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Moms & Dads

South Florida parents share their stories and advice

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May 31, 2007

Leaps and bounds.

I'm still in awe watching my 21-month-old daughter grow and learn and become a little person. It's an amazing privilege for parents, I think.


The other day, my wife and I stepped outside to check on the grill at lunch time. Ana Isabel was already eating in her high chair when I walked into the house from the backyard. Anita noticed.

Papa, where's mama? she said. It was clear. Pronunciation and inflection were right on. And it was the first time I had heard her so clearly ask a question.

I stopped, looked at her, squinted my eyes and said to myself: What did you just say? Probably not the answer Ana Isabel was looking for, but I was caught off guard.

Seconds later my wife walked in. I relayed the little story to her. Carrie Ann replied: Oh, yea. she does that all the time now. Of course, most of that happens while I'm at work. (Some parents get all the luck.)

Nonetheless, it was a neat little moment that I'm sure parents everywhere experience. And it made me think: This parenting thing is not so bad after all. I can do it.

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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May 30, 2007

My Not Gifted Child

Florida public schools practice a form of segregation: They separate "gifted" and non-gifted kids.

Gifted kids have an IQ of 130 or higher, which is about 2 percent of the population. At my oldest daughter's middle school, about 20 percent of the school is in the gifted program; at some Boca Raton elementary schools, the percentage is even higher.

The gifted program has a lot of prestige and is considered an escape from "regular" classes, where kids are perceived as having less interest in learning and misbehaving more.

My second-grade daughter, Ellie, was recommended for gifted testing by her teachers, but we found out yesterday she missed the 130 IQ by a few points. She wanted to be in the program at her school because those kids leave class once a week to do fun projects and go on trips.

I have mixed feelings about her being a "regular" kid. I would have loved for her to get the extra academic stimulation of the gifted program. But in the long run, does it really matter? I think she can still get a good education in our schools, and I know she will grow up to be a productive citizen and a great person.

What do you think about Florida's gifted system? Have you found your kids can get just as good an education in a typical classroom?

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54)

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May 29, 2007

Summertime blues

I really think summer is overrated. It's not the heat and the hurricanes that get me steamed.

It's the unrealistic expectations that we'll have all this free time, that summer will be relaxing and FUN! That the kids will read for an hour every day, they'll brush up on their math skills. We'll visit museums and the beach. It'll be FUN!

Instead...scheduling is even more complicated than during the school year. We spend all of April trying to get Kid A to agree to go to Camp Z (the one that doesn't require a second mortgage) with Friends B, C and D.

Then, between shuffling kids between Camp This and Camp That, there are all those play dates that turn into sleepovers for days on end. Wet towels and swimming suits all over the house. Disney Channel marathons.

THEN.... There's the honey-do list I leave for my husband the teacher. More unfulfilled expections. And you would think my husband (THE TEACHER!!) would create some enriching activities for the kids. Instead, every evening after a long day at the office, I get a blow-by-blow about what happened on Law & Order, Oprah and Dr. Phil. (Last summer, we changed our household budgeting system, thanks to Oprah.)

So this is why I look to summer not with anticipation ... but with longing.

How come everyone else gets to have so much fun?

POSTED IN: General (185)

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Books: A pain in the back

Written by Brittany Wallman:
My sixth grade son's middle school is like many in this county, I guess, in that it has no lockers. Lockers in this day and age are considered a great place to conceal Weapons of Mass Destruction and of Minor Destruction.

I've come to realize that any puzzling school policy can be unscrambled with this simple question to yourself: "If you ran a prison, would you allow 'xyz'? Well, why not?''

The kids also don't have big desks where they can deposit all that stuff we used to put in our desks when we were little.

So backpacks have much greater demands on them now. They must be able to carry a weight probably equal to or greater than the Broward County school student who has to carry it.

You know those heavy school books you had? Imagine lugging all of them in a backpack every day.

Now, then, is it a coincidence that my son has back problems at age 11?

I took him to the doctor last week because the lower left side of his back has been hurting for two months and he's even skipping football practice. Since this is his second visit for back pain, he was referred to a specialist, but his doctor thought my Backpack Back Pain theory had promise. [Thank you doc, and welcome to my expert witness list for my Big Lawsuit.]

Folks, we've been through two backpacks this school year. The first one busted from the weight. My attempts to fix it with diaper pins were fruitless and, for Creed, embarrassing!

Making matters even more depressing, at his school, Seminole Middle in Plantation, backpacks were banned starting at the end of last week, for the last few days of school. If you're baffled as to the reasoning, see the explanation above for the disappearance of lockers. Next thing we know they will ask us to sew our kids' pockets shut.

How do you ride your bike to school with a pile of papers and books, if you aren't allowed to bring a backpack? So I had to drive Creed to school.

What kind of place is this to raise a child?

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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To my graduate

To My Michelle, proud 2007 Plantation High graduate:

To say "You made it!" creates some form of question that you wouldn't.

You more than made it; you cruised through high school.... and you had a great time doing it. Watching you and your friends enjoy your last month of high school made me wish I was in high school again. (Actually, I kind of did; by my count, there were six banquet/awards events and eight parties, in May alone.)

You have no idea how proud your mom and I are of you, not just for what you achieved (Note: She finished No. 13 out of more than 600), but how you achieved it. You do things the right way, with a good heart.

I can't believe the time has flown by like it did. In a month you'll be off to college. Knowing you won't be bopping around the house, with the latest tale from PHS already has me melancholy, but watching you blossom like you have certainly eases things. (Music note here: Cue up "Circle of Life" from Lion King.)

Congrats, Mich. I love you.


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May 25, 2007

Look, it's a bird!


In the Kid's Say the Darndest Things category...

The other day a beautiful bird was perched on the wall in our front yard.

I told my kids, "Look at the gorgeous red bird. What kind do you think it is?"

My 5 year-old son, who happens to be a baseball fanatic (and a budding ornithologist?), said
with authority, "I think it's a Cardinal."

Then he looked more closely. "Or maybe a Red Sox."



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May 24, 2007

To train or not to train.

Here's the down and dirty. My daughter has a routine when she has to go, especially for number two.


At 21-months now, she goes and finds a hiding spot most often behind papi's recliner (she needs her privacy you know) and does her business. If mommy or papi encroach, she gives a vociferous bye, bye and wave. Of course, we give her her space and then change her diaper.

So my wife and I started talking about whether she's ready for potty training. Especially since she gives off strong signals when she has to go. She tells us she has poo-poo in her diaper and needs to be cleaned up. We figure she gets it.

So we wonder, when is it time to start potty training? I think now. My wife talks to others who say it's too soon.

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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May 23, 2007

Mom and Dad parenting styles worlds apart

It never fails: Just when I’ve managed to get my 2 ½ year-old son to wind down after a long day, there comes Dad, as rambunctious as, well, a 2 ½- year old.

“Eeek,” my husband will come up from behind to tickle my son.
“No, Daddy no!” screams my son at the top of his lungs.

The two proceed to run around the house, and it’s fast approaching 8 p.m. Of course, Daddy doesn’t have to get a kicking and screaming toddler into the bathtub. Nope, that’s Mom’s job. Apparently, Dads get to break all the rules and be the “fun” parent.

Schedule? Routine? Limits?

If my husband had his way, my son would live in a diaper (Who needs to dress a toddler at home if he’s just going to get into a mess?); go to bed somewhere between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Bed time would vary depending on whether said husband is particularly tired that day.); and eat dinner while watching TV (It’d make eating vegetables sooo much easier.)

The Vasquez household experience is far from unique, an article in the June issue of Parenting magazine reminds me.

The different parenting styles of moms and dads are as universal as a dirty diaper. That’s life – and sometimes it stinks. And as the article points out, it’s not all bad. Kids need the balance of feeling unencumbered and structured at the same time.

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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A Milk Miracle

The Publix where I shop placed electronic readouts at the checkout counters recently. Besides seeing a list of everything you bought, Publix puts little messages at the bottom of the screen. milk.jpg

Usually I would ignore these product promotions. But I was thrilled last week to see the message that Publix-brand milk no longer contains rbST, a hormone injected into cows to increase milk production.

I started buying organic milk when I read a few years ago about how hormones like rbST (also known as rbGH) created ovarian and uterine problems in cows and could be connected with similar problems in women who drank it as kids. I even called Dannon to see if their dairy products came from cows stuffed with hormones, and they wouldn't say.

So I guess I don't have to make an extra trip to Whole Foods anymore to buy their brand of organic milk, which is $2.99 for a half gallon, a steal compared with the Organic Valley-brand milk Publix sells for $3.69 a half gallon. Now I can get a whole gallon of Publix-brand hormone-free milk for $3.99.

POSTED IN: Food (56)

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May 22, 2007

My daughter can't swim

I know it sounds like child neglect, especially in Florida, to say that my five-year-old still cannot swim.
It's atrocious, I know.
Yes, I've put her in swim lessons. She's been through lessons three times.
And I used to be a swim instructor, teaching little kids just like Lily. And on top of all of that, we have a pool in our backyard, that she's been in since she was two weeks old.
But Lily is a fearful child, as I blogged about recently. She is a very feminine, fragile little "flower'' who looks athletic but is in actuality the dancer who would go flying off the stage and land in a pile of music stands.
I'm not criticizing her; I'm explaining her. She's an affectionate little love bug, and she just wasn't made for sustained physical exertion, or anything scary.
At times, I've committed myself to teaching her. I've had her in the pool every night after work, for lessons.
But for reasons unknown, she screams bloody murder. Last year, she screamed in bloodcurdling fashion, "Don't let me drown. I don't want to DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'' mouse.jpg
The neighbors probably thought they were ear-witnessing a murder.
The subject came up recently, and she told us that the reason she cannot swim is that "I can't breathe under water.''
She's made some advancement. If you threw her in, (please don't), she could possibly swim to the stairs if they were close enough. It probably would not resemble any swim stroke, though.
And it never fails, from infancy to now, when she comes up for air, she has a look of absolute terror on her face. Her eyes are open as wide as they'll go, and she looks like she's come face to face with the grim reaper.
I'm not quite sure what to do. Apparently some of Broward's schools offer swim instruction, according to this story by Nick Sortal. Lily starts school in August, at Plantation Park Elementary.
Her brother, Creed, could swim when he was two and a half.
But it's looking like Lily will never embrace the idea of swimming in the deep end.
Is it possible she will reach adulthood still clinging to the edge of the pool?

POSTED IN: Pre-K (25)

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May 21, 2007

Baby Bottle Brouhaha

I recently came across an article that might be of interest to expectant parents as well as moms and dads of babies still drinking out of bottles. Of course, probably everybody but me heeds the warning about not heating up milk in the bottle. But I had always thought that warning was to prevent you from scalding your kid's mouth, not because of the potential for the bottle to leach toxic chemicals. So out the sake of convenience, I often popped the very microwaveable-looking bottle into the microwave and tested the milk to make sure it was nice and warm before handing it over.

According to a study by Environment California released several months ago, five popular brands of baby bottles were tested and all leached bisphenol A, a toxic chemical that has been found to have caused harm in laboratory animals. Not only is heating the bottle not recommended, but apparently the advocacy group also warns against washing plastic dishware with hot water, which could allow chemicals to leach out of the plastic.

So now, apparently, glass baby bottles are making a comeback. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported last month, there has been a recent increase in the demand for glass baby bottles. Evenflo, one of a handful of glass bottle manufacturers, maintains the polycarbonate bottles it makes are safe. Avent, another popular maker of baby bottles, also says that extensive studies have shown that the levels of BPA used in consumer products does not pose a risk. You can read their statement here.

Even though the rational side of me figures that the bottles are perfectly fine (why would they be on the shelf if not), I threw away all my plastic bottles. Not only did this study make me nervous, but I figured it was time. (I blogged earlier about my son's insistence on drinking milk from a bottle despite the fact he is ALMOST TWO YEARS OLD.)

What do you think? Is this an alarmist study or are you going to buy glass bottles?

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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More PE in schools

Reader Mike Lamkin called me out on a recent post that was critical of the state mandating 150 minutes per week of PE in schools. My main beef is that we too often pass on parenting duties to schools.

His counterpoints:
"First of all, the parents are the cause of many of these overweight kids, with their quick fix McDonald's dinners and their own laziness.

" The second point I would like to make is that exercise has been scientifically to improve grades, help socially and helps lead to productive lives..."

He also sends links to back it up: obesity facts, an article about how parents are blind to their child's obesity and a PE teacher's point of view, from one of my favorite writers.


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May 18, 2007

Lovin' Summer


Drove the last dance class carpool yesterday.

Tonight is the end-of-year dance recital.

Tomorrow is the final game of teeball and softball, plus the end of season party.

Next week is filled with end-of-year festivities for one child (and his birthday party.)

Must buy teachers' gifts!

The following week is filled with end-of-year festivities for the other child.

And then ...breathe's summer!

When it comes to finding closure, there's nothing like the month of May.

For kids, there's so many loose ends to tie up, activities to finish. Those final report cards, the last chance to do well in the school year. The anticipation of the next grade, and what lies ahead. ( "Mom, I hear the homework in third grade is tough!")

Even as an adult who still has to work throughout the summer, I live through my kids and consider the end of the year as May, rather than December.

A time to start anew, to relax and recharge.

Time at the pool.

The liberation of no firm bedtime.

Family vacation.

Saying "Yes" more than "No".

Welcome to summer.



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May 17, 2007

Photo album nostalgia

My wife and I (but mostly my wife Carrie Ann) have taken hundreds of pictures of our daughter now almost 21 months old.

In the old days of 35 mm cameras and film, we would never have seen those pictures unless we had them developed. But with the ubiquitous digital cameras now, you just click a button and there you have it. Pictures galore to look at, e-mail to friends and family and to set as backgrounds on computers. We do all that.

But I wonder if we've lost something having our family milestones documented in cyberspace versus finding them in bound books and prints. There's something to be said about flipping through a photo album on a couch with family instead of sitting at a desk looking at a bright screen.

We've talked about having prints made. And my wife put together a wonderful real-world scrapbook of the baby's first year. Still, I imagine we'll have thousands of pictures that we will see only in bits and bytes. Is that the way it should be?


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May 16, 2007

Helicopter? Nah, get me a lawn chair

I had a couple of laughs this week from e-mail press releases I received as the editor of South Florida Parenting.

The first one offered tips for parents of college graduates about how not to help with their children’s job search. Good grief, I thought. Can this be right?
Companies like Merrill Lynch, the press release informed me, “now host Parent Days for the over-involved parents of summer interns, and Ernst & Young sends copies of offer letters to the parents of its recruits.” The release proceeded to explain that parents should not attend job interviews with their adult children, nor contact the company to check on benefits, nor follow up on behalf of their child after the interview.

O. … K. That does give the term “helicopter parent” a whole new meaning. My husband accuses me of hovering sometimes, but I can assure you, my kids will have to get their own jobs. Just as they have to do their own homework and take their own tests and write their own essays.

Which brings me to the another laughable release – for a new Microsoft product that can help kids with math homework online. Apparently, the program actually helps kids graph their algebra problems and work through the steps, offering another way to help them understand higher-level math. That’s pretty cool.

But that’s not what the release said. No. It commiserated with us poor, dopey parents who cannot help their children with math homework: “Math is the most difficult subject for today’s students in middle and high school, according to 77 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents. Yet only 36 percent of parents say they feel prepared to help their children with math homework.”

Nothing like a good statistic to make you feel guilty. Look, I haven’t helped my kids do math since they stopped needing flash cards – and that’s OK with me. I didn’t want to do algebra when I was in high school. I sure as heck don’t want to do it now. (There’s a reason I became a journalist, OK?)

My kids know they are on their own when comes to schoolwork, just as they someday will be on their own in the working world. By the time they start careers, I’m hoping the only hovering I’m doing will be over a flower garden before I land in a lawn chair.

POSTED IN: Teen (158)

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Sick of Being Sick

Is everyone at your kids' school sick? At our elementary school in Boca Raton, kids are throwing up in the halls, getting sent home with fevers and coughing their way through the day.

My 8-year-old, Ellie, got sent home with whatever is sweeping the school last week. She tested positive for strep throat and the doctor gave us a prescription for Omnicef. This took away the strep, but her fever remained at 103 five days later. emergency.jpgSo I took her back to the doctor. He told us to go to the emergency room at West Boca Medical Center to make sure she didn't have pneumonia or mono. I did not want to go to the emergency room because I knew there would be lots of waiting, kids screaming and additional exposure to germs. But we went.

 The most memorable part of my five hours there was listening to the nurses get an IV into Ellie's arm. I had to walk away, because I was crying too. But once that trauma was over, she forgot the needle was there.

She didn't have pneumonia or mono. They gave her an antibiotic called Rocephin through the IV, and the next day, no more fever.

 I ended up getting sick too, but fortunately I am recovering and did not need an antibiotic IV. She is back at school, and I think every day about how other parents at our school are caught up in the madness of this sickness.

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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May 15, 2007

Where's Madeleine?

Some British parents vacationing in Portugal leave their 4 year old daughter and 2 year old twins alone in a hotel room while they dine nearby. The 4 year old vanishes and the world (and JK Rowling) opens their wallets to try to find little Madeleine McCann.

Are these parents insane?

This is confessional blog, so I confess: I did linger outside a little too long while my toddler was alone inside. I've become separated from one or the other kid in stores. I made a scene in McDonald's when my son hit the bathroom without telling me. Ditto at the ballpark when I couldn't find my daughter -- who was safely tucked on the lap of a friend, a cop no less. I've made plenty of mistakes.

But I'm sorry: I have never left three small small children alone in a hotel room long enough to eat dinner. Not in this country or any other.

And now the blogosphere is discussing "cultural differences."

Come on....give me a break. There are differences, all right. Good parenting vs. bad parenting.


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Fomenting Fears

Apparently, it's very easy to unwittingly terrify a 5-year-old. This must be the age when the subconscious goes on a paranoid nightmare spree? Because of this, I've spent the last two nights in my daughter's bed.

Example: I had noticed that Lily never wants to sleep with any blankets, even though she has a really cozy, down-filled pink butterfly blanket I bought on ebay.

Finally she comes out with it the other night, the big question: "If I use covers, will I die?''

What are you talking about? I asked.

"You told me a  long time ago that if I used covers I would die.'' 

 I have no idea what she is referring to. Maybe I said if she wraps up in a plastic trash bag she'll die. But I'm quite sure I never told her she'd die under her cozy pink butterfly blanket from ebay.

"You must have misunderstood,'' I told her.

Then she woke up crying in the middle of the night. I had to go get in bed with her. I asked her what she was dreaming about, and she said, "A bear.''

Gulp. When I washed her hair that night, I used strawberry shampoo, and I joked, as I always do when using strawberry shampoo, that "now you smell like strawberries and a bear is going to come eat your hair.''

She thought it was funny. But I guess her subconscious was terrified. Ooops!

On Saturday she had her dance recital. Her grandma warned her not to lick her trophy or use it as a drinking cup because it might contain lead. And actually, we just wrote a story about kids' toys with too much lead in them. Lily took all this in quietly. Hours later she started telling Bob (her dad, my husband) that the trophy has 'boisons' in it that ruin your brain.

She's also been asking lots of questions about what kind of activities would land a person in jail.

I guess she's on a fearfest. 



POSTED IN: Pre-K (25)

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May 14, 2007

Thanks, Mom

When the topic of childcare comes up, friends and even acquaintances often ask me if I know how lucky I am. My husband and I haven't had to put our boys in daycare (other than a brief, ill-fated stint for Evan last year) even though Evan will turn 4 in September and Elias will be 2 next month. Why? Because we have my mom.

When I was pregnant, my mom lived in Austin, Texas. My husband half-kiddingly asked her if she wanted to move out here to help care for Evan when we returned to work. She considered it, and when Evan was six months old and Jeff was ready to go back to work (I had already taken my maternity leave), my mom put her house up for sale, packed up her stuff and moved halfway across the country for us.

She cared for Evan full-time for six months, then switched to part-time when I went part-time here. She didn't charge us a set price, though we pushed a check her way whenever we could. She now cares for both boys part-time -- an exhausting task for anyone -- with hardly a sigh of exhaustion or a complaint.

While I know the benefits of sending kids to daycare, I also know that my sons have an incredibly close bond with their grandmother. I also know that Evan has only had one ear infection in his life and Elias has had zero problems with his ear. And I know that I love hearing their enthusiasm when we talk about going to Grandma's.

Like most daughters, I can't possibly articulate how much I already loved my mom. I didn't think it was possible for her to hold a more special place in my life and heart. But when she decided to come to Florida, I recognized that she was an even greater woman than I thought.

So do I know how lucky I am?

Yes. Thanks, Mom. I know I don't tell you enough.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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Children and swimming

I don't mind referring readers to my own story in this case because it's so in line with what this blog is about...

If you have a child in a Broward kindergarten, or will be having one enter school in the next couple of years, you'll probably want to read this article about water-safety lessons being offered by the school system, and watch the video of children taking lessons.

Broward County has various information on water-safety efforts that are useful for parents.

Palm Beach County also is developing a water-safety program that involves handing out free swim-lesson vouchers. The effort is called the Drowning Prevention Coalition.

Both initiatives are efforts to reduce the number of child drownings in South Florida.

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54)

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May 11, 2007

Dad loses bid, wins anyway

I have officially jumped into the world of competitive parenting.

My leap from the amateur to semi-pro leagues occurred during a recent fundraising event at my son’s daycare center. For several weeks I had been looking forward to the silent auction because one of the items was a sea-themed wooden toy chest, hand-painted by my son’s class of 2 year olds.

It had miniature sea horses and starfish. Green palm trees and white sand beaches. And a shore dotted with glued-on photographs of my son -- whose smiling mug happened to be front and center -- and his fellow artists.

In the past year, my son has churned out his share of wonderful art. An American Flag made from Popsicle sticks. A paper Christmas ornament. His handprint in hardened clay. I’m no Picasso, but I sense my son has extraordinary talent. And the toy chest is by far my favorite piece yet, even if it was a collaborative class effort.

I couldn’t attend the silent auction, but I sent my wife in with specific instructions: Pay whatever price it takes to bring that sucker home to Dad.

She interpreted my instructions to mean that she should pay whatever price, up to a point. Truthfully, I thought we would only have to drop a couple hundred dollars. But my wife was outbid handily by a mom willing to pay double that amount.

As a consolation prize, my wife successfully bid on an unassembled wooden playhouse. It came in what seemed like a hundred pieces and took four days to primer and paint.

The whole time I worked, I felt sorry for myself. I couldn’t stand the idea that my son’s sea-inspired masterpiece was bound for another home.

But you know what? My blues washed away the moment I saw my wife and son playing in his new playhouse. Apparently, it was perfect for hiding from invisible monsters and offered plenty of room for his favorite toy cars.

Sometimes taking home second-place isn’t so bad, after all.

POSTED IN: Pre-K (25)

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May 10, 2007

Mother's day slide show

When something bills itself as "touching," I tend to think it probably isn't. Journalists are trained to "show, don't tell."

But even though it's billed as "touching," you still might enjoy the slide show here.

And remember, dads, to do your shopping early. Don't be like me on Valentine's Day, wandering around a gift-card shop with other pathetic dads, grabbing some stuffed animal and cheap chocolate, then hitting 7-Eleven for a rose.


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Down Dilemma

If you were pregnant with a baby with Down syndrome, what would you do?

According to this story in the New York Times, 90 percent of women decide to terminate these pregnancies. Parents of Down syndrome kids who are concerned that there will be few people like their children left in the world are becoming high-profile activists to counter this trend. downsyndrome.jpg

They are talking to parents who found out through prenatal genetic testing that they are having a Down syndrome baby and encouraging them to ask questions, spend a day with them, and learn the joys and challenges of raising a special-needs child. They don't pretend it's easy, but they say their children have brought them much happiness.

What especially interested me is these parents say they are not anti-abortion. They are just afraid that if there are few people like their children out in the world, there will be fewer programs to integrate them into society and limited patience for people who are imperfect.

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31)

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So called "experts"

There's nothing more demoralizing as a parent than to read what so-called experts have to say about our parenting skills.
IvoryTwr.jpgHere's a story that was published in the Chicago Tribune this week about children and television watching.

I've blogged in this space before about my little girl and her television viewing habits. And as I said then, and I'll repeat, parenting, I believe, involves a lot of balancing to find what works for you and your children. It's not about researchers in a far off ivory tower or medical institution directing us to produce perfect children. Aaargghh.

No, we don't have a television in Ana Isabel's room (which is what the Tribune wrote about.). Yes, we do let her watch television, probably more than the experts would like. I grew up with a television in my room. I turned out to be a productive member of society.

No matter. Researchers will continue to conduct these studies. That's what they do. Reporters will continue to write stories about them. That's what we do. And parent's will continue to read them and be enraged, bemused and exasperated by them. And in the end, most of our children will turn out OK.

I'll step off my soap box now.


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May 9, 2007

An artist in the making

I am a terrible artist. My drawing abilities ceased to develop at about third grade. Hence, my portfolio is limited: Butterflies, turtles, sun, birds (the ones that look like an "m" flying in the sky), trees and flowers.

My parents, bless them, never made me feel like I couldn't draw. They kept every painfully ugly card I designed for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Christmas, Easter, Valentine's and birthdays. A few years ago, my mother sent me a package full of cards I had made on construction paper as a child. Without dates on them, I really couldn't decipher if I was five or 15 when I drew them. Yes, I'm that bad.

My son, who is not yet three years old, will soon surpass my skills -- and he can't even write yet. I've begun a stash in my closet of all the "projects" he has worked on at day care. Some are little more than an errant crayon streak across a page. But I can't bear to part with them. Perhaps it's my inner hope that he will not inherit his mother's art handicap.

For this Mother's Day, maybe, just maybe, I'll get a piece of paper with a few colorful lines. And I'll be proud.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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May 8, 2007


Are you really out there, you parents who try in all seriousness to maintain your pre-baby lifestyle with baby in tow?

The Today Show last week informed me of this term "grupster," pronounced "group-ster" which is some sort of derivative of yuppie, hipster and "grup," a term coined by an early Star Trek episode about a planet ruled by children.

I tried to find this term on the World Wide Web, which usually has plenty to say on most trends, and found only this one article by Jonathon Morgan of the Austin American-Statesman.

Bottom line: These are the cool parents who teach their kids to rock and wear faux prints and other fashionable clothes – who try to keep up their indie lifestyle after children. Or, considered another way, these are delayed adolescents who haven't figured out it's time to grow up, even while raising a child.

Kind of like the illustrated couple who frightened my daughter daily when she was a safety patrol in 4th grade and they were dropping off their 3-year-old for preschool at her school. They could not be parents, she reasoned. They had waaaay more tattoos and hair dye (in colors that do not occur naturally in anyone’s hair) than real parents do.

But then, everybody has tattoos these days. Pretty soon all the parents will have them. There is no doubt that semi-famous grupsters like Miami Herald pop music critic Evelyn McDonnell, author of Mamarama, and Alternadad Neal Pollack, tattoed or not, love their kids like crazy and have some pretty good ideas about how to raise them.

It remains to be seen whether these children of boomers will do any better job raising kids than boomers did. But I think they have the right idea.

Perhaps their kids will not be quite so self-involved, will not live in a false bubble of entitlement. If they are able to raise children to understand that there is an adult world that goes on without them, that children are entitled only to what they themselves earn in life, then I think the grupsters will do just fine as ‘rents.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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Disney Mecca

We finally fulfilled our parental responsibility as American capitalists. We took our kids to DisneyWorld.

And then, since we are over-the-top wasteful American consumers, we also took them to Universal's Islands of Adventure..beerjpeg.jpg

Magic Kingdom is good for little kids, so Lily, who is 5, loved it. Universal is much more oriented toward older kids and adults, so Creed, who is 11, loved that.

In case you are considering an Orlando theme park trip in the near future, here are some observations that might help:

* At Disney's Magic Kingdom, your children can ride the same rides you rode when you were a little brat. They haven't really changed: It's a Small World, the Haunted whatever-it-is, the Runaway Mine Train, the flying Dumbo, the spinning teacups, that awesome log ride, all of that stuff is still rocking.

* Even though the lines are long most of the day, if you hit the rides during lunch or dinner or fireworks or the end of the day, you could minimize the wait. The express ticket feature at Magic Kingdom, which is new since we were kids, is also pretty cool. You just get a ticket that tells you to come back in an hour or two, and then you get to cut in front of all the other people, basically.

* The food at Magic Kingdom is terrible, and expensive, and cafeteria-like.

* There is no beer or wine or alcohol of any kind at Magic Kingdom.

* At Universal, beer is everywhere. They sell it at kiosks and in restaurants, and bars. Pretty much everywhere you look people are carrying around cups of beer. That's probably why Universal seemed less clean than Disney, and in some places smelled like urine.

* Universal has great restaurants and food.

* As far as long lines, Universal's line-cutting system parallels the values of American society in that only those who can afford to pay $20 extra for an express ticket get to avoid the wait.

* Little kids might not have the stamina for a two-day theme park trip. By Day 2, Lily was ready to recline on a couch while a servant fanned her. When we stepped out into the sun to head toward a ride at Universal, she screamed "I can't be in the sun!' and started crying and running towards a store. I kept thinking about the $120 or so in tickets for the two of us, and how we could have just taken that money to a mall and had more fun. Then I passed a beer kiosk, and purchased a Bud Lite. Everything was good after that.

As a plus for us, we got to miss the Air and Sea Show.

As a plus for Lily, we saw a fat man with a white beard at Magic Kingdom, so we told her it was Santa Claus.

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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May 7, 2007

PE requirement coming to elementary schools

In case you missed it, the Florida Legislature mandated 30 minutes a day of PE in elementary schools, effective this fall.

Now, I've always remarked that physical education is one of the most under-supported activities in school. (When was the last time you've heard it even mentioned, let alone addressed by a parent group, for example?) But it strikes me as just another classic case of piling on, making schools responsible for addressing something (childhood obesity) that should be taken care of mostly by families.

The elementary school day is only six hours long, including time for lunch, here in South Florida so by adding another element to the curriculum, something's gotta give.

The Fort Myers newspaper wrote about the issue.

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54)

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How About Rescuing My Bank Account?

If you have a toddler, particularly a boy (or two), you're probably familiar with Diego. You know, Dora's cousin? While Dora's out there exploring, doing her thing crossing bridges and scaling mountains with her buddy Boots, Diego is rescuing animals. A noble mission, people.

Both my sons LOVE Diego. I don't mind Diego either. The music on the show is great, the animals are cute, and who could quibble with a show that teaches kids about being kind to animals? I could live without Diego's grating and nearly monotone delivery, but hey ...

If you've read this blog before, you might know that we took our son Evan to see the Wiggles. Well, now Diego is coming to town.

Sure, my sons would be content without seeing Diego. What they don't know won't hurt, right? Of course, spending roughly $130 (love those "convenience" charges, Ticketmaster!) for the four of us to see the show is extravagant and unnecessary. Let's just say it, it's ridiculously overpriced. And it's not like the Broward Center for the Performing Arts is around the corner from us.

Are we going? You betcha. Plus, the kids get to hang out with their buddies Ben and Sasha, who are going to the show with us.

I can't wait to see the looks on their faces. Whenever I pull out Elias's yellow Diego shirt, he smiles broadly and tries to put it on himself. "DEEGO!" he says.

Check back with me on July 2, the day after the show. I'll let you know how it went. In the meantime, tickets are still available. Plus, the Diego website has lots of crafts to do at home, like making a Baby Jaguar mask. And there's also a blog chronicling the Diego tour from guy who plays Click the Camera. If you have lots of time on your hands.

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114)

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May 4, 2007

The wind blew us!

[Written by Laura Kelly]

I could tell by my husband’s tone in his first few syllables that something was terribly wrong.

From the other room: “They are not here! They are not in the house!”

He was referring to our two children, adventurous Hayley, 6 1/2, and boisterous Zany, a few weeks shy of 3.

It was Sunday morning around 9:45. Exhausted from sickness and a tough week, the two of us had been taking turns getting up and doing things for the kids that morning. Then, for about 25 minutes, we both fell asleep again.

That was when Hayley decided that she and her brother should go outside. Our children made it through two locks on the front door and another high up on the screened-porch door.

According to her, they picked flowers for me, the evidence left in a pile of wilted white weeds on our porch.

Then, according to multiple versions dribbled out during her daylong grounding, they:

A) Ran away because we were too bossy.
B) Went to the corner store four blocks away and on a busy street to buy Spongebob ice cream bars.
C) Decided to visit a friend’s house … in a neighboring town.
D) The final reason was the one that made me burst into tears. “Mommy,” Hayley pleaded, her own little voice trembling with emotion, “We couldn’t help it! The wind just blew us!”

How do you explain the dangers of being unsupervised to a child whose imagination still allows her to make such claims? How do you explain to her that, even though she’s in terrible trouble and to be grounded all day, that we — the parents who fell back asleep — are entirely to blame?

It was an awful morning, even though they were found within minutes. Actually they found us, both of them skipping happily and barefoot around the corner. Zany’s arms outstretched to me, dressed only in his diaper and a pajama top. Hayley wearing a T-shirt of my husband’s that fell to her knees, running as best she could with a giant pink cardboard treasure box. (Later, we would look inside and see she had packed just one item: a net. Much later, that evening, my husband would venture the first light words of the entire day, that she must have been planning on becoming a fisherman.)

It was a scenario that unfolded within minutes, but for my husband Zane and I, it felt like hours. We’re still dwelling on it.

And we have our multiple versions of how to ensure it doesn’t happen again:

A) We now each have a dedicated weekend morning to sleep in, while the other parent rises with the kids no matter how tired.
B) More and higher locks on our doors.
C) To finally finish the gate across the driveway.
D) On blustery days, go on high alert, so the wind can never, ever take away our children again.


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War of the siblings

My kids won't stop arguing.

They argue about everything -- from toys to television. Being an only child, I can't relate to sibling rivalry, and it's driving me insane. I've turned to my husband, who has two younger siblings, for help in understanding the complex love/hate relationship our kids seem to have with each other. But he's no help.

As it turns out, my husband bossed around his little sister and brother when they were children. In his words, "I tortured them to get them to do what I wanted." Like I said: He's of no help.

With my children, I've tried being the referee, separating them and telling them to work it out for themselves. Nothing has worked. When will this stop?

POSTED IN: General (185)

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May 3, 2007

Smiling Biter

One of my daughters newest two-word phrases: "That's funny."
At 20-months old, it's adorable to hear her say those words and then let out a hearty little-girl laugh.

What's not so funny: When my wife Carrie Ann tries to discpline her and she blurts out a "That's funny."

During a time out for bad behavior, she bit my wife and out it came: "That's funny," followed by a chortle. Oh boy, now she's getting time outs for bad behavior during time outs.

We don't want her to stifle her funny bone, but there's nothing funny about our little girl biting her mother and laughing. Actually, it's a little scary.

I'd like to hear what other parents suggest to deal with a situation like this.

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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May 2, 2007

Inside A Twinkie

I remember many sweet treats from my childhood that I no longer eat because they will make me fat and raise my cholesterol. I'm thinking of Yodels, Ding-Dongs and Twinkies.

Twinkies' combination of sugary cream and yellow cake was irresistible with a glass of milk after school. So I was intrigued to read about a new book that details the making of the Twinkie and where its 39 (!) ingredients come from.

In Twinkie , Deconstructed, author Steve Ettlinger unravels why the Twinkie contains so few traditional baking ingredients, like eggs or milk, and so many industrial-sounding chemicals, like polysorbate 60 (used instead of cream and eggs) and diacetyl (tastes like butter).

With such pleasant associations of Twinkies and my youth, I have often been tempted to buy them for my kids as I pass the shelf in Publix. I have not yet picked up a box, and knowing more now about what's inside my former favorite snack cake, I'm glad I resisted the urge.

POSTED IN: Food (56)

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The Good Ole Days

The national magazine Parenting celebrates its 20th anniversary this month by exploring the 20 biggest changes in family life over the past 20 years.

Reading about the progress we’ve made, I wonder, is parenting any easier now than it was 20 years ago? My friends with kids in their 20s say it’s definitely harder to be a parent today. At first I thought they were crazy. How different could it be? But as I think about it, I’m inclined to agree with them.

As it turns out, 74 percent of respondents to a Parenting survey said it was easier to raise kids in the 1980s than it is now. Even the things that make life better for families make it harder. For example:

The rate of SIDS has dropped by 60 percent now that babies are put on their backs to sleep. So maybe fewer moms worry that their baby will mysteriously stop breathing while they’re asleep. But, the back-to-sleep campaign has had this unintended consequence: A rapid and alarming increase in plagiocephaly. That’s a fancy word for “flat head.” It comes from babies spending too much time on their backs – while sleeping, in car seats, in swings. Babies need tummy time for proper development. But since you can’t leave a baby alone on his tummy, that means you have to play with baby when he’s on his tummy. That’s harder than just putting baby to sleep on his stomach.

You only need a home computer and Internet access for your kid to do research. There’s no running around to three libraries and two bookstores for a book about whales the same week the rest of the class is also doing a project on whales. But the Internet is wild and unwieldy. Not only do you have to help young children navigate it, you have to worry about pop-up blockers, filters and your own monitoring to be sure your child is not inadvertently exposed to pornography. And let’s not even get started on social networking.

The efforts to make kids safer have also made us more afraid. It’s not OK any more to order your children out of the house to play with the other kids in the neighborhood all afternoon. You have to set up play dates or drive kids to a park.

Even birth isn’t so easy. Often, it’s major surgery. Nationally, about a third of all babies are born by c-section; in South Florida that statistic is even higher.

I don’t mean to be a pessimist. But can any of you convince me that raising kids is easier these days?

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May 1, 2007

The History of Music as We Know It

Here's a thought: American Idol teaches children musical history.

It may not be a thorough education, but it's a start. And I'll take it, since my husband and I tend to be stuck in the '80s. (the U2/REM '80s, not the Air Supply '80s.)

Being avid AI fans, my kids have now been introduced to Diana Ross ("the frizzy haired girl," says Erika) and Tony Bennett ("the really bad old dude," says Alec). Somehow Lulu (didn't she look great?) and Peter Noone (eh) didn't register. Jennifer Lopez made an impression (gotta give her props).

But when I asked Erika (who's been begging me for an agent -- and a new softball glove) who her favorite AI mentor was, she said: 'Bono."

That's my girl.


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Suck-Up Parents

Creed's middle school had a Sock Hop Friday night. It was for parents only.

That's right. This is for parents who are so involved in their kids' schools that now they go dancing there on Friday nights and leave their kids at home.

I don't want to criticize the parents who went.

sycophant.jpgI just want to raise the question: Do the kids of ultra-involved parents get treated better in school because their parents buddy up to the teachers, volunteer at the school and otherwise create an obligation of be-nice-to-my-kid? And let me take it further: Aren't most of these moms the stay-at-home version? And, thus, we arrive at the conclusion: The children of working moms are discriminated against.

Is there a lobbyist I can hire to suck up to teachers for me and my children while I'm at work?

I noticed a while ago that the PTA meetings are in the morning during work hours, at 9 a.m. I think that speaks for itself.

I never realized that in order for my child to be treated fairly, I would have to become a PTA mom. And I regret that I can't. Well, regret might be too strong a word.

I could probably end these nuisance phone calls from Creed's teachers about him throwing a noodle or making jokes in class if I showed up on Saturday to plant begonias in the front lawn.

But why should I have to?

Unrelated strange Lily (5) comments this week: "Do you know how to play a guitar while you're driving?''
And while holding a golf ball: "I'm so nice to Daddy cuz I didn't throw this in his face.''


POSTED IN: School Issues (135)

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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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