Why I listen for ‘remember when’

An everyday walk turned into a ‘remember when’.

You guys, this parenting thing is HARD. It’s hard even on the best of days – when you’re well rested, well fed, and emotionally content. On the less than great days it can feel so defeating. My admitting that it’s hard doesn’t take away from any of the joyful parts – and we know there are many – it also won’t make it any less hard, but hopefully it can make you feel less alone.

Among the many things that make parenting hard, the one that is a huge struggle for me is balance. How do I balance my kids needs and desires against my own? They don’t always live in opposition but they occasionally do. If I feel like I need 60 minutes to myself in my room, how does that balance my child’s need to have me sitting next to him while he builds legos or his desire to have me play catch?

I don’t feel like every waking moment my child and I are together we have to be engaged. Similarly it isn’t fair to him if in all of our time together my phone is in my hand. (Y’all I’m trying to break the habit, I really am!) Before I became a parent I had strong beliefs about things like screen time, beliefs that in my current reality are just unreasonable and in past realities were plain laughable. A single parent in school full-time? Let’s be real, my child was lucky to be fed and read to – ok it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t good either. We’ve recently entered a new season of life, one that’s a little more relaxed, a little more peaceful.So now I am in the process of examining our day to day.

It’s not that I’m hoping to increase the quantity of time AJ and I spend together necessarily, but I do want more quality time. I’m looking at our interactions and asking, how can I up the quality of them. I have had so many ideas swirling around in my head – a well thought out pinterest activity perfect for instagramming everyday? YES!… no.. I have so much respect for parents who pull these things off but it isn’t me. By the time I’ve compiled the list of things we’d have to find or buy to accomplish the pinterest worthy activity — I’m already bored and burnt out. When I sat and really thought about the few times I’ve actually managed to get an activity to the kitchen table, AJ and I have had fun. But it’s never been an activity that gets talked about months later.

Speaking of activities that get talked about later, when I really stopped and listened to AJ and the memories he brings up later on – you guys it’s so simple:

“Remember that time we made our own pizzas together?”

“Remember when we went on a walk to the shopping place and I jumped off that ledge?”

“Remember when I helped with the laundry and we played that game where I was the king?”

“Remember that time we watched a movie and we made the fancy popcorn and s’mores together?”


AJ making pizza for dinner.

So many of his favorite memories have come from the times I’ve simply made more of an effort to include him in the activities I would be doing anyway. Maybe you can relate, but if I’m able to cross of the things on my to do list, I’m more relaxed and happy spending time together. What I hadn’t realized however, is that like all kids AJ also gets boosts to his self-worth when he feels like he’s contributing to the household – and let’s face it, I have not figured out a sustainable way to manage chores. The past week I’ve made more of an effort to ask AJ if he wants to help while I do [insert mundane chore here] and sometimes he says “no” but sometimes he says “yes” and maybe it takes an extra five minutes to accomplish an activity but it is so much more fun when we do it together and I love that we’re creating new “Remember whens.”

I truly believe if I hadn’t noticed and started listening for the “Remembers” coming out of AJ’s mouth I’d still be in the kitchen cooking by myself. Stewing in guilty feelings that I wasn’t at the table creating indoor sand castles with a nine year old who would quite frankly rather be rowing himself down the alley with a skateboard and a stick.


I’m a statistic

As many districts in Oklahoma are in their second week of teacher walkouts I thought I’d share a post I originally shared on my Facebook:


In 2003 it was estimated in a study that 40% of teachers quit before their sixth year. Another comprehensive study that began in 2007 and finished in 2012 calculated that percentage to be closer to 17%. While that is a less frightening number, it is still a very large percentage. A percentage I am a part of.

From my new desk job in a different city in a different state, I watch and support the efforts of my friends, old coworkers, past students and their families to change the reality that is a failing school system in Oklahoma.

In the same study as above it was discovered that 97% of first year teachers earning at least 40k returned compared to only 87% of those earning less than 40k. As things stand in one of the largest districts in Oklahoma a teacher is not scheduled to earn over $40,000 until her 17th year of teaching.

The raise matters, it does. As a single parent earning that little, I felt I could not provide for my child. In less than a year I have doubled my salary. The raise matters, BUT it is NOT about the raise.

I wasn’t called to teach, I loved parts of it it will always be a part of who I am and I’m grateful for the lessons my students taught me and for the love we shared.

If I felt I was called to teach, I might still be there. My last principal was amazing, supportive, and understanding. My coworkers optimistic, determined, and positive. Yet everyday I walked out of the classroom feeling like a failure. I could not provide what I felt my active and playful five year old students deserved in a mobile building, a shoebox sized classroom without any storage, and classroom supplies and enrichment materials coming out of my own meager earnings.

I saw a sign from the coverage of the Oklahoma teacher walkouts that said: Teacher working conditions ARE student learning conditions.

Yes it was easy to be frustrated that to use a bathroom I had to cross a parking lot. Yes it was easy to complain about not having time to clean and set up my room while my students had art or music because those teachers had to use the room since we didn’t have enough rooms for them. Yes I could talk about how much easier recess would be to monitor with a playground. It’s easy to talk about these things and say “but I love it” or “it’s worth it”. It’s much harder to say, “this is the best we can do for our students, and IT. IS. NOT. ENOUGH.”

Yes, I am no longer teaching because I wanted to send my kid to summer camp at the museum, because I wanted to be financially able to travel, because I wanted to be financially independent from my own parents. I wanted to be respected for the service I was providing, the hours and investment I put in. BUT I am one of the 17% because I couldn’t handle the emotional stress of our students’ circumstances for another day.

I support the teachers in Oklahoma demanding better for themselves, their families, their schools, and their students. You got this!


This too shall pass…

AJ asleep on mat in master bedroom

My son, now nine, came to live with me when he was five. Well beyond the newborn middle of the night wake up calls. In many ways at age five we were beyond many of the parenting stages that are frequently talked about: sleep deprivation, terrible twos, potty training, etc. Sure we’ve gone through many different iterations of our relationship since that day in April almost exactly four years ago that we became family. But I was unique in that, as a mid-twenty year old with a young child I’d never experienced consecutive nights of disrupted sleep.

Until a few months ago.

My now nine year son suddenly became incapable of sleeping through the night in his own room. When AJ first came to live with me we struggled immensely with going to sleep. Many phone calls to my mom (she even wrote us Alec and the Sandman to help!) and internet searches later, but most importantly with time to develop a consistent bedtime routine, we had slayed:

    The ‘I can’t fall asleep’ beast,

    The ‘I’m not tired’ beast,

    The ‘suddenly hungry despite turning down all snacks ten minutes ago’ beast,

    The ‘just one more book’ beast,

    The ‘I have to go to the bathroom again’ beast,

    And my favorite: the ‘I just miss you when I’m asleep’ beast.

But throughout all of this, once the boy was asleep he was asleep for 10-12 blissfully quiet and calm hours.

The first few time AJ woke in the middle of the night, I was calm, I didn’t hit the panic button. I just walked him back to his room and sat with him until he fell back asleep. I did this, again and again and again, multiple times a night, night after night. I became a zombie – I lost my patience and I hit the panic button. The internet had fewer suggestions for this problem than it did when he was five. The suggestions I did find mostly boiled down to routine – which we had faithfully maintained for years. I was out of ideas, so I did what I always do when I’m stuck – I called my mom.

Her advice was to roll back the panic, to survive within it. This was a phase she said, it too will pass. In the meantime find a temporary solution that makes you both happy and healthy.

Empty mat in bedroom

Enter the camping mat. For over two months this camping mat has lived in a corner of my room waiting. And for a little over a month and a half I woke up in the morning looked over and saw my little man snoozing next to me. Sure I worried throughout this time: can he possibly be getting quality sleep? is he warm enough down there? IS THIS GOING TO GO ON FOREVER? Well he never once complained about being cold or uncomfortable – he is 9 and not 29 I suppose. And low and behold about two weeks ago it stopped as quickly as it started. It has been two weeks of waking up to an empty mat and I’m ready to pack it away, it seems it’s need is gone – but if I’m wrong I won’t hesitate to bring it back. It won’t be forever, it’s just a phase and it won’t last.

I’m grateful to have had this experience and the reminder that sometimes there isn’t a true solution to a problem. Sometimes you have to look at things differently. This wasn’t a problem to solve; it was a phase in our lives to accommodate and find peace within. And believe it or not I already kind of miss this phase like all the others behind us – even if only a little bit.


Introducing… ME!

kelly and aj sitting in the grass
Kelly and AJ

Hey there! This is Lana unicorn, aka Kelly – the youngest daughter of Dr. Wanda Venters. I just wanted to do a quick little introduction as you might be seeing me around the blog and on some of the social medias in the future.

While I will leave the more educational pieces to my mom, I hope to write some fun and insightful posts about my experiences as a mom. I was a preschool and kindergarten teacher for 3.5 years where I met my now adopted 9 year old son AJ. “Alec and the Sandman” is based off AJ and me and, of course, our four legged family member Waldo. A little over a year ago I decided to change careers and become a computer programmer — so if you notice some web changes coming up that’s probably me too!

I love The Unicorn Stories. They are still a favorite bedtime read and have helped both myself and my son tremendously. The online parenting community is so special and I can’t wait to have a space to contribute. I look forward to sharing this parenting journey with you!



Guns and Safety

I grew up on twenty acres and there was usually a loaded shotgun in the corner for crows and coyotes. My dad kept a handgun in his desk. My seventy-year-old grandmother kept a loaded handgun under her car seat—as I discovered once by braking sharply while driving her around. Even as a young adult, I thought this “protection” seemed dangerous. As an adult, I found the statistics on the risk of guns to the people who owned them fairly convincing and I have never wanted one.

The family I grew up in was lucky not to have suffered a firearm accident.. I know countless stories of friends and patients who were not as lucky. When I visited my parents’ home with my children, I would gather up the guns and put them high in the closet.

My position on guns is that the second amendment does grant people the right to bear arms but this right is not unlimited. Most people will agree that a person does not have the right to keep grenades or missiles. There are limits to the weapons a person can own. Then the question is what are those limits and when does safety for society as a whole take precedence over personal rights.

At this point in America, gun violence is a definite public health risk and as a society we need to improve our current limits. I hate that I feared for my daughter’s safety as she became a teacher. I hate that going to high school or a high school sporting event makes me nervous in terms of a possible shooting. All the metal detectors in the world aren’t going to make a football game or school parking lot or an open air concert safe.

When I was growing up our school drill was to duck under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. Of course this seemed ridiculous even then as means of preventing injury. Now children from preschool up know that danger can easily be outside their classroom door or around the corner.  My children got nightmares from fire drills. I can’t imagine the nights after “Active Shooter” drills.

I stand with #NeverAgain for sensible gun laws.


That Gut Feeling

We have all heard that phrase. But what does it mean? New medical information tells us that there is constant communication between our guts and our brains. We have all felt “butterflies” in our stomachs when we are nervous. How our gut feels often influences how we feel or perceive situations. How anxious we feel often effects how our stomach feels.

Many children, especially between the ages of 4 and 10 years, have recurrent abdominal pain. This pain rarely has a serious source or cause. But the children’s stomachs hurt and the pain makes them anxious. Also their anxiety makes their stomach hurt. As pediatricians we often do some preliminary screening tests to rule out disease but if those tests are normal and the child is growing well with normal stools then the next step is to try to decrease the anxiety in our patients. We can reassure the family and child that there is no serious illness going on. Which when you stop and think about it, is really good news. Most children will have the stomachaches off and on and the treatment will be to stay in school, use a benign medicine such as Tums and know that the pain will pass.

Making sure that your child is not constipated can help limit their pain. They should have a bowel movement at least every other day if not daily. Miralax or mineral oil and stool softeners can help achieve this stooling pattern. The family can pay attention to any foods that trigger a stomachache. Many children become lactose intolerant at these ages and will do better with cheese and yogurt, foods in which most of the lactose is broken down, than with milk. Many high fructose foods and candies can trigger stomachaches. These are chewy candies or fruit roll ups. In my house licorice was often the trigger.

While it is important to understand that we should take care of our gut it is also important not to obsess about everything we eat. There is new information that extreme diets or even restrictions of normal foods, i.e. gluten when the child does not have celiac, can harm our health.

Probiotics and meditation and other relaxation techniques can be helpful. Sometimes just practicing taking a few slow deep breaths can be soothing.

If there are many stressors in a child’s life or if the abdominal pain worsens, professional counseling can be helpful.

The main point is to listen to our guts, respect our guts, but do not worry too much about pain in an otherwise healthy person. A great 15 min TED talk about the gut can be found at the following link:




Black and White

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

jon jackson smore 2croppable

Last weekend my eight-year-old grandson stayed with me—our first weekend without mom in a long time. I sat next to him while he fell asleep. Adults know that there is really nothing more peaceful than watching a child sleeping. I think of the times I watched my son sleep like this. And I think of the different lives these two people will have. How different the world will see these two young men. My grandson is a person of “color”. But really so are all of us—my color is just fairer. And with that lighter color the world grants me more privileges. I’m not assumed to be wrong or causing trouble or dangerous. My son was given the benefit of the doubt. My grandson will not start with that assumption.

Police and security people often question famous black men. Just ask Trevor Noah or James Blake, a tennis star who was tackled and arrested in a hotel. All people aren’t given the same presumption of innocence.

One day when my grandson first started living with us he turned to his aunt and said, “I use to be black.” At that time he was still trying to figure out who was white and who was black. He didn’t see the world divided up. I wonder how I will help my grandson carefully navigate this world. At 5 he couldn’t really see the difference in our colors. Now at 8, he is sometimes painfully aware that he is black first, an adorable child second.


Back to School

As fall approaches, whether we have kids or grandkids or nieces or nephews we all think of this time as “back to school”. It is in our advertisements. It is on the news. It shapes our sports viewing. This seasonal change has become insinuated into our bones.

Parents are bustling around getting young children situated in their classroom and outfitted with the all the their supplies. There is the parenting angst of getting older children through postsecondary stages—college, first jobs, vocational schools.

At this time we are often reliving both our successes and failures in our own transitions. I think it is important to remember that this is not our chance to relive our lives. These stages do belong to our children. In his “Parenting with Dignity” Max Bledsoe states that at age 2, we are making 80% of the choices for our child (not 100% as some people feel). By age 16 that is ratio is reversed and we are making only 20% of the choices. By age 18, we are not really in charge. This independence is tough for parents and for children. They often come into my office at age 18 not knowing what medicines they take or key points of their health history. This transition happens over time but also happens abruptly. After age18, we can’t share information with parents without written consent from our patient. Colleges cannot share grades with parents without permission.

As your child goes from 2 to 18, stop and think about preparing them for their independence. Give them appropriate choices and let them live with the consequences of their actions. Congratulate their successes. Commiserate with their failures. Their success and happiness is wrapped tightly around our hearts but don’t burden them with our angst or confuse ourselves on whose life is it anyway.


The Power of Words

What we say to people stays in their heads. When I was a little girl my older brother constantly teased me and said that I was fat. I was convinced I was fat. When I looked at my childhood pictures as an adult, I was surprised to find I was always lean. When I asked my mother why she didn’t stop my brother, she was surprised to learn that I thought I was fat and was mad that she hadn’t told me that I wasn’t. To her, it was such an obvious untruth that there was no way I thought I was fat. But I believed my older brother…

Words are very powerful. The way we talk to our children or about our children influences what they think about themselves. When parents tell me their child is stubborn, I say, “Let’s call them persistent.” Let’s encourage them to use their strengths to succeed—even if they can’t change our minds this time.

Stop and think about the last time someone criticized you or hurt your feelings. Did you later learn that they were right or wrong?

The hardest job as a parent is to focus on when our children are succeeding; to use encouraging words for their struggles; and to listen to their fears or misconceptions and to help them see things more clearly.


New Dog Training:

I’ve become fascinated by how much dog training has changed in the last 40 years. That is the last time that I did serious dog training—including taking my miniature poodles up to Championship status in Obedience Competitions.

Fifteen years ago I trained my standard poodles—and after 14 years, finally got them to walk without pulling me off my feet by using a constant treat technique of giving them a treat more or less every 10 feet—I call it the Pez technique. This latter technique of almost persistent rewards and positive interaction is the new way of training dogs.

This year, I was given a crash course in positive interaction when I took my Labra doodles to class. The most notable changes in the class were not the dogs, but the approach to training. No longer was “jerk (on their collar) and release (the negative tension)” considered the best training method.

We used praise and treats to motivate our dogs to learn and man, did it motivate them.

When I started pediatrics 30 year ago the new approach to child rearing was logical and natural consequences with lots of “time-in”. Positive parenting concentrated on what your child was doing right and redirected them when they needed to substitute a bad behavior for a good one. This system was in contrast to the old approach of “spoil the rod and spare the child”. The acceptance of an approach to positive discipline for children has been much slower than that of dog trainers. We still hear the concept of what is wrong with children is that they are never told “no” or given a spanking.

We are told that we need to scare juvenile delinquents “straight”. But research has repeatedly shown the children who misbehave the most have been treated poorly—spanked or yelled out. Most juvenile delinquents have been subjected to abuse and neglect not coddling–not taught the logical consequences of their actions, nor shown a more positive approach to living.

Both children and dogs need discipline—but effective discipline is consistent and loving and involves teaching better behaviors. Limit setting such as time-outs or loss of privileges works if those disciplines make sense. When a child is being aggressive or destructive they need to sit by themselves and calm down. When a child can’t remember to wear their bike helmet, they need to loose the use of their bike for a defined period of time-a few days or so until they again get the opportunity to make a better choice.

Modeling good decisions and behaviors is the best way to teach your child or “be the person you want your child to be.”