Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Things You Don't Want To Hear From Your Career Counselor

Boy: Mom? Is EM going to be a doctor?

Me: That’s what she says. Yes.

Boy: And I’m going to be a paramedic?

Me: That’s been the plan for awhile now. Have you changed your mind?

Boy: No.

Missy: What should I be then?

Me: What do you want to be?

Missy: I want to be a princess.

Boy: Oh come! on! Where are we going to find a prince who’ll take you?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

English Lessons

Remember EM's English book? That intellectually jarring, spiritually jolting, psycologically altering work of developmental genius I shared with you a while back about dead mice and hungry cats?

When we eventually returned it to her classroom, I added a note in which, rather than question the suitability of the subject matter or the accessibility of the overarching theme of spiritual struggle between grace and sin it clearly symbolizes, I simply suggested that perhaps the text was a bit simplistic for EM. Have you got anything more challenging?

Her teachers responded by skipping two levels. We then endured three more editions in the same series--slightly less weird, yet infintely more dull: Mary and Steven Go to a Birthday Party, Mary and Steven Find a Snake in the Grass, Mary and Steven Love Each Other Like the Osmonds (or something, I might have misremembered that third one).

Finally I sent another note: Still too easy! Lace us up with all you've got ma'am. We can take it.

This is what she came home with:

That kindly blond man posing as her doctor ends up pimping her out to drug lords and arms dealers in the inner city. Meanwhile Steven, seeing his sister's sad fate, seeks redemption for them both by joining a seminary, but tragically winds up as the senior priest's favorite little bitch.

It is the 9th and highest level to be sure, so obviously it is intended for a slightly older reader than EM. But I don't know. Just seems to me like they've gone a bit too far with the hard-hitting morality bit. I'm considering a strongly worded letter to the superindendent.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Figuratively Speaking

The following is a snippet of a conversation Elder Miss and I had a few nights ago. We had just finished the first book in the American Girls series about Kaya, a Nez Perce girl living during the late 18th century. I had asked her what she thought had been the most interesting part of the book. She talked for a minute about an exciting river rescue scene, then asked me the same question. I responded that I thought the part about all the village children being punished by the Whipwoman for Kaya’s mistake was interesting.

EM: Why?

Me: I just think it’s interesting that all the kids had to be punished because one kid did something wrong.

EM: Why?

Me: Well, how would you feel if I whipped all three of you kids every time Boy pushes the cushions off the couch. (something he does every other God damn day, and it pisses me off)

EM: We would cry.

Me: But would you let him do it over and over again if you knew you were going to get whipped for it?

EM: I’m glad there are no Whipwomen in Norway.

Me: I’m sure you are. But you didn’t answer my question.

EM: In Norway, tree branches are for roasting hot dogs, not for whipping children.

Me: Yes, but focus darling. What would happen if, for example, all the kids in your class were punished because one boy was teasing a 1st grader and stealing his lunch?

EM: That’s bullying! Bullying isn’t allowed.

Me: I know. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Would you be more or less willing to let a classmate bully a 1st grader if you knew you might be punished for it?

EM: Punished how?

Me: A whip, EM. Remember the Whipwoman?

EM: There are no Whipwomen in Norway.

Literal much?

Her father is exactly the same way. Try playing the ‘what would you do if you won a million dollars?’ or ‘were granted three wishes?’ game with him, and you’ll soon find yourself casting about for the nearest large, preferably jagged object with which to knock him over his pee-brained head, and put him out of his pee-brained misery.

Willing suspension of disbelief, and unnecessary expeditions into the realm of the hypothetical are not things that either one of them do willingly. I do not have a million dollars, so why would I pretend that I do? There are no Whipwomen in Norway, so why are we talking about being beaten by one? If you can’t say something sensible, please don’t say anything at all.

Which is not to say that they are so starkly dull in all aspects of their lives. You’d think, for example, someone so married to the literal truth as EM would approach her clothing choices with a bit more sobriety. But no. Elder Miss mixes colors and patterns, in improbable layer after improbable layer with the fanciful whimsy of a kindergarten teacher. I have no idea why she’s so blind to the ghastly wrongness of most of her fashion combinations. I guess because in her very literal world blue is blue, pink is pink, and the tedious parsing of all the clashing tones and hues in between is for artsy–fartsy types like myself who waste their time finding beauty in moonscapes and poetry in waterfalls.

Boy, by the way, is shaping up to be the polar opposite of EM in the cloudy intangibles department. Boy, it seems, is my spiritual apprentice in all things artsy-fartsy.

Last year I posted some examples of the random, illogical leaps conversations with him would often take. He doesn’t do that anymore—thank God—but it seems obvious to me that those loopy rejoinders were early indications of the looser, more abstract way his mind works.

You can see the natural progression of that conceptual freewheeling when he’s trying to tell a story and can’t remember some simple word in English. Rather than simply use the Norwegian word as EM would have done, he manages to throw in the most wonderful descriptive substitutes like chocolate water for mud, or wiggly stick lights for candles, or, my personal favorite, rock-sky day to describe dark, overcast weather.

He’s also always been better at pretend play than EM; since they were of an age to start playing together, EM has had to follow Boy’s lead. It was Boy who taught EM that it was okay for her Polly Pockets to live in the castle next door to his Transformers, that they could even gasp talk to one another. And when the two–headed dragons came to attack, it was Boy who showed EM what effective missiles Duplo Legos made against them. EM was scandalized that Legos should be used for anything other than building the officially sanctioned figures that came illustrated with the factory instructions. She actually came to ask me if it was okay.

EM: Boy is making the Duplos act like bombs.

Me: Say what?

EM: He’s using the Duplos to kill the dragons. He’s throwing them.

Me: Is he throwing them at you?

EM: No.

Me: Sounds like fun EM. Death to the dragons!

EM: But what if we want to build something with them later?

Me: Then you’ll pick them up off the floor and build something.

EM: Oh.

I know that all of this must sound like I’m pitting one kid against the other and saying, “Look how dumb that one is compared to this one.” I swear that’s not what I’m driving at. In fact, I don’t think any of this has anything to do with intelligence at all. I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention that EM has a remarkable aptitude for practical problem solving—there is no obstacle you could put in front of that kid for which she couldn’t come up with at least 3 different alternatives inside a minute. Boy would just stare slack-jawed at the very same obstacle and cry, then later he’d describe that bleak moment as unto a journey into the very foothills of darkest Purgatory (or maybe just the dentist’s office, he is only five after all).

All I’m really trying to say (and I’m ashamed and humiliated that it’s taken me this long to say it) is that it is becoming ever more apparent that EM thinks like her father and Boy thinks like me.

One last story to illustrate my point, then I’ll shut up.

I’ve been reading the Magic Tree House series to Boy and Missy every night at bedtime. About a week ago we were in the middle of an adventure set in the Wild West, and a cowboy character said something like “I’m going to round up all them thur’ horses, then split the wind over that thur’ ridge.” It’s a phrase I’d never heard before, so I paused to ask Boy what he thought “split the wind” might mean. He didn’t stop to think even a second before he shot his hand out in a half karate chop and shouted, “GO FAST!”

Almost a week later we were all in the car when we hit a long, straight stretch of road (very rare in these parts) and Mister laid on the gas--revving the engine, and noticeably speeding up. From the back seat Boy cried out, “This car is splitting the wind!” I laughed out loud, and so would have high-fived him if we had been face to face. EM and Mister, on the other hand, snorted simultaneously with intellectual distain, “You can’t cut air, Boy."

"And besides,” EM added helpfully, “Air is a gas. Didn’t you know?”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Clever Title Eludes Me--Suck On This For A While, Then Volunteer One Of Your Own

I spoke to Alpha Grandma on the phone on Friday. She tells me I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread and that she misses me. Of course, I already knew this, but it’s nice to hear it out loud like that. She also told me a delightful story about my 3 year old niece calling her to boast, “I’ve been to the dentist, and I don’t have any cavities.”

“Isn’t that cute,” said I, “How terribly adorable of her to want to share that with you. Which reminds me, did I happen to mention what happened the last time I took Elder Miss to the dentist? Or more specifically, the orthodontist? No? Oh well then, prepare to be enchanted and enthralled all over again. Because my daughter? Why my eldest daughter never fails to charm and delight.”

Some background information—however disruptive it may be to the narrative flow of my tale, is rather necessary. Especially for those of you who are not privy to the same weekly updates regarding the everyday minutia of our lives that Alpha Grandma endures.

Early last fall a routine dental check-up revealed no cavities (huzzah!) but a potential problem with EM’s bite. I wasn’t clear at the time on the specifics—something about upper/lower palette alignment blah blah blah. Frankly, I was more absorbed by the fact that times had changed so drastically that dentists were now routinely referring children as young as 7 years old to orthodontists to pay too much attention to anything else the woman had to say.

Of course the waiting list for a first time appointment with any of the orthodontists in the area was eternal, so we didn’t get in to see one until just after Christmas. But when we finally did, our guy wasn’t two minutes into his examination before he pulled his fingers out of EM’s mouth, peered at me over those ridiculous goggles dentists sport, and asked, “So does she still suck her thumb?” And that, friends, is the exact moment I discovered that crow feathers don’t tickle so much as chaff going down, and egg will cause a rash if left on the face too long.

EM was an ardent thumb sucker from 7-8 months of age to about 5 ½ years. Yes, I had heard all the dire warnings about allowing children to continue this habit into their later years, but naturally, I assumed that “later years” meant something more like “marriageable age”. And besides, I had also heard all the dire warnings about allowing your child to fuss and cry for more than 5 seconds at a time, or feeding them whole grapes and peanut butter before the onset of puberty—alarmist bullshit, obviously—so I ignored the thumb sucking admonitions, just like I ignored nearly every other piece of parenting advice I ever read in a magazine.

EM’s orthodontist—a large and imposing Greek man who reminds me very much of my own beloved D.D.S Dr. Floyd Tanner, so I’m inclined to like him otherwise—tells me this was probably a mistake.

Because she sucked her thumb for so long, her tongue, rather than resting in its natural position against the roof of her mouth, has developed the habit of protruding slightly to rest always on her lower teeth. The absence of her tongue’s pressure pushing against the upper teeth has made her entire upper palette too narrow, causing not only the misalignment that the dentist noticed, but also a glaring gap between her upper and lower front teeth. Or, to be fair, maybe not so glaring since I never noticed it until it was pointed out to me. But now I can’t seem to stop looking at it. Ditto the tip of her tongue which I suddenly can’t not notice sticking out from between her teeth all the time.

Happily, all of this is easily correctable with a dread retainer. But before he committed us to this costly apparatus, he wanted to try filing down a few of her molars, wait three or four months, then come back in and see if anything shifted into place. So that’s what we did. Last Wednesday was the follow-up to that protocol.

Background complete. Now pay attention. We’re getting to the charming bit.

Recall again little Zoe, my niece, strapped into her car seat in the back of her mother’s car. Tracy speed dials Alpha Grandma on her cell, tells her Zoe has some important news she wants to share, then passes the phone back. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, Zoe’s got a kick ass pair of miniature pink sunglasses on when she announces, in that deadly serious toddler lisp of hers, “Grandma, I’ve been to the dentist, and I don’t have any cavities.” EM was still grunting and gesturing like a well trained monkey at 3 years old, but whatever. That’s not the funny part.

Wednesday afternoon, it was the assistant who got EM settled, and bibbed, and stretched out in the exam chair. When the orthodontist came in, we exchanged a few pleasantries, as you do, then he turned to EM and asked her to open up. And what does EM do in response to this simple request?

My very nearly 8 year old daughter flips over on her side, and sticks her thumb in her mouth. I assure you, I’ve never been so proud.

Of course, the whole appointment went down hill from there. She refused to speak, just sort of whimpered and moaned to all his questions and proddings. More than once he asked me, “What is wrong? I am not hurting her.”

“I know. I know,” I assured him, “She’s just a god-awful idiot sometimes. I’m open to a series of shots and drills if you think it would straighten her out. That’s a killer set of pliers you’ve got over there. Let’s attach them to her fingers and toes and start twisting until she promises to act her age.”

In the end x-rays were shot, molds were made, and the dread retainer was ordered—all by the assistant, as the orthodontist clearly didn’t want to deal with her. Sadly, I don’t think I ever managed to convince him that she really isn’t retarded, and she really doesn’t suck her thumb anymore.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Hardest Kept Secret

Little Miss threw up last night. I sort of lost count, but I’m pretty sure it was 7, maybe 8 times at least. She kept me awake with her sobbing and dry heaving from 11:30 to 3:50 a.m.

She knew exactly when she was done though. After one last gagging spasm, she wiped her pale, puckered lips on her ruffled sleeve and said, “I want to go to my bed now.”

She was asleep before her head hit the pillow. Leaving me, at long last, to fall onto the couch and sleep for all of 3 hours before Mister poked me in the ribs to ask, “Dude. What was going on last night? Is something wrong with Missy?”

Up until last night I was certain that my trip home to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday was well worth every penny, every hassle, every miserable minute spent in transit from here to there and back again. But something about last night—the stealth speed of the attack—its sheer volume and intensity—how does a 3 year old even produce that much vomit anyway?—the comical overkill of each successive assault—“Again? Surely not. There’s nothing left. Surely you must be mistaken. No? Well. Okay then….”—felt like payback, like some sort of cosmic comeuppance for my foolish notions of independence and autonomy.

Welcome home, Mom! Glad you had a nice trip. Now kindly set your bags down, cuz’ we’ve got some shit for you to clean up.

Nice. How very nice it is to be home.

As for the trip itself—the secret—well, after seven long months, the cat is very much out of the bag now, isn’t it?

I’m happy to report that Operation Make Them Pee Their Pants was orchestrated, executed, and fulfilled to absolute perfection, thanks—in no small part—to my two accomplices Skinny Bitch Stace and my brother, The Partial Godfather.

I’m not exactly sure what my eager audience expects of me at this point. A blow by blow account of the week—even just that first weekend of surprises—would be time consuming. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to the task—you know?—given my crippling jet-lag, and sickly child, and all like that.

And yet, there are so many moments that should be documented lest they ever be forgotten. La Dragon being puked on by a total stranger during our final descent into Salt Lake, for example. Or the blank nods and terse smiles from the many members of the service industry that first day whom my mother insisted on telling that is was her birthday, and that her daughter, that one there, right! there! flew all the way from Norway to surprise her—ME!—Today! And I had NO idea. NONE! And ohmygod, I’m overwrought. Fetch me another drink! So we did.

Ohohoh! And remember that time during dinner when I was thanking Stace for all the work she did booking limos and making dinner reservations and stuff? And Stace grabbed my hand? And she said, “No no no. It was nothing. Ever since I was the Matron of Honor at your wedding….” And it was about to be a beautiful moment, because my wedding? it really was lovely, and we were about to bond over it or some shit like that. But then a light went on in Nan’s wine befuddled brain, and she pointed a finger at Stace and shouted, “AH! I remember you now! I do know you!” And it was so fucking funny, see? Hilarious. Because they had already spent the entire day together, and it was only just then that she recognized….Nah. Forget it. You probably had to be there. Or at least be drunk like we were.

I’ll tell you what wasn’t funny though. Being dumped out of a rented limo at 1 in the morning, in front of a house which no one had the key to, with a garage door which refused to open, and a bladder full to (I shit you not) BURSTING! That moment? That is a moment I would just as soon forget. But I peed on the neighbor’s lawn, so probably no one will let me. Assholes.

And the next day I got to surprise everyone on my dad’s side of the family. Even after an accidental phone call to Norway (way to drop the ball there Sparky) allowed Elder Miss to tell everyone I was there, they still managed to be utterly dumbfounded to see me standing at the door. A most excellent moment by any standard.

Alas, it is a sad truth that all good things must eventually come to an end. And to that end, it occurs to me that I have washing that needs to be put in the drier. Missy should be roused from her nap. Boy needs fetching from school. And Elder Miss needs help with her homework.

Welcome home.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Filing For An Extension

I'm assuming everyone's anxiously awaiting an update. Some sort of accounting for my actions and whereabouts (as if you all didn't already know!) these past few weeks.

Turns out, I have a migrain. So ya'll are just going to have to sit tight.

In the mean time, here's what I've got by way of pictures of the big surprise: