Monday, March 29, 2010

Don't touch that stove! -OR- I hate those socks!

I'm not sure what's more convincing about "Don't touch that stove":  the memory of a singed finger, or the fact that we chain every grim vocal, voodoo head, and flashing red light we have to the warning? It's probably both, but I'm certain that "Stop poking your sister," "Good gosh, stop saying the same thing over and over...and over again," and "What on earth have you been doing up there, get DRESSED already!" lack the relevant anchor points for any of the serious parental signage.

I'm sure if we trudged to that well of "I really mean it this time!" too often, we'd return with empty buckets after just a few trips; however, I'd argue that even those "screamer" parents don't go to that same exact well when they really mean what they say. They've got an extra gear, a secret well. Shouldn't we all, then, just go Mayer all the time?

Say what you need to say (maybe not 93 times). Say what you MEAN to say.

Does your 3 year-old really need to stop drumming, your ten year-old need to get off the phone RIGHT NOW, your 15 year-old need to "get over it" on your schedule, your 17 year-old need to be home at the regular curfew time even on that one special night? Sure, I sign my own parental edicts with the the pens of "Because I said so," "Because I'm the Daddy," "That's just the way it is," or "Suck it up," but do we always need that indelible ink, or could we, from time to time, fudge it in pencil?  (No, I don't say suck it up to my kids, but I wish I could sometimes).

This is my lovely Claire.

If you catch her on the right day, Claire will tell you that her favorite song is "Planet Claire."

"She came from Planet Claire
I knew she came from there
She drove a Plymouth Satellite
Faster than the speed of light
Planet Claire has pink air
All the trees are red
No one ever dies there
No one has a head
"  (I love that line.)

Of course, sometimes she'll tell you her favorite song is Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," but that's a song for an entirely different blog post.  See me in 10 years.

Back to Planet Claire - how does a 5 year-old pull the B-52's from her mental Rolodex?  It probably doesn't matter, since (for those of us who know her) we know Claire exhales pink fumes every day of her life.  This girl is at least part tank (, and it's her tank-i-ness that I wanted to discuss.

Today, Beth and I blasted off to Planet Claire and lost Intergalactic War 21, the Tussle with the Tights.  Beth and I felt that the THREE pairs of tights we chose for her gave her plenty of choices, but we took a wrong turn on the Interstate.  Only after the heart-rending-ly loud thunderstorm had rained tears for much longer than usual did I realize our error.

Claire hates stitch lines on her toes.  A LOT.  She even reminded me, after she calmed down.

We probably all know one kid who despises tags like sandpaper on her eyeball, avoids shoes despite planned walks in hot lava, won't wear underwear, or shivers when rubbing his fingers through flour (OK, that last one might be me - shame, too, because I like baking with the girls).  If I had given Claire a literal rainbow of tights, with every color matching a point on the 4096 color wheel, she'd have sunk every one of them in the deepest ocean trench if each sported that darn stitch line.

After sitting her in the penalty box for the 5-minute major and threatening to clothe her in gunny sacks (no, not really), we allowed her to put on her triple weight winter tights with her sleeveless pretty spring dress.  Problem solved, and we were only 12 minutes late.

Just in time, Beth and I recognized the tribal totems; I don't suppose I can blame Claire for a failure to communicate.  We say "don't touch the stove," they yell "we hate those tights."  Beth and I square-peg-round-holed her with our usual consistency and holding to our word, and this time, I believe we were wrong.  Although I'm sure I could have stuffed her into her clothes, I'm also sure that the lesson of might makes right would have been wrong, too.

A wise friend of mine says that, as parents, we often have our very worst to give to our kids, even though they deserve our very best.  We're tired, we're not perfect, we screw up.  The answer, in part, might be to say what we mean to say, and hear what they mean to say, what they need us to hear.  And if the omniscience thing ain't working, have a heartfelt "I'm sorry" tucked in with a warm hug, and teach our kids that our erasers have pencils too - and vice versa.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oops isn't bad

Major milestone for my 7-year-old this weekend: she rode her bike without training wheels.

Here she is.

Of course, this happening cements my status as a card-carrying member of the Run-behind-your-kid-while-she's-learning-to-ride-a-bike,-let-go-and-pray-that-she makes-it Club. Despite the existence of many other, "developmentally friendlier" methods for teaching kids...I failed at everything but the method my grandfather chose for me. Biking on grass, rolling down a hill, pedals off the bike all failed. Crazy, eh?

The older my kids get, the more I am struck by the fact that I can beam for my child in a way that I cannot for anything I do. Sounds dumb and obvious, I know, but I *GET* what my mother means when she says she's my biggest fan club; I am glowing for Charlotte's success, just as I ached for her frustration with the bike, and for her struggle to defeat her own inner demons of "Need for Perfection" and "Fear of Falling."

The low point for this little girl fell around last summer. It went something like this:

Friend:(whizzing by on bicycle without training wheels) Hi Charlotte. Hey, is that your bike? You STILL have training wheels?
Charlotte: (looking embarrassed...standing next to her brand new bike that I was getting ready for her) Uh, no, it's my sister's.
Friend: Yeah, it is kind of babyish.

Watching your kid fib because of her shame, lying to a girl who we've come to understand sometimes puts Charlotte down as a "first-grader" (the girl is 1 grade ahead) takes sad to another level. Maintaining good self-control, I packaged the "friend" securely into a Large UPS box and waited for the next UFO bound for Jupiter. 3 Day Select, of course - Next Day Air is pricey.

So...watching her tear-streaked face yesterday as we tried yet another "better" method for learning to ride a bike, I consciously switched (like in "Over the Top," for those needing a Sly Stallone, cheesy 80s reference) to "re-framing mode." I think I might have channeled T. Berry Brazelton, since my own ability to stay 100% positive pales in comparison (sometimes) to that of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Maybe worse. Sometimes.

Charlotte: (crying) I CAN'T DO IT, Daddy! I'm scared. I hate my bike.
Me: But sweetie, you just did it a little bit. Didn't you feel it?
Charlotte: No.
Me: Sure you did. There was a tiny little time where I let go and you did it by yourself. (accentuating the positive).
Charlotte: But I keep saying in my head, "I can't."
Me: Well, say "I can!" And if you go off balance, say "Oops!" instead of "I can't."

Charlotte manages to go several 2-3 second stints on our next pass through the school parking lot.

Me: Wow! That's a "Yes" world record! Before, you were all "nooooooooooooo-yes-no-yes-nooooooooooo" for time staying up, and that time, you were very much "yessssssss-nooooooooooooo-yes-no-yessssssssssss-noooooooooooo." (Demonstrated yes and no by drawing line with my finger on her handlebar pad).
Charlotte: Really?
Me: Yup. Let's do it again!

Unbelievably, Charlotte proceeds to ride about 150 yards without falling, without my hand on the seat. Finally needs catching when she needs to turn, pulling a cartoon-character-over-a-cliff kind of routine.

Me: (cackling...seriously cackling) That's a "Yesssssssssssssssss" WORLD RECORD! Wooooooooooooooohoooooooooooooooooooooo! (BIG HUG)
Charlotte: (absolutely grinning) What was the line like that time?
Me: (tracing line on her handlebar pad, past the pad) That was all "Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss." (tracing line past handlebar pad, up handlebar, up her arm, tickling her armpit) You should be so proud of you!
Charlotte: You know how I did it, Daddy? I thought "I can. I CAN!" the whole time! I didn't even say oops at all!

Glad I could satisfy the energy needs of my county from the amount of pride, relief, and joy that boiled off of me that day. I love that kid.

Now she just needs to learn how to stop.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

4-year-old part III - the Tank

The Tank

Unflappable, unstoppable, focused and tireless - kid Tanks truck along, physically and emotionally, with a singular purpose that might not be immediately obvious. Scientists have attempted to determine their construction, but have failed: how can a child be made of steel, smashing into tables, through gates, over other kids, while at the same time bouncing off of things (like skiing into trees - thanks for that story, Marc!) with all parts intact? Could these children have extra-terrestrial origin, with sci-fi-like smart exoskeletons that determine what quality their armor must have? This pediatrician has no idea.

Like an actual tank, kids like these shrug off simple obstacles and barriers (psychological or physical) as mere nuisances. Must have toy. Must get out of crib. Can't stay in time out. Must eat dinner despite brother throwing things at me. Must keep playing despite Mom saying "Time to clean up." Must leave house without coat on despite Arctic conditions. Picture Godzilla squashing cars on his way to wipe out the Japanese army. Tank kids could read "War and Peace" in a Hurricane and upside-down, all while their headphones repeatedly blared the theme to White Hen Pantry. They are hard to budge, but calm and cool.

But, also like a tank, beware the cannon. If one raises ire of these kids (though it might take a while), expect the Howitzer. Cue the ear-splitting, grow-hair-on-your-bald-head fit with a side dish of Mattel-dump-truck-meets-brother's-head. Then the cloud passes, the storm of Mayhem and Incapacitation clears (the child may even say, "Whew, I'm done"), and the floodwaters recede. Back to the task at hand!

Signs that you have a Tank? Well...the above, but also expect to have a brass-bound set of rules on your bookshelf that is different than the random rules for your other kids, probably scrawled on scattered receipts and take-out bags. Dust off your lectures to the others that "you get what you get and you don't get upset," and know that the summary of the entire school day may consist of flowery replies like "Good," "I dunno," and "Don't remember." Oh, and lots of bruises and scratches.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The glass half expected

I am in the business of expectations. Whether there are questions about when Emily will talk or when Joey will stop screaming every night at 8 PM, families want to know what to expect. OB-GYN's come before me in that business, finding themselves in the original pregnant pause, but pregnancy only lasts 9 months...unless, of course, it doesn't. For sure, pregnancy ends in a wondrous happening that changes a family forever, whether the infant be the first or 19th. Unless, of doesn't.

Pediatrics then takes this child and family by the hands and watches them for 18 years, 21 years, or longer if the bond is too tough to break. That time is a slow crystallization of expectations. What happens if something goes wrong?

How do people cope when something happens to their pregnancies or their children? We have an idea that our babies will be beautiful and healthy, born after a solid 9 months. We anticipate that our kids will be smart and athletic, that they won't belch the alphabet in public or run with scissors, that their friends won't be vampires, and that others will look at them and say, "What well-behaved kids."

Today I met a woman whose daughter is one of 5 people in the world with a certain disease combination. I met another woman whose son has been admitted to the hospital 40 times, and last year spent over half the year as an inpatient. Consider all of the families on our Medical Home Team whose kids have some really complicated problems, or the mother of the girl in our practice with a problem that no other human being has. How do these families cope?

I'd guess it's akin to dealing with labor or any other issue over which one has no control: take one step, then another, then another. The glass is neither half full nor empty, and is probably not even half expected: there is no glass.

The 4-year-old part II

The Mayor
This child's parents do not need to check him in - everyone knows he's arrived because of the throng of kids and parents around him (I'm using he for ease of writing - girls can be mayors, too). Everything is a pleasure with this kid - last month, the office needed to create a "turn sheet" so that we might avoid the epic "Chicanery at the the Checkup," where 2 black eyes, a bruised spleen and a fractured tailbone resulted from the scrum before his last appointment.

The parents discuss their financial woes, since they've taken out a second mortgage to help fund birthday party gifting: the family even got a phone call last week from the Royal Family of Zamunda. Fathers at these birthday parties can be heard calling him "The Cool Kid," and they jockey for the chance to play on his knee-hockey team. This kid is pretty much always happy, and is very perceptive of others feelings - last week, he told his preschool teacher something was bothering his friend, and that friend was subsequently diagnosed with ADHD. Because of his uncanny ability to do everything right, philosophers the world over set their world compass to him. It's hard to miss this child - he's always surrounded by kids and paparazzi.

The Pistol

You know this girl is a pistol because, on hearing you call her a pistol, she cocks her head, puts her hands on her hips, and points at you with a crooked, chubby finger, saying, "Hey, what's a pistol?" Though she is loud, she contrasts with the Devil (of part I) because of the burstiness of her loudness: giant, block-like "HA-HA-HA"s emerge from her mouth when she laughs, large enough to crush me against the wall. But in case you're wondering, she's a pistol not for her tiny attention span, but because the rest of us are adrift in the rocky seas of her monologue that she occasionally opens to us for unclear reasons.

First, she's talking about Matt, the kid in preschool that she clocked the other day for accidentally sitting on her snack, then we're talking about how she can't help me look in her nose, because she "can't look at the sky, Dr. D - the ceiling is in the way." Then we're reviewing that she knows why chewing her fingernails is bad - "tiny snots too small to see live there," and she can't get them out no matter how hard she tries, but she just HAS to chew her fingernails. Inevitably, this child is obscenely cute, has dimples, red hair, and a WICKED New England accent, and is barefoot or in shorts when her parents would prefer for her to be in shoes and pants. Signs she's been around? Your ears are ringing, but you're cracking up.

Possible future thumbnails - The Ostrich and the Tank

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kid personalities 101 - Part 1 of "the 4-year-old"

Having seen a few thousand kids so far in my career, I swear all kids are a) stamped in some pre-birth assembly plant with the same characteristics; b) secretly enrolled in the same classes, where they learn cool things like "How to ignore your parents and make them take you to the pediatrician because they're certain that something is wrong with your hearing."; c) descended from one common ancestor, who was a seriously confused person (that one might be possible...); or d) all of the above.

The pediatrician in me pleads for me not to generalize kid personalities in this way, but the Evil Uncle in me urges me to press on. Pediatrician...Evil hard to choose...

These profiles are tongue-in-cheek and whimsical, and are meant for entertainment only. They do not reflect any particular child I have seen or do see. These sketches are really just amoebae of crazy 4-year-olds I have seen over the years.

The Angel
This child is a dream. She (and it usually is a girl) knows how to read and, more than likely, knows a second language (self-taught) after English. She never uses the word "Um," both because her vocabulary is at least as good as Webster's, and because she always knows exactly what she wants to say. She has long curly hair, curly enough to "boing," and twinkly eyes. She also has a precocious and curious fashion sense, often wearing many colorful, perfectly coordinated layers, meaning that Aramark does less laundry than her parents.

She smiles when I ask her any question, and surprises me with her own observations about her family, the central themes to Hamlet, and the stock market (my 401(k) loves this kid). She is a brilliant artist, loves her mother, and, together, they reassure me that 1) she is ok; 2) so am I; and 3) won't it be nice when she's a 30-year-old astrophysicist lawyer neurosurgeon for her to bring her kids to me? Can often be spotted wearing cool hair paraphernalia color-coded by day of the week.

The Devil
This boy (and it usually is a boy) has usually reduced the examination room to post-apocalyptic rubble by the time I arrive, and it's difficult to see his ripped jeans or smudged face through the haze. I'd love to hear what his mother is saying, but this boy beats his drum (what Evil Uncle would give this child a drum?) loud enough that the local high school marching band director calls, asking me when I'll be done, since the band's beat is asynchronous with that of young Neil Peart, here. Citing doctor-patient privilege and HIPAA, I tell him I have no idea what he's talking about.

By the end of the exam, I have confirmed that the child might have a heartbeat and that he can move all of his extremities, that he has a firm grasp of the word "no," and that he's stronger than all of the rest of the members of his family put together. At points in the visit, it becomes difficult to believe that he could possibly mine more boogers from his nose, but, surprisingly, he latches onto yet another and wipes it on his poor mother. His high-five at the end would render me left-handed but for the fact that I remember to pull away slightly, so it merely hurts a lot instead of crippling me. You can tell this child has passed through by the impressive presence of FEMA personnel in his wake.

Coming soon to a blog near you - the Pistol, the Mayor and the Ostrich.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Haunted by Waters"

"I am Haunted by Waters." The final words of "A River Runs Through It" still echo in my own mind, even though I first heard them 18 years ago. Something about that movie speaks to me; I am a sucker for grand themes and commentaries on unifying truths.

I think of my kids, my family, my life, when I ponder this movie. Like my kids, I wish the "river" might be an unchanging thing, a constant. I know this is how my kids, probably all young kids, look at life. They look at my wife and me, our parents, their school, this pillars, stone pillars, immutable, everlasting. They regard summers as a pack of identical cards, winters as octuplets/dodecuplets, springs and falls as backwards twins. They'll always be kids, we'll always be stodgy adults, wet blankets to their wanna-be forest fires.

Late at night, I sometimes tell my wife that I feel like their childhood is slipping past me. For me, the river, though a constant, is a changing thing. I can't grab any part of the river before it's gone, replaced by another piece. They are different people every day: the cuddly baby becomes the adorable (i.e. frustrating) toddler who becomes the industrious school-aged child who morphs into the independent teen.

I understand the currents wash these developing people away and replace them with similar, but deeper, people. Greedy I am, wanting both the younger child and the older, but I am also greedy for my much-missed grandfather to be here with my own great-grandchildren.

I played a Twister, Dr. Seuss game with them tonight. I'll have to remember always to play before I do the dishes. Swimming against the current is probably a losing effort, but I am one heck of a swimmer. Backstroke, of course.