Forcing My Teen To Talk, By Extortion

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

[From The Washington Post's "On Parenting" Section, March 30, 2016] 

Parenting by extortion came to me naturally one morning during the regular breakfast hustle.

My 16-year-old daughter was rushing to get out the door for school, wrapping her peanut butter sandwich in cellophane, when she stopped suddenly. Her face went white. “Shoot. I forgot this was my day to bring snacks to European History.”

Never mind the potential for a time-traveling pun. In an academic culture where brown-nosing is blood sport, this was a serious oversight. In the split second I had to respond, I sensed I had a few choices. I could be Magnanimous Mom and sweetly offer to save her you-know-what by handing over our household granola bar supply for the week. Or I could be Teach Responsibility Mom, and explain stoically that this is how you learn to write things down in your calendar.

I decided to be Opportunistic Mom.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, as she slowly raised her eyebrows. “I will pick up some ginger snaps at the supermarket and drop them off at the school before work. But I want something in return: This evening, I want to hear three full sentences from you about your life. Each has to have a subject, a verb, and at least 2 adjectives.”

As she pondered the deal, I sensed I had aimed too low. “Also, one piece of harmless gossip about someone in your school.”

She knew she had no leverage; first period started in 18 minutes. She also knew why, out of all the cruel promises I could extract from her, intimate conversation was the most valuable to me….

To continue reading in The Washington Post, click here


Extreme Parenting: On Snowshoes and Rollercoasters

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

The New York Times’ “Motherlode” Blog, April 3, 2015

By Karen Brown

When I was growing up, my father was terrified of roller coasters, but he would still ride on them with my sisters and me. Our favorite, the Rebel Yell, had several towering, rounded peaks and a rickety wooden track. My father would pace nervously for the 45 minutes in line, feel sick in the trek to the top, nauseated on the drop, green and queasy as we rolled back to the gate and then just shake his head the rest of the day in shock and relief. 

Then one day, after he had endured this routine for a decade, he had a revelation: “I don’t have to do this!” He realized he could let us get on the ride alone and wait for us at the bottom, happily eating his corn dog.

And guess what? While we might have preferred that he join us, when we got off the roller coaster, we loved him exactly the same.

I thought about my father’s epiphany a lot in the weeks leading up to my four-day snowshoe hike in the White Mountains with my son. I signed up for this guided trip, not because I was dying to trudge through several feet of snow and sleep in an unheated hut, but because my son loves extreme adventure. It’s not easy to curry favor with a 16-year-old, and this seemed like a potentially winning entry in the sweepstakes called: ‘How do you get your teenager to love and appreciate you?’ (My daughter, thankfully, is happy with a Broadway show.)….

To read full essay, click here

“It’s Monday. Why Does It Always Have To Be A Snowday.”

Monday, February 9th, 2015

The New York Times’ Motherlode Blog, February 9, 2015

By Karen Brown

All around me, doors are swinging open and closed, boots are dripping on the wood floor, the dog is jumping up and down with white flakes on her snout, siblings are arguing over who gets more of the shoveling money, and my husband is reorganizing our books and doing the laundry.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. 

It’s a Monday and I should be home alone. 

It’s my “me” day. And I will do many things for my family, but I will not give this up. Even on a snow day.

O.K., officially, Mondays are my day to freelance. After 16 years of full-time reporting at a public radio station, I negotiated one day off a week, unpaid, to have some control over my own time and try my hand at new kinds of writing. And, in fact, this new schedule has allowed me to take on jobs that I didn’t have time for in the past.

But here’s what I really do on my freelance day….

To read full essay, click here

Motherlode: Whose Anxiety Is It Anyway?

Friday, March 21st, 2014

What does a parent — who happens to be a mental health reporter — do when she’s concerned about her son? Dives headfirst into the D.S.M., of course. He could have Social Anxiety Disorder. Or maybe Social Phobia. Perhaps Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Or he could just be shy.

Read my personal essay in the New York Times’ Motherlode blog here

When the writer becomes the patient …… Personal story on making medical decisions

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

[The Boston Globe, G-Cover Story, Health Section, January 20, 2014]

by Karen D. Brown

One afternoon last fall, I was pacing a high school parking lot in Wilbraham, straining to see my son running in his first cross-country meet, while absently listening to Muzak on my cellphone. My doctor had put me on hold as he looked for my pathology report on his fax machine.

Three weeks earlier, my annual mammogram had turned up some calcifications. Apparently, they can either be benign calcium deposits or signs of something worse. When I went in for a biopsy, the radiologist showed me the X-rays, and I could just make out a few tiny white dots scattered amid my veiny breast tissue. “We get a lot of false alarms,” a nurse assured me shortly before a thin needle was inserted into my left breast to take out the dubious cells and send them out for analysis.

I wasn’t actually very worried. I’d been overreacting to health scares for so long, I had gotten used to most news being better than I feared. Plus, I exercise regularly, eat well, and don’t smoke.

“Well, Karen . . . ” My doctor’s voice broke into the Muzak just as my son was running into view. “The report says ductal carcinoma in situ.”

I waited for the part where he added, “So everything’s fine. Don’t forget to get your thyroid levels checked and I’ll see you next year.”

But instead, he repeated what was starting to sound a lot like a real diagnosis. “It is cancer. But the good news is, we caught it early.”

Good news, apparently, is relative. As I pressed the phone closer to my ear, blocking out the cheering track parents, my doctor tried to end on a positive note: “It’s a good thing we didn’t follow those recent mammogram recommendations.”

[to continue reading in the Boston Globe online, click here]

[to read my reflections on writing this piece -- on the Association of Health Care Journalists blog-- click here]