Friday, September 29, 2006

Did you like your kid today?

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I think sometimes I am doomed to think too much (hence the blog). But also I am the parent of a teen and work with a number of teens and their parents. These musings started a few weeks ago. I had had a major fight with my son and the next week I had a session with a teen-age boy who has an unhappy relationship with his parents. This is not revealing much private information since many teen-age boys have unhappy relationships with their parents. And this is not really about this boy. It is about me.
I left work that day worried that perhaps my son did not like me. Not because of the one fight but because of the daily accumulation of parenting mistakes. I understand that the parenting involves unpleasant obligations--enforcing chores, homework, setting limits and so forth. It is a dangerous mistake to give up on those obligations in the interest of making your kid like you. But what about those days when you are irritable, arbitrary, unpredictable and irrational? When you probably aren't particularly likeable to anyone? Do these moments do irreparable damage to your relationship with your child? Probably not, if the balance is in the positive direction. A little humility always helps too. Sorry, uh oh and oops do a fair bit to pave the way to mutual tolerance and respect. Kids do not need perfect parents; they need parents who are aware of their own imperfections.
I supressed the urge to ask my son if he likes me. Being insecure because of something that happened in my work day, does not constitute a good reason to launch a heavy discussion. A corollary is never use your child as your therapist. I do not need to impose a brief moment of self-doubt on my child and make him obligated to reassure me.
Well, I got over that moment of weakness. And I think that generally my son does like me. Of course, I am not as noble as I used to be, but in a few more years he will reconnect with the simple fact that I am not as stupid as I sound.
But this incident led my thoughts in another and more important direction. It is nice if your kids like you. It is essential that you like your kids. As a person and a therapist, it is hard to be in the room with a parent who does not appear to like his or her child. Note I say "like." At the moment I am not talking about love, which, of course, is important too. Parents dislike their children for many reasons. Some children are hard to like. They are defiant, explosive, aggressive, lazy, moody, irrational and so forth. But generally any parent should be able to take joy in some aspects of a child's talents, personality, empathy, humor, intellect or inner or outer beauty. I don't know if Jeffrey Dahmer or the Unabomber were likeable as kids, but it is hard to find a child who has nothing to offer. I'm not sure I've ever met one.
So no matter how awful your son or daughter is today, try to like him or her just a bit. Separate their actions from their character. When my older son was a toddler, we used to say to him "Sometimes you do bad things but we still love you." It always amused me that he turned that around and said "Sometimes I do bad things but I still love you." Freudian, huh? For an older child, the message also is "Sometimes you annoy and frustrate the heck out of me, but I still like and respect you for the person you are."
Just a thought. . . .

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Storm Warning!!

Friday we had a gathering of family and friends at our house. This was proceeding as such things do, i.e. the food was running a bit late, when we heard sirens. My first reaction was to check my watch. Air raid sirens seem to go off at round number times. But the time was 6:34, not a round number in my book. Was I mistaking a lot of fire engines at once for an air raid siren? I looked outside but could see no suspicious activity.
Well for those of you who don't keep track Friday was the Jewish New Year. So the next thought to cross my mind and that of one of my guests was that there could of been some sort of terrorist action. Attacks on Jews have come on major holidays before.
Fortunately for my paranoid side, a more experienced mid-westerner observed that it was likely to be a tornado warning. Like all good geeks, I turned on the TV and the computer simultaneously and surfed both. And tornados it was.
In 23 years in Chicago, I have never heard a tornado siren; I also had no idea that there was such a thing. As a west coast kid in the 60's and 70's we had bomb drills (basically get under the desk and kiss your ass goodbye) and earthquake drills. In LA we even got out of school on smog alert days. But no tornados.
My first inkling that Chicago was closer to Kansas than LA was when I discovered that many of my anxious patients are afraid of tornados. In LA anxious people lost sleep about earthquakes. If a truck rattled the chandelier, they would look for a doorway to stand in. I always thought earthquakes were sort of exciting. Of course I never had a freeway fall on me. A number of years ago, my grandparents were forced to relocate after a big earthquake fatally damaged their apartment building. But that's the worst that anyone in my family ever experienced. This never stops people from being phobic. I sometimes think if Southern California fell into the ocean, the world's cultural IQ would rise but I couldn't condone the loss of life.
But I digress. What I didn't realize was that the two youngest children at my party would be so scared. Here I am jumping up and down and saying let's go outside and look and they all wanted to hide in the basement. Logical statements such as "The house is 120 years old and still standing. I doubt the risk is too high," and "Major cities tend to prevent tornado occurrence; it's something to do with the big buildings," did not help. Maybe it was unempathic of me to grab my camera and take some pictures.
To make a long blog short, they called off the alert less than 10 minutes after the sirens. The storm blew out over Lake Michigan and the excitement too blew over.
To my untutored eye it did look like tornado weather though. It reminded me of watching the Wizard of Oz as a kid. It starts out in black and white in Kansas, but Oz is in technicolor. In contrast, our many colored world went black and white for a few minutes. Eerie.
But no storm and no terrorists. Amen.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Randomness and Skepticism

Random 1: Blogger beta really needs to let us link to Blogger sites and so forth. I cannot even comment on a site I like anymore or use the link function.
Random 2: I don't have much time to write before work this morning but I have a new project. My random surfing brought me to some skeptic blogs. And by fate or coincidence, last night I was at a professional meeting and suggested that members of my profession should put more educational information about quack medicine out into the ether (or on paper). So now I am thinking of submitting to Skeptics Circle about one of my pet peeves. I have many so I won't commit to which one at present. I have some serious family obligations this weekend so don't hold your breath. Stand by for a little controversy.
Random 3: I'm not sure what photo co-ordinates well with this theme but doesn't this cow look skeptical?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Playing Pharmacist

I just ran into an article that I printed off the New York Times entitled "Young, Assured and Playing Pharmacist to Friends." It was published in November of last year but is still highly relevant. In a nutshell, people are trading in prescription medications. However, of late, this is not simply selling addictive drugs to those who use them. Instead of Oxycontin, these folks are sharing their psychiatric medications, often for what are thought to be more noble motives. Say your friend is depressed. You have some old Paxil lying around and you think it would be helpful to your friend. Why not save her some time and money and give her yours? No "middle men" involved. No insurance co-pays, no psychiatrists involved.
I find that there is a certain irony involved given that a newspaper for psychiatrists (Psychiatric News) recently ran a lead article entitled "Follow-Up Care often Lacking in Depression Treatment." The article is critical of doctors who prescribe antidepressants but do not see their patients for follow up in a timely fashion. Current FDA guidelines suggest patients be seen seven times during the first 12 weeks of taking an antidepressant due to risks of dangerous side effects. Yet some members of the public perceive taking an antidepressant as a "do-it-yourself" activity. Next will there be the publication of a book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Prescribing Psychotropic Medications?" Publishers please write to me care of this blog. The book could be a best seller, and I'd be happy to write it for you.
Incidentally for a good teen/young adult read (fictional) on this topic try RX by Tracy Lynn.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Photo Friday-Bright

This was taken at an evening concert in Pisa, Italy, this June, in honor of Galileo.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

My bad

I've been riding around with out-of-date license plates tags since April. I didn't even notice the tags were expired until I got a ticket (sigh) in June. I missed the notice to renew the tabs in the first place (long story) and who looks at their back license plate closely? I spent so much of the summer traveling that I didn't get around to the renewal until July. By this point it was too late to get a new tab on-line or via a currency exchange. Renewing the tabs requires a long trip to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles. Not my idea of a fun way to spend my spare time. But the tickets accumulate. To avoid being further fined for my non-compliance with the local car tax, I cannot park on city streets and especially not at meters. I cannot be pulled over for a moving violation (a good idea to avoid anyway). And it turns out that the parking lot at work is not safe either (that was a $20 ticket--the fine in my home city is $50). Generally my garage at home is safe but you never know.
So here's the list of today's chores (shared with spouse). Pick up child 2 40 minutes away from home to take to 11 AM soccer game. Pick up child 2 from soccer game 15 minutes early to take to 12 noon dance class. Go downtown to buy child 2 new dance shoes (time permitting). Postpone weekly grocery shopping to Sunday. Enroll child 1 in soccer and ceramics class. Consider going to buy soccer shoes for child 1. See if child 2 needs new soccer shoes. Help child 2 with homework. Drill vocabulary words for foreign language class. Go to DMV. Follow up on work issues I procrastinated on. Etc.
See why I don't get my tabs on time?
Maybe I'll spend all day playing on the internet instead.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Originally uploaded by skron.

Good thing a picture is worth a thousand words because I'm too tired for anymore.
This was taken in Zion National Park last month.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Blogger Beta

Blogger is telling us that we can now download pictures from Flickr. After too many frustrating moments I am going to try yet again. . . . If no photo appears I will leave this up as a testament to technology and beta versions of the same.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Enough said

Product Alert!

For the ladies only--how many of you knew that they now make spray on hose? This was a discovery I made just yesterday. It makes me think somehow of the World War II stories of women who drew a line down the back of their legs to make it look like they were wearing nylons.
I can see the headline now:
Would be robber suffocates after trying to don girlfriend's spray on panty hose!

Friday, September 08, 2006

But do we deserve a refund. . . .

I just ran into the latest in the James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, saga. I assume by now anyone literate enough to read a Blog knows that Mr. Frey made up much of his previously "acclaimed memoir". There have been months of accusations, denials, admissions and retractions since the publication of this book which became a best-seller, was featured by Oprah and so on.
In the interest of honesty, I have to admit that I fell for the story. Despite my professional knowledge of the perils of alcohol and drug addiction and of the methods used to treat them, I demonstrated an excess of credulity and as they say, bought it hook, line and sinker. Well, now I feel like one stupid fish.

I actually recommended the book to a couple of people before a colleague told me it seemed likely that parts of the book were fabricated. I think I need some therapy for the psychic damage this did to my ego.
One section of the book aroused a bit of question in my mind. In a scene reminiscent of the movie Midnight Express (torture by dental drill), Frey has extensive dental work without pain killers. Apparently Frey's treatment center feels that pain relief is too dangerous for recovering addicts. Now, I know that there can be crazy fads in the drug rehabilitation business, but let's get real. Next will there be open heart surgery done awake and without pain relief. "Now sir, just bite on this bullet here. . . . " Of course, for all I know this may be the one true part of the book. By the way, if you are afraid of dentists, do not read this part. It is truly hair-raising even for a work of fiction.
Now word has it that Random House, Mr. Frey's publisher is settling a lawsuit by people who feel cheated that they bought a memoir and got a work of fiction. I got this information from the Radar on Line web-site.(
And since we have already established that I believe everything I read, I now have to decide if I will get in line to recover "damages" from having read the book. At least will Mr. Frey pay for the therapy session I've booked to aid in my credulity-therapy?
Radar On Line tells me that I am unlikely to get anything back from this lawsuit except perhaps a vague sense of satisfaction. Even if the settlement happens I generally do not hold onto receipts of paperback books I buy. To my shame, I may not qualify for the refund anyway because I likely bought the book after word got out about the deception (since my colleague had already heard rumors of falsehood). And I'm not sure if a refund of $14.95 or so will really undo the pain and anguish cost by Mr. Frey's deception. I mean, this may take years of therapy to fix.
All kidding aside, what really needs to be asked is: are readers entitled to compensation if a writer lies? What comes next, class-action lawsuits by readers of the National Enquirer? It would be a nice change for them--they usually get the libel suits from the celebrities in question. Isn't this a little like someone who embezzles millions of dollars. Shouldn't Frey be made to give the money back to all his readers and his publisher? Or as some argue, if I was stupid enough to believe I was reading a memoir, I have no cause to whine about it publicly.
I might want to try to claim a refund because I want to punish Frey, but I honestly don't really feel entitled to the fruits of a fairly frivolous lawsuit. Perhaps Frey and his readers who get refunds should donate their ill-gotten gains to a worthy cause, like promoting effective treatments for drug and alcohol abuse. Now that would be a happy ending. But of course now we're really talking fiction.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Belated posting--Lucca, Italy, June 22-23, 2006

June 22-23

More about Lucca. This is not intended to replace a tour guide. First of all, I have no intention of visiting every major tourist site. Others have done this better than I and the kids will not put up with it. Last year we did climb the Torre Guinigi and enjoyed it very much. The view was fantastic and there is a certain romance to trees on top of a tower. There are other towers to be climbed but maybe another trip.
Let me instead tempt you to visit with a description of our breakfast stop. We sit in a café in a small square. Zoning laws in Lucca must be quite interesting. The tables and umbrellas are laid out in the middle of a road. How did this café get permission to do this? Across the square from us is a fountain shaped like a bathtub. People fill their water bottles from a tap on the side. I’m too anxious about GI disturbances to do the same. Not that I doubt that the water is potable, but living in France 20 years ago, I discovered that I avoided minor but chronic GI upset by not drinking tap water and it was well worth the investment in bottled water. My husband thinks I am paranoid.

There is a small church across the way as well. It has some wonderful marble carvings above the arched doors although the walls are unremarkable. A few older women wander in to pray. There are few tourists in this particular square. Next to the church is another ancient building housing the local ambulance corps. The ambulances are parked next to the church walls which is a typical European juxtaposition of ancient and modern. I think you have to come from a historically young country such as the United States to be as strongly struck by these contrasts. The Beatles music playing loudly in the station house adds to the ambiance. Ironically this music seems old fashioned too although in context the Beatles are not exactly antiquarian.
I turn D loose with his camera. He is especially taken by the semi-feral cat in the door of the café. The cat’s fur is matted and he looks unkempt so D feel sorry for him. I explain that this does not mean the cat is necessarily neglected. Proof arrives as a woman walks by, opens a can of cat food into a dish outside the café and then walks on. The cat and pigeons appreciate the food. D tells me the cat is related to our cat at home because he cleans himself like ours does.
Today we buy Legoes at a toy store. Not exactly the quintessential Italian souvenir but I too think Lego Bionicles are toys worth having especially if it buys a happy child for a few moments. I take a photo of an interesting shop window. It commemorates the on-going World Cup with soccer balls and shoes entirely in chocolate. The photo does not do justice to the window (or the chocolate).
For lunch we meet our friends who spend their mornings studying Italian while we loll about. We eat at a local pizzeria (run by Brazilians). This year they are understandably proud of their new air-conditioning. This is a rarity in Lucca and makes the pizza go down a lot more easily on a hot afternoon.
After lunch a brief swing into the Anfiteatro for a gelato. Local gelato is as good as reputation would have it. My favorites are frutti di bosco (literally wood fruit–actually mixed berries) and fragola (strawberry). The kids love chocolate. Mint is D’s current favorite.
The afternoon entails a return to Marlia. The kids head directly to the pool. One recent afternoon I hiked into the hills above the Azienda. This is a longer hike than I had anticipated. There are some tempting small towns up the hill and I have been wishing to see the church attached to the tower I can see from our house. The roads are unbelievably winding and I never did arrive at the tower in question. After multiple switch backs I arrived at a different church in a different small town.
A foreigner hiking up these hills must be quite a sight. I felt that everyone is staring at me wondering what I am up to. It was hard to take pictures for the same reason. The Tuscan stone farm houses are striking to my eye but I had trouble doing them justice with my untutored photography skills. I was also shy about photographing someone’s house in too obvious a manner.
One older gentleman who was putting chemicals on his grape vines tried to strike up a conversation. He might have been asking where I was coming from and I tell him I am from the Azienda. In retrospect he was probably asking which country I am from. He seemed to think I am either German, British or Dutch. It mystified me that anyone could believe I am Dutch. With my dark skin, hair and eyes, I look more stereotypically Mediterranean than the fair colored Tuscans. I think American hikers are less common around here. I don’t know if I managed to convince him that I am from the United States. We part in mutual, amicable confusion. I wish I had better Italian language skills and more understanding of the local etiquette. As on many days, that one ended with hungry children demanding why I had not returned hours ago to feed them.

Back to school week

Sometimes it is a little hard to say good-bye to summer and vacation. Even though I am no longer in school myself, 32 years of continuous education are hard to let go of. I find myself envying teachers who still get the summers off (even if they pay for it financially). I am launching two children into back-to-school mode tomorrow complete with new pencil boxes, backpacks and spiral notebooks. It is a bonding experience to be in office supply stores the night before school starts with all the other worn-out looking parents.
This summer, as my Blog and pictures attest, I have been in two foreign countries, and three states besides the one I live in. Sometimes the contrasts were dramatic. The Pacific Northwest Coast is a far cry from Las Vegas and the national parks of Utah. So you might ask, am I sufficiently spoiled to wish I didn't have to go back to work and the routine chores of getting two children off to school, after school activities and monitoring homework? The answer must be, yes! It is not just a fear of work after all. It is maybe even more a fear of winter. Yes, winter hits hard and fast here in the midwest and lasts far too long. Sometimes I think I can feel my mood sink as fast as the sun starts setting on the shortened days.
Well, seasonal affective disorder keeps me in business winters. As does school phobia, bullying, shyness, short attention spans, anxiety and other symptoms of the back to school season. Two wishes I have in my clinical practice are: (1) Insurance companies would pay for winter trips to the Carribean for people with documented seasonal affective disorder. (2) School could be a kinder, gentler place for children. Yes, I might be a bit less busy at work but wouldn't we all be a little bit happier?
Now back to household obligations. . . .