The Texture Of Things

A Time Out, with Afterward

December 14th, 2007

I just yelled at my daughter for writing on one of my students’ papers. Scribbles and wavy lines all through the bottom margin of a final draft of an important paper.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught her. I shouted, “Are you writing on my student’s paper?”

Her eyes grew wide and she set down the pen and sat back on her bottom in the chair. “Don’t be mad, don’t be mad!”

“Did. you. write. on. my. student’s. paper?”

And then she was crying, a sincere, remorseful cry.

I picked her up, turned off the TV, carried her to her room where I set her down. I did not use the words “time out,” but I gave us one. I said, “You stay here. I’m going to the bathroom. When I’m done, I’ll come back to talk to you.”

She stayed in her chair. She waited. She was only still sobbing a little when I picked her up again.

I put her in my lap, facing me, and I asked her if she had written on the paper. She nodded. She started to sniffle. I could see that she took this very seriously and, given the crime*, had been punished enough.

In the past, I would have told her (again) what I expect her to do, but this time I asked her what she thought she could do. What are some things she can do or say when she wants to use my pens? Ultimately she said nothing. I offered that she can ask me for some paper that she can draw on. She nodded.


Ironically, the student whose essay the tot drew on is a student who wrote her first essay of the semester on why spanking is better than time outs. She and I talked a lot about time outs, and it became clear to me that although I don’t really think I understand the myriad ways time out can be used with a smaller child, my student had no idea at all about it and was unwilling to consider the alternative. Instead, she would have had me spank the tot after the drawing offense, to underscore that the behavior was wrong.

I am not sad about the choice I made. Whether the tot will do it again remains to be seen, but I don’t think that could be predicted whichever choice I had made.



She got down from my lap and dejectedly picked up some lego blocks. I said, “Playing with blocks is a good choice right now,” and I left the room.

Maybe a minute later, she came out with the bucket of legos and said, “I can build something, you know.”

“Oh? What are you going to build? A rocket ship? Or a tower?”

“I could build an airplane or something.”

“That’d be cool.”

“Or a faucet. You know a faucet? Where the water comes out? I could build one and then I could have water right here.”

“That’s true. You can build whatever you can imagine.”

Let’s be honest, I didn’t care what she built, but I didn’t expect she’d actually build a faucet. She did, though. And she was happy about that.

*Not that big of a deal, all in all. I care about it in principle, but not in practice. If my students are the type that can’t accept my apology for these things, then I probably do not like them anyway.


December 13th, 2007

Everything is closing.

Twenty years ago, my aunt and uncle and their toddler moved to the town I live in now. When they did, there was hardly a town here, but there was or would soon be The Market. The Market sold specialty foods, locally baked goods, hard to find produce, and quality meat. It was an anomaly in a town primarily served by major chain grocery stores and coney-style restaurants.

Operative word = “was”

Two weeks ago, they rearranged the letters on their reader board from advertising the week’s special to announcing everything was on sale. They were closing.

I am sad, though I never personally shopped there. I meant to, but I never made it in there. I don’t even know why I never went there – I used to frequent the local bakery and butcher shop where we lived before the tot was born. Still, I don’t think it much matters. My three or four small purchases in a year, if that many, would not have kept them afloat. They needed more than that and the town did not deliver.

It’s not the town’s fault. The town is merely reacting to the inevitable truth that the state’s economy is slow. Slooooooooow. Dying, maybe. At least it seems to be in this area where so many people have been laid off. When a family has less money to spend on groceries and gas, shopping trips must get more frugal. Fewer stops closer to home, cheaper items in the basket. Less fresh produce and meat, sale coffee instead of gourmet, store brand cereal.

And it’s not just The Market. Not long ago, we had a lovely Italian restaurant open. It closed in about a year. Under a year, maybe. It was right in town, but on the edge where the parking is better. The building was original and beautiful and the inside was elegant yet casual enough not to scare off this town’s family set. But they’re closed. Two days ago on the other side of town, I noticed a sign in the window of what used to be the dollar store (it closed years ago and the store front has been vacant all this time) announcing it will be opening next year as a pasta and pizza kitchen.

I want to write the entrepreneurs to tell them I’m anticipating great things for this town, for that strip, but all I can think to say to them would be: “Don’t bother. If you like the money in your pocket, don’t bother. Come back in ten years and try again.”

I would tell them to look at the vacant storefronts through this town, look at the businesses that have closed lately, and ask them to notch that interminable optimism down. But I am sure they have looked. I’m sure they’ve studied the town, and if they haven’t, then it’s their bad move, not mine. If they can see through the losses, good for them. I can’t.

The children’s resale shop, a video store, the dollar store, the market, our favorite family restaurant, the consignment shop, the electronics shop, the plumbing supply company, the art and picture framing shop, a pizza place, a daycare, a real estate office, an exercise place, and others I’m sure I haven’t noticed. And these are just in my small town, but this pattern is the same as in our neighboring towns. It’s everywhere.

So, what’s next? Who will be the next business to lock their doors for the last time? The independently owned bookstore? Please no. The independently owned toy and doll shop? It’s been here as long as the town has, so I have to hope it can withstand another economic drought, but I’m nearing the end of my hope. The furniture store? The knitting supply shop? The independently owned restaurants, hair salons, hardware store, bike shop, and flooring store? If they can survive in the face of the all-chain, all-the-time influx the town is seeing, I’ll be surprised. Happy, but surprised.

I suppose I should apologize for the pessimism. It’s just that the daily onslaught of these failures has compounded recently with other, closer to home examples of our economy biting the big one. Our house, for instance, just appraised at 20% below what it was valued at 3 years ago. One of my students, a smart, likable, hardworking man in his 40s, just approached me with a conundrum. He was laid off this month, but he has already interviewed at a place that would like to hire him. This turnaround is nearly unheard of in his industry currently, but there is a conflict with school. They require him to attend an orientation that will take place during our last class of the semester. He came to me to ask me if his presence in class that night was necessary. If it was, he said, he’d skip the orientation – he’d pass on the job. He didn’t want to, he said, but he’d do it if I required him to be in class next week.

I told him not to come. We made arrangements to get me the work due that day through other means. Who am I to shut him down?

And so it goes. We are stuck in a house we’d rather not live in, but at least we have a house. We are stuck in a town that is turning ever more white-bread, but at least we have enough money for gas to drive to other towns where there is more than banks, drug stores, and coneys. We are stuck in a town in a state built on an industry (automobile) that is gangrenous, but at least we are not in that industry – we could move and get jobs and survive if we needed to.

At least we have jobs. At least we have our health. At least, at least, at least.

“I Awake Today…

December 10th, 2007

It’s December 10th.”

ThOught Industry

Snow Day

December 9th, 2007

Oh my god, I’m getting nothing done.

Need a Snow Day?

Paper Hippie

December 6th, 2007

I am a hippie about some things. Paper, for instance. My insides absolutely curdle when I watch all the paper, boxboard, and corrugated cardboard that gets thrown out at my sweatshop job. Well, at my teaching job, too, I guess. I’m in a new classroom this semester, one that was made over from a lecture setup to a computer lab, complete with printer but lacking a recycling bin. The thought of all that office paper going in the trash bag is downright nauseating.

I don’t know how this happened – was I brainwashed in school or by my total hippie roommates in college or by the media? Who cares. It’s logical to recycle what I can and to buy recycled goods when possible. The recycling notion certainly didn’t come from my mother, who views the stylish wicker basket that holds the office paper and boxboard in our kitchen until recycling/trash day as a receptacle of filth.

One day, when the tot was old enough for us to consider stepping up the childproofing for a crawling baby, my mother sat at my kitchen table and said the following:
“You know, you can’t keep living like this when you have babies crawling around and getting into everything.”

With the words “like this,” she made a sweeping gesture to indicate our two recycling areas – one high atop a counter, in a cardboard tray, and one the stylish wicker basket below my microwave. To be fair (to me), at the time, the kitchen was fairly clean though it isn’t always.* Still, I knew what she meant. She hates our recycling ways. On other occasions, she has bagged up styrofoam carry out containers and told me she was taking them home so she could throw them away because she knew I wouldn’t do it. I’d recycle it.

Whatever. When do we get to the part where this post is going? Who the hell knows.

Oh. How about here? Is this good?

Cut from the “like this” conversation to four months later when she bought the tot her first coloring books. Then, fast forward to a few weeks ago when I started going through her mighty assortment to remove and recycle the pages that were keeping her from coloring the last remaining blank pages.

Then? Then?

Then enjoy this bit of recycling propaganda I found in that first coloring book, subsidized by the grandma.


Bah ha ha ha ha!

When the tot is older and asks her grandma why she doesn’t recycle, I’ll blame the coloring book.** I mean, it couldn’t be helped that she’d turn into a paper hippie with that kind of propaganda lying around the house, never getting thrown out.

*In fact, right now it’s hovering just this side of Superfund Site only because HG started cleaning today.

**The whole coloring book is dumb. I cannot believe some of the pages. Is this the best material out there these days?

Advances in Texture: Air

December 5th, 2007

Before I had a kid, I thought all children liked to be naked, possibly all the time naked. The tot surprised me in this regard. Shocker, I know.

First off, she has always been a child who does not like to be cold. Ever. So I always kept her clothed except at changing times and bath times and I bundled her throughout her first fall and winter. When the weather started to break the following spring, I put her in one of the seven hundred and three cute outfits that she finally fit into and took her outside. She hated it.

Hated. It.


what i remember of this day is that it was my first mother’s day.* i set her in the grass and she was mildly distressed. she kept lifting her legs simultaneously in order to get the bare parts out of the grass. she looked like she was trying to levitate. lifting her legs messed with her balance, which made her put her hands down, which distressed her. i distracted her with the stick. i was not actually poking her with it.


What I didn’t know at the time is that someone who is tactile defensive has to get accustomed to every sensation, including that of air on bare skin. Imagine, if you will, the feeling of the first time you wear shorts outside after a long spell of pants or of staying inside. Clothing is protective because it dulls the feeling of everything against your skin and it’s a very predicable sensation, particularly if the clothing item is familiar.

As I understand it, our skin processes 4 kinds of information: warm, cold, pressure, pain. Our touch nerve endings don’t actually register hot as an individual input. The sensation “hot” is made up of warm and cold triggering together, which is why something really cold can almost feel like it’s burning you and something extremely hot has the same piercing feeling of ice cold. Add to that the fact that light touch runs along the same pathways as pain and what you get in the person hypersensitive to touch is someone for whom air-rustling-through-leg/arm-hair is processed as a painful sensation.**

I live with a pretty good example of light-touch = pain sensory experience. Say I have a small itch, like a wonky tag in my shirt. I have to be careful to either scratch it very lightly with my fingernails (so lightly as to almost tickle) or to rub it with a medium deep pressure touch; when I do not – when I scratch it like I see other people scratch a random itch – the relief of having scratched is followed immediately by the pain of a charley horse.

I have lived with this my whole life. I have, for the most part, quit sharing this experience with others because everyone has always reacted to this like I am probably a leper. I’m not. But, it’s not something that anyone is ever going to cure in pill form and I do not expect I will ever “outgrow it,” so I learn to cope by listening to and respecting my body’s feedback. Scratching lightly or rubbing with pressure can be considered a Compensatory Strategy – a strategy one develops in order to cope with an immediate problem. Another Compensatory Strategy could be removing the tag. The long term solution is Desensitization. That’s it. There is nothing else one can do to address tactile hypersensitivity but those two approaches.

The qualities of sensation the tot feels are beyond her ability to articulate and beyond my ability to detect. The pattern I see, however, is made up of: a preference for long sleeves and pants for the first few weeks (or more) of the warm seasons, even when it’s really too warm for that much clothing; a need for clothing to be “just so” (e.g., any coat or sweater must always be fastened all the way to the top) (this is pretty mild for the tot – some kids can’t tolerate a single wrinkle or twist in fabric); a brief panic when clothing is going over her head; whiny, whiny, whiny whining when the car windows are down or the breeze picks up while we’re outside; a dislike of being barefoot, mostly just when outside these days; and so on. I’m sure I’m forgetting some as I write this.

So, a year ago it was a big damned deal that one afternoon she took to running through a small pile of leaves I raked up. When the wind picked up and started blowing leaves around, we had to go in. Leaves okay, breeze maybe, breeze plus unpredictable leaves intolerable.

This past summer it was a big damned deal that I could put the windows down while we were driving, moreover that her curiosity about her own body has finally caught up and starting some time in late summer, she now wants to be naked, like, daily. I let her as much as possible, and as the cold has sidled in to Michigan (read: pounded us with brutal winds and unseasonably cold temps), she’s transitioned from naked to pantsless (pronounced: “pants-a-less”). This means she’ll deign to wear a shirt. For a while. Until she’s freezing cold, at which point she’ll need a turtleneck, a sweatshirt, pants, socks, a blanket, and snuggling.

There have been so many changes lately and in the last six months that I begin to wonder what the big deal ever was, before I started this blog. Maybe I’ve just replaced my expectations of what is normal with how things are. That’s fine. It’s going to be a long time until she eats like a typical kid, if she ever does, and I realize now that what will be a more lasting contribution to her life than a line in baby book that she ate broccoli at age ___*** is a healthy self-esteem and confidence that she is loved no matter what, that there will be things she’ll be good at, that there are always struggles to surmount, but those are the accomplishments that make life worth living.

This epiphany subject to clear by nightfall.


*For the baby-book record, in this picture she was eleven months old, cut her first tooth that day, was anemic but improving with treatment, was not crawling (never did), would not walk for about 6 more weeks. she weighed probably around 15 pounds and the outfit she is wearing is size 3-6 months. What a total peanut.

**Tickle runs on the same pathways as pain, which explains (for me, anyway) why a ticklish person recoils from a tickle as if it were pain.

***Sha. In our dreams. If that number ends up being a single digit, I will pass out in shock right where I stand.

Dear Tot,
the “You Big Girl” edition

December 4th, 2007

You are 3.5 today. And just like when you turned three, when prompted, you are refusing to answer with your accurate age. For a week after your third birthday, you insisted you were two. Then, on and off you’d say “I’m three” like it was some unwieldy burden. Seriously, is three the new thirteen? Another week passed before you consistently answered “three,” yet I still doubted your commitment for weeks.

In an attempt to get the better of you, for the last month I’ve been encouraging you to take on the label of “three and a half” when people ogle you and squee and beg me to tell them how old you are. It has not worked. You are certain you are only three. In fact, that is what you say. “I’m only three years old today.” You almost seem to apologize to the squee-ers on my behalf when you say it.

“Only three today.” As opposed to five minutes ago when you were telling me a story from your youth. You know that ‘long ago youth’ that passed practically millennia ago, except you remember it all in striking detail? That one. “Yesterday, when I was one, I was one years old that day and I was a polar bear and I eated a smoothie. Hey! Mommy! Can I have a smoothie?”

To be honest, I like 3.5. You are incredibly verbal and clever, yet you are like a cat always in the presence of a shiny, dangly thing – ever distracted into some new thought. Except when someone wants to know how old you are. That issue you think is settled. Well, guess what, child: Nuh uh. Today, you are 3.5.

A Letter to S., Our Food Friend

December 2nd, 2007

Dear S.,

Last week’s cupcake experiment went about as well as I could have hoped. The ice cream cone seemed to do the trick. It provided a dry, smooth handle for the tot to grasp, making the prospect of bringing something potentially messy to her face easier to tolerate.

That, actually, was not that great a hurdle to cross. We have known of her desire to eat cupcakes for the last, what? 8 or 9 months now? We know that she in fact licked frosting off of them on two occasions at day care, but we were never able to repeat that success. Until last Tuesday. Perhaps the combined threat of cone-as-handle plus keeping the cupcake low in the cup, with the frosting just cresting the top of the cone the key to our success.

So I am writing this today because I want to tell you about the birthday party the tot and I went to on Friday night. It was, in a word, chaos. It was, in more words, not a recipe for success. The tot had fallen asleep on the way home from my work, and she slept through getting out and back into the car again to go to the party. And I don’t need to tell you how slow she is to warm up when she’s just woken up. Add to that the facts that the kids at the party are W.I.L.D., that the only food there was pizza (ha! – thank goodness I packed a Pedi@sure), and that although she’s met these kids before she has never liked to play with most of them, nor had she been to their house.

As you can imagine, I was floored when she happily picked at the piece of birthday cake she was served. It was an inside piece, with dark, dark chocolate crumbs dragged through the cut edges of the white frosting. Yet she never wavered. It was sitting in a puddle of cookies and cream ice cream, wet and foreign, yet she never wavered. She reached into the frosting and picked up the tiny shards of purple and pink sugar sprinkles, eating them and the smudges of frosting they came up with. She licked her fingers and stuck them in for more. She held up a fingerfull of frosting and crumbs at one point, as if to say to me, “What’s up with this?” I said, “Yum! That’s the good part. Gotta lick it off.” And she did.

The tot is turning 3.5 this week, and I have new hope for next summer’s birthday party. Yes, I admit it might be a bit foolish to have my hopes up already, but it’s kind of fun to daydream that this next birthday might be the one when my daughter – my only child – eats some of her own birthday cake for the first time. What fun it will be! I hope she loves it like a kid should.

So thanks, S. We are getting somewhere, and it is fantastic.

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