Archive for April, 2009

Swine Flu and you

April 29, 2009

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A few quick tidbits to get us through the week …

We were finally learning to live with global warming. Then the world economy dropped out from under us. Now were watching a mystery virus called Swine Flu creep its way around the planet.

I once read from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.”

Of that, I have no doubt.

So, in face of this fight to keep our families safe, I’ve included some valuable health information about the Swine Flu this week.

Swine Flu: 5 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe April 28, 2009 03:44 PM ET – U.S. News and World Report [ … Swine flu has parents seriously worried. With the suspected death toll mounting in Mexico and at least 64 confirmed cases in the United States, there’s good reason to worry. One New York City school is closed because dozens of students have fallen ill …]

Swine flu: what parents need to know The San Fransisco Chronicle [ … The news of the swine flu is spreading faster than the influenza virus itself, and this is very unsettling for many parents. The reports of 50 cases in the United States and 152 deaths in Mexico might lead some parents to panic, since babies and small children are often the most vulnerable during a serious flu outbreak …]

This is a link to the Swine Flu update page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevetion, the leading federal authority on credible health information. They’ve been posting current information as the situation changes hourly.

They also have posted this POD CAST and video about Swine Flu

For a broader perspective, here is the current global picture at the World Health Organization’s page.

The overlapping theme, as best as I can tell, is that there is more unknown than know. It seems to me, the best we can do at this point is keep our hands washed, our kids informed … and remember that kids feed off of our emotions.

So let’s keep our chins up. This too shall pass.

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There’s a reason they call them “grand.”

April 27, 2009

grandmother1My parents visited us last week.

It’s funny, going through the various stages of parenting.

I remember when our first son was born, I promised myself that I would not tolerated from my parents the kind of spoiling that grandparents are often guilty of.

My wife and I were married and living in Oregon for more than two years when our son was born. Prior to that, I had been begging my folks to come visit because, being from the congested North East, I knew they’d love the openness of the Pacific Northwest, if only for a week or two.

Still, they never came … too busy, I suppose.

That is, until our son was born.

Zoom.

Within two weeks, they were on a plane and in Oregon. (note: my mother is deathly afraid of airplanes. In all my life, this was the only time I ever knew of her flying.)

You see where this is going?

So they there were, flown across the entire continent, to see their first-born grandson.

It was October. One evening during their stay, my mother, who I’d not seen in a while, and I took a trip to the grocery store to get some diapers and other stuff my wife wrote on a list.

I forgot what exactly.

With a colicky two-week old baby in the house, my wife and I both first timers and deprived of sleep, that time period is kind of a blur for us.

But something happened at that store that is forever crystallized in my mind.

As we rounded a final isle, bound for the checkout, my mother, having filled our cart with clothes and toys for the baby (none of them were on the list), she met eye level with a rack of Halloween bibs with little itty bitty pumpkins on them.

Irresistible.

She started to reach for one.

Now, having just spent the past 30 minutes watching her impulsively grab anything that was either fuzzy, light blue or had the word “baby” on the package, I had to intervene.

“Mom – don’t,” I said. “He really doesn’t need anything else.”

Her face sagged, like a kid herself, and she said meekly, “What? You don’t think he’ll like it.”

I could tell she was serious.

I reminded her that he was two weeks old and probably had not yet developed a sense of preference, at least as bibs went.

It went right over her head.

It’s been that way ever since. Holidays and birthdays roll around, and we remind her before – and after – that it would be great if she didn’t over do it so much.

Honestly though, she’s gotten better in past years.

grand3Maybe for financial reasons, and the reality of my dad’s quickly approaching retirement, or the bad economy, or both.

Or neither.

Mom’s always been pretty resourceful, getting the most with the least.

So maybe it’s that she finally understands how important it is to my wife and I that the kids receive their gifts in moderation, not excess.

Until only recently, she’d let our oldest really do just about what ever he wanted.

They’d play, at his request.

They’d watch movies, at his request.

She’d stand on her head, order a pizza, hire a circus, dig to the center of the earth, fly to the moon – at his request.

He’d play the, “I’ll test my limits with Grandma,” game.

She indulged in loosing.

He’d stay a day or two at a time with them. Once, he spent a whole week. Each time, we’d get him back, only to find that he had morphed into a boy that had, in just a short time, gotten concretely accustomed to getting exactly what he wanted.

He did then, he does now – and he will always – have my mother in the palm of his hand.

And she absolutely delights in it. There’s no place on Earth she’d rather be.

But lately, my mom has gotten better.

I mean compared to us, she’s still as flexible as cooked spaghetti, but she’s now a bit firmer with him and sets some limits.

grand2She’s improving – and just in time, as our youngest is getting old enough to off load solo for a day or two.

Could be she’s looking back to when she was a young parent, and my grandparents spoiled me. Maybe she relates to the frustration. Could be.

But what is certain is that I’ve been looking back, and reflecting on what my grandparents were to me.

They’re gone now, all four of them.

I miss them.

They gave me an opportunity that my parents never could. The grandparents allowed me to learn, to love and to explore life boundlessly. Not without rules, but without the elaborate structure that my parents demanded, that all good parents do.

My grandparents, like many, were older, wiser and they knew my parents really well. Which in a way made them an extension of my parents, but in a more free way.

I’m better because of it, more open- minded. I can imagine a world with no limits. I love bigger, and dream better because of them.

I miss them. Looking back, I just never realized how quickly they’d be gone from my life – forever.

And so I look at my mom. I watch her go overboard with my kids, with an excess of games and gifts. I know it’s chipping away at the structure I’m trying to instill in them.

And yet, as a famous band of her generation put it, I think to myself, “Let it be.”

Life too short not to. And there’s more to life than rules, don’t you think?

April 22, 2009 – Happy Earth Day!

April 22, 2009

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A few quick tidbits to get us through the week …

… and help us help the planet in the process.

Earth Day DIY: Who’s responsible for taking care of the Earth so our kids can enjoy it as we have? The results are in, and the answer: you and me. If we each a do our own small part, it can make a huge difference. (Come on guys, our ladies have been telling us for years, “it’s the little things that matter most.”) As far as saving the planet goes, every little bit helps and this site breaks it down step by step.

Extreme Ice Survey: Seeing is Believing. If you’ve ever wondered what global warming looks like, this is it. A group of scientists and photographers, using time lapse photography and video have teamed up to document the rapid changes occurring on Earth’s glacial ice. Stunning imagery. Be sure to check out the “What You Can Do,” page.

Leaving your mark is overrated: At some point, we all have to talk to our kids about ethics. No better time that the present to talk to them about outdoor ethics. But what exactly is outdoor ethics and how on Earth do you explain it? The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a good starting point. They’re based in Colorado, and their eco-friendly reach is global.

Many thanks to friend, fellow parent and illustrator Barb Patton for the great Earth Day image above. When I asked Barb (at the very last minute of course) if she could put something together for the blog, she didn’t disappoint. Thanks for coming through as usual, Barb! She’s a true professional and artist. Take a look at some of her other work here.

More to follow … enjoy the jumps!

P.S. Join the discussion! What are you doing this year for Earth Day?

Teach your children well …

April 19, 2009

earth-day-20091It’s that time of year again when we are reminded to “ask not what your planet can do for you …”

Ironically, as Earth Day approaches, the environmental state of the earth continues to spiral seemingly out of control. I’m convinced that the sooner and more thoroughly I teach my two kids, one and four years old, about the importance of taking care of the planet, the better.

It’s been said, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

The least we can do at this point is teach them how to care for it better than we and our ancestors have.

As I mentioned before, our oldest son has said many times that he’s going to be an animal rescuer when he grows up. Of course, he loves Bindi, Zoboomafoo and any other animal show for kids.

Being a journalist and videographer, I decided it would be helpful for him to learn how they make those programs, so we’ve been making a few shows of our own in the backyard and other places with the family video camera.

And having recently had a few G-rated heart-to-hearts with him about our global energy crisis, we took a trip to a local green energy park – and happened to have the camera with us … just in time for Earth Day. Enjoy!

April 15, 2009

April 16, 2009

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A few quick tidbits to get us through the week …

  • Interactive Dad.com – I just love this. Their site says it best. [ … Gone are the days of Ward Cleaver. Today’s dad has new priorities. He wants a satisfying career and time with his family. He wants to be an equal partner. Not just a paycheck …] Great site.
  • Uncle Sam wants YOU, to be a good father– I admit, government information is usually about as dry as an over-cooked turkey dinner. But, as someone who is easily distracted (hey look, a shiny thing …) I happen to like the no-fluff, gimme-just-the-facts-jack feel of most federal websites. Here’s the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s page for promoting responsible fatherhood.
  • Mom and Mad, keeping tabs – This is interesting. The Boston Globe reports that schools across Massachusetts will start sending reports home to parents to let them know if their child weighs too much or too little. Similar programs are sprouting up in other states, including New York and Arkansas. My accountant told me recently that his kids’ school sends him regular e-mails to keep him apprised of his boys grades. Be sure to ask about – and push for – similar things in your areas at your next PTA meeting.

More to follow … enjoy the jumps!

Sweet Sammie – a smile beyond the struggle

April 13, 2009

sammie-1This is Sammie.

After having the below conversation with her mom, I enter this week with a fresh perspective on fatherhood and life.

To see the world from the eyes of another, and take that view with us on life’s journey, is to reach greater heights as a parent and as an evolving human being in general.

That’s why this week, I’m excited to share an inspiring Q&A interview we did with family, friend and mother of three, Angela Knop.

Her youngest, Sammie, has an extremely rare medical condition, known as Poland’s Syndrome. This summer, as part of her ongoing treatment, Sammie is set to have two surgeries to correct an over-curving of her spine.

Treating a child with a medical condition is tough. Treating a child with a rare medical condition, as Angela admits in greater detail below, it to say the least, extremely frustrating.

But thank heavens for the Angelas of the world, and for all those who give a part of themselves, so others may benefit.

Here, Angela has given us her time and full attention to tell us about Sammie and what it’s like having a great kid with a tough battle.

This is her story.

sammie-6Q: Can we start off with an introduction to who Sammie is, how you’d describe her?

A: Wow…describe Sammie… Sammie is the type of child who’s smile lights up a room, not just because she is mine, but really: She is full of energy, enthusiasm, and spunk. She is a force of nature. She is so aware of how much love is showered on her and she generously returns that love to everyone she knows.
She is bright and cheerful, always singing and has an infectious giggle. She, even in 4th grade, kisses and hugs us both goodbye in the morning and waves and blows kisses from the bus window until we are out of site.

Like any little girl, she loves her American Girl Dolls, arts and crafts, polar bears etc. She also is a caretaker; a little mother hen to her younger relatives and our pets. She is amazing!

sammie-2Q: Most people aren’t familiar with her condition. Can you summarize what Poland’s Syndrome is and to what degree does it affect Sammie now, and how it might affect her in the future?

A: (From the Poland Syndrome Website) Named after Sir Alfred Poland, it is described as an absence or underdevelopment of the chest muscle on one side of the body and webbing of the fingers of the hand on the same side. Sometimes referred to as “Poland anomaly,” it is a rare condition present at birth. For people born with Poland’s Syndrome, the breastbone portion of the chest muscle is also missing. Poland’s Syndrome is often not diagnosed or reported. Poland’s Syndrome is three times more common in boys than girls, and affects the right side of the body twice as often as the left.

Samantha is a rare case of a rare syndrome. She is a girl and affected on her left side.

Her involvement includes a missing pectoral muscle, several ribs, and breast. Her hands are not affected. Because of the deficiency on her left side, she has scoliosis. At her first X-ray at two months old, her curve [in her spine] was 18 degrees. By the time she was eight, it had increased to 27. However in the last two years it has rapidly increased to now being 47 degrees. This causes her a fair amount of pain. She is determined to not let it slow her down though.

This is why she will be having surgery this summer. She will be having both anterior and posterior spinal fusions. Long term, she will need more surgeries for rib replacement and breast construction. This will wait until she is mature.

Q: What is the extent to her treatment thus far?

A: So far, she has only had two MRI’s and X-rays every six to 12 months. She gets massage therapy also, and takes Motrin for pain and uses a heating pad.

sammie-3Q: What are some of the challenges associated with treating rare conditions such as this?

A: I think the most frustrating thing is that it is so rare that a lot of doctors haven’t even heard of it, let alone ever treated a PS child. It is also hard to get accurate statistics because of the rarity.

Q: Can you describe some of the research you did on it, what you found, i.e. the extent or lack of medical knowledge about it, and if you know how many others are affected?

A: Gosh, I have read everything I could get my hands on. http://www.polands-syndrome.com/ is a great site. PS occurs in 1 out of every 100,000 births.

Q: What advice would you give to other parents whose children might have a rare condition? Can you recommend any resources?

A: I guess my advice would be to be vigilant – keep looking. The Internet is a wonderful thing. Also remember, try not to get paranoid and freaked out by what you read. Like with anything, everything you read may not pertain to your child. Use the info as a resource not the rule. Try NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases). Also, any children’s hospital can direct you in the right direction.

Q: You’re a nurse. Can you summarize your professional medical credentials?

A: I am an LPN and I worked for years in both Hospice and Alzhiemers.

Q: When did you learn that she had it, and what were some of yours and Jacek’s (husband) initial reactions?

A: Shock. And the fact it was called “Polands Syndrome.” My husband is from Poland and I remember us looking at each other when they called it Poland’s Syndrome. As we quickly learned “Poland” was the name of the doctor who discovered it. Sammie was not diagnosed until she was two months old; although it was evident something was not right at birth. The hardest part was that “it” had a name and our precious baby girl had a “syndrome.” It was terrifying and heartbreaking.

Q: Can you describe what it’s like as a parent to live with it? Where do you and Jacek draw your strength?

A: From the very beginning, Jacek and I made the decision to treat Sammie exactly like our two older children. We have never held her back from anything. She has played sports, rode horseback, swam, ect. As a matter of fact, people who have always known her are surprised to hear that she has this. We put her Poland’s Syndrome on the back burner most of the time – after all, this doesn’t define who Sammie is. We deal with it as we need to and when she is symptomatic. Until the last year or so with her spine curve increase, she has never had issues.

sammie-4Q: I’m curious about your marriage dynamics. In what ways does your deep and close relationship with Jacek factor into getting through the rough days?

A: Thank God for our marriage. It comes down to the basic trust, love, and the fact that we are great parents. We sat across from a doctor this week who was telling us our baby had to have two consecutive surgeries this summer. As I felt the world fall away, my husband reached out and held my hand. I instantly found my footing. We both keep lines of communication open. We both know that we can be scared, worried, whatever with one another. We realize we are the only two people in the world feeling the same thing about our child. Going through this together has only bonded us more.

Q: How does Sammie feel about it? Where does she draw her strength?

A: Samantha is aware of her PS. She however is not aware of the extent of her surgeries to come. We will explain much closer to the date. Sammie is delightful. She knows she is beautiful and perfect. She knows that like everyone, she is different in some ways too. Her best friend has had open-heart surgery, so she knows that everyone has differences. Hers just happens to be PS. She did one night call me into her room. She was in tears and asked why does she have PS, why her? (a question I have asked myself a million times). We just reassure her. I also was blessed enough to find a girl in Canada that is four months younger than Sammie with PS. They are pen pals now. It helps her to realize that there are other kids out there.

sammie-51Q: How do her brother and sister approach it? Is it a topic of frequent discussion? Why, do you think, or why not?

A: Both Jonathan and Alex are very loving toward her. She is also their pesky, pain-in-the-butt baby sister. It is usually not a huge topic here, but has been recently due to the pending surgeries. All three kids know if they have questions we will answer them honestly. It is not a subject we avoid, but not one we dwell on either. Both kids are worried. I went upstairs last night after we had told them about the surgeries. There they all were, piled into a one bed – my 18, 13, and 10 year old – Sammie, of course, in the middle.

Q: What has it taught you as a parent?

A: You know you always hear, “a child is a blessing,” and believe me, with my first two children it was love at first site, and I felt blessed. But to have Sammie, and get to be the parent of this amazing young lady who just simply loves life, you learn very quickly what a miraculous blessing they are.

Q: Health care change is a hot topic in today’s discussions. What changes to the system would you like to see?

A: I think there needs to be a more central information center with doctor and specialties listed, especially for rare diseases.

sammie-7Q: Lastly, it’s clear that you absolutely love kids, and not just your own. Many times, you’ve opened your home up to your friends and family’s kids. You’ve invited your nieces and nephews along on your family vacations, and you’re usually first in line for the long-duration babysitting gigs. What is it about children that you love so much? Why?

A: Goodness, what is not to love? The innocence, the fact that the simplest thing can bring a huge smile. That they look at you with such trust and honesty. That you can act ridiculous just to hear a good belly laugh. The way there hair feels against your cheek when you hold them, the feeling of a little hand clasped in yours. It is the ability to see everything again, for the first time, through their eyes 🙂

– Thanks Angela.

Now, I’ve always considered myself an optimist – and I believe if you throw enough positive energy at something, good things start to happen. So many thanks to Angela for her great outlook, to her fantastic family, and to her sweet trooper, Sammie.

And thank you too – the readers of On Fatherhood – for joining us in sending out those positive thoughts in her direction.

April 8, 2009

April 8, 2009

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A few quick tidbits to get us through the week …

  • The Well-Meaning, Bad Parent – A great 15-minute parenting podcast on National Public Radio featuring Psychologist Richard Weissbourd about mistakes parents make despite good intentions.
  • The Choice Blog –  New York Times education writer Jacques Steinberg and his colleagues are kicking butt and taking names in the fight to help parents and kids make sense out of the elaborate college admissions process. A great resource for anyone with college on the near horizon.
  • Pro Photographer Greg Hren on Photographing Kids – A good friend of mine and exceptionally successful commercial photographer, Greg Hren, posted a collection of tips for photographing children a couple of months ago. Greg’s a lot of fun – and at the same time, he’s all business. He’s the kinda guy Donald Trump calls every week and asks Greg for business and professional advice. A true professional, good friend and great educator.

More to follow … enjoy the jumps!

A few signs of life and one major milestone

April 6, 2009

Spring is here. Bugs are buzzing, buds are popping and Easter is right around the corner. This weekend in spirit of good ole’ American commercialism tradition, we decorated eggs.

eggs3Now, with every American holiday – and the rituals that accompany them – my wife who is Japanese asks, “What’s this tradition mean?”

You have to understand, in Japan they’ve celebrated their traditions for several thousands of years – and each tradition has a deep, and culturally understood meaning embedded in it.

So the fact that we color hard-boiled eggs and search for and devour pastel colored wicker baskets full of candy in honor of Jesus’s trip to heaven is hard to explain – fully.

But I tried.

So there I was, explaining the coloring of the eggs and the resurrection of Christ and the green grass that goes in the Easter baskets – desperately trying to tie it all together while searching to make sense out of it for myself.

I think she could tell that I was struggling, because she took over and offered, “I guess the eggs must be a symbol of spring and new life.”

“Oh, yes – exactly.” I said in my best so-there-you-have-it tone.

“But,” she said, with a look on her face as if it had all come full circle, back to the point where it didn’t make any sense, “Why eggs and a bunny? Bunnies don’t lay eggs.”

True.

I just shrugged and dropped the color tab into the cup of vinegar … just like my mom showed me. You know, tradition.

A note on that – this year (and I’m probably late in the game here, but …) we tried the marble/speckle effect by adding a few table spoons of veggie oil into the color cups.

eggs1I’d never done that before. They turned out pretty cool. Do I spot a new tradition taking hold?

Another point I wanted to make – because I make a huge deal about it with our four-year-old – is about safety while helping at the kitchen counter.

In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, four-year-olds love to help.

Although they are still very “me, me, me” oriented (don’t worry, it’s natural and healthy for their independence), they also really love to help out and contribute – if we let them.

When asked, “Can I help?” it’s too easy to feel rushed and give the knee-jerk, “not this time.”

But we make it a point to let our oldest get involved, even if his “helping” makes more work for us, which it usually does.

When he’s helping at the counter, he brings his little chair with him. That’s a safety issue I have to constantly remind him about.

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safe-stepAs the photos show, it’s safer to put the back of the chair against the counter. Otherwise, he’s one wrong step away from tripping over it. With the back out of the way, and his back clear, if he does slip, he’s not “trapped” in that split second and he can just hop down.

They love to help – but while they’re up there helping, squirming and jumping around comes with it.

So a major tradition in our house is safety.

Lastly, our family enjoyed a major milestone this week.

Ever since our oldest son was born, we had to pat his back to make him sleep. For four years, we’d get him into his crib – and some years later, a bed – and pat, pat, pat his back for anywhere from 15 minutes to sometimes over an hour until he fell asleep. I’ve done his night-night (bed-time story and back patting) for the better part of three years. It became the norm and we got use to it, but it was still a major demand of time and energy at the end of the day – when time and energy are in short supply.

I eventually just started to make the most of it. Sitting there, at the side of his bed, mindlessly patting away, I’d listen to an audio book on headphones. While taking online college courses, occasionally I’d get caught up on some text book reading.

And for the past four or five months, I’ve been study his beach ball globe, which is what it sounds like: An inflatable globe. That paid off. 20 minutes of world geography for 4 months. True story. I overheard someone recently say they had to make a business trip to Azerbauan. While everyone else gave them that puzzled, “where?” look, I quickly and without thinking said, “Wow, right up there along the Caspian Sea between Russia and Iran huh?”

But I digress.

This week, I’m happy to report our son is off the pat. Right after his bed-time book, he’s falling asleep by himself, without the help of anyone. The first few nights, were a little rough. Choking back the tears, he’d protest, “ I don’t think I can do it.”

“You sure can buddy.”

“But I’m scared.”

“OK, Let me look deep into those eyes … yep … just what I thought. I see a brave big boy in there. You can do it.”

Fighting the tears, he said, “Dada, I don’t want to, but I’m going to try.”

His little face, by this time soaked with tears, was contorted and melting as I walked out. Slowly closing the door, I took one look back at him. Tucked in but still sitting up, he looked at me, wiped across his eyes with his sleeve, and threw me a bitter-sweet thumbs up.

I gestured the same back and left the room. I closed the door, leaving it open just a crack.

night-night1I peeked in about 15 minutes later and he was long off to dream land.

And in that moment, he took a quantum leap forward in his independence.

I never thought I say it, and I can’t believe I’m saying it now, but I’ll miss those quiet moments, in there patting his back.

It’s the end of a phase and the dawning of the next.

I can’t wait to see what’s to come.