Helping a 3-year-old with a parent’s serious illness

K writes:

"My husband has just been diagnosed with a very advanced stagecolorectal cancer, and we are in that horrid little wait between
diagnosis and CT scan results and the beginning of chemo/radiation.

daughter is 3 years old in 2 weeks. I am trying to educate myself about
the cancer and the treatments, how to help my husband and support his
healing, but my question to you all is: How can we help our daughter?
She already knows that daddy is in pain and that sometimes he needs to
cry and that often he goes to the doctor, but she is finding it hard to
understand that daddy cannot play wildly like before and that sometimes
mommy and daddy are having serious conversations and sometimes we are

So she is angry and difficult and she needs everything to be just
so. We have 5 weeks of intense treatment coming up and this will just
be the first little step in a long and difficult process. What can we
do to help her? How can we help her later in the process? I am looking
for any experiences and ideas of how to help a child deal with serious
illness, death, grief… I will be happy for tips on reading and well,
anything really.

one additional aspect of my question i just realized is that our daughter is
turning away from her dad, not wanting to cuddle, often turning her
back to him during dinner etc. you can imagine how sad that makes her
dad and it really makes it clear that we need to help her understand
all this or at least deal…

Oh, K, I am so very very sorry for all of you that you are going through this.

I wish I knew what to say and do. I think this post-3-year-old stage can be hard enough for parents and kids to negotiate together, so adding all this on top is going to make things even more difficult for you.

I wonder if it would help to enlist family and friends to help entertain your daughter. Maybe ask if they could take her on outings with their children, playdates, and things like that. It will give her other things to think about and do, and will give you and your husband some time to be able to break down if you need to without having her there.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for K? This is way out of my scope of knowledge.

Involving kids in making gifts and volunteering

You people really like upchuck!

So I’m still apparently not done with holiday posts, but tomorrow will be about something different.

Jennifer is asking for suggestions of gifts that kids can help make, that aren’t from a kit. She’d like things that aren’t super-expensive (so no necklaces strung macaroni alternating with real emeralds), but also things that aren’t too tchotchke-like.

My kids help with holiday baking gifts, but we haven’t really done anything non-edible homemade yet with them. I’m thinking they might be soon old enough to do something like sewing stuffed animals out of felt for younger friends/relatives. And maybe we’ll do some painting of wooden picture frames to frame pictures of them to give.

Here’s something absolutely brilliant that my 10-year-old (at the time) second-cousin made for his 5-year-old cousin: He used duct tape to make a knight’s helmet, sword, and shield. Can you get over that? (It was the hit of the family reunion, for sure.) I think it took him three days and a few rolls of duct tape, but I was stunned at what a kid with little cash and lots of imagination and love can do.

I know you guys can probably come up with some other great ideas.

Amy writes:

"I know it’s easy to think about this at holiday time and then drop it, but I’d like to get this started and continue throughout the year. My 6 (almost 7) year old son is not involved in any extracurricular activities, and I’d like the two of us to get involved together as volunteers in our community. I’m going to ask around at his school for local suggestions, but I was wondering what ideas you and your readers have as good, on-going volunteer sites for early elementary-age kids?"

Great question! And I’m hoping people will come up with good ideas. I’m feeling like a hypocrite, because I’ve been thinking for months and months that I should be waking the kids up early one morning to go help at the weekly breakfast program for the homeless housed at our church. But somehow the task just seems too daunting. Maybe I will see if I can find something like this that isn’t during the school week so we can realistically get there.

Does anyone else have any good ideas about volunteer activities for younger kids?

Q&A: Vomit for Beginners

Amy writes:

"I wonder, if you don’t have other, more pressing topics to consider, if you’d post my query for the readers to help me with?

I dare not so much as whisper this aloud, but my 3.5 year old has never had a stomach bug. Historically she has projectile vomited when presented with foods or meds (she has tactile and taste defensiveness from birth), but never as part of a virus. Look, I am not stupid. I know she will eventually catch a stomach flu or get hit with food poisoning, but I don’t know how to deal with it. I want to be prepared, because of all the bodily fluids, vomit is the one that I have never been able to deal with well.

There are some basic things I do know, like my day care’s rule about vomiting (24-hours minimum vomit-free + standard rules about fevers), and I know to watch my daughter’s temperature, to track how many times she vomits in a hour/day, and to do what I can to prevent or treat dehydration. So I guess my questions are primarily practical.

*How do you train a child to vomit into a container? Do you have to train them? Or are they like cats and they pretty much self-train, like with a litter box?
*What do you do with a vomiting child? Resign yourself to sitting with them while the retch, sure, but do you put out drop cloths in between episodes? Or do you isolate yourselves to one room and let it go, knowing you’ll just rent a steam cleaner when it’s done with?
*Do you make the child rinse her mouth or brush her teeth after vomiting?
*Wait. Aside from Pedi@lyte, how do you prevent or treat dehydration? There’s no guarantee I could get that into my daughter, especially if it’s unfamiliar."

I hate to say it, but this series of questions made me chuckle. I guess I just can’t imagine worrying about puke in this much detail! But maybe that’s because my experience of kids vomiting is that it just sort of happens in a flash–one minute the kid’s looking a little off, and the next minute there’s barf all over everyone’s clothes, in my hair, and all over the floor/sheets/couch/whatever. From normal to three loads of laundry in 5 seconds.

In short, I don’t think you can really plan for it.

The puking game is different with babies (who often projectile puke, often into a parent’s mouth or eyes–I’ve had both, although thankfully not on the same day) because they kind of just throw up and move on happily with their lives, unless they’re really sick.

But preschoolers and up (IME) tend to be more like adults when they get pukey-sick. They just want to lie on the couch and moan. And moan. And ask you questions like, "Mom, am I ever going to feel better again?" with those big sad sweet eyes that break your heart.

I don’t think you can train them to puke into a container. If there’s a container there they won’t avoid it, but they won’t be able to hold the barf back, so you’ll probably end up doing a bunch of laundry anyway.

On the other hand, I doubt the kid will want to be up and around, either. So the vomit area will be contained, and after the initial shocking vomit episode, subsequent puking will probably be just more of the same, in the same place.

I wouldn’t bother with a steam cleaner (assuming you didn’t feed your kid a big bowl full of permanent ink right before the vomiting episode), but would just go with Bac-Out or Nature’s Miracle or one of the other pet stain cleaners.

Your daughter will want to rinse the taste of the puke out of her mouth. She may not like the taste of the Pedialyte, but you can try a sports drink, or just plain water alternating with juice.

You’ll know she’s better when she’s ready to eat something that’s not bananas, rice, applesauce, or toast.

Anyone have any conflicting or additional tips on vomit? Do you have other regional terms for vomit? (I think I covered the standard Americanisms: vomit, throw-up, puke, barf.)

Really important study–we need your help

Hi all. This was supposed to post Monday, so I’m attaching Tuesday’s post to the end of it. Please please read through the first part and pass it on.

Leslie Davis, a researcher at Illinois State University (in the U.S.) is doing a study on pre-natal and post-partum depression, and she’s trying to tease out the differences in mood disorders (depression vs. anxiety, etc.) so that they can work on more effective plans for treatment.

She needs women to fill out their online survey. You are eligible if you are pregnant and 26 weeks along or more, or if you are between 6 week and 6 months post-partum.

Please, please please, if you are in this category or know people who are, fill out the survey. Forward on the URL to everyone in your childbirth ed class, new moms’ group, breastfeeding support group, online support group. Ask the moderator of any online boards you post on if you can post the link there.

The more responses the researcher gets, the better info she’ll have and the better prevention/diagnosis/treatment we’ll be able to offer to pregnant women and new mothers. (The results of the study should be available in the summer of 2008, so I’m going to ask Leslie to update us then on what she found.)

Now, for Tuesday’s post, I’m cleaning up holiday gift requests.

A grandmother is looking for good toy suggestions for 2 1/2 year-old twins (boy/girl, if that affects your response any).

Following up on the post last week about asking friends and relatives for nicer quality toys, Kristen wants to make things as easy as possible for her relatives:

"So I need some help…I have a 6 month old son and I’m trying to buy
him toys that are made in the US or Europe.  Any good websites or
stores that you can suggest?  I’m trying to encourage my family and
friends to buy him the more expensive toys that are of better quality
than the cheap plastic ones and I know that options are important."

Melissa writes:

"My son will be 4 in mid-December.  As one would expect he is full of
questions about the world and everything in it.  We have gone to the
library with some questions and done some research on the internet, but
I thought we might also want to look at having a good children’s
illustrated (we are not quite reading just yet, but trying
hard) dictionary or a set of encyclopedias at home for some old
fashioned look it up exploration.  Do you are your readers have any

My 5 1/2-year-old is loving the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary I listed over there on the left in the sidebar. I’m not sure about encyclopedias, but I’m sure someone will have suggestions. I just discovered Simple Wikipedia, which is just Wikipedia, but using simple language and without some of the content that makes regular Wikipedia so much fun but also too wild for kids.

Then Liz writes:

"I am looking for a good book that might have some good suggestions for
fun and developmentally-beneficial activities I can do with my 5 month
old.  A kind of "Daring Book for Girls" for babies.  I consider myself
a creative person, but I’m running out of things to do with my baby.
I’m not sure I can play on that playmat and simply pass toys back and
forth with her for too much longer.

Any good ideas?"

I, personally, think you should just do your normal activities with the baby in a sling and narrate what you’re doing and that will help her development more than anything. But that’s also because I’m not a "down on the floor playing kids games" kind of mom. Which may explain why my kids are great at baking and cooking and doing laundry with me, but good at playing Legos with each other and not me. 😉

I know someone out there will have suggestions of books or of activities to do. And toys for the other questioners.

But first please pass on the survey info to any interested parties you know.

Favorites of 2007

If you’re going to the big supersale today (even magazine subscriptions at $5 off-who knew?), click through from here. It won’t cost you any extra, and it helps put a few pennies in my pocket. Thank you.

I’m setting this to autopost at 5 am my time, when some of you are probably already out at the stores, but I’m still asleep (I hope). Heh.

I’d love to talk about some of the things that we’ve been enjoying this year. I’m going to make up a bunch of categories for my favorite things, and you can make up your own, too.

Favorite music: I’ve been listening to pretty much nothing but four albums (are they still even called "albums"?) this year. As I’m typing this I realize they’re a totally random assortment, but I’m a random kind of person, so there you go. Here they are:

Free to Worship by Fred Hammond. I’m a crazy Fred Hammond superfan anyway, but
the lyrics on the songs on this particular album have been really important to me
in this last year. It seems like every time I’m struggling with something, I find something new in his words that expresses exactly what I need right then in the clearest, most lyrical language. And his songs are all bass-heavy and danceable.

Your Man by Josh Turner. (Or download the MP3 version.) I call him "my cowboy singer." I love his voice, and his songs are throwbacks to a time when men were honorable cowboys who just wanted to work hard and play hard. Sweet and goofy and earnest all at the same time.

Out of the Woods by Tracey Thorn. (or download the MP3 version.) I’ve loved her voice ever since she was in Everything But The Girl ("And I miss you like the deserts miss the rain…"), and was delighted when this CD came out earlier this year. These songs are so personal and achingly romantic, bleak and hopeful at the same time. Watch the videos for "It’s All True" and "Raise the Roof."

Brazilian Hits and Funky Classics by Jorge Ben. A compilation of Jorge Ben’s hits from the ’70s. Lots of that rhythmic, groovy guitar that Ben did so well.

Favorite parenting book: Hands-down, my favorite parenting-related book of the year is Erica Lyon’s Big Book of Birth. My review is here. Doctors should hand this book out as soon as a woman sees the second line or a positive beta.

Favorite pants for boys who rip through the knees every time: The jersey-lined nylon workout pants (real name: mesh-lined windpants) from Children’s Place. Soft on the inside, but the nylon is far more durable than cotton pants or jeans. No more ripped knees!

Favorite airline: JetBlue kept me happy every single time I flew them this year. The Bliss lotion they give you on the red-eye is great, and their coffee is good, too. 26 real TV channels doesn’t hurt, but bring your own headphones, because their free ones can be spotty. They’re the nicest airline for kids that I’ve flown, probably because everyone’s so anesthetized by watching those 26 channels of TV that the flight attendants have time to be nice to kids.

Favorite dinner: Bi bim bap. We found the recipe in Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park. It’s super-easy to make, and kids can help stir together the marinade, and even crack the eggs and do the vegetables. My kids have decided they like chicken better than beef, so that’s how we do it now.

Favorite lunch: Carnitas tacos from the gourmet taco cart near my office. Drool.

Favorite exercise: The winner and still champion…T-Tapp. Only I’m doing even better since I saw Teresa Tapp herself when she was in NYC last month. The ways she explained the Basic Workout Plus increased the intensity for me geometrically. And she’s almost freakishly nice. If I lived on the UES I’d go to Donna’s Monday night class every week.

Favorite paint: Benjamin Moore’s Aura. Water-based, low-fume (seriously), and covers anything in two coats. I was skeptical, but went from deep red to Cameo White in two coats! Perfect for kids’ rooms. It’s way more expensive than regular paint (I think it’s made of ground up truffles and Faberge eggs), but IMO worth it for the ease of application, great coverage, washability, and fewer fumes.

Favorite movie: I go to movies to escape, not to think about issues, so my favorite movie of the year was The Bourne Ultimatum. Completely and utterly unbelievable in so many ways, but I couldn’t look away.

Favorite timesaver: Google documents and Google calendar. You can share documents and calendars with other people (whether or not they have a Gmail email account) and cut out a billion steps in the editing and collaboration process.

Favorite made-up knitting pattern: Legwarmers for under my puffy coat. One pair takes two skeins of Lion Woolease (for easy washability) or woolish yarn of your choice. Use US size 8 (5 mm) double-pointed needles.
Cast on 44 stitches. Work a *K1 through the back of the stitch, P1* rib for 2.5-3 inches. Increase 16 stitches evenly across for a total of 60 stitches.
Work body in mistake rib: Row 1: K2 P2 across. Row 2: P1, *K2 P2* across, end with P1. Repeat these two rows for the length of your shin plus a few inches more so you can get that Flashdance scrunch.
Decrease 12 stitches evenly across for a total of 48 stitches. Work a *K1 through the back of the stitch, P1* rib for 2.5-3 inches. Bind off loosely.



I want to thank you all for my second year writing Ask Moxie. It is such an important part of my life, and has meant more to me than you can ever know. Thank you for coming and reading, commenting, keeping me on the right track, and supporting each other. Thank you for being such wise, funny, warm, vulnerable, thoughtful, and supportive people. Your children are lucky to have you.

I’m thankful for my two amazing boys. My greatest joy is that they enjoy each other so much.

I’m thankful for my family and friends, my coworkers, and my little village here in the middle of this big city.

I’m thankful for my cats, who keep everyone entertained day and night (including Alex’s new trick–chewing through the yearn I’m knitting with as I’m knitting).

And I’m thankful for the usual stuff: pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, the DVR, YouTube, and the fact that I won’t be at any stores tomorrow morning at 5 am.



I’m back from my trip and am still reading through your comments. I haven’t made it very far, but my three favorites so far are, from the consistently hilarious Shirky, "i’d rather have the money, or a better health plan," cause, yeah. And from Treena, "Once, when I suggested that we all give to charity for Christmas, mymother said that my Christmas gift to her should be that I just shut up
about it and pretend to enjoy the whole thing. I’ve given up trying to
persuade them." Is it bad that this made me guffaw? And from julie, "One parent actually said to me "You taught my daughter to love reading…..I’m not buying you f-ing soap." Love that.

What do you guys want to talk about today? I have a feeling we’re not really done with this holiday stuff yet. One of the ideas that jumped out at me from yesterday is that people give cash gifts to men (because they’re doing "work") while they give cute gifts to women (because they’re doing things for "fun"). There’s plenty to get at there. I never thought about it before, but I agree with this assessment that the cultural idea is that men want the cash but women will somehow be offended if they don’t get hand lotion (please no) or hand-baked muffins or whatever cute thing.

For the record, I’d rather have the cash. (Or at least for you to click through on your way to Friday, not that I’m harping on that at all.) You?

Another idea I thought was interesting was from Shandra’s comment about story and how she thinks objecting to Santa just on the basis that it’s a lie doesn’t resonate with her. Read her whole comment here, about how going from told to teller is a rite of passage. Then think about it, and comment. I’m not sure what I think yet, so I’ll comment on it later.

Here’s a great question from Heather from Monday:

"We’re having a Thanksgiving food drive at school for the families in
our district who need assistance. I buy organic when available, but
also know that a can of organic beans versus regular can be more than
twice as expensive. Do I buy them the beans I probably wouldn’t feed my
kids? That seems wrong. I opted to donate money towards a grocery store
gift certificate so that the families could buy the things they needed.

For the toy drive, do I donate the new toys I won’t permit my kids
to play with? Also seems wrong. Don’t these kids deserve safe toys to
play with also?"

Comment? I have absolutely no idea. My kids do have plenty of cheap plastic crappy toys that they love, and we don’t always eat organic, so for me personally it isn’t a black and white situation. But for those of you who have more of a locked-down situation on what your kids play with and eat, what do you think?


I think the game plan for the rest of this week is going to be: Thursday: posting what we’re all thankful for, just because I’m sappy that way. Friday: Our favorites of 2007 so far–books, music, activities, new ideas, etc. And it won’t have to be things that actually happened in 2007, just things we’ve been particularly enjoying in 2007.

Then next week back to sleep and potty-training and discipline (I discovered a great new resource person for us) and keeping our self-esteem in the face of the rest of the world.

More holiday brouhaha

Because I just can’t stop, and I’m away on a business trip, so why not.

Anyone want to start a conversation about Santa? I wrote this post last year about it. Basically, we don’t really make a big deal about Santa, so what I’ve told my older son is that Santa is a fun game that grown-ups and kids play at Christmas time. That way there’s no "truth" vs. "secret" aspect of it, he won’t spill it to other kids, no problems with his non-Christian friends, and we have no conflicts by seeing a billion different Santas on the street.

And here’s a lovely question from Amy:

"Since you’re talking about holiday gifts this week, do you have any recommendations about what to give your daycare provider? Or if it’s even appropriate to give gifts? My daughter goes to a group daycare where she has two primary care givers, but many more caregivers rotate in and out through the day. Also, my daughter was recently diagnosed as having cerebral palsy  and I really appreciate the extra attention they’ve been giving her at the daycare so I’d love to show my gratitude somehow."

Hmm. I think for babysitters/nannies, the rule is a week’s pay at the new year. And I know that in preschool, we collected and gave each of the teachers a cash card and a handmade thank-you card from each kid.

But a daycare center with multiple caregivers, I do not know about. I also suspect it may be regional. Everyone, what do you do, and where do you live (generally)? Also, if you are a daycare provider or teacher, please tell us if there’s anything you don’t like to receive, since no one wants to give things that aren’t appreciated.

Also, if you’re renting a car on business, the Chevy HHR has enormous blind spots that make it hard to drive.

Q&A: Is there any way to prevent an influx of gifts you don’t want?

The lovely people at have informed me via email that they are going to be having a huge sale starting this Friday morning at 6 am PST (US West Coast time, 9 am for those of us on the East Coast, 8 am for those of you eating leftover bars that day, and 7 am for those of you in Mountain). If you click through from this link, I’ll get a little tip out on anything you buy, so think of me if you’re going to do any online shopping this Friday I’ll put the link up at the top of Friday’s post, just to help remind you to line my pockets.

And on that note, Kristen writes:

"Can you address how to talk to relatives about not giving your child
crappy, made-in-china, plastic toys?  We don’t want to hurt anyone’s
feelings or seem greedy, but we would much rather receive quality
wooden toys, non-character items, and books.  With the recalls
recently, this has become even more important.  Is there a tactful way
to de-tack relatives?"

At first glance, the obvious answer to this question is, "Yeah, right." But I know that Kristen has a one-year-old, so she’s still in the phase of parenting in which she does have a reasonable amount of control over what her daughter plays with, eats, etc. And my feeling is that all of that stuff gets harder and harder to control as the kids get older, so you might as well do what you can while you can. Two years from now you’ll be buying princess-shaped gummy snacks made out of HFCS, hydrogenated fats, and red dye #5, so this is the year to try to hold back the tide of American consumer culture.

I think the amount of success you’ll have in requesting certain toys depends on the personalities of the gift-givers. My grandmother, for example, was always delighted to receive specific requests for things my kids wanted. If left to her own devices she would have chosen the brightest, biggest, least apartment-friendly toys possible, just because she loves the kids so much. But she was thrilled to know exactly what the kids wanted (one year it was an awesome wooden parking garage that is still standing after years of abuse) and this year her Christmas gift was the adoption fee for the cats. (Oh, the cats–is there another animal species as crazy and hilarious?)

So if you have relatives who like to take requests, you’re in luck, because you can request specific books and toys (like the wooden cutting food set, for instance) and everyone will be happy. But if you have relatives who want to give what they want to give no matter what you’d like, you’re not going to win the battle.

Which means you need to decide how you’re going to react to the gifts you don’t like. Are you going to thank them politely and then donate the toys the next day to the thrift store? Are you going to thank them politely but decline the toys? Are you going to try to educate them about toy safety, recalls, plastics, and the whole ball of wax? Again, it depends on the personality of the giver and your relationship with them. You’ll probably react differently when it’s your 90-year-old great-aunt than you will when it’s your sister.

Has anyone been able to politely stem the influx of toys from relatives without hurting any feelings? Please tell us what you did.

Book Review (fiction): The Thirteenth Tale

Book review of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I don’t read enough fiction these days. Between the kids, work, this site, knitting projects for Christmas, and 8 million other things, I pretty much only have time for non-fiction, with some memoir thrown in for fun. So I was a little hesitant when the MotherTalk people asked if I wanted to review The Thirteenth Tale. It’s 400 pages, and I doubted I’d get very far in.

Well, I’m not quite to the end yet (which is good, so I don’t reveal the ending inadvertently), but the book really sucked me in, almost from the beginning. It’s good that I had you all contributing holiday ideas this week, because I was spending too much time reading this book. And my current knitting project is just lying there while I read.

It’s written from the point of view of Margaret, a British used-book-seller and reader who has written a small biography of two long-dead brothers. One day she receives a letter from England’s greatest living author of fiction, Vida Winters, whose books Margaret has never read. Winters has given false stories of her background and history to reporters throughout her career, and no one knows anything about her. But she claims that she wants to "tell the truth" and that she wants to tell it to Margaret. Winters summons Margaret to her house on the moors the next week.

So Margaret goes to the house. She and Winters have a little showdown, in which the pivotal event of the author’s life, and what led her to change her name and begin writing, is revealed. Partially. We know some of the end, but not exactly, and we don’t know how it all happened. So the rest of the book reels out the story.

If you’ve ever read and loved a Barbara Vine mystery, you will enjoy this book. Knowing the outcome of the story, but not how it transpired, allows for suspense but a more thorough, richly-layered storytelling pace. And the theme of the book is storytelling. Winters’ position is that story reveals more truth than truth itself. And that’s an interesting idea to consider.

Warning: One of a pair of twins has died in infancy as the background of the story (it’s revealed in the first chapter of the book, so no spoiler), so beware if that’s a sensitive topic for you.

Also, it’s billed as a "ghost story," and I don’t really get that. To me it was more of an eerie mystery, and a great book for reading while drinking cocoa or tea while it’s snowing or raining outside and someone else is entertaining your kids. You won’t be scared, but you will be sucked into wanting to find out what happened.