Thursday, March 31, 2011

Imagination mayhem

Ohmigosh, it's a HANDFUL having an imaginative little girl. I love it, for the most part...after all, I'm a writer, right? (I'm still practicing saying that and not making a snarky-face...I. Am. A. Writer. I think...) And writers appreciate imaginations, right?

Zoe has been busy over the last few weeks coming up with new ways to make herself laugh, and freak herself out.

Not long ago, we were home alone on a rainy Friday afternoon when, desperate for a new form of entertainment that did not involve a puzzle, I pulled out Zoe's Sock Monkey Tea Set (cutest tea set EVER!). We sat down at her little table in the den, and Zoe immediately set to making some tea. With her tea set. Fancy that!

Anyway, it wasn't so much the fact that she was making tea that was strikingly was all about the ingredients which which she chose to create her teas. I watched, speechless, laughing, before I thought to grab a little notebook to record her recipes. Here's they are:
  • watermelon, peanut butter and jelly
  • chocolate, vanilla and orange juice
  • vanilla, ice cream and whipped cream (seriously, I wished that one was real!)
  • almond, cranberry and apple juice
  • chocolate, a plate, vanilla, milk and Doozer (our cat)
  • banana, strawberry, pear and a musical instrument
  • chocolate, a cup, vanilla, strawberry, orange and some Legos
  • coffee, vanilla, a plate, an octopus, a helicopter, a rocket ship and a handful of monkeys.
As she said each ingredient, she picked up an imaginary something from the table or the floor near-by. Then, she'd carry the cup of "tea" over to our bookshelf, where she set it down to cook. I had to "drink" each cup, even the one that included an octopus, and pretend it was amazing. It was a fabulously fun game for both of us.

Another recent game she's developed includes one of her other favorite tasks: drawing. Zoe takes one of her Magna-Doodles and draws a random shape or two (frequently two joined circles, but sometimes she branches out). She then thrusts the doodle in my general direction.


The first time Charles heard her say this, he made Zoe repeat herself three times until he got it. Turn it into something. Put the words on it, Mommy.

I am supposed to turn her random shapes into some sort of recognizable picture and label it with the appropriate word. I draw cats, boats, dogs, rockets, ice cream cones, armadillos, and so on and so forth. I tend to get stuck on animals, and we tend to laugh a lot when playing. But the great thing about this game is that now, before she even turns three, she can sight-read about a dozen words. Cat. Hat. Dog. Turtle. Mommy. Daddy. And a bunch of others. It's FABULOUS. She understands what she can do, and wants to learn more. I can't wait until she can read more! And this all came about because she made up a silly little game.

Of course, you may know that there's another side to the imagination coin, right? And that's the sheer terror that comes with not quite being able to draw the line between real and make-believe.

Last week, when Zoe was sick, we watched a LOT of's not my favorite pass-time for her, but when you have a feverish child, there are only so many books you can we watched Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, both of which are well-equipped with a terrifying evil witch. Then, this week, Charles put in The Wizard of Oz, after Zoe and I spent some time singing the songs in the car on the way home from school. And, well, the Wicked Witch of the West is maybe one of the scariest bad-guys in children's movie history, right?

So now Zoe is looking for witches everywhere she goes...she will no longer go into her closet on her own, and when going into a new room, she has to yell at the top of her voice, "Go away witch!!"

So far, we haven't had to deal with any nightmares, but I do know that's coming. She is my child, after all, and I've had nightmares my whole life, probably due to watching scary movies before I was quite ready for them...

You'd think I'd learn, right? But really, I love my child's imagination, and I'll take the bad with the good, any day. I love her.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Flashbacks, wars and scariness

Tonight, after I put Zoe to bed, I came downstairs and saw President Obama's face filling my (rather large) TV screen as he stood in front of our nation to defend his actions in authorizing bombings last week in Libya. I sat and listened, interested in what he had to say, and I suddenly flashed back a ways.

Suddenly it was the first President Bush filling the (rather small) TV screen in my parents' living room. I was eleven years old and it was 1990, and our President (the first elected during a time I clearly remember) defended his actions in declaring war in Iraq and Kuwait.

I'd grown up during a comparatively peaceful time, at least inasmuch as I was able to follow at such a young age. I remember hearing about problems in South America, and Oliver North held significance to me, but this was different. This was WAR our President was talking about, and this was utterly terrifying to me.

WAR was World War II, when Hitler killed my ancestors and we dropped atomic bombs on Japan. WAR was Vietnam (police-action, my ass!), when my uncles lived in jungles and boys not much older than my big brother were killed en masse. WAR was scary and important and big.

I cried my eyes out that night in bed, feeling like my world had just collapsed around me.

The next day, determined to do my part, I hung yellow ribbons on the trees in our back yard. (Eat your heart out, Rosie the Riveter, I thought as I glued and stapled.) When my teacher organized a pen pal program with some soldiers in the Persian Gulf (how different that sounds today!), I signed right up, and was delighted when a paratrooper in the 81st Airborne Division wrote me back. His name was Sergeant Jim and he was from New Jersey, just like me. I still have all his letters saved in a binder that sits, gathering dust, in my parents' attic. I sent him cookies. I wanted to meet him face-to-face when he returned home, but one day, he stopped responding to my letters.

My mom tried to come up with an explanation, but nothing really satisfied me, and I was sad. Today I'm wondering...what the hell really happened to Sergeant Jim? I think I'll pull out those letters next weekend and see what some research can dig up. I hope I don't find out anything I'd rather not know.

Anyway, that was my first experience with war, and I'm not sure why President Obama's speech tonight made me think of it. But I can tell's different, by now.

By now, I've had friends killed brutally in terrorist attacks. I've seen other friends and relatives sent away to hostile countries for year-long stints in the desert. I've watched helplessly as a different President Bush declared different wars on different countries, and I've learned what it's like to disagree so strongly with the leader your peers elected that you'd almost consider leaving your home country.

I guess what sent me back in time was this: Even though I still hate war, and even though I'm also weirdly desensitized to it, what President Obama said tonight made SENSE to me, just like what the first President Bush said in 1990. Of COURSE we had to protect innocent civilians. Of COURSE we have to help.

But's WAR. It's SCARY. I hope we never take these moments lightly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Picketing a six-year-old?? For reals?

It's been weird, being home most of this week. I've had time to watch the news and keep on top of laundry, oddities for a working mom like me.

So yesterday, I caught this story while watching CNN's American Morning (my fave news program - I have it on right now, in fact).

Basically, parents in a Florida school are pissed off because there's a little girl with a sever peanut allergy in their children's first grade class. To attempt to ensure that one girl's safety, all the children are being asked to wash their hands before and after lunch and occasionally rinse out their mouths.

These aggrieved parents are actually picketing the school, attempting to have this SIX YEAR OLD GIRL removed from their children's class because these clearly overwhelming precautions (Seriously - washing the hands of small children before and after eating? Excessive, right?) are impeding their precious children's learning time.

Ok, all snark aside...are you kidding me? Washing hands is taking away from learning time? Zoe's class (pre-school, I know, but still...) has entire routines around washing hands in an attempt to keep the kids from spreading germs. Most six year olds I know have grubby hands at most points in the day, so having them wash their hands sounds like a good plan to me, life threatening peanut allergies notwithstanding. How can anyone argue against such simple steps to help keep any number of children safe?

I was happy to see that the CNN commentators were equally appalled by this situation and had a few snarky comments of their own in support of that little girl who was unlucky enough to be born with what amounts to a disability - peanut allergies are nothing to mess around with. They are dangerous and limiting and scary.

And I'm just left wondering about those picketing parents...if any of THEM had a child with an allergy like this, would they stop at anything to keep that child safe? Probably not. I think this is a situation where stepping into the other parents' shoes would hopefully make the picketers stop, look around, and realize they're being idiots.

Yes, I just called them idiots. There's no other word for it. Do what you can to help your neighbors, people! Help keep kids safe.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sick days indeed

Last week, Zoe and I had a cold. It was our first one in a while, though, so I felt like it wasn't so bad. Neither of us missed school or work, and by Wednesday, we were fine.

Then, Friday came. I had a friend coming to dinner with her husband and 16-month-old son. This was a college friend who I hadn't seen in years and years, and I was SO EXCITED about it! They came, and Zoe was having a great time running around, showing off in that way she does...hopping, spinning, dancing and singing.

We were all hanging out while I cooked some shrimp and grits, when suddenly Charles came into the kitchen. "Um, Zoe has a fever of 101."

Denial set in. Immediately.

"No she doesn't," I said, so sure I was right. "No way. She's just overheated. It's hot in here and she's running around."

(In my defense, it was in the 80s that day, and our house was rather warm since I was cooking like a madwoman.)

Two of ours dinner guests were pediatricians, and both shot me funny looks. "No, kids don't run fevers from running around."


They were cool and relaxed about it, though, which made me feel better. But, that afternoon, before the fever came on, Zoe had hung around with a nine-month-old who lives on our street, and we saw a one-month-old baby as well (she didn't get close to that baby, though). And then my friend's son, too.

I felt like she was Typhoid Zoe, spreading her evil germs across the land.


That night, we had our first ever middle of the night fever spike - it was up to 104 by morning, even with Advil. It was awful.

The whole weekend was spent in the house, dealing with poor Zoe's fever. The doctor thought it was viral, but on Sunday we started her on an antibiotic, thinking it was a sinus infection. Sure enough her fever dropped, and yesterday she was fever-free.

But today? Yeah, fever again. I have no idea what's going on, but we'll be home again today, and I'm apparently on a mini-vacation from work. I love all the cuddles (she's a cuddly-sick-girl), but I think we're all ready to return to normal.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

There but for the grace of God...

The earthquake and tsunami that wiped out much of Japan's coast last Friday are completely freaking me out. I have a hard time looking at any sort of coverage of the catastrophic damage to life and property. I've had my head in the sand all week in fact.

Why is this bothering me so much? Past disasters have found me glued to CNN, watching every horrifying minute unfold, afraid to miss any detail lest I miss some all-important lesson on life or something.

But not this time. This one scares me, and here are my thoughts about why.

So, in the past, most natural disasters have taken place in this "other" space; frequently, the victims are third world countires (i.e. the earthquake in Haiti last year, the tsunami in Indonesia in 2006). The extreme poverty itself makes natural disasters that much worse, right? So it seemed, and so I always told myself. That can't happen to me, I'd think. I live a comfy middle-class life in a middle-class neighborhood in middle-class America.

Even when Katrina ripped through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi (where I lived for a year, believe it or not), it still felt like this "other." Most of the deaths came from the most poverty-stricken areas, or to the old and infirm. And while it was tremendously sad (please, I am not callous, I promise you), and while I shed a lot of tears over the destruction of a city I love, I was still able to watch all the coverage, comfortably detached. That could never happen to me, I'd think. I'm safe in my middle-class-ness.

So there's where my problem is this time around. Japan is not third world. Japan is not poverty-stricken. Japan is one of the most developed, technologically advanced countries in the world. Their middle classes are those who have been affected by this disaster. And, in fact, it's their advance technology, in the form of nuclear power plants that are now leaking radiation, that are causing so much fear and uncertainty even after the earthquake and tsunami took their initial toll.

This is terrifying to me.

I live in my comfy middle-class world here in a coastal, Southern town. There's a nuclear power plant only three hours away from here, in Charlotte, NC. If an earthquake hit off our coast like the one that just hit Japan, that could easily be Charles, Zoe and me making headlines across the world. Nothing would keep us safe from that.

It's all very unsettling, to say the least. So I'm really struggling to watch any of the coverage. Any child could be Zoe. Any grieving parent could be Charles or me.

And to the Glenn Beck's out there, who say all these disasters are a result of people not following the Ten Commandments or something, I can only say shut up. There have been natural disasters like this occuring since long before homo sapiens walked the planet. After all, something disastrous caused the dinosaurs to become extinct, and I don't think it was their loose moral values. So please, go spout your crazy about something else for a while and leave the poor people of Japan to grieve in peace.

And if you want to see for yourself what really happened over there, my brother-in-law sent me this photo-essay today. It's the one thing I've really looked at...and yes, it made me cry.

Because seriously, there but for the grace of God go we.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


So I'm sick.

I haven't been sick in a long time, I think. It's probably just a cold, but I just feel...blah. With maybe 30% of my typical energy level, and a sore throat and stuffy nose. And I need to be better by next Friday when I get to see an old college friend for the first time in years.

I think I can, I think I can.

Anyway, I have a theory on why I'm sick. Wanna hear it?

Well, you could assume that I have the same cold Zoe has, since she woke up with a goopy nose yesterday, and I've been covered in her boogers ever since. But no. I would much rather assume that it's the fault of the girl at work who, when I saw her on Thursday and said, "How's it going?" replied with, "Sick." And then she proceeded to close-talk me for five minutes. IN THE BATHROOM! I couldn't escape!


So this brings up an interesting point, right? Which is...why was she at work if she felt bad enough that her answer to a generic question was to fuss about being sick for five minutes? All that does is spread around germs, and I know this because I was once very guilty of being Typhoid Leah and spreading bronchitis around my general cube area because I refused to stay home...all while getting very little accomplished office-wise.

But why do we all do this?

It's because our system here in the United States values money over people, and no one with a family has enough vacation or sick time to really be able to take care of themselves for an entire year.

Think about it. I have less than eight sick days per year (my company offers eight but my part-time status means I only get 80% of my time off). That is NOT enough to take off every time Zoe is sick or I am sick. So Zoe goes to school with the sniffles, and I go to work when I don't feel well, just to conserve my remaining vacation time.

It's weird to me, right? Because, that one time, I really did take out almost my entire team....somebody should have sent me home. But they didn't, and I was just another part of the problem instead of the solution.

Anyway, that's my rant about the American workplace...

And now that it's over, let me just say that my troubles pale to ghost-like colors in comparison to what people in Japan and all over the Pacific are dealing with today, and will continue to deal with in the foreseeable future. My REAL thoughts are with them all, hoping for the best for everyone who was touched by the earthquake and tsunami.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


My oldest brother, Jonathan, has been in town this week.

The last time we were together, Zoe was pretty afraid of him, which I think broke my heart, and Jonathan's, just a little. Jon and I were super-close growing up, and even though he's six years older than me, by the time I was a teenager he sort of took me everywhere with him...including to Woodstock. He also was always a magnet for little girls (not in a sketchy, dirty way, I promise)...our little cousin Alissa adored him. Friends' little sisters loved him.

So I always assumed, even though he lives halfway across the country in Oklahoma, that my little girl would pretty much worship him. I did, you know?

Hence, I was a little sad that they didn't have that dynamic last August when we were in Tulsa for Jon's wedding.

But this visit...holy cow, there it is!!! She LOVES him! We talked up his visit ahead of time, and on the first night, within about 30 minutes, she was hugging and kissing on him, singing "Happy Birthday" and playing. That night, she insisted he take her up to bed. Every time we've seen him since, it's been the same. She's happy to see him, hugs and kisses him, and tonight I watched him playing guitar while she played piano, and I saw that adoration in her eyes.

And I am SO FREAKING HAPPY about this little fact. Family is important, and mine is scattered around the world right now, so every little piece that pulls us closer together is amazing. And so I will treasure the memory of Jonathan carrying Zoe to bed Monday least until the next time we see him and we make new memories.


With family being so important, what do you do when family members aren't here anymore for a young child to meet? I've struggled with that since Zoe's birth. Charles's father passed away long before I even met Charles, and neither of us has any grandparents left. How to explain who Grandaddy Chuck is? Or my Nana? Or Charles's Granny and Poppa? These were super-important people in our lives, and helped to create us, and therefore Zoe.

Apparently, I don't need to worry.

Zoe tends to ask Charles to tell her stories during our time in the car together every day. It's great, because we have a long commute to and from school/work. She used to ask for Curious George stories, then after a day when Charles told her a story about getting hurt as a kid, she started asking for "Daddy getting hurt" stories.

And then recently, he mentioned Poppa in a story, and now all she wants are Poppa stories. So Charles is having a great time (I think?) telling her stories about fishing and shrimping, learning to drive on an old farm where Poppa used to take him, and so on and so forth.

I guess so much of our heritage is still in the stories we love and share. As Zoe gets older, she'll learn more about Grandaddy Chuck flying helicopters in Vietnam. She'll learn about my Nana going out on dates which took her all over Manhattan at all hours of the night. She'll hear about Granny's cooking and even more about fishing with Poppa.

Basically, even though she won't have met them, she'll know them. And that's what matters.


Finally, a ghost story for you.

My father's brother, George, died when George was 12 and Dad was 6. It's a tragic story - he drowned, and could have easily been rescued by a local fisherman.

This was up in New Jersey. All my life up there, Dad always told me stories of how George continued to visit him even after his death, which always simultaneously freaked me out and made me happy. It's nice to think of Dad's big brother still keeping an eye on him, you know?

But I always figured the stories ended when my parents followed me to South Carolina. Do ghosts travel, after all? I doubted it.

Not so much, though.

So, a long time ago, Dad lost a pocketknife in our old house. He searched up and down and all around, and the knife never showed up. Until years later, that is, when Dad pulled up a carpet in (I think) my bedroom, and the knife was in the center of the room, under the carpet. Weird, right?

Here's weirder...apparently Dad has already been pretty convinced that there's something going on in his current house, and when he told Mom recently about a light turning on by itself, she said, jokingly, "Oh, I guess George finally found you again."

Ha ha, right?


Dad has a dresser drawer in which he keeps t-shirts and a small box holding his collection of pocketknives. One of those knives, which has been shoved in the way back of the box, was George's old Boy Scout knife.

Shortly after Mom's comment, Dad opened his drawer to find, front and center, George's Boy Scout knife.

FREAKY! And still...sort of nice, right?

Friday, March 4, 2011

When one Facebook update just isn't enough

My day started at 4:00 a.m., when Zoe woke up to pee and refused to go back to bed until about 5, when Charles went down to get his coffee. Zoe climbed back into the bed with me and we fell asleep for about 45 minutes more.

Needless to say, though, that wasn't high-quality sleep, so it's been a long day. I ran, cleaned bathrooms (ugh...), ran by the office for a meeting, and ran some other errands. Then I picked up Zoe from school and we went to the park for a while.

Since the point when I left the house, I've had at least four status updates that I thought about making to Facebook, but I never had the chance to make them. And now, I want to make all of them, but that would be a bit excessive.

So I'm blogging instead.

Here goes:

  • Today, I had to run to the bank to deposit checks, buy "neutral" Chuck Taylors for Zoe, and pick up toilet paper. What actually happened, though, was that when I ran to the bank, I hadn't endorsed the checks I was depositing, and I didn't have a pen, so I left with checks in hand; I got Zoe red and black ladybug sneakers instead of the black or beige Charles requested; and I forgot toilet paper. So it goes.
  • Today, for Show and Share at school, Zoe brought a plastic Daschund dog dressed up as a hot dog, left over from Halloween. On the way outside with her class (they were seeing if their Show and Share items fit inside the school mailbox), she dropped the dog, and it broke into multiple pieces. Zoe's teacher said they could take it to Mr. Ray, the school handyman, to see if he could fix it. Zoe looked right up at the teacher and said, "Yes, Mr. Ray has to screw the dog to fix it." Huh....
  • Zoe had a tremendous fall from a ladder at the park today. She'd climbed it twice before, and was shooing me away from my nervous-mom-stance underneath her. So I stepped about three feet away and was talking to another mom while she climbed. She made it about four rungs up when she slipped and tumbled, and I was not fast enough to catch her. She flew down about 5 feet and thankfully landed on her booty in the soft sand. It was traumatizing for both of us - even thinking about it is making me choke up. But do you know what? As soon as she'd settled down, before she'd even let me wipe the tears away (but after I'd made sure she could walk and wasn't seriously injured), she walked right back up to that ladder and, determined as ever, climbed right up to the top. I was AMAZED by her courage. She is incredibly brave.
  • We've had a mole problem in the backyard for months, years even. They dig these little underground trenches that make our grass weirdly soft and lumpy. I can't stand them. And I've encouraged my dog, Quentin, who spends lots of time out there, to dig them up and eat them, but he never has. Today, Charles's dog, Molly, the Dalmatian, stayed out in the yard and when Zoe and I came home from the park, Molly came trotting to the door, mole in mouth. She'd finally found one. There are several large holes in the yard now, but at least we are one mole less thanks to Molly's tenacity. So yay for her, but then...moles are kind of cute when you actually look at them. Darnit!
OK, those were stories. Please know that, had they been actual Facebook statuses, they'd have been shorter and maybe funnier. But still...that all happened today. Really. Today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back to reality - a round-up

I've been writing a post in my head (where I do my best writing) about all the surprise realities of being a parent, and I promise, it's going to be good. When I get to it...

But today I've been distracted, and it turns out the thing I'd like to do tonight is share some excellent links with you. They're mostly of a thoughtful/hopeful/humanitarian theme, so please take the time to read, watch, enjoy and think.

  • Ok, a "Little Monster" I am not, and I'm not a huge fan of Lady Gaga by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't think there's a person on this Earth who can argue with the beauty of the message of Gaga's newest single, "Born this Way." To really enjoy the message, though, here's a pared down cover version sung by a girl who can't be more than nine or ten years old. Beautiful, simple and lovely.
  • I am, on the other hand, a HUGE (all CAPS, really!!!) fan of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on the Travel Channel, and seriously, his season opener in Haiti is amazing. He took a risk, I think, that could earn him an Emmy (easily!) by visiting the down-trodden capital, Port Au Prince. He showed the sad side (purchasing meals for starving children lead to badness), the beautiful side (amazing artwork created by children in the back-alley slums), and the harsh realities of a hurricane bearing down on the battered city. He also spent a bit of time with Sean Penn, who's been down there almost permanently since the earthquake. It was a brilliant episode. Please watch it.
  • Speaking of Sean Penn (yes, I do mean Spicoli!!), here's an article from last July's Vanity Fair that details his work down there in Haiti. The man's been working his ass off, just trying to do his small (HUGE) part to help. Please read it.
  • Finally, I learned today while having lunch with a friend that a senior Vice President from my company (Blackbaud, Inc., in case you wondered) is on a mission trip installing clean water systems in Peru. He's blogging his trip, and so far, he's had some pretty amazing experiences. Take a minute to even check out his pictures - pretty impressive. I hope one day I have an opportunity to take a similar trip.