Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dr. Oz Scares Parents for No Good Reason

Dr. Oz has given worried parents yet another thing to freak out about. According to a recent episode of his daytime talk show, the apple juice our children have been innocently chugging from sippy cups is contaminated with a really scary poison: arsenic. The show's audience was horrified, angry, and above all, guilty that they had been unknowingly poisoning their children for years. And now everyone's talking about it, causing even reasonable parents to cast a suspicious eye at the jug of apple juice in their own fridge.

But if you take a big step back and evaluate what Dr. Oz actually said, you'll find that this is a completely manufactured panic. I won't go through step-by-step debunking, as many other bloggers have already beaten me to it, explaining it more clearly than I would have been able to. But I will sum up why this arsenic scare is bullshit in the following three points: 1) Dr. Oz made no distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic, the latter of which is far more deadly and less common than the former. 2) The lab Dr. Oz used reported an arsenic level that was much higher than that found by the labs of both the manufacturer and the FDA. Despite the discrepancy, he did not have the same batches of juice re-tested by an independent lab. 3) The FDA practically begged him not to go ahead with his planned show, going so far as to call it "irresponsible and misleading." But Dr. Oz, Brave Maverick Doctor that he is, did it anyway.

Evidence and professional consensus isn't enough to convince Dr. Oz, and it isn't enough to un-scare his audience. The comment threads of articles about his claim are filled with conspiracy theories and paranoia. What is arsenic doing in anything we eat or drink? How can any amount of poison be safe? They conjure up images of the jackbooted FDA thugs, spewing propaganda to the sheeple so they can keep raking in that Big Orchard money while reducing the world's population through a contaminated food supply. They imagine sinister, faceless men in lab coats tipping a bottle marked Arsenic (with a skull and crossbones on the label, for dramatic effect) over an industrial sized vat of processed apple juice, the better to intentionally poison the children of America.

In reality, arsenic is one of the most ubiquitous elements on the planet, meaning it is everywhere. A lot of it comes from the earth's crust and is released through volcanoes and deep water wells. It's also in rocks, dirt, water, wind, and is the byproduct of microbes in soil and sediment. Humans also contribute quite a bit of arsenic to the atmosphere, mainly through mining, metal smelting, burning of fossil fuels, and preservation of timber. It finds its way into the food chain through the soil and water used to grow crops (and orchards). Make no mistake, too much arsenic can definitely kill you, and efforts should be made to keep its presence in our food chain and atmosphere to a minimum. But getting rid of it altogether is impossible. That's why there are limits in place to ensure arsenic stays below acceptable levels. Believe it or not, the FDA (which is composed of real people, all of whom are members of families that contain children, who probably also drink juice) has our back on this one. If any other lab besides the one Dr. Oz used had measured alarmingly high levels of arsenic, they would have been all over it.

The world is full of poisons, both man-made and natural, but freaking out over trace amounts in apple juice is a waste of time and energy. Despite our frantic attempts to keep them safe, our kids are not going to live forever. They are lucky to have been born into a time and place when surviving childhood is taken for granted, and growing old in good health is the norm rather than the exception. They are also profoundly lucky to have fresh, sweet, cold apple juice readily available to nourish them and quench their thirst. Please don't deny them that pleasure based on one TV doctor's attempt to increase ratings. On this subject, as on so many others, Dr. Oz  full of crap.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Terrible Twos, Terrible Moms

I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts, but my summer was surprisingly busy. For the first time ever, I got a short story published in a literary magazine, and just a couple of months after that, the same story won first place in a writing contest sponsored by my hometown's arts/culture newspaper. This means my parents, friends, and former teachers all get to read it. Finally getting published after years of feeling like a phony has felt good, to say the least, and it has given me the kick in the pants I needed to make some serious progress on the novel I've been a slave to since 2006. The downside of all this acknowledgement of my "real" writing is that it's left me with little time and energy for working on this blog.

There's also been another problem keeping me from getting anything done outside of nap time:  Han has entered the terrible twos, with a vengeance. Voices are raised, objects are thrown, and unreasonable demands are made. And not just by Han; I can be pretty terrible, too. I find myself on the verge of full-blown rage way more often than I would like and the stress is eating away at my insides (thank FSM for Pepcid). Now, I was a preschool teacher for quite a bit of my twenties, and I have plenty of skills and techniques for acknowledging his feelings and correcting his behavior. I've dealt with kids who were far, far worse (including one who I'm pretty sure was a sociopath) and have rarely been goaded into losing my cool. But it's different when it's your own flesh and blood. It feels more personal somehow. The one you love most in all the universe, the sun around which your planet orbits, is being a complete and total asshole to you. That hurts.

I did a cursory internet search for "terrible twos" to see if I could find any reasonable advice for how to help me get through this developmental period. After all, I'm a person too, and being abused constantly is aggravating and demoralizing. How do parents cope with the shitty behavior without feeling shitty themselves? Unfortunately, my search only yielded information that focused on the child's feelings and behavior. Don't get me wrong; this is important information that a lot of parents may not know, particularly if they were raised in a "traditional" household. Any strategy that minimizes physical punishment and enhances a child's understanding of right and wrong can only be a good thing. But it would be nice if we parents could acknowledge how crazy our kids can make us without feeling like we've failed at something.

Most of the Supermom types, the ones who make the rest of us feel like failures whenever possible, seem to use a strategy of phoniness and repression, at least if this blog post, Terrible Two's? Not!, is any indication. This mother emphasizes being "polite" when your two-year-old starts acting up. For example, if her little snowflake doesn't want to share, this mother-of-the-year would say: "It's hard to share, isn't it? You want to keep the toy all to yourself. Do you see how sad Anna is that she can't play with it too though? Do you think you could both use it so you could both be happy?" Do you know what her child hears? I do: "Blah blah blah? Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah? Blah?" Or maybe just that muted trumpet noise from Charlie Brown TV specials, the one that stands in for all grownup speech. The point is, this lady's talking to herself. This sort of lecture is far more likely to have an effect on any adults watching than on an irrational, possessive two-year-old.

Another example this bastion of motherhood uses is her kid throwing a fit in the checkout aisle because she wants candy. Once again, this saint among mere mortals knows exactly what to say to diffuse her little angel's wrath: "I know that looked like neat candy, but now we're going to be having supper and do you know what we're having for dessert? Ice cream!" or "I know you wanted that but we're not going to buy candy today. I think pretty soon we're going to be passing the fishies though! Do you want to see the fishies? Yeah?! Which colors are your favorites?!" Sorry, but no way, lady. I'm calling bullshit. I've been dealing with a similar issue every time I go to Target and we pass the toy aisle. When Han sees the awesome shit that he could be playing with, he loses his mind. He starts trying to lunge from the cart, and when that doesn't work, he flings his pacifier and Bevo (his stinky little lovey companion) onto the floor and shrieks his lungs out. Not cool. I could waste a lot of breath explaining how, "We don't always have to buy a toy here and I know we did last time but this time we just made a mortgage payment and we have to stick to the budget and hey, you want me to get you some ice cream later, huh? Do ya?"  Or I could just pick up his Bevo and paci and keep walking. When he stops for breath I say firmly, "It is not okay to scream in Target." Then I hand him his shit back and he shuts the hell up. His little freakout gained him nothing.

People always watch these little interactions, I've noticed, ready to judge mommy's actions and respond with either a brisk nod of approval or a condemning shake of the head (often with some pursed lip action). You know whose opinions I don't give a shit about? That's right, those people's. Because ultimately, Han and I are the ones who are going to have to live with the parenting choices I make, and the pressure is huge enough without everyone judging my performance against how they think I ought to be acting. I think if we could acknowledge how the terrible twos make us parents feel, and how close our children can push us to the edge of sanity, it might be little easier to keep our cool, to make the right decisions and vent the anger appropriately (like maybe talking to each other about it) instead of pushing it down into a hard little ball somewhere deep inside.