Q&A: Diaper rash!

Whoa. Another symptom of all this rain, aside from frizzy hair and stir-craziness, seems to be diaper rash. I don’t think I’ e gotten any diaper rash questions in months, and then here they are all over the place.

I think that if your normal diaper rash creams/ointments (and everyone’s got a favorite, whether it’s Aquaphor or a zinc oxide cream) aren’t working right now, it may be a fungus, not a straight-up rash, from the sogginess of the air.

If the irritated skin is flat, slightly raised patches that look oozy, you’re looking at a fungus. The treatment is simple–over-the-counter antifungal cream (lotrimin) from the pharmacy.It should clear it up within a few days (especially if you can give your child some diaper-free time to air out).

As long as this strange rain is going on, though, the fungus could come back. So stay vigilant and be prepared to keep fighting it off.

Anyone want to reminisce about fungal diaper rashes you’ve known? My older son would get one every time he was teething.

Rainy day activities

Here in the NE we’re in Week 5,864 of near-constant rain. I’ve been getting some emails and have been hearing complaints all around me that parents and babysitters are stuck inside with kids all day and everyone’s starting to go a little nuts.

Some of the things that have helped me in the rain are treating it like a special day and suspending the rules. Normall I don’t let the kids dismantle the entire living room to make a series of fort tunnels, but that’s what happened for three days in a row last weekend.

We also do a lot of dance parties (slightly tricky because my kids don’t have the same taste in music, but we manage) and the combo of music plus exercise helps them out.

I also make us go outside in the morning, even if it’s only for ten minutes, so we can at least get the meager natural light available.

Since my kids are older (7 and 4) I know it’s easier to entertain them, so I’d love to hear suggestions from you on what to do with toddlers. And what those of you with babies are doing to keep from losing it.

Bad, then better

As some of you (especially those of you who read my personal blog) know, I've been feeling very bad lately. I had some personal disappointments in April that made me feel trapped and worthless, like my life was not amounting to much and I was never going to be able to get out of a cycle of barely surviving. I had a huge crisis of faith in everything I thought I knew, about God and myself, my friends, and any possibility of a future that wasn't just going through the motions.

I realized at a certain point that my sadness and anxiety and worry were causing me not to sleep and not to eat. And that all of these bad feelings, combined with that physical stress, had thrown me into depression. I have a history of depression, and am the child of a person with depression, so I know it. This was actually worse than other major episodes I'd suffered. Some of those just made me feel flat, and like crying all the time, like I was wrapped in fiberglass insulation. This time it was a sharp pain, a nothingness with singed edges that terrified me, and for the first time made me realize why people would do anything they could to get away from that feeling.

What I did was start doing the T-Tapp Basic Workout religiously every day, and make sure I got in 3600 mg of fish oil and a few droppersful of B-complex vitamin. I also threw in a few extra sets of T-Tapp Hoe-Downs each day.

Within 2 days I was back from the ragged burned edge. The pain was still there, all the disappointment, the worry, but it wasn't unbearable. I had enough space to look at it objectively.

At the same time, I came across a little book I bought last year and never read, called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the voice of vocation by Parker J. Palmer. In it, the author writes about his own mismatch between what he thought he was supposed to be and what he really is, and how it took two serious depressive phases for him to realize it. He talked unflinchingly about his depression, and that was exactly what I needed at that point. To hear that my depression was a normal part of figuring out what I should be doing.

Reading that book helped me figure out why, exactly, I was feeling like writing Ask Moxie was sort of, but not exactly, what I was meant to be doing. And I realized that I love answering the questions, but sometimes it feels a lot like giving people a fish. Like the people who write me are depending on me and what *I* think, instead of figuring out what *they* think. And I really want to help parents figure out how to examine their own issues and use a framework they create for themselves to pull apart their own problems and solve them.

And then, in the middle of the night, More Moxie came to me–a group of people who would work on issues common to all parents as people, regardless of how old their kids are or how many they have. The idea of doing two months at a time came from the 60-day challenges that helped some of us last year. And doing one assignment each week means we can get a little deeper and go back behind the stuff we usually think about to figure out why we do what we do, why we have the reactions we have, and help people decide what they want for themselves. Giving people a place to talk about it with other parents working on the same stuff was a huge part of it, and bringing in people knowledgeable about whatever topic we're working on, and having call-in sessions for people who want to troubleshoot or process on the phone with others.

I am energized like I haven't been in years, and feeling like what I'm doing is actually a worthwhile contribution. I was sure I knew exactly which way to go with this first unit on trusting our instincts, and then had a random conversation with a friend that's led me to start reading some stuff from a field I never thought I'd intersect with and bringing it into this unit as a way of  conceptualizing the feedback loop. I don't think I've thought this hard since I was an undergrad. And it feels really good, to want to get it right to help people learn about themselves (while I learn about myself).

And that, in turn, has made me feel more excited about the regular Q&As here. Someone asked if I was going to keep doing the regular Q&A column. Yes. I'm hoping that More Moxie will take off and I can back off some of my freelance work and spend that time doing even more with the Q&A and other free resources here.

I feel a little better now, having confessed that I was Not Doing Well. And I really had to share why I'm so excited to be putting together the units for More Moxie. (I'm lining up experts and resources through the end of the year, and finishing up the weekly assignments for this first unit. And thinking about what to do when next year.)

If there's anyone else out there feeling as stuck as I was, you might find the Palmer book helpful. (I also had the benefit of the brutal honesty and introspection of an old friend who's breaking it down for himself and letting me follow along. So if you can find someone who's into hard-core introspection and is willing to be open about it, count yourself lucky.)

And if anyone out there is feeling like you just can't deal, stand up and do some HoeDowns. Then do some more before you go to bed, and when you wake up in the morning. If you don't have some breathing room in two days, tell someone, and make sure they understand how serious it is. They'll help you get help.

Harnessing gaming habits

Post below this one, so scroll down!

A study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in 2005 found that kids spend an average of almost an hour a day playing video games. I'd say that's definitely true in my family. My kids get up before the alarm goes off in the morning to get in about 20 minutes of gaming, and then spend anywhere from 30 minutes (by themselves) to an hour (with a grownup playing with them) gaming in the afternoon.

I don't think my kids are unusual. They play Wii and love Club Penguin on the computer and other similar games. From talking to other parents, I think my kids are about dead on in their gaming habits (compared to other New Yorkers, at least).

Which leads me to think that if they're spending time gaming anyway, why not shove a little learnin' in their heads while they're doing it? The DreamBox math games are real actual games, not just worksheets with animation, so kids who play the story games (like Club Penguin) will love them. And not realize they're learning skills that will make school easier in the fall.

Q&A: sunscreen

I've gotten a few requests, coming on the heels of the bug repellent post from a few weeks ago, for recommendations of sunscreen.

Bear in mind, please, that I'm not a doctor or a dermatologist of any sort. I am, however, a very fair-skinned, light-eyed person, and my mom had her first skin cancer at the age of 47. So sunscreen is definitely a priority for me, but I'm not super-anal about keeping up with the exact latest. I feel like it's better to be consistent about using something good than always chasing the best thing.

I definitely choose a physical sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen when I can. I don't understand the chemicals or how they work, and that makes me hesitant to spread them all over my kids' biggest organs. (The ingredients in physical sunscreens have a longer record of use and known effects, just because they're less complex.) But lately they've been lobbying me to get the spray-on sunscreen because it takes less time to apply.

So I need some recommendations from you all. Are there sunscreens for kids that come in big enough buckets that I won't have to repurchase every week, and that aren't so thick that it takes forever to apply them? And that are actually affordable, since we go through so much?

I continue to be in love with the Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF 30 for my face. It's a mineral powder (meaning it's a physical sunscreen instead of a chemical sunscreen) that comes in a tube with a brush, so you just brush it on your face like you would a loose powder. It's got a touch of a sort of generic beige-ish color to it if you apply a ton, but it doesn't look fake on pale me or on one of my medium-toned black friends. (It looks like they now have it in "Oily Problem Skin" formula and SPF 45. Awesome.)

The SPF 30 only works if you get even coverage, so make sure you spend the minute or two it'll take to really dust it on evenly. The best part about this sunscreen, IMO, is that reapplication is a breeze, and it absorbs oil instead of making you feel like a grease slick. It hasn't been such an issue so far in this damp June, but when it's 90 degrees F at 9 am I'm happy not to be putting anything moisturizing on my face. It's very pricey at $30, but I'm almost at the end of mine after using it all last summer and whenever it wasn't raining or snowing over the winter, so I've definitely gotten my money's worth. Two of my friends got it on my recommendation last year and are now evangelizers for it, so it's not just me.

A reminder that if you can get your kids to wear hats (and wear them yourself) you'll be providing a lot of sun protection. Lots of kids think rash guards are fun to wear while swimming or playing in the water, and you can get them with SPF built into the fabric.

Don't forget eye protection, either. My uncle the ophthalmologist is pretty vocal about getting everyone to wear good sunglasses, including kids, to protect their eyes.

Did anyone try the Peter Thomas Roth and either love it or hate it? Please tell me what sunscreen to use on my kids. And are my kids the only ones who seem to compulsively lose or break sunglasses?

Q&A: tandem nursing blues

Lisa writes:

"I need some help to wade through a bucketload of postpartum tandemnursing emotions, and maybe some reader experiences and data points.
Help please!

My son is almost 2 1/2 and nursed throughout my
pregnancy, but at the very end would only latch for a few seconds at a
time, once or twice a day. Well, now that my daughter has arrived (2
weeks ago) and the milk is a-flowin, he's on me all.the.time.  I had
always thought I'd let him self wean (and even naively thought that
maybe it would be soon), and was game for tandem nursing, but now I'm
feeling really conflicted.

Some of it is just the sheer logistics of nursing two, especially
when he's so adamant and persistent and acrobatic.  He of course always
wants to nurse when his sister does, and trying to keep her latched in
the midst of his acrobatics is no small feat.  But a deeper part comes
from an emotion I feel really guilty about – he just seems so BIG now
compared to his baby sister and I feel resentful when he's groping at
me.  I love my son with every fiber of my being and I don't like
feeling resentful and annoyed about a nursing relationship that has
been so great for over 2 years. I've been trying to keep my cool but I
worry that I'm not going to be able to keep it up for long.

Not surprisingly, those around me think the obvious solution is
weaning him. But I think that pushing him to wean now is probably the
worst possible timing ever, with all the upheaval in his life.  But I'm
struggling to think clearly about how to change the behavior so that he
nurses a little less often, or a little less vigorously, or something.
Maybe it's the cluster of postpartum emotions + the figuring out of how
to be mom to two + oh did I mention his nanny had to leave us a few
weeks ago so I have no child care and am looking for a new babysitter
for him?  But I feel stuck.  Any insight?"

Then she wrote an update:

"The update is that I've started weaning my toddler by cutting out the
demand nursings; now we just nurse upon awakening, at naptime, and at
bedtime. Still too many for me but at least I can tell him "we only
nurse at bedtime" etc when he tries to attach himself mid day.

But I still feel the visceral resentment, and de-latching/detaching
him at the end of those 3 nursing times is getting increasingly
difficult. It's like he knows there are limits now so stretches each
time to the maximum possible. I'm going to keep on keeping on and
figure that my return to work at the end of maternity leave will be a
natural dropping of the naptime session and sometimes the morning
session too.

The piggyback question that this raises for me is re: the advice
everyone seems to give about making changes when siblings arrive.
"Don't move to a big kid bed/potty train/take away pacifiers when the
baby comes or the older child will associate the change with the baby
and this will fuel sibling rivalry." How true is this really? How long
is it true for? Keeping in mind that my son is exactly 2 1/2 so gearing
up in a big way for that half year disequilibrium.  We need to change
bedtime but I can't wait until he's three!!"

The first thing I want to say is that I never tandem nursed, but I have felt the feeling of wanting to jump out of my skin while a child nursed, and it's horrible. It makes you want to run away, and makes you feel guilty about wanting to run away. It makes you feel like a bad mother and bad person, because your child wants something and you resent giving it. It's a tough place to be.

But it's also natural. I'm not sure there are any women who've tandem nursed who haven't felt at least some of that feeling. I'm betting it also varies by the ages of the kids, and by how much the older one nurses and how often, etc.

Parenting is always about boundaries. And you can only prioritize your kids so much before it becomes unhealthy for you. One of the hidden gifts of nursing (that I never really figured out until I had an older child) is that you're forced to navigate the changing border of your needs vs. your kids' needs all the time, so that by the time things get really high-stakes you're already used to it.

FWIW, I never thought the reason not to change things when a new baby came was to prevent sibling rivalry. I thought it was because too many changes would overload your child and would make the changes less likely to succeed. So this is another case of a solution is only a solution if it's not worse than the problem–if weaning makes things better for you, and gives you more resources to parent both your kids, then that's the solution. If weaning causes you more stress (as it does for some people), then it's not a solution. Only you know which is the case for you and your family.

Plenty of 2 1/2-year-olds have been weaned when a younger sibling was born. Plenty of them have continued to nurse. Even more of them weren't nursing by that point at all. It's my strong suspicion that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference among them, and that their relationships with their siblings weren't affected by that at all. (If anyone's got any research confirming or negating that, please let us know.)

Your son is important, and your baby is important, but you are important, too. Raising good people is partly about teaching them how to respect other people's boundaries. If you can come up with a solution that makes all of you feel good, that would be a parenting utopia. But while you're figuring out who to prioritize here, remember that there's no wrong or right answer, and you and your son are going to get something valuable out of whatever decision you make.

Can anyone comment on tandem nursing? Suggestions or empathy? Virtual chocolate?

The next step

As you may know or have guessed, for months I've been trying to figure out how to:

1) Keep Ask Moxie free and add some more free features, and

2) Go deeper into the things that are behind how we parent and work on that with readers who want more focus.

I've been feeling like answering questions here is giving people a fish, when what I really want to do is help us all figure out what's behind our parenting so we can come up with our own best answers and troubleshoot for ourselves.

And I finally figured it out: the winner is…. More Moxie!

More Moxie is a subscription-based group working to figure out what's going on behind our parenting, to get us past the stuck spots and conflicts, and make our values and processes explicit.

In other words, let's figure it out!


* We're going to do a different topic for two months at a time (so we have the space to dig in and think and process).

* Members get a weekly emailed assignment (reading and some questions to answer about yourself–it should take about 20 minutes, plus time to marinate in your head during the week), a private message board to talk about the assignments and topic with other members, a CD/MP3 of a conversation with an advisor on the topic, and a monthly discussion call (three different times) on the topic.

* The cost is only US$30 a month–you pay for the two-month unit, so US$60 every other month. Less than a cup of coffee a day, and an entire year of More Moxie is less than one live month-long parenting class or a month of therapy.

* Topics through the rest of 2009:

July/August: "Trusting Your Instincts as a Parent" Learn about why we tend not to trust ourselves, how your individual personality characteristics influence how you listen to yourself, and how to
see yourself as the expert on your own kids.

September/October: "Stress and Creating Margins for Yourself as a Person and a Parent" The fall is when work and school and other obligations crank up. We'll explore how we react to stress and how to create margins for ourselves so we don't get fried.

November/December: "Teaching Kids Your Values During the Holiday Gauntlet" Every year there's confusion and angst about how to make it through the holiday season without feeling like we're selling out ourselves or our kids. Let's work on it in a methodical fashion so we can create the good and float above the parts that don't work for us.

* The first unit starts July 1, so sign up now:

Or through this link:


And please pass this on to anyone you think would be interested.

I'm really excited about this group and hope that you'll all sign up and get your friends to sign up, too, so we can start to figure out how everything works together and how to make it easier.

Q&A: tantrums from end of school year?

Molly writes:

"My oldest son turned 5 last Tuesday; his kid birthday party was the Saturday before, and we got together with family for dinner and cake on his actual birthday.  On Monday (the day before his birthday), he had a rough day with the nanny and even turned over some chairs in the living room (!).  Every day since then, except Sunday, he has had an angry outburst where he ends up moving and overturning furniture. Twice he had been sent to his room when the behavior started, and moved his brother's crib, then turned the rocking chair and ottoman on their sides.

This is totally freaking me out! He's definitely a challenging kid, but has never behaved like this before. We are reacting more calmly than we did at first, and things seem to be getting better, but I am still very concerned.  Have you ever heard of behavior like this that comes on so suddenly? I am wondering if it's a combination of sadness that his birthday is over and the transition of the end of school (and he knows that he will be at a new school next year, which may be causing him stress).  At what point is this a problem that we need some help with?"

My first thought was that Molly's son may have eaten a lot of things at the birthday party and during his birthday week that could cause these sudden tantrums–artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners are big culprits in sudden bad behavior. The chemicals just overwhelm the kids and they can't control their behavior.

But I checked with Molly, and he didn't eat anything he doesn't normally eat.

So that makes me think it's the sadness from the end of the school year and fear of going to a new school in the fall. This can be really, really hard for kids. they get used to a routine, and to the friends in their classes, and then it just stops. And the summer routine can be too much fun or kind of boring for kids, so it's a toss-up about how they'll react once they're really into the summer routine. But at this point, all they're feeling is that things are changing, and they're not going to do the same things every day anymore.

Loss is hard enough for adults to deal with. Kids need extra help. And it's important to acknowledge their loss and not try to distract them or cheer them up before you acknowledge how real their pain is.

It's probable that your child (under the age of 10 or so) doesn't even really know how to label the emotions as loss. So you might need to instigate the conversations about the end of the school year. Without leading your child ("Boy, you're really going to miss your friends, aren't you?") you can open up the topic of not seeing them every day anymore, or not going to school anymore and just ask how it makes your child feel.

Being able to talk about it may be enough help to end the tantrums, or you may just need to ride them out. As usual, the feelings that cause the tantrums aren't wrong, but hurting people or animals and causing physical destruction is not allowed.

Are any of the rest of you going through this? My older one is thrilled for school to be over in a  few weeks, but my younger one is feeling a little strange about school ending. Molly's son and mine can't be the only ones feeling bad about things ending.

Q&A: 9-month-old using mom’s pinky as a pacifier

Scott writes:

"Moxie, we have a 9 mo. 2 week old girl who's entire mission in life these past few days has been to latch on to any body part mom has less the crying begins. For mom it's been unbearable. For me (dad) it's hard to hand over a wailer knowing that I can't do anything but give her mom. Here is the kicker, she is a pinky sucker, not hers but ours and in the past few days only moms. So when nursing and napping/night time routine begins, it's not only just mom who will do, but moms pinky attached to her mouth. This means mom = stuck in the bedroom until she is asleep.  It's maddening for the wife and hard on the family. We know this wont last forever but what to do in the meantime?"

I'm going to assume you've already tried switching her to a pacifier and it hasn't worked.

I think a lot of us know the trapped feeling of being stuck in a room with a kid (and maybe even a body part being occupied somehow by said kid) until the kid falls asleep. It makes you feel caged and resentful.

(But, there are also people who are stuck in the room with the kid the whole time the kid is sleeping, and the child wakes up when the parent tries to leave or extract a body part. So it could always be way, way worse.

That made you feel better, didn't it? No? So much for Misery Poker…)

The only consolation I have is that, yes, as you've figured out, this is just a phase. So it will be over soon.

In the meantime, you, as the non-preferred pinky-owner, can really only reinforce your wife's boundaries and guard her free time jealously. If she's stuck for every naptime and nighttime falling asleep session, she's going to need to de-stress when she comes out. Which means that if you can pick up some of the slack with chores or things that are going to make her preoccupied, she'll be able to come out and have some time to herself to do whatever she wants to do that will clear her head and make her feel less trapped.

I wish I had some magic incantation that would make your daughter not need the pinky anymore, but it sounds like she's going through either some crazy teething, or a developmental spurt that is increasing her need to suck. And time is the only cure for either of those. By the time you could figure it out, it would be over anyway.

Does anyone want to share stories of being trapped in the room while your kid fell asleep? If I had a dollar for every time I had to lie down on the floor next to the crib, and then woke up at midnight, drooling, I'd be able to go on vacation. It really just makes you want to jump out of your skin, doesn't it? But this always corresponds to times that make it extremely difficult to change anything about how your child is sleeping…

Summer reading clubs and math games

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I have loved summer reading clubs since I was 6 years old. I taught myself to read (w00t w00t Electric Company!) and did my first library reading club the summer after Kindergarten. I still remember the theme–a race, with a paper horse with my name on it that advanced around a track. We could write out our book reports, or sit down with a librarian and tell her our reports orally–I always chose oral reports because they were faster. I read 60 books that summer.

It thrills me that my own kids love the reading club at our library, and have taken to it like ducks to water. My older son lost no school reading levels over the summer last year (I think he actually gained one) because of reading club.

As I was playing with DreamBox with my younger son, it occurred to me that math video games are the math counterpart to reading clubs. They maintain the competition-with-yourself aspects of the reading clubs, and give kids the joy of using their brains in a non-pressured situation. Since video games are fun, it's not "homework," and the kids feel like it's a treat instead of an assignment. I'm betting my older son won't lose any school math levels this summer from playing DreamBox. I'll let you know in the fall.