Sunday, February 25, 2007

The air that I breathe

How can a simple act of home maintenance inspire both disgust and memories of a Hollies song?

The maintenance: With the middle of a California winter here, the time had come to clear the air in our house by installing a fresh furnace filter. It's about a two-minute job, involving using a nearby kitchen chair as a stepladder, undoing two clips, and swapping out the old-and-dirty filter for a fresh one.

Not a big deal, really. With The Boy safely in his breakfast chair and with Mrs. Thorne having paid about $10 for a pristine, ivory-white filter, I performed these steps a couple of weeks ago without so much as even a minor incident. And yes, the air in the house was better.

For a couple of days, anyway.

Just for fun, about a week after installation I grabbed a flashlight to check out the condition of the new filter. And oh, my freakin' Gawd.

After a mere seven days installation, our pearly white filter had turned graphite gray. And what's worse, since the filter is in the center of the house and draws air only from inside, it's assured that the whoknowswhat deposits on that filter are entering our lungs with the greatest of ease.

Now, we'd heard the air quality here was bad. But for a white furnace filter to turn nearly coal black in one week, that's simply horrifying. And this is the clean air season, mind you; apparently the air quality gets much worse in summer.

Where does all of this come from? According to Google, those deposits are from a number of sources: local agriculture, auto emissions, power plants, and more. Local topography is also a factor, because the mountain ranges both east and west of town act like a big ol' trap for emissions from as far away as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It's like living in California's own swirling toidy bowl. Except the flush lever is broken.

So I swapped the filter a second time, and headed to the local Home Depot for a six-month supply, thinking of The Hollies' Alan Clarke warbling about "all I need," wondering how a place like allegedly liberal and energy-conscious California can permit the air to be so disgusting.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Preschool as disease vector

We were warned. "Beware preschool, folks... after your kid gets there, you'll all be sick for weeks," the voices said, in many places, at many times, throughout our wishing-for-parenthood past. And like a murmuring gang of prophets, those voices have indeed spoken wisdom.

Here we are, a mere two visits and one "official" half-day into our son's preschool experience, and two out of three of us are down for the count. And unfortunately, one of the victims is me.

It started innocuously; a little girl coughing four or five times during our son's first preschool visit. But what a cough... she sounded like she'd started unfiltered Camels shortly after birth and had no interest in a Nicoderm nuk. The next day, we worried as our little boy built a hack of his own, gaining visual confirmation when he revealed a seriously booger-blocked nostril.

So, our boy spent a good chunk of last week imitating our older cat Miss Kitty, who transforms the hacking-up of hairballs into performance art. The good news is -- a few days and one inhaler later -- Boy seems on the road to recovery, and has since returned to his preschool and spends half-days with the other germ vectors building superbugs. But since his favorite place to nap is on me while I hit the Barcolounger, and since he interrupted at least one such nap with any number of hacks, coughs and flat-out sneezes five inches from my face, I got a concentrated dose of whatever bug he picked up.

Thanks to an apparently short incubation period, as of tonight I'm up to Day Six of "Crud 2007" and counting, with my formerly blocked breathing passages now exchanged for a cough wetter than a summer on Kauai. Robitussin is still my friend, but with its effectiveness declining I have a feeling we'll shortly be off speaking terms. And should wishes be granted this evening, I'd trade my proverbial "lottery win" pipe dream for a decongestant that won't keep me awake all night. Last Saturday? One Drixoral, advertised as a "non-drowsy cold medicine," and I spent the entire night wide-eyed and staring at the ceiling. High octane, that stuff. And not worth the sleeplessness.

But there's always hope for me in the form of massive orange juice doses. And The Boy did have fun at preschool, without any of the stereotypical wailing and teeth-gnashing so many parents speak of. He liked it so much that, when he saw I'd arrived to take him home after his first "official" day, he took his teacher's hand, led her to the far end of the playground, and said "See ya later, Dada."

So much for Dad. Infected and abandoned, apparently.

I did manage to retrieve him after a short chase. And once he was in my arms, I encouraged him to tell his newfound germ-source friends "bye-bye," at least until next week.

"Bye-bye, friends," The Boy said wistfully. "See ya next week," he added, waving.

"Bye-bye, B------n," four toddlers said, also waving.

Whoa. Wait a minute. Did those four toddlers just call him by name? And these are all two-year-olds? Did he make friends that quickly?

I'm impressed. Maybe this dose of The Crud will be worth it after all.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The girls love an artist

Late last week, a local college's Child Development Center gave us a call to let us know we'd reached the top of its waiting list. And thus, another transition has arrived: Our little boy, at the tender age of two and a half, is about to begin preschool.

Mind you, I love being a full-time dad. As one of his grandmothers has pointed out, I get to witness so many of those moments most dads miss, and I wouldn't trade those moments for anything. But there are a couple of disadvantages to our "nuturing environment," most notably the absence of other children.

We're still pretty new to town, having been here only since late September of 2006, and as such we don't know a lot of people here, let alone families with small children. That's made it difficult to get out little guy socialized; the most regular time he gets to spend with other kids tends to be either at the park or at the local shopping mall's padded play area, and even then he's more likely to seek out a game of "Tackle" with Dad than he is to play with other kids.

He does have friends, but it can be heartbreaking to hear him mention them.

"Play with Max?"

Max lives two hours away now, Buddy, back where we came from.

"Go to Amelie's house?"

Amelie lives nearly seven hours away, in southwestern Arizona.

"See Jared and Jonah?"

Five hours away, in southern Los Angeles. "Mall play area, Buddy?"

Just doesn't seem the same as the childhood I'd had, where the backyard sandbox was the hot spot for a tee ball team or two of toddlers.

So, preschool seems to be a good option. Thanks to expense, we'll be starting him at a mere half-day per week, but hopefully that'll be an adequate start for him to get his socialization feet wet.

As an intro, we made a two-hour visit to the preschool last Friday. Great teachers, plenty of other two- and three-year olds, lots of educational toys and two outdoor playgrounds, all ready for The Boy's energetic presence. And with all of that available, what did he immediately gravitate toward?

The easel. Three jars of paint, well-used brushes and a blank paper canvas were simply irresistible to our little man.

So, within a couple of minutes, one of his future teachers wrapped The Boy in a smock that looked like something out of a hospital's X-ray chamber and placed a paintbrush in his hand. And within seconds, a couple of things happened.

First, he smeared the canvas with splotches of red and yellow, giggling the entire time.

Next, he tossed the brush aside and wrecked his outfit, jamming his beefy little bare hand in the blue paint jar. Instant fingerpaints.

And finally, he noticed the small crowd of other toddlers gathering to watch.

All girls. All grinning at my little boy.

Dad let out a small sigh of relief. "You know," I told the teacher, "the only way he'd be doing better right now is if he had an electric guitar in his hand."

Keep it up, my little man. All the girls love an artist.