January 28, 2010

Lead. It's Not What's For Breakfast.

I try to stay on top of things, which for the most part means I sort of know what's kind of going on most of the time, with the remaining minutes just bringing out your standard "deer in headlights" look. If there was any way to bring a deer into my home, have it somehow answer the phone and have a conversation with the person on the other end, all while staring at bright beaming headlights shining in through the window then that would have been exactly what you would have seen from a birds eye view of our living room recently. Despite all of my best efforts to follow a program and maintain compliance with our state and county health department requirements, I somehow found myself yet again on the line being given "the talking to" for having somehow missed an appointment I was never made aware of in the first place. Let me explain...

Approximately 1 year 7.5 months ago when we arrived home with Ash we had several health concerns that we wanted addressed immediately. So, prior to even boarding the plane in Addis Ababa we had contacted Dr. Jane Aronson to schedule an appointment for within the week when we would arrive back in NY. Blood was drawn, x-rays snapped, test upon test upon test completed and as the results came in we were thoroughly guided through options and treatment plans all while enjoying true love, attention, and incredible expertise from arguably the world's best pediatrician.

Now, because these tests were all done less than a week after arriving in NY anything and everything showed up on the results, including high levels of lead. I'm just going to put it out there that when his lead level was again checked two weeks later it came in below the number used to flag any sort of concern, however since the first test came in above we were still added to the health department's files as an official case. And I'll also put it out there that the first test is still the only one that has ever come back with a lead level rating above the concern line, every single test since then has come in within the "safe zone", dropping lower and lower and lower and lower with each test. You get the idea. Of course there's absolutely zero regretting on our end for having brought him in so early for the first visit as there were other potentially serious issues to deal with, but there is that ounce of "ugh had they just waited two weeks to do the lead test NONE of this would have been an issue..." that rolls through my mind every now and then along with a slight scowl I try to keep mostly to myself.


It's not the follow up that we had to do (occasional lead tests of the kind where the doc sticks a needle into Ash's arm for about a minute and draws A LOT of blood), or the work on the house we were required to do which included replacing all 26 windows (regardless of the fact that the order and results of the tests clearly point to his environment in Ethiopia having caused the lead levels in the first place, not our home), it's the other parts that have bothered me through this nearly 2 year process. The part where the health department speaks to us as though we're intentionally harming our child and must be feeding him lead for breakfast bothers me. The part where they (seriously) recommended in home parenting counselors to educate us on the dangers of lead bothered me (and FYI, the only reason we weren't required to participate in the in-home parenting education was because Dr. Aronson came to our rescue and called the health department directly to clarify the insanity. I mean honestly, would they like the 200+ page dossier we compiled that was notarized and certified by multiple levels of government resulting in approval by USCIS for us to be parents?). The part where we were never given any direct warning or follow up to when we needed to take him to his next test (even though we requested this repeatedly), and then were scolded over the phone for not having "just known" we needed to bring him in. That bothered me. And then the part where last year we were told that Ash had tested within the safe zone sufficient times to be removed from their "watch list" only to be called A YEAR LATER and instructed to bring him in yet another time, again with the tone of a scolding Catholic piano teacher, that too really bothered me.

But what bothered me possibly the most was this portion of our most recent conversation:
Health Department: Yes, I know the current regulations state that your son has tested within the "safe zone" sufficient amount of times, but when your son first entered the system 2 years ago we required an additional "safe" result so he needs another test by next week.
Me: OK, I'll take care of it. Is there ANYTHING else I need to be mindful of in order to ensure that this is the final step that needs to be taken to close our family file with the health department?
Health Department: No. That is it.
Me: OK, I'll bring Ashton in next week.
Health Department: No, you need to bring Wondemu in next week.
Me: Um, we finalized the adoption a year ago and his legal name is now Ashton.
Health Department: Well, the test prescription and results need to be under the name Wondemu or an entirely NEW file will be created and you'll need to start from scratch.
Me: Hmm. I have a feeling that our doctor and local lab techs are going to have a problem writing a script and test results for a name they know is not legally correct. Can I fax you his readoption paperwork, Ethiopian & US Passports, or any other documentation to have your file corrected?
Health Department: No. Just have your doctor write "AKA: Wondemu" on the script. Hopefully our guys upstairs will catch it when it comes in.
Me: For the love of all things holy you have GOT to be kidding me...

OK, so maybe I didn't say that last part but you get what I mean. The following week I took Ash in to have the big scary needle poked into his arm and draw what felt like hours worth of blood. And you know what? He smiled through the whole thing. We chatted about how he was going to share all of the stickers the doc was going to give him with his friends at school, and how he was being a brave big boy for being such a trooper and how INSANELY PROUD we (me and the doc) were of him. Needless to say the doc gave him nearly an entire roll of stickers and Ash high-fived everyone in the waiting room on our way out, skipping merrily and humming to the tune of Lellow Subarine.

And that, folks, is hopefully where the lead saga ends. My doctor nearly dropped to the floor when I told him of their "AKA: Wondemu" instructions, and the lab tech just rolled her eyes when writing up the lab sheet as if to say, "may the force be with you". And all said and "done" (dear master of the universe, please let this be done), I should clarify that I have nothing against lead testing or the health department insisting on proper follow up and care plans - absolutely not the case. I respect their responsibility to follow procedure and keep the best interest of the child in mind and I'm appreciative of their dedication to ensuring that unsafe situations are made safe as quickly as humanly possible. I'm just also a big fan of educating yourself before making presumptions, not blanketing an entire population with the same level of disrespectful tone simply because of the one situation that may have warranted it (and even then, does anyone ever deserve to be spoken to disrespectfully?). I support doing your research, being knowledgeable and respectful of varying scenarios, and finally, and call me crazy for this one, but I think that a world with fewer people with large unfortunate sticks up their arses would be a better world. Just my two cents.

And with that, I leave you these. Precious images of the rock star trooper himself, mister "have I finally tested in the "safe" zone enough times for them to stop bludgeoning me with that damn needle already?" And to that I reply with utmost certainty, "Honey, I think so."

January 25, 2010

Back At The Window

Obviously as we continue to celebrate birthdays, new years, family expansions, yadda yadda, the feeling of being a "grown up" becomes that much more embedded in our being. We expected that. But that's not to discount all those years we spent being one year less than grown up, or one month before having taken a huge life step, or one day ignorant to how it really feels to do X, Y, or Z. All those moments prior have culminated in all those moments present and lately those prior moments have been popping to mind like a slide show of random "oh yeah, I remember when we used to do that" kind of images. For example...

Our 1st NYC apartment was a 5th story studio walk-up with a ladder we could climb up to get to a crawl space just large enough for a queen sized mattress and almost high enough to be able to sit up straight while in bed. Almost. Our cat, now too large to jump up to anything higher than his ears could then bound to the top of our 8 foot shelving unit and then make an amazing horizontal leap through an opening the size of a shoe box into our cozy little hole the landlord punched into the wall so that he could list the apartment as a "flex 1BR" sleep space. He even figured out how to get back down using the ladder. We had just moved from a 3BR 1,500 sq ft home in Bozeman, MT to a 0BR 400 sq ft studio in NYC for triple the price, and we could not have been happier. Our 2 windows overlooked the Upper West Side and there were many afternoons when I'd wrap my day teaching and pull up a seat at our window (we really only had use of 1 since the other housed the air conditioner) and pinch myself repeatedly.

Then there was our 2nd NYC apartment which (unlike our 1st) had walls, which after a year of marriage we were more than ready for. Space in NYC never just comes without compromise however so instead of the convenient 1 block jog to Central Park we were now 4 stops away on the A train in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem. It was more than twice as big, $400 less, and had a private backyard. We planted herbs and some veggies and flowers and setup the rear wall of the 4 story brownstone (we occupied the 1st floor) as a practice climbing gym using the window grates and aging protruding bricks as our hand and foot holds. We even bought a copper bonfire pit and had marshmallow toasting parties in our little 10 X 20 outdoor paradise. And when it rained, we sat at our window overlooking everything we'd planted while ordering in sushi and beer.

And then came apartment #3 and our foray into Brooklyn. Probably my favorite so far, this apartment was a block off of the NYC marathon route. Each year we lived there we'd watch the start on TV while cozy in our pj's, then follow along until the leaders were within close distance of our block. Then we'd toss on a sweatshirt and grab a mug of coffee and go hang out with the rest of our Brooklyn neighbors, cheering on each pack as they ran by. Then once Noon hit and the local pubs could start pouring drafts we'd grab a place at the window, open wide so we could almost reach out and high five each runner as they panted past, and enjoy a lazy Sunday brunch in the midst of a true NY moment.

Which brings us to our current spaces. NYC apartment #4, the one maintaining our sanity via stints in the city every now and then and referred to by Ash as his "Brookin Home", and NY House #1, the one maintaining our sanity via our wraparound porch with a hammock overlooking wide open spaces and horsies and referred to by Ash as his "Brown Home". In one he stands at the windowsill watching the students flood in and out of Brooklyn Tech HS, pointing and asking "what's that?" and "mommy can we go to park?". In the other he rocks in his hammock next to me in mine, him with a sippy cup of juice and me with, well, not a sippy cup of not juice, breathing in the amazing air that comes with acres of apple orchards, vineyards, and sunflower fields. Window #1, 4 stories up with countless people and activities below and window #2 with an astonishing lack of activity though equally appreciated.

I think the big life moment that may have spurred all of these individually meaningful yet perhaps even more cohesively remarkable experiences was the making, signing, notarizing, and filing of our Will, of the Last Will and Testament kind. Yeah, that'll get you thinking... at least it did me. Something about listing a Trustee, an Executor, a Guardian for our children should we be diving for seashells someday and never make it back up for air - thinking about those things gave me a whole new "back at the window" moment to reflect on in and of itself.

I'm thinking the next moment at the window may need to include a killer glass of wine, the biggest most windy hilly figure-eighty train set yet, and a Michael Franti beat filling the air with the kind of sounds you can't help but move to. Yes. That is most definitely how we should find ourselves at the next window.

January 23, 2010


I'm seriously suppressing my former middle school math teacher self right now to allow room for my mother of a two and a half year old insanity wisdom. One of me is losing this battle. Quickly. A few divulgements: (No, you wont find that word on dictionary.com but I'm going to self define as "things which you divulge" because there is a screaming 2 and a half year old across the hall and it's the only word my brain can come up with right now.)

~I despise the whiny voice. You know, the high pitched gut forced crackled up sound that adults toddlers make when they're still learning that they don't always win.
~It drives me nuts when I'm trying to get the point across that what a certain child is doing is simply not acceptable and such intentions are met with a smirky little sideways grin instead of the sweet understanding eyes of "I promise never to do it again mommy".
~I mastered "the look" my 2nd day of teaching math to 6th grade students YEARS ago and have been secretly looking forward to using this technique on my own children. Sick, I know, but there are only so many things a person can say they're truly good at and well "the look" is one of mine. And just to make it clear that everything is right and balanced with the universe, it turns out "the look" takes some tweaking when using on your own children and although I'm close to figuring out the code for the tweak I'm not 100% there yet which totally sucks.

So, despite the fact that we enjoyed an amazing meal together at our favorite Japanese restaurant last night complete with our star of the restaurant two and a half year old chopstick master (who also ate most of my black miso cod, stinker), and then went on to skip our way alongside the worlds best behaved razor scooting tot (yes I know the age recommendation on those things is 5 years, but we strapped a helmet on him and so far he's only bit the dust a few times and each time got up only to want to go faster, so...), and yes he woke us up this morning by sitting up in bed and shouting the words WE ALL LIVE IN A LELLOW SUBARINE which is about the only thing that could possibly put a smile on a tired momma's face at 6:30AM on a Saturday, DESPITE ALL THAT... he's currently in his room screaming through his 4th time out of the morning and dang-blastit (twitch twitch, snap snap) he WILL NOT WIN this one.

Well it's now 15 minutes later and we're juggling balls of Play-Doh in the living room and every few minutes or so another rendition of one of the Beatles mixes that seems to be constantly playing in his head finds it's way to his mouth and eventually his arms and legs and all of a sudden we're grooving to lellow subarine or the more you say goodbye I say hello. And I'm left with the puzzling question:

How could I have ever even questioned whether or not I was winning?

January 20, 2010

This Isn't Grey's Anatomy

For a very close up view into the ongoing medical struggles in Haiti I suggest taking a look at THIS BLOG, authored by a dear friend of mine who dropped everything and flew to Haiti after the earthquake to lend her very needed, much welcomed medically talented hands and heart. She lived in Port Au Prince in 2007 and 2008 while working as a volunteer pediatrician and had visited and served in the country multiple times in various ways in preceding years. I've found it hard to keep my breath while reading through her recent posts, the unimaginable coexistence of suffering and pain, hope and healing, utter disaster and selfless love. Sure, I've used my cell to text donations to organizations and I've tacked on donations to purchases at stores who are matching those donations and sending everything to aid the relief efforts, but reading about people who are giving in the truest form of the word, their time, their life, countless hours of their direly needed specialized talents, that is inspiring.

January 15, 2010

Chelsey Kivland FOUND!

The Consular Section of the US Embassy in Port Au Prince, Haiti sent an email to Chelsey's family and has reported that SHE'S OK! Several of the iReports state that she may be staying behind to help with the relief effort, but for now all that's certain is the most important part of the email that reads, "We found Chelsey Kivland. She wishes to say that she's OK." Below are links to the two articles reporting this absolutely wonderful news.

Northwest Herald | Prairie Grove woman alive in Haiti

Northwest Herald | Missing Prairie Grove woman sends message to family from Haiti

Thank you for the many positive thoughts and prayers sent her and her family's direction, and please continue to keep the people of Haiti on your mind and in your hearts.

Some ways to help:

~Text "Haiti" 90999 to give $10 to Red Cross Haitian efforts and have it automatically deducted from your phone bill
~Donate to Partners In Health (Dr. Paul Farmer): www.pih.org
~Donate through the Clinton Foundation

These are just a few legit organizations in need of money, CNN and various other sources are listing many more options for donating - choose one, two, give $10, $100, every bit helps.

January 14, 2010

Haiti: Chelsey Kivland

See the full CNN iReport by clicking HERE.

I didn't post this yesterday because quite honestly I was hoping someone would have heard something from her or at least read something from someone who may have seen her by now. Fact is, neither of those has happened yet. And as discouraging as the numbers are, only approximately 200 of the 40-45,000 Americans living/working in Haiti have been accounted for, those numbers are also eerily hopeful. It means that "unaccounted for" simply means haven't found a way to BE accounted for just yet. It's amazing how silent the world can be when cell service and Internet connections are virtually nonexistent.

Chelsey Kivland has been living in Port Au Prince, Haiti for 2 years as a Fulbright scholar doctoral student studying foot bands (bann a pye). She speaks Creole and is a well known member of the community. She hasn't been heard from since the earthquake hit on Tuesday, though there's still much hope to be had that she's simply unable to find a means to make contact with her family and will eventually turn up, safe and sound. The CNN iReport linked to above was posted by her mother in IL. I can't even begin to contemplate what the past 2 days of her life have been like, truly unimaginable.

Chelsey and I co-taught a group of 4th graders during our summer "boot camp" with Teacher for America, and then went on to teach next door to each other for 2 years in the South Bronx. We taught the same group of children and were each others lifeline during those moments when we swore up and down that there was no way on Earth we could make it through another day of teaching. But we did, and she has gone on to continue to be amazing and will continue to be amazing.

I understand it's a long shot but needed to put her name out there via one more avenue on the off chance that somebody out there knows someone who might know someone who has seen or heard something. Or even if you just have an additional moment to send a hopeful thought or prayer in her direction, that would be great too. Additional pictures and info can be found via other CNN iReports HERE and HERE.

Much love to her, her family, and all of those still missing in Haiti.

January 12, 2010


Somewhere between the dawning of a new year and last weekend our little toddler became datable. Datable, as in able to hang out with mom and dad through an entire evening of adult'ish activities and enjoy it with zero pre-planning, and maybe even ask to do it again sometime. I say adult'ish because activity #1 was Ash's first movie in a theater (very adult), but we saw Chipmunks The Squeakquel (more on the side of adult'ish), and then he sat through the whole thing smiling and dancing and just generally being a pleasant movie goer (more adult than most adults...) and when it ended he said, "Mommy - I want to watch the movie again!" And then we went to a hot little Mexican restaurant for dinner where there was a 40 minute wait, so we just pulled ourselves up to the bar and let Ash work his charm with the bartender which wound up scoring us some delicious pre-dinner bites and access to the Jets game.

One movie, one 45 minute wait at the bar, and one entire basket of chips with various homemade dips later we were escorted to our dinner table, which if I recall correctly was at the approximate time Ash is usually escorted to bed. But you never would've known he was a boy past due for his visit with Mr. Sandman, no no no. We, on the other hand, were just waiting for the moment when our perfect Saturday night out would instantaneously come to an end by way of an over-tired, over-forced-to-sit-still-too-long, over-DONE two and a half year old. But it never happened. We even ordered dessert, and after dessert we casually chatted about what a great date the night had been. Cheers.

Just for clarifications sake, it's not that we didn't have full faith in our boy to be able to sit through a movie or a nice meal in a restaurant as we go out together quite frequently. But, we always plan it according to nap time or bed time and with reservations so there's no waiting required and with enough advanced thought so that any lapse in the perfect nature of timing can be met with an activity or snack of the Woody & Buzz Lightyear or Lightning McQueen nature. Yet not one of those former prerequisites were met during this particular evening. It was just night out, dinner and a movie, the three of us datable folks out for laughs with some singing chipmunks and killer Mexican food. Double cheers.

January 6, 2010

He Fits!

Does this mean we don't have to pay for his next ticket?

January 4, 2010


2009. The year Ash decided to go pee pee on the potty and then absolutely NOT go pee pee on the potty. We're still waiting on the full reversal. It was the year Ash convinced himself that every basement of every cathedral in Spain contained a bear cave, and insisted on all of us going tip-toe tip-toe tip-toe down the steps for a sneak peak. The first half found us steering clear of the scary ocean in Virgina Beach for the much preferred land of sand castles while the second half launched operation "keep up with Ash" as he sprinted head on into every wave that splashed along the Costa Rican shore. Ash and his BFF were introduced to all things magic in the Kingdom of Mouse while their perspiring parents kept cool in the 90 degree October heat with the requisite Bud Light Lime. And apparently flights carrying us and/or family members between MN and NY were frequent enough that most NWA/Delta pilots now half expect to see at least one of us occupying a seat each time they prepare for another takeoff. It was the year Mike got to shake President Obama's hand while on a shoot photographing members of the President's Cabinet while Jo got to log 1 million miles on the Garden State Parkway assisting schools with their online plans for mass closures due to swine flu, I mean H1N1. And last but not least, it marked 8 years of marriage and the same number living in NY, our second calendar year of being parents and 12 consecutive months of constantly questioning whether or not we suck at it. We've come to the conclusion that we're doing OK.


To the first full week of 2010. The first 7 day streak of cold, holiday decoration-less, vacation-less days of the new year. But also the first 7 day streak of new goals, clean'ish slates, the sun staying out just a bit longer each day, and my particular favorite - the takeover of candy hearts in the holiday isle at the grocery store. OK, it is a little depressing that US consumerism has created the year of the never ending holiday, stringing along directly from one to the next regardless of how many weeks off the next date might actually fall on the calendar, but I happen to fancy Valentines Day (and candy hearts), so, well... just so. And anyhow, PHEW. Bring on the new year. Three cheers to 2010! Wait, make that four.