8 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Than Just Cheese Puffs

In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion.

Interested in having your kids eat nutritious food that hasn’t been processed and pummelled into a dinosaur or star shape? It’s tricky, in this age of happy meals and cookie-flavored cereal, to coax our children into eating actual food.
In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion. Below are a few proven methods that have actually worked. I hope that you, too, are blessed with a child who sometimes consumes food that doesn’t fall into the cheese puff family.

1 | Ban “candy”

No, I don’t mean ban actual candy. What with Halloween and birthday party bags and in-laws, removing all traces of candy from your home is impossible. But you can avoid the word “candy.”
The reason this is so important is because once your child is thinking about manufactured sugar, it’s tough to get them to accede to eating a food that only contains naturally occurring sugars (most of them do!). So take care around these two syllables. It’s a word that must never be spoken, kind of like Voldemort.

2 | Feign apathy

Sure. You really want your kids to eat the chicken and sweet potatoes you have lovingly prepared for them. Your heart breaks when they look at the plate and a stricken expression clouds over their features, as if a live goldfish had been placed in front of them.
But here’s the thing about getting your kids to eat well – the more you need for them to eat something, the less likely they are to eat it. It’s a control thing, and since children own their mouths, they will always win this very unhealthy power game.

3 | Obscure the goodness

This one only works if you have time to cook and bake, but hiding spinach in a batch of brownies really does work, as does sneaking carrots into a smoothie and disguising zucchini as a type of muffin.
Kudos to whoever thought of adding a cup of spinach to a cake batter. Also, who on earth thought of adding spinach to batter?

4 | Condiments!

Sauces and dips are a parent’s best friend. Solitary carrot sticks look as sad as they sound. But the same exact thing next to a bowl of hummus? Magic! That’s because anything that’s messy will appeal to your kid. You probably already deduced that by now, because look at the state of your house.

5 | Negotiate at your peril

“If you eat three more cucumber slices, I will let you drive the Lamborghini” is something you should not say under any circumstances, and this isn’t just because you have never owned an luxury Italian sports car.
Bargaining with kids – while tempting – usually backfires. You know this. We all know this. The fact that we all still negotiate with our children sometimes is concrete proof that parenthood addles the brain.

6 | Reimagine pasta

My kids, and most kids, do like some healthy foods. Pasta is one of them. But because my kids enjoy it, I sometimes forget what a good, wholesome food this is. We may never own a Lamborghini, but we’ll always have this awesome Italian export.

7 | Sous chef junior

To let your child help you in the kitchen, or not to let your child help you in the kitchen – that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to allow small people to feel as if they are contributing to the housework, or better to just get it done efficiently and neatly while they’re watching “Paw Patrol”.
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to this age-old question, but most kids are more likely to eat something when they’ve had a hand in cooking it. You know what they say: The course of true parenthood is completely chaotic.

8 | The DIY meal

Whether it’s tacos or pitas, kids like to put things in other things. That’s why you once found 23 pennies inside your favorite pair of wedge pumps. Assembling their own meals is fun for kids and, like with the condiments, they will make a mess. Making peace with mess is just part of parenthood. Just like dealing with picky eaters!

A Parent Primer on How to Deal With Bullies

It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

The moment your wrinkly, wailing baby enters this world, there’s one thing you’re sure of: you’re never going to let anyone hurt your precious child. If they try, they’ll first have to contend with mama bear.
By the time your child enters elementary school there’s one thing you’re sure of: you can’t possibly protect your child 24/7.
You have flashbacks of third grade when you were made fun of for the unlikeliest of things: your name, your lunch, your outfit, your glasses, you name it. While cyberbullying has taken the risks and repercussions to a whole new level, “traditional” bullying is still pervasive with one in three children reporting being bullied in school.
It’s time to get a refresher on how to train our kids to stand up to bullying and how to advocate for them.

1 | Watch for signs

Sometimes, bullying is not overt and children may not be able to put a label on it. When my son was in Kindergarten, for instance, his best friend would often force him to erase pictures he’d drawn or words he’d painstakingly written. When I asked my son about it, he matter-of-factly replied that his best bud had ordered him to erase his work, “or else he won’t be my friend.” It wasn’t a one time deal. My son couldn’t play with other kids or sit next to anyone else during circle time “or else.”
It wasn’t name calling or hitting but it was a power imbalance that amounted to bullying. Often times, we have to watch for the warning signs which could range from aggressive behavior at home to poor grades at school to something as innocuous as erased pictures. We need to take bullying seriously especially when it’s clearly a pattern of behavior that the aggressor exhibits.

2 |  Don’t confront the bully’s parents

As a parent, you instantly bristle with emotion when you know your child is a pawn in a bully’s hands. You want it to stop and you want it to stop now. But confronting the bully’s parents about their child’s behavior will likely elicit a defensive argument. Now is the time to use one of those “Keep Calm” slogans you see everywhere: Keep calm and talk to the teacher. Escalate the conversation to higher levels of authority like the elementary school coordinator, the school counselor, and the principal, if it’s not tackled at the teacher level. Bullying is not about a kid having a hard day. It’s a community problem and requires the community to come together.

3 | Empower your child

As important as it is to teach your child self-confidence, they also need a game plan for when a bully tries to engage them. Here are some strategies that experts suggest:

Teach them to report the situation

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20 to 30 percent of children report bullying to an adult. That’s a shockingly low percentage for such a pervasive problem. Teach your child to call bullying out, rather than excuse it, and encourage them to tell a parent, teacher, or coach about the problem.

Teach them to stay confident

Train your child to make eye contact and stand tall but never engage physically with the bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, it’s best not to encourage your child to fight back, as it could lead to more aggression.

Teach them to stay calm and be kind

This two-pronged approach is advocated by leading social skills communicator Brooks Gibbs. In a widely-viewed video outlining these two techniques, Gibbs teaches children strategies which are perhaps counter cultural.
The first rule – don’t get upset – teaches the child to play it cool. When the child (and this works best with tweens and upward) responds nonchalantly to the bully’s aggression, he or she communicates a simple message: what you’re saying doesn’t bother me one tiny bit. The fallout of this is that the bully gets bored. Once emotion is taken out of the picture, the bully has no ammo to continue his or her verbal tirade.
The second rule Gibbs advocates – treat them like a friend – goes one step further. It means showing kindness to the perceived enemy. And, yes, that’s as hard as it sounds. Gibbs’ theory is that if you respond to a bully’s verbal aggression with kindness that throws them completely off kilter. Bullying, Gibbs says, is an imbalance of power. Kindness unhinges that power struggle.
With a little bit of practice (okay, maybe lots), kids (and grownups) can get emotionally resilient and outsmart the bully. Bullying doesn’t have to be a rite of passage or an incontrovertible part of childhood. Let’s show our kids there are ways out.

Determination and the Will to Live

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
In the mirror I could see the impossibly tiny blue foot sticking out of my abdomen, no bigger than an almond. I only glimpsed it for a moment as the doctor hurried to slide his large hand around the leg and reach for the body. But the tininess, and the blueness of course, alarmed me. Within moments the doctor was holding the smallest infant I had ever seen in front of me, briefly, before he was whisked from the room to be resuscitated. In my head a voice screamed, “Put him back! He’s too small! He’ll never make it!”
When I awoke I was taken to see my son whom we’d decided to name James. He had been put on a ventilator and it was tougher than anticipated to see him on it. Every breath looked intensely painful. When he breathed in it looked as if his ribs were touching his spine. His whole chest would compress incredibly hard. It appeared that every muscle in that tiny two-pound body would tense and it gave the impression that James was experiencing acute pain.
But James was born with two things that mattered: flaming red hair and the determination to match it. He was here to survive. He had Hyaline Membrane Disease which affects the lungs and makes it very difficult to breathe. Yet he fought every day determined to breathe on his own one day. He also required a blood transfusion but at two pounds they couldn’t find any veins large enough to use. Eventually they had to go through a vein right in the top of his head near the forehead. He didn’t like it but he tolerated it with his determination and will to live.
Each week he experienced two steps forward and one step back. That sweet little baby struggled for over 60 days in the hospital before they finally released him to come home. Yet even with all the pain he experienced in the first days and weeks of his life James was the most sweet spirited child that anyone who knew him had ever encountered. He was a joy to his family. He was especially adored by his Daddy. He and his Daddy developed a close bond. They loved to read together, take walks, have “guy talks” and wrestle. For nearly five years they shared a great father/son relationship.
That is why James almost fell apart when his Daddy died suddenly two days before James turned five years old. He had experienced a sudden stroke. No apparent reason. He was totally healthy and there was no family history of it. After the stroke they had done surgery to open the closed artery. We had thought all was well. He had hemorrhaged and within hours was declared brain dead. Then I had to tell James. I have never seen a child that upset. I’ve seen children cry. I’ve even seen children throw fits. I have never seen a child experience that true depth of sorrow. He cried so hard for so long we had to take his clothes off because he was overheating.
Still, we wondered if he was fully comprehending the permanent nature of death. It wasn’t until after the viewing that I would understand what he was thinking. At the viewing I took James and his sister in with me to see their Daddy’s body before the guests arrived. After a moment James asked to be alone with his Daddy. I was hesitant at first and then agreed. After leaving him alone for about five minutes, he came walking out of the room with a tear stained face and looking exhausted. He let me pick him up and hold him and he rested his head on my shoulder.
The next day when I asked him about it he told me, “I didn’t know if Daddy was really dead so I wanted to be alone with him. When you left I said to him, ‘Daddy, wake up!’ But he didn’t wake up. So them I took his hand to shake it. But his hand was very cold. So then I knew he was really dead. And then I cried and cried.” He waited until he was done crying to come out of the room to me.
It seems to me that when James learned his Daddy had died for real that was a moment of determination for him. He had to once again choose to go on and live, to dry his tears, and put on a brave face for mom. That brave, sweet little boy by five years old had already twice in his life, both when he was a tiny two-pound preemie and as a five year old facing the death of his Daddy, shown amazing determination and a will to live!

Be a Guide, Not a Guard and Raise a Happy, Responsible Kid

As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished.

“Be a guide, not a guard” perfectly describes the kinds of parenting behaviors that create happy and responsible children. It’s a term I learned at a recent training session focused on reducing controlling parenting behaviors.
When I ask parents “what have you tried to help change your child’s behavior?” little breaks my heart more than hearing a long list of punishments. The story will go something like “the rule is that he is to clean up his room but he never does it so we took away his tablet, then banned watching TV, we smacked him, we put him in time out all day, cancelled his play dates with his friends and then grounded him for a month. It doesn’t matter what we do, he doesn’t care.”
This is parenting like a guard. It is inflexible, rules-based parenting that requires punishment when a child doesn’t behave. The punishments often escalate and may be harsh, cruel even. In the worst case scenario, a child raised in a controlling environment will comply due to a fear of being beaten but will not do anything other adults say if there is no risk of being hurt. The most anti-social children are often parented in this way. They don’t care about the meaning of the rules set; instead they decide whether to comply based on whether they will get hurt. Controlling parenting practices are also correlated to poor mental health in children and youth.
When we parent like a guard we are trying to stop behavior through control and dominance. In an attempt to get rid of the behaviors we don’t like, we use consequences. A guard expects trouble and treats people as such. A guard does not care whether you feel sad, confused or don’t feel like you belong. A guard only cares if you comply. As a guard we can’t be flexible and this means if a child doesn’t comply, regardless of the reason, our only option is to escalate the consequences until they do. Even if this means excluding them from the very systems we want them to belong to.
When we parent as a guide we work to encourage behaviors we want to see in our children. We help children belong in our world and all the systems that come with that. We use care and compassion in our parenting practices. When we see unwanted behavior that cannot work or is unacceptable in our systems, we look at what steps we can take to help that child learn to fit better in our world. We don’t use harsh consequences that will exclude the child from the system; instead we see their difficulty as a skill deficit. We don’t use escalating consequences; instead we look for ways for children to want to be part of the system and to want to please us.
As guides, we help children develop internal motivation to do what is right because it’s right, rather than to do what is right to avoid being punished. We want our children to comply because they want to be part of our community, they want to help us and because they understand the value of their chosen behavior.

How to be a guide

See your child’s perspective

Being able to hold your child’s perspective is essential to being a guide. It helps parents understand how best to help their child. It helps us identify that difficult behaviors are often related to emotions or skills deficits. This doesn’t mean we accept all behaviors as ok, it means that we understand that there is a meaning to whatever behavior we are seeing.

Encourage behavior through praise and noticing

Children love receiving genuine praise and being noticed. If they feel you genuinely care about them rather than that you are trying to control their behavior, they are more motivated to work for you. Children are less receptive to praise that functions to control behavior such as “aren’t you a good boy for sitting up straight today?” A genuine “I can really see you are listening, and that makes me feel good” is more effective.

Promote values-based living

Show your child what matters through the way you live. If you want to raise a kind and responsible child, lead by modeling kind and responsible behavior. Notice when your child is kind and responsible and praise the behavior.

Be flexible where possible

Give your child opportunities to choose. Avoid controlling choices unless there is a good reason not to offer a choice such as safety or legality. Guides raise kids who choose to be responsible. Guards raise kids who conform to avoid a consequence.

Promote intrinsic goals over extrinsic goals

Encourage your child to do things for personal growth, for health, to create meaningful relationships and contribute to their community as opposed to doing things to achieve financial success, popularity, power or for their image. People with intrinsic goals are happier and engage in more pro-social behavior.
Next time you see your child doing something that you don’t like, whisper to yourself: “Be a guide, not a guard.”
Acknowledgement: Thanks and gratitude to Darin Cairns for introducing me to the helpful term “Be a guide, not a guard.”

Like Water on Waves

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Dear Daughters,
When I was 13, my step-father told me that victims of attacks – women – were attacked because they’d asked for it. If you ask her, almost every woman could recite to you a litany of personal micro-aggressions. Mine is not unique, and yours won’t be either.
Much later in my life, when I discovered I would give birth to you, my daughters, I felt my duty to raise you in a world that objectifies and dismisses you, become a task I was unqualified for. How could I teach you to withstand this onslaught against your body, when I was not able to do the same for myself? When I learned that you were girls, still safe in the haven of my body, a place where no one could touch you without permission, reduce you to the parts that make you girl, and imprint on you the idea that you are less, I wished to find the same safety for you in the physical world.
You are too young to begin recording a lifelong list of transgressions against your character. So I am speaking to you not as your mother, but as your sister, a woman who stands beside you and says, I’m listening; I hear you.
You told me once, “My friend said he was better than me because he’s a boy,” and you lowered your head in shame.
Does a drop of water on a wave know its forward momentum? Imagine, daughters, the potential of every single woman, like water on the wave, if she could gather forces from her sisters around her. Energy builds along a line, moving from droplet to droplet to disrupt a calm surface. If we, as women, push this energy forward, one moment at a time, we become the wave that crests and shatters back against the shoreline.
You said, “Today on the playground a boy kissed me three times even though I told him to stop.” Even though the boy was much younger, four or five and I tried to make excuses for him, –perhaps he is struggling to learn his boundaries, perhaps his mother saw and quickly reprimanded him – I was filled with a sense of dread.
My role as your mother is to live by example. I am determined to show you the good in the world – the men who will march beside you, and the women persisting in a roomful of male politicians – while simultaneously teaching you how to stand against the jagged outcrops in defiance.
In Kindergarten you said, “My friend showed me his private parts,” and I gripped the steering wheel of my car. My mind began to churn against the unconscious cultural rhetoric: children are exploring identity and relationships; no physical harm was done; boys will be boys. I caught a glimpse of you in the rear-view mirror. Your face was pale and your eyes were filled with shame.
You admit you wish you were a boy because they get the best jobs and live the best lives. If you become a woman you will eventually become a mother, and this terrifies you. I am despondent that I have not been able to provide you enough examples of women who persevered.
I am a body divided. I teach you practical things like how to tie your shoes and brush your teeth. At the breakfast table, over bowls of soggy cereal, or in the car on the way to the grocery store, I attempt to fortify your character. I tell you to be polite but firm, respectful but courageous. I say, use your voice, your vocabulary, articulate and command respect; be quiet, this is not a time for you to speak. I give you a model of contradictions to follow, and am terrified.
As your mother, I am sorry that I could not protect you from these instances that have lessened you. As a woman, I stand here to be a witness to your life, and remind you that you are heard. My job as your mother, as a woman, is more urgent now. I am here to protect and love you, to shape your character, raise strong independent thinkers who demand equality, who, when they hear the common voice croak the words meant to subdue and demean, have learned to shout louder, and be the crash of the wave as it breaks on the rock. Be like the water on the waves, my girls; push forward.
Love,
Mom

There’s No Crying in Parenting

At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.

From about 18 months to four years old, Briggs kept his meltdowns private. His behavior started small at first – random hitting for no reason, throwing temper tantrums, and what seemed like normal “terrible two” behavior, but on some sort of cocktail of Adderall and Mountain Dew.
As he has gotten older, his behavior has grown with him. We’ve gone through the spitting phase, the name calling phase, the tantrum on the floor as if his bones were made of limp noodles phase, and the screaming at the top of his lungs phase.
When he turned four (two years ago now), he escalated to directly hitting us…on purpose. The first time he punched me, I may have audibly started talking to the Lord as an intercessor for my husband, lest he be overtaken by the Spirit and hand Briggs’ own behind to him on a silver platter. I am almost certain Madea overtook my mouth as I cried out to the “Lort” on Briggs’ behalf.
Fast forward a year, and he has graduated to public displays of crazy. The first time was epic. I will literally never forget it. At no point in my 34 years of life had I ever been so…I want to say humbled, but the more accurate word here is humiliated.
Not the time I split my super sweet maroon-colored Guess jeans in gym class in sixth grade. Not the time I got busted in middle school Sharpie-ing a Nike swoosh on my Payless high-tops because I couldn’t afford the real ones. Not even the time they posted our mile run times above the water fountain in gym, and I was dead last with a light speed time of 18:18.
No, nothing thus far had ever made me feel so small as that moment in the Florida diner.
We were on our way back from a work trip to Orlando and everyone was hungry. We don’t get to travel much, so we love to check out little mom and pop types of places when we’re out of town. We stopped in this little diner called Eddie’s in Nowheresville, Florida for what the Yelp reviewers said were, “Florida’s best chicken and waffles.”
We held hands and ran through the rain to get inside the restaurant. I held Sparrow, our then six-month-old daughter, on my lap and helped Briggs manage the coloring sheet the hostess had given him as Spence made his way to the men’s room all the way in the back of the diner.
Forks clanged and men laughed from the bar. As I helped Briggs sound out the words on his children’s menu and he colored in a Spiderman, I noticed there were two women sitting in the booth directly beside our table.
They were both well-dressed and appeared to be in their late 60s. One had on an oversized necklace that reminded me of the costume jewelry my aunt used to wear, and the other had that kind of hairdo women have who would rather donate their arms to science than get wet at the pool. I imagined they both had large, flamboyant broaches for every holiday neatly displayed in some sort of well-lit case in their bedrooms.
They hadn’t noticed me…yet.
When Briggs finished coloring, he wanted to tear the paper because, naturally, Spiderman wouldn’t live in the same realm as a children’s menu. He began tearing the page and I watched it happen as if it were unfolding in slow motion. The paper’s tear went from the center of the page and, like an earthquake’s line in the dry desert clay, separated Spiderman’s foot from the rest of his body.
“Noooooooooooooooo!!” Briggs’ scream rang out across the small diner. Once filled with the loud bangs of forks and knives, the chatter of old friends catching up, and that guy who’d had one too many at the bar, it fell silent. Deafeningly silent. My son’s eyes filled with tears of rage and he crumpled up the amputated Spiderman and threw him under another family’s table.
“Pick that up, please.” I said, attempting to keep calm as everyone watched the dinner show they hadn’t paid for.
“No! I will NEVER pick it up!” he screamed back.
With everyone watching, Briggs stood up as though he’d had a change of heart and decided to pick up the balled-up menu after all. Instead, he grabbed a chair from the table beside ours, where a man sat eating by himself, and threw it.
He. Threw. A. Chair.
By this time, all eyes were on us. The entire diner was paralyzed. I looked up to see Spence tearing through the crowd to get to me. He’d heard Briggs yell all the way in the bathroom.
Without a word, I handed Sparrow over to him, took Briggs by the arm, and walked him outside into the rain. We walked passed stunned faces, horrified looks, and the hostess who looked like she might have her finger on the last “1” in 9-1-1. I smiled, walked Briggs out in the pouring rain and across the street and under an awning, where he proceeded to hit me, kick, scream, cry, and flail backwards so hard that I had to position myself between his head and the abandoned store’s brick wall behind me.
I took deep breaths and talked to him until he calmed himself. “Listen to me breathing, buddy. Deep breaths. Match my breathing,” I said as I fought to hold back tears.
Once he had it together, we walked back into the restaurant. I thought the original walk of shame was the worst thing I’d have to face that day, but I was wrong. Try going through that meltdown and then staring back at the faces of those who just spent the better part of the last 20 minutes talking about what your kid just did while making guesses at how you handled it.
I smiled again and walked Briggs back to the table by ours where he picked up his crumpled menu from the floor and uprighted the tossed chair. He apologized to the man who had been eating alone when he lost his mind as if he were tagging in Rick Flair in an early 90s wrestling match.
“I’m sorry I threw your chair, sir,” he said with his head hung in shame. The man smiled back his forgiveness.
I sat back down in my seat just as the two well-dressed ladies were getting up to leave. I desperately wanted to avoid eye contact because I felt certain they had judged me. I was convinced they’d finished their salads and lemon waters over conversations about “kids these days” and what terrible parents Spence and I must be.
Instead, the lady with the necklace stopped just behind our table on her way out. She turned to me so I had to meet her eyes with my own – and smiled. Then she mouthed the words, “You did a great job.”
I mustered a faint smile in return and lowered my head, hot tears streaking down both sides of my face.
I had never felt so completely alone as I did during that meltdown and the moments after. I may always remember that feeling, but I know I will never forget that woman’s smile. Her muted approval reminded me that no matter how many people stare or point fingers, no matter how many people disagree with the parenting decisions we make, I am doing the best I can, and that is good enough.

How I Missed My Kindergartner's Color Deficiency

Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
It was only two weeks into kindergarten when my son, Roman, brought home a coloring assignment, a cut-out owl, with a big letter F marked in red on the top of it. The owl was colored not brown, but green, adorned smartly in a graduation cap and gown, holding a diploma and donning wiry spectacles. Under the bitter mark was a lengthy and unsympathetic explanation of the grade: Owls are NOT green! With respect for the rules of writing, I use one exclamation point here, but Roman’s owl had not, one, but three of these dramatic punctuation marks, marks that typically need to be well earned when chosen over a simple period for ending a sentence.
I’m not undermining the importance of following directions and learning the motor skills and conventions of coloring in a kindergarten classroom, and if this had been a high school final exam, perhaps a math or a science or an English language test, my own instinct would have been to ask Roman why he didn’t try harder, why he didn’t get a better grade, explain that an F is not acceptable, as my overachieving parents would have done. However, my son seemed to be faced with a burned out teacher radiating indomitable meanness at this early stage in his education, a time when fostering success and enthusiasm about school is paramount. Even worse, I suspected something more significant.
I suspected that something was medically wrong with Roman.
As I held the crumpled owl in my palm that I had balled up in anger, a wooden knot rose up in my throat. I swallowed, slowly spread the owl out on my desk, and examined Roman’s beautiful work, that I had initially been critical of myself, his best effort. I put Roman’s folders back into his book bag, recalling the many times we’d played toddler games. I’d quizzed him like the proud mama I was. I’d held up flash cards and pictures for him to name. Animals. Shapes. Even letters.
And colors.
In toddlerease, he proudly named chinchillas, ostriches, and bearded dragons, from his book entitled, “My First Animal Book.” He could tell the difference between a puffin and a penguin which, at his age, I’m sure I could not – all the more reason he seemed too smart not to know his colors correctly.
But I figured he’d catch on eventually, didn’t sweat it.
Then I thought even further back, to images from my own childhood.
I recalled my own mother throwing up her arms at my father’s mismatched outfits. My grandmother noting how he had to read the position of the traffic lights, instead of the colors, green, yellow, red. My dad was colorblind, and I was certain, now, that Roman was, too.
Then I thought of how I’d failed as a mother the time I’d yelled at Roman for not picking up his toys from the lawn, remembered the time clearly. There was a brown baseball in plain sight and I was pointing right at it where he left it, along with numerous other whiffle bats and balls, lying on the grass.
“I don’t see it.” He shrugged.
“It’s right there in front of you,” I yelled in frustration.
And then I thought of how my own frustration might hinder Roman’s determination to succeed in school, throughout the year, if I didn’t hold back my urge now, to march into the principal’s office and have the teacher reprimanded for her intolerance to his unconventional coloring that was, to me, at least, so obviously indicative of a visual disability.
Instead of reacting, I poured myself a glass of wine. I gave Roman a hug and told him I liked his green owl, flattened out the paper and blacked out the F, the unkind words, too, with black sharpie marker. I put a sticker on it and pinned it on my office corkboard next to his baby pictures and snapshots of our family vacations.
How could I have missed this?
What kind of mother was I?
What kind of doctor?
I gave myself a little slack on my professional vocation, since I’m an anesthesiologist by training, not a pediatrician, not an ophthalmologist. But as a mother, I truly felt I’d failed.
I was determined not to create a bigger problem for my son, yet I wanted to help him. I’m aware that there is no cure for color deficiency, so my determination focused on ways to help him succeed, despite a possible disability.
I held back, instead of reacting negatively like Roman’s teacher had done, undulating waves of her criticism in our direction that crashed on the deaf ears of a developing child who still, after receiving the grade, could not understand what he had done wrong. There was no way he could visualize the clear distinction between the green and brown. I held back and I learned everything I could about the condition of color deficiency, which I had been calling colorblindness, incorrectly. I learned that up to eight percent of boys are color deficient, not possessing the correct number of cones in the inner eye needed to see shades of red and green colors as well as the rest of us can. I quickly researched the diagnosis, reading up on possible treatments which sadly, are lacking. In Roman’s case, color chart testing performed by his pediatrician confirmed that he was a deuteranope, or red green color deficient.
When I left the office I wrapped my arms around my little boy, handled my glassed eyes with tissues, trying to wipe away the uncertainty. He seemed more vulnerable, imperfect, yet I loved him more for his flaw, and I felt the intensifying urge to nurture and protect him. I realized that he’d face certain tasks that made his life much more challenging. I still felt guilty for my flood of emotions when I thought of how much worse it could be, how it wasn’t the most physically limiting disability he could face, and yet I smiled.
I smiled because mostly, it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed. And as I took a moment to process the implications of his disability, I was determined to affect change in a positive way, a kinder and gentler way, when I explained his condition to his teacher. I thought of the thirsty bird in the famous Aesop’s Fable, who slowly raised the water level in the vase with each tiny stone it dropped into the vase with its beak. By solving the problem effectively and not knocking over the whole vase in the process, the bird quenched its thirst. Explaining Roman’s condition calmly to his teacher seemed to be a better way to try to prevent this from happening again in the future, than ratting her out to the principal would. And I knew that Roman would need to solve problems on his own one day, by labeling colors or asking for help.
She didn’t apologize.
This was disappointing, to say the least, yet I hadn’t created any additional tension that could affect Roman’s grades for the remainder of the school year. What was more important was the way I wanted my son to see me, not in tan or pale hues, not in shades of blonde or brunette or redhead hair, and not for the point of noticing the colors of my clothes, but to see the person I am. I wanted him to know that I would do everything in my power as a mother and as a doctor to help him. Even before doing so, I wanted him to see me as someone who would fulfill the Hippocratic Oath I took in medical school, one that applies as much to mothering as it does to medicine. I remained determined for him to see that my promise to him above all, is to do no harm.

Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

Why Your Response to Your Baby's Cries Are Hardwired

A new study found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers.

Few things tear up my nerves as much as hearing my baby cry in the car. It doesn’t seem to matter if my infant is fed, freshly diapered, and otherwise content – the second I strap him into his car seat, he falls apart, and sometimes I do, too, because what’s worse than hearing your baby wail but not being able to stop it? After failed attempts to soothe him from the front seat, I end up white-knuckling the steering wheel, with my heart racing fast and my mind made up that I’m never leaving the house again. It goes against every instinct I have not to pick up my poor baby, but of course I can’t hold him in the car (which is why he’s crying in the first place).
Turns out there’s a valid reason for my car-ride stress. In a new study from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), researchers found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers. The study team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct behavioral and brain-imaging studies on a group of 684 new mothers in the following 11 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States. In the study:

“…Researchers observed and recorded one hour of interaction between the mothers and their 5-month-old babies at home. The team analyzed whether mothers responded to their baby’s cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing (like feeding or diapering), picking up and holding, or talking. Regardless of which country they came from, mothers were likely to pick up and hold or talk to their crying infant.”

Moreover, the team discovered through fMRI studies of other groups of women that hearing infant cries activated similar brain regions in both new and experienced mothers. The crying stimulated their supplementary motor area, linked to the intention to move and speak; the inferior frontal regions, related to the production of speech; and the superior temporal regions, associated with sound processing.
According to these findings, my urgent impulse to jump in the backseat of the car, scoop up my baby, and calm him with kisses is a hard-wired response (but also, obviously, a terrible idea). When we’re not in the car, however, this need to console my baby, driven by parts of my brain related to movement and speech, is beneficial, since babies need attentive caregivers for healthy development. This study could thus help professionals better understand, identify, and help people at risk of being inattentive or harmful caregivers to young children.
The consistency of behavior and underlying brain activity in the study sample made up of women from all over the world suggests that mothers have an intrinsic response to their babies’ crying. So I guess I can’t blame the anxiety it causes me (solely) on my high-strung nature, or the intense child-centric society in which I live. I suppose I also can’t blame my husband for putting headphones on in the car when the crying gets to be too much, because what this study has also done is expand upon previous research showing how the brains of males and females respond differently to infant crying.
While I’ll continue to avoid any nonessential car rides with my little man until he grows out of this phase (which he will, right?!), it helps to have a better sense of why it’s so distressing and to comprehend on a cognitive level what’s happening when I listen to him cry.
Now, if only I could find a study that reveals the trick to making babies love (or at least tolerate) the dreaded car seat.

What it Means to Build a "Home"

I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places.

Home. I’ve grown up my whole life hearing phrases like “Home is where the heart is,” and “Home is where your story begins.” Many people don’t know how this feels, or they live in the same house with their families but it is not Home. For me, “home” was always this beautiful, close concept of being absolutely together with the people you love in a place that’s comfortable and safe. I was lucky enough to know this reality.
My family moved into what I grew up calling “home” when I was five. I lived there until I moved to Chicago to go to college, and moved back there when I graduated. I moved out again when I got married, and moved back in after that marriage disintegrated. I moved out again last summer, when the overwhelming force of turning 30 wouldn’t stop beating against me and I felt compelled to prove I was a grown up and could “make it” on my own. My license still bears this address and every now and then, when I tell my daughter we’re going to visit grandma, I refer to it as home.
With all that being said, I must tell you something. I don’t have a home anymore.
I don’t mean to say that I am homeless. I am not, as Juniper so aptly words it, “houseless.” I live in a house with my JuneBug, two dear friends, and a refugee from Eritrea. We move around each other and make meals together and share a kitchen and a bathroom and we make it work. We have a backyard and air conditioning and couches and happiness. But it is not my home.
I can easily go to my mother’s house, where I grew up, and stay overnight comfortably. I can get up in the morning and move around the house effortlessly, fix the coffee, make the breakfast, put things where they belong. Generally I feel like I could still belong within those walls. But it is not my home.
I don’t have a home anymore. I have places where my heart belongs, and people I love in those places. When I think of the concrete word “home,” I don’t think of a specific place because there isn’t one. Home isn’t a place.
My mother is home, and the way she holds me when she hasn’t seen me in awhile is home. Snuggling with my daughter in bed in the morning is home. Watching a movie on the couch with my boyfriend, whiskey in hand and a smile on my face, is home. Catching chickens and waiting out the sunset over vast fields of farmland with my dad is home. Sitting on the porch swings at my grandmother’s house, listening to the sounds of the universe and the creak of wood paneling that has seen three generations grow up, is home.
I’m starting to believe that I will never have a “home” again. I might move somewhere else, or change my address, or settle in somewhere, but the abstract concept of home will continue vanishing. Home isn’t where the heart is, or where your story begins, or even where you feel most comfortable. Home is where the memories live. Home is where you can feel vulnerable and safe all at once. Home is being loved and wanted and deeply felt by another human being. You could live in a box and still feel like you’re “home.” So, I will let this word remain empty, and instead soak up moments that I will look back on sometime later in life, and, as if looking a great distance through a telescope, realize I was building “home” all along.
This article was originally published on Diary of a June Bug.