Heroic parenting win or just a huge pain in the ass?

My five-year-old daughter shoplifted today.

It’s a January Saturday. I’m feeling crappy and need to puff my inhaler every four hours or I get nasty coughing fits, but I keep forgetting. Hubby has a huge game so it was just me and the kids for a matinee movie, Cub Scouts, the hardware store, and the grocery.

It’s freezing out and I’m admittedly dragging. Hubby hung around this morning because he thought I would want to get in my Saturday morning run, the four- or five-mile loop that is my precious weekly “me-time”.

But today, I passed. My large airways are full of slime and my bronchioles are twitchy. I just needed to get through the day, thanks.

I had promised Babyboy last week that if he was good with school dropoffs and homeworks, we would see this movie as soon as it came out, and so, there we were in the front row for Monster Trucks. The kids always insist on sitting in the very front row for everything. Thank goodness the seats reclined. The movie was perfect for five-through-seven-year-olds, and so, it was a hit with the kids.

Cub Scouts was also a hit: they’re making wooden race cars. Today was carving and sanding, next step is painting. So when we swung by the hardware store, we made sure to pick up acrylic paints.

Our local hardware store has a gumball machine. I hate gumballs. All I can think is “choking hazard”. But the kids love turning the quarter and watching the primary color deathballs spiral down this kinetic sculpture-type contraption, and so, they got gumballs. And me hovering over them demanding that they chew.

At the checkout, Babygirl begged, begged, BEGGED for one of those fancy lollipops, you know, the big round ones with gourmet flavors like “strawberries and cream” that cost two dollars. I said no, reminding her that she’d already had a gumball. Plus, I will not pay two dollars for a lollipop.

I paid for the paints and other stuff and we were on to the last (finally) errand.  I was getting tired of being sick and out and about in the cold, navigating streets and parking lots, getting into the car, buckling buckles over winter coats, getting out of the car, unbuckling the buckles, navigating more streets and more parking lots….

We pulled up to the grocery store and found a decent parking spot, a feat considering the playoff game tonight. I grabbed my purse and just happened to glance down into it.

There it was.

A big round “strawberries and cream” lollipop.

I picked it up and stared at it.

“Where did this come from?” I asked Babygirl.

She was silent.

“Honey, did you take this from the hardware store? Did you slip this into my purse?”

Pause. Then, matter-of-factly: “Yeah. I wanted it.”

Pause. “Honey! We did not pay for this! You can’t just take something without paying for it!”

Her: “But I really wanted it! I really, really wanted a lollipop.”

We were still sitting in the car. I was beat, spent, ill.

The right thing to do, the correct parenting/ teaching/ discipline thing to do, would be to drive all the way back to the hardware store and make her return the goddamned lollipop.

But it would be so, so easy to just confiscate the goods and impose some other punishment.

As we sat there, I had a flashback to forty-odd years ago, and a Rubik’s cube keychain.

I must have been six years old, and I was with my mom. We were in the toy store for some reason. I saw this adorable miniature-but-fully-functional Rubik’s cube on a keychain, and I had to have it.

I begged and begged. But the answer was no.

Of course the cube found its way into my pocket, and of course my mother found it when we got home.

She made me return it.

It must have been a huge pain in the ass to drive back to the mall and walk all the way to the toy store, especially because I’m pretty sure I sobbed, negotiated, and begged for mercy the whole time.

But eventually, I did meekly approach the counter and hand the precious item to the store clerk with a lame admission of guilt: “Um, I accidentally took this. Sorry.”

The clerk was an older lady who gave me a most disapproving look and said (I will never forget): “You know, I could call the police right now.”

Looking back, I’m sure this was a wink-wink effort to reinforce the lesson and be helpful to my mom.

But oh jeez, I was HORRIFIED. Humiliated, contrite, and HORRIFIED.

It was a lesson that stuck, and that probably informs my character today. Totally the right thing to do.

And so, back to the present, and the grocery parking lot. The key went into the ignition, and back to the hardware store we drove. On the way, I explained: “That was stealing, and it is wrong. You need to learn a lesson. You will return the lollipop, and you will apologize. It is not a choice.”

Babygirl kept asking, “Can we just pay for it? Because I really want it.” Babyboy kept asking, “Can I just stay in the car? I already know this lesson.” When we got to the door, Babygirl stopped short and refused to go any further, breaking down into tears, sobbing, “I’m scared! I’m scared!”

This is where things went a little less smoothly from a discipline/ lesson standpoint. The hardware store is a small one, and always busy. People were trying to get in and out of the doorway, and I had this obstinate little sobbing mule-child right in the middle of it.

So I picked her up and carried her to the counter.

The lady who had checked us out was gone, and there were two young men working the registers. There was a line of people, alot of activity. I thought we could catch the eye of one of the clerks and get this overwith without waiting, but after an awkward few minutes with me sending the telepathic message Do you seriously not see us standing here, Bub? we ended up in line.

When it was our turn, the freckled kid greeted us with a smile and asked, “How can I help you?”

I nudged Babygirl, who buried her head in my neck.

I cleared my throat and turned so she couldn’t avoid seeing him, but she shmooshed her face farther into my down coat, murmuring “I’m scared! I’m scared!”

Acutely aware of the shuffling and sniffing shoppers behind us, I snatched the lollipop from her sweaty grip and handed it to the guy, explaining: “She took this without paying, and we’re returning it.”

Babyboy, ever trying to be helpful, chimed in: “She stole it, and she’s learning a lesson. I already know it. I don’t steal things.”

The clerk cracked up. I swear he was about to say, Oh, that’s OK, no big deal, she can have the lollipop, but I knew I would scream if he did, so I cut him off with a curt Thank you and we headed back to the car.

We got through the grocery store and then (thankfully) home. Tonight, I tried to reflect with her:

“Honey, what did you learn today? The whole lollipop thing?”

She was quiet for a bit. Then she said, without looking up: “I never did apologize.”

I thought about this. “You’re right, you did not. I did it for you because people were waiting.” I didn’t know if she was sad that she didn’t apologize, or pleased that she managed to she save face. “If it happens again, honey, you will apologize. Is that clear?”

She nodded. “Yup.”

In the end, I’m not sure if this was a heroic parenting win, or just a huge pain in the ass.


Primary Care Specialist

A physician colleague posted about what being a primary care doc means to her. I read this on my morning commute, and was moved to tears. Though I’m internal medicine and she’s family practice, how she describes all the different types of little things we do every day resonates with me.

She granted me permission to share:

“I am a full scope Family Medicine Doctor. By choice. It is challenging. And frustrating. And wonderful. I AM A SPECIALIST! Every day, I try to master my skill. My skill is Empathy. My skill is Listening. Compassion. Providing reassurance. Knowing when to be concerned. Knowing when I need help interpreting labs, and when I don’t. Knowing when to refer. Sometimes that is when a patient demands it, even if I know they will be told the same thing. Knowing how to work the system, knowing how to get the worrisome ones into another specialty quickly when needed. Knowing how to wade through insurance forms and the magic words to get necessary physical therapy covered. And MY GOD getting your new wheelchair that you’ve needed since you were a child COVERED even if I have to send the forms in 3 times. My specialty is knowing how your mom’s alcoholism affects your anxiety, because you are both my patients. Knowing that you need reassurance about your cold symptoms because your 20 year old sister died of a PE. Knowing that today Mr X needs to be hospitalized because he is beyond his “normal” shortness of breath. I am a specialist at keeping people OUT of the hospital too. Even if I have to see you weekly for a month. Knowing when my normal healthy pregnancy turns into something more. Knowing when it is time to stop treating grandma’s cancer, or heart failure, or dementia. I am a specialist in humanity, and emotion. Disease and death. Living and living well. Every. Day. It is a privilege. To all my PCP momma docs out there…you are awesome at your specialty! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! You are valuable! You do the job others don’t want to do, because it is HARD! Keep your head up! You are AWESOME!”

Cooking With Kids: Homemade Butter

Stuck at home with the kids over the break? This is part recipe, part science experiment, and part educational vacation project. 

Start with heavy cream. Bonus for organic, super bonus for local! Our neighborhood grocery had few options, and so:

Cream and salt are the only ingredients. Half- fill a container that can be covered tightly. A screw- top plastic storage thing or mason jar is perfect. Add some salt to taste, if you like salted butter. Half a teaspoon is fine. 

And shake! Everyone take turns vigorously shaking the cream. It’s between ten and twenty minutes to make butter. 

It’s fun to peek inside at intervals and check your progress. It’ll be whipped in no time: 

So keep shaking!

You’ll go from whipped cream to yellowy- grainy- creamy to a solid ball of butter sitting in buttermilk! When it feels like something’s clunking around, you’re done. Shake it a bit more to get the nice round lump:

Babygirl drank the buttermilk (it’s tasty skimmed milk) and the kids used the fresh butter on their breakfast bagels for a few days. 


A Very Norovirus Christmas


It was two weeks ago that our hospital sent the outbreak alert email, and I wrote a whole post about the best methods for avoiding the dreaded Norovirus. I distinctly remember joking with a colleague: Ha! With our luck, we’ll all have it just in time for Christmas.

Well. Ho, ho, ho.

It is what it is, which is one the most hardy, stable, contagious viruses around. You can wash, bleach, and even run, but you can’t hide. All you can do is respect, and plan.

So when our kids’ babysitter suddenly started with chills and vomiting halfway through our evening out (and despite the fact that I’m a doctor and I wrote a freaking article about it), I did not plan very well.

And so we’ve had multiple family members in two households down for the count for the holidays, and I’m like, caught off guard.

In my defense, there has been alot going on, and all good. There was putting together gifts for teachers/ staff/ family/ neighbors/ delivery guys/ mailpeople, pouring out another few batches of Graham Cracker Chocolate Sea Salt Almond Toffee (look it up, you’ll be glad you did), wrapping things up clinically at work, wrapping presents, cleaning the entire house in my spare time, hosting the neighborhood cookie swap, baking amazing gluten-free Sicilian Pistachio Cookies (look it up, you’ll be glad you did), calling a few patients about their surgeries and results, hand-delivering the few Christmas cards that didn’t make it out last week, cleaning up all the trash the raccoons left in the backyard, and, um, I feel kind of queasy…

Babygirl had it first, then her cousins, then Nana and Grandma, and then I got it Christmas eve. Hubby’s team was playing, so I just sort of lay on the couch while Hubby called the game and the kids destroyed the house. I drank lots of tea and prayed.

Luckily, my mother is always prepared, and today, Christmas day, when Babyboy had been heaving for six hours straight, I was able to run over and get the ginger ale and saltines that settle his stomach.

Ah, well. Live and learn. Learn from me, folks. Always have ginger tea, honey, ginger ale, and saltines in the house, especially when in the midst of a gastrointestinal virus outbreak.

We had to postpone our Christmas Day gathering at Nana’s, but at least we were all home together. And, it seems to pass pretty quickly…

Merry Christmas.

All Creatures Great and Small… Even the Marauding Raccoons on our Porch

Last night, we returned home from a family dinner at Nana’s to a bit of mayhem in our yard. A trash bag that had been left outside of the barrel (oops, cleaning people) had been ripped, shredded, and ransacked. The scraps and unsalvageable leftovers from the previous night’s neighborhood appetizers-and-cookie-swap-party were strewn all over the driveway and under the back porch. Stained and smeared paper plates and napkins, chicken wing bones, piles of rancid salads and cheeses….

“Oh, good lord, we don’t need this,” uttered Hubby.

“Just go in and grab a trash bag, and we’ll scoop it up right now,” I suggested.

So Hubby bounded up the stairs, only to stop short, yell “HOLY S–T!” and run back down.

“What? What?” I demanded.

“Honey, there’s two huge raccoons at our back door!”

Both kids jumped out of the car, energized. “Awesome!” declared Babygirl.

“Can I see? Can I see?” begged Babyboy.

So we let the kids peek at the curious creatures, who did not flinch, growl, hiss or run. They seemed pretty happy to hang out up there until we annoying humans got out of their way and allowed them to resume their feast.

So we all went around to the front door and got the photo from the inside looking out. There are two raccoons there: a big mama and a smaller baby, tucked underneath her.

They were pretty cute. But, pests are pests and the mess had to be cleaned. Hubby was already panicking about the other animals who may be attracted by the gloriously gross trash mess, and he was peering nervously out the windows checking for rats…

Honestly, in the spirit of the holidays, I would have delayed the cleanup and let these fluffy bandits fill their wild little bellies. Whatever, there’s already a mess, who cares?

Alas, I am limited to focusing my animal-lover sensibilities on our kitties and the shelter residents. I’m not even allowed to fill our bird feeders anymore, due to this year’s little rodent infestation. And don’t get me started about the tragic fate of the flying squirrel who found its way into our dining room last month.

Our kitties are spoiled beyond spoiled, but I know a bunch of deserving creatures who could sure use some Christmas love. Here are some of my favorite current residents at our town’s animal shelter, pictured below.

It’s a busy time of year, and there’s endlessly heartwrending news all around us. War, gun violence, disease, and Donald Trump… It’s all horrible and sickening stuff. But here is something pretty much everyone agrees on and can act on: animal rescue. A benign and worthy topic, featuring universally loveable subjects. So, no matter where you stand on terrorism, refugees, pestilence and famine, or politics, please consider supporting an animal rescue organization this holiday season.

Just LOOK at these loveys and try NOT to do something!

Trouble the tortoiseshell
Clover, sitting, transfixed on the peanut butter treat
Bessie, soooo patiently waiting for that treat
You’re not supposed to know about these guys, but they are SO FREAKING CUTE I CAN’T STAND IT!
And my favorite, funny guy Harpo, mellow marvel who loves to play

It’s 5:15 a.m. on the one day of the week I can sleep in…

Is it Murphy’s Law or just normal motherhood? 

Babyboy was alert and oriented and determined to wake me up before dawn. It’s Sunday, the one day of the week no one has early morning commitments requiring me to be up. Hubby is out of town for three days, so I’m it. I begged Babyboy for a few extra minutes of slumber, hoping he would fall back asleep, but we only managed to wake Babygirl with our back- and- forth chatter (because of course, with Hubby away, both kids will only sleep in my bed). 

I’m an early riser in general and can deal, but these two have been enjoying holiday- hectic late bedtimes, and neither one is anything close to well- rested. They’re needy and irritable. They’re making demands and they don’t know what they want. They want me to be with them and I can’t use this time to do housework. 

So I find myself in the dark with the television on mindless cartoons, hijacked by two overtired little dictators…

And it’s Ok. It’s funny, and ironic, and a little frustrating, but it’s all good, because it’s Christmastime and I’m all snuggly with my children. 

It’s 5:15 in the morning on the one day of the week I can sleep in, and I’m thankful.