“You’re a raspberry!” – On defiance and other difficult kid behaviors

I never know how to respond to my kids’ difficult behaviors. Or, rather, how to correctly respond. Despite the myriad parenting books, websites and blogs I’ve turned to, plus our pediatrician, a child psychologist, and  friends, I don’t ever know what’s the right thing to do.


Babyboy’s been trying out some new protest behaviors. For a very annoying several-week stretch, it was spitting. We’d tell him it was time for school, or bathtime, or bed; or not to whack his little sister over the head with a firetruck, and he’d spit at us- sometimes in our general direction, but a few times, right in the face.

Spanking doesn’t faze him. Yelling, variable: sometimes he doesn’t seem to notice, and other times he gets traumatized. Time outs: Usually, he doesn’t mind. Not effective enough. Taking favorite toys away: that definitely gets his attention, and this is our current preferred discipline method.

Problem is, there have been days where we’ve almost run out of favorite toys to take away, and he was still spitting, or doing whatever bad behavior thing it was. We’ve gotten down to every last Lego, truck, and stuffed animal, praying that he didn’t do anything else before bedtime, or we’d have to get creative.

The spitting thing has gotten better, but we don’t know why. Now, he calls us names. But, we sometimes can’t help laughing at what he thinks up. “You’re a raspberry!” is the latest. The last time he said that, Hubby turned around and said, “Well, you’re a blueberry!” Babyboy didn’t like that.

Babygirl has taken to chucking things at us. This week, she scratched her brother as they fought over a toy. Hard. Her nails left welts on the back of his neck. I took the toy away and put her in time out. She howled, flailed, and yelled: “You’re a BAD mommy!” and threw one of her tiny plastic animal toys at me, as hard as she could. It hit my chest and fell to the ground; not painful, but wow, was I shocked.

I took away more toys: her animal “friends” of the day. She threw herself on the ground, crying and screaming and protesting. When I walked away, she chased me and grabbed my pants, demanding “GIVE ME MY ANIMAL FRIENDS BACK!” which I ignored.

What was remarkable was that Babyboy quietly gathered up some of her other animal toys and brought them to her. “Here you go, here are your animal friends.” It didn’t calm her, but I was struck by his gentle attempt.

Later, at bathtime, I showed Babygirl the raised red scratches she’d left on his skin. “Look what you did, this was very outchy for your brother!”

She inspected the marks with serious wonder, and said to him, with real regret, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

The worst behavior we’re seeing may not even be defiance. It’s Babyboy’s perseverations. We don’t know what these are: an OCD thing? An autism thing? A random kid thing? Whatever they represent, they’re getting worse: longer episodes, and more frequent.

Babyboy will become upset about something that was done in the wrong order. Most often, it’s something like, he wanted to be the first one down the stairs and into the car. But, he didn’t say he wanted to be first, he just starts flipping out as we’re all getting in the car. He cries, violently throws himself to the ground, refuses to move unless we can somehow re-do whatever it was.

It’s not always about him being first. Early this morning, it was that I got him his slippers before I got him his milk. He collapsed to the ground, crying, begging, “Go back! Put the milk back, put the slippers back! Get the milk first!” Over and over. Five minutes. Ten minutes.

I’ve been experimenting with ignoring these episodes, in the hope that he would learn we can’t “re-do” everything on demand. But, he seems to be in actual pain. He begs, sobs, pleads, “Please, please, you have to go back! Mommy, please!

This morning, he went on and on, banging his fists on the ground, begging, crying…

And I did, I hugged him and said, “Okay honey, if I put everything back and do it again, will that really make you happy?”

He popped up, rubbing his eyes, and said, exhausted: “Yes, Mommy, please.” He watched me very carefully as I put everything back and did it in the “right” order.

Hubby took him to the grocery store this afternoon, and had a similar experience over checking out. Something about the order of things on the conveyer belt. He had one yesterday too, at the hardware store, also over checking out, that Hubby had put the items on the counter before Babyboy was “ready”.

And two days ago, Thursday, my day off with the kids, I took them to a friend’s house to play, and he had a doozy of a similar fit, in their yard. Babygirl had reached their jungle gym first, and he did his usual throwing himself on the ground crying, demanding that we all go back to the car and start over. He hit the ground and demanded, over and over, “Go back! Go back! She needs to let me go first!”

The other kids slowly came closer and closer to Babyboy, mesmerized by this unusual behavior, not sure, at first, what to do. Then, I think one of them decided it was a game, and going up very close, started mimicking Babyboy. The younger child did too. They weren’t trying to be mean, I’m sure; they were trying to make sense of the drama.

I calmly tried to distract them: “Hey guys, he’s just really upset right now, let’s let him be by himself, okay?”

But they didn’t seem to understand me, and the mimicking made Babyboy even more upset. “Go away!  Go away!” he screamed. He just seemed to be in so much pain about it all. Finally he jumped up, pushed past the other kids, ran up to the jungle gym, and violently yanked Babygirl off the jungle gym swing. She started crying; meantime, the other kids had followed and were still making mimicking sounds.

There I was, in this nice backyard, watching over this melee, Babyboy at the heart of it, still yelling “Go back! Go back! She needs to let me go first!”, and I was standing there useless, with tears running down my face. I just had no idea what to do.

Luckily, the other adult helped out. I think as she was a new person, it somehow snapped Babyboy out of it. I was shaken up, and it took an embarrassing long time for the tears to stop.

Hubby and I have talked about getting help from the pediatric psychologist for this, and I’m trying to set up neuropsychiatric testing as well. How much of this is normal preschooler behavior: “testing”, learning to share, needing control? How much is pathologic: obsessive compulsive, autistic?

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How To Study For Your Boards: Go On A Play Date

I took the medical board recertification exam this week. This is a day-long, standardized multiple-choice test that practicing internists need to take (and pass) every ten years. It’s becoming more difficult to pass: ten years ago, the pass rate was 90%. Last year, it was 78%.

I’ve been fretting about this for months. I bought the study materials in November. I registered and paid my fee in December. I got into full study gear in January. Since then, despite my best intentions and over a thousand dollars’ worth of written, electronic, and audio board prep material, I just hadn’t been able to get through all the information.

So, last Sunday, three days before the test, I found myself staring at the list of areas I hadn’t even looked at, pondering what to cram: Endocrine, Rheum, Nephrology, or Neurology? Ugh. Still so much to read, and hundreds of potential practice questions to answer…

Then, I got a message from another mom of a boy in Babyboy’s class: They were free for the afternoon, did we want to pop over for a play date?

I stared at the message, thinking, Oh, goodness. Bad timing. I have this really important test in three days for which I have absolutely not studied adequately.

And then I messaged back: Yes! We’d love to! What time?

You see, Babyboy had never been on a play date before. Yeah, we have relatives and neighbors he’s played with, but no real play dates, like, with classmates or other peers. He’s only ever been invited to two birthday parties, and one was this kid’s party, several months ago. This mom and I had chatted about getting the kids together outside of school sometime. She’s a working professional, and we’d had a lot to talk about. But with our schedules, and just general busy-ness, it hadn’t yet happened. For all these reasons, I thought it was more important to accept the impromptu invitation.

I asked Babyboy what he thought about going to play at his buddy’s house, and he was very excited. So I left Babygirl with Hubby and we headed over.

But when we got there, Babyboy wouldn’t even look at his classmate. The child came close and smiled, said hello, but Babyboy had no response, and resisted any prompts by anyone to engage.

The mother, her two kids and I walked over to their jungle gym, which featured Babyboy’s favorite: a sand box with digger toys. But he wouldn’t come near, and instead, retreated to the farthest corner of the yard, looking down, shuffling his feet. When we called and called for him to come closer, he instead started walking around the yard, circling us from along the tree line.

I admit that I felt so frustrated at that point, I wanted to cry. I considered just packing it up and going home. But the mom was very nice and understanding, and we just sat and chatted. Babyboy came closer to ask for a snack, and he interacted with us adults briefly. Afterwards, he went right back to his slow, shuffling circling… But we noticed that the circle was getting somewhat closer. As more time passed, he was walking right around the jungle gym, and then around the sandbox, where the other kids were… and then, he began curiously touching the swings, the ladder, the ramp…

Eventually he ended up digging near the other boy, but not interacting. Then, we had to go in for a potty break and diaper change. The kids played Legos inside, near each other, not really interacting. Two hours total passed, and I started getting ready to leave. As we stood outside in wrapping-it-up chitchat, the other boy asked Babyboy what he was doing, and Babyboy responded: “I’m writing with chalk”. Which he was. On their tree.

After that, they actually started playing together, a happy game of race-the-car-down-the-hill, punctuated by “Hey I had that first” or “I want that”. They were making eye contact, discussing what to do, arguing… like normal kids. Again, I wanted to cry.

I joked with the mom about how ironic it was that it had taken over two hours for Babyboy to warm up, and now that they were finally playing together, it was time for us to go home.

As we drove home, Babyboy asked, “When can we come back?” and I knew that his first playdate was a success.

The boards? Hopefully a success as well. I won’t know if I passed for another three months. It was a very difficult test, but I don’t think an extra afternoon of cramming would have made a big difference… I’m counting on my standardized test-taking skills to have pulled me through.

Time will tell.


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Trust That They’ll Grow

Yes, there are still piles of dirty snow in parking lots and the shadiest corners of yards. And it did snow again this week, a wintry mix that was more wintry than mix. But it’s as clear as the antihistamines flying off the pharmacy shelves: Spring is here, even in Boston.

The kids have noticed all our bulbs coming up in the garden; they’ve even mangled some of them (see The Sweetest Nature post from two weeks ago!). From that experience came books and discussions about spring and plants. Nana had had the kids participate in the creation of her veggie garden last year, so they remembered about seeds, and dirt, and sun, and water…

So last Thursday when I picked up the kids from school, I asked them what they wanted to do for fun. We usually do something, like, go to the library, the donut shop, the playground… I ran down our list of options, and I threw in: the garden store. They jumped at that. So, off to the local “garden store”, which was the nearest big-box hardware store with a garden section.

Right near the entrance was a massive display of seed packets, and at 99 cents a packet, I let the kids go a bit nuts. It was so funny the things that caught their attention: purple cabbage, rainbow carrots, ornamental gourds, hot peppers, beets, lavender, turnips, every kind of tomato, peas, sunflowers, watermelon, long beans, chives, scallions, and on and on.

I’ve never grown seedlings, and thank goodness the big box store caters to enthusiastic newbies. Right next to the seeds was a display of inexpensive seedling starter kits: “mini-greenhouses”, basically plastic trays, each with 72 compartments filled with dehydrated growing medium, with a clear plastic cover. Into the cart went four kits. The kids fairly sprinted to the checkout, and we were home with our afternoon project well before dinner.

It was freezing out, as usual, so we took the project into the kitchen. We spread the seed packets out on the floor, lined up the trays, and Mommy read the directions. Within a minute we were pouring water on the growing medium, and within five we were planting seeds.

They stuck with it for far longer than I had predicted. Yes, they argued about what to plant next and who got to open the seed packet and how to plant the seeds et cetera. Plenty of seeds ended up on the floor. Something got the cats’ attention, like catnip, and they persistently nosed in and poked around. But overall, it was a fun time, and everything got planted and labeled and watered.

I wasn’t quite sure where to put the kits. I ended up placing them on our radiator covers, the ones under windows. The heat was still on, and I worried that the dirt would dry out and the seeds would cook. But I placed the clear plastic covers on each tray and trusted that something would grow.

The next evening, only twenty-four hours after planting, in the midst of the rush of coming home and eating and trying to get the kids upstairs to their bath, Babygirl lifted one of the condensation- fogged covers and exclaimed:

“There’s a pink plant growing!” She pointed with wonder at one dark pink tendril gently looping up from the dirt.


From then on, every time we checked, there were new and wonderful things happening, all kinds of varied color shoots and leaves poking, curving, stretching up… The kids were excited, but I was even more excited.

Now, a week later, I’ve had to remove the covers, as the long beans, watermelons, peas and gourds are so tall. We need to start hardening them so they can be planted, so I took the trays off the heaters, and tomorrow, we’ll set them outside during the day. It’s supposed to be in the sixties….

Hopefully, our seedlings will make it from the warmth and safety of the living room to the raw New England springtime, and beyond. I got online and ordered a cedar above-ground garden frame. We have way, way more plants than the four-by-eight garden will hold, so Nana will have an assortment of seedlings too choose from for her backyard garden. And if any local friends/ neighbors are reading: Wanna plant a garden?


The kids picked out lots and lots of seeds.

The kids picked out lots and lots of seeds.

Our seedlings are growing gangbusters!

Our seedlings are growing gangbusters!


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A Teaching Moment (Latest MiM Post)

My most recent post at Mothers In Medicine: An essay on the current underrepresentation of women doctors in medical education, myself included… and few words about Doc McStuffins.

A Teaching Moment


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“Cherish Every Moment” of Parenting? (Sharing a wonderful essay)

A beautiful post from Lara Friedenfelds, that I’ll likely read over several times:

“Cherish Every Moment” of Parenting?

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The Sweetest Nature

It was Tuesday evening, and we were in the family tag-team process of clearing and cleaning supper dishes/ preparing kids’ lunches/ picking up toys/ herding kids upstairs to the bath. Hubby and I had both come home from work on the later side, and my mother could only drop the kids off once we were home, and everyone had to eat something, so…. It was pretty late to be just starting the bedtime routine. Like, seven- thirty-ish.

Babyboy had brought a bundle of sticks into the house when he came in, so as we all headed up the stairs, I opened the front door to throw them out into the yard. But, as soon as I opened the door, one of our cats darted out. I held the door open in an attempt to grab the sneaky kitty.. .But then, the kids darted out.

“Look at the green plants!” exclaimed Babygirl. There is a dense cluster of daffodil greens just beginning to poke through the dirt in the garden by our front steps.

It wasn’t that cold; by this heinous winter’s standards, it was pretty nice out. Babygirl and Babyboy crouched over the mound of little green spears in wonder. Meantime, I chased the cat.

When I came back with the furry felon in hand, I found Babyboy pulling up the daffodils!

“No! Oh no don’t do that! You’re hurting the plants! They won’t grow if you pull them up, honey, they won’t grow into pretty flowers!” My shrill tone alarmed Babyboy, who had had no understanding that he was mauling what would become a gorgeous yellow bouquet. He froze for a few moments, staring at the ripped greens on the ground at his feet. Then, he jumped up and ran inside the house.

I thought I had traumatized him, so after I got Babygirl back inside, I went looking for him, calling out “It’s okay, honey, It’s okay, you didn’t mean to hurt the flowers! I know you didn’t!”

He came trotting around the corner from the kitchen, with a plastic bowl and a tablespoon. He ran past me to the front door, which I had closed again.

“Open the door, Mommy,” he pleaded, holding up his bowl and spoon. “Please, Mommy, we can plant them here. I can put dirt in this bowl and plant them here. Then they will grow.” He was so genuinely excited and sincere. My heart melted.

This is why, at almost eight o’clock on a cool March weeknight evening, you could see me and the kids crouched by the garden, working quietly. Babyboy spooned snow-damp earth into the little blue bowl. He and Babygirl picked up the torn shoots, one by one, and stuck them into the dirt, carefully mounding it around so that they were were standing upright.

Babyboy placed the bowl on the front stoop and proudly declared “See Mommy, we planted them in there. The plants are okay. They will grow.”

Oh, so, so sweet. Of course, ever since, I’ve been wondering what I’m going to tell him when he finds that the little green shoots  have become shriveled and brown; how to soften the blow, that they couldn’t be saved. How can I begin to teach these kids about the nature of… nature? Things grow, things die… It all requires time, and patience…

I’m thinking we’ll buy some seeds, plant them in little pots, and grow them in the kitchen, so the kids can experience the whole process. We’ll all get a little dirty. We’ll grow a few hardy herbs and things that can be transplanted outside when it gets warm.

So, so sweet.






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When Your Autistic Kid Is Different: Is It Okay?

Our town held an Easter Egg party today. Of course, this being Boston, it’s snowing heavily, so the event was held inside. Hubby had offered to give me protected time so I could exercise and study, and I took that offer and ran with it. Literally, as he and the kids pulled out of the driveway, I went running.

I love running in inclement weather. I feel like a female Rocky Balboa. I had my high-energy music mix going, and I was running to the beat, feeling totally badass….

Then, Hubby called. “It’s not going so well,” he said, sounding defeated. Babyboy was refusing to even enter the hall where all the festivities were going on: face painting, arts and crafts, photos with the Easter Bunny. Instead, he was rolling around on the ground in the foyer. Some friends of ours who were there with their own child were watching Babygirl in the great hall, but Hubby felt bad about it.

I was about a mile and a half away… I suggested to Hubby that he grab some drawing paper and crayons and let Babyboy color in the hallway, and meantime, I ran over. I mean, I ran.

Yes, the place was loud and absolutely packed with families. With the heavy snowfall outside it felt like a crowded ski lodge on a school holiday weekend.

But, it wasn’t that big of a disaster. Babygirl and her little friend were having a great time; luckily, and thank God, his parents are good friends of ours and lovely people. Meantime, the ladies working the event in the foyer let Babyboy pick out a bunch of Easter eggs with prizes inside.

When Babygirl came out of the hall wearing cardboard ears and with her face painted bunny, Babyboy didn’t act sad. He wasn’t feeling left out. He got eggs with prizes.

When we left, Hubby said we should have known it wouldn’t go well for Babyboy, and maybe not brought him. My feeling was, he had an okay time, in his own way. So, he hung out in the foyer and did his own thing. He still left with eggs, and he didn’t seem upset.

We want him to become educated, employed, and a productive member of society. We want him to live up to his potential, and to be self-assured and happy.

Should we try harder to assimilate him, work towards more socialization, push his boundaries? If let him be on the periphery of parties, at the edges of events, will we be somehow stunting his development?

I believe we can only go so far with an autistic kid. He’s going to be different from most other kids. But if he’s happy, can we just let him be?

Interested to know what thoughts people have.



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