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South Florida parents share their stories and advice

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August 27, 2008

Fix school start times!

There is no good reason that high school starts each day at 7:28 a.m.teensleep.jpg

Anyone with teenagers knows how difficult it is to rouse them out of a deep sleep at 6 or 6:30 a.m. That's because their puberty-loaded body clocks have shifted, not letting them fall asleep until 10:30 or 11 p.m., according to the Mayo Clinic. Studies show teenagers need at least eight, and preferably nine or 10 hours of sleep a night.

Obviously, it's impossible for them to be alert and performing at their maximum when they're sleep deprived. But local school districts refuse to change the schedules, citing after-school jobs, extracurricular activities and bus driver complications. Give me a break! What's more important?

Middle school start times around 9:30 a.m. are similarly absurd. Many kids I know, just out of elementary school, have to leave their empty houses and walk themselves to the bus stop because their parents have already left for work.

Can we do something about this? How can we get the school districts to take a serious look at this?

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54), Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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August 25, 2008

You don't like the teacher and there's a year to go...

So by now the students are settling in, and you have heard from your kids about their teachers.

Sometimes you have what might be called "a bad fit." Your kid needs a pusher; you have a coddler. Or you may have a sensitive kid, and the teacher's a screamer. (Or so you perceive.)

What do you do? Suck it up? Take some kind of action?

What's the right thing to do?

Teachers, what's your experiences? Do you want to know if there's a 'bad fit?' (I have a decent pro-teacher background; my dad was an assistant principal for 35 years, but in another time, at another place.)

I'm writing up a story about that situation, and would appreciate some real-life anecdotes.

Email me at


POSTED IN: Elementary School (54)

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No stepping around my bad habit

It's easy to quit smoking, the old saying goes. I've done it plenty of times.

I picked up the habit just a few years ago, a byproduct of where I was spending my free time. But when I got married last year, I decided to quit. And I did, for a few weeks. And I picked it up again. And I quit again. And I "secretly" kept

Turns out I wasn't kidding anyone. That smell? Yeah, kids smell it too. And they may be polite about it to your face, but they find it disgusting.

The other day we were walking into a restaurant and saw a woman sitting out front, smoking a cigarette. It was downright scary. Her skin was actually gray. I don't know what caused it, but the girls and I looked at each other and knew that the cigarette she was smoking couldn't have helped.

"Remember what you just saw if you ever think of taking up smoking," I said when we were far enough away from the smoker.

"I know," Pax said. "Lucky thing you stopped."

Ouch. She knew. I had kidded myself into thinking that the girls didn't know I had been smoking every day. Just stop in the early afternoon, and by the time you get home, no one will be the wiser, I thought. The girls weren't that dumb, thank you very much.

I really have stopped smoking. Haven't had a cigarette at all since July 11. They say you take it one day at a time, and that's true at first. But after a while, you do stop thinking about it. I don't remember what was "fun" about smoking, but I do know what's fun about being a husband, being a stepfather, anticipating biological fatherhood. To blow that away for the "pleasure" of a puff of smoke? Not me. Not anymore. Too much to live for.

POSTED IN: Health (111), Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59)

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August 21, 2008

What's an appropriate birthday celebration for a 3 year old?

Today is Ana Isabel's third birthday. Hard to believe. Seems to me like she just got here.
Funny thing with birthdays. For the third year in a row, my wife and I talked about an appropriate way to celebrate our daughter's annual milestone.

We discussed a party but decided against it. That to me seems, well, like a waste of time and money. I know that for many people it's the only way to go.

But here's what we're doing: Ana, her little brother and my wife went shopping for the ingredients to make her birthday cupcakes. They'll plan to spend today baking.

Tomorrow, they'll take the cupcakes to a monthly book club/playdate. And next week, I'm off of work and plan to spend time with her on my own and together as a family, going to the beach and maybe even a trip to Wannado City. And she's already received a ton of presents from family and friends.

We think all those activities are fun memorable ways to celebrate. Still, my wife said to me the other day that she feels funny when she tells others that we're not having a birthday party.

Maybe we'll have one next year when it'll mean more to my daughter. But for this year, I'm really looking forward to cupcakes, the beach, Wannado City and just spending time with Ana.

Is that so wrong?

An update: Last week, I blogged about Ana's reluctance to go on the potty. Well, two days later, she decided it was time. She went on the potty. We've had a few accidents. But there's progress. Thanks to those who gave us many tips. We have used some and it has helped.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Luis Perez (32), Toddler (127)

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August 20, 2008

Should the drinking age go back to 18?

Some college presidents believe 18-year-olds are mature enough to make rational decisions about how much to drink.beerbong.jpg

More than 100 have lent their support to the Amethyst Initiative, which theorizes that the drinking age just encourages those under 21 to binge and break the law with their fake IDs. If 18-year-olds can vote, enlist in the military and serve on juries, they say, why can't they order at a bar?

Some big-name universities have signed on, including the presidents of Dartmouth, Duke, Ohio State, University of Maryland and Syracuse.

Do you think the drinking age should go down to 18? Or do you think the higher age prevents car accidents and stupid decisions?

POSTED IN: Health (111), Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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August 19, 2008

Step out of the frame!

Know what I hate? A lot?

Pictures people take of themselves. Arrogant. Self-centered. Vain. Look at me! I'm waiting on line for a movie. Look at me! I'm sitting in a car. Look at me! I'm outside the lion's cage at the zoo. Can't see the lion. Can't see the zoo. But look at me! DSC00069.JPG

Can't stand it.

In my day (yeah, I said it), we took pictures of OTHER PEOPLE. Get it, kids? That's why the viewer and the lens point in the same direction. Oh, you don't have viewers anymore, do you? You have "preview screens." You can see the results as soon as you're done and delete the pictures you don't like.

We didn't have that. We had to use FILM, and we didn't see how the picture looked until after it was developed! None of this "wait, look at me! Oh, that came out bad, let me take another picture of me and another picture of me until we get it right." We wouldn't dare waste expensive film on the off chance a picture we took of ourselves would come out right.

If God had meant for us to take pictures of ourselves, He'd have given us invisible arms!

Sigh. Remember when pictures were taken on special occasions? Family vacations, holidays, visits from long lost friends and relatives? Even standing on line at a theme park or the DMV!

Now, being on line at the movies is a special occasion that requires a picture. Being on line at McDonald's rates a pic. Heck, you don't have to BE anywhere! Being ONLINE is enough of a reason to have your picture taken by you for you. Click!

How do I look?

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

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Questions you just can't answer

Sometimes kids ask questions you can't answer, or you don't want to.

I got this question from my six year old, Lily, this week:

"Mommy, how do you stick a knife in a bad guy?''

I just didn't know where to start, to respond to that.

"Do you just stick and stick and stick until it goes in?'' she asked. "Because knives aren't that sharp.''

Ahh, now we're getting somewhere. Our knives in the kitchen are so dull, they probably would not be effective against a bad guy. I agree.

"It's not nice to kill someone who isn't a bad guy,'' she added.

Not nice. So true.

Sometimes you're just not in the mood to give a Big Speech. Ya know?

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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Hand clapping games never die

There's something enduring about hand clapping games. handclap.bmp

My 6-year-old daughter Lily makes me play them all the time. Just like I did when I was six.

You know what I'm talking about, where you clap hands with each other while singing the lyrics of a silly song?

Here's the one Lily was chanting the other day:

Mr. Mailman do your duty

Here comes a lady with a big, fat booty

She can do the pom pom

And she can do the twist

But most of all she can kiss kiss kiss

K-i s- s

What does that spell?


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

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August 14, 2008

We're about to get militant on the potty training

My daughter turns 3 next week. And we have been turning up the heat on the potty talk, using different tactics to get Ana Isabel to use it. But nothing so far.

We've had a plain potty in the bathroom for about a year. A few months ago, we started pushing the issue. We bought another one, this time a Dora potty. We've adorned it with stickers.

My wife bought an Elmo potty training DVD. We have potty training books for children, even one that flushes. Nothing.

Ana has gone as far as sitting on the potty and saying her "China" is broken. (That's her version of vagina.)

As Ana's birthday approaches, we fill a bit more pressure because she's now old enough to enroll in programs we'd like for her to take, such as gymnastics. But she has to be potty trained.

Up until now, we've operated under the premise that Ana will go on the potty when she's ready. But now, we're not so sure.

My wife's thinking of taking a harder-line. She's talking about letting Ana spend a day without a diapers or pants. That way, she'll poop and pee on herself. The hope is that it will make her uncomfortable enough so that the potty looks good. Of course, we'll be cleaning some major messes that day.

Are we just being impatient at this point or should we get militant with the potty training?

POSTED IN: Luis Perez (32), Toddler (127)

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August 13, 2008

Slip sliding away

Watching your kid fall has to be the worst thing for a parent. That was me this week, as my 9-month-old tumbled off the couch head first. All I saw were his feet as he went overboard.

Rowan was fine, but the image of those feet keeps playing in my mind. So it got me thinking about falls. My father still has nightmares about the time my sister fell down the stairs. I have a friend who talks about the time she jerked backwards in her high chair and landed flat on her head. (The only thing it hurt, she jokes, was her math skills.) And I can’t even count the times I fell as a kid.

What do you do to avoid falls? We don’t, I’ll be honest, do much baby- or toddler-proofing of the house. My philosophy has been that they should learn to function safely in the space we have. Maybe that’s misguided. We cover the electrical outlets but we don’t block off rooms to the kids (ages 2 and 9 months). What has worked for you?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Three kids, three schools: Yikes!

I'm about to enter a new era in family chaos: three kids at three different schools, elementary, middle and high.

Each school starts at a different time (7:28 a.m. high school, 8 a.m. elementary school, 9:30 a.m. middle school), which means I will be making sure a different kid gets off at the right time for about two hours each morning, at least in the beginning. I will also be giving up my morning exercise routine until I figure out how to squeeze it in amid the comings and goings.

But on my mind even more is how to divide my volunteer time. I can't volunteer at three schools. Or can I? I am already besieged with e-mails from each school asking me to help out at back-to-school events. I have not responded to any of them, feeling like I am being disloyal to one of the kids if I pick their sibling's school.

How have you handled having kids at different schools and divvying up your volunteer efforts?

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54), Lois Solomon (211), School Issues (135)

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August 12, 2008

Schools continue to favor at-home moms

I was pretty dismayed when I read my letter from Seminole Middle School Principal Kris Black. It welcomed parents to an exciting school year, and listed "upcoming important dates.''

And once again, the at-home moms are favored above all. The school is holding its parent panthers.gif
meeting for its DECAL program (Division of Enhanced Communication and Law for advanced and gifted students) during work hours on Wednesday. It's at 3 p.m.

I called the school to ask why they're holding it during the day and to register my discontent. They always hold it during the day, I was told. "Unfortunately, the teachers aren't here in the evenings,'' I was told.

So once a year they can't accommodate the parents by holding the meeting at 5:30 p.m.?

Or do they not want the parents to be able to come?

I might be able to get off work for two to three hours in order to drive out there, attend the meeting, try to address my son's schedule (he said they put him in Sign Language II instead of Spanish II) and return to work downtown. But how many other working parents will be able to? What if they work in Miami or Palm Beach County?

Black tells us in her letter that research shows that "when the home and the school work closely together'' children benefit.

I agree. But I've noticed over the years that the schools cater to the parents (usually moms) who don't work.

Moms who work have it tough. We labor all day, and then we go home and have to take care of housework, homework and everything else, crammed into the few hours until bedtime. It takes a lot of effort to be an involved parent in your child's school if you work full-time. I'll bet the kids of working parents are the ones most at-risk of failing in school. These are the kids and parents the schools should be trying harder to reach.

It sure would be nice if principals like Black faced reality and tried to make it a little easier for the working parents to be involved.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), School Issues (135)

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One big step for our family

"If it's a boy, will he be my step-brother or ... what will he be?"

Let me back up: Christine and I are expecting our first child together in February. She actually told me the day before Father's Day -- plopped the stick with the great big flashing neon "+" sign right in front of me. To be honest, I don't even remember my reaction. I think it might have involved some degree of drooling, squinting and deep breathing.

There is no single "big question" when you find out a baby's on the way. Every question is big. And one of the big questions we had involved my step-daughters. How would they respond? And how can we keep them involved so that they know we are all in one family, more than ever?

Well, so far, they seem to be excited. They want a brother (although we do not know the gender and would be perfectly happy with a girl).

But if it is a boy, is he a step-brother? How does that work?

Technically, I explained the baby would be their half-brother. But I don't like that term. It's perfectly useful for geneticists and whatnot, but not for real human beings. I've got seven brothers and sisters, none "full-blooded," but I wouldn't think of calling them "half-siblings" unless I needed a kidney or something and the doctors needed every little medical detail.

"Brother" or "sister" will do just fine.

In fact, I rarely think of the girls as "steps," except when I'm writing about them. I think of my experience as adjusting to parenthood in progress. I'm respectful of the fact that their biological father is still around and involved in their lives, etc. I told them when they moved into my house that it was a one-story home, so there are no steps.

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31), Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59)

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August 7, 2008

My three year old daughter wants to marry me

Ana Isabel and I sat there and watched an episode of Little Bear last week.
It's one of her shows that I can stomach. The story line was about Little Bear's teddy bear marrying Duck's doll.

The characters went on an adventure to find something new, something borrowed, something old and something blue. Of course, the show ends with the doll marrying the teddy bear. All very cute.

Still, I was surprised when about an hour after the show, Ana turned to me and said: Papi will you marry me? It' the first time anyone's proposed marriage to me.

She did it again the following day. I've agreed to marry Ana at least half dozen times now.

She wants to wear a wedding dress and be a princess, just like here mother, Carrie Ann, on our wedding day.

I must admit, it melts my heart every time she asks me.

Has your child ever proposed to you?


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August 6, 2008

That long trip from here to there

I was in New York last week visiting family and friends. I took Rowan, our 9 month old. This meant many things, including: the Great Subway Lift. (That’s us in the picture). Yes, that arduous climb up -- or down -- the stairs with a stroller jammed with bags. It’s a moment when you want your kid to stop growing. Instead, your baby looks huge in front of the flights of stairs. It’s hot. No one wants to help you. And then you realize: this is only the first trip of the day.

This got me thinking. What is the South Florida equivalent of the Great Subway Lift? Here’s my answer: the walk to the beach. It’s brutal. You park and think, “We’re almost there.” But no! The journey has just begun. You corral the kids and gather the beach accoutrements, but part of you just wants to turn on your heels and go home. But like the subway, you plow on. Family compels you. You think, “This is fun.”

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Matthew Strozier (59)

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It's (almost) time to get rid of the minivan

With 139,000 miles and a constantly expanding list of problems brewing in my 2000 Toyota Sienna, the time is approaching for me to get a new car.

But what to buy? There are no hybrid minivans out there. Although the Sienna gets about 22 miles per gallon, I would like a car with better fuel efficiency. A new car is going to have to be smaller if I want better mileage. I'd have to find a way to squeeze in my kids and their friends.

Then again, maybe I should keep fixing this one. The latest repair it needs: a charcoal canister, canister valve and vacuum switch blade. Toyota says this repair will cost $996. I'm checking with my local mechanic to see what he would charge. But at a certain point, I'm going to have to say good-bye to this very reliable old minivan.

How do you decide when to get a new car?

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

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August 5, 2008

Who will miss Mr. Rogers?

It is with heavy heart that I report, two months after everyone else reported it, that PBS is drastically cutting its offerings of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.''mrrogers.bmp

Goodbye, King Friday. Henrietta Pussycat, we sure did love you. Queen Sara, we admired your community involvement.

Here's what the Associated Press reported in June:

"PBS says it will no longer offer episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to its member stations each weekday, but will instead send stations just one episode per week to air starting in the fall. PBS says it is making the decision because the show is no longer in production, and because its menu of other programming continues to expand.''

That means a station would have to pre-record all the episodes of the show over the summer if they wanted to try showing the tennis-shoe tossing Mr. Rogers every day.

Somehow I missed this news and only heard it on the radio this week, in August.

It's one of those things you feel you have to talk through, so I told a cashier yesterday and she was pretty broken up, also.

One guy is so upset about losing the "special nurturing voice'' of Mr. Rogers that he created this website,

As we try to absorb this devastating news, let's pay tribute to the late Mr. Rogers (he died in 2003 of stomach cancer) by reading the lyrics of one of his special songs. It's good to know that Mr. Rogers even loved our internal organs:

I think you're a special person And I like your ins and outsides. Everybody's fancy. Everybody's fine. Your body's fancy and so is mine.

Goodbye, neighbor.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Entertainment (114)

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Why do teens ask why?

"Why don't you like spaghetti sauce?" Kay asks the question with a hint of disdain. You expect her to follow it up with, "What are you, stupid?"

What can we say? Pax is a fussy eater. She doesn't like pasta sauce so much. Yeah, I find it frustrating that she doesn't like it, especially after I've worked my "this-is-the-only-thing-I-can-cook-with-confidence" magic on it, but she doesn't like it. Okay, I've come to terms with that.

But Kay has gotten into the habit of asking, with attitude, why people have personal preferences -- particularly if she has strong feelings about something.

"Why don't you like that sauce?"

"Why don't you like this show?"

"Why don't you like that music?"

The translation always seems to be: "I like it, so if you don't, something must be wrong with you."

Why? Why? Why?

I know younger children have a habit of asking why about everything, but that's curiosity. Why is the sky blue? Why are leaves green? Why do we sleep at night instead of daytime? Why can't we see stars when the sun is out? Why is Paris Hilton famous?

You know, reasonable questions.

But on matters of personal taste, the "why" question as it's being asked lately... well, to me, it borders on rude. Pax shouldn't have to defend why she likes or doesn't like a particular food (or musical group).

Why does this bug me? And what should I do about it?

Just to be clear, I don't think Kay means to be rude when she asks. I've learned that the girls sometimes sound rude when they do not intend to, and that I need to adjust how I hear them. But that doesn't change the fact that she needs some help expressing herself without sounding rude.

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

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August 4, 2008

Charlie bit my finger: Kids do the darndest thing

Big brother sticks his finger in baby Charlie's mouth and is surprised by the resulting pain.

This YouTube video was posted May 22, 2007 and has gotten nearly 43 million hits. Thanks to the co-worker who alerted me to this funny video.


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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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