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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Hours to affect lifetimes: influencing our children

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Our friend Wookie is getting old. He is 81 in dog years, and it is beginning to show. He has a bit of rheumatism in his joints and his hearing and sight are fading quickly. He doesn't respond when we call to him, and he is less likely to greet us at the door when we come home. Most of the time, he sleeps on a pillow in the family room or on the floor wherever the sun warms the carpet. His walks are shorter, and the cold is too bitter for him as his coat thins. It wasn't that long ago he was a fur ball of a pup. Before, he would bound down the stairs; now he is bound to each step as he hesitantly negotiates the descent. A Shih Tzu is an adorable little creature. But like us all, he ages, gets ill and dies.

Everyone knows the ratio of one human year is equal to seven dog years. That is true of the medium sized canines, but the larger breeds don't live as long, so their years to ours is 8:1. For smaller pups, like our Wookster, the ratio in dog years is one year of our lives equals six years for him. Every two months he is one year older.

Seeing animals mature in front of us is as if we were gods. It is not the food we provide that elevates us to the stature of deity, but our all-seeing eye to their whole lifespan. We were alive before they were born and will be alive after they die. We are, relative to our pets, eternal. If we live to 78 we would see six generations of Wookie's seed, if he hadn't been neutered. Comparably if we had masters that lived six times longer than what we do, they would have to start back in 1542. It would be as if they existed for 468 years! Not quite a Methuselah, and not truly timeless; however to us it would seem almost immortal. These elders of ours, living multiples of our lifespan, could have seen the claiming of California for Spain (it would be unclear with all the Golden Bear Republic's debt problems these days if Spain would want or could afford to own it), the start of the Inquisition, the accidental discovery of Japan by the Portuguese, and Henry VIII still sitting on the throne of England.

It is the same with children. When they are young, their time is sped up compared to ours. For example, a 2-year-old toddler's 12 months are half of their lifespan to that point. For the parents, 50 percent of their lifetime would be closer to 10-15 years. The ratio is 1 to 10-15. As we grow old, every 24 hours are that much smaller a percentage of our lives.

This means a little of our time means a lot to them. As adults one of our minutes is hours to them. Therefore, do we spend our minutes enjoying our children's moments as they claim new lands, ponder over wrong and right, learn from accidents and pretend to be a king and queen? (Skip Henry's chopping tendencies: See above.) If we blink, our children's time passes quickly, and with it the opportunity to be part of their lives. One time I asked my youngest two teenagers if they wanted to go camping with me. They said, no. They wanted to be with their friends. They told me I had had the chance to be with them when they were younger. I had looked away. Little did I realize their more rapid timepieces had passed me by.

The difference in time gives parents hours to affect lifetimes. Don't let it speed by. Merge your minutes into their days, and your days into their lifetimes. Wookie barks agreement.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.