Work with me, please.

Archive for April, 2011

Bug Birthdays and Bites

Jay looked on as Mae touched a hissing cockroach at the National Children's Museum Launch Zone.

Mae asked during dinner last night, “Do bugs have birthdays?”

I should have said, “No.”  But, I overthought it.

Me (to myself):  Since bugs are born, they could have birthdays.

Me (tentatively, to Mae):  “Well, bugs don’t celebrate birthdays.”

Mae:  So, they do have birthdays?

Jay:  No!  Bugs don’t have birthdays!

I changed the subject.

On another bug note, one sure sign that the season is changing is that Mae is starting to get sores again.  She’s been having hypersensitive reactions to insect bites since about age three.  Which insects, we don’t know.  They especially like her face and arms.  She’ll go to bed with a small bump, sometimes barely noticeable, and wake up with a dark brown spot that scabs over, even if she doesn’t touch the bump.  According to one “guru” pediatric dermatologist, the reaction may appear in a location on her body different from where the nameless bug bit her and the reaction may appear at a later time.   I still have trouble believing that.  He was the third dermatologist we had seen.  I stood in his office armed with pictures, notes, and questions.  It had taken months to get the appointment, and I was prepared to hear and discuss a diagnosis and prevention plan.  The “expert” spent about five minutes in the examining room and then left me and Mae with two medical students who I think I may have frightened when I (heh-hem) politely questioned the doctor.  One of the students sheepishly repeated the no-see-um non-sense, and advised that we use insect repellent daily and antibiotic creams to prevent infection.  He offered sympathetically that Mae would likely grow out of the hypersensitivity over time.

The second dermatologist had tested hair and skin samples.  The tests were negative.

The first dermatologist had pointed to insects, too, and I didn’t believe her either.  She believed that Mae was scratching insect bites and causing the sores.  By the time of that visit, I’d started checking Mae’s body after bath and again in the morning.  Mae would sometimes be unaware of the brown spots until I pointed them out to her.  She wasn’t complaining of itching or pain.  Some of the spots were as big as dimes and they would begin with a red ring around them.  By the end of the day, the brown spot would have sunken in a little and the skin would begin to break.  I argued with Ms. Dr. that “insect bite” didn’t make sense if you can’t see the bite and there is no itching.  Still, for lack of any other answers, Hubby and I looked and treated for insects, to no avail.  I tried different detergents, new bedding, disinfectants, blah blah.  There were sores at home and while states away, and while at two different childcare locations; it didn’t make a difference.

It was actually an allergist who convinced me that it was a hypersensitivity problem.  Ultimately, his science may not have been any different from that of the dermatologists, but he was different.   He and I sat down across from each other at a table, he with a pen and pad and I with my pictures and log.  He asked questions and took notes.  He looked at my pictures.  He told me about his graduate work on insect bites, and he showed a genuine interest in Mae.  He was intrigued by the unusually dark pigmentation of the lesions, and gave recommendations for evening her skin tone and threw in some advice on treating dry skin.

I try to use insect repellent consistently.  I try to put Benadryl cream or spray on any bump as soon as I see it on her, and I think that has stopped some reactions.  The sores have become fewer in number and smaller.  I’m hopeful that one day she will completely outgrow the problem.

This is one thing I hate about this time of year.  I hate not being about to identify the bugs and kill them, or at least avoid them.  I hate having to put Band-aids on Mae’s face.  I hate feeling helpless about anything, especially when it comes to my kids.  I worry about the long-term impact on her skin tone and complexion.  Puberty will present its own complexion challenges, and I would be happy for her to at least go into it with a clear and even complexion.  I know that inner beauty is more important blah blah, and I’m not a vain person.  A fair start on puberty is not too much to ask.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep the insect repellent and Benadryl close at hand and continue to invest in family size jars of cocoa butter.

Melt-down Bookends


Phew!  I half-expected a phone call or email from the school today, the first day after Spring Break.  I wasn’t sure how the day would go for Mae because “first days” are often a challenge for her — re-adjusting to the routine and controlling the excitement of seeing friends for the first time in a long time and wanting to share stories.

And, last night was a poor start to the school week.  Mae and Jay were still working on a bird book project when bath time rolled around, and she raised a fuss about stopping.  It was a quick-onset, mid-sized meltdown.  She was sleepy — it was clear from her eyes, though she denied it faithfully.  You would have thought I’d accused her of being a thief, the way she responded to being called “sleepy.”  She declared that she wouldn’t go upstairs, and then declared that she wouldn’t get in the tub.  She said that she would not wash nor be washed.  The poor girl was so exhausted, though, that, while she cried and protested, she did allow me to lead her upstairs, and she didn’t try to stop me from washing her.  After bath, she refused to take her clothes to the hamper in her room, and then changed her mind, apparently, so that she would have an opportunity to throw something.   She told me that she didn’t want me anymore, said no one wants her anymore.  Through her tears, she accused her dad of not helping her with the bird book and never helping her with anything.  And that reminded her that Jay had done something mean to her earlier in the day.  And that reminded her that she had hurt her foot or her hand at some point during the day.  So, then, the whole day was a “bad day.”

Mae let me off easy.  If she hadn’t been so exhausted, she would have dug in more.  Her defiance and delay in getting to bed cost her reading time, which gave her even more reason to hate me.

Well, as it turns out, Mae earned the Blue Ribbon today, her teacher’s reward for “staying on green” (good behavior) all day.

Actually, her melt-down last night was probably trumped by Jay’s this morning.  I had to put his pillow pet and Spiderman truck in the closet in order to get him dressed and ready for school.  Usually, the threat of taking even one of his favorite items is enough to get him to cooperate.  Oh, but this morning, he cried and cried that he was too sleepy and too tired to get up.  I offered to dress him while he lay on the bed, and he refused.  Really?  If I could have someone dress me while I lie down a little longer, I would fall to the bed like a wet noodle.  I still have to figure out the best way to use one hand to keep a pants leg on while putting the other leg in the pants, while the legs are in a bicycling motion.  Maybe eHow has a video on that . . . .

In the Midst of Beautiful Things

What a full and wonderful weekend.  Hubby had to put in some hours at work on Saturday, and the kids and I stayed in, except for stepping out in between the rain showers to admire the best tree in our backyard.  

I cleaned a little on Saturday, not as much as I should have.  My excuse is that it was Hair Day.  Unbraiding, washing, cornrowing, and beading Mae’s hair takes several hours, including breaks.  Despite the lack of housecleaning, it was a successful day because I finally found a more comfortable way to wash her hair.  Months ago, she outgrew lying on her back on the kitchen counter.  We tried having her lean into the kitchen sink and bathtub, and both methods stress her back and make her nervous about getting shampoo in her eyes.  Yesterday, I put a stool next to the bathtub and had her sit on it and lean back over a pillow and thick blanket that were covered with a waterproof pad.  It hasn’t so good on my knees, but it worked and she was happy with it.  Next time, I’ll add a pillow for my knees.  I could take her to a salon, which I do sometimes as a time-saver.  However, she is cooperative during the process and we save money by doing it at home.


By Sunday morning, the kids were ready to get out of the house.  So, out we went for most of the day:  to the National Arboretum and the home of one of my girlfriends and her family.  After dinner, the four of us worked in the front yard pulling weeds, spreading mulch, and dethatching the lawn before the kids and Hubby went off to visit with the next door neighbors.  Thanks to Hubby foregoing another trip to the office and skipping the gym, we spent most of the Sunday together (and I still managed to squeeze in my own trip to the gym and Wal-mart, and we made it by one of my great-aunt’s to take her a gift I’d picked up in SC).  Hubby is one awesome dude, a true gift.

And, finally, here are some of nature’s gifts that we enjoyed at the Arboretum:

Back North

Sigh.  It was back to the grind today.  I’m not complaining because work is good, and it’s good to be working.

It’s just that I so enjoyed the days off with the kids.  We had a good time in SC; Mae didn’t want to leave.  As we were getting close to home, she said the only bad part of the trip was the bugs.  She’d gotten several mosquito bites, and the flies were partial to her too.  I thought it was funny that the bug bites stood out more prominently in her mind than the 16-hour ride there, and the long trip back, which went well until we were about 30 minutes from home.  It took two and a half hours to go approximately four miles on the Capital Beltway due to a truck accident involving an oil spill.  My poor babies once again showed their resilience, and I’m proud of them for entertaining themselves and each other with minimal fussing.

Jay is a homebody.  He had fun; however, I know that if given a choice, he would have spent a few hours visiting and then headed home.  I hope that he too forgets the long rides before it’s time to take him and Mae back to my mom’s in early June.  If necessary, I’ll remind him that Nonny buys “candy cereal” (the name Mae gave after I told her that some cereals have more sugar than some candy has), and Nonny lets them go to bed with the TV on.  And, oh yeah, how can I forget . . . Nonny has promised them pet ducks to care for this summer.

So, that should do it for getting them back in the truck:  candy cereal, TV in bed, and ducks for two weeks.  For my part, I’ll take some more of that thick-cut bacon I used as a spoon for my grits.

The 16-Hour Road Trip: Part II


More lessons learned during our trip from MD to SC:

I thought the age at which a boy decides he should not be in a women’s bathroom would come much later than three.  I thought it would become awkward around age seven or eight.  I was wrong.

At our first bathroom stop, Jay looked up at the stick figure dressed in a triangle and asked, “Is this the girls’ bathroom?”  I knew that he knew it was the girls’ bathroom because we’d had this conversation before.  As a matter of fact, as we backed out of the driveway that morning, I told him and Mae that, without Dad on the trip, I would need 100% cooperation, including taking our potty breaks during the same stop and in the same bathroom.

The fact that he asked the question let me know that he was about to buck the program, and there was no point in repeating or reminding him of what I had said earlier.  A new angle came to my head.  I pushed open the door and said, “This is the bathroom for women and their children.”  He gave me a sideways look as I walked through the door and held it open for him and Mae.  I’ve noticed that if I kneel and give eye-to-eye contact, it opens the door for an extended conversation, which, in this type of situation, becomes a debate.  On the other hand, if I talk and walk, they tend to follow, even if reluctantly.  The eye-to-eye has its place, and the entrance to the women’s bathroom is not it.

I now know that there is a more difficult road trip question than “Are we there yet?”  That is actually an easy question because the answer is simple:  “yes” or “no.”  If you want to get fancy, you can add information about how many hours or miles or states are left.  However, if the question is “Where are we?”, you will have a problem with my kids.  They do not like “I don’t know” as an answer to any question.  And, I admit that answering “North Carolina” repeatedly for six hours is suspect.  We were not going anywhere, and I had trouble disguising that fact.  The scenery wasn’t changing fast enough.  Tall pine trees look like other tall pine trees.  We had a breakthrough when we finally creeped within view of another South of the Border sign.  Mae read with a scream, “‘Keep asking kids.  They’ll stop!’  South of the Border 39 miles!  The last sign said 41 miles!”  Never mind that it was the longest two miles ever.  Progress is progress.

I could complain about many aspects of our drive down.  If I were to complain, it would be about the hundreds of NY, NJ, and PA drivers who clogged up the highway instead of enjoying the sites in their own states or at least supporting the DE economy by enjoying the beautiful beaches there.  For sure, I cannot complain about my kids.   They were awesome.  My admiration for them has skyrocketed.  They showed such patience and understanding during those 16 hours, even forgiving me for forgetting the car charger for the DVD player.  When I told them that we would miss my aunt’s 70th birthday celebration, they were disappointed and quickly appeased when I told them that I would call in a request for someone to save them some birthday cake.  Mae and Jay recovered swiftly from every setback.  At times, they were uncomfortable, tired, bored, hungry, and bladder-pressed.  Jay almost lost it at about 9:54 pm, which, considering that we set out at 7:56 am, is not bad at all.  Sleepiness was taking him over, and he gave in to it, which cut short the meltdown he was about to have.  And, Mae was a champ throughout.  She co-piloted by opening her brother’s snacks and drinks and operating the DVD player for the two and a half hours that it ran off its internal battery.  She had a great attitude and listened so well.

Now, it is on to fun and games at Nonny’s house.

The 16-Hour Road Trip: Part I


Sometimes a decision is either brave or foolish, and you can’t know which until after the thing is done.  I debated with myself for a few weeks — me and the kids, by car from MD to SC, sans Hubby?  I did it once before, last July, and it was fine.  We had fun.  Nobody got hurt.  “Be brave, try it again,” I told myself.  I had some inexplicable, slight misgivings.  Maybe I got lucky last year, maybe I shouldn’t push my luck.  Relax, have fun at home for Spring Break.  “Don’t be foolish,” I told myself.  But, brave is good.  I like brave.  And, I went with that.

I could not have known that an 8-hour trip would become a 16-hour odyssey.  And, here, more specifically is what else I learned yesterday.

In addition to checking the weather forecast for your destination, check the weather for the route there.  Severe thunderstorms in my SC hometown?  Ok, been there, done that.  Tornados in NC?  At one point, we and all other travelers in sight pulled off to the side of I-95.  The trees were leaning over the highway, clouds were sending the rain down through firehoses, hail was pelting the car from every direction, and leaves and debris were swirling around us like confetti.  Jay started to cry and clutch his blanket.  Mae was scared and quiet, which says a lot.

She’s funny when she’s being silly. She’s hilarious when she’s serious (though you had better not laugh out loud).  After we were back on the highway and she’d had a little time to process the storm, she pronounced — and, this is a direct quote.  I wrote it down as soon as she said it because it’s easy to write and drive when you’re moving at 3 miles per hour — “Let me tell you something.  This nasty weather cannot go on.”

She was decidedly annoyed.  She stayed quiet for a little while.  When she spoke again, her tone had changed.  She said, like a leader rallying her troops, “The best thing to do is pray.  We’re going to pray now, and again when we get to Nonny’s house.  And, Mommy you’re going to lead.  Starting . . . now.  BUT, keep your eyes open!”  Now, we are not Christians, and we do not have a practice of prayer at home.  At school, however, she does pray with her teachers and classmates.  I wanted to see how she would pray.  So, I said, “I have to focus on driving, so you lead the prayer.” She started, “Dear God, . . . ” and Jay started to mock her.  Bad idea.  “This is serious!  STOP talking!”  He wouldn’t settle down for her, so I told him to and he listened.  She said her prayer, asking God to stop the tornado.  Amen.

Mae made her peace with the storm and became contemplative.  She and Jay focused on looking for rainbows and identifying cloud shapes.  She saw a squirrel with a smile.  He saw a moosehead with an elephant trunk.  They didn’t find a rainbow, but Mae said she saw air slicing through clouds.  It’s that image of sun rays reaching down through openings in the sky.  According to Mae, we were looking at “nature’s art show.”  She said, “That’s what nature does.  Always making art.”

And, here’s another major lesson learned yesterday.  The only thing more worrisome than thinking your child will have a potty emergency in the car is thinking you’ll have your own potty emergency in the car.  Wearing a dress, riding high in an SUV, and having a stack of napkins in the glove compartment and an empty McDonald’s cup are darn good things when you are stuck in a mess of traffic.

That is all for Part I.

Homework Fail

Hubby and I had a homework assignment from Mae’s therapist, Dr. Laura, this past week.  If Mae started to get upset, we were supposed to try to get her to focus on the facts, what happened to upset her, rather than how she felt about what happened.  This should, over time, get her to pause and take a more rational, less emotional, approach to understanding and resolving issues.

During the week, I had only one opportunity to practice this, and it happened to be a day when she had already had a few upsetting experiences at school.  Her teacher had put her on yellow (down from green for good behavior) for disobeying a rule, she’d gotten into some kind of trouble in P.E., and a she’d had a disagreement with a friend.  I asked the questions that Dr. Laura told me to:  What happened?  What happened next?  What did you say?  What did he say?  I think I made it worse because my questions were interrupting the way that she wanted to tell me what happened.  What I thought was going to be a conversation about Hubby telling her to correct some homework problems turned into an eruption of emotions about the whole day.  So, I abandoned the homework and let her get it out her way.

Mae had one green and four yellow days last week, more yellow than usual in a long time I think.  I guess I have to accept that there are going to be times like this; the road ahead will not be straight and downhill.  In one instance, Mae told a classmate that she would punch him in the face, which she says she meant as a joke.  She has been awfully cocky since her birthday, including saying things like “I’m seven, I can do anything I want” and “I’m seven, you don’t have to tell me what to do.”

A couple of times during the week, I asked how her day had been and she shared with me that she’d been put on yellow, and when I asked her to tell me more, she tried to get out of the conversation (my take on it) by saying, “I’ll just talk to the doctor about it.”  Geesh.  She’s only seen Dr. Laura once, and already she’s acting like a veteran therapy-goer, like a Hollywood celebrity for whom therapy is as normal as hair appointments.  Oh wait, reality check . . . maybe it is her normal given occupational therapy and playgroup and her one-time visit with the neuropsychologist and a few visits with a pediatric psychologist.  Well, the good part is that she has always been cooperative and open to learning from the specialists.  I think she does genuinely want to be a better friend and have more self-control.

We’re going to have to somehow undo this business about what it means to be seven.  I guess that goes on the homework list too.

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