Happy birthday Alex

Our dog, Alex, is 18 years old today. Happy birthday, Alex! Andrea’s had Alex for all but the first six weeks of those 18 years, and I joined the team about a month later. It’s been a long and wonderful trip so far.

In Jewish tradition, 18 is a lucky number, since (when denoted with Hebrew letters) it spells “chai,” the Hebrew word for life. L’chayim!

(More later, when I’m not moblogging from a Microsoft seminar.)

New York recap

There are no fireflies in New York. I never saw any in New York while growing up, but I grew up in Queens, which is part of the city proper, and I thought we might get lucky at my dad’s house which is farther out on Long Island, since I knew that there are fireflies not too far away, in Pennsylvania. But no.

No thunderstorms, but you already knew that.

Warm ocean water: check. I’d forgotten just how big a difference there is between New York beaches and California beaches. The sand in New York was soft, fine, and well-groomed — no doubt the effect of charging admission to the beach — whereas in California, where most beaches are public-access, it’s coarse and filthy. In Northern California the Pacific is freezing and the waves daunting; only crazy die-hard surfers in wetsuits spend any time in the ocean. In New York, entire families spend hours bobbing in the warm, gentle swells.

Dino-Walk was kinda lame, but the town of Riverhead is nice in a Norman Rockwell way, even if their church bells won’t shut up.

At Dylan’s Candy Bar, I allowed Jonah and Archer to fill up one bag of candy apiece, and I got a few things for myself, my sister, Suzanne (who accompanied us there), and Andrea. Guess how much I spent? $91. When the cashier rang up the total I let out an involuntary “Holy shit!” He smiled the smile of someone who’s gotten that reaction before.

The Long Island Children’s Museum is the greatest place in the whole wide world. We also visited the New York Hall of Science, and even though it was greatly expanded from when I was a kid (when its chief attraction was [what passed in the 1970’s for] a multimedia presentation about the wonders of nuclear power, brought to you by Con Edison), it couldn’t hold a candle to LICM. And next to the LICM, the Exploratorium is a total crapfest.

If there was a theme to this trip, it was Italian ices. We had Italian ices on Queens Boulevard, we had Italian ices from my mom’s freezer, but best of all we had Italian ices twice from The Lemon Ice King of Corona and scored this trophy photo: three generations of Glickstein men, and Peter Benfaremo, the Lemon Ice King himself.


My kids love their pediatrician, Dr. Harris. They are almost as excited to go see him as they are to go to Train Town. They are excited merely to drive past his office. “That’s my Dr. Harris!” Archer exclaims, pointing through the car window. They love him so much that they put on their bravest face when getting painful vaccinations. Archer, age 2, even thanked the nurse after his last one.

Of course Andrea and I love him too. We first met him when he delivered a lecture to the parenting class we took, back when Andrea was pregnant with Jonah. The best advice we got in that whole class came from his lecture: namely, that it’s pointless to obsess over the birth, which after all is just a day out of your life, more or less. Possibly a difficult one, but one when you’re surrounded by a team of professionals. All you really have to do is show up. No, said Dr. Harris, the right thing to obsess about during pregnancy is every day for the rest of your life after the birth, when the development and well-being of a whole new person is your sole responsibility.

Now the disaster: Dr. Harris’ practice, Mill Valley Pediatrics, is about to close. He and one of his partners will be joining the HMO, Kaiser Permanente.

This follows a string of medical retirements and closures that Andrea and I have suffered through in the past 10 or 15 years. First my GP, Dr. Cumming, got out of the biz, although she was yet a young woman. I switched to another doctor at the same practice, but within a couple of years the entire practice folded, scattering to the four winds some eight or ten doctors in all and probably thousands of patients. (My medical records from that practice are still in limbo.)

Halfway through Andrea’s second pregnancy, her OB/GYN, Dr. Toton, who’d delivered Jonah, retired. More recently, my new GP‘s partner, Dr. Cummings (not to be confused with Dr. Cumming above), has had to institute new limitations on her practice. And now this.

I don’t know the reasons for all these events (well, Dr. Toton was of traditional retirement age), but the Marin Independent Journal blames tight-fisted insurance companies for the demise of Mill Valley Pediatrics. Dr. Cummings’ new rules appear designed to improve her bottom line. And shortly before Dr. Cumming retired (back in the days of Hillary Clinton’s abortive health-care reform effort), she once complained to me of the byzantine rules and payment mechanisms of the American health care industry.

We will make every effort to continue seeing Dr. Harris even though we are not Kaiser members. And from now on we will be voting against the health-insurance industry and in favor of anyone with the balls to set up single-payer healthcare.

Mo’ moblogging

Well, no thunderstorms this trip (though I understood this to be one of New York’s thunderstormiest summers in living memory — perhaps its thunderstorm quota is depleted).

But I did hear the incredible SCREEEE of cicadas, and I ate a Knish Nosh knish, two New York summer attractions to which I had overlooked looking forward. And I don’t have the words to describe the trippy pleasure of watching one’s kids playing in one’s own childhood playground.

Oh, and Carvel too

Moblogging from New York, where my boys and I have already enjoyed some ices and, this evening, some Carvel ice cream — something else not to be found in Northern California.

Watching the melting ice cream collecting around Jonah’s fist as he gripped his cone, and decorating a rather larger irregular shape on Archer beginning above his nose and ending below his navel, I harked back to my own childhood. When I ate an ice cream cone, even as a very young boy, job number one was always to prevent any ice cream from melting onto my hand. Even one drop was too much. Actually eating the ice cream was no more than a side effect of keeping it off my fingers. I was unerring in my ability assiduously to lick around the sides of the cone in the most threatening spots. Only rarely did a drip begin to course down toward my hand, but it was always spotted and licked away. I was the only kid like that. Everyone else got messy and never seemed to mind. The very thought of that happening to me would have been enough to make me throw my cone aside if I wasn’t sure I could keep the ice cream in check. I wonder what that says about me. Weird.

What’s been bothering me

Abigail: I live like a nun in a cloister, solitary, celibate — I hate it. And you, John?
John: I live like a monk in an abbey. Ditto, ditto. I hate it.
Abigail: Write to me with sentimental effusion. Let me revel in romantic illusion.
John: Do you still smell of vanilla and spring air? And is my fav’rite lover’s pillow still firm and fair?
Abigail: What was there, John, still is there, love. Come soon as you can to my cloister, I’ve forgotten the feel of your hand.
John: Soon we will walk again in Cupid’s grove together, and we’ll fondly survey that promis’d land.
Together: ‘Til then, ’til then, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be: Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.

Early this morning I happened across a 14-year-old e-mail message from Andrea to me making playful suggestions about how to spend a June day. Later, after everyone else woke up and I was making breakfast, Andrea noticed I was acting grumpy and called me on it, but I couldn’t explain why. Later still, noticing that my mood hadn’t improved, she volunteered to take the kids out for a short while so I could have some alone time. I immediately sat down at the piano, something I’m seldom able to do while the kids are around, and began playing (to the best of my extremely limited abilities) the above song from 1776, the musical. The song dramatizes the written correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, in love but separated for long periods at a time by necessity. The final line never fails to put a lump in my throat. Only then did it finally hit me — my life with Andrea is now more like that song than it is like that playful e-mail from 1992.

Andrea and I measure our time alone together in minutes per month. They’re good minutes, but they’re too few and far between. The long and short of it is simply that I miss my wife.

We started dating in 1988, got married in 1999, and had our first son in 2002. (Hmm, another 14-year interval. Strange coincidence.) Now, our kids are wonderful — the best ever, by far. Being their dad is the greatest thing in the world, and if the price for that is spending almost no time with my wife, well, I’ll gladly pay it, but thank goodness for the 14 years we had before kids.

Dr. In and Mr. Out

Strapping the kids into the car this morning for a trip to the supermarket, Andrea commented once again on Archer’s amazing prolixity. At just 2 1/4 years old, he’s chattier than any ten grownups I know; and his utterances are fully formed thoughts, almost always organized into comprehensible sentences and, more often than not, cohesive paragraphs with a sensible, non-trivial logical flow.

Andrea’s comment to me, sotto voce, was that Archer is far ahead of where Jonah was at that age. I felt that was missing the point, apart from being impolitic, especially as Jonah has always impressed everyone with his intelligence, even as a toddler. I reframed her observation thus: Jonah was always the one taking everything in, examining the world, understanding it, recording it, drawing conclusions about it; whereas Archer is the one who lets everything out, exploring his environment more by engaging the people in it.

None of which is to imply that Jonah can’t be outgoing, or that Archer has no interior life. Far from it!

Squeamish no more

It’s a truism that if you’re squeamish, having kids will cure you of it. Thousands of diaper changes (in times of good intestinal health and otherwise), plus occasional helpings of spit-up and vomit on one’s skin and hair, in one’s clothes, and throughout one’s house do the trick quite nicely. But Tuesday night was without doubt the death knell for any remaining squeamishness I had.

Our dog, Alex, is a month shy of her 18th birthday. She suffers from a variety of age-related complaints, including arthritis, nerve damage, and occasional incontinence. She is pretty frail and sometimes needs help simply walking. We seldom leave her alone for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Tuesday night she’d been home alone for just a couple of hours when we returned from dinner. At that dinner, Jonah and I shared a “molten chocolate cake” for dessert, Jonah sitting on my lap as we ate. This was wonderful, father-son-bonding-wise, but it made eating a little awkward, and at one point a piece of cake leapt off my fork on its way to my mouth, bouncing off my shirt and pants and landing on the floor. Being “molten,” it made some big brown stains on my clothes, a portent of what was to come.

Words fail me when trying to convey, in appropriately visceral terms, what we found when we got home, so I’ll have to settle for simply stating the facts:

  • Alex pooped on the living room carpet.
  • She fell down in it and could not get back up.
  • She tried a lot.

We found her splayed on the floor in the center of a tremendous brown circle, smelling bad. Real bad. And clearly traumatized, poor girl.

All of the following then needed to happen at once:

  • Calm Alex down
  • Air her out
  • Clean her off
  • Clean the carpet
  • Keep the kids away from the mess

I got the Alex-related jobs, Andrea got the house- and kid-related ones. Alex and I went out onto the lawn for a while. She was trembling and unsteady on her feet, but after a short while and some soothing talk she was clearly feeling better. So then it was time to get her in the bathtub.

Frail and old though she is, Alex’s coat is still thick and lustrous — when it’s not caked with fecal matter, that is. I spent about a week that night restoring that coat to its rightful sheen. Poor Alex has trouble standing at the best of times, but weighed down with a coatful of water, her feet on bare porcelain, and so soon after lying helpless (and injured from her struggling, most likely) in a pile of shit for who knows how long, was a bit much to ask. So with one hand I supported her weak back legs while with the other hand I directed the handheld shower spray all over her, my third and fourth hands lathering her up with sweet-smelling shampoo. Crippling my weak lower back by doing all this while leaning over the bathtub rim was a given.

A day and a half later and Alex is beautiful again, and seems back to her usual self. I wish I could say the same for the carpet; it’s still discolored and the smell isn’t quite gone. It’s covered with a layer of towels for now. Another couple of assaults with cleaning chemicals and sessions of vigorous scrubbing over the next day or so will tell whether the carpet can be rejuvenated like Alex or whether it will have to be put to sleep.