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Spurred by a well meaning occupational therapy student working in the classrooms today who announced to the children that a pumpkin was a vegetable because, “you have to cook vegetables before you eat them,” I embarked on a journey to set straight for myself , once and for all, what differentiates fruits from veggies.  Because she (the student) sure didn’t.  Going from her definition, carrots, lettuce, spinach, peppers, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and snowpeas aren’t vegetables.  Or maybe they are sometimes, like when you cook them.   But then, are apples cooked in a pie vegetables?  Right. 

So I went back to the office, having washed the pumpkin gook off my arm hair as best I could, we consulted Ye Olde Internet, which revealed at least three different definitions to help distinguish betwixt the two. 

1) Botanical. 

This is the argument I’ve long heard for the tomato’s being a fruit.  And I will agree with the scientists out there — the tomato is the fruit of its plant.  The product of the flower of the plant (i.e., the  ripened ovary — can you see why we don’t do this definition in preschool? or 7th grade?) is indeed the fruit of it.  And, having come from the flower, many of these fruit have seeds.  Hence that inconclusive definition that if it has seeds, it’s a fruit.  Because are there not fruit, pure and simple, which have no seeds?  Like our friend the banana, and all of the lovely seedless produce we’ve grown to love: grapes, clementines, watermelon.  If a child is taught this distinction, methinks he’ll be mightily confused. Especially when he learns about women’s anatomy. Conversely, if a specimen of produce comes from a different part of the plant — the stem, the leaf, the root, or the stalk — it is a vegetable.  So, spinach (leaves), celery (stalk), potato (root), carrot (root), lettuce (leaves), or dandelion (stem) are all veggies.  Are herbs veggies, too?  What’s their definition? 

So this means that strawberries, green beans, pumpkins, squash, melons, cauliflower, and tomatoes are all fruit.  Are you prepared for that?  Can you honestly think of a cauliflower as a fruit?  If you can’t, then stop calling the tomato one. Keep it consistent, folks.

2) Gustatory.

Yes, I’m breaking out the big words for yeh.  This is my favorite definition, because this is how I’ve always classified produce, by my own experience with it.  If it’s sweet, it’s a fruit; if it’s savory, it’s a vegetable.  If it’s even important for children to learn how to classify fruits and vege, then this is how they should learn to do so, by their own experiences.  Of course, we have our problems here.  Mr. Apron maintains that grape and cherry tomatoes are sweet, which is why he loves them so, yet all other varieties are not.  Durian, the dreaded stinky fruit, is reported to taste sweet, but I never got past the smell of decomposing chicken carcasses to find out.  Red peppers are sweet, but green ones are savory.  And they’re the same plant. 

3.  Culinary/grocery store/food pyramid

This is somewhat of a construct of preparation and use, and is how they’re categorized for dietary bullshit.  So, if a tomato is a “fruit” by definition #1 (why people chose to single out this poor berry, I have no idea), it is always prepared as a vegetable, or with vegetables — on a pizza, in a sauce, enrobing french fries, in chili, in stew, in ratatouille.  And that somehow makes it a vegetable, by association.  I think.  But, in strawberry rhubarb pie, does the strawberry make the rhubarb a fruit?  Or does the rhubarb make the strawberry a vegetable?  If rhubarb is able to maintain its vegetableness in pie, next to a strawberry, why does tomato lose its identity when cooked next to a pepper? (Which is actually “a fruit” according to definition #1.)  I’m still struggling to wrap my head around this one, but it seems to be based on marketing, cooking, and the USDA.  Which has conveniently bumped potatoes and other root veggies (by definition #1 and #2) into the starch/bread category.  Where does poor corn go?  It’s a starch, but it is totally a grain.  So by #1 it’s a grain, by #2 it’s a veggie, and by #3 it’s, um, sometimes a veggie and sometimes a starch, depending on its neighbors.  The USDA seems to lump produce by its nutritional value, so things high in carbs become starches, things high in sugar become fruit, and things, um, that are left over (and are often colorful and have whatever yummy antioxidants are hip right now), and which children do not like to eat, are all called vegetables. 

Which brings us to definition #4

4. What’s a vegetable?  Something a child won’t eat.  What’s a fruit?  Everything else. 

It’s all bullshit anyway.  One website I found said the entire construct of fruit vs. veggie was contrived, and that there probably isn’t any natural class called “vegetable” anyway.  Are we really trying to teach kids to distinguish fruits and vegetables when a) they can’t tell their play-doh from their peer’s, and b) we as adults can’t meaningfully tell the difference anyway, much less teach it?  That’s not what “nutrition” is at a preschool age; nutrition is eating a variety of healthy foods, trying new things, and using a tissue instead of your sleeve.  It’s not developmentally appropriate to address protein, starch, carbs, fat, and sugar yet — it’s just silly at that age.  And as we keep discovering new micronutrients that are supposedly essential, I question whether it’s appropriate at any age.

I came across a scrap of paper today at work, on which I had scrawled several ideas for essays/blogs about brain surgery. 

  • musical intelligence — I have tackled this one
  • the whomping stick (about my cane) — ditto
  • “throwing up” on people (telling them about my surgery)
  • PT and OT
  • epilepsy vs. alcoholism

That last one I’ve never addressed in any form on this site.  I’ve tried to explain it to people, but without much success.  Here’s the idea: in alcoholism, a person will forever remain an alcoholic, even after years of sobriety.  Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic, because he could go back so easily, slip up so easily, and send himself back down into addiction.

As for epilepsy, I recall Dr. Zager or Dr. Hart saying (I remember it so well, I can’t recall which doctor actually said it) that once the brain has learned to seize, there is always a risk that it will seize again.  The more time the passes seizure-free, the lower the risk of another seizure, the longer one is likely to stay seizure-free, but there remains a chance, a possibility of relapse into a seizure.

So here’s the connection: once the brain has learned that specific “behavior” — be it addiction to alcohol, or seizures — there is always a change it may relapse, especially if one does not avoid triggers, like alcohol, sleep deprivation, caffeine, and dehydration — for epilepsy, or well, alcohol, in the case of alcoholism.

And my question has been, if I had epilepsy once (or for 8 years), will I have epilepsy for the rest of my life?  Does my insurance company think so?  Do I?  Do my doctors?  Am I “cured” of the underlying physiology of the AVM — all indications say yes — yet do I still carry the label of epilepsy?  In the age of people- first language, I can certainly escape the designation of “epileptic”, but can I so easily leave behind the diagnosis, the condition, the lingering possibility of a seizure, and epilepsy itself?

My cousin Paul has died.  Paul was my grandmother’s first cousin.  He was 106 years old.  When I told people I had a cousin that old, they didn’t believe me.  Not that he wasn’t that old, but that he was my cousin.  Though my family isn’t gung-ho into genaeology, we do keep track of generations and know all the proper ways to call cousins and such.  I was never the type to grow up with thirteen women called “aunt”.  Not that we didn’t adopt people into the family; we just always knew who they were.  So Paul was my grandma’s first cousin.  His two daughters are my mother’s second cousins.  The next generation — my third cousins — are four men who are now in their 40s.  And they have, combined, 5 children, my first cousins once removed.  My children will be their fourth cousins.   And so Paul is my first cousin, twice removed. 

I love that we’ve kept track of these things, that I can feel almost as close to that branch of the family as I do to my own first cousins on either side.  I guess growing up geographically isolated from any family meant that I could appreciate and attach myself to family, no matter how distant — as the crow flies, or on the ancestor tree — they were.

When I think about Paul, I think of all he experienced in his 106 years.  He remembered, of course, the Titanic’s sinking.  He remembered all the wars of his lifetime.  More significantly, he remembered when my family came over from The Old Country.  Many many Eastern European Jews came through Ellis Island.  Two branches of my family we know for sure did not.  The branch of which I am speaking came through the port at Annapolis, and stayed with Paul and his family when they lived in Fels Point, a historic neighborhood of Baltimore.  Paul remained in Baltimore his entire life.  He remained independent his entire life. 

Last year, when I was mired in my hospital-based adult practicum for my speech pathology clinical work, Paul’s wife, Marian, died.  She was “only” 96 or so.  We’re not sure; at least, I’m not.  It’s easier to keep track of people once they reach 100.  Before that, the math is fuzzy.  They lived together in a condo of a predominantly Jewish suburb of Baltimore.  When my sister last went to go visit Paul and Marian, Marian was upset that her little sister, who lived across the hall, had been ill.  Seems there is longevity in that side of the family.  When Marian passed away, it tore me up inside.  I was facing death and disease on a daily basis at the hospital, and I was wrecked knowing that their partnership of nearly 80 years was finally over.  When I first met Paul and Marian (in my adult life, in recent memory), it was at Paul’s 100th birthday. He was unfortunately hospitalized, and Marian sat by his side, holding and stroking his hand, as we crowded into the hospital room to wish him a happy birthday.  Willard Scott did so on his broadcast on the Today show, and Paul mused that no one had seemed to care so much at his 99th birthday. 

Six years ago, as I sat there watching in that Baltimore hospital room, I was passing through on my way to Philly for a job interview.  Mr. Apron and I were just at the beginning of our relationship.  That job interview, and all subsequent happenings, have led to the last three years of our married happiness.  I remembered watching, and hoping that I will get to grow old with Mr. Apron, and still show as much kind, caring  affection towards each other as did my two elderly cousins.  When Marian passed away, I was upset for Paul. 

If I didn’t think about him for a while, I was sure he would live forever, the birthdays just clicking past till he was the world’s oldest human.  I figured, if he was alive and well, what mortal illness could possibly be his end?  But last spring Marian died, and I worried for Paul. 

I won’t be going to the funeral, but my mother is flying in.  I wonder what people are going to share of their memories.  I wonder how many facets of Paul’s 106 years will be represented, from his surgical career, to the 20 years he worked at the VA after he retired (finally retiring from full-time work at 85), to his family, his friends, the ghosts of his classmates, etc.  I wonder if they can remember half of what he remembered, half of what he witnessed and saw in his lifetime.  His immediate descendants all live in the Baltimore area, all are still close.  His daughters have each been married around 50 years each.  What a blessing to them it has been to have their anchors, their patriarch, their papa. 

In lieu of the trite RIP which I see emblazoned on car windshields and inked onto biceps, I much prefer to evoke the Jewish tradition of mourning and say, Let his memory be a blessing.  As his life was to all who knew him.

Mr. Apron and I were discussing last night, or this week, how change comes so very slowly.  We were particularly discussing starting new projects, new careers, new businesses, and how “five year plans” may look very different indeed at the five-year mark from how they were initially projected. 

We then moved onto talk about one of my kiddos at work — I’ll call him Antoin — and how slow his progress is in speech therapy.  I’m pretty sure (110%) he has childhood apraxia of speech, which means he has difficulty sequencing the movements needed for speech.  His speech is enormously difficult to understand and I’ve taken to fretting more than I should about how arduous and painstaking slow his progress has been.  How slow any progress or positive change is. 

Today, I had some blessed down time.  Many children were absent, and the children who were here, I had already seen this week.  I had a lovely lunch with Monet, where she requested for and consumed three bowls of mandarin orange segments, and then I came  back to the office.  I spent the next hour writing up an IEP for this afternoon, and making materials.

In grad school, making materials was a necessity.  There were premade flashcards and commercially available toys and such in the cabinets, but they were often being used by the other 59 student therapists at the clinic, or they were inappropriate for our clients’ needs.  I had one little guy who said so few consonants correctly I couldn’t find any word targets that focused on only one sound he was learning.  So I made my own.  I found and printed images from google image, cut and pasted them onto record jackets (excellent weight cardboard), and laminated them in the back room, inhaling the heady fumes of melting plastic.  At my school-age practicum, I continued to make materials when I grew tired of the materials in the cupboard, or when I was looking to tailor an activity specifically to a child’s targets.  One little boy was having difficulty answering questions and using pronouns correctly.  I don’t even think he knew what I wanted him to do.  I drew a boy and a girl, several props (jump-rope, skateboard, bicycle, book, snacks), and three backdrops (home, school, and playground).  I started by just placing a character on a background, and asking where the boy/girl was.  Since there were few distractions (compared some some I-Spy-style of other illustrations), they had more success.  I upped the ante and gave the boy/girl a prop.  “What is he doing?” I asked.  And they were able to do this.  I worked on “he” and “she”, and even “they”.  The interactive nature of the toy meant I had raptly attentive six-year-old boys, and because the materials were done thoughtfully, I was able to achieve my (and their) objectives.

Today I found myself again making materials.  This time it’s not because there are no commercially available tools, or the center doesn’t have money for educational materials.  The kids in room 6 are starting to get assigned daily “jobs”, such as feeding the fish, holding open the door, and, the perennial favorite, being the line leader.  On Monday I saw them struggling to tell the teacher which job they wanted, without any sort of visual hint.  They ended up asking for jobs that were already taken, or just telling the teacher where they wanted to play.

So today I made a job board.  I found images online, printed, laminated, and glued them to a recycled file folder.  Now the teachers can use clothespins with the kids’ names on them to select daily jobs. 

I presented my gift to the teacher this afternoon.  Why did I bother?  This is not in my job description, per se.  It will end up helping the children I support in that room, but it was not done with them specifically in mind.  I’m not particularly smitten with job boards, but I do love to see kids helping out in the classroom.  After seeing so many daycares where the teachers don’t know what to do with the kids while they, the adults, set the tables, it’s refreshing to see teachers who want a systematic way to involve the kids, and lighten their load. 

But I didn’t set out to that end, either.  There are so many changes I want to make here, so many ways I see I can enrich the experiences of all the children, but I am not their teacher.  Those are not my classrooms.  I do not run them, I do not make my own decisions about materials to go in them, the routines the kids do, or the objectives they learn.  I am part of a team.  If I want to stand a chance at introducing my knowledge and experience in music-based transitions, at brainstorming new ways to organize and stock the house corner, at rearranging the furniture to decrease running and facilitate ample room for circle time, at innovating new art materials, I have to build my rapport with the team.  I have to build relationships and trust with the teachers.

No one likes anyone new to come from “outside” and descend upon her and tell her how to do her job.  I’ve seen and heard the vitriol aimed at the program directors who mix and match lead teachers and associates, who dictate new bizarre mandates, and who change things from above without consulting the teams.  I have no need for those attitudes. 

Even though the changes I want to make are not huge, they are significant, and I need to make baby steps into the collaboration between teachers and therapists.  If change occurs in a thousand tiny moments, I need to seek out and seize those moments as they come by.

And that’s  why I was inhaling the fumes of melting plastic this afternoon — to start making the thousand tiny changes.

Because I finally have a cell phone camera, I snapped up this piece of Irony, part deux, on my drive home from work:


You may not be able to fully read the bumper stick on the right.  It says “JESUS never fails”.  The one on the right (and, actually, also right beneath the Jesus sticker) is the iconic AAA rectangle.  Because you may trust in Jesus never to fail, but Jesus didn’t build your Lexus, and he sure doesn’t drive a tow truck or carry jumper cables and a spare gallon of gas.  That, my friends would be a useful Jesus.

A friend of ours teaches 8th grade English and has professed to have a hard time defining “irony” for her class.  When she gave a definition, supported by strong (so she perceives) examples, they still failed to latch onto it.  So now, whenever I come across my own example, I think of facing her class and saying, “that  is irony”.  Hmpf.

As a result of birthday, Hanukkah and other “wisted” item debaucles, I have tried to be more specific in requesting gifts for occasions.  My mother usually asks if there’s something I have in mind, which is a great opportunity to ask for a GPS or a new set of mixing bowls.  It works best with things I don’t care so much about.  Or things I’d think they wouldn’t be able to fuck up.  When I have something exact in mind, I of course, try to describe it using key details, brand names, giving links to website when available.  That is how I ended up with Honda-brand floor mats designed and fit (ha ha) exactly to my car as a birthday gift.  My car, being “used” (for all of 4,000 miles) did not come with floor mats, and the dollar store variety left me with doubts about the relationship between a floor mat and my accelerator.  Seeing as how many thousands of Toyotas were just recalled with such an issue, I asked for, and received, the right floor mats.  Because my husband gets it and knows what I want.

He’s awesome, by the way.

Many Hanukkahs ago, before I knew the mantra of “If you want something done right, do it yourself” I let myself get very disappointed over a gifted sweater.  I had wanted very badly a turtleneck sweater, which was in fashion in 1999, I think.  I asked that it be cotton, and a turtleneck.  That is all.  I don’t even like turtlenecks, but all these sweaters were coming out in flattering shapes with ribbing and cables, so I asked for one, letting the color decision be totally irrelevant.  I knew they were in EVERY store that year.

I opened a Ralph Lauren Chaps (yes, men’s label) crew neck sweater.  Oh, but it was cotton.  She had listened to one aspect of my request.  How do you lie about liking that one in front of your mother?  “Thank you, but it’s men’s size Large and I will never wear it.  Oh, and it’s nothing like what I wanted.”

Another time, the same year (I struck out quite a bit before I wisened up), I asked for the proverbial, everyone-on-campus-had-it peacoat.  Color, again, was not important, but I wanted basic, boring, easy-to-find.  And was given what looked like a men’s brown tweed blazer, not even warm enough to serve as a winter coat. 

This year, my uncle (Mom’s brother) was pestering her to find out what I wanted for my birthday, so she decided to give him one of those specific, can’t-mess-it-up missions.  I had this summer, when Mom was at the outlets, asked if she could get me a new pair of 3-strap Birkenstocks, as my current pair are, in the usual fashion, wearing completely through the soles.  They were out, it being the end of the season, but she entrusted this mission to Uncle Leo.  3 strap Birkenstocks, color unimportant, price no object (since he lives for ebay and outlet shopping).  What do you think of when you hear “3-strap Birkenstock”?  As opposed to “2-strap Birkenstock”?  What would be so important about that third strap that I would specifically ask for it?  Wouldn’t you think it would serve some additional purpose other than the 2 straps already on it such that I would prefer it?   Here’s my schematic of the 3-strap Birkenstock; and here is my Uncle’s/mother’s schematic representation of a 3-strap Birkenstock.  So, as you can see, I received not one, but two pairs of the latter, in both brown leather, and black suede.  They may not stay on my feet, but they sure are pretty.

However, the story does not stop here, because we still haven’t gotten around to irony in birthday presents.  So far, we’ve only explored expected results given my blind foolishness and my family’s ill-fated, yet predictable, attempts to fulfill my wishlist.

Today I signed for another package from my uncle, a random box that arrived with little warning or purpose.  I opened it to reveal…

Wait.  I forgot to tell you what I told my mom I wanted for my birthday this year (aside from Birkenstocks).  I wanted a modern wearable-to-work rain coat.  My rain gear currently consists of a “rain cape” circa 1972, a surplus air force rain jacket, and a royal blue double-breasted raincoat with huge white buttons and lined with red fleece.  But nothing I can feel secure going out for a nice evening out, or to wear to work and be taken seriously.  Unless they took Zorro seriously when he swooped in for a business meeting in his cape.  I don’t have the matching mask, though.  So I asked for a trench coat, something which I think is an easy style to find in impermeable fashions these days.  Mom’s package hasn’t arrived yet with the rest of my birthday presents (only the aforementioned birthday suit came on time), but you’ll never guess what Uncle Leo’s box contained.

A gorgeous lambskin trenchcoat in ochre with an asymmetrical closure and stand-up collar.  Perhaps not a “raincoat” in strictest sense, but a beautiful garment.  How did he know?  I’m so glad I didn’t ask him for it, or I might have gotten this instead.

And that, my friends, is the definition of irony.

As soon as I unwrapped 2009’s birthday suit, I recalled the one from year’s past that was stumping me last week when I wrote the Birthday Suit post. 

I recalled it, because, as I opened this year’s, I had a flashback.  I had a flashback because it was made of the exact same fabric.  We’re not talking wool crepe, or red chenille, or even a similar plaid.  Exact same.  Teal print with chairs emblazoned on it.  Arm chairs and Eames chairs, chaises and footstools, high chairs and wing chairs.  And I don’t think she remembered the repeat.  She just thought it was so clever!


I’ll have to dig up a picture of this beauty.  It’s a dress — pattern is pretty nice, actually — with a notched neckline.  My ample bust just fits in the bodice, pushing the notched part out, so the corners turn down, exposing cleavage.  And there’s a jacket.  It’s bolero/cropped length, with puffed elbow sleeves pleated to a buttoned cuff.  The tailoring was very nice; Mom always tries harder for gifts.  She finished the inside seams and put in a zipper beautifully.  I told her as much; it was the only honest(ly nice) thing I could think to say as I picked up the phone to tell her I had opened it. 

Ironically, we were watching Project Runway during the opening of the birthday suit.  We waited till a commercial break, then tore into the gift and groaned.  Oh, the print.  It can’t be so bad.  And it wouldn’t be, except for the fact that the entire dress and jacket combo (a “suit,” mom calls it) was made out of this fabric.  I could tolerate the skirt being that fabric, or the jacket, or the bodice, or the totebag (yes, it came in a matching totebag), but not all of it.  It looks like a clown costume or pajamas.  As we dejectedly turned back to Project Runway, I thought of what Tim Gunn would say:

“Oh, I don’t know.  That fabric is coming on a bit strong.”

“Well, if you’re determined to use that print, make it work.”

“Hmm, you’ve got a long way to go if you want to make it to Bryant Park.  Work, work, work!”

And then there’s Heidi:

“In fashion one day you are in, and the next, you are out.  I don’ t think this was ever in.  You are out.”

Since it did fit, I threw a green sweater over the top, buttoned it all the way up so it only looked like a chair-print skirt, and wore it to work on Friday.  Because I am a good and dutiful daughter.  Because I am grateful and I am trying to see the potential in this outfit.  Because it is the right thing to do.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m able to look forward to my birthday this week!  My birthday is October 9th.  Though it put me in the younger end of all my classes, I have always enjoyed most aspects of having an October birthday.  As I walked Finley today, we felt the warm sun counteracting the crispiness of the fall air.  We crunched through the first leaves to fall.  Mums and late roses are still in bloom, being gradually replaced by harvest-related items.  The supermarkets are full of root vegetables in those classic autumnal colors.  Pomegranates are in.  Clementines are coming.  And I can finally make pumpkin bread again without the strange looks that accompany the presentation of my favorite quick bread in March. 

It’s finally cool enough to snuggle under blankets at night, yet still warm enough not to need a jacket during the warm parts of the day.  Corduroy is coming, flannel is coming, wool is coming.  My jacket collection will soon be aired, and the novelty of coats means I’m not yet tired of bundling up.  I relish it after a hot summer of running between air-conditioned oases and suffering in endless heat all day long.  Fall is finally here.

Which always means my birthday, in this part of the world.  The only part about my birthday that’s not easy is that, moving around a lot when I was a child, I had never quite made new friends by that point in the school year, and my birthday celebrations were a little lackluster.  New schools and October birthdays were hard.  Ninth grade, freshman year of college, grad school even.  Now, thank goodness, Mr. Apron and I are free to enjoy our own celebration of my birthday.  If I’m lucky, my sister is able to join us, and my mother has come out in years past, too. 

This year, my sister has “fall break” (aka Columbus Day = 3-day weekend, if you can call that a “break”) to coincide with my birthday weekend, so she’ll be joining the festivities.  Mr. Apron has been making secret plans and sharing them with my sister over e-mail, buying secret gifts and squirreling them away, and generally being very sly.  I love it.  He does all the planning, and I just get excited.  One year, he whisked me off to Hartford, Connecticut and we got engaged on the porch of Mark Twain’s house.  Another year he bundled me off on an early morning hike.  Another time he kidnapped me to Brooklyn where we went to an indie flea market.  He knows what I like and takes great pleasure in carrying out these secret missions. 

Another tradition that goes with my birthday is the annual Birthday Suit.  Of course, my first birthday suit is the one I was born in, but each year my mother sews me a “public” birthday suit.  When I was younger, I took great delight in dressing up on the day of my birthday and wearing my new outfit  to school.  It helped carry that special birthday feeling all day long, through fractions and the scientific method and gym class.  Unfortunately, in recent years, the Birthday Suit has become less of a sure thing.  My mother has had 2 spectacular busts in recent years, and I try not to put too much stock in this year’s. 

Last year wasn’t so awful, truly, but it was quite a production.  Mom procured a refrigerator box, out of which she cut a life-size Me, and then dressed Me in my Birthday Suit.  I think there were pants that didn’t quite fit (always with receipts from TJ Maxx), but the top.  Oh, the top.  She thinks I’m still a size 4 with the same breasts I had in 9th grade.  This was a wrap-top in a yellow fabric replete with cars, palm trees, and general “surfer beach bum” theme.  Would I pick it out on my own?  Probably not.  But would I wear it in her presence to be polite?  If I could close it.  Wrap tops are tricky for us well-endowed ladies, due to excess cleavage.  This one didn’t even close around my buxomness.  Oh, I’ll alter it, I assured her as she beamed at the cleverness of the presentation.  It’s sitting in a box on the top shelf of my crafting area marked “UFOs”: UnFinished Objects, where it shall remain until the guilt mounts.  Or something.  That was 2008. 

In 2007, trying to stack the deck, I requested a specific pattern — a popular Asian-inspired style of dress — and she supplied the colorful rayon print.  That was a resounding success.  People ask me about it every time I wear it, and I wear it often.

The Birthday Suit of 2006 was a moderate success — a bias-cut skirt made of pink Cabbage Patch Kids fabric.  It’s very cute, even in a size 4, though the colors in the ‘Kids yarn hair have been a bit difficult to match to a top.  I have worn it several times. 

It was 2005’s Birthday Suit which I recoil in terror from.  This is the Birthday Suit I dread will come back to haunt me every year as I open the box.  I was a preschool assistant teacher from 2003 until 2006, when I went back to school to get my Master’s in Speech Pathology.  I think as long as people hear the word “teacher” they start thinking of tacky apple-themed gifts.  Whiel others had given me notecards, buttons, and desk accessories, I had thus far eschewed the ubiquitous tote bag, and I had hoped my mother was immune.  Alas; fall is also the time for apple-, school bus-, and chalkboard-theme fabrics.  I received overalls covered in those bastions of teacher themed objects: a white background with chalkboards, apples, ABCs, rulers, and school buses.  And if elasticized pants are a sin to wear in the under 65 crowd, then overalls with EZ-access zippers are, too.  I could not pretend to like those, or even to make plans for alteration into a toilet seat cover or drawer liners.  While I have held onto many items of clothing for sentimental reasons (including last year’s wrap-top, my winter coat from age 3, and the first pair of pants I ever modified into bell bottoms), I could not even pretend to attach anything but tackiness-induced trauma to those overalls. 

Maybe they’re in some Salvation Army store, being snapped up and appreciated by a teacher who likes that sort of thing.  I wish her all the best.

Mom has been excitedly talking on the phone with me the last week, teasing me with non-hints about this year’s Birthday Suit.  I can bet it’s going to be colorful.  All I know from her “hints” is that it has animals on it.  Now I’m dreading leopard and zebra prints or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  She mailed it today.  It will likely arrive Wednesday.  As a dutiful daughter, I will give myself some hope for a repeat of 2007’s dress, or the one from 2003, which if I remember correctly, was patchwork wrap pants.  Those I only had to hem myself. 

I love the tradition.  I love the fact that my mother has crafted a new outfit for me to feel special in each year since I was born, when she “crafted” me.  I love that she’s able to show her love that handmade way, instead of with a trip to the mall.  I enjoy and look forward to the tradition each year, even as I fear the product of her imagination.  Sometimes she knows me, she gets me, she nails the outfit.  Other times she’s so far off, it’s like the gifts of Barbie clothes my aunt used to send me for Hanukkah, to the house where no Barbie doll had ever lived. 

I guess it’s a metaphor for our relationship.  As I continue to grow up, she still knows the foundation of Me, the ideas I have and colors I like and values that I hold.  She may not have kept up with some of my interests and abilities, but at least she knows not to make me a Barbie jumper.  I hope.

Sharing is difficult for little kids.  If pressed to explain, adults can’t really explain it either.  When they yell at children to “share!” the subtext seems to be, “Stop having problems that I have to intervene with”.  Sharing seems to mean, “using the same materials with little conflict,” but I prefer the term “taking turns” when it comes to a favored toy, or something which 2 children cannot use simultaneously.  When teachers yell at kids to “share” a book, they can look at it together.  With a ball, they can play catch.  With a computer or a favorite truck, or a prized dolly, this is trickier.  In these cases, “take turns” is much more appropriate. 

With typical children you can help them learn to delay gratification AND ask for a turn.  My choice of phrase is, “When you’re done with it, can I have a turn?”  Unfortunately, most kids I work with cannot handle the length of that sentence nor the conditional nature of the meaning.  In that case, we simplify it to “My turn” or “Can I have a turn?” and then help the kid to do something else while he’s waiting.

My colleague has been working on “sharing” with a little boy who thinks all toys belong to him, all the time.  He hasn’t quite progressed to even “my turn” yet, but he definitely has been listening to his teacher’s pleas to “share”.  This week, my coworker observed him wrenching a toy quite forcefully from another child, screaming, “SHARE!”

He’s on his way.

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October 2009