Thursday, October 24, 2013

Heady Stuff

Given the year I'm having I shouldn't have been surprised to learn -- within 24 hours -- that both of my children have mild concussions. Abby's is the result of a tremendously impressive header in Sunday's soccer game with her travel team. (For those who don't know, a "header" is the redirection of a soccer ball with one's head.) Ian's is the result of an accident during play practice. Yes, I'm serious. Apparently he was lying on the floor (for a reason), when another actor whose vision was obscured because he was carrying someone else off stage (for a reason), stepped on Ian's head. Basically, Ian had the weight of two teenagers on his head. Obviously, that hurts. It just so happened that the high school's athletic trainer was still in his office and was able to see Ian and diagnose him with a concussion.

Five days later, Abby feels fine but won't be permitted to play soccer again until she's seen by a concussion specialist (pediatricians apparently are not qualified to evaluate these types of injuries). We couldn't get an appointment with one until Tuesday. Four days after his incident, Ian is still struggling. Or so he says. He is an actor after all. But seriously, his headaches are bad and he's experiencing occasional dizziness. I don't think he's faking it because with a concussion you're not supposed to watch television or sit in front of a computer or view anything with moving pixels. In other words, he's bored out of his mind at home and would actually prefer to be at school. He will also see the concussion specialist on Tuesday. (Unfortunately, the doctor didn't go for my "two for one" suggestion.)

Concussions are scary stuff. Did you know that the brain doesn't stop growing until about age 25, making impact that much more dangerous for children and teens? Did you know that for some reason concussions are worse for girls than they are for boys? Just a couple months ago an enlightening and disturbing piece appeared on Huffington Post. In "Why My Wife and I Pulled Our Daughter Out of Soccer" the author shares research findings which report that "girls' soccer is second only to football in terms of the number of concussions in youth and high school sports." While most soccer concussions are the result of collisions between players, or falls in which a player's head strikes the ground, what is of even greater concern is the effect of the repetitive sub-concussive hits the brain absorbs during games and practices as a result of heading.
Habitually heading soccer balls may have similar effects on the brain as the repetitive sub-concussive hits that offensive and defensive linemen receive banging heads along the line of scrimmage in football.
According to a UNC brain researcher, "Long-term (brain) damage may have less to do with the number of diagnosed concussions and perhaps more to do with the number of sub-concussive impacts to the head." The post goes on to cite other research findings and none of them paint a pretty picture. Like I said, this is scary stuff.

I confess to having trouble with the idea of Abby never playing soccer again, but I also can't imagine my incredibly bright, confident and industrious daughter not having her brain intact for the long life that's ahead of her. I can't imagine that thinking, solving and remembering could become a challenge because she played soccer throughout her formative years. While I realize that one header is not (God-willing) going to leave Abby brain damaged, I do question whether it makes sense to allow her to continue to play, even if we forbid her from heading. While I don't have the same concerns about Ian's time in the theater, I am worried about his current injury and any long-term effects it might have. When something happens to your children that could affect them for life, you quickly realize how precious their lives are and how much you love them just as they are now.

I know I'm generally not the picture image of parental love and concern, but my words today are heartfelt and serious. I'm sure if the kids were to read this, however, they'd have their doubts. I submit as evidence a conversation I had with Abby on Monday night:

Me:  I think I have a "sympathy headache" for you and Ian.

Abby: No, you don't. You're not sympathetic.

Me: [A look of shock and disbelief]

Abby: When we were little you told us that you weren't sympathetic and that "if you're not bleeding, you're fine."

Damn that kid and her long-term memory.

As Ian and Abby have grown, I've learned that the cuts, scrapes and bruises of their childhood are not, in fact, the injuries most deserving of my concern. It's the hurts they suffer on the inside -- emotionally, mentally and physically -- that demand my full attention.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thank You for Your Support!

My daughter is usually pretty squared away. Someone in the family has to be. Given that Abby's only human, however, once in a while she drops the ball. Or forgets her soccer socks, like she did last week.  She was already at the bus stop when she remembered that she needed them, but I was determined to make the drop before the bus arrived, thereby saving myself a drive to the middle school. Unfortunately, I got tripped up in her pigsty of a bedroom, unable to find anything other than fuzzy red knee highs she wore in third grade. She's wearing them, dammit. Given that delay, the bus naturally beat me. 

Being the good mother that I am, I cursed Abby’s forgetfulness and then went after the first school bus I found. Not knowing her bus number (I'm not that good a mother), merely praying it was hers, I drove like a woman possessed, hoping to catch it at the next stop. I caught up to said bus, still unsure if Abby was on it. 

SIDE NOTE: What's with the tinted windows on the school bus? Even Run DMC knows that "Tinted windows don't mean nothin', they know who's inside." 

As I pulled up behind the bus and jumped out of my mom-van, the driver shut the doors and started to drive away. I gave chase, waving fuzzy red socks in the air and shouting, “WAIT!” A startled mom at this stop saw my crazed condition and flagged down the driver. When he opened the doors my mortified daughter reached out for her socks and actually thanked me for the effort. Even better than my daughter's appreciation was the driver's flirty comment: "I thought we had a new student!” Aw shucks, even I know that I don't pass for a middle schooler, but when you reach your 40s you'll take any attention you can get. Of course, it's likely he said that assuming I had a child in tow, not just socks. But I prefer to believe I was being flirted with. And no, I don't care that he was 83 and had no teeth.  

The socks and bus piece of the story, while painfully amusing, is not important in and of itself. It’s what happened next that I will always remember for the next few weeks: the mom at the stop who flagged down the driver gave me a congratulatory fist pump, and two women who were out for their morning walk shouted, “Go, Mom!” Frankly, it was the most support and encouragement I've felt in a very long time (sad, right?). It was also proof that moms, whether we know each other personally or not, know how to bond over life's everyday parenting moments. It's the little things that keep us going.

There's something to be said for receiving support and encouragement from the larger communities of which we are a part. I believe we'd all have a bit more spring in our step, the increased possibility of a smile on our faces and a greater sense of well-being. Here are just a few scenarios in which we could offer each other a quick pick-me-up:

  • You're using self-checkout at the grocery store and not once does the machine instruct you to "Wait for Assistance." Fellow self-checkout shoppers would offer you a pat on the back and a "Way to go!"
  • At the gym, you make it around the track once without stopping to catch your breath. The speedy person who passed you twice puts you up on his/her shoulders for a victory lap.
  • You've been waiting an unacceptably long time for a table at your favorite restaurant. When you're finally called, fellow waiting patrons sigh, but applaud your tenacity and good fortune.
  • At the Vietnamese-run nail salon (I've blogged about them before), you successfully deflect recommendations that you have your entire face waxed. Women in earshot give you a thumbs up and then gently suggest you reconsider your upper lip.
Research has shown the advantages of gathering in support groups - hence AA, Weight Watchers, GriefShare. All I'm suggesting is that we extend the love into our everyday lives. The results for society as a whole could be tremendous. 

Now get out there and make someone's day!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Great Expectations

Earlier this year I became aware of a tween and teenage issue affecting families in what I naively thought was my perfectly insulated and innocent community. It seems "sexting" hit close to home in the families of more than one personal friend. The shock and disappointment was profound and ultimately led to our church organizing a parents' night on the topic of teens and sexuality. And yes, if you know what my church has been going through, you're seeing some irony in this. But that's beside the point.

As my friends and I discussed this disturbing trend in teen behavior, someone mentioned having read about the affects of technology on a teen's desires and proclivities. She reported that the graphic and "advanced" nature of their early exposure to sexuality results in many teens needing "more" in the way of stimulation as they grow toward adulthood. The effects of peeking at Playboy magazine or reading a young adult romance pales in comparison to what our kids are finding online and sharing with one another on their cell phones.  

I'm finding this desire for "more" to be an ongoing theme in this world in which my children live. It may be a byproduct of living in a community where most families have what they need and then some, but it's disturbingly prevalent. No longer is a cell phone acceptable; a smart phone is required (and they still don't answer when you call). A vacation to Colorado is unappreciated because "we've been to that state before." A plain old birthday party at home doesn't suffice when everyone else does something way cooler and more expensive.

Sweet 16 parties and bar/bat mitzvahs are often examples of "more." In many cases, these rite of passage events resemble mini-proms or a wedding reception. I can't speak to the bar/bat mitzvahs of my day because I never attended one until recently, but I did turn 16 a couple nearly three decades ago and these grand affairs were not the norm. I find myself wondering what happened to the good old slumber party. But then again, it's probably safer to gather all of your kids friends in a supervised location where they're less likely to be drinking and photographing their private parts to text to a friend (who then sends it to his friend, and so on). I guess my biggest concern with these first class affairs is that they're setting our kids up for disappointment years from now. What if on their 21st, 30th, and 50th birthdays there's no one to throw them a lavish private party? How can your wedding reception top your bar/bat mitzvah when twenty years earlier it was the talk of the town? If you set the standard so high so early in their lives, can we exceed those expectations for the special moments later in life?

A couple years ago I heard stories of prom date invitations that both amused and concerned me. Boys were arranging elaborate scenarios in which to pop the question, "Will you go to prom with me?" Proposals were staged involving teachers and principals. Banners were hung on the bridge that links the middle and high schools. And a member of the track team recruited his friends to run in sequence wearing specially made t-shirts that read WILL - YOU - GO - TO - PROM, followed by Romeo wearing "WITH ME?" Awe! As in awesome, right? Absolutely. I would have loved to have been proposed to that way. Oops. That's what I was afraid of. To be on the receiving end of that level of sweetness and creativity as a high school senior only sets you up for disappointment when your adult boyfriend proposes marriage by leaning across the couch during a timeout in the football game and opening a little black box. And, he probably belched at some point in this transaction. Trust me, guys get lazy once you've been together awhile. You're rarely going to find romance delivered high school style. (Side note: Rob did not propose to me on the couch during a football game. It was a baseball game. No, but seriously, he proposed to me on the side of the road. It was more romantic than it sounds.)

Lest you think I'm presenting myself as above all this excess, I can assure you that I'm not immune to the temptation to fulfill my kids' desire for more. This Christmas we're heading to Mexico for the week. Unlike Colorado, Ian and Abby haven't been there yet, so they're looking forward to it. (Just hope we can get Abby a passport in time. Damn government shutdown.) And in lieu of a Sweet 16 party, a friend and I made our daughters a deal a year ago, promising them a trip to France instead, assuming they keep up their French studies. I'm sure the party would be much less expensive, but this way I get something out of it, too.

The reality is that many parents, myself included, want to give their children more than they had. Or they want to express their love and pride in their child, regardless of the cost. Sometimes, we go overboard trying to make up for the lack of time we spend together as a family. Our hearts are in the right place when we decide to go big for our kids, I just sometimes wonder whether our heads are in on it too.

Your thoughts?