How Times Have Changed



“Mom, what’s a water balloon?”

“Um. Um. It’s something that I used to do when I was a kid that was really, um, fun but it left lots of little shreds of latex lying around and so, um, well, just thank heavens your aunts didn’t choke to death.”

Last night’s conversation started after a trip to the grocery store. We are in Germany and one thing I’ve learned is you can’t go into a public building of any kind with young children and not be offered one of the following 3 items: processed pork meat, gummi bears or latex balloons. No joke. If we’d wandered by the meat counter, you can guess what the girls would have been busy chomping on but instead we were on a Diet Coke (mine!) mission and the check out lady took pity on their grubby, empty little hands. And, you guessed it, out came the basket of latex balloons.

We all know how I feel about the latex balloon, don’t we?
But the girls are well past the age of 4 and Zoe routinely lists the dangers of latex to anyone who offers their younger brother a balloon, so I’ve started relaxing a bit when it’s just the girls and it’s a single balloon each. (That way I can easily track the buggers and promptly remove any post-inflation remnants.) But while I am ever so vigilant about balloons, I am less careful with my language and that’s how, oops, the idea of the water balloon came about.
Quick thinking, quick thinking, what was I going to do? On one hand my childhood was littered with dead balloons and I’m still here. It was (whispered in hushed tones) really super fun. Why am I being such a stick in the mud and denying my children the awesomeness of a water balloon fight? After a few seconds of deliberation, I decided to go for it. “You guys can have water balloon tomorrow when your brother is asleep. If it’s warm out. Now, give those to me for safe-keeping and let’s go home.”
My plan obviously was to go for an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing. We’ll see how it goes. Today they haven’t yet mentioned it, given the onslaught of processed pork and gummi bears that continued upon awakening. Actually, at the drugstore the clerk offered them what appeared to be a flavored sugar cube. (Even more hilarious is buying the girls a little pig shaped soap for their bath tonight (bribery!) and having Zoe ask gleefully, “Does it really make us smell like sausages?”) Truly outstanding, isn’t it?
Anyhoo, back to the balloons. Times are different, aren’t they? When I was a kid, I doubt my mother gave them too much thought. And this is a woman who invented her own car seat for me. Without divulging my age, I’ll just say that infant car seats weren’t really widespread and definitely toddler seats weren’t. But if you look photos of me when I was young, I’m wearing this harness contraption that supposedly she could strap into the seat belt. And before that she had some kind of baby carrier that she wedged into the floor mats behind the driver’s seat. Yes, I know. Not ideal. Far from it. But still. The point was that my mother was a car seat demanding, hot dog refusing, safety machine of the 70’s. Yet she let me play with balloons. Does this mean my mom didn’t have her eye on safety? No. Hardly. It means she wasn’t necessarily aware that she needed to include the innocuous water balloon in the list of things most likely to harm me.
Times have changed. Which is exactly the sentiment of a great post over at The Vaccine Advocate this week that ties into my series appearing now on Shot of Prevention. Now in the interest of full disclosure, A. Z. Naprawa is Amanda Zibners Naprawa. Have you made the connection? Anyway, she wrote a great post about growing up in a very safety minded home yet with a lot fewer worries on our parents’ part. Just like having to worry about whether your kids’ friends are vaccinated. Which is what I’ve been addressing over at Shot of Prevention. So go check them both out. While I find my children’s toothbrushes and wrestle them into a bath where they come out smelling like clean children.

Baby’s First Hausschuhe



I completely forgot to mention the World Cup, didn’t I? I know all of you were watching, completely riveted. Me? Totally missed the ending. Despite being in Germany, married to a German, I have to admit that my interest wasn’t quite as high as one might think. In fact, halfway through the game I went to bed. Hey, I’ve got a 14-month old that thinks 6:30 am is a sleep-in and the game was on at 9pm over here! (The next morning my husband actually told me Argentina won. I told the kids, we all shrugged our shoulders and got ready for breakfast. Sorely disappointed at our reaction he came clean.) Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m still on holiday in Germany.

Spending time with children in another country gives you a different perspective on parenting. For example, when we were in Portugal I was shocked to see children running around at 11pm. But that’s just what they do: sleep until 9, nap all afternoon and then stay up all night. It’s culturally the norm. While my poor, pale little Anglo-American-Saxon darlings go to bed by 8 and wake up really far too early for their mother. That’s our cultural norm.

What’s also our cultural norm–at least at the Zibners house–is to be vaccinated. I’m back up at Shot of Prevention giving suggestions on how exactly to ask if your child’s friends are as well. Check me out.

But before you go, anyone have any suggestions for my list of German children toys I’m developing? I mean, here we are, deep in the Black Forest and I’ve got nothing to do but watch my children eat sausage and Haribo, right? If you don’t understand the Germans, you may not find this list very funny. But the most important thing right now is keeping myself entertained, isn’t it?

My First Meat Slicer
My First Hausschue (House Shoes…have you ever seen a German’s feet?)
My First Coffee Machine
My First Filterless Cigarettes
My First Recycling Bin

Actually, I love that my kids are bi-cultural. They are growing up with a perfect understanding that when in Germany, we wear slippers and consume mountains of pork products at breakfast. And then we turn around and go to California where shoes don’t exist and the only bacon we get is made from turkey. I completely embrace their German side. But it doesn’t mean I can’t poke a little fun at it, does it? Anyway, head on over to Shot of Prevention and give me your ideas on the reasons why it is so important to ask about vaccinations and exactly how to go about it. While we get ready to head to the grandparents and make sure they’ve had their Diphtherie-Pertussis-Tetanusimpfungen. Because somethings are important rules for parents no matter where you are!

I wish There Was a Shot for THAT!



Greetings from the Black Forest, the Schwarzwald, or as my kids call it, The Place Where We Eat Sausage and Haribo All Day Long!

No, don’t start with me. I know that Haribo is about the worst thing you can stick to your kids’ teeth. It sticks to the enamel and invites all that lovely bacteria in for a cavity party. Like dried fruit. But at least a raisin seems somewhat healthy. (Although we all know that’s a lie. Up there with fruit juice and wild-type chicken pox!) But have you ever been to Germany? They literally leave bags of gummy bears on the table at breakfast. You can’t escape them.

At least for chicken pox, there’s a shot. You all know what a big fan of vaccines I am. So much so that I pestered those kind folk over at Shot of Prevention and they have given me a 3-part series on asking about immunization before allowing your child to play with another. Check it out.

It nearly killed me, finishing up those posts and edits while trying to wrangle the pork fat from my children’s grubby little hands. So far, all I can tell you this summer is that a holiday with 3 small children is not really a holiday. What I wouldn’t give for some shots against the following:

  • The painting ketchup on your sister’s hair without her feeling it while your mom is at the salad bar vaccine
  • The drinking so much pool water you vomit in said pool and your mom hopes no one else notices jab
  • The make your poopy diaper smell nice-we’re in a tiny hotel room immunization
  • The people stop throwing you nasty looks when your kids go bananas in a restaurant vaccine (Cuz their kids were perfect all the time, weren’t they?)
  • The make those same people not look at you with an even nastier look when you lose your temper and start shrieking “Stop it right now or Mommy’s going to eat your ice cream all by herself!” booster

And a whole host of others. But if I listed them you wouldn’t think we were having any fun, would you? And obviously we are. Even if we’re dirty and smelly and pretty much socially ostracized here in the woods. Next week is off to Grandma and Grandpa’s! I’ll try and update you then. I can’t wait to see what “gifts” await us there. “My First Meat Slicer?”

Invite Us Over?



There are lots of unintended consequences of parenthood. Five years ago could I ever have imagined shouting, “Get your hands off your sister’s vagina?!” No, no, I don’t think so. Ditto the never-ending food particles on the floor, the fights over what exactly constitutes appropriate school clothing, and the sheer realization that “silence” is not actually a good thing. Along with these little nuggets, entering school brings a new facet to raising little ones: The Playdate.

One super cool thing about living in Europe is that I don’t really need to have the “do you have a gun” conversation before sending my kids off to play. There is the “are your kids vaccinated” conversation, obviously, but we’ll save that for another post. Beyond that, all that is really left is “what time do you want us?” and “should I stay or should I go?” Awesome, right? So a couple of weeks ago, the girls, Otto and I were invited to another home for lunch and a play date. Fast forward to the day and I am now going to tell you a story that will make you feel like a million dollars. Because no matter how bad you think a playdate can go, I bet I can top it.

The kids fed, the other mom and I sat down for a chat. Otto had discovered a metal teaspoon and was happily banging it on the glass coffee table. Very sensibly, I removed the spoon from his grasp, thoroughly impressed with myself for considering the unlikely chance that a barely one year old could break a thick piece of glass with a teaspoon. Right.

Seconds later, Otto has the spoon again and just like that, “Thwap!,” he brings it down on the glass, spidering the table top. The crack extended in two directions, across the table. Horrified, I grabbed the spoon, my face flaming, and began apologizing profusely. Our very kind hostess looked equally horrified but quickly assured me that the table was old and she was looking for a replacement anyway.

Oh wait, it gets better.

As I sat back down, Eva came over to see what the fuss was about. “Look, Eva!” I cried. “Otto broke the table with a spoon! See that is what Mommy means when I say we have to be careful in other people’s homes.” My words were abruptly cut off as Eva asked, “What? This?” and slammed her tiny little hand down on the edge of the glass, shattering the table top and sending shards of razor sharp glass around the room.

No, wait, it gets better.

Trying to remain as calm as possible, I jumped to my feet, grabbing both Otto and Eva and shouting apologies. I passed Eva over the mess and told her to stay outside. I threw Otto in a playpen and started cleaning up. We carried the remaining table top outside, where its jagged edges couldn’t hurt anyone and I set about sweeping up the glass. The next thing I know, there is blood all over their flooring. “She’s bleeding!” cried my likely now former new friend.

“Oh my God, your floor!” I yelled, while the other mom yelled, “Oh my God, her foot!” (I’ll leave you to think about that dynamic. The problem with having an ER doc for a mom: very little sympathy for the walking wounded.)

We somehow got Eva to the sink where I washed out the tiniest little cut and wrapped a pressure bandage (i.e. paper towel) around her toe. Leaving her on the counter, we continued to clean the glass, first with a broom and then with a piece of bread to pick up all the little tiny bits. (Yes, I’m now dispensing household cleaning tips as well as child health and safety advice. You’re welcome.)

But wait, it gets even better!

Wiping away the last of the damage, I looked into the garden. “Oh, no, have you seen what is going on out there?” I asked, now somewhere well beyond embarrassment.

“It’s fine, I’ve seen it, don’t worry,” she said hurriedly, clearly wondering when we would be leaving. Because outside, Zoe and said little Friend had pulled the stuffing out of the garden furniture and were decorating the entire lawn in cotton batting.

So there you go. Today’s lessons: 1) don’t be afraid to ask questions before your child goes into another home, or even better, go the first time along with. 2) An infant can actually shatter a glass table with a teaspoon. Hello Bam Bam. 3) Even tiny pieces of glass can cause a lot of bleeding. Thankfully there wasn’t any glass in her wound, the cut was very superficial and the bleeding stopped rather quickly with pressure or the day would have ended with a post about skin glue versus stitches. And 4) whatever you do, think twice about inviting the Zibners family to lunch.

Happy Birthday, Otto!



So I was at a dinner party last weekend and our hostess said, “Lara, why don’t you post anything to your site anymore? You used to really give the impression that you were a woman obsessed with her children. And now, well, it seems like you just don’t care anymore.”
Admittedly, she was joking. (I hope). But I get it. At one point I was blogging 3 times a week. Then Eva was born. And it went down in frequency. And then Zoe was born. Ditto. And then came Otto. 1 year ago today. My last post was in February, right after Scrotum-Gate. Where does the time go?

Actually, where does my time go? As in, what did I do with myself before children? I have no idea. But I can certainly tell you what I do now: spend most of my days in a state of panicked anxiety, pulling at my hair and doing a lot of things but none of them very well. Ah Motherhood.

Oh, wait, there’s one thing I apparently do just fine and that is to feed my children. Otto, the once premature little 6 ½ pounder is now a whopping 25+ pounds. Yes, but not just round. Tall too. And his head, well, let’s just say I was ripping seams out of his Santa hat this winter. I recently bought him new clothes in a size 2T and I’m honestly not sure how long those are going to last. Seriously, buddy. This is the biggest size before there are no more snaps in the crotch. Which means no more diapers. Actually that is kind of a moot point, because after this size Pampers, you are looking at adult Depends, kid. So either you get moving and we see some of that “Toddler Slim Down” soon or we’ve got a big problem on our hands. He should be walking within a few months, which will be really awesome because I certainly can’t carry him too much longer. I did buy this cheap umbrella stroller to keep in the car for the school run but the frame, it’s sort of bent now, kind of sagging in the middle. Um, yeah. Did I mention he’s a big boy?
The good news, however, is that when you open his diaper, his surgical wound is fully healed and his boy bits are just fine. So I guess that is one more thing I did right this year.

Ah, thought of another. Poor little (ahem) guy is going on Thursday for his one-year vaccinations. Assuming they can find a needle long enough, he’ll be getting protected against chicken pox, measles, mumps and rubella. All nasty diseases that can kill. Mumps even has the gall to go after the testicles and leave a boy infertile. And frankly, we’ve had too many testicle insults this year at our house already, thank you very much.

Scratching my head, thinking. No that’s pretty much it. Unless you count simply surviving with 3 children under the age of 5 as doing something right. But I don’t think we’re in such bad shape. I’ve got three fantastic kids, each amazing in their own way. Sure, the girls are blatantly illiterate. (That’s another post, obviously. Their teachers say don’t worry about it. But seriously?) My son is generally covered in a layer of snot and dirt. But they are fabulous. I remain obsessed. Just very, very overwhelmed.

Despite that, I’m crawling out into the sunshine today to wish my most gorgeous baby boy a very happy first birthday. Say good-bye to formula, bottles and vulnerability to varicella. Hello Toddler Time!

A Boy and His Bits



I’ve been meaning to post something for a while but, well, let me put it this way. My mother came to visit and after a few days she asked, “Have you ever heard of Folie à Deux?” For those of you not versed in foreign terms for extremely rare psychiatric conditions, she was referring to a syndrome in which two normally sane individuals become psychotic when together. And she was referring to Eva and Zoe. So I’ve been busy.

Anyway.

I am now going to tell you a tale about Otto’s scrotum. Yes, I know that one day he will likely read this and get very angry with me. But I’ll simply explain to him that by sharing his story, he might save a testicle. Which is a worthy cause, don’t you think?

So last weekend, I opened the baby’s diaper to discover that his right scrotum was very swollen. Which was a bit of a shock, to say the least. But he didn’t seem bothered at all. No crying, no vomiting (other than the usual), nothing out of the ordinary. Except for what was inside his pants. Dr. Zibners ran through her quick list of things that make a baby’s scrotum blow up while Mommy freaked out a bit. And together we decided to practice what’s called “watchful waiting,” meaning we’d just observe over the course of the day. But by that evening it was bigger. So Dr. Zibners removed herself from the case and Mommy called our pediatrician. After talking about how well Otto was otherwise, we decided that it was most likely a fluid collection (hydrocele) and he could see the surgeons on Monday.

Except on Sunday it looked worse. And Otto started to cry.

I called the pediatrician back and within an hour I was at the hospital. 30 minutes later the pediatric surgeon was examining him. An hour after than I was holding my baby while the pediatric anesthesiologist gave him an injection to put him to sleep. And then the surgeon went on a little trip known as a “scrotal exploration.” It sounds terribly exotic, doesn’t it?

Of course, I was terrified. Worst case scenario was that I had missed a twisted testicle, called a torsion. If a testicle twists on it’s blood supply, there is a very short (6 to 8 hours) window to return the blood flow before the testicle dies and has to be removed. This can cause impressive redness and swelling but usually children are extremely uncomfortable as the condition is (usually) very painful. If I had missed that, well, I guess we’d be back to a conversation about my psychotic 4 year-olds, wouldn’t we?

Next worst? An incarcerated hernia, meaning bowel had slipped down into the scrotum and gotten stuck. If not returned to the belly, it can also lose blood flow and part of the intestine then dies and needs to be removed. Again, not good.

The only good part of this whole day was that their father was left at home with the girls. It’s good for him to see what’s that’s like sometimes, don’t you think?

About 90 minutes after I had left Otto in the operating room, I picked him back up in recovery. He was completely drunk after his Michael Jackson style nap and was a sobbing mess. But mostly fine. And the best news?

Epididymitis. An infection of the epididymis, which is a little sac connected to the testicle that helps with sperm maturation one day far, far in the future. The surgeon had cleaned out the infection and even brought me pictures she’d taken during surgery to show me how healthy the testicle was and how angry his epididymis was. (I wasn’t allowed to take them home and hang them on the fridge though. Big bummer.)

So there you go. Otto’s got a little row of stitches in his scrotum but doesn’t seem to mind very much. He’s on antibiotics for a week. And he’ll need an ultrasound of his kidneys to make sure there was no reason for the infection other than plain old bad luck.

And the lesson here? If you open your kid’s diaper and his scrotum looks really weird, call your doctor. And if your baby is screaming and you don’t know why, or your son is walking around like he’s been on a horse for 3 days and refuses to explain himself, take a look down there. Sometimes an ultrasound of the testicles is enough, sometimes the surgeon needs to take a look just to be certain. But either way, it’s his testicle, people. His testicle.

 

Dr. Zibners’ Thumb Sucking Cure!



Google “stop thumb sucking” and you’ll find a myriad of tips and tricks that range from sticker charts to nasty tasting nail polish. Yet I’ve always been of the opinion that nothing shy of actually cutting off a child’s thumb is guaranteed to work. If a kid wants to suck his thumb—which is developmentally appropriate in early infancy and flat out weird in adolescence—he’s going to find a way. Until now. Because I’m here to tell you that I have solved the riddle. Dr. Zibners is about to tell you the one sure way to stop your baby from sucking his thumb.

Make him fat. So fat that his arm doesn’t fully bend. So fat, he can’t actually get his thumb to his mouth. Continue reading…

Time Flies



Greetings from the depths of parenting 3 children under the age of 4! Oh wait, scratch that. As of today, I have 2 children under the age of 4. Because on this day in 2009, little Eva was born. If you’ve been around that long, you might remember this post. You might also laugh at how rudimentary my blogging skills were. Then again, you might tear up with nostalgia, reflecting on those days when I could blog weekly, sometimes even 2 or 3 times a week. Ah, the good old days.

Anyway, I’m surfacing long enough to wish my most wonderful baby a very happy 4th birthday. Eva is a joy and a delight in every way. Even when she is refusing to walk and insists on being carried. Or like this morning at breakfast when she decided to eat a bowl of Nutella with her fingers while simultaneously decorating the table with chocolate swirls. Of course, this was right after she got a pen and decorated her entire leg. I only discovered that trick after I found Zoe, who, not to be outdone, was locked in another room, drawing our entire family on her leg. Curiously, Otto is always represented by a circular blob. Which, to be fair, is pretty accurate. The kid’s so fat he can barely move. Oh, I digress.

So back to the point. And yes, I have one. They do grow up. And as with most things you learn as a parent, you and your child often have very different desires. Does she want to empty an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink or pour a container of bubbles onto the floor? Well, yes she does. And does she want to grow up? Oh most definitely. But me? No, I prefer the toothpaste in the tube and the bubbles, well, outside. And as for little Eva growing up? It’s inevitable. And in some ways it’s desired. But it’s sometimes hard to watch. Because it’s permanent. Those early years are so fleeting and all you have left is memories and (with any luck) photos to remind you of how tiny, how helpless, how perfect a baby you once had.

It’s got me so traumatized that I actually had a nervous breakdown the other night. Yes. I was on  my way to book group (not that I have time to read, but no one seems to mind) and I realized that Eva’s wubbie was missing. As in WUBBIE. The pink little blanket with a cat head that she has slept with every single night since she was old enough to have a wubbie in her crib. Every single night since she was a baby. And wubbie was no where to be found.

I literally fell apart. I started by calmly asking Eva where wubbie had gone. Then I searched all 5 floors of my house while my taxi was waiting outside. Now sweating and huffing, I resorted to screaming. And finally I turned to my babysitter and started sobbing.

“She can’t sleep without wubbie! She hasn’t gone a single night without wubbie in over 3 years! I can’t leave. I just can’t!” I cried, my whole face bright red and very hot. (I was acutely aware that I looked and sounded like an idiot.)

Fortunately, we have a babysitter who is more emotionally balanced than this old coot. She just patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s okay. Wubbie is just as much a part of you as it is Eva. You’ve grown up with wubbie too.” And then she literally shoved me out the door and told me that Eva would be fine.

Which she was. She easily substituted another soft blankie from her baby days and went to sleep without a peep. Wubbie, naturally, resurfaced the next morning, inside a pillowcase. And as for me, once I got over the embarrassment, I had to admit that our sitter was right. In my mind, Eva going to bed without wubbie was somehow like the death of her childhood. I realize that is ridiculous. But let’s not kid ourselves that I fell apart because we couldn’t find a pink blanket at bedtime. I fell apart because my baby is growing up.

But, hey. That’s life. And what a gorgeous little girl she is growing into. Happy Birthday, Evi.

My Baby’s Brilliant Production



A few years back I realized I’d reached what was probably the pinnacle of my professional career. Yes, the day you can Google, “Poo” and “Zibners,” and get a solid hit, well, that’s the day you’ve really arrived. I’m apparently the “Go To Gal” when you’re writing an article on the color of bowel movements. Anyway, since I’m an expert and all, you might be shocked to know that we’ve got a poop color mystery going on at our house and I’m not entirely sure I know the answer. Yes. Shocking. Continue reading…

To Swaddle or Not to Swaddle…



When I was a resident, I prided myself on being able to free-style wrap the tightest swaddle you’ve ever seen that actually left most of the chest exposed so I could monitor a baby’s breathing. Once the girls were born, I was less worried about their transition from fish to mammal and more worried about my ability to sleep, so I became an expert of sorts on the various swaddle blankets available for purchase. The really good ones had some combination of Velcro and straps and kept the girls from accidentally whacking themselves in the face and waking up. It had to be snug enough not to come loose but not so snug that they couldn’t breathe. There is also a soothing element to being swaddled, which is known to help calm fussy babies. Zoe was flat out colicky and sometimes a swaddle was enough, sometimes she needed a vacuum cleaner blaring away. But Eva was just a tad “precious” and really responded to a soft, fuzzy hug. Continue reading…