Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eldest, meet St. Valentine

We don't really celebrate Valentine's Day around here. But we do. But we don't.

It's a tricky one (note the 'St.' in the title) for we Jewish types. Do we shun St. Valentine's for having the nod to a Christian saint? Do we laugh at the faux Christian angle and focus on the luuurrve bit? Do we wave the whole thing off as a trumped up excuse for women to recieve expensive gifts and men to sweat about their potential inadequacy as romancers? Or do we accept that especially we staid married folks could use a nudge to remember to appreciate and be loving to our partners?

My approach is to accept the nudge, and laugh at the rest. We hung red paper hearts over the Man's bedside table, and I left a wee decorated tin of his favorite Necco heart candies. And a note. The Man came home apologetically, with a bunch of lilies, explaining that there weren't good quality roses to be had, and did I mind? Of course not, you silly man. Right now, I'd rather spend our disposable (and some not so disposable) cash on repairmen. So I hugged the Man and thanked him, and he found the decorated nightstand and came and kissed me, and the children watched and learned a lesson for the marital future. And I shan't say more.

The Eldest, however, took a different approach.

Coincidentally, the Eldest had arranged to teach his class about blood and hemophilia on Feb 14th, and so off to school we went, armed with red, white and purple balloons (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets), a giant cardboard tube that we'd all painted red (big enough for children to crawl through!) and a big red four piece puzzle, that I'd cut and the Eldest had decorated with different cells and clotting proteins.

We began by teaching the kids about blood. Where it is, how it moves through the body. Here is the Eldest, using a flashlight to show a classmate the blood in his fingers (the light shines through redly).

Then we asked the kids what blood was. Uniformly, they told us that blood was a red liquid, like water. The Eldest had seen blood under a microscope, courtesy of the head hematologist at our Hemophilia Treatment Center. He responded handily to his classmates, using our red blood puzzle to show them that this 'red water' was in fact made of different parts. Below, the Eldest explains about platelets.

The blood puzzle was lots of fun, and the kids tried putting it together repeatedly. But when we pulled out our giant tube (blood vessel) and asked them to repair a hole with our red, white cells and platelets (mylar balloons), they found themselves unable to make a strong clot.

Hm. Maybe a net would help?

I pulled out a net, and we tried wrapping it around the balloon-cells. Yes, this worked better. But how to create a net? Well, said the Eldest delightedly, for this you need factor. And we demonstrated the domino-style factor-to-fibrin net process, and showed them how one missing factor could bring it all to an ominous halt.

Wide eyed, the kids took it in. They tried out the domino-process over and over, and peppered us with questions. The idea that blood parts work as a team, that factor proteins work as a team, was all very clear to them. Of course! said the kindergartners. Sometimes it takes a group to get a job done.

But when you are missing one of the group members? What then? The children stopped, and thought hard. This was worrying. This was disturbing. They looked to the Eldest for answers, and he showed them what we do. Pausing first, of course, while I lectured them on why nobody but experts should poke people with needles. I pointed at the beloved home care nurse who'd trained me (and held my hand, listened to me wail, hugged me and, and, and), and sternly informed the children that she had to say that you were ready to use a needle. And then I used one.
Nobody but the wriggling Eldest cared that I blew the vein, they were too busy asking questions.
  • Is that why you always have those bandaids on your arms?

  • Why does your body know how to make all of the other factors, but not this one?

  • Does it hurt when you get the medicine?

  • I got a needle poked in me by the doctor when I had my checkup! Why is your mom doing this to you?

  • How many factors are there in the world? There's six billion people...said the wee mathematician.
And on and on. The Eldest shone with delight, wriggled with glee and happily answered questions. At one point, he solemnly paused, informed the questioner that 'you've asked a very good question. I don't know the answer, though,' he admitted calmly. 'Mum, d'you know....?' As it happened, I did. Questions came from all sides, excepting one. The Eldest, noting that nobody had asked, informed them regardless. You can't catch it, he said, you have to be born with hemophilia. His classmates, awed, nodded solemnly.

We left the blood puzzle for the children to use, and I took my leave. By the end of the day, requests had filtered in for the Eldest to repeat his performance for some of the upper grades. He kindly agreed.

My take on this? Well, where hemophilia was concerned, I'd had hopes that the Eldest would be able to fly under the radar. And had his prophylaxis been more effective, he would have. But it didn't work out that way, and so here we are. My father was strongly opposed to letting the Eldest teach his friends about hemophilia, worrying that it will mark him as different. Will the children accept this difference? Will they have empathy? I thought so, but wondered whether the hemo/blood presentation would highlight this difference in a good way.

This is fascinating.
Found through Cameron, who has this to say on the subject of empathy. I'm of the opinion that empathy is modeled and innate. Children are by nature self-centred, but not necessarily exclusively so. And when difference is presented (and modeled) as non-threatening, a culture of acceptance is one in which even the most ordinary kid can thrive.

But maybe I have to think that.


purple_kangaroo said...

You must be so incredibly proud of your son. It sounds like he did a great job. I wish he could come and teach my kids about blood and hemophilia.

Exblick said...

Great job! And, although I appreciate Grandpa's concerns, our boys ARE different...just like every other kid they come across. I feel like my boys need to embrace their difference so that others will embrace them as well. Like you, it's been important for me to teach my children compassion and tolerance all along hoping that they will be treated the same. But the bottom line with educating peers was more about my own boys feeling empowered and in control than about what the other kids thought. You know? You've done this at a young age with his peers and I'm sure that you'll see the fascination and curiosity wear off among the eldest's peers and he'll slip back in to anonymity! Yeah, right! :) I'm proud of you guys.

dykewife said...

wow! congratulate the eldest on his form and composure at doing a public presentation. i know many adults who would quake at the mere mention of it.

what you and your son have done is made the difference a non-difference. by informing the class about hemophilia they can understand why there are times when he can do everything and times when he can't. you've normalized it.

mama o' the matrices said...

kanga, if you are ever in the area, I'm sure he'd be happy to offer a repeat performance! Turns out that, for a little Jewish kid, the Eldest is quite a ham.

dw and exblick, yes. I think you are right - tackle the truth and it becomes normative. Hide the truth or obfuscate and it becomes something fascinating. The Eldest will never be quite normal, but who is?

And oh, but I *am* proud. Tomorrow we go for pharmacokinetics (studying how the Eldest's body uses his clotting meds over time), and we're bringing a CD of photos. Time to let the kid show off!

joy said...

Kids already know they are different. They feel different all the time. Kids are not adults and adults are the cultural norm. Since at the most basic level, they've already figured that out from their first autonomous "NO!", our job as parents is to conquer the idea that there should be one sort of norm, and to see other ways of living with empathy. INMO, our parents' generation was a little off in that regard (blah blah the Differing Waves of Feminism, etc.). They had it more right than the grandparents' generational mantra of Assimilate At All Costs, but we've got more work to do.

Before this becomes quite the rant, I'll end now. I hope Eldest will take his show on the road. He's clearly got the gift. And I'm very proud of him along with you.

jgfellow said...

I'm still focusing on your preference of Handyman over Roses. This doesn't have anything to do with lighting, does it?

Anonymous said...

Oh I am so proud of eldest teaching his peers about hemophilia! He's so smart!!!!!!!

Yes, I'm beaming with pride again!!!!!!


Soon he'll be teaching doctors!

mama o' the matrices said...

jg, love - roses are nice. A working faucet is better.

joy, yes! That must be why the light switches are so high on the walls.

and lois, I'm beaming along with ya. I'm the one blowing her nose loudly, and not trying to whisper when i say, 'that one! that's MY kid!'