Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raising Iron Man

When my two boys were very young, we were frequent flyers at the ER.

If we could have accrued points for our visits, we'd have achieved Medallion status and gotten all the great perks, like priority first-class seating in the waiting room and free drinks. Sadly, the hospital never once offered free Bloody Marys, even at those times when I could use one most.

After the fourth ER visit in a three-month period, I cowered in the corner of the exam room. "I hope all these repeated visits won't prompt a call from Children's Services," I told the doctor, with a nervous laugh.

He reached into my older son's nose with what appeared to be needle-nosed pliers. I watched as he pulled out a tiny wad of clothes dryer-hardened Kleenex, which Son #1 had apparently relocated from his pants pocket into the nether regions of his nostrils.

"I wouldn't worry too much about Children's Services," he said. "I haven't seen an abusive parent yet who shoves balled-up pieces of tissue up their child's nose."

Son #1 had his share of ER trips for sure. But Son #2 was an ornery, hyperactive youngster, particularly prone to accidents and mishaps. His younger years presented a unique set of parental challenges. (Son #1 surpassed those challenges in his teenage years.)

Fortunately, we of the Stanfa lineage are a tough bunch. As my dad was fond of saying, "When it gets too rough for everyone else, it's just about right for us."

Yet no one in the family was tougher and more resilient, in times of medical crisis, than Son #2.

Many of his injuries were endured with little or no complaint. He barely whimpered about his two fractured wrists, so I refused to feel too guilty for waiting weeks after both incidents to finally haul him off to see a doctor.

But some occasions demanded immediate attention. Like the time he was a toddler and I found him belting down a bottle of cough syrup.

We headed off to our second home, where the ER nurse handed us a tall glass of some charcoal-flavored antidote. "It tastes God-awful, so we can never get any child to drink it, but let's see if we manage to get just a sip or two down him."

I sighed and handed my two-year-old the witches brew.

He took one sip. He swallowed. He peered down at the cup. And he then proceeded to chug, hardly bothering to breathe between gulps. When he finished the entire contents, he handed the cup back to me. Awaiting a refill.

The nurse watched, bug-eyed. "In all my years here, I have never--not once--seen a child drink the whole thing."

A stomach of steel. Yes, I was raising Iron Man.

I didn't comprehend the strength of his super powers until years later, when we learned his too-small palate couldn't accommodate a normal full set of teeth. Consequently, the orthodontist recommended that he have several pulled. We headed off to the dentist--a man aptly named Dr. Moeller.

Dr. Moeller reached toward his young patient, with the first in a planned series of novacaine shots.

Son #2 clamped his hand over his mouth, releasing it just long enough to shout. "No shots! I don't need any shots! Just pull the teeth."

Dr. Moeller tried to reason with him: The novacaine would numb his mouth. The extractions would be far more painful without it than with it. He'd never pulled a tooth before, in all his years as a dentist, without numbing the patient's mouth first.

His pleas were to no avail. Young Iron Man shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. "No shots. Just pull them out."

Finally, Dr. Moeller nodded. "OK. I'll start to pull on the first tooth, and you let me know when to stop. Then we'll talk again about some novacaine."

He winked at me. I nodded back. We both knew how this was sure to play out.

Dr. Moeller reached back into the boy's mouth, this time with dental forceps. I watched him take hold of the tooth. No reaction.

He jiggled it. Nothing.

He began to pull. I cringed and turned my face away, holding my hands over my sensitive maternal ears to block out my child's inevitable scream of agony.

Not a sound.

I looked back to see the dentist holding a tooth, roots and all, within his forceps. He shook his head in disbelief, and we both glanced back at the boy in the chair.

"See? Easy," said Son #2.

Within minutes, the dentist had pulled the other three teeth. Iron Man lay silently until the dentist announced he was finished. Then he opened his eyes and grinned.

"See? Easy," he repeated, as blood dripped from the corners of his smile.

Within an hour of returning home, young Iron Man was requesting macaroni and cheese for dinner. I managed to appease him with a glass of chocolate milk.

I needed a drink that night too. Something with a much bigger kick.

But somehow, I couldn't face a Bloody Mary.

Did parenthood provide you with a card-carrying ER membership? Are you a wimp or are you Iron Man?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Notes of Interest

I went to lunch last week with two close high school friends with whom I hadn't spoken in twenty years. Inconceivable, wasn't it, that we'd go from being nearly inseparable, to sending Christmas cards, to... nothing?

Yet over our salads and sandwiches, the years melted away. One moment we were middle-aged near-strangers, and the next, we had managed to conjure up some semblance of what is was to be fifteen.

As we reminisced about our collective pasts and caught up with our current lives, my friend Sue reached for her purse.

"I put these aside to bring to our last class reunion, but I never made it there," she said. "So I figured I'd bring them along today." She pulled out a plastic baggie stuffed with paper and handed it to me.

I opened the baggie and began unfolding one of the pages. "Dear Susie Baby," it began. The writing, in faded purple ink, seemed familiar. I squinted at the page and glanced up at her.

"These are all the notes you wrote me in high school. Most of them during biology class in sophomore year," she said. "I saved them all, in a cookie jar."

"You're kidding."

She shrugged and smiled. "Every time I moved, I'd find them and think about tossing them, but I never did. I don't know why. But they're a hoot. You should take them home and read them."

And so I did.

I'd like to say she saved them for thirty-five years because I was a teenage prodigy and the words I wrote as a high school sophomore were already Pulitzer-worthy. They were, indeed, sometimes funny and heart-warming.

But what they contained wasn't some award-winning writing. What was meaningful about these words, scrawled during a single hour each day during a single school year, was that they provided a written snapshot: a clear image of one short but meaningful time in each of our lives.

What I read reminded me about events I'd fully forgotten. About our favorite catchphrases and favorite people. About the person my friend was at fifteen, and the person I was then, too.

My last words were written in June 1977. "Well, Big Baby, this is the last note I will ever write to you in biology class... I hope you have kept all my notes this year. It's a valuable collection!"

None of my high school scribblings would net a dime on Pawn Stars. But valuable? Ah, such a subjective term when it comes to pieces of our past.

Stashed away in my basement, amidst holiday decorations and cartons of books, are cardboard boxes filled with mementos. Among these are countless handwritten memories: postmarked envelopes with letters written in a long-gone aunt's cursive script. Handmade birthday cards from my sons, in a child's clumsy printing. And somewhere, for certain, contraband notes from old friends written during school days when we knew friendships to be far more important than any teacher's lectures.

Will today's generation still have the ability to capture this magic of their past, thirty or more years from now? Will they be able to scroll through old text messages and emails and Facebook posts from long-lost friends or deceased loved ones? If so, will those electronic words in some computer-generated sans-serif font still hold the same meaning?

I hope so.

The passing of years turns our memories into muddied images. But what remains behind in paper and ink enlightens the past in vivid detail, often more so than a photograph. It recaptures meaningful moments from the writer's point of view. It reminds us of who and what was once important to us, and often explains why we are whom we are today.

I might not still be that fifteen-year-old telling bad jokes, practicing even worse Spanish skills and plotting big plans for the weekend.

But thanks to my words, preserved by a friend for thirty-five years, I had one hell of a time getting reacquainted with her.

Do you still believe in paper and ink? When's the last time you sent snail mail? Who were you at fifteen?

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Is the text on this blog blinking and switching fonts and disappearing altogether?

You say the comment section has totally disappeared, and you can no longer post a comment or even read what others had to say? 

No, it wasn't an intentional statement to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act under consideration in the Senate. It's just my Blogger program. Or me. Or a combination of both.

I made some recent layout changes--ironically during National Delurking Week--that wreaked havoc on the blog's appearance for some readers. Apparently, these are issues only with certain versions of Internet Explorer. Therefore, the simple remedy is to open the blog in a different browser. (I understand Firefox and Chrome both work well. Don't have Firefox? You can download it free here.)

Thank you!

Back soon with a real post. And hopefully one that won't blink and change before your very eyes...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Top Ten Reasons to Delurk

Hello! Oh, it's you? Thanks for stopping by again! I would love to address each of you by name, except a crapload of you frequently stop by without introducing yourselves. What's up with that? (I'm talking especially to you, anonymous readers in Canada, the U.K., and Chase Bank.) (Regarding the latter: Please reassure me you're not just my creditors.)

Not that I mind your dropping in that way. (Unidentified guests are better than no guests at all). But I'm hoping this week will be different: I am told this is "International Blog Delurking Week." The theory is that formerly shy readers, or those who have apparently been afraid that commenting here might tarnish their image, will finally break down and let the rest of us know you're lurking out there, by leaving a comment.

Yes! Please do!

Why? I'll give you ten good reasons.

Top Ten Reasons for You to Delurk on This Blog

10) All commenters receive a free, personalized response, so your life will *finally* be complete!

9) My regular commenters are bound to start finding something more interesting and worthy of their time, such as cleaning the litterbox or sorting out their Tupperware drawer, and where will that leave me?

8) You will not be contacted by any third-parties, including insurance salesmen, vinyl siding companies or Jehovah's Witnesses.

7) I'll derive great comfort in knowing a few of my unidentified blog hits are actual readers who didn't just happen upon this site by Googling, "Is the cat peeing in the bathtub unhygienic?" or "syndrome for losing keys" or "burying dead bodies."

6) Commenting requires you only to provide your name, social security number and banking information. OK, perhaps just your name and how you found me here?

5) Commenting on a blog is like Paying It Forward; you get nothing in return except knowing the world is a better place for your actions. So basically, commenting here is a humanitarian effort that you sadly can't write off on your taxes.

4) I can only guess that you non-commenters are deviant stalkers with pin-ups of odd middle-aged women on your dilapidated apartment walls, and I will be forced to hire a really cheap attorney.

3) If you are not a deranged stalker, I will have to assume all unidentifiable blog hits are the actions of that relentless George Clooney, who refuses to leave me the hell alone.

2) A blog is like a party; everyone who attends is socially obligated to either bring the hostess a bottle of wine or at least say "hello" when they show up. (Your choice. If you prefer to send me wine, I'm totally good with that.)

1) After just one comment, you will gain fame and wealth, lose ten pounds and be featured on the cover of People magazine!*

*not a lifetime warranty

Do us both a favor during International Delurking Week, won't you, and enter and sign in, please?

Are you experiencing technical difficulties when you try to comment? (If so, email me.) Should I have offered prizes, like a free, chronically irritable cat? Regular commenters won't forsake me for your Tupperware drawer this week, will you?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shucks, Folks, I'm Speechless

During my recent Holiday Hiatus, I was pleased to be given the honor of the Versatile Blogger Award by Ashlee, of Something to Say. In return for accepting this award, I was asked to reveal seven snippets of information about myself and then to bestow the same honor upon five of my favorite bloggers.

After nearly three years of this blog, most of you know everything you might possibly care to know about me (and some stuff you rather wish I never shared). But I dug deep tonight. And so, here goes:

  1. I've been warned to never admit, if visiting Philadelphia, that my name is "Stanfa." The jury's still out on whether being shirttail relatives with this guy would be a disgrace or possibly an advantage of sorts. Meanwhile, you may want to stay on my good side.
  2. When I was growing up, my family referred to dinner time as Sarcasm Hour (indicating no chance in hell that I'd ever amount to normal).
  3. I always suspected I'd have three sons, and planned to name them John, Paul and George--reserving "Ringo" for a family pet. I did indeed name Son #1 George, but changed my name plans when Son #2 was born. I quit birthing babies altogether after two boys. (Sanity prevailed.) Yet I did name the dog Ringo. And although Demon Cat has shown no inclination whatsoever to give peace a chance, his given name is Lennon.
  4. I go through vacuum sweepers, lawnmowers and telephones like nobody's business. I ruin them all, toss them out and move on to new ones--hoping no one will take notice. Much like politicians go through mistresses and naive interns.
  5. I had a job for two years during high school playing the Easter Bunny at our local mall. Best. Job. Ever.
  6. My pet peeve? Gum-snapping. Hate. Double hate! LOATHE ENTIRELY!
  7. My first job out of college was as a staff reporter for a small newspaper named The Expositor (which I fondly called The Suppository). I immediately proved myself to be the consummate writer and ace photographer, but when researching my first big expose'--a story about the operations of the county dog pound--I blew my blossoming professional persona by breaking down and bawling on the spot.
So, that's the goods on me, in a nutshell.

Although I'm hard-pressed to choose only five fellow bloggers on which to bestow this award, I'm pleased to pass it on to these favorites, for whom I'm hoping this is a first-time honor:

Sarah: Sharpest librarian on the whole World Wide Web. Not a poetry aficionado? She'll convert you.
MSB: Her writing? Swoon. Her photography? Double swoon.
Amanda: Read her blog for a week, and I promise you'll soon be running away. And I mean that in the good and healthy way.
Teri: Read about her life. Read about her take on books. Love it all. Rinse and repeat.
Carrie: She cooks, she writes, and she posts mouth-watering photos of every dish, making you wish she'd invite you to dinner some evening.

Thank you, once again, Ashlee! So you'll blurb my book, right?

Can you suggest a favorite blogger who isn't already on my blogroll? What don't we know about you? Does gum-snapping drive you, too, to the brink of insanity?