Projectiles, Patience, and Why We Need More Sleep

January 21, 2011

Dear Family,

Listen to the MUSTN'TS, child
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

--Shel Silverstein, “Where the Sidewalk Ends”


“Nobody ever tells you that growing up costs so much!”




Ben loves... The Styx song, “Mr. Roboto.” Making time lapse videos with the camera from Uncle Jake, of things like lego-building, the putting-away of boots, and the taking-apart of a train track. Making the impossibly challenging tyrannosaurus model from his “Genuine Origami” book.

Ben says: “I want a Graham-is-home Sensor. It would have wires to her house [right across from us]...It would be green if she's home, and red if she's not home.”



“Mama, can you watch me do my Cool Move?” This move is a hip swivel, done to music, and I tell you, it's _smooth_.

“I sat on Papa's lap when we were reading, an' he gave me back rubs. Papa does SO GOOD rubs!”

“What if people didn't have two feet?”

We're listening to “I Have the Touch,” by Peter Gabriel. I look over, and Jem is swaying and smiling. He looks embarrassed when he sees me, and explains: “I'm dancing in my seat!”

“Here's my Backhoe, wif a Load...some money in the back, a stomp rocket in the front!”

I'm looking for Jem. And it turns out, inexplicably, that “Here I am, in the office wif my pants down!”

Very enamored of the three-week-old baby we saw this week, Jem wonders: “Can I have a baby grow in _my_ tummy?”


Listening to Jeff read Winnie the Pooh to the boys one night recently, I had a total nostalgia moment. They were laughing, changing the name to “Pinnie the Wooh.” And laughing even harder, when they read the story about the Heffalump. I told Ben that Uncle Jake and Grandpa Terry and I nearly fell down laughing, a long time ago, reading that same story...

And that we had to read it again, two more times.


Ben and Jem are making an airplane, and I am just trying to bottle up the cuteness for later:

Jem: “I can't do it!”
Ben: “I bet you can.”
Jem: “If I was big as you, an' I really wanted to, I bet I could.”
[Silence, except for the sound of folding paper. Then, Jem flies his plane.]
Ben: “That actually worked GOOD!”


If you really want a good cry (and a reason to cuddle any children in your life), Jeff recommends that you google the Cloud Cult song called “Your Eighth Birthday.”

I did. And I cried. And then I cuddled my children.


A dear friend wrote to me last week, saying that she often checks in on my e-mail updates. “...I know you don't always feel as positive and put-together as you appear on the page, and I hope you allow yourself to be completely human in the face of the challenges you are surmounting...”


One of the foremost reasons I record Jemmerisms and Bennerisms is because I'm like Frederick the field mouse--the one in the kids' book, who “stores” colors and stories and songs and poetry to brighten the deep dark winter days. In general, I know that complaints make for less enjoyable reading than comedy. And I am thrilled to be researching such exciting things, and that our whole family is healing--don't get me wrong.

But to be perfectly honest--so don't worry about my humanity, please!--the every-day, nitty-gritty reality sometimes wears pretty thin. Ben's mealtimes often take up at _least_ six (6) hours per day, and that's not counting all the meal prep time. He is more or less plagued with a rotating selection of anxiety, screaming fits, and gastro/skin/sensory/other symptoms. The worse these symptoms are, the more he behaves like a child possessed. It is so hard, sometimes, to remember that he is not doing this on purpose. It is so hard to remember that his behaviors are nothing that discipline can solve, that in-the-moment parental ingenuity is not lacking, and that distraction techniques, hugs (or other affection), encouragement, bribery, or threats will seldom solve anything. It's hard to remember that the unfairness of Life, and my periodic rage at a the situation, are nobody's faults at all.

Ben's anxiety pretty much rules our days--making outings minimal and carefully planned--and can rear up at any moment to make even the tiniest event (such as him wanting socks put on) into a lengthy, torturous ordeal. It is rarely fun for me to try to interact with other people when Ben might get anxious/extremely loud at any moment, and so a lot of the time I save my energy and don't try to force it. Because the reality is, we've got to Make The Most with what we've got, just like any family with challenges, which is pretty much every other family on the planet. I have at least an intellectual understanding that our family's uniqueness lies not in the existence of our Hard Times, but in the sometimes fascinating, sometimes priceless, sometimes tragic nuances of the challenges themselves.

Which is why at least some folks outside our house may wonder: What do you _do_ when you're in the house all day?? How do you help a younger sibling process all the Drama, and how do you react when he also begins to demand spoon-feeding? How do you meet the needs of everyone in the family, not only the sick child's? What do you do if you feel personally isolated, spiritually deflated, are sick of spoon-feeding, and worried about how exceptionally quickly you may be aging, well before your time??

1. You read aloud a LOT of library books, and try to create indoor jungle gyms, and encourage crafty pursuits, and build train tracks.

2. You hold three spoons at once.

3. You heartily appreciate your spouse, without whose support you might dissolve into a quivering pile of jelly, and whose well-timed hugs and jokes make it worthwhile to NOT fly away to Tahiti.

4. You see the way your family is, despite (because of?) it all, growing closer and stronger by the day, and you realize that this is a gift for every single member.

5. You appreciate extended family and friends, who respectfully hang out on the sidelines but whose support and presence is exceptionally reassuring.

6. You spend every spare second learning about the incredible complexity of human health, and the huge healing potential of good foods and Beneficial Microbes, and you count your lucky stars that your spouse earns enough to pay for the enormous grocery bills.

7. You think: a career isn't everything. Life is What It Is. Sometimes you think you're actually getting Zen about it all. You think: at least I don't ever have to pay for personal growth seminars! You think: Thank God I don't have cholera, or an infected ingrown toenail, or kidney stones, and that the car doesn't currently need a new transmission. You notice the incredible view out your living room window, and kvell over your precocious children's conversation concerning the possibility of an Afterlife.

8. You are grateful for the exceptionally delicious, nutritious foods you are ALL eating, which will, you hope (most importantly), fend off the arrival of the majority of your gray hairs for another couple of years.

9. You use the long hours in bed with an anxious child to write weekly updates, wherein you attempt to find humor in the chaos, hope amidst the confusion, and you post these on your website. Your barely-concealed subconscious thoughts circle around, sometimes, to the ideas of Posterity, and the ways that even one small human being can sometimes Make a Difference in the world.

10. You begin to know, deep down, that This. Too. CAN. Pass. And Will. And that Healing is what our bodies can do.

11. And every so often you throw things. Not for any particular reason, except the Build Up of Stress. And not very often (nothing since the Avocado Incident, actually). But definitely, truth must be told, sometimes...

The ridiculous thing was, I was poised with the bowl in my hand, and I really was planning to EAT the soup (since its owner had been whining and complaining and screeching about life in general, and not eating the soup for the past hour and a half). And then the martyred rage welled up and I thought: "Should I throw it? ...No, that would make a mess that I'll have to clean up." And then I decided--as much as one can decide anything in such moments--"I am going to throw it...NOW!"

There was a crash and a splash, and the floor that I had actually recently cleaned was not at all clean anymore.

Of course, in retrospect, I can see that it serves absolutely no one to scream obscenities in the direction of the soup-smeared refrigerator. It doesn't make dinner cook itself, or the mountain of dishes get clean, or the boys stop demanding and whining (and usually they are then MORE sad, later on, as they process my outburst). And it probably makes unhealthy levels of stress hormones build up in my own bloodstream. But now I entirely and completely understand why Mom would get so exasperated sometimes, when we were little. We'd be trying to follow her wherever she went, and she would just be trying to find some quiet place to collect herself for a few minutes, and she'd yell, "Could you JUST let me have my OWN BAD MOOD in peace!?!"

Mom, I'm so, so, so sorry. For anything, and everything. I really do understand.


Fun things We Did This Week:

--Sledding! Right down our own neighborhood path. Sledding is really a great thing to do.

--Discovered a new genre of books: those that allow Ben and Jem to be smarter than the protagonists. These are top favorites, it turns out!

--Ate “Frickin' Tasty Soup”…, a Really Good Brisket , and Garlicky Egg-Drop Soup

--Managed to attend a class at the Northern Light Learning Center, taught by our ever-talented friend, Claire. You might think that because we were an hour and ten minutes late, that we were unappreciative of the class' fine qualities--but the fact that we came at all was a tribute to Claire's incredible flexibility and fun-ness, and it was possibly the best outing we've had in a long time.

--Skiing!! I still don't have ski boots that fit, but due to dear C.'s patience with my mooching, I've managed to go out several times this week. One morning, it was -5f--so cold that my eyelashes froze, and tiny snowflakes blowing off the trees just sort of hovered and sparkled in the air. And then I came out of the woods right exactly as the sun rose, totally classically, with this shooting red ray going into the sky. And the billowing mushroom cloud from the Cornell Coal Plant looked almost poetic, hanging up there in the gorgeous morning, adding only an attractive bit of perspective.


Years ago, I remember beginning to read Walter Kirn's “Up in the Air.” I remember thinking it was too depressing, and not making it past the first chapter.

But Jeff and I watched the movie the other night, and it was fantastic. I found it mercifully hard to relate to the jet-setting, career-driven characters' trials and tribulations, so just sat back, enjoyed the crisp cinematography and great acting, and appreciated my own life.

“Ryan Bingham racks up miles flying around the country firing employees on behalf of companies. But he faces losing the job he savors to recent college grad Natalie Keener -- and losing the ability to escape emotional ties to anything. A connection he builds with Alex Goran, however, might change his outlook on the future.


Three Fun Things to Try:

--Go downstairs, and try to figure out why there's often so much thudding in the area directly underneath our family's toilet. (Hint: it has to do with imaginary ducks that can sometimes threaten some people's safety when they need to pee.)

--Shrink down to Jem's size, just so that you can fit into the cutest pajamas. A three-year-old, striped orange and black like a bee, is somehow one of the cutest things there has ever been.

--Nonchalantly inform random acquaintances that you're experimenting with probiotic implant enemas. You should do this even if you aren't--and then simply sit back and watch the great expressions that develop on your listeners' faces.


I am just not a dog person. This is unfortunate, because I would love to be one of those women wearing hip running clothes with a gorgeous chocolate lab running right by her side.

The fact is, I generally don't speak Dog, I don't understand dogs, and I am sick and tired of meeting off-leash dogs in the woods when I'm out walking in the morning. I'll be wandering along the path, enjoying the sunrise, when all of a sudden a shatteringly exuberant Dog com­es RIGHT TOWARD ME, no human in sight.

Usually, I do something graceful like falling over (if I'm on skis) or squealing loudly, or saying, “HEY! Go Home!” in a really high-pitched voice. I often try following up with my old favorite: ”Could you please Call Your Dog?!”.

The owners hardly ever do this. And I love how even the seven-foot-tall German Shepherd's throaty growl, preceded by a silent approach and currently bared teeth, _always_ means (I find this out through the helpful owner-interpreter), “he's friendly, and just LOVES people! He would never hurt ANYONE! He only ACTS threatening and aggressive, but he isn't REALLY threatening and aggressive!!”

One dog owner told me that her dog can sense my fear, and that's why he comes at me all aggressively. That's really helpful to know! That way, when her dog comes toward me, I get to come up with fantastically witty things to yell, like, “If you don't like scared people, GO AWAY!”

The best is really when the Dog Owner needs hearing aids. This was an actual, unembellished conversation I had last week:

Me, suddenly noticing an off-leash dog speedily approaching: “Could you call your dog?! I'm really not a dog person!!”

Dog Owner: “Good morning!”

Me, waiting a few more seconds, before repeating, more loudly: “I'm REALLY not a dog person! Could you call your dog?!”

Dog Owner: “Have you seen the weather report? This is supposed to be the warmest it'll get all day! That's why I'm out now. How warm d'ya think it'll get?”

...I apologize if I am making grossly unfair generalizations about dog owners here. I do realize that my readership is comprised entirely of people whose dogs really ARE well-trained, friendly, and non-threatening, and I hope to meet all of you in the woods tomorrow.


A bit of a book review from “Full Moon Feast,” by Jessica Prentice:

'In “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival,” anthropologist T.S. Wiley...[reasons] that the use of electric lighting, televisions, and computers after the sun goes down (and our consequent ability to stay up later and sleep less) serves to keep our bodies in an artificial state of perpetual summer. This disrupts our natural hormonal functioning and deprives us of a period of semi-hibernation that our pre-agrarian and even many of our agrarian ancestors would have enjoyed: a winter season of long nights and lots of extra sleep.

'...Wiley discusses the many implications she believes our perpetual summer has on our health. One of them relates in an interesting way to the Dagara injunction against illuminating the darkness and their belief that the night is the time of the Spirit. Wiley describes research showing that when you sleep for fourteen hours a night, as our ancestors would have done during long winter nights, nine of those fourteen hours consist of sleep as we know it. In the middle of such a long night of sleep, our bodies secrete a hormone called prolactin that puts us into a state that is a kind of quiescent wakefulness. Wiley points out that during this state, “[t]he brain-wave readings were akin to those observed during transcendental meditation.” According to Wiley, our bodies release higher levels of endorphins during this state:

'”...It was in this period of time, which we no longer have access to, that we solved problems, reproduced, and transcended the stress, and, most likely, talked to the gods.”'


Whaddaya say? How about a campaign to promote “February: National Sleep A Lot Month”??

I don't think I've slept fourteen consecutive hours in about 28 years, so I've got some catching-up to do.