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February 28, 2007

Vexed by this vaccine


My three girls will not be appearing in any of Merck's commercials for the Gardasil vaccine for cervical cancer. (See photo at left.)

I am thrilled that several state Legislatures, including Florida's, have stopped jumping on the Gardasil bandwagon. At least 20 states were considering making the cervical cancer vaccine mandatory for 11- and 12-year-old girls. Although the shot prevents sexually transmitted diseases, I am skeptical because of the intensive lobbying effort by Merck, which funded groups that were promoting the vaccine.

This vaccine has not been around long enough for us to know if there are long-term negative effects (Remember Vioxx?) or how long the immunity even lasts. I'm glad everyone has come to their senses and is taking a step back to see if this shot is all it's cracked up to be.

POSTED IN: Pre-Teen (57)

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Baby on the way: What to buy?

[Written by Sun-Sentinel staff writer Kathy Bushouse]

I’m becoming a stroller stalker.

Don’t be alarmed – this is all in the name of research. My husband and I are about three months away from the birth of our first child, and as my due date draws closer, I find myself with more questions than I could have ever imagined about products I’ve never cared about until now: Strollers, car seats, baby bouncers, baby carriers, bassinets, cribs, high chairs.

Now, every time I pass by parents, I always try to catch a glimpse of the name on the strollers they’re pushing. It’s been interesting to see what brands people buy, but I’m fairly certain I creeped out a couple at my Publix in Delray Beach over the weekend when I craned my neck to get a good look at their stroller’s manufacturer. (Sorry about the gawking, if you happen to be reading this. But nice Peg Perego)

My Friends With Kids have faced a barrage of baby questions from me – travel system or not? What the heck is a pack-and-play and why does it need sheets? Do I need a bouncer and a swing? Britax or Graco? Peg Perego or Maclaren?

Now if you’d mentioned Peg Perego a year ago, I’d have thought you were talking about some hip indie rock band from England, not a manufacturer of decent strollers with full reclining seats. But these days, all I think about is Peg Perego and which version of their lightweight stroller should make its way onto my registry.

I’m nervous about picking the wrong thing – and spending hundreds of bucks on something I can’t use. I’ve got the latest copy of Baby Bargains to help me narrow my choices, and already the book is dog-eared, its cover bent from overuse.

In my household, I’m alone in my baby product obsession. While my husband wants to make sure we’re not carting our first-born son in a Cardboard Death Trap on Wheels, he’s not going to get caught up in the Britax vs. Graco infant car seat debate that commanded my attention two weeks ago.

“I trust your judgment,” he said to me, after I tried to call him in from the living room the other day to show him the Graco SnugRide (“Patchwork Cows” model) on our registry. Then he went back to watching television.

The problem is, I don’t trust my judgment quite yet. So parents, I need your expertise. What kind of products do I really need for my baby? What’s worked for you? Is there something that I absolutely need, or a product that I should absolutely avoid? How bad do Diaper Champs smell? And do I really, really need a lighted diaper wipe warmer?

I can’t offer you any kind of payment, of course. But in exchange for the advice, I promise not to gawk at your stroller or your car seat anymore.

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31)

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The Best Music for Kids

Nancy's posting about Greg Wiggle got me to thinking about kids music, which is a good thing, because this is a subject about which I actually know something.

For several years, up until about a year ago, I reviewed children's music for South Florida Parenting. This meant that I was treated by recording-industry PR people with huge piles of children's music CDs. The bad thing was, I had to listen to it all. I need to tell you, most of it just made me cringe.

My main rule of thumb in judging any children's music was: Can I listen to this for more than five minutes?

Thankfully, I did find a few stand-outs over the years for which the answer was yes. And that's not counting the various Mozart and Beethoven CDs for babies and the non-stop flow of music from the Walt Disney Records machine (fueled by a deep catalog of Disney movie music and everything on the Disney Channel, which seems to create a new star a month).

Here's my less-than-definitive list of good, fun, listenable, worthwhile music for children.

Putumayo Kids
putumayo.jpgThis is a whole record label devoted to finding, recording and collecting the best world-music recordings for children. There's a whole series of "Playground" music CDs, and all of them are worth buying if you like the style of music. My personal favorites are New Orleans Playground (some of the proceeds from this album still go to Hurricane Katrina relief), Caribbean Playground and African Playground. There are many others: French Playground. Reggae Playground. Folk Playground. Irish/Celtic Playground. Some of the Putumayo Kids recordings also come with multicultural activity kits for teachers and home-schoolers.

Laurie Berkner Band
Since she's coming to Boca this month (March 25, 2007), it's worth putting in a plug for the best little-kids musician since Raffi. Your kids will love Laurie. Maybe they already rock out to her music on Noggin. She is, after all, a rock star for 3-year-olds. Really. Go to the concert. There's more info about her performance on South Florida Parenting's web site.

Baby Rock Records
What's your favorite band? Coldplay? Metallica? Pink Floyd? Led Zeppelin? The Cure? U2? Now imagine music by these bands, and other rockers, played on chimes, glockenspiels, melltorons, vibraphones and other ethereal instruments. It's like angels playing rock. Weird, but oddly soothing. It's good. You can check it out online before you buy it.

Dan Zanes
The former Del Fuegos frontman is the other rock star of kids music. Zanes is a dad who really knows music and how to rock kids' worlds -- without getting on the nerves of the 'rents. Oh, and he has some really cool friends who show up on his albums.

And finally, if you must include classical music, include Beethoven's Wig. True, this one might get on your nerves a little, especially if your kids get enough of a kick out of it to play it over and over again. But first, you'll laugh a lot. Listen to the lyrics. You might learn something about classical composers.

Happy Listening!

POSTED IN: Music (22)

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February 27, 2007

Too young for the 'gay' talk?

"God is love. God is gay.''
I heard Lily, my four-year-old, saying this over and over as she rode her trike around the house the other day.
I decided to ignore it.
rainbow.jpg A few days ago she started it up again, in the back seat as we commuted home. And then she asked: "What's gay?''
Ummm. I quickly tried to decide -- is now the time to get into this conversation? I know how Lily loves to talk loudly about things that embarrass people, while we are in the checkout line at the grocery store. (Such as last week: "She's HUGE'' comment.)
Should I really arm her with some new information that she will probably decide to test at the worst possible time?
So I replied, "It means you're happy.''
"Oh. I'm gay. ... I'm happy.''
OK, I thought. Let's see where this goes.
"God is gay. God is happy. God is gay.''
"I wouldn't go around saying that, Lily,'' I said.
"Why not? I want to. ... God is gay.''
Oh no.

Well, Lily soon changed the subject to the next burning issue: "Why haven't you ever bought me a lunch box?''
So I figured, whew, we're past that.
The very next day, she was talking to my husband, and she made the following comment: "Boys can only kiss girls.''
Bob took a different approach than I did. Rather than ignore it, he seized the moment, as I probably should have.
"No, actually ....,'' Bob replied, and gave her a short explanation. As soon as she heard the word "gay,'' bells went off in her head.
"Gay means you're happy.''
Bob burst out laughing.
"You sound like my grandma!'' he said to her. "I haven't heard that since Grandma Rachel was alive!'
I could see all I had done was created confusion and probably set Lily up to be made fun of.
"But mommy said ...'' she replied.
Next time I think I'll take the blunt approach.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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I'm being tested

Day 2 of the FCAT and we are in full lock-down mode. dominoes.jpg

No TV. No PS2. Early to bed, early to rise. A decent breakfast that doesn't involve the word "frosted." And we've actually had a real dinner two nights in a row. That's a meal that resembles the four basic food groups (OK, I know that dates me).

Last night while I was cooking (on a weeknight no less!!) the kids pulled out the dominoes to play...TOGETHER (Math practice!). Then we sat down TOGETHER and had a con-ver-sa-tion about, of all things, the Holocaust.

So I'm thinking this FCAT isn't all bad. (But how long can I keep this up?)

And then I'm thinking, do you think kids who do well on the FCAT are inspired by, say, the Miami Heat , or perhaps by something closer to home?

POSTED IN: General (185)

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February 26, 2007

On the run

Our entire family ran in the 5K Run Through Plantation Central Park on Sunday, making for a family fitness highlight and a Norman Rockwell moment.

I was surprised about a month ago when our 18-year-old said she'd get up early on a Sunday (7:30 a.m. start time) to work out. I ddn't even bribe her with chocolate or more cell phone minutes. She ran with two of her friends, and all ended up with the classic case of runner's high: Wide awake at 8:30 a.m. and full of energy.

My son and my wife ran-walked, enjoyed the group support that develops at the back of the pack, where everyone is out for exercise and not worried about a trophy.

So here's my point: If Team Sortal can do it, so can your family. Sign them all up for a 5K run -- who cares about time, the goal is finishing.

Running and other participant sports can be found at,0,1087839.story
Also at

POSTED IN: Family Fitness (21)

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Weekend Fun

I'm expanding my horizons. Used to be that on weekends, we'd start with a nice dose of Saturday morning Playhouse Disney, followed by some play time on the patio, then lunch, maybe a nap, then it was our usual afternoon trip to the Boynton Beach Mall (it has a kiddie playground). Even the sales woman at Ann Taylor Loft knows us. Or she just pretends to recognize me as I struggle with the double stroller and try to stop the boys from sticking out their sticky hands to touch all the clothes on the racks as we glide by.

We also know all the playgrounds within a 15-mile radius. Personally I think the kids' playground at John Prince Park is the best but the kids have an equally good time wherever we go.

I'm now trying to explore a little more with the kids now that Elias has grown older.
So far we've tried the Playmobil Fun Park near Palm Beach Gardens and we're planning on hitting the Schoolhouse Museum in Boynton Beach next.

The boys absolutely love the Playmobil store. It really is a treasure for kids. Just a buck each gets you in, and your kids are in heaven. It's a cavernous store with all sorts of stations, from medieval sets to barnyard animals to rescue vehicles.

I'd love to hear from some moms and dads about some kid-friendly options that are off the beaten path in Palm Beach County. Any suggestions?

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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February 23, 2007

Seidlin's good heart

I’m going to call my lawyer this week, and add another request to our will.

If anything happens to my wife and I, and for some freaky reason our children’s future ends up being a court matter, I want Larry Seidlin as the judge. Even if he's no longer in Broward Courts and onto TV land.

I don’t care that he was the butt of Jay Leno’s lead joke Thursday night. Or that every talking head called him names. Look at the bottom line.

He does what’s best for the child.

His jokes? His caterwauling over how he agonized all week? The tears? All fine by me.

Would you rather have a cold judge up there, mechanically spitting out legalese? Or someone who speaks (granted, sometimes too much) from their heart?


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Busy can be a good thing

[Written by Kavita Varma-White]

When we emailed our 7-year-old daughter's softball coach to tell her our daughter would be late for practice because she also had dance class on the same night, the coach emailed back: "Do I sense an over-scheduled child?"

I think the coach was joking/teasing, but I am incredibly sensitive to such a comment. Over-scheduling has such a negative connotation these days. Parents who overschedule their kids are accused of not wanting to spend time with their kids, or of pushing their kids beyond their limits.

I totally disagree, and maybe it's because my "over-scheduled" child (who so far is a good student) happens to be most happy when she is on the go. While her schedule changes with each sports season, she generally has something going on 2 to 3 weeknights and one weekend day. Right now the schedule is softball twice a week, choir, tennis and dance class. Throw in a fair amount of 2nd grade homework and on paper you've got a busy kid. But overscheduled? I don't know. On the days she has activities, she does her homework efficiently right after school and watches little if no TV. And the range of things she has learned from all her activities is incredible -- from performing in front of an audience of 500 people to learning that you have to say "Good game" no matter if you win or lose!

Sure, if her studies are affected, or if she's so weary she can't get out of bed for school, I would cut down activities. But for now, I argue that more is more.

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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Celebrity moms can ruin more than careers

It has been a bad month for celebrity moms. First there’s new mom Anna Nicole Smith’s sudden death and the courtroom circus that followed, all happening on the heels of the overdose of Anna’s 20-year-old son. Then, before the cameras could be turned off, two-time mommy Briteny Spears shears her golden locks down to stubble and celebrates by adding a couple new tattoos.

Sad stuff really, the kind of stories tabloids love to sell: The rise and fall of the flawed and famous. But for me, the bigger story has nothing to do with who died or who’s killing her career. It’s about the ones in diapers, the three small children caught up in the wake of their celebrity mothers’ choices and consequences.

Those children counted on their moms, even when their moms couldn’t count on themselves.
Listen, I’ve made my share of Anna and Britney jokes in the past. But right now I’m not laughing. Maybe it’s because I know that the 13th anniversary of my own mother’s sudden death is coming next month.

Thirteen years and still sometimes it tears me apart like she died yesterday. I was blessed with a wonderful mom, one who showed me how much she loved me in a million little ways, like always saving me a couple extra homemade tortillas or tamales because she knew they were my favorite comfort foods. Her absence hurts, but my mom left behind just enough sweet memories to help me get by without her.

Anna didn’t get that chance with her daughter. I hope Britney gets that chance.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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Too many photos, so little time

My kids hate me.

Not because I'm overly strict with them or make them eat a ton of vegetables for dinner, although I should. They hate me because I drive them crazy by taking thousands of pictures. Austen, 9, Dalton, 8, and Ashton, 2, can't escape the flash of my camera as I click away to document every soccer game, water balloon fight and boo-boo. (There have been plenty of boo-boos, thanks to the home-made ramp built by the oldest child in the house -- my husband. But that's another story.)

I can't help myself. I'm a photographer programmed to tell the story through images, including my life.

My husband hates me because I never develop these pictures. They're cast away onto a CD, never to be seen again. Once in a long while, after much nagging from my mother or grandmother, I might print a few pictures for them to send to family members in Cuba or to show off to their friends. But the wall of family photos my husband dreams about still doesn't exist.

My savior: The Photo Book. There are several online companies that offer ways of creating professional looking hard- or soft-cover books in all different sizes, styles and themes as a way to put your scattered memories in one location. I recently gathered about 30 of my favorite pictures taken of my youngest son and used Shutterfly to display them on book pages. The templates on these Web sites also allow you write captions and pick the style of the book cover. In less than a day's work, I had a beautiful book of Ashton for everyone to see at his second birthday party.

It was a big success: My husband was happy, although he still wants that wall of photos. And my kids, well, they're still unhappy because now I have even more incentive to photograph them.

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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February 22, 2007

Terrible Two's at 18 months??

My 18-month old daughter is absolutely adorble, fun and -- most of the time -- well behaved.

crying.jpgBut lately, she has begun throwing little tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants. My wife does most of the disciplining since she is at home with the baby while I'm at work. That's fine. But when it's my turn, I have a hard time with it.

Yes, I know we have to present a united front. And, yes, I try to be mad when my wife gets mad (Or at least not undermine her by cracking a joke. I made that mistake once). And, I know, I can't leave all the disciplining to her.

But I have a hard time getting mad or raising my voice at my daughter, especially since my schedule allows me few precious hours with her during the week. With the "terrible two's" still to come, I wonder: How I can better cope with disciplining my child?

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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Driving to Exhaustion

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. But I was not prepared.

High school is exhausting. It is one constant carpool. A whole calendar by itself. And it changes weekly. Daily even.

No wonder parents of 15-year-olds plead with their child to hurry up and get that driver’s license.

teen_driver.jpgLots of parents told me that I’d want my daughter to drive when she was 16. I scoffed. Have you seen the way people drive in South Florida? What sane parent would let their baby behind the wheel in this jungle?

I had a similar reaction back when I was struggling with a newborn and toddler at home when a well-meaning friend told me that I might as well get used to it, because it gets worse in elementary school.
How could it be worse? They’re in school all day.

My friend was right. The school wanted all kinds of time from me, and then we had the afternoon activity shuttle almost daily.

But we got used to that, limited the activities to keep us all sane, and life went on.

Now high school has put the activity shuttle on hyperdrive. High school activities determine our weekend schedules and rule our lives.

I was warned about this, too. My neighbor whose son started high school a year before mine told me they’d get me for volunteer time in high school, and the activities would rule the weekends. I laughed. Middle school had been such a breeze. They hardly wanted anything of me.

Our daughter, a freshman, is in just two activities: speech/debate (curiously called “forensics,” but it has nothing to do with dead bodies) and water polo.

Forensics, I’ve learned, requires parent judges at tournaments or else the school gets fined. So, for the first time since elementary school, I get e-mails from the forensics mom, a high-school version of the room mother, who pleads with me to be a judge. It’ll be fun, she says. You’ll get a chance to bond with your daughter.
I’m all about bonding. So I sign up.

The judging, I learn, is. at a school that is at least 45 minutes from my home, if there's no traffic. But that’s OK, there won’t be any traffic, because they want me to be there at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. What time is it over? 6:30 p.m. Yep. An entire Saturday – fully 12 hours of it -- is gone. From dark to dark. No worries, says my daughter cheerfully. There’s still Sunday to get the homework done.

I spend Sunday doing laundry and cooking the week’s meals. Because the weekdays are shot, too -- by water polo, which is a two-hour practice every single day at a pool that’s a half-hour from our home, and games on weekends, except when there’s a forensics tournament.

Oh, and if there's ever a free weekend, then there's a volunteer gig or a movie date or some other essential requiring transportation.

But I’m not complaining. I just want my daughter to learn to drive.

POSTED IN: Teen (158)

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February 21, 2007

Spread the love, not the germs

Someone should have warned me about the rotavirus.

All of those parenting books I read in preparation of becoming a parent didn’t prepare me for the viscous stomach virus that plagues young children. It has paid a visit to my two-year-old son five times in his short life, including three rounds in two months last spring. It spreads through contact with contaminated food and surfaces. Basically, bad hygiene.

Chances are if your toddler or preschooler is in contact with other children, he or she has experienced rotavirus gastroenteritis, which is a fancy way of saying vomiting and diarrhea. No place is safe: My two nieces and nephew all got it recently when they went to Disney World. (Not quite the souvenir they were hoping for.) All four grandchildren (my son included) passed it back and forth to one another like a game of Hot Potato last spring at Abuela’s house. The virus also made its way around my son’s day care in December.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved a rotavirus vaccine for infants up to eight months old. My son’s pediatrician says there’s talk of making the vaccine available to older children.

In the meantime, I’ve got an easier, less expensive solution – wash your hands regularly! Both friends and family have accused me of being freakishly worried about keeping my son’s hands clean. I carry hand-sanitizing liquid everywhere I go and stock up on antibacterial wipes as if they were a staple of hurricane supplies. (In fact, I just reached for the Purell that sits on my desk.)

Of course, all the tubs of Purell and Wet Ones in the world couldn’t have done any good during my son’s first visit to Disney World in November: As we waited in line for the ride “It’s a Small World,” I looked down at my son and saw him licking the handrail. Didn’t find that in a parenting book either!

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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Don't blame the kids: Shedding pounds is hard to do

[A version of this entry appeared as Editor’s Note, South Florida Parenting, January 2006]

This is what I did in 2006: I gained 10 pounds. That’s a lot easier than losing 10 pounds.

I can’t even blame my kids for this, although without them, I daresay there would be less candy around the house for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s and Easter, with Girl Scout cookies slipped in there in January for good measure.

I used to blame them, saying that I couldn't get out to a walk or the gym or the yoga studio because they needed me at home. Or, I would try to take them with me for a walk, but that was no exercise for me at all, as they stopped to admire every bug and blossom, then whined that they were tired.

Now they're old enough to stay at home alone and they are perfectly self-sufficient, so it really doesn't wash, that no-time-for-exercise excuse.

Last fall, it just got depressing. The mere idea of stepping on the bathroom scale made me want to cry.

A Weight Watchers group was starting up at my office. I joined. But the day we all had to turn in the cash, enough people dropped out that the group leader refused to meet with those of us who were left. So much for Weight Watchers.

Obviously, something needed to be done. So I came up with my own five-point plan for losing weight:
Lose 30 Pounds in Three Months
1. Get more active. Power fitness walk daily, 20 minutes a day. Every day.
2. Cut out sweets.
3. Cut down on drinking.
4. Don't eat after 9 p.m.
5. Eat more veggies and less fat.

The biggest change and challenge is the walking. I have walked every morning but three in the past 20 days. Sometimes, though, it's just a 10-minute walk, because 5:30 a.m. comes awfully early. It's a major struggle to get myself out of bed.

I've done pretty well with the sweets, even during the holidays. Some dietitians say you can allow yourself a treat a day of less than 150 calories, but I can't. Because if I give myself permission for one cookie, I'll take three.

That drinking goal definitely needs to be modified. Alcohol really packs on the calories. Here's my new step 3: Do not drink during the week. I just have to convince myself that a hard day at the office does not mean I can have a glass of wine.

I have stuck to the no-eating-after-9-p.m. rule. That one was easier than I thought. I just stopped buying all the munchies I like to eat right before bed.

I've been doing better with the veggies and fruits, too. I'm not one to eat salad every day, but if I pack apples, tangerines, grapes, celery, green peppers, cherry tomatoes and carrots and take them to work, I'm good to eat all day. I need bread and protein, though, or I think I'm not actually eating. Hummus helps, but I'll get tired of that pretty soon. Also, try as I might, I can't think of an apple as a real snack. I think of cookies as a snack. So I have to be careful about snacking.

I also have discovered that my five-step plan isn't enough, and my weight-loss goal is not realistic. I have lost four pounds. At one point, I'd lost seven, but three creeped back. So here's my new do-it-yourself weight-loss plan:
Lose 25 Pounds in Five Months
1. Power walk 20 minutes a day. Every day. No exceptions. (I already missed that one today.)
2. Cut out sweets. Also, no french fries.
3. No drinking on weeknights.
4. Don't eat after 9 p.m.
5. Eat more veggies and less fat.
veggies.jpg6. Drink lots more water. At least two 16-ounce bottles at work each day.
7. Small portions only of pasta, rice, potatoes.
8. Beware of bread. And butter.
9. Just do it. Don't talk about it. Obsessing about weight does not set a good example for the children.

What I like about my plan is that these are all little steps, and even if I don't lose weight, I'll be healthier anyway. I'll let you know how it goes.

POSTED IN: Family Fitness (21)

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February 20, 2007

Poor Jake

I had imagined what the death of Jake would be like. Happening upon him one morning. Cold. Indifferent.

hamster.jpgBut this...Have you ever heard the death rattle of hamster?

We had come home from, of all things, a movie about rodents in danger. And as I was digging out the pasta du jour -- elbows or whole wheat penne – a scream filled the house. “Jaaaaaaake.”

And there he was. Listless. Breathing, but barely. His little brown eyes opening, closing.

We sat, Erika and her sleepover friend and I. Crying. Watching. Wondering.

“You should call the doctor,” the friend said. Yeah right. Thanks. Is he dead yet?

We touched him, petted him. He moved a bit, almost thrashing.

“Oh Erika. You were such a good mommy.” She cried and cried. And it seemed to go on and on.

“His nose is wet and it’s all black around his mouth.” I sent her out of the room. She didn’t need to see this.

So there I sat. And I thought about the movie. Poor Jake. His whole life behind bars, pretending to be happy while on some other side of the hamster-ville line was a world where little hamsters had families, foraged for food, and made something of themselves.

Or maybe not.

He gurgled. He sweated. He gasped. It really really happens like that. Then Jake was gone.

Daddy dug a hole in the back yard. We found a box. And between commercial breaks of That’s So Raven, we said some words.

Jake was a good hamster.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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Bat Mitzvah Anxiety

batmitzvah4.jpgOur BIG DAY is approaching: My daughter's bat mitzvah will be April 14 at our synagogue in Boca Raton. We are wrestling with how much is the right amount to spend on this single but symbolic day in our lives. We don't want to do the standard, excessive Boca bash but we do want a classy affair that captures the moment. This faux invitation sums up my feelings of frustration with just the right amount of sarcasm. Thanks to my friend Jill Weiner of Parkland for sending along.

In keeping up with the Rosens and the Abelsons,

It is with great stress, emotional and physical fatigue and incredible financial sacrifice beyond comprehension,
that we invite you to join us as our wonderful son

Jacob Adam

is called to
the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah.

Saturday, May 12th - (yes we realize its Mother's Day Weekend)
Temple Israel
14 Coleytown Road
Westport, Connecticut 06880

at the ungodly hour of 9 am even though you don't really need to be there until 10:20am to catch the real action.

If you make it through the 3 hour service, please skip the kiddush (it's
just cookies and cake) and join us instead for an overly
large and ostentatious Kosher (my husband's idea) evening meal, which starts at 7 PM,
(not 8 PM.. or you will miss out on the canapes).

Birchwood Country Club
25 Kings Hwy S
Westport, CT 06880
(which we had to join just for this event and
you would not believe the initiation fees)

You will be in the presence of lots of
boisterous and expensive entertainment
and 60 to 70 unruly pre-teens wearing expensive dresses, funny hats,
fake bling and brand new white ankle socks...
as well as 80-100 middle aged+ adults, some balding, some with bad toupees, most will be professionally coiffed, designer attire galore, lots of REAL bling, and most "tootsed" to the nines. At least 1/3 will be hormonally challenged and some will act stupid while under the influence. Some will not even know where or who they are. Some will complain about the food. Blah Blah Blah.

Please have the courtesy of showing up if you RSVP that you are attending, or you will be billed for $210.00 a plate if you are a no-show. Please RSVP as soon as you get this and not a day before the cut-off date. I can't take the stress.

The gift of choice is either green, or contains a routing and account number. "Off the top of your head" gifts
and Gift Cards are a waste of your time and ours.

Hope you can make it! Lisa and David Miller

Dress: Black Tie optional
Theme: 007 James Bond

BYO Kippot. I don't have the strength.


POSTED IN: Pre-Teen (57)

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Creed's in trouble again: Should we buy the principal a paddle?

paddle.jpgGot a call last week from the school. Some man in the principal's office was calling about my sixth-grader, Creed.

"Yes, I'm calling about Norman Fulton -- er, Fulton Norman."

"Uh, Creed Norman is my son, yes."

(Note to school officials: Some people go by their middle name. Stop calling my son Fulton!'')

"Let me read from his referral,'' the guy said. "Creed is constantly calling out. Today he called a classmate stupid and said, 'You're uneduMAcated.' He also acted like he was retarded by putting his hands inside his sleeves.''

OK, I'm thinking. Go on. Let's get to the part where he stabbed someone.

"Yes, OK. I'll talk to him.''

So they put him in internal suspension for a day.

Creed, of course, had an entirely different version of the story.

Being the "strictest parent I know," according to my son, I punished him. Respect for authority has to be the main consideration here, not necessarily the content or intent of the comment in question.

But I notice that teachers in Broward County seem to struggle to keep control of their classrooms, and they have a thin arsenal of punishment.

I would be in favor of paddling.

Much like when you are house training a dog, the farther you separate the the punishment from 'the crime,' the less effect it has. Paddling would be immediate, and a great deterrent. It doesn't hurt THAT bad, but it sure is scary!

(And yes, I KNOW some principals have abused the privilege of paddling. Please don't feel that I must be reminded that SOME errant school officials should never be armed with paddles. I think there should be a witness or two witnesses, and a process of some kind.)

In these days where kids spend their lives, into the evening, at school in after-care and have only a few hours of wake-time left at home, which is packed with eating, homework, sports, etc., I don't think it makes good sense to pass on to the parents the delivering of punishment for something we were not even witness to, that occurred hours and hours ago.

I'm pretty sure they used to paddle kids in this county. And I think they should think about bringing it back.

POSTED IN: Pre-Teen (57)

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February 19, 2007

An Ode to Greg Wiggle

I'll admit it. I heard the news that Greg Wiggle, er, Greg Page, was leaving the Wiggles and I was really bummed. Sure, I'm about to turn 27. I mean, 37. Of course, the Wiggles are for kids. My own first impression of the toddler megagroup was one of disdain. And yeah -- I know this is relatively old news about Page's departure, but I've only now been given the opportunity to vent on a global scale.

But here's the thing. I got hooked on the Wiggles for at least a year. My son absolutely adored the Wiggles. Knew every simplistic song by heart. Did all the dances. And so did I. The things you'll do when you become a parent. But the joy that he got from watching the Wiggles was enough to suck me in. In time, it no longer seemed strange that four grown Australian men were singing songs about fruit salad along with a pirate and a dinosaur named Dorothy. In fact, my husband paid more money than I care to know about to take our son to the Wiggles show.

Then came the news last November. Greg, the lead singer of the lovable bunch, was quitting the Wiggles due to health reasons. That's like U2 without Bono. The Stones without Jagger. Replacing him is Sam Moran, some dude with an opera voice that has made several appearances on Wiggles DVDs (of which we have several). Hopefully, toddlers all over the world are recovering better than I am.

But seriously, I look around the alternatives for kids music and there are many choices, but few stand up to the Wiggles' catchy music, silly dance moves and all-around fun. I know the Doodlebops have their fans, but really? Two guys and a woman covered in face paint? They have nice voices but their wigs are downright scary. And what about the Imagination Movers, those cool guys with the two-minute videos on Playhouse Disney that sing about cleaning their rooms and saying "please" and "thank you?" Cute tunes, nice message, but they are all dressed like Beastie Boy wannabes. I'm thinking my next kid music investment might be a Dan Zanes CD. He's musically talented, he clearly loves kids, and he's got a hipness factor that eluded even my precious Wiggles.

Cheers to you, Greg, I wish you good health. I shall miss your lovely voice and the way your mouth curls up ever so weirdly when you sing. Happy wiggling, mate.

POSTED IN: Music (22)

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License to drive

The Good: They turn 16 and become even more self-sufficient.

The Bad: That means driving.

My wife and I have had several debates over what are appropriate driving rules for our kids, and I have yet to have met a parent who hasn’t wriggled with how much responsibility to allow their teen.

Well, here’s our rules. I’d love to hear yours.

* For the first three months, no radio and no passengers. (And we encourage our kids not to ride with anyone who hasn’t had their license for six months, although realistically they pull this one off and we really wouldn’t know.)

* Turn off the cellphone. (This beats the “don’t-answer” rule, because it’s too tempting to peek at caller ID when the phone is ringing.)

* When you go somewhere other than to school and back, call us after you get there. (I suggested a surreptitious Lojack system, but was overruled.)

* For the first six months, be home by 11. And in most cases, it’s still no driving after midnight.

But all the rules are only a portion of how we prepared our girls to drive. We rode with them often, and still do. We talk about decisions we make when we're driving, such as changing lanes, or whether to gun it or hit the brakes at that yellow light.

And, yeah, we still worry when they go out. And probably always will.

POSTED IN: Teen (158)

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February 18, 2007

Welcome to transPARENT

The best tips about parenting aren’t found on the shelves of a bookstore. They’re found in the stories everyday parents (and grandparents) share about their everyday lives:

How do you help your child handle the death of a pet? Can’t get your picky three-year-old to eat anything other than chicken nuggets? What rules do you set for your teen driver?

At transPARENT, we will answer those questions and many more by giving you a glimpse into the lives of moms and dads at the Sun-Sentinel and South Florida Parenting magazine. We hope you’ll take part in the conversation by posting your comments.

Check back with us for daily updates. We'll be here rain, shine or temper tantrum.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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It's showtime! Now sit down and learn

My vote for the Academy Award for Best Film of the Year? Disney’s "Cars", the humorously sweet animated film about a race car's journey of self discovery.

OK, it’s not nominated in the overall Best Picture category, but it should be, if only for the surprisingly positive impact it has had on my two-year-old son. The movie has taught him valuable lessons about acts of kindness and just plain greed.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend television for children ages two and younger, I’ll admit that my husband and I break the rule for certain educational shows and for "Cars." We’ve sat on the couch together countless times and talked about the things we see on the screen. (It helps that the film is laced with a humor that adults can appreciate; otherwise, we’d be bored silly.)

My son has grown particularly fond of the movie’s characters -- Lightning McQueen, “Tow” Mater, Doc, Sally –- and calls them by name. He even adds McQueen’s signature “Ke-pow” “Ke-chow” to practically any car that may pass through his little hands.

What movies does your family credit for teaching your children valuable lessons? Here are just a few my husband and I have McQueen and his friends to thank for:

Helping a friend in need: My son now reenacts a scene near the end of the movie where McQueen helps push another race car past the finish line. My son will flip over a Hot Wheel car and have another come to its rescue, sweetly saying, “I help you.”

Friendship. My son was already beginning to learn the concept of "friends." The movie reinforced it, adding the new term "best friend" to his vocabulary. He now roleplays with his cars, though it's sometimes anyone's guess what exactly they are saying to each other.

Sadness as a natural emotion. With three cousins near his age and about a dozen classmates at day care, my son has had his share of experience with sadness. Tears are shed for toys that are taken away, refusals to share and playtimes that are cut short. But Lightning McQueen and his friends in Radiator Springs have taught my son about a higher level of sadness: Seeing loved ones go away. Feeling bad when a friend gets a "boo-boo," as we call it.

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114)

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Their time or mine?

Tough time of year for a guy like me… all kinds of choices, all conflicting. High school basketball playoffs, spring training baseball around the corner to go see and the weather’s so perfect I’d run or bike all weekend if I could.

Then there’s the family. My son had a Cub Scout camping trip over the weekend in Naples, the same night My Team had a basketball playoff game as an underdog against a huge rival. And I stink at camping.

But we went to Naples anyway. Froze all night, raccoons threatened to take over the campground and my air mattress leaked.

And I missed an amazing final-second victory. Bad decision.

But Sunday night, my son put his head on the pillow and had a huge Opie-like smile.

“Thanks, Dad,” he said. “I had the best time ever.”

POSTED IN: General (185)

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What's in a name?

It's official.

I am now firmly in the "unoriginal" camp when it comes to baby names. My children are Abigail (2006's No.4) and Elizabeth, a name that has rarely dropped out of the Top 25 baby names for girls in the past, oh, I don't know, 500 years? Well, not in the last 100 at least, according to the Social Security Administration's baby names online Web site.

Naming a child is a huge decision, and one that your child is stuck with - for better or for worse - his or her entire life.

Name him too common a name and he's just another Mike. Name her too strange a name, and she's not going to fit in with all the Hannahs and Emmas. You can name her after some states and cities (Dakota or Madison) but others are just old in a Gertrudy way: Carolina, Virginia, Georgia.

We knew when we named Beth that she shared a name with lots of other girls, but at least she was no Ashley or Brittany. As it turns out, Elizabeth was No. 9 in popularity the year she was born. We figured there are any number of nicknames for Elizabeth and not all would be Beth.

We wanted a name that was not so trendy that half the high-school cheerleading squad would have the same name. We did not name either of our children my favorite girl name, Emily, precisely because of its popularity. (No. 3 after Ashley and Jessica the year Beth was born.)

For both of our children, we searched for names that would be respectable for a CEO or senator, but not do disservice to a kid. We didn't want any name that was too cute (Tiiffany or Sunny). We definitely would not name our kid any Hollywood Zappa-like name. No Moon Units, Dweezils or Kal-Els for us. (Here's a list of weird celebrity baby names.)

"Brennan" as a surname doesn't let us get too cute, as actor Rob Morrow did in naming his daughter Tu. Tu Morrow. Ugh. My husband once knew a woman named Candy Kane. Not a good name. Nor would it be kind to name a son "Justin" if your last name is Case.

Sometimes ethnic names can work, but go too ethnic, and you put your child in danger of being judged before she's had a chance to prove herself.

My husband and I went through a phase of seriously considering ethnic names, which for us would be Irish. irishbabynames.jpg I like the name Siobhan. We also strongly considered Sinead. But, as our children were born in the early 1990s, not long after Sinead O'Connor burst onto the scene with her exquisite voice and shaved head, we decided we really didn't want a baby punk rocker. Besides, we thought, it would be agony for our daughters to have to explain that "Siobhan" is pronounced SHIV-ahn, and "Sinead" is shi-NAID.

In the end, we decided we're not that ethnic. We wanted strong, mainstream, recognizable names. We liked names that could have a nickname, but with an option to use a more formal name if needed. I always resented that my parents named me "Vicki," a nickname, not Victoria, which is a perfectly good grown-up name that I can't use because that would be pretentious in the extreme to give myself a formal name that I don't actually have.

We thought we had the perfect balance when we named our firstborn. The year she was born, Abigail was the 92nd most-popular name for a girl. What we didn't know then was that we were trendsetters. I had inadvertently chosen a name that was increasing in popularity. Ten years earlier, Abigail was No. 152. In 1966, No. 712.

We liked a name that sounded strong, like Abigail Adams, but also informal in a kind, friendly sort of way. You don't automatically think anything negative of a child named Abby. Abigail Rose it was.

Never did we think we would be naming either of our kids one of the most popular girl names in America. And yet here we are, in 2007, the year Abby turns 16, with hordes of Abbys behind her. Maybe people will always think she's younger than she is, the way that anyone named Susan is pretty much assumed to be in her 40s because that was the second or third most-popular name from 1957 to 1964, right up there with Lisa and Mary.

In a way it's kind of nice that Abby's got company with her name now.

The day she was born we called our older Beatles-generation siblings to share the good news. My sister and my husband's brother both had the same incredulous reaction to her name: "You named your baby Abbey Road?"

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31)

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Set an example: Be considerate

[A version of this entry appeared as the Editor's Note, South Florida Parenting, February 2007]

Is there anyone left in South Florida who has not observed a parking-space theft? You know, when a car stops, puts a blinker on, and waits for someone to back out of a space — only to have another car swerve around at the last minute and grab the space they’d been waiting for.

Happens all the time. And if you’re on the receiving end of such rudeness, it can leave you fuming.

You don’t have to look very long to see examples of that “me, me, and only me” attitude. What I cannot fathom is how mothers can be so selfish.

Isn’t motherhood itself an act of selflessness? You give your body over to the creation of another being. Even if your child is adopted, your emotions are tied up so tightly with your child that you simply cannot help but understand the needs of others in the world. Right? Well, no.

Apparently, common consideration for others is disappearing fast, and parents are not immune — even in situations when you’d think they’d be on their best behavior.

I spent a recent weekend at a group camp-out with more than 100 Girl Scouts. Even in a group that exists to teach good moral values and leadership to children, you can observe the worst, I’m sorry to say. One of the Girl Scout laws is to be “considerate and caring.” We try to teach girls to think of others. But that’s hard to do when mothers who have come along as chaperones have no consideration for anyone but themselves.

One mother brought a television set — a television set! — to camp and wanted to leave it on all night in a cabin where several other adults were sleeping. Why? Because she said she cannot sleep without the television noise. Apparently she did not realize that it is extremely rude to insist upon keeping others awake so that you can sleep. Not to mention that a television set has no place at a camp-out.

I observed another mother pushing a young teen out of the way during an activity that the teen was teaching to younger girls, so that the mother could “show” her daughter what to do, although the older girl was in the process of doing just that. You couldn’t miss the surprise and frustration on the faces of both the older and younger girls as the mother proceeded to do the entire activity for her child.

I had to listen to one mother try to explain why she needed to take 12 rolls of toilet paper to her cabin site, while the restroom the entire camp was using during a campfire was completely out.

What do children learn from this kind of behavior? Well, they don’t do well at sharing or listening, that’s for sure. Several kids snatched all of the best beads and hid them from others at the bracelet craft. And it was nearly impossible to get the group to stop talking while important information was being imparted.

In truth, most of the children were perfectly well-behaved and many of the moms went far beyond what was asked of them. But I was astounded by the bad behavior of the few.

It made me think: Everyone needs to rein in their “me first” behavior, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we need to teach our kids to be considerate.

Here’s hoping everyone takes a moment to pause and reflect: “How can I be more considerate of others, and show my children to do the same?”

POSTED IN: General (185)

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About the authors
Gretchen Day-Bryant has a son in high school and a daughter in middle school. She’s lived to tell about the struggles of juggling little kids and work.
Joy Oglesby has a preschooler...
Cindy Kent Fort Lauderdale mother of three. Her kids span in ages from teenager to 20s.
Rafael Olmeda and his wife welcomed their first son in Feb. 2009, and he's helping raise two teenage stepdaughters.
Lois Solomonlives with her husband and three daughters.
Georgia East is the parent of a five-year-old girl, who came into the world weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces.
Brittany Wallman is the mother of Creed, 15, and Lily, 7, and is married to a journalist, Bob Norman. She covers Broward County government, which is filled with almost as much drama as the Norman household. Almost.
Chris Tiedje is the Social Media Coordinator and the father of a 7-year-old girl, and two boys ages 4 and 3.
Kyara Lomer Camarena has a 2-year-old son, Copelan, and a brand new baby.

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