Sunday, April 27, 2008

Twelve eyes

Did you know that astigmatism is inherited?

Guess who just got glasses?

When the school nurse finally got Scooter to cooperate with the distance portion of the eye exam, she reported back that his eyesight probably needed correction. Last week, we finally got in to see the eye doctor and she confirmed the nurse's suspicion. More an issue of astigmatism than just near-sightedness.

Since Trillian and I both have glasses, not to mention his grandparents and uncle, he was actually excited about picking out his frames and getting his very own glasses.

In his wire frames, he looks so much more grown up. And even more like a little professor when he decides to explain things to us.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Really, twice in less than two weeks?

I don't write a lot specifically about Springfield, and when I do, it's mostly the good stuff. This is mostly because the negatives to this point are a function of this specific town. So there's this little bit of me that worries I would give away too much by discussing them. (As if anyone would even put in the effort to figure it out and I've told a bunch of you in real life, but that's how my mind insists on working.)

But now I have something I can share, something that has Trillian and I both frustrated (which Trillian would say is a gross understatement).

This town is very safe, the police department well funded with a larger than usual cop-to-citizen ratio. OK, not generally a bad thing, but do the math and you end up with a good number of cops who truly have nothing better to do than look for traffic violations.

Trillian discovered this last week when she ran out to get some breakfast for herself when I was in the middle of my liquid diet. She fully admits that driving before her coffee is not a good thing, but the circumstances are still infuriating. She was driving through a school zone--and sticking close to the speed limit, because hello we're parents and care about this sort of thing. She was at the end of the zone and speeding up. A cop about three blocks away, not in the best position to judge, says that she was doing 33 in the school zone. She know that there's no way she could have been doing that speed before the "End of School Zone" sign.

Now, in my experience--2 moving violations ticket and a sprinkling of parking tickets--every ticket gives you a court date at the bottom. If given to you in person, you sign to acknowledge receipt. Then you have the opportunity to decide whether you will pay the fine or show up on that date.

Apparently it doesn't work quite that way here and the cop who pulled Trillian over also didn't bother to explain clearly. As it was presented to her, she had to decide on the spot whether she would pay the fine or appear in court. The officer also told her that the violation would only put 2 or 3 points on her license.

When she got home, she found out that the violation, in fact, carries 5 points, which is close to a warning and almost halfway to suspension. So she contacted a lawyer and the municipal court. And found out that in signing the citation as she did, she had given up the right to appear in court. It was, technically, possible to change that, but would require jumping through a lot of hoops and likely getting a judge who would not be happy about hearing her case.

So, we mailed in the fine. And Trillian decided that she would drive as little as possible in the next year, until the points would no longer count towards warning/suspension. Which is not that big of a deal since I do most of the driving anyway.

Cut to today.

We're driving back home after running some errands in the town center. We're still about 10 minutes from home when Scooter announces he needs to pee. (Note to self, when kid is dancing around in the library, even if he answers that NO he doesn't need to pee, take him to the bathroom already!) I know that there's a gas station up ahead and that, due to a lot of construction and the time of day, it could take more than 10 minutes to get home. At this point, even though Scooter has said he can hold it, it's quite obvious to us that he won't make it too much longer. (And he's been doing pretty well recently and is horribly upset when he has an accident, but he still has a hard time recognizing the urge until it becomes an immediate need.)

There are some "no left turn" signs along the way, including one in the general area of the gas station entrance, but it's really hard to tell if it's for that or the intersection just past it. There's no traffic coming and the child looks like he'll burst. What would you do?

Well, apparently I made the left in full view of an officer. Who responded, when I told him my son was about to have an accident, "Well, I still have to write you a ticket." (mini-rant: Have to? Looking at the citation I have, there is in fact a place for a written warning. And the turn I made was not at all dangerous or normally illegal. They keep changing around the barrels and signage in this area, so it's not even like this is the usual rule here.)

Anyway, when he brought me the citation, I decided to ask a couple questions for clarification of Trillian's experience. It turns out that it is true that you have to make a decision on the spot: pay the fine or request a court appearance. But when I asked, "What if I'm not sure?", he told me that then I should ask for the court date, as I could always go ahead and pay the fine before that date. He also explained (and this just about boggled my mind) that the date listed was not an appointment, but a deadline. In fact, if I wanted to plead my case to a judge, I could show up any time before that listed; if I waited until after to appear or pay, a warrant would be issued.

I'm looking into my options and trying to gather some more information, such as how many points this would carry and the likelihood I could get them knocked off, either completely or by agreeing to traffic school.

Not something I needed, as I was already freaking out over the exam I'll be taking next week. (my Rolfer remarked that I was tenser than she'd ever seen and asked if I felt behind and if I'm something of a perfectionist. Yes and yes.) On the other hand, we've had a few moments of humor from this. Trillian and I were joking that it would have been better for our citations to have occurred in reverse order, since if I'd been stopped first and mistakenly signed, agreeing to pay, it would have cost us significantly less in fines and points.

In any case, I'll be the one driving under the speed limit and double-checking every possible turn.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

As I am in the throes of studying, with an exam looming in just over a week, I have not given this day a lot of specific thought. But given that the environment is a particular passion of mine, I generally try to follow the maxim that "Everyday is Earth Day!"

In some ways, the last year has been quite momentous in terms of environmental issues. This is the year that scientists made their strongest statement yet that humans are causing climate change, the year that it became evident that more damage has been done more quickly than earlier estimates predicted, the year that there has been more mainstream coverage of the likely widespread famines and droughts that will result from global shifts of weather patterns.

This is why I get panicky when I think about it from that perspective. So sometimes I have to back off and come at it from another angle.

  • I went around and counted the incandescent light bulbs left in our house. More than I had expected, though most of them are in fixtures we rarely use, leftovers from the previous owners.
  • I brought travel mugs when Trillian and I went to the coffee shop (sometimes I have to have a change of scenery to get a burst of productivity). Heck, they even donated some money to a conservation group since we made a purchase on Earth Day.
  • I continue to gather food scraps for our compost pile and separate out all recyclables, which is fewer here than in Toronto, much to my chagrin.
  • Trillian and I discussed grander changes for the house, such as solar panels, and simpler ones too, such as adding opaque curtains in the sun room so that we can better regulate how much it heats up in the summer.
  • I worked on my application for a teacher education program; if I could get the teaching job in Springfield, instead of in Capital City, I could easily take the bus to school, even ride my bike in nicer weather. That alone has increased my interest in getting certified.

I'm not where I want to be in all of this, but it's an ongoing process.

So here's to Earth Day! May the next one find us greener than the last.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Global Warming Friday: Duh!

I imagine that most of you have seen the recent developments in both the US and Canada.

In the US, bisphenol A has been tied to health risks, and major manufacturer Nalgene has said that they will be removing BPA from their products. In a lot of ways, this is as much a result of pressure from consumers as their actual concern about the chemical, but it's nice to see that manufacturers will listen eventually. The US studies are carefully worded in their conclusions. The biggest concern is with the use of BPA in baby products.

Canada has gone a step further and declared BPA toxic. This means that BPA in baby bottles (specifically) will be banned. Hopefully, it will have a spreading effect. I am glad that there is at least one country banning the substance, even partly, since it means that manufacturers will be required to seek alternatives. And once those alternatives are available, it should be easier to find them even in places without a ban.

Some retailers had already started to pull products with BPA, and more have announced their intent to follow suit. Including WalMart. And if large retailers get rid of products with BPA, there will be more incentive for finding alternatives.

In our household, we've tried to use glass containers as much as possible, but it's impractical in a number of cases. Scooter's school does not allow snacks and lunch to be packaged in glass, and there are only so many containers we can store at a time anyway. We have made sure, however, that the plastics in our cupboards are the more 'friendly' types and have found most of what we need made from #5 plastic. When/if we get close to Baby #2's arrival, we'll need to decide between glass bottles and something like the Born Free brand since we've gotten rid of all the Avent that were lurking in storage.

I have to admit that when I was studying in a coffee shop yesterday, I had to restrain myself from informing the mother a few tables over about the recent findings on BPA and its presence in the @vent bottle in front of her. So I hope that the information gets disseminated broadly (though if major new outlets can't do it...). I did take a quick look over at the @vent website and noticed that they have not updated the old FAQ that included their insistence that there's nothing wrong with BPA. No press releases either. And I have found it interesting that all of the news stories have focused on Nalgene, even though the studies single out baby bottles. I imagine @vent will need to do some fast and creative spinning if they want to stay afloat.

I do hope that Nalgene figures out a new formula quickly, as their bottles are generally convenient and a good size for carrying water along. I have been fairly happy with my Sigg bottle, but I fear that a good number of people will swap out their Nalgenes for disposable bottles of water--and we're already in danger of being overwhelmed by the number of those tossed daily.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Facing my fear

Fear has been simmering in me for the past few days.

I was not afraid of the preparation for the colonoscopy or the procedure itself. I knew that both would be uncomfortable and unpleasant. But I can usually handle those things when I know that the time I will be suffering is relatively short and finite.

Rather, this was the fear of standing on the edge of a precipice and not being sure in which direction my future might lay.

My father was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 44. He died four years later, having battled the cancer on four separate occasions. The first time it came back, the theory was that they had missed some part of the original tumor. But with the next two times, it became clear that this was encoded into his very core and that no matter how many times he fought it, it would come back.

His brother and father also had colon cancer. While, if one were to be very technical, they died of other causes, it was the cancer that ravaged their bodies and left them vulnerable to other problems. They both lived into their 60s, but had a rough few last years.

Most of the population is counseled to get their first colonoscopy at age 50. And then follow-ups every 5 years if things are reasonably normal.

I'm 34 and have heard for the past 5 years that this was my target age. 10 years before my father's diagnosis.

Colon cancer is clearly genetic. It has hit nearly all of the men of the previous generation in my father's family. One uncle has not yet had colon cancer, but there is the suspicion that it is only a matter of time, as he is much younger than his other siblings and has already had polyps removed yearly.

And so I went into this exam with the worry that if any polyps were found, it would only be a matter of time before I ended up with cancer. And although the pamphlet I picked up says that colon cancer is curable 70% of the time when caught early, I know that getting it once, even caught extremely early, would mean for me that I would never be rid of it. And that my countdown would start.

It is a great relief, therefore, that the gastroenterologist found no polyps. This does not mean that I need not worry at all, but at least this isn't all starting right now. I have long hoped for that the combination of being a female and having my mother's genes mixed in might mean that I have dodged this particular genetic bullet. The doctor also suggested that I look into genetic testing, as there are a number of mutations that they can look for now. For my sake and for my son's, I'll be looking into this.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Because the best way to focus the mind is a colonoscopy

My exam is in just over two weeks. My first colonoscopy is tomorrow.

And so today will be one long party of reading very old texts and colon cleansing. Everyone's favorite combination.

Because this is the way my mind works, I'll be updating every few hours. Some of you may want to quit right now--there will be intestinal distress.

I can justify this post, in part, since this could be useful information for someone. I know I poked around a bit in the past couple days to find some suggestions that might not have been included in the two pages of what I must and must not do in the 24 hours before my appointment.

The real inspiration for this post, however, comes from the perversity of my scientific mind. I don't know about you, but I've occasionally come across those products that claim a proper cleanse can help you lose 10-20 pounds, by getting rid of old fecal matter. As far as I can tell, most of those products involve huge doses of fiber (or a 'natural' laxative) with some proprietary mix of herbs. Since I'm wary of taking 25 different herbs (and of their claims in general), I've never tried them.

But now I've been ordered to take a mega-laxative and clear everything out. Perfect opportunity to determine if there's a noticeable weight loss. So in addition to recording information about the preparation, I'll be weighing myself every few hours. The number I record here will not be my full weight, just the ones and tenths. I'm starting at 8.4 and will be adjusting numbers for clothing.

Updates will be appended to the end.

Approx. 7 am--8.4 pounds.

8:15 am--Breakfast: 1 poached egg and black coffee. The egg is the last solid food I'm allowed until after the appointment tomorrow. Although I'm not looking forward to the cleansing portion of the program, the liquid diet worries me too. I do not do well on diets when they involve deprivation; it just makes me obsess over the foods I can't have all the more. I've stocked up on chicken broth and jell-o (but nothing red or purple) and Gatorade, but suspect that will get old fast.

10 am--Found myself hungry again when I made my son's grilled cheese sandwich (breakfast of champions!) First foray into the jell-o. I had the forethought to make up a double batch yesterday: lemon over which I put some lime once both were decently set. Somehow that makes it more special. Currently 8.5 pounds--active cleanse doesn't start until 4.

12:30 pm--I currently have in use one mug for decaf coffee (black), one mug for chicken broth, and one bowl and spoon for jell-o. I recently stuck another batch of jell-o in the fridge to set, as I've gone through quite a bit of it in an attempt to feel like I was filling my stomach with something. Now I've moved on to broth and am on my third mug of chicken broth. The saltiness helps quench another aspect of my hunger. Usually, I'd worry about the salt content, but since the Fleet I'll be taking is purposely going to throw my salt balance off, I'm going to stick with it throughout the day. I have gotten precious little reading done because I keep going to the bathroom (to pee) and am distracted by thoughts of food.

2:15 pm--At this point, I am dealing with crashing blood sugar. Nearly everything I'm allowed to have is carbs, mostly sugar at that, and there's a negligible amount of protein in everything I'm allowed, including the chicken broth. So I'm cranky and shaky and muddled in my thinking. Makes for slow progress in reading anything, much less treatises on complicated topics. I'm almost looking forward to the beginning of the main phase in a little under two hours, just so I'll have something else to think about. Of course, I may wish to retract that statement in the near future.

4:15 pm--9.8 pounds. I feel like I'm retaining a good amount of the fluid I'm drinking, even with all my trips to the bathroom.

First glass of Fleet Phospho Soda in hand. I've seen a number of different directions for how to take it. In my case, it's 1/2 a fluid ounce mixed in with 8 ounces of the clear liquid of my choice. Drink over the course of 10 minutes and then repeat twice more. Mixing it in with a flavored beverage is supposed to "dramatically improve its taste." Fleet is basically a very concentrated solution of salt; it's an osmotic laxative. This means that it creates a sodium imbalance in the digestive tract. Water from the rest of the body rushes in to balance the sodium level with that of the rest of the body. Then it rushes out of the body in general.

By the way, salty apple juice is not particularly appetizing.

6 pm--I was a little busy in the bathroom, so here's a bunch of action updated at once:
Right before I had to sit for awhile, I weighed myself again--11.2 pounds. Definitely retaining all of the liquid ingested.

4:55--And so it begins. Sudden fullness in intestines, but different than the bloating I felt earlier. I have some cramps, but they move around.

5:05--Got bored of sitting, so I get up and walk into the living room. Immediately return to bathroom.

5:20--Environmental note: at least I'm sitting on the low-flow toilet.

5:57--Things seem to have calmed down, so I'll brave the living room again. 11 pounds. No particularly violent evacuations, but they were pretty frequent. I have to say, though, one-fifth of a pound? We're not headed to any miraculous weight loss here!

7:55 pm--10.2 pounds. Down a pound. Fewer trips to the bathroom, a little more warning before each trip. Have had a few hard candies, which are OK according to the directions I have; it's the closest thing to food I'm allowed right now. I really want to eat something solid!

9:30 pm--Still at 10.2 pounds. Headed to bed soon. I get to do the fun part again in the morning before the colonoscopy itself, so I may still end up under my starting weight. Maybe I'll be less cranky after some sleep.

6 am--7.6 pounds this morning. Choking down the next round of salty apple juice. In 45 minutes, I can't have anything, not even water. So the trick is to finish the sodium solution in about 30 so that I have some time to down enough Gatorade to avoid being completely dehydrated.

8:15 am--Took a shower after the worst of it seemed to be over. I imagine I'll be taking another once I'm enough out of sedation to stand. 7.4 pounds. Not impressive numbers.

I also realized, upon rereading what I had from the gastroenterologist, that they leave out some of the stuff that was mentioned multiple times elsewhere. My directions suggest being close "to toilet facilities as multiple bowel movements may occur." The "may" is kind of amusing. Also, there's no mention of the fact that it will be diarrhea. No way around that. Since the Fleet works by flooding the bowel with water, it'll still be pretty much water when it exits.

Getting ready to leave. We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Not ready for law school yet

We've been joking that Scooter is destined to become a lawyer. He's taking to negotiating just about everything. Usually he can strike a pretty good deal, but his negotiation skills are not quite there yet.

A recent example:

Scooter started out wanting cookies for breakfast. I gave a solid no and suggested sausage and egg instead; he reluctantly agreed and then ate only a few bites. A little bit later, he decided he wanted ice cream and suggested that he have pear slices first, as the "healthy food" starter. I held firm to some more eggs and sausage.

Scooter: How about one bite of egg and one bite of sausage?

Mouse (wanting to get a little more protein than that into the boy, but willing to settle): How about two bites of egg and two bites of sausage?

Scooter: How about three bites of... (I'm expecting three bites of one thing) egg and three bites of sausage?

Mouse (stifling laughter): OK.

The kid did get his ice cream eventually, officially for breakfast since it was still before 11 am.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A new superhero

Headed into full lockdown study mode--exam in just a couple weeks now. For real this time! Unless my supervisor drops off the face of the earth. Again.

But just because I can't help sharing this:

After our meeting with the teacher yesterday, she offered Scooter a sticker for playing so nicely and cleaning up at the end. She couldn't find her Thomas stickers, so she offered Batman. He chose one and put it on his shirt.

On the way out, we commented on his sticker. "Yes," he replied, "it's Splatman." We weren't sure we heard properly at first, but he made it clear this is what he had said. "He splats people and splats buildings and splats everything."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Currently, I am functioning under the assumption that Scooter will eventually end up with a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome (and that I would too if I decided to get evaluated). With each new thing I read, I find that more pieces click into place: explanations of behavior, connections of seemingly disparate characteristics, the sense that someone understands us.

But I also recognize that there remain many frustrations in dealing with my son. He is prone to meltdowns, sometimes with no specific warning. He has recently learned to assert that he is right and the other person is wrong and will defend his position ad nauseam; to his credit, when faced with incontrovertible proof, he will respond, "Oh, I guess I was wrong." He is very rigid about routines and how things are supposed to be done. He gets stuck on tiny details, is repetitive in his play, can say the same or phrase without end.

These, however, are not the particular frustrations that are niggling at me tonight.

It doesn't take a particularly keen observer to note Scooter's devotion to routine and repetitive behaviors. And so when I remark on his love of pretend play and his imagination, I tend to get a look of surprise or disbelief (or the obvious attempt to hide such a reaction). Perhaps they think I'm delusional. But I've seen it pointed out in several things I've read that the "lack of imagination" that is a characteristic of Asperger's is not a lack of creative thought, rather it's a difficulty in imagining the everyday and expected differently. In my experience, this means that Scooter can spend hours making up new events on the Island of Sodor or come up with an unusual solution to a practical problem, but he will likely go into meltdown mode if we suggest that we'll have to go to the library at a different time than planned or wait until the bread is done baking to have the grilled cheese sandwich he is used to having for lunch.

The most frustrating issue by far has been dealing with the meltdowns or, rather, other people's reactions to his meltdowns. Trillian and I are accustomed to the fact that they can happen suddenly, apparently without warning. But it's quite clear to us that it's not usually a single thing that sets Scooter off; he's quite clearly more prone to them when he's not feeling well or is in a new situation. The best thing to do is to get him into a quiet corner and let him take the time he needs to calm down; sometimes he likes a little hugging or back patting, but trying to talk to him about what happened right at the beginning of a meltdown will only prolong it. At his previous daycare, they had him go sit on a bench for a while, and he even got to the point where he would proclaim, "I need to sit the bench." In general, the frequency of his meltdowns has decreased and often last only a few minutes.

This frustration is particularly keen tonight, however, because we have to go in for a meeting with his teacher tomorrow. She wants to "strategize" how to deal with his meltdowns. My frustration is particularly keen, because I have discussed this twice with the teacher, Trillian once, and we have both told her that separation and time are the only two things that have ever worked. On the phone with Trillian today, she brought out a version of that old teacher chestnut (and I've certainly been guilty of this too): "But in kindergarten, with only one teacher and twenty kids, he just can't do this."

I am frustrated even more so because this is a teacher, of children with documented developmental delays, who has now been to multiple training sessions on autism, who is supposedly learning to identify students likely on the spectrum, to be a resource for the school on autism. And meltdowns (which are not exactly tantrums) are classic autism; Scooter's meltdowns are particularly characteristic of Asperger's. And what I found in the quickest of searches (and in a very affirming email from Aliki) was a consistent message that it is pretty much impossible for these kids not to have meltdowns, that the best ways of handling them include removing the triggers and waiting until they've passed to address them, that most kids need to be at least 7 or 8 before they can start to control the beginning of a meltdown.

Tomorrow morning, as calmly as I can manage, I will tell Scooter's teacher about the bench and how he learned to recognize when he needed that separation (which was a huge amount of awareness for a 4-year-old). This is, in essence, what we have already told her, but I hope that a concrete example might satisfy her. Maybe I can even point to a place in her room that could function in this capacity.

(Perhaps the irony in this is that I recognize what is my adult version of a meltdown in this frustration, the swirl of strong emotions and the way they wreck my concentration. No longer the unbridled weeping, it's a restlessness and a simmering anger. A meltdown over meltdowns.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A dreaded conversation


It is not an easy subject for any parent to handle. For those who intend to raise their children without the "consolation of heaven," there is a need to decide exactly how one will approach it. A good place to go for some ideas is Dale McGowan's Meming of Life blog. He has a whole category on death.

Or read on...

As I've heard from a variety of people, you don't get pets for the sole purpose of introducing your child to death, but it sure can help. Frankly it has been a surprise to me that all of our fish survived for a good number of weeks.

But then we went on vacation and a number of omissions and mistakes caught up with us. I had intended to complete a partial water change and to switch the filter; we had talked about getting a bottom feeder to help keep the tank clean; I believed the packaging that claimed the vacation feeder wouldn't release any extra food into the water.

The afternoon before we headed home, Trillian received a call from her parents. They had come up to our house to check on things and found the guppies floating. Only one tetra was immediately evident, and so they feared that the others were dead too, even without additional floaters. They were willing to go get more fish--my mother-in-law thought they should go ahead and get the full complement in case the final tetra was dead by the time they returned.

I have to admit that had only a single fish died, I would have allowed them to replace it quietly. But this information told me that this was a tank failure, and I feared that simply replacing the fish--even only hours before our return, as my mother-in-law suggested--would only mean that another handful of fish would die.

As soon as we got home, I went into Scooter's room to survey the damage for myself. I quickly realized that all of the tetras were still swimming, but were in bad shape. Their normally brilliant colors had faded to an eerie translucent white. The filter was barely running. There was a visible slime coming from the vacation feeder. A test strip confirmed that the nitrates and nitrites were sky high--ammonia poisoning.

I quickly removed the feeder, switched filters, and mixed up some water with the requisite chemicals, performing an emergency water change. The numbers improved a bit and the tetras began to regain their color.

Then I had to do the hard work.

I turned to Scooter, who was playing with his much-missed trains, and said, "I have some bad news. Your fish (insert names here) died while we were gone. The water went bad and they got sick."

He cried. Trillian scooped him up and held him for a little bit. He brought up getting new fish, and we agreed, although I suggested some bottom-dwellers. Then he returned to playing with his trains. All was not forgotten, as the first part of his play consisted of him informing his engines that those particular fish were gone forever.

I'm making frequent checks of the levels and may make another water change and hope that we can avoid another round of deaths, but I am thankful that this was not a horribly painful encounter with death. Although Scooter has used the term 'forever' multiple times, I do not think he fully understands, but this seems to be about right for his age.

The new fish I want to get are supposed to be quite hardy; fingers crossed they are.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Proof that 5-year-old boys are not human

Conversation in a diner:

Scooter: I don't like hash browns! They're not food for boys.

Mouse (truly interested in the answer): Then who are they food for?

S: They're for you. (Pause.) They're for humans.

(We're on a mini-vacation right now. Fun people and sight-seeing, great conversation. Back to regular blogging soon.)