Part I: Speech Therapy for Someone Who Can Speak Quite Clearly?

35388What do train whistles, chocolate pudding, a nose flute, mango nectar, mini marshmallows, peanut butter, and tongue depressors have in common? At times all of these items and a laundry list of others have been required for Zoe’s speech therapy homework. Next week she will wrap up four months of weekly sessions to correct tongue thrust, a problem we didn’t even realize she had until we started the rounds of visiting prospective orthodontists last winter. When one of them suggested speech therapy for tongue thrust, I was skeptical until I talked with a speech therapist who said that kids with tongue thrust often had to have braces twice because their thrusting tongue pushed their teeth right back out where they were to begin with. And I know this to be true because it happened to me. I had braces in middle school and again in college, but I never knew that tongue thrust was something I could correct. So in an effort to save Zoe the aggravation of extended orthodontia and save us money in the long run, we have invested money and time in speech therapy now. (Zoe just completed her course of treatment with Andi Fisher at Chain Bridge Speech and Language Therapy, a practice owned and operated by our good friend Kristin Keller Daus.)

And despite the fun foods and accessories involved, it is not always at the top of a 10-year-old’s list of activities to do speech therapy homework, especially after school homework, martial arts, soccer practice, chores, or whatever else is going on.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Zoe is no stranger to therapeutic homework. For a while she did eye exercises every night to address convergence insufficiency. Way back when she was in preschool and struggling to overcome a bladder disorder, she had pelvic therapy and other exercises to help her strengthen her pelvic floor muscles. None of this has been easy. But who said it would be, right?

Part II: Causing a Nosebleed, Lying Down on the Rug, and Ignoring Personal Space

Luckily for Zeke, his occupational therapy sessions start off with time to bounce on a big trampoline, climb onto swinging platforms hanging from the ceiling, and jump from a fluffy cloud suspended from ropes into a ball pit. He loves going to Miss Mary’s for OT. (Miss Mary being Mary Craver, who practices occupational therapy in Cabin John, Maryland.)

I never expected he would need occupational therapy. He’s always been strong, athletic, coordinated, and capable of sustained attention playing with Legos and doing puzzles. I never imagined anything was off kilter.

Then last spring, his preschool teacher mentioned on three different occasions that Zeke had thrown something on the playground that hit another kid in the face, including one occasion where the other kid got a nosebleed (I apologized later to his mom and she was gracious and not the least bit concerned, thankfully). In every case, he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. He’s not malicious (although he does occasionally punch his sister, I admit), but just had no control over his body. He would also bump into his classmates a lot in line, and whack them with his jacket while swinging it around. Zeke was also frequently causing frustration in the classroom by lying down when it was time to go outside, or refusing to get his coat on to head to the playground.

I understood his teacher’s concerns and didn’t want Zeke’s behavior to be disruptive. I also figured that those behaviors were probably typical for a three-year-old or something he would outgrow. Meanwhile, I happened to interview occupational therapist Mary Craver (who we know now as Miss Mary) for a client project. My client had been asking about how Zeke was doing, and when I shared some of these issues, she asked if I wanted to complete a sensory profile for Zeke–basically an assessment from the parents’ point of view of how a child seeks or responds to different kinds of sensory stimulation. We did this and Mary agreed to look at it. I talked with her and she suggested Zeke’s teachers fill out a profile of their observations of his behaviors at school, which they thoughtfully did. I was surprised to read some of their notes about how much effort it sometimes took to get Zeke to do what he was supposed to do in class. Especially because I’d been in his class, many times, and I never felt like he was any more or less challenging than any other kid in the class. They were three years old, after all.

Mary decided it would be best for her to observe Zeke at school to get a complete picture of what was going on. As her time with the class was coming to an end, the kids were preparing to go outside. Zeke was refusing. Apparently his classmates were lined up in the hall on their way to the playground, and he was lying down on the rug, unwilling to get his coat on despite the co-opers cajoling. Although she doesn’t typically intervene during an observation, Mary decided to help out the desperate co-oper. “Zeke!” she said. “You have one minute to get your coat on!” “OK!” he said, and jumped up and got his coat on and was ready to go outside in about 10 seconds. It turns out that Zeke just needed some parameters. She later explained to me that “get your coat on” was surprisingly too abstract for him, as if he had until the end of time to get his coat on. But I have since learned that he responds really well to time limits. On her advice, we’ve bought a time timer, just like the one she uses in her office, for our house. It’s hugely helpful in letting Zeke feel like he is in control of how he spends his time and he can clearly see how long he has to do an activity.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Part III: Why Would My Strong and Active Boy Who Can Do Puzzles and Play Legos for Hours Need Occupational Therapy?

After she reviewed the parent and teacher sensory profiles, the classroom observation, and an assessment in her office, Mary gave us a complete evaluation of Zeke’s issues. To be honest, this was a little overwhelming. Although I have several good friends whose children had done occupational therapy before and I knew they were all wonderful, fabulous, successful kids, my first thought was “what is wrong with my child?” On one level I realize this didn’t make sense. Nothing was wrong with Zeke. Yet, clearly according to this evaluation, there were areas where he struggled. He had trouble grasping and manipulating objects, balancing, and with hand-eye coordination. Truthfully I don’t fully understand the clinical vocabulary that describes Zeke’s diagnosis, but the therapist showed me exactly what he had trouble doing and I got it. I have slowly come to understand since then that the areas where he had deficits were where we saw him getting frequently frustrated at school and at home. I just didn’t realize at the time there was anything we could have done about it.

Many people (including me, to be honest) have wondered whether the behaviors Zeke is working on in OT are just typical for his age, or if he would simply outgrow them. The answer is maybe, but…I had those questions myself when we started this process and our amazing preschool director Susan Parker explained it this way–if there are things he’s struggling with that OT could help him master, that will reduce his frustration with daily activities, with school, and build his confidence, why not give him those tools? Why not, indeed?

Some of the tangible tools that Mary has given Zeke so far include a size of the problem worksheet/scale to help him assess whether something that bothers him is a small problem that he can handle, a larger problem that needs adult intervention, or a huge problem that is really serious, and a couple levels in between. There’s a little chart to help kids articulate their feelings about the size of their problem.1801284

She also helped him create a speedometer for his engine–is it running low, high, or just right? And if it’s running low or high, how can he modulate it? She also gave him a (paper) remote control that he can use to control his own brain and body (and no one else’s). Using the remote he can pause to think about something, rewind if he made a mistake or hurt someone and try again to do better, fast forward to think about possible consequences of his actions before he takes them.

Mary also showed Zeke how to correctly hold a writing or drawing utensil, making those activities much more comfortable to him. I knew he wasn’t holding crayons properly, but I wasn’t sure how to correct him in a constructive way. She’s had him using special small scissors to make it easier for him to learn the proper way to hold and use scissors.

Mary helped me realize that Zeke (and most kids) needs clear parameters when he’s being asked to do something. My repeated requests for him to get his shoes on or clean up his toys might be ignored, but if I say, “Zeke, you have one minute to get your shoes on,” he (usually) jumps on it immediately. He loves for me to count to 10 (or 20 or more) when he’s trying to do a task. Part of me fervently wishes I could just make a request and he would do it, but if counting works for now, I will surely count.

Zeke also loves the movement breaks he gets during occupational therapy, which also enable him to work on gross motor skills. These are just a few of the cool pieces of equipment in Miss Mary’s office.5442582_orig

I’ve learned from Mary that OT is a lifespan activity, addressing any needs that anyone–from infant to senior–has to better be able to function in the world. OT can address issues such as eating, holding a writing utensil, self-regulation and self-control, emotional stability, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and so much more. Zeke’s just been doing this for a couple months so I’m still learning every week what it means for him or others.

Part IV: Speech Therapy for Someone Who Actually CANNOT Speak Clearly

Meanwhile, we’ve known for a while that Zeke has some articulation issues when he speaks. He says T for K sounds, and frequently cannot correctly pronounce words containing R, L, or TH. I asked his preschool teacher when he was two about this and she showed me a graphic that illustrates when boys are supposed to have mastered certain sounds. She assured me that he would get it and not to spend money on speech therapy. Yet.

In his three-year-old class I told the teachers my concerns about his speech and they were listening for it. They noted that sometimes they couldn’t understand him, but mostly they could, and his articulation issues didn’t seem to interfere with his learning or social interaction, and he would likely outgrow them.

I had trouble understanding him sometimes as well, although my husband and our daughter and I could probably decipher his language best out of anyone. But still, his vocabulary and expressiveness were so developed that the articulation didn’t seem to get in the way. Much.

Then, when Mary Craver evaluated Zeke for occupational therapy, she said his speech was something to think about. Understanding that it would be just a wee bit overwhelming for Zeke (and our calendar and wallet) to take Zeke to OT and speech simultaneously, she encouraged us to begin the process of getting Zeke evaluated through Child Find for speech therapy services that would be provided at no cost to us by Arlington County. This was welcome news.

We started this process in May. I called the Child Find office to find out how to apply and received a packet in the mail. I completed the application and had to ask one of Zeke’s wonderful teachers to fill out yet another form about him, which she graciously did. I found Zeke’s birth certificate and medical records and a mortgage statement (to prove we live in Arlington) and headed over to the Child Find office to submit the application. Turns out the mortgage statement didn’t work, and I needed the deed to our house. Although we have that in a file cabinet, I had no idea which pages were the right ones, so I went to the Arlington County Courthouse and paid $9 for them to copy the 16 pages needed to prove we live here, and took them back to Child Find. Once I was back there, the fantastic administrative assistant Elizabeth pointed out that the hearing test box on Zeke’s physical form was checked but there was no indication of whether he had passed or failed the screening. Hearing tests are required for speech therapy evaluations. So I took Zeke to the pediatrician the next day to get a hearing test, which it turned out he hadn’t had at all during his last check-up but the nurse had accidentally checked the box that he had. At the pediatrician’s office a young nurse did a hearing test which I observed and wondered if she was doing it correctly. She said he failed. So…I made an appointment with our ENT to have Zeke do a more comprehensive hearing screening. Which he passed with flying colors. Whew! But what was interesting about the more extensive test, which involved the audiologist asking Zeke, through headphones, to repeat certain words, was I realized there were a LOT of words I couldn’t understand Zeke saying when they were out of context. I suddenly understood that my ability to converse with Zeke depended a lot on the context of his sentences, and that many individual words were indecipherable.

So we took the successful hearing screening results to Child Find and our application was complete! Meanwhile, on June 1 we had an initial meeting with a team there, including the Child Find Coordinator, a psychologist, and a social worker. They talked with me about the background of Zeke’s speech issues, his occupational therapy issues, and what my concerns were. The social worker played with Zeke with a bunch of toys in the office. Everyone was incredibly friendly. They determined that Zeke should have a speech evaluation and said a speech therapist would be calling us to schedule an appointment.

Apparently it took a while for the speech therapists to wrap up school year appointments and do whatever else they had to do, and I ended up calling the Child Find office four or five times to ensure our appointment was still forthcoming. Finally, in mid-July, we heard from the person who would be doing Zeke’s assessment, and will be meeting her on August 2. Then, after a couple more calls, we have an appointment on August 25 for Zeke’s final eligibility meeting, where the Child Find team talks with me about the speech therapist’s evaluation, and determines what’s next for Zeke. Again, whew. I have to reiterate that even though all this has taken a while, everyone who I’ve spoken with at Child Find has been extremely kind and helpful. Especially Elizabeth the admin. She rocks.

The Child Find coordinator said if Zeke is deemed eligible to receive speech therapy services, they will take place at our neighborhood elementary school. This sounded great to me because it’s less than a 10-minute walk from our house, and would give Zeke a familiarity with the school he will attend a year from now for kindergarten. And best of all, it’s free. From what I understand from all the therapists and educators I’ve talked with this year, it’s so much easier for the kids and the school system if these kinds of issues are caught and corrected before elementary school starts. So that’s our goal.

Part V: The Moral of the Story

No doubt this saga is far from over for everyone in our family. There will always be more appointments and more therapies and more issues. But I am so thankful that we have these wonderful resources at hand to help our kids overcome frustration, improve their social skills, prevent future orthodontic catastrophe, and so much more. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to intervene and when to let it go, but it’s gratifying when you see that something you’ve done is helping your kid thrive. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Thank goodness for all of these teachers and therapists and helpers who have my kids’ backs.

 

joe merritt art-2

Some of Joe Merritt’s art

 

 

Yesterday at church I shared a reflection on resilience.

You can read it below, or watch the video of the service here (Click on archives and the service called What Freedom Is For) or watch it here.

Reading it is fine, but if you watch you’ll get to hear some cool theme music in the middle of my reflection. And there’s a wonderful baby dedication before my reflection. Also my call to worship sets the stage for my reflection, so you should really watch the whole thing. 🙂

Resilience

After Marine Sergeant Joe Merritt returned from his deployment in Afghanistan in 2009, his life began to unravel. Not surprisingly, he had experienced a traumatic brain injury on his tour and he was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, but neither issue had been officially diagnosed so he wasn’t yet receiving treatment. Then his wife suddenly left, so he was on his own caring for his baby boy and his two-year-old son with autism.

With the help of a visiting nurse from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Joe found support for his family, received treatment for depression, and experienced catharsis in art therapy. He started participating in a program called Combat Paper, which helps veterans articulate their combat experience through art by literally turning their uniforms into paper. Once the cloth becomes pulp and is pressed into paper, veterans can do anything they want with it. “Everybody’s got a story about combat,” Joe told me. “Those stories are hard to tell sometimes. Combat Paper gives you a medium. You’re taking something you’re so attached to and breaking it down and making it your own. When you’re deployed, you don’t always have a say in what you do. Once your uniform becomes paper, you can have a say. You can paint on it or just shred it and throw it away.”

Joe made progress, but he didn’t magically get better. As he prepared to leave the Marine Corps so he could focus on caring for his boys, Joe’s mental state plummeted and he attempted suicide. Thankfully, he survived, and entered an inpatient treatment center, where art and writing helped him truly come alive again.

Now Joe is an artist whose work often explores the darkness of his combat experience. Joe also teaches art to fellow veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and helps connect them with artistic outlets in the community. He bought a home on the Eastern Shore and he and his boys have experimented with all kinds of artistic techniques to decorate it.

I’ve interviewed Joe several times and I follow him and his boys on Facebook. He is a long way from the edge of the abyss that threatened to claim him years ago, but his life is not easy. He still falls down and stands up all the time.

***

In my own story of resilience, I literally fall down. I get real black and blue bruises. And, slowly but surely, I stand up again.

When I was growing up, I did not play sports. My family is about books and music and plays and museums. It took me years to learn to ride a bike and to swim. I was accused, not unjustly, of being uncoordinated and clumsy. I could find no evidence to the contrary.

In 2003, I met my husband Randy, a lifelong soccer player. You know how you do crazy things when you fall in love with someone? I joined his soccer team. Because they loved

Randy, his teammates were generous in welcoming me onto the field, despite my utter lack of athletic ability or knowledge of the game. I was terrified before and throughout every game.

Twelve years later, after my daughter Zoe had been playing with her soccer team for a while, I learned about a summer soccer clinic for adult beginners. The class was primarily aimed at parents who had never played or had played as kids, but who wanted to learn or improve their skills because their kids were playing. I signed up. The clinic was fantastic. I had so much fun. Many of the people on the field with me had as little experience and as many apprehensions as I did, but we had a great time together. When it ended, we were encouraged to sign up for pickup games sponsored by the parks department, so I did. At my very first actual game, I was knocked down—twice—within the first five minutes of play. I did not return to the pickup games.

The following spring, a fellow freelance writer who had also taken the adult beginner soccer clinic, asked me to join the women’s soccer team she was forming to play in the 40+ division. She had never been on a team before but was willing to try. The team was called Ice & Ibuprofen. We were realistic.

The first game was rough. Playing left back, I froze as a striker from the other team blew past me and scored. I assumed it was all my fault. I felt slightly better when the same player blew past other defenders when I was subbed out on the sidelines. She scored three goals. I guess it wasn’t just me. Still, I felt clumsy and embarrassed. After that game I went home and cried.

But the next Monday I showed up again, and over the course of the season I got a little better. Our team got a little better. More importantly, I started having a lot of fun. I was proud of myself just for playing a whole game. Actually I was proud of myself for showing up. The women on my team were kind and encouraging and played with heart. Only a few of us had soccer experience, but it didn’t matter. I got knocked down many times. I bruised some ribs. A few of my teammates have sustained injuries on the field that required surgery. But every one of them has come back the next season, stronger and more determined.

When you’re five and you draw a picture of your family, everyone says it’s wonderful even if your family members bear no resemblance to people. It doesn’t matter. When you’re a kid you are heralded as a great artist or athlete or inventor whether or not you have any talent. You’re encouraged to try and allowed to have fun engaged in any activity.

Then at some point between that state of grace and adulthood, we stifle that energy and enthusiasm. People say, “Oh I can’t sing,” or “I can’t draw,” or “I’m not athletic” because somewhere along the line that’s what we felt or were told. Instead of standing up after that final insensitive blow, we simply crawled away.

It is hard to get into our heads as grownups that it’s ok to do something even if we’re not very good at it. We can enjoy it anyway. Even if we never get better!

Ice & Ibuprofen plays in the spring and fall, but I decided this year I wanted to keep up the momentum and get some exercise by playing in the summer. A friend from high school recruited me to play on a team in a different league in a different county. Once again, I was kind of terrified. I showed up and I didn’t know a soul on the field—my friend hadn’t arrived yet—but I jumped in the game. I did not play well. I was nervous and also everyone there was far more skilled than I was. And most of the women seemed to be 10 or 20 years older as well. It was tough. But I went back the next week, and I played with just the slightest bit more confidence. I fell down. I have a big bruise on my calf right now. But I stood up again.

***

My resilience role model is my daughter, Zoe. She is sensitive, but fierce.

Three years ago, when she was seven, Zoe was about to advance from a yellow belt to a green belt at her martial arts studio. She has practiced martial arts since kindergarten, and mastered many techniques, and under her bed she has a big box of boards she has broken. At this ceremony, however, when she was moving from yellow to green, she had to break a thicker board—a much thicker board—than at previous levels.

She had actually broken one of the thick boards before—during summer camp at the martial arts studio—and on the first try. But there’s no pressure at summer camp. Nothing at stake.

At the growth ceremony, however, all the students are there. Hundreds of parents, grandparents, and siblings are there. Everyone in the room counts down 3-2-1 while pounding the floor when it’s time for each group to break their boards.

Understandably, it’s not uncommon for a kid to not break the board on the first try. It’s hard and it’s nerve wracking. Everyone is watching. But the instructors at this school are wonderful, and they give the kids many chances, and coaching, and opportunities to practice. Usually, everyone gets it within a few tries, or in some cases, a dozen or two.

For whatever reason, on this day, Zoe just wasn’t connecting with the board with enough force to break through. The instructors gave her extra chances and then eventually had to move on to the next part of the ceremony. They took her into another room to practice. She practiced. They coached her. Master Emerson asked her if she thought she could break the board. She said yes. He asked us if we thought she could break the board. We said yes.

They gave her another opportunity back in the ceremony. She kicked. No break. She bowed. They took her into the next room to practice. She practiced. They coached her. They gave her yet another opportunity to break it in the ceremony. She kicked. No break. They said after the ceremony was over she could try again.

The ceremony ended and most students and families filed out. A few dozen people stuck around to watch Zoe make her final attempt. Master Emerson explained to her that this was her last chance, and he couldn’t promote her to green solid if she didn’t break the board. Her instructors continued to coach, reminding her to use her heel instead of her toes, and to fall forward toward the board as she kicked. They let her try different kicking techniques to see where she could draw the most power.

Finally, somehow, she gathered her strength and power and hit it with her heel and the board broke. At last.

Zoe told me later that she was embarrassed—NOT that it had taken her so long to break the board—but because I jumped up and down and screamed and picked her up and spun her around after she did it. Everyone who had stayed was cheering wildly for Zoe and taking pictures.

Throughout the whole ceremony, Zoe never once said, “I can’t do it,” or “This is too hard,” or “I give up.” She didn’t cry. She just kept trying.

I took her to lunch after the ceremony and asked how she felt and she said, “This is a great day!” She was smiling and happy and in no way discouraged. That’s what I always remember when I fall down. She just remained standing. She wouldn’t let that board keep her down.

May we all have the resilience to keep kicking until we break that board, even if it takes all day. And then at the end to simply be proud of ourselves for not giving up. Fall down and stand up for the millionth time, and say, “Hey, I stood up again. This is a great day!”

 

questionsI haven’t been blogging as much in recent weeks as I would like, not because I don’t have plenty I want to write about–I do–but because much of my creative energy has been devoted to my Five Questions podcast.

The podcast started as a fun project suggested by a friend after she watched videos of me interviewing Zeke. I’m having a great time coming up with the right questions for each guest and conducting the actual interviews, but I recently had an epiphany about the higher purpose of the podcast.

At the crux of our society’s crises right now is extraordinarily deep disconnection. We are disconnected from each other in terms of politics, religion, race, economics, sexuality, ethnicity, etc etc etc. We are afraid of each other. We feel contempt for each other. Maybe this doesn’t describe you exactly. Maybe you are confident that you’re one of the good ones, and you try to do the right thing and treat others with kindness and respect. But chances are there are some people or groups or ideologies you are averse to and afraid of. Am I saying you should rush out and try to befriend a gang of white supremacists? No. But I am saying that if we were able to have conversations with each other as human beings, you might find some common ground with those people it is easier and more palatable to distance yourself from. You might understand them, or they might understand you. At least a little.

I am not claiming that my podcast is going to lead to world peace. That would be nice, sure. But I feel strongly that any efforts to connect with others are worthwhile and usually bear positive fruit. So far I’ve produced (with the help of my sound engineer Chris Salazar) 14 episodes of Five Questions. I’ve recorded nine interviews that will air this summer and fall. And I have more than half a dozen guests lined up to interview. (I’m always looking for more guests! Sign up here!) Making this podcast has given me a great reason to talk with friends I haven’t talked with in years or even decades. My most recent interview was with someone who I went to writers camp with in 1989 and I have not seen or spoken with him since, but I do follow his life and creative genius on social media. Other guests have been people I see nearly every day. But whether I know the guests well or only a little–or I knew them well once upon a time–I find out something new about them in every episode. Their answers surprise and delight me and give me glimpses into ideas I would never have come up with on my own.

I’ve learned about how Harry Potter is used as a tool for faith formation for Episcopal youth. I’ve learned about how the decision to travel from a remote mountain village in China to the nearest big city two hours away to take a test changed someone’s life. I’ve imagined one person’s vision for a museum honoring the unsung Black women who take care of business behind the scenes. I’ve been inspired by another person’s dedication to daily artistic endeavor, including sculpting self-portraits out of food that quickly melt away. It is a privilege to hear these stories and to share them with others.

Another realization I’ve had during this project is that some people don’t think they’re interesting enough to interview. This baffles me. I’m not asking people to describe feats of daring or record-setting achievements or their road to fame. I’m simply asking what they think, feel, remember, wish, or desire. Anyone with a heart and soul can answer these kinds of questions, and every single answer is worth listening to and savoring. As Glennon Doyle Melton frequently reminds us, “We belong to each other.” Asking my five questions and soaking up and sharing their answers is an essential illustration of that belonging. We have to start understanding that we all belong to each other, and make those connections that lead to belonging. Five Questions is my small way of doing just that.

Ramadan e-belgique 1Our church shares space with a Muslim community, so it happens that I often see Muslims coming to pray. During the school year, preschool pickup coincides with mid-day prayers and the parking lot is a mix of parents emerging from minivans and Muslim men wearing a mix of Western clothing and kurtas and thobes.

I always make an effort to smile at these men and say hello in an effort to try to make them feel welcome. I always think about saying “salaam alaikum,” but I never do. Somehow I am always afraid I will pronounce it wrong, or not know what to say next, or that I will come across as inauthentic. When I articulate my hesitations, they seem absurd. But still I’m nervous and I just say, “hello.” They always smile back and say hello to me.

Right now it is Ramadan. This is a holiday I might have previously been unaware of, but the Muslim community at our church gathers at night to break their fast. Sometimes when I am leaving an evening meeting at church, Muslims are arriving to pray and eat.

My friend D was waiting outside for her ride and I heard her say, “Ramadan mubarak,” which means “blessed Ramadan.” All the way home I practiced pronouncing it correctly.

The next time I was leaving an evening meeting, I worked up my courage and said it to a couple individuals walking up the path. I said it out the window of my car to a man in the parking lot. They all looked pleasantly surprised and thanked me.

Today I had to get a routine blood test at the doctor’s office. The phlebotomist was wearing a hijab. I took a deep breath and wished her “Ramadan mubarak.” She said it was going to be Eid Mubarak, the celebration marking the end of the month of Ramadan, in a week. I wanted to ask her about it–what exactly Ramadan represents and what happens on Eid, but I didn’t. Partly because I was focused on making sure my vein and blood were cooperating, but also because I was embarrassed that I don’t know what Ramadan is about. Now I looked it up, and I know. She asked me if I was fasting, because I was supposed to in advance of the blood test, and I said yes. I wanted to ask her if she was fasting for Ramadan, but I didn’t. I thought it might be disrespectful to not assume she was because that’s what healthy adults are supposed to do. I wanted to ask her if she had any personal connection to the 17-year-old Muslim girl who was beaten to death with a baseball bat in Sterling. I refrained, realizing it was ridiculous to assume they would know each other and not knowing how such a conversation would proceed. I was reminded of stories about my Jewish paternal grandmother spotting a Christian church in her travels near my mother’s hometown, snapping a photo, and asking my mom if that were her church.

I ask everyone I meet all kinds of questions all the time. It’s what I do. But for all kinds of reasons, none particularly good, I was reluctant to ask this phlebotomist about her religion.

I am still working up my courage every day to make these connections and have these conversations. It is absolutely necessary.

Ramadan mubarak. You can say it too.

IMG_2373I never expected to love my quiet moments of solitude at the dog park quite so much.

I never knew that dogs are kind of particular about which other dogs they befriend and run with or wrestle. Sure they’ll sniff any dog’s rear ends, shamelessly, but they tend to wait until a dog who’s at least a little bit special comes along until they put their whole hearts into the chasing or the grappling or whatever interaction they deem appropriate.

I never understood how the varieties of dogs are endless, like humans, and how dogs come in so many shapes and sizes and colors. At least at our dog park, perhaps because it’s in South Arlington, the dogs are quite diverse.

I never realized how many tiny feathers were inside a pillow that a dog could chew to shreds. (I will be finding little feathers in my office for years to come.)

I never anticipated how much like a sibling a dog could be to my children, and exactly how they would each respond to her.

I never knew how pleased I would be when my dog pooped or peed. I had no idea how similar the urine-soaked laundry would be between potty-training children and a house-breaking dog.

I never thought about how much pet ownership is like parenthood in terms of admission to this completely new world where you look around and everyone else seems to know what they’re doing and you’re just making it up as you go along. It’s a club I never especially cared that I didn’t belong to, but now I do. It’s like stepping into the wardrobe and through to Narnia–it’s been here all along but I didn’t quite see it.

I never imagined we would find a dog as sweet and gentle and affectionate as Daisy, who is so perfect for our family. She doesn’t jump on us, but she always wants to be pet or to snuggle. She sometimes thinks she’s a cat. She’s a little anxious, but then so are we. She’s a lot of work (but so are we sometimes) and definitely worth it.

 

15704070-15704070It turns out I do ask a lot of questions, or at least I ask five questions to a lot of people, in my new podcast, aptly named Five Questions.

I ask questions such as:

  • If you could switch places with someone for a day, who would it be and why?
  • If you could witness a moment in history, what would it be?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What is your favorite smell and why?
  • If you had a museum, what would you put in it?

I invite you to listen to it here: http://betsyrosso.podbean.com. I’ve published five episodes so far, and more are in the works. Look for a new one every Sunday.

If you would like to be the next person to answer my five questions, let me know! Interview spots are in demand, but I will always make room for you.

IMG_2241Perhaps naively, I did not anticipate how much like having a new baby adopting a dog would be. Having had two babies myself, I can say with assurance that there are many differences between new humans and new animals entering one’s life, but a surprising number of common themes.

  1. Your standards (or at least my standards) for cleanliness, hygiene, and what I’m willing to look like in public may shift. Or plunge into embarrassing depths. I remember when Zoe was born she would spit up a lot and at some point I would say to myself, “well, there’s not a LOT of spit-up on my shirt…I can go out like this.” Eventually you have the presence of mind to clean yourself up a little more, but some permanent damage is done in terms of what you will tolerate.

    Suddenly I have become a person with dog hair on her clothing. I imagine people might look at me and think, “Did you not realize you have dog hair all over your shirt?” The answer would be yes, but I had several more pressing things to do than locate the lint roller and remove it. And if you see someone out walking in the early morning who looks like a thinner Michael Moore, that would be me, with a baseball cap and a hoodie, and possibly pajama pants, taking Daisy out for a constitutional.

  2. Your eyes are opened to the extraordinarily enormous and somewhat unnecessary variety of products you can buy. A few days after we brought Zoe home from the hospital, Randy and I went to Babies ‘R’ Us to pick up a few supplies we realized we needed. When we walked in I’m sure our bloodshot and sleepless eyes widened in shock at the absurd number of choices of every baby product you could ever need, and many that you really don’t need at all but you might just buy anyway in a moment of confusion.

    I found PetSmart to be the same experience. There are so many brands of food and within each brand so many flavors and then different kinds for different ages of dogs, and different breeds of dogs, and dogs with different kinds of medical conditions. There are dry foods and wet foods and organic foods, and single serve pouches in case you’re packing a lunch or snack for your dog when she goes off to school. There are so many treats and snacks and chew toys. Some of the chew toys say “for light to moderate chewing” or “for heaving chewing.” How do you anticipate precisely how much your dog will want to chew on a given toy? A main difference between baby products and pet products is that many of the products designed for dogs seem to be bacon flavored. I’ve rarely seen a bacon-flavored pacifier.

  3. You have entirely different feelings about your dog than about anyone else’s dog, no matter how much you like another dog. Your baby and your dog are instantly special and important in a way you never understood before they were part of your family. I am not saying I am at the point now that I love Daisy like I love my children, but a strong connection forms quickly. One moment this dog is one of dozens of dogs in a sea of rescue animals, and a week later you’re looking soulfully into the dog’s eyes trying to understand what she’s thinking.
  4. You’re somewhat confused at first. Just like a baby’s behavior changes from day to day and week to week, so does that of a rescue dog, we have learned. According to the vet and our trainer, Daisy may not reveal her true personality for a few weeks or longer. She hasn’t barked once. Will she ever bark or remain the strong, silent type? Who knows? At both my kids’ early pediatrician visits and Daisy’s first visit to the vet, I arrived with a notebook in which I had written a long list of questions about Daisy and what to expect and how to best take care of her. It’s good that our pediatrician and our vet are patient people.

    For the first five or six days Daisy was here, she didn’t really touch anything that didn’t belong to her, except for unexpectedly eating the head off a sunflower (I was in the midst of texting my cousin about Daisy and thankfully she assured me with a quick ASPCA web search that sunflowers are not toxic to dogs. Then one night she quickly and enthusiastically tackled the chew toy she had previously ignored, completely shredding the tennis balls that were threaded onto the braided rope. She started gnawing on the rope too. And then she looked around and realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of chewable things. We had to move fast. This morning when we were trying to get out the door to go to church we could only locate one of Zeke’s sneakers. It turned out that Daisy had the other one and had been nibbling on it. Zeke was exonerated and we realized we would have to have a new plan for shoe containment.

    So far she hasn’t jumped on anyone at all. The first couple nights she was here she tried to jump up onto the table during dinner to see what she could eat, but we dissuaded her and she hasn’t done it since. She still certainly lurks around the table and pokes her head into our laps, but no jumping.

    Until tonight, when she was lying on the couch and she noticed that Zeke had left his seat, leaving his plate of chicken pot pie unguarded. Swiftly and boldly, she leaped over the back of the couch. Luckily Randy’s lightning quick reflexes kept Daisy from completing her mission and Zeke’s plate remained safe. But we were surprised to see just what Daisy was willing and able to do.

  5. You experience these small moments of bliss. Any parent or pet owner would be lying if she said all of this wasn’t a whole lot of work. And expensive. And messy. But every once in a while you have a moment. With your baby it’s that feeling of contentment after they finish nursing and fall asleep on your breast, or when they’re nestled under your chin, or when they smile or laugh for the first time and then you can’t get enough of that joy.

    With your dog it’s on a walk in the woods, watching your dog just stand absolutely still, listening to the bluejays and sniffing the air, thoughtfully observing her new world. Or when she snuggles up to you on the couch, resting her head and one paw on your thigh, laying claim. Or when you see that elusive tail wag that says she’s having her own little rush of happiness that hopefully means she’s starting to feel at home.

LUP07231

 

 

 

 

 

ONE

M: “You need to take your medicine so your ear infection doesn’t come back.”

Z: “No, I’m scared of this medicine. It’s disgusting!”

M: “Well you need to take it anyway, to stay healthy.”

Z: “I can’t take it, it’s disgusting.”

M: “You can chase it with any kind of juice you want.”

Z: “No, it’s too disgusting.” [curls into ball and hides face in the couch]

[repeat 10-20 times]

M: “You can have an Oreo afterward.”

Z: “OK.” [downs medicine in one gulp]

 

TWO

Z: “What’s for dinner in the crockpot?”

M: “Chicken with potatoes and carrots and green beans.”

Z: “That sounds disgusting.”

M: “Zeke, that’s really rude. The dinner I made is not disgusting. Those are all ingredients you like. You’ll like it. The dinner I made does not taste like your medicine.”

Z: “Oh. OK. Sorry!” [smiling sweetly]

 

THREE

Z: [sees dinner on plate] “I don’t like this food, I’ve tried it before and I don’t like it.”

Zoe: “Zeke, it’s delicious! Try it! It’s tofu and spinach and peanut butter! You like all those things! Try it!”

Z: [leaves table to play with fire station] “I’ve tried it before and I don’t like it.”

M: “You know when I was little I didn’t like certain things, like tomatoes, and chicken salad, and then I tried them a few more times and realized I loved them!”

Z: [plays with fire station]

Zoe: “Zeke, it’s delicious! Try it! It’s tofu and spinach and peanut butter! You like all those things! Try it! Just try a bite! Try it! Come on! Try it! If you don’t eat it you won’t get dessert!”

Z: [tries one bite, looks as if he’s going to throw up, makes horrible noise.]

M: “Are you ok? Are you going to throw up? Can you swallow?”

Z: [almost in tears] “Yes I can swallow it. But I don’t like it!”

M: “OK, at least you tried it. Thank you for trying it. Do you want some soup?”

Z: “Yes.”

M: “Minestrone or lentil?”

Z: “Minestrone, please!” [eats entire can of minestrone soup]

 

FOUR

Z: “What’s for dinner in the crockpot?”

M: “Beef with broccoli and carrots and peanuts. Served with rice.”

Z: “YAY!

Z: [sees dinner on plate] “This is the best food EVER!”

Z: [eats one bite of beef, one spoonful of rice, one peanut, all broccoli and carrots] “Can I have more carrots?”

D: “Eat the other food on your plate, then you can have more carrots.”

Z: “But I don’t like the other food.”

D: “Just eat a little more of the other food.”

Z: [eats one more bite of other food] “Can I have more carrots?” [eats carrots, repeats 10 times]

D: “I’m cutting you off before you turn the color of a carrot.”

 

FIVE

Scene: our bed, Saturday, 9am.

Z: [in the bed between us] “Get up! It’s morning time! Get up! Wake up! Get out of bed!”

M: [grunts]

Z: “Get up! It’s morning time! Get up! Wake up! Get out of bed! Get down and walk on the floor!” [repeats 10-20 times]

M: “I’m going to get up in a few minutes. I’m not ready to get up yet.” [wonders why Zeke always asks her to get up instead of Daddy]

Z: [pokes M in the nose]

M: “Zeke, please don’t poke my nose. I’ve told you I don’t like it when you put your fingers in my face.”

Z: [pokes M in the nose again] “But Mommy I actually like doing that.”

 

 

snow daffodil large.jpg.560x0_q80_crop-smart

 

 

 

 

 

Like the daffodils and cherry blossoms this winter

sometimes we bloom unexpectedly

And it’s lovely

And then it snows

and buries us

knocks us flat on the ground

forces our fragile petals off the branch

Sometimes we open ourselves up to the world

and we are warmly welcomed

Other times we are frozen out

We risk showing ourselves

Hoping someone will shine on us

But sometimes

we emerge

to a dark and unforgiving world

Even so

like the undaunted daffodil

we push ourselves up through the earth

again and again


Method Daily Shower Cleaner, ylang ylang scent, smells just like my Nana’s Aqua Net hairspray. This provides the best ever incentive for me to clean my bathroom. When I spray this stuff on the sink or floor or toilet (why confine it to the shower?) I am transported back to my Nana’s bathroom in the house on Chestnut Street in High Point where I watched her get ready for church.

At the time I did not think her hairspray smelled particularly good, or particularly bad. I just ducked out of the way to avoid being caught in the aerosol draft. She was not using the hairspray to create any kind of fancy ‘do, but rather to cement in place the curls she had created the night before with those little pink foam rollers and bobby pins in a ritual that I did not quite understand but enjoyed observing.

I did not even know what ylang ylang was until I happened to buy this shower spray, and I’m positive my Nana didn’t know her hair spray was scented as such. Ylang ylang is apparently prized for its aphrodisiac properties, among other virtues. An obvious choice for a bathroom cleaning product, right?

For Hanukkah last year Zeke received a Paw Patrol washcloth that was mysteriously scrunched into a tiny block that you drop in water and watch expand. It was packaged with a little bar of handmade green soap that smells just like my Papa. I have no idea what the scent is. The soap wasn’t labeled and it was made by a small business whose name I don’t remember. But I love washing my hands with it. I also have a little bottle of English Leather cologne that belonged to my Papa. When I need a fix I uncap the wooden stopper and put a few drops on my fingertips. 

Coming across these smells unexpectedly is like when Harry Potter sees his long-dead parents in the mirror of erised. They’re right there, smiling, waving, with their hands on his shoulders, but no more alive than they have been for a decade. But it feels like they are right there. Tantalizingly, reassuringly present, however fleeting. For me it’s an olfactory comfort fix.

Now excuse me while I go scrub the sink and wash my hands. 

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