childhood

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Unraveling My Childhood Asthma: Did Motherhood Cure It?

By Sarah Baker
Guest contributor

I recently started singing lessons — a rather mind-blowing pursuit, since for much of my life, singing was out of the question. How can you sing when you can’t even breathe?

At 18 months old, while my dad, mom, older brother and I were driving from Virginia to San Francisco for my father’s new Naval deployment, I started wheezing. The asthma attack landed me in the hospital.

Emergency room visits and hospital stays punctuated my childhood and early adulthood. I could have been a tour guide of any Intensive Care Unit: “Over on the right is a shot of adrenaline, or epinephrine — try that first. If that doesn’t work, try the nebulizer on the left and IV over there.” These visits became so routine that as I got older, I often told the doctors and nurses what medicines I needed: Prednisone. Albuterol. Theophylline. These were the mainstays, but there were many others over the years. I took them in such large doses that one time they made my blood toxic.

Circa 1970: The author, center, with her brother and mother, shortly before the discovery of her mom's fatal brain tumor.  (Courtesy)

Circa 1970: The author, center, with her brother and mother, shortly before the discovery of her mom’s fatal brain tumor. (Courtesy)

Emergency was a word my family understood. My mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 3 years old; she was 28. For five years, until her death, she battled her disease in and out of the hospital, too. I went to Bethesda Naval and she went across the state to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I don’t remember ever seeing her hospital nor do I recall her ever seeing mine.

A Motherless Child’s Stress

Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system. It is serious business. Seneca, the Roman philosopher and Stoic dedicated an essay to it, called “Asthma,” in which he said that of all the ailments he’d suffered, asthma was the worst of them all. “Doctors have nicknamed [asthma] ‘rehearsing death,’ he wrote.

But asthma also has a powerful psychological or psycho-social component; with symptoms potentially exacerbated by emotional stress. As a child, I never realized it, but looking back I see it clearly: for all my suffering, asthma distinguished me. Got me noticed. In a childhood of disorder — marked by my mother’s death, and family chaos and constant moving — my own illness provided order. It wasn’t until the birth of my first child that my symptoms truly ceased. Continue reading

Will They Ever Leave? What It Takes To Nudge Millennials Out Of Nest

How do young adults who successfully move out overcome adversities? According to a new study, it all boils down to peer support. (ibm4381/Flickr)

How do young adults who successfully move out overcome adversities? According to a new study, it all boils down to peer support. (ibm4381/Flickr)

Truth be told, my position in life is somewhat confusing. While I’m no longer a teenager, at 21 I can’t say I feel all that adult-like. I’ve finished one degree, but I’m not ready to commit to any one career. I recently moved into my first apartment, though I have no idea where I’ll be living 10, five or even two years from now. According to developmental psychologists, these are all indicators that I am in my emerging adulthood.

But what exactly is “emerging adulthood”? It’s the period of life between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood, between the late teens and late 20s, where people explore their options before committing seriously to a career, home, or family. And according to experts, it’s happening later and later. Dr. Jeff Arnett of Clark University, who coined the term “emerging adulthood” in 2000, points to the fact that North Americans are delaying adopting a permanent residence until reaching their 30s.

The reasons are complex and diverse, Arnett says: they include a shift in the economy that necessitates more education, a rising marriage age and, more nebulously, an increased sense of personal freedom over the past several decades. All this makes conventional adulthood “a less attractive destination,” he says. (I’ll say.) And then there’s the job market, which makes the decision to move out even more complicated.

This doesn’t mean that today’s young adults aren’t feeling the itch for independence, however. Some friends of mine who remained at home after college say they “would’ve preferred to have gone elsewhere,” and cite being “treated like a child” by parents as both a positive reason why they stayed at home and a negative — why they didn’t want to be there. Fortunately, my parents conveyed confidence in my ability to live on my own. In moving out, I benefitted greatly from knowing my parents had my back, should I need financial or emotional support.

For foster-care children, the lack of a parental support system presents a huge issue. Professor Varda Mann-Feder knows this problem intimately, after having spent decades working with foster children as they transition into adulthood. But there may be good news for emerging adults in foster care: a new study headed by Mann-Feder and her colleagues at Concordia University shows that peer support systems could be even more important than parental support in facilitating the transition to independent living.

While parents played an important role in how confidently participants experienced the transition — particularly based on parents’ willingness to provide a financial safety net — Mann-Feder found that Millennials “much preferred to turn to their friends for help if they needed it,” and “benefit greatly from watching their peers who have already moved out.” Conversely, young adults who opted to stay in their childhood home pointed to friends who were doing the same. Because they tend to model their peers, “when, how and where a young person moves is to a large degree determined by what their friends are doing,” says Mann-Feder. Continue reading

Commentary: How I Talk About Sex With My Kids

By Dr. Annie Brewster
Guest Contributor

My thirteen-year-old daughter is now in the throes of seventh grade Sex-Ed. Yesterday, while lingering at the table after dinner, just the two of us left, she asked: “Rubbing the clitoris is what makes sex feel good, right?” I swallowed hard, hesitated for half a second, and then said “Yes. That’s a big part of it.” And the door was open for further discussion. What are the other ingredients of sex that “feels good”?

We have always talked openly about sex and the human body. I am not squeamish on these topics, perhaps in part because I am a doctor, and when my children (now ranging in age from 5-15) ask questions, I believe in answering directly and honestly.

Dr. Annie Brewster says her three-year-old daughter loved asking questions about baby-making. That daughter is now 13 and the questions are more explicit.

My now thirteen-year-old, a relatively uninhibited and curious child, asked about how babies are made when she was three. Her favorite book was “It’s So Amazing” by Robie Harris, and she begged me to read it to her over and over again, so I did. She asked questions, and I answered. We talked about the sperm and the egg, the penis and the vagina, and how the sperm and egg meet up (i.e., the penis goes into the vagina), and for a while, we stopped there. At some point, she discovered my diaphragm in the bathroom drawer, and, more than once, I found her using it as a frisbee. “That’s not a toy,” I would tell her. “That’s mommy’s.” For a while, that was enough, and she would obediently put it away. It was a few more years before she pressed for more details, and I told her about birth control, after explaining that grown-ups sometimes have sex even when they don’t want to make babies. Now, we have moved on to the clitoris and the concept of pleasure.

In our house, we are not shy about nakedness, or at least I’m not. Continue reading