Archive for March, 2008

You never forget the times you lose it: screaming at your kids and other not-so-proud parenting moments

March 18, 2008

J0097891 My friends and I are trying our bests to be parents of the new millennium. We don’t spank. We know that in other places in the country ongoing debates engender countless letters to the editor about the virtues of spanking or not spanking. We read about them in the piles of parenting magazines in our bathrooms. We, however, don’t spank. We try not to scream at our kids, unless one of them is about to run into traffic. Instead we discipline with time-outs and come up with “appropriate consequences”.

But in spite of our resolve to be modern, rational parents, sometimes we lose it. Maybe it was easier a generation ago, when, if you spanked your kids, you thought you were raising them right. Because when we lose it, the kids may forget in minutes, but we feel guilty for days, weeks, or longer.

One of my friends swatted her three-year-old on the bottom recently. After a long week of time-outs for picking on her younger sister, the three year-old deliberately poked the two-year-old in the eyes. My friend smacked her. She couldn’t have hit her too hard, since, unpracticed at this spanking thing, her

hand struck her own leg first, but she felt as guilty as if she had taken her out to the woodshed and caned her for an hour—guiltier, probably.

Another one of my friends, faced with a daughter who wouldn’t get out of the bathtub and a wedding for which she didn’t want to be late, hauled her kicking daughter bodily out of the tub and wrestled her naked into her car seat. Only the unexpected arrival of her husband kept her from driving down the freeway with a nude child. She didn’t know what else to do, other than miss the wedding, but after it was over she felt very guilty about getting so angry.

Late one night last spring I got a phone call from a friend who had just put her kids to bed but couldn’t sleep herself because she felt so guilty about what she had just done to her daughter. The 6-year-old girl had been balking at homework all week, in particular, writing in the cardboard-covered journal the teacher had given each child. She tried for an hour to get her daughter to write in the journal. Then the child told her mom, “I’ll write ‘I hate my mother.’” Fine, my friend said, just write something. “No, I don’t want to.” So my friend took the journal, tore it in half, and threw it in the garbage. Not only did she immediately feel guilty, but she also had to find a way to explain to her child’s teacher what she had done.

I remember one time that I lost it as if it were yesterday, not nearly a decade ago. The baby was crying, Nadya was pitching a fit about something, Alex was whining, and dinner was burning on the stove. I quite deliberately screamed; not at anyone, but just a scream, as loud as I could. Nadya burst into frightened tears, Alex ran from the room and hid, and I felt guilty for scaring my children.

I also remember quite clearly the first time I lost it with Alex. He was in the bathtub, babbling, singing, and ignoring all my requests to get out and into his pajamas. Every time I tried to get him moving, he sang louder. So I angrily poured a cup of water over his head. Not that I hadn’t dumped water on him before in play, or washing his hair, but this time I was being mean. I knew it, and he knew it. And 13 years later, I still feel guilty.

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Looking for zebras

March 6, 2008

J0178731_2 There’s a phrase in the medical profession (I either read it in a novel or heard it on a TV show, and it stuck in my mind): “when you hear hoofbeats, don’t look for zebras”  That is, most of the time, in medicine, symptoms are caused by the most common illness, not the rare one.

Except in our family. For a while, we were living in zebra territory. And since then, I’m always looking for zebras.

There was my daughter’s Saturday morning stomachache. A really bad stomachache. I took her to the doctor at around 11 a.m. even though my husband, who knows I definitely have a tendency to jump to extreme conclusions, reassured me there was no way she had appendicitis. The doctor agreed with him—stomach virus coming on, she’d probably get diarrhea or some such soon, call, of course, if it gets worse. I took her home. It got worse. An hour later I put her back in the car and went back to the doctor, calling for the appointment

en route. I knew, in my heart, that this was not a stomach virus. The doctor still was betting on the stomach virus, but, to humor me, sent me over to Stanford Hospital for an ultrasound, which involved several hours of waiting in a crowded emergency room. By 7 pm my daughter was on the operating table, by 9 pm she was waking up, minus a badly infected appendix.

Then it was my turn. I had  awful pains down my arm, couldn’t move my arm, couldn’t sleep at night. The odds-on diagnosis—a muscle spasm, pinching nerves. The zebra finally diagnosed several sleepless, immobile weeks later—a ruptured disk.

There were other zebras that stampeded through our family—the “pulled muscle” that was a cracked spine, the “twisted wrist” that didn’t heal for weeks because it was actually broken, the scratchy throat that was the beginning of whooping cough (we caught that zebra when it was still a baby, fortunately).

And now my pediatrician and I have an understanding; if we hear hoofbeats, we look for zebras. She tells me the obvious diagnosis of any symptom as well as the longshot, and takes the longshot seriously until it is definitively ruled out. We’ve caught a few more zebras that way, though not so many lately; could be we’ve finally left zebra territory.