The Long Way Home

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The ten minute drive home from work is both the best and worst ten minutes of my day. I am fortunate that my husband and kids pick me up from work most days of the week and we all drive home together. As much as  I love my job, I cannot wait to see my children at the end of the day. As our car pulls up, I wave excitedly at them and see their beautiful faces smiling back at me, their necks craning eagerly to see me. Best part of my day. Then, I get into the car and the next ten minutes are a symphony of complaints and cries. Worst part of my day. I try to get my preschooler to tell me some tidbit of his day, but typically he responds with whining about what he wants to eat or what toy he wants me to buy for him and how upset he is that he isn’t eating said food or playing with aforementioned toy at that very instant. Meanwhile my toddler weeps that she is rear-facing (she’s under two!) and cannot see me as well as her brother. Sensing his mood, she surmises that she should also be upset. Then they argue over a few rogue goldfish snacks they found wedged between the car seats. Toys get flung around and we yell from the front seat some parental guidance about car safety that sounds like Greek to my children. I hear the echoes of my own childhood in each phrase (“do you want me to get in an accident?!”). By the time we pull into our garage, we are sometimes so exasperated that any fantasies I had about our evening plans are replaced with dreams of going straight to bed.

Hours from bedtime though, my children need entertaining, which this time of year typically means playing outside. So we all burn off the energy we worked up during the car ride by running, biking, and climbing. After playing together, things seem to calm down and we are all happy again. A few blissful moments before we begin to battle over eating dinner.

I know that we are not alone in the after-work/after-school witching hours. As a working mom though, these few hours between work and bedtime are the only time I have with my kids during the week, so it frustrates me when this time is spent negatively. Whenever we are in such a rut, I brainstorm strategies to make our time together special. Special is one of my preschooler’s favorite words, so any mundane task or food can be elevated by describing it as special. Such as, “I have a special snack for you,” elevates “here’s this thing I bought that you haven’t tried before and I hope you eat.” Or “we can’t  go there but we are going to another special place” improves the reality of “your favorite place is closed so let’s try the next best option.” So there are lots of “special” moments incorporated into our rides home. Sometimes it works, sometimes we continue to battle.

Each time though I find myself frustrated by the backseat yelling, crying, or fighting, I try to remember that this is their way of venting. If I were driving home with only my husband, or a coworker, I would use that time to air my grievances. It’s my version of therapy. Ten minutes later and I feel unburdened by the stresses of my work day and ready to tackle my home life. Similarly, my children have long days at daycare/preschool; sometimes their days are even longer than mine. So why should I begrudge their time to complain about it? Although they don’t give me tangible complaints, like boy mom, school was hard today, or guess what so-and-so said today, they give me their troubles in an age-appropriate expression. They let it out with a scream, a tantrum, a cry. Then as I sit there, wishing I could complete a sentence to my husband without a shrieking toddler or having my seat back kicked with the wrath of four-year-old feet, I remember that they are also trying to tell me about their daily worries and that by the time we get home we will all happily play together.

Now we play a game that my preschooler himself initiated. We take turns naming the best part and worst part of our day. Typically his best part involves some demand of his that I gave into and his worst part is something that he would like to apologize for but hasn’t yet. Then I counter with my best part being whatever said thing he has actually apologized for and my worst part is whatever we had just been yelling about, for which we have now repented. The game turns into an orchestrated way of verbalizing our frustrations, apologizing for hurting each other, and modeling how we wish things were better. So while the worst part of my day may be hearing my children greet me with high octave cries of their daily struggles, my best part is that I am raising children who created a way to make that worst part better for us all.

Spring Fitness

I am ready to embrace Spring weather, and so are my kids. As the temperature creeps back up into the 60′s and 70′s, we are shedding our layers and running to the nearest park. It seems that in my office, every time I see an overweight child, their parent explains away their weight gain as the result of a long Winter spent snacking indoors. I hear ya. My activity level drops while my waist band expands when the weather prohibits me from being active outdoors, so I am looking forward to reversing that trend.

This is the perfect time of year to not only Spring clean my house, but my bad habits. Fresh fruits and salads are filling my kitchen and we are dusting off our outdoor toys. We are lucky to live near a number of great Philadelphia parks and we augment our time there with trips to some of our favorite outdoor play places, like the Philadelphia Zoo, Smith Playground, Franklin Square, and Sister Cities. We are looking forward to the return of the Spruce Street Harbor Park (this year with a roller rink!) and will also return to the Washington Avenue Green. Of course, some of our favorite Spring events are the plethora of street festivals, like the upcoming South Street Spring Festival.

For all of my patients looking to add some healthy habits into their lifestyle, Spring in Philly makes it easy. I am also aiming to model healthier habits for my children this Spring and am looking forward to all the places this will take us together.

What is your favorite Spring activity in Philadelphia?

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Kids Parties in Philadelphia: One mom’s guide to planning your next party

Every January I begin planning my son’s birthday party.  I think about paries we have attended and liked, I look for ideas on the Internet, and I use his current interests as inspiration.  If his birthday fell in the Summer, I would probably have a picnic at a playground for him every year, but with the weather being unpredictable at the end of Winter, I am tasked with finding a venue that has indoor space.  Not only indoors, but affordable.  When I first started researching party venues in Philadelphia, I was surprised by how expensive a city child’s birthday party could become when hosted outside your own home.  As city dwellers, an at-home party is not always practical.  So each year I balance the creativity of our party with the cost of the venue and the ability to accommodate as many friends as possible.

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For his first birthday, we wanted to celebrate surviving our first year as parents with our friends, who just so happened to have also survived a year or so of parenting.  Our one-year-old barely knew it was his birthday, but nevertheless he enjoyed having presents and cupcakes presented before him.  Our venue was the playground at Franklin Square, where you can rent an indoor space in an adjacent pavilion.  The party package included tickets for the carousel and miniature golf, features that our one-year-olds did not yet appreciate.  Our theme was Dr. Seuss, in honor of his recent landmark birthday that year.  My favorite part of this party was the freedom that each family had to enjoy the park in their own way with children of all developmental levels.

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For his second birthday, I decided to return to an old school at-home birthday party.  As we had recently moved and had more space for entertaining, the children enjoyed playing with toys in our playroom and outside on our sidewalk.  Our theme was sports, and we demonstrated this with the variety of sports we learned while playing outside and each child left with their own ball.  It was unstructured and chaotic, much like a two-year-old would have planned.  My favorite part though was that it was informal and inexpensive!

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For his third birthday, we wanted to incorporate as many of his new school friends as possible, so we had an indoor gym party at Philly InMovement.  For three-year-olds, a bouncy house and trampoline were great ways to burn off the birthday cake!  Our theme was bugs, because what three-year-old boy doesn’t want bugs crawling around his party!  After I delivered our food and decorations, Philly InMovement allowed me to sit back and relax and that made the expense worth it.pizza_chefSlice_pizza

 

 

 

 

 

For his fourth birthday, I wanted the kids to have a hands-on activity.  Preschoolers enjoy learning new skills, so we headed to a pizzeria called Slice and made our own personal pizzas.  Our theme was based on one of our favorite books, Curious George and the Pizza Party.  The little chefs colored their own chef hats and then assembled pizzas, which they then ate.  My favorite part was watching them taste their creations.  It was short, but action-packed, and very affordable.  The staff at Slice were wonderful hosts.

Some of the other parties we have enjoyed as guests were at Smith Playground, Nest, Expressive Hand, and Queen Village Art Center.  The city certainly has a lot of options for birthday parties of varying cost and parental involvement.  In the end though, I have learned that simple, child-centered, and play-based parties are what kids want.  And all you need as a parent is to see the smile on your child’s face in the glow of their birthday candles as they sit there making their wish while you see yours come true.

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For more information about these party venues:

Franklin Square- packages start at $450

Philly InMovement- packages start at $250

Slice- parties cost $7.95/child

Smith Playground- party rentals start at $150

Nest Philly- packages start at $275

Expressive Hand- parties start at $75

Queen Village Art Center- parties start at $365

[I have no affiliation with these venues and I was not compensated for this post.  All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.]

 

Parenting Today

TODAY.com Parenting Team Contributor I am excited to announce that I joined the TODAY Show Parenting Team as a contributing writer.  I’ll be joining other parents who believe in the power of collective wisdom, including TODAY Show correspondents like Sheinelle Jones, Savannah Guthrie, and Jenna Bush Hager.  While I am honored to have been asked to join this forum, it is open to all parents, so you can join too!

So each month look for my posts on their parenting challenge topics here: http://community.today.com/parentingteam  I’ll also be posting links on the Mommy Call Facebook page.

The first challenge was about advice you wish you knew when you were bringing home your babyMy take on it (adapted from an earlier Mommy Call post) was about how even as a physician I felt unprepared for some of the simplest parenting questions, like when can you stop wearing that hospital hat?

This month’s challenge is about finding ways to make raising kids less stressful, something that I think we are all interested in.  I share a few ways that I try to tame the chaos of raising two children and working full-time.

Make sure that when you stop by to read my posts, you click the VOTE button.  This will help increase the chance that one of my posts is featured on the TODAY Show.

As always, thank you for your support.

A Chaplain’s Prayer

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During my son’s first few days of life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), a hospital chaplain came by his bedside to pray with me.  As a physician, I looked at his progress in the NICU scientifically and doubted that the chaplain could say anything that I didn’t already know or reassure me beyond what his doctors already had said.  But, there was one line in her prayer that made me cry– that deep, ugly cry of a mother’s breaking heart.​

“May he reach his developmental potential, whatever that may be.”

I had spent the prior seven months of my pregnancy making promises between myself, God, and the medical establishment.  You know, telling myself things like not eating deli meats or unpasteurized cheeses would protect my baby from harm.  I avoided all caffeine, despite working 80-hour weeks.  I drank a lot of water.  I took prenatal vitamins.  My doctors reinforced these behaviors at each prenatal visit and reassured me that things were going perfectly.  I performed these pregnancy commandments like a penance for anything I may ever have done wrong so as to achieve the ultimate goal of a healthy baby.

Having a preemie made me question all of this.  I looked at myself and outwardly for someone or something to blame for why my pregnancy went off course.  Then the chaplain reminded me that there was a chance that he wouldn’t reach his developmental potential.  That not only did I have to worry about the here and now of his NICU course, but that one, five, or ten years from now I may still be dealing with the consequences of his prematurity.  After meticulously planning my life’s course, the future seemed so uncertain.

My initial cry came from fear of the longevity of this issue, but then I embraced the beauty of it.  I could not control who my son would become by eating the right foods or avoiding certain chemicals.  We were not playing a game where a high earned score resulted in a better prize.  He would become whomever he may be with my guidance and nurturing along the way.  This was his life, not mine, and I was there to help him live the best one he could.  That is the best thing that I could ask, or pray, for and what any parent should dream.

As the NICU became a more distant memory and my son reached his second birthday, we were thrilled to see his developmental progress.  His Early Intervention therapists declared him fully caught up with his peers and we left all traces of his prematurity behind us.  A tremendous sense of relief washed over me, but I could not help but remember the chaplain’s prayer.  My work was far from over and helping my child reach his potential in life meant more than getting him to some goal that society told me was “normal” but rather accompanying him on his journey to finding himself.  I would foster his passions, nourish his body, protect his innocence, and inspire his mind until he reached his potential, whatever that may be.

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