a quick trip to birkenhead

Raspberry and I took a hop, skip and jump over the river to Birkenhead a few days ago to see the Richard Hamilton exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum. This was our first time in Birkenhead. Months ago, I was under the impression that it was a quaint suburban area, but I was quickly assured by friends that it was quite the opposite. Visiting it promptly disproved my initial assumptions. Walking to the gallery from the train station, it reminded me much of walking in some of the neighbourhoods in Liverpool, with abandoned buildings, run-down shops and canine fecal matter (we hope!) on the sidewalk. All in all, nothing special. The only part of our walk over that Raspberry really liked was the fact that a street was called Balls Road. “They should call it Testicles Road!” she shrieked gleefully.

The exhibition was just all right. I enjoyed seeing the famous Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, and Raspberry really the rolls of toilet paper painted into a few paintings (um, I’m pretty sure it was toilet paper). She kept trying to spot more in other Hamilton works. I often find exhibitions of famous artists’ works just mediocre, nothing spectacular (I saw a Bruce Nauman exhibition in Preston a few months ago and I didn’t think that much of it either). Perhaps I’m anticipating a lot more and then I end up being disappointed by what’s there. Or maybe my standards for what counts as a good exhibition are just too high. I think I see only two to four fantastic exhibitions a year, works of art that I truly enjoy, resonate with me, and leave me wanting more. I’m not sure if that’s usual, but I don’t think it really matters.

Much of our time at the gallery was spent working on a trail in the gallery, whereby you had to locate pictures of cartoon bees pasted onto various objects (including works of art, like pottery). Galleries seem to like passing off scavenger hunt-esque trails as entertaining activites for kids. Sure, it’s a good way to get kids to see the gallery, but if other kids are anything like mine, they zero in on whatever they have to check off the list, to the exclusion of almost everything else. There was one bee in every room, so we had to tour the entire gallery, even though neither of us cared too much for the paintings or textiles or pottery on display (both our preferences leans toward contemporary or modern art). We went into a room plastered with dark wallpaper, with a knight’s armour, ornate sculptures and a dark wood fireplace carved intricately carved with seemingly terrifying creatures that I couldn’t even bear to look at. “Okay, just find the bee and let’s go. This room is freaking me out,” I mumbled nervously to Raspberry.

At the end of the trail, she took her worksheet back to the desk and the person working there offered her a prize for her efforts — a pencil case, a pencil, a ruler, a sharpener and a keyring. She got to pick out the colours of stationery she wanted but at the end, she decided she didn’t need any of it as she already as all of the above, so she gave it back. I was thoroughly impressed and very proud of her for minimalist ways and not introducing extra clutter into our home that I’d end up donating to a charity shop.

We returned to Liverpool right after (stopping to take some pictures that I didn’t on the way there because Raspberry desperately needed to pee) and I surprised her with lunch at Bakchich, the Lebanese street food restaurant where we had lunch on my birthday. We hadn’t had any lunch food at home all week, and since we hardly eat out, I thought she’d like a treat. I’d initially thought we’d split something, since it was almost 3pm, but it cost the same for us to get a chicken shawarma each, so we did that instead. Raspberry’s shawarma was really leaky and made for some messy eating. She really enjoyed it though (possibly because we eat meat only a handful of times a year), but couldn’t finish the last little bit so we had that to go.

Because it was only mid-afternoon, we went to FACT, as I’ve been wanting to watch more of the Sharon Lockhart video that’s part of the Liverpool Biennial. I only got to watch a bit of it a couple of weeks ago — that’s completely expected when you attempt to watch a video with two kids in tow (or even one, for that matter). I figure that if I go a couple more times, I’ll be able to watch the entire video by the time the exhibition closes at the end of October. Raspberry, who usually jumps off the steps on the second floor, decided to climb and jump off the steps on the other side of the bannister on the first floor instead. It reminded me of the time I was younger than Raspberry, and I climbed up the other side of an escalator at a mall and had to be rescued because the escalator’s rail kept going and I couldn’t. Yeah. But I digress. Usually I’m quite happy to have her exhaust herself running and jumping all over FACT, but we needed to pick up groceries for dinner, so our time there was cut short. Besides, after our small adventure to Birkenhead, I was ready to head home anyway.

the giants were here!

street art festival

We went to the Markit Street Art Festival in the Baltic Triangle last month. Raspberry was initially reluctant to go, possibly because we’d been in Manchester the day before and she was tired, but I lured her out with the promise of seeing trees wrapped in yarn.

Unit 51 was our first stop, as there was a small craft fair, but there wasn’t anything in there that we hadn’t seen before. There was, however, an artist writing complaints on toilet paper to be later flushed. She asked Raspberry if she had any complaints she’d like to add and Raspberry said she didn’t. Barely five minutes later, as we were on our way to the bathroom, Raspberry asked if being tired counted as a complaint. When I answered affirmatively, she excitedly ran back and asked to add her complaint to the toilet paper (she later added a self-portrait).

We didn’t actually see much street art, save for bikes with concrete wheels, a speedboat in dazzle camouflage, some sidewalk painting and a couple of illustrations on walls. Much of our time was spent making lots of buttons outside Unit 51. As Raspberry worked on hers, I chatted with Chantelle, a Canadian woman from Vancouver. She’d moved here a year ago with her kids and husband, who works as a pastor at the university. It was so nice to hear a North American accent for a change. We talked briefly about what we were doing here, things we missed about Canada and horror of horrors, she admitted that she actually found the Scouser accent endearing (for what it’s worth, I feel like repeatedly stabbing my ears every time I hear it).

I’d failed to bring a snack for Raspberry, as I didn’t think we were going to be out for very long, so we shared a hot chocolate that wasn’t all that good before heading over to see the yarn-bombed trees. Raspberry declared every single one her favourite because of the various colour combinations, and she wanted to hug them all. If we didn’t have to get home for dinner, we probably would’ve spent hours there. I felt bad having to drag her away from them, but seeing them made for a nice end to our afternoon.

two beach days

The beach calls when the weather’s gorgeous. We’ve been to Crosby Beach twice in two weeks. The first time, we rode the train from Liverpool Central with Zsofi and Carrie. Raspberry fell on the sidewalk on the walk to the beach and Tom very kindly offered her part of his giant gummy snake to cheer her up. The sun dodged in and out of the clouds and the tide came in and receded in the time we were there. The incoming tide created a smaller pool of water that was really nice and warm and I wish I spent more time dipping in toes in there. I found a bone in the sand and we took it to the World Museum in the hopes that they might be able to help us identify it. It looks like a femur and Lucas suggested that it might belong to a quadruped, by the way it’s angled. The staff at the museum couldn’t really tell us what animal it came from. Maybe a rabbit or a chicken, they offered, which didn’t really help.

This week, we rode the train with Carrie and met Zsofi and April, whom we haven’t seen in ages, there. The kids rolled around and leapt into the sand, just like the last time, and Raspberry got stuck in the mud and had to be rescued by a passer-by. It was low tide and I thought I’d prefer it over high tide, but I realized I didn’t enjoy the squidgy mud between my toes and trying not to think about the multiple tangled masses of [dead?] worms strewn all over the wet shore. I found another bone — either a femur or humerus — in the vicinity of where I found the last one, as well as what looks like an inflated sand dollar. The finds make me want to go back there to see if I can uncover more bones or something similarly cool. We didn’t spend as long on the beach this time around, as we walked over to the playground to meet Lucy. It took us eons — four adults, seven children and three babies — as the kids took much more joy in climbing the sand dunes than walking on the path. I must admit that if I didn’t have a sleeping Ares strapped to my front, I’d like to have climbed them too. The next time we go, I think I’d like to spend more time around the sand dunes. As Zsofi so wisely put it, the kids were enjoying it, so why were we pulling them away from it, in favour of what we perceived to be a fun place for them? Anyway, definitely the dunes the next time.

raspberry gets glasses

Raspberry needs glasses.

It took me a long time to accept this. When it was confirmed last Monday, it weighed heavily on my mind for two days and I cried hard both those days. At the root of my despair was my overwhelming guilt for not having Raspberry tested sooner, for not recognizing the signs, and for being in a deep state of denial for months. Her prescription is almost close to mine, so I know what it’s like living in a blurry world, where everything beyond an arm’s length is coloured fuzz. Knowing this, it kills me that my denial led to her living in such state for so long.

It must have been around last fall when Lucas and I talked about getting Raspberry’s eyes tested. I don’t remember what sparked it, but it must have been something she couldn’t see. I remember Lucas going into the optician’s at Clayton Square while Raspberry and I nosed around in Mothercare, either attempting to find her new pajama shirts or casually browsing baby clothes that I didn’t intend to buy. Lucas didn’t get much information from the optician that day as it was busy, but we worried about the cost of the eye test (as money was still really tight then) so we didn’t really pursue it, thinking that whatever Raspberry couldn’t see might have been an anomaly or that it really wasn’t that bad.

Cue the beginning of my denial. I didn’t want to think that my then-five-year-old needed glasses. She’s so young, I wailed. I hated thinking about the fact that she’d have a lifetime of bad vision ahead of her. I was diagnosed with myopia when I was nine. In my mind, I really hoped that if Raspberry needed glasses, it wouldn’t be until she was at least a teenager or better yet, hopefully she’d inherited Lucas’ good eyesight. Cloaked in my denial, I was relieved when we didn’t actually bother with the eye test. At the time, I thought it was something we could deal with later, without consequence.

Then, a few weeks ago at capoeira, Aurelie asked if Raspberry was short-sighted as she was squinting. “I do that too,” Aurelie said. I nodded knowingly, but inside, I freaked out that someone else has noticed and if someone else had picked up on this, then it must be true. I was all too familiar with the squinting, but I’d assumed that it was a Raspberry-quirk. Just like when she spots something on the ground, and practically doubles herself over while bending down to look at it. I thought that was a quirk too. She has many idiosyncrasies, you see. In the same vein, when we were at the Harris Museum in Preston last month, and she couldn’t read the labels accompanying the hung works of art, I’d thought that it was because the sign was well above eye-level for her. Yes, obviously total denial. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that she actually might need glasses.

I mentioned Aurelie’s observation to Lucas, and he asked Raspberry if she could read the sign on the wall of the opposite building and and the licence plate on a car on the other side of the parking lot. I waited with baited breath for her to reply, and alas, to my dismay, she couldn’t. She wrongly guessed a couple of the letters and that’s when I knew we really had to get her eyes tested.

As it turns out, the NHS offers free eye tests for kids (I’d never have known this had Aurelie not told me). With that in mind, I booked an eye test for Raspberry and dragged a nervous, reluctant child to get it done. I dreaded it as much as she did. Despite explaining to her what to expect, she remained apprehensive, although she was running up and down the hallway in the waiting room like a feral child. The optometrist was incredibly nice and she was really good with Raspberry. You could tell she definitely had experience with kids who’d never had their eyes tested before, and Raspberry became calm enough to enjoy the test. She delighted in joining the letters to form nonsensical words, and kept saying how much she liked the red and green projection.

I didn’t realize how bad Raspberry’s eyesight was until she was unable to read the second largest letters. The second largest! I thought she’d at least make it to the point where the letters look a bit like tarantulas on a wall. My stomach clenched the moment she said she couldn’t read them. For a few minutes, I thought that maybe it was a mistake and I wanted to yell, “noooo! Ask her again!” but a greater force (unconscious reason, perhaps?) prevented me from doing so. It eased my mind that a refraction test was done so the prescription would be more accurate. I don’t recall that being done when I used to have eye tests. I’d assumed they would figure out your prescription based on whether lens one or lens two was better. The optometrist patiently answered my freaking-out-parent questions (“No, I don’t think reading all the time caused it.” “It’s mostly genetic.” “No, it can’t be improved. It’ll probably get worse as she gets older. Sorry.”) and I kept feeling like there should be more to ask but there wasn’t.

When we left the optician’s that afternoon, Raspberry and I were both bummed out by the fact that she needed glasses. She was averse to change and not knowing any other kids with glasses, she didn’t want to stick out. I couldn’t commiserate — I started wearing glasses when I was nine, and I was excited about it because I could be like a lot of the other kids in my class. In retrospect, I feel silly for getting excited over bad vision. Raspberry wanted to keep her glasses a secret, saying that she wanted it to be a surprise, but I suspect that might’ve been because she wasn’t sold on them. After she picked out her own glasses the next day though (tortoiseshell, to match mine — should I be flattered… or embarrassed?), she did a complete 180 and felt great about them. She changed her mind about it wanting to be a surprise too and when I asked, she said I could write about it here. While waiting for her glasses to be made over the course of the week, she gradually accepted the fact that she had poor eyesight and needed glasses. She noted that the females in the family now all have glasses and the males don’t. A few days ago when we were walking down the street, she quipped, “We both have bad vision. We’re like a disaster between us!” And she made her first self-portrait of her in glasses while making a birthday card. It seems like she’s embraced her needing glasses.

I suppose in the past week, I’ve grown to accept it too. In the days leading up to today, when she got her glasses, I was actually a little excited that she’d finally be able to see clearly. A week ago, I was in tears though. Lucas, who took a class in trauma during his Master’s, said I was going through the grieving process. I lamented the loss of her previously good eyesight. The guilt was unbearable and I wanted so badly to cry every time I thought about it, until I finally did while burning the midnight oil when everyone else was sound asleep. While Googling for ways to make the transition to glasses easier for Raspberry, I came across a blog for parents of kids with glasses. I felt stupid for feeling so upset over something as trivial as bad eyesight, but while reading the plethora of comments I was surprised to find that my reaction and guilt weren’t uncommon. Knowing that did little to ease my own visceral emotions though. Time made it better. Lucas was upset by the news too, but since he tends to be more logical than emotional, he seemed better able to handle it that I was. He was completely rational, saying that it is what it is and that at least we caught it so she can now get the help she needs to see. Citing an example in one of Raspberry’s favourite books, he suggested that some of Raspberry’s emotional challenges might be helped with her improved vision too.

We picked up Raspberry’s first pair of glasses today and got a second pair made (thankfully, they’re free for kids, a perk of the NHS). She was so amazed by how clear everything suddenly was. On the way home, she ran and bounced and jumped in puddles, all the while reading signs that she probably could barely see just a few hours before. She remarked how everything seemed brighter, an observation I found quite interesting (especially with dark rain clouds looming overhead). To say she was excited would be an understatement.

Sometime during the afternoon, she realized that she couldn’t read with her glasses on as everything was a big blur. We went back and I was told it’s because her reading prescription is nil and that she should just take her glasses off when reading or seeing something close up. It makes little sense to me, since I’ve always been able to read with my glasses on, even when my prescription was rather low. I imagine it’ll be quite the hassle for her to keep putting her glasses on and off just so she can see things properly. We’ll be going back tomorrow to speak to an optometrist so we can figure out what’s going on. As Lucas puts it, we’re learning as we go. It’s strange for someone who has worn glasses for most of her life, but I suppose it makes sense. Hopefully we’ll be able to sort everything out soon and Raspberry will be able to see, hassle-free.

the last day of may

Ares caught Raspberry’s cold and has been sneezing and coughing all day. We initially thought he was sneezing because it was cold in the apartment and that he was coughing from too much saliva. Eighteen weeks old and he’s got his first illness (Raspberry miraculously didn’t fall sick until she was sixteen months old, around the time Michael Jackson died). As expected, he hasn’t been as smiley or chatty as he usually is. Rather, he’s been snotty and sneezing on me, as I’ve been holding him much of today as sick kids are often clingy. You’d think my chest would be a veritable mess of Ares’ bodily fluids but amazingly, it isn’t.

———–

Raspberry and I went to the Victoria Gallery and Museum in the afternoon to do a craft run by Tabitha Moses. We met Tabitha last summer during another craft she was running at the same locale. Coincidentally, we were both pregnant at the time and both due in January. Her daughter was born just a week after Ares was. It wasn’t busy at all, probably because the weather was gorgeous outside. Raspberry crafted her bird and Tabitha and I chatted a bit about babies and motherhood. She held Ares, who just wanted to stand in her lap, and I was suddenly feeling rather aware — self-conscious, even — of how large my baby was compared to hers. In a similar vein, I was suddenly feeling frumpy, as my skirt (intended to be knee-length) was now shin-length, forced south by a wrinkly, post-partum belly.

———–

Lucas brought home a new pot for our strawberry and tomato plants yesterday. His colleague joked that he’s not allowed to bring pot to work. Raspberry and him worked on re-potting the plants this morning, right in the middle of the living room. If it were me, I would’ve done it outside, but Lucas said he didn’t want the hassle of bringing everything in and out repeatedly. When all was said and done, he suggested we could find a worm to live in the pot. As luck would have it, we came across a line worm beside the sidewalk on our way home. I thought it was dead, seeing as there was no real grass nearby and it was in the glaring sun, but Raspberry saw it wiggle. She brought it home dangling from a stick and it proceeded to die while in the pot. I suspect it was near-death when we found it. Raspberry tried to toss the body out the window onto the grass but it landed on the ledge outside instead. So until it gets moved or decomposes (whichever comes first), we’ll have a constant reminder of this poor worm who died while in our possession.

———–

I finally trimmed my bangs after about six months. I’d initially thought I’d grow them out, but pulling them back made me feel plain, so out came the scissors and off went the hair. I’m feeling strangely energized by the return of my bangs. I suspect though, in a few days, I might get sick of brushing them out of my eyes. That happens every time.

Sunday afternoon hot chocolate and napkin-drawing, trying to reconnect with the kid, whose every action inexplicably seems to annoy me these days.
It’s still a work in progress.

skin

Ares is 13 1/2 weeks old and for a good part of his existence, he’s been plagued with skin issues. There was the baby acne — just a couple of white bumps around his eyes — that was there when he was born, but that went away within weeks. That was really the least of it. Dry skin has been more of an issue.

Even though he was born a day ahead of his due date, he came out with really dry, wrinkly skin, leading the midwives to believe that he might have been overdue. How overdue, we’ll never know, but overdue enough for his skin to crack from head to toe. Raspberry was born eleven days past her due date, but I don’t remember her skin being as dry and cracked as Ares’ was, and I don’t think it lasted all that long either. When we changed his clothes, a cloud of dry skin would fly up behind him. It snowed dry skin onto our dark-coloured couch. Whenever Aurelie came by to check on him, I’d apologize for the flakes littering the couch and rug; it was impossible to keep cleaning up each time he shed. Naturally, I was intrigued by the Ares’ skin and obsessively took more pictures than anyone ever needs of their newborn’s various body parts. After about two weeks, the flakiness disappeared and I returned to taking more prosaic pictures of him.

Ares’ skin was more or less fine and dandy, save for a few instances of peeling skin around his mouth and head, until early this month, when an insane case of cradle cap erupted on his head and I suspect, also spread to his forehead. His forehead and cheeks became raw, red and crusty, tinted with bits of orange seeping through the cracks. When he rubbed his face against my cheek, it felt like sandpaper. I longed for his baby soft skin.

His scalp wasn’t much better. Sometime in March, he had a very mild, barely noticeable bit of cradle cap near the front of his head and for some reason, it made all the hair in the area fall out. In the pictures taken around that time, he’s a smiling bald Buddha. I mused that since the hair on the back of his head remained intact, he was going to end up with a mullet at some point. Well, 80s fashion is making a comeback, isn’t it? Since then, the hair has grown back — little tufts among the big dry flakes of still fused to his scalp, but I’m not sure what the hair looks like exactly. I feel like it’s been so long since he’s had a normal head that I’ve forgotten what he looks like with a little bit of hair.

The cradle cap is disturbing to look at, but like a train wreck, it’s hard to look away. Raspberry calls it mushrooms, partly because she thinks it might be fungal. Lucas calls the dark circular patches near the front islands. At the back, it’s crustier and more yellow. It looks a little like bread crumbs or parmesan cheese, except it’s stuck on fast. When you run your fingers over it, it feels like a gravel path. It reminds me of tectonic plates too, how the flakes are layered thickly and unevenly upon one another.

We slathered olive oil on Ares’ scalp and tried brushing the dry skin off with the edge of a towel for a while, but it didn’t seem to be helping. The damn thing just came back. One evening, as Ares was slumped in my arms, asleep, I stood by the kitchen sink meticulously brushing and picking the skin off. I felt so proud that I’d gotten quite a bit off, but the next day, it was like what I did didn’t even make a difference. Bah.

So, we’ve just left it for now. The doctor said to reduce his use of hats, but he only really wears one when we’re out. I stopped putting a hat on him inside as the one we had was too big for his newborn head. When I tried to put a hat on him weeks later because it was cold in our apartment, he squirmed around irritably, shaking his head back and forth to try to get the offending hat off, as he hadn’t yet discovered the use of his hands, or their existence, for that matter. But I digress. The doctor mentioned we could try a cradle cap shampoo on it, but she couldn’t remember the name of it, despite saying she’s got a bottle of that stuff in her bathroom and she sees it all the time. She said to ask the pharmacist and that if it needed a prescription, they could call over to the clinic. Dentinox, that was the name of the over-the-counter shampoo. We decided against using it, since the cradle cap isn’t really bothering him.

If anything, we’re the ones bothered by it. I kept putting off getting Ares’ picture done for his citizenship application because of the cradle cap and the angry red forehead and cheeks (my neuroses, since it really shouldn’t matter) but eventually, I was resigned to the fact that neither of it was going anywhere, so I had the pictures done anyway. You can’t really tell he’s got bad skin in the pictures, but I don’t really like them because I don’t think they were well-taken. Whatever.

I would like to pretend no one else notices the cradle cap, but it’s quite glaringly obvious. In fact, he looks blond because of the yellowy flakes but he’s actually dark-haired. It’s kids who are the most vocal and curious about his head. Yesterday at the museum, I overheard a little girl ask her mother about it. Dry skin was the mother’s reply.

I can’t resist the temptation to pick at Ares’ scalp, despite the Internet warning that it could lead to an infection. Just one little pick here and there, especially as he naps in my arms. After all, his head’s right there, beckoning to me. The flakes are deceptive. They look like they’d come off easily but they don’t, and I don’t try the way I would it it were my own skin. His skin is too soft. He’s too little, too new. Still, I’m so tempted to pick at the edges that look like they’re coming off and lift them like how one would lift a rug to peer underneath. Sometimes when I’m sitting outside with Ares in my lap, watching Raspberry play or waiting for something, I can’t help but pick a little. It’s like an adult chimp grooming a little one. Isn’t that what it is though?

The cradle cap seems to be improving. It’s receding in the back and there are fewer dark patches on the front. There’s a bumpy red ring around where the cradle cap used to extend to, sort of like a fence protecting the rest of his scalp from the scourge of the reddish meadow. The flaky surface is noticeably smaller and the flakes are coming off by themselves. I find little tiny crusts, which I’d initially mistaken to be cat litter, on the bed and on the couch. I’m thrilled to know that the skin’s coming off without any intervention, although I will admit that this morning as Ares napped, I picked off a small mountain of crusts and I was even bold enough to peel off large pieces (what I deem to be a success… ha!).

Yesterday, Ares clawed at his forehead and head with sharp nails, making his scalp bloody. This is what he does when he discovers what his hand can do. Sigh. The sight of his bloody, crusty head makes me cringe because it looks like it hurts, but I guess it doesn’t since he’s not crying about it. The crustiness on his forehead and cheeks has since cleared up with an almost-daily application of lotion, but has since been marred by thin, bloody scratches that seem to magically disappear by the day’s end. Baby skin is so strange.

I’m looking forward to the day when his scalp returns to normal again, perhaps soon, and hopefully there won’t be any other skin issues again for a long, long while. I imagine he might one day be a pimply-faced teenager, but that’s a long way down the road and if that happens, I can assure you I won’t be the one picking at his skin.

hair

Raspberry [looking at the shower drain]: There’s a lot of hairs in the drain.
Lucas: They’re Dawn’s.
Raspberry: Tell Dawn to stop shedding.
Lucas: I don’t think she wants to shed.
Raspberry: She should have thought of that before she got pregnant.

The fear of hair loss — a good way to prevent pregnancy.

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