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A Children’s Hospital Saved My Life

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Have you had a chance to take a look at our special report on the top children’s hospitals in the country? I loved reading about the new advancements these hospitals are developing, and the lives they’re saving. And I know how amazing a children’s hospital can be. Because if it weren’t for the doctors and nurses at Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, I wouldn’t be here today.

I was exactly eight and a half when I came down with what seemed to be a wicked stomach virus just before Halloween. But within 48 hours, it was clear it was something more—I could no longer walk due to the pain in my abdomen. I was admitted to Buffalo’s Children’s Hospital, and that’s the last clear memory I have for the next several weeks.

A rare staph infection had liquidized most of my large intestine, and much of the rest of my body shut down in response to the disease. I was in shock and hallucinating, and my body was hooked to a large mass of wires and a slew of machines. Friends who worked at the hospital told my aunts and uncles to be ready to help my parents through the loss of their child.

But thanks to the tireless efforts of the doctors and nurses, led by the head of intensive care, Dr. Luis Mosovich, I survived. After 100 chest x-rays, dozens of IVs, numerous dialysis treatments, a brief furlough for Christmas and a few Happy Meals the nurses sneaked in for me when I was in need of fattening up, my mom was finally able to spring me on January 11—nearly three months after I’d been admitted to the hospital.

While I still can remember a treatment or ten (the spinal tap was a particularly painful one), my most vivid memories of my time at Children’s are of the love and care of my own family, and of my new family: The nurses who came up with silly games to while away the long hours, or brought in small gifts and books for me to read. The doctor who told my mother to simply forget about a several thousand dollar bill his office sent, as his services were on the house. The little boy with cystic fibrosis who used to play board games with me. And Dr. Mosovich, an incredibly kind and brilliant man, who even years later was so worried about me that he didn’t want me riding my bike in the street.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be here to tell my tale if we didn’t have a children’s hospital in our area, with all its amazing resources dedicated to helping children survive the most devastating illnesses and injuries. And even if Buffalo’s Children’s Hospital didn’t make Parents‘ top 10, I know it’s still a place where miracles happen.

I’m now the mom of a beautiful eight-and-a-half-year-old, and I can’t fathom how my parents found the strength to make it through those months. While I’m hoping we’ll never have to use it, I’m happy to know that one of the top children’s hospitals is just a couple of hours away—just in case we’re ever in need of a miracle.

Image: Niki Crucillo / Shutterstock.com

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Having It All—2013 Style

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Today, one of my best friends embarks on a new adventure. After spending nearly two decades in a high-powered Wall Street career, she’s starting her own business. She’s hoping to achieve a new kind of success, one that includes plenty of quality time with her kids.

She was the last holdout among our group of friends—the last one with traditional, benefits and 401K kind of career. Every single one of the seven women who started our book club nearly a decade ago has dropped out of the corporate life to forge a new, more flexible career.

I left my fancy-office and expense-account editorial job six months after I became a mom, tired of the political intrigue of the office and too many nights where I didn’t get to kiss my baby good night. And as kids came into the picture, more and more of us grew tired of a dictated 9 to 6 (or in my friend’s case, often 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.) schedule, of missing out on preschool parties and arguing with our mates over who was taking the day off to tend to a croupy kid. And so, one by one, we bought into the 21st-century version of having it all—sacrificing job stability and benefits for the greater flexibility and autonomy that freelancing provides. We are now all guns for hire—a TV producer, a writer/editor, a personal chef/caterer, a grants writer, a content strategist, an instructor and now, a corporate communications consultant. (By the way, this isn’t just a “mom” thing—even our childless-by-choice member ditched the corporate career a few years back.)

I think we all finally realized that all that time we were sacrificing in pursuit of our ambitions wasn’t necessarily going to pay off the way we hoped. In fact, Forbes columnist Meghan Casserly pointed out that women are often are viewed as workers who value their home lives more than their work. “To prove this notion wrong, women often feel compelled to demonstrate their commitment to the extreme.” And what comes of that extra time we were putting in, to the detriment of our families? Often, nothing more than exhaustion and burnout. It’s no wonder that Forbes reports that nearly a third of women who graduate from the Harvard MBA program drop out of corporate work within 15 years of graduation. (Most of them, because of the inability to get a good work-life balance during their kids’ formative years.)

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had an interesting post last week, about the work-life balance we lost in the decades as women entered the workforce. While in countries like France, more women in the workforce has meant that everyone’s working fewer hours and enjoying more vacation and time with the family, here in the U.S., it’s just meant that everyone’s working more hours outside the home. And more hours of work means fewer hours for living—less time for the day-to-day drudgery of cleaning and cooking and caring for our families, and much less time to squeeze in something fun with our kids, as fellow Parents.com blogger Nick Shell pointed out yesterday. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the previous generation of feminists was aiming for when they wanted us to have it all.

I’m thankful that I have a supportive spouse (with some excellent health insurance), a person who believed in me and my talent enough to gamble our financial security on a dream of greater flexibility. And it paid off in spades—as I’ve been even more successful as a freelancer than I was as a full-time editor, and I still get to slip away on occasion to read to my daughter’s kindergarten class. But sometimes I wish I had simply pushed for greater flexibility and kept the stability of that full-time gig. Because if so many of us simply drop out instead of pushing for the changes that will make work-life balance better for everyone, it isn’t going to happen.

So today, I’m celebrating with my friend. But I’m keeping an eye on what our choices may mean for our sons and daughters tomorrow.

Photo: Working mom by Vikulin / Shutterstock.com

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Should News Shows Lie About Santa?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

This morning’s Today Show coverage of Manti Te’o's imaginary girlfriend came with an unwelcome extra—an outing of Santa Claus, thanks to an ill-chosen tweet that was highlighted during the piece. The tweet, which appears halfway through the 3-minute segment (along with a voiceover that reads it aloud), says, “You think Manti Te’o's sad now? Just wait until he finds out about Santa Claus…” You can check it out here:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A friend of mine ended up driving her son to school crying, while she tried to explain it away. I imagine that she’s not the only one trying to contact the Today Show today to say, “What gives?” And I’m pretty sure that the segment producer is in hot water, especially as there were probably plenty of other clever tweets about the Manti Te’o situation that didn’t involve destroying a child’s belief in Santa.

It’s not the first time in the past few months when a morning news show has angered parents over their lack of a spoiler alert—parents were ready to come after Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer with pitchforks after she explained during the morning show that parents move the Elf on the Shelf at night, while touching the Elf (a no-no as any Elf-on-the-Shelf owner knows).

The public outcry led Lara Spencer to do a big old retraction the following day, explaining the Elf on the Shelf myth and saying that the Elf on the Shelf is indeed real.

It’s a tricky situation. Morning news programs are supposed to be all about news—the truth about what’s happening in the world. But these programs are often on when kids are around as they get ready for school. And it means that newscasters on these shows should maybe be a little more careful about sharing the truth about the magical creatures that are still real to a significant portion of their viewership.

Did you catch the snafu this morning on the Today Show? And are you planning a TV blackout around Easter Bunny season?

 

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Why International Adoption Matters

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

International adoption is always a hot button issue—and my recent post about Russia cutting American families out of their adoption program was no exception. Inevitably, any story about international adoption brings out a slew of people commenting that “American families should just adopt from the U.S.” (And just as inevitably, those people are rarely people who have adopted or plan to adopt themselves.)

But domestic adoption isn’t the best choice for every family—and it cuts thousands of children from around the world off from the possibility of a loving family. Here’s why international adoption matters, to my family and the thousands of others who were created that way.

Domestic adoption can be challenging. Most families who adopt domestically eventually succeed. But the time frame before you’re picked by a birthmother is completely random—some families find a match within days of putting their information out there, while others wait for years. And many families have at least one “failed placement,” when the birthmother decides she wants to parent her child. (Fabulous for the birthmother and child—but heartbreaking for the potential adoptive parents.) My husband and I simply couldn’t deal with all of those unknowns.

Today, most adoptions in the U.S. are open, which means the birth family and adoptive family maintain contact. Open adoption is much better and healthier for everyone involved—especially the child. But there are some families who aren’t comfortable with that, and international adoption is a more closed option.

Foster adoption can be even more challenging. People point to the number of children in foster care in the U.S.—463,000—and say that we should all simply adopt from foster care. But keep in mind that some of those children do end up being reunited with their birth families weeks or months later. For those who remain in foster care, sometimes it is possible to adopt young children, but in many cases it’s older children who are available, many of whom have seen and experienced things no child should have to experience. These children need a special kind of love and support that some families are simply not equipped to provide.

All children deserve a loving family. Does our capacity for love and kindness really end at the border? Ideally, children in Russia or China or Ethiopia should find a loving family nearby, to help them preserve their connection to their birth culture. But many of these children—especially those with special needs—have few prospects for finding a family within their own country. If there are willing and able parents somewhere in the world who want to raise them, why should we stop them?

Life in the orphanages is devastating to a child’s future. Institutional care is always subpar, no matter how “good” the orphanage is. There is no replacement for a loving family—and it bears out in research, which shows that a baby who is raised in an orphanage loses a month’s worth of development for every three months she spends there. (Which means that an 18-month-old sitting in an orphanage is much more like a 12-month-old.)  Children in orphanages often have limited opportunities for education, and are sent out into the world as young as 14 years old, left to fend for themselves.

Until you have personally visited an orphanage, you simply can’t understand how devastating it is. I do.

Imagine a classroom filled with 30 cribs. The cribs have no mattresses, and the babies all lie on wooden slabs in the cribs. Every single crib is filled except for one by the window (which is where your new baby rested her head until a few days before). There is one single attendant charged with caring for all of these babies, and she walks around with the same dirty rag to wipe the babies’ noses—it seems that all of the babies are horribly sick with colds.

The babies all stare at you, and reach out to you. You touch their hands, and wish you could simply scoop them all up and take them out of there. There are no toys (despite the fact that you and other adoptive parents have donated plenty), and nothing to stimulate these babies as they lie in their cribs day after day. Most of them (including your baby) have huge flat spots on the backs of their heads, due to lying on their backs for months. They are fed the same thing every day—a mix of rice cereal and formula, put into a bottle. The attendant has too many mouths to feed, so the babies aren’t held when they’re fed—the bottle is propped up for them.

This is where my daughter would have spent her days. Because she has a small medical issue, she would have had little to no education—despite the fact that she is incredibly bright. If she was lucky, she would have gotten a job at a nearby factory after the orphanage left her go. If she wasn’t….well, I shudder to think about that.

Foster care isn’t ideal, but these warehouses of children are far, far worse. This is why I chose to adopt internationally—not once, but twice. And why I continue to support charities that work with the orphanages, so that the kids who are left behind can go into foster care, get an education, and get proper nutrition.

Maybe someday, we will get that perfect world, where kids can stay with the parents who gave them life—or with friends and family nearby. Where anyone who wants to be a parent can make that dream happen. But until we get that perfect world, we have to make the best of the one we have.

Photo: Mother and child by AISPIX by Image Source / Shutterstock

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The Problem With the Russian Adoption Ban

Friday, December 28th, 2012

More than 60,000 kids from Russian orphanages have found families in the U.S. since the Russian adoption program began more than 20 years ago—but now Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to put an end to one of the most popular international adoption programs for American families. And that’s a big mistake for everyone—especially the thousands of Russian children who will end up growing up in the sterile, stifling orphanage environment, rather than the embrace of a loving family.

If you look back, there have been rumblings of a ban for the past several years. Russian officials are angry about the 19 Russian children who died in the care of adoptive parents here in the U.S. (as they should be), and are concerned that some children have ended up in institutions here, after their parents deemed them too difficult to manage. And when Torry Hansen sent her son back to Russia in 2010, after she deemed him “dangerous” to her family, Russia halted all adoptions until some major diplomacy smoothed things over. But this new move, in retaliation for an American law that proposed sanctions against human rights violators from Russia, seems like it will be much harder to undo.

The biggest tragedy of this ban is that it means that 1,000 more children each year will join the 700,000 other orphans currently wasting away in Russian orphanages, with no opportunity to join a family. (Children only become available for international adoption in Russia if there’s no one available in the country to adopt them.) The effects of institutionalization are well documented—including problems attaching and developing relationships with others, and pervasive developmental delays. These are the kinds of things that the support of a loving family can help a child overcome. But these kids will never have that possibility, thanks to a government that’s all too willing to sacrifice the lives of these children out of spite for an unpopular American law, the Magnitsky Act.

It also means that 1,000 American families each year will lose the opportunity to become parents—a fact that’s going to be even more devastating for the thousands of families who are currently in process to adopt from Russia, and may have already seen a picture or even visited with the child that they hoped to adopt. And it means even more people will be looking to adopt domestically, as there are very few viable options for international adoption at this point.

In a perfect world, these kids would be able to stay with their birth families, and everyone who wants to become parents could. And if kids needed to be adopted, they would always find themselves with the right parents, who will treat them well and ensure that they are loved and supported. Yes, there have been abuses (on both sides) in the Russian adoption program, but the good that’s been achieved for the many happy families created through this international adoption program far outweighs the negatives. Let’s hope that Russia’s leaders can keep their children’s best interests in mind—and consider repealing this act, before it’s too late.

Mark III Photonics / Shutterstock.com

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28 Acts of Kindness—for Sandy Hook

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Last week’s tragedy left so many of us drowning in sorrow and feeling helpless to do much about it. What on earth could we do to make things better, when confronted with such an overwhelmingly sad event? It’s not like Hurricane Sandy, when you could pitch in to help a neighbor clean out their home, or donate toward helping those who lost so much rebuild. There’s nothing we can do to help the families affected in Sandy Hook get back what was lost.

And that’s when I read about Ann Curry’s brilliant plan—to accomplish acts of kindness in honor of those who died. Many people are doing 26 kindnesses, for the children and teachers who died at the school. Others are including Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter who also lost her life. I’m choosing 28, in part because there can’t be enough kindness in the world, and in part because I believe strongly that Adam was a victim of his own, untreated mental illness.

I’m hoping to accomplish all of my 28 in the next week, before the new year…and I’m drawing inspiration from the Twitter feed #26ActsofKindness. So far, I’ve managed four:

1. Sent an extra gift and a heartfelt note to my daughters’ teachers (we already went in on group gifts for them with the rest of the class).

2. Donated to Toys for Tots in honor of the students of Sandy Hook.

3. Hosting a friend’s daughters over for the afternoon, after her regular babysitter fell through.

4. Left a Starbucks gift card and a note on a random car in our school’s teacher parking lot.

(Actually, I could kind of count #5, which was—against my better judgement—caving and getting an Elf on the Shelf for my daughters, who have been begging for one all week. Because basically, this week, I’d probably get them a pony if they asked.)

Imagine if we all committed to doing just a few acts of kindness this week…maybe it would become a habit. Let me know if you’re on board—and share your  ideas for sharing the love.

Photo: Margaret M Stewart /Shutterstock.com

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Teach Your Kids (And Yourself) What to Do if You’re in a Situation Like Sandy Hook

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

One of the things that makes the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary even more horrifying to me is that the school seems to have done everything right—the building was locked and had a camera surveillance system, the teachers were well-trained in emergency procedures—but it still didn’t prevent Adam Lanza from getting in and killing 26 people.

Safety experts like Trevor Pyle, who has worked with many top disaster and emergency service agencies, stress that the tragedy could have been much worse. “The teachers and staff did the right thing, and their actions saved countless lives,” he told me in an interview.

There are certain behaviors that could make it more likely for you (and your child) to make it out of a situation like that alive—like six-year-old Aidan Licata and his friends, who ran when the opportunity presented itself, or one little girl, the only survivor from her classroom, who played dead. Here’s what Pyle suggests:

For kids:

• Tell them to listen to their teachers and school staff members. They receive extensive training on what to do and how to take care of the children. So tell them to recognize when the teacher is serious, and follow directions.

• Make sure that they pay attention during the drills, and know what to do when they are told to evacuate.

• Tell them to tell an adult if something appears to be “weird,” and that they aren’t going to get in trouble if they are wrong. Better to be safe than sorry. If they see something, make sure they say something.

For adults:

• Always know where at least two exits are. If you can, escape. If you can’t, hide. If you have to, fight with everything you have.

• If you can run, bring everyone you can with you. Get out of the building, and don’t stop until you find cover. Warn other people away from the building and call 911. Report your location. When cops arrive, keep your hands clear and don’t approach them. They aren’t there to rescue you, they are there to stop the shooter.

• If you have to hide, close and lock the door, turn out the lights, and mute your cell phone. Don’t move until the cops arrive.

• If you have to fight, improvise a weapon and attack. Target the shooter’s head, and torso. Do not hesitate, and don’t stop until he is down.

Hopefully, this is the kind of information you won’t ever have to use—but it may just save your life.

For more information and resources regarding the Sandy Hook Tragedy, visit the following on Parents.com:

Photo: © Vividz Foto/Shutterstock.com

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The Tragedy in Sandy Hook

Friday, December 14th, 2012

It’s hard to find the right words—or really any words—to describe what happened today. For what happened today at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, was every parent’s worst nightmare, made real and flashed on the TV news. What I see is a school that’s virtually identical to my daughters’ idyllic little elementary school, and parents and kids who look like our friends. And words fail me as I think of my friends rushing toward the school, and a scenario where some walk out, teary-eyed and clutching their children close—and some don’t. What are the right words for that?

There will be much to talk about in the days and weeks to follow, as more information comes out about what occurred, and who was lost, and why this happened. As we begin to dissect our country’s deep failings: Our inability to pass gun laws that keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them; our lack of care for the mentally ill (for surely, a person who would plot and plan to attack children with an arsenal of assault weapons must be mentally ill); and our inability to keep even our youngest children safe from harm. And as we, hopefully, push for the changes we need to make to prevent another Columbine, another Virginia Tech, and now, another Sandy Hook.

Right now, these are the only words I can find: Our kids deserve a better world than this. And we need to work together to make it happen.

For information and resources on dealing with the tragedy, visit the following on Parents.com:

Image: fasphotographic /Shutterstock.com

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