Tagged Families and Family Life

My Brother, the Hospice Graduate

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Credit Giselle Potter

When I was a college sophomore living in a sorority house at the University of California at Santa Barbara, my parents called to tell me that my baby brother, Gavin, was dying. He had been given a diagnosis of a very rare disease, Aicardi–Goutieres Syndrome.

The doctors immediately placed him in hospice care.

He was 4 months old.

I hung up the phone and rode my red beach cruiser to class, trying to pretend that it was like any other day. I sat through Spanish class, but stared off into the distance, numb to what was happening. When I emerged, the sun seemed too bright. People were laughing, talking on their phones, surfing waves at sunset and meeting up with dates at coffee shops.

I thought back to Gavin’s birth in June. He looked like the rest of the babies in our family, with a thick pad of blond hair. A happy baby. Then at 6 weeks old he started having fevers of 104. They turned into weeklong affairs. And no one knew why.

My parents and Gavin’s doctors tried, for the next few months, to solve a seemingly unsolvable case. We just wanted to know what was wrong. But when we finally had the right diagnosis, it was awful. His disease had triggered brain calcifications, causing permanent brain damage. He was going to lose his motor skills and be unable to eat, so he would eventually die, we were told.

At first, I wanted to avoid dealing with the situation. The playground feeling of my oceanfront college campus was in stark contrast to the atmosphere at home, where my devastated family waited, heartbroken. My impulse was to stay away. I didn’t want to be crushed by the grief that was promised to me.

But I also knew I couldn’t live with myself if I never tried to face it. So I dropped out of college and spent every day with him and the rest of my family, including my sisters, who were 9 and 14 at the time.

Gavin’s disease showed up like Louisiana rainstorms — quick, strong and mean. Sometimes he was the handsome baby who smiled at me with his innocent blue eyes. Then, it was as if he was gone. Possessed. His fevers were now paired with jitters and vomiting. Gavin would shriek uncontrollably, turn a pasty gray and roll his eyes in different directions.

Mom called these visits from the Monster.

The hospice nurses stopped by every week to check Gavin’s temperature and weigh him. There was no handbook on learning to love your dying baby brother, but eventually, I did. Instead of hiding from the Monster — when his body shook, his lips turned jelly purple, and drool spilled from his mouth — I looked at him and said: You are worth it.

With his impending death sentence, Gavin was baptized in an oversize white gown. Mom wanted his soul to be protected.

After the ceremony, we played a slideshow of his short life. I saw a picture of me holding him and thought to myself, how could I not love you? We all loved him, the best way we knew how.

My parents did not give up on him, even though he was on hospice. A major change came when a friend of my mom’s who was an occupational therapist suggested the Haberman bottle, a baby bottle with an elongated nipple for children with special needs. Part of the reason Gavin was in hospice care was that he could no longer breast-feed and it was hard to get him nutrients. But he took pumped breast milk through that bottle.

And somehow his demise never came.

On Gavin’s first birthday he was taken off hospice: a hospice graduate.

The journey shifted. Instead of waiting for a baby to die, we were learning to love and live with a handicapped boy.

Now, Gavin is 9 years old. He is a quadriplegic; he cannot walk, talk or eat solid foods, but he is a survivor. He is joy.

That doesn’t mean his life is easy – for him or for the rest of the family.

Every morning one of my parents carries him downstairs around 7 a.m. They sit him in an egg-shape chair in front of the TV to watch cartoons, usually “SpongeBob” (he’s graduated from “Sesame Street”). His breakfast usually involves bran cereal for digestion, a fried egg, a couple of blueberries, maybe a waffle, sometimes crispy pork sausage. All of that is put into a coffee cup with whole milk and butter, and puréed with an immersion blender.

Gavin’s three epilepsy medications get pulled into plastic syringes. Then the hero of the morning carries a tray, with a handful of towels and a water cup, along with the delicious breakfast surprise and medicine into the TV room, and the real work begins.

Feeding Gavin can take up to an hour. And it can be messy. Sometimes he spits up his food, other times he is just not feeling well and he lets it roll down his chin, onto his neck.

Gavin’s life includes physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. But it also includes floating in the pool in a life vest, going to school and even gleefully crossing the finish line in a marathon – with my husband pushing him in a stroller.

Instead of dismantling our family, he has brought us closer together. We treasure Gavin’s small accomplishments, whether that is running down the driveway in his special gait-training walker or using an eye-gaze communication device or nodding to let us know that he wants to use the bathroom, play with his sister or bounce on the trampoline.

We don’t know what his future looks like. But we don’t know what the future looks like for any of us. The mystery of his life is no different from any of ours.

Courtney Lund is working on a memoir about her brother.


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Challenge No. 7: Try a New Sport or Craft

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Slacklining is like tightrope walking, but the rope isn’t as tight.

Slacklining is like tightrope walking, but the rope isn’t as tight.Credit Brian Lee for The New York Times

Challenge No. 7: Try a new sport or craft.

When we mix things up a bit, we give ourselves memorable moments — and make summer stand out more in our minds. This week, why not do something entirely new? The challenge: Learn a new sport or craft, and revel in using your hands and body in a new way.

Learning something new, whether it’s physical or mental, seems to be good for our brains, especially as we age. Research suggests that learning a new physical skill in adulthood, like a new sport, may lead to an increase in the volume of gray matter in parts of our brains related to movement control. Learning a mentally challenging skill offers additional benefits: participants in a research study who learned to quilt, take digital pictures or both showed enhanced memory abilities.

And, of course, learning something new can be fun, especially when we do it with a family member or friend.

What should you try? How about paddleboarding, badminton, slacklining or surfing? Or if it’s too hot outside, keep it cool by learning to code (try a free Hour of Code) or taking a tapdance class.

Last week, we suggested letting the kids take over. Here’s what we heard:

Becca Mitchell of Branford, Conn., wrote; “Our challenge was to fill our long driveway with color! We used chalk (some soaked in water, which made the colors more vibrant) and sidewalk paint. We invited friends, neighbors and family members to stop by throughout the day.”

Emma Chen of New Jersey, who is 12, wrote: “For this, I decided to walk around town with five of my friends. Only one of us had a phone for emergency contact. We bought a bunch of stuff and I got to explore the town around my school since I just moved here!” She added: “It made me feel independent because our parents weren’t there.”

Photo

Credit Renee Tratch

On Twitter and Instagram, we saw a post about a fishing tournament and a list of a child’s wishes including “play pickleball.” That’s a sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong and would be new for some of us — maybe it could fulfill this week’s challenge. (The list, posted by Renee Tratch of Toronto: swimming, fishing, go to beach, pick flowers, get slushies, play pickleball, bike ride, explore and play mini-golf.)

What will you try or learn this week? I’ve been carrying around the instructions and material for crocheting friendship bracelets all summer, and this is the week it happens. Tell us what you try, and how it goes, by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, Aug. 9. How did it feel to stretch your mind or body in new ways?

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge — the last! — on Thursday, Aug. 11. The real goal, as always: to savor the summer all season long.

Harry Potter’s a Dad: ‘Accio, Pacifier!’

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Harry Potter fans wait for the release for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Harry Potter fans wait for the release for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”Credit Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times

Our family is just home from the bookstore, with multiple copies of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in hand, gamely reading in a new format — the book is the script of the play by the same name, and thus a different reading experience from the seven novels that came before it.

There will be no spoilers here, but the very title makes clear that “The Cursed Child” is a story about parents and children in a way that the original series never was. Harry Potter is a father now, and one question this book will answer is how the Boy Who Lived — when his parents didn’t — handles that role.

As an orphan, Harry himself could operate free of the burden a parent’s fears, love and expectation can place on a person. Now, as a parent, he has to confront it.

For readers who started reading these books when the first one came out nearly 20 years ago and grew up with Harry and friends, the scenes that reveal the characters as adults are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Though the story has serious themes, the sheer fun of returning to the familiar magical world is a delight.

And there are certainly moments when real-life parents can fantasize about the possibility of a magical assist. Imagine being able to use a spell like “Accio Binky!” to return a dropped pacifier to the sleeping baby, or “Expelliarmus Mobilio!” to expel a mobile phone right out of a teenager’s hand.

Molly Brennan, a mother of two attending a book release party on Saturday night at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., suggested a spell called Behavioramus. “I would dodge it,” said her son, Logan Brown, 9. “I like my behavior how it is.”

Becky Middleton of Glen Ridge, N.J., who has four children ages 6, 9, 9 and 11, said her spell of choice would be volume control. Rob Fechner of Montclair, the father of two boys ages 7 and 10, asked for a spell “to pause time so I could get stuff done and take a nap.”

It’s giving nothing away to say that none of those abilities seem likely to make raising children any simpler for Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron. As Julia Miner, a mother of three who lives outside Washington, D.C., said Sunday, when she was up to page 70 of “The Cursed Child,” parenting teenagers has challenges no matter who you are. Magic has never helped much with relationships in the Harry Potter universe, and the fact that wizards face some of the same bitter limits that Muggles do has always been a part of the series’ appeal.

But for many parents and children in this universe, the books are conversation–starters that help connect us, engaging us in the same world. Now our conversations can go further.


In the comments or on Facebook, tell us what spell would help you most as a parent.

Cancer in the Family: Compliments on Being Thin

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Credit The author with her daughter, Devon.

“I’m so jealous. You’ve lost so much weight, you look amazing,” a friend says to me. “I’d love to catch the stomach bug this year and lose a few pounds myself.”

I smile. I don’t know what to say.

Since January, one of my 12-year-old twin daughters, Devon, has been in isolation in a Boise, Idaho, pediatric oncology unit receiving chemotherapy for acute myeloid leukemia. Her sister, Gracie, remains behind, in a little town south of Sun Valley. To cope, she has assigned herself as captain of Devo’s Fight Club, a band of peer supporters started with a sweatshirt she designed in the first 36 hours of her sister’s diagnosis.

Their dad and I have been driving the two and a half hours between home and hospital, splitting the week between our daughters, our jobs, middle school’s demands, puberty’s capriciousness, sports, music and running a household that includes cats, dogs, horses, cows and fish.

Devon’s cancer was as random as a dice roll. She had swollen gums for a week and then, a simple blood test to rule out mono instead declared that this sleek, athletic, freckle-faced cowgirl had a rare and often fatal leukemia.

My husband says he has gained weight since Devon’s diagnosis. I have lost weight. A lot. Neither one of us notices the other because we relate over phone or email mostly, and offer a country-style, four-finger half wave from the steering wheel as we blow past each other on the highway between towns.

Over the next 120-mile drive I am perplexed and obsessive.

“I’m so jealous. You look amazing.”

I’m nearly 51 years old and was prepared for the idea that menopause would keep me round despite my best efforts. How much weight have I lost? Was I really that fat before? Should I eat before I get to the hospital or after? The smell of food makes Devon sick. Eating in front of her seems torturous and unfair.

After I arrived at the hospital, a friend stopped by to visit. Before acknowledging Devon, she looked at me. With purrs of envy, she commented on how thin I looked. Again, I was at a loss for words. My daughter was not.

“My mom is not skinny because she worked at it,” Devon told our visitor. “It’s because I’m sick.”

The friend waved it off in the way that one deflects praise of a nice outfit with “this old thing,” and we all moved on. But every time someone notices my weight loss with a tinge of envy it makes me cringe.

Please, I want to tell them, do not admire how thin I have become since my daughter’s diagnosis — unless you are suggesting I look undernourished and want to give me a cupcake. My weight loss is not a goal you should aspire to, nor should it be confused with health and well-being. I was perfectly happy and fit in my pre-cancer-kid size, and a little hurt to hear that this shrinkage that could cost me a lot more than new pants makes me more beautiful than ever.

But what is most painful for me is the collateral damage to my daughters. When they hear that Mom is enviably thin, they hear that this is a reward, a take away for the suffering. That thin is best no matter the circumstances.

Gracie, a minute ahead of her twin, but always an inch and a pound behind, is now getting stretch marks from growing so fast. When her peers note how she “swims” in her choir dress, her mind begins the dance with body consciousness. Weight fluctuations are somewhat inevitable in adolescence and during menopause, but certainly magnified under the circumstances.

Devon’s physical changes are pushed to the bottom of most people’s thoughts now, because in this setting of a hospital room, she’s supposed to look wan and pale. Instead, her inner beauty and sense of humor are noted.

I’ve been sick and thin enough times to know I don’t want to be either. But my girls are facing this for the first time, and the ripple effects of this entire traumatic episode will surface the farther we get from the cancer. Hospital social workers are preparing us to watch for anxiety, regression, depression, eating disorders, apathy and sleeping issues. And signs of cancer returning, of course. And survivor’s guilt in Gracie, which could carve out a whole new emotional journey.

Devon, thankfully, is home now. But I’ve just been told that five months in the hospital have cost Devon nearly a third of her body mass. That her overall strength is that of a 90-year-old, and that after the chemo, her heart, which once pounded fearlessly, is in danger of failing. Her brain is wobbly from the lack of nutrition and her skin is translucent and cold where it once was earthy and warm.

When she returns to school next year, navigating the social riddle of middle school — now half a year behind her peers — and still mostly bald, and undoubtedly still thin, she will return with a self-consciousness she has never known.

Do not covet her thinness. Admire her resilience, and tenacity, and sheer will to live.

And, if you look into her eyes and you can see they are dim from the struggle, a happy-to-see-you smile or just saying nothing at all will do more than you know to help her find her way to loving herself as life has created her in this moment.

If you want to know how someone is, look in their eyes, because their size is not where the information is.

Summer Challenge No. 6: Kids’ Choice

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A group of Pennsylvania teenagers made beaded friendship bracelets as one of the many activities they came up with to spend 24 hours outdoors.

A group of Pennsylvania teenagers made beaded friendship bracelets as one of the many activities they came up with to spend 24 hours outdoors.Credit Kelly Kopera

Challenge No. 6: Let the kids take over.

So far, the Well Family Intentional Summer challenge has been led by the grown-ups. We’ve taught our children street games, encouraged them to try wild flavors of ice cream and walked or biked with them instead of driving. This week, we invite you to shake up that family dynamic and let your children make the call: What do they want to do (within reason) to make the most of this summer?

Research shows we gain more happiness from doing something than buying something, and like adults, children and teenagers get much of their pleasure from the planning process. Being a part of making something happen makes us value it even more.

And children have their own ideas about what makes for a perfect summer day.

Their choice might be fairly simple (my youngest son asked that we play mini-golf) or far more elaborate, like the plans of 17-year-old Kelly Kopera of Phoenixville, Pa. She wrote:

For the past four years, our neighborhood group of friends has set aside a day for the ultimate “intentional summer challenge” — staying outside all day.

It all started one night early in the summer of 2013. My brother, Tim, and I were out in the driveway enjoying the first of many summer nights to come, and we didn’t want to go inside. One of us said to the other: wouldn’t it be fun to spend a whole day outside?

A few weeks later, we did it — we stayed outside from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., accompanied by some friends and neighbors here and there, and time allotted for bathroom breaks. The day, which we dubbed “11 to 11,” became a tradition in our family and neighborhood.

The next year’s 11 to 11 was successful, with growing participation and commitment. Since our kitchen was undergoing renovations, we had a Porta-Potty in our yard, and didn’t even have to go inside to use the bathroom! The following year, however, we wanted to take it a step further. With a core group established — my brothers Tim (now 16) and Kyle (14), along with our friends since grade school, Kimmy (16), Keli (16) and Matt (15) — we stayed outside from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and then slept in a tent in our backyard before going back inside at 11 the next morning. We also declared it a “tech-free day” — no one was allowed to look at their phones for the entire time we were outside, enjoying summer and each other’s company.

Last year’s “11 to 11 to 11″ featured “extreme hopscotch” extending all the way down our block, a water balloon fight, a trip to our local pool, backyard croquet, a scavenger hunt and a bonfire. This year we’ll be going to the pool and a nearby creek to keep cool; playing “glowquet” (croquet after dark with glow sticks on the wickets), card and board games, and classic summer games like manhunt; and capping off the night with some stargazing before we get into the tent for the final 12 hours. It’s a summer tradition that we all look forward to every year, and we’ve been planning this one for a long time to make it the best one yet!

Last week, we challenged you to learn the name of a wildflower, tree or something else you find outside — and we offered a quiz to test your plant knowledge. Some of you complained that the quiz was too easy; about a third of you got all the answers right.

Anne, a reader from Rome, asked for the names in Latin, too. “That way people all over the world will know what you are writing about. Gratias vobis ago.”

But BusyLizzieBe wrote: “Youngsters’ disconnect from the natural world is deeper than I ever imagined and deeply disconcerting. In a volunteer situation, I have even encountered children who have never seen a caterpillar or a butterfly.”

Sue Peterson of California sent an email: “This past weekend, we went camping with friends, and there was quite a bit of concern about being able to identify poison oak. It was funny, because everyone had a slightly different identifying factor (rounded leaves, how many leaves on a stem, spots on the plant, etc.) and no plant we found seemed to have them ALL, but they would always have a few.”

She and others suggested using Google’s image recognition feature. “They are not exact, but it was fun to see the other plants that look so much like the plant I had found, but were slightly different, and learning the technical names and nicknames of different plants was fun.”

This week’s challenge: Whether it’s a full 24 hours outside or 18 holes of windmills and dinosaurs, why not let your children pick a summer moment? Tell us what they chose, and how it goes (and don’t forget to ask them what they thought, too), by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, Aug. 2. Were they more creative than you expected, or did they suggest an idea from summers past that you’d forgotten?

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, Aug. 4. The real goal, as always: to savor the summer all season long.

Crossing Paths: A Baby and His Grandfather

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Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

In a photo essay, Thad Russell and Josephine Sittenfeld chronicle the end of life of a beloved father and the beginning of life of their new baby.

Nov. 20 – Thad

I’ve left my very pregnant wife, Jo, and our little daughter, Polly, to drive up to northern Vermont to retrieve my 86-year-old father and bring him back to Providence.

But when I get there, Dad is hunched over in his chair in the living room. He looks thin and tired, unshaven, confused, cold, short of breath.

In a weak voice he says that his lungs aren’t working and he can’t get enough air. With his arm hanging limply over my shoulder I move him toward his bedroom. I take off his shoes and glasses, turn off his light, and kiss him goodnight. I go to bed shaken to the core.

Dad grew up on a farm, played football in high school, went to M.I.T. to study engineering and architecture, and had a long career designing and building houses.

He became an expert skier back in the 1950s when downhill skiing was rebellious and dangerous.

And now, maybe for the first time ever, he doesn’t want to get out of bed.

I call my friend Bill, an emergency room doctor. He tells me quietly and firmly, “Call 911 and get him to a hospital ASAP. Don’t think about it. Just do it.”

This is the last time my father will ever see his land or be in his own house or sleep in his own bed. In fact, it is the last time he will sleep in any bed that isn’t in a hospital or nursing home. It’s the last time he will live without the assistance of a walker or a wheelchair, a professional caregiver or an adult diaper.

At the hospital, Dad’s cardiologist puts it bluntly. “Your father needs a new heart, and he’s not going to get one. I’ve used up my bag of tricks. Have you thought about hospice?”

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

Jo

That tiny, rapidly fluttering shape amid the gray static — even though I’ve been through ultrasounds before with my first child, the evidence of the life inside me is still awe-inspiring. I feel excited and tearful.

Nov. 28 – Thad

Dad’s vital signs are bad. He has trouble breathing and now needs oxygen full-time. It’s Thanksgiving morning, and Dad is taken by ambulance from the nursing home to the Miriam Hospital. I meet him in the emergency room, abandoning Jo to cook her first turkey and prepare for a house full of in-laws. The emergency room staff does a battery of tests and confirms what we already know: Dad is suffering from late-stage heart failure.

But after a few hours, he’s released, and I bring him home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Dec. 25 – Thad

Amazingly, Dad is able to be at our house on Christmas Day. He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, or even Jesus for that matter. But he does like a good turkey dinner.

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

Jan. 9 – Jo

I wake up at exactly midnight with contractions. Around 6 a.m. the contractions get closer together. Polly wakes up and thinks it’s funny that I’m mooing like a cow. Thad and I take Polly to a neighbor’s house and head to the hospital.

I have another killer contraction in the lobby. I’m on all fours on the floor, moaning. People are staring.

Once we finally get to the room, I get into the tub. It feels good to be in the water, but the contractions are painful and intense — after the tub I’m on a ball, then on the bed, then standing, then on the toilet, then back on the bed.

Thad is on the phone in the next room trying to coordinate a urology appointment for his dad when all of a sudden things intensify. The baby’s head starts crowning, and it burns like hell. The nurse runs out to get Thad. And with a few more pushes our baby is out.

When they hand him to me, he’s big and grayish, but pretty quickly turns pink.

It’s intense and beautiful and crazy and amazing.

Baby Curtis lies on my chest, still connected through the umbilical cord, and Thad and I just take him in.

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

Jan. 13 – Thad

Dad is excited to meet his first grandson  —  and a little confused. He keeps calling him Matt, and asks when we have to give him back.

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

Jan. 24 – Thad

A nurse calls to tell me that Dad has fallen. I meet him in the E.R., again. He looks pretty beat up and has a big gash on the top of his head.

The test results worry the doctors.

And yet he survives  —  for days, then weeks, then months.

I visit Dad as often as I can and for as long as I can. I pick him up and we go on little field trips: to doctors’ appointments, to get new eyeglasses, to get his hearing aids cleaned, or to our house for dinner.

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

Occasionally, I find Dad asleep in his room, his face lit by the light of CNN Headline News. Some nights I stay with him for quite a while, rubbing his feet, watching him breathe and wondering what he is dreaming about.

I feel conflicted  —  it’s not that I want Dad to die, but I sometimes wonder if this is the way he ever wanted to live.

Dad can’t walk, get dressed or complete most basic daily routines without assistance, but his spirits are good.

In July, Dad has a bad fall, spends another week in the hospital. I call my siblings and tell them it’s time. We’re going to start hospice.

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell

Aug. 8 – Jo and Thad

Dear Family & Friends –

We are sad to report that Sam died Friday evening. He was 87 years old.

For the past year, Dad continually impressed us with his dignity, toughness and overriding will to live. He  —  and we  —  were rewarded with some distinctly good days that we will never forget.

But last week, he and his heart decided it was time. He retired early one evening, declaring that his bed felt “wonderful,” and started his long sleep.

In the end, he passed quietly and gracefully, surrounded by his family (including his bouncy and bubbly baby grandson Curtis, who played happily at the foot of his bed), and a wonderfully compassionate team of rotating attendants and nurses.

Ever the solar animal, he waited until just after sunset to pass.

With love and thanks,

Thad & Jo

Photo

Credit Josephine Sittenfeld and Thad Russell


Thad Russell and Josephine Sittenfeld are photographers who live in Providence, R.I., and teach at the Rhode Island School of Design. More of their work can be found at thadrussell.com and josittenfeld.com.

Helping Our School-Age Children Sleep Better

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Credit Getty Images

Everyone knows that getting a baby to sleep through the night can be a big challenge for parents. But sleep problems are common among preschool and school-age children, too. As we ask children to function in school, academically and socially, fatigue can affect their achievement and behavior.

Australian research on sleep problems in children has included work aimed at the “school transition” year in which children adjust to a school schedule. In a study of 4,460 children, 22.6 percent had sleep problems, according to their parents, at that transition age of 6 to 7 years. “We were surprised, we thought it was all baby sleep” that was the problem, said Dr. Harriet Hiscock, a pediatrician who is a senior research fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne who was one of the authors of the study.

Those results led to a randomized controlled trial of a brief intervention for children in their first year of school. A group of 108 parents who felt their children had sleep problems was divided into two groups. One group got a consultation at school, with a program of strategies tailored to the child’s sleep issues, and a follow-up phone consultation; the other group got no special intervention and served as controls. Parents in the intervention group were counseled about a range of possible measures to improve sleep, from consistent bedtimes and bedtime routines to relaxation strategies for anxiety that might be contributing to insomnia. The children in the intervention group resolved their varying sleep problems more quickly, though sleep problems got better over time in both groups. The interventions also produced positive effects on the child’s psychosocial function and parents’ mental health.

The most common sleep issues for children around the age of school entry, Dr. Hiscock said, definitely include limit-setting issues — that is, some of them need their parents to make the rules and routines clear. But there are also children with what sleep specialists call “sleep onset association disorder,” in which a child has become habituated to falling asleep only in a certain context, requiring the presence of a parent, or needing to have the TV on, to cite two common examples. Very anxious children are also often problem sleepers. And then there are children beset by nightmares, night terrors and early morning waking.

Screen use is a major issue in childhood sleep, and more generally in childhood these days. The first recommendation is always to get the screens out of the bedroom, the same recommendation made for improving adolescent sleep, and for adults in the current best-selling book by Ariana Huffington. All of us, old and young, are vulnerable here, but it’s a good place for parents to draw the line for their children, even when they can’t quite manage it for themselves.

Reut Gruber, a psychologist who is an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University, where she is director of the Attention Behavior and Sleep Lab, said that there is a close association between sleep and a wide range of cognitive functions, including attention, executive function and memory. When children go to school, “they need to pay attention and plan and follow instructions, all of which fall under executive function, which is very much affected by sleep,” she said.

Many parts of the brain work less well when children are tired. “The prefrontal cortex is very sensitive to sleep deprivation, and it is key to the brain mechanisms which underlie executive function and some of the attentional processes,” she said. “The amygdala is affected by sleep deprivation and is essential for emotional processes.”

These different but connected brain pathways led her to be interested in the way that sleep affects many different aspects of academic performance. In an experimental study of a small group of 7- to 11-year-olds who did not have sleep, behavior or academic problems, the children were asked to change their sleep patterns, so that they were sleeping an hour less per night, or an hour more. After five days with less sleep, she said, there was measurable deterioration in alertness and emotional regulation, and after five days with more sleep, there were gains in these areas.

For the past several years, Dr. Gruber and her colleagues have worked with a school board in Montreal to develop a school-based sleep promotion program that was piloted in three elementary schools; results were published in May in the journal Sleep Medicine. The intervention involved a six-week sleep curriculum for the children, to teach them about healthy sleep habits, and materials designed to involve parents, teachers, and school principals, who were asked to consider the sleep ramifications of school schedules, extracurricular activities and homework demands.

The children in the intervention group extended their sleep by an average of 18.2 minutes a night, and also reduced the length of time it took them to fall asleep by 2.3 minutes. These relatively modest changes correlated with improved report card grades in English and math; the control group children’s sleep duration did not change, and their grades did not improve.

The goal of the intervention was to help families make sleep a priority.

“How do you make changes in your priorities, find the way as a family, as a school, as an individual, to reshuffle things, no matter how much homework, no matter how many aunts and uncles coming for a visit, that bedtime will still be respected?” Dr. Gruber asked. “We all agree in principle, but how do we actually incorporate it into daily life?”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently endorsed the 2016 guidelines issued by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, that 3- to 5-year-olds need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day (including naps), while 6- to 12-year-olds need nine to 12 hours for optimal health and well-being.

Dr. Gruber advised that a child should wake up naturally, without requiring energetic parental encouragement. If after nine or 10 hours of sleep, a child still seems very tired, parents might wonder about whether a sleep disorder is affecting the quality of the child’s sleep, she said.

But for most school-age children, it’s an issue of habits and routines, screen time and setting limits. Many of us know, as adults, that we don’t get as much sleep as we should, or that we don’t practice very good “sleep hygiene,” as the experts would say when they advise us to get the screens out of our bedrooms, create regular routines and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime. Making school-age sleep a family priority is a good way to get everyone focused on what really matters: waking up rested and ready to function well, in body and mind.

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Learning to Scale Peaks From My Underprotective Mother

Photo

Credit Giselle Potter

I grew up hearing stories of my mom’s grad school days at M.I.T. in the early ‘90s: pulling all-nighters in the Fishbowl, a cluster of computers off of the Infinite Corridor; writing messages to other Project Athena users on black screens with green text; sneaking through tunnels at night. Later, after dropping out, she gave birth to me.

And after that, she climbed mountains in the Himalayas: Everest and K2, Gasherbrum II and Kanchenjunga. As the only child of a single mother, I stayed in Connecticut with my grandparents during her journeys, swinging on the swing set in their backyard, waiting for her to come home.

I missed my mom desperately and feared for her safety — so much so that she nicknamed me Mrs. Potts, after the motherly teapot in “Beauty and the Beast.”

But death was a real possibility in the Himalayas. I understood that much. Luckily, my mom always came back, her fleece smelling like countries I might never see.

For my 18th birthday in 2010, my mom drove from Connecticut to Boston to visit me at Harvard. She parked beside my dorm at 9:30 p.m. and texted: Come outside.

I met her at her car. We drove across Cambridge in her silver Subaru, not talking much. She parked at M.I.T. near the Small Dome, a structure that sits atop 10 Ionic columns. From the car, the dome looked like the surface of the moon.

“Leave your ID and wallet in the car,” Mom said.

“What?”

“Just do it.”

We slipped through one of the building’s open doors. She held my hand as we snuck upstairs, past corridors of professors’ offices and classrooms with empty chairs. The few students we passed didn’t recognize us as trespassers.

We found our way to the door she was looking for. The crash-bar read: “Emergency exit. Alarm will sound.”

Mom took out her car key and gingerly depressed the latch. She procured a piece of duct tape from her pocket and covered the latch so that the door wouldn’t lock. The alarm didn’t sound. Without another look back, she stepped onto the roof and started walking.

I hesitated in the doorway, one leg out and one leg in. “Mom,” I called out. “I’m scared.”

I was not then (nor am I now) drawn to climbing. For years I had a deep fear of mountains –– they represented an uncontrollable force, the thing that took my mother away from me when I felt like I needed her the most. But as early as elementary school, I understood that my mother’s way of healing was to seek solace in ascents and summits.

Many American parents would probably say their primary responsibility is to keep their children safe, to teach them to respect authority and stay out of trouble. These were not my mother’s goals.

She turned around to smile and reassure me. “You’re going to love it.”

I followed her. Late September wind gathered along the sides of the buildings, blowing my hair up and out, wrapping stray curls around my face. The late-night pedestrians under the streetlights looked like Lego figures.

We trekked across a long section of the roof, turned, and stared up at the dome. The summit. Mom laced her fingers together and went down on one knee to give me a boost. I took my fingers out of my pockets and breathed on them, trying to summon some warmth. I stepped onto her hands.

The first time we tried, I stepped without confidence and stumbled. The second time, my hands made contact with the lip. I did a half-pull-up and wriggled my torso onto the dome. I rolled over, turned around, and called down to Mom: “You coming?”

“No. You go. I used to have the upper body strength to do this alone. Not now.”

“You sure?”

“Go enjoy the view.”

I kept climbing, trying to get handholds and footholds on the surface of the dome.

I stopped just before the window above the atrium of the building, not wanting to feel vertigo, not wanting to test how thick the glass was.

From up that high, I could see the Charles River unfurled like a wing. Stray lights reflected on its surface. The domed skyscraper on Huntington Avenue stood across the river, as regal as a Himalayan mountain –– or what I imagine one looks like. I’ve only seen pictures. The moon was full, another gray dome in the sky.

I scrambled back down. We walked in silence across the roof, through the door (Mom removed the piece of tape with her fingernails), down the stairs, across the lawn, and into the silver Subaru. Only there did we collapse into laughter, relief. We’d had our adventure. No parking tickets waited on the windshield.

A year ago I rode my bicycle solo along the length of New Zealand. In the South Island, I cycled to the base of Aoraki Mount Cook, the mountain where Sir Edmund Hillary’s mountaineering career began. It was there I realized that my mother’s example has allowed me to be a female adventurer of a different sort.

I didn’t become a mountain climber, but for the last two years I have been traveling mostly by bicycle in the United States, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I’m halfway through a project to collect 1,001 stories about water and climate change from people I meet.

Now I can see that my mom’s birthday gift to me was more valuable than the kind that comes wrapped in paper and ribbons, even though the only tangible thing she brought was a strip of duct tape.


Devi Lockwood is a poet who will be attending the United Nations COP22 climate talks in Morocco in November as a youth delegate for SustainUS.

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Summer Ice Cream Adventures

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Noah, age 5, with his blended fruit rainbow ice pop.

Noah, age 5, with his blended fruit rainbow ice pop.Credit June Wai

In last week’s Intentional Summer challenge, we proposed making or trying an unusual flavor of ice cream. You did not let us down.

One of our readers, MJM, wrote: “On a trip to Northern Michigan with siblings, their families and our parents, we ate at the wonderful Rowe Inn in Ellsworth. On the menu for dessert: asparagus ice cream. We tried a bowl to share with the table. I think the overall sentiment was, well, we tried it, but not again.”

On Instagram, saltnpepperhere posted honey lavender ice cream; twosw offered coffee and Oreo; and kathelemon showed us a Hoyne’s Dark Matter beer ice cream sandwich.

Here at Well, we sampled corn ice cream in the office, and one of our editors tried lemon-jalapeno ice cream from the Pittsburgh Ice Cream Company at a pickle festival called Picklesburgh.

Photo

Coffee-Oreo ice cream.

Coffee-Oreo ice cream.Credit Twosw

Caitlin Fish emailed: “I’ve been experimenting with many different ice cream flavors this summer, but so far my favorite has been an interpretation of the popular snack ‘Ants on a Log.’ I make a celery cream base, swirl in peanut butter, and add golden raisins that have been plumped in a fresh ginger syrup. Surprisingly addictive!”

Tina Frühauf wrote: “I am known for being able to sorbet everything, at least so my friends say. Indeed, in our SoHo home, sorbet has become a verb, a process of turning and churning imagination into creamy frozen desserts, from avocado-tequila to basil, fig-red wine with rose water, and herbal varieties such as cilantro.” For a recent German-themed dinner party, she made a “sauerkraut” sorbet with green cabbage, lemon juice, sugar and limoncello. “The unusual aftertaste of the first spoon dissolves with the second,” she assured us.

Photo

Hoyne’s Dark Matter ice cream sandwich.

Hoyne’s Dark Matter ice cream sandwich.Credit Kathelemon

June Wai made rainbow ice pops with her son, Noah, age 5, layered with raspberry, strawberry and cherry, orange, golden kiwi, green kiwi, blueberry, and black grape and blackberry. “Each fruit was blitzed in the food processor with a touch of honey (we used Colorado honey) and frozen layer by layer, 30 minutes at a time,” she wrote. Next time they are going to try a vegetable ice pop, she said.

Photo

Honey lavender ice cream.

Honey lavender ice cream.Credit Saltnpepperhere

Madeleine Blandy, age 10, of Arlington, Mass., wrote to tell us about her family’s “ice cream nominating convention” to vote on what flavor to make at their annual gathering in Cape Cod. Her grandfather created rules on the voting, which started in June. “You got as many votes as 100 minus your age, which favored the kids more,” Madeleine explained. “Among the oddest flavors was salty licorice, and other creative flavors included black pepper cardamom and corn.” The winners were lemon blueberry muffin, raspberry chocolate chip and Oreo crunch.

“The rules state if your flavor wins, you have to help make it — and eat all of the leftovers,” she wrote. Sounds like a delicious family tradition to us.

The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Name That Plant!

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Credit KJ Dell’Antonia

Challenge No. 5: Name a flower, plant or tree.

This week, as part of the Well Family Intentional Summer, we’re inviting you to renew a skill your grandparents (and maybe even your parents) probably had: putting a name to the flowers, bushes and trees that surround even urban dwellers daily.

The names — and what’s more, the uses — of the plants that grow around us were once common knowledge. But for most of us, the need to brew dandelion tea or pop dandelion leaves into a salad evaporated the moment one of our recent ancestors walked into a supermarket. A generation or so later, many of us can’t even identify a dandelion.

British researchers have found that few people can identify five common wildflowers or trees, and the younger we are, the less likely we are to be able to name names. Even biology teachers in Britain did poorly on similar questions — a third couldn’t name three or more wildflowers.

That lack of knowledge reflects our increasing disconnect from the natural world. The more time we spend in nature, the more we want to know it and name it. Identifying a single plant is an invitation to connect with the green spaces around us.

“There are lots of benefits to spending time in green surroundings,” whether it’s a local park or a national forest, says Jessica de Bloom, the author of many research studies on vacation and happiness. A little nature can reduce recent stress and improve our mood. Even if the plant in question is growing out of a crack in a city sidewalk, taking a moment to really look at it and find out more about its place in the world can offer a memorable break in our day (and maybe lead to more outdoor exploration).

How to identify your plant of choice? Technology can make that easier. My kids and I chose a blue wildflower we hadn’t noticed before, and posted its picture on Facebook to test the hive mind. Meanwhile, I found mywildflowers.com and chose a few simple characteristics of our flower from the menu of options offered there: It had seven or more petals, was blue, appeared individually rather than in clusters and bloomed in July. (Similar sites and apps exist for other plants and trees: Try Leafsnap, iPflanzen or NatureGate.)

We had an answer via the internet in three minutes, and from Facebook in four: Chicory, the root of which can be blended into coffee. In fact, it’s in the coffee I’m drinking as I write. The search led to a conversation about chicory and to a real desire to know more about the “weeds” that grow by the side of the road.

If you’d like to test your knowledge of some common North American plants, try our quiz.

This week’s challenge: Name something in nature, and tell us how it goes by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, July 26. You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 28. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

My Autistic Son’s Lesson: No One Is Broken

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Credit Giselle Potter

My youngest son, Sawyer, used to spend far more time relating to his imagination than he did to the world around him. He would run back and forth humming, flapping his hands and thumping on his chest. By the time he was in first grade, attempts to draw him out of his pretend world to join his classmates or do some class work led to explosions and timeouts. At 7 he was given a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum.

That was when my wife, Jen, learned about the practice called joining. The idea behind it, which she discovered in Barry Neil Kaufman’s book “Son-Rise,” is brilliant in its simplicity. We wanted Sawyer to be with us. We did not want him to live in this bubble of his own creation. And so, instead of telling him to stop pretending and join us, we started pretending and joined him. The first time Jen joined him, the first time she ran beside him humming and thumping her chest, he stopped running, stopped thumping, stopped humming and, without a single word from us, turned to her and said, “What are you doing?”

“Learning what it’s like to be you.”

We took turns joining him every day, and a week later we got an email from his special education teacher telling us to keep doing whatever we were doing. He’d gone from five timeouts a day to one in a week.

The classroom was the same, the work was the same – all that was different was that we had found a way to say to him in a language he could understand, “You’re not wrong.” Emboldened by our success, we set about becoming more fluent in this language. For the next couple of years we taught ourselves to join him constantly. This meant that whatever we were doing had to stop whenever we heard him running back and forth and humming. But we could not join him simply to get him to stop running and thumping and humming. We had to join him without any judgment or impatience.

That was the trickiest part. The desire to fix him was great. I had come to believe that there were broken people in need of fixing. Sometimes, I looked like one of those people. I was a 40-year-old unpublished writer working as a waiter. My life reeked of failure. Many days I looked in the mirror and asked, “What is wrong with me?”

The only way to believe that Sawyer wasn’t broken was if no one was broken – not anyone anywhere ever.

I was used to seeing good people and bad people, smart people and stupid people, talented people and untalented people. I had to break that habit. I did this through a trick of perception. If someone was flapping and humming, or insulting you or saying something cruel about a whole group of people, I taught myself to pay attention to the person beneath the behavior, to the one who was scared or confused, who felt unlucky or undeserving or inadequate.

I did this, ostensibly, so that I could be Sawyer’s dad and help him flourish in the world. And by and by he began emerging from his bubble, began talking about wanting friends, began talking about his future. Now, 10 years later, at the end of our classes (we home-school him) every day he asks, “Dad, can we hang out today?” Had this been all that had come of joining Sawyer and learning to see a world without broken people, I suppose it would have been enough.

But 10 years later the writer who couldn’t get published, who felt like failure, now finds himself talking to groups and even crowds of people, telling them, in so many words, “Everything is O.K. even though it looks like everything is not O.K.!” I would never have talked to these people, nor published the essays that inspired these talks, if Jen and I had not joined Sawyer.

Yet the moment I really understood the power of joining came long before any of this. I was having an argument with my wife. I consider ours a good relationship, by which I mean it is the relationship against which I measure all my other relationships. But on this evening we were in the thick of a particularly nasty back and forth. It started small, as they all do. We each felt wronged by the other. The more we talked, the more we tried to “clear things up,” the worse it got. We raised our voices though we live in a small house and our boys would hear us. As the argument grew more heated, as Jen’s voice grew louder and sharper, she shifted before my eyes. I wasn’t seeing my best friend and lover anymore; I was seeing an enemy. Her words, it seemed to me from the opposite end of the couch, were daggers aimed squarely at my worthiness. I had to defend myself.

It was just as I was preparing my next attack that I remembered Sawyer and our practice. I took a beat, and even though Jen still looked like an enemy, even though she still sounded like an enemy, and even though I had learned over the years to protect myself against enemies, I asked myself this question: “What if she’s not your enemy? What if she still loves you? Then what are you looking at?”

This is often how I’d practice with Sawyer or myself or strangers on the street. If any of us looked broken, I’d ask, “But what if no one is broken? Then what are you seeing?” So that’s what I did with Jen. And as I asked this question, she changed again. Now I saw a woman who was as upset as I was, who wanted to be in agreement as badly as I did, who didn’t understand why we couldn’t reach an agreement. In that instant my war was over. Soon, the argument was over as well. As always, it had just been a misunderstanding. We still loved each other after all.

Joining Sawyer taught me that unconditional love is not some point on the map. It is a path that leads me where I want to go – to the world I want to live in, rather than the one I’m seeing.

William Kenower is a writer and the editor of Author magazine.

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Keeping the Disruption of a Move in Perspective

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Credit Camilla Engman

At midnight, the ice cube dispenser on the refrigerator is not merely dripping. Water pours onto the floor. I drop down towels, empty the accumulated cubes from their plastic container and pop it back inside the freezer.

“Was that the right thing to do?” I ask my husband, who is trying to sleep. “For goodness sakes,” Don says, getting out of bed. We must leave for my monthly cancer blood test at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Don pulls out the tray, puts it in the sink, and props up a little stick in the freezer, pushing up the ice maker’s metal wand in an attempt to stop the leak. Might work, might not… I’ll stay awake to see whether the deluge stops. When an unexpected disaster arises, I diminish its significance by comparing it to the worst of my cancer treatments a few years ago. I can do this because my current condition remains stable with an experimental drug.

Yet as I contemplate all the chairs and sofas and rugs that have to be donated to Goodwill, the mattresses and box springs to be given to the St. Vincent de Paul society, my late mother’s files and cabinets, Don’s late wife’s luggage and papers, his massive collection of 78 r.p.m. records, the yards of books on the shelves in the studies, our daughters’ stored memorabilia and their children’s baby equipment, the sheer volume of stuff seems daunting.

We are moving from a house of 4,000 square feet to an apartment less than half that size. One reason for our relocation: Don and I want to release our girls from the responsibility of dealing with the detritus accumulated over decades. We also have to leave because he cannot negotiate the stairs and both of us together cannot manage the upkeep.

Throughout the weeks and then the months when our beloved but aging house has to be repaired so we can sell it, workers arrive to shore up the porch, to fix the bowed ceiling supports in the garage, the cracks over the foyer doorway, a foundation that needs to be anchored to keep the structure from shifting, broken screen doors, mold in basement closets, chipped kitchen cabinets, and (oh!) a tree appears to be growing out of the chimney, and (yup!) an inspector found clogged drains — which suggest there might be trouble with the septic tank.

People tell me that moving ranks high up there on the stress index. But the commotion comes nowhere close to the terrifying havoc of cancer and its traditional treatments. Throughout the weeks and then the months of removals and renovations, the rhythms seem downright soothing, if measured against the ghastly tempos of surgeries, radiological interventions and chemotherapies.

The magnitude of cancer provides a scale against which everything else falls happily short. Cancer can be so bad that it imparts a sense of proportion. The poet Jane Kenyon once said that leukemia and a bone marrow transplant dispelled her fear of flying.

In the midst of all this chaos, I will postpone treating my recently diagnosed osteoporosis — I’m not clear yet about the efficacy of various remedies — but what about the cataract surgery? With or without glasses, I cannot see clearly and I have become the designated driver. Given the boxes mounting everywhere as well as the appointments of various people who are coming to take away the piano and the records and some paintings we won’t have room for, should I cancel? No way, I decide: a piece of cake, in contrast to cancer.

Ever shifting, the cancer terrain is treacherous to negotiate, its perilous landscape always unstable. There are roadmaps, but they often seem indecipherable. With surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists, I advance without a clear sense of how I will end up where and when.

As a cancer patient, I feel like an immigrant in a strange land. The customs of the country bewilder me. Dazed by unfamiliar sounds, sights, tastes, and touches, I had to learn a whole new language quite distinct from the idioms of every day discourse. I will never master it.

I speak of genetic mutations, chemicals and my anatomy in a grammar so simple that it resembles a 2-year-old’s. Terms must be adopted — debulking, PICC, port, PARP inhibitor — for processes I cannot really conceptualize. Frequently, physicians and nurses have to write down or spell out their prescriptions or directions. I mispronounce or stumble over words — anastomosis, extravasation, Gastrografin — that seem foreign.

So even this unsettling removal from a country house to an apartment strikes me as a change I can take in stride. After all, I know the address of my destination, the date of my prospective arrival, the route the truck will take and the neighbors speak my native tongue.

I’m staying up very late and can attest to the fact that the kitchen floor has remained dry. Don and I will travel to the hospital tomorrow and return. I will have cataract surgery and we will reside in a town whose byways may be easier to navigate with improved vision.

When you have cancer, you don’t just have cancer: You might have a broken refrigerator and cataracts and osteoporosis and loads of other issues. But you also have a unique perspective which, in a curious way, helps me keep on moving on.

Susan Gubar is the author of the new book “Reading and Writing Cancer: How Words Heal.”

The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Try an Unusual Ice Cream Flavor

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Sweet corn ice cream with blackberry verbena syrup.

Sweet corn ice cream with blackberry verbena syrup.Credit Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

Challenge No. 4: Make (or try) an unusual flavor of ice cream.

This week’s Well Family Intentional Summer challenge is just in time for National Ice Cream Day, celebrated this year on Sunday, July 17 — which may be a holiday invented by the ice cream lobby, but we’re not complaining.

To make it part of your Intentional Summer, try something new, by making an unusually flavored frozen dessert at home.

Why not stick with chocolate or a seasonal berry offering — or even just plain vanilla? We’re trying to make moments that set themselves apart. Building Ice Cream Day into an event, with planning, shopping and preparation – and memorable flavors — makes it more likely to stand out. Worried about things getting a little too weird for your kids? Research shows we’re more likely to embrace a novel taste if we choose to try it. So if your children are old enough, involve them in the decision about what to make.

Our suggestions: If you have an adventurous family, how about sweet corn ice cream, sweet potato ice cream, basil ice cream or savory tomato sorbet? Recipes that call for steps like separating eggs may sound like too much work, but it’s easier than it sounds, as I found out when my boys tried making strawberry-rhubarb ice cream last summer.

Don’t have an ice cream maker? Go with a wildly flavored ice pop, like this Mexican street corn paleta. You could also try one of Mark Bittman’s simple ice pop recipes, which include flavors like chocolate-chili and coconut curry, along with some boozy grown-up-only options.

“If you have a story to tell about why you’re choosing a particular ice cream it’s going to be that much more appealing,” said Jenny Rosenstrach, author of “Dinner: A Love Story” and the forthcoming “How to Celebrate Everything.” Earlier this week, she shared the history of the Ample Hills Oatmeal Lace ice cream flavor, named after a cherished family recipe, on her blog.

“Also, there are just some kids who place a premium on the unpredictable. Play up the maverick idea and they just might bite.”

Last week, we proposed going on a quest: a treasure hunt, or a search for something usual. As it turns out, millions of people took us up on the invitation — thanks to the arrival of Pokémon Go, the smartphone game that takes a virtual hunt for Pokémon into the real world.

Some readers, though, kept their quests less digital. Pattra Mattox of Ipswich, Mass., was inspired to seek out the Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, Me., after catching it on the PBS show “A Few Good Pie Places.” “Coupled with a visit to a near-by children’s museum and fried seafood at a coastal lobster shack, this short Sunday outing near our home felt like a true vacation day,” she wrote. And reader Kathleen Kirk is taking both the quest and the “walk or bike somewhere you would usually drive” challenges to a new level by biking from Washington State to Boston. “This will engage all of my senses,” she wrote, “maybe leaving out common sense?!”

This week’s challenge: Make (or try) an unusual flavor of ice cream, gelato, sorbet or any frozen dessert. Use one of our recipes, or find or invent your own, and tell us about how it goes, by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, July 12. Was it weird? Delicious? Weirdly delicious? Or did you run straight out for a pint of vanilla? You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 28. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

Talking to Kids About Racial Violence

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The daughter of Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by the police in Minnesota last week.

The daughter of Diamond Reynolds, whose boyfriend, Philando Castile, was shot by the police in Minnesota last week.Credit Eric Miller/Reuters

My husband is white; as an Armenian man, I am a hue darker, and our 10-year-old daughter is biracial, with brown skin. We’ve tried to shield her from some of the recent painful news stories related to bias. But after last week’s killings of two African-American men by police officers, and then the killings of five Dallas police officers, we need to be ready to talk with her about the terrors of prejudice.

I reached out to some experts who help teenagers and parents make sense of violent racism, and work toward something better. Here is some of the wisdom they offered:

  1. Don’t avoid it. “As moms and dads, we can be scared to talk about something so raw, and ugly,” said Tamara Buckley, an associate professor of counseling and psychology at Hunter College and the co-author of “The Color Bind: Talking (and Not Talking) About Race at Work.” “But not bringing it up doesn’t protect your family. It only puts the conversation in others’ hands.”
  2. All kids — not just minorities — need to talk. “Every youth needs to be nurtured to practice empathy, not judgment,” said Renée Watson, who has worked with high school students struggling to process the Black Lives Matter movement and whose work includes the young adult novel “This Side of Home.” “It’s time for us to get out of our own worlds. To be critical thinkers, young people must be exposed to news about every demographic.”
  3. It’s O.K. not to have answers. “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable in front of your child,” said Ms. Watson. “Even as a teacher I don’t know everything. It’s not about me trying to get students to think how I do, but to create room for dialogue.”
  4. Ask open-ended questions. Buckley suggested asking: “How are you feeling about what you’re seeing in the news? What are your friends saying? What bothers you the most?”
  5. Notice changes in behavior. “Your son might answer, ‘It’s not bothering me,’” Dr. Buckley said. “Some young people may be in such shock they can’t take in the news. Keep a close eye on them. Do they seem stressed? Isolated? Watch for changes in demeanor, which can suggest they’re upset even if they’re telling you otherwise.”
  6. Turn to art. “If things get tense, music, painting, and dance are great ways to express yourself,” said Ms. Watson, who was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee. She said multicultural publishers like Lee & Low “know we need a mix of ‘mirror’ books — in which we see ourselves reflected — and ‘window’ books — in which we see others.” She offered a checklist to measure the diversity in your home library: Do all the titles featuring black characters focus only on slavery? Do all the ones about Latinos emphasize immigration? Are all your L.G.B.T.Q. books coming out stories? If so, you could consider books that examine broader issues in these communities.
  7. Educate yourself about social justice. “Know the difference between equality and equity,” said Shuber Naranjo, a diversity educator at Bank Street School for Children in Manhattan. “It’s like in a Broadway theater, there are the same number of stalls in the women’s and men’s bathrooms. It’s equal, but not equitable, because you see a longer line for women.”
  8. Don’t go it alone. Racism is a tough subject for one person to tackle. “Seek out other dads and moms,” Dr. Buckley suggested, “and find ways to support one another. I’ve noticed all this racial violence has been a real point of connection between black and white parents.”


How do you talk to your kids about race, policing and violence? Join six New York Times journalists for a live chat at 2 p.m. Eastern time, Tuesday, July 12.

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Pokémon Has Children on the Move

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The author’s son and daughter, both 10, sneak up on a virtual Pokémon.

The author’s son and daughter, both 10, sneak up on a virtual Pokémon.Credit

Parents looking for a way to get children moving and off the couch this summer have found a surprising new ally: Pokémon.

Unlike most video and smartphone games, the phenomenally popular Pokémon Go, which has been downloaded by millions in the past week, requires the player to be active. The game uses map technology and local landmarks to make it seem as if mythical cartoon creatures are lurking in the real world all around you.

As my two 10-year-olds and I quickly found, playing Pokémon Go is not sedentary. Pokémon “trainers” must search for the virtual creatures; finding more of them requires getting up and heading outside.

Other parents are reporting a similar effect.

“My 18-year-old and his friends walked and biked 25 plus miles in two days, outside, in the heat and rain,” said Lisa Romeo, a mother of two who lives in Cedar Grove, N.J.

Phil LeClare of Salem, Mass., said that after three days of Pokémon Go while on vacation in Maine, his 11-year-old son proudly said that he’d walked 30 miles.

Along with the stories of calories burned come the benefits of unexpected family time. The real-world component of walking and hunting for the creatures seems to make playing Pokémon Go alone unappealing. Instead, even teenagers are inviting siblings and parents along. Add in the likelihood of meeting other players at Poké-stops, and the game begins to feel like a social event.

“Event” is a good characterization, said Jeffrey Rohrs, a father of two and the chief marketing officer of Yext, a location data management platform. The app, he said, appears to have struck a perfect chord in our culture, making fresh use of smartphone technology while offering a way around our collective fears that smartphones make us more sedentary and connect us better to the cloud than to one another. “There’s just this euphoria around it,” he said. “It’s unique.”

But for families that have been pleasantly surprised by the action and interaction of Pokémon Go, the game has created a quandary: Do our usual screen time limits apply? Do miles logged and family togetherness really make Pokémon Go different from other screen-based distractions?

The average American child already spends more time consuming media via a screen than at school. Adults aren’t doing much better. Many of us say we spend too much time on our smartphones and the internet, and our kids think so too: In one study, about 70 percent of children under 18 said their parents spent too much time glued to the phone.

“I’m wary of promises that more technology is the answer to problems caused by the overuse of technology,” said Richard Freed, a psychologist and author of “Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age.” We’ve been hopeful in the past that certain games, like the Wii system, would promote family time or get kids moving, he said, but those games ultimately failed to live up to the hype.

When it comes to Pokémon Go, Dr. Freed says he is in “wait and see” mode, but dubious. His family loves to walk together outdoors. “Now you add this new wrinkle,” in the form of a game that may be more compelling than the conversation that forges bonds among them. “You have to ask,” said Dr. Freed, “will this facilitate that connection?”

As a replacement for other forms of gaming, Pokémon Go offers plenty of advantages. My two 10-year-olds and I did enjoy connecting while roaming the streets in search of creatures — but part of the pleasure, for me, was that I’d lured them away from their usual Sunday afternoon game-fest with the Wii.

For some families, the hunt has already begun to take over their travels — encouraging kids to walk and hike further, yes, but will they remember seeing the White House, or the Pokémon at its gates? On a positive note, Mr. Rohrs sees a future where the technology could be used to enhance our destinations “It’s easy to imagine a hunt for the great authors of London,” he said, rather than Pokémon.

But for now, it’s even easier to imagine getting just a little tired of children who’d rather hunt Zubats than enjoy a zoo.

Which can only mean one thing. “Part of parenting is establishing boundaries,” said Mr. Rohrs, who spent his weekend exploring New York City with his wife, two children and Pokémon Go. Although he was mostly enthusiastic about the unexpected places the game led them, “We quickly realized we needed to declare some ‘phone in pocket’ time.”

For now, many parents seem to be relishing the good in Pokémon Go, while recognizing that they will need to create limits. For some of us, Pokémon Go brings up unexpected summer memories of twilight freeze-tag and hide-and-seek. Laurel Snyder had to set a curfew for her kids, ages 9 and 10, who spent the day wandering their neighborhood in Atlanta.

“I told them they had to be home by 8, and they dashed in sweaty-faced at 7:53. It really felt more like my own childhood experience than I’d have imagined,“ she said. That early hour might even relax a little, with so much community to be found in the initial excitement surrounding the game. It’s likely that for many children, and adults too, the summer of 2016 just became the summer of Pokémon.

The Secret Superpower of a Shared-Custody Kid

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Credit Giselle Potter

At 5:25 p.m., my mother pulled into our driveway. I saw my dad’s Cadillac waiting for us and glanced at Mom, whose broad smile instantly flattened. At 10 years old, I could already read her thoughts: Pickup time was 5:30, and she wasn’t willing to suffer accusations of tardiness, just because he was Mr. Punctuality.

Six-foot-five with jet-black hair, my father cut an intimidating figure, even if I knew that he liked nothing more than to turn his long arms and legs into props as he made up the words to songs and did goofy dances. Now, he was all business, and gestured at his watch angrily.

“I still have five minutes,” my mother said. She was generally vivacious, but when feeling threatened, she could transform herself into an ice queen.

“What’s the matter with you? Daylight saving time,” my father said. He’d been waiting an hour. She had made this mistake at least once before.

The color drained from my mother’s face as indignation gave way to embarrassment. Now, in the era of digital clocks that spring forward and fall back automatically, and cellphones that make it simple to communicate, it’s easy to forget that something as ordinary as daylight saving time could once have been so disruptive. But it was 1991, and ever since my parents got divorced, the day after we changed the clocks always felt slippery. My dad prided himself on his superior organizational skills while my mother lived in a house littered with scribbled notes-to-self to compensate for her bad memory.

That evening, I rushed out of one car and into the other. I didn’t need an overnight bag; my parents had done what they could to avoid a situation where I’d be packing and unpacking twice a week, and I had two rooms outfitted with essentials and beyond — two pairs of pink-framed glasses, two closets full of clothing, two favorite stuffed animals. Dad backed out of the driveway quickly, and said very little until we made it past the traffic light at the end of the block.

“Your mother,” he started, his lip twitching. I waited while he paused.

He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. Then, his jaw softened. “How long do you think she would have gone until she figured it out?”

I laughed, utterly relieved. “At least another day.”

I would learn, eventually, that all families have rules that – when violated – threaten to dismantle the whole arrangement. At the time, however, I thought I was the only kid in the world with two houses and a handwritten schedule in either kitchen; at the start of every month, my father listed the nights I would spend with him and then presented my mother with a copy. His diligence was a safeguard against situations just like this one, when he rang the doorbell to an empty house and then let the frustration and resentment wash over him.

My mom never made that mistake again. Daylight saving became another scribble on a Post-it note, another thing she was careful not to let her busy mind forget. And my dad let it go, for the most part – her blunder became a private joke for us, shorthand for the way such a smart, put-together woman could also be so ditzy.

My parents broke up when I was 5 years old, which means memories of life before shared custody are available to me, but limited. They set the terms of their divorce under the guidance of their lawyers, and I – as many young kids do — adapted and accepted the new parameters of my childhood.

But as I tipped into my teenage years, switching back and forth became more difficult. There were, of course, small aggravations, like when I accidentally left something I wanted at the other house. Yet that didn’t account for the new anxiety I felt at those twice-weekly hand-offs.

My two homes could not have been more different. By that time my parents had both happily remarried and they’d created new lives: my mom went back to school and our house was quiet, our conversations intellectual. My dad had two more little girls, and every time I stepped through the front door, it felt like I’d joined the circus. Mom stressed the importance of academic achievement; Dad pouted when, in our limited time together, I shut my door to do my homework. My mother thought manners were a sign of good breeding, and she frequently appended a “please” to the end of my requests. When I asked my father for “a glass of orange juice, please,” he ribbed me for behaving like a guest in my own kitchen.

My father’s car had become a portal between two parallel worlds. Somewhere along the way, every day had started feeling like the Sunday after daylight saving time. I straddled two time zones, both familiar, but conspicuous.

Now that I am an adult, with a husband and young son, I sometimes let myself feel sorry for the girl who frequently woke up in the morning not knowing where she was. And the Sunday morning after the clocks change still makes me uncomfortable.

But I know that not all children of divorce are lucky enough to have two parents who work so hard to stay connected. I’ve also come to appreciate the ways my childhood shaped me. Growing up across two households with two distinct sets of customs has made me observant and adaptive: I’m bilingual, in a sense.

That anxiety that plagued me as a teenager is gone, replaced with confidence in my fluency in both families. And like children who actually learn two languages from birth, that innate ability to switch back and forth serves me well, especially when I find myself in unfamiliar settings. It’s not just me: I often admire the way my husband, another shared-custody kid, moves so easily through new environments. He’s good at parties, but he’s also the kind of person who lands in a city for the first time and, within 24 hours, gets asked for directions.

The expected legacy of a joint custody childhood is a craving for stability, which my husband and I share. The unexpected one is real agility: a knack for adapting, switching gears, understanding the language of families, blending in.

We’ve learned that a family needs to be strong, yet flexible. Just as we can’t control the changing of the season or the clocks, we have to accommodate hiccups in the rhythms of our lives.

Rachelle Bergstein is the author of “Women From the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us” and “Brilliance and Fire: A Biography of Diamonds.”

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The ‘Intentional Summer’ Challenge: Go on a Quest

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Credit iStock

Challenge No. 3: Plan a quest — find a hike with a treasure hunt, choose an unusual side trip on a vacation or set out to find something specific.

It’s human nature to find joy in solving problems and get caught up in discovery. That may sound more like what you do at school or work, but research shows that a sense of engagement increases our satisfaction with our leisure time as well.

That kind of engagement can make for a memorable family moment, and it’s at the heart of challenge No. 3 of our Intentional Summer: Plan a quest. We know summer has a tendency to feel as if it’s slipping away, so all summer long, we’re offering research-based ideas for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year. For this challenge, all you need is a goal, a plan and a sense of determination.

If your weekend lets you get outdoors for any extended period, turn a hike into a quest. I’m the queen of the old, tattered guidebook that assures you “at mile 2.6 of the trail is a small waterfall that invites barefoot paddling,” and my online searches for things like “local kid swimming hole” have led our family down many a back road.

We’ve also tried geocaching, which turns any hike or walk into a scavenger hunt. Download the app at geocaching.com, and it will locate caches near you (usually small hidden boxes with a log book and occasionally small shareable objects), and tell you how recently others have found them. Over two million geocaches have been hidden by people worldwide, and not just in the woods — you can find a geocache almost anywhere, including in Manhattan.

You can customize your quest to meet your family’s interests. If you have a child with a sudden passion for minerals, you might find caves or rock-hunting opportunities nearby.

A love of good food makes for great quest opportunities, especially when traveling — go on a search for the one shop that makes its own chocolates, or seek out a farmers’ market to find a local specialty and make a multisensory memory (even if fresh boiled peanuts, for example, don’t turn out to be a family favorite).

Last week, we suggested playing old-fashioned backyard games. Here’s what we heard:

A reader named Janet reminisced about playing a softball-like game called Scrub when she was in her early teens in Westport Harbor, Mass. “We lived year-round directly by the sea but had a huge yard, shaded, in those days, by giant elm trees.” The game involved a bat on the ground in front of the pitcher’s mound, and the person at bat would roll the ball toward it and set off running to first base.  “I remember those warm summer nights with the sound of the waves and fireflies and my father loving this game along with us,” she wrote.

Alison from Woodbridge, N.J., wrote: “This challenge reminded me of a game we made up in our neighborhood as kids called Jaws. My parents’ porch was the safety of the ship and one kid played Jaws trying to capture us as we ran around the yard. We would compete to see how many times we could circle the house without being caught.”

And a group of teenagers from Phoenixville, Pa., told us about an intentional summer tradition we liked so much, we may borrow it for a future challenge. For now, we’ll just tell you about some of their favorite games: “extreme hopscotch” (extending all the way down the block) and “glowquet” (croquet after dark with glow sticks on the wickets).

Keep on playing!

This week’s challenge: Plan a quest. Tell us about yours, and how it goes, by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, July 12. Did you find what you were looking for? Discover a new passion? Delight one member of the family while driving another crazy? You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, July 14. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

When a Child Thinks Life is Unfair, Use Game Theory

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Credit iStock

As soon as Kristina Dooley’s 5-year-old triplets see an elevator, they race to be the one who gets there first.

“When they get to the buttons, elbows start flying,” she says. Almost immediately, she hears the complaint “That’s not fair!” from the child who doesn’t get to hit a button.

A child’s list of things that are “not fair” is seemingly endless. Whether it’s elevator buttons, equal piles of goldfish crackers, who gets the first bedtime kiss or who gets to use the precious purple cup, children demand precision equality that seems impossible to achieve most of the time.

But research suggests that humans evolved to want fair treatment — an expectation that other social animals share. In a now famous study, a capuchin monkey rewarded for a task with a piece of tasty cucumber was pleased, until she saw one of her peers rewarded for the same task with a tasty grape. The reaction may be familiar to parents. The monkey throws the cucumber at her handler and rattles the cage in anger.

In humans, the desire to be treated fairly starts early. Researchers have found that children as young as 19 months seem to understand the concept of fairness, and appear surprised by scenes of blatant favoritism – such as when one puppet is given toys and another puppet goes without. By age 7, some children will choose to forgo candy rather than get a significantly larger share than others.

“The question of jealousy is easy — in any kind of group living, you have to be careful that somebody else isn’t getting more than you,” said Paul Raeburn, a co-author of “The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting.”

The desire not to have more than others can also be explained. In a hunter-gatherer society where conditions of scarcity arise frequently, sharing food when you have more increases the likelihood that others will share when you have less. “The presumption is that it gave some ancestor an evolutionary advantage,” he said.

Given that a child’s desire for life to be fair seems to be hard wired, it’s better not to fight it, says Mr. Raeburn. Instead, he suggests applying classic game theory strategies to help children make “fair” decisions and stop the squabbling. They include:

I Cut, You Pick: This classic strategy for dividing simple things, like cake, allows each child to make a choice: One divides the desired good, and the other chooses. I Cut, You Pick has limits, says Mr. Raeburn, if the thing to be divided has a different value to each child, or if there are more than two children with an interest. But if nothing else, it works well for cake.

Tit for Tat:When children are faced with the job of cleaning up a joint mess, suggest “you pick up one, then he picks up one,” said Mr. Raeburn. “We had mixed results with Tit for Tat,” he admits. His 9-year-old son was able to manipulate his 6-year-old brother into doing more. “This probably works better with children who are closer in age, or at least both over 7.”

Random Dictator: In Random Dictator, a family faced with a choice that affects every family member (what movie to watch, what cereal to buy, which restaurant to go to) has each family member write down a selection, then draws a single one from a hat. One person ultimately chooses — but who “wins” is random.

Auction: How to decide who chooses the one show that will be watched tonight or gets first play on the iPad on a road trip? Try auctioning the desired reward to the highest bidder, using chores, other privileges or even Halloween candy as currency. “This involves some learning,” said Mr. Raeburn. “It’s easy for a child to overvalue something in the moment and get stuck doing way too many chores.” At first, he says, parents might have to monitor the fairness of the auction process itself — but children who like it may end up running auctions on their own.

Even if you adopt these strategies, chances are that some things will always feel “not fair” to kids.

“Don’t react defensively,” says Laura Markham, author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.” Parents have to recognize that sometimes, no matter how logical the division of everything from elevator buttons to our time and attention seems to us, one child feels less loved. Even grown-ups know it’s hard when someone else gets a gift you wanted, or more ice cream on their cone. Find words that acknowledge the child’s perspective.

“Try focusing on whether you’re meeting their individual needs instead of worrying whether each one is getting the exact same thing at the exact same time,” Dr. Markham said. “When we’re always busy with the baby, or something like that, it really rankles.”

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Playing Catch With Strangers

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Credit Giselle Potter

I’m shooting hoops at the playground in the schoolyard around the corner from where I live in Forest Hills, Queens, when I see a young mother pitching a baseball to her son. He’s probably about 8 years old.

She lobs the ball toward him, but it goes nowhere near the strike zone. The boy frowns with serious purpose and swings wildly, missing. Again and again she pitches off-target and again and again he strikes out.

I amble over to the mother, as nonchalantly as I know how, to offer my services as a relief pitcher.
“Yes,” she says, radiating gratitude. “Please.”

My father played catch with me only once as far as I can remember. We went out on our front lawn and tossed a baseball back and forth, each throw smacking loudly into our mitts. That summer afternoon, I felt about as happy as I’d ever felt. That’s just how it goes when you’re 8 years old and playing catch with your dad.

But then my father got busy with work, too busy to play catch with me anymore, always leaving early in the morning and returning late at night, and that turned out to be that. He had to do what he had to do. He was also born deaf, creating an extra barrier between us, and tended to keep to himself.

I promised myself everything would go differently with my own son and daughter. We tried pretty much every major sport together – baseball, basketball, tennis, soccer, you name it. We flung around Frisbees. We raced in sprints. We saw who could swim underwater the longest. It went great.

But then our kids turned into teenagers and young adults. They moved on to more independent physical pursuits – push-ups and jogging and such. And once again, that turned out to be that.

Play has always meant the world to me, even as a so-called adult. So now, if I spot a kid who evidently needs to play, I am happy to oblige.

Once, my wife, son, daughter and I went to a Thanksgiving dinner our friends held in our neighborhood. Halfway through the feast, the oldest son of our hosts, in high school at the time, looked as if he had mingled quite enough with all the grown-ups at the table. As it happened, so had I.

Knowing him to be a serious athlete, I invited him to have a pass with a football in the street in front of the house. Out we went into the November night, shrugging on our overcoats to shield us from the chill. We flipped passes to each other for who knows how long.

“Better than turkey,” the teenager later told me. “Much better.”

Clearly, I suffer from an acute case of Peter Pan Syndrome. But just as clearly, I’m ever-ready to answer my calling as a Pied Piper of play.

So it went last August when my wife and daughter and I took our annual vacation in Mystic, Conn. One afternoon, as we sunned ourselves by the pool at the motel, a boy about 10 years old left the lounge chair next to his mother and slid into the water. Soon, clearly bored, he started to toss a tennis ball in the air to himself. I joined him in the pool and held up my hand to signal for him to toss me the ball.

We played catch for the next half-hour, throwing the ball back and forth, the kid smiling the whole time. It perfectly fit my lifelong definition of fun – an activity spontaneous, absorbing even therapeutic.

Afterward, I said to my wife, “I swear, I could go through my whole life playing catch with strangers.”

“Yes,” she said, “I believe you could.”

A short time later, I realized that in a sense I already do. Playing catch, after all, is a dialogue, a conversation, a connection made. Every school had meant new classmates and new teachers, every job new colleagues and clients, every backyard barbeque new friends and acquaintances, every neighborhood new tenants and merchants, and every basketball court new teammates and opponents. I’d always, after a fashion, played catch with strangers.

Playing catch with kids is a job I still covet, even though I’m now eligible for Social Security. Play is a language children speak fluently.

Every time I engage in a sport with kids, I’m in effect re-enacting that catch with my father on our front lawn and those games I played with my kids. I feel, if only for a few moments, restored to my roles as father and son, connected both to the boy I used to be and the father I’ll always remain.

Back at the playground now, I pitch the baseball right down the pipe and the kid belts a shot into left field. His mother drops her jaw in disbelief. Then the kid clubs another blast even farther. He’s walloping every pitch all over the playground, smiling now, proud of himself.

“Thank you,” his mom says as I start to leave, then repeating: “Thank you.”

I go back to shooting hoops and hear a Mr. Softee truck pull up to the curb nearby, its familiar jingle a siren song drawing children and parents. And a minute later, the same kid, now probably feeling rather like a future Hall of Famer, walks over to me bearing an important message from his sponsor.

“My mom told me to ask you,” he says, “if you want some ice cream.”

I picture swirls of creamy chocolate piled on a cone and feel a twinge of earthly desire. But I decline. I’ve already had my treat.

Bob Brody is an executive and essayist in New York City. This essay is adapted from his memoir, due out next June.

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Parenting Our Children After We Die

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Credit

Accounts of the grief children suffer after the deaths of their mothers or fathers reinforced my desire to use the time granted by treatment to help my adult children cope with my demise. We always parent our offspring to survive us, but cancer intensifies the urgency to do so.

I am not a fan of “anticipatory grieving,” the term psychologists use to describe how some people with chronic disease mourn their expected death with their partners and kids. While I am alive, I do not want to subject my daughters to a long sojourn in the stony valley of the shadow. The idea of converting our present into a prelude of my absence distresses me.

Nor am I thinking of the medical and legal forms — advance directives, living wills, medical powers of attorney — that too many of us leave to the last minute, for those papers are in my husband’s keeping. I am also not considering the words dying people are advised to speak to their beloveds. On my deathbed, I hope I will express my gratitude and love. Given the drugs I will probably need for pain management, however, I cannot count on being coherent then.

Following the lead of other patients with cancer, I have composed two different documents to buffer my girls from the misery that ensues when a parent dies: letters my daughters will receive before and probably after my demise. Though I may never find out if these words ease their loneliness, I like to think they will. And they have certainly afforded me a respite from anxiety.

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A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” <a href="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/06/30/health/well_gubar1/well_gubar1-articleLarge.jpg">See a larger version.</a>

A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” See a larger version.Credit

The first is called “What’s Where.” In it, I provide the locations of my lawyer, financial adviser, bank account, will, computer passwords, the girls’ juvenilia, and my personal effects. This one-page sheet of paper concludes with the name of the funeral home that will oversee the cremation of my remains and the site of the cemetery plot for the ashes. If nothing else, I hope that the existence of such a document demonstrates to my kids that I have reconciled myself to my fate.

The second, “Letters to My Daughters,” I began a year after diagnosis and extend periodically. Here, I relate specific memories I have of my two daughters and two step-daughters and more recently of their families. Each time I write a new section, I date it. It has the look of a journal, but consists of a succession of missives, some addressed to all of them, others to one of them.

In this computer file, I recount jokes, recall musical or sports performances during their school years, thank them for material and nonmaterial gifts, characterize their temperaments at birth or what I made of them when I first met them, embarrass them with stories about gaffes they and I have committed, regale them with cooking adventures and vacation misadventures, remind them of celebrations we relished together. Periodically thickening “Letters to My Daughters” inspires me to treasure our shared past. At some point I will print it out and put it in addressed envelopes.

Recently I encountered a short story and a graphic novel that crystalized my obligations and clarified what a terminal patient with younger children can do to help them.

In “Pretending the Bed Is a Raft,” a story by Nanci Kincaid that was made into the movie “My Life Without Me,” 23-year-old Belinda realizes that she will soon die from a gynecological cancer. In a list of things to do before death, she jots down: “tape-record birthday messages for my kids up until they turn 21. Tell them I love you every day.” For her 6-, 4-, and almost 2-year-old, she spends weeks recording instructions and assurances “until she had them all legally grown.”

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A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” <a href="https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/06/30/health/well_gubar2/well_gubar2-articleLarge.jpg">See a larger version.</a>

A page from “When David Lost His Voice.” See a larger version.Credit

Belinda suspects that if she gave the tapes to her husband, “he would listen to all of them the first night and after that he might lose them altogether.” So she determines to give them to a lawyer “who could dole them out one message at a time on the proper dates.”

About a father with larynx cancer, the graphic novel “When David Lost His Voice” considers what happens to a family when a reticent man becomes more silent during treatments for larynx cancer. In especially poignant pictorial sequences, the Belgian author and illustrator Judith Vanistendael focuses on David’s 9-year-old daughter, Tamar.

Pictures abound of Tamar’s last boat trip with her father, her swimming with the mermaid friend she encounters in the sea and sending a letter to a real friend via a balloon, her later conversations with this boy about how to preserve her father’s soul in a jar, her lying with David in his sickbed. These beautiful images convey the young girl’s fear of abandonment and her imaginative means of sustaining her attachment.

In the hospital, when Tamar hugs David’s emaciated body after his larynx has been removed, she wants her father to stay with her. Unable to speak, he writes her a note: “My darling, I am with you.”

Amid Ms. Vanistendael’s experiments with all sorts of visual forms — anatomical diagrams and scans, traditional comics, impressionist watercolors, pen and ink sketches, children’s book illustrations, surrealistic dreamscapes — I am especially moved by the small frames of David penning his note and of Tamar putting it into a vial she then strings around her neck, to remind herself that her dying father’s undying love will sustain her for as long as needed.

Susan Gubar is the author of the new book “Reading and Writing Cancer: How Words Heal.”

Fat Dad: The Coffee and Cigarette Diet

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Credit Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

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The author’s parents, summer-ready.

The author’s parents, summer-ready.Credit

My dad’s face lit up as he placed the engraved linen envelope on the table. We were to be guests at the annual pool party at his boss’s home in East Hampton, N.Y. Not only were we invited for dinner, we were invited to stay for the whole glorious weekend.

Our host was my dad’s boss at the McCann Erickson ad agency, where he was a new creative director. Getting an invitation to his house was more than a polite formality; it was an honor. His family lived on Park Avenue, summered in the Hamptons, and lived by the Emily Post school of etiquette. My family never summered anywhere. We didn’t dress for dinner, we didn’t play golf or tennis, and no one in my family had ever studied Latin or carried a monogrammed bag.

While my dad was flattered, the pressure that accompanied the invitation was huge. His weight had ballooned to almost 400 pounds since landing the job, thanks in part to the decadent three-course client lunches and late-night strategy dinners. In the office, people were focused on my dad’s marketing ideas, but in the Hamptons, my dad said appearances were everything, and there was no hiding behind his creative storyboards and well-thought-out campaigns. He would be presenting my mom, my little sister, April, and me, and showing himself in a more vulnerable setting.

The month leading up to the Hamptons trip was filled with anxiety. My mom and I rushed around shopping for the perfect outfits, and my dad, determined to fit into a bathing suit, starved himself, declaring he was on the “Super Model Diet,” which consisted of hot coffee, cold coffee, coffee shakes, coffee bread, unlimited cigarettes and water.

Even at 10 years old, I knew this was not healthy. I had read the many nutrition and diet books that filled every bookshelf in our house. Each week a new diet, a new promise for miracle results.

“All the actresses and dancers in my commercials swear by this one,” my dad said. “They say substituting a zero-calorie cigarette for lunch helps them stay camera-ready,” he added.

Seeing how worried I was, my dad declared he had never had so much energy, begging my sister and me to try to tag him while he ran up and down the halls of our apartment — not even tempted to take a peek at the diet bread I had just baked for him — adding the required three-quarters of a cup of coffee to my ingredient list.

After successfully losing over 20 pounds on the coffee and cigarette diet in a couple of weeks, my dad headed to Mr. Big & Tall on Eighth Avenue for a couple of items before picking up the Hertz Rent-a-Car. My dad was proud of his new lime-green Bermuda shorts with pictures of palm trees. As we drove to the Hamptons in our beach clothes, my parents argued because my mom, who was in charge of directions, kept navigating us the wrong way. When we finally made it off the highway, my parents became calmer, admiring the quaint churches, old houses and windmills planted on village greens.

Arriving hot and disheveled after our long drive, we were greeted by my father’s boss’s wife, who was wearing a neatly pressed blue Pucci cocktail dress, adorned with a single strand of pearls. Tucking her coiffed blond hair behind her ears, she offered us iced tea with orange slices and led us to the back yard. It was like no pool party I had ever been to, and I wondered if anyone was actually planning to swim.

The tables had crystal candlesticks, and waiters were passing around trays of delicious appetizers that I couldn’t pronounce. Among them were rumaki  — chicken livers wrapped with chestnuts — and soufflés — puffy omelets loaded with cream. There were plates stacked on top of plates and more silverware than I had ever seen. For dinner, we each had our own one-and-a-half-pound lobster with a side of mussels and white sweet corn from the local farm stand. The kids and the grown-ups were served the same food, but we were not seated at the same table. Parents and kids sitting together was a no-no, according to our host’s son, whom I was placed next to.

The boy, who was wearing a jacket and a tie, was only a year older than I was but had the demeanor of a grown man. When I asked, “Aren’t you hot in that stuffy outfit?” he said that the men in their family “always wear a tie and a blazer at dinner each and every night.” He motioned to me to unfold my napkin and place it over my bare legs, dangling above the ground.

I tried to follow his lead as I saw my dad covered in melted butter and lobster juice. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, not shy about asking for seconds and thirds of potatoes au gratin as he forfeited the salad and green beans. “I need to leave room for the good stuff,” he exclaimed, loosening his belt buckle, as the table howled in laughter, watching my dad joyfully dash to the dessert table.

“Go for the gusto, Lerman!” my dad’s boss bellowed, pleased that all the guests started chanting my dad’s award-winning slogan for Schlitz beer.

“You Only Go Around Once in Life, So Grab the Gusto,” they yelled out, encouraging my father to load and re-load his plate.

While I knew that the next day my dad would have regrets, and his vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting would begin again, that night I relaxed, savoring every bite of the succulent meat — hoping my first lobster dinner would not be my last.

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Swimsuit-Ready Iced Coffee Shake


Dawn Lerman is a Manhattan-based nutrition expert and the author of “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, With Recipes,” from which this essay is adapted. Her series on growing up with a fat father appears occasionally on Well. Follow her @DawnLerman.

The Intentional Summer

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Credit Getty Images

Summer officially starts today, brimming with delicious potential. You may think you don’t need to schedule summer fun — it just happens, right? Well yes, sometimes, but research shows it helps to plan for it.

Well Family is declaring this the Intentional Summer, and we’re here to help you avoid regrets over missed opportunities. Every week, we’ll offer research-based suggestions for ways to set this season apart from the rest of the year.

The sense that summer fun slips through our fingers is real, and it’s reflected in how people report feelings of health and well-being over the course of a 24-day vacation: Our positive feelings increase quickly at the outset, peak about one-third of the way through and then start a downward slide toward our baseline happiness — and sadly, leave us back there about a week after we return to work.

Jessica de Bloom, the researcher on that and other studies on vacation and happiness, suggested that we take time to consider how we can maximize our summer pleasure, even when we’re not on vacation. A sense of autonomy — of making active decisions about how we spend our time — is one of the elements that helps us enjoy our free time.

“Make ordinary evenings and weekends more memorable,” she said. Do the things you normally do “a little bit differently. Take a bike instead of the bus” or car. Research also suggests that people appreciate their leisure most when it includes elements of challenge, connects us with the people we care about, or helps us to feel a sense of purpose, she said.

To add some or all of those elements to these few weeks of summer, planning is essential. As a bonus, planning and anticipating something new can boost our happiness. Once we’re carrying out our plans, said Dr. de Bloom, we need to detach from our usual roles (and our gadgets), relax and savor the experience.

Join us! Every week for the next two months, we’ll propose a simple challenge to help connect you to the season and to the people you love. We’ll be listening to your feedback. Expect fresh ways to get outdoors, get moving (and slow down) and flavor your summer.

Having started with the solstice, we’ll end with another astronomically notable event: the annual Perseid meteor showers, which occur every August and peak this year around the 12th of the month (start thinking now about where you can find some dark sky to watch those “shooting stars”).

This week’s challenge: Walk or bike to somewhere you would normally drive or reach via public transportation. Pick a short distance that might turn into a summer ritual (a bike ride to the library, for example) or a longer trek.

A friend and I once took an entire summer day to walk from his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan down to Battery Park City, something I still remember over a decade later. And that’s exactly the point, said Gretchen Rubin, the author of “Better Than Before” and host of the “Happier” podcast. “Life feels richer when some parts of it are different.” Routine days run together into a single memory, while special things stand out.

If you’re walking with children, let them help pick a destination, mode of transport and route. Leave enough time to enjoy unexpected discoveries along the way, whether it’s a street fair or a turtle living in the run-off ditch by the side of the road.

Let us know how you do by commenting here or emailing us at wellfamily@nytimes.com before next Tuesday, June 28. Was it more fun than you expected, or did things go wrong? Would you do it again? Did you make a day your family will remember? You can also share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (#intentionalsummer).

Be sure to sign up here for the Well Family email so you don’t miss anything.

We’ll share reader stories and post next week’s challenge on Thursday, June 30. The real goal: to savor the summer all season long.

With Our Father’s Death, a Chance for Me and ‘the Boys’ to Connect

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Credit Giselle Potter

When I was a small boy my dad used to ask me for show tunes. “Sing ‘Happiness!’” he’d say to me on the ferry to Shelter Island, and I’d happily comply, the wind blowing the notes out into the Peconic Bay. And he liked to call me into the living room when he and my mom had company and say, “Sing something for us, Artie!”

My two older brothers dealt with this by secretly teaching me the song “Sodomy” from the show “Hair,” telling their credulous little brother that this would be a big hit next time Dad asked for a party number. It was a big hit all right.

Dad loved us all equally, but that didn’t mean he saw us as the same. “The boys and Artie” was a phrase I heard a lot, despite my protestations that I, too, was a boy. Perhaps he’d just gotten used to my brothers as a duo because they were only two years apart, and there was nearly a four-year gap between the middle one and me. Perhaps they were just more boyish.

My brothers certainly were the smartest kids I knew. (The smartest kids, it seemed, that everyone knew; as I came up behind them in school, I could count on teachers to say, “Oh, you’re a Levine brother – I’m expecting a lot from you.”) They never got less than an “A” as a grade. Each one, in turn, became the captain of the wrestling team and the tennis team. I idolized them even as I struggled with a sense that I’d never truly measure up. I was diabetic and I struggled physically. I was less perfect in school.

Dad didn’t make these comparisons (at least out loud). He expressed his love by showing up. He came to the musicals I performed in and clapped loudly. He went to every wrestling match my brothers competed in, shouting advice and living every takedown and pin, as if it were happening to him.

He wasn’t a heart to-heart conversation guy. As a gastroenterologist, Dad was more interested in talking about organs in the digestive tract. But he proudly (some might say relentlessly) reported our accomplishments to his patients and friends.

My father may have passed his tendency to express love by proxy on to us. Once when I was in seventh grade, I overheard my middle brother, Dan, who was a high school junior, talking to the kid who was running the school variety show. “You should get my brother to sing,” he told her. “He has a beautiful voice.”

Forty years later, this small comment still sits on the open shelves of my brain like a trophy, for an accomplishment you’d think I’d have outgrown by now.

Of course, overhearing something requires being in earshot of one another. And for us, that kind of proximity was fleeting. As adults we lived too far apart for a spontaneous hamburger or a cup of coffee, or a guy-like sharing of a sports event.

Over time my brothers seemed to have become more and more like my dad and I less so. Both became doctors, like my father. Both married nice Jewish girls. I married an Italian guy (O.K., a doctor, but still… ) and became a children’s book publisher. We each found “success,” but were careful not to talk about it with each other too directly.

For my dad, however, I would save up facts to report. If I was getting a promotion at work, if a poem had been accepted for publication, if someone praised my son, I would enjoy the good news. And then I’d enjoy packing it up for my dad and unpacking it in our next phone conversation, after which he’d say, “Terrific!! Want to talk to your mother?”

If my father was satisfied by this, I think my brothers and I were less so. Certainly, over time, it seemed to serve our relationships less and less well. What fact exchange over the phone can convey the complications of a marriage? What fact can express the near-fatal vulnerability of parenthood? What fact can reveal the passage from youth to middle age, the glimpses of what comes next?

And so we actually communicated less. It was nothing dramatic. We still loved one another. But we didn’t see one another more than once or twice a year. I’d drive past my brother’s town and think about stopping, but wouldn’t. We’d each visit our parents. Separately.

As my dad got older and developed cancer and heart problems, my brothers’ roles as medical consultants became more prominent, but we didn’t truly draw together. To spare my feelings they sometimes spoke with my husband about my dad’s problems, but in our concern we were still siloed, even as age began to make us all look more like each other … and more like him. And even as age began to take my father away from us all.

We started talking more during Dad’s long, slow, torturous decline from Alzheimer’s disease, but in some ways this just meant that the facts we had to report were not vacations, business news or our kids’ activities, but sad, tactical communiqués from a losing battle.

Then, after my dad died, a strange thing happened. My brothers began to call me just to check in. My oldest brother took to texting cartoon strips with fart jokes in them that he thought my dad would have loved. (And it’s true, the phrase “break wind” was a real favorite of his.) They asked to visit. They meant it.

I realized that the most powerful, tangible reminders of my father resided in my brothers, and in me, too. I reminded them of him. And I was one of the very few people on earth who could remember him as a father, if not exactly as they did, well, then as closely as almost anyone could.

My dad, whose affections had been a (sometimes sore) point of comparison in my head, was becoming the person who might now draw us close.

The other day I got a starred review for a picture book I’d written based on my dad, and I so wanted to call him up to share that perfect, shiny fact.

Maybe I’ll send it to my brothers.

Arthur Levine is the publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books at Scholastic, whose books include the Harry Potter series. He is the author, most recently, of the picture book “What a Beautiful Morning,” about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Sibling Rivalry: The Grown-Up Version

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The cast of “The Humans,” from left, Reed Birney, Cassie Beck, Jayne Houdyshell, Sarah Steele, Lauren Klein, and Arian Moayed.

The cast of “The Humans,” from left, Reed Birney, Cassie Beck, Jayne Houdyshell, Sarah Steele, Lauren Klein, and Arian Moayed.Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

At a recent dinner party, one guest said, “My brothers have not been in the same room for 16 years.” Another is estranged from a sister who she feels over-guards their widowed mother. Yet another lives in the same building as a brother with whom she no longer talks.

Welcome to sibling rivalry, the grown-up variety. There is no law that says we have to love the ones we were raised with, or even that we must reconcile before the grand finale. But as millions of baby boomers hit Act Three, the issue is rankling a generation that grew up believing in sharing, openness and the concept of “closure.”

“I’ve always thought that the psychological field does not give enough attention to the huge impact of siblings,” said Dr. Anna Fels, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York. She is not alone in that sentiment. Dr. Roger Gould, also a New York psychiatrist, agrees: “As I think about my current caseload, every one has a strained, difficult relationship with at least one of their siblings.”

If you have any doubts, look at the culture. On stage in New York recently, “The Humans,” “Dot,” “Familiar,” “Hold On to Me Darling,” “Buried Child” and “Head of Passes” all touch on siblings dealing with money, memories and taking care of ailing parents. The television show “Transparent” may purport to be about a 70-year-old man-turned woman, but it is really about the family’s next generation, acting more like children than children. The Netflix series “Bloodline” has just returned for a second season and deals with four siblings, one of whom — spoiler alert — drowned another at last season’s end. In the film “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” sibling rivalry nearly stops time.

Three books on the best-seller list deal with feuding siblings, including “The Nest” (“Jack and Leo were brothers but they weren’t friends”; “Miller’s Valley,” in which two sisters live on the same property but don’t speak to each other; and “The Nightingale,” about two very different sisters during World War II.

“Readers want to recognize themselves in fiction,” says Anna Quindlen, author of “Miller’s Valley,” “and I think most have some aspect of sibling conflict. In terms of those power relationships, there is no such thing as being grown up. At some level I will be an oldest child until the day I die.”

Most assume the fractures have to do with money, as parents die. What to give away, what to save or how to split? But is it really that simple?

“Usually these start out being about dividing up money, but underneath, it’s about things the siblings have avoided for decades,” says Frederick Hertz, a financial mediator based in Oakland, Calif., who is writing a book with the working title,  “Can I Divorce My Sister?” “Their childhood is such an integral part of their identity, and it sometimes becomes hard to put that aside enough to engage in practical decisions. I recently met with a brother and sister during which she stormed out saying, ‘He’s lived off our parents for 50 years!’ All that kind of stuff comes up.” That “stuff” may include one sibling feeling another was favored, thinking he or she was not defended against some form of abuse, or simply being a living reminder of disappointment and distress.

When in doubt, we can always blame Mom and Dad. A 70-year-old man told me he was close to his younger brother in childhood. “I sort of took on the father role. There was minimal parental praise, and let’s say I got less bad attention.” But the boy for whom he wrote class papers and took to the orthodontist, turned into the man who one day said, “I used to think you were the best and now you are the worst brother.” They have not spoken in 10 years.

Envy also can rear its ugly head after all these years. “In my sister’s mind, my arrival signaled the end of her seven-year reign on a pedestal,” a 55-year-old woman told me. A few years ago, she flew from New York to Seattle for her sister’s lung cancer operation. “She came out of recovery, saw me, and said, without the slightest sense of gratitude, ‘What are you doing here?’.” The act was not reciprocated when the younger sister developed breast cancer.  She recalled, “My sister said, ‘Of course you would get the cancer that is more treatable.’”

Occasionally a bar mitzvah or wedding may bring squabbling siblings together, but then the parties tend to go back to their corners. More likely, reconciliation comes when an end is in sight. Says Dr. Gould: “Whenever a crisis or death occurs — even though old wounds are opened — the rawness of the experience makes old slights irrelevant and the old image of ‘the other’ vanishes.”

Such occasions can prompt an effort toward reconciliation. Or not. Dr. Vivian Diller, a psychologist, said: “Being aware that we are living longer gives some a sense of new beginnings, with new choices. The byproduct can result in leaving behind poor sibling relationships or working on ones that are worth the effort.”

Experts suggest that parents encourage more family togetherness and extend equal love early on. As they grow, siblings should acknowledge one another’s flaws, which can help to lower expectations. Seeking help from therapists or mediators can bring the real issues out into the open.

“I do see more of a willingness to get therapy,” Dr. Fels said. “Professionals can also help people to recognize — and perhaps even accept — that a sibling might have legitimate mental health issues,” she said. All of the above may improve matters in some families. But there is no guarantee.

Michele Willens is a freelance writer and podcaster for NPR’s Robinhoodradio.


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