The eyes don’t have it.

I’ve always been proud of my perfect vision. I’ve bragged about it openly, and came to appreciate it even more after Stella’s visual challenges revealed the complexity and wonder of human eyesight. “I’m so lucky and blessed,” I thought, darting my hawk eyes around to appreciate my crystal clear view of life. Turns out it’s not that simple. News flash: My vision is decidedly imperfect. And if I hadn’t been so blinded by pride, perhaps, I would’ve realized it a lot sooner. But the realization didn’t come until Stella’s in-office vision therapy session today.

If you saw one of my recent posts at Little Four Eyes, you know about Stella’s experience with the quoits vectogram and how it showed that she can see in 3D! Well, today we did the same exercise, with a twist, and it showed that while Stella has a decent amount of stereoscopy, she has a hard time recovering 3D vision if the therapist “breaks” the illusion and then brings the sheets back into place for stereoscopic viewing. It takes Stella a long time to re-fuse the images after briefly losing fusion. It’s something we can work on, and greatly improve, according to our vision therapist. I feel confident that Stella will overcome this issue, and it helps that Stella was a rock star during vision therapy today. Her hand-eye coordination has come so very far. You should have seen her throwing beanbags into squares, tracking fluffy bumblebees, honing in on moving light-up targets, and stringing beads onto wobbly string! A thing of beauty, I tell you! Because of her improvement in this area, I’m now to shift our at-home vision therapy efforts toward making her eyes work across longer distances. Don’t ask me how I’ll capture her attention across the room. At times, I can barely achieve this with my face directly in hers. A way will be found, after much frustration and shouting in a chipper voice and bribing with chocolate chips. Or whatever.

At the end of today’s session, in an effort to help me understand the quoits vectogram, Stella’s vision therapist let me put on the polarized glasses and do the exercise myself. Drum roll, please… My performance was shockingly poor! And you know, I could tell before the therapist said a word. During the exercise, I sensed that it was taking my eyes (brain?) a long time to fuse the images. Simply put, it was difficult. “Maybe I have a vision problem,” I thought out loud, barely believing my plainly less-than-perfect eyes. According to the vision therapist, Stella actually performed better than me on the initial fusing of the rope circles! It took me longer! It seems I suppress input from one of my eyes when challenged to track closer objects and movement, but my eyes don’t cross the way Stella’s do. I’m guessing that’s because I don’t have Stella’s farsightedness, which puts extra stress on her eyes.

I was in shock! Sort of. But then I thought about a few incidents, and the testing results made sense. When I was in middle school, I tried refereeing a little kids’ soccer game. Fresh air, sunshine, control over younger humans–it seemed like the perfect way to earn money! But I forgot to add “barrage of insults” to the list of perks. The parents hated me, and heckled me like Red Sox fans at a Yankees game. It. Was. Brutal. They were a-holes, yes. But they weren’t wrong that I sucked. I absolutely could not follow the action close enough to make calls. Apparently, as the parents of one team made painfully clear, one kid was checking everyone else constantly. Oh I tried. But no matter how close I got or how hard I tried to lock my eyes on him, I just could not see what the parents were seeing. I couldn’t follow along, couldn’t catch the little movements. In a way, I felt blind. Clueless. Didn’t help that the parents turned me into their punching bag–that doesn’t tend to sharpen performance, you know? I still fume when I think about that, and if I could rewind my life and go back to that fall morning, I’d handle the scenario soooooo much differently. It would’ve involved a string of obscenities and several disturbing gestures. Perhaps assault with a deadly whistle. Nothing those kids didn’t see at home with their wildebeest parents, I’m sure.

Come to think of it, the same tracking issue plagued me during my sports career. Basketball was my passion, but I played pretty much on instinct and with general, big-picture court awareness. I swear that I never actually looked at anything in particular. I didn’t look at the basket when I shot, I didn’t look at the ball directly as I caught it. I didn’t look at my receiver when making a pass. Never actually even saw specific people in front of me while running a play as my high school team’s point guard. It worked out okay, but I was limited. I always wondered why I couldn’t get to the next level and become a really savvy, strategic player. I had the feeling that there was a deeper level of the game I couldn’t access, and it was frustrating. My husband doesn’t have that problem. He’s a fantastic, very tuned-in point guard who can watch individual players and movement and see the small details within the flow of the game. All I had was a very general sense of what was going on. Even though my eyesight has always been 20/20, somehow, it was foggy.

I now hope that, when all is said and done, and vision therapy and patching and early childhood are behind us, Stella will wind up with better vision than me. With her glasses, anyway. I couldn’t be happier (or prouder) about that possibility.

Excuse me while I go schedule an eye exam. For me. How refreshing.




What would my mom and Kevin Garnett do?

I remember one day, having been home from college for a brief stint, my mother, who is a pretty wonderful kick-ass character, sensed that I was not doing so well. She drove me back to school, and as I reluctantly got out of the car, she suddenly put her hand on my arm and said, very seriously, “Don’t take crap from anybody.” I smiled all the way back to my dorm.

It looks as though I won’t need to give Stella this important lesson. Not any time soon, at least.

This is the child who decided she’d really rather not eat. At all. With each vehement refusal, I came to see just who I was dealing with. “No, thank you, mother. I’ve decided that eating is not in my best interest. Take your boob and shove it. The bottle can kiss my ass. Back off!” She was trying to tell me something and found a very effective way to get her message across. She would not back down. However frustrated and desperate I became, I respected her immensely.

She is a good eater and a toddler now. And she is starting to throw tantrums. Real tantrums. Formidable fits. She tosses herself with abandon. Cody calls them “trust falls,” and they’re not always done in times of anger or frustration, but she will throw her entire body on the ground, apparently expecting you to catch her, no matter where you happen to be at that moment. She will scream as if being physically attacked in the event that–God forbid–you don’t hand her that snack, piece of trash, or whatever it is that she wants immediately.

Frustration pose: Exhibit A

Rare photograph of Stella's frustration pose

For months, Stella would occasionally strike a very alarming pose. She balled up her fists tightly, stuck her arms straight out, made “crazy eyes” and clenched her jaw with all her might. This would last just for a couple of seconds, and then pass, leaving us bemused and mildly disturbed–she was obviously upset but we had no idea why. Many other parents had not witnessed such behavior in their babies. I now know that she did this because she wanted something but had absolutely no way of communicating to us the object of her desire. Stella has always known what she wants (and doesn’t want). This expression decreased in frequency when she began to point, a development that I savored because she would actually point to food she wanted to eat. It made me cry. I was so happy.

Anyway, last week, we went to the park. She would not let go of her beloved Snack Trap, so I let her walk around the playground with it. Now, my gut told me that this was a bad idea. She could fall and she might wind up with the handle in her eye. It might distract her and she may be more likely to run into something or someone. Or, it could set off World War III. Which it did.

A very friendly, smiley young lady, who had to be around 18 months of age, sauntered up to Stella in, as you’d expect, a very friendly, smiley fashion. She then gently, and I mean gently, reached for Stella’s snack trap. Stella took a step back. The girl then lunged for the goods, managing to stick a couple fingers into the cup’s opening–and as she did so, Stella yelled, clearly agitated. But she stayed put. The girl’s father and I tensed up slightly and moved closer to them, not sure how exactly to handle this but realizing that diplomatic intervention would likely be required.

He said something like, “That’s not yours, sweetie. You can’t take other people’s snacks.” She ignored that wise counsel, as warring factions often do, lured by the catnip-for-toddlers appeal of the Snack Trap, and lunged again. This time, Stella actually stepped toward the girl, and held her off with her free hand while screaming and violently waving the cup high over her head. It was so intense! And actually, rather impressive. It reminded me of basketball. A street game. And Stella was somehow a center, about to dunk on this girl’s head and then do something like this. The girl’s father smiled and said, “There  you go!” as if pleased that Stella had taken such decisive action.

This stand-off highlights for me that gray area that new parents struggle with. Should I have encouraged Stella to share? Stella is good at sharing. She spends most of her day handing things to people. But do I want other kids’ hands in her food? And aren’t we supposed to teach boundaries? These questions became more urgent a few days later, when a kiss-happy boy planted several smooches on Stella. The incident escalated to the point where his mouth was over Stella’s nose, and left it covered in saliva. Yeah. All I could think/say the whole time (nervously, with the pitch inching ever higher) was , “Um… um… um… um…” Stella didn’t react. At all. But I was sorta horrified. I expected the parent to reign the kid in, but that never happened. I understand not wanting to discourage such loving behavior, but isn’t there a limit?

This happens a lot. I guess it’s just part of being a toddler and enjoying that brief time in your life when you can walk up to total strangers and tongue them, rob them, share their food–all without saying a word, and it’s pretty much business as usual. Not cause for imprisonment or restraining orders.  We were at Seattle Children’s Hospital recently, waiting for Stella’s foll0w-up renal ultrasound a few weeks ago (it came back looking good, by the way–really more of a formality than anything). She was enjoying a snack in her stroller when a happy little boy came up and put his hands on Stella’s face. I wasn’t sure what to do. Oh they fool you with their glowing sweet faces and then BAM! Germ attack! I waited for his mother–standing right behind him–to intervene, but she did not. The kid then put his hand in Stella’s mouth, his fingers covered in her chewed up cracker. His mother did not do a thing. Again, we were at Children’s Hospital, a place were germs loom like deformed monsters! I did my best to brush it off because that mom looked like a depressed zombie. She was there for a reason… and it may’ve been a devastating one. I cut her some slack. What else was I going to do?

These days, Stella seems to know exactly where to draw the line, but I’m often not so sure. I want to heed my mother’s advice. I don’t want to permit misbehavior on Stella’s part, but she is too little to understand real discipline. I also don’t want either of us to take “crap” from anybody, but I don’t want to stifle Stella or instill mistrust and fear. I certainly don’t want my anxiety to rub off on her. It’s a balancing act. Balance isn’t exactly my strong suit but I’m working on it.

The next time Stella throws herself on the ground, I can, at the very least, admire her n0-holds-barred decisiveness. Her Kevin-Garnett-like intensity. It’s interesting. On the court, I was a guard, but it looks like Stella is more comfortable in the paint. Have I mentioned that she is now in the 90th percentile for height? I know, I know! Stop getting my hopes up about basketball! Tutus are ahead! Princesses, pixies and fairies. Oh my god–and pink fairy princesses in tutus sprinkling purple glitter pixie dust!

All I know for sure is that she’s got guts, that kid. And I love her all the more for it.

Let the games begin!

Having a ball. The belle of the ball. Insert other, non-offensive ball metaphors here.

Having a ball. The belle of the ball.

Stella’s father (Cody) and I met playing basketball. He was one of two men on our team, and ours was the only team in the league with women. Yep, it was a men’s league and we bitches crashed the party. They were GUYS, and even though most of us played some college ball (granted, division three) and most of them probably rocked JV in high school, they naturally assumed we were a joke and–holy shitballs–were they wrong. We won the league championship and I put that accomplishment right up there with Stella’s 32-hour unmedicated birth, and while we’re at it I have to throw in my leading the Bay State League in scoring my senior year in high school–I still  don’t know how that happened. It doesn’t make sense at all, except that I filled in any lack of social life with constant shooting practice at the outdoor court at Weston High School, usually surrounded by very impressed ten-year-old boys and their parents. And that was all the male attention I needed, thank you very much.

I can admit that, while Stella has not yet entered single digits, I’ve been trying to deny my desire for her to enjoy (okay, fall head-over-heels-in-love with) basketball. I’m trying to keep it at bay or at least on a simmer, but it’s like buying a bag of Kettle Chips the size of a suitcase, because it’s a much better deal than the individual serving bag, and besides, it’ll last you a couple weeks because you will only eat a handful a day with lunch, and then an hour later the bag is completely empty, not even crumbs are left, and your cube smells like salt-and-vinegar burps, CODY. I can’t help it. I love basketball. It was at or near the center of my world all the way from middle school through my early 20’s. When, in middle school, my friends were developing obsessions with NKOTB and attending Marky Mark concerts, I was cultivating an unhealthy attachment to the Boston Celtics, watching their games instead of doing homework and plastering my walls with posters of Larry Bird, and then Reggie Lewis.

I’m trying hard not to label Stella. But for the love of all things sporty, she sure seems like an athlete to me. The toy that makes her eyes most sparkly and bright is a ball (followed closely by books: STUDENT ATHLETE, anyone?). It is green with blue polka dots and very bouncy and by far her favorite *thing*, and she’s been playing catch–no, really, I mean throwing the ball to you and waiting for you to roll it back and throwing it to you again and so on–for a good five months now. She’s strong as an ox, lean and muscular and solid. She’s fast. She loves the water, and will actually try to swim if you let her. She thinks the shallow end of the wading pool is crap, preferring to (attempt to) take rafts and beach balls away from the rambunctious eight-year-old boys in the deep(er) end. Splash her in the face–she’ll laugh and splash you right back. She never, ever stops moving–in fact, she’s been very squirmy since birth, by six weeks could hold her head up for long periods of time as she was desperate to look around and find someone to yell at because boy, did her little cow’s-milk-protein-intolerant tummy hurt with the pound of cheese I ignorantly ate at every meal. (Yep, I’m even proud of her neck strength.) She was never content to sit around, which is exactly what have I wanted to do since I became pregnant and especially after giving birth.

Her walk is really more of an easy yet brisk jog. She runs up and down the hill at the park and if during her ascent she falls, she’ll steady herself and then use the grass to pull herself back up and continue with dogged determination. During descents, I usually offer my hand (she accepts when on very uneven surfaces like giant boulders or flowing lava) because the sight of her running down an steep-ish incline is nerve-wracking. But she doesn’t take my hand, and she doesn’t fall. So I let her go and I savor the sight (really more of a blur) before me. Lately, she’s been trying to stand on her head, or so it seems, and winds up in a downward dog position, hanging out upside down and peering back through her legs with a sly smile. I expect she’ll have mastered the somersault by Monday and if not, we’ll be hitting the gym to work on her core strength, and probably do some suicides in which case Stella may need to take it easy while I get back in shape.

We are at the stage where she is now a very good mimic, an eager and quick learner. We have so much fun. In recent weeks, she’s been putting the phone to her ear and if I hand her a brush or comb, she’ll move it across the back of her head, because let’s face it, the front pretty much styles itself. Yesterday morning, I taught her how to kick, and she hasn’t stopped since. The video below is from yesterday afternoon. At first her dribbling seemed like a fluke, but she’s done it about a dozen times since then, and I can’t help but be completely dazzled. I’m her mom and that is my job and it comes very naturally to me, as it should. This video, below, co-starring PaPa (Cody’s dad), may be very ho-hum to you but it warms me up and makes my heart grow at least another centimeter in diameter. Until yesterday, she’d walk up to the ball, then pick it up and throw it. She never let it touch her foot. But now she is purposefully kicking it along and it’s just about the best thing I’ve ever seen. And tomorrow, she’ll do something else for the first time and it will be a new best-thing-I’ve-ever-seen. Every parent knows exactly what I mean.

Stella relishes every adventure, “big” and small–from trips to see the seaplanes and kites at Gasworks Park and tours among the elephants and giraffes at the zoo, to forays to the fridge to examine bottles and jars and visits to the dust bunnies in the bedroom closet. She expresses her joy with ecstatic physical outbursts. Bouncing and arm flailing and squealing and rolling with total exploding exuberance. She’s my happy little athlete. Yes, yes, I know. That’s a label. And it’s very possible that she’ll one day eschew soccer balls for fluffy pink tutus, and that’s okay. (Though, let’s face it, passing over a basketball for a soccer ball is pretty much the equivalent–KIDDING, sort of.) Really, I’m just following her lead. Trying to keep up and shaking my head in amazement, with gratitude and Stella’s goose-poop-covered shoe smacking me in the face.