In your mama’s house: Free to be.

Dear Kid,

We were visiting the zoo last Saturday when we passed this family: Mom, dad, two kids. One of them, a toddler a little older than you, was being pushed around in this monstrosity of a wheelchair equipped with wires and doodads as seemingly complex as her health. She wore enormous hearing aids and pink coke-bottle glasses. You stopped in your tracks to stare, quizzical, as she passed. “Pink glasses!” you hollered. I resisted the urge to hurry you on your way. I checked embarrassment, for there was no need.

You weren’t passing unfair judgment, after all. You were taking notice. “Yes,” I said. “She has pink glasses. Do you like them?” Yes, you said. You liked them so much, in fact, that you wanted them for yourself. “No,” I said. “She needs them to see. But I can get you your own pair of pink sunglasses if you want.” And you did. In parting, you hollered your truth: I like glasses, girl! I get my own glasses, girl! 

You didn’t care that a portable ventilator made it impossible for her to answer back. You paid your compliment. I hoped you’d carry this same sense of keen observation sans hurtful prejudice, a hallmark of toddlers everywhere, for the rest of your days.

I thought to it when, yesterday, some poster nutbag shot up a JCC in Kansas City. By the time you’re old enough to read and understand any of what I’m about to say, it’ll be old news. Some other poster nutbag will have replaced him in the headlines. And when that day comes, may you never let fear leave you voiceless and paralyzed. For as long as you’ve got the opportunity to speak (your) peace, rest assured, somebody out there is counting on your big mouth.

And well they should. Because you know better. We taught you there’s no good gonna come of treating people like the lesser. You will notice difference. You will respect it. Unless you can’t and sometimes you shouldn’t. (Enter the poster nutbag.) You’ll notice the subtle intolerance as well as the active hate, too. It’ll get you all fired up. You won’t stand for it. You’ll challenge hard and often. You’ll hold people accountable. Maybe even me. And, when that day comes, I’m going be so proud. You’re going to join your voice with other voices for good, and you’re going to behold the transformation.

It’s slow. It’s real. It’s not without reminders that there’s plenty of work to be done: Some so-called “Christian” stands outside a wedding chapel championing marriage as between a man and a woman and making an ill-timed scene as a perfectly lovely same-sex couple is trying to have a day. A brown-skinned guy gets arrested on suspicion of terrorism for being a brown-skinned guy close by somewhere a bomb went off. An e-mail circulates “accusing” the President of the United States of practicing Islam as if it were true (or a bad thing). A YouTube video calls to question whether his wife is actually a woman. A black kid wearing a hoodie gets shot for being a black kid wearing a hoodie. A woman gets raped anywhere in the world for…? The list goes on.

Lots of what I know about tolerance I learned, ironically, from a bigot, who also happened to be your great-great grandma. Sadly, she was dead before she got to see me turn into a terrible disappointment: the sort who has black friends, the sort who champions everybody’s right to love or marry whomever they want so long as they’ve reached the age of majority, the sort who converts to Judaism, marries a first-generation American/Hispanic (and a Southerner!) and raises a kid on feminist storybooks and truth.

The ‘n’ word was her favorite racial slur. I never bought that bullshit that she was too old to know better, either, and I told her so. I told her she was all mixed up, and that she made herself sound as ignorant as she was. I also told her I loved her. I told her I loved her because it must have been true. I cared enough to keep a careful eye on her. Seriously. I was taking it in. She was largely friendless, so no surprise, she didn’t actually know a single African-Amercan, a single Hispanic, a single Jew though she passed misguided judgements against all. She knew a gay person but pretended like she didn’t know she did. (“My neighbor Claire lives over there with her very best friend! But don’t get the wrong idea.” And, the litmus test for gaydom: “They look like women, those two, and they live like sisters!”)  Her negativity was pervasive. Her intolerance was intolerable.

And every subsequent generation agreed, taking steps away from ostracizing the “other,” welcoming, embracing, becoming.

May you always know that your home, this home, is one which is open to anyone who brings peace and love. May you speak freely. May we discuss. May we learn. May you feel only the usual first-meeting jitters if you care to introduce your dad and me to your Baptist Black-Asian girlfriend or boyfriend or seriously-truly best friend because nobody you know has to make believe for nothing. You make them feel comfortable. The way they are is, very likely, the way they’re supposed to be – and it’s just fine.

The way you are is just fine, too. And when (not if, when) somebody tells you otherwise, I hope you give your Mama the opportunity to join her voice with yours: to talk back (loud, often), refuse to be held back…to celebrate our freedom now, forever, together.

Chag sameach, baby girl!

Mama

Posted in Judaism, Parenting/Toddler | 1 Comment

This year in Jerusalem.

Dear Kid,

Recently, with the brutal honesty of one who hasn’t yet learned to fib and the unwavering trust of one for whom the whole world is still the stuff of magic, you told me to expect a special guest at our holiday table. No question, Elijah, the great Jewish tooth fairy, was coming to Pesach dinner.

And despite my feeling like maybe it’s more the thought that counts – that maybe (probably) the story of this never-dead prophet who foretells messianic redemption is a whole lot of metaphor and very little hard fact – I believed you. Not humored you. Believed you, mind.

This is roughly how it went down.

It was bath time which, in our house, doubles as story time. Each evening, I sit, perched tub side, with book in hand. The other night, it was a children’s story about a family who’s expecting company. They’re hosting a Passover seder, and they’re setting a table full of prayer books and traditional foods arranged just so on a seder plate. Family and friends arrive. They say the ritual blessings. At the end of the meal, the dad in the story pours a symbolic cup of wine for Elijah, the prophet-figurehead who, to simplify radically, is to usher in a new era. Storybook dad proceeds to the front door and opens it, an act to signal the letting in of the prophet (and/or, as my liberal Jewish sentiment holds, the future…a reminder that, amidst a whole lot of reflecting back on the places we’ve been, we ought to consider where we’re going and how we intend to get there.) But, when dad opens the door, he lets in not the prophet but the family’s own indoor-outdoor cat. All the little children hoot and holler. That’s not Elijah! Then they eat some dessert.

I mused out loud, “Do you think he’ll drink our wine and come to our seder, Elbee?”

You didn’t answer. Not right away. You were busy palpating the gills of a rubber fish. A full five minutes passed before you replied, “Yes.”

“Yes, what?” I asked. I’d forgotten my own question.

“Elijah come!” you squealed.

“What?!” I heard you, but I wanted to be sure. It was akin to saying you saw dead people. Except not dead. Never dead.

“Elijah drink wine!”

“With us?”

“Yeah with us! Elijah drink it! Yum!”

Matter-of-fact, like “grass is green.” Elijah drink it. Yum. 

My daughter the seer? Unlikely.

My daughter the visionary? No doubt. You never fail to see what your grown-ups miss.

For though I trust that your father and I will be literally to thank for the dearth of drink at the close of our seder, I have no doubt you’re right: Elijah’s coming to dinner. The hope he stands for lives in us, lives in you: an ordinary-extraordinary little person with big insight.

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I know it not because my world is still the stuff of magic but because it isn’t – and because, sometimes, hope is all we have. If you ain’t got the hope, you ain’t got nothin’. And you’re it. You’re proof. You’re a kid nature said shouldn’t have been but Science + Something Bigger Than Myself (the something some people call G-d and other people call Allah and other people call Pasta) said, “That’s just bullshit,” and so you were.  The future’s you, kid… a mystery-trip of human life unfolding right before my very eyes.

Elijah’s coming to dinner.

This year in Jerusalem!

Love,

Mama

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Our beautifuls.

Dear Kid,

When you were brand new, we examined the whole of you, marveled at this small person: our daughter. Your mop of shiny, black hair…little ears, a tiny nose, pouty lips, balled up fingers, a birthmark on your right hand and, on the underside of your left wrist, a roughly two-inch patch of depigmentation. Marks of distinction.

Like you, they had a story.

When I was pregnant, Dad and I determined to do the panoply of genetic screening to determine that you wouldn’t be born debilitated or too sick to see a first birthday. And one of those early tests, a screen for spina bifida, came back out of range. Eventually we’d repeat the test and determine, though never with complete certainty, that things were probably ok. (“Ok” as in you probably didn’t have spina bifida, but you might have a cleft lip or a birth mark, either of which could have generated the false positive.) We could live with this – and so could you.

Which never guaranteed you’d go your whole entire life in blissful ignorance of the stuff that makes you different. Which never guaranteed you’d actually like those birth marks.

Still, I was secretly hoping. So I promised myself as a poured over your new baby body that I’d remind you, whenever it happened that you needed reminding, that, look, it’s like this: You’re a spectacle. And you’re spectacular.

So it was that, a few weeks back, you were having a bath when you noticed that little birth mark and tried with all your might to scrub it off with a bath-mit. No, we said. That’s you.

“Ic-ky?”

No, you. Not icky.

“Doity?”

Not dirty, you. Beautiful. That’s your beautiful, said Daddy.

“Boo-ful?” You stared, calculated our veracity. Could it be?

Beautiful.

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You smiled. And so it was that I began methodically pointing to each freckle, age spot, wrinkle, laugh line, post-nursing breast, soft belly, spider vein, stubbly leg and frizzy hair I had to show for myself. “See? Mama’s got beautifuls, too! We all do. Aren’t we beautiful?”

“Yeah! Boo-ful! Boo-ful: Elbee! Boo-ful: Daddy! Boo-ful Mama!”

And for the first time in my whole entire life I believed it because you did. Also, because I realized it’s goddamned true.

We are, each of us, exactly as we should be. We’re beautiful, kid. (Not flawless, mind. Beautiful.) We’re beautiful because we’re human. We’re beautiful because ain’t nobody else like us. We’re beautiful because G-d paints in color. We’re beautiful because we played so hard we scraped up our knees, laughed till our faces got stuck that way, thought so smart we got other people thinking, lived to be new enough that everyone and everything was the loveliest we ever saw, old enough to see things that made our hair turn pale, bold enough to speak our truths.

This is mine:  You are the single most beautiful thing I ever saw.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 2 Comments

F(eats).

Dear Kid,

Once a week, your occupational therapist sends home a carbon-copied progress report on a yellow piece of paper. Once a week, she tells me what I already know about you. You’re “atypical.” Of course, she’s talking about your meal-time behavior: The way most kids can chew and swallow a variety of tastes and textures and temperatures and you can’t. As for me, I’m contemplating the essence of you…the way you’re original.

We did our best to make meal time “fun.” Fun, for whom, we weren’t sure but it was just what the OT ordered. This once, I danced in wild circles to a backdrop of “Hungry Like the Wolf,” while I plated some apricots you wanted but couldn’t eat. You gave it a try. You gagged the way you always did and asked for more. Eventually, because it was the last resort, I handed you the bottle full of formula you preferred to the sippie cup you struggled to manipulate.

And after we were, each of us in her own right, sufficiently exhausted for the struggle, I set aside your tray, released you to the living room, and we danced. We danced and we danced and we danced to pop, hip hop, rockabilly, reggae, kids’ classics. Song after song, you threw your body into the music like the next goddamned Mia Michaels: feeling every note, moving with it, moved by it.

When Katy Perry roared, so did you. And as if to drive home the point that even if you never got to “typical” you’d still be totally ok, you turned to the tray full of apricots, directing your performance at your food. It was hysterical. It was heartbreaking. “R-r-r-r-r-r-roar.”  And, hell, even if that yellow piece of paper declared you just like every kid for whom the act of eating isn’t scary or painful – even if declared Daddy and me just like every parent who could go ahead and take for granted the fact that their kid would get through dinner sans G-Tube or Heimlich maneuver – you’d be this: a force, a movement.

I could have watched this routine forever: Little arms extended, head rolling, body bent at hips, hands to floor, reach for the stars, laugh. The irony: You only stopped dancing to feed your Cabbage Patch doll a make-believe meal from a miniature bottle. “Baby, eat!”

At sixteen-months-old you were tossing around some 70+ nouns and a handful of adjectives. Eat: Your first verb.  It might have been “walk,” or “jump” or “dance,” or “poop” but it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. You perceived your world as truly and deeply as someone beyond her year.

And I knew then (or maybe I just remembered) that you were extra special. I say it less because I’m your mother and more because it’s true. I hope that however your little life unfolds, that when you’re up against a formidable foe, when somebody tells you you can’t, when you wonder whether it’s possible, when you’re feeling kind of scared, when getting through the day is a freaking feat, that you always answer back with so fierce and mean a roar…that you move and you shake and you take your place, that you perceive that you are as deeply loved as all this.

Get it, girl.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Parenting/Toddler, Pediatric Feeding Disorder | Leave a comment

An ode to every teacher I ever had.

Dear Kid,

This week, and right in step with hundreds of thousands of other kids moving from one grade to the next as part of the annual festival-ritual known as “Back To School,” you transitioned to a toddler classroom and acquired a couple of new teachers. One of them was the epitome of Miss Trunchbull: an unsmiling, tired-looking grump who maybe doesn’t even like kids but likes having a job. Or maybe she’s just sad. If it weren’t for the fact that she’s one half a classroom pair (the other gal smiles sometimes), I might be truly horrified. As it is, though, I’m really not. I’ll choose to believe your first skinned knee has nothing to do with being neglected on the playground. It has to do with being given the opportunity to run free and unencumbered.

It turns out that even the ones who aren’t your favorites have their place: an extra special role in making you you.

Look, teachers are hella-important people. Seriously, in my book, they’re right up there with soldiers and doctors and fire fighters and police officers – and not necessarily having anything to do with their specialized training or subject matter expertise (though, to be sure, some of them have it). No. Rather, and by virtue of the fact that they spend so much time with us – to say nothing for the way that lots of them work really, really hard –  teachers help shape our character. Sometimes, maybe even often times, they help shape good character.

I remember some of what I learned from textbooks and formal lessons. I remember every teacher I ever had. I paid attention in class – and I paid attention to them.

I remember the way they pointed their fingers, pursed their lips or tapped the chalkboard with a pointer. I knew, because I heard it from some other wise eight-year-old who heard it from her mother, whether they were single or married or had a dog or a daughter or smoked cigarettes on their lunch breaks. I can still hear their voices saying things like, “Correct,” or “Good morning, honey,” or “How are your folks?” For a very long time, I’m quite certain I didn’t completely believe they were regular people like you and me. They were super heroes, movie stars, way up on a pedestal reserved for people you want to be like when you grow up.

These women – for most of them were – taught me to be. And they taught me to be your mom.

The summer before sixth grade, I was handed this formidable reading list at around the same time as I received a tip from a rising seventh grader: “With Mrs. B-, there’s no bullshit.” A semi-truant troublemaker who was barely promoted to the next grade, he meant it as a pejorative. “She’s no joke.” On the one hand, I already loved this woman: I hated bullshit and jokes as much as I hated the semi-truant troublemaker. On the other hand, I hoped “no joke” meant she wouldn’t be unpleasant and that literature would still be my favorite subject at the end of the year.

As it turned out, there was no bullshit. She was no joke. She gave me a 60 percent on my first 10-question quiz. I came home after school that day and promptly informed your grandparents she was as terrible as everyone said, but your grandfather wasn’t buying it. “She’s not terrible. She’s challenging you. And just you wait: You’re going to really like this lady.” And slowly, slowly, I came to see that Pop was exactly right.

Mrs. B- stood a little over five feet tall in heels and commanded the room with a quiet resolve that few children were keen to test because everyone understood she meant business. I never heard her raise her voice. She didn’t have to. She was even-handed, fair, played no favorites. She smiled sometimes. She was, it turned out, kind of nice. She used literature as a mere platform to teach us kids about the way the world worked. (“Kit and Hannah are outcasts. What would it feel like to be an outcast?”) She forced us to look up the meanings of words we didn’t know, use them in sentences and read “up.” (I tackled The Scarlet Letter before my twelfth birthday.) She caused us to think differently, more critically, about books – and, in the process, I began to think more critically about everything…including this little woman who taught me so much of what I know about strength.

Your mama stands a little over five feet tall in heels. She doesn’t raise her voice. (She’s heard.) Your mama is fair.  Your mama smiles sometimes. Maybe she’s even kind of nice! And she’ll insist you think critically and believe you are as bold and brave and strong as she knows you are. Thank Mrs. B- for that.

And there were others, kid.

There was Mrs. C-, who never discouraged the idea that girls could be astronauts (or lawyers-turned-non-profit-administrators). She’s a piece of why I think your girl parts are no limit to what you can be.

There was Mrs. N-, who, though I never actually saw the leprechaun she kept in that Ball jar on her desk, helped me to appreciate everyday ordinary/extraordinary magic. She’s how come when we find a shell on the beach, I pick it up, put it to my ear and insist I’m taking a telephone call from a mermaid.

Mrs. R- encouraged us not to be scared of the bombs in Baghdad making the nightly news. Somewhere out there a soldier was busting ass to keep us kids safe. This is still true.

Miss J- was the only woman I knew who liked football as much as she did. Years later, I’d learn there are others. I’d learn the rules of the game, and I’d learn she was on to something. (Apologies to her Bills. In our house, we are Patriots fans! When you’re allowed to stay up past 7:00pm, you’ll know why.)

Mrs. M- hoped we’d take what we learned about the voting process and vote someday because it’s so important. I rock that vote every chance I get, and I take you along for the ride so you’ll behold my extra special power and be inspired to exercise yours as soon as you’re able.

These days, a couple of them are my Facebook friends. With others, I catch up over e-mail a few times a year. Some get your wallet-sized picture in a holiday card. We’ve had visits, coffee, dinner. Turns out, teachers are actually regular people with extraordinary influence.  And I’m extraordinarily grateful for it.

Look, you might be just too little to remember Trunchbull. But when you fall down and get back up, dust off your own knees and keep on running, she’ll be at least partially to thank for your resilience. Make no mistakes.

And if you do, learn from them.

Love,

Mama

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The space between notes.

If Claude Debussy were still alive, he’d have turned 151 this week. I know because those clever cats over at the Google informed me with the likes of their own animated banner: “Google” beneath the light of a full moon and set to a backdrop of the melody I’ll never hear again without remembering the times Elbee and I spent in that rocking chair listening to a steady rotation of the “five timeless lullabies” spewing forth from the likes of her musical sound machine. It turns out that after six months of listening to the very same mix while rocking a baby through nap time, “Clair de Lune” was the only song on that prescribed playlist that I could still tolerate. (Apologies, Beethoven.)

Back before she toddled (strike that, walked! strike that, ran!), back before she identified your “ba-by” by name, waved hello to dogs and could pinpoint letters of the alphabet, back before she gestured “no” with a shake of a head and “yes” with a nod, she was, herself, a “ba-by.” I was, myself, tired. I was tired of rocking my way though nap time. And so I longed for the glorious day when she’d put herself down for a snooze while I washed some dishes and listened to unedited hip hop on our iHome.

The day came. I didn’t know it was the day. I just reveled in how comfortably she slept while I dusted the furniture and watched the news. And then it happened again the next day and the day after that. And so on and so on. And then I returned to work and Elbee went off to “school” (which might maybe be a euphemism for “daycare”), and somebody named “Miss Jen” (whose first name is “Miss” or, if she has a last name, I don’t know it), helped orchestrate nap time. I haven’t listened to “Clair de Lune” on that musical sound machine in a very long while. I never rocked my “ba-by” to sleep again.

Partly, I miss the quiet loveliness of the times we spent in that rocking chair, the afternoons my arms went numb for the dead weight of a sleeping child. I’m sorry I was almost too tired to appreciate, in those first days/weeks/months, that whereas arm-napping goes the way of crawling, and the life cycle of baby to toddler is seriously so short, I should wake up and pay attention. Partly, I’m sad I only get to do this once. Mostly I’d never have it any other way. The remainder, I’m grateful I got to do it at all.

It’s supposed to be like this. Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.” Birth, death, the song in between. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. That sort of thing. In less than a handful of years, my kid’s going to go off to kindergarten. She’ll need me less than now but more than when she’s a teenager (or maybe she’ll just need me differently), and Debussy’s skeleton will celebrate its 155th birthday in Paris.

Until then, I’m counting on the ordinary stuff from today becoming the extraordinarily beautiful memories of tomorrow. Today, after work, we three went for a walk. I slipped out of my heels. I wore bedroom slippers with my dress clothes. My feet hurt. Elbee spent 15 minutes chasing stranger-babies in the park. Her park. (She has a park the way some kids have back yards.) And when she seemed ready, we turned in the direction of home. I asked her what sound a cow makes. She said moo. Her dad and I clapped emphatically. She clapped for herself. It was the first time she said moo. And I hoped that come the second or third or tenth time she said it, it’d still be so freaking awesome.

I figure someday she’ll say something more profound. Today, though…today, I’ll try not to rush it. To moo, baby girl!

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 2 Comments

On having cake and eating it, too.

Two Saturdays ago, Elbee turned one to as much fanfare as any kid, who won’t remember a single thing that happened to her that day, can possibly imagine. We bought her a string of fine pearls: her first wedding present or, if she thinks marriage is shit for the birds, that fancy thing she wears because it’s Tuesday and she’s fabulous. We rented out an indoor play space. I crafted party decorations and made a carefully-organized playlist of songs I could hardly listen to for the way they took me back to driving home from the hospital or rocking a newborn or launching into spontaneous dance to quiet an impending crying jag. The Papa Progenitor hired a photographer I didn’t know about until we pulled into the parking lot and saw her standing there with a zoom lens. Elbee’s great-grandmothers (along with over 30 other people we genuinely like) showed up to help celebrate. And there was cake. Lots of it.

There was the cake we ordered for guests: a tallish rainbow confection topped with gum balls, that was met with the ooohs and ahhhs you’d expect when you pay someone to make cake fancy.

And then there was the other one: The one I made myself just for Elbee because we couldn’t identify a single baker in all of Boston whom we trusted well enough to cook sans our daughter’s allergens. So I took a stab at it, and my handiwork vaguely (or quite accurately) resembled unicorn poop crushed below the heel of a nasty-ass giant. It was a multi-colored caketastophe.

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I might have appreciated the shear irony of the whole situation a little sooner if I could have stopped myself from wondering, even for a moment, how something that was supposed to go so very right could possibly go so totally wrong.

Instead, I thought to last July 11. That was the Wednesday after the Sunday we noticed a not-insignificant amount of blood in Elbee’s poo, the Wednesday after the Monday Baby-Daddy returned to work, the Wednesday after the Tuesday on which Elbee was diagnosed with food allergies and allergic colitis, the Wednesday Elbee choked on her own vomit and I joined the ranks of parents who get to save their kids’ lives. (To be clear, giving back-pats to an actual baby is nothing like the synthetic one on which you practice to get that wallet card that says you’re CPR-certified.) And that was only the beginning.

Elbee cried often, laughed rarely and hurt much. We learned she suffered from serious GERD. Nearly once a day for the next couple of months and a few times a week after that until she was no less than seven months old, and despite an aggressive regimen of grown-up medicines and consults with some of the best doctors in the world (literally), our kid projectile vomited whole meals, gagged on purees and puffs, developed texture aversion and, finally had the good sense to reject all but a bottle of a hypoallergenic, pre-digested formula which is, largely, still as much as she eats. At 10 months old, she was enrolled in a clinic for children with feeding disorders. She doesn’t self-feed bottles or sippie cups. She refuses most food offered to her by her parents. (She associates us with meal-time trauma because we had the misfortune of being with her when she experienced it. It might have been a daycare worker or a grandparent, but it wasn’t. It was us. And, to be fair, mostly it was me. Post-Traumatic Feeding Disorder is a thing. A real thing.) Elbee’s never tasted a baby biscuit or a bit of mac-n-cheese, never picked at a piece of toast or enjoyed an ice cream cone. And then there’s this: Docs suspect so much stomach acid may have deadened her taste buds so she may not even be able to taste (and therefore, can’t really enjoy) what she’s eating. “Yummy” ain’t no thang.

The cake – despite all this – was supposed to be wonderful. It was supposed to be the sort of confection fit for a kid who would eat it, even though we suspected she wouldn’t. (We didn’t care.) There had to be a cake. It had to be awesome. And making it was supposed to restore a little normalcy to the lives of folks for whom the word “normal” was maybe a little like, well… “yummy.”

Ingredients: Heaps of love, loads of heart, a dash of a hope. Blend. Set oven to, “F— off, universe.” Yield: Catharsis.

This one time, we took our kid to back-up care. We warned all of the teachers there that, though our child was seemingly plenty old enough to feed herself and wildly intelligent, and though she possessed superior fine motor skills, she was unable to handle her own bottle. Later, one of them laughed as she recounted the way Elbee sat across from her on the floor, mouth open to indicate it was time to eat. She likened our daughter to a “baby goat.” She was unthinking. (That’s euphemistic for “dumb ass.”) She was like lots of people. Enter the laundry list of folks who, though with the purest of intentions, and, sometimes, even when they know better, or even when they know nothing, reassure us our daughter will – without question – be well. Usually, their kids were “picky eaters,” too. And usually, by repositioning a spoon or heating food to the right temperature or carefully-timing meals, they developed voracious appetites. They “just grew out of it.”

But dollars to donuts their children – who, while they may have consumed nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a whole week that once when they were little –  never formed a spontaneous play group in  the waiting room of a feeding clinic, sharing a sensory table with their best new friends: a couple of bitchin’ cool kids with high-functioning autism and GI tubes. We’re not somehow worse off. We’re just different. And, hell, maybe those peanut butter and jelly kids are in a bad way. Maybe they’re boring.

“Normal” ain’t no thang.

The more I stared at that cake, the more I knew it was true. It looked like shit. And worse, it didn’t even taste that good. So I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I laughed like someone crazy. Like someone on the brink. I laughed because it was funny and because I couldn’t believe my eyes. I laughed because I could. I laughed because it was the night before the party and much, much too late to do anything about it save embrace my reality. Surely a photo of this confection-passed-through-the-ass-of-a-unicorn would go absolutely viral on Cake Wrecks! I’d be so proud. Or, if not proud, I’d have a good story.

The next day, we bequeathed to our daughter a string of fine pearls. We jazzed up the likes of that indoor play space with the crafts I made myself. We switched on the playlist of special songs (Dylan’s “Forever Young,” Tom Petty’s “Wild Flowers,” a disco remix of “‘C’ is for Cookie,” the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Damn straight, Mick Jagger.) The incomparable Nitya Rao took photographs. Elbee’s great-grandmother delighted in the spectacle. (Elbee really learned to walk that morning!) And, at last, it was time.

So we gathered around a long table to sing “Happy Birthday” to a kid who probably didn’t even realize the whole day was for her, and we went through the motions of presenting her with the shitty ass cake we didn’t expect her to touch but hoped she might.

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And then we watched, with bated breath, as this happened.

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And then this.

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And this.

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And this.

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Later that afternoon, she’d cry because I offered her some applesauce. It didn’t matter. I’d think back to that morning and the way that something that was supposed to go so very right really did. Even when it looked all wrong.

“Wrong” ain’t no thang.

Ingredients: Heaps of love, loads of heart, a dash of a hope. Blend. Set oven to, “F— off, universe.” Yield: Catharsis. 

Which looks like this: Unicorn poop crushed below the heel of a nasty-ass giant (or the palm of a small human).

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