Friday, November 24, 2006

Just like you, only shorter...

The other day Gwen was making Ava some pasta – one of the few foods in this world she will eat at all times, without question. Scrambled eggs, dried strawberries, pizza and fresh mozzarella are the others. She pulled a box of De Cecco “Racchette” (tiny tennis racquets, currently in favor with the girls) from the pantry and, before she was able to elevate it out of the sight line of a three year old, Ava noticed that the box had already been opened.

“No Mommy! Not that old box! I want a fresh one!”

Before Gwen could even respond, Ava had made her own trip to the pantry and emerged carrying an unopened box of the exact same pasta.

“This one, Mommy. This is what I want. The fresh one!”

The moment was all the more amusing and illuminating because it was pure me, a fact that Gwen noted by calling out across the house, through the recounting and the laughter, “Jim! She is SO your daughter!”

It’s a dynamic that begins shortly after birth, really still in the hospital, seeing pieces of yourself in your kids. It starts with appearance – relatives pointing at a newborn baby and stating with complete confidence that he or she has your eyes, your ears, your nose, your toes.

But as self-affirming and heartwarming as those early observations can be, the fun really starts with the recognition of common behaviors that couldn’t have come from anywhere or anyone else.

Ava has an acute sense of smell. Walk her through the cheese or fish section of a supermarket and you will see expressions you didn’t think a human face could produce without special effects. This condition has also contributed to the fact that she is an unbelievably finicky eater. Put something in front of her on a plate or a spoon and her first reaction is to sniff at it, and in almost every case the reaction is the same, “No… I don’t like it. I don’t want it.” At that point the game is over. No amount of cajoling, supportive context or encouragement is going to push the offending item past Ava’s nose and into her digestive system.

I was exactly the same way, and confronting the need to identify and provide my child with a steady supply of sustenance she will actually consume has given me a new perspective on the things my Mom and Dad endured at my hands. There was just very little I would eat. If the item on the menu had parents, its rejection was virtually assured. I was not often subjected to the classic, “you’re going to sit here at this table until you finish your dinner” mandate, but on the rare occasions I was, believe me, I sat, and sat, and sat. The sun could have come up the following morning, that was fine with me as long as I didn’t have to deal with the meatloaf or hamburger on my plate. Most nights, my mother wound up having to cook one dinner for the rest of the family and, after I'd rejected it, another for me. Ava has taken my seat at that table.

I also enjoy what basically amounts to a lifelong gag reflex in response to anything that could even loosely be considered a leftover. This is another trait I’ve apparently passed on to my youngest daughter, although I have to admit rejecting dried pasta from a previously opened box because it wasn’t “fresh” enough was a new one on me. And, no matter what she says about it, I know deep down Gwen feels fortunate and uniquely blessed to have been given the opportunity to manage around this helpful condition across two generations of family members.

At five, Madison already shares Gwen’s affinity for lists, especially to-do lists, her heartfelt concern for others and an ability to absorb and retain the name of every person she’s ever met. I need name crib sheets to get through family celebrations that have included the same basic participants for the last 20 or 30 years. “Who is that woman again? How is she related to us? Oh, right, that’s Dad’s sister.” Gwen and Madison can roll through the names of every friend and neighbor who lives within a half-mile radius, complete with relevant personal information, like they were born with this information hard-wired into their brains.

Madison can be fairly preoccupied at times with maintaining her own stuff, as opposed to shared or communal toys or items, and she’s very careful and protective over things that are “hers.” I was exactly the same way as a child, and have only in recent years loosened up in this regard. I was the kid in my family who kept my possessions in perfect condition for years and years, even if that meant never using them.

My younger sisters would use their stuff, break their stuff, lose their stuff, give it away to vague acquaintances – it didn’t matter to them. Ava is like that when it comes to most material possessions. She is surrounded by them, she knows there are always more on the way, and really can’t be concerned with a specific item for longer than a minute or two, unless Madison happens to want it, at which point it becomes the single most important thing in the world for exactly as long as that attention lasts.

Madison possesses Gwen’s love of shopping and wandering in and out of all manner of stores. She's also inherently curious, unbelievably aware of the things that are happening around her and misses absolutely nothing. I'm happy to take credit for that, particularly since doing so moves my contribution out of the realm of dietary quirks and an inability to remember names.

For as long as I can remember, I have tortured friends and relatives by wrecking perfectly good songs by putting them on auto-repeat until all the life has been drained out of the notes and the tracks forever relegated to use as filler material in mix tapes or - today - iTunes playlists. Madison is my penance, personified. Get her locked on a song and the artist in question need not ever make another, so complete and enduring is her fascination.

I believe I am also the source of Ava's almost hypnotic reaction to the television set. Sit Ava in front of a TV and you literally have to turn it off to get her to respond to a question. My parents say I was the same way, especially during commercials, when I would apparently lock onto the screen, mesmerized, for the full duration of the break.

I guess some things do change, and the worn buttons on our remote control and my propensity to channel-surf and fast-forward through ads in recorded programming offer good news for partially-consumed boxes of De Cecco pasta everywhere: not all of these childhood behaviors, whatever the source, last forever.

Monday, November 06, 2006


No fun to write this particular post - I'm sick. Was out sick from work today after being sick all weekend and, I must say, a couple of days late last week as well. And now that I'm sick, Madison's sick too... we've entered the vicious cycle - much earlier this season than I would have liked - that all families with young children know all too well. From now until next spring, give or take a few universally healthy days here and there, at least one of the four of us will be hacking or sneezing or feverish or achy or just plain miserable at all times. At least one of us will be sick.

The Long Tail of the Internet has nothing on the Long Tail of a seasonal illness passed back and forth (and side to side) from one family member to another from roughly October/November through roughly March/April. This year's sick cycle began for our family a little more than a week ago, when Ava came down with a sudden and fairly high fever on Saturday morning. I went out to get a haircut about 9 a.m. and returned with a ball of her favorite fresh mozzarella to find Ava asleep on the couch in front of the television. Gwen and Madison were in the basement and reported that she just cuddled up and conked out. I felt her head and she was burning up... a diagnosis later confirmed by an in-ear thermometer that pegged her temperature at 102.9 degrees.

I have discussed the force of Ava's will on here several times, here's the latest example - she won't take medicine. As soon as she woke up we tried several times to get her to imbibe her prescribed 1.5-teaspoon dose of Children's Tylenol, no go. It was during this extended dialogue that she projectile vomited on Gwen (for some reason over the years, Gwen has always been the one lucky enough to be holding, speaking with or otherwise attending to our children when they have suddenly opted to throw up, urinate, soil themselves or produce some other form of unpleasant residue, a perfect record Gwen never fails to point out during its most recent manifestation.)

The vomit gave us a good excuse to put Ava into a tepid bath, and during the course of that bath we did get her to drink down some grape Triaminic - after she had rejected carefully poured and offered doses of bubble gum and cherry-flavored Children's Tylenol. We would repeat this process several hours later during a subsequent bath, when grape was rejected in favor of cherry, but I digress. At one point we tried a packet of those Tylenol "flavor crystals" in an attempt to sell the grape, but as far as I can tell giving a feverish and congested child who is having trouble breathing in the first place a cup of medicine with sugary powder floating on top is more choking hazard than cure.

In any event, Ava woke up Sunday and was feeling fine, after a difficult 24 hours that represented the christening of this year's "sick" season here in our little home in Anytown, USA. We had a few clear days and then I developed a terrible sore throat on Wednesday that took a little break on Thursday, was back Friday and has gotten progressively worse and more complicated ever since. Gwen thinks this may have something to do with the flu shot I got at work a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to do my part not to run our family health ship aground on the rocks this year, I'm not sure.

I called my doctor's office this morning and asked for a walk-in appointment. They told me I could come in at 3 p.m. and be seen by the first available doctor, which I did. So after putting on street clothes (no small accomplishment), hauling my a-- out of the house, driving to the office and sitting in the waiting room for a half hour listening to dialogue that would have been worthy of a Seinfeld episode - elderly woman next to me muttering about the length of the wait with every breath, older couple across the room discussing options on the new Mercedes they were considering, "We're not spending $2,500 for another in-car navigation system, you never use it," and the office unexpectedly running out of flu shots the moment the Jacobson's arrived, "They said we could come over anytime this afternoon!" - I got in to see a doctor (not mine) who told me that my condition was common, was viral, as opposed to bacterial, and would have to "run its course," over the next few days. End result: no meds.

Being sick over this last weekend was a particular bummer, because we had planned to have a big family dinner Saturday night with my sisters, their kids, my grandmother and parents, and the whole thing wound up being cancelled due to my condition and inability to make sauce without exposing an even broader array of relatives to this unpleasant condition. Those who had the option of staying away were the lucky ones... Madison was not in this group, and when she came trudging into our bedroom Sunday morning with a raspy voice and hacking her lungs out I knew we had truly entered the seasonal cycle for good.

She was home today, too. So far Gwen and Ava are clear and we hope that remains the case but based on past experiences it won't. Right around the time I'm feeling better and Madison is back at school this will kick in for one or both of them, and so it goes, this thing of ours.

[At least until next spring.]