WebMD Can Kill You

As anyone with an Internet connection who’s ever wondered about that weird bump on their back, that unfamiliar sensation in their chest or that rumbling in their tummy knows, the one thing you don’t want to do before going to see your doctor is look up your symptoms on WebMD. 

WebMD and similar medical information sites are the opposite of the doctor’s creed: “first do no harm.”  When you type symptoms into these sites, they invariably find the most lethal, life-shortening diseases imaginable.

Thanks to WebMD and its progeny, a few years ago, I thought the benign mass my doctor found during a routine examination would turn out to be an extremely rare and incurable form of bone cancer.  Earlier this year, WebMD had me convinced I was suffering from esophageal cancer.  In the back of my mind, I had already started thinking about contingency plans for the kids’ parenting, whether or not my life insurance was paid up, etc. 

It turned out I had a small stomach ulcer that was completely cured with a few weeks of medication and sensible eating.  That episode also cured me of self-diagnosis via WebMD.

Apparently, I should have passed the lesson down to my daughter.

On the first day of school last week, my 13 year-old daughter rushed me at the door as soon as I got home.  “Mommy, I got a fever at school!”

I felt her forehead.  She felt mildly warm, but nothing alarming. “Umm-hmm. Did you take anything?”


“Take some Advil.” 

She scowled at me, clearly annoyed that I wasn’t fawning over her.

There was no school for the rest of the week because of Rosh Hashanah.  I knew whatever was causing this mild temperature spike would be over in time for school on Monday.  She, of course, was not so convinced.

The next day, she again announced that she had a fever.  Not enough of a fever to cause her to cancel plans with her best friend, nor enough to choose to stay home instead of seeing Wicked with me.  It was just enough of a fever for her to demand peppermint tea from Starbucks before the show and to try to get me to run down and buy her concessions during the show’s intermission. 

I agreed to the peppermint tea, but refused the snacks.  WebMD didn’t say Twizzlers can help reduce a fever or soothe a sore throat. 

“You don’t care that I’m sick!” was the not-unexpected response.

The next day, she announced, “Mom, I have strep throat.”

“Really? And this is based on….”

“I looked up my symptoms, and I have all the symptoms of strep.”

I felt her forehead.  Not even slightly warm this time.  “You don’t have strep.”

“Why not?”

“For one, you don’t have a fever anymore.  This isn’t strep.”

“Mom, I’m really sick!  You have to take me the doctor!”

I wanted to laugh, but didn’t.  WebMD strikes again, I thought.

Being the unsung dramatic actress that she is, my daughter did not let the strep thing go until I finally agreed to take her to her pediatrician.

The nurse checked her temperature (normal), ears (uncongested) and throat (slightly reddish but otherwise unremarkable), and then asked, “So what’s been going on with you?” 

My daughter began reciting the list of symptoms of strep throat from WebMD.

 “Okay, honey, but is that what’s going on with you?”


The nurse took a throat culture.  We waited the required five minutes for the results.

“Good news!  It’s not strep.  There’s a nasty throat virus going around, but it typically clears up in about 3-5 days, which is about where you are now.  So you should be able to go to school on Monday.”

I shook my head.  It cost me $55 for the doctor’s office to confirm the “nothing’s wrong with you” diagnosis that I had made in my living room.  My daughter felt vindicated by the mention of “throat virus.”  I thought of my mother, who would have blown sulfur powder down her throat and made her drink two tablespoons of cod liver oil.

I gave my daughter the “don’t self-diagnose using WebMD” speech afterwards, but I don’t hold out much hope.  After all, she’s a kid with an Internet connection and access to a site that helps reinforce her belief that she’s much smarter than Mom.  I just hope she doesn’t self-diagnose herself into hospice care before she makes it out of 8th grade.


Ok. The straw has broken the proverbial camel’s back.

I’ve sat in on one to many conversations with mothers going on and on about their child’s over the top behavior. As has been the case lately, I’m the lone Black mother in the room, conscious that  my words, tone, and facial expressions will probably be misconstrued… Yes, I am all too aware of the Sapphiric machinations that non-Black folk tend to expect from Black women.  One example that comes to mind- I expressed my frustration about another teacher, telling two White colleagues that I needed to go and have a talk with the woman. My male colleague says “Uh-oh, it’s about to be on up in here!”, with what HE intended to be Black girl affectations…

My liberated self (ego) won’t allow me to code switch when in mixed social company. Soooo, when I found myself a part of a recent discussion about parenting with a small group of White women, I couldn’t do anything but be who I am. When asked “what do you think?” about an idea, I gave an answer contrary to what was expected, and dare I say appropriate. Silence followed my response. One woman then offered a “compliment”, “I love that you keep it real. That’s so great!”

Later in the conversation,  another parent described a situation with her daughter, a precocious toddler who I’d say has some serious behavior issues. The mother went on laughing, describing how her “sweetie” doesn’t like her preschool teacher, and made a public announcement. Her “sweetie” doesn’t like to eat vegetables. Her “sweetie” doesn’t take naps because she doesn’t want to. And the piece de resistance: one day her little angel was very angry because she didn’t want to put something away and so when mommy took it, mommy got pimp slapped. Ok, maybe not pimp slapped, but you get the picture: the little girl hit the mommy multiple times, yelling and screaming.   Now up until this point, I held my tongue, and kept my facial composure.  But I couldn’t contain myself, I interjected- something akin to the “need to physically exorcise a demon out of your spawn”.    Dead. Silence.  The women were absolutely MORTIFIED that I would suggest such a thing. They each went on to explain why any sort of physical aggression toward a child was unacceptable.

I couldn’t help but feel alien…I suddenly wished for the community of my Sister friends.  They would understand. None of us are big on spanking our children…I didn’t mean it literally, but I didn’t want to have to explain to these women. They just didn’t get it, the unspoken understanding that certain things are unacceptable. Of course I don’t mean brutalize your child –  but I KNOW that in a circle of my Sisters, there would have been the chorus of “girrrrl” and talk about “breaking them off something” and “oh no! it ain’t goin’ down like that!” – and then laughter, and the…solidarity and understanding…

Five for Fighting

I was talking to a co-worker recently and the topic of kids fighting came up. The conversation started with my concerns about my middle daughter going to middle school next year. My co-worker mentioned that her niece had begun taking a switchblade to school because she HAD TO for protection. I mentioned that I had never been in a fight as a child, which struck her as odd. She then relayed the story of how she had once come home crying and her father said to her that she had to go back out and kick the ass of whoever had made her cry or that he would kick her ass. And so she fought.

I’ve never had that conversation and I don’t plan to. I can almost understand the logic (show & prove, do it this one time and then people won’t mess with you) but I don’t like the message that it sends – that there must be fighting, whether at home or away. With so much violence in the world, and so much of it directed at us, I just don’t feel comfortable encouraging more of it. I’ve always thought of home as a place away from the stress of the world, and encouraged my kids to feel the same way. My parents were there to protect & support me, not beat me for feeling hurt or angry or confused.

My sister and I were not allowed to fight each other at home. My mom’s mantra – a house divided against itself cannot stand. And so there was no fighting. My kids are not allowed to hit each other. They are not close in age (15, 10 and 3) so it doesn’t come up too often but they know that it is not cool.

What are your thoughts? Did you get the “kick their ass or I’ll kick yours speech”? Would you allow your child to carry a weapon to school?

If your child is being bullied at school, please check out http://stopbullyingnow.com/

Andrea is a mom of 3 (son is 15, daughters are 10 and 3), and a serial entrepreneur. She is currently working as a clinical informatics consultant, and couldn’t do it without the help of her mom who is her nanny while she’s out of town Mon – Thurs. She is a great believer in personal responsibility, good grammar and the power of ice cream. She is an omnivore who loves to cook, is trying to eat healthier and give her kids fewer chemicals. She needs to exercise consistently and drink more water. She’s in the process of getting divorced from a nice guy.
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No Boy Is an Island

I tend to follow Benee’s and the other Cocoamamas’ pieces about raising boys closely, without really daring to interject. The fact is that my own relationship with my mother—with all its glorious and inglorious extremes—has driven me to form some very firm opinions about how to raise my own daughter, but I’ve given far less conscious thought to raising my boy. I know I want him to be respectful of women (and everyone really, but especially women) and kind and service-minded but beyond that, the canvas has largely been blank.

My boy is challenging in a different way than my girl. He’s loud and impulsive, can’t sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, tests boundaries constantly and can be found bouncing off walls quite often. I’ve generally shrugged at his behavior and observed: “It’s all that boy energy!”

An incident last week started an avalanche of questions and thoughts in my head, prompting me to rethink my strategy. We have observed for a while that while my girl (who is 5) can accept a no as a no, my boy (who is 4) thinks no is his cue to start a maddening crying and whining campaign to get whatever it is he wants. My husband and I have had a long-standing rule about whining: We don’t negotiate with whiners. And so when he begins whining, I walk away: no explanations, no sympathy, no begging and cajoling.

I thought our rule worked well until the other day when my four-year-old turned to me and said: “Mama, how come when Mina (his sister) cries, you be nice to Mina and when I cry, you get mad and be mean to me?” And two beats later, his sister chimed in: “Yeah, mama, I’ve noticed that too!”

Ladies (and gentlemen): This question stopped me cold in my tracks. My boy, my beloved boy, was hurt because he felt that he was being mistreated. That he was being treated unfairly. And, at 4, he is not necessarily connecting the dots of varied causation: that he gets no sympathy because he cries mostly when he’s whining whereas she gets sympathy because she cries mostly when she has hurt herself. All he knows is that when he cries, we get stern, and when his sister cries, she gets sympathy.

And we are not connecting those dots for him. We’re just expecting him to get it, to intuit the difference in treatment, and to be a boy and get over it. There is a lot of emotional nuance, most of which is not being explained in the way it needs to be.

I went in search of more information and found this blurb in Dan Kindlon’s Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, which really resonated with me:

There is plenty of reason to be concerned: a confused young boy grows into an angry, emotionally isolated teenager, and, predictably, into a lonely, middle-aged man at risk for depression … Boys need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves in ways other than anger or aggression. They need to experience empathy at home and at school and be encouraged to use it if they are to develop conscience.

All this is not to say that my boy is now going to be coddled and get his way when he whines. But I intend to be more expressive about why I’m not sympathetic to the whining, about how much he is loved, how sad I am when he is hurt, how much compassion I feel for him when he is frustrated or angry. He may still be one hyper bundle of pure boy energy, but surely he is just as deserving as his sister of the emotional exchanges that come with the childhood hurts and tantrums.

When did we sign this silent pact that our boys are to be islands, cut off from the same emotions and connections we provide so freely to our girls? I don’t know how and where it all got started but I, for one, am out.

Good Night and Good Luck

Let us discuss sleep.

Critical to our physical and mental well-being, sleep is a very important process when it comes to continuing health. Sleep is a natural restorative cycle. It allows the body to rest and properly regenerate itself. So that the body can continue to function appropriately.

You don’t know what restorative means? You can’t understand regenerate?

Well, if you want me to be nice to you, to be overjoyed to see you, to give you loves and tickles and rainbows all day, to happily drive you around from about 8 am to 6 pm, five days a week, and provide you with at least three meals and several dozen snacks of a wide and nutritious variety, let me sleep.

If you want me to read you Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot vs. the Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury at least once and possibly several times—in a row—without rolling my eyes, barfing or losing my mind, let me sleep.

If you want me to listen to one hundred and four rather unfunny variations of:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Let me sleep!

And just so we’re clear: By “sleep” I mean a solid 6, 7 or even 8 (*gasp*) hours of me, lying in a reclining position, covered with some form of a blanket. In the dark. And quiet. With my eyes closed.

Here’s what sleep isn’t:

If I’m fetching you anything, even water, at 2 am, I’m not asleep.

If we’re hugging, I’m not asleep.

Conversation of any kind means I’m not asleep.

If I’m freezing cold and have no blankets because you’ve decided you’re sweating and the covers must be kicked off, it is quite likely I’m not asleep.

And if you’re using your cute little chubby fingers to force up my eyelids, then I’m definitely not asleep.

I’m sure you’ve noticed but not sleeping makes me bitter. It also makes me look ragged and that makes me really bitter because then I don’t just look tired—I look tired and old.

So … either sleep—without moving, talking or doing the macarena—or go back to your own bed.

Or even better, you stay here with your dad and I will go sleep in your bed. Alone.

Good night.

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Billy Bad Ass

*Deeeeeep Sigh*

I am having serious issues. My precious, darling, cutest baby boy in the world has morphed into a Creature of Badness. No, we’re not supposed to talk about our kids like that, but hey, I’m amongst family, right?

Right. So let the venting begin.

Maybe I need to back up a minute and state, for the record, that I truly believe behavior is learned, either by mimicking the behavior of those in one’s immediate society, by direct behavior modifcation efforts from authority figures, or by indirectly picking up things along the way from more external sources, like media, for example. I believe that children absorb everything around them and it influences how they think, the choices the make, and, consequently, their behavior.

With that said, there are certain ages where children just begin to lose their ever-loving minds!!! This is one of those times I’m guessing.  My son went from being sweet-faced, obedient, always wanting to please to being angry, rude, disrespectful, disobedient, and just all around bad.

And it is driving me up the wall!

I spend weekends with him and he is with his father during the week. Its only about 3 days (from Friday evening to Monday morning) but it comes out to being more hours than his father spends with him during the week. It’s usually just he and I, one-on-one, mano a mano. I’d say maybe 15-20% of that time is pleasantly spent laughing, playing, reading, doing fun things.  The rest of the time is spent fussing, fighting, yelling, disciplining, dragging, popping, and all other types of foolish defiance-induced struggling.

I had to step back the past couple of weeks and think of what might be contributing to this behavior. I thought about his being 3 year old and how every article I’ve read says that its the 3s that are the real trouble, not the 2s. Ok, I’ll give him that. I thought about how rapidly he is developing physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how difficult it must be to try and navigate all of these internal changes being only 3 years old. Poor guy, right? I thought about the separation, and how it might be causing issues for him as he tries to adjust to his family being separated and his going back and forth between two homes. That’s a lot to deal with at 3. I thought about how, in his new child care setting, he is allowed a lot more freedom and provided with a lot less discipline than he once was. His father’s step-mother is his primary caregiver, and let’s be honest, she spoils him rotten (like she did her own sons).

My son has become a demanding little beast who does not take “No” for an answer. Everything is a negotiation. He  went from always saying, “Mommy can I have some juice please?” to “Mommy. Juice.” I spent an entire weekend retraining him to ask politely for the things he wants. And then, when he does ask and I say “No”, his response is “But Mommmmmmmy, you can’t say ‘No’!” or he comes and hits me, scowls his face, and follows up with “You don’t tell me ‘No’!” or somehing to that effect. Or, he comes back 5 seconds later, “How about now?”

Wait… what? Where did he learn that mess?? Who is jumping at every demand that he puts forth that he ever got it into his mind that 1. it’s ok to make demands 2.  it’s ok to hit me and 3. it’s ok to yell at me and tell me what to do??

As the young folks say, “Where they do that at?”

I feel like I spend the majority of our time in disciplinary mode and it is wearing me out! It is making it very difficult for me to enjoy my time with my son and thus making it hard for me to connect with him the way I want to. Since connecting with him has been an issue since he was born, for other reasons, this concerns me a great deal. I feel like I’m playing Good Cop, Bad Cop, and guess which one I am?

Occasionally, I feel a sense of dread when I have to pick him up, especially if I know he hasn’t taken a nap that day (which happens often because his caregivers aren’t making him nap). I prepare for the inevitable evening meltdown that will ruin any plans I had for that time and I prepare myself for battle. When I drop him off on Mondays, sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, I feel sad for ever feeling this way.

I’m doing my best to remain consistent in my disciplinary tactics, but little is working short of popping him with the “Bad Boy Stick” which is a wooden spoon. Even then, he stares at me like “So? That’s all you got?” and I feel horrible for having spanked him (I’m already against spanking). When I see how ineffective it is, it makes me feel like it’s not worth it. Someone recently said, “Hit him harder”, but is that the answer? Really?

He has always had an indepedent streak. I try to support it. He wants to do things on his own, so I allow him the space to do that. But with that comes often bad behavior that I have to correct, when I feel no one else is. The other day, I had reached a breaking point and I was in near tears asking him, “Why are you so mean to Mommy? Why do you behave like a bad boy so much? Why can’t we have fun and smile and laugh and play?”

He started crying and said “I’m so sorry Mommy!!” and threw his arms around me wimpering. He then said, “Because I want Daddy here”. I don’t want to believe that he understood what I was asking well enough to answer that way, but at the end of the day, I think I have my answer.