Milk and Bread

I am always amazed by the places I find love.

Love is something we read about in books, hear about at church services and talk about with our children and spouses. The true meaning of love, however, is often best seen in small or invisible acts that happen every day. As I have grown older, the grace of age and the love of others have made these acts more visible to me.

Recently, on the way home from work I stopped in a neighborhood supermarket. There was only one aisle open and as I stood in line waiting I started talking to the man in front of me. We smiled and laughed about our short shopping list. I had a loaf of bread and he had a gallon of milk. He said all we needed was mayo and bologna and we were set for dinner. We both laughed. He told me he lived around the corner and was looking forward to getting warm. As we talked he kept blowing into his hands and rubbing them together as he cradled the milk in his arm.

While we talked he never stopped watching a young mother and her child in line ahead of us. The woman was barely twenty and her child looked to be almost four years old. The child was standing next to her mother and was holding on with one hand to a stroller her mom was pushing. She was wrapped with a furry hat, scarves and gloves and had on white princess boots. She stood next to her mom with unflinching silent patience. This mother had the same milk and bread we had and a package of butter, some peanut butter and jelly and a container of laundry detergent. As the cashier rang up her items she searched through her pockets and realized she did not have any money. She turned to the cashier with the grace of a queen and asked if her items could be put to the side while she crossed the street to her home to get the forgotten money. I looked outside at the snow and wondered how she could even push the stroller through the snow let alone make that trip again.

In that instant the man in front of me reached into his jacket, handed money to the cashier and gave the two plastic grocery bags to the mother. She placed the bags in the stroller and thanked him softly. He smiled and said he was happy to help. As she headed out of the store, he paid his bill, wished me well and pulled his hat and gloves on, grabbed his milk and was gone.

I paid my bill and headed out to the parking lot. Just as I reached my car I saw my new friend again. He was walking next to the mom from the store. She was holding the hand of her child and he held several bags of groceries in one hand and a folded stroller in the other. I sat in my car and smiled. Although it was still dark and the snow was blowing I was warm.

We do live in a world filled with love and people who care for one another. You just have to stop and look.

The Use of Stimulant Medication in Healthy Children and Adults

The use of prescription stimulants or psychotropic medication to improve cognition or overall functioning in a healthy individual who does not have an underlying medical condition is called neuroenhancement.  The prevalence of such treatment is increasing for children and adults.

The premise behind the use of stimulant medication or anxiolytic medication is to improve overall functioning and achievement in an otherwise normal individual.  A parent or child’s willingness and interest to pursue neuroenhancement are dependent on numerous cultural, social, religious, psychological, personal and ethical considerations.

The use of stimulant medication has been increasing and so has the diagnosis of ADHD.  Recent reports estimate an increase in the diagnosis of ADHD by over 40% for teens.  At least part of this increase is due to a “softening” in the diagnostic criteria to allow stimulant medication to be prescribed.  In these situations the stimulant is prescribed for social or psycho-educational motivations rather than medical. With such prescriptive treatment the benefits of treatment often do not justify the risk for side effects and the potential misuse of the stimulant medication.

The most common side effects include nervousness, tachycardia, hypertension, motor or vocal tics, appetite suppression and insomnia.  Potential neurodevelopmental effects are unknown as are the effects on the development of individual autonomy and the sense of internal control of one’s own decision making.

Parents and doctors play a vital role in both providing information and decision-making. The use of these medications to provide a competitive academic edge is becoming increasingly common in our era where academic achievement and success are increasingly important for long term economic success and job or academic advancement.  This is not a new question.  Caffeine has been used for productivity enhancement for many decades. The risk to drift in this direction with stimulant medications has already begun.

In the end the decision to use stimulant medication comes down to what is and what is not appropriate. What price is a parent or child willing to pay to excel?  Honest two way communication and evidence based advice are critical. This decision needs to be discussed in an open and honest forum with appropriate documentation of the criteria that justify treatment rather than allowing the decision to be based solely on a consumer-provider relationship where the parent or student wants and the physician provides the medication.

Difficult Parenting Days

Difficult days happen for every parent. The key is to have some tools at hand when one of these days happen. Parenting is not always fun and easy. Be ready for these difficult days. Here are some suggestions for the dark days of parenthood.

Discover something new about parenting that you did not recognize or realize prior. Seek out new situations and opportunities for a new relationship with your child. Try a new activity or a new location for an old activity. By sharing new experiences with your child a day filled with negative energy can change. The appeal of a new environment is often enough to bring a smile to you and your child’s face.

Breathe. The act of breathing relaxes you. Step back from the negative emotions you are feeling and take a deep breath in to the count of 4 and then breathe out to a count of 8. Perform several cycles and clear your mind of all thoughts. By quieting your mind positive energy filled with new feelings, thoughts, words and actions will appear.

Throw out your negative attitude. Imaging wrapping it in thick brown paper sealed with box tape and toss it in a dumpster. If your profile and attitude are filled with fear, anxiety and inadequacy only negative feelings will follow. Substitute these negative thoughts with affirmations that make you recall events and situations where you parented your child in wonderful and memorable ways. Suddenly, new opportunities and actions will appear that positively impact your parenting.

Pat yourself on the back. Most parents not only try but do a good job parenting their child. Step back from self-criticism and self-doubt. Through verbal self-talk tell yourself you are a good parent who not only loves your child but has raised her to be a glorious human being whose life is filled with opportunities, love, expectation and acceptance.

Get your sleep. Close your eyes and rest, take a nap or go to bed earlier. Most parents are running on empty with a chronic sleep debt. Maintain your mind and body by getting out into nature, eating healthy, staying fit, experiencing the arts, enjoying your friends and always getting adequate sleep. Getting more sleep will provide you the same dividends that compound interest does for those who know how to save and invest their money wisely. Fall asleep each day knowing you will wake feeling stronger and better.

What Makes a Good Parent?

As a new parent emotions, aspirations and responsibilities surge. Your heart is filled with love and hope. You dream about your child’s future and the limitless opportunities that await him. Yet, at the same time, you are vulnerable to fear fueled by self-doubt. Your insecurity is universal. All parents wonder if they will be a good parent. All parents question whether they have the patience, fortitude and compassion to blend acceptance and love to deal with life’s imperfections. Parents wonder whether procrastination and ignorance will be their lifelong companions. The answers to these question are within your heart. Your child is a limitless gift. He is pure and comes into the world without regret or expectations. His heart carries no fear, anger, hate, disgust or envy. His heart is filled with unconditional love for you just as your heart is filled with this same love for him. There is calm within the peace and simplicity of love. This union allows you to find the balance, rhythm and intuition necessary to become the parent you want to be.

Your first job as a parent is to seek the quiet calm of contemplative thought. Silence will slow down your decision making and release negative emotions tied to your fears. The first step in this process is to clear your mind to wander and dream of the future. There is no rush. Find your center, your balance point and take the time you need to begin to dream. Imagine the endless opportunities your child will have. See the places he will travel to and visit. Listen to the voices and songs he will hear. Feel the sun as it envelops him on a warm summer day or the crisp wind during a winter storm.  Give yourself time to dream. Look away from life’s chaos to find peace in the limitless potential of your child’s life. A life he will choose. A life he will live and a life you will protect by providing the safety and security he needs as he begins his life.

So how do you find this inner strength? You find it in the support and love that surrounds you. Look to you friends and family. Seek out non-judgmental supporters who will listen to you in your times of self-doubt and help you seek your own answers. Find people who show their love for you by their willingness to share rather than their willingness to answer.  Identify places and things that bring joy to you and hold them close. Look to the arts and nature for the glory that envelops you. Set boundaries to protect your time and your own sense of who you are and who you want to become. Practice when it is right to speak up and when it is right to walk away. With the support of your friends and family take care of your own needs. Eat healthy, get your exercise and find time for the sleep your body needs to start each day fresh and ready to join your child in a glorious regret free adventure called life.

Start right now. Take the first step today. Change or enhance your life. Live every moment without thought for the if’s or the when’s. Take time to dream your dreams and manifest them into reality. Close your eyes and see a world without limits. Live a life built on passion and inspiration. Your child will see you and learn more from your actions than any spoken word would ever teach. Provide yourself and your child the greatest gift either of you will ever receive. The gift of unconditional love and opportunity to live every day of every month of every year.

How Do I Find More Time?

Mothers and fathers are confronted by the limits of time every day. Time spent on work, events, childcare and parental duties can be consuming and endless. For women, care of their spouse is also a time drain. Parents live in a state of constant sleep debt and neglect self-care. Studies find 50% of women have less than 90 minutes a day of free time yet these same studies report most women feel their job does not interfere with their personal life. So, the question is, what is the problem?

The primary issue is chores and responsibilities. Mothers have more tasks than fathers. Less than 25% of male spouses share household responsibilities with their wife. Most husbands focus on home-related issues including household repairs and improvements, gardening and yard work. That leaves everything else for the mother. Her list includes child care, assisting in homework, cooking, transporting children to activities, household errands, cleaning, grocery shopping, house organizing, laundry, childcare activities, managing day to day household finances, clothes buying and the list goes on and on.

Although most mothers feel their husband is capable of doing more chores and taking on more responsibilities most mothers do not delegate activities to their spouse. In fact, most women are more willing to share to do list chores with their children than their spouse.  Mothers want their husband to ask to help and are especially protective of decorating, managing household finances and organizing the house.

This endless list of duties is daunting and causes physiologic stress. Stress hormones are released and elevated stress hormones at the end of the day are linked to mood changes, depression and shorter life spans.  So, what can you do? Ask your spouse and others for help. Share responsibilities and duties with your spouse. Do not wait for your spouse to ask what he can do. Tell him what he needs to do. Find time to relax and stop yourself when you find a moment of free time to add more household duties.

Relaxation can be found in any contemplative activity.  Get out in nature, experience the arts, exercise, take a nap, scrapbook, knit, sew, dance, join a choir, pursue your spiritual center take a yoga class or read a book. Take time to recharge and breathe.  Most importantly, stop worrying about taking care of the house and your children. By being your own gatekeeper and taking time to have fun you will reclaim your life. Set a fun budget and schedule time for yourself. This is the most important retirement plan you will ever join. The most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.

If you do these things your life will change. You will live longer, be happier and have more energy to share the important things in life with your children and your spouse.

The Fisherman

Throughout my life I have often felt the “knowing” of intuition. Although I have not always listened, I was always pointed towards the right path to travel.  After becoming a pediatrician this awareness became part of me.

My sister JoAnne died from pancreatic cancer almost four years ago. Her life was filled with smiles, passion and love for her children, husband, family, friends and the children she cared for as a school nurse in Connecticut.  She lived an inspired life and her willingness to endure and accomplish were endless.

Four years ago she called me at work and told me she had just returned from the hospital where a CT scan of her abdomen revealed advanced pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t breathe. She told me everything would be all right. We cried. With the support of her entire community she ran a marathon one month after receiving this news and died seven months later. She chased, fought and endured the suffering this cancer cloaked her within every day. She accepted the pain and lived for the love of her family, friends, faith and the children she loved.

As I drove home with my wife on the day of her diagnosis I experienced a sign of hope. My wife was driving and I was in the passenger seat. We both were softly crying.  As we neared our home in North East we both saw a man walking on the side of the road.  Our gaze met. A voice within said to help this man. We turned around and pulled over in front of him. He was about 50, mud covered and dressed in fishing gear and waders. Although intellectually disabled, he told us how he had become separated from his friends, lost his fishing reel and breathing heavily he pointed to the gorge he had just climbed up to reach the road.

We helped him into our car and planned to drive him into town to the fire station when the same voice told me to go to Middle Road and head for the lake. We drove a half-mile ahead and turned north on Middle Road.  Within minutes we came upon a young man on a cell phone next to a truck on the side of the road. I could see the man was very upset. He appeared to be making a phone call for help. I jumped out of our car and pointed to the man in our backseat. He ran over to the car and told us he thought his friend had drowned.  He told us they were fishing in the gorge and became separated.  He searched without success and raced back to his truck to call for help. It was at that moment we arrived.

As we drove away all I could think of was the height of the 20 Mile Gorge and how he had ever climbed out. Aged, confused, tired and muddied he was given the strength and shown the way. I knew then that this was a sign.

During the pain and loved filled months that followed this day was always with me. Jo Anne and I talked about this fisherman often.  The religious and metaphorical meanings touched our souls. I will always remember her smile each time we talked about this man. A smile framed by belief, acceptance, trust and the magical opportunities life and death provides each of us. Although her body is now gone her magic remains and the understanding this fisherman gave me that forgettable day will never be forgotten.