We Have a Platypus Problem

12 Oct 2009 In: Babies & Kids

Getting out in the morning is never easy, but it’s made considerably more difficult when you’re saddled with a 5 year old who is having a conniption over a missing platypus.

“I can’t go to Art today without my platypus dressed!” Adam wailed with tears streaming down his cheeks.

This was the first I’d heard of his need for a clothed platypus.  In fact, Adam had been awake for the better part of an hour and hadn’t mentioned a platypus, nor had I ever seen a platypus around the house.

Gingerly placing my coffee cup on the counter, I asked, “What platypus? What, on earth, are you talking about?”

Adam shook his fists with frustration as he yelled, “Mommy! I’m talking about the platypus we were supposed to dress up and bring to school today!!”

“Um, Dick, can you give me a hand here, please?” I implored my half-asleep, coffee-sipping husband.

Dick’s idea of help was to say, “Adam, it’s actually pronounced play-tee-puss - with a long “A” sound.”

Adam looked up at his father and began to sob.  I could relate.

As I shot Dick a look, I put my laptop bag on the floor and crouched down to Adam’s level.

“Calm down, buddy.  Daddy and I don’t understand what you need from us.  Please try to explain it differently so we can help you.”  I ruffled his bed head with my fingers as he took in huge, desperate gulps of air in an attempt to calm himself.

“Mommy…the teacher….said…I cannot go to Art today…if…if I don’t have my platypus dressed up.”

“Okay, but where is your platypus?  I unpack your backpack every night and I haven’t seen anything that looks like a platypus.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have any clothes on yet, Mommy.”

I briefly attempted to process the kid logic that would have a wild animal rendered unrecognizable for its lack of clothing and then, failing to grasp any sense in it, moved onto searching the growing stack of school papers on my desk.

There, amidst an assortment of letter “T” worksheets I found what had once been a manila file folder cut crudely into the shape of a T.  It had become folded in the mass of paperwork shipped home the previous Friday.

“Is this your platypus?” I asked, holding up the T-shaped, blank manila cut-out.

“THAT’S IT! THAT’S IT!”, shouted Adam jumping up and down.

Simultaneously, Dick located a crumpled piece of paper with detailed instructions for decorating the platypus with fabric and buttons.  The due date on the instructions was yesterday.

I glanced at the clock – 7:40.  If I leave the house by 7:45, I know I can get Adam there by 8:25 giving him 10 minutes to get to his classroom.  If I leave at 7:55, I know I’ll drop him off at around 8:30 – just as the first bell is ringing indicating that Adam has only 5 minutes to get to class.  But if I miss even one light or get stuck behind one big, slow truck, he’ll be late.

“Sweetie, I don’t think we have time to do this project.  Can I write a note to the teacher and ask her for some more time? I didn’t realize you had homework mixed in with all those papers.  I am so sorry”, I apologized emphatically, rubbing his back.

“Please, Mommy.  Please, can you help me make clothing for my platypus? I really want to go to Art today and I really don’t want to be the only kid there without a platypus”  Adam’s big blue eyes looked up at me, rimmed with tears of disappointment.

“It’s pronounced ‘play-tee-puss’”, Dick offered weakly.

“Not now, Dick!”

I glanced at the clock again.  It was now or never…

“Adam, go have a seat at the chalkboard table.  Daddy, please go get us my sewing basket from the laundry room. I’ll get the glue and the art supplies.”

An enormous smile lit up Adam’s face.  ”Thanks, Mommy. Yay! Now I can go to Art today. Art is my favorite…”, he chattered drawing a happy face on his platypus with a pink marker.

For the next 20 minutes, I frantically cut scrap fabric into clothing shapes as Adam glued and decorated.  Tabitha hovered nearby asking questions about the clothing I was creating – wanting to know why the platypus wasn’t wearing a dress, how I planned to accessorize the platypus and why we didn’t make the platypus wear something purple.

“Dick, I can only handle one nervous breakdown and one platypus at a time. Can you please step-in and stop the fashion interrogation? I don’t need Anna Wintour over here scrutinizing my designs, thank you very much!”

“8:00, honey! You’ve got to go now or you won’t make it,” Dick yelled from the adjacent room.

Adam and I wiped the excess glue from the last button and flung open the front door.  Dick and Tabitha followed outside carrying our belongings.

I drove like a crazy person, bobbing and weaving with a fierceness only Mohammed Ali or the mother of a child late for school can comprehend.  All my tricky maneuvers and excessive speeding meant we made it to school just in time.  Ours was the last vehicle in the drop-off line.  The Vice Principal was turning the key in the lock on the gate just as I pulled away.

As my racing pulse relaxed and I began to settle back into my seat for the drive to work, my cell phone rang. It was Dick.

“Did you get the boy to school on time?”

“Yep. Barely made it, but the boy and the platypus are safe & sound”, I chuckled.

“Actually sweetie, it’s pronounced ‘play-tee-puss’, Dick corrected. “In fact, this whole platypus pronunciation is really going to turn into a big problem.  We can’t have an entire classroom of 5 & 6 year olds learning it wrong from the get-go.  Someone’s got to nip this in the bud.  I’m going to call the school and leave a message for Adam’s teacher…”

“Good idea.  I’m sure all the teachers get off on parental involvement in their child’s education when they listen to voicemail messages from geek parents bitching about the mis-pronunciation of platypus.”

Dick snorted into the phone. “You know how these things bother me. If she’s going to teach them about the animal than she better have the pronunciation down, right?”

I took a sip of my coffee and muttered, “Absolutely. You go knock yourself out. I’ve done my time with the play-tee-puss today…”


I could wrap-up my little play-tee-puss problem with a pep-talk about the power of a mother’s love.  Or, I could talk about how the limited problem-solving contributions of an otherwise, occasionally helpful mate (Dick) are no match for my lightning quick reflexes and laser-sharp intellect.  Of course, I could also mention that the platypus is most widely known as proof that God, in fact, does have a sense of humor.  But let’s face it, the humble platypus was merely born a silly-looking creature with a reputation for mis-pronunciation of its name.  It is we – as parents – who go around proving the existence of a sense of humor in our deity of choice.  Deluded into voluntarily making silly-looking creatures (who will one day grow to mis-pronounce everything) and then spending the rest of our lives agonizing over our silly creatures – that’s irony at its best.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I’d wake up every morning and frantically assemble a platypus outfit for just one more smile like the one Adam gave me that morning.  And being a glutton for punishment is, my friends, pronounced “loon-ass-ee”.  Go look it up.

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1988 All Over Again

10 Oct 2009 In: Shopping & Miscellany

December 9, 1988 was our first date.  As I look back on the photos of us from the Winter Formal dance we attended that evening, nearly 21 years ago, I can’t help but wonder – what in the hell was I thinking?

Dick looks fine, clean-cut and handsome in his black tuxedo and electric-blue cummerbund.  You can’t go wrong with a simple black tuxedo because it’s a timeless, classic fashion statement.

On the other hand, there was me.  Like many teenage girls in the late 1980’s, I was not interested in timeless, classic fashion statements.  Those were for my mom.  I had just scrimped and saved most of my $88 weekly paychecks for 2 months to buy myself an evening of fun aboard a rockin’ party boat cruising Long Beach Harbor.  For a girl raised on a steady diet of Dance Fever, Solid Gold and Dallas, it goes without saying that only the look I wanted to wear was one of glamour & glitz.

Being a 16-year old female in 1988 in search of a formal dress and with only two criteria for selecting said dress being 1)  It must scream “glamour” and 2) It must scream it for under $80, naturally I was drawn to dresses made with the shiniest and most highly flammable synthetic materials of the day.  If, like me, you were limited by experience, taste and budget you may have found yourself wearing the strapless electric-blue lame mini-dress I ended up wearing to my Winter Formal.

As an adult with an appreciation for the balance that is achieved with great design, I can tell you that the trick to pulling off a brilliant color with a bold texture is all in the execution of balance.  By keeping the rest of the look understated hair & makeup aren’t in competition with the dress.  But that’s the me of today.  The me of yesteryear, without a fashion fairy godmother, a design aesthetic or a clue, embraced flashy & trashy over classy at every turn.

Accessorized with garish Sally Hansen stick-on red fingernails and some seriously rainbow-bright eyeshadow, one hardly notices my make-up when compared to the disaster that was my hair.  Reddish-gold from too much Sun-In hair lightener and with a body wave that was on its last wave by the time we actually had our photos taken, my “look” was completed by gravity-defying bangs that were cemented in place by a generous application of my mom’s AquaNet hairspray.

My look screamed 1980’s for certain, but it also screamed “paid escort”. In more forgiving terms, my look spoke to the impulsivity and naivete of youth and of a vulnerability  - a desperate need for acceptance that I long ago swathed under layers of black fabric, and concealed by mineral foundation, mascara and sarcasm.


Losing 40 pounds this year is a great accomplishment that deserves to be rewarded with new clothes that fit properly -at least until I’m down another 40 pounds.

As I strolled through the racks of my local department store, a navy pin-striped blazer caught my eye.  The navy blue with grey pin stripe was cute at first glance, but as I reached for it, I noticed something oddly familiar about its cut.  As I pulled the blazer off the hanger, it hit me – the tell-tale sponginess of shoulder pads.

It was as if I’d stumbled upon a used condom on a hanger.  I shuddered with revulsion as I flung the hideously padded jacket over the rack.  I mean, shoulder pads?  Really?  This has to be the one sign of “arm-ageddon” that no one saw coming.

“Isn’t that an adorable jacket?” a young sales girl remarked from the other side of the aisle.  ”If you roll up the sleeves it’s a totally cool boyfriend jacket.  A friend of mine bought it with one of the boyfriend tee shirts two aisles over and she paired it with a few of our plaid scarves for this really cute retro look.”

“Excuse me, but It has shoulder pads,” I said, still in disbelief.

“Oh, I know! They’re in all the jackets this season. I can’t believe how much they shape you.  I think I look ten pounds thinner in mine.”

(Naturally, she was a stick-figure – size 2 at most.)

I rolled my eyes at her enthusiasm for the trend of volume in clothing.

“Maybe they make you look thin because you’re already thin.  Besides, I’m 6′ tall.  I don’t need to look like a linebacker. I bring natural volume to everything I wear in the form of bulk.”

The sales girl, apparently unequipped to counter my frank bitterness and clearly bored with trying to sell me on the hipness of shoulder pads, left me to assist another customer as I rounded the corner and to look for jeans.

To my horror pair after pair of acid-washed monstrosities – some of them “pegged”, some of them “bedazzled” – hung in row upon row of retro tackiness.

On the next aisle over I spotted what looked like fitted black pants on an end cap next to a mannequin. When I rounded the aisle, I noticed that the mannequin was dressed in an over-sized sweater with a chunky v-belt and black booties. What I thought were black pants were actually stirrup leggings.

“Isn’t it just SOOO Rihanna goes shopping at Fred Segal?” another plucky young sales girl commented.

“It’s an outfit I owned 20 years ago, actually.  I even had one over-sized hoop earring with a key on it as an homage to Janet Jackson.”

The sales girl gave me a blank, smokey-eyed stare.  I realized she had probably been a fetus in the late 1980’s and thus, had no clue who Janet Jackson was.

Changing the subject, I inquired, “Does this stuff really sell?”

“It sells incredibly well, actually. You wouldn’t believe how quickly those stirrup leggings are selling out,” she said folding sweaters on a nearby table.

“Who is buying this?” I asked incredulously as I pointed to a pile of folded neon pink leg warmers.

But the sales girl was gone – off assisting other female customers who were happily buying color-blocked over-sized shirts with shoulder pads, chunky belts and probably even those ridiculous leg warmers.

For a moment, I felt old.  Really old.

Then I had a little epiphany; I felt sorry for the women who would choose to endure this 1988 flashback in an attempt to get it right the second time.  So rather than try on all of those clothes in a vain attempt to make its resurrected trendiness fit into my life today, I turned my back and left it all behind – again.  Goodbye 1988.  Goodbye shoulder pads.  Goodbye leggings.  Been there and done that.

“Let them have it,” I thought, not really knowing yet who “they” are or understanding why they would want to be seen in public wearing acid-washed, bedazzled denim.

Yes; I’m older – that’s true.  Yes; I don’t “get” the whims of fashion trends.  Seems to me that some ideas are better off dead.  As for me, I may not know who I am yet, but at least I know when to let trends dress my past and pad my future with the confidence that only years of experience (and a lot of bad fashion) can bring.  To age gracefully is not, as I had always thought, to be a good sport about the process.  Aging gracefully is about stepping out in public wearing the sexiest, most glamourous thing you will ever own – your self-confidence.  You can never go wrong making that most timeless and classic fashion statement.

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After reading a large number of health & science journals over the summer I reached a conclusion about my long-term prospects: I’m screwed.  To be more specific, I learned that I may be able to avoid or lesson the effects of some rather nasty hereditary autoimmune diseases by making a few lifestyle changes today.  One of the biggest lifestyle changes I’ve implemented is to eliminate gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt  – from my diet.

I won’t go into great detail here but gluten has been linked to the incidence of autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and many other diseases and disorders, although the extent of that linkage is still up for debate among scientists.  Because of the uncertain nature about the role gluten plays in autoimmune disease, if any, the elimination of gluten from my diet was not a decision I reached lightly and it’s one I reserve the right to rescind or alter should additional, compelling evidence come to light pointing towards a smarter choice.  This is not a fad for me, nor is it a weight loss tool.  Living gluten free is (along with a healthy diet, some meditation, and yes – exercise) one way to respect my body and my history and hopefully achieve a fuller, longer life with my family.

When people learn that I’ve chosen to go gluten-less, they automatically assume I have a disease. I don’t. What I do have is a family medical history that leaves me fearful and most of my doctors deeply concerned. The laundry list of illness in my family is frightening…

  • Cancers? Check.
  • Heart disease? Check.
  • Diabetes? Check.
  • Obesity? Check.
  • High Blood Pressure/High Cholesterol? Check.
  • Endocrine disorders? Check.
  • Asthma? Check.
  • Mental illnesses? Um, goes without saying…

What’s worse for me is that these diseases aren’t part of my family’s distant past. I’m talking about my mother, brother, and grandmother dealing with these things today.  I know genetics plays a role in everything, so I figure odds are fair that I’ll be afflicted with one or several of these diseases in my lifetime.  In my mom’s case, she was struck down with colon cancer in her early forties. While she survived her encounter with the big C, the persistence with which it reoccurs every few years has her perpetually confronting her own mortality in ways us non-survivors of cancer cannot (and do not want to) comprehend.  This confrontation, above all other impacts of her cancer, has left her deeply scarred. I’m 37 and I don’t want to be deeply scarred. I don’t want to make the sacrifices she’s had to make or deal with the agony of a life & death battle before I’ve ever really lived.  I realize whether or not I get cancer isn’t exactly up to me.  But if I have some power in this complex process that is genetic inheritance or even if I just buy myself some peace of mind for a few more years – isn’t that worth some bread and pasta?  Is my life what I eat, or how I live?


Svetlana and I were having some rare chick chat over drinks the other night when she mentioned she was hungry.  I was starving too.

“Let’s order some nibbles?” I offered.

We grabbed the bar menu.  I was drawn to the two 3 oz. fillet Mignon’s – a tasting portion if shared with a friend - served with garlic mashed potatoes on the side.  They looked delicious.  Svetlana agreed with me.

When the waiter came by to take our order I ordered the fillet as Svetlana urgently texted a missing friend who was supposed to have joined us.  When it came time to decide between potatoes or “something else” on the side, I asked Svet if she was okay sharing potatoes with me.

“I’m fine with potatoes, but I don’t know about you.  Shouldn’t we get something you can eat too?”, she asked.


“Potatoes? Don’t they have gluten?”

I looked at her with what I’m sure was a puzzled expression.  “Potatoes don’t have gluten in them.  They have starch, but no gluten.”

Svet looked relieved.  I finished relaying our order.

When our petite steaks arrived they were seated on a grilled garlic toast.  I pushed my garlic toast aside as I cut into my steak. “You can have my toast if you want it,”  I said to Svet.

“You can’t have toast?  Does that have gluten in it?”

“Um, yes.  Toast is bread.  Bread is usually made of wheat so I can’t have it.”

“You can’t eat wheat?”

“Yes; that’s right. It has gluten in it.”

“So, is gluten-free kind of like Atkins?” she asked.

“No, it’s not really a diet; it’s more of a lifestyle change.  I’ve chosen not to eat anything with gluten in it for health reasons. Gluten is present in wheat, and thus most breads, pastas & cereals,” I explained.

With that, Svet nodded in understanding and the conversation shifted to another topic.

As I tucked into my juicy bite of steak I began to tell Svetlana about the last steak I had eaten, on Dick’s birthday.  For his birthday I took him to an upscale restaurant where we shared a delicious chateu briand and a french onion soup that I’ve been craving ever since.

“…the worst part about the whole dinner was that I had to pull the fabulous, cheesy, crouton from the french onion soup and give it to Dick. I’m telling you it was pure torture!” I said dramatically.

“Um, why? Why did you give him your crouton?”

“Well, because it was bread.”

“Croutons are made of bread?” Svet asked with wide eyes.

“Are you joking?  Are you being serious?” I asked her.

She was serious.

“Yes! Yes! Croutons are toasted bread.”

“Oh…”, her voice trailed off as the realization sunk in.

Later, as we mulled over desserts, Svetlana asked me out of the blue, “How about rice? Does that have gluten in it?”

“No. Rice is a grain. Gluten is a protein found in other types of grain like wheat or barley for instance,” I explained patiently.

“Rice is a grain?”


And then I realized…

“Oh my god!  Did you think rice was manufactured? Made with flour and eggs, with like, little Keebler Elves shaping tiny pellets of rice in a factory?”

She blushed ever so slightly and gave me an awkward smile.

“I guess I never gave it much thought,” she admitted.

For the record, I laughed at her.  Not with her, but at her.  And yes, we’re still friends.


On the phone with my mom earlier this month, she inquired about my weight – like she does every time we talk.  I told her I was down nearly 40 pounds since we last saw each other in May.

“Great job, sweetie!” she responded enthusiastically.  “What are you doing to take the weight off?  NutriSystem, Weight Watchers?”

“Well, I’ve just been focusing on eating smaller portions of healthier foods, getting in more regular exercise and, to try to stave off the autoimmune diseases which run in our family, I’ve given up gluten.”

“My friend Donna West did that gluten free dieting thing and she got diabetes anyway.  It doesn’t work, you know.  Barely 60 and her whole life is upside down with the diabetes.  Such a shame,” she said, her voice trailing off with the word “shame”.

“I’m sorry to hear about Donna, but I’m quite a bit younger than she was when she changed her diet so I’m hoping for the best,” I explained.

“Yes, but think of all the lovely baked goods you’re missing out on.  You’ll never bake cookies with the kids again on that silly diet.”

“It’s not a diet, mom; it’s a lifestyle change.”

“Well, whatever you wanna call it.  I can’t see how eliminating fiber is going to keep you from getting diabetes.”

“Actually mom, it’s not the fiber that’s the concern – and eliminating gluten may not just prevent diabetes.  It’s thought that the gluten protein that gives bread it’s elasticity is the cause of a state of chronic inflammation in certain people’s immune systems.  The unfortunate complication with eliminating gluten from your diet is that you need to find other sources of fiber, so I’m doubling down on my veggies,” I explained.

“Hm. Well, mark my words: you’re going to get whatever you get as far as disease goes – that’s just life.  No amount of not eating bread is going to prevent God’s wishes from being carried out.”

“Are you saying that God is going to give me a terrible autoimmune disease just to prove a point about his omnipotence?”


“So how are those grandkids of mine?”

“Thanks for the support, mom…”


Look, I’m the first to admit that my gluten-free lifestyle may be all for naught.  But if I’ve lost some weight and made some smarter food choices as a result of being more informed about my health, than isn’t that a good thing?  I think so.

So I’ll continue to read and educate myself (and everyone else, apparently) on this topic knowing that as a mother, a daughter, a friend, and a wife – my lot in life appears to be that of an educator – only with even less glory than my public school counterparts and for almost no pay.  If it weren’t for the  fact that I got a blog post at my dear friend’s expense, this whole inglorious side-career of ”educator” might not be worth all the effort.  But then again, if I can bust just one person’s mistaken belief that, somewhere, rice is being manufactured from wheat in a factory full of elves, maybe I will have done my part for the greater good.

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