Book Review: Calm the F*ck Down

This is a real book entitled “Calm the F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need” and it is written by a real person named David Vienna. This was gifted to me by my son’s godmother. I’m blessed beyond reason to have godparents that send me and my child gifts monthly, and this particular month I had called with some catastrophe. I don’t actually remember which catastrophe this was – life with a toddler involves a lot of them. But I think it was when he got his finger caught in the pedal of our kitchen trash can.

He pushed the pedal down with his hand, and when he stopped his finger was caught and the mechanism and got sliced open. We got him out and his hand was gushing blood and he was screaming and I was surprised to find my mind was blank. What… what do I do? One does not simply put a band-aid on a toddler. He’d pull it right off. And that’s a lot of blood, why is there so much blood? How can you tell if he needs stitches? Oh man there’s blood on everything, uh, quick, lets put him in the bathtub. Of course, a bath on the best day makes our son scream, so this upset him quite a bit more than he already was, and he was still bleeding, and my mind was still drawing a blank on what to do. So I called and his godmother said put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. A piece of knowledge that did, in fact, reside somewhere in my brain, but that I was unable to call forth in the heat of the moment.

Anyway the moral of this story is that often, new parents aren’t under-educated or uninformed. Often, our questions and need for advice stem from simply being freaked out. Dear godmother had not actually read this book before sending it and prefaced it with “this might suck” but the title had grabbed her attention and it alone was very good advice. So let’s take a look!

Like many parenting books that I’ve reviewed before, this one seems to not be intended as a cover to cover read. Rather, it’s split up into topics like “my child does not understand consequences” or “I’m not the kind of parent I thought I’d be.” However, there’s no reason not to go ahead and read this one cover-to-cover. Why?

  1. It’s REALLY short. I read it in one sitting while I was having my hair done.
  2. Each topic listed has 1-2 pages devoted to it – that’s it. And there’s pictures.
  3. It’s really funny. Even if a topic isn’t specific to your situation, you’ll probably get a chuckle out of what it has to say.

I mean I basically don’t have anything bad to say about this book. It’s an entertaining, light read. It would actually make a pretty good bathroom book. It’s broken up into short, sweet reads, and maybe it’ll make you not want to hide in the bathroom to escape your kid(s). Maybe. No promises.

You can probably guess from the title alone that the book’s advice for most of the topics is to “calm the f-ck down” (abbreviated in the boot as the CTFD method). So you know when you flip to “my boy likes girl toys” or “my baby ate something off the floor,” you’re going to be told not to worry about it. But it’s more than that. A lot of this book is about empathy, and understanding that these things happen and usually have no long term effects. But it’s also empathetic about the fact that you’ll still worry anyway, because you’re a parent and that’s your job. It validates your feelings. And it also taps in to the fact that even if you’re not worried about a topic, someone you encounter probably will be. Your mother in law will be appalled you let your son have a Barbie, your aunt will act like you need to call 911 when she sees your baby eat a dust bunny they happened upon. People freak out, you freak out, but we all need to practice the CTFD method.

This is not to say that every section is just things not to worry about. One that caught me by surprise was this one pictured: “I haven’t kept up with CPR training”. I’ve taken CPR classes a few times over the years, most recently when I had my son. But before that I had taken it for being a babysitter, a camp counselor, a life guard, I think we even did it in girl scouts once. I have not been worried about it. Can I recall exactly what to do, and the numbers, and every step? Uhh… I dunno. No? Not really? But I’ve taken the class several times, I know basically what to do. So imagine my surprise when this laid-back book took the hard stance that you MUST take this class EVERY YEAR. It never uses scare tactics like some other parenting books (I’m looking at YOU, What-To-Expect!), but it just says hey, go take these classes. I hope you never need them, but you’re going to want that info fresh in your mind if you need it. That’s a good point, book. So I’ll be heading back to class soon. Well, yeah, it’s partially because I’m pregnant and they make you. But next year? It’ll be of my own volition.

Another thing that caught me by surprise is that this book is for dads! I guess the language might should have tipped me off, as moms are, generally speaking, a little more fluffy touchy feely in their diction when talking about babies. But what’s strange is that I never got the inkling that this book was specifically for dads until the second to last section, titled “Parenthood.” Which is still gender-neutral. But here there were topics like “I don’t feel like a dad,” and “I don’t plan on taking paternity leave.” The advice here is, of course, applicable to both moms and dads, but the language only specifies dads and paternity. Again, the entire rest of the book didn’t specify one way or the other really, and it’s not a bad thing. I was just surprised when I got to the very end and it was suddenly talking to dads so specifically. Still, both moms and dads should give this a read. Even the paternity-specific topics apply to both.

That about covers it! Like I said, I read this cover-to-cover in one sitting, and it was a very enjoyable read. Good for a gag gift that doubles as a whoa this is actually useful gift. If you’re a stressed out new parent who loves to read but doesn’t really have time to get through a traditional chapter without interruption, this is a light, interrupt-able read that will make you smile and leave you better equipped to handle those moments your mind goes blank. Buy it by clicking here. Give it a read and remember to CTFD.

Book Review: The Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year

If you saw my review of The Mayo Clinic’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, you know how excited I was to read this. But this review will probably be much shorter and less glowing than that one. In a nutshell, this book is a bit superfluous. And coming from me, that’s saying something. I love reading and researching and will jump on just about any chance to do so, but in this case? Well, let’s jump right in.

There’s nothing really wrong with this book, it’s just kind of boring. Most of the information in it is a retread of info found in The Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, and I would recommend reading that over this. Once you get past the first few months of having a newborn, there’s a lot less to worry about. Or at least, there’s different things to worry about. But you’re no longer in that stage where sleeping, eating, and falling are life or death situations. Once your little one’s a bit older, you rely more on common sense than needing to look up what to do.

The Pregnancy Guide’s chapters on the first few months offer great coverage of breastfeeding, immunizations, sleep training, and all those things. This guide really just elaborates, and I found the elaboration to not really be necessary.

One thing I did really enjoy about this book were the parts on what it’s like to be a new parent emotionally. It’s very cathartic to read that your feelings, especially negative ones and “baby blues” ones, are common and normal. And it offers good ways to cope. But again, rather than recommending this book, I’d lean more towards suggesting finding a book that exclusively focuses on parenting and feelings.

The more utilitarian information is all stuff that you’re gonna hear from your pediatrician. Developmental milestones, when to get immunizations, introducing solid foods, these are all going to be covered if you’re seeing a pediatrician regularly. Don’t replace that with a book, babies need all those checkups each month. Your pediatrician will tell you when your little one can start table food, and you can judge if you want to go ahead or wait on it.

If you don’t have a communicative pediatrician and can’t switch, or if you don’t have other mom friends or your own parents around to talk to, then maybe this book would be helpful to you, but honestly, once the baby is out and growing, you’re going to get floods of information from everywhere. From programs like WIC where you have to attend occasional classes, to alarmist facebook posts from well-meaning in-laws, you’re going to hear about most everything. Plus, that first year goes by so fast, you’ll hardly have time to research each step (or read a book, for that matter).

So yeah. My consensus is basically “meh.” There’s nothing bad or wrong about this book, it’s just kind of dull and an extra thing that you don’t really need to be fussing with in your child’s first year.

Sorry this wasn’t more exciting to read, haha. Meh reviews are hard. I’ve got a few more parenting/pregnancy books to read since I’m unexpectedly pregnant with #2 on the way. Stay tuned!

The Health Disrupter Journal from The Allergista!

The Allergista is one of my favorite bloggers, and I’ve talked about her many times on here. She was kind enough to reach out to me to give me a chance to try out her health disrupter journal and share it with you guys!

Now, I have a confession to make: she asked me to do this a looooong time ago. Like, months ago. And I have not adjusted well to keeping up with blogging and parenting a 1 year old. Add journaling on top of that and I majorly failed. But I wanted to complete the journal before writing this post, so… here we are, months too late but honest!

So this isn’t my first health-journaling rodeo. I’ve kept a diary of what I eat and my digestive reactions before, and I’ve also tried out a few apps to track symptoms along with diet, sleep, and other things. I have a love-hate relationship with journaling this way. It’s great because it’s shown me patterns in my health, and helped me to discern what foods/habits cause my pain to flare up, or cause my IBS to get bad. But it’s really hard, at least for me. The first few days go well. I’m excited and write down everything in detail. But after that… life happens. I try to jot down some notes at the end of the day, usually while half-asleep, and soon I miss entire days.

And of course, when I do get sick, journaling is hardest of all, and also most crucial. So this is a huge challenge for me. The great thing about journaling is that even small bursts can be helpful in solving health mysteries. So with the Allergista’s health disruptor journal, that’s exactly what I did. I journaled for a week or two at a time, then took a hiatus. Not by design, but because that’s kinda just how it happened. But I still solved some of my own health mysteries.

The journal has four basic parts: a daily log, a weekly notes section, a weekly summary of symptoms, and a monthly calendar. To be honest, I didn’t use the monthly calendar much, but only because I have another one that I keep all my appointments and life notes on. I know in this day and age, most people don’t have a monthly paper calendar posted up anymore, so this would probably be more useful to someone who didn’t have another system in place.

The daily log is set up for allergies, but is easily adapted to chronicle chronic pain or gastrointestinal problems. The only section I didn’t use much was logging skin problems, since that’s pretty exclusive to tracking allergies. But I liked the tally system of giving each symptom a number and totaling it. The higher the number, the “worse” a day is symptom-wise. This is great because when you’re in a flare, you can feel like “oh I’ve felt horrible all week” but looking at the numbers you can see that there are days where even though you have symptoms, you’re feeling a little better. That can be really encouraging, especially in a long flare.

I like the body location symptom tracker. I’m a very visual person, and I like to doodle, so it was fun and also informative. I could see pain “make its rounds” so to speak. I like that a lot.

Finally, the notes section. At first, this was the biggest chore, mostly because I was unsure what to put there. But I ended up using it as my place to pose questions and come up with hypothesis. I could look back at previous weeks and see if I’d proven my ideas or answered any questions.

The biggest health mystery this journal helped me solve actually had to do with anxiety. When I have a panic attack, it almost exclusively happens at night. My anxiety keeps me awake, and eventually builds until I’m sweating, pacing, and generally loosing my mind. I found out through journaling that there are two things that I thought were helping me that were actually contributing to my panic attacks.

One was drinking. I had gotten into a bad habit of always having a glass of wine at dinner or bedtime most nights, thinking it helped me relax. It kind of did, but on nights when I didn’t drink I was much more likely to sleep well. Stopping this habit didn’t completely eliminate my anxiety attacks, but it helped a LOT.

Second was reading. Yeah, the thing EVERYONE tells you to do when you can’t sleep! I adore reading, and I read paper books with no irritating backlights to disrupt my sleep cycle. But I think I must love it a little too much. I noticed I tended to have trouble sleeping after reading, and noticed that I get a little too into books to relax. I stay awake thinking about the book (especially suspenseful ones) and end up in the anxiety zone. Now, I’m careful to only read either books I’ve read before or calm, non-suspense/mystery/adventure books before bed if I read at all.

So what’s my final verdict? Health journals are great, and the Allergista’s is one of the best I’ve tried! If you’re like me and can only journal in spurts, remember that it’s better than nothing and you can still benefit from what you learn from it. I highly recommend this one for it’s organization, it’s tracking tools like tallying and body diagramming, and it’s coverage of all areas you need to track in an easy format. You can download it by clicking

HERE!

I hope you all check it out and give journaling a try if you haven’t already. You’ll be surprised what you can learn! Plus, if you have an attentive doctor, they may like to look over it and help you find patterns and give you advice.

Also, don’t forget to enter the #SPOONIERAGECOMICCONTEST! There are free prizes to win and I’ll let you in on a secret: there’s not much competition right now. So enter today! Google “rage comic maker,” choose your favorite, then create a comic that has something to do with health, chronic illness, allergies, doctors, medicine, or anything in between! Then upload it to twitter or instagram with the hashtag #spoonieragecomiccontest.

Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Book Review: The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

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My son did just turn five months old, but I still finished reading this book (however slowly) because 1.) I am a book completionist and 2.) out of all the pregnancy/childbirth books I read, this one was my favorite.

My insurance company is Blue Cross Blue Shield, and they surprised me during my pregnancy. I mean in a good way – yes, it is possible for health insurance companies to have good surprises. For one thing, I was given a case worker who called me every month to ask me how my pregnancy was going and check up on my physical and mental health. That was pretty nice. But what I liked more was getting this surprise package in the mail. A free book!

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And I really really liked this book. I was sort of predisposed to because it’s from the Mayo Clinic. I admit I don’t actually know a lot about the Mayo Clinic, but when it pops up on the health blogs I read, it’s always a good thing. I think of the Mayo Clinic as the place you go when doctors fail you. Like, going to the Mayo Clinic is actually a little medical fantasy of mine.

(Side note: how sad is it that I have a medical fantasy instead of fantasizing about just being well?)

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This really is the perfect pregnancy book in my opinion. It’s all fact-based and it focuses on delivering medical information in a way that’s simple enough for a non-doctor to understand. There’s no kumbaya in this book. I’m an emotional person who loves romanticizing things but when it comes to my health and my body, I don’t like to wade through fluff. I want the facts. I will add my own kumbaya, don’t worry. It’s childbirth, I was drunk on kumbaya hormones the ENTIRE time. I needed to understand what was happening and what was going to happen, and I only had nine months to learn.

Speaking of which, that’s another great thing about this book – it’s quick. It’s also got a great reference section that will point you exactly to whatever information you’re looking for. This book is definitely set up to be a reference book – you can read month by month chapters on the developing pregnancy, and you can look up any symptoms, illnesses, medicines, diet questions, basically anything that pops into your head very easily. Of course I read it cover to cover because that’s what you do with books in my opinion. If I need a quick reference, I’ll reach for google faster than I’ll reach for a book. Still, it wasn’t bad as a cover-to-cover read either, and I appreciate that versatility.

Look baby, no hands!

Look baby, no hands!

It did pull the same thing as What to Expect When You’re Expecting and the Official Lamaze Guide did in the chapters on complications and loss – saying not to read this unless you’re experiencing a complication. I get that pregnancy involves a lot of undue worrying – BELIEVE ME, I know – but I don’t know. Education eases my fears. I know not everyone is that way. But I’d prefer to see warnings more like “read this section only if you feel learning more will ease your fears – anxiety is very bad for expecting mothers and you may skip this section if you feel it would distress you.” Or something like that.

As much as I really liked this book, it was pretty far from perfect. I admit that some of my thoughts may be biased because of the fact that this book was free. I automatically assumed that because it was free, not as much effort was put in to it.

This book does seem like it was largely copy and pasted from a conglomeration of Mayo Clinic sources rather than compiled by an actual writer. I say that because there are a lot of formatting errors, like a lack of spaces between words or extra spaces around punctuation. And occasionally there are typos, usually in the form of tenses that don’t make sense. There was even one instance in the pregnancy loss section where a paragraph was straight-up repeated. That’s pretty sloppy and does sort of make you wonder how much you can trust it when there were clearly…. lapses in effort.

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But I also got this book for free. And the information was good. It never showed bias towards natural childbirth or more medicalized childbirth. Plus, even in sections where you might think they’d have to get fluffy (like the section on pregnancy loss) they keep it very respectfully informative. They discuss the emotional recovery aspect very seriously, encouraging the reader to seek support and care, but the book also remembers its role as a giver of information, and offers data as a was to understand what physically happens in the hopes that it might bring some level of comfort and acceptance. It also very pointedly lays out things that cannot cause pregnancy loss, to lay to rest any blame game the reader might take up.

It also had an entire section on chronic illness and pregnancy, and it was pretty extensive! That’ll always win you points on this blog.

All in all, I do recommend this book. If you get it for free, definitely read it. If you’re interested, go by your local Half-Price Books or check online and buy it used. It’s not going to read like a New York Times Best-Seller, but it’s got accurate, unbiased info, and that’s very hard to find. Especially when it comes to pregnancy.

After reading this, I am definitely going to seek out the Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year (even though it’s almost half-over already) ((*cries in the corner*)).

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They hooked me with their free book and now I’ll buy the rest of them. That’s how they get you!

Madeline and Childlike Pride Amid Illness

In an old house in Paris that’s covered with vines

lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

Madeline

When I think of Madeline,  I think of my sister. All three of us loved the Madeline books, cartoons, and dolls, but most of our Madeline books and dolls belonged officially to my middle sister. I was 7 years old during her Madeline phase. She was 5. And she also happened to be in the hospital. She had a brain tumor, two surgeries, and spent over a year in the children’s hospital. She’s now a happy, healthy adult.

Being that I was 7, my memories of that time are trivial, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve gained more and more insight into the gravity of the things that happened then. Being diagnosed with a chronic pain condition as an adult has also given some of those memories new meaning – like Madeline. Because now I feel more deeply connected to Madeline, and I wonder if the people giving my sister Madeline dolls and books did so with these same thoughts in mind.

Madeline is, on the surface, a series of stories about an impish girl who, as the stand-out scrappy runt of an orphanage run by a fretting nun, gets into heartwarming shinanigans in gay old Paris. But there’s a bit more there.

The Madeline book that I remember most vividly and that, I believe, is the most famous, is one in which Madeline has appendicitis. Miss Clavel, the nun, wakes in the night because “something is not right” and instead of finding Madeline making her usual trouble she finds her in bed with a burning fever. Madeline is rushed to the ER and undergoes emergency surgery.

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Everything turns out alright. And Madeline is thrilled by the whole thing. The iconic moment from that story is when she proudly shows off her scar.

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And that stuck with me because that’s exactly what my experience with my sister was. Her room was full of the most wonderful toys and snacks and very interesting hospital things, and across her head was a scar, just like a headband would be across her head. I honestly don’t know how she felt about it– if she was self-conscious or if perhaps Madeline helped her feel proud of it. I thought it was cool. I didn’t have very interesting thoughts. I was told repeatedly not to touch it so I spent most of my time thinking about touching it.

Sister of the year right here.

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Anyway.

So that’s probably why Madeline books are a good present for kids in the hospital. I don’t know. But what’s really interesting to me now is the Madeline dolls my sister had.

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Pretty run-of-the-mill dolls. Some stood on the shelf, others were floppy rag-dolls for cuddling. But they all had something in common.

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You could be sure that whether she was a doll, in a book, or on the screen, she had her scar. Why? Because it’s a part of her character. You can’t have Madeline without her scar. You can’t have Madeline without her story.

And dolls get such a bad rep for promoting unrealistic standards of beauty. And now we have these companies working hard to make more “realistic” dolls to teach better values. But twenty-odd years ago, Madeline was waaaay ahead of you.

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Every time we saw a Madeline doll, we pulled up her dress to point out her scar. Was that an intentional outcome that the adults in our lives hoped for when they gave us Madeline? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know.

But now I’m all grown up, and I’ve got three scars on my tummy. And sometimes when I look at them, I think of Madeline.

When we’re kids and we get hurt or sick, we’re so freaking excited to tell people about it. We show off our band-aids, we tell the exciting story, we make you sign our cast, we brag about getting shots or taking medicine. Why? Probably because grown-ups are constantly praising us through any medical adventure. The doctor gives you stickers and lollipops for a reason. Your parents coo to you that you’re so brave and so good. A team of doctors and nurses work tirelessly over you while your main job is to sit still, and you’re the one who gets told “good job!”

Illness is universal. Everyone winds up on a medical adventure at some point. But the older you get, the more autonomous you want to be. Illness is like crying: it’s private. But humans evolved to cry when they need help, and keeping it behind closed doors is completely counter-intuitive. Same with illness. Illness should be something people come together over. You need praise and encouragement and pride to get through it.

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I should be wearing my bikini and pointing at my stomach proudly, saying “look at me! Look what I did! I was very brave and good! You’ll never believe what happened!” When you’re drugged up at the hospital, you get that child-like pride back. You never really see shy drugged-up people do you? Without inhibitions, most people recovering from a severe injury or illness act like it’s an exciting story to share. And it is!

Why do you think Madeline is so popular?

If, for any reason, there’s ever dolls made of me, I hope they all have scars. Madeline is doing a lot of good out there. I never felt like dolls were shaping my view of beauty and self worth… but 7-year-old me would be quick to tell you that her Madeline doll has a scar, and it’s really really cool.

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And that had to be good for my sister.

And it has to be good for me now.

Thanks Madeline.