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September 2010 Archives


Who's the Boss Around Here?

Posted by Jen on September 30, 2010 at 9:21 AM
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My friend Ria Sharon of Yoga Parenting recently told me about an element of her parenting course that cultivates critical thinking over obedience in our children.

"This is not the world where we grew up," she told me. "Kids are expected to think for themselves and to know how to make good decisions. Teaching them to blindly obey sets them up for all kinds of problems. It's actually more valuable for them long term to know how to form honest opinions and to know how to to trust their intuition than to go along with the program."

I was scandalized. What?? Teaching kids to speak up? What kind of chaos would ensue under such mandates? No more bedtime? Endless television? Sugar cereal?

But then my own parenting style came quickly into focus. I am holding the line daily on healthy and heartful behaviors, but I am also regularly building in room for dissent. My kids know they have the space they need to suggest other options, to give reasons for alternatives and to argue a good case for doing it exactly how I just asked it not to be done.

Defiance? Or just good solid freedom to act and think?

All parents, I believe, fall somewhere on the continuum. I, for one, was deeply schooled in the listen and obey program, and it has served me well. I know how to follow instructions without discussion. I don't have to understand or subscribe to your values or program in order to be able to implement your plan. This makes for good workers--of which the world needs many, but I'm not sure it's made me a clear thinker when it comes to executing my own values and plans.

On the other hand, I'm not sure my kids in their current incarnation have enough experience in compliance. They're on their own program in many ways, and I don't know if they'll be able to enter the work force and do someone else's bidding when the time comes. Or even if they'll want to. (Note to self: Work on this before the apartment above the garage is occupied forever.)

What say you, parents of the internet? Do you think mayhem happens if we forgo obedience training and hop on the free thinking caravan instead? Can our kids handle the task of thinking for themselves or are we unnecessarily burdening them with a responsibility that is too soon to bear?

I'd like to hear your two cents in the comments below.


Sesame Street, Katy Perry and What's Appropriate

Posted by Kristen on September 27, 2010 at 6:47 AM in PBS Values
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One of my favorite things about Sesame Street is that it's relatively watchable by parents too. Sesame Street was one of the original shows to bring in the greats in a way that connects with children and parents alike. My rock-free childhood was saved by The Beetles "Letter B." So when I heard that Katy Perry's Hot N Cold duet with Elmo wasn't going to air because it was deemed too sexy, I was shocked. Okay, at first I laughed. I've met some of the Sesame Street people and the thought of them letting anything through that did not meet high standards was craziness. Craziness, I say.

According to US Magazine, a Sesame Street representative gave the following statement.

"Sesame Street has a long history of working with celebrities across all genres, including athletes, actors, musicians and artists. Sesame Street has always been written on two levels, for the child and adult. We use parodies and celebrity segments to interest adults in the show because we know that a child learns best when co-viewing with a parent or care-giver. We also value our viewer's opinions and particularly those of parents. In light of the feedback we've received on the Katy Perry music video which was released on You Tube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on You Tube."

I'm torn. I think it was awesome that Sesame Street listened to their viewers, or should I say, their viewers' mothers. The thing is, I don't get what the big deal is. I watched the video. If I'm going to be honest, the first thing I thought when I saw the video was that I didn't think Katy's outfit was flattering for her. Cleavage? Hmm, not so much. Upon consultation with my better half, he agreed that our 1, 3 and 5 year olds would never have even noticed. Maybe it's the years of breast feeding that has reduced our children's focus on breasts as functional. What with the fact that they are functional.

One of my favorite comments was the author's comment about Katy Perry cleaning up her lyrics so they could be acceptable for Sesame Street. Um, that's how it works. The excitement as a parent is wondering how your favorite pop song is going to turn into something rated G by the great minds at Sesame Street.

So maybe Katy Perry shouldn't have been wearing an ice skating outfit with her duet with Elmo. Maybe her dress up outfit could have been less conical. I guess I'm just a little desensitized by all the elementary school dance teams on YouTube wearing tassel tube tops to trashy pop songs. I guess if you are a parent who doesn't take your child to the beach or the pool or out in public at all, you may have a point. But for the rest if us, maybe it's time to take ourselves a little less seriously.

I leave you now with my all-time favorite Sesame Street/Elmo song, accompanied by the Goo Goo Dolls. The song? Slide. For those of you who don't know, it's about a teenage girl who gets pregnant. After being Sesame Streeted, it's a song about Pride. It's one of the best Sesame Street songs ever. Hands down. I mean, other than Letter B.


Latino Food Lovin'

Posted by Patience on September 24, 2010 at 8:10 AM in Bicultural FamiliesEating
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labor day2.jpg

My husband and his family are from Nicaragua. Growing up in Miami I was surrounded by various Latino cultures and amazing food. Beside morning trips to the Cuban bakery for pastelitos on the way to school, I didn't venture too far off my Americano roots.

Then enters my husband in to my life at the tender age of fifteen. I'll never forget a night I was invited to dinner, the meal being served was la lengua (cow tongue). While this was a special occasion and dish, the teenager in me was freaking out. I was polite and tried some, it wasn't bad but I couldn't wrap my mind around the visual. What I did gain over the years was a deep love for amazing food from all different cultures.

When we travel back to Miami, food is all I can think about. I can taste the Ropa Vieja with black beans and rice or Carne Asada. I dream of such meals, it is almost what I miss most of my old home. Fast forward sixteen years, dragging kids of my own to a new Cuban restaurant that opened in town. My mouth watering for croquetas and yuca frita, for a medianoche sandwich to follow.

"We are going where?" Jack says. His eyes are already making kid food judgments.
"We are going to the new Cuban place, KennTico. I think you'll like it!" I replied.

Pouting and sulking continued until the appetizer came out. His entire face changed when he tasted the ham croquetas.
"Mom, this is really good. I change my mind, this was a good idea." he said.
I realized consistent exposure to different foods helps tremendously. I so want to give in to the macaroni and cheese, chicken nugget lifestyle required and provided everywhere in kid world. It only takes one bite, one new taste to change it all, even for this fifteen year old french fry lovin' girl.

Check out the new Kitchen Explorers blog for more kid cooking goodness.

What do you do to get kids to try new foods? Share your tips and tricks in the comments.


Traveling on a Plane Without Children

Posted by Kristen on September 20, 2010 at 7:06 AM in Traveling
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240.JPGI was one of the last to board the plane last night. Coming back from a business trip we had attended together, Derek was on the plane leaving after mine. I was all alone heading home to our kids after a glorious weekend. Parted from my roller carry-on bag due to space issues, I headed down the aisle toward my seat, past several overhead bins with available space which would have been perfectly acceptable for my bag. I'll admit now that may have soured my mood enough to contribute to what happened next.

I climbed into my window seat past a gentleman who was chatting with the woman in the row ahead. I contemplated offering to trade seats so they could be together but something told me she was glad to be seated away from him. As I sat down, I noticed a family of four I had seen in the waiting area just a few minutes before were now seated a few rows back. The three- and four-year-old's bags were loaded with toys and activities for the three hour ride. I was glad it wasn't me.

They were in the midst of deciding who would sit where when the little girl realized she would have to sit beside her father and across the aisle from her mother. At about this moment, the little brother realized he could sit by his mom but not by his sister too. The children began to alternate wailing and sobbing. The noise was deafening. The plane door had yet to be closed by a flight attendant.

The man beside me groaned out loud. My heart sank to my stomach for the parents behind me. I heard her negotiating ("I can hold your hand across the aisle, see?" "Your sister can come over here with us in 15 minutes." "The rules say you have to sit in your OWN seat now but you can sit on mom's lap in just a few minutes.")

"Screaming kids. Great." My seatmate seemed very thrown by this turn of events. His companion turned around to look (as did several other people) and my seatmate declared, "I may have to violate FAA rules and wear my earphones for the first 10 minutes of the flight." Other people started to complain.

The frazzled mother piped up above the hum of the dissent. "We understand, people. If we could, we would change places with you. They'll stop crying in a few minutes. They just both want to sit beside me. I'm really sorry." I saw at least 3 other motherly-looking women snap their heads back in her direction along with me to give their visual support. My seatmate was not impressed.

"I can't even believe this. I can't do this."

Really? You can't do this? I instantly thought about giving birth three times and was somewhat surprised that two despondent children on a plane ride for three hours would be "undoable." Trust me. The last time I said "I can't do this," I was giving birth to a 9 pound baby. I can understand if we are two hours into a screaming fit involving a child with an ear infection that is losing his mind with pain, but these are two tired children that just want to sit with their mom for takeoff and it's not possible.

"I know," I replied to his latest concerns. "If only she would stop poking them with a fork."

He looked at me in stunned silence. I looked at him with the look of a mother who has had screaming kids on a plane and suffered the disapproving looks for things beyond my control. I glanced down at my hand and proceeded to insert one of the $ .25 earplugs into my ear.

Two minutes later the kids were silent. Ten minutes after takeoff, I got up, went to that mom and told her she was a good mother.

It was the least I could do. We parents have to stick together.


When Labels Stick

Posted by Patience on September 17, 2010 at 8:27 AM in Connecting with kidslife lessons
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best buds

Fridays are show and tell at school and Jack is always searching for just the right thing to take. He bounded down the stairs with a carefully crafted diamond made out of Legos.

"Jack, didn't you take a Lego creation last week?" I said.
"What can I say? I'm a Lego geek!" he replied.
"Hey, I'm the Lego guy in this family!" Josiah quickly shot in.

My own childhood started gushing in my head the way it does in certain moments of parenting. Everything you have ever thought or felt as a kid is all right there in a flash of a moment. Sometimes this can be painful and we start doing all kinds of projecting but other times it feels more like an opportunity to educate. If ever there was a teaching moment, this was it.

I told them a story about how when I was little I watched my sisters and whether I realized it or not, I gave everyone a job or a label.
Jennifer was a dynamic writer.
Kristen was the smart, witty one. (and she took amazing pictures)
Katie was the charming baby of family who could do anything really.

I told myself all those jobs were taken and I probably shouldn't even try to do any of those things.

"But mom, you ARE a writer AND you take pictures now!" Josiah said perplexed.
"I know and so are my sisters, but it took me awhile to figure out I could." I said.

The "awhile" part was an understatement, try 10-15 years really. What I discovered was that I came from an entire family of creative writers. While each person has their niche, we are each amazing in our own ways and sometimes those abilities intersect. Oh, how I wish I had known this from the beginning. I wish I had never been so afraid to try. So now I do the work of pulling off the labels.

"So I'm wondering if it's possible that there is more than one Lego expert in this family. We would be like a super Lego family, or maybe we are a big jumble of all kinds of things, artists, thinkers, builders, dreamers, you know?" I proposed.

"Yes! That's it, we can be everything!" Jack said.

I wonder if in an effort to encourage our children's individuality we sometimes shut or close off potential interests. Do you struggle with this as a parent? I know I do. How do you handle the labels flying around your kids? Share with us in the comments.


Lemonade Wars: Free Market Goodness or Capitalism Gone Mad?

Posted by Jen on September 14, 2010 at 7:00 AM in behavior
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Here's the scene: Three little boys on one side of the street (aka the Lemonade Boys) spend an entire afternoon setting up a lemonade stand. When sales are slow, these savvy salesmen take matters into their own hands. One boy runs up and down the street, knocking on doors, with offers of a lemonade delivery service, while the other two refine the made up recipe to accommodate the rush of new orders. Their $2 till is suddenly overflowing and the Lemonade Boys are in business. Their net profit at market close? Well over fifty dollars.

Fast-forward to the next day: Two lovely little girls on the other side of the street (aka the Lemonade Girls) set up a beautiful lemonade stand bright and early. They have been planning this for months and see nothing but success in their future. Meanwhile, the Lemonade Boys have plans to take their business to the next level, but there are some labor issues. They have suddenly acquired a manager in one super-bossy older sister. It takes two hours to settle their dispute, end the picketing and get back on track, only to realize they have competition across the street.

This was not in the plan.

Negotiations ensue.
A merger is discussed, but the Lemonade Girls will have none of it. They spy coercion, unfair distribution of profits and a whole lot more hassle on the production line. No deal. Discussions come to a abrupt halt.

The Lemonade Boys and their now demoted sister/manager have no mercy. They will crush the competition! They will slash prices! Add a new product line (Betty Crocker brownies)! Form a street team for guerrilla advertising!

The Lemonade Girls are clever, however. They have already instituted an aggressive marketing campaign an hour earlier. The boy with the bike privileges is already making the rounds, spreading word of their one time lemonade sale far and wide. The Lemonade Boys don't have the budget for that, so warlike tactics ensue. The Mother Regulator has to step in and abolish the advertised recording which is being broadcast at high volume from a battery operated speaker in the driveway.

No worries, the Lemonade Girls are outpacing the Lemonade Boys 3 to 1. Careful product development, marketing and an excellent customer service experience prevails. The girls are ahead of the game and showing no signs of remorse over the proposed merger. Sales are off the charts!

The only fallout is the neighbors who feel dazed and confused by the onslaught of messaging coming at them from every available channel.

"It's like a war out there," the lady with the poodle reported. "Yesterday it was fifty cents for a large, now it's a dollar for a large? I don't know who to buy from or what to do."

In the end, the Lemonade Girls netted $64 while the Lemonade Boys happily split their $28 profit four ways. The Mother Regulator thought this was a free market success but there was some dissent from Commissioners on both sides of the street.

"Um, was it really necessary for there to be TWO lemonade stands today?"
"Why couldn't the Lemonade Boys have waited til another day, so as not to rain on the Lemonade Girls parade?"
"Don't you think it would have been better to emphasize friendship over competition?"

Needless to say, the Mother Regulator faced a rigorous peer review and may or may not retain her right to oversee fair practices in the lemonade market next season.

What say you, Grownups from the Real World? Are we in danger of creating fantastic business people who have lost the art of living peacefully with their neighbors? Or is all well that ends well in love and war? What would you do? Nix the stand, wait for another day, or let the free market reign? Your unfettered opinions solicited in the comments below.


Never Too Much Sleep for the Kindergartener

Posted by Kristen on September 13, 2010 at 6:36 AM
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138.JPGThe kids came running off the bus after their very first day of school. Their little feet barely hit the pavement before they began talking about play dates and video games. These are not things a mother wants to know about the first day of school. I let them ramble on until it was time to go in different directions from our favorite neighbor friend.

K: We'll see you tomorrow morning at the bus stop!
Him: Nah, Miss Kristen. I'm not going to school tomorrow.
K: But Buddy, tomorrow is a school day.
Him: Not every day is a school day.
K: But tomorrow is.
Him: I don't think so. Anyway, I'm not going tomorrow.

I laughed and walked away. I could see how the adjustment to school is going to be different for everyone.

K: How was your first day of school?
Ethan: Fine.
K: What did you learn?
Ethan: Nothing. And there is NO homework.
K: It was the first day of school. I don't think that is going to be the norm.
Ethan: NO HOMEWORK!!! We don't have any.
K: Did you make any new friends?
Ethan: No.
K: Not even the girl who sits beside you? I forgot her name. What is it?
Ethan: I don't know.
K: Did you play at recess?
Ethan: Yes.
K: Seriously? You are five. Are you going to give me any information about school? This was a really big day for you.

His father called a few minutes later.

D: How was it?
K: I have absolutely no idea. He didn't come home crying and he appears to want to go back tomorrow. For all we know, he could have skipped the whole day and just hung out under the bleachers, dealing black market Silly Banz and mainlining YooHoos from the machine. Eat! Dad wants to know what you did today.
Ethan: I just don't remember, MOM. But my teacher did say that we need to get our rest and if we wake up early, we should stay in bed.

I relayed this story to fellow mom of a kindergartener.

"God bless her and every teacher out there who says those kinds of things. BIG gift cards for her this year. BIG!" She turned around and yelled to the boys that it was time for bed.

And that, my friends, is the biggest change at our house since the end of the first week of school. Ethan wants to go to bed at night. We headed out a little later this evening to go to a birthday party and rolled back in an hour past bedtime. The boys took a quick bath and then everyone headed off to bed. Not three minutes later, Ethan and Nathan came wailing up the steps. The sound was deafening.

Ethan: MOOOOOOMMMMM!!!! Nate won't let me go to sleep.
Ethan: He says he won't stop crying until I read him a book. EVERY NIGHT he wants me to read him a book. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.
K: Nate. It is so late, Buddy. I'll read you lots of books tomorrow after Ethan goes to school.
Nate: I'm not going to stop crying until Ethan reads me a book (with steel cold reserve).
K: Oh my gosh, Nate. Ethan. Go to bed.

They both went wailing back down the stairs. It was 8:35 p.m. and you would have thought it was 1:30 a.m. Two minutes later it was silent. And I hope against all hope that they sleep in tomorrow. No use starting out the week tired. Even if we have no idea what he does at school.


Five Tips for Cultivating Sibling Friendships

Posted by Patience on September 10, 2010 at 5:00 AM in Siblings
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The sibling relationship can be one of the most powerful in our lives. The road to growing up together can make you the strongest allies or bitter enemies, depending on the moment. I want, more than anything, when I leave this world for my children to have a tight bond with each other. While the road is rocky at times, I am learning some things along the way. Here are some ideas for cultivating sibling friendships.

Create opportunities for kids to help each other. Give siblings the opportunities to help each other in practical ways. Older siblings can help younger kids get dressed, get a glass of water, find their shoes. Younger siblings can deliver things, or even help an older brother or sister clean up a room.
It is important to invite younger kids to also do things for older children and not ask the older sibling to do more than their share. We wander into the land of asking our oldest children to parent when we rely on them too much.
These helping moments teach care and consideration for the other person.

Let them play crazy games together. There are often times when my kids are playing really loud, boisterous games all together. My instinct is to "bring it down" a notch or two but those are often big sibling bonding times. If they aren't bothering anyone and are safe, let them go and have all the family love to be had.

Insist they respect each other. While siblings in our family are not always going to like each other, they are expected to respect each other's bodies and feelings. In our house, that means no physical fighting of any kind and no name calling. I try to stay out of their arguments but if things are escalating I step in.
Simple steps like having them face each other, one person talk at a time and stating their needs clearly to the other person can solve most confrontations. When all that fails, my mom used to send us to our rooms until we worked it out. I think it mostly gave her a break from us.

Shake up the friendships. If you have more than two children, you know there are often children that seem closer to one or another at times. Pair up the two that need to grow their friendship. Take them out for an ice cream together or putt-putt golf. Giving them time and space together gives them the chance to discover new connections. Don't let age difference be a stumbling block; there is always something to do together if you look hard enough.

Look for acts of kindness. Start a Family Acts of Kindness list in your home. Invite kids to be agents looking for the next kind act towards another family member. You will be amazed how much goodness is already happening and how much more is invited in when you practice this list.
school boys.jpg

What things do you do to create and sustain friendships among the siblings in your house? What are your biggest stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them? Share your insight in the comments.


How to Help Your Kids Fly

Posted by Jen on September 9, 2010 at 8:01 AM in life lessons
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Here's a letter from a supersister who wonders how to help her kids feel confident in the face of fear. With her permission, I'm sharing it with you. I'll add my two cents, and then you add yours, okay? Let's give her a list of hopeful, positive things only the kindest, strongest parent would do in a situation like this:

I just left my scared first grader on her 2nd day of school, still so attached to me, me trying to make it ok for her, assuring her I'll be there at pick up and knowing that she's looking for some love on the play yard without her best friend. This morning we met up with a group of first grade girls that raced off down the street ahead of us moms. I whispered. "Do you want to run off with them?" She said no she wanted to hold my hand, be with me. How can I give her confidence to fly off and be free? ---S.

I think confidence is like a seed. It grows strong over time as we tend to its basic needs until it is time to sprout. Much of the needed process happens silently under the surface without us even knowing. Sometimes as parents we lose faith that something good is happening quietly when our kids struggle and so we panic, but nine times out of ten, we're surprised. Things do work out. Our kids do grow and change and step up to the next stage of things and everything is just fine.

Know this: Your daughter is collecting evidence from you about what she can expect from this growing process. If you can get to a place where you feel sure of her and her natural way of being in the world, she will, too. When my own stories of being scared or lonely as a kid are dominating my thoughts at times like this, I use them as a connecting point for empathy. I say, "Let me tell you a story." I say what it was like for me in a similar situation, how I felt and what the hard parts were, and then I say, "but it didn't last. I made a friend. Her name was Debbi Sloat. I got the confidence I needed. I figured it out. It's hard right this second, but tomorrow morning might be the morning everything changes. Let's see."

She might need an anchor to ground her--like a playdate with an acquaintance who goes to the same school. Or something simple and fun to share at lunch with someone she likes. Or a note in her backpack or her pocket reminding her it's just a matter of time before it works out just fine. But she'll get there. She needs to hear you say that out loud, I promise.

Let her know that her pace, though, is perfect, and that her way of getting ready to bloom is just fine. She can take her time because something good is coming--new friendships, new ease, new confidence. Her job is to wait for it and to reach out with your help, whenever she feels the tiniest bit of courage.

What say you, superparents? How do you encourage your kids to feel confident in the face of new situations that would be unnerving for anyone?


Parent Speak

Posted by Kristen on September 6, 2010 at 6:58 AM in Parenting tipsTalking with kids
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I'm a big speller in my house. I find it to be the best form of cryptic communication with my husband on most matters involving children. More often than not my children realize we are speaking about them but for some reason let it slide. Every once in a while someone will ask what we are talking about but normally that would require someone to actually stop talking to hear me speak. Luckily that never happens.

Ethan has started to catch on every once in a while and has learned to spell big ticket kid words like "ice cream" and "park" and "zoo." This has really brought me down. I knew this day would come but I was hoping it would last forever. In order to combat the imminent decline of our top secret communications, I have begun to spell faster.

Unfortunately for us, my husband has a mild case of dyslexia. These two are a horrible combination. Add to the fact that our generation uses Google for spell check (what's a dictionary?), my spelling has become a little shoddy. Long gone is my efficiency of being able to spell "acquaintance" in a snap like I could in the third grade. So now I'm misspelling fast.

Derek also has a communication problem before his second cup of coffee in the morning. When you wake up ready to go without coffee, it sometimes slips your mind that others are not so lucky. So when I wanted to rehash a middle of the night incident of getting up, I thought I would start out slow.

K: Did you ask him "w-h-y" that happened last night?
D: Why what?
K: Seriously. I was spelling.
D: But why would you spell "why?"
K: I don't think that my spelling "why" is the issue regarding why you said "why." I spelled "why" because I didn't want him to know what we were talking about yet.
D: But does "why" really give anything away by just saying "why?"
K: Probably not but now we'll never know.

The best part about the whole situation was that Ethan was standing right there and he didn't even blink in our direction when we were not-so-subtly talking about him. I'd like to think I have just numbed him by spelling all the time. It's clearly just a habit of mine to randomly spell and has no relation to my desired level of secrecy.

I spell with everyone in front of my children and I have come to the startling realization that my husband is EXCELLENT at mental translation. Who knew? In fact, I've been known to spell while out with my friends and not in the presence of any children.One of my friends recently asked me to never again spell in her presence because she cannot spell and it stressed her out. I should have asked her how we are supposed to talk about the children in front of the children because now I don't know.

And I feel a little bad about giving Derek a difficult time about not keeping up at 5:45 a.m. on mornings like this morning. Even if I don't understand why.

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