Tag Archive: Jillian O’Connor

Do this! No, do THAT! The ultimate guide to parenting healthy kids (parody)

Eat more fish!
But make sure it’s not one of the five bad types or you’ll get brain failure. Eating fish is wonderfully filling, though, and it can be quite slimming.

Eat as many vegetables as you can for your baby!
But make sure it’s not any form of sprout or pre-washed baby carrots, or you will get e. coli and die, or even suffer from suboptimal nutrition.

Eat more honey to fight allergies!
But make sure it is produced within 20 yards of your house. Also, make sure it actually is honey. The organic label is not enough. If you can, chat with the beekeeper and one or two local bears.

Fish is also wonderfully healthy for pregnant women.
But make sure it’s not on the mercury list. If it is, it will make you crazy and kill the fetus as well as any children you have yet to conceive. You may continue to play with your existent children, but only once the glowing stops.

Don’t overbathe your children and wreck their skin by putting them in the tub every single day. But if you don’t, they will look like they have cradle cap, and everyone will think they have lice.

When your children appear to have lice, don’t dump lice shampoo on their heads because it’s poison that doesn’t work. Pay a local nit-salon lady $200 an hour instead. Return every other month as the kids at school reinfect you and your children without hope of any insurance company covering this. (It’s only cosmetic to get rid of bugs living on your head, after all.)

Getting your hands dirty in the garden is good for you — body, brain and soul. But whatever you do, wear gloves or you’ll get toxoplasmosis from cat poop stuck in your fingernails, ingest it, and become schizophrenic, as will your kids. Make sure you wear a face mask, too. You don’t want to breathe in those particles from the soil, although the latest reports last week did claim it was a potent antidepressant.

Sunscreen will not effectively protect you from melanoma. Wear it daily to protect you from the most potent form of skin cancer, melanoma.

Give your kids a large variety of stimulating toys in bright colors. But not red, yellow or orange since those are all tainted with lead if they are not made in the U.S. But don’t worry, there are two known toys that are currently made in the U.S.

Most importantly, have fun as a parent and keep up with the news!

What oh-so-helpful suggestions for parents are driving you mad? Share them in the comments section.

Plaything of the damned

Every parent has that one toy in the house that they’d put a mob hit on.

For me, it’s called Alphabet Pal. And it’s purple. And chirpy. And a caterpillar. And vile.

For one, it tries to wake up the kids, even when we don’t know it’s on. And it’s been doing this for five years. Why do I let it live with me? I’m not really sure.


But every once in a while, it senses a human walking near it and shrieks, “HI! I’M ALPHABET PAL! WANT TO PUNCH ME IN THE FACE?” Well, no, it doesn’t really say that, but that doesn’t mean I really refrain from doing that, either.

The irony — or rather lack of irony — is that we received this gift on The Elder’s first birthday with a note from my father-in-law, instructing the darling child, “Drive your dad nuts with this.”

But, in fact, it drives us both over the edge. And the batteries just don’t run out.

Someday, both kids will be done with it, and we’ll throw it away. Or recycle it. Or something. We’ll probably never be rid of it, since interpreting Seattle rules for throwing molded plastic detritus out requires at least a master’s degree in waste management.

So the mob hit may be our only recourse in the end.

What toy in your house would you most like to kill? I’d love to hear about it. 

This post is a throwback to 2012, and was first printed at The Two Boys Club (http://twoboysclub.com).


Are smartphones a dumb move for grade-schoolers?

My eight-year-old thinks he should have a smartphone so he can play Minecraft whenever he wants. I think that he shouldn’t have a smartphone because then he will play Minecraft whenever he wants.

Back in my day, a kid that age would call his friends on tin can “phones” attached by a string. (OK, maybe that wasn’t my day, but I sure did see that on reruns from the ’60s a lot.)

And back in my day, it was character building to sit and wait in a panic, with no phone in sight, when a parent was late picking you up from the bus.

Nonetheless, it seems I am way out of step with trendsetters in the children’s fashion world, who find it not only desirable but essential that my five-year-old’s winter coat have a cellphone pocket. (What five-year-old doesn’t have a need for a cellphone? It leaves me to wonder where he’s going to store his car keys and his cigarettes when he’s out on the slopes.)

But seriously, I do resent being nudged toward completely immersing my kids in the world of iPhones, Androids, iPads and Nintendo 3DSes before they’ve even formed a proper sense of what intersection they live near. They barely understand how to talk into a phone when it isn’t in speaker mode, which other parents tell me is now a grave epidemic among today’s under-10 set. The last thing we need is autocomplete messing with their newfound spelling ability.

But the products keep coming. There are little gloves for four-year-olds with touch-screen-friendly fingers — just in case your child wants to play Minion Rush while out in a blizzard. A tiny coat pocket is tagged with a picture of a phone so your preschooler knows, before he can read, that you are depriving him of valuable technology that he could be carrying on his person at this very instant, even though he is struggling with the concept of having to carry his very own nearly empty backpack to school each day.

My question is whether parents are really doing this: Are adults buying kids as young as grade-schoolers their own phones now? And are people actually buying young children smartphones? (And requiring pockets for them?)

Sure, the kids can call you when you mess up and accidentally forget to pick them up at school. The down side is that they might be surfing porn and watching bomb-making videos when you get there.

What are your thoughts on smartphones for kids? Are they too much, too soon, or just right?

Top 10 reasons why you (maybe) don’t want measles


  1. Unsightly red spots.

  2. Might get pesky brain inflammation.

  3. Eyes could stop working.

  4. You’ll look like a throwback to the mid-1960s.

  5. Doctors younger than 70 won’t even know what you have.

  6. Makes it easier to pick up ebola when that hits.

  7. Anti-vax families will keep inviting you over for playdates (so they can inoculate the old-fashioned way — by catching it).

  8. Probably have to stay home from Disneyland.

  9. Eyes hurt and you feel like you might die.

  10. Oh, yeah. You could die.

Parents’ bully phobia might build better victims

In the winter, many people find themselves unwillingly stuck in the house with a pack of sugar-jacked kids unless they get out and go to the one of the hell holes known as a “children’s museum.”

Or better yet, a “science” museum, where kids jockey for position gaping at naked mole rats and narrowly avoiding stepping on butterflies.

It’s also a great place to go if you want to watch people from all walks of life demonstrate the latest techniques in helicopter parenting, also known as raising the passive child.

My five-year-old was playing with discs at a bizarro station that looks like a conveyor-belt sushi place. He was taking a bunch off the belt and stacking them up.

And then I heard a parent angrily chewing him out for taking too many and not leaving enough for her precious offspring, who was also 5.

(One might ask why she was so close to a contraption that provides hours of entertainment to kids who clearly do have a knack for stuff like factory work. If you want to know why those mean adults in Lowell, Mass., hired 19th-century children for endless menial tasks in factories, just take one look at a kids’ museum. They love it. Forget the basement foosball table and just put a sweatshop down there. But I digress.)

Why was she not — at the very least — advising her five-year-old to tell my five-year-old that he was being over the line?  Did she really think she was the only capable person in the pair? Are we training kids to be so conflict-averse and non-bullying that they can’t even stand up to a nonthreatening peer? Why?

I’m wondering if I’m living in some kind of twilight zone where I expect my kids to talk to other kids about how to share and play, and everyone else is intent on training their children to roll over and whimper. Meanwhile, the parent takes out any faintly aggressive child in his or her path. I’ve seen this happen many times at many kids’ play areas over many years.

Kids know the rules, and usually can be counted on to hash out a deal. And if it gets too volatile, well, then an adult or police officer or EMT can be called in. Since about three people left in the country send their kids outdoors to play alone together, where else can kids practice these skills but at a simulated factory?

I suspect that the main reason The Other Mom was intervening was that she felt her child was a victim, and that she was standing up to the more assertive child. I’m here to tell everyone today: just because bullying exists in society does not mean that children who look out for their own interests and don’t hand everything away are bullies. These types were once known as showing leadership potential, before society got bogged down with wanting all children to compete in a passivity/sweetness contest.

That day, this child learned that only his mommy can stand up to pushy kids. He needs her there to wade through the morass of scary, assertive kindergartners. And where does that leave his development? When will he get a chance to do this on his own if not at age 5? Will he magically be left alone by all slightly more aggressive children because he has been shielded from all conflict? Or does he perhaps need to develop a few social skills to tell other kids when to back off?

But on another note, since when do adults tell off kids in front of their parents? Was she unaware that I was about to metaphorically drop-kick her? She’s taking a big risk in the first place that her kid will not grow up to know how to get a job or make a friend, but also that other parents are going to go nuts on her.

Or merely blog about her.

Have you encountered a parent telling off your kid? Have you told off kids? What do you think about this issue? Share your story in the Comments box below.

First posted in December 2014

The real reason kids’ pajamas are ridiculously tight

Every parent learns that you have to buy kids’ cotton pajamas two sizes too big. We’re not supposed to, according to the yellow hang tags from an unidentified authority, but that is how it’s done in reality.

Otherwise, kids look and feel like they’re wearing too-tight body stockings, and no one wants to sleep that way. (What if you get an itch? You’d then need to completely undress, sliding off that clingy cotton peel just to scratch your thigh.)

If the pajamas you buy in your kid’s size fit more reasonably, it’s because they are made of synthetic fibers (which may or may not have been chemically treated long before the fabric became pajamas) or have been made thoroughly coated in flame retardants that must make it through at least 50 washes in all their chemical goodness.

How did these pajama rules come about? And how many kids in loose cotton jammies were truly in danger before these regulations first came into effect in the 1970s? (And couldn’t that risk have a lot to do with the vastly greater numbers of parents who had cigarettes dangling from their lips in 1975?)

The tight fit is considered protective because no loose fabric means less of a chance that a sleeve or pant leg will be set ablaze.

And the rule change in the 1970s did result in a significant reduction in fire injuries to children. That was back when the manufacturers were using a few flame retardants that were so obviously hazardous to health that they were swiftly banned in 1977.

Today, I can safely say I seldom hold my children over an open flame. Particularly not when they are wearing pajamas. But then again, mine hardly ever wear pajamas anymore since they’re are so darned uncomfortable. The synthetic fibers are too heavy, and the cotton versions are too clingy. I like fire safety, but I also like having kids who will fall asleep at night.

But these fire-safe jammie laws mean nothing if everyone buys a bigger size or ditches the clothes for loose T-shirts and shorts. It’s common sense to avoid clothes that smell like chemicals. It’s common sense to buy clothes that fit. And it’s common sense to keep the kids away from things that make fire.

Until recently I was under the impression that these laws existed to protect kids who woke up in burning homes, but I was wrong. In 2000, a memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that children should only wear cotton pajamas when they are snug because loose garments catch fire fast. The press release notes, “Children are most at risk from burn injuries that result from playing with fire (matches, lighters, candles, burners on stoves) just before bedtime and just after rising in the morning.”

It sounds to me that rather than changing the clothes, fire prevention experts need to work on looking into households where kids routinely play with fire before bedtime. Limiting access to matches and lighters and teaching kids not to turn on the stove might be, say, a whole lot more effective. Guards that prevent young children from being able to turn on the stove would be a good move, too.

And maybe the parents could just make sure they occasionally look in on the kids. (Sadly, I know, that’s sometimes too much to ask.) I’d have to say that tight cotton pajamas and chemical-coated polyester blends certainly do seem to be a Band-Aid here.

They aren’t really doing the job, either, if most people avoid buying the products. It’s a little like banning brown wooly coats so children don’t get shot by hunters. It’s the free-ranging gun that’s the problem! Just like it’s the free-ranging fire sources that prompted these rules.

Let’s start a movement instead to get the lighters and matches away from kids, and outfit every home with a stove guard.

Do you break the fire safety regulations, too, or do you follow every last rule to the letter? Let’s discuss that in the comments.

Bathe yourself in divine lighting

There are some new mirrors on the market that make you look like you’re well, Jesus Christ. And, much like him (according to some reports), they are everywhere at once.

At first, I was excited to see these frames that evoke a medieval or renaissance look. They’re in pretty much every store that sells anything vaguely decorative.

“Gee, that sacred mirror would look swell in my dining room!”

But then it dawned on me that it looked like any user would look like, well, an aspiring deity. (As far as I know, even Kim Kardashian has not made it to that level yet.)

According to Wikipedia, halos reportedly went out of fashion by the 19th century in Western art, but they’re back, baby. It’s the ultimate DIY project, and just perfect for the Internet:

“How to look divine in two easy steps.”

“You won’t believe this new saint life-hack!”

“I went to Crate and Barrel, and you won’t believe how holy I look now.”

So, despite the kooky “Game of Thrones” vibe they might give to an otherwise drab dining room or ungodly bathroom, I passed on getting a mirror.

I don’t need my already confident kids to get heads that big.

It’s probably somewhere in the kid manual that they not view themselves with halos at all times.

Top 10 questions about Santa you’re afraid your kid will ask

1. How does Santa get all those gifts all over the world in one night? I don’t believe the toys use little umbrellas to fly down, like on “Rudolph.” 

You know, it, um, happens. Like … magic. Yeah, magic. And aren’t you glad it does all work out?

You like getting the toys, right? I wouldn’t want anything to … happen … to slow Santa down, or impede him in his … mission. It would be a shame if you got in his way with these questions.

Do we have an understanding here?

2. Why does he look different sometimes? Why was he wearing a fake beard when I last saw him?


Is your kid sick again? When a ‘virus’ strikes 12 times a year

Sometimes, it’s good news to hear that your kid doesn’t have a cold, but an obscure rare disease.

If it’s the twelfth “virus” that’s given him a fever of 105 every 28 days for the past year, the diagnosis of that obscure rare disease becomes a downright blessing.

This is the strange state that is being the parent of a child with PFAPA syndrome, a benign condition that brings about very high fevers for days with alarming regularity, and no obvious cause. (It also brings that interesting acronym, which stands for periodic fever, aphthous stomatitis, pharyngitis and adenitis. Try rattling that name off as a party trick for your nurse- and doctor-friends, who have likely never heard of it.)

Often, the child has mouth sores or a mild sore throat. But in other cases, the child merely has some slightly swollen glands: an indication that, yes, your child might be fighting something. But what that is is anybody’s guess for the parents for months, and very often, years. Otherwise, the child is happy, healthy and robust, and doesn’t even catch a smidge of illness when all the big kids around him are flu-ridden and miserable.

It just doesn’t make sense. And you become certain you’ve gone insane.

My trip to this twilight zone started innocently enough, with what was certainly a late bout of roseola in the two-year-old. For six to seven days, he had a fever above 103 and 104 – all the time — and no other symptoms. We didn’t medicate him when he seemed reasonably content and playful to help him fight off this apparent mystery virus. We brought him to the pediatrician twice, and she found nothing but swollen neck glands.

Every morning for about seven days, my husband and I would expectantly check him for a red rash on his torso, the rash that gives the infant condition roseola its nickname, baby measles. The fever ended. The rash never came. But the fever did again, 28 days later. As did my newfound fears: Meningitis? Could it be meningitis? Is he septic? Quick, let’s check him for cuts! Can Kawasaki disease be cyclical?

And is yet another medical staff member going to tell me “some kids just get high fevers with every illness”? Really? And always with no other symptoms? Am I being punked by pediatric residents?

He surged to 105.8 one day, which resulted in my running with him — yes, running like a lunatic, with him precariously placed in a broken-down stroller — to the nearby regional children’s hospital. Verdict? “It’s just a virus.” It was another six-day fever that started high, stayed high, and wasn’t going down much with acetaminophen.

Twenty-eight days later, we were on vacation in Hawaii, and the bizarre mystery fevers were a distant memory, until 56 days later (yes, that is indeed 28 times 2). And 28 days after that, a crazy-high fever spiked to the 105s again.
Twenty-eight days later, same cycle, same pattern. And so on, and so on, and so on. For the next 13 months.

The local children’s hospital’s urgent care clinic became our new haunt on many weekends. Most of the time, we were sent home with the diagnosis of “a virus” and the advice to keep doing what we had been doing – which of course, seemed to always lead to a fever of 105.8. (It also led to two horrible urethral catheterizations, since the feverish and cranky boy steadfastly refused to pee in any cup for anyone.

When your kid spikes major fevers with no explanation, the doctors need to check for a urinary tract infection. Even, apparently, when the kid has this pattern every damned month and never has a positive test for a UTI. I just consider us lucky that the physicians never got around to coming at us with paperwork for a spinal tap. Every month.)

Finally, after two summer fevers, during which I knew exactly what day his fever would go to the 105s, I started demanding answers; I stopped wishing it would all stop happening.

I asked his excellent pediatrician if the fevers were a concern to her. “Well, it’s not like he’s getting a fever every month,” she remarked. Um, yep, it is.

That’s when I went back over every e-mail about a missed playdate, every begging request to kind friends to pick up my older child at school, every darn monthly letter explaining to my sick child’s co-op preschool class that I would be missing my required classroom day yet again, and did anyone want to sub for me for, say, the seventh time?

That was when we knew for sure that we were on to something. It was as if we were tracking a menstrual cycle. Every 28 to 32 days, he got a visit from the fever fairy. It was not in our heads. After a quick but traumatic blood draw at our pediatrician’s office to look for signs of cyclic neutropenia, a very rare but serious disorder of the white blood cells, we were given a referral to the children’s hospital’s infectious disease unit.

By that time, from my many Google searches for “recurrent fever,” I knew we were likely dealing with PFAPA, and that it is considered harmless and is not infectious, but the few postings online from other frantic parents told me that the only people who really knew a whit about periodic fevers were infectious disease specialists and rheumatologists.

And, this, for a disease that is neither rheumatological nor infectious: A no man’s land of childhood conditions.
The day of the big appointment, I came armed with my sloppy but detailed handwritten diary, and discussed the history at length with a resident. And then the ID doctor came in. She was the person I had longed to speak to for more than a year. Her greeting: “This is not a virus.”

I have since read others’ accounts, and this is the most gratifying thing a parent can hear after months or even years of uncertainty and late-night fears spurred by a borderline delirious child in your bed, screaming about shadows again.

We have not yet opted for the current first line of defense –one or two small doses of the powerful steroid prednisone given at the start of a fever — but already we are resting easier. We know it’s not meningitis, or a raging infection, or cancer. Or a virus. And expensive genetic screening has almost certainly ruled out any possibility that my son could be dealing with another rare but more serious periodic fever syndrome, such as familial Mediterranean fever or TRAPS (formerly known as familial Hibernian fever).

PFAPA is certainly not fun, but in almost every case, it does go away, say doctors, usually by the time the child reaches the double digits in age. (It generally starts in early childhood, between the ages of two and five.) With a tonsillectomy, it can go away even faster. Since the precise mechanism that triggers the fever is unknown, it’s still a mystery why removal of the tonsils and sometimes adenoids seems to work. But it seems that in 80 percent of cases or more, it does.

In the case of my son’s specialist, at least, the course of action is usually to try prednisone first, then daily cimetidine (yes, Tagamet), then finally to seek a surgical option, which is, of course, more invasive, but has had good results for many kids. Is there a chance this disease is arising because young children used to have tonsils removed routinely in alarming numbers, and now it’s a discouraged procedure? No one knows, and there are very few doctors studying this.

It is known that PFAPA was once a disorder believed to exist in a smattering of children when it was first identified in the 1980s, as Marshall’s syndrome. Today, there are more than 400 parents who are active on the Facebook page PFAPA Child. Of course, not every family is aware of the page, or even aware that their child is suffering from such a condition, so it seems there are quite a lot of us out there in the United States alone.

After the diagnosis, a 105 was just a sign that we needed to back up the ibuprofen given five hours before with some acetaminophen, not a sign that we needed to get to a hospital at break-neck speed. I learned to appreciate the little things, like the beautifully smooth operation of a brand-new oral syringe for liquid ibuprofen.

And my time-tested ability to measure out 1.5 teaspoons with my eyes closed. And to not even blink when I read 105.8 on a thermometer. It’s just another month in the life of a PFAPA parent.

Previously posted on my children’s health blog, stickersandlollipops.com

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