Category Archives: life

EnviroParents w/ UPDATE

by Stacey

My Fussbucket partner Kristin recently watched Al Gore’s movie on global warming called “An Inconvenient Truth.” Since then this whole business about the frightening state of the environment has been bugging her. Makes me think they were on to something with the title of the movie.

She’s decided she wants to start a Green Parenting Group and has proposed the idea on a parenting listserve here in Seattle. This is from her post:

I haven’t been a big environmentalist, but I am getting motivated to take
responsibility for my family’s impact. I also want to look at what I’m
teaching my kids about consumption and their interconnection with
everyone (and everything) else. Since I’m so new to this whole thing,
I’d love to meet up with other families working through these projects
too.

I think this is a great idea. If it takes off, I’m hoping Kristin will report back here on her progress and give us some words of wisdom. In the meantime, I remembered this article from the NY Times last month on smart ways to eat organic without breaking the bank.

The key is to be strategic in your organic purchases. Opting for organic produce, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact, depending on what you eat. According to the Environmental Working Group, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables, like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

So how do you make your organic choices count? Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, whose new book “Raising Baby Green” explains how to raise a child in an environmentally-friendly way, has identified a few “strategic” organic foods that he says can make the biggest impact on the family diet, the article says.

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,’’ says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

This reminds me of the time I was in the grocery store before I had kids and the woman in front of me had a cart filled to the brim. I watched as she unloaded her stuff and was increasingly horrified to see not one, not two, but three gallons of milk on the conveyor belt. I asked her about it and she said her kids drank milk all the time. I considered suggesting she buy herself a cow instead.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet — one survey found they account for 30 percent of our overall vegetable consumption. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Yuck. I didn’t know this. They look so innocent all dirt-covered and funny-shaped. Okay, organic potatoes it is.

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. Commercial food firms now offer organic brands in the regular grocery store, but my daughter loves to go to the health food store and grind her own peanut butter.

We’re lucky not to have the dreaded peanut allergy in our house (although the jury is still out on Sascha). But every school I know of has at least one kid who is allergic. Growing up, my brother ate peanut butter sandwiches everyday for about seven years. These days, Sage is lucky if he gets one a week because he can’t bring it to school in his lunch.

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

Ketchup? What are we Ronald Reagan? Frankly, I’m more disturbed by this: “For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake,” than I am about this: “Recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.” But whatever. Eat organic ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

Yay, apples! For a complete list of Dr. Greene’s strategic organic choices, visit Organic Rx on his website.

Now for an amusing and unrelated segway: Greenpeace wants to name a whale and has gone to great lengths to dream up a long list of 29 earth/crunchy names (Paz, Manami, Libertad, etc.) for people to vote on.

The 30th name? Mr. Splashy Pants, with 65 percent of the vote and garnering 16 times the votes of the leading next contender. “Based on the earnestness of the rest of the site, this appears to be an unintended consequence of enviro culture clashing with popular culture,” writes my friend Jon at the National Resources Defense Council, who I thank for the tip. “Run,” he advises, “Cast your votes.”

UPDATE: Check out Kristin’s new blog – “Going Green Family.”  It’s got tips on going green for the holidays and easy ways to make your home more eco-friendly.

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Nightmares

by Stacey

Last night I had one of those horrible mother dreams where my child is in peril and there’s nothing I can do to save him. Whenever I have this kind of dream, it haunts me for the rest of the day. I keep seeing the images and recalling the feelings and it makes me think about what life would be like if I did lose one of my children.

So as I sipped my morning coffee, I was drawn to read this article in Newsweek about how parents cope after losing a child. Every year, about 25,000 kids under age 10 die, most from congenital anomalies, unintentional injury (mainly car accidents), premature birth and cancer, the article says. The issue the article looks at, is the decision parents face over whether or not to have another child.

The loss of a child can put tremendous stress on even the best marriages and the closest families. “Losing a kid makes you lose faith in life,” says child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld. “To reclaim that faith in living, that it’s worth doing this again, is an act of enormous courage.”

Anecdotally, many experts say parents seem to do better when they try again, the article says. “The most profound attachment in human life is mother and child,” says John Golenski, executive director of the George Mark Children’s House, a residential facility in San Leandro, Calif., for kids with terminal illnesses and their families. “The best adaptation to [the loss of a child] is another attachment.”

But understandably, some fear the pain of loss again. And others who do have another child sometimes feel guilty. “What I do hear a lot is the feeling of, ‘Am I betraying my child who died?’ ” says Barbara Sourkes, director of the pediatric palliative-care program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. ” ‘How can I throw myself wholeheartedly into a new child and leave the child who died behind?’ ”

As I write this post I keep thinking, why am I upsetting all of my dear readers with this topic? And the answer is, I don’t really know. This evening my husband and I are meeting with an estate lawyer to begin writing our will and establish custody for our children if we were to die unexpectedly.

A few weeks ago I dreamed that I had left my older son Sage alone at home while I went on a driving trip. My husband was away too and suddenly I realized that Sage was far too young to be in the house all by himself. I began to panic because I was so far away. When I woke up, I realized that dream was about my husband and I dying and leaving our children to fend for themselves in the world.

I didn’t know that when I had kids life would suddenly seem so fragile and precious. It’s not a feeling I walk around with everyday, thank god. But for today, I really don’t care if Sage decides not to listen to me or if Sascha cries every time I leave the room. They’re alive and safe with me. That’s all I care about. Tomorrow is another story.

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Health Briefs…Through the Years

by Stacey

Lots of good stuff from the November issue of the Journal Pediatrics.

Let’s start with the babies. One new study called Are We Overprescribing Antireflux Medications for Infants With Regurgitation? shows that babies who are treated with drugs for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, may not actually need the medication. According to the study abstract, “The majority of infants who were prescribed antireflux drugs did not meet diagnostic criteria.”

Researchers conducted esophageal pH monitoring (measuring the reflux or regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the esophagus) of 44 infants in a New Orleans medical center. Each of the children had persistent regurgitation. The study showed that while only eight of the infants had abnormal pH levels indicating GERD, 42 of 44 infants were on antireflux medication. When medication was withdrawn from the infants who did not meet GERD criteria, reflux symptoms did not worsen.

My son Sage was a “persistent regurgitator” as an infant. Oh, he regurgitated all over the place. On me, on himself, on the floor, on the furniture, on the airplane, you get my drift. It was a mess. Our pediatrician diagnosed him with reflux, but since it wasn’t the painful kind, he didn’t mention anything about treating him. I’m glad too, because what did I know? Probably if he had told me that Sage needed medicine for his constant barfing I would have given it to him. Do no harm, doctors, do no harm.

Now on to the little guys. Another study called, Early Violent Television Viewing Associated with Later Anti-Social Behavior, found a link between violent television viewing by preschool boys (ages 2 to 5) with antisocial behavior at ages 7 to nine.

According to the study abstract, researchers reviewed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (a nearly 40-year study of 8,000 U.S. families) on 184 boys and 146 girls. The data review found a link between pre-school-age boys watching violent programming and antisocial behavior at ages 7 to 9. There was no link found between non-violent television viewing and antisocial behavior in boys or girls, or violent programming and anti-social behavior in girls. The study authors say the findings are significant as early childhood aggressive behavior is often a predictor of violent behavior in youth and adolescents.

I couldn’t make my way online to the full text of the article so I’m not sure what violent TV means or what defines antisocial behavior. Neither sound good. Sage doesn’t watch “tough movies” as he calls them. But his imaginary friend Hippy does. According to Sage, Hippy likes “the punching kind.” Yikes. I just hope Hippy’s parents are prepared to deal with the fallout.

And finally, a new study entitled Shorter Sleep Duration Is Associated With Increased Risk for Being Overweight at Ages 9 to 12 Years, found that kids this age who did not get enough sleep were more likely to be overweight by sixth grade. According to the study abstract, shorter sleep duration in 6th grade was independently associated with a greater likelihood of kids being overweight. Shorter sleep duration in 3rd grade was also independently associated with being overweight in 6th grade, independent of the child’s weight status in 3rd grade.

Conversely, for every additional one hour of sleep in 6th grade, a child was 20 percent less likely to be overweight in 6th grade; every additional hour of sleep in 3rd grade resulted in a 40 percent decrease in the child’s risk of being overweight in 6th grade.

For me sleep deprivation translates into energy deprivation which I try to make up for by eating sugar. I can’t believe the sweets I pack away when my kids’ sleep is chronically interrupting my own. Maybe that’s what’s going on. Or maybe the kids in this study were squirreling away boxes of cookies that they ate in the middle of the night by flashlight under the covers. After the insanity I’ve witnessed around here over Halloween candy, I’ll believe anything.

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Diagnosing Autism Early

by Stacey

Pediatricians should screen all children for autism twice by age 2, according to two new reports issued today by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Up until now, the group recommended screening between 18 and 24 months of age, according to this AP story. Experts say one in 150 U.S. children have the troubling developmental disorder, the article says.

Symptoms such as babies who do not babble at 9 months, do not turn when their name is called, and do not show an interest in objects pointed to by parents, are all warning signs, the group says, and should be taken seriously.

“Red Flags” that are absolute indications for immediate evaluation include: no babbling or pointing or other gesture by 12 months; no single words by 16 months; no two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months; and loss of language or social skills at any age, according to a statement from the group.

Early intervention is crucial for effective treatment, the statement says. The report strongly advises intervention as soon as an ASD diagnosis is seriously considered rather than deferring until a definitive diagnosis is made. The child should be actively engaged in intensive intervention at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year with a low student-to-teacher ratio allowing for sufficient one-on-one time. Parents should also be included.

The authors caution that not all children who display a few of these symptoms are autistic and they said parents shouldn’t overreact to quirky behavior, the AP story says. Just because a child likes to line up toy cars or has temper tantrums “doesn’t mean you need to have concern, if they’re also interacting socially and also pretending with toys and communicating well,” said co-author Dr. Scott Myers, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician in Danville, Pa.

Another educational tool, a Web site called Autism Speaks that debuted in mid-October, offers dozens of video clips of autistic kids contrasted with unaffected children’s behavior, says the AP article. It aims to promote early diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.

For very young children, therapy typically involves fun activities, such as bouncing balls back and forth or sharing toys to develop social skills; there is repeated praise for eye contact and other behavior autistic children often avoid.

That doesn’t sound so bad. From the sound of it parents, we need to be on the lookout for the warning signs and then express any concerns to our kids’ doctors. Don’t wait and hope it will go away, the experts say. Early intervention is the way to go.

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Closet Co-Sleepers

by Stacey

Nearly 13 percent of parents in the U.S. practiced co-sleeping with their children in 2000 up from 5.5. percent in 1993, according to a series of studies on co-sleeping published in the August issue of the journal Infant and Child Development. And according to this article in the NY Times, the current number may actually be much higher.

Ask parents if they sleep with their kids, and most will say no. But there is evidence that the prevalence of bed sharing is far greater than reported. Many parents are “closet co-sleepers,” fearful of disapproval if anyone finds out, notes James J. McKenna, professor of anthropology and director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.

“They’re tired of being censured or criticized,” Dr. McKenna said. “It’s not just that their babies are being judged negatively for not being a good baby compared to the baby who sleeps by himself, but they’re being judged badly for having these babies and being needy.”

Pediatricians generally frown on co-sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said babies should sleep close to their parents but not in the same bed, the article says. The concern is that a sleeping parent could trap a baby in bed covers or in the space between the bed and the wall.

Although some studies suggest bed sharing puts children at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, the data are not conclusive. And some researchers say the risk is higher only if parents smoke, drink too much alcohol and fail to take proper precautions to make sure the bed is safe.

Others raise concerns that children will not develop healthy sleep habits or that marriages will suffer if children sleep between parents. In one study, for example, 139 parents were asked about the sleep habits of their young children. Parents who slept with their children reported a much higher frequency of nighttime wakings than parents who did not. But experts say that kids who sleep solo may have night wakings, it’s just that parents don’t know about it. The crux is whether the co-sleeping parents consider night wakings a problem.

As for the toll it takes on marriages, co-sleeping causes trouble if the couple is not in agreement about the arrangement, the article says. Otherwise, couples report equal levels of happiness in their relationship as couples who do not co-sleep.

There are intentional co-sleepers — those who sleep with their children because they want to breast-feed for a long stretch and believe bed sharing is good for a child’s well-being and emotional development. Another group is reactive co-sleepers, those parents who don’t really want to sleep with their kids, but do so because they can’t get their children to sleep any other way or because financial hardship requires them to share a room with a child.

And then there is a third group that she tentatively calls circumstantial co-sleepers — parents who sleep with their children occasionally because of circumstances like sharing a bed on a family vacation, during a thunderstorm or because the child is sick.

Problems occur most often among reactive co-sleepers, the article says, because the situation feels coerced.

My family falls into that third group, the circumstantial co-sleepers. For the most part I like sleeping with my kids. It’s cozy and sweet. But I think if we did it all the time, we’d need to get a bigger bed. The writer of the article says sleeping with kids is like sleeping inside a washing machine and she has a point. All that twisting and kicking. Oy.

By the way, I’m all for people coming out of the closet. If anyone wants to do so here on Fussbucket, feel free.

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“Power Peas” and other tips

by Stacey

Yesterday’s post was all about how picky eating among children is more nature, less nurture. But environment does have its role. In this NY Times article, child nutrition experts offer advice on how to get a picky eater to try new foods.

Meals should be served family style, with no separate foods for children. Prepare dishes you enjoy, but introduce new foods alongside at least two items the child likes. Even if the child eats only bread for eight days in a row, keep offering alternatives.

Adapt dishes to child-friendly shapes and sizes. If you make a stew, separate components into separate dishes in pieces big enough for a child to grab. That way, everyone at the table can select as much or as little food as he or she wants.

Child-friendly shapes and sizes sometimes work great. But the way it works in my house, if we accidentally cut something when my child wanted it whole, or halved it when he wanted it in triangles, there is hell to pay. Our rule is, check with the kid first before you get cutesy with the cookie cutters.

Never say a child has to taste everything, but encourage sampling of new foods. Reassure children that they may politely spit it out if it tastes bad to them.

Probably should mention here to provide some kind of receptacle for the regurgitated food. Otherwise it will land on the plate where everyone will have to look at it the entire rest of the meal.

“Parents must not pin their hopes or their feelings of success on getting the food in the child,” said Ellyn Satter, a child nutrition expert. “They need to remember they have control over what they put on the table. Over whether the child eats it, they do not have control.”

Good advice. I’ve heard this before and it makes sense to me. You control what they’re offered to eat, they control whether or not they eat it. Here’s a few more:

Keep things calm and turn off the television. Neophobic children sometimes reject food as a way to control an overload of stimulation.

If they don’t eat anything, hold off offering food again until snack time a couple of hours later.

Don’t use rewards to get a child to eat. Television time should not be a bribe for eating broccoli.

Children younger than 2 should be given as many new tastes as possible, before the picky phase begins.

Here you go baby Sasha, it’s called mango chutney. Yum! And finally:

Giving food cool names can help. In one experiment, Dr. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, found that when peas were renamed “power peas,” consumption doubled.

Please don’t tell me it’s that easy. I can’t believe it’s that easy.

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Picky Eating is Genetic

by Stacey

Parents of kids who are picky eaters can stop worrying if they’re to blame. According to this NY Times article, picky eating is more a matter of genetics than parenting style.

For parents who worry that their children will never eat anything but chocolate milk, Gummi vitamins and the occasional grape, a new study offers some relief. Researchers examined the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old and found children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited.

The message to parents: It’s not your cooking, it’s your genes.

The study was led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last August. The study found that 78 percent of children’s neophobia (the fear of new food) can be attributed to genes, while the other 22 percent is environmental.

Most children eat a wide variety of foods until they are around 2, when they suddenly stop. The phase can last until the child is 4 or 5. It’s an evolutionary response, researchers believe. Toddlers’ taste buds shut down at about the time they start walking, giving them more control over what they eat. “If we just went running out of the cave as little cave babies and stuck anything in our mouths, that would have been potentially very dangerous,” Dr. Cooke said.

Skepticism towards new food is a healthy part of a child’s development, experts say. And yet, that little cave baby running around eating everything actually sounds a lot like my son Sage. He’s very adventurous when it comes to food and has always had a big appetite. These days his favorite foods are tacos and french fries, but he happily gulped down steamed clams at his grandparents’ beach house this summer which frankly shocked the pants off of me since I was sitting there debating whether I had the courage to forge ahead with the meal on my plate.

Still, doctors say parents should serve picky eaters a variety of food, even if all they want is carbs, pasta, bread, more carbs, and some white flour, please.

“We have to understand that biology is not destiny,” said Patricia Pliner, a social psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “This doesn’t necessarily mean there is nothing we can do about the environment.”

People who study children prone to flinging themselves on the floor at the mere mention of broccoli agree that calm, repeated exposure to new foods every day for between five days to two weeks is an effective way to overcome a child’s fears.

(Tomorrow’s post will talk about other ways to get your kid to eat a variety of foods.)

According to the article, even famous people have trouble getting their kids to eat. Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, has written a book called “Deceptively Delicious” (Harper Collins). “It outlines a series of recipes based on fruit and vegetable purées that are blended into food in a way that she says children won’t notice,” she says. “Half a cup of butternut squash disappears into pasta coated with milk and margarine. Pancakes turn pink with beets. Avocado hides in chocolate pudding and spinach in brownies.”

But others in the article say hiding veggies doesn’t teach your child to enjoy eating different foods and it may do damage to their trust in you if they find out what you’re up to. And anyway, we all know that spinach brownies act as a gateway food to other, more exotic fruits and vegetables.

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