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Book helps kids, parents with an uncomfortable problem

Duluth News-Tribune - 1/21/2020

Jan. 21--I need to make

The brown, sewer snake

A doodie, a dookie,

Or a big, keister cake.

-- from "My Poop is Stuck," by Khalil Dumas and Mary Parkinson

Imagine the Marcus Dumas family's frantic efforts, back in the day, when the real Khalil Dumas was really stuck.

"Because we lived in Michigan, we would put (their tricycles) inside ... and they would ride around the house when he wasn't going, trying to get the movement of the bowels going," recounted his mother, Mary Parkinson. "And then my husband would bounce him on the bed. You try crazy, stupid things as a parent because you're so frustrated."

That frustration is recounted in the grown-up Dumas' "My Poop is Stuck," written in language that is certain to gross out and amuse 7-year-olds and their parents.

We're talking about kiddie constipation, and it's a more common phenomenon than you may realize. (If you didn't realize it, count yourself fortunate.)

Parkinson, who is not only Dumas' mom but also his co-author, editor and publisher, has gathered the data: 30% of children suffer from constipation, and for 16% of children, it's a chronic condition. Perhaps this is the most eye-opening: One out of every five visits to the pediatrician is for constipation.

For Dumas, now working on a master's degree in public health, the worst of his struggles occurred when he was 4 years old, Parkinson said. During one stretch, he went 21 days without a bowel movement.

"We just kept going to different doctors and then we had the pediatric gastroenterologist appointment," said Parkinson, who is working on a doctorate in health communication for children. "We went to the emergency room twice, and, you know, they couldn't get him going."

The game-changer for young Khalil, she said, was diet. The more his parents took dairy products and meat out of his diet and the more they added fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the better he did.

His problems were over, mostly. "Only (excepting) when he would go to some kid's pizza party and eat a whole bunch of cheese," Parkinson said.

Parkinson and Khalil have come to believe that diet is the key to regularity. Dumas' book includes a tip sheet for parents that talks about foods to avoid and foods to emphasize, how much water should be consumed and how frequently your child should be having bowel movements. It also includes a Bristol stool chart, depicting the various appearances of human feces and what they mean.

Rachelle Goebel, a registered dietitian at St. Luke's hospital, said parents should always take their child to a pediatrician before assuming that the problem is all about diet. The pediatrician can refer them to a dietitian, if that's appropriate.

What Goebel will tell parents is that changes in diet should be made gradually. Milk is good for most children, she said. The problem is often the amount.

"The biggest thing we see is that children are drinking too much milk," Goebel said.

She recommends the website for determining what portions of various foods and beverages are recommended for various age groups. For instance, children ages 2 to 3 should have two daily servings from the dairy group; ages 4 to 8 should have 2 1/2 servings.

Calcium-fortified soy milk is the best option for children who can't tolerate cow's milk, Goebel said. It's important to make sure your children are getting enough fluid in their diet, she added. That can include some fruit juice and milk as well as water.

The evidence doesn't support taking meat completely out of the diet, she said, but it does support a greater variety of foods. Meat is a source of protein, but so are beans and legumes.

Physical movement is also an important element, Goebel said. She used to work with the 5-2-1-0 movement, which means five fruits and vegetables daily, no more than two hours of recreational screen time, one hour of physical activity and zero sugar-sweetened beverages.

Thus the Dumas kids' indoor tricycle riding fit with Goebel's advice.

"My Poop is Stuck" was a family project. It's published by Healthy Planet Press, which Parkinson formed to produce children's books about healthy lifestyles and nutrition. The illustrator is Imani Dumas -- the sister who went triking around the house with Khalil when they were children.

Back in those days, she was a "bacon and eggs" person, Parkinson said. Now, the entire family is vegan. They're not trying to convert people to veganism, she said, but they are advocates for healthier eating. They say fruits and vegetables should have starring roles.

Constipation might be an uncomfortable topic, but Parkinson said the book seems to be striking a chord, and not just with children.

"People see the title, and they're like, 'Oh, this is my wife,'" she said. "And they buy it for their wife."

But it is most definitely a kid-friendly book. Alternating pages contain lists of synonyms for poop, and that list seems to be inexhaustible.

"Kids think it's hysterical because you use the word 'poop,' right?" Parkinson said. "There can't be a funnier word to a second-grader than the word 'poop.'"

The Kirkus review of the book called it "a clever take on a rarely covered health issue with cheerful illustrations."

It has a happy ending. "At the end of the book he poops, so, you know, 'yay, yay' for him," Pakinson said.

Happy ending, funny book. But for some families, a situation that's all too real.

"If you have a child that has this problem, you start to feel really desperate," Parkinson said.

To learn more

"My Poop is Stuck" is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Ingram.

Visit the publisher at


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