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The electrician pulled in at a quarter-to-nine this morning.  We were already in the back alley, frantically loading up my car with shit from the garage.  Purging, tidying up, making a space for the electrician to work so he can run wires to the kitchen above, which will hopefully, finally, allow the bald Italian contractor to install the microwave above our new oven. 

Mr. Apron got to make a run to the dump, one of his favorite activities.  He also got to make me throw away shit, one of his other favorite pastimes.  And if in the process he gets to break things, so much the better.  Today’s carload was my old dresser, a blond, veneer piece of crap I picked up on the side of the road the year I lived in Pittsburgh, before I met him.  I had no money to buy furniture, and no place to put my clothes, so when I spied a free intact six-drawer dresser, I didn’t care what it looked like.  It fit in my car, so it was mine.  Today, Mr. Apron had the distinct pleasure of jumping on each drawer till it was a flattened pile of boards.  We also pitched the hose I broke a few weeks ago; a white melamine nightstand that was another roadside find (also reduced to boards by Mr. Apron’s vigorous stomping); some random pipes that may have at one time formed a railing along a path through our side yard, but which were left sadly sticking out the ground by themselves until I pulled them out; and an enormous, dilapidated, water-damaged, moldy cardboard box which had, until moments before, contained the remnants of my adolescence and college years. 

To wit: my 8th grade yearbook; a scrap of wood on which my 7th grade shop teacher had scrawled “hall pass” in 1992; my high school and college notes from biology, psychology, linguistics, computer science, freshman seminar, and “History of Modern Japan”; my travel wallet from my first trips abroad; every purse I’ve carried since 1997, some with money, pens, paperclips, and “important” papers inside; an unused Chia pet; sketch pads for expressing adolescent angst; Hello Kitty temporary tattoos; stilted photographs of my first boyfriend; a souvenir  visor from “Hal’s” bar mitzvah; my A+ report on whales from 6th grade; and a teal paperback book called “Period.”

Because my family is not so touchy-feely, and we find it hard to talk about sensitive issues, we seek out other ways of sharing sensitive information.  If it comes to gay rights, religious freedom, taxation of the proletariat, or animal cruelty, we have no problem having raucous discussions.  But when it comes to talking about feelings, puberty, or the wonders of life, we’d rather not, thank you very much.  This is how I learned where babies come from – my parents sat me down to watch the NOVA special.  And how did I prepare to become a woman?  My mother came into my room one night, sat down on my bed with me, presented me with a gift-wrapped package, and told me, if I had any questions to come and ask. 

And that was it.  I think she followed up with “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves,” once it, too, arrived in the mail.  Living in rural upstate New York in a pre-internet world, having no reputable bookstores in town, I’m sure she had to work pretty hard to track down those books.  While “The New Our Bodies, Ourselves” is a definitive text, all-encompassing, and professional, “Period.” tries a softer approach, interviewing “real girls” and attempting to help the reader identify with the cartoons of blossoming adolescents claiming, “I have more energy than ever about the time I start my period” and “It seems like sometimes when I’m about to menstruate, I get an urge to reorganize shelves, closets books.” (73,65).  It tackles such issues as “What if I start in the middle of my math class?” (38).  I received the second edition, when they still hadn’t edited out the “Are You There G-d? It’s Me, Margaret” era illustrations of a sanitary napkin belt (apparently Judy Blume edited that out of her book in 2006!).  I tell everybody that “Period.” is how I learned about womanhood. It’s legendary in my circles.  And I found my original copy, buried in the garage under the remaining vestiges of my adolescence.  

What’s amusing is, because of my mother’s prudishness and projected embarrassment about bodily functions and puberty, she couldn’t find  a way to talk to me about my getting my period.  She tried to let the books do the talking; however, at the end of “Period.” is a “Parents’ guide,” perforated for easy removal.  It advises the parents how to talk to their kids, how to start conversations, and it includes the authors’ own testimonials about how great it is to give the book to your precocious six-year-old and to have a family discussion about cramps, vaginas, and tampons.  The book may have come out of the sexual revolution, but my mother, who indeed came of age during that time, grew up in the Midwest in a repressed household.  She grew up ashamed of her body, so that, because someone chanced to make a comment about her breasts, she has kept them covered and desexualized ever since. 

I hope I am fortunate enough to have daughters.  I hope I am able to be open with them about my body, their bodies, and all the strange crap that happens to them throughout our lives.  I hope they will not feel ashamed or embarrassed or afraid to ask questions.  But, despite the parent’s discomfort level, the parent can’t put the entire burden on the child to “ask if you have any questions”.  Kids like me will never ask.  We’ll just pick it up at school, bury our noses in more books, and try to tone down our surprise when we discover things our peers knew years before.  Adolescence is hard enough.

I have a 10 month old nephew.  My sister-in-law, his other aunt, is very protective of him.  She fairly has a heart attack every time he eats solid food.  She obsesses over his every bowel movement.  She roves the internet in search of UV protective clothing and the Consumer Reports #1 rated sunblock, SPF 450, for Baby’s First Shore Trip, but then refuses to allow him in the sun once they arrive at the beach house.  She goes into palpitations when his mother doesn’t pull down the sunshade on his stroller, or when he looks hot, or cold, or clammy, or his Pack ‘n Play doesn’t have a fitted sheet.  She is consumed with worry in exactly the way any first-time mother ought to be.  Except it isn’t her kid.  She doesn’t have any children, and, being single at age 42, isn’t likely to come into any in the short- or long-term.  So he’s her Substitute First Child, the one all the parents (and maiden aunts) worry themselves sick over.

Erma Bombeck famously penned in one of her columns, that when First Child swallowed a quarter, she bolted straight for the emergency room.  By the time Third Child rolled around, she just deducted it from his allowance. 

As calm and relaxed as I am now about children, as much as I know about child development to assure myself children come with many safety features, and as silly as I judge my sister-in-law’s fussing to be, I know I’ll worry over my First Child, too.  I know Mr. Apron will wake in the middle of the night just to make sure it’s breathing.  He’ll take its pulse, I know he will.  I know I’ll blanch at the sight of abnormal poo. I’ll become preoccupied with its feeding cycle.  He’ll worry about its dental development and toenail health. 

But all these worries are on a scale of worries.  They all compare in magnitudes of greatness to real things to worry about.  As my Israeli father-in-law says, “It’s all compared to what!”  To fears of real child endangerment and neglect.  My mother-in-law won’t allow my nephew to fall asleep with a bottle in his mouth.  Not that she would ever dream of putting him into his crib with a bottle; she won’t even give him a bottle to help him fall asleep, for fear it would instantaneously cause bottle rot in his precious milk teeth the second he closed his eyes. 

Today, though, I saw a sight that puts everything in perspective, a sight that fairly caused me palpitations.  As I waited outside a daycare for my victim child to arrive with his brood of siblings so I could spend a futile hour working on a tongue thrust that, in a 5 ½ year old, is going to require more than bi-weekly speech therapy, I saw a mid-1990s 4-door Honda Accord pull up – a father dropping his kids off.  From my vantage point, I saw a small head in the front passenger seat.  As Dad got out, the picture became clearer; I saw two small heads, side-by-side in the front seat.  Two children young enough for day care, seated in the front seat of a car, not even buckled into the one seat they were sharing.  And as they piled out, Dad walked around to the rear door.  As he opened it, he made a motion to hold his arms out as if waiting for a large beach ball to come his way, and the smallest child yet climbed happily into his arms.  Alive, and yet, I was scarred.  The kid was walking, yet couldn’t be older than 18 months.  Couldn’t have unfastened any sort of car seat I’ve ever seen.  Minutes later, as I walked to the door of the day care, I glanced at the rear seat of this vehicle.   What I saw would have curdled the blood of my sister-in-law.  She would have locked herself in her condo, curled up on the floor in a fetal position, and started rocking.  Filling the back seat was an assortment of laundry, towels, and pillows. 

That was all. 

Mr. Apron says he would have narc’ed on the guy.  I see any number of kids come to the center where I work strapped into front seats, arriving without car seats, piled into back seats with 5 others.  I hope I haven’t become desensitized to the dangers of automotive child endangerment.  If public service announcements, stricter laws, and “Don’t be a dummy” ads haven’t taught people, they won’t learn until they see their own precious kids flying out the windshield.

That’ s the scariest image of all.

I approached my mailbox cautiously.  Inside was a folded piece of paper with the words, “Please see me” followed by some note about a specific child.  It wasn’t the prospect of a note for me, or more work, or some new bogus policy about skirt-wearing.  It was the “see me” that struck terror into my heart. 

What is it about “see me” that conjures up horrible scenarios of failing grades, uncovered skeletons, and flagrantly flouted policies?  Even if I know I haven’t done anything wrong a “see me” will set my heart racing.

In school, a “see me at the end of class” from a teacher no doubt meant a failed test, make-up work, an incomplete project, a missed deadline, and other untoward horrors for those of us just trying to do the right thing.  The worst part is the dread.  Having to sit through the entire class period waiting for the end and the uncertainty of the little conference afterwards is the real killer.  Just try to concentrate on an hour-long lecture with a “see me” hanging over your head like the Sword of Damocles. 

Worse yet is at work when a supervisor will catch me in the hall or the parking lot and quip, “When you get a chance, I’d like to see you in my office.”  When I get a chance? Oh, I’ll be entirely too busy for the next 6 weeks, thank you very much.  Sorry.  Usually it turns out to be nothing, or nothing major.  Even if she ominously closes the door behind you.  Once it was to show me a new outfit she had found at the thrift store across the street.  Once it was to ask me if I was okay, I’d been looking so down lately.  And this week, it was to give me $30 in petty cash I’d submitted in August 2009 and had written off as a lost cause.  But oh, the dread! 

You just know you’re in trouble, and your doom faces you after class, or behind closed doors, face-to-face.  I call for a new phraseology to take some of the sting away from private meetings and special tête-à-têtes.  How about “Let’s discuss…” or “I have great news…” or “I want to give you ice cream”?  Any of those are either good, or promising, or at least let you feel partially in control in exactly the way “see me” does not.

When I was in 4th grade, a new phenomenon sprung up.  It seemed divorce was becoming very popular among my classmates’ parents, so the school sympathetically formed a group for children of the separated, divorced, remarried, and estranged parental units.  It was fittingly called Banana Splits, which I think is a very cute and attractive name for a depressing circumstance.  I know this now. 

In 4th grade, I just wanted to eat in the library.  So, with a stable home, and 2 very married parents, I trotted off to the library to each lunch with the children of rockier home lives.  I don’t think I really knew what it was about.  I don’t think they adequately described the group’s purpose or “membership” requirements.  I believe, if I can remember correctly, that they spoke in general terms, saying something about if someone in your family had died, or if you lived with grandparents, or if your parents had split up.  I latched onto the keywords “dead” and “grandparent” and decided I could join.  My grandfather, who had been dying from Parkinson’s since I met him, had passed away during my 3rd grade year.  I had never been aware of dying before, so, even though I wasn’t terribly broken up about Grandpa Oscar’s death, I milked it for all it was worth, even pleading out my grief and begging out of writing “Oscar” in cursive the week we were learning capital “O” in 3rd grade.  My teacher was sympathetic.  I wasn’t such a hard-hearted child; I just discovered death in my own way. 

When Banana Splits came along, I rushed to join the lunch crowd in the library.  One of my best friends, who also came from an intact, 2-parent birth family, tagged along.  Years later she confessed to me, “I only went because you went.  I didn’t have any idea what it was about, or why you went.”  To my knowledge, we never discussed the sadness and challenges I’m sure the rest of the group members faced. 

In retrospect, I’m grateful to my teachers for never embarrassing my youthful ignorance and zeal for special treatment.  Thank you Mrs. Howard, thank you, Mr. Eggleston.

When my siblings and I were younger, my mother tried to dress us alike.  My sister and I had many matching dresses, till we stopped wearing dresses, and sometimes she’d try for a perfect triptych of outfits.  There were the “duck, duck, goose” overalls and shorts my baby brother refused to wear, and many other failed attempts.  The most infamous, however, in my mind and my sister’s, are the “Small Stuff” sweat suits.  Mom picked up this cliché somewhere, and like an inspired artist, had to put it to canvas. 

“Rule #1: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Rule #2: It’s All Small Stuff”

Thus we three were all subjected to bright yellow sweat suits with Rule #1 on the front in green puff paint, and Rule #2 on the back.  I think the girl version had flowers, and maybe stick figures to go around. 

This morning we sat on the bed, folding laundry, while the dogs happily munched on their rawhides and their genitals, respectively.  Aside from noting the usual humorous appearances of the orphan socks (which prompted a full sing-along of, “For He is an Orphan Sock” clear through the end of Act I from “The Pirates of Penzance”), I also remarked to myself how easily we fell into our patterns of laundry delegation.  See, we don’t just grab what’s nearest, or what’s ours, or what belongs in the closet, or what needs to be ironed.  (Ironing, what’s that?) I grab the things I fold, and Mr. Apron grabs the things he folds.  He folds towels and underwear, and pairs socks.  Yes, folds underwear.  Since I was a younger person, my babysitter introduced me to a peculiar way of folding underwear, which I would continue to this day, were I still in charge of folding my skivvies.  Since I taught Mr. Apron how to do it he gladly has taken over the task.  He also folds towels, in the peculiar way I like, so that they all fit into our crammed little linen closet.  It’s pretty silly, that I have ways I like my underwear and towels folded, but he does it.  I know that if I had never said anything, I’d just be refolding them the way I like them.  Though it’s a small gesture, I really appreciate it, and it’s just one way my husband is awesome. 

While he’s folding my underwear and pairing the socks, I’m busy folding all the shirts.  He has an entire drawer full of undershirts/T-shirts.  I know that, unless they’re all folded in a uniform way, they will not all fit, nor be accessible to him in frantic early morning searches.  The cotton shirts will get all wrinkled and he won’t be able to find the ones he needs in the morning.  He has many types of undershirts.  Starting just with the white ones, he has CoolMax crew neck, cotton crew neck, cotton V-neck, and CoolMaxx “scoop necks” he has fashioned by hacking the collar off a crew neck shirt.  See, he’s explained to me (and who am I to dispute such matters?) that the CoolMax shirts, while doing a superior job of wicking away sweat, and keeping him cooler to begin with, have wider collars, and they will often show above the collar of a button-up shirt, above the necktie.  This is blatantly unacceptable.  This is where the cotton crewnecks come into play.  They have a skinnier collar, so they work.  Sometimes, the V-necks work best, due to a particularly large collar (Mr. Apron has a skinny neck, and shirts are wont to be a little big in the collar); other times, the V-neck is no good, such as on a light-colored dress shirt, where the V would show through, leaving a tell-tale line (equivalent to wearing a black bra under a white blouse), and that just isn’t good.  So he’s fashioned some Cool Max shirts for this purpose using nail scissors, his teeth, or a hacksaw, whatever’s handy.  Don’t even get me started on the colored shirts.

All this I know, so I fold his shirts, and I try to sort them into piles according to color, neckline, and fabric content.  For real.  Try as he might, Mr. Apron can’t quite master the tri-fold I use to make his shirts pretty in the drawer.  Far from feeling put upon, I feel as though I am invading his drawers (pun intended), and his ability to stand by and let me exercise my need for his shirts to be folded uniformly, is just another reason my husband is awesome. 

Maybe the way I fold towels, underwear and t-shirts is “small stuff”, but if it really is all small stuff that makes up our world, then let me give a nod to my husband, who lets me feel organized in one small way: in our linen cupboard, my lingerie chest, and his t-shirt drawer.

One of the main complaints I hear from SLPs and teachers working with preschool populations in schools, homes, and daycares, is that parents/ caregivers do not “follow through”.  Whether this means the unread session note is found the next week, folded and forgotten, at the bottom of a child’s backpack; or whether an SLP doubts the parents have implemented any of the helpful strategies she recommends for home use, we can be pretty critical of others we feel are letting down our collaborative model. 

I went to Day One of a 3-day-long training today, which was scheduled from 8:30am till 5:00pm, 8.5 solid hours of content, knowledge, information, demonstrations, and active attention.  I started fading after lunch and developed a migraine around 4:10pm.  Before all this learning was to transpire, we all had to show up.  Of the 12 who eventually arrived, only 3 of us were there by the stroke of 8:30.  Others trickled in, some apologetic, many not, until 9:35.  All were from out of town, most were staying in nearby hotels.  The nasty weather was certainly a factor, as were unfamliar traffic patterns, but an hour late?  Holding up the content for those of us who managed to figure out weather, traffic, parking, and showing up on time?  Thanks for nothing. 

Though I had been to the building before, the other 11 had not.  As we took one of our quick breaks, we were in the washroom (The instructor is Canadian, so we have to use her word), and many ladies lamented how their GPS had failed them in driving here, or how the GPS had said it would only take 15 minutes from the hotel, or how the GPS had them circling the parking lot, or how they really had no excuse whatsoever.  “Can’t the building have a number on it?” they bitched. “I didn’t even know what floor it was on!” “Can’t there be directions given for GPS users?”  “I circled the parking lot!”

I recalled that we had had to print out some materials in preparation for the workshop.  We were sent an e-mail a few weeks ago, with a link to some reading and a homework assignment, and, I could almost swear, information about how to get to the building.  I just knew it.  I mentioned this to my colleagues, “Um, I think there was a map.  I’m almost sure of it.  It had directions and suggestions for hotels.”  I didn’t really read it because I knew where I was going, but surely they had.  Being, you know, from Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Ontario.  Sure enough, as I returned to the conference room, I found the sheet of paper with a colorful map on top of explicit driving directions and one sentence below the map telling specifically how to spot the building.  Telling that we were to meet on the 2nd floor of the only 9 storey building around, the one in the smack-dab middle of a parking lot.  Near the mall.  Which they mentioned.  On the print-out. 

But then again, if you aren’t going to read the hand-outs, print-outs, or do the homework, you’re no better than the irresponsible parents you’re always criticizing.  I almost pointed out this “teachable moment”, but I thought any more profound content might make our overworked brains explode.

As I took a break from the office last week on work-related errand into University City, I took a moment to leisurely cross the tree-lined walkways of the University of Pennsylvania.  I admired the old-world architecture, the stately buildings, the studious students, the quiet calming influence, the cooling effect of the shade in the 95 degree heat.  And the woman, seated on a bench by the brick path,  applying deodorant. 

I don’t need to see that.  I need her to put it on, but I don’t need to see her doing it.  In a park.  At an Ivy League school.  Eww.

Likewise, clipping your fingernails in public?  Please don’t.  I understand, as well as any girl can, that hangnails can be annoying, and breaking a nail for the 3rd time opening the door handle of the car may necessitate quick emergency attention with an emery board.  I also understand you don’t want to be gnawing at your fingers, irritated by the intrusion on an uneven edge.  I believe I learned that all “grooming” tasks which take longer than a minute should not be done in public.  And certainly not when you leave behind little crescent moons of keratin on the table, couch, floor, etc. 

Because I only wear glasses, I have not been able to understand how people apply contact lenses to their eyeballs.  I’m not completely grossed out, but it is disconcerting to see that wide-eyed, Jennifer Wilbanks look as they prepare for insertion.  I don’t like watching people put in eye drops either. Even if it meets the under-one-minute rule.

By and large, personal grooming, for those of us who partake (though, as I caught a whiff of the woman passing by me at Pathmark today, I thought she never partakes in public or private), is a practice best done behind closed doors, with friends and family close at hand, ready to catch the flecks of food careening out of your mouth as you floss.

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July 2010
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