New glasses, a new outlook, and a wide open space.

Happy New Glasses Day! On our way to celebrate with ice cream. I'm clearly enjoying my three-dollar vanity frames and colorful, American, toddler-girl version of Harry Potter.

Apologies for my last boring update. I felt obligated to ramble through our ophthalmology appointment. More of a Lord of the Rings style saga than a mere appointment. That said, writing it all out helped me put the many little oddly shaped pieces together. A couple of weeks later, we went to Alderwood Vision Therapy Center for Stella’s progress evaluation, to get the input and opinion of Stella’s developmental optometrist, Dr. T, who oversees her vision therapy. We’d forwarded Stella’s records from Children’s ophthalmology department beforehand.

Today, Stella has fabulous new glasses, with the same old prescription. While her ophthalmologist told us to up the prescription, including accommodation of slightly increased astigmatism in one eye, Dr. T advised against it–in line with my questions and reservations. Stella’s alignment is perfect and her acuity still great (both eyes 20/20 up close, less than a line difference at far) with the current, lower prescription. So why encourage further farsightedness and astigmatism with automatically amped-up prescriptions when she’s doing so well as is? As always, I pay attention to how Stella and her eyes are doing. If Stella shows the need for an increased prescription, we will rush out and secure it for her. But not until then.

We have decided to continue with vision therapy for a while, in an effort to amp up that left eye a bit more and solidify her vast gains. Treatment usually runs for nine to 12 months, and we’ve actually only done about eight by now (with a few weeks missed, so really about seven months actually completed). I’ve had this hunch about Stella’s vision: Now that her peripheral vision has opened up, her eyes are in a better position to work together optimally, and just as importantly, she’s more open to the world, including vision therapy. Stella’s vision therapist, Bethanie, is now on maternity leave. Though a quick hug was the only sign of it, I felt the moment was an emotional, if only temporary, goodbye. Bethanie saw us at our worst, and helped bring out our best–mainly for Stella but also for me. It’s a credit to her, really, that Stella’s degree of openness has changed so dramatically that switching to a new therapist during Bethanie’s leave has been no big deal at all. I’m incredulous when I think back to Stella’s early days of mute and reluctant vision therapy sessions. (Okay, and desk-clearing outbursts.) Sure, Stella threw a tantrum today at the outset of our vision therapy appointment with Mandi, but I think it’s because I abruptly took away the giant stuffed dog she was cuddling as we waited. Regardless of the reason, she turned it around two minutes later and sailed on through. By the end, I had to coax her to make an exit.

As I discussed with Mandi today, Stella uses her eyes together–she performs successfully with the quoits vectogram exercise. She can now catch a ball thrown to her. While just months ago she flat-out refused to look up and catch a slow-floating balloon, she now bats one around to herself, or plays catch with one, unprompted and just for kicks. Her toe-walking is now a fraction of what it was. The yoked prism goggles are now comfortable for her to wear, whether base up or base down, whereas getting her to wear them at all was once a Herculean task of mass distraction. She can see a new world in her periphery. There are too many good signs to list. Frankly, you can tell how well (or poorly) we’re doing by my appearance. I accessorize and wear skirts a lot more now. I can’t let Stella’s bouncy curls and chic glasses completely steal the show! Though, they always do. Stella collects compliments the way I collect freckles, and awkward silences.

Yesterday, Stella enjoyed her first independent gymnastics class. It felt like a big shift, after a couple years of “mommy and me” classes (some of them only marginally tolerable to me, and many times her!) covering music, swimming, Gymboree, and her previous gymnastics class at the same academy where she’s now enrolled. For the first time, I was not at her side but watching from distant bleachers at the edge of the vast facility. She took to her teacher right away, holding her hand several times. She sat with her classmates on the balance beam, following the teacher’s motions and kicking her feet in that carefree, unselfconscious way little kids do when they’re content. She smiled a lot. Her eyes were wide open, taking it all in. She drifted away from the class about three times, tempted by the rings, the rope swing over the foam pit (which they were able to gain access to), and to proactively re-arrange the colorful floppy stars on the ground that marked the route of an obstacle course. But I also saw that straying as positive, and part of the process. She is confident to explore, yet she’s also responsive to her teacher and learning to stay with the group. And this was just her first class! A couple of other kids’ parents stayed with them through most if not all of the class, but I simply was not needed. If she’d needed me, it would’ve been fine, and frankly, expected as part of the adjustment. The fact that she dove right in, though… that was hugely telling to me. Completely reaffirming.

Backing up a tad. She missed the actual first class, because I locked the keys in the car. So instead, we went for a walk and I’d planned to cringe inwardly the entire time because I felt like a complete failure, having talked about the class and built excitement about it and, well, paid for the series of eight classes for which no make-up sessions are available. At the outset of our stroll, I was holding her with both arms, in front of me. Stella started beaming suddenly. Then she looked directly into my eyes, with a twinkle in hers, and a hint of laughter in her voice, “I like you, Mommy.” Instantly, my guilt went away and I grew about two inches taller.

In short, during the first class, which should’ve been the second class, Stella was completely unfazed by my absence. Thrilled, even, to be out there embarking on an adventure as a “big girl.” I was so proud and delighted I could float. Unbelievably, I was completely, 100% relaxed. Stella was, too.

Then, midway through the 45-minute class, I felt the searing of emotion in my throat, and tears welling up, briefly. It dawned on me how central I’d been to Stella’s comfort and wellbeing for so long. In the usual motherly way, of course. But also in getting her through some trials: Helping her overcome her feeding aversion which entailed an extremely obsessive effort to figure out what was wrong, then pinpointing the perfect position and timing and planetary alignment in order to ensure that she’d eat, and so it seemed only I held the key and only I knew that we needed to do to get rid of her feeding tube which had become the main problem and it all felt very much like her health and development were going to be flushed down the toilet if I was not hyper-vigilant at all times and when I pondered the situation there were no periods (or sleep) between thoughts, just a few commas in a continuous run-on sentence of anxiety that would not end for several months. Not long after, her eyes crossed severely, after likely having been slightly misaligned all along, and my new task was to address her vision issues and the toe-walking and tunnel vision and accompanying anxiety they created for her. I had the sense that my presence, my being in perfect tune with Stella, was critically important on many levels. Me, me, me, I, I, I! I was very, very important, you see, because Stella needed me all the time. But it’s become clear that she’s on the other side now, having gathered all the wisdom that three years on the planet yields, and emerged from her challenges triumphantly with only some fine-tuning that remains for her eyes. So, yesterday in that expansive, wide-open gym, I relished the opportunity to sit back, and watch her be the happy, well-adjusted child she has become. She looked over at me a couple of times, excitedly telling me something I couldn’t hear from such a distance. But I could feel it. And it was downright miraculous.

P.S. It’s clear that Stella prefers wide open spaces. Yesterday afternoon, as is typical, she tried to walk out into the middle of frigid Lake Washington. “Adventurous” is now one of the top adjectives used, by friends and strangers alike, to describe Stella. And that’s the truth, Ruth.

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Judgement Day for Stella’s Vision, Part 1: Ophthalmology’s View

Well, on Friday morning, Stella and I made our way to Seattle Children’s ophthalmology department for her yearly exam. The high-level stats for those keeping score and not wanting to sift through a lengthy post: Clear improvement of stereoscopy, virtually unchanged acuity (still one line different at 20/30 and 20/40, though one examiner saw equal acuity), half a diopter increase in the prescription in both eyes (still 1 diopter greater prescription for the left eye), still no crossing with her glasses, and if I want to, we can stop patching for at least a few months and see how she does. The improvement in 3D seems huge–her eyes are working together!

Here we are, at another crossroads, 14 months from Stella’s initial ophthalmology appointment wherein glasses were prescribed and followed quickly by patching, and nine-ish months from the start of vision therapy. (A typical course of vision therapy is nine to twelve months.) This was slated to be our last month of vision therapy (with regular six-months check-ins, and therapy brush-ups as necessary as Stella grows), but I’m interested in perhaps continuing for a couple months to solidify her gains and help that left eye catch up further. This will be decided in a couple weeks, during part two of Stella’s assessment, in the office of Dr. T, our developmental optometrist/vision therapy practitioner extraordinaire. I’m also eager to hear her take on the ophthalmologist’s findings and prescription.

I’d like to pause and explain why I take Stella to see both an ophthalmologist and a developmental optometrist. I’m a big proponent of vision therapy but I’d be a hypocrite if I dismissed ophthalmology, wouldn’t I? Ophthalmology may have its blind spots but I love getting another, more traditional point of view to consider so I have all the bases covered. It really, really bothers me when people write off vision therapy and developmental optometry based on ignorance and bias. When I bring it up in discussions with other parents on Little Four Eyes (mainly the Facebook discussion board), it usually gets ignored, though there are a few supportive voices. I’m learning to keep my thoughts here, in my own posts on the Little Four Eyes blog, or in welcoming vision-therapy-focused forums, so as not to seem intrusive with my rabid pro-vision therapy agenda. The horror! How controversial of me! (Insert eye roll here.) I don’t take it personally, and simply want to share what’s working for us with anyone who is unsatisfied with the status quo. Because if you look closely at the status quo, it kind of blows. Patching alone is proven less effective, typically with far less enduring results. It addresses the weak eye, but not binocularity, not the brain-eye connections involved with fusion. Amblyopia is a brain issue, not a simple eye problem. So I have created a more powerful, comprehensive plan for Stella than the traditional, ophthalmology-only path would provide. It’s not “either-or.” I’m not narrow-minded about it. Vision therapy has changed Stella’s life in multifaceted ways. Hence my enthusiasm.

Relatedly, I’m no longer so nauseatingly nervous about evaluations of Stella’s vision. It’s simple: I am confident that we have done our best. We’ve done everything possible. I know that Stella has benefited tremendously in measurable “data collection” sort of ways, and in less number-friendly ways that are clearly observable to the people who know and love her. Once again, I am reminded of her tube-feeding and weaning days. The medical system is letting down many tube-fed children, by not helping them wean when physically ready. Quality of life plummets as tube feeding continues. And why does it continue? Because dietitians and doctors are focused on numbers, rather than the child. They are concerned with milliliters of intake, weight and height percentiles, and not the child’s (or family’s) experience or enjoyment of life. They ignore the absence of the powerful but unmeasurable sensation of hunger, and hyper-focus on the measurable absence or perceived inadequacy of oral eating. What I love about vision therapy is its intrinsic holistic nature. How Dr. T held Stella’s hand and escorted her in, and noticed Stella’s toe-walking upon meeting her. How Bethanie notes even slight changes in Stella’s behavior or demeanor during exercises. How Stella’s vision is not evaluated in a vacuum, detached from her personhood and day-to-day reality. I feel that many areas of medicine, not just ophthalmology, could learn a great deal from this model of care.

Back to Children’s. About thirty-nine people were involved in the eye exam process, so I’m not sure I’ll recall exactly how it went down, but I’ll do my best. I’m going to go ahead and break it down because while mind-meltingly boring to many, it could be helpful to other parents and maybe a practitioner or two. I hope so.

Stella underwent a series of exams, then eye drops to dilate her eyes, then another series of exams. And woven in with the charts and cards and gazing at robotic puppies through many lenses was a series of contradictory statements and findings that I found confusing. At the same time, I did note an effort by the Children’s ophthalmology team to be respectful and thorough. All of that considered, I’m not sure we’ll be going back. I may consult with another ophthalmologist, to at least see how the experience and approach differs.

The initial examiner/assistant declared equal vision in Stella’s eyes. Yay! At 20/40. Boo? This supposedly age-appropriate acuity represented a decrease in her right eye, as it had been 20/30 in her previous ophthalmology exam. This person conducted both the first run at the standard eye chart testing, wherein Stella calls out the pictures/symbols she sees, and teller cards screening. During the latter, Stella saw the lines on all the cards presented, with both eyes! That has to mean something great, doesn’t it? Stella even pointed at the lines, instead of just looking at them. Seemed like she nailed it, but what do I know? Very little, it seems.

In the very exciting component of stereoscopy testing, as it reflects binocular vision or lack thereof, Stella showed real improvement! She not only tried to grasp the fly’s wings, as always, but she saw all three 3D characters on lines A, B, and C. Previously, she’d only indicated seeing the character pop out on line A! I felt like this was a big deal, but the moment felt anti-climactic for some reason. Maybe because there was no reaction from the woman doing the exam so there was no feedback in that moment about the improvement. I wanted a parade! At least some balloons and champagne. Step it up, Children’s!

Then the friendly orthoptist, like a breath of familiar fresh air, breezed in and gushed over Stella’s super adorableness. As I recall her doing at past appointments, she checked and re-checked Stella’s acuity–with particular interest this time, after seeing that it had supposedly changed. She decisively measured acuity of 20/30 for the right and 20/40 for the left, as in all prior ophthalmology appointments. Stella just couldn’t quite get the symbol presented for 20/30 with her left eye, but I really thought she whispered it once out of the three or so attempts. This woman was in tune with Stella’s history and status. She cheered the fact that Stella’s glasses still keep her eyes perfectly aligned at near and far. Because that is big and not to be overlooked! She put a negative lens in front of Stella’s glasses lenses, and discovered that while Stella did pretty well, her alignment did suffer a bit with the lower prescription. So I knew then that Stella’s prescription would probably not be decreasing. A bit disappointing, but not a big deal. In any case, it was reassuring to have someone be extra thoughtful and careful. As always, this orthoptist was delightful, and seemed genuinely invested and interested.

While I can’t guarantee the accuracy of my recollection of the order of events, I believe the eye drops were next. At bedtime the night before, and in the morning prior to our departure, I informed Stella about what was going to happen at the eye doctor–including the tingly eye drops. I explained roughly how and why events would unfold. Maybe that helped, because while she squirmed a bit, there was no yelling, no panic, no crying. Amazing. In short, Stella rocked the entire situation like a rock star who ROCKS. It impressed me, and everyone else, that she handled everything so calmly. Then she cruised through a 30-minute wait while half-watching Dora, impersonating a monkey while climbing chairs, and cracker snacking while making me nervous about insidious hospital germs being transferred into her mouth along with each bite.

Then the moment of truth, I thought. Nope! Another guy came in and looked in Stella’s eyes with that little handheld light, various lenses, and the contraption that looks like an old timey miner helmet combined with a futuristic mind reading device. At one point, he said, “Perfect!” What was perfect? Her posture? Her left cornea? This is how I think, people. Yet I held it in. I didn’t question him, mainly because Stella was shy and uneasy around the dude. So I was focused on her.

Okay, finally! The ophthalmologist came in, on a throne carried by an elephant, and warmly greeted us. She was accompanied by another dude. A student? A new resident? Not sure, but this was clearly a teaching situation. Stella eyed him with suspicion. The doctor casually and quickly delivered what could be considered an “intro,” saying that Stella looks to be doing quite well but needs a prescription change. Cool. I didn’t think too much of it as she proceeded to review the notes a bit and take her own measurements of Stella’s eyeballs. Not long into this consultation, another of the several small but confidence-undermining errors of the morning unfolded. She noted that Stella’s acuity was now equal at 20/40 in both eyes. I was all, “It is? Actually, I’ve heard both–that they’re equal and that they’re not.” So she looked closer at her folder and realized the mistake. This is the problem, I think, with Children’s “team medicine.” On one hand it may be reassuring to have many minds and specialists working on the issue of Stella’s vision, but as with her hospital stay at Children’s for GI and feeding issues, it seems to create confusion as information does not consistently track smoothly from one person to the next, to the next, to the next. Which makes me feel hyper-vigilant, as it’s up to me to prevent disaster. Fun!

This next bit almost seems impossible, so I’m thinking I must have actually misheard her. But here’s what I recall. On the topic of Stella’s unequal but close acuity, she said that everyone has a dominant eye, that many doctors don’t consider it actual amblyopia until there’s a two-line difference, and that Stella’s eyes seem to be working together well, but we may want to consider patching. Huh? We’ve been patching for at least nine months. I cut her off as she continued to say, “We are patching,  two hours a day.” She said something like, “Well, two to three hours of patching a day certainly won’t hurt…” I hope not, because you prescribed it, lady. I really am wondering if my hyper-vigilant self simply cut her off too soon and created this whole mess–so put a big mental asterisk there. She then said that it was up to me, but that we could take a break from patching and see where Stella’s acuity lands in four months, at her next appointment.

This when the doctor acknowledged my point of view as a parent. Nice! She said she knew that patching can be tough and that if it was agonizing, a break might be a really good thing for both of us. With a laugh, she said sometimes parents need patching breaks more than their kids, and besides, she was confident Stella would be just fine even if–worst case–her acuity went down slightly in that time, because Stella is still young and has more time for effective patching. I think I forced a laugh, but I really did like her nod to parental sanity. She also pointed out that if I thought it would be hard to get Stella patching again after the break, I could just continue our two-hour-a-day regimen and we’ll reassess next time. On the surface, these statements seemed 100% delightful. But then they sunk in and I saw their underbelly: a mentality that embraces years and years of unpleasant patching as the sole treatment for amblyopia.

When it comes to the actual examining and measuring, I get the sense that this doctor is very skilled. Efficient, calm, and precise. She asked Stella if she’d be willing to sit out in the waiting room and teach other kids how to cooperate during an exam. I was already very proud of Stella and this comment made me smile. Stella for the win!

At the very end of this saga of an appointment, I didn’t quite follow the reasoning about the prescription. I hadn’t eaten anything. My blood sugar was low while vigilance remained high. Maybe I shouldn’t feel such an impulse to completely understand all the makings of the figures in that glasses prescription grid. Maybe I shouldn’t be noting every comment everyone makes as they do the exams and comparing and slicing and dicing them. Like when the student guy took a turn looking in Stella’s eyes and the doctor told him he’d notice a “duller” something or other, and that was just a downer to hear. Maybe I should just trust that this is the right prescription and no mistakes have been made, no key bits of information overlooked. But dude! It’s not exactly smooth sailing over there! And when it came to the prescription I had a pretty sizable though fleeting misunderstanding.

After measuring, she said she was going to decrease the prescription to allow Stella’s eyes to do some of their own accommodation, which might help us reduce the prescription as she gets older. Surprised, I was all, “Wow, that’s GREAT!” Then she handed me the new prescription, and I stuttered, sadly, “B-but, this looks higher than her c-current prescription.” And I saw in her eyes recognition of my misinterpretation. She paused to look in Stella’s file to find her previous prescription and said, “Ah, yes, this does represent an increase in her prescription from last April.” Then she explained that she was reducing the prescription as measured TODAY. It makes total sense. But when you present a new prescription to a patient, or her mom, shouldn’t you talk about any change and reassure about or explain that change at least somewhat? My confidence wasn’t exactly 1,000% by then based on the other slip-ups, so I started thinking about the doctor’s and orthoptist’s statements that Stella’s eyes are perfectly aligned in her glasses. If they’re aligned, why does she need new glasses? Isn’t that the point of the glasses? Honestly, by then I’d contradicted, questioned, and corrected the doctor a few times already and didn’t want to keep pushing. It was just getting awkward so I let my anxiety start to take over a bit, and I backed off. But now I wish I’d just said it. I wish I’d expressed that lingering doubt, and resolved the issue for my own benefit. For some reason I protected the doctor from further scrutiny. Why I feel the need to shield surgeons from any cutting remarks is a mystery! (Sorry.) Mainly I protected myself from further cringing–I still judge myself to be overly worried at times, and overbearing. I don’t want to create an antagonistic mood wherein people are more likely to make mistakes or be unreceptive to my questions. But I’m Stella’s advocate! It’s up to me to ask all the questions. It’s my job to make sure she gets the best care. This shouldn’t feel like a heavy, overly complicated task, should it?

We had a vision therapy appointment at 5pm that same day. Yep. Our therapist and I thought her eyes would be back to normal by then. Nope! They were still quite dilated, and I had to wake her up from her nap in order to get there on time. Which, duh, is a recipe for sour Tantrum Soup! I expected a tough session and said so to Bethanie, Stella’s vision therapist. I was so wrong. Stella stepped up and knocked it out of the park. We enjoyed tasty Giddy Cooperation Quiche, or something. Bethanie got another heaping helping of Stella’s growing adaptability, sociability and even her hilarious fake evil laughter during the “red light game” in which Stella and Bethanie had great fun together. A delight to behold. We were on top of the world, I tell you! We were invincible! Remember when a regular session of vision therapy resulted in angry desk-clearing? When the yoked prism goggles created an instant bad mood? No more. She wore them agreeably, base-up and base-down, on a balance beam, popping bubbles, reading the letters corresponding with a little moving light, calling out the color of the arrows on a chart while bouncing on a trampoline, and on and on. She did some impromptu victory laps. She said, “I did it!” several times, with glee. How far we’ve come.

In a perfect world, the ophthalmologist’s exam would’ve shown 20/20 (or 20/30) acuity in both of Stella’s eyes. But it’s not quite so simple. The greater context includes minimized toe-walking, dramatically improved peripheral vision, and clearly enhanced stereoscopy. To me, the results of our sojourn with ophthalmology were affirming, like all of the improvements I’ve seen in Stella’s vision throughout the last nine months.

To conclude, a few things I’m looking forward to: Dr. T’s upcoming optometry evaluation and input. Much needed new glasses for Stella as purple tie-dye duct tape is now holding her specs together. A patch-free summer with my vision therapy champion of the world (toddler weight division).

Posted in Appointments, Milestones, Stella's eyes, The Patch, toddler, vision therapy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Prom bomb, un-edited because I’m not sure I can survive re-reading it

Recently, after complaining on Facebook about how a prom-related copywriting project evoked cringe-inducing memories, a friend from across the globe presented something of a dare. He said that if I agreed to write about my prom horror story, he’d share his as well. Kind of like “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” but more revealing. Because actual nudity doesn’t compare to this sort of naked emotional ridiculousness. Of course I accepted the dare, then regretted it, much like 90% of my middle and high school experiences.

The 10% I don’t regret include hilarity with two of my best friends/fellow comics from that time: Alison and Tony. We were obsessed with “Ace Ventura, Pet Detective” and when I say we watched it 300 times, that’s a conservative estimate. I still know the whole film by heart and quote it often, if only in my head. I usually can’t find my keys or phone, for example. And in the midst of one gut-wrenching search for my stupid-ass phone, the phone I’d held in my hands earlier that same morning, intolerable frustration almost swallowed me whole. But Ace was there to rescue me. And so instead of punching myself in the face, I posted my mental dialogue on Facebook:

“Couldn’t find my phone and found myself quoting Ace Ventura. ‘SO FAR… no signs of aquatic life… but I’m going to find it. If I have to tear this universe another black hole, I’m going to find it. Because I’ve… GOT TO, MISTER!’ Sadly dorky, ay? Still love that movie.”

People (including Alison) replied with other quotes and all I could do was hit the “Like” button but I’d have hugged them if I could.

The other component I don’t regret is my basketball career. I also played softball for about a million years, mainly because my mom played softball so it felt like I was carrying the torch. For unknown reasons, I ran cross country, after quitting soccer despite a call from the varsity soccer coach asking me to reconsider, a gesture I blew off so arrogantly that I still wince when I think about it. Despite being a pitcher, albeit who lacked speed and subsisted mainly on a super slow change-up that blew batters’ minds in that no pitch could possibly be that slow and lame, and tying for first place in my inaugural cross country race against snobby Wellesley thanks to a potent mixture of anxiety and adrenaline, I didn’t give a shit about either sport. And in many ways it absolutely showed. Presumably by default, I was captain of three sports and I still feel guilty about that. Because I only had eyes for basketball. The rest of my athletic career amounted to half-assing, filling time, and fulfilling perceived obligations and so-called potential. BORING!

Come to think of it, my entire high school experience amounted to half-assing it. All of it. Sure, I earned straight A’s my freshman year, but by senior year, I had some C’s and a big fat D in the mix. Most of the homework and 99% of the reading I skipped completely. And trust me, this all relates to prom. I’m getting there!

I was unsettled.

It’s the best word I can find to describe myself at the time. Never in the moment. Never truly engaged–except when watching or quoting Ace Ventura because that shit was HILARIOUS. Okay and there were other times with those two aforementioned friends when I was fully alive and engaged. Other times I was an asshole, and less often friends and acquaintances were assholes to me, but some of that unkindness is par for the high school course and part of growing the hell up, yeah? What’s not standard or expected is the debilitating fear and anxiety I carried around with me. The level of aversion I had for any remotely meaningful or potentially real interaction. I was a turtle who recoiled into her GAP-swaddled shell at the threat of any positive or negative emotional engagement. It was all terrifying to me. But I could hit three-pointers, so at least that was something. Basketball kept me going and better yet, it was something I could practice obsessively on my own, without dealing with any pesky people or feelings. Without my jump shot, and those laugh-out-loud good times with Alison and Tony, I may not have made it through. In short, I was a mess.

When I was writing that prom copy I mentioned, I googled around for prom content online to get into the zone. I found some clips for teen movies about prom romance. What always boggled my mind about such films, even back when I was their target, was the ability for the kids to handle their emotions, whether sadness and embarrassment, or happiness and connection. I thought, “Like, how do they just sit there feeling sad? How are they so calm?” Or, “WHAT?! They actually pursued and then kissed the person they actually LIKED? Whoa. WAAAAAAY too intense for me to fathom! Maybe the Celtics are on. Ah, that’s better.”

So my prom experiences were lame in just about every conceivable way. I attended both my junior and senior proms and in essence, I had a date for neither. I may have superficially lamented this fact, but not having a real date was nice and safe and therefore “totally cool” (did we actually used to say stuff like that non-ironically?).

You know what? I’m just going to combine both proms into one. They were fundamentally similar. I didn’t mature at all from one year to the next. In fact, I am still probably six years behind, maturity-wise, so for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say it was one giant prom fail. Then again, when you consider that I was only 11 and 12 years old mentally and emotionally, it’s not as bad. I got my period at the same age as girls in the 1800’s, around the age when a typical modern-day girl gets her driver’s license. I was playing with the neighborhood boys (whom I babysat and would constantly come to our home’s back door and ask my mom, in unison, “Can the girls come out?”) until age 15 or so, long after my younger sisters had abandoned games like war and laser tag. Okay, that doesn’t help at all. Next!

Let’s start this stroll down prom memory lane with a note about the preparations: Tanning, dress shopping, and then, finally, the day-of hairstyling. All were fucking disasters. My skin doesn’t belong anywhere south of Scotland, so it sure as hell didn’t take kindly to fake baking on an accelerated, procrastination-fueled timeline. It’s sad because part of me really believed I could become perfectly bronzed in a single week. But, I persevered and managed to achieve a lush shade of pink in time for the big night.

Dress shopping was a joke. I didn’t have breasts then, and barely do now, so it was like a ten-year-old playing dress-up in a pageant queen’s closet. I carefully chose dresses with wiring to support ample bosoms, and so basically wound up walking around with two empty boob tents on my chest. I simply was not capable of choosing a dress that actually fit me, because that would mean I accepted myself as I was. Hoo boy! I fooled no one. By now I’ve accepted my body. I truly have. But, and this is actually sad and not so hilarious, I absolutely hated it then. I could never stand in a natural, unselfconscious pose, for fear my flatness would be too obvious. This worsened my unsettled nature, my inability to connect authentically with people. It’s hard to really tune in to someone when half of your brain is devoted to devising the perfect positioning in order to conceal your entire upper torso. I absolutely loathed my lack of cleavage, the way I now loathe the idea of healthy women cutting up their bodies to fit loathsome ideals. If a movie was made of my high school experience, it would be “Loathing in Las Natick.” Or possibly, “Dazed, Confused, and Flat-Chested.” This particular insecurity was crippling and resulted in architecturally inappropriate prom dress choices.

The hair. Oh, the hair. The tale of my prom ‘do is wrought with suffering. I had major issues about my hair. At the time, it probably seemed pathological. But the hair-related agony makes sense to my current self, enlightened by time, therapy, old fashioned soul searching, my husband, childbirth, and motherhood. In that order. Hair was something I could control. In my unsettled mind, I’d lost the body lottery. It was crap. I lost big-time there, clearly. So, where could I win? Where did I have some control? My stick straight blond hair! I put an insane amount of pressure on my hair (and to a lesser degree my clothes, which I also obsessed over unhealthily–and pointlessly, as witnessed by many days of wearing all denim and my mom’s too-small shoes), which resulted in a problematic phenomenon of “trying too hard” and therefore “looking like an ass.” I’m going to gloss over the years involving volumes of aerosol hair spray that would make the EPA gasp and curling iron burns on my face. The years when I appeared to have run into a wall at high speed. I’m going to try to focus on my prom hair, but please note that this is just one example of many frightening anecdotes.

I didn’t do a trial run. I showed up a couple hours before the prom started, at what I considered to be a very fancy salon called Paradiso. The exotic name and soft, flattering lighting evoked Hollywood glamor. It was downright chic compared to the place I’d been going throughout childhood, for hair cuts preceded only by a wetting-down with an old spray bottle: Beautyrama. No, I’m not making that up. That was the actual name, and it was nestled within a tiny, ever-unpopular and depressing mall with horrible, un-Paradiso-like lighting, that also contained a Burlington Coat Factory and some looming storefront that I never could identify but based on appearances was an abandoned and looted Sears.

Anyway, I showed up to Paradiso with complete confidence that they would transform me into a better, more beautiful, curly-haired version of myself. A new “me” that could star in a predictable but irresistible teen movie as the awkward, overlooked and/or ridiculed girl whose last-minute makeover transforms her into every guy’s desire just in time for the dance. I left Paradiso with the mental stability of current-day Charlie Sheen.

I didn’t have any direction for the stylist. No opinion or vision. After some unsuccessful attempts to engage me, the woman went to town. And from the moment she picked up her comb, it was an out-of-body experience. Part of me–the part that clung to a sliver of hope that I was not in fact hideous and disfigured, if only my hair could be styled properly–died that late afternoon. With each twist of the curling iron, and each layer (and there were many) of Aqua Net, my fragile but previously marginally optimistic prom spirit crumbled. I walked out of there with what amounts to a large helmet-like crust of hair, an up-do that was sprayed securely into place after sagging and puffing out away from my head, with a single lonely curl on each side of my face–curls that were in no way different from the long side curls, or peyos, seen on male Chasidic Jews as dictated by the Torah. There were no loose, curly wisps common to Hollywood starlets. There were two tight-ass ringlets dangling from my hair spray helmet, framing my (by the time I reached my car) furious, beet-red face. Oh, but my bangs were straight and practically untouched, adding an odd nod to my everyday look (so as not to disorient people with my breathtaking Paradiso hair makeover?) while enhancing opportunities for prom-night ridicule. It was pure magic.

To my credit, I paid in silence, and didn’t unleash my rage until I was in my car. Not until I had driven half a block away did I scream at the top of my lungs while tearing the helmet apart ruthlessly. Like a caged animal. For several minutes I roared, leaving me hoarse. Some portions of the helmet remained intact. Others were left looking like vertical eruptions of frizz, the hair spray not allowing my hair to behave under the normal laws of physics.

Long story short, after a frantic phone call and deep breaths at home, I headed over to Beautyrama to eat crow and endure the spray bottle. I walked out with a style that was eerily similar, but less encrusted. It was awful, but less so, and I only messed with it for an hour before deeming it acceptable. My hopes crushed, I proceeded to don my boob tent dress and Payless shoes.

My date. In both cases, there was someone I should’ve gone with. Okay, I’ll seperate the two years of prom for a moment. The first year, I really liked and wanted to ask a sophomore kid who’d taken me waterskiing. But I actually liked and was very much attracted to him, and he’d told a friend that he’d say “yes” if I asked him, so that meant he was out of the question. I asked and attended prom with another sophomore guy, one that I pretty much regarded as a douchebag. Someone I didn’t even know. Someone who’d casually insulted my hair not long before. He was perfect! I spent very little time with him at the event, which is exactly what my unsettled self wanted. BUT I had a moment of prom-movie inspired weakness. Toward the end of the night, during the one slow dance we indulged in, I put my head on his shoulder. Because why not? It was prom! I didn’t want anything more than that moment with this douchebag. While my head rested there on that rented shoulderpad, I saw him look over to his recent ex-girlfriend, who was dancing with her older date as well, and shrug. They were both clearly horrified. I found out later that evening that they’d gotten back together right before prom. My humiliation in that moment was intense, but private. I don’t think I ever told anyone about it. After all, what did I expect? That kind of emotional distance and awkwardness is exactly what I sought out and secured for myself. Phew!

The following year, Tony asked me to go to the prom and I was an enormous bitch and flat-out turned down his earnest prom proposal. Even though I wanted to say, “Yes! That would be fun!” You see, we were close! In a “We’re such good friends and could very easily be more” kind of way. So, again, he was out of the question. Honestly, in addition to my many other regrets, I’m so sorry for how I treated Tony. I was a scared jerk, and he was very funny and impressively resilient. Functionally, in how the night played out, we were prom dates, anyway. Along with Alison and co., we hung out and laughed and danced together at some point. I actually had fun that year. Boob tents, unsettled mind, and all.

I don’t remember any post-prom activities except one, and I’m not sure whether it took place after my junior or senior prom: Shooting baskets at the gym alone. It’s the only place I felt really comfortable at that time. It sounds sad, but to my 12-year-old (mentally) self at the time, it was where I belonged.

So, there you go, Aadhaar. I’ve risen to your challenge! I did it in one shot. Yes, I lied about having started it earlier, just to reassure you because I felt bad. I’m sorry. But what you see here is the truth. Or at least the highlights of a fuller more boring truth. And if I survive this level of sharing, I will be an emotional rock. So thanks for that.

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The Great Peripheral Awakening of 2011

A few weeks ago,  I noticed a distinct change in Stella’s vision. Bam! It could not have been more obvious if she slapped me across the face and said, “Damn it, mommy woman! My vision is changing! Give me a god damned hug!”

In short, her peripheral vision opened up in dramatic fashion. Last year, when the esotropia hit the amblyopia fan, I would not have even known that Stella’s peripheral vision was limited if not for the input of our developmental optometrist and vision therapist. Our ophthalmologist never made mention of peripheral vision, which is a sizable piece of the pie in terms of how we take in our surroundings. It affects how we feel, not just how we see. Anyway, I suddenly had clear evidence that Stella’s peripheral vision had been turned on or amped up by the yoked prism goggles, or at the very least she became more aware of it and more tuned in to her surroundings.

How did I know? Walks became more stressful for a while. We live in a bustling urban neighborhood. In fact, it’s been declared the dessert capital of Seattle, with quaint cupcake, gelato, ice cream, chocolate, and pie shops all within a couple blocks. Strolls can be highly caloric, though I like to think we break even, what with the ambulatory mode of transport. For a while during this period of visual transition, when we walked along the sidewalk and approached a crosswalk leading to some sort of sweet destination or none in particular, Stella would get very upset. She experienced panic at intersections. At first I didn’t quite get it or its significance, and in my ignorance probably thought, “Yeah, I wish the cupcake place was closer, too! Mommy needs chocolate NOW!” Honestly, her agitation was too high to downplay and her actual reasons became clear quickly. Her anxiety was sparked by cars approaching from the cross street. She reacted as if the cars (moving in our direction on the cross street, so at a perpendicular trajectory, and I should really have my engineer husband proofread this) were coming straight for us. She lacked the common, seemingly natural understanding that vehicles would stop for us if we just waited at the curb. She was downright afraid they would hit us–even if they were a good half a block away. Stella refused to walk all the way up to the curb to wait to cross, she wanted to stay back from the road, so that’s what we did for a while. Until the fear faded away and she found a new “normal.”

Stella simply wasn’t used to being able to see the cars’ motion in her periphery. The difference was clear as day and her reaction was made my heart race. I knew that a sizable shift was taking place. My gut had no doubt that this was a positive development, and that she was simply noticing the previously unnoticeable, but I also felt her visceral fear and desperately sought to soothe and reassure her. The intersections that never bothered Stella before, with the usual rhythm of cars coming and going, were now somehow very different to her. This was around the time that I noticed, during a vision therapy session with the yoked prism goggles, that she was locating letters on the floor without looking directly at them.

As she has time and time again throughout her 2.75 years, Stella adjusted. She learned that this is the way streets and intersections and crossings work. That cars approach but are not actually barreling for us. It wasn’t long before she incorporated this new broader, more inclusive view as normal. Stella now seems less afraid of most things, in fact. She’s been more and more social and talkative, and increasingly adaptable in general. Her babysitter recently marveled at the fact that most of Stella’s talking to her had been echoing, simply repeating what she’d said, but now Stella initiates and offers her own thoughts. The echoing is drastically reduced if not gone for the most part. We recently had company and Stella brought item after item to Cody’s best friend Tom, engaging him excitedly and chatting away. This is new behavior. Part of it may be simple advancements that come with age, but I think just as much is related to her vision. I have other observations to back this up, like her weeks-long fear of playground structures and other kids on said structures. That’s gone, too, and its disappearance coincided with what I’m calling, as you can no doubt guess having read my witty subject line, “The Great Peripheral Awakening of 2011.” If only the United States’ financial industry could follow suit.

Life is less stressful and more secure when you are aware of your surroundings, I imagine. To me, nothing feels better than seeing her happy. To witness her blooming into this more engaging, engaged, often fearless kid.

Like many people with esotropia, her vision has been focused centrally–like tunnel vision to some degree. We’ve done vision therapy for almost nine months now, and have devoted many recent weeks to use of the yoked prism goggles (20 minutes a day at home, with 10 of those base up and 10 base down) to open up her field of vision. Vision therapy, including our goggle time, will likely end in a few weeks. This Friday, Stella will have an exam with our opthalmologist, and a couple weeks later we’ll head in to Alderwood Vision Therapy see our developmental optometrist, Dr. T, for a progress evaluation. This is a crossroads. I’m still nervous about her amblyopia, and about whether her prescription will increase. But I’ve seen real progress that can’t be denied, including the minimizing of her toe-walking. I’ve been amazed on a weekly basis by the thoughtful, individualized approach and powerful yet nuanced, seemingly subtle but life-changing, results of vision therapy.

It’s been one hell of an eye-opening journey! (You didn’t think I’d given up terrible vision-related puns, did you?) When I look back, I’ve been most struck by my sharp yet sweet two-year-old Stella and her ability to adapt to a new way of seeing the world, a place that to her now feels wider and more welcoming.

Posted in Stella's eyes, toddler, vision therapy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

And now, a not-so-special message from Elecare

Two words: Marketing fail! I recently received the following (clearly heartfelt) email from a representative of Elecare.

Dear Amber,

I’ve been following your blog and have enjoyed keeping up with your notes about Stella.  I’m glad to see that EleCare®* has been helpful, and I’d love to hear more of your story.

What was your journey with Stella? Share your experiences and success story at https://elecare.com/share-your-story or email me. Your story could help other families enjoy more and worry less. You can read some of their stories on the EleCare site at http://elecare.com/ever-after.

I’d also like to offer you a 1-time discount code for 20% off an EleCare purchase.** Just enter Q23LXDFPT when checking out at http://AbbottStore.com to save. And if you have a friend who received a doctor recommendation for EleCare, they can use discount code15NEW to get 15% off their 1st order: http://AbbottStore.com/first-order-savings/page/save15percentoff/

Finally, I wanted to let you know that we’ve recently added delicious recipes and ways for your child to enjoy EleCare to the site http://abbottnutrition.com/elecare-recipes  I’d love to hear which is Stella’s favorite.

Best,

Anna @EleCare

http://elecare.com

http://www.AbbottStore.com/therapeutic-nutrition/elecare+reg/icat/elecare

*EleCare should be used under medical supervision.  **Discount only redeemable at AbbottStore.com, not redeemable for cash or equivalent, good only in U.S.A., cannot be combined with other offers/ promotions, no adjustments to prior purchases, not applicable to employees of Abbott Laboratories.”

So let me get this straight, “Anna @Elecare.” You say you’ve been following my blog, but judging by your vacuous email and its questions, you clearly have not read any of it, except maybe the part where your keyword search highlighted the word “Elecare.” You want me to share our painful and eventually triumphant feeding journey–all that hard-earned wisdom–with you so as to provide free content, another “success story,” for your website. And in exchange for my time and energy and sharing, you’ll give me a “1-time discount code for 20% off an EleCare purchase” for my almost-three-year-old who, as my blog states in several entries, was weaned off of Elecare about two years ago.

This email is insulting because it lies in order to feign connection with me, and because it seriously devalues my time and experiences.

You’d love to hear more of my story? Our feeding saga is laid out here in its entirety. If you followed this blog, as you say you do, you’d know that. You’d also know that my hobbies include ripping apart stupid copy. So, please don’t be shocked at my delight in telling you how much your message and approach sucked.

Of course, Elecare was an important part of my daughter’s recovery. Its hypoallergenic calories allowed her gut to heal, after major damage caused by my breast milk (I’ll take this opportunity to say RIP to my 500 ounces of pumped, frozen milk that became landfill). By taking away Stella’s pain, Elecare helped end her feeding aversion. While I support breastfeeding and wished to have done it for much longer, I have nothing against formula. To be honest, my journey made me realize that what is truly unhealthy are the over-the-top delusions and divisive piousness about breastfeeding, because if I had listened to certain voices and adhered to the “breastfeed at all costs” message that is so prevalent in circles like mine, Stella would’ve been in much, much, much bigger trouble. So, dude! I was in your corner! I could’ve been a good ally to you, Anna/Elecare. But instead, you just pissed me off with your manufactured email marketing bullshit, and the lame attempt to pass it off as a genuine, individualized communication. The moms you call customers deserve more respect.

How’s this “note” working for you? Honestly, who calls blog posts “notes?” No one with a pulse. Do robots (or Vice Presidents of Marketing who think they are creative) write your boring-ass copy?

From a former online marketing manager turned advertising copywriter/mother of a baby who had a feeding issue requiring your product, in a breathless, indignant, old-timey voice: For shame!

Posted in Commentary and whatnot, copy qualms | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Artist, and goggles, at work

Artist at work, wearing yoked prism goggles

Vision therapy? Art therapy? Either way, we're winning.

Stella’s Easter basket included a sweet set of watercolors and accompanying pad of paper. She’s used them every day so far, at her request, and as it so engages her, I’ve been putting the goggles on her while she paints. We’re starting to branch out, no longer limited to the brush that was included with the set. Fingers, Q-tips, and other brushes and random household items are coming into creative play. Relatedly, today’s “watercolor goggle time” turned into “manic sprinting while tossing cotton balls all over the place goggle time.”

Currently, Stella’s only at-home vision therapy exercise is to wear the yoked prism goggles, base-down, for a minimum of 20-30 minutes per day. It’s going very well! The first couple days wearing them at home, she took them off after five minutes and I didn’t push her to do more. I figured she’d adjust, and she did. Voila! Less than a week later, 20 to 30 minutes (or even a bit more) are flying by and I don’t have to work so hard to keep her busy and entertained during goggle time. Plus, I could fill a gallery with her prism-goggle-influenced masterpieces! Naturally, I’m accepting bids starting at $500. GO!

Nest

When asked about her inspiration, Stella said, "I made a nest for birdies!" Sure, it's a nest, but the underlying narrative taps into Americans' current longing for security and "re-connection" with nature. Brilliant work.

Untitled. Stella's first foray into watercolors, on Easter Sunday. On the surface, it's a tribute to the joys of spring and candy, but underneath, there's a deeply conflicted expression of the promise and peril of modern childhood. Stunning.

Posted in Stella's eyes, toddler, vision therapy | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quick VT note: TLC for Stella’s transitioning toes.

Stella’s toes are starting to relax. The yoked prism goggles continue to benefit her, but it’s created a small, surprising side effect. Turns out, her toes have been clenched so consistently for so long that the skin is actually having to stretch out as her toes extend outward. There are now raw, sometimes bloody cracks on the bottom of her toes in the incredibly deep creases that formed where her toes folded and curled over. Her right foot is more affected and cracked. I’ve actually noticed that when walking, her right foot is more consistently flat than her left, which has just a slight bit more reliance on her toes still, though both feet have clearly improved. Stella’s brain is figuring it all out, and it’s fascinating to watch. Well, almost as fascinating as watching her attempt to unwrap and quickly devour a foil-wrapped chocolate chick this morning. Only Kevin Garnett of my beloved Celtics can match that level of intensity.

I’m making sure antibiotic ointment is liberally applied and socks are worn when she is up and about. With those two pieces in place, she’s fine. Otherwise, it’s painful and she limps over to tell me her feet hurt. I apply a thick layer of “booboo cream,” usually tickling her in the process. Then all is well.

Those little piggies have been tasked with gripping the ground tightly in an effort to keep Stella up high. As previously explained, she was positioning her body in a way that made sense for her visual field. The goggles are helping re-wire her brain and create a more accurate map of her environment and her relation to it, spatially. Ten tiny toes have carried much of her weight for most of her walking life! Through vision therapy, her toe-walking is dissipating. When she runs I hear her feet slap the sidewalk. It makes me smile. I’m thinking about making it my ringtone.

And hooray! We currently have a pair of the goggles checked out for use at home, and she’s doing very well as she ramps up to wearing them in the base-down position for 20-30 minutes a day, minimum. She doesn’t mind them so much but still prefers close-up activities for now. Like unwrapping rare bits of candy or making play-dough Easter cookies.

For now, I await the healing of those little wounds as Stella’s toes delegate responsibilities to the rest of her foot. I’m constantly noting positive changes in Stella, including a heightened awareness of her periphery, which I’ll talk about here soon. But most of all, I relish the small but big changes that unfold as her vision therapy enters what looks to be its final phase.

Happy Easter, everyone! I wish you jelly beans in only your favorite flavors, and happy relaxation from head to toe.

Posted in Milestones, Stella's eyes, toddler, vision therapy | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Another copy qualm (little girls as decor)

That anxiety-inducing daily deal site I recently mentioned has done it again.

Being a copywriter myself, you’d think I’d avoid tearing apart some other copywriter’s work. But apparently that is not the case. I’ve written for many fabulous clients but I’ve also written passionate, emotive copy about cat-themed chip clips and Cinnabon. So I’m not above this. Besides, my copy has been crapped on, too. In fact, it’s probably happening right now. Some Godforsaken banner ad on the outer edge of the internet is offending someone due to its excessive enthusiasm about small business phone systems and it’s all my fault! Plus, the writer of the copy I’m about to share is just following the messaging points dictated in a creative brief, and using the tone mandated in a company’s style guide. All of that is out of the writer’s control. So this is really a critique of the company, and advertising in general, as opposed to an attack on a lone copywriter. I’ve been where this person is but have still managed to enjoy this line of work, overall. And I honestly hope that this person can say the same. Despite having to write about magical dresses that attract butterflies, ice cream cones (perhaps) and cupcake-excreting unicorns (definitely).

So. The copy below, promoting yet another must-have summer dress that has supposedly been “marked down” to the jaw-dropping low price of $19.99, induced an eye roll so huge and swift, I strained my corneas and ruptured an eye brow.

“She is the embodiment of summer and all the joys warm weather brings when she dons this cheerful dress. With its tiers of ruffles she’s sure to be the centerpiece of every family picnic this summer. The soft material with a bit of stretch lets her move about freely as she reaches for another slice of watermelon. Dress features a keyhole button closure in the back.”

Okay. It starts off with a bit of overly dramatic flair pushing the “summer” message. Fair enough. I’m sure some parents really do expect their daughters to carry an entire season on their backs and, with it, the responsibility to deliver its fleeting joys. Fine. But here’s the kicker–joy and summer are only evoked “when she dons” this pile of ruffles. Otherwise, she’s not summer-y at all. Wearing, say, un-frilly shorts and a tank top, she evokes a cold, joyless and androgynous wasteland, therefore letting everyone down. EVERYONE!

“The centerpiece of every family picnic this summer?” What? I’m picturing a blond pony-tailed four-year-old stationed in the middle of a picnic blanket, family fun and chaos unfolding around her while she remains motionless with palms up. A human napkin holder. It’s this little girl’s job to look good, and give visual cues to help set the tone of the gathering. “What are we celebrating? Oh wait–Susie’s wearing puffy pastels. Happy Easter!” It’s all about what the kid wears. “Susie! Tone down the personality, put on this dress and be a star!”

And the crown jewel in this toddler tiara: “The soft material with a bit of stretch lets her move about freely as she reaches for another slice of watermelon.” Really? Really? We have to point out that this sleeveless summer dress, as opposed to the restrictive petticoats, corsets and straight jackets normally worn by little girls in 2011, allows her to move about freely? And they’re not talking about the extra movement required for soccer or even tag, they’re talking about grabbing a piece of fruit. Because that’s as active as little girls get. Judging from this copy, I’m guessing that normally, little Ella would be wearing fabric with no stretch whatsoever, like upholstery or a fine blend of steel wool and platinum. She typically asks her mobile, cotton-clad brother to fetch the watermelon and place it directly into her mouth. But what a treat! In this frock, she can go get it herself. A sweet little taste of freedom! Assuming she has energy left over, you know, after centerpiece duty.

Posted in Commentary and whatnot, copy qualms, toddler | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Stella’s Easter Basket, with a side of drug-addicted squirrel

Easter preparations, simple fun, squirrel frustration

Easter preparations, simple fun, squirrel frustration

Easter has already been a source of fun! We hung eggs on the magnolia tree out back. Stella really got into the activity, but that was just the start. Each day, we’ve watched squirrels do battle with our cheap Easter ornaments. Comedy gold! Picture a determined, acrobatic squirrel, with that signature manic energy, suspended from a branch by one paw and whacking at a neon orange plastic egg with the other. (Reminded me of outlandish Japanese game shows or American reality shows wherein contestants eagerly undertake ridiculously humiliating and futile physical challenges for some dumb prize.) You’d think he was a weird little monkey on crack! The egg swings back, smacks him in the face causing a loss of balance and total freak-out, jostling the tree like crazy. All the eggs are dancing and flying but that little guy won’t give up and ends up hanging by a toe while frantically nibbling on the egg (no squirrel has succeeded in eating any delicious plastic, of course). During a visit, Stella’s grandmother–my mother-in-law, who has a mischievous side that I find very endearing–put peanut butter on the eggs and that sent the squirrels into overdrive because they actually got something out of it! Stella has laughed so fully and joyfully at these performances, giving my 99-cent purchase a better return than any other investment I’ve ever made–especially Boeing stock. I trust you won’t tell PETA about our enjoyment of squirrel humiliation, but will instead focus on our festive spirit.

For Stella’s first Easter basket and backyard egg hunt, here is what I’m thinking. And I’d LOVE to hear your ideas! Especially if they allow me to somehow mess with squirrels’ heads.

Art supplies like rubber stamps and and ink pad (!).. she would go crazy for this–you should see how patiently she waits for her gymnastics instructor to stamp her feet and hands at the end of class… or paints (we are running low), or those crayons that are shaped like animals and other things.

Candy, carefully selected for quality and whimsy (with no artificial colors or ingredients–sorry, I just won’t have it!)… probably a lollipop, a chocolate bunny, a couple fruit leathers (cut up into shapes and put into a little bag with a bow, maybe?), a limited quantity of jelly beans.

Sheets of stickers… can go right in her basket, and I will probably cut some special individual stickers out from the sheets and put them in the eggs.

Flower seeds… she might really love the idea, and seeing them grow, though I am not sure I can nurture them past a couple inches tall (failed last year!)

A fun new toothbrush… she needs one and seems to really enjoy them so why not?

One or two classic books involving rabbits and whatnot.

Bubbles!

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Happy Stella progresses with yoked prism goggles and vision therapy

As spring arrived, Stella turned a corner and found herself in a sunnier place. I’m soaking it up, people.

All of a sudden, she seems more social. Of course she’s still shy in some situations, but lately, nothing really seems out of the ordinary for her age. At the playground last week, she complimented an 24-month-old-ish boy on his jacket, pants and shoes. And just between you and me, they were nothing special so you know she was being extra sweet and friendly. (The kid looked back at her and said, “I’m tall.”) The kicker occurred last night when she collaborated with her best buddy and longstanding weekly playdate on an imaginary meal, using her play kitchen set and some dried beans and dry uncooked pasta. They collaborated for at least half an hour and afterward I offered to fund their start-up catering business. They worked as a true team, such that Cody and I felt totally inadequate by comparison. Seasoning with salt and pepper, providing Cody and me with plates and everything we needed to properly enjoy their feast, blowing on our food so it wasn’t too hot, and more–they were on top of everything and both contributed equally and without conflict. She said, “Okay, dinner’s ready!” inflecting just as I do.  Her friend took the pan out of the oven only to pronounce, “It needs a few more minutes.” No problem! They both went back to adjust the heat, open the oven, season it again, etc. They’ve always gotten along but there is a whole new level of interaction going on now. All around, Stella’s opening up to new people and new situations. Coincidentally, my shoulders are more relaxed. I’m probably more social, and less worried, too.

She’s growing so tall, that some 3T clothing is too short (to be exact without using the much-maligned months method of age accounting, she’s 2 and 2/3). Her language has undergone its own growth spurt, such that her sentences are suddenly more fleshed out and descriptive and specific. Less toddler-ese, more kid-ish. New molars have just broken through. She’s having fun with her new/first babysitter–adjusting to the situation much more quickly and happily than I dared dream. At-home vision therapy has been pretty darn smooth. Without really looking for this, I’ve noticed her new comfort with catching and hitting a balloon from above. Not long ago, she avoided this like H1N1 and now does it on her own, just for kicks. You know, tossing it up as high as she can and then catching or hitting it up there again. I’ve been very impressed and encouraged. Stella is thriving and woven in with her development, I see the benefits of vision therapy.

Up at the office, Alderwood Vision Therapy Center (for the record, we are paying clients and not being paid to promote them–so be cool, be cool), she’s been much more agreeable and engaged. I’m sure her recent developmental gains have something to do with it, but much credit goes to our vision therapist, Bethanie, for suggesting that we move the in-office therapy later in the day. It has made a remarkable difference. Later is so clearly better that we all agreed to cancel our standing morning slot and take whatever later time comes up each week. No later slots are open, so we have to hope for a cancellation. If nothing comes up, they told us to just skip it instead of taking our old time. That should tell you how rocky it was in the morning. What a relief! I felt like cracking open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot then and there, and toasting the end of a decidedly cranky era.

For a few sessions now, Stella’s been wearing the yoked prism goggles for 30+ minutes at a time! Walking across balance beams, making bead necklaces following a pattern, catching and bouncing balls, and jumping on trampolines while identifying letters or colors on a chart. All that and a lot more, while wearing those goggles. It used to be a challenge to get her to wear them for five minutes.

Though, I’ll admit it’s getting a bit trickier. Stella has shown that she likes and will tolerate the goggles in the base down position, so we need to switch things up on her. The goal is for Stella’s brain to learn to adjust to the input from the goggles–regardless of the lenses’ position. Stella will be done with them when, no matter where the lenses are pointed, she’s comfortable and not thrown for a loop. A couple appointments ago, after a long stretch with the lenses base down, Bethanie switched them to be base up. As if we’d flipped a switch, Stella’s whole demeanor and attitude crashed immediately. It upset her deeply. She became a different person! These are difficult moments for both of us. I struggle with them emotionally, but also find large clues about Stella’s vision.

When the goggles are base down, notorious toe-walker Stella walks flat–the stronger the prisms, the more pronounced the effect. Base down, which she so clearly prefers as made obvious by her cheerful demeanor, her peripheral vision is greatly amplified. In one exercise, letter puzzle pieces were scattered all over the office floor. Wearing the base-down goggles, Stella scanned the floor and found letters as they were called out by Bethanie, then placed them in the puzzle. I noticed that Stella was finding letters to her side–without having to look directly at them! With her searching gaze directed in front of her, she identified and found letters off to her side. So subtle, yet incredible.

After Stella’s brain has had time to adjust to the base-down position, Bethanie now switches them to the base-up position, which (at least in my experience trying the goggles on) lifts and tightens the visual field. It limited my peripheral vision. While not upsetting to me, it felt a bit like being in a tunnel. After the change, Stella’s brain is forced to adapt–to figure out for itself how to map out the periphery. This is HARD for Stella. Which is why I’m so proud of the progress she made in only two sessions. The first time Bethanie went from base-down to base-up, as I explained above, Stella completely freaked out and wanted them OFF. She did wear them for a couple of minutes that time, doing a familiar stacking puzzle in a secluded corner. We realized she was averse to being in the open with the base-up lenses, she wanted to be lower to the ground, and near tasks were more tolerable. In essence, she preferred places and activities that felt more secure, to counter the insecure feeling imparted by the base-up goggles. We didn’t push her, and moved on quickly. But those few moments were telling, and there was even some therapeutic benefit derived. Because the next time, her reaction was less explosive. While still showing dislike of the base-up position, she tolerated it longer and walked across the balance beam a few times! This is how vision therapy moves forward, step by step, over layers of small revelations. And in Stella’s case, mouse sticker after flower sticker, like stepping stones in a river of chocolate milk. Yes, completely unpoetic, but for toddlers, tiny rewards hold epic sway. And honestly, Stella earns them.

Speaking of sway (“controlling influence” not “middle school slow dancing”), the lure of marbles is very powerful with Stella right now, and I casually mentioned this to Bethanie. We paint with them, and play all manner of rolling games with them. So during that second base-down to base-up experience, she invited Stella to collect a marble from me on one end of the beam and walk on the beam to the other side and deliver it to a Frisbee Bethanie held, which she would then move so the marbles raced around the edge. Stella did so a few times before bailing and removing the goggles. Again, the time before, Stella wouldn’t go near the balance beam with base-up lenses, and would instead throw herself on the ground and rip off the goggles pronto. I’m going to start taping segments of her therapy and at the end, put together the most inspiring montage since Rocky. I’m taking soundtrack suggestions, so please do chime in.

Because it’s still a challenge, and because the goggles are proving to be powerful and beneficial for Stella, Dr. Torgerson is arranging for a pair of yoked prism goggles for us to check out and use at home. Holla! I’m thrilled. This is going to be good for Stella, as we can take some of the pressure off. She can wear them here and there, as opposed to having all hopes resting on the in-office goggle work. Bethanie and I will work together figure out how to make this process as comfortable yet potent as possible. Hey, so maybe Cooper and Stella aren’t the only dynamic duo in town. Though, Stella is turning out to be one hell of a teammate. She and I may take the collaboratively baked cake, if I do say so myself.

You know, spring is here, but Stella’s been so delightful I hardly noticed.

Posted in Stella's eyes, toddler, vision therapy | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments