but just a LITTLE melamine is, apparently, fine

This fall, no news-reading mother missed the stories on the death toll for babies in China who drank formula tainted with dangerous levels of melamine. Those poor babies, we all thought, living in a country that just doesn’t care about what they give their children. Thank God we don’t live there.

If that was how you felt, you might be interested to read today’s AP report that the FDA has set a US standardfor melamine in our own baby formula. And apparently, a little teeny tiny bit of melamine is fine. As long as there is absolutely, positively, no cyanuric acid.

Let’s review. Melamine, according to wisegeek.com, is a fire-resistant synthetic polymer, useful in making Formica, upholstery, dishwasher-safe plastic, and firemen’s uniforms. Cyanuric acid, according to wikipedia.com, is an odorless chemical compound used in bleaches, disinfectants, and swimming pools. And either one of these things is an acceptable component in our children’s formula. Just not BOTH TOGETHER, that’d be gross.

Why do we accept this? Why do we let our government feed us the nonsensical assertion that ANY amount of this stuff is safe? And get this: the three major US formula makers have admitted that they all have one or the other of these paint strippers in their products. Just not both. Gee, thanks, now I can sleep at night.

On October 3rd, the FDA released this statement: “FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns.”

What has changed since then? What has made these chemicals even somewhat acceptable? And here’s my main question, which I cannot seem to find an answer to, through the FDA or anywhere else: Why are these toxic chemicals necessary components of baby formula in the first place? Couldn’t they try some good old-fashioned partially hydrogenated coconut oil instead?

my little civil rights community organizer

One thing that I am thankful for, at this time of Thanks-Giving, is that my children are growing up in a diverse community– or at least, more diverse than the one I grew up in. The people in our neighborhood are every color of the rainbow. In my son Fergus’ pre-K class of 17, there are 6 African-American children, 1 Hispanic-American, 1 Asian-American, and 9 Caucasians, which I think is a pretty good ratio.

And it’s a funny thing: I think my kids are at once more skin-color-aware, and less so, than I am. Case in point: as we huddled on the couch yesterday morning, hunkered down for gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Rockettes high-kicked it across our television screen. “Hey!” Fergus shouted, suddenly. “Dere’s no one wif dark skin in those dancers! All of those dancers are onwy light-skinned!”

And I looked, and gosh darn it, I can’t say I would have caught it myself, but he was right. The Rockettes were not diverse in any way whatsoever, height included! And my son noticed, and was calling them out on it! “You are right, honey!” I said. “They should have all kinds of dancers up there, they don’t have to all look the same.” I was so proud of him! I even considered penning a letter on his behalf:

My dear Messrs. Macy:
I was most disheartened to see, upon viewing your Thanksgiving parade yesterday morn, that your dancers do not reflect the reality of our new, post-racial America…

or something like that. And then Fergus could sign his name at the bottom, or at least scribble a little or something. Why, out of the mouths of babes cannot we all learn something?

Fergus must have noticed that I was impressed with this observation, and maybe I sold that too hard. Because then, when we went out for Thanksgiving dinner last night (since our oven door was locked shut and would not open… OK we had already made a reservation before that happened), as soon as we sat down at the “fancy restaurant” and I reminded all the kids to use their “fancy restaurant” manners, Fergus kneeled up on his chair and bellowed:

“Wook, mommy! Out of all the waiters and waitresses here, there’s only one skin, and that’s light skin!”

Now, he was certainly correct in that observation; in fact, as I glanced around furtively, there seemed to be “only one skin” in the entire place. But before I could explain to him why that might be inappropriate information to share aloud, an African-American waitress happened to pass our table. And that’s when Fergus got REALLY determined to get on his soapbox.


And then, since I was hiding under the table by that point, he decided to repeat himself a little more loudly.


Note to everyone in the Windsor restaurant for yesterday’s 4:00 pm Thanksgiving seating: I feel obligated to tell you that Fergus was saying “light skin,” not “white skin,” although with his particular speech impediment, I will admit, there is no difference.

motherhood, X games style

Do I seem out of breath to you? That’s because I just survived an entire week in which I was 1) babysitter-free and 2) husband-free (he was traveling for business). The latter, I knew was coming. The former was thrust upon me rather unexpectedly, and since that part of the story is still unfolding, I’ll leave it for next time.

Anyway. The point is that I knew, last Sunday afternoon, that I was about to become SuperMom and be the only adult in sight. I actually wasn’t panicked by the thought. I mean, if I went ahead and HAD three children, I should be able to handle all three of them alone, right? Should I not handle a full Mother Load, at least once in a while, if only to get back in touch with my masochistic side?

“Just accept you won’t get anything else done,” David advised me, and it was good advice. For the foreseeable future, I would not blog, or write, or work from home, or check my email, or go to the gym, or blow-dry my hair, or sit down. I would never be alone. I would be ON DUTY.

Telling myself I was in an extended sort of extreme sport mothering competition, I am very proud to say that I managed to get through the entire week without losing my shit once. I do have to give some credit to the kids for being very flexible. Maddie spent all week going back and forth to school to get her brothers, and going down for her naps an hour late, and Fergus had to miss his gym class because there was no one to take him, and Cooper just had to suck it up in general, and all three of them were troopers. But I was GREAT. I made eye contact and spoke in a low, firm voice, even when all three children were crying at once. I remained calm when Fergus decided to cover his palms with a uniform coat of orange poop. I even kept it together when Maddie crawled in the shower with me at 5:45 am on Day Five and dumped out all my makeup. No one else was watching, so you’ll have to take my word for it: I was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING.

And so I decided to finish my unforgettable performance, at least in my own eyes, with a double axel/triple Salchow combination sure to catch the eyes of the Mothering Judges: I would fly to Florida with all three children, unaccompanied by any other set of capable hands.

No! I hear you gasping. Is she mad? Well, I’d actually done it once before, and survived, and had actually been amazed at the help and attention I got from strangers along the way. People helped me through security, let the boys see the cockpit, and gave me major props for daring to travel alone with them. Men get this adulation all the time. If my husband has more than one of our children under his care, in public, for more than five minutes, people line up to tell him what an incredible father he is. Mothers hardly ever get this kind of attention for doing what is considered to be merely their job, and so I was actually looking forward to this day of travel, a tiny bit. Maybe someone would finally tell me what a good mother I was.

And we were off to such a good start. We were off to the airport by 7:15 am, we got through security without me losing anything but my brand new jacket (but hey! I still had three kids!) and, as I strolled to the gate with Maddie in the sling, pulling her carseat and a duffel of toys and snacks behind me, and a child holding on to one of my belt loops walking calmly on either side of me, I thought: DAMN. I AM good at this.

Once we were on the plane, we were home free. It was JetBlue! The boys put on their headsets and would not be heard from again until we landed. All I had to do was get Maddie down for her nap.

She seemed a little extra fussy. Huh, she hadn’t eaten a good breakfast either. And huh, she wouldn’t take her bottle, no matter how many times I proffered it. Eventually, she became so unhappy that I had to stroll up and down the aisle with her in the sling.

And, just as we approached the front of the plane, Maddie let loose with a torrent of vomit, washing over her, and me, and the Kangaroo Korner sling that wrapped us together.

The two flight attendants, chatting in their jump seats, looked at me, jaws agape. “Oh my GOD,” one said in a low voice. As Maddie continued vomiting, I stepped calmly, calmly, into the tiny bathroom, as if I had known this was going to happen; looked at myself in the mirror; and said, “Keep it together.”

I cleaned us off with paper towels, as best I could. I went back to our seats, sniffing passengers turning in my wake, where I pulled out Maddie’s spare outfit AND spare sling. I put her dirty clothes in the extra plastic bag I always carry. I turned my sweater inside out so the throwup stains wouldn’t be as obvious. And the boys never even looked up from Spongebob.

I DID it, I sat there thinking. My God, I just handled this. And it wasn’t even that big a deal. I am the mother of the year.

And then Maddie looked up at me, whimpered, and cascaded a fresh supply of throwup all over both of us, the seat back table, and everything I had just changed her into.

NOW we were attracting some attention. The woman in front of me turned and peered at me through the crack in the seat, accusingly, as if I were somehow causing this horror. The man across the aisle tried valiantly to jingle his change for Maddie, who would have none of it. The flight attendants, who could SEE me (in row 4) from where they were sitting, looked aghast at both of us, but did nothing. I had to ring the call button in order for one of the flight attendants to approach, with her scarf over her face.

“Can I, um, have some paper towels or something?” I said.

She just stared at both of us.

“I’d, uh, get them myself, but I have a puddle of vomit on my lap,” I added, helpfully.

She came back, threw some paper towels at me, performed a Lysol-spraying vogue in the aisle, and beat a hasty retreat back to the front of the plane.

Now, imagine this whole thing happening FOUR MORE TIMES.

Maddie vomited eight times in all. The last two times were on the monorail from the gate to the baggage claim, where she and I (and the two boys) had one whole end of the car all to ourselves. I had pretty much given up on cleaning either of us up at that point. I had vomit in my hair, on my shoes, on my pants. Maggie just hung there in her vomity sling and let it rip. No one told me what a good mother I was being. No one said anything to me. In this world, when you smell as bad as we did, you are not even pitied. You are reviled.

All I could do was keep looking straight ahead, heading for the exit, and thinking of this moment, when I would sit here and tell you all: I fear nothing. I laugh at danger. Do you know why? Because I SURVIVED.

Upon Scratching His Older Brother’s Face

Apparently not content to be my only child with facial scars, Fergus scratched a good chunk out of Cooper’s face during a bitter battle yesterday over a build-your-own-dinosaur piece, tiny enough to be inhaled through the nostril without any unpleasant after-effects. After a lengthy struggle to get Fergus to do his four minutes of age-appropriate time out, I asked him to apologize to his brother.

MOMMY: Fergus, tell Cooper you’re sorry for scratching.

Long pause.

FERGUS: (……sor………eeee……)

MOMMY: I don’t think Cooper heard that.

FERGUS: Sar…. dee.

MOMMY: That’s not how you say it.

FERGUS: Yes it is.

MOMMY: No it isn’t.

FERGUS: Yes it is. In my wanguage, “sardee” means… the ovver fing.

MOMMY: What other thing?

FERGUS: Sardee.

MOMMY: (trying another tack) Well, I’m just disappointed in you, then, because that is not a nice apology.

Fergus nods sadly.

FERGUS: I know it isn’t, Mommy. But dat’s how God made me.

He has a point there. Fergus is the person most incapable of apology since The Fonz.And Arthur Fonzarelli did overcome a troubled upbringing to live happily with the Cunninghams as an overgrown high schooler, so perhaps there is still hope.

last night, I got THAT call

I will have been a parent for six years, as of next month, and until last night I have never received THAT CALL.

Whenever a babysitter has called me, his or her first words have always been “Everything’s fine, the kids are fine.”

Until last night.

David and I were headed out to dinner, commemorating the sad end of his leave from work with a few friends. As we waited for the elevator on our floor, we heard Fergus start crying, through the door. We listened, decided it was just a cranky cry, and got on the elevator.

We were about two blocks away in a cab when my phone rang. It was our babysitter.

Over the screaming in the background, I couldn’t hear much besides “there’s a lot of blood” and “I think you’d better come home.”

So we reversed course and returned home in what was, maddeningly, the only NYC taxi cab with a driver who followed the speed limit to the letter, and approached each intersection thinking, “Well, the light is green ahead of me, but it may turn yellow by the time I get there, so I’m just going to slow down now.”

After the longest three minutes of our lives, we returned upstairs to find Fergus with a considerable gash in his forehead.
Scooby-Doo was coming on, and he had been in a hurry; perhaps he took his babysitter’s instructions to “run to the bathroom and brush your teeth” too literally. In his state, Fergus couldn’t provide many details on HOW it happened, but that was all moot: one look at him and we both knew he’d be getting stitches. AGAIN.

Fergus is barely four years old. And he has had stitches four times, including twice since Labor Day of this year. He has had so much experience in this arena that we actually have an ongoing relationship with a plastic surgeon, who left his own dinner plans to meet us at his office, allowing us to bypass the emergency room entirely. In a absolutely bizarre coincidence, I had just rescheduled a follow-up appointment with this plastic surgeon, to look at Fergus’ LAST injury, from yesterday afternoon. If I hadn’t, we’d have gone to this guy’s office twice in ONE DAY.

“Good to see you Fergus!” Dr. Menton boomed. “Give me five! Down low! Two slow!”

Dr. Menton is a genius. The shot of Novocaine was a “fun game,” further obscured by some white gauze over Ferg’s eyes. The stitches themselves are only called “sutures,” which gives Fergus much comfort (“dese are NOT stitses, dey sutuwes,” he tells everyone). And Dr. Menton fills the actual minutes of sewing in by telling the story of the Three Bears while he peers through his special microscopic glasses. “Why did the baby bear cry when he saw his bed?” he asked Fergus. “Because he was a crybaby bear,” Fergus answered from beneath the gauze.

David lay on Fergus and pinned his arms down. I just stood there, uselessly. “Here’s the M-U-S-C-L-E, Mom and Dad,” Dr. Menton said. “And here’s the B-O-N-E. Take a look.”

“Heh-heh, no thanks,” I replied, nervously.

“C’mon Mom, take a quick look, you want to see this,” Dr. Menton urged.

And I did, a little. I felt like, if Fergus had to go through this, the least I could do was suffer along with him by watching.

So I looked. Readers, I saw skull. I felt weirdly calm, since Dr. Menton makes you feel that way, and actually a little proud of myself for being so tough.

Three minutes later, I had to leave the room because I was about to either throw up, pass out, or both. I guess that was a delayed reaction.

Fergus went off to school this morning, with yet another huge white bandage on his head, and typed instructions to avoid gym and rough play for a week. And as I sit here, I am crying with relief that it wasn’t worse, but I feel SO. SO. GUILTY.

How can my child have had stitches four times? And all four times were accidents around the house, caused by… nothing. Caused by him bumping into things with his four-year-old energy. He’s not getting hurt playing sports, he’s not jumping off couches in a single bound… he’s getting hurt going to the bathroom and playing with spatulas in our kitchen.

And I can’t tell you why this keeps happening to him, but I can tell you this must all be my fault somehow. If I can’t keep my child safe in his own home, what chance does he have?

So I’m off today to the baby store, to buy padded corners and babyproof everything in the house, and feel bad, and pray that I figure this out.