearing aids in the fairly immediate future. We grabbed our prescriptions at the pharmacy and headed home.

So, finally, after a dinner of Thai food, some Blue Planet on Netflix, and a bottle, she's asleep in her crib. Thank goodness. After today, I understand why people used to give their babies bourbon.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Be gentle with your brother. NOW!!!!!

How does a calm and collected parent get the 18 month old to stop hurting the 4 year old? Even the most idealistic NVC practitioners know that it's useless before about two-and-a-half. But one thing about NVC - and probably any parenting practice you take up, that suits your personality, for that matter - is that the language component really becomes habit. It did in my case, anyway. I've always been a big fan of clear explanations and reasoning, so the process of whittling down feelings to needs and then parsking out how those needs can be effectively met is really satisfying.

However, while my daughter has been very focused on language development and communication, her empathy levels are right where every other toddler's are: nonexistent, or nearly so. I can tell her I'm sad because she hit her brother a gazillion times and she will sit there gleefully thwacking him again and again. Redirection is a wonderful tactic, and for every parent who is able to muster the energy and creative function to do this every single time, I offer serious applause.

I am not one of those parents.

About a month ago, I was folding laundry in my bedroom when chaos reached new heights. James had something that belonged to him, and Violet wanted it. They argued about it for quite a while, at least in terms of small-child-time. Being the caring and attentive mom that I am, I practiced my favorite parenting technique: willful ignorance. It became more and more difficult to practice, though, the louder it got, until I was finally forced to realize that Violet was hitting her brother, repeatedly.

I tried the nice route. "Violet. Gentle. Please be gentle with your brother." Yes, she knows exactly what the word "gentle" means. Gentle means the dog won't snap at you for being an obnoxious twerp! She does this weird thing, though, when I tell her, "Gentle." She will hit or pinch herself - hard! - and say "Ouch!" So I'm comfortable in the knowledge that she knows the difference. Evidently she just likes to demonstrate it on herself - and on her brother. 

She pulled the self-inflicted "ouch" card twice before resuming hitting her brother. How hard can a one year old hit, really? Truthfully, not very hard - but hard enough to be annoying. Plus, what's not hard to me, the grownup, is certainly hard to James, the four year old, without question. Although you'd never know that, if you only talk to James about it. 

Why do I say that? Because after a round of "Violet, I'm sad that you're hitting your brother. You're hurting him. That's making him sad. Okay, Violet, now I'm getting mad. Please stop hitting your brother. I need James to feel happy. I need you to stop hitting your brother," I was at the end of my rope. Finally, I raised my voice. Dramatically.


She stopped. And promptly burst into tears. 

I had no sympathy. Who could, really, when she'd been an assault weapon for the past several minutes? 

James, that's who. The kid who had been covering his head with his hands to shield himself from toddler violence glared at me disapprovingly. "Mom. You should not yell at Violet!"

I threw up my hands in the air. "Okay, James, but I tried to be nice! I wanted her to stop hitting you! And I couldn't figure out how else to do it!"

He looked at me, his face serious. "Well, you need to come up with another way of dealing with it."

And with that, my morality police officer and his violent little minion sister stalked out of my room,  together. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Damned for a Day

Wait a minute. Damned? Unitarian Universalists don't believe in damnation. That would go against, like, every single one of the seven principles! So how could I possibly have been damned? Well, it all started with playing hooky from church one Sunday.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

YRUU resumes, Mom Mental Health Score +1

Is it too weird that I'm happy for a break from my preschooler and toddler, one that involves hanging out with a bunch of teenagers? If it is too weird, too bad - that's my definition of a break. I am beyond thrilled that I got to hang out with my youth group this afternoon, without my little monsters.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Angry Chicken: Enrage +5 Attack

Those of you who have never played Hearthstone have absolutely no idea what the headline is talking about. For the unenlightened: Hearthstone is an app-based game that plays like a World-of-Warcraft-influenced game of Magic: The Gathering. Never played World of Warcraft? I'm sure someone you know has ruined his or her life by playing it. At least, that's what the media says. Never played Magic: The Gathering? Please visit the Game Loft in Belfast, Maine, for an introduction to non-electronic gaming. Everyone can use a little Magic. But what does this have to do with parenting, particularly of the UU inclined?

Monday, August 31, 2015

And the trashiest parent award goes to...

Spoiler alert: my dad. Just kidding, sort of. Ultimately the reason I'm giving it to my dad is because I think he'll be proud of it. But I might be unwittingly providing fairly stiff competition...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A "Middle" Money

I'm visiting my mom - and her mom - in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, in the house my mother grew up in. My younger brother and one of my aunts are here, too. It's nearly 4am, and I can hear my brother playing some video game on his phone in the other room, because he's 21 and on vacation from work, obviously. How could he possibly go to bed any time before five?!!! And anyway, what kind of fun would it be for my slightly sadistic aunt, if she didn't have the opportunity to bug him while he's only been sleeping for an hour or something at 8am?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Virginity: creating an image of sex as a purchase

Growing up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood that was dominated by the Southern Baptist church at its center, I was hell-bent on fitting in. Yes, bad pun intended. Seriously, though, I desperately wanted to fit in, and my family didn't go to church, especially not the Southern Baptist kind. I was confirmed in a liberal United Methodist church in downtown Houston, far from my conservative suburban neighborhood. My Methodist confirmation classes had absolutely nothing to say about sex. Zero. It didn't occur to me that sex was in any way related to religion until I started going with one of my friends to the Southern Baptist church. That's where I learned that "True Love Waits."

Sunday, August 9, 2015


When I first took the "New to UU" class at my church and began getting to know the minister, he asked if I had grown up Catholic. "No, but with my guilt, I'd sure make a good one, wouldn't I?" I laughed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

NVC, Falconer Family Style

When James was two-and-a-half years old, I begged our minister to teach a class on non-violent communication (NVC) for parents. I hate the name of the communication style, even though I've discovered I admire its creator, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, immensely. But a class on "non-violent communication" makes it sound like I'm going to rehab for beating my husband.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Richard Scarry's Best Book of What?

I have to say a word of thanks to my dear friend Francine, the Jewish mother I never had, for giving James Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever. I now get to read a gazillion words a night, from bulldozer to apple tree and everything in-between. Francine is probably cackling maniacally to herself as I write this, aware that she has passed on a warm, fuzzy tradition, as she's been stuck in my shoes during her own time as a parent of small children. How many times can we read all of the words on the "Work Machines" page, and how many pages can we get through in a night?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is this working?

I've often wondered, over the last four years, whether I'm doing the right thing for my family by staying home with the kids. I have friends who work full-time and I have friends who stay home, and each of my friends seems to be doing the right thing for his or her family unit. But am I doing the right thing for mine?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What did you (I) say?

Yesterday evening, James was whining. This is nothing new; we're evidently going through a whiny phase. There's evidence to suggest it's nearly over, though, and during certain times, I'm confident I've handled it pretty well. At least a few times I've said, "James, it's hard for me to listen when you're whining. It hurts my ears and I get really irritated." I'd say that about 50% of the time that has led him off of the whining path. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Please (Don't) Follow My Facebook Example

Today, I placed the following status on my Facebook page: "How do I know you're from Mass? It's not the gentrified, luxury SUV that parks itself and makes you pancakes while getting 3 miles to the gallon with Mass license plates. No, it's the snotty-ass look you gave me when I smiled and waved when you "allowed" me to back out of my parking space at Hannaford. Shall we call it 'resting Masshole face'?"

A good friend pointed out that this wasn't exactly in line with UU principles, and she's right. But this blog isn't just about UU principles - it's about my foibles as a UU parent. So what does this bitchy Facebook comment have to do with that?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Explaining Things to a Four-Year-Old: TMI is TMI

Let me preface this post with identifying myself as a certified OWL teacher. What's OWL, you might ask? OWL is the acronym for Our Whole Lives, the UU version of sex ed. That's really a gross over-simplification; what makes OWL unique is its focus on intimacy, respect, and introspection, with a distinct lack of judgment or shame. OWL has different curriculum for different stages of development, spanning across - you guessed it - our whole lives, from early childhood development to retirement.

Friday, July 17, 2015

"This one, I think, is called a Yink."

"He likes to wink and drink pink ink." - One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss

James' favorite color is pink, and it has been since he was old enough to identify colors. Two years old, maybe? Not that this should particularly matter, anyway, but pink, for most of American history, has been considered a masculine color. It was thought of as "too striking" or "too aggressive" for women to wear, until around 1950. Why? During war, rivers run pink, because that's what you get when you mix lots of blood with water. Think about that the next time you get out your poodle skirt!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sink or Swim

Knowing how to swim is important for everyone. We live less than a mile from the ocean. Knowing how to swim for our kids is doubly important. I hold these truths to be self-evident to my coast-dwelling family.

Monday, July 13, 2015

How did I get here from there?

I would love to be able to say I had some glorious spiritual epiphany that led me to Unitarian Universalism. I'd like to be able to write an essay about being one with the greater consciousness. I do tell people, when asked, that the reason I began going to a UU church was because I want my children to grow up with compassion and respect for a variety of spiritual and religious practices.

There's some truth to that last one, but that's not the whole truth. The whole truth is actually quite a bit simpler and much less idealistic.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Down (the Hatch) with Junk Food!

On the surface, many, if not most, UU parents seem very devoted to healthy dietary choices. Of course, that's true for parents in general, but once I became a UU, I became conscious of food in a whole new way.

Two things are at work here: first, parts of the seven principles. For anyone unfamiliar with the details of Unitarian Universalism, please allow a brief explanation. Many religions have rules of some sort. Perhaps the ones with which the western world are most familiar are the Ten Commandments, utilized by Jews and Christians as part of their religious doctrines. UUs don't have commandments (although we can totally support your pursuit of your own, of course). There's no way many of us could even deal with the term "commandment" - it sounds oppressive. We don't like to follow traditional rules around here (this can make this whole parenting business very difficult). We would rather dissect the rules, learn about their origins, and spend hours debating why they are, or are not, pertinent. We might even form a committee to do it!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Judgment Day

My husband and I took James and Violet to a wedding a few weeks ago. One of my Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) graduates got married in an absolutely beautiful ceremony at Belfast's City Park, with a view of the bay just over the trees in the background. Absolutely lovely. The words of the service were poignant and inspiring, and I listened, rapt with attention; this marked my first UU wedding experience. Sure, I saw Violet, out of the corner of my eye, yanking the baby's breath out of the mason jars decorating the aisles of chairs. And yes, I was completely aware of James, who was hot, couldn't sit still, and desperately wanted to either a) rush the minister and demand playtime or b) head the opposite direction to the playground. 

What I wasn't aware of was the stress it was causing my poor husband.

The Beginning: It's the Cheesiest

I haven't figured out how organize this blog yet, but it's important to me to get started. I can't imagine I'll lose the clear memory of its inspiration - oh, wait a moment, there's a four year old with an existential crisis and a one year old who's teething. Indeed. What was I trying to remember?

The title for the blog is because of a conversation between my then-three year old, James, and his affectionately termed "adopted grandmother." She asked him what they should make for my birthday, and he said, "Macaroni and cheese."