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February 29, 2008

Saving money at age 3

This week, my three-year-old began to learn the value of a dollar. Better said, he’s learning the value of a penny, nickel, dime and quarter.

And I can thank a "Curious George" cartoon on PBS. My son and I caught a few minutes of an episode the other morning that involved the scheming monkey using a piggy bank to save money to buy a toy.

My son immediately wanted a piggy bank. A blue one.

That afternoon when I picked him up from pre-school, I opened up a gift given to me at one of my baby showers before my son was born – a porcelain piggy bank. It wasn’t blue, but my son’s face lit up regardless.

“Mommy, I need coins,” he said. “I need coins like Curious George.”

I grabbed some spare change and attempted to explain its value. That was way too complex. So, we settled on learning the names and attributes: A penny is copper in color; a dime is the smallest coin; a quarter is the biggest. (I haven’t yet introduced the Susan B. Anthony coin.)

He loved it. My husband I explained to our son that if he helps pick up -- say his toys or the dinner table -- we’ll give him some money for his piggy bank. It has become such a successful tool. I’ve used it to get him to brush his teeth.

Some parents use stickers. We use pennies.

My next step is to help my son realize the choices he can make with his money: Spend it quickly, and buy one small toy or book. Or save more, and buy a bigger toy or more books. I’m not quite sure he’ll get the concept entirely, but at least I’ll have some extra help with chores around the house. And he'll be on his way to saving later in life, I hope.

Tell us what you've done to teach your kids about money and saving.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67), Toddler (127)

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Hurrah for Vegetarian Lunch!

Since I am often quick to critcize the school lunch program -- particularly in light of the horrendous choice the program made with its beef supplier -- let me also be the first to praise when school lunch goes right.

Today Broward County Public Schools announced that it will offer a vegetarian lunch option starting next week. Unfortunately, only three schools get the privilege of choosing a Gardenburger: Everglades High, Driftwood Middle and Eagle Point Elementary.

I have to hope that these schools are just a test to see if students will choose a Gardenburger. I know mine would. I'm still hoping for other vegetarian choices beyond a salad bar or cheese pizza -- lentil soup, vegetable soup, black beans and rice, or perhaps a nice bean and cheese burrito?

But the Gardenburger is a great start. It's a far better choice than beef, even when the beef is not from a questionable source. Gardenburgers have no saturated fat, no transfat, no cholesterol. They are high in protein, so they fill kids up. The production of Gardenburgers uses no methane (a byproduct of cattle that contributes to global warming). AND they taste good!

Altogether, a better choice. Thank you, Broward Schools.

POSTED IN: Food (56), School Issues (135), Vicki McCash Brennan (13)

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February 28, 2008

Discussing wills with family is not easy

By Cindy Kent

Here's a follow-up to my post earlier this month about discussing wills with your loved ones.

Since I brought up the topic before Valentine's Day, reactions have ranged from "Oh, that's nice," to "You guys are really smart to do that," to "Gee, how morbid." Of my three children, one said we didn't need to do wills -- but he really meant he'd rather not think about it.

Tom, the 12 year old, was trying to work out the implications and logistics in his head when he blurted, "How long would I have to wait to get your car?" He wasn't being selfish or greedy -- he was trying to figure it out.

"Hopefully, you'll have your own life and family and car by then," I smiled. He thought about it for a moment and then corrected himself.

"Wait," he said apologetically, " I mean, forget what I said."

"It's something we are sure we will not have to deal with for years and years," I explained. "And besides," I smiled, "By then, I'll have a Mercedes. That's the car you'll want!"

We laughed. Tom was relieved. Keeping the discussion to facts and adding a sense of humor has helped to keep the topic approachable.

Though we went to a lawyer to draw up our wills, there are a few Web sites that are helpful in beginning the discussion. Here are two: The Florida Bar, and Caring Connections, which provides forms that conform to state laws.

How have you dealt with the issue?

Cindy Kent is a reporter assistant at the Sun-Sentinel and a Fort Lauderdale mother of three children ages 12 to 28.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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February 27, 2008

Should teens drive at 16?

I have always thought that 16 was too young for a kid to drive a car, but I was surprised to read this week that a lot of Americans agree with me.teendriving.jpg

The New York Times reported on Monday that the percentage rate of licensed 16-year-olds across the country dropped from 43.8 percent in 1998 to 29.8 percent in 2006.

The pattern is similar in Florida, according to a Sun-Sentinel story last November. Sixteen-year-olds make up 40 percent of teen drivers, down from 60 percent in 1991.

Wow. That just blows me away. Because I don't know any parents of 16-year-olds here who have told their kids they must wait until they are 17 or even older to drive.

There were multiple reasons offered by the Times as possible explanations. The number of drivers ed programs in public schools appears to be dropping due to budget cuts, and parents may be hesitant to spend the money on expensive private driving lessons.

The price of insuring a driving teenager also is exploding. Parents have become more willing to drive their kids around. And teens are more willing to stay home, the theory goes, because of diversions such as the Internet and video games.

It will be interesting to see if this trend trickles down to our car-dependent culture here in South Florida. Do you impose, or plan on imposing, any driving restrictions on your teen?

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Teen (158)

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February 26, 2008

Napping away with our wallet


When did nap mats get so expensive? Do I really need to spend $49 for a mat complete with an “all-in-one pillow, comforter and attached blanket” and an ABC-123 design? Well yes, I suppose so, mostly because we didn’t really know any better. Here’s what we bought from

And this one was relatively affordable, at least according to our hasty Internet searches last night as the school deadline approached. Another site we considered, Siesta Sacks made me wonder whether Alexander needed a 1-inch or 2-inch foam padded vinyl mat below the cover. Of course, the more padding the better, right? Looks like other parents had the same thought because the 2-inch mat took longer to arrive. The mats and covers had fancy designs and handy carrying devices, among other features.

As I conducted this search, I recalled sleeping on a thinly padded, uncomfortable mat years ago in some kindergarten class. Maybe that’s why I hated naptime. I’m sure Alexander won’t think back to such trying times when he’s older. Childhood really has gotten easier with time, hasn’t it? We just have better everything now: strollers, bottles, diapers, car seats? Or at least they cost more. But the creator of makes a good point on her Web site: “The things that make life a little easier, give us more time for our kids.”

If you have advice on nap mats, please share.

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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A little boy who became a little girl

Two weeks ago, a mother told the Broward County Commission that when her son was two, he started acting like a girl. The child is 7 now, and they've been raising him as a daughter.

The mom showed a photo, and said her child was diagnosed with a gender disorder at age 3.bluepinkdoor.jpg

She was speaking about this because the county was passing a law giving protection against discrimination to transgender people.

I am really torn by this. My heart bleeds for this little child. But I can't help but think a parent should not make a decision that profound when the child is that young.

I don't know much about gender disorders, and I would imagine there's a lot of debate out there in the medical world about it. It just seems possible that the little boy was just playing around. I know I had a very long tomboy phase where I refused to wear skirts or dresses and hated girly stuff. I even had a pair of very boyish shoes I was quite proud of. Nothing with a pointed toe was coming near me.

Thank God my mother did not decide to take me to a therapist -- no telling what I would have said in there.

I know a little boy who wears his sisters' dresses. I'll bet it's not uncommon. Maybe if his mom fed that desire, he'd become even more girly. I don't know. Maybe I'm exhibiting the ignorance of the masses on this. I know they say the suicide rate for transgender kids is really high. Maybe it's because they're forced to remain a gender they don't want to be.

When this kid the County Commission was told about was two and the mom would say, "good boy,'' he would respond with "no, mommy, good girl!'' Then he started wanting to leave the house with a wig on. He stole his mom's makeup, he wanted his fingernails painted every day.

I just don't know what to think about this, except to be heartbroken.

To summarize the debate on this: Is your true self in your body, or in your mind? And even if it's in your mind, is the mind of a 3-year-old capable of knowing what it ultimately wants to be?

Keep reading for the full text of her testimony. It's captivating, really.

And here is a website with more information:

Family Acceptance Project

FROM THE FLOOR: Hi. Thank you. I'm here as a

mom today to speak on behalf of my child that is

too young to speak for herself, and I'll put her

picture up here so you all can see. I don't know,

pass it around or whatever you have to do. Seven

years ago I gave birth to my fourth child, a

beautiful baby boy who we named Jared. Since I

already had a four-year-old daughter and twin

two-year-old boys, he completed our family and

brought so much joy into our lives. However, when

Jarred was two and began to form a little

personality. It was apparent he was nothing like

his older brothers. He was attracted to all

things girly andI when I was praise him: Good

boy, he would always correct me and say: No,

mommy, good girl. At first we thought nothing of

it but when we kept insisting to leave the house

in a wig, we knew it was more than a passing

phase. By the time Jarred was three, he was

diagnosed as gender disorder. Jarred continued to

act just like a girl. He was obsessed with all

things bar be, stole my makeup and wanted his

nails painted every day and he never went anywhere

without his be loved mermaid dolls. Even his in

demeanor was delicate, graceful. As I continued

to learn about gender identity disorder, I was

horrified at what I did learn. 50 percent of

trans kids will attempt suicide at least once.

They are depressed, confused, and hate themselves

and their bodies. My husband and I were

determined that our child was not going to be

another static. We never encouraged this belabor

but instead allowed him to be true to himself. By

the age of five, my beautiful baby boy Jarred

became my gorgeous daughter Jarren. A simple

pronoun change, a change of clothes, and some hair

growth was all that it took. Today at the age of

seven, Jarren is a happy, popular well adjusted

little girl who most importantly loves herself.

Little does she know the rough journey ahead of

her but you all know what it means to be

transgender in today's world and as a mom I fear

what she may face. Jarren deserves a fair chance

to lead her life as she believes and be given the

same opportunity as her peers, and I'm happy to

see that change is on the way. She recently told

me that the happiest day of her life was when she

found out she was transgender. May she always

feel this way, always feel good about herself, and

I thank you very much.

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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February 25, 2008

Bad mom morning: Losing cool with my teen

It was a bad Monday morning. It started when my older daughter blatantly and repeatedly refused to do something I had ordered her to do: Wear her contact lenses to school.

Of course this went nowhere. Everyone knows that ordering a teen to do something she does not want to do is a very good way to ensure that it won’t be done.

It makes no sense to me why the girl will not wear her contact lenses, which she must have in order to play water polo. She has astigmatism, so the lenses take some getting used to. It’s not like your typical nearsightedness that can be corrected in an instant. No. When you have astigmatism, your eyes need time to adjust to the glasses or contacts. Then you see 20-20.

Besides, she looks great in her contacts. She has beautiful eyes, with think dark eyebrows like Brooke Shields. But my daughter is not a primper. It took six months to convince her to keep her hair brushed.

I’m her mama. I want my girl to look beautiful when she goes to school. So I nag. And sometimes I just lose it. What 16-year-old girl does not want to look pretty going to school, for heaven's sake?

Also, on a practical mothering note, I want her eyes to adjust to the lenses so that she can see while she’s treading water, fighting defenders and having a ball thrown toward her head. Call me crazy.

I certainly felt crazy this morning as I was lecturing at my daughter all the way to school over something as trivial as wearing contacts.

I really hate it when I’m like that. Usually our drive to school is much more fun. We listen to music together and talk about friends. Or we discuss something we read recently, or maybe the work she has to do for her classes. I like that 20 minutes most days.

Today I made her cry. When she said, “Mom, will you just let me finish my sentence?” I said, “NO!” And then, regretting, “yes.” She said she will wear the lenses three days a week. OK, I said, but it needs to be three days in a row.

It’s a start. Maybe if I can get her for three days, she’ll make it four. We'll see. We have to get one day first.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Teen (158), Vicki McCash Brennan (13)

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Step-father to a Borg

I started calling my older step-daughter “Seven” a few months ago.

In the Star Trek universe, Seven-of-Nine (called Seven by her crewmates on the starship Voyager), was a human who was assimilated by a race of cyborgs and spent most of her life connected to them through cybernetic implants. I picture my kid with a cell phone on one ear and an I-Pod in the other while holding a digital camera to take a picture of herself, or maybe a video of her declaring: “Actual human contact is irrelevant. Resistance is futile.”

What I wouldn’t give to unplug all the gadgets, hide the batteries and try to engage her in an honest-to-goodness, face-to-face conversation.

But then I remember.

I remember my first home computer, and the hours I’d spend on it trying my hand at programming (I was no darned good). I remember handheld football games from Coleco. I remember video games that left me glued to the TV set seemingly for days at a time, with occasional breaks for food and such. Oh sure, I balanced it by cracking open my books to do my homework. But the point is the same. And when I started talking to my high school friends on the phone, it did seem for a while that I was spending an awful lot of time doing it.

Maybe the kid’s reliance on gizmos catches my attention because I didn’t see her phase into it one gadget at a time. Maybe I’m right to sound the alarm that over-reliance on these things is a tad anti-social and, occasionally, a little more than annoying. Maybe I am, as they say, pointing three fingers at myself whenever I point a finger at the kid for doing pretty much the same thing I did at her age.

Or maybe it’s not such a big deal after all.

Maybe resistance really is futile.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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February 22, 2008

Cabbage Patch Fever

OMG, Cabbage Patch Kids are back!

Not the new-fangled corn-silk-haired dolls or those freaky premies, but the old-school cabbies with yarn for hair. cabbie.jpg

When the dolls were released in 1983, my dad was among the mass of parents, at a Toys R Us off Biscayne Blvd and 125th St., in the queue to "adopt" a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Rachel is still with me. After years of living on a closet shelf, she now has a loving home in my daughter's toy chest.

Baby loves to pluck Rachel from the chest and drag her (by the hair) around the room, stopping to kiss the doll's cheek or sit on her stomach.

Since the Cabbage Patch phenomenon, there has been mania over Barney, Tickle Me Elmo and Dora the Explorer.

What doll did your kid HAVE to have?

POSTED IN: General (185), Joy Oglesby (134), Shopping (28), Toys (15)

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February 20, 2008

Calling cards: My kids' new birthday cards

I have given up on buying birthday cards for the seemingly endless parties my kids attend.
I've found an alternative: calling cards.

The pre-printed cards give my kids' name, address, phone number and e-mail address. They are the size of business cards and can be tossed into a gift with little effort on my part.

Birthday cards are too expensive. I could tell my kids to make a card, but making sure they get it done becomes another thing on my never-ending to-do list.

I looked on-line and many of the cards ended up costing $1 a piece with the printing and mailing fees, which would not amount to a significant savings over store-bought cards. I bought the least expensive ones I could find that were decent-looking from DreamPress. They cost $12.99 for 50 cards plus mailing charges.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Shopping (28)

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February 19, 2008

Not going swimmingly

OK, maybe I got carried away. I assumed Alexander would always love swimming, that his early exposure would lead to a lifetime of passion for swimming, Olympic trials and deep gratitude to his father exposing him to the sport. Then came Saturday.

Let me back up. We arrived in South Florida more than a year ago, and I knew this area presents a particular hazard to kids: swimming pools. It seemed like warnings about pool safety were handed to us with the sets of keys to our condo.

So we started Alexander in lessons shortly after arriving, when he was 8 months. Soon enough he was a star of the class. He laughed, jumped under water with ease and flapped his arms whenever I said the word “swim” to him. With my hand on his belly, he swam across the pool, moving his arms and kicking his feet. I was amazed. The high point came when he was invited to a photo shoot for the swim school, AquaChamps, which now has a picture of him on its Web site. We got free copies for taking part, so professional pictures of him swimming under water are framed in his room.

Then the classes stopped for two months as AquaChamps moved to its new site in Wilton Manors. We swam a couple of times during the break, but it was far from weekly.

Alexander’s lessons restarted two weeks ago, and, well, how things change. At the first one, he was wary but willing to be in the pool. A week later he didn’t even want to get in. He clung to me tightly around the neck and cried when I tried to let go. The others were having a blast, and I was the dad with the unhappy kid. I wanted to tell them, “He’s a great swimmer, trust me. Really, really, believe me.”

Anyway, I’m struggling now with what to do. The instructor last time said we should give it another week and then decide. That sounded a bit ominous, although I know she just meant another approach. How much do I push it? Is learning to swim down here like eating vegetables? Or will this be the thing he complains about that his dad made him do?

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Not a happy camper

There comes a time in parenting when you realize that when you go somewhere on a trip, it's not all about you, it's about the kids, and that if they have a good time, the trip is a success.

But I haven't reached that point yet, so I'm still hacked about my camping trip this weekend.

One of my colleagues, Ralph De La Cruz, wrote today about how hard it was to find a camping spot this weekend. But apparently he did not check out Peanut Island in Palm Beach County. peanut6.jpg
Or maybe he went on Saturday, the more popular day.

We went camping Sunday. After our recent campout in the middle of Florida at the awesome Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, I was so revved up about camping I bought a new tent. I searched the calendar and promised myself that every three-day weekend, when the kids are out of school for whatever reason, we would go camping.

But now I know that not every campout is a soul-enriching experience. Why did I think that going to a beach packed with other South Floridians and surrounded by civilization on all sides would feel like a get-away?

Still, I have to recommend this place. Lots of people go there just for the day, to picnic. You take a water taxi over there from the Riviera Beach Marina. For camping, you can book it a few months ahead of time. The campsites are soft sand, with picnic tables, and grills. The bathrooms have hot water and showers.

Any time you can yank your kids away from the TV, it's good.

But I had a few setbacks that kind of fouled the mood. Never pack a bottle of whiskey in a bag of your youngest child's clothing, for one thing.

And if you take the family dog along, and the family dog is stronger than your youngest child, do not give the dog's leash to the youngest child to hold.

Also, it rained.

Apparently if you want to know if it's going to rain in a particular area on a particular day, just find out, "Is Brittany going camping there?''

I just have to keep telling myself that the kids had fun, and that's the important thing.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Family Issues (231)

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February 18, 2008

Parenting tips, right here on local TV!

I haven't checked it out yet, but I thought I'd give a shout-out to a locally produced television show that is embracing the topic near and dear to all of us: parenting. Recently launched by the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County's Parenting Center, Positive Parenting Today airs on PBC TV Channel 20.

The shows are focusing on topics such as mentoring, discipline, developmental stages and dealing with teen stressors. We can all use a little help with at least one of those subjects, am I right? Or am I right?

In a Jan. 13 Sun-Sentinel community news story by special correspondent Lisa Goddard, CSC's chief executive officer Tana Ebbole said the show has been a "team effort" and something the folks at the Parenting Center have been talking about doing for years.

Created in 2001, the Parenting Center offers workshops throughout the county -- about 200 free classes a month. For those who can't make the workshops, the TV program might fill in that gap.

If you live in Palm Beach County and want to check it out, tune in to Channel 20, which airs educational and government programming, on Mondays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 9 a.m. or Saturdays at 3 p.m. Hey, you can watch it tonight!!!

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

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Looks like I missed a step

Is it possible, because the girls are 15 and 12, that I missed one of the toughest challenges of stepping into parenthood?

My wife thinks so. Early on, she banned a sentence from being spoken in our home, a sentence that declares emphatically who I am not. There’s an understanding that I am going to do my best to be a father-figure in every way I can. There’s an understanding that I won’t always be good at it, though not for lack of trying.

I’m not naive enough to think all will be bliss and joy in the household. It’s just that I’m lucky to have two girls who are mature enough to know who I am, in addition to who I’m not. It makes it less likely (though not impossible) that I’ll ever find myself at the receiving end of the biggest, boldest challenge to authority a step-parent can face: "You're not my father!"

How about it, fellow step-parents? Your kids ever remind you of your place (or lack thereof) in their genealogy? How’d you handle it? Any advice for those of us yet to encounter it?

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59)

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February 15, 2008

My 3-year-old caught me saying the F-bomb

Not only did my 3-year-old son catch me dropping an F-bomb, he turned me in.

Believe me, my use of profanity was not intentional. I didn't even think my boy heard it.

I was taking him to pre-school a couple of days ago when it happened. The rain was pouring down and we had to run quickly to the car so he wouldn't get soaked. Once he was buckled in his car seat, I went to my trunk to get an umbrella so we would have it ready when we reached the school. That's when the trunk closed on my fingers.

"Oh, F@*%#!" was my response. I said it under my breath and didn't think about it again. My son didn't mention it. All was fine.

But late in the day I received a phone call from my wife, our home sheriff. "Did you swear in front of our son?" she asked, already armed with the truth. Yep, he told on me, the moment she picked him up from school.

I don't blame the kid. Actually, I'm impressed by his memory at such a young age. I apologized to both of them. Made sure he knew I knew it was a bad word. But he already knew that. How? We're not exactly sure, but he used it one day, correctly, after a toy he loved fell on the ground while he was playing. Maybe he heard it from one of his cousins or on TV. Or maybe from one of us?

In any case, we were shocked. And then we felt shame, thinking he'll use it in front of others. And they'll believe we're terrible parents. Without getting mad, and while trying to stifle our own giggles, we told him it was a bad word.

We must've done a good job. He doesn't use it anymore. Except to tell on Daddy.

POSTED IN: Daniel Vasquez (3)

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How to deal with 'the meanest kid in the first grade'

By Laura Kelly
Sun-Sentinel Staff Writer

My daughter is a very active, boisterous and friendly first grader. And, it turns out, one of her male classmates is also very active, boisterous -- and very aggressive.

The last two days, Hayley came home from her extended-day program bruised and a little bloody. On Tuesday, when my mon picked her up, she had a bruise-y cut on her cheek. She said this certain boy had thrown the metal top of a toy container at her. She was holding an ice pack against it so I know an adult got involved at some point. My mom thought the cut was severe enough to warrant my placing a call to the boy's mother but I felt uncomfortable with that. I don't even know -- is that how parents deal with this these days?

On Wednesday, I picked Hayley up at extended day. Her left forearm was bloody and all scraped. She says the same boy dragged her when she wouldn't relinquish a jumprope he wanted. She said after he got the jumprope from her he left her there on the ground and returned to his friends. She laid there for awhile but no adults came to assist her. She says the boys were playing a game called "fling the jumprope at people."

I don't want to paint my daughter as a victim. I honestly think she was trying to play with the boys in her class. And she's not scared of this kid or feeling bullied or anything -- I questioned her specifically on that. She describes him as "the meanest kid in first grade" but I think she mostly likes playing with him when he's not injuring her.

Kids are going to play rough now and then. But her coming home bloody two days in a row from an aggressive act from the same boy has me nervous. I sent an email to Hayley's teacher and the manager of the school's extended-day program.

I feel like this should be brought up somewhere, somehow -- I am sure the boy's a good kid all around, but it seems he needs to be reminded that he can't physically injure his classmates for any reason. Hey, parents. Has anybody been here? What's the consensus on how to handle this?

Laura Kelly is a mother of two, ages 7 and 3. She lives in Martin County.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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Graco SnugRide safety notice

For months now, Baby has been plucking the batting from under her car-seat cover and stuffing it in her mouth.

We usually find the offending wad once we've reached our destination and have pulled her out of her Graco SnugRide car seat. graco.jpg

Well, lo and behold, other babies have been teetering the choking line by stuffing the batting in their mouths.

Graco announced on its Web site that it will replace the seat covers for select models of the SnugRide made in the U.S. between Aug. 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007.

Read the full statement and request a replacement kit.

If you've stumbled across other recent recalls or product safety warnings chime in!

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134), Newborn (39), Recalls (1)

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February 14, 2008

Winning the bottle battle

I’ve just returned from two weeks home on paternity leave with my newborn, Rowan. (By the way, ever notice how rarely you hear that term, “paternity leave”? But that’s for another post.)

Anyway, I’ve learned a crucial lesson: bottles can matter. And I must concede that Rowan is a fan of Dr. Brown’s bottles, which are designed to eliminate air bubbles.

Rowan and I engaged in a feeding standoff for several days during our first week together. He just wouldn’t take the bottle. He would only relent in two situations: 1) When he didn’t realize what he was doing; or 2) When he was just too hungry to fight me anymore.

But, boy, did he fight.

There was a long afternoon at a car dealership when he cried if the bottle got near his mouth. I gave up and walked him to a Home Depot to distract him. He finally took the bottle as we stood in the lighting aisle.

So after the fourth day of this, my wife suggested I try another brand of bottle…

OK, I’ve got to stop here. There is some disagreement in my household about when, and how many times Shola suggested that I try a Dr. Brown’s bottle. She threw out the number “30” in a discussion about how many times she offered this idea. I think there might have been at least one prior mention. Regardless, I’ll accept that perhaps I had ignored some initial prompting.

Anyway, Rowan is a big fan of the Dr. Brown’s bottle. Took to it right away. Maybe he would have given into the other bottle by the fifth day. Our first son took the initial brand of bottle we gave him, and never protested much.

I generally think it’s more the idea of the bottle than the kind of bottle that matters. And from a quick Google search I just did, it’s also important to check out the safety of bottles. I should probably do that myself.

Either way, Rowan finally took the bottle, and life was much easier.

Any of this ring a bell with anyone?

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59), Newborn (39)

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February 13, 2008

No magnet schools for us

OK! I made a mistake! I admit it!

I messed up my 11-year-old daughter's application to Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton, the computer-friendly and trendy magnet school that every fifth grader in Palm Beach County is dying to get into! I am ashamed!

I applied on-line and in my haste to get it done and get to the next thing on my to-do list, I checked the box next to the one I was supposed to. I found out last week, two months after I applied, when I got a confirmation postcard and it had the wrong school on it.

I called immediately and was told there was no possibility of changing it.

So I had to tell Rachel she could not attend Don Estridge, where she believes all her friends are going to be accepted (they won't; it's a random lottery and there are 1,000 kids competing for 420 sixth-grade spots). I told her the truth and admitted it was all my fault. She was crushed, hurt, depressed and angry.

Fortunately, this only lasted a couple of hours. I hoped she was watching the way I came clean and apologized.

Have you ever had to admit to your kids that you screwed up?

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135)

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February 12, 2008

I 'don't like' my stepkids

Stepping into a fatherly role brought up a number of situations I never anticipated. One of them: how do you convey affection?

Most of the times I’ve dealt with other people’s children, this was never an issue. But when Christine and I got engaged, her two girls were about to become mine. I got to know them better than I’ve known anyone else’s children, and they got to know me. We bonded. Soon enough, I wanted to be able to say, as casually as any father would, how I felt.

But I have to admit, it was a little awkward at first. For a short time, I settled on “I don’t like you.” They knew what I meant. Variations popped up.

“I don’t like you too. Very much.”

“I don’t like you, with all my heart.”

It was fun for about a month. Maybe less. Then Christine told me one day that the kids stopped liking “I don’t like you.” It was charming at first, but it outlived its charm.

So it was okay to just say it now.

Kay, Pax... I love you.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59)

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For my valentines, I've put my affairs in order

By Cindy Kent

Where there's a will -- there's peace of mind.

My annual Valentine's Day tradition is to give my loved ones a lasting and meaningful gift. Last year, I gave my significant other a year's gym membership and my son, an annual membership to the Museum of Science and Discovery.

But this year, they're getting a gift they don't really want to think about.

I'm finally getting to the task of executing a will, something I should have done decades ago. While we cannot ultimately control how we meet our final fate, getting some things in order beforehand is important for the loved ones we leave behind. And being proactive feels good.

Discussing the idea and desire to get wills drawn up made my significant other sad and anxious. So imagine how children feel about discussing the death of a parent, even under the best of circumstances. Everyone is healthy, happy and just fine. We are living and loving life.

We're handling some important issues: wills, appointing medical advocates, selecting power of attorney and naming beneficiaries. This will enable my family to deal with urgent, sad and serious situations when they arise. And they need to know we have this in place.

How would you approach the subject with your children? Or have you already?

Cindy Kent is a reporter assistant at the Sun-Sentinel and a Fort Lauderdale mother of three children ages 12 to 28.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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Ransack the backpack, Part II

My 12-year-old son Creed is well aware he has no civil rights as long as he's a minor in our home. So he doesn't complain that I rifle through his backpack on a regular basis.

I started this early in his 7th grade year. Countless times over the years I've found out too late backpack2.jpg
about this or that, and I realized how important it is to stay on top of what's going on. If I skip a few days, I regret it. For instance, last Tuesday Creed made a 7 p.m. request for poster board for a project that was due in the morning and no doubt was assigned a month prior.

Suffice to say, ransacking the backpack is a valuable parenting tool, and so is keeping extra poster board on hand.

Sometimes he makes a comment, like "so I have no privacy?'' and I usually issue my standard line, "Creed, I own you.''

Last night's jackpot was a notice of after-school suspension (what is the acronym for this?) from his math teacher. The crime: "Chewing.''

(Not to be confused with last week's transgression: "Humming.'')

Creed explained he was chewing gum.

I also found that he got a zero on a homework assignment. Over the weekend, I found his report card in there.

When teachers call to complain about something, I tell them "put a note in there any time you have a problem. I go through Creed's backpack every day.'' I can just feel the elation on the other end of the line. Teachers love this. That probably means they're fed up with parents who don't pay attention until it's too late.

It's easier to start now, when it's not going to be interpreted by your kid as an accusation, or a sign of distrust. It's just the routine.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Pre-Teen (57)

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The truth hurts

It sure must be strange trying to figure out how the world works, when you're only 5.

The other day Lily was throwing her boy Baby Alive doll in the air, while jumping on the trampoline.

"If I throw him way up into the sky,'' she worried, "will I get him back?''

This week she was baffled about old age. Maybe her concerns come from the fact that her grandfather's been in the hospital. First she asked me, "can someone be 400 years old?''

"No.'' That was an easy one!oldladyface.jpg

Then she posed this inquiry: "What will we look like when we're 80?''

I said, "I don't know, hon.''

And she said: "You will look very disgusting.''

Thanks a lot

I didn't respond to that so she elaborated.

"The skin on your face will get all smooshed,'' she said.

I was too tired to give a life lesson about beauty being on the inside. I hadn't even had my coffee yet.

"Yeah,'' I said, "I know.''

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Elementary School (54)

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February 11, 2008

The boy reading wonder

Of all the countless parenting dilemmas out there, I never thought I'd face this one, at least not at this early stage. My son, 2 1/2, has turned his yearlong obsession with the alphabet into the ability to read. At first I thought he was just recognizing certain words that he remembers from his favorite books or videos, then I realized he's actually reading.

We were at Babies R Us the other day when he said, "bab." I looked up, and sure enough, most of the store's sign was blocked and he was reading what he saw. My husband took him to the bank the other day and Elias announced "Drive-Through ATM." And this weekend we were at Old Navy waiting at the cash register when he saw a sign (in reverse, mind you, on the store's glass meant for patrons coming toward the store) and said "Baby and kids." That's not even the half of it. He can read practically any three-letter word and lots of simple four-letter words too.

What's the problem, you may ask? Of course, I'm pleased and proud of my little guy. He's super-smart. But my older son Evan is pretty smart too. He's starting to read too, which I think is pretty normal for a 4-year-old. He sounds every letter out, while Elias instinctively just says what he thinks, which is right most of the time.

The dilemma is this: how do I make sure that Evan doesn't feel inferior? For instance, the woman ahead of us in line at Old Navy immediately said, "Oh my God, he just read that sign backwards!"

"Yeah, he's starting to read," I respond, trying to downplay the situation.
"Is that normal?" the woman asks.
"I don't know," I say, "I have two smart boys."

I have no idea if all this fuss about Eli's early reading even affects Evan. But I would guess that it does. I wonder if my response to that woman at Old Navy was lame, or if Evan can see right through my attempts to make him feel good too.

Any suggestions?

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

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February 8, 2008

Have your next baby in 2012

Prepare to be impressed by the lengths one parent went to to make a scrapbook for his daughter.

If you want to steal this idea, time your next pregnancy to the next presidential election.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Politics (18)

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The Miseducation of Baby

The Baby has eaten and is free to play with her electronic book, congo drums, truck or puzzle.


Yet, she decides to pace the living room with a puzzle piece clamped between her lips.

Back and forth she goes, muttering all the way.

It's clear that this evening Baby is suffering from intellectual stimulation.

Which is why I've hatched a plan to launch the Baby Enrichment Series -- weekend jaunts to mind-stimulating venues in South Florida.

But where to start?

We've been to the Palm Beach Zoo, where she was more enamored with the pigeons than the animals behind moats. And she's too young for story time at area libraries.

Where have you taken your infant, just shy of 12 months, for some good old educational fun?

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Joy Oglesby (134), Toddler (127)

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Candy-flavored drugs new danger for children

Chocolate-flavored Meth? Marijuana gumballs?

I nearly fell out of my seat when I saw the press release from the office of Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum this week warning parents across Florida about a new trend in the world of illegal drugs: Dealers are adding candy flavors to drugs like Methamphetamines, heroin and marijuana.

In the end, some of the drugs look like popular candies, such as pop rocks or rock candy.

For drug dealers, the idea is brilliant. For parents of teens and younger children, it couldn't be more frightening.

It's hard enough to convince kids not to dabble with drugs, given how rampant they are in schools and on the streets nowadays. When I was young, parents usually waited for their children to hit high school before they had the "drug talk". Now they have to start dissuading kids still in elementary school.

And this trend just makes the whole situation even harder. For instance, Meth, which is sometimes called "Speed," has a bitter taste. To make it more appealing to users, dealers are apparently adding flavors like chocolate and strawberry. Some even add lollipops and high-sugar sodas to their drug recipes so they taste better for first-time users.

While McCollum's office did not provide photos of these drugs, a quick Internet search reveals drugs made to look like rock candy or other sweet snacks. Just Google "candy-flavored drugs" and you'll see what I mean. Check out the Attorney General's Web site for more details.

I think something much more sinister is going on here. Sure, drug dealers are continually looking for ways to make their products more desirable. They'll do anything to increase sales.

But I think this about much more than making heroin or pot better tasting. It's about getting future generations hooked on drugs to make more money.

Many young people already believe drugs are not so bad. And when you hear about rampant drug use, whether illicit or prescription, with so-called role models and pop stars like Britney Spears, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse, it becomes even more difficult to steer children away from the drug culture.

My son is only 3-years old. I didn't expect to even think about our "drug talk" for years. But he knows what candy is, so I guess that talk will come sooner than I had hoped for.

I just hope they have an "Elmo Says Drugs Are Bad" DVD out soon. That might help.


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February 7, 2008

Prepping for Lucas Emilio, Ana's Little Brother

So I've painted Ana' s old room a hue of blue as we wait for her little brother to arrive. Lucas Emilio is going in there and we moved Ana into the "big girl room," formerly the guest bedroom.


This week, the doctor scheduled my wife, Carrie Ann, for her C-section. So we have a deadline of April 29 now to get everything ... and everyone ready.

I still need to insulate, put up drywall on the ceiling and paint the converted Florida room. That's going to be where our guests stay now that we don't have a guest bedroom anymore. We also have to buy a pullout couch. All that is the easy part, if you ask me.

Coordinating grandparents and friends visits without hurting feelings seems to be the bigger challenge. They're all coming from New York, New Jersey and Maryland. And they all want to come around the baby's birthday.

We want them all to visit. But we don't have a large house to fit everyone at the same time. Sometimes we feel like we're playing traffic cops.

So what do you think is the best way to handle our influx of well-meaning visitors who want to celebrate Lucas' arrival?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Luis Perez (32), Pregnancy (31)

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So that's why they call it 'mystery meat'

Good for the South Florida's school boards for taking quick action to pull the beef from school lunch menus in the wake of a USDA shut down of one of the meat suppliers to the National School Lunch Program.

I never thought school food looked edible, appetizing or, in fact, very nutritious even before I read this appalling report. (In defense of school lunch, I will say that South Florida Parenting's longtime nutrition columnist, in whom I have utmost respect, tells me the nutrition quality of school lunch is actually pretty good.)

Still, I would never eat that stuff and could never force my kids to eat it either, even on those days when it would be so much easier to hand them money than to scrounge for something to put in the lunch box.

Now I'm really glad my kid packs her lunch every day. She may not eat everything in her lunchbox. No doubt there's a fair amount of food-trading going on at her lunch table, just as at any other. But I'm pretty sure she'd trade carrots for cookie, not meatballs or beef patty.

I don't know why school food is so awful. I know they have to feed a lot of people in a short time on a limited budget, but is that any excuse for serving meat from abused cows to children? And why do they bother, honestly, with slopping a pile of slimy, smelly spinach on any kid's plate? Can't there be some way to serve fresh, healthy, antibiotic-free, disease-free food to children at school?

POSTED IN: School Issues (135), Vicki McCash Brennan (13)

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February 6, 2008

A risky prescription

Maybe Heath Ledger's accidental death will count for something.

Maybe it will make some of the 2,500 kids each day who try a painkiller to get high for the first time to decide not to. Most kids who try painkillers do it because they think it's a "safe" high, according to a new study from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Or maybe Ledger's death will wake up the parents who stock painkillers and sedatives such as those that killed him-- oxycodone, Percocet, Perodan, valium, Xanax -- to keep a lock, and an eye, on those drugs.

Just two days after Ledger's death, the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- the folks responsible for "Parents: The AntiDrug" campaign -- launched a new national campaign to teach parents about teen prescription drug abuse. Because parents' medicine cabinets are where the drugs are coming from.

There's lots to be alarmed about, not the least of which is that prescription drugs are easier to get, cheaper and more dangerous than the only drug teens use more than prescription pills: marijuana. You can find the entire study here.

So what do you think? Will Ledger's death make a difference? Do you think teen prescription drug abuse is a big deal?

POSTED IN: Teen (158), Vicki McCash Brennan (13)

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Time to throw out more cosmetics...

Now there's another chemical we have to worry about in shampoos and packaging, a yucky sounding stabilizer called phthalates.phthalate3.jpg

A new study shows more than 80 percent of infants have been exposed to phthalates (pronounced THA-lates), which have been linked with male reproductive problems. Phthalates are also found in cosmetics, children's toys, vinyl flooring and food packaging.

I don't have boys, but I am confident that anything connected with reproductive problems in one sex applies to us all. And I know the FDA "has no compelling evidence that phthalates pose a safety risk when used in cosmetics," according to one of their spokesmen, but I am not going to wait 10 years for them to announce that yes, it was true.

A couple of weeks ago, I went through all the shampoos and lotions in our house looking for parabens, which some studies have linked with breast cancer. Now I am going to scan the microscopic ingredient lists to look for phthalates, which are labeled DEP and DEHP, when they are labeled at all.

POSTED IN: Health (111), Lois Solomon (211)

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February 5, 2008

Camping good for the soul

Our kids are growing up in the innards of a giant street grid. So I think it's our duty as parents to get our kids the heck out of Broward County and into a tent somewhere.

I was raised in Iowa, with cornfields and soybeans as far as you could see. (Unless you were looking towards the women's reformatory we lived next door to.) My husband was raised in Kentucky. No Broward Boulevard of speeding traffic a block from the house.

I feel sorry for kids growing up in Broward County. They don't get to spend the day skipping camping.jpg
rocks in the creek. They go bike riding, and their destination is a shopping mall or Subway shop. My son and his buddy think going to Publix for a half hour is a lot of fun, even if they don't have any money. That's sad.

Yeah, we're surrounded by parks in Plantation. But those fenced tidbits of nature on the roadside are no substitute for the real outdoors.

And you can find it in a few hours' drive. We did, recently. The place is called Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. I found it because it was the only campsite I could find with a spot open on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, when the kids at Broward schools had five days off, including the weekend. It's in Okeechobee, but well north of the lake, in the middle of nowhere. We passed lots of road kill, and a cabbage farm, on the way out there.

My husband of course was suspect when he learned this place had a lot of campsites open. It must be a horrible place, he said. It's called a "prairie,'' he said. That means no trees, no shade, and nothing to do.

But that wasn't the case, at all. This place was great. And it was cheap; $12 a campsite, and you could bring your pet and up to eight people.

There were horses, and trails through the woods. We were able to fly a kite high into the sky, without scraping up against that Goodyear blimp, or a power line. When you're camping, all food that you are able to warm up tastes delicious.

It rained. And it was the coldest night of the year, I think. And our sleeping bags were wet. We were miserable, but it was a good kind of miserable, the kind you can enjoy because you know that within 24 hours you will be lying in your cozy bed at home.

Camping is a big hassle, with all the stuff you have to pack, and then unpack. But it's really worth it.

I've gone back and forth on it. Sometimes I feel like an idiot packing up blankets and tents and food and stuff so that I can go sleep uncomfortably like a homeless person when I could be in the luxury of my home. How silly.

But you do this for your soul, for your children's souls.

You have to get out there, miles from any TV, video game system, and away from all the things your kids would rather be doing than hanging out with their parents.

The state parks system has a toll-free number you can call to find a park with an opening, and to book it. It's Reserve America, at 1-800-326-3521. You can also book a site online.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Brittany Wallman (160)

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February 4, 2008

Oh no! I'm a step parent!

I didn’t become a parent until I was 37 years old. Now I’m 38 and I have two girls, aged 12 and 15. That’s what I get for marrying their mother.

I’m fond of saying that we live in a one-story house, so there are no “steps.” It’s a charming expression, but not a realistic one. The simple truth is that I’ve got two girls sharing my home now, and I’m often at a loss as to how I’m supposed to behave. I’m not their “dad.” They call me by my name, as they should (their dad is still in the picture).

The girls have quirks I need to get used to. I have quirks they need to get used to.

I’m into musical theater, books and karaoke. They’re into hip-hop, wall posters and dancing.

I excelled as a student all through my school and college years. They're average students who might think “FCAT” is short for “Forget College After This.”

I sometimes teach grammar to undergraduate college students. They “tlk n txt msgs n dnt blv n vwls.”

Being a parent is something I’ve always wanted, but like most people, I expected to start from the beginning, with diaper changes, first steps, first words and first days of school. I expected I would be “Daddy,” not just “Mommy’s husband.”

And now I’ve got one teenager, and another about to become one. It’s like taking a final exam without having sat through the class. There are no makeup tests. No time to study. And it has begun.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59)

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February 1, 2008

Poison scare with pet is a scary reminder about childproofing

We rid our house this week of yogurt-covered raisins.

The seemingly benign snack, an on-and-off favorite of my three-year-old son’s, almost killed our beagle, Chico.

Late one night this week, Chico managed to get into my son’s diaper bag, pull out a sealed Ziploc bag of yogurt raisins and chew a hole through it. When my husband stumbled upon him feasting on top of our bed, it was hard to tell if Chico had eaten two or twenty.

What happened next could be best described as pet pandemonium: My husband panicked, remembering a passing conversation with a friend years ago that raisins, grapes and chocolate can be toxic for dogs. He searched the Internet and read that as little as seven raisins can be lethal.

We had to do something. Little did I know it would involve making my dog throw up (by giving him 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide) and sifting through the vomit to count just how many raisins he may have eaten. Those were the instructions of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, which, by the way, also charged my credit card $60 for the advice.

The final score for the three-hour ordeal: 49 raisins! (Beagles are known for their insatiable appetite.)

The next morning we took Chico to the vet to run some tests to make sure he wasn’t showing signs of renal failure. They came back clean.

We dodged a bullet on this one. Our dog is a member of our family, my son’s brother, as he calls him. But the scare served as a good wake-up call: We’re re-checking our childproof locks and making sure the cabinets are kept securely closed.

And we’ve said goodbye to yogurt raisins.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67), Health (111)

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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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