Last year I wrote an article for patients at work incorporating the American Academy of Pediatric’s recommendations for the treatment of head lice. Their recommendations and my article we aimed at being calming and reassuring. Lice are indeed gross but – they are not harmful so we mothers need to calm down a bit. As I was writing it I remembered a certain mother’s day I had and changed the article to include this introduction and summary:
Picture this: 0630 Mother’s Day 2008 morning …my dear daughter climbs into bed with me to read a book and snuggles up in the crook of my arm. I decide I will have to do without the dream of sleeping in on mother’s day in order to well, enjoy being a mother. I give into the joy of her good morning love and snuggle in with a nuzzle of the top of her sweet head…only to find….Arrrggghhh! Lice nits! Good grief, what a way to start the day, any day let alone Mother’s Day! So, I did what most mothers would do jumped up and entered into panic/action mode and spent the day (btw that was supposed to be my day) washing, picking nits, combing, doing laundry, vacuuming and cleaning. Let me emphasize the laundry; I totally went overboard with the laundry and did dozens of loads!
And that is really where we need to begin here. So, let’s take a few deep cleansing breaths together (lice tend to reduce the most composed mothers to crazed hyperventilating insane people – me included). Now I know and believe much of what I put my self through that day was unnecessary. We as a nation are too afraid of lice. Yes, they are really, really yucky. Yes, we don’t want them on our children’s heads. However – lice do not hurt our kids (deep breath) and they do not live well or long off of a human head so huge cleaning efforts are unnecessary (deep breath). Having lice is common, does not mean you or your house is dirty and, happens to the best of us (breath).
My Mother’s Day 2008 ended up with a very clean house, 3 slightly traumatized children and 1 exhausted mother. Next time we have lice, and there will likely be a next time, I hope to be able to breathe my way through a more rational response!
So, this week when yet again I was reading and snuggling the very same child and looked below to see…could it really be? Nits? I was able to indeed breathe, relax and not go so overboard. She and I both survived relatively unstressed which made me realize that I too learned in the process of interpreting information for my patients. Glad to know that the deep, subconscious part of my brain that reacts in horror to the idea of bugs on my child was soothed by learning the facts. Education is indeed powerful.
It of course also helped that after a good shampooing the white stuff went away – proving the point that even the “professionals” mistake dandruff for lice!
I spent a thoughtful few days after first reading Chop, Fry, Boil: Eating for One, or 6 Billion from the 12/31/10 New York Times followed by seeing a blog post from KevinMD.com entitled Childhood obesity and chronic illnesses that result from being overweight. Of course, I read much about childhood obesity and have a seemingly endless stream of conversations in the office about this topic. With parents and kids I try to navigate this delicate but medically urgent issue. With fellow pediatricians we express frustration over the mounting problem and despair of being efficacious in our attempts to help parents and children carve a healthier path through the mess that it seems our society has created.
Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese.
The blog post outlines the problem of childhood obesity and examines some suggested remedies: limits on the sales of sodas and educational initiatives for parents and doctors alike. These add to what is necessarily a multi-pronged approach. Physicians need to educate and discuss, schools need to examine what is in their vending machines and in their lunches, food manufacturers, store and restaurant chains need to have a conscience that examines their role in this nation-wide crisis.
What can we as parents add to the mix? Among many small steps we can take (pack lunches, serve water, model exercise), falls the idea so well outlined in Chop, Fry and Boil. We can and should, raise a nation of cooks. No, not chefs – no perfection or creativity required. We can raise our kids ready to go forth able to provide for themselves simple, tasty, home-cooked meals. Giving the next generation of Americans basic cooking skills gives them the ability to avoid the cycle of fast food consumption and its inherent physical and economic costs. The author provides us three basic recipes to learn. I am an avid cook but, somehow have never learned how to make an edible stir fry. I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Bittman’s Broccoli Stir-Fry with Chicken and Mushrooms; enjoyed the learning, the cooking and the eating. Better yet – I invited my 11 y/o daughter to learn with me and she joined in; the recipe was indeed that approachable.
We teach our children so much. We feed them well. Many of us let our kids play in the kitchen…here we call this baking “experiments”. Let’s also arm them with some basic dinner-making skills;
By becoming a cook, (they) can leave processed foods behind, creating more healthful, less expensive and better-tasting food that requires less energy, water and land per calorie and reduces our carbon footprint. Not a bad result for us — or the planet.
Then we can start on the next step suggested in a recent interview with our Surgeon General Regina Benjamin: that we as a nation maybe need to dance more.
That exercise is medicine. It’s better than most pills.
Why blog about art, parenting and health? Well, I suppose, one blogs what knows. Better yet, one blogs what one is passionate about. Gee, the kids are an easy one but why the art-medicine combo? Here’s my take on that: art is good for our souls, our hearts and brains. Think of the calmness that runs through you when you look at a beautiful landscape, photograph or painting. Think of how you reflexively take a deep breath at the beginning of a beautiful piece of music. Or how happy you feel when enjoying the artistry of a well presented meal (even better when enjoyed with some warm jazz playing in the background and good friends to laugh with). Beauty calms our souls. Not all art is beautiful; some art disturbs us and makes us think and question. This stretching of our minds also feels good in a deeply fulfilling way.
Happy minds, calm souls = health. The evidence for a mind-body connection is endless and strong. So, find your beauty, find art, be it painting, music or food, that makes your heart sing and stretch.
I have a favorite painter. Not one most people “get”. So, often those friends of mine that are subjected to chatter about art get to hear about Mark Rothko. Inevitably they are puzzled. Rothko is famous for painting large canvases covered with blurry-edged blocks of shimmering colors. They are often vibrant but, later in his life became dark. In the beginning of his career he painted more representational work; things that looked more or less like what they were. Then, as many painters do, he evolved his efforts towards abstract art. He became one of the leading figures in the New York “school” of Abstract Expressionism. In this evolution he had the expressed goal of guiding the viewer of his canvases towards an inner exploration. He intended to transcend their thoughts to a place of meditation of the most basic of human emotions. Famously, he commented that one who thought of his work simply as being studies in color had not seen
people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.
So, Mark Rothko’s work for me illustrates this connection between art and health. Viewing, listening, experiencing art as a path towards inner strength and calmness that in turn gives us increased health. A gift indeed, to give our children from a young age. And, a reason for writing about the mix of art, health and parenting.
In the office I am often reassuring parents that there is nothing unusual happening when there kids seem to be “sick all the time”. Primarily they are getting upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) which are called “common colds”. These are called common for a reason – the AAP states that children have 8-10 colds in their first two years of life; I usually explain that parents should expect that their school-aged kids will have 6-10 infections in any given year. This time of year there is more floating around that the common cold; there are also lot of vomiting and diarrheal illnesses. Of course our little monsters share all these germs making it hard for a household of kids and adults to stay well.
So in new-blog-post #2 I am here to tell you that, sister, I am right there with you. I fell asleep last night dreaming up another sort of post…it was a lovely one about Alexander Calder and happy art. However, after a night of caring for the third vomiting child in 2 weeks I have changed my mind. I too am left wondering “what the heck”? Since late August (when school started) I am certain there have been no more than a handful of days when all of the 5 of us have been healthy. Colds followed by sinus infections and new colds. Now vomiting mixed with cold after cold. Why is it so hard to stay well? Rationally the doctor in me knows why. Cold viruses are primarily shared by person-to-person contact with contaminated secretions. Meaning that little monster #1 wipes their runny nose and touched the doorknob, the refrigerator, the Lego, the pencil etc and then Monster #2 (or sweet innocent mom) follows behind and touches the same surface. To inoculate themselves they then absent mindedly touch their own nose/eye/mouth. And presto…in 2-3 days a new cold is born. Similar scenario with the throw-ups but with the added bonus that in that case monster #1 may not even be sick but can be shedding virus everywhere they go. Of course, hand-washing helps but – even the fastidious amongst us forget at times.
Okay, back to the real world…laundry load #5 needs to be put in the dryer. See? I’m right here with you!