Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Being a Stay At Home Dad Is Good For My Daughters (And My Son)

In an earlier post, I commented that I would address the issue of why being a stay-at-home dad is not an emasculating experience for me.  Considering my most recent post (if you were one that chose to read it), I figured this might be a good time to come back to it.  I also recently read a couple of articles that I thought complimented the topic and would be worth sharing/commenting on.  Lastly, March also happens to be Women's History Month, and some of this post might seem as though I'm heaping a lot of compliments on the female gender.  I will refrain from not saying that is not unintentional (unpack that grammatically incorrect statement).  Please note that I am not doing this to impress my wife.  I'm actually doing it to impress her friends, because as Brian Kelms points out, the better you look to your wife's friends, the more attractive you look to your wife.  

The first article I read was about why being a working mom is good for your kids, and it was shared via social media by a high school classmate of mine.  She is a successful attorney, and with her husband, welcomed their first little one last year.  I'm certain that as the time approached for her to return to work, she likely wrestled with a lot of the same questions and concerns that probably almost every working mom struggles with - to return to work or stay-home.  The article claims "scientific reasons to be a working mom" by citing some studies that seem to support that fact.  I'm sure you could find a number of articles that claim "scientific reasons to be a stay-at-home mom", but since we live in a society where mothers with children under six years old have the lowest labor participation rate, I found this particular article interesting.

The other article I read was about how a man took the lessons he learned being a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice (a pretty serious gig for anyone in the legal profession) to being a stay at home dad immediately following his clerkship (and having probably just as demanding of a boss).  This one was forwarded my way from a good friend who read it and thought of me (Thanks, Katie!).  This article has a ton of great content and really good stats, which I won't regurgitate here.  But I will point out Mr. Park's observation of the novelty of his decision, and subsequently my decision, to be a stay-at-home dad.  He points out that despite the number of stay-at-home dads nearly doubling over the last two decades, only 21% of stay-at-home dads claim they actually made the decision to stay home with the kids because they wanted to, as opposed to 73% of stay-at-home moms.  Only 3% of the almost 2 million stay-at-home dads have a college degree.  That was him, and that's me (I'll discuss in a later post how I feel my college degree actually helped me make the decision to be a stay-at-home parent).  I also happen to live in relatively conservative Central Minnesota, in a congressional district that elected, and re-elected three additional times, Michele Bachmann to represent its constituents.  Not really a bastion of progressive ideology like New York City, DC (where Mr. Park resides) or even Minneapolis-St. Paul, so I'm thinking I'm kind of an anomaly around these parts.

That's okay though, I've never considered myself to be much of a "manly" man by prevailing societal stereotypes.  In fact, throughout most of my life I've been in the gender minority.  After my parents separated, I spent most of my adolescence with my mom and older sister, which undoubtedly played a significant role in my development.  My wife was the second of four girls in her family and had no brothers.  Sure, I went to an all-male college, but it was partnered with an all-women's college just down the road, where I actually had my student employment position (as the only male in the office).  I returned to work at this all-women's college, (where I was still the only male in the office), five years ago before I left to stay at home with our kids.  I've been in the gender minority for almost every single job I've had.  Going into the ultrasounds for our first two kids, I knew we had to be having girls.  My entire life up to that point had been filled with women and copious amounts of estrogen.  I often joked that if we had a boy, I'd have no idea what to do.

This is not to say that I didn't have close relationships with other men or male role models growing up.  My ring finger is longer than my index, and I can also grow some pretty healthy facial hair, so I'm thinking my testosterone levels are probably adequate.  I've just never seemed to be drawn toward things that are often considered stereo-typically "male" - I never played football (I actually played volleyball in college); I don't drink beer (but I will consume most any whiskey, except scotch - that stuff is terrible), my collection of tools (or "utensils" as you may have heard me reference them before) is minute; and I've never fired a gun.  Ever.  The only time I've ever been in a fistfight was in high school, and it was my best friend and staged (likely in attempt to prove our "manliness" - he was and still is considerably more manly than me).  If "The Man Show" was still airing, I doubt I'd ever be featured as a guest.

I'm well aware of the stigma that can often go along with being a stay-at-home dad.  I've read plenty of articles and books on it.  So far I've been pretty fortunate in that I've not had to deal with much of it yet.  Yes, I'm the only guy at story-time, and I'm sure I get a few strange looks when I'm navigating the grocery store aisles during the middle of a "workday" with multiple kids in the "race-car shopping cart".  I've been called "Mr. Mom" and "Daddy Daycare" more times than I can count.  Some dads find it offensive, but I'm lucky to be able to shrug it off with minimal emotional detriment.  I feel a lot of things as a stay-at-home dad, but emasculated is not one of them.

So, here is why I think being a stay at home dad is good for my kids.

For My Girls:

In the article about why being a working mom is good for your kids, one of obvious reasons was being a role model.  As the article points out, "it's good for young girls to see their mothers be independent and professionally engaged."  I couldn't agree more.  Not that a stay-at-home mom is any less of a role model to her kids, but when we live in a society that doesn't celebrate and encourage women's professional growth and development as much as we should (and compensate them appropriately), watching your own mother advocate for herself professionally is pretty powerful stuff.  I was able to see this first-hand with my Mom when she went back to work.  

Charles Barkley has said some profoundly stupid things in his life, but he got it right when pointing out that parents are the most influential role models for their kids.  Isla has already told us that she wants to be a doctor like her mommy so she can help people.  How cool is that?  It's like we're living in our own "Doc McStuffin's" episode!  Okay, Jess is a pharmacist, but she's still a doctor, even if she only makes me refer to her by that title.  Titles aside, my wife is a perfect example to our girls that you can work hard, pursue your passion, and be highly regarded for the work that you do, no matter what that is.  There are millions of incredibly intelligent and determined women for my girls to look up to, and we're fortunate to have over 2,000 of them just two blocks from our house.  But having a mom to look up to like my wife, the coolest person they know, is hard to beat.  

I also hope that as my girls grow up, they expect enormous support from their significant others to pursue their dreams, especially if those significant others are men.  It was not a condition that I be a stay at home parent for my wife to be successful at her job.  We could both easily be career-focused, but I'm guessing the stress of this might put unnecessary strain on our home-life.  I've never felt like I've sacrificed my career dreams so my wife can pursue her own (partially because I don't feel I have much in the realm of "career dreams", sh...don't tell my parents).  My wife is the breadwinner in our family, and that will likely always be the case.  It's not beneficial for me to harbor resentment about this or feel like I'm not being the "man of the house".  It's my job to figure out what I can do to support our family and the life that we've built together.

And don't make me out to be some sort of "martyr".  Each day we do what we need to do, to be where we want to be.  Or as our old daycare provider told me (immediately after I told her that she would be losing our business), "you need to do what you need to do, to be the parent you want to be."  My wife did not force me to stay at home with the kids, just like she did not force me into the content of my last post.  This was a choice that was consciously made by me, and she has supported that decision (both of those decisions actually) in earnest.  If our girls one day get married (at like 40) or are in a committed relationship, I hope they will have those same expectations from their significant other.  I want them to see their careers or vocations just as worthy of pursuing as their partners; no matter their gender, the pay scale, an arbitrary title or how society views it.      

For My Son:

If a mother can be a great role model for her daughters, I think she can be an even better role model for her son.  For him to see his mom work hard and be successful, despite the sexist climate we continue to live in, will hopefully be a great motivator for him.  What I hope he will learn from my decision to stay home is that it is perfectly acceptable to take the "non-traditional path" if that is what he feels called to do, or if what makes the most sense at the time.  I also hope that he realizes that people, especially men, are not measured by the size of their paycheck or what they do for a living.  I hope he understands that the decisions he makes in life only have to be justified to himself and the ones he loves, and if he is not making decisions in the best interest of those parties he needs to do some reassessing.  Sometimes the things that might be in the best interest of those parties might not be too glamorous and seem relatively mundane.  But that business still needs to be taken care of, and if he is the right person for the job, I'd expect him to recognize that and do his job.

He obviously can't understand it now (maybe he'll get it in a few months), but I also hope that my being a stay at home parent will be a wake-up call for him as a member of the currently dominant gender.  Having spent years working in higher ed, I've long heard about what Philip Zimbardo calls the, "demise of guys".  It can be tough to see by looking at the current leaders of our country (both on the public and private spheres), but in nearly every respect (save self confidence, of course) young boys are getting their asses handed to them by girls - grades, college acceptance & degree completion, civic engagement, and generally acceptable social behavior.  Sooner or later, hopefully much sooner than later, our society will finally catch up with this phenomenon, and we'll see considerably more women in CEO and public leadership positions.  Iceland, consistently one of the happiest countries on earth, seems to have beaten us there already.

I don't say this because I like to male bash, or because I really want to look good to my wife's friends.  I say this because for too long, men (myself included), have had increasing success because we , as my good friend Tago once put it, "won the gender lottery" when we were born.  This is not to say that millions of men haven't had to work hard to get where they are, but if we were women, undoubtedly we would have needed to work harder.  I'm not concerned that if my son doesn't work hard he will end up like his old man.  I'm concerned that if he doesn't work hard, he won't have the opportunity to be as successful as his mom.  Honestly, I was a little relived when our first two kids were girls, because I personally see the future as brighter for them, despite the male-dominated society we currently live in.  I've been able to see this first hand by being surrounded by a number of very intelligent, driven and caring women leaders; friends, family, and former colleagues.  Undoubtedly, Gus will look up to his older sisters, and as much as I don't like to admit it, I looked up to mine.  Her hard-work and successes, and ability to remain happy along the way, were great motivators for me.  I can only see Isla & Havi's successes as being motivators for him too.  Even if it is just in attempt to show them up, something I was never able to do to my sister.                

Above all, as parents we want our kids to be happy.  Truly happy.  Sure we'd love them to be doctors or lawyers or millionaires so they can take care of us when we get old and decrepit.  Selfishly we want them to do amazing things so we can brag about them to everyone when we get old.  Hopefully my decision to be a stay-at-home parent at this point will show that doing "something amazing" can take on all kinds of meanings.  That can mean being a doctor to help people get better, or being the best Mac & Cheese "cooker" in the house.  We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our passions and our indifferences.  Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or a working parent you'll likely feel some regret either way.  Instead of losing sleep over the regrets, take comfort in the fact that the love for your kids will show through in your actions.  As long as those actions are done with love.

Logistically, it makes more sense for her to practice on me.
I have bigger toenails.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Mack The Knife


Some of the stuff in this post is a little personal, maybe a touch graphic, and probably considered, in 'tween lingo, "TMI".  If you don't feel like we have that sort of relationship, or you don't feel comfortable with that, then please stop reading now.  By no means will I be offended.  I debated on whether or not I should post something about this, and in the end I decided I would.  But not because I wanted everyone to know exactly what the experience was like, rather to examine the larger picture of how this particular thing fits into our lives socially and culturally.  And because there is a some humor in it as well.  While I recognize that by putting this out there, it will be "out there" and be forever existing in the abyss that is the world wide web.  And someday, my kids may stumble upon it and say, "Dad, what the @%$#!?  TMI!"  Or whatever the kids are saying at that time.  Over the years I've somewhat perfected the art of self-embarrassment, so this will just be channeling that expertise.  I figure if you're going to laugh at someone and aren't very good at laughing at yourself, you might as well laugh at me.

Don't say you weren't warned.

With Guthrie's arrival two months ago, we now have three kids under five years old.  We are finished having kids.  All of our upstairs bedrooms are now occupied.  We have one extra seat in the van, but we'd like to leave it vacant just in case we pick up any hitchhikers.  After Havi had her first birthday, we briefly started having conversations about a third.  I told my wife that while I didn't think we had things under control with two kids, it was at least manageable.  I felt no need to have a boy to pass along the family name, and I was perfectly fine with two.  Jess said she didn't feel like she was done, but wasn't ready quite yet.  Maybe when Isla was in kindergarten.  She was actually looking forward to 2014 being a year where she wasn't pregnant or breastfeeding.

Well, 2014 obviously had other plans for us, and shortly after we found out baby number three was on the way, we mutually decided that was going to be it for us.  Even though Gus was born on Christmas Day, he was not created by immaculate conception.  If you've been through middle school health class or watched "Teen Mom", you're likely familiar with the biological process for creating a child.  I'm not sure when we had the conversation about permanent birth control, or if it was even a "conversation" or my wife informing me that I would be getting a vasectomy, but it must of come up at some point.  Of course we would wait until our little boy joined us to move forward with any permanent measures.

After little Guthrie graced us with his presence and the dust had settled, it was time to revisit the topic.  I had no qualms being the one undergoing the procedure.  Jess was fortunate enough to have three pretty uneventful vaginal births, so for her to undergo a tubal ligation was incredibly unnecessary, especially considering the risk, recovery and effectiveness stats.  We figured eventually we'd want to be sexually intimate again, maybe in like 18 years when the kids left the house, but decided it should probably be done sooner than later, just in case.  Considering we were 1 for 3 with "planning" our offspring, we weren't really interested in playing the odds.  So calls were made and appointments were set-up.

The first time I probably ever heard the term vasectomy was likely from the TV Show "Home Improvement".  Episode 16 of Season 5 to be exact.  The episode aired in 1996, when I was 13, so at the time I'm sure I had no idea what a vasectomy even was, or how to pronounce it.  In the episode, Tim is obviously apprehensive to Jill's suggestion that he get a vasectomy.  He comments to his neighbor Wilson, that despite knowing a lot of guys that get them, he's "just not one of those guys".  You know power tools, cars, "arh, arh, arh" - or however you type that sound he makes.  Wilson, ever the philosopher, empathizes with Tim, pointing out that "in many cultures, men are measured by their ability to pro-create", but also suggesting that there are a number of other ways that make you a man, including your commitment to your spouse/partner.  Ah, Wilson, so wise.  It doesn't seem that Tim is totally sold until his buddy Harry confides in him, only after ensuring no one is in earshot, that he had the procedure done.  Harry's final selling point is telling Tim that a vasectomy is actually better for your sex life - "anytime, anyplace".  Of course sex sells.  Even sterilization apparently.

I think we've come a ways in the last 19 years; advertisements for low cost (and minimally invasive) vasectomies were probably the fifth most frequent billboard we saw along the interstate on our road trip to Florida (adult video stores and strip joints were ahead of it, so maybe we haven't come that far).  After a little internet research, there seems to have been a number of sitcoms that have done a spin-off of the "Home Improvement" Vasectomy Episode - "Two and a Half Men", "Modern Family", "Brooklyn Nine-Nine", "Californication".  The common theme throughout those episodes though, is that there is also a significant amount of humor involving the procedure and a certain amount of convincing that needs to happen before anyone agrees to have it done.  While I didn't need a ton of convincing, there was a fair amount of humor involved during the lead up to and actual procedure itself.  I joked about it with my wife.  I joked about it with the nurse.  I joked about it with the doctor before, during and after the procedure.  Sometimes I use humor as a defense mechanism.  I don't think I'm alone.

While I submit that humor is good, a procedure of this nature is definitely not a joke, especially considering the permanence of its nature.  And I think that can be a big contributor to some of the stigma that still exists around a procedure like a vasectomy, or men's reproductive health in general.  Men are not prone to talking about personal things, especially not something as personal as their reproductive health - unless of course those males are disclosing the volume and attractiveness of the women they've slept with (which is likely a blatant lie).  Instead, Tom Green has to write songs to encourage men to check for testicular cancer.  Maybe The Divinyls did the same for breast cancer in a more subtle way.

Now, I'm not advocating that we need to round up guys and start doing mass vasectomies.  Apparently there is already a World Vasectomy Day in November, on which a British morning talk show actually aired a live procedure this past year (likely in effort to out-gross Katie Couric's colonoscopy back in 2000).  But if you look again at the numbers from the NPR Article, you'll notice that worldwide, sterilization on women is done almost 8 times more often than it is done on men.  In the US, more current research puts it at 2-1 difference (2 female sterilizations for every 1 male sterilization).  That still seems like a significant difference, considering that vasectomies are widely accepted in the medical community as safer, more effective and generally less expensive.  Everybody's circumstances are different, and there are certainly times with female sterilization would make more sense.  But when would you ever buy a more expensive car that didn't work as well and was more likely to get you in a car accident?  Oh, you drive a full-size SUV?  I see.

I'm speculating that a mindset similar to Tim's back in 1996, and the other protagonists on the more current TV shows, is still commonplace with a lot of guys today.  Being against a vasectomy, when it would be beneficial to your relationship with your partner, because you're "not that sort of guy", is caveman mentality.  And don't feel like a "hero" if you get it done.  Do you think your spouse felt like a hero after she delivered your newborn son or daughter?  I actually hope she did, because to carry a baby for nine months and then make it through the delivery, with or without pharmaceutical assistance, is an act of true heroism.  I'm sure she didn't feel like a hero.  She felt exhausted and like a mom.  And that is what mom's do, because they are heroes.  You may be "taking one for the team" by helping ensure she hopefully doesn't have to endure that experience again if she doesn't want to, but it is a small gesture.  You still have to change diapers and get up with the baby at night too.  Post-procedure you will be granted a few days to recover and lay around all day, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Don't let me bully you into though.  I'm not on a mission to sterilize every man on earth - just the ones who may someday show any interest in dating my daughters.  I just hope guys consider it, and talk about it with their partners, and not just crack jokes that you're going to lose your manhood if you get it done.  Your testosterone levels are in no way effected by the procedure, and the FDA just released a study that said too much "T" might be a bad thing.  Given the choice, I'd take living and less testosterone over the opposite.  And don't let your partner bully you into, either.  That's a common survey response (if accurate) by men who regret having the procedure.  But if your partner wants you to consider it, you better have a solid defense for not wanting to have it done - "I'm just not one of those guys" is not going to work.  Have an honest conversation about it.  Yeah, it can be awkward to talk about.  But if you already have kids, odds are 80% of your conversations already revolve around poop, so how awkward can it really be.                      

If push comes to shove, and you really can't bring yourself to do it for your spouse/partner, channel your inner Louis CK, and man up and do it for yourself.   At least it would be for a selfish reason, which shows you have some balls.  Pun intended.

No photos this time.  You're welcome.
I'm sure you can find some on the internet if you are really interested in visuals.  
Or, just watch that live procedure.  I didn't so I can't vouch for its validity.


First, I have to thank my wife, who is a hero (even though I don't treat her like one).  She waited on me hand & foot when I made glaringly apparent that the doctor's orders post procedure were to "Lie flat and only get up to eat and use the bathroom".  She actually made it so that I only had to get up to do one of those two.  I'm assuming you can guess which one.

Second, I have to thank my mom, another hero.  She took our two oldest girls for a couple of days so they didn't want to energetically jump on my lap whilst following doctor's orders.  She also purchased three bags of frozen peas for me, since she heard they were a good thing to use - probably after spending too much time on WebMD.

Thirdly, I have to thank my kids for being so cute.  Because of this, amongst other reasons, we decided to quit before we got an ugly one.  I'm kidding.  Calm down.  

Lastly, I have to say thank you to the doctor who performed the procedure.  I hope he doesn't read this.  A very down-to-earth, good humored guy, which is great to during any procedure, but especially when the only part of you exposed during a procedure is your reproductive anatomy.  I'm thankful that he put up with my many annoying questions and bad jokes, while avoiding saying anything along the lines of "whoops" or "interesting" during the procedure.  I'm also thankful that he warned me in advance that I may see some smoke, but that it is part of the procedure.  Apparently when working with plumbing, human or household, there at times is some soldering involved.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Oh, The Places You'll Go


Earlier this week my wife commented that our family has been a lot healthier this winter, and that is probably due to the fact that our kids are having limited interaction with other coughing, snot-nosed kids who are terrible at sharing toys, but great at sharing germs.  Of course as soon as she uttered this statement our oldest started a hacking cough and a sniffling nose.  Fortunately it has been a much healthier winter for us, especially in comparison to last year when we found ourselves going almost weekly to the walk-in clinic for a variety of ailments from Thanksgiving to Easter.  I seriously considered inquiring about a frequent visitor punch card. 

One of the exciting things about having kids is that you will begin to find yourself in situations you never could have imagined you would ever be in prior to having kids.  During those moments, all you can really do is take a step back, rhetorically ask yourself, "is this really happening?, and revel in the absurdity. And then file it away because it will be great material for embarrassing your kids later on in life. I found myself in one such situation on a frigid February morning last year at our local pediatric clinic.   And.......action!

Getting out the door to do anything in winter takes ten times longer because children are relatively in adept at dressing themselves for below freezing conditions.  For Havi, who was 1 at the time, getting dressed was the equivalent of 12 hours of manual labor.  She would kick and scream, throwing herself down on the floor which would only intensify her screaming. By the time I had successfully dressed her in her winter attire, her boots would already be off because of course Uggs for a 1 year-old will only stay on with duct tape.  My general rule in winter is if a shoe, boot, glove or hat gets lost in transit between the car and school or a some other building, it’s a lost cause.  When it's winter, we move in one direction after we leave a heated vehicle - inside.  Isla, who was 3, would do nothing to help the situation as she had a attention span of, well a 3 year old. You have to trick kids into getting dress, and essentially doing anything else you want them to; bribe them with treats, use reverse psychology - I bet you can put your shoes on!, threaten to leave without them.  

So getting out the door to go the clinic on this particular cold winter morning was no different.  Both kids needing hats, gloves and over-sized jackets that probably weren't safe to be worn while sitting in a car seat.  A diaper bag overflowing with supplies - food, drinks, extra clothes just in case someone wets themselves, blankets (4 per child is pretty standard), and books. A rolling suitcase would work better if you didn't end up carrying both of them at some point. Of course don't forget an emergency energy bar for yourself, because the last thing you want while out and about with your kids is to pass out due to low blood sugar.  Health professionals always stress drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.  I actually stopped drinking water when taking my kids out of the house on my own so I didn't have to worry about corralling them in a bathroom stall if I needed to take a piss. This also means I can pack one less extra set of clothes because I likely won't be wetting myself.

The worst thing about visiting the doctor is obviously the waiting.  Waiting for a doctor with children, time moves about 20 times slower than real time.  Even worse is that the nurse calls you back from the lobby where the kids were perfectly entertained by the television, the fish tank and a plethora of new toys and activities, to a non-descript room to take the kids' height and weight.  This procedure involves removing the layers of clothing and of course the shoes, which may or may not still be on at this point. It will usually keep the kids momentarily entertained, or piss off the 1 year old even more because he/she will probably have to lay down for a height & weight check, which is tantamount to water-boarding to any little kid with an ear infection. And if you are taking your 1 year-old to the walk-in clinic, the odds of them having an ear infection are roughly 100%.

Once that is completed, the nurse brings you to an even less descript room where you will wait for a pediatrician who is always running late.  The nurse will proceed to ask you the same questions you are asked every time you visit the clinic, which always includes verifying your address and phone number, even if it had been less than 24 hours since your last visit.  The nurse will also ask what the child needs to be seen for that day, and you’ll describe the issues the same way you did to the person who checked you in to the clinic and the same way you will when the pediatrician finally arrives to look at your child. I’ve been tempted to change the description of the symptoms throughout this question and answer series to see if anyone would actually notice.  Once this information is successfully entered into the computer, for the doctor not to look at, the nurse will inform you that the doctor will be in shortly, which is medical speak for six to eight weeks.  

Our pediatrician informed us that around the 1 year mark, kids start to understand what actually happens at the doctor; i.e, they typically get shots.  Your job, once the nurse leaves, is to stand in front of the door to block their ambitious attempts at escape.  This usually ends when the doctor quietly knocks before opening the door to enter the room, subsequently drilling you in the back of the head.  At this point, the children have stopped crying because pediatricians are non-human life forms whose presence immediately calms any situation. Our pediatrician is so amazing, we're seriously considering adding her as a beneficiary in our will.  

We have made trips to the doctor for a whole host of ailments.  From run of the mill ear infection and pink eye to more exciting stuff like hand, foot and mouth and strep.  I'm always amazed at how quickly pediatricians can make a diagnosis once you describe your kid's symptoms.  I've started to become suspicious that they might just be making these illnesses up, especially since about 90% of the time they will tell you it's a virus and just has to run its course.  When you happen to be so lucky to get something that can be treated, it's almost always an antibiotic.  Even better when they are suffering from multiple maladies and the antibiotic will treat them both.  It's like a two for one!  "Good thing about her having pink eye and an ear infection is we give her an oral antibiotic and you don't have to fight her with the eye drops!"  Thanks, doc, best thing I've heard all day.

After a certain number of unscheduled visits to the clinic, and an excessive amount of time on WebMD, you tend to get a little cocky before even seeing the doctor, certain you already know what is wrong with your kid. Despite this, you still trudge to the clinic and pay $50 to likely have the provider prescribe your child "fluids and plenty of rest." This is done more so to confirm that your own diagnosis was correct and you could probably be a doctor too. Odds are you'll be completely wrong, because again, there is a good chance they are just making something up. Luckily my wife is in the healthcare field, so we (she) usually has a good handle on what might be up when our kids are under the weather.

For this specific visit, I anticipated what to expect. Havi had a wheeze and a cough, so we were thinking RSV, one of those many ailments that has to "run its course".  Isla had a two-day cough that turned into a two-day fever, and then started complaining about her ear hurting. Boom, ear infection! Sign me up for med school. Jess was also concerned Isla might have a UTI (urinary tract infection) since she hadn't been going to the bathroom that often and her urine had been kind of dark. It would be a new one for us, but since I was going in anyway, might as well inquire about it and more effectively use our co-pay.  

Of course we were wrong about Havi - she actually had an ear infection. Isla did too, so at least we got one correct. As far as the UTI, the doctor wanted to get a urine sample from Isla to see what was going on. Here is where it starts to get really interesting (thanks for sticking with this post, I know there has been a lot of build-up). February of 2014, Isla was 3 years and 3 months old and had been potty-trained for about 6 months. Our directive was to head to the lab so she could pee in a cup, a task I sometimes struggle with when at the doctor. But they gave us a contraption called a hat to put in the toilet so I didn't have to actually hold the cup underneath her and end up with a pee covered hand. In the end that would have been the least of my worries. I manage to get both Isla & Havi into the bathroom by the lab, which is no easy task because "The Magic School Bus" is currently playing on the TV in the Lab Lobby. I contemplated letting Havi stay in the lobby, but figured it would be bad form to leave a 1 year old unattended in a public place in front of a TV. I also contemplated leaving the bathroom door open so I could keep an eye on Havi, but I was concerned Isla may have trouble performing under pressure. I was right.  

The scene is the three of us in the bathroom. Isla is on the toilet with no desire to go. Initially, she was not interested in utilizing the hat to catch her sample, so things started with me holding a measuring cup underneath her bottom. After a few minutes of me crouched in an awkward position bracing to be peed on, I was able to convince her that using the hat would be easier and she allowed me to put it in place. That allowed me to divert my attention to another pressing matter, dealing with her sister. We had been at the clinic for about two hours by then, putting us around the 10am mark - exactly the time when Havi should be going down for a morning nap. At this point though she is more interested in helping Isla and thinks the best way to assist is to get both of her hands inside the toilet. As I quickly, but gently, move her away from the germ-covered commode, the tears and screams of an over-tired, ear-infected one year-old fill the bathroom.  
I'm sure the lab techs on the other side of the paper-thin wall are thoroughly enjoying the commentary. I'm pleading with Isla to deposit some pee in the cup. "Please, just a couple of drops." We're running the water. We're singing songs. I'm making promises that I have no ability to keep - "You can eat ice cream for breakfast for the rest of your life!". I'm still trying to keep Havi away from the toilet. She's crying because she's overtired and sick. Isla's crying because she "just can't go!" I should be crying, but instead I'm sweating because I'm dressed for a Minnesota winter. This is the time when I have to take that step back and recognize the absolute hilarity of this situation. Never, ever before this moment could I have imagined I would find myself here - in a 5x5 bathroom, doing everything in my power (short of a manual catheter) to get a 3 year old to pee while also keeping a 1 year old out of the toilet.

After about an hour and a half, which seems like 40 days, and multiple false alarms, we finally give up. I inform the lab techs it's just not happening, and they seem about as relieved as I am. We run into doctor and she confides that the antibiotic Isla will get for her ear infection will also treat a UTI, so while she'd prefer to get a sample, she says to just keep an eye on it. As we left the clinic I made the executive decision that we all needed a sick day. Ear infections might not be contagious, but we didn't want to take any chances. 

We kept an eye on Isla and thought it was getting better until it wasn't. So a week later, since we hadn't been to the clinic that week yet, I took her back and this time she was successful in giving a sample. I had never been so happy to hear the sound of someone urinating. The sample informed us that of course we were wrong and it wasn't a UTI. It was something the doctor called glomerulonephritis. Yep, my response too. 100% made up.

Apparently, this hard to pronounce condition causes an inflammation of the tiny filters in the kidneys, causing the kidneys to not properly filter the the things they are supposed to filter from the bloodstream. This can be either an acute (short-term) thing that will resolve in a few months or a chronic (long-term) thing that could have some serious implications, like eventual kidney failure. All signs pointed to a an acute condition, likely brought on following a bacterial infection like strep. Still, this did little to comfort Jess, who is the worrier in the family and has easy access to lots of medical information.

The preliminary diagnosis of post-strep glomerulonephritis started a string of five daily visits to the clinic to provide a urine sample, blood work and a blood pressure check. Isla was actually prescribed a blood pressure medication, because apparently her's was through the roof. The urine samples were always an adventure, but usually a lot easier when her sister wasn't trying to help out. We did have a day when we waited in the lab lobby for about 3 hours, trying to push fluids to get her to go. It was that day that I realized that the "Magic School Bus" videos that play in the lobby are on a loop that eventually starts over. Hey, we've seen this one before. Today, actually.

Eventually everything cleared up - Isla got her BP under control, the puffiness in her face subsided, and the protein in her urine cleared. A, probably unnecessary, trip to a specialist provided some additional confirmation that we weren't going to have to worry about dialysis for our 3 year old anytime soon. It was an experience to say the least, but we were very, very fortunate that everything turned out fine, and Isla was a trooper throughout the entire process. You never want to see your child experience physical pain and discomfort, and feel it's your duty as a parent to do whatever you can to help them get better. Often times though, there is little you can do, outside of pray, wait, and hope for positive outcomes. A lot of families aren't nearly as fortunate, and I can't imagine what that experience must be like for them.  

The other thing you can do is laugh. We're often told that laughter is the best medicine. Illnesses can be fragile reminders that nothing living is indestructible, and finding the humor, whenever possible, in the ailments that find us, or we sometimes bring upon ourselves (foreshadowing here) can be a powerful, natural remedy. It doesn't even require a doctor's prescription, although you're welcome to go to the clinic anyway, which will probably give you more stuff to eventually laugh about.

Isla showing off her battle wounds.
Sorry, no pictures from the bathroom - they frown on that kind of behavior.