30 August 2009

The ass sensor

I have a theory, albeit farfetched and slightly paranoid, that I think many mothers would agree with. I believe that when your first child is born, you leave the hospital, or your birthing bed, not just with your precious newborn, but also, with an ass sensor.

Perhaps there is a dormant part of the female anatomy that is activated by all that pushing, or our doctors and midwives install it unbeknownst to us while cleaning us up down there.

But both of these theories go out the window when I consider adoptive mothers, as well as fathers, who clearly have one too. And so, the most plausible explanation I've been able to come up with is that it has something to do with hormones.

The ass sensor makes it near impossible to sit down for any length of time. I believe it works on some frequency that only dogs and children can hear, and the closer your posterior gets to a seated position, the louder it gets, until your children can no longer bear its horrible high pitched sound, forcing them to use their wits to quickly come up with some minor calamity that needs rectifying immediately.

The timing is so impeccable that is is the only explanation I can come up with for why, once I have cooked, served and cleaned up breakfast, and prepare to sit down for a cup of coffee and to glance at the paper, someone appears with a nasty soiled diaper so disgusting that it needs to be changed right away. My children have heard the lure of the ass sensor.

Or, when I sit down in my study to write, before I have composed a complete sentence, I am summoned to break up a squabble. Because from far across the house, they were possessed by a sound not unlike nails on a chalkboard, and they needed to do something, ANYTHING, TO MAKE IT STOP.

The acoustics of the toilet must do something to amplify the painful effects of the ass sensor, because the last time I relieved my self in peace was sometime in early 1999.

You can try to ignore your children when the ass sensor sounds, but it's ear-splitting kilohertz frequency is so painful for them to endure that it only works up to a certain point.

Once, a friend and I devised an experiment. We were in my kitchen on a Friday afternoon, and all our children were happily playing in the backyard. We sat down to enjoy a drink, and gab for a bit, but the combined power of two maternal asses hitting chairs was clearly too much for the kids to bear. Because my iPhone has a stopwatch, we decided it would be fun to time how long we could sit before the ass sensor sounded.

The record: 36 seconds.

25 August 2009

My ego was bruised

A few weeks ago, David and I spent a vast amount of money so that I could have my intelligence insulted. It turned out to be worth every penny.

At the suggestion of our pediatrician we took Gabriel to see a pediatric neurologist. This doctor does not accept health insurance, and our pediatrician mentioned that his fee was higher than we would normally pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses. When I learned exactly how much higher, I nearly choked. All I can say is thank goodness for flexible medical spending accounts, because I imagine that when I submit the bill to my insurance company, their automated system will laugh mirthlessly as it generates its pro-forma denial of coverage letter.

But what a tax deduction we will receive!

David took a day off from work, and we drove 90 minutes south to spend 3 hours with this doctor. He spent half of this time with Gabriel, administering behavioral, social and cognitive testing, as well as a neurological exam. While Gabriel was with the doctor David and I completed an extensive questionnaire that addressed family medical history, as well as Gabriel's behavioral and social functioning.

This questionnaire confirmed our belief that that our son does not enjoy tormenting small mammals, and has never skinned a live cat.

After 90 minutes, we switched places, and David and I got to speak with the doctor, where we reviewed the results of the questionnaire, and his examination of Gabriel.

We received confirmation of something we already suspected: that Gabriel has an impressively robust IQ; as well as something we did not know: that he has ADHD, and that the two often go hand-in-hand.

And this is when I became conflicted. Not because Gabriel has ADHD, which made sense, and helped account for some of our ongoing concerns. But because this is the point at which this highly esteemed doctor began insulting my intelligence.

Throughout the meeting, he hardly made eye contact with me, preferring instead, to speak directly to David. He noted my history of depression and explained that ADHD is clinically related.

He then looked at David and asked, "Were either of you academically gifted children?"

David answered, “Yes.”

What happened next was my own fault. Instead of simply answering yes, which would have been the correct answer, because I am suspect of the emergence of the cult of my-child-is-a-genius, because I want my children to be humble about their gifts, and I believe that smart can only take you so far, and it is vital that you also work very hard, I felt the need to preface my answer.

And that was my fatal mistake, because at this point, the doctor tuned me out. Had this been a movie, this would have been the point at which the lighting changed dramatically, leaving me in the shadows.

Doctor, looking at David: “Giftedness usually runs in families. Did you score highly on standardized tests?”
David: “Yes.”
Me: “I--”
Doctor, to David: “And were you in a gifted program?”
Me: “I wa--...”
David: “Yes.”

I began jumping up and down and waving my arms, futilely trying to get a word in edgewise. Eventually, I resigned myself to watching the show.

The camera panned in on David and the doctor, who smiled broadly, and said to my husband, “Tell me more about yourself, and your prodigious intellectual gifts. And when we're done here, do you have time to go out for a beer, so we can further discuss our formidable intelligence?”

By the time we left the office, I was vibrating with a mix of pride and fury. David and I were grinning like idiots and practically high-fiving each other in congratulations for producing such an intelligent child.


David took my hand and said, "I love it when you're filled with self-righteous anger. Let's go have some lunch, and get you a drink."

So when the doctor's report arrived this week, I was not surprised to read, in the section devoted to family history — I'm paraphrasing here, but only slightly — Gabriel is of gifted intelligence, in the top 1% nationally, because his father is very smart, in strapping good health, and might I say, charming. His mother, however, is a depressed neurotic, and this is the root of Gabriel's attentional problems.

Needless to say, I placed a phone call to the good doctor's office. Seeing as we paid so much money to consult with him, I felt the least he could do was set the record straight.

22 August 2009

Stuffing it

It is a truth universally acknowledged that boys like to put things in things. In my experience, anecdotal evidence suggests that if there is a hole, a boy is far more likely than a girl to attempt to fill it.

First, there are the bodily orifices. Sacha is a great nose picker, and if I have fewer photos of him than I do of Sarah and Gabriel, it is in part, because many of them wind up looking like this:

Once when blowing his nose, a pea came shooting out. And the less said about his exploration of his anus, the better.

When Gabriel was this age, he too loved to explore the possibilities of putting square pegs into round holes. He is mechanically inclined, so was more likely to experiment on machinery. Once our printer was not working, and we opened it up to find a matchbox car Gabriel had placed inside, so he could watch it move back and forth as the inkjet traveled.

Then there was the time the vacuum stopped working, which constitutes a state of emergency for me. David took it apart, to find that the hose was clogged by a spoon that Gabriel had dropped inside, in an attempt to figure out the suction mechanism.

Sacha also likes to stuff things into mechanical devices. Last week, my kids rented a...what's the word...video tape! from the library, which got stuck as soon as they put it in the VCR. When David opened it up to extract the tape, this is what he found:

Clockwise: one orange die; a letter "R" tile; a used band-aid; three double AA batteries; a glass Mancala stone; a blue game pawn, origin unknown; a black checker.

Clearly, Sacha had been working on this for quite sometime. Watching David remove each item, I would not have been surprised to see a clown jump out.

21 August 2009

Lines may have been crossed

Last night I had one of those exchanges with Sacha that, taken out of context, was wildly inappropriate.

At bedtime, I was snuggling in Gabriel's bed with my boys. Gabriel gets right down to business when it's time to go to sleep, but Sacha, the energizer baby, rarely stops moving. It is also very exciting for him to lie in the bed, because he still sleeps in jail a crib. He bounced about, and generally made this tender moment less than serene. After a few minutes of reflexive self-defense on my part to avoid his jabs, he settled into something vaguely resembling stillness.

His comfy spot: resting between my legs. He was still, I was not getting kicked, so I settled for this. Yet after after a minute or so, he wanted to switch positions, and asked me, ever so politely, “Mama, can you please open your legs?” He then proceeded to tunnel his way up my skirt, nestling his head somewhere between my pubic crest and tubercles, aka, my vajango.


Internally, I squirmed. It was, after all, a one way trip. Externally, I laughed.

I guess this was no worse than the time last winter, when Sacha had a nasty diaper rash, and my pediatrician suggested using a hair dryer after bathing and diapering until it cleared up. We don't own a hair dryer, and even if I did, whipping it out every time I changed a diaper seemed impractical. So instead, I just let him run around naked for a few minutes to air out, or if we were in a hurry, I would gently blow on his bottom.

He really liked this. Slightly too much for a mother's comfort. So much, that for a time after the rash cleared up, whenever I would change him, he would ask, “Mama, can you blow me?”

And so, I did.

Much giggling ensued, followed by a second request: “Mama, can you blow me AGAIN?”

Out of the mouths of babes!

I was grateful on a few fronts. First, it was winter, so my neighbors could not hear these exchanges wafting through open windows. Second, that my neighbors also have boys, and most likely would have thought nothing of it. Third, that Sacha is three, so although it sounds so wrong, it's nothing but innocent.

But if this sort of thing were still to be happening in a few years time, not only would I run screaming to a therapist, but I'm afraid I would also have to turn in my parenting license.

20 August 2009

Beware the ice cream man

Did you know that the ice cream man, that Pavlovian staple of childhood, is A PREDATOR?

Neither did I!

This is the sort of thing that really chaps my ass. Yesterday the New York Times Dining section devoted a front page article to the latest target of the mommy police: When Parents Scream Against Ice Cream.

There are many worthy child rearing causes to be passionate about, but this is not even remotely one of them. The article features Vicki Sell, mother of Katherine, age 3, who: "tenses when the vendor starts ringing his little bell, over and over."

All this, because Katherine once had an "inconsolable meltdown" because her mother had the temerity to refuse her a cone.

Says Ms. Sell: “I feel kind of bad about having developed this attitude...I want Katherine to have the full childhood experience and all. But it’s really predatory for them — two of them — to be right inside the playground like this.”

The ice cream man is not predatory; he is trying to earn a living. One of the first rules of retail is know your market. I'd say any ice cream man who sets up shop in a park, or on the playground, is simply a smart businessman.

I have two very simple pieces of advice for the anti-ice cream man crusaders: JUST SAY NO. Nowhere is it written in the parenting manual that you have to buy your child a treat every time the ice cream man cometh. Saying no to your children does not make you a bad person; it makes you a good parent.

The second piece of advice: GROW A PAIR. Three-year olds don't just have tantrums; they excel at them. I believe it is written into their job description. The sooner you are comfortable with this, the easier it is to endure their tantrums with grace, and, the easier it will be to say no, when you think it is in your child's best interest.

It is our job as parents to set limits, and our children's job to occasionally protest those limits. So holding the ice cream man accountable for the fact that your child had a tantrum is an abdication of responsibility. You can dress it up by saying it's out of concern for children's health. But really, it's an inability to accept that as a parent, you have to teach your children how to navigate the world as it exists, not as you'd like it to be.

So the next time an ice cream truck crosses your path, if you don't feel like shelling out, instead of cursing his insensitivity, think of it as an opportunity to teach your children an unfortunate truth that will serve them well throughout their lives: not everything goes your way all of the time.

18 August 2009

Innocent until proven guilty

Gabriel lost his first tooth on Sunday. This was especially exciting, and something of a relief for him. He is seven, and many of his peers have been losing teeth for 2 years now, and he was getting worried.

He had even exchanged correspondence with the tooth fairy, asking if she had any insight as to when he might expect this event to occur.

Yes, my children and the tooth fairy are pen pals. Her name is Mirabelle. If I ever run out of things to write about, or want to make you laugh, Mirabelle's origin myth, as well as excerpts from her correspondence with Sarah, could give me material for several posts.

Anyway, Gabriel lost his tooth (literally; he swallowed it), and was worried that Mirabelle would not know to visit him because he had no evidence. So he left a note of explanation under his pillow.

Meanwhile, Sarah lost a tooth a few months ago, and — my bad — MIRABELLE FORGOT TO VISIT. Sarah reminded us of this on Sunday evening before she went to bed.

I'm fairly certain she knows by now that I AM MIRABELLE, but money is money, so she's willing to keep up the charade.

On my way up to bed, I placed a note for each of them, and some coins — 2 silver dollars for Gabriel, this being his first tooth, and one for Sarah — under Gabriel's pillow. Gabriel's pillow, because when school ends, Sarah more or less moves into her brother's room for the summer, and bunks with Gabriel.

In the morning, Catherine Leigh Dollanganger, Sarah had her coin, and Gabriel had nothing but a note.


I checked the sheets, looked under the mattress, and did a sweep of the perimeter.

No coins.

Gabriel handled this with admirable grace, especially since HIS SISTER HADN'T EVEN LOST A TOOTH, in part, because at least he had his note as evidence that Mirabelle had been there, but also because he is, by nature, trusting and generous spirited.

Yet David and I were suspicious, and I asked Sarah if she might have any idea where Gabriel's coins were.

She gave nothing away.

She is still, thankfully, an awful liar, and didn't even do the shifty eyed thing that she usually does when she is being untruthful. And so, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.

She was quiet all day yesterday, which seemed to me more evidence that perhaps she was telling the truth, as normally she cannot live for more than an hour before her guilty conscience gets the better of her and a confession comes gushing out unbidden. I've always thought she would be terrible under hostile interrogation.

Still, we were a bit suspicious, because as she moves closer to the teenage years, she is beginning get better at the art of deception.

So this morning, I decided to set a trap.

I stripped Gabriel's bed to wash the linens, and discovered a new note from Mirabelle apologizing for the missing coins, along with $7 to make up for the error.

The tooth fairy is normally not this generous in our house, and so I figured this would really chap Sarah's ass. She is, after all, someone who always has her eyes peeled on the ground looking for money (she's pretty good at finding it, too), and at age 10, is not above crawling around in a shop to hunt for spare change.

Still, nothing.

Just an hour ago, Sarah and Sacha were roughhousing, and Sarah lost an earring. She asked me to help her look for it, but it was nowhere to be found.

As I exited the room I said, "It's funny sometimes how things just disappear, isn't it? It's kind of like Gabriel's coins."

Her voice quavered, and her eyes got a little shifty, as she replied: "Mom, I feel like you are trying to accuse me of taking Gabriel's coins!"

"Of course not," I said. "I'm just saying that things are mysterious. Something is here one minute and then, it's gone, without a trace."

I felt certain she was about to crack, but I was wrong.

And so, I remind myself that this is the beauty of the American justice system; innocent until proven guilty, right?

And yet, I can't help but worry about the things she is going to pull over on us in just a few years time.

One thing is certain, though; the next time Gabriel loses a tooth, I'm putting his money in a sealed envelope.

15 August 2009


I never knew there was such a thing as love at first sight, but that is the only explanation for my first thought upon seeing you: that is the man I am going to marry. The second thing I thought, because I was such a pessimist at the time, was, I hope he is not gay.

I am happy to say that the former turned out to be true, as did the latter.

With your forty-first birthday, we have reached the point where we have known each other for more than half our life. We were kids when we met, and since then we have continued to grow up together.

The day we met the shape of my life changed. I used to be certain the glass was half-empty; now I know it is not even half-full, but overflowing.

Once I said to you many years ago, "When I am with you, I feel like I can eat whatever I want," and it has been a metaphor for so many things that I never imagined possible for me.

You are, and continue to be, the thing in my life that is always easy and effortless. I am grateful for the privilege of being your wife, and that you are the one I lay my head down next to at night.

Happy birthday, my bashert. Call Tony to collect your present.

07 August 2009

Slinging hash: Spaghetti with basil aoli

Spaghetti with Basil Aioli
adapted from Giada de Laurentis
4-6 servings

Note: This recipe makes enough aioli for two meals, or spread leftover sauce on sandwiches.

1 bunch asparagus cut into 1" pieces, tips reserved
1 pound spaghetti

1 garlic clove, minced
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup basil cut in chiffonade

Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously, add asparagus pieces, reserving tips, cook 4 minutes.
Add asparagus tips, cook one more minute. Fish out the asparagus with a skimmer, place in a bowl of ice water to cool.

Make the aioli:
Combine garlic, egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne in an immersion blender or food processor and run the machine to mix. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oils.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in the same pot of water until al dente, 8-10 minutes.

Place half of the aioli and the asparagus in a saucepan, add a few ladles full of pasta cooking water to thin. When pasta is still firm to the bite, use tongs to move it into the saucepan and toss.

Gently stir in the basil by hand.

Correct seasoning, serve with grated cheese.

Get your child into bed, pronto.

Bathtime: A play in one act

The bathroom of a suburban home. Three year-old son has stayed up too late, and is overtired. He's also covered in sunscreen, chlorine, aioli, and bits of spaghetti. Mother places child in the tub.

Mother: I'm going to wet your hair now. Close your eyes so you don't get water in them.

Mother proceeds to pour water over child's head.

Son: What are you doing? Don't DO that!

Mother: Now I'm going to wash your hair.

Son: Okay.

Mother shampoos son's hair.

Son: Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!

Mother: Now I'm going to rinse your hair. Close your eyes, and tilt your head back so you don't get soap in your eyes.

Son: Okay.

Mother proceeds to rinse son's hair.

Son (eyes closed): I CAN'T SEE! I CAN'T SEE!

Son opens eyes.

Son: OW, OW, OW!

Mother: Now I'm going to wash your face.

Mother washes child's face.


Bath is completed in under 2 minutes. Son is dried off.

Mother: I have to put some lotion on you.

Mother gently massages child's skin.


Mother quickly diapers son and puts on his pajamas. She contemplates brushing his teeth, thinks better of it, gives son a kiss and throws him into bed.

06 August 2009

Imaginary love

Yesterday Sacha was watching Dora the Explorer. Dora always end the show by posing summary questions to her viewing audience. As dull as I find the little Latina automaton, it is cute when my kids have a conversation with her.

"What's your name?" Dora asked.

"Sacha!" he replied. So far, so good.

"How old are you?"

Sacha responded, "Seven."

And...the buzzer sounded, because the correct answer would be three; it's Gabriel, who turned seven this week.


I wasn't sure if I should be proud of how quickly he thought on his feet, or alarmed by his duplicity.

One thing is for certain, though: he is SO ready for online dating.

05 August 2009

Senior moment

Yesterday was Gabriel's birthday, and my mother and her husband came to spend the afternoon with us. Top notch grandmother that she is, my mother put on a bathing suit and came to the pool. This was a luxury for me, as I am usually too busy keeping the devil Sacha from drowning, so it freed me up to spend the afternoon swimming with Gabriel.

The biweekly water aerobics class was ending as Gabriel and I frolicked in the pool. The demographic for this class is largely a 60+ crowd, partly, I imagine, because the mothers of young children are not free for such pursuits, and partly, because, water aerobics is largely the domain of the winter-in-Florida crowd.

A woman in her seventies approached me, beaming and said, "What a lovely hat!"

I smiled, and thanked her for the complement.

And then, I realized something. OLD LADIES WEAR HATS.

I had been in the old lady section of the pool, wearing a hat. As this woman approached me, I was, in fact, moving from the four foot to three foot section of the pool not by swimming under the rope, which would have been the most expedient route, but by exiting, and reentering the pool.

I did this because I was wearing my hat, and sunglasses, and, it seemed like a bother to remove them, dive under the rope, and replace them.

And then, I realized something else. OLD LADIES DO NOT LIKE TO MESS UP THEIR HAIR.

If I am to be completely honest, I also exited the pool because I bleached my hair a few weeks ago, and am not unconcerned about the chlorine giving my hair a greenish tinge.

Which made me realize something else. OLD LADIES HAVE WHITE HAIR.

Never mind that I vaulted out of the pool with the grace of a gymnast. And that I thought my blonde hair made me look more punk than septuagenarian.

I WAS ACTING LIKE AN OLD LADY, and I had been recognized as a kindred spirit.

But then again, I am forty, and it is a nice hat, and so I decided to take it as the complement that it was meant to be.

04 August 2009


Today you are seven years old, Gabriel, and not a day goes by where you don't nearly bring me to my knees with your sweetness. In honor of your birthday, here is a list of just seven of the things I love about you:

1. We named you for an angel, and every day you live up to your name.
2. You wake up singing.
3. Recently, we got confirmation of something we already knew: you are very, very smart. But more importantly, you are wise beyond your years, and you work very hard.
4. You often think of others before thinking of yourself.
5. Your big brown eyes.
6. Your sweet cleft chin, which makes you especially handsome.
7. You need to work on your poker face.

Your present has not yet arrived in the mail, but if you check your email, you will find out what it is. In the mean time, because today is your day, we will spend it as you like, doing the things you love to do best.