Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Xylophone is a Serious Instrument

My buddy and I went to see War/Dance tonight, an Academy-Award nominated documentary about primary-school students from a government-protected refugee camp called Patongo in Northern Uganda. The film follows them preparing for and competing in a national music competition in 2005. These children, from the Acholi tribe, formerly lived in villages besieged by rebel forces; one teenager featured in the film has lost both parents and another was forced to kill fellow villagers to save his own life. School--in particular, music--is the salvation for the resilient children whose stories are shared in the documentary. They make their own instruments, lugging about unwieldy xylophones and harps fashioned of twine and displaying an infectious hopefulness that makes me want to make the movie required viewing for all our high school students.

There is something wonderful about being reminded that there are still children who, though they've witnessed horrors beyond our comprehension, are fascinated by traffic, tall buildings, and electricity. I was just talking to the mother of one of our graduates who flew cross-country back to college without his cell-phone charger. He was apparently panicked at the thought of being in a Communication Black Hole for the short period of time before he procured a new or fed-exed charger. Somehow, my friends and I in college managed to find each other on campus without email and text messaging. I think we wrote notes to each other on dry-erase boards mounted on our dorm-room doors. The people in Patongo are barely in touch with the rest of their own country.

Please see this movie. The music, dancing, and cinematography are beautiful. And while the reality is sobering, the story is inspiring.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

There's a Fungus Among Us

Daughter #2 has a yeast infection, In Her Mouth. To the experienced mom, this affliction is familiar as Thrush, and it's pretty much No Big Deal, except that it requires a prescription. (Can I take a moment here and beg the Medical Industry to please, please not require moms to take their kids in to the pediatrician to diagnose things like Pink Eye and Thrush? Just give us the meds, for the love of all drugs non-addicting. I am not going to Abuse the Oral Nystatin prescribed for my daughter. But I want the symptoms to go away NOW. Thank you).

Thrush is more commonly associated with breastfeeding babies and those taking antibiotics (and Vaginas, of course, I must acknowledge). My Baby #1 and I passed Candidiasis back and forth, breast to mouth, for excruciating months. My second child made it a whole 18 months of breastfeeding without it. So I am scratching my head as to why she has it now. But when I scratch my head, I am reminded of Lice, and then I am reminded of Preschool, which is the Gross Place where kids pass bugs from head to head, livestock diseases Hand to Foot to Mouth, and quite possibly, Fungi, from mouth to mouth (?) as well.

Once in a while we get these little Ominous Notices in our boxes alerting us that A Toddler In Our Midst (Who Shall Remain Unnamed) Has Contracted Something Contagious...Watch Out. I am not an alarmist, so I am generally mildly amused, glad my child is not the Originator of Said Notice, and happy when days later, we emerge unscathed. But the "Fungus Among Us" notice sure to hit the press on Tuesday will be traceable to My Kid. We can put it in her Baby Book.

One last comment on Thrush. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you'll find that Thrush is Not Only a Fungus;

Thrush may refer to:
Thrush (bird), common name of the bird family Turdidae
Candidiasis, fungal infection commonly known as thrush or yeast infection, affecting the mouth or vagina
Thrush Aircraft, US aircraft manufacturer
THRUSH, fictional criminal organization in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Informally, a "thrush" can be a term for a female
singer. A synonym would be chanteuse
Thrush, automotive muffler manufacturer
Punk band, A UK Scum Punk band formed in 2006
Thrush, a bacterial infection of the horse's hoof.

You're welcome!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ant Bastards, Barbra Streisand, and Chicken Noodle Soup. In That Order.

Once upon a time, in 2004, actually, I wrote an email to my friend with the following news: "THERE ARE NO PLANTS in my veg. garden. Totally barren. Some animal bastards ate everything."

My friend has never let me forget my use of the term "bastard" with regard to the innocent bunny or whatever who ate our broccoli. And she has reminded me to apply it to other Unhelpful Wildlife, such as the Raccoon Who Ate the Koi in Our Pond (and left a bloody mess/crime scene, I might add). And then she had a similar experience. Raccoon Bastards!

So, while these vermin may not be producing parentless progeny, the moniker "bastard" has been apt, and it's added a little comic relief to otherwise Really Annoying Experiences (note: I am trying not to use worse words than "bastard" in this post).

Let's talk about ANT BASTARDS. Tiny little relentless devils who have entered our home through so many orifices IT ISN'T FUNNY. IT ISN'T FUNNY to find one's kitchen overrun by Ant Bastards Twice in One Week. I AM NOT AMUSED after spending 1.5 hours chasing ants. I am so throwing in the paper towel.

This is where Barbra Streisand comes in. Because, I am not a HandyWoman. Nor is my husband, who can probably build himself a sailboat from scratch but cannot operate the microwave. Nor know which resource to call when Pests need Control (hint, hint).

But I digress. Back to Barbra. My main line of defense in my little old falling-apart bungalow home is to, frankly, Caulk it Together. We buy caulk regularly. So after I sprayed the streams of ants marching mindlessly into my unsuspecting home with something like Windex (and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Countertop Spray, alternately), I began staring at the spots in my house that were Entry Points for Ants. Watching for those little F&%$#@+s and then caulking the seams. And humming, to the melody of one of the showtunes on Barbra's Broadway Album, "Caulking (Putting) it Together," because this is how I've handled recent household disasters, like the Huge Canyon that has appeared where our tile meets the bathtub (some helpful people suggest our house is "settling." Huh. At what age does one "settle," anyway? This house is going on 70 years old!). And the baseboards in our kitchen that are suddenly not aligned at the corners, like something is sinking. That something BEING OUR HOUSE.

So I just caulk these spots, feeling good that At The Very Least There Is a Barrier Between Us and the Animal Bastards. We're going through a lot of caulk, which I am pretty sure I am not using appropriately. I am "Caulking it together, piece by piece...bit by bit..." (and yes, I also have Neil Diamond, John Denver, and The Carpenters on my iPod. It's my upbringing; I can't help it).

Tonight, when I had (finally) successfully cleaned off the kitchen counters and sprayed One Million Ants down the drain, as well as bathed my two children and made dinner (i.e., heated it up), Daughter #1 spilled her bowl of chicken noodle soup All Over The Kitchen Floor. And as my friend--the one from the beginning of this tale--was so kind to point out, "I am pretty sure ants like chicken noodle soup."

(I need to add that another Dear Friend offered to leave her house this evening and head out to buy us Ant Traps that worked for her family...THANK YOU!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Talk about a Mind-Blowing Educational Experience

My four-year-old came home from preschool and reported:

"MOMMY! I learned about SPACE TODAY, and about PLANETS...

and I PRAYED to GOD!"

She added, "At naptime? You think you're not moving. But you're actually spinning around on the Earth."

In other news, her little sister achieved these milestones over the weekend:

1. Stuck a colored pencil up her nose
2. Sucked on a sponge. The SPONGE I CLEAN THE COUNTERS WITH.

Hoo boy. We get to talk about Germs and God and Jupiter in our Household!

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.,

I am typing out an (idealistic) essay/speech I wrote in 5th grade:

I Have a Dream
In Martin Luther King's famous speech, I have a dream, his dream is that in the future everyone will become brothers. Everyone gets along with others. How wonderful the world would be if everyone was like that!
I have my own ideas. In my dream everyone gets along with others and very rarely have problems. In my dream there are partner families. One family would usually go out at a time. If one family had to go the library and the other to the grocery store, one family would do both and they would trade off. The trade off saved time, gas, and money. In my dream no one ever talks of the differences between black and white. Many partner families are one black family and one white family. Everyone would be friends and it would be like one big family. Martin Luther King was a strong leader and someone who believed that if he really wanted to do something with his whole heart, he could do it with one finger. At the end of his life Martin Luther King had done many of the things he had set out to do. If he had lived longer he would have done more. In my opinion, there are no differences between the races of mankind. All of them have hopes and dreams. Even though Martin Luther King Jr. is dead his heart for his people is still alive.
Room 55/56

Friday, January 18, 2008

To Whom Do I Belong, Anyway?

We (my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I) noticed not long after we got our puppy, Amani, that she Reacted Strongly to any hugging or affection we showed each other. In fact, she would jump up on her hind legs, bark, and appear to want to be a part of it all. Sort of strange, but reassuring in that the strongest reactions were to relatively benign, vertical hugging. This was in 1997, 8, 9. Eventually she either got used to it, or we dramatically decreased our affection to one another, or she got older, or Whatever.

Fast forward to 2008. I have some tension-related back, neck, and shoulder pain, and my dear husband has been willing to give me some much-needed back kneading. On demand. In the kitchen, when I am cooking dinner, in particular. Unfortunately, our little verging-on-two-year-old is Having None of It. She will emerge from Wherever she is, Whatever she is doing, to dramatically and emotionally protest this hand-on-shoulder contact between her father and mother. She manuevers herself around me to threaten her dad with chubby balled-up fists. It's a little bizarre.

I am at the point with NEEDING MASSAGE that I am like, "I don't care if she screams, Husband. Keep your Hands Moving On My Shoulders, or ELSE."

Seriously, folks. How can you possibly foresee the complexity of parenthood? It's...Wow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A little faith, and a lot of heart...

I would say that My Album of the Year 2007 (not related AT ALL to when the album actually debuted, only to when I Became Aware of Its Existence and made it my Soundtrack) was The Weepies' "Say I Am You." One of my friends sent me this CD and it's one of the albums about which I can say I love almost every track. For the holidays, one of their songs, "Stars," was the tune for a Macy's ad, which appeared during "Elmo's Countdown to Christmas," and my daughter, raised on DVR, wouldn't tolerate more than two seconds of commercial (could be a Good Thing, or a sign of Pestilent Impatience?), even when I pleaded, "Can I please find out who the Weepies sold (out) their song to...?" Alas, I had to figure this out over several viewing times of the Elmo Christmas Show. My disappointment? The best line of the song, "All it takes is a little faith...and a lot of heart" didn't make it into the ad. But then, I shouldn't care about that, maybe. Perhaps I should be grateful that Macy's Didn't Get It. I'm not sure.

The CD has more treasures: "Riga Girls" is my best running song, and just a Make You Happy Melody. "Take It From Me" and "Gotta Have You" are two Happy In Love Songs, and "This is Not Your Year" was a plausible alternative to "Bad Day," our School Attendance Clerk's Anthem. Really, this album? Something For Everyone, People!

But my latest diversion is lullabies, as referenced in my Smorgasbord post. Our high school dance troupe recently had a show in which they did a number to this haunting song, sung by Annie Lennox (and part of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack). In their show they recreated the "Alice in Wonderland" story, and here, Alice is falling asleep. I was captivated.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Girled Cheese with Goose-Goose

Here is an incomplete list of various things I loved as a child:

1. Alf
2. Miss Piggy (including the puppet with hair you could brush)
3. The Muppets
4. The Borrowers
5. Encyclopedia Brown
6. Donny and Marie
7. The Little House books (and the TV show, of course!)
8. Little Women
9. My Dataman calculator
10. Fisher Price Little People sets
11. The game Perfection
12. My Sasha dolls

I mention these because I can't help wanting to turn my daughter on to my childhood loves (note: as I write, my daughter is watching a Fraggle Rock video). But in my zeal, I have a tendency to bring these things out before they're completely appropriate (when she was about 2 years old, I added my copy of Missy Piggy's Guide to Life to my daughter's bookshelf. She obsessed on the page with a photo of Missy Piggy donning a chocolate pudding "healing" mask. My obsession: did they ruin a whole Miss Piggy muppet for that shoot, or what? Yum, or Yuck?). And don't ask why I have held on to my copy of this volume. It's Miss Piggy! I still love her.

My latest incidence of Retro Reintroduction was to read the first chapter of Little House in the Big Woods to my eldest daughter the other night. Of course, I didn't review the chapter before launching right in, and I didn't exactly remember the plot details of this book in the series. In case you're wondering: the Ingalls family lives in Wisconsin in the first one, and Pa is preparing for winter by hunting, killing, skinning, smoking, and storing all manner of wild animals (my fave part of the book so far? Big sister Mary and Laura playing ball, made from the bladder of the family pig, recently butchered). Okey doke. I was too far in to my reading to just SKIP RIGHT OVER those parts. So I had to explain to my girl that bacon comes from pigs, chicken legs come from...well, chickens. And that chickens are killed by cutting their heads off. And that some people have eaten deer and bears...Go ahead, judge me for letting my innocent four-year-old in on this secret this early in her young life. BUT HEY! Laura Ingalls Wilder had to HELP her dad (I mean, Pa!) with butchering, beheading, pig-tail munching, etc., at a Much Younger Age.

My daughter's reaction was as predicted: "Mom, but if we all eat the animals, there won't be any more! We need to save the animals!" I gently reminded her that she happens to enjoy chicken nuggets and hamburgers, at which point, though she didn't ask which part of the chicken is the "nugget," ha, she wanted to know which animal is made of hamburgers. She expressed some general concern for cows, and then asked, "What about a goose? Is it made of goose-goose?"

We had meatballs for dinner the next night without incident. Time to take her to the slaughterhouse. I mean, "tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand," right?

I'm reminded of a time last year when I was driving my kids and their cousins home for lunch and we were discussing our options: PB&J? Grilled Cheese? My daughter protested, "We can't have grilled cheese for lunch!" Why not, I asked? "He (her male cousin) can't have GIRLED cheese, Mom! It's for GIRLS! Not for BOYS!" Didn't see that one coming at all.

It's too bad they can't spell at this age, because where these misunderstandings come from, there have to be So Many MORE.

On second thought, high school English papers provide opportunities for kids who can spell to demonstrate their lack of understanding. Case in point, a 9th grader's allusion to "Paunch's Pilot" in an essay I assigned on To Kill A Mockingbird. (In case you're wondering, even a correctly spelled reference to Pontius Pilate in this paper was Out of Left Field).

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lost and Found

Our missing student is found, safe.

Such relief and celebration. And such marvel at the unexpected ways someone can creep into your life and set up camp. You don't necessarily notice the stakes anchoring the tent to you until you have reason to worry.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


Hard to know what angle to work from on a Sunday night before going back to work (school-vacation-style...):

1. This weekend it was rainy (actually, it was "STORM 2008"!) here in our normally 'weatherless' we were strangely cooped up. And Dad was out of town. To pass the time, we visited an elderly neighbor who fosters kittens for the Humane Society, puddle-jumped and then took warm baths, made paper snowflakes, painted, baked cookies, did papier mache projects--from a kit--made forts in the living room, had crepes for breakfast...and lest this sound a Little Too Wonderful...also watched A Lot of TV and Drove Each Other Crazy. Okay, mostly it was I who Went Crazy.

2. Snapshot: Last night, time for Daughter B to go to bed. This little near-two-thing loves physical contact. So she threw herself into my arms, and lay down, cradle-like, and I cooed, "Do you want me to sing you a lullaby?" Once upon a time, she let me sing her songs. But those of you without kids need to know that there is a very weird stage of parenting wherein one's child controls All Singing. So my first attempt was "Like a Ship in the Harbor," which was one of my favorite Girl Scout Camp(fire) songs. She rejected it. Then I tried the lullaby I debuted on her, my Baby #2, "If I Needed You" (Townes Van Zandt song, heard--and loved--by me at an Emmylou Harris Concert). She wagged her head NO to that one too. So I gave up, and burst out with: "SHOT TO THE HEART, AND YOU'RE TO BLAME. YOU GIVE LOVE A BAD NAME."

My older daughter thought that was hilarious. Much to her chagrin, I really didn't know any lines past that first one.

3. Kenya's "president-elect," Mwai Kibaki, appears willing to broker some kind of power-sharing leadership for Kenya. Echoing (inaccurately, I am sure) part of an interview I heard with two Kenyans on NPR, I'll say, something good may come from all this strife (and death and diplacement and disillusionment)...

4. Imagine this scenario: you're the (single) mother of a 16-year-old girl (and two other young children), and you're about to move (imminently!) as the Navy is transferring you across the country. But right after Christmas, your daughter runs away. And now she's missing--missing yet within arm's reach--spotted often enough in the very same county that you know she's alive. But you also know she's in trouble. Using drugs, without money, without a phone...without her family and her future, really. Apparently not concerned about being left behind.

It's what's keeping me up at night.

5. Tonight, my eldest daughter was in the car, singing to herself a song from the Anastasia movie soundtrack, when all of the sudden, she cocked her head and asked me: "Mom, how come every Santa I saw didn't know who I was, even though He Was The Same Guy? And he sees me when I am sleeping?"

What I wanted to answer was, "It's January 6. Are you really analyzing SANTA???" But I said something feeble, like, "Santa's busy...Santa has so many kids to remember..."

My mother, Santa Skeptic Expert, had this to say: "Didn't you tell her about SANTA'S HELPERS? i.e., that Santas in malls, etc., aren't the Real Santa, that He IS TOO BUSY TO BE EVERYWHERE?" My lame response to this interrogation: "Uhhh, Mom, I didn't anticipate having to use this kind of defensive artillery so soon. She's only four..."

6. I read a short piece in Time magazine about Benazir Bhutto...about how rather mediocre her leadership her ideals weren't backed by her actions. I am not sure yet how I feel about this analysis. More on this later, maybe. Or not. Maybe I will just continue to mourn a woman who, however flawed, seemingly put her life on the line for her country.

Off to work tomorrow. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Oh, Kenya...

I lived in Kenya, in Nyeri near the foot of Mt. Kenya, for a year in 1996-1997. I taught at a private Kenyan primary (and boarding!) school (K-8) and had my first experience teaching younger children (3rd/4th grade, language arts and science). I learned so much that year--so much--about myself, about private schools, about Kenya, about what true "luxury" is (time, media-free time).

So, speaking of media, I am chagrined by the coverage of Kenya's election and the subsequent violence. What's happening there is horrible; don't get me wrong. But there's something about this general sense of the country that I am guessing my fellow Americans are getting...that Kenya is now "off limits," that what used to be one of the most "progressive," tourist-friendly African nations is proving to be as politically unpredictable and violent as one might have imagined.

It makes me very sad, because I think there's so much more story to tell...

Now I need to make some disclaimers, before I state what I know and/or believe to be true. First, I have not been to Kenya in ten (gulp) years (that makes me sad). Second, I am no expert on politics, on Kenya's tribes, and on what is happening now, for sure.

But here's what I want to assert, perhaps in defense of Kenya and its people, and perhaps because I think we Americans just don't get the developing world (I apologize for how patronizing that sounds! But still!):

1. I will always think of Kenya as far safer than America, in general. And I can hardly convince you of the confidence and security and general well-being I felt while living there, especially since most of the news ABOUT Kenya at the time was not so good, and it made my family WORRIED. There were riots and demonstrations then that turned violent. Here's what was kind of civilized about it, though: everyone seemed to know that there would be Trouble in a given place at a given time, warned their friends, and only the People Looking for Trouble showed up for it (or those who are bussed in from the countryside and paid paltry sums to be part of a headcount). I think we all understand that looters are not our friends, and "hooligans" with no jobs needing a way to express general anger about the Current State of Affairs are likely to come out of the woodwork at times like these...

But, what's clearly terribly wrong and sad about what's happening in Kenya right now is that People Not Looking for Trouble are becoming victims. Nevertheless, I am guessing (see disclaimers above!) that despite hysterical news coverage, most Kenyans are safe and sound...and horrified about the state of their country at the moment.

2. Tribalism in Kenya is real, but we're not talking about deep deep rifts, here? I lived in a Kikuyu region (former, and apparently "reelected" president Kibaki is Kikuyu). My best friends there were Kikuyu, but the best man for one Kikuyu friend's wedding was Luo, for example (the tribe of election challenger Raila Odinga). I heard plenty of cliched characterizations of various Kenyan tribes (fairly tongue in cheek), and as plenty of Kenyans are currently pointing out, this is a country of "tribes" who have lived quite peacefully together.

(As an aside, I need to point out that I think the mere mention of "tribe" by our media suggests a lesser civilization of my Kenyan friends, when in truth, I would characterize their tribes as akin to our "New Yorkers," "Southern Californians," "Southerners," "Midwesterners," and to the extent that "tribalism" leaks into "religion" and "politics": "fundamentalists," "hippies," "liberals," "Republicans" and "Democrats.")

3. This election debacle is not unlike the Kerry/Bush election of 2004, where there were plenty of questions about voting fraud and rigging. So, why is Kenya erupting in violence, while we Americans simply watched, flaccidly, as dangling chads were jiggled before us on the national news, and the Supreme Court so calmly ruled on the fate of our next leader?

My answer is that Kenya is a nation only independent since 1963 (versus our more-than-200 years of YoYoMac=You're on Your own, Mac). Imagine the suspicion, the lack of faith in one another on the basis of inexperience alone, the disbelief that democracy can work, when living people among the Kenyan constituency remember colonial rule? Add to that the fact that graft, corruption, and fraud have been all too real among the Very Few elected officials who have led Kenya, and there are more have-nots than haves, and you begin to understand. This is a country struggling to figure it out! And who knows what is True and Right?

Honestly, here in our own democracy-"proven" nation, who knows what is True and Right? I hope we remember that as we watch, and report on, the struggles of our African friends.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sleeping Potion

My daughter had her "Sting" procedure yesterday to (hopefully) repair kidney reflux on the left side. It's the second time we've attempted this fix; last time it worked only on the right. Because she's an anxious kid, we didn't let her know what was in store until the morning...and she inevitably stressed, cried, asked a million questions, and then pulled it together, telling us she would be "brave." She processed the anticipated experience by explaining to her sister in the car on the way to the hospital exactly what would happen, step by step, as if our near-two-year-old needed reassuring.

While we waited for the anesthesiologist's briefing in the consultation room, I explained to her that she would breathe in something sweet smelling, and it would make her fall asleep. Her eyes grew wide, and she said, "But Mom, I don't want something that makes me fall asleep. That's like a POTION! And then I will never wake up!"

I promised I would kiss her to wake her up, princess-style.

And don't worry--she's fine!

In a couple of months we'll find out if the "STINGing" worked.