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?

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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.