Category Archives: Parenting

If You Give A Mouse A Cigarette…

chances are, he’ll end up needing a vaccination to go with it.

Wednesday morning on Minnesota Public Radio, Ron Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, said scientists there have created a “vaccine” that prevents nicotine addiction in mice. Traditional vaccines work by introducing a weakened form of whatever virus you are trying to fight into the body, where antibodies are created, building an army of specially built combatants that engulf and eliminate the vaccine’s virus from the vaccine, but also any future viruses of the same type which one may pick up at school, work, the playground or the grocery store. The nicotine vaccine is different. It is a gene therapy that alters  the liver, causing it to produce antibodies targeted to pick up nicotine in the bloodstream before it reaches the brain. Nicotine is addictive because it sets off fireworks in the pleasure center of the brain. No pleasure? No addiction.

In the course of the interview, the vaccine was described as both a measure to prevent addiction and a treatment for already addicted individuals. Laboratory mice addicted to nicotine were given the vaccine and over a short period of time stopped “smoking.” (I don’t know how the nicotine was administered; I presume there was a lever pressed somewhere. I can’t help picturing a group of mice huddled outside a non-smoking laboratory puffing away on cigarettes and grumbling, “WTH? Why isn’t this thing working?”) Presumably, the mice still crave the nicotine, but when the behavior isn’t rewarding, they quit the behavior. Crystal says that in terms of nicotine addiction, mice and human behaviors are very similar (again, I am picturing mice outside bars and restaurants, perhaps wearing smoking jackets.) No booster shots are needed to re-energize antibody production, because the altered liver will continue producing the antibodies. For life.

And this is my point. If there is a substance so destructive and yet so addictive that people would be willing to permanently alter their bodies at a genetic level just to help them stop consuming it, knowing they will still crave it for the rest of their lives, that says something. To me it says, “screw the vaccination, I will be declining tobacco in the first place, thank you.” (Growing up in a smoking household provided me with enough aversive experiences that I was never interested in smoking…until I hit my forties. There is something about surviving four decades of people-pleasing that makes me, in theory, want to light up. I liken it to flipping the world the bird. Now I have to work on a backup plan.) In the interview, the potential of parents choosing to inoculate their children was discussed as an ethically problematic issue. (I cannot imagine doing such a thing–performing an after factory add-on to prevent my child from engaging in a voluntary behavior, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are parents out there who would be eager to do so. People are doing crazier things to their children with less reason all the time: botox, overdoing it, etc.) Researchers are hopeful about expanding their results to other drugs like meth and cocaine. Now the issue gets grayer. There are stories upon stories of cases where “good parenting” and “a supportive environment” weren’t enough to prevent people from becoming dependent on drugs. If I had witnessed my own brother’s death spiral into meth addiction, would I inoculate my children to protect them and give me peace of mind? These are decisions my children may have to make someday, not me. (Am I alone here, or does it seem like the world is a game that gets progressively harder as time goes on? We don’t “pass the test,” we just move on to the next level.) I feel like we would be okay if we  just keep creating smarter and more resilient children, and provide them with a culture that offers them enlightenment and a society that offers them opportunity. I know the evidence shows this isn’t completely realistic, but we can try. Let’s keep the gene therapy as Plan B for now, okay?

Three Random Things

My work adventure this past week became a family affair. Our newest client had a big event which will occur in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday and they needed 850 drawstring backpacks to be stuffed with a summer skills workbook, ruler and pencil. These backpacks had to be counted and sorted by grade level (as the workbooks varied,) and there were two sets of thirty backpacks that needed slightly different contents. Nearly everything needed to assemble the backpacks arrived on Friday. I did the setting up and called in my teenage boys to do most of the stuffing, which took them four and a half hours (with my support.) Then, because we finished too late to ship that night, they and Mr. Wortabulous took an hour of their Saturday morning to help me get nineteen boxes to the post office. Seventeen of those boxes weighed between 50-55 pounds each. The other two were a little lighter. We express shipped them all to arrive in Brooklyn on Monday. This impresses me so much. 900 pounds of stuff leaves a Minnesota post office on noon on Saturday and arrives intact at a Brooklyn school on Monday. Hopefully. Really, really hoping. Trying to let go.

Friday’s staging for the Great Backpack Stuff-a-palooza.

In honor of Father’s Day I would like to thank Mr. Wordtabulous for being a great dad and husband. He discovered a small rabbit lurking in our strawberry bed today and called out our older son (who loves animals devotedly and had told us he had seen a bunny in the yard earlier; since he rarely speaks in sentences, at least to us, this was notable.) Older son came out and the two of them captured the rabbit. Before the little fuzzball managed to scramble away, there was a bit of bonding going on in the garden.

 

 

 

 

Finally, I was in the car listening to Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday when I heard that Ray Bradbury died. I read my favorite of his, Something Wicked This Way Comes, for the third time recently so in honor of the man I read my friend Kelly’s fave, The Illustrated Man. In the introduction, Bradbury writes: What I am trying to say is that the creative process is much like the old-fashioned way of taking photos with a huge camera and you horsing around under a black  cloth seeking pictures in the dark. The subjects might not have stood still. There might have been too much light. Or not enough. One can only fumble, but fumble quickly, hoping for a developed snap…My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 a.m. So as not to be dead. Here’s to you Ray Bradbury, and your legacy which will endure.

Blowing Off The Cobwebs

Spring is skipping happily toward summer, and I have finally gotten my bike out on the road. Both my bikes, actually. There was a rough patch in my life, following the birth of my second child and lasting for several years, during which I felt I was losing large parts of my identity as an individual. I loved my family, and loved my job (until I didn’t, when I stopped,) but I felt a little lost in the mix. I needed something fun that was just mine, and I remembered loving the wind on my face as I coasted down hills as a child. I bought a Raleigh bike with medium nubby tires, a cushy saddle and a straight handlebar. Something happened as I mounted the bike and pedaled off with no destination in mind. My focus on meeting others’ needs evaporated, with no one needy around. My preoccupation with concerns and to-do lists lifted. I could feel my blood coursing through my veins, practically singing, and I felt like I had come home.

I met Linda, a lovely woman from church, and we started to ride together. She had a road bike, built for higher speeds on paved roads and coaxed me into longer distances. She was the one who persuaded me to sign up for my first-ever organized ride: The Ironman Bicycle Classic in Lakeville, MN, so named because it offers distances of up to 100 miles in the early spring before anyone here is fully ready for long distances and because sometimes participants ride in snow, not because of any relationship with the Ironman Triathlon. Linda and I rode the 62 mile course in 1999, and I was hooked. She moved away, but I found an outdoor cycling group through the local fitness center. I bought a road bike, a Univega Modo Vincere. I eventually began organizing the group and teaching indoor cycling classes. I rode in recreational and fundraising events (including a few centuries, or 100 mile rides,) and even competed in a few events.

Then I turned, or re-turned to writing, and while I have never lost my love for cycling, it has become less and less a part of my life.  Now I ride one fundraising event a year, the Tour de Cure for the American Diabetes Association, and a handful of rides with others or by myself each season. And this is the thing: getting back in the saddle is still like coming home. When I am in a bad mood or mentally blocked, pedaling 10, 15 or 20 miles in the fresh air blows off the cobwebs, bringing me clarity and inspiration. Nowadays I ride a Specialized Allez Comp, but I still get that Raleigh out once in awhile. Chasing speed and distance is a thing of my past, but I hope I never fail to find myself, when I am feeling a little lost, out there on the open road.

How or where do YOU find yourself, when you have felt the grind of life eroding away who you are?

Related post: Cyclists: Smug But Balanced

Related Post: The Finish Line

To Err is Human, to Post is Feline.

In 2002, when I read the writing on the wall, I knew one of two things was going to happen. Either I was going to drive my growing sons crazy chasing after them and wailing, “Hug me! Why won’t you cuddle anymore?” or I was going to get a kitten and transfer all my neediness onto it. No-brainer. Mr. Wordtabulous has always been miffed that he was not consulted, only informed of the cat acquisition, but to my memory I have only brought three major things into our home without discussing it with him: garage sale dining room table (epic win,) garage sale loveseat/hide-a-bed (epic fail) and Catabulous (epic win, with allowances for noise, midnight bed stomping and litterbox maintenance.)

Having neglected my blog lately, I was racking my brain for a topic to post on (yes, preposition, I know) and all I could think of was how adorable my cat is. One of my simple but guilty pleasures is looking at pictures and videos of cats online. They are funny, and often beautiful, and sweet. I like how people caption the photos. I am amused when people dress their cats, although that is going a bit far. The thing is, people LOVE cat pics and they get a LOT of hits. So “Cynical me” posed a question to “Deer-In-The-Headlights me” (she is my default–the one who is wandering around taking everything in and hoping to make sense of it all before the screeching crash.)

Cynical: Would you ever write a cat blog?

DITH: What do you mean, like a single post, or a whole, like, themed blog?

Cynical: Don’t play coy with me. Would you ever start a blog strictly around cat images, cat care, and cat love? Just to get the hits?

DITH: Let me think. I do really love my cat. If I did start such a blog, it wouldn’t be just for the hits.

Cynical: Oh, please.

DITH: Stop it. I don’t think I have enough material.

Cynical: That isn’t an answer. And seriously? About a fourth of your posts have something to do with a cat anyway. You aren’t far off from being a cat blog. As for material, what did you just buy?

DITH: A leash. For my cat.

Cynical: And if we looked in your photo gallery on your phone, what would we find?

DITH: Cat photos…lots of them. But he’s very photogenic! And everyone else I take pictures of look like they’re in pain!

Cynical: So you have the material, you have the obsessive interest, and you have the attention-seeking personality that would dangle tags like “cat,” “cute,” “funny,” and “playful,” with the objective of luring people in just to raise your stats. Why don’t you start taking pictures of your cat next to photos of movie stars, or of him watching trailers of new release movies so you can work those into your tags, too?

DITH: I don’t like your tone. And I don’t think people who write cat blogs are only interested in hits, they are sharing the joy of cats.

Cynical: Now you are just pandering to the cat bloggers.

DITH: Wow, you’re mean. Look, the answer is no. I wouldn’t write a cat blog just for the hits. Also, I don’t have the attention span for a single topic and I lack commitment. That is why my blog is the whack-a-doodle mishmash that it is. I write what I want to (yes, yes, PREPOSITION.) Besides, if I were really cynical, I’d write about Walk Off the Earth T-shirts and local news anchors because according to my stats THAT is where the action is.

That being said, here is a funny picture of my cat sitting on top of the novel A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. If only he was wearing my WOTE t-shirt and sitting on Leah McLean’s (from KSTP) lap.

One and Two

One gets up early, eats the breakfast he makes himself and slips back into his den before anyone else rises. He doesn’t say much but there is little to tell. He smiles about plans he has to meet his friends later, as dog tags from a mythical army clink around his neck. His eyes glaze as he goes out-of-body for the coerced hug, but he cheerfully takes the mail to the mailbox, and lifting the flag, lopes, as usual, to the bus stop.

Two gets up late and lingers in his room until the last minute, asking for eggs through his closed door. Once out, he smiles and banters and playfully hugs, perhaps flexing his muscles for my admiration. He keeps his friends and his life as close a secret as possible, letting information out in dribbles on a need-to-know basis. A closed book with an inviting cover, he hoists his backpack and coolly slouches toward his day.

I watch them go, and feel it in my core, seeing them in all times all at once: the wide-eyed babies, the sweet-cheeked toddlers, the winsome children, and the youths they are now. I see shades of what they will be: the young men they are becoming, perhaps fathers someday, and wonder how much of those future lives they will share with me. I torture myself, and imagine losing One or Two. I shake it off; it is like opening a vein. These daily paper cuts, “I love you, have a good day!” are painful enough.

Getting Better? Or Just Older?

Yesterday, aging in my world was having to straighten up carefully after bending over, because of the ever-so-slightly degenerating disc in my lower spine. Today it was lifting my eyelid (which has somehow become a bit ruched) so I could get my eyeliner where it belonged. Just the left one. This is the new normal? I asked my reflection in the mirror.

I don’t suppose anyone jumps up and down when these things start and says “Yes! Visible aging! Just what I always wanted!” On the other hand, what I am talking about is small change compared to problems some of my contemporaries are dealing with, and what I glimpse on the road ahead. When the boys were growing up, I knew people who said, “Oh, I couldn’t wait for the (whatever) stage to be over,” because they were really looking forward to engaging their kids at a higher level, or to when their kids became more independent. I have made a point of celebrating every one of their phases, even when I felt it was literally draining the life from me (middle school, my eternal nemesis!) Living and loving every stage my kids went through is a lesson I learned from being in kind of a rush to grow up. I was uncomfortable with myself as a teen (who isn’t?) and wanted to skip ahead to the independence and presumed confidence that came with adulthood. Looking at kids now, I feel I missed some opportunities trying to race through the awkwardness.

Every decade has brought its gifts. Confidence and comfort in my own (somewhat sagging) skin continues to build. I appreciate people and opportunities more, and value time like I never did in my youth. Living in gratitude does change everything. Well, except the aches and the reduced elasticity. It could always be worse. One of my favorite radio commercials (don’t remember the product, of course–memory lapses) announced, “Sometimes wisdom comes with age. Sometimes, age comes alone.” I hope the wisdom I am gaining offsets the memory lapses, etc. and that, as bits and pieces of my physical self start to corrode and crumble a bit, that some of the sharp edges on my personality also soften. I project it won’t be that many years before I fully reach the “shabby chic” stage. I just hope it won’t have completely gone out of fashion when I do.

What are the ups and downs of the age you are at?

An ADD Moment…

And before anyone gets excited, I am not making light of ADD or ADHD. I was diagnosed and treated for ADD for years when I was a kid. Evidently, in first grade, I did a lot of getting up in class and wandering around and often had no idea what was going on. More so than the rest of the kids. Back then, (so, so long ago,) the diagnostic criteria for ADD was this: give the kid Ritalin and see if it helps. If it does, the kid has ADD. So I started taking Ritalin in second grade. The funny thing was that our school had a very aggressive anti-drug campaign and I remember being scared to DEATH that I was going to become a child drug addict because Ritalin is an amphetamine, also known as SPEED. I was afraid that someday, when they took the drugs away, I would start robbing gas stations or hold the pharmacist at gunpoint to feed my addiction. My mom assured me that wouldn’t happen and bought me a little pill-carrier in the form of a jeweled golden treasure chest pendant, in which I stored one and a half tabs to be taken (rather self-consciously) at lunch. I guess it helped, because I stopped wandering around, but I remember still sitting in the classroom wondering why everyone else seemed to know what we were supposed to be doing but I didn’t. In fifth grade we discovered I was so near-sighted I could barely read the E on the eyechart, and eyeglasses helped a lot. (Oh, so that’s the blackboard you people keep talking about.) Back then, once you hit puberty, you were pronounced cured and they took the drugs away. There were no withdrawal-fueled rampages; I barely noticed. Nowadays I have caffeine and a great big kit of marginal coping skills that help get me through the day. But sometimes I still get so DISTRACTED by THINGS. Which is why you are reading this instead of the next Working Girl post, which is in development.

Distracting Thing 1

My Capresso hot water kettle, which I love because it looks and works so great, and which I hate because the lid broke off  ten days after the warranty expired, tells me there are eight liquid ounces in a cup. The measuring cups (silicone and pyrex) in my cupboard confirm that this is true. When I make tea I boil two cups, or sixteen ounces, of water in my kettle and this fills my favorite Pier One mug abundantly. When I make coffee in my new (Merry Christmas to me) Calphalon coffeepot, using their numbered lines, I have discovered that I have to pour in three and half cups of water to make three cups of coffee, which when poured into my favorite Pier One mug, leaves plenty of room for milk and Truvia and can still be stirred and walked with safely. As pictured. I already have to do tea to coffee conversions in my head to optimize my caffeine dosage, and now there are portion issues as well. If there are shiny or busy things happening around me this can all be difficult which I find unnecessary and irksome.  Also, you tell me, but I think maybe three cups of coffee at one go might be a little too much for me?

 

Distracting Thing 2

It got cold in Minnesota, which we all knew was going to happen, but never thought it would take this long. I woke up to find it was -10°, with a wind chill of -27°. As such, many of us now have ice indoors. As pictured. To clarify, dirty window on top, condensation, ridge of ice on the INSIDE of the window, and at bottom the wooden sill preparing to harbor mildew when said ice melts. On the upside, the temp has risen to -3°, and I usually take the interior frost to mean that the humidity levels inside are okay. Just thought I’d share that for those of you who don’t get to enjoy the full splendor of winter. If we ever get snow, maybe I’ll share that too, but since nearly every place in the nation EXCEPT us has gotten whacked with a snowstorm this year, maybe not.

 

 

 

Distracting Thing  3

Older son got his driver’s license yesterday. I waver between punctuating that with an exclamation point and a teardrop. Yes, very good that he is achieving milestones (landmines? I wonder why that word wants to slip in there?) Very good that he can help out with running errands and stretch his wings and prepare for life as an adult. Very sad that he and his younger brother continue to slip out of my arms and into the world. Very scary that they are increasingly exposed to important and dangerous situations with insufficiently developed brains and decision-making skills. Some people handle this time of parenting with grace. It is taking everything I’ve got to maintain my balance, and it isn’t pretty. Sometimes as a parent, I still feel like the kid in the classroom, wondering what I missed. Caffeine only helps so much, and it is cold out here. I guess the trick is to remember I am not in this alone, and to keep looking forward while I balance the best I can, because this ride isn’t over yet. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

Working Girl, Guest Post

I spoke to my younger sister, Michele, about the chore girl days, trying to refresh and confirm my memories of our splendid training for the world of work, and she shared this story that I had completely forgotten. Sometimes the two of us did the chores together, sometimes we took turns, heartlessly sacrificing our sibling to the dark so we could enjoy the comfort of a peaceful and well-lit evening indoors. I told her to write the story herself and she did:

Dog and cat chores – the last duty of the day before bed. Sounds simple enough looking back — mosey on out to the clinic and shed behind the house, make sure the two dogs and multitude of cats have food and water, pull all the doors closed and make sure all the animals are locked in. Did I HAVE to wait until after dark to do these duties? No, probably not. I’m not sure that doing them earlier occurred to me often, if ever. Summer was extra treacherous, between unwitting toads waiting on the well-worn path and junebugs springing from the lights we flipped on to say goodnight to the animals. Winter time was easier, and I remember pulling on my dad’s snowboots by the back door if the snow was deep, or sometimes borrowing his slippers (with the mashed-down heels — he never put them on all the way) for chores if there wasn’t snow at all… How far was it from the back door of our house to the lean-to? Waaay too far… Especially after a scary movie…

Apparently, on Jan. 27, 1978 (if the horror movie blog I just found can be trusted), when I would have been all of 8 years old, it was my turn to do chores that night. I couldn’t yank myself away from the tv because we were watching a scary, made-for-tv movie called “Bermuda Depths.” I don’t remember anything about it other than what must have been close to the last scene, the body of a man being dragged into the ocean by a giant sea turtle… But our animals must be fed, movie or no movie. Duty-bound, that image still haunting me, I went out into the cold dark to lock up the animals.

Now, just so there is no confusion — there is no sea anywhere close to where we lived. The largest body of water nearby was the watering tank for the horses, and in a South Dakota January, there was definitely no danger of a giant sea turtle dragging me to my death… These arguments didn’t matter at all to my freaked-out eight-year-old brain. There was definitely something in the dark that was going to come out and get me — maybe the ghost of that drowned person in the movie. So, tip-toeing through the dark, bright light at my back, my own, elongated shadow leading the way across the gigantic back yard to the shed, I was telling myself “it was only a movie” while the rest of my brain was certain I was going to die.

I made it to the corrugated steel shed with a bit of relief — so close to a light switch. I flipped back the metal hook from the eye to unlock the big sliding door, grabbed the smooth, cold handle and heaved it back. As the wall of grey steel slid past and the shed yawned open, I leaned in to flip on the light and a large translucent blue hand floated out of the dark to meet me, reaching for my face.

“Gaah!!!!” a strangled gasp escaped my lips as the hand ballooned out of the darkness. I was a goner. The hand slowly wafted down again in the yellow light from the stark incandescent bulb I’d managed to turn on. Drenched in adrenaline-induced sweat, I realized that what I was looking at was an O.B. sleeve — basically an arm-length clear plastic glove that our veterinarian father would use when examining female cattle. This one, (apparently unused) had the open end tied around the top of a CO2 cylinder for welding, leaving the hand-shaped end floating in the dark, reaching out for a short, unsuspecting victim who would free it with the movement of the door.

Giddy with relief and the afterburn of terror, I finished up the chores and returned to the house in record time, just glad to be alive.

Yep. Terrifying in many ways. Image from http://www.vetprovisions.com.

Two Things

I. I am having this kind of day, for a few days now.

This is why you aren’t hearing a lot from me…I’ll be feeling a little more extroverted and generous with my words soon, I am sure.

II. This is a cool video from youtube that my younger son wanted me to see (a. my younger son and I shared a moment–yay! and b. wow, is this video ever cool!) It appears today’s post is in outline form…

Anyway, the video is the group Walk Off the Earth, covering the Gotye song “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and I think even without the extra coolness of all five of them playing one guitar simultaneously, I like their rendition better. Walk Off the Earth, Ladies and Gentlemen! (Click Play arrow below.)

The Matter of a Severed Finger

When I was a girl, about nine or ten years old, one of my favorite indoor activities was to rifle through the stash of books and other treasures tucked into a dresser and closet in our rec room. My younger sister and I spent hours sitting on the hard linoleum sifting through mom’s shelves of piano music, Reader’s Digest Condensed books, and tins, boxes and tubs of inherited and collected memorabilia. It was kind of like a cross between our own private flea market and an archaeological dig to a time before our memory. My older sister is eight years older than I, so all her outgrown stuff was fascinating to me, even if she was a little bit more into the horse stories than I was.

One afternoon I found an old paperback book of hers: “Clever Tricks to Play on Your Friends!” We lived in the country, about a mile from any friends I might have had, but my mom was upstairs and my little sister was around somewhere, probably out playing with the cats or talking to the horses. Following the book’s instructions, I found a small cardboard box with a lid and carved a hole the size of my finger in the bottom with a dull penknife. I poked my middle finger up through the hole, tucked some cotton balls around it and flexed it flat so the box nested in my palm. It really looked like a severed finger laying in the box, without the blood. Nice! I thought about finding a red magic marker to add to the illusion, but I had already been working on it five whole minutes already and had to show my mom this cool effect RIGHT AWAY. I covered the box, hustled up the stairs and found her in her bedroom.  I was bursting with excitement that my trick would really work, but at the same time that I was terrified she’d see through it. My face cramped with energetic smiling, I said “Mom! Look!” and she walked over to me, probably thinking, “What now?” Watching for her reaction, I lifted the lid off the box, and was honestly surprised to see her stare blankly at my lifeless finger, then look at me with an expression I’d never seen before. I would describe it as horror-struck. She looked like a crazy person. She grabbed me by the shoulders and screamed, “WHAT DID YOU DO TO YOUR SISTER!?!?”

??? I was disappointed and confused. What did my sister have to do with anything?  I looked at the box and then I realized, ohhh. If there was a part of a finger in a box, it had to have come from SOMEWHERE, thus the sister… I was exasperated; Mom was completely missing the point. I demonstrated that the finger was mine, and Mom turned an odd color and literally sagged. I guess when the crazy drains from your body that is what happens.

This is the kind of story that gets re-told at family gatherings, and I always thought it was pretty amusing, until about a year ago when, for some reason, I was able to imagine the scenario from my mom’s point of view for the first time and realized what a horrible, horrible thing I had done to her. I imagined looking from a dismembered body part to my own child’s maniacally grinning face. If one of my boys had pranked me with a severed finger, I am pretty sure my head would have exploded. There she was, out on the farm, with one daughter mutilated at best and the other a complete psychopath.  So sorry, Mom! Being absolutely unable to empathize with my mother’s experience then, or for the next thirty+ years could, I guess, define me as a minor-league psychopath. Is it bad to say that this makes it even funnier to me?