Sunday, July 31, 2011

What's the matter with kids today?

In a word, parents. This is a subject I've been thinking about for a while, especially since moving into my apartment almost two years ago. There are four children upstairs under the age of ten-a boy, a girl, their mother, and their father. That's right-technically two of the children are actually the parents. It's taken almost the two years I've lived here to educate them that someone is living downstairs. The boy and girl are almost unbelievably rowdy, jumping up and down and screaming at all hours of the day and night. It took many complaints to the manager of the apartment building and some stern warnings to the parents before things settled down a bit. Most of the time now, it's fairly quiet, but there are still occasional wrinkles, like the pizza party a couple of weeks ago. Once again, there was jumping and screaming like they were knocking furniture over and someone was trapped under it. I had to walk upstairs and remind them that I live downstairs and if they wanted to act that crazy, they needed to take it outside. I had to repeat this process the next morning as well before the children finally settled down.

My question is, why do I need to supervise other people's children so that I can have some peace and quiet in my own home, an apartment that I pay rent for every month? I'm not just paying for the four walls-there is a lease agreement with all sorts of regulations about noise. I don't mind the children playing outside, except when they run screaming past my door. I hear them constantly and it doesn't bother me a bit. But when there's a huge thud on my ceiling like a sofa has just been picked up and dropped-that bothers me, and I don't intend to put up with it. I just wish the parents of these children were more responsible. I raised my son in an upstairs apartment, along with his scout troop and all his friends, and I never once had a noise complaint from the people downstairs. Whenever they got too rowdy, I reminded them people lived downstairs. They had a choice-they could play quietly inside, or they could roughhouse outside, in the areas that were designated for children to play in. My son's friends thought I was the strictest mother they had ever seen, but they were always over at my house anyway.

I was finally inspired to write an entry about this subject by an item on the news about McDain's Restaurant in Monroeville, PA. As of July 16, 2011, McDain's banned children under the age of six from the restaurant. This is a quiet restaurant on a golf course and had suffered numerous complaints of rowdy children ruining other people's dining experience. According to their website, the restaurant was opened as a sort of "19th hole" for their golf course. It has never had a children's menu, nor does it have the kind of atmosphere children find enjoyable. None of which would matter if parents would only, well, parent. The response to McDain's ban has been overwhelmingly positive, with a small vocal minority of parents complaining that their children are not a problem, it's the people who hate children who are the problem.

I for one applaud the ban. I love kids. I have a kid, I work with kids as a public school employee, and the neighborhood children don't hesitate to come to my door when they want something, even though I am usually the one who is speaking to them about being considerate and following the rules in the building. But I also look forward to the very few times I get to go out to a nice restaurant for a meal with my family, an experience that can be totally ruined by unruly children in the charge of permissive parents.

Once a year, my family goes to Red Lobster. Not the most upscale restaurant, but a nice place and it's a cherished tradition. We get the taxes done and then go splurge on a fancy dinner at Red Lobster. This year, there was a child at the next table making a noise like an air raid alarm. The parents thought it was adorable. I thought it was horrible. I asked the waiter to speak to the parents about getting their child under control. He looked terrified and whispered he couldn't say anything to them. I then demanded a different table as far from the air raid as possible. He complied, because I was fully prepared to walk out without paying for the dinner we had just ordered and which was being prepared. Ironically, Cici's, a family-friendly pizza place which charges about five dollars a plate and has a kiddie arcade in the restaurant, does not tolerate rowdy behavior by children. I have seen parents asked to control their children when the little dears were running and screaming in the dining area. Children have a whole arcade room to play in-when they are in the dining area, they are expected to sit in their seat and eat their food quietly.

It all comes down to parenting, and oh, how I hate the phrase, "They're just kids." I know they're just kids-that's why they need to be taught the difference between right and wrong. My son is in his late twenties now, and when he was just a tyke, I got a lot of praise for how polite and well-behaved he was. He didn't get that way by me saying, "He's just a kid." No, my son learned courtesy and consideration for others by hearing about it from me every single day. I reminded him that people lived downstairs, that he needed to say things like please and thank you, that it was important to consider other people as well as himself. I guess you could say, although my son was and is the center of my universe, I was always aware and still am that he is not the center of the universe. There are far too many parents out there now who have never even pondered this, let alone realized the sun does not rise and set on their child. If only parents would deal with their children, it would not be an issue to have them in a restaurant. I would glady be surrounded by five-year-olds who know how to sit still and eat with manners. I don't want even one shrill brat near me again when I'm out in public. I don't know how McDain's will fare, but I will be following their story with interest. I'm willing to bet their business will boom, now that they've banned small children. And the ones who are allowed in will behave themselves, and have fond memories of McDain's, the restaurant where they got to eat with the grownups because they knew how to act like a grownup.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Dog Sooky

I got her at the pound-I took one look at her and just fell in love with her. There she stood, not pressing against the bars and eager to be picked, but not hanging back and afraid to come forward either. There was a kind of dignity in her sad brown eyes, as if she couldn't understand why her master had thrown her away in such a place, but she would accept it. I sat on the floor next to her cage while my son went to find an employee, and I promised her I would love her and care for her until the day she died.

We took her home and named her Sooky. The pound papers said she was three years old. She was very timid and sat crying in the living room the first day. We never did know her story, but she was a beautiful dog-a blue merle Australian Shepherd. We thought she might have been in a puppy mill and not been a good producer. She didn't know how to climb stairs and I had to carry her up and down the first week. She was afraid of the TV but got used to it after a few days. The outdoors and strangers always frightened her too-she prefered to take a quick walk outside to take care of business and then return to the haven of our home.

Sooky was never a great watchdog. I would say she had the heart of a lion-a dandelion. She would growl if someone came to the door, but that was about as menacing as she ever got. I do believe she would have tried to protect the house if someone tried to break in, but I don't know if she would have succeeded in chasing off a bad guy. Her strength was in her gentleness. She was the most loving dog-I still remember how I brought a sick friend home and Sooky used to curl up on the bed with her. She would have made a great therapy dog if she hadn't been so timid.

She died July 6, 2011. Her health had always been so good, but the previous summer we had to have a tumor removed. I was hopeful there would be no further problems, but it was not to be. Up until the last month of her life, she was so energetic and beautiful, but that last month she went downhill fast. She wasn't in pain, but she lost control of her bladder and looked so guilty every time she wet the floor. She didn't want to eat, but if I held the food in my hand, she would make an effort. She still went for her walks, but she got so thin. The day we took her in, she was still in fairly good shape, so it was very hard to turn her over to the vet and say goodbye. I know it was the right thing to do-she was already dying and I wanted to let her go before she started to suffer. But it was so hard. A dog like that is not just a pet. Sooky was my loving friend and my loyal companion for years-not enough years, but there never really is enough time. I hope it's true all dogs go to Heaven-if it is, I will see my cherished friend again, and if not, I will have kept her memory green in my heart for the rest of my life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Prodigal Brother

The parable of the prodigal son is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. It only appears in one gospel, Luke 15:11-32, but even people who will have nothing to do with the Bible know this story of a young man, the younger of two sons, who asks his father for his inheritance and goes off to distant parts, where he wastes it all on wild living. He becomes so poor he finds a job taking care of pigs, and decides to return home when he finds himself envying the pigs and reflecting that his father's servants are living better than he is. His father sees him on the road and rushes off to organize a huge party. His older brother is out working in the fields and hears the party when he comes in. Disgusted, he points out that he has stayed at home and been a good son and never been given anything. His father says everything he has belongs to the elder son, but he has to celebrate because the younger son was lost and has now returned. A lovely tale of repentance and redemption.

Except....what about the older brother? He is said to represent the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus. He is said to be thinking in terms of law, merit, and reward, rather than in terms of love and graciousness. I once heard a sermon on how resentful the older brother was, and how he is an example of how not to act. The older brother, in short, is not an admired character.

I don't think this is a fair assessment. I look at the younger brother, who only came home after falling into poverty. He offered himself as a servant to his father, which shows that at least he came to his senses enough to be ashamed of his actions, but he didn't come home because he missed his family. He wanted to have enough to eat and a roof over his head. His father was overjoyed to see him. When the young man said he had sinned and was no longer worthy to be called his son, the father accepted him back wholeheartedly and celebrated. I get that. I'm a mother, and I know if my son was lost and miraculously returned, I wouldn't care what he had done or how he had acted. I would be glad he was back.

But I hope if I had another son, who had stayed home and taken care of the family, that I would show him a little more appreciation than the older brother in this story seems to have received. He wasn't even invited to the party for his brother-he only found out about it when he came in from the fields. There was music and dancing and a calf being prepared for the numerous guests, but the older brother had to ask a servant what was going on. Nobody, not even his father, thought to go out to the fields to let him know his brother was back. They just started to party without him. It was only when he refused to go in that his father remembered him and came out to ask him to join the celebration. This young man was resentful that his father had never given him anything and now was throwing the house open and showering the young wastrel with gifts.

I get that too. There are a lot of people in the world like the older brother-quiet types who are always there, fulfilling their responsibilities and not getting much thanks for it. I think of how the younger brother took half of everything his father owned, and how the wealth the father had to welcome him home with was partly due to the labors of the older brother. I think of the older brother, respectful of his father throughout the years, coming home to a wild party he was not invited to. And I think of the father, realizing at last how precious his older son was too, leaving the party to finally say something to this faithful, overlooked young man.

Did the older brother go in to the party? The Bible doesn't say. The story stops at the father reassuring his son that he may be celebrating the younger brother's return, but he does love the older brother and that everything already belongs to him. I like to think he did go in and welcome his brother home. I also like to think the father no longer took him for granted, and maybe threw him a party of his own. The story is called The Prodigal Son, and he's the main focus, and it's a good point to make-that we can always return to God, and He will rejoice over our return. But I have always seen another good point in this story-not to overlook a loved one who is always there for us without calling attention to themselves. To me, it's also a story that cries out, "Don't take someone you care about for granted. Let them know before they ask that you love them and that everything you have belongs to them."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Meniere's disease

I will turn 49 in August, and while the arbitrary measurement of years doesn't bother me, the physical aging is beginning to affect me. I don't look my age, but I have some arthritis and I'm prediabetic. I flattered myself that I was coping quite well with these conditions and that if I could handle these things, I could handle anything. Then I received a diagnosis that devastated me-Menier's disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Meniere's disease usually affects only one ear. It causes episodes of vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, and ringing and a feeling of pressure in the ear. Nobody knows what causes it-it could be a genetic problem, related to allergies or infection, brought on by head injury, or a combination of factors. There's no cure, and although most people respond to treatment, hearing loss is difficult to prevent. Motion sickness medications or Valium can help with the vertigo, and since fluid retention is a potential trigger, diuretics are sometimes used long-term. There are therapies that can help with ongoing balance problems, which may or may not occur, along with various devices and treatments if vertigo becomes disabling. Salt, MSG, caffeine, smoking, stress, and allergens are all potential triggers for an attack and should be avoided.

It all started in August, 2010. My hearing was so acute that people had been commenting on my sharp ears for as long as I could remember. I had suffered concussion three times, but never had any problem with balance or any other long-term affects. Nor had I ever had an ear infection. Then in August, I got a very bad ear infection. I went to the doctor several times-there were different antibiotics over the course of a month, but my left ear never seemed to get better. There was pain that never rose above the level of annoying, but never went away. There was a sound in my left ear like the sound you hear when you put a seashell up to your ear. There was a strange feeling of pressure, like my sinuses were congested and had taken up residence in my left ear. I tried chewing gum-it seemed to help with the pressure. I tried hot packs. That seemed to help with the pain. Nothing helped with the noise, but as time went on, I learned to live with these things. I didn't have symptoms most of the time, and when I did, I was able to get through the day without too much trouble.

Then one day in February, the vertigo hit-hard. So hard I had to call my son to come and get me from work. I was almost completely deaf in my left ear, the pressure was so bad I kept pawing at my head, and the whole world seemed to be spinning out of control. I was scared.

When I went to the doctor the next day, the vertigo was gone, but I still couldn't hear and the pressure was still very bad. He sent me to a specialist, who put me through a number of tests and came back with the diagnosis of Meniere's disease. He was very reassuring-said he had many patients with Meniere's and no one was incapacitated from it. Since this was the first attack, he didn't want to prescribe anything-he said it was better to wait and see how it progressed. He gave me some literature, told me to call him whenever I had an attack to let him track how I was doing, and sent me on my way. Within a week, I seemed to be back to normal.

I immediately started researching. I read the information the doctor gave me, found the Mayo Clinic's page on Meniere's, and visited a number of other webpages. I found dire warnings that I would go deaf in both ears and be completely incapacitated with vertigo, encouragement that I could still live a normal life, and everything in between. It was all very bewildering, but I tried to keep up my spirits and get on with life. My ear gave me a little trouble from time to time-some pain, some pressure, a little trouble hearing from time to time, but mostly nothing I couldn't handle. And this is one of the things about Meniere's-between attacks you are normal. It's a chronic and progressive condition, but not like diabetes or high blood pressure, where it's with you every day. When you're not actually having an attack, if your hearing is still good, you don't seem to have a problem. That in itself can be a problem-people can find it hard to believe there's anything wrong with you, and they may believe you're malingering when you have an attack.

I still didn't know my triggers. I drink tea, and I know caffeine is to be avoided, but I would literally have to be on my deathbed to give up tea. I've been brewing and drinking tea since I was a little girl and I wasn't willing to give it up. It's pretty weak tea, too-I use four bags to make one gallon, and I only drink a couple of glasses a day. It probably works out to one bag a day, and I just didn't think that was the problem. And it wasn't. In April, I went out to lunch with my husband. I was in the mood for hot dogs, so we went to a hot dog place. The next day, there was a big box of goldfish crackers at work and I ate some because they were there. That night, the water was turned off in my building and I couldn't make myself something to eat, so I took something out of the freezer. And the day after that, I woke up with a full-blown attack. The vertigo was so bad I could barely stand, I couldn't hear on the left side, and the pressure and noise in my left ear was almost unbearable. I missed two days of work-I felt better the day after the attack, but not quite right and the doctor warned me that I needed to rest if I wanted to recover. I listened to the doctor.

And I identified the trigger. All that salt-I would just avoid salt in the future. Easier said than done-they put salt in everything. Everything. I know about things like pickles and potato chips, but who would have thought ice cream and cereal and bread could be loaded with sodium? I switched to sea salt, use it very sparingly when preparing food, and read labels before I buy anything prepackaged. I also drink 8 or 9 glasses of water every day, and so far it seems to be working.

So far. As I said, this was a devastating diagnosis. I can deal with pain, and we all know the experience of going to work when we're sick but we can't afford to miss a day. Somehow I've always been able to tough it out, whatever was happening. But you can't tough out vertigo. When it's bad, you can't even stand up. To have this hanging over my head, never knowing when it's going to hit, knowing there's very little the doctor can do-it's frightening to have so little control over myself. I'm mostly doing the right things, and I would even consider giving up tea if it looked like I would be completely disabled, but even with a perfect diet and the most advanced medicine, I could still have an attack any time and be incapacitated. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with.

Life goes on. I find myself cocking my head to the right-I seem to have some slight permanent hearing loss already. I keep gum handy for when I feel that pressure in my ear. I have some embarrassment when someone speaks to me on my left side on a bad day and doesn't understand that some days I can't hear and other days I can. I drink my water and I watch my diet. And I pray.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Should we have rights?

I recently watched an episode of the television show House in which Martha Masters, a medical student, was overseeing the case of a young girl with cancer. The girl was planning on sailing around the world to break a record when she was diagnosed with cancer in her arm. The treatment was amputation, a treatment she was willing to undergo after her sail. And there was a good chance she would die of the cancer long before she finished going around the world.

Masters found it unacceptable that the girl was willing to risk her life for a record, and that the girl's parents were willing to let her take that risk. The medical student gave the patient a drug that caused a cardiac arrest, told the parents the crisis was caused by the cancer, and handed them a consent form to allow her to cut off their daughter's arm. Problem solved.

Well, not really. The problem is that in the United States, patients have the right to make their own medical decisions, whether or not they are smart decisions. Even a minor can express their wishes, and if their parents or guardian is willing to abide by that decision, a doctor has no right to override the wishes of the patient. Legally, all a doctor can do is give the patient the information. Whatever the patient decides to do with the information, the doctor must abide by it, even if the patient should decide not to have any treatment at all. Even if that means the patient will die.

It was an interesting episode, but what was really fascinating was the reaction at the Internet Movie Data Base ( Many people took it very personally that the girl was willing to risk dying for a record. There was a great deal of invective towards posters who pointed out that legally the girl was entitled to live her own life and make up her own mind. There was also a great deal of praise for Masters for ignoring the wishes of the patient, the refusal of consent of the parents, and the laws governing the medical profession. Without really thinking about the implications, people posted comments about hoping their doctor would save their life even if said doctor had to violate their rights to do so.

Are these people right? Should we even have rights when it comes to medical decisions? After all, doctors go to medical school for many years and then train for the rest of their lives. They are the ones who are qualified to make the right decisions. The average person doesn't have much medical knowledge, and we all know people who take such poor care of their health it's a wonder they are still alive. Isn't it better to let the doctor be in charge, for their own good?

Maybe it would be, if it wasn't for a little thing called freedom. Freedom to choose is also the freedom to choose wrongly. And I guarantee that whoever you are, whatever your position in life, you're doing something at least once a day that someone, somewhere, would find fault with and prevent you from doing if they could. Overweight people who don't exercise, smokers, people who don't use sunscreen, people who use antibiotics for viruses-the list of poor health decisions is rampant all over America. And the fact is that we like it that way. We like being able to eat what we want and do what we want and avoid what we don't want. We like being able to exercise autonomy over our own bodies, and we like being able to ignore the doctor if we are told to do something we don't want to do.

Is this a good thing? From a completely logical standpoint, looking at how our behavior affects society and costs society, no. From the standpoint of our human rights, the answer has to be yes. As John Milton said, "Who overcomes by force hath overcome but half his foe." It's not like forcing people into correct decisions will change their minds or hearts. Forcing someone to do something is just changing behavior, and that behavior can only be changed permanently if the person wishes to do so. It's terribly frustrating to see people make bad choices that impact their health and cost society millions and millions of dollars every year. It's also reassuring that in the United States, people have the freedom to make their own choices. Freedom to choose is also the freedom to choose rightly, and when we do so, because that is what we wish to do, we strengthen ourselves and we strengthen our country. Freedom is never cheap or easy. That's what makes it worth having.