Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rites of Childhood My Kids Will Miss

As a parent, I am thankful every day for the wonders of progress and technology. Super-absorbent diapers, child safety seats, powdered baby formula, video monitors, lightweight and portable highchairs – all these things have made my life easier and my kids’ lives safer. But there are a few things from my childhood that I feel like my kids will miss out on because of scientific and technological advancements.

Standing on the hump

Those of a certain generation know exactly what I mean when I refer to “the hump”: that raised tunnel in the center of the backseat of a car. When my parents bought their first new car (when I was about three), I was terribly distressed over the possibility that the new car would not have a hump, since my favorite place to ride was standing on the hump where my short self could peer over the front bench seat and watch the scenery up ahead. My children have spent their childhood safely strapped in their car seats, protected from accidents, but also protected from the wonder of standing on the hump.

Riding in the backwards backseat

When I was a bit older, my parents bought a Plymouth Gran Fury station wagon that could seat 11 (I know this because they still owned the car when I got my driver’s license my senior year of high school – enough said). The best seat in that car was, hands down, the backwards jumpseat. My sister and I would entertain ourselves by making faces at the drivers behind us, trying to get them to wave or honk or laugh or stick out their tongues at us. Sometimes we’d even make signs saying, “HONK!” or “WAVE” or “HELP WE’RE BEING KIDNAPPED” (fortunately for my parents, we could never keep straight faces while holding that one). It’s probably a good thing that my children will never have this experience, but I still regret that they’ll also miss out on that particular piece of mischievous fun.

Recording a family answering machine message

Telephones as I knew them in my childhood will be a complete mystery to my children. They hardly recognize the heavy bakelite table phones with long, curly, perpetually-tangled cords that I grew up with; in just a few years, no doubt any kind of household landline will be as extinct as the dodo bird. There will be no such thing as a phone that is shared by family members, and therefore there will be no opportunity to compose a funny outgoing message with each member of the family saying (or, in my family’s case, singing) one or two lines.

Waiting for a Polaroid picture to develop

Photography has been completely reinvented since my childhood. I remember my excitement the Christmas I received my very first camera: A heavy, bulky, Polaroid One-Step. I can still hear the buzzing hum it made as it spit out the blank piece of film; I can still smell the acrid scent of the chemicals; and I can still remember the thrill of anticipation watching the image slowly appear, the colors morphing into being and the outlines becoming crisp. I remember the almost irresistible urge to touch the picture as it emerged, maddeningly slowly. My kids will never experience the anticipation of waiting to see a picture they’ve taken; it will always be displayed instantly, waiting to be deleted if found wanting.

Watching a slideshow of the family vacation

When I was a kid, there were no slick Powerpoint presentations that neatly flicked through a series of perfect photos at even intervals. We had to sit and patiently wait for Dad to set up the screen, put the projector on a TV tray and adjust the legs so the image was centered on the screen (it never was) and a perfect rectangle (it never was), pull down the window shades and turn off all the lights, then wrestle the tray of slides into place. When the first slide appeared on the screen (usually with the shadow of someone’s head superimposed on it), there was a collective gasp of excitement, followed by a sigh of disappointment as we realized that Dad had put all the slides in backwards and we had to wait for him to rearrange the whole tray. My children will never have the opportunity to see a blurry image of their own dad with his head mostly cut off standing underneath a sign labeled “KRAP ENOTSWOLLEY”.

 But I can console myself that my kids will find ways to have fun that I’ve never imagined. Maybe they’ll put a holographic spider in their teacher’s desk, or go joyriding in the family hovercraft, or reprogram our food generator to spit out nothing but tuna noodle casserole. Technology may change the ways kids have fun, but they will always find a way to have fun.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Truth is in the Trash

Yesterday as I was doing laundry, I noticed that my favorite pair of jeans has a threadbare spot right on the knee, and it occurred to me that being a mom has made a definite change in the sorts of things that get worn out and thrown away in my house. In fact, if you looked at my trash, you could easily figure out a lot of things that are going on in my life right now.

For example, those jeans. Adult jeans worn out at the knee are a definite indicator of the presence of small children. I haven’t spent this much time crawling on the floor since I was a small child myself. But these days, I spend endless hours crawling on my hands and knees playing horsey, or pretending to be a lion/monkey/kangaroo, or reaching under the couch to retrieve a Matchbox car or a Lego block or a crayon, or just rolling around wrestling with one child or another (or both).

Food trash is different these days, too. When my husband and I were newlyweds, our trash included plenty of wine bottles, champagne corks, Brie wrappers, and shrimp tails. These days, the main food-related trash items are milk bottles, uneaten crusts of peanut butter sandwiches (crusts are not considered edible by my children unless they are absolutely starving), and empty juice boxes.

And, of course, a staple in our trash can right now is diapers. LOTS of diapers. Or, I should say, diapers and pull-ups. And less pull-ups every day, as my son gets closer and closer to successful potty training. I’m not sure who will be more excited when the pull-ups finally disappear from our trash can, me and my husband or the guys who pick up our trash. We might throw each other a party when that finally happens. And when my daughter’s diapers disappear from the trash as well (hopefully very soon afterwards!), it’ll be an even bigger party!

Other items in our trash that mark us as a family with small kids are, sadly, broken toys. Both of my kids are, shall we say, “rough” on toys. They love to bang and crash things together, to throw and roll pieces around, to explore how items can be bent and turned and twisted and removed. Our trash commonly includes things like a bucket broken off a toy backhoe, a puzzle with half the pieces mysteriously missing, a deflated ball that was sat on one time too many, a toy car with the wheels ripped off. It’s not quite as creepy as Sid’s toys from “Toy Story,” but I wouldn’t blame anyone who did a double-take seeing the poor toy detritus in our trash can. (At least we give them a good, clean burial instead of re-assembling them in horrific combinations. I still have nightmares about Spider Baby.)

But the most fun part of our trash is the artwork. We can’t possibly save everything our kids make, so after leaving each piece of art on display for a while, we take photos and then quietly and stealthily discard most of them. So the debris in our local landfill is often graced with macaroni glued to construction paper, painted hand- and foot-prints, and various abstract images festooned with glitter, tissue paper, and stickers.

I’ll be honest: I look forward to the day when our trash contains fewer diapers, fewer broken toys, and fewer ripped jeans of all sizes. But I’ll miss the glitter and the macaroni. I’ll even miss the juice boxes and the sandwich crusts. But I’m guessing that by then our trash will be filled with other interesting detritus showing what our family is up to: copies of report cards, carefully folded notes passed in class, used up bottles of horrific teenage scents like Axe and Love’s Baby Soft (or whatever their equivalent will be in another 10 years or so).

I’m actually looking forward to that trash. And that’s the truth!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Finding My New Normal

A week and a half ago, my 21-month-old daughter slipped out of the house and fell in our pool. Thank God, we found her a few minutes later, and after a harrowing week at Children’s Hospital in Boston, four days of which she spent in the ICU under heavy sedation, she is home again with a perfectly clean bill of health and no lingering after-effects of the accident, either physical or emotional.

I, on the other hand, bear a few emotional scars.

Likewise, she has easily fallen back into her usual routine, her “normal,” while I am struggling to find my new normal.

Most of my new normal is merely increased diligence over my old normal: The doors I always closed, sometimes locked, and rarely latched are now always closed, always locked, and always latched. The video monitor that I glanced at now and then while my daughter napped in her bedroom has become the video monitor that I focus intently on for several seconds every minute or two. The “mom radar” that woke me up when one of the kids made a noise in the night has been heightened so the slightest peep has me sitting up in bed, wide awake, my heart racing. Taking a shower with my daughter in her playpen and my son in the playroom is a thing of the past. Taking my eyes off either of my kids for more than 30 seconds at a time is a thing of the past. Letting my son play in the sandbox while I watch him through the window instead of sitting outside with him is a thing of the past.

This is my new normal.

But my new normal is also kissing my kids more often, thanking God for my patient husband more often, ignoring my phone and my computer in favor of playing with my kids more often. My new normal is gratefulness for my kids’ general good health, for their sunny dispositions, for their bright curiosity. My new normal is thankfulness for family and friends who love and support me and my family, no matter what.

I have no doubt that over the course of time, my new normal will drift closer to my old normal. I’ll probably never be as nonchalant as I was about waiting 30 seconds to finish what I’m doing before chasing my daughter when she runs upstairs. I’m sure I’ll never again leave the room even for a moment without securing every exit. But I hope that I’ll also never take for granted my kids’ health, or their presence in my lives. I hope I’ll never take for granted that I have family and friends who will make sacrifices to help me out, without questioning and without resentment. I hope I’ll always remember and appreciate how my church family and my theater family were there for me when I needed help.

Where I’m at today may not be perfect; it may not even be average; but it’s definitely normal. And for now, it’s healthy. And over the course of time, healthy and average will get closer together, just as the old normal and the new normal grow closer together. And someday, my new normal will become just normal. Or at least, it will become our just normal.

What more could a mom ask for than that?

We don't aim for average, just normal.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Words Aren't Enough

English is an amazingly expressive language. But sometimes words simply cannot adequately express the emotions of the human heart. This weekend I have learned the inadequacy of both the word “horrifying” and the word “grateful.”

On Friday night, I lived every mother’s nightmare of seeing my child floating limply face down in a pool. “Horrifying” is not enough.

I performed CPR on my own baby. “Horrifying” is not enough.

I watched helplessly as medical teams put tubes into her lungs and stomach, seemingly endlessly poked her with needles and IV lines, strapped her into a nightmarish neck immobilizer, and put restraints on her wrists. “Horrifying” is not enough.

But thanks to the instant and universal connection of e-mail, text messaging, cell phones, and Facebook, my child and my family were lifted up in prayer by family, friends, friends of friends, and strangers all over the world. “Grateful” is not enough.

My sister- and brother-in-law and their family took in my son without hesitation or question and offered to keep him as long as needed. “Grateful” is not enough.

Innumerable friends and family offered to babysit my son at any time. “Grateful” is not enough.

I woke this morning to literally hundreds of well wishes from friends and strangers alike, sending messages of reassurance and hope. “Grateful” is not enough.

I woke this morning to find that the EEG leads had been removed and a compassionate nurse had carefully washed my daughter’s hair and put it into pigtails so she looked more like my little peanut and less like the work of a mad scientist. “Grateful” is not enough.

A compassionate doctor took the time to explain the various procedures that my daughter would be undergoing, gave us a realistic picture of the possible outcomes, and answered all our questions. “Grateful” is not enough.

So to all those from Djibouti to Serbia, from Tennessee to Pennsylvania, from Haverhill to Belmont, from the Waltham EMTs to the medical staff at Boston Children’s Hospital, from the churches and synagogues who are lifting us up in your prayers at this very moment, all you who have loved and prayed for and supported us over the past few days, I say from my heart, “Thank you and God bless you all.” Even though those words are not enough.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Of Horses and Hats

Yesterday was the 139th annual “Run for the Roses”: The Kentucky Derby. I’ve never been a follower of horseracing, so to me the two most interesting parts of the Kentucky Derby are the names of the horses and the fantastic (and often fantastical) hats.

Past winners of the Kentucky Derby include horses with such delightful names as I’ll Have Another, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Go For Gin, the appropriately named Winning Colors and Spectacular Bid, the ironically named Genuine Risk, and my all-time favorite, Foolish Pleasure. I will admit to being somewhat disappointed that this year’s race was won by the talented but dully named Orb, but at least the field of contenders did include other fun names, like Charming Kitten, Overanalyze, Giant Finish, Falling Sky, Palace Malice, and Will Take Charge.

Even more wild and creative than the horses’ names, however, are the marvelous hats seen at the Derby. Generally, the hats fall into one of four categories: fascinator, classic, gigantic, and wacky.

Fascinators became all the rage at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding, and they remained prominent at this year’s Derby. A fascinator is a fancy headpiece or miniature hat with elaborate trimmings worn on a headband or attached to the hair by clips, combs, or hairpins. A fascinator may be as simple as a small spray of flowers or feathers, or as elaborate as a tall geometric sculpture.

Classic hats are elegant and proportionate, and would be appropriate at other events besides the Kentucky Derby. Pastels such as pink, peach, mint green, and pale yellow are popular; trimmings include ribbons, small bows, and the occasional tasteful feather. Their colors are subdued, their trimmings are restrained, and their style is timeless.

The third category is the gigantic hat. Over the years, hat brims have grown in size until I wonder how some of these women are able to walk through the crowds wearing these hats. The brim often needs to be pinned back so the lady is able to see the horses, or occasionally a giant hat will be worn at a rakish tilt to make her face accessible for a charming air kiss from a gentleman acquaintance. Naturally, the decorations on a gigantic hat may – and should – be proportionately larger. Multiple foot-long feathers, huge looping bows, knots of fabric, and yards of veiling adorn these spectacular creations.

The final category includes the most fantastical hats of all: Wacky hats. Wacky hats are unique works of art, and can incorporate all kinds of decorations, from horses’ (and jockeys'!) heads to dozens of roses to literally piles of horseracing memorabilia. And naturally, a truly wacky hat calls for additional accessories and costuming, from horseshoe sunglasses to a cutaway tailcoat and matching shorts.

And the best part of Kentucky Derby hats is that you don’t have to go to Kentucky to wear one. My family got into the act this year at a “Run for the Roses” party. We managed to cover all the categories of hats: my sister-in-law, on the left, is sporting a jaunty fascinator; my mother-in-law, at center, is wearing a lovely classic; and yours truly, on the right, is treading the fine line between gigantic and wacky. I give us extra points for both my nephew and my husband in their elegant boaters.

(photo courtesy of

Say what you will about horse racing, but when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, at least you can’t say that it’s dull!!

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