Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Definition of Anti-Bullying

Marissa on the day she donated her hair.
My youngest daughter is always full of surprises. She is thoughtful, kind, and feels emotions deeply. Yet that side of her is often covered by an outward facade of carelessness and scattered thinking.

This past summer she got friendly with a boy from her school through a game called Fortnite. She had him in some classes the previous year and didn't think much of him. He often interrupted the teacher with off-topic comments and didn't seem to care for schoolwork. But over the summer they would spend hours on this game, chatting and working together on the various quests. She warmed up to him, and not a day would go by that they wouldn't talk. They never got together in person though, which I found unusual for a friendship. I kept questioning if it was more than friends, but the answer was always the same: just friends.

School started again this fall, and their friendship over Fortnite continued. They didn't have too many classes together this year, so she didn't have much of an opportunity to see him except for lunch. They would sit at the same table, a group of boys on one end, girls on another, because that's how it goes in middle school.

One day he called one of her girlfriends "anorexic." Marissa wasn't there to hear it, but she heard from her friend afterward that he had done this. Her girlfriend was really hurt. She already felt out of place with how petite she was — she is shorter and smaller than all of her friends — and he just reinforced how badly she felt about her body.

Marissa was mad. She came home from school that night and told me about the incident and that she was going to talk to this boy about it. I hadn't suggested this course of action, and internally was doubtful she would have the courage to do it, though I told her it was the right thing to do.

The next day at lunch, she marched up to this boy and said, "Hey, you called my friend anorexic yesterday and you really hurt her feelings." He was surprised. "Women and girls already struggle with their body image and being compared to models all the time, that was a really hurtful thing to say." He hadn't ever heard of "body image" before, had no idea girls struggled with it and that he'd hurt this girl's feelings, and he agreed to apologize to her.

The very next opportunity he had, he walked up to Marissa's friend and apologized to her for calling her anorexic. Marissa's friend was surprised and accepted his apology.

Marissa decided that this boy was not nice for having said such a mean thing, despite the fact that he'd apologized, and she no longer plays Fortnite with him or hangs out. If he did it out of a sense of winning back Marissa's friendship, he didn't succeed. But perhaps he did it because he genuinely felt badly for how he made this girl feel, and will not say something like that to someone again.

Marissa's actions are the exact definition of "anti-bullying," and I am so proud of her for inherently knowing to do the right thing.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Outward Appearances

I've run into a certain older gentleman at my local Cub Foods many times over the past few months. He is probably in his 70's or 80's, very spry, and talks to absolutely everyone. He and I have struck up a conversation several times, most recently this past week when Marissa and I were stocking up for Christmas.

He was packing up groceries on one side and I on the other, and he turns to me and says, "Do you know what the difference is between outlaws and in-laws?" A well-timed pause of an often-told joke. "Outlaws are wanted."

He said that people just aren't happy enough, don't laugh enough, and he takes it upon himself to spread a little joy, all year round. I wished him a Merry Christmas and we went on our way.

Marissa and I were commenting about the exchange on the way home. She had overheard him talking in another aisle to another customer about his Christmas plans. His son was having him over on Christmas Eve, he would be spending Christmas Day with his daughter and her family.

"But I'm really looking forward to December 26th," he said to the gentleman. "My wife died 8 years ago, it's just not the same without her. Holidays are difficult."

From all outward appearances he seems happy, spreading laughter to strangers wherever he goes. Yet he harbors grief inside, something that he tries not to dwell on but that is a part of him.

I am thinking of him this Christmas morning and hoping he is enjoying time with his family, while honoring the part of him that misses his wife. People need a little love and understanding, even, and perhaps especially, those who don't appear to need it.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

An Unfortunate Error In Fashion

Some months ago a friend of mine gave me some whimsical socks. They make me laugh every time I wear them, which I'm finding is more and more often as the weather gets colder. I realized I don't have many socks that are this thick or nice, so I find myself wearing them every time they are clean.

A few weeks ago my daughter and I went to the chiropractor and I realized, after I had laid down on the table with hot pads on my back, that I had worn my whimsical socks. This wouldn't normally be an issue, except that at the chiropractor I always take my shoes off, so my socks were in full display for everyone to see as they walked by my table. Just the thought of this made me laugh, that kind of uncontrollable laugh that you know is not appropriate so you try to stifle it, which only makes you laugh more. I probably looked a sight jiggling away on the chiropractic table.

Eventually the doctor came over to adjust me, and I apologized in advance for my socks. He laughed and said, "Don't worry about it, I've seen all kinds of socks here, with toes sticking out and all kinds of things." He clearly thought I was apologizing for the state of my socks, not for their whimsy.

Eventually he made his way down to my feet, saw my socks and then started to chuckle. "Oh!" he said with a laugh, "Now I know why you were apologizing. That is so funny."

Because this is what he was looking at:

Normally they read correctly from left to right, but since I was face down on the table, they were backwards.

Thankfully he had a good laugh about it and I made a mental note to remember not to wear those to the chiropractor again.

I also went out and bought myself some decent winter socks that don't have words.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

First Job

What was your first job? Mine was as a dishwasher and busgirl at a local restaurant. I worked there the summer I turned 16, lugging tubs of dirty dishes up and down stairs from the lake where there was a float on the water where customers could be seated. Those seats were quaint and relaxing to enjoy as a customer, it sucked to have to take those steps with a heavy load of dishes as an employee.

When I first started, I had to wait a few minutes before touching the hot plates straight from the dishwasher. I saw another worker pull the plates straight from the dishwasher and start putting them away and I couldn't believe it — how were his fingers not burnt? By the end of the summer I was doing that as well, my fingers having toughened against the heat.

Most times I would bring food from home to eat during my break, but once I splurged and ordered something off the menu to eat. When I got that paycheck, I could see that I had worked a full hour to have a full hour's worth of pay deducted to pay for my food. That was the last time I did that, and I was also careful when I spent my money, thinking about how many hours I had worked to earn it.

Lindsey's been wanting a job for a while, but most places don't hire 15-year-olds. The local grocery store hires kids at 15, but she had no interest in working with food in any form.

On a trip to Turnstyle, a consignment shop, the woman ringing up our purchase encouraged Lindsey to apply. "We really need workers before the holidays," she said. Lindsey and I looked at each other and I asked, "Do you hire 15-year-olds?"

"We might, ask the manager," she said, "She's over there."

Lindsey sought out the manager, we went home and she applied online. She was surprised to get a call a few days later asking her to come in and interview. She interviewed on a Monday and by Friday got the phone call that they could hire her if she was interested. Was she? YES!

She's worked a few shifts now and she is loving it. Her co-workers and managers are super nice, and there are a few other high schoolers working there as well. She organizes and hangs clothes, tags new clothes that come in, and has learned how to consign home goods. This week she'll be learning how to consign clothes coming in, and she's excited for every skill she learns.

For the most part the customers are nice, and if they have a challenging customers the manager handles it. It sounds like the back room is filled with snacks and nibblies (brought by the manager) for everyone to enjoy.

She got her first paycheck which only covered one shift, and she's thrilled to be earning her own money. She told us that she doesn't need to get an allowance anymore, she's got her own money now.

First paycheck!
I am so proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone. It takes a lot of emotional energy for her to interact with the public, it would be so much easier for her to avoid people and just stay home. But she's determined to overcome her challenges, and this job is a perfect fit for her.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Two Teens

Marissa playing soccer in this past summer's rec league.
I wrote this post the week after Marissa's 13th birthday party, but I didn't have access to the photos from the party so I didn't post it right away. So now...four months later, here is Marissa at age 13. (Sucks being the second kid!)

Written 7/31/18:

This past Friday was Marissa's 13th birthday — we finally have two teens in the house.

Lindsey jokes that Marissa acts like she's been the teen for years while Lindsey still isn't. Marissa is really, REALLY into makeup. She owns more makeup at age 13 than I did as a 19-year-old during the height of 1980's glam rock. She'll spend an hour perfecting a look, only to wash it all off because we're leaving the house and she doesn't want to go out all made up.

She is into the latest pop music, like Cardi B (shudder) and Post Malone, though she sprinkles a little country like Luke Bryant and Carrie Underwood in there.

Marissa would like to live in the country when she grows up, but she doesn't want a farm. She just wants a few sheep, chickens, and some goats so her sister Lindsey will visit her.

For her birthday this year we rented a few rooms at a local hotel and had friends sleep over. They played pool games, watched movies and ate popcorn. Since they were all so tired from swimming, magically all six girls were asleep by 11:00. Wow!

The way the rooms were set up the girls had two adjoined rooms, and I had the room across the hall where I could hear if the party got out of hand. (It didn't.) The six girls stayed in those two rooms, and the first time they all left to go to the pool, not one brought a room key with them. We had to stop at the hotel front desk to get an extra one and let them back in. I personally thought it was funny and also a great example of where these girls are in their childhood; old enough that you would think they would know better, but young enough that they are accustomed to an adult always taking care of things like that for them.

She is an amazing kid whose charm and warmth engages us all. Happy Birthday, sweetie.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Arguing Without Words

Most couples have some sticking points on things that really aren't worth arguing about. Toilet seat up or down? Squeeze the toothpaste from the end or the middle? They become daily annoyances but in the great scheme of life, really aren't worth arguing about. That's why Wayne and I have these arguments without words. Because the few times that we finally do get a chance to sit down and talk, we'd rather not waste our time talking about these petty arguments.

A recent silent argument we had was about how to store those nifty S'well bottles. Our kids love them, our youngest keeps asking to buy different ones of different styles. (Isn't the point to buy just ONE so you don't create waste?) The bottles have to be hand-washed and every time I put them away I store them with the caps off, because if we store them with caps on, the little tiny bit of water that is in the bottom will mold in the bottle. Yet every time I go into the cupboard where they're stored, the caps are tightly fastened onto each bottle.

I know who's doing this, and it's not the two teenagers who can't be bothered to pick up their socks.

This went one for a month or more. I would take the caps off, he would put them back on. Next time I washed them I'd leave the caps off, he'd put them back on. Finally I left a note in the cupboard explaining my reasoning.

Finally, the caps stayed off the bottles. After a while the note disappeared, I assume because Wayne was tired of being reminded every time to NOT put the caps on.

Next up: the chair in our bedroom.

It's a beautiful chair, we both love it and love the fabric. It is super comfy and gets used practically every day. I especially love the snuggly throw that I bought to go with it. In the winter you can find me on that chair with the throw over my lap, a cup of coffee and a book. Heaven! to "store" the throw...

I like it casually draped over the chair. (After all, is it not called a "throw?") To me, it says "Welcome! This chair is for you! Sit down, wrap up and get cozy."

My version of the chair in our bedroom.
Wayne thinks the blanket looks messy this way. He likes it neatly folded. But...why? A neatly folded throw says to me that the chair is for appearances, not for sitting. This was an actual discussion that we had one time, because I found the folded blanket on the seat annoying. You always had to move it to sit on the chair, while with the blanket thrown over the edge you could sit on the chair for a few minutes to put shoes on and not have to worry about moving it.

So he stopped folding the blanket. But then he started doing this.

To me, this says that we are embarrassed about the chair. It must be ugly, worn, have big holes in the fabric because we don't want you to see the fabric, we want you to sit on it anyways despite its probable nasty appearance underneath.

And so the silent argument has begun. Every time he's alone in the room, I find the chair completely covered in the blanket. And every time I see that, I whip it off and drape it over the back. He will find it that way later and drape it over the whole chair again — I'll put it back the way I like it.

If this chair could talk!

But here's the thing: I don't have a logical argument for this one. The S'well bottles, that just makes sense, we don't want moldy, stinky bottles. But the blanket? This is just a matter of opinion, and we both think we're right.

And so, I turn to you, dear reader. Which way shall we store the throw on this chair?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

When NOT to Tell Someone You're Doing "Well"

The year I turned 40 I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease. Oh My God!! you say, are you okay?!

I'm so okay I forgot to mention it to some members of my family.

Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disorder in which your body attacks your thyroid, reducing the amount of hormone produced naturally by the body. The treatment? Take safe and common hormone replacements to bring the body into balance. But also see your endocrinologist often for a simple blood test in which your hormone levels are monitored so your doctor can determine when you need to step up the hormone replacement dosages, because your body keeps attacking your thyroid until you need full replacement hormones.

For six years I have been seeing my endocrinologist, and once had him bump up my dosage. And then, two years ago happened.

In fall of 2016 at my regular check-up, I reported that I was feeling tired and run-down. I could nap every day, was tired every afternoon, stopped working out because I couldn't get myself up at 5 a.m. anymore to fit it into my day. My chart indicated that I had gained 7 lbs in one year, probably a combination of fewer workouts and more sleeping. But, my dad had also just passed away, which added a new level of stress to life, making all of the above explainable as well.

They drew blood for the blood test, and a week letter I got a letter that my levels were within normal range, and that based on my report the doctor did not see a reason to make an adjustment, see you next year.

I found myself back the following November, giving the same report: I'm tired. I sleep a lot and could sleep more. I don't have the energy to work out. And my hair was falling out in copious amounts. I could see my scalp through my hair and it was devastating. Others said they couldn't tell, but I could and it bothered me.

I had also read the book "Hashimoto's Protocol" by Izabella Wentz, a pharmacist who self-diagnosed her own Hashimoto's in her late 20's. When she reported to doctors that she had no energy she was told that "people slow down as they age." She retorted, "Really?! 29-year-old's slow down?"

This time I had the blood draw done in advance so we could discuss the results at the appointment. But the doctor (and truthfully, I) forgot that I'd done that so we didn't check the results. The doctor walked into the room and said, "Hi how are you?" To which I replied, "Well." Because, as the CEO of a company I used to work at says, replying by saying "good" is not proper grammar. (I partially blame him for my two-year mistreatment.)

I then proceed to tell the doctor of my woes. I'm not sleeping well and can't sleep enough. My hair is falling out. I lack the motivation to work out. My thinking is fuzzy. I am sluggish and can tell I've gained weight. This year's report? Another 11 lbs, 18 lbs in total in two years. I have never gained this kind of weight in my life in such a short period of time. Does this sound like me? No.

He informs me that hair loss is not a symptom of Hashimoto's, nor is the kind of insomnia that I experience.

Really? It's all over in the support groups, the book I'd read, anecdotal stories others with the condition had told me. Well, he informed me, RESEARCH indicated that it wasn't, despite all of that "other" evidence.

He does a blood draw, because I stupidly forgot I'd been there the week before for a blood draw (it was an early morning appointment), and a week later I get the same form letter: levels are within range, no change needed.

Did he not hear a word I said?

Turns out, he didn't. I called the clinic several times and when I didn't get a return phone call I drove down unannounced and had a confrontational face-to-face with him about it, both about the missed blood test and my oral report which he ignored. He finally agreed to make a small adjustment to my dosage, and within a week I felt improved energy.

After this experience I changed from an endocrinologist to a whole health doctor, who informed me that my endocrinologist never tested my T3 hormone level, a key indicator in treating Hashimoto's. I had read in Izabella Wentz's book that this was a common oversight—most endocrinologist's only test the T4 hormone.

My new physician and I also got a chance to review my endocrinologist's notes from the last two visits. In both reports, he wrote "Patient reports feeling well." He noted the weight gain, but not a single word about how I was actually feeling.

I realized that my very automatic greeting of  "well" after hearing the words "How are you?" is what he wrote in his report, and he hadn't listened to a single word I said.

So...word to the wise: if you are talking to your doctor, make sure s/he is clear if what you are saying is a GREETING or a REPORT. There is a real difference.

How am I doing now?

Great. My new doctor, Dr. Richard Sinda, is fantastic. I feel listened to. I am feeling better. He and I review my results together, because he knows I'm a data geek and like data, even though half of it goes over my head. He adjusted my hormone replacement dosage and started a new one because, now that we're testing my T3 level, we learned that it was also low and needed support. I also started a bunch of other supplements and vitamins to improve my overall health. As he says, "I don't want to know how much Vitamin C a human needs to prevent scurvy, I want to know how much Vitamin C a person needs to be in optimal health. There is a different between a lack of sickness and optimal health."

As for the weight, well, I now have the daunting task of losing it. I know what I need to do, I just need to do it. Move more, eat less (and better food choices). Hopefully it will come off as quickly as it went on, I'm giving me two years because that's the healthy way to do it.

So that's the latest. For anyone who is diagnosed with Hashimoto's, I highly recommend Izabella Wentz's book. I did not follow the protocols she recommends, though I am sure that if I did the weight would just fall off. Her dietary changes and supplements were a bit daunting and seemed overwhelming to implement, which is why I sought a whole health doctor who helped me implement the ones that made sense for me.

One more lesson learned that the person who can best advocate for your health is YOU. My health languished for two years; it could have been longer had I continued with my same doctor and hadn't advocated for myself. I'm glad I finally made the change needed for my own health.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

"Is It Gone?"

Yesterday afternoon the girls and I had an enjoyable time visiting the Edina Art Fair. This is a fair that closes streets down around us and makes it a pain in the ass to get around. For us, it's a beautiful event that's just 3 short blocks away. We can walk down when we want, go back home, think about a purchase and then go back and buy it.

Marissa, Lindsey and I walked down in a drizzling rain yesterday, which, for us, is perfect, as it keeps the crowds down so we can browse. Lindsey and I had visited the day before and she had her eye on a ring that she really liked. After purchasing that and doing a little more shopping, we decided to go to AgraCulture for lunch, a wonderful little spot that has many gluten-free options and excellent food.

Lindsey's and Marissa's rings from the Edina Art Fair.
Afterward, we kept shopping and went back to one place where we had been looking earlier. While there, Marissa and I noticed that Lindsey had a piece of lettuce wrapped around her retainer. It was just a little spot of green. We pointed it out to her and she went out of the booth to take care of it.

She came back and asked, "Is it gone?" and smiled. The lettuce was now spread across half her tooth, and she had a very green smile. Marissa and I both doubled over in laughter, because it most definitely was NOT gone. We laughed so hard for so long that everyone in the booth started smiling and laughing along, including Lindsey.

Shortly after we walked home, and the image of Lindsey asking "Is it gone?" and then smiling with a green smile kept popping into my head, and I would giggle. The girls would giggle too, and then we would have to stop because we were laughing so hard.

There is much more to this story, from the kind artist who "gifted" additional rings to the girls when they both selected the same one, to the walk home, but overall, it was such a great time together, worthy of capturing in a post for future smiles.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An Observation, by Marissa

One morning I heard a little commotion coming from the kitchen, the sound of many small objects hitting the floor (I assumed it was cereal), and shortly after the sound of it all being cleaned up.

I found Marissa in the kitchen with a look of relief on her face.

"Mom!" she says, "I just realized why you and Dad yelled at us when we were younger."

Hmmm....this seems like an odd leap.

So she explained.

For a little bit of background, Marissa takes an assortment of supplements (my favorite is the multivitamin for "healthy hair and nails"). Every Monday morning she fills her pill case with that week's doses and takes them every day.

She was filling her pill case for the week when an entire bottle of vitamins spilled, scattering little tiny pills all over the floor. Our dog, Beauty, came over to investigate. Thankfully she's been taught to not eat anything off the floor until she gets permission. She usually waits, unless it's an especially tasty-smelling piece of meat. So Marissa told her "no," and then was able to pick up all the pills before Beauty got to any of them.

Can you imagine if our dog had eaten a handful of random vitamins and supplements? I'd be using Dr. Google to try to figure out which ones are harmful or not, and probably taking her to the vet for a second opinion.

"Now I know that you and dad yelled at us, because you wanted to keep us safe," Marissa says. "You didn't want us to do things that would hurt us."

She and I recounted the cactus-touching event, when both she and Lindsey grabbed cacti on display at the local nursery. I spent the afternoon tweezing tiny little cactus needles out of both of their palms. (I believe that story is on this blog somewhere.)

Both girls also had to learn not to touch a hot stove by touching a hot stove. A couple of blisters later and neither of them ever did it again. After that, instructions like "wear your helmet" and "use a lifejacket when on a boat" went over much easier and with less argument.

I liked how Marissa made the connection between what had happened with the pills and Beauty and how her parents try to keep her safe. Now let's hope that lesson sticks when it comes to the really big lessons.

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.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Grateful Child

In December Marissa was awarded a "HERO" award at her school. This is given to students who embody kindness, respect, encourage learning, all those traits that don't show up on standardized tests or in a report card. You know, the important stuff.

Marissa made out like it was no big deal — some teachers choose a student at random in their classroom, while others thoughtfully ask students to nominate classmates who have displayed rare kindness, then make their selection from that pool.

I could probably get a bumper sticker that says, "My child is a HERO in middle school," but instead, I'll tell a story that shows why Marissa is deserving of this award.

One day, Marissa and I were walking to a store together when she said the following to me out of the blue. As soon as we got home I wrote it down, so this is verbatim:

"You know, Mom, I was just thinking about how much Lindsey's been sick, and how much time you've taken off of work to care for her and stuff. And then I was thinking about when I was a little kid, and if I was sick and couldn't go to school and you or dad would stay home with me. I never even thought about the fact that you couldn't go to work, or that you gave up that day just to be with me. I don't know if anyone's ever thanked you for that, so I just wanted to say 'thank you.'"

And then a little snow got into my eye.

The Four-Legged Child

You have never met a pitbull so scared of the smallest things, yet unafraid of the biggest.

She will play with dogs twice her size with no hesitation. Yet today, when I popped bubble wrap near her, she practically crawled into Lindsey's lap, ears down and tail tucked, looking for protection.

Protect me, Lindsey, from the scary bubble wrap!
Beauty is so eager to please, she wants to do whatever you tell her. If she doesn't know what you're asking for, she will gaze at you until you give her a signal as to what it is, or she'll run through her usual tricks until she does one you'll reward with a treat.

She is not allowed to eat until we tell her she can. I'll put her food down, and she'll sit there and look at me for permission. If I wait long enough, two lines of drool will begin at the corners of her mouth, but she still won't eat until I say, "OK."

So instead I'll say, "Oh my," or "Oh...klahoma," or anything else, but until she hears, "okay," it remains untouched.

If we drop food on the floor, she'll look at us for permission to eat it, she won't just leap for it. A few times she started to gobble it, then Lindsey said, "Drop it!" and she actually spit it back out. She Spit. It. Out.

Is that popcorn? Are you going to drop some?
She recently completed a four-week recreational agility class with Lindsey. She was always too excited to see the other dogs (a no-no while training), but once she hit the course she was ready to run and eager to do exactly what Lindsey told her to do.

She is a running buddy for Wayne, a source of cuddles for Marissa and I, and has become Lindsey's constant companion. As what happens when you rescue a dog, she rescues you back.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life's Not Perfect

Graphic from Malavika Suresh blog post 
I was thinking on the tagline I wrote for this blog some 12 years ago. Yes, 12! "Life's not perfect, but it sure is fun."

Not perfect indeed. My goal has always been to write about the ups and downs of life, not just the niceties. There's been one subject I haven't shared so much, because I respect my now 14-year-old's privacy. But her diagnosis of severe anxiety disorder has turned our family upside down, in ways not written about here.

This fall, she began to attend Southwest High School, our local public high school, for her freshman year. The school is two blocks from our home. I always imagined my kids going there, our home becoming a stopping off point for friends after school, a safe place for teens to gather.

Instead, after four days there, her anxiety was at such an all-time high that she could no longer muster the strength to physically leave the house. If you have ever witnessed someone having an all-out panic attack, then you understand when I say she could not physically go. This is not a matter of obstinance, will, or being spoiled. Her brain was functioning in such a way that going to school would have been bad for her health, and unpleasant for everyone around her.

So she stayed home.

Within the week we had found an option of MPS Online, the online education arm of Minneapolis Public Schools. She began taking classes online, staying home all day to work on the lessons.

But her anxiety would rear its ugly head throughout the week, despite having removed the trigger of being in a school. She often did not get a full 5 days of classwork in, which meant that as the weeks went on, she fell further and further behind. This had the added benefit of increasing her anxiety.

There's so much more, but this isn't about Lindsey, this is about our family.

In October, after nearly a month of online high school, Wayne and I began discussing how to best help Lindsey, and he floated the idea of my staying at home.

I surprised myself by not jumping at the idea. I mean, my workplace was not perfect, none are, but I have worked my entire adult life, and I really liked my job. I was given full rein over how I chose to fundraise, I got to write, my teammates are experts in their areas, passionate and driven. Plus, it was incredibly flexible with the demands my family had made on my time. I mean, what more could a fundraiser need in a job?

I had begun working at home Mondays to help Lindsey get her week started, and we discovered that Mondays were always Lindsey's best day. She got up on time, she ate healthy throughout the day, took her supplements, had a productive school day and took decent breaks (meaning walking the dog instead of playing a game on her phone.)

This idea began to grow. My husband the conservative accountant began running the numbers. Is this possible? Miraculously, it was. It was possible.

I wanted to stay at my job through the end of the year. After all, at a nonprofit, that's when all the fun stuff happens! I could not let my team down by leaving them during our busiest time of year. I gave my notice the week after Thanksgiving and gave them a month to become accustomed to the idea that I would not be starting 2018 with them.

And in January my new life began.

I can best describe the change in a single incident.

My youngest child is always ready for school nearly an hour before she needs to leave, so she can have some time to relax. One morning she and I are in the kitchen. My hands are around a mug of coffee and I am listening to her tell me about something that happened at school.

I inexplicably began looking for something to do. Surely it wasn't right that I was just sitting there, listening? There must be some task I should be doing. Then I The most important thing I could do at this moment is look her in her beautiful gray-green eyes, give her my full attention, and listen.

So I did. And I realized that it had been days — days! — since I had looked her in the eyes. What a sad statement on the busyness of life.

Yes, life is not perfect. But I am grateful that our family is in the position to make the changes we're making, to make it a little better for everyone in our family.