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Q: I'm a young mother, and I dread mealtimes. I keep telling myself I'll do better, but by the time the meal is over, I've been beaten by an 18-month-old. Other mothers claim they have no problems, but at least my doctor says the child is growing normally. Where have I gone wrong?

A: Bet this is your first child! Stop believing all the other bragging mothers, for they're having their share of problems, too. I guess it sounds better if they don't let on.

The important statement is that your doctor says the child is growing normally, so we know that you're getting enough calories into the child, even if it doesn't always seem that way.

My first tip to you is to keep your mealtime schedule on time. This routine can work in your favor, as the baby will most likely be hungry "on time."

It may sound messy, but at this age finger foods are a mother's greatest helper. Cut the food into pieces that those little fingers can grasp, set out a few in front of the child and step back. One by one those small packages of nutrition and calories will disappear. Everything from peas to small slices of bananas or even French toast and syrup. Sloppy, yes; war, NO!

Keep a spoon handy and you may be able to get in an extra mouthful or two as well, but don't use threatening behavior, screaming, yelling or pleading. Just let the meal move forward at its own pace.

Save liquids for last. Most liquids provide less nutrition per ounce than solid foods, so get the most nutritious food in first. Don't worry too much about varying the menu as long as the child is consuming a sufficient number of calories and proteins.

If the child's growth is slow, more calories can be added by using calorie-rich food than by adding quantity. Cheese, peanut butter and puddings are very helpful.

When the meal is over, it's over -- don't persist. Being persistent won't get any more food into the child, and there's always next time for more progress.

Q: I've just started a new job, quite different from anything I have done before, where the noise level of machinery is very loud. It is only a small shop, and one of the older men who has been there for quite a while assures me that I will soon be used to it. Do you think I should be thinking of protecting my ears from the sound in some way?

A: While taking the advice and counsel of a longtime employee usually makes good sense, this time you are asking for trouble.

The probability is quite high that the reason this man has become "used to it" is that his hearing is already damaged, a condition that is permanent and without effective treatment.

Sound intensity is measured in decibels. Normal speech, or the sound of a typewriter or sewing machine measures about 60 decibels. If you must endure levels of 85 decibels or above, the chance of hearing loss is there, and with each increase in sound level, the risk increases dramatically.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires a hearing test for workers who must labor in environments that average 85 decibels or more during an eight-hour workday. If you're working with shop tools, that level is about 90 decibels, while using a chain saw or pneumatic drill puts you under a 100-decibel load. Work at this level without protection for your ears is legally limited to only two hours a day.

If you must stay close to such noise for a longer period of time each day, hearing protectors -- ear plugs or earmuffs -- must be provided to you without cost. These devices, when properly fitted so that the ear canal is totally blocked, can reduce sound levels by 15 to 30 decibels and provide you with important protection against hearing loss.

Q: My 45-year-old son has been diagnosed with Schamberg's disease. Will you please write something about this in your column? He has a large, very red splotch on the outside of his left leg between the ankle and knee. Thank you kindly for any help you can provide.

A: Schamberg's disease is a skin or dermatological condition named for the physician who first described it in 1901. It is also called purpuric pigmentary dermatosis, since that describes what is actually going on. Pigments, or colors, containing hemosiderin are deposited within the tissues of the skin forming the splotches (purpura). Hemosiderin contains iron and is one of the chemicals that result when hemoglobin in the red cells breaks down as part of the normal aging process of red cells.

The disease, which is quite rare, is seen mostly in males, and the spots or lesions most often form on the legs, so your son fits the classical picture. Infrequently, a slight itching accompanies the rash. The cause of the disease is unknown at present, although it is sometimes seen in more than one member of the same family. The spots come and go, often fading, only to return, and the process can continue for years. There are no treatments available for the condition, but it is not a life-threatening disease.

I thought you would like to know: By now, most Americans are well aware of the potentially fatal combination of drinking and driving. An estimated 70 percent of Americans drink alcohol, but strict state driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws and public information campaigns emphasizing non-drinking "designated drivers" have focused new attention on the issue.

A newly revised MetLife Stay Well series booklet provides important information on this subject. "Alcohol and Health" lists six national organizations that are valuable resources for people seeking help, and sometimes the first step to help is only a telephone call away.

You can get this valuable resource by sending a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to "Alcohol and Health," Health and Safety Education, Area 16-UV, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., One Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010.

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