"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Time Out: In Pictures

It started as a simple request: "Max, before you go upstairs to play, please clean up your project area."

He'd been working on another one of his books: we print out pictures of whatever characters are in his book (Lalaloopsies, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies, whatever). He cuts them out and glues them into a stapled-paper book, then dictates a story for me to transcribe. He's made over twenty books and it's his Most Very Favorite Thing To Do Ever. This book will be based on the "Sugar Rush" racers from the movie Wreck-It Ralph and there were pictures of the girls and their go-karts and tiny scraps of paper E V E R Y W H E R E. Also, glue smeared on the table and crayons, pens, and colored pencils strewn about all over.

And it was nearly dinnertime. I hate it when the house is a wreck and I'm trying to get dinner on the table. I can't breathe. I feel claustrophobic. Sam had just gone upstairs to play World War II with Evan and Molly and Max wanted to join them. As much as he wanted to go, I needed him to clean up his area even more. It wasn't too much to ask.

But these days, by that time of day, it was. He's tired from late nights and early mornings. He's worn out from a full day of cooperative and outdoor play. He's talking about "end of preschool" and "beginning of Kindergarten" stuff constantly. He's hanging by a thread, that deep-feeling, sensitive kiddo of mine.

He furrowed his brow: "No."

I stopped what I was doing and looked him in the eye, "Max, I know you want to play, but you have to clean up first. There will be time to play after you clean up, but not if you waste time now. Get busy."

"NO! You can't make me!"

Oh, yes I can. And, you, my boy, need to take a break.

"Go sit on the steps."


"Yes. Five minutes. Cool down."

And then the defiance and the attitude and the yelling continued to escalate until he had earned himself a 15-minute cool-down instead of five. And then he kicked Molly's milk cup out of her hand and collapsed on the floor in a puddle of Big Emotions.

I carried him over to the steps, handed him a notebook and a pen and said, "Fifteen Minutes."

He glared at me one last, dramatic time before accepting his fate.

At the end of his Epically Long Time Out, we talked. He apologized to me (for the yelling and the defiance) and to Molly (for the kicking and the milk-spilling), I sat with him while he cleaned up his mess. Before he went upstairs to join the game with Evan and Sam, he snuck into the office. He returned and handed me an envelope. Inside were the drawings he made during his Time Out:

Max is Mad

Max is Mad and Max is Yelling at Mommy

Max has to Sit on the Steps While Daddy, Evan, and Molly Get to Play Upstairs

Now Max is Sad

Mommy is Thumbs Up, Max is Thumbs Down

Lesson Learned:
He talked to me about these pictures and I assured him that, even when he is Mad Max or Sad Max, he is still Thumbs Up Max. I love that he can express his feelings so well. I love that he wears his heart on his sleeve. I love that he Feels the Big Feels. I just can't wait for this endless transition to kindergarten to finally be over...not that I'm wishing away our summer before it even begins...it's just that the worries and anxieties of Starting Kindergarten are so hard on these tiny little people. (And their Mommies.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Welcome to the Jungle...I mean...the pool

As a lifelong card-carrying member of several different Neighborhood Pools, I have had 35 years of experience observing a unique subset of our society; suburban moms, finally let out of their school-year cages, enjoying the freedom of Summer Break in their natural habitat. They are The Pool Moms.

No longer a mere observer of this culture, I have been accepted as one of the tribe. I've been a few of these moms in the seven summers I've spent as a Pool Mom. Which one are you?

The Swim Team Mom
This mom does not come to the pool as a leisure activity. Oh, no. For her, the pool is Strictly Business. In fact, Swim Team Mom doesn’t even bother to wear her bathing suit to the pool, as she is far too busy to go for a swim. She is running the snack bar or posting meet stats. She is making sure all Time Keeper positions for the upcoming meet have been filled (and she has your number if they’re not). She is making sure no casual pool user is using the lap lane for Marco Polo, as it is to be used solely for lap swim. She knows all of the life guards by name, and when she calls one of them, you’d best come running, son.

The Baby Pool Mom
Still in her private bubble (or, in this case, a literal fenced enclosure) of toddlerhood, this mom comes to the pool for Adult Conversation. Sitting on the edge of the Baby Pool, with her feet submerged in 12 inches of water of debatable pH balance, this mom can watch as her child attempts to empty the entire pool by dumping one tupperware container at a time onto the pool deck, while finally interacting with another adult...any adult. She is not picky. She will happily strike up a conversation with anyone else who enters the Baby Pool enclosure, including the life guards who come in to “check” the pH levels.

The Mom of Many Small Children
With a baby on her hip; a toddler in water wings, a life vest, and a floatie at water’s edge; and a preschooler splashing around with a pool noodle nearby, this mom’s not here for relaxation or adult conversation. Actually, she’s unlikely to engage in any conversation other than shouting reminders towards her children: “No, no, no! Stay here! Diving boards are for big kids.” or “Stop splashing your brother!” or “No, we’re not going to the snack bar.” or “I really wish you had told me you needed to use the potty while we were in there with your sister three minutes ago.” This mom has another motive in shlepping her kids (slippery from excessive, unevenly applied sunscreen), the toy bag, the towel bag, the diaper bag, and the snack bag to the pool each day: Nap Time. Ah, yes. There is little more cherished reward for a hard morning’s work at the pool than simultaneous afternoon nappers.

The Mom Who Thinks The Life Guards Are Babysitters
If you’ve ever been to a neighborhood pool, you already know this mom. This is the mom who also brings small children to the pool but, unlike the Mom of Many Small Children, she mistakenly believes that, once on Pool Property, they are no longer of her concern. Her children run on the pool deck, raid other people’s pool bags, take pool toys out of other children’s hands, splash with intention to annoy, and demonstrate otherwise obnoxious behaviors. The Mom Who Thinks The Life Guards Are Babysitters is in a chair, under an umbrella, reading a magazine, completely unaware of the havoc her little monsters are wreaking.

The Mom of Independent Swimmers
The Mom of Independent Swimmers enters the pool carrying a small tote, which holds only a book, a bottle of sunscreen, a water bottle, and a single towel. But she’s a Mom. Where’s the rest of her gear? you wonder. And then you see it: Her children are Carrying Their Own Shit. They drop their things onto a row of lounge chairs and then, she settles in with her book while the kids go off to swim. At break, the kids climb out of the pool, dry off, grab a snack out of their own bags, and (with a gentle reminder from Mom) reapply their sunscreen. This is Neighborhood Pool Nirvana. This is the Pool Mom the other Pool Moms watch, longingly, hoping to someday emulate.  

The Absentee Mom
There will come a time, believe it or not, when your presence at the pool will not be necessary. Your newly-a-teenager will ask for a ride to the pool, where she is to meet her ten closest girlfriends (and some boys, too). You will drop her off, yelling a hurried “Don’t forget your sunscreen!” after her. You will look through the fence as she walks in without you and see the sweaty, harried Moms of Small Children as they slather sunscreen on wiggly little bodies and chase toddlers away from the edge of the pool. You will see the children who are whining about being too hot, too wet, too hungry, or too bored. You will see the look of exhaustion on their mothers’ faces. On witnessing the familiar scene, you will be filled with two equal emotions, two competing thoughts: “I remember those days. [sigh] It went by so fast,” and “Well! Looks like I’m just going to have to go home and watch my DVR’d Daily Show and drink my coffee All By Myself.”

As for me, I have taken my place alongside The Pinball Moms. With one kid playing in the shallow section, one kid practicing his cannonballs and dog-paddling in the 4-foot section, and one kid mustering up the courage to jump off the diving board, we are in constant motion. We are bouncing from one end of the pool to the other, monitoring our children’s safety while making sure we catch every jump and dunk and paddle (“Yes, honey! Of course I saw that! You were so brave!”). We are amazed by how big and independent our little fishies have already become, but damn: That lounge chair and a book look really good right about now.

Lesson Learned:
'Tis the season, Moms! Can't wait to see you at the pool!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mohs Surgery: A Farewell to Skin Cancer

If you're going to get skin cancer, I recommend basal cell. It's the kind of skin cancer that is diagnosed with a casual "and here we have some basal cell skin cancer" from your dermatologist. It's also the kind of skin cancer that can be treated, quite effectively, by an outpatient surgery called Mohs Surgery.

Then, once you schedule your surgery, I recommend having your child's kindergarten orientation scheduled for the very same day. It will help keep your mind on other matters during the surgery, such as I hope he doesn't cry. I hope I don't cry. It's okay if he (or we) cry, rather than the fact that your face is being dissected and placed under a microscope.

Thursday morning, with my parents in charge of the kids for the day, Sam and I went back to Advanced Dermatology for the procedure. We got there early (of course we did), and were back in the office before my 9:30 appointment time. I took this as a very good sign.

I explained to the nurse that, though I understood that Mohs Surgery may take several rounds and many hours to complete, I was really hoping to get home by 2:30 so I could bring my 5-year old to Kindergarten Orientation. She nodded understandingly and said, "I'll let Dr. N know. Now, if you're going to need Plastics to come in and close, we'll have very little control over your schedule. He may not even come in until 1 or 2, but we'll get you in with him as soon as possible."

Plastics. Plastic surgery. Because they were going to be cutting into my forehead.

"Unless, of course," the nurse continued, "Dr. N thinks she can close. She'll always leave noses and lips to plastics, but if she can get a clean line, which is likely on a forehead, she'll do it. She's an excellent closer. Just keep fingers crossed that we don't need to go in there more than once."

I crossed my fingers and exhaled a grateful breath that my *just* basal cell is *just* on my forehead.

She applied a numbing cream, which was to ease the pain of the forthcoming shot of anesthetic.

When Dr. N came in, she talked again about the procedure:

Step 1: Remove the tumor-containing tissue.
Step 2: Thinly slice the tissue and place on slides.
Step 3: Analyze under a microscope to determine clear margins around all edges and layers of tissue.
Step 4a: If margins are clear, close the wound.
Step 4b: If margins contain cancer cells, repeat steps 1-3.

I could be out of there in a couple of hours....or at the end of the day.

She injected the anesthetic into my forehead and left the room. I could feel the numbness spread out from the injection site, down the left side of my face, up the left side of my scalp. "It feels so weird," I said to Sam, "like I have a bubble in my forehead pushing the skin up."

"Oh, really?" Sam responded, noncommittally. "Hmm."

We talked about other things, mostly Max and Kindergarten, until Dr. N returned.

She got right to work. She covered my eyes with a cloth and spoke quick, quiet directives to the nurse. Sam stayed in the room and watched the whole thing. I could feel pulling, some pressure, and some scraping...but no pain. It was uncomfortable, though, like getting my wisdom teeth removed; I could hear enough to make me feel like I could visualize what they were doing. It wasn't pretty.

After only several minutes, Dr. N completed the removal of the first round of tissue.

"Would you like to see it?" the nurse asked.

I looked at Sam. "Do I?"

He came over for a closer look. I'd put him in a tough spot. If he said no, I'd think I looked like some sort of horrible zombie with brains spilling out of my head. "Uh, yeah, sure..."

I reached out my hand for the mirror.

Pro Tip: If a nurse offers you a mirror post-facial surgery, don't take it. Whatever you're imagining doesn't compare to what you'll actually see.

That "bubble" I felt on my forehead? That was real. There was a hugely swollen lump on the left side of my forehead. Huge. Like, an inch high off the surface my forehead and three inches in diameter. Then, in the middle of the huge lump, was the surgical site: It looked exactly like it would have if Dr. N had taken a melon baller to my lumpy forehead. I kid you not. In fact....I never did look at her tool tray...maybe she did.

I almost threw up.

Instead, I found some words: "Holy...Oh my...That? I can't...That's on my forehead? I can't...Oh my god that's...I can't believe that's MY FACE?!" They weren't very eloquent. Finally, I managed, "I just hope there's no more basal cell in that face."

She bandaged me up, sent me to the waiting room and sent my cancery forehead to the lab.

I sat there, trying to read, but watching the clock tick closer towards Kindergarten Orientation.

Finally, the nurse called me back.

With a silent smile and thumbs up, she greeted me at the doorway.

"You're clear!" she announced.

"Dr. N's amazing," I said in relief.

I opted to let Dr. N close, rather than wait for Plastics. Plastics may have lowered my chances at a scar with a skin graft, but I wasn't interested in that. And I'm not worried about a scar.

Getting the stitches wasn't terribly uncomfortable: I was able to have a conversation with my favorite Doctor/Nurse duo while they pulled that crater on my face into a straight line.

And when I looked into a mirror this time, I wasn't so shocked. A two-inch long Frankenstein stitch-job across my forehead is no match for what I saw the first time. Besides, in pulling my skin together to close the gap, I lost some wrinkles in the left side of my forehead! For Free!

The recovery has been easy, too. Aside from needing Tylenol post-surgery, my head has felt fine. As for the scar, I'm working on my Story: Injury sustained when rescuing a baby from a burning building? Bar brawl? Nah, I'll stick to the original...my SPF PSA for life.

Lesson Learned:
The day after my surgery, I read about a study out of Sydney that found a lower rate of non-melanoma recurrence in patients who had previously had non-melanoma cancers (like me) when they had taken Vitamin B3 supplements after their initial diagnosis.

The timing of that finding was quite helpful. Thank you, Australian Cancer Researchers!

Oh, and as for Kindergarten Orientation....there were tears. From both of us... But that's okay.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

DIY driveway racetrack

Now that I'm on my third 3-year old, I find myself pulling some old "Entertain the Cranky Kiddo" out of my back pocket that, once upon a time, were rare flashes of genius in my overtired, over-caffeinated brain. An old favorite that finds it's way back to the front of my mind each spring is the Driveway Racetrack. All you need is a couple of sticks of chalk, a wide open space of concrete or blacktop, and a kid who needs to run out some energy.

We add some breaks in our track. 

Here you have to stop and smell the flowers.
("They jus' smell like nuffing, though, Mommy.")

Here are our Tippy Toe Bridges.
You have to tip-toe across so as not to wake the sleeping troll underneath.

Don't get wet as you jump on rocks across the pond!

This took less than ten minutes to create (Molly directed while I chalked. The boys will likely add their own obstacles when they get home). She was non-stop for the next twenty minutes running the track, walking the track, hopping the track, and holding my hand as we followed the track together. Once, she was a dinosaur, chasing me along the track and later, she was my baby dinosaur and I had to teach her the way.

Lesson Learned:
Get outside. Get moving. Get creative. This has got it all.