Children and Belief

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I was trying to get sweet Weasel (age 3) psyched up for the Easter Bunny a few weeks ago, but she was initially more interested in the logistics of a magical Bunny than the candy.

“Has anyone taken a picture of him? Can I see it?”

“No. He’s pretty speedy. He doesn’t want to be seen.”

“Why not?”

“…Um, because it would make him less magical?”

The night before Easter she glanced out windows, looked toward the door.

“I really just want to see that little guy.”

And then Easter came, and the candy came. And the oddness of a skittish candy-wielding bunny receded into the background. I breathed a sigh of relief because I’m a little uneasy about the lying-to-my-kids thing. Of course, I also don’t want my kid to be THAT kid, the one who reads the New Yorker, the one who is skilled at reciting his parents’ politics (and, okay, yes, the bastard who told me about Santa when I was four).  But still. I am Weasel’s conduit for the adult world, her translator for all things Grown Up. I would like for her to trust me. A line must be tread carefully between the fantastical and the real. I want magic to be created without it one day leaving a little dark void where it once existed.

Then today, Weasel and I happened to be in a church (long story). And she wanted to know about Jesus and Mary. About Jesus’ father(s). About why Jesus was on a cross. I treaded carefully. I mentioned God.

“Like a fairy Godmother?”

“Sort of.”

I don’t mean to equate the Easter Bunny with God–I just want to exemplify how the Easter Bunny is cheap and quick magic, how it glosses over the complexities of belief, lends faith and yanks it away. There is little room for a discussion down the road of literal versus figurative belief, of spiritual meaning. It is a simple card trick in a circus filled with whirling acrobats. It endangers understanding of the complexity of belief down the line.

I know I’m over-thinking this. The thing is, maybe part of me wants to see a picture of that little guy, too–a better, more  important picture than the candy and the basket.

Check out this piece on the Easter Bunny, development, and belief at The Atlantic.

Au Revoir, Rock n’ Play

This week we had to say goodbye to a dear friend: Piglet’s Fisher Price Rock n’ Play Sleeper. While she’s still under the weight limit for it, she is past the development limit. Apparently, it’s only for babies who cannot sit up unsupported. The other day I caught Piglet doing an elaborate shimmy shake–she managed to maneuver the waist strap down to her ankles. She’s a determined little creature, so I’m pretty sure she could pitch herself over the side. Buh-Bye RnP.

The Rock n’ Play has a serious cult following, but it’s not for everyone. A few people online even blame it for their kids’ torticollus. All I can say is that we had a good experience with it ourselves. We liked the simplicity in design, the random bunny that comes with it, the price… oh, and there was also the SLEEP GLORIOUS SLEEP. (And, no, Fisher Price isn’t paying me.)

We can’t locate the Co-Sleeper that our first child (sweet weasel) slept in. So it looks like little Piglet will be in a Pack n’ Play until she learns to sleep for more than 14 seconds in her crib.

These transitions can be exhausting and frustrating. Piglet and Weasel woke up in tandem last night–maybe eight or ten times total. We’re just trying to take it one night at a time and remember how sweet they look when they finally do stay asleep for the night.

What is Pertussis?

Bordateall pertussis on charcol agar by Nathan Reading from Flickr Creative Commons

CNN’s health blog is reporting that Washington State has epidemic levels of pertussis. Washington is not alone: high levels of pertussis activity have been reported in many states in recent years. California had over nine thousand cases in 2010, including ten infant deaths. Despite these outbreaks, most of us have never seen a case of pertussis. What exactly is pertussis and what does it look like?

Like many bacteria, Bordatella pertussis is spread through the air in tiny droplets.  The illness may initially resemble a cold, but the symptoms can progress to a longstanding, severe cough.  Infants may have apnea–pauses in breathing. Pertussis is sometimes referred to as “whooping cough” because of the characteristic sound made during a coughing attack. (You can search for videos of kids with the cough on YouTube. I found them a little disturbing so I chose not to link them here.)

Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics and is included in routine vaccination, but infants who are too young to be vaccinated or who haven’t yet had their full series of shots are vulnerable to the illness. Also, vaccination protection may wane over time in those who have been immunized, so boosters may be needed. Caregivers of young infants can receive boosters to increase their immunity and reduce their chances of transmitting the bacteria.

It is easy to confuse these “old fashioned” illnesses and the different types of vaccines that are administered to children and adults. Here are some vaccines related to pertussis:

DTP is a vaccination for diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis

DTaP is a vaccine for diptheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis. This vaccine does not contain whole cells of pertussis and is considered to have fewer side effects than DTP.

DT  is a diptheria and tetanus vaccine without the pertussis component.

Tdap  is a booster shot for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis. It is for people 10 or 11 and up–guidelines depend on the brand. Two brands of Tdap in the U.S. are Boosterix and Adacel.

Td  is the aforementioned booster without the pertussis component.

Your pediatrician’s office should happily discuss vaccinations with you and provide you with literature about them. It bears mentioning again that I am not a doctor, so if you have any concerns about pertussis, or vaccines, or if a family member has a worrisome cough, give your doc a call. (I, personally, LOVE bothering my poor pediatrician).

Here are some CDC links discussing pertussis outbreaks, Tdap recommendations, and signs and symptoms of pertussis.

Confession: I like Thirtysomething.

Hello. We are Baby Boomers. We are here to tell you that you are just as self-obsessed as we were. Now, come rest your head on my shoulder.

I have always had trouble getting into ensemble family shows. Though there seem to be some good ones around lately–Parenthood, Modern Family, Up All Night–I just haven’t sunk my teeth into any of them yet. On a nostalgic whim the other day, I downloaded the pilot from the old show Thirtysomething (1987 – 1991) on iTunes and prepared myself to laugh hysterically at the insufferable Bobos. Except then I realized: WE ARE THOSE BOBOS. Eff.

As corny as it was, it was a good show, what can I say? There it was: the manic transition to being new parents, the work/life balance issues, the neighbors’ music suddenly being too loud, the uneasy divide between friends with kids and friends without kids. While a few aspects of the show were dated (some gender stuff, baby-boomer-isms, THE CLOTHES), a lot of it still rang true.  It was bittersweet to think of my parents as young parents, and to think about the universality of new baby-dom.  Anyway, you might want to check it out.

Joining the Nurses’ Health Study

This is not me. This is "Nurse" by Walt Stoneburner from Flickr Creative Commons.

Are you a nurse or a nursing student? Do you want to help advance knowledge of women’s health issues?

The Nurses’ Health Studies are large epidemiological studies run through the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Nurses fill out confidential questionnaires about their health history and lifestyle. (As it turns out, we are very good at filling out paperwork and returning it. Go figure.) This is done at intervals over an extended period of time, and the mass of information that is gathered can guide further research and health recommendations. The studies have shed light on many, many health issues affecting women, including breast cancer, contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, shift work, alcohol use, diet, and smoking.The first two studies were started in 1976 and 1989, and they are still going strong.

I totally nerded out when I found out that they are recruiting for the Nurses’ Health Study 3. This time the questionnaires are all online, so it’s extremely  convenient. They e-mail you when a new survey is needed. I took the first one, and it was pretty easy and fun.

They are looking for female nurses (RNs, LPNS, advanced practice nurses, and nursing students) between the ages of 20 and 46, living in the U.S. or Canada. If you meet this description, check out the Nurses’ Study 3 Website. (Yeah, I know their website looks like Seventeen magazine, but trust me, this is science at work. You can also learn more at the Channing Laboratory’s website.)

Alcohol and Breast Cancer Risk

"Wine Glass" by Mitchell3417 from Flickr Creative Commons

The latest splashy study on alcohol and breast cancer came out at the end of last year, but it has lingered in my mind. The study–another culling information from the Nurses’ Health Study data–suggests that even small-to-moderate amounts of alcohol consumption may increase the risk for breast cancer.

I know. Not you want to hear.

The story came to light right after I had piglet (“I’m not pregnant anymore! Let’s have some wine!”) and was not happy news for me, as I have a fairly strong family history of breast cancer. I guess other epidemiological studies have suggested this link for a while–but this study stood out in that it implicated such small amounts of alcohol in increasing risk. (Like, as low as three drinks a week!) Also, cumulative alcohol intake  was the “most consistent measure” in raising risk. So, you may want to take into account any college-era partying  or late nights in your 20s you spent drinking Madeira while writing the autobiography that you thought would make you a millionaire.

But here’s the thing… three to six drinks a week is associated with a “small” elevation in cancer risk, and we know that light-to-moderate drinking can aid in heart health. As you may recall, heart disease is the number one killer in women.  The takeaway? Well, it looks like men can drink away (within reason). And women? Well, heavy drinking is obviously detrimental to one’s health in many ways. As for light-to-moderate drinking, we may have to muddle through a bit, taking into account any individual risks we have for cancer or  heart disease.

What Shouldn’t Be: Cholera in Haiti

"Samaritan's Purse Clinic" by hoyasmeg on Flickr Creative Commons

The New York Times has a heartrending story on cholera in Haiti. As with so many health crises, this is not a problem for which there is no solution. The challenge lies in delivering the solution–navigating the logistics, paying for everything, motivating the powerful. We’ve had an understanding of how cholera is transmitted since 1854. This much is simple: cholera is spread through poor sanitation and contaminated water, and it is fixed through rehydration. There is even a new vaccine for it. These outbreaks shouldn’t be happening in 2012, but they are, and it is beyond comprehension.

Dr. Paul Farmer, of Partners in Health fame, is quoted in the article. If you haven’t read this book, you should. If you’re interested in learning about how Dr. John Snow figured out how cholera was transmitted over a hundred and fifty years ago, this is also a great book.

What’s Wrong with Betty Draper Francis?

Betty has had a thyroid biopsy, but the Bandaid looks a little high, no?

Well, we just got around to watching Mad Men on our DVR. Poor rotund, melancholic Betty! Early in the episode, she goes to her doctor seeking diet pills. The doctor palpates her neck and feels something. Betty tells Don it’s a “node” or a “nodule:” looks like Betty has a thyroid nodule! Luckily, (SPOILER) a biopsy reveals it is not cancerous. Could it be that Betty,  having nodules and weight gain, is having a hypothyroid turn of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis? I don’t think the TSH test was invented until after the time of Mad Men–so I wonder if they just diagnosed on symptoms alone? …Betty’s eating habits, however, suggest that her weight change may not be her thyroid, and that she may just be overindulging. Ice cream sundaes–I feel you, girl! …Here’s hoping this death scare makes Betty more empathetic toward those around her.

New Wonder Drug… Aspirin?

Aspirin has long been used as an analgesic and fever reducer, and its anti-platelet effect is utilized to help fight against ischemic stroke and heart attack. Now, recently published studies are examining the role of aspirin in cancer prevention–and the results were promising overall, especially for the prevention of colon cancer. The risk of prostate, lung, breast, and esophageal cancers may also be reduced by taking daily aspirin.

My interest in aspirin was first piqued when I heard of some epidemiological data coming out of Nurse’s Health Study data. These new randomized, controlled trials are even more encouraging.  If aspirin were to prevent cancer as well as heart disease, what’s not to love? …Well, like any medication, aspirin poses its own risks. Bleeding can be a very serious complication, and the  risk of GI bleed or hemorrhagic stroke may temper benefits of cancer prevention. (Aspirin is also toxic in large doses, and may have even been a contributing factor in the high death toll of the 1918 “Spanish” Flu).

At this moment, experts are cautious to state that the risk-to-benefit ratio has not been established for general use. In other words, no need to clear your local drugstore of all of their Bayer. I, for one, am still heartened by this promising news. I have a family tree riddled with early-onset cancer and heart disease.  I am about one funeral away from trying anything, so eager am I to have any added control over my medical destiny… but I won’t be popping any new pills just yet. I’ll have to wait until I stop breastfeeding, and then I’ll talk to my doctor about risks versus benefits. In the meantime, perhaps we should all work harder on that diet and exercise stuff. Oh boo.

Read more media buzz about aspirin and cancer prevention at The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Well Blog, and the Harvard Health Blog.