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Talking about the tough stuff. Like underage drinking

E and I have had some very serious conversations in the past two years. That's nothing out of the ordinary for the pair of us.

When he was four, a drive past a long line spilling out of the doors of a funeral home led us to a discussion about autopsies. That same year, he needed -- NEEDED -- to know why we didn't want someone other than Obama to become our nation's president, the entree for talking frankly about same-sex marriage, leaving the decision about when and how to have a baby to a woman and her doctor, the institutionalized racism that has kept women and people of color out of higher office. When he was three, he initiated the heart-piercing conversation about divorce much sooner than any expert I read advised he would need to have the talk. Every few months, he whispers around the bedtime lullabies to ask some immense soul-searching question about souls and what happens when we die and if God really hears what we pray for each night. This is who he is, who I am, who we are together.

I took notes from my own mother, who spoke frankly to me about sex when I was a preschooler. And who, with my father, reserved time for me in the safe bubble of car rides and family dinners in the kitchen to voice my own opinions about politics and cancer and inevitable teacher strikes and the alcoholism that runs through both sides of my family. If the opportunity arose to have one of those big, important conversations, I promised myself from the very early days of parenting that I'd take it. If a question was asked, I'd mom up and respond, even if I didn't have all the facts, especially if I wasn't prepared.

All of those discussions built on each other so that when we had a chance to talk about AIDS, then condoms, then birth control, then consensual sex, the pattern was familiar to this new and (let's be honest) scary topic. It wasn't the sex talk I'd planned for that summer, but it was the one that was happening because of some sad stuff happening to people we loved. 

Bullying and break-ups and people who choose to disown their families have fit into our formula of questions and responses and more questions. I am not always the one answering. I ask him questions and he always has plenty of opinions. Even on "the bad drugs." Especially on Justin Beiber assing out in public. Sometimes on how he observes other parents acting with their kids. The tone is always pretty serious and when he's done, he changes the subject in that way kids have of telling parents tangentially they have all they need. For now.

Possibly the most serious and most-often approached topic these days is drinking. At ten, he notices is more. He knows that drunk is much more than silly. He wonders about alcohol and why people choose it when they could have orange soda or a milkshake or whatever they want to drink. He asked if it was OK to have wine while I was pregnant. 

It's all very present because of his age, I know, but also because the Not Boyfriend is opening a wine bar in our neighborhood and our dinner talks regularly turn to the concept, the menu, the pricing, the business plan. He's gotten a lesson in calculating labor costs, proposed small plates and desserts he thinks kids will love and picked up more about wine than I would fathom most fourth-graders should know. 

Drinking is a tough one to talk about, maybe because I feel the pressure of it creeping in quickly. Or because my family has had too many generational struggles with addiction. And of course because I want to protect him as long as I possibly can inside the safety of my home and arms and guidance and voice. I want to seal him up in those dinnertime and car-ride conversations when it is all theory -- so far.

When FAAR, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, asked me to talk about those tough conversations, about bringing up underage drinking early with children and how I've handled it, what I worry about, how my son has heard and questioned and answered himself -- well, you can imagine, I was honored to continue the discussions that E and I started years ago. 

Here's my video. Click here to listen in to the wise words and important questions other parents shared with FAAR. And most importantly, please push pause on it all to take time to talk about the toughest stuff -- alcohol included -- with your kids. 




Dr. Stork delivers advice for pregnant women. And it begins with our teeth

Dr. Travis Stork talks pregnancy, spinny brushes and feeling too lazy to brush with me.I began with a little bit about how funny my son thought it was that a six-months pregnant lady was making a call on Dr. Stork. And he laughed, which is good because - yes, fans of The Doctors and even longer-term lovers of The Bachelor - emergency physician Dr. Travis Stork is delightful. Also? Dreamy. 


He leans in, rests an arm on my shoulder and congratulates me repeatedly on having a baby on the way.

"Take good care," he says as he hugs me later. I will. OF MY TEETH. I mean that. Oral health care and mamas, particularly pregnant mamas, is what we are discussing, and Dr. Stork is invested in women steering clear of gum disease and getting back to regular check-ups. 


But first he tells me this: He's delivered his share of babies in the ER, but it's not his best doctor skill. I think we can forgive him that, right? Back to the teeth, ladies. COME ON. It's National Women's Health Week, after all.


"Pregnant women have to be very careful," Dr. Stork advises. But he's not putting out a big scare-tactic call to add to the long list of DON'Ts that bombard mother-to-be. Instead, I've asked him to tell us what we can do that will be helfpul and healthy, and so he's sharing facts.


While the rest of the population has a really high rate of ginvities - one out of two people get the gum bleed that can lead to much bigger dental problems - pregnant women exceed that. About 70% of expectant mothers have gingivitis, Dr. Stork shares, and it impacts her health and is a concern for her long-term well-being.


"I know for myself, I'm not pregnant," he smiles. And, you guys, he's a charmer, he didn't even need to finish this sentence. But..but...this is an area of care that is too easy to neglect, and also too easy to remedy. 


Bleeding gums are common during pregnancy, but too often ignored. (How often would you just pretend you weren't bleeding from an eyeball? Dr. Stork asks this with a smile, but it's a legitimate question.) Gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, which can deepen the gum disease infection into the bones and tissue. This makes for more than discomfort in the dental chair. Some studies (not all, to be fair) have linked gum disease to things pregnant women really don't want to deal with, like preterm birth and low birth weight.


Self-care, he says, can be handled in five minutes (six if you are super-thorough) a day of the basic brushing, flossing and a quick rinse. Moms (and I am adding this in) are also setting the precedent for kids who grow up taking good care of their teeth, and then all of the health benefits that spring out of well-tended oral care. 


It happens all the time - mothers are vigilent about toothbrushing and six-month check-ups for their kids but neglect their own oral health care.
If a mom is teetering on that line of gingivitis or has not tended to her own dental care, what is the very first thing she should do?


"Schedule a dental appointment," Dr. Stork says definitively. And then, on the way home, stop by the drug store and invest in the tools you need to make oral health care a part of your lifestyle, not just a one-time reaction to a worrisome upcoming cleaning.


"DAILY," he underlines. That is how often women have to recommit to the brush-floss-rinse routine. "Not every other day, not once a week."


How can pregnant ladies (all the pregnant ladies, hold your floss up!) and all moms begin our new routine for brighter, shinier, healthier smiles today? Here are a few more tips from my new favorite The Doctors doctor, Dr. Stork.


Spinny brush or no spinny brush? "It's personal preference," he says. His personal preference, after reading clinical studies and getting dentist recommendation, is a spinny brush. Why? Because unless you are "a master of the brush," the spin variety wields better cleaning results. Most importantly, brush every day, twice a day (are you getting the timing emphasis here yet?).


The biggest mistake we're making with teeth whitening? "Letting stuff build up in the first place," Dr. Stork (who clarifies here he's a "non-dentist") says. "It's the little things." Simply rinsing our mouths with water after drinking coffee or red wine will make a big difference. And if that sounds tedious, consider that Dr. Stork himself drinks water after a half-glass of wine to keep his pearly whites so pearly and white. 


If you do get to the place where whitening feels like the right next move, talk to your dentist first, he says. Many of us have sensitivities that will color which brand or usage is best for us, so personalized advice is important.


And if you're having trouble or feel too tired at night to brush? Then keep a toothbrush, floss and mouthwash where it is convenient. He says he has a stash in the downstairs powder room, so he can take care of tooth business after watching TV and before heading up to bed, or whenever he has a break. The kitchen is another place to keep an extra set so every one in the family is reminded to brush and floss morning and night. I've personally known moms who have no shame in flossing in the carpool lane, and I think Dr. Stork would approve. Making oral health care convenient is smart, especially for those of us juggling schedules and snacks know this already.


This post is sponsored in partnership with One2One Network and Crest Pro-Health. Crest Pro-Health (paste, brush, rinse, and floss) is on sale for $2.99 each PLUS when you buy 2 you get 1 free. This offer is valid from 5/18-5/24.



When the poetry is a prison. And the words set you free

He handed me this paper, written more neatly than normal, and said only, "Look this up. I wrote it down to be sure you read it."

I knew E had been studying poetry. My mother volunteers a two days a week to work with reading groups. She is enamored with the teacher, and she, a veteran teacher and reading specialist, has very high standards. She calls me regularly to report in on happenings in the class and on little, impactful moments that seem to have reminded her over and over why she loves this calling. And so I knew that that the third-grade class was beginning a poetry unit even before E told me. 

A substitute was in class the day they read this poem. My mother was also there and the sub told her that she was so impressed with E's comments on the poem. E had been irritated his regular teacher was out.

"That's a good sign, I guess," I replied, smiling, "when you are upset to have a substitute rather than thrilled." 

He agreed. It was the half-hour or so of homework and cuddling and catch-up that we do on Wednesday evenings before he races off with his dad that he handed me the sheet and I pulled out my phone and read to myself, then allowed him to take my phone so he could re-read the words right after me.

I felt a great pause pull into my many thoughts about this year, about the intellectual burst E has had, about the projects on Chicago architecture and biographies and slaves bounding for freedom and Native Americans in this region and the Great Chicago Fire and children who worked in factories during that era. About the structured, compassionate teacher with high expectations who has been a force of thoughtfulness and team-building and strategy and growth for my son and his class. About how teary I am to see the delight in my boy's face as he solves multiplication problems using the lattice method or connects the Underground Railroad to the hidden Jews of the Holocaust. About how much I wonder at his care and concern at the missing Nigerian girls, bullied gay students, if the Blackhawks will get to the Stanley Cup.

He is becoming more and more himself, and much of that is happening because of the sparks flying in his brain. A great, big part of that is what is happening in his classroom.

Still, the pause came when I took in the words that had so moved my nine-year old because I felt astounded by them myself, by the beauty and heartbreak and hope, by the haunting imagery and meaning. 

"I love that you love this poem." It was all I could say for that moment.

"I love this poem." He said back.

"Tell me why it speaks to you," I wanted to know.

"Because the guard judges him for his thoughts. But it is the guard who is really in prison," he explained.

"Yes. And I love it because it explains how we can feel trapped in our own lives, whether we are literally in prison or just feeling isolated, but we can still be free in our minds," I added.

"YES!" His face lit up in recognition. "This is what I was thinking. That's what I said in class."

Later, he asked what Damascus is. And Algiers. And Bagdhad. He was still thinking. The poem hadn't left me, either.

And so now we share these words and this wonder.

I will keep that slip of paper and the poem pulled up on my phone because it marks a moment and a connection and love of poetry that began with Shel Silverstein and will go on and on and on. I will keep it to remind myself how obvious it is that thoughts, on paper and screens and in our minds and in classrooms, can break us out of the clausterphobia and isolation, and bring us together in reminder that we are so free.

The Prison Cell

It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning,
He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn't like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
His freedom.