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South Florida parents share their stories and advice

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December 27, 2007

Many youth sports coaches now need ID badges

The world has changed. It used to be the dad on the neighborhood corner gathered the kids together, formed a baseball team and everyone knew everybody.

Now, you sign your kid up, get a call a month or two later, and meet some stranger who's your coach for the season.

And while 99.9 percent of them are good people -- volunteer dads working for free -- society has gotten so litigious and there are legitimate fears out there. So youth sports coaches, and other volunteers, even those at youth centers, for example, get their backgrounds checked and wear ID badges.

Read the points of view of administrators, coaches and others in this story, published Dec. 24.

POSTED IN: Sports (29)

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December 25, 2007

Bad Santa? Our Christmas Eve foray through Plantation

All the other Santas had enough sense to wear black shoes to match their faux pullover boots; I have my white New Balance workout shoes. And even a pillow can't keep my black belt up.

I'm easily the worst-looking of the 17 Christmas Eve Santas ready to ride through Plantation. Will people notice? Will children dash away from our truck, scarred for life over a vision of an underfed Santa? Will adults shake their first and cry out "Santa! You fraud!"?

This year, our family manned one of the 17 trucks that drove through the streets of Plantation, tossing out candy canes and greeting the children, parents and grandparents that dash out of their houses when they hear first police sirens, then Christmas music. (Kind of a sick juxtoposition, eh?)

My 11-year-old son, wanting to be an elf, volunteered us for Plantation's annual visit from Santa. He has an outgoing personality and red hair that is perfect for his green elf hat. He and my wife will throw candy and finagle with organizers to get a route through our Jacaranda Lakes neighborhood (thanks for trading, Larry Lerner).

Me, I have skinny arms and am averse to having even my own facial hair, let alone a fuzzy white fake beard. But I do have the name.

A recent study showed school children gravitate to the letters in their name. Adams make more A's, Billys make more B's, etc. I've dressed up as St. Nick as far back in high school (under the false hope that the girls in chorus would sit on my lap) and at prior newspapers, when two weeks after a pay freeze was announced, I strolled in to the company party, spread my skinny arms out and joked "Hey, it's been a lean year everywhere!" only to be met with stone-dead silence.

But this is a four-hour gig, and there are expectations. And 30 minutes into our drive through Plantation, I'm already out of lines. ("Ho-ho-ho" and "Merry Christmas" can carry you only so far.) Only then do I realize Santa never has a speaking part in movies or even those cartoon TV specials.

Fortunately, it's a job where you really don't have to do much. The youngest children are too wide-eyed to realize that Santa's beard is two inches away from his chin, the middle-aged ones are too cool to hang around much and the adults ... well, the adults seem like the happiest of all, even the ones with inflatable dreidels in their yards.

My theory is that for adults, seeing Santa isn't about the present moment. It's about tapping back into years of Christmas memories. I'm merely punching a mental tape in their childhood video archive, the time they got the Barbie or the electric football game.

The highlight for me comes in the final five minutes, as we rolled through our final cul de sac, where a family of two girls too shy to speak stood on the curb. (I blew them a kiss.)

"We've been waiting for you," the mom said. "These are for you."

She handed me two Post-it notes:

Little marmeid
Bratz guitar


My littel powne
Bratz gettur
Bratz fashen

To those girls, now they could go to sleep. Santa had come by on Christmas Eve, and now he was headed back to the North Pole. They'll never know that actually Santa went to his home just a few blocks away, propped his feet up and sipped on a glass of zin.

POSTED IN: Holidays (49)

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December 21, 2007

Lily's in a holidaze.

My daughter, Lily, the 5-year-old, keeps coming home with comments, pictures, and songs about holidays we don't celebrate.

I've been pulling Hanukkah art out of her backpack. Last week it was a lovely crayon-colored dreidel. She had a song to go with it.

Her teacher must be really into

All month, Lily has been commenting and asking questions about Hanukkah. As a family that celebrates Christmas, I consider Hanukkah a holiday of another religion, and one that I figured Lily was too young to be exposed to without confusion at this age.

I'm not closed-minded at all. My dad's half of the family is Jewish. It's my heritage.

But a child's mind is quite narrow and easily boggled, and I choose to focus on the religion and holidays that I want our family to celebrate.

Anyway, isn't it a sacred right of parents to teach our very young children about the family's beliefs, without someone else offering competing information at this age?

I don't think the teacher talks about the holidays in a religious context. But it's kind of hard to avoid when they come home and ask why we don't celebrate Hanukkah.holidayzzz.jpg

This morning, while eating a bagel, Lily asked, "Do we celebrate Kwanzaa?''

Kwanzaa had just been created when I was her age, growing up in Rockwell City, Iowa.

"No,'' I said.

"Why don't we?'' she wanted to know.

I started to think ... Maybe I should re-consider my gut reaction. Some of the ideas the other holidays are based on are concepts I want to encourage: self-determination, faith, creativity, family unity, and religious freedom.

Maybe I could study up on these other holidays, glean the best ideas from them, and offer a hodge-podge at our house, as part of Christmas.

Or maybe not.

I tell my 12-year-old about other religions and cultures. I want him to know these things, to be exposed to them, to be respectful of others' beliefs.

But the constitutional freedoms we fight for in this country don't belong to kindergartners.

They've got no freedom of speech, that's for sure. And I don't think they should have freedom of religion.

POSTED IN: Holidays (49)

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December 20, 2007

"Mommy, why is Zoey pregnant?"


Shocker of the week: Jamie Lynn Spears, sis of Britney and star of Nickelodeon's Zoey 101 is preggers. Her boyfried Casey Aldredge is the father. (The couple is shown at right.)

What the hell.. I don't know what is more ridiculous about this story:

That the 16-year-old TV actress is following in her big sis's trainwreck of a life?

That the mother of both girls, Lynne Spears, has been dropped from the "parenting" book she was supposed to be writing.

That Jamie Lynn, who her mom bragged "is so good she never misses curfew" was allegedly LIVING with her 19 year old boyfriend.

That Jamie Lynn broke the story to OK magazine, which has a history of paying sources for stories. Did she really benefit financially from this sad, life-changing mistake?

That those of us who have kids who watch shows like Zoey 101 -- kids as young as 8 -- clearly need to have a discussion, some kind of discussion, on why stars like the Spears sisters are ultimately not good role models.

I have not had the safe sex talk, let alone the talk about where babies come from, with my 8 year old. Why? Because she hasn't asked.

But when she sees Jamie Lynn's bump, sure to be splattered across magazines from now till June, she is sure to ask why Zoey, the cool high school girl Spears plays, is having a baby. I can hear it now. "Isn't she a kid, mommy?"

Parents, better get your ammo ready. The questions are a comin'.

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31)

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December 19, 2007

Murder at my mall

I've been trying to figure out what I should do differently now that a mother and her daughter were killed at Town Center Mall in Boca Raton, where I shop all the time.

I park in the same area where they were found. I also park in the Nordstrom garage, where another woman and her toddler were robbed and carjacked in August (now they tell us).

Should I shop with not one but at least two kids, so one can run away? Should I learn self-defense techniques? Should I make sure I'm holding the car-alarm button on my keys as I'm exiting the mall for the long walk to my car?

The mall is always so crowded you have to park really far away. Compounding the problem is the ever-expanding number of valet parking spaces, which are at all the important entrances.

I guess I could pay $5 to valet-park and make us a little safer. But I've been refusing on principle. Why should I have to pay to park?

Do you plan to do anything differently now that we know a murderer is on the loose?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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December 18, 2007

Low blood sugar or nervous breakdown?

The only thing worse than dealing with your child's complete and utter emotional meltdown is doing so while trapped in a car on a roadtrip.crying.jpg

Which is what happened to us this weekend.

Over the years, I've come to realize that when a child's mood suddenly alters for no good reason, oftentimes there's a physical cause.

I've talked to Lily's pediatrician and he agreed that she probably has low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.

I wish I'd known this when she was an infant, because she really showed signs of it back then. Basically, if she misses a meal, she loses her mind. Her blood sugar drops too low, and she cries uncontrollably.

As an infant, that meant if she didn't get fed before she was really hungry, she no longer wanted a bottle. She just wanted to scream at the top of her lungs for a half hour.

Now, it means if she gets over-hungry and -- even worse -- consumes candy on an empty stomach, she has a nervous breakdown until we can force a peanut butter cracker down her throat.

Here are the symptoms I found on a health website (I'll put the pertinent one in bold):
Shakiness, dizziness, sweating, hunger, headache, irritability, pale skin color, sudden moodiness or behavior changes, such as crying for no apparent reason, clumsy or jerky movements, difficulty paying attention, or confusion, tingling sensations around the mouth.

It's sad to watch, really. This time Lily started sobbing in the back seat during our drive tobody.jpg
Jacksonville. And once she gets on a crying jag with low blood sugar, she can't stop. And life seems miserable.

"I don't want to be in this family,'' she sobbed. "I'm going to live in the woods!''

She's only 5. I don't think living in the woods is an option in Broward County, anyway. There are no woods.

"This is the worst day of my life,'' she cried.

"Ditto,'' we were thinking.

I always carry my handy dandy peanut butter crackers, since I finally figured out what was going on. And we made her eat one, and sure enough, her half-hour dismal state of emotion was over.

I doubt there are any parenting counselors who would advise that when your child starts crying for no reason, you say, "Here, eat! You'll feel better!''

But in this case it works.

There are plenty of websites where the problem of hypoglycemia is discussed.

I learned that a symptom of a hypoglycemic episode during the night is nightmares. Lily has those on a regular basis.

I always ask her what she was dreaming. The other night she told me her nightmare was this: a bad guy was trying to hit her with a pillow.

Ahhh, to be a child.

Here's one of the stranger 'triggers' I ran across on the Web:

"If an older child drinks alcohol on an empty stomach.''

Ummmm, OK.

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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December 17, 2007

Saving Grandma the trouble

My mom's 79 and my dad's 83 and they're coming down this week for the holidays. And it's become harder and harder to buy presents for the kids.

So, we're doing this game this year: We take Aaron to Toys 'R Us, have him pick out the stuff he wants.

Then we'll wrap it. He'll open it on Christmas. Act surprised. Mom writes a check, reimbursing me.

I'd just go out and buy him the stuff on my own, but I really don't know what the heck he wants. He's not a toy or game kind of kid. He likes Nintendo games -- but isn't really a glutton. During the year, if we want to buy something, we just buy it.

He doesn't get sucked into the latest fad, and he's generally happy with what he has. Which makes him very, very difficult to buy for, at age 11.

He has become, um ... me?

POSTED IN: Holidays (49)

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Loves sports, just not with other kids

Even when Evan was an infant, I had visions of setting up a chair on the field at his soccer games, rooting him on and going out for pizza afterward. And now that he's 4, he actually does love soccer. Loves baseball. Loves basketball.

Loves all those games, as long as he's playing them at home. With us. He's old enough now to join T-ball or little kid soccer, but he immediately resists the idea whenever I mention that it might be fun to sign up to play with other kids his age.

I think I've established on this blog that Evan is a bit of a character. Can't call him shy, because my husband can't stand the term, but he is definitely reserved and it takes him a while to warm up to other people. He'll talk an adult's ear off, but when he sees other kids at the playground he sticks to his little brother no matter how badly he might want to run wild with the other kids.

I took him to a gymnastics-themed birthday party recently where he knew all of the kids because they were from his class, where he's quite comfortable, but he started crying because he didn't want to run or jump with the other kids, especially with other people watching him.

I'm not surprised at his very emotional, negative reaction to the prospect of playing in a soccer game or something similar with other kids. But he's not some sort of couch potato or bookworm either -- he adores being outside, hitting the baseball (or trying) and kicking around a soccer ball.

And I'm not going to make him do anything. Or should I strongly encourage it? Should I sign him up anyway, hoping that he'll end up loving it even if the first couple of practices or games make him absolutely miserable? I can't stand to see him unhappy, particularly in that sort of setting, so I can't see myself forcing the issue. But I'd love to hear from other parents if they have had similar experiences.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Nancy Othon (21)

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December 14, 2007

Telling the truth about Santa Claus

By Cindy Kent
Fort Lauderdale mother of three

So help me, yes, I did tell him there was no Santa Claus.

Now, five years later, I'm in the dog house, for that bit of indiscretion.

It came back to haunt me just the other day when my family was sitting on the couch admiring the Christmas tree we had decorated. That's when my 12-year-old son Tom looked to my significant other with baleful eyes and said, "Mom told me there is no Santa Claus."

Then they both glared at me with that unspoken how-could-you look.

So, from the witness stand, (my end of the couch) I recounted what happened:

Back then, my son was seven years old when he cornered me in our laundry room: "Mom, tell me the truth, " Tom said as he blocked the exit. "Is Santa Claus for real?"

"Why yes," I quickly answered. "He's in the hearts of people all ages all over the world."

"But is he a person?" Tom dug deeper.

"Yes, he was known as Saint Nicholas. And through the ages and different cultures, he has lived on," I responded.

"Mom, I want to believe you, but if it's not true, I'll be really disappointed," he sighed.

Gads -- where does he get his material?

"He's real in spirit," I said. (I know -- I talk too much.)

Tom comforted me at that point, letting me believe he was OK with the truth.

"It's all right," he said, patting me on the shoulder. "You can still put presents under the tree after I go to sleep and pretend about Santa," he said softly. "Thanks," I said.

After telling my woeful tale, Tom enjoying every ounce of sympathy for having his childhood Christmas wrenched from him, Tom decided to make an announcement.

With an impish smile, the little dear said, "At least, I still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny!"

POSTED IN: General (185)

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December 13, 2007

Marketers are now a targeting the birth of my children

I have to weigh in here on my colleague's post below about "push presents." According to the New York Times, they're lavish gifts given to mothers for pushing out babies.
My wife is five months pregnant with our second child. What a wonderful, exciting time it is for us, including for Ana Isabel, my two-year-old daughter. Of course, there's anxiety that comes with a new addition to the family. There's so much to do from getting the house ready to preparing my little girl to be a big sister.

So I read this "push present" article with interest and couldn't be more offended. How crass? Don't think for a second that there wasn't some marketing guru behind getting this story into the august New York Times.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe my wife deserves all the praise in the world for birthing and mothering Ana and our soon-to-be-born son, Lucas Emilio. I know it's a lot of hard work and sacrifice. But our decision to become parents doesn't obligate either of us to give the other presents, especially not expensive jewelry.

I bought my wife the biggest bouquet of flowers I ever bought when Ana was born. I gave her a diamond pendant after she weaned Ana from 13 months of breast feeding. So I'm not against lavishing my wife with gifts. But I certainly resent the push to make my children's birth another marketer's dream holiday, like Christmas and Halloween have become.

Carrie Ann tells me many of her friends have received very nice gifts from their husbands after giving birth. They didn't need the New York Times or some jewelry company telling them that's what they should do.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31)

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December 11, 2007

The big, fat Santa lie

Somehow I haven't brainwashed Lily about Santa Claus to the extent that I brainwashed her brother (who now knows Santa is a weird urban legend).

I'm not into it anymore. I spend a lot of time trying to explain our religion, Christianity, and the meaning of the Christmas holiday to Lily. Do I also have to spin tales about a fatso who flies on a sled with an impossible task under impossible conditions and is ALSO all-knowing and watching for good behavior?

It seems like she'd be confused wondering whether to be loyal to God, or to Santa. And thensantajesus.jpg when she finds out later the Santa part was a stinking lie, what then?

And if Christmas is a religious holiday, what does Santa Claus have to do with it, besides requiring me to buy her extra presents?

Meanwhile, at school she's learning all about Hanukkah. I had to further confuse her by saying we don't celebrate that holiday.

We haven't talked about Santa much this year. So I have no idea what she thinks Santa is bringing her. And she apparently keeps adding things. She handed me a list last week and said, "this is what I'm getting for Christmas.'' That's after I've done all my shopping.

And I keep hearing her say, "I'm getting that for Christmas'' when she sees a toy on a TV commercial.

She must think she has a telephathic communication line to Santa. That presents a real problem for me.

I am going to have to elaborate on the Santa fiction.

"Santa thought you were a good girl, but he brought you this instead of what you asked for, because he knew you'd like it better. He sure does love you!''

We haven't visited a mall Santa yet. I'm not in the mood to stand in line that long when I could make up a lie that Santa now prefers to communicate by email.

POSTED IN: Holidays (49)

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I want a "push present," retroactively!

Do women deserve a fancy gift for pushing out their babies?

An increasing number of moms appear to be saying "Yes!" According to the New York Times, husbands are getting their wives extravagant gifts, or "push presents," after they give birth, including art work and jewelry.

It seems to be a combination of a new awareness among men about the physical taxation of bearing a child and a new assertivenes among moms about getting the things they want.

"You have to keep mama happy," one dad said in the story.

Dads: Did you buy your wife a gift after she gave birth? And moms: Do you think you deserve a lavish present, or are your children reward enough (yeah, right)?

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31)

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December 10, 2007

So, we go to this party...

Time for you all to play... WHAT TO DO?

Today's quiz:

My wife, our 11-year-old and I go to this neighborhood party Saturday night after first stopping at another party. We walk in at 9:30 p.m., and everyone's dressed a little nicer than us (but we're in nice jeans, collared shirts), there's a big open bar with 2 20-ish women in hot cocktail outfits and ... no other kids.

Either we messed up on a "no kids" part of the invite, but more likely, everyone else has younger children, so they left them at home. (Our son can pretty much handle himself anywhere.) I know the hosts well enough that there's no animosity going on -- not like anyone glaring going 'who's the kid?' -- but clearly, it's not his party. (Nor is there any reason it should be.)

So, one of us will be taking him home very soon, which is also fine.

Here's the question: Do you get him out of there right away, or do you hang out for 10 minutes or so, socializing over in the corner by the TV and pool table? Which is socially 'more acceptable?'

And, no, I'm not spilling which one of us was on which side of this argument...

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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December 6, 2007

Finding out whether it's a boy or a girl

I wanted to know. My wife, Carrie Ann, didn't. She wanted to be surprised when the baby was born. And we both felt strongly about our positions. So what to do?


Before Ana Isabel was born more than two years ago, we struck a compromise. For Ana, there would be no sneak peek during the ultrasound. I gave a little there. But the agreement was that for our second child we would find out the gender in utero.

Fast forward to this week: With Ana lying next to her mother as the ultrasound tech's wand slid across her pregnant belly, Carrie Ann stuck to our agreement. The tech asked: Do we want to know? Carrie said yes.

The tech continued her work showing us the unborn child's backbone, face and arms. Everything looks good, she said. And then toward the end, she turned to Ana and said: You're going to get a little brother. She surprised my wife and me. I'm not sure Ana got it. But it's a moment her parents will remember.

Funny thing, my wife doesn't remember that moment with Ana, since she was sedated in an operating room as doctors wrapped up her C-section. Nonetheless, we wouldn't change how we decided to handle the great debate on finding out.

Now we get to prepare for Lucas Emilio's arrival at the end of April.

I wonder how others handled the debate about finding out the baby's gender whether at birth or in an ultrasound exam room. Tell us.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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December 5, 2007

Goodbye, cancer-causing shampoos

I spent a few hours this weekend reading the labels on our shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, moisturizers and other cosmetics and throwing many of them in the garbage.shampoo.jpg

I was looking for an ingredient called "parabens" that a friend told me have been linked to breast cancer. And most of them did contain parabens, with terms like "methylparaben," "propylbaraben" and "benzylparaben" in microscopic print.

According to the Breast Cancer Fund, parabens interact with estrogens and accumulate over a lifetime. Here's a scary statement from their Web site about parabens in antiperspirants: “Frequency and earlier onset of antiperspirant/deodorant usage with underarm shaving were associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis.”

It looks like it shouldn't be too hard to find shampoos without parabens; I only had to toss a few of those from our house. But all our sunscreens had them. I may have to make a special trip to the cosmetic section of Whole Foods when the weather gets hot again.

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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December 4, 2007

What were we thinking when we named our child?

When we named our son, we were in our early 20s. We had no kids. We weren't even married.

We were carefree.

We surely didn't know that in the new millennium, society would still be so rigid about middle names. We named our son Fulton Creed Norman, intending that he would be called Creed.

Let me warn anyone considering that kind of brazen, rebellious move: American society will resist at every turn the idea of calling a person by his or her middle name. You will spend the first 18 years correcting strangers.

Take him to the doctor? The nurse comes into the waiting room and hollers, "Fulton Norman?''

Sign him up for sports? The application form doesn't include Middle Name. No one cares about Middle Names. It's considered useless, an appendix of sorts.

Apparently 99 percent of the people around us must be going by their first names, and thus people like Creed are a rare breed, the offspring of parents who are apparently quite stupid and have no cultural knowledge of the country in which they live.

I lie now. I claim that Creed is his first name. creed.jpg

But the school system knows better. Creed's teachers who do not appreciate his humorous distractions from the lessons at hand call him by his first name just to bug him.

When he 'graduated' from elementary, the teacher reading the kids' names purposefully announced him as "Fulton Norman,'' with a snide grin. That teacher was a funny guy, not mean spirited.

But now Creed has a teacher who is extremely unimpressed by his comedic talents, and his lack of pencil or paper on occasion. She refuses to call him Creed, and she's not joking.
I've sent her a few emails about other issues (she told us at Seminole Middle School's Open House that she prefers a "to the point' email and doesn't like to chit chat on the phone).

In emails to her, I always introduced myself as "I'm Creed's mom (You call him Fulton)." She didn't get the hint. Finally I expressed my opinion this week that her refusal to call him by his name is ridiculous and shows a lack of respect. Here's what she wrote back:

"Thank you for calling to my attention that you would like Creed to be called by his middle name. According to the school's data base he is listed as Norman, Fulton C.''

What does that mean? She's refusing?

I think it's outrageous.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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December 3, 2007

Teachers + Holidays = Cash Gift?

The letter from the room parents in my 4-year-old's classroom gave me a bit of a jolt. The holidays were coming -- it was a perfect time for all of us to show our appreciation for the great job done by our children's teachers, the letter suggested. The room moms kindly informed me that they were collecting for a gift for his three teachers, and they helpfully suggested the amount for each parent to contribute. $50. What are they getting them, a plasma TV?

Well, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a Jolly Kwanzaa to me. Am I the only person who thinks $50 is a bit steep? I have a friend who's an elementary school teacher, so the concept of gifting at the holidays is not entirely foreign to me, but the whole letter kind of caught me off guard. My son goes to school everyday for four hours, in a classroom for 3-year-old (but that's not another blog), and it's our first experience in a school setting. So I'm learning as I go along.

I don't doubt for a minute that teachers are underpaid. They do deserve a lovely gift around the holidays. But why can't I make the decision on how much I want to spend, and what I want to give? I consulted with my wise and noble friend, who I think is probably in the minority here, and she told me that she feels uncomfortable with the whole idea of gifting. I told her the amount and she was flabbergasted. In fact, this year her classroom is donating what they would have collected for a teacher gift to an animal rescue charity.

I know I don't HAVE to follow what the letter says. But will I be a marked parent? The letter didn't seem to present any other options. Am I going to be that mom who is viewed as cheap? Fifty bucks is fifty bucks. I'd love to hear from other moms and teachers!

POSTED IN: General (185), Nancy Othon (21)

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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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