The smell of puberty

Ah, take a deep breath. Do you smell that? It’s the smell of puberty. And it makes parents of tweens everywhere ask three important questions before the kids head out the door each day.

“Did you put on deodorant?”
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Are you wearing clean underwear?”

One day our kids are toddling around in footed pajamas smelling like baby powder, and the next they’re stomping around in week-old socks smelling like, well, week-old socks. A change has come … and many times they’re oblivious.

Here’s the rest of the article, pasted here since the magazine where it was originally printed took down all its previous links.

“I just had a battle with a certain 12-year-old girl,” Amy Vanwestervelt, mom to three, said. “She was ready to head out to school in the shirt she was wearing the day before (that she also decided to sleep in), hair not brushed, and hadn’t brushed her teeth. She was ticked off that I made her change, brush and pull her hair back and brush her teeth.”

Give them the lowdown
Getting kids to pay attention to hygiene is an ongoing battle. My daughter loves to look cute for school – she’ll put together a pretty outfit and take time to put her hair in an actual bun. But brushing her teeth? It’s like I’ve asked her to deep clean the toilet with a toothbrush! And she has braces, so not brushing can lead to double trouble.

Short of constantly checking behind their ears and standing at the sink with a timer, what can frustrated parents do to get our children to take care of their bodies?

Jennifer Sheehy-Knight, Ph.D, psychologist at Children’s of Alabama, said education is key. “One of the things I often recommend is to pick up a book about what’s happening with their bodies and start reading it with them when you start seeing the first signs of puberty, usually around the ages of 9 or 10. This introduction will help with later discussions and you can use it as a reference.”

A few clues it’s starting: oilier skin, a growth spurt, growth of body hair, breast development in girls, and a change in voice for boys. If you’ve noticed a couple of these, welcome to puberty!

Kids this age are already anxious about starting middle school, the new boy-girl dynamic, and changes they feel in their bodies, so the last thing parents want to do is make it worse by telling them they stink.

“Talk about the changes in terms of puberty and development and that as a result their sweat is changing,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “Hormones change in each stage from childhood to teenage years to adulthood and everyone goes through it. Along with that development comes body odor – it’s a natural part of growing up. But that odor also signals that it’s time to get serious about how you take care of your body.”

Getting social
Additionally, puberty and its symptoms can also affect children socially. Who hasn’t been turned off by a friend’s bad breath or sweaty feet? Let’s face it, sometimes, even though we know it’s not nice, it’s hard to be around a person who stinks.

“Often kids cannot accurately smell their own odor,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said, “It’s important to use good hygiene, even if you think you’re OK, in order to avoid negative comments. Kids this age have to be more thorough. They can’t just give it the ‘once-over.’ Emphasize that it can impact them socially and help them understand that people will shy away. This might help them strive toward better hygiene.”

To do: Loosen the reins
This age group requires us parents to balance their autonomy with our authority. Explain the expectations then let them try to fulfill them. “They’re no longer children, but they’re not yet mature, so you still have to watch and monitor,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “As they’re making this transition, they are working toward more independence. However, they’ll also be forgetful, so a checklist might be a good idea.”

We all have to-do lists, at work, at home, on weekends. “You can help them create one for the morning routine and one for bedtime,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “This will allow them to take more responsibility and develop good habits.”

A checklist can work in tandem with a rewards system. For instance, set a showering goal of four days a week and when they reach it, they get extra video game time. Just make sure the incentive is something that will motivate them. It can be as simple as giving them a choice.

“A couple of things I do is buy a bazillion kinds of deodorant,” Heather Smith Davis said. “The girls can use any kind they want as long as they use it. And showers are on our chore list. Feed dogs, water dogs, sweep kitchen and hallway, take shower. They don’t get allowance if they don’t take a shower. And we have a gazillion soaps in there. Use whatever kind you want as long as it’s used.”

Orthodontist Britt Reagin, DMD, MS, said getting kids to take ownership is crucial to good hygiene, especially when they have braces. “We educate the child with an instructional video on how to take care of their teeth and what will happen if they don’t,” said Reagin, who completed his residency at UAB and now practices in South Carolina. Then he has them sign a contract, making them responsible for their teeth. “Most kids have never signed a contract, so it is a big deal to them. We also have in-office contests for kids who maintain regular hygiene visits with their dentist, and we grade hygiene at each visit. Much like homework, ultimately, it is home life and parents that determine good hygiene.”

Of course, parents still need to check that the kids taking care of business. Are they walking out the door with stained jeans or unbrushed hair? Are there more than two pairs of underwear in the laundry basket? Is the toothpaste tube still full? We can use our powers of observation to find out, no nagging required.

Light at the end of the tunnel
While we might think this battle over body will never end, hope abounds. Many parents report that one day their kids started showering daily or brushing their teeth without being told to, or, miracle of miracles, doing their own laundry! Eventually, they get the importance of good hygiene, as these moms can attest.

“My daughter is 12, and this summer she started showering without prompting and downright being made to,” Heather Hurlock said. “She now showers daily on her own. It has helped tremendously with the maintenance of her hair, and she even likes her hair being ‘cute’ again.”

Apryl Chapman Thomas said, “I battled with my daughter last year, but since she started sixth grade, she’s changed. She wants to blow dry and fix her hair. She loves lotions and spray from Bath and Body Works. I think her changes are not only because of her age and being in middle school, but also because she sees her friends doing the same, too.”

“It all comes down to education and understanding the possible consequences,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “If you’re not cleaning your face regularly, you’ll get pimples. If you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get cavities. Once they start keeping up with good hygiene, it will become one less thing they have to worry about when it comes to finding their fit socially.”

And parents can change the out-the-door conversation.

“Great job on that last report card!”

“Nice outfit!”

“I love you!”

Joey McIntyre shares story of his son’s hearing loss

CIs and softball
Riley waits for her snack after the softball game. See her blue and pink CIs?

Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block and Dancing with the Stars fame shares his family’s story of hearing loss in the latest issue of People magazine. His youngest son, 3-month-old Rhys, has been diagnosed with a severe loss and is wearing hearing aids. According to the article, the family is working with an auditory-verbal therapist and might consider cochlear implants.

Many of the comments on the article are insulting, rude, and just plain ignorant. While I have no problem with a family wanting to immerse their hearing-impaired child in Deaf culture, I do have a problem with those same people spreading lies and accusing other families of abuse because they made a different choice.

I’m going to address 20 things posted in the article’s comments and clear up a few misconceptions about cochlear implants. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section or share this post with others.

1. Cochlear implants DO NOT require additional surgeries as a child grows. The only reason additional surgery would be needed is if the device failed. CIs have a 1% failure rate.

2. Cochlear implants ARE NOT implanted into the brain. It IS NOT brain surgery.

3. If parents want their child to use spoken language, they CANNOT WAIT until the child is old enough to “make the decision for himself.” Most language learning occurs before the age of 3, so waiting would put the child at a terrible disadvantage.

4. Sign language is great, if a family wants to learn it. My family, for instance, is HUGE. I didn’t expect all 100 of them to learn ASL. Even if they wanted to, it would be nearly impossible, and Riley would’ve had no way to communicate with cousins, great aunts, and I didn’t want that.

5. My daughter knows a few signs, for those times when she doesn’t wear her CI processors, but she doesn’t “rely on” ASL and doesn’t need to.

6. Speech is available at birth. How do you think typically hearing children learn language? It seems that Rhys is benefiting from his hearing aids, so using spoken language is appropriate.

7. The implant is NOT DRILLED into the skull, like a screw is drilled into a piece of wood. A pocket for the implant is carved into the skull and a small hole is drilled into the mastoid bone so that the electrode array can be inserted into the cochlea. Read more on cochlear implant surgery at Tampa Bay Hearing and Balance Center.

8. Cochlear implants don’t “fix” hearing and don’t claim to. They offer users access to sound. Just like you have to learn to speak, you also have to learn to hear.

9. AG Bell is a proponent of listening and spoken language, but that doesn’t mean the organization is against sign language. It’s not either/or.

10. Auditory-Verbal Therapy focuses on teaching a child to use her hearing and learn to speak. It DOES NOT “forbid” all gestures; in fact, a hand cue is used during therapy. It signals the child to listen.

11. If deafness is not a disability, why do so many Deaf people use hearing aids? What are you trying to “fix”?

12. Riley’s CIs don’t hurt when she puts them on.

13. Riley is a special-needs child. Any child who has an IEP or who has special accommodations at school is a special-needs child. It is not a bad thing.

14. Riley’s CIs help her hear, but she is and will always be deaf.

15 A deaf child DOES NOT belong to the Deaf culture. She belongs to her parents.

16. Riley’s hearing aids and cochlear implants and speech therapy ARE COVERED by insurance.

17. You CAN have X-rays if you have CIs. Riley has had them done at the dentist.

From the high dive
Jumping from the high dive into 15 feet of water was not a problem for her implants.

18. You CAN swim if you have CIs (you just take off the processors.) No, you can’t do deepwater diving, but how many people do you know who are deepwater divers?

19. Children with cochlear implants have a quality of life equal to that of hearing peers.

20. I respect Deaf families wanting to immerse their child in the Deaf culture. Why can’t they respect my wanting to immerse my child in the hearing culture?

Playing ball when you’re deaf

She’s come a long way since she got her first glove.

Riley’s had two softball practices with another set for Saturday. She’s paying better attention this year, but we still need to figure out a better way to communicate than just yelling at her. It’s hard for anyone to hear a coach yelling from the dugout during a game and even harder when you’re hearing impaired. That’s one reason we’re considering an FM system … so she can hear easily whether she’s on the field, in the classroom or out in the backyard.

Another family offered to let Riley try out the system their children no longer use, so I think a phone call is in order. Of course, the system will have to be tweaked to complement Riley’s hearing and programs, but we should get started on this soon.

The first two practices were COLD – the poor girls were bundled up so tightly they could barely move! And you know how much it hurts when you swing the bat and don’t hit the ball solidly. Ouch!

She batted right-handed the first practice and did OK, but she switched back to being a lefty the second day and did even better. I’m going to let her decide how she’s most comfortable at the plate. Lefty or righty, it’s her choice.

The coach worked her out at second base and Riley did really well for her first time on the field since May. Several of the other girls played throughout the fall and are also playing on a travel team during the community season, too. They’re getting a lot more reps, but Riley will catch up.

I’m the dugout mom again – keeping the batting order; making sure helmets, batting gloves and bats are where they’re supposed to be; helping the catcher get dressed; bandaging any scrapes or strawberries; and yelling for mom or dad if I can’t help. Basically, several moms are tag-teaming to take care of everything from uniforms to snacks to picture day to concession duty.

We’re all ready for spring and softball and warm weather.

How do you map an ear?

Riley waits for her snack after the softball game. See her blue and pink CIs?

I’ve previously talked about taking Riley to her mapping appointment at the HEAR Center. You’re probably wondering what that means. Mapping means programming. It’s a little like upgrading the software on your computer. Sometimes your computer slows down or needs a boost to do some new processes.

Same thing with the CI processors, which are the pink and blue devices you see Riley wearing. They contain tiny computers that need occasional updates.

The cochlear implant processors have to be readjusted at various intervals depending on how long a child has worn them. For example, when Riley first got her CIs, she had to get them mapped every month for the first couple of months. Then every three months for a couple of years. After nearly seven years, unless she’s having trouble with the CI, Riley’s map is updated every six months.

The audiologist hooks the processors to her computer and updates the software on them. This mapping sets the devices’ electrode stimulation levels in Riley’s cochlea so she can detect soft and loud sounds comfortably.

Over time, Riley will adapt to the settings. What was once too loud might become too soft as her brain’s auditory center gets used to the sounds. Then we’ll go back for another mapping session.

Losing a pet is hard for an 8-year-old

December has been a tough month: Daddy is back in the hospital with a serious infection, and he is scheduled for major surgeries Wednesday. My grandmother fell for the third time since summer and is now in a nursing home. And last week, we had to let Carlo, our 11-year-old lab mix, go to a better place. Ryan and Riley had taken him to an emergency vet a week earlier because he was eating very little. They came back with a diagnosis of fungal pneumonia and prescriptions for pain and antibiotics.

The meds did nothing, so our regular vet came to the house to check on him. Carlo was laboring to breathe, could hardly walk and completely stopped eating and drinking. Our vet listened to him breathe and checked him out and said it was either fungal pneumonia or lung cancer. We had already discussed a plan and once we had confirmation that we could do nothing more, we made the decision. And it was hard. Riley gave Carlo a hug, and we sent her to our neighbor’s. Ryan and I stayed with him until the end, crying and talking to him.

Carlo was the sweetest, goofiest dog. When it came to eating, he was like a vacuum. He loved to run around in the backyard, and he loved our first dog and his mentor, Eboni, whom we lost several years ago when Riley was very little. And he loved us.

I miss him snuffling against the back door when he wanted in. I miss his barks when we pulled into the driveway. I miss him looking at me with those big eyes when he wanted to go outside.

That night, Riley asked when the angels were coming to get Carlo and if we were going to put his body under his tree. She asked if he was going to play with Eb and Bonnie (Nanny’s late dog). She asked if he was going swimming. We said yes to all. We tried to explain about his spirit, but that was fruitless. We didn’t have the words to get it right. She drew a card for Carlo and Eb and took it to school and all her classmates signed it. Isn’t that the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard?

The photos below show a 20-month-old Riley checking out Eboni (red collar) and Carlo; Ryan helping Riley get to know Carlo a little better; Carlo hanging out on the patio; and Carlo “opening” his Christmas present last year. In the drawings, Riley encourages Carlo to go see Eboni in heaven and marks Carlo’s final resting spot – under his favorite tree in our backyard.



Hearing Anniversary: Cochlear Implant

Six years ago today we saw our lives change with the help of amazing technology, amazing doctors and nurses, amazing audiologists, amazing therapists and amazing family and friends. See for yourself:

Right now she’s using her bionic hearing accessories to listen to Spongebob, dance to “Get Up Offa That Thang,” sing to “All In This Together” from “High School Musical” and read “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook.” Life is sweet!

Delivering the Diagnosis: Your Child Is Deaf

When children are diagnosed with hearing loss, parents feel grief, anger, anxiety and guilt.

Audiologists can help them through these emotions by remembering this: You’re about to tell a family the child they think they know does not exist.

At least, that’s how my husband and I felt when our 18-month-old daughter was diagnosed. All the dreams and hopes and plans were put on hold when we heard:

“She’s never heard your voice. She doesn’t even know her own name.”

Thankfully, our audiologist was kind and straightforward in her diagnosis, and once we were over the initial shock, she outlined the various treatment options available.

Now that our daughter is 7, hearing with bilateral cochlear implants, and excelling in second grade, those hopes and dreams have returned. We just have to do a little extra planning and coaching. This can be true for all families, regardless of the treatment they choose.

Follow these tips to help make the diagnosis easier for parents to digest:

* Show sensitivity when delivering the news; don’t just blurt it out.

* Explain in layman’s terms the type and severity of loss and what it means.

* Give parents a chance to recover from the shock before telling them about treatment options.

* Offer information on support groups for parents of children with hearing loss.

* Offer a complete list of options when it’s time to discuss treatment. From ASL to hearing aids to cochlear implants to Total Communication, any and all options available and appropriate for the type of hearing loss should be discussed.

* Put families in contact with someone who can help them navigate insurance, approval and Early Intervention issues.

* Offer contact information on other families who have been through the same situation.

This is an emotional time for families, so anything you can do to make the journey forward a little easier will be appreciated.

Higher and higher

Saturday we went to a local water park with some friends, and Riley impressed me (OK, and scared me a little) with her courage. She jumped off the high dive. My knees were quivering, but I didn’t want my anxiety to make her afraid, so I kept it to myself. (Her friend had already done it (and even off the first platform, and Riley decided she wanted to try.)

She climbed up the first time, got about halfway down the board, then turned around and backed down the ladder. The second time, she jumped into water – all 15 feet of it. And the third climb was also a success. She tried a fourth time but decided the board was too “wiggly” and came back down.

I was so proud of her for trying and then overcoming her fear. But, boy, my stomach was in a knot. 🙂
Last night, I had an argument with myself. It went like this:

“What were you thinking, letting her do that?!”

“She is fine! Nothing happened, and she can swim now! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah, but what if she’d slipped? What if she’d fallen?”

“She didn’t. She had fun, and she’s not a scaredy-cat like me. Stop.”

Finally, I just said a prayer, thanking God for keeping her safe and for her courage. And I was able to sleep. 🙂

Before life got complicated

I remember pretending to be on Charlie’s Angels when I was little, running around the house with my hand held in the shape of a gun searching for bad guys. I don’t remember which character I was, probably Jaclyn Smith’s Kelly because I’m a brunette. My cousin Stephanie was probably Jill since that is her middle name, and maybe our cousin Nichelle was Sabrina because she is a brunette, too. Or maybe I was Sabrina and Nichelle was Kelly … she is prettier than me anyway. 😉

Today, Farrah Fawcett, who played Jill and was loved by millions of girls for a her fabulous feathered hair and by millions of boys because of her sexy swimsuit poster, died from cancer. And she was brave through it all.

A lot of people didn’t take Farrah seriously as an actor until “The Burning Bed,” but she went on to do something more important than be on a movie screen. She shared her struggles with the disease in the hope that someone would be inspired to fight harder, to get tested or to take better care of themselves.

Goodbye, Farrah. You’ll always be part of my childhood.

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The world also lost another pop culture icon today: Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. For me it was the boy and the music.

His songs were part of growing up, too, so his death is bittersweet. Most of us are mourning the loss of a bit of our childhood rather than what he became.

Songs like I Want You Back and Beat It and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ are classics. You can’t deny what he did for music – it’s just terrible how his life changed. I think fame messed him up. I think about his children and wonder how they will cope and who will help them.

I remember when my brother got the Thriller album; we were so pumped. We played that record, and I do mean record, over and over and over. And my brother could bust a move. We all learned to do the moonwalk on my parents’ hardwood floors, in our socks. Then we progressed to wearing shoes. Some of us even tried it on roller skates with varying degrees of success.

And what cheerleading squad in the ’80s didn’t have a routine to Beat It? Even though I wasn’t a cheerleader, I knew the moves and thought I was something with my tape recorder out in the backyard, jamming to MJ.

So even though the grownup Michael Jackson wasn’t someone I liked very much, the boy and his music will always be a little bit special.

Thanks for the music.

My heart

Riley is spending the week with my parents, and I call every day to talk to her. I called this morning and my dad told me something she said that nearly broke his and my heart.

Riley: “Pawpaw, why do have to wear implants? Why can’t I talk?”

After a choked-up pause, Daddy told her, “You can talk as good as anybody else. You sound just fine.”

He said it broke him up to hear her say that and wondered if someone had told her she couldn’t talk right.

It’s possible, but I certainly hope not.

When she gets in a big hurry, we tell her to slow down and use her words, but we never tell her she can’t talk correctly. We just tell her to use her words so everyone can understand her.

I hope that hasn’t prompted her questions. Looks like it’s time for more positive reinforcement.

By the way, she’s sounded awesome on the phone this week, appropriately answering all my questions about Vacation Bible School, doing math with Pawpaw and having fun.

And the best thing, I hear every day? “I love you!”