The Ballerina

Happiness comes from being willing and able to connect with others.

I walked into the exam room and the first thing I saw was a six year old girl wearing tights, ballet slippers and a pink tutu. Her hair festooned with a pink ribbon and pink barrettes was pulled back into a pony tail.  Smiling, I said to her: “You look beautiful today!” She raised her arms and did a pirouette. “We must go dancing together.”  I said to her.  She ran over and gave me a hug. Her mother smiled and said:  “She was so excited last year when you asked about her dance lessons and talked about how much you love to dance.  When she came downstairs this morning she had her dance outfit on and here we are.”

Sitting on my stool I tapped her arm. “We must go ballroom dancing together.” She furrowed her brow. “But I don’t know how to ballroom dance.”  “Don’t worry.” I replied. “I will teach you how to ballroom dance and you can teach me one of your dances.”  She turned to her mother. “Dr. Barber and I are going to go ballroom dancing together!”  We all smiled.

Connecting with others provides opportunities for happiness in our lives. It allows us to develop relationships and make new friends who enrich and inspire us.  Relationships are nourished by the willingness, capacity and capability to connect. Children need to be taught these skills. Parents are their greatest teacher.  The interest in others that these relationships engender inspires within your child a sense of community. By not becoming a fearful parent you are providing your child the freedom and opportunity to connect.

The behaviors you model are a powerful influence in your child’s willingness to reach out to others. Parents who are anxious and fearful of others teach their child the world is filled with danger.  Parents who believe the world is filled with caring people who wish to help others influence their children to believe the same. Restricting your child’s life with suspicion and fear provokes unnecessary anxiety and limits your child’s willingness to reach out to others. This type of overprotective parenting leads to excessive attachment, separation problems and a lack of willingness to explore the world. Fear is both contagious and frightening.  It prevents your child from developing relationships that may last a lifetime.

Parents are confronted every day with fears arising from media headlines.  Such fear affects not only your responses but also your child’s ability and desire to choose. Your child must be informed and counseled about real risks and real dangers but not blinded by the extreme responses caused by fear.  When a child is led by fear relationship opportunities are lost.

When this six year old reached out to me her freedom and willingness to connect inspired me.  I hope your child will do the same for you today.

Tanning Beds

Ultraviolet radiation damages your skin and increases your risk for skin cancer. Although sunlamps and tanning beds promise you a healthy appearance you must be aware of the serious associated risks. Indoor tanning beds are a serious health risk.

Premature aging of your skin results from tanning. The effects are not immediate but they are relentless. You will look older and you will see more wrinkles, sun spots and a loss of skin elasticity. Extensive sun or artificial tanning exposure will make your skin appear leathery and suppresses your skin’s immune defenses. This suppression increases your risk for skin cancer and increases your risk of melanoma which is the deadliest type of skin cancer by 75% when begun prior to age 35 years. It is estimated women who use tanning beds more than 1 time per month are 55% more likely to develop melanoma. Melanoma is the second leading type of invasive cancer diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 19 years. Almost 70,000 people in the US will be diagnosed with melanoma each year and one in eight will die from it.

Although the development of cancer may take many years the damage and risks are cumulative. Even if your skin does not become red and inflamed it has been damaged. Some people believe damage only occurs if there is peeling of the skin and other signs of damage. This is not true. All exposure damages your skin and the more severe the exposure the greater the damage.  For children, teens and young adults the risk is greatest.

Other risks include eye damage from UV exposure and allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to UV radiation. If you are on certain medications you are more prone to sunburn and skin damage. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist and be aware of the common medications that sensitize you to sun reactions. You cannot protect your skin by “looking” for a sunburn since a sunburn takes 6 to 48 hours to develop.

If you have a fair skin color and light colored hair you are at an even greater risk for skin damage.

The Ducklings

When you look at your child do you see the ideal or the real?

Shades of purple and grey covered the descending sun as waves rolled over the rocks and sand. Five ducklings followed their mother to the water’s edge dancing back and forth along a curved tightrope of foam. The mother moved directly toward the oncoming wave gliding into the water between a receding wave and the endless cue of whitecaps roaring to the shore. She did not look back. Her huddled ducklings mirrored her movements.  A wave crashed over all of them but only the mother and two ducklings emerged from the foam.

Two large sister waves lifted the mother as she turned to see her ducklings. There were only two. She jerked her head towards the shore at the three ducklings bouncing like black spools of yarn along the shore. She swung about leaving a gouge in the water as she raced to the three trapped ducklings. The two remaining ducklings without hesitation turned sharply and following their mother rode a breaking wave to shore.  Suddenly the three figures disappeared beneath the disintegrating wave.  I held my breath.  As if by magic five shaking figures surrounding a tall serene mother emerged from the foam of the receding wave.  The ducklings shook and swayed surrounding the mother. The mother duck with the grace of a swan swung around and with her brood moved towards the shelter of an overhang under a large pile of driftwood.  Reaching this eddy from the wind they huddled together as one.

When a child is born, takes her first step and rides a bike or boards a school bus for the first time – your heart, mind and soul are filled with ideal expectations. Dreams and opportunities are real and endless. This wish-filled view of reality, however, is not real.  Life is scattered with unfinished hopes and expectations.

No two children are the same. They are amalgams of strength and weakness forged by desire and inspired by genes and the environment. Your child looks to you for guidance and acceptance about the real world.  If you raise your child to see only the arrogance of the ideal your child will be unprepared for the storms ahead.

Parents must inspire and incite within a child a willingness to leave behind the warmth and complacency of the assured and seek the seemingly unattainable.  In the real world every parent must teach a child to accept what is real while never forgetting what is ideal.  By recognizing and accepting this balance your child will be ready for times of lack and times of plenty.  Your understanding and response allows you to model the self-awareness and responsibility your child must possess for the times when you are no longer at your child’s side.

The next time life surprises, saddens or confuses you with the real and not the ideal respond as that mother duck did.  Shielded by the safety and security you provide teach your child to see and accept the real world. The path you take, the warmth you provide and the life you choose prepares your child for a life filled with exploration.

T shirts

Often, the difference between success and failure is a willingness to accept and learn from failure.

A few weeks ago a teenager caught my attention with a T shirt that read, “I am not done until I have won.”  Stepping to the side, I watched him walk away and wondered if he understood those complex words.  Few of us have the opportunity to experience one day, one month or one year without the taste of failure.

Every child fails. Whether it is a dance step, a spelling word or the swing of a bat your child must learn how to recognize, respond and accept failure.  Parents are tempted to shield their child from mistakes, loss and lack but this is a false victory.  Children raised in a staged world are tempted to forget the power of sadness.  Sadness, anxiety, fear and grief although difficult to see in the eyes of your child are emotions that teach resiliency and the authenticity of life.  Children, teens and young adults who tip-toe through life are blinded to the limitless power and freedom found within unsuccessful exploration and experimentation.  Your support allows your child to become gracious in defeat and willing to try again no matter what the odds.

Every toddler must learn to accept and expect falling before learning to walk.  When your child takes that first wobbly step he says to the world:  “Here I come!”  Falling and failure are your concern not his.  As he falls to the ground he looks to you for support.  By responding with love and satisfaction rather than fear of failure your child will try again and again.  Attuned to your response your son or daughter focuses on doing and not on achieving.  Falling teaches your child the world is safe not dangerous and fear of failure is replaced by a willingness to explore.

Children are frequently faulted for not trying hard enough or long enough. They grow up believing success is the only goal in life.  Such teaching becomes a learned response and is not a sign of character or fortitude.  Rather than teaching success is the Holy Grail to be sought and achieved, we must teach children to believe in themselves and the process of trying.  Mastery of this belief depends upon authentic encouragement and approval from those they love.  Such support allows your child to pursue ever more challenging explorations inspired by resilience and broadened by independence, judgment and insight.

Never forget life’s greatest learning opportunities come not from what we do right but from what we do wrong.  Living is about learning and growing and not about winning.  Acceptance of our failures makes winning and losing both gifts.

Anaphylaxis Due to Food

Anaphylaxis is dangerous. Up to 1000 people die each year in the US due to anaphylaxis. Foods are the most common cause. 30% of the time the trigger is a food allergy, and 90% of the time it is due to peanut or tree nut exposure. These reactions are difficult to predict since the severity of an allergic reaction to food cannot be predicted by history or by skin prick or allergen-specific IGE level testing. 25% of the time the first episode of anaphylaxis has not been preceded by any prior food reaction.

The most common symptoms are skin, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular symptoms.  Skin symptoms include hives, itching, flushing of the skin and swelling of the lips, tongue or uvula. Respiratory symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, stridor or a low oxygen level in the blood. Gastrointestinal symptoms include crampy abdominal pain and vomiting. Cardiovascular symptoms include fainting, collapse, low blood pressure and urinary incontinence.

Injection of epinephrine into the thigh is the best treatment. The dose is .15 mg for persons less than 55 pounds and .3 mg for those weighing more. Having two doses available is important since 20% of the time a second dose is required. Many people do not know that in 20% of the cases there is a biphasic pattern to symptoms with symptoms returning after initial treatment success.  Other treatments include placing the child supine on the ground with legs elevated or in a position of comfort. Oxygen and intravenous fluid therapy may be needed. Antihistamine treatment with a medication like Benadryl only treats skin symptoms and has no cardiovascular benefits.

Management of food-induced anaphylaxis at school is very important. School staff must be aware of food-allergic children and an emergency action plan for treatment must be in place. Medication must be available and staff must be trained to administer the medication and notify emergency personnel.  Safe food practices must be maintained with only designated foods being available and surface and hand washing before and after meals.  No food sharing is allowed. Prevention strategies are age and maturity dependent.   In the US children with a diagnosis of anaphylaxis are protected by the American with Disabilities Act that prevents discrimination based on disability. Children with food allergies are often bullied due to issues with social isolation brought on by food limitations.

The majority of people who have a severe episode of anaphylaxis also have asthma.  Exercise and alcohol also increase the severity of anaphylaxis.

Breastfeeding is Best

Breastfeeding is best for both mom and baby. Everyone knows breast milk is the best nourishment for a newborn infant. It protects your infant from infection, is easily digested, makes your baby smarter and lowers your child’s future risk of developing asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Benefits are not just for the infant.  There are also clear benefits for the mother who breast feeds. It decreases a mother’s risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes as well as lowering your future risk for developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

Besides these physical benefits there are cognitive and developmental benefits for both mother and baby.  Mothers who breast feed experience a physical and emotional union with their child. This fosters secure attachment, supports self-regulation and healthy eating patterns and enhances maternal fulfillment and emotional satisfaction. Babies who are breastfed have a developmental advantage over formula fed infants.

Another benefit that is easily overlooked is the benefit to the father. Fathers who learn about breastfeeding and become a true partner with their spouse strengthen their relationships with both mother and baby and improve the success of breastfeeding.

The more you know and learn about breastfeeding prior to delivery the more successful the breastfeeding experience will be for both you and your child. Including your spouse in this discovery and learning process is also beneficial.  Breastfeeding is natural but it is also a learned behavior.  Support from family, friends, workplace and your social and healthcare networks are vital but the most important advice is to always expect the best.  Guidance and advice can help you eliminate fears which often lead to anxiety and breastfeeding difficulty. Taking a breastfeeding class, joining a breastfeeding support group and seeking consultation with a lactation consultant or your pediatrician all are helpful. Tailoring your support to your individual needs prepares you best.

During the first hour after delivery it is important to initiate breastfeeding. The nursing staff will be there to guide and support you. Skin to skin contact with your infant is important as is body and head position.  In the days following delivery your milk will come in and your nipples will become less tender.  You and your infant will discover one another. You will become comfortable with making sure your infant rests her chin and nose on your breast and opens her mouth wide with lips turned out. You will learn how to recognize a good latch and watch and listen for rhythmic and deep sucks with interspersed bursts and pauses. Listen for deep swallows rather than sharp clicks and make sure her cheeks are not sucked in. Patience and support are the best therapy.

After discharge make sure you have a breastfeeding toolkit nearby when you nurse. It should be packed with all the important items you might need including water, burp cloths, clean baby clothes, cleansing wipes, nursing pads, fresh diapers, petroleum jelly, plastic disposal bags, hand sanitizer, a soft blanket and pillow, healthy snacks, a music player and lanolin. Drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy.  Nurse on demand and do not watch the clock.  Learn to recognize your infant’s cry, movements and facial expressions. Exercise, adequate sleep and stress reduction techniques all help. Exclusive breastfeeding is best but if due to medical concerns you are unable to breastfeed then remember formulas are nutritious, safe and healthy and you should never feel shame or guilt for not nursing due to medical or personal considerations.

Exclusive breast feeding through 6 months of age is best. At 6 months complementary feeding can start. Most parents begin with infant cereal mixed with breast milk and then progress to vegetables, fruits and pureed meats. Complementary foods are not meant to substitute for breast milk. Continuing breastfeeding through age one to two years and beyond is best.  Providing breast milk for your child is one of the greatest gifts parents can provide.

The Fruit Stand

Do you listen to your inner voice?

The young girl turned towards me and asked, “What can I get you?” “A bag of corn,” I replied. The sack was overflowing with a dozen fresh ears just picked this morning.  I grabbed the bulging bag with two hands to prevent the plastic from tearing and turned towards a pair of bicyclists standing near the fruit stand. “Where have you come from?” I asked.  “California,” the man answered. “Where are you heading?” “Boston,” he replied. I told him I would pray for a safe ride and tossed my corn in the back of the car and headed off.

As I drove off I hoped there would be no rain for the cyclists that night.  Something, however, told me to stop. I checked my mirror and headed back to the fruit stand.  Both riders were straddling their bikes that were covered with well-worn gear. The man was studying a laminated map on his handlebar bag and the woman was patiently waiting with her bike pointed towards Buffalo, 80 miles to our right. I pulled up next to him and leaned over the corn on my passenger seat. “I live about 20 miles ahead if you need a place to stay for the night?” I said.  He looked at me and nodded. “Turn left at the first road past twenty-mile creek and go through the gate. My wife and I live in the green house.”  He nodded and answered: ”We would like that.”  We exchanged names, and I gave him my cell number.  “If you see a sign saying entering New York State you missed the turn.” He nodded again.

Later that day my wife and I were outside working in the garden when I heard someone call out, “Joe?”  I stood up and took off my hat and work gloves.  Ann reached out her hand: “Thank-you for offering us a place to stay.”  Walt came over and after introductions to my wife we headed inside. Later that evening after several hours of rest and relaxation we talked about their 51 days on the road and our chance meeting at the fruit stand. I explained how an inner voice had told me to turn around and invite them for the night. He said his wife had asked if he had a good feeling about me. He said yes and after eating they decided to take me up on the invitation. We shared stories and dreams over dinner and ate as much of the corn as we could. This was their second bike trip across the US. Walt was a retired National Park Ranger and Ann, a retired teacher. We watched the sun set, promised to meet again and headed off to bed.  I woke early the next day and headed to the hospital for morning rounds while my wife cooked them breakfast. She offered another rest day but they said yesterday was just what they needed. A light rain fell as they turned east on Route 5.

When was the last time intuition spoke, and you remained silent.  Heroes who save the lives of another are often asked why they reacted as they did. They seldom have an answer.  Each of us must find the courage of awareness to see and listen within. We are models for our children who must learn never to dance in slow motion. Listening and responding to our inner voice strengthens us and enriches the lives of others.

On that mid summer day, something about Walt spoke to me and me to him. A fleeting moment changed our lives and was captured forever.  Walt and Ann, ride safely.  You will be remembered.