Thursday, April 24, 2008

A new urban message

On April 22, Department of Environmental Protection commisioner Gina McCarthy gave an Earth Day address at Wesleyan University lamenting the lack of outdoor child’s play.
Her words may have made for a terrific speech and an equally as engrossing newspaper story.
Her statement, “I believe that one of the fundamental challenges we have in the 21st century is that nobody goes outside and plays,” was met with a round of applause.
It reminds me of my college days: Professors speaking theoretical truths to audiences who either share the same view or take their words as gospel.
Books like Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” give the impression that in 2008, the majority of children are either kept indoors by parents afraid of “today’s world” or kids themselves who prefer playing Game Boys, Wiis, computer games and the like.
Her statements do hold true for suburbia, where it's rare to see children playing in a yard like they did even 20 years ago.
In Berlin, Haddam, Middletown and all over, you wouldn't even know children lived there, much less played outdoors. They look like ghost towns.
However, interestingly, in urban, poorer, working-class neighborhoods, there are children playing outdoors from the moment they’re released from school until their parents call them in at dusk.
In fact, in the North End, there are a group of boys ranging in age from 5 to 16 who ride bikes, skateboards and scooters together on our dead-end street and sidewalks. All the residents take turns talking to and looking out for the children and even offer them drinks of water, popsicles, the use of our telephones, and sprinklers when they look to be overheated.
There is no doubt, Ms. McCarthy, “No Child Left Inside” is a laudable program for inner-city kids who don't have green grass to play in.
But take a look around. Children are still playing outdoors together and they are coming home with scrapes, poison ivy and having climbed trees and fallen off their bicycles. There are small pockets of communities encouraging children to engage in safe, social play.
You just have to look.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Never let them see you squeal

Yes, I’m squeamish.
I watched Edward Norton in “25th Hour” last week and started to pass out during the scene where he urges his friend to bust up his face.
Which is the reason why I tried a humane trap to catch the mouse in our house.
That failed.
I finally broke down last week and purchased a four-pack of traps from Home Depot.
They’re cheap enough, $1.77, and curiously have “cheese” on them already — a yellow Swiss-type holey square that is set at a 45-degree angle.
It’s not indicated, but I assumed the “cheese” was scented, perhaps, to lure the mouse or even its color to invoke its natural curiosity.
Place it against the wall, it said.
Easy enough. I put it in the narrow hole between our stove and counter.
Here’s where T comes into the story.
“Don’t touch it!” I said, indicating the set trap. “You’ll get really hurt!”
One second later, “SNAP!” Then, “Owwwwww!”
Tears and more tears.
“I told you NOT to touch it!”
T: “I wanted to see if it was working!”
More tears.
Still crying, “Mom, can you set it again and you touch it. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
“Let me get this straight. You want ME to touch the trap to feel the snap that’s STILL causing you to cry 10 minutes later?”
He’s 4, I remind myself, grasping onto my sanity.
I nudge the trap back into the narrow passageway at the floor.
“Do NOT touch it, OK?”
T nods.
I have to admit, whomever invented this trap design is a genius. We’ve caught 5 mice so far — one every day.
T and I arrive home every day to another caught and yes, dead. He grabs the tip of the trap and walks it around the house, talking to the mouse. Does he know it’s dead I wonder, as I back as far away as I can.
“Put it outside!” I yell, and he does. Then I scrub his hands clean.
Can’t get the sight of the rubbery looking mouse, tail and whiskers inert, out of my head.
How many more? I wonder. Can we really be that dirty? Are we single-handedly supporting the entire Middletown rodent population?
Last night I took a piece of paper and drew five mice on it. “Five down, how many to go?” It reads. I tape it to our front door.
So NOT looking forward to going home tonight.

Friday, April 18, 2008

like mother, like daughter

When James was first born we would let Nikki hold him if she had the Boppy pillow across her lap. It got to the point that when she wanted to hold him she would go get the Boppy, pull it over her lap and hold out her arms.

Since James started sitting, we haven't made her do that. So it was funny tonight when Nikki climbed into the recliner with the Boppy and held out her arms. I shrugged, continued the conversation I was having on the phone with my husband, and placed James across her lap.

When she proceeded to lift her shirt as if to nurse him I burst out laughing.

I replaced James with one of her baby dolls and told her that only Mommy could feed James.

Nikki shrugged and then nursed her baby.

I love my kid.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh 'Mamma Mia' are you a 'Dancing Queen'?

It's not very often that a woman wishes she were 8-years-older, but when I ran across this my first thought was - that would be a lot of fun.

Sadly my age (and likely the inability to find two other friends willing to humiliate themselves along side me) prevent me from entering. But I hope some of you join in the fun.

For those who didn't click on the link - Pond's is sponsoring a contest timed with the release of the film Mamma Mia. They are searching for "The trio of women who best embody the sassiness, sexiness and confidence of Donna & the Dynamos from the movie, MAMMA MIA!"

You and two friends have to be over 40 and either go to New York City to audition live, or submit a video through the Pond's Web site , singing either "Mamma Mia" or "Dancing Queen" - two great songs by ABBA.

Come on you know you want to enter! And if anyone does, send me the video as well and I'll try to get it to publish on the blog so that even if you don't make the top five you can still get your 15 minutes of fame.

For all the information you need about the contest go here:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sheep Shape

Knitters rejoice!
The Connecticut Sheep Breeders Association Sheep, Wool and Fiber Festival is Saturday April 26, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Tolland Agricultural Center, Route 30 in Vernon/Rockville.
This is the 99th annual festival.
For information, see

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Time for the big K

The elementary school where my 4-year-old will start kindergarten in September has a delightful series of transition programs.
Children are invited to one of the two kindergarten classrooms for a themed activity. Last month, the principal read a book as children sat on the color-blocked rug with their mothers. My little one was shy, and as the principal read the book for the second time, telling the children it was time act out the animal noises, he pressed his face alternatively into the rug and my lap.
The other boys and girls were doing much the same. One boy latched onto his mother's leg and refused to budge.
A number of the parents and children recognized each other, since they were enrolled in the preschool that is housed at the school.
The animal theme was shifted to a craft, as each child was given a tiny container of Play-Doh and encouraged to mold their favorite animal out of it. T started making a lime-green dinosaur, that is until he saw me rolling a piece into the form of a snake and picking up tiny pieces of pink Play-Doh off the table and rolling them into two little eyes.
Suddenly, he wanted to make a snake.
And he wasn't so timid anymore.
Forty-five minutes later, we made our way home with a bag of cinnamon graham crackers.
Today is the second, a music and movement mini class.
I'm looking forward to it as much as T is.
It's a terrific idea for him to become more familiar with the school and the idea of kindergarten.
Though I beginning to think the "transition" part is more for the parents to ease anxiety, judging from how quickly T is at adapting to new environments.

Friday, April 4, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Road Map to Holland

Each and every family raising a child with Down syndrome has a unique story to tell –of how they learned the diagnosis, how they handled the news, the reaction of family and friends, the sorrows and the joys involved in raising their child.

Road Map to Holland: How I found my way through my son's first two years with Down Syndrome,” by Jennifer Graf Groneberg, is one such tale. This book is unflinchingly honest. At times it made me feel as if I was reading someone’s private diary and that I should put it down, that I should look away. I couldn’t. The book’s title comes from a piece written by Emily Perl Kingsley – “Welcome to Holland,” something that many families who are raising a child with Down Syndrome are introduced at one point or another.

Groneberg is a great writer – there’s no mistaking that. The emotional rollercoaster of her experience -- giving birth to premature twins and then learning 5-days later that the oldest, Avery, has Down Syndrome-- pulls you in and keeps you turning the pages.

I’ve often told people that when we learned through prenatal testing that Nikki would have Down syndrome that coming to terms with it and accepting it was very similar to going through the stages of grief. And that you can’t compare how my family handled the news to how another family handled it.

But I found myself drawing comparisons – and my reaction was no Disney moment of running through a meadow with birds chirping as they fluttered around my head. Nope, I sobbed uncontrollably at that doctor’s appointment and several others that followed.

I found myself at times wanting to shout at Groneberg and tell her that the diagnosis isn’t about her, it is about her son. I wanted to shout that she needed to end the pity party and start taking positive, pro-active steps. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around fact that Groneberg didn’t call her state’s early intervention program shortly after her babies were released from the NICU, but waited until they were 10-months old. To me, that delay meant precious months were lost.

Groneberg does use the book to shine a light on some of the harder topics associated with raising a child with Down syndrome, including the varied reactions of family and friends to the news that your child has Down syndrome; and even the loss of a friend because of your child’s diagnosis. And like many other books on the subject, she doesn’t avoid talking about prenatal testing and the fact that 90 percent of women who learn that their child will have Down syndrome choose to end their pregnancy. She rails against those numbers, and even finds herself unsure of her opinions on abortion – which prior to having Avery was solidly prochoice.

Groneberg deserves accolades for her resources at the back of the book. The list covers everything from books for children to great resources for families, teachers or just those who want to learn more.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I was writing a review for the Mother-talk blog tour, I’m not sure I would have finished reading the book. I had trouble relating to Groneberg’s constant sense of melancholy and her long struggle to accept her son for who he is and not what she wants him to be.

Other readers, who are raising a child with Down syndrome, or a child with any special needs, might have a very different reaction to the book. Every family’s story is different, but it’s not always easy to relate to each other’s tales.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

giving mom some grey hair

So Nikki has allergies and asthma and this time of year it's not uncommon for them to both be in full gear. But last night was a strange cosmic event.

She went to bed fever-free and just a bit sniffly. An hour and a half later she woke up with a 104.4 degree fever and coughing so hard she was spitting up. (Do other mothers try to catch bodily fluids as they exit their kids? What is it about becoming a mom that makes catching throw up suddenly seems like a normal and good thing?).

Because there was a bit of blood involved I called the pediatrician and soon we were off to Middlesex Hospital. But before leaving our house there were two hastily placed calls. The first to my husband at work asking if there was anyway he could leave early and the second to my parents letting them know I was dropping off a sleeping baby. (And a big thank you to Angelina, Matt and Ryan for covering last night so I didn't have to do the ER drill by myself - I owe you all chocolate this weekend).

So Nikki was poked and prodded. Pneumonia - nope, her chest x-ray was clear; ear infection - negative; strep - negative; flu - negative. End result it appears she has a respiratory virus, which severely aggravated her asthma.

When she woke this morning I expected a feverish child who would want hugs and cuddles all day. Negative to that as well. No fever, and when I last checked in at home, she was happily playing away, albeit still a bit sniffly. But really can someone explain how a child can go from no fever to 104.4 back to no fever in less than 12 hours?

As for me, I'm blaming the new grey hair I found in the bathroom mirror on Nikki.

As an aside - the new emergency room at Middlesex Hospital is quite nice. Way bigger than what I remember the old space being. I hope most of you don't ever have to go visit it, but if you do it's definately looks to be first class.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Grabbing some air

My older son was playing outside with his friends on Sunday, and one suggested they all ride bikes. B carried his bicycle down the front steps, forgetting his longtime protests that it was too big for him. He got it last summer, when he was much smaller. He never really tried to ride it, so since then he’s been hesitant to do so.
But peer pressure is a curious thing. It gets kids to do things a parent would swear their child would never do.
I was at work in New Britain at the time, otherwise I would have sat on the front steps just in case he lost control. B couldn’t reach the ground last year with his toes, and he didn’t trust the stopping power of the hand brakes. Last year, he would get on the bike from the curb and dismount it much the same way.
B called me on the phone, in a small voice, saying he hurt his leg.
“Outside,” he said, “I fell off my bike.”
He wasn’t crying, so I asked if he scratched himself or if he was bleeding.
He assured me no, but his leg hurt a lot.
“Can you come home?” he asked, again in that small voice.
I told him to take some ice and put it on his leg and to lie down on the couch and watch a TV show for a little bit.
“My friends are helping me out,” he said.
Good, I thought. They’ll be joking and laughing in no time and B will forget all about his leg.
Another phone call. “Mom, do I need an ambulance?” B asked, plaintively.
“No,” I comforted him. “Nothing is broken. Just relax.”
“Can I stay home from school tomorrow?”
Always the opportunist, this kid.
Again, the phone rang. “Mom, I can’t breathe.”
Great, I thought. The kid has asthma.
Then, in the background, “I think you’re going into shock.” His 13-year-old friend, Dr. Doolittle.
I wrapped up my desk, told my boss I was finishing in Middletown, and headed toward home.
My husband, who had run out for a short time, which turned into a long time, was unreachable by phone.
As I peeled down Route 9 toward home, I knew B was OK, as I’d talked to him. His panic was entirely self-induced, I thought.
Halfway home, I get yet another call. “Mom, E’s home.”
Then E calls me. “He fell off his bike. I think he’s more scared than hurt.”
Great. I drove to work in Middletown instead of home.
A couple hours later, when I arrived home from work, B was on the computer, taking full advantage of his “injury.”
“Mom, can you get me a drink/something to eat/a blanket/a pencil and paper?”
The next morning, B went to school without incident.
T and I drove toward preschool, saw the Press building had been reduced to a pile of concrete rubble over the weekend, and stopped to watch the construction workers.
Giant Caterpillars kicked up clouds of gray dust.
As a light mist began to fell, T and I watched.
I saw a man in a blue sweatshirt, hood over his head like the Reaper, head toward us.
I know that guy. It’s our neighbor!
“Wow, B really took a header yesterday!” D said.
“What do you mean? Did you see it?” My mouth went dry.
D went on to describe the scene.
B was riding along, talking to his friend, not even paying attention to where he was going. He smashed head-on into a parked car and flew over the handlebars.
“There was clear liquid all over the street. I think he peed himself,” my kind neighbor went on. “I asked him if he was OK, and he kind of hobbled off.”
I said a quick and silent prayer thanking the Lord for my son’s safety.
“Actually, he didn’t,” I said, icily. “When I got home, he was wearing his same pants. It must have just been water.”
I marveled at my son’s ability to walk away from a magnificent accident relatively unscathed.
Then I started to beat myself up for ever doubting him.
The light rain turned to steady as I said goodbye.
My neighbor walked away, headed to breakfast. At least a mile’s walk in the rain.
As I grabbed T’s hand, I thought I should have offered him a ride there.
Then I thought better of it.
After all, he could have left out the last part.
Guess that bicycle will be gathering cobwebs in the basement until next year.
It’s just as well.
B will have probably grown 6 inches by then.

A stitch (back) in time

Recently, I completed a two-Saturday workshop at Wethersfield’s Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum. We were taught to make an 1830s shawl based on a pattern from the 19th-century sewing manual, “The Workwoman’s Guide.”
The pattern takes a little getting used to, as even the most experience of our group had to make adjustments as she went along.
It uses the Victorian Crow’s-foot-Stitch, a dense pattern that provides substantial warmth.
The instructions are: Set up any number of stitches divisible by three, with one over. After having knitted one plain row, begin the pattern as follows: Knit the first stitch, * make a stitch, slip a stitch, knit two plain stitches, pass the slipped stitch over the two plain ones, repeat from *. Purl the whole of the next row, increasing once at the beginning and the end.
Increasing on the purl side is awkward at first, however we discovered that if you do the increases in one or two stitches, it makes a nice border.
Historian and museum staff member Linda Pagliuco led the workshop and tours of the museum’s textile collection, including spinning wheels and looms in the attic. She says the museum offers the workshop every March in honor of Women’s History Month, with additional events. See for information.
The photo above is my first attempt — with a size 6 needle in Farmhouse Yarns sock yarn. Once I worked it to about 6 inches, I realized it was a little too scratchy to be a comfortable shawl.
My current attempt is done in a milk chocolate-brown cotton-poly Italian yarn with a size 9 needle. However, I’ve put my shawl aside for a time to work on the Classic Elite Silk Top Down Sweater in Butter.
As any knitter knows, working on two or even three projects at the same time is all-too-common.