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Mr Apron thinks I should blog more.  He even nominated me for some distinction on 20SBs to the effect.  He’s out on the town tonight, and I have 20 minutes before I’m out to go visit with friends, so I think I”ll oblige him!

The show was a hit.  I sold tickets to anyone who would listen to me rant.  We hit record audience attendance by our closing, and on Saturday night and Sunday, we earned extra curtain calls.  I was beaming as the curtain closed, and my face hurt from smiling.  The last time it hurt from smiling was at our wedding.  It was a great feeling as we closed the show, and made me feel like I CAN do this again.  Despite all the feelings of inadequacy vis-a-vis my dancing, my singing, my ability to memorize lines, it turned out fine in the end.  The off-stage drama in no way hindered the on-stage magic, and given the amount of backstage insanity, it’s a miracle.  We suffered through unforgivable absenteeism in the women’s chorus, leads and choristers who dropped out, leaving gaps to fill; sickness among cast and crew including diabetes, a car accident, pneumonia, lost voices, and other unspeakables; mishaps with the costumes, disagreements with the facility, and bickering among the cast.  One pirate proudly told the make-up mistress that he was the “boss” when it came to deciding which and how much make-up he was going to wear.  And yet it all happened in the end. 

Now, I have a strange amount of time on my hands!  Mr. Apron and I found ourselves at home on Tuesday evening unsure what to do with ourselves.  I confessed to Mr. Apron last night I was concerned that now the show is over, I’ll sink back into my old routines (when I’ m home alone) of rotting in front of the computer, and rotting in front of the television.  As engaging as the My Aquarium app is on Facebook, and as much education as I’m gleaning from Cash Cab and Spongebob, I feel my mother’s voice in my head, saying, “Do you need a ‘project’?”  Which is code for, “You’re not doing anything productive.  Let me occupy you with mindless tasks and things I don’t have time/inclination to do myself.  And I would find myself sewing sweaters for dogs, wrapping presents for other people’s godmothers, shucking corn, taking out recycling, walking dogs, taking bags of stuff upstairs, and hauling other bags of stuff downstairs.  She anticipates my reaction to the above question now, when I visit ye olde homesteade, and has taken to asking if I”d like a “P-word”.  I still shudder.  I need to occupy myself.  If I don’t, I feel depressed about how unproductive I’m being, which makes me more melancholy.  And then I do even less.

So Mr. Apron had some ideas for me last night, as we lay falling asleep, yet unable to stop talking.  We call these times “slumber parties”, recalling the sleepovers of my youth when no one was able to actually fall asleep and my mild-mannered father would come upstairs several times throughout the night to shush us.  He suggested I take another art class at the art center nearby, or take on some more students to tutor (I’m down to one kiddo per week), or rejoin the JCC to combat the lethargy I feel when I look at sewing patterns and realize how sewing larger sizes than I care to makes me feel.  Since art classes cost $200-300, and it’s late in the semester, that one is out, but I’m digging the JCC idea.  Mr. Apron gets a discount for being an EMT, and we live SO CLOSE to the JCC it’s kind of ridiculous that we can’t haul our asses down there twice a week to feel better about ourselves.  Something to do + something to about the tightness in my pants that has crept up since August and stubbornly not. gone. away = a very good idea indeed. 

I love my husband.  He helps me find ways to feel better about myself without berating me for feeling bad about myself.  I am thankful for him all year round.  Thanks for encouraging me to blog.  I love you.

Well, folks, opening night has come and gone.  Mr. Apron asked me, on the ride home, if I get nervous being on stage, after so many years behind the scenes, or in the audience.  On Sunday, when we had our first run-through on the stage in the performance space, I was disoriented.  I didn’t have trouble translating the set-up we had used in our rehearsal space; I didn’t have trouble figuring my stage left from my stage right.  I was struck by the existence of the space beyond the stage.  The rehearsal space (choral pratice room) had no audience.  We used every inch of the space for dancing, mincing about, and singing.  The edge of our “stage” was a mere 2 inches from the piano.  We had no trouble coming all the way downstage.  The first time I stepped downstage on our real stage, I was apprehensive of falling off into the orchestra pit.  I spend some time upstage, and some time all the way down, teetering on the edge.  And, frankly, it was a little scary to stare out into the seat of blackness which would hopefully be full of people come opening night.  Scarier still was opening my mouth to sing, and hearing my voice be sent forth into the blackness.  I don’t particularly care for the sound of my own voice, sung or spoken, and hearing myself so exposed humbled me even further.  Thank goodness for all the choral numbers.  I don’t think I could stand having any solo parts. 

Last night, though, with my glasses off, I pranced and minced, and sang and danced, and acted and reacted.  I mention the fact that I had my glasses off, because the audience was just fuzzy enough that I would not have recognized anybody out there.  It was thus quite easy to keep up my 4th wall!  No, I didn’t feel stage fright, or nerves.  My stomach did, but I wasn’t particuarly nervous.  All the excitement at having our costumes, and make-up and props and scenery fueled our performance, our opening night.  Having friends in the audience, wherever they were seated, helps too. 

I don’t know how I was able to get up and go to work this morning, but I did.  It started with the street sweeper at 6:15am, which sounded strangely like teenagers driving by in their low-riders with the stereo on and the bass turned way up.  Mr. Apron freaked and encouraged me to hustle to move my car.  No place really to put it until I left for work at 7:30am, since all surrounding streets were also being swept.  And there were still hundreds of cars parked.  It seems unreasonable that they’d expect us to have moved all our cars before working hours, especially given the fact that they were doing the whole neighborhood.  Yet they kept sweeping, many times over.  It also might have made sense to wait until 9am, simply because then most cars would be gone, and they wouldn’t have had to go back down our single block to hit the spot left open by the one car that drove away since their last pass.  I inched my way into our neighbor’s parking pad, since they’re not home.  Of course, upon trying to leave, I found the back alley blocked at one end by an ambulance, so I had to back down the alley.  I think the forces that be were trying to tell me not to go to work today.  Yet somehow I managed.  I saw my kids, I did some therapy.  I did some assessment.  I pretended to speak some Spanish.  I helped a little boy make his “snake sound” in exchange for dizzying spins around the room.  I filed some notes.  I ate some lunch. 

And finally, I can put work away, where it belongs, and focus again on the show.  This is what we’ve been working towards.  These are the moments we performing whackos live for.  These are the weekends that make us sign up for the next show, forgetting Hell week, forgetting load-in, forgetting the wardrobe malfunctions, broken parasols, diva performers, and mutiny among the ranks.  This weekend contains the adrenaline rush. 

It’s show time!

As you may know, I’m going to be in a play this weekend, with Mr. Apron.  The joke I keep telling is that I got tired of being a theatre widow when he went off to do his plays (he’s been in at least six on stage, and directed at least one other  in the time we’ve been together).  As the rehearsals ran steadily later, I would fall asleep on the couch waiting for him.  I love to see him on stage.  Selfish me, I always derive such pleasure of watching him, that he must be performing solely for my benefit.  I’ve been involved with his shows in some part before, whether offering ideas, dramaturgy, or helping out with hair, make-up and costumes.  But I haven’t been on stage since 2001, when I was in Bernard Slade’s “Same Time, Next Year” as part of a peer’s student senior thesis in college.  She went all bisexual with the show, mixing genders in each scene; you know, stretching the bounds of on-stage relationships and such.  My father came up to me after the show, and, with a twinkle in his eye, told me he accepted my being a lesbian.  I thanked him, and told it was called acting.  My boyfriend at the time almost blew a gasket when I told him I’d be on stage in lingerie and there would be a kiss or two (straight and lesbian).  Again, it was called acting.  In his paranoia (and undiagnosed schizoid tendencies), he expressed the fear I’d “feel something” when I kissed either gender actor, and leave him because of the “spark” I’d shared on stage.  Uh huh. 

And now I’m back on stage, sharing a spark with my husband.  We put in 13 hours yesterday, between the loading at the warehouse, set construction, costume debacles, sitz probe (sounds evil, doesn’t it?) with the orchestra, and cue-to-cue run through.  We got home at nearly midnight, and I’m back at work, for an insanely scheduled week. 

I have a laundry list of things to work during the show, and things to buy for the show, neither of which I have time to practice or purchase.  Our nightgowns are transparent and no one has provided full-length slips.  Mr. Apron’s trousers fall down, and his costume, which is supposed to be military, looks like a marching band reject.  Our parasols (guaranteed not to break, so we bought no extras) are breaking.  And my skirt, which was ordered for me from the rental company, who had been given information that I am 5’0″ tall, was so long that I not only have to wear it at my bust, but they had to hem 2 more inches.  I’m swimming in fabric. 

Somehow or another, we’ll figure out our blocking and footwork, the costumes will be patched together, and the curtain wil rise on the debut of my return to the stage.  As we get closer and closer, I know I’ll be torn between the impending excitement of performing a great show for people I love (and strangers, too), and the exhaustion factor that led Mr. Apron to remark, as we drove home down deserted streets last night, “You’re never doing another show with me again, are you?”

It’s certainly been a learning experience for me — my first musical, my first time learning dance steps outside of aerobics class — and it hasn’t all been positive.  I’ve been so frustrated trying to match pitches and learn lyrics, not to mention exhausted on mornings after rehearsal.  But it has taught me about myself.  Even if I’ve never done a music before, I remember the excitement of getting my costume, of learning what hairstyles we’ll need, of walking the stage, of looking out at a dark theatre and imagining an attentive audience. 

And I can’t wait.

P.S.  Blogs may be less frequent this week!

Besides white elephants, my mother gives another type of gift.  Once she learns that someone is “into” something, whether it’s Stash brand Licorice Spice Tea, or rubber ducks, or The Three Stooges, or perfume, she doesn’t let go.  She engages in pursuit of products matching these themes, and lavishes them unceasingly on the unwitting recipients.  My cousin is now 38, and I have no doubt she still receives rubber duckies every October for her birthday, because she once happened to mention in passing she thought they were cute.  And it’s never just one tchotchke.  I was looking for a gift for my clinical supervisor at the end of the semester to thank her for her support and mentorship, and I made the mistake of asking for help.  Mom, upon learning this woman’s penchant for making to-do lists, and her first initial, sent me 5 monogrammed packets of post-it brand list pads. 

If you let it slip that you’re having a hard time finding something, she’ll set her sights on it, and you’ll receive, in due course, 6 boxes of red bush tea, 12 cans of Chef Boyardee pasta without meatballs, 8 packs of string bikini style underwear in size 5 (okay, my secret’s out), and untold amounts of men’s shirts in neck 15, sleeve 34/35 (and so’s Mr. Apron’s). 

Each time we visit my parents’ house, there are a gross of Canada Dry ginger ale waiting for us.  Never mind that we’ve defected to Caffeine Free Diet Coke.  And I don’t know how to call her off, how to submit a cease and desist order. 

For some people it must be a joy to receive these items.  Oh, they’re so hard to find.  Oh, she knows me so well.  Oh, I’ll never run out of my specific brand of deodorant or chocolate chips.  But for others, I think it must be embarrassing. 

Which is why I ended up only giving 2 of the monogrammed listing pads to my supervisor, and gave away the others to other people with the first initial of “B”.  I think it would be awkward for them. 

All this to arrive at today’s event, a family dinner, transpiring in 3 minutes (Mr. Apron, where are you?).  Mr. Apron’s big sister is having a birthday today, and I let slip to my mother that she was having trouble finding 5oz Dixie cups with Spongebob on them.  Her favorite motif in bathroom cups.  This week, in a large carton, arrived 2 boxes (total 180) of Spongebob cups, plus 4 packs of 10 each (40 total) Spongebob lunch bags, and a Spongebob bubble bath thingy.  I wrapped up the Dixie cups, and made an executive decision to save the rest for Hanukkah.  I just couldn’t present all the stuff tonight next to her other gifts…Mr. Apron’s family is not a pile-o’presents family.  They choose, instead, a few thoughtful gifts that don’t clutter the recipient’s house.  My family is–haven’t you guessed by now?– the inventor of the piles.  Much is “cute” gifts, tchotchkes, inexpensive things Mom collects all year long with the recipient in mind.  She LOVES having these missions, these quests for hard-to-find or special-interest gifts.  She loves giving. 

You’d just better make sure to send a thank-you note, or  you’ll suffer donations in your name to wildlife foundations instead.  No one, not even Mr. Apron’s family, wants that.  She will rarely kick you off the list entirely, but you’ll get spoken of in tense tones as the one who didn’t send a thank you note, or the one who sent only 1 note for all four gift giving occasions in the past year.  Oh, yes, there are tallies.  And terse words. 

Remember folks; send a thank-you note.  Yes: even for 5oz. Spongebob cups.

You are what people see when they walk past, drive past, and ride past.  You are the only thing that many people read on a given day, now that TV guide has been replaced by the On Demand screen, and people order food from picture menus by number.  I drive past myriad signs on the way to and from work — signs for hair-braiding, vacuum repairs, corner grocery stores, nail salons, child care facilities, Chinese restaurant holes-in-the-wall (that also sell steak sandwiches, seafood, and fried chicken), real estate offices, and private ambulance companies.  They all have thing in common — they are not immune from the pandemic profligacy of the apostrophe S for plural words:

  • Michael’s Nail’s
  • Little One’s of the Future
  • EMT’s wanted
  • Two Brother’s Market, selling soda’s, milk, candy, and cigarette’s
  • Creative Corners hair braiding, specializing in weave’s, sew-in’s, and scalp treatment’s
  • And a realtor, with a huge mural-style sign on the side of a row-home, selling “home’s”

You are the sign-printers.  True, you have no editors like the newspapers and magazines have.  True, you are operating out of your basement inhaling the sweet fumes of melting vinyl, and pounding grommet in by hand.  But you are role models for grammar.  No one reads newspapers anymore, no one regulates the garbage content of the internet (like my own blog), and schools aren’t teaching grammar anymore.  You have a job, when Haver Convience Store (actual spelling of a store I pass every day) calls you for a sign, to look up the fucking word, to make sure it’s spelled as best you can.  You have a responsibility to know how to make plural nouns.  I learned this in 3rd grade.  Now I shall review with you, in case you didn’t make it past 2nd:

To make a plural noun, add S.  If it ends in S or Z, or CH, add ES.  If it ends in Y, drop the Y and add IES, unless the letter before the Y is a vowel; then just add S.  Watch me pluralize:

nail –> nails

cigarette–> cigarettes

fry –> fries

Did you see an apostrophe anywhere?  Did you see a “hyphen,” as someone once called it, when instructing me how to spell her own child’s name?  NO! 

Now you try.  Lest I open some can’s of whoop-ass on your sign’s.

Today Mr. Apron wrote about the piano we are hopefully about to acquire, a relic from the days when people just had pianos as pieces of furniture.  Did they have them in hopes someone in the family would play, or because someone inevitably already did?  Were piano lessons a given, a rite of passage much as SAT tutoring is today?  Did Mr. Apron’s grandfather really buy the piano to match the window treatments?  We began to discuss these pressing issues after Mr. Apron let me read his blogpost.  I recalled an interview I heard on NPR about a singer-songwriter named Alice Peacock who has begun rescuing old pianos from Craiglist and homes where they are unwanted and housing them in her barn.  Where did this spate of unwanted pianos come from?  Well, we reasoned, people of our grandparents’ generation, if not already dead (as our 8 collective grandparents are), have downsized into condos and townhomes and have decidedly not taken their pianos with them, either into Shady Acres or to the grave.  And their children no longer view having a piano, or playing a piano, as a necessity, as they’re saving their money for SAT tutoring, or spending it on unlimited data plans for their family’s smartphones.  Those who do want pianos, and want a smaller, or cheaper alternative to the $50K it costs for a gently used living-room-sized 7′ Steinway, aren’t buying the spinet/upright/console pianos that Mr. Apron’s grandfather, and my paternal grandmother bought back in the heyday of such pianos.  The spinet we’re hopefully acquiring is from then as well.  No one wants to play the tinny sound that comes from a spinet piano, nor to move the 300lb weight, nor to tune the cramped innards.  People these days who want an affordable option for a child to learn on choose electronic keyboards. 

A few years ago, living on my own for the first time, I discovered I missed being able to sit down and play piano recreationally.  My brother had long surpassed me in technical ability, and I had no designs on going anywhere with it, but I found that, when I would go visit my family, I spent downtime between insanities in the living room, playing the familiar keys.  And so I made the mistake of asking for a keyboard.  I was, I think, specific.  I knew I wanted 88 keys, the same number as a real piano, and that I wanted the keys to be touch-sensitive, so that when you banged harder, you’d get a louder note, as on a real piano.  I forget what this feature is called in the world of keyboards, but it’s not important. 

I referenced in my last post (“OMG”) the gifts my family often lavishes upon us.  I have also mentioned in my birthday posts the danger of asking for gifts from my family.  This was no exception.  What arrived (with beaming smiles on my father’s and brother’s faces [for it was the latter’s idea]) can be accurately described as a MIDI-input device.  What arrived, in my mind is an ivory elephant.  This is a keyboard which must be plugged into a computer to work.  It is only keys, same as the keyboard I’m typing on now, and requires a computer to process and generate output from the information.  The computer of course needs software (something called Cakewalk, which they generously provided), a sound card, and speakers, to play.  The computer I had did not have the ability to make the monstrosity play.  So my parents bought me a brand-spanking new computer, from which I now type, which also did not possess the necessary requirements in the way of sound cards, patches, and all the other bullshit.  So they then delivered a computer hailing from circa 1995 which had succeeded at home in the initial test-run of the keyboard.  And left me, with 2 computers (my former computer had just bitten the dust), and a gigantic piece of inert plastic with black and white keys.  Mute.  For I, too, was speechless. 

We set it up in our last apartment, and all I needed to do to play my new keyboard was boot up the dinosaur, turn on the minute speakers, open the Cakewalk program, fiddle around to tell it I wanted piano, not violin, drum kit, or full orchestra.  And then play.  Why, oh why?  Why couldn’t I have a self-contained machine?   I assume the idea was that, with Cakewalk, I could compose music, play any instrument I wanted, save and playback my creations.  Ideally, I’d upgrade the sound with bigger speakers, and have a hoedown on my MIDI toy.  Whose dream do you suppose that was?  I’ll give you 3 guesses, the first 2 don’t count.  My brother is a born tinkerer, one who soups up cars, stereos, skateboards, even trashcans.  Once he fitted a shoebox to the top of his trashcan so it was at the same height as his bed and he could pitch his Mountain Dew cans and Dorito wrappers with minimal effort. 

His dream, my white elephant.  I’ve tried to sell it on Craigslist, but all I got for the keyboard were offers from the usual Craiglist whackos offering half of what I asked for, pressuring me into selling that night in a back-alley, paying in “genuwine” gems in exchange for my toy.  My $200 (retail) toy, which is now useless to us, as we donated the computer it used to work with when we moved.  I hadn’t played it in months anyway, having cannibalized the mouse from that computer when the optical mouse on our functional computer rolled over and died one day. 

Does anyone want a MIDI input keyboard?  Retail value $200.  Worked perfectly last time it was plugged into the only computer on the planet it’s compatible with.  I’ll even throw in the stool and a free music stand.  And if you act now, I’ll throw in a fresh plate of hot brownies to sweeten the deal.  Please?!?

“This town doesn’t have a one hour cleaner so I had to buy a new suit, except the only store you could buy a new suit in has got the flu. Got that? The whole store got the flu.”

–Vinny Gambini

I went to pick up our watches and the cuckoo clock today from the jeweler/horologist, and there was a sign on the door: “We have the flu.  Closed till November 11th.”  And if I were Vinny Gambini, I’d also say, “What?  The whole store has the flu?!” except that I know they do. 

Our jewelry store is run by OMG, as we call him, Old Man Gerlach, and his son, Robert.  We first found them back in 2005, when we were shopping for engagement and wedding rings.  We actually found my engagement ring at an antiques mall way down Route 1 towards Delaware, but it needed to be sized, as it was a little loose.  So we looked at the box it had come in, which bore the name of the jeweler who rented that case at the mall, and took it to Mr. Gerlach.  He was able to make the 1928 filigree ring fit my daintier finger, at no charge, it being his ring, and we walked away very satisfied customers.  Later, as we scoured the jewelery stores in Rhode Island, visiting my parents over Christmas time, we emerged very discouraged.  No one had in stock a ring that not only complemented the style of my vintage ring, but was also curved so as to fit around the bulbous diamond and filigree portion of my ring.  One store grudgingly said they’d order one from another engagement/wedding band set and that we could hope it would fit.  They weren’t going to go out of their way for a plain, unadorned white gold band.  Again, we left disappointed.  On a whim, we decided to go back to Gerlach’s, since they had a large selection of estate jewelry, and might have a ring we could at least try on.  When Mr. Gerlach heard we didn’t want diamonds or any such bling on the band itself, he retreated to a back room and brought out an entire tray of “plain” bands.  As I lamented how none were bent the way I needed, he rallied.  “I’ll just bend it for you.”  And he did.  He bent an elegant band engraved with orange blossoms (a traditional Victorian wedding symbol) right around my engagement ring.  What’s more, Mr. Apron chose his own band then and there.  We had given up on the idea of their matching each other, since I needed something so specific, but the young Mr. Gerlach came to the rescue.  He painstakingly carved a matching motif onto Mr. Apron’s band.  On simple wedding bands, the flowers don’t look, well, floral; rather, the facets of the gold from the deep engraving catch the light and have a jeweled quality that has led more than one middle-aged nurse on Mr. Apron’s ambulance runs (He worked as an EMT for 17 months in 2005 through 2007) to grab his slender hand for a closer look.  People like mine, too, but I guess it’s more striking on a man. 

Our relationship with Messieurs Gerlach did not cease after our wedding.  We have returned many times for clock and watch repairs, some purchases (chains and balast for pocket watches), necklace adjustments, and batteries.  Mr. Apron bought me a beautiful tri-color gold lapel watch recently that makes me wish I wore more lapels, and less child snot. 

My mother gave us, ostensibly for our wedding, but in actuality for our housewarming, yet still 6 months late, and 2.5 years in the making, a cuckoo clock.  Mr. Apron has written already about his complex relationship with the cuckoo clock.  My mother apparently spent 2 years getting it fixed.  Rather, the clock guy did.  And though we received it in August, and listened in joy to its melodious chimes each hour since then, it has stopped working.  Already.  My family’s gifts are often like this — things missing a part, requiring some work, coupons you can only redeem at one store in the Tri-state area between 8:43am and 1:14pm, or clothing yet to be hemmed.  A pattern for a dog coat, a picture already falling out of its frame, shoes needing laces (ah, but they were on sale).  Gifts requiring work.  And the clock has gone the way of these gifts.  The hour and minute weights were still functioning, as was the “cuckoo” and the pendulum.  But the sing-song happy chime which sounded on the hour and caused a little drummer boy to come out and serenade us jammed.  The weight did not descend in the proper way, so we packed it off to Gerlach.

OMG flipped it over and announced cuckoo clocks usually had a lifespan of 5 years.  Ours was probably 30 years old and had spent the last 2 years of its post-morbid state in some dude’s repair shop.  Some dude, who wasn’t up front enough with my mother to tell her it was not worth fixing, for the 2 months it would work.  But we left it anyway, along with 2 watches that needed batteries and a third watch that decided when wound, only to run for an hour or so. 

I raced home from work today, dodging morons who are behind the wheel instead of on their buses and trolleys because of the transit strike, let the dog out of the kitchen, walked the dog, fed the dog, shut the dog back in the kitchen, dodged more morons trying to kill me on the way to Gerlach’s, and arrived.  I thought I was too late when I saw neither the Volvo wagon nor the Lexus SUV (Yes, I know what cars my jewelers drive.  So what?) parked by the shop.  And I was greeted by the sign stating they were closed due to flu. 

So, yes, Vinny, an entire store can be closed due to the flu.  Especially a family jewelry store in a quiet suburb of Philly.  I hope OMG and his son will bounce back soon.  It’s all well and good to joke about, as Mr. Apron calls it, “Piggy Sickie”, but when it’s close to home, it’s a little scary. 

Get well soon, Messieurs Gerlach.  We miss you.  And don’t get my cuckoo bird or the drummer boy sick from the flu.


I have to work up close and personal with kids.  The kids I work with are rather small, even by my standards of height.  I view my world from a solidly 5’0″ tall vantage, and these kids are shorter yet.  And when they’re sitting down?  Forget it.  This is a job to do when one has young knees and has not yet developed vertigo. 

I have to get in their faces for many reasons.  The ones I work on articulation with need to see my face.  Not to sound boastful or anything, but my face has cues they need to see.  Little kids struggling to acknowledge that our language has final consonants need to see my lips come together at the end of “cup” or they’ll be asking for a “kuh” forever.  Another reason is that kids understand better.  And kids who understand just fine, listen better.  “He won’t listen,” I hear people tell me.  Well, if you’re yelling at him from across the room, he may not even know you’re shouting at him, let alone detect the message you’re hollering.  If there was one “technique”, strategy, or trick I could offer to many of the teachers I work with, one simple action they could do to increase interactions with their students, it would be to Get up.  Go over to him.  Talk to his face.  On his level.  And to stop asking him why he hit the kid.  Kids can’t answer “why” questions at that age anyway, but they might be more likely not to hit again, if you get up from your chair and go tell him to stop hitting.  I’m not asking you to give him a discourse on “friendly hands” or use a “problem-solving suitcase” or even change your words from “share” to “let’s take turns”.  But  please.  Get up off your ass and give the child the privilege of your immediate presence.  Adults don’t often have conversations standing more than 3 feet away from each other; why do we expect kids to listen to us when we’re halfway across the gym?

This lack of face-time I have observed has led me to name another phenomenon I have seen in daycares, head starts, church basements and the like: Daycare Butt.  A close cousin to Dispatch Butt, which 911 operators and EMS dispatchers get from a steady diet of inactivity and fast food, Daycare Butt evolves from perching an adult-sized body on a child-size chair, stationing oneself at a viewpoint from which one can see most of the children, so one does not have to move, and, accordingly, not moving.  All day long.  And you thought you had to be fit, flexible, and fleet of foot to work with small children!

However, all is not hunky-dorey when I’m face-to-face with a small child.  While I am increasing the likelihood they will be able to listen better, follow directions better, and imitate my speech sounds better, I accordingly increasing the likelihood of other, less than desirable possibilities.  There is risk of a drive-by hair brushing, using the hairbrush that’s been in the dress-up area for 16 years, and has brushed the hair of 275 children and countless dolls.  With lice.  There is the risk of the subsequent beauty parlour treatment,  which may or may not include curlers, a broken blow drier, a curling iron, and a shower cap.  With lice.  There is the risk of other numerous dress up crowns, tiaras, construction hats, hair nets, and headbands.  With lice. 

If you are down at a child’s level, working face-to-face with a child, you will get sneezed on.  Coughed on.  Spit on.  In the face.  Not just on your arm, in your vicinity, in your general direction — in the face.  And you will feel that puff of air germs come your way, and you will go home and check your last paystub for your sick leave, because you will be needing it.  You will blow noses.   You will touch sleeves that were used as tissues.  And used tissues that were curteously put back into the tissue box.  And you will use your sick leave.

Mealtime contains endless hazards.  Food that was previously in a child’s mouth will be in your mouth, on your glasses, your cheese, your chin, your hair, and most definitely your clothing.  Today, I am wearing oranges, guacamole, peaches, pasta, sauce from meatballs, green beans, and milk.  I am only responsible for contributing the oranges and guac.  Positioning can help to avoid some larger issues.  Angling oneself away from the spill-prone child, and having lightning reflexes can help one avoid having an entire quart of milk dumped on one’s lap and shoes.  Usually.  Ask me how I know.

Then there are the wardrobe malfunctions.  I’ve become very instinctive when I sense a glasses-grab or a hair-pull on the horizon.  And I’ve even learned a maneuver which can help to free those items from a child’s deathgrip.  I don’t wear earrings, and I’d be afraid to. Kids seem fascinated by my watch, grabbing and pulling at it without regard to the arm it is attached to.  When they start wrangling my arm, I’ve taken to chiding, “That’s my body!”  

And there are still other dangers.  Errant art supplies have left me covered in marker (Why do they even make non-washable markers for kids?  Does anyone know this?), pen (usually my own), pencil, paint (same question), play-doh, shaving cream, glue, and sand, dirt, and dust from the “messy table”.   And as the well meaning adults are cleaning off the tables from the children’s latest artistic endeavour, bleach from the diluted cleaning solution will find its way to my favorite shirt before the table has completely dried, leaving festive dots or streaks.  This will all happen.  All this and more.

I’m finally understanding why people who work with small children in non-healthcare settings feel they’re entitled to wear scrubs.  It has nothing to do with their desire to dress up in unicorns, pastels, and polyester fabric.  It has a lot to do with the elastic waistbands and loose-fitting tops.  It must have at least something to do with the disgusting, germy messes that end up on my clothing after a day’s work.  But I can’t do it yet.  I can’t give up.  I can’t go to scrubs. 

The tipping point will come, and I’ll either be driven to wear a biohazard suit, or to work with a population who knows how to cover their coughs, and blow their noses on a tissue.  Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

We had a meeting for the therapists this past week, the topic of which was picky eaters and problem feeders.  In speech pathology, our practices often cover a wide range of seemingly disparate disorders and conditions, from post-stroke adults with impairments in language to children who are picky eaters.  Because the mouth, tongue, teeth, palate, and lips are used not only for speech but also for eating, we enter the realm of feeding and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). 

Part of our discussion was centered on differentiating problem feeders from “ordinary” picky eaters.  Children are notoriously picky eaters, refusing vegetables, insisting on only McDonald’s chicken nuggets, and covering everything with ketchup.  But some of these behaviors are typical, and other signal a more troubling feeding disorder.  For example, a picky eater may seem like he has a restricted diet, but, when pressed to list everything he eats, a parent may come up with at least 25 different foods, in each category of the food pyramid.  Maybe it’s heavy on the bread/grain category, and light on the fruit/veg.  Maybe he only eats chicken or fish when it’s heavily breaded or fried.  But he still eats a variety of foods and textures (some puree, some soft, some crunchy, etc.).   A problem feeder, by contrast, may eat fewer than 15 different foods, may leave out entire textures or food groups, or only eat “white” foods. 

Another aspect of childhood eating we discussed was “food jags”.  Though the term was unfamiliar, the concept was not.  Kids get “stuck” on certain foods, and may insist on them for weeks or months at a time.  Strawberries, rice krispies, string cheese, peanut-butter-and-chocolate-chip granola bars.  It could be anything.  My own brother subsisted on a relatively limited diet in his childhood and until he went away to college.  He smothered ketchup or tomato sauce on everything and ate the aforementioned granola bars every day.  I myself went through a period where frosted flakes and chocolate milk were the only breakfast to be had.  And I poured exactly 6oz of milk over my cereal from my special pitcher.  For years.  Mr. Apron insisted on corned beef sandwiches (with mustard, on a challah roll) for lunch for two years.  Reese’s peanut butter cups, 8 at a sitting, arranged in a circle, for snack in middle school.  Doritos.  Kit Kat Big Kat (not the mini bars).  Bianca (the famous sister-in-law) ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch every morning for 3 years.  Then she switched to Frosted Shredded Wheat. 

Point is, most kids go though these “food phases”.  They mysteriously grow out of them and move onto other things.  With problem feeders, it may be to the exclusion of everything else.  It may be that their diets are not remotely nutritionally complete.  But typical kids go through it, too. 

What are your memories of “food jags”?  How about your kids’ food preferences?  What do they get stuck on?

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November 2009