Thursday, May 26, 2011

Social studies test

My eight year old daughter told us that she had a social studies exam yesterday and got an 82 on it. My husband's response: "excellent, nice job." And mine: "82? That's good but what questions did you get wrong?" To which the husband said "that's terrible! don't say that to her."

Who knew we disagreed so sharply on child-rearing? And I am not criticizing my husband; he is one of the most loving, involved daddies there could be. But we have a different approach. Complete positive reinforcement versus limiting positive reinforcement where the child doesn't perform as well as you would hope.

This conflict made me think of Amy Chua, the Chinese Mother who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She wrote about how Chinese mothers are tough and focused on achievement. She does not let her children have fun until all work is done. And work must be done perfectly. There is no positive reinforcement for imperfect performance and grades less than A.

That seems rather extreme. And it is sure to lead to some very unhappy childhood memories. On the other hand, we have to encourage kids to set high goals for themselves if they're going to do well in life. So I'm trying to figure out how to do that, without being the drill sergeant in the house.

So back to the social studies test. Emily brought it home and we looked at it with her. It turns out that the questions she got wrong were questions that she knew how to answer once she focused on them. By trying to finish the test quickly, she made mistakes and was careless. I think that she was confident, once we reviewed the test, that she knew the answers to the other 18%.

I think that it is perfectly fine to respond to an 82 score with the message that "it is good but you can do better." I want my kids to be ambitious and have goals that are heard to reach, but also to have the confidence that they can reach them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Memory. It's a wonderful thing.

There is a strong relationship between chemotherapy and short-term memory loss. The term 'chemo brain' is already part of common lingo. An article in the New York Times from April 29, 2007 discussed the reality of chemo brain. The article said that: "Virtually all cancer survivors who have had toxic treatments like chemotherapy experience short-term memory loss and difficulty concentrating during and shortly afterward, experts say."

Fortunately, the words "during and shortly afterward" indicate that the problem could be resolved in a short period for most people.

In the meantime, memory loss is becoming all too frequent in the life of this breast cancer survivor. For the joy of sharing, let me provide some examples. I have no shame.

First sign of memory loss appears to be leaving the car door open. Yesterday, I left my passenger side door wide open in a public parking lot while I went into work, after opening it to retrieve files. Not unlocked, wide open. Somehow between the act of opening the passenger side door, grabbing the files, and walking to my office, I forgot to turn around and push the door closed. I discovered the open door three hours later as I went out to lunch.

Two weeks ago, I left my driver's side door wide open when I went into the Thruway Supermarket in a dicey neighborhood. Again, not unlocked, but wide open, inviting the world in. My stomach dropped when I came back out with a cartload of groceries. I thought someone had broken in, certainly intending to steal my overpriced racing bike, which was laying unlocked on the folded back seats, beckoning thieves for a free ride. My stomach dropped again when I saw the bicycle laying on the seats, untouched, as the reality of situation hit me. Apparently, the thrill of purchasing groceries caused some cerebral interruption.

Losing things also seems like a clear example of memory loss. I have no memory of placing my brother's check (we were splitting a gift) or my ipod in my suit jacket. Yet they were hopelessly lost for a week, leading me to scour ebay for the cost of another ipod and suggesting to my brother that he cancel the check. Fortunately before any steps toward replacement were taken, both the check and the ipod tumbled out of the pocket while I was getting dressed for work. Did I even wear that jacket last week? I have no idea.

These lapses of memory and judgment, and possibly good solid common sense, are, alarming. I feel like an Alzheimer's victim who is constantly surprised to come across evidence of having engaged in erratic behavior.

Apparently, short-term memory loss that many people seem to suffer could be attributed both to high dose chemotherapy and to estrogen loss from premature menopause or estrogen suppressors that breast cancer patients often take after chemotherapy ends. Either way, it is a phenomena that is reportedly universal. It is worth looking into a little further and asking the oncologist how to prevent or deal with weekly memory lapses. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to ask her.