Anatomy: Part II

The second in a continuing series of potentially awkward anatomical conversations while driving.

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She was about five when my cut-and-dried eldest asked, “Mom, whose body has more parts, boys or girls?”

As usual, I wondered just where this was going.  She could easily be wondering about ponytails and accessory nipples, right?  Or, she could be talking about who wears more jewelry or generally has more piercings?  Fingers crossed…”What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, you have a nose, two eyes, two ears…parts,” she replied, verbally rolling her eyes.  I took a quick glance in the rear view mirror and confirmed that the eye-roll was more than just verbal.

“Oh, are you wondering about potty parts?” I asked, once again chastising myself for adopting this non-progressive naming convention.  She nodded, giving me a look usually seen when I attempted to explain something painfully obvious to Jimmy.  I needed to adjust that rear view mirror.   “OK, how about I get a book that has drawings of all of the body parts, boys and girls, with labels and diagrams?”  I asked.

Jan 2008 037

She’s shown a preference for dense, medical texts from a surprisingly early age.

My practical, level-headed eldest replied, “Oh, yes, that would be very helpful.  Thank you,” and returned to her drawing.  Lucky for me, such a nicely line-drawn book of Just The Facts does in fact exist and was quickly reserved at the library.  A couple of days later, attempting to sensitively and privately go through said book, she caught sight of her 3 year old sister down the hall.  Despite my admonitions to keep this “just between us,” the book was clearly too good not to share.  “Hey, get in here!  You love this kind of stuff!” she hollered.

So, yeah, we own our own copy now.

 

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Anatomy: Part I

Lately when the moms get together, the conversation often veers to puberty and all of the super-fun conversations it entails.  My generation of moms came of age in an era when Our Bodies, Ourselves was easily available. Our girls have been armed with an array of pleasantly illustrated, affirmational books published by the behemoth that is American Girl. The conversations are still awkward and hilarious.

Fortunately, I’d laid the groundwork for the pre-teen drama with numerous well-timed, carefully paced conversations throughout childhood.  There was the summer when Natalie was six.  This was the year she’d learned to ride her bike.  She stopped dramatically one summer evening, made a big show of wiping her brow, and announced that she’d been riding all day, and “boy were her balls tired.”  

“Well, I imagine you’re sore, but girls’ potty parts aren’t called ‘balls,” mentally chastising myself for ever adopting the “potty parts” convention to begin with. “That’s the slang term for boys’ potty parts.  I guess that boys always like to talk about their balls, don’t they.  Did you hear it one the playground?

“Yeah, but I didn’t know…”

“Well, no big deal, but that’s why it’s always a good idea to test out new words that we learn on the playground with an adult first, OK?”

“OK,” zipping away for another lap around the cul de sac.

I felt pretty good about things, boy I’d handled that minefield with cool nonchalance, imparting valued wisdom to my daughter.  That mental gold star fell off a few hours later when she came home announcing that Gabe had to pee while they were playing in the woods, and he just went on a tree, and she’d seen his “ball.”  So close, my dear, so close.

 

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Extra for biologic

2012 March 001

First violin recital

When Natalie was five she started violin lessons.  It would be nice to say that this was due to her own innate desire to be a musical prodigy.  In reality Jimmy and I had something to do with it.  Having played the piano growing up, I knew that the only way to be passably good at an instrument eventually–short of the whole prodigy thing– was to start early and not be allowed to quit anytime during the first 3-4 years.  During those first few years the entire process is largely painful for all involved.  So, I wanted her to start early to have a chance to eventually be decent.  Jimmy just insisted because of the whole Asian thing.  

It’s a mostly spot-on stereotype that Korean American kids all play a string, and Jimmy was no exception.  Both of his older sisters were assigned to violin and, eventually, piano.  For some reason, at age 5 Jimmy began slogging away at a tiny cello and stuck with it and youth orchestra through high school.  His mom must have seen the cello as a more masculine instrument.  I think he liked playing the cello.  I know that his high school girlfriend was someone he picked up in youth orchestra, so I supposed that was an attraction, but I think that he genuinely enjoyed it on some level.  He never achieved prominence as a soloist due to his crippling fear of individual attention.  This manifests as a racing heartbeat and drenching sweat, neither of which are particularly helpful when playing a bowed instrument.  

When we were dating Jimmy would occasionally pull his cello out, seducing me with duets on my electronic keyboard and his cello, “The Swan” played for an audience of houseplants in my upper flat.  These duets all stopped abruptly almost 12 years ago;  he literally did not touch the instrument after we were married.  When we pulled it out on Natalie’s entree into the world of the string section, all of the bow hairs were snapped and matted after several moves back and forth between the disparate climates of Wisconsin and the Tucson desert.  If you were to ask him, he’d claim that he absolutely did NOT alter his behavior to secure my affections, but that jacked up cello would argue otherwise.

 

McIntosh-Goodrich_Mansion_May10-200x200

McIntosh-Goodrich Mansion, a.k.a., Wisconsin Conservatory of Music

 

 

Natalie’s violin lessons occurred at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, a refurbished mansion in downtown Milwaukee, inconveniently located a good half hour drive from our house.  The journey was stressful enough in itself–load a  toddler and a preschooler into the car in the waning afternoon hours, drive through the spaghetti-like confusion of the Marquette interchange that heralds downtown Milwaukee,  spend another 15 minutes trying to find street parking, before schlepping both children up three flights of stairs in the restored mansion for 30 minutes of lessons.   

 

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Marquette Interchange–Milwaukee, WI

I generally enter the Marquette fairly white knuckled.  This isn’t due to any confusion on my part.  No, I blame all traffic challenges on the Illinois FIB’s (f–in Illinois bastards) just passing through on their way north to exploit Wisconsin’s wilderness as a respite from the soul-killing reality of living in Illinois.  They weave and dart through the interchange trying to hasten their escape and causing no small degree of chaos for the rest of us.  It was at one such crossroads that Natalie, from the back seat of the Accord, announced that she didn’t feel well.

 

The girl has never  been particularly good at gauging when she’s about to hurl.  She’s 10 and Jimmy still hasn’t agreed to replace her bedroom carpeting.  There’s still an odds-on chance that sometime in the next three months she’ll again forget to run to the bathroom and instead lean out of bed juuuuuust far enough to miss the trash can and splatter the carpeting instead.  Now, when I was growing up in the ramshackle farm house, mom employed a different system.  There were no bathrooms upstairs, for many years the sole one being downstairs adjacent to the kitchen.  The distance coupled with the treacherously steep stairs made nighttime bathroom trips a dangerous luxury in which we seldom indulged.  Unfortunately she passed three of her five pregnancies in that house, which probably has something to do with her still-shapely legs.  

Mom prepped us as well as she could to avoid needing to go downstairs EVER at night. On our bedside tables she’d place plastic cups that she’d lifted from the hospital at one of her stays with one of us.  Then, when she put us to bed she’d dump last night’s water into an empty plastic pitcher (also sourced from the hospital) and refilled them on her own trip up to bed.  

ice cream bucket

Gallon ice cream buckets were put to a variety of uses in our house, including under-the-bed puke buckets.

The mineral content of the well water left these plastic cups scaled with whitish deposits after enough years of use.  If any toddlers had to use the bathroom during the night, they were afforded the luxury of a potty chair parked at the top of this stairs;  this was emptied on a morning trip downstairs.  Kind of like a chamber pot.  Once we were over about 3, we were on our own.  We girls developed bladders of steel over the years, holding it fearfully overnight so as not to have to brave the pitch darkness of the rickety-windowed farmhouse, bathed only in the ambient light through a few east-facing windows from the dusk-to-dawn light.  The boys, at least during the warmer months, peed through the screen into the night air and the backyard.  To handle the occasional puking episode, we each had an empty Schoep’s gallon ice cream bucket under our bed and were expected to employ it should the need arise.  Mom would generally deign to get out of bed to handle a full puke bucket during the night.  She may not have been the most fastidious housekeeper, but even she had her standards.

 

My girls were not raised in such a hardened environment, and Natalie’s cushy upbringing left her without any good vomit-management techniques of note.   So there we were on that fateful occasion, in stop and go traffic, on a cold winter evening in the multi-leveled Marquette interchange on the way to downtown Milwaukee.  After the warning shot across the bow, “mom I don’t feel good,”  she let loose with a magnificent spray of vomit that arced gracefully from her mouth and traveled easily ACROSS THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE CAR, SPLATTERING THE CEILING, HER SISTER, AND THE INTERIOR OF THE WINDSHIELD.  What an awesome sight it must have been for the neighboring traffic–a veritable fountain of emesis within the warm confines of the Honda.

The beauty lasted for a few brief seconds before both children began howling.  I attempted to remain calm, steer the car, and clean off the  interior of the windshield with my sleeve all the while running through my mental address book to determine who I knew well enough in the downtown corridor to drop in on, Pulp Fiction-like, with a decimated car.  Having no such saint-like figures in my life, I decided that a U turn with a 30 minute ride back home was the only answer.  It quickly became clear that being cold was far superior to the stench that proper climate control yielded, for she’d manage to aim vomit directly into the front console heating vents as well.  We made our chilly journey back home.  The girls wept that they wanted to get out of the car, that they had puke in their hair, that it was pooling on the violin case.  I never felt so maternal as I did at that moment.  I dearly wanted to pull over and join them in their tantrum, but instead I drove on, clearing a few chunks off the steering wheel as best I could and calling Jimmy.

Jimmie Dimmick

I know no one like this guy.

He had been on his way to the gym when he answered.  “Meet me in the garage with a trash bag and two bath towels,” I said.  ‘Why? I was just going to–” “Just–meet me.”  Words could not do justice to the scene that awaited him when three tearful, vomit encrusted females pulled into the garage.  He opened the back door, a wall of stench and lamentation greeting him.  “You have two options,” I said, “the girls or the car.”  For obvious reasons, he chose the girls, who we stripped naked, discarding their clothes in the trash bag and wrapping them in bath towels.  Mr. Sensitive went back inside for some rubber gloves before extracting Evelyn from her carseat.  I suggested that any further dilly dallying on his part would not end well.  He carried them to their bath and lather-rinsed-repeated several times.

The details of cleaning the car do not bear repeating, save only to mention that a startling volume of school-aged vomit actually exists in a semi-solid, difficult to remove state.  I threw away anything removable, save the violin, whose fabric case I managed to remove and throw in the washing machine, the incident never to be mentioned to either teacher or violin rental store.  The next day we drove to a car detailing place, me driving the steaming heap of emesis and the Jimmy and the girls following behind, silently acknowledging that this would most assuredly be an all-day job, one that I wouldn’t be waiting around for.  I’m not sure what I expected from the guy at the shop.  As he stood there checking boxes on a form, shifting his toothpick between corners of his mouth and never truly even looking up, I realized that the trail of horror that rolls through a car wash must reveal a side of humanity to which I was thankfully not privy.  He looked up only once, glancing at me from under his cap as he announced that “You’ll have to pay an extra $35 for The Biologic.”  Hand to God, I still don’t know exactly what The Biologic fully entails, but if $35 more is all it takes to clean my daughter’s detritus from the legion interior cracks and crevices of a late-model Honda, I consider that the best $35 I’ve ever spent.

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Better Understanding Through Musical Theater

When Natalie started dancing at age three,  I nurtured high hopes that she’d be the center-stage star that I never was.  She’s always been an interesting-looking, attractive child, so she had that going for her.  She loved putting on productions at home and has, by age 10, compiled hours of raw video footage of these various theatricals.  Heck, Jimmy even constructed a stage in the basement for her.  So when she showed an interest in dance, I was hooked.  

 

Early on she stood out as stronger in her class. She was quick to catch on to things, and I figured that whatever she might lack in natural ability we could easily make up for with focus and maternal time investment.   When she was asked, I encouraged her to join dance company, the competitive dance group,  and she did so, enjoying being challenged in classes and being part of a group that had to meet high expectations.  However, by the fifth grade it was clear to me that prima ballerina she would never be.  Don’t get me wrong–she’s made great progress and I love to watch her dance.  However, the very natural confidence that thrust her onto the stage to begin with seemed to thwart any efforts on my part to push her to get better in her free time at home.  All the girls who were advancing were doing so because of time spent stretching in front of the TV and taking extra gymnastics classes.  She had no interest and jealously guarded her playtime which was, interestingly, mostly spent putting on more productions.  At this stage she was at the dance studio 4-5 nights per week, happily.  I’d attempt to probe for any feelings of disappointment of generally being in the back row, not participating in any extra ensembles or solos, but none ever surfaced.  How, I wondered, could you be so dedicated to something and not desire to be The Best? I had a niggling notion that this question had more to do with my own neuroses.  So, I let my concerns ride and watched with increasing anxiety as she became more and more firmly ensconced as an ensemble player.  

 

Unsurprisingly, my concerns were laid to rest in the car.  One day we were driving somewhere and she asked,  “If you could play any part in “Wicked,” which would you choose?”    “Well, of course I’d want to be Elphaba!” I said,  “who would you want to be?”  I expected her to pick the comic lead, Glinda.  “Nessa,” she said.  “Nessa?” I asked,  “the secondary character in the wheelchair?  Well, why?” I practically sputtered.  “Well,” she said, “Nessa’s still an important part, she has a few lines and a few times when she’s most important, but the whole thing doesn’t depend on her, but she’s still a part of the show, which is really the funnest thing.”

Nessa

Asian Nessa, #goals.

Facepalm.  It took a musical theater metaphor for me to finally understand my daughter.  People were so busy likening her to me that I missed this vital way in which we are different.  So alike in our stream-of-consciousness flow of language, sarcastic wit, and appearance.  So different in our motivation.  She was doing dance because she liked IT, she liked being part of a group.  She was doing it to please herself.  She wasn’t doing it to get ahead or be The Best!  My god the child is in a mentally healthy place.  It’s taken years of therapy for me to even approach a similar mindset!

Better understanding through musical theater, and conversations from the back seat.

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Voice from the backseat: an explanation

For me at least, the most important, most memorable conversations seem to happen in the car.  There are no distractions, and there is no escape.  And it is usually impossible to sustain any meaningful / awkward eye contact for any length of time.  Since adding kids into the equation, the sheer volume of material that drifts up from the backseat is irresistible.  Some topics that we’ve covered include:

  • Who has more body parts, boys or girls?
  • Why can’t I have a phone?
  • Besides narwhal, what is your favorite marine mammal?
  • Would you rather bungee jump off a bridge or skydive?
  • Why can’t I have a phone?
  • Why did that girl in my class say that Hillary Clinton wants to kill all the unborn babies?
  • I don’t like to think about you having gray hair, because that means you’re getting old and are going to die.
  • Why can’t I have a phone?

The first conversation I remember having in the car happened when I was in the backseat of the blue boat of a Chevy that I remember as my family’s first car, although photographic evidence would suggest that dad’s orange Vega was actually the first. When we kids were little, mom would schlep us to the YMCA two or three days a week for what we affectionately called “gym and swim.”  We took infant and toddler swimming classes and then did various calisthenics and ran around while mom had a reprieve from the solitary confinement of life at home with a string of small children in the days before the internet and cable TV.  Once after gym and swim I must have been passing a lot of gas in the Chevy, because mom glanced at me in the rearview mirror and asked if I had to go B.M. and I had absolutely no idea what that meant, and how could I possible be involved in anything so official sounding?  We were driving toward the old post office in Janesville, just down the street from the Y, and maybe that pseudo-Greek building dominating the view out the windshield added to the feeling that this was Truly Something Big.  Anyway, that’s my first memory in the car, with its white vinyl upholstery and wide bench seats and the smell of chlorine in my hair.

What is your best car story?  Earliest car memory?