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Archive | Children

a decade of caleb

This face of joy is Caleb, at one, at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.  He’d learned to walk at nine months, which meant that despite having a brain about the size of a walnut and a diaper the size of a basketball, he would climb up stairs, stagger along the curb, or waddle straight into the surf, utterly without fear.

This August, we spent our tenth summer on LBI and it’s Caleb’s favorite beach (which, given that he’s now spent time on beaches in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, is quite a compliment).  Our first summer on LBI, I was hugely, gigantically pregnant and wearing a maternity bathing suit that was so hideous it can be only excused by pregnantbrain. Why else would a woman in her last weeks of pregnancy purchase and wear a shiny teal maternity tankini? On the upside, I suppose I was responsible for any number of teen-age girls not getting pregnant  that summer. They took one look at my spherical teal body and told their boyfriends to back the hell off

But Caleb. My sweet, fearless Caleb, who still plunges into the ocean with the grace and abandon of a seal, he’s ten. He’s learning Arabic and computer coding and the trumpet; he wants to be an author, or maybe a spy, or maybe a mad scientist, perhaps a basketball player.  I think he might be headed for the stage, because the boy has never met a hat he doesn’t like:

calebinnurseryschoolnursery school graduation

calebindiaIndia – tiger safari (no tigers, just a hat)

calebsingaporeUniversal Studios Singapore: minion loot

This boy who loves hats and computers, who doesn’t read books so much as devour them, and who was as happy with his book about military history as he was about an envelope containing 300 dirhams (about 80 bucks, and okay, he was a bit more excited by the cash), doesn’t yet realize the strength of his own gifts.  He measures himself against his older brother, not willing to concede the difference that almost four years makes.  I think that might be why Caleb learned to walk so young: he wanted to keep up.  Now, however, with the dawning of pre-adolescent self-consciousness, he sometimes doesn’t try to keep up because he’s sure that he’ll never catch his brother.  It’s a funny trick of growing up, isn’t it, the way the confidence of childhood evanesces just when we need it most?

Caleb is our current-events child; he reads the newspaper and tells us what’s happening in Gaza, in Syria, in Ferguson–and then asks the hard questions that we should all be asking and attempting to answer: how do these things happen, why do these things happen, why do people care about the color of other people’s skin or the way they worship?

We moved to Abu Dhabi on the eve of Caleb’s 7th birthday and the traveling we’ve done since we’ve been here means that he’s been to more countries by ten than I had by thirty-five.  His passport looks weather-beaten, as if he were a career foreign services officer–and who knows, perhaps that’s where he’s headed.  I can’t even begin to predict what he’s going to be when he grows up–perhaps the stage, or maybe he’ll go concoct strange potions in some jungle laboratory. Who knows.

All I know is that our lives for the past decade have been richer and more joyous for Caleb’s presence.  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the journey.



Continue Reading · on August 24, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, birth, Children, family, Kids, Parenting, Travel

how you know you’re raising a twenty-first century kid

Last night as Caleb was getting ready for bed, he told me he wished he’d played on our neighbors’ trampoline after school.

I pointed out that he’d basically come home from school and rushed to his Minecraft game.  Never one to miss a chance to twist the knife, I said “there are lots of things you used to like to do  – build legos, write stories, draw, ride your bike – but for the last few weeks, all you’ve wanted to do is play Minecraft.”

He thought about that for a minute, came to sit on my lap and gave me a kiss.

“No, that’s not true. It’s not all I do. I spend a lot of time managing my YouTube account, too.”

Continue Reading · on February 5, 2014 in Children

Big Pharma

Another post from the archives (I’ve got biiig archives…wanna come over and see them sometime?).  This post is from 2010, when we first started Liam on HGH. He’s been doing these shots now for three years, more or less, and still hates them.  But he’s growing. The doctor told us, back in April of 2010 “that if we lived in Peru” Liam’s height wouldn’t matter that much because men are much shorter there. Having no immediate plans to move to South America, however, we opted to live in the world of Big Pharma instead.


We’ve entered the world of Big Pharma.  At the beginning of this past summer, Liam announced that he was ready for “those shots that make you grow” –and in a sign of how long it takes to get approved for this medicine, we only started the shots last week.

First step? A lovely four-hour blood test, administered while Liam sat in a hospital room, starving hungry because he couldn’t eat until the test was over. That was in June and he’s still angry about it.

Second step? Forms, forms, forms.  Our endocrinologist says that insurance companies make the application process for this drug ridiculously complicated—and in fact there is someone from Pfizer (which makes Genotropin) who comes into endocrinologist’s office once a week “just to help” with the Human Growth Hormone application forms. It seems a little incestuous, don’t you think? Having a rep from Big Pharma in the office, making it easier for you to prescribe HGH to your patients?

Although, of course, as beneficiaries of the nice lady in the doctor’s office, we went through all the various hoops pretty easily. We talked to people at Pfizer, where there is an entire department devoted to Genotropin, including doctors, nurse liaisons, patient care consultants…I talked to about five different departments–probably I could’ve found someone to consult on a new color scheme for the kitchen if I’d asked around.

We talked to the pharmacy reps who order the drug and to the reps who talk to the insurance company–but we couldn’t talk to the insurance company. Liam’s entire case has been handled, more or less, by people sitting in cubicles in anonymous office buildings somewhere in New Jersey–and none of them have ever laid eyes on Liam. After the blood test last summer and a few phone conversations in August, we never heard from our actual endocrinologist.  She’s regularly on those “best doctors in New York” lists—but trying to get her to return a phone call? You’d have better luck mapping a genome with your iPhone GPS (hmm… new app?)

All these nice people sent us literature and videos and dvds about the drug; and “fun” calendars; and even stickers for the “Leap Frog Club:” with every refill of the drug, you get a sticker, and after six stickers, you get a prize. Woo woo. I guess that’s supposed to be consolation for getting stuck with a needle six days a week?

And we got a huge and scary red “Sharps Disposal” container; needles and swabs and a “pen” to inject this wonder drug…And we got the drug itself: a cartridge that we insert into the pen, the way you do an ink cartridge into a fountain pen.  One cartridge is about eight doses of the medicine. Would you like to know how much a cartridge costs, approximately?

700 bucks.

Right. 700 smackeroos. Multiply that by…well, the endocrinologist says that the medicine is supposed to be administered through puberty.  Let’s see. That’s six shots a week times 52 weeks times 5 years.

Comes to about $182,000.  Give or take ten grand. Explains why insurance companies would rather Liam just rolled up his shirt cuffs and got his pants hemmed instead of taking these shots.

Do you suppose if you work for Pfizer and your kid needs HGH you get a discount? Five cartridges for the price of four, something like that?

It feels a little strange, I have to say, to be willingly participating in a system that is so broken (of course, I voted, too, so I guess I’m a sucker for broken systems).

But I’m not going to quibble about the price because Liam needs this stuff:  he’s tiny and not growing very much and he’s filled with angst about his size.  I just got him a new pair of corduroys–size 7 slim–and had to cuff them twice, plus cinch them in at the waist. Probably I could’ve gotten him a size 6, but that’s the size I get for Caleb, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy my 10 year old and my 6 year old the same size pants.

I can still afford to buy my kids pants, though, even after we’ve started this medicine, because we’re among the lucky ones: we have “good insurance,” so the cost to us is minimal. God forbid what would happen if we didn’t have insurance and decided that Liam needed this medicine.

I was thinking the other day about how expensive Liam is. I mean, all kids are black suck-holes of financial need, but Liam?

He’s like our own little Mastercard ad:
Two months in the NICU? Umpteen thousand dollars
Three years (3 months to 3 years) PT and OT through Early Intervention? Umpteen thousand dollars
Five years of HGH? Umpteen gazillion dollars
Liam himself? Priceless

Continue Reading · on August 22, 2013 in Children, growing up, HGH, Kids, Parenting, preemies

A day in the life…Or, life in an unfair state

This post, which I’m re-posting while I travel this week, reminds me that even though my kids still resemble the Bicker McBickersons, things have gotten better since the time I wrote this post. And of course now that I’ve said that, I’m sure I’ll go into the next room and see that they’ve taken knives to one another.  I’ve just violated the first rule of parenting: never talk about what is going well!

It’s another 3H Sunday in Manhattan: hazy, hot, humid. The kind of hot where the old gum melts on the sidewalks and re-sticks to your shoes. Two boys, one mom.  Let’s watch the whole scintillating day unfold, shall we?

7:03 I am asleep, happily, albeit unconsciously, enjoying the entire bed: Husband is on a business trip in Amsterdam and London.

You be the knight and I’ll be the marauder. Just go in mommy’s room and get her scarf for a cape.
You go get it.
No, you.
Why do I have to get everything?
Fine. Then I won’t play with you at all.

I am awake.

8:04 Whole Foods for muffins and Odwalla Mango Tango. (We go mostly because there is no half-and-half for my coffee and I refuse to drink lowfat 1% milk in my coffee. I have very few vices left; half-and-half is one of them. Which is a pretty goddam lame vice, if you ask me. I’m thinking about taking up meth.)

I want that muffin. He took the muffin I wanted!
Me (attempting reasonable tones): All those muffins look pretty much the same to me, actually. What about this one?
Fine. But it’s not fair.
When are we going to Petco for more fish?
Me: Later today. It’s not open yet.

He’s not even finishing that muffin. And it’s the one I wanted. Going to waste.
Me (attempting reasonable tones): Well, he’s done with it, so why don’t you eat the rest? Then you get more muffin than everyone.
Fine. But it’s not fair.
When are we going to Petco for more fish?

8:45 Liam hunkers down in front of the laptop that’s been repurposed for his use; Caleb dumps out every single lego bin.
Me (attempting reasonable tones): Why’d you dump them out?
Well, some guys went exploring into these bins and have never been seen again till now. So I have to find them and put them back together with their ship.
Me: Okay. But eventually all those pieces have to go back in the bins.
Fine. But you have to help me. Or else it’s not fair.  And when are we going to Petco for more fish?

I check my email to see if someone has forgotten to tell me about the wonderful beach house I’ve just inherited. No one has. I don’t seem to have inherited a nanny, either.

9:15 I pull out the laundry still in the dryer from yesterday, put in another load.

OW! He kicked me. For no reason!
You said I was stupid!
I did not!
Me (attempting reasonable tones): Maybe you two should play in separate rooms so you don’t bother each other.
No! I love Liam! I want to sit right here!  (Emphatic patting of ground next to his brother)
When are we going to Petco for more fish?
Me (tone in the vicinity of reasonable): At some point today, we will go to Petco, unless you ask me again. In that case, we will not go at all. Everybody clear on that?

Email again: still no beach house.  Not even a cabin on a creek. And no nanny.

I hate this computer! It’s so slow!
Me (reasonable tones wobbling): What’s the matter?
The game I want isn’t loading. It’s taking forever.
Me: Sounds like it’s the site, not your computer. That game always has problems, you know that.
It’s the computer!  It’s not fair!
Me: Would it be better not to have your own computer? You could share mine, when I’m not using it.

10:00 There is quiet talk and giggling from the boys’ room. I check to make sure that the laughter isn’t due to one of them about to make a blood sacrifice of the other and in fact they are playing some diabolical card game together. I put away the laundry; contemplate the Times Week in Review. The news is all bad; the world seems intent on taking itself to hell in a handbag.  I rummage in the cupboards. There is no chocolate. Why didn’t I buy chocolate at Whole Foods?

I’m hungry. I want a doughnut.
Me: (reasonable tones restored by bickering break):  Maybe after lunch. Not now. If you want a snack you can have a yogurt.
With honey?
Me: Yes, with honey.
Fine. But I really wanted a doughnut.

I’m hungry too. What’s for lunch? Can I have something with bacon?
Me: No, we’re out of bacon.
WHY? Then I want soup.
Me: I’m afraid we’re out of soup, too. I have to go to the store tomorrow.
Fine. But it’s not fair. We never have anything that I like.

I contemplate reminding him about the recent trip to Whole Foods but decide that I’m being asked a rhetorical question and don’t answer. Hot dogs are consumed, followed by jello. I realize, again, that “white trash” is an accurate description of my children’s diet. I wonder if it’s time for a drink, remember that I don’t usually drink, think that maybe it’s time to re-think that idea.

Me (aiming for cheerful): So let’s go to the pirate ship sprinkler park with your new MaxLiquidators.
Bor-ring. That’s for little kids.
Me (determinedly cheerful): Not really…and I think it would be good to have some running around time.
I hate that sprinkler park. I want to go to the one by Chelsea Pier.
Well I hate that one. Plus I don’t want to ride the bus.
Fine. Then I’m not going.
Can we go to Petco after? Wait, no, I didn’t mean that, I just forgot, never mind!

Me (wondering if it would violate any laws if I just left them in the apartment for the rest of the afternoon): Let’s take our scooters and go the pirate ship playground. It’s closer and maybe we’ll see the ice cream truck on the way. (Note: yes, this is bribery. Generally speaking, parenting books don’t approve of bribes. Generally speaking? Parenting books suck).

You said we’d get ice cream.
Me: If we saw the ice cream truck
Well where is it?
Me: I’m not in charge of the truck, sweetie. Maybe it’s not in this neighborhood today.
Fine. But it’s not fair.

We manage two hours at the playground. The boys are, in fact, the oldest kids there this afternoon, and with their (not very aggressive) water guns, I realize that they look VERY big and boy-ish compared to the toddlers waddling through the sprinklers. Caleb accidentally knocks into a little boy who has staggered in front of him. Caleb looks stricken, apologizes (unprompted, I might add), the mother rushes to her child (who is giggling), glares at Caleb and at me, then picks up her darling precious progeny to make sure Caleb hasn’t broken his ribs and maybe given him a black eye into the bargain. I decide I hate this woman.

2:35 The sky has turned steel-gray and the wind has picked up. The much promised rain is coming. We pack up to leave the sprinkler park that they didn’t want to come to.
Why do we have to leave?
Yeah. It just got fun now that the little kids have gone. (You’ll note that they have decided to collaborate. Oh goody.)
Can I bring home these water ballons? (Each water balloon looks like a watermelon.)
Why not? It’s not fair.
Can we get ice cream?

I’m too tired. I can’t ride my scooter. Can you carry me?
Hurry up Caleb! Iit’s going to rain and I don’t want to get wet! (Liam’s hair is still dripping from the sprinkler park)
Caaaaarrry me.

3:00 Home. The rain has just started.
Can we go to Petco and get more fish?
Me (the very paragon of reason): It’s just started to pour. Let’s wait until it stops raining. And please don’t ask again.
It’s not raining that hard. (Raindrops the size of peas hurl against the windows)
I hate waiting. Waiting stinks.

I want to snuggle with Liam.
I’m reading.

I smile and think that maybe I don’t have to post their pictures on craigslist to see if anyone would like to rent them for a long weekend.


Me (my tone now on the remote outskirts of “reasonable”): Separate. Yourselves. Now.

My facebook friends, god love them, tell me that it’s absolutely okay to make myself a gin-and-tonic.  I do so. It helps.

(Small pitiful voice):  Can I come out now?

I contemplate “not until next week,” and remember that Caleb is in my bedroom, so this would be counter-productive.  He is allowed out to roam, possibly to kill again.

Instead, Lego figures are assembled and a rousing battle begins; many things are blown up and elaborate weapons and guard towers are erected. Silence in the other room as Liam contemplates re-building his Yu-gee-oh decks for the standing card game he has during lunch at camp.

4:45 Early supper, featuring a variety of frozen items from Trader Joe’s, plus a tiny bowl of corn (Liam); and, for Caleb, six grapes, two baby carrots, and corn chips dipped in ketchup (dee-lish, eh?)

Me (cheerful, the G&T having done its job): Who wants to go to Petco?
Them: Not now! We’re playing Yu-gee-oh. Maybe in a little while. Or maybe tomorrow?

I begin writing this post, eat the herbed summer succotash I made for myself (upside of Husband being away: eating whatever I want for dinner, including succotash on crackers).

Can we go to Petco now?
And maybe get ice cream?

Me (reason restored; bedtime is only a few short hours away): That’s a great idea.

And when we walk through Union Square, a sweet post-storm breeze is blowing, there is a magician doing card tricks, and a guy playing a sequined digideroo (and assorted home-made percussive things).  We hold hands and tell jokes, and all is right with the world.


Continue Reading · on August 21, 2013 in Children, growing up, Kids, NYC, Parenting

Just a Fever


I’m running a series of posts from the past while I’m traveling this week. Have you seen “Food, Inc.?” It will change the way you think about what we think is food…

Liam stayed home from soccer camp for two days this week. He came home Monday and seemed fine, but woke up early Tuesday morning with a fever, aches and pains; he said his head hurt, his spine hurt, his knees hurt.

So okay, you do what you do, right? No need to freak out, it’s just a fever, probably a summer cold combined with the physical strain of his first week of soccer camp: running hard for six hours a day, eating not enough lunch (because it’s more fun to run around playing more soccer), becoming maybe a bit dehydrated because the sun finally came out and stayed out.

His feeling achy and tired is normal, I said to myself.  He’s a kid, kids get sick, they stay home and rest, then they’re better and life goes on.

Unfortunately for my peace of mind, however, on Monday night I had gone to see “Food, Inc.,” a documentary about the food industry, directed by Robert Kenner, and suddenly, Liam’s fever didn’t seem so innocent – I entered the state that Judith Warner calls “Perfect Madness.”

The “perfect madness” is that condition known to parents (particularly first-time, somewhat older parents) in which a child’s every cough may be the beginning of a deathly illness; every electrical outlet a source of death; the cabinets walk-in tombs. To be a parent, Warner says, is to no longer live without fear. The trick is not to get so paranoid that everything becomes potentially lethal. Usually (I think) I manage to avoid paranoid parenting, but Kenner’s movie set a whole new set of thoughts whirling in my head:

Liam probably has just a summer cold unless the tacos we made for dinner Monday night out of hamburger meat (organic, expensive Whole Foods burger meat, but still, burger meat) gave him some kind of slow-moving but ultimately lethal food-borne pathogen.

Or the little patches of grey in Liam’s hair, and the light-skinned patches on his knees are a sign of an auto-immune deficiency that no doctor has yet managed to catch.

Or his tiny lungs inhaled so many toxins in the weeks after 9/11 that in fact he’s got pulmonary disorders which will soon incapacitate him.

Or the almost nine years of avoiding green leafy vegetables, with the exception of what I can squeeze in, Sneaky Chef-style, have so compromised his system that he’s got anemia or a B12 deficiency.

See what a little imagination and a powerful documentary can do? Kenner’s movie brought together many things that will be familiar to readers of The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation, but the power of his visual story telling (let’s just say: hidden cameras inside a slaughterhouse and leave it at that) hit home in a way that neither of those books did–which is to say that two things have happened: I’m now seriously freaked out by how a few multinationals can control our entire food supply from seeds to supermarket, to use the movie’s phrase.The second thing that has happened, I’m afraid, is that I’ve officially become boring about food.

And maybe it is boring for people around me (okay, mostly Husband) to hear about all the bad shit that’s in food (and a lot of that bad shit is, quite literally, shit), but the movie is anything but boring. It’s a terrifying testament to what happens when the fox is put in charge of the henhouse (as when various executives of Monsanto, Con Agra, and Tyson are appointed to the USDA, FDA, or the Supreme Court). Take the despearately sad story of Kevin Kowalcyk, a two year old boy who ate a hamburger while on vacation with his family. Twelve days later, Kevin was dead: he’d eaten a hamburger tainted with E. coli. The plant that produced those hamburgers, the family eventually found out, had failed not one, not two, but at least three USDA inspections.

Kevin’s ghost lurked in the back of my mind this week, as I put cool cloths on Liam’s feverish  head. Liam dutifully swallowed his ibuprofen (comprised, as near as I can tell, from a dab of medicine and a bunch of inactive chemical compounds all derived from corn) and after two days he happily hopped on the bus back to soccer camp.

Just a fever. Nothing to be afraid of.

Except Kenner’s movie suggests that not only should we be afraid of what’s happening to what we eat but also that we should all be paying a lot more attention.

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Continue Reading · on August 20, 2013 in Children, food, Kids, Politics

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