Tag Archives: kids

The “Dog”. What is your theory?

Late one night in January last year the kids came running in the front door thrilled with a fuzzy new find. Percy was an abandoned, dirty, matted and very hungry 2 month old puppy of indeterminate breed.  We tried all the usual channels but, no one ever claimed him. Puppies, it turns out, are a bit of work. We (read that as: the grownups in the house) were thrown into a cycle of late night runs for the backyard and endless rainy walks saying (on the advice of a well-respected puppy trainer) “Do it, Percy, Do it” to train him to defecate on command.  As if. I started searching for recipes that would separate the meat from all that hair. No luck. It has since then been pointed out to me that I did not actually have to keep the critter that perhaps, I should have told my three beaming children “No”. Right. You try.

Everyone likes to give us their theories about  what exactly, he is. Portuguese water dog? Something-a-doodle? Bijon frise? The cat thinks he is a cat. He thinks he is …comfortable here.







Dinnertime Art Continued: Art in the Moment

What do Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tino Sehgal and Andrew Goldsworthy have in common?

Well, I didn’t really expect you to get that one. But the answer to this question is one worth discussing (in the ongoing dinner-table conversation with your kids that I have by now stirred up).

Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American who began as a graffiti artist and developed into a respected painter of canvases hung in galleries and museums. I was fortunate this year to see an extensive retrospective of his work in a museum. His paintings have an Afro-Carribean influence and also show hints of the influence of other artists of his time. But, for the purposes of our conversation, think of him as a graffiti artist. Andrew Goldsworthy is a british sculptor who works primarily in the outdoors making site-specific and land art. He makes art created out of what he finds in nature. Breathtaking, monumental art made of icicles, twigs, leaves and piled rocks. Tino Sehgal is an artist who creates situations meant to move his audience, meant to make them think but – not meant to be preserved. His work occurs in museums but is not documented in anyway. I recently saw his work “This Progress” – an installation of progressive encounters with people who walked with me, asking me questions (“what is progress?” “is progress always good”) as I ascended the spiral at the Guggenheim museum in New York. While my memories are sharp, there is no image to link here for you to see.

The answer to my question is that all three men created in part, art meant to be temporary. Graffiti and land art are to more or less degree ephemeral in nature. Sehgal’s work is designed to be such. When you look at each of these art forms you find an unarguably appealing nature to them. Certainly Goldsworthy’s is the most widely approachable so, start there. What is it about the fleeting nature of his work that adds to its beauty?

I asked my children this tonight at dinner. I admit, the 15 y/o rolled his eye a bit but then, even he joined in the conversation. They all agree that Goldsworthy’s installments are “really cool” but we struggled with the question of what their impermanence adds to the art. Does its fleeting nature make it more precious and therefore simply more valued (volunteered by the 9 y/o)? Do the changes that occur as Goldsworthy’s sculptures are decayed by the forces of nature (tides, wind, heat) allow for our own interpretations; our own artistic input in how we see them? Do my memories of Seghals situations similarly add to the interpretation of his art? Questions of vandalism aside, I find something magical about the creation of a graffiti mural that will soon simply become a canvas for the next artist.

Is there something about art meant to be physically transitory that makes us pause and stretch our mind’s eye to really take it in? We are perhaps, encouraged to be really in the moment with this art that is by nature of the moment.

To start your own discussion at home try watching these two very different but equally moving videos: Goldsworthy in action and graffiti being created. Consider making some of your own art at home as Meg Schiffler and her son did described in her terrific blog post for the SFMOMA Andy Goldsworthy: Big Tears (Part 1) and A Gift to the Backyard (Part 2).

Help dealing with your child’s habits: Knowledge and Humor

On Twitter this morning I saw several tweets about how to deal with undesirable habits in children. These started me wondering why, exactly we are so bothered by our kids habits. For the most part nail-biting, hair twiddling, lip licking and their ilk are not harmful. Sure – there are some undesirable consequences (raw little fingers, frazzled hair, dry lips…) but I am guessing that really, our parental reactions come from a different category of worry. It may be that when we watch our child fidget, pick at their scab or chew absent-mindedly on their shirt, some of our reaction is based on a worry that perhaps they will never grow out of these habits and we will fail by sending little nail-biters into the world. We wonder if perhaps Dostoevsky was right when he wrote:

The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.

And, if he is right we feel there is so little time to shape our children into successful adults; will we cram in all the lessons in time? Do we also react so strongly out of concern about how our parenting skills will be judged when others see their little habits? It seems a difficult time to be raising children; we are surrounded by a constant influx of pressure and “advice”  about how to parent.

There was another, well done article posted on Twitter this morning –     Kids Affected by Parent Stress More Than We Recognize. This talked of the consequences of our stress and worry on our children. It is true, there is much to legitimately worry about (jobs, health, finances, world affairs, etc)  and given this I would challenge us all to look hard for the spaces in our days where we can let things slide.  One good place to start is with our reactions to our children’s habits. I find that when reassuring parents in my office two things seem to help the most: knowledge and humor. For knowledge there are many places to turn, here I have gathered some basic information about habits and their counterpart, tics. I find the best advice is to try to not nag instead, to talk calmly and directly with your child about his habit. After all he may not be aware of doing it; as Agatha Christie said:

Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them

Awareness is the first step to breaking the habit. Have the conversation at a quiet moment. At that time explain you have noticed that he sometimes has the habit and that you would like him to think about stopping and why. Brainstorm with him a list of ways to learn to stop. Even very young children respond well to being included and respected in this way!

And now, for some humor:

My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income – Errol Flynn

Zoo: An excellent place to study the habits of human beings – Evan Esar

Or, as I tried last night when watching my handsome near-15 y/o absent-mindedly chew on his t-shirt – just smile at your sweet monsters and have a private giggle. They will have grown up and out of most childhood habits so quickly (I hope… the T-shirts are suffering) that letting them slide at times may be the best approach.

Lice again? It is nice to know we learn.

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!

Is Graffiti ART?

This question has been often debated at my house. I like looking at well done graffiti. I enjoy thinking about graffiti on trains. The pairing of this art form (meant to be temporary and fleeting) painted on trains that move through time and space with their roving art exhibits can often be quite spectacular! nd yet, graffiti is often done in an illegal, defacing manner that is obviously, hard to support wholeheartedly.

You might open this discussion in your house by watching this video with your kids. There is much to talk about. The end project is striking in its beauty; the means to the end may be objectionable. What do your kids think?


How parents can help break the cycle of childhood obesity: raise a cook and dance!

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.