Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Type of Story No One Likes to Talk About

Around this time every year, Facebook seems filled with cautionary tales about all kinds of summer dangers--secondary drowning, pool safety, how to check kids for ticks, and pieces about leaving kids in cars.

Leaving kids in cars, especially, always seems to be a hot topic. Inevitably, the comments start to include things like:

"What kind of horrible person forgets their kid in the car?"
"How can someone not notice that they forgot their kid in the car?!"
"I hope they burn in hell."
"If you leave a child in a car, you don't deserve to be a parent."
"If you're so busy that you forget your newborn, you need to seriously re-evaluate your life."
"There is NO excuse for forgetting a child in a car."
"How do you forget a child?! Mine are the first thing on my mind, always!"
"If you can't manage to look in your rearview mirror and make sure there isn't a kid back there, you're an idiot."
"If you're on autopilot while responsible for a baby, you're doing something wrong."

I get it. I understand how incomprehensible it is. But let me tell you a story.

The spring after Becca was born, I was having a playdate with a friend who has a little girl Lizzy's age. During the playdate, she had a serious family emergency occur, and asked me to take her kiddo home with me. No problem.

It was a weird day--my aunt was flying in to the airport, and we were meeting her there. My sister was also meeting us there and then everyone was coming back to my house for a visit. So, my sister, the kids, and I piled into my car and we headed home.

On the drive home, Becca fell asleep in her carseat. Lizzy and her friend were getting tired, were both hungry, and were also doing that whole, "MOM, she said I'm not hungry, but I AM!" thing. I dug out a couple of juice boxes, hoping to tide them over until we got home.

Anyway, we got home, and I unloaded the two bigger girls first. One of them had to go potty RIGHT THEN, so I ran up to unlock the door so that they could go inside while I grabbed Becca. Only, she had an accident on our doorstep. I helped her get to the bathroom, and on to the toilet. While I was doing that, the other kiddo somehow squirted her juice box everywhere, then proceeded to slip on it, and cut herself. I got her a band aid. The kiddo in the bathroom started crying because she couldn't reach the toilet paper. I reached the toilet paper for her. My phone rang, with Justin calling about something urgent (if I remember correctly, I think he was working out of town at the time). Lizzy and her friend both started whining that they were SO HUNGRY. I grabbed them some fruit snacks. I felt like I had been putting out small fires all morning.

I did a mental check that I'd tried to start doing since Becca was born--one kid? Check. Two kids? Check. Then, I sat down on the couch and sighed.

About that time, my sister said, "So, do you want me to grab Becca out of the car, or do you want to let her sleep there?"

You guys, it still makes me want to vomit just typing this, but I had completely and totally forgotten about Becca. Had my sister not been there that day or not said anything, I have no idea how long she would have sat in the car before I remembered her.

At that point, she had probably been in the car for between five and ten minutes. We don't have air conditioning in our car, so in the spring and summer, all the windows are always down, and she was totally fine and sleeping away happily. But my mind couldn't stop going to all the "what if" scenarios that could have resulted in and ending that was not nearly so happy.

I really don't know if I can explain how I felt that afternoon. I called Justin hysterically crying. I felt like the worst mother in the history of the world. I still don't like to talk about or even think about that day.

I was one part exhausted. I was one part off-routine with three kids instead of two.

But what I was not (and it's taken me awhile to be able to say this confidently) was an idiot, a bad mother, someone who doesn't care about her kids, a horrible person, or someone who needed to re-evaluate her life.

A few years ago, Gene Weingarten wrote a piece for the Washington Post about forgetting children in cars that won a Pulitzer. If you haven't read it already, I really would suggest it. It's not an easy read, but it's an important one.

The part that sticks with me the most?

"The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.

Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.

The facts in each case differ a little, but always there is the terrible moment when the parent realizes what he or she has done, often through a phone call from a spouse or caregiver. This is followed by a frantic sprint to the car. What awaits there is the worst thing in the world."

It happened to me, and it could happen to you too.  I don't care if you are rolling your eyes because you think there's no way. It could.

I'll also note here that there are simple things that could help. The biggest thing is to make a plan with childcare providers that if a child isn't dropped off as usual, they call, and sooner rather than later.

Some parents put their left shoe in the backseat along with their kids in car seats, I took to putting my purse back there.

Inventors have begun producing things like a smartphone car seat monitor (though at $399, it's still a bit spendy).
But really, the point of this all is that pointing fingers and saying "That would NEVER happen to me--they must be bad parents!" is not only untrue, but it's also unhelpful. It certainly hasn't decreased the number of tragedies at all. But talking about it, openly and honestly...might. Talking about practical solutions that help...might. Realizing that people who have forgotten their children are, by and large, not criminals or druggies or terrible parents, but people just like you and me...might help as well.

And in this situation, "might" is better than nothing.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Life Right Now

Last Thursday, Lizzy finished her last day of preschool. Next year, she'll be in pre-K and going three days a week, and she already CAN NOT WAIT. Actually, she cannot wait for kindergarten, and doesn't quite understand why other kids who will be five will be in kindergarten next year and she won't (she's a January birthday, so she's past the cut-off). But, she'll survive :)


After her last day of school, as we were driving home, she was looking at the yearbook that her school does. She told me, "I'm just looking at the pre-K kids, to make sure I know what I'm supposed to look like next year!" She is so funny sometimes.

This past week, I also took the girls around the corner from our house to do an annual sister picture. And because you KNOW I'm a sucker for comparison pictures, here's the batch from last year, June 2013:
And then this year, June 2014:
Becca, at 18 months, is actually wearing the same dress that Lizzy wore in the 2013 pictures, when she was 3. It is crazy to me sometimes how different Lizzy and Becca are, both in terms of personalities, and also in terms of size. Lizzy was a lot more verbal at this age than Becca is, and I think sometimes we treated her a lot older than she really was (we still forget sometimes that she's only 4!). Becca knows plenty of words, and is totally on track for her age, but because she isn't nearly as verbal as Lizzy, it's easier to treat her like the age she really is. I'm sure part of it is a second child thing too--with the first kiddo, I feel like I was more excited for all those milestones and "firsts", and with Becca, I am 100% fine to hold off on some of those things, ha!

On the other hand, there's also a set of things that I think Becca will do more quickly than Lizzy, because she has someone to keep up with!  For example, Lizzy was practicing her scooter on Saturday, and Becca was royally ticked that she didn't have one of her own to ride--she kept yelling "Beppa! Turn!" (her version of "Becca's turn!"). Justin would help her stand and roll a bit, and she could not have been more proud of herself.

Lizzy has been asking over and over if she and Becca can share a room. She talks about bunk beds NON STOP, and I secretly think she's trying to teach Becca to climb out of her crib so that we'll be more likely to want to transition Becca to a different type of bed. On one hand, it would be really nice to have them share a bedroom and maybe have our third bedroom be a toy/playroom. On the other hand, Becca still naps and Lizzy does not, but she usually still goes into her room and reads for quiet time. I feel like going to a shared room is going to eliminate Becca's nap since she'll want to be just like Lizzy, and I am definitely not ready for that! I feel like why rush it unless we have to. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Tale of the Tooth.

So, I've mentioned a couple of times that one of my goals for this year was to get us all to the dentist, and happily, that happened in April! I was really nervous about going because I hadn't been in awhile for a variety of reasons--we didn't have the money, we didn't have the insurance, and then I was just embarrassed that it had been so long. By that point, I *dreaded* going to the dentist. This whole process would have been slightly easier had I been able to choose our dentist, since we happen to have several friends who are dentists. But unfortunately, our dental insurance is through Justin's work, and is tied to one specific office--we can only go there.

Anyway, I actually went in before my appointment in April because one tooth was hurting and I was having trouble sleeping. The dentist did x-rays, poked around, and ultimately told me that the tooth looked fine, and he thought I had a sinus infection or just that my allergies were really bad, which apparently can sometimes cause tooth pain. My allergies felt better in the next few days, and so did my tooth. Awesome.

In April, I saw a different dentist in the practice for a cleaning. By then, the tooth was hurting a little bit again, I told the dentist, and he did a cold test- he started in the back, touching each tooth with something ice cold, working his way to the left incisor. OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. Nothing. Apparently, the "nothing" tooth was dead, and needed a root canal. Several weeks after the cleaning appointment, I took a sip of water, and suddenly had half of a tooth in my mouth. Not, the dead tooth, another tooth. After talking about options, they (and I) decided to pull the tooth, and I dealt with a fun extraction over Mother's Day weekend.

A week or so after Mother's Day was also when I had the root canal scheduled. The dentist drilled a bit, and I could pretty quickly tell by the noises that he was making that it wasn't going well. He eventually stopped, and told me that he was having trouble accessing the canal, and that he was going to send me to a specialist,  someone who had more experience with calcified canals.

A few weeks later, I was back in the dental chair, this time with a specialist. He drilled. He took x-rays. He drilled some more. Took some more x-rays. We repeated this process for about two and a half hours before he said, "I've never seen anything like this. Your tooth is completely calcified. It looks like a 95 year old woman's tooth. I've drilled all the way up and I can't find a canal anywhere, I can't do a root canal on you."
He told me that once they put a permanent filling in, the tooth might be okay just to be left alone for awhile, but that if it started to hurt again, it would have to be pulled. Awesome. He also told me that he was 99% certain that the tooth was so calcified because I had been hit in the mouth in softball or basketball and just didn't realize that it actually caused some damage. He said it was clearly a case of trauma. So,  while people on the street might think I'm toothless because I suck at brushing and use me as a cautionary tale for their kids...NOPE.

Maybe two weeks later, I suddenly had severe pain...yep....right where the failed root canal tooth was. I took ibuprofen. I rinsed my sinuses. I took vicodin. I tried garlic, and every other home remedy known to man, and none of them worked. I didn't sleep (because of the pain) for 48 hours before my appointment back at the dentist.

By this point, I knew what was coming and I didn't even care. They were going to pull one of my front teeth. Oh, and as a bonus, it was infected, meaning a hefty dose of penicillin for me, and decreased birth control pill effectiveness as a bonus! Ha. Anyway, the only question from there was whether they were going to do a bridge, implant, or something else. They said I wasn't a good category for a bridge, and recommended an implant, but implants aren't covered by our insurance, and require a $4,000 payment up front...not something I was prepared to fork over that morning. The dentist said that it didn't really matter, even if I did decide to do an implant, I'd have to wear a flipper (a retainer with a tooth attached) for awhile and possibly have a bone graft before the implant. So, he made a flipper, and said that we could decide more later.

Only, when I say "he made a flipper", what I really mean was "he made a mold for a flipper", and then as I later found out, "the guy who works at the lab they sent them to was on vacation". So, I was toothless from Friday morning until Wednesday the following week. It was awesome. I felt like a pirate.

Which I could occasionally laugh about, because honestly, there are worse things in the world (this same weekend, my sister-in-law broke her foot, and can't walk at all for three months!) but most of the time I just felt really self-conscious, and spent my time like this:
Had this not been Lizzy's last week of school, I seriously would have kept her home yesterday so that I didn't have to do the toothless drop-off. Everyone said, "Oh, it's not that bad!" They lied. It was bad. Even Justin told me, "I didn't realize how big that tooth was until it was gone!" He also tried to find me a pirate costume to take a picture in. But then on the flip side, he also did an awesome job taking care of the girls while I was drugged up all weekend.

So anyway, today I finally got to go in for the flipper retainer. This dental office has lost my complete file, and I've also showed up with appointment card in hand only for them to have no idea why I'm there. So I kept having panic attacks that I would get there and they wouldn't have the flipper for me.

I arrive. I wait. And wait. And wait some more. Finally, I get called back and the hygenist happily says, "So, what are you here for today?"

"For my flipper!" I respond happily.

Her eyes get wide. She says, "I'll be right back," and walks out of the room. I see her grab another hygienist and say, "HELP ME. There is no flipper here for her."

I know where this is going. Crap. CRAP. CRAP. CRAP. I text swear words to Justin.

They shuffle around for a little while, and then eventually find the flipper. The hygenist pops it in, and says she needs to make an adjustment. She does, and then pops the flipper back in my mouth...AND IT WILL NOT STAY IN. It was *amazing*.

I text more swear words to Justin. And tell him that I want to cry. I was so irritated.

The dentist comes in and tells me that they are going to put something called re-line on the retainer so that I can leave with it today, but that this re-line stuff is temporary, and that eventually I will have to come back and have it sent to the lab, where they will make the re-line stuff permanent. If I want, I can order a second flipper out of pocket while this one is gone, and just to have a backup. For $600. Otherwise, I'll just be toothless again while it's at the lab. Oh, and I might be able to eat with the flipper in place, but I also might not.

I was on the verge of tears, and also really irritated. I HAVE WAITED SIX DAYS, I WANT A TOOTH, DARNIT!!! By the way, I just realized that I'm mixing tenses like crazy here, which really irritates me, but if I try to go back to fix it, this post will never get published. So, I'm sorry. Anyway, I about sobbed right there in the dentist's chair. I just kept saying, "I DON'T. UNDERSTAND. WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED!"

Eventually, the dentist explained it to me. From my perspective, the hygienist messed up. But what really happened was that they took a mold of my mouth before they pulled the tooth. That helped them to shape the replacement tooth correctly, but what it didn't do was show my gumline once the tooth was pulled. They estimate, but in my case it wasn't a great estimation, and there was a gap between the fake tooth and the gum. The hygienist had made an adjustment--she sanded off a part of the retainer that was covering my back molars. It couldn't have stayed, but with the gap at the gumline, it was also the only thing holding the retainer in place. Basically, it was a mess, but at least I look human again.
(This pic is flipped, so it's the tooth just to the right of my two front teeth here, 
and it actually matches the other side and color quite well.)

They were able to fix it temporarily, and I can (sort of) talk (with a lisp). I tried eating with it in, and that was ridiculous. Hopefully, it will get better as I get more used to having the darn flipper. If not, we are never eating out again. I go back in six weeks, once my gum has fully healed, and they'll do another mold and/or re-line of my mouth, and send it off for a new flipper. They have assured me that next time, it will be a same-day or overnight scenario.

So, I look normal again, which is a great start. But this is still a really long road ahead of me, whether I go the dental implant road or not. I'm bracing myself.

(See what I did there?!)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

From the back of the book: Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.


Rosemary, the 22 year old narrator, begins by telling us that it’s been ten years since she last saw her brother Lowell, and seventeen years since she last saw her sister Fern. The twist here (which I’m not sure can really be called a “twist” as it is referenced in both the book description and cover art) is that Rosemary’s twin Fern is actually a chimpanzee.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves started out with a unique, interesting concept, and I sped through the first half of the book exceptionally quickly, devouring every word. But then something strange happened—mid-way through the book, Rosemary takes some drugs, and the book does an excellent job depicting her disorienting trip. The problem was that after that point, it felt like Rosemary’s “voice” changed to me. Instead of the usual chatty and conversational tone that we had been introduced to in the first part of the book, I’d find myself wondering  when I accidentally clicked over to an expose about animal testing and cosmetics. Or a textbook about psychologists. Certainly, these things were relevant to the story, and it appeared that the author had done extensive research into these areas, but it started to feel more like an op-ed piece in the newspaper than a novel. I felt that in the second half of the book, Rosemary’s voice was lost a bit (I feel like I must add that I didn’t dislike the message about animal testing and cruelty that this novel was trying to present—it just wasn’t integrated in a way that felt cohesive and consistent with Rosemary’s character, to me).

I’ve read Karen Joy Fowler’s other work (such as The Jane Austen Book Club), and I think that she’s an incredibly talented author. That said, I enjoyed this novel less than I’ve enjoyed others that she has written, simply because Rosemary’s character just didn’t feel genuine to me all the way through. That said, this book has received high reviews across the board, so it may just be me--if the concept interests you, I would certainly recommend giving it a try.


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