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A Wiggle is Ill: 5 Ways to Answer Your Kid's Questions

Posted Nov 03 2008 8:56pm

12wiggles Moms are mourning all around the world. We've sighed in relief that Greg Page, the founding band member and "yellow Wiggle" is not living with a life-threatening disease, and yet he has resigned due to a chronic illness called orthostatic intolerance or POTS. For some time it’s been a mystery illness, but in late November, he officially announced that doctors had solved the riddle of this illness, he shared his symptoms, diagnosis and sadly, his resignation.

I have a 3-year-old son and was introduced to the Wiggles when my baby sat in his boppy seat and I turned on the Disney channel for something lively. The brightly colored shirts and healthy songs about fruit salad caught my attention, and we've been fans ever since. I've been to two concerts and have acted pretty silly singing "Quack, Quack, Quack-a-doodle-doo" determined to get our money's worth and make sure my child had fun.

But I'm also a mom who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for the last thirteen years, and I admire how Greg Page kept up the fast-paced, exhausting touring, jumping up and down with Wags the Dog.

Whenever the Wiggles perform, whether in concert, or in an interview on the Today Show, they are in character, so in some odd way, the Wiggle’s illness makes him more human. Whenever a celebrity goes public with an illness, I feel like they have joined my club.

As Greg Page, i.e., the yellow Wiggle turns over his yellow turtleneck, I can't help but think that he must be worried about little ones out there in TV land who will ask, "who is that new guy in the yellow shirt?" (Mommies, that is Sam Moran, a longtime Wiggles understudy.) And it's not the millions of dollars on his mind, but the millions of kids who will ask that question. (And yes, they do make millions. Last year they earned more than famous fellow Australians Nicole Kidman or Russell Crowe made!) But when it comes to your health (or illness) all your choices about your future and coping with your chronic illness revolve around what is best for yourself and your immediate family--your own children, of which Greg has two.

The Wiggles website states, "Greg has been suffering symptoms for many months, affecting his ability to perform.   The condition is related to blood pressure and while in no way life threatening it affects his balance, breathing and coordination at unpredictable times and with varying severity.   Greg has discovered he is genetically predisposed to this condition and that he now needs to focus on managing his health."

Greg states, "This emotional decision was one which was very difficult, as I have dedicated almost half my life to the Wiggles, and with a question mark over my health, I feel that this is the right decision.   I will miss The Wiggles and the other guys very much, as well as seeing all the children in the audiences that we perform in front of.   I wish the guys continued success, and welcome Sam Moran with open arms to the Yellow Skivvy – I know he is a great performer, and is well equipped to be the Yellow Wiggle."

According to statistics given by the National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week, nearly 1 in 2 Americans (133 million) has a chronic condition. That number is projected to increase by more than one percent per year by 2030, resulting in an estimated chronically ill population of 171 million.

Surprisingly, 96% of people who live with illness have a chronic illness that is invisible. These people do no use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy. Such is Greg Page--jumping around with the energy of a two-year-old, yet suffering with a condition known as orthostatic intolerance. The Wiggles web site explains, "when Greg stands up, his heart does not compensate for the change in posture by pumping more blood around his body for it to function properly." Not good news when you have to sing and dance for two hours at a time.

So, when your child asks, "who is that guy?" pointing to Sam Moran, what do you say?

(1) First, explain that Greg Wiggle had some owies with his heart and he needs to take care of them. He's going to the doctor and will have to take some medicine, but he needs to stay at home and rest right now, just like kids have to stay home and rest when they are ill.

(2) "Will he come back?"

"I’m not sure. He may decide he needs to stay home and get better, but he will always be in the videos and on the CDs. I’m sure his friends will miss him too, but they will still call him and go visit him."

(3) "Did he quit?"

This might be a good time to explain what the word resign means.  "Well, he resigned. Resigned means he had to stop working with the Wiggles because his body was sick." In simple terms, yes, he quit, but when you are having a discussion later with your little one about let's not quit, let's try harder, it will make it sound like Greg Wiggle could have tried harder if he'd wanted to. Too many adults believe that people with invisible illness quit too easily as it is and need to just try harder. Make sure your child learns this compassion and awareness that sometimes illness makes us have to change our schedules, even when we don’t want to.

(4) "Will he be okay?"

Yes, the doctors say he will be okay. He will just have to take medicine and maybe not jump around so much. Remember when your hamster had that illness? Maybe we could make Greg Page a get-well card. This might be a good time to reach out to someone else you know who has a chronic illness. You can say, "You know, Greg lives far away, so we can’t go visit him, but I bet he’d really like it if we took a card and maybe a nice plant over to ____ and let her know we are thinking about her too. I think Greg would be happy to know that kids like you care about him and that you’re making someone else who is sick feel better too."

(5) "But he doesn’t look sick."

"I know. A lot of times people don’t look sick, but they are. People’s bodies are really amazing and sometimes something on the inside can be hurting, but on the outside they look good. Remember when you had a tummy ache, but you still looked fine? We should always remember to be nice to people, because we never know who may be hurting."

We like to protect our children and never have to explain things like chronic illness, critical illness, terminal illness, cancer and even death to them. But regardless of how hard we try, they are exposed to the realities of life. This is a great opportunity to use this band member of the Wiggles’ illness situation to talk about it and learn how to be compassionate to people who are ill.

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FEEL FREE TO REPRINT THIS ARTICLE IN IT'S ENTIRETY

Lisa Copen is founder of Rest Ministries and HopeKeepers, an organization and magazine that serves the chronically ill. For 505 ways to teach your kids how to creatively reach out to those who aren’t feeling well, see "Beyond Casseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend" at: http://www.restministries.org/comfortzone/item3.htm

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