Monday, June 23, 2014

Discipline (of the self variety)

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of disease.  Disease is, at least for me, laden with negative connotations.  You don't want a disease of any kind, right?  You certainly don't want your child to have a disease.  

This article came to my attention recently.  It was posted on a friend's Facebook page.  Written by Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, it is titled, "Obesity is not a disease - and neither is alcoholism," & was written a year ago in response to the American Medical Association's decision to classify obesity as a disease.  What Dr. Ablow argues, & I agree with him, is that by labeling obesity & alcoholism diseases, we're giving alcoholics & the obese a pass, an excuse, & we're also placing the financial burden of their often costly healthcare on the taxpayers (& the taxpayers are BURNED OUT, y'all!).

This irresponsible use of the term disease is one more example of the pervasiveness of the "It's not my fault" culture in which we live.  So here goes.  Yes, yes, sometimes things are your fault, & if you make bad choices repeatedly, & those choices become destructive habits, & you find yourself grossly overweight, or drinking in a closet rather than spending time with your kids, it is your fault.  IT. IS. YOUR. FAULT.  Slapping the disease label on something that is the direct result of poor decision making is a blame shifting game that is detrimental to those who, more than anything else, need a heavy dose of self-control, & it is also financially unsustainable for our debt-crippled nation.

Diabetes is a disease.  Type 1 diabetes is, at present, an incurable disease.  My three year old has an incurable disease.  Three years in, one of her organs bailed on her.  She absolutely must receive insulin on a daily basis or her physical condition will rapidly deteriorate; conversely, if she has too much insulin in her system, things can get ugly very quickly.  Google hypoglycemia sometime.  Diabetes can be managed, but it is a serious disease, & it is ridiculous to me that alcoholism & obesity are also classified as diseases.  A lack of self-disipline is not a disease.  Laziness is not a disease.  Unfortunately, our government encourages laziness.  We heavily tax industrious business owners, & mail checks to those who don't work.  We pay the (often excessive) medical bills of those whose maladies are the result of years of terrible, self-indulgent choices.

We've got it all backwards.  We pass laws attempting to dictate what people can & cannot eat, drink, smoke, etc., but yet, when they make unhealthy choices, we're right there to pick up the tab.  We tell them they have a disease, & nothing is their fault, & Uncle Sam will make sure their medicine, & their surgery, & their rehab are paid in full.

Once upon a time, this was America, land of the free.  You were free to eat yourself into an early grave, & free to drink your life away, with the understanding that you would pay your own medical bills, & your rehab bills when they started rolling in, because everyone, including Uncle Sam, knew that what you had was a self-discipline problem, not a disease.  Freedom means not only the freedom to do as you please, but the understanding that you will accept the consequences of the decisions you make.

We clean up the messes our children make when they are small because they are too young to understand the consequences of their messy, messy behavior.  I watch Henry throw food & smile & laugh, & then I clean it all up, because he has no concept of consequences yet.  I also dictate basically every facet of Henry's life; where he goes, what he eats, drinks, wears, etc.  He is a child, & I am his parent, & this is how our relationship should function until he ages & gradually is given more freedom, & then a little more freedom, with the understanding that with freedom comes responsibility.  If I continue to clean up his messes, I do him no favors, & I do society no favors by unleashing yet another self-indulgent, undisciplined adult into a culture that is full to the brim with undisciplined adults.  I use the term adult loosely.

Children who know their parents will make them face the consequences of their actions often think long & hard about what they do.  I did.  My parents never blamed a teacher, or a principal, or a coach.  If they had an issue with someone who'd disciplined me, they didn't discuss it in my presence.  I knew trouble at school meant trouble at home, & the trouble at home was typically much more severe than the punishment the school doled out.  I was so, so, so incredibly angry at my parents at times, & I know this likely pained them, but they stood their ground.  I see their wisdom now.  It is a disservice to raise a child who believes nothing is his or her fault; it is a disservice to the child, & a disservice to the people who will have to deal with their entitlement minded attitude.

I believe that if people knew they did not have someone else's money to rely on when the medical bills pile up, some of them would make better decisions.  I would rather my tax dollars be spent on an insulin pump for a young child with type 1 diabetes, a disease that nothing in the world will prevent or cure at present, than be used to pay the medical bills of an individual who refuses to do what is necessary to prevent the maladies that afflict the obese.  I would rather my tax dollars be spent on diabetes research than rehab for an alcoholic; curing diabetes should be a priority since it is quite obvious how to end the perils of alcoholism.  My daughter can't make her own insulin, but you can stop drinking, & you can change your eating habits, & you can get off your couch for an hour or two a day.  Is it hard?  Of course.  But it is possible.  As Dr. Ablow states,

We have gone way too far down the road of suggesting that addictions, in general, are beyond the control of individuals.  When an alcoholic chooses alcohol over being available to his or her family and friends, that person is making a decision.  When a heroin addict chooses heroin over financial stability and performing well at work, that person is making a choice, too.  And the choice is not beyond that person's control.  It is a measure of how much discomfort that person is willing to endure, in service to himself, and others.

Reagan has no choice.  There is no discomfort she or I could endure that would end her diabetes.  If I could send Reagan to rehab & eliminate her diabetes, I would.  If I could give her my pancreas & eliminate her diabetes, I would.  If I could change her diet & eliminate her diabetes, I would.  Sorry that I don't have much compassion for those who have a choice, but don't possess the self-discipline to make the right choice.  At a minimum, please, please don't ask me to sit idly, quietly by while my tax dollars pay for the consequences of their poor choices, & the money left post-taxes pays for the insulin, & needles, & sugar meter, & meter strips, & doctor visits managing Reagan's diabetes demands.

When Reagan was first diagnosed in January of this year, I missed a few days teaching to be with her in the PICU.  When I returned to work & stood before my classes, I briefly explained my absence.  One student, upon hearing that Reagan had been diagnosed as diabetic, said, "Oh, you can get a check for that!"  I didn't respond.  I didn't even look up for a few seconds, pretending to be occupied with my roster or text or something.  I just moved on with class, resisting the urge to explain that no, no I cannot get a check for that.  The only time the government sends a check to my address is if we've paid too much in taxes (as if we don't always pay too much in taxes).  That student's statement stuck with me, & likely always will.  "Oh, you can get a check for that!" as if, rather than learning we were dealing with an incurable disease, my child & I had just won some sort of lottery.  This is the state of our nation, folks, & it is dismal.    

Soon after Reagan's diagnosis, Trey must've been doing a little googling because one day he rattled off a list of type 1 diabetics, & included on that list was Sonia Sotomayor.  She is, for those who aren't cool & can't name all nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court, a sitting Supreme Court Justice.

Justice Sotomayor was diagnosed at seven.  She has lived with diabetes for over fifty years now.  In the prologue of her memoir, My Beloved World, she recalls a morning fight between her parents over who was responsible for injecting her with the daily insulin she needs.  Without a word, seven year old Sonia walked to the stove to begin to boil the water needed to sterilize the needle & glass syringe required for her injection.  Disposable needles were not yet available at that time.  From that morning on, she took on the responsibility of managing her diabetes.  She goes on to discuss the discipline required to manage her diabetes, & how it has helped her in other areas of her life.  Justice Sotomayor's  advice to the parents of children with type 1 diabetes: "Don't stand in the way of their dreams, don't stand in the way of their activities, don't stand in the way of them taking control of their own lives.  Teach them; don't do it for them."  The chasm between Justice Sotomayor's political ideology & mine is deep & wide, but, knowing what it takes to manage type 1 diabetes, I have to admire the tenacity of a child who shouldered that responsibility at seven years old.  Knowing that she was able to keep herself not only alive, but healthy, with little help from her parents, it is not at all a surprise that she now sits on the nation's highest bench.  

Reagan, dear, it grieves my heart that you will deal with your disease for the rest of your life.  It grieves my heart that there is nothing you or I can do, or stop doing, to eliminate your diabetes.  I am hopeful & prayerful that a genuine cure will be found in your lifetime, but for the foreseeable future, I, & then you, will be responsible for performing the many important functions of a pancreas.  It is not an easy job, but it is certainly doable.  It takes tremendous discipline.  Caring for you these past few months has made me a more disciplined person in numerous areas of my life.  I know that you have enough of my anal retentiveness in you that you are going to excel at caring for yourself; you are going to want the numbers as perfect as I do.  

Reagan, I want you to reject the disease label.  Nothing about you speaks to disease.  You are vibrant & beautiful.  You need insulin.  Guess what?  Everybody needs insulin.  Yours is delivered a little unconventionally.  Be whatever in the world you want to be.  Be a Supreme Court Justice (a conservative Supreme Court Justice).  Be a doctor.  Research diabetes (relying on your father's math skills).  Become the president of the United States, assuming that's an option when you're old enough & the Chinese don't own us.  Don't be defined by your diabetes; let the self-disicpline required to manage diabetes seep into every other area of your life.  Be defined by your self-disipline, because, as Plato said, "the first and best victory is to conquer self."  Whatever it is that you want, if it's worth having, attaining it will require self-discipline, whether it is beautiful blood sugar numbers, an English degree, a thriving Christian marriage, or a seat on the Supreme Court; you are certainly capable of achieving all four.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

After the Cream Cheese

I was in good company last weekend.  I mentioned that I was taking myself out Friday night to see The Fault in Our Stars, & the date went well.  Going to the theater to see a movie alone is at the top of my list of "things I love to do, but rarely do."  When I was younger & had few responsibilities & heaps of free time, I never went to see a movie alone.  I mean, that's so sad, right?  No, no it is not.  It is awesome.  

The movie is better than the book.  Mark it down - - June 19, 2014 - - because that's not a sentence I often utter, or type.  Rather than making me want to rush home & reread the book, as movies often do, I wanted to just forget about the book & pretend the story was originally written as a screenplay.  Shailene Woodley, who takes on the role of Hazel, is a good actress (she's an exceptional crier!); I enjoyed her as Hazel considerably more than I enjoyed spending time inside Hazel's head as narrator when I read the book.  Ms. Woodley out-acts all of her cast mates in the film, though Ansel Elgort, who portrays her love interest Augustus, does a fine job in my opinion.  If you plan to see the movie, be aware that it thoroughly rips your heart out.  My mascara was running in rivulets down my face, which was not at all a problem since I was on a date with myself & jetted out of the theater as soon as the credits started to roll so as to avoid seeing anyone I know who might've interrupted the solitude of my date (or be taken aback by the make-up sliding off my face).  

After my big date night Friday I'd have been content to sit home all day Saturday, however, Trey & I had a gift certificate to Cotton burning a hole in our pockets.  Cotton, for those of you who aren't local readers (a population I estimate to be about four), is a fine dining establishment.  Trey's parents graciously agreed to sit with the children Saturday night, & so I enjoyed not one, but two date nights last weekend.

Regularly I see pictures of couples I know posted to Facebook . . . they're dressed up, they're smiling, & the couple selfie they've posted to Facebook boasts the caption, "Date night!"  Sometimes the picture is accompanied by an explanation that, OMG!!! Date night is soooo overdue, and they, like, really need to get out of the house & relax because they haven't been out since last weekend.  I totally roll my eyes at these silly couples, especially if they have one child, or maybe they have two children, both of whom have a functioning pancreas, & I am tempted to comment on the photo & tell them about needing to relax.  Or checking blood sugar at four in the morning.  Or only washing your hair every third day.  Something like that.

Trey & I are both homebodies, & between that & the fact that we're not comfortable leaving Reagan with anyone but one of our mothers (because most nurses & endocrinologists aren't looking to pick up extra cash babysitting), we don't make date night a regular thing, but I am so glad we showered & dressed in our finest (okay, we were both in jeans) & made the effort last Saturday night because, well, CREAM CHEESE.

Trey let me decide which appetizer we'd order.  This was a huge sacrifice on his part, because he knew that concession meant there was no chance he'd be enjoying Cotton's duck wraps since the duck is wrapped in bacon, which I do not eat.  I don't eat pork, ever, at all.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned this to my blog readers, but there you have it.  And no, no I am not Jewish.  I just think pork is kind of nasty.  So anyway, no duck wraps.  What I decided on was Creole Cream Cheese, and oh, oh, I made an excellent decision.  It's this little dish of cream cheese that's layered with some sort of pepper jelly, & then there's a glaze of honey over the top.  It's served with some sort of fancy crackers that, in theory, you spread the cream cheese on, but I found it was lovely just licking it off my fork.

I have no pictures of Trey & me, or the cream cheese.  You'll just have to imagine all the pretty.  

Since Saturday night, I've thought a lot about the Creole Cream Cheese.  There are various reasons for this.  First, it was so good, & I am plotting my way back to another helping of it, but the logistics are tricky.  Cotton is not a place I eat often (again, various reasons, all involving my kids).  Second, I continue my quest to lose weight, which is going fairly well, so in general I think about food a lot (though this was also the case when I was not attempting to lose weight, hence, the weight).  Finally, I think my thoughts return to the cream cheese because since eating it, not much else of note has happened.

My mom left town early last Saturday morning en route to spend the week in Destin with her sisters.  What this means for me is that this week I've been minus one babysitter.  The kids & I have been at the house a great deal.  I love my kids, & I love my house, but you know, it can all get a little mind numbing - - change his diaper, check her number, fix the food, inject the insulin, change his diaper, check her number, fix the food, inject the insulin - - & thus, nostalgic thoughts of the cream cheese return, & admittedly, thoughts of the tranquil setting in which it was enjoyed.  At one point earlier this week, I was mentally composing lyrics for "After The Cream Cheese is Gone," a song set to the tune of the Eagles' classic, "After The Thrill is Gone."  And really, cream cheese & thrill are synonymous.  I am sure if they were more familiar with the Eagles (which they will be soon enough!), my kids would've been having some fun with "Witchy Woman."

Nana, Nana, are you home yet?

The only photos I have to share were taken by Reagan.  It's an abstract series titled, "Mom's reading so she let me have her phone for awhile":

There were a few exciting moments yesterday morning when I got into a verbal throwdown with a total stranger on the Internet over whether or not alcoholism & obesity should be labelled diseases (is an overwhelming desire to prove that strangers online are SO, SO WRONG a disease?).  That's the crazy thing about Facebook: you comment on some article a friend posted, & then their friend, whom you don't know at all, comments, & you simply cannot do the adult thing & walk away, you have to respond.  

Then, I posted the article on my Facebook page, where further discussion ensued, although it was mature, adult discussion, admittedly mainly because I'd gotten my rant out of my system already for the most part.

Since the Facebook showdown I've been doing a little reading (outside the fiction realm, that is), including some reading about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who, if you didn't know, is a Type 1 diabetic.  So stay tuned, & if I can ever get my thoughts together (& away from the cream cheese), you'll be treated to the kindest things I will ever, ever, ever have to say about a liberal member of the Supreme Court (or any liberal, anywhere).

On the fiction front, I have finished rereading A Farewell to Arms & decided to begin The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.  This may've been a mistake.  After I'd downloaded the book to my iPad, I discovered it is the first book in a series.  No, no, no, I thought.  Don't get yourself involved in a three book series, Anna . . . I texted my friend who'd recommended the book, & she has yet to read the second book in the series, but confirmed that yes, it's a series, & apparently one that has a bit of a cult following online.  So, it's basically right up my alley.  It is practically screaming my name.  I have begun the first book, & it's good so far.  It is not yet interfering with my sleep, or my ability to parent, but it's good.  It is set during WWII (I know, I can't get away from the wars) & is the love story of Tatiana, a young Russian girl who is seventeen at the novel's open, & Alexander, a young Russian solider.  It boasts lines like, "We're at war with Germany," Alexander said.  "I have no time for pretenses."  Good stuff.  You have to love a man who has no time for pretenses.  If you don't hear from me for awhile after today, you can be pretty certain I am heavily involved in Russian attempts to thwart Hitler.

Did you notice that I completely glossed over A Farewell to Arms?  Not to worry; more on that later.  The book club is scheduled to meet next week.  I am mentally preparing myself to defend the merits of Hemingway's work as I fear I will be the novel's only cheerleader when we meet to discuss it.  I think this is the first read for everyone in the book club, & admittedly you have to read the book at least twice before you begin to love it, in my opinion.  Perhaps I will write a book about a book club that is split in two over the members' differing opinions on A Farewell to Arms.    

So, to summarize: cream cheese, online bickering, & a little fiction.

If you're out & about in the twin cities this weekend, stop by Cotton & enjoy their Creole Cream Cheese appetizer (they do not pay me to say this).  I'll be satisfied snagging a few banana flavored Puffs when Henry's not looking.  Or Reagan.  Or Sophie.  They're all nuts about the Puffs.  I, clearly, am just nuts.


Friday, June 13, 2014

A Recipe for Cake

I think I've slept enough now to fill you in on Henry's birthday party, at least what I remember of it.

Where to begin?  I suppose I'll start with last Friday, which was Henry's birthday.  Friday went swimmingly, which, in hindsight, should've been a clue that things would take a turn for the worse come party day.  Henry spent his morning lounging in his new anywhere chair.  The chair is upholstered in Pottery Barn Kids madras plaid, & it matches the quilt, monogrammed pillow, & curtain panels in Henry's room.  He's thrilled with all the coordination.

In this pic I believe he was throwing his sippy cup at me:

This is Reagan with her anywhere chair, which she received on her first birthday.

The kids & I had a nice day at home Friday.  Henry took a long nap that morning, which meant I took a long shower & was able to put on clothes & dry my hair with only minimal interruption from Reagan, who asked me questions every five minutes about when exactly she was going to get to eat cake & open Henry's birthday gifts. 

Friday evening we all went to dinner at The Warehouse.  

Mother/son selfie fail:

A little sibling time during dessert.  And by sibling time, I mean Reagan leaving her chair to confiscate the new toy Henry's Grandmama brought him:

When Friday ended, quite literally, all the birthday loveliness vanished.  Around midnight, Henry started coughing.  It wasn't just any cough, either.  He was wheezy, & frankly sounded like he'd been smoking a pack a day for several years.  From approximately one o'clock until three o'clock Saturday morning, Henry & I wrestled in bed as I attempted to prop us both up in a position that would allow us to get some sleep, while also aiding in the cessation of Henry's cough.  I failed miserably; he continued to cough, & neither of us slept much at all.  At three o'clock, Trey got in the recliner with him, & I hooked up the nebulizer because I was worried about Henry's breathing.  The thing you want to be doing at three in the morning the day you're having lots of people over for a birthday party is digging in your bathroom drawers to find all the parts to the nebulizer.  Oh & also, somewhere in the middle of all this our dog, Sophie, who is not the spring chicken she once was, urinated in the middle of the kitchen floor, so I cleaned that up.  The only thing better than hooking up the nebulizer for your infant at three in the morning is sopping up a puddle of dog urine.        

Just as I was shutting down the nebulizer & about to flee to the bed for a few hours of sleep, I heard Reagan stirring.  By the time I'd aided her in her middle of the night bathroom quest, it was almost four in the morning.  I slept for about two hours before rising to prepare for a trip to the pediatrician's office, where we learned Henry had the croup.  I'd heard of the croup, but didn't understand that what it is, exactly, is this horrendous animal sounding cough.  Henry was prescribed some medicine, & thankfully no longer sounds like a future Marlboro Man.  

I returned home with Henry around nine Saturday morning, drank a little more coffee, or maybe a lot more coffee, & headed back to town to pick up his cake, some balloons, & other needed party items.  It's all a blur.  Miraculously, I made it home having forgotten nothing.

The cake:  

And the smash cake:

I found this plaid '1' candle because everything's better with a little plaid:

Ready to party.  Actually, Henry & I both needed a long, long nap . . . but sometimes you dig deep & push through because it would be weird to invite people over & then miss the whole shindig because you're curled up in the bed with the birthday boy.  

Reagan was less than thrilled with the carrots & cucumber I set out for her.  I wanted her number nice & low when I jacked her full of insulin in preparation for the cake & ice cream, which, in technical diabetic language, are known as a heaping ton of carbs.

Henry in his new ride.  Please note his sweater vest with a flourish of argyle & coordinating plaid shorts:

Henry didn't do much cake smashing.  He was so, so tired.

This is the box in which Henry's smash cake was enclosed.  If it's any indication of how tired I was, someone else pointed out to me that my last name is misspelled; I had not noticed.  I'd normally spot something like this a mile away.    

Saturday night after the kids were asleep I could have, & probably should have, gone to sleep myself.  However, I had yet to watch that week's episode of 24.  

I don't need to spell out what happened next . . . 

2 hours of sleep
1 sick birthday boy
1 incontinent dog
1 hour of Jack Bauer
1 cup of decaf

It all adds up to a huge helping of Henry's birthday cake.  I enjoyed it immensely, & it has not shown up on the scale (yet).

Sunday offered no respite.  After church & lunch, I shuttled the kids home, changed their clothes, & had about twenty minutes to drink some coffee before handing Henry off to my mom so I could take Reagan to a birthday party for her friend Wendi.

Thus, this is what Monday looked like:

Before I leave you, I'll update my summer stats.  Despite Saturday evening's cake, I am still down five pounds (sometimes six!).  I have read The Fault in Our Stars, which I rant about here, if you missed it.  I have a date with myself later today to see the movie (it's a gift to Trey really, giving him a chance to spend some one on one time with his kids on this Father's Day weekend).  I am meandering through a reread of A Farewell to Arms, which is just delicious, as always.  I find a new favorite line every time I reread it.  Edie's continuing saga still sits at 9,100 words because I know better than to go near it when I'm as tired as I've been the past week; I can be a bit vicious & characters end up saying & doing things that they'd otherwise never consider.  I am thoroughly enjoying Michael Buble's To Be Loved album.  He sings a duet with Reese Witherspoon that is wonderful (it's No. 5 on the album).  Plus, no matter what song is playing, this picture below pops up on my iPhone, so there's really not a bad song on the album.


Both Diet Coke & cable remain on the banned list in our home.  To my knowledge, Trey has yet to drink any Diet Coke since giving it up cold turkey over a month ago.  I had a momentary cable crisis Tuesday night when I learned Eric Cantor lost his primary; I was craving a little Fox News, but I just reminded myself that even if we had cable, it's not like I'd be able to sit down with my decaf & watch.    

Is anyone else a little giddy about Cantor's loss . . . (is it politically incorrect to say Adios, Senor Cantor?  Even if the remaining dolts in DC don't want to admit it, we all know why he lost.  Amnesty's not cool, y'all.  Not cool.  I am looking at you, Paul Ryan!).  You go, Dave Brat!  Rock on with your PhD & your $150,000 campaign.  

This fall promises to be muy interesante.  Between mid-term elections & college football, if we're still a household without cable, a plateful of birthday cake is unlikely to placate me.  


Monday, June 9, 2014

Something with a Capital S

We partied hard Saturday in celebration of Henry's first birthday.  I partied about as hard as I could on two hours of sleep.  I've yet to upload pics, so you'll have to wait to read about my long Friday night & even longer Saturday.  I'm still in a bit of a sleep deprived fog from the weekend's events & am not yet prepared to blog it all out.  What must absolutely happen now so that I can move on with life & clear some space in my head is for me to share my thoughts on John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.  I won't leave you in suspense: I did not care for it.

It's all the rage right now in the world of YA literature (that's Young Adult for those of you who don't waste time on Goodreads reading hilarious book reviews, which you should consider doing, by the way, because it's awesome).  John Green has been churning out YA novels for a few years & now they're making their way to the big screen.  Me being a permanent resident in the world of YA literature, it was inevitable that I'd eventually sample some of Mr. Green's work, & having done so, I've decided not to board the John Green train.

For those who haven't read the book or seen the recently released film adaptation, The Fault in Our Stars covers a few months in the life of seventeen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster.  Hazel has cancer, as does her love interest in the novel, Augustus (Gus) Waters, whom she meets at a support group for kids with cancer.

It's not the cancer that's off-putting.  I was aware of the book's subject matter before I read it, so I was prepared to experience cancer through the eyes of a teenage girl.  I actually decided to read it because I wanted to see how Green crafts a love story between two cancer-striken teens.  I mean, that's a heavy essay prompt you handed yourself, Mr. Green.

Here come the gripes.  My biggest complaint with the novel is the way Green deals with what I'll call religiosity.  I didn't pick up the book expecting a story about two teens who love Jesus & face their untimely deaths bravely because they know they have a home in Heaven; were that the story Green tells, obviously Hollywood wouldn't have touched it with a ten foot pole.  I was, however, surprised at the extent to which Green, via his narrator Hazel, openly mocks religion, & I was also saddened by the grandiose manner in which Green spits on what was in its inception, I think, a beautiful opportunity to meld what are typically end-of-life concerns with the curious minds of teens.

The support group Hazel & Gus attend meets in a church, & Green repeatedly uses this venue to take jabs at, well, Christians & Christianity, in my opinion.  Through her dialogue with both Gus & her father, the reader learns that Hazel has no use for religion, & when Gus tells her that he believes some sort of heaven exists, claiming that, "I believe in Something with a capital S," Hazel questions him & thinks to herself, "I'd always associated belief in heaven with, frankly, a kind of intellectual disengagement.  But Gus wasn't dumb."

When reading, I highlighted Hazel's statement about "intellectual disengagement" because finally Green has Hazel just come out & say it: she thinks people who believe in Heaven are dumb.  Given her next statement, that Gus, whom she loves & respects & believes to be "not dumb," believes in, "Something with a capital S," I was hopeful that Hazel might experience some growth during the remainder of the novel . . . but no.  No growth.  You would think a teenage girl who is dying of cancer, & who *** SPOILER *** watches helplessly as her boyfriend dies of cancer would do a little mental digging, a little thinking outside the box.  But no.

Green missed the boat here, in my humble opinion.  I finished reading & sat in my bed thinking, So what does she learn?  What does she take away from her time with Gus?  ANYTHING?!?  Apparently, not much.  Despite the innumerable conversations she shares with Gus, Hazel seemingly has not changed one iota when the novel concludes.  I wasn't expecting her to go down to her local church & ask to be baptized as she made the sign of the cross, but wow, for a character so ripe for deep thoughts about life & death, when the novel concludes, she is the same cynical teen the reader meets on page one.  Do I understand the cynicism?  Yes, of course, & at times, Hazel's acerbic wit is hilarious.  But I don't understand her utter rejection of the idea of the existence of a benevolent God & a Heaven (a place she might see Gus again); this, to me, is the most depressing part of the novel - - not the cancer!

My second gripe with the novel is Green's inclusion of what I found to be an odd (& yet integral) part of the plot.  Hazel is obsessed with a book she read (& reread & reread) titled An Imperial Affliction.  She has attempted to contact the novel's author in hopes of having a few questions she has about his work answered, but her fan mail has gone unanswered.  Peter Van Houten (the author she idolizes) is a recluse who hasn't written anything since his lauded novel, An Imperial Affliction.  Long story short, thanks to Gus, Hazel meets Van Houten, & he is a total jerk.  Prior to their meeting, while Hazel didn't believe in God, she very much believed in Peter Van Houten, & she has to let go of years of idolizing the man when she finally meets him.  Disappointing for Hazel, no doubt.  Again, a situation that screams, character growth! . . . deep thoughts about how men are simply men, & even the ones who write beautiful literature are sometimes deeply flawed . . . but no.  No deep thoughts.

My third & final gripe is Green's choice of a narrator.  I don't think he successfully voices a teenage girl, which isn't all that surprising considering he's a man.  He may've been a teenager once, but never a female teen dying of cancer, & in my opinion, the further removed an author is from the narrative voice they choose, the harder they have to work to make it authentic, & in many respects I think Hazel lacks authenticity.  I will say that I have not yet seen the movie.  I plan to, but I wanted to hash this all out before seeing the film because I suspect I may enjoy the film more than the book because films inevitably lose a good bit of the narrative voice that dominates a book, & while that often saddens me, in this case, I'd welcome it.

So why do I care?  Why should you care?  Are you aware of the box office numbers this movie pulled this past weekend?  Kids, young kids, are reading Green's work & seeing this movie.  Hazel's is a story that makes you think (if you're a thinker, that is, & I've found that most people who read also think).  What is bothersome to me is that Green doesn't leave the reader, many of whom are young, impressionable readers, much room to hope for anything better than a brief life on Earth that may or may not be cut short by cancer.  I had high hopes that Gus's belief in something with a capital S would shine brighter as the novel progresses, but that isn't the case.  Gus dies.  Hazel is steadfast in her belief that there is nothing beyond life (& death) on Earth.  Hazel is likely going to die.  The end.  Yes, they find each other & fall in love & there are moments in the development of their relationship that I find humorous & touching & mildly entertaining, but none of it is worth reading the book if that's the end - - the end of the book, or the end of it all.  

Much of popular YA literature deals with supernatural elements (Harry Potter, Twilight) or the ever-popular apocalyptic scenarios, such as The Hunger Games & the Divergent series.  Green's novels, to my knowledge, deal with neither; there are no vampires, & no country formerly known as The United States that is now run by a ruthless government out to cause problems for young teens involved in dramatic love triangles.  Thus, Green's writing offers young adults a realistic read, or at least significantly more realistic than a sparkly vampire who can read people's thoughts & scale tall buildings or a world in which teens are sent to fight to the death in an arena.  Unfortunately, many teens know someone their age who suffers with, or died from, cancer.  Or their parent, or grandparent, or sibling, or preacher, or teacher suffers with, or died from, cancer.  I wish Green offered Hazel, & thus his readers, a smidge more hope, or at least, at least!, strayed from openly mocking those who believe in God, & believe He offers Heaven to those who seek Him.

I believe in something with a capital S; I think that belief is in fact written on the hearts of all men by the God who created them, & it's irritating to me when someone with a pen (or a word processor) subtly ebbs away at the pull toward their Creator that tugs on men's conscience.  I am not advocating a book burning, & in fact, I encourage you to read The Fault in Our Stars if you've not done so as I'd love to know what you think.  Were it not a YA novel, I don't think I'd be so bothered.  Young adults are so impressionable; they need Gus's narrative voice, not Hazel's.  They need to be encouraged to think deeply about good & evil, life & death, & about the existence & true nature of something with a capital S.      


Friday, June 6, 2014

Henry's Year in Review

Today is Henry's first birthday.

This is the four of us circa a year ago; I think this was taken four days before he was born.  In terms of my weight loss goals, I currently weigh approximately forty-five pounds less than I do in this photo, & as a bonus, I can paint my toenails without making loud, loud noises.   

I am tempted to regale you with the story of Henry's birth, but I won't.  Granted, it is a short story since Henry entered the world hastily, but that story is here, for those who'd like to read it.

I will now bombard you with pictures.

Henry was born at 2:32 in the morning on June 6, 2013.  My plan was to space my kids two & a half years apart.  My original due date with Henry was June 13, 2013.  Do you know what happened on June 13, 2013, aside from Henry turning one week old?  Reagan hit the two & a half mark.  That's what I call family planning.   

And the countdown to one year . . . 

I ran into a bit of a dilemma with month eleven (in addition to the scrapes & bruises on his face for much of month eleven).  There is only one '1' in the number puzzle that has, until now, served me so well this year.  These pictures were taken during his eleventh month, & I know this for a fact because they are stored in my iPhone after the ten month photos were taken.  

This is Reagan at one year:

I know, I know.  My kids are cute.

Beyond birthday news, I've lost four-ish pounds.  Depending on what time of day I weigh, it is sometimes accurate to say I've lost five pounds.  I may have to revise after tomorrow's birthday shindig, however.  I have read The Fault in Our Stars; I'll hold my tongue, for now.  I don't want to sully this post about Henry's first year with what I have to say (please know that I am about to explode).  And in this tribute to Bridget Jones's Diary, I'll also add that the sequel now sits at 9,100 words.  

As long as I am knee deep in my accomplishments, on Wednesday of this week I downloaded a lot of Michael Buble's music to my iTunes, & I am now officially following him on Twitter.  Yes, I am on Twitter.  I was surprised to learn that I've actually been on Twitter since March of 2009, according to Twitter.  My handle (I think that's the correct term, handle) is @ajzeigler.  I have yet to tweet anything . . . but give me another five years, & I may have something to say.  I guess I stay away because if anyone tweets anything newsworthy, well, it's in the news, & also because Twitter's severe word restrictions make me recoil.  I mean I didn't start writing this blog because I thrive on word restrictions.   
I shall return with all you ever wanted to know about Henry's first birthday party.

Happy Birthday, Henry.  I love you.