Monday, September 25, 2006

A Little Break Here...

While pregnant with K*therine, I kept hoping she would be born on September 23, right between Sarah on the 22nd and Julia on the 24th. But K*te was a stubborn little baby even before she was born, and she held out till October 12. I now realize how hard it is to execute close-together birthday parties (so much shopping, wrapping, decorating, party planning, cake baking, balloon-inflating), and I'm grateful each year for the little break between Sarah'/Jul's and K*te's celebrations.

The girls are all grown now, so we have simple get-togethers not requiring much planning on my part. It was quite a different story when they were all little, though. At around three years of age, little kids begin having parties to which their playmates are invited, and that's when the fun really starts--peaking in the teen years with the Birthday Girl sometimes running off to her room in tears while the pretty cake turns into a river of molten icing and candle wax. If there is a cake, that is. Sometimes home-made cakes explode in the oven; sometimes invited guests spit all over the cake by way of "helping" the Birthday Girl blow out the candles; sometimes the family dog takes enthusiastic advantage of a moment alone at the decorated table.

From the simple, family-only baby parties in the first couple of years, children's yearly celebrations get more complicated as they get older. As an exercise in gratitude and a simple "heads up" to my younger friends with kids, here are some recollections of my own kids' stage-related birthday adventures:

Three to Four Years Old
The party guests arrive on time, dressed adorably, bearing gifts they refuse to turn over to the birthday child. Moms (and the occasional Dad) stay for the festivities, drinking coffee in a corner of the yard and watching their children behave abominably. There is much spilled soda, a smashed cellar window, a few skinned knees, a couple of pee accidents, at least one bee sting and much spontaneous crying. A virus-laden child guest shares his/her plague with all party guests and parents attending (so make your pediatrician appointment 24-48 hours prior to the party). Oh, and be sure to have an extra cake in the refrigerator, just in case.

Five to Seven Years Old
Party guests trickle in over a two-hour period, with about half calling out "sick" an hour before the festivities are scheduled to begin (overbook on this one). The clown will blow his transmission on Rt. 42, so there should be a DVD player at the ready, stocked with several movies featuring poop jokes as the main theme. Little boy guests have been known to practice their karate moves on the birthday cake and/or stacked presents, so a watchful adult needs to be assigned guard duty. Parents of invited guests may suffer "head injuries" which prevent them from remembering to pick up their children at party's end, so make sure you have their home addresses, cell phone and Social Security numbers. The family pets won't come out of hiding for a week but, with enough gentle care, it may not be necessary to consult an animal psychiatrist.

Eight to Ten Years Old
This one should be an "all boy" or "all girl" party, depending on the birthday child's gender. Parents dropping their children off at all-boy parties should be required to sign a release form at the door, since boys will be poking the family pets with sticks, throwing rocks at each other, daring each other to eat spare boxes of birthday candles, calling the police to report child abuse, dropping out of trees and chasing each other into brick walls during the course of events. "All girl" party guests will simply leave a plugged-in curling iron on someone's bed and then get into the host mother's makeup and jewelry, so an in-force homeowner's policy should suffice.

This is also the age at which "all girl" parties may take the form of a sleepover. A word to the wise--don't.

Eleven to Thirteen Years Old
This is the age at which female children ramp up into all-out hormonal derangement. Three weeks before her birthday, the child will insist there be no preparations made for a party. Her reasoning is that no one likes her enough to attend such a fete, and she will not allow anyone to put her through the embarrassment of handing out invitations which will be unanimously declined. Two days before the actual date, she will charge out of her bedroom at 7:12am precisely, tears streaming down her face, wondering aloud if anyone, anyone at all, gives a rat's ass that she's to be denied acknowledgement of her one special day this year. After all, how will it look in front of her friends if her family just ignores her birthday?

Gifts for the Birthday Girl must be chosen with caution, since she will be embarassed to tears by so thoughtless a gift as, say, a stuffed animal ("My friends will think I'm a baby!") or a book of poetry ("Yeah, like, I'm so, like, stupid that my parents have to buy my books for me!") or a box of her favorite chocolates ("Why didn't you just buy me a girdle to go with the candy--I'm going to get, like, so fat!") Makeup or jewelry is acceptable, as long as the colors and design are totally bizarre. Clothing is acceptable as long as one has a goth/punk paraphernalia emporium in the local mall.

Especially in the case of a female child, this should be a co-ed party; she will need someone to hang with after her invited female guests form a clique that does not include her. Male guests need to be cautioned about spitting and cursing, and any CDs they bring in will need to be examined for the Explicit Lyrics label.

Fourteen to Sixteen Years Old
Parents must absent themselves from the actual soireƩ lest the birthday child die of embarassment from having such creaky, wrinkled dinosaurs hovering around the cake. There are to be no childish decorations hung or cutesy foods served. This is a mature party with grown friends attending, and no parent-inspired humiliation will be tolerated. Parents are to order the pizza and soda, place the money on the entertainment center and then go down to the rec room, where they are to remain until the last guest has left. No matter what sounds or smells emanate from upstairs.

Seventeen to Nineteen Years Old
The birthday girl or boy will be celebrating at a friend's house, since that's the way it's done now. Gifts will be accepted on the actual birthday morning, as long as there's a receipt in the box for exchange purposes. Gas money for the car should be given since Mom used it to get to the supermarket yesterday and half a tank went missing. And there are to be no chores expected on this special day because even slaves got a little time off now and then for, like, a gourd festival or some shit like that. And don't expect any thank-you notes to the relatives, either, for their cheesy Good-Will Special presents.

These days especially, when all of my kids are grown and busy with their own lives, I think back to their first birthdays. Each little girl, on her special day, was propped up in her high chair and shown a cake with one candle stuck in it. The lights were dimmed, the candle was lit and the baby stared wide-eyed as people sang to her. Then she was given her first piece of birthday cake--all for herself, not a little piece, but a big, giant piece of cake all for baby! And, after a moment's confusion and with much encouragement, the little dimpled hand reached out and grabbed a fistful of cake and stuffed it into her mouth. Her eyes got big, everyone laughed and our hearts clenched with such overwhelming love for this little doll-creature. And that love, over time, becomes tempered and disciplined, but it never dies. Your child is always your child, and we hope to see many, many birthdays together before we must part.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Julia is 25

Twenty-five years ago today, I had my first baby, Julia. A quarter of a century...a generation. Funny, it doesn't seem that long ago.

Mr. Pseudonym and I (mostly I) had gone through infertility studies and treatment for a couple of years by 1980, with one first-trimester spontaneous abortion that year (another would follow Julia's birth). I was emotionally distraught as the months turned into years with no viable pregnancy, and it wasn't long after the mis that I decided to stop trying. I just wasn't that brave or strong, and I didn't want to cry any more.

For some strange reason, my fertility peaked in the winter months of December or January, and I found myself pregnant again six months or so after I'd given up trying. A good endocrinologist and weekly shots of progesterone sustained my pregnancy this time. I left work at 8 months and on September 24, 1981, after 19 hours of labor, had a full-term 8 pound 1 ounce baby .

There's no words to describe the emotional rollercoaster we rode in the days and weeks following Julia's birth. Mr. P and I were older parents who never expected to get a perfect little baby girl. We were a little psychotic in the beginning, hovering over the bassinette, chewing our nails and listening to the baby breathe. After about a week of frantic disorder, my mother (not the most nurturing individual in the world) finally took pity on us and made dinner at our apartment before we starved to death. We were able to relax over time as the baby grew strong and healthy, but nothing could prepare us for the force of her personality.

From the beginning, we now realize, this girl was a person who devoured life, without restraint or reasonableness, relying only on her force of will. Terribly intelligent but oblivious to the rules of human interaction, Julia plowed over, under or through anything standing in her way. She would not be subdued or controlled, and her approach to young adulthood can only be described as hell bent for a brick wall at 120mph.

How does a parent deal with a kid who will not concede an inch? You don't. Life will deal with her, and you can only wait for her to come back to you with new insight, in a teachable state . We tried our inadequate best and hoped our daughter would find her way back to us before it was too late.

Julia hit the brick wall, dropped her arrogance, grew a conscience, learned quite a bit about living with other human beings and married in good faith in 2003. The dissolution of her marriage this year, as painful as it has been, has given her such intimate knowledge of herself. She has worked hard in therapy and in dealing with her changed circumstance, formulated her own code for living, separated herself from her enabler and struck out into a new life based on careful self-examination and acceptance of reality.

This is a brave, strong woman, our Julia, and her future is full of promise. She's worked to overcome her character defects (except for a few especially delicious ones!) and faced the future with courage and dignity. There's still a lot to learn--we never stop learning and growing, hopefully. But Julia's acquired some tools that will help her along the way--honesty, introspection and, most importantly, willingness. She will make a good life for herself and her son, little J.Q.

Happy birthday, Julia. We are so proud of you.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sarah Is 22

22 years ago today, I had my second baby. She was born in the Emergency Room at a big city hospital because she was in kind of a hurry. Three years earlier, it took me 19 hours of screaming pain to get her older sister born, so when I woke up with mild back pain to signal the imminent birth of Sarah, I interpreted this to mean that nothing was imminent. So I just wandered around waiting for the real bad part to begin, but it never did.

A couple of hours after the first symptoms, we called the doctor and told him I was having mild contractions every few minutes. He told us to get to the hospital right away, so I went off to get dressed. Mr. Pseudonym called my mom to come stay with little Jul. I came out to the living room a few minutes later and told him that I felt "vaguely pushy." This feeling intensified on the drive to the hospital, and I told Mr. P that he'd better not stop for aspirin. Good thing, since having a baby in the parking lot of a convenience store usually gets a lot of embarassing press.

Things got decidedly urgent in the waiting room at the hospital and, as they were loading me onto a stretcher, I told the ER doctor that I didn't think I could make it upstairs--the baby was on its way out, and he'd better catch it before it hit the floor. The doctor looked like a deer caught in the headlights, but he got on the phone with Obstetrics and they told him what to do until they could send a doctor down. They sent Mr. Pseudonym out into the corridor (unfortunately), and the Obstetrics doctor came down and said, "Priscilla, just pop the baby out; we don't have to do a thing to help." So I popped her out, and they wrapped her in a blanket, called Mr. Pseudonym in and handed his new baby to him.

Sarah didn't look or behave like her older sister. She had dark hair, darker skin and visible eyebrows. She looked more like me than like her dad, and she seemed crabby and colicky from the start. And she made the cutest little squeaking sounds; we nicknamed her "Squeaker." She did have colic for about three months, and that was hard on everyone. The second child is a tremendous adjustment for the whole family, and a colicky infant puts that much more added strain on the parents and siblings.

But Sarah's personality turned sunny after her tummy problems were over, and she grew into a real character--funny and imaginative, with a sweet disposition. At around 11-1/2, she started turning into a teenager and all bets were off, but our "good" kid was still there underneath, biding her time until she got through those rough growth years.

Sarah has her own apartment now. She works long hours and goes to school full time. She's bright, independent, edgy, funny and resourceful. We are so proud of her. Happy 22nd, Squeaker!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Comments? Anyone? Anyone At All?

For a long, long time, it seemed as if four to six people, max, were visiting my blog on a regular basis--my daughers Jul, Caer Coenister Caer's Donut Dungeon and Junket Mischievous Junket, a sweet lady with amazing spirit, Jo, at Tangled Me and maybe an occasional curious relative or two. Anyway, it was just the daughters and the sweet lady who were commenting, but that was OK 'cause I was just doing it as an exercise in reading/thinking/speaking/writing to preserve gray matter as I trudge inexorably toward my senior years.

Then Caer mentioned casually one day that she could track visitors to her blog with the aid of a site meter. She could tell how many people visited her blog and how they got there (search engine, referred from another site, wandered in by apparent mistake) and get quite a lot of free statistical information regarding the ebb and flow around her site. Seemed like a good idea at the time, so I signed up fer free and was able to track the four people who visited my blog regularly and the one or two random strangers who stumbled in about once a month looking for lyrics to Willie Nelson songs.

When Jul went through her separation from mr. and Caer broke up messily with exBf, a flurry of readership on their sites ensued. Jul's blog had been gaining a wide audience based solely on her astounding writing skills, and Caer's sweet/funny/aching tales of obsessive love gone feral started bringing in visitors like Free Can of Soda Day at WalMart. Junket and I watched our site meters in amazement as more and more people clicked over to our blogs from the links to us on Jul and Caer's sites.

Our statistics tore through the envelope and began orbiting the earth when Jul's estranged husband's mistress inexplicably decided to comment on her husband-stealing expertise on the site of a popular blogger friend of Jul's
(So Close: Would You Look Away, 05 Sept 2006). Comments from Jul's friends who were visiting the friend's site tore Miss Mistress apart like a careless capybara in an alligator-infested swamp. Co-Blogger Friend put up a second posting a few days later, following Steve Irwin's death, (So Close: Following Your Heart. A Question, 08 Sept 2006), and the carnage continued. Over 100 more commentors continued to rip the hapless mistress to shreds, and the site meters on all of the Related Gals' sites contined to spin out of control.

Since that time, things have settled down a lot. Caer took down her blog due to complications involving exBf's sharing knowledge of her site with people who really shouldn't have been exposed to it, Jul forged on with her adventures in wicked good writing, singlehood and peaceful co-existence with her soon-to-be ex for the sake of their child, and Junket and I watched our stats shrivel daily.

Now, Junket is an amazing writer on her own, and she will undoubtedly find her own level and own group of friends with her dark, poetic observations. But I cannot imagine this particular blog, Priscilla's Ramblings About Her Pet Rats and ShopRite Coupons, will ever again enjoy an audience of more than three daughters, one or two online friends and the occasional Willie Nelson fan.

*sound of wolves howling in the darkness*

But that's OK; the more I write, the more often I have to use
thesaurus. com. And I have to keep up with the basic html. That should keep the old gray matter jiggling.

*sound of tumbleweeds rustling*

This is a better way to spend time than if I were watching soap operas on t.v. or gossiping about nothing on the telephone for hours on end. Or obsessing about my memory loss. Or about the cats' hairball problems.

Comments? Anyone? Anyone At All?

*sound of an acorn hitting the shed*

OK... nevermind.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I saw Mr. Pseudonym off to work this morning for the first time in six weeks and, breathing a slightly guilty sigh of relief (hey--I love the guy, but six weeks?!), sat down with a cup of coffee to check out the weather on t.v. I had forgotten what today was.

Every station was carrying reports of the 9/11 memorial observances in New York, at the Pentagon, at the Flight 93 Temporary Memorial in Pennsylvania and all around the nation. At Ground Zero, survivors of those who perished in the attack read the names of the dead, including the name(s) of the beloved lost of each person reading. Other survivors placed flowers, cards and other tributes in the reflecting pool where the north tower of the World Trade Center once stood. The pool glistened in the sunlight while survivors wiped tears from their eyes and hugged each others for comfort.

It's been five years and, for many of us, watching film of the attacks still produces that crushing feeling in our chests, that horror and disbelief, as if we were living that day over again today. Our lives as Americans changed forever on 9/11/2001. We lost our innocence and our sense of being sheltered from the cruel savagery mankind inflicts on itself around the globe. We were children before 9/11--naive, gullible, unaware and overly confident. We knew of the horrors of life elsewhere, but we were convinced our country's fortifications would always provide security and safety. We had never been attacked on our own shores in this manner, and we could not come to terms with experiencing firsthand that which we had seen in news reports from other parts of the world.

I sat, watching the memorials, waiting for the tears to inevitably begin flowing down my face. There was a camera shot of the reflecting pool showing a little girl of about three or four years dipping her fingers in the pool. She had long, dark hair done up prettily with a ribbon to match her pink dress, and her older brother stood next to her. The camera swung away briefly to focus on an elderly man crying inconsolably as he placed flowers in the pool, and then it returned to the little girl in the pink dress.

The little girl was laughing and squirming away as an adult standing behind her attempted to gently pull her away from the pool. She grabbed some floating flowers and swished them around in the water, laughing as her brother smiled uncertainly at her antics. She began a little dance as she shook droplets of water off her hands and then said something which made her brother burst into laughter himself.

I have three children of my own, and I remember how little girls in pretty, pressed dresses and ribboned hair can cause their parents crushing humiliation with a few careless words or a bit of inspired misbehavior. All I could think, while watching the child on t.v., was, "Oh! Her parents must be mortified!" As I watched, the child continue in her naughtiness, I began to smile. Kids will always be kids, and if we are lucky enough to be able to raise them comfortably, we can count on them repaying us by behaving like savages--with reckless abandon, at the worst possible times, without a care in the world.

As the names of the dead continued to be read by the weeping and shaking survivors, I found myself continuing to smile. That exasperating little kid was the daughter, step-daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, cousin or dear little friend of a person who died unexpectedly five years ago today. That healthy, scrubbed, pretty little child with the terrible sense of timing is going on with her life, carrying a piece of a 9/11 victim along with her. We just don't know for sure, but perhaps a part of those we have lost looks down on us all the time; maybe we feel them smiling down on us with the sunlight and hear the sound of their laughter in the wind.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Comin' Down The Home Stretch

Mr. Pseudonym has been home for almost six weeks now. What was originally thought to be a torn inguinal muscle turned out to be a pinched nerve in his lumbar spine, which can mean a long, hard recovery. Seems his L4-L5 disk decided to ooze on down toward the tailbone for a little r&r, crushing the nerves in its path and rendering Mr. Pseudonym unable to sit, stand, walk or sleep without agonizing pain in his right hip, groin, leg and knee.

We finally bought a walker with an attached seat so Mr. P could perambulate a few feet and then sit when the pain welled up. He was unable to walk more than a few feet at a time (or sleep more than two hours at a time) for at least two weeks, which was the hardest part of his illness. We've been to the x-ray/MRI facility, to the orthopedist, back and forth to the drug store, to the spine surgeon and to physical therapy. The epidural injections which might have speeded healing have been delayed by the spine surgeon's busy schedule, so we are not certain Mr. P will actually be getting this treatment. Looks like he will be well enough to return to Aircraft & Other-Stuff-You-Don't-Need-To-Know-About R Us next Monday, in which case we will call the Dr. Henrietta Nucleo-Pulpossi and tell her to hang her needles in someone else (no offense to this popular physician).

It has been interesting, to say the least. The kids pitched in to help with transportaion, errands, grass mowing and the like. I had to stay out on the couch at night for several weeks while Mr. P rolled around in the bedroom, trying to find a comfortable position, pillow between his knees, wracked by pain at 3:45am most days. We bought a shower chair and a hand-held shower. The pain medicine, as these types of medicines often do, sapped Mr. P of his enthusiasm for life; his woodworking tools gathered dust, the pet rats chewed on the electronics supply catalogues, the new DVDs remained unwatched and Home Depot's doorway remained undarkened by Mr. P's shadow. He took to sitting on the couch for hours on end, remote control in hand, flipping through the channels with the sound off.

"Why do you have the t.v. muted if you're watching it?"
"Because it doesn't [click] make any difference if [click] you can hear it or not. [click] It's all shit."
"If it's all shit, then why are you watching it at all?"
"I don't [click] know. [click]"

I tried my best to keep Mr. P active and involved in life, but it was an uphill climb. I've always got ideas for sprucing up Pseudonym Estates, but each of my home-improvement suggestions was met with the same bland observation of, "Well, that could be more complicated than you might think at first," or "I don't know what would actually be involved in that," or the all-purpose, well-worn disclaimer, "That could be problematic." So I continued to bring him trays of food in front of the t.v. and schedule medical appointments.

Things got so bad that we went out and bought a 3-disk Simon & Garfunkle retrospective and played it constantly for a week or so, mentally revisiting the Scarborough Fair of our youth. It's kind of hard to get angry about anything these days. Back in the 60s and 70s, there was always an injustice to rail against, some cause or group to ally oneself with for the betterment of mankind and the planet. These days, we are lucky to retain enough righteous indignation to switch from regular to decaffeinated Folgers. Must be some middle-aged thing. Lukewarm blood. We spoke of reselling the walker on eBay now that Mr. P is done with it, but we have become so pessimistic that we will probably wrap it in plastic and store it for future, inevitable use.

The physical therapy has done wonders, though, and I will pack Mr. Pseudonym off to the aircraftery Monday morning with a full tank of gas, lunch money and his I.D. badge clipped to the front of his shirt. He will be back to his scintillating stress analysis, I'll have my days to myself again and his spine will have learned not to fight with sliding glass doors. As always, we must remain grateful--some people never recover from these types of injuries. We are lucky.