Measles in Germany, NOT German Measles

The guitar was a prop, the dresses are for real.

You might have noticed that our family has a German connection. I mean, my kid is named, “Otto,” right? And we don’t just say it like “Odd-dough.” That’s too American. We stand up straight while shouting firmly and with very, very hard, “T’s”: “Ott-toe!” We frighten each other when we express our love: “Ich hab dich LIEB!” My children are familiar with variety of sausages and can explain the appropriate mustard and meat* combinations. They wear Dirndls and Lederhosen. For a woman who hails from California, I am doing my best to embrace both their cultures and raise them as little Bretz’l waving, Apfel-schorle drinking, Hausschuhe wearing Kinder. (With straight white teeth and winning smiles, that is. They do hold American passports, after all).

However, we don’t embrace every German stereotype. Like I don’t allow my son to wear tights under his clothes in the winter. My daughters might have house-shoes, but we usually run around bare-foot, much to my in-laws’ horror. I don’t force them to dress for every possible weather condition at all times. We do not return every single soda bottle back to the original store of purchase for our “Pfand.” And we most definitely do not pride ourselves on our use of “alternative” medical therapies. To quote my hero, Paul Offit, (Do You Believe in Magic?) there’s medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t. Aspirin comes from a plant, as do morphine and digoxin. I’m not saying we don’t respect “natural” products. But we don’t waste our time listening to claims that can’t be backed by scientific studies.

Homeopathy was invented in Germany. Plenty of studies have shown it is no better than placebo and sometimes can even be harmful, but that doesn’t stop many Germans from proudly spending their hard won Pfand on bottles of the stuff. Go to any “wellness” center in Germany and you’ll find scores of nearly naked people—young and old alike—soaking in sulfur baths and lying motionless under infrared lamps. It’s all a bit weird, to be honest. Sometimes downright scary depending on the level of nakedness. I mean, I’m all about relaxation but I don’t believe that salt-water baths will cure arthritis or that a week at the ocean is a solid remedy for pneumonia.

I believe in science. Which means I believe in vaccines.

Now this is presenting a little problem for the Germans. A German toddler in Berlin has recently died from measles. There have been over 600 cases in that city since last Fall. Vaccination is not mandatory in Germany but it is recommended. Parents who have fallen prey to the lies and misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine agenda have declined vaccination. And now a child is dead.

“German measles” is actually a different disease known as “Rubella” which causes profound birth defects if a pregnant woman becomes infected. “Measles” is an entirely preventable disease that causes common complications and in some instances is fatal. But this case of Measles in Germany might just cause a shift in policy over in Lager Land. Because the Germans don’t take any more kindly to the unnecessary death of a baby than they do to an American refusing to put a hat on her baby in summer. (And believe you me, that got me an earful in the airport, on the street, at the park. Wow.)

Change is in the air, to quote the song. If we are in a situation where the Germans are contemplating mandatory vaccination while simultaneously running homeopathic hospitals, then we really need to think about where the line between personal freedom and the right to live in a society should be drawn. I love a comment made on my Facebook page that essentially said one person’s freedom ends where another’s nose begins. Freedom to sit under a red lamp, inhaling incense is not the same as the freedom to put the lives of children at risk. Think about that. (Denk mal!) The Germans may be ready to declare that mandatory vaccination is necessary if we want to live within a society. When they do, it will be loud and scary, for sure. As is everything said in German. But also very, very welcome. Zum Wohl!


Ich hab dich Lieb: I love you (familiar)

Dirndls: traditional Bavarian dress for girls

Lederhosen: you have to ask?

Bretz’l: pretzel

Apfel-schorle: half apple juice, half sparkling water, only allowed on holiday (my rule)

Hausschuh: house-shoes or slippers that live in a basket by the front door and prevent your street shoes from dirtying the house while simultaneously protecting your feet from the same house which is supposedly now clean

Pfand: bottle deposit which must go back to the exact shop you bought it in


* Sweet mustard really is only for the white Bavarian sausages and do NOT let a German see you put it on a pretzel. Just trust me on that.

The Words We Were Waiting For

I’m pleased to report that Otto the Silent is silent no more. All of a sudden, as I was pretty sure would happen, he is suddenly fully aware of the power of speech. He no longer turns his head and ignores me (seriously!) if I ask him to say something. Nor does he slam his head down into his dinner plate and sit there motionless, so completely disgusted with my suggestion that he use his words. No, all of a sudden he has learned that trying even just a little bit, even if the result sounds absolutely nothing like the word we were going for, just trying to make a word results in shrieks and whoops and claps and ketchup. More on the condiment in a moment. What matters is that he has finally tapped into what separates us from the monkeys and wants to try.

Frankly, it was a long time coming and the complete lack of interest was what mostly bothered me. I mean, given a chance between silence and talking, you all know what I’ll choose, right? Anyway, as you know, we turned to sign language last Fall, desperate to make sense of his gibbon shrieks and obvious frustration. But aside from a few signs and a couple of very clear words (Elmo!), we have had very little progress over the last few months. Well, that’s not entirely true. Over Christmas he took to calling me “Lara” which made everyone giggle hysterically. Except me obviously. If he wants to call me by name, he can at least add “Dr,” don’t you think? Where’s the respect? Anyway, that didn’t last long and since then we’ve been pretty much stagnating in a vocabulary wasteland.

As I’ve said, given his prematurity, the fact that he is learning two languages and clearly understands both, his gender and his position in the Eva-Zoe-Otto pecking order, I wasn’t that concerned. More annoyed, if we’re to tell the truth. I mean, I know the sign for “drink,” but water or milk? And if I get it wrong, don’t throw your cup at my head, you know what I’m saying?

But all of a sudden, it seems to have clicked. We’ve been averaging a new word every 1-2 days and the joy on his little face when he realizes the power of is speech is so fun. Unfortunately, he also seems to really understand the power. As is evident if you look at our list of new words. Please don’t judge my parenting. Focus on the topic: Otto’s perspective on language.

  • “Ketchup” comes out like “up up” but that doesn’t matter because Mommy squeals and claps and squirts more on my plate! Over and over!
  • “Pizza” sounds like “izza” but I get another slice! There’s only broccoli left for you, Eva and Zoe. Suckers!
  • “Peppa” (as in the pig) gets Mommy to turn on the TV. Even though she hates this show more than any other and has no idea where I learned it. See the broccoli eaters, please. They go to school and have “outside influences.”

And there you have it. A selective list of new words that belies a view of my parenting that isn’t the most flattering. But let’s look beyond that, shall we? It doesn’t matter to me if “Say Zoe” is met with “Guh duh.” What matters is the joy on his face, the giggles and clapping that follow and the fact that he seems to have finally made this connection about the importance of speech. Perfect speech is not our goal. Trying is. Which means constant praise, encouragement and reward. And in this case that means ketchup and television. But again, let’s focus on the big picture, shall we?

The point is that we were well on our way to speech therapy and while we aren’t out of the woods, I’m feeling a whole lot more optimistic. He turns 2 in May and by then should have a quickly growing vocabulary and start putting words together. Two weeks ago we weren’t anywhere close to that but today I have just a little more hope. I just wanted to share that with you in case you were worrying about your little one’s speech. Or the amount of ketchup he eats. Or how much TV is too much. Even if the story gives away more about what happens at Dr. Zibners’ house at dinnertime than I probably wanted you to know. Parenting is about prioritizing. Their needs before yours. Words before ketchup limits. Right?

More Than A Pair of Souvenir Ears


Just before Christmas the girls and I went on our annual “girls trip” to Disneyland. I grew up with The Mickey Mouse Club and trips to Disneyland and I’ve done my best to completely indoctrinate my kids from the get go. Literally Otto had a Mickey Mouse blankie in his hand before he could even focus on my face. We are a Disneyland Family. So the girls and I went off for a weekend of mother-daughter bonding. It was awesome. We came back with lots of wonderful memories and Mickey Mouse chocolate coins and Frozen nightgowns (them, not me). But what we didn’t come back with was measles! Good gracious. Have any of you people seen what is going on over in California? 79 cases of measles, over 50 of them directly linked to the Disneyland Parks. The outbreak began in mid-December and continues to spread, the number of cases fast approaching 100 across the West Coast.

That is scary. What’s even scarier is that the outbreak began at the same time the girls and I hanging with the Pirates of the Caribbean. Which makes me so grateful for two very important facts. Firstly, my girls recently had their MMR boosters. Before that they were probably 95% protected, and now we’re up to 99%. Measles is not a joke. I saw one case as a resident and that kid was miserable. Beyond making you feel wretched, up to 20% of people with measles will have a complication such as pneumonia.

The second fact I was grateful for? We were at Disneyland Paris. Which clearly was a better choice this year and not just because they serve awesome cheese at dinner. And foie gras at the Cinderella lunch. And they have the Crush’s Coaster Ride. And it’s only a 2 ½ train ride from our home. But also because a person with measles didn’t go sneezing all over Dumbo and infecting a whole bunch of people who have then gone on to infect a bunch more people and so on and so forth while public health officials run around in a panic closing clinics and banning kids from school and all kinds of craziness to try and control this epidemic before someone dies. Because that is what happens to around 1 out of every 1000 cases. Someone dies.

I love vaccines. But I think I may love Disneyland even more. This whole situation just crossed a big fat line for yours truly. The anti-vaccine movement is now messing with my Mouse.

This epidemic is more than just ill children. It’s costing money. It’s disrupting lives. And it is very clearly linked to the hold that the anti-vaccination movement has on Southern California. Unethical, greedy and outright dangerous characters like “Dr. Bob” have convinced parents that vaccination isn’t really that important. Parents who must surely love their children are so willing to believe nonsense from the Internet but then refuse to believe anything from the CDC, WHO, AAP or the general scientific and medical community.

That makes me and a lot of other people angry. But what gives me hope is this. If you are a parent who is unsure about vaccines, maybe this will help you make the decision to vaccinate. This outbreak is big and scary and it’s also very, very real. Vaccines are victims of their own success. If you don’t see children dying from diphtheria or paralyzed from polio, the vaccine could sound scarier than the illness. But these infections are real. They are here. And now they’ve gone and tainted the name of the Happiest Place on Earth.

Vaccines save lives. And mice. What more can I say?

Happy Birthday Zoe

“She doesn’t really know how to act like she’s five,” Eva whispered to me this morning while we were waiting for the school bus. Zoe was running up and down the sidewalk, screaming, “Poo poo vagina!” and swinging her backpack around, nearly kneecapping passing pedestrians. My eldest daughter stood fidgeting next to our gate, giggling uncontrollably. She clearly wanted to run down the street yelling Potty Words too. But she also had enough sense to know that this might just tip Mommy over the edge. See, Eva is my “easy” child. If you also have an “easy” kid, then you know where I’m going with this. Because to have an “easy” one, you must, by definition, have one that isn’t. At our home this other child is named Zoe.

Right from the get go, she was intent on getting herself noticed, doing things her own way. Our surrogate had pretty much sneezed her out, being very good at incubating babies for desperate and longing couples such as ourselves. This perfectly average (7 pounds even) size baby with a shock of black hair and an extraordinarily pug nose began screaming and then almost instantly grunting, her chest muscles pulling in, her respiratory rate way too high. The long and short of it was that she had developed a pneumothorax, or air in the space around the lung. She would need 24 hours in an oxygen tent before I could finally, after months and months of waiting, hold her.

Nothing has ever been easy or straightforward with this child. Not the way she was conceived. Not the way she gestated. Not the way she entered the world. And not the way she came home from the hospital. (On an airplane at 6 days of age). Fast forward 5 years and she’s what some of our family calls “challenging.” I mean, sure she’s barely 5. They are all a bit challenging at this age, aren’t they? I recently met one mother who said, “Forget the terrible twos, I’m stuck in the (*&*ing fours!” But how many of you have had a 90-minute parent teacher conference to discuss your 4 ½ year old? Huh? How many? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Zoe is too smart for her own good and will helpfully recall every single thing I have ever said, even if I thought I was whispering it under my breath. She has a frightfully unpredictable temper and once drew a crowd at the zoo with a 20 minute tantrum right outside the zebra paddock. I’m not joking. It was a crowd. Children were asking what was wrong with the little girl and parents were coming up, patting me on the shoulder and commending my daughter for her “strong will.” She is incredibly jealous of her siblings and will do absolutely anything to get any kind of attention. Ditto the other kids in her class. You think you’re going to play dress up with her best friend at school? Think again. Basically, sometimes I feel like I’m living in some History Channel special on famous and ruthless dictators. I do my best to kill her with kindness, set reasonable boundaries with exquisite care and then just get on my knees and look to the heavens.

But with great challenges in life comes great rewards, as the saying goes. Few people I meet are as incredibly funny as this child. Her imagination is unbelievable. She has the strongest of wills and the greatest streak of independence you will see and that will serve her very well in life. And when she is happy, and happy with you, and all is right in her little world she is the most loving, sensitive little girl I could hope for.

So Happy Birthday Zoe. I sincerely hope that one day you have a little girl just like you. No, no it’s not about revenge (although let’s be honest, that’s part of it.) It’s about how amazing it is to have a kid like you. The challenges are great. But should you rise to them, the blessings are even greater.


Rationally Irrational

Happy Belated Adoption Month! Yes, I know it was in November but I’m sure you understand that the reason I missed Adoption Month was because of, well, adoption. Thanks to the very reason I have all my kids, I can’t even reflect on how awesome it is to have my kids. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Perfectly logical, right? As opposed to the recent study on flu vaccine deniers that shows debunking myths about the flu vaccine makes people less likely to get one. What?! So in the spirit of National Influenza Vaccine Week, I’m just going to have to crawl out of the chaos and explain that one.

If you read the findings, basically it went like this: Group A and Group B believe the flu vaccine is dangerous, can give them the flu, and so on and so on. Group A is given lots of very factual information on the dangers of influenza (like death). Then Group A is also given piles of information on the safety of the vaccine as well as the reason why the vaccine can’t give them the flu (because it can’t). Meanwhile, Group B is served coffee and donuts. Afterwards, they ask each group whether they have changed their minds about getting the vaccine. Shockingly, Group A is now less likely to pop down to their local Walgreen’s and roll up a sleeve. Yep. That’s right. So much for information is power, eh? (It’s actually kind of depressing. I’m wondering why I bother saying anything ever now. Sigh.)

Anyway how did the researchers explain this phenomenon? By the way, these guys are famous for studying irrationality. They’ve basically made a career out of showing how facts that challenge one’s belief system don’t necessarily change that belief. What they have found is that dispelling one myth just dispels one myth. It doesn’t challenge all the other reasons a person believes a certain way. In fact, getting rid of that one myth, brings to mind every other concern, misbelief or outright fear that person may have.

It’s like this: Zoe: “Mommy, I don’t want to wear that shirt, it’s scratchy.” Me: “What are you talking about? I just cut the tag out and had the entire inside lined with soft fleece after washing it 50 times in fabric softener.” Zoe: “Oh. Well, the problem is that red is just not my color.”

Get it? The sad fact is that the more we talk about vaccines, the more people are reminded of all their fears about immunization. They search for other reasons not to vaccinate. But the answer is not to stop talking. Those of us who believe in the life-saving miracle of vaccines need to talk until we are blue in the face, stamping out myth after myth after myth until there is nothing left to be afraid of.

So there you have it. There are a lot of things to be scared about in this world. If I tell you I hate skiing because I’m afraid of the chair lift, you’re probably going to point me in the direction of the towrope. At which point I’ll tell you that I’m actually afraid of breaking my leg. Which isn’t entirely irrational. What is irrational is that we’re going skiing over Christmas. Skiing is dangerous. But so is influenza. As are the other vaccine preventable diseases. Not getting vaccinated is not a rational decision.

Go get your flu shot.

A Different Kind of Chicken Pox Party

Flu Shot Day! Yesterday I had somehow managed to finagle 3 appointments in the same day from our pediatrician. Small detail/complication in that they weren’t at the same time. On purpose. Round One saw Otto go in for his. Being under the age of 2, he got the injection along with a few others that needed doing. Then I dragged him back home to wait for the girls to return from school. I swiftly handed him off to our babysitter, pulled the girls off the bus and headed back to the doctor’s office for Round two. Why not all at once? Because I just can’t handle pulling Otto off counter tops while wrestling Zoe into shot position and at the same time keep Eva out of the M&M jar on the desk. I simply can’t. Call me weak. I don’t mind. But what I’m not weak about is how important the flu shot/spray is. Every year we lose perfectly healthy people to influenza. It’s not a joke. Influenza is deadly and the flu shot works.

Anyway, on the way to the office the girls were debating whether to get the FluMist nasal spray or the shot. Since they are over the age of 2 and otherwise healthy, both were an option. I left the choice entirely up to them. For the mist, there are pluses (no shot) and minuses (small risk of a mild viral illness). Hilariously they went back and forth, finally boasting that they were both in for the shot. “Well, it doesn’t really hurt me because I’m very strong,” claimed Eva, flexing an arm that is about as big around as a pretzel stick.

But then Mommy remembered something. The girls hadn’t had their kindergarten shots yet. As in the varicella, DaPT and MMR boosters. Now most people get these shots in the run up to kindergarten. My two aren’t in kindergarten yet. However they are both old enough to be boostered. (Is that a word?) And you know how I like to make sure we are an immune bunch. Not to mention the very real possibility that life could get even crazier and I would forget to take them back in. I mean, seriously, someone asked me the other day how old I am and I just stared back, completely blank. Dealing with 3 small kids, a child-like husband, a house and a job is hard enough. Don’t ask me to remember things like my first name or favorite color. Let alone if I remembered to make an appointment for a varicella booster! Our pediatrician knows us well enough to know that he has to act when he sees us.

Anyhoo, all this means we rolled into the pediatrician’s office and I casually enquired, “So, am I crazy or do they also need their 4 to 6 year jabs?” He flipped through the charts and nodded, silently pulling out vial after vial, recording lot numbers and vaccine names. The flu shot conversation fell right off the table and I informed both that they would only get the FluMist.

In addition to 3 more shots.

The girls looked me with horror and I began apologizing profusely, telling them how terrible chicken pox and measles are and promising that I too would get my flu shot the next day. (Reasonably asthmatic, I don’t have the nose spray option.) “You wouldn’t want to be horribly sick with terrible itchy spots do you?” I pleaded. I can’t blame them for their reactions, as usually I do like to prepare them instead of just springing surprise shots on them. But we were here and the shots needed doing. They remained unimpressed and openly resistant until their pediatrician interrupted me. “Don’t worry. We can just take care of Mommy right now.” They stared at him as he pulled another vial out of the fridge and began writing yet another note. Which seemed to do the trick. Eva pulled her leggings down and marched forward, a half-smile on her face.

“You’ll get yours next, Mommy, but you won’t get a chocolate,” Eva informed me as she crawled onto my lap for her jab-jab-jab-spray. There were some tears, for sure, but a sterile urine collection tube full of M&Ms was quickly shoved into her hands and it was Zoe’s legs and nostrils next. Sweaty and red-faced, the two of them then sat together, shoving chocolate into their mouths with giant grins on their faces. “Your turn!” they sang, as I pulled up my sleeve. How very kind of them, so pleased to throw their mother to the wolves…

I didn’t cry. I also wasn’t offered a piece of chocolate. But I am protected against this year’s projected strains of influenza. As are my kids. Husband was injected two weeks ago. And on top of that we had a bit of a party at the pediatrician’s office. Chocolates were flying, the varicella boosters were flowing. In other words, a chicken pox party without the risk of pneumonia, encephalitis, group A strep sepsis or death.  On top of that we got protection against influenza and no more shots for the girls until age 9 (HPV). Now how’s that for a good time?

Five Years a Mom!

Happy Birthday to Me!

It was five years ago today that I stood in a hospital room–fully clothed mind you–waiting for the birth of my first child. It was a crazy, emotional, stressful and joyous time. Not only were we not guaranteed this baby (her birth mom had a minimum of 24 hours after delivery to change her mind), but she was being induced prematurely for fluid on the heart, a known high-risk pregnancy with poor growth and fetal stress. And then out she came, tiny and furious, beet red and fuzzy blond. The estimated weight was 3 ½ pounds, so you can imagine my relief to hear “4 pounds 10 ounces!” The special care nurse came and deemed her well enough for the big baby nursery. And then we trotted off down the hall, facing this day of visits from cardiologist, neonatologists, social workers and lawyers. This day I became a mom.

So what have I learned since then? Um, basically that I didn’t really know very much about babies and children. Board certified pediatrician? Yes. Knowledge of nipple flow speeds? Diaper sizes? How to get a child out of a poopie onesie without scissors? Hardly. (Never moved beyond scissors when my kids had poop going up their backs, to be perfectly honest.) Exactly 5 years ago a nurse handed me first the baby, then a tiny little bottle with a teaspoon of formula. I stared at her dumbly and said, “um, how do I fit this inside of that?” nodding first to the seemingly huge nipple and then to her impossibly small mouth. I could write the order for the nurse to feed her, but what did I know about nipple feeding a microscopic preemie? The nurse took pity on me and gave me a crash course in NICU tips and tricks. For the rest of it, as we all do, I just had to figure it out. And despite my many missteps and moments of bumbling idiocy, she doesn’t seem to have suffered too much.

Fast forward and suddenly I have a 5 year-old! And what a joyous little girl she is.  This child literally beams from morning to night. Even when she was learning to swim, you could look into the pool and make out a huge smile as her arms and legs flailed hysterically. Yes, this child even smiles while drowning. I mean, that’s really a lesson for all of us, isn’t it?

No matter how prepared you may think you are—hello, board certified pediatrician here—becoming a parent really reveals how ignorant and inept you really are. It’s the most humbling of jobs and yet the most rewarding. But more importantly, it’s the most learning we’ll ever do in life. Eva’s favorite phrase is, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” Whether the cupcakes fell or she spilled her breakfast on her lap, she’s got a smile on her face and a shrug of her shoulders. We just frost the cakes anyway, wipe off what we can with a baby wipe and get on with our day.  With a big smile on our faces.

So thank you to my first born. You’ve shown me how uneducated I really was. You teach us all to smile all day, every day. And you remind us of what does and really doesn’t matter in life. Flat cupcakes are still cupcakes, aren’t they?  Still so tiny yet in some ways so very wise. Here’s to a very, very happy birthday, Eva.

Otto’s Growing Vocabulary  

Isn’t it funny how once a kid gets the hang of something, he really gets the hang of it? Like when I think back on the girls, I can remember being worried because they didn’t really speak. I then remember thinking they would never shut up. (Which remains a current theme as they take absolute delight in screaming, “Vagina! Penis! Bumhole!” As often and as loudly as they can. (Yes, I’m aware that the medical term is “anus.” They just don’t seem that taken with it, despite my efforts to correct them. Apparently “Bumhole” is a lot more fun to shout out.) Anyway, that’s another post. The point is, I don’t really remember the in between, you know, the period of time between an occasional new word and a little person who seemed to understand and say just about everything.

Which is why I feel compelled to try and carefully record Otto’s language progression. I’m sure as his vocabulary grows, my interest in each new word will wane, but for now every single step we take toward verbal communication feels awesome. Well, awesome until last Saturday when Otto gave me his 3rd word. Are you ready? Okay then. Here it is: Elmo.

Yes, Elmo. As in the furry, red, loveable little Sesame Street Character. The one that has lived in our home, been thrown down our stairs, and cheerfully encouraged my children to use the potty while they were watching him and simultaneously urinating on the furniture. That Elmo.

Now I know what you are going to say. So let me say it for you. “But Dr. Zibners, we all know the AAP says no television before the age of 2. So how on earth did Otto become so familiar with said furry muppet?”

The answer? Um, he watches television? I mean, not all day long. But certainly not “never.”

This very subject came up last summer when we were visiting with some friends who have a daughter about Otto’s age. Her dad is also a pediatrician and a very good one at that. In keeping in line with the AAP guidance, he gets really mad at her mom when he finds out she’s been allowed to watch television. (Notice the careful wording here.) The mom confided that she occasionally lets the little girl watch a bit of Sesame Street in the morning when her 3 year-old sibling is home. I mean, what’s the harm?

Well, is there any harm? What does the AAP actually say about this? Some of you may have heard that the American Academy of Pediatrics strictly recommends absolutely no television viewing before the age of 2. Which isn’t actually what they said. In fact, in the Policy Statement, they point out that they have been “frequently misquoted by media outlets as no media exposure in this age group.” But, no, before you get too excited, they aren’t exactly praising me for popping my kids in front of the television either. However, do allow me to summarize the 3 key points.

  • There is no evidence that children under the age of 2 can benefit developmentally or educationally from electronic media. Unstructured play is clearly better.
  • There is evidence that media exposure can cause aggression, sleep problems, obesity and attention problems, although these studies have looked at preschool and school age kids.
  • Yo! Parents who think it is okay to watch CNN or Breaking Bad while their kids are in the room are not only going to miss some key moments, but their kids are actually watching people being blown up in the Middle East. That’s probably not good, eh?

So there you have it. What the policy actually says is this: we should be discouraging media exposure in kids under 2. Notice I said “media,” not “television.” The policy is not just addressing Sesame Street videos, but Angry Birds, Farm Heroes and whatever else you’ve got on your smart phone or iPad. (I’m on to you. I travel and eat in restaurants with children too, people.) But the truth is, kids learn better from unstructured play in the real world, with 3-dimensional objects they can touch, hold, sniff and lick. 2-dimensional worlds don’t give them the same richness of experience and the result is that little ones can’t learn as much from playing an electronic puzzle as from playing with one made out of wood.

But—in my defense– the policy does not say “absolutely none.” The AAP recognizes that media and television are a part of our lives. So, no, your kid shouldn’t have a TV in his bedroom. But if your 17 month-old son happens to love Sesame Street, that’s not the worst thing you can flip on while you try to get a shower/do the dishes/write a blog post. (Just saying.) If you do allow your little one some television or iPad time, you should make sure the material is appropriate for a child of that age. Even better if you can watch together and sing songs or talk about Mr. Noodle. And please don’t stay there all day. One episode is enough.

So there you go. Solo playtime allows babies as young as 4 months to think creatively, solve problems, and accomplish new tasks independently. Unstructured play with or without an adult is more valuable for these precious little minds than any television show or Mickey Mouse Roadhouse Rally game. But what’s also valuable and precious is my sanity. Which sometimes means turning on the TV. Of course, now that Otto can say, “Elmo,” he thinks we’re going to turn on a video every time he asks. Which clearly isn’t the case. At least not after the first dozen times. It is super cute. And he is very clearly impressed with himself. As am I, although admittedly he could have chosen a word that didn’t publicly shame his mother. Then again, at least it wasn’t “Walter White”, right?




Otto Speaks…Sort Of

Yes, the boy says “Mama.” Which officially makes him a Mama’s Boy. Which is exactly what I wanted. In all seriousness, I thought it was worth following up on the Otto the Silent post from a few weeks back. I got a few comments on my Facebook page, all of which were totally valid even though they didn’t completely align with one another. So I thought this would be a topic worth revisiting.

The good news is Otto is no longer entirely silent. In a span of a couple of weeks, he’s begun clearly saying “Mama” and occasionally screaming “Nein.” (The “nein” came out when Zoe tried to pick him up and he got angry, so I’m guessing that was actually what he was trying to say.” There has also been an improvement in his nonverbal communication. But this is because–and I hate to even say it—we broke down and taught him some sign language.

It’s not that I have anything against sign language per se. I mean, it’s a whole language used by people with profound hearing or speech impairments. Awesome. But baby signing? Ah, I’ve always figured that was not for me. We didn’t do it with the girls and I’m just not into that baby massage, organic clothing kind of stuff, if you know what I mean. So yes, there you have it. I was prejudiced against baby signing because I thought it would make me a hairy-legged, tree-hugging hippie.I didn’t wear my babies. I didn’t make my own baby food. Everyone sleeps in his or her own bed. I shave my legs. And I was not going to walk around making big theatrical signs trying to achieve some level of communication that seemed, frankly, like I was trying too hard to prove my kid’s smarter than yours. (I mean, obviously. The girls are nearly 5 and as illiterate as they come. What, me worry?)

So let’s be clear. I am not hugging any trees here. But actually teaching a few signs to help a frustrated toddler communicate isn’t the worst parenting decision I could make, is it? I don’t have to start eating granola right this minute, do I? The arguments against baby signing are this: there is absolutely no evidence that it improves language skills or cognition. No well-designed scientific study has been able to demonstrate an advantage for kids who sign. What’s more, if your little one uses signing as a substitute for learning to speak, (Because hey, why say “Pretzel” when you can just tap your chest “Please?”) signing could theoretically delay speech, not promote it.

But the argument for it? I was losing my mind. The gibbon shrieking, fist pumping, cupboard banging monkey child was growing on my nerves. I was desperate.

Which is how we end up making many parenting decisions, isn’t it? You want a cookie, no I think, oh whatever, have the cookie. Just stop trying to climb on Mommy while she’s working on the computer. I’m not proud of those decisions. I’m just saying sometimes it’s easier as a parent to take the path of least resistance. And in this case, it was teaching “Please” “No more” and “Up.” In sign.

Which is the case for baby signing: it might reduce some of the frustration both you and your toddler experience during those long, long months between having an opinion and being able to express it. If you keep it simple and limit it to a few important gestures, it could help bridge that gap toward speech. The important thing is to remember to keep encouraging language and speaking to your toddler, using the same words as the sign to reinforce the fact that he will need to learn to speak. I spend half my life yelling, “Use your words, people, not your tears!” Why should Otto get out of rules his sisters have to follow?

Which brings me back to the comments on Otto’s lack of verbal achievement. Some folks expressed gratitude that they weren’t alone. Another offered the fact that her biomedical engineer son didn’t speak until he was 3. But a few expressed concern that I might be discouraging parents from seeking help if their child does seem to have a speech and language delay.

So let me be clear. If my kid is a few months past his first birthday, and oh, let’s see, is maybe learning 2 languages and was a bit premature, don’t expect me to freak out if he doesn’t have many (as in any) words yet. But if you are approaching that 2nd birthday, it’s would really be time to discuss his language progress with your pediatrician. Obviously, if you are concerned about his hearing, or if you feel his nonverbal communication is not up to par with his playgroup buddies that’s also a reason to act sooner rather than later.

But for us, I’m going to keep shouting “UP!” and kissing Otto all over his cute little face every time he communicates his wishes without sounding like a caged animal. Can you blame me?

Otto the Silent

Well, maybe “silent” isn’t really what I am looking for. Averbal? Nonspeaking? Unintelligble? Man of few words? Monkey boy?

Should I be worried that my nearly 16 month-old son has virtually no words and chooses to communicate through a combination of fist whacks and gibbon-like shrieking? Which, technically, would make him more “Lesser-ape boy” than “Monkey,” although let’s not get bogged down by semantics. The fact is that Otto doesn’t really speak. And The Book says “1 word sentences by 1 year” or some such nonsense. But here we are. 4 months past the deadline. And nothing.

Kid wants to be picked up? Lifts his arms and shrieks. Wants a cookie? Beats at the cupboard and shrieks. Wants to go into the room where his sisters are? Presses his face against the glass door and—and yes, you got it—lets loose a long, high-pitched, ear splitting screech. Jeez Louise. I don’t know how much more of this my ears can take.

So what does the American Academy of Pediatrics have to say about Otto’s communication skills? Well, by age 1, most babies say “ma-ma” and “da-da” and apply the words to the appropriate parent. (Um, let me see. Does he do that? No.) They say at least one word. (Hmmm, uh no.) Point to items and make a sound? (Hey! Finally. Although they don’t really describe an “ear-splitting screech” option. Anyway.)

And am I worried? No. And not just because I’m a hot mess, 3 kids dripping off me, bigger worries on my mind, like where my sanity has gone. And no, it’s not because I haven’t even bothered to think about it. It’s because Otto is doing all the other things right on track. Responds to his own name being called? Yes. Understands what a “cookie” is? Clearly. In fact, in 2 languages. Before you go there, it’s arguable whether bilingual kids really have language delay. Big milestones are supposedly on track, so I can’t go pulling that card as much as I might like. But anyway, hearing and receptive language seem okay. Makes repetitive sounds (other than the gibbon like one, obviously)? You bet. All kinds of “nnn-duh” and tongue clicking. So he’s at least trying and capable of making some repeated sounds. Points to items or makes his wishes known? Hell, yeah! He has no problem letting us know the infinite ways in which we are total morons, oblivious to his desires. We just got back from a trip where every time we went through the restaurant he went completely bananas as soon as he saw the ice cream stand. So, yes, Otto, I’m aware that you like ice cream. And I’m also aware that your preferred flavor is chocolate.

So to sum it up, every kid develops at his or her own pace. So long as the big picture seems pretty on track, a couple months here or there when it comes to milestones is usually perfectly okay. Any doubt, obviously ask your pediatrician. But for now, I will continue to give him very clear instructions when I leave for work. “Today, Otto, I would like you to learn to speak, use a fork, and entertain yourself for 5 minutes. Do you think you can do that?” I’m quite confident I’ll come home one of these days not too far away and find out he’s met at least one of my goals!