Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Redheads Unite!

Was it a redheaded crush by a cougar?

That was my first thought when my carrot-topped older son got out of the community center's outdoor pool way too early and started hanging around me. "What are you doing here?" I asked him. "We just got here."

Christopher answered that a girl was following him. "Don't tell Charlie [because his younger brother would tease him], but it's creepy," he said. Say WHAT? A girl following him? That hadn't happened since preschool -- actually, two preschools ago when we lived in another town, the town where this pool is located, as a matter of fact. A crush? Did a girl at this pool have a crush on my incoming third-grader? OMG. Was it starting already?

I asked Chris which girl was following him. He pointed to a girl standing on the deck near the deep end in a pink and white bikini. She had long, thick, curly red hair and looked like . . . a TEENAGER! She was with a couple of other girls doing age-appropriate things like falling into the deep end backwards and flipping their hair upside down then right side up.

The situation seemed strange, but I needed Chris to go back in the water because I had work to do on my iPad. I had driven thirty-seven minutes one way to get here. I wasn't about to let whatever this was ruin our visit. So I told Chris I would sit right next to the shallow end and watch.

The Jaws advertising slogan: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water" ran through my head, and promptly I dismissed it.

"Go ahead, Christopher. It will be fine," I said, sending him toward the pool.

Sure enough, within a few minutes the girls spotted him across the pool and swam mostly underwater to him. This time the other, also bikini-clad, tallest girl took the lead. Chris noticed, I could tell watching from a distance, and tried to get away. As he swam toward the pool ladder, the second girl trailed behind by only a couple of feet. She even reached out her hand to TOUCH him as he ascended the ladder!

It WAS creepy.

What was going on? Was this some kind of dare? My son is big for his age. He could pass for eleven. However, these girls were surely in middle school -- around thirteen or fourteen was my guess. Chris hastily walked toward me then stepped behind a concrete post. I whipped my head around toward the pool in time to catch the girls pointing at the post and laughing! They'd seen him try to hide.

I needed to put an end to this. So I approached the girls in the pool and told them to please leave my son alone. Calling them on their behavior, I said they followed him across the pool, and when he got out they pointed at him, laughing. "He's just a young boy," I said, a tinge of anger in my voice, "much younger than you." They looked up at me sheepishly and said they were sorry.

I walked back to a picnic table under the large pavilion and sat down on the bench. Christopher, I noticed, had moved to a new hiding place behind a tree on the sloping lawn. I went over to him and told him he could go back into the water because I'd spoken to the girls. He said okay but didn't budge. I returned to my seat. Next I knew a woman relaxing in a lawn chair close to the tree started talking to my son. From my vantage point roughly twenty-five yards away, it looked like Christopher was tearfully telling her the story of the girls bothering him. So I walked back up the sloping lawn and, to my amazement, discovered that this woman was none other than the mother of the two redheads and responsible that day for the third girl, a friend, as well! What were the chances of that in a busy outdoor pool area?!

I was further surprised to have a very good conversation with this woman. The girls were just goofing around, she explained. I countered with the fact that my son is very sensitive and felt they were being mean to him. She rejected the notion that the "good girls" had engaged in any intentionally hurtful behavior. They were mindful of bullying as it was discussed often at school, she added. My son didn't know they were kidding around, I stated. How could he know? He is only eight and a half. She suggested that Christopher meet the girls. He was reluctant, but after a moment's hesitation I persuaded him to go with us. The woman called to the girls in the water, and we did introductions. She explained that Christopher didn't understand they were joking around. As I watched them, I could tell they seemed to get it that it was not okay for three older, larger girls to target one younger, smaller boy whom they had never met. While swimming behind Christopher, I learned, they had put their hands up behind their backs to mimic shark fins. I guess they wanted to try to scare him a little. In any event, they apologized a second time.

I thought it was over . . . happily resolved, which was shocking to me because the last two times I have had to deal with a mother in regard to her child's behavior the conversation has not gone well at all, and that is just about the Understatement of the Year! Mothers are fiercely protective of their children, so when they sense anyone questioning Junior or Susie they can lash out -- justifiably or not. Hence, I almost couldn't believe that this mother was actually RECEPTIVE to my take on the issue. We both agreed there had been a power imbalance that made the pool play unequal. It needed to stop, and Christopher needed to be reassured that the girls meant no ill will toward him.

But then something even more wonderful happened. The woman's oldest daughter, the one my son first pointed out to me, asked Christopher if he would like to play volleyball with them. Still feeling a bit hurt (and perhaps shy, too), he declined. So I encouraged him until he came around. Even without a net, he had a great time batting around a bright yellow volleyball with the girls. I watched him laughing and smiling from the pool deck.

I was so happy.

Next I noticed that a boy had joined them. I couldn't see his face from where I was standing, but immediately I thought of Joshua, Christopher's best friend from preschool five years ago when we lived in this town. His family belongs to this community center, and his mother even works on its staff. Christopher and Joshua were polar opposites: my son, all sensitive and cerebral, versus Joshua, tough and physical -- a lot like Charlie, come to think of it. One of my last memories before we moved to our present town was of Joshua standing on a table at Panera Bread. During the same meal, he stuck a toy school bus in Christopher's eye. The boys were three years old then.

Joshua was at the pool this day. I saw him walk in with his mother and sister. As he still lives in this town, he has other friends now, of course. He has seen Christopher a few times since we started going to this pool recently. The boys say hello, and they even played ping pong once. But they are by no means hanging out together. So my guess that the boy playing pool volleyball was Joshua was as much wishful thinking as anything else because I would like Christopher to reconnect with his former best friend. Despite the distance, I anticipate spending a fair amount of time at this community center. I enjoy swimming laps in the outdoor pool. I can get work done on my iPad while sitting inside the pavilion. And post-Labor Day, I will move my activities indoors to the center's other impressive pool and athletic facilities.

When it was time to leave that afternoon, I checked in with Christopher. "How did the volleyball with the girls go?"

"Good," he responded in typical, unemotional eight-year-old-male fashion.

"Who was that boy playing with you?" I asked.

"It was Joshua."

Just as it should be.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Manic Monday

It's a running joke among mothers that things go wrong on special and/or important days. When a child has a birthday, the child falls sick. He breaks his arm the day before the first football practice. She has an accident in her pants en route to a playdate an hour away.

Murphy's Law, many people would call it. But for mothers -- already overworked and harried -- it is Murphy's Law Magnified.

Every mother has stories to tell, and I am certainly no exception. Example #1: My older son, Christopher, had a fever on his first Halloween (technically, his second since he was born the day before the holiday the year before). Not to be dissuaded from my first opportunity to take my first baby trick or treating, I slipped him into his adorable fleece (read: hot) Tigger costume. Example #2: My son vomited in the car on the way to day care the last day I had been given to clean out my old Cambridge apartment before returning it to the landlord. Christopher was upset, not sick. In any event, I needed to hide "the crime" because his teachers would turn him away if they found out. So I stopped at a children's clothing store to buy him a new outfit and, to mask his rancid breath, a lollipop. The teachers suspected nothing was amiss on account of our lateness as a fierce snowstorm was in progress at the time. Example #3: Charlie, my second son, tripped on a concrete step right after we arrived for his brother's Little League game. He screamed bloody murder for a full forty minutes and uncharacteristically begged me to take him to the hospital. I did because I feared my six year old might have cracked a rib just like I had seventeen years earlier. One X-ray later: no broken bones, thankfully.

These are just a few experiences that come readily to mind when I think about Murphy's Law Magnified. I have plenty more locked away in my brain vault.

A new one just got added this past Monday. After waiting (mostly patiently) for four and a half months, Charlie was finally getting his sixth-year birthday party. (Yep, his birthday was in March.) He changed his mind a few times about where he wanted to hold it but eventually settled on a candlepin bowling alley in the city next door. We have been to several pizza parties there in the past couple of years since Christopher was in kindergarten. Kids love the venue, and the party is a no-brainer for parents: pay one price per guest and provide nothing or pay less per guest and provide cake and goodie bags/takeaway presents. Other food can be brought in to supplement the pizza, but that is up to the hostess.

I chose the lower-priced option, dubbed "The Spare." Either way -- easy, easy, easy! Just what many parents (non-Martha Stewart types like myself, especially) want.

This kind of a children's birthday party, though not particularly creative, gives Mom the chance to relax and enjoy the social aspects of the gathering. And when you are a mother, especially a full-time single mother like me, chances are good that you crave positive social interactions with other parents because solitary caregiving can feeling isolating at times. So the day was shaping up to be a fun one for my entire three-person family.

However (isn't there always a however?) -- hello, Murphy's Law! -- something always seems to be looming that could potentially derail said enjoyable day. So, yes, something was very much looming. Four days earlier, the boys attended yet another pizza party at their day camp. (If you don't already know, kids and parents eat a tremendous amount of pizza.) The next day Charlie's right eye was swollen. What had happened? As there had been no napkins or paper towels with which to wipe off his hands, he had stuck his pizza-greasy finger in his eye to remove a piece of dirt. I gave Charlie an ice pack. By Saturday, the following day, his eyelid was reddish purple, as if someone had punched him. On Sunday, I noticed the swelling had gone down, but the discoloration had not. That afternoon we went to a pool party for my single mother's support group. A woman at the party asked about Charlie's eye.

Of course, I considered taking Charlie to the doctor, but I decided to wait to see if it improved on its own. My son's temperature had not changed, and Charlie reported no irritation to the eye. Plus, I was annoyed to be dealing with yet another Charlie Issue so soon after the rib incident, which took place in the late spring and cost me $50. Not to mention one more awaited us just days away: a pulpotomy, a baby-tooth root canal, that would set me back another $150 because we don't have dental insurance.

It's always something with Charlie. He's just that kind of boy.

Seeing as the eye problem had just been commented on -- the first time from anyone outside of my family -- AND the hostess of the party was a doctor (a pediatrician, in fact), I decided to get some free medical advice. That could potentially save me from having to make the seventy-minute round trip drive from my home to our pediatrician's office or the thirty-minute round trip drive to the emergency room. Her verdict: possibly cellulitis, a skin condition. She recommended going to our pediatrician in the morning if the eye was still red.

"In the morning." That was the day of Charlie's party! Nevertheless, what needs to be done must be done. So bright and early we headed out and got an official diagnosis of cellulitis. The prescription for Cephalexin was to be faxed to a pharmacy, but when we got there some forty minutes later we were told the prescription had not been filled. I was becoming agitated because the party time was rapidly approaching. We had to choose between waiting fifteen minutes for the Rx to be ready or coming back to pick it up. I elected the latter, having spilled a coffee drink all over my shirt while driving, necessitating a sudden change of clothing. Back at home I discovered that several people had been trying to reach me about the party. One mother had lost the invitation and needed directions. A second asked if her son could still come since she had earlier been unsure about their schedule. And a third canceled because her son was being taken care of by her sister that day.

We finally returned to the pharmacy and picked up the prescription. The pharmacist raced through the instructions in a perfunctory manner. I thanked him, though I didn't really understand the dosage. I was in a hurry, but it was printed on the bottle and I vaguely remembered what the pediatrician had told me. I said I would give Charlie the first dose after the party. "No, no, no," said the pharmacist, suggesting I give it to him right there in the pharmacy. He fetched a measuring cup, poured in the pink Pepto Bismol-like liquid, handed me the cup, and walked away. Charlie drank the substance. I poured the same amount into the cup, and he drank that down, too. Suddenly, the bored pharmacist reappeared with a concerned look on his face. "You didn't just give him another 10 mls., did you?"

"Yes, I did," I said. "It's two doses two times a day."

The pharmacist explained that he had poured the two doses together into the measuring cup. OH, SHIT! I thought as the realization that Charlie had taken twice the dosage amount sunk in. "WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? OH, MY GOD! I AM SO ANGRY RIGHT NOW!" I said to the pharmacist, who seemed flustered. The overdosing occurred because he failed to properly monitor Charlie's intake. He walked away while Charlie was drinking the liquid; he did not stay to make sure I capped the bottle afterward, which would have proven that I understood the instructions. Obviously, I had not because I certainly would not have given my slender son too much medicine! I was pissed and doubly so because it was Charlie's birthday-party day. Speaking of which, the party would be starting shortly, and we still hadn't picked up the veggie and fruit platters, candles, cake cutter, and Batman cake!


The pharmacist said he really didn't think the overdose would harm Charlie. Um, "really didn't think?" You mean, maybe it would? Charlie had taken TWICE the dosage! "Really didn't think" didn't give me a lot of peace of mind! Maybe I'm just naive when it comes to medicinal matters -- this is a very real possibility, considering I grew up a Christian Scientist, for Pete's sake -- but double the Rx seems to me to be something legitimate to worry about! The pharmacist asked Charlie's weight. I told him fifty-two pounds (or was it forty-eight? I wondered to myself). He read from a paper: "If eighty-eight pounds. . . ."

"He's not eight-eight pounds!" I interrupted. "He's FIFTY-TWO pounds!" (Or forty-eight.)

"Would you like me to call the Poison Control Center?" Duh. Other customers had appeared by then, causing me to wonder how it would feel to listen to our frenzied conversation right before placing their own orders. As the pharmacist and his assistants began tending to these customers who arrived AFTER us, it took a while to get through to the hotline. Apparently, accidentally overdosing your six-year-old child under the negligent eye of a pharmacist was not reason enough to make us the top priority at that moment!

Needless to say, I was growing increasingly frustrated and furious on this Manic Monday. Finally, when I was able to speak to a woman on the hotline, she echoed the words of the pharmacist: the administered dosage wouldn't cause Charlie any harm. Phew! But he might experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration, she added. Wonderful. While I was grateful he wasn't in any danger, I was going to have to watch him like a hawk at his own party in case he upchucked into the gutter or pooped into his pants. As I repeated the side effects back into the phone, someone handed me a bottle of cold water.

I hung up and handed the pharmacist the antibiotic to refrigerate. So much time had now passed that I couldn't stop at home. We needed to make a beeline for Market Basket. Amazingly, we found all the items on my list, purchased them, and were ready to go by the time guests arrived. I diligently fed Charlie water for the duration of the party. He had a great time (as did everyone else, from what I could tell) and experienced no ill effects whatsoever from the double dosage. We returned to the pharmacy after the party ended to pick up the Cephalexin. The pharmacist acted unnaturally nice, as though apologetic for what had happened (or nervous to hear my updated report on Charlie). Nevertheless, the ordeal was over. Charlie was safe and not inconvenienced by any discomfort.

Now it was time to relax.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Great Gabby

Pixie face, sweet sixteen,
fuchsia leotard, sparkles and sheen,
lithe physique, milk chocolate skin,
and the widest, toothiest grin.

Olga Korbut-like joy: a twirl,
a magnificent and elegant whirl
then a powerful tumble,
yet she remains ever so humble.

She lived with a white family
and was homeschooled, you see,
while training with Coach Chow
in West Des Moines, Iowa, and how!

Sent away by her mother,
older sisters, and one brother
living in Virginia Beach,
she brought a goal within reach

to become an Olympian --
a history-making gymnastics champion.
Her dad left home when she was nine,
causing family finances to no longer be fine.

Thus, sacrifices became key.
Still, her mother needed to file for bankruptcy.
But the world now knows the happy
girl, Gabrielle Douglas, as simply "Gabby" --

a member of the winning women's team
and the gold medalist in the all-around: beam,
vault, bars, and floor ex combined. Criticized hair?
That just lays the media's racism bare.

Like our president,
she has set a thrilling precedent
as an African-American hero --
a young yet accomplished leader to show

that anything a person dreams can be done
with much hard work, perseverance, and fun.
She will be America's role model for many a girl.
Here's to you, Great Gabby, "The Flying Squirrel!"