Teach Your Children Well



The other day I got behind the wheel of my husband’s car and panicked. The fuel tank was so low that the warning light had come on, and the needle was perilously close to empty.

“Relax,” my husband said. “You’ve got 28 miles before the gas runs out.”

I didn’t trust it. Ever since I started driving at age 16, I had been taught by my father never to let the gas gauge go under a quarter of a tank. It was wise advice that has kept me from being one of those roadside losers who run out of gas and have to call AAA or hoof it for miles to the nearest gas station. To this day, I make sure to fill the tank it gets close to the quarter mark.

The lessons our parents teach stick with us for the rest of our lives. I remember once shopping with my mom at a department store. She had been carrying a couple of pairs of pajamas in her arms, considering whether or not to buy them, and was no doubt distracted by having several children in tow. As she left the store and headed into the parking lot, she noticed she was still carrying the unpaid for merchandise. No sensors had gone off, and no security guard had hustled after her. But she turned right around and marched us all back into the store so that she could return the clothes. That simple action taught me never to take what wasn’t mine and to be honest and scrupulous in other areas of life.

Other things my parents taught me over the years were not to swear, not to fight (physically), to treat people with respect, write thank you notes, work hard, play fair, and take credit only for one’s own work. Most of these things they taught, not by words, but by example.

Our children are little sponges soaking up the atmosphere around them. They note what we do and say way more than we would like to think. For instance, when my oldest child was little, one of her first words started with “sh.” Clearly she heard me cursing under my breath frequently throughout the day and was simply mimicking me. Luckily, her baby voice wasn’t super clear, so no one but I knew what she was actually saying. This same child loved to hover around the edges of adult conversation as she grew up. I truly hope that what she heard from her dad and me was positive and life-affirming, not gossipy or negative. But I’m not kidding myself.

As kids get older, they tune out a lot of what their parents say. But they are still watching what we do. If our lives convey honesty, respect, compassion, and integrity, they will come to value those qualities in themselves. If we take care of our health, eat right, and exercise, so will they.

Of course, children are not clones. They will make mistakes and err in judgment just as we did when we were young. But if we are careful as parents to model lives of kindness and responsibility, the trajectory of our kids’ lives is likely to follow a similar path.

As Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang, “Teach your children well.” When they become parents themselves, they will remember the lessons of their youth and carry them forward into the future.


Celebration of Life


Celtic-Tree-of-Life-Symbol-and-Its-MeaningAbout a dozen well wishers gathered last Sunday afternoon to celebrate the birthday of a mutual friend. To the outside world, the gathering may have seemed pleasant but ordinary. After all, people have birthdays every day of the year. But to us, our felicitations for our friend marked something even more special: new life.

One year ago, that same friend was fighting for her life after a diagnosis of advanced stage cancer. On her birthday, she was in a medical facility preparing for an intensive few months of chemotherapy and radiation in a bid to save both her life and her quality of life. I remember bringing her a battery-operated candle to brighten the sterile atmosphere of her room in that facility. And I remember the uncertainty and fear.

Over the past year, a few friends and I have tried our best to help our friend get through treatment, deal with insurance, and make sure her home, car, and bills were taken care of. With no family, she would have been truly alone in the world. All of us juggled our own family responsibilities in order to be there for her as much as possible. Sadly, one of us, herself afflicted with cancer, passed away.

A year later, my friend is 50 pounds slimmer and cancer free. All her hair has come back gloriously, and there are only a few small scars to reveal what she has been through this past year. When she showed up to her birthday party in her new skinny jeans,  we were all delighted. She’d earned that piece of cake, let me tell you.

Life is a mystery, and cancer is one of the greatest medical enigmas of our times. Why does one woman succumb to her cancer while another recovers? Why does a wife lose her young husband and have to raise young children on her own – or vice versa? What makes one person live to a ripe old age and another die young?

Obviously, I don’t have the answers to those questions. I can only do my best to live a healthy life, to care for my family and friends, and to celebrate life no matter the circumstances. I pray that my friend and all the people I love have the chance to blow out many more birthday candles before they leave this Earth. And I hope I am on hand to help them enjoy that cake.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss



The European continent is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of measles – unprecedented, at least, since a vaccine was developed to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella in the 1960s. Thirty-seven people have lost their lives due to complications of this very serious disease. Why? Because people refuse to believe accepted scientific fact on the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Ignorance is killing us.

Possibly the biggest threat to future civilizations is the warming of the Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions. The ice melt at the North and South poles, rising sea levels, catastrophic weather events such as deadly hurricanes, and record-breaking heat waves in places like Canada and Scandinavia are all harbingers of doom. But they’re harbingers many people are willfully ignoring.

My cousin is visiting from the Pacific Northwest. She has a nagging cough from the smoke that is hovering over Washington State due to wildfires raging in British Columbia. My cousin told me that as her small plane “puddle-jumped” from her hometown to Seattle, she was unable to see any of the landscape below because the smoke was so thick.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rolling back emissions standards for automobiles, deregulating the EPA, and encouraging a resurgence of dirty coal production. This is the 21st Century equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Once again, there is consensus that man-made global warming is a reality and that it may already be too late to save parts of the world from devastating floods, droughts, and famine. But for economic and political reasons, our government leaders are refusing to act. And they have persuaded many otherwise intelligent people that climate change is “fake news.”

And don’t look for future generations to be smarter about scientific facts. It’s well-known that the state board of education in Texas has an outsized influence on what school textbooks are selected across the country for use in our schools. In recent years, board members have objected to the theory of evolution being taught as fact, with one board member even declaring, “Evolution is hooey.” (Gail Collins, “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” The New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012)

Science used to be the one pure subject that we could count on not being tampered with by political or ideological concerns. But in our politically charged atmosphere and with so much information (and misinformation) at our fingertips, even our scientific knowledge is being called into question constantly.

I guess the number one skill we should be concentrating on in educating future generations is critical thinking.  Only dispassionate and thoughtful inquiry will lead us to truth and away from ignorance.


Put HPV on Kids’ Vaccine Roster


originalWhile the anti-vaxxer movement has mostly targeted childhood immunization such as MMR and TdaP, there is another recommended vaccine regimen that tends to make parents uncomfortable: the vaccine to prevent human papilloma virus, or HPV. The reason for our discomfort is that HPV is contracted through sexual activity, and we just don’t want to think about our precious 12-year-old having sex (11-12 being the target age at which to give the vaccine series).

But if you think your child will ever have sex in his or her life, it’s a really good idea to have them immunized for HPV since the virus is incredibly common. In fact, without vaccination, most sexually active adults will contract HPV at one time or other in their lives.

The reason for vaccinating against HPV is that certain strains of the virus are known to cause cancers of the reproductive organs and the throat. HPV can also cause genital warts, which is uncomfortable and painful to treat. So while the HPV vaccine is mostly touted for girls, boys should also be vaccinated.

Naysayers will argue that giving children a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection will encourage promiscuity. But given how widespread the virus is, even if your child remains a virgin until marriage, his or her partner may still be infected and pass along that infection to a spouse. I have also heard parents argue that the vaccine has not been proven to be safe. But millions of children have received the HPV vaccine with no serious adverse effects.

Physicians who treat common gynecological cancers such as of the cervix see great promise in the HPV vaccine. While the vaccine won’t prevent all such cancers, it will greatly reduce the number of people who develop them.

Getting our kids through childhood in one piece is only part of our responsibility as parents. We owe it to them to provide as much protection for their future as we possibly can. The two-dose HPV vaccine regimen is a relatively painless way to help them stay healthy as they mature into young men and women.

Yes, there are plenty of shots to be gotten through in childhood. But with a dose of humor and a Sponge Bob bandage, we can make the HPV double shot part of the “going to the doctor” routine.

No Hurry



It is a pleasure and a luxury not to be in a hurry.

So often in our frantic lives, we find ourselves hurtling from A to B on our To Do lists, scarcely stopping to take a breath. Our blood pressure rises as we wait in traffic or long lines, knowing that precious minutes are ticking by and the day will all too soon be in our rearview mirror.

Time to take a breath.

This past weekend I was on my own. I could sleep in and stay in pajamas as long as I wanted in the morning. I could while away the hours reading, doing crossword puzzles and binge-watching The Chi (That show deserves a blog post of its own!). I took long walks without the nagging sense that someone or something at home needed my attention soon. And even though I had made myself a fairly impressive To Do list, I was relaxed and in no hurry to complete it.

It’s nice to drop something off at the local dry cleaner and say, “No rush” when asked when I need the item back. It’s lovely to drive when a little bit of traffic or a road closure (We’ve been having many in my small town this summer.) needn’t faze me. It’s wonderful to give my attention to small chores and errands that have been nagging at the edge of my consciousness for weeks.

On Saturday morning, I went to an 8 am yoga class. The theme of the class that day was balance, and most of our poses were designed to help us achieve that balance of body and mind. On my way home from the class, in the spirit of calm it induced, I decided that all prisons should offer yoga classes to their inmates. I can’t help but believe that a regular yoga practice would help diminish anger and aggression in those incarcerated.

Tomorrow life will return to a busier pace for me. My family and household responsibilities will keep me on a more pressing schedule. But I hope to hold onto the peace and calm I am feeling right now when there is no hurry.

Let’s Get Physical



Lately I’ve been driving past a building construction site on a regular basis. As I pass by in the comfort of my car, I can’t help but feel a little lazy watching construction workers haul heavy loads, pound nails, and perform other manual tasks. Now that the weather is warm, I see more and more workers outside mowing lawns, trimming trees, fixing roads and the like. And I realize there is something missing from my day to day life: strenuous physical activity.

In the past, most human beings had to work very hard physically just to survive. Everything from feeding one’s family to maintaining shelter to staying clean required huge amounts of digging, pushing, pulling, kneading, scrubbing and so on. As technology advanced, labor-saving devices started to make life easier for ordinary people. This tech revolution shows no sign of stopping. Nowadays, you can have a Roomba vacuum your living room while you sit on the couch and eat chips.

Just as with many other positive developments in society, though, reducing the need for physical labor has made many of us overweight and out of shape. When I was growing up, jogging and other like forms of exercise were not very common. My mother stayed in shape by a daily regimen of cleaning, cooking, and maintaining a household of 13. My father had an office job but spent hours in his garden on weekends, fixed things, and washed and maintained our car. We kids were also expected to pitch in by sweeping, dusting, ironing, weeding, and mowing the lawn.

As a child and teen, I was not much into exercise. I didn’t play any sports, and I dreaded the thought of running or swimming. When I went off to college, I lost weight because of all the walking I had to do on the huge campus of University of Illinois. I had sporadic bursts of trying jogging in my early 20s, but it wasn’t until the aerobics boom in the 80s that I really started to work out in earnest. I started exercising to Jane Fonda workout videos and soon discovered a class I loved: Jazzercise. In those days, leotards, tights, and leg warmers were de rigeur attire for doing aerobic dancing. I still chuckle at the leopard print leotard I loved so much.

Over the years, I have slowed down a bit in the workout department. I prefer a brisk walk to a run, spin, or Zumba. I love yoga because of the whole body, mind, and spirit connection. And I try not to spend too much time sitting around.

There are so many things the average American can do to up their physical activity. Walking or biking instead of driving, parking at the far end of the lot at the mall, doing chores, baking, gardening. Nowadays we can wear a Fitbit that record steps to make sure we are getting enough “steps” day to day.

Being active is important to living a long and vital life. So as Olivia Newton-John sang in 1981, “Let’s get physical!”


Maybe We Know Too Much



The world sure seems to be a scary place. In the news this week I’ve read about 13-year-olds shooting 10-year-olds, police officers being shot, an increase in sexual assaults reported in the military, a Chicago cathedral being robbed, another news luminary being accused of sexual harassment, and the fact that security at the local mall has been scanning my license plate when I park there. Last week a horrific accident on a Southwest Airlines flight caused the death of a woman and served to terrify the countless Americans who are already afraid of flying. Americans recently learned about a deranged man shooting up a Waffle House in Tennessee and a different killer driving his van into a crowd in Toronto, Canada.

Not only is the steady stream of bad news demoralizing, but it gives us a skewed impression of the risks we face in daily life. As much as I’m appalled by gun violence and want to see common sense gun legislation enacted, the vast majority of Americans are much more likely to die in a car accident or from heart disease than by being shot. The statistics are worse for children, however, in that gun violence is now the third leading cause of death in America. Nevertheless, children also are more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident, and yet how many people take pause before strapping their kids in and taking off in a car?

As scared as we all are of terrorism, the individual risk of being killed by a terrorist in America is statistically insignificant. The same is true of airplane fatalities. Yet we obsess about such fears while downing our Big Mac, fries, and large Coke, despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.

The internet and social media have only made this problem worse. In the past, a person would hear or read about news of national significance and possibly incidents in their own city or town. But nowadays we see articles about crimes and mishaps all across the country and even the world, despite the fact that those incidents are unlikely to have much impact upon our lives – except to scare us.

One of my favorite movies as a child was The Man Who Knew Too Much with Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart. It was a thriller about an ordinary family who unwittingly witness an assassination, which puts their lives in peril. Well, I feel like the woman who knows too much, and it’s stressing me out. No doubt the stress will kill me and not the horrifying events I’m unfortunately privy to on a daily basis.