sideways rabbit

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

O (Crap, It's the) Tannenbaum! Why Tradition Is Bad For Our Health

Here's a pic of Beau hopped up on a course of short-dose steroids, wielding a plastic light saber and sporting a sour face straight out of a ’50s medicine advertisement: Not cod-liver oil again, Ma!

I'm no big fan of administering prednisone to children, but I was glad to see him show some spirit today -- even weird 'roid spirit. A nasty "lung event" got hold of our little guy starting the afternoon of Christmas Day. Vomiting and a fever led to uncontrollable coughing and wheezing. On the 27th, his pediatrician diagnosed "virus-induced asthma." We've gone swerving down this road before. Three years ago to the day, we were in the hospital for pneumonia that came on in much the same way. That week was hell, trying to keep our confused two-year-old from pulling the breathing tube out of his nose while the machine monitoring his lung capacity continually dipped to danger level, sounding an alarm every time. We were introduced to "Thomas the Train," viewed on an endless loop on the TV in his hospital room, and I still can't hear that creepy little intro tune without a shudder.

The pneumonia occurred again the next summer, segueing into episodic asthma the year after that. We sailed through this past summer, though, and happily, the nebulizer we use to stabilize these symptoms began to gather dust in the cabinet. But we had to unearth it on Monday. The pediatrician shook his head at the "tightness and crackle" in Beau's lungs. Last night our son yelled in pain from pulled muscles (all the coughing) and tried to doze off around the whisper-scream of the nebulizer. No one slept.

This morning Beau still looked peaked. I left him with my sister and went to the store around the corner to get some supplies. My cashier wondered why "my little buddy" wasn't with me, and I told her our trouble. "Do you have a live Christmas tree in the house?" she demanded. Why yes, we do. I won't stand for anything else. "Get it out of your house," she ordered. "It gave my kids terrible asthma. My doctor forbid us to have one."

So we got rid of the tree, and within an hour his symptoms started to clear. Maybe the prednisone kicked in, finally. But my mother's intuition is pointing a deadly light ray at that Fraser fir.

We didn't have this problem with our live tree last year. But allergies can be tricky. And so can tradition, for that matter. My own mother raised me to believe there were two kinds of families: those who kept live Christmas trees captive in their house during December, like us, and tacky people. A single distinction, no allowances. It was a cultural thing.

I retain that ingrained snobbery about live fir trees. The bewitching aroma of fresh pine is all tangled up with a certain farmhouse we lived in growing up -- the solemnity of tall, 100-year-old windows and nonstop snow; a few idyllic years of family harmony before it all crumpled like burnt paper in a real fireplace.

But it might be better for all of our health if I jettisoned that nostalgia.

The second I thought that our beautiful, magical tree might be causing our little boy's wretched state, it became a thing of evil. We stripped the seven-foot tall beauty of her ornaments and chucked "Goldie" (yes, she'd been named) over our retaining wall for the brush collector. In this photo, Beau is standing near where Goldie recently stood. And over his head -- speaking of tradition -- is the framed marriage certificate of a great-great (or maybe great-great-great) aunt on my mother's side. The German one.

A brilliant people, the Germans. They invented the artificial tree.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Real Like That: Big Rabbit's Got Your Back

Imaginary friends are almost always depicted as only-child companions, for obvious reasons. We haven't seen one yet, nor is our son overly hooked on stuffed animals. I'm not trying to present him as some rare, enlightened child free of attachments: we have something in the ballpark of 437 matchbox cars to cancel that theory. But "loveys" -- that's the cloying term child-development books now assign to soft familiars like blankets and stuffed animals -- aren't really his thing.

With, ahem, two exceptions. There's "Blankie," a blue-and-green receiving blanket, worn down to silk, that's been with us since Beau's birth. Blankie spends his time between the couch and Beau's bed and isn't so much cherished as he is taken for granted, like an arm. And then there's Big Rabbit. He must have been an Easter gift, and he is hearty and tough, a realistic looking Dutch black-and-white plush animal without an ounce of preciousness to mar his character. He's like the street version of the Velveteen Rabbit. Real like that.

Big Rabbit isn't asked for every night: in fact, he's quite equal to spending a month at a time squashed between a mattress and a wall before being rescued, his stoic lack of expression intact. He is ever ready, though, to be conscripted into service. My sister, Beau's aunt "Nonny," is the only one who can reliably voice Big Rabbit. "BOOM, BOOM," she growls, as he plows down whole rows of Legos with his long hind feet. Big Rabbit has a talent for wanton destruction, much to the delight of his young master.

I was surprised when Beau asked that his stuffed animal come to the Christmas pageant at his preschool, because lately my son has been showing an acute social consciousness, acting as humiliated as a teenager if I sing in the car (to cite but one example). But I should have remembered: Big Rabbit can play it slick. If you invite him to attend your show, he will fold back his ears, hide in your aunt's canvas messenger bag, and observe the entire proceedings from the church pew without, say, flashing a camera, tearing up, or trying to get your attention by waving frantically at you. He's a keeper.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Daddy's Turn to Play

When Beau was a baby, my husband Scott -- who can play six instruments -- was in two bands. In this picture, from November 2007, we're watching Daddy (highlighted in the background) on stage at French Broad Brewery here in Asheville. Note the special ear protectors we found online for our chubby little dude, who was 13 mos. here, a chart-busting 29 pounds, and still a month away from walking. (I pulled an unlikely scapular muscle trying to keep him from crawling on the bar floor, puppylike, after a fallen pretzel.)

Not long after, Scott quit playing out. Working a new full-time job tipped him into the red zone, stress-wise. With that and two bands, he hardly ever got to see his baby. He felt guilty and overwhelmed. He continued to play at home, when he found a spare minute, writing songs, lapsing quite happily into the loner-dom that suits him best. But years have passed, and Scott's itching again to connect with like-minded musicians. Occasional jams are now taking place in our subterranean man cave. A new band may be brewing. And the kid's pissed.

Father and son have always been bonded like mortar and brick, and once he started to talk, Beau expressed suspicion of any instrument taking Daddy's attention away. Among other wince-inducing sentiments, we have heard: "You like that guitar more than meeeeee....." I'm quite sure such a phrase could only be uttered by a doted-upon only child.

And now that three male friends, all bearing their own instruments, have started appearing at night like some ominous version of the wisemen, it's show time. At the first jam, Beau could not be budged from the adjoining basement room, lest the interlopers fail to relinquish Daddy after the sesh was over. There was a tantrum at bedtime.

But it's gotten better. "One day," I tell him, "we'll go see Daddy play on the stage again, and you'll be so proud." He's begun to creep into the fray during practice and stay awhile, curled up in an armchair and watching, even bobbing his head a bit. Last night, Beau was even able to fall asleep while the music raged on. It was loud: his room sits directly above the action. But he whispered a lyric here and there, in his father's own words.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Joy of the Found Toy

There's a joke, stale as fruitcake, that gets lobbed around this time of year: the one about the kids abandoning their carefully chosen gifts and discovering that the boxes they came in are the most fun of all. We're meant to learn an important lesson about the wonder of imaginary play, paired with a bonus scolding about the perils of overspending.

Trouble is, the joy of the empty box doesn't last long after age 4. (Unless, of course, it has housed a refrigerator or some other major appliance and can reasonably be turned into a playhouse or pirate ship.) But I'm all for found toys, and the more unexpected, the better.

You can't force the found toy. I once suggested to Beau that a stick in the yard could easily become a light saber. But he's an only child. Absent a worthy opponent, the game's pointless. So, for those times when there's no friend over to enact a particular scenario, I'm always pleased when he incorporates random objects into his play.

One of my mothers-in-law sent me these petite French-milled soaps for Christmas. (Yes, I have more than one MIL, thanks to the multiple divorces, on both sides of our family, in the previous generation. In a future post, I'll explore how having a baker's dozen of grandparents affects the only child.)

The soaps smell divine, and are intended for guests. Right now, though, these fragrant little squares are on hard duty. I looked for them late this morning and found them lined up on the rug at full attention, bookended by a bulldozer-grader and a dump truck, with a skid-steer loader waiting in the wings to complete construction. It looks like a levee. It may be a wall. I left it there, resplendent in the December sunshine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Introducing "Lone Free"

Hello, parents.

I am the 40-year-old mother of a 5-year-old boy, and also (distant second) a freelance lifestyle journalist. Like many only children, Beau is the center of our lives. (In this case, "our" includes my husband and my twin sister, who lives with us. And more on that "center of our lives" dynamic later. I know you're not supposed to let it happen. But it happens.)

Beau's birth and babyhood felt like grace, pure joy. Yes, there were minor bumps. But somehow we got lucky. Though born to older, moody parents, the kid was a Buddha--all smiles and sleep. Today, he is a charming rascal whom we sometimes refer to as "The Little Lebowski" -- moseying along to his own drummer, when he's not boiling over with mischief. Never hurries, rarely worries. "Just be HAPPY," he tells us, rolling his eyes. OK.

Now, as he grows, and as it becomes apparent he'll have no siblings to join him, I'm eager to launch some community with other parents of only children. Guilt is our lot. (If you've got an only child and don't feel that way, please tell me: I'd like to know you.) I feel guilty that he has no siblings. I feel guilty for sometimes still wishing for that second baby. I feel guilty for being gleeful that all the early stumbling blocks are over -- the potty-training that took freaking YEARS, the pacifier he was stuck to like Mod Podge on a felt square -- and that we can now do fun things (e.g. camping) with relative freedom and ease.

Please join me as I share my stories. I'd love getting yours in return.