Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Breaking News

I walked out our back door this morning to find a beautiful late-spring day waiting on the other side. Sun, blue sky, green grass. Perfect. As I was dropping my laptop bag into the car I noticed a FedEx truck pull up in front of our house. I met the driver halfway down the walk and he handed me a box with the word “Crocs” printed on it – the girls’ highly anticipated shoes had arrived. A good day was getting even better.

I got in the car and was less than a mile into my morning commute when my cell phone rang. It was Gwen, who was dropping the girls off at school. I picked up and it was immediately clear that something was wrong… really wrong. With a shaky but urgent voice cutting through jarring background noise, Gwen told me that Ava had fallen off a fence in the drop-off area outside her school and broken her arm. BROKEN HER ARM. I immediately wondered how she could have offered up that diagnosis so quickly, without benefit of an x-ray machine, but I didn’t want to ask. I could hear Ava wailing in the background.

She asked where I was and if I could turn around and meet them at the emergency room, or at Ava’s pediatrician’s office, the destination was still a little unclear at that point and there was a little group discussion occurring among the parents on the scene as to how exactly to proceed.

“I’m right here,” I said, “I just left the house. I can meet you at the school.”

When I pulled up, about a minute later, Ava was sitting in her car seat. Gwen was on the phone with our pediatrician who said to come directly there. I looked into the car and saw my little angel, my 4-year-old, holding her left arm in her right hand and crying her eyes out. There was a distinct and dramatic bend just above the left wrist that should not have been there – think Joe Theismann’s leg after it had become acquainted with Lawrence Taylor. I tried to reassure her that everything was going to be OK as my stomach sank to my knees.

We did a high-speed convoy to the pediatrician. Thankfully enough, the girls’ doctor has an office in a big medical group that is basically a small hospital, with numerous practices under the same roof – including radiology and orthopedics. We parked next to each other and, to my utter amazement, Ava’s cries had by then been reduced to faint whimpers. I picked her up, she buried her face into the space between my neck and shoulder. I looked down at her arm. Still broken. The impossible twist was now accompanied by some obvious bruising. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and didn’t want to imagine what lay in store in terms of treatment. Did the break impact her growth plate? Was this innocent little fall off a fence going to lead to a permanent medical condition? Stunt the growth of her arm? We had no idea.

I carried her across the parking lot and into the pediatrician’s office, where we were met by a nurse who quickly looked her over, gave us a cup of Motrin to help with the pain and sent us down the hall to radiology. The technicians were nice, and friendly, and as blown away by the condition of Ava’s arm as we were. They weren’t sure whether it was her arm or her wrist that was broken – at one point they didn’t seem to know exactly which part of this tiny limb to x-ray. This did not instill confidence in two panicked parents.

We asked whether or not we should give her the Motrin but they didn’t like that idea, “in case they need to send her in for surgery, it will be better if she doesn’t have anything in her system.” I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that last part… send her in for what?

We only had a minute or two to obsess over the horror of that possibility when the radiologist came over and took a look at the x-rays. Both bones in the forearm were broken, but they were clean breaks and well clear of the wrist or any complicating factors. “It’s a very common break in children, they’re actually pretty fragile bones,” the doctor said. “They used to call this a nightstick break.”

“Oh really, why?”

“Because when the police used to hit people with their nightsticks in this part of the arm the bones would break, so they started calling them nightstick breaks.”

I never would have believed in the ability of a police brutality reference to so thoroughly warm the heart and calm the mind, but this one sure did. From this day forward, the image of demonstrators getting their forearms smashed to bits by police nightsticks will for me forever rank right up there with bunnies hopping through green meadows and winning scratch-off lottery tickets.

We walked down the hall to the on-site orthopedist, who saw us quickly. By this time we’d made Ava aware of the fact that she was going to get to pick the color of her cast, and pink and purple were on the list of options. Without hesitation she chose purple. I know there have been a few medical advances over the last 20 or 30 years, but this morning the advent of multi-colored casts for kids trumped them all.

The doctor explained that he was going to give Ava two shots in the arm – one for each broken bone – to deaden the pain before he had to straighten it out and wrap it in the cast. The shots and the straightening were our toughest moments of the morning, beyond the initial break, but once again I just stood there utterly amazed at this little world-beater’s bravery and resolve. Even the orthopedist, whose brusque bedside manner left a little bit to be desired, kept saying, "what a brave little girl you are... you're really a very brave little girl!" I got stitches once when I was in first or second grade, and the blubbering was so bad that the state of California got in touch to see about running a temporary aqueduct to the vicinity of my face. But Ava got through everything, and before we knew it she was flashing her cool new purple cast and smiling at everyone we came across.

We brought her home, she fell asleep on the ride and we bundled her up on the couch with her arm elevated like the doctor told us to. Gwen drove back over to the school the girls both attend in the morning to tell Madison that her sister was OK. The cast will be on for six weeks. Not ideal, by a long shot, but at the end of the day the best possible outcome we could have imagined out of something like this. She woke up from her nap this afternoon and told Gwen her arm was feeling better and she wanted to go back to the doctor to take this big purple thing off because she didn’t need it anymore. By the time I got home Ava was running around the backyard with Madison (who had already written her name on the cast with a dark purple Sharpie) and other neighborhood kids and giving us our first taste of the next six weeks, which will be spent urging her to take it easy, be careful, slow down. None of those things are high on Ava's agenda.

I snapped a few photos of the x-rays on my camera phone when we were in the doctor’s office. Showed them to the girls tonight and they were captivated by the images. “Oh, I know what’s the problem,” Ava said as she scrolled through them. “My bones are cracked open and that was a big, big problem.”

“Yes,” I said to her. “That was a big, big problem. But you were very brave and everything turned out fine.”

“Dad?” she responded. “Tomorrow can you get me some new Play-Doh? Cause I’m the one that’s hurt.”

No fool, our Ava.

Three Great Days

We had a great family weekend, the kind that makes the sleep you gave up when you decided to have kids seem even more worth it. It was also a perfect kick-off to the unofficial start of late spring/summer, which is probably my favorite time of year. And this year we ushered it in with three days full of laughter, fun and priceless little throwaway lines and observations from the girls that would collapse under the weight of context, but nonetheless provided a steady stream of smiles, chuckles and heartfelt amazement.

We did the divide-and-conquer thing on Saturday morning – Gwen took Ava to a neighborhood birthday party and Madison and I went to lacrosse practice. We reconvened at home early in the afternoon and, with the mercury bumping up against 90 degrees, decided to drive about an hour east to spend the rest of the day lounging in and around my parents’ pool. Our hosts were not even home, Mom and Dad are down in Atlantic City for the week, but the pool was still there, waiting for us. We enjoyed a few hours splashing around in the water, followed by a phenomenal pie from my childhood pizzeria, which we ate outside, and an early evening drive home.

We drove into the city Sunday morning to meet friends visiting from out of town for brunch at a place in Tribeca I’d never heard of called Bubby’s. Big, busy, loud and terrific. We had a memorable meal and visit with our friends and then stopped off at Citarella on the Upper East Side, our old neighborhood, to get some city-quality tuna steaks and wild salmon to export to our home in the suburbs. For some reason we have never been able to find seafood as good or fresh out here, so our rate of fresh fish consumption is more or less directly related to how frequently we find ourselves in Manhattan. We arrived back home with just enough time to off-load our precious cargo and take half a breath before again leaving for another neighborhood birthday party, one of approximately 652 we will attend this year. The good thing is that they are all so different, so distinct, such dynamic personal expressions of the guests of honor who are turning 1, or 2 or 5. Their little evolving personalities really come across, through the pizza and the piñatas, the face painting, spin art, cartoon character cakes and – for the really young ones – mid-party naps. Madison and Ava have taken to calling babies who haven’t celebrated their first birthday “zero,” as in, “they haven’t even turned one yet, Daddy, they were just born, they’re zero. Zero years.”

We got home from the party about 8:30 and collapsed went to bed. Woke up Monday morning and thankfully, mercifully, had absolutely no formal plans on the agenda. We hung around together, watched TV and did some craft down in the basement. The girls have this new game they like to play, they call it “school.” One of them – usually Madison – will play the teacher and occasionally Gwen or I will jump in and join Ava as a fellow “student.” It’s funny to watch Madison sit in a chair a foot or two in front of us and project her voice as if she was trying to control a room full of unruly kids. “OKAY… CLASS… LISTEN UP! WHO CAN TELL ME WHAT DAY IT IS? WHO WANTS TO READ A BOOK?” It’s actually a good game.

Shortly after noon we ventured forth in search of some outdoor furniture. After spending about a half hour inside this enormous store we settled on a set we liked, and after another 15 minutes or so found a salesman who was actually willing to help us. We had a little dialogue and agreed to move ahead. Everything was on track until the guy, about halfway through entering our information into the store computer, decided to tell us that the table we wanted was actually back-ordered until about mid-July. That seemed like a good chunk of the outdoor furniture season to surrender, before we'd even bought the set, and mid-July was just the prognosis they were willing to offer up while we were standing there in the store, credit card in outstretched hand. Who knows what unforeseen production or delivery snafus lay in wait after we’d transitioned into a plaintive voice on the phone or insistent e-mail message? In the end, it was a risk we weren’t willing to take, so we grudgingly chalked up a fruitless and frustrating hour and headed home.

We had promised the girls we would stop off at the mall to visit some junky little store that stocked a wide variety of clip-on earrings. Madison had heard about the place from a classmate. We wound up buying nine pairs that will be broken or forgotten within a week or so, but the in-the-moment excitement and smiles were worth it. Is there any more depressing place on earth than a shopping mall on a warm weather holiday? I'm not sure there is. We successfully navigated our way through the zombies and senior citizens, went home and spent the rest of the day running around the lawn, playing on the swing set, watching TV and just hanging out together. Took a nice walk around the neighborhood - we call it the neighborhood loop - and then fired up the tuna steaks on the grill. The girls loved them, and after dinner we faded into a bath, a board game and finally “movie night” before retiring to our respective beds about 9 p.m. Madison came wandering into our room at 7:21 a.m. yesterday morning asking to go downstairs – about an hour later than she and her sister had been greeting us for the last few days, a very welcome result of a good and active weekend.

Monday, May 28, 2007

What Ava Wants To Know...

...on Memorial Day. A national holiday here in America, for my international readers.

"Dad, can we get mozzarella today? Are you staying?"

In Bloom

We bought this house from an elderly woman who had been here about 50 years and must have been a world class gardener. When we took possession of the place, the property was almost entirely overrun with planter boxes and other free-roaming greenery, with some really beautiful and exotic specimens thrown into the mix.

And even though I think the former owner would keel over if she ever came back and saw how much we have ripped out to make room for sod, swing sets and soccer goals, I have to say we really do appreciate the amount of naturally-occurring color she left behind for us.

Here's a small sampling of the plants that are currently in bloom and suitable for framing on Memorial Day, 2007.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Madison Kicking A Tree

Ava too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This Blog Is HUGE In Australia

Even though I have virtually no readers, I still feel bad about letting down the readership. It's been quite a while since my last substantive entry here. The Mother's Day installment was just a photo and a caption, a nice and heartfelt observance of the holiday, but really not much more taxing than slapping a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers on your dog and posting the side-splitting results. I need material, something to entertain the faithful few who do actually visit, so I've taken to following the girls around the house, my MacBook at the ready and - in the finest tradition of Andrew Shue - screaming at them to "DO SOMETHING!" Hopefully this approach will yield fruit and entries in the coming days.

It is probably worth noting that I have learned something interesting over the last several weeks, courtesy of the information my Sitemeter provides for free - this blog is HUGE in Australia. I have regular readers in Perth, Sydney, a place called Applecross. Suddenly the whole enterprise seems more exotic. World-wide appeal. I feel like Robin Zander walking into Budokan for the first time and wondering what all the cheering was about. I find myself wandering around humming the "Men At Work," song, you know the one. Was there more than one? Contemplating a Vegemite sandwich for lunch, how would one go about facilitating something like that? In any event, thank you to my Aussie readers. I was cheering for Joe Hachem at last year's WSOP and I'm happy to do so again this year if it satisfies and solidifies my international fan base.

Not much else to report, I'm not considering this a real post, just a chance to take another shot at dooce and demonstrate that we are still alive, because people were worried, especially in Australia. We had a nice family moment around the computer on Friday night, when we ordered new Crocs for the girls. Madison was very hot on this new style, Crocs Mary Janes, so we ordered a pair for her and one for Ava and the most frequent topic of conversation around here this week has been whether or not the new footwear will arrive in time for the long Memorial Day weekend. Three days with the family, a planned trip into the city to see friends on Saturday or Sunday. I should have something to write about by Monday. We can hope, anyway. Until then...

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie... Oi, Oi, Oi!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day

[Ava's gift to Gwen this year demonstrated an increasing awareness and understanding of interconnected concepts.]

Thursday, May 10, 2007

365 Days In 88 Posts

This blog is one year old today. I wasn’t really sure what it was, or where it would go, when I wrote that first post on a Wednesday night, sitting in our home office with a glass of Turley Zin and a strong desire to do some writing for myself. The girls provided a safe and obvious topic – I had been filling up with stories and moments from our lives together for years at that point, nowhere to put them but into an increasingly unreliable and overcrowded memory.

I still don’t know what this is going to be, where it will go, but after 365 days and 88 posts I do know this – I have captured a year in the lives of our children, our family, in a way I never would have been able to imagine absent this little forum, this advance in technology people call a blog. I guess I could have gotten a leather journal and a pen and jotted down notes to myself, but there’s something fairly satisfying in the process of recognizing an entry, writing it up with care, pushing that little orange “publish” button and sending it out into the world.

The first readers were family members, followed almost immediately by a small group of close friends. Over time the circle expanded, as I became more comfortable with the process and, if I’m being honest, proud of the results. People said nice things about it, told me it was worthy of being published. When you hear something like that enough times you start to wonder about it yourself, so I sought out the counsel of some “book people,” and was told that in order to really pursue anything I would have to make the entries much broader and less personally relevant to our own lives and, at the same time, significantly boost traffic.

Neither suggested course of action was particularly appealing. For one thing, the whole idea behind the blog – beyond the desire to do some organized personal writing – was to capture the little moments, the milestones, the things we said to each other over toasted Alvarado Street bagels in the morning. I wasn’t setting out to be some kind of parenting expert or advocate prone to sweeping generalizations as a result of my own personal experiences. When our home remodeling project turned into a disaster, I wanted to write about it. But from the standpoint of what we endured, not in the form of a generic top ten list offering helpful hints for dealing with contractors. Our stories were our stories, and this was the place for them.

The most reliable way of boosting traffic seemed to be formally joining and embracing the blogosphere – forging relationships with other bloggers, lobbying for inclusion on blogrolls to make it easier for people to find your site, enabling comments to encourage an active online dialogue. All legitimate and perfectly reasonable tactics, but not for me. I wasn’t really looking to go out there into cyberspace and develop a persona in exchange for page views.

I do include an e-mail link, in the event someone wants to correspond with me directly, but I’ve never enabled comments because I’m not really looking for “atta boys” from people I’ve never met in response to something I’ve written on here. I’m even less interested in random or anonymous criticism related to our parenting decisions or the things that are happening as we move through life. Comments seem important to boosting traffic. I guess another option would have been to start cursing and posting the kind of antagonistic, polarizing and often brilliantly entertaining entries that have made this site so popular. I decided to stick with the original vision and talk about the kids.

I have, though, enjoyed finding and reading other blogs devoted to the near-universal topic of parenting – and there are some great ones out there. Shortly after I started, a friend mentioned to me, and I have to say that Heather Armstrong is capable of some of the best writing I’ve ever encountered on the Web. Her monthly letters to her daughter are always good and frequently stunning, she is better than most at making you believe in the power of words to deliver laugh-out-loud attitude and from-the-core-of-your-being emotion, side-by-side. Unfortunately, there is less and less of that on dooce these days. Rather than actually writing entries, Ms. Armstrong seems to prefer balancing all manner of debris on her dog’s head and then posting the resulting photos under quippy captions. Hilarity most definitely ensues. It seems only a matter of time before we see a photo of her dog, Chuck, wearing a lobster bib and groping at a claw cracker under a headline like, “REALLY Wishing He Had Opposable Thumbs!”

Secure in the knowledge I would never be published or attain dooce-esque traffic levels, I decided it might be nice to win some kind of award for all this effort and dedication – to go along with the living and breathing family journal. I was mercilessly smacked down in pursuit of a “Bloggie,” but ultimately won a “Best of Blogs” award. Friends and family members I had pestered for votes innocently asked me what I’d actually “won,” I didn’t have the heart to tell them the most satisfying and significant element of the prize was the little “winner” button that now occupies the upper right-hand corner of my screen. Along the way, I added a headlines feature (thanks Larry and Sergey) that allows me to easily share interesting and noteworthy stories that roll through my RSS reader. And, most of all, I kept posting, and kept being thankful for the existence of this blog and the ability to post.

It’s only a year, but it’s a start, and I am confident that will be around for many more – at least until Madison and Ava are old enough to find this site and profess embarrassment and horror over having our lives categorized and presented in this way. We should have the all-clear signal for at least another three or four years, but who knows, things are moving fast around here…

Always Had A Way With Words

Got in late last night after being away for the last four days on a business trip. As I walked in the front door, I would not have thought it possible for me to feel any better about being back home with the girls. Then I found this note Madison had left for me. Mission accomplished, Maddie.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Madison's Take On Allergy Shots

Applies to all shots, really. Relayed to me and Ava last night with complete conviction.

"If the nurse is really talented, you don't even feel it."

Thank you, Madison. Appreciate the perspective.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mr. Jobs, Meet Madison

It should be clear to anyone who has spent more than five minutes on this site that we are an Apple family. Our house has completed a near-total Mac conversion (just waiting for Leopard and new desktop hardware to drive the final nail in the PC coffin), the girls converse as freely and accurately about iPods and iTunes as they do about hair clips or crayons. I listen to Apple-related podcasts like "Mac OS Ken" and the "MacCast" in the car, sometimes even with little ears in the back seat, and keep current on the steady flow of Apple-related news and rumors through my RSS reader.

So I couldn't help noticing an item that rolled through the Apple press last week, reporting that the company is considering a deal with an outside firm to add lyrics to the iTunes/iPod juggernaut consumer value proposition. This story was of particular interest to me because the notion of adding song lyrics to iPods was something I'd heard before, from Madison, on one of our morning drives to school, shortly after she turned five. Relaying the recent development provided a nice organic plank in the "you're amazing, and you can do anything," message platform we are building around both of our children.

And, just to push the self-indulgent parental pride meter even further into the red, I should again mention that it was Madison who named this blog, right around the time she came up with her ingenious little product suggestion for Mr. Jobs. She's the one who thinks this world is perfect. And, now that she and her little sister are in it, we think so too.

[The very beginning... before there even was a blog. A precious artifact that Madison actually kept, on her own, in a box in her room with some of her other writings. I asked where it was tonight so I could take this picture and she produced it in about five seconds. I couldn't find the floor in five seconds.]