“Know-it-all Parent Hotline”
by Em J. Lowe
Are you a sucker for completely bonkers advice from passionately, misinformed people? Do you find yourself leaving a wellness checkup with your infant muttering to yourself that there has to be a more creative way to combat your child’s explosive bouts of gas than gripe water? Do you know in your heart of hearts that your licensed pediatrician is more credible than the result of parental group think trending on Facebook, but you simply cannot help yourself? Have we got the hotline for you! Call this hotline and be advised — free of charge — by know-it-all parents on the parenting techniques they have used and therefore proven to be successful (or, plain old absurd shit they have read about online). The following are real conversations that have, without a doubt, changed lives. And that is a fact.
Caller: Hello, I am 39 weeks today, and I am strongly considering the benefits of placentophagy. But, I am starting to have second thoughts.
Know-it-all parent: Oh, don’t you second guess yourself, honey! You are a goddess! You are also a mammal! That makes you a mammal goddess. And, as such, it is perfectly normal to ingest your own afterbirth! In fact, all those women who toss precious hormones in the trash should be ashamed of themselves. I would love to have a word with them, but they are probably drowning in their own postpartum misery, so I just pity them. Take it from me, honey, eating your placenta will without a doubt make you happier, healthier and basically a superior mother! I have had six children and I ate the afterbirth of every single child. My husband is a whiz at butchering it and preparing meals for me! He can make a mean placenta polenta that would knock the socks right back on the Barefoot Contessa! One night he was in a mood and he dehydrated my afterbirth and ground it into a fine powder! Infact, to this day I have a little extra stored neatly in a snack-sized zip-lock. I’ll sprinkle it over my food whenever I am feeling down. I’ve heard there’s a lovely progesterone patty recipe – the burger of your loins! Honey, give me your email and I’ll send you some recipes. Oh! I can also send you the name of an encapsulator that I know, who is a little pricey but F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!
Caller: Hello, my baby is nearing 6 months and I do not know how to introduce solid foods. What should I start with?
Know-it-all parent: Why not start with a pork chop?! If your baby is able to intentionally guide items from her fist to her mouth, then she is ready to eat pork chops! This is called Baby-led Weaning and it is the only way to go! Your baby can control how much or little she eats, because babies happen to be really great at exercising self-control. Sure, your baby may periodically choke on items she shoves into her pie-hole, but make no mistake; she is fully capable of gagging her way out of it! Never insert or remove food from your baby’s mouth, instead model the chewing action yourself so that she can follow your lead and chew her way through some chops! You may have to exaggerate the motions before she follows your lead, so get right in her grill and air chew! Remember to smile, because eating pork chops is fuuunnn! Yuuummm!
Caller: My baby seems to prefer to sleep on her side, should I be worried that she is not on her back?
Know-it-all parent: Not at all! In fact, I hope your baby is sleeping face-down on some sort of animal hide! If not, prepare yourself for an asthmatic mess of a child because there is a solid 70% chance your baby will be a wheezer! I recommend any quality Australian sheepskin or nice fluffy lamb’s wool. Don’t be afraid to rub your babies face all over that fur. The more microscopic pieces of dung he breathes in, the better! If you can’t get ahold of a sheep skin, expose your child as soon as possible to the family pet. I had to wait for a custom-made sheepskin from New Zealand for my baby’s deluxe co-sleeper bassinet, and in the meantime I threw a live rabbit in with him at night. He has absolutely zero allergies, thanks to Thumper!
Caller: My twins are only 11 months old but I am over the diapers, when is it too early to potty train?
Know-it-all parent: It’s never too early for Elimination Communication! Never. Your pediatrician will tell you to let your child lounge around in his own waste for as long as he fancies! If I had left it up to my son he’d be pissing himself through junior high school! That boy is as lazy as my Great Oma’s left eye! With my second son I started Elimination Communication right away! He was a diaperless baby and at only 6 months old he would aggressively tug his left ear whenever he felt a BM coming on. This was his way of communicating to me that he needed to eliminate, which gave me the opportunity to squat with him and coach him through a defecation. It’s a travesty that many babies are ashamed of their own bowel movements! And no wonder! How would you feel if someone interrogated you every other minute over “messing” yourself? Let’s please stop throwing that word around in front of our children. Your sweet infant needs to be validated and loved through a bowel movement. They deserve the freedom to unabashedly develop their tiny sphincter muscles while their loving mother whispers inspirational quotes in their tiny, baby ears.
Caller: I have a 12-week-old son who screams and struggles every time I put him in my Baby Bjorn. Should I continue to wearing him if he reacts this way?
Know-it-all parent: Don’t give up on baby wearing! This is just a phase of baby indecision! It is perfectly natural for mommies and daddies to wear their little ones. We know this, because it is seen everywhere in nature! Soon he will love clutching onto your back like an orangutan in the wild or being pressed close to your frontside like a little Joey in a pouch. In fact, from nature we have derived the Three Tenets of Touch: Breaths, Beats, and Brains. If your baby cannot feel your breath, hear your heartbeat or read your thoughts, then your baby may not recognize crucial social cues as they develop. It is also a great way for parents to pick-up on their own baby’s cues, because as everyone knows, tears and thumb sucking are all cues that the baby needs a form of touch! I wore my baby 24/7.Now my son is nearly a grown man! We have such a close relationship; he actually turned down two scholarships to Ivy League Universities on the East Coast because the thought of being 3,000 miles away from home is unbearable to him! He is such a loving boy, and will make someone so happy one day (if he can just get over that little hussy who is completely wrong for him)! All this because I wore him until his first day of kindergarten! So strap that baby to you like a bomb! You won’t regret it.
“Bumper Cars and Handicarts”
by Carolyn Light Bell
Remember bumper cars—those zippy, little red cars you stuffed your feet into at the amusement park and, with your knees in your mouth, you pretended you could drive? You were just a kid happily crashing into other kids, and it was all “in good fun.” Full-on force with black rubber bumpers between. The only rule was you had to be a certain height and weight and have the money for a ticket to drive. I was thrilled when I first qualified.
Bam! Oof! Whomp! Violence without blood. Aggression without cause. Cruelty with laughter. Realer than video games. No one knew who was who. Whiplash and road rage weren’t in our vocabulary yet. Boys and girls played equally. Rich and poor. We all loved it. I rode bumper cars over and over again at Excelsior Amusement Park, smacking into other kid-driven carts, spinning the steering wheel, careening into walls. Until my tickets ran out. It was my favorite ride.
Recently, I revisited bumper cars in the form of an adult handicapped cart. Maybe I should say I was “disabled” to ride. You’ve seen the carts—full of old folks, extra-large folks, and the infirm. They’re also called scooters, handicarts, Mart Karts, Quick Karts, and Smart Karts. If you watch late-night TV, you know you can buy one with a guarantee—of what, I’m not sure.
Until now, I’ve been grateful to use my own two feet. Except at airports, where six-passenger, yellow carts sneak up behind you with a flashing light and whiz by so fast you’d damned well get out of the way. I admit to wishing I could hop on a big yellow cart instead of racing down the treadmill to my plane. It can be exhausting chasing one moving sidewalk after another, dragging your carry-on, listening to a woman with an English accent saying, Mind your step! And why do we import these voices anyway? What’s wrong with a good Brooklynese accent? Or North Carolinian?
Overall, though, I do not wish to become a purse-lipped percher, parting a sea of hurrying passengers scattering to get out of my way, while I sit on high with my carry-on and cane.
Other cart people include those in wheelchairs hurrying to cross the street in seventeen seconds, seconds that click visibly away, steadily and loudly, flashing numbers warning them to hurry up before time runs out, when right-of-way reverts to vehicles. I’ve tried assisting wheelchaired people—waiting for them, holding doors open for them with a smile. I’ve even driven a few home so they don’t have to wait for Metro Mobility. But I admit I have looked down upon those less fleet of foot as somehow lesser. If not lesser, slower. Certainly not as fit as I—strong, powerful woman that I am.
I’m here to say fitness is fleeting, shifting like storm clouds. Eventually we all tumble into humbling circumstances.
Recently I was sliced open on four sides of my right foot: bunion; bunionette (the quaint term to describe the bony growth on the pinky toe side of my foot); middle toe, and pinky toe reconstruction. All very decorative. All very neat. My big foot, post surgery, once unwrapped from its gauzy protection, carved up, shredded, and restitched, resembled a big, fat baseball that lost too many games. During my recovery, I became a handicart driver.
My daughter, who is mechanically adept, plucked me fresh out of surgery to Cub Foods, a family-oriented market where you can buy economy-sized everything. Maybe love was her motive. Or revenge. Once she held me captive, she knew exactly what to do with me at the grocery store. Little could I know what she had in mind when she propped my crutches against the wall, adroitly leaned over to unplug a handicart, and disconnected it from the wall. In an act of wondrous balance, her three- and four-year-old children in tow, she set me off in the right direction to buy saltines and ginger ale.
I marveled at her technological aptitude, patience, and focus. I don’t have it. There is a trade-off, of course. I like to think my impulsive nature, which hurtles me outside in all weather, barefoot, is a lot more fun than her stocking-clad, sturdy, more cautious temperament. I can’t help noticing, however, she isn’t the one requiring foot surgery.
“Sit down,” my daughter commanded. “I have lots of shopping to do.” Once I was seated, she disappeared, children in tow. I felt like I had when my sister dropped me off at homeroom on my first day of public high school. Somehow I hoped she’d hold my hand through geometry class. Instead, when the bell rang, she took off, and I faced a crowd of strangers, all of whom seemed to know something I didn’t. I just wasn’t sure what it was.
My first round of cart-driving was terrific. I enjoyed the hell out of it. The pace was slow at the beginning, and I was still dizzy from anesthesia. Faster would have been far more exciting, more like bumper cars. Sadly, there were no other carts in sight for me to sneak up on from behind.
But I was freed from captivity, turned on to new sights. I whirred past the lower rows of things I’ve missed before. The culture of bottom shelves is very different from the culture of top shelves. Store-brand beans, legumes, and sauces. Generic Wheaty-O cereals. Standard brands like French’s mustard instead of Dijon Grey Poupon. “Cheaper” items with a circled brown or yellow tag reading “Sale.” Bottom shelf is where cost-conscious folk shop. It’s “within reach.” No champagne vinegar, foie gras, or gluten free. Bottom shelf is earthy, without pretense, and doesn’t act top shelf when it knows it isn’t.
From this angle, people looked different too. I saw them from the shoes up rather than from the hat down: big, fat, furry Uggs lined in sheepskin in the middle of summer; hiking boots with three-inch soles without a mountain in sight; Jesus sandals with straps wrapped around hairy calves looking like tefillin for legs. I tried not to stare. You gotta respect other people’s religious practices.
It was hard to concentrate on groceries with all this fascinating footwear.
At Cub, learning to operate a handicart was instant. No reading required. Not even a college education. I simply pushed the green button to go forward, yellow for neutral, flashing for reverse, and red for stop. There was no speed control, except through foot pressure. Within minutes, I was doing wheelies and popawheelies. My daughter reappeared when I was about to launch into midair. She firmly separated me from my toy and announced our shopping experience had come to an end.
My second foray was two days later when my husband took me to Lund’s, a more upscale grocery store, peopled with highly educated, high-income individuals who shop after work downtown. The mechanics of their cart proved far more complicated. I was confident I knew exactly how to drive it, and reassured my husband that all he needed to do was point me in the right direction. I felt free and independent, the way I did when I received my Medicare card.
With the approval of the store detective, my husband unplugged the cart at the front of the store since I told him “I know how to operate this little puppy, no problem.”
No problem: the magic words. Little did he know what havoc I could wreak in a matter of seconds.
A chauffeur’s license or an instruction manual might have been in order. But since my husband soon departed to look for groceries with a regular, green carryall gizmo, I was on my own.
On deck were enough colors and buttons to run an airplane. On the far right was a green arrow pointing up; below it was a blue button of unknown purpose. Below that was a yellow arrow pointing down. On the far left was an intensely bright yellow button with a trumpet on it. Below that was a red button with a hand on it. There were two sets of instruction labels mounted left and right. Neither label was possible to read from a sitting position. With bound feet, I couldn’t tilt my body upside down. What I could read said, “Keep feet and legs inboard.” Also, “Use extra caution.” And “Do not lean on or over side.” The rest of the instructions were mounted too low to read. It seems the upwardly mobile trust that gadgets will simplify lives. It sure didn’t work for me.
To begin with, the whole color thing was weird. Red didn’t seem to mean stop, and I didn’t like the forbidding look of the hand. The yellow trumpet was a horn, but I certainly wasn’t about to call attention to myself. I couldn’t tell what blue meant. Green seemed to be reverse.
On this more complicated cart, levers on the handle grips pushed and pulled by the thumb seemed to be designed to propel you backward or forward. Speed was unpredictable, independent of hand or thumb pressure. Coordinating the buttons and the handlebar mechanisms was beyond me, a highly educated gimp.
Thinking it might work like a motorcycle, I tried using the handle grips. I pushed the levers forward and ran right into a support column. Ouch. Must be the speed control. I experimented several times. Forward. Ouch. Got out. Tried to push the cart. Failed. Got back in. Tried again.
I admit I went a little crazy. A scowling store manager approached. Fake-smiled. Redirected my cart. Faced me toward the dairy section. Whoops. Missed the yogurt.
When mechanical things don’t work for me, I bull my way through, unwilling to admit there’s something I can’t do right away. Hence I pushed the levers over and over, into the wall, away from the wall. Into the wall, away from the wall.
Did I mention that I was on serious pain medication? There’s a reason for the warning label on narcotics. “Do not operate heavy machinery.” Heavy is relative. In this case, the machinery wasn’t tonnage, it was hundreds of pounds. Nevertheless, with me in the driver’s seat, machinery weight was irrelevant.
When I completely let go of the levers, the cart cruised to a stop. Reverse was tricky and noisy. I couldn’t possibly sneak up on someone. I sounded like the garbage truck down my alley that wakes me in the wee hours. Bee-beep, beep, beep, beep! There was even a flashing yellow light. I checked behind me to avoid running into anyone as I played with reverse in the baking aisle.
Frustrated, I decided to see how close I could get to various stand-up displays of products. I navigated through the produce aisle, snatching oranges and apples from the bottom of the pile and tossing them into my handy little basket, located conveniently in the front of the cart. I dared not look behind me in the wake of my path.
At this point in my adventure, I paused to reflect on the fact that college education is overrated. It reminded me of the time a pediatric surgeon was dropping off his son at our house for our son’s birthday party. He brought the boy to our door, exasperated.
“Can’t get the goddamned trunk open.” I looked over his shoulder at his very sexy, elegant, red Mercedes convertible parked in our driveway. Our son’s birthday gift was in the trunk. The angry father fumed for a while, consulting with the glove compartment instructions. No luck. In this case, sleek meant impenetrable. He dropped off his son and raced away, red-faced, birthday present locked up tight in his trunk.
Still in my reverie, I drove full tilt toward a big wooden freestanding shelf, loaded with boxed clearance items, whereupon my dear husband spotted me from a distance and hurried over. I was headed squarely for the belly of the shelf. I had given up trying to manage the cart. There was something so liberating about losing control and not giving a shit.
Fortunately, all the grocery items, canned, boxed, and cellophaned, tipped off to one side rather than on top of us. It could have been another Howard’s End, where Leonard died when all his books landed on his head.
We were lucky because everything fell a good distance from our feet, the cart partially protecting us. Otherwise we would have required more surgery.
Immediately thereafter my cart privileges were removed. I was grounded. No community service required. The grocery store manager summoned us, seized the cart, and delivered us to checkout with a smile of relief. My husband ushered me out by the elbow, gently but firmly.
This was a huge disappointment. When you’re older, there is an unwritten rule that you can’t go around deliberately crashing into people or things in public, unless, of course, you’re a ball player. I say to hell with protocol. If a handicart becomes a requirement in my future life, mine will have big rubber bumpers and three gears—forward, neutral, and reverse. I will rent a large open space, entirely rubberized. Handicart drivers from miles around will have at it, full speed ahead. My version of monster derby. I’ll sell tickets and dedicate the proceeds toward furthering the mobility of all. It’s good for the soul to smack into things every once in a while. It puts a spring in your step.
“The Maturation of an Insomniac”
by Miranda Roehler
I’ve always had trouble sleeping.
The reason I currently struggle with sleep is because it takes a decade and a half for the tiny pilot in my mind to shut off the propeller.
But that’s only the most recent phase.
As a toddler I ambled around the house during the day, peeking in the corners of the windows in search for lazy houseflies. When I found one, I would be consumed by a wave of giggles and reach out to stroke my new friend.
At night, the flies and I were enemies.
For some reason, the sound they made buzzing around my room distracted me from slumber and threw me into a nightly hissy fit. In an effort to escape the noise, I’d try sleeping at the top of the stairs, on the living room couch, and of course, in mom and dad’s bed.
However, the fly phase was short-lived. I went on to fear bigger things.
I don’t know how many times I shuffled into my dad’s office at night and asked him to show me where Africa was at on his globe (I knew that’s where elephants lived). He would point to the center of the continent and before I could open my mouth to speak he’d say, “No Miranda, Africa is far away. An elephant can’t get you here.”
We lived in a small village in Northwest Ohio.
Still, Africa didn’t seem as far away as my dad claimed, and I accepted the inevitability that one night an elephant would charge through my bedroom wall and squish me in my sleep.
It never occurred to me that there was a massive body of deep water separating me from the elephants, thus making it impossible for them to reach my house. I knew they had to be close by because I could hear them! On an almost nightly basis I’d run downstairs crying and shrieking “the elephants are trumpeting outside!”
There were train tracks just a few yards behind our house.
I got over my bedtime fear of elephants once I finally grasped the concept of geography and we moved to a new house in the country. By then I graduated on to a new, slightly more realistic fear.
The reason this fear was more realistic is not because coyotes actually dashed into my house and hid under my bed, waiting for me to fall asleep before they attacked…though I could have sworn that’s what they had conspired to do. No, quite simply my fear of coyotes was more realistic because we were not separated by an ocean like the elephants and I, but a cornfield.
On one occasion the only thing between me and a coyote was a pane of glass. I had the flu, so I got up in the middle of the night to introduce the contents of my stomach to the inside of the toilet. There was a full moon in the sky, and as I made my way down the hall the moonlight illuminated the patio doors to reveal the tricky eyes of a coyote that was standing on the patio steps.
My stomach churned even more.
Looking back, I think the whole experience was a dream. It makes sense to me because I have wild dreams when I’m sick, like the one time I dreamt that I was a judge at a competition to determine which horse could eat a pile of garbage the fastest. Since I had the flu, I must have dreamt about seeing a coyote on the patio. My uncle, who is an avid coyote hunter, has always said that a coyote would never have the guts to come close to someone’s house.
Dream or not, the experience heightened my fear of coyotes and left me paranoid for months, thinking they’d come out from under my bed and attack me as soon as I let my eyelids unroll.
Then I got sick again, this time with a cold, and had another one of my famous illness- influenced dreams. I dreamt that a pack of coyotes attacked me while I was in bed and that I threw my blankets over my head in a desperate attempt to protect myself. Miraculously, the hungry canines were unable to penetrate the fabric with their teeth. The blankets served as a shield, allowing me to survive the attack.
Oh and my blankets had some sort of computer screens inside, which calculated the power of their shielding capabilities. But that’s a minor detail.
The amount of relief I felt when I woke up was overwhelming. All I had to do was cover my head with my blankets while I slept and I’d be safe if the coyotes attacked me!
To this day I still have to sleep with the blankets wrapped around my head, though it’s no longer because I’m trying to protect myself from coyotes, but rather because my neck hurts if I don’t have the blankets to act as a form of support.
Yeah, I got old.
The coyote phase lasted for a while, but after one of my routine scans under my bed I came to the realization that I had never found a coyote there before, and that I probably never would. And just like that, I was cured! Well, that is until my next fear crashed onto the scene.
To me, it wasn’t the thunderstorms themselves that I feared, but what I knew the thunderstorms were capable of producing. You see, by that point I knew more about geography, coyoteolgoy, and meteorology than I had in years prior. So I knew about tornadoes. I was afraid of thunderstorms because I knew that particularly bad ones could bring an unwelcome tornado guest to dinner.
I’d often be unable to sleep for the rest of the night if I heard a single crash of thunder. Ongoing thunderstorms were the worst, because I was constantly bombarded with the sounds that I thought would eventually drag in tornados. To pass the time I’d go in my closet, close the door, and read Bambi, a Life in the Woods. I’d stay in my closet until the storm passed and I couldn’t hear the thunder any more. Only then would I allow myself to be vulnerable enough to fall asleep. But on nights when the storms lasted into the early morning hours, I read in my closet until I heard my dad clanging around in the kitchen as he got ready to leave for work. Then I’d sneak out of the closet and lay back in bed so that I didn’t get in trouble.
The thunderstorm phase was one of the longest, and I eventually grew too big to fit comfortably in the closet. Not that I was ever comfortable in there before. My new place of refuge became the bathroom. Instead of reading, I’d clean the counters and organize the drawer of hair accessories. Just like when I sought sanctuary in the closet, I didn’t leave the bathroom until either the storm stopped or I heard dad get up in the morning.
Intense thunderstorms still shake me up, but the sound of thunder no longer makes me retreat into another room, nor does it cause me to stay up all night fretting that a tornado is going whisk my house off to Oz.
Though all of my previous phases had messed with my own sleep, my next phase was so intense that it actually ruined many nights for my sister as well.
It was the thief phase.
Granted, I brought this phase upon myself. In junior high I got really into this show called It Takes a Thief. The premise of the show was that these two former thieves would stage a break in into someone’s home, film it, and then show them the film so they could see how easy it was for a thief to gain entry. Afterwards, the two former thieves would tell the homeowners how to be more secure. The former thieves would come back unannounced a few weeks later and try to break into the house again to see if the homeowners had listened to their suggestions. Even though I enjoyed the show, it made me feel as though our house was less secure than any other house in the world.
Many nights I’d lie in bed, wide awake, listening to every groan that spilled out of the house. When I heard too many groans in a row I rightfully assumed that someone was attempting to break in. I’d get up and walk to all of the windows and doors, making sure they were locked and didn’t show any signs of forced entry. Then I’d flick on the back patio lights and feel slightly more secure if I saw that my dog Ginger was sleeping on the steps.
Then I’d wake up my sister.
I’d tell her I was scared, that I couldn’t sleep, and then ask her if she’d check on me in ten minutes to make sure I was okay. She’d groggily nod her head and roll over and I’d feel safe enough to crawl back into bed. But if ten minutes passed and she hadn’t come to check on me, my fear came creeping back. I’d either make a loud noise so she’d knew to come check on me, or I’d go wake her up again.
I don’t know why I did this, and every now and then I still feel a stab of guilt for subtracting from my sister’s sleep time because of my irrational fear.
I eventually stopped watching It Takes a Thief, and with that the thief phase faded into the vortex that had absorbed all of my other insomnia-inducing fears.
Since the thief phase, I have maintained the there-is-too-much-on-my-mind phase for almost ten years. I’m no longer afraid that every train whistle is an elephant stampeding towards me or that every bump in the night is a thief breaking into my house.
However, I’ve never been able to completely rid myself of the fears that once threatened my connection with sleep. My most frequently reoccurring nightmares either involve elephants charging me, coyotes attacking me, tornadoes levitating me, or thieves robbing me.
Oddly, I’ve never had a nightmare about flies.