Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We're taking the Listerine Oral Care Challenge

Our family has been chosen to participate in the Listerine Oral Care Challenge.* It comes at a perfect time--not too long after Halloween and over the sugar-laden holidays!

I've noticed that some people are blessed with healthy teeth genes while others are not. In our family, Mike is the most vigilant of all five of us regarding oral hygiene. He flosses religiously, whereas I do it about once a week. He did have the disadvantage of being raised in Britain, where dental health is not taken as seriously as it is in the U.S. However, I do feel sorry for the poor guy when we return from dental visits and he has cavities and I do not. I'm just lucky. I didn't get a cavity until I was 15 (and had braces), unusual back in those days before the latest pediatric dentistry advances.

In recent months, we've begun flossing the younger boys' teeth daily...mostly because their dentist was concerned about their teeth. Everyone in the family brushes twice a day. Chris is the most slapdash about it, and that's unfortunate because he's the braces wearer in the family. I think he's been fairly lucky too.

As part of the Listerine Oral Challenge, we will be brushing, rinsing, and flossing twice a day for three weeks. I expect this to be a true challenge in our busy family schedule, but I'm anxious to see whether we can build better dental habits in the children (and in all of us). 
*I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Listerine and received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful month 2011

Like I did in November 2009, this year I posted something I'm thankful for each day on Facebook. So I give you my Month of Thanksgiving, 2011:

1. Feeling thankful that I get to write, edit, plan, and actually use my English degree every day...and get paid for it!

2. I'm thankful to grow up in a nurturing home with phenomenal, loving parents who encouraged me to be myself and pursue my passions. We might not have had a lot of money growing up, but our house was full of love and laughter.
Mom and Dad in Astoria, August 2011
3. I'm supremely thankful to have a sister, Nadine, who has been my faithful companion throughout childhood (through laughter and battles--and BOY did we fight!) and adulthood (through joy and sadness), and who I will hold close in my heart forever and forever.
With my wonderful brother and sister, October 2011
4. I'm thankful for my artistic, spirited, and genuine brother Stephen...and I'm especially grateful for the sobriety and serenity he has regained in 2011. We are SO GLAD to have you back in our lives, Stephen, fully and wholly. I love you!

5. Today I'm thankful for global connections (met a coworker/friend from Calgary at the airport this morning for coffee--so glad to connect in person rather than by phone!!)...and for monthly bluegrass jam sessions and an excuse to practice my mandolin.
6. Today, All Saints Day, I lit a candle for all the littlest saints who didn't grace our presence long enough in this world...Zacary, Parker, Olivia, Jacob, Grant, Jenna, Chloe, Jonah, Quinn, Tarun Ebling, and all those children whose names I cannot remember or who never received a name but who are loved, mourned, and remembered daily.
Taize service, Holden Village, July 2011
7. I could never have dreamed up a better suited life partner had I tried. Every day I'm grateful for your kindness, sense of humor, keen intelligence, love, and creativity. Thank you for loving me.
Our wedding day, June 17, 1990
8. This morning I had a dental checkup, which is NOT my favorite thing. However, I am grateful that I can afford to go to the dentist and have access to dental and medical care...furthermore, I am thankful for my overall good physical and mental health!

9. I'm thankful for our 40+ bonus baby, Nicholas, who has brought so much music and laughter into our lives! I can't imagine our family without him. This morning as I left for work, he held the back door open for me saying, "Here you are, madam...your car awaits."
Visiting me in the craft cave at Holden Village, July 2011
10. Today I'm thankful for my wonderful young man, Chris, who started life (at 1 lb, 6 oz.) with a 50% chance of survival and a 50% chance of having major disabilities. I'm thankful for his kind, loving, and forgiving nature; creativity, talent, and wit; and true love of life, and I'm delighted that he's found a school community where he can continue to thrive. You rock, Chris!
Chris at Rockaway Beach Jetty, August 2011
11. I'm thankful to live in a free country where people have the right to express their opinions freely and believe what they want to believe (even those with which I do not agree). And thanks to all the men and women who have sacrificed their own freedom and lives to keep our country free. On days like today, I especially remember those parents, spouses, siblings, and children with loved ones in the military, who are also making huge sacrifices by not being with--and constantly worrying about--their loved ones.

12. I'm thankful for my dramatic middle son, Kieran. He was our second miracle baby, born after we thought we would not have any other children (after four miscarriages). I love his wonderful spirit, passion, and creativity. When I tell him that I love him, he argues "I love you more!" In this photo, he's holding the mug he made for his second grade teacher. He's been working terribly hard during the last month, and I can't wait to see him on opening night (less than a week away)!
Kieran as "The Little Monster," Frankie Jr.
13. Today I'm thankful for my amazing communities of friends--yes, that's you out there! We had a lovely adult night out last night with great friends... always a wonderful treat! I adore my children, but I also adore those adult-only evenings!
Adult evenings on the porch with dear friends, Holden Village, July 2011
14. Today I am thankful to belong to a forward-thinking, prophetic, and welcoming Christian community, Mission of the Atonement, filled with amazing members/friends and an inspirational rock star pastor. Each of you challenge and inspire me to be a better person and be the change I want to see in the world.
Kieran's first communion with godparents Laurie and Drew, 2010
15. Today I'm thankful for nature's bounty and great local food...such as raspberries, red peppers, freshly picked mushrooms, homegrown tomatoes and basil, pears, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, parsnips, zucchini, yellow squash, butternut squash, delicata squash, kalamata olives (okay, so they're not local), corn, greens, hazelnuts, rosemary, lavender, watermelon, broccoli, chili peppers...what are your favorites?

16. Today I'm thankful for books. I'm thankful to live in the #1 book-loving city in the country, my online book group (goodreads.com), my real book group (which meets this evening), Multnomah County and Washington County libraries and librarians, all my great teachers and professors who shared my love of books, local bookstores like Powells and Annie Blooms, and a book-loving family!

17. Today I'm thankful for medical technology and highly skilled doctors and nurses, who saved the life of my oldest son when he was born at 24 weeks gestation. If Chris Gettel-gilmartin had been born just a few years earlier, he probably would not have survived. He will always be my hero, just as those who cared for him (and us!) during those 17 weeks will always be our angels. Thanks also to those of you who supported us through the biggest crisis of our lives. And I also feel enormous gratitude for all the amazing friends we have made...those who also endured the NICU experience and lived to tell the tale. You are such a blessing! You know who you are. Love all of you!

With dear, cherished friends (and NICU moms) Kristin and Catherine, several years ago
18. Today I'm thankful for Mike's wonderful family. His sister and her two kids came to visit this summer (with my mother-in-law too), and it was the first time we'd seen them in nearly 4 years. Kath and I really enjoyed spending time together--especially going on a few girls' night outs. Mike's brother and family will be visiting us for New Year's (they've been traveling around the world). And then there's all the far-flung relatives out there on Facebook, as well. Very glad I married into the family! I'm very lucky!

Olga and Kath's visit, Columbia Gorge, July 2011
19. Today I'm thankful to have found a hairdresser who not only is within walking distance from my house, but also is nearly $50 cheaper for a cut and color (highlights). I love the hairdresser we've been seeing for many years, but it's hard to shell out $140 (including tip) for vanity.
20. Today I'm thankful for MUSIC--which lifts my soul, makes me want to dance, brings a smile to my face, and warms my heart. It's hard to imagine a life without music. I am thankful for my guitar, mandolin, voice, stereo, and iPod, and the opportunity to make music with talented musicians. I'm also thankful for my kids who are constantly singing. I'm listening to Nicholas sing right this moment--of my three kids, he's the one who seems to most frequently have a music track running through his head.
Making music on the Holden Village ark, July 2011
21. Today I'm thankful that Kieran did not sustain a more serious eye injury after getting hit in the eye at his 1/2-day camp at Southwest Community Center...playing DODGEBALL! The National Association for Sport and Physical Education does not support dodgeball as an appropriate practice for PE classes because it uses children as human targets. Why in the heck were they playing dodgeball at the community center? I have always DESPISED dodgeball.

22. Today I'm thankful for the life of Zacary Coy Bentley, who passed away 10 years ago today (11/22/2001)...and I'm deeply thankful to know his amazing and inspirational mom, Laurie, from whom I have learned so much about motherhood, advocacy, grief, and fierce love.
Chris and Zacary, 2001
23. Today I'm thankful for my three sweet nephews and their wonderful father, my brother-in-law David. My boys absolutely adore their cousins, and I'm so glad they have such a wonderful friendship. I'm also thankful that I'm not alone in being the mom of three boys--my sister and I share that blessing (and sometimes burden, when it comes to cleaning bathrooms and such). They are such an important part of our lives, and we are all looking forward to spending Thanksgiving together!

Nadine, David, and the boys, Oregon Coast, August 2011
24. Final thoughts of thankfulness:

Today I'm thankful for my extended Gettel & Allen family members--both the ones I will see today and the ones I will not. :( I feel lucky to live near so many of you--and stay connected via Facebook. Love you all!

I'm thankful to live in this lovely Pacific Northwest, filled with funky, fun culture, fresh food, and scenic beauty.

And finally, I'm thankful for life itself. It's a true blessing to be cherished.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You know I'm no fan of Michele Bachmann, but Jimmy Fallon went too far

Bachmann appeared on Jimmy Fallon Monday night, and she unknowingly walked in to the song "Lyin' Ass Bitch" by Fishbone. Most people did not notice this until the band's drummer tweeted about the song choice.

I'm not saying that Michele Bachmann, known frequently on my blog as DAAP, is not a liar. I was just about to write a post about all the lies in her recently published memoir. I am no fan, and damn straight she is a liar and not particularly smart either. She does hold her own with Jimmy Fallon, and they have an extremely tame exchange on his show (after the song introduction) (video below).

I'm glad to read that people across the political spectrum are calling out this sexist attack on Bachmann. It's never okay to call a powerful woman a bitch. "The choice of song to introduce Michele Bachmann on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' last night was insulting and inappropriate," New York Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat, told Politico Tuesday. "I do not share Michele Bachmann's politics, but she deserves to be treated with respect. No female politician—and no woman—should be subjected to sexist and offensive innuendo like she was last night."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Oregon governor John Kitzhaber stops Oregon executions

I've been reading Oregon governor Barbara Roberts' memoir, Up the Capitol Steps. I just read about Oregon's 1978 passage of a death penalty bill, and Roberts' strong feelings against it. Today, Governor John Kitzhaber has taken a stand for justice. He has said he will not allow the execution of deathrow inmate Gary Haugen--or any prisoner--to occur while he is in office. He cites the unfairness of the way the death penalty is administered as his argument, but this is a turnaround for Kitzhaber, who in his previous two terms as governor, allowed executions to go forward.

I've long opposed the death penalty, since I wrote a research paper on the topic during my senior year of high school. It is at the core of my Christian beliefs that we should not take another person's life. Clearly, the situation becomes complicated when one considers whether there is such a thing as a just war. I acknowledge the difficulty of black and white stances on the matter. However, when it comes to the death penalty it's not just whether killing is wrong...one cannot disregard the fact that people of color are executed at a far higher rate than whites, for example, and most of the people in the courtroom are white. On the other side of the coin, however, I acknowledge that I might feel differently if I had a loved one who was the victim of a violent crime.

Perhaps Kitzhaber read Naseem Rakha's moving book, The Crying Tree, and this changed his mind. Who knows? For whatever reason, I commend his decision to take a stand. That seems to be rare in U.S. politics these days...unless you're a Scott Walker or Jan Brewer, who are taking stands for injustice instead.

Monday, November 21, 2011

10 years ago, an angel got his wings

Zacary Bentley
b. June 11, 1997 - d. November 22, 2001

Zac (age 3) with his beloved mom
Ten years ago on November 22, Zacary Bentley, aged 4-1/2, left this earth. We became friends with Zac's mom Laurie through our work on the NICU Family Advisory Board at Legacy Emanuel Hospital and together, with a number of other parents, we launched the nonprofit parent support group Precious Beginnings. Zacary had VACTERLS syndrome, which among other things included a heart defect. Throughout his short lifetime, he had many surgeries to try to replace his defective mitral valve.

Laurie made an immediate impression on me when she told Zacary's birth story at a Family Advisory Board meeting. A vivacious woman with a head full of gorgeous red hair, Laurie is one of the most passionate, dedicated moms I've ever had the honor to know. When Zac was born (a miracle in itself after years of infertility, countless lost pregnancies, and a doctor who told her that her pregnancy with Zac had ended) and they discovered his heart defect, Laurie got right up out of her hospital bed at Meridian Park Hospital and followed Zacary to Emanuel Hospital. While there, she did not leave his side. The hospital staff had to find her a room; they had no choice. I was stunned by her brazen confidence and advocacy of her motherhood of her child...me who allowed some of the less-compassionate NICU nurses to make me feel about an inch tall. (When you're a parent in the NICU, you typically feel like a visitor, not a parent. She refused to be treated as anything less than Zacary's parent.) Laurie was (and is) a force to be reckoned with...Zacary could never have had a fiercer advocate and mother bear to see that his needs were met.

Not only did Laurie advocate fiercely for Zacary, but when he was older she volunteered hours upon hours in the NICU, supporting other families. She was a lifeline for so many families who needed to cling to any scrap of hope during their darkest hours. Even now she continues that support, online and through the nonprofit organization Zacary's cardiologist started, Sanctuary Camp, to help children with serious illnesses.

Zacary and Christopher became friends, as they were only a year apart and in preschool days, children often become friends with their parents' friends' children. Both were very small for their age and sensitive little boys.

At the wedding of Scott and Amy (my sister's childhood friend,
who in this small world happened to be a home visit nurse for Zacary)
Added to the duo was Calder, son of more Precious Beginnings/NICU volunteers Doug and Catherine. As the only non-NICU kid of the three, he looked strapping in comparison to the older boys. During fall 2001, Zacary began attending preschool with Calder, and he loved it.
Calder, Chris, and Zacary

The three amigos

With the boys and Laurie at Enchanted Forest for Chris' fifth birthday, August 2001
Zacary loved drawing, music, ladybugs, and his friends--small and large. Most of all, he absolutely adored his mom and dad, and the feeling was completely mutual. During summer and fall, Zacary was not feeling that well. I remember meeting them once at Washington Square for lunch, and he seemed to be very tired. His heart was working so hard.

On Thanksgiving Day, Zacary became ill and his parents rushed him to the hospital. After a maddening number of hours during which his parents fought to have him admitted to the PICU (but the ER at the time was not well set up for pediatrics--and the best doctors were off for Thanksgiving), he finally got the medical attention he needed, but it was too late to save him. To his parents' horror and shock, Zacary died that evening...ironically, of an enlarged heart...no surprise to those of us who knew him. He had a huge heart.

I will never fail to think of Zacary when our phone rings late at night. The NICU nurses called us in the middle of the night because they were concerned that Laurie and Derek had no family in town. We called my parents, who came over to stay with Christopher, and headed to the hospital. We also called our mutual friends Doug and Catherine, and Doug joined us. Doug and Catherine's son, Parker, had been born at 23 weeks gestation and lived for only a week, so they knew only too well what it was like to lose a child.

Zach and Chris in the Emanuel Children's Garden
(Photo by Laurie Bentley)
I feel deeply blessed by that horrifying night in the PICU, when Laurie and Derek cradled the body of their precious son, clinging to him and mourning his tragic death. That might sound strange to say, but I do feel blessed because we were there in such a sacred, primal moment. Doug was fantastic that evening, and I know Laurie and Derek were grateful for his support--I've always maintained that support from someone who's been through a shared experience is irreplaceable.

Each one of us who knew Zacary grieved his death deeply--he was truly a little angel on earth for a short while. To this day, when Chris hears a John Denver & the Muppets song (on their Christmas album), in which the ending line is "Merry Christmas little Zachary," he gets choked up and upset. No child should have to get to know grief at such a young age. No parent should have to grieve the loss of their child. 

Photo by Laurie Bentley
We haven't seen Laurie for many years; she lives on the other side of the country now. We're different in many ways--for example, she's conservative, and we're liberal. But we have an unbreakable bond--and that is Zacary. Zacary lives on in all of our hearts, and through his life and death, many of us formed lifelong friendships. He taught me how precious and fragile life is...and how important it is to honor those people who have died--whether they be children or adults. The people left behind need to know we remember their loved ones.

He continues to remind us of his presence through the little things...a song, a poem, a story, a tale of another child with a heart condition, or a ladybug.

We will never, ever forget you, sweet angel Zacary. We miss you so much!

In which I go on a rant against dodgeball

Kieran doesn't have school this week, so this morning Mike put him into a half-day camp at the Southwest Community Center. Early in the afternoon he called me to let me know he'd been hit in the eye during dodgeball. Fortunately, they applied ice immediately and he seemed to be fine. But of course, what I wanted to know was why was he playing dodgeball at a day camp?? The camp was designed for 8- to 12-year-olds, meaning he was in the younger level of the kids.

Many schools across the country have banned the game of dodgeball, and I cannot say I'm unhappy about that. "Dodgeball is an elimination game and it uses individuals as human targets," said Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education in Reston, Virginia. "These practices are not appropriate for physical education."

I remember being said target. As an unathletic, short, and skinny girl, I hated dodgeball (and Red Rover, since we're on the topic) with unbridled passion. I have long wished that I had a PE teacher like my brother-in-law, who could have inspired me to want to improve my physical fitness. Instead I felt humiliated and hated PE.

The internet is rife with stories about dodgeball injuries...eye injuries, broken fingers, even a chronic subdural hematoma. Facebook even has a group for dodgeball fanatics to post photos of their injuries with pride. Dodgeball is like the rugby of elementary school. Projectiles come hurling at you, and you have no protection whatsoever. Nowadays the good PE teachers who still play dodgeball use soft balls. In my day, we used hard playground balls. I'm not sure what they were using today at the community center.

I'm sure that Kieran is not the unathletic type who cowers during dodgeball--he's probably right in the thick of things, throwing balls with energy. But still. Not only did they play dodgeball, but they also watched a movie. And for this we were paying money? It's a good thing he didn't sustain a more serious injury, because he doesn't have an understudy. And fortunately he didn't end up with a black eye or worse.

Fox News viewers not the brightest bulbs...

Now we have data to prove this theory. A poll by Farleigh Dickinson University found that people who watch Fox News are 18 points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government and 6 points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government compared to those who watch no news.

Dan Cassino, professor of political science and analyst for the PublicMind Poll, noted that "the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."

In fact, sources that increase people's knowledge include The New York Times, USA Today, NPR, and Jon Stewart.

This is not the first study to conclude that Fox dumbs down the news. Last year, a University of Maryland study found that Fox News viewers were more likely to believe false information about politics.

No surprises here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Five down, twenty to go

The little monster himself in the Oregonian
Frankenstein: The Little Monster opened on Friday night, and today they completed their fifth performance. After a month of rehearsals five days a week, Kieran was delighted to transition from rehearsal to the real thing. Seeing him up on stage on Friday night was so bizarre...I never would have been able to do anything like that at age 8!

My only experience with theater as a child was when I was 5...before I even began elementary school, I attended some kind of summer theater class at Beaverton High School. (Now it's hard to imagine dropping off a kindergartener at a huge high school and expecting her to find her way to the classroom and participate with all those older kids, but things were different in 1969.) I remember that the class was going to act out "Alice in Wonderland" and insisted that I should play the part of a baby. I was so disgusted by this that I think I might have dropped out of the class! (I don't have clear memories of it.)

But enough of me. I didn't have the confidence or self-assurance that Kieran does. He doesn't get nervous at all before going up on stage (or at least he doesn't admit to getting nervous).
Nick in the lobby before the show

Hamming with a hand
Over the weekend, Kieran's performance got better and better. The first night I think he was a little starstruck by the audience and the "real theater" thing. As the weekend went on, he seemed to become more focused and comfortable with his role. He has to do a lot of screaming, jumping, and running around, and frankly it looks exhausting! (And it's hard to sing while you're running.)

After the show on opening night

With some of the cast and a few admirers

With his stage dad, Dr. Frankenstein

With me

With his friend Kayra, who came to the show with her family
Chris missed opening night because he played at the (rainy) Jesuit playoff game, so on Saturday afternoon he saw the play for the first time. After Saturday's performances, we went out to the wonderful Dick's Kitchen to celebrate.

Mike with a facepainted Nick

The little actor
Although this show is a huge commitment for his very first professional theater debut (5 weeks of 25 performances), especially given his young age, it's proving to be a great learning experience. He's learning a lot about how to stay in character, avoid "schmacting," and concentrate...something that he wasn't really getting in the theater classes he was taking. As much as I'm proud of him for being up on stage and doing his thing, I'm also proud of the way he's accepting feedback on his acting and applying it to his craft. And he has his first theater review--he's playing the role "with verve." Not bad for a first review!

I'm glad it's such a truly fun show and we don't mind seeing it again and again and again and again--I'm also glad it's free so we can do so. Mike took Kieran today and Nick and I were planning to stay home, but Nick wanted to see the show again...so off we went for the second performance. He's enjoying seeing his big brother on stage and knows all the words to the songs. The music, written by Greg Paul, is very fun and clever, and the play is full of jokes and fun. I've enjoyed watching the script come alive on stage.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simplify the Season Pledge: who's with me?

I pledge to STOP the holiday insanity.

I will make every effort to simplify the season.

I will not stress out over decorating, wrapping, buying and baking.

I will not buy thoughtless gifts.

... I will not over-commit my time.

I will plan my schedule with free time to sip hot cocoa.

I will enjoy the true spirit of the season – love, joy, peace, giving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My little artist

Kieran went through a prolific art stage, too, and now it's Nicholas' turn. He's beginning to write more letters as well. On Sunday at church he wrote "ELVIS" over and over again from memory.

Buzz Lightyear features in most of his recent drawings
Woody, Buzz, and I think Bullseye

Today I discovered this one--Harry Potter!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Even a writer/editor needs an editor!

I was horrified to learn that I've made a few typos in my last two posts, pointed out to me by my eagle eye husband. I've always said that editors need editors, so I guess I was trying to prove my point! I tend to write quickly, and I'm less likely to see errors in what I've written than in what others have written.

Mike informed me that I titled my last post "I do not care on jot about football," and I tried to convince him that "on jot" was a new expression.

I'm sure it makes him feel better when he catches my own typos, because I always edit him and catch his errors too. I'm grateful that we can catch each other's falls, in more ways than one. Love you, honey!

Friday, November 11, 2011

I do not care one jot about football...

But I do care about justice.

Really, Penn State students? Placing football on the shrine above protecting a child? I am speechless.

Penn State acted appropriately, too late, but at least it finally acted.

Joe Paterno has no excuse for looking away and pretending he didn't know what was going on. No excuse. He dug his own grave.

See an adorable little girl? Bite your tongue!

I first got educated about this topic about 17 years ago, when some friends had their first daughter, Alex. They deliberately chose an androgynous name, because they wanted her to have the freedom to be a CEO someday and not be prejudged by her name. When I saw Alex (as a baby), who was heart-stoppingly adorable, I began to fawn all over her and say how cute she was. My friend immediately added "and brilliant!" In those two words, I learned an excellent lesson: focusing solely on a female's appearance sends her the wrong message. She was giving her daughter the best possible start by reminding friends and family not to focus solely on Alex's appearance. This is critical, because children start receiving these gender messages very early. For females, it's just the beginning of a lifetime of attracting more attention for their looks than their brains.

I thought of this early lesson when I read author Lisa Bloom's insightful article, "How to Talk to Little Girls." Bloom, who wrote Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, writes about attending a dinner party and seeing a precious little 5-year-old girl, Maya. Her immediate impulse was to fuss over Maya and exclaim about her cuteness. But she restrained herself and instead asked Maya about her favorite book. Maya proceeded to proudly share her book and read it aloud to Bloom. Ironically, the book's heroine was being tormented by her peers for her love of the color "pink," which allowed Bloom to talk to the young girl about peer pressure and mean girls.

This topic has been on my mind in the past week, as last weekend I had the distinct pleasure of spending an afternoon with a 13-year-old girl--who is equal parts outgoing, charming, bright, multi-talented, and gorgeous. Since I'm surrounded by testosterone, I loved hearing about adolescence from Sophie's perspective. We talked about the pressure to wear just the right clothing (or push-up bras! oy vey!) and the cliques that are still as omnipresent now as they were when I was in junior high. And then there's always the mean girls, too, who are usually judging other girls for not dressing or acting the "right" way. The pressures are never ending, not just at school but everywhere girls look...and they are far more intense than the pressures on boys.

Lisa Bloom notes a recent ABC News story reporting that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In her book she shares these facts:
  • 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner, and lipstick regularly.
  • Eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down.
  • 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart.

I am definitely a "fawner"--when I see an adorable child, I'm prone to exclaiming over their cuteness factor--whether they be a boy or a girl! But I must bite my tongue, especially if the child is a girl. This is not because she is not cute, but because we need girls to hear messages about their talents and their intelligence instead of the ever-present focus on their appearance.

Bloom challenges each of us to do this:
"Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she's reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does."

Plenty of other people will tell her that she looks gorgeous, cute, or pretty. Take the road less traveled. Be the change in her world.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Help spread the word about the risks of RSV as we approach World Prematurity Day

Chris at a few weeks old
As most of you know, our oldest son, Chris, was born extremely prematurely on August 23, 1996. For one month, he was the smallest baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), by far, until finally two more 24-weekers joined him. During our 117 days in the NICU, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about the risks preemies face.

One of those risks is called RSV, or respiratory synctitial virus. We learned about RSV a few months into Chris' NICU stay, when a tragedy struck another family. We had gotten to know a couple before their son, Jonah, went home from the hospital. A hale and hearty 34-weeker (compared to our fragile little bird), Jonah contracted RSV a few weeks after arriving home, and after being hospitalized for a week or so as the medical staff tried to save his life, he died.

Our freezer full of breast milk
When Chris came home from the NICU right before Christmas, we religiously kept him out of crowded, public places. He didn't really emerge in public until May, because we were so afraid he would get sick. We forced everyone who entered our home to wash their hands, even if they were not going to touch the baby, and we asked people to stay away if they were sick. Most people understood.

Because Chris was so small and sick, he qualified at the time for a new RSV treatment called Respigam (this treatment had just been approved in 1996). He received a series of IVs, which we believe provided some protection. The other protection he received was 15 months of breast milk, which I pumped for him to drink.

Then came December, when Chris was 15 months old. We visited England, and in spite of my electrical converter, my hospital-grade breast pump exploded and stopped working. I had to go cold turkey (OUCH!), because Chris was not able to nurse as a result of his reflux...and he stopped receiving breast milk. At 15 months, we figured it was fine for him to switch to cow's milk.

Within a few weeks of returning to the U.S., Chris came down with RSV and pneumonia. He was hospitalized for a week, in isolation, while the nurses pumped tons of disgusting green stuff out of his lungs. Poor kid. It was awful, and after knowing what happened to Jonah, terrifying. All of the NICU nurses who visited us told us how great it was that Chris passed a year before returning to the hospital, not understanding how devastated we were that he had to return to the hospital AT ALL. He recovered, though, and at age 15, his lungs seem fine.

Here are some facts about RSV: 
  • Although nearly every baby contracts RSV by age two, in healthy children it usually manifests itself with symptoms similar to the common cold. 
  • Because they don’t have the antibodies needed to fight off infection, preemies—even those born just a few weeks early like our friend Jonah—are at increased risk for developing an RSV-related infection. In fact, RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization (responsible for more than 125,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths per year). 
  • RSV occurs in epidemics each fall through spring. The Centers for Disease Control has defined “RSV season” as beginning in November and lasting through March for most parts of North America. 
  • Despite its prevalence, one-third of mothers have never heard of RSV. (I had certainly never heard of it before I entered the NICU world.)
  • Prevention is key because there is no surefire treatment (and even the treatments available are given only to the highest-risk kids):
    • Wash hands, toys, bedding, and play areas frequently
    • Ensure that you, your family, and any visitors wash their hands or use hand sanitizer
    • Avoid large crowds and people who may be sick
    • Never let anyone smoke near your baby

  • Parents should speak with their pediatrician to find out if their baby is at high risk for developing severe RSV and how they can prevent against RSV this winter. They can also watch out for symptoms:
    • Persistent coughing or wheezing
    • Rapid, difficult, or gasping breaths
    • Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails
    • High fever
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Difficulty feeding
To learn more about RSV, visit http://www.rsvprotection.com/. For more about the specialized health needs of preterm infants, visit http://www.preemievoices.com/.

Please help me spread the word about RSV in honor of World Prematurity Day, November 17.


*I wrote this post while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of MedImmune and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.