Happy DMV Follow-up

I am very happy to report that not only was yesterday’s experience at the DMV successful and Rob now has his driver’s license, but also the clerks were NOTHING LIKE the one we had on a previous occasion.

When we arrived, the line was long, but after about 5 minutes I didn’t even mind waiting, because I COULD HEAR THE CLERKS. AND THEY WERE BEING NORMAL AND NICE AND HELPFUL. A man was applying for a handicapped plate, and the clerk asked him if he wanted one little card to hang on the rearview mirror, or two. He said, “Well…we just have one car, so one I guess,” and the clerk said in a helping, friendly voice, “Some people like to have two: that way you can put one in your car, and your wife could carry one in her purse in case she goes out in a friend’s car. And it’s no extra cost for the second one.” And he said, “Oh! All right, then! Two.”

The other clerk had the unpleasant task of telling a customer that she (the customer) had just waited in a 20-minute line for a service that required a stop at Town Hall before it could be done at the DMV. Instead of brusquely dismissing her and making her feel stupid for not knowing, the clerk’s tone was sympathetic. Like, “Oh…I’m afraid the Town Hall has to process this before we can do our part.” When the customer responded, ungraciously, “How was I supposed to know that?,” the clerk did not get rude in response.

I didn’t hear another customer’s situation, but as he finished up he said “And thank you for being so nice,” and the clerk said, “Hey! Don’t let word get around! We have a reputation to keep up!” It made me feel as if maybe I had something in my eye.

So all of this is to say that as we stood in line I felt quite certain that whether or not we were successful in the day’s attempt, we would at LEAST not be dealt with unpleasantly by someone who was glad to be taking us down. And indeed this was the case. The clerk took the whole pile of papers and looked through it in a relaxed way, like a normal person looking to make sure everything was all set, rather than acting rushed and barking demands for particular papers and acting as if she hoped to find problems. And then there WERE no problems! And then Rob took the written portion and passed! And then he took the driving portion and passed! And then we had to wait in line again for half an hour, but that wasn’t anyone’s fault: it was just a long line. And when we got to the front of the line, the clerk said, “Yay, you made it!” And as we left, other people in line said to Rob, “Congratulations!”

In short: a completely different experience. I’ll bet these clerks HATE working with that other clerk.


Trying to get email frequency changed, and trying to get Rob tested for his driver’s license at the DMV, and trying to find out from my health insurance where I am allowed to take William for an x-ray, and trying to understand my tax forms—all of these things are making me feel helpless and frustrated to the point of violence. I am TRYING to do things RIGHT, and it feels like everyone who ought to be motivated to LET or HELP me do things right is SHRUGGING while they MAKE LIFE HARD ON PURPOSE. Other people POSSESS the information for doing it right; they allege that they WANT to help me do it right; their very JOB DESCRIPTION is to help me get things right; but when I ASK THEM FOR THE INFORMATION, they decline to give it out. *pant pant*

Like, the insurance. Again and again and again, the insurance company cautions us that we MUST check with them to find out where we can have tests done. “Check with us! Check with us! JUST CHECK WITH US!!!” So I check with them, and they say, “Hm, I don’t see anything within 50 miles.” I check back, because surely this can’t be right. I live in a small town, but we are within half an hour of two largish cities. There is not ONE SINGLE PLACE within 50 miles I can take William for an x-ray? I receive the response, from a different person. Of course there are PLENTY of places! I can take him to either of these cancer-specializing x-ray places in a neighboring state. Well….but this is just an x-ray to take a look at his ribs, because one side is sticking out weird.

You know what would make SO MUCH MORE SENSE? If my DOCTOR were the one to tell me the best place to take William for the kind of x-ray the doctor wants. Wouldn’t that be SO MUCH MORE MAKE-SENSEY?? So why are we doing it this STUPID way, where I have to talk to a customer service representative who tells me to use their web site for this, and then when I use the web site I get “no results within 50 miles,” so then I use their “Email us!” button and get “Don’t be silly, you can go to the oncology department in the next state!” Wouldn’t it be better to use the x-ray machine that is part of our pediatrician’s practice, in the same building? No, that is not covered. Do it the REALLY REALLY EXPENSIVE AND DIFFICULT OUT-OF-STATE UNNECESSARY-SPECIALIST WAY.

What makes it worse is that I have now tried to get my question answered THREE TIMES, and yet I am certain I have not yet received the correct answer. I am certain my insurance company does NOT want me to go to a cancer specialist in another state to have my son’s ribs x-rayed for non-cancer-related reasons. I am certain of it! I am certain that this is an issue of lowest-level customer service not caring very much about getting me the right answer, and/or not knowing how to access the right answer. But having to go back AGAIN and AGAIN just to try to get the answer they should be giving me in the first place is what makes me feel like smashing my coffee mug into the mouthpiece of the phone.

Or let’s talk about the DMV. A teenager getting his driver’s license is such a big and important and exciting and scary milestone, and I would like to non-thank our DMV for making the process as hellish and horrible and frustrating and lie-awake-at-night-processing-the-clerk’s-startling-brusqueness as possible. Really: exceptional work there.

Today we are going back for our THIRD ATTEMPT to have Rob tested. That is, he has not yet been tested. This is our third ATTEMPT to get him tested, which turns out to be like solving an impossible level of a video game: first double-jump on the blue square, then a jump-flip over the alligator, then bounce off the walking mushroom, aiming for the next floor where you have to punch-smash the tree, and…shoot, small error, start all over at the beginning.

And this is with a parent (I am talking about myself here) who goes online, studies all the instructions on the DMV’s site, makes lists of every piece of paper we need, prints out all the forms, fills them all out, puts them in order on a clipboard, makes a master list of everything that should be on that clipboard, checks the master list against the contents of the clipboard. TWO TIMES we have been sent away anyway. Today is our third chance. If we don’t make it today, you will know because you will think your ear is ringing. But that will be me.

Here is a sample interaction with the DMV clerk:

Clerk: Let’s see your forms.
Swistle: Okay, here is the….
Clerk: This box needs to be checked.
Swistle: But it says to check it if he’s applying for a REPLACEMENT li…
Clerk: We need this box checked.

No explanation. No “I know, it seems misleading, but for some crazy reason that’s also the box they use for new licenses.” No listening to my reason for not checking the box. Just a brusque interruption in an unpleasant voice. She seriously interrupted me EVERY TIME I TALKED.

Clerk: Where’s the birth certificate.
Swistle: Let’s see, here’s the…
Clerk (taking the wrong piece of paper out of the pile Swistle is looking through): Nope. This is a copy.
Swistle (who hasn’t yet noticed clerk’s error): It’s a certified copy! It said it could be a…
Clerk: Nope. See right here: it says VOID.
Swistle (seeing problem): No, you’ve got the wrong…
Clerk: Nope, won’t work.
Swistle: HERE is the certified…
Clerk (no concession, just moving to next form): You need the driving school written here.
Swistle: They told us we should first ask you…
Clerk: We need it written here.

She was HAPPY to turn us away. She was HOPING to turn us away. I wanted so badly to shove her to the ground. Just one really sharp sudden SHOVE. Or I wanted to record the whole exchange and post it on the internet, and then send her a link to the comments section.

Sale Mail Fail

I feel as if I am just NEVER going to get the hang of scheduling appointments. I am continually looking at the calendar and thinking, “Oh…wait. William has a doctor appointment at the same time as Rob’s piano lesson and also that’s when the little kids’ bus gets here.” I think it’s one of the reasons I dread calling to make appointments: I just know I’m giving myself a little pocket of trouble for the future.


I talked a little about this on Twitter but now let’s talk about it here. The Children’s Place is one of my favorite places to buy clothes for the kids. I WANT to receive emails from them. I signed up for those emails ON PURPOSE. But they started sending 3-4 emails PER DAY, and that is KRAZY. I followed the unsubscribe link, because sometimes that leads to a place where you can choose to receive fewer emails, but no: it’s either MANY EMAILS A DAY or NONE.

So I emailed them. I asked if this situation could be changed. I explained it the way I explained it just now: I WANT emails, just not so MANY. I don’t WANT to unsubscribe; I WANT to be marketed to. I got an email back: they suggested I follow the unsubscribe link and choose to receive fewer emails. I checked that link again, to see if they’d changed the options since I last checked, but no: it’s still all or nothing. I emailed back; there has been no reply. I followed the unsubscribe link and unsubscribed.

Gymboree recently followed the same pattern. They were sending a couple emails a week, and I was good with that. Then recently I noticed it had crept up and I was routinely getting several a day. I did the same procedure: checked to see if there was a way to reduce frequency, then emailed the company. They sent an email thanking me for my input; I unsubscribed.

This seems BEYOND stupid to me, from a marketing/PR standpoint. Why would a company take the people who are ASKING TO BE MARKETED TO (and then RESPONDING with outlays of MONEY), and alienate them by extremely overdoing it? This is not a matter of “I wonder if the customers would respond better to one email a week or two emails a week?”: NO ONE IN THE WORLD could possibly think a customer would want 3-4 emails a day. Seriously: NO ONE. And yet here we are.

This is goose that lays the golden egg stuff: if they would send one email a week, I would love it and give them more money than if they sent zero emails a week; when they send four a day, they lose that marketing path completely.

Edit: Just heard back from my SECOND email to Children’s Place, the one where I thanked them for their advice about reducing frequency, but that the link they’re talking about actually leads to an all-or-nothing subscribe/unsubscribe option, not to a reduce-frequency option. Their reply: Explaining that I can find the link at the bottom of emails from Children’s Place. I VERY NEARLY screamed with frustration.


Last November, we had a bunch of trees taken out of our yard. “Next spring, we’ll have more trees put in,” we told the tree guy. “We’ll have all winter to figure out what KIND of tree,” we told ourselves. And here we are, it is March, we have not given much thought to trees. (I say “much” because I HAVE thought, “We really should figure out the tree thing.”)

When I have a decision to make, I like to ask about it here. But in this case, you don’t know what part of the country I live in, and that is going to severely limit the advice anyone can give. Many trees do GREAT in one area, and would NEVER MAKE IT in another.

Still, the subject of trees INTERESTS me. I remember my friend Surely advising me to investigate the MESS each particular kind of tree created, which is something I would NOT have thought to investigate. But when our former nut trees were dropping sticky pods on our house, bang! bang! bang! like a burglar hammering through the roof, I thought of it. Every fall when hornets rule the squishy rotted-fruit area under the apple trees, I think of it.

So I wonder if talking about trees, while not the kind of subject I can picture someone making a click-bait Facebook post out of (Someone Planted a Tree and I Could Not Believe What Happened Next!!), might be surprisingly interesting. I mean, I know it will be of interest to ME, but I wonder if OTHERS might ALSO find it interesting.

What I’m looking for is Tree Reports. That is, do you have a tree that’s been a particularly pleasing tree? A nice reliable tree with pretty autumn leaves, for example? Or do you have a tree that’s been a total pain? Maybe it drops unreasonable numbers of branches every time the wind blows, or maybe it has messy seeds that gum up the lawn mower, or maybe it attracts undesirable insects, or maybe it’s susceptible to disease, or maybe it smells weird, or maybe it’s particularly intent on getting involved with underground pipes.


I think my ideal tree would have these characteristics:

1. Not fussy. I’m not going to do much, if anything, to care for the tree after the first few settling-in years. I would just like it to grow in the ground.

2. Not fancy-expensive. I will pay for a good tree, and I will pay more for a really good tree, but I don’t want to pay for fancy-for-the-sake-of-fancy. Like, our tree guy was mentioning this really cool special tree that’s hard to get, and I was already tuned out. The tree does not need to be hip.

3. Relatively quick-growing, for shade. Trees are An Investment in the Future, yes, I appreciate that about them—but I would also like to be one of the beneficiaries of the investment. Our 1960 raised ranch is likely to be bulldozed into a parking lot once Paul and I have moved out (we are right on the edge of a commercially-zoned area), so this would not be a good place for a tree that will be wonderful in 100 years. A faster-growing tree would also allow us to buy it at a smaller/younger stage, which represents a significant decrease in cost, not only for the tree but also for the planting of it.

4. Pretty autumn leaves. I feel silly making this a priority, but the recently-removed trees had dry brown autumn leaves. Not even glossy brown: just powdery and dead. We have a maple tree that goes red, and I love that. I look forward to it in the autumn like I look forward to my tulips in the spring.


Maples are a strong contender. Not fussy. Not fancy. Pretty autumn leaves. I don’t think they grow particularly fast, though, or at least our maple (purchased as a young tree by my parents, as a birth gift for Henry) has not made a ton of progress in 7 years. Perhaps this is an area where we might consider spending more for a larger tree.

Oaks? Are the acorns charming, or a pain? Do they go through the lawn mower and shoot out as if from a slingshot?

I don’t think we want pines. My parents had a whole bunch of pines removed because the needles killed the grass. But we’re not exactly lawn-proud, so maybe pines would make it seem like THAT was the reason our lawn was kind of patchy. And anything evergreen would help block the view of the neighbors. Hm. I’m talking myself into a pine or two.

A flowering tree is tempting. They’re so pretty. Some of them look as if they require pruning. Maybe I would do a little pruning? It’s hard to know.

We like the idea of fruit trees, but have shown ourselves to be People Who Do Not Take Care of Fruit Trees. I’m considering a pear tree anyway. There was one here when we moved in, and the first few years it had such delicious pears. Then the apple trees overshadowed it, and now it is a slim and pear-less shadow of its former self. The tree guy trimmed back the apples, but thinks it may be too late to save the pear. Maybe I have learned my lesson and would NOW take care of a fruit tree.

Maybe two evergreens, two maples, an oak, and a pear? And a pretty little flowering tree?

The Cost of Having Wisdom Teeth Removed

Rob needs to have his wisdom teeth out. Before our consultation appointment, I looked around on the internet to find out what kind of cost I could expect for this, and whether there was any possibility of it being covered by health insurance (we don’t have dental insurance). I came away from that research having only the vaguest idea: some people said their health insurance covered it, some people said it was covered only if surgery was required (that is, not if the teeth could be pulled), others said health insurance never covered it no matter what; some people said the anesthesia alone was $2000, others gave that as the total cost of the whole procedure. My guess is that some of the cost varies based on where people live, and the rest varies based on what the situation is with the wisdom teeth themselves (that is, how complicated the particular set will be to remove).

I felt I wasn’t getting ANY solid information, but I did come away with two valuable impressions:

1. It was not likely to be covered by health insurance.
2. It was likely to be a “thousands” expense, as opposed to “hundreds” or “tens of thousands.”

Something I found soothing is that many people reported their dental insurance DID cover it, but only a percentage of it, or only up to $1000 of the cost, or other things of that sort. (I would not have found this soothing if we DID have dental insurance.)

Anyway, I can now add our particular numbers to the huge and varying collection on the internet. The consultation with the oral surgeon was $275. That included x-rays, because the dentist who referred us had done only bite-wings and not whatever kind it was she needed. If you have dental insurance that will cover x-rays at the dentist office but not with an oral surgeon, this would be good to know.

Our health insurance won’t cover it, as I suspected. “Only if needed as a result of traumatic injury,” the billing clerk told us. “So, if I were to hit him with a bat….?,” I suggested. “It would be a very difficult angle to get right,” the billing clerk said.

The cost of the wisdom-teeth removal will be almost exactly ten times the cost of the consultation: $2,740. That covers two teeth that are totally sideways and under the gums ($670 each), and two teeth that are at the normal angle and have broken through the gums as they should ($500 each). (The oral surgeon: “He’s teething!” Swistle: “No wonder he’s so cranky.”) It also covers half an hour of IV unconsciousness ($400). The procedure will be done in the oral surgeon’s office, not at a hospital.

So from now on, my mental estimate of wisdom-tooth removal is $3,000. To give you an idea of costs in my area, my experience-based mental estimate of what braces cost is $6,000.


I am burning in the aftermath of saying YET ANOTHER STUPID THING. Apparently this goes on for all of life. I’d hoped with age and wisdom and etc., but no: the deepy-regretted remarks go on and on. I am reminded of a childhood friend’s mother who, in such moments of suffering, would address the ceiling with “HOW LONG O LORD??”

Well. The upside is that my own continuing stupid remarks are a frequent reminder that sometimes OTHER people ALSO say stupid things they regret, which makes it easier to give others the benefit of the doubt. “Did she mean…? Hm, let’s wait for more evidence.”

You know, I’m just going to tell you what I said. I was thinking I wouldn’t, because why share the cringe? “Because,” that’s why.

So. I had to take Rob to an appointment, and I dropped him back at school afterward. On the way home I impulsively stopped at a restaurant I’ve been to only once before, which was nearly empty last time and was nearly empty this time, too. It’s a teaching restaurant (part of a culinary/hospitality arts program), so it’s cheap and there’s an instructor milling/hovering to correct the students, and there is a charm to everything because it’s like we’re PLAYING restaurant, but with actual food.

At the table next to mine, an older woman was waiting for friends who never showed. I kept thinking I could invite her to sit with me, but kept chickening out: what if she didn’t want to? what if she thought it was pity? or I don’t know, what if she said yes and then it was weird? Even as I fretted, I thought it was probably unnecessary fretting, and wished to have been born a different temperament type. The jolly, friendly, never-met-a-stranger type, beloved by all for my contagious laugh and easy conversation. But no, instead I am the anxious, nervous, spent-an-entire-meal-not-asking-a-stranger-to-eat-with-me type.

While I was eating dessert, the instructor came over to talk to the other woman, and she said perkily “I’ve been stood up!” This gave me an opening, and I turned and said something lame but friendly, and she responded in a friendly way. Then she said she so admired me for eating alone: that she had never done it, and really ought to, and the food would taste just as good, wouldn’t it? And this is where I said something jolly and easy! Such as, “Actually, I don’t even like eating alone! Do you want to join me?” And we chatted for the rest of the meal and it was a lovely encounter.

No. This is where I wanted to say something friendly back, but instead got confused by the compliment and said in fact the food tasted even better because I could concentrate on it! (*begin to die of embarrassment*) And that if I ate out with my husband, he would TALK! (*DYING IN EARNEST NOW*) And she said, “Well, enjoy!” in a perfectly friendly but conversation-ending way, because I had JUST ESSENTIALLY TOLD HER NOT TO TALK TO ME BECAUSE TALKING RUINED MY ENJOYMENT OF MY FOOD.

Why did I say it? WHY? I don’t even FEEL that way! It was meant to be a sentence agreeing to what she’d said, followed by a silly joke about my husband! It was meant to continue the conversation! I DON’T EVEN MUCH LIKE EATING ALONE IN RESTAURANTS. My face feels hot. I keep stopping typing to put my mortified icy fingers on my burning cheeks. I inadvertently REBUFFED someone I’d WANTED TO EAT LUNCH WITH. If I’d wanted a line DESIGNED to politely rebuff an unwelcome lunch companion, I COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT BETTER. Stood up by her friends, and then rebuffed by the only other person in the restaurant.

I sat there, finishing my raspberry crepes (they were very good, and refused to become ashes in my mouth) (there is a raspberry seed stuck between two molars, preventing floss from doing its sworn duty and reminding me why I don’t usually eat raspberry things) and feeling the dawning horror as the conversation replayed in my head. What to do? Turn around and say, “Oh! I just realized that sounded like ‘Don’t talk to me,’ when actually I spent the whole salmon course wondering how to invite you to join me without making you feel pressured!” < —- Me in another dimension, presumably a happier, less fraught one.

Well, I did what I could, which was that I turned to her twice more when it seemed appropriate, initiating short friendly conversation about the food and the weather and the charm of the instructor. I smiled a lot: I may be anxious, but I am smiley. (Swistle’s English professor, incredulously, when Swistle appeared at his office in response to a “See me after class” written next to a D: “Why are you SMILING?”) Perhaps I upgraded my status from “Rebuffs friendly older ladies” to “Likes friendly older ladies AND eating alone.” (I DON’T EVEN MUCH LIKE EATING ALONE.)

Also, this is where it helps so much to think of the times other people have said stupid things in my presence (I mean, the low percentage of times I NOTICED: our own stupid things are SO MUCH MORE NOTICEABLE), and I have been able to tell that the other person felt stupid (or able to guess that they soon would), and I have not replayed the moment with anything other than empathy and wishing I could have handled it to save them the wince—like the lady in a Miss Manners anecdote who, after her guest dropped and broke an extremely expensive and rare teacup, said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I do it all the time” and casually dropped her own extremely expensive and rare teacup. I also reflect on various statements meant to reassure us how little other people care about us or think about us. Plenty of times, I’ve apologized to someone for something I said, and they didn’t even remember me saying it; other times, someone has apologized to me and I didn’t even remember them saying it. Perhaps she didn’t even see it as a rebuff at all! (But I think in her shoes, I might have at least wondered.) Perhaps she thought, “Yes, I’ll bet that’s true! Next time I will eat by myself and see if the food is more delicious without anyone talking to me!” I will have made a convert to a practice I DON’T EVEN MUCH LIKE!

Books: Beverly Cleary Memoirs; Being Mortal; Department of Speculation

Miss Grace recommended Beverly Cleary’s memoirs A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet.

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

I wasn’t sure I’d be interested in books about Beverly Cleary, but it turned out I was. I liked the first book more than the second, but I liked both.

I did get a little tired of how hard she was on her mom. Her mom did a fair number of things that merited criticism, but it seemed like the feeling of “as do we all” was lacking. After awhile it felt as if the mom couldn’t win: she even got criticized for her basic temperament type (different than the one her daughter would have preferred in a mother), and for what her daughter THOUGHT she MIGHT be THINKING. Meanwhile, the dad didn’t seem to get his fair share of the criticism, and HE got CREDIT for what his daughter thought he might be thinking.

But MOSTLY, I loved it. It won’t sound exciting if I describe it (she grew up, she went to school, she got a job, she got married), but it’s the telling style that makes it good. I hadn’t thought much of Beverly Cleary since outgrowing the Ramona stage myself, but after reading her memoirs I love her. So I recommend trying them, if you like memoirs.


My mom has strongly recommended books by Atul Gawande to me, but I tried one and got about four pages in before being so grossed out I realized there was no way I was going to make it. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End looked less surgical, so I tried it.

(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

It’s a book about end-of-life stages, getting elderly, and dying. Sometimes it would make me too sad/stressed and I’d need to put it down and take a little break. But overall, I’d say I felt happier and better after finishing it. It IS sad to realize we’re all going to die, and that a lot of us are going to get increasingly infirm on our way there, but reading more on the topic reminded me of writing our will: the process was sad, but the result was happy.

I felt like I ended up with a better grip on old age and death being TRUE NORMAL THINGS as opposed to pitfalls I hoped everyone I loved would avoid altogether. I also felt more aware of some of the options that can improve things (for when my parents go through it, and for when Paul and I do), and I thought his overall concept of “how to decide how heroic to get” was a good and thought-provoking one. I found his matter-of-fact, friendly, calm writing voice very helpful: he seemed realistic/knowledgeable but human/normal. I would recommend trying it. I’ve heard it’s very good exercise for an aging brain to read non-fiction! Plus, I ended up feeling very motivated to eat vegetables.


(image from Amazon.com)

(image from Amazon.com)

I read Dept. of Speculation after reading a review on Shelf Love. I thought from the review it might be too dreamy/contractionless for me, but no, I loved it, the kind of love where I want to be friends with the author now. Quotes from a book never quite capture the feeling of reading them IN THE BOOK, but I want to give you a sample anyway. She describes her husband reporting all the little household repairs he’s done, and she says to us:

This is another way in which he is an admirable person. If he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won’t just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never f**king outrun entropy.

Or another:

Sometimes at night I conduct interviews with myself.

What do you want?
I don’t know.

What do you want?
I don’t know.

What seems to be the problem?
Just leave me alone.

I basically BARKED with laughter and recognition. It reminded me of books by Suzanne Finnamore.


I suddenly remembered that I used to do book posts where at the end I’d do a giveaway for one of the books. Let’s do that again, that was fun. You can leave a comment NOT entering the giveaway, if you want (sometimes that’s what I want), but if you do want to enter, you can do so by saying which book you’d want to win. I’ll choose someone on Friday the 13th. U.S. addresses only, but if you know someone with a U.S. address you can have the book shipped to them as a little giftie.


Update! The winner is Diane, who commented:

Oh fun! I added Dept of Speculation to my library holds immediately upon reading this post, so winning it would be fantastic.

Your criticism of the Beverly Cleary books makes me afraid to read them. It’s one of the things I find most difficult to deal with in real people: assuming people have specific thoughts or intent and then acting as though the assumption is FACT. No stop that right now.

Yes, me too—and I think I overstated my complaint about that issue in the Beverly Cleary books. It wasn’t that bad/frequent; it’s more that it’s the only negative thing that caught my attention!

I’ll email you, Diane!

Vacation Costs

I would like to talk a little about vacations, if you’re free right now. I know it’s late.

When my brother and I were in the 9-13 age range, my grandparents flew us to Florida to visit them over spring break, at a condo they rented during the winters. We went three years in a row, I think. Something I’ve been wanting to do for awhile is go back to that same place. I still have the address, and could rent the exact place for a week. But…well, I added up the cost. The place itself. The airplane tickets. The rental car.

Here is the issue. I have LOTS of friends who go on vacations, even every year. They go on Disney cruises, or they go to Hawaii, or whatever. They’re not richer than us, I don’t think. (Though they do have fewer children.) I’m combining that norm with something I’ve encountered in myself, time and time again, which is that I can be overly surprised at what things cost, to the point of being squirrelly and crazy when THAT IS JUST WHAT THINGS COST, THAT IS JUST WHAT YOU HAVE TO HAND OVER IN EXCHANGE FOR THE THING. I freak out about insurance. Braces. Dental work. Tickets. House-painting. Tree-removal. Toilet replacement. Property tax. Take-out. It makes me wonder: am I being squirrelly and crazy about vacations? Because I’m starting to think YES.

I’d like to know your philosophy of vacations, I guess. All around me I hear things about paying for EXPERIENCES rather than THINGS, and I get that, I do, but also the experiences are still expensive, and I can’t help but weigh those against how many things that could buy. Or, for example, how much college education that could buy. Or how much retirement savings that could buy.

Actually, no. I said I wanted to hear philosophies of vacations, but I don’t. Periodically I read someone saying that they “work hard, and DESERVE it,” as if people who don’t earn enough for vacations don’t work hard and/or don’t deserve it, and that kind of thing makes me want to throw up and/or hit somebody really hard and/or sell everything I own and go live in a hut. And I feel similarly when people talk about NOT taking vacations in a way that seems as if they want to make people feel bad. “Maybe this is just us, but we don’t want to throw our money away on fleeting pleasures when we could be buying clean water for Africa”; “Must be nice to have this to think about—we can’t even afford groceries.”

So let’s not do that. Let’s not feel like we want to throw up / hit someone / live in a hut. Let’s instead see if I can figure out what I actually want to know, which is NOT “how I justified my vacation expenses to myself” OR “how I tried to make other people feel bad for taking vacations.”

So what IS it I want to know? Okay, I think it is this: what do you think is a reasonable price to pay for a vacation? I’m thinking of a one-week thing, and I’m including all the costs: the hotel, the rental car, the flights, the meals, the thingies, ALL of it. I don’t know if what’s useful here is dollars or percentage of annual income. Because, like, I can picture celebrities thinking it was well worth spending a mere $50,000 on a nice refreshing little break, while that’s the ANNUAL INCOME for the median U.S. family. And maybe I need to say “per person,” because there are so many persons in my family.

Or, really, it doesn’t have to be based on a week, or a per person sort of thing. Maybe you don’t go for a week, or maybe you haven’t really thought of it in per-person terms, so there you sit, thinking you can’t participate in this discussion. And it doesn’t have to be based on what you think is reasonable: maybe you think a cost is not reasonable, and yet you’re glad you spent it. Or maybe you think a cost is reasonable, but it’s a moot point because you don’t have that much extra to spend. I guess what I’m trying to find out is whether I’m being weird about money/vacations. And so any information/opinions you have on this topic would be useful. I’m finding it hard to work through it on my own. Possibly what I want you to do is justify my vacation expenses to myself. It’s hard to know. I think what I want to hear is your conflicted feelings.

Bed-Wetting in Late Childhood and Adolescence

(Do you need the Spring Ahead printout? Here it is: Spring Ahead printout.)

I have felt almost FRANTIC to talk to you lately. Nearly every day for what feels like FOREVER there’s been SOMETHING that makes it difficult or impossible. One thing is that I had a burst of anxiety-fueled bravery and made a bunch of appointments that needed to be made (nothing interesting: things like Rob’s wisdom tooth evaluation and Edward’s vision exam), so it seems I am always sitting in one waiting room or another. Another thing is that the kids, one after another, got sick—a mild illness, but with a fever so they couldn’t go to school. (They rejoiced. That is the BEST kind of illness: when you’re sick enough to stay home, but not too sick to play video games.) (Now I’m having a flashback to a Peanuts comic strip that said the same thing, but about being not too sick to watch television. A child, probably Charlie Brown, was in bed with the television on his stomach, which bothered me a little as a child. Seemed uncomfortable/impractical.)

Anyway, with all that pent-up talking to do, it may be a little surprising that today’s topic is bed-wetting. Specifically, bed-wetting that happens in late childhood, or into adolescence.

I am going to talk very GENERALLY about this topic. I wasn’t sure I could discuss it at all, but it seems to me it falls into that category of Parenting Topics that Get Sorely and Sadly Neglected Online. If I want empathy and ideas about potty-training a toddler, I can find ENDLESS discussion on ENDLESS blogs. If I’m worried and frustrated about a early elementary-school-aged child who is still wetting the bed at night, I can find plenty of companionship and know I’m not the only one handling it. But when kids get older, we get understandably squirrelly about discussing their personal and potentially embarrassing issues. Which leaves us all stranded, feeling like we’re the only ones going through all these things. That’s not good either.

So here is the thing. I have access to some information on a topic that I think falls into that category of topics that parents shouldn’t need to feel stranded about. Who even knows WHY I have this information? It could be because I’m parenting a kid with this issue; it could be because it was something I personally dealt with as a child; it could be that a friend is going through it with her kid; it could be that I have been trying to get out and about more and so I attended an informational talk at the library; it could be that a book on the topic caught my eye; it could be that I have a friend who works in an office that deals with this issue. Whatever the reason, I have some information, from a doctor who treats this issue. And here it is:

1. Later bed-wetting is much more common than you’d think. (Unless you already knew it was this common. In which case it’s as common as you’d think.) This is another of the downfalls of not talking about it: it feels RARE, when actually it is not at all rare. Kids who have it tend not to discuss it. They tend not to go to camps or other places where it would be discovered, especially when they’re too big to wear pull-ups. Their parents tend not to discuss it.

2. It doesn’t have anything to do with potty-training. That is, many parents think they screwed up the potty-training and that’s why the child is still wet at night. Maybe they should have been stricter, tried harder, been less laid-back about it, started earlier/later, used a different training philosophy. But no, that is not why it happened.

3. It isn’t yet certain why it DOES happen. There seems to be a large genetic component: if one parent has some family history of later-childhood bed-wetting, the children have a 40% chance of having that issue; if both parents have some family history, the chance goes to 80%. But because of the aforementioned “not talking about it” thing (an even bigger issue in families than in blogging), people may not know they have a family history. It’s understandable if no one told you your cousin or grandpa or uncle wet the bed until age 16.

4. Another likely contributor is the thingie that makes the hormone that stops people from peeing in their sleep. It’s supposed to kick in during the potty-training years, but it doesn’t always, or doesn’t always make enough of the hormone. If it doesn’t, that is a SIGNIFICANT LIKELY CONTRIBUTING FACTOR, as you might guess.

5. Another possible contributor is constipation. The doctor said about 50% of his patients have it, and about 95% think they don’t have it; it’s not always obvious, if it’s not causing discomfort. The bowel presses on the bladder and also causes muscle contractions; during the day, it’s not an issue, but at night it is.

6. Many people think a contributor is deep sleep, and almost all parents report that the child is a deep sleeper and has trouble waking up. But it’s not a likely factor: in a room of sleeping children, half bed-wetters and half not, attempting to wake them up wouldn’t give you information about which of them were the bed-wetters. However, there DOES seem to be a correlation between a certain KIND of sleep and bed-wetting: the same kind of sleep that leads people to sleepwalk, talk in their sleep, turn off their alarms in their sleep, etc. That kind of sleep activity indicates that the “You are asleep, so don’t move or do anything” situation is inadequate covered.

7. MOST cases resolve in adolescence: a big batch at around 11-12, and another big batch at around 16. Something about puberty seems to reset the brain for most people. If adolescence doesn’t do it, college usually does. It’s possible that the change in schedule/circumstances contributes. Or maybe it’s just that some people have a little more adolescencing to do, and this is when it happens, and then the brain gets reset and everything’s okay.

8. Almost never is anything WRONG. That is, if you are worried that the kidneys are deformed or there’s something wrong with the bladder or whatever, that’s generally not a concern if the accidental wetting is only at night and if the daytime peeing seems normal in other ways. If it’s only at night (and has ALWAYS been that way—that is, it’s not that the child was night-trained but then started wetting again), it’s usually that hormone thing, or constipation, or an unknown-but-self-resolving delay.

9. Almost never does it Not Go Away by adulthood. It DOES go away. Like teething and colic and everything else that seems like it’ll never go away.

10. Suggested treatment is going to vary depending on the person/situation/doctor. The doctor I encountered is not keen on medication in general, but approves of desmopressin for situations where he thinks the likely cause is lack-of-hormone as opposed to constipation or some other unknown delay; it can be used even long-term, and then discontinued when no longer needed. (If he thinks the likely cause is constipation, he instead begins by treating that.) Other possible tools are hypnotism and guided thinking (“Imagine an alarm clock attached to your bladder”), acupuncture, bladder-stretching exercises (drinking more water and waiting longer to pee); there are also more medications to try.

11. It’s not anyone’s fault. It just happens to some people for some reason, and there are things that can be done to improve the situation.

Mailing List; There Was a Little Girl

Rob took the PSATs awhile back: usually that’s a junior-year thing, but his school lets sophomores take it if they just want to see what it’s like or see how it goes. Or if they want to get out of part of the school day, whatever. So anyway Rob took it, and I believe I see how this test is funded: BY SELLING THE STUDENTS’ NAMES AND ADDRESSES TO EVERY COLLEGE MAILING LIST IN THE WORLD. Our record so far is ELEVEN ads in one day from colleges.

I am reading Brooke Shields’s most recent memoir, and Paul keeps saying, “I think you should stop reading that book. It’s making you cranky.” Well, YES. Making me additionally cranky is that it feels as if anything negative I say about the book is attacking the person of Brooke Shields, and that feels mean. If our positions were reversed, I’d be wondering why she felt she needed to volunteer those opinions publicly. Perhaps she could have just stopped reading my book if it was making her so cranky, I might think to myself indignantly. Nobody’s forcing her to read it.

Nevertheless, I want to tell you what I think of the book. Let me see if I can put a finger on what the issue is. Do you sometimes find you’re listening to someone tell a story, and the story doesn’t sit right? Like, you don’t know what the problem IS, whether something’s MISSING or ADDED or MISLEADING or WHAT, but WHATEVER the reason, the story doesn’t sound REAL? A good example is when someone is telling their side of a fight, where you KNOW it’s not right because the dialogue isn’t fitting together: one person seems to be talking the way you do when you’re lying awake thinking of other ways a conversation could have gone, and the other person seems to be talking like a completely ridiculous parody of an irrational unfair jerk, and it just doesn’t WORK. Or maybe the story contains details that are incompatible with other details. Or maybe some details don’t make sense—like, how is this family with twins doing seven loads of laundry a day? Or maybe events are described in a way that doesn’t line up with what you know of human behavior. WHATEVER the issue, something is amiss.

Or sometimes someone is telling a story, and you can tell THEY think it’s a true story, but you have little flashing lights going off EVERYWHERE. A good example is when someone is talking about how the other person in their romantic relationship has been behaving. “He just has to work SO LATE! Sometimes they call him at 11:00 at night and he has to go right into work and doesn’t get home until morning! But they’re not paying him for the overtime at all, so there’s no difference in his paycheck! In fact, they’re not even counting the hours! And the office is closed when he’s there, so I can’t reach him! Also, we’re having a weird problem with our phone: it rings, but when I answer, there’s no one there! Oh, and I have a funny story: there was a BRA in his car and it wasn’t mine! I was so upset for a minute, ha ha! But it turns out he found it on the sidewalk and picked it up to throw it away but then left it in his car by mistake! Ha ha!” And you’re like, “Ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,” wondering if you should say something or if you should leave them to the version they seem to prefer. I mean, who knows, you could be wrong; who knows better, the person IN the situation, or YOU?

And also, have you encountered that thing where someone blames EVERYTHING THAT EVER HAPPENS on one single situation in their lives (their parents’ divorce, for example), until it doesn’t matter HOW sympathetic you start out, pretty soon you are going to start wishing they’d think of another reason and/or take some responsibility themselves and/or AT LEAST STOP TALKING ABOUT IT SO EXTREMELY MUCH NOW THAT IT HAS BEEN DECADES SINCE IT HAPPENED? Like, just because something is non-ideal, that doesn’t mean it is THE SOURCE OF EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG. And even if it REALLY IS the source of everything wrong, does that mean it needs to be re-said EVERY SINGLE TIME something bad happens, until people are reminded of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, or of that game where you add “in bed” to the end of every fortune-cookie fortune?

Also, the whole tone of the book is “How dare you incessantly attacking my mother for earning money by having me play alarmingly sexy roles when I was a child!! Instead you should incessantly attack her for drinking too much!!”

Also, Brooke Shields got a 1000 on her SATs and she went to Princeton. Imagine: her high school counselor tried to discourage her from applying, considering her academic record and test scores! But she REALLY liked the look of the campus, and felt like she wanted to go there, so she applied and got accepted. (P.S. Rob has not yet heard from Princeton.)