Tuesday, March 11, 2008
From The Parent Diaries: How to help your child succeed in school — without going insane
She was passing out when I found her.
Anna was two days from turning five months old on that freezing February morning in 1996. She was so cute, so sweet, smelled so good, and my husband Mike and I couldn’t take our eyes off our little wonder.
But on that day, I decided to go down into the basement with two hands free and do the laundry all by myself. In my best sing-songy voice I told her mommy-would-be-riiiiigght-back, strapped her into her bouncy seat with a toy to swat at, and grabbed the basket of dirty baby clothes.
Before I even poured the Dreft into the washer, I heard her make the strangest coughing sound. I flew up the stairs, and there she was, suddenly warm and glassy-eyed, and worse yet, she looked like she was going to die.
I screamed for Mike, who ran into the room and at first thought she was just falling asleep. But I knew something was wrong. He trusted my instinct, scooped her up, and the three of us bolted for the pediatrician’s office half a mile away.
Surely the doctor would fix this. I’d picked him because he was about 70, seemed to have seen everything, and would help me make my way through the first months of motherhood.
We were panting by the time we arrived at his door, and with one glance at Anna’s half-closed eyes and bright red cheeks the nurse rushed us into the examination area and the doctor ran in. I stripped off her jacket and as he pressed his stethoscope to her tiny chest I blurted out: “I don’t know what happened. She was fine just 15 minutes ago. It must be my fault. Last night I had my first glass of wine since getting pregnant, and I’m breastfeeding. It must be my fault.”
He paused, took one look at my baby then looked up at me. Coldly, he said: “Yes. I think she has alcohol poisoning. Take her home. She’s all right. She’ll be ok.”
Then the nurse pulled the thermometer from Anna’s bottom and said, “Excuse me doctor, this baby has a temperature of 103-degrees. I don’t think this is alcohol poisoning.”
That nurse saved my daughter’s life.
“Ah yes,” the doctor mumbled. “Um, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs, I believe your baby is going into a coma. Do you want us to call an ambulance, or do you want to take her to the hospital?”
All I could think to say was, “You are asking me?”
I didn’t. I said yes, please call an ambulance, with tears streaming down my face.
And at that moment, I lost faith in the almighty power of the doctor. I swore to myself that if Anna lived through this, I’d question everyone and everything that came into her life.
Looking back on it now, I believe "The Parent Diaries" was born that day for it became painfully clear that there was no way to ensure that by surrounding my baby with the best doctors — and the best toys, playgroups, organic food, literature, art and friends — that my husband I couldn’t keep bad things from happening to our little angel.
We definitely needed a guidebook.
AFTER THE TRAUMA, A NEW TRUTH
Thankfully, that terrible day ended in the best way possible. We did call an ambulance, and the doctors at the hospital determined Anna had contracted e coli sepsis, a relatively common but potentially deadly bacterial infection.
A week of antibiotics knocked it out of her system, and she didn’t suffer any long-term ill effects from the illness. We never were able to figure out how she contracted that awful infection – but ever since we have been diligent about using a lot of antibacterial soap.
Anna is 12 now. She's in middle school, and the perfect definition of a "tween." She tortures Mike and I with new bigger girl worries — boys, grades, body-baring clothes, parties, boys. Although I'm constantly exhausted by the challenges of parenting this young woman, I cherish every moment of it.
Ditto for our son, Dylan, a 3rd grader.
As I've watched them grow through preschool and elementary, deal with good and bad teachers, mean and wonderful friends, I never gave up the idea of finding that magical guidebook.
So I decided to write it.
This blog — and the subsequent books, website and company that will accompany the concept — is dedicated to my kids.
FOR PARENTS / BY PARENTS
The audience for the blog and book, of course, is all the parents who struggle with the same issues my family does:
• What is a good school?
• How hard should we push our kids to achieve?
• What does success mean, really?
• What might the world look like when they graduate from high school?
• How many extra-curricular activities are appropriate — and how busy should we really make them?
• Is it ok to go to the movies with a group of friends at 12? At 10 p.m.? How about parties?
• How terrible is it to Cs? Ds?
• Which is the better language to have them take: Spanish, French, German — or Chinese?
• How many of those challenging AP classes do they really need to take?
• When is it time to let go?
Central, however, is this single query: *How do we do what is best for our kids without making ourselves, our spouse — and our children — nuts in the process?*
ASK THE EXPERTS
I will attempt to answer some of those questions in subsequent entries that will include conversations with people who have definite ideas on the topic:
• Some of the future-thinking administrators in Fairfax County, VA that I have had the privilege to work with in my job as Director of Communications for the City of Fairfax Schools;
• Several futurists — who are also parents — that I have worked with at Social Technologies, a global research and consulting firm based in Washington, DC. Our conversations will range in topics from “The future of virtual education” to “The Pros and Cons of Helicopter Parenting” and “Protecting the Kids.”
• I’ll also interview early childhood brain researchers, including Pat Wolfe, who I had the privilege to write about for the American Association of School Administrators;
• Dan Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers will rule the future,” will talk about his new manga business book, “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko.”
• And we’ll be talking with anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of “Why We Love,” and “The First Sex,” on why teens want to have sex — and why more will be doing it at a younger age.
THAT'S JUST THE BEGINNING
Do check back monthly for new entries to The Parent Diaries.
I’ll also look forward to hearing about how you help you child succeed in school — without going insane.