Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kid Presents

Millie writes:

Today is Mollie's birthday, and that got me to thinking about how a mother's birthday differs from a regular woman's birthday.

When you're a child yourself, the world revolves around you, as is only right and proper. You wake up in the morning expecting the heavens to open and pour birthday blessings down on you; for 24 hours, you're the center of the universe. There's a part of you that wouldn't be shocked if your birthday party included the entire Barnum and Bailey circus – you don't expect it, but it wouldn't surprise you, either. That sort of thing is just part of the Birthday Magic: Infinite possibility.

When you have a child you discover the true meaning of a Birth Day, and your own shifts somehow. Oh, there's still that feeling of hope for the circus – I doubt that ever goes away completely – but now the focus of the celebration has shifted from how many years you've had to how many years you have left.

One of the most surprising changes in my life after my kids came along was learning how fantastic kid-gifts are. We have never gone in for that whole “I'll pick out a present for the kid to give to you” sham; we've encouraged the kids from the very beginning to choose their own gifts. The great thing about this is that you get a present that a kid thinks is cool, not some boring old adult thing.

I don't know whether I'm just lucky and got six kids with an absolute flair for picking presents, or if we simply nurtured that empathy and generosity that's inherent in all children. Either way, I love it. You'd think you'd go through years of, “Mama, I got you a Tonka Truck! Can I borrow it?” but that has never happened. I've gotten homemade theaters with a puppet representing each family member, a stiletto letter opener, an entire series of “Dr. Who,” an easel and oil paints, a personalized cell-phone ring and a garden gnome holding a lantern that really lights up after dark. What do these things have in common?

Why, they're TOYS! Lovely toys, all chosen with my tastes and personality in mind. I would rather have a dollar-store gift from one of my kids than any expensive gadget bought through a personal shopper; and I hope our dear Mollie receives an abundance of this kind of present today!

Mollie writes:

We spent my birthday in Las Vegas with a poltergeist, a bunch of old (literally AND figuratively) friends, and the Vegas Mob.  Fun was had by all, but I'd trade all that for a garden gnome!!!!

Happy birthday, Mollie!

From all of us here at Ask Millie and Mollie: Happy birthday! Many happy returns of the day!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vaccination and Autism: Is There a Link?

Last week, Anonymous Reader #1 wrote:

This raises an interesting question for me; what do you two think of the whole "Jenny McCarthy thinks vaccinations gave her son autism" thing? Is there any credibility to that theory, like, at ALL?
To which Anonymous Reader #2 replied:

Sorry, I just read "Jenny McCarthy thinks," which assumes facts not in evidence. Yes, drug safety matters. No, molecular biology claims from a professional ditz do not count. Those with the discipline to apply the scientific method and clinical double-blind studies have made enormous progress against devastating illness, and continue to do so.

Millie writes:

If there is one thing I've learned over the last 24 years, it's this: As soon as you take an immovable stand about anything pertaining to parenting, something will come along to prove you wrong.

People used to believe quite earnestly that picking up a crying baby would spoil its temper for life; now “everyone” knows that the more human touch a baby gets, the better it is for the baby. As recently as 30 years ago parents were advised to give their children sun baths until they turned a “healthy” shade of brown; now hospital personnel practically apply sunscreen as soon as they've washed off the vernix. New information comes along and forces us to re-think our old beliefs, which can often have the effect of making some of those beliefs look pretty darned stupid in retrospect.

Autism diagnoses have increased dramatically in the last 30 years, and when a British doctor published a paper in 1998 reporting on twelve of his patients who exhibited “autism-like” reactions (amongst other disorders) anxious parents seized on a possible link between the measles vaccine and their children's symptoms. The “autism community” was already suspicious of vaccines because some of them contained a high mercury compound called thimerasol as a preservative. New thimerasol-free vaccines have been used since 2001 – and the autism diagnoses continue to climb.

Enter Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy bunny turned famous author of Hollywood “mommy books.” Her two-year-old son suffered seizures and was diagnosed with autism and she delved into a highly-publicized struggle to heal him. She drew a parallel between the increase in childhood inoculations and the increase in autism diagnoses; well, here's a direct quote: “So it’s real easy when you look at that list of what it was like, and what it’s like now, to go, “Ah! I see the escalation of vaccines and I see the escalation of autism,” and that’s how we got there.”

This highly scientific conclusion started what amounted to a panic among young parents who were determined to decide for themselves what was best for their children and who felt disenfranchised by a medical community that was impersonal, condescending and distant. This mistrust manifested itself in ways ranging from parents' picking and choosing the vaccinations their children would receive – and when they would be administered – to a total refusal on the part of some parents to have their children vaccinated at all.

The scientific community has responded over and over again that fears about childhood immunization causing autism are groundless. The Institute of Medicine concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism,” and the Centers for Disease Control are even more blunt: “Evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association.”

What is supported by the evidence is the number of children who do not die every year of smallpox, diphtheria, polio and the host of other diseases that used to make it a crap shoot whether a baby would reach its first birthday or not. The majority of today's new parents have probably never known anyone who was scarred or rendered sterile by smallpox, crippled by polio or the only surviving sibling out of 12 after scarlet fever swept through a family. The Swine Flu pandemic in 2009 killed 16,455 people worldwide; in the early 1950s, there were approximately 50 MILLION cases of smallpox A YEAR, killing an estimated 12.5 MILLION people.

Now, thanks to the vaccine, it has been completely eradicated.

So – though I would probably have phrased it a little less bluntly than Anonymous Reader #2 – I think that I will cast my vote with the scientists rather than the starlets. I'm always ready to re-think any matter in the face of new facts; meanwhile, the medical and scientific community says there is no evidence of a connection between vaccinations and autism, whereas there is ample evidence that Jenny McCarthy wants to market more books and TV appearances. In the final analysis, parents must make up their own minds using the best information available to decide what is best for their children.

I get mine inoculated.

Jenny McCarthy on Healing her Son's Autism and Discovering her Life's Mission, Allison Kugel

Centers for Disease Control: Concerns about Autism

Institute of Medicine: Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism

Friday, September 24, 2010

Teen Angst

Millie writes:

I am one of Those Moms. Our house is the place for teens to be; we understand about having enough food and drink on hand, Lance and I know enough about music and movies to talk about them but not so much that we make them uncool, and we don’t mind the occasional accidental f-bomb. Besides, our home is set up for a horde, so having a few more around doesn’t raise our blood pressures appreciably.

As a mom, I’m pretty lucky because most of my kids’ friends are fantastic people. I mistrust those parents who tell you they “just LOVE teenagers!” in the same way I do those people who “just LOVE!” anything – you never know whether they really like you or not, do you? – but I can say that the teenagers who come around here are top-of-the-line. Frankly I don’t know for sure why they think I’m “awesome” – I pretty much just trade a little welcoming banter and then try to stay out of the way. (Perhaps I just answered my own question, come to think of it.)

Anyway, enduring six teenagers and their friends is an education all on its own. Emotions run high in this crowd as they fight to figure out who they are and where they belong in this world – sometimes there are so many hormones sloshing around in our house that I fear for the carpets – so I’m here to observe and report on a few of the contradictory rules for dealing with people on the front lines in Angstville.

If you’re dealing with a teenager who’s in a Mood, take him seriously. You know it’s a Mood, he knows it’s a Mood, but for you to say “oh, it’s just hormones” belittles his emotions and cuts off any chance of communicating with him. Hormones may make it harder for him to remain calm, it’s true; but hormones don’t make what he’s feeling or thinking less valid. Discount for dramatics if you have to, but listen to him respectfully.

If you’re dealing with a teenager who’s in a Mood, don’t take him TOO seriously.
It’s all too easy to be consumed by passion at this age, so listen to the words but dial your perception of the urgency down by several degrees. Teenagers don’t have enough experience yet to be able to gauge their emotions, but you do, and at least one of you should try to remain calm. However, even if the kid is exhibiting more drama than Boris Karloff, do not laugh at him. You may only be trying to defuse a tense situation, but it will hurt his feelings very much.

Don’t get involved
. If your kid is in pain because she was asked not to sit with The Gang at lunch, resist the urge to stomp down to that school and start ripping off faces. It’s natural for you to respond with maximum prejudice when your child is hurting, but even if you know exactly what should be done to “fix” the situation you will create a worse situation by taking the problem out of your child’s hands. If she seems receptive, do a little gentle brainstorming with her on ways she might handle the problem. Avoid saying anything specific that is critical of the people she thought were her friends, because loyalties and relationships change with frightening rapidity during these years; the boy she broke up with today might be her date for the Homecoming Dance tomorrow, and she’ll remember it if you called him a pizza-faced little twerp. Bite your tongue if you have to, but butt out.

Get involved. There are some things that are too big for a child to deal with on his own, even if that child is seventeen, gets straight A’s and volunteers at the homeless shelter on weekends. If your child tells you about a friend who is considering suicide, a place near campus where everyone goes to buy drugs or that he is being bullied, you must act quickly and decisively. Thank your child for telling you and let him know that you are going to take steps to protect the people involved. If he is concerned about it becoming known that he told someone about whatever-it-is, you can reassure him that you will keep his name out of it – but deal with it you must.

Be cool
. Your children’s friends are not your children, so it is not your responsibility to correct their grammar, nag them about their grades or criticize their taste in clothing. If they are visiting your home you should treat them in a pleasant fashion, offer them food and drink if it’s appropriate and make a little friendly conversation with them to put them at their ease. It is easier for anyone to be a good guest if you are a good host.

Don’t be TOO cool.
It is, after all, your home; visitors must respect your rules. When your child’s friends come over, stop what you are doing and greet them so that there’s no doubt in their minds that there’s an adult in the house, and that the adult is observing them. If you have rules such as “no cursing” or “no feet on the table” or “no peeing off the upstairs balcony,” it’s up to your child to correct this behavior how he sees fit; if he doesn’t do it pretty promptly, it’s up to you to do it (politely and privately, at least at first). Demand respect.

Remember, it’s not like it was when your kindergartener brought a pal over for a play date – your teenager and his friends can amuse themselves, they don’t need you to plan activities to keep them from getting bored. That being said, you should always have an activity or two in mind, like suggesting that they bake cookies or play Guitar Hero . . . because otherwise they might get bored.

See? It’s simple!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How To Build a Nest

Mollie writes:

A friend of mine has a tummy ache, and I'd take her chicken soup but she lives 200 miles away.  When my kids were small and the "bug' struck, distance wasn't a problem - I could chicken noodle 'em until their eyes popped out, but that was years ago.  These days, when they are sick, they depend on others to nurse them through it all.  But it sure brought back memories.

When their tummies were upset, we used a diet that was called the BRAT diet, meaning I fed them bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.  That would usually calm down their tummies until whatever beastie that afflicted them passed.  When they were running fevers, I gave them cool baths, tylenol, and let them sleep in their underwear.  And when they were congested, we'd vacuum their noses with the dreaded blue bulb syringe, used a cold air humidifier and cut off dairy products until the bug passed.

Another thing I'd do is build a nest.  I'd get their baby blankies, a bowl, video games, video movies (thank you, God, for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and books.  Then I'd take them downstairs to the family room and settle them in the recliner or a bean bag chair.  With pillows, the nest was complete.

I'd use the beanbag chair when they were throwing up because it was vinyl and easily cleaned.  When they had fevers, I'd use the recliner since it was fabric and 'breathed' enough to keep them from getting sweaty and elevating their fevers.

We'd put a microwave oven in the family room, so I could make them ramen soup, and had a refrigerator in the garage to keep cold drinks in.  Then we'd watch videos, play games, etc. and not have to take the stairs 50 times a day to keep them hydrated.

If they ran fevers for more than 24 hours, or, in the case of my febrile seizure baby, ran a temp higher that 103.9, I'd call the pediatrician's office.  But since taking them in only promoted the spread of our virus and exposed my guys to other's viruses, I'd try to avoid dragging them to the pediatrician's office.

At some point, my kids' immune systems leveled out and they could get bugs without spiking fevers or developing secondary infections.  But the early years were a challenge - with a preemie and a seizure prone kid, sometimes our lives would shut down for days while we managed medications and care.

And managing medications, especially antibiotics, was another challenge.  Giving a teaspoon of the latest antibiotic every 4 hours guaranteed that neither mom nor dad would have a full night's sleep.  And the routine of refilling the humidifier, sucking snot with the syringe or giving cool baths also ate into sleep, especially when my husband was out of town.

It would be nice to sleep the night through, but just about the time the kids were able to fight infections without a fuss, my sleeping habits were challenged by "the change of life."  I did have a few years of good sleep, but a word to the wise, once the baby is home, there's no guarantee you'll ever sleep an entire night through again.

Which begs the question . . . when does Mommy get a nest?  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Question . . .

Some people have reported having trouble leaving notes or asking questions on this site. If you're having this problem, please let us know on our Facebook site or drop us an email at .

If you can note, please do so!


When Life Sends You Lemons . . .

Mollie writes:

I heard from my sister-in-law today that the FDA has approved gilenya (generic name: fingolimod) for the treatment of relapsing MS.  What is so special to me is that this is the first oral treatment for patients with MS that reduces the number of exacerbations a patient experiences over time.

Specifically, it is noted that on average, there is a 52% reduction in flare-ups at one year in comparison with interferon.    Frequently drugs are approved with numbers like 10-20% (superior but not THAT superior).  Technically, a drug just has to prove noninferiority but the FDA these days prefers some superiority.

I hope that it hits the shelf soon.  I am soooooo tired of giving myself shots three times a week, which is usually followed up with flu-like symptoms and insomnia.  I also show a site reaction to each shot, a red welt that looks so lovely on my legs, tummy and buttocks.  

I will be soooooo ready to change my therapy.  My interferon runs approximately $3500.00 a month (covered by insurance), so I'm hoping that, even if it's a formulary drug, it will still be less expensive than interferon. But we'll have to take a wait and see attitude.  

This drug has some side effects, including elevated liver enzymes, which has been a problem for me in the past.  But I am willing to take a risk, monitored by my neurologist of course, that this particular drug won't be a problem.

Meanwhile, I spent a little time on-line, trading my Biogen stock for Novartis stock.  When God sends you MS, buy stock in the latest treatment.  Even if I doesn't work for me, I'm betting with my own money that it will work for most of us with MS.  

Meanwhile, a girl can hope!

Nurturing Skeptics

There is a fine line between traumatizing a kid for life by telling him at 3 that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus and raising him to be so trusting that he’s an easy mark for every con man who comes along. You don’t want your child to be completely lacking in empathy, but it’s your job to teach him not to be completely gullible, either. How do you train a child not to believe everything he hears, sees or reads without destroying his natural inclination to help people? One way is to share with him the sorting process you yourself use to separate the truth from the hype.

We are raising our children in a city, which means that nearly every day they are exposed to some form of scam. At almost every intersection downtown there is someone looking pitiful, holding a sign made from brown cardboard and a black Sharpie, panhandling the passers-by. I’m sure at some point in history this sight would have moved an onlooker to compassion, but these days it is so overdone that it could turn Mother Teresa into a Scrooge. There are “Vietnam vets” who weren’t even born until 1980 and people with $50 haircuts and new Nike Zooms who are “Homeless/Hungry/Thanks.” One year when we were driving the kids to school every day we became aware one particular street corner that always had a panhandler in the same spot, holding the same sign—but the identity of the panhandler changed every couple of hours. They were working in shifts.

There are people who are genuinely hungry, homeless and in need of help, so we don’t want to teach our children to be unsympathetic—merely discriminating. Since they don’t have much perspective yet on how the world works, kids have a tendency to internalize responsibility. They may feel vaguely that everything that’s wrong is somehow their fault, and that they should fix it or at least feel guilty because they have enough to eat, a warm bed and clean clothes. Many adults feel this way, too, which of course is why scams continue to work.

Educate your children. Teach them that television commercials exist to encourage the people who see them to spend money, and watch a few together so that you can point out the subtle messages the vendors are using: If you use their toothpaste you’ll be beautiful, if you wear their jeans you’ll be sexy, if you subscribe to their cell phone service you’ll have more friends than you know what to do with. Stating it plainly like that will defuse a commercial’s potency, because even a child has been around the block enough times to know that their choice of lunch meat won’t make anyone in the school cafeteria get up and dance.

Talk to them about how magazines and video distort the images they project (particularly those of women) and how the media attempts to make people dissatisfied with the way they look so that they will (you guessed it!) buy things to fix it. Show them the YouTube video of how a regular, pretty woman is transformed into a billboard model. Talk about common urban legends they may have heard (such as that eating carrots will improve eyesight) and show them, a site dedicated to debunking or authenticating such myths. If it is an election year and your kids are old enough to be interested, treat political commercials and even debates the same way: as advertisements designed to sell something to the public. We must teach our children to make important decisions by studying the facts and then making up their own minds.

Of course teaching them to be skeptical is not enough if you don’t also teach them to be kind. Even those people who ask you for money in the supermarket parking lot were children once; they’re human beings and should be treated with respect whether you believe their “line” or not. Let your children help when you are collecting groceries for the Food Bank in November; bring them with you when you’re working in the soup kitchen; encourage them to donate their good outgrown clothes and toys to children who are less fortunate than they. For every professional football player they hear about on TV, make sure they know about an unsung hero in their own lives like their local firefighters, clergymen or the quiet little woman who hands out blankets to the people sleeping under bridges in the winter.

The idea is not to kill their childish trust; the idea is to teach them to trust in what is true, in what is right and good. You, as a parent, have more influence over what your children believe than any other factor in their lives. Exercise your influence by teaching them the difference between truth and falsehood, reality and hype – because if you don’t, Madison Avenue will.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Discipline 101

Millie writes:

From the moment a newborn bites hard while he’s nursing to that whispered “stand up straight!” as he’s standing at the altar awaiting his bride, parenthood is one long series of corrections. Some you will do out of love, some you will do out of duty, and some you will do out of anger – but you will do it a lot, so you may as well learn to do it right.

Spanking is a huge “hot button” when you are talking about discipline. Up until the 1960s spanking was the way you disciplined a child; nowadays it’s something that most parents have in their arsenals, even if they are reluctant to admit it. To Spank or Not To Spank is something that you must decide for yourselves but, of course, I have a few opinions on the subject.

For one thing, that line about “never spank in anger” doesn’t ring true to me. Children can understand anger, and they can respect it; what confuses them is a spanking given in cold blood. If you do spank, do it immediately – none of this “wait ‘til your Father gets home” stuff, that removes the consequence too far away from the action. Don’t use anything other than your open palm to spank a child, because it’s too hard to gauge the force you’re using otherwise. You aren’t trying to beat them into submission; you’re trying to get their attention. If a pop on the behind doesn’t work, don’t hit harder – try something else.

One of the things we are attempting to teach these little people is that their bodies are sovereign – under their own control. It’s harder to accomplish this if we lay our hands on them as our sole means of correction, particularly once the child gets to be older than four or five. Personally, I had much better luck with other disciplinary tactics.

Time Out
We had The Corner. A child had to put its nose in the corner and keep it there for a predetermined amount of time (as a rule of thumb, a minute per year of the child’s age). Having a Time-Out Chair or a special punitive step works just as well, but be careful about sending a kid to his room – said room is probably full of toys and books and games. Occasionally, however, I punished a child by sending myself to my room – it was that or flip out completely in front of God and everybody. Gotta keep up my street cred, you know. The reason for time out is to break whatever cycle the kid is in that he can’t break himself, so when time out is up, give a hug and distract him to another activity.


If your children won’t stop fighting, there are two ways to handle it. One, forbid them to say a single word to one another and separate them to opposite ends of the table, room or house. The sibling who was insupportable five minutes ago now becomes a longed-for boon companion; you can decide when it’s time to give in and let them play together again. If that doesn’t work, tie them together. Really; take a piece of yarn and tie them together wrist-to-wrist or back-to-back. The novelty of the situation will get their attention, and eventually they will have to learn to cooperate if they want to be untied.

A Good Talking-To
For some children, knowing that you’re disappointed in them is the worst punishment they can receive. Alternatively, some experienced parents can deliver a lecture that is so boring and goes on for so long that even the THREAT of a talking-to can be enough to bring a kid back into line. Sometimes (if you can keep your temper) it’s even possible to reason with a child, to discuss why some behaviors are not permitted and how the child has broken the rules.

This is probably my go-to form of discipline, because it’s really not discipline at all – it’s life. There are rules and there are well-publicized consequences for breaking those rules; if a kid crosses the line then he does the time. It’s pretty simple, and it’s hard for even a teenager to argue with it – not to say they won’t try. An example: Kid A knows that we have a strict 45-minute computer time limit during the week. Kid A gets caught playing “Smurf Wars 2000” for 2 hours one Wednesday afternoon. Kid A loses computer privileges for the week. Q.E.D.


There are three levels of grounding. The first is the least lengthy, though sometimes the most painful: the child is forbidden to attend a function to which he had previously been given permission to go (“You are grounded from Abby’s birthday party”). Be careful not to do this capriciously – whatever you’re forbidding them to do should be a natural consequence of whatever they did wrong, otherwise they don’t see any connection between the crime and the punishment.

The second level of grounding removes from the child any outside privileges for the duration of the punishment (“You are grounded for two weeks”). During this time the child may only go to school and church (if you attend church). It’s up to you whether the grounding extends to extracurricular activities and phone calls. This type of grounding is usually a result of a child behaving irresponsibly when he’s away from your supervision – therefore he must endure a little MORE supervision until he gets the idea. (By the way: no need to tell everyone who calls that he can’t come to the phone because he’s grounded. Just take a message – there’s no need for anyone else to know his business.)

We call the final level of grounding “house arrest,” and it is reserved for behaviors that compromised someone’s safety or involved flat-out lying to us (the worst sin one of our kids can commit). If you’re under house arrest you don’t leave your room except to eat and go to the bathroom. There are no phone calls, no bedtime stories and no visitors. If school is in session you go straight to school and come straight home (or are delivered to and picked up from the front door by a parent), no extracurricular activities, concerts or field trips. If you’ve done something to trigger house arrest then life as you recognize it is over until you straighten out, Buddy.

The Aftermath
Once the punishment is over, don’t hold a grudge. Let your child know by your behavior that you have forgiven him; he’s done his time, lesson (we hope) learned. If you find out that you were wrong and punished a child for something he didn’t do – and this will happen, sometimes – go immediately to the child and apologize. If you don’t, it will undermine his trust that you really DO have his best interests at heart.

While I am the world’s number-one advocate of consistency, I have found that it’s okay to let things slide occasionally. Your kids are going to do things they don’t want you to know about from time to time; you are going to know they’re doing them. If it doesn’t hurt anyone and you suspect it might lead to a learning experience (or you did it, too, when you were a kid), consider letting it go. There will come a time (when your child is in his late teens) when he will realize that you not only knew these things all along, but you trusted him to deal with whatever came up – and that, my friends, is a very sweet moment indeed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Paella, Homecoming and Joy

Well, normalcy is restored on Whidbey Island.  It's raining, 60 degrees, the grass is green and fruit is hanging from the trees.  Oh, and Peter's home!

He's back from his most recent deployment in the world's hotspot.  It's never easy to have a kid in harm's way, but the rush of good feelings one gets when the kid returns does (sorta) level things out.  John picked him up at SeaTac last night after a 4 hour wait in the ferry lines (one of the ferries broke down) and a miserable rain-saturated drive.  The trip back home wasn't easy, either, returning lines at the other end of the ferry were just as bad, so John opted to drive the extra sixty or so miles to return home via the Deception Pass Bridge.

But, after 8 1/2 hours on the road, our hearts are glad.  I'm off to the store to buy sausage, chicken, mussels,  shrimp and other delicacies.  The paella will be in the oven by 4:00, and a lovely feast will be had.  We'll have a little wine, a little salad, and a lemony dessert to cleanse our palates after dinner.

It's such a confusion, raising responsible kids.  On one hand, we want our kids safe.  But how can the next generations be safe if we all "opt out" of serving our country when times are bad?  After 9-11-01, times were bad, and our oldest rose to the call.  It's nine years later, and after multiple deployments, our son and most of the troops are home from Iraq.  Let the rest of the Middle East follow suit.

We can go sailing, visit our other adult child, dine with friends and snuggle everyone else's bambinos, but the suspended 'doom' that family feels with a kid deployed never goes far from mind.  It paints a gray over everything else.

I'm writing today to thank all the other parents out there who stomach the angst, dread, worry, self-doubt, frustration, anger and angst of being the extended family of a soldier.

It isn't easy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Take Your Daughters to Work Day a la Mollie

I managed to form an attitude when I chose to stay home with my kids from 1982 through 1993.  There were eleven years in that sweep, and these were the sweetest eleven years of my life.  But attitudes towards women who stayed out of the work-for-money club hit a low during these years.    I've mentioned this before, but it bears mentioning again:  the decision to stay home with your babies is as altruistic as joining the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Boarders.  We mommies just didn't have the right PR group representing us (or maybe NO PR group?).

I had a lot of friends who did work when their children were small, but often it was for personal enrichment, not necessity.  That said, I also had friends who worked because they had to, due to divorce, death, spousal illness, etc.  I understand the decision to feed the kids.  I don't understand the decision to feed the ego.

It didn't hurt that these were the "materialistic" years of my generation.  You just weren't cool if you didn't have your nails done weekly, drive a BMW, vacation in Cancun or otherwise practice conspicuous consumption.  The thought of doing without the latest video game was as acceptable as diphtheria.  Looking back, those old games systems were always passe within six months of buying them, but the bragging rights were eternal.  A reality check:  the generation who brought us flag burning, calling returning GI's "Baby Killers" and Jane Fonda Workouts also brought the attitude that women who remained out of the work force while their children were home were absolute zombies.


During this time, the concept of "Take your daughter to work" day evolved.  It was a good idea, since all women need to be able to provide for their families.  But the idea went way off course when little girls were discouraged from focusing on parenting if that was what made their happy button chime.   We turned into a horde of name-calling insult hurling baby boomers and that just wasn't what Women's Rights were all about.

Or was it?

It seemed to me that women LOST rights during this phase.  We lost the right to chose, for ourselves, our life's course and our priorities.  We lost the right to nurture with pride, coupon clip with pride, volunteer with pride or otherwise express our individuality with pride.   This isn't to say that gains weren't made, but explicitly, self-respect and personal pride were of no importance when it came to The Movement.

One year, when "Take your daughter to work day" rolled around, I had a catharsis.  What if a stay-at-home mother stood up and represented motherhood as a worthy career?  I sucked in my breath, showed up at school the day that our middle school had scheduled for career women to come in and proselytize , and advocated to those students present that motherhood was as valuable career as any other.  It didn't go over well with the teachers on site.  But I made my point.   Academically, child development was worthy as a PhD program, so why NOT respect it in the trenches?

I also returned to work-for-money when my kids were older.  It was a natural step for us.  I wanted my kids to see me as a person who could manage a home, disease (MS) and a career.  But when all of that became too much, I opted out of the career.  Home came first.

The choice to work-for-money after giving birth is always the woman's option.  The only opinion she should consider is her partner's.  But in the end, it's HER call.

Note that I didn't call it "working mother" rather than work-for-money.  ALL mothers are working mothers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Let's Talk About Poop, Baby

Maggie writes:

As parents, we have the great privilege of worrying over every aspect of our children's lives. What they eat, how often they eat and how they eat. When they sleep, how often they wake... and what works best at getting them BACK to sleep. The myriad of possibilities is endless.

And then there's poop. In the first few years of their life (oh, until at LEAST fully potty trained, maybe even longer), you are constantly concerned with their poop. The quantity, quality and frequency. From the moment they come out of the womb, you wonder "Is this normal? Should they be going more? Less? Should it be this color? This consistency?... this STINKY??"

Every parent goes through it. When a bunch of moms get together, you can almost guarantee Poop War Stories will be shared. Like survivors of some sort of twisted chemical (oh the STINK!) warfare, we listen in awe.. and then try to top one another. "You shoulda seen the size...!" doesn't always have to refer to fish. Good times, good times.

I am in the thick of potty training my third child. She's a little over two years old and I must say, she's doing wonderfully! Girls potty train sooner than boys, in my experience. I have only ever started the potty training process when they were good and ready. Otherwise, it is an act of futility on your part and frustration for the both of you.

Each child is unique. The first two, though different ages when they started, pretty much followed the same routine of bypassing the "little potty" and going straight for the big one, with some sort of toilet seat insert. Not this time around. No siree, I'm not that lucky. Nope, this time, the little stinker is using the little potty, and quite happily at that. She is very proud of herself, and really, I am too.

I'm just sick of taking the bucket to the toilet and dealing with the poo. There is no reason for me to be this intimately familiar with the conditions of her excrement. Oh, and the older two get in on the act, begging to see how much she has pooped. So they can then cheer her on! My son goes so far as to try to tell me the color and quantity ("She went sixtyninefortyone times, Mommy! And it's brown with a little bit of yellow! Isn't that AWESOME?!"). I wish I were joking.

Potty training is a big step for both parents and child. Not only does it free up some of the precious finances literally being tossed into the trash can, it saves time! And sanity!! Of course, it is also an important step in independence for the child.

Our next goal will be learning how to wipe. Once that is down pat, she's going to have to start telling me when she has to go, as she is too short to reach the doorknob for the bathroom and I can't leave it open... that's just asking for trouble. I can barely trust my four year old to go in there and get the job done without clogging up the toilet or some other fun pastime. Nope, she'll have to let me know BEFORE she goes that she needs to, and we can run into the bathroom.

No more little potty for me, thank you very much.

The next big hurdle will be to take her out in public without a diaper. Ooo, the excitement!

I'll letcha know how it goes.

Helping Kids Deal with Everyday Stress

Millie writes:

School’s back in session with a vengeance at our house. Both our high-schoolers are taking heavy academic loads and come dragging into the house about 4 every afternoon with the will to live drained right out of them – a situation that is not helped by the ensuing hours of homework. By the time I get my hands on them they’re pretty much sleep-deprived zombies, and it’s hard to get any work out of sleep-deprived zombies; not to mention the fact that even low-level stress like this will disrupt their sleep cycles, make them more susceptible to colds and other infections and make them feel sad, angry and frustrated.

Any mother of teenagers can tell you that this is not how you want yours to feel. Here’s how I help them combat it:

Shorten the chore list during the school year
. Kids in high school especially need their down-time. This is not to say that they shouldn’t do anything around the house, they certainly should; just keep it simple and repetitive, like taking out the garbage, doing the dishes or washing the car.

Enforce bedtime. Kids need more sleep than they think they do, but they may not realize that they’re dragging because they’re just plain pooped. Choose a bedtime that works for your family and stick to it. Even kids in middle and high school need an end time, though you may decide not to tuck your 17-year-old into bed at 9 every night; establish a cut-off time for phone calls, text messaging and gaming. Remove cell phones, computers or gaming systems from the bedroom if you have to.

3 squares a day, plus snacks. You may not have much control over what your child eats when he’s at school, but you can influence what’s available at home. No matter how rushed your mornings, your child should eat breakfast; whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, a glass of milk and a banana works just fine. Eat dinner together every single night at around the same time; having the home schedule be somewhat predictable helps support a kid who feels like everything else is coming at him too fast. Provide mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks, as well; sneak in a bit of protein or a piece of fruit for a nutritional boost.

. DON’T insist they do jumping jacks or hit the gym, but DO come up with a way for them to burn off a little of that stress with physical activity. Ask them along on a bike ride or send them outside to shoot a few hoops outside the garage; even walking the dog will get them moving. Make it fun, though, or it will add to the stress load by providing yet another “To Do” to their lists. That is especially important if one of their stressors is being on a sports team!

Listen. When your child is mentally sorting and trying to make sense of his world, he needs a sounding board. That can and should be a service you provide. You don’t have to solve his problems for him; you just need to listen and offer tea and sympathy. Perhaps the two of you can brainstorm solutions, but he will feel better just knowing you are there to support him.

Take it easy. People under stress are emotionally ill. If your kid has the mood version of a nasty head cold, dial his life back a notch to the days when things were simpler for him. Serve soothing “nursery” food like creamy macaroni and cheese. Leave books like Where’s Waldo or the I Spy series around so he can rest his mind a bit and still earn tiny “successes” by finding the hidden pictures. If your kid usually takes showers, draw him a warm bath and add bubbles or food coloring; it’s also fun to float some orange peel or flowers in the water, but be sure you take them out before you drain the tub! Offer to massage his shoulders with peppermint-scented rub, or brush her hair if it relaxes her.

Teach. They may think the LAST thing they need when they’re already stressed out is more instruction, but if you can teach them a few simple stress-management techniques it will do them a world of good. Sometimes just TELLING someone that the smell of lavender induces calm will be enough to make a believer out of them, and there are hundreds of books and websites available to teach you how to meditate or do guided visualization with a child. You might even convince them to take a yoga class with you.

Children can have a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, so help them gain some perspective on their problems by teaching them to deal with stress while they're young. Don’t make a big deal out of babying your baby; just sneak in a few of these ideas to nourish his soul and let him know he’s loved.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ten Points for Slytherin

Millie writes:

If you have more than one child, then you know that brattiness is contagious. It can even be transmitted to the parents, if we are forced to do too many repetitions of “stop that!” and “you know you're supposed to do your homework first” and “don't interrupt” and “STOP THAT!” In an attempt to reinforce good behavior, discourage bad behavior and remove ourselves somewhat from the Drill Sergeant roles, Lance and I developed a way to control bratty conduct that ended up becoming one of the kids' most cherished family tradition: House Points.

The Harry Potter stories were big then, and all six kids would sit agog, begging for “just one more chapter!” every night. The oldest were suave high-schoolers and declared themselves too cool for this particular project, so we had a Family Meeting one night with the young four and declared that from now on (as far as their behavior was concerned) they were no longer Bender, Red, Sassy and Jack: they were Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffendor.

I kept a notebook with a page for each day and a column for each House. They earned Points by:

Doing their chores without being told;

Getting up on time;

Doing homework without being told; and

Earning “Room of the Week (see below).”

“Room of the Week” was another competition, this one developed to combat the Bedrooms Smelling Like Feet Syndrome, and high-schoolers were not permitted to opt out of this one. Every Friday at 5 p.m., the parents would inspect the bedrooms for neatness and cleanliness and award the cleanest room the coveted Room of the Week status. The winners not only got a House Point, they got to display the “Room of the Week” plaque on their door and choose the movie we'd watch on Pizza Night.

Lance and I could also award extra House Points at our discretion for above-average behavior; we very rarely had to deduct points, but that was an option, too. Without doing anything extra a kid could earn 3 points a day; the key to the plan was that they had to do it WITHOUT BEING REMINDED. (This was a life-saver for me – it's astonishing how many “reminders” a parent can ease into, until it gets to be so much work for you to get a kid in motion that it's tempting to do whatever-it-is yourself. This would deny the little darlings their chance to develop into happy, productive, responsible adults; besides, I certainly didn't throw those gym clothes under the bed.)

After the Room of the Week ceremony we'd gather in the dining room to do House Points. We'd add up the totals for the week and then out came the moment the kids had been waiting for: I'd bring out the Treasure Chest. This was an actual treasure chest, and we kept it filled with items we collected that we thought would appeal to the age group. We looked for things that were sparkly, fancy or just a little out of reach for someone on a weekly allowance. (We also stocked a case or two of different types of snack foods, but they didn't go in the box.)

Each of these treasures had a “price” tag on it showing how many Points it cost. Candy and small prizes were 1-5 Points and mid-range prizes cost around 20 Points (about what you could make in a week without trying too hard). There were also coupons for bigger-ticket items like a one-kid outing with Mom and Dad, laser tag passes or movie tickets. Whoever had earned the most Points during the week got to choose first.

This was great in several ways. Not only did the mere mention of “House Points” make a kid straighten up and fly right, the prize hierarchy taught even the first-graders to budget, to save for what they wanted, and occasionally even to cooperate when they pooled their Points to get a big prize. Mostly, though, it was a way to add some fun to the dull task of doing the chores; it also cut our Parental Yelling Time down to about one-quarter what it had been.

Kids are naturally competitive, so you may as well use the force for Good. Having them compete, not against each other, but against their own prior performance may be that Spoon Full of Sugar you're looking for to help make the medicine go down.

Besides . . . who can resist a treasure chest?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Secret Underground Stay-at-home Moms Movement

May writes:

Millie wrote an entry a few days back entitled "I'm Just a Housewife" which really spoke to me. Growing up, my mother was (and still is) the person I looked up to most in the world, and when I was little all I wanted was to grow up and be a mommy; stay home with the kids, keep house, make our house a home. However, as I got older, I began to feel more and more pressure to abandon that dream. My teachers and friends told me that generations of women had fought for equality in the field of working outside the home, and that being a stay-at-home mother and wife was downright demeaning these days. I could go to college and I could become anything in the world, from a firefighter to an astronaut to the president of a company to the president of the United States, and it was not only my right but my responsibility as a woman to take full advantage of these opportunities.


I did go to college. I earned my degree, and I went out into the world to make my living. Despite all my efforts, I never lost that certainty that what I really wanted to be was a housewife and mother; but I would always firmly deny those feelings, as that was Not What Women Did These Days.

One day the subject arose between myself and a woman with whom I'd worked for a couple of years, and I let slip the fact that if the opportunity arose to quit working and be a housewife the next day, I wouldn't even hesitate. She stared at me wide-eyed for a moment, then (after making sure the doors were closed and speaking in hushed tones) told me that she was in exactly the same boat as I was. This was a liberating experience for the both of us, and afterward I found it much easier to broach that subject with friends and co-workers, and I found a staggering number of women who felt the same way. There are hundreds of women out there who harbor a desperate longing to become homemakers, but instead allowed themselves to be sucked into an unsatisfying career because they were told they had to pick something else.

Now, don't misunderstand me. The drive to have a career and to make a name for yourself in the business world (or teach or cook or mend or heal or answer telephones) is a very real and amazing thing, and every working woman has my full support and respect. My point is simply that the idea of being a housewife should be no different. It's ridiculous that I was ever embarrased to admit that it was what I wanted to do, and I urge everyone out there to take a while to think about how worthwhile being a stay-at-home wife and mother really is, both for you and for your families. It's not the only worthwhile thing, not by a long shot . . . but if it's what you really want to do, then demand the respect that your choice deserves.

Both from others and from yourself.

Raising Readers

Millie writes:

If there's one subject upon which I wax evangelical (okay, there are lots of them, but this is a big one), it's kids learning to read. During my 3-year stint as an actual person back at the turn of the century (can you believe we can say that again?) I ran a reading program for 5-8-year-olds at the local elementary school. Our personal kids all read by age 3, not because I pushed them (I really didn't) but because it's so easy and natural to teach it. I think one of the reasons they all took to reading so readily has to do with one of my favorite traditions: The First Library Card.

Oh, you'd better believe it was an occasion, too. Not just any BABY could get a library card (even though our fabulous local library system would probably give a library card to a fetus, if the mother signed for it). In our family, you have to be able to write your name on the application form.

They'd practice and practice until their pencils were worn down to little nubs until they could spell their names (first AND last!) correctly and write them recognizably; then off we'd go to the library. The kid would whisper to the librarian that he was here to get a library card, please! (We went to the library at least once a week and everyone knew us, so I'd be able to tip the attendants off that this was An Occasion.) With a flourish, the head librarian would produce a signature card and I'll tell you, the Declaration of Independence was not signed with more aplomb than my 3-year-old kids applied to those 4x6 cards.

The presiding official (librarians are an unfailingly sporting breed) would always live up to the kid's expectations, too, and give a solemn speech about Responsibility and Cleanliness and Late Penalties, and shake the little hand when presenting the card. Once one of them called for everyone's attention (she shouted! In a library! My children were so shocked and impressed!), announced that there was now a New Cardholder at this library and everyone applauded. I think my kid was prouder at that moment than he was when he graduated from high school. I still get a lump in my throat just recalling it.

Think about it, though; in many cases a library card is the first “identification” a child has, the first thing he can carry in his wallet that didn't come with the wallet. It's an early sign that he is growing into his place in the world. Reading is one of the first of the Great Mysteries we decipher, one of the most important ways we have to find out how things work. A library card is the key to more secret codes than James Bond ever dreamed of – it is something that should be celebrated!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the library.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Homework: What to do and what not to do

Mollie writes:

It drove John and me crazy that one of our children just wouldn't do his homework, and when he did, it was iffy whether or not he would hand it in.  Being the ultimate in nerds, John and I did nothing but homework the first 30 years of our lives.  And we had one boy who LIVED for homework, no kidding!  So when the other rebelled, we were shocked.  As it turns out, most boys in that age group (10-14) eschew homework.  As it happened, it was the child with the work ethic who was outside the norm.

I am not a spanking mom.  That doesn't mean that I didn't swat little bottoms that ran into traffic or put pennies into electrical outlets, it just meant that I didn't use physical force to drive home a point.  As a result, my little ones were relatively unscathed until middle school, when one child decided that homework was for everyone else.

My husband and I strategized how to work this out.  We'd supervise his homework in the evenings, disallowing television until homework was done, and when we received the dreaded "progress reports" in the mail, we would ground the little guy until his grades were up again.  But we spent 2 1/2 years fighting a battle that was winner-less.  Nobody wins when you force a child to do something, and nobody wins when you give up.  We were often at our wit's end, trying to figure out how to modify this child's attitudes.

At one point, when John was traveling with work, I was also working outside the home.  We had a mailbox that locked, and after work one day, there was a progress report in it, waiting for my attention.   I read the report in the kitchen and stomped upstairs to his bedroom.

It didn't help that he was playing video games.  It didn't help that he pretended that he didn't know what I was talking about.  It didn't help that I was tired after a frustrating day at work and a nasty rush hour drive home.  I'd hit my limit.

I spanked that little rear end.  After I was finished, I burst into tears, as did both the boys.  The dogs were yipping and the birds were fluttering in their cages.  It was the apocalypse and I was one of the devils.  I don't think I ever hated myself more than I did at that moment.

I apologized to both boys, the dogs and the birds, but I didn't feel any better.  When my husband returned from his trip out of state, I told him what I'd done, and I don't know who frustrated him more, his wife or his son.  But I finally had my awakening.

Spanking isn't a solution for teaching a child about personal responsibility.  Making the child aware of the consequences of personal failures only happens when the child has to live with his failure.  It took an ego bruising (me) and a bottom bruising (the child) to make this point to both of us.

What I ended up doing was cutting my work hours so that I had Wednesdays and Fridays off.  Wednesdays I'd catch up on household duties and Fridays were for the boys.  Both were in middle school, so when I started appearing in the principal's office lobby every Friday afternoon, it was truly a statement.  While one boy was dashing into the library to get some reference material, the other boy would be sauntering down the hall with his buds.  The first time he saw me there, he had a look of utter disbelief on his face.

We ended up making Fridays school visit day.  I'd meet with our little rebel's instructors to catch up on how he was doing with his homework, and the little rebel had to deal with the fact that Mom wasn't going to just let him go down without a fight.  I'm sure it embarrassed him to see his Mom there every Friday for the remainder of the school year, but by the time he hit high school, my little dilettante was a changed man.  Homework was done promptly and almost always handed in on time.  The few times he'd forget, I'd let it pass.

I wouldn't want to relive this period for love nor money.  But I want to let folks know that kids will rebel in middle school (especially boys) and their grades will suffer as a result.  It just wasn't necessary to have all the collateral damage that accompanies a parent's over-reaction for what, as it turns out, is normal behavior.

Hang in there.

Homework: From the Trenches

Millie writes:

You want homework? Six kids: two college graduates, one still in college, one taking Army classes and two still in high school. I gotcher homework right here.

We have seen a lot of assignments come and go, and we've learned a few unusual truths about homework:

1. Boys will be boys. This means that most of them will not do homework until they are juniors in high school. I don't know why not and neither do they. Perhaps it's a testosterone thing. One of our boys was too cool, one was too distractable, one was offended by homework on a cellular level and one smiled and agreed to everything and then just didn't do it. I don't know what it is about being 16 or 17 that makes the kid catch fire, either, but so far that has always been the year for boys in our house to suddenly take school seriously. Our youngest started his junior year yesterday, so . . . I'll let you know.
2. Girls will be girls. This means that even if they hate homework with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns (which, who doesn't?), they will usually do it because someone told them to do it. Girls figure out early on that teachers are people who are already exasperated because there are so many boys in their classes, so girls can expend minimal effort on the homework and still shine by comparison as long as they hand it in. Of course, sometimes handing it in is the stumbling block. I will never understand how I can sit on top of a kid and make sure the homework gets done only to find it at the end of the quarter crumpled up in the bottom of the backpack, never having been seen by the teacher.
3. Teachers will be teachers. Frankly, many of them give homework just because they think they are supposed to. In some cases it reinforces what the kids are learning in class (math, vocabulary) and in some cases it teaches a skill that it takes a lot of practice to master (research, violin practice). In most cases? It's a waste of time. And teachers – I am not your student. Don't even think about giving me homework. (Those of you with children in school know exactly what I'm talking about with this one.)
4. Parents should be parents. Up until about middle school age, we can and should ride the kid about homework but after that point, if you are checking in with your child AND his teachers AND his adviser every single day about his homework – your child is not learning responsibility, you are. We learned the hard way that this is one area where we must butt out sooner rather than later and let the chips fall where they may. We're tempted to stand between our kid and the consequences of his action or (more commonly in this case) inaction – which is why he knows he can get away with never doing any homework. This being said, I do still ask if homework and chores are done before any playing around commences.

In the single-digit grades, we had a set homework time when everybody worked together around the dining-room table and there was always an adult nearby to help. Even if they didn't have homework, they had to read quietly during this time so they didn't bother anyone else. This had three benefits; it made them less likely to play the “I don't have homework today, Mommy!” card and head for the playground, it kept them reading, and it acted as a “place holder” to keep that time as Homework Time. If you do this you must be adamant about no phone calls, no chatter and no distraction, but it needn't be the Gulag Hour either; have a nice (non-smeary) snack available and set the kitchen timer so they know it will end eventually.


1. Teach your kid to type. Some schools and community centers have keyboarding classes, or you can buy typing tutor programs for any computer. By the time a child is in the eighth grade he will be writing papers and reports, and it will all go so much more quickly if he can touch-type; not to mention the legibility factor.
2. Make sure your kid has his own desk. It should be in a quiet area with sufficient light for reading. He also needs access to research materials and supplies like paper, pencils and scissors. By the time he is in high school he should also have access to the Internet, even if he has to go to the library for it.
3. When older kids say that the screeching loud music helps them concentrate better, they actually mean it. Let 'em wear headphones to spare the rest of you.
4. If your kid is knocking his head against a concept he's just not getting, let him quit after a while. Too much frustration is going to set him against the subject forever. Follow up with his teacher by email, if necessary, and see if there's another approach that will make more sense to your child.
5. I don't care if everyone else in the TAG program is making nuclear fission for the Science Fair and your kid is taking in a cup of mud – don't do his homework FOR him. You'd think that would be obvious, wouldn't you? You would be wrong; sometimes it's almost irresistible.
6. Try not to sweat it too much. This is your kid's fight, not yours. You've already passed the seventh grade.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Mollie writes:

I'm so glad my kids are grown.  In the 90's 'back to school' week was a roller coaster ride for all of us.  It meant that the kids were back in school, so I could shovel out their bedrooms and disinfect their closets.  I could get the family on a more regular schedule.  Our schedules got busier, but it was an organized busy, with nobody complaining for the next nine months how BORED they were.

With the start of the school year, and our kids in public schools, it also meant more exposure to the rest of the world.  Grade school wasn't too bad.  The girls generally seemed to grow faster than the boys, which was fine with this mother of two boys.  But middle school was a whole other critter.

In middle school, some of the boys returned to school with long hair, no hair, green hair, or split-level mohawks.  My kids were still at the buzz cut stage when our oldest entered middle school, but by the end of the year, he was positively hirsute.  Some of his friends were still playing with toy cars and some were itching to drive a real one.  The whole speed of maturation was uneven.  But I still had the younger one all clean and tidy, looking smart.  So it wasn't too bad.

Until high school -

Mine would go back to school and find that their friends were tattooed, pierced, or otherwise more mature, while my boys were sure they had spent the summer stagnating.  Forget the computer programming classes and/or the anime classes, the concept of body art was a big deal in high school, as was who drove to school, who was driven to school, and worst of the worst, who rode the bus.

It wasn't just the hair and body image issues that came up after elementary school, but the whole issue of academics.  I have a BS; my husband ended up with a PhD.  As a result, we figured that the kids should at least do their homework on time.  But there is this magic that happens during middle school - the kids discover who they really are, and it doesn't necessarily mean that they are scholars.

One of my boys was in the district talented and gifted program (TAG), the other wasn't.  One got straight A's, the other often coasted through school by the skin of his teeth.  And if you think it was the TAG kid who got the A's, forget it.  It was our "mediocre" child, the one with the work ethic, who ended up with the highest grades.  The gifted child just wasn't into academics, he was into his social life.

The TAG kid had a certain disdain for homework.  When his brother was burning up the PC with homework projects, the other managed to keep in touch with his buds between theater, music, TAG enrichment programs and Godzilla movies.   And while the "mediocre" kid with the work ethic handed in his homework perfectly finished and on time, the TAG kid was lucky if he managed to do his homework, let alone hand it in and almost never on time.

It came to a head when the TAG kid was twelve.  I got mid-term reports and learned that Mr. Work Ethic was a joy to teach and an inspiration to all, while the gifted child, who always showed up at school, mind you, never managed to turn in his homework.  It just settled in the bottom of his back pack with the candy wrappers, school bulletins and other minutiae of middle school life.

My husband and I got to the point where we'd sit at the kitchen table with him while he did his homework, and then watch him place it in a Pee Chee (how DO you spell that?).  The following day, one of us would frisk his backpack, making sure the homework was handed in.  It was a good short term solution, but didn't address the underlying problem, personal responsibility.

I plan on writing more tomorrow, sort of another "Part Deux" again, that rehashes how we handled this problem.  I wasn't a perfect parent, and I need to muster up enough chutzpah to admit spanking my child.  But just acknowledging that schooling was a constant dynamic in our household and owning my mistakes is enough for now.

Tune in tomorrow!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Good News!

Mollie writes:

Peter is home!!!!!  Here's to no more deployments!

I’m Just a Housewife.

The Internet is a strange and wonderful place. Today I reconnected with my best friend from Junior High, to whom I haven’t spoken in more than 30 years. We were thick as thieves, we were alike as two peas in a pod, we were – well, we were probably terrible when we were together, both of us sarcastic with sharp tongues and sharper wits. He was a year younger than I and, as often happens, we drifted apart when I hit high school.

It’s always so awkward for me, meeting up again with someone who knew me when I was a teenager or a young woman. I was one of Those Girls, whip-smart and competent, cute (but didn’t know it) and capable, someone who was obviously Going Places. Where I was going, it turned out, was to fulfill my cherished dream of being a housewife and a mother – something you absolutely DID NOT ADMIT in those days – or on any day since about 1963.

True-life example: when Joy was in first grade her school librarian asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and Joy chirped, “A housewife!” The librarian snorted, “No, you don’t!” – even though I was standing right there. Being a housewife is no longer something to which girls are encouraged to aspire, nor in which women are encouraged to take pride – people think it’s something you fall into because you’re too lazy to make any better choices.

“You have SIX kids? Wow.” That’s usually the first thing people say, and frankly I don’t blame them. It’s not like we’re members of an organized religion that encourages large families, and the Duggars beat us to the TV contract - we just love kids. It’s not an, “Oh, how exciting!” wow, either; it’s a wow that assumes we’re either welfare cheats or too stupid to use birth control correctly. Maybe I should change my Facebook status permanently to, “That’s right – I dropped out of college, had a bunch of kids and stay home all day. Oh, and I got fat, too. By the way, your tax dollars are supporting my extravagant lifestyle! Have a nice day!”

And yet – our children are (or are becoming) intelligent, compassionate, responsible adults who can take care of themselves. We had to choose between a six million dollar mansion and six kids; we chose the kids and have never looked back. We chose family campouts over trips to Europe, Back-to-School Nights over candlelit dinners and new bikes over new cars. Thing is, we are pretty sure that WE got the better end of those bargains.

I get hugs around my neck instead of diamonds. I don’t put out corporate fires, but I am there to give comfort and advice when someone has a lousy day slinging coffee or gets a C on a German test. The closest we will probably ever get to having a convertible was that time when the headliner in the minivan came off, but the boys sing barbershop harmony when we’re all in the car. None of this is anything I can brag about at my 35th high school reunion . . .

. . . but I am very proud that I am just a housewife.

Mollie writes:

I was 29 when I had my first child, and knew I was ready to be a mom.  Although I wasn't exactly sure  how we would spend the next 20 years, both John and I were ready to make the innocent children we brought into life our first priority.

I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a mother at home the first few years, and quit my job when I was six months pregnant.  Both John and I were certain we could survive with only one parent working (John was both a full-time engineer with a public utility as well as a naval reservist).  But I also knew that if need be, I could return to work.

This decision was faced with a certain rudeness and derision in 1981.  People worried that I'd get bored staying home with kids (try explaining boredom to a woman with a baby in a NICU or a 10 month old in an ambulance with status epilepticus.  I pray that all mothers enjoy at least a bit of boredom in the early years - it sure beats the alternative drama and hysteria I faced early on.

There was also an overabundance of materialism to go with that narcissism.  I was teased about my used station wagon (so and so has a BMW, etc) my tract home in Gresham, and the minutiae of daily life with pre-schoolers and a husband who traveled (how do I keep my brain active?).  I usually chose to ignore it.

Some of my friends and family were insensitive enough to say this in front of my children and/or their own children!  Imagine the psychological battery a young soul experiences when told that their parents found the boredom of parenting them insurmountable!  I still believe that the seeds we planted in the 70's and 80's grew to the monster we experience now in the form of lack of empathy towards children and each other.

When people ask me to describe myself, I still say I'm a mother first, then I list my other callings (wife, sister, etc).  What I want to stress is that always, family relations came first.  Eventually, I remember that I have other talents, but family management is always first.

I still see my relationship with my children as a critical role, even though they are adults and completely independent.  If, and when, I'm fortunate enough to be a grammy, I hope these little ones know that I find them exciting, stimulating, adorable and entirely worth while.

I'm pretty sure they know I'll never cure cancer or bring peace to the Middle East.  But, sadly, no one else has either.  Meanwhile, I have the comfort of knowing I raised two lovely children to adulthood.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


What may have started out as a simple communication problem will now turn into a major storm.  We shall call her Hurricane Mollie.

My amprya prescription is all gone on Tuesday, September 7th.  Ampyra is a new drug approved by the FDA for persons with MS who have trouble walking.  Ampyra helps some of us, including me.  So after working tirelessly with Caremark, Group Health and my neurologist, and hitting a lot of brick walls, I finally got the rx approved for benefits last month.  I've been taking ampyra for almost 4 weeks now and am actually noticing some improvement.  And, just yesterday, my hair stylist made the observation that my walking had improved; and Andrea didn't even know I'd started the drug!

A brief recap:  Ampyra is a new drug approved by the FDA and is on the formulary list with my Health Benefits provider, Group Health.  Group Health has contracted to provide  formulary mail order prescriptions with Caremark CVS, a third party.  I had to jump through hoops and hold hands at Group Health and Caremark to get the prescription filled in the first place, but my neurologist did write the script for the drug, with permission for three refills.  And, after a lot of negotiating with both parties and my neurologist, I finally was able to fill the prescription.  But it wasn't easy, and took the patience of Job to lead both corporate professionals to do their jobs.

(note to reader:  a formulary drug is a new drug recently approved by the FDA that is really, really expensive)

Mistake #1

So, it's 3 1/2 weeks later and I need my refill.  Ampyra isn't the kind of drug you stop cold turkey, I guess you have to taper off.  How, I don't know, not being a "medical professional."  I called Caremark to find out the status of my refill request and was told that it was in a holding pattern until Group Health gave the go ahead to refill.  They told me to contact Group Health.

Mistake #2

Today is September 2, 2010, and there are only 3 days left to get the rx by mail (for those on another planet, like Group Health and Caremark CVS, the USPS doesn't deliver on Sunday or Labor Day).  I asked if someone from Caremark CVS had contacted Group Health to let them know that the rx was running out, and they said "No, it was Group Health's responsibility to contact us once we asked for authorization to refill."  I asked the person on the other end of the line if they weren't concerned with the medical implications that would ensue if they didn't contact me to tell me of the delay, and they said "No, they have to contact us."

Mistake #3

So I contacted Group Health and asked what the problem was.  After being transferred to several extensions, I finally ended up in the Medicaid department (I do have Medicare, but don't have prescription drug coverage since I have it with Group Health . . .) and I was told that Caremark CVS needed to notify them of the problem. When I told her that Caremark CVS told me that they HAD contacted them and had heard nothing, the "medical professional" on the other end of the line said "We have no record of that."

Mistake #4

So I asked the "medical professional" on the other end of the line what to do.  She told me to call Caremark CVS and explain the problem and that Caremark would have to make the phone call.  I took the phone number and called Caremark CVS.

Mistake #5

Caremark CVS told me that they had needed the authorization for payment (a reasonable response, considering the expense of the prescription), but would not ask AGAIN for authorization to fill (not reasonable IMHO).  I was told to call Group Health to expedite the authorization for payment.

(note to self:  why do none of the "medical professionals" at Group Health and Caremark CVS know how to pick up a phone and push buttons?  They sure knew how to push mine!)

Mistake #6

So I called Group Health and was then told that they had contacted my neurologist for a medical explanation as to why I needed this formulary drug.  I reminded them that she'd contacted them last month, when the prescription was initially written, with medical justification for a formulary drug.  Nothing had changed, and at that time, she'd authorized 3 refills.

That wasn't good enough.  My neurologist, she said, had to do this with every refill.  My heart sank, since I knew my neurologist was out of town until next week, and I'd have to bring the neurologist on call up to speed.  Sigh.

Well, I'm only human, so I finally asked the Group Health "medical professional" what they advised since my neurologist was out of town, I had no instructions on how to taper off the Ampyra, it would run out Tuesday, and I was ill prepared, as a patient and Group Health member, to figure out what to do.

Mistake #7

She told me to call Caremark CVS.

Are any of you dizzy yet?  Is this how "medical professionals act?"  When is something  a miscommunication, when is it a mistake, when is it malpractice, and when is it negligent homicide?

So I finally called Caremark CVS and spoke with Katrina, the only rational person at either organization.    Katrina transferred me to her supervisor who understood the problem and told me he would fix it.

Well, supposedly he has; I can expect to take delivery of my refill on Saturday, they are sending it overnight mail tomorrow.  But I'm not believing it until the refill is in my hand.

Why can't "medical professionals" handle problems without involving an ill suffering patient in the equation?  Why couldn't any of the Caremark folk transfer my call as Katrina finally did, rather than telling me to contact Group Health?  Why didn't Group Health contact their contractor, and find out why they were having problems filling my prescription?  Isn't that how it works in the rest of the world?

"Health Care professional" is a euphemism for anything but health. care. professional.  I just hope I can get through the MS experience without one of these professionals killing me with their negligence, laziness and inability to care about the patient.

This situation was finally handled by me, not by the "medical professional" community who rake in millions of dollars just to tell the sick patient that health care management is in the hands of idiots who can't (or won't) dial phones.


My ampyra arrived this morning via overnight mail.  Now, I only need to know that no other innocent patient is endangered by this horrible "pass the buck" attitude in the health care industry!