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October 30, 2008

To Trick or Treat or Not, That is the Question

Maybe we're just lazy. Maybe I've been reading to many horror stories in the newspaper.

Or maybe walking door to door with my three-year-old daughter asking strangers for candy just isn't a good idea.

Instead, we're opting to take Ana Isabel, and Lucas Emilio. 6 months old, to an organized event at our local YMCA on Halloween. (For some reason that I still haven't figured out, they call it Trunk or Treat.)

I have fond memories as a child of walking the neighborhood with my friends trick or treating. So I feel a little guilty that we've decided not get Ana started in that tradition. But as a parent, what seemed like a lot fun back when I was a kid seems a little unsafe now.

Of course, she'll have many more Halloweens as she get older to do the traditional thing. But I'm not sure when I'll feel comfortable walking the neighborhood with my young children and allowing them to knock on doors in the dark.

At what age do you think it's appropriate to take your children trick or treating?


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October 29, 2008

Halloween candy: Testing my limits

I never know how much to restrict my kids' Halloween candy intake.halloween.jpg

Am I a total party-pooper if I tell them they can only have two pieces at a time? Or am I negligent if I let them eat lots more?

As I've been thinking about this candy dilemma, I came across this list of "The Best Candy Ever" from I'm partial to chocolate candy, but this list brought back lots of memories from my childhood trick or treating days, including Pumpkin Peeps, Sugar Babies and Dots.

On the other end of the sweets spectrum, the American Association of Orthodontists has a list of treats to avoid if your kid wears braces, including caramel, candy corn, nuts and bubble gum.

Do you let your kids indulge at Halloween? Or do you play Scrooge like me?

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54), Food (56), Lois Solomon (211)

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October 28, 2008

FCAT invades little brains

You know FCAT training has your child brainwashed when she starts insulting people in well-organized essays.robot2.jpg

I'm going to change the name of the insulted, to protect her from knowing. But here's what my six-year-old first-grader said yesterday in the car. She was talking out loud, but to herself I suppose.

"I hate Shanna. She's a horrible person. First, she has the worst cafeteria manners. Next, she's the meanest person in the world. And last, she's a bad person. In conclusion, I hate Shanna.''

I wasn't sure whether to be impressed, or horrified.

I've told her it's not right to "hate'' anyone. But I do want her to pass the FCAT!

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Elementary School (54), School Issues (135)

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October 27, 2008

You think THAT was scary?

The girls shrieked one of those high-pitched, make-an-appointment-with-the-ear-doctor-to-make-sure-there-was-no-permanent-damage kind of shrieks. The kind that tells you you’re watching a scary movie with a couple of impressionable teenagers a few days before Halloween. And you live on the ground floor muuuuhahahahaha.

This particular film, if you want to call it that, was “Vacancy,” starring Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale. It’s charming family fare about a lovely young couple who learn the motel they’re staying in doubles as the set of a snuff film, and they’re the stars of the next movie in the series.

You know, the kind of movie you want to watch with impressionable teenage girls.

It’s not the worst horror movie I’ve ever seen, but definitely not the scariest.

Yes, I did ask myself (and my wife) whether this movie was too intense for the girls. This wasn’t exactly a Disney flick, and some of the violent scenes were pretty graphic. Aren’t they too young for this stuff? AmericanWerewolf.jpg

Well, I saw John Carpenter’s “Halloween” in theaters when I was 9. I saw “Mother’s Day” and “An American Werewolf in London.” I was 15 when “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was released. Oh, and can’t forget “Dawn of the Dead.” Caught that on video back when video was new.

All before I should have been allowed to see R-rated movies without adult supervision.

Aside from messing me up for life, the movies did no lasting damage to my psyche.

So should I worry about the movies the girls are seeing?

Yes, for two reasons. First, I want to make sure they can handle the images being thrown at them. Second, and more importantly, the stuff being passed off as “scary” these days simply isn’t. There hasn’t been a really scary movie in theaters since “The Sixth Sense,” and even that isn’t scary once you realize what it’s about.

Now, the original “Halloween” was scary, and I had to explain that to the girls the other night. This movie was scary because it seemed so possible. There was nothing supernatural about it (until later movies devolved into a sort of self-parody). And even then, the notion that you could kill the bad guy and still have to fight him was fairly new to audiences.

Today’s scary movies aren’t scary. They’re gross. “Saw.” Please. They should change the name to “Saw that Already.” Look at “Vacancy” again and ask yourself, how original is a movie about an isolated motel where bad things happen? Anyone? Anyone? Hitchcock? Beuller? Frye?

I know, I’m being as snobby as the generation right before me, the people who think “Rosemary’s Baby” is a horror movie rather than (as I see it) a sure-fire cure for insomnia.

Whatever. The point is… okay, I have no point. It’s Halloween this week. To each his own chills.


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

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October 24, 2008

Talking to children about sexual abuse

I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about a fired Seminole Police Department officer accused of molesting his daughter.

The night I wrote that, I was having dinner with my wife and stepdaughters, and we were taking turns talking about our day. When it was my turn, I suddenly became tongue-tied. Incest between a father and a teenage girl is not something I was prepared to discuss with two teenage girls. I was reduced to a kind of vague, abstract, “a man did a bad thing” summary.

Is it possible I did a disservice to the girls and to myself? By tripping up over a difficult subject, did I send a signal that sensitive topics are off-limits, making it less likely the girls will feel safe talking to me about other sensitive topics? Well, it’s more complicated than that, as my wife points out. And there’s nothing wrong with showing some sensitivity.

In working on a follow-up article about where victims can turn for help, I also decided to look for answers about discussing the subject with teenagers and other children.

“Parents should be able to have the comfort and ability to have a conversation about a tough subject, and this is a tough subject,” said Timothy, one of the Helpline advisers for Stop It Now, a Mass.-based non-profit that seeks to prevent the sexual abuse of children. “That lets them know you’re approachable, that it’s okay for them to bring it up.”

Deborah Donovan Rice, executive director of Stop It Now, expanded on that point: “I find the best way to approach this topic is in the context of a larger conversation about how we express ourselves sexually,” she said.

Good point. And good stuff on the subject of abuse at

Timothy (the telephone counselors on the Helpline, reachable at 1-888-PREVENT, don’t disclose their last names) points parents to another site,, for advice on talking to children of all ages about sex.

The one tip that seemed to recur in my own search for advice is that the conversation has to be age-appropriate. You may want to talk about good touch-bad touch with the younger ones while being more candid and mature with teenagers. The bottom line is that they need to know they can talk to you.

This isn’t a conversation I’m looking forward to. But if the opportunity should arise, I think I’m a little better prepared.

You should be, too.

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

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October 23, 2008

My three year old daughter the princess. Thanks Disney.

Every time Ana Isabel comes home she quickly changes into her princess pajamas.

On most nights, she insists I read her a story that's usually connected to a princess. Her latest favorite, Sleeping Beauty. She even has coined her own song called "Ana Princess Rock Star." She sings it around the house.

All very cute. But it got me thinking. Why does she always want to emulate a princess? And it's one that's usually saved by a prince.

I know my niece, now six, went through the same phase. And my daughter went to a birthday party recently where all the little girls dressed in their best princess outfits. So she's not alone.

Naively, I asked my wife why all the princess stuff with little girls this age. Her answer: "Thank Disney."

Since Ana's birth, generous family and friends have given us Disney DVDs and books with stories like "The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella."

It all indoctrinates little girls into this Prince Charming myth that many carry into adult. I never really thought about, of course, until I saw it my daughter.

Don't get me wrong. Disney's not going dictate my daughter's view of the world as she grows. As parents, my wife and I will. Nonetheless, I can see how a corporation like Disney can have a real impact.

What are your thoughts?

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

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The "new connectedness" of cell phones, e-mail and texting

I remember when the Internet and other new technologies started becoming popular around 15 or so years ago and everyone thought it would cause families to communicate less and become isolated from each other.internetfamily.jpg

A study released this week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that not only wasn't that true, the opposite happened. The technology has allowed us to have a "new connectedness."

Cell phones, e-mail and texting allow us to keep in touch when we're not together. Families go on-line together; I am always asking my kids to show me how to find things on the Internet and visa versa.

But the technology can also create tensions. "Those with multiple communication devices are somewhat less likely to eat dinner with other household members and somewhat less likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their family and leisure time than are families with lower levels of technology ownership."

Have you found technology has aided you in relating to your kids? Or is it more a source of friction?

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

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October 22, 2008

Magic Kingdom not so magical for this mom

I'm just back from a trip to Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Someone please remind me why it's worth $150 for a parent and child to ride four or five rides disney.jpg
and spend the rest of the time fighting over what souvenirs to purchase.

One of my sisters spent a fortune flying here from Oklahoma to take her three-year-old to Disney World. But he didn't feel well and screamed his head off most of the time. He even threw himself on the ground and kicked his legs while flailing his arms. That's something I thought was made up by TV actors.

He wanted to buy a plastic sword, and then he wanted to buy a gun instead. And then it was something else. He wanted to be carried, he didn't want his cousins to share the stroller with him. Etcetera etcetera.

He's really cute, so I found the whole thing amusing. But I felt sorry for my sis who spent all that money.

You can't really count on kids to actually enjoy the place. That's the problem.

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

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October 21, 2008

Day care recommendations?

We’re considering a new day care for our 11-month-old. Here’s why: My wife’s office moved to Tamarac, and mine is about to move to Deerfield. Without getting into great detail, there is a lot of schlepping going on these days between Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale -- with more to come if we don’t adjust. (Our 2-year-old attends a Montessori in Boca Raton.)

So I’m looking for recommendations for day cares in Tamarac or thereabouts. The I-95 corridor up to Deerfield is also an option. We may stay where we are, but it’s worth seeing what’s out there. Suggestions?

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59), School Issues (135)

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October 15, 2008

What's fun and free? The people mover

We were lost in Miami recently, but ended up on the best adventure in a while. And the cool thing was this: it was free.
The source of such fun? Miami’s Metromover, a k a the “people mover.” Alexander, age 2, is in a train phase, and often points excitedly to the “people mover” on our Miami visits. Rowan, at 11 months, is happy to come along for the ride.

We boarded in Mary Brickell Village and headed north for the downtown loop. Crossing the Miami River gave me pause, and I did have thoughts of tipping. But everything was fine, and we continued on our loop. Our car lacked sufficient air conditioning, so I was ready for some fresh air by the end. But no matter: it provided lots of excitement and plenty to tell mom about later.

Mary Brickell Village, by the way, is a surprisingly “walkable” neighborhood once off the Metromover. It’s not Manhattan, but it makes for a pleasant afternoon walk when the weather cools a bit.

And that is free, too. Except the lunch.

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

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Having "the talk" (about our finances)


As a kid, I felt very insecure when my parents would tell me about their cash-flow problems. What was I supposed to do with that information? So I have been hesitant to talk to my girls about our national and personal financial challenges.

Despite my hesitations, the news is almost impossible to avoid. I am trying to figure out the best way to begin the conversation.

I told my nine-year-old she could no longer take gymnastics at her favorite place because it is too expensive ($97 a month for a weekly lesson). I could see she felt bad, and confused. To her, the idea that it is "expensive" is pretty meaningless. And she wasn't sure what to do with the fact that a place she loved was putting a burden on the family. I found another gym that was less costly, but she declined.

Parenting Web sites, such as, tell you this national crisis is a good time for kids to learn the value of money and how to economize. Sure, they can start saving their pennies. But how much do you tell them to convey the enormity of the crisis? It just seems like a heavy load for young kids to absorb.

What kind of economic conversations have you been having with your kids?

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

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October 14, 2008

Time to talk politics with the kidlets

This election season I've had some good discussions with my kids about how elections work, and the importance of voting.

I've let the kids stay up late to watch debates and speeches. I've turned on the TV to play elections news in the background of whatever my kids are doing.

Take a look at voter turnout in most elections and you'll see how important it is to raise the next generation to appreciate the right to vote enough to actually use it.

With Lily, who is 6, the questions are basic.

Last night she wanted to know if girls are "allowed'' to run for president, and how much does it cost? I guess that means she might not "get married and do nothing'' as she suggested about two weeks ago, and instead will run for president of the USA.

"If there was a president girl, then there could be a girl on one of the dollars,'' she observed.

Yes, wouldn't that be cool.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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October 13, 2008

Nothing, stuff and other things they pick up at school

Apparently, this didn't start with me, and that makes me feel better.

When the girls were younger, before I met them, their grandfather used to pick them up from elementary school every afternoon. He was telling me yesterday that he would often ask them, "What did you learn in school today?"


"The teacher didn't talk?"


"So you already knew what the teacher was going to say?"


"Then the teacher said something you didn't know before?"


"Good, so what did you learn?"


Grandpa should be happy to learn, then, that the girls have since made progress. Not long ago, I asked the older one what she learned in Spanish class.


"What kind of stuff?"


Gotta admit, she had me there. Everyone knows the difference between "stuff" and "stuff," right? Sigh. Maybe I'll have better luck with the younger one, who just got back from a CCD class (Catholic religious education).

"What did they teach you in CCD class today?"


"What kind of things?"

"Things about God."

Imagine that. In a religious education class, no less. "Like what?"

"Things about God."

Note to stepchildren, grandchildren and all children: changing the emphasis you place on particular words doesn't change the answer. Note to stepparents, grandparents and all parents: No matter how many times you ask, and no matter how many ways you ask, they're not going to answer if they don't want to talk.

Maybe next time I'll send a text message. Resistance is still futile.

I'll say this much for "things" and "stuff": It's better than "nothing."

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

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October 10, 2008

Can your kids, or grandkids, influence your vote?

I'm going to concede that I've only been at this parenting thing for a year, and my stepdaughters (aged 13 and 15) are more interested in Chris Brown v. The Jonas Brothers than they are in Barack Obama v. John McCain.

So I have to wonder whether anyone could really be persuaded by their offspring to vote for or against a particular candidate.

I mean, I think of all that goes into parenting, particularly the sustained, 18-plus-year effort to instill your values in your children, only to have them travel halfway across the state, country or world to tell you that they have decided how you should vote.

Like I don't hear enough from TV commercials and Saturday Night Live; now I have to worry that my kids are going to grow up to tell me to vote Democrat. Or Republican. Or Libertarian. Or whatever.

I just wonder whether some McCain-supporting grandparents are just aching for their children's children to "schlep" on over to tell them to vote for Obama.

Let's remove the candidate names from this: You support candidate A. You grandchild pays you a visit to tell you he knows better; you should vote for candidate B.

How likely are you to listen?

POSTED IN: Politics (18), Rafael Olmeda (59)

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October 8, 2008

I'm guilty of topping off my gas tank

Atlanta's gas crisis appears to be over, but for some reason I am fearful that our South Florida stations also will run out of gas. gas.jpg

Every time I pass the cheapest gas station near my house now, I fill up, even if I only need a quarter of a tank.

Metro Atlanta stations ran out of gas after Hurricane Ike late last month. Experts said the pipeline that brings gas to "the Southeast" (not sure why it didn't affect us here) got disrupted. So Atlanta stations started placing limits on how much gas you could buy. Many ran out of gas and didn't get refills for days, creating miles-long lines at stations that did have gas.

My state of panic is not helped by my gas-guzzling minivan. It means I have to top off my car every three or four days! Please help me calm down and allay my fears that we will always have plenty of gas in South Florida (ha!).

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

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October 7, 2008

Kids are so dang gullible

If you bamboozle an elderly person, you get arrested. If you fool a little kid, well that's just funny.

I guess that's what one of the helpers at Lily's school after care was thinking when he tricked her about what his name is.

"Goodbye, Anonymous!'' Lily shouted to him as we left the school.

"What? Lily, his name is not Anonymous,'' I instructed her outside.

"Yes it is, Mom. He told me that before. He would never lie to a first-grader!'' she replied.

I told her that didn't sound like a name. She told me some people have different names.

For example, she pointed out accurately, she has a classmate named Precious.

True. But when we got home, I relayed the story, including identifying the teacher whose helper/son is named "Anonymous.''

"Oh,'' Creed immediately replied, "Kendall?''

Mystery solved.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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October 6, 2008

Kicked in the Face

My son kicked me in the face the other day.

Oh my God, it's really happening, isn't it? The baby's due in February, and we found out a month ago that it's a boy. We're getting advice from all corners. "Read to him." We hear that one a lot. Apparently, about this time, the kid's ears start working, so you want him to get used to your voice. He'll hear his mom's voice all the time, but mine, not so much.

Frodo.jpg I've been talking to him for weeks, of course, lying with my cheek where I think he might be. I tell him about my days, about our three cats, about his two sisters...

Whack! I mean, Chuck Norris doesn't give the kind of roundhouse kick in the face that this kid gave me. I was startled. I looked up at my wife.

"Was that...?"

She nodded, smiling.

"Oh my God, he kicked me!"

We picked up a bunch of children's books from grandma and grandpa last night. Lots of Dr. Seuss. A couple of Peanuts compilations. "Black Beauty." "Little House."

Last night, I lay there and read to him. "Oh, the Places You'll Go."

"That was him," my wife said.

As eager as I am to feel it again, I had to admit that this time, I didn't. Maybe next time.

I'm still trying to make sure he gets used to my voice. And every time I talk to him, I end it the same way.

"I can't wait to see you."

POSTED IN: Pregnancy (31), Rafael Olmeda (59)

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October 1, 2008

Oh, my noisy kids

For a while, there was an upside for us to the bad housing market. We live in a condo, and for several months we had no one next door or below us. This meant we spent less time trying to get our kids (ages 2 and 11 months) to be quiet “for the neighbors.” This is, of course, a mostly futile task. The older one listens briefly, but then is back to jumping off a bed or couch once we turn our heads.

But the “sound vacation” is over. We now have a couple (without kids) below us, meaning we are back to pleading with our kids to be quiet for the neighbors.

We’ve never gotten a complaint, and our neighbors seem to be patient and understanding. One former neighbor even said “that’s what babies do” when I warned her that our baby would be crying for long periods while he learned to sleep through the night.

Here’s the question: How do you deal with neighbors and noise? Do you talk to them beforehand about it? Do you apologize for particularly noisy days? Or do you let them address the issue to you? What’s worked?

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

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I'll pass on the breast milk-flavored ice cream

I thought my daughter was playing a joke on me when she said PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was urging Ben & Jerry's ice cream to switch its creamy base from cow's milk to breast milk.benjerry.jpg

She wasn't, although I am still incredulous. PETA sent the letter to the famous Vermont ice cream makers last week.

The animal rights group admits it got the idea from a Swiss restaurant, which is using breast milk in its soups and sauces.

Can you imagine any company in America trying this? Breast milk is made for babies; I'm not sure if there are any benefits for adults or if you can even cook with breast milk. I'm certain, though, that few American consumers have the palate for a breast-milk-based product.

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

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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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