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Melissa Wiley is the author of The Martha Years books about Laura Ingalls Wilder's great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, and The Charlotte Years books, about Laura's grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner.
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Over at GeekMom today, I’m thinking about a small child’s most beloved word:
Why is a chameleon-word that shapeshifts into all the questions put together. Who, how, when, what, where, will. Why is the wonder-word. It collects the flurry of bewildering input that swirls around a small child like leaves in a tornado—and in a single syllable, it tames the wind. It puts form to the formless: When other words are leaping all over the place with their jittery meanings (leaves fall in the fall but snow doesn’t winter in the winter), why stays put. Why is reliable. When grownups all around you are failing to comprehend the very clear statement you’re making about eating opiemeal in the hoffabul, why is a word they understand. Sometimes it’s the only word they seem to understand, so you use it in place of all the other words they can’t quite grasp…
GeekMom Counterpoint: Why I Love Why.
Last year, my friend Dan Tapper wrote a guest post for Bonny Glen about the Mission of Mercy event in Connecticut—a free dental clinic people wait all year (and many hours in line) to attend. This year, I’m delighted to once again feature Dan’s recap of this remarkable event.
Connecticut Mission of Mercy: The Wait, the Line, the Need
by Dan Tapper
The rain hadn’t started quite yet around noontime in Bridgeport, CT last Thursday, but the sky was showing it could happen at any minute. There was a steely pall and a grim chill that spoke more to March than to the early summer day it actually was.
Beth Carter was ready, rain or shine. The New York resident was going to get her ailing teeth fixed, no matter what. She was here, first in line outside the Webster Bank Arena, and doors to the free Connecticut Mission of Mercy (CTMOM) dental clinic would be opening in just…18 more hours.
To Beth, it didn’t matter. She was here. And she was prepared to wait.
“I missed last year’s clinic by one day. There was no way I was missing this year’s,” the Westchester County, NY resident said with a smile. “The cost of dental work is so expensive – I’ve been planning for this since last year!”
Beth sat there, the only one in line until about 1:30 pm last Thursday. She had a chair and books and snacks and blankets. She chatted with reporters who were on-hand to cover the clinic’s setup, she talked with and charmed volunteers who stopped out frequently to check on her.
By 4 pm Beth had about 15 new friends on line with her, ranging in age from early 60s down to less than a year old. By 6 pm the number grew to 25. It was raining now, but the Webster Bank Arena has an overhang by the front door that runs about 100 feet long and 30 feet out. Organizers figured that up to 200 people could stay dry under there.
They were right – by 2 am more than 200 people were in the line, waiting for the doors to open in four hours, all keeping dry. Waiting for the free dental care that was there for them inside – free cleanings, fillings, extractions, x-rays, root canals, oral surgery; basically anything they needed. They could even get partial dentures made for their front teeth. For free.
The line was sleepy but friendly. They huddled under the overhang as the rain fell and fell. Volunteers brought them water and chatted with them. The Red Cross set up a truck to hand out free coffee and snacks. As the rain pounded the arena’s plaza and the line swelled to 350, some unfortunately standing in the rain now (all would soon be brought inside to stay dry while waiting), there was still an hour to go before the doors opened. And the line kept growing – patient and friendly, but deeply in need of dental care, of relief from tooth pain.
That line. That wait. This is the face of dental care in America. This is the picture of the need.
America’s Mission of Mercy began in rural Virginia in 2000. A group of dentists got together decided to set up a charity event to help people of that area receive the dental care they so badly needed. That was the first Mission of Mercy free dental clinic ever held.
Connecticut was just the 7th state to jump on board when it held its first CTMOM in April 2008. It was held in the quiet middle class town of Tolland, 25 miles east of Hartford and one town over from the University of Connecticut’s main campus. It’s not exactly the middle of nowhere, but it’s indeed a stop on the way. That year, in pouring rain that dwarfed even what was seen this year in Bridgeport, hundreds of people lined up overnight to get in. All told that first two-day clinic treated 1,200 people with about 75 dental chairs. It was a big start.
The next year in New Haven (home of Yale University but also filled with, like this year’s host city of Bridgeport, much poverty) that number swelled to more than 1,800 and the number of dental chairs to more than 100 and more than 1,000 volunteers on-hand.
By the time the 5th annual CTMOM rolled around last year in Danbury in the far southwestern corner of Connecticut, just across the border from New York, the picture was a familiar one. That line. All those dental chairs. More than 1,500 volunteers. The need. The need remained as visible as ever.
And it’s growing nationally. By this year 26 states now host them. America’s Mission of Mercy, based in Kansas, is the organization that sends support and materials to the states in the form of four tractor-trailers, filled with dental chairs, pumping and filtration systems and everything else needed to create the infrastructure of a full functioning dental office.
It takes one full truck to outfit the Connecticut Mission of Mercy. Setup happens in a day – really in about eight hours. We watched with amazement while the empty floor of an 8,000-seat sports/concert arena was transformed, bit by bit, into a 120-chair dental office. Rows and rows of chairs for general dentistry popped up. Pipe and drape cordoned off special areas for numbing, oral surgery and children’s dentistry. This was an operation as technologically advanced as an dental office in the country – there was nothing makeshift or temporary looking about it. And it literally went up before our eyes.
The numbers generated by the Connecticut Mission of Mercy are staggering. A quick glance:
2,100 – The number patients served this year
1,500 – The number of volunteers on-hand (Fifteen hundred – think about that number for a minute)
120 – The number of dental chairs
300 – The number of dentists working on-site, taking the day off as well as donating their Saturday.
$1.35 million – The amount in free dental care given out
2 – The number of days in which this all takes place
365 – The number of days it takes to plan the Connecticut Mission of Mercy
The Connecticut Mission of Mercy is a wonderful event, an inspiring event. Every Mission of Mercy held around the country is. But when all is said and done, it’s charity. And charity, as we all know, is no substitute for a comprehensive dental health care policy.
Dental health is general health – the two are inextricably linked. Dental decay is preventable, but it is also prevalent. Heart disease, diabetes, low birth-weight among babies – this are byproducts of poor dental health. Conversely, good dental care makes a healthier body. It also adds to a person’s confidence and demeanor. Who wants to go to a job interview afraid to smile, or in pain? Who wants to exist like that for even five minutes? But people do, year-round.
That’s why beyond the MOM clinics, when the trucks are loaded back up and the chairs and pipes and equipment are all off to their next destination, the dialogue must continue on how to find a more permanent solution for the dental crisis currently hitting our nation. Connecticut is the richest state in the richest nation in the world. Yet hundreds of thousands of people here lack access to adequate dental care. Lawmakers, the dental community, insurers, businesspeople, health advocates, community leaders – they all need to be at the table, working on a long-term solution.
Until then, we wait for charitable clinics such as CTMOM to roll around. Like Beth Carter and her hundreds of new friends sitting in that line, we wait. We wait with hope, with patience and maybe even with a smile on our faces.
But still, we wait.
Dan Tapper is a public relations professional in Connecticut with the firm Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations, Inc.. CTMOM has been a client of his firm since 2008.
It seems all that wisdom is exhausting.
Ah, June…that lovely time of year when mothers everywhere are driven to a frazzle by endless activities, gatherings, ceremonies, and general running-around. I guess I’ve been maybe a bit…distracted?…lately? Dithered? Headless-chickened?
At least so I gather from the moment I had with my eerily perceptive seven-year-old this morning.
“Mommy, will you come outside with me for a minute?”
“Okay,” I toss over my shoulder, en route to the room with the printer. “Just let me do this one thing—” which of course turned into three things. Maybe four. Half a dozen max.
Finally, though, I told her, Okay, how about now. She took me by the hand and led me to the backyard. Paused at the edge of the lawn, looking out across the grass at the butterfly garden, the bird feeder, the trees beyond.
“See,” she said solemnly, all business, “I was noticing our mornings have been grumpy this week. People have seemed…tense. Now: listen. What do you hear?”
I’m breathless. She has this preternaturally serene expression on her usually animated little face: positively Charles Wallace.
“Birdsong,” I venture. Fluty house sparrows, a persistent scrub jay, the operatic mockingbird.
“Right,” she nods. “The music of nature.”
I’m hiding a smile. She’s so very serious. Any minute now she’ll call me Grasshopper.
“Now breathe deep,” instructs this tiny guru. “What do you smell?”
It’s a rare overcast day. You can hear the grass singing to the clouds, yearning for rain.
I’m feeling very humble now. “The good smell of green growing things?” I murmur.
“Yes,” says the seven-year-old. “Life.”
Point taken, Master Po.
I have a new corner over at GeekMom: I’ll be hosting live interviews with other authors and artists via Google Hangout. Eep! Recorded live! Sometimes books fall on your head in the middle of the interview! (True story.)
Here’s Episode One: an interview with the awesome Quinn Cummings about her new book, Pet Sounds (and a whole lot of other stuff). Bonus: lightning round questions contributed by my children.
I hope you’ll click over to take a look. I had the best time chatting with Quinn.
I’ve really dropped the ball on my reading notes, these past few months! I’m looking at my GoodReads list and ouch, I must have missed logging some things, because there’s only one novel listed for May. That can’t be right. Let’s see, it’s definitely missing The Scent of Water, which I reread in early May. That’s one hitch with GoodReads; if you’ve entered a book in the past (I read it last year), there’s really no way to re-list it except to change the date altogether.
Well, notables of the past couple of months:
The Scent of Water (reread)
Pilgrim’s Inn, also by Elizabeth Goudge, immediately afterward. I was so in the mood for more Goudge, and this was a really lovely book, but I rather wish I’d had more time between the two; their themes are so similar, and the assortments of strong and quirky personalities. And the importance of houses, specific living, breathing houses who have to be counted as characters in their own right. (Like L.M. Montgomery, Goudge will ruin you for houses! The boxy mid-century bungalows of my neighborhood seem blank and bland to me after a dose of Goudge. No ‘lashings of magic,’ to borrow Jane of Lantern Hill’s phrase. No quaint spool beds or cockeyed chimneys, no breathtaking views, no hidden chapels or wide, welcoming stairways. No secret lanes anywhere! Although you can pretend them into existence if you try…)
Crop out the houses and the runoff drain between two streets becomes a secret path…
Anyway, I’m teasing a bit, but I really loved Pilgrim’s Inn and am glad I still have so much Goudge left to read for the first time.
Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York—a complete change of pace! A collection of gorgeously written, jangly, quick-beating essays about New York City. Made me ache, I missed the city so much. Sent me careening right back to my beloved Helene Hanff: Letter from New York, 84 Charing Cross Road (which is about NYC as much as it’s about books and kindred spirits). I bounced back and forth between Whitehead and Hanff, gulping great chunks of each.
Do you know, I read this way more and more these days…a chunk of one book, a chapter of another, back and forth, six or seven at once, wantonly, greedily. I mostly finish things, but sometimes I don’t. A few of the things I’m in the middle of this very moment: Wild by Cheryl Strayed; How to Watch Television (a new book coming from NYU Press, and it is CAPTIVATING ME); Blackout by Connie Willis (I never finished that one a couple of years back; picked it up again recently)—all of them active reads, all of them gripping me, each of them begging a free afternoon.
(Will I ever finish Blackout? Will I reach the point where I can’t possibly put it down? That point usually comes sooner for me in a Willis novel.)
Back to the books that occupied my spring—only now it’s gotten late, I’m not going to finish this list. I have to add Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness. I’ve been reading a story a week, more or less…she’s so sad and rich, I have to take her slow. I read her sentences like each one is a small poem. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild begins with a harrowing cancer story—I won’t give too much away—and a woman who’s just been told she has terminal lung cancer, maybe a year to live, asks her doctor if she can still ride her horse. But they’re offering radiation to shrink the tumors along her spine, and the doctor says her spine will be so brittle, a jolt could shatter it to dust. That’s how my heart feels after an Alice Munro story, like one more sentence would crack it to splinters.
From Munro I pendulum to the things I’m reading my children: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Brambly Hedge (on endless repeat, it seems), Odd Duck. Laughter glues me back together. But I can’t do without the shattering books. I think you come back together a little different, every time.
“To be perfectly honest, Ticky,” said Professor John, “I do not care for grandfather clocks as a rule. They are so very tall that one can never look into their faces and see what they are thinking. But your grandfather must be a very special clock, and it is always a good thing to have an ancestor who lives in a castle.”
—The Very Fine Clock by Muriel Spark, illustrated by Edward Gorey (1968)
Amazon’s Kindle deals for June include some great children’s novels, including a trio of Elizabeth George Speare titles for $1.99 each.
My Bookletter went out to subscribers this afternoon. If you’d like to subscribe for monthly email delivery, click here. To view it on the web, click here. And yep, I sure did call Rilla a six-year-old—twice. Scott caught it right after I hit send. In my defense, her April birthday was, what, ten minutes ago?
Enjoyed this article today: Why NonGeek Parents Have the Advantage in Parenting Young Makers. The whole piece was interesting but this bit especially grabbed me, because it’s singing my own song:
The parent panel was surprisingly united on several points. “Makers gotta make, so if you can’t get their stuff (maker treasure) under control just find a way to live with it.” “Kudos for letting your kids disassemble, repurpose, void warranties, and explore fearlessly!” “Allow projects to take time and make room for play and exploration–even if it means lots of projects are in progress at once (if you aren’t going to work on it in the next six months maybe it can hang out in the back of the closet for now.)”
Whenever I speak to homeschooling groups, I urge something similar. Never underestimate the importance of freedom to be messy. Creativity is a messy, messy business. Art is messy. Writing is messy. Sewing, woodworking, robotics, cooking, all these awesome pursuits we want our kids to dive into, all these handcrafts and skills we love to see them develop—they require room to get sloppy. The paint-spattered corner, the room abandoned to fabric scraps and bits of Sculpey, the table overtaken by wires and circuit boards…
I know it isn’t always easy, especially for type-A parents, to live with the clutter and chaos that so often surrounds a creative mind, but there are ways to compromise. For us, it means keeping the front of the house reasonably tidy, one main room where people can count on an uncluttered space, and letting the rest of the house wear a jumble of raw materials with abandon and zest. The girls’ room is overrun right now with wand-making supplies. The house smells like hot glue. Every time Scott looks at me he finds another piece of glitter on my face—I don’t even know where it’s coming from; it’s in the air.
Along with Freedom to Be Messy goes Lots and Lots of Down Time…that’s part two of my refrain: give ’em time to be bored, time to stare into space, time to tinker, time to obsess. So much of my work as a writer happens when I’m far from my keyboard…I’m writing while I’m gardening, while I’m doing dishes, while I’m curled up under a blanket doing a crossword puzzle. I may look idle, but I’m not. Things are churning in my head. Scott used to do his best writing on the walk home from the subway. Now, far from NYC, sans commute, he stands in the backyard, mind-working while Huck runs circles around him. Our kids know that we’re absent sometimes—lost in our thoughts, working something out—and they understand, they know we try to make up for it by being extra-present, fully engaged, in other parts of the day. But also by giving them that same kind of mind-space in return: big chunks of the day unscheduled, unspoken for. Let me get out of your hair so you can put glitter in it.
Huck staggers out, sleep-rumpled. His first words of the day: “What does woozy mean?”
Me: “It means you feel dizzy, like you might fall over. Is someone woozy?”
Huck: “I had a very woozy dream.”
Draw Rainforest Animals by Doug DuBosque, a years-ago gift to Jane from her aunt, has been seeing a lot of action around here lately. Excellent tutorials and such fun material.
Boa by Beanie
Sloth by Rilla
Quetzal, Spider Monkey, Kinkajou by Rilla
I’m writing like crazy—everywhere but here. Not to mention spamming my Facebook friends with wedding photos today because Scott & I are celebrating our 19th anniversary.
He wrote a post about his proposal. Spoiler alert: I said yes.
Here’s my Mother’s Day present from Rilla: a quetzal, a spider monkey, and a kinkajou. (Tried to upload it here but WordPress is being persnickety.)
Happy mid-May already! Sheesh!
…a neighbor down the block finds a dead mole in her yard and strolls down to show it to your kids. “I brought you a teachable moment!”
In truth, she brought us dozens. We examined the mole, which looked nothing like the velvety-black Wind-in-the-Willows English mole of my imagination, but really very much like a mouse. It was her exterminator who’d told her that what she thought were rats in the attic were actually a species of mole. When she found a dead one (dead how, no one is quite sure—caught by something, knocked on the head but left unmauled on the grass), she thought my gang might like a look at this surprising creature, this species that confounded expectations. She was right. Just last week, Rose completed the (virtual) owl pellet dissection at Froguts.com and assembled a mole skeleton from the virtual bones. The lab included shrew and vole skeletons as well, and we’d studied the differences in paw bones and teeth. Beautiful timing, this poor dead mole, demonstrating its digger characteristics for us: the long, pointed front teeth; the strong back paws; the sturdy front claws.
Our neighbor, whom we’ve nodded at on many a walk but hadn’t had a real conversation with until today, was fascinated to hear of these computer dissection labs Rose is doing. Our talk wandered from amazing modern technology to the many staggering innovations her grandmother, born in 1899, experienced in her long life—99 years, her lifetime spanned, a century that brought telephones, indoor plumbing, automobiles, airplanes, television, and computers. “She saw man walk on the moon,” pointed out Miss Joanie.
And more stories: of her father, graduate of a one-room schoolhouse in Kentucky, who earned two PhDs: one in physiology and one in nuclear physics. Her mother, a graduate of Cornell, who suffered a stroke her 80s and reforged her lost access to language by way of crossword puzzles and incredible perseverance. She died a year ago at age 98, solving puzzles till the last. “She was such an inspiration to me,” said Miss Joanie, holding all of us rapt, wishing we’d met her mother. “I could tell stories about her all day.”
We wanted more, all of us. Decided there are tea and stories in our future. Rose was born the year Miss Joanie’s grandmother died. Joanie’s son must be about my age, because his first computer, like mine, was a Commodore, that fabulous box with the blinking green dots. I felt extremely cutting edge—mine was the 128, not the 64. Now my cellphone could kick that old thing around the block.
Remember when people used to look at you like you had multiple heads, when they heard you were going to homeschool your kids? Nowadays they just look at you and think, there’s a person who’ll be genuinely delighted if I show up in her driveway with a dead insectivore in hand. And they’re right!
I think I’ve sent invitations to all who’ve requested them. If you asked for one and didn’t get it, check your spam filter. Or drop me a note and I’ll try again.
Turns out there’s a reader-limit to invitation-only blogs at Blogger! We’ve reached the cap, so I’m looking at other options. I’ll find a way to include you all, so if you’ve requested an invitation and haven’t received one yet, stay tuned.
All righty, I’ve moved things over to a password-protected blog at Typepad to get around Blogger’s invited-reader limit. I’ve tried to sort through the previous comment threads and send login info to those of you who didn’t make it into Blogger, but if I’ve missed you, feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
(If you DID make it into the Blogger site, the new info is posted over there too.)
All right, now that the homeschooling-teens blog is up and running, Bonny Glen can get back into its groove. I’m in another minor reading slump—brought on not by lack of interesting choices (heavens no) but quite the opposite: my usual combination of option paralysis and a busy life.
What I’m reading right now, when I’m able to read:
Too Much Happiness, a collection of short stories by Alice Munro—a gift from one of my favorite people, who loves Munro’s work and was surprised I’d missed her along the way. I’ve been savoring the stories slowly these past many weeks, not wanting to get to the end—though I know there is much more Munro waiting for me when I do.
“When Dickens Met Dostoevsky”: I mentioned on Facebook that I’ve been chipping away at this long TLS article for two weeks, but don’t let my slow pace suggest the material is plodding. Quite the opposite: this is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read all year. It recounts the gradual untangling of a mystery surrounding a letter, quoted in several recent publications, purportedly written by Dostoevsky and describing in great detail a conversation he had with Dickens in 1862. The letter, it turns out, is a hoax. Who concocted it, and how it came to be accepted as authentic by respected scholars, is as gripping as any detective novel I’ve ever read.
If you missed my April bookletter, you can view it on the web here and subscribe to the May edition at this link.
Companion to last month’s Galloping Horse. She’s still working hard on getting those legs just so, as you see. I’m loving this chance to watch a young artist hone her skills. She’s made big strides (so to speak) already.
I believe next up is Trotting Horse. All three are from the horse page in the Usborne Book of Drawing.
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Three times I’ve been asked by lovely writer friends to participate in the Next Big Thing, a blog hop in which writers talk about their upcoming books. Tanita Davis and Gail Gauthier caught me in busy spells and I had to pass, with regrets—but I loved reading their posts and appreciated the invitation. This time, my SCBWI pal Andrea Zimmerman asked if she could tag me, and third time’s the charm. Gail, Tanita, Andrea—thanks, all of you, for thinking of me!
I’ll work on my answers soon, but for now, do hop over (it’s a blog hop, after all) and read about The Warthog Smoked (Andrea), Saving the Planet & Stuff (Gail), and Favorite Son (Tanita). And then you can follow their links to the other folks they tagged. Books books books books books, there is nothing better.