Online Friendship and Loss

Over the years I have often heard people opine that online relationships aren’t real. They are shallow and superficial and somehow inferior to those relationships forged face to face. I don’t believe that.

Over the years as technology has evolved from email to chat rooms and message boards to the explosion of social media sites, I have made some friends online. Sure, most of them were of the superficial variety but then, so are the majority of my “real life” friends.

I’m not at all convinced that physical presence is necessary for a friendship to be real. Who determines what is real anyway?

I first met Becky years ago at a little website called the Darwin Awards, in the forums in fact, the Darwin Awards Forums, affectionately referred to as DAF by those of us who frequented it (DAFers). I came in what was referred to for years as the “Aggie Invasion”.  Texas A&M, my alma mater, had a tragic accident when a structure that was being built as a bonfire collapsed killing 12 students. Someone nominated those students for a Darwin Award. When this news got around to the Aggies, they came in floods and droves to vote it down and to voice their opposition. Most came, said their piece, and left. I came, looked around, and made myself at home.

I found in Becky, who went by the screen name Kiko Vi, a kindred spirit. I made a lot of friends at DAF and even met some of them in person, driving to San Antonio and spending the weekend with one. Hanging out at a Rangers games with another when he came to Texas for a visit. I never had the chance to meet Becky face to face but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t my friend.

Eventually I wandered away from DAF as real life intervened, a divorce, a cross state move, another marriage and a few kids later we reconnected thanks to Facebook. Over the years she was one of my closest allies in political battles and a source of endless advice about kids and dogs. She was thoughtful and never missed a chance to be helpful. One day I posted about my kids wanting me to kill a spider we found in the house and Becky sends them a copy of a children’s book called “Be Nice to Spiders”. Another time I posted about frustrations with my dogs only to find a copy of Caesar Milan’s book in my mailbox.

No matter what anyone says, we were friends. I would find myself thinking of her when I posted, already anticipating her response before I even hit “share”.  I knew that she had one son, his name, where he lived, what he did for a living. I knew how many dogs she had and what kind they were and their names. She knew the similar details of my life.

Certainly she had family and friends that populated her real life world that were closer to her and I’m in no way trying to compare myself to them or in any way elevate my importance in her life. Yes, we were online friends and I understand that does not convey the same sense of closeness as a real life friendship does. But it is something, those bonds of friendship do exist. I’ve known plenty of people who grow close to traditional pen pals through the sharing of their lives, thoughts and ideas so obviously distance does not preclude friendship.

I came home yesterday to learn that Becky had passed away. The shock that I felt was real.  The disbelief, the initial desire to think it must be some kind of prank or mistake. The gradual realization that it was true followed by a real sense of loss. Becky was one of the nicest and funniest people I know . We may have been only online friends but the hole she left in my heart is very real.

Starting Solids

When to start solids is a common parenting question. The simple answer is, between four to six months of age. However, it’s really not that simple.

Each child is different and has cues that let parents know when they are ready to try solids. The first cue parents should look for is interest in foods. Does the child watch other people eat? Reach out to try and pick up a handful off someone’s plate? These things indicate interest.

Other cues are things like posture, tongue thrust, leaning forward and opening mouth. The child should be sitting up for food to go down the esophagus correctly. Tongue thrust should be gone. When the spoon comes near the mouth, if the tongue thrusts out and pushed the spoon away, this is an indication that the child is not ready.

A child who is interested in food, will lean forward toward the spoon as it approaches. Turning the head away or leaning away from it indicates the child is not ready. Opening the mouth in anticipation of the food is another good indicator that the child is ready.

Try finger foods that the child can feed to him or herself. This lets the child control what and how much goes in. Introduce foods one at a time so that if there is an allergic reaction to anything, it’s easy to tell what caused it.

Good first foods to offer are any of the baby cereals. Some baby’s tolerate the oatmeal better than the rice, though rice is traditionally offered first. Rice, Oatmeal or Barely are all good choices. Vegetables and fruits next. Baby jar food is fine, but some babies prefer regular table food mashed or blended. Homemade baby food can be made in a blender by adding breast milk, water or formula to vegetables or fruits and blending them. Meats should be introduced last.

Introducing solids before a baby is ready can cause tummy aches and constipation.

Parental Competition

How do you handle the “my child is smarter than yours” parental competition that crops up on playgrounds and in mothers groups across the country?

There is an amazing amount of competition among parents and many people see their children as extensions, or reflections, of themselves, therefore, they need their child to succeed to feel successful themselves. The problem with this is that it has nothing to do with the child’s needs and everything to do with the parent’s. For a parent struggling in a new role worried about doing right by their child, the pressure can be tremendous. It is crucial to realize that everyone develops in their own time but all arrive at the desired destination. When tests were done on early readers (age four) versus late readers (age eight) at age twelve, there was no difference in reading skills. So then why all the panic? Every child develops at their own pace. Children are not all cut from the same cookie cutter.

Want some good advice? Don’t play the game. When someone says that their child walked at six months, potty trained at eight months and was reading war and peace at age three, just smile and say, “Wow, he sounds really smart” or, “wow, that’s early”. Focus your comment on the child they are talking about and don’t volunteer anything about your own. If asked, use noncommittal responses such as, “We’re working on it”, “He’s focused on walking right now, we’ll get to it later” or “She isn’t that interested in the potty yet so we’re taking it slow”.

Certainly look into it if you feel that your child has a genuine delay. However, don’t let other parents or grandparents who are competitive undermine your confidence in yourself or your child. Just remember that you are giving your child the greatest developmental tool life has to offer: Your love and support, because children learn best when they feel safe and secure.

If you are interested in a developmental assessment for your child who is under three, please contact your local Early Childhood Intervention program.

Infant and Toddler Feeding Issues

Problems can sometimes arise when feeding infants and toddlers. Knowing what’s typical and what isn’t can help parents know when to consult with a doctor or dietician.

Understanding that it is typical, for instance, for two year olds to go on food jags or to sometimes be picky or light eaters, helps keep parents from undue panic.

Most children do not eat a balanced diet at any given meal. Instead, as long as the parents are offering a wide variety of healthy foods, children’s diet will be balanced over the course of a week. This may look like eating only grapes at one meal, nothing but chicken nuggets at another and only their favorite cereal for two days. At the end of the week though, that child has eaten from each food group.

If a child seems to have frequent constipation, diarrhea or vomiting, there may be an allergy or intolerance to one or more foods.

Waiting too late to introduce solids can also lead to a child who is resistant to having anything other milk go into his or her mouth. Typically, solids should be introduced around six months but not later than seven to ten.

Every child is different, some signs that your child is ready for solids are the ability to sit up, loss of tongue thrust which pushes food out of the mouth, and an interest in what you are eating.

Some children have sensory integration issues and need help learning to tolerate the different smells, tastes and textures that go along with eating.

While the child’s pediatrician is always a good resource, parents should be aware that Registered Dieticians are also available and have had much more extensive training on food and nutrition than doctors are given. They are an excellent but under used resource.

 

 

Homeschooling

ImageHomeschooling is a controversial issue. It evokes in some images of unsocialized, awkward and downright “weird” kids. Of religious extremists and isolationism, of parents bent of shielding their children from the “real world”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, for others, homeschooling is just a fact of life. By now, many homeschoolers are second generation homeschoolers. It’s a trend that has caught on and it’s still growing.

According to the most recent statistics, 1.5 million students are being taught at home. The advent of easy and affordable internet access has increased the numbers. The explosion in homeschooling groups makes the idea of the unsocialized homeschooler an obsolete one. There are even homeschooling conferences for families to attend and a plethora of curriculum and materials to be had, often available used at half price books or through a local homeschool co-op.

Families choose to home school for many reasons. Some to avoid bullying and other problems that are rampant in our public school system. Some simply to give their children a good education because, let’s face it; our public schools just aren’t cutting it anymore. Certainly some families home school for religious reasons and so that they can teach their children the values they want them to have, rather than the ones they learn in public schools which, again let’s face it, aren’t always the ones the teachers are trying to instill. Many families who aren’t very religious choose to home school for many reasons and even families that are often have other reasons for choosing to home school.

There is no doubt that a much more individualized education can be found at home, and a much more hands on, fun one at that. Forget the text books and head to your local museum for some real world learning. Talk about shielding your child from the “real world”, that’s what schools do. The real world is all around us; it’s in watching the squirrels chase each other up the trees and watching the ants build their home. It’s in learning about careers by taking trips to the actual places, a bakery, a fire station etc. It’s in the act of learning by becoming interested in something then looking it up and learning about it for yourself. That’s an important life skill that often gets missed when we try to spoon feed learning to children.

For an excellent book on homeschoolers and socialization, try Rachel Gathercole’s book, “The Well Adjusted Child, the social benefits of homeschooling”.

Are There Benefits to Routine Infant Circumcision?

Circumcision rates in the U.S. are falling as more parents find that the risks outweigh any potential benefits. A closer look at the purported benefits of circumcision. Here are the most commonly given reasons for circumcising baby boys.

Hygiene

According to many sources, it’s easier to keep clean. Really? The vulva would be easier to keep clean without the labia but we don’t amputate that. Well, some cultures do and that is one of the reasons they give. Why do we cringe in horror at the thought of doing that to our daughters but not our sons?  Not to mention that the foreskin is a self cleaning organ and circumcision actually removes this function from the penis. http://www.circumstitions.com/Care.html

Urinary Tract Infections

Circumcision lowers the rates of urinary tract infections. Okay. But urinary tract infections are easily treated with antibiotics. Removing the lungs would prevent respiratory infections but that doesn’t seem like a good idea.

HIV

Circumcision is often touted as a way to decrease the risk of HIV. However, even those reports still caution that circumcision by itself isn’t enough and that there is still a need for a condom. So why not just use a condom and skip the circumcision?

Phimosis

Circumcision is sometimes necessary for boys or men who have Phimosis, so the logic is to preemptively circumcise. This falls a little flat when we look at the facts. It is difficult to find actual rates, there is very little research out there on Phimosis. The rate seems to be from 1 to 10 percent, depending on who you ask.

http://voices.yahoo.com/uncircumsized-penile-adhesion-information-advice-10989162.html

http://www.male-initiation.net/statistics.html.

It should be noted that the rates fall with age, as the prepuce separates on its own, the phimosis resolving  itself.  Only 1 percent of men still have it at age 17. Of that one percent, most responds to conservative treatment (not circumcision). http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/442617-overview.

It’s important to remember that the prepuce is not supposed to retract in infants. Being fused is normal at birth, it gradually loosens on its own by about age 13.

Penile Cancer Risk Decreased

Penile cancer is rare in the first place. While circumcision may decrease the risk, is it really worth the amputation of an organ to slightly decrease an already low risk? We would not consider that logical for any other organ. Remove the cervix to prevent cervical cancer? Remove the stomach to prevent stomach cancer?

So He’ll Look the Same

The other reason frequently give is the old locker room/look like dad argument. Seriously? With the risks associated with it and the minimal benefits to be had, this is the lamest and flimsiest excuse to date.

Are Circumcision Rates Falling?

Circumcision rates are falling.

A previously posted article on circumcision rates seems to have stirred up a bit of a controversy, so I thought I would revisit it here.

What is in question is if newborn circumcision rates in the U.S. fell to 33% in 2009 or not. There is evidence that hospital circumcisions of newborns did indeed fall that low. The original study that claimed 33% was presented in Vienna http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/809763. Here is a slide from that presentation: http://www.flickr.com/photos/intactivist/5323491644/

The CDC has stated that this study was used to track complication rates and not to track circumcision rates. Fair enough.

Exactly how much circumcision rates have fallen in the U.S. may be a topic of debate. What it not in question is that rates are, in fact, falling.  They are falling faster in some areas than others and though the rates in any given year may fluctuate up or down, the overall picture from 1979 to 2010 is a decline. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/circumcision_2013/circumcision_2013.htm#fig1

The important point is, rates are falling, as they should be.  More and more parents are educating themselves on this unnecessary cosmetic procedure and declining circumcision.

What are the risks and benefits to circumcision? Why does anyone choose to circumcise their child? First, you have to understand that this is a cultural issue. For some, it is a religious issue, but for many Americans, it’s just what we’ve always done and they look no further than that.

To get an idea of how cultural ideas about circumcision change, consider the history of female circumcision: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~mcbri20s/classweb/worldpolitics/page1.html

When we think of female circumcision (aka female genital mutilation) we react with horror and disbelief that anyone could do such a thing to a child they claim to love. However, when the belief is deeply embedded in the culture, they do it precisely because they love that child. They truly believe that she will be unclean, unable to attract a husband etc. And it’s what they have always done. I would like to think that in a modern country like America we can rise about the “but it’s always been that way” mentality and take an objective look at the facts.

Consider also, rates in other countries: http://www.photius.com/rankings/circumcised_men_country_ranks.html

Male circumcision is by no means a universal practice and there are more men worldwide that are intact than have been cut yet no epidemic of penile health problems associated with these populations. So again, why have your child circumcised?

One reason circumcision became so prevalent was to prevent masturbation (that seems a little extreme): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/male-circumcision-and-the_b_249728.html

One reason for the fluctuation in rates may be the AAP, which has revised their official position back and forth several times over the last few decades. Their current position is supportive of the practice: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/3/585

However, the rest of the worldwide medical community disagrees and a report in their own publication calls the policy out for reflecting cultural bias: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/03/12/peds.2012-2896

Each parent must educate themselves on the risks and benefits and make an informed decision for their child.