The Messrs. Potato Head
"I can't decide which one of these I should choose for tomorrow's daily photo. The one of Jason is really cute and I like the way it shows his personality. But I also think the Potato Head one is good--it's kind of bizarre and cute at the same time, and it shows his personality, too."
"Can't you put more than one?"
"No. It's a daily photo not daily photos. That's the format."
"It's nice to see a series sometimes, though. That way you get to see different moments and they all add up."
"It's your web site. Do whatever you want."
"I guess I could add the self-portrait and make a triptych out of it."
"A triptych. That's when you put three pictures together in panels."
"Oh, yeah, that might be good."
"OK, let's see what I can do with this."
The Good Times Are Over!
I've known this day would come for a while now. My mom has been pestering me about our family tendency toward high cholesterol for years now, but it's never quite made it onto the list of my real concerns. After all, it's not like I was gorging myself on deep-fried or packaged foods, the ones you're always hearing derided on the news. True, I eat fast food a couple of times a month, but it hardly seemed like a regular occurrence, especially compared to the junk-laden diet the "average" American purportedly has. I eat my vegetables, and, heck, I've even been going to the gym semi-regularly.
I probably ought to explain a bit. About six months ago I found out that my primary care doctor was moving to Chicago, which necessitated me finding a new one. I already knew who it would be, since one of the covering doctors I'd seen at the same clinic had struck me as pretty good. I dragged my feet about setting up the new patient appointment, though, which meant I didn't actually get around to meeting the new guy until last week.
We ran through all the normal questions--family medical history (diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol), current problems or medications (none), diet and exercise (OK), weight (could stand to lose some more), and so on. Nothing surprising, and, as always, the vitals and physical were fine. He asked me to stop for a blood draw on the way for metabolic and lipid screening, as well as a vitamin D screening since I mentioned I spend most of my time indoors.
"If anything comes up in your labs I'll call you tomorrow, otherwise you'll get the results in the mail in a week or so," he said.
Tomorrow came and went without a phone call, so I assumed the labs had come back fine, just like always. That turned out to be a little premature, though, as the phone rang on my way out the door Friday morning.
"Turns out you do have a vitamin D deficiency," the doctor said after the initial pleasantries. "I sent a prescription for a loading dose of vitamin D to your pharmacy, so you can start that today or tomorrow." I let my breath out, a little surprised at the tension I'd felt when I heard the doctor's voice greeting me. Vitamin deficiency; I can deal with that.
"Everything else looks fine," he continued. "Liver looks good, HDL cholesterol and lipids are good, LDL is a little borderline but not too high. Sugars are good. Go fill the vitamin D prescription and when the report comes I'll include instructions for the supplements you'll take after you're done with that."
And that was that, I figured. Take a big vitamin dose for a few weeks, some supplements after that, and try to get outside more. Not so bad.
The report showed up in yesterday's mail, and just like the doctor said, there was a vitamin D deficiency and my LDL cholesterol was a little into the "borderline" range. And then there was the recommendation below the table:
"We'd like your LDL to get below 130, preferably below 100. Avoid red meats, eggs, and deep-fried or fast foods. We'd also like to maintain your lipid level in the current range. Avoid desserts and creamy foods."
And just like that, the good times were over.
I told Juliette. "Avoid red meat, desserts, and creamy foods?" she said. "Yikes. Avoid things that taste good, I guess."
I always knew I'd get the "change your diet" note from a doctor eventually, but I figured I had at least until I was 40. Images of thick rib-eye steaks and greasy french fries immediately started dancing in my head, taunting me.
"Well," I said, "I guess this is a good thing, really. Now that it's coming from a doctor, maybe we'll actually have the motivation to stick to a good diet." Juliette agreed. And as we talked about it, the number of changes we'd have to make would be pretty minimal. A little less beef, a little more lean poultry. We already eat a lot of vegetables and don't use a lot of dairy when we cook--in fact, it's pretty common for us to have one or two completely vegetarian meals a week. Nor do any of our normal recipes call for more than a tablespoon of oil. We'll just start skipping desserts again and try to be a little smarter about when and where we eat out. No big deal.
Still, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't weighing on me at all. As much as I love food, it's going to be hard to make even the little changes we talked about. I'll just have to keep reminding myself why I'm doing it.
Where's My Coffee?
When I wrote to you a year ago, I said that you didn't know what birthdays were yet. I think you have an inkling now, since you've been to six birthday parties in the last month alone, including your own. You tell people "Happy birthday!" when you get to the party, and you know to expect cake. At your birthday party you ate two cupcakes, and you had a third after dinner.
It's been a full year for you, and for me. You had your first trip to the hospital in September, for your ear tubes, and I learned that I could worry more than I thought possible. In October you had your first trip to the dentist, but only because you almost knocked one of your teeth out when you fell on your face. And in May you had your first stomach flu, which I think may have been almost as upsetting for me and your mom as it was for you.
It hasn't been all bad stuff, of course. You had your first Christmas in Big Sur with your Nana and Abba. You had your first trip to Virginia to see your Grandma and Grandpa. You went to your first baseball game, which you liked. You went to soccer class for the first time, which you didn't (and don't) like. You've really started to love the pool, and you're almost swimming on your own now. You're so brave that it takes my breath away.
You've always been independent and full of energy. You've only become more so this year. Sometimes that means you're squealing with joy as you play with me or your mom, or your friends. Sometimes it means you're screaming at the top of your lungs and kicking your heels against the floor in a full-on temper tantrum. It's given your mom and me the opportunity to really learn how to be patient. You've made us better parents. You make us better people.
As I write this, you're off at SeaWorld with your mom and your Nana. I wish I could be there with you--I know you're going to have a great day. I can't wait to see you when I get home.
I love you.
Don't Do It!
Consider This My Victory Dance
"Your grandma gave us those bowls?"
"Yeah. I remember because she didn't usually like to buy new things to give as gifts."
"Huh. Yeah, they don't seem like her style. It's a good thing I have you around, otherwise I'd never remember anything. The only thing I can remember your grandma giving us is that blue pitcher/vase thing from Pinecroft."
"What are you talking about? You mean the one that says 'Sandam' on it?"
"No that one is gray. You know, the blue pitcher. It has a handle, and it's from Pinecroft."
"We don't have a blue pitcher from Pinecroft."
"Yes, we do. I know we do."
"I think you're remembering a bunch of other things and putting it all together in your head."
"No, I have a really specific memory of this pitcher."
"We have a blue pitcher that we got for our wedding, but it's not from Pinecroft. And we have the 'Sandam' vase that my grandma got us, and that's from Pinecroft, but it's not blue."
"Let me look for it. Is it down here? No..."
"Is this the one you're talking about?"
"No, I know that's the one we got for our wedding. No, it's like the 'Sandam' one, but blue. And with a handle. Where is it?"
"You're remembering wrong again."
"No, it's here somewhere. Aha! This one!"
"See? It's blue and it has a handle."
"And it's from Pinecroft."
"And your grandma gave it to us."
"'Oh, Mike never remembers anything. You're just remembering a bunch of other things and making it up in your head.' Ha ha! I feel like I could do a little dance."
"OK, fine, sometimes you're right."
I didn't actually do a dance, mind you. This is way more obnoxious.
I love you, honey!
Waiting By The Road
We ate dinner out on the patio on Saturday evening, the weather being nice and Juliette's family--in town for his birthday party--being partial to al fresco dining. The menu was pretty simple: grilled steaks, steamed broccoli, corn on the cob, and salad. We cleared the plates as usual afterwards, then brought out some leftover cupcakes from the party.
Jason was, as you might imagine, pleased to have more sweets, though he took and then rejected three different cupcakes before settling on the one he actually wanted. "Want red!" he'd say. Then, when presented with a red-frosted cupcake: "No. Blue one." Then, "That one," pointing at the yellow cupcake.
Finally settling on, I think, a blue one, Jason only took a couple of bites before something else caught his attention. "Dip! Dip! That one!" he shouted, pointing insistently. It happened that we had left the little bowl of what Juliette's dad calls "Sakasegawa Sauce"--a mixture of mayonnaise and soy sauce that we sometimes use for dipping with steamed vegetables. Her dad likes it a lot, so he mixed up a little batch for the meal, and had a lot of fun introducing it to Jason, calling it "dippedy doodle" and laughing.
"Jason," we tried to explain, "that doesn't go on cupcakes."
He was, of course, having none of that. "Dip! Dip!"
"No, that's yucky! Not on the cupcakes. Yuck!"
"Diiiiip! That one!"
We went back and forth for a while, but eventually we just gave up and dipped the cupcake into the mayo mixture for him. After all, it's not like it would actually hurt him, and finding out for himself that the two tastes were gross when put together would be much more convincing than anything we could say.
Jason took a bite of the mayo-and-soy-covered corner of the cupcake. We waited for the reaction. He chewed, swallowed, then turned to us and held out the cupcake. "More?" he asked.
Well, who were we to argue with that? He happily ate the rest of his vanilla cupcake with each bite dipped in mayo and soy sauce. He didn't know it was supposed to taste bad, so it didn't.
The rest of us kept our own council, though, and just stuck with the normal frosting.
In Which I Reluctantly Get a Bit Political
Last night I went out for dinner with Juliette, Jason, and her parents and brother. It was a pretty nice restaurant, not particularly fancy and not outrageously expensive, but with pleasant, dark-wood decor; a relaxed, sophisticated ambience; and a menu that neither pedestrian nor pretentious. Most importantly for me, the ambient noise level was high enough that Jason's outbursts went mostly (but not completely) unnoticed by the tables around us. (They were all very understanding and forgiving, thankfully.)
So there we are, conversing and trying to keep Jason entertained while we wait for the food to arrive, when from the next table, I overhear someone loudly declare "Democrat means you want to pay people to sit around and do nothing." I look up, and I see this teenager--probably 18 or 19--passionately denouncing Democrats, unemployment, and the lazy people that rely on the welfare system instead of getting jobs like they ought to.
The first thought that popped into my head was "Has this kid ever even met a Democrat?" Because, honestly, I've never met anyone who actually wants to pay people to sit around and do nothing. But it's really none of my business what some kid says to his parents about welfare and I don't like to be nosy. Aside from which, right about then Jason was demanding that he be allowed to have all of the bread at the table, so I had more pressing things to occupy my attention.
I really wanted to mind my own business, but the kid had a strong voice and he was pointed right at me. So after he was done telling his parents and grandmother all of his thoughts on what was wrong with the unemployment system, he went on to talk about how awesome it is to have a fridge in his dorm room and how much fun he's having this summer and so on, and I found myself getting angry at him.
Now, look, that kid--whoever he is--is just as entitled to his opinion about unemployment benefits (or anything else, for that matter) as every other person is. If he wants to shout in a crowded restaurant about how Democrats facilitate laziness, it's certainly his right to be able to do so. Furthermore, I agree that the system as it exists now has flaws, and I've heard a lot of sound arguments from some very intelligent people that were substantively not much different from what this kid was saying.
Even so, sitting there in that nice restaurant in that nice strip mall in that nice, upper-middle-class neighborhood, listening to that nice-looking, clean-cut college freshman rant about Democrats and welfare, making his parents laugh about the misguided liberals, it just rubbed me the wrong way. I don't know that kid; I don't know what the sum of his life experience has been and how that's colored his opinions. But from where I was sitting, it didn't look like that kid had ever been poor, or had ever even known someone in any meaningful way who was poor. Or who was a Democrat, for that matter. He almost certainly has never had to financially support himself or anyone else. And I highly doubt he's ever had a family to support or a mortgage to pay, and it didn't sound like he knew anyone who'd ever been laid off.
Do you have to have been poor to be allowed an opinion on welfare? Is it required that you be financially responsible for others before you can talk about unemployment benefits? Of course not. Poor (or formerly poor) people do not and should not have the monopoly on discourse about that aspect of public policy. Nor does that having that kind of experience mean that your opinions are more valid, or that your ideas and observations are necessarily more astute.
In fact, there is no limitation on ignorance or insensitivity at all before we are qualified and entitled to our opinions. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try not to be ignorant or insensitive when we're spouting off about something, especially if we're doing so in public. And I've just known too many intelligent, hard-working, honest people who have had to deal with hard times through no fault of their own to be able to paint unemployment recipients as lazy or useless.
One of my best friends, for example, is a highly skilled and talented engineer who puts in long hours and genuinely enjoys the challenge and technical knowledge involved in his job. The company he was working for happened to be losing money in certain areas, and decided to cut its losses by closing down his division. So he found himself with a mortgage and a baby on the way, and short the major portion of his household income. What would you do in that situation? I'll tell you what he did: he spent eight hours every day finding companies with open hiring reqs, sending out applications, and lining up interviews, and he did that for weeks until he landed another job. And he collected unemployment benefits to help tide him over until he got that job. Is that irresponsible or lazy? Try telling him that to his face.
Fortunately, my friend and his wife are sensible about money and between their savings, unemployment, and tightening their belts a little, they were able to get through that rough patch. Even more fortunately, there were actually jobs to be had. Not everybody is that fortunate.
The point here isn't to say that we do or don't need unemployment benefits or other kinds of social welfare programs, nor to say what forms those benefits should take. There is a lot of room for discussion there, and I'm certain that there are many valid points of view and many good solutions to the underlying problems. No, the point is that I'm sick and tired of hearing ignorant people say things like "Democrats want people to be lazy" and "Republicans hate black people."
We're all entitled to our opinions. But sometimes your opinion makes you an asshole, damn it.