This is, WOW, awesome. Here I thought I was just running into the Food Lion to pick up bananas and milk, but thanks to you, Lady I’ve Never Seen Before, I also get a detailed breakdown as to why I suck as a parent. SCORE!!!
It’s super sweet of you to tell me that children shouldn’t be treated as servants, since you happened to overhear us talking about chores. I mean, some people would say expecting children to help around the house teaches them responsibility and self-respect but I could be wrong.
If I’m lucky, in the next aisle I will be informed that today’s parents spend too much time on their phones. Bonus points if I am not actually looking at or even holding a phone. Because sometimes parents need to be reminded of how much they suck balls even if they are not doing anything obviously wrong at the moment.
I have my fingers crossed that we’ll run into someone at the checkout who can tell me children should be outside playing, not running errands with their parents. What was that? You mean to tell me when you were growing up you played outside unsupervised all day, rode your bike around the neighborhood and only returned home when the streetlights came on? That’s freaking amazing. I mean, I did that too but then this was before mass media broadcast stories almost daily about kids being abducted, trafficked and/or slaughtered.
What’s that? In your day you weren’t afraid to give your kids a good “whupping” if they acted up? COOL! Sounds great. You must have only had to do that once if it was so effective. And I’m going to guess you smoked at the dinner table and let your kid sleep in a crib coated with lead-based paint.
Yes, please, tell me I’m being overprotective by escorting my 8-year-old daughter to the restroom. I’ll be sure to ignore the other stranger who tells me it’s reckless to let my 9-year-old son stand directly outside the restroom door to wait for us. I mean, yes, kids certainly are snatched from under their parents’ noses when they are less than five feet away. Not when they are on their bikes riding around in parts unknown, though. Under those circumstances the Magical Shield of Childhood Innocence protects them.
Please tell me, as my children and I make plans to go to the park later, that they should be going on their own. Although, do be a sport and let me know if your friend/neighbor/fellow parenting expert plans on calling the cops on me if I let my children play unsupervised on my own front lawn. I want to make sure my makeup is perfect for my child endangerment mug shot.
What’s that? Your children never quarreled because just one look from you made them stop in their tracks? Amaze balls! Did they, by any chance, wait until your back was turned and then proceed to pound the crap out of each other? I seem to recall scenes like this from my own childhood but I could be wrong.
Please, please, please could you tell me more about how parents are raising a generation of whiny, overprivileged, self-centered monsters? Because if children were raised so well in the past, I’d like to know how we ended up with our current Congress.
Wait a minute, are you saying you don’t even have kids but your expertise exceeds mine? Well smack my nuts and call me Matilda. Your gifts are truly astounding.
Seriously though, this unsolicited advice really helps me up my parenting game. To have someone tell me what I’m doing wrong, especially when it is the exact opposite of what another concerned random f**kwad just told me, provides me with such clarity and insight.
If you have the time, could you please give me a vague but virulent assessment of what the “so-called experts” (i.e., men and women who study child development and have learned more in the last 30 years about how little peoples’ brains work than was previously known in the entire history of humankind) are getting wrong? Because that would just, like, make my g*d**m, f**king day.
The neurologist, young and eccentric, says he knows exactly how to help my daughter. Follow his recommendations, he says, and she’ll be talking, using the toilet and behaving like a typical five-year-old in no time.
I am giddy with relief.
It’s a feeling all special needs parents know well. In a world where no one “gets” our kids — and some just get them flat-out wrong — when you encounter someone who not only gets them but knows how to help them, it’s like Christmas, your birthday and the season premiere of The Walking Dead all in one.
I call it the Annie Sullivan Effect, for the woman who taught a blind and deaf Helen Keller how to communicate. Like Sullivan, these women and men come into your child’s life and flip a switch you didn’t even know where to look for.
We have been lucky enough to know several Annie Sullivans. They hold a special place in our hearts and prime real estate in our prayers.
But as much as I adore these people, there is a massive drawback to meeting a real life Annie Sullivan. It makes the disappointment that much greater when someone who appears to have Sullivan potential turns out to be a JAGBA, (Just Another Giver of Bad Advice).
If there is one thing special needs parents have in abundance it’s JAGBAs. They leap out at us whenever we venture forth in public with our children or post about them on social media.
“Do you speak with him?” one woman asked when I explained that my then-3-year-old son couldn’t talk. “I mean, maybe if you modeled speech it would help.”
I was beyond tempted to reply, “No, we communicate entirely in mime. Look! He’s doing the ‘I’m-trapped-in-a-giant-invisible-box’ routine! Haha. Good one, buddy!”
While JAGBAs exist for all moms and dads, they can be particularly vexing for special needs parents because, unless the person speaking has a degree in neurologically atypical development, he or she has about as much chance of giving appropriate advice as I do of being crowned Miss Argentina. (It could happen but the circumstances would be very suspicious.)
Even once you do explain your child’s condition, some JAGBAs refuse to accept that this negates their words of wisdom. That some kids are wired differently challenges, well, apparently everything they believe about the universe.
Having seen up close and personal how differently some children develop, I can very comfortably say it is more bizarre to believe the “one-size-fits-all” line of thinking than it is to reject it.
Take my son and speech. Everything that helped typical kids learn how to speak, such as modeling speech, didn’t work for him. And trust me, we modeled out the wazoo. At his pediatrician’s request I narrated everything we did, much to the concern of people who found themselves near us in public. “Here we go up the stairs,” I’d say, as people inched away from the crazy lady. “Up, up, up the stairs.”
Even things that helped the majority of atypical kids learn how to speak, such as speech therapy and sign language, didn’t work. (And no, despite what some JAGBAs argue, learning sign language does not discourage kids from speaking. It’s not like they have the keys to the kingdom being able to sign “milk” and “potty.”)
So what did the trick? A new neurologist and an occupational therapist who determined the problem was with my son’s vestibular system. (Essentially, his sense of balance.) Instead of trying to get him speak, this therapist focused on movement. She pushed him on platform swings and swung him in circles. Within a week, he said his first words. Probably to get her to stop.
When you witness something like this, you don’t just drink the neurologically atypical Kool-Aid, you chug it.
That’s why I am ready to follow every recommendation this young neurologist gives. He has already built a reputation within the local special needs community for “thinking outside the box” and getting results.
His first suggestion is to take a stool sample so he can prescribe a course of probiotics and supplements for my daughter. Sounds good.
He then sends us across the hall so his nutritionist can devise a special diet for her. I am THRILLED. Eating has been a major issue for my daughter ever since she started chemotherapy and the constant nausea and vomiting turned her off food.
Toward the end of her cancer treatment she was fed entirely through a tube. When she began her recovery, her doctors recommended a liquid meal replacement drink to help her gain weight and grow as we gradually reintroduced solid foods. It has helped us tremendously but we would love nothing more than for her to enjoy eating again.
Unfortunately, the nutritionist is no Annie Sullivan.
The trouble starts when this woman — let’s call her Twiggy — enters the room, turns sideways and disappears. Okay, I’m exaggerating but she was worryingly skinny. I know it’s not nice to be prejudiced against anyone for their weight but I have a really hard time trusting anyone who doesn’t seem to enjoy food. Especially a nutritionist. I mean, what was she going to teach my daughter to eat? Altoids and laxatives?
She asks for a list of foods that my daughter consumes on a regular basis. It’s a short list and when I mention the name of the supplement beverage, her head snaps up and her eyes grow wide over protruding cheek bones.
“That stuff is poison,” she says. “It’s full of sugar and sugar feeds cancer.”
“Her oncologist recommended it,” I reply. “Her tumors have been steadily shrinking the entire time she has consumed it.”
She looks surprised.
“Ok, well, let’s get her off that,” she says and then lists on her bony fingers several nutrient-dense foods I would be thrilled for my daughter to eat but I’d be lucky to get my husband to try.
“Great!” I chirp. “How do I get her to eat all this?”
She looks at me blankly.
“We have a lot of trouble getting her to try new foods,” I explain. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Just put it in front of her,” she replies, pulling out her phone because apparently we’re boring. “She’ll eat if she’s hungry enough.”
That’s when I knew it was all over. Because yes, most children will eat foods they don’t particularly like if the alternative is going hungry. But kids with sensory issues or oral aversions won’t, especially if they are too young or developmentally delayed to make the connection between hunger and food.
Her advice was the equivalent of Annie Sullivan telling the Kellers, “Just force Helen to develop a concept of language and a method of communicating.” Great in theory, but how do you get there?
In that instant it became apparent that, although this woman was well-versed in nutrition (she could correctly pronounce “quinoa”), she was pure JAGBA when it came to eating and the neurologically atypical.
I wasn’t alone in this assessment. A few months later, the neurologist added a feeding therapist to his staff so children could learn to eat these incredible diets being created for them.
And once again I was reminded that they can’t all be Sullivans.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. Two years on and my daughter has almost caught up developmentally, even without the help of kale. Some people have asked why I even bothered with all the therapists and doctors if she would eventually get there on her own. The truth is, we had no idea if she would.
Also, as a parent you see your kid struggling with the basics and you want to help. You want your child to enjoy everything other children her age do: giggling with friends; the sweet, sunshiny taste of an orange; the pride of not crapping her pants.
Although there is far less call for Annie Sullivans around our house these days, I will probably always be on the look out for them. This is largely because I feel so out of my depth as a parent to the two unique, fabulous people that are my children.
So to any and all the Annies out there, thank you for what you do.
And call me if you have any suggestions.
This entry is dedicated to the miracle-working Ms. Lee. Thanks for being our first Annie Sullivan.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Sullivan was a 19th century educator who taught a blind and deaf child how to communicate with the outside world, paving the way for the latter’s life as a speaker, writer, activist and all-around badass.
The child was, of course, Helen Keller.
While both Sullivan and Keller have been lauded for their achievements, there’s someone else who deserves credit for Helen’s greatness.
That person is, of course, her mother.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some saccharine tribute to a complete stranger simply for giving birth. Rather, it’s an overdue and sincere apology to a person who deserves more credit than she’s been given. At least by me.
I have been borderline obsessed with Helen Keller since childhood. What can I say? She’s one hell of an icon.
And while long ago I placed Helen and her teacher on pedestals, I dismissed her mother as sweet but useless. This was mainly because I was a judgmental a-hole before I had children, with an unmatched ability to dismiss people I’d never met and experiences I’d never had.
In my defense, most of the books written about Helen Keller mention her mother only incidentally, focusing instead on her relationship with Sullivan.
The most in-depth portrayal of Kate Keller comes from the 1959 play The Miracle Worker, which chronicled — what else? — the early days of Helen’s relationship with Sullivan.
In the ultimate good-cop/bad-cop set up, the play portrays Kate Keller as kind but weak willed and dangerously indulgent of her child. This is in stark contrast to Annie Sullivan, a fiery yankee with a no-nonsense attitude who swoops in to instill order in the Keller household.
There’s no reason to believe these characterizations are far off the mark. Kate was the mistress of a genteel Southern household. Sullivan was the child of Irish immigrants and spent a large part of her life in a asylum for the poor.
What the play makes clear early on is that to thrive, Helen needs less of her mother’s kindness and more of Sullivan’s tough love.
A child lost
Although a work of fiction, The Miracle Worker is considered, for the most part, an accurate depiction of what occurred when Sullivan moved in with the Kellers to teach their daughter.
When it opens, 6-year-old Helen is depicted as near feral. Without the ability to understand what’s going on around her, she has been left in a protracted state of infancy. She is filthy and disheveled. One can presume — if one is me, anyway — that she is in diapers.
In the first few minutes, she attacks another child with a pair of scissors. A few minutes later, she tips her baby sister out of her cradle.
There is yelling and crying, and like the setup in a bad reality show, the Kellers are depicted as a Family in Crisis.
The audience learns that Helen’s parents have been advised to put their daughter in an asylum for the mentally ill. So far they have resisted but unless they can get Helen under control, they may have no choice.
Sullivan quickly identifies, of all things, Kate as the greatest obstacle to Helen’s success. Kate refuses to discipline or train her child. She dispenses hugs and cuddles instead of punishments and allows her daughter to run wild, stepping in only if the child has hurt someone or could hurt herself.
When Sullivan attempts to instill some discipline in the child, Kate frets that she is being too harsh.
Sullivan decides the only chance she has of getting through to Helen will be if her mother is out of the picture.
She’s right. It’s only after Sullivan moves into a small house with Helen and works with her one-on-one that she is able to teach the child the concept of language, thus changing her life forever.
What a kick to the maternal nuts.
What Kate did for Helen
While there is no denying that Sullivan changed Helen’s life for the better, I believe Kate’s contribution was as great, if not infinitely more subtle.
Helen Keller is inspirational not only for finding her voice despite physical setbacks but because that voice was so remarkable.
Her writing and speeches — which are still quoted today — show a soul filled with wisdom, joy and compassion. This is astounding when you consider she spent the first six years of her life in what was practically solitary confinement.
Until she learned how to communicate, Helen largely knew only silence and isolation. She had no way to express her feelings or even understand them.
She was also aware of the fact that she was different. In her early years she would feel people’s faces while they were talking and move her own mouth in imitation. She knew she was missing a piece of the puzzle. She also had to sense that few people wanted to be near her. Even her father and older brother gave her a wide berth.
But because of Kate, she also knew affection and comfort. Her mother’s kindness and total acceptance taught Helen that, as different as she was, she was still worthy of love. It’s difficult to imagine who she would have become without that knowledge.
Kate also showed a heroic amount of empathy and patience. While most people dismissed Helen as wild or even insane, Kate looked beyond her behavior and tried to understand what was going on in her child’s head. She knew Helen didn’t act out because she was a mean child. She was frustrated. She was lonely. She wanted desperately to fit in but she didn’t know how.
Kate Keller did more than just defend and mediate for her daughter. She kept her tethered to humanity.
That’s some hardcore parenting right there.
Could she have done this and still instilled some discipline in the child? I guess. Hell, she could have been a real super hero and devised a system of communication for the child as well but she didn’t.
All I can say is, from one mother to another: Kate Keller, I get it now. I’m sorry I didn’t get it sooner.
Every summer, across the country, thousands of privileged, middle class kids are forced to attend institutions known as “summer camps.”
The travesties they endure in these cleverly disguised tear factories cannot fully be depicted in writing. Suffice it to say, “campers” are coerced into such “fun” activities as swimming, making crafts, playing games and singing songs, all when they would much prefer to be at home rolling around on exercise balls.
Forget what you think you know about pediatric suffering. Forced labor, starvation, domestic violence — nothing can quite compare with the indignity of lanyard making and games of “Hot Potato.”
The choice is obvious: children should be allowed to play video games for eight hours straight or trail two inches behind their beleaguered parents mumbling, “Bored, bored, bored,” every single day of summer vacation if they prefer, instead of being subjected to the hyper happy ministrations of attentive teenage counselors with names like “Tinkerbell” and “Meatball.”
Until recently, experts were divided as to who was most at fault for the existence of these licensed pits of despair.
Some blamed the school system for ceasing to hold classes for 12 weeks every year. On further scrutiny, it became clear that teachers forced to direct and focus the energy of the nation’s children year round would, in professional parlance, “lose their s—t.”
Others faulted parents, who selfishly refused to drop everything — or cease employment — for three months to direct and monitor the activities of their children every waking minute of the day.
Still others, mainly those who raised their children decades ago or don’t have children of their own, have repeatedly claimed this concern over filling children’s time is ridiculous. This group of experts, many of whom never removed the cigarettes from their mouths while putting their children to sleep in lead-based-paint-coated cribs, have said children should entertain themselves, playing outside with friends, roaming the woods, riding their bikes.
Of course, in this day and age this option is only available to parents who live on quiet cul-de-sacs with trusted neighbors not listed in the sexual offender registry who are within walking distance of woods not being used as shoot-up galleries by junkies. And then only if the children wear helmets, are slathered in factor 70 and checked thoroughly for ticks in the evening.
Even those who do enjoy such a prime real estate location would more than likely find any efforts to encourage this enjoyable independence in their children stymied by bystanders — mainly those who raised their children decades ago or don’t have children of their own — who would report them to authorities for neglect. (Click here to read about the arrest of a mother who let her 9-year-old walk to the local park unattended, or here for the woman investigated because she let her three children play in their own backyard while she folded laundry inside.)
Still, children shouldn’t be forced to suffer just because modern-day parents pretty much suck balls no matter what decisions they make.
Sign here to stop the madness. And consider our other petition against the indignities endured by teenagers whose parents drop them off right in front of the movie theater instead of around the corner, BECAUSE THAT IS SERIOUSLY F—KING EMBARRASSING.
The other day, my son threw open the door to his room and called out, “Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”
I took my cue and went in to browse. My son pointed me toward the bed, which was strewn with an array of random objects.
“The stuff in the way back is all clearance,” he explained. “But those items are final sale.”
“Good to know.”
I left the “shop” with a snow globe, a teddy bear, a single sock, two pencils, a cat toy, three books, a pillow and an earring I had lost months before, apparently behind his bed. Apart from the pillow, everything had been packed into two carrier bags.
The total had come to $5,000.
“Where are we? Venezuela?” I had asked.
He nodded seriously.
“Yes. Yes, we are.”
While swiping my imaginary credit card (he wouldn’t accept imaginary cash) he asked me to put my name and email down on his mailing list for special offers.
What can I say? The kid knows his retail.
When his dad arrived home from work, Jack scurried back up to his room.
“Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”
My husband, good sport that he is, went to have a look.
“Sorry, sir, that’s the wrong door,” my son said.
My husband stood looking confused.
“You have to climb over that barrier first,” my son said, pointing to absolutely nothing.
“I climb over the barrier,” my husband said. “Okay.”
“Now you have to duck under the other barrier.”
“Now you go down the slide.”
He slid. Or pretended to.
“Am I in the shop yet?” he asked and my son nodded.
“The items in the back row are clearance. They are final sale.”
My husband’s haul came to $10,000.
“That’s outrageous!” he cried.
“It’s a game, dear,” I reminded him.
He shook his head and paid, although I could tell his Scottish sensibilities were gravely offended.
“You know, your business model could use a little work,” he said, eyeing the store hours sign that read “Open: 10-11, 4-5.”
“And the entrance doesn’t make it easy for your customers to get in.”
My son shrugged and skipped down the stairs to play something else.
“Actually, I know a few stores that operate like this,” I said. “They’ve stayed in business for years.”
And herein lies the difference between my husband and me. Since finishing university he has always worked in the corporate world, where things are (for the most part) practical and make sense.
My background is in journalism. Did I wield my Fourth Estate powers as a hard-hitting correspondent for a major news network, uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government?
Let’s just say that no one got the results from the 4-H show unless I got to work on time.
As a small-town newspaper reporter I got to see it all. In some cases, twice.
Name a strange situation and I’ve been there. Think of the most outrageous lie someone could tell and I’ve heard it.
I once interviewed a woman who hoped her vast collection of Strawberry Shortcake memorabilia — rumored to be the largest in the world — would be enough to draw customers to the bed and breakfast she’d spent her life savings opening.
I spent several freezing hours making conversation with a cop next to the body of a man who had committed suicide by jumping from the highest building in town, a 6-story parking garage.
I nodded knowingly when an elderly woman hooked up to an oxygen tank and sucking back a beer at 2 p.m. informed me that the crappy post-industrial town she lived in was “God’s country.”
I’ve been cursed at by an Episcopalian priest, hugged by a prison warden and informed by a Somali refugee that I needed to gain weight. (Lovely woman, she was.)
It’s quite a job, one many ambitious young reporters use as a stepping stone to the big city dailies. That was a transition I would never make as I had little aptitude for the profession, in part because I have the world’s least developed news sense.
Here’s an approximation of the sort of conversation I had several times a week with my editor:
Me (hanging up the phone): “Gotta run! Someone’s found a frost heave in their driveway that resembles Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Should I bring a photographer?”
Editor: “We just got a tip that one the selectmen in [name of a town I covered, usually ending in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton] has been arrested for embezzling municipal funds. He planned on using the money to run away with the police chief’s wife.”
Me: “Hmmm, tough call.”
Editor: “Not really. Cover the selectman story.”
Me (shrugging): “Okay but what’s my angle?”
So when my son pretended to open a store with crappy hours, inflationary prices and an impenetrable entrance, it all felt familiar. I was immediately transported back to one of countless “Make Downtown Relevant Again” meetings I used to sit through in any number of towns that ended in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton.
The objective of each meeting was to draw visitors to the long neglected main retail drags people were bypassing to shop at the big box complexes opening up everywhere in small-town USA.
I distinctly remember the owner of a shop selling things no working class family needed or wanted — hand-thrown coffee mugs for $25 and monstrous-looking wire lawn ornaments hand-twisted in India for $75 to name two — lamenting she couldn’t compete with large retailers.
Because a journalist is never supposed to “get involved” in the story, I refrained from suggesting she’d have better luck selling things that more than five people in town could afford to buy. Or that her restricted hours 11-4, NO JOKE, might make it difficult for prospective customers who worked 9-5 to avail themselves of her pricey goods.
So I sat through meeting after meeting while artist coops and fair trade jewelers scratched their heads and fumed about losing customers to Walmart.
This resistance to logic was in no way limited to retailers. The upside of encountering these attitudes is that I never need to negate things when it comes to imaginary play. (I mean, not that I would.)
Your shop is at the end of a water slide? Cool!
You are a ballerina zombie who was brought back from the dead to fight evil? Rock on.
You made that pie out of dog s—t and rocks and you want me to have a slice? Ha-ha! Nice try. Put it down and wash your hands.
Twice a year, we don’t get to pretend life is normal.
On these days, I drive my daughter to the hospital still in her PJs, usually fussy, sometimes crying because she is hungry and thirsty but can’t eat or drink before the tests she is about to have.
She is the youngest patient in the waiting room by decades. The nurses give her Disney princess stickers or abbreviated coloring books titled — I kid you not — “My Trip to Radiology.”
Every single time, I fill out the same form:
Has the patient had surgery?
Are you kidding?
If so, give the dates.
I list months and years because the actual dates have blurred together.
Has the patient ever had cancer?
Does the patient have a penile implant?
We wait for an hour, sometimes two, once for three. When they finally call her name and lead us to the procedure area, I give her long and extensive medical history to the anesthesiologist and beg him (it’s always a him) to please, please, please put anti-nausea medicine in her IV. It will mean the difference between her vomiting once or twice when she wakes up or for the rest of the day.
The doctor always present a syringe filled with the pink liquid sedative Versed. Since I’m not allowed to walk her into the treatment room due to the completely safe levels of radiation, they want her calm when they take her from me.
When she was a baby she took the medicine easily. In her toddler years she pushed it away, or took it and then promptly threw it up. Now that she’s a mature child of 6, we have an agreement, one that many — but not all — anesthesiologists can’t get their heads around. I don’t make her drink the medicine, she goes bravely into the treatment room without melting down.
Many — but not all — anesthesiologists don’t believe she can do it, so I have to bust out my own medical credentials, namely an advanced degree in She’s My Kid, This Isn’t Our First Rodeo, So Kindly Step Off. The nurses always come to my aid, although from the way they shake their heads I can tell they are used to being ignored by Those Who Must Be Obeyed. (If it sounds like I have contempt for doctors, I don’t. I adore them, especially pediatric oncologists, who are g-d—n unsung heroes in my opinion. For some reason, though, most — but not all — anesthesiologists drive me crazy, probably because I disagree with their assessment that God wears a name tag and Crocs.)
They take her from me, weeping but not bawling, and I wave good bye smiling. Inside I am screaming.
The hospital has a chapel. I don’t know if God exists but I go into that room, get on my knees and beg. Please let her sleep soundly, please comfort her when she wakes up, please ease her pain. It feels hypocritical to pray when I’m not even sure what I believe but a parent in this position will do anything.
It’s a sentiment perhaps best summed up by the protagonist of one of the greatest novels of our time, Peter Benchley’s Jaws. At one point, when the beleaguered police chief is powerless to stop attacks on swimmers he declares, “If someone came in here and said he was Superman and could piss the shark away from here, I’d say fine and dandy. I’d even hold his d—k for him.”
Man is this is ever true. Except for the pee and d—k parts. Gross. But if someone told me standing on my head and coloring my face green would ease her pain, I’d flip over and grab the paint. It someone told me the universe is being presided over by a cosmic Elmer Fudd, I’d tell him which way the Wascally Wabbit went and ask him to grant my child mercy.
After the praying comes the waiting. At least four hours, sometimes more than six. For some reason, without fail, there is a band playing Irish music in the hospital lobby, and I don’t mean U2 or the Pogues.
Now, I love Irish folk music as much as the average person. Probably more since I have a few albums. But when this band’s music bounces off the cold marble floors off the hospital lobby, it sounds discordant and irritating, like a 3-year-old sawing at a violin or an accordion being dropped down a flight of stairs.
It’s a huge relief when the call comes in that they have finished the tests.
Upstairs in the recovery room, my daughter is a tiny body in a room full of giants. Groggy and quiet she clings to me as she slowly wakes up, while other patients groan or even rant in alarm because they don’t know where they are. If they shout I cover her ears. The nurses are remarkable at settling the patients down. They must be great with drunks.
On the drive home my daughter usually vomits, a surprised look on her face as the bile erupts from her mouth and nostrils. At home we cuddle and wait for the doctor’s phone call.
With a few exceptions it has been good news: the tumors are the same size, or they’ve shrunk the tiniest bit. We all exhale with relief. I say a prayer of thanks. We are officially granted leave to live in denial for the next six months, which is how we roll in this house.
But last week, when I steeled myself to schedule her next set of scans, I was given a pleasant shock by her oncologist. It’s been three years since she stopped chemotherapy, something I hadn’t realized in the daily chaos of life.
At this point, it is so unlikely the cancer will start growing again that the scans to check their size are considered more harmful than useful. Instead they will check her urine and test her blood once a year.
It’s a joy and a relief. She is no longer the ghostly pale baby who practically lived in a hospital bed. She’ll never again be the bald toddler with track marks in her arms. And now she won’t be the kid who is dragged out of school for debilitating tests and assessments.
She’s not completely out of the woods. She probably never will be, a thought that hangs over our heads when we let it, usually on Christmas and her birthday.
But for now, her life has gotten that little bit better. And for that, we are grateful.
—The Grinch hated Christmas— —Why?
—Well, we’ll find out if we keep reading.
—What’s a grinch?
—It’s like a, it’s that thing on the page.
—Is it an animal?
—I guess so. He looks like one. The whole Christmas—
—What kind of animal.
—Maybe a bear?
—He doesn’t look like a bear.
—What does he look like?
—A fish with feet.
—Then that’s what he is. Now, please don’t—
—Why’s he living on land?
—Because he’s a fish who can breathe.
—Wouldn’t that make him a different animal then?
—Can we keep reading?
—Gladly. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. —What does that mean?
—It means, like he didn’t think about things the way he should.
—He hates happy things.
—Why don’t we keep reading and we’ll find out.
—My father was born and raised right here— —Who is his father?
—The man who is his father. His dad.
—How old is he?
—Who? The dad?
—I don’t know.
—Can you guess?
—Sure, let’s say he’s 40.
—I don’t think he’s that old.
—That sounds right.
—right here in Florida, so he grew up— —He lives in Florida?
—I guess so.
—I’ve been to Florida.
—Yes, you have.
—How old is he?
—The person talking.
—I don’t know. Let’s keep reading and we’ll find out. ..he grew up on the water. His dad— —Whose dad?
—The boy’s dad’s dad.
—How old is he?
—I don’t know.
—He’s probably really old.
—I would expect so.
—…and it said to the dragon, “Buzz off, that’s my witch.” —Do the scary voice.
—BUZZ OFF, THAT’S MY WITCH. —Dad’s scary voice is scarier.
—Dad has a Scottish accent. Everything he says sounds scarier.
—Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives here in our town. —In our town?
—No, in their town.
—I don’t know. Whatever their town is called.
—Sure. It’s called Springfield.
—Do they know the Simpsons?
—I’d imagine so.
—I like Lisa.
—She is very small—
—No, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
—She is very small— —Why is she small?
—I guess that’s just the way she is.
—Is she taller than me?
—But I’m really tall.
—You’re tall for your age but most adults are taller than you.
—So, is she taller than you?
—Like, this big?
—Yup. …and has a hump on her back.
—When children ask her about the hump, she says, “Oh, that’s a big lump of magic.” —Is it?
—Well, she’s pretty awesome, so why not.
—How many pages does this book have?
My children were recently introduced to KidzBop, and I’m ready to cut someone.
For those fortunate enough not to get the reference, KidzBop is a series of CDs/radio station/musical empire made up of children singing sanitized versions of the latest pop hits. Its popularity is based on the fact that a) apparently children get a kick out of hearing other children sing, and b) parents feel more comfortable letting their children listen to music in which all profanity and references to sex and drugs have been omitted.
I know what you’re thinking: what a g——mn f—king brilliant idea.
And it totally is, the producers deserve a lot of credit for their genius. Part of me will always grateful to them for keeping my kids entertained in the car so I didn’t have to spend every trip to the store playing “I Spy,” especially since my daughter makes up her own rules.
Charlie: “I spy something that starts with ’b’.”
Charlie: (giggling) “No.”
Me: “I give up. What is it?”
Charlie: “A kite!”
Me: “I hate you.”
That said, there is plenty to hate about KidzBop. For example:
They remove the one element that makes pop music tolerable
Many of the children on these albums have beautiful voices. Others are related to the producer. Therefore songs that were mediocre in their original form because of an artist’s ability to turn crap to brass with great vocals become downright unbearable in the KidzBop cover. As a bonus, you can be guaranteed these songs will be your children’s favorites, meaning you’ll have to listen to them over and over.
Their lyrical changes are arbitrary. And suck.
In the song “Summertime Sadness,” they change “I got my red dress on tonight” to “I got my new dress on tonight.” This makes sense if they are concerned with the color’s association with sex and passion, but then in Taylor Swift’s “Style” they change “I got that red lip, classic thing that you like” to “I got that red dress, classic thing that you like.” So which is it, KidzBop? Is a red dress tawdry or not? Or, is it tawdry, but red lips are even worse? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON, KIDZBOP?
In Swift’s hit “Blank Space,” they change “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” to “Darling, it’s a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” Because presumably that one attribution would alert children to the fact the song is about a bats—t crazy chick who fools men into sexual liaisons only to make their lives hellish because it’s super fun.
I got news for you, KidzBop: although “Blank Space” is a dark, inappropriate song (unless you peel back the layers and see it’s Swift’s way of poking fun at the tabloid version of herself) the lyrics are so opaque that most children have no idea what it’s about. Hell, my kids have seen the video — which, as I’ve mentioned on this site before features a lingerie-clad Swift sticking a knife into a cake filled with blood — and think it’s a lighthearted comedy about a girl who likes ponies and smashing things with golf clubs, both of which seem totally normal hobbies to them because they are 6 and 7.
KidzBop, if my children can see the story play out right in front of their eyes, and not have the slightest idea what’s going on, what makes you think they need you to change the lyrics? You could have recorded a video of the KidzBop kidz singing the original lyrics in clown costumes dripping with blood and my children still wouldn’t pick up on the fact that “Blank Space” is about some seriously dark s—t.
Sometimes their changes make the lyrics even less appropriate.
Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” is an amusing and empowering take on the issue of body image, in which the singer proclaims she’s proud of being a curvy woman. She even gives different body parts code names, meaning kids can actually sing along without figuring out that the whole song is about T and A. (That is, unless THEIR DAD explains it to them.)
However, there are some parts that could be considered racy, and KidzBop went ahead and changed them. Only problem is, they made them worse.
In the original version, Trainor sings:
“My mama done told me
‘Don’t worry about your size.’
She said ‘Boys like a little more booty to hold at night.’”
In the KidzBop cover, an adolescent boy croons:
“My mama done told me
‘Don’t worry about the size.’”
When I first heard this I almost choked on my coffee. Wait, are we still talking about butts here? Because it sounds an awful lot like they just suggested —
“She said ‘Don’t let it keep you at home in your room at night.’”
Well for crying out loud, KidzBop, you just made a crude but fun song downright filthy. Because what other body part would make a boy withdraw to his room at night in shame because it is too small? A PENIS, that’s what, KidzBop.
Even my son realized something was up and asked:
“Worry about the size of what?”
“His face,” I answered.
Yeah, KidzBop, you’re lucky I’m quick on my feet. If he had been even a couple of years older he would have been cracking up because you just threw a d—k reference into a song about T and A.
They bother with songs that, just, no.
Some songs have a few inappropriate references. Others are just a whole boatload of substance abuse and humping. And like a drunken frat boy who who doesn’t know his own limitations, KidzBop continuously goes around punching above its weight.
Let’s take that memorable Pit Bull classic, “Timber,” a tale of two club goers circling each other in hopes of a casual sexual encounter. (Actual lyric, “I’m slicker than an oil spill. She says she won’t, but I bet she will.” RO-MAN-TIC.)
Instead of saying, “Whoa, there’s just nothing kid friendly about this song. I’m going to comb through some of Taylor Swift’s B sides for more material,” KidzBop tells itself, “I can do this,” and records a cover that is basically the second verse and the chorus ad nauseam.
Gone are the lyrics detailing how Mr. Bull prefers his women “Face down, booty up,” and “Twerkin’ in their bras and thongs.” Instead, they skip any context and go right to the bragging verse, in which a bunch of prepubescent kids inform us they’re “Blessed to say, money ain’t a thing.” Oh good. Because I was worried about how Kyle was going to pay his bail when he hits 18, ages out of the KidzBop franchise and knocks over a 7-11 to make his life seem interesting.
Go home, KidzBop. You’re drunk.
KidzBop trains children to sniff out the inappropriate
One day at the grocery store, my son stopped in his tracks.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “That song just got the words wrong.”
One of his favorite tunes was playing over the PA, except it wasn’t the KidzBop version. He stopped and looked up at me, appalled.
“What’s a thong?” he asked, wide eyed.
It became like a game to him, his brow furrowed in concentration as he picked out each reference to sex, drinking, genitalia and violence.
And this is perhaps why I hate KidzBop the most. Before my children discovered KidzBop, they happily listened to pop tunes without paying any attention to the lyrics. Now they are like heat-seeking missiles when it comes to the inappropriate, prone to shouting out questions such as, “Why did she open the front door naked?” and “Why does the woman call the man on his cell phone, late night when she needs his love?”
Playdates are a necessary evil of modern childhood. It’s not like the old days, when kids ran wild through the neighborhood with their friends and then booked it home when the streetlights came on.
These days many parents are afraid to let their children roam outside unattended. This is either because a) they have seen too many Lifetime movies about child abduction to think rationally (that’s me), or b) they find themselves stymied in their attempts to encourage a healthy independence in their children by well-intentioned, idiotic bystanders who confuse perfectly acceptable parenting practice with abuse. The woman who got arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play at the park without her comes to mind. As does the woman who was reported for allowing her three children to play in their own fenced-in backyard while she did laundry inside.
Thus, for many kids, spontaneous social interaction with their peers has been replaced by what amount to appointments, planned with the skilled coordination once reserved for military maneuvers. (“We have swim lessons at 10 but we could do 11.” “We have a birthday party at 11. How about 2?” “Her brother has occupational therapy at 2 and then T-ball.” “How does November look?”)
Of course, you can always play with your children yourself, but if other households are anything like mine, that involves some seriously weird s—t. My son’s idea of a good time is to chase me around the house pretending to be the ghost of a dead piano teacher. (“You must practice!”) Or there’s the one where we leave mean notes for each other, a game that started one day when he scrawled on a notepad, “Dear Mom, I hope you get fat!”
Pretending to be indignant, I wrote back:
“If I get fat, I’ll sit on you until you barf!”
Giggling, he wrote:
“If you make me barf, I’ll put it all in your bed!”
“If you put your barf in my bed, I’ll wait until you are asleep, sneak into your room and spit into your open mouth.”
Eyes wide, he looked up.
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Am I?”
As you can see, the need to get my children around normal people is very real.
But the problem with setting up a playdate for your child is that you are often forced into a date too. Since few parents are willing to drop their kid off at a stranger’s house, you and a rough acquaintance are obligated to make conversation while your children bang around the house and occasionally come streaking through the room butt naked in a fire fighter’s helmet.
To be fair, it’s not always bad. Sometimes, you meet the other parent, hit it off right away and think, “Wow, we should have drinks sometime,” or, “I bet you’d be great in a bar fight.”
Other times the whole thing lags, the conversation falls flat (“Have you lived in this house long?”) and 45 minutes into it you awkwardly check your watch and say, “Well, we should get out of your hair.”
The worst is when you know in advance that you’re not going to like the other parent. I recently endured this when my son set up a playdate with a boy we met at the park. To call his mother uptight would be a kindness. What else can you say about a person who screams like a banshee when she catches her 7-year-old scaling the jungle gym and then follows it with a manic singsong, “Sweetie, get down from there! Ladders aren’t for climbing!”
Since they were coming to our house I had the added displeasure of having to clean, which meant shoving every toy, piece of paper, marker and stuffed animal in sight into the hall closet.
When they arrived the boys took off upstairs, leaving me to make constipated conversation with this woman in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the boys ran in saying they couldn’t find our Candy Land game.
I went to look upstairs while they searched downstairs. Not surprisingly, the box was in plain sight on the book shelf in Jack’s room. The same room the boys had just been playing in for 20 minutes.
“Found it!” I called from the top of the stairs, and then stopped when I saw the boys digging through the hall closet while the mother stood nearby, staring at several pieces of paper. She then looked at me, her expression wary and confused.
Looks like I wasn’t the only one who had found something. In her hands were several of the notes Jack and I wrote to each other.
“Oh, those!” I said, running down the stairs to see her clutching one that read: “Dear Mom, I hope you die soon!” in magenta marker.
“That’s just a little joke we have with each other,” I said, as Jack grabbed the Candy Land box from my hands. “See, in the next one I tell him that if I die I will come back as a ghost and scare him until he pees his pants. Ha-ha!”
Her eyes grew wide.
“It’s really just a joke,” I mumbled. “I mean, like, that other one? I wouldn’t, you know, actually defecate in his shoes.”
To suggest that the playdate ended poorly would be an understatement. To speculate that we won’t be having another playdate with this young man any time soon would be sensible.
At the end of the day, that’s probably for the best. I know at least 10 other moms who are much more fun to hang out with, moms who would have laughed those notes off and maybe even joined in the game.
Sometimes, it can be really helpful to talk about your problems.
My husband recently discussed our daughter’s cancer with the gas company and wouldn’t you know it, the next day a crew came out and fixed the gaping hole they had left in our yard a year ago. Never mind that they should have fixed it anyway or that they had been promising to for months. Tragedy got the ball rolling when nothing else worked.
Although effective, his strategy did cause some confusion when I asked how he had changed the company rep’s mind.
“I used the ‘c’ word,” he said.
I stared at him.
“You called her a c—-t?” I asked.
His eyes went wide.
“I told her our daughter has cancer.”
Oh, yeah. That “c” word.
Three years ago, our daughter was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of 18 months. A type of pediatric cancer, neuroblastoma either grows aggressively or just lingers, sometimes taking years before it dies off on its own. The doctors are hopeful our Charlie has the latter. Already she has endured 12 rounds of intensive chemotherapy, six rounds of less intensive chemo and six surgeries. She is now off treatment and the tumors aren’t growing. As a family we’ll be holding our breath for a few years but as far as having your child get cancer goes, we are the lucky ones. (Don’t tell the gas company, though. They owe us.)
Please understand, I am not trying to make light of this disease or anyone’s struggle with it. It’s just that I’ve had a long time to deal with this, and crying inconsolably on the floor curled in a fetal position gets old after a few weeks. I’m also aware that any time I talk about Charlie’s cancer, I’m really only telling part of the story. She is the one who has been fighting this and one day she’ll be able to tell the story herself, no doubt much better than I can. But for right now, I’m the one who can type and the only perspective I can share is my own.
In the beginning, I didn’t want to talk about it. Talking about it made it real and I didn’t want it to be real. It was easier to tell a few friends and family members and have them relay the news to those who needed to know.
Once she started treatment, her condition was obvious to all but the criminally stupid. She lost her hair and was painfully skinny. Of course, logic is no impediment to some, such as the old man smoking a cigarette in front of her doctor’s office who reprimanded me for her appearance.
“Why would you shave that poor child’s head?” he demanded.
I looked pointedly at the sign behind his head that read “Pediatric Oncology and Hematology.” Nothing. Tempted to say, “She lost a bet,” I instead explained in small words what should have been obvious. (Why, you might ask, would anyone smoke in front of a children’s cancer clinic? Sadly, her doctors share a building with cardiothoracic surgeons, so it’s not unusual for the pediatric patients to run a gauntlet of carcinogenic smoke to get to treatment. Whoever came up with that brilliant office sharing arrangement should be shot.)
But if I was out without her and saw people who didn’t already know, I wouldn’t tell them. It just seemed like an awkward thing to bring up in, say, the aisles of the Food Lion. (“Jack just started transitional kindergarten and Charlie is battling cancer. OMG, is that the new Hamburger Helper?”) The few times I did share the news were — bad. People got upset, understandably, and I felt lousy for ruining their day. Also, once people know they feel inconsiderate talking to you about anything else. Trust me, sometimes you really want to talk about something else. Anything else.
But once she was through the worst of her treatment and the tumors had stopped growing, it became easier to talk about her condition. Perhaps it was because I didn’t feel the need to escape it as much myself, and it’s easier to share good news than it is to punch people in the gut with tragedy.
Also, I am proud of her.
I shy away from the term “cancer survivor.” For one thing, she’s not in remission, but also it seems like an insult to those who have passed away from the disease. There were many amazing children she met during her treatment — Gabby, Carter, Pieter, Miranda — who were just as fierce in their struggle and endured more in their tender years than any human being should in a lifetime. They didn’t lose their fight against cancer. The treatment stopped working. The cancer found a new way to grow. Unfortunately, cancer is a powerful, indiscriminate dick — it wouldn’t pick on children otherwise — and has an enormous capacity to change the rules and overcome whatever is thrown at it. These children didn’t lose their struggle any more than Charlie won hers. She simply got lucky.
…and yet that child put up the fight of a lifetime. Before she could even take her first steps she had been pumped full of poison and poked with needles and sliced open in three different places. She endured weeks of confinement to a hospital bed when she should have been learning to walk, vomited for hours when she should have been figuring out her favorite foods.There were times when I looked at her and felt like saying, “It’s okay if you want to give up. I don’t want you to, but I would understand.” But this baby, this child in diapers who slept with her fingers entwined in my hair every night and cried when the end credits rolled on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” found some way to keep going.
You better be damn straight I am proud of her.
Sharing her condition also helps explain her developmental delays. Although she has recovered physically from the chemo and is the size of a strapping 5-year-old, developmentally she is somewhere between the ages of 2 and 3. Or, in the words of a little turd at her ballet school, “She talks funny. She’s wearing a diaper!” (“You talk funny!” I wanted to shout. “And your mother is an alcoholic whore!” Instead I chirped, “She’s just catching up!”)
There are times when I would like to talk about it even more. For example, those instances when she’s throwing a tantrum on the floor at Target — she is mentally a 2-year-old, after all, and 2-year-olds excel at tantrums — and I get the stink eye from some old bat who forgets what it’s like to be a parent. In those moments I would love nothing more than to shout: “She has cancer! What’s your excuse for being socially awkward?” And then maybe spit on the floor. I don’t know, that feels inappropriate. I could probably get over it, though.
But it was only recently that I discovered the best use for sharing her story.
Even though I can be private about some things — say, my child getting treated for cancer — for some reason complete strangers feel free to tell me things they really, really shouldn’t.
“I always wanted kids,” said the cashier at the Container Store to me one day, for no apparent reason. “But my first husband didn’t want them and then my second husband, well we tried and tried and then it turned out he was sterile.”
Um, I’ll just take my receipt. Please?
I am convinced it has to do with my red hair. When you are a redhead, you always remind people of someone they know. (Ugh, and it’s always the ex-wives. Ginger ladies, please, stop getting divorced so much, I’m begging you.) As a result, they are always taking small talk to places it just doesn’t belong when you are around.
But now I have a wonderfully powerful weapon against that, which I only realized on a recent outing to TCBY with Charlie.
We had barely taken our seats when the bearded youngster behind the counter started talking.
“I almost didn’t make it to work today,” he said.
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“Yeah, it was really bad,” he continued. “It was, like, emergency bad.”
“My girlfriend was bleeding everywhere?”
“And we thought she might be having a miscarriage?”
“We had to go to the hospital and everything.”
“We really want this baby, which surprises everyone because we are so young.”
“I’m really sorry,” I said and don’t get me wrong, I was sorry. It just seemed like there might have been someone more appropriate for him to talk to about this. Someone who knew his first name, for example.
“We won’t find out until Monday whether she lost the baby.”
And then it hit me: fire with fire.
I turned to him and pointed at Charlie.
“She has cancer.”
He stared. Silence ensued. A cricket rode past on a tumbleweed and I went back to eating frozen yogurt with my daughter.
Yes, talking about your problems can be pretty helpful indeed.
This post originally ran a year ago. I am rerunning it now to mark the one-year anniversary of my attempts at blogging. Many thanks for everyone’s kindness and support.