The_Tug_of_War_-_JM_StaniforthMe:  I think arguing is like tug-of-war.  One person pulls one way and the other pulls the other way, and you try not to get pulled across the line.  But what if someone just drops the rope?  Then you are not tugging anymore and you don’t get pulled across the line, either.  It just ends.

Husband:  Yeah, but if you let go, the other person falls down.

Me:  You just have to be the one to let go first.


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The Boy vs the Beetle Virus: An Ode to the Great Outdoors

“No, no, don’t pull it out yet!” my son yelled.  He had a sliver of glass in his foot.  But his fear surprised me.  He is a barefooted nature lover who has encountered worse splinters, cuts and scrapes than this, and with less distress.  “It’s hard to even feel sorry for you,” I told my son.  “You knew you weren’t supposed to smash glass in the backyard.”  I didn’t say it harshly, but my son grimaced.  His eyes started to well up with tears.

I softened my approach.  “Is there something wrong besides your foot?” I asked, giving him a hug.  He was reluctant to tell me.  After some reassurance, he revealed the underlying source of his distress.  At a science museum day camp earlier in the day, his class took a walk outside.  My son found a large black dead beetle with pincers and a fuzzy yellow underside.  Excited, he picked it up.  He expected his teacher to respond with amazement and encouragement, as his parents and grandparents usually do when he makes a discovery in nature.  His collection of insects, rocks, shells and bones is a source of pride for him.

The beetle wasn’t quite this big.
By Harry Furniss (en:Harry Furniss, 1854-1925) (Lewis Carroll: Sylvie and Bruno. (1889)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To his shock, his teacher scolded him with an angry tone.  “Don’t pick that up!” she reprimanded.  “You can get a virus that will make you sick.  Your eyes will water and you will sneeze,” she warned.  Her anger and disapproval were so opposite of what my son expected, that he started doubting whether he could even expect me to respond in a positive way.  When some of the boys said, “Eewww!” his doubt was reinforced.

What?!  A virus from a beetle specimen?  When did our society become so afraid of the natural world?  When did adults stop expecting kids to play outside all day, encountering dirt and other natural substances?  When was it forgotten that humans used to live, work and eat outside?  Are we so far removed from the generation that urged its kids to “go play outside and come home when the street lights come on”?

I posed the question of a beetle virus to the pathologist in my family, a specialist with about 50 years of experience in the field of human disease.  He replied,

Well, apparently those teachers never had brothers!

…Very unlikely that an insect virus could cause disease in a human.  However, what she may be thinking is bacteria, not virus, in which case she may have a point, but still unlikely.  People even eat bugs with no problem (except for esthetics).

…My advice is don’t get bit/pinched/stung by the bug, and always wash the hands after handling.   How can you make a collection if you don’t pick them up?

Dirt is not bad for kids.  In fact, it is beneficial.  Recent research shows that childhood exposure to microbes in dirt strengthens the immune system.  It also reduces the chance of having allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.  And bacteria in soil can even cause an increase in mood-boosting serotonin.

The sun: good medicine
By Johann Sternhals [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Kids playing outside are also exposed to sunlight, our best source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D is important in the prevention of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. (I know you’re smart enough not to get a sunburn).

If my kids are any indication, the backyard is a good place to stay strong and healthy.  At first, my son complained to me that he was the only child in his science camp who didn’t bring an electronic device to play with at lunchtime.  “I need a smartphone, Mom!”  But even though he is short and slim for his age, and at the lower end of the three-year age range of the science class, he turned out to be the strongest child in the class.  I like to think that there is a connection.  After some reflection, my son changed his mind about the smartphone.

Kids are not meant to be cooped up inside all day, staying clean.  This New York Times article points out that “Early humans evolved near the equator, where sun exposure is intense year round, and minimally clothed people spent most of the day outdoors.”

So mothers, send your kids outside, to fearlessly go where millions have gone before!  Let them get dirty, suntanned, and excited about the nature around them.  Let them stay connected to the real world.  It’s good for the mind, body and soul.

A note about splinters and tweezers: I think the very best tweezers for splinters are the ones in my Victorinox Swiss Army Classic knife.  They are tiny and thin for reaching into the cut to get the object.  You don’t even have to buy the knife.  You can buy just the replacement tweezers in a six-pack on Amazon.

What are your thoughts? I like feedback!

Sources: WebMD, Medical News Today

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Confessions of an Angry Mom

If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Dosso Dossi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I couldn’t stop myself from losing my temper with my son, even though I love him to the ends of the earth.  I would yank him away from a fight with his sister, and yell a lecture into his face.  When he responded by hitting and kicking me, I would hold his wild limbs way too tightly, pinning him to me until his rage finally turned to tears.  At that point, I would lecture him in a more calm way until I thought I had said enough for him to get the point.  Then I would go to my room and cry into my pillow.

I knew my explosiveness wasn’t solving anything.  It was undoubtedly making things worse.  But I didn’t know how to stop.  If a mother’s love wasn’t motivation enough for me to hold it in, nothing could be.  I had to go beyond motivation, beyond counting to ten.  I needed to change myself at a fundamental level.

Reasons for Anger

First, I had to understand why I was getting angry.  I realized over time that I lose my temper when:

  • I want to scare my kids into doing what I want
  • I am afraid I might not be a good enough mom
  • I am afraid of not being in control of my kids
  • I am afraid my kids might be controlling me
  • I snap from hearing too much of an annoying noise from my son
  • I am afraid of what other people think of my kids’ behavior
  • I am cranky from hunger, thirst, or having to use the bathroom
  • I am overwhelmed by other stress in my like
  • I am more comfortable with the emotion of anger than I am with fear, anxiety or sadness
  • I magnify a temporary behavior problem by fearing it will be a long-term problem
  • I suffer from too much caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal
  • I feel defensive about someone’s anger directed at me
  • It feels good to vent my anger
  • I have too-high expectations for what I — and my kids — should be able to accomplish
  • I don’t know what else to do.

Managing Triggers

Once I understood the reasons for my anger, I could recognize and manage the triggers.  I recently read something that angered me.  I went into the kitchen to cook dinner and started snapping at the kids about messes they had left on the table.  I realized the true source of my anger, and apologized to my kids.  Then I concentrated on prioritizing my family and letting go of my anger over something less important.

New Skills

The next big step was to learn new ways to discipline my kids.  According to psychologist Ross Greene in his excellent online videos, “Maladaptive behavior occurs when cognitive demands being placed on the individual exceed that person’s capacity to respond adaptively.”  The same was true for me.  I behaved badly in situations that exceeded my capabilities.  I had the faulty authoritarian skill set of trying to enforce obedience with fear and manipulation.

I started developing new skills of connection parenting.  These included listening, empathizing, and coaching.  I felt less panicky when I understood my kids better and knew better what to do.  The more confident I was, the less I worried about what other people thought.

More often nowadays, when my son starts trouble with his sister, I focus on defusing the situation.  I calmly suggest why I think he might be angry, instead of escalating the anger in the situation.  I lead him to separate himself from her and find a more appropriate method to resolve the dispute.  In turn, he is becoming more capable in these situations.

Peaceful Home

I still lose my temper.  But my outbursts are shorter and less intense.  I am less frustrated and volatile.  My husband has noticed that the mood in our home has become much more peaceful in the past few years.  He is no longer the victim of my barrages of desperate and unfair complaints about our children’s impossible behavior.  With perseverance, it really was possible to loosen the grip that anger had on our household.

I love feedback.  What do you think?  What are your triggers for anger?

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First Aid Kit for Travel with Kids

Bon Voyage!

Bon Voyage!

Child throwing up in-flight?  Been there.  Fever at the hotel?  Done that.  Can’t find diapers?  That, too!  I’ve been lucky to travel a lot with my kids.  There are some first aid items I have learned to always have with me.  These go in my carry-on if we go by plane.  It’s not always easy to find a pharmacy when you need it, and even harder to find what you want in a foreign country.  Be sure you are aware of TSA limits for liquids on airplanes.  Here’s what I include, in no particular order, plus three bonus tips at the end:

Nasal Spray: This is high on the list, because you can’t clear your ears for landing if your head is stuffed up.  For this reason, I also carry…

Benadryl: If it’s in tablet form, it does not have to take up space in your TSA quart bag limit for liquids. Or, you can buy the single-dose packs to stay within the size limit for liquids. I do NOT recommend using Benadryl to make your child sleepy for the flight.  I’ve heard it sometimes has the opposite effect, or in our case, can lead to projectile vomiting all over Daddy’s shirt.

Cheerios: Babies and small children don’t know how to clear their ears. Start dispensing 30 minutes before landing, so your child will start swallowing and clearing his/her ears before it gets bad.  Warm milk is also helpful because of the heat, swallowing, and sense of security.

Children’s Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil): Of course, these are not sold in airplane-size bottles.  I use a smaller bottle and put a label on very, very securely in permanent ink. Include dosage info on the label.  I bring one little bottle of each, because I like to alternate them.  Let me emphasize that it is a BAD idea to put one medication in the bottle of a different medication.  I confess, I’ve done it, and it is in my picture, but you can be smarter than I am.

Anti-itch gel: We like the Benadryl gel best, but it has to be transferred to a smaller bottle to meet the TSA limits.

Triple-antibiotic cream: To kill germs on cuts and scrapes

Chapstick: Airplane air is dry, so we use this often.

Bandaids: Not only for cuts and scrapes, but also if lots of walking gives you sore spots on your feet.

Powdered Pedialyte packs: Easy to carry, and don’t have to be put with your TSA allotment of liquids.


Shout (or other brand) stain remover wipes


Nail file

Nail clippers

Small pack of facial tissues: No mother should ever be without these, especially during travel. Restrooms, especially in foreign places, don’t always have toilet paper.

Plastic bags: Bring several for disposing of trash, separating soiled clothes and dirty shoes from other luggage, bagging a lunch on the go, or throwing up in.

Vapor rub pad: The kind you put on your chest to clear a stuffy head.

Oral thermometer

Disposable diapers, wipes and rash cream: You run out at the least convenient time.  Plus, they’re not always easy to find overseas.  I spent a couple hours searching for disposable diapers in Munich.  They were not in the huge department store that had a large supermarket in the basement.  I had to go to a pharmacy and wait in line to get them from a pharmacist.  Luckily, I knew the language and knew my way around the city.  For travel anywhere outside the U.S., just bring the entire amount needed for the trip.  Then use the extra luggage space for souvenirs on the way home.  Be sure your carry-on contains twice as many diapers as you think you need for the flight, or delays will be a nightmare.

Empty travel-size spray bottle: For ironing clothes, sort of.  Simply fill the bottle with water and mist clothes.  Wrinkles will fall out.

Skin lotion

For myself: Feminine protection, just in case, and so I have the kind I like

Bonus vomit tip: Ground coffee masks the smell after you clean up. We learned this from a flight attendant who put ground coffee on my daughter’s seat after she threw up.  Worked like magic.

Bonus foreign bathroom tip: Have small change in the local currency.  Many foreign bathrooms, even at gas stations, charge around $0.50.  I even encountered a bathroom in Turkey that charged for toilet paper by the square.

Bonus medication tip: Bring your prescription for any prescription meds, as these may be controlled substances. Even some over-the-counter drugs may be controlled at your destination, so do a little research.

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Haiku: Breach — A True Story

Norman Rockwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A dollar

If you jump in the water;

Wet boy, no dollar


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Fear is Different From Respect

Photo By D Sharon Pruitt [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Whom do you respect and admire?  What do you respect about that person?  Courage? Wisdom? Mental, physical or emotional strength? Kindness? Or, do you respect that person for their power to scare and humiliate you?

Shine from Yahoo ran an article about a 13-year old girl whose parents made her stand for 90 minutes at a roadside with a sign that said, “I’m a Self-entitled teenager w/NO Respect for authority. I’m also super smart, yet I have 3 ‘D”s because I DON’T CARE!”

This might be a kick in the pants to scare her into bringing up her grades.  But in the long run, is this the kind of tactic that will bring out the best in her?  Do decent people humiliate each other?

Who are the best supervisors and coaches?  Back in my previous life as a career woman, I had a great boss.  She had high expectations, and I did not want to let her down.  I wanted to do well in that job.  Why?  Because she set a fine example.  She had a strong work ethic, was knowledgeable about her field, was a great team-builder, and encouraged me.  These are the things that make a great boss.  As I develop my parenting skills, I look to her example.  I want my kids to feel encouraged to do their best.

This boss never, ever did anything to humiliate me, even when I really screwed up.  I don’t do my best when I am scared.  I suppose I’d run my fastest if I were chased by a wild animal.  Other than that, does fear bring out the best in any of us?  Maybe it does for some people of a certain temperament, but I doubt it is common.  And even if humiliation was effective, is it the right way for a person to teach another person, whether adult or child?  Would this husband and wife treat each other this way?

I do not think that scaring and humiliating our children into submission brings out the best in them.

I admit there have been times when my children have acted disrespectfully toward me.  But it was not because I didn’t scare or humiliate them enough.  It was because I got flustered, lost my temper, and had mommy-tantrums.  I was being weak, and they could see that I was not in control.  That is how I lost their respect.  As I learn to keep my temper, speak calmly and firmly, and encourage them to do their best, I can see that I gain their respect.

Many people commented with praise for the parents who wrote the embarrassing sign.  I think it is a good thing that the parents wanted to correct their daughter’s behavior.  But I am amazed that so many people think that this is a great method.  I think it was a desperate, thoughtless, maybe even sadistic measure, and not a long-term solution.  I think it is sad that the girl’s behavior stemmed from the tragic death of her uncle, and that her parents responded by hurting her.  What a slap in the face to say the girl doesn’t care.  Obviously she does care, or her uncle’s death wouldn’t have had such a strong effect on her.  And why make a public display of a private matter?  I hope that these parents will empathize with her grief and help her work through it in a constructive way.  I hope that they strengthen their relationship with their daughter and develop true respect.

Because fear is different from respect.


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Zucchini Optimism

Grow, Little Zucchini!

Grow, Little Zucchini! Grow!

I would try positive thinking, but I don’t think it will work.

My zucchini plants are a real life example.  I spent about $140 on stuff for my garden, $60 of it on dirt.  “What, Mom?!  You’re BUYING dirt?”  Oh yes, kids.  It’s very good dirt.  It has cow poop in it.

So this year, I thought I’d add zucchini.  When I was growing up (in a different climate from here), it seemed like there was too much zucchini.  Someone was always giving away the extras from their garden.  So, I figured, it must be easy to grow.  Always one step behind, I began researching zucchini after I bought the plants and brought them home.

According to my local gardening book, the species of squash that includes zucchini is “the most easily killed by squash vine borer.”  And, “most organic efforts to thwart borers have proved failures.”  In spite of all this, I went through the hassle of making a 12″ deep, 24″ diameter hole and layering it with fertilizer and building a hill for each plant.  Well, maybe I cheated a little on the 24″ diameter.

I considered giving up, and just sticking them in the dirt without all the trouble of preparing the hill.  But then it struck me how optimism and pessimism are self-fulfilling.  If I believed the zucchini would fail, then I wouldn’t make the effort, thus causing them to fail.  But if I had faith in my little zucchini and made the effort, they might survive.

I’m still not convinced they will hold out, but at least they have a chance.  My little hills are sort of a symbol of hope.  I don’t suppose a person can be a gardener or farmer without some optimism.  And I’m counting on my kids to look for the tiny vine borer eggs, so that my designer dirt doesn’t go to waste.

Note: For a great Houston gardening book, check out Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston, by Bob Randall, Ph.D.


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