Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Don't Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt!

After watching Sophia use her dress to clean the oatmeal off her chops for the 9 billionth time while a perfectly good napkin, pristine with neglect lay at the side of her plate I told her:

“Sophia, I am going to pin a sign on your dress reminding you to PLEASE USE YOUR NAPKIN.  It’s just gross.  Look you have oatmeal sticking to the bottom of your dress.  There’s milk in that, if we don’t wash it out it’s going to start to smell. 

“No, mommy.  It’s not.  It’s just a little oatmeal.  And here, I rubbed it off, see?”  There was

“I want you to start using your napkin to wipe your face.”

“OKAY!” she said, exasperated.

But later, when she dribbled toothpaste out of the corner of her mouth, she used her sleeve to sop it up.

“Sophia! Please don’t wipe your face with your shirt.  Now you have an oatmeal AND a toothpaste stain.”  She was beginning to look like a ragamuffin, and we had to leave for school.”

“SORRY!” Sophia screamed back, sounding anything but sorry, and reached for the towel I had laid out, wiping her already-clean mouth. 

I took a deep cleansing breath.

Before Sophia was born, someone gave me an album of children’s music, The Bottle Let Me Down.  It was full of funny, silly, sometimes irreverent songs, like “Funky Butt” and “I’m My Own Grandpa.”  But there was one tune on the album that I simply didn’t get:  “Don’t Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt” by the Cornell Hurd Band. 

Dad?  What is it that we do that really makes you crazy?

Well, I’m glad you asked.  Now, you boys know that I give you guys a lot of room in this family.  But there’s one thing, just one thing, that absolutely drives me nuts.

Look out!  He’s going to sing!

Daddy’s from the do-your-own-thing generation,
No I’m not afraid of mud, or grime or dirt
But you boys must understand, there’s a line drawn in the sand,
Don’t wipe your face on your shirt!

“Of all the things to freak out about, this is what makes this guy crazy?  His kids wiping their faces on their shirts?” I said to Kevin, with all the incredulity of someone who is not-yet-a-parent.  Kevin was in full agreement.  Aside from thinking that the song was kind of gross in general, e.g., You can eat that tub of lard but when you thrown up in the yard, don’t wipe your face on your shirt, he didn’t recognize wiping one’s face on one’s shirt to be an issue of song-worthy proportions.

Now, five years later, I understand what all the exasperated singing is about.  This face-wiping thing really is a problem.  It moves a parent to artistic expression of the deep frustration that arises from having a child who will not use a napkin.  At least it does in my household. 

Of course, I have to ask myself, why do I care?  What’s it to me if she has a thin line of snot snaking down her sleeve, like the opalescent trail of a slug? 

Well, for one, I have to look at it. 

And others have to look at it too.  I have to admit—I worry about what people will think when my daughter shows up at school, a friend’s house, a special event wearing a three-course meal.  I suppose it wouldn’t drive me quite so crazy if we kept this entre-nous (and given that Sophie doesn’t stay in any one outfit for more than a couple of hours, I needn’t be all that concerned—if I don’t like what she’s wearing, the one thing I can count on—she’ll change).  But I do want my child to appear somewhat kempt in public. 

So, imagine my great joy and surprise when, this weekend, after dribbling some milk from her cereal down her chin, Sophie reached for her napkin and sopped it up.

I cheered!  “You did it!  You remembered to use your napkin!” I cried.

“I don’t want you to hang a sign on me mommy.”  Sophie explained.  The corners of her mouth turned down.  “All the kids at school will laugh at me!”

What am I, Mommy Dearest?   I didn’t mean for her to bear a scarlet letter screaming the sin of wiping her face on her shirt.  I was sick of nagging her.  It was an intervention born of the recognition that what I was doing wasn’t working.  I had more of an only-during-mealtimes-in-the-home, “employees must wash hands” kind of vision.  In truth, I thought it would be funny—something that we could laugh about.  A gentle, but concrete reminder to change her behavior until it became an automatic habit.  Turns out, the fear of humiliation she built up in her mind was a much more effective teacher.

I felt a little guilty about this.  But when she got up from the breakfast table today tidy and grime-free, her napkin crumbled alongside her bowl, smeared with the detritus of the morning meal, I felt satisfied.  Whatever I did in my fit of exasperation, worked.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to Cook a Turkey: 2012

Tired of the same old succulent bird year after year?  Been scouring the Internet looking for a cutting-edge turkey preparation techniques?  Anyone coming to dinner against whom you have a massive grudge? 

Well, look no further!

It’s that time of year again, when the culinary geniuses of Miss Judi’s four-year-old class at the Children’s Workshop Preschool put their little noggins together to devise a recipe for Thanksgiving dinner that will rock your world (or at least your intestines).

Here we go, yo:
  1. Go hunt for a turkey on a mountain or in the woods.
  2.  If you can’t find one, buy it at Shop Rite.  (This is not meant to be an endorsement of Shop Rite.  I’m sure if you can’t find one there, you can probably find a perfectly good turkey on a mountain.)
  3. Put it in the trunk of our car.  (It may be an important detail that the turkey goes in the trunk of the 4-year-olds’ car, not your car.)
  4. Take it out of the package.
  5. Wash it with water and cut the nasty stuff off with scissors or a knife.  (If it was up to me, there would be no turkey left after this step.)
  6. Put on black pepper and salt.  And maybe maple syrup.  (Because what doesn’t taste better with maple syrup?)
  7. Stuff the turkey with vegetables and juice and wasabi (not for the faint hearted) and beans and carrots and apples and rice and stinky seaweed.
  8. Heat the oven to a trillion hot.  Or 1000 degrees.
  9. Cook it for 100 hours.
  10. Take it out and eat it.
Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!

Disclaimer: Any follower of this recipe (or guest at the table of the recipe follower) holds Melissa, Ms. Judi and the four-year-old class at the Children’s Workshop Preschool harmless for any damages, including illness or death, that result from following any and all of the above instructions for cooking a turkey.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Do Fashion Stars Wear Pants?

"Do fashion stars wear pants?"

This is what Sophia asks me at the breakfast table the other morning.  And because I speak her language (or perhaps she speaks mine) or maybe we have developed the capacity to understand each other in a way that transcends speech, I know what she is asking me.  When one of us says something bizarre and convoluted, the other looks past the words to the place where they point, and all is illuminated.

This is what she is saying:  Mom, I really don’t want to wear pants, because, in my opinion, they aren’t fancy.  I have an odd compulsion to be fancy, despite the little exposure I have had to the world of fashion.  Fancy, by the way, does not imply couture.  Rather, it is a strange and unique aesthetic that incorporates bright colors, sequins, mismatched patterns, sandals with socks, tutus, gobs of plastic jewelry, and a tiara.  Coats, pants, and anything that smacks of warmth or masculinity is decidedly not fancy.  But, if fashion stars, i.e. princesses (or maybe women in magazines), somewhere in this world sanction the wearing of pants, I might consider being complicit with your request to wear a pair on this 40 degree morning.  That is, if and only if I may wear a dress over said pants and other fancy things as well. 

The right chess move is obvious to me in this moment. 

“Of course they do, honey."  I take it one step further, "Fashion stars even wear coats."  

“Do they wear underwear?”

“Most of the time.”

She considers this for a moment and then delivers her verdict, “Okay.  I’ll wear pants.  But only if I can wear a dress over it.  And my Belle crown.”

“That’s fine by me, kid.” 

I have lowered my standards considerably when it comes to outfitting Sophie.  There are only two rules I insist upon:
  • That her clothing be appropriate for the current temperature.
  • That she does not fish her favorite dresses out of the hamper when they are dirty.

What I find fascinating is that fanciness somehow does not take into account dirt.  Sophie has no qualms about wearing something she has
  • Worn three days in a row
  • Wiped her face on
  •   Spilled food/paint/other staining substances on.

Apparently, this is a little known law of fashion:  A thing is inherently fancy (or not) and its current state of cleanliness does not impact its degree of fanciness. 

My mother would be quick to interject that I lived by this law in the third grade and that my favorite jeans (the ones with the zippers on the back pockets) would have walked away by themselves if she didn’t sneak into my room at night and wash them once a week. 

But then, for me, it wasn’t a fancy thing.  It was a tomboy thing.  Sophie wouldn’t be caught dead in jeans. 

Which is why, today, when we were driving home after catching a play at the local community theater Sophia and I had this conversation:

“Mom, tonight to the party I want to wear a dress, the same leggings and pink socks I am wearing right now, and my sandals.”  Sophie changes outfits at least three times a day. 

“That’s fine,” I say, “as long as it’s a long-sleeved dress, I’m down with that.”

Sophie eyes me in my jeans and leather jacket, “You can wear what you’re wearing, mom.  You don’t have to change.” 

I know, in our special word-transcending way what she means.  She is not simply approving my wardrobe for public appearance the way, say, a mortified teenager might.  Oh no.  She wants me to be LESS FANCY than her.  Jeans = not fancy.  I check this out:

“Sophie, are you saying that because you don’t want me to be fancy?”

“Yes.”  I love how up front five-year-olds are.

“Okay.  In truth, Soph, I have no desire to change my clothes, so I will be going as is.” 

Sophie relaxes into her car seat with a satisfied smile.

“Oh, and I’m not wearing a coat,” she informs me.  “My dress will be strong enough.”

“That’s where you’re wrong missy.  I don’t care what you wear underneath it, but you’re wearing a coat.”

She sighs.  Her fancy factor depreciated by the coat. 

“Okay, but I’m taking it off as soon as we get there.”

“As you wish, but even fashion stars wear coats in 40-degree weather.”

“I know mom.”  Good.  Just so long as we understand each other.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Parent V. Parent

As I woke up before the dawn met the night and told it to scram, I glanced at my clock:  5:11.  I had automatically woken four minutes before my alarm was to go off.  That’s what happens when I’m stressed.

I realized that I could already be too late. 

I dressed, pulling on the same black stretch pants I had worn yesterday (who’s gonna know?) washed my face and combed my hair down with water, forgetting to brush my teeth (which I would later regret), gathered my paperwork, and made the first cup of caffeinated coffee I’ve had in months.  It felt like a race day.

But that’s because it IS a race day.  A race to be first in a line-up of desperate, working parents. A race to the top of the list. 

Kindergarten registration day. 

I rolled out of the driveway at 5:33, my stomach in knots.  How many would already be there, huddled in the cars, light rain falling?  How long had they been there?  Were there other parents more hardcore then me? 


I rolled into the lot and immediately began counting cars.  In the first row I could see…1, 2, 3, 4, 5…my heart began to sink.  There are only 15 precious slots and one third of them are sitting right in front of me.  Why didn’t I wake up sooner?  Why am I always living on the edge?  I coasted deeper into the lot where cars were lined up against the playground gate…6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…and one car on the side…13.

I am number 14.  The clouds parted, the heavens opened and the angels began to sing.  She’s in. 

I pulled into a spot, let my car idle, and commenced the hour and a half wait until the director was to open the doors to let us in. 

Not too bad.  I can easily kill an hour and half.  I brought books, caffeine, my computer.  I’m set.  I have heard the horror stories about parents camping out the night before at other schools. 

It could be a lot worse. 

I think I need to turn on the heat in here.  My fingers are a tad numb.  Hold on a sec. 

Ah.  Much better.  So as I was saying, I really have nothing to cry about.  Number 16 will, but not me. 

A figure in a white jacket strides towards my car.  She’s got a pen in her hand.  And an envelope.  I open my door before she can tap on the glass.  It’s Ella’s mom.  She’s put together a list.  “I’m having it notarized,” she joked. 

I gleefully sign my name next to the number fourteen.  “So you’re not putting your kid in [our public school kindergarten} either?” she asks.   This had not been an easy decision, but at the end of the day I decided it was best for Sophia, given that I was planning on working longer hours next year and that kindergarten in our town is only half-day.  “No…she’s so happy here, and I’m going to be working….”

“I get it.”  She tells me.  “It was either this or the Friends school.  But I didn’t want her to have to make two transitions.”

We talk for a moment about how ridiculous this is.  How ridiculous we are for being here.  But what else can we do? 

“I talked to the director to get a sense of when I should get here this morning.” 

“I did that too.  Miss Colleen said 5:15, so I knew I had to get here an hour earlier.”  Ella’s mom was number 2.  “But I practically live in the school’s backyard (she gestured across the way).  I was surprised I wasn’t here first.  They must have got here at 3:45.”

I am so not hardcore.   “Wow.  They told me 6:15…but if I had listened….I don’t understand why they do it this way, pitting parent against parent.  I suggested to them that they do this by lottery, and they seemed surprised, like they hadn’t considered it before.”

“What did they say?”

“Oh, just that it was a good idea for next year, but they had already sent out all the information….”

“Well, in past years, it wasn’t like this.  They said last year was a breeze.” 

It’s 6:07.  Number 15 just pulled in.  That’s it.  Technically, I made the cut with a half-hour to spare.  (Hard to believe that 13 people arrived before 5:30 and just me between then and now.  I guess I lie somewhere between desperate and carefree on the continuum of parents-who-want-in.)  Ella’s mom went off to sign him on to The List.  (I am glad someone is keeping a list.  There is order.  My spot is secure.  I am glad it’s not me, for I realize in keeping that list, she will eventually have to tell others they are not on it.)

Aw, number 16 just arrived.  He’s getting out to count cars.  I watch his shoulders fall as he climbs back in behind the wheel and pulls out his cell phone.  I bet he has to call his wife and tell her he missed it by one. 

17.  18.  Thank goodness I got here when I did.  I guess there really was a chance I wouldn’t get in. 

19.  This is getting depressing.  Like any race, there are winners and losers.    Ella’s mom, the one keeping the list, is now joined by another mom—to provide her with moral support—as she breaks the bad news to the late arrivals.  They trudge past my car, heads lowered, to the line of SUVs forming.

Morning has broken, but it is a grim sky, light filtered through a wall of clouds.  Rain is beginning to fall. 

I better fill out the damn form, so when I get there, I’m ready to claim my place.   I didn’t want to do it ahead of time.  I didn’t want to jinx it. 

An older woman with glasses emerges from the front of the building, the front door of her house that is attached to the school.  Everyone pours out of their cars and cheers as she walks up the path to the main entrance.  She’s 20 minutes ahead of schedule. 

The celebration is brief.   Ella’s mom reads out from the list as parents dutifully take their place in line.   There is a bit of confusion as both men in positions 15 and 16 are named Matt—so Ella’s mom reads through the list again, this time with last names, and the men stand accordingly.  I turn and realize there are mostly men at the back of the line.  Two of them I know fairly well.  One had previously expressed to me how much he needed his daughter to get in.  I had talked to the wife of the other, who said the same.  How did they find themselves at the back of the line, I wonder?  Did they take what the director said at face value? Did they doubt the degree of competition for the spots?  Could they simply not get out of the house any sooner?

I wave.  They wave back with somber faces. 

The one woman who is behind me looks as though she is about to cry.  She is dressed in a suit, holding an infant in one hand and a toddler in the other, while the would-be kindergartener stands compliantly at her side.  I imagine that she has done all of this alone—awakened three children, fed them, dressed them, got ready herself, packed everyone in the car only to arrive too late.

Inwardly, I am deeply relieved, but I find it impossible to smile myself.  Any giddiness at my success is mediated by the disappointment of others. 

I did not want to be this woman’s competitor.  I did not want to edge out the parents of my daughter’s friends.  I quietly hand in my form and head home to wake my fortunate four-year-old. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Poison Control

I have a recurring nightmare in which some emergency occurs—a fire, a car accident, a fall—and I rush to the phone to dial 911, but my fingers fail me.  Either I repeatedly misdial the number, or my fingers are flaccid and boneless.  I can’t dial.  I can’t save whoever is hurt.  I can’t fix the problem. 

When I wake, I am left with a sense of my impotence that takes me a while to shake off. 

Consequently, there is part of me that believes I would fail to act, or at least screw up royally if ever faced with a crisis in my waking life.  And, so far, my track record isn’t that great.  Take, for example, that time I ran away from a bear. 

No, I’ll save that for another time.

Instead, let me tell you about yesterday, at Sophie’s fifth birthday party.  We were rocking out in the basement.  The night before I had made a playlist of all Sophie’s favorite, completely inappropriate, pop songs, which she has either picked up from the ether or learned from her girlfriends on the playground at preschool (e.g., We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together).  Katy Perry was on a continuous loop.  I had passed out glow sticks, Kevin turned out all the lights and trained a flashlight on our junior disco ball, and another parent turned a strobe light on in his phone. 

No, we didn’t have a sudden rash of seizures.  The kids were all jumping to the beat, waving their glow sticks, delighted and shrieking with the strangeness of it. 

All I knew is that Kevin scooped up Sophie, grabbed me, and commanded, “Come with me,” with what sounded like grave concern. 

My husband never panics.  He is just the sort of person you would want in a crisis:  clear-headed, definitive, swiftly moves towards action.  In situations I consider dire, he is a rock.  Like when I started hemorrhaging after giving birth.  He fought his way past the doubting nurse (“Its hemorrhoids.  She’ll be fine.  I’ll get her a Tucks pad.”), to the attending, who fetched my OB and had me on the operating table as fast as was institutionally possible.  (Had I been alone, I surely would have died.  I told the nurse that the pain I was experiencing—the worst pain I had ever had in my life, far more intense that the recent experience of giving birth—was a “five” out of ten.) 

But it seemed to me he was panicking now and that scared me, because I knew that I was being called upon to act clearly, swiftly and definitively myself.  He held Sophie in such a way that I could not discern what had happened.  As we carried her upstairs, towards the bathroom on the second floor, I could imagine all sorts of horrors.  I spied something red on the floor—was that her blood?  Had she fallen?  Cut her self on the disco ball (that had happened to another child, last year who curiously reached up to touch it)? 

Kevin held her over the sink.  “She bit into the glow stick.  The fluid is all inside her mouth.  We need to call poison control.”

This was not something I had imagined or predicted.  She’s five!  She should know better!  

No, this was not the time to scold her. 

Get it out, my instincts told me.  So I turned on the water and started flushing her mouth, sweeping with my fingers, to clean out the glowing red goo.  As I did, I accidentally triggered her gag reflex. 

Yes, that’s it.  Get her to throw it up.  Get it out of her, the inner voice commanded.  I tickled the back of her throat again and she retched, bringing up what was either the glow stick fluid or the pizza she ate a half-an-hour before.  I did this several times until it seemed like she was done.  There was nothing left to void. 

Remarkably, my daughter who cannot stand to take a bath, who claims it hurts when I washed her hair, compliantly allowed me to do this most invasive of acts.  I said soothing words as I did it, “That’s it.  Get it all out.  You’re going to be okay, honey.”  She seemed to understand the gravity of the moment. 

And when I was satisfied.  I raced downstairs, grabbed my phone, ran to the refrigerator where I had posted the number for Poison Control three years earlier and dialed the number with rapidity and ease. 

I experienced some momentary glee at the effectiveness of my fingers. 

Poison Control picked up on the first ring.  “Poison Control.  What’s your emergency?”  (Or something like that.  To be honest, I can’t remember what he said.)

“My daughter just bit through a glow stick and swallowed the contents.”

“When did this happen, ma’am?”

“Two minutes ago.  I tried to make her throw up….”

“NO NO NO NO NO!” He interrupted me, “DON’T DO THAT!” 

“I already did,” I confessed.  How could that have not been the right thing to do?

“Then it didn’t happen two minutes ago,” he scolded me. 

“I don’t know,” I said, a bit humiliated, and certainly disturbed because I still didn’t know why making her throw up was so awful.  “Maybe it was 10 minutes?  15?” 

“How old is your daughter?”

“Four.  No five.  It’s her fifth birthday today.”

“Okay.  First of all it’s non-toxic.”  I exhaled, my lungs deflated, my body relaxed. 

“Non-toxic?  It’s going to be okay?”  Somebody handed me the package that the glow sticks came in.  “It says right here on the package, ‘Do not ingest.’”

“Well, you’re not supposed to eat it,” the guy told me, “but it’s not going to harm you if you do.  It kind of tastes like biting into a jalepeno pepper.  It’s hot.  Unpleasant.  But not dangerous.”

“Thank god!” 

“But what you did could have created a much worse situation than ingesting the fluid.  The American Pediatric Association states that you should never make a child throw up after your child swallows a toxic substance.  She could have aspirated it into her lungs.”


“Or, if it was toxic, it could have caused worse damage to her esophagus coming back up.”

“I see.  I really had no idea…I thought it was the right thing to do.”

“No, it wasn’t.  The first thing you should do is call us. So, if you’ve already thoroughly cleaned out her mouth, I would just get her to drink some water or milk.  But she’ll be fine.”

“Thank you so much!  I will!”  I hung up the phone.  He was kind of harsh, but I was deeply relieved to know everything was going to be fine.  I ran upstairs.  Kevin was softly telling Sophie that we might have to take her to the hospital.

“But what about my cake?”  Sophie asked, appalled. 

“It’s fine,” I interrupted.  “I called Poison Control.  It’s non-toxic.”  Kevin’s forehead uncreased.  “But the guy on the phone reprimanded me.  Said I never should have made her throw up.  That she could have aspirated it into her lungs.”

“Huh.” Kevin mused.  “I didn’t think to do it.  I just thought we should call Poison Control, but when you started doing it, I thought it was a good idea.  I would have done the same thing, if I had thought of it.”

I felt somewhat vindicated.

Okay, maybe it was the absolute wrongest thing to do (like running from a bear)—but my cool-headed husband would have done it if he had thought of it.  And I had been clear headed.  I didn’t hesitate. 

My fingers worked (perhaps too well). 

That number for Poison Control?   800-222-1222.