The Cleanse

30-day-doterra-cleanse-foods

I’m not really sure how it came about.  We went to the beach for Labor Day, and on the way home, I was suddenly told our family was doing the 30 Day Cleanse.  Like we stopped at Bojangles for lunch – a chicken biscuit, fries and a Coke, consumption for a normal human, and as we talked among the group at the table, Stephanie, Michelle, their two friends and Julie, my girlfriend, a decision was made that we were going to starve ourselves for a month.  How does that happen?  Bojangles to beets.  Good lord!

Michelle and her friend Kimmey were driving this train.  Kimmey used to be a vegetarian so the idea of colon restoration was taking her back to her 7th grade roots.

I don’t know much about cleansing.  What I do know is that several people I work with have gone through the process, and it can be ugly.  Dark rings around the eyes, grumbling stomachs at the staff meeting, and the temporary personality of Cinderella’s stepmother.  Very lovely people, turned evil.

“Hey Bob.  You wanna grab a beer after work?”

“I CAN’T you JERK!  Remember…  I’M ON A CLEANSE!  You trying to KILL me?”

“Geeze.  I forgot.  I forgot.”

I was told that sugars, grains, dairy and legumes could be having a negative impact on my health and fitness without me even realizing it.  And in fact, if legumes are having a negative impact on me, I do not know it.  Primarily because I don’t know what a legume is.  I was then assured that if I cut out carbs, peanuts, dairy, fried foods, beans, sugar, alcohol and everything else except meat, vegetables and fruit, that I would feel better, my skin would glow, my colon would work more efficiently, my pancreas would feel lighter, I’d have no acne, my joints would repair, and I’d develop the strength of a gorilla.  As Julie read more from the satanic magazine article that offered this self-help option, she reiterated that I could have all the vinegar I desired.

“Well.  That changes everything.”

This 30 day cleanse was guaranteed to change my emotional relationship with food.  I realize I have an emotional relationship with my mom.  I did not know that the green bean and I were that close.

I wasn’t necessarily opposed to eating more healthy, but this technique seemed extreme. I suggested that we actually spread the thirty days out – not do them all at once.  My thought was since Chic Fil A is closed on Sundays we should cleanse on the day of rest for thirty weeks.

I was voted down by the girls.  For some reason, the purge must be consecutive.

So we tried.

Monday was our last day of normalcy.  I ate all of the cookie dough in the fridge and finished a bottle of wine.  We went to the grocery store and strategically avoided the snack and cereal isles.  The cashier giggled as he rang us up.  He’s seen me before.  This was not normal.  I’m sure he was amused by the eggplant, brussel sprouts and and lack of legumes.

I hate it when I purchase produce at the store that is so odd the salesperson has to ask me what it is.  I feel so snobbish.  I’m sure he’s thinking, “Why can’t he just each Iceberg lettuce like a normal guy.”

On Wednesday we decided to introduce beans and dairy back into our diet.  I feel certain our diet didn’t even notice it had been missing.

On Thursday, Stephanie texted me, “I’m starving.  I’m done.” Bring on the Cheez-Its!

On Friday, Michelle admitted she had eaten crackers for lunch.  I admitted I had done the same the night before.  I had no choice.  It was a work event, and I was so hungry my colon was about to eat my light pancreas.  The only food at the reception was crackers and cheese.  What’s a guy to do?  The cracker guilt was killing me.

Pizza this weekend shot the cleanse to hell.  After 4 1/2 days of mildly expurgating my innards, my skin looks the same, my colon is unchanged and my pancreas feels as heavy as ever.  But I’m happy – I’m just really happy.

Good news:  we are all committed to eating more fruits and vegetables and limiting our milkshake intake.  Perhaps our cleanse worked after all.

 

Me and my HSA

It’s the end of my insurance plan year.  Three years ago, I signed up for a Health Savings Account.  This nifty new tool costs significantly less per month which is a good thing.  However, unless you have open heart surgery or gangrene in your gall bladder, you likely won’t hit your deductible.  I pay the first $4,000 in medical expenses out of pocket.  After that, my insurance company pays 100% of costs I incur.

Thankfully, this was the first year on the new plan that I met my deductible.  After Stephanie had her tonsils removed in June, we were golden.  The past three months I’ve been searching for a reason to go to the doctor.

“Dad, my left toe hurts.”

“I’ll book an appointment with the podiatrist tomorrow.”

“Is this a freckle or a mole?”

“We’ll let the dermatologist make that call.”

“I’ve got a really bad tooth ache dad.  Can I go to the dentist?”

“No!  That’s a different insurance company.  Take a shot of whiskey and bite down on a twig.”

I don’t understand insurance, and I don’t understand the medical profession.  Last year at my annual physical, my doctor asked me if I wanted him to check my prostate.

How do you answer that question?

“Absolutely!  I’ve been waiting for that all year-long!  And while you’re at it, could you give me a spinal tap?”

What guy is going to answer that in the affirmative?

“Well,” I started, stalling for a moment as I pondered my choice.  “On the one hand, I would trade my P90X video series to avoid that investigative procedure.  On the other, I would prefer not to have cancer in that area.  What are most of your other patients choosing?”

We ended up agreeing that I’d be checked at age 50, and the tension in the room decreased tenfold.

Oh, and the last doctor I visited on my multi-month journey chasing free healthcare, had a nurse who gravely insulted me.

She called me from the waiting room, took my height and weighed me.  She then walked me into the examining room, pulled out the blood pressure cup and headed toward my arm.

“Mr. Tanner, can you roll your sleeve up a bit?”

“Sure.”  I thought she could take it with my dress shirt sleeve down.

When I unleashed my right gun, she turned around and huffed, “Uh.”

“Is something the matter?”

“It’s smaller than I thought.  I need to get the little cuff.”

“My arm?”

She nodded.

“Ma’am, it’s not that small!” I insisted.

“It’s whole a lot smaller than it looked under that big ole sleeve of yours.”

As a general rule, it is better not to suggest that any man’s part is smaller than anticipated – especially his bicep!

So this week I’m back on a healthcare diet.  And after my experiences this year, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

Hiding Out From Child Protective Services

she looks fine to me

Posted by Jesse

I can’t believe this happened again.

I offer to drive the morning shift all the time (by “offer” I mean I stumble into the kitchen two minutes before departure time, sparsely dressed, one eye open, and grunt “need me to drive? no? cool.”) but Danny handles it almost every day. He says he enjoys the time in the car with the girls and I enjoy the extra sleep enough to believe him.

But once every two weeks or so Danny has an early meeting, and I get the morning shift.

Late in the spring we had one such morning. The girls were eating cereal and I was making lunches, when Michelle begin mixing tears with her milk. It should be noted that encountering her melancholy countenance in the a.m. is NOT a rare occurrence. It can be triggered by a frustrating bout with hair, a missing button on a skirt, or not getting the prize in the cereal box. Or, apparently, an upset stomach.

“I don’t feeeeeel gooooood,” she sobbed.

Uh-oh. Two things come into play here:

1) The Tanner family (Danny’s parents) and the Katsopolis family (my parents) handled sick days very differently. He likes to claim we weren’t allowed to miss school if we revealed a severed appendage dangling loosely off of our bodies. I like to tease that he was basically home-schooled since “sick days” meant any day he had gym. Both are exaggerations. Slight exaggerations.

2) I am not about to be the sucker Uncle who gets played! And, to be totally honest, I hate having to bother Danny when I’ve got “kid duty” because he won’t ask for help unless he really needs it, meaning he’s either got an important meeting or he’s taking his quarterly night out to socialize. I try to avoid contacting him if at all possible. His over-caring self would literally feel guilty that one of his girls got sick on a morning he wasn’t there.

So I did the thermometer thing. Normal enough. I inspected for unusually pale (or green) skin complexion. Other than her claim of not feeling good, I couldn’t see any obvious sign of illness. I worked at Camp Sea Gull for over a decade, and the nurses have told me repeatedly that a stomach ache with no other symptoms is usually just something else. Michelle probably forgot to do her homework and was dreading facing the teacher.

I cracked a few jokes, got a smile or two out of her, got the other two girls in on the “buck up, kid, you’ll be fine by lunch” routine, and we were off.

She threw up on her desk around 9:30 a.m.

If there were a place you could go to voluntarily be lashed with a whip, I’d have signed up in hopes of relieving my guilt.

Fast forward to last week. I’m on morning duty again, and again we have morning tears. This day Michelle is going on a field trip, so she’s picking out an outfit rather than wearing her usual uniform–a source of much consternation, since she has to choose between shorter-legged jeans (tapered? capri’ed? cuffed? what do you call those things?) that leave her a bit chilly or the longer jeans that will almost certainly get a bit wet. I know where this choice will go–Michelle HATES wet jeans. But she’s not happy being chilly either.

“I don’t feel good,” she let it be known. But–Stephanie can attest–there was no force behind this statement. No insistence. I was sure it was all about the jeans. I didn’t even take her temperature.

Her teachers did. She had a fever of 102. Though, I’d like to point out, that was a reading taken after being outside and doing some creek stomping, so I think when I am on trial my lawyer will be able to make a good case that you cannot prove she was actually sick when I dropped her off.

Regardless….don’t tell Michelle, but next time I’m driving the morning shift? She’s got a four-word “get out of school free” card if she’s smart enough to play it. Blame Danny–he’s the fool who leaves me in charge of these girls.

 

Waiting for the All Clear

Posted by Danny

I got a call from DJ’s orthodontist on Saturday; she’s a very good friend of ours.   She had been trying to find a time that we could meet to catch up.  Our calendars wouldn’t mesh.  I said, “Is there something you need to tell me?”

“Well, yes.  It is no big deal!” she strongly stated.

“Give it to me.”

“There is a round white dot on DJ’s x-ray – it could be several things, none of them serious, but I think you should get it checked out.  In fact, I’ve talked to a friend who is an ENT and he can see you next week.”  She then proceeded to reassure me it was nothing serious and explained the four logical things the spot could represent.

“Why does this spot need to be checked out?”

“It could perhaps be making it more difficult for DJ to breath out of her nose.”

“Do you see this in other patients?”

“Similar things.  I just haven’t seen a round spot exactly like this in the front of the nose (she used layman’s terms for me).  But this is not something to worry about.  Go see him next week so we can figure out exactly what it is.”

I didn’t know how fearful I’d become. 

Before we discovered Lisa had colon cancer, we were assured her stomach issues were not serious.  We’d read on the web that stage 4 colon cancer was deadly but our physicians would tell us incredible stories of those who had survived.  We heard, on multiple occasions, from seasoned oncological professionals, “I have never seen this before.”   I guess it was natural that even though a dear friend I trust and respect immensely told me not to worry, I did.

What was I expecting?  Colon cancer that had spread to the nose?

Ridiculous – and yet it did cross my mind.  I thought to myself, I know this won’t be serious because it says that God won’t give you more than you can handle – and I can’t handle anymore.

We were blessed this time.  With the help of friends and with some medical professionals’ coveted cell phone numbers, we were able to get an answer within about 48 hours of learning about this issue (and she is fine).  That is not the case for many.

There are those among us waiting for an answer.  There are those who go back for a checkup every six months to find out if the cancer has come back.  And they hold their breath in fear, just like I did today. 

I know there have been times that someone has shared with me that they were waiting for a result.  It went in one ear and out the other.  I had no idea how scary waiting could be.  I do now.  And I’ll be more caring and more empathetic, understanding the places your mind can go as you wait for the all clear.

(Thank you to the best orthodontist and ENT in Raleigh!  You’re an answer to prayer.)

Sunday Post 12: Pretty on the Outside

Posted by Danny

I recently learned of an acquaintance who committed suicide and it brought to mind something that I’ve discovered over the past year:  people are hurting.

I didn’t really know that before. 

It may be that I’m more aware due to my own intense pain.  Or maybe folks are more willing to share their hardships with me because they think I might better understand having experienced dispair myself.  Perhaps I just care more than I ever did before.  But I am much more conscious of the fact that what I see on the outside may not mirror what’s on the inside.

I’ll have to admit that I spent the first forty-four years of my life in a bubble.  I had no comprehension of grief.  I did not understand someone’s inability to control their thoughts or feelings.  I didn’t understand how it felt to really be down.  My general attitude was “Suck it up!  I have.” 

The problem with my former point of view was that I hadn’t “sucked it up” – primarily because I didn’t have anything to suck up.  But you couldn’t have convinced me of that two years ago.  To me my teeny problems were equivalent to the loss of a job, or fighting ongoing depression or a serious illness.

Someone told me not long after Lisa died that I would become resentful of the world around me that had seemingly just gone on even in the wake of my devastation.  I remember going to Subway a week after Lisa died to grab lunch.  As I was walking up to the doors, a couple was in front of me talking and laughing like it was a normal, sunny, early spring day.  But it wasn’t.  It was a sad, gray, crappy day.  A day where I’d struggled to get out of bed.  A day where I’d cried all the way to the Subway.  A day where I was holding back tears as I watched them grin their hideous little smiles. 

I wanted to smack the hell out of them.

But in time, I became more aware.  I think I listened more to what others were dealing with.  I prayed harder for those I knew in turmoil.  My heart broke more deeply for people who were going through pain. 

After experiencing what I’d describe as an “almost” anxiety attack three days before Lisa died, I had a better understanding of a mind that was racing out of control.  I imagine that a difficult thing to live with on a regular basis.

So no, don’t just suck it up.  Talk it out.  Seek a friend.  Go get counseling.  Come visit the Tanners for a few days!  We’ll either cheer you up or you may leave thinking you have it pretty good!

And for those who do have that perfect life, show some compassion.  Cook up some patience.  Realize that every person you come in contact with could be struggling to the core of their being – even if they look real pretty on the outside.

Nothing Better than a Good Scoping of your Butt

 

Get lots of this...

Posted by Danny

Until we begin to be comfortable talking about our intestines, bowel movements and colonoscopies, it’s going to be tough to really begin attacking colon cancer.  I am currently aware of three acquaintances under the age of 45 who have died from this horrible disease in the past 12 months.  That is unacceptable.

As Jesse shared with you earlier this month, March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.  I think it’s time I weigh in.

Lisa’s symptoms began about a year and a half before she was diagnosed.  She would have cramps at times.  She wouldhave a strong sensation that she needed to  go to the bathroom and then nothing would happen when she got there.  At times she would have many small bowel movements in a row.  But these symptoms would come and go, a strong indicator that this was probably Irritable Bowel Syndrome.   She would go months without any problems, followed by a few weeks of discomfort.  When asked what her symptoms were, she would tell people, “Things just weren’t right.”  Follow you gut – or in this case, your colon.

After Lisa was diagnosed, I went to my annual physical.  I shared with my doctor what our family was dealing with and that I had some blood on my toilet paper.  He suggested, for my peace of mind, that I go ahead and get a colonoscopy.  Although I didn’t want to go through the process, I decided I’d sleep better once we had a clear DVD of my intestines.

This is my journal entry several hours after my colonoscopy:

Journal Entry, September 30, 2009

I have pooped nonstop for 24 hours.  Had my colonoscopy today and all was clear.  Butt you drink this thick salt water and then poop like you’re getting paid for it.  I pooped from 7 pm until 1 am, at 5:45 am and from 8 am to 3 pm.  And you couldn’t eat for about 48 hours prior to the procedure.  My poop was as clear as spring water by this afternoon – lost 8 pounds.

To be honest, the liquid they give you to drink to get you moving is awful.  It’s the consistency of thin lotion and it tastes putrid. 

I thought I’d doctor the brew by adding some Crystal Light – a friend suggested that might make the elixir go down easier.  She is no longer my friend. 

I’d hold my nose and stand over the sink – trying to down it like a frat boy with a beer bong.  I’d get half way through and gag – taking a few minutes to clear my watery eyes.  My mouth drawn in and my eyes clinched shut, sweat dripping down my forehead.  A deep breath and I’d chug some more. 

You “get to” drink about 25 glasses of the serum.  But in between each, you get a 15 minute break.  I’d go from standing up and  imbibing to flat on my back in the bed to a  mad dash to the toilet (suggestion:  wear elastic waist pants the day before your procedure – or better yet, lock your bedroom door and go with the Full Monty).  And every time I’d go back to the jug to pour my next glass, it would appear as if someone had refilled it to the brim.

It’s much more fun to be the spouse of someone prepping for a colonoscopy than to actually be the preppee.  Having a wife who was very private about her bathroom habits, I spent the night she had her cleansing in stitches.  If I recall, she had her revenge as I ran, with clinched cheeks, to the pot.

Although the only thing we found when I was scoped was that I’m apparently an aggressive wiper, it was worth it.  That’s one less thing to be concerned about.  It truly was much “doo doo” about nothing!

It’s March: Time To Cover Your A$$

POSTED BY JESSE

I was checking out the Mothers With Cancer blog when I came across a post alerting me that March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. I figured that would probably be a good thing to pass on to our blog readers since, you know, it’s kind of relevant to our situation here.

I am sure that March was designated as the month for colorectal cancer awareness before Lisa was diagnosed with hers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she planned her trip to heaven as a lead-in to Awareness Month; she was a meticulous planner. And this may be too blunt for some people, but it’s a fact: in March 2009 no one had a clue that Lisa’s gastrointestinal tract was a ticking time bomb; by March 2010 she was gone. If that’s not reason enough to get your colonoscopy, I’m sorry–that’s the best I got.

How clueless were we? Extremely. Ignorant enough that I didn’t even know what one was or why you got one before Lisa had hers. And based on our family email chain the week Lisa went to get checked out, you can tell that none of us had a clue what we were in for (the topic was the family Christmas exchange, but as you can see we took a turn into Lisa’s impending screening):

Sallie: I’ll take Lisa! I have lots of potty/poop-related items in mind. Sam will put together a collection of his favorite poopy diapers for her too. (Danny told me to say it!)

Danny: I DID NOT.  Her poop is off limits for me.  I have pledged not to make any jokes about her colon…and except for putting together a care package for her the other night (had each kid go find something potty related to put by her bed – magazine, plunger, t. paper, crossword puzzle), I have done well.

Me: what’s up with Lisa’s colon? And if she gets it -oscopied is there anything we can get bronzed? Or how about poo-wtered? [note: this was in reference to my mother giving us all our bronzed baby shoes one Christmas]

Sallie: Poo-tered – I laughed so hard I nearly peed in my pants. For once it is not me as the “butt” of the joke!

Danny: She’s been having a lot of stomach issues.  They are ruling things out.  Probably much doo doo about nothing.

Lisa: I’m not coming to Christmas [note: it is assumed she was rolling her eyes at this point]

Me: so no one has honestly answered my question about Lisa–has she been diagnosed? the closest explanation I got was Bruce saying it’s much doo-doo about nothing.

At which point my mom informed me what was happening and why, though even then she said she suspected it was Irritable Bowel Syndrome. We would have really liked an IBS diagnosis–the fatality rate is much lower and, as you can see, we could have made potty jokes for days.

So what’s it going to take to get you to get checked out? I’ve tried fear and humor. I could sprinkle in some guilt and say you owe it to those around you if you won’t do it for yourself. And if you have had any recurring/consistent stomach issues, then by all means get your ass (pun very much intended) to the doctor now.

I don’t want to get into pitting one type of cancer against another (we’ve been through colon and breast in my immediate family; I think a grandparent may have even battled leukemia at one point), but colon cancer is not currently getting the love that breast cancer awareness enjoys, with its turning everything pink. Colon cancer is less of a sexy cause, so it’s even more important we push it on the grassroots level. (I feel compelled to point out again: I am not calling for LESS breast cancer awareness, I’m calling for raised levels of colorectal cancer awareness!)

Later this month Danny and I might share some of our own experiences with getting a colonoscopy. Go ahead and make your appointment now and we’ll walk you through this thing step by step.

Here’s some more colorectal cancer screening info from the CDC:

-“Among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer—cancer of the colon or rectum—is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Colorectal cancer also is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States.”

-“It is estimated that as many as 60% of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely.”

-“You should begin screening for colorectal cancer soon after turning 50, then continue getting screened at regular intervals. However, you may need to be tested earlier or more often than other people if:

  • You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer; or
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease.”

The Bro

My kids are really funny.  I’m not sure where they get that. 

This morning, Michelle. hit my bed at about 8 am.  My arms were up over my head.  “Dad, your arms are flubbery.”  Being one who works out on a regular basis, I am bothered by that statement.  And that’s exactly why she said it.

I had a Social Studies teacher in 7th grade, second period, right after homeroom.  I remember two things about that class.  First, several girls in the class paid me $2 to ask another girl named Barbara to “go with me”.  I asked how long before I could break up.  They said I could dump her at 10 minute break which was right after third period.  I gladly obliged and left the school $2 richer. 

I also remember that the teacher, who was actually very skinny, had a great deal of skin hanging off her upper arms.  She often wore sleeveless dresses.  Her “flubber” jiggled as she wrote on the chalk board, it was mesmerizing – made it difficult for an ADHD boy to focus.  From that time forward, I was always concerned about my arms. 

Late at night is the time that I miss Lisa the most.  Once the kids are in bed, the house gets really quiet.  That was never an issue before; 10 – midnight was our time.  When Jesse is here, it’s not so quiet.  But he’s a young dude with a social life.  So last March I began a new routine:  late night push ups.  Last year I lost 20 pounds – grief and stress related.  I was down to a light 155.  I’ve worked hard to put the weight back on (Lisa would really be miffed at someone who had to work to put weight on).  My kids’ response from my hard work?  They tell me I have man boobs.  I’ve worked to explain the difference between man boobs and a muscular chest.  I even pulled up pictures on the internet:

(I found several really good pics of man boobs but just couldn’t bring myself to put them on this website.  We have some level of decency.  You can go to google and search for yourself.)

 

NOT MAN BOOBS!

How did they respond to my explanation?  For my birthday, they made me a “Bro”.  A “Bro”, according to Kramer in the hit TV show Seinfeld, is a bra for a man. 

This “Bro” was made out of cardboard with two triangular cups covered with tin foil.  It was attached with lace and decorated with hearts and glitter.  I was amused…but not enthusiastic enough to put it on, even for a friendly picture.  When you live in this house, there is no telling where a photo of you might show up.

I think that laughter is a HUGE ingredient in healing.  Some may perceive it as irreverent.  I see it as survival.

The Casual Ditty Of The Tiger Uncle

Posted by Uncle Jesse

One afternoon last week I had the girls to myself. Stephanie was doing some homework and Michelle was in her room, downloading every new free app on her iTouch she had heard anyone mention in the previous 24 hours. I went up to her room to let her know the piano was open, and that since she had a lesson the next day it would probably be a good idea to hop on. She obliged without objection. I watched her sit down at the piano and heard her start playing. I took a brief bathroom break. When I emerged, I did not hear any piano music. I approached the piano to see if she was stuck on a part, but she had vanished. I did, however, hear the dulcet tones of Ke$sha coming from her room. Once again, I ascended the stairs.

perfect form? we're working on it“I thought you were going to practice piano,” I said with a curious tone, honestly unsure of what had happened to prevent her from practicing.

“I did.”

I looked at my bare wrist as if I were wearing a watch. I do this often when time is being called into question; rarely am I called out for not actually, you know, wearing a watch.

I had taken some reading material to the bathroom with me, but it’s not like I did the puzzles or anything. I surmised that the piano practice could not have lasted more than five minutes.

“Yeah, I’m going to need to hear those songs. I don’t think a 5-minute practice session is going to cut it.”

Protest. Shock. Not only was I asking her to resume a chore-like activity that she already considered completed, I was basically questioning her integrity. I reminded her that since she had been practicing this set of drills and songs for a week now (well, it had been a week since the last lesson–I don’t think there has ever been a “7 days a week” piano practice standard in the house) that they should basically be perfect for tomorrow’s lesson–notes, volume, rhythm, everything.

What I found when I sat to listen to the next practice was not perfection. No songThey make Cliff Notes for this stuff? went through without errors. Not once after opening the book was it viewed for the tips on how the piece should be played, the fortes and pianissimos, crescendos and decrescendos. Whole note drills were being played as half notes or faster. I decided that in addition to more practice, it was time for a gentle (ok, maybe more than gentle reminder) of what piano practice looks like.

Not surprisingly, this reminder was met with tears. But the practice pressed on, and I sat on the bench–not to look for errors any more, I assure you. I had found enough to make my point. Now, of course, I had to do the part that, more than fussy children or tears is typically the reason kids are let off the hook. I had to sit down next to her and practice the darn piano with her.

I have heard and read a lot recently about Yale professor Amy Chua and her new book on how she raised her two high-achieving daughters, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Like most of the folks who are writing, blogging, and offering opinion on Chua and her seemingly (to some) Draconian-strict methods of parenting, I have not actually read her book (this is an important question, I think, to ask anyone who seems especially fired up about Chua and her book: have you actually read the book?). I did read the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal and found it very interesting. I also suspect that Chua is a very smart woman with a very smart agent and, like the folks at the WSJ, are trying to sell as many books (or newspapers) as possible and collectively were wise enough to include some of the more incendiary revelations of the book in the excerpt.

It worked. People are talking.

I certainly did not grow up with parents who threatened to give away my toys overnight if I did not bring home perfect grades, or perform my piano pieces without flaw. But I do think I was raised with a little more of the “Chinese” upbringing with which she reared her children than some of my “Western” friends. While curfews and car rides were not met with much questioning from my parents, it was well-known to my friends not to call on the phone the night after report cards went out if there was a ‘B’ on mine. My status was “unavailable”.

[brief side story: Lisa used to combat this by lining up her friends to call at specifically calculated times, five minutes apart from each other, beginning at 8 o’clock. Each friend/caller was assigned a particular academic query and was instructed to let the operator–my Dad–know that only Lisa knew the particular answer, or who was doing what in the group project, or what pages they were supposed to read, or whatever. This served two purposes: first, it made it seem as if she were thought of as the “academic” among her friends. But more importantly, after three interruptions to “Nova” on PBS, my father would tire of relaying questions and answers, and surrender the phone. Very clever and diplomatic of Lisa. Me? I just threw my stereo down the stairs]

So unlike much of the American opinion I read about Chua and her methods, I do not think, “What a tyrant! What an awful way to raise children! She must not love them!”

Flashy cover? Check. Splashy book excerpt? Check. This thing will sell.On the contrary, I believe she loves her children very much, and that she has devoted and sacrificed much of her own time to raising them in a way she believes will lead to success and, yes, happiness for them. Her theory is not an absurd or even untested one. The thinking goes that children will kick and scream at anything that requires work and patience in the beginning, so kicking and screaming should not be deterrents. Rather, once you get through the initial push, and once a child has a taste of success, it will bring confidence. Which leads to more hard work, more mastery, followed by praise (not only from parents, but non-family members as well), all of which will lead to more confidence, more mastery, more hard work, more success, and, ultimately, happiness. Is this a terrible theory? Of course not. And, in fact, I have neither the academic training, parenting experience, nor desire to try to “set her straight” or “prove her wrong” because, again, I’m not sure she’s off base at all (though I do take issue with the way she degrades some things “Western” parents do as a way to justify her own choices. To wit: Chua says her kids were not allowed to be in school plays. Surely a child can have a small role in a performance of a school play without having “to stay after school every day from 3:00 to 7:00” and “on weekends”. And don’t even get me started on what her kids may be missing out on by not going to summer camp).

But anecdotally speaking (which, from what I can gather, is what most of her theory is based on: her own rearing and that of her children–not scientific studies on the psychology of children and parents in different cultures), I look at my sister Sallie, and think, “there has to be another way.”

I would challenge Chua or anyone to find someone who has achieved at a higher level in a more competitive field than my sister. My sister was pushed, yes, but also allowed to fail, quit the piano (and all other instruments) when she grew tired of it, choose her own field (there are no other scientists in my family–not even close), decide which activities to participate in, etc. Was she pushed by my parents? Absolutely. But sometimes after a particularly trying ballet practice in which she had felt the wrath of the instructor, my mother commiserated with her and agreed that, yes, that woman could be a…well, a meanie.

Back to Michelle and the piano. Here at the Tanner house, I am always feeling outI can't stay here for three hours a day. I just can't do it. my role. At first I concentrated on bringing the fun to the house, because we all needed it. But over time, it has become clear–and Danny will readily admit this–that we are a little lacking for Lisa’s discipline. This is not taking away anything from Danny or the girls. Again, he says over and over what a perfect pair they were, and perfectly complementary when it came to parenting. It only makes sense that, with one of them gone, something would be a little lacking, right?

But I also know I do not have what it takes to be Chua. Not even close. She is right in that many Western parents say they value their children’s independence when really they just do not want to stop watching “Modern Family” to sit next to their kids at the piano bench. And I’m no different there. I could not do it every day. Sometimes I try to crank out a silly little article before a deadline and I watch Danny move back and forth between cooking a meal, sitting at the piano bench, sitting on the couch to do flash cards, back to the meal, back the bench, and so on. I wonder if I could ever keep up the kind of energy it takes to be a “great” parent, the energy that he and, yes, the Tiger Mother, both display.

Typically, I try a little of both. I can sit on the piano bench for 20 minutes. Or I can call out flash cards for one night (hey, we have DVR, right?) But I also try to let the girls know that ultimately, and especially now that we’re down one true parent, that if they want to get ahead it’s on them.

I believe talent is overrated, and that hard work is the only way to truly achieve success. And I also believe in choices, and finding the thing or things you (not your parents) have a true passion for, and that these are the things you will want to work hardest at. So after almost every work session that begets tears (be it book work, piano work, running, dancing…any of the activities the girls are involved in at some point involve tears, I have learned), they typically hear this from me:

“Being great at anything is not easy. If playing piano were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes work, and practice, and patience, and repetition to get really, really good at something. You are going to be GREAT at something. It may not be piano; it may be drawing or writing or leading or something else, but you are going to be great–one of the best in the world–at something. But whatever it is, you’re going to have to work hard at it. And practicing piano is a way to learn that skill. Again, I’m not saying you have to be great at piano. I really don’t care what it is you choose to be great at. But you’ve got to learn to work hard.”

Two nights ago Michelle was on the piano. I glanced at the clock to see how long she went and was disappointed when it fell short of ten minutes. But I never feel quite as comfortable pushing more piano practice when Danny’s in the house–all joking aside, he outranks me, and I worry about the one day a kid lashes back with “You’re NOT my parent!” because I’m not. But I was also fatigued from the last time we did battle at the piano bench, and I had another article to write.

But a minute later, the piano started back up. This time it had just been a pause, or a bathroom break, or a text from someone on the iTouch (since she knows how to do that now, too). But soon the piano was being practiced again, and whether it was from her desire to get better, or knowing I was within earshot and had raised the bar for what counts for practice time, I’m not sure and I don’t really care. Without getting philosophical, and without taking a lick of credit, I’d like to think that a child doubling her practice time without prompting is at least as significant as one spending three hours with hands on keys (and parent on back), banging out soulless perfection.

Listen Up, Dummies

Posted by Uncle Jesse

I’ll admit it’s probably because I’m a Raleigh native and loyal to my hometown roots, but I’m a fan of the News and Observer. Do I see 25 straight days of disparaging school board headlines while having to hunt for a mention of the re-drawing of the state congressional districts and think, “I believe they may have an agenda”? Yes, yes I do.

But I like the N&O. I like the writers, I like the columnists, I like the sports, I like the easy crossword puzzle, I like the paper.

Yesterday I saw two relevant stories I thought I’d pass on, especially since they had a common theme: they were aimed at people like me. Dummies. Well, actually it was about two books in the _____ for Dummies series.

whoever thought up the "____ for Dummies" series is a rich man

The first was a blurb in the Business section and on their .biz blog. It was about Salix Pharmaceuticals offering a free downloadable copy of the book Colonscopy For Dummies. For those unaware, this one hits close to home as colon cancer was what took my sister Lisa from us. Did you know it’s the second leading cause of death among cancers behind lung cancer? I never would have guessed that.

I distinctly remember sitting in a hospital room with Lisa, maybe a month before she died.  She was already trying to figure out what her “cause” was going to be when she got better.

“I haven’t decided yet…am I going to be a “colon cancer research” person? Or should I make cancer screening my big cause? I’m not sure.”

I am sure that the anti-cancer/pro-screening movement lost a pretty good ally when Lisa passed. She’d have raised some freaking awareness. They’ve got buildings at St. Timothy’s and First Presbyterian to prove it.

We should probably do more as a family along these lines, but we have been pushing the screenings on the grassroots level. After I got done dragging my feet, our family is 100% screened. My uber-smart doctor sister Sallie is even busy screening our genes. I think. I don’t understand all the medical terms she throws at me.

But bottom line: get screened people. If you need a little humor to get you through someone checking out your backside, just swing by the Tanner house–it’s how we get through everything. In fact, our whole family had a really good email chain of potty jokes going leading up to Lisa getting her screening…and then we took a break from laughing for a few months after we got the results. But I do still believe humor is the best way to get through anything, and there was plenty of laughing from and around Lisa right up until the time she left us. So to repeat: GET SCREENED. You can also head to http://www.colonoscopyfordummies.com to get straight to the download, but why not visit the N&O blog post about it and give them a little traffic? Newspapers are hurting, people!

The other article was in the Life section from food writer Andrea Weigl, and it was

I only need 5 days of meals planned. Char-grill's got me covered the other two.

about a _____ for Dummies book about planning healthy meals. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know that post-Lisa we have struggled with our grocery list making and that we’ve been living in a bit of a fantasy land when it comes to making dinner because we’ve had so much outside help. So this book would be perfect for a family like us. In fact, Andrea’s giving away a free copy of the book to the person who best proves they’re in need! You can just email or send her a letter why you need the book and she’s going to pick the best one. Warning though: your email will have to be better than mine.

Here’s a link to the website of the author of the book.

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