Remember back when you thought the phrase "seeing stars" was figurative? It isn't.

I just can't finish and post the post I was working on last night, because this morning T was jumping in excitement and clocked me with the top of his hard little head in my nose so hard I saw stars (really) and almost threw up. So I've been trying to sleep it off all day, but all the bones in my face are aching. I don't think anything's broken, although how would I know? My actual nose feels fine, but my cheekbones back to my ears and forehead are throbbing and tender.

But enough about my problems. Today's question, since I can't muster anything better, is: What is the most painful experience you've had with your child? (And let's say birth doesn't count, or else it could turn into misery poker.)

I'm going to pop some more ibuprofen and see if slouching upright on the couch does more for me than lying down did.

Whoa: Mercury in HFCS

First that whole insane peanut contamination thing, and now this:

Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

First off, thanks to Amy (soon to be Dr. Amy, PhD) for tipping me off to this.

Second, the SweetSurprise.com or SweetSuckers.com or whatever-the-HFCS-Marketing-Board-calls-themselves people can bite me. Hard. (We talked about those beyond ridiculous commercials promoting HFCS a few months ago here. If you are not in a mood for one of my rants, don't read that post.)

Third, I had a Dr. Pepper yesterday. A full-on, real Dr. Pepper with HFCS. It tasted good, if shocking because it had been a long time. But you know what? It wasn't worth it. If I'm going to take a chance with my body and future reproductive capability by ingesting mercury, it's going to be in the form of delicious, delicious tuna sashimi.

Now, if you read the full article (and I hope you do–I shouldn't be your primary news source any more than Jon Stewart is), you'll see that there's definitely technology to make mercury-free HFCS. So there are two ways to avoid the mercury contamination: 1) Stop ingesting HFCS, and 2) Push back and make contact with the comapnies that make your favorite HFCS-laden foods and call them and ask for mercury-free HFCS. If enough people push back, they'll do it. (Remember when goldfish crackers still had trans-fats? Consumer pushed back and now they don't.)

What's your take on this? Is it going to affect what you buy and eat? And which would you choose: sushi or soda?

Q&A: rash on face of preschooler

You know, it's really difficult to write an internet advice column when your computer won't connect to your wireless connection. Gah. I'm up to here with Vista. I'm coming to you from the cafe near my apartment with the post that was supposed to go up yesterday.

Robin writes:

"Because of my work schedule, my daughter spends the weekend at her grandparents' once a month. Whenever I pick her up, she has a red rash on her cheeks. She doesn't get this rash at home, and after a day or two of putting my regular face lotion on her cheeks it fades away. I've been wracking my brain to figure out what could be causing it, but can't figure it out. (I don't want to say anything to my parents since the rash isn't painful to my daughter and I don't want to hurt their feelings because they seriously overreact to stuff like that.) They have cats, but so do I. She doesn't have environmental allergies. I don't think they're feeding her anything strange.

Do you or your readers have any ideas about what this could be? It's just red and kind of flaky, but not oozy and not really raised. and it doesn't hurt or make her itch."

Hmm. I wish we had a photo of this, as that would make it lots easier to diagnose.

I used to work in test prep, so my instinct is to use process of elimination to narrow down what it could be. I'm going to say that it's not anything fungal because it's not oozy and it goes away so quickly just with regular facial lotion.

I'm also going to say it's not a bacterial infection for the same reason.

It kind of sounds like the rash both of my kids have gotten (my older one grew out of it when he was around 5) from being out in the cold. A red, flaky rash that was helped by putting on lotion but would also go away on its own if I kept him out of the cold for a couple of days. So that may be worth thinking about, especially if she goes outside to play a lot at her grandparents and doesn't so much at your place.

You could take another look at food stuff. You say she doesn't eat anything "strange," but anything with artificial colors or flavors or additives could do it. And individual people are sensitive to all kinds of things (there are even people who are allergic to plain white rice), so it could be something healthy that your daughter's system just has a problem with.

The other thing I'm thinking is detergent or fabric softener on the pillows she sleeps on. That could definitely cause contact rashes. And if her skin gets a breather at your place, plus the lotion, that could explain it.

Readers, do you have any other ideas? Has anyone been through this?

Q&A: banking cord blood

Angie writes:

"What's the deal with banking cord blood?? It seems like crazy money for something there's only a minute chance of ever needing. But then the brochures guilt you into it. Did you bank your kids' blood? What did your readers do?"

I did not bank either of my sons' cord blood. It seemed like too great an expense to me for something that had such a small chance of being needed. But that was just for us. If you have risk factors that make cord blood banking make sense for you, it might be worth looking into. With absolutely no family history of childhood diseases or any of the other things cord blood is used for, it just didn't make sense for us.

One thing that may have made more sense but wasn't possible for us* was cord blood donation. with donation, your child's cord blood is drawn and then sent to a bank where anyone who is a match and needs cord blood can receive it. It's a way of using the cord blood for good even if you personally don't need it. If our situation had been different I'd have strongly considered it.

Did anyone do cord blood banking? If so, why? If not, why not? What about cord blood donation?

* Things were too rushed in the hospital with the birth of my first son so cord blood was not on anyone's mind,and I had my second son in my bathroom as a planned homebirth so there was no way to collect the cord blood.

Q&A: pooping only in diaper

Jillian writes:

"N (boy) is 3 years old and toilet trained for pee and 'diaper trained'for poo. That is, he can control when he poos, but refuses to do it in
the toilet. He holds it until he's in bed for nap or the night (the
only time he gets a diaper) and then lets loose. I've tried every form
of incentive and they don't work. He's done it a couple of times in the
toilet for chocolate, a cupcake AND 'toilet fairy' stickers (yes, all
at once!) but he's back to doing it in the diaper. He has a
fearful reaction to the idea of sitting on the toilet for poo combined
with that 3-year old need for control. I can't even make him do it in
the diaper in the bathroom – he has to be in his bedroom. I'm not
pushing the issue because I don't want him to get constipated but
changing a 3 year old's poopy diaper is getting old fast. Quite
frankly, it's gross.

Would love to hear from anyone who's been there, done that."

I have no idea. I wish I did, but as I say every time we have a potty learning question, both my boys trained themselves, and I was just kind of the facilitator (and my babysitter B, too, with the second one). So I really have no secrets or much to offer on this.

So I'm tossing it out to the readers, and hoping someone's been through this and has some words of advice for Jillian. I agree that it seems counterproductive to try to force it. Would it help to have N shadow another kid who poops in the toilet so he'd be encourage by peer pressure? It sounds like rewards aren't working. Anything else anyone can suggest?

Q&A: 18-month sleep regression redux

I got a question from Kelli a few weeks ago, and then an almost identical question from Kyo a couple of days ago, about the 18-month sleep regression.

If you all recall (and those of you with kids over the age of 18 months probably do), there's a big developmental spurt that happens right in the 18-21-month corridor, so many kids who've been fine sleepers suddenly stop sleeping (either at nighttime or for naps or both) around 18 months and it lasts for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

It completely and utterly bites, and parents can feel blindsided and insulted and very very angry about it.

So, what Kelli and Kyo were asking was what they should do about it. Their kids were waking up in the middle of the night either once or a bunch of times, and they were having varying degrees of success with getting them back to sleep using various methods. The big concern seemed to be whether they were setting themselves up for later problems if they did things like nurse the kids back to sleep or bring them into their beds or use other sleep crutches that they'd mostly gotten away from before the sleep regression happened*.

I think that, as usual, it depends on your kid. By the time your child is 18 months old, you've been through a few sleep regressions already. So think back to what happened when your child came out of the 4 month regression and 9-month regression: Did your child go back to sleeping the way s/he'd been sleeping before? (Some kids just go right back as if the regression had never happened.) Or did you need to ease your kid back into sleeping and wean off processes of getting to sleep that you'd used to hold down the fort during the regression? (Bitey Biterson, for sure.)

Whatever happened with those other regressions is probably going to happen with this one. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know that I figure that people just sleep the way they sleep, and there's not much parents can do to change that. So the sooner you can figure out how your kid sleeps, the sooner you can figure out both what's realistic for you and how you should approach sleep issues.

The other thing to think about, though, is "Do you care?" I know that, for me, it didn't matter if I knew I'd have to spend a few weeks breaking a habit again as long as I could get some !@#$% sleep in the meantime. If that's the way you are, then who cares, and do whatever it takes to get you all the max amount of sleep at any given night.

But if it will kill you to have to undo something, and you're not so fried at this moment that you just need to sleep By Any Means Necessary, then take a little time to think about how you could replicate conditions that will help facilitate sleep without actually going back into the processes or crutches you don't want to use. Either that or schedule a solo vacation at a spa for a week and let someone else deal with it. (If only. Can you imagine?)

Anyone want to share any fond memories of the 18-month sleep regression?  I would, except I seem to have blocked out a whole lot of it. I can, however, remember standing over my older son's crib wondering how I'd morphed from awesome to completely incompetent in a matter of weeks. Parenting is hard.

* In general, I think sleep crutches of all sorts, from pacifiers to rocking to loveys, get a super-bad rap. No one has to bring their mom along to college to nurse them to sleep. And so what if you have to sleep with a white noise machine? If it bugs you when you're 30 you can break the habit your own self, and leave your poor parents out of it. So I'm only talking about breaking habits because some parents really want to get away from sleep crutches because they're adding more stress to their lives. If sleep crutches are working for you as a family, then party on with them for as long as they work, and then figure out the next thing.

Q&A: talking and thinking about conflict

So sorry yesterday's only post was about laser hair removal! I had every intention of posting another one, but then got completely engrossed in the inauguration here in the States to the extent that I forgot to edit and post my inauguration-related post. So, now I'm a day behind. Here's what was supposed to post yesterday:

Jennie writes:

"This isn't a burning question, but it's causing me some stress. My third-grader has been coming home from school kind of upset because he's been hearing kids talking about some of the stuff we talk about at home–politics, religion, etc.–and the kids are saying things that are the opposite of what we teach at home. How do I explain that people can have different opinions so that he understands that the other kids not agreeing with us doesn't mean we're wrong?"

This is a tough topic. And I disagree that it's not a burning question. Especially on the day we get a new President here in the US, this question and how we deal with it is going to have way more impact on our children and countries in the long run than anything having to do with sleep, eating, pooping, tantrums, etc. All that stuff is going to end (even if we do nothing about it), but how we get along as people with diverse positions on important issues is something that never ends and affects every aspect of our lives, in big ways and small ones.

It seems to me like this is kind of a matrix, and if we could agree on the dimensions we'd be in business. On one axis I see issues that have an absolute value vs. issues that are subjective. On the other axis I'd put things that we need to have dialogue about to come to better understanding vs. things we can just agree to disagree about. So you'd have four squares: absolutes that we need to talk about, absolutes that we agree to disagree about, subjective things that we need to talk about, and subjective things that we can just agree to disagree about.

The problem, of course, is that there's no way to come to any common understanding about what fits into any one category. I think most of us would say that "basic human rights" are in the absolute category. But what's one person's basic human right is another's privilege or even frill. And what's worth talking about and what's OK to just leave alone and disagree about?

It seems to me that each needs to be able to stay meta enough in the process to realize that what's important to you may not be important to someone else. And that sometimes people just don't have enough information to make an informed decision, and sometimes they have made an informed decision and it's just not the one you came to.

Once you understand that disagreeing doesn't mean good vs. bad, then you can move forward and figure out what goes in which categories for you, and help your kids get to that point, too. Helping them figure out what they really believe (even if it's different from what you believe!) is a way of helping them develop both strong analytic skills and a strong moral code. And the way to do that is to talk and talk and talk. Let in information that conflicts with what you believe, and talk about that. Ask your son what the other kids are saying, and try to figure out how they came to that point of view. Understanding that side will help you see things from other angles and refine your own views (and be able to defend them intelligently without getting upset).

Disagreement and being able to assimilate and analyze new information is what creates sharp, layered minds. So don't be afraid of the conflicting views. Turn it into a game at the dinner table if you want to by talking about why a view makes sense and why it doesn't. (For those of you who've taken the LSAT, remember the section in which you read an argument and figure out where it's weak?) Let your kids know that information won't hurt them.

How much talking do you guys do about current events, religion, politics, ethical dilemmas, etc? (We've been having lots of discussions about Gaza right now, and were talking constantly during the 2008 elections.) Are there areas in which you feel like you get stuck? How affected do your kids seem to be by the things their peers say? Do any of you live in places where your views are the minority, and how does that affect how you talk to your kids? How old are/were your kids when you started talking about differences?

Laser hair removal?

Since the IUD question got such a great response, Melissa is wondering if you guys have opinions on laser hair removal:

"I thought I would ask if anyone in the NYC area has had a positiveexperience with laser hair removal.  I seriously want it for my upper
lip but am torn between one of these "laser spas" and a derm
office…any thoughts?"

I'm a waxer, although I'm going to try threading. But I'm sure some of you must have done the laser removal and have an opinion.

While we're at it, has anyone tried the $175 no!no! that's supposed to lessen the hairs that grow back the more you use it?

Q-but-no-real-A: Cabin fever

I've got cabin fever, she's got cabin fever, we've got cabin fever…

Here in the US it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which means kids have a school holiday, and many adults are off work, too. Combine that with our freakish snowfall and coldsnap at the end of last week that canceled things in many areas, and some of us are staring at some pretty serious cabin fever.

I was hoping we could talk about some ideas to combat it, since no one likes feeling like they're in the middle of The Shining (with the role of Jack played by your 4-year-old).

True confession: I get off easy, since my kids' dad came to get them yesterday, so my kids get a change of scenery, different toys, different food, etc. So I'm not currently having this problem (I'm painting my apartment instead), but I know tons of you are.

I only have a couple of suggestions:

Go outside anyway. Assuming it's not sleeting or below -10F, kids can really stand a few  minutes outside if they're wearing warm clothing. Running around outside will keep them warmish, and even a few minutes can "blow the stink off" (ah, my mother and her Midwesternisms) enough to give everyone a little head space.

Wii. If you don't have one, you probably know someone who does. If you can make it over to their house, you and the other adults can chill while the kids get some exercise with the Wii sports or other games.

Fantasy. See if you can get the kids involved in helping you plan where you're going to go on vacation next year at this time. Then have them hrelp you calculate how much money you'll need to save every week to be able to do it. A family goal!

What do you have?