Friday, October 26, 2007

That New Dog

Me on a run with Scruffy: "Come here Crusty. I mean Snappy. Snuffy. Scruffy."

I just can't seem to master the name! This situation is not helped by the fact that I don't like the name, which was bestowed upon him by his first (and obviously far less inventive) owners. To complicate, Merrick has trouble pronouncing Scruffy so he's reverted to the smoother Crusty.

Styrker initially suggested Caspian as a name. I'm all over that, but then Stryker remembered that Grandma Mary disapproves of three syllable dog names. My mother has a thick playbook and you better know those rules.

The dog answers to Scruffy. But I can't be helped: "Here Snuffy! I mean Caspian. Crusty. Scruf."

Merrick and I introduce Scruffy-Crusty-Caspian to our neighbor Chip, a good guy who didn't know he was actually God until Merrick came along and told him. Chip works on trains, rides them all day long.

Chip thinks Scruffy is a funny name, but apt.

Me: "Merrick calls him Crusty."

Chip: (big laugh) "Why not just call him Icky?"

Merrick, ever helpful to God: "How about Poop?"

Scarlett Starts The Day With Half an Hour in the Second Floor Hall Closet

"Mom, don't you guys ever dust in here?"

Considering Wednesday's debacle, this seems smooth.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Hate It When That Happens

Someone wrote the article I intended to. Go to, click on broadsheet (left hand side) and read the catchy title: "Is Thyroid Disease the New Hysteria?" Hey! Get your (more successful) hands off my idea!

For the record ---

Book I have yet to write: "Witty Replies and Quick Comebacks: The Pocket Guide for the Slow Thinker."

Commerce I have yet to exploit: Super-size geriatric supply store, a medical supply Wal-Mart stocking walkers, wheel-chairs and respirators as Boomers start the inevitable decline.

Further Commerce: Handy Man empire catering to the elderly called "The Son-in-Law Stand-In." We screw in light bulbs, mow the lawn, change fuses, repair door handles and putter generally, as needed.

Conceptual: The concept of 'self' as we have understood (and lived) it, is in the midst of profound and foundational change. We're talking Enlightenment quality here. Big guns!

That's it for now. Don't want to share all the goodies. And the answer is, yes, thyroid patients are today's hysterics. Weight gain, depression, acne, anxiety. It's all in her pretty little head. Hysterics suffered through the rest cure, we get to drink radioactive iodine and take carcinogenic medication. PTU is on the official Health and Human Services' list of carcinogens but it's the best medicine has to offer pregnant women.

Thyroid disease is largely a female malady. Funny how the main three treatment options haven't been tweaked much since 1950.


My mother and father in-law are 75 and 85. They go to a funeral every week. Memorials and wakes are their primary social junket. After the service, they eat ham or egg-salad sandwiches and sip coffee. These gatherings exist in a unique temporal dimension: conversation shifts seamlessly between past and present, potent and trivial. They gossip. They decry the cost of gas and talk about whose grandchild appears headed down the worst road. They fall back fifty years to wedding nights, births, and communions. Disappointment and betrayals get yet another look. Really, I can't imagine (fill in the blank) is gone. Who makes the better rhubarb crisp? Then they pick up their plates and go home.

Today I put Thurston's ashes in their new box and set them on the long smooth shelf next to my father's. I watch both boxes and think about my shelf, filling up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Downside of Drama

Scarlett crawled to the car this morning. I could say that she was also weeping or sobbing, but that wouldn't give the sound justice. Wailing? Better. Sorta made me think of Bertha up there in the Jane Eyre attic, those kind of noises.

Oh, and by crawling, I mean on her belly. She had a voice-over to go with the scream sound track, "You two are the meanest parents in the world!"

I wonder what the neighbors think sometimes.

The roots of this scene sprouted last night when I picked her up from the Guthrie at 10 pm. The child supervisor said brightly, "No more sugar for this one!" Turns out there's something called Snack Central backstage, a locker (according to Scarlett) four feet high full of candy. Initially, she was asking her adult colleagues for handouts; now she just marches into Snack Central and helps herself.

She was awake until 1:00 am -- at least! That's the hour she left our bed because instead of coddling and sympathizing with her wide-awake-state, I fumed. That's the kind of mother I am: scaring children out of mom and dad's bed.

Predictably, I woke to the familiar scent of self-recrimination.

When I woke her up, I said as much: really sorry! Give me a chance to do better next time, okay? Uh, thanks Scarlett. Instead of getting any kind of normal human interaction, she starts screaming: "Why didn't you wake me up earlier? I wanted to get up at 7! My tummy hurts!"

After forty minutes of sobs coming from her dark bedroom, I realized that this child was not going to school unless she had step by step instruction. John and I took turns standing over her: "Now put on your sweatshirt. Pick up the hair brush and use it. Turn on the water."

While she screamed. At least she fine-tuned the narrative. Turns out the problem is definitely a tummy ache (after the wake up time lost steam). One important piece of this story is that Scarlett has a tummy ache every single morning, they just vary in complexity and intent. Some people communicate with words. She uses her stomach.

Culminating in the belly crawl to the car.

Oh yippee! She has another Guthrie show tonight - just the precursor to her own personal main stage where the audience is captive (for at least 9 more years).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Needier Than Anticipated

Hey, I need way more attention! Share the link or post a comment. I guess the title says it all. The dogs are sitting here looking at me, though, and that's a nice start.

Hate in America

At a dinner party, two friends--both middle-class, white, male, left-leaning and Democratic--nursed scotch and got a jump on mourning the loss of the 2008 Presidential election. Certain Hilary’s going to be the DFLer, they've already turned over the election to the Republican. Who could be a farting goat (and probably is). And would still beat Hilary. All my guys want is a win—sorta hoping to save the country, so the stakes seem high.

And they’re certain the Republicans have the following on Hilary: she's divisive and strident. She’s limp enough to lose a single fidelity war, let alone wage a real battle against millions. She's got History. A record. There are the pant suits, the hair style, the polysyllabic words. Don't get them going on the laugh (cackle and that rhymes with witch) unless there's more scotch. They don’t (necessarily) hold these views, but here – the land of fleshy thighs and high-pitched voices—is where the Republicans will find their fuel.

My friends started getting on my nerves.

In a recent LA Times column Mariel Garza made the astute, if blindingly unoriginal and repetitious (and therefore, tremendously discouraging) observation that much of left-wing Ann Coulter critique has sunk to ridiculing hair, thighs, nose and voice. "It's her words" that are her "worst feature," Garza reminds us. But we're too busy chortling over a hem line to deconstruct Coulter's faulty logic. Who wins? Garza tossed out the "S" word: sexism. There’s a narrative we’re allowed to deconstruct female pundits or politicians and it has nothing to do with politics.

So my friends have a line on Hilary because it’s one we’ve heard before. It’s okay to demean a woman’s body. Sport, even. But what would the Republicans do with a Black man?

Ashraf Rushdy wrote a jaw-dropping essay for Transition that has been reprinted in more than one edition of The Best American Essays. In "Exquisite Corpse, " he tells the story of Maggie Till Bradley, an African American mother who in 1955 insisted that the decomposing, water-sodden, mottled, and partially dismembered body of her 13 year old son be displayed in an open casket. "Come see what they did to my baby," she cried. Tens of thousands did. Emmitt had been lynched by white boys, bored, in need of Activity. Rushdy has more grotesque bodies in store for his reader. His point? White people can't begin to imagine Black suffering in this country. We can't begin to fully grasp the underlying narratives of contempt and how that narrative plays out on Black bodies.

African American masculinity has long housed white fear, resentment and fascination. We’re still rolling through a national history where Black manhood was once so potent that African-American men could be killed for simply looking at white women.

As I told my friends, I’m scared too. If it's acceptable to use the trappings of femininity to trash a woman, what will those witty Republicans do with a black man? We haven’t yet seen their toy box and it could be every bit as fun as the one they’ve opened for Hilary.

I’ll take whoever the Democrats give me, white, black, female –hey, even that farting goat---and run hard, because winning matters. Barack or Hilary, either one, faces ideological battles of the subterranean sort, in addition to the good ole left-right fight.

Make mine a double.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Whenever I lose all reason and think how adorable babies are, I remember what happens a couple of years later: It turns two.

When Merrick was 2 1/2, Scarlett (then 7) sniffs twice and proclaims herself too sick to attend school. We both know otherwise, but I'm a big believer in hooky. Plus, I am secretly thrilled. Scarlett is Merrick's best wind-up toy. He'll be occupied! I make a list: kitchen floor, bathroom, laundry, pile in Stryker's room. I will whip through everything! A clean house momentarily appeases the demons within: how much use are you getting out of that P-H-D, hmmm?

Scarlett has other plans. Home without Stryker evaluating her every move, she spends the entire day moving from one electronic devise to another. Game Boy, DS Lite, TV, Computer. Her eyes glaze and she grows surly. Merrick wails in her wake, begging Scarlett to play with him, begging to 'pway' the Game Boy, and begging me to intervene.

"But this is my day off!" She whines. Cough, cough.

They fight the entire morning. Thurston, our 13 year old dog, throws up twice. I clean up everyone's messes. Forget that list.

Nearly too late, I remember Merrick's 1 pm dental appointment. He had fallen a couple of weeks ago and hit a front tooth; the tooth turned gray, then white and now gray again.

Scarlett shuffles to the van, cleverly remembering to bring the Game Boy so they could continue fighting. Merrick inquires about our destination. Lying is an excellent parenting tool which I stupidly forget.

"To the dentist." They both scream.

"No, no, no--just for Merrick!"

Putting those years of graduate school to use after all, this is the stimulating dialectic I enjoy for the next 20 minutes:

Merrick: "I go to dentist?"

Me: "Yes! It'll be okay."

Merrick (wailing): "Please no make me, please no make me."


The dentist's office is jam-packed. There's one big room with four dental chairs and everybody is in the same mood as Merrick. One child screams. And screams and screams. Merrick collapses.

"I want ki-ki!" These words should mean my milk lets down but instead it's sweat. The whole weaning thing is about one year behind schedule.

"I want ki-ki!!" He goes from firm to frantic. 'KI KI. KI KI."

The dental assistant's horror is palpable. You'd think something slimy had crawled up her shirt. If only. "Oh my God, you're not still nursing him, are you? That's the worst thing. You should see the teeth rot we get here."

I am the most agreeable mother she will see all month. "No, no, no. Of course not! Yes, ugh! Awful. He just remembers, isn't that funny!" Merrick tears at my shirt, looking for an angle in. He weeps and claws. Thank GOD the dentist arrives for further humiliation.

"Why are you even here?" she demands, like I crashed her party.

"Well, I called. The woman on the phone said to come right in."

"But teeth bruise and change colors all the time. It's no big deal. Everybody knows that."

Except me, it appears. I take my thoroughly scolded self back to the van where Merrick gets his ki-ki in hiding. Scarlett wakes up from the Game Boy long enough to ask if we can go to Creative Kidstuff. There are 40 minutes to kill before picking up Stryker from school. I toss in the towel. Why not?

They bounce through the store, which exists as a unique kind of parental torture. Your kids get to fall in love in twenty different ways, with gym-scale race tracks or $100 dolls-- and you get to be the ogre who says "No" to every last thing they adore. "No, no, no. I'm sorry, no." Suddenly, I hear Scarlett scream: Daddy! John (whose office is across the street) saw us and surprised his darlings. He throws each child up in turn. They're rescued. It's Mr. Fun! They beam.

A white-haired grandmother sighs. "What a good father. Isn't it wonderful how they do so much work these days?" An ugly animal growls within me. Aren't there stairs she can be pushed down?

After Mr. Fun leaves, Scarlett begs for a $3. hot chocolate at Woullets Bakery. I am firm, absolutely not. We have a bucket of Nestles at home.

Scarlett looks up from the screen. "Isn't that one of those mean big corporations doing bad things to children? Don't they use dirty water for babies or something?"

We sit at a tall table with our hot chocolate and Merrick reaches over for a napkin. The spill is truly spectacular. An explosion, really. Cocoa on the windows, the walls, streaming down the floor, covering Scarlett's white pants, pouring on Merrick's tummy.

"What a bad thing to do! Look at this mess!" I hiss. Good job, Mary! Merrick wails. The person behind the counter doesn't helpfully jump in: she hands me a towel. I wipe up the best I can through the din. When I shove the cocoa and the coffee into the waste container, it all spills again. I am sweating. Again.

A woman and her young daughter carefully avoid me on their way out. "What's wrong with those people?" asks the child, anxious. The mother dispenses wisdom. "They're messy. Some people just are that way."

My urge to scold Merrick into a pulp of shame is replaced with despair when he lifts up his tiny t-shirt to show big red burn marks. "It hurts." He blinks new tears.

We stagger to the van, wet, Scarlett limping dramatically with those two legs of hot cocoa--and still able to play the Game Boy! Boy, my children have talent. People stare. I settle in Merrick and must step on the paper towel roll we keep in the van (because we're so messy). A sheet sticks to my sticky cocoa-sodden sole and the roll flies, arcing up and across Grand Avenue -- miraculously, one sheet still stuck to my foot as the roll playfully bounces through traffic to the other curb. What a trick. Maybe all that education will pay off in unimagined ways.

Weren't those the good old days!