Archive for July, 2013

For several months now, I’ve been carrying around a photo of my two-year old son, Eddie, wedged inside a book of essays. In the photo, my son is sitting on the edge of our front garden. His cheeks look large like he’s storing nuts, his limbs are still fleshy from baby fat, and his bangs are stuck to his forehead from sweat. He’s staring off to the side as if he’s waiting for someone. In fact he was — a little girl down the street named Enid, who at the time looked just like Eddie except for her big Shirley Temple curls. In the photo taken just after this one, Enid is sitting on the curb right next to Eddie.

“Cute photo. Is that your inspiration?” asked my friend, Eileen, who saw me sitting in a café the other day with the photo of Eddie next to my laptop.

“No. I carry that photo around so that when I get mad at him, I can remember how cute he is,” I said.

Waiting for Enid

Waiting for Enid

And lately, I’ve been getting mad at him a lot. Part of it is my own fault. I’m not a patient person, and a toddler will certainly try one’s patience. I’m quick to get annoyed and not so quick to forgive. I hold grudges like people hold mementos, keeping them in a jewelry box and getting mad again every time I stumble upon them anew. My husband, Bruce, was once late getting home, in turn making me late for a children’s show to which I was going to take Eddie. As my son and I rushed off to the event, I noticed the tires on our brand new baby carriage had not yet been filled with air, but Bruce hustled us out the door saying it was fine to use a stroller with flat tires. He was wrong. That maiden voyage ruined the valves on the tires, and even now, a year later, they go flat about once a week. And every time we have to refill them, I get annoyed at Bruce all over again for being late and for his bad advice.

But part of the reason I’ve been getting mad a lot at Eddie is because he’s a toddler, and it’s turned him into the human equivalent of a car alarm: endlessly annoying. He knocks things over, dumps things out, kicks, crushes, and on rare occasions, bites – though, thankfully, I think we’ve nipped that last one in the bud. He can clear a table of all its objects in five seconds flat with those stubby little hands. He’ll take a full glass of water, have a few sips, and then dump the rest onto the floor. Why? Because I once told him not to. The other day, he dumped three glasses of water onto the floor. He would have dumped a fourth if I would have given it to him.

That day actually started out rather well. With the heat wave making it unbearable to be outside, I thought we’d stay inside in the air conditioning and do some spin art. I spread a drop cloth out on the living room rug and placed the little plastic spinning machine in the center of it to give us maximum protection on all sides. What I didn’t count on was that when I got up for a moment to go into the kitchen, Eddie would pick up a bottle of paint, walk over to the edge of the drop cloth and squeeze it onto my rug with the audacity of a drunken frat boy peeing on the front lawn of the girl who dumped him.

Only use if family business involves carpet cleaning.

Only use if family business involves carpet cleaning.

“Why did you do that?!?” I said. “We were having fun! Why did you have to do that?” I probably sounded like Ray Liotta in the movie, “Goodfellas,” when he finds out that during a drug raid, his wife flushed $60,000 worth of cocaine down the toilet.

“Why did you do that?” he keeps asking her. “Why did you do that? Why did you have to do that?”

Eddie just stood there for a moment looking at me, and I felt like a heel — until he pointed the yellow bottle of paint toward my shorts and gave it another good squeeze.

“That’s it!” I said. “You’re getting a time-out.”

I put him in the designated time-out chair and walked into the kitchen to try to get the paint off my shorts. I walked back in to the living room with a bottle of seltzer and poured it on to the paint stains on the rug, to no avail.

“Do you know why you’re having a time out? Because you can’t squirt paint on everything. And you did it again right after I told you not to,” I said.

The rules must sound so dumb. “You can’t squirt paint on everything?” I’m not even sure what that means. And the fact is, a minute earlier, I was encouraging him to squirt paint, into the little spin art machine. I felt bad for him, trying to navigate a world of imprecise language and arbitrary rules, like a blind man only being alerted to danger when he’s already upon it.

When his “time out” was over, he said he was thirsty. I tried to give him a drink in his sippy cup, but we recently saw the movie, “Monsters University,” so he wanted to use the cup that had characters from the movie on it. I filled the cup with water but told him to be careful as it didn’t have a cover like his regular cup. That’s when he dumped the first of three cups of water onto the floor. I got mad. I yelled. And then I felt bad. If I’d have had that photo of him with the big cheeks and the bangs pasted to his forehead from sweat, it might have been easier to forgive, but it was deep inside my knapsack, wedged in the book of essays.

He squirt paint on my rug like a drunken, urinating frat boy.

He squirt paint on my rug like a drunken, urinating frat boy.

With the heat wave still in full progress, I’ve had the air conditioner on in my office and have both my office and bedroom doors closed to keep in the cool air. The result is that it’s harder to hear Eddie when he wakes up. This morning, he woke up and got his finger caught in the spring of a hairclip I’d put on his teddy bear. He started to cry, and I’m not sure for how long he was crying – one minute? five minutes? – before I finally heard him through my bedroom and office doors. By the time I went into his room, his cheeks were red and tears were streaming down his face.

I picked him up out of the crib and rubbed his finger and kept apologizing, saying how very sorry I was that I hadn’t come sooner, but with the air conditioner on, I hadn’t heard him.

“Should we get some ice?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said and smiled.

And just like that, all was forgiven. And I once again learned a life lesson from a two-year old.

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I was sitting in the living room the other day when my two-year old son, Eddie, said, “Band-aid, mommy. I need band-aid.”

“What happened?” I asked, quickly scanning his body. I saw nothing. I wasn’t surprised. He’d been sitting on the living room floor a few feet away from me playing with his trucks, and I hadn’t heard him cry out in pain. It was hard to imagine he’d hurt himself in front of me, and I’d somehow missed it.

“Boo boo,” he said.

“Where?” I asked.

“My leg,” he said.

I wasn’t sure what happened, but I indulged him.

“Okay. Let’s go get a band-aid,” I said.

We walked upstairs to the bathroom and sat down on the floor.

Salvation in a box.

Salvation in a box.

“Now then. Where’s the boo boo?” I asked.

“Here,” he said, pointing to his leg.

I inspected his knock-kneed little toddler legs. “I don’t see anything, pal,” I said.

“Right here,” he said, pointing to a little blemish near his ankle.

“That’s a mosquito bite,” I said.

“It hurts,” he said.

“All-righty, then,” I said and put a band-aid over the bite.

“And here,” he said, pointing to a small speck on his other leg.

I placed a band-aid over that one, too.

I don’t mind placating my son on small matters. I still let him suck on a pacifier when he goes to bed. I give him chocolate milk in a bottle when he wakes up. If he wants a band-aid for a mosquito bite, I’ll allow him that. He’s going to spend a long time in a harsh world. I don’t mind mollycoddling him before he goes out there.

But he’s developing an obsession with physical ailments, and I fear if I let him get away with it, he’ll be a full-fledged hypochondriac by the time he’s three. My mother came to visit from Florida last week, and Eddie kept saying “boo boo” and showing her a cut on his knee that happened a few weeks ago and was already healed.

“You’re showing me old boo boo’s,” she finally told him.

He also seems to have a low pain threshold. He cries out when I shampoo or brush his hair. He sometimes yells when I change his diaper. And on occasion he’ll walk across the kitchen floor and say, ‘ouch, ouch,” making me think he stepped on a piece of glass or had a splinter, and yet when I lift him up and inspect the bottom of his foot, there’s nothing there. I’ll place him back down on the floor, and he’ll walk off as if nothing happened.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s taken plenty of tumbles that warranted real tears. He’s fallen off our porch steps and face-planted onto the pavement below. He whacked his head once on monkey bars and made his forehead bleed so much, I thought he would surely need stitches (he didn’t). He’s banged his mouth so many times, knocking his tooth into his bottom lip, that he probably has a callous in that spot. It’s when he cries out unnecessarily that worries me. My husband is fond of quoting a friend of his: “No blood, no band-aid.”

Monkey bar gash

Monkey bar gash

In our house, the go-to remedy is not band-aids but ice. When Eddie was younger and would fall, it was frustrating because he couldn’t always tell me where it hurt, so I’d get a piece of ice out of the freezer and apply it to some spot on his body, approximating where I thought he was hurt. The cube would invariably end up in his mouth, whether that’s where he was hurt or not, and that seemed to assuage him. So now whenever he’s hurt, I give him an ice cube to put in his mouth, and it makes him feel better – though these days, the smallest scratch or even a hang nail will prompt him to say, “Ice, mommy, ice!”

If Eddie does indeed turn out to be a hypochondriac, it will pain me because I’ll know where he got it: from me. In my mind, even a routine dental appointment can end in tragedy. I had my wisdom teeth pulled two weeks ago, and I feared my heart rate would spike and I might have a heart attack while I was under anesthesia, or the dentist might accidently cut an artery, and I would bleed out. A couple of days ago, I felt something funny in my mouth, like an extra piece of skin, so I pulled out the magnifying mirror and spotted a suspicious growth that looked like a canker sore. “Tongue cancer,” I thought and immediately went to the internet to find photos of what it looked like.

I don’t know what caused my own hypochondria, but I can only imagine what fostered it. When I was 11, I went on a camping trip to Florida with a friend, and I got sick. When I got home, I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia, and after a series of doctor’s appointments, I was ultimately told I needed open heart surgery to repair a hole in my heart that had apparently been there since I was born. I can still remember my mother weeping in the hallway as she told the news to my sixth-grade teacher.

By the time I was 38, I was convinced every lump and sore was cancer – at least when I found them on my own body. When my father’s arms erupted in a bunch of small lumps that looked like mosquito bites, cancer was the last thing I thought it was. Sure, he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer five months earlier, but he’d had the tumors surgically removed and had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation as a preventive measure. In fact his prognosis was good.

I remember describing the bumps on my father’s arms to my therapist. “Cancer doesn’t grow that way,” I said with authority.

He cried from the cold of getting snow in his boots.

He cried from the cold of getting snow in his boots.

Of course it does. And my father died of it seven months later. The only time I didn’t mistake mosquito bites for cancer is when it was really cancer.

As I sat on the couch this afternoon with Eddie on my lap, reading him a story, he lifted his head up abruptly and whacked me in the eye. He’s done this before, once whacking me so hard, I thought I was going to black out.

“Ouch!” I said reflexively, rubbing my eye.

“What doing, mommy?”

“You hit me in the eye with your head,” I said, forgetting for a moment that I should try not to make him feel bad for hurting me, particularly when it’s unintentional.

“Mommy has a boo boo?” he asked, and without waiting for an answer, he said, “I get ice.”

He jumped down from the couch and walked into the kitchen toward the refrigerator. I followed him into the kitchen because I knew he couldn’t reach the freezer. As I took an ice cube out of the tray to hand to him, so that he could hand it right back to me, I felt silly, because while my eye hurt, it didn’t rise to the level of needing ice. But while he may have caught my hypochondria, I was pleased to see I’d inadvertently taught him something else: empathy.

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This morning was my town’s annual Fourth of July parade, and all the usual suspects were there: the high school marching bands, the bagpipers, the kazoo players representing the local ice cream shoppe, and the endless stream of fire trucks and public service vehicles sounding their sirens and honking their horns so loudly you have to put your hands over your ears.

small town america

small town america

This year, a Christian organization called Calvary Chapel Relief was represented in the parade. The organization generously donated volunteers to help fix our boardwalk, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, after FEMA denied our request for funding. The parade now gave those volunteers an opportunity to hand out cards that boldly stated, “God—” something or other. I’m not sure what else the cards said as I put all three I was handed into my pocket without reading them. But their proselytizing was a reminder that nothing comes for free.

While the floats are interesting, the allure – at least for the kids – is the candy that the parade participants throw as they move by. In years past, I’d sit on the sidelines waiting for candy to be thrown, but those in the parade only toss it when they spot children along the route. Until recently, I had no child, so very little candy came my way. Once I had my son, Eddie, I looked forward to the parade because I knew we would be showered with sweets.

The first year my son attended, I held him up like candy bait, trying to attract the attention of parade participants. Some did throw candy, but because I had a baby in my arms, it was difficult to dive out into the street to retrieve it.

The following year, my son was old enough to catch the eyes of those on the floats, and I didn’t have to hold him in my arms to keep him upright. But he was too small to run out into the road to collect the candy, so I had to jump out into the street, myself, pushing and shoving to get our fair share.

The competition was fierce.

The competition was fierce.

This year, Eddie was old enough to understand what candy was about and big enough to represent our family in the fight for sweets, but we inadvertently sat next to a family of six, whose children were older and larger than my son, so when any candy was thrown, he was shut out. It was like watching a first grader trying to play varsity football. Time and again, the candy would be thrown, and a hoard of children would descend on it, picking the pavement dry but for a roll of Smarties that had been stepped on or flavored licorice that looked too sour to eat. A couple of times, I shot out into the street to beat the kids to the candy, and I did manage to collect a couple of pieces that I quickly deposited into my son’s candy bag.

After a couple of rounds of watching my son get nothing, the mother in the neighboring family yelled at her children for their behavior. Nothing inspires generosity in children like a parent screaming at them to be charitable. The next time a float went by and candy was thrown, the mother stood over one of her sons and yelled, “Now, you give him that candy. Go on! Give it to him! He’s just a bay-bee!”

And with that, the boy, who looked about seven, handed a bag of Skittles over to my son, though he paused for a minute before releasing it into my son’s candy bag.

From then on, under the watchful eye of his mother, every time a float went by and the street in front of us was littered with candy, the boy and his sister would run out into the middle of the road like seagulls diving for bread. They would then walk over to my son and hand him a piece or two of their harvest.blog parade 2013 waiting for candy

But I began to notice a pattern. While the streets would be glistening with some of candy aisle’s most delectable treats — tootsie roll pops, nerds, Swedish fish, gobstoppers – the only things being deposited into my son’s bag were jolly ranchers, hard candies wrapped to look like strawberries, and butterscotch, most of which had shattered on the pavement. Candy, like most things on earth, can be ranked, and my son was being fed candy not even from the B-list but from the F-list, the candy that if you stole from your child’s Halloween trick or treat bag, he wouldn’t even notice, the candy that people give to kids when they don’t want them to eat candy. In a word: granny candy. But worse, these children were now getting kudos from their parents for their generosity.

I considered telling their parents that their children weren’t in fact sharing candy. They were disposing of it — after they’d cherry-picking all of the good stuff. But my attention was diverted when some marchers walked by carrying red, white and blue beads and began handing them out to people along the parade route.

“Can we have some beads?” I yelled to a woman who had a sleeve of white beads running up her arm.

“She already has some,” the woman said, pointing to my son. “There are a thousand kids here today who don’t have any.”

Waiting for candy

Waiting for candy

She begrudgingly handed me two strands of white beads and walked off. I held them out in front of me, like one might hold a stinky fish, not really wanting them anymore. She had tainted them with her nasty attitude. I decided to give them back. I set off down the parade route looking for her. By the time I found her, she was about two blocks away. I tapped her on the shoulder and held out the two strands of beads.

“Here. You obviously need these more than I do,” I said, in the most facetious voice I could muster. I wanted her to feel small.

“Thank you,” she said, graciously, and took the beads back. She then turned around and walked off.

Apparently, generosity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

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I just finished writing a story for a money magazine about people who feel having a lot of money can be a burden as much as a blessing. One advisor said he had a client who left his sons a family business and left each of his two daughters about $1.5 million in cash and real estate. Within three years, the daughters had spent all of the money and had mortgaged their houses and lost them. They then badgered their brothers for money, saying, “Daddy would have wanted you to take care of us.”

There are countless stories of lottery winners and professional athletes who get a windfall only to see their relationships destroyed as they wind up in legal battles with friends and loved ones, who feel they are owed a piece of the bounty. Some come into money so quickly, they can’t rein in their spending, particularly when they find themselves in the company of others who have lots of money.

“If you’re a rookie for the Boston Red Sox, and you’re hanging out in Detroit with David Ortiz, and everyone is going out, to have drinks, or go to a casino, you want to go with them. But their capacity to do things and spend is far different than your capacity to spend,” said Mickey Segal, managing partner at Nigro Karlin Segal & Feldstein, a Los Angeles-based CPA firm.

In the end, many advisors said, money didn’t just fail to make their clients happy. It made some of them very unhappy.

I was working on the story when my two-year-old son, Eddie, woke up from his nap, took his pacifier out of his mouth and flung it across the room like discarded trash. He then took the bottle I had in my hand and grabbed it and began sucking on it like a thirsty monkey.

Never get between a man and his binky.

Never get between a man and his binky.

I wouldn’t care that he tosses his pacifier, or “binky,” as we call it, when I arrive with his bottle – except for the fact that I’m the one who then has to crawl around on the floor looking for it. When he flung it across the room this afternoon, I said, “Not cool, pal. Now you’re going to help me look for it.”

I lifted him out of the crib and deposited him on the floor. He wandered around the room, looking down toward the floor, and began singing, “Binky! Where are you?”

“Binkies don’t talk,” I said, crawling around on the floor beside him.

I wished binkies did talk because after looking for about five minutes, I couldn’t find his pacifier anywhere. Using deduction, I thought if it’s not under his crib or anywhere else on the floor, it’s got to be in the box of Thomas the Train tracks that I slid next to his crib one day when I was trying to tidy up. I looked inside and not only was the binky in there, but there were two others that had apparently fallen in there from previous days when he’d tossed them out of the crib. He seems to have a pretty consistent bank shot. I imagined every time he threw the pacifier from his mouth, it would hit the wall in the same spot before falling into the box of train tracks.

When I showed Eddie the three binkies, his eyes lit up. He snatched them and tried to put all three in his mouth at once. When that didn’t work, he tried to put in one and then another. That didn’t work either. He wound up putting a green one in his mouth but then changed his mind and stuck in the blue one.

“Give me the other two,” I said, putting my hand out.

“No,” he said, and put his hands with the two remaining binkies behind his back.

“C’mon. Cough ‘em up. Give me the binkies,” I said.

A bushel of binkies.

A bushel of binkies.

He shook his head no.

“One binky per child,” I said, again reaching for them. He was steadfast in his defiance, holding so tightly onto the two binkies, I could see their rubber edges bending in his hands.

“What are you going to do with three binkies?” I asked.

“I need two outside,” he said, removing the binky in his mouth long enough to speak.

“Why?” I said.

“I need two outside,” he said again. His powers of persuasion right now consist of repetition.

“You can only take one outside,” I said and left the room for a moment to grab my cell phone as I knew we would soon be heading downstairs.

When I returned to his room, he had gone into the drawer in his diaper changing table where we store the binkies and took out two more. He now had four in his hand and one in his mouth. It was as if the more binkies he had, the more he needed. Anything less would no longer suffice.

“Go put them back,” I said as the two of us approached the top of the stairs.

It reminded me of a dinner I once made for a friend of mine who was really smart but whose intelligence was only exceeded by his selfishness. When I placed a roast chicken down on the table for four of us to eat, my friend proceeded to take half the chicken for himself. “Ken, put it back,” his wife said. She pointed down at the serving plate for emphasis.

“Put them back,” I told Eddie, again, and pointed at the drawer of the changing table. Eddie looked at me and got angry and threw the binkies down the stairs. They bounced and then scattered, though most of them got wedged along the sides of the steps. I walked down a couple of steps and picked them up, and as I headed back toward his room to put them in the drawer, my son began to cry. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he had a grand plan for the binkies, and I’d put the kibosh on it, or if it was simply a matter of taking something away from him – regardless of how many of them he had. One thing was clear: an over-abundance of any kind only leads to misery.

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