Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Marissa's Bionic Teeth

Marissa had chronic ear infections the first year of her life. Her nose was constantly running, her ears always aching, and she was a downright miserable kid. When she turned one she got ear tubes, which drained the nasty infectious stuff so at least she could sleep at night, but ironically it didn't prevent the infections. (I will not describe the scene to you of waking her up many mornings with ear drainage smeared across her face, her pillow, and making her hair stick up. Okay, I guess I kinda just did. smelled and she needed many, many baths. Her sheets were washed nightly.)

This pattern continued despite the ear tubes. Her nose ran constantly. We stopped wiping it all the time and considered the initial layer a protective coating that kept her skin from rubbing off with every wipe of a tissue. None of the other parents at daycare would set up play dates with her, they thought she was always sick. And, she was.

She would get a cold which would turn into an infection. We would go to the doctor who would prescribe antibiotics. It would clear up eventually, but the minute the antibiotics stopped, it started all over again. She needed stronger and stronger antibiotics, which also did a number on her tummy. Poor kid.

We finally sought the opinion of her ENT who suggested that removing her adenoids may help. He had barely said the words and we scheduled the surgery. He wanted to do one more round of antibiotics "just to see if it would clear up," but she'd practically been on them her entire life, what would one more week do? We were tired and frustrated of having a cranky, unhealthy kid.

Around her second birthday she had her adenoids removed; the change was immediate and dramatic. By the evening of the surgery, she was smiley and playful. I didn't want to put her to bed when it was bedtime, it was such a treat to see her so happy. In the morning she woke up singing! Or babbling. Or something other than the howl we heard most mornings. Looking back, it must've been like waking up with a full-on sinus infection every single morning of her life. Such joy she must have felt awaking without a headache and a clogged skull.

Her nose cleared up, her ears cleared up, and any cold she caught after that stayed exactly that: a cold. No more drainage, no more nastiness, and we had a super happy baby. Yeay!

She grew and grew, and at age 6 began losing her teeth. One of the first teeth she lost was replaced with a tooth of the most unusual yellow, almost chalky white around the edges. Her dentist murmured something about "malformed enamel," and that was that.

Then another tooth came up with an interesting pattern of clear and white enamel. And another. We changed to a pediatric dentist who first used the word "hyoplastic enamel." Thus began our education.

Hypoplastic enamel is enamel that malformed while the adult teeth were maturing in her head during the first years of life. I learned a lot about tooth maturation. Ever see the skull of a child with the dental cavities exposed? It's creepy. I can see where the director got the idea for the creature's mouth hole in "Alien." You are born with adult teeth buds in your skull, and during your first few years of life they grow into the adult teeth that eventually push down into your jawbone once your head is big enough for the fully grown teeth. It's quite an extraordinary feat of human anatomy.

A child's skull with dental sinuses exposed. Creepy!
Especially that canine tooth way up there.
So why do some people develop hypoplastic enamel? Recent studies have pointed to chronic antibiotic use in infanthood as a probable cause.

Let me say that again: Chronic. Antibiotic use. In babies.

My death stare. Is it as intimidating as my kids say it is?
At age 12, Marissa already has 3 fillings, one crown and a capped baby tooth. The baby molar needed a cap because the enamel all around the edge of her gums literally disintegrated. It was like a cavity encircling her tooth; there was no way to "fill" it, and no point in anything more than a cap since it was a baby tooth and was going to fall out anyway. She recently lost that tooth, and we joked about her "cybergenetic" or "bionic" tooth.

Marissa's "bionic" baby molar.
When she had the crown done recently, the dentist told me that as she began to file down the existing tooth it literally crumbled under the slightest pressure of her tool. Her current crown will need to be replaced when she's 18, and eventually she will probably need an implanted tooth because the dentist isn't confident that the root of the tooth can hold.

Remember my last blog post, about my phobia of bad teeth? Marissa is going to face a lifetime of expensive dental work, filling, repairing and replacing her teeth through the years.

I'm angry that her permanent teeth were permanently ruined. all because she had a runny nose when she was a baby. Had we known then what we know now we would have insisted on more aggressive intervention earlier to reduce our antibiotic use.

It's Not Dental Phobia

I have a permanent retainer behind my bottom teeth, and I loathe how it captures food and I can't get it out. I brush, floss, and have even bought cheap dental tools to pick at this retainer.

Then I got the best advice ever — a friend of mine who has the same issue has her teeth cleaned every 4 months. Sure, you pay for an extra cleaning a year out of your own pocket, but it's all of $85 and it's worth it to me.

Yesterday was my cleaning, and I got into an interesting conversation with the hygienist. Or, I should say, she had a lot of interesting thoughts that I agreed with by making odd sounds with my mouth wide open.

She talked about seeing patients who finally came in for a cleaning for the first time in 15 or 20 years. They have such dental phobia that they never see a dentist. Some have no issues at all, just really, really dirty teeth, while others end up with a mouthful of cavities and future crowns and bridges.

Upon thinking about this, I've determined that I don't have dental phobia, I have a fear of bad teeth. Our teeth are made of bone; once they're gone, there is no substance in the world as strong that will replace them. Crowns need to be replaced, bridges fall apart. Our natural teeth are the authentic manufacturer-installed parts; once they are replaced, the fit isn't quite as tight, the holding as deep or strong.

I have dreams (nightmares, really) where my teeth suddenly start falling out of my mouth at random and I am devastated. I worry that my teeth will start wiggling and coming out like baby teeth. I fear the day that I'm told I need a crown, because I loathe the idea of filing down two perfectly good teeth just to put a false one between them.

And so I go to the dentist often not because I'm afraid of the dentist, I'm afraid of bad teeth.

It's been working out well. About a year ago my dentist noticed that one of my molars that's had a filling in it since childhood was starting to crack. He recommended that we remove the old silver filling and put in a new one made with material that would flow down into the crack and seal it, hopefully saving the tooth from cracking further. It's been a year now, so far so good.

Every dentist I've ever had as an adult has commented on how good the fillings I had put in as a child are. Thank you, Dr. Nyder, our next-door-neighbor and dentist, for your awesome work 40+ years ago!

Well now, this was a completely random post, I can't believe you made it to the end. Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts. It's leading me to another post about my daughter Marissa's dental woes, stay tuned for that if you actually read this one.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Nostalgic for Jesus Christ Superstar

This is the album cover that was in our cabinet under our record player.
A live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar" played on NBC last night, and I was the only one in our household interested in watching it. Lindsey watched the first five minutes, declared it "noise" and went upstairs to watch a movie on her kindle in her room.

Not that I'm religious, I just really like a good rock opera. Actually, I think JCS is the only rock opera I know. There is no dialog that is not set to music, and the whole thing is all electric guitars, drums and screaming solos, I'm pretty sure that's the definition of a rock opera.

I first got to know Jesus Christ Superstar as a kid. It came out as a record in 1970, and my parents had the album. It was a two-album set, with sides 1 and 4 on one record, 2 and 3 on the other. Our record player let you stack up to two records and it would play two sides one after another, and then you had to flip the records and re-set them to play sides 3 and 4. I still remember the anticipation of hearing the second record drop, the click of the needle picking up and then the scratch as the needle hit the starting groove and began to play. I would sit with the lyrics, which were written like a script, and study the words as it played.

Original performers in the 1970 Jesus Christ Superstar album.
The original album featured Murray Head as Judas and Ian Gillan as Jesus. Ian Gillan was the lead singer for Deep Purple, and later joined Black Sabbath. You can just imagine the initial recording, right? Literally screaming vocals, funky guitar rifts, slap bass solos.

The live performance last night maintained much of the original rock performance, but updated with today's vocal talents and instrumentation. I've only ever listened to the music, never watched a performance of it, and it was only last night that I realized that "Jesus Christ Superstar" is not about Jesus, it's about Judas. Judas has more solos and attention focused on his very human angst at not wanting but needing to betray Jesus.  

Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas in NBC's "Jesus Christ Superstar." He already killed Alex Hamilton as Aaron Burr in "Hamltion," betraying Jesus was next on his to-do list.
In Judas' final solo, he has ascended to heaven and is accompanied by angels. Dante Alighieri would not have agreed with this idea, as he put Judas in the final circle of hell in his epic poem "Inferno." But in this interpretation, Judas did a necessary deed to make a martyr of Jesus, and his payment is ascension to heaven.

I knew every word and completely enjoyed this interpretation of this classic. I thought Ben Daniels, who played Pontius Pilate, was weak on his final proclamation sentencing Jesus to death, and Alice Cooper was not the energetic King Herod as he should have been, but he did add entertainment value.

Cast and costuming of the 2018 NBC live performance of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Of course, I smiled thinking that Paul Gilles was a huge fan of Alice Cooper, Deep Purple AND Black Sabbath. I think he would have cringed seeing the great Alice Cooper in this diminished role. But perhaps not, maybe he would be happy to hear that some of the classic rock sound that he loved is being embraced by a new generation. I know I did.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

So...What's Online School Like?

Lindsey and her dad configuring her new laptop for online school (Nov 2017).
When people hear that Lindsey is going to an online high school, their first question is invariably, "What's it like?"

It is really, really cool. And challenging. And not lonely.

From an academic standpoint, because there isn't class time where students are expected to work on practice examples or projects, there is a lot of written work. For all of her classes, Lindsey needs to turn in a portfolio of sample work, showing that she has grasped whatever concept is being taught, be it sample math problems, writing samples, a short essay proving understanding of a historical event.

She has lots of online quizzes, some only as much as 3 questions, to test students' understanding of a concept. She takes great satisfaction in taking those quizzes, clicking "Submit" and then seeing her score instantly. She can see which ones she got wrong and what the right answer would have been, which, of course, bothers her greatly so she always looks it up to see why she got it wrong.

She has live lessons, usually one or two per day, where she needs to be logged in at a specific time for a lesson. It works a lot like a webinar, where the teacher often has a presentation up on the screen, and all the students can respond via a live chat. The teacher will have her audio turned on and all the students muted. This is the most entertaining part of her education.

Lindsey usually loves these live lessons, because she enjoys the interaction between students and the teacher. After a lesson she'll say something like, "Ben interrupts a lot," or "Alison is really chatty, she is constantly talking." Some of the kids in the class are on Snapchat together, and they'll snap to each other during the class, which is the online equivalent of passing notes. Lindsey only knows this because they'll accidentally comment on the live lesson chat about what the other person sent them (the equivalent of dropping the note between desks).

For Spanish class, she has to record herself speaking Spanish vocabulary and submit that recording to the teacher and it is graded on her fluency. In the live lessons they spend time learning about the culture of various Hispanic countries. For one live lesson, the teacher did a live stream of herself making churros in her kitchen, and during the cooking lesson they talked about the cuisine of various countries. Lindsey was really craving a snack after that one.

During one memorable math lesson, the teacher had asked students what the next step was in solving a quadratic equation. Lindsey started typing, then backspaced, then started typing, backspaced, and so on. In the meantime, on the chat screen everyone can see "Lindsey is typing..." for a pretty long time. Finally the teacher said, "I get the impression Lindsey is trying to say something." Lindsey finally hit "enter" on her answer and posted it. She got a few LOLs from other classmates for that one.

Her school has tons of clubs, of which she's not yet gotten involved. They have debate, Photography Club (which she wants to join eventually), Science Club, Musical Club and many others. They have field trips that are all over the state, and the high schoolers have a prom in a city centrally located in the state. Lindsey is considering going.

How you often find Lindsey working: on the couch with the dog on her lap.
Here's the cool thing about this: I suspect that there are many special education students in her classes and they are no different from anyone else. I am seeing that most of the students in her school live in small towns in outstate Minnesota. I suspect these are students for which their local public high school could not make accommodations for them, and their next best solution was online school.

Students are not judged for their appearance or their fashion. If they have difficulty speaking no one knows it, and students are more than capable of expressing themselves through the typed word. No one needs special accommodations for equipment, wheelchairs, tube feedings, etc. because those things happen off line. I can imagine that for some kids, an online education is ideal.

Lindsey is staying connected to her friends from Minneapolis schools on weekends, meeting for lunches and coffees, going to movies together and hanging out. Through her friends we are learning of more budget cuts at the public school, messy class schedules and overcrowded classrooms. It makes me sad to hear of the state of our local high school. I know we made the right decision to search out another education option for her.

Friday, March 02, 2018

What I've Learned in 2018 (So Far)

It's been nearly two months since I hung up my corporate hat and put my parent hat on full time. What have I learned about life so far?

I've learned that my children are complicated people. I've listened to more stories of lunch time comedy and recess shenanigans in the past 2 months than I've heard in the past 5 years. Our girls have ideas, dreams, imaginations so strong, and random thoughts that are unlike anyone else's. It is truly a gift to be able to spend as much time with them as I am.
Marissa's best 80's ponytail.
Which she found hilarious.

Lindsey's favorite pasttime: reading voraciously with Beauty beside her.
My daughter's requests for a "big breakfast" on Sunday mornings is more-often-than-not met with a "yes" instead of a "no." Our version of a "big breakfast" is bacon, pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, all homemade, of course. It takes so little to make her happy, why would I not when I have the time and the energy?

Delicious gluten-free pancakes, after tweaking the recipe for two months.

I've seen that anxiety is a mangy beast that has one of my kids in its maw tightly, more tightly than I realized. After two months I feel like, perhaps, we are starting on a path to lightness. But no, I won't say that yet, maybe it's just another good spell that will be broken by another awful terrible no-good very bad day. And so I will continue to question, to pester, and to be there for her.

I've learned that I need the gratification of actually seeing things get clean when I clean them. This means there is no sweeping of floors once a week "just because," or dusting of mantels before they collect dust. I want to see that dust FLY, man, so it needs to accumulate good before I get after it.

And I've learned that my husband, the ultimate neat-nick, doesn't mind (or at least knows not to say it if he does) if the house isn't quite up to his standards. He is a more relaxed person for not having to do laundry on weekends and wash dishes every night. Not that I wash dishes every night either — we just leave them until the next morning because time together is precious and I'll have time in the morning to do them when everyone's gone off to work and school.

We've all learned that we used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on take-out food. I never quite understood before how our family could spend so much on "dining out," yet we never went to a restaurant. Bringing home "dinner in a bag" from Chipotle one night and Noodles & Co the next, and now I get where that money was going. That money is no longer flying out the door, and suddenly we can actually go out as a family to a sit-down restaurant every once in a while, despite my lack of income.

I have time to reflect and write, take photographs and exercise, all of which makes me a better person, more patient and confident at the same time. We are a better family for the change, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

"Hey Alexa, Stop My Scattering Thoughts"

This past September our family got the Amazon Echo Dot. Two of them, to be exact.

This is the device that you activate by saying "Alexa," and then asking any number of questions. She most often tells us the time or the weather.

In the morning the girls and I will play the song quiz, where Alexa plays a few seconds of songs from various eras and players take turns guessing the artist and title.

Our favorite Alexa skill is the shopping list. The minute I realize I'm out of something, I tell Alexa to put it on my shopping list. By the time I go grocery shopping, the list is already built of everything the family needs.

Which brought me to an interesting thought, among my scattered thoughts.

I was sitting in my kitchen working on a project, when I suddenly remembered that I had opened the last gallon of milk that morning. "Alexa, put milk on my shopping list," I called out, and she dutifully did so.

A song came on in the kitchen and I told Alexa to skip it. The next song was rather loud, so I told Alexa to turn down the volume. A few minutes later, I thought about taking the dog for a walk and asked Alexa what the weather was like.

I found myself calling out to Alexa every few minutes, taking care of the random thoughts that flitted through my brain.

Which brings me to this question: are my thoughts scattered because of Alexa, or is it just more obvious because I interact with a device whenever my thoughts scatter?

Many of us struggle with focus and concentration, especially those of us responsible for family activities, stocking a household, appointments and work obligations. Are these devices helping or hurting?

After my experience working on this project at home, I feel like Alexa helped me. A random thought would come across my brain, I had Alexa take care of it and I could go back to my project. Normally I would be telling myself to remember to put "milk" on a list later on, and that thought would never leave my brain until it was taken care of.

Our family started with just two Alexa devices, we are now up to four. If I'm ever in a place where I can't just take care of something by telling Alexa to do something, I get annoyed. "Great, now I have to remember this until I get home and ask Alexa," I'll grumble in my car.

Are our brains moving forward or backward?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Middlemoon Creek Walk

Just south and west of us is a creek that runs through a neighborhood from Lake Harriet. It's a part of the chain of lakes and is maintained by the city. But for one magical weekend in the winter, the neighbors take over.

Residents in this area began decorating the path along the creek with ice sculptures. It started out small — balloons that are filled with water, frozen and the balloon popped. Ice in a bucket that is turned upside down. Then it got a bit more elaborate.

Now it is a magical walk of all kinds of sculptures, lit with candles from the inside, protected from the snow and wind that would extinguish them. So my camera and I went for a stroll.

There were elaborate altars of ice, decorated with candles and lit from inside. There was an incredible miniature castle, about the height of a four-year-old who stared at it in amazement.  The path was lit with little balls of icy light. Snow was falling steadily, making streetlamps in the area hazy with an otherworldly glow.

The path was busy with many families out to see the sights. People were polite in making way for others along the path. Dogs were petted, children smiled at, and strangers struck up conversations. A group of adults chatted about whose house they were heading back to for a warm toddy after their walk.

Yes, the sculptures were beautiful to see, and the ducks on the open water, huddling together with snow gathering on their backs. But the most beautiful experience of all was that of community in this special little creek.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Final Tween

This year Marissa will be turning 13 and we will officially have two teenagers in the house. Sure, it feels like we've got two already, but technically Marissa is still a "tween."

While Marissa was once our messy child, she has somehow come to appreciate order and cleanliness. Every morning she makes her bed before school. Clothes are actually put in a hamper, not strewn around the floor like they were when she was 7, and if you were to open the drawers in her desk you would find cosmetics and toiletries neatly arranged.

I spy with my little eye...
Yet there is still one throwback in her room taking her back to her childhood. Tucked away between some of her fluffy pillows is "Sheepy," the stuffed animal she slept with from babyhood on. I know she still sleeps with it, because sometimes in the middle of the night I hear the tinkle of little bells as she turns over with Sheepy in her hands.

So sweet.

Viva City Revisited

The emcee, AJ Friday, was fantastic at
keeping the crowd entertained while groups set up.
Marissa was given the opportunity to perform at Viva City, a celebration of music and dance put on by Minneapolis Public Schools. Lindsey had the same opportunity in 7th grade, and truly loved the experience of seeing and hearing from so many different schools across the city.

This year they were able to perform at the Guthrie Theater — the Guthrie! Marissa did not even know what it meant to be performing there.

The night began with a rocking drum line, made of boys and girls, thank you very much. Bands and orchestras, then choirs. Unfortunately we had to leave at the 2nd intermission, so we did not get to see the theater and dance performance troupes, which I remember as being impressive.

I loved how supportive the crowd was. If there was a beat, there were people clapping along. The acoustics were challenging as they were in a large theater and the accompanying instruments came through the sound system, but they had not put microphones over the singing groups, so most groups were drowned out by the instruments. Students were unaccustomed to singing to such a large audience; I could see each of the directors encouraging their students to be louder, louder, LOUDER!

I'm so glad that both of our daughters had this opportunity to see music from other groups, and to showcase their talents as well.