Wednesday, October 31, 2007

just your average wednesday morning

You know, the kind where a parent at your kid's school files a police report about you. You've had those Wednesdays, right?

I had just deposited Ezra (late) in the school lobby and gotten back into the car to drive the other two to preschool. There was a car idling in the very narrow drive leading to the street, and there was no way I could get past it.

I waited politely behind to see if the car would move. Then I tapped on my horn--one of those "hey, maybe you didn't see me behind you" taps. No response. I tapped a bit longer. Still no response. I honked--not quite a "get the fuck out of my way" honk, but perhaps an "I know you know I'm here waiting, now do something about it" honk.

The driver began gesticulating wildly into her rear view. So I got out of the car to ask her to move. She rolled down her window and introduced herself to me.

"You get any closer to the car and I'll knock your teeth out," were her exact words.

It escalated from there. I kept trying to ask her--though since she was yelling, I was yelling too--to just get out of the way, while she kept threatening me/accusing me of "deliberately" getting out of my car (well, Christ, I should hope so) and trying to provoke her/calling me a dumbass/asking me if I wanted to hit her.

We weren't communicating very well.

At one point she just decided to roll up her window and ignore me. I then, um, banged on her window. Not one of those "I'm trying to break your window" bangs, but perhaps a "Hey, lady, I'm not done talking, don't you shut your window on me" bang.

At which point she announced that she was going to call the police because I had just "assaulted" her car. At which point the assistant principal came out of the school and told her she had to move. At which point I thanked the assistant principal and made off with my two kids.

An hour or so later, I received a phone call at home from one of Asheville's finest. He asked for my side of the story, then told me, sounding very tired even though it was only 9:30, that the woman was "adamant about filing a report" and so he was obligated to do so.

"I can't imagine anything will come of this," he said with a sigh. "But here's the case number on the off chance you need it."

The woman was obviously kind of bonkers, and I'm upset that I didn't handle the situation as well as I might have. Why didn't I think of threatening to knock her teeth out first? Why did I use my bare hands to bang on the car window instead of grabbing the baseball bat from the back of the minivan?

For real, though, if I were somebody who was on Zoloft again and therefore nice, I'm sure I would have figured out how not to get into it with her. Dumbass.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

manic tuesday

Sorry to have been so out of touch. I spent the week in Madrid and I'm just now getting back to my regular routine. Oh, wait. That wasn't me.

Actually, I've been extremely busy wallowing in self-pity and plucking gray hairs. Also, my dreams have really been exhausting me.

Two nights ago, I dreamed that somebody told me I had the skin of a 70-year-old woman. When I told Stupid Daddy (in real life, the next morning), he said, "What a bitch!" Which I totally loved, but in all fairness, I had to point out that she was a dermatologist or something and was qualified to say shit like that, though it's true, she could have been more diplomatic.

Strangely--disturbingly, even--after all this time my blog and I have spent apart, I'm still sitting here wondering what the hell to write about.

Dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum.

I took a picture of Iris' blackboard but feel yucky about posting it here. I'll have to wait till her mom does something else truly awful and I get really pissed off all over again. Don't worry, that shouldn't take long.

Oh, here's a little doodad...

The closing act of the drama called Getting the Boys to Bed is having them pee. We like to save it for last because neither one of them gets out of bed on his own in the middle of the night to go; they either hold it till morning or wake up in a lake of piss. And though they rarely, rarely have accidents these days, washing the bedding when I already do at least one load of laundry a day, and then wrangling with that fucking waterproof mattress pad--I'm telling you, it's like the size of a thong (I mean, I don't wear thongs but I've seen them on TV and such; I wear granny panties, very sexy, but what do you expect from someone with the skin of a 70-year-old woman?), and I bow down to whoever can actually get it (the mattress pad, are you still with me?) pulled around all four corners of the mattress without ripping it/pulling a muscle/swearing mightily--well, I'd rather just make sure the boys stay dry at night. (Although, on the plus side, accidents do at least ensure that the linens get washed at all.)

So because they like to defy us and because it's the end of a long day and they're really tuckered out, they usually say, "I went already," when "already" means "three hours ago, before I drank those two glasses of milk and that 40 of water." And we have to insist and demand and threaten before they comply.

Every so often, though, they'll do what they're told and we won't notice because at any given point there are at least three people talking and two kids screaming and a partridge in a pear tree.

Which is what happened the other night, when Ezra dutifully peed one more time, zipped up his pajamas, and then climbed into bed.

"Go pee, Ezra," said Stupid Daddy.

"I already went pee," he said.

"I mean it, Ezra," said Stupid Daddy. "Go do it now."

"I told you, I already went pee!" Ezra screamed. And then, in a quieter voice, his eyes narrowed, every word a tiny dagger: "What is this, your new thing, Daddy--not trusting me?"

(Shit, now that I've gotten to the punch line, it hardly seems worth of the setup. But trust me, it really was funny.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

that was just the Zoloft talking

After a winter/early spring hiatus born of the seriously misguided notion that I could function just fine without it, I started taking Zoloft again about four months ago. Within a few weeks, I was feeling less anxious, less irritable, less angry, less depressed. Within a few more weeks, I was actually feeling good.

But Zoloft had some side effects that I had a hard time dealing with. I had zero feeling in my mustn't-touch region, which made doing the nasty seem like more work than it was really worth, especially when I could be watching The Office instead.

And while the Zoloft kept me from feeling lousy, it also prevented me from feeling much of anything. Gone were the cathartic crying jags, when I would turn into a blotchy, blubbery mess lying in bed at night thinking about the prospect of Ezra losing his first tooth, or watching a woman give birth on TLC, or listening to a report on the radio about some new horrors in Darfur.

I'm a crier, and when I see a picture of a newborn and don't well up, something is seriously wrong.

So a few weeks ago, I switched to Wellbutrin, an antidepressant that's celebrated for its lack of sexual side effects--for not giving people that numbed up, zoned out feeling in general.

It was a miracle. Suddenly, I was crying again. I wept watching this documentary; I wept listening to people talk about the things they had lost in the San Diego fires. I wept after having sex. Which I was having! Awesome! I was back inside myself.

But along with that, all the other stuff has little by little been sneaking its way into my life as well. I'm panicky, irritable, hostile, depressed, seriously pissed off about one thing or another at any given moment.

I've come to a realization: It's not that the Wellbutrin has allowed for a greater emotional range; it's that the Wellbutrin just isn't working.

The regular old me has returned.

You get into a routine with these drugs, and you forget that they're responsible for whatever shape your personality is currently taking. You're no longer "feeling better"; you're just you. Remember how astonished I was recently to discover that I had become nice? That wasn't me at all. That was me on medication.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

sorry for this snarky post; I think the baby carrots I like to snack on are making me cranky

Iris came over this evening so her mom could go to Qi Gong in order to get away from her daughter maintain her inner harmony. (Good! Mom is complying with DSS guidelines that Iris not be left home alone.)

She had in her hand a tiny doll that, she explained, the DSS social worker had given her earlier today. (Good! Though we've not seen anything of Latrice since those first couple of days, and had been wondering where the hell she'd been, she's apparently been keeping up with the case.)

Iris also had a couple of plastic pig key chains from her grandfather's bank--you can see where this is going, right?--to give to the boys. Her mom had insisted that she give away "ten tiny things" in exchange for the new toy, and these were the first two. (Not good!)

I asked Iris if Latrice was still with them when her mom told her that. And of course the answer was no. (@#$%$^!!!!)


In other Iris news, peanuts have been stricken from the very short list of acceptable foods:

"My mom says they make me grumpy."

I've been trying not to share with Iris any of my opinions about her mom. I'm sure she feels confused and conflicted enough already, and while I do want to validate her experience, I don't want her to feel like her mom and I are at odds and she has to choose between us.

But it's getting harder and harder--not to let my jaw drop in shock, not to let my eyes roll in disgust. And when she told me about the peanuts, I let myself slip a bit.

"Grumpy?" I said. "She said peanuts make you grumpy?"

But even then I was showing an admirable amount of restraint. Because you know what I really wanted to say to her? What I really wanted to say to her was this:

"Iris, your mom is a fucking lunatic."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Yesterday I took Ezra for a follow-up visit to the pediatric endocrinologist he first saw in May.

He's still in the 3rd percentile for height, which is good in that he's maintaining his growth velocity, but bad in that he's nowhere near his potential growth rate, as determined by his bone age and heredity. Also bad because this means that the hypothyroidism (which he's being successfully treated for) is not the cause of the growth delay, and what we're probably looking at is a growth hormone deficiency. We haven't yet scheduled any testing for this because the test itself is a sadistic nightmare, and the treatment--daily injections until puberty--just isn't something I'm really eager to get started on. The doctor says waiting another six months won't make a difference in the long run, and it's possible that by that point Ezra will have an investment in getting the growth delay treated as well. We will have achieved buy-in.

Buy-in: now there's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means he'll be more willing to endure the treatment. Presumably, I won't be chasing him around the house every night with a needle in my hand. He won't be finding new places to hide. He won't be seriously bummed out by and angry about the routine because he'll understand that it's fixing a problem that he wants fixed very badly. He'll be motivated.

On the other hand, what is it that will have motivated him? Not being able to reach the classroom supplies that he should be able to access without a problem. Not being able to wear that really cool shirt from his grandma, because it's still too big even though she sent it six months ago. Seeing his younger brother shoot past him. Getting teased on the playground, getting called names.



Ezra turns six in February and is the height of an average four-year-old--an average just-turned-four four-year-old, I should say. Every day when I pick him up from school, I am amazed anew by just how tiny he is. His backpack covers half his body. His classmates tower over him. And yet he walks with confidence, like he really has no idea.

And here I am, wanting him to recognize what a peanut he is and feel bad about it, wanting him to suffer so he'll become a more compliant patient, and at the same time wanting to protect him from cruelty and difficulty, wanting him never to know he is anything but as big as he feels.

Monday, October 22, 2007

but nobody ever said it was a nice tenant

There is a blackboard propped up against the wall on the front porch of Iris' building. It has been there since mom removed it from Iris' bedroom as punishment for something or other, and it now serves as a message board.

Sometimes mom writes urgent notices to the landlord, like:

"Gary--screw loose on cabinet door above sink." [Honey, I know another loose screw that's way more problematic.]

But mostly she leaves messages for Iris. I stopped over there last weekend and saw this:

"Sock." [Sock found, out of place, must be taken care of immediately.]
"Clean up table. I told you about this already."
"I threw cilantro out the window in back, carrots out my bedroom window." [Now you must find these in the grass and put them in the compost bin? And also, in general, WTF?]
"Listen better."

Keep in mind that there are two other apartments in the building, and also that the blackboard faces out onto the street. So pretty much anyone can find out easily what a lousy job Iris is doing being a nine-year-old girl.

The messages are posted and then wiped away (by Iris). And if for some reason the board is not cleaned in a timely fashion, then Iris has to write "I will clean the blackboard" 20 times, on the blackboard, and then wipe that away, after her mom has seen it.

There is one thing, though, that never gets wiped away. It is a pronouncement, in pink, at the very top of the blackboard:

"Love lives here."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

thanks but no thanks

"Mommy," Ezra asked me this morning. "Do you want 100 bucks?"

"What for?" I asked.

"Something expensive."

"Oh, okay. Sure."

"Here you go," he said, handing me two tickets from hell Chuck E. Cheese's that he had found in my bag. (I had stolen a bunch from the boys on our last visit there; there's a very special plastic piece of shit that I've got my eye on.)

"Oh, thanks," I said, taking the tickets from him. "These were the ones you guys were playing with yesterday, right?"

"Yeah," he said. "And my pajama bottoms didn't have any pockets, so I just kept them in my underwear."

I let go of those tickets pretty fast.

Friday, October 19, 2007

a truly healthy heart

I brought Ezra to the lab at the children's hospital today for a blood draw to check his thyroid levels. We're going to be doing this every six months or so as he grows (to the extent that he's growing at all; see this post for some background), to see if his Synthroid dosage needs adjusting.

I didn't tell him ahead of time that this was our agenda; he had a day off from school and I didn't want to ruin the entire morning for both of us. Instead, I told him as we pulled into the parking lot, so there wasn't a whole lot of time to be pissed off and bummed out. And once inside, he was immediately distracted by a gigantic and wonderful kinetic sculpture by George Rhoads, just as he had been on the previous visit, and the one before that. It's like that, this sculpture; you really could just watch it forever.

I myself, however, got a little teary looking at him and thinking about the prospect of daily growth hormone injections for the next ten years, and the possible implications of that skewed liver enzyme level the last blood draw picked up, and also just how much I love this child and want him to be okay.

After the receptionist sent us down to the lab, Ezra started to get nervous. He told me that he was scared. I explained that sometimes when you're scared, things hurt more than they should; and sometimes the anticipatory fear is worse than the actual procedure. (Those were my exact words; no need to dumb things down for my five-year-old!)

He cried intensely for maybe 20 seconds after the needle went in, and then he quieted down. "You were right, Mommy," he said afterwards. "All I had to do was fold my breath, and it was fine."

(Just for the record, I hadn't suggested that he hold his breath--which is probably the worst thing to do, vis-a-vis breathing, in a situation like that--let alone suggesting that he fold it.)

The phlebotomist told Ezra he could get a toy from the treasure chest in the corner, and after carefully selecting one for himself and one for his brother, he said, in a very quiet voice, "I want to put some of my toys in here so other kids can have them. Is that okay?"

I said it was okay, and she said it was okay, and then he pulled out a couple of action figures he had stuffed into his pocket this morning and dropped them into the bin.

I kissed him on the forehead, told him that was a very thoughtful thing to do, and got teary all over again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

red light, green light

Something happened today that I wanted to tell the three of you about, but I just can't think of what it was right now.

What was it...what was it? Hmm....

[scratches head]

Oh, wait! Now I remember! I saw somebody get hit by a car.

I was driving to the Y for a workout when, at the intersection I was approaching, a car turned the corner and went smack into a woman crossing the street. It really was like in the movies. She went up onto the hood, kind of flipped over, and then landed face down on the ground. Throughout the sequence, she seemed somehow inanimate--like a mannequin prop that was being used for this scene while the starlet hung out in her trailer smoking a cigarette.

Amazingly, the woman got right up and kept walking, with what looked like a smile on her face. I called 911 and circled around the block to get back to her as I was relating the incident to the dispatcher.

In characteristic fashion, I could describe the woman pretty well (blond hair tied back, a thin scarf, blue jeans) but was hazy on the details of the vehicle. ("It was black," I said. "And big.")

I found the woman and the driver in the parking lot of Bojangles, along with another witness who had also called 911. The woman, whose name was Lee Ann, seemed only slightly banged up, considering; the only apparent injuries were a couple of bruised knees and a bruised wrist (though she acknowledged that she was pumped with adrenaline and might not be able to assess the damage accurately right at that moment).

The four of us waited there, for about 20 minutes, until a policewoman showed up. The whole thing was kind of awkward. The guy who had hit Lee Ann kept saying, "Like I said, I'm real sorry. I just didn't see you." And Lee Ann didn't really know how to respond, which I could totally get. On the one hand, he really hadn't seen her, and was genuinely apologetic. On the other hand, he had hit her with his fucking car, and didn't really seem apologetic enough. I kind of alternated--as I imagined Lee Ann was doing--between trying to put him at ease and silently condemning his character (the baseness of which seemed inextricably linked to the awful polyester shirt and shiny dress pants he was wearing, and also the fact that he was driving a Ford Excursion, even though I hadn't been able to identify it as such minutes earlier), and then going back to thinking, But it was an accident after all.

I gave the policewoman my contact information and account of what happened, made sure Lee Ann wasn't just being polite and really didn't want me to wait with her until her boyfriend showed up, and then took off to pick up Ezra at school. It wasn't until then that I realized I was pretty shaken. My limbs felt kind of rubbery. I started to shiver a bit. I teared up. The sequence kept replaying itself in my mind: Smack. Flip. Fall to the ground.

After I greeted Ezra in the doorway of his school, I insisted on grabbing his hand, even though he doesn't like to walk with me this way. And then I held on extra tight--to protect him, to comfort myself--as we crossed the streets on the way back to the car.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

death be not serious

I love how young kids "understand" death, and the way that sometimes it's a huge, scary thing, as I described here, while at other times it's really no big deal, like this:

The other day, our friend Ava asked, "Why is Pixie eight and I'm six?"

"Because she was born two years earlier than you," we explained.

"But why is she two years older?"

"Because she was born two years sooner."

"What about when I'm seven?"

"She'll still be two years older than you."

"What about when I'm a grown-up?"

"She'll still be two years older than you. You are never going to catch up to your sister."

Ava thought for a moment, and then her eyes lit up and opened wide. "What about when she's dead?"

And this:

Tonight at dinner, as Ezra was devouring some oven-baked fries that I lovingly prepared from scratch grabbed from the freezer, dumped out of the bag, and heated up, he said, "Mommy, can you give me this for lunch tomorrow? And snack tomorrow? And lunch the next day? And dinner? And every day forever?"

"Sure," I said. "I guess you really like them."

But he wasn't really paying attention. "Even when I'm dead, " he continued, "can you put a container of these on top of me? They'll be gone by morning. You won't believe it."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

because the best things in life aren't things rocks

On her way back from the bus stop yesterday afternoon, Iris came up to our porch to say a quick hello. (If you're wondering who the hell Iris is, start here.) She was wearing a new sweater that her grandmother had bought for her in Atlanta. Apparently, there had been a minor--very minor--shopping spree, and I was happy to know Iris had been given the opportunity to do something as frivolous and materialistic as going to the mall.

"Do you want to see some cool mica I found?" Iris asked. And she proceeded to unload a whole collection of tiny, peach-tinted, glinting rocks from her sweater pocket. She spread them out in the palm of one hand and touched them lightly with the fingers of the other hand.

"Ooh, cool," I said. "Did you find these on the playground?"

"Yup," she said. And then, "Gotta go!" Her chores were waiting for her, and so was her slave driver mother.

A while later, after she had finished her chores, Iris came back over for her mother's helper gig. (And I have to say, in all fairness, kudos to mom for allowing this.)

"Do you think your boys would want these?" she asked, digging into her pocket for the rocks again.

"You're not going to keep them?" I asked.

"Nah," she said. "My mom said I could only have one."

Okay, getting upset about a second pencil, that makes a whole lot of sense and surely falls into philosophical line with the recommendations of the most esteemed parenting experts. I mean, doesn't Dr. Sears devote a whole chapter to this exact issue? Or maybe it's T. Berry Brazelton I'm thinking of.

But only one rock? That, in the words of Iris' mom, really crosses a boundary for me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

rude awakening

I was living in Cambridge when the blue recycling bins began to appear--mid-1990s, I think it was. Every Sunday night I'd carry mine down to the basement of my apartment building, along with my trash. Every Monday I'd carry them back up.

I did this in part because it seemed like the right thing to do, but mainly because it's what I was supposed to do. These were the new rules regarding waste, and I followed them.

A couple of years later, Stupid Daddy (Idiot Boyfriend at the time) and I moved to rural Vermont, where there was no curbside pick-up. You hauled your own garbage to the dump, your own stacks of newspaper and piles of plastic.

If you had a reasonable amount of household trash, you could throw it into the Dumpster right at the front, under the watchful eye of a county employee, for a few dollars per bag. (Recycling was complimentary.) But if you had more than that--for example, construction waste from a home renovation project in addition to the usual--you had to drive it right into the landfill and dump it there. They weighed your truck before and after and charged you by the pound.

Because Stupid Daddy had purchased a shack that was barely standing charming little cabin with structural quirks like "no insulation" and "no foundation" for us to live in, he was forever fixing things up around the house, and we often had to go this second route.

Wow. That first time, I stood gaping at the bottom of a stadium-sized crater, my Sorels sinking into the trash beneath me, astonished: there was trash all over the place, layer upon layer, heap upon heap. There were washing machines and banana peels and candy bar wrappers, diapers and tricycles and crushed aluminum cans. (Recycling was optional, and many people just didn't bother.) Black trash bags that hadn't been punctured studded the hillside like boulders. Bulldozers and backhoes razed and collected, shifting and rearranging the man-made, artificial terrain. Even though it was February and the temperature had been below freezing for months, the stench was almost unbearable, even for me.

Everywhere, I mean everywhere, there was trash. Duh--it was a landfill. But it wasn't until then that I realized what that actually meant. It wasn't until I saw and smelled that landfill that I understood what kind of impact I could have--or not--on the land.

The environment started to matter to me after that. I recycled not because I was supposed to but because it meant something. I bought food and cleaning supplies in bulk, with containers I used until they fell apart. Stupid Daddy built a compost bin, and into it we happily threw all our kitchen scraps. Our trips to the dump were a lot less frequent; we just weren't generating that much trash.

Over the years, as we've moved into more urban areas, and regions of the country where environmental responsibility is not a given, we've taken some steps forward and some steps back. We used cloth diapers with Ezra until he was two-and-a-half and with Levi until he was a year; Lilah wouldn't know a cloth diaper if it came up and bit her in the butt. All the produce we eat is organic, and almost all of it is local; on the other hand, we buy drinks in plastic bottles more than I would like, and Stupid Daddy has a nasty Diet Pepsi addiction. Our kitchen scraps go into the disposal now, but we've replaced many of our incandescent bulbs with fluorescent.

We strive and we succeed. We strive and we fail; we're human. But always, I've got the horrifying image of that landfill in my head, pushing me to try my best. I can't shake it; nor would I want to.

(For Blog Action Day.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


One of the things that the physical therapist told Stupid Daddy during my nervous breakdown from having to take care of three kids plus him after he herniated the one disc and before he ruptured the other one is that he holds his head too far forward. His posture, the guy said, was a result of previous back trauma but also likely to harm him in the future.

I can't say I had noticed this quirk of his posture beforehand, but once I was cued, I saw it quite a bit. And because I'm a nag it's difficult to correct habits you're not even aware of, when I catch Stupid Daddy holding himself that way, I nag him a lot gently remind him to pull his head back in line with his spine.

This morning, he was sitting at his desk looking at porn responding to an email with his head jutting way forward toward the computer while his shoulders and everything else hung back. Dangerous.

"Fix yourself!" I said. "You're like this!" And then I jutted my chin out as far as I could.

"Oh, stop it," he said. "You should see what you look like when you're sitting at your computer." He bent himself over, kind of hook-shaped, to demonstrate. "You look like a fucking gnome!"

At which point, my own posture went supine, because I was totally ROFLMAO.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Iris and her mom went to Atlanta yesterday to visit Iris' grandmother for the weekend. Iris seemed genuinely happy to be going. I have no idea what the grandmother is like; I'm told that sometimes craziness skips a generation. The only thing I have heard, via Iris, is that mom and grandma have "trust issues."

"Trust issues about what?" I asked.

"I have no idea," she said. "It gives me the heebie jeebies when my mom talks like that."

It was so quiet here this afternoon without Iris. I cannot believe how much I miss her.

I have wondered since we made the call to DSS how long it would be before mom freaked and they skipped town. After they left last night, it crossed my mind a time or two that since there's nothing in their apartment anyway, they wouldn't be returning.

But then I saw mom's hula hoop propped against the railing on their front porch, and I knew I'd see Iris again.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

mama's boy

In nearly every respect, Levi is his father's boy. They look alike, they have the same bodies, they move with the same self-confidence. They both know just how to woo the ladies. They both have incredible rhythm. Temperamentally, too, they're similar--optimistic, laid-back, sociable, and frustratingly distractible. And while Ezra and Lilah are fairly certain I'm the one who hung the moon (and I am), Levi maintains (erroneously) that it's all Stupid Daddy's doing.

Lately, though, Levi and I have bonded over a shared quirk: we both love--I mean love--to smell things. I have always had a curious, overactive sniffer. Even as a little girl, I could tell just by the scent what kind of tea my father was drinking, or what kind of coffee he was brewing. I recognized perfumes and flowers and people. I wanted to smell the whole world.

It has never mattered to me whether the smell is wonderful or nauseating; as soon as I'm onto a scent, I inhale until I can identify it, until I can find it, until I can parse its many layers.

Once a few years ago I went to the doctor to be treated for what I thought was a yeast infection. Before examining me, he asked if I had noticed any odor.

"Do you have dogs?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said.

"Well, you know that smell when they bust an anal gland? It kind of smells like that mixed with the smell of an infected belly button, and a little bit of penny thrown in." It's like that for me.

He looked at me for a few seconds, his pen poised over his notes.

"I'll just put 'foul odor,'" he said.

In the last couple of weeks, Levi has been talking a lot about smells, and he seems to have inherited my olfactory interests and, dare I say, prowess.

"Let me smell you," he says as I walk by. I bend toward him, and he closes his eyes and sniffs deeply. "You smell good, Mommy. Like perfume. Like a bath."

If I wrinkle my nose and say, "Ooh, gross!"--after smelling a cup of milk that's been out too long or a container of hummus I've just discovered in the back of the fridge--he's right there on the scene to get a whiff. Dog poop, roses, new leather, doesn't matter what: he wants to smell it all.

A few nights ago, he called to me from bed, and I went upstairs to settle him back down again. As soon as I leaned over, he said, "Hey, you smell like what I had for lunch today!" And indeed I had just had a couple of bites of the pesto pasta from his lunch container. (Dinner for me is quite frequently my kids' leftovers.) I was impressed.

And then yesterday, Levi walked into the kitchen as I was baking a potato--one of Ezra's favorites and something neither he nor Lilah will even consider tasting--and without missing a beat said, "Ooh, yah. It smells like what Ezra eats."

It's really nice to see that even though I've got tinier bones and a darker complexion, even though I'm anxious and socially awkward, and even though I can't dance to save my life, there's a little bit of me in Levi after all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

commercials? not so interesting after all

Either that or I need to find a new ad agency, or get a better life.

Here's some good news regarding Iris. Mom has agreed to let her come over in the afternoons on most days*, despite having banned her permanently from our home a couple of weeks ago.

Mom has also agreed to let us hire Iris as a mother's helper next week. Stupid Daddy is going to be away for work from Monday morning until Saturday night (yes, that's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday--not done yet!--Friday, and Saturday I'll be attempting to hold down the fort while maintaining what little is left of my sanity), so I could definitely use some help.

What she'll be doing--a couple of hours every afternoon--isn't much different from what she does anyway. Just having her here to play with my kids frees me up to do exciting things like unload the dishwasher, take a shower, and put away laundry. And being genetically programmed to be maternal, she often asks to be involved in Lilah's care. She has fed her dinner and carried her up to the bath and helped to get her dressed. Lilah loves her, as do the boys. She's generally just fun to have around. Now she'll get paid for that. I just have to make sure the money goes to her, and she's not forced to hand it over to her mother.

(Of course, the arrangements were made during an excruciating conversation that took forever because mom kept going off on tangents, the sole purpose of which was to shame her daughter in front of me.)

The other thing that has made me feel better is learning that there are many others in the neighborhood who know that all is not well in that household. I spoke this evening with the dad of Pixie and Ava, and he clearly had a beat on the craziness, though he knew fewer specifics because he lives around the corner and not 20 feet away. He also told me that he has had conversations with other neighbors about Iris, and they too are well aware of what's been going on.

So Iris has a lot of people looking out for her, and she is as safe as she can be given that she's living with a lunatic.

*At least theoretically; Iris was supposed to come over this afternoon but was forbidden at the last minute for reasons mom didn't share with me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

commercial break

I've had a couple of fascinating and disturbing interactions with Iris' mom since I last posted, but I'm reluctant, at least for now, to write about them here. I think I've already pretty well demonstrated that she's seriously ill. Sharing more anecdotes at this point would feel like plain old gossip, and that makes me uncomfortable.

(See what I mean about turning into a nice person? I used to love to gossip. Well, I suppose I still do. Just not as much. I'm still acclimating to this whole "nice" thing.)

So, in lieu of an update on the Iris saga, I've decided to turn my attention to other interesting areas of my life.

[breeze blows]

[leaves fall]

[a garbage truck screeches by and somewhere in the distance, dogs bark]


The boys got new shoes and haircuts over the weekend!


I paid some bills today.

I guess I'll be going now.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

from a different angle

About a week ago, Iris came over snacking on a puffed bready-looking thing that I couldn't identify. It turned out to be mochi, one item on the very short list of foods that Iris is allowed to eat.

Mom's insanity/asceticism applies to her diet as well. The household is strictly vegan, and they don't eat sugar or bread or cereal. Iris has a piece of fruit and some nuts as an after-school snack (unless she's over at our house, gorging herself on breakfast bars, quesadillas, milk, and pretty much anything else she can get her hands on). For dinner every night they eat rice and raw or steamed veggies.

What's more, they eat very little of the very little they eat. Right around the time we started to get suspicious, Stupid Daddy snuck over there to check out their kitchen. There were a couple of containers in the fridge (pumpkin seeds and I forget what else), and that was it. Absolutely nothing in the cupboards. And it was exactly the same when Iris brought me over there the other day.

(I've always believed that people whose "healthy" eating is so extreme and restrictive are simply masking an eating disorder, though there's so much else going on psychologically in this case--read on--that it's hard to know.)

Mom is a walking, tatted-down skeleton--no surprise, especially given the hours of hula hooping she does daily. Iris looks normal; I'm guessing that's because she does get to eat the school lunch (I'm not sure why) and if her consumption at our house is any indication, she's getting a whole lot of calories in on the sly.

So, back to the mochi. I was kind of curious about it and picked some up at the grocery store. A couple of days ago, mom sent Iris over around dinner time to see if I had baked any of it yet--and if so, could she please sample it? The garlic-sesame mochi that I had gotten was the only kind in the store that day, and since Iris hadn't ever tried that particular mochi before, mom didn't buy any. But if Iris tried some of ours, and it turned out she did like it, then mom would run to the grocery store to get some.

Okay, it was kind of a strange request, but whatever. I offered to bake some right then and told Iris I'd be over with a sample when it was ready. About 20 minutes later, I went next door with a bit of mochi cooling on a cloth napkin. Mom thanked me and I left.

Last night after the kids had gone to bed, mom came over.

"I just wanted to thank you so much for bringing the mochi over yesterday," she said. "It was a really big hit; Iris loved it. It was just so kind of you, I'm just really appreciative of community and also blah blah blah."

"You're welcome," I said. "It was no problem." Because I'm succinct. (Except in this post, I'm just now noticing.)

"And so," she said, "I wanted to offer you something in return, but I don't really have anything because unlike you lesser beings, you with your chairs to sit on and your stocked fridge, I've completely rejected consumer culture. So I'm offering you this chocolate."

And she produced a one-inch square of chocolate wrapped in red foil. As I opened it, she explained that it was raw chocolate, sweetened with agave nectar, and every so often she'll have half a square because a little goes a long way. I of course popped the whole thing in my mouth. And I have to say, it tasted pretty good.

"Also," she began. "Oh, I hope I'm not offending you here. But our home is like a sanctuary to us, and yesterday when you came over with the mochi, I felt you didn't give me time to let you into the apartment. You just announced yourself and walked right in. I'm really touchy about this. And also, blah blah blah. I really need people to ask permission to come into my home and then wait for me to give it to them. And blah and blah. I hope you'll understand."

I was uncharacteristically gracious with her, never mind the fact that the door to her apartment building was wide open and the door to the apartment itself was wide open and she was expecting me and she was standing right there.

Besides all of which, Christ, maybe I should have waited, but did my transgression really warrant a 10-minute conversation? Seriously, every little thing with her turns into the most labored, agonizingly sincere (or pseudo-sincere) exchange.

As she began to leave, I noticed she did kind of a two-step tap thingy on her way to the door. But I didn't think too much of it, because she had already demonstrated that she's plenty weird.

Right at that moment, I heard Levi calling for me even though he was supposed to have been asleep an hour already. I excused myself and said good night and then ran upstairs to deal. Levi told me he really, really wanted to drive a race car. I told him he really, really needed to get to sleep. I settled him down and kissed him a bunch of times and then came back downstairs.

The front door was still ajar, so I went to close it. And there was mom, on the front porch, minutes later, doing her two-step tap thingy. I didn't want to embarrass her, so I pretended I didn't see her, shut the door quickly, and turned off the porch light.

So, hello, OCD! I began to wonder whether at least part of why she's so late in leaving the house every day is that she's got a whole series of rituals to go through before she can get out the door. I began to see her treatment of Iris as a symptom of her disease, instead of just plain cruelty. I began to understand--at least in a general sort of way--why she freaked out when my kids left some of their toys in her yard even though it's not really her yard, and why she freaked out when they absentmindedly plucked a couple of blossoms from a large bush over there, even though the flowers were on their way to dropping and there were about five thousand of them and it wasn't her plant anyway.

Mostly, though, I began to feel really bad for her.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Iris update, still not funny

The social worker from DSS came yesterday afternoon. Iris was home because she had been grounded. Predictably, Iris' mom was not. The social worker, Latrice, talked to Iris at her house for a while (Iris later told us she was asked how often she was left alone and other questions related to her care, and thankfully, Iris appeared to have no interest in covering anything up), and then, because, once again, there's no phone in the house, Iris brought the social worker over to our house so she could call the mom.

Latrice left a message--perhaps mom's cell phone was off because she was busy chanting at the Namaste Center--and told Iris to stay with us in the meantime. Stupid Daddy managed to touch base with her for a few minutes on the front porch while I distracted Iris inside. Latrice was shocked to hear about the additional 35 sentences for having had a second pencil. She also appeared to be stunned by what she had already seen and heard over there.

Latrice had some other emergency to tend to and indicated that she would be back to meet with mom as soon as she had heard from her. So Iris hung out here with Ezra (the other two were still in school), and they played "car trip" interspersed with "school." (I'm not sure how all that works, but they seem to get it.)

Sonya came back before Latrice, which sucked, because she showed up at our door with steam coming out of her ears, all, "Iris needs to come home NOW!" And yet when she spoke to Iris, she was all faux affection, like, "How was your day, sweetie?" in this exaggerated, syrupy voice, like somehow that was going to make up for years of abuse and Iris was going to tell Latrice never mind.

I called Latrice and confirmed that she was on her way. I also told her I was worried the whole thing would backfire and mom would get that much more punitive. She said, "Don't worry. I am going to be there a lot. I am going to be so involved in this case you're going to be sick of seeing me. And you can call me whenever you want."

Latrice showed up shortly thereafter, but not before Iris had had a chance to run back over to us and say, "My mom says I'm not allowed to play over here ever again, because you're becoming too much of a problem." Exactly what I was afraid of.

Stupid Daddy and I then brought Ezra to pick up Levi and Lilah, and we all went on a family jaunt. When we got home at 7:00, Latrice was still there.

At about 8:00, Latrice called to let me know she had just left. She said there's a safety plan in place, and Iris will not be unsupervised anymore. Mom agreed that if she's not going to be around she will arrange with another adult to supervise. She also said she'd be back again today.

"So she's amenable to having Iris come over here again?" I asked.

"Well, not yet," she said. "I'm still working on that. I'm trying to help her see you guys as a resource. I told her, 'Your child loves going over there. Why would you deny her that?'"

(Answer: Because I'm batshit nuts, and I don't actually care about my daughter's well-being.)


My concern is that addressing the supervision issue without addressing any of the abusive behaviors will actually hurt Iris instead of helping her. Despite what Latrice said, I think Mom is too controlling and defensive to be asking us to help out, so if she agreed to make sure that Iris is not alone, it means she'll probably choose to spend more time with her herself--screaming at her, having her scrub the toilet, do the laundry (washer, dryer, folding, and hanging her mom's as well as her own), pick up other people's cigarette butts from around the property, write her sentences, and spend hours alone in her room bored to tears.

But Stupid Daddy says Latrice can only address so much at a time. And a friend who knows about these things said often a social worker will respond to a call and decide the agency's involvement is not really necessary, so the fact that Latrice told me she'd be over a lot suggests she has a sense that things are seriously wrong.

So that's all I got for you for right now.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

this is not funny at all

Earlier this week, we made a call to DSS about our new neighbor Iris' mother. The two of them moved in to the apartment building next door about a month ago, and Iris has been coming over pretty much every afternoon since then.

That's because she is nine years old and her mom, who doesn't work, spends all morning and early afternoon at home meditating and hula hooping in the front yard while gabbing on her cell phone but is sure to be gone by the time Iris gets off the school bus at 3:00, and sure to stay away until after 6:00. So if it weren't for us, Iris would be home alone for hours on a regular basis.

Home alone in an apartment that has no computer, no TV, no phone (that's right folks, she has no way to get in touch with her mother), no furniture except for two futons and a cushion, and no food to snack on except for a piece of fruit, if she's lucky.

These are Iris' toys:
--5 marbles
--2 Barbie dolls
--a rock she found that is special to her
--a mint tin-sized container of pins from Disneyland
(She used to also have a chalkboard but her mom took that away after Iris lost her water bottle.)

That's it.

It's not about poverty. It's about Iris' mom choosing to live like a monk, forsaking all earthly temptations and distractions so she can live a "centered" life. So she says. But what it's really about is Iris' mom needing to be in control of everything, including Iris, at all times.

So Iris comes over to play with my kids, play with their toys, consume hundreds of calories in one sitting because she's so ravenous. She comes over to cuddle with our cats, and, we believe, to connect with people who are relatively normal. She comes over so she herself can be normal.

But she can't come over when she's grounded. Which happens frequently, and for the slightest infraction--not finishing her long list of chores fast enough (the list, by the way, always includes writing "I practice truth every day" 25 times on a piece of paper) or complaining about not being allowed to play as much as she would like.

When Iris is grounded, she goes straight to her room after school and stays there until the next morning. She is not allowed to have a snack. She is not allowed to eat dinner. She is allowed to leave her room three times to go to the bathroom. She's not released until 6:45 the next morning, which is when she has the alarm set for, so she can get up and out the door to be at the bus stop at 7, while her mom sleeps late.

The mom has initiated a few conversations with us in which she talks about "wanting to clear the air" and "understanding each other's boundaries" and "sensing judgment" and "communicating." She's got the language down pat and she maintains this totally reasonable, open affect. At the end of each conversation she does her little "namaste" gesture, palms together, a slight bow of thanks. Gratitude. But it's all bullshit. She's totally fucking insane.

Yesterday I asked Iris if she ever had friends from school come over.

"I want to," she said. "But my mom won't let me."

"What about you going over to their houses?"

"I want to do that too," she said. "I got a friend's phone number today but my mom made me throw it out."

"Do you know why?" I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

There's more but I'm about wiped out. We have tried to accept that every family does it differently, tried very hard not to judge, but the evidence just keeps building. And we feel kind of powerless. We're not sure what the call to DSS will achieve. If they investigate, will Iris' mom become that much more defensive and entrenched and isolating? Will it be obvious that we're the ones who made the call? Will Iris never be allowed to play over here again? Will they move away?

Of course, because we're just like this, Stupid Daddy and I have begun entertaining fantasies of adopting her. In the meantime, I just want to give the poor girl a giant hug.

Update: Iris has to write an additional 35 "I practice truth every day" sentences because her mom found a pencil under her futon. This was a second pencil, and Iris is only allowed to have one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

a contradiction

Levi, in the car this morning on the way to school:

"Mommy, I really want to grow up right now and be Spiderman, and you're not letting me!"

So on the one hand, he really does believe his mommy is omnipotent--just as they say kids this age do. I have so much power that I can control how quickly my son grows and determine his future as a superhero.

On the other hand, he acts like I don't hold any of the cards at all. I can't get the damn kid to put his shoes on, or climb up the stairs at bedtime, or get into the car after school without several increasingly loud demands reminders.

Maybe I should start telling him that I'm not going to let him be a superhero when he grows up unless he follows directions. Maybe I should tell him I'm going to turn him into Dora or Cinderella or some other gross, yucky girl icon instead. Ha!

Why didn't I think of this before? He's so got another thing coming to him when I pick him up later today. Sucka!

Monday, October 1, 2007

20/20 hindsight

Last Friday I went to the Y to run on the treadmill. I've only recently begun working out again, after an unprecedented hiatus of several months, and for some reason, as I ease my way back into shape, I've found it less daunting to run on a treadmill than to run outside.

I planned to run for half an hour, and everything went fine for the first several minutes, except that it was an unbelievably glorious day, and as I ran--looking out the floor-to-ceiling window at the leaves gently rustling and the deep blue sky, and listening to Journey and Sade and the other terrible music the Y pipes into the fitness room--I began to feel like an idiot for not getting my exercise in the fabulous, invigorating, other-people's-music-free outdoors.

But all that kicking-myself regret soon turned into relief, because somewhere in the seventh minute, it became quite clear that I needed to take a dump. If you've done any serious running, you know that this kind of thing can happen. Distance runners are always leaving treasures in the woods and wiping themselves with a sock, or leaves, or chipmunks, or whatever else happens to be within reach. (My brother once wiped with poison ivy. Oops.) Remember Greta Weitz running the New York City marathon with diarrhea streaming down her legs? That would have been my only option.

The thing is, like Greta Weitz, I can get pretty obsessive when I exercise. I really didn't want to interrupt my workout to take care of business. So I continued running, with my butt cheeks pretty much clenched together. Though my ass muscles undoubtedly got some additional toning, it really wasn't all that pleasant.

Finally, after 25 minutes, I had to concede that I wasn't going to make it. I hopped off the treadmill and trotted to the bathroom, where things quickly got ugly. There was noise and stench and seemingly no end in sight to the proceedings.

The bathroom is small, with only two stalls, so I was mortified when the door swung open and someone sat down in the stall next to me. To make matters worse, all she was doing was some dainty, ladylike tinkling. I so wished I could just be alone with my subhuman disgustingness.

However, I became quite grateful for her companionship when I discovered that the toilet paper roll was empty. Still, it took me several seconds to work up the courage to ask her for some help: I had to overcome the fact that I was being made that much more vulnerable.

"Can you do me a favor?" I said. "Can you pass me some toilet paper?"

"Oh, no," the woman said. "I'm not going to do that for you."

Holy shit! I thought to myself. Why? And then, Now what?

"I'm just kidding," she said. "Just a little bathroom humor."

I managed to chuckle, and she handed me a wad of toilet paper under the divider. It was just barely enough; I really had to strategize.

I waited for the woman to leave before emerging from my own stall, because really there's no way to face a stranger who has endured your foul odors and then assisted, in her own small but essential way, with the cleanup. You just can't do it.

I washed up and then went back to finish my run, which was now a hell of a lot more enjoyable, though I was still traumatized by my bathroom experience. So traumatized, in fact, that I just had to blog about it, days later--as if telling the world the handful of people who read this would release me from some of that shame.

Hey, I do kind of feel better now.