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Birthday War Games

For a long time, when my kids were little, I refused to outsource the birthday party: I made a cake, invited the kids over, maybe used the “community space” in our building for games of some kind or another.  The year that Liam turned four, when Caleb was still less than three months old, I decided it would be a good idea to host Liam’s entire nursery-school class (about 17 kids) –and their parents — to our apartment. We’d do a craft, I figure, and eat pizza, and really how hard could it be?

I still have nightmares. And the craft-related glitter stayed in my rug for years afterwards. If my sister hadn’t been there to help, I would probably have locked myself in a closet with baby Caleb slung across my chest in his sling.

Eventually, though, as the kids got bigger, our apartment seemed smaller and smaller, until outsourcing became inevitable.  Plus, because Liam’s birthday is in November, one of those “let’s meet in the park and play” type birthdays won’t work – at least not in Manhattan.

The first year we lived in Abu Dhabi, Liam was able to have a beach party, which seemed remarkable at the time, but now, as is the way of things, has faded into just a fact of life.

Also our first year here, Liam was invited to a paintball party. You know, get a gun, fill it with plastic pellets and try to “kill” your opponents.

Despite being the kind of boy who never got enthralled by guns (no nerf, no pow-pow-pow with pointed finger; the kid doesn’t even much like super-heroes), Liam looooves paintball.

Every birthday he’d ask if he could have a paintball party, and every year we resisted and deflected and demurred.

But for turning thirteen, we relented. Not sure why—maybe because it’s a “big” birthday? Maybe because if we were Jewish or Zoroastrian or even Catholic, he would be having some kind of ritual ceremony to mark crossing the threshold into … adulthood? That seems a bit of a stretch. How ’bout crossing the threshold into the you-can-do-your-own-laundry-now hood? That seems worth celebrating, don’t you think?

And thus I found myself last weekend with a veritable herd of barely teen-aged boys at a big sporting complex that hosts paintball parties.

forsanthey look like such nice boys, don’t they?

Because really, what better way to cement your friendships than with elaborate paramilitary exercises?

Here’s hoping these battles were just games and not a metaphor for the next few years. Because as metaphors go, I’m not liking the looks of things:

masks

 

Continue Reading · on November 25, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, growing up, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, pop culture

World Prematurity Day . . . and turning thirteen

On the 18th of November, I officially become the mother of a teenager.

Which seems weird because I’m only 25.

And it’s doubly weird because in some bizarre harmonic convergence, the 17th of November is officially “World Prematurity Day,” a day devoted to heightening awareness about premature birth and to help support the various institutions that work with the families and babies dealing with the difficulties that arise when a baby comes too soon.

In another odd harmonic convergence, the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding Liam’s birth mapped onto the American “hanging chad” debacle that will live in infamy. I missed most of the details of that process because I was busy being put on bedrest, then hospitalized, and then delivered of a child who came almost two months early and weighed less than two pounds.  Being delivered of a baby slightly smaller than a loaf of bread will make a gal forget about politics for a while.

Those were scary days, those early days in November, when my blissfully uncomplicated pregnancy, which had been filled with compliments about how thin I was despite being pregnant (note to lady movie stars who never really look pregnant and then regain their bodies two minutes after giving birth: you’re killing us out here in real-people land) suddenly became something that didn’t look like my life at all. Turns out that when you’re six months pregnant, you’re not supposed to be thin.

Here’s what happens when the ob-gyn does an ultrasound and announces at the end of it, “you have a crappy placenta” and puts you on bedrest:

You will be terrified; you will think to yourself that you did everything right: you ate right and you exercised right and you didn’t have coffee and you didn’t have booze except omigod that night before you knew you were pregnant you had three martinis was it the martinis omigod it was the martinis.  You will make bargains with whatever god might be listening and when people say they’re going to pray for you, you say thank you please pray, and you hope that people are slaughtering goats and chickens on your behalf because any magic, you’ll take any magic anyone wants to send your way if only everything will be okay.

You will go to bed for ten days while the country tries to figure out who will be the next President and then, when you’re admitted to the hospital after what was supposed to be a routine check on what was supposed to be all the weight gained by this little shrimp in your belly, you will lie in the hospital bed and cry.

And you will cry and cry, but because you are mostly flat on your back, the tears will pool down the sides of your face, drip into your ears and your hair. You won’t even mind the steroids they’re shooting into you, with needles that look like they were borrowed from an elephant hospital because anything, anything to make the baby be okay.  The steroids, some well-meaning but socially awkward medical resident will tell you, are for the baby’s lungs, which are “just little smears of pink jelly right now so if he was born he would probably not be able to breathe.”  And then you will cry some more because holy crap pink smears of jelly?

My tiny ferocious child, the entire 1lb, 10oz bundle, came into the world by emergency c-section, just after dawn on 18 November. The United States still didn’t have a president but I didn’t much care because the bundle was crying—weakly, it’s true, but crying. Which meant that the smears of jelly were functioning like lungs were supposed to function.

Preemies—preemies as small as Liam was—don’t really look like babies. They don’t look particularly cute or jolly or huggable. They look fragile and terrifyingly old: wizened, their skin hanging in folds around flesh that has yet to appear.

SMP-2011--00000567

Instead of being wrapped in soft blankets, they are wrapped in wires and tubes, surrounded by monitors; they are whisked away from you and tucked into an isolette (the plastic shoebox, we called it) that’s basically a small warming tank that keeps the bundle the exact temperature it would be if it were still the proverbial bun in the proverbial oven.

SMP-2011--00000558there’s a baby in there somewhere

I don’t know how we functioned, really, in the days and weeks and months of Liam being in the hospital: we lived downtown on West 4th street, and “Babies Hospital,” as it was called, is on 168th street. Sometimes it took us more than an hour each way on the subway — not that much fun, especially with sore lady bits. But we trekked back and forth every day for our sessions of “kangaroo care:” holding our bundle against our skin so he could feel our hearts beating. I hoped always that the steady sounds of our hearts would drown out the noisy pinging and whirring and beeping that defined life in the NICU.

Liam_Mom_Kanga_week2

The bundle became Liam, became a “feeder and grower” rather than anything more dire, although the NICU was filled with other babies who weren’t so lucky.  I never knew what to say on those days when I would come in and one or another isolette would be empty.  Having a preemie, I realized, is a bit like having a miscarriage: initially you think you’re the only one ever to suffer such a loss and then you realize, sadly, how many people share a version of your feelings.

And now the bundle will be thirteen. I’ve wondered if his formidable character – confident, tenacious, focused – was shaped by spending his earliest months in such inhospitable circumstances.  Or maybe character is a fluke, just like what happened to him was a fluke. No doctor could ever explain why Liam was IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction, which I think is medical-speak for “the baby didn’t grow”) or why none of the dire predictions came true (no oxygen tanks, no developmental delays, no blindness, no physical impediments…the list went on and on).

Who really can say: maybe all the prayers and burning sage and chanting and whatever else people were doing on Liam’s behalf while he was in the hospital worked; I have no way of knowing.

What I do know? I know that my son is creative and athletic; he loves math and he loves writing; he is funny and beautiful and aggravating, all in equal measure. Liam’s preemie story ends happily; we were lucky in our doctors, our hospital, and in the baby who came into the world so tiny and so strong.

Happy birthday, teenager. The last thirteen years have been amazing; I can’t wait to see what happens next.

liam_minionThis summer Liam decided he’d learn to make stuffed toys: so he made minions. No pattern, just made ’em.

IMG_0552standing on the dividing mark between the Mara, in Kenya, and the Serengeti, in Tanzania

liam_birth_feet-thumb-450x326his feet at birth: actual size

 

Continue Reading · on November 17, 2013 in aging, birth, family, HGH, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, preemies

Nothing Ever Dies on the Internet

I’m still playing ketchup with nablopomo, which sounds a bit like something you’d order in a Mexican restaurant, doesn’t it?

You can read today’s post in Abu Dhabi’s newspaper, where I’m writing about the eternal conflict between innocence (my almost thirteen year old son) and experience (me, aka cynical mommy).  Youth and innocence wants to believe that his friends would never, ever spread anything of his across the internet. Cynicism and bitterness says…nothing ever dies on the internet, so be careful.

Shockingly, I don’t think he believes me.

You can read the piece here

Continue Reading · on November 9, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, family, growing up, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, tech life, The National

in which I experience an epic parenting fail

So Liam has been walking around the last few days humming and singing “here comes the sun,” which I think of as one of the all-time great songs.

I say to him, “wow, I love that song; I didn’t know you liked The Beatles.”

He looks at me, horrified. “I don’t. It’s from “Glee,” with Demi Lovato.”

Me, equally horrified, “Demi Lovato? Singing The Beatles?”

Liam, speaking as if to someone who has had a lobotomy, “Not just Demi Lovato. Santana, too. A capella, so you can really hear the lyrics.”

Me, making a last-ditch effort, “But the Beatles version–”

Liam, firmly, “Mom. Demi Lovato is GREAT. And her version is SO MUCH BETTER than the old one.”

 

I am now a shell of my former self.  My brilliant wonderful son—talented in so many ways—disdains The Beatles in favor of Demi Lovato?  I know that teens and parents are supposed to disagree with each other’s musical taste, but…Demi Lovato?  Where have I gone wrong?

Fasten your seatbelts, people. It’s gonna be a bumpy adolescence.

Continue Reading · on November 6, 2013 in family, growing up, Kids, NaBloPoMo, Parenting, pop culture

Halloween, or, sometimes nostalgia looks like Boba Fett

It starts in September, when I get the late August issues of The New Yorker.  I’m always a few weeks behind because I like to read the actual magazine, not the digital one. Usually I don’t mind reading about current events from a month or so ago…until September.

In early fall, the magazine becomes a sort of arcade of impossibility: the new theater productions I won’t see; the restaurants I won’t eat at; the movies that (maybe) I’ll get to when they come out on DVD…the list seems endless.  Husband reminds me that when we actually lived in Manhattan we didn’t get out much, unless you want to count standing by the sidelines of a soccer game in the cold as “getting out.” He’s right, but somehow, when we lived in New York, all those things listed in the magazine seemed at least theoretically possible. Now, given that I live in a city where there is one theater (reserved mostly for state celebrations or the occasional children’s musical), only one museum, and where all the restaurants have too many forks for comfort–now, none of it is possible.

Following hard on the heels of the culture-vulture issues of The New Yorker come the facebook posts of friends’ kids off to school in sweaters and new shoes, and then there are the photos of leaves turning, until I can almost smell the seasonal crisp in the air and I long for the crunch of just-picked apples on sale at the Union Square Greenmarket. True, I could just turn off facebook but then there’s that whole I-might-wither-up-and-die thing.  Turn off Facebook? I shudder to think.

It’s not really that I miss seasons–because lord knows I do not miss February–it’s just that I miss fall. I miss that gathering up of breath and energy after the sprawl of summer; I miss the beauty of those last warm days in October, when the warmth feels like a gift because you know what’s coming.

And aside from that maudlin stuff, you know what else I miss? Boots. I loves me some boots and although some women wear boots in the winter months here, I just cannot bring myself to put on a pair of motorcycle boots when it’s 90F outside.

There’s a double nostalgia whammy in October and November–Halloween and Thanksgiving, neither of which, as you might imagine, are very big in the UAE.  I’ve never been one of those people who does the full Halloween costume and decorations thing, but I like the occasional witches hat and pumpkin carving and I have a serious candy corn addiction, which is really hard to feed here (I guess that’s not entirely a bad thing, at least according to my dentist. And my hips).  There are isolated tricksy-treatsy spots around town, mostly in the expat neighborhoods where lots of Americans live; and some of the shops have Halloween decorations, but mostly Halloween comes and goes with just a blip.

We bought Caleb’s costume this summer when we were in New York, where the Halloween shops are always open; Liam didn’t want to get a costume because at almost thirteen, he’s decided (sort of) that he’s just too cool for such things.

I guess because I’m missing “home” so much these days, I took a great deal of pleasure in how excited Caleb was about his costume, even though I hate store-bought costumes and am not a big “Star Wars” fan (practically heresy in my household).  He is not Boba Fett, although I kept calling him that. He is dressed as Pre Vizsla, an entirely different Mandalorian fighter. I mean duh, right? Keep it straight.

IMG_7410

There is one way in which Abu Dhabi keeps pace with New York.  The shops here also have seasonal marketing schizophrenia (SMS). SMS renders stores incapable of marketing only one holiday at a time.

IMG_7408trick or hohoho?

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Continue Reading · on November 2, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, Kids, UAE

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