Is my mom going to be okay?
The importance of embracing life’s ordinary pleasures.

Jeannine Marie Lenehan & Teresa McGinley

During and after both of my pregnancies I made sure to carve out plenty of time to connect with each child. It could be a long walk, a swim together, or reading a book. Whatever the activity, it’s quite natural and essential to seek out unfettered moments with your child. It allows the child to experience the necessary comfort and care by the parent, and is essential to fostering that healthy sense of trust in the parental relationship as a whole. While these are vital to the healthy dynamic between the parent and the child, our instinctive nature as humans is actually to be slightly on guard at all times. This can make relaxation and connectivity with our children and ourselves feel more deliberate than visceral at times. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Boston-based psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk explains that in order to feel emotionally close to another human being, our defensive system must temporarily shut down. Meaning, in order to play, mate, or nurture our children we must turn off our brain’s natural vigilance. This can prove challenging, especially during times of stress, but we know it’s necessary in order to enjoy all of life’s ordinary pleasures.

Recently, a dear school friend was diagnosed with Leukemia. Two years earlier we were in our last semester of graduate school when Amy learned that she and her husband were expecting their first child. I remember the intense pressures of that semester and how her beautiful demonstrations of care as parent had already begun to kick in. She was just months into her pregnancy when she proclaimed that she would not allow the academic stressors negatively affect her or the health of her child. In the midst of research and deadlines, Amy made the decision to drive away her fears and seize the happiness of the moment. Moral philosopher Sisella Bok said, “When we drive away all that excites us and frightens us, there ensues an unbroken tranquility and enduring freedom…” Amy understood in that moment she needed to be attentive to her child and herself. It’s this constant affection as parents that provide children with a sense of inner certainty as well as outer predictability that we will be there when they need us.

Like Amy, news or sense of a parent’s illness can be frightening to a child. However, when we are attentive to a child’s ability to understand their self and others around them we allow the child to become richer with each new experience. Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) and Sunkissed Families Contributor Teresa McGinley explains that sometimes telling your child difficult information can seem overwhelming because you are giving them a window in the adult world. It can seem like you are taking away a piece of their innocence by sharing upsetting or challenging news, but honesty and disclosures are central to maintaining their healthy sense of trust in you.

McGinley explains that delivering difficult news regarding the health of a family member does not have to be a standard process or even a sit down conversation. Children learn best through play and demonstration. By delivering information in a non-threatening manner children can develop a healthy understanding of the situation and feel empowered to help. This type of support, even during these periods of sadness, can provide children with a sense of control that allows them to become a meaningful part of the process.

As with our friend Amy’s illness, we can teach children about Leukemia and how it impacts the body. Does this concept sound difficult? Well then parents, let’s lighten up this somber moment and teach your child how to make blood soup! Sound a little gruesome? It’s actually an effective activity commonly used by child life specialists that allows the child to visually observe the difference between “healthy blood” and “blood with leukemia.”

Red Hots® Candies: represent red blood cells
Peach rings candies: represent platelets
Clear hand soap (or hand sanitizer): represents plasma
Lifesavers® (white): represent white blood cells
Tic-Tacs® candies (white): represent leukemia/sick cells
2 Ziploc® bags (half gallon size)

A good way to transition into this activity is to talk about the body.

  • Ask your child if they understand how each part of the body works.
    • For example, does your child know what their heart does?
      • Children may be aware that their heart pumps blood.
  • You can ask your child where blood is in the body.
    • Some children know about veins and how veins are like water slides inside of our bodies that carry water around. Others may not know.
  • Adjust the conversation to your child’s cognitive and developmental level.
    • Listen first, and attentively, to what they think happens inside of their bodies. You would be surprised at how much they know and what misinformation they might have!
  • You can ask your child if they know how blood is made.
    • Blood is made inside of our bones!
  • You could ask your child if they are aware that blood has different parts that make it up.
    • All of the little, tiniest parts of our bodies are called cells.
  • Ask your child if they want to learn about their blood and the job of each part.
  • At this point, you probably have garnered interest from your child and can begin the activity!


  • Fill up 2 half gallon size Ziploc® bags with clear hand soap. Talk about how this soap is representing our bodies’ plasma. Plasma is the liquid that all of our blood cells float around in. Bag 1 will be used to talk about healthy blood and Bag 2 will be used to talk about blood that has Leukemia.
  • Add an even amount of each type of candy into the first bag, one at a time.
  • When you add the Red Hots® explain that these represent our red blood cells. Red blood cells help to carry oxygen to different parts of the body. This gives your body energy and helps you to feel good. We could call these your party cells, because they give you lots of energy!
  • Next, add peach rings and explain that these are representing our platelets. Platelets help us to stop bleeding when we get a cut. Platelets clot our blood together into scars, which are like Band-Aids® for our skin. Have you ever noticed a scar that had some yellow around it? Those are your platelets at work!
  • Now, add Lifesavers which are our white blood cells. White blood cells help the body to fight off any bacteria, sickness or viruses that shouldn’t be there. You can call these your “ninja cells” because they fight things off!
  • Add tic tacs and explain these are baby white blood cells that can grow up to become an adult cell.
  • Once all of the candy is into bag 1, allow your child to look at it. This is what healthy blood looks like!
  • Next, add candy to bag 2. For bag 2, add less of the red, white and platelet cells and add an extra container of Tic-Tacs® to represent the baby white cells.
  • Ask your child to identify the differences between the 2 bags. (There are more baby white blood cells in the second bag and less of everything else!)

Talking about the differences between the 2 bags can lead into a discussion about what it means when the blood has Leukemia and what type of symptoms someone who has Leukemia might experience.

  • Sometimes, baby white blood cells, instead of growing up to become an adult cell, instead start to divide out of control and crowd out the other cells. This means the other blood cells can’t do their jobs.
  • When this happens in the blood in someone with leukemia, they may feel tired or not have a lot of energy. This is because there are not enough Red Hots® or red blood cells to give the body energy.
  • Someone with leukemia may have lots of unexplained bruising on their body or they may get a very serious infection or illness. This is because there are not enough Life savers or white blood cells in the body to fight off these infections.

You can steer the conversation in whichever direction you feel is best for your child.

  • If you decide to discuss chemotherapy, you can explain that in order to help someone’s blood [who has Leukemia], the doctors give a special medicine called chemotherapy.
    • It is a strong medicine that helps get rid of the sick/leukemia cells from the patient’s body.
  • Regardless of how long or short the discussion is following the activity, it is vital that parents leave children with a sense of comfort that allows them to understand the concrete differences between healthy blood and blood with leukemia. This avoids the child developing misconceptions or confusion that often result when children are provided vague expressions like “Mommy is sick.” The concrete activity teaches them a causation that they can understand rather than having to contemplate difficult ideas of what illness means: Is it contagious? Do I have it, too?

Sissela Bok explains, “We become who we are in part by how we respond to shifting circumstances against which our lives delineate themselves.” For sure, illness of a parent is not an easy topic. Parents may be concerned with how much information is healthy for the child to know. However, like adults, children are also naturally on guard and can sense if something isn’t quite right. Parents can help mitigate those alarm bells in children by taking time to relax and to be emotionally available to answer any questions they may have. A great deal of children’s learning is actually self-motivated and self-directed. Therefore, by keeping these lines of communication open children will be able to ask any questions that sit at the forefront of their mind. Answering in an honest, age-appropriate manner can help foster their sense of empathy and will help them to feel comforted and supported. It can also help children to reconcile their concerns and provide them with peace and harmony of the soul so they can continue to enjoy life’s ordinary pleasures.

When parents regularly embrace life’s ordinary pleasures, and express an optimistic view, children are more likely to follow suit.


Ordinarius voluptatibus vitae embrace!  

Embrace life’s ordinary pleasures! 

Jeannine Marie Lenehan (CDS) & Teresa McGinley (CDS, CCLS)

This article is dedicated to our wonderful Tufts University cohort Amy Crowley (A’15) and all parents who understand the importance of teaching children to embrace life’s ordinary pleasures ~ especially during life’s more challenging periods.  

Please visit our Life in Stages tool as a foundational guideline to fostering healthy virtues in children and adolescents 0-18 yrs.


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