Friday, January 20, 2006

Lips and Lizards

This was originally posted on 7/26/05.

Tonight I am thankful for emergency rooms.

They're something you don't normally think about, like grocery stores or your spleen or the shocks on your car. But, like those, you'd miss them if they were gone. Every time I get a cold and wake up a few days later, suddenly and blissfully able to breathe, I tell myself I will always be thankful for good health, but I forget. We all do. There's too much good in the world to live in a constant state of awareness of all of it, as much as you'd like to on those very thankful days.

Peter fell down in the bathroom right before dinner and landed facedown on the edge of the potty chair, giving him a nice, neat quarter-inch slice down the middle of his upper lip. It stopped bleeding fairly quickly, but when we called his pediatrician we were advised to take him in and see if stitches were required to avoid "permanent deformity". (Not words a mother likes to hear.) He calmed down in a few minutes and, being the pragmatic soul I am, I fed us both dinner before heading off to the emergency room. The previous times we've visited have taken three to four hours, and I figured we might as well have full stomachs.

Well, this was a good time to be wrong. Our ER has been remodeled and reorganized since the last time we were there. We were moved efficiently through triage, directed to comfortable seats (in an ER! who knew!), and taken to a room within fifteen minutes. The rest of the process, in which we saw a nurse, a doctor, and two lab techs, went smoothly and with a minimum of fuss, and Peter went home less than an hour later with a neatly bandaged lip and a stuffed plush lizard.

You never really think about the people behind places like that until you need them. The workmen who make sure the sliding door opens properly. The nice young man who taped Peter's bracelet around his wrist. The employee who checks that the printer has ink to print his paperwork. The techs who make sure the blood pressure monitor works as it should. The nurse who went to school all those years to take care of Peter and hundreds of little boys like him with split lips like his. The orderlies who keep the floor so clean you don't worry about setting your purse down. The doctor and the years of training behind her "gut reaction" to leave his lip alone instead of opening it up to stitch it. The inventor who came up with the idea for the multi-levered hospital bed that Peter found so intriguing. The young aide who brought our discharge papers and knew where to take all the copies so that everything would happen as it should.

All of them, unknowing, have a little bit to do with my tired son, sleeping in peace in his bed with a lip that will very likely have a cool scar and nothing more. He is not in a country where disease and filth will guarantee infection and deformity. We didn't have to walk five miles in the dust to get help. He will wake up in the morning a little sore, but he will also have breakfast, clean clothes, a fresh diaper, and a rainbow-colored lizard.

And tonight, I will remember to be thankful.

Oh, oh! Look, look! Phonics works!

This was originally posted on my parenting board in 2004 and published in the church newsletter.

See Dick go.
See Jane go.
Go, go, go.

Not all that inspiring, is it? I'll tell you what, it sure is when it's your own kid reading it, one careful sound at a time. Mary has been able to say the alphabet since age two, name all the letters on sight since three, and give all the sounds of the letters (including a few long and short vowel sounds) since preschool at age four. We have been trying most of this time to help her learn how to put sounds together, but it wasn't clicking. She would look at the word BAT and say, "Buh, aa, tuh. Buh, aa, tuh. Buh-aa-tuh. ...Bird?" It just wasn't working. We got this whole little reading system with ten books that use carefully graded lessons to teach reading, and tried it several different times, but she always got too frustrated because she couldn't figure out how to connect sounds.

Well, a few nights ago I could hear Michael reading to her and I could tell Peter was getting in their hair, so I had Petey come upstairs with me. After about 20 minutes, Mary came running upstairs saying, "Mom, I can READ!" I thought, "Oh, sure." Sorry, I know that doesn't sound very nice, but she has been known to memorize books and inform people that she could read, so I was skeptical. Well, we sat down together and with plenty of help she sounded out all the words to a chapter of a Dick and Jane book. She was so excited about it that we did the next chapter too, and tonight we read about Spot and Puff. I was so very proud of her!

What really made me laugh (somewhat ruefully, I'll admit) was that when she finally put it all together, it wasn't with our fancy-dancy reading system, or even with a nice politically correct modern book with carefully planned introduction of sounds and no history of controversy over sexism, racism, or gender stereotypes. It was with a scrungy old copy of We Come and Go (written in 1940) that my parents gave us because they couldn't stand to throw it out. The cover fell off long ago and the pages are stapled together, and it looks pretty ratty, but apparently the magic is still there.

Sure, it's boring. The words are short and they say them fourteen times in a row. But when it's your daughter reading them and laughing for sheer joy to hear herself's great literature.

How To Buy a Pair of Pants

originally posted on in response to a post about the difficulty of buying well-fitting pants

Damn. I hate buying pants. I mean, how hard should it be? Two legs, cover up your butt, stay around your waist, it really doesn't seem like it should be that complicated, but it IS. OK, I'll try the Gap. Sure, why not, it can't be any worse than anywhere else.

Nope, it's worse. What are these things, Barbie pants? All right, we'll try them in a ten.

Nope. Twelve?

Nope. Now I've got like four inches extra in the waist. What, all women who have actual muscles on their legs have 35-inch waists now? All right, all right, no pants at the Gap. Um ... Eddie Bauer?

Regular. Relaxed. Boot cut. Loose fit. Petite. Long. Tall. Sally. No, kidding on that last one, but not by much. Yeah, whatever, these are the right color, let's try 'em.

Nope. Will someone please explain to me what you wear if you're 5'4", which is the dividing line between petite and not? Petite jeans are sort of the right length if I don't mind people knowing what brand of socks I'm wearing, but the waist is in the wrong spot. Meaning, not where MY waist is. Regular jeans fit fine in the waist, but I haven't rolled my jeans up since 1985 and I'm not about to start up again now, which means I am NOT going to buy jeans that cover up my toes when I put them on. So OK, not Eddie Bauer then.

Old Navy. Hmmm. They look great on the mannequin. Too bad the mannequin has the legs of Claudia Schiffer and the butt of a first-grader. You know, I think I'll just stand in the middle of the store and yell, "Hey! I'm kind of short and my waist is too small and my rear is too big for your pants!" There -- I'm humiliated and I didn't even have to try anything on! Cool.

So, Cinnabon it is. Extra sauce please. And a diet Coke.


This was originally written summer 2003 and posted on my parenting bulletin board.

Have you ever looked at an elephant? I mean really looked at an elephant? Neither had I, until the day we traveled to the Oregon Zoo.

If you've ever taken a small child to the zoo, you understand the phrase "through the eyes of a child." For instance, my first reaction was, "Oh, another monkey." Four-year-old Mary's reaction was to jump up and down, waving her arms, shrieking "Mommy! Look at the monkeys! They're jumping!"

And indeed they were. I hadn't noticed the little ones at first, and there they were, hopping from rock to rock and rolling around on the grass below. On the other hand, the magnificent leopard sprawled out on its rock impressed me far more than it impressed her – after all, it wasn't jumping.

A few things needed some parental editing as we went along, and I was glad she was so young. I didn't think she needed to know exactly what the polar bears were eating (remember, they're carnivores--enough said). "They're having a treat" was enough information for her.

Thankfully, she didn't see the pooping zebra or the peeing lorakeet. She did notice the two fruit bats who were, um, propagating their species, but I didn't feel that it was necessary to explain exactly why the bat was making that funny face. There are some advantages to the slightly oblivious nature of most pre-schoolers.

To tell the truth, I'm not sure what Mary thought of the elephants. She liked the baby elephant, was properly impressed with the big elephant, and laughed at the one giving itself a dust bath.

I was paying more attention to them than to her, I confess. I mean, they're so weird. All that skin, the enormously heavy feet, the dry wrinkles. (Can you imagine an entire lifetime spent in the sun without even a drop of your favorite moisturizer?) My husband Michael, watching one scooping dirt up with the surprisingly facile tip of its trunk, remarked, "God has a sense of humor." I couldn't argue with him. I mean, if you had the power to create anything you wanted, why an elephant? How would you even think of one?

That said, I came home from the zoo with a renewed appreciation for the world in which I am bringing up my children. I want a world with democracy, good medical treatments, enough to eat, and freedom of speech.

But as long as we're here, I'm glad it's a world silly enough to have room for a few elephants.