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March 31, 2008

No brotherly love allowed in Lily's world

My 6-year-old daughter is extremely jealous of anyone else I show affection to, outside the family.

She quizzes me relentlessly about how much I love the person -- often a friend of hers I gave a hug to, or was nice to. So I told her that "God says we should love everyone.'' jealous.jpg
Her response was, "Well, I don't.''

Ever since then she is constantly checking the level of mommy's Love for Complete Strangers. It's a concept she cannot accept.

I took her to T.Y. Park in Hollywood Saturday for her birthday. She wanted to know if I loved everyone there at the park that day, and if so, how much, compared to my love for her.

I've tried to explain the concept of loving people as friends, but she doesn't understand it. Ditto for the idea that people are capable of infinite amounts of love, and giving my love to someone else does not require subtracting any from her.

Still, my rule of thumb is if your child is seeking affirmation of your love, you give it, even if it's wrapped in an annoying interrogation where you are the Betrayer for calling another child "Sweetie.''

I'm beginning to conclude, though, that some people are born with insecurities and they're not all the product of experience, as I had once thought.

Yesterday she even found herself struggling over the idea that before she was born, I did not love her! This is an idea she came up with, of course.

And she was talking it out with me, trying to come to grips with a world in which her older brother, Creed, was the sole object of momma's affection.

"But you didn't even exist, Lily!'' I told her in my own defense.

She frowned and I could see her trying to accept this explanation. She's probably still mulling it over.

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

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File this under "no duh" news ...

My husband just emailed me a link to this article: "Moms, Tots Argue 20 Times an Hour." As I contemplate this stop-the-presses news and think about my own sweet toddler, I come to the conclusion that ... yeah, that sounds about right.

Whether it's scooting to the back of the minivan when we arrive at our destination instead of getting out, or insisting that he has to "push triangle" (translation: press "play" on the DVD player) for his favorite videos, or allowing him to hold the can of Ovaltine as we prepare his chocolate milk in the mornings, there is no shortage to the number of arguments that can occur on a daily basis.

According to this study by Lehigh University, which appears in the March/April issue of Child Development, moms and their toddlers argue 20 to 25 times an hour on average. Granted, for the study, the kids, who were about 30 months old, and their moms were videotaped at a researcher's lab during times most likely to have a conflict. The moms had to enforce rules about toys (and apparently the lab supplied toys that the kids couldn't have), and the kids got to play with puzzles that were too hard for them -- both scenarios sure to elicit frustration and tantrums.

Six months later, the exercise was somewhat repeated, only in the families' homes. What did these researchers find out? The arguments occurred "between 20-25 times an hour at both assessment periods." That's from a low of four arguments an hour to a high of 55 an hour.

I'm not really sure what this study accomplished. What do you guys think?

On a different topic, I'm going to plug CNN on Wednesday, which is devoting a considerable amount of air time throughout the day for World Austim Awareness Day. At noon, a segment produced by John David Dear, whose sister is a close friend of mine, will give viewers a look at the struggles of raising an autistic child. J.D.'s son Jonas was diagnosed in December 2006. I'll be sure to tune in, and I hope we'll all come away with a better understanding of this developmental syndrome that is striking an increasing number of families.

Check this link for a closer look at the CNN programming on Wednesday that centers around autism.

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

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March 28, 2008

Make your own calendars

Want to look smart and tech savvy without actually doing something more than a third-grader could do?

I’m a little late this year, but I’m planning to design my 2008 personalized calendar online. Ever since my son was born, I’ve used to produce a number of keepsakes, including photo books, birthday cards and -- my favorite – calendars.

The best part about the calendar is you can make it start and end at any point in the year. So don’t worry if you’re a procrastinator or that we’re already in Spring. My calendar this year will be April 2008–April 2009, which actually follows my March 2007–March 2008 calendar. (Hey, I’m a busy working mom.)

Don’t be afraid to hunt online for other sites. I know and also have similar capabilities.

The benefits are huge. Of course, you’ll have a calendar that you can keep for years, much as you would a photo album. Even better: Fill it with little notes about what you did on a particular day.

Some gems I had on my calendar this past year: Jan. 22, 2008: “Danny went to school in underwear for the first time!” June 9, 2007: “My new alarm clock: ‘Wake up, Mommy! I said ‘wa-a-a-ke up!’” October 6, 2007: “Danny says his favorite song is “Hey, Hey, You, You,” which means “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavinge.”

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Anne Vasquez (67)

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March 27, 2008

Body parts, China and a two and half year old

This falls into the category of something I never thought about on my way to parenthood. But it happened one day a few weeks ago.


Sometime back, my wife and I agreed on teaching our children the anatomical correct name for their body parts. It wasn't a big discussion, just something we sort of agreed on almost in passing.

Of course, most of this teaching goes on while I am at work. So I never really have given it that much thought until my daughter caught me off guard.

Her mother was at the doctor. And we were playing in the living room. She opened her mouth wide. I did the same. We did the aahhhh thing, each of us getting louder by the moment. Finally, I stopped and pointed in her mouth and said: "What's that in there? Is that China?"

That stopped Ana Isabel. "No, papa. That's not my China. This is my China," she said while doing a full-on Michael Jackson crotch grab. Vagina, China. It's all the same to a two and half year old. I just about fell out of the chair trying not to laugh.

I relayed the story to my wife. We laughed. It's better than the name her grandmother used to for the same body part, Carrie Ann said. Tootie. It confused her as a little girl when the sitcom "The Facts of Life" had a character with the same name.

So, how do you handle teaching your children about their body?

POSTED IN: Luis Perez (32), Say what!?! (25), Toddler (127)

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March 26, 2008

My kids eat "The Worst Foods in America"

Oh great. Two of my kids' favorite foods made it on to the list of the "Worst Foods in America."

In his book, "Eat This, Not That: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution," Men's Health editor David Zinczenko lists 20 of the worst foods in different categories.

My kids drink the "Worst Drink," Jamba Juice Chocolate Moo’d Power Smoothie (166 grams of sugar) and eat the "Worst Kids' Meal," Macaroni Grill's Double Macaroni 'n' Cheese, with 62 grams of fat.

Fortunately they only eat these monsters a few times a year. But for some reason, I didn't see these foods as the poisons I guess they are.

Take a look at some of the others. Which of these do your kids devour in blissful ignorance?

POSTED IN: Food (56), Lois Solomon (211)

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March 25, 2008

Is my kid bored in my car?

So how do you keep your kid entertained in the car?

Here’s why I ask. Alexander, who is 2, started his new school this month in Boca Raton, near my Sun-Sentinel office. It’s also close to my wife’s office in Boca. But there’s a catch: We live in Fort Lauderdale. So I take him to school each day, and she picks him up before heading to get Rowan at his day care in Fort Lauderdale.

For two weeks we’ve had these drives up Interstate 95 to Boca, about 40 minutes. I decided early on that I was not going to listen to NPR in the car. This was for two reasons. First, a colleague and a friend both recently struck the fear of God in me about leaving your kid in the car. They both recounted hearing about cases of perfectly well-meaning people just forgetting about their kid in the back seat. They got so wrapped up in their routine that the kid faded into the background.

Then there was my desire to actually make these trips meaningful for the two of us. I knew that listening to the news would mean I was not listening to Alexander. He’s not really fascinated by coverage of the presidential race. So I figured shutting the radio off was a way to focus on him, talk to him.

But I discovered a problem: We run out of things to talk about. I mean, he’s only 2. And I get a bit bored pointing out trucks -- “tractor-trailer truck,” “tanker truck” – for the entire ride. The other morning I tired coming up with stories behind what the trucks were carrying. That worked well with a refrigerated meat truck. He started pointing to trucks afterward and saying, “Take meat to the store,” and “cook it.” But that only goes so far.

My colleague, Daniel Vasquez, made me wish l that I could find a way to take a train or bike on this long ride, even just for a week as he did. So what do you think? A kid’s book on CD? A game? Is NPR the way to go after all?

POSTED IN: Toddler (127)

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How pre-teens ruin words you used to like

Now that my 12-year-old son has started acting like a teenager, I will have lots more to blog about. That's the only upside.

The first sign that our son had evolved into That Which We've Dreaded for 12-and-a-Half-Years was his misappropriation of the word "wow.''.badattitude.jpg

He uses it as a term of derision, as in "Wow. You are REALLLLLLLLLLY stupid.''

You can't imagine how annoying the word "wow'' can be.

Let me give you some examples so you can try.

I say, "A $250 bike is way too expensive for a kid your age.'' He says, "Wow.''

I say, "I can't believe one of your friends already is allowed to have a pierced ear.'' He says, "Wow.''

I say, "I'm surprised your friend's parents would take you to see the Bodies exhibit without making sure you were allowed.'' He says, "Wow.''

I say, "You're not allowed to stay out till midnight. You're only 12.'' He says, "Wow.''

You get the idea? Annoying.

An efficient use of the English language. But annoying.

Really annoying. Wow.

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

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March 24, 2008

Backtalk and timeouts on Easter

Just last week I blogged about what a sweet kid my 4-year-old Evan is. But yesterday he temporarily turned into a rude and ungrateful little boy.

I had taken great care in ensuring that the boys' Easter baskets contained an equal number of treats and small toys. Did I make sure that each item was the SAME EXACT COLOR? No. I didn't really think that would be a problem.

But after the initial euphoria of opening Easter baskets had worn off, and I was dozing on the couch at 8 a.m. as the boys played with their new stuff, I heard the all-too familiar wail from Elias that indicated something had been taken away from him. I opened my eyes. A distraught Evan was holding a blue egg that had once held a Hot Wheels car while Elias was crying that it was his. Apparently Evan didn't get a blue egg among the three that contained brand-new cars. I told him that they each got the same number of cars, and that I didn't want to hear any more out of them.

Five seconds later, there was the unmistakable sound of jealousy rearing its ugly head again. Eli crying, Evan acting as though it was a huge injustice that he did not receive a blue plastic egg container. I told him once again that he and Elias both got the same amount of toys and candy and that he should be thankful to the Easter bunny instead of whining. And that the color of the egg didn't matter. I closed my eyes.

"Shut up."

Those two little words were uttered so calmly, yet almost tentatively. And they came out of Evan's mouth for the first time. My jaw dropped. I bolted out of the couch.

"Time out -- NOW," I told Evan.

He went, crying.

I immediately marched into my bedroom and informed Jeff of what Evan had said. Nothing I say usually stirs him out of bed, but his eyes immediately opened. Take his basket away, my husband said firmly.

I wasn't willing to go that far, but Jeff was insistent that Evan's entire Easter basket should be off limits, at least for a little while. He then went in Evan's room and gave him a stern talking-to that provoked the kind of tears usually accompanied by hyperventilating.

Eventually, Evan got his basket back. After an apology. Jeff and I were both aghast that Evan would ever say such a thing. But that's the influence of TV, I guess. And I was left wondering if we addressed it properly.

Any thoughts? How old were your kids when you first became the victim of their shocking language?

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

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March 21, 2008

Easter candy and baby teeth

This week, the daycare my child attends celebrated St. Patrick's Day and Easter by asking parents to bring in plates, cheese, juice boxes and SWEETS: cupcakes, candies, cookies.

candy.jpgWhat the heck do children ages 1-2 need with candy???

Baby teeth are temporary, and can be difficult to clean if the baby is like mine and squirms and wails during the cleanings.

I was instructed via a note to bring candy for the Easter party. I brought grapes, lovingly divided into baby bite sizes, for the kids.

As a compromise, I brought in treat bags of candy and gum for the teachers.

How do you deal with your daycare provider plying your child with sweets?

Was I wrong to not bring candy?

POSTED IN: Food (56), Joy Oglesby (134), Say what!?! (25), Toddler (127)

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March 19, 2008

Is anyone NOT having an affair?

The new governor of New York, David Paterson, announced yesterday he had had several affairs. This comes right after it was discovered that the old governor, Eliot Spitzer, had hired prostitutes.silda.jpg

It seems like every day another male politician is caught in an out-of-marriage relationship. And for some reason, it is bothering me in the extreme.

I guess it's because I am seeing lots of marriages among my peers fall apart as we enter our 40s. People I know are having affairs, separating and getting divorced. Some of the tales are lurid, and others are simple: The couple just grew apart.

But I wonder if having an affair is becoming standard when couples are having problems. As Paterson put it: "We have a marriage like many Americans, maybe even many of you."

How about you? Have you had an affair? Did you go back to your marriage?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Lois Solomon (211)

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March 18, 2008

The art of the cut-down

If you have a brother or sister then you know how important it is to give a better cut-down than you receive.

My kids are 12 and 5. Recently I found out about a couple of doozies. swordfight.jpg

Lily came home this week telling us that her friend made her "pinky promise' not to tell anyone a big secret. The secret was that "Mrs. Hazell (at school) used to be named Mrs. Hazellbutt.''

Thus Creed told her she believes everything; she's gullible.

"I don't believe everything,'' she told me on our way to school. "I don't believe what Creed tells me, like when he says, "Mom doesn't love you. She wants you to run away to another family and live there.' "

Ahhh, those fun sibling fights. I grew up as one of four girls, so I know all about this subject.

She also asked me last week, "Mommy, am I normal?'' Yes, I told her. "Oh,'' she responded, " 'cuz Creed said I"m not.''

Lily is a very sensitive person, and doesn't go on the attack much. Plus she's only in kindergarten. So I was pretty impressed when I heard what she came up with in a recent squabble while Creed was babysitting her.

"God hates you!'' she screamed at Creed. Creed was appalled, and told me about it later.

She had a basis for this -- she said he was being mean to her, and that God "hates' mean people. Well her theology might be a little askew but I had to give her points for the large scope and depth of this cut-down.

I'm not inclined to stomp on their freedom of expression, as long as it doesn't include profanity or any slandering of their mother. People need to be able to defend themselves in this world, and don't you think that sibling rivalries are fertile training ground?

I don't allow physical abuse. But I think being verbally pummelled by a brother or sister, and learning how to shrug that off, can only prepare you for life in America.

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

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Free Italian ice, and priceless quotes

So, my boys and I finally made it to Rita's.

If you don't know anything about Rita's, it's an Italian Ice and custard shop that originated in Pennsylvania and just opened its first Palm Beach County location. Right near me, in Boynton Beach. I can tell you right now, we'll be back frequently for their delicious Italian ices. My little one, Elias, is partial to the vanilla and chocolate twist custard with sprinkles.

I'm told the franchise will soon open in West Boca, West Boynton and East Boca. In the meantime, you can partake in a FREE Italian ice to celebrate spring's arrival by heading to the Boynton Beach location, 1015 Gateway Boulevard, this Thursday between noon and 9 p.m.

On a totally different subject, I was treated to this little nugget the other day as I picked up a very ornery little boy from the bath and tried to put him on his bed to put on his pajamas. Suddenly, inexplicably and irrationally, Elias began hollering and crying, "Mommy, I'm going to throw you away!"

"Okay," I said, resigned.

Evan piped in.

"You can't throw Mommy away. She's too heavy."

"Thanks," I said drily.

One second later, my angel changed his mind.

"No, you can't throw Mommy in the trash because she's too beautiful," Evan said with a smile.

Atta boy.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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March 17, 2008

She's a stepkid, so why is she just like me?

Somewhere, my Abuelita is laughing at me.

My grandmother used to do all the cooking for the family, just about every night. She lived upstairs from us in an apartment building in the Bronx. She cooked typical Puerto Rican meals, heavy on the yellow rice (I hated yellow rice) and red beans (I hated red beans), occasional small pieces of steak (I hated steak), usually with onions (I hated onions). More than once, I would get a special serving of white rice and corn, so I could be spared the indignity of the meal Abuelita had spent so much time preparing for the rest of the family.

Fast forward... Years after Abuelita's passing, I'm a stepfather, and about twice a week, it's my job to cook for the family. Nothing fancy, mind you. I'm not much of a cook. But I make some fantastic spaghetti sauce, which becomes "pasta sauce" when you serve it with anything other than spaghetti. Sometimes, if I have one handy, I'll even cut up an onion to add that extra little bit of flavor. I love the taste of cooked onions. The other night, my wife asked if I could make sausage and peppers. Yum. And boil some spaghetti, too.

The sausage and peppers were just about ready when Christine and the girls got home. The younger one, Paxtynn, asked me when dinner would be ready. I pointed to the spaghetti, still boiling with about four minutes to go. "That'll be a couple of minutes," I said. Then I pointed to the sausage and peppers and said, "That's just about rea..."

"I don't like that!" she interrupted, as if to say, "You don't really expect me to eat the centerpiece of the meal you've prepared, do you?"

She is such a fussy eater. A hint of sauce for spaghetti, but no more. Ribs? She'll take two and eat half of one, leaving the rest on her plate. Rice? Sometimes, but not much. She doesn't like this. She doesn't like that (but she'll eat uncooked noodles straight out of the box like it's a potato chip -- I don't get that). No consideration for the work that goes into preparing a meal. Taste buds that can't handle taste. My masterpieces, unappreciated in their time. She's like a little, annoying, bratty, fussy... female version of me when I was her age.

When I remember that, I smile. Sometimes I laugh. She has no idea how much it stings when she points to food I've made and says "I don't like that." I never thought of what it must feel like to my Abuelita, who must be looking down at the situation right now and thinking, "Ah ha. Ahora sabes!"

"Now you know."

I do. And I know she's laughing. And I'm laughing with her. Lo siento, Abuelita. Y gracias.

POSTED IN: Food (56), Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59)

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March 14, 2008

Message to my daughters: Sex is dangerous

Two stories in the Sun-Sentinel this week provided openings for me to continue the conversation about sex with my two daughters, ages 14 and 16.

My older daughter brought the first story to my attention at 7 a.m. over breakfast on Wednesday. I was barely awake and very glad that I am certain of my message to her regarding sex, so I didn't have to think too hard.

"Ohmigod," she exclaimed. "Fifty percent of teens are sexually active?" That was on the jump of the story that, rightfully, had the news in the lead: That a fourth of teenage girls are infected with common sexually transmitted diseases.

I don't know if my daughter was thinking she needed to get with it, or if she was stunned that so many of her friends and acquaintances are having sex. But it gave me the opening to tell her, again, that I don't think sex at her age is advisable. That's partly because she could get a disease, as this story quite clearly shows, but also because sex should be between two people who care deeply about each other and are committed to their relationship.

It's not something to take lightly, I tell my children. And preferably, they should be old enough to be at least considering marriage before they start having sex.

But, I always say, if they do decide to have sex, they need to use a condom every time. And they should also be aware that even condoms are not 100 percent effective against all sexually transmitted diseases. Only abstinence is.

I didn't really want to have that conversation at 7 a.m., so my daughter got a shortened, somewhat sleepy, version. And then, today, another opportunity appeared on the Sun-Sentinel's 1B, a story about teens trying to convince other teens that the danger of contracting HIV is real.

This opening was even easier: "Sex can kill you."

I don't really want to frighten my children into never having sex, but if my frequent talks about it helps to keep them safe, then I've done my job.

So far, so good. What's your strategy for discussing sex with your children?

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

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Date night with the Blue Man Group

I’m convinced my three-year-old son is a budding musician. Not the classically trained kind. He’s more of a pound your fists on the Fisher-Price piano and play the harmonica while trying to brush your teeth kind of kid.

For Christmas, my husband desperately wanted to buy our son the Blue Man Group keyboard and drums. He was very disappointed when Santa drew the line on expensive gifts at a 5-speed miniature Corvette, which said husband also desperately wanted for our son. (Starts to make me wonder whom the Christmas gifts are for.)

Now’s my chance to see if those Blue Man instruments are worth the investment. The Blue Man Group brings their How to be a Megastar Tour 2.1 to the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise on Saturday. Tickets aren’t cheap, but it’ll be the closest thing to a “date night” I’ve had in months.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67), Music (22)

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Is it OK to laugh at your child's questions about the world?

Yesterday, Lily and I did two laps around the block. She was roller skating. I was carrying my dinner plate. (Don't let this get posted on our diet blog. It's not a recommended form of egg.jpg

She was talking away. She asked if we could do another lap. "Then we could keep talking,'' she said.

"OK,'' was my answer, even though my plate was empty by then.

She didn't waste a second with what was burning on her mind: "Do ponies lay eggs?''

I laughed out loud and told her no. She was kind of embarrassed and said, "I knew they didn't. Well, I really thought they did.'' This is a 5-year-old. They're not good at covering up for embarrassing lapses of knowledge.

I told her ponies don't come out in eggs but they do come out covered in a mucous-like slime, which the mommy horse proceeds to lick off. Yum, yum. Time for dessert.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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March 12, 2008

Having "The Talk." Again. And again.

My husband asked me when I am going to have "The Talk" with our three girls.parentteen.jpg

I told him talking about sex with our teen and pre-teens is an ongoing conversation that I don't schedule. I usually wait til they ask questions, something is going on in the news, or the mood strikes me.

I wasn't surprised to find out I am not initiating these conversations often enough. A study in the current issue of Pediatrics says repetition and depth are the keys to making your kid feel comfortable talking to you about sex.

"Adolescents whose sexual communication with their parents involved more repetition felt closer to their parents, felt more able to communicate with their parents in general and about sex specifically, and perceived that discussions with their parents about sex occurred with greater openness than did adolescents whose sexual communication with their parents included less repetition."

I am guessing that our many rides in the car will be a good place to get these conversations going. The Eliot Spitzer embarrassment is probably a good place to start. It definitely will be messy, but I am going to take the plunge.

Do you have a strategy for talking to your teen about sex?

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

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March 11, 2008

Wine for kids?

I did a double take when, at dinner one night, Alexander pointed to my glass and said, “wine.” Before long, he started pointing and saying, “daddy’s wine.”


Well, that’s normal, I told myself. Almost 2, he’s learning to name the world, and this is just another item on the horizon. But somehow I felt caught, as though I shouldn’t be drinking in front of my kids. I imagined a chorus of people out there who would say I am planting a seed that will grow into a problem when he’s a teenager.

Then I read an Associated Press story in the Sun-Sentinel about parents letting their kids (as young as 5) drink small amounts of wine to encourage a taste for fine food and “remove the forbidden fruit appeal.” The story adds that many parents and health officials raise alarms about the practice and point to the effect the alcohol can have on brain development. Parents respond that there are plenty of real threats to worry about, from processed food to toxins on toys, and that the custom is accepted elsewhere, including southern Europe. And they’re talking about wine, not whiskey. The debate goes on.

My boys won’t be sipping wine at the dinner table anytime soon. But they probably will take communion wine at church as kids, and I would consider giving them a glass of wine with a special meal as teenagers (provided it’s allowed by law). But maybe kids who drink at home are more likely to drink elsewhere, which is generally not a good thing for teenagers. So what do you think? Are you passing the cabernet to the kids for a sip, or is it locked away for the next 18 years?

POSTED IN: Holidays (49)

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Dear tooth fairy

Lily lost her first tooth this week. She's 5. toothfairy.jpg

I don't have much time so I'm going to tell you the contents of her letter to the Tooth Fairy, complete with her spelling errors:

"I love to go to the store because I can run in the store it is fun it is loveubl And it is cool and it is. 1. Storey.''

"I love to play cech becase it is fun I like to play cech it is fun. 2. Storey''

"I lost a tooth I wut sum mune frum the tooth fairy I lost 2 teth I wut sum muny.''

Lily believes in the Tooth Fairy. And that is because we told her there is a cute little Tooth Fairy flying around out there.

But she also asked us yesterday: "Are leprechauns real?''

OF COURSE NOT!!!! we answered. I mean, how absurd.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), General (185)

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March 10, 2008

The stage debut of a 4-year-old? Worth the $45

I walked into the preschool, camera and videocamera packed, a bundle of nerves. I wondered how Evan was faring, just minutes before he would accompany his classroom to sing two songs for the preschool's spring program. Once inside the hall where the show was to take place, I saw a crowd of what had to be at least 200 people. Oh dear God, what is Evan, my sometimes timid little boy, going to do when he sees so many faces staring up at him?

Sitting with a couple of moms, we all copped to a fear that we would be the parent of the child who starts crying inconsolably on stage. And we all pretty much had decided that $45 was a bit too much to spend for chicken and a few songs.

The program started. We sat through the presentations of two other classrooms (yeah, yeah, you're cute -- move along) before the songs of Classroom No. 7 began. There he was. He had an expression on his face that I'd never seen before. Not fear, not exactly confidence. A look that told me that if it weren't for the fact that none of his other classmates seemed scared, he might have been the kid who cried. That probably wasn't obvious to anyone but me, and I gave him a casual thumbs-up when he caught my eye.

The two songs ("Farmer in the Dell" and a little-known ditty called "The Tractor Goes Chug Chug Chug") were over in a flash. Evan sang every word, loudly I might add, and though he forgot a couple of some of the arm motions most of the kids was doing, he did GREAT. The whole thing was ridiculously adorable. Got it on video, of course.

I left before lunch was served, and picked Evan up a little early from his classroom. Gave him a big hug, told him how proud I was. He seemed rather nonchalant by then, but I could tell he was tickled. Made me almost forget that the darn thing cost me $45.


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

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The stepparent’s crutch

There’s a job that can sometimes be even harder than being a stepfather, and that’s my wife’s task. She is the moderator, the referee between the stepfather who doesn’t know what he’s doing half the time and the daughters who would like to know who that grumpy man thinks he is. Mom, after all, is the one who invited/accepted me into their family. The girls kind-of sort-of got a vote, but it was ultimately their mom’s decision.

And that puts her in a pretty tough spot. For example, I don’t know how to tutor the pre-teen. I do a pretty good job with college students, but the 12-year-old feels so much pressure hearing a question from me that she’ll forget how many inches are in a foot. It’s not that she doesn’t know – it’s that I can be so overbearing while firing even simple questions at them that the answers hide behind a defensive wall in their brains. I throw my hands in the air, declaring to anyone who’ll hear me that I can’t work with this!

In steps their mom, able to leap tall communication gaps in a single comforting gesture. Back off, she tells me subtly, gently. You know this stuff, she tells the kid, coaxing the answer out of her.

I don’t envy my wife when it comes to that role. As parents, we’ve been a team less than a year. Now she spends as much time teaching me how to be a parent as she spends being a parent to the girls. I get the luxury of not getting it right all the time. The pressure on her is greater: she has to be right when I’m wrong, right when the kids are wrong, right when we’re all wrong. And she never has the right to be wrong. Ever!

Not fair. And all I have to do to resolve this unfairness is get it right all the time myself. Yeah, sure. I can do that.

Honestly, I think she has some idea how much I appreciate her. I know I’d be a flop as a stepfather if not for her support. I’d like to be just as supportive of her role.

But how?

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

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March 7, 2008

Things to do with Baby

A couple of weeks ago I was agonizing about the enrichment possibilities for a babe in South Florida.

And the response was helpful: go to the beach, Quiet Waters and Tradewind parks and story time.


Since then, I've found some great things to do with an infant or toddler. The educational-training powerhouse Nova offers classes for babes and parents.

And now that we're entering spring, there's always a fair or fest to check out.

But I think we're going to put our eggs in the South Florida Parenting Extravaganza which will have a petting zoo, pony rides, a firehouse, face-painting and more.

If you've got something cool to do with your rugrat this weekend ... please tell me. I could always use good ideas.

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

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Commute by bike made fun with help of 3-year-old

This week, I challenged myself and readers to go without driving a car. Using Mass Transit is tough and frustrating. But the best part of the day has been picking up my son from preschool by bike.

Check out this video to see highlights.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Daniel Vasquez (3), Family Issues (231)

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March 6, 2008

Guess what? You didn't win.

That Jonas Brothers ticket giveaway I posted about Monday?

Well, unless you're a 12-year-old girl in Boca Raton, you didn't get it.

Just got word from the promoter they planned to surprise the girl at noon today at her school. So by now, the secret is out. (C'mon, you gotta be a little bit happy for her.)

She's Kelly Cunningham, a student at A.D. Henderson Middle in Boca Raton. They took a picture of her next to BankAtlantic's mascot "7," and her mom. I couldn't bring myself to put it up.

Condolences to all you fans who struck out. Now if we can only get the banks to give out free samples of their main product...

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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Speak Spanish, si, conjugate verbs, no

A boy came into the peer tutoring class at my daughter's middle school looking for help on his Spanish I homework. The teacher turned to the two native speakers in the class and asked them to help. They happily agreed.

"What do you need?" one of them asked.

"Well," said the boy, "I don't understand how to conjugate these irregular verbs."

"Say what?" the two answered. "We have no idea what that is."

My daughter, who is making an A in Spanish II but is far from fluent, took a look. "Oh, yeah," she said. "This is what you do. Basically, you just have to memorize these ones that aren't like the others."

And that's how she became this boy's Spanish tutor. This made me laugh. Kids who speak Spanish can't teach it, but a kid who doesn't speak Spanish can?

We don't teach speakers of Spanish how to write, read and speak correctly in their native language until maybe high school or college -- if ever.

And apparently, we don't teach them enough about conjugating verbs in English that it makes sense to them in Spanish, too.

I've been told that this lack of correct Spanish is a pretty big issue for Spanish-language media, which often ends up passing over American employees in favor of people who have studied Spanish in their home countries the way that we study English.

It's too bad that schools in the United States can't teach native Spanish speakers about the structure of their own language while also teaching them English. Maybe if we did that, we could also teach Spanish to the English-only masses while they are still young enough to absorb new languages -- in elementary and middle school, not beginning in high school.

Ours is one of the few countries in the world with such poor instruction in foreign languages. Don't you think that should change?

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

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March 5, 2008

Vomit, barf, puke, hurl

Lily, our kindergartner, had her first experience with vomit this week. Of course she has thrown up before, but not that she remembers.

"That's disgusting!'' she wailed while crying and looking down at her macaroni-and-cheese pile on the bathroom rug. (Apparently she did not chew her food, because the noodles were intact.)

She didn't even know to throw up into the toilet.

"Use the toilet!'' Bob urged.

She pulled her pants down and sat on the toilet.

"Do you have to go the bathroom?'' I asked. "No,'' she said.

I guess it's not a human instinct to regurgitate into the toilet. One has to learn these things.

Every time she threw up she cried in shock and horror as if she'd never heard of, seen or imagined one's dinner from the night before suddenly flying out of one's mouth, mixed with bile and acids.

All this provoked an interesting discussion about what terminology should be used to describe the act of blowing chunks. I told her it was called barf. Bob objected to this.

"It's puke,'' Lily told us.

I think that word is even grosser.

Vomit might very well be the word in the English language with the most synonyms. Here are a few:
throw up
toss your cookies
lose your lunch
toss a sidewalk pizza
tango with the toilet
make modern art in the toilet
have a technicolor yawn
expunge the contents of your stomach
bare your guts to the world
become a multicolored organic fountain
revisit your breakfast
vomit your victuals
drive the porcelain bus
perform peristaltic pyrotechnics
paint the town red.. and green and orange and pink
have to say "that tasted better going down than coming up"
burp to the ninth power
make the janitor get out the ol’ sawdust bucket
find out just how acidic your stomach contents are
greet your guts
pray to the porcelain god

Those are from the Urban Dictionary.

Also, I believe that if you asked most parents, the only vomit they would ever consider touching in this world would be their own kids'. It's just one of those disgusting things you get used to doing when you have kids. Am I wrong?

POSTED IN: Health (111)

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Look who's sleeping in our bed

I’ve tried to avoid co-sleeping with our kids. Experts say it’s risky (see the American Academy of Pediatrics) and their arguments make sense to me. With our first, Alexander, who’s now almost 2, it wasn’t really necessary. I worked nights and was home and awake at 1 or 2 (or 3) in the morning, so I had some energy to greet an infant at that hour.

Then came Rowan. I now work standard (albeit long) hours during the day, so waking up at 2 a.m. interrupts sleep instead of SportCenter. And we don’t have the same amount of energy as we did with Alexander. Raising two kids under age 2 is exhausting, particularly for my wife, who is breast-feeding.

But I’ve noticed a certain 3-month-old visitor on recent mornings next to me (and hitting me) in bed. He’s joined our bed usually after many hours of failing to get him to stay asleep in his. Relaxed and sleeping peacefully, he looks happy to be there. And I’m happy to see him so at ease – and sound asleep – given how frequently he wakes up at night. In those moments, it seems simple: what’s wrong with co-sleeping?

But then I read what the experts say. And it is sobering. “Several case series of accidental suffocation or death from undetermined cause suggest that bed sharing is hazardous,” an AAP policy statement reads. Well, that’s pretty clear. But I know the advocates of co-sleeping, including good friends of mine, feel that it helps parent-child bonding, breast-feeding and sleep. (See a good summary of the debate.)

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t believe in co-sleeping. But that’s not to say I’ve raised any protests when, after a long night of crying, Rowan has landed next me.

And you?

POSTED IN: Newborn (39)

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Will my kids get into college?

My oldest is only in eighth grade, but I am getting panicky about my kids getting into college, and us affording it.collegestudent.jpg

There seems to be an endless barrage of news stories about the highly competitive nature of college admissions today, the constantly rising costs, the difficulty of getting into places like the University of Florida, and on and on and on.

The latest one that increased my anxiety said Florida's state university system may need to cut $92 million, which would include limiting the number of kids who get accepted.

Maybe the situation won't be as desperate in a few years when it's time for my kids to apply. But then again, it probably will be. Are you getting nervous, too?

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

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March 4, 2008

What(ah) language do steps speak?

Families have their own rhythm, their own cadences. They can speak to each other in ways outsiders can’t really relate.

When an outsider becomes a family member, as I did eight months ago, he quickly learns that the family language only bears a passing resemblance to his own.

I knock on the older girl’s bedroom door.

“What?” she calls out. It’s an impolite, get-lost kind of yell to my ears, regardless of whether she intends it to sound that way.

“Try again!” I yell through the door.

“Yes?” she replies, this time striking a you’ve-reached-Kay-how-may-I-help-you? tone.

That's more like it. The first response sounds like I have some nerve knocking on the door. The second strikes me as more polite. I'm happy.

The next morning, I knock on the younger girl’s door.

“What-ah?” she yells. When did the word “what” gain that extra syllable, anyway? “What-ah?” Sometimes-ah sounds-ah like you hear those-ah, old-time preachers-ah.

“Hey, I’m just checking to make sure you’re awake and getting ready for school. I don’t deserve the attitude.”

“I’m not giving you attitude!”

I love that. I get the attitude and the denial.

What I don’t get is that she’s telling me the absolute truth. She really doesn’t mean to be giving me attitude. Just like I don’t mean to sound like a holier-than-thou persnickety know-it-all who’s constantly correcting them.

They would know that if they spoke my language, and maybe I’ll go a little easier on them when I learn their language a little bit better. The good part? They’re comfortable enough with me that when they speak to me, it’s in their language.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Say what!?! (25), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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PeePee Bottle?

I can't wait to hear what you guys think of this invention by a woman in Cooper City, that I've just been emailed about.

Apparently this mom, Alexandra, was mortified when her little girl caught Rotavirus from a public toilet seat, she says, and so she had her daughter peeing into a urine specimen bottle from the pediatrician. But that bottle wasn't big enough, after awhile. So this mom created the PeePee Bottle. You buy these bottles for 10 bucks that look like water bottles, but in fact they are for your child to urinate in!

I still can't get over the fact that these look just like drinking bottles, in pink and blue. I don't know if my daughter could use one of these without making a mess, but according to the maker of the PeePee Bottle, these are quite convenient and hygienic and can be carried in your purse!

Um, I guess it might come in handy on a long car trip, as long as your kid only needs to go "Number 1.''

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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March 3, 2008

Watch your child perform in his first school function -- for a price

I can't wait to see my 4-year-old son sing in his first-ever school function on Friday. It's going to be great.

It darned well better be, since I'm paying $45 for the privilege.

In fact, the ticket price for this spring extravaganza is so steep, that just one of us is going. In our household, we really can't justify spending nearly $100 to watch our son sing a couple songs along with a bunch of other preschoolers. I'll be bringing the video camera.

Frankly, I find it ridiculous. The price tag gets you in the door and entitles you to lunch. What if you just want to watch your kid sing, you're not interested in eating lunch and you're willing to pay a reduced fee, say half-price? No dice. From what I understand, they can't do that because then a lot of parents might want to do the same.

You know, I understand the function also serves as a fundraiser, but I'm also not too keen on the fact that at the beginning of the year, they enthusiastically tell you about how cute it will be to watch your little one in the spring program. Months later, they drop the price on you. So, unless you want to be known as the cheapskate or the parent who wasn't there to see their child perform, you'd better pony up.

Evan had better not get stage fright. I might have to demand a refund.

POSTED IN: Nancy Othon (21), Pre-K (25)

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Jonas Brothers ticket giveaway

BankAtlantic is giving away a suite full of tickets to Friday's Jonas Brothers concert, which, riding the wave of Hannah Montana, sold out in 15 minutes.

The concert is Friday at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. The bank's web site (if you turn around their slogan, does it become "Florida Most Convenient web site?") will take registrations through noon on Wednesday, and the winner will be notified on Thursday.

The suite includes 16 tickets and four parking passes, so you don't even have to do that park-at Sawgrass-Mills-and-walk thing.

Go to

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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March 2, 2008

Broward water parks now open on weekends; bicycle month

Four water parks operated by the Broward Parks and Recreation Division are open on a weekend-only schedule, until school ends (not counting spring break, when they're open every day).

The water might be a little chilly for us adults, but I've been there with my son, and he doesn't mind it.

Plus, as hot as it was over the weekend, we almost jumped in our pool, until we saw the temperature at about 72!

Also, March is bike month in Broward and Palm Beach; here's my story on the events. Among the more popular family events are bike rodeos -- good for teaching bicycle safety to young ones -- and family rides. Palm Beach also went to bicycle month for the first time this year, with events listed at

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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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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