Sunday, December 20, 2015

Book Review: Unbroken

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Laura Hillenbrand © 2014

I always do a drive by of the books at Costco, it’s my treat for, well, going to Costco. I have pretty decent self-control but when I saw a hard bound edition of this book for eleven dollars and change, I was as weak-willed as a toddler within reach of a wedding cake. I wiped the frosting from my chin and checked out. I didn’t realize until I got home that I picked up the Young Adult version. Oh well.

What a fantastic story. Laura does an amazing job of telling the story of Louis Zamperini as a boy and a young man, then as a WWII soldier and as a survivor.

As a young boy in the 1920s, Louis was a troublemaker to the extreme. He got into every imaginable form of mischief, his favorite was stealing food. A smoker and a drunk before he was even a teen, he was very easy to write off as a juvenile delinquent; probably would have been in today’s world. In reality he was a boy with an indomitable spirit, complete with boundless energy and vitality—too much for the confines of what was deemed proper. To keep him out of trouble, Pete, his older brother, guided him into competitive running. Here was an outlet for that boundless energy, here was the attention he craved, here was that thrill he was forever seeking, here was something he could throw his spirit against. It was no surprise that he qualified for the Olympics at nineteen.

WWII broke out. Instead of being drafted and dying on a beach in a standard meat shield operation, he decided to enlist and give himself options. He joined the Army Air Corps.

Some numbers for you: “54,000 men killed in air combat, 36,000 killed in noncombat aircraft accidents, and a stunning 15,000 killed in stateside training.” (

That means that 51,000 of our nation’s young men died in accidents or plane malfunctions—the primary culprit: the planes they were flying were absolute garbage. The waste of our military men was abominable. Louis’ trial was no different, ordered to fly a rescue mission in a plane that was no more airworthy than the box a homeless person might sleep in, it was no surprise it went down. Once Louis avoided a similar situation by challenging his CO to join their mission.

What follows is the most compelling and astounding survival story I’ve ever experienced. There were three survivors of the initial crash. During their forty-seven days drifting in the life raft fighting off sharks and surviving the elements, it became clear why Louis was gifted his indomitable spirit. They drifted two thousand miles to the Marshall Islands and were rescued by the Japanese. The Japanese saved the remaining two men, provided medical care, then spent the next few years torturing and terrorizing them, making the sharks look like cuddly koalas.

The depth of Laura’s research is astounding, all done during a time of illness in her own life. Her writing is clear and well structured. Events flow freely in an unembellished, in an utterly compelling way. She tells Louis’ story without making it Laura’s story. I love to think critically about books, and I can find nothing to complain about—a feat, indeed.

I closed this book feeling like a bit of a wuss. I like to think of myself as a survivor of sorts. I like to think I’m tough. I know now, that I don’t know. Maybe I am. Maybe I could endure torture and the dehumanizing effects of hostile captivity and retain my loyalty to to my country and fellow soldiers. Maybe, but probably not. I have not ever really suffered, not in my childhood, not in childbirth—not like so many others have. I have a renewed respect for the heroes of war and the people who fight for our country today. I am humbled.

My favorite picture of Louis is one of him learning to skateboard—in his seventies.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sparks at the Park

A giggle erupted from Berzo. She peeked at her shadow on the wall of the slide then propped herself up to face me. Another giggle shook her frame. Her face was alight with mischief, her hair stood out in all directions and swayed with the breeze as she she reached out to touch me.

'No, no... Don't touch me!'


"OW! That was a good one."

Berzo's hair is flat now as she climbs up the slide and slides down, again and again, until the shadow of her hair reveals she is "fully charged." Then, once again, she comes for me.

Berzo and I finished our grocery shopping and in keeping with routine we stopped at a park to play. After playing a couple rounds of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus I was seeking something else—anything else, when I pointed out her baby-fine hair sticking out in all directions. I lightly brushed the levitating ends with my hand and she tried to grab me to pull herself up. I pulled my hand away and said, “Oh no, I can tell by your crazy hair that you’d give me a good shock!” Her quizzical look gave me a flash of inspiration. Time for a physics lesson kiddo! Summoning my inner Faraday I sifted through the jargon in my head and found an explanation comprehensible for a four-year-old.

"When you slide down the rubbing of your clothes against the plastic slide creates... [one piece of relevant jargon should be OK] ...static electricity. When your hair is sticking up I know you have a lot of static built up and if you touch me—zap! Ouch! Can you see your hair in the shadow? OK, now touch me…"

ZAP! Acck! I really hate being shocked, and these zaps pack a punch. I wished it was dark so she could see the spark.

Explanations of atoms, electrons, ions, insulators of plastic and cloth, and magnetism all flashed through my head, but as a credit to my self control, I set them aside in lieu of play. I know from my own childhood how these early, fun experiences will lay the foundation for learning about these topics academically later in life. Spinning on merry-go-rounds, swinging, teeter-tottering, bouncing a ball, static—all swirled in my mind as I sat in my twelfth-grade physics class. I wanted to do my best to make this experience stand out in her memory.

On and on she went, up and down the slide building a charge, checking her shadow to see her hair voltmeter, with me dancing around but eventually submitting to the ZAP! Occasionally I’d be out of reach and she’d jump off the slide and to her disappointment, no ZAP! I took the opportunity to explain grounding in four-year-old ease, “The static electricity drained right into the ground as soon as your feet left the slide, it doesn’t insulate like plastic. HA! HA! You didn’t get me!” Which sent her right back up the insulator/slide to recharge herself.

It made me wish I had a pocket full of paperclips, so we could play with the relationship between electricity and magnetism. With a her hair in spikes I wonder how many paperclips we could get to stick to each other—if the charge was great enough to get even one.

My diabolical plan worked. She enjoyed shocking me until I finally had had enough and raced her to the climbing tree. I think the lesson stuck too, because later that day at one of her famous “trampoline parties” she was chasing and zapping her older sister and friend. I rescued them by wetting the trampoline mat down… Then I asked Electra if she’d like a swimsuit so they could play with the hose and squirt guns.

Whether or not Electra is a superhero or supervillain is yet to be determined...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Losing Uncle John

One morning, I was sipping my coffee and merrily scrolling through FaceBook, when a post from Patence stopped me cold. Her father, my Uncle John, passed away the night before. My throat cramped, my stomach turned to lead, I let my forehead rest on the table. Through blurry eyes I read the message again. It still said the same thing that he was no longer in pain, his long battle with cancer was over, and he was at peace.

Wow it hurt, despite only having seen Uncle John a handful of times in the two decades since I left home. He's not even my “real” Uncle—although I have always thought of him as such. I know he's been sick for years, but he just seemed to keep on, keepin' on.

I selfishly hoped he would.

A little backstory:
From the time I was not-quite-two, my Dad and Karla were together, a relationship that would last for about seven years. My brother and I became step-siblings to her two kids, Lew and Regina. Lew and I were the same age as were Regina and Reed. Later, Karla told me it was like have two sets of twins. Being a mother of two kids, four years apart, I fully grasp the hair-graying complexity of that situation.

Always next-door was Karla's sister Kerry and her husband John and their three kids, Patence, Josh and Johnnie. Together we formed a pack of seven kids, almost outnumbering the grown-ups two-to-one—it was awesome. We roamed Blue River like a pack of feral puppies, acquiring more loose puppies along the way. I was the runt of the pack, but made up for it with sheer feistiness. I never lacked for playmates, fishing buddies, or fellow explorers. We'd organize epic games of hide-and-seek, freeze-tag, and smear the queer. (We all took turns as the queer—so really it was an empathy building exercise.) We'd get in trouble together and take our whuppins together. On warm summer nights, all seven of us would sleep in a row in cartoon themed sleeping bags under two huge sequoia trees.  I'll never forget how it felt waking up full of the smells of trees and earth while my head rested in the coolness of my dewey pillow.

I never felt alone.

Dad and Karla's tumultuous relationship was not to last. My Dad, my brother, and I moved to a duplex in Rainbow, Oregon. Suddenly, I felt alone—a lot. I missed my step brother and sister. I missed my cousins. I missed Karla, Aunt Kerry and Uncle John. I worried that I wasn't part of the family anymore.

John and Kerry hosted many a summer BBQ and after hurts were healed my Dad and Karla settled into an easy friendship. The first time we went to one, post break-up, I walked in feeling the outsider, trying to blend in with the foliage, until I was spotted by Uncle John and Aunt Kerry. Uncle John's face lit up, “Amy! how are you doing, darlin?” and gave me that warm hug that he was famous for. He was a tough ex-Marine, Vietnam Vet, man of the woods and all the hard labor thereunto, and also one of the warmest people you could ever hope to meet. Kerry followed up with a hug and a kiss.

I was home, they were still my people. My heart was warm and full. I ran off to join my pack.

Although in reality all of this is likely a composite of a dozen different occasions, later that day around dusk, John was playing his guitar and singing with his eyes squeezed shut while Kerry was close by his side swaying to the music and joining her voice with his in all the right moments. In my faulty memory it was “Danny's Song”-although it was probably something much cooler.

Uncle John is a hard man to say goodbye to.

John's children, Josh, Johnnie, and Patence & Co., organized a memorial for him over this past weekend. The first speaker, George, talked about how Jesus was sent for us ragamuffins—people that are a rough around the edges and full of mistakes, a sentiment that always resonated with me.

 He told a wonderful story about a time when John treed himself. John, George and Gary all logged together and one day John decided he was going to climb a particular tree, saying something like, “I believe I'm going to climb that tree now,” while George and Gary looked on. Up and up John went until he froze with fright. After many colorful attempts made by both men on ground to get John to climb down, Gary loudly announced, “I guess it's time we start the back-cut.” Gary fired up his saw and told John to, “Just try to jump off as the tree is coming down.” George said Gary even started to cut into the tree a bit, then John chose “fear over death” and scuttled down the tree. George felt that was an apt analogy for life.

I cried when Johnnie talked about how her parents were soul mates. Indeed, John & Kerry were always together, something I remarked to Charley recently—you never got one without the other, they even shared their birthday. I'm a little worried about Kerry now, but she told me her family is taking exceptional care of her—I believe it. 

I laughed when Johnnie said that when she was cooking for their family Sunday dinner and every week John would say, “‘Sissy don't tell me where having pork again,’” to which she told us, “So I stopped telling him—but we still had pork.” Looking skyward she said, “Sorry Dad, it's pork again.” referring to the delicious pulled pork that awaited us as the picnic.

Patence told wonderful stories about untying his boots after a long day logging or hauling, and how he'd save the treat from his lunch and leave it in his box, Zoo-Zoos or Ding-Dongs. Then after unlacing his boots for him, the kids would raid his lunch box for the treats they knew he saved for them. He did the same thing with his grandkids. After a long day at work, Papa always had his dessert saved for them. Occasionally, he'd be hungry enough not to have saved it, but the disappointed faces of his grandkids drove him to ask Kerry to run to the store and get them replacements. Patence said, “That's when I knew he had gone soft.” I think he always had a soft-spot when it came to kids, but it certainly got bigger when the beautiful faces of his grandkids appeared.

Nearly everyone else who spoke echoed my feelings about how John would light up when he saw you, like you made his day for no other reason than existing and crossing paths. It is a wonderful and rare quality to find in a person.

I soaked up every word, letting them float among my memories. Berzo squirreled on my lap and telling me time and again how boring it all was. Again I was feeling the outsider, but soon the talking was over and we got up to mingle. The many smiles, hugs and quick conversations drove those unfounded feelings away and I fully relaxed into the moment.

I was home, they were still my people. My heart was warm and full.

When it was time to go, I didn't want to...

Goodbye, Uncle John, may God have saved a place for you as special as you made each of us feel during your time here. I love you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Why Does E=mc²? (And Why Should We Care?)

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw © 2009

“A spirited, easy-to-understand collaboration… ...Why Does E=MC2? promises to be the most exciting and accessible explanation of the theory of relativity in recent years.”  This lofty promise graces the last paragraph of the dust jacket of this book.

Quothe the Dwight, “False.”

After reading (grinding?) this book, I do have a deeper understanding of Einstein's general and special theory of relativity, but it was neither easy-to-understand or fun—but the authors are having fun...

Imagine you're reasonably fit, and you have always wanted to go backpacking. You think a couple guides on your first solo trip would be wise. You hire Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw, two lean twenty-somethings that have backpacked this particular trail 781 times, and have even summited Everest. They bounce with energy and are always excited. Now imagine Jeff pointing to a craggy peak away a piece called, “Understanding Energy”. It doesn't look too far, your legs are feeling sound, “OK, lets roll!” you say.  But instead of a direct line, Jeff and Brian take you on a long circuitous route. Sometimes Brian offers his arm across a puddle, “No thanks, I'm good."  Then later bounds like a mountain goat through perilous terrain, all the while saying, “Just follow me, this is so easy!” Three or so re-readings later, you feel like you can pick your way through the terrain. You're a sweating mess and Jeff and Brian are running in place to keep their heart rates up.

By the end of the book, you've visualized each of them finding a faulty handhold and plunging to their demise… “Wasn't so simple, was it Bri-an.”

The bottom line: if you have an understanding of physics, Newtonian, Einsteinian, and are familiar with the works of Maxwell and Faraday—and you're not easily annoyed, then this book promises a deeper understanding of the fabric of the universe. You'll understand that mass is interchangeable with energy, and that working with only those two can never bring you any closer than an approximation (Newtonian Physics); for something even closer, we must factor in the speed of light. (Physicists have yet to uncover the Grand Unified Theory.)  You will come to understand spacetime, that it is a pliable thing dented and creased by mass and acceleration and you may even be able visualize it as the fourth dimension; this was first for me. You will also play with star fusion, light, quantum physics, visit CERN in Geneva, and more. This book doesn't require intelligence so much as it requires mental flexibility, focus, and imagination… and the ability to not strangle the authors in the process.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Love Rocks

Berzo's Love Rock
It was the tail end of a meeting for a group I attend and Berzo was getting squirrelly. There's childcare available, but being trapped in a room with rambunctious, space-bubble-invading, three-year-olds doesn't float, no matter how cool the toys are. So Berzo sticks with me and after two hours of coloring and wandering around the room she's usually pretty ready to go. Eager to help, my friend Kathy reached into her purse and pulled out a lovely little rock with a blue heart affixed to it. She told Berzo it was a “Love Rock” and that she wanted her to have it. Berzo was still and quiet, a sure indication that she was touched. Kathy told her she could make one too. Berzo said that she didn't know how. So Kathy told her, “You cut a heart out of fabric and use Mod-Podge to stick it to the rock and make it shiny.” Berzo repeated that she didn't know how to make a Love Rock. Kathy tried again. Berzo said again that she didn't know how to make a Love Rock, with the patience to rival Job she explained it yet again, and then I took Berzo aside and told her we'd make some together. Kathy then filled me in on the backstory of Love Rocks.

Berzo gave Kathy a hug. (The space-bubble kid.)

Berzo held her rock in her hand all the way home, repeating her experience over and over, soaking it in. Then she gave her Love Rock to her Papa as soon as he came home, and she told him the whole story.

Love Rocks. It sure does.

In the fall of 2013 two young Forest Grove girls, Anna and Abigail, were hit by a car and killed while playing in a pile of leaves and our hearts collectively broke. It was surreal. Really? They're gone? Just like that? Just like that.

Instead of letting the girls' lives be defined by their tragic end, their parents decided to honor the love their daughters brought into their lives by starting the Love Rocks movement. Love Rocks can be found in parks, libraries, coffee shops and more.  They litter the town of Forest Grove, but are spreading all over.

Boots was also moved by the idea of spreading love this way we decided to make use of a sick-day to make a few of our own. We drove to Jo-Anne fabrics and the girls each picked out a fabric remnant they liked. While I hunted for Mod Podge, they popped in and out of the kid aisles. I made several speed laps around this store designed by Entropy herself, until I finally zeroed in on the elusive Mod Podge. Randomly choosing one of the thirty varieties, we headed to the checkout.

Mod Podge looks suspiciously like the rubber cement of the 80's, so I thought working outside would be wise. It was. Our fold-up card table is now shellacked in the stuff.

The girls hunted for five nice rocks each while I cut heart shapes from their fabric. I poured Mod Podge into two paper bowls and handed them paint brushes. They were off! They painted the fabric hearts onto the rocks with fervor and randomly shouted, “I need more Mod Podge!” and “Mama, I need another heart!” Then they'd dash out to get more rocks and wash them. The heat bored into the back of my head as we completed our labor of love. Boots looked up at me red-faced and said, “Mama I think I'm done. I'm getting too hot.” WHEW!

We then trimmed the paper “Love Rocks / FB” tags and painted those on the reverse side. We laid our rocks out to dry and retreated inside.

I was expecting to produce about ten total, but I think we ended up with about forty. Still slightly tacky, the girls distributed them to the door stoop of friends and neighbors. A pocket full of rocks accompany most of our trips to the park.

The best part has been the quizzical looks that people give us when Berzo or Boots is placing them and the delight they show when they hearing the story. On our last day of my group, Berzo brought five and handed them out randomly to the other members. They all came up to me to express their gratitude. My toddler gave them rocks and their hearts were touched. How awesome is that? One woman was particularly affected, and we chatted at length. As she turned the rock in her hands and caressed the heart, I could see how deep the small gesture set. She runs a child care and was wondering out loud about getting her little charges in on the love sharing.
If you see a Love Rock, upload a picture to their FB page, then take it and drop it somewhere else. Or if it makes you happy, keep it. Make a few to share and remember that it all started to honor two little angels called home to heaven early. If you're a runner or walker, consider signing-up for the Love Rock Run, all the proceeds of which are going to the construction of a memorial park for Anna and Abigail. The run will take place in Forest Grove on June 27th.

Share the love.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Boots the Soccer Player

Boots just played her final game of her first soccer season over the weekend. It was something of a wish fulfilled for me, as I have not-so-patiently waited seven years for the privilege of sitting on the grass cheering my kid and her team to victory. Not that victory is what happened, they don't keep score, but if they did I'm pretty sure the other team won. Who cares? It was intensely fun watching her play. Even Berzo enjoyed herself, tossing out a, “Go sister!” now and again.

Charley and I love sports, but neither of us knows soccer. I think that's part of the appeal for Boots. We may have ruined baseball for her, it's difficult watching your parents who have a lot of experience with baseball play around and have fun, while you don't have the first clue as to what's going on. Whereas with soccer, she's way ahead of our curve. And bonus, she doesn't have us giving her complicated advice that's not appropriate to her playing level, she just has her parents watching, cheering, and having fun.

I'm not giving up on baseball though. One day, I will watch my daughter (at least one of them) play in a baseball game, even if it costs me a bribe.

Team photographer Charley.
It has been fun for Charley too. This is the first time Boots has had an activity that interests him and that that he's available to involved in. He her took her shopping for her gear, drove her to practices, bought her goals for playing at home, played with her at home, and pretty much managed her season.

Being the family with younger kids in the neighborhood, we have heard stories about competitive coaches that yell at the kids, out-of-control parents—the works. We were spared all of these problems. The coach is the nicest guy; he rotates the girls frequently, is always giving guidance, and notices what they do right. The thing he says the most was some variation of, “Are you having fun out there?” The parents alternate chatting with each other, chasing roaming toddlers, and cheering for the kids. Nobody gets mad. Nobody shouts.

The kids are great too.  They play their hearts out, but I hear them saying, “Oops sorry!” when they bump into a member of the other team. Although the game is rife with bloopers, e.g. kids running up to the ball to put on a big kick and missing the whole thing,  nobody jeers, they just run back and try again. It's exactly as young kid's sports should be, building skills, gaining experience, learning to take turns, realizing making mistakes is part of the process, setting up team members by passing and playing defense, and cheering each other on.

Until Boots expressed an interest in soccer, I had all but given up on her playing a team sport. She just didn't seem to have the drive for it, but she was just waiting to be ready and get to start on her own terms. I couldn't be more proud of her, she listens and responds to the coach's directions, catches on quickly to new skills (rather than obsessing about whether or not she can do it), she rolls with her mistakes and gets in the thick of things—all of which are brand new for this kid. She has done well and learned much.

What a fun season.

What fun it is to get a front seat to watching a person grow.

Boots showing off her moves. :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

My Rough Day

Berzo in a nutshell.
Yesterday, (May 19) started off gloomy. The clouds outside mirrored my inner self. I've been struggling to parent Berzo lately. She has been in a awful behavior phase for over a year now, which only appears to be worsening. At three years old, she doesn't respond to reason when she's upset, yet her intellect is developed enough such that techniques that worked well when she was littler, i.e, distraction and redirection no longer works—at all. I was really good at it too, I could move her from a conflict into something constructive and fun. Now we have to duke it out, every time, all the time. It's exasperating and usually embarrassing too...

Being a stay-at-home-mom, guess who I point the finger at with these behavior issues? Yep. Me. Berzo was the sweetest, tenderest baby and young toddler, somewhere in the middle there I bungled something up.

I woke up with the weight of this slumping my shoulders. Berzo slept well the night before and was in an unusually light mood. It was nice.

I decided to dissect this problem into it’s components and face it head on.

Problem #1: Berzo spends too much time on the computer, overloading her screentime and creating all kinds of conflicts, “MY TURN! I WAS WATCHING THAT! GO AWAY!”. Berzo taught herself to find games, Netflix, and pictures. To remedy this I decided to unplug the computer during the day. Because she was having a good day, she fussed only for a moment, then went right over to the toy bin and spent the next half hour setting up a pretend picnic. Yes! Success, a half hour of screen time just turned into a half-hour of creative play. Maybe I don't totally suck at this job! We sat down together and had a nice pretend picnic-tea party.

(More numbered problems to come, but first join me to see how the day plays out..)

Then it was off to the store for errands and park time. This is where things got ugly.

Berzo doesn't want to play at the park today, so we head straight to the store. (Whose kid doesn't want to play at the park?! My kid. I like being outside so my kids get their fill of park time…) We only need to pick up a few things so I opt for a small cart. I got the tingle of eminent trouble right away as Berzo charged around the store with no care as to where I am. I should have insisted we go to the park first.

We check out the toys, (because I followed her there) and shortly thereafter we head into doing our required shopping.  She's laughing and dashing around, which turns into a one-sided game of hide and seek. I refuse to participate, but that doesn't deter her. I try to pace my shopping with her dashing and manage to get her to come out of hiding to get a cookie at the bakery. I figure she'll nibble it until checkout, which is imminent, and we'll be fine.


She dashes off. I call for her and her head pops out from a aisle, eyes alight with laughter. I tell her sternly, “Time to go. I'm checking out.” She cackles and disappears back into the aisle.

I check out, expecting her to come out at any moment and start hanging on me. She doesn't. I finish checking out—still no Berzo. I'm getting exasperated. I start going up and down the main drag calling for her. I ask a couple staff members if they've seen a little girl in a green shirt.


I continue to pace the main aisle. It's been about five minutes or more since I've seen her last. I'm starting to get worried, and ask them to rally for a search. The overhead speaker system blares out my shame and I feel my cheeks get hot. I continue to pace and start looking in areas I haven't tried. The department store is about a million square feet so I picture us missing each other as we go by.

I secretly hope she's scared and crying at this moment.

My mom radar picks up her voice—she sounds upset. I flash off in that vector, nearing light speed, and there she is—fighting off two employees as she yells them, “I don't need your help finding my Mama! I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” She's anchored to the ground and my mom-sense tells me she manipulated the laws of physics to make her thirty-five pound self weight about 335 pounds. We make eye contact and she gives the befuddled employees a look that said, “Way to go guys, you totally blew my hide-out.”

I thanked the employees and got down on my knees and held her eyes with mine and told her, “I brought you in this world, and I can take you out of it.” KIDDING! I wanted to say that, but I held her arms firmly and told her that I was very scared, I wasn't playing, I'm not playing, and she is to NEVER hide from me again unless I have agreed to play and I am counting.

I wish that was the worst part of my day.

Soon we get Boots off the bus and then it's time to go to the dentist for a cleaning for all three of us. The amazing CC takes Boots and Berzo, and I go to my hygienist. Soon Berzo is done and is showing me the contents of her goodie bag. She had a great time. I'm laying down on the chair mouth gaping with pointy instruments scraping my teeth when the dentist rolls in and tells me that Berzo was great and sat really still for her x-rays so they were able to see all eight cavities.

WHAT?! Eight!? As in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8? Eight cavities?


They are in between all her molars. Boots has yet to have a single cavity. But, Boots doesn't steal the lemons I've squeezed off the counter and chew on them for another hour. Just imagine the loosely bonded H atoms, dancing by then joining hands with minerals in her teeth then do-si-do-ing them away.

By Berzo's age, Boots had experienced candy like three—maybe four times. And dessert treats were limited to Opa Thursdays. Boots drank juice, but only occasionally and she certainly doesn't swish it around in her mouth like Berzo does before swallowing it. I have become lax, and desserts and treats are a regular occurrence now. Boots never forgets to ask for a dessert, and if big sister has one…

Know what the worst part was? All full of hubris about safety, six months ago at the previous cleaning, I requested that my girls be on an as needed basis for X-rays. Something hurts or you can sort of see something? Then X-ray. The dentist and I compromised by saying as needed and/or every two years. We agreed that we would wait until next time (today) to get a set of X-rays for Berzo. I'm all about getting their teeth cleaned by professionals every six months, but shooting their skulls (there's a baby brain in there!) with radiation beginning at the age of three just seemed reckless. I didn't get my first dental x-rays until I was eighteen. Only in the last few years have I been regular about going to the hygienist, and I hate getting X-rays, zap, zap, zap then a panoramic, zaaaap. That just can't be good.


Not unless your kid has eight cavities. The dentist had the good grace not to say, “I told you so.” Although I deserved it. Boots is still on a two year rotation, but Berzo will be getting regular X-rays to make sure the four almost-need-to-be-drilled cavities aren't ready for drilling. Oh and I refused to give my kids the fluoride supplement as babies either—too toxic for me.

This brings us to our next problem.

Problem #2: Berzo eats far too much sugary foods.

This one is a little bit easier for me. I won’t buy sugary stuff and it won’t be around to eat. Charley and I also decided we'd find other ways to treat the girls than buying them something sweets. Instead, we’ll let them pick out a book or small toy, or just do something with them that they really like. I’ll toss the lemons immediately after juicing them into the foods and lemon-aid is forbidden. If we can limit treats to special occasions, grandparent visits certainly qualify, coupled with a rework to our dental hygiene routine, I think we can put a halt to this problem. Problem 2 is likely related to the next problem…

Problem #3: Berzo's behavior is out of control.

She yells at people and other kids, is highly unsocial, and doesn't make requests so much as demands from Charley and me. Basically she tries to control everyone in the family and melts down whenever that doesn't work—which is all the time. When Boots was going through this Charley and I spent copious amounts of energy talking about social situation and our behaviors. Boots and I read books about sharing and caring together. In typical second child fashion, we simply haven't given her the same investment in energy. She still seems so young compared to Boots, I forget her level of intellect is the same as Boots' was when I was working with her on these same problems. Boots is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful, caring kid—now. She still messes up occasionally—and so do I—but all in all she's amazing. It was a lot of work and very frustrating at times, but now it's Berzo's turn and I need to stop waiting for her to magically grow out of it and start working with her more directly.

Why am I sharing all this? The same reason people write down their New Year's Resolutions. I'm laying it out to organize my thoughts and goals and hold myself accountable. I hope people will ask, so how's the no-candy thing going—give up on that one yet?

It's hard. I feel like I'm swimming upstream most days. Sometimes the current is nice and it eddys for a while and sometimes it's a rushing torrent. Lately when the current gets rough, I just grab onto a log and jump out for a while. I need to swim it with her and show her the way. It's worth it—she's worth it. So please remind me of these promises when you see her on the computer rotting her brain with My Little Pony re-runs, or running around with a sucker rotting her teeth, or yelling at your kid rotting her heart. My pride can take it, because I don't have any—parenting is nothing, if not a humbling experience.

This was a tough day to live, but I'm glad it played out this way. It was exactly the shock I needed to resuscitate my parenting skills development, kinda like getting an F on a paper tells me I'm not putting in the effort. It reminded me of what a capable partner I have in Charley as we worked through each issue and adjusted our habits and routines. Even Boots is on board, even though it means less treats and more work on her part, e.g. teaching Berzo good social skills by example. In the end these problems are opportunities to bring about positive changes in our family. We are lucky to have each other.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Review: Falling Together

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Marisa de los Santos © 2012

Cat, Will and Pen are college best friends. The wild, charismatic member of the group, Cat, is getting married and she convinces Pen and Will to make a clean break of their friendships, rather than enduring a slow painful tear as their lives tow them apart. Will and Pen reluctantly agree and for six years they all go their separate ways.

Through Pen's eyes we see the longing for her friends as she struggles to cope with her father's death, and single parenthood while the father's on-again-off-again wife does her best to derail Pen's life.

Then an enigmatic email, tinged with desperation, arrives in Will and Pen's email box from Cat, asking them to go to their college reunion. What follows is a story of two people, and Cat's estranged husband caught in the event horizon of a black hole in which Cat is its singularity. They swirl, clash, and fall in survive being spaghettified and eventually find themselves and each other.

I found myself wanting to be critical of this story, but this story wasn't meant to be dissected. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, it was light to read, interesting, and the Will and Pen characters were relatable.  This book reminded me of how fun it is to slip into someone else's skin during a pivotal time in their lives, and let all the different incarnations of ourselves reconcile and become something new and lovely.