I’ve made peace with the fact that my kids will attend public school.  At least, I tell myself this, because it will happen.  We bought a house in a top-rated school district  to ensure it will happen.  But having lived in this area for 11 years now, my eyes have been opened to the variety of private schools that exist.  I’ve worked for two of them, and perhaps drunk the Kool-Aid.  Kids learn differently.  Public school doesn’t work for everyone.  There are choices, and private school isn’t all about blazers, galas, and lacrosse.  Maybe I have edu-crushes on the Friends schools because I want my kids to have the types of hand-on education I didn’t in my cookie-cutter public schooling?  A vicarious Quaker education?

Anyhow, preschool is a paid experience (at least until Pennsylvania finally enacts universal Pre-K), so I get to dip my toes into the worlds of admissions, applications, open houses, and choosing the “best” school.  My kids attend the two-year-old program at the JCC.  Is it enough?  Is this the mommy wars/competitive parenting poisoning what is overblown in importance for kids of educated middle-class parents anyway?  (There is research out there that if a kid comes from a home where he is read to and stimulated, no one preschool is “better” than another.  I wish I could find the link to that article…)  Or maybe my standards are impossibly high from having been immersed in preschool for 5 years, years which shaped my parenting and educational philosophies.  Much as I want my kids to do Quaker and Waldorf and nature preschool stuff (but not Montessori; don’t get me started), I also want to choose a place that, frankly, has the hours and tuition and location that makes our lives easier.  I have no interest in choosing a school that will require impossible logistics.  That’s the childcare portion of it again.  Beyond financial limitations, we can’t choose a place simply because they have a classroom I fall in love with, or an ideal curriculum, a gorgeous playground, or teachers who are kindred spirits.

Bottom line: I think it doesn’t matter in the long run where they go to school when they’re 2, 3, or 4, as long as it’s not those dumps in North Philly where I did early intervention.  But the other half of the equation is that I want them to be at a place I love.  A place I feel really good about.  And it’s kind of eating me up inside that all my “expert insider” preschool knowledge came down to the fact that the school day at the JCC goes until 3:30pm and Mr. Apron can pick them up then.  Frankly, that’s what made our final decision.  That, and we thought we’d use the JCC’s fitness center.  That’s happened…exactly zero times since September.

So what do we do? Switch them next year to the other program?  Uproot them from something that works, and from a place they do in fact enjoy going to school to play the lottery on a different program? Sacrifice our logistical sanity trying to work out the transportation, tuition, and childcare challenges for a school I feel good about?  Find an anonymous benefactor to subsidize private school education and a nanny/chauffeur to handle the logistics?  We’re lucky we have choices in preschools for our kids.  Once it all gets whittled down to our limitations, though, it feels a lot less like actual choice, and more a matter of playing Tetris with our kids’ education.

It’s at once exhilarating and terrifying.  My kids “know” Elmo.  I don’t mean we’ve been to Sesame Place (we haven’t) or that they watch Sesame Street (they don’t) or that they have three thousand Elmo-emblazoned toys at home (they haven’t).  I mean, they’re at the age where they’re pointing out all the Elmos in the world.  And that furry red monster is a sneaky bastard, lemme tell ya.  Dude is everywhere.  Sure there’s clothes, toys, and games.  Elmo has moved beyond the Tickle Me stage, and has matured into Big Hugs, Forever Friends, Lullaby & Good Night, Steps to School, Guitar Elmo, Potty Time Elmo, Counting, Trains, Soccer, K’nex, Memory, LeapFrog, and, the most disturbing evolution yet of the Tickle Me Elmo, “LOL Elmo”.  In addition to fruit snacks and applesauce with the tempting red furry mug on them, Elmo is now peddling a variety of Earth’s Best organic foods, including crackers, cookies, canned pasta in sauce, frozen waffles, instant oatmeal, squeeze-pouch smoothies, and frozen entrees.

Unlike the happy meal or cereal box that comes with a prize (do they still do that? Or is an iTunes download more enticing?), these products have little to do with the character on them.  Maybe the crackers are shaped like Elmo’s head, but the oatmeal is just oatmeal.  They are simply branded to build loyalty, character recognition, and ring up sales.  My friend who is an expert in mass media is nodding vigorously right about now, and it’s no shocker.  Kids’ characters promote products to families with kids.

PhD please.

My children are just now entering the word-combining phase of their speech development.  We are collecting their gems such as “Mama poop” (a comment) “No, doggy!” (a condemnation)“Mama, off shirt” (a command) and “More oatmeal” (a request).  One of the things that fascinated me as they learned their first words were the semantic features they would use to differentiate between words.  “Cracker” was an early word, and it encompasses all small, crunchy hand-held foods, such as Chex, Cheerios, Ritz, yogurt melts, freeze-dried strawberries and Gerber puffs. My son uses his name to apply to all babies, in person or in pictures.  The children may understand many differentiations for footwear, but only a binary distinction is required expressively.  There are “choos”, and there are “cocks”.  And when they want their Crocs, you’ll know, as they shriek and point “COCK” at the top of their  lungs.  (and don’t ask me about how they pronounce “fork” and “shirt”).  Beyond the thrilling worlds of clothing and food, they’re learning about their environment and the people/animals in it.  Children’s authors receive a dictum that approximately 70% of books must contain farm animals.  I think the library associations are subliminally preparing our children for an agrarian lifestyle.  They’re also learning about furniture, everyday objects, and those big grown-up strollers: cars.  No shocker that “car” was one of their first words, and that “mama car” and “dada car” were two of the earliest two-word phrases.  Taking them shopping was a veritable sensory overload in the parking lot, trying to label and point to all the cars individually.  (There’s a car!  There’s another car! A car!  Look, a car!  Omigosh, another one!  Car over there! Here’s a car!”)

So it follows that I wasn’t the least bit surprised that they were identifying Abby Cadabby and Elmo as we ventured out into the world.  Mind, they’ve never seen the television tuned to any children’s programming.  We have books with these characters, and they occasionally have seen them on their box of crackers or in a Babies ‘R Us circular.  Taking them through Target or the grocery store is getting dangerous.  They’re liable to point out every Abby and Elmo in sight.  And of course, I get excited and proud when they recognize a familiar character or object.  Yes, my sweet little geniuses, that is a dog walking in our neighborhood!  That is an avocado just like we eat at home! But just as I can’t buy every avocado in the supermarket, I’m not going to bring home every Disney Cars toy either.

Planning their birthday party last year – I should say overplanning­ — I was lost for a “theme”.  Diving into the depths of Pinterest I saw all manner of one-year-old themes, from Eric Carle, to Dr. Seuss, to “You are my Sunshine”, to Mickey Mouse, to trucks.  I know the party is for the parents, to celebrate having survived the hardest year of their lives, have kept the defenseless slug-like child alive long enough to actually enjoy it, but I was perplexed by the themes.  Visits to the overachieving parents’ blogs would reveal, “Little Bisquick is so into The Very Hungry Caterpillar, we carved a butter sculpture with naturally-derived dyes in the shape of a chrysalis”.  Or “Rubella is so into Cookie Monster we turned the house into a Sesame Street backdrop for photo ops”. I wondered if there was something wrong with my kids that they hadn’t expressed preferences yet.  Should they be “into” princesses or hippos or farm equipment by now?  Sure there are books we read over and over and over again until we know them from memory, but my kids’ demanding to hear “Moo Baa Lalala” for the 47th time doesn’t make me want to run out and buy all the Sandra Boynton paper plates and napkins in the world.  I know they need repetition to learn language and concepts.  That’s why Blue’s Clues airs the same show five days a week.  It’s not so parents want to drive ice picks through their ears; kids actually learn that way.  (Learning from television itself, now that’s a separate story)

Once they started pointing out all the Elmos in the world, they also started pointing out more mundane things.  Cars, for one, but also doors.  My kids love to knock on doors, especially if their parents are behind said doors, trying to use the bathroom.  (I may have taught them this game, but I may have been influenced by a college roommate. I’m not naming names.  It’s funny if you’re 1 or 21, that’s all I’m saying.) So when we go to the children’s museum, they get excited by seeing the plastic bananas in the supermarket, riding the boat in the fairytale-themed exhibit, and knocking on the doors to the maintenance rooms.  Are they “into” doors?  Are they “into” bananas?

No, because outside of the sexy world of energy efficiency, Pella hasn’t figured out how to make doors fun and exciting to parents.  Chiquita hasn’t been working on cultivating the 3-and-under set to demand banana appliqués on their onesies.  There’s no commercial market place for unbranded products.  And no birthday theme packs, either.

I suppose that parents are so excited to see their kids recognize an object or character, that they project their own schema of interest, and that supplants the baby’s intent to just say, “Hey, mom, that’s a dog”.  Identifying the object (or pointing to every car in the parking lot) is the purpose of the interaction.  I know we want to support their growth, so we look for their interests.  We buy them all the Elmo drek, we fill their playrooms with vehicles and princess paraphernalia.  I think that gender roles and gender norms creep deviously into our minds and our parenting styles much more subtly than we think.  It’s not just the glittery pink Stride Rite shoes versus Star Wars action sneakers.  It’s also caregivers seeing a boy identify “car”, inferring that he’s into cars, and jumping on the boys-love-vehicles bandwagon.  They might ignore when their daughter does the same, or at least not praise it with as much overt enthusiasm.  You don’t have to explicitly tell a boy that dolls are for girls, but you might not perceive a boy as nurturing if you don’t recognize the times he pretends to feed his baby doll.

Have the marketers and ad agencies figured this out, too?  You betcha.  Put a character on a box of cereal or a carton of ice cream, and the kid will identify it, which the parent will interpret as “want”.  Even better, put it on a healthy, natural product (Princess carrots.  Have you seen these?), and the parent will coalesce the kid’s “interest” with their own desire to choose nutritious foods.  Once the kid does get old enough that the “interest” has been nurtured and funded, it’s only a matter of time until you overhear, “Mommy, I want Dora ice cream” and “But I NEED the Thomas backpack!”

That Dora cake at her first birthday?  That was all for you.  That carton of purple ice cream (or, technically, “frozen dairy dessert”) when she’s 5?  That’s to get you out of ACME without a major meltdown.

“Am I a bad mom for not wanting to take my kids to Gymboree?” I wondered aloud as we drove our kids to go on some futile errand or another.

Maybe not.

But am I a bad mom for judging others who do think it’s valuable?  I know, I know, they’re making a different choice.  One I wouldn’t make.  One I keep trying to convince myself does not have a Right or a Wrong, just a Best for Each Family.

But in reality, I think Gymboree is a stupid, overpriced excuse to let kids run wild in a child-safe area while their parents either worship the “teachers” as demi-gods, or else just use it as an excuse to socialize with each other. Is there value in Gymboree (or Sally’s Music Circle, or Kinder Art, or Tot Time at Bounce U)?  Yes, I can say there is.  I can flex my thinking enough to consider benefits of the programming:

  • Provides the aforementioned safe space for kids to play.
  • Kids need to get their ya-yas out.
  • Indoor space you can go to when suffering from cabin fever deep in the blahs of winter.
  • Provides  45 minutes or an hour of structured time in what might feel like a long stretch of an amorphous day as a stay-at-home parent.
  • Models developmentally appropriate child-oriented ways to interact with and stimulate children.
  • “Educational” (at least they’re not plugged into Angry Birds or Might Morphin’ Power Rangers)

But Gymboree is $82/month for one class, for one kid.  Oh, and unlimited “open gym”s.  If a parent is staying at home to raise kid, they’re taking a defacto pay cut right there, and $82/month (per child) is a chunk of change I’d rather to put into a college account, not tummy time.  At least not tummy time I pay $82/month for.

If you can afford Gymboree, good for you.  There are other issues I have with Gymboree and its ilk.  What I don’t like about the “classes” that are “taught” is that it undermines parents’ confidence in their own abilities, instincts, and competencies to take change of their kids’ development.  They begin to worship the teachers because the classes offer things like “flashlight play” and “auditory development” (singing songs).  My kids began tracking visually without flashlights, and responding to songs as they lay cooing in their pack n play in the dining room.  I dangled a half dozen baby toys from an empty wrapping paper roll, and they watched our faces and the movement of the toys.  We sang and shushed several times a day to get them to shut up and stop crying, or to go to sleep.  Teach parenting skills, by all means.  But don’t change $82/month (per kid!) to bill it as “auditory” and “visual” development.  Another beef I have is that these “classes” begin too early, way before kids “need” the structure that an organized class provides.  Do infants and toddlers need routines?  Absolutely.  But an 8-week-old doesn’t need any more structure to his days than mom and dad can provide within their own routines of eating, sleeping, and diaper changes.

In addition, you can do it all at home.  Or on your own, with limited materials.  I don’t think you have to be a musical or artistic genius to “Dance and sing to a new musical style each month including Latin, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Classical and more”.  Get a Putamayo CD and some egg shakers.  Or Easter eggs filled with rice.  Kids need to run?  Take them to a tennis court or an empty field at a local college.  Take a trip to Lowe’s and buy an 8’ length of drainage hose for $9 and let your kids put balls down it.  Bubbles from the dollar store or one of those endless Pinterest recipes.  Couch cushions were our pillow forts, providing endless variations on building, toppling, and safe exploration.  Water play is a giant Tupperware bin and a towel on the kitchen floor.

If you’re not so creative, not so resourceful, try some free or inexpensive resources instead.  The local children’s museum has a family membership (up to 4 ppl) for $120/year.  You can go every single day and build with blocks, go “grocery shopping”, play doctor, explore music, art, water play, and even develop your auditory and visual systems.  My local library has story time two mornings a week.  For Free.  During the summer they run tons of programming including animal visitors, pet shows, science experiments, and special story hours (Dr. Seuss, pirates).  Take your kid to a playground or a wide open field.  If it’s rainy or cold out, two local malls have safe indoor play areas for young children that are also free.  Many nearby nature centers are free or inexpensive.

You don’t have to be a Pinterest genius, creating “sensory baths” or thematic units based on the seasons.  Even Gymboree says kids learn best through play.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate, costly, or look pretty.  My mother babysat my kids yesterday morning in her decidedly child unfriendly house.  I sent down some books and snacks, just in case. For an hour and a half, they sat on her porch with pots, pans, and measuring spoons, stimulating their auditory development by banging on different materials including chairs, cabinets, and the washing machine.  She doesn’t have a degree in early childhood education.  She doesn’t even read Parents magazine.  She definitely doesn’t do Pinterest. And she never took me to Gymboree.

When I was a baby/toddler, she took me to a program provided by our synagogue for a nominal fee that offered babysitting for the kids, and a workshop or class for the moms.  She got to get out of the house, socialize, and had easy access to me in case I needed to nurse or be changed.  No one was selling her the snake oil that is prepackaged child development for the pre-dental set.  I banged on pots and pans.  Later, I went to nursery school when it benefited all of us.  My brother had just been born, and I needed some attention paid to me separate from the new baby.  So off I went to our synagogue’s nursery school program.  No one tried to push her into the Mommy & Me classes with a pretense that it was for me any more than those groups existed for the Mommies to have a chance to talk to another grown-up.  But they’ve repackaged the activities, thrown a dose of parental guilt (and the hefty fee that accompanies beginning your child’s “education” at 2 months). Moreover, no one was making her second guess her intuition about parenting.  In those days, that’s what grandparents were for.

When they sat on a clean baby blanket, covering the couch, my therapist told me one day I’d be putting out the blanket for them.  When we came home one night to find our babysitters  sitting on their book jackets and tote bags pressed flat, I rolled my eyes, and Mr. Apron confronted the absurdity of it all.  We’d replaced the cushion covers, and no dog had ever sat on that surface.

So knock it off, he told his parents.

Later, we’d return to my father-in-law sitting on a dining room chair pulled a few feet from the television, using the kids’ Fisher Price activity station as a coffee table.  That I could excuse, as we have a tiny TV, he wanted the sound low so as not to wake the babies, and he needed to see the action of The Game.

But the night we came home to find both of my in laws seated in plastic patio chairs in the middle of our living room was the epitome of the lengths to which my in laws have gone to avoid any “contamination” of dog-related materials on their person or their home.

“We have bad backs,” they said. But then followed up with, “We waited until you’d left to take the chairs out of the trunk, because we knew you’d get mad.”

Mad about their “bad backs”?  Hardly.

Mad that they treat our home, our clothing, our very children like infectious waste?  That’s more our speed.

At their home, our coats must be laid across a wrought iron banister, not placed in the coat closet.

After they leave our house, they go home and shower and change.

They refused to let us wash clothing at their house when our laundry room blew a fuse.  Not clothing – cloth diapers.  White pieces of microfiber and PUL that touch our babies’ bottoms.  The dog doesn’t wear diapers. And washing machines are for cleaning things.

I could understand that the vacuum my mother-in-law used to clean out my husband’s first apartment couldn’t be taken back to her home.  We got a free vacuum cleaner out of the deal.  But this?  Ridiculous.  Especially considering that, a few months earlier, my father-in-law had washed a load of our baby laundry in his home for us when our old washer died.  Back before he considered all the contaminants that might have been clinging to my daughter’s dresses and my son’s polo shirts.  Never mind the baby socks!

I had to go to a neighbor’s house and ask to use her machine so my children could have clean diapers for another few days.   Thankfully no one in her house is allergic to dogs, peanuts, or logic.

Now I realize none of it is based in reason, but my in-laws are guided by intense anxiety.  My sister-in-law, a 45-year-old woman with no real severe health issues, lives at home with her parents.  Yes, she has a condo of her own, but a snowstorm 3 years ago plus a mouse problem sent her packing, and she has once again moved into her childhood home.  Where her alleged allergies dictate everything that comes into the home.  While in the beginning of my relationship with my future husband, I took her at her word that she was actually allergic to dogs, I now doubt the intensity as well as the veracity of her allergy.  My own husband had allergy tests recently that revealed that he, too, is allergic to dogs.  And he takes a small pill every morning to combat the fact that he’s allergic to most things that grow outdoors, and we have a dog.

We were dog-free for a number of months, after our previous mutt passed away, and toyed briefly with the idea of staying dog-free. Maybe she’d come in our home.   Maybe she’d interact more with (e.g., hold) our children.  We hosted the kids’ first birthday party in our home (as opposed to a dog-free “neutral zone”) as a way to call her bluff.  And she came.  Then, a few months later, we adopted a basset hound, a “low-shed”, short-hair dog who is an absolute delight, and the perfect hound for our family.

“Why didn’t you get a dog that doesn’t shed this time?” my sister-in-law asked.

“This breed didn’t come in that style,” I answered.

Later, we realized the ego-centrism of her question, and my husband revised our collective response.

“Because it wasn’t for you.”

Between the laundry, the couch cushions, the fact that our kids don’t know her when they look at photographs, as well as her myriad other health “issues”, it’s clear to me that she’s literally chosen her veil of sickness/allergy over her relationship with my children.

Initially, my therapist said that it wasn’t personal, that there was no commentary on my housekeeping skills woven into the fibers of the couch cover.

I’m torn, of course, because it is personal.  It’s a reflection of their disdain for our chosen animal companion, their choice to subscribe to the lifestyle of Extreme Allergic Reaction, and their preference for anxiety over family.  I don’t want to lose our local, free babysitting services, along with the family connections.  I don’t want my children to know the fuming rage I have towards those patio chairs and what they represent.

But I can’t make them feel comfortable in our home, can’t make them understand the lunacy of their proceedings, can’t make them realize it’s all manufactured bullshit.

So we accept their limitations, we accept them into our home, and help them unload their fucking patio chairs.  We roll out the allergy red carpet.  Am I putting a blanket on the couch for them, as my therapist predicted?

Not yet, but I’m this close to putting a “decontamination in progress” sign on the front door and supplying them with hazmat suits as a gesture of my good will and understanding.

Either that, or lighting a bag of dog hair on fire on their front step.

When it comes down to the reality, it’s not just my sister-in-law who’s sick.  They’re all feeding into the illness.  Before I asked my neighbor if I could wash our laundry at her house, my husband approached his other sister, one who lives less than 50 yds away, to see if she could help us out. Mr. Apron made the mistake of explaining why his parents had refused our request.

She, too, refused, siding with my parents-in-law, citing the obvious about her sister, “She’s sick.”

Yes, she is, we agreed, but not in the way you think.

I started yoga again.  I’ve done yoga on and off since my freshman year of college, which, as my reunion committee has kindly reminded me, was over 13 years ago.  I signed up for yoga as half of my physical fitness requirement (having passed out of the other half with a series of mediocre scores in sit-ups, push-ups, running, and sit-n-reach) because I was looking for something low-impact, that wouldn’t make me sweat through my pajamas.  After all, this was a 9am class.  It was low-impact.  We learned some basic postures, stretched and crawled around on the floor twice a week, and avoided working near the girls who, unfortunately, did sweat through their pajamas.

When I was pregnant two summers ago, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than prenatal yoga.  I have no idea why.  Even since I heard about it, years ago, it held a mystique.  Perhaps it was the exclusivity of the class membership, or the fact that it was one of few forms of exercise I could do as my belly bulged with the weight of twin fetuses.  I don’t pretend that I was “good” at it, if one can be skilled at prenatal yoga, but it helped me in many ways.   Physically, though my back did ache with my increasing load, it allowed me to maintain my flexibility and strength throughout my pregnancy.  I credit yoga with helping me stay healthy enough to help my twins reach a full-term gestation.  I was as agile as I could be, and the nurse who placed the fetal monitors even remarked, as I heaved my belly up so she could find my daughter’s heart rate, that she was impressed I had any abdominal strength at all left.  More that the physiological benefits, prenatal yoga became a place for me to commune with other women in the same condition.  I didn’t have any pregnancy buddies at work (they were either months ahead or months behind me, gestationally), nor really any geographically close friends who could guide me through pregnancy with their own experiences.  I was conscious of the desire not to become That Pregnant Lady who drones on and on to coworkers and family members about fetal measurements, heart rates, nursery colors, crib safety requirements, and stroller designs.  At prenatal yoga, the firist 15-25 minutes was dedicated to everyone going around the room, introducing themselves and having a couple minutes to talk about their pregnancies.  Finally, every other Saturday, I could talk about my due date, feeling the twins kick for the first time, having a good prenatal check-up, and air out my anxieties among people who welcomed them or shared their own.  And while it felt like a support group, our teacher said it was part of our yoga practice.

More recently, E, my coworker – who was thrust into the role of supervisor this year without much preparation or choice – had expressed a desire to find a way to de-stress, and was thinking of yoga.  I had been looking, too, but for a different reason.  In the midst of being a mommy for the last year-and-almost-a-half, I’ve been so focused on arranging and adhering to my children’s routine (okay, okay, it’s a semi-rigid schedule), that there’s been little time or flexibility left to feed the Me-ness, the Me-ness that I was so worried I’d lose to mommyhood.  I never wanted to be defined primarily as E’s and L’s mommy, and to that end, I have wisely kept working full-time. But once I get home, I shift to mommy mode, and still hadn’t found a way to balance what I want/need to do beyond caring for my kids.  My husband was in a play last fall, and while it was stressful to have him away two nights a week, and lonely during his dress rehearsals and shows, he got to get back into his Me-ness in a very real way.  He was back on stage, expressing his creativity, and bringing joy to yet another packed house.  It was now my turn.  With my colleague holding me accountable (and in turn, me relying on her), we found a nearby studio, made a date, and went to yoga.

The first Tuesday, I rushed in, breathless, having struggled to put the kids to bed in time for me to get out the door.  I worried that E would think I was absolutely nuts, that yoga was completely weird, and that I was more of a hippy-dippy granola that I’d let on. We moved through the poses, focusing on breathing, getting used to the style of the instructor, catching glances at others to make sure we were doing it right.  Somewhere in the middle of the class, the self-consciousness left, and I think that was when we actually started doing yoga.  I don’t have a great grasp of the philosophical or spiritual background behind yoga. I’ve always just done it primarily for the physical benefits, hoping to become slightly more limber or well-balanced.  But my concerns of E thinking me completely batty vanished when we rolled up our mats and stepped out into the cool air of the street.  Airily, she turned to me and said, “Where has this been all my life?”

Our husbands now have to kick us out the door on Tuesday nights. We’re tired, we complain.  It’s easier just to have a relaxing evening at home, we reason.  But you come home so relaxed, they counter.  Do it for yourself. They think we’re sneaking off to bars, we come home so Zen and dopey. I’ve done yoga before to strengthen and support my body, but I’d never before done yoga to feed my mind, my soul.  I know that sounds ridiculous and transcendental.  I only wanted an activity for myself to do.  It could have been a knitting circle or a book club, or taking bassoon lessons.  But I think yoga was a serendipitous, and overly auspicious choice.  I doubt somehow I would have come home from book club with my mind freed from anxieties, my body ready to enter a peaceful sleep, and my soul filled to the brim with Me-ness.

When you hover over the internet explorer icon, it says something akin to “finds and displays information on the internet”, but I find that is a gross oversimplification of what internet access does.

The internet at work is down this morning, mysteriously, and while my iPad can detect the Wifi, it cannot latch on.  The desktop is a lost cause until the rest of the building has been restored.  Until then, I sit, making a pen and paper list of the many tasks I wish to accomplish today, but cannot.  Being off-line has me stymied.

As a speech pathologist who trained under the pot-and-wooden-spoon approach to speech therapy, I could do therapy out of a cardboard box.  Some of my working spaces have resembled cardboard boxes, actually, but I digress.  I have all the tools and materials I need to make it through a day, if need be, and I won’t be shirking any responsibilities, or compromising any treatment sessions.  But it’s making the tasks around my job mightily difficult to be off-line.

I have to e-mail the parents the weekly session notes from last week, so they know what’s happening with their kids.  All my session notes are safely tucked away on googledocs.  I have to e-mail the HR person to find out about my coverage.  I can’t very well just pop by there, as the poor woman manages the entire 80-person staff by herself and can’t handle walk-ins.  Likewise the nurse, with whom I’d like to make an appointment for a flu shot, and hasn’t arrived yet anyway, judging from her darkened office window.  I can’t share notes with my colleagues from a meeting last week concerning their students, as they’re trapped on my iPad.  Nor can I let them know which meetings I plan to attend this week so we can decide who goes to lunch duty, who sits in meetings, and who might possibly have a blessed day to just eat lunch.  I can’t look up new resources for the students I’m working with today/this week and prep in advance.  I can’t add an appointment to the google calendar to “claim” the time I’ll be doing an observation on a shared student, so that Psych, OT, and I don’t show up at the same time.

And let’s not forget all the non-work tasks I could fill my time with, if strictly necessary.  There’s shopping on Zulily, lusting after the cutest baby clothes.  There’s downloading or uploading wedding or baby photos for photo books since I just realized that printing digital pictures and then putting them into albums by hand is sooooo 2003.  I could be blogging in real time, instead of typing into a Word document and uploading it later.  I could be looking up images to inspire this year’s Valentine postcard.  I could be taking my turn on any number of internet based games, keeping up to date on my friends’ latest child-rearing or gustatory misadventures.

Instead, this morning, seeking company, or more than that, I walked upstairs, sat down in a colleague’s room, and we talked while he drank some tea.  He couldn’t print his day’s work; I couldn’t plan mine.  But we caught up on our weekends.  It reminded me of my first year here, when our rooms were dark, cramped, inconveniently placed behind partitions, and we routinely ran into each other due to geography.  While I prize the privacy I now have with my own office, and not having to compete with two other sessions happening at the same time, I miss being able to talk over the partition to ask a colleague a question.  I miss being able to easily run into someone in the hall.  I miss that we all gathered in a centrally located reading teacher’s room to clutch scalding tea between our gloved palms in winter mornings because the c.1900 building didn’t heat up until noon.  While our new building is sleek and modern, with Smart Boards, central air, and security cameras in every corner, we’ve lost a little something.

This morning a, while the server was down, I still had a connection.

Years ago, I was present as our friend’s son unwrapped birthday gifts.  One was a school bus with the alphabet emblazoned on it.  Each time you pressed a letter-button, it would name the letter.  Our friend took great delights in pushing “F” “U” over and over.  It went right back to the store.  Later, either in one of the many daycares I visited as an itinerant early intervention speech therapist, or in Kohl’s as a hormonal woman pregnant with twins, we chanced upon a toy lawn mower.  It looked just like a regular toy mower, with a handle, some noise when you pushed it around, like many walking toys, but it had one more thing – a label proclaiming it to be a “learning mower”.  I laughed it off, deciding the manufacturers had given it that title because there were ABC and 123 stickers, which added supposed educational value without actually doing anything extra in product development.

Unfortunately, the trend caught on, and it’s more than just some colorful decals on the side of a toy.  Behold: the Fisher-Price “Laugh and Learn” line.  Characterized by the goofy (and I’m sure trademarked) eyes and mouth emblazoned on every single toy, the “Laugh and Learn” line has remade such classics as mowers, vacuums, shape sorters, telephones, cameras, puzzles,  and now encompasses such things as lanterns, mirrors, chairs, iPod cases, stuffed dogs, smart phones, and ball poppers.  There’s even a soccer ball.  Fisher-Price has created a cash cow by slapping the word “learn” on their products, as if the plain, classic version had no educational value whatsoever.  Parents see a plain toy next to the jacked up “Laugh and Learn” (or, increasingly, see only the electronic version), deduce there’s added value in the battery power, and bring that home instead.  I cannot stand the battery-powered version with its repetitive mechanical tunes, and promises to “teach” babies.

Let’s take one example, the shape sorting cookie jar.  Shape sorters teach many things to babies and toddlers.  My kids, who just turned one this weekend, are able to open the lid to their classic 1972 Fisher Price shape sorter, and take out all the shapes, as well as put them back in, with or without the lid.  They can learn visual-spatial skills as they put things inside, hone fine motor tasks of grasping and releasing, fine-tune pre-puzzle skills of rotating shapes to fit into the holes, explore gravity as they drop the pieces in or out of the bucket, and there are even opportunities for such pre-academic classics as shapes, colors, and numbers.  The triangles are all green, the rectangles are red, and the circles are blue.  We can count them as they go in or out.  We can introduce an action vocabulary — push, drop, hold, count, sort.  We can sort them into different piles by shape/color.  We can even add advanced vocabulary and learn the names for 3D forms such as cylinder, rectangular prism, and triangular prism.  Maybe I’m the only one who does that.  We can learn the opposites “on” and “off”, and take shapes “out” or put them “in”.  They learn determination (“grit”) as they persevere to fit the shapes through the holes.

We received, by way of hand-me-down from my nephew, the Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Cookie Shape Surprise cookie jar shape sorter.  It has five shapes/colors, so you know it already has added value (my kids may never learn what a star or a heart is otherwise). Plus, the shapes are all emblazoned with a raised numeral, even though it’s not developmentally appropriate to be teaching number symbols until kids have an awareness of quantity of real objects (“two” feet?  My kids just learned they have feet).  Then, we get to the battery-operated wonder.  The cookie jar has little ball-bearings in each opening, so when you successfully force a shape through the hole (it requires more force than the traditional shape sorter owing to the motion sensing technology impeding the shape’s progress), it labels the shape (or number) for you.  And then sings its stupid song.  “Shapes are in my cookie jar, triangle, heart and star.  There’s a circle over there, here’s a square!”  Or, if the toggle switch is set on “number” mode: “Would you like some cookies? Here they are!  Five different shapes, in my cookie jar! You can take them out, you can put them back, five little cookies make a tasty snack!” You can also just push the red nose of the cookie jar’s face to get a bonus song.  The most positive reviews of this toy range from detailing how the song is “catchy, not too annoying” to “It’s my kid’s favorite toy, but I want to shoot myself for buying it”.  That seems to be the theme.  As a parent, you have to put up with the stupid songs or noises because of their “educational” value, and if they’re only mildly annoying, that’s as good as you can expect to do.

What’s ironic, is that in trying to bolster educational value by adding sounds/music, the companies are actually grossly simplifying what the toy can actually “teach”.  It also makes parents feel like they’re depriving their child of something educational if they buy the plain shape sorter.  What do kids “learn” from these toys?  They learn mostly cause and effect.  If I push the button here, I get a song.  Many, many toys teach this concept.  While this is an important baby toy skill, it is only one aspect of play, and of learning.  Just as hearing a mechanical voice say “triangle” is only one exposure a child will have, and will mostly certainly not be the way my children end up figuring out the abstract concepts of shapes.  What I cannot stand is when parents measure educational value by the amount of time their child pushed the red nose over and over and stayed quiet in their crib.  While I appreciate time to go shower, make a phone call, or eat a sandwich, I do not conflate repetitive button-pushing with “learning”.  Nor do I think my kids will figure out shapes, colors, or numbers from playing with educational toys.  I also rail against what those songs are replacing.  For the parents who think it’s the toy’s job to “teach”, and not theirs, it’s replacing a parent coaching a child along, saying, perhaps, “Yes, mummy, that red square goes in the hole.  Can you put it in there?  Oops, not quite.  Try it a different way.  Yes, like that.  Push.  Almost.  Good job!”  The toy says, “Square” or “Four” and then sings a song.  If recent research in language acquisition is any guide, the child playing with the toy without the parent has just lost out on 28 additional words.  Fast-forward to preschool-aged children using a “learning vacuum” for pretend play.  If the vacuum’s job is to teach letters or numbers, and the toy constantly sings when you push its buttons, where is the voice of the child going ‘vroooom’ pretending to suck up dirt?  Where is the child narrating his play as he imitates the adults in his life?  Where is the integration of the vacuum into a larger ‘house’ play scheme?  So-called educational toys are by far the least open-ended toys I’ve seen on the market.

Why does a soccer ball need additional value?  So you can charge more for it, obviously.  So you can guilt well-meaning but anxious parents into purchasing more crap.  So you can assuage the guilt parents feel about not providing constant stimulation so their children can “get ahead” by the time they get to preschool.

In my family, the premier purchaser of this Chinese-made, battery-powered plastic crap is the last person you’d think of — a librarian.  But my mother-in-law gobbles up these toys, from the Vtech Infant Learning Jungle Fun Music Box my nephew was scared of for his first six months, to the “Rhyme and Discover” “book” (from a librarian — this shocked me), the infamous cookie jar, and the newest one, that just left my jaw hanging open, the Singin’ Soccer Ball, which, in addition to ABCs and 123s (again, not developmentally appropriate for the 9 month old pictured holding it), purports to teach sportsmanship.

I try to pretend I’m coming around on the electronic toy front, for the sake of family harmony.  I try to pretend it’s all copasetic if I just turn the toy off when I’m around. (though the kids are confused why the buttons that used to light up are now dark…) I try to pretend it’s okay if our household isn’t 100% battery-powered toy free.  In short, I try not to be a helicopter control-freak parent.  But every time we unwrap a new gift, whether it’s a talking puzzle from my uncle, or a battery-powered walking toy from my in-laws, or when we receive a new bag of hand-me-downs (and that fucking cookie jar) from my nephew, I just want to cringe.  It should simply be a parent’s choice to offer these toys.  It shouldn’t make me so angry, should it?  Yet, short of explaining (again) to my in-laws that we don’t want those toys, they keep on coming.  I doubt they’d sit and listen to a condensed lecture from this diatribe.  Maybe it’s more the fact that I feel disrespected in my parenting decisions, the fact that the burden of deciding whether to return a well-intentioned toy, try to remove the batteries, allow it, or smash it into a million pieces falls on us.  I’d rather spend my time building block towers with my kids for them to smash than arranging for childcare so I can run to Kohl’s for the third time this month, and return the piece of junk.

As I goggled in disbelief at the Singin’ Soccer Ball, I was unable to disguise my contempt in the usual forced smile I reserve for playtime at my in-laws’ house, and my father-in-law asked, “Why, it’s bad?” while I searched in vain for the off switch (IT HAS NONE!!!), I replied, through gritted teeth, “No, they’re just not my favorite kind of toy.” It’s true, kind of.  If my wonderful mother-in-law is sitting on the floor with my children, interacting with them and the heathenous toy, it’s not harming them.  If my brother likes pushing the buttons, and it helps him play with my kids, then that’s great for everyone.  No one toy sitting on the shelf is going to make or break a child’s kindergarten readiness.  No open-ended shoebox, or high-priced baby laptop can replace a parent’s interactions.

I am officially going on record to speak for all those parents writing Amazon reviews about annoying songs and tolerable noise levels — you don’t have to buy that crap.  I absolve you of your feeling a need to buy “educational” toys.  You are so much better than that.  You are not only your child’s first teacher; you’re also his first — and best — toy.

I missed therapy last week.  At 4pm, when I should have been parking my car and entering the building, I was instead holding my son as he screamed through a nebulizer treatment on the pediatric inpatient unit of Bryn Mawr Hospital.  E had been wheezing over the weekend, and we did nothing. Sure, Mr. Apron had noticed it, had asked for my confirmation (I heard it, too), but I did nothing.  I figured, as with most infant illnesses, it would resolve on its own, and, with the new conservative stance on such things as cough and cold medicines for children, we wouldn’t be able to give him anything anyhow.

A miserable Monday night’s sleep had us headed to the pediatrician on Tuesday, and after they’d tried to jack him up with breathing treatments in the office, we were sent directly to the ER.  What followed was a 36-hour ordeal filled with doctors, nurses, changes in treatment plans, screaming babies, childcare arrangements, and poor sleep for all.  My son had to endure being poked too many times in his chubby arms.  Even after digging around in his fat flesh for endless minutes, they still could not strike a vein, so the threats of putting in an IV “just in case” were abandoned, and the poor baby passed out from sheer exhaustion.

“He looks tired,” the nurses commented.  “Yes,” I said, “He slept poorly last night and hasn’t had his nap yet this morning.”

“No,” they demurred, “When we say, ‘he looks tired,’ we mean, tired of working so hard.”

But whether from exhaustion, fatigue, or defeat, the child napped on the stretcher, ensconced in the same hospital blanket they’d used to restrain him for the failed IV attempts.

Hours later, he napped again, this time securely attached to my breast for the better part of an hour as he tried to rehydrate and comfort himself while blocking out the noise and lights of the hospital.  By the time we reached the pediatric unit, he had rested, fed, and was perking up.  It would be another 12 hours before his labored breathing relaxed enough that his little chest wasn’t retracting with each breath, but his affect was brighter, and he’d stopped the endless helpless screaming.

All Tuesday, and into Wednesday as well, I stayed by his side, cuddling my son, feeding him, and letting him sleep on me whenever he could.  I tried 6 times to transfer my sleeping child to the prison-like crib provided for him, and for about 3 hours he slept by himself as I shoveled down a soggy garden burger brought up hours earlier by room service.  When the white noise of the nebulizer shut off after the 1am breathing treatment, he awoke again, and I gave up on the lavish plans I’d had for myself – to pump milk for my daughter, and text message my sister – and just let him sleep by my side on and off all night.  We lay on the pull-out cot together from 1:30 until he woke after 5am for his usual breakfast, despite the night nurse’s pleas that I put him down in the crib.  Co-sleeping is not a hospital policy, especially for babies on oxygen, but if he hadn’t sleep with me, neither of us would have slept at all that night.

I stepped up, I rose to the occasion.  I played with him for hours when my husband went home to our daughter.  I left for only an hour to go home and take a nap.  I advocated for his care, asked about his treatment plan, saved his diapers for the nurses to weigh, and cut up bits of fruit for his breakfast.  I gave him apple juice by syringe in 5ml increments, and let him nurse whenever he wanted.  I commandeered the best toys on the hall and brought in his favorite books from home. I sat for an hour just watching him sleep in the crib — after my only successful transfer — afraid to put the crib rail up for fear of making noise and waking him up.

And when we got home Wednesday night, just in time for bed, the family breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The nightmare was largely over, save for nebulizer treatments every 4 hours, oral steroids, and more follow-ups to the pediatrician.

I blame myself for ignoring the wheezing and landing us all in the hospital.  I blame my inadequacy as a parent.  I was in denial that he was sick because I couldn’t allow myself to believe something serious could be wrong.  Lurking around the corner, hiding behind that sweet baby wheeze, is asthma.

They technically won’t diagnose a baby with asthma, as they can’t really cooperate with all the breathing tests to measure tidal volume, and blowing out the birthday candles or whatever assessments Mr. Apron has told me about from his years of experience at his pediatric allergist/pulmonologist (to whom he still goes, but at least they don’t make him do the birthday cake any more).  But he might have it.  Having a nebulizer, giving him albuterol treatment, listening for wheezing, having an “asthma treatment plan” as part of our discharge instructions — it all scares  me shitless.

“This should be the worst thing that ever happens to him,” Mr. Apron says.  Asthma, or reactive airway, or wheezing when he gets a cold – all of these are manageable things.  Still, I found myself collapsed on the kitchen floor at 9:40pm the night we got home from the hospital, having a whimpering, silent, self-indulgent adult tantrum about having to give my baby nebulizer treatments.  Because I was in denial, and couldn’t face the fact that something real and scary might be wrong with my baby.

Eventually, Mr. Apron refused to coddle me, I shelved the self-pity, and I pulled on my big-girl panties to go help my son.  I learned about all the meds, familiarized myself with the nebulizer, figured out how to detach the individual vials of meds from the plastic strips, and determined how to teach the nanny all of this horrific mess of plastic tubing and drugs.  I labeled each vial with a time, and taped them to E.’s daily communication notebook.

Nebulizer aside, meds aside, asthma aside, it’s just one more task in a seemingly endless series of “have to”s in caring for my children.  And it’s just exhausting.  Choosing to breastfeed means managing milk, rotating my personal dairy, freezing it when it reaches close to expiration, worrying about producing enough, and making sure others know how to handle the Liquid Gold.  Choosing a convertible car seat (and having to buy 4) means researching safety, ease of installation, trying them out in my tiny car, and finding the best deal (did I mention we had to buy 4?).  Starting solid foods means more preparation, choosing healthy, kid-friendly foods, and keeping alert for hidden, forbidden ingredients.  Managing food safety.  Making bottles.  Teaching my husband or in-laws how to use the car seats. It’s an awful lot, and I was managing pretty well.  But along came bronchiolitis and a nebulizer, and treatments every 4 hours, and I just melted down.  Being a detail-oriented, perfectionist mom is hard enough.  I was stretched to my breaking point, everything just working, but without wiggle room.  Adding one more “have to” just set me over the edge.

I’m okay now.  I debriefed with my therapist.  The nanny used a nebulizer when she was a kid.  And the pediatrician said we can skip the overnight treatments, as he supports my belief that sleep is restorative and uber-important.  I love our pediatrician.  I may have a doctor-crush on him; don’t tell Mr. Apron.

I don’t really know how to end this post, as it was just meant to be a Brain Dump, cathartic way of processing the hospital stay and my resulting feelings.  I’m glad we’re all home and on the way to healthy.  I’m glad I’m no longer scared of the nebulizer.  I’m relieved I’m able to care for my son.  I’m scared, too, scared for the future, whether the next emergency is my son and asthma-related symptoms, or something frightening with my daughter, my husband, or my parents.  It’s certainly not the last crisis in the years to come, but I hope I can get my big girl panties in gear so I can handle the situation like a grown-up.

In my house, only the babies are allowed to shit themselves.

Honey wheat?  How did that even get in our house?  As they say in the film, Funny Bones, “I only eat brown bread”.  Now that Arnold no longer makes the “Bran’ola” I grew up on, it’s been a struggle to find a whole grain bread for the house.  I bring home whole wheat, multi-grain, something healthy sounding with whole grains in the ingredient list.  But honey wheat?  I estimate I do at least 75% of the grocery shopping in the house.  And I put away at least 80% of the groceries.  How did that loaf sneak in under my radar?  Yet there it was, in the form of toast for our ten-month-old twins, sitting innocuously enough on their trays, slathered in yogurt or apple butter, being raked into tiny doughy hands, slipping almost unnoticed into our children’s mouths.  As soon as I saw the loaf in the fridge, as I was raiding the bread drawer for some other morsel, I flipped.  I ran to their trays, grabbed up the offending squares of toast, and chucked them into the trashcan, with perhaps a bit more force than was necessary.

“Two things they can’t have,” I said slowly and sternly, perhaps a little too loudly, “Two.  Honey, and nuts.”

“Children under one year should not be given honey under any circumstances,” said Carole Allen, M.D., pediatrician and Vice President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “There is too great a risk that the infant may contract infantile botulism.”

Are my kids under one?  Yes.  Are they practically 11 months old, and mere weeks away from one?  Yes.  Do I think that any magical processes happen in the digestive system the day of their birthday, allowing them to be safe from botulism?  No.  But I don’t think completely adhering to a recommendation from the AAP when the risk is paralysis is unreasonable.  Will they probably be okay, being merely weeks away from the (magical) one year old, having consumed a smidgeon of honey baked into a highly processed loaf of white bread?  Yup.  Still, to me, not work the risk.

Rigid, inflexible.  Resistant to change.  These are adjectives I used to write on evaluation forms and IEPs to describe preschool-age children with autism.  Am I so like them?  I intend to breastfeed my children for one year, and not a day less.  You have to make some goals for yourself, some guidelines.  And if you don’t stick to your own, completely achievable (only 4.5 weeks to go, and no signs of earnest weaning yet) goals, what’s the point of setting them at all?  AAP says, breastfeed for (at least) a year, so I will.

Apparently, though, it’s not the goal setting that’s an issue, nor the good intentions.  It’s the rigid adherence to the path that sets me apart, that makes me feel like a petulant child.  A few years ago, going through a bout of digestive disquiet, I was unable to eat anything for breakfast besides cereal, soymilk, and low acid orange juice.  I missed leisurely weekend brunches filled with pancakes, eggs, or even yogurt and granola.  If I found we were going out for brunch, or if Mr. Apron wanted to grab breakfast sandwiches from Delancey Street, I would pre-game with a mini-breakfast of cereal.  My stomach just wouldn’t have it any other way.  Without my pre-breakfast, I’d be miserable for hours.

Thankfully, after I gave birth to the twins, my stomach improved and I was able to consume large quantities of whatever I wanted.  It was liberating.  And necessary.  As I struggle to keep up with the demands of two milk-consuming monsters, I’m grateful I can (and do) eat anything that isn’t nailed down.

I look back through the various aspects of my life, and I see the rigid adherence to an ideal (if not an overt goal), sometimes flavored with notes of perfectionism, or at the very least, the idea that there is a right way to do things.  Growing up, we never had a uniform set of dishes or towels.  Towels had been accumulated through the years, through various moves and houses, and there were sets from my mother’s childhood through my own.  There were the yellow ones from the duck bathroom in Plattsburgh, and the purple ones from my parents’ master bathroom in Rochester.  There were the soft, almost velour-like orange towels that could only date from the 70s, and a random assortment of washcloths that could tell the story of the textile industry from the industrial revolution through modern day.  Dishes were another story.  Owing in large part to my bargain-hunting grandmother, we had full sets, but never in one color.  One set of plates were 80% blue, and 20% yellow.  The melamine Dallasware was blue and red, with one random set of yellow.  I desperately wanted matching towels for my wedding, probably because I had never known such uniformity in a linen closet.  Though we registered for all sage green towels, Macy’s ran out before our friends and family could buy them all.  We have coral, green, and honey colored towels.  All the same brand, mind, but it seems I was not meant to have my towels match.

Who cares?  Apparently, I do.  Apparently, in some deep recesses of my mind, towels and plates should match. That that is the right way (that there is a right way) to furnish one’s linen closet and one’s home. A right way to get your car repaired or to choose a dentist. A right way to feed your children, a right time to have children. While I’m working on my new mantra of “Other people make different choices,” there is still the niggling voice that adds, “which I would never make” and the tacit thought besides: because it’s wrong, or at least wrong for me. I can get smug (even to myself) when I do accomplish something grand, or do succeed at making a “right” choice. And I can get positively furious with myself when I fail at self-imposed perfection. My first cavity, my first B, missing an appointment or shirking on a potluck by not bringing something homemade. I’m setting myself up, if not for self-defined failure, then for disappointment, when I can’t, or refuse to flex. Boxed brownie mix taunts me, as does the Cooper Hospital-emblazoned diaper bag we use, a reminder that I wasn’t able to make a diaper bag for myself before the kids were born. I don’t reflect on the crib skirts (with their combined 16 pleats), the tree mural, the mobile with hand-stitched birds dangling from a branch, or the name buntings I was able to complete, only on the few points I fell short of being as ready as a new mom “should” be.

I will always fall short of my own ideals unless I find a way to be flexible. To look at other ways, not just as inferior options for legions of “other” people, but for a human version of myself, too.

I was sitting at lunch with my colleagues yesterday, one of few occasions I actually get to do so, owing to regular lunch-time meetings, or frequent lunch duty down in the “dining commons” (since they’ve upgraded the lunch program, the cafeteria’s name has had a makeover, too).  Colleague A had brought in rice crackers from the bulk section of a local cooperative grocery store, so they had no label.  “They’re rice, but they’re not gluten free,” she remarked, in case anyone needed to know. Then she and two of our colleagues proceeded to calculate how many Weight Watchers points they would have.

“Four points!  In 26 crackers!” Colleague B exclaimed, as if they had been slabs of cheesecake instead of innocuous crackers from a health food store.  “I only get 21 in a day.”

It turned out that Colleagues A, B, and C all are allotted only 21 points each per day, and they were already mentally tabulating the point overages that this week’s gluttony of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie would undoubtedly cause.

Just then, Colleague D came in from the soul-sucking task of lunch duty to report that a student had whacked his head and needed the nurse.  The nurse excused herself, and Colleague D continued her report from lunch, complaining about the 9th grade girls.

“None of them eat lunch,” she lamented.  “I don’t know if it’s anorexic behavior or a social thing.  I see some of them snacking – this one eats potato chips – but none of them eat during lunch time.”

My colleagues tsked disapprovingly, saddened by the pressure that mass media has played in these girls’ negative self-image and their resulting poor nutritional choices.

I just ate some crackers.

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