Sunday, January 26, 2014


Sophie hadn’t been hearing us for several months now, her ears perpetually filled with fluid.  I try to be patient, but it is wearing to constantly have to repeat yourself.  To constantly be shouting.   I get frustrated. 

I wonder if other parents of hard-of-hearing children feel this way. 

The ENT was reluctant to place tubes in her ears again.  He wanted to see if the fluid would clear on it’s own.  This Fall, she had two ear infections, but he told us the magic number was three.  “Let’s just go ahead and schedule the operation, anyhow,” the nurse told us, surreptitiously, after the doctor had left the room.  “I’d hate for you to wait and then not be able to get in.”

Sophie never had the third infection, but when we went in for the final ear check, she was still clogged up. 

“It makes sense to do it,” the doctor conceded.  He told us it was standard to take out her adenoids as well, the second time around.  “They can block the ears from draining,” he explained.   So I signed the paperwork, and we waited for the appointed day.

The night before her operation, I had a silly, irrational fear:

I love her so much; is this the moment in time when I will no longer be allowed to have her? 

There is still a part of me that feels like she is on loan.  I have the sense that it’s a leftover from my miscarriages.  An insidious little seed of fear that I am unworthy of having a child.  That I got lucky.  That my luck will run out. 

My very pragmatic husband, who does not believe in things like luck, who never believed we would not have a child in the first place, reassured me that it would be fine.

The fear gnawed at me a bit, the night before, but I managed to fall asleep.

The day of the procedure, there was fourteen inches of snow on the ground.  All the world was still, except for the sound of a shovel scraping against the driveway—my husband shoveling a path from our Subaru to our icy street. 

“Can I please have something to eat?” Sophie asked, knowing that she couldn’t.  Probably asking because she couldn’t.  On most days, she’d much rather read or play than eat breakfast. 

“Soph, you know you can’t.  When your operation is over, I’ll make whatever you want.”

“Even chocolate chip pancakes?” she asked slyly.

“Even chocolate chip pancakes,” I assented, ushering her into the shower.  Though she fussed as I washed her hair, I reminded myself to be patient.  I had the thought that I didn’t want a single harsh word out of my mouth that day.  Just in case. 

The roads were quiet.  Even the hospital was silent.  It felt as though everyone in the world had gone underground, with the exception of our family and the receptionist checking us in. 

Once inside there was considerably more activity—nurses bustling about, machines beeping.  A child wailed continuously in one room, with a sing-songy video tape playing in the background.  Sophie was weighed, measured, and given blue pajamas to change into.  She looked excited and happy as she hugged Snakey Pie to her body.  Snakey Pie looked filthy and I wondered if a dirty stuffed snake would compromise the sterility of the operating room.  The only thing Sophie remembered about her procedure from last year was the Icee machine in the recovery room.  She asked the nurse what flavors they had.  She made a face as she sipped her giggle juice.  Before the Valium was flowing through her veins, I began to feel woozy, as if it were me, not her, who had taken the medicine. 

Before long, three nurses converged to wheel her away.  They asked her questions about Snakey Pie and which grade she was in as they lifted the rails of her bed.  “Kindergarten,” Sophie mumbled, her eyelids falling to half mast.

“You’ll see your mom and dad again in a few minutes,” one nurse told her.  Sophie’s eyes flew open, fear trumping the sedative effects of the giggle juice.  She started to cry. 

I was fine until she started to cry. 

I managed to hold back my own tears until I had said a few words of reassurance, that I loved her and I would see her in no time.

One of the nurses reminded me that the Valium creates some amnesia for this moment.   And then she was gone.  Kevin and I were ushered into the waiting room.  It was suggested that I eat something, “We don’t want you winding up on a stretcher next to your daughter.”

“That happens?”

“More times than you’d think.”  I wasn’t going to pass out, but I was hungry.  I decided to get a cup of coffee.  The Kerig machine wanted 75 cents for a cup. 

I raged against the coffee machine.  Didn’t pay, and left my punctured pod of decaf inside. 

The forty minutes passed more quickly than I had expected.  Suddenly, the surgeon was in the room telling us in his hurried way that the operation went fine, she was packed with fluid—“underwater”—her adenoids were “moderately swollen” and it had been the right thing to do. 

Finally, I could exhale. 

There is nothing like seeing your child in pain.  I can recall my own mother saying to me, when I was in pain as a child, “I wish that it was me, not you.”   Like my mom, I would have gladly switched places with Sophie in the recovery room, just so that I would not have to see her face screwed up, her eyes full of tears. 

Sophie refused the Icee that the nurse offered to her, moaned, “Mom,” and reached her small hand up towards me. 

“I can give her more medication,” the nurse said, injecting acetaminophen and codeine into her IV.  Within a few minutes, Sophie was back asleep. 

“She’s having a very good response to the pain medication,” the nurse reassured me.  “You’ll see.  If she can get another hour of sleep, she’ll wake up much more comfortable.” 

“Why don’t you have a seat,” Kevin said, offering me the chair next to her bed. 

“No, thanks, I want her to be able to see me when she wakes up.”  I stood, and whispered to the nurse about nursery school, her daughter’s new teaching job, and the instructions for Sophie’s discharged, while the machine hooked up to her offered a steady beep. 

After an hour, Sophie stirred again.  She shifted in the bed as if she couldn’t get comfortable.  The nurse held a continuum of faces in front of Sophie and explained that the 0 face was no pain at all, and the 10 face was pain so bad it made you cry.  She asked Sophie what her pain was. 

“An eight,” Sophie squeaked out.   This surprised me.  She isn’t one to exaggerate. 

“I could have used a chart like this after Sophie was born,” I joked to Kevin.  When I was hemorrhaging internally, complaining of pain the nurse misattributed to hemorrhoids, she had asked me the same question.  The pain was so bad, all I could think about was there was no way to be—I was in too much pain to stand, too much pain to lie down.  “A six,” I had told her.  I thought that a 10 must be what it was like to be in a car accident and lose a limb, or have bones and intestines exposed. 

The nurse gave Sophie another dose and again she dozed, this time more briefly.  When she awoke, she refused an Icee again. 

This was indeed the worse I have ever seen her.   I started second guessing our decision to have her go through this. 

When she was conscious enough, she slipped on her clothes, allowed Kevin to lower her into the wheelchair, and the nurse pushed her out into the frigid parking lot.  On the way home, she fell asleep again, opening her eyes suddenly when we pulled into our driveway. 

“Mom, I just want to sleep.”

“Okay.  Okay, shhhhh.”  I told her.  Kevin carried her upstairs and tucked her into bed. 

“Mom, would you just sit in the room with me.” 

“Sure, sweetheart.”  I sat until she was fast asleep, and then I headed downstairs and had some lunch.  She woke about an hour later.

“You left my room,” she accused.  “Did you tell me?”

“Yes.  I whispered, while you were sleeping, that I was going down to get some lunch.”

“Can I have some lunch?”

“Of course.  You’re hungry?”

“Very.”  All traces of pain seemed to have dissipated. 

“What would you like?”

“Mom!  You know!  Chocolate chip pancakes.”

“Okay.  Right.  That was what we had talked about.  I wasn’t sure you were up to it.”

“I’m up to it.  And mom?”


“Could you please stop talking so loud?”  

Music to my ears. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Tastes Change

Life, with it’s constant barrage of novelty and unpredictability, can be quite distressing to those who like things a certain way. 

Sophie, like many children, clings to the familiar:  food, clothing, daily routines.  Changes require forewarning.  Often there must be conversations, and sometimes, resistance and tears before she dips her toe in the newness. 

Getting her to try a new food, in particular, is a painstaking process.  I can’t help but think that picky eating is a feature of privilege.  A feature of plenty.  Would children who have nothing to eat turn their noses up at spinach?  I doubt it.  But to the child who knows her refrigerator is full of things she’d rather be eating, she knows she is not a beggar, and therefore, can be a chooser. 

I struggle with feeling pissed off about this.  I work with a lot of children who don’t have access to fresh, healthy food.  So, it irks me when my own rejects it.  And though I think my mother pulled the “think of all the children starving in China” card when I was a kid.  I refrain.  Guilt makes for a very poor motivator.  (And the retort in my head was, “Well why don’t you ship this liver off to them.)

So, whereas I don’t exactly force food on Sophie, I do have a taste rule.  Another family I know calls it the “no thank you” bite.  She must take one substantial bite of something new, before having her more desired food.  I make sure a desired food is part of the meal when I plan to do this.  I also make sure I have plenty of time for the fit that will ensue.  It has taken Sophie up to an hour to sample her unfamiliar serving. 

But then, after that, if she rejects it, so be it.  There have been a number of occasions where she has exclaimed, “I love this!”  So, often, she’s just apprehensive of its newness.  Evolutionary psychologists would say this wariness is an adaptive behavior.  We should be skeptical of new foods.  They could be harmful.  Dangerous. 

I also make sure that the new thing is not something spicy or too exotic for her taste buds, food that requires a more sophisticated palate than a six-year-old can be expected to have.

And then I introduce it again.  And again.  And again.  Because what we know from research is that a child often needs to try a food over a dozen times before he/she will incorporate it in his/her repertoire.

“Tastes change,” we tell Sophie.  Which is certainly true for me.  I eat a whole host of foods I wouldn’t have considered touching as a child. 

But her resistance to what’s new extends beyond food.  Sophie is notoriously stuck in her ways.  If she finds a dress she loves, she wears it over and over until it is in tatters.  If I introduce a new game that tickles her fancy…she wants to play it every night, ad nauseam.  If she reads a new book she enjoys, she’ll read it many times over with the same level of interest and excitement as when she first encountered it. 

So, flexibility is something that has to be encouraged to avoid the inevitable meltdown that occurs when that favorite dress is dirty, Mommy is tired, the book has gone missing. 

Thus, it was to my great surprise when Sophie and I walked into the mall one snowy day, in search of boots and she suggested that she try on a pair of jeans.  Sophie had not worn a pair of pants, since she was old enough to protest.  I tried to hide my glee. 

“Really?  Soph?  Jeans.  You’ve always hated the way they feel. They can be stiff.  How about a pair of jeggings?” 

“Mom.  The way things feel can change, just the way tastes change.”

The moment was like a crocus poking out of the ground.  A first sign of Spring.  When an opportunity like this appears, you seize it. 

“Okay, let’s do it.” 

She fell in love with the first pair she put on.  They fit her well.  I had never realized quite how long her legs were.  It was strange to see her in pants.  Shocking really.  She looked so much older as she strutted back and forth, modeling them.

“I love them.”

“Are you sure?  Because I’m not going to buy a pair of pants that you’re never going to wear again.”

“I promise.  I will wear them every single day.” 

With that promise extracted, she wriggled out of them, and we took them over to the register to purchase. 

I don’t know if has been my persistence in encouraging Sophie to venture outside of her comfort zone, or if it’s simply a natural unfolding that has taken place over time that prompted this sudden spontaneity.  But I’m so glad there are signs of Spring.    

Monday, January 6, 2014

Girls Chase Boys!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been kinda boy crazy.  And for all my shyness and introversion, I have usually been the aggressor. 

My earliest crush dates back to when I was three years old.  I was in the bathroom of my Jewish preschool, sitting on the toilet, swinging my legs, which did not touch the floor, back and forth.  The metal doors in the bathroom were a drab gray.  Looking at them I thought to myself, “Gray.  That sounds like Greg.  I love Greg,” Sigh.  Greg must have been some three-foot high sproglet, oblivious to my yearning.  I don’t remember him returning my affections.  In fact, I don’t remember him at all. 

I had my first requited love when I was seven.  Alan was a skinny wet-lipped, Jewish boy who shuffled his feet when he walked.  I can’t for the life of me remember what the attraction was.  Perhaps it was simply that he was game. 

One day, when lining up at the door, another classmate, Kristin, sang, “Melissa has a boyfriend!”

“I do not!” I replied, indignant.  I hadn’t been ashamed of it, until that moment, when she called me out, and made it sound like a bad thing.

“Well,” said Kristin, “he’s a boy, right?” 

“Yes,” I admitted.

“And he’s a friend,” Kristin added.  I saw where this was going, and would not concede this fact.

“Then he’s your BOY-FRIEND!”  It seemed that everyone else around us had chimed in, teasing, “Melissa has a boyfriend.” 

In truth, Alan was my boyfriend.  He came over to my house.  Up in the spare room I suggested that we might try kissing.  We hid deep inside the walk-in closet that runs against the side of the house.  The bare bulb was turned on, but the door was closed.  The air was dusty and the closet was filled with bags of my mother’s nursery school materials.  Alan kissed me over and over again with those wet lips of his, until mine began to chap. 

“Can you wait a second?” I asked him, running to the bathroom to fetch a wad of tissues.   When I returned, we resumed kissing, pausing every few seconds so I could wipe my lips clean. 

I do hope he’s improved his technique. 

So, thirty-five years later, I find it completely unsurprising my daughter Sophia, at six, has a thing for boys.  Not just boys.  A boy.  Anthony. 

“I love Anthony,” she tells me dreamily. 

“What do you love about him? I asked.

“He’s cute, and he’s smart, and he’s fast.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“He’s the fastest boy in the class.  He’s even faster than me.”

“How do you know?”

“We had a race.”  They may have arranged this, but from what I have observed in the playground, it’s more of an ambush than a race.  The kindergarten girls gang up on a few unsuspecting fellows acting like power rangers or spider man and declare, “GIRLS CHASE BOYS.”  The boys then run for their lives. 

I interviewed Sophie about this. 

“So Sophie, tell me about “Girls Chase Boys.”  What happens?”

“Well when I chase Anthony, he just runs away, but he doesn’t scream.”

“What happens if you catch the boys?”

“We hug them…and kiss them.”

“Where do you kiss them?”

“Wherever we can find a spot.”

 “Why do you run after the boys and try to kiss them?  Why do you want to kiss them?”

Sign. “Um.  I don’t know.  We just like them.”

“Do you ever catch Anthony?”


“What do you do if you catch him?”

“Tackle him.” She pauses.  “We don’t actually tackle them.  We just plop on top of them and kiss them.”

I laugh.  Sophie gets annoyed.  “No, not like that.  Mom!”  What did that mean?  I wonder. 

“I just think it’s funny.  What do they do when you kiss them?”

“Just run away again.  They try to run away. “

“They escape?  These poor boys.  Do they want you to kiss them?”

“I don’t know.  They never told us.”

“Are they smiling when this is happening, or do they say ‘no, please don’t do this.’”

“Mmmm….It’s a game we do.”

“Yeah, but do they know it’s a game?”

“I think they don’t know it’s a game.” is her somber reply.

Like mother, like daughter.