Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Shifting Limits

I often find myself watching other parents with their children and critiquing them in my head. (You do so do it, too. Don't even try to pretend you don't.) More often than not, I'll comment inwardly on what I perceive as a too-light hand, an inability to rein a kid in before they behave either obnoxiously or dangerously, or even just a feeling that there's too much coddling going on, too much giving in to a child's whims. I think a lot of parents get taken advantage of by their children, mostly because they allow it to happen.

What spurred this on was a scene in the schoolyard the other day, where I was talking with another mother whose little boy, George, was showing off his cell phone, and then started ragging on his mother because he didn't have a picture phone. I was aghast. She argued that he was one of very few 9-year-olds at the school who had any kind of cell phone and he didn't need a picture phone, but he seemed unswayed. I left with a bad taste in my mouth, but that was nothing compared to the taste I had when Em came up to me a few days later and said, "So guess what George's mom got for him?"

But, of course, what do I know about what is behind most parents' decisions with regards to parenting? Who made me the parenting police? Nobody, that's who. And yet, I often find myself on patrol, ready to hand out citations to half the parents I meet.

Which is what makes is particularly amusing when I realize just how fragile a glass house I live in, and how stupid it is for me to throw stones. The walls of that house closed in on me this morning, in fact, when I found myself leaning back over the waist-high inner fence at N's preschool so that he could twirl his fingers into my hair and then rub the ends of it over his forehead while he sucked his thumb. I flushed as another preschool parent asked politely for us to step aside so she could get through. I could only imagine what she was thinking--what *I* would have been thinking if the roles were reversed. I wanted to grab her and say, "But, see, WeeyumWise isn't here today, and he didn't want to come at all. And, you see, he has these social issues, and they're getting better, but he still needs some reassurances. So, yeah, I already did the obligatory six-hugs-and-six-kisses-plus-one-more-at-the-gate-for-good-luck routine. But he needs the sensory input from twirling my hair, I think. I think it helps regulate him. It seems to be really helping him fall asleep at night. So, even though I'm bent over a metal fence and I've been trying to extricate my hair from his grasp for three or four minutes now, I'm really not letting him walk all over me. I'm just 'being there' for him, to try and help his day go better. So, pay no attention to those little-boy footprints all over me, OK?"

Every word of that is true, by the way. I am very good about not letting myself be taken advantage of by my kids. If I feel at all uncomfortable with the way I'm treated, they hear about it, and things change. But when there's something that one of my kids needs, and it's not a large amount of skin off my nose to give it to them, I will. If you'd told me a few years ago that I'd have an-almost-five-year-old child use me as some kind of life-size cuddle blankie, in public no less, I'd have told you that would be more skin than my nose could afford to give up. Then I met N, and he and his needs changed my definitions of "taken advantage of." I'm confident that I'm adequately balanced on the line between spoiling my kids/turning them into beasts and making sure their needs and some of their wants are met. But from the outside, I'm sure it doesn't look that way.

Which is why I really should give the picture-cell-phone-giving mom a break. Who knows what happened there, over the two days between the conversation I overheard and her giving in to her son? Who knows what her reasoning was? She may have had a very good reason for the choice she made.

But I, for one, can't come up with a single one. And so, Officer TC is unabashedly back on the job...as soon as N is done rubbing his face with my hair, that is.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Synagogues, Temples, and Shuls, Oh My

Krista's question forced me to actually, you know, educate myself. Here's what I found out:

Officially, one should call all places of Jewish worship synagogues, because temple is really supposed to stand only for the Temple, the one in Israel where at one point in history all the Jews congregated to pray. But today, the two words are mostly synonymous in both Reform and Conservative congregations, with the Orthodox Jews using only synagogue. So, for example, I've looked at Temple Sinai and Temple Emanu El, etc.--which is why I referred to it as joining a temple--but if I were going to be scoping out an orthodox place of worship, it would not have temple in its name. (Nor would its name be likely to be in English, but that's beside the point.)

The funny thing is, when Jews talk to one another about their place of worship, they more frequently use the colloquial term shul, which comes from the German word for school and denotes that these places are often the centers of Jewish education, as well as of worship.

See? Aren't you learning so much today? (Hey! You in the back! Wake up!)

Which is a long way of saying that, earlier this week, we joined a temple, a synagogue, a shul, a place of worship. Em starts religious school there on Sunday. We have 'tickets' to the High Holy Days services. We'll be attending Tot Shabbat services once a month or so to start getting N acclimated, in addition to others along the way. And I'm actually very excited about it all.

Here's the really shocking part, though many of you may not 'get' it: This is a conservative temple. As in, not reform. As in, a synagogue that keeps Kosher, that does large parts of its services in Hebrew rather than English. A shul that has twice-weekly religious school classes, rather than getting it all over on Sunday. You sort of need to have a vague clue about your religion to go there. I am going to be so lost.

So why did we join? A lot of reasons. Reason one was the mom on N's soccer team who, it turns out, I went to junior high school with (3,000 miles away from here, mind you) and is the exact same age as me and who I liked on sight. While we were talking, we realized that we had both gone to the same sleep-away camp as well, but at different times. This was a Jewish sleep-away camp, and so I took the opportunity to say to her, "Hey, do you belong to a shul?" And she gasped (again; we did a lot of gasping that day over weird coincidences) and said, "Yes, and we're having an open house tomorrow, and they're DYING for more families there, especially families with young children, young families, and you'd be perfect. You'll love it. You should come!" And so we did.

Reason two was the way we were treated at the open house. When we'd asked for info from the local reform temple, it took them a month to get back to us; the time I'd gone there in the past, it struck me as a little, um, cold. When we walked into the kinda shabby meeting room at this synagogue, people swarmed us. Friendly people. Warm people. By the time we left, two hours later, we'd not only chatted with the soccer mom and her husband and watched N and their boy play together, but we'd been invited to sit in on the religious school class Em will be in, we'd had a tour of the temple and had met both the rabbi and the cantor, I'd been invited to join the monthly women's book club, and I'd had some really nice conversations with a couple of other men and women. One, in particular, pointed out that she had chosen this temple--a relatively tiny (for this area) congregation of less than 150 families--when she'd arrived to check it out with her half-black daughter and found another mixed-race family already there. "I was looking for a place for people like me," she said. "And I found it here."

And reason three was that, when I got home and checked into it, I found that even though I'd long assumed I'd fit best in a reform synagogue, what calls to me most strongly about my religion is the traditional, historical aspect of it. And that is what conservative Judaism seeks to hold onto, moreso than does the reform movement, it seems. I think the problem was that I'd associated "reform" with "liberal"--not in the theological sense, but in the political one. The still-attached Kerry/Edwards sticker on the rabbi's car and the long political discussion Baroy had with the cantor (people who know him are undoubtedly shocked--SHOCKED--that Baroy would get into a political discussion) kicked that theory out the window. Those two men are going to give Baroy a run for his liberal money.

It was strange. Talking about it later on that day with Baroy, I told him that even though there were advantages to the reform temple (less expensive membership, for one, it's closer to our house, and my beloved pediatrician is a member of that congregation), I felt pulled toward what is now "our" temple by the simple fact that I felt like they NEEDED us. Like our choosing to become part of that community will not only make a difference in our lives, but it will make a difference to that congregation, if that makes any sense. And I'm sort of looking forward to the 'challenge' of being a member of a conservative congregation. I'm interested to see if I'll pursue a greater understanding of Judaism, or--more prosaically--if I'll make an effort to learn some Hebrew or begin to actually 'keep' the Sabbath.

So there you have it. We made a choice this week based on gut and heart and not on logic. Now I guess we just sit back and see where gut and heart take us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why Children Should Be Completely Potty-Trained By Age 4.5

[I don't know why this didn't publish two day ago, when I wrote it, but...]

Background info: N continues to have frequent potty accidents, which is quite frustrating for both Baroy and I. These accidents are so frequent that we often run out of extra clothes for him at his preschool. In fact, this morning, he had an accident on the way to school and had to borrow an entire outfit from the 'extra clothes bin' at school.

Background info part 2: When confronted with evidence of his accidents, N is just as likely to lie baldfacedly about it as he is to own up to it.

Here's what I overheard this evening:

Baroy: N, did you pee-pee in your pants *again*?
N: No, I did not.
Baroy: N, tell me the truth. Did you pee-pee in your pants?
N: NO. I did NOT.
Baroy, gesturing to the obvious wet stain: N! I need you to tell me the truth! Did you pee-pee in your pants?
N: NO!!!
Baroy, trying to keep control of his temper: N! I'm looking right at you, and I can see you've pee-peed in your pants. Why won't you tell me the truth?
N, visibly frustrated and raising his voice: Because THEY'RE NOT MY PANTS!

Final score: N, 1; Baroy, 0.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Tired, Busy. Busy, Tired.

Last week, so overcome by exhaustion of the bone-shattering type that I was finding myself unable to make dinner for my family or even stay awake for N's 8:30 bedtime (much less Em's 9:00 one), I went for a walk-in visit at our internal medicine clinic. The doctor talked to me, examined me. Much blood was withdrawn from my veins. I went home.

Here is what I have done since then:

Wednesday, I took Buddy the guinea pig to the vet because of a bald patch behind one ear (we think it's mites), returned home to work on a freelance article, picked up Em at school at 2:15, took her to Brownies at 4, went to my shrink appointment at 4:30, picked up Em from Brownies on my way back, took a walk to the library, threw something together for the kids to eat, collapsed into bed.

Thursday, I worked from 8:30 until 1:30, then stayed at the office until 4 trying to finish up the now-late freelance piece, then picked up N, went home, took a walk down to the local supermarket for supplies, baked a chicken for dinner, ate a bit, collapsed into bed.

Friday, I worked from 8:30 until 4:30, leaving early to pick up N, then run home, get Em and Baroy, and head on up to the elementary school's Fall Family Picnic, where I was supposed to already be selling school t-shirts, stayed there until 8:30 to help clean up after Baroy and the kids had gone home, realized I'd never gotten any dinner so begged leftovers from the guys who ran the barbeque, then walked home in the dark and went almost directly to bed.

Saturday, I took a walk from 9 until 10, when I arrived at N's soccer game, talked with the other parents on his team, cheered and hung out with Em while we tried to keep N interested in actually playing rather than standing on the field sucking his thumb (we mostly failed, but he did kick the ball a few times), then walked home while Baroy took the kids to get lunch, after which I got Em changed into her soccer uniform and over to her game at 1:30 (with practice half an hour beforehand), cheered as she scored her team's only goal, came home to make a video birthday card for Baroy's half-sister, ran a load of laundry to get the kids' uniforms ready for picture day the next day, took N for a bike ride, went out as a family to Shakeys (aka Hell) as a celebration for a good day of soccer, came home, collapsed into bed.

Sunday, we went to a sorta-nearby temple's open house, did a tour there, and sat in on a religious school class with Em (we all loved it; more on that another time), then ran back home to feed the kids, wrap a present for a birthday party planned for later in the day, and get Em dressed for her 2:00 soccer pictures, took her to get the picture done, then drove directly to her friend's birthday party, which was half over by the time we got there, tried to find someone to take Em home so I could go help Baroy with his (and N's) team picture at 4 but couldn't, left the party at 4 and came home, made dinner (spaghetti and meatballs in a tomato sauce made from the tomatoes and basil in my garden), put both kids to bed early, finally sat down to finish the now-very-overdue article, and went up to my bed, finally, at 1:30, only to find myself in the midst of my first bout of insomnia in weeks, so came back downstairs, lay down on the couch, and listened to an audiobook until I fell asleep.

This week promises to be even crazier, what with my usual workweek (28 hours over four days) a Brownie parent meeting tonight after Em's soccer practice, an open house at another temple we're still considering joining (though it's less likely now...) Tuesday night and if not, Em will probably be going to religious school at the first temple that evening, a doctor's visit for N Wednesday along with a half-day at school for Em and her school's Back to School night that evening after my (by then crucial) therapist appointment, a psychiatrist visit for me and Em's gym class on Thursday, and...is it possible? Do I not have something that Must Be Done on Friday? Oh, yeah, we might go to Friday night services at the temple we saw this week. And then Saturday is soccer for both kids again, my brother-in-law will be coming over at some point, and there's another birthday party to attend this weekend, and religious school on Sunday, and I really would like to see my girlfriends, and...

And I thought I needed a DOCTOR to help me understand why I'm so exhausted? Mother, heal thyself.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Reading With My Ears

When I was a kid, I was one of those who lived in a world of books. I read all the time, and I lost myself in the pages. My sister remembers all the times she would have to come over to me and put her hand on the page I was reading so as to get my attention: Just calling for me wasn't enough to break through to the other side.

As a relatively young adult, living and working in and around Manhattan, I always carried a book with me on the subway, and even as I navigated the streets on foot. I preferred owning them to borrowing them; something about being surrounded by books in my apartment appealed to me on a very basic level.

When I got to LA 12 years ago, things started to change. First to go was the ability to read while I commuted, since holding a book in front of your nose on the freeways can be somewhat unsafe. When I started dating Baroy, I found myself spending more time curled up on the couch, talking, watching television, doing my newly discovered old-lady crafts. And once I had the kids, each of whom took a large chunk of my brain in addition to my free time when they exited my uterus, my reading time almost entirely disappeared.

Among the things I resolved this year was to bring books back into my life. Not a handful of books, but whole baskets full. I've missed them so much. Making myself happy, I decided, would mean allowing myself to expand my world through reading.

Except, who was I kidding? Yes, I've read a lot more this year. But there are limits on my time. I still have to commute to work. I still have to--want to--play with my kids, spend time with my husband. I have to clean and cook. I have a garden I'm inordinately proud of and want to keep going. There's laundry to do, and soccer practices to sit through. And I've become addicted to my multi-tasking walks around the neighborhood.

The solution: audiobooks. Audiobooks and an iPod. Audiobooks, an iPod, and a heavy reliance on interlibrary loans so that I can read/hear as many books as I want at no cost to myself.

Hearing books has taking some getting used to. I never imagined I'd like it, and in the beginning, I didn't much. Sometimes having the author's voice in your head gets in the way of hearing what he or she is saying. Sometimes having someone who is NOT the author read to you can feel false. Misspoken words are even more jarring than typos on a page, though I actually believe both should be punishable by jail time. I often find myself struggling with the meaning of a sentence, and resaying it in my head until I find a cadence or an emphasis that wasn't the one chosen by the reader, but which works better for me.

But the truth is that I now find myself enjoying my audiobooks a lot. The voices that can get in the way can also add things; interpretations you might not have 'heard' on your own. Sometimes, having the book read to me helps me to get through an emotionally difficult section that I might otherwise have simply put aside, or helps me get the most out of such a section by forcing me to listen to it sequentially, rather than skipping ahead with my eyes to see how it turns out. And I have not yet "put down" an audiobook halfway through, though I have many books on my shelves with which I've done the same. Somehow, with the audiobooks, it's easier to plow on through, as it were. And in almost every case, I've found that plowing to be worthwhile.

And so now I'm off, to head on home. I'll go pick up N, and I'll put one of his CDs on the stereo in the car. Then I'll put one of my earbuds into my ear, fire up my iPod, and sail on up the freeway, listening to the voices of the essayists in Cathy Hanauer's The Bitch In The House and feeling a lot less resentful by the time to I get to mine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What Works, Part II

Celexa: Not as an antidepressant, mind you. Or, at least, it's not yet knocking my socks off. But as a weight reducer? It rocks. Or maybe it's just having gone off that godawful-to-me Effexor. Whatever it is, after six-plus months of watching my weight go up and up and up and up despite eating better and better and exercising more and more, I'd finally given up and stopped watching my food so carefully (though I still get out and walk several times a week). Coincidentally, at the same time, I stopped taking Effexor, and started taking Celexa. And now, maybe two weeks later, I'm down a good five pounds. Imagine where'd I be if I weren't indulging in near-daily vanilla ice-cream sandwiches?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why I Hate My Job So Much: An Example

I spent the last two days of last week immersed in a press release announcing the award that it seemed my institution would be getting from the agency set up here in California to award all that voter-approved money for stem cell research. We knew we were going to be only one of a handful of places getting this money, and that it wasn't likely to make huge news nationwide, but we also knew that the 'local' papers would jump on it. So I skipped a meet-the-new-person-in-marketing lunch at our faculty center, and called cell phones and pagers and skimmed through much of a 100-page document to see what exactly it was we were proposing to do with the money so I could write about it, then hustled everyone through the process of approving the copy, and finally spent the last few hours of the week making calls to find out just when it would be "official" and we could put our release out.

This is the story that ran yesterday. My institution? Is the last word in the story. An acronym. Not even a full name. Not even spelled out. That's it. The fruits of two days of work.

And this, my friends, was a GOOD response. Most of my press releases don't even get that much.

Bitter, table for one.

Friday, September 09, 2005

What Works, Part I

Floortime therapy: Fed up with the conflicted responses from experts and the complete lack of offers of help I received therefrom, I embarked not so long ago on a sort of solo attempt to help N address his social issues. But, of course, I wasn't alone. I have friends who've been here and done this, and they provided support. Tamar even loaned me her much-beloved copy of Stanley Greenspan's The Child With Special Needs, and gave me tutorials on how best to do floortime with N. And so I did. Sporadically, poorly. But I did it.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that I 'cured' my son. First of all, I don't think he needed curing. He needed help. And I gave him a little. Very little. I never did find the time to make it part of our daily routine, but I'd say that I managed to incorporate at least the thinking behind floortime in much of my interactions with him, and to sometimes actually even get down on the floor and "do" floortime.

There on the floor, I never really thought we were getting anywhere. I only saw the deficits, the things I needed to 'fix.' I felt discouraged, to be honest. But then I noticed changes. They were minor, and they were subtle, and they were hard to see if you weren't me. But I saw them. And then they started to expand, slowly, slowly, slowly.

Now, let me tell you about the past seven days or so. Last Friday, a no-WeeyumWise day, I arrived to pick N up at preschool. The kids were outside. I looked around for N in all his usual sitting-by-himself spots. He wasn't in any of them. And then I noticed him, sitting on the ground next to a little girl in his class, playing with dolls in the dollhouse the teachers had brought outside. He was so engrossed in his play that he didn't hear me or see me, and so I stood by a tree and watched, for minutes, as he and the girl talked to each other in high, squeeky pretend voices, being their characters. I watched while his doll, in a fireman costume, squirted her doll, who was supposedly on fire. I watched them laughing together. It was a moment of such sublime contentment for me that I almost felt like I was going to swoon; I even reached out to hold onto the tree to steady myself.

On Tuesday, another no-WeeyumWise day, there was another breakthrough. This time, I arrived to find him running around playing with another little boy named WeeyumO. When I told N it was time to go, he ran over to WeeyumO and hugged and kissed him, a gesture that was reciprocated with a big smile. Weeyum O followed us to the gate, waving over and over to N and saying "See you tomorrow! We'll play more tomorrow, right?" and N smiled and giggled and waved back and said, "Yes, see you tomorrow!"

On Wednesday, while Baroy was at a soccer meeting, I took N for a bike ride up and down our block. Em was playing with her friends J and Gray; Gray's brother, D, was outside. He and N have become friendly over time, which has been encouraging enough, but this time, D was playing with a younger boy next door. N hesitated, then jumped off his bike and joined D and the younger boy. As if this is the sort of thing he does every day, join in with other kids who are playing together. Within minutes, they were all three laughing and running up and down the block. Eventually, I told N it was time for us to go back home, at which point he threw a fit. "I don't want to go with you!" he told me huffily. "I want to stay and play with D!"

Three totally normal, mundane moments, and they filled my heart to bursting. I can't say for certain that these things are a result of floortime. But I know they weren't possible for N before I started doing therapy with him, before I gave up on waiting for help. And so, if I ever get to meet Dr. Greenspan, I'm going to give him a huge hug, and then I'm going to tell him that I think he's a genius, and then I'm going to tell him that I think he aims too low. Because N doesn't really 'fit' into the usual in-need-of-floortime categories. But, clearly, he was--and still is--in need of floortime. And so am I.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Her Anxiety

Last night, Em came out of her bedroom, crying. Seems she couldn't fall asleep. Seems she's been having these "worrying" thoughts. Seems she's been having recurring worries about being kidnapped, and is having trouble falling asleep at night.

Dealing with that announcement was easy--or, rather, it was easy helping Em though the moment and coming up with a compromise soluton that would make her feel safe. But if I weren't already in day 3 of another who-the-hell-knows-where-it-came-from panic attack, that would have certainly been the reason for a flare.

For one thing, there's guilt over the fact that this is my anxiety--that of her, and her brother, being kidnapped by Crazy Stalker Lady (CSL). Then there's guilt over the fact that I was talking about exactly that, but in what I'd assumed was 'code,' with Baroy earlier that evening (I was filling out the annual emergency forms for school, and asked him if he thought it would be OK to just write that she's only to be released to people she knows, since CSL is not someone she knows) and maybe she picked it up and internalized it, making me the cause of her anxiety as well as the source.

Of course, as my therapist pointed out to me today, this is a really 'normal' and common anxiety for a kid to have, so probably I'm neither the cause nor the source. But, of course, I'd rather wallow in guilt for a while longer, instead of letting myself off the hook. And so I shall. And so I am.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


I realized this morning that, because we tend to shield the kids to some degree from television news, etc., Em probably didn't know about Katrina. So I tod her, and during the conversation N wandered into the room, and picked up what I was saying, and hen I took out the LA Times to show them some pictures, so they could get an idea of the devastation.

It would have been a perfect family moment if the LA Times I pulled out wasn't yesterday's which featured a photo of a body floating in the water. Niiiiice.

While we were talking, Baroy told Em that we'd donated some money as a family, but Em wanted to do something herself. So she went and got her "savings," which is money to be spent on others--charity, presents for family, etc.--and gave me $15 to "send to the poor children."

A few minutes later, N came into the room. "Mommy, can you get my box?" (He gets a dollar a week allowance, which he almost never spends, because he doesn't have the consumer impulse like his sister does.) "I want to count how much money I have for the poor peoples."

So, between my 8-year-old and my 4.5-year-old, I now have $25 sitting on my desk, waiting for me to find just the right place to send it. And I have a lot of pride in my heart, especially for N, who's showing a level of empathy I didn't know he possessed.

Friday, September 02, 2005


I have nothing to say about Katrina that hasn't been said before, and better. And yet, I'm going to say something anyway.

The one thing I am noticing with regards to what has happened is a nearly unprecedented level of anger, at least when you're talking about a natural disaster. I don't remember these feelings after the Northridge quake, which is my only personal point of comparison, since I rode that one out literally clinging to my mattress, lest I be bucked to the ground. Of course, the scale of that was so much smaller. We weren't dealing with hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Still, I experienced it as a time of almost preternatural calm, from a societal point of view. Personally, I couldn't have been less calm. But just knowing that I was not alone in that feeling helped to bond me to everyone I met in those post-earthquake days. And it seemed to me that many, many others felt the same way. It bonded us, our fear and our anguish. And from the outside, from the media, from the people with whom I emailed and telephoned and chatted, there seemed to be so much more compassion, and so much less anger.

But with Katrina, the pain seems to be too much for most of us to take, and people are lashing out in anger...at each other, at the government, at god. It's so physically painful to watch what is happening, to read about the conditions; I can't imagine what it feels like to be in the thick of it, or even on the fringes, to have it affecting your life in any way. The anger is probably a natural--and in some cases, justified--reaction. I only hope that it works in positive ways, to mobilize people, rather than immobilizing and hardening them.

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