Saturday, December 15, 2018

Three Years Later

“Deborah, I'm coughing and my throat hurts.”

I should have and could have been sympathetic, but even on a night where I was aroused from a sound sleep by a sick and frightened child, I was indignant in the way that only mothers can be. Just when children expect sympathy they get a lecture. Lil Man was about to get the lecture of lifetime and one he would never forget.

“If you would zip up your coat at school you wouldn't be coughing. Are you serious?” Which was not an expression of incredulity the way it may have been at twelve noon rather than twelve midnight. I knew and he knew it was my way of asking was this a serious cough or just a plea for a mid-night and quite literally, scooping up my charging cell phone and glancing at the time, midnight, drink of water.

By way of answer he coughed again and it was the barking cough that I knew needed serious medicine and attention. And yes, if he had zipped up his coat, he would have been better off, but we'd switched his allergy medicine from morning to evening and there had been a haphazard and intermittent implementation of the switch. I stretched under the covers, not quite willing to accept that the one night I had planned for us to get a good night's sleep was not going to end that way at all.

“My throat hurts,” he said again and that was enough for me to clear the cobwebs and begin the business of leaving my covers behind. I shoved them back, the cool air of my room hitting my bare shoulders.  The warm nest of my covers was so inviting I nearly went back to bed.

We'd had several nights like this lately. I, or my mother, would put the kids to bed after a long day, with the addendum of the weary slog between school dismissal and bedtime. Something would happen, someone would wail and whargarble, I'd be awake at 12am, 1 am, 3;30 am, 4:30am.

And I'd had enough. I'd waged several campaigns to ensure all-night sleep in this one week alone, to no avail. Every day saw me waking at least two to three hours or more before I intended. Sometimes I'd be able to go back to sleep. Sometimes I couldn't. Those nights I passed the time on social media until I'd finally and sleepily relinquish my cell phone for the few moments until 7 am, our start time for the days during the school week.

Everyone from Google to my cousin had advice on what I should do. Google suggested more concise bedtimes and bedtime routines.

“You need to give them kids some Melatonin,” was my cousin's advice. Five hundred Google searches later and despite all my trepidations, a sleepless night consisting of a bad dream, a wet baby and ending with Lil Man in the principal's office after an exhausted melt down at kindergarten led me to skulking through the aisles of Walgreen's, feeling like a criminal for looking at the various dosages of Melatonin and deciding which one would be the best for both kids. I must have looked like a criminal as well. As I walked back and forth between the baby aisle and the natural supplements aisle, exploring the various options of what folks use to get their kids to shut up and go to sleep, I heard the clerk over the loudspeaker sound the alarm for a potential shoplifter. It may or may not have been me, but my guilt wouldn't let me believe otherwise.

I could barely look the clerk in the eye as I made my purchase. I felt as resigned and conscience-stricken as an addict buying heroin in a shady alley. But the next day would be an exceptionally long one. I had planned a birthday party for the undeserving urchin who was now following me to the kitchen.

After our usual Friday pizza night, ubiquitous to household all over America, I had ostentatiously pulled the plastic Walgreen's bag out of my purse.

“Candy!” Lil Man shouted and Baby materialized at his side as fast his short toddler legs could carry him.

“Candy!” he echoed. They were both excited as I opened the bottle.

I couldn't bear the idea of complete deception and feebly stated, “It's not candy.”

“Candy!” they both repeated as the bottle opened and the scent of cherry wafted beneath their tiny noses. They each took the tablet I offered eagerly. When no one dropped dead instantaneously, I sent Lil Man to clear the pizza remains off the table in the kitchen and had Baby pick up a few toys before setting him on my bed for observation.

It was nearing 8:30 pm and I couldn't tell whether it was the tablet or the fact that it was their bedtime that had him showing signs of being sleepy.

“Bedtime!” I declared, ready for Phase 3 of this experiment. I'd also decided to participate in a control group of sorts. I had decided to take a single pill of Advil PM to relieve the post surgery aches of a recent procedure I'd had and, to be honest, a few aches I'd had before the surgery.

We were all going to be drugged tonight and to hell with the consequences because I needed a night of sleep.

Twenty minutes later they were sleeping like angels. I took my Advil PM and went to bed.

I later blamed Lil Man being naughty for the fact that I forgot to change the baby before bed but that was only partly true. I had simply been distracted by the Melatonin/ Advil experiment.

And considering it was my family, I was disheartened and oddly surprised when Lil Man appeared at my bedside.

I took him to the kitchen and gave him the forgotten allergy pill. I administered a dose of daytime cough medicine to soothe his throat and then sent him to bed while I looked for the Vick's salve, scolding him with a lecture the entire time.

“When your teacher tells you it's time to go what are you supposed to DO?” I hissed.

“Put on my coat and hat and gloves,” he recited dutifully.

“AND?” I said with the aplomb of a lawyer grilling a client on the stand.

“Zip up my coat.”

“You're damned right you need to zip up your coat. Every day, your teacher begs you and I beg you and now here you are sick. From now on you do WHAT?”

“I'll zip up my coat, I promise. I'm thirsty,” Lil Man said hopefully.

My earlier suspicion that this was just a quest for a midnight drink of water reared it's ugly head but I let it go. I had to give him some water to take the allergy pill anyhow. After the pill and the water, I briefly considered the evil bottle of the children's night time cough medicine but decided on daytime since I'd already given him the Melatonin. Whether he went back to sleep or not, I couldn't double up on something intended to make him sleep.

I sent him to bed while I tried to think of the last place I'd seen the Vick's salve.

“Go get in bed. I'll be there in a second.”

On his way to his room, he threw back over his shoulder, “Baby bit me.”

“What do you mean Baby bit you?”

“That's what woke me up.”

I was immediately ready to strangle Baby, who at two, isn't a baby but is the youngest person in the house. He had entered the much vaunted Terrible Two's with a vengeance, being fairly mild mannered during the day but had frequently been the source of our night awakenings, sometimes merely out of a desire to play with the loudest toys he could find.

I knew with a certainty I couldn't explain that the Vick's was not in my room in the temporary box of random medicine that made it's permanent home on my desk. I looked in the place the Vick's should have and could have been, the actual medicine cabinet in the bathroom but of course it wasn't there.

 I tried my mother's room. I knocked but she didn't answer so I went in anyway. Dozing in her chair she awakened immediately and reached for a slice of pizza. She had no idea where the Vick's was but she was amiable and sympathized as I relayed the events of everything that had happened since we'd all supposedly gone to bed for the evening.

“Poor thing, you need to get some sleep.”

At that moment I spotted the Vick's box on the bookshelf behind her chair, just beyond her head. A sparkly headband had landed on top and I knew, with the same earlier, unerring certainty that the actual jar would be inside the box and it was.

My mother bid me good luck and a cheerful goodnight. I retrieved a clean washrag from the linen closet and headed to Lil Man's room with an idea that I could return to my bed as soon as I put the
Vick's and a fresh pair of socks on his feet.

As soon as I walked in the door, Lil Man, the perpetually hot and sweaty said, “I'm cold.” This was not a good sign. I'd intentionally put his bed near the window because I could never find the cold air humidifier filters anyhow and he seemed to like and thrive in the mild cool air. What usually worked in his favor was making him miserable since he didn't feel well. I began stripping off his covers to make his bed in the opposite direction.

“Why is this sheet wet?”

“Baby peed in his bed and my bed. Then he bit my finger to wake me up.”

At that moment I'd had it but a measure of calm stole over me. I changed Lil Man's bed and dragged a sleepy but awake and interested Baby out of his bed for a diaper change and fresh clothes. He'd been lying there with his eyes screwed shut but listening to every word that was said, as was his way.

As I set about changing Baby's bed, Lil Man piped up.

“I'm sorry I woke you up, Deborah,” he said.

“I'm not,” I said in a deadly quiet voice that got his attention. “When you're sick or you have an emergency, I want you to come to me.

“But everything that led up to this could have been avoided if you would just listen to me and your teacher and behave.

“If you would zip up your coat, you woudn't be sick. If you hadn't have been so naughty earlier after dinner, I wouldn't have forgotten to change Baby before bed. If you all hadn't jumped on the beds they wouldn't be so messy and you woudn't have been cold.”

“Do I have to zip up my coat all the way?”

“Yes, all the way. Put your head up and zip the coat.”

He nodded. All kids learn the hard way to put their head up before zipping their coats near their neck.

“Zipping my coat up all the way makes my neck itchy,” he said thoughtfully.

“Would you rather be sick?”

He shook his head, No, quite seriously, possibly, for the first time in his five years, truly considering unintended consequences beyond pushing his cup back on the table so his elbow didn't knock it over. But that's what life is.

Seeing a new understanding in his eyes, I underlined my point.

“I love you. If you need me, I'm here. But I'd appreciate if you'd be there for me too. I don't need you to be sorry for waking me up if you're sick. I need you to be sorry for all the things that led to this in the first place. Now go to bed,” I added mildly and he put his head down on his pillow.

I finished changing Baby's bed and put him in it. He was nearly asleep when his head hit the pillow but he'd heard my lecture and in his own baby way, he understood it too.

“Me too, Deborah,” he said sleepily and drifted off before I'd covered him with the last blanket.

I stayed up to write this because I never want to forget and also because it gave me time to make sure those midgets were really asleep. One last check and then I'm going to bed.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Louisa May Alcott Challenge Semi-Accepted

Hi ya'll.

I'm  off work today and it's simply lovely to indulge in the luxury of literary fun and conversation.

A few months ago, I discovered an absolutely scrumptious literary blog called Relevant Obscurity. I can't even begin to explain how I love to sit down with a cup of just about anything and read this blog. RO introduced me to the Louisa May Alcott Challenge, which honestly, I was simply too busy to participate in. And I've already read Little Women (and by default Good Wives), Little Men, Jo's Boys and An Old Fashioned Girl (parts I & II). And when I say I've read them, I've read them many times and can quote several sections at great length, so as much I would have liked to have spent the time covering some new Alcott stories, I don't feel so bad about what I've already done.

I first came across Little Women in The Children's Hour collection that my mother bought along with a set of encyclopedias.


I loved these books growing up. They start out simply and get progressively harder and the stories get a bit longer with each book. We had all sixteen and still do in storage somewhere. This collection includes the first chapter of Little Women and I was surprised later to find out that it was an entire book and only when I came across a chapter of an "Ellen Tebbits" book, did I realize that all of the stories were excepts from whole books, sending me on a search for the entire books from my favorites. Most of which I never found, but of course, Little Women was right there in my school library.

Laurie Welch writes Relevant Obscurity and after a wonderful conversation about Rilla of Ingleside, it was nice to go back and read her review of Little Women and see her progress in the LMA Challenge. I wanted to write back a comment, and having never learned to be succinct, my comment ended up being longer than her post!

Rather than unfairly taking up her comments section, I thought I'd just share my bit here and link to it.

So! My two cents about LMA: LMA preaches against preaching but even so, she can't help moralizing a little. The best impression gleaned from LMA is that good manners and kindness never go out of fashion, whatever else may come and go. That's an especially apt lesson, even to the present of day of cell phones and social media.

If there are any easter eggs in LMA's books, they are her asides on several matters. Her comments are not remotely subtle and are sweetly, killing, almost sarcastic additions to her prose that give her the last word for all time, in case anyone was in doubt about how she felt.

In "Jo's Boys," LMA writes an entire chapter called "Jo's Last Scrape" that is obviously a parallel description of how she mainly wrote for money and was as more surprised than anyone that "Little Women" had been a success.
Things always went by contraries with Jo. Her first book, laboured over for years.. .foundered on its voyage... The hastily written story, sent away with no thought beyond the few dollars it might bring, sailed with a fair wind and...came home heavily laden with an unexpected cargo of gold and glory.

The world saw the prosperity...but the success Jo valued most, the happiness that nothing could change or take away, few knew much about.

It was the power of making her mother's last years happy and serene; to see the burden of care laid down for ever, the weary hands at rest, the dear face untroubled by any anxiety, and the tender heart free to pour itself out in the wise charity which was its delight.

Jo's Last Scrape
Jo's Boys - Louisa May Alcott
LMA also writes quite blatantly about how tedious and annoying she found the idea of being famous. "Jo's Last Scrape" is actually the irony of liberty loving "Jo" suddenly being unable to go out without being recognized and the box it put her in. She also covers the same topic of fame not being all it's cracked up to be in "An Old Fashioned Girl" where she disguises herself as "Kate."

The fame she never did quite accept; for it takes very little fire to make a great deal of smoke nowadays, and notoriety is not real glory. The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be.
Jo's Last Scrape
Jo's Boys
My children, beware of popularity; it is a delusion and a snare; it puffeth up the heart of man, and especially of woman; it blindeth the eyes to faults; it exalteth unduly the humble powers of the victim; it is apt to be capricious, and just as one gets to liking the taste of this intoxicating draught, it suddenly faileth, and one is left gasping, like a fish out of water," and Kate emphasized her speech by spearing a sardine with a penknife, and eating it with a groan.
... Fanny took a good look at her, wondering if the time would ever come when women could earn a little money and success, without paying such a heavy price for them; for Kate looked sick, tired, and too early old.

An Old Fashioned Girl
Louisa May Alcott
Lastly, it seems LMA also took a lot of fan girl flack for not letting Jo wind up with Laurie, much the same way JK Rowling is still getting flack for Hermione Granger not ending up with Harry Potter or any other fandom not ending the way fans thought it should. LMA begins the last chapter of "An Old Fashioned Girl" with what has to be the greatest "Oh snap" in literary history.
"Come, Philander, let us be a marching,
  Every one his true love a searching,"
WOULD be the most appropriate motto for this chapter, because,intimidated by the threats, denunciations, and complaints showered upon me in consequence of taking the liberty to end a certain story as I liked, I now yield to the amiable desire of giving satisfaction, and, at the risk of outraging all the unities, intend to pair off everybody I can lay my hands on.
LMA also got tired of fans clamoring for new stories and actually threatened to kill off the March family but gives them a reprieve, deciding that they all pretty much lived happily ever after
Jo March on answering fan mail:
"I will answer this myself. A little sick girl wants a book, and she shall have it, but I can't write sequels to all the rest to please her. I should never come to an end if I tried to suit these voracious little Oliver Twists, clamouring for more..."

LMA at the end of Jo's Boys:
It is a strong temptation to the weary historian to close the present tale with an earthquake which should engulf Plumfield and its environs so deeply in the bowels of the earth that no youthful Schliemann could ever find a vestige of it. But as that somewhat melodramatic conclusion might shock my gentle readers, I will refrain, and forestall the usual question, 'How did they end?' by briefly stating that all the marriages turned out well. The boys prospered in their various callings; so did the girls...

And now, having endeavoured to suit everyone by many weddings, few deaths, and as much prosperity as the eternal fitness of things will permit, let the music stop, the lights die out, and the curtain fall for ever on the March family.

Like I said: Oh, snap : )

I find that I turn to the books of my girlhood when I am troubled about something. Anne of Green Gables and Little Women have life lessons that deepen and change with maturity and understanding.

Recently, when I adopted a child, I found myself reading Anne over and over again. It's amazing how, despite the sweetness of the stories, they do cover the real feelings of ambivalence over adoption.

Likewise, I read Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl when I'm trying to make up mind what to do about things - spiritually, morally. They're not so much guideposts as reminders - that life's great questions are only as complicated as we make them. And that good manners and kindness really never go out of style.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Sometimes our principles and ideals are put to test. This past January I found out exactly where the rubber meets the road, I had to put my money where my mouth is, show and prove and every other cliche you can think of.

Put up or shut up.

So my nephew and his girlfriend both suddenly became unavailable to parent their child. The reasons are not all that uncommon, but suddenly I was faced with a decision. Either take the kid myself or let him go off into foster care.

I know there are a lot of good foster parents and homes out there. But there are quite a few that are not so good either. And the idea of sending a kid off to total strangers didn't sit well with us either. My mother and I.

But my life is so different from when I began this blog. Then I had Ye Old Matey and Little Arabella and the double duo Mighty Mutts. Now, Ye Old Matey is Ye Ex Matey. Little Arabella isn't even College Arabella. She's Grown Up Living In New York with her Lesbian Girlfriend Arabella. The Mighty Mutts are both dead.

I'm back home with my mother.

I went back to school and finished an Associate's Degree and an internship. I've made several career moves since then and I finally landed a job that seems to be lasting.

The last thing I expected to be doing at this point was raising a toddler. But who am I to claim that "children need homes" and deny my own family? So, here I am, typing with a two-year-old at my knee.

It's where the rubber training pants meets the road. I hope I'm up to the challenge. Again.

Round two.

Ding ding.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

When Good White People Do Racist Things

I work with a white woman who is fairly kind. She jumps in wherever she is needed. She has a kind word to say every day to everyone, she is friendly, down to earth and any time I or others have a question she is more than willing to help.

But twice now I've witnessed her doing or saying something racist and I have a strong urge to tell her about it.

The first time, she touched my hair. We were working together on a project and I think, before she realized it, before even she really knew what she was doing, she touched my hair.

I froze. It was odd to be working and suddenly to find my hair  being touched without my permission, without even having been asked. And the look on her face was partly mesmerized, partly curious. It was obvious she'd been looking at and thinking about my afro for some time.

I looked at her and said, incredulously,"Did you just touch my hair? What are you doing?"

And she said, with that same mesmerized look, "It's just so....poofy."

I realized then that I was probably the first black person she had ever been close enough to for any length of time, physically and emotionally, that she was able to avail herself of the opportunity to actually touch their hair.

Still, she should have asked. I may have said yes, but depending on my mood and overall desire not to be treated like an animal in a petting zoo, I probably would have said no.

Her desire to touch my hair is one thing. Acting on it, of course, is quite another and I did not appreciate being a curiosity. I teased her about it the next day - forgiven but not forgotten.

She never apologized. She never asked me if it bothered me. She did repeat her original phrase at least twice. "I just couldn't help it. It's just so poofy."

And I know she was shocked by my reply as white people always are when you point out their whiteness. I said, resignedly, "That's ok. A lot of white people do that to me. I have no idea why." Actually, I know exactly why, but I was trying to give her a hint.

She laughed but in a way that was slightly uncomfortable. Good. I know for a fact that white people do not like to have their whiteness pointed out, especially by black people. But I wanted to throw her off balance a bit. She actually walked out of the office for a bit on some supposed errand, but I think by the time she came back, she had regained her composure.

I should have said something then. I should have had "the talk" with her then. Because if I had, maybe she wouldn't have said the nearly unpardonably racist thing she said to our visitor the other day

We have a lot of Spanish-speaking people where I work. I speak Spanish decently enough to follow along but I'm still at that stage where it takes me forever to parse a sentence together out loud. I do not even try to pretend that the small amount of Spanish I speak is on par with the fluent speakers and I tend to greet them in English unless it's someone I know well enough to greet with "buenos dias" or "buenos tardes" and they know that I'm being polite, not condescending and that my Spanish really doesn't lend itself to more than, "La luz in el bano no esta trabajando," which was actually a pretty important thing to be able to say for a about a week when the lights in the main bathroom weren't working and we had to direct people to the other bathroom.

But we had a visitor up from our Miami office. She speaks fluent but still faintly accented English and I just thought her voice was particularly sweet until I learned that Spanish is her first language. Whenever she comes to the office, she makes a point of of speaking to everyone in the building and some of the Spanish-only speaking workers take the opportunity to have her translate some of their issues.

One of the ladies that I know speaks English pretty well was talking to our Miami visitor. They were speaking in Spanish about PTO time and I turned back to work and stayed out of a conversation that was not exactly private, but certainly none of my business.

That's when hair-touching lady walked in. "Why are you two speaking in Spanish when I know both of you speak English?"

My stomach sank. I couldn't believe she actually asked  it out loud.

The look on our Miami visitor's face was hurt and appalled. I turned around sharply and her eyes met mine in that shared moment of, "Do you believe what she just said?" The worker from our own office didn't respond at all. I'm not sure she understood, or maybe she's just used to the attitude from whtie people that they really shouldn't be speaking Spanish.

I think at first Hair Toucher was serious, but I think she felt the shift in the room and threw on a smile as if we couldn't possibly take her words seriously. At that moment I spoke up. A beat too late, but still, I spoke up the first words I could think of.

"Because they can."

 I think that pretty much said it all. Our Miami visitor looked relieved that someone, anyone had responded to this idiocy. She continued her conversation, in Spanish, with the worker she was speaking with.

Hair Toucher went on her merry way, not really knowing or caring what she had done.

I really want to talk to her about these two incidents. From what I know about her, I think she can handle the evolution in thinking.

I hope.