Tag Archives: Health

Raising Kids Who Are Pleasers

I want my kids to break rules. It sounds crazy, but my husband and I agree. We want our kids to not be so straight-laced and tightly wound that they crumple like a dry leaf when they get in trouble at school. That doesn’t happen often. My kids put so much pressure on themselves to do right. They put pressure on us to follow the rules. Drive five miles over the speed limit and my son will tell me I’m speeding. He’ll repeat it until I slow down, that quake in his voice lets me know he’s worried.

At some point, my kids need to learn that people mess up and it’s OK. They need to know that some rules aren’t hard and fast. They need to know that some rules are stupid.

My kids follow the rules because we taught them to. But I don’t want my kids to be so scared that if they break the rules, the world will end. We’ve created pleasers. My kids don’t want to let anyone down. They don’t want to tell anyone no, even a friend who wants to trade them for their favorite toy pony or bracelet. “Sure, you can have that one,” my daughter has said, only to cry about it later.

My son will let someone demonstrate a cool trick on his arm, giving him a burning mark in the process. Then he’ll let them repeat it. “Why didn’t you tell him to stop?” I ask, inspecting the redness. He liked it. I think he’s afraid that saying no will spoil the friendship.

He’ll give in to a friend who begs to eat his chips every day. But is that really just bullying at some point? Fifth-grade teachers are strict about bathroom time this year. One girl has already wet her pants. My son has already been denied several times. I gave him strict instruction to break the rules over peeing on himself. This is a stupid rule. “Don’t wet your pants,” I told him. “Get up and run to the bathroom.” No fifth grader will live that down. “But I’ll get a check,” he said, terrified of the thought of a tiny checkmark at the teacher’s desk proving he broke a rule.

I know where my kids get this from: the mom who can’t say no. I am easily talked into some PTA committee I should have walked away from or agreeing to a friend’s favor I didn’t want to do. But I figure I’m available or I’ll already be at the event, so why not help out?

Being a pleaser isn’t a good thing. I’ve never gained anything from it but headaches. I’ve rarely gotten the return favor that helps me out. I’m learning to say no more and not give reasons. “I can’t” must be enough.

I want my kids to be more assertive. My son can’t always be the nice guy. My kids don’t need to be perfect. I tell them that. “Get a checkmark,” I told my son. If a teacher wants to give him a checkmark for going to the bathroom, let her be the bad guy. I’ll deal with her.

Shouldn’t I be proud of good, nice kids? Sure. But I was a kid once. I see cause for concern. When my son is older, what would he say to a friend who asks him to hide a mysterious bag in his locker at school? What would my daughter say to someone who asks for the answers during a test? What would either say to someone who wants to vandalize school property? Those consequences are damaging.

The truth is, there will be times when I want my son to be a jerk. He can be cool for sticking up for his beliefs and still be kind to people. It takes guts to not follow the crowd. And girls need to know that a lot of women broke stupid rules and made history. Being a pleaser never got anyone anywhere. No is the most empowering word I can teach them.



Filed under Everyday Life

Adjusting: Peanut Allergy Diagnosis at Age 10

Sometimes the body just knows. It turns out my son’s did. For nine years. When he was a toddler I gave him peanut butter and he smeared it on his face. He got a rash and I waited another year to try again. He wasn’t so interested in peanut butter after that. In fact, for the next nine years, he thought it was stinky and waved his hand in front of his nose and pretended to gag when he smelled it.

He didn’t care for granola bars, the kind with dried fruit and nuts, but he tried them and nothing ever happened. He didn’t like peanut M&Ms, but he ate the chocolate and left the peanut. He ate everything he wanted. Some things touched a peanut, like those M&Ms. Some things included nuts, like pesto. Some things were nuts, like pistachios.

But one day recently, he wanted Pad Thai, a dish that traditionally includes peanuts. I was hesitant. All those years of not wanting peanuts I knew probably meant something. I had thought about getting him tested, but he had eaten so many things in his lifetime. Was I being overanxious as usual? Was I ready for this moment?

“It has peanuts in it, you know,” I warned him.

He looked at the dish and deemed it satisfactory. I put a little on his plate. I almost told him no, to eat something else, but I didn’t. Remember all he’s eaten? I kept an eye on him as he ate it. One bite, two.

“How is it?”

“It’s good!”

Instead of relief, I felt jumpier. I couldn’t eat. I kept watching him. It didn’t feel right. There. He was doing something funny with his mouth, like he had taffy over every tooth and he couldn’t get it off.

“What are you doing with your mouth? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My mouth feels numb,” he said.

I felt weak. “Stop eating,” I said. I grabbed his plate and began a string of questions. Can you breathe OK? Let me see your tongue. Can you breathe OK? Does anything else feel weird? Can you breathe OK?

He coughed a little. He got the hiccups. I stood there, choked, wondering, “Do I call 9-1-1 now? Is this just the start of a severe reaction?” But I kept it together on the outside. I kept asking questions and watching him. He drank water. I did what I always do and referred to Google. He appeared to be having a mild reaction and Benadryl would help.

He seemed to be getting better, except for the hiccups. He had heartburn. The numbness was wearing off. I called the doctor’s office, which was closed because it was a Saturday. The nurse told me the same thing I had read online. By then my son was outside, running in the yard. I could breathe. He could breathe. I knew we were lucky.

At an appointment last week, my son’s peanut and tree nut allergy was confirmed. After nine years of avoiding peanuts, he suddenly also has to avoid things he has always comfortably eaten: almond extract, pesto, Honey Nut Cheerios, pistachios, and many other things.

Why he chose to eat that dish on that day, I’ll never know. But I’m thankful it played out like it did, in our home with a quick and happy ending. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. If he ever has another reaction, it could be.

Pieces of a puzzle have begun to fall into place. I checked our pantry, scanned ingredients lists. Granola bars and cookies he’s never liked revealed the words: contains peanut ingredients, peanut flour, may contain peanuts. I could never understand why he didn’t like these treats. In fact, he’d often tell me they tasted like peanuts when I couldn’t see or taste anything.

All this time, he knew. peanut butter


Filed under Family

Relaxing My Fears About Potty Talk, Germs, and Kissing Shoes

It always seems to happen around the table. I’m biting into a forkful of food and my son begins a story about the boys’ bathroom.

“Is this appropriate?” I interrupt.

“Yeah, yeah,” he assures me. It’s usually appropriate in the manner that it’s not about him.

I know far too much about the boys’ bathroom already. A mother shouldn’t know these things. Boys rolling on the floor amongst the filth splattered between misses each day. Boys flushing pencils to see if they’ll go down. Urinals for every day of the week. The bad words scratched into the stall doors. Urinals that are too tall. Stall doors that don’t lock and the surprised kids behind them. Boys who have christened the porcelain bowls with wet tongues. And really, you don’t even want to know what gets clogged in there, or so I’ve heard. No, the boys’ bathroom is no place for anyone over 13, the stories not for the weak.

Whenever my son starts a sentence with “Today in the boys’ bathroom,” I cringe. Part of me doesn’t want to hear it, but another part of me wants to know if I need to rush my child in for shots.

I’ve always thought a dog’s mouth was disgusting, but elementary school has shed some light on boys and what they do with theirs. They follow their turkey on soft bread at lunch with a slobbery swipe of their tongue across the sole of their grimy shoe. In truth or dare, that seems to be the better option over giving up the name of the girl you like.

I’ve seen how kids wash their hands. The foaming action doesn’t resemble mine. The nails and areas between fingers don’t get scrubbed. The soap sits in the palm and gets blasted off the second water makes contact. Little disinfecting goes on.

clean hands

Not what usually goes on in the bathroom sink.

I’ve come to terms with this I think, but I don’t like it and the girl part of my brain still can’t understand it. The mom part of me still insists on soap and water every afternoon before my son touches anything in this house.

I’m learning to let go of germophobic tendencies. So far, the CDC hasn’t come knocking on our door. While my son rolls on a public floor proudly marking his territory, his sister fears the crusty bits stuck to the pages in her books. I’m learning not to be so reliant on a little bottle of sanitizing gel. While one child invites germs to every meal, the other has an increasingly unhealthy fear of them. I can’t help but think I’ve contributed to this in some way. Each time I’ve flinched at dirty hands or used my foot to prop open a public door, my daughter took note. Kids shouldn’t be so afraid of germs. I’ve read the articles. They need exposure to ward off sickness.

Since my family manages to be reasonably healthy, I need to relax and let go of my fears, let my son be a boy, and help us all find some middle ground for sanity’s sake. I’m not saying we should kiss the bottom of our shoe as thanks for every meal, but maybe I shouldn’t fear everything my kids touch. We can’t live our lives under the covers, even though sometimes I’d prefer it to sitting in a crowded room with coughing strangers. I’ll still tell my son he doesn’t have to touch every nasty thing he sees. And I’m still not letting him kiss me with that mouth, just in case.


Filed under Parenting

What Does a Crazy Rash Diagnosis Have to Do With Marriage?

Balance. It’s always been the strength in my marriage. While I quietly freak out with worry that my children need to be rushed to the emergency room, my husband calmly looks up from his reading fighting an eye roll and says, “Karen, it’s fine.”

While I submit my children to constant examination, poking, prodding, and “let me see it just one more time,” my husband checks out the Phillies’ score.

When I snuck away to Google a bull’s-eye rash that mysteriously appeared on my son recently, my husband calmly explained that it was a flare-up of eczema.

As I diagnosed my child with Lyme disease, panicked, and then came back down to earth with the realization that it could just be a spider bite or…or, well, nothing, my husband read a book.

I’m not trying to paint a picture of a lazy, clueless husband. There have been times when he’s been panicked and I’ve been the calm one. But between us, one of us manages to always be sane. One of us has to be rational. We balance each other out.

Before I called the doctor and committed to adding $100 to our huge deductible, I mulled over the situation. It could have been nothing. But it looked like something. I didn’t know what it was. I could call a nurse friend I know. Sure, she was an OB/gyn nurse. I could run my child through the streets and knock on doors to see if anyone had seen anything like this rash. Surely they would see the crazy in my eyes.

After exhaustive comparisons to rash photos on the Internet, I called the doctor’s office. After one hundred questions, of course the nurse told me to bring my child in. After I got my children out of school early. After I endured ten straight minutes of my son telling my daughter to be quiet because he couldn’t read with her talking. After the torture of being cooped up in that tiny eight-by-eight room, the doctor finally came in.

The doctor examined the rash site. It was not a fungus caused by ringworm. It was not Lyme disease. Looked a bit like, yeah, eczema.

I am pretty good about listening to the voice of reason. I freak myself out a lot. About half the time I can talk myself out of my nonsense. The other 49 percent of the time, my husband does. The other tiny percent? Well, the doctor gets a good chuckle.

“Glad you took him for peace of mind,” my husband said.

Balance. And no I told you so’s. Even though he did.


Filed under About Mom

A Mom’s Victory: I Survived “The Talk”

It’s been a long time coming, something I’ve put off, danced around, hemmed and hawed at, and frankly didn’t know how to approach: the talk. You know the one, the birds and the bees. The uncomfortable, sweaty-palmed, God-please-let-this-end talk.

My son has flirted with the topic for probably a year while I’ve done nothing but dodge it. It’s not that I haven’t planned on having that talk. He just always catches me off guard. Driving home from school is not a good time for me to start talking about body parts and what goes where. It didn’t help when his younger sister began asking questions about our pregnant neighbor.

“What I don’t understand is how did the baby get in her tummy?” she’d wonder. It was all I could do to keep our van from veering off the road. Why did they never ask their dad these questions while he was in the midst of trying to have a normal afternoon?

The thing was, I needed to wrap my mind around what I was going to say to my son. I had to mentally prepare. I couldn’t blabber on. I had to breathe. This required rehearsal, thorough thought, simple explanation. I couldn’t get too scientific or explain too much. I had to be prepared for questions because I knew he wouldn’t be afraid to ask. This was a delicate operation. I never felt ready when the topic came up, but I knew I had to approach it. He came to me, not my husband, so I felt I had to be ready to answer him the next time he had uncomfortable questions.

My own experiences around the same age included a boy passing the S encyclopedia around the class and pointing out the passage about sex. After a minute of reading and comprehending, I merely replied, “EW!” Later I overheard more details while I pretended to be asleep at my sister’s sleepover. I pieced things together. My parents never sat me down. They gave me a pamphlet about puberty. My older sister would never answer my questions. When I felt like the only kid who didn’t know things later on, I was embarrassed. I decided not to do that to my kids. But that hasn’t made having the talk any easier.

I knew my son knew the logistics. He gave enough hints. And I planned to bring it up. We talk about a lot of things. But last night he beat me to it. He gave me the talk. He schooled me in what third-grade boys think sex is. I sat, mortified, shocked, disbelieving, and a bit humored at the whole scene—unfortunately there were demonstrations, though certainly nowhere near correct.

But I was proud of myself. I remained calm. I wasn’t nervous. I set him straight about a few things even though he giggled through a lot of it. I used all the correct names like I was supposed to, and I told him the plain and simple truth. It was easy and fairly painless. My preparation had paid off.

Then he asked, “Did you and Daddy do that?”


I totally wasn’t prepared for that.


Filed under About Mom

Bathing 101: Explain, Rinse, Repeat

Quite some time ago when my husband had the clever idea of letting the kids bathe themselves, I thought it was one more task we could scratch off our parental chore list. It seemed easy enough. Our kids sat on the receiving end of countless scrubdowns in the tub and shower, and it seemed logical that they would know what to do with a bar of soap and a squirt of shampoo.

But when our daughter emerged from the shower with a half-dry head of hair or our son stood covered in bubbles waiting for a towel, it became increasingly clear that Bathing 101 was in order.

Some nights we had to remind them to wash specific parts and show them how. One kid would admit to not having washed his face in a week, promptly sending me in a flurry for a washcloth, soap, and warm water. “We’re washing it now.” For every shower since, I yell into the steam, “Did you wash your face?”

A small rubber duck bathing.

If a bubble touches you, you're clean, right? (Image via Wikipedia)

Each shower brought a new lesson that we hadn’t thought of. Sadly, it was evident that we had to spell it out for our kids in a way they would understand: “Wash your body from head to toe, with soap, between all your parts, every crack. Understand?”

I don’t think they got it. After my son’s shower one night, I sat down to trim the claws growing from his toes. He seemed set on using them to climb trees in the back yard. I feared he’d permanently snag them in his leather shoes. Overcome with harsh vinegary foot odor, tears filled my eyes and I gasped for bits of fresh air. “Did you wash your feet?” I asked between choking sobs.

“No,” he said. They smelled like he’d worn sneakers in the jungle for a year with no socks.

“They reek. You need to wash your feet. I can’t believe you just got out of the shower and they smell so bad,” I said through the hand covering my nose and mouth.

“I never do,” he admitted. “I just let the bubbles on the floor get my feet when I rinse.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake. “You need to rub soap all over them. Your armpits too. All the smelly areas. Your whole body!”

I can imagine his third-grade classroom and the odors of freshly bathed children wafting through the air. No wonder teachers sit near the windows.

Next I’ll discover my kids just run their toothbrushes under the water and don’t actually brush them.


Filed under Everyday Life

Mom with a Migraine

BoomBoom. BoomBOOM. My pounding, screaming head throbs with each beat of my heart. With migraine in full force, life as a mom has just gotten complicated. The afternoon whirlwind of kids throwing bookbags to the floor, fighting over who gets to wash hands first, snack orders, and relaying the day’s events tumbles through my head like rocks in a dryer.

I manage to smile, request quiet, and get them upstairs to play so I can crawl under the covers for a nap. Sometimes they play and leave me alone. Sometimes they need the toy at the tippy top of the shelf. And they need it now. Sometimes there is screaming followed by tears. Still, it is better than when they were young and I couldn’t nap at all. I lay on the floor in misery as my nine-month-old used me as a trampoline while I willed myself not to vomit.

For nearly 30 years, migraines have racked my head with pain and my stomach with unending nausea. I spent many Friday nights of my fourth-grade year in bed with a migraine. Many times I threw up. I gagged on horse-pill-sized extra-strength Tylenol, once coughing one across the room. I’ve missed out on countless events. The ones I suffered through, I missed out on in spirit.

I’ve spent many hours lying in bed with an ice pack on my head, pitying myself, wondering what I did to deserve this curse. I’ve bawled, wanted to bang my head against the wall. I’ve begged and pleaded for mercy and done everything short of making a deal with the devil for the pain to go away. There are certainly some things I would rather not have. Even when I was younger, I knew I’d rather go through a lifetime of this than have something far worse.

I’ve tried massage, biofeedback, and TENS, which is some kind of electrical stimulation that frankly just freaked me out. I’ve tried lots of medicines, and most don’t work. There are some I just won’t take because I still have to drive my kids around. I know my triggers: stress, weather changes, hormones. Things mostly out of my control.

Friends offer to take the kids off my hands while I sleep off the effects of the medicine, but I always say no. I appreciate it. Everyone has their own problems, their own days when they don’t feel well, and I can’t have people rescuing me every time I feel bad. It would be often and I’d spend all of my good days repaying favors.

I deal. I muddle through the afternoon, take the kids outside, struggle through homework, put something that resembles dinner on the table. It may be a box of mac and cheese and a bag of carrots. It may be some leftover limp pancakes. The kids know. “Mommy has a heddik.”

I wish my family didn’t have to deal with this several times a month. But this is my life and this curse has made me who I am. A curse can be a gift. For every head-splitting migraine day, there is a next day. And that day after, when I feel good, I don’t take anything for granted.

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Filed under About Mom, Everyday Life

Box of Germs

There’s a public place crawling with cooties, infested with every sickness known to motherhood, and filled with ear-piercing screams that frightens me, almost worse than any bathroom (not all of them, come on now). It takes my germophobia to a whole new level. It’s the pediatrician’s office.

As my kids and I waited one day this week to find out whether my daughter had strep (she did), my hysteria settled in.

Any time my kids and I visit that box of germs, I know we are gambling with our health. It’s not like school where there is a chance of getting sick. Real, live sick germs crawl all over this place day and night. You go in there, you will touch something that a sick person has touched.

My brain goes into overdrive. What do these kids have? Is it worse than what we have? What will we end up getting on our way out? I plop my kids in the seats farthest from anyone. I shriek-whisper to them not to touch anything. Repeatedly. We hand-sanitize several times a visit if necessary.

It’s a house of horrors where tortured kids scream in pain. My kids and I slink down in our seats and hope that’s not what’s in store for our tiny room. The other day a kid down the hall was screaming, “I can’t take it! You’re killing me!” Well, we couldn’t take it either. We were about to get our coats and tiptoe for the nearest exit.

Our doctor said it was an ear problem. I nearly collapsed at the memories of someone prodding in my ears as a kid and adult and my own threats to punch them if they didn’t stop. Who do these doctors think they are?

The good news is, I don’t need a therapist to help me figure out the traumatic event that triggered my germophobic behavior either. Many years ago during our first after-hours visit, my kids and I sat crammed into “the sick room” waiting for an hour to be seen. Everyone in that room looked sweaty and miserable and coughed. And coughed. And coughed.

I thought I had died and that was my hell. I tried to disguise the fact that I was using my hand as a germ shield over my nose and mouth. I stole bits of clean air when I could. I fought off a panic attack. I fidgeted in my seat. I made sure the kids didn’t touch anything or anyone. When would the stinking nurse call our name?! We were only there for an ear infection for Pete’s sake! Don’t they have a separate room for that?

When the kids were younger, one trip to the doctor so often led to a return visit within a week with what we caught there. We could have caught it somewhere else, but my kids weren’t in preschool at the time. The pattern fit. It was a running joke when we left the doctor. “I’m sure we’ll see you in a week.” Most of the time, we did.

I’m always thankful for our doctor’s wisdom—goodness knows he has shared a lot—and the medicine. But I am always ready to run out that door and into the fresh air because that’s a long time to hold your breath.


Filed under Everyday Life

Confessions of a Germophobe

When you have kids, it happens. Or at least, it happened to me. All that guck spilled forth on you each day. The shriveled-up, days-old food they’d slowly bring to their toddler mouths on gooey fingers. Rubbing their hands over every public surface before wiping their eyes, nose, mouth, and tongue with furious pleasure. It didn’t take long for me to become a germophobe. I’m trying to break free. But I still have many moments. And now that sick season is upon us, my soap sits at the ready.

I know what my kids touch every day. I know it’s good for their immune systems. Still, they don’t need to touch every germ, do they? They don’t need full exposure. Last year my daughter brought home everything from kindergarten. And I mean everything.

Now those are clean hands.

We wash our hands when we come inside from anywhere. I think that’s a sound rule. I hear and see what goes on. Toilets flush and sinks spray on for two seconds. Boogies go in places. In places. Raggedy dolls need to be washed. Hands rub over the bottoms of shoes that step in who knows what. It’s a nasty world out there.

And school? That warm bubble of sweaty kids, crammed into classrooms, sneezing and talking in each other’s faces? I’ve been there in classes where kids have coughed in my face. They go outside and never wash their grubby hands before lunch. I deal. I cringe, but I deal.

But I heard those four little words from my son on the way home from school this week, those words I dread every year.

“So-and-so threw up today.”

Great. Just great.

“And she didn’t even go home.”

Stop. The. Car.

“What?! Why didn’t she go home? She sat in your class all day?”

“Yup.” I think he knew that bothered me a great deal, and I think he liked it.

The interrogation began. As always, I wanted to know if he was anywhere near this vomiter at any point of that day or the days leading up to it. Did she breathe on him? Does she sit at his table? Did anything splash in his direction? (That has happened before…and it involved his lunch tray. Ew.)

Her being a girl means that there is likely no way he had any contact with her whatsoever.

Throw-up scares me. We had held out for seven years. Seven years, people! Until my daughter started kindergarten and brought that nasty bug home to us last year. She suffered for a fraction of our misery. My husband, son, and I were laid out for a weekend while she did nothing but beg us to play with her. I lay motionless and let my husband do almost all of the cleanup. He is great about that. I make an effort, all the while gagging and convulsing like a dog in the yard retching up dinner.

Kids, this is the reason we only put food in our mouths. Not thumbs or boogies. We don’t touch our nasty shoes while we’re eating dinner. We wash our hands for more than two seconds. We don’t pick up strange things off the ground and say, “What’s this?” It’s your ticket to the doctor, that’s what it is. Put that nasty thing down.

I just can’t get over my phobia yet. Sorry. Sick season is here, my soap is ready, and my nagging resumes today.


Filed under Everyday Life