The Twits


No, that’s not what I’m calling the kids these days. At least, not on a regular basis. The Twits to which I refer are that horrible couple conjured up by the amazing Roald Dahl. If you don’t know the story, you really should. To sum it up, a couple of really awful people eventually get what’s coming to them. But not before torturing each other in ways that absolutely delight Eva and Zoe. Which is in turn a delight to me because—and here is one of those confessions that I wonder whether I should make—The Twits is the first (first!!!) chapter book that the girls and I have ever made our way through. We finished last week. A whole book that lasted longer than one evening. Finally.

Yes, I am aware that the girls are turning 6 this year. I’m sure there are millions of parents who have been reading nightly these long and convoluted “big” books to their children since they were newborns. I realize our accomplishment is outside the range of normal, and not in a good way. But please. Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Close your eyes and imaging Grand Central Station on a Monday morning around 8am and then add a few protests and maybe a bomb scare. Now open your eyes. You just got a peek inside our home. Having two little kids the same age, with their short little attention spans and vastly different interests means one page may take a half hour. (“I need the potty! I’m thirsty! Hey what’s that on that shelf over there?”) Never mind the fact that there is a 2 year-old in the mix, who likes to crawl on top of me and throw a tantrum whenever I try to pay his sisters a little bit of attention.

But this is a new school year. Kindergarten is no joke. It’s Serious Time, people. And I’ve been guiltily hanging onto this article my father sent me about increased brain activity in young children who are read to. Turns out that reading to a baby, as often as possible, is associated with actual changes in areas of the brain, particularly those associated with mental imagery. Which simply means that when you read to a child, she creates images in her mind and that actually stimulates her brain’s ability to imagine.

Okay, so the article is about the importance of reading before kindergarten. Ahem. But don’t get me wrong. We have always had tons of books and reading is an important part of our lives. But we’ve never had a book that all three of us couldn’t wait to get back to at bedtime. It was more like “Really? I have to read about that dancing mouse again? “ Three times in a row? And as for their imagination, well, Zoe is somewhat of a pathological liar so I don’t think we have any major problems there. Beside the lying obviously. (She once told a dinner guest a very elaborate and detailed story about our beloved dog, who died a most tragic death. The tale was relayed later in the evening and I had to break the news that we’ve never even had a goldfish. Sigh.)

But back to the importance of reading. I decided to change it up. I grabbed the most disgusting story I could find and what do you know. They were more than happy to provide sound effects when imaging what would happen to their bodies if bubbles moved down instead of up in fizzy drinks. Totally gross. And yet delightful. Four nights in a row they went flying off to get their baths, anxious for another couple of chapters. Now we’re onto The BFG, also by our beloved Mr. Dahl. It’s not quite the hit I was hoping for and I’ve got to skip over some of the more confusing language, but with a little work (Hey, do you guys think the giant is going to eat Sophie now or later?) we’re getting through it. Which got me thinking: I need books that we’re all going to love if we are going to make this work.

When I was a kid, I was a voracious reader. I’ve wondered whether in this age of computers and iPads whether my kids would be. But I have hope, given this recent turn of events, that the magic between the pages of a book will capture their hearts as well. So I’ve started making a list of all my favorite chapter books when I was a little girl and we’re going to start reading them. I’m excited. People would probably give me strange looks if I were reading Encyclopedia Brown to myself on the subway, eh? But Eva and Zoe have given me an excuse to revisit those dog-eared pages of my past.

Reading with your kids is not just a way to stimulate their minds and encourage literacy skills. It’s also a way to share memories of your childhood, your sense of humor, family values and expose them to new ideas. (Like flatulence soda.) I am hoping we’ve started a new habit at our house that will not only last, but also allow me to share some of my favorite books. In fact, I’ve just ordered Beezus and Ramona and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Judy Blume. Beverly Cleary. I’m just hoping they translate to this generation as well as they did to mine. Ooh, what fun.

The Summer of Trauma


Summer is over and the house feels so, what’s the word–ah, quiet. The girls are back to school and poor Otto is once again an only child between 8 and 4. Ah, I’m almost sorry to see summer go. Except I’m not. Because this summer has been pretty traumatic for all of us. One set of grandparents is seriously unwell. Bavaria suffered a heat wave during a visit that made a cultural disregard for air conditioning seem utterly backward. And it turns out all 3 of my children exude some sort of human candy smell that attracts biting bugs of all types. But for Zoe, well, it’s been particularly rough.

When you last heard from us she was just back from the hospital, long arm cast protecting a nasty fracture. But what is more traumatic than breaking (and I mean really breaking) your arm? Well, it is being stuck in an itchy cast and then watching your sister lose two teeth within a single week. Oh the screams of despair. “It’s not faaaiiirrrrr!!!!” “No,” I said. “The tooth fairy does not accept small white pieces of paper under your pillow as a substitute. No, Zoe, the only way the tooth fairy is going to visit you is when you actually lose a tooth, be that naturally or forced.”

And that is how, 4 weeks after having her arm reset, Zoe wound up in the emergency dentist’s chair, having X-rays of her mouth. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure she was trying to knock her tooth out. In fact, when I jokingly implied as much, she was deeply offended. She was hopping and bopping around as usual when she tripped over a cement barrier in the parking lot and bashed her mouth. There was a moment where she lay totally still and I wasn’t sure what had happened. Then the tears began, the hand over her mouth. When I looked, one front tooth was pushed partially in, the gum blanched white. Then came the blood.

My parents were there and my dad immediately suggested we seek expert care at the emergency department. I tried not to act offended as I pointed out the obvious. Ahem. Then we called my sister’s dentist (because of course we were visiting the US relatives before heading to see the German ones) and I gave a careful description of the injury before we were assigned an emergency appointment within the hour.

So, there are several types of dental injuries in children. The tooth can be knocked out, pushed in, or moved around in the socket. It can also be chipped or broken. Otto has a chipped tooth, but since it’s only a bit of enamel that went, and the deeper bits of the tooth weren’t exposed, there was no need to do anything. Just to fight off a deep desire to dress him in denim overalls and stick a piece of straw in his mouth since he looks like a total hillbilly. But I digress.

Zoe suffered what we call an intrusion, where the tooth is pushed in. Teeth are held in place by lots of little ligaments that create a supportive hammock of sorts. So it’s quite possible that a tooth can be pushed in and then return to its original place. Which is what happened to her, although admittedly it does seem a little crooked. Regardless, with a baby tooth injury, you don’t need to do much emergently. Baby teeth are never put back in the socket if knocked out (unlike adult teeth) and unless it is so loose that it is a choking hazard, there is nothing for someone like me to do about it. Except advise dental follow up to make sure the tooth itself and the developing adult teeth above (or below) weren’t injured.

Which is exactly what we found ourselves doing an hour later. I will admit, it was somewhat embarrassing walking around with a kid who had a big cast on her arm and a face covered in blood. I mean, really. But the dentist was extremely kind about the whole event as I told him what happened and then performed an X-ray. The good news was the tooth was not broken. And then we were advised 24 hours of round the clock ibuprofen to help prevent pulpitis and sent home to follow up at the end of summer, assuming no new symptoms developed.

The only really good part of the day was how much I learned about pulpitis. I know, it’s not something most people really think about. But an inflammation of the inner “guts” of a tooth is something no one wants. Our new dentist friend explained that the tooth is a closed space, kind of like the head, and therefore doesn’t do well with lots of internal swelling. So 24-48 hours of an anti-inflammatory could help. He also let me know that the tooth could become discolored, sort of like a bruise. Good news is that 90% of baby teeth that do so will recover (unlike adult teeth). I was also told to let her “self-regulate” her diet (meaning she won’t eat an apple if it hurts) and to watch for pain that was unexpected (like while doing nothing as opposed to eating aforementioned apple).

So good-bye Summer 2015. We had some rough moments. But we also had some really good times. Like a tutorial on pulpitis. (Sarcasm dripping here). Anyway, it’s back to labeling backpacks, checking shot records and early morning alarm clocks.

Hello Autumn. (I’m not about to use the word, “fall.”)

Regrettable Decisions


Who hasn’t done something in life that made them think, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if I could just turn back time because that was a bad idea. Take the time I went shopping and was talked into some glamour shots. Regrettable. Yes. My sister has taken immense pleasure over the years at bringing those photos out at the most inopportune times. In fact, this one I pulled off her college roomate’s Facebook page (seriously?!). But other than those 2, I can’t imagine many of you are thinking my decision wise.

Similarly, earlier this week, Zoe and I were sitting in a hospital room, watching an endless stream of movies and woefully regretting our own decisions. Hers was to climb to the outside of the rope thingy at the playground and try to jump off. Mine was to shrug my shoulders and say, “Go on then.” Hmmm.


I believe in encouraging kids to live adventurously, push their limits and try new things. In this case, her arm caught on a rope, she flipped around and landed in a rather unfortunate heap on the ground. I promise you, the actual scene will play in my head for weeks, every time I close my eyes or tape another piece of moleskin over a rough spot on her cast. It was pretty awful to watch. Rationally, I know it was just a matter of time. For a kid like Zoe, there is a certain inevitability about wearing pink fiberglass for 6 weeks one (or more) summer(s). And at first, she was rather quick to point out that it “was your fault Mommy,” which is probably what I said about 100 times in those first few terrifying moments. It is my job to protect her and intervene when her 5 year-old mind comes up with a dumb idea. On the other hand, it didn’t seem that high. She had done it before. And sometimes I’m tired of being the “fun-sucker” Mom. No trampolines. No latex balloons. Helmets all the time. I still hate watching the girls eat whole grapes. Anyway you get the point. The ground was soft. It could easily have been perfectly fine.

And then it just wasn’t.

But later, after I made sure that she had no other life threatening injuries. After I had wrapped her arm in a “splint” made of our jackets, both to stabilize the arm and reduce pain as well as keep her and all other children at the playground from seeing her obviously deformed limb. After I had made sure she had a pulse and could wiggle her fingers and then called into my own emergency department to tell them we were on our way. After the orthopedist and I got her properly splinted and X-rayed. And after I was tucking her into a hospital bed with plans for surgery the next morning. After all that she looked at me and said, “Mommy you made the right decision. It is important to try new things and take chances sometimes.”

So there you go. We’re spending the summer building Legos. Gymnastics camp is cancelled. Zoe will pretty soon grow weary of requests to sign her cast. It will start to stink and itch. But just when we can’t stand another day, she will be back in the swimming pool, one very white arm splashing about. It’s probably a good life lesson and in the end, her injury isn’t the worst she could have sustained.

But still. Rationally I know that letting our children take risks is good. It’s a matter of judging those risks and deciding which ones are just a little “too risky.” But in the end, no matter what you do, kids will fall down. They will break bones. They will need stitches. On the other hand, the horror of watching your own child falling and seeing the look of terror on her face is something that sticks with your for a long time. If it’s happened to you though, I hope you take some comfort in my 5 year-old words: It is important to take chances. That’s how we learn and grow…

And in Zoe’s case, get a pink cast.

Mommy MacGyver

I was never a nosebleed kind of kid. There was one girl in my elementary school who I think spent most of the 3rd and 4th grades lying in the back of the classroom, actively hemorrhaging while the rest of us did social studies. But I can’t recall ever having had anything remotely as impressive as that. Of course, I’ve taken care of plenty of bleeders over the years in the ER. Nosebleeds are the number one cause of vomited blood, did you know that? Yep, it’s true. And the number one cause of nosebleeds? Well, we call it “digital trauma.” (That’s a finger, if you didn’t get it right away.) The most common place in the nose a kid will bleed from is the fragile blood vessels in the front part of the nostril. If the skin over these vessels becomes irritated or damaged, they bleed. So, basically, most kids with nosebleeds are nose pickers That’s a very basic tenet of emergency room nosebleed management.

Of course, there are other causes of nosebleeds. For example, I read a case report once of a baby with a congenital heart condition that caused high blood pressure, which led to a nosebleed. And then there are other fairly common causes like being bopped in the face. Kids with colds or allergies and those exposed to very dry air are more likely to have a nosebleed. A Lego or a Barbie shoe up there might cause a little local trauma. Cocaine use is slightly less common in my patient population but it’s on the list. As are bleeding disorders, certain medications and chronic liver and kidney conditions. Oh, and did I mention picking?

Anyway, I won’t tell you which activity all 3 of my kids enjoy immensely that appears on the above list. But there is one and unfortunately for Zoe, she’s either unduly aggressive or just extra sensitive. Either way, it started while we were skiing over the holidays (Let’s blame the thin, cold, dry air!!). Zoe’s a quick learner and now all we hear is a little whimper as she pinches her nostrils and leans her head slightly forward, just like Mommy taught her. (That kid lying down in the back of social studies probably spent her whole night puking. Tummies don’t like blood. They tend to kick it back out. So the best thing to do during a nose bleed is lean forward and spit.) Someone runs for a tissue. Someone else (me) runs for the stain removal spray. And we wait. 5 to 10 minutes.

So the other day I took Zoe to run some errands. I know there are some mothers who are “always prepared.” I’m not. I’m more of the “Ah, I bet that diaper will make it to the store and back” kind of mom. Which means when Zoe began to bleed, I had nothing to offer her. Well, except this:


Hey, it did the trick. Anyway, having now completely humiliated my young daughter, let me remind you that nosebleeds looks scary but really are very common. Most kids will stop bleeding within a couple of minutes. If you’ve got a kid like Zoe, remember to pinch the front of the nose (where those pesky vessels are) and tilt her head forward. Call your doctor if the bleeding doesn’t stop pretty quickly or is associated with any other symptoms such as unusual bruising or signs of a head injury. Get her to spit out the blood instead of letting it run down the throat into the stomach.

And remember to carry tissues with you at all times.

Happy Birthday Otto!


A typical evening at home: pink toenails in the midst of chaos.

Today Otto turns two years old. In some ways the time has flown. In others it has been a long, chaotic two years. I thought I had this all worked out, this child-wrangling, multi-tasking game called parenting. In fact, I had it so worked out that I was going to do everything perfectly with a new baby. The girls had been my mothering guinea pigs. Otto would reap the benefits of learning from every mistake I made with them. I would be the picture of a calm, knowing, experienced parent. It would be textbook.

Right. So, as it turns out, you only have two hands. It is difficult to grab a third child with your foot or teeth. My sister watched me once trying to simultaneously deal with my beloved yet demanding children during dinner (Sit! No! No salt shaker! Oh grab that cup!! Me? No I’m not eating!) before aptly remarking, “Everyone I know who goes from 2 to 3 just seems to lose it. Lose it.” The girls loved their new baby but they were also intensely jealous. We were a family of 5, on the move, out and about, tearing up airports and living on the move. His sisters and their needs turned out to be wildly influential forces in his little life. Which means Otto sometimes got stashed in the corner of a classroom during a parent-teacher conference. He saw too much television. He had ketchup a whole lot early than I, as a professional, would recommend. Heck, we skipped baby food and went right to pizza. He has never taken a nap in his own bed but instead falls asleep the minute you strap him into a stroller. In other words, he’s a third child.

But oh that smile. Unless, of course, his hands are dirty. I have never met a child who is so particular about his hands. It took us weeks to get the kid to finger paint. I don’t know how many times I have told him to just “Lick them. Lick them! It’s chocolate!” My son lives and dies by the baby wipe. We go through cases of the things.

And then there is the broccoli issue. A good rule of thumb is that you may need to put a new food in front of a child at least 10 times before he will willingly put it in his mouth. I think he had his first piece of broccoli around 17 months ago. It was most decidedly rejected. But knowing what I know, I persevered. It only took me another year of twice weekly servings to get the boy to pick it up and put it in his mouth (after dipping it in ketchup, obviously). Now we’re working towards a 2nd vegetable.

I guess my point (other than to wax poetic on the birthday of this gorgeous boy) is that most of what we fret about when our babies are small really doesn’t matter. Keeping the healthy and safe is what matters. Loving them is what matters. So Otto sleeps once a day sometime between the hours of 11 and 2 in either a car seat or a stroller. So he insists on—and gets away with– either being barefoot or wearing sparkly princess shoes. So he doesn’t exactly like vegetation. And his vocabulary, while steadily growing, still consists largely of cartoon characters and condiments.

Who cares?

Because when he hugs me, it’s no holding back as he lays his cheek on my shoulder and pats his chubby little hand against my back. When it’s time to get his sisters off the bus, he runs to the door, banging on the wood until he can get outside (barefoot of course), then shrieks with joy when the big white bus rounds the corner. If his sisters are doing something, he’s right in there with him, painting his toenails with a giant smile on his face. And when he gets his hands on a box of Ritz crackers or anything chocolate, he makes sure to shove some into everyone else’s mouth too. He’s happy, he’s healthy and he’s loved. By a whole big bunch of people.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Otto. You may not have a life that springs from the pages of a parenting manual, but you certainly don’t seem to be suffering for it.

A Tale of 3 Rashes

Recovering from what can only be described as the “family holiday from hell,” I have yet to write about our latest adventure largely because I’m still suffering from a bold case of PTSD. Spring break is supposed to be about warm weather, beach balls and bonfires. In our case it was about sleet, wind-storms, pneumonia, diarrhea, fever and processed meats. You might ask why a woman would drag 3 small children on an airplane heading to Germany when she is alternately popping handfuls of ibuprofen and Imodium. Yes, you might. But we had a trip to Germany planned and darn it, who am I to keep my children from their grandparents? So onward we slogged.

Of course when one member of a family is ill, it’s only a matter of time before the others begin to crumble. First to go was Zoe. Runny nose. Fever. Extremely well-behaved. Obviously not herself. Chucking her into the bathtub, I found something that is known around our house as “Zoe’s Bumps.” Since infancy she has a tendency to break out in an urticarial rash (that’s doctor talk for hives) at the slightest provocation. Extreme weather, a monstrous hissy fit, a viral illness. Any and all can give us a pretty startling explosion of red bumps that look like this:

IMG_1732 IMG_1735  IMG_1738

Please note the evil grin and cheeky pose. I wasn’t worried. On one occasion I was out of town teaching on a trauma course and got about 57 phone calls and texts from her father asking if I was really certain that this was not a problem. 57 times I said, “No, it’s not a problem. Put her shirt back on, stop looking at it and call me if she stops breathing.” Alright, maybe that was a little harsh, but true. Hives are classically associated with allergies but in little kids, viral illnesses are probably a more common cause. Stress and temperature changes can also cause them. They can look like bumps, blisters or little bulls-eyes but the way you know they are hives is that they migrate. Not south for the winter but around the body. A bump is there and then it isn’t. But look, there’s a new bump. And another. And so on. So long as there is no swelling of the lips or tongue or difficulty breathing (all signs of a severe allergic reaction), there is nothing to do. A little antihistamine will help with itching. Creams and lotions do nothing. And don’t be alarmed if they come and go for several days, even a couple of weeks. Do what I do and stick a shirt over it. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.

Then went little Otto. I honestly don’t know how one little boy can produce so much snot. If I didn’t know better I would think his insides were dissolving and pouring out his nose. And what is it with little kids just sitting there, a stream of green pouring down their faces, covering their mouths, dripping off their chins? Don’t they have any sense? Good God. Anyway, stripped that kid off at bath time to find him completely covered in fine red spots. I didn’t have my phone on me and you know I wouldn’t leave him unattended in the bath, so there is no photo but it was basically a suit of tiny red bumps.

Classic viral. I don’t know what else to say about this except I put a shirt on him. (Do you see a pattern?) He was smiling (through the snot river). His fever was somewhere between “pretty warm” and “geez you’re hot.” I don’t actually carry a thermometer on vacation since it doesn’t matter. Fever is fever. But that’s another topic for another day. Anyway, he survived.

By this time I need to mention that my febrile gastrointestinal illness had morphed into the kids’ cold, which then turned into a proper lobar pneumonia. Mommy was sick in the way that children love: “What? Okay, you can eat all the cookies for breakfast…hack hack snort.” Somewhere between the trees blowing across the Autobahn and blocking the roads and the 4 inches of snow we got (!!!), I made it to a nice German doctor who gently counseled me that 9 days of fever was too much for anybody and while he appreciated my reluctance to “jump to antibiotics,” it really was time. Here’s a photo of me coming in from a monsoon, febrile and no longer with any shame. Disclaimer: it ain’t pretty:


Which meant that when Eva finally crumbled, I didn’t have much left to give. But when I pulled her clothes off, this is what I found:

IMG_1772 IMG_1771

What the heck is that? Small blisters on a red base stretching from a Band-aid on her wrist, down her arm, and onto her belly but only on one side. Not chicken pox (which she is immunized for anyway) but it looked a lot like it. Shingles? No because the distribution was wrong. An allergic reaction to the Band-aid? Possible but weird. A spreading skin infection? I suppose, but it didn’t look terribly bacterial. To be honest, I still have no idea what the kid had. Let’s go with “viral,” shall we? That covers 99% of childhood rashes. But I pulled the Band-aid off just in case. She had a fever and runny nose like the others but was otherwise happy and playful. (Except when I asked her to pose for the photo. Wow.) Basically, a rash on a kid who is otherwise “pretty okay” is usually nothing to worry about it. And in my state, I really didn’t have the energy for unnecessary worry.

So I stuck a shirt on it.

Were you expecting me to say something else? Now back to meditating in a dark room…

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.