Catch-up Post

September 1, 2009

Man, this blogging thing is tricky. When there’s not much going on, it follows that there’s nothing worth blogging about. But when everything is going on, there’s no time to write about it. Let’s catch up, using broad strokes:

Peanut’s Nose: She’s been getting persistent nosebleeds for years, and finally we sought medical attention for the problem. We took her to an ear/nose/throat guy and asked for option #2: The Nose. He attempted to cauterize the capillaries inside her nose. In order for this to work, a seven-year-old girl had to sit still and not squirm around while a complete stranger shoved things up her nostrils. This went about as well as you might expect. The procedure didn’t work at all, and she had to be taken back to the doctor for a second go-round. I explained to Peanut that she had a choice: She could take the cauterization, uncomfortable as it might be, like a big girl, or she could go back and have it done repeatedly until it finally worked.

Peanut agreed that one more time was the way to go, and she would be quiet and keep still throughout the procedure.

Would you like to place money on how long that promise lasted?

So the second attempt at sealing her schnozz went no better than the first, and she’s still having nosebleeds, and I think we’re going to have to take her into the hospital and have her put under for this to work. Our insurance company just LOVES us.

The Dog: Ten days ago, our border collie was a puppy. A 13-year-old puppy, but nonetheless: He leapt with excitement when it was time to go outside, he chased the tennis ball with brio, he was happy to roughhouse and wrestle in the living room, growling and pretending to bite my arm. And then, seemingly overnight, he went from puppy to senior citizen. He kept his head in a strange, cocked position — not the “I’m curious!” pose of a puppy but the “I’m disoriented!” pose of a dog now accidentally walking into things. He had to go out to the backyard every couple of hours; he was having accidents otherwise.

The vet did umpteen tests on him over several days, and the results are grim. He has vestibular disease, which is putting him off balance. He has dysfunctions of the liver and the kidney. And he has Cushing’s Disease, which is likely to be the thing that eventually kills him — it’s just a matter of how long that takes. The vet thinks with medication we have at least a year, maybe two: Evidently we caught this early. Still, it’s sad to see our dog get so old so quickly. You can tell he’s not entirely sure what’s happening to him.

The Bicycle: Sonny rode for a solid three or four seconds yesterday, by himself. It’s hard to know whether he’s really getting the hang of it, or whether that’s just wishful thinking on my part. But it certainly seems like he is. We’ll keep going until the snow comes, and maybe even beyond that, by gum.


Train in Vain

August 24, 2009

Damn, I should hire myself out a blog-post-title thinker-upper. Train in Vain! A hip musical reference and a dead-on summary of the story I’m here to tell! Man, I’m good.

Sonny continues to talk about going to Florida, about going to the hotel, about going on the airplane. He rolls out his beloved backpack-on-wheels and says, “Let’s pack!” The boy is excited. Great, right? Who could ask for anything more? Well, hold the phone there.

He’s also been talking, once again, about going on the train, and this past weekend I decided to take him for another ride on Metro North. Last time, it didn’t go so well. Maybe this time would be better. After all, look at him — so excited! So enthusiastic! He even asked to bring his backpack-on-wheels with him, as if he, too, understands that this is a dry run for the much tougher challenge of the airplane.

We walked to the train station. He dragged his backpack-with-wheels happily up the long, twisty practical joke of a handicapped ramp. We got to the platform. We sat down on the bench. And he announced, “I don’t want to go on the train!”

“Yes, Sonny. We’re going on the train.”

“I don’t want to go on the train,” he said, and began to cry.

AND SO! We stood back up, and walked away. We were about to cross the street to start home, when Sonny said: “I want to go on the train!”

“You do?”


AND SO! We turned around and went back to the train platform and sat down on the bench, and probably you have guessed the next step in this ongoing comedy skit. “I don’t want to go on the train!” Sonny said.

I didn’t argue. We stood up and left, and when Sonny once again changed his mind, I didn’t listen. I told him we would try again next week, but we were going home now. At that point he didn’t want to drag his backpack anymore and asked me to hold it.

And we will try again next week, but then I’ll have a secret weapon: Worried about how Sonny will react to the airplane, we got him a prescription for Xanax. Our doctor told us we need to try it out on him before the big day, because on a small percentage of kids it has the opposite of its advertised calming effect — it makes them hyper and nuts. So next weekend, I’ll slip him the minimum dosage, and we’ll try the train one more time. Will we actually board the train and ride it? Place your bets now.

Your Fury Makes Me Smile

August 19, 2009

We’ve been rather lax with the kids these past few weeks, actually letting them have a summer vacation instead of making them do schoolwork. This ended yesterday when I made Peanut sit and do a couple of pages out of her math workbook, and she was NOT HAPPY.

At one point she said, “I wish I was a dragon and I could breathe fire on you.”

Probably my reaction to this should have been something other than hysterical laughter. She was speaking, after all, about wishing she had the power to broil me until I was a pile of carbon ashes. But it was such an unexpected thing to hear, I lost it completely, and then she lost it completely, but in the other direction, and I had to send her to her room until the tears subsided. Yessir, I make sure my kids have a fond memory of me EVERY SINGLE DAY.

In other news, Sonny rode his bicycle by himself for a distance of three feet. It’s a start.

Let Me Entertain You

August 17, 2009

Sonny is bored.

He didn’t get to watch much television this weekend or play his video games because Daddy — that is, me — was watching the PGA Championship. I imagined that we, as a family, did not rely as much as other people on the hypnotic monster in the corner of the living room, but now I see that I was kidding myself. (And not just because I watched ten hours of golf this weekend when I have never held a club myself.) Take away the Disney Channel and the Playstation and Sonny simply doesn’t know what to do with himself.

He relies on us to tell him what to do: This morning we’re going to Costco. Next we’ll go to the nature center. Tomorrow we’ll go to Bounce U. He’s like an executive who’d be lost without his secretary to tell him what meeting he has next.

Left to his own devices, however, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’ll play on the computer for a while — which is just a television by a different name — and he’ll page through his giant picture book of trains. This weekend he even sat down with some coloring books and… well, scribbled. But at least he tried doing something creative, which he never ever ever does.

He wanted to ride his bicycle a lot, mostly so he could earn the power windows. But he became grouchy and frustrated three minutes into the bike ride, which means he didn’t get to sit in the car and play with the buttons, which meant that five minutes later he was saying again how he wanted to ride his bicycle, and after a while we’d fall for it and take him back out there, but again he’d get grouchy, and it was a long weekend for him all in all.

What makes his restlessness just slightly alarming is, he’s coming to my office this morning. Peanut has a doctor’s appointment, and it’s apt to be a long one, so I’m watching Sonny. He’ll have his Nintendo DS, but I don’t expect that will keep him occupied for the full hour or more that I’ll have him. I predict I am not getting a lot of work done this morning.

Update from last week: Peanut’s talent show performance went fine, and she came home psychologically unscathed. (Her camp counselor called the spoon-balancing trick “unbelievable,” which I suspect was a carefully chosen word.) Makes me feel a little silly for even worrying about it. Okay, I feel very silly. Not that this will stop me from worrying just as much next time.

In this week’s very special episode…

August 14, 2009

“It’s like I’m living in a television sitcom,” I said to my brother on the phone last night. “One of those bad family-oriented sitcoms where the kids get into amusing kinds of trouble.”

“What are you talking about?” my brother asked.

“We have a problem,” I said. “It’s a silly kind of problem. A sitcom kind of problem. But it’s also absolutely, deadly serious.”

“What is it?”

“Peanut’s been going these last few weeks to a town-sponsored day camp, and most days she comes home upset that people have been teasing her.”


“Now, to my mind, the teasing has been quite mild. For instance, yesterday some of the kids were calling her ‘Mary Poppins,’ because Peanut was carrying an umbrella. I mean, yes, the kids should have stopped when they saw she didn’t like it, but it would also be nice if Peanut had a greater resistance — or any resistance at all — to that kind of thing.”

“Sure,” said my brother.

“Well, tomorrow is the last day of camp, and they are capping things off with a talent show. At first, Peanut didn’t want to go because she didn’t want to be teased anymore, and my wife was absolutely fine with that. But now Peanut has decided she wants to go, because she wants to show off her talent.”

“What is her talent?”

“Are you sitting down?” I asked.

“Uh-oh,” said my brother.

“This is her talent: She is going to balance a spoon on her thumb.”


“A spoon,” my brother said. “Allrighty.”

“So here’s our dilemma. We can let her go to the talent show and balance a spoon on her thumb. The kids there will react in one of two ways: They will either be bowled over by her adorable seven-year-old sincerity and they will give her a rousing round of applause, or they will outright laugh at her. I really have no idea which way it will go. Our alternative is to keep her home — to say to her, you cannot go to the talent show and perform this trick, because we are afraid you will come home emotionally hurt.”

“You can’t do that.”

“No, we can’t. I can’t, anyway. My wife can. She has bad memories of her own childhood teasings, and if I’m nervous for Peanut, my wife is downright scared. But I don’t want to raise Peanut to be afraid of taking risks like this. It takes guts to stand up in front of a crowd and do something silly. I want Peanut to have those guts. And if the kids laugh at her, well, we’ll just have to deal with that if it happens. But it would be worse if we stepped in and said… what, that’s not a good enough talent? We can’t let you do that? I can’t say that to her.”


“Anyway, I say to myself, what possible talents are the other seven-year-olds going to have? Is someone going to get up there and sing an aria? No. Peanut will be fine. We have to let her do this.”


“And so tomorrow, I get to sit in my office thinking all day: Is she balancing a spoon on her thumb? Did it happen yet? How did it go? That’s going to be my day.”

“I guess that’s being a parent.”

“I seriously do not know how I’m going survive her teenage years. All this emotional churning, and what are we talking about? A day camp talent show!”

Postscript: This morning, Peanut upped the ante by balancing two spoons, one on each thumb. Strangely, this made me feel a lot better about the act. I tried convincing her to balance a third spoon on her nose, but she thought I was just being silly.

You Big Meanie

August 12, 2009

Bicycling, Day 2: Sonny is a little more confident that I am not going to let him drop to the ground, so he was a little happier on his bicycle today. Not that he did any pedaling or anything. It was just me, pushing him around, and really, that’s going to get old in the next ten or fifteen years. Hopefully today I’ll get him to push down on the pedals a little.

Running around my suburban street pushing my son on a bicycle — and getting a little more exercise than I had intended — an interesting conundrum occurred to me. A paradox, if you will. It is this:

Fact #1: If Sonny falls off his bicycle, he is never going to get on it again. He doesn’t see the point of this two-wheeled thing we keep pushing him onto, and if the only thing a bicycle can bring him is pain, then WHY WOULD HE WANT TO RIDE ONE? I would feel the same confusion if some Authority told me I had to jump off the roof of my house. “You’ll love it,” the Authority will say. “You’ll feel the wind in your hair! You’ll feel this weightless sensation!” “But… then I’ll hit the ground!” I’d say. “Seriously, feeling the wind in my hair is really not that important to me.”

Learning to ride a bicycle conveys more important and lasting benefits than jumping off a roof, of course, but Sonny does not yet understand that.

Fact #2: All kids fall off their bicycles. Which means Sonny is going to hurt himself doing this, and will then want to give up, and what am I supposed to say to him then?

Not sure how to solve this problem. Right now I am doing the only logical thing, which is ignoring it entirely.

Anyway! And now we change the subject entirely to the kids who were bullying Peanut at her day camp the other day. Bullying! How the word strikes seething anger into the hearts of parents! Who would do such a thing? Who would dare push around my adorable little girl and make her cry at the movie theater?

“They made you cry?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said sadly.

“What did they do?”

“They wouldn’t share their food with me.”

(Pause.) “…um.”

“And I was really hungry!”

“Peanut, but it was their food. It would have been NICE if they’d shared it, but they didn’t have to.”

“But I was really hungry.

These bigger kids — which probably means they were eight — also told her she smells like the ocean, which is a little more abstract than the insults I remember when I was my daughter’s age. I’m not saying I’m taking sides against Peanut, but I think I’ve got to beef up her mental defenses a little. If she thinks this is bullying, she is in for one hell of a shock when she gets to middle school.

Hitting on all cylinders

August 11, 2009

Some days it feels like I get home from work at 4:00 p.m., we eat dinner, and then I glance out the window and I see that it is dark, so the kids get into their pajamas and soon everybody goes to bed. And I lie there thinking, did God accidentally hit the fast-forward button or what? What the heck happened with this day?

Then there are days like yesterday. I’d sure like to know what we did right so we can do it again. I got home from work late, and yet there was still time for the following:

– Dinner.

– Practicing the bicycle. And it’s like the Lose The Training Wheels program never happened. Now that we have, indeed, lost the training wheels, Sonny is more scared than ever to sit on his bicycle. It doesn’t matter to him that there’s a great big handle protruding from the back seat, which I hold to prevent him from falling. He doesn’t like the wobbly insecurity of a bicycle that’s lost two of its most important supports. So “practicing the bicycle,” for now, means getting him to sit on the thing. Then I push him down the road like groceries in a shopping cart, and I try to get him to steer a little. We’ll work our way up to pedaling. The idea that he might pedal fast enough to keep the bicycle balanced on his own is not even a wisp of a thought right now.

– Sonny isn’t going to get on his bicycle out of the goodness of his heart, or because daddy said so. He wants to earn something, and what he earned was some time in the car. We sat in the driveway and he played with the power windows. I guess it’s good he’s so easy to please.

– We practiced writing the alphabet, and then spelling three- and four-letter words. When I draw little boxes for him to write his letters in, Sonny writes with reasonable legibility. All we need now is paper that comes pre-printed with little boxes on them. Wait a second — I can create that in Word in about thirty seconds. {smacks forehead} Man, I should have thought of that a long time ago.

– For doing his writing without complaint, Sonny wanted to earn the sprinkler. So he and his sister got into their bathing suits, and Peanut jumped through the sprinkler while Sonny sort of ran around in the general vicinity of the sprinkler, and they both had a fine time.

– Alas, I had forgotten that my wife had mowed the backyard that morning, so by the time we were done with the sprinkler, both kids were covered head to toe in wet grass clippings. Peanut in particular looked like she was starring in a bad horror movie called Daughter Of The Lawn Monster. And so: Showers, and then pajamas.

– And then reading. Sonny read aloud from one of the Capstone Press books we keep coming back to: Demolition!, which has many pictures of buildings being blown to smithereens. (Also, my son now recognizes the word “dynamite.”)

– After that, a small snack. A few more minutes of playing with toys. And then, at last, bedtime.

How did we manage to be so much more productive? Yesterday had the same number of hours in it as usual, didn’t it?


August 10, 2009

Let’s see, did I use enough exclamation points? I think not!


That’s better. Friday was Sonny’s 9th birthday, and this weekend we went out to his grandparents’ house for the celebration. My mother turned it into a full-fledged family reunion. There were relatives there I haven’t seen in years, and one distant relation I had never met before in my life. A large kiddie pool was set up, and Sonny spent most of the day in his bathing suit, pouring water over his own head and running around with his cousins. (Or anyway, running around in the same yard as his cousins. There was not a great deal of interaction.)

He also ate about three thousand Cheetos, and I let him because a) it was his birthday party and b) even though he eats like a champ, he looks like a skeleton you’d buy for a teacher’s classroom, except with a thin sheen of skin over it to keep all the bones together. The boy is thin, is what I am saying. When I commented on this, my mother said, “He’s exactly like you were.” Oh, right, I guess I knew that.

Sonny has certainly learned the proper order of a birthday party, and got excited at all the right moments. He walked into the house just as his grandma was putting the candles in the cake, and yelled “YES! WOOHOO!” He was in near hysterical laughter as we all sang Happy Birthday to him, and needed a bit of help blowing out the candles. And the next morning he discovered the presents we never got around to opening at the party itself, and he entertained not a moment’s doubt as to who these colorfully wrapped boxes were for. He dragged them all downstairs and got cracking on opening them up. (The booty: Two new trucks, one of them remote-controlled; a board game where you have to stack things until they fall over; a coloring kit that will probably become Peanut’s; a shirt; a playground ball so large that we cannot figure out where to store it.)

It’s bound to be another challenging year. School starts again soon, and we are hoping for another burst of progress, because frankly we haven’t seen one in a little while — Sonny seems to be treading water, academically. We need to start thinking about fighting our school district to make sure Sonny gets into a middle school with the kids he knows. I still want to teach him how to ride a bicycle… and after a week at the Lose The Training Wheels program, Sonny now refuses to even get on the bicycle. But it was nice, so very nice, to put all that aside for a couple of days, and focus instead on what a charming, happy, adorable kid we’ve got. (I think we need a few more exclamation points to close this out: !!!!!!)

The Wheels of Progress Fall Off The Bicycle

August 7, 2009

Not a good day at the bicycle program these past couple of days, and the wife has came home depressed. Sonny just isn’t working those legs of his, and the teenage girls working with him are too timid to push him very hard. My wife keeps poking her head in to find Sonny laying on the floor like he’s going to take a nap, and the three girls standing over him saying things like, “Come on, Sonny, please get up… it’ll be fun!” These girls need to show him who is boss, but they are only first learning that, and it’s slightly aggravating that their education is costing me $225. Meanwhile, there’s one experienced instructor, and she is working almost exclusively with another boy, who started the week screaming non-stop but is now bicycling all over the place — not on two wheels and not by himself, but still. It certainly seems like the success of the program rests on whether or not you get a real teacher or a bunch of well-meaning but ill-prepared volunteers.

Sonny did ask to ride his bicycle the other day after I came home from work — an all but unprecedented event. The teachers at the course told my wife that Sonny actually shouldn’t ride his own bike until after the course is over, and certainly not with training wheels still on. But, really, like I’m going to tell Sonny he’s not allowed to practice. We went out there and I goaded him into bicycling faster than .001 miles per hour, sometimes, pushing down on his knee to give him the idea. We weren’t out there more then fifteen minutes, but he seemed to be enjoying himself well enough.

The choices here seem to be: Keep at it or give up. For now, we choose the first option. We’ll see how I feel a couple of weeks from now.

This weekend: Sonny’s birthday celebration at his grandparents. Somehow, and I don’t entirely see how, he is turning nine years old.

A slight hole in his education

August 6, 2009

For some reason it occurred to me to ask Sonny the other day, “What rhymes with cat?”


“No, Sonny, that’s an opposite. A rhyme is a…” I blanked. How do you explain a concept like this to a child who has never been introduced to it? This is why I’m not a teacher. “A rhyme is a word that sounds like another word!” I said, knowing that clunky definition was unlikely to sink into Sonny’s brain. “So… cat rhymes with HAT! And MAT! And FAT! What else rhymes with cat?”


“Uh, no, what rhymes with cat?”


And so on. So he’s not getting it. Yesterday I stumbled upon a slightly clever way of phrasing it: “What rhymes with DOG and says ‘ribbit?'”


“Right! Do frog and dog rhyme?”

“Yes!” He says yes because he knows that’s what I want him to say, but I’ll take it. We play that game for a while more: What rhymes with CHAIR and is on top of your head? (“A hat!” No, Sonny…) What rhymes with TRAIN and falls from the sky? (“A plane!” Uh… that wasn’t the intended answer, but I’ll give you half credit.)

Without those additional prompts, though, he always falls back on opposites: A rhyme for cat is DOG, a rhyme for rain is SUNNY, etc etc. A tad frustrating. But then I remember: There was once a time when he didn’t understand opposites, either. (“What’s the opposite of rainy? CLOUD!”) Now he’s got opposites up hot — I mean, down cold — and it’s just a matter of shoving that information over in his brain to make room for this new concept.