Thursday, July 31, 2008

Camp days

Here is a slice of life from my son's day camp. The kids are having an amazing time! They are doing a "lip sync" of the song "Low Rider." Too cute!

(Note: for better quality, click on the video, which will take you to the YouTube site, and then click on "watch in high quality" under the word VIEWS.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

100 deaths

I don't write about my work that much here. I enjoy my work, but it doesn't make for uplifting reading. Remember, I'm working on a project to improve end-of-life care for kids who die in the pediatric ICU.

So we've just started the second phase of our study, which is pilot testing a new instrument (a survey) that we created in the first phase. In order to pilot test it, we are giving it to clinicians (doctors, nurses, social workers, and others who work in the PICU) after there is a death. The purpose of the survey is to rate the care that was given to the child and his/her family, and to see if the care met the family's needs, and what can be improved. The only trouble is, in order to do this, there have to be deaths. 100 of them. Deaths of children.

We aren't causing the deaths; we are just noting them. It's called an observational study. When a death happens, we (or actually, our surrogates in the PICU) give out the surveys to the most involved clinicians. Eventually, we will get the surveys back, and input them into our nifty little data base. Eventually we will analyze the data, and write papers, and find things out. But in order to get this data, there have to be deaths.

The second phase of the study officially began about 2 weeks ago, and we had't heard anything yet about any deaths in the 2 PICUs we are working with. But today I heard from one of them. There was a death. So our study begins...

I'm glad that our study is beginning, because I think it's interesting and important, but I'm sad about the death. And I don't know if I can deal with feeling this way 100 times...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

D'var Torah on Mattot

Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: This is what the Lord has commanded:

If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.

If a woman makes a vow to the Lord or assumes an obligation while still in her father's household by reason of her youth, and her father learns of her vow or her self-imposed obligation and offers no objection, all her vows shall stand and every self-imposed obligation shall stand. But if her father restrains her on the day he finds out, none of her vows or self-imposed obligations shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, since her father restrained her.

If she should marry while her vow or the commitment to which she bound herself is still in force, and her husband learns of it and offers no objection on the day he finds out, her vows shall stand and her self-imposed obligations shall stand. But if her husband restrains her on the day that he learns of it, he thereby annuls her vow which was in force or the commitment to which she bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her. (from the JPS Tanach)

How often have you made a vow? Have you taken an oath recently?

Other than marriage vows, or oaths made in court or some other legal proceeding, today making vows is a less common activity than it was in ancient times. Apparently, long ago, making vows was something that people did often. So often that there needed to be ways to release people of them. Kol Nidre is the most famous of these. We are all familiar with it’s formula: Kol nidre v’esaray… all vows and oaths…Basically releasing us from our vows from this Yom Kippur until next.

But there were other ways of releasing people from vows. As we read the first few sentences of Mattot, we learn that there are 2 types of people: those who can be released from their vows (or rather, whose vows are nullified), and those who cannot. Those who can be released from their vows are girls under the age of 12 ½ who live at home, whose vows can be nullified by the fathers, and married women, whose vows can be nullified by their husbands. Those who cannot be released from their vows are: men, girls over the age of 12-1/2 who live at home, widowed women, and divorced women.

Additionally, the father or husband must nullify the vow the day that the girl/woman makes the vow – not the next day or the day after. It must be immediate.

So let’s think about this for a moment.

What does this mean?

It's easy to get very angry at the patriarchal nature of Judaism. Why is a man's vow automatically taken seriously, but a woman's vow can be canceled by her husband or father?

But thinking further... What is all this business about making vows, anyway? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to have your vows dismissed?

So I looked further, and this is what I found in an introduction to the Talmudic Tractate Nedarim, or vows:
The making of vows would appear to have been a frequent practice in ancient life. People voluntarily denied themselves permitted pleasures, though the Rabbis frowned upon unnecessary asceticism, holding it a sin to abstain from legitimate enjoyment. Again, to express anger or resentment, vows were made whereby one forbade himself to benefit from the object of his displeasure, or forbade the latter to benefit from him. It may be remarked in this connection that the Rabbis disapproved of the whole practice of vowing, so much so that one might rightly speak of the vows of the wicked, but not of the vows of the righteous (Mishnah, 9a).
So it seems that in ancient times, people often made vows, often denying themselves some pleasure. And for some reason, fathers and husbands were allowed to intercede. It's hard for us to enter into this mindset, since we don't make these kind of vows any more.

The feminist side of me says: if women make vows, they should have to keep them, just like men! But the practical side of me says: well, maybe it's a good thing to have an out. Especially if people tended to make these vows in anger. So maybe it's good to have a safety valve of some sort. And while men had to wait until Yom Kippur to have their vows annulled, women could have them annulled on a daily basis if necessary.

To sum up, here’s what one of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Barenblat or the Velveteen Rabbi, says about Mattot:
For many women today that’s bound to be a challenging text. What garment can we weave out of these words that won’t be painful and constricting for us to wear?

At its heart, I think this is a text about making wise commitments. This text implies that people tasked with caring for those who are vulnerable have the sacred obligation of helping those under their care to make safe and healthy promises.

Though we may reject the assumption that men are necessarily powerful and women are necessarily vulnerable, it’s incumbent upon those in power to help protect those they care for. A parent who lets her child succumb to the seduction of a cult, or a mentor who lets his acolyte’s self-worth hinge on an impossible promise: these are role models who are not living up to their role.

The verse about widows and divorced women — in our paradigm, people who have some life-experience under their belts — shows that Torah understands that those who are vulnerable can become empowered, able to make wise decisions.

Torah acknowledges that our words matter…which is why it takes such care to ensure a protection mechanism for those whom society disempowers, so they won’t bind themselves with words which might come back to harm them. Even if we find Torah’s example of it dated or problematic, that core teaching still has tremendous value.

Friday, July 25, 2008

47 and dead

I just heard the news that Randy Pausch, the now-famous professor who gave his "last lecture" and became a YouTube and worldwide sensation, just died of his pancreatic cancer. He was 47.

I am 47. Did I mention that I'm starting to feel my own mortality?

I heard about the "last lecture" a few months ago, and I actually taped it to watch later on TV, but I could only bring myself to watch part of it. Then I saw part of it on Oprah.

Basically, here is a guy, very optimistic and upbeat, with 3 young kids, who gets the really bad news that he has a really bad cancer. And he decides to make the best of it, which is basically how he lived his life, anyway. No "poor me." No "now I see the light" either. Rather, I think he just continued to live his life the way he always did -- with gusto -- and then he died.

If I were him, I would be pissed off that life handed me this: an interesting life, a good career, a wife and 3 kids, and now: an early death? Royally pissed.

See, I don't think all these cancers in (relatively) young people are due to cell phones or eating badly or not exercising enough...I think they are due to our toxic environment, chemicals in places they shouldn't be like our homes and our water and our BODIES. That's why 47 year olds are dying of cancer.

And I'm pissed. And scared.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A shrine to sports

The room transformation is complete... it is now a Shrine to Sports. This is the Wall of Baseball...

Here is the wall of basketball...and of football...

and the wall of of trophies....
All praise the mighty god of sports!

Beans growing


more beans 2

Beans growing 3
Is it just me, or are these amazingly sensuous plants?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let them be miserable!

I actually laughed out loud at breakfast this morning, reading this column in the Globe about gay marriage. Just as background, the current kerfuffle (I love that word!) is about letting out-of-state gay couples get married in Massachusetts.

You've got to read it.

Here's the part that cracked me up:

I thought gay marriage was something the religious right would try to foist on gay people. You know, so gay couples could be miserable like the rest of us.

What could be more conservative than being monogamous and raising kids, living an existence that is about as exciting as being a penguin on the Galápagos Islands?

Too funny! I have to agree. If gays -- or anybody -- want to take part in the questionable institution of marriage, all the power to them. I think it's hard to be married, even harder to stay married, and that gays will (and are, in Mass.) have the some problems as straights with staying married. But hell: let them try if they want to!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Do you have a little boy?

When J was born, we received many beautiful presents, and quite a few with his name on them. There was a name plaque with hooks that we hung outside his bedroom door, and a smaller one with a figure of a baseball player that we hung near the back door. There was a puzzle with his name, and a set of wooden trains that spelled out his name. And a wonderful ride-on car with a bright yellow construction hat, both with his name on them.

Alas, as part of the bedroom renovation, J is no longer interested in all these "little boy" things.

So I put an ad on my local Freecycle. Maybe there was someone out there who could use them?
Do you have a small son named J? If so, we have the following:
-a construction hat (yellow) with J on it
-a wall sign with hooks (to hold clothing, etc.) that says J and
has a car on it
-a wall sign with a little boy and a baseball bat, that says J on it
I'd be happiest if you'd take all 3! Thanks!
Sure enough, someone replied. A nice couple with a 16 month old named J, and they would love the stuff. It was a shidduch made in heaven. The dad dropped by to pick up the goods, and brought the little J in with him. So cute!

We feel good. They feel good. We recycled. And now a little J out there somewhere is using my big J's things. Isn't it grand?

Our J in the yellow construction hat, age 1.5 (2001)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Painting fiasco

Saturday was bedroom painting day in the B household. I had a commitment in the morning at our synagogue, so I left around 9:45 am. The plan was that A would do the primer coat in the morning (and J would "help"), and then we'd work together on the actual paint coat in the afternoon.

I got home around 12:30 pm. No one was home. It seemed that A&J had gone out for some lunch. The room was primed, there wasn't a huge mess, and all seemed well. I ate lunch myself, and they arrived home a little while later.

Apparently the morning HADN'T gone well, according to A. J had been demanding (what a surprise) and he was having a hard time "helping" with the painting. But the primer was dry, and it was time to paint. We all changed into our painting clothes, and poured the sky blue paint that J had chosen into the roller tray.

Then, all hell broke loose.

J and I were using an edger to apply paint around the windows and to the perimeter of the walls. When I dipped the edger into the paint, some of the paint started dripping on the DROP CLOTHS. I thought drop cloths were to catch drops of paint, but apparently, according to A, they aren't supposed to get a lot of paint on them. We were doing it WRONG. There was paint on the floor (I wiped it up). He yelled at us. I yelled at him. We were all angry.

Are we having fun yet?

I said: "Do you want us to leave?"
A replied: "YES!"
I said: "Well, we aren't leaving!"

I thought it was important for J to help paint his own room. But A thought it was important to do it THE RIGHT WAY. I coached J and we did the edging as best we could, and A used the roller to paint the middle of the walls. Within a few hours, the room was all painted. The color was beautiful. J was happy and proud. I was angry, though. Very angry.

I said to A: "Do you want your son to think of you as the father who screams at him for spilling paint? Is that how you want him to remember you?"

A eventually apologized to both of us, but I wasn't happy with the whole situation. We won't be painting again together for a LONG while, that's for sure.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Just say NO to back-to-school

Okay, it's July 10th, and it's been summer for how many weeks now? Not yet 3 weeks (I just checked.) School has been out for slightly over 3 weeks, and my son is enjoying his 3rd week of camp. Things seem slowed down, and I'm enjoying seeing parents walking, biking, shopping with kids of all ages where-ever I go. It's summer, and the living is easy... Why am I starting to see signs of back-to-school already?

In CVS, the binders and backpacks have made their appearance, alongside the bottles of sunscreen and bug spray. The Sunday paper has back-to-school clothing ads. LLBean is sending out their fall catalogs.

Stop! I'm not ready for summer to be over yet! It's just started!

Stop it NOW!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

My zucchini are gay no more!

I have tried to grow zucchini for years, to no avail. Everyone says that zucchini are the easiest thing to grow, yet I've had no luck. My problem has been that the zucchini plants would only produce male flowers. Now, in order to get a zucchini, believe it or not, you need BOTH male and female flowers. The part of the plant just below the female flower is what actually turns into a zucchini if pollinated. So you need bees or other such flying insects to take the pollen from the male flowers and then land on the female flowers and pollinate them. The birds and bees (or the flowers and the bees), if you will.

So, each year, I have had plenty of male zucchini flowers, but for some reason, NO female flowers ever appeared, so I got NO zucchini. Ever. I kept complaining that I had gay (male) zucchini plants. All men, no women. (I really do mean this is a funny, loving way.)

But this year, I bought a large, healthy zucchini plant from the garden store, and planted it in the garden right in full sun, hoping for the best. The plant has grown, and has been flowering like crazy. But I couldn't see any zucchinis growing.

But today.... I saw them! Both male and female zucchini flowers, and a tiny baby zucchini starting to grow! YAY!

Here is the male zucchini flower. Note the long, thin stem:
male zuk flower

And here...ta da!... is the female zucchini flower with the zucchini starting to grow!
female zuk

Zucchini bread, here we come!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Is teen pregnancy a laughing matter?

The saga of the 17 pregnant teens in Gloucester continues. This time, it has to do with the boundaries of political satire. Apparently, there is a parade each fourth of July in Beverly Farms, MA (a well-to-do suburb north of Boston) called the Horribles Parade, "known for more than a century for its biting satire about current affairs." Horribles? So strange. Anyway, this year, someone decided it would be a hoot to make fun of the pregnant teens of Gloucester.

At first, I heard that there were girls dancing with pillows under their shirts, and I thought, what is the big deal? But today I heard more:

Then came the surprise floats at the annual July Fourth Horribles parade in Beverly, which has sparked outrage in neighboring Gloucester.

There were young men in diapers emerging from a female dummy's open legs, condoms raining on preteen spectators, and a truck that simulated a part of the male anatomy and carried the mocking message: "Knock 'em up high where expectations are low, Gloucester, MA."


So now it sounds like it wasn't just lighthearted fun, but it really was pushing the limit. It wasn't a gay pride parade, and people probably weren't expecting phallic symbols and condoms. I personally think it's kind of funny, but I can see why people are angry. Also, it has a lot to do with class differences. People in Beverly Farms tend to be wealthy, and those in Gloucester, more working class. So the Gloucester folks are angry for more than one reason.

I'm trying to imagine what it would have been like if I was there with J, my 9-year-old son. We are pretty open about sexual topics with him, and he is very curious, but he hasn't ever seen anything like this in a parade. I wonder if he would have understood? And the condoms: definitely would have been an issue. When we did the AIDS Walk a few months ago, A inadvertently picked up a cute metal container that held some condoms, and we REALLY didn't want to start explaining that to J... He is so grossed out by the idea of sex, how will we ever explain to him about birth control?

P.S. Here's a piece on the parade from, including a video...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Looking back 9 years

Nine years ago, right about this time of year, we were deciding on paint colors for our new baby's room. We ended up choosing a very light and calm purple. We also chose a border with a Noah's ark theme: very happy looking animals. The room was perfect for either a girl or boy (I don't think we knew the sex at that point.)

And now nine years have passed, and that baby boy is no longer interested in purple or in Noah's ark, so today A and I spent a few fun hours scraping a Noah's ark wallpaper strip from off the perimeter of J's bedroom. The walls are still purple -- painting will have to wait for another day -- but it's starting to look like a boy's room, not a baby's room. Actually, J has already been working on transforming his room, by taping photos of sports stars all over his walls, and sports schedules, and team lists... It really hasn't been a baby's room for a while. But now we are making it official.

I actually had a moment of sadness this afternoon as I saw the wall came clean of the carefully-chosen wallpaper, uncovering the carefully drawn pencil lines that A had made to ensure that the wallpaper border was straight. Was that really 9 years ago??? So much has happened in the past 9 years. I knew so little about what becoming a mother would mean.

Now I REALLY have to get back to finishing up that sports quilt.

Friday, July 04, 2008

More from the garden

Shasta daisies

The lilies are starting to bloom!

The zucchinis are looking promising this year, for once!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

"This American Life" and parenting

I love "This American Life" on NPR, and I know I'm not the only one. Something about the way they take a very ordinary experience, and draw it out, describe the details, and spin it into something extraordinary. I often imagine myself being on the radio, describing some mundane experience in my life in exquisite detail, a la TAL, and sounding so incredibly intellectual and hip.

In my dreams.

The topic of TAL is often related to parenting, or rather, parent-child relationships, and I find these very interesting. Today, I was listening to an episode in which a grown man was describing an event from his childhood in which his parents bought him a bike, and he proceeded to leave it outside a store, and it was stolen, on the way home from the bike store. Needless to say, he was devastated by this, and after the long walk home, couldn't even imagine what his punishment would be. The thing is, his father had been the one that took the bike. He took it to teach his son a lesson.

Not only was that a surprising ending to the story, but then they had the father and his now-grown son talking about the incident, and the father was actually distressed by the incident, and felt that he had been too harsh with his son. The son actually saw the incident, and it's outcome, very differently. (You can listen to this story here, Act 2)

So listening to this leads me to imagine myself and J, 20 or 30 or 40 years hence, having a similar conversation about some issue about J's growing up years. Something that I'll feel badly about for years, and he will have forgotten. Something he can never forget, yet I will have forgotten. Will TAL still be around then? Could we get on the show? Will we want to?