Thursday, May 31, 2007


The three little kids were in the hallway outside the NICU with their grandmother while the mother of their baby sibling was inside preparing for the baby's discharge. The baby had stayed longer than usual because the mother had used cocaine and Protective Services had to check the house out. The kids were getting restless, and as will happen one of them, about a 2 year old, bumped into a smaller one who looked to be about 18 months, who fell on the floor on her bottom. No harm done, no crying. The grandmother, though, went ballistic. "See what you've done now!" she yelled at the 2 year old."Now get into that waiting room like I told you before!"

I couldn't take it. I guess I had seen one too many examples of bad parenting. "Hey," I said gently, "They're just being kids. These things happen."

Grandma didn't back off. "I told her long ago to get into the waiting room. She has to behave."

"Good grief," I replied, "She's just a toddler. You're expecting way too much of her."

"Listen, man," she said, "don't tell me how to raise kids."

"Why not," I shot back, " You clearly don't know how to do it."

"Don't give me any crap, bucko," she snapped.

"Don't give me any guff, lady, or I'll contact Protective Services again and make them take away the kids. With a witch of a mother like you, it's no wonder your daughter turned to cocaine."

Man, it felt good to say that.


But don't worry folks, I didn't really say that. Everything after the second paragraph is fiction. After I said "These things happen," I just walked into the NICU without saying anything else. I'm sure, though, that I'm not the only one who has to grit his teeth to remain quiet when we see examples of bad parenting.

I'll see mothers yelling at kids too small to get it or slapping kids too young to learn from it. I'll see them berate a child for just doing what kids normally do. I hate it, because I think what the child's home life must be like, that it must be a life of fear, at least until the kid gets so jaded he doesn't care anymore. I hate it, because I know that if the child lives with scolding and yelling she'll grow up to be a scolder and yeller. The kids are so little and impressionable, if we could just treat them gently, they would grow up to be gentler.

Is there anything we can really do about it, though? Sadly, I think not. We certainly can't remove kids from their homes for poor parenting skills. We don't have enough good foster homes as it is now. And we can't really mold people's parenting skills in the brief time we have with them. We can try to teach them, but they're probably just going to do what they grew up with anyway, so my nasty comments to such people will have to occur in my head and not in reality.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


The 16 year old mom had been rushed back to the C-section because of a prolonged drop in the baby's heart rate. After laboring in relative boredom for most of the day, things had suddenly gone into high gear,with little time to explain things to the family. The mother was put under general anesthesia, so the father couldn't go back into the C-section room to see his baby born. After some chaotic hurried moments, the baby was born, and as is typical in these situations, the baby's first cries a few seconds after delivery were met with a collective sigh of relief.

I hadn't needed to do much for the baby, and as I was leaving the delivery area a nurse asked me if I could just let the family know how the baby was. Of course, I said, and went to the labor room where the new father, grandmother, and an aunt were waiting.

I walked into the room to see the grandmother and aunt looking expectantly and nervously at me. Next to them was the baby's father, looking a young 16 years old himself. He wore a skewed baseball cap, an oversize T-shirt, and baggy low slung jeans that didn't bifurcate into legs until about the level of the knees. He didn't even bother to look up when I entered the room but just kept staring at the floor. I sighed internally. Another young punk, I thought, not brought up with proper manners and certainly not prepared for fatherhood.

I told them the baby was fine and congratulated them, telling them the usual happy spiel about a normal newborn. The grandmother inquired about the mother, who was still on the C-section table, while the father remained uncommunicative, almost on the verge of seeming impolite. But then I noticed something wet drip off his cheek unto the floor. I looked a little closer and saw that he was crying, and not just crying but weeping profusely. I had taken his lack of eye contact and speech as a sign of impertinence, when in fact he was overwhelmed with emotion by the situation. He was looking at the floor not because he was a jerk, but probably because he was too overcome to do anything else.

Whether his tears and emotion were of concern for his girlfriend and baby, or joy that everything was going to be fine after the minutes of uncertainty, or of a new realization of the responsibility now upon him, I don't know. But I do know that I had judged too quickly. My heart went out to this young man who a few moments before had somewhat disgusted me. It would be a cliche but true to say that it reminded me I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Maybe the lesson isn't quite so broad but just that, hey, punks have feelings too.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


When the bearded lady walked into the NICU, I knew it was time to start blogging again.

Her baby wasn't very sick, just premature enough to require an IV for a few days. I was speaking to her at the baby's bedside about two days after delivery, telling her that her baby was doing well and wouldn't need the IV for more than another day or two. The mother nodded and smiled, seemingly appreciatively. Then she said to me, "I'm going home today." She looked searchingly at me, until I figured out that she was really asking whether her baby could go home today, too. I told her that no, her baby still needed the IV and wasn't quite ready for discharge. She began crying.

I understand that women want to go home with their babies and that it's a hard thing to leave the hospital without your baby. I understand their disappointment and anticipate it, often saying to them "It's hard to go home without your baby, isn't it." But it's still a little puzzling when a baby is born several weeks prematurely, is in the NICU, and has an IV in place, why doesn't it even cross the mother's mind that her baby might not be ready to go home?

I don't think it had anything to do with her beard, which was pretty impressive. It wasn't so long, more like just a two or three day stubble, but it's distribution was so wide, on her cheeks and chin and neck and upper lip, as widely distributed as a man's beard. For some reason, I've seen a lot of facial hair on women the past few years, and it's usually just a moustache or some on the chin, often like sort of a bad goatee. Not so here; this woman was unfortunate enough to have a macho five o'clock shadow.

I don't say this to mock her. I know it can be a real problem, especially if a woman has polycystic ovary syndrome. But it can be pretty striking, and for better or for worse, was the most memorable thing about this mother.