Friday, May 28, 2010

Milk plus eggs plus water makes...lemonade?

Parents often come in pulling out their hair, asking me how exactly does one "do the sleep thing," "do the eating thing," "do the time out thing," "not kick one's teen out of the house."  They often implore me to tell them the one thing (apologies for Curly's language...something tells me my readership, as it is, is not even close to under 21...) that makes it all easier.  They might even express frustration that the one thing I tell them tastes like chocolate ice cream, when they swear the last guy gave them vanilla.  I'm a mint chocolate chip guy, myself, but that's just me.

The other day, my curly-haired monster

did her curly-haired monster thing - she bulldozed her sister.

(The big one, not the wee one).

Why did she do it?  Because that's what she does.  Claire can impose herself on her waifish older sister because she's good at being physical; Charlotte is a speaker, not a fighter.  She is, however, far from defenseless.  Fast-forward to later in the day...

Claire: Charlotte?
Charlotte: (no answer)
Claire: Charlotte?
Charlotte: (clearly purposefully not answering her sister.  This session could be a tape-recorded version of the umpteen-thousand times.  Each iteration would pass a jeweler's examination - he'd be unable to discern the fake for the real).
Claire: (pulls her shrieky voice out of her bag) CHARRRRR.  LOTTTTTTTTE!
Daddy/Mommy: (now, the answer here depends on whether or not we've figured out that Charlotte is baiting her sister, and whether or not we're just toast.  Version 1 - stressed Daddy/Mommy)  Claire, for the love of G-d, cut it out!!!

Yup.  That's the bad version.  That one never ends well.

Daddy/Mommy: (Version 2 - bon bon popping Daddy/Mommy, Shangri-La Daddy/Mommy, just insta-downloaded developmentally friendly parenting skills Mommy/Daddy)  Charlotte, you know she gets frustrated when you ignore her.  In this house, we answer each other when spoken to, hm?  (This tag ending usually ends with Charlotte "paying attention" to Claire.  She does this by nominally listening while gazing at something wondrous off to the side.  Does she think she invented the pretend-listen?  I mastered that long ago.  Puh-lease.  Anyway, we snip that one off, too...)

We've come to realize that, while both kids express themselves very well, Charlotte will take a pound of flesh outta Claire by frustrating her verbally.  Why?  Because both of them have different strengths. They're not clones, so why would they respond the same way?  Why should we expect them to react similarly?

So, while time-outs and limit-setting clearly work for the two of them, their reactions are totally different.  Charlotte will often grump about having to say she's sorry, but always articulates what she has done and why, and why she is so incensed over the slings and arrows raining down on her and her alone.  Claire, on the hand, frustrates easily, and when flaming white hot, loses her considerable verbal skills.  She has trouble discussing her feelings and during time outs will often forget what she's done.  That's unfortunate for her, because until recently, a requirement for getting out of time-out is apologizing for exactly what the time-out-able offense was.  Thus, Claire has collected dust and/or gotten moldy whilst in time-out, figuring it all out.  The good news for her is that we've finally figured out that she's a different child than Charlotte, and we tell her what she's done.

Parents have sets of rules, and they often function differently for each kid.   Whether the kids are like mine, or developmentally disabled, with medical issues, or not, it's useful to remember that each kid brings something different to the table.  The same rules, the same mindset, the same tool cannot be used the same way with each kid, for any number of reasons.

Once upon a time, a bunch of grandparents observed as 2 young parents (Beth and me) chiseled "the rules of Charlotte" into granite slabs, hoisting them above for all to see.  I wish I could have seen these same grandparents chuckling at us in their homes a few weeks later, after our "No, no...THESE are the rules."  Even now, we continue to smash commandments, constantly editing, but as long as our kids continue to thrive, I'm happy to find some kind of eraser for stone slabs.

Claire is Claire, Charlotte is Charlotte, Corinne (the lovely baby) is Corinne.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Well said

Over time, it has occurred to me, more and more, how privileged I am to do what I do.  Families trust me to help them with the routine and the difficult.  Kids trust that I won't poof into a scary demon guy who will munch their toes.  Teens trust that I won't judge them for:

  • their drug use
  • their crazy family
  • their promiscuity
  • their bad grades
  • their theory that marijuana is "Mensa medicine"
  • their homosexuality
Last night, Beth and I watched "Glee."  We're singers, so we were most likely to be hooked in, if only for the excellent vocals and  rockin' harmonies.  However, I think the best moment of the show to date came last night.  The background is that 2 characters, one straight (Finn) and one gay (Kurt) were arguing over the somewhat over-decorated style that Kurt had applied to the teens' mutual room.

Finn: Okay, good. Well, the first thing that needs to go is the faggy lamp, and then we need to get rid of this faggy couch blanket.
Kurt’s Dad: HEY! What did you just call him?
Finn: Oh, no, no. I didn’t call him anything. I was just talking about the blanket.
Kurt’s Dad: You use that word, you’re talking about him.
Kurt: Relax, Dad. I didn’t take it that way.
Kurt’s Dad: Yeah, that’s because you’re 16 and you still assume the best in people. You live a few years,  you start seeing the hate in people's hearts, even the best people. (To Finn)You use the N-word?
Finn: O-Of course not.
Kurt’s Dad: How about retard? You call that nice girl in the Cheerios with Kurt, you call her a retard?
Finn: Becky? No, she’s my friend. She has Down syndrome. I’d never call her that. That’s cruel.
Kurt’s Dad: But you think it’s okay to come in my house and say faggy?
Finn: That’s not what I meant.
Kurt’s Dad: I know what you meant! You think I didn’t use that word when I was your age? You know, some kid gets clocked in practice, we tell him to stop being such a fag, shake it off. We meant it exactly the way you meant itthat being gay is wrong.  It's some kind of punishable offense.  I really thought you were different, Finn. You know I thought that being in Glee club and being raised by your mom, meant that you were some new generation of dude who saw things differently. Who just kind of came into the world, knowing what it’s taking me years of struggling to figure out. I guess I was wrong. I’m sorry Finn you can’t stay here. I love your mom, and maybe this is going to cost me her, but my family comes first. I can’t have that kind of poison around.

I've never heard anyone say it so well.  I might be critiqued for using something so "poppy" to make my point, or for posting on homosexuality, period, but I don't care.  If more people stood their ground and didn't stand for the BS that gets flung around on issues like homosexuality, race, religion, and gender, I'd not have to help out so many kids and families that are hurting so badly.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lovely Baby

I don't usually do this, but I need to gush over my 9 month-old.  She is a lovely human being. 

Here she is:

She's a gentle, tiny little girl.  She smiles at everything.  She loves attention, but will happily chew or fiddle with anything she can get her hands only, and is surprisingly deft with those pixie hands:  I'm not sure I remember the other girls grasping things with their thumbs and index fingers as early as Corinne.  I do know that both of them had strong opinions about certain things; Corinne appears to have that kind of opinion only about her parents staying in the same room as her.

If you pay attention long enough, she will gladly cycle through all of her tricks.  Clapping with a baby "hooray" (sort of an "aaaaaaaa" with a toothless grin), shaking her hands, and shaking her head "no" (especially if she hears the word "no") serve as her bread and butter, but she has others.  She'll cough, raz, or na-na-na at you to get your attention.  She recently seems to have picked up the "more" sign, but is unsure if she should shake her hands or clap to signify "more."

Beth especially loves Corinne's spaghetti-sauce-covered-hands-in-the-hair trick, usually done to acknowledge that she knows the word "hair."  My personal favorite?  Her astounding typing skills. Like most babies who have sat with parents at a computer, she has become an accomplished stomp typist.  Equally impressive are her feats of legerdemain, which are part head fake (Kobe's head fake) and part excellent timing.  Her best came last month.  After trying to grab her be-cereal-ed spoon from Beth (twice), Corinne opened her mouth, and, with spoon almost in mouth (and Beth persuaded that eating was priority #1), she clapped at spoon and goo with both hands, creating a small mushroom cloud of...well, goo.

She thinks she's a daredevil.  With her Mom or Dad holding her, she'll throw herself backwards to see what's behind her, consequences be damned. "Gravity, come and get me!"  And fearless!  In the face of elemental fury, she sits unblinkingly as water pours over her face as she bathes, and she grins when her sisters blow air in her face.  Intrepid, unaccommodated baby!  But, at the end of the day, she's a sensitive girl.  She'll lay her head on my chest and just be cuddled, and make ah, ah, baby noises.

I am beginning to understand why people have 8 kids.  But we're done, despite the presence of this angel.  Lovely baby.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Asking the "dumb" question

The other day, a Dad of a new baby asked me, "So what is jaundice, anyway?"

Rewinding the conversation, there I am explaining that because the infant was only 3 days old, we'd need to watch how well he was feeding and whatnot, as his skin was a bit jaundiced.  I explained that it was not uncommon for kids to develop this yellow skin color, that we'd watch it closely, and that everything would probably be just fine.

I pride myself on not being that guy who rips through medical terminology without explaining things, so I am glad this new father asked me about jaundice...since I never explained to him exactly what it was and why it happens in babies.  I tend to speak plainly:  for example, there's no sense in discussing the pathophysiology of asthma in great detail when I can sum it up by describing the passages of the lungs as being tight (like a doughnut instead of a hula hoop) and full of mucus and crap.

Unfortunately, most people either blank when speaking to a medical provider, or they are afraid to ask a question that might sound "dumb."  Many of these same people then rifle through internet sites asking complete strangers what they think the physician meant.  That's NUTS.  I mean, I understand researching medical issues, and you'd have to be cursed with Shaq's free throw percentage to miss a good medical reference online on any given issue, but your doctor (hopefully) is an expert.  He/She's right there in front of you, and knows your specific issues.

In fact, by asking your question, you might enlighten your doc about something.  Didn't consider babesiosis on the list of things that might happen after a tick bite?  Forgot to consider the effect of your birth control pill on the issue at hand?  Neglected to look at your list of drug allergies before prescribing the antibiotic?  Wasn't aware of your family's predisposition towards very early heart attacks?  Didn't know you can't swallow pills?  Truth is, medical providers need your help to help you (odd that Jerry Maguire might apply to medical care).  It's a team sport, and without your help, your doctor is flying the plane with one eye and no arms.

Some parents abashedly ask me," I'm sorry, I have a dumb question."  If a parent has a question, chances are that a metric crapload (new unit of measure attempting to be passed in Europe.  Used to describe a large amount of a thing) of people have asked the same question.  Why?  Because the answer to "how to raise my kids well" is really non-obvious, and no one should feel bad about asking for help.  Parenting is not always natural or intuitive, even though some people make it seem like it is.

Even if the answers were obvious, any one answer might not work for some particular kid.  There's a very good reason why 7,631 different parents might give 7,631 answers on how they disciplined their kids, how they got their kids to sleep, how they fed their kids, how they dealt with night-time nerves...bullying...deaths in the family..."do girls pee standing up, too?"...serious illness of a parent...nose-picking...moving...siblings fighting..."I hate you"...etc.

I love questions.  Generally, I have a list of questions that I have to ask, anyway.  Most parents ask all of my questions, and add to that list the things keeping them awake at night.  If I can subtract some anxiety from the regular amount of parental anxiety, I am doing my job.

Ask.  If you forget to back later!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I heard this term used the other day...

I understand that this term is not a flattering one, and was created by those with some contempt for this kind of parenting, but as long as we're talking about it...

How many schlocky 80s family sitcoms sprinkled the once-lost-now-found-parent-uttered "we're so sorry, we only wanted what's best for you?"  Typically, the scene culminated in a lost game, a busted romance, or an embarrassing stage performance, capping off a frenetic series of events in which someone ended up sprawled awkwardly on the floor, with spaghetti slopped into a ruined hair-do, topped with shocked silence or a group snicker.  And seemingly, everything could have been prevented had the parent just let the child complete her task alone.  Could the decade of child stars, bad hair, and formulaic drivel have had the right idea about letting kids do their thing?

Like a lot of issues posted here, there's no "Eureka!" answer.  Though I favor laissez-faire are some really bad ideas to "laissez-faire":

  • allowing your kids to play pin-the-fork-in-the-electrical outlet
  • permitting TV-watching without supervising content
  • Leaving your 3 year-old alone in the room with your infant (yes, I caught one of my kids trying to touch our infant's eyeball because she wanted to see how it felt...)
  • 3AM bedtimes!
  • lake swimming with walker-pushing great-grandma lifeguarding
  • approving their application to roll around in poison ivy "because I'm not allergic to it."
  • 5 minutes explaining the "why" of "because I said so."
  • biting your child to show that biting is wrong
  • Circus peanuts...ever.
I read a book a while ago  - "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" - that captures perfectly the idea of letting kids leap their own obstacles.  I'm glad Dr. Mogel didn't call her book "Blessing of a Broken Arm" or "Blessing of Some Mild Head Trauma," as I am not sure I could get behind such a book.

What's a little blood on the knee?  Scrapes heal.  C- on an 8th grade English paper because your son gambled on snow, playing video games until 5 AM, snacking all night, having a ball, watching college basketball re-runs, only to find out early in the morning that not a flake had fallen, necessitating the worst vomit-on-paper ever produced?  Your boy won't count on snow again to rescue him from his responsibility.  Daughter cut by the high school softball team?  Disappointing, for sure, but does one have to call the coach for a tongue-lashing that leaves real welts?

Learning experiences for kids include both book-learning and experiential learning;  no one ever learned to hit a fastball without actually staring down the barrel.  My wife Beth and I used to eat at the same restaurant once upon a time, and while there, we'd rifle through the sugar packets that spewed platitudinous remarks like "A Stitch in Time is Better than 2 in the Bush" or "What Goes Up Must Come Down Unless Aerodynamically Enhanced."  We still talk about the following one:   "experience enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it the second time."

I suppose kids can just "figure things out" as the get older.  I guess some kids sprout resilience without ever being tested, and that some kids never get it, sheltered or not.  However, I think my daughters won't allow me to hang around 24/7 for the rest of their lives, so if I expect them to survive on their own, let's see them practice on their own.

Training doctors work this way.  We're supervised as residents, caring for people while a more experienced physician watches.  Residents function autonomously...but have someone else not-too-far away in case PB& Fluff fever walks in, and the resident has never seen that before.  Is there a doctor who always had a more experienced doctor sitting on his shoulder after residency, watching over his every move, whispering "Ah, you SURE you want to do that?"

Of course, stranding someone on Devil's Island doesn't teach them much, either.  Leaving a child to cook dinner for her siblings so she can experience the dinner-and-bedtime-hour would be fun like watching a can of Lysol in a bonfire is fun (so long as one observes from a healthy distance with a good fire crew nearby), but is that a useful experience?

If your child thinks you'll pound the deus ex machina button every time her pants catch on fire from a short-sighted kid move, she'll never learn to stop, drop and roll.  As parents, we have a hard time letting go, but doing so allows them to fail so that the next time, they'll see failure coming...hopefully right before it smacks them between the eyes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Hope - "the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best".

Optimists bank it, pessimists are bankrupt of it.  Kids usually have it, unless they don't, but some kids lack it even if their families feel like there's no reason NOT to have it, while some kids drink shining cups filled to the brim with it despite having nothing in their lives that replenishes it.  Hope is the fuel for the Porsche of Resilience.

Why do I care?  Because though hope is a pill I can't prescribe, I know that I, as part of a child's support system, can keep myself (and help keep others) from crushing its fragile green shoots.

Hope is that thing that keeps people going in dire circumstances.  How many kids have I seen with cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease, whose parents have died, whose fathers have gone to jail, whose mothers have breast wandering around in the fog of Uncertain Diagnosis...who endure the hail and lightning with a grim "This too shall pass" or "Some day, it'll be better."  Are these kids clueless?  Are their families not smart enough to grasp the seriousness of the issues at hand?  Usually, no...and no.

There are those who seek ways to "get through" to those clinging to hope in tough times.  Deal with it with eyes wide open, they say.  Gotta know what you're up against.  No sense in clinging to the dinghy of hope in a Category 5 Hurricane.  In fact, some people do  prefer to know that 95% of people with pancreatic cancer do not live 5 years; others, though, shimmy up the flagpole to reach for that 5% banner.  I can't predict which child or family fervently believes in the Promised Land, believes in those caring for them, believes in their own inner strength.  I just can't imagine crushing someone's belief that things are going to somehow turn out okay, no matter how bad the odds.

In 1998, a movie called "Hope Floats" debuted.  It's a bit of a corny flick, but the essence of the movie, and this post, could be summed up in the following quote, said by the protagonist's daughter:

"Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome. That's what momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it's the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too..."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Let them crow!

We don't allow our kids to crow.  The boasting child makes people cringe, probably because a boasting adult makes people cringe.  Class, please turn to page 1 of most pediatric testbooks.  First sentence...

Children are not little adults.

Pediatricians have this axiom tattooed on their foreheads in invisible ink (black lights bring it out- that's why I haven't gone clubbing in some time.  Clearly the only reason), but I hear crazy things from adults all the time that showcases misunderstanding of this point.  The list includes:

  • expecting younger kids to be able to sit for long periods of time without creating a disaster than can be visualized from outer space.
  • Telling a child once that the fill-in-the-blank behavior is expected...and actually believing that a Borg-like assimilation of said behavior happens immediately.
  • Looking at a big-for-his-age child and expecting big-for-his-age behavior.
  • Seeing a baby in pink and saying, "Isn't he cute?"  (ok, that's a different point, but it's still silly).
  • Hoping that "rub some dirt on it" will cure all aches and pains.
Back to crowing.  Every now and then, at routine check-ups, kids will relate their accomplishments to me.  Came in 2nd at the state swimming meet.  First in the nation in an engineering competition.  Just got his helicopter pilot's license.

I LOVE hearing about that stuff.  BRAG away.

I  don't always get to hear about the good stuff, so hearing good news makes me smile.  Unfortunately, the child's parent often says (sounding a bit embarrassed) "Oh, Johnny, don't brag."  Why not?  There's plenty of opportunity to teach your child about the social mores of discussing one's victories.  Allow kids to feel good about themselves - the development of self-worth depends on it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No kid gloves

"She just won't listen to her teachers at school."

"He's not trying hard enough in science - he really doesn't like his science teacher."

"She says she'd study harder, but that French teacher is a real pain."

"I just don't like the way his math teacher gives out homework."

Before medical school, I worked as a bartender at a local restaurant.  I loved it, mostly.  In general, people loved to swap stories with me about work, friends, the Sox.  I once even got a story about a "boil" on a customer's butt, who felt I could give out medical advice, given that I had just been accepted into medical school.

Then...there was my boss, Bill, who was about 6'2", maybe 250.  Beefy in stature, he threw his weight around figuratively, as well.  Many of the other cooks and waiters disliked Bill, who routinely dealt out useless tasks or asked people to do things outside of their job descriptions.  Bill often forgot to do parts of his own job, giving the rest of us the privilege of bailing water so the ship remained upright.

I felt Bill targeted me, in particular.  Knowing that I'd be his bartender only until medical school called, he often made comments about my lack of immunity to the drudgery of cleaning the drink racks or swabbing the floor with a variety of dental implements.  The volume of the sucky tasks seemed to crescendo once Bill found out I would be leaving at the end of my last summer, and the choice Friday and Saturday night shifts, where the more inebriated crowd often tipped much better, started to trickle to J.D., my successor at the bar.

My Voodoo doll of Bill seemed only to tick him off more.  I doubt fleas and his armpits met as I had hoped.

I'm betting each of you has or has had a boss spawned from the deepest recesses of Hades, and in fact, he/she may still preside over the roasting of your poor soul.  Have any of you refused to do the tasks of you job?  It's probably a silly question, unless you're unemployed because of that behavior, in which case I guess this post might be for you, too.

In general, schools and teachers do well in the education of their charges.  If your children say that they just can't do their work because Mr. Jones stinks, understand that, though you love your child, she of less than 2 decades is hardly in a position to judge the competence of a teacher.  A child's job is to go to school, do his work, and do as well as he/she can.  Your job is to help your children in this pursuit, to listen for something that sounds funny, and to tell them that the teacher is right, and that refusing to do work is wrong.

Any other response giftwraps your child's license to do poorly, and sets them up to expect perfection from their surroundings:  teaching your kids to be resilient in the face of less-then-perfect circumstances might be one of the better lessons you can teach.  If your kids feel that you support them in the idea that their teachers stink, they will probably put forth less effort, and will not likely respect their teachers.

While we, as parents, have expertise on our own children, their teachers have years of training and expertise on childhood education, and are competent observers of your children using the scholarly portion of their brains.  True, there are some situations where the teachers are wrong, or where they treat your children unfairly; sometimes, the schools get kids and IEPs (individualized education plans) wrong.  For the average child, however, no such issue exists.  I suppose that's the rub - figuring out if your child is one of the former or one of the latter.

A few years ago, a mother and father (whom I knew well from seeing their 2 kids over 5 years) came to me to discuss the 5 year-old's behavioral issues, which included backtalk to her teachers.  After reviewing everything, I asked them if they (the parents) liked the teacher.  They said they did not.  I asked them if they vented their dislike for her in front of their daughter, but didn't need their affirmative answer as the two of them guiltily looked at each other.

At their other daughter's check-up a month later, the parents reported that everything had improved at school, and that negative comments about the teacher waited for sneaky ears to be sleeping.

Kids will perform up to expectations - make sure you set them high enough.