Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sippy cup addict

Here’s a spooky article – actually it’s the transcript of a PBS News Hour report on the chemical bisphenol A (or BPA), which is used in many common plastic products including baby bottles and sippy cups. Depending on which scientist you’re listening to it’s either harmless or quite possibly carcinogenic. While they’re debating the point, it makes me want to switch to glass and ceramic everything. This Breast Cancer Fund web site has more information about BPA and how to avoid it..

Which brings me to my question of the day: Will someone please tell me how to wean Will from his sippy cup? I know they’re useful for sending off to preschool and sure they prevent spills, but I’d love to abandon the things all the same. Instead we over-rely on them to get Will to consume liquids – which he’s sort of finnicky about doing anyway. His glass of orange juice in the morning, and his glass of milk at lunch or dinner sit undrunk. Hand him a glass of water anytime, and he’ll turn up his nose. The only thing that sometimes gets him drinking from glasses is his newly acquired abilitity to blow bubbles in his drink as he sips it down (so I’m not even trying to stop that sligthly obnoxious habit for now).

I tried buying a stainless steel water bottle for him and he thought it was cool for an afternoon, then decided he didn’t want to ever use it again. I’m debating whether to force a thirst strike with the kid and just withdraw all plastic drink-holding containers until he either caves or collapses from dehydration. And all this BPA talk is just another nudge in that ruthless direction.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Carving Chaos

Meet Sir Philtrum, so named because Rob thought the space I left as I drew his mouth below his nose was a bit large. (He was originally Sir Septum but then we realized he doesn't have a septum at all since he's just got one big honker of a nostril.)

Here’s Rob stalling on his role of carving out that mouth and instead providing some electric-ghoulish background music while Owen dances and Will draws some hair on the pumpkin. (We had to invent some way for him to contribute – besides deciding on the shapes and locations of the eyes and nose – when he was asking to do carving duties.) Unfortunately Sir Septum’s washable marker hair job has pretty much faded away.

Will enjoyed digging out the guts of the pumpkin for a while until he got squeamish and I had to finish the job, including seed separation so we could enjoy some pumpkin seeds roasted with olive oil and salt. Mmmmm. Will thinks they taste like twigs and Rob pretty much agrees, so I get to eat them all.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Blotchy Tiger, Ambivalent Cow

Rob can’t quite see why I bother to make costumes for Will that wind up looking crude and silly in spots when buying a costume is easy – and often easier on the eyes (at least when I’m the one playing costume designer). I blame it on my mom, who always dressed us in homemade costumes until we were old enough to start creating the things ourselves. She once painted Mary Lou Retton on the front of a painted-orange box for me so that I could go as a giant box of Wheaties.

I can’t compete with that – and I’m not a seamstress so I generally rely on things like fabric paint and glue guns and maybe a bit of hand-stitching here or there. This year, I enlisted Will for some help with the painting so Mr. Tiger was blotchy-striped on the back side. I also had to dye a turtleneck because I couldn’t find an orange one – and it didn’t quite match the orange sweatpants I’d found (which didn’t come in white, since no mother in her right mind would buy white sweatpants for her dirt-magnet toddler), so Will was sort of a multi-toned orange tiger with a tail nearly longer than his legs that miraculously didn’t trip him at the Halloween Party he went to today. (The hat was one of those $1 foam birthday party hats, one of several I bought one year and then forgot to give out to our guests. We found it forgotten and falling apart in our attic).

Here's Will practicing his clawing and growling before the party.

Owen, on the other hand, got this ready-made cow costume, a $1.50 consignment sale purchase I made back in September when I foresaw that I wasn’t going to get it together to construct two costumes. This is how thrilled he was to be wearing the thing:

I have to admit that Halloween’s a pretty silly holiday to be inflicting on a three-month-old. Still, I can’t help myself.

After the Halloween festivities we decostumed the boys and let them help Dad blow out the candles on his made-from-a-box birthday cake. 33 years and aging.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Road trip survival guide

How to survive a 310-mile road trip as a solo parent with an infant and a toddler:

1. If you let your husband leave you at the beach with your kids for an important meeting, make sure he has to go back on an overnight Greyhound (this should be at least a 12 hour, 2- connection journey). Since you know he’s been punished too, it’ll keep the resentment to a minimum when your own trip starts to go awry.

2. If it looks like a five-hour drive, bank on seven after you factor in nursing and bathroom stops, backed-up traffic and multiple rainstorms.

3. If you’re leaving your beachfront cabin on a windless days and mosquitoes and biting sand fleas are hovering around your car in droves: Get the car packed and then shut yourself inside, slaughter 50 biting sand fleas on the back windshield and crawl around the car until you’ve struck a fatal hand-clapping blow to six mosquitoes or so. Then hug the grandparents in the cabin, pack the infant in his car seat topped with mosquito netting, run for the car and don’t belt the toddler in until after the doors are closed. Slaughter another 30 sand fleas and a few more mosquitoes, strip the netting off the infant seat, crawl up to the driver’s seat, blow kisses to the grandparents through the window and hit the road.

4. When your toddler (who is unversed in juice boxes – just gets them on road trips) insists he can put the straw in his juice box he’s probably right. You don’t need to pull over and do that one together. But be prepared once you’re back on the road, to change his shirt when he squeezes the undrunk box too tight and douses himself with juice. Can’t find an extra shirt because it’s packed away in a suitcase in the center of the trunk? A pajama top will do.

5. When your toddler asks “When are we going to get there?” 20 minutes into the seven hour trip start pointing out exciting roadside attractions. When he tells you the flag you pointed out on a colonial-era house isn’t exciting – firetrucks and ambulances ARE exciting, admit that he’s probably right.

6. Since you won’t see a single fire truck or ambulance on the whole 310-mile journey, point out every motorcycle, cow, salt marsh, boat, school bus, cotton field and digger that you do see. Tell your toddler about how his pajama shirt is made of cotton and about how birds love to lurk in the salt marsh, where they can find lots of great things to eat. If nothing else, it’ll help you to stay awake.

7. Never stop the car unless at least one of the kids is crying.

8. Bring along the CD “Country Goes Raffi.” Play it again and again. Repeat “Shake your Sillies Out” and “Baby Beluga” time after time, if that’s what the toddler requests. Sing along loudly if you expect it to entertain the infant too. When you realize that the infant likes “Baby Dear,” which is the one song that bores your toddler (sorry Alison Krauss) – teach your toddler to think of it as a song about his baby brother. Then play “Baby Dear” again and again.

9. Don’t even think about playing your own music when the kids are sleeping; the infant will wake up.

10. Nurse a Coke over the space of two hours. If you don’t normally drink caffeine, enjoy the caffeine high as you drive through a light rain, glance back at your lovely sleeping boys and wonder how this driving solo thing could be so easy.

11. Laugh at yourself shortly thereafter when the infant starts crying on a rural stretch of Interstate and you exit at a gas-stationless road, pull over on a dirt road and realize you can’t open the windows while nursing because there are mosquitoes lurking outside here too.

12. Don’t ask your toddler if he needs to pee when he wakes up sleepy at this nursing stop. He’ll just say no. And he’ll be wrong.

13. When your normally potty-trained toddler informs you that his pants are wet, call an end to the nursing for the infant and cheerfully find a new pair of underwear and pants for the toddler. Dab the car seat with a paper towel.

14. Kill the mosquito that got in the car when you were changing the clothes.

15. Don’t rub your eyes in a moment of weariness. You’ll probably dislodge a contact lens.

16. If you violate rule 15, know that it is possible to insert a contact lens with a single hand while driving down the Interstate and staying in your lane and attending to the cars around you. You probably shouldn’t do it, and it’ll take at least a dozen attempts and your lens will be almost shriveled and deformed before you get it back in, but at least you won’t have to wake up the kids with another stop.

17. When your toddler says he needs to pee, pull over immediately. If you land at a Subway, they might just have a clean restroom big enough that you won’t have to put the infant in a front pack; just leave him in the car seat. And they might have an unoccupied outdoor patio area with an assortment of Halloween- and nature-themed windsocks for both toddler and infant to gaze at, as well as semi-privacy for nursing. Buy your sugar-deprived toddler a 42-cent cookie for making it so far without whining (even if he has managed to wet every article of clothing he started the day in). Don’t tell him you’re glad he’s not whining – just call him your travelin’ hero and let him enjoy the cookie.

18. When your toddler tells you stories about Ally and Puff from the back seat listen to each word attentively.

19. When your infant starts to scream, you can pull over to the right of one of those turn-off lanes leading off the freeway and insert a pacifier with minimal stopping time.

20. When the pacifier falls out a couple minutes later, you can pull over again.

21. When the pacifier falls out and infant screaming resumes for the third or fourth time, begin weighing the costs and benefits of minutes-long pacifier use and time lost stopping to reinsert the pacifier. Suck it up and listen to the poor kid scream. Sing and talk to him if it makes you feel better, but it won’t do a bit of good. Thank someone or something way up high for not allowing the screaming to ensue full force until the final 45 minutes of your seven-hour trip.

22. Swear to yourself you’ll never do this again.

23. When your toddler says he needs to pee just 25 minutes from home pull over immediately on a rural dirt driveway and let the kid make an attempt. When he hesitates and declares instead he needs to poop, haul him a bit further out of sight (brambles make good screen) and let him do the deed.

24. Clean the toddler up and get him back in his car seat. Then find a plastic bag and about a dozen wipes to pick up the deposit and cart it back home. Sure for a half-second you might consider leaving it, but if you get irked by the dog owners who don’t clean up after their leashed-ones at the park, think of what these property owners would think of you as a negligent human-owner.

25. Put the plastic bag in the trunk and don’t forget to tell your husband about its precise location when you finally do make it home and he starts unloading the car.

26. Tolerate some final infant screaming, wish your way through the stop lights (where the wailing reaches its highest pitches). When you get within a mile of home and your infant suddenly stops crying and starts gazing at his big brother from his car seat and smiling through his teary eyes, don’t worry if you get a little misty eyed yourself: You’re almost home and you’ve got yourself a couple of mini road warriors.

27. When you get inside hug that infant tight and cover him with kisses and swear off all solo road trips until at least 24 months have gone by. Give your toddler hero some hugs and kisses too. And if you’re feeling generous save a couple for the husband who went home early. But let him handle that plastic bag in the trunk of the car.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Photo album from Hunting Island

Just back from a whirlwind trip to the beach -- the first for Owen. We joined my parents at the cabin they'd rented for the week on Hunting Island. Rob abandoned us early for a meeting back in Columbus (and rode 11 hours through the night on a Greyhound, plus stood in line in Atlanta for 2 more, to get back for it). I drove the boys back alone today. So.... coming Sunday: How to barely survive a road trip driving solo with a three-year-old and a three-month-old.

But first the pleasant things. Here's a mini slideshow of our get-away.

Cozy quarters in our two-room cabin, so on Rob's one night with us, I got one twin bed, Will got the other and Rob opted for the hammock instead of the sofa. Until a thunderstorm drove him in at 3 a.m. The south end of Hunting Island is undergoing fast-paced beach erosion. It adds a sort of foreboding ring to the phrase "ocean-front cabin." But for now it makes for an amazing cabin-going experience. We viewed dolphins daily from the living room windows and high tide swept in less than 20 feet out from the house.

Will ran up and down our stretch of deserted beach and splashed in the warm surf for hours and hours.

Water play.

Owen takes in the waves with Grandpa.

Stubborn Will refuses to be photographed on our sunset stroll down the pier, then suddenly and cheerfully changes his mind -- only to feign sleep.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Guns in the house?

Will woke up yesterday all lovey-gushy.

Daddy, I love you so much. You’re my best friend. And Owen’s my best friend and Mommy’s my best friend. 'Cause I love Owen and Mommy and you so much.

We told Will how much we loved him too. But that was enough of the niceties for Will.

But Ally and Puff and all my other friends aren’t very nice. I’m going to shoot them down with a gun.

My fumbling response: You wouldn’t want to do that, because they wouldn’t be around anymore. Guns can kill people.

Rob: Where did you hear about guns Will?

I just hold it in my hand and I shoot them down.

Rob: Do you pretend that you have guns with your friends at school.

Yeah. And I just shoot them down...

I know guns will be a part of Will’s play and I’m not going to hover and censor him (although I’m not planning any plastic machine gun purchases for Christmas). But I do need to start talking with him now about the dangers of real guns.

This article on suggests that as parents we should probably be asking our friends if they keep guns in their house, and if so what safety measures have been taken to ensure children have no access to them, before we send our explorative children over to play. It cites a recent Pediatrics report that nearly 1.7 million American children live in homes with unlocked loaded firearms and a study by San Francisco General Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health that found that: “In 39 percent of families where parents said their 5- to 14-year-olds didn't know where guns were stored, the kids actually did know the location. In 22 percent of homes where the parents said their children had never handled a gun, the kids told researchers that they had.”

I’ve very rarely left Will at a friend’s house – usually I still accompany him for play dates – but once he starts going solo more these are questions I’m probably going to start asking, awkward as it might feel at first. I can see how little Will understands about life and death and irreversible dangers, and guns are one place where there’s no room for exploration.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gourd Guards

Will has informed me a few times in the past couple weeks that I’m not well suited for door-guarding at bedtime because I’m not strong enough to fight off tigers as well as daddy. Male chauvinism sets in early (I happen to think that Rob and I would be equally lousy at fighting tigers).

Last night, though, Will decided that even daddy might want to call in an army for nighttime door-guarding duties. An army of pumpkins in fact. Rob humored him on this request to bring four pumpkins -- big and small, squash and clay -- to help guard his door for the night.
Three of the pumpkins were fresh purchases from the Best Nursery pumpkin patch, where Will fell in love with an itsy bitsy pumpkin, named it Rawscot and smothered it with kisses for the rest of the day.
(This Halloween business is undoubtedly just feeding Will’s little frightened fixation with tigers. We’ve been working together on a tiger costume – his choice for trick-or-treating garb this year. I didn’t try to talk him out of it – maybe trick-or-treating will become face-your-nightmares therapy for Will this year. If you can’t fight ’em, join ’em, I say.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Boys -- they take their toll

Here’s how our day with the boys began: 6:35 a.m. A far-off noise wakes Rob off. Soon we discover it’s Will crying from the kitchen. He got up and rather than coming to wake us up, decided to be self-sufficient and strap himself into the booster chair where he eats his oatmeal. (We still haven’t graduated him from the thing because he’s a bit short and he prefers the seat to perching on phone books or encyclopedias.) But then he was trapped – stuck in his chair with no parents and no oatmeal. So he had to cry and cry until we were roused from our sleepiness. Might have been a few minutes, might have been twenty. Either way, self-imprisoned red-eyed Will was a rather pathetic sight.

And this is how our day ended: After an hour of quiet time but no nap, Will suffered through a series of meltdowns from 5:30 pm. to 6:30, at which point we tried to corral him toward bed but had to deal with more meltdowns on the way. (I never realized how much I loved Will’s nap until he stopped taking it.) Finally at 7:30 we had both Owen and Will down so I snuck off for an hour to visit a friend who’s been ill. On my way home, I answered the cell phone to hear both boys crying in the background. Overtired Will was having trouble sleeping and had been up three times since I’d been gone and Owen was crying inconsolably.

Sure having kids is a joyous life-giving experience, but days like these make you wonder if it’s also life-draining. Here’s some evidence from Finland suggesting that having boys, in particular, takes a toll – almost a year off your life compared to having girls, in fact.

(Evolutionary biologist Virpi Lummaa argues that birth weight (male babies are usually larger) and testosterone (which can compromise mother’s immune system) are the main reasons for the difference. Plenty of moms out there might suspect the general rambunctiousness and recklessness of boys – and the stress they cause their moms -- as factors as well.

And yeah, I’m feeling drained tonight, but I’d gladly exchange the last withering year or two of my life for my two little bundles of testosterone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vaccine safety: Take two

After a few days of obsessive research following last week’s initial post about whether to get a flu shot for Will, I wrote this column on the subject of vaccine safety in today’s Ledger-Enquirer. I sought out the advice of my pediatrician, my midwife, an RN/lactation consultant, and a Washington-Based journalist who’s been writing about vaccine safety for several years. Some of their reaction is in the column – but you’ll find more that didn’t make it into the print edition at the bottom of this post.
Print-edition correction: For those of you coming here after reading the print-edition of the column, there was an editing mix-up that led to a major error in that column. Some of Dr. Mansfield's comments were attributed to Stephanie Cave, who I never talked to at all. The online edition of the column is correct -- click on the link above and jump to page two to read what Dr. Mansfield said in full.

The honest truth is, I’m a mess when it comes to this one little decision: One day I lean toward the flu shot, the next day I lean against it. It’s sort of a battle between something in my gut (that says we put plenty of unnatural substances into our bodies already without adding an optional flu shot every year) and something more cerebral (that says the science says it’s safe and your doctor’s recommending it, so get over it and give your kid the shot). For now Rob and I are still stalling on the issue.

If you’re hoping to make an informed decision you might want to do some reading of your own. Here are some of the web sites and articles I visited over the course of preparing this column. (If you wade into the first couple web sites be sure to also visit some of the articles on the second and third list to balance things out.):

On the vaccines can be risky side of the debate:

National Vaccine Information Center (a national, non-profit organization dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and defending the right to informed consent to vaccination)

Vaccination Risk Awareness Network (a Canadian-based, not-for-profit educational society, founded by parents whose children have suffered vaccine reactions and injuries)

The Autism Research Institute, a non-profit organization primarily devoted to conducting research, and to disseminating the results of research, on the triggers of autism and on methods of diagnosing and treating autism.

“Vaccinations: Parents’ Informed Choice” at the Weston A. Price Foundation Web site

On the vaccines are safe and the risks are overblown side:

“Sticking Up for Thimerosal: Read the Studies – It’s safe.” By Arthur Allen on

“How to Think About Vaccination - My Perspective” by Arthur Allen, journalist and author of
“Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver.”

Other scientific reports and informational Web sites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine safety web page

Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Table of thimerosal content in some US-licensed vaccines

“Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association.” Pediatrics 2004; 114 (3)

“Mercury in Vaccines Is at Safe Levels, Study Suggests” University of Rochester Medical Center

“Safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines: a two-phased study of computerized health maintenance organization databases.” Pediatrics 2003; 112(5) …..tics

“MMR and Autism: Suspect or Superstition?” Pediatric Bulletin

“A two-phased population epidemiological study of the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines: a follow-up analysis.” Medical Science Monitor

“Influenza-Associated Deaths Reported Among Children Aged <18> From Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report

And then some reactions from health care professionals I contacted:

Melissa Terry Flynn, certified nurse-midwife:

I had never had a flu shot until I came here to Columbus and our practice pretty much requires everybody to take one. I have never had a problem taking it. I did have the flu once about 20 years ago and just remember feeling like I was dying and being thankful that I didn't have anybody to take care of. As a mother of young children I would probably get one unless you intend to stay holed up for the next six months. You don't have the option of going to bed for a week. There is also a FluMist for kids over age 2 that doesn't seem to have the preservatives that the shot has that you might find better for Will. Read about it online and see if your pediatrician will order it. It is a live virus vaccine but early studies look better than the shot in young children.

Our pediatrician, Richard Mansfield (additional reaction is in the column):

On FluMist: We do not have Flumist in our office this year due to inadequate demand. People balked at the extra cost. In addition, you have to be perfectly healthy. New data this year suggests that it lasts longer than the shot. The shot, if given early in the season may not be effective in February. Flumist is also a live virus and as such can give a flu like illness.

On Vaccines and autism: I have great empathy for parents dealing with special needs children. Every day can be a struggle. Many times we do not know what caused the disability. What I see written by blog writers and nonimmunizers is that they base their decisions on emotions or anecdotal reports. This is perhaps the way medicine was practiced centuries ago before we conducted double blinded randomized controlled trials. We as parents and physicians do our duty when we make decisions for our children based on sound science. Keep in mind that the cause of autism is unknown. The leading theory is a genetic defect. There is NO association with vaccines and autism.

Jennifer Fletcher, Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant:

I think that for children over the age of two, a flu shot is probably a pretty good idea. Please know, however, that the thimerosal issue is very real and must be considered on an individual basis.I personally know of one case in which a child had seizures and eventually died at the age of sixteen months, after receiving her MMR. This child does not live in the Columbus area but was the niece of one of my breastfeeding clients. My client has decided to postpone ALL vaccinations for her child until she reaches the age of two and then vaccinate very slowly---none of those four to six injections at a time!Personally, I think that the effects of thimerosal, as with all heavy-metal containing substances, are dose-related. It might be that routine vaccinations PLUS flu shot might be too much, whereas one or the other might be fine.This is a very complex issue, and there is no one "one size fits all" answer. Who really knows what vulnerabilities our children might demonstrate? But for a child who is in close contact with others outside their families (day care, church nurseries, play groups, etc.) a flu shot may well be warranted for those over the age of two.

Arthur Allen (author of "Vaccine"; additional reaction is in the column):

On thimerosal: The data are clear on thimerosal. It does not cause harm. But that's a very long story. Perhaps it's easiest to point the following out: the ethyl mercury contained in a single flu shot that an a child over 3 years of age would be getting has approximately one sixth the ethyl mercury that was in the three DTP vaccines that children got between 1942 and 1992 or so, when the HiB and hep B shots were added … The data clearly show that the numbers of autistic kids continued to go up after thimerosal was removed from all shots except flu. In other words, the levels of thimerosal were back far below what they were in 1960, say -- but the autism rates continued to be 1 in 150 or whatever. Look at the California DDS statistics if you want more precision. You know, organic mercury is present in tiny amounts in the air we breathe and many foods we eat. Fish, for example -- a can of tuna has a dozen or so mcg of methyl mercury (check that, it's approximate), and even a head of lettuce, as I recall (from the book Quicksilver, I forget the author, 1972 or thereabouts) has 2 or 3 mcg of methyl mercury in it. We know that in massive amounts, mercury can cause all kinds of problems. But the only real data we have for harm from mercury in small, "natural" amounts comes from studies of seafish eaters. In one study, in the Syechelles, moms who ate lots and lots of mercury containing fish had kids who were smarter than the kids of moms who ate none. In another, in the Faeroes islands, there was some evidence of slight neurodevelopmental delays -- slower reaction on tests, slight attention deficits -- in the kids of moms who binged on pilot whale meat. These were massive consumptions, over time, of HG, but that was what EPA used to set its threshold--to be on the safe side. Bottom line is, even if thimerosal, in sufficient dose, were a cause for concern, that dosage is no longer given to kids.

Also, I'm sure you're aware of the fact that multiple studies done since 1999 (and since Stephanie Cave's alarmist and in my opinion worthless book came out) have shown no harm from thimerosal.The costs of vaccines are always exaggerated by anti-vaccine activists like stephanie cave. It of course makes sense to weight the costs and benefits of anything you do. But word to the wise: don't trust people like Stephanie Cave to make that equation for you.

On giving multiple shots at one time: The question is, what's the basis for concern about the multiple shots? Is there anything real, other than a gut unease about "all those shots?" cumulatively, kids get exposed to fewer antigen particles in vaccines than they did in the 1970s, because the DPT vaccine has a more purified pertussis component than the old one did, and they no longer get smallpox vaccine. Kids are exposed to multiple germs every day. Vaccines are just visible, that's all. I understand the fears -- kids hate shots, parents hate to see their kids suffer, it's a hassle and bother, and whenever the specter of harm arises in a substance that doesn't seem necessary at the time, we naturally shy away from it. But on the basis of rationally trying to protect our kids, none of the vaccine critics' points really stick.

On the flu vaccine: The thing about flu vaccination is this: old people have been trained to get their flu shots, and that's fine. But the fact is, even though cumulatively flu vaccine helps protect the elderly from flu, on an individual basis an old person's immune system has often deteriorated in a way that doesn't allow them to provide a good immune response to the shot. So they don't get that much beneift from it. The best way to protect old people from flu, it turns out, is to vaccinate their grandchildren and children. Ironically, although flu is not often deadly in the young--so their direct benefit from it may not seem that high -- in protecting the young we also protect the old. This is the concept of herd immunity. It's real.On vaccine safety in general: It's also important, in my view, to understand that many anti-vaccinators have a vested interest in alternative medicine that sways their understanding of these issues. There have been vaccine disasters in the past. But vaccines are safer now than they ever have been – I say this as someone who did a careful study of them for a book that took me 7 years to complete -- and the diseases they prevent are real.

If you're in a polling mood, go to the bottom of the October 11 "Flu shot" post and let us know whether you'll be opting for a shot this year, or whether you're still deciding. Or just leave your comments here.

Oh, Bother! It's the Pooh family

Somehow Grammy and Will have decided that for this visit, we are all Winnie the Pooh characters rather than our former boring human selves. Here’s the cast:

Will: Pooh (with his big honey-loving tummy)

Owen: Roo (especially fitting when he’s in his pouch of a front-pack)

Grammy: Piglet (who, according to one of our Winnie the Pooh books, is Pooh’s best friend)

Grandpa: Eeyore (a slow-talking whiner)

Me: Owl (Probably not because I'm a wise old one. I’ve heard that owls have tiny brains and are quite stupid so this may be the real reason behind the choice.)
Rob: Dave. (The name of Grammy and Grandpa’s friend who emergency-landed his plane last week on a Colorado Interstate). Apparently Will decided Dave was more interesting and thus more deserving of a role in our family than Tigger – in spite of the fact that Rob has done many a ceiling-high “Tigger bounce” with Will to transport him to places (like his bed or the dinner table) that he might otherwise go reluctantly.

Here’s Piglet and Pooh both reading different books to overstimulated Roo simultaenously while Eeyore mopes about the fact that he’s not even featured in the Winnie the Pooh book that Pooh’s reading aloud.

For the past couple days Piglet has been reminding our little Pooh that Winnie the Pooh is always polite. And Pooh is sometimes compliant and sometimes a very stubborn old bear.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Autism on video

Here’s a new Autism Web site worth looking at if you have young children: Austims Speaks features dozens of video clips of typical children and autistic children at a range of ages. The idea is to help parents identify signs of autism spectrum disorder very early because early diagnosis and treatment can help young children with autism live more normal lives. One pediatrician points out in this article that it’s important not to try to diagnose your child yourself or to get overly concerned if your child seems to be doing a behavior similar to one of the autistic red flags --- there’s a whole range of normal behavior for kids. But this site might help some parents get a jumpstart on the disorder. You can also look through the Science section of the Web site, which contains links to some of the latest research on autism -- and which, incidentally, doesn’t say much about thimerosal-autism connections. More about that coming Thursday in a follow-up column on vaccine safety.

Even if you don’t have concerns regarding autism, it’s an interesting site for getting quick glances of babies and toddlers as they progress through different stages of development.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Meeting grandpa

This afternoon Owen met his Colorado grandpa for the first time and discovered he has a wonderfully ticklish beard. Kisses from grandpa now top the list of things that elicit persistent giggles from Owen.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Statues in jeans

Today we made it out to Market Days on Broadway for the first time since Owen’s birth. Bought some organic arugula from a local farmer, a pack of purple coneflower seeds from the master gardeners and this scrumptious loaf of organic honey wheat bread (made with local honey) from the new Downtown Baking Co. We meandered down to the river walk, gawked at the low water level and the vast expanses of exposed river bed, and talked about why we don’t waste water at home with Will (who has discovered the joys of turning the kitchen sink tap on and off but at least has outgrown his days of trying to flush the toilet multiple times).

Then we parked ourselves on a bench, opened up a jar of peanut butter as a topping for the bread and called it lunch. (Owen called it stroller naptime.)
On the way back to the car, Rob suggested that we stop and talk to this girl, in her '80s era tank-top-and-baggy-sweater garb.

“She might not talk to us dad,” Will explained, “because she’s a statue.”

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Flu shots -- what to do??

So it’s fall and flu shot time is upon us – that is, if we opt to recognize flu shot time at all. Last year we subjected Will to the flu shot clinic at our pediatrician’s office after wondering whether or not to do it. I’m a sucker for CDC recommendations and they recommend it for children ages 6 months to 5 years old because they are “at high risk for complications from the flu” (along with everyone over 6 months who shares a house with them). Today a friend called to see if I’d be giving Will a shot this year because she’s trying to decide whether to do the same with her daughter.

Another friend, who’s been madly researching vaccines and has put her son on a schedule where he gets the ones she’s decided are crucial one at a time so she can monitor his reactions, recommended this Stephanie Cave book to me: “What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Vaccinations.” I checked it out from the library yesterday, and I get a headache just looking at it and thinking about trying to weigh the risks and benefits of each vaccine for Will and Owen. Each time, whether I opt for the shot or not, it feels like I’ll be gambling with their health. Which is why up to now, I’ve been throwing my hands in the air, and following the advice of our doctor’s office (I checked in with them today and was told the vaccine is definitely optional but they recommend it).

Of course, the more I read the more confused I become about what to do. Cave says in her book (which I should point out has a 2001 publication date so some information may be dated): “The CDC recommendation that healthy children should get a flu vaccine raises questions for many people. Mass immunizations of healthy children removes natural antibodies to the flu, which are provided when the flu is acquired naturally. Medical science is not yet certain whether it is better for healthy children, who rarely experience complications from flu, to get the flu and develop natural, permanent immunity to that specific flu strain, or for them to get vaccinated every year and suppress flu…”

She also says this about the mercury-containing preservative thimerosol that is used in some flu shots: “Until the thimerosal is removed from the flu vaccine, I have concerns about its safety. I believe the ethylmercury in the vaccine can cause neurological or immune system problems for anyone who gets the shot, especially the elderly and I think it is unsafe to give to pregnant women during any stage of pregnancy.”

So I found a chart at the Institute for Vaccine Safety Web site, which shows which types of flu vaccine still contain thimerosal. I called our pediatrician’s office and discovered we’d be getting the version of sanofi pasteur that is not preservative free (so it does contain thimerosal).

It does bother me that, according to this CDC Web page the flu shot is the only vaccine with thimerosal given to young children: “Today, with the exception of some Influenza (flu) vaccines, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool children against 12 infectious diseases contain thimerosal as a preservative,” it says.

But is thimerosal really cause for paranoia? Here’s a link to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded “Our study does not support a causal association between early exposure to mercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immune globulins and deficits in neuropsychological functioning at the age of 7 to 10 years.” The Institute for Vaccine Safety has links to more articles, many of which seem to find no link between vaccines and thimerosal and autism or other pervasive developmental disorders.

But then this article at the Autism Research Institute Web site challenges the CDC claim that “the available scientific evidence has not shown thimerosal-containing vaccines to be harmful” and cites a bunch of books and articles suggesting the opposite.

Go here for the full list of who should get the vaccine according to the CDC. (They recommend it for pregnant women and people over 50 too.)

So what’s a mom to do? I haven’t decided. I’ll be contacting my pediatrician to see if he has any thoughts. And in the meantime, I’m going to experiment with a little poll and find out who among you is planning to do the flu shot. Not that it’ll necessarily sway my decision, but I am interested in how many parents are going the flu shot route. If you've got any thoughts on the matter, leave a comment too.

I’m glad the vaccine’s not recommended for babies under six months – so at least there’s no decision-making required for Owen (who, by the way is exactly 3 months old today – time’s flying!).

Do you do flu shots with your kids (or yourself)?
No flu vaccine for my kid, thank you.
Bring on the flu vaccine; who needs another bout of illness this winter?
Still making up my mind.
I don’t have young kids but I get the flu shot myself.
I don’t have young kids but I steer clear of the flu shot myself.
Free polls from

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Inflatable buddies -- deflatable bullies

The nice thing about imaginary friends is that when they bully you or generally behave unpleasantly, you can just swap 'em out for a new friend – maybe of the same name.

Here’s how Will traded in his old friend Ally yesterday:

I have a new Ally Mama, 'cause the old Ally wasn’t being nice.

He wasn’t? What did the old Ally do?

He poked me.

So what did you do about that?

I poured LEGOs all over him. And then I got a new Ally.

How does that work?

You just get it and pump it up and it turns into a new Ally.

Nothing like inflatable – and deflatable – friends for taking the headache out of conflict resolution. Ally and Puff and Will periodically push each other to the ground or hit each other – and Will’s none the worse for wear. No bruises, no blood, no tears. It’s my kind of roughhousing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Solo mama

OK, any single moms or wives of deployed soldiers out there can start rolling their eyes. I did my first solo night with two kids last night and I’m desperately awaiting Rob’s return home today.

Actually daytime with two was perfectly pleasant. But I hate a double nighttime routine.
It went along smoothly at first. Will was thrilled to help me bathe Owen. But then came Will’s turn for the tub. In the three seconds it took me (with back turned to Will) to buckle Owen into his bouncy seat for a view of big brother’s bath, Will decided to reach from outside the unfilled tub across to the tub toys perched on the soap rest. As I turned back to him he fell head first into the tub. Luckily it was a slow-motion kind of fall that left him totally unscathed. But he was scared plenty so he started screaming and Owen started screaming and I started seeing visions of me taking both of them – bleeding Will and wailing Owen to the emergency room (which we did once visit with Will after a tub accident a couple years back).

A minute later, we’d all recovered, Will agreed he’d learned a lesson: NEVER reach for anything inside the bathtub when you are outside of it -- and Owen was laughing (it almost seemed out of relief) as Will enjoyed his bath. At bath’s end, Owen was looking sleepy so I decided we’d put him down a half hour early, partly because toothbrushing and book reading sounded simpler with just Will. Will and I sang Owen a duet lullaby, and laid him down to sleep. After a couple stories. Will, who is now used to daddy doing all things bedtime related, went nicely to bed.

But Owen was soon up from what proved to be a late evening power nap and I couldn’t get his wide eyed, grinning little self back to sleep until 11. Before which time, Will made a grumpy 10:30 p.m. appearance from his room and announced he was ready for breakfast. He settled for just going pee instead and grudgingly went back to bed.

A half hour later, after the 20th round of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and his sixth stint of pacifier-gnawing, Owen finally joined him in dream land.

I could feel a thin layer of sweat coating my body from our evening walk to the park (in this lovely 90-degree weather -- we're just pretending it's October in Columbus). But I was too scared to shower for fear that one of my resistant sleepers would wake up crying and in the process wake up the other resistant sleeper. So I went to bed grimey.

At 3:30, Will roused me from a deep sleep to demand oatmeal again, but I hauled him back to bed.

The real oatmeal time? 5:50 a.m., when he was too chipper and determined to put back to sleep.
So here I sit bleary-eyed, awaiting Rob’s return. And if you do happen to be a single mother of multiple children, I'm thinking of holding some kind of big hero's banquet for you.

...Don't they look tempting?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nap dropping -- and the aftermath

As we approach Owen’s 3-month birthday I’ve decided to try to create some naptime sensibility in our house. Rather than lying every living body in our household down next to Will as he tries to go to sleep come naptime, we’re going to put Owen in his bassinet (or keep him up if naptime hasn’t hit for him yet) and let Will sleep on his own like a big 3-year-old kid.

After a morning family meeting on our bed, Will agreed that since we were trying to teach Owen to sleep in his bassinet, Will would try to nap in his own bed without having me (and Owen) lie down with him for several minutes while he drifts off. After lunch, I gave a good-nap kiss to Will (who tucked himself under his sheets and closed his eyes), put Owen down easily and sat down amazed at how smoothly this new plan had gone.
After 10 minutes of peace, Will pops out of his room and announces, “I woke up.” Didn’t take long to establish that in fact he never slept. He agreed to do an hour of quiet time in his room and crawl into bed when he got sleepy. But he never got sleepy, just did some quiet playing for about an hour and emerged still raring to go.

Maybe it’s time to drop the nap, I thought.

Or not. Here’s what happened after our little no-nap experiment:

System Failure – at 5 p.m. no less. I'd had to interrupt a read-aloud with Will to put sleepy Owen down for a nap. And in the three minutes it took me to accomplish that, Will conked out. I allowed him a twenty minute nap, then roused him so we wouldn’t have to back bedtime up to midnight.

So now I’m thinking we’ll keep trying this put yourself to sleep/quiet time thing and hope and hope Will learns to nap unassisted – hopefully at 1 or 1:30 instead of 5. Every time it doesn’t work, we’ll be looking at a super early bedtime, probably with a meltdown or tantrum as a little afternoon prelude. But we’re going to brace ourselves and try it anyway.

When did your kids drop their naps? And how early did you move bedtime to compensate? And did you all survive? (Or: Any magic tricks for convincing your nap-resistant kid to get some early afternoon shut-eye?)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Diaper waffling: Cloth vs. disposable

For three months now I’ve been diaper waffling. Sometimes I’d reach for the disposable, sometimes I’d reach for the cloth, sometimes I’d just hesitate and say einee-meenee-miney-mo.
When Will was an infant I was all about cloth diapers. I hated the whole process, yes, but I figured I was saving the planet in my own little way and I had to justify my purchase of a couple dozen cloth diapers and some plastic over-pants from, an online cloth diapering store that seems to have since faded into non-existence. I got some super-thick, very absorbable diapers but none of the fancy Velcro stuff. We just did old-fashioned diaper pins, which are actually very quick and simple to use without wounding your kid.

Until your kid starts squirming, and standing up, and generally hating diaper changes -- which is what happened as Will got older. Sometime after he’d graduated into a giant-sized toddler cloth diaper I just threw my hands in the air and went with the disposables full-time. We were also motivated by the fact that a dirty toddler diaper is a foul smelling thing compared to the virtual odorlessness of an exclusively breastfed infant’s poopy diaper. I got to the point where I wanted to wear a gas mask when it was time to throw a pail of water-and-vinegar-soaked dirty diapers in the washing machine.

So I abandoned cloth entirely with Will. And then once Owen was born I started the waffling.
Somewhere between Will’s birth and Owen’s, I’d started hearing the debate about whether cloth diapering was really better for the environment anyway. Here’s a column from the Sustainability Institute, a fact sheet from the Ohio State University Extension service and another column from Green Living weighing the pros and cons of disposable and cloth. My take on it is, if you’re going to do a single wash cycle with the diapers (which is enough if you first spin them to get all the excess water out) and then line dry them, you’re probably better off going with cloth, environmentally speaking. And of course it’s much cheaper – especially if you’ve already purchased the cloth diapers, as we had.

But if a lot of people claim it’s a wash, and it’s a royal pain, why do it, I wondered. Always the wishy-washy momma, I’d put cloth on half the time, disposables the other half in the first two months with Owen. I’d make excuses to go exclusively disposable for a week at a time, when friends or family were coming to visit and I thought I’d rather not deal with the chore. And whenever I went out, I always chose disposables.

But then we had the Publix poop explosion and it sealed the deal.

Now even for short outings, Owen goes in a cloth diaper, which is the only thing that usually manages to contain his mammoth, flooding once-a-day poop explosions, which leak out of our disposable diapers with annoying predictability. He looks like some kind of a tub toy with his rounded-basketball shaped bottom, but now that he’s not pooping a dozen times a day, the clean-up is simple. Once a day, I hunker down over the toilet and rinse out a poopy diaper, but at least I’m not having to scrub Owen’s clothes and mine too like I was with the disposables.
And if it takes a couple extra seconds to fashion the pins and snap on an outer cover, well, Owen and I just get to smile and talk to one another for that much longer. He generally loves a diaper change.

Once he gets squirmy and belligerent and super-stinky on me though, I probably won’t even waffle. It’ll be straight back to disposable land for me.

Where do you come down in the disposable/cloth debate? Anyone else out there insane enough to try cloth too?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fish for dinner and squirrel for brunch

First a news note: I finally bought some fish at the store today for the first time in weeks after reading this story. (A coalition of top scientists and health officials now recommends that pregnant and nursing moms eat at least 12 ounces of fish per week to ensure optimal brain development of their babies – they’re finally saying all the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids outweigh the risks of mercury contamination.) Of course I know fish is good for you, but sometimes I need a kick in the pants – especially when I’m trying to serve it up to a husband and son who are by no means fish fans. If you’ve discovered a fish recipe that’s proved palatable to the non-fish-lovers in your family, please, PLEASE share.

Then on to less newsworthy stuff…

Highlight of our day yesterday: While Owen caught a morning nap in the stroller at the park, Will and I stood on the upper platform of the big kids’ playground and watched a red-tailed hawk make brunch of a squirrel. He was a methodical eater, glancing around and down toward us as he consumed his catch – bloody innards, bushy tail and all. It was the longest, closest view of a wild hawk I’d ever enjoyed. Mid-meal, a great blue heron swooped by, 15 feet from the hawk or less – both of them just 20 yards from us and almost at eye-level. So we ran to the other side of the platform to watch the heron fly away while the hawk continued with his meal (which lasted a good 25 minutes before we finally decided to leave).

Equally mesmerizing to Will was this scene as we left the park: Hard-helmeted tree service man gets lifted in the bucket end of a bucket truck from ground to tree top and begins pruning. As branches fall to the road, Will says “Mama, they might go to that other tree and trim down that hawk next.”

And to top it all off, on the ride home an early yellow-green maple leaf dropped from its tree, floated down into the double stroller and laid itself to rest on Owen’s sleeping chest. Finally, fall is arriving in Georgia.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

No disposable babies here

I am amazed daily by how wonderful Will is with Owen – so accepting, so happy to be a big brother, so playful, so unbothered when I nurse him, so in love with the smell of his hair, so frequently declaring, “I love little Owen.”

Until nap wake-up time arrives. I don’t take naps even when I need them because I wake up in such a funk afterward. And Will must have my genes because his foulest mood is almost always immediately post-nap, when he tends to wake up, crying and calling “Mommy” pathetically from his bed. This is prime tantrum time and it’s the one time when he’s just not too happy to see me come waltzing into his room with Owen in arms.
When I came with Owen to answer the sobbing “mommy” wake-up call after yesterday’s nap, Will took one look at Owen and said:

“I don’t want little Owen!… Throw him down.… Throw him away.… Throw him in the trash!”

The ellipses are my little protests to each variation on the Owen-throwing proposal (I can’t remember quite what I said, but I know the lamest comment was the obvious, generic and oh-so parental, “We don’t throw babies away.”)

But good brother Will quickly fought off his evil alter-ego and within minutes we were seated on the couch reading together. “Hey there little Owen,” Will said as he tickled his brother.

“Good thing we didn’t throw him away, huh?” I said to Will. He squinted at me, and with an almost imperceptible nod of the head, he grudgingly agreed.

Owen update: Little guy is getting bigger all the time, by the way. He is now grasping a rattle and shaking it too, lifting his head up a full 90 degrees during little stints of tummy time, and he’s begun working on figuring out how to turn himself over. (Will likes to help with that one until poor seasick Owen spits up from all the motion.) And he tolerates many a smothering hug and kiss from Will with smiles instead of tears.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The news on colic

I finally got a chance to read the September 17 New Yorker article, “Crybabies: Solving the colic conundrum,” which is definitely worth a look, even if the title is somewhat misleading. The colic conundrum is by no means solved in this article (the cause and the cure remain as elusive as ever) but the primary researcher featured in the article does provide some advice about dealing with colicky babies. Barry Lester, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University, suggests that while in the past people regarded colic as a physical or medical problem, he regards it as a behavioral disorder that affects “not just the baby but the parent-infant relationship.” You can read an abstract of the article here.

Since colic is still largely a mystery to physicians too, you might as well diagnose it yourself using criteria developed in 1954 by Yale pediatrician Morris Wessel: crying by an otherwise healthy infant that lasts more than three hours a day more than three days a week, for more than three weeks.

Lester hypothesizes that some infants who suffer from colic are “hypersensitive to normal stimuli” and that even physical contact with their parents is unlikely to soothe them. He suggests that parents of colicky babies need to refrain from going to their babies each time they cry so that the babies can learn to soothe themselves.

Lester’s advice might fly in the face of attachment parenting gurus, but after you read the anecdote about Juliana, whose 8-week-old daughter cried 15 hours a day and allowed her mother about an hour and a half of sleep each night, it seems reasonable to let the baby do some solo crying too. (In the article, Pamela High, another professor of pediatrics at Brown advised Julianna to first try to determine if her baby was hungry or wet or wanted to suck or be cuddled. But after she’d done all that, High suggested putting the baby down “in a safe place for 5 or 10 minutes so she can learn to calm herself.”)

I can’t imagine having to leave an under-three-month-old to cry for any length of time, but if we were facing round two with a super colicky baby I'd be tempted to give the self-soothing thing a try.

In one of Lester’s studies 75 percent of colicky babies later suffered from behavioral problems, "including limited attention span, tantrums, and irritation after being touched or coming in contact with particular fabrics or tags in their clothing.” Lester says the way parents interact with colicky infants can exacerbate the problem: "Colic threatens to cause problems in the child's ability to form relationships, because the child doesn't learn behavioral regulation and develops problems with impulse control."

We never got around to labeling Will as colicky – but looking back he probably did cry for something close to a total of three hours a day for a few days of the week for a few of the worst weeks (the first three months felt like a struggle and they make life with Owen feel like a walk in the park). Whether or not he had colic, Will definitely got constant attention from us as he cried in those early months, so maybe there is something linking that early lack of self-soothing to his periodic tantrums today. (It also seems plausible that kids born with super-sensitive temperaments simply continue to have super-sensitive temperaments as toddlers and so get unreasonably upset when things don’t fit their super-sensitive ideas about what they want and need).

If Will did have colic, it was a mild version of it. As I read about mothers of constantly crying babies, it’s no wonder to me that so many of them wind up depressed (another study mentioned in the article points out that maternal depression and colicky infants were high predictors of one another). How terrible to feel that you can almost never be of comfort to your tiny baby.

The good news if you got one of those colicky baby/tantruming toddler packages? By the time they are adults, they don’t tend to exhibit behavioral problems. So at some point, maybe right around the time they’re packing up for college???, all will be peaceful once again.

Were your tantruming toddlers colicky babies? Any advice from my-baby-had-colic-but-I-survived mothers out there?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tantrumers Anonymous

I’m thinking of launching a support group for Will and other toddlers who are addicted to throwing crying, screaming fits about the most minute details on a semi-regular basis. Tantrumers Anonymous, we’ll call it.

If the first step is admitting you have a problem, Will has at least done that. I remember making a deliberate decision during that long ago first tantrum not to call it a tantrum to Will. Maybe I thought that by labeling it I was giving the beastly behavior some validity? But somewhere along the way, Will picked up the term and started using it on himself. He likes to talk with us after the fact about his tantrums, with that label attached. And he tries so hard to reform. Find Will in a period of happiness and sweetness (which describes him most of the time – I just focus on tantruming Will, poor guy, because it sort of amuses me to write about his primitive behaviors and because I’m always puzzling about how to help him through them)… Anyway, find him in a happy moment and he’ll tell you, totally unprompted and out of the blue, that he’s made up his mind to quit the stuff for good.

Here’s a quote from this weekend, again unprompted, during breakfast on a morning when there’d been no tantrums.

“I’m not going to do tantrums anymore. I’m sorry I did every each tantrum I don’t like. ‘Cause I don’t like tantrums. Tantrums are not fun.”
He keeps swearing off the stuff, but then that terrible concoction -- an ounce of frustration, a pinch of weariness and a body full of toddler impulsiveness – lures him back for more. Let me know if you’re willing to host the first TA meeting at your house? Because we’re not having it at mine.