Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Munchausen Syndrome by Accident

Do we need a name for that thing where you take your child to the doctor but your child can't or won't talk and so you give the doctor all your observations and interpretations, and diagnoses and treatments get made based on that? Well, maybe not just on that, exactly; I'd like to believe that doctors make their own observations and can see things for themselves that we as laypeople might not necessarily know about. But it feels like we are describing our children and others are making decisions based solely on those descriptions.

It's empowering, sure, to be believed and accepted as an expert on your child. But it's also scary as hell.

Because unlike someone who is creating medical drama for a child out of some psychological need for attention, the parents I'm talking about -- well, me, specifically -- don't want to create drama. We'd like our kids to be healthy. We just want to take care of them, like any other parent. But when you have a kid who, say, doesn't feel pain like most kids, or doesn't have the kind of abstract understanding that comes in handy when articulating physical and mental and emotional health, or has language skills below what medical professionals expect and demand (leading those docs to turn their confused gazes onto you for clarification) ... what do you do?

You give your best guess, is what you do. You've been thinking about this stuff tons before that appointment. Maybe you try to coach your kid to say that thing you talked about in the car, and then maybe you just say it yourself. You hope you're right. You pray you're right. You wish you had a magic wand that, just for five minutes, would allow you to have a serious and detail-filled debriefing with your child so you'd know you're right.

And sometimes you decide to let it go, it's all in your head, you're being overprotective ... and you're wrong, wrong, wrong. Like the time I interpreted my son's vague complaints of a tummy-ache when he got home from school each day as more related to academic stress and girl trouble than any physical ailment, and it turned out to be an ulcer that would ultimately rupture and require emergency surgery. I beat myself up pretty good about missing those signs -- yet if I had brought him into the doctor earlier and claimed he was having stomach problems, and he'd been his usual inexpressive self, not answering questions or maybe denying that pain he'd already forgotten about, would the doctor have ordered tests or medication or surgery? Should a doctor act in that situation? Would even I be sure that I wasn't making all this up?

I recently had the uncomfortable experience of talking to professionals about a young person's deteriorating mental and emotional health, and the feeling that I was gaslighting the poor kid was overwhelming, even as I knew that things weren't right and crisis mode was appropriate and the afflicted one was incapable of coherent self-expression. I know so well from parenting kids with developmental differences how enormously open to interpretation behavior is, and how many different things it can mean, and how dangerous it is to assume that your interpretation is the right one. Yet my interpretation was being used to determine things like medication and hospitalization. How can that be? How can it be any other way?

It's a dilemma, and one that will continue until they invent one of those Star Trek thingies where you run a device over a person and it automatically tells you everything that's wrong. Meanwhile, the pressure will continue to be on us parents to make our guesses as educated as possible and make sure that it's not all, or in any small way, about us. Good luck with that.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

For When You Need a Good Cry

Had fun putting this Songs That Make Us Cry (and Songs to Cry To) playlist on YouTube in conjunction with our Parenting Roundabout podcast episode on things that make us cry. I find that country story songs are the ones that really jerk my tears — "Christmas Shoes," of course, which is the musical equivalent of a crowbar to the tear ducts, but "Don't Take the Girl" and "He Didn't Have to Be" both legitimately made me teary. I was kind of amused to see how a couple of sad songs from the old days, "Sylvia's Mother" and "Operator," are pretty obsolete because no one goes to an operator for information anymore or gets nagged by one to put in forty cents more for the next three minutes. Ah, memories.

Anyway, enjoy a listen and a weep — there are both happy and sad cry songs — and let me know in the comments what songs should be added on.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Parenting Roundabout Oscars Live-Tweet

Or, how we managed to stay awake through five hours of gowns and golden statues. Listen to the Parenting Roundabout Podcast at

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Mauro 10-Point Comfort Scale for Oscar Dresses

Over my years as a parent—and maybe particularly as the parent of kids with special needs, one of whom I regularly had to get down on the floor with as he was growing up, even at parties, even at church—I've come to value comfort and practicality in outfits over fanciness and sleekness and cleavage and slits and highness of heel. And while I appreciate that your average starlet can't exactly wear sweats to the Oscars (I'd be among those dinging her if she did), I still look at some of those super-fancy dresses and wince at how uncomfortable and potentially disastrous they will be over the hours that these women will be sitting there waiting to win, lose, or present.

In the interest, then, of rewarding those who do manage to be both comfortable and stunning, and to penalize those who have sacrificed their own comfort for a bit of red-carpet flash, I am submitting my official version of the Mauro 10-Point Comfort Scale, on which I will be rating dresses at the Oscar shebang. Join me, won't you? And add your own suggestions and specifications in the comments.

The Mauro 10-Point Comfort Scale
by Terri Mauro

Award one point for each yes answer to these questions:
  1. Cleavage: Can she sneeze or slouch without risking a wardrobe malfunction?
  2. Slit: Can she cross her legs without flashing a worldwide audience?
  3. Hemline: Can she cross her legs at all?
  4. Tightness: Can she sit for three hours without passing out or sustaining serious bruising to the midsection?
  5. Frills: Will she have direct back-and-ass seat contact without having to sit on a peplum, huge bow, or scratchy petticoat?
  6. Simplicity: Is it conceivable that she could use the restroom without having assistants along to undress and dress her?
  7. Bareness: Is her back covered enough to avoid pattern rash from a fabric-covered auditorium seat, or sweat from a leather- or plastic-covered one?
  8. Shoes: Can she walk to the stage to accept an award without risking a heel caught in a skirt or a twisted ankle?
  9. Train: Can she move freely without worrying about somebody constantly straightening out the back of her skirt (or what’s getting caught up in it)?
  10. Accessories: Do the earrings and hairstyle look like they could be worn for hours without giving her a headache?
Then subtract one point for each yes answer to these questions:
  1. Does this look like a particularly nice mother-of-the-bride dress?
  2. If that color looked that way on you, would your mother have told you not to wear it?
  3. Does it look like something she just had hanging out in her closet? Or you might have in yours?
  4. Is there a regrettable accessory? (See especially: belt)
  5. Is it just, somehow, not appropriate to the occasion? (Can range from a too-short skirt to, say, a swan costume.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Loving 'Parks and Rec'

This post is a bit off the parenting topic, except to say that any show that can hold my attention amongst all my personal chaos of family and freelancing has something pretty special going for it, and Parks and Recreation has been that sort of recreation for me, one of the few Mom Things that everybody knows to stay out of the way of. I've been thinking of putting together a list of my ten favorite episodes for the upcoming ending of the show (sob!), but since there are too many I thought I'd narrow it down by making it a Valentine's Day-inspired list of romance-related episodes. For me, that mostly means Leslie and Ben, because they're adorable and their relationship makes me happy. A few other couples, platonic and otherwise, do make it in, though. My unofficial list:
  1. "Flu Season" (Season 3, Episode 3). Because this was my first episode of Parks and Rec, and the one that made me fall in love with it, and the one where Ben fell for Leslie. Amazon | Hulu
  2. "Indianapolis" (Season 3, Episode 6). Because the idea that it is possible for a nice and positive person to break up with you in a way that is so nice and positive that you don't realize you're broken up with is both funny and sweet, and Leslie's litany of the times she's been broken up with is just funny. ("Skywriting isn't always positive.") Amazon | Hulu
  3. "Fancy Party" (Season 3, Episode 9). Because what other sitcom would allow such a completely impromptu, un-thought-out, unnecessary wedding between two main characters, where no one was pregnant or drunk or the victim of a wacky misunderstanding, and actually go through with it? The fact that Andy and April remained crazy about each other and crazy in general for the rest of the series is awesomesauce. Amazon | Hulu
  4. "I’m Leslie Knope" (Season 4, Episode 1). Because even when they're breaking up, Leslie and Ben are adorable. Love that the box Ben uses when he reveals he knows that they have to break up (to keep from torpedo-ing her City Council bid, since he's technically her boss and their dating is against the rules) ends up having a recurring role in their romance. Amazon | Hulu
  5. "End of the World" (Season 4, Episode 6). Because of Leslie's scene with Ron, where she confesses that if the world was really ending, she'd want to be with Ben, and Ron points out that unfortunately, it's really not; and because of the very sweet friendship moments underlying all the bluster and buffoonery of Tom and Jean-Ralphio's End of the World (and the money) party. Amazon | Hulu
  6. "The Treaty" (Season 4, Episode 7). Because Leslie and Ben's attempt to just be friends runs so hilariously amok into global war, and oh, c'mon, you crazy kids, just get back together. And because it's the middle of a perfect trio of episodes making just that happen. Amazon | Hulu
  7. "Smallest Park" (Season 4, Episode 8). Because after it's clear that not only can't they be exes and friends, they can't even be co-workers, Leslie finally respectfully asks if Ben would be willing to say "screw it," resume their romance, and accept the consequences. (Spoiler: He would.) Amazon | Hulu
  8. "The Trial of Leslie Knope" (Season 4, Episode 9). Because of the ending, with the nerdiest but most perfect declarations of love that completely fit these two. Amazon | Hulu
  9. "Halloween Surprise" (Season 5, Episode 5). Because when you get a surprise marriage proposal, it's not at all unreasonable to request a few moments because you "need to remember every little thing about how perfect my life is right now." Amazon | Hulu
  10. "Leslie and Ben" (Season 5, Episode 14). Because although this was a much more traditional wedding episode than "Fancy Party," with all sorts of obstacles and hijinks, the ceremony was beautiful and sweet and perfect. Parks and Rec, I love you and I like you. Amazon | Hulu
You can hear me discuss these episodes and more Valentine's themed entertainment on this week's Parenting Roundabout: Round 2 podcast. [UPDATE 2/14/16: And for more Parks and Rec goodness, join Catherine and I for our current Round 2 Parks and Recreation marathon.]

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How 'Cougar Town' Restored My Faith in Comedy

As the parent of a young adult with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I'll admit, I can be pretty humorless about the topic of alcohol use during pregnancy. I have no patience for anyone who wants to split hairs. This is a 100 percent preventable birth defect. We know exactly how to avoid it. News reports about how maybe this much is okay, maybe that much is okay, just make steam come out of my ears. You might be able to smash your baby's head against the wall a few times before causing permanent brain damage too, but why in the world would you?

Still, our society and our entertainment is pretty heavily invested in the idea that abstaining from drink is a fate worse than death. That's certainly the worldview of Cougar Town, a show that revolves around a group of friends in a Florida cul-de-sac whose most common communal pastime is polishing off bottles of wine. Jokes have revolved around the size of the container Courteney Cox's character uses as a wineglass. Funny jokes. I love the show, despite the fact that I gave up alcohol not too long after adopting my son when it became tough to relax and enjoy a substance that broke my kid's brain. (It's not like I was ever much of a drinker anyway. The line between feeling good and feeling sick was always pretty thin. No way could I keep up with the cul-de-sac crew.)

Cougar Town is one of those rare good-natured comedies — like Parks and Recreation — that just leaves me feeling happy, like I've spent some good time with fun friends. But I'll admit, I was worried when at the end of last season, one of the wine-swilling characters turned out to be pregnant. I wasn't looking for the show to turn into a crusade against drinking during pregnancy or anything; it's not that kind of show, and shouldn't be. But these are characters one might reasonably expect to be among the hair-splitters on the topic of fetal alcohol exposure. If the season resumed with Laurie explaining how she had determined how many glasses of wine she could safely swig, or grandma-to-be Jules laughing about how she drank when she was pregnant and her son turned out OK, I'd never be able to watch the show again, or with the same pleasure. And I would miss it.

So huge thanks and kudos to the Cougar Town writers for, in the usual amiable way of the show, just ambling right around the issue. The season picked up with Laurie late in pregnancy and lamenting her inability to drink. Her friends tried abstaining with her and were unable to, but there was no suggestion that she should join in (or preaching that she shouldn't). In the second episode, she had the baby, keeping this from being a season-long concern. Maybe I should worry about whether she's going to drink while breast-feeding, but you know what? I'm going to let that slide.

I'm just going to be happy that, at a time when those with serious concerns about special needs are regularly admonished not to hold comedy to any standards at all, Cougar Town has shown that you can avoid issue-baiting and still be funny. Turns out it's not that hard to avoid pissing people off.

[I also talked about this on the Parenting Roundabout Podcast: Round 2 this week, along with Snowpocalypse, the Super Bowl, Oscar scheduling, and books I may or may not have read. Listen in, and subscribe on iTunes for weekly episodes on parenting and entertainment.]