A Mom’s Guide: Enjoying Winter in Upstate NY

I’ve recently dragged my family on a multitude of wintery adventures. Winter in upstate New York is frigid, endless and very snowy. I wanted to find ways to enjoy this time of year, not loathe it!

All of our adventures revolved (mostly) around getting outside and moving. I’m happy to report that all of our escapades were (mostly) successful at getting us to enjoy the frozen tundra of upstate New York!

Favorite winter hike

We’ve embarked on several hikes at the historic Fort Hill at Ganondagan in Victor, Ontario County.

Fort Hill at Ganondagan

On the hikes, my boys love to run ahead and sneak behind trees, trying to scare us once my husband and I catch up to them.

Setting out on one of our hikes.

On a hike during an unusually warm Saturday in January, we hiked all the way from Fort Hill to Dryer Road Park! It took us at least 30 minutes, but the reward of the playground at Dryer Road kept them going.

My youngest, spotting the playground at Dryer Road Park.

(Just a warning that dad did have to run back through the trails to fetch the car while the boys played with mom at the playground.)

Where: Fort Hill at Ganondogan is off County Road 41 in Victor

What to know: Watch out for the mountain bikers! The Ganondogan trails intersect with the Dryer Road trails. The latter is known for its mountain biking.

For more information: https://parks.ny.gov/historic-sites/attachments/GanondaganTrailMap.pdf

Learning to ski

My husband is the only pro skier amongst us. Dreaming of weekends spent skiing as a family, I signed my oldest son and me up for lessons at Powder Mills Park, in Pittsford, Monroe County. Swain Ski Resort and Monroe County Parks teamed up to bring downhill skiing at that park, which has a gradual hill that’s perfect for beginners.

My son enrolled in a ski camp at the park during winter break from school. (The park also offers another camp during Presidents’ Week in February.) I also took a one-hour “open group lesson” on a Sunday in January.

My oldest, at the ski camp at Powder Mills Park.

We’re not about to tackle a Black Diamond trail anytime soon. But I’m happy to report that my son and I are A LOT more comfortable on skis and can kinda ski down a hill without falling (too much!).

Where: Powder Mills Park, 154 Park Road in Pittsford

What to know: There’s a tow rope. A dreaded tow rope.

For more information: https://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/parks/Powdermills%20Park%202018%20Trifold.pdf

For more on skiing, read 18 Places to Ski & Snowboard in Upstate New York

Sledding

You’ll need some kind of hill in your yard for this one. But for the second year in a row, my husband has dug a sledding “luge” course around our yard after every major snow. A lot of great outdoor time is spent racing down the course.

What to know: We found that digging out an actual sledding or “luge” course is essential if you want to avoid crashing into things in my yard – like trees, the pool, and the creek.

Hockey

I signed my son up for a beginner skating/hockey class. He hated it. Enough said.

What’s next?

Snowshoeing! I can’t wait to rent or buy snowshoes and take our outdoor adventures to the next level. I’ll make sure to consult When In Snow Country, Snowshoe before taking the plunge.

Get a Flu Shot for Your Grandkid’s Sake!

When I was about to become a grandma for the first time, I did many of the typical things prospective grandparents do.  I bought baby furniture so my new little one would be comfortable in our home, and practiced referring to myself as “Grandma” (I had to get used to my new title). I even bought a new phone with a better camera and more storage for all those photos I knew I would be taking.

Then, I also did something I had never done before:  I got a flu shot.

The author with her grandson.

For years, I had avoided the flu shot. I don’t get the flu and I don’t work in a hospital with vulnerable patients or with the public where I would be exposed to their germs.  I ignored the recommendations that almost everyone should get vaccinated.

Babies: At High Risk For Flu Complications

Then I learned that young children who catch the flu are more likely to get really sick, land in the hospital or even die.  Children are more likely to get the flu. They have a weaker immune system and are often exposed to germs. Babies less than six months old are too young to even get a flu vaccine. During the last flu season in New York state, 1 in 9 children who got the flu was hospitalized and eight children died from getting the flu.

It’s not just young children who are at high risk of getting really sick from the flu. Others at risk include:

  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People with medical conditions including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system

The first step in protecting yourself and others from the flu? Get a flu shot, according to advice from the CDC. The flu shot can keep you from catching the flu. While the effectiveness of the shot can vary from year-to-year, the flu shot may also prevent serious complications from the flu.

Am I Selfish If I Don’t Get A Flu Shot?

I may think that I won’t catch the flu. But there are people, including my grandchild, who could become seriously ill if I passed the flu to them. When you have the flu, you can pass it on to others even before you start to feel sick.

This caused me to think: Am I selfish if I don’t get a flu shot? What kind of a grandma would I be if I didn’t protect my grandchild?

So, I went to my doctor and rolled up my sleeve.

A Check-Up For Future Grandparents

At my doctor visit, I learned that in addition to the flu vaccine, new grandparents should also talk to their doctor about getting other immunizations as well. Vaccines for new grandparents can include:

  • Whooping cough (Tdap) vaccine
  • Shingles vaccine (for adults 60+)
  • Pneumococcal vaccine

Whether you’re a grandparent or parent, caregiver or child, consider getting the shot to protect your loved one from getting seriously sick from the flu this winter.

 

5 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick

Our family’s unfortunate holiday tradition doesn’t revolve around lavish turkey dinners or cheery family togetherness.

‘Tis the season – instead – for retching up meals, dining on popsicles and shivering from fevers while buried under layers of blankets.

For my family, the stomach bug is like an old friend who returns to visit every year for turkey dinner. His Thanksgiving visit starts my family’s cycle of illness that takes us through Christmas and into the New Year.

But this year will be different.

My Resolution: Stop Getting Sick

During the stomach bug’s first Thanksgiving visit, my baby boy thankfully only suffered for a few hours. Mom and Dad, meanwhile, weren’t so lucky.

Whether it’s “the bug” or another illness, the steps to take to avoid getting sick are very obvious. But they’re not always easy to do – especially with kids.

Still, I’m tired of my family getting sick. So here is my game plan for those pesky bugs that typically inflict my family throughout the holiday and winter season.

Tip #1 – Flu Shot For Your Family

If you’re older than 6 months old, consider getting a flu shot. Last year, half of New Yorkers skipped the flu shot, and more than 65,000 people got the flu,  according to data analyzed by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

If you haven’t received your flu vaccination yet, it’s not too late! Talk to your doctor, or click HERE to find a list of clinics. On the fence? Read, Am I Selfish If I Don’t Get A Flu Shot?

Flu shots can be a torturous experience for a little one. Prep your child for that flu shot with Sid the Science Kid:

Here are more tips specific to kids:

  • Encourage your child to bring a favorite toy or comfort item to the appointment.
  • Be a good role model by staying positive and cheerful during the shot.
  • Remind your child (as well as yourself) that the shot is quick and will keep you healthy for a long time.

To be honest, these tips will probably work with my youngest child, but not my oldest. He. Hates. Shots. If you have any other ideas, please (please) share in the comments section below!

Tip #2 – “Catch” That Cough And Sneeze

Cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of your arm (not into your hand!). This will help stop the germs from spreading to the rest of your family. It took me six years, but my eldest is finally doing this (kinda) most of the time. I can’t say the same for my 3-year-old. He’s a work in progress.

If you have a little one who just doesn’t get it, try telling him to “catch” his sneeze or cough in the crook of his arm.

Tip #3 – Stop Sharing That Fork

Don’t share food and eating utensils. As I’m writing this, that tip sounds overly obvious. Clearly, germs are easily spread this way.

But …. I may have a bad habit of sharing a plate of food with my preschooler. He’s not an adventurous foodie when we’re eating out. I usually just share a plate with him, knowing that he’d probably just waste a plate of food if I got him his own.

I may have to put an end to that bad habit!

Tip #4 – the ABCs And more Hand Washing Tips For Kids

Wash your hands – thoroughly. I’m a total #momfail with this one. Kids and adults need to scrub the entirety of their hands thoroughly with soap and wash with warm water. And they need to do this for more than just a few seconds!

Instead, my kids typically splash their hands through the water, maybe entertain the idea of grabbing a droplet of soap, before running on their way.

With my preschooler, I’m hoping this video from Elmo will help:

With my first grader, I plan to annoy him with reminders about singing the ABCs while washing!

Tip #5 – How To Avoid Pink Eye

I’m still scarred by what happened in February 2016. Both boys got sick twice, my husband was bed-ridden for a few days and I caught pink eye – in both eyes.

Avoiding pink eye is like avoiding any other sickness. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, and don’t touch your eyes with unwashed hands.

But what if you’re like me and first get pink eye in one eye, and it then spreads to the other? Here are tips to keep it from spreading:

  • Keep washing those hands! This is especially important before and after applying ointment to your eye.
  • Throw away (cotton balls) or thoroughly wash (washcloths) all the stuff you use to clean the infected eye.
  • Do not use the same eye drops for the infected eye with the healthy one.
  • Keep washing pillowcases, sheets, washcloths and other towels, and keep washing your hands after doing this.

As I write this, my family is off to a bad start to the holiday sickness season. The illnesses started earlier this year, and we’ve already had one bout of pneumonia and several colds. But with some targeted education (ie: nagging), I’m hopeful we’ll have a healthier, happier holiday season.

Battling Lead Poisoning in Herkimer and Oneida Counties

According to area health departments, an alarming percentage of children in Herkimer and Oneida counties are not screened for lead exposure.

Screening, however, is critical since the majority of homes in the area were built prior to 1978. That’s when lead paint was still commonly used. If children are exposed to lead, they’re at risk for major lifelong complications, including behavioral and social issues, learning disabilities and physical and psychiatric health issues.

The good news? A new initiative is providing local healthcare providers with the technology to more easily screen toddlers at ages one and two. This is when it’s most important to identify and address lead exposure. Using grant funds from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Member and Community Health Improvement program and with support from the Lead-Free Mohawk Valley Coalition, Herkimer County HealthNet is distributing lead screening machines to area primary care offices.

Left: Tom Curnow, Executive Director of Herkimer County HealthNet, Inc.; Center: John Murphy of Magellan Diagnostics; and Right: Alison Swartz, Program Coordinator for Herkimer County HealthNet, Inc. with a Lead Care II machine.

Removing Barriers to Lead Testing

The Lead Care II machine provides an almost instant reading of blood lead levels from a finger-stick blood sample. Herkimer Family Nurse Practitioners, a primary care pediatric practice in Herkimer County, received one of the testing machines in early 2017.

“Before we got the machine, testing children at the appropriate age was a challenge,” said Michelle Gorski. Gorski, along with Charlene Macri, owns the practice.

Charlene Macri, co-owner of Herkimer Family Nurse Practitioners, PLLC., demonstrates how the Lead Care II machine is used on a young patient.

Previously, screening rates for their patients were between 70 and 80 percent. This range is not uncommon among practices without on-site testing capabilities.

Transportation issues and work schedules sometimes prevent parents from having their children tested at the lab. In some cases, parents lose their lab slips, or simply forget to get the test done. Now, with the ability to test for lead at a child’s routine checkup, the practice is on track to screen 100% of their patients at ages one and two.

Making Lead Testing Less Scary

Some parents are understandably hesitant to bring their infants to the lab to have their blood drawn at all.

In a lab, a technician usually tries to obtain a blood sample from a tiny vein in the child’s arm. That can be scary and uncomfortable, even for an adult. As a result, Gorski and Macri estimate that more than 25 percent of the children they refer to labs leave without a successful blood draw.

Alternatively, a finger stick in the familiar primary care office environment is much easier and less painful than a regular blood draw.

A Lead Care II machine.

“We’ve actually tried the LeadCare II lances (the instruments used to prick the child’s finger) on ourselves, and you can barely feel it. Most children don’t even cry when they’re poked. Sometimes, we give them a lollipop or a toy to distract them, and it’s fairly easy.”

Consequently, “we have a much higher success rate (for performing the test) and parents are happier,” she said.

Following Up To Find the Cause

The nurses follow up immediately if a child’s lead level is high. They refer the child to a lab or hospital for a regular blood draw. With the added urgency of a high blood-lead level reading, parents are much more likely to make sure they get the test done.

Based on the findings, Gorski and Macri work with the Herkimer County Health Department to provide appropriate recommendations and resources to the child’s family to eliminate or lessen the family’s exposure to lead.

“Testing is especially important where we live because it’s a high lead exposure area. With this technology, we can decrease the risk for developmental delays in children that lead exposure can cause,” Gorski said.

Why Lead Poisoning Is Dangerous

AHealthierUpstate.org interviewed Alison J. Swartz of Herkimer HealthNet Inc. about the dangers of lead poisoning.

How do children become exposed to lead?

Lead-based paint is the biggest concern. When lead-based paint or varnish is disrupted, paint dust or chips can contaminate a room. Opening and closing windows, for example, can disrupt lead-based paint.

There is potential for lead poisoning if a child breathes in the dust or puts a paint chip in their mouth. Other sources of lead exposure can include soil, old tools, lead pipes, antiques, pottery, children’s toys, certain makeup, spices and jewelry. Check the New York State Department of Health link to learn more about lead and safety recalls at www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/lead.

How can I lessen lead exposure?

No amount of lead is safe in a child’s system. Therefore, we urge parents to keep their children away from home repairs. Parents should also talk to their healthcare provider and local health department about proper cleaning methods to avoid lead paint dust exposure. Pregnant women should heed this advice, too.

Why is it so important to detect elevated blood lead levels early?

The earlier that lead in the blood is detected, the quicker the underlying cause can be addressed. By law, children must be tested at age one. Then, children must be tested a second time at age two. It’s important to remove the child from the environment or eliminate the lead source if lead levels are elevated. Other children in the same environment are also at risk for lead exposure and should receive follow-up care.

 

 

 

 

Life after College: How to Ease a Graduate’s Biggest Fear

I’m graduating.

I’ve been saying those words a lot lately…mostly in my head. For the past couple of months, it’s been difficult to wrap my head around that concept. I’ve been a student for the past 16 years; I’m not quite sure I know how to be anything else.

The Fears of a Graduate

Like most college seniors, I’ve gone through the appropriate motions. I’m on the home stretch to graduate, I’m trying not to get a bad case of senioritis and I’m applying for jobs. With a lot of hard work and pleasant persistence, I hope to land a job—but what if I don’t?

Most, if not all 22-year-olds are impatient to hit the ground running with a job related to their college major. We want it and we want it now.

As I fight my impatience to snag my first real job, my family has my back 100 percent of the time. Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t obsess over these questions:

When will I have a job?   Where will it be? What will I be doing? Do I want to live in my hometown or move away? When I get a job, will I be able to have a nice place to live, pay off student loans, afford a car?

“We’ll always be here if you need us”

As I ponder what could happen, I took the direct approach and asked my mom and dad how they’re feeling about another child venturing into the adult world. After all, they’ve raised four children over a span of 36 years—each with their own trials and tribulations after college.

Sophia with her parents.

What my parents said provided me with the confidence needed to take the next step. Susan Morris, my mother, possibly the toughest woman I know, has never doubted her children.

“You kids never worried us. Your dad and I are reminded every day how great you all are” she said.

I’ve always envisioned myself in a big city after college; I’ve made it a point to let my parents know this. Not because I want to get away from my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., but because my parents have raised me to feel confident enough to tackle anything.

“If you want to stay here, that’s great. If you want to move halfway across the world, that’s your decision, but we’ll always be here if you need us,” Mom said.

At this point in the conversation, I had to fight back the tears.

For my dad, Kevin Morris, having his children move away is hard for him to accept. My sister, who is married with two kids, lives on Long Island. One brother lives locally; the other is still in college.

“You say you’ve been a student for 16 years, but we’ve been parents for double that time. We’re never going to stop being your parents,” he said. “As you move onto this chapter of your life, we have to let go and let you take the reins.”

Disappointed? OK. Discouraged? No Way!

From as early as I can remember, my parents have drilled this piece of advice into their children’s heads:

“It is OK to be disappointed—but it’s never OK to be discouraged.”

If the last four years of college taught me anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed. But I’m ready to take the reins. I don’t know if it’s college, or my parents’ confidence in me or life, in general, that’s taught me:

In life, you can work the hardest you’ve ever worked and still not get what you want, but you keep trying anyway. That’s the point.

 

 

Tips for Not Driving Parents Crazy When Home for Winter Break

After reading my recent blog post, “4 Tips for Not Driving Your College Kids Crazy Over Thanksgiving Break”, my parents felt a little “picked on”. So, I thought it was only fair to ask them for their viewpoint from the other side. Between my mom saying it’s impossible to get me up before 10 a.m., and my sister telling me she can never fit herself into my schedule, I realized that there has to be give and take on both sides. For some students, balancing our own needs at home on breaks while making time for family can be touch and go.

To avoid missing out on anything, I asked my mom, dad, and other parents for their tips on making the most of our time while home on breaks.

1. Spend time with family

They miss us while we’re gone! This is the perfect time to catch up with our families. Thanksgiving break seemed too short to squeeze everything in, but thankfully, winter break is usually a month or longer. I know I have a lot to catch up on with my parents and two sisters. Besides immediate family – aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, too, want some face time. Let your grandparents spoil you with their love and food (mostly food).

2. Stay Active!

This one is courtesy of my dad, the personal trainer. You don’t have to go crazy, but you also don’t want to get into the habit of oversleeping and being lazy, because it will be that much harder to get back to a more structured schedule when you return to school. Keep up your routine- your body will thank you later. (And, you can burn off the holiday desserts and your grandparents’ food gifts.)

3. Make up for lost time

We all miss a certain place or activity from our hometown. Use this time to do the things you’ve been thinking about while away at school. If you’ve missed the movie theater and haven’t had time to go while at school, go now! Although it seems tempting to just hang out with high school friends you haven’t seen for weeks or even months, once in a while include your parents and/or brothers and sisters. And if it is a little rest you’ve been missing, set aside a few hours to do something relaxing and for yourself.

4. Purge your bedroom

It feels great to get rid of all your old junk and see the bottom of your closet again. I know no one wants to think about cleaning while on break, but it really is worth it, and again, you don’t need to go crazy. Over Thanksgiving break, I started going through and getting rid of some old stuff when I came across my high school yearbook. It was great reminiscing! You never know what memories you can stumble upon when you’re home. Believe me, your parents will appreciate your clean-up efforts, too.

So, although winter break is the prime time for relaxation and catching up on the latest Netflix binge, it should also be a time to feel productive (while you don’t have to worry about exams or papers). And for my piece of advice: if you can survive finals week, rest assured, you can survive a month at home!

Dad Diet Series: No Turkey Left Behind

I love Thanksgiving.  Period.  It’s beautiful chaos.  A random smattering of green beans, awkward family photos (see below), layered jello, gravy, epic games of Monopoly, turkey, warm rolls, child meltdowns, gravy, sweet potatoes, laughs, and gravy. But… that’s family.  We have such a great time.

Awkward family photo

When the dust settles… there are SO many leftovers.  I can only shove so much in before the big boy pants have to come out. Plus, turkey has got to be the most boring meat on the face of the earth (hence we drown it in gravy and surround it with a menagerie of flavor).  What to do?

Soup and sandwiches!  It’s getting cold out and the nice warm soup mixed with a healthy turkey melt is just the trick.

For this recipe you’re going to need sweet potatoes, but you may be able to supplement with squash. The soup is hearty and needs a sweet flavor to help balance the gamey flavor of white meat.  Also, you’ll want to grab some multi-grain bread. White bread with white meat is about as basic as you can get, plus there’s a lot of fiber in this kind of bread.  I highly recommend “marathon bread” from your local Wegman’s.

I figure the grill is out of commission for the holidays (but not the whole winter). Maybe it’s time to hit the stove again. Also, we’re reheating food and that’s better served with an oven or stove-top. So gear up, Dad-bod Heroes, you’re gonna strap on the apron and take to the kitchen like a boss.

Print Recipe
Curried Sweet Potato Soup
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes of stirring
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes of stirring
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Start by opening your web browser and Googling "dutch oven" like I had to do...
  2. Once you realize it's basically a large pot... Pour olive oil into the large pot, heat on medium.
  3. Take the onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. One bonus tip... we usually bake our Thanksgiving turkey over rings of onions to allow heat to get underneath. If you do the same, save those suckers for this portion.
  4. Grab the curry powder and slowly sprinkle over the onions. Or just slam them in. Whatever you prefer. Stir and get the smells going!
  5. Add sweet potatoes, veggie broth, and turn up the heat.
  6. Once boiling... take the temp back down to medium/low and give those ingredients a nice bath. The mixture should reduce and become one nice looking soup!
  7. Take an immersion blender and give them a swirly. You can now add the moo moo juice (also known as milk).
  8. Spoon into a bowl, add greek yogurt and cilantro, and dip the sandwich melt into this sweet tasting goodness.
Print Recipe
Low-Fat Turkey Melt
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Easiest thing you'll ever do... First, preheat the oven (not the dutch oven) to 450 degrees.
  2. Put the sandwiches together. Lightly brush olive oil on the outside of the bread. Apparently,the word "lightly" means not the way I put condiments on anything. So don't over-saturate.
  3. Let the oven do the rest. Bake for 5-10 minutes (but check on the sandwich... it's marathon bread not marathon baking). Bread should be golden and cheese melted.
  4. Cut in half, or in our house we like to make dipping sticks, and serve immediately with the delicious soup!

Fire Safety Tips for Families

Every second counts when there’s a fire. Using those seconds wisely to get yourself and your loved ones out could make the difference between escaping safely and suffering an injury.

Marc Stogran, a software engineer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, is a big proponent of the National Fire Protection Association’s “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out” public education campaign.

“People genuinely believe that a fire can’t happen to them in the safety of their home,” said Stogran, a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Manlius Fire Department. “But the truth is that it can.”

Marc Stogran

Set an escape plan AND a meeting place

Developing an escape plan is critical. All you have, on average, is between two and three minutes to escape your house safely during a fire, he continued.

Stogran encourages families to follow the NFPA’s advice and identify two ways to escape their home in the event of a fire. He also recommends that families frequently practice home fire drills to quickly get out of the house and gather at a previously established meeting place.

Families can make the drills fun by planning to treat themselves to ice cream when everyone makes it out of the house in two minutes, noted Stogran. “If the exercise goes well, celebrate the accomplishment,” he said. “If not, take the time to talk about what went wrong, and what everyone can do to get out more quickly next time.”

Should a fire ever actually occur, experts advise getting out as quickly as possible. Once out of the house, stay out and call for help. “It’s never a good idea to re-enter a burning building,” said Stogran.

Make sure your home has working smoke alarms

In addition to forming a home fire escape plan, Stogran also advises having working smoke alarms on every floor of your home. “What’s even better is to have a smoke alarm in every bedroom and hallway,” he said.

“Smoke detectors can be the first line of defense when fires occur,” continued Stogran. “Having them in multiple rooms of the house can detect a tragedy sooner rather than later.”

NFPA data show that in 2011-2015, almost all U.S. homes had at least one smoke alarm. Even so, three out of five deaths from home fires were in homes with no smoke alarms, or none that worked.

The Manlius Fire Department is one of many fire departments that offers free home installation of smoke detectors and in-home training within its fire district. Stogran often joins the department’s two-person teams charged with installing alarms. They also counsel homeowners regarding escape plans, meeting places and fire drills.

The American Red Cross, Western and Central New York Region, works with organizations such as the Manlius Fire Department to install free smoke alarms and replace batteries in existing alarms. In addition, the organization educates residents about home fire safety through its Home Fire Campaign.

Since 2014, the campaign has resulted in 8,637 smoke alarms being installed in Western and Central New York. Click here to join the American Red Cross’s Home Fire Campaign.

Household fire safety tips

Home fires can start and spread quickly. Just a little bit of planning can make a big difference for you and your family. In addition to establishing a fire escape plan and making sure you have working smoke detectors in your home, the American Red Cross recommends taking these additional precautions to help minimize the risk of fire:

Go to the National Fire Protection Association’s website for more information about fire prevention. Click here more information regarding the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign.

What Parents Need to Know About Concussions

Playing sports may be a milestone in your child’s life, but it also may be another notch in the worry belt for you. You can handle bruised egos, sprains and strains and an occasional broken bone. But what about a blow to the head? What if your child suffers a concussion?

A concussion is a “mild traumatic brain injury that usually happens after a blow to the head.” And, unfortunately, more kids seem to be getting them.

Concussion diagnoses among teenagers spiked in the U.S. from 2010 through 2015, according to a study released in 2016. In addition to head injuries during sports, concussions can result from bumping your head when you fall, being violently shaken, and motor vehicle accidents.

You don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion.

Suspect a Concussion?

Any athlete suspected of having a concussion should be removed from play immediately, said Nicholas Massa, M.D., Medical Director for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“This will help reduce the risk of a worse injury,” he said, adding, “Your child should then be evaluated by a medical provider trained to diagnose and manage concussions.”

Nicholas Massa, M.D., Medical Director for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

Until cleared by a medical provider, your child also should not participate in other activities that are associated with an increased risk of head injury, such as biking, skateboarding or climbing playground equipment, Massa said.

Inform Yourself About Concussions

Your child’s first defense against brain injury is your becoming an informed parent. And the time to do that is now, because, let’s face it, kids are going to be kids and get hurt, even outside the sports arena.

Take Morgan Tubolino of Mexico, New York. She and her brother were horsing around one Halloween about three years ago. Morgan fell and hit her head really hard.

Morgan Tubolino

Or, take my son, Andy, whose head hit the windshield when the car he was riding in was in an accident. (And, yes, I was adamant that he ALWAYS wear a seatbelt, but he didn’t that day.)

Both Morgan and Andy were diagnosed with concussions.

Although most people recover after a concussion, how quickly they improve depends on many factors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Factors include:

  • the severity of the concussion.
  • the child’s age.
  • how healthy the child is before the concussion.
  • how they take care of themselves after hitting their heads.

Concussion: The Aftermath

Morgan, who was 14 at the time of injury, complained of constant headaches, said her mother, BetsyTubolino.

“Her vision would get blurry when she read. Her thinking was not clear, and she confused words.”

Andy was a soon-to-be Marcellus, New York, high school senior when his accident occurred. He would also be starting football practice that summer. Although rest is very important after a concussion to help the brain heal, I wasn’t confident that the discharge instructions to “take it easy” for a few weeks were enough, given the diagnosis.

Morgan’s doctor referred her to the Upstate Concussion Center at Upstate Medical Center. Andy ended up there, too.

The author’s son, Andy, playing football.

Upstate Concussion Center

Brian P. Rieger, Ph.D., is the center’s Program Director. He is also Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Psychology in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Upstate Medical University.

The clinic’s team focuses first on education. It’s important to let the parent and child know what they should and should not be concerned about, Rieger said.

There is no sure test to determine if a child has had a concussion. In most cases, the brain looks normal on a CT scan or MRI, he said.

“We know it’s injured because it’s not working properly,” Rieger said.

“Likewise, we know the brain is recovered when the child can engage in both physical and mental activity without triggering a headache or other symptoms. Return to risky activities is only allowed when the patient is symptom free at rest and during exertion, such as running or doing school work.”

Signs of a Concussion

Most children will recover from a concussion in a week or two, but others take longer. .

“In some cases, symptoms can last for weeks or months or longer than a year,” Rieger said.

Brian P. Rieger, Ph.D., of Upstate Concussion Center

Your child, for example, may feel dizzy, light-headed and have balance problems. Their head and neck may hurt, and they may have problems sleeping.

Or, your child may get easily confused, distracted or lose track of time. He or she may have difficulty concentrating, paying attention and have trouble with learning and memory.

Changes can still go on in the brain even when the child appears to have recovered from a concussion. These changes can affect your child not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally, Rieger said.

Recovering From a Concussion

Betsy credits the center team’s commitment for her daughter’s return to health. “They took everything very seriously and explained everything they did and why.”

After a thorough exam, Morgan was prescribed occupational and physical therapy to help her vision and balance. She attended clinic/therapy sessions three times a week for six months and was followed for about a year. Treatment also included heat and stimulation to her head and neck to relieve pain.

The clinic also contacted the school about Morgan’s need for frequent breaks, extra time to complete tests, and a quiet, dark place where she could rest, if needed.

Morgan still gets headaches occasionally. She’s learned to manage side effects that pop up from time to time. Although she played volleyball pre-concussion, she wasn’t cleared to play her sophomore year. Now a senior, she prefers to work out in the school fitness center and concentrate on her studies. Her grades have returned to high honor status. She’s also studying to become a physician’s assistant through a Citi BOCES, SUNY Oswego and Oswego Health collaborative allied health program.

Concussions May Affect Schoolwork

“We now know that we should pay as much attention to the child’s return to the classroom as to sports,” said Rieger.

Good thing for Andy. Although I was concerned about Andy’s too soon return to football, I hadn’t considered how a concussion would affect his schoolwork.

At the center, Andy went through several exercises to evaluate his hand-eye coordination, balance, and memory. The clinic notified Marcellus High School that Andy might need more time to finish his Regents exams. They advised the school’s coach that Andy should delay the start of football practice for a couple of weeks and then ease into a modified practice.

Fortunately, he’s not had any long-term side effects from the concussion other than he ALWAYS wears his seatbelt now.

“It’s important that a child not re-enter contact sports too soon as there is an increased chance of re-injury and worse symptoms if a child suffers another concussion before recovery from a previous one,” said Rieger, noting that increased awareness and recognition of concussion could be responsible for the increased number of concussions reported.

While most children who have had multiple concussions will not complain and appear to be acting perfectly normal, some may end up with more frequent headaches, trouble sleeping, memory problems, an inability to concentrate or even depression symptoms.

“The risk of these kinds of problems seems to increase with an increasing number of concussions,” said Rieger.

CTE link?

Parents may be worried that their child who has had a concussion will develop Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The debilitating, chronic brain condition has gained media attention as more and more football players, boxers and other professional players in contact sports are diagnosed.

There is still a lot we don’t know about CTE, said Rieger.

“The jury’s still out whether concussion or just multiple blows to the head–even without concussion–is a greater risk factor for CTE,” he said.

“Until we know more, parents should be cautious and do all they can to prevent brain injury in the first place and seek immediate attention if it does happen.”

Rieger stressed that the culture of concussion must change, with coaches having zero tolerance for injured players not divulging their own symptoms or when players don’t report a teammate who talks about having headaches, feeling dizzy, etc.

“I don’t want to overly alarm parents,” he added. “Sports are good for kids, as long as we do what we can to keep them safe!”

Want more?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a video library of topics related to concussions.

You’ll Never Guess Where the Best Playground Is…

I’d been in the car seven hours with a cranky toddler, fussy first grader, and tired hubby. Even I was out of sorts. But then I turned into a new rest stop on the New York Thruway and all was right with the world.

This rest stop was unlike any others I’d ever seen. It was hidden from the highway, so no blaring fast food signs alerting you to the chance to fuel up, grab a burger or hit the restroom. I turned down the winding road, and then the seas parted to reveal exactly what my family needed at that very moment.

 

We had stumbled upon the best playground ever in the most unlikely spot, the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center (formerly the Lock E-13 Living History Rest Area). It opened earlier this year. You can find this hidden gem westbound on the Thruway between exit 28 in Fultonville and exit 29 in Canajoharie.

As a Thruway veteran, I declare it’s by far the swankiest rest stop I’ve ever seen. The center features local food and beverages, interactive kiosks promoting the state’s tourism industry and, of course, a very cool playground.

Inside the rest stop.

Why it’s the best playground

Here’s why a rest area might be my new go-to stop on the Thruway:

  1. An actual playground along the Thruway? I can break up long trips and let my kids release pent-up energy without having to leave I-90? Enough said.
  2. It’s designed with kids in mind—from the best soft and bouncy playing surface to the quality materials and design of the play equipment. My kids loved the playground’s canal theme (see photos.) As my youngest climbed through a boat, my husband echoed what I was thinking. “This is the best playground ever.”

3. The playground was set against the beautiful backdrop of the Erie Canal and Mohawk River. (Plus, my kids got to see a boat go through the lock!)

4. There’s lots of space for kids to run along a path that ran along the canal.

Not for kids only

Adults can have a lot of fun, too. The scenic area is the perfect place to take a stroll, and read the markers along the way that highlight the area’s historical past. In addition, there’s also electric vehicle charging stations, a covered porch overlooking the canal and pet comfort areas.

 

A place for people with disabilities

Finally, the playground is ADA compliant. Also, people with disabilities make up some of the rest stop employees. For example, Liberty ARC, a not-for-profit serving people with disabilities, provides some of the staff.

Where is your favorite playground?

My oldest son agreed that the rest stop playground was pretty cool – but that there was another he loved more. His ultimate, all-time favorite place to play? The new Jack’s Place playground at Rothfuss Park in Penfield in Monroe County. He loved the playground’s dinosaur theme.

Where is your favorite playground? Share in the comments section below.