Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


As promised, here are a couple of pictures of Em's new guinea pig, the little hobo who was found on the streets of Pasadena but is now living in the currently overheated lap of luxury:

Seriously now: Could you just die from the cuteness of the little part on the top of his head? I could.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Busted by a Shrink

Went last Wednesday for a meds check with my psychiatrist, Dr. Oui. Have I mentioned I adore him? And that he's adorable? And that his voice is the most soothing thing you could ever hear? And that he's smart as a whip? If I haven't, consider them mentioned.

So he wants to hear what's on my mind, which is part of why I adore him, since, really, everyone else is bored senseless with what's on my mind. And I talked a bit about N, and the challenges I'm having in trying to figure out what the best course of action is with him, feeling all deserted and on my own as I do.

"I assume he's already been seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist, yes?" he asked.

"Um, no," I replied, then explained. See, the thing is, I don't want him to have what I'm coming to think he actually does have, which is some form of social anxiety. Because those are the sorts of diagnoses that lead to medication down the line, and I'm not ready to medicate my 4.5-year-old because he doesn't like to play with other kids but is otherwise a happy, smart-as-a-whip, scrumptiously cute little boy. So, I've been avoiding this line of inquiry, hoping to get someone to tell me he's on the autism spectrum and therefore doesn't need drugs. (Yeah, I know. It ain't just a river in Egypt.)

So he suggested a psychiatrist in their office, a new guy, who works with kids and adolescents and is covered by my insurance and seems really good, says Dr. Oui. "And all you'd have to do is tell him you're not interested in medication right now, and see if he has anything else to offer you."

"That sounds great," I enthused. "If you would write down his name for me, I'll try and get an appointment with him."

My adorable and brilliant psychiatrist looked at me with only a slight smile playing at his lips. But I could read his mind. This is the man who, several months back, told me it was imperative that I get some marriage therapy for Baroy and myself. But have I? No. And why? Well, there's the phone phobia thing, plus the scheduled-up-to-my-ears thing and the can't-deal-with-anything-else thing. So, trusting me to follow up on this? Wouldn't have been a good bet.

"You know what?" he said, getting up from his chair. "I'll do you one better. Let's go make the appointment right now."

And so we did. He stood there until a date had been found (September 15) and I was filling in paperwork. And then he smiled gently at me and told me he'd see me next month, and that he hoped this would help both N and me, and to keep him posted.

Smart man. Cute man. And he's totally got my number.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What IS the World Coming To?

Get this: In an hour or so, I'm going to go pick up a guniea pig that we're adopting from a local animal shelter. Why is he in the shelter? Because he was a stray. As in, found wandering alone on the mean streets of Pasadena.

I can only shake my head. Well, shake my head and post pictures as soon as possible. Em wants to name him Buddy, but I'll probably always call him Hobo.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Artificially Eight

On Baroy's eighth birthday, he announced to the assembled family, "I'm so happy because I'm finally artifically eight." And thus a never-to-be-lived-down moment was born.

Today, Em turned eight. My first born. She went to bed early last night, so that "time will go by faster, and then it'll be my birthday." She awoke this morning to a little naked brother holding a miniature red-rose bush, and me singing happy birthday. About ten minutes later, Baroy returned from his morning run, and we let her open the presents from family and friends who won't be at her birthday party (being held in a couple of weeks). Our present to her is going to be a guinea pig, just as soon as the lady from whom we were supposed to be adopting one gets back to me. (Or doesn't, at which point we go out and find one this weekend at a shelter, if possible.)

After presents, I made homemade waffles at her request, and then N and I set off to preschool and work, respectively, and she and Baroy headed out for a special birthday movie. Later on, we'll order in Thai food (again, her request), and we'll invite any neighborhood kids around for some ice cream or something like that so we can sing her happy birthday en masse.

I've been working on a freelance piece that I didn't quite finish by this morning's deadline, and all of my creative juices have been both tapped and sapped. Otherwise, I like to think, I'd be writing some kind of ode to my little girl and the many things that make her so very special. Instead, I will leave you with a scene from this morning. Em had just finished opening her gifts, with N (now dressed, thank goodness) watching. Then she scurried off into her room and returned with something behind her back.

"N, I knew that you might be feeling a little bit jealous of me getting to open all these presents today, and I know that this is something you like to play with when you're in my room, and I don't need it any more, so I figured this might help you not feel so jealous any more."

And, with a flourish, she presented him with her once-beloved-but-more-recently-neglected Ariel jewelry box, with the sparkly outside and the little twirling ballerina Ariel inside.

N took the book reverently from her hands. "This be mine now? Not yours?"

"Nope, it's all yours now, N," she replied, beaming. "Do you like it?"

"Yes, I do! I do, Emmy!" And he hugged her around her waist.

Happy birthday, my big, generous, not-one-bit-artificial girl. Happy eighth birthday.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Inane Design

This is one of those topics that drive me crazy, this intelligent design thing. Because it's just, well, stupid.

I mean, if I understand it correctly, intelligent design postulates that living organisms are too complex to have developed the way they have by pure chance; there must, say the ID pundits, be a guiding force behind all of this to explain the complexity and beauty of life.

I postulate the precise opposite: that living organisms are too complex, too messy to have any kind of intelligent designer behind them. I believe that to say that there was some kind of force, some designer, that had an actual hand in directly creating human beings (or cows, or frogs for that matter) is to insult that designer, to insinuate that she isn't nearly as bright as one would like to think she would be.

Ask any engineer: the best designs are the simplest ones. The more complexity you add to a system, the more vulnerable you make it. And we living creatures are so complex--in many cases, so unnecessarily complex--that anyone who engineered us should be ashamed of herself. Unless, of course, that designer was Rube Goldberg.

Think about it. The appendix? Stupid and useless. A brain so big that it often gets us killed during childbirth but which we only use a small percentage of--and yet which can't regenerate should the important bits get damaged? Beyond stupid. Genetic material that breaks down on a regular basis? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I know that there are people who find the concept of being descended from apes as insulting. I, on the other hand, find the idea that someone or something would have not only chosen, but actively planned, to create creatures with as many fundamental flaws as we have to be what is truly insulting. I expect more from my God, and I think you all should, too.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Anne and Emily both brought up some interesting points in their comments to my recent post about N's visit to the developmental pediatrician.

The question of whether N is gifted, and if so what role this plays in what we're seeing with him socially, is one I've sort of skirted around a bit. Neither Baroy nor I are comfortable with the sometimes-too-quick tendencies we've seen amongst parents at Em's school to declare their children gifted because they scored in the top third of the class on a single test. I've been skeptical all along as to whether or not Em is herself gifted, but if she is, she's gifted in the classical sense of reading early, being verbally advanced, picking up on stuff quickly, enjoying academic challenge. She's a prototypical 'smart kid' if nothing else.

N, on the other hand, at 4.5 has only recently learned all his letters, and still gets a couple wrong. He doesn't come off as unusually smart, or even vaguely advanced. He knows few if any letter-sounds, can read maybe three words (his name, open, and stop--and the last two only when they're on store doors or stop signs, respectively), and doesn't regularly blow me away with deep insights or problem-solving abilities. But what he can do, he does effortlessly, answering addition and subtraction questions without hesitating, and mostly getting them right, for instance. Or just making a sudden declaration about something that you had no idea he knew thing one about. Or reciting his phone number in full a week after you say it to him once or maybe twice.

Still, each person who has tested him has suggested that a part of his problem may very well be giftedness and the social issues that often come along with that. And we've seen him pull away from same-aged peers when it comes to ball sports, for instance, because he knows that they can't keep up with him, and so he'd rather play with older kids, or adults. So, yeah, maybe he wants nothing to do with his peers because they generally don't provide any kind of intellectual challenge or peership to him. We've definitely had to toy with that possibility, and how it would play into the way we deal with this. I'm just not sure what the answer is.

Which is where Emily's comments really hit home for me, because I agree wholeheartedly that in many ways it just doesn't matter if it's giftedness that's the root of the problem here. The fact is, N does have to live in our intolerant (whether that be of giftedness or developmental delays or short kids, another big issue in his world) society, and that with the skills he has right now, he's more likely to sink than swim in school. And I want to do all I can to make sure that doesn't happen. Will a social skills group do the trick? I'm not convinced, but at the same time, I think it might be worth a shot. Will speech therapy help? I'd say definitely so if things were slightly different--if it was his peers that were rejecting him, rather than the other way around. Then it would be of paramount importance to help him be as understandable to and by them as possible. But even with things the way they are, with N more or less choosing to reject children who seem to continue to try and engage him despite constantly being rejected by him, I can't see where speech therapy could hurt. So that is where we'll start, and yes, Emily, we'll start by asking our insurance carrier how we can do it with the least out-of-pocket outlay possible.

Thanks for making me think, both of you...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Dimming Light

There was hope there, for a while. Not real, based-in-fact hope or anything like that. But hope that there was a way out, that I could work things so that I could stay home, or work from home, or freelance.

Not only that, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. In December, my car payments are over for now, and since the car is still running fine [she knocks furiously on the wooden coffee table in front of her] and I'm willing to ignore what time, carelessness and Baroy have done to the exterior, that should net us an extra $400 a month for a while. Not to mention that in a year, N goes to kindergarten, and we gain another almost-$700 from that.

So I was thinking it might be doable, if not this very minute, by early next year. I had a plan. It involved a job in education, and the writing of a book with a decent advance, and it was actually doable, if not done. I was excited, even if I was keeping it in check.

I was an idiot.

Did I really think it was going to be that easy? Did I really think the words "overqualified yet inexperienced in the field" weren't going to get in my way? Did I really think that there was going to be an actual telecommuting job out there for me? Just because I work in a freaking communications field, just because I'm a writer and therefore almost never NEED to actually be in an office, that doesn't mean that any of the industries I can contribute to will actually HIRE telecommuters. Or pay them anything above minimum wage, if they do.

Did I really think I'd be able to find the time amidst parenting and working and freelancing and driving and cooking and cleaning and volunteering and socializing and traveling and blogging and emailing and sleeping and crying and therapizing and visiting doctors and evaluating N to get a book proposal done?

Did I really think that if we took care of N's physical issues then I could switch to a private insurance plan and not have to worry? Did I really think he wouldn't then develop ANOTHER hernia and ANOTHER undescended testicle, making it almost impossible for me to consider a health plan that has any kind of exclusion for preexisting conditions?

Did I really think that I would be able to have normal budget that doesn't require me to consider the extra costs of private speech therapy, private social skills classes, private occupational therapy, private who-the-fuck-knows-what? Or to consider having health insurance that doesn't include such things on their menu of benefits?

See those marks around my wrists? Those are the not-so-golden handcuffs tethering me to my job, or to one just as oppressive and hateful.

That light at the end of the tunnel must have been a pretty cheap bulb, because it burned out already.

Monday, August 15, 2005

In Search of Certainty

I thought today was going to be the end of a road. Any road. We had an appointment for N and us to see a developmental pediatrician at CHLA, and it seemed the perfect coda to the occupational therapist's observations, the speech therapist's observations and the preschool assessment team's evaluations.

You noticed I used the words "thought" and "seemed," didn't you? You're smart that way.

Instead of a coda, it was more like a comma. It gave me pause.

Why? Well, for one thing, she completely contradicted the school's speech therapist and preschool assessement team's speech and language pathologist, telling me that his articulation does not seem to be age-appropriate (or, at least, that his intelligibility is occasionally very low) and that she has concerns about his pragmatics. So she'd like to see us persue private speech therapy for him, knowing that there's no way we're getting speech from the school district with two reports that say we don't need it. At least not now. (Once he's established in speech therapy outside the school district and we have any deficits on paper, then we can ask for it to be continued in school, I suppose, and they'd be harder put to argue the point with us.)

For another, she sees "serious red flags" in his behavior. Red flags for what, you ask? I did, too. She couldn't say. (OF COURSE SHE COULDN'T! THAT WOULD BE TOO EASY! THEN I'D HAVE A NAME TO CALL THIS! Ok, ok, I'm calming down.) She expressed grave concerns (which I'm tempted to put in quotation marks, because I think she actually used that phrase, but maybe not) about his ability to handle a 20-kids-to-1-teacher classroom, even in a year from now, even with therapies in the interim. She asked if we had any "options," meaning could we find him some tiny Montessori school with four kids per teacher or something I suppose, and I shut her down, which she understood. But don't think THAT isn't going into the pantheon of guilt/ways in which I've failed my son.

She agreed that we'd have better luck teaching him to fly than we would of getting the school district to give him social skills training, but she still thinks would benefit from the "right" kind of social skills group; I got the impression she meant one in which he was surrounded by high-functioning kids and not really taught social skills but rather given the chance to use them. Actually, she admitted, she would love to see him have a one-on-one aide to facilitate social interaction in his regular preschool. Yeah, me too. I'd also love to have the money to even consider that, on top of the private speech therapy, the social skills class and the private school she thinks would benefit him. Feh. Another brick in the Guilt Pantheon.

I left even more confused than when I'd started. I liked her; she seemed smart and engaged and intersted in helping, even if she didn't. But most of what she was saying was based on talking to me, rather than interacting with N. I don't know what we were doing there, and I don't know what the point was. She didn't end up testing him, because he'd already been tested by the school district, and she said that as long as I thought the testing was more or less accurate, there was no need to put him through it again. She's going to read the school district's report, and I guess she'll send us a written report as well, but overall, we walked out of there with some vague recommendations that we get him speech therapy, do more one-on-one play dates with children other than WeeyumWise, and consider finding a social skills class. Not exactly the overarching final say that I was hoping for. Not really a say at all, in fact. Just one more person saying, "Yup. Something's definitely wrong here. Nope. Can't really help you, aside from throwing you in the direction of other people who will, untimately, disappoint you as well. Have fun! And nice meeting you, N."

Did I say feh? Feh.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I've been doing a lot of reading lately, after a serious-reading hiatus of...oh, how old is Em going to be in two weeks?...about eight years. The stuff I'm reading is all over the map, and about half of it is actually stuff I've listened to (I heart audible.com) rather than read, because while the flesh and spirit are willing, the time-space continuum is weak. Not to mention that having a good book going on my iPod is a great substitute for actual, you know, motivation to get out of the house four times a week or more and walk a few miles in my vain and unsuccessful attempt to shed some pounds.

And while I'm enjoying myself, most of the time immensely, I've also found myself wondering if the state of literature in the world has really deteriorated as much as I think it has, or if I'm just forgetting how much dreck I've always had to read to find the occasional and depressingly thin filament of gold.

I do have to admit: I've always been a book snob, though I prefer to call it being an I-like-what-I-like snob. And maybe it's because I'm a writer myself that I've become increasingly curmudgeonly when it comes to books, finding fault with even those that receive wide critical and popular acclaim, and feeling vaguely dissatisfied with the efforts of about three-quarters of the authors whose novels or memoirs or story collections I pick up. (In fact, I spend an inordinate amount of reading time scolding authors in my head for what I would consider to be amateurish plot mechanisms or jarringly discordant notes in what are otherwise well-crafted pieces.) But no amount of blaming myself can explain how some of the embarrassingly awful work that I've picked up of late is making it to bookstores. There has to be something else going on.

Personally, I think it has to do with celebrity, and editors who don't have the balls to tell big-name writers when they're putting out crap. That's the only explanation I can think of for books like Carrie Fisher's The Best Awful, which is just plain awful, no best about it. It's not just that it's not funny, or that there are plot holes big enough to drive my butt through, but that it is just this side of incomprehensible. And then, on the other side of incomprehensible, we have Jane Pauley's Skywriting. What the...? These weren't books I would have normally read if they didn't have a bipolar connection and I didn't feel compelled to keep up with that genre. And so I didn't have high hopes to start out with, but I was at least expecting, I don't know, a story of any sort. Maybe a thought or two that would actually be completed by the end of the book. No such luck.

Meanwhile, out here in the real world of the no-name writer, there are people literally killing themselves to get manuscripts read by agents, much less by editors or, hard to even consider, the reading public. And these are people who not only have something to say, but even have the ability to say it. In a way that will actually allow other people to understand them, even. But haha! No soup for you! Because Carrie Fisher needs to regurgitate a manic episode onto the pages of a manuscript, without even trying to make it accessible to the non-manic mind. And Jane Pauley needs to demonstrate that coming back after a bipolar diagnosis means you can publish a disjointed record of half-thoughts and meandering emotions that make absolutely no sense to anyone, so long as you were American's Sweetheart to start out with.

Bitter? You betcha. And I'm not even one of those people trying to hawk a book to the publishing houses right now. (Though, of course, there will be one or more attempts in the not-too-distant future, I'm sure.) Mostly, I'm pissed because I trusted that someone along the way would have made sure that these stories were safe for consumer consumption. I'm pissed because I was wrong, and now my stomach and my eyes and my head and my heart hurt. Not to mention that, because of this misuse of my trust, there goes yet another wasted chunk of that precious time-space continuum that I can never get back.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Jewish Spam

I know that I tend toward the paranoid when it comes to discrimination based on gender, race, sexual preference, and religion. Ask me some time why Al Gore lost the 2000 election. Go ahead, ask. Why, you ask? Well, I answer, can you say Joe Lieberman? Can you say lost Gore's home state of Tennessee? Can you say I don't care WHAT the electorate says in polls, but behind the curtain, I believe in all sincerity that there is still a significant proportion of this country that simply couldn't pull a lever for a Jew? Yeah, I thought you could.

I could also ramble on about the encounters I've had in my time that prove to me that religious intolerance isn't dead. I know these things in my heart and from my life. No need to try to convince me otherwise.

So when I started noticing a trend in my spam recently, I immediately jumped to conclusions. Previously, I'd been getting my spam from senders with names cobbled together from pure nonsense: Hatcheck Alligator; Significant Morose; Adamently Bovine. You got those too, right? But has anyone else found that the ubiquitous low-price-prescription-drug spam and the sex spam and even the cheap-software spam has started coming with single surnames attached--and have you noticed that those surnames are Jewish names? In my mailbox today, for instance, were spam mails from Gottlieb and Shapiro and Hirsch and Goldman and Goldberg. It's been going on for weeks, in fact.

What the fuck?

Is this supposed to make Jews like myself more likely to open the spam? Does it have some kind of meaning? Is it supposed to imply something that I can't quite figure out? That was my first instinct. Somehow, it felt threatening, negative. I was ready to use this trend as yet another bullet in my you-may-think-it's-not-so-but-anti-semitism-is-still-alive-and-kicking arsenal.

But then I started thinking: Just how would this be anti-semitic? Does it really mean something that spammers are coopting Jewish names for their emails? Or have they simply used up all the Christian-sounding names or can no longer get those names past the spam filters? When the same begins to happen to Levy and Gottesman, am I next going to start getting spam from Wong and Wu and Yu?

I can't figure it out. And I want to. For one thing, because I'm curious what this is all about. But for the most part, because I'd hate to pass up a good opportunity at righteous indignation if it's staring me in the face. Righteous indignation is a rare commodity these days; most of the time, it's actually somewhat-unfounded indignation that I find myself working with. And while I do what I can with it, it's just not nearly as much fun.

So, if you know whereof I speak, or have an explanation for it, lob it my way, would ya? My innate curiosity and prickliness thank you in advance.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Child Birth

Note: I'm in New York to pick up Em and bring her home again. But it's 1:30 AM here, and while I'm too awake to go to bed, it being just 10:30 in my brain, I'm also too discombobulated (one of my all-time favorite words, by the way; it's right up there with perspicacious and sardonic and a few others) to write anything of note. And so I give you a quick and amusing, but ultimately substanceless, anecdote:

While in New York, Em had lunch with one of her uncles, whom she loves dearly, but with whom she has never managed to spend any time alone. Apparently, they had a very grown-up lunch in the cafeteria of the high-profile weekly newsmagazine for which he works, and they were having a very grown-up conversation to go with it. At one point, J reported, Em was describing the circumstances of her birth, complete with the details of her meconium aspiration and eventual emergency c-section. When she'd reached the end of her story, she'd summed it up with a weary sigh: "I had a very hard labor," she said.

Yeah? Well, you and me both, kiddo.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Social Smack-Down

We were at a park last night listening to music, and N was playing with his friend B, who is 3 going on 8 and like a cousin to N and hence one of the 'safe' kids he's willing and happy to hang with. But he's been doing better and better socially, and starting to really make headway, and so when B ran into his friend D, who is also 3 or so, apparently N was willing to keep on playing with both of them.

I'm short on details (Baroy was on kid duty at the time), but apparently they started playing hide-and-go-seek, and N was right there in the game, when suddenly D just hauled off and smacked N in the face.

Baroy handled it fine, just telling D that hitting isn't OK, especially in the face. But thus ended the game, and that particular foray into playing with other kids. And while I know that this is one of the hazards of peer interaction, and that these are the sorts of things N will have to learn to deal with...it still made me want to scream. Because, really. I can spend all day every day teaching him social skills, and talking to him about expanding his social horizon, and doing every possible social interaction therapy there is, but if each time he takes a chance and gives it a shot he gets literally smacked down for it, well, I ain't raisin' no fool. He's going to figure out that this whole 'playing with other kids' thing just isn't all it's cracked up to be.

In short: Can. Not Win. Sigh.

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