Thursday, June 28, 2007

The pumpkin vine that ate my garden

I had originally thought I would head South and leave that picture of Diva Dog and Z. to hold the fort for a week. But upon reflection in the sober light of day, that seems a little melodramatic. So here are some garden shots. Not that these vines aren't melodramatic, but more in a John Waters kind of a way. I think I'll pull a couple-three of them before we go so we still have some tomatoes left by the time we get back. The cardboard on the ground is actually a mulching strategy. We have a lot of cardboard, and we're not too proud to use it.
Can you spot Z.? (Hint: she's the one with a binky in her mouth.) Don't you think t-shirt and diaper is the way to go in summertime? We're going to be doing intensive potty-training the next few days in Maryland, so I think it will just be t-shirt, full-stop for awhile when we're down there. Z. is regarding us with long, long stares when we raise this whole topic with her. But I'll be damned if I buy a set of extra-large Fuzzi Bunz, which is the way things are going if we don't get serious about this.

And hey, do you see that little sunflowery-looking biter--okay, more of a evil rudbeckia maybe--in between the pumpkin leaves trailing on the cardboard in the foreground of that picture? If anyone knows what that is, please tell me. (Niobe, I know I still owe you a shot of goutweed--it's been a little crazy around here during picture-taking hours.)

Also, a recipe:


1/2 c. fresh-squeezed lime juice (between 3 and 5 limes)
1/2 c. sugar
1 litre raspberry seltzer
water to fill up the rest of a one-quart (8 cup) pitcher

mix it all up and refrigerate (don't you think there should be a "d" in that word? I sure do.)
When we tear out of here tomorrow afternoon there will be no internet for me til the 4th--and I'm hoping I'm so cleansed and detoxed by then that I can just say no til we get back. So see you on the ninth or thereabouts.

Missing my dog

If you're just coming in now, for this whole story, I recommend you search on the tag "A dog's life," scroll down, and start with the oldest one that comes up. Or just click here and follow the links at the end of each post. Go ahead. It won't take you that long. When you wind up back here you'll know where I'm coming from.

* * * * *

This picture was taken down in Maryland at my parents' weekend house on the weekend before Labor Day of last year. Ilsa, my Diva Dog, was 6 weeks shy of 11 years old. Z. was one week shy of 18 months. 20 minutes after this shot was taken, Ilsa was lying behind me when someone--my mother, I think--asked "what's wrong with Ilsa?" I turned to see her legs were rigid and twitching, her tongue was lolling out, and holding her made no difference at all. Some part of me told another part of me, "this is what a seizure looks like." If you are up to speed on Rhymes with Javelin backstory, you will know that Z. had agonal breathing shortly after birth, was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator for a few hours, and the cause of her collapse was misdiagnosed as seizure. (There, now didn't I type that calmly?) This meant she was in the hospital for a week, and I was emotionally destroyed, and that's actually not putting it too strongly.

Faced with Ilsa's seizure, a part of me froze and another part of me switched into doing what needed to be done. Her brain had failed; during the seizure she was somewhere I couldn't reach her. When she came out of it she went into the house as though she was searching for the cool tiles of the bathroom, sheltering from the lightning in her head, but she went to the wrong side of the house and couldn't find it. I led her back to the tiles, I petted her and gave her all of my attention for the first time since Z.'s birth.

It was the first of several seizures that would reveal the brain tumor that was one of the myriad things that, all unknown to us, had been converging all summer to shut her down that weekend.

Not slowly but suddenly, her body stopped working.

She had been slowing down all summer, but not dramatically. And her last week was a fine one. The mouseyball reappeared for the first time in months, and she was thrilled to be reunited with it. I also inadvertently fulfilled one of her most cherished fantasies by putting up the dog gate while she was by herself in the kitchen and leaving the house for a few hours. Uncle Donor came for a visit that week, and of course we took the dogs with us down to Maryland, perhaps Ilsa's favorite place on the planet. She roamed around with all the other dogs and spent a blissed out afternoon lying under the hammock while my mother patted her. If we'd known how sick she was, she might not have had any of that.

When Ilsa started seizing, we had to find a hospital. In Southern Maryland on a Sunday. The nearest one was a 45-minute highway drive away. A. stayed with Z. and my father, while I held Ilsa in the backseat of my mother's car. When we got her out of the car, as we were pulling open the door, she sank down against me and onto the pavement as though she were melting. Seizing again. The techs came out with a rolling stainless steel cart to bring her back to the examining room and we sat down to wait and wait. I flashed back to the previous time Ilsa had been hospitalized, after a pit bull attacked her--the two waiting rooms are not distinct in my memory. I lost track of the hours. We talked to a vet who was worried about her hydration. He had no explanation for the seizures. As we knew from Z.'s hospitalization, too many things can cause them. Eventually, we had to leave her overnight.

They wanted her to go 24 hours without seizing, but she kept having them so in the end we settled for twelve.

We spent the extra day in Washington, going to the Natural History museum and riding the carousel just so the day wouldn't be all about tragedy. A. and Z. went home in our car, and I borrowed my mother's to drive the 40 minutes back to the animal hospital. I collected Ilsa, who was dazed and suddenly very frail looking, and collected a syringe of valium and two of saline that I would be able to inject into the port they left in her ankle just in case she seized on the trip up.

We stopped once so I could get a sandwich and give her a chance to pee, but after I lifted her out of the car all she wanted to do was lie down. I lifted her back in again. The ride was fast, but still over four hours. As the hours went on, she whimpered and whimpered and whined. God help me, I was impatient with her. I thought she needed to pee, since she hadn't taken the chance when we stopped, but actually she was dying.

I didn't take her home but directly to Penn, the same hospital where I dragged Smartest Dog's lifeless body, the same hospital where Hunter Dog was finally diagnosed with lupus at 11 months. I have, in short, a long history of going into hysterics at this hospital.

They took Ilsa straight from the back seat of the car into emergency. They told me that they didn't think she would have survived the twenty minute ride from there to my house. They found more things wrong than I knew could be wrong with a living organism. She had a tumor in her brain. Her spleen and guts and heart and lungs were all shutting down. Her blood pressure needed to be artificially maintained for her to survive the tests.

They kept her alive til the end of the next day, Tuesday, long enough for us to all come down to the hospital to say goodbye. The impossibly young doctor who was taking care of her was an Aussie owner, and in her way she seemed as upset as we were. A. and Z. said goodbye and left the room, and I held her and kept my hand over her heart and felt her heart beating until it faded away.

She was a good dog.

Coda: Remembering

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From 2 to 5; from 2 to 10

When we returned to Philadelphia, Diva Dog and I were a household of two. By the end of her life, we were part of a family of five.

The first addition was Hunter Dog, whose arrival was inevitable from the time of Smartest Dog's death, which instantly converted me to the principle of the emergency back-up dog (a phrase I stole from Dave Barry). This is an idea that I intend to extend at least to emergency back-up offspring and possibly, if A. ever becomes amenable to the idea, to emergency back-up siblings for offspring. (I have personally found it helpful to have more than one sibling.)

This plan had to be delayed a bit because I was unable to have two dogs in either of my downtown apartments, but I was unwilling to go through the misery of a dogless front door again, and I also worried about Diva Dog's adjustment from me being around a lot as a nominally dissertating grad student, to me being around much less as a fully employed high-school teacher. With this in mind, as soon as I had a closing date for my house with a yard in "the neighborhoods" (as everywhere outside of Center City is called in this town), I made arrangements to get pick of the litter that produced Hunter Dog. She joined us shortly after the move.

Diva Dog initially thought Hunter Dog was a good thing, kind of an amusing toy. Then she realized that Hunter Dog should have gone home by now and she got into a huff for a few weeks, but she came out of it. She did make a couple of key mistakes early on: she let puppy Hunter Dog make a game of pouncing on her, and she let her bring the tennis balls back to me. As an adult Hunter Dog was several pounds larger than Diva Dog, and would still jump on Diva Dog's head in moments of excitement, like right before dinner time.

And Hunter Dog became so obsessed with tennis balls that Diva Dog eventually would only get a shot at the ball if she insisted on her turn, stood four feet from you while Hunter Dog eagerly anticipated a long one, and you then pitched one gently and directly at her muzzle. She would snatch it quickly in her mouth and toss it back at your feet, backing up two tiny, impatient half-steps to show how much more attention she deserved and why was Hunter Dog getting it all?

The next expansion to our household came when A. moved in. A. is allergic to dogs, but I was so gone for her that even though I usually go years without touching a vacuum cleaner, I went to the car wash and rendered my car hypoallergenic, and I vacuumed every corner and every piece of upholstery of every room that A. would be in each time I expected her to come over. The dogs were barred from anywhere that A. was. Obligingly, A. acclimated to the dogs over the course of a few months and our halls are once again lightly furred in the corners, though not nearly as much now that Diva Dog is gone. That beautiful, soft coat also shed like the dickens (I fear further description might make some readers begin to sneeze.)

Having a yard, especially a large one, is an invitation to dog-owning laziness, and Hunter Dog has never really been well socialized to other dogs the way Diva Dog had been in the dog park. Hunter Dog much preferred the company of tennis balls. When we were in Madison our yard was devoted to parking spaces and clotheslines, so we would walk them on the sidewalks or drive them to a wonderful dog park on a wetlands off of one of the lakes. Hunter Dog would go anywhere for a ball, including water far beyond her depth, while Diva Dog would wade in exactly to her chest and then stop.

In Madison, she came to disdain tennis balls in favor of smooth, rubber skybounce balls, which were slightly smaller and easier to grip between one's jaws. I found the ultimate Diva Dog toy at my favorite Madison pet store--possibly my favorite anywhere pet store--it was the mouseyball, a tiny soft rubber squeak toy, designed for a cat and perhaps an inch and a half across, allowing for a completely dainty grip between the incisors. It was molded and painted with mouse features and in the brief windows when it wasn't lost under furniture, Diva Dog would buzz with possessive love of the mouseyball. She would take it up and toss it back down on the floor so that she could race after it again. Hunter Dog was savvy enough to understand that this game was not to be interrupted or interfered with.

The final addition to the household was Z., and Z.'s arrival very sadly revealed the dogs to be only dogs. Diva Dog adored my mother and adored Uncle Donor long before either he or I dreamed he might come to have that role in our family. She would present herself in grand, belly-baring obsequy when either of these great humans came to visit, and if they weren't fast enough with their affections she would thump her nose up under their hands just to make sure they got the point.

The birth of the baby meant that both of these greatly adored human satellites would come to the house and completely ignore her. We didn't do a whole lot better ourselves. I wish that I could say that before her death we reached a happy dog-and-child equilibrium, but I think that stage is still a few years off, and will only come after Z. has gained enough authority in the canine world to be able to say "sit" with some oomph in her voice.

But as Z. started walking, she became more interesting, and in Diva Dog's last summe, she would let Z. lie on her and hug her, and she certainly had come to appreciate the spilled food around the kinderzeat, and I think she felt kind of protective about this little mammal with no teeth or claws who roamed around our house.

But just like a firstborn child, a dog you adopt as a single person has to adjust to a lot of splits in your attention. Diva didn't like it. But she was also slowing and slowing down, and especially in her last year, it often suited her to be left to herself on her dog bed. She didn't always want to come to the door when it was time to go out. I thought it was old age, and it was, but old age turns out to be a brutal dilapidation of the body.

Next: Missing my dog

Hiking with the Diva

I had started making plans to hike the Appalachian Trail with Smartest Dog--I still have the Mastercard bill that began with the charge for her backpack and ended with the charge for her cremation. After Diva Dog came, somehow the Trail plans kept receding. First it was about Diva Dog's age--she would be less than a year old the summer I'd planned to go with Smartest Dog, and I didn't want a growing dog carrying a pack or even walking for that long. The next year it was my massage course, which finished in July, months too late to start the Trail. Finally, I committed to do it when Diva Dog was 2 1/2, leaving as soon as the tutoring program could spare me, and planning to return in time to start up again in the Fall.

We trained on short hikes on the trails of Nearby Creek Gorge, and we trained on an overnight with Diva Dog's best Aussie friend and one of his owners, and we went on our own on what turned out to be an overly-ambitious circuit hike in Western PA that very nearly left me trapped in the wilderness when I sprained my achilles' tendon on the second day. I had to hike out on it 13 miles, and then it started raining. It was pretty scary. After dark we finally flagged down a young couple in a pickup truck who drove us back to the ranger's house where I'd parked my car. After I changed into dry clothes, he plied me with ice packs, Kool-Aid, spaghetti, and bitter cucumbers from his garden before letting me begin the drive back across the state--I stopped in the first hotel I came to, more or less shivering. Luckily they took dogs.

That was my first encounter with trail angels, and the first of many rides in pickup trucks that Diva Dog and I would have while hiking--lots of the time, hitching is the only way to get to town, but folks who live along the Trail are used to hikers needing rides, so it's not as dangerous or frustrating as you might think. Still, having her with me made me feel better about doing it, and talking to other hikers, it seemed like young woman-pretty dog was the ideal combination for getting rides. Mostly we were going to get them from pick-up trucks, but in those parts of the country, pick-up trucks are plentiful. Red ones.

I know that having her with me made friendship easier. The first friends we made on the Trail were the Fantastic Four: two sisters and their half-brother and the fiance of one of the sisters, who were hiking with a dog. At the end of the day when all the people were zombified, the two dogs would flop for an hour, then chase each other around the shelter.

My first break from the Trail was for Diva Dog's paws. They got pretty torn up the first week hiking, so we stopped in a little town in N. Georgia that's zoned Heidi for tourist purposes (no, I'm not making this up.) I made her an Epsom salt bath and watched Homicide on the hotel-room TV. We caught up to the Fantastic Four pretty quickly, and we kept passing them and falling behind and passing them again until I got off the trail in Virginia.

I would write about our hiking days in the shelter logs, and M., my eventual human hiking partner, who unbeknownst to me was a few days behind us until we took time off in the Smokies, was reading about us there. (Since hikers communicate via trail register you only know about the people ahead of you and are blind to the people behind you unless you're passed by someone hiking super fast. So hiking behind someone is a little like lurking.)

There are no dogs allowed in the Smokies, so Diva Dog was going to take time off no matter what, but I had to get off to go to my brother's college graduation, which he had arranged as conveniently as I could ask him to--he was at Vanderbilt and his commencement fell right when I needed to deliver Diva Dog to the kennel lady, who gave me a ride across the mountains because she had to drive Diva Dog that way anyhow. She said some racist things about Philadelphia, where she had once lived, and I tried to object without prejudicing her against my dog. Either I was too wimpy or I succeeded because she wound up giving Diva Dog the run of the place with all of her house dogs because she liked her so much.

But M. was hiking behind us, and everyone uses trail names in the registers and Diva Dog's real name was a person name, so M. thought that she was a human hiker until he caught up with me. At the end of the park I waited for the kennel lady to deliver her and I was so excited to see her again. She had a summer haircut that made her look like Audrey Hepburn. She was my movie star dog.

She loved the sun and when we were hiking I resorted to taking the hottest hours of the day off and tying her up in the shade so she couldn't overheat. She learned to drink from my water pack, and she learned how to use gravity to get her pack off when we were going downhill. When we hiked through the herds of feral ponies in Virginia, she circled me on her leash until she had me tied in knots.

You sleep a lot in shelters, three-walled structures with a wooden floor raised above the ground, usually equipped with a steep corrugated roof and a whole lot of places to hang food bags so the mice don't get in, sometimes with a table and benches in front. Our usual arrangement was me in my homemade fleece sleepsack next to a wall, with M. in his sleeping bag on my other side (I have never slept well near strangers, or even my own daughter). At my feet, so she wasn't in the line of other sleeping people: Diva Dog on her super-high-tech, stuffed-with-polyester-and-shredded-mylar, flannel-on-top-and-nylon-on-the-bottom dog blanket from 0rvis. If any hikers objected, I would tie her under the shelter, but that didn't happen real often because mostly people who are happy to be outside and unshowered for weeks on end don't mind a dog on the edge of a space that is, after all, a freestanding sleeping porch.

Sleeping outdoors in the Appalachians taught Diva Dog a healthy terror of thunderstorms. When the thunderstorms rolled in--which could be nightly--Diva Dog would pace and cringe and whine and burrow her way in between us. One of our first nights out--long before M., when it was us and the Fantastic Four and a few others who'd started at the same time--we were in a shelter at the top of a mountain, and everyone had piled in just before the rain hit. It hit hard, and so did the lightning, striking an outcropping of rock maybe twenty feet from the open wall of the shelter. It was as bright as you'd expect, and sounded like loud, loud gunfire, almost a small bomb. We saw rocks zinging off from the spot where it hit. There were other strikes that sounded as close or nearly, but none where I was actually looking at the right place at the right time.

Until the end of her life, Diva Dog firmly believed that the best and safest place to be during thunder was in a tiled bathroom. Perhaps one day someone will do the study to back her up on this.

I could go on and on. I have a lot of stories. I have a lot of pictures. I didn't make it the whole way. I gave it my best shot, but I tore up my feet and our hike ended when I couldn't walk anymore. I had made a deal with myself at the outset that the one thing that would take me off the Trail was a debilitating injury. I was imagining something like a broken ankle or a tree falling on me--these were both things that happened to hikers I knew--not what amounted to fallen arches. But I was using my hiking poles as crutches by the end of every day, and the end of every day came after fewer miles, and I needed more frequent and longer town stops to feel able to keep going. We had jumped up to New England to reach Katahdin, the northern terminus, before it closed for snow. The thing about thru-hiking is that it is a practical exercise in basic algebra: distance = speed x time. Imagine living with that equation every minute of the day. We didn't need to look at the numbers because we knew them by heart, and if we didn't pick up the pace we wouldn't make it, even having skipped 700 miles. Experimentally, I tried doing a day long enough to get us there--just one day and it was over. We were at Killington. We made our way to Rutland. I found a clinic that x-rayed my feet and saw the bone spurs. I found a podiatrist who opened his office for me on a Sunday. He taped my feet, taught me how to do it myself, and sent me home. I couldn't walk for a month.

Hiking the trail was my first stab at blogging, before it was called that. My year, 1998, was the 50th anniversary of the first unsupported thru-hike of the AT (some Boy Scouts with vehicle support may or may not have hiked the whole thing previously). That hike had been made by a WWII vet named Earl Shaeffer, and he'd done the whole thing a time or two since, and 50 years later he was repeating the hike for history's sake. There was a bit of buzz about this, as you might imagine, and one of the more prominent people in AT circles decided to organize 50 hikers to do online journals of their hikes. One of those folks was me, and every time I got to town I mailed my handwritten pages to a volunteer transcriber in Kansas. Those archives are gone now or I'd point you there, but maybe someday when I don't have anything better to do I'll hunt down the loose pages and type them up here. I sort of think, though I can't be certain, that if you were following my hike on that webpage, it listed me and Diva Dog both as hikers.

Next: From 2 to 5; from 2 to 10

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sad boo

I went home for lunch at around 2 today--a late lunch, but I only woke up at 10 of 10. Oh, yes, it's summertime at last.

Z. takes a 3-hour nap and should have still been in the middle of it when A. and I heard the sound of small feet coming down the stairs.

Z. wandered, bleary and teary, into the living room. A. took her over to the couch while I hovered behind. Z. turned to me.

Z.: NO Mama, go AWAY Mama. Don't come here, Mama!

No, she doesn't get to be rude that way, and we told her so, and then I asked if she had a bad dream.

Z.: Get Della the Dragon to take de dream away.

I got Della, and also Oscar, who are both Green-and-Purple Dragons, the kind of dragon with special bad-dream-removing powers. Z. gripped them close. But she still wouldn't come near me.

S.: Was there a dream-Mama in your dream?

Z nods.

S.: Was the dream-Mama scary?

Nods again.

S.: Do you know that the dream-Mama isn't real? I'm your real Mama, I'm not a dream-Mama. I'm not scary and I love you.

Z. wanders over to behind the chair I'm sitting in, still holding her Green-and-Purple Dragons, and examines the bookshelves.

Z.: You get angry when I break something.

S.: Sometimes I do. Even when I get angry I love you. And I get angry sometimes when I'm scared that you'll hurt yourself. Do you think I get too angry?

Z. shakes her head.

S.: Do you think I get the right amount of angry?

Z. nods.

Z.: I want to read dat.

She curled up in my lap and we read The Wizard of Oz, the Sabuda pop-up version that has the cool emerald glasses you can put on. And I thought about how large I am in this little girl's world.

A Diva takes the stage

Diva Dog came to me as a puppy after her half-sister, Smartest Dog, died of chocolate poisoning in the Fall of 1995, when she was only 2. I also had Smartest Dog from a puppy, and she had gone with me everywhere and did everything with me. Her death was so shocking that I couldn't catch up with her absence. I did everything I could to avoid walking through my door. To a dog owner, opening a door and finding no dog to greet you is one of the loneliest things there is. When I was out, I stayed out, haunting campus and coffee houses. And when I was in, I stayed in. I watched a lot of television and knit a lot of sweaters.

Diva Dog's litter was already on its way when I called the breeder. She was born three weeks after Smartest Dog died, and came home eight weeks after that. When I collected her, she fit in a shoebox. When I walked her in Stately Victorian Park, she would fall into the edges that kept the mulch neat, and then need to scramble her way back up. Like a newborn person, she had green eyes that turned brown. When, a couple of weeks later, the semester ended and I went home for winter break, my grandfather in Omaha died of a massive heart attack the first night I was home. Having a puppy in the house then was a good thing.

Even though I was mourning my grandpa, with a dog to walk again, I came out of my depression. I started teaching high school in a tutoring program twice a week, an involvement that eventually gave me the resume I needed to find a full-time high school teaching job. I started engaging with people outside of class, something I hadn't managed to do Fall semester. I began planning again for the trail, joining a gym and starting to run. Diva Dog was as much a hindrance as a help on the sidewalk, since she literally stopped traffic. Several times a week, people would pull their cars over to ask me her breed. (Australian Shepherd, of course.)

And Diva Dog made friends of her own! One couple who stopped me on the street got a puppy of their own, and we became friends, walking the puppies together in Judy Garland Park. Diva Dog loved their dog, and if I said a word that rhymed with his name she would run to the window to look for him. She even went on vacation with him once, going up to Vermont with his owners while I stayed home to do something or other. Those old dog park connections resurfaced this Winter when Z. met Digger Boy. That was, of course, months after Diva Dog died--and she had survived all her playmates.

To own a dog is to anticipate bereavement.

Next: Hiking with the Diva

Monday, June 25, 2007


Just printed out more copies of our HP7 preorder sheet. 66 preorders and counting.

Where does she get this stuff?

S.: We're not going to go to the bakery because the bakery is closed now. We're going to go to the co-op instead. We can get cookies there.

Z.: Mama, dat's NOT true! Dat's HORRIBLE!

* * * * *

Z.: I have to do my work, work, work. Because it's my work. And because it's ... possible.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A sad story about Neighbor Dog

Z. stops at the storefront window our neighbor uses as a changing miniature display. Usually it's hedgehogs having picnics or conducting their treestump-house life, but right now both windows into the treestump-house are occupied by pictures of Neighbor Dog, and the miniature ceramic dogs that used to be having a pet parade in the display window on the other side of the street door have all gathered round to look. This is a composite of several conversations Z. and I have had in the week since the display went up. (Of course, we do not use the dogs' blognames when we talk about them.)

Z.: Can you tell me a sad story about Neighbor Dog?

S.: Neighbor Dog used to get so sad he would start howling. Then Hunter Dog and Diva Dog and all the dogs next door would howl, too. And Neighbor Dog would stop howling to listen, and he wouldn't be lonely anymore because he could hear all the other dogs. But Neighbor dog's hearing stopped working--

Z.: His listening broke.

S.: Yes, his listening broke. And then he couldn't hear when the other dogs howled. And so he stopped howling. And then slowly, slowly the rest of his body stopped working. And then he died. And now Neighbor N. and Neighbor M. are very sad.

Z.: And dey will have a party and Neighbor Dog and Diva Dog will come back.

S.: No, sweetie, they won't come back. When someone's body stops working and they die, they don't come back.

Z.: We have a picture of Diva Dog eating a BIG stick. In da woods.

S.: Yes, we do.

Z.: And we can put a Band-Aid on her.

S.: No, when someone is dead then Band-Aids don't help them anymore.

Z.: Hunter Dog and Annoying Dog's bodies still work.

S.: Yes, they still work. And they will work for a long, long time.

Diva Dog died last summer, a sudden two-day decline that began while we were on a long weekend down at my parents' house on the Chesapeake. We haven't been back there since, but we'll be going down there for a week starting Friday, and we'll be scattering her ashes, which have been in a box in the foyer for the past nine months, where they occasionally remind me of their presence by sending sharp spikes into my heart. I'm going to try to get some of the stuff from last summer out on the blog this week and then take a break until we get back. If things turn out to be a little sparse this week it's because I'm working on the drafts.

Next: A Diva takes the stage

Friday, June 22, 2007

Breaking news

If toilets make you squeamish (make you squeam?) you should not read further. I'll put in a few blank lines so you can make your escape safely.

About 10 minutes ago, I was nursing Z. (round 2 of the morning--think someone's a little needy?) when A. came down from her shower to tell me about a toilet in distress. Was there any technique I could advise (I do most of the toilet plunging, which is unfortunately often the necessary final step in our poop-disposal process.) No, I said, we don't have a snake, all you can do is plunge. She returned to the third floor and reported that the water seemed to be rising still. I told her that if the tank wasn't making noise there was no more water going into the bowl--sound plumbing principle, no?

Z. and I heard a flood upstairs. Then we heard a rush of water coming through the ceiling onto the second floor hall. Then every single smoke alarm in the house went off, in every room on every floor, because we comply with code here, baby.

What can you do but laugh?

A. lay down towels in the hallways and I put more down in the bathroom until we ran out and I had to resort to an old flannel sheet. A. disconnected the alarms downstairs, I did the ones upstairs. The one in the direct path of the flood gave her a shock so we left it to howling, but there's nothing to make you appreciate the dulcet tones of one alarm like turning off nine others.

Now she is bailing and I am supervising Z. as she tears up old wrapping paper--oops, now she's hiding under the quilt--and all this before breakfast.

* * * * *

We have to go get a rental car pretty soon because we realized that both A. and I were assuming we'd have the car this weekend--A. has to get herself to the Berkshires, and I have to haul Z. to about three different suburbs for wedding festivities here.

The bride for my wedding sent out an open-cc'd email to her guest list, which was useful because now I won't be surprised to see the old flame who'll be around this weekend. It wouldn't be anything more than surprise if I weren't prepared: she's a nice old flame, and it was a healing fling that we had. I don't think I would have been able to connect with A. without it. I also have no excuse not to have anticipated her presence. She and this weekend's bride actually made our chuppah, which was the occasion at which this weekend's bride met this weekend's groom, so of course she'll be here.

Just too buried in my own head, I guess.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Tuesday night we went out to a concert, with tickets and everything. It was at a little theater in one of the nearby suburbs, one whose lineup consists of an oddball collection of acts you'd love to see and acts that you just scratch your head about and hope they get enough at the box office to pay the staff. The last time we were there was to see Sweet Honey, 6 years ago. Well, 6 1/2. It was our first significant date--actually, it was while we were still stealth-dating and was only openly acknowledged to be a date retroactively--and I got A. royally pissed off at me because I was being a patronizing jerk and, well, things unrolled from there.

Tuesday's concert was significant for two reasons. One, we managed, by the skin of our teeth, to procure a babysitter (thanks Mom and Jenny for being so generous in the babysitter hunt!). Two, it was Pink Martini, a band I wouldn't have found if it didn't have its origins in my college dorm, but which is often in the cd player on long car trips. The band leader is someone who described himself in college as a blond Asian fag, which is still correct. He plays piano, and the band we saw last night had 14 people on stage. 14! A six-person string section, 2 people on horns, 5 on percussion, including the singer. The singer was also in our dorm, though I scarcely knew her--I wasn't cool enough, for sure--but the combination of those two musicians was already impressive back then.

We had great seats and we don't go out to live music that often, not nearly as much as I used to, so I felt a little the way I do when I take my TV-insulated brain and expose it to the screen. There was so much coming at me. And these guys have been playing together for ten years or more, so some of the songs just rolled out of them like breathing. Bolero, the opening number, just sucked me right in.

Coming so soon after seeing Helen's films at her memorial, it underlined how much the people I was living with back then had the courage of their talent and have taken risks on careers in art that, I hope, are paying off. I didn't have that kind of courage, but I'm thrilled to applaud from the sidelines.

I also owe Susan an earworm--so click on over to hear what's been in my head for two days.

Will someone explain to me

... how I can have 15 messages in my home inbox and 329 in my one at work?

Because Niobe told me to

Actually, this is a little creepy.

S. needs to get her spouse on board with their new eating plan if she hopes to improve her kids' diets.
S. needs to get specific and address each of her fears head on, in a therapeutic setting.
S. needs help in getting her dream school up and going somewhere -- anywhere.
S. needs a speechwriter, however, don’t let that fool you into believing her not to be competent.
S. needs to make her own judgments about her co-workers.
S. needs help keeping life on track.
S. needs prayer diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
S. needs to recruit Julia Roberts!
S. needs her a** kicked.......
S. needs a muffin.
s. needs a mommy.

There was also a brief tongue twister involving my actual name and the name my mother was referring to in naming me. It doesn't lend itself to abbreviation, but just for Mom: S. leads, S. needs.

And this one didn't fit, but it had my first and middle names:
The S. C. Law Firm is committed to these ideals and to your needs, so contact us when you need legal assistance.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Earlier this Spring, one of the other day-care moms--actually, my favorite other day-care mom, if I exempt the women I was previously friends with from that private competition--showed up at pick-up time with a dramatic haircut. Summertime? I asked her. Oh, well, she said, I was just growing it for Locks of Love.

So. I've been going in after the tangled ends on my own pretty frequently, but I hadn't had a proper cut since A. took maybe 3 or 4 inches off sometime in the Fall of 2004. Yes, it is significant that that was before Z. was born, thank you for asking. I've been hiding. And I haven't stopped quite yet, but I have recognized that staying huddled in isolation is not a long-term strategy for healthy living.

Locks of Love needs a 10-inch minimum. I cut 14, putting the tip of the paper-cutting scissors right into the middle of the braid. The first cut was thrilling--no going back. It took three cuts altogether.

To me it seems hugely light and easily contained, but I can still twist it up, wrap it in a full knot around itself, tuck in the ends, and insert chopsticks (yes, that is how I'm wearing it today, so as to garner minimal comments from staff). Loose, it still hangs to my elbows, which is the length it's been most of my life.

I've let go of the idea that I'll get magically better and have my old self back. But I'm starting to see more continuity with that me and this one.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The benefits of a religious education

Or: one last post before my parents get here. The computer's in the guest room so I may not be virtually around much for the next couple days.

Over the past few days, Z. has been asking us to tell her stories about Haman, the villain of the Purim holiday. Purim was nearly 4 months ago, yes, but she has recently unearthed her grogger, which she insists has Haman on it (it doesn't). This gets old--really old--after awhile, so starting with shabbat dinner, we declared a Haman moratorium, and no reading her Purim books, either.

So she moved ahead in the calendar:

"Can you tell me a story about Pharoah?"

What is it with the villains?

Anyhoo, Pharoah led to Miriam led to Moses, and this is what Z. has to say about Moses--in the pauses, imagine her putting her curly little head on one side and nodding repeatedly in sage agreement with her own pronouncements:

Moses had a STAFF! (pause to nod)

For raising over da water! (puts hands above head illustratively)

And he was a good, good man. (pause to nod)

And he said to Pharoah, oh listen, oh listen, please let my people go.
And he was a good LEEEE-der for saying dat.

(pause to nod)

And dere's a book about him! (grins triumphantly)

I'm not sure what she'll do about Shavuot, which was just a few weeks ago. In a month or two more I may find out.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Was everyone out in the garden today?

The weed-whacker is my new best friend--and why? I am almost embarrassed to say, but the reason I am currently so enamored of it is that it whacks weeds. We have been using ours to mow the lawn, because we really don't have much lawn, and not to whack weeds, because the weeds in our yard put me more in mind of a scythe or a machete, or possibly a flamethrower, not a little spinning piece of oversized fishing line.

And you thought I was a gardener. Pshaw. I just like plants and dirt.

It was A.'s job to mow the lawn until last year, when she never got around to it. This doesn't have the result you might think, because at a certain point in the summer in the Mid-Atlantic, grass stops growing because drought sets in, while weeds keep right on keeping on. Last year we made the experiment of just letting them, and there are these sort of pretty sunflower-y looking little biters that turn out to create thousands and thousands of burrs per plant come October. The dogs bring the burrs in, they lodge in the upholstery and the blankets ... and socks!, do they ever prick in your socks! And outdoors the results are sort of what you might think--lots and lots of baby sunflower-y biters growing everywhere this year. I need to get me a guide to common weeds of SE Pennsylvania, that's what I need to do. The good news is that they're an annual, so we just need to keep 'em from going to seed for one season and they'll be gone.

So this year lawn care has fallen back to me. Which is okay, I guess. Today, I hacked down the lawn (it hadn't been mowed in oh, 5, maybe 6 weeks, and it is not the drought-afflicted part of the summer yet), then, whacker still abuzz, I looked at the rest of the yard, and thought, why not? Friends, it was a revelation. Pokeweed taller than my head toppled to the ground before me. What was looking like, well, a whole lot of weeds, was reduced to a gentle carpet of weed stems. The apple trees are discernible from the house again. Our yard is big for the city--a 40-foot wide lot that runs something over 100 feet deep--more than half the block deep. Some of it is beds and some is patio and some is something close to woods and a goodly chunk is raspberry and wild grape thicket, but enough of it is open to weed-whacking to make the ligaments in my hands feel like taught rubber bands by the time I'd finished buzzing everything down. I have a blister, too. I like it a lot. I worked hard today, and it still felt like shabbat.

Afterwards, I went to the pool all by myself while A. and Z. were napping. It was delicious.

The pictures are all of plants that are not weeds that are currently making me feel like it's worthwhile to spend time paying attention outdoors. Edited Sun. morning to add: on sleeping on it, I realized that in a properly informative gardening post, I need to identify my pics, weeds or not, so from the top: A fig tree grows in Philadelphia (the cultivar is Hardy Chicago for those of you wondering about zone and hardiness); The pumpkin vines that we planted sort-of accidentally in Z.'s digging box as a result of her last-October project of drawing on pumpkins with oil pastels and glitter pens; A clematis to satisfy even Z.'s purple jones; A Scarlet Emperor lily, which is actually about twice as sexy in real life, if you can believe it--why aren't we giving these to each other on Valentine's Day?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friends, scarcity, plenitude

Earlier this week, Phantom said that her purpose in blogging was "certainly not to realign [her] social circles or to revise [her] narratives of some of the unhappiest moments of [her] life." Reading that I thought, "whoops! if you substitute 'traumatic' for 'unhappiest' that's pretty much exactly why I started blogging." Those of you who've been reading awhile will know about Z.'s birth and hospitalization, but the social piece I haven't really written about.

When I was in college, I attached myself to the class ahead of me, mostly because I had already had the sink-or-swim experience of living in France in a host family, and then had come out, so I felt impatient with my fellow first-years who were in the middle of upheavals I'd already survived. Now, I'd lived through the grief of older friends graduating before, so I took the precaution of making some friends my own year, but the morning after the class of '92 graduated found me driving my packed car to California for the summer, playing a mixed tape from the woman I'd done everything with for a year, weeping out my abandonment pretty much all the way to Chicago. Yeah, it was like that.

The person who was most important to me through all four years of college was another member of that class, K. There were people I had more intense, briefer, attachments to, but having K. in my life was the avenue by which I emerged from college more sane than not. She took me in and balanced me out and saw me, and I think she got something like that from me, and we just plain enjoyed each other. We stayed close through my senior year, then drifted. I shouldn't have let that happen. I owed us both more.

Over the years I find I've left a trail of lost friendships, abandoned not because I loved the person less but because I loved them too much still, and the pain of staying connected across distance was too much for me to live with.

I did okay that way because there were always people around to love until, you know, there weren't. We spent two years in Madison and when I came home, pregnant and enmeshed in business planning, we found that all of our friends had left during our absence--my grad school friends for academic jobs, A.'s college friends for graduate school, our synagogue friends for a combination of relationships and grad school and pulpits. It was a piecemeal exodus that, from our distance, we hadn't added up until we came home to the desolation. And it continued: the couple we thought was so great from childbirth class moved to Seattle, our midwife is now in Berkeley, the neighbor I befriended when I first moved here 8 years ago is about to marry and move to Boston. And in the complete involvement of baby-parenting and business-building, in the emotional fragility of my last two years, I have not been able to see my way out of this isolation.

When Helen died, there was an impromptu memorial for her in New York. I went up because I had to be with people who knew her, and sit for awhile with others who'd just had whatever was left of their trust in the universe shredded. One of the gifts that Helen left behind her is the web of people she tied together during her lifetime. I had not realized that I was still part of that web until I got the phone call about her death and had to pass it on, and then walked into that darkened room in January--a prodigal from Philadelphia who had burned through not money but ties--and walking into that room was like walking into the distillation of my college dining hall, and K's face was the first one I saw. I hadn't seen her in at least a dozen years. Somehow, that evening, that friendship was restored to me.

And blogging. When I started writing this blog, four months ago, it was definitely out of a sense that a web could be spun from a blog. I gave the url out to old friends, those I could find of the scattered ones who used to be, at some point, integral to the rhythm of my life. I imagined they were my audience, and my mother, and A., and Z. when she grows up enough, and Phantom, whom I'd found and corresponded with because of her post on Helen. I knew other people would find me and I would find them, and the new medium was fascinating, and I just kind of plunged in. For a few weeks I read enormously, trying to figure out the webs of connections that were already out there. Now, I think I'm starting to worry less and enjoy it more. And something odd has happened.

Last weekend I met, or re-met, three of the people in this new web of mine. And had that rush of new friendship I hadn't had since graduate school. And since I came home two more of you spontaneously wrote to me. In the last few days and weeks I'm taking this blog more seriously. And I think--right now, today, anyway--that it may be that I'll be okay.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

And then again ...

... we did just hear we're being nominated for Be$t of Phil@delphi@.

If you know any kids who want to be in a photo-shoot next Wednesday at 4:30, send 'em my way. Scallen3 at AmericaOnline.

Bleary day

I think I must finally be coming down after the weekend--I actually slept last night for a stretch of maybe 6 hours. If I were a newborn, you'd call that the whole night. Today, I feel sort of flattened, like flat seltzer. The weather doesn't help.

I have three long, complicated posts underway, each of which has hit a wall. Not sure if anything will actually show up later on. A large part of me thinks I may need a night with P.G. Wodehouse and wool.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Some good news

Ran the numbers for the last week on a whim--and shoot, if we keep this up we won't be breaking even, exactly, but we'd be clearing payroll and most of rent on the margin. And it's not even the holiday season--okay, okay, we did sell a lot of gift certificates for grads and teachers, but those folks usually go over when they redeem them, so that's good news down the line.

I kvetch so much about the store I thought I should kvell a little, too.

Keep on scrolling, there's audience participation in the next one.

Because the next one you scroll to is a downer

It shouldn't surprise me that I've used that title before.

We have a certain number of made-up words that have emerged in our family vocabulary since the arrival of the boo. My favorite two may be scoobaloo, for the act of gently moving a sleeping or sleepy baby across bedsheets while attempting not to wake her (this is a very useful word in co-sleeping, which is why we invented it); and crankola, which needs no definition, except a note on its usage: one can feel crankola or be [a] crankola. Z. tends to use it as an adjective.

Gentle readers, what are your personal faves from your family (or family of origin)?

* * * * *

Bonus kid conversation (stealing a page from Phantom):

Z.: I'm in da closet, Mama!

S.: I see that you're in the closet.

Z.: Are you sad dat I'm in da closet?

S.: No, sweetie, you'll come out when you're ready.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Charming Boy

Charming Boy is the name I'm using for Helen's son. He was at the memorial this weekend, looking very, very much like her, as we all saw in her films because Helen had included footage from her own childhood in some of them.

I was struck by how he seemed to be protecting himself, evaluating the grownups around him with care. All these grownups, talking about his mama! Z. is a few months younger than Charming Boy--in fact, she is now the age he was when he woke up in the dark of the early morning because his dada scooped him up to go and investigate why his mama was crying out "Please don't hurt my baby!"

This is the same plea I made in the three words ("Oh, God, Z.!") that tore out of me while I watched Z. flying, crown-first, through the air to the concrete sidewalk last September. I was talking to god. Helen was talking to a man with a gun, but maybe god was listening because the only one of them not shot that morning was Charming Boy.

Thank god, all Z. suffered was a broken arm. But she regressed on every front; she played the game of putting a pretend cast on her arm until she could no longer fit an empty toilet paper roll over her hand; she is only now becoming confident of herself in space. I see 18 month-olds doing more adventurous climbing than she does at 27 months and I know this is not just her native caution. The world of stairs and high places has looked very dangerous to her for a long time.

Charming Boy's arm didn't break, his heart did. And so did his daddy's. There is no mama to nurse him better. Seeing him this weekend, seeing how he loves to run and play and climb, but keeps his words and his spirit hugged close to himself, I could hardly let myself think of how the world of grownup people must look to him.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Make way for goslings

I really love my drive to therapy. This might have a little bit to do with it being almost the same route that I took to see A. when we were dating, and also almost the same route I took to go to my shabbat group during the two years it met in West Philadelphia. I have happy, anticipatory associations.

Also, the drive itself is lovely, running down the gorge to the river and then along the riverside. It's not as heavily traveled as the other arteries tucked in along the Schuylkill, so traffic is usually smooth and predictable.

Today, cars were stopped where cars should be moving, and in both lanes. A string of Canada geese were crossing over to the river, most of them still fluffy and endearing, a sight I hadn't seen since living in Madison, where stopping for waterfowl in springtime is routine.

I was only one car back from the front, so I had a good look at them--thirty crossed altogether. One of them was much smaller, maybe a foster duckling? The rest of the geese stepped up onto the far curb with nonchalance while this duckling was only a little more than half the height of the granite curbstone. It paced back and forth, not seeing an easier way up. The adult taking up the rear was almost across and cars on my side of the road were starting to move. Facing traffic was not going to see this little guy. I was worried, I really was, but traffic was starting and I knew I'd have to move.

Just at the last minute, it gave a jump, stumpy wings stretched out, and rejoined the march to the river.

The universe explained

This is extremely tangentially related to the past weekend (see below), but I wound up with only one picture because my camera slipped into the other dimension for awhile.

You know the theory of multiple possible universes? When I was teaching high school, I shared a classroom with a very fabulous woman who wore colors Z. would approve of, knew all the seniors' gossip because she supervised yearbook, kept a poster of Almost Famous on the wall, and timed her commute so that she could call in to the Beatles quiz when she got to the parking lot every morning. She was great.

She explained to me one of our universe's great puzzles: Why is it that you often find an object in a place you know you've already looked for it?

There is an alternate universe that is like ours in every way, occupying the same space and time but in an overlapping dimension. Our universe is semi-permeable to that universe but it is invisible to us. In the other universe, however, they know about our universe because objects from our side are always slipping over to their side. They remain in the same place, but they slip into the other dimension and are inaccessible. Suddenly in the other universe they have duplicates. They would prefer not to call attention to themselves, for reasons that I think are obvious (would you want our universe to take notice of yours?), so they push the objects back to our side, discreetly, as soon as they can after they notice them. Since they occupy the same time that we do, time has always passed by the time the object is back in place.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Coming Home

I was away for the weekend and I feel like I'm about to do some serious damage to metaphors if I continue this sentence.

My brain is currently a little bit of a kaleidoscope. I traveled to attend and speak at a memorial service for my old friend, Helen, who died violently and senselessly in New Orleans in January. Most of the weekend is temporarily unbloggable, not because of particularly difficult confidentiality issues, but because it's all tumbling around in bright, important little fragments. I trust that with some sleep and some benign neglect it will settle into a pattern in a few days and I'll try to get it down here.

During the weekend I absorbed more images and memories than one brain is really, normally intended to absorb in a 48-hour period. And also more words. I sell books; I blog; my life is happily saturated in words, and this weekend left me worded out, a state I have seldom experienced. For the first time in my memory I went through an entire plane ride without opening a book or a magazine: no room for more, too many words already in there--my own words, my friends' words, words told by strangers about strangers to strangers, words overheard, words that flowed and words that shouldn't have, words that weren't there when I expected them, words that had power and words that had none. And Helen's own words, recorded in her films.

My ears are still hearing voices I hadn't heard in years, heard again as though no time had passed.

I came home with an even deeper sleep deficit than the one that wiped me out last week. In my absence Z. developed a Mama deficit, A. developed a grading deficit, the changing room developed a diaper deficit (we use cloth; they're in the wash now), and our low-maintenance dog had one of the bouts of digestive upset more typical of our high-maintenance dog. In two weeks it's my turn to single-parent as A. goes off to a college classmate's wedding and I stay home with Z. for the wedding that promises to be the event of the season here in the shtetl I live in. Let's hope that karma is working on a long horizon just now.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

What are you?

So last night I was sitting in the living room, nursing a headache that threatened to go migraine on me. Uncle D. was visiting for dinner. (n.b.: Uncle D.'s only biological relationship to anyone in the Rhyming Family is to Z., half of whose DNA he supplied.)

A burst of adult hilarity comes from the dining room. A. hollers to me "S., you have to blog this."

This is what transpired, as recounted to me.

Z. to Uncle D.: "What ah you?"

Uncle D. supplies apparently unsatisfactory answers: he is a man, he is his age (we discovered from this that he rounds his age up as soon as the calendar year turns), he is various things.

Z. finally cuts to the chase: "Ah you a donut?"

A donut?

Z. clarifies: "Ah you my donut?"

That was when they got it. Yes, indeed, Uncle Donor is Z.'s donut.


Yes, they are faint and could equally well be interpreted as Highland cattle, but the point is that I figured out the scanner.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Watch this space...

Phantom and Jo(e), I'm still working on the yaks.

Filling in the details

This past weekend, I had planned to be in New York for the book industry's gigantic trade show/overstimulation-fest. But as I listened to myself talking about it, I realized that the only reason I was going was that it was on the East Coast again this year. It would have been my fourth one in a row and I still have ARC's floating around the house from the first one I went to.

When I decided not to go, I felt giddy, like I had just received a gift weekend, but A.'s parents had been counting on us coming to New York for a visit, so they came down on Sunday. Not a big deal by itself, but we had also turned down two social commitments on grounds of being out of town, a family birthday party Saturday evening and a bridal shower early Sunday afternoon. Those events got added back into the schedule. It was one way to learn I'm just not up to that much socializing in one weekend.

The birthday party was fine. It was all people we know from shul, and toddler-friendly. I left feeling like "y'know, this social thing isn't too hard."

Sunday morning I woke up with the strange pain that has replaced menstrual cramps since my period came back--I get nerve pain from roughly the right side of the base of my uterus, stretching down the inside of my thigh to a few inches above my knee. This is so exactly the same every month that I imagine someone with more precise knowledge of anatomy could even name the nerve, but it only puzzled my GP when I brought it up in my physical earlier this month.

Sunday was worse than it's been in awhile. With ibuprofen, homeopathics, heat, and more sleep, I made it downstairs just in time for lunch. Grandparent visits usually get Z. riled up beyond the point of napping, but to our surprise she took herself upstairs for a nap when lunch was done. As A. and I were getting ready for the shower (the grands had agreed to babysit), I felt more and more like I could handle no more people. If I could just lie down for five minutes first I'd be better. But I was crying by the time I had my glasses off. I had one of those outpourings of self-hatred that punctuate my life. I've dragged A. into debt, I can't do something basic like get myself to sleep on time, I am too fragile to go out in public, I can't even take the baby when she asked me expressly to give her time to grade, etc.

In the end I stayed home and napped with Z. while A. made an appearance at the shower. After our nap, I stayed hiding in the bedroom, reading the ARC for Sophie Gee's forthcoming novel, waiting for the next dose of ibuprofen to kick in, listening to the grandparent-induced hilarity happening downstairs and feeling cowardly and flat. Eventually A. brought up a bowl of ice cream and with this final fortification I felt up to rejoining the family.

This sleep thing is the dark heart of my state of mind.

My problem is that I get to the end of the day desperate for time to myself, so even though A. and Z. are usually asleep by 10, I stay up til 1:30 or 2:00 to get those hours in. Left to my own devices, I'm pretty much a 1am to 9am sleeper, so even when I'm very tired this doesn't seem that late to my body clock, especially in summertime when it's still light out at 8pm.

But A.'s alarm goes off at 5:30 and Z. is usually up by 7, so I'm losing a few hours every night. I also haven't slept through the night more than a handful of times since my second month of pregnancy, 3 years ago. This cycle builds on itself until I crash.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sorry for the quiet

I inadvertently took the weekend off b/c of an in-law visit, a daunting social calendar (at least for me), and a meltdown. I just made it through reading everyone else's blogs, and have no time for a real post here, nor even for a response to the comments on my last post.

I'm trying not to blog after dinner so I can catch up on sleep (see meltdown, above), so it may be kind of a quiet week in the Rhyming neighborhood, but I will get back to you!

If anyone wants to weigh in on the topic of meltdowns and self-induced sleep-deprivation, the comment fields are yours to do with as you please.

Friday, June 1, 2007


We very dutifully sheltered Z. from screen time until she turned 2. This wasn't difficult for us because our television lives almost every hour of its life camouflaged by scarves that we only push aside to watch Homicide on video. When I tell you we've been on season 5 for well over a year, and that's watching two episodes at a time, you'll understand just how out of sync with American culture we are, and deliberately. I find advertisements so toxic that I prefer not to have anything to do with a medium so reliant on it. I keep my radio on the low end of the dial, too.

I haven't always been TV-free. I grew up on after-school cartoons (Scooby Doo! Speed Racer) and syndicated series (I actually knew the order of Charlie's Angels episodes), and I loved Miami Vice when I got older--not the actors, but the show, the atmosphere of it. I didn't have a TV in college, but visited friends for SNL-, Law and Order- and TNG-watching session. When I graduated, TNG was in syndication twice a day and Jean-Luc Picard was too much to resist, so I got an old TV from my folks and gradually got sucked in. In grad school, I upgraded to something that had a remote control. When my first dog died unexpectedly (chocolate poisoning), I was so lonely and bereaved that I pretty much had the TV on whenever I was home and it was not good. I bought TV Guide every week and planned things around my television watching. I don't really remember the detox process--mostly I got really busy in the evenings, going to massage school at night. And TV got worse, too--by the time Homicide went off the air it was the only thing I was watching, and its last season was full of characters who just didn't fit the show. I enjoyed The West Wing, but not enough to remember to turn the TV on. There just wasn't enough I wanted to watch to keep me in the habit.

A. is in most ways more pure and moral than I am, and this is no exception. When I met her, she had never had a TV habit. We do go to movies--or did, pre-Z.--and occasionally rent one, but we're really much more sit-and-read people.

To plop Z. in front of the tube would constitute a lifestyle change for us, so it never entered the equation. A. says that when she's mentioned to colleagues that Z. doesn't watch TV, they react as though she's parenting with one hand tied behind her back. It's true that when Z. is with us she needs our attention a lot, and I'm not a saint, I do want to read or garden or write this blog sometimes when she's asking for me to read her a book or draw with her. Sometimes she plays on her own, sometimes I stop what I'm doing--sometimes she throws things to demonstrate that I need to stop what I'm doing--whatever; we compromise.

But recently I decided it was time for Wallace and Gromit. I love Wallace and Gromit. Chicken Run, Creature Comforts: I love the entire Nick Park oeuvre. I thought she should be introduced to that sly and goofy English humor.

Well, I created a little obsessive monster. She asks to see Gromit all the time ("Can I see Groemint?") I got her a Wallace and Gromit book (it's lousy) so that we could give her an option other than the TV. Now we have to hide the book so she doesn't ask us to read it all the time. When we do watch one of the movies, she slips away from the couch moves forward until she's standing two feet from the set and dances with anticipation: "Can I see the mean dog?" "Can I see Shawn?" "Can I see the penguin?" and on it goes. I wish I'd held out longer.

It's made me realize that regardless of the cognitive effects (and I don't doubt that they're significant, just not my topic today), video is very unsuited to toddler emotional needs, or at least Z.'s. It's easy to read a book several times, to talk about it, to stop on one page while Z. takes it all in and discusses it. Movies are harder. And movies are not satisfying physical objects--Z. asks to have the DVD cases to carry around, but what fun is that? She asks me to draw Gromit, and I oblige--but this is the first time she's asked me to draw a fictional character rather than a family member. If there were a Gromit fad the way there was a Snoopy fad in my youth, she'd be there. She's already got the cheese thing down.

What she really wants is a Gromit friend, a Puppy Pie come to life and able to do with her all the things she longs to do herself. This is the theme of a recent favorite picture book (That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown--fantastic book, I recommend it highly). In the constant-companion department, Puppy Pie is a trouper, none better. But he's still no Gromit.