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February 28, 2009

Birthday party helps orphanage

There was a sweet story today in the Sun Sentinel about a 7-year-old Boca Raton boy, Kyle Conger, who turned his birthday party Saturday into a fundraiser for an orphanage in Haiti. As it happens, our toddler was invited to a separate birthday party Saturday in which the hosts asked for donations instead of gifts. It's a wonderful idea, and one I will remember for future birthday parties.

"I want to help them because that's what God told me to do," Kyle, a first-grader at Spanish River Christian School, told the Sun Sentinel.

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59)

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Chris Brown and Rihanna reunited?

The news breaking today is that Chris Brown and Rihanna have reunited. That's according to People magazine.

Chris%20Brown%20Rihanna.jpgOnce again, the two superstars are, whether they intend to or not, sending messages to teens about what's proper behavior and what's acceptable. That's the price that comes with being a role model.

I think my stepdaughters are pretty sharp about what they would allow, but I also think some pretty sharp people have nonetheless been the victims of domestic violence. So we intend to have another talk with the girls about the boundaries they should set in their lives.

In the meantime, I don't envy Chris Brown or Rihanna. They're private pain is a public discussion, and that is one of the prices of fame.

By taking Chris Brown back, Rihanna has told the world either that he's innocent or that she's forgiven him. If he's innocent, that's great. If she's forgiven him, then she's taken a huge risk. It's a risk that's hers to take, and hers alone. I can't judge her for it.

I'm not an expert on domestic violence. I just interview them from time to time. And they tell me that episodes of violence are often followed by apologies and promises to change, and then by an attempt at reconciliation. After that, it can only go one of two ways: either the violence doesn't happen again, or it does - and worse.

If this was indeed an abuse case, then for Rihanna's sake, I can only pray that Chris Brown proves himself worthy of her trust and forgiveness.

Anyway, that's what I plan to tell my kids. What do you plan to tell yours?

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114), Music (22), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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College rejection, and farewell to a school

Hope you're enjoying a great weekend and not spending too much time on the computer - go hug your kids! My wife is giving me that look that says "uh, practice what you preach..."

Okay, right away. Just wanted to take a moment to point you to two posts from other blogs that we like today.

The first comes from Motherlode, one of our favorites. Lisa Belkin of the New York Times writes today:

The rejection season has begun. The time of year when it can hurt more than usual to be a parent and watch your child lose what they desperately want.

That pain is there all year and at all ages — rejection by friends, by lovers and employers. Back when I was a preteen I thought there couldn’t be anything worse than the patches where your friends found new friends and didn’t want you anymore; as an adult I learned there is something far worse — watching that happen to your child.

For those of us with children at the start and the finish of the K-12 arc, there is an extra dose of that doubled pain at this time of year, when the rejection is typed onto school letterhead and sent to your home.
Read the rest of her post here.


Then we have this item, submitted by Mommy Melee, a St. Petersburg, Fla., mom who started following us this week on Twitter. You ARE following us on Twitter, aren't you? In this entry, Mommy Melee writes a poignant tribute to a school being demolished. It's long compared to what we write here, but worth the read. Here's the top:

It’s a little after 5:30 and the sun is starting to give everything a rusty, magic glow. Green is greener. Blue is bluer. And half of Riviera Middle School is in ruins.

I knew about it, of course—racing the sun to get the light, to document the destruction before I forget, before it’s gone gone gone. I have my camera in the passenger seat. I pull up against the fence, crack the windows for my sons in the backseat, and step out onto the pavement.

Monsters in the parking lot. Two giant diggers. (The dinosaurs are eating the school, my son whispers.) The sun glints just right, a little flare of personality. A wink. I shiver and start taking pictures.

Gum on the seat, then my jeans, a jacket tied around my waist. Crying on the phone, please come and let me go home, the girls are so mean. I write a report on dachshunds. A boy in gifted class writes a song about the way I pick my nose. I know I’m not the only one who thinks about last year’s rape incident every time I march up the dingy stairwells. I have a boyfriend for three days in the hall. A high school student volunteers with the after school chorus program. Why don’t blondes use vibrators, he asks me. Because they chip their teeth. I don’t get the joke.

When I hear tires crunching on gravel, I turn, jittery. But it’s not the cops, it’s a woman in an old Neon. She climbs out of the car as if exhausted by the movement, exhales heavily and tells me, “I’ve been waiting for this day.”

“Oh.” It’s awkward. “I went to school here. In 1992.” I take another photo, trying to give her space.

“I taught here for twenty years. Do you remember me?”

I don’t. But her face is familiar. Tired. I shake my head apologetically.

She explains where her classroom is, hopeful, reaching for a connection, so I smile and nod. “Yes, I remember that.” But there’s nothing else to say. I’m glad to see the beast go. But I’m not celebrating. This is a funeral.

After a while, she walks back to her car. “Thank you for sharing this moment with me.”

When she leaves, it’s just me and the diggers. They linger in the parking lot, ominous and hungry. I keep my body between them and my boys in the car. As the traffic whisks by behind us, I take a few more pictures. Someone honks.

Focus. Unfocus. The fence. The ruins. The fence. The steps.

I trip on my backpack and fall on the sidewalk. It bleeds so much my mom thinks I have a gunshot wound. It leaves a perfectly round scar. I ride my bike to school, singing into the wind, licking my braces. I get my period during lunch break. Two girls push me in the bathroom, steal my jacket, and a few dollars from my pocket. My science teacher, handsome, says, “smile—you look like your dog just died.” I smile.

Read the rest of her post here.


Okay, I'm shutting down my computer now. And hugging my kids. All day.

Have a nice weekend.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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February 27, 2009

Mom on the Go: What to do this weekend

Your baby loves to shake her tail feather. Then run, OK jog, to Baby Loves Disco.

The party, complete with a snack bar and DJ, is for children ages 6 months to 7 years old. The party is at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, from 2 - 5 p.m. Feb. 28, and costs $12 per person in advance through (No fee for the young ones who aren't walking, yet). It's $15 at the door.

renfest.jpgOr check out one of the handful of festivals going on this weekend. There's the Bob Marley fest in Miami, Orange Blossom fest in Davie and Florida Renaissance fest in Deerfield Beach.

For residents of West Palm Beach, visit the Norton Museum of Art on Saturday. For free. Now showing: Find more cheap thrills, here.

On Sunday, you'll want to get a good view of the Sistrunk Festival parade starting at 9 a.m. at 401 NW Ninth St. in Fort Lauderdale.

For a round-up of Sunday activities in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, read on.

Sunday, March 1
C by Me: Peanut Butter Lovers. Calling all Peanut Butter Lovers! Enjoy this lip-smacking treat while designing your very own masterpiece. C by Me Clothing, 18673 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach. 305-932-8118.

Keeper Talks: At these zookeeper talks (located at their respective exhibits), you can witness the animals eating their favorite treats and learn about them from their keepers. Ask the questions you’ve always wanted answered about your favorite animal. Talks take place daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Schedule located on map received upon zoo entry or at Miami Metrozoo, 12400 SW 152nd St., Miami. 305-251-0400.

Greynolds Park Guided Nature Walks. Join a naturalist-guided walk around Miami-Dade County’s second-oldest park to learn about our local history, flora and fauna. 10 - 11 a.m., Greynolds Park, 17530 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach. 305-945-3425.

Rusty Rocket’s Last Blast. An animated planetarium show that teaches kids about the solar system, rocket physics and more. 11 a.m., Miami Science Museum, 3280 S. Miami Ave., Miami. Free with museum admission. Adults, $20; students, $18; ages 3 to 12, $13; members, $8; members 12 and younger, $6; 2 and younger, free. 305-646-4200.

Crandon Park’s Fossil Reef Snorkel Adventure. Join naturalists as they transport you to a place known to the earliest inhabitants of South Florida. Take a tram ride from land to sea where you’ll end up in an underwater adventure through a rare geologic formation located in Bear Cut Preserve. Ages 9 and up. 1:30 - 4 p.m., Crandon Park Visitors and Biscayne Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne. $40. 305-361-5421.


Brownie Workshop: Eco-Explorer Try-It. Brownies will learn about the environment to earn the Eco-Explorer Try-it Badge. 10 a.m. - noon, Secret Woods Park, 2701 W. State Road 84, Dania Beach. $6. 954-791-1030.

Pony Rides. Enjoy the outdoors with a guided pony ride. Ages 1 to 6. The park’s regular weekend and holiday gate entrance fee of $1.50 per person, children 5 and under, free, will be in effect. Every Saturday and Sunday. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tree Tops Park, 3900 SW 100th Ave., Davie. $1.50 per round or $5 for four rounds. 954-475-8650.

Classic Car Show. This open show will feature classic and customized vehicles. Top 60 entries receive awards. Dash plaques will be given to the first 100 vehicles. Other activities include free live entertainment, inflatables for the children, and raffles all day long. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Miramar Regional Park, 16801 Miramar Parkway, Miramar. Registration fee, $15; park fee, $1.50 per person; children under 5, free. 954-704-1631.

Uncover Our Past: Archaeology Day. Learn about the importance of archaeology in our lives with displays, guest speakers, walking tours and children’s activities. 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., Anne Kolb Nature Center, 751 Sheridan St., West Lake Park, Hollywood. $1. 954-926-2480.

Hands-on Museum Fun. Explore Jewish culture and universal values at this interactive children’s museum that incorporates creativity, play and learning for visitors from varied backgrounds. 1 - 4 p.m., My Jewish Discovery Place Children’s Museum, 6501 W. Sunrise Blvd., Soref Jewish Community Center, Plantation. Admission, $4; ages 2 to 6, $3; 1 and younger, free. 954-792-6700.

Chess Club. All ages and levels can practice their skills or learn new tactics in this classic game. 1:30 - 3 p.m., Weston Branch Library, 4205 Bonaventure Blvd., Weston. Free. 954-389-2098.

Seminole War Reenactment. The battle reenactments honor the Seminoles’ struggle and sacrifice to remain in their homeland and will feature authentic weapons, soldier and warrior attire and tactics typical of the Second Seminole War.

The three-day event will also include music, Seminole food, Seminole and pioneer artisans, a primitive archery competition, authentic Seminole and soldier camps and more. 2 p.m., Billie Swamp Safari, located between Fort Lauderdale and Naples, on the Big Cypress Reservation just north of I-75, Fort Lauderdale. Adults, $7; children, $5.


Auditions for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Actors 10 years of age and up. This is a closed audition. Must prepare a one-minute comedic or dramatic Shakespearean monologue. Please bring a brief bio and a headshot (can be a photo, does not need to be professionally done). 10 a.m. - noon, Sol Children’s Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway,
Boca Raton. 561-447-8829.

Palm Beach Now & Then. Take a narrated tour down the Intracoastal on a water taxi, see the sights, and learn about the history and culture of Palm Beach. Tour runs 90 minutes. Weather permitting. 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., Phil Foster Park, Blue Heron Blvd., Riviera Beach. Adults, $17; children $9. 561-683-8294.

Sunday Fundays. Family tours, readings in the galleries and hands-on workshops introduce children and their parents to the world of art. Every program features a hands-on art project. Drop-in visitors are welcome. 1:30 - 3:30 p.m., Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. 561-832-5196.

Learn to Kayak. Representatives from Adventure Times Kayaks will teach a land-based course that gives beginners the skills necessary for kayaking. Reservations are recommended. 2 p.m., John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, 10900 Jack Nicklaus Drive, North Palm Beach. Free with park admission of $4 per carload. 561-624-6950.

Indian River Pops Orchestra: “Movie Madness”. Musical Director Owen Seward leads the 60-piece orchestra in his renditions of some of the classic movie soundtracks from “Star Wars”, “Casablanca,” “West Side Story” and many more. 7:30 p.m., Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. 561-575-2223. $25.

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

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2/27/09: Parent's guide to

TheS.jpg To Donna Greene, education budget cuts from Tallahassee are akin to the way that peasants were treated during the French Revolution.

On Thursday, she dressed as Marie Antoinette — complete with a gown, wig and sign that read "Tallahassee Says: Let Them Eat Cake" — joined more than 150 other parents, students, teachers, and local and state leaders in a rally to support public education. "We feel that Tallahassee is ignoring the suffering of their students," said Greene, a mother of two South Broward High School students from Hollywood. "We need real tax reform and we need funding."

The Broward County School District is facing $140 million to $160 million in budget cuts for the upcoming school year, though money from the federal economic stimulus package could reduce that figure.
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgFlorida's university system reached an agreement Thursday with the Florida Prepaid Plan to make sure both remain financially sustainable.

The Florida Board of Governors, the policymaking body for state universities, agreed to cap the tuition it charged Florida Prepaid at about 6 percent to 6.5 percent a year. Local fees would go up 5 percent and dormitory costs would go up 6 percent. The agreement applies to contracts bought before July 1, 2007.

The deal has no impact on anyone who holds a prepaid contract, which is guaranteed by the state, nor does it affect how much people pay for tuition. "Prepaid contracts were never at risk," said John Delaney, president of the University of North Florida, who is temporarily handling the duties of chancellor of the State University System.

Prepaid sells its contracts assuming tuition will climb about 5 percent to 6 percent a year.
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgHow do you know if your children are ready for kindergarten? One way is by enrolling them in the state's free voluntary pre-kindergarten program, according to statistics released Thursday.

Using three methods of testing new kindergartners, the state found that 54 percent of students who completed the optional pre-K classes demonstrated overall readiness for school as opposed to 42 percent who did not attend voluntary pre-K at either a public or private school.

State Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith said the results "show us that by tapping into this potential at the earliest of ages we are ensuring that our students are getting the head start they need to succeed in both school and life."
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgA rodeo is a rip-roaring, noisy event. The crowd gets excited as a brawny steer appears. Two men on horseback race to lasso the beast. Mission accomplished. The crowd cheers.It's a familiar routine for cowboy Greg Clair who will compete in Davie's annual hullabaloo, The 72nd Orange Blossom Festival, Parade and Rodeo, at Bergeron Rodeo Grounds this weekend.

Activities include a concert by recording artist John Anderson (Swingin'). But the main event is the professional rodeo.

Clair will be galloping after that reluctant steer in the team-roping competition. It's not just a couple of guys horsing around, but "a true working part of ranch life," he said. "You immobilize the animal so he can be doctored."

The former cattle rancher turned land developer and Davie resident has been doing this 30 years. Now 45, he says he has another 10 years of it left in him. But it's physical work that some say is better left to the young and the reckless.
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgProsecutors on Thursday dropped a criminal charge against a Weston principal accused of trying to strangle his wife.

Falcon Cove Middle School Principal Mark Kaplan, 37, was charged last month with a felony count of battery, for allegedly trying to strangle his wife, Alyson, 36, as she slept in their Coral Springs home.

After Mark Kaplan was arrested and removed from the home, Alyson Kaplan said she came to believe the attack was unintentional and she did not want her husband to be prosecuted.

Mark Kaplan said he has a sleep disorder, parasomnia, that made him act violently.

"This is the kind of defense you couldn't dream up — it's valid from the beginning," said the defense attorney, Eric Schwartzreich.
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgAnd don't forget to visit the family page for news and information to help you save money, manage your time and enjoy raising a family in South Florida.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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Calling all camps! Get listed on

summercamp10.jpgCamp owners who want to be included in the searchable online summer camp guide should submit their information online by April 1.

Camp owners should go to to enter camp hours, programs, prices and features.

After April 1, parents are urged to visit to use the guide.

POSTED IN: Activities (143)

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February 26, 2009

Broward County parents of gifted kids need to stay informed

Parents of gifted kids: If you want to join the email chain of the Broward County gifted advisory council, send a blank email to

You'll find out things like this: On April 18, students can attend a review session for the AP exams (Advanced Placement) that are given in May.

The school district's review session will be led by AP teachers and will help kids with "critical test taking tips and practice questions'' designed for the AP test.

It's free, and takes place on April 18th from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Western High School in Davie.

Seating is limited. To register or find out more, visit this website:

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

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Does my toddler have asthma?

My daughter Ana Isabel had a cold last week. She seemed to be getting better but she had this persistent cough. Ana, at three and half, has had these cough before at the tail end of a cold.


But this was different. From one day to the next, the cough seemed to get worse.

At one point, she was coughing almost nonstop. My wife called the pediatricians' office. They told her they couldn't do anything for a cough. Don't bring her in. Give her cough syrup. We had already done that.

When my wife put Ana in the bath, she gasped for air. "Mommy, I can't breathe," Ana said. It hurts just writing that sentence. Her breaths were shallow and short.

We raced her to the doctor's office. They saw her immediately, examined her, took X-rays and put her on a nebulizer treatment. She improved right away. The color came back to her face.

It's too soon to know if the diagnosis is asthma, the doctors said. But we got the drugs and equipment to treat someone with asthma.

It's common. The American Lung Association says asthma is the leading serious chronic illness in children.
Here's an article about toddlers and asthma.

It runs in the family. So we're not surprised. Still, it's been my scariest parenting episode so far.

POSTED IN: Health (111), Luis Perez (32), Toddler (127)

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Mom on the Go: Dinner in 10 - 40 minutes

Getting dinner to the table within an hour of getting home is a nearly impossible feat.

But I've found that casseroles, cooking on weekends and supplements go a long way to getting dinner made in short order.

And by supplements, I mean the cooked rotisserie chickens at grocery stores, the order of ribs from a favorite restaurant, the frozen shrimp purchased -- on sale -- by the bag.

Filling in the edges of the meal with fresh vegetables, microwaved potatoes or steamed rice is much easier.

chix%20dinner.jpgSo grab a rotisserie chicken tonight and make a Chicken Avocado Pecan salad, Fast Chicken Black Bean Chili, Tortilla Soup with Shredded Chicken and Diced Avocado or Chicken Pot Pie. (The links take you to the recipes as they appeared in today's paper.)


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Don't feel good? Tough, you're still going to school

Headache, schmedache - send the kid to school.

Or should you?

There's times we send our 13-year old to school even when he complains of a headache, stomach ache - or might - just might have an ever so slight fever.

I know. That's so cold. KidsHeatlh has some good pointers, tips and advice on the matter.

Still - we don't want him to stop the world just because he isn't feeling 100 percent. And only this week, we actually did let him stay home two days.

After all, how many times do we go to work when we'd rather be home because we feel a little "under the weather?"

So, which is it in your house: pamper him or her with their favorite blankey, hot tea and cozy pillows?

Or like me, pack 'em up and ship 'em out with a pat on the head for encouragement? (Wouldn't want to kiss them in case they're contagious!)


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2/26/09: A parent's guide to

Lots to talk about this morning:

TheS.jpgParents will lead a rally against school budget cuts today at the Broward County School District headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

The rally, sponsored by the Broward County Council of PTAs and Floridians for Quality Education, will be in the parking lot of the district building at 600 SE Third Ave.

The gates will open at 4:30 p.m. and the rally is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgFlorida Atlantic University President Frank Brogan is warning his school not to get too hopeful that a federal stimulus package can ease the pain of budget cuts.

Brogan told the Board of Trustees on Wednesday that he doesn't know how much money FAU will get from the $787 billion stimulus package that President Obama signed last week. But he doubts it will be enough to make a major dent in the $18 million in cuts the university faces next year. After next year's possible cut, he said FAU will have lost about $42 million since 2007.

"My concern is the mind-set some people are taking on, that this stimulus package is going to solve everyone's problems," Brogan said. "As much money as we're talking about, it won't do that."

The university plans to lay off employees and eliminate programs. Brogan said the stimulus will provide a one-time infusion of money for key areas such as research, construction and Pell Grants but not recurring expenses such as salaries and programs.
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgParents and Coconut Creek city officials pleaded with Broward County School Board members Wednesday night to delay a proposed boundary change that would move hundreds of students from Lyons Creek Middle School to Margate Middle School.

But board members said Lyons Creek - which is 281 students over its permanent capacity of 1,858 students - needed relief next school year, and Margate Middle has open spaces. The School Board voted 7-2 to give initial approval to the change, with a final vote coming in March.

While Lyons Creek was the most contentious change made Wednesday, the board moved attendance zones for six other Broward schools. Those schools include: Atlantic West Elementary School, Margate; Cooper City Elementary School; Coral Cove Elementary School, Miramar; Margate Middle School; Riverglades Elementary School, Parkland; and Walter C. Young Middle School, Pembroke Pines.
Read the rest of the article here.


TheS.jpgEasy Mac or Ramen noodles?

These are the usual choices college students have to make during the dinner-time dilemma.
College life was never glamorous to begin with, but unless you are a trust-fund baby, you're feeling that invisible economic hand coming down on you harder than ever.

Students are seeing an increase in student activity and athletic fees; every year the price of activities grows.

Forced to be more resourceful financially, many college students have found creative ways to conserve and make money
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpg At St. Nicholas Melkite Church, Delray Beach, older members keep an ancient tradition of abstaining from dairy products during Lent. And sometimes, no stronger stuff.
"Some of our members go the whole Lent without meat or alcohol," said Ghazi Hajj, chairman of the parish council at St. Nicholas.

For younger worshipers, the temptation may not be food at all: it may be amusements such as TV and video games. That's the advice the 550 students get at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Boca Raton.

"We tell them that instead of some food product, it should be something they enjoy," said MaryAnn Hodges, secretary to the pastor at the church. "God gave up his Son for us. That was a huge sacrifice. So the point is not to choose something easy. It should be something that's a sacrifice to you."
Read the rest here.


TheS.jpgAnd finally, do you wish your kid were more like Hannah Gilman, 9, of Coral Springs?

Hannah has no idea she is doing anything special, she and others say. She looks out for the best in everyone, taking actions because it's the right thing to do, and because she feels good about helping others, including children of all ages.
Read more about this Kid of Character here.


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Moms & Dads: New name, renewed purpose

Do not adjust your bookmark. You're in the right place.

FX00172_9.jpgRegular readers of transPARENT may have noticed a few changes over the last few months, and especially in the last few days. We're posting more, for one thing, because we've grown to appreciate what a fun, interesting and educational place this can be. And that's largely because of you.

We've found that this page is more fun when you're involved, and we want you to look at this as your site, because it really is.

Our new name, Moms & Dads, is intended reflect a stronger focus about why we're here. Like you, we are South Florida parents sharing our thoughts and experiences about the challenge of raising children. You care about our schools because you have children who go there. You care about the things your children see on television and in the movies, the music they listen to and the people they admire. You care about the economy because you care about feeding and providing for your children, and you want the best for them.

So do we. So we'll write about schools, from pre-K to post-grad. We'll write about health and education and politics and role models. We'll write about raising toddlers, raising teens, raising children you're still getting to know. If it concerns you as a parent, it's concerns us as Moms & Dads. So we want you to write about those things, too, by responding to our thoughts and letting us know what else is on your mind.

And don't forget to follow us on Twitter (SSParents). We'll update you on our latest posts, plus other articles and news of interest.

Welcome to the family.

POSTED IN: General (185)

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February 25, 2009

Recession babies

There was an interesting post and discussion recently on The Motherlode, Lisa Belkin’s blog at, about how the economy is changing parents' plans for another child.

It’s a fascinating topic, and one that has come up in our household. The comments on Belkin’s post seem to cover the gamut of my thoughts on the question. I’m generally of the school that “there’s no right time to have a baby” but the recession does give one pause. I suppose, on the upside, it makes us consider how much we want a larger family. One could argue that, rather than make life more stressful, we would make sure to prepare more than ever for a recession baby.

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59), Pregnancy (31)

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A Portuguese water dog for the Obama White House?

Looks like President Obama's family wants a Portuguese water dog as their first First Pet.

This comes from the Los Angeles Times politics blog:

In an interview with People magazine that hits the stands on Friday, [First Lady Michelle] Obama said that the first family is looking for a rescue Portuguese water dog who is "old enough" and a "match" for the family dynamic.

lg_portuguese_water_dog1.jpg"Temperamentally they're supposed to be pretty good," she says of the breed. "From the size perspective, they're sort of middle of the road -– it's not small, but it's not a huge dog. And the folks that we know who own them have raved about them. So that's where we're leaning."

That will be good news to the animal rights groups who have been lobbying the family to adopt a dog who might otherwise be euthanized. That campaign apparently resonated, at least with President Obama. At his first news conference after the election, Obama alluded to his daughter Malia's allergies and his own racial background -- a white mother and an African father -- and said:

"With respect to the dog, this is a major issue. I think it's generated more interest on our website than just about anything. We have -- we have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."
The rest of the Times post is here.

I'll pretend I didn't hear the President of the United States refer to himself as a mutt.

I guess I'm happy about the choice, but a part of me is disappointed. After all, I'm still looking for a good home for a certain pit bull...


The First Lady's press secretary, Katie Lelyveld, threw cold water on the report today, suggesting that a decision actually may not have been made.

"They have not selected a breed," Lelyveld said. "Mrs. Obama likes the Portuguese water dog, but she is only one of four votes.''

The Obamas have not narrowed the search down to a particular breed, the spokeswoman said, but "their primary focus now is that they get a dog that works with their lifestyle."
And the rest of that story is here.

Makes me want to growl. Look, this is a dog we're talking about, not a vice president. Make a decision already.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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Cell phone monitoring, and more on the four-day school week

On other blogs today:


Cell phones are great for emergencies and as a way to stay constantly connected to your child. But children may abuse the privilege by browsing the Web too long, sending out too many texts or talking on the phone too much, all of which could run up your bill depending on your plan.

Want more control? Check with your carrier.

For instance, AT&T recently added a new feature to its menu of wireless parental controls. It allows parents to put more parameters around a child’s use of the mobile Internet. They can set a monetary limit or a megabyte or gigabyte limit for mobile Web browsing for the month, as well as set time of day restrictions on mobile Web use.

Read the rest on Consumer Talk with Daniel Vasquez

Working parents might shudder at the notion of a four-day school week for their kids, but I actually think it could be a good idea for high school students.

But only for high school students.

For elementary and middle school kids, it’s a terrible idea.

That’s because having a permanent free day during the workweek would be too nettlesome for working parents, who’d have to scramble for child-care alternatives.

But a four-day week for high school kids, who are older and more independent, could be a money-saving idea that has other benefits for society.

Of course, it could also lead to trouble, if kids don’t have anything productive to do.

Read the rest in Mayo on the side, the blog of Sun Sentinel columist Michael Mayo.


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Teens learning the wrong thing from the Chris Brown and Rihanna fight

Chris%20Brown%20Rihanna.jpgA coworker sent me this link to a Chicago Tribune article with a disturbing observation. Remember the accusation that entertainer Chris Brown beat his girlfriend Rihanna? Well, it turns out some teens think she had it coming. I’m not kidding. Here’s the beginning of the Tribune article:

Ed Loos, a junior at Lake Forest High School, said a common reaction among students to Chris Brown's alleged attack on Rihanna goes something like this: "Ha! She probably did something to provoke it."

In Chicago, Sullivan High School sophomore Adeola Matanmi has heard the same.

"People said, 'I would have punched her around too,' " Matanmi said. "And these were girls!"

As allegations of battery swirl around the famous couple, experts on domestic violence say the response from teenagers just a few years younger shows the desperate need to educate this age group about dating violence.

Their acceptance, or even approval, of abuse in romantic relationships is not a universal reaction. But it comes at a time when 1 in 10 teenagers has suffered such abuse and females ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of any age group, research shows.


I heard the rumors, too. It didn’t take long for them to pop up. My stepdaughter came home from school the day after the allegations were made public and let my wife and me know exactly why Chris Brown beat Rihanna (a talented entertainer in her own right). And while she didn’t say Rihanna deserved it, she might as well have. After all, so the rumor went, what Rihanna gave Chris Brown was worse than the beating he gave her, wink wink.

First, my wife and I explained that schoolyard rumors are usually best left in the schoolyard. Only two people witnessed whatever happened, and it’s not likely that one of them called up a friend at Cypress Bay High School to spread the word.

But the bigger lesson, the one we hope stuck, was that violence in romantic relationships is unacceptable. I could tell my stepdaughter with near certainty that Rihanna didn’t deserve it because no one deserves to be beaten like that. I don’t care what she did. If you’re a man, you don’t hit her. Maybe you'll yell or scream or get loud in the heat of the moment. But you do not get physical (unless self-defense is an issue, which may happen but is certainly not representative of abuse cases).

I know some men (and some women) can explode if the wrong buttons are pushed, and without a doubt, it’s unwise to intentionally push those buttons. But I want my teenage stepdaughters to know that it is never, ever right to let a man strike them.

Erica Herman, director of social change at Women in Distress, succinctly shot down the notion that victims of domestic violence provoke the attacks against them. "Domestic violence is about power and control," she said, addressing a different rumor about the Brown-Rihanna altercation. "He didn't hit her because he was angry. He hit her to gain control."

We don’t know what happened. In our family, we hope Chris Brown is innocent, and we hope those pictures of Rihanna that surfaced on the Internet were faked. But if they’re authentic, then someone hurt this woman. And if it was Chris Brown, then he should pay. The shame of this whole thing is that our family is fond of this talented singer, dancer and actor. He’s a heck of an entertainer – I’d bet he could get a standing ovation at a cemetery.

But if this charge sticks, then he’ll have gone from Chris Brown to Bobby Brown, from undeniable talent to disgraced has-been (if only in my eyes). No, I wasn’t expecting perfection out of him. But I was expecting him to refrain from beating his girlfriend. I don’t think that’s much to ask at all.

If you’re a victim of domestic violence or of violence in a romantic relationship, you didn’t have it coming. You didn’t ask for it. It's not normal and it's not your fault. And there are places you can turn to for help. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911. If you need counseling in Broward County, call Women in Distress at 954-761-1133. In Palm Beach County, call Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse at 1-800-355-8547.

Elsewhere, call the Florida Domestic Violence Toll-free Hotline at 1-800-500-1119 or the National Domestic Violence Toll-free Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114), Rafael Olmeda (59), Safety (59), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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Keep Palm Beach County's Aug. 24 school start!

When the state Legislature approved a law preventing schools from starting more than two weeks before Labor Day, I thought we were safe.calendar.jpg

But the Palm Beach County School District is now seeking a waiver from the law, as SunSentinel reporter Marc Freeman explained in this story.

If the district followed the law, school would start Aug. 24. But the district wants school to start a week earlier.

Officials say teachers, parents and students want the first semester to end before Winter Break. They say students don't like the stress of having to worry about the exams they will have to take when their two-week vacation is over.

But I am skeptical of this excuse. Do you know any kids who have complained about it? The majority of school districts across the country finish their first semesters after Winter Break.

I think the district wants more time to drill for FCATs. Can't think of any other good reason why Palm Beach County would have to be different from the rest of the country.

I hope Save Our Summers-Florida, the group that pushed for the law, revives its campaign and makes sure Palm Beach County does not get this silly waiver.

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

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Parents' guide to 2/25/09

Is high school for education or day care? Click here for today's story on whether Broward should move to a four day week for high schools.

In the meantime...

TheS.jpgThe financial crisis and rising costs threaten to put college out of reach for many students, a new report suggests.

The report from the group ENLACE Florida says the cost of higher education in Florida has outpaced families' ability to pay. As the recession leaves people with less money, many middle class families in the $40,000 to $60,000 range, who may earn too much for federal Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid, could be especially hurt, the report suggests.

ENLACE, or Engaging Latino Communities for Education, studies academic trends among Hispanics and other under-represented groups and has released several reports scrutinizing higher education in Florida.

The group analyzed federal and state data. The report says that in 1995, undergraduate students in Florida borrowed an average of $2,968 per year. Now it's $4,719 per year.
Read the rest of this story here.

CORAL SPRINGS - Some day Jovian Belizare will be able to say that while he wasn't born in the back of a station wagon, he did draw his first independent breath in the back of a gas station.

On Tuesday, the day-old boy was keeping mum. He was snuggling in the arms of his delighted and grateful mother, Marie Belizare, and reuniting with the bus driver who helped bring him into the world, Mary Kilroy.

"Oh, it was so neat," said Kilroy. Belizare "was just so glad when it was over with. She couldn't stop crying. I couldn't believe it happened. I always thought I'd do CPR on somebody first."
Read the rest of this story here.

TheS.jpgAnd if you haven't checked it out yet, visit the South Florida Family page, This is something you'll want to bookmark. We share information on product recalls, the latest toys, health and career tips and home improvement advice.
Check out the South Florida Family page here.

While you're at it, check out the Web site for South Florida Parenting. Enjoy.


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February 24, 2009

Save the economy! Give parents money!

Here’s my idea to stimulate the economy: Give parents more tax breaks.

Maybe this sounds unnecessary. After all, we already have tax breaks for day care and some camps -- except for sleepovers, as we all learned through Secretary Tim Geithner’s tax troubles. (I’m waiting for someone to explain to me why a day camp is deductible and not a sleepover one. Perhaps we don’t want to provide an incentive to send kids away from home, or we see it as a luxury. I’m not convinced, and I didn’t even go to sleep-away camp. But I digress.)

Consider the stimulus checks sent in the spring. There’s been lots of talk about how little effect that money had because people saved it. Saved it? My guess is that wasn’t the case among most parents. We weren’t wasteful, but that money went into a trip to see relatives in Washington, D.C. But it wasn’t free.

There should be parent-friendly pieces of the next stimulus bill (and, yes, there will be one).

What about increasing the child care deduction? There are no public schools for infants or toddlers, and yet parents are provided woefully inadequate tax benefits for all the money they shell out for care. It’s a broken system.

What about a tax deduction for car seats? It’s crazy to me that we require parents by law to buy this equipment, but then provide no financial help. Perhaps we could create subsidies for car makers to include them in their vehicles. That way the car companies could benefit along with families.

What are your ideas?

POSTED IN: Child Care (26), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Will this work? Broward considering a four day school week!

I think the idea of a four day school week is great -- if you're a teenager. But I'm thinking there are some serious ramifications here. Imagine your teenagers at home one day a week, unsupervised. Is this really feasible?

Looks like they're seriously considering this in Broward.

emptydesks.jpgKathy Bushouse reports:

Add four-day school weeks for high school students to the list of options the Broward County School Board is weighing to save money.

Board members during a Tuesday workshop directed schools Superintendent James Notter to study the idea to prepare for up to $160 million in possible budget cuts from the state for the 2009-2010 school year.

Such a move would take more than a School Board vote. Changing all Broward high schools to a four-day week would require negotiations with the Broward Teachers Union, though an individual school could make the switch if two-thirds of the school's teachers and staff agreed, Notter said.
Notter said as part of its review, the district would look at four-day weeks for elementary and middle schools as well. But he said he'd have concerns with moving younger students to a shorter school week.

Some board members approached the idea of a four-day school week with caution. "I think we ought to approach the reduction of days in school very, very judiciously," said School Board chairwoman Maureen Dinnen. "That really, really bothers me academically."

But board member Bob Parks said the idea should be considered. "If you're in a crunch time, tough decisions have to be made,…It may be a controversy, but everything is on the table," Parks said.

Weigh in: would a four-day school week be worth the savings?

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59), School Issues (135)

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Mom on the Go: The Best Goodie-Bag Gifts?

I have the Crayola-colored streamers, the Curious George plates and the menu.

But I'm stumped as to what to give 13 kids as party favors. I'm looking for something 2 year olds would get a kick out of that won't break my bank.

I'm toying with stuffing the bags with bubbles, Play-Doh and a Goldfish-shaped snack box. goldfish%20crackers.bmp

But should I scrape it all for a board book about Curious George? I'm desperate for some gift ideas.

The gift (or gifts) should be suitable for a 2 year old that still stuffs small objects in the mouth.


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My child, my friend, my prisoner. Track your child with Google Latitude, or no?

Every once in a while, technology/programming/computer gurus come up with something that a teen-ager would not find cool. It's about time that happened, after we were subjected to XBox 360.

That new thing is here, I think. It's called Google Latitude.

You enable it on a cell phone and it tells you where the cell phone user is, via Google Maps. It's advertised as a way to track your friends' movements.

Um, yeah. I certainly do consider my 13-year-old son to be my "friend,'' and yes, thank you, I'd LOVE to track his movements!

To me it sounds like a higher-tech version of the good old house-arrest ankle bracelet. If your kid walks out the door, you can find out. Like a good ankle bracelet should, this one would tell you the coordinates of your child's location, so you can apprehend him or her immediately.

I went to the website, and had it send a text message to my son's phone. You have to have permission from your child to set their phone up as a homing signal. But really, folks, is "permission'' really necessary from someone who relies on you for nourishment?

I don't spy on Creed. But I like to know where my friends are, especially, say, two hours after I drop one of them off in western suburbia at some kind of "church festival.''

Is that way too 2009 of me?

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Teen (158)

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A parent’s guide to 2/24/09

TheS.jpg >Facebook has many asking who their real friends are. Even parents make “friends” of people they don’t know, for various reasons. Sound familiar? A few months ago we talked about social networking for kids and the security issues raised. The focus then was on MySpace, but the issues are the same.


The Broward County school board is looking at changing boundaries. This could have an impact on where your child goes to school. “School Board members and district officials say they understand parents' frustrations, but the district has little choice: New state growth management rules require schools to keep their populations at 110 percent of capacity. The district also must meet state class size requirements.”


From last weekend, by Nick Sortal: Here's an interesting exercise if you're a sports parent.

The new book, Positive Sports Parenting: How "Second-Goal" Parents Raise Winners in Life Through Sports (Balance Sports Publishing; $8.95), suggests you sit down with your child with two sheets of paper. Then look at a list of goal categories (which includes everything from "learn teamwork" to "physical fitness" to "have fun") and distribute 100 points based on the degree of importance of each.

You do one, your child does another and then you discuss.

Not so surprisingly, parents too often emphasize categories such as "win" and "earn a college scholarship," while children value "have fun."


And one from yesterday by Cindy Kent.

Jereann Shafir Zann is director of Score at the Top Learning Center in Boca Raton. She launched her career working for a private hospital and nonprofit organizations. Marketing, fundraising and development responsibilities prepped her for work in the entrepreneurial world, she said.

Her job is to make the community aware of Score's services: tutoring, test preparation, home schooling and learning camps. The learning center is accredited for grades pre-kindergarten through 12th and can grant a high-school diploma and give courses for credit through 12th grade.


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February 23, 2009

Mom on the Go: When is it not OK for parents to lie?

More than 84% of parents admit to lying to their kids at least once a month, according to a Redbook survey of parents. (The magazine issue hits newsstands Feb. 24)

Just once a month? I can't keep track of the lies that come out of my mouth when it comes to my nearly 2-year-old.

This weekend, I told her that the Tic Tac box and the enclosed white capsules were a music box with white musical beads. "Shake it!," I instructed her. And she did with a little bop of her head.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin describes in her new biography how she lied to her children about being pregnant -- even in the face of the searing evidence of an ultrasound photo.

But where does a parent draw the line?

Many of us have agreed that white lies (Tic Tacs are musical instrument/Santa is real) are OK.

But where is the demarcation? How many lies account for a false sense of hope, security, trust in our kids? broached this subject last year. Here's what one psychologist they talked to said:

"It depends what you're lying about," says Victoria Talwar, who studies children and lying. "The answer in many cases is that lies are not necessary."

The risk with too many lies, though, is that over time they can erode the trust a child, particularly a perceptive teen, has in a parent, Talwar cautions. And serious untruths, such as not disclosing an adoption, for instance, can be devastating. "We really feel betrayed when someone lies to us, especially someone close to us," she says.

Where do you draw the line?


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Charged as an adult? But he's 11!

Here's a story that's downright terrifying. The Associated Press reports:


Fifth-grader Jordan Brown boarded the bus and headed to school like he did most other mornings in this rural western Pennsylvania community.

But before he left home on Friday, authorities say, the 11-year-old boy had shot his father's pregnant fiancee in the back of the head as she lay in bed. He then put his youth model 20-gauge shotgun back in his room before going out to catch his bus, police say.

Brown was charged Saturday as an adult in the death of 26-year-old Kenzie Marie Houk, who was eight months pregnant, Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo said. Houk's fetus died within minutes due to a lack of oxygen, Lawrence County Coroner Russell Noga said.

Where to begin? First, let me note that according to the article (read the rest of it here), the kid's lawyer says he thinks the kid may be innocent. The details of this story will play out in Pennsylvania.

But even as I'm taken aback by the sheer horror of this tale, I have to admit the first thing that got my attention was that they're charging this kid as an adult. South Florida has had some experience charging children as adults when they're accused of heinous crimes. We all remember Nathaniel Brazill, who shot and killed high school teacher Barry Grunow in Lake Worth in 2000. Brazill, 13 at the time of the shooting, was charged as an adult and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Then there was Lionel Tate, who was 12 when he was charged as an adult with killing his playmate Tiffany Eunick and 14 when he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Tate eventually had his sentenced overturned and was released, only to head back to prison for robbing a pizza delivery guy in 2005.

Now comes Jordan Brown, who's 11 and will be facing murder charges as though he were an adult at the time of the shooting.

Is this right? If a preteen who commits murder can be tried as an adult, why bother ever trying juveniles as children? What is the point of juvenile justice if we're just going to treat them as adults in the end?

(By the way, I'm not answering these questions: I'm just asking them. I'd love to hear your answers).

Update: I should have seen this earlier, but the prosecutor in the case says he has no choice under Pennsylvania law but to charge Jordan as an adult.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59)

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Defying the breast milk mafia

Shh. Don’t tell anyone. We’re feeding Leo formula. I said SHHH!!!!!

Oh, great, it’s out now.

Now I’m going to hear it from the Breast Milk Mafia. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I have no knowledge that such an organization exists. But something in the back of my head suspects that they do, in the same way that the “Liberal Media” exist. No one will ever admit to being a part of it, and those in it are least likely to recognize it.

bottlefeed.jpgStock photo: Not Leo
We did try breastfeeding. It didn’t work. There’s a part of me that’s defensive about it, that wants to explain our efforts and justify our decision to switch to formula. But why? Do we owe someone an explanation? Maybe the lactation consultant who came into my wife’s hospital room those first couple of nights with all those helpful hints and assurances that it would take work but we could do it if we kept trying?

No one wants to be a quitter. No one wants to say “we gave up.” Language like that inadvertently leads to feelings of guilt when the mother, sore and exasperated, looks at you with tears in her eyes because it’s 2 a.m. and the baby’s hungry and that means another round of pain that's becoming more and more unbearable with each feeding.

We switched to formula. The decision was made with tears, followed by relief. Leo slept longer. His weight loss reversed. I can feed the baby. Mom can feed the baby. Big Big Sis and Little Big Sis can feed the baby.

The literature, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, will tell you that “Breast is best.” And they’re right. Who am I to argue? But imagine my pleasure when I read that “Breastfeeding is considered the best nutritional option for babies by the major medical organizations, but it's not right for every mother.” Imagine the pleasure of being able to console my wife, who was bottlefed and who bottlefed her first daughter, that it’s okay to bottlefeed. I was bottlefed.

In fact, shhh, most mothers try breastfeeding in the hospital, but by the time the baby reaches six months of age, only 27 percent are still breastfeeding at all, and just 8 percent are breastfeeding exclusively.

I’m not saying breastfeeding is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. All I'm saying is that women should not feel guilty for opting for formula. The birth of our child has opened a flood of emotions in our household. There's no room for guilt.

To those who manage to breastfeed for a significant amount of time, my wife and I salute you.

For those who chose formula, we’re with you.

POSTED IN: Health (111), Newborn (39), Rafael Olmeda (59)

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Coraline: a horror flick for the young set?

At last, they've made a children's movie that adults will actually enjoy. On the flip side, after your kids see it, they'll have nightmares until they're 30.

The movie is Coraline, which seems to be a horror movie that we're supposed to take little Johnny to because the murderer in the film is animated instead of real.

The animation is beautiful, really, and the movie got great reviews.


It was rated PG, for Parental Guidance. I figured that was OK to take my almost-7-year-old to. No?

Here are some snippets of Lily's review: "Why did you take me to this movie?'' "Cover my eyes!'' "Can I sleep in your room tonight?''

Meanwhile my son was across town watching the latest Friday the 13th movie, which he was also too young to see. Is he going to butcher me in my sleep now?

One cool thing about Coraline is it's the first time I've seen animated characters ignoring their kids by typing on their laptop computers. Poor Coraline is drawn into the world of the "other'' parents by her boredom with her own life and her own parents. They just sit there typing on their computers when she's trying to talk to them. Can you imagine?

The moral of the story, though, is good: No matter how much your own parents suck, it's better than being murdered.

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

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February 20, 2009

Got Art?

What’s on your refrigerator?

Those drawings, homemade cards and magnets, yep - it's art. Our refrigerators serve as that hallowed Wall of Fame, the Living Museum for our child's creations. Every one of us has kids - and our kids are naturally gifted artists!

We alone possess their unique, original art - drawings of the family pet, a sunset, monsters and dinosaurs, fantastical worlds and perfect profiles. Masterpieces all.

Yet, we want all the world to see. It's time to share with the rest of us Moms and Dads.

Honor your toddler or teen: From the humorous to the serious; the whimsical to the introspective, bring it on - "hang" it up on our virtual family kitchen refrigerator.

We'll shuffle through those treasured toddler drawings and scribbles and the sophisticated draftings and renderings your teenagers create.

Then we'll post photos of their work each week. Here's how:

Take a photo of your child's art work and upload it to Refrigerator Art.

Once submitted, approval of the art can take up to 12 hours.


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A student's work is never done

Wow, homework is a hot topic.

We’re only looking out for our kids’ interests, from many points of view.

My last blog entry This just in: Kids assigned too much homework? elicited a lot of reaction from South Florida parents.

Eliza felt strongly that teachers are overly micromanaged: “We tie teachers' hands and continually lower the bar for our kids regarding their education.”

And Julie presented another perspective: “Yes, they need to learn discipline to enter the workforce, however, do adults spend most weekends and evenings doing work? or do adults go home from work and golf, ski, hike, go to movie, etc? I work full time, but I don't work every night for 2 hours and every weekend for 6 hours.”

Somewhere in the middle is balance - and truth. An elementary school student bringing home two hours worth of homework begs the following questions: Why? What happened in class that day? Does the student have difficulty paying attention? Is it really class work that was not completed? Is it really a 30-minute assignment but you are having trouble keeping your child on task? Maybe there is some fessing up to be done.

And teachers just might possibly appreciate the guidelines. I’d love to hear from some. Is every homework assignment graded? What's the value in giving homework - it's just more work for you too.

I agree trips and getaways are tricky to plan when there is homework to be done.

So, what grade would you give the Broward County School Board for this initiative:
Broward County School Board sets homework limits.

What do you like about it, what would you change?

[UPDATE:] Take a look at today's March 20th story by Akilah Johnson: Education Debate Bringing home too much work?

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Elementary School (54), Family Issues (231), Pre-Teen (57), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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February 19, 2009

Isn't it time for children's services to step in?

Nadya is facing foreclosure. She doesn't have any money coming into the house. She has 14 children.

Shouldn't California's children protective services agency step in and make sure the children are being cared for well?

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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February 18, 2009

This just in: Kids assigned too much homework?

Let me get this straight: parents are complaining about the amount of homework their children are assigned.

Apparently the Broward County School Board is expected to vote on homework guidelines that instruct instructors to: provide increased academic challenges in a more coordinated assignment of homework and projects. Oh – and none over holiday breaks and weekends. It will become an actual policy. We paid taxes for this discussion!

I think teachers have their [home]work cut out for them on this one. I see more teacher-planning and staff meetings ahead. I guess teachers will have to add some teacher planning days to the school calendar. The more the better - that would be one less day of homework assignments, per planning day!

Of course I think most students can handle the homework load they get.

Parents overbook their kids in after school programs like dance, sports, clubs, etc.

Sure, some kids, maybe many, many kids have the drive to do 1,483 things after school. How many of those things include chores – that’s homework too.

But, what happened to the reward system? How about telling your future ballerina or football star that school matters?

Kids need to communicate what’s on their plate and plan. We do it as parents in the big-people’s world, and they’ll be a part of that one day.

Not too long ago, it was proposed that students get paid to attend school and do their school work. Wow!

Now, we’re asking the teacher to be considerate of weekends and holidays. How much of that valuable time will the kid spend in front of a TV, text-messaging friends, e-mailing and playing video games? Please.

I’m wondering: while we’re asking teachers to be so considerate, think I could get a couple over to my house to wash a few windows?

[UPDATE: The Broward County School Board approved today new homework guidelines that urge teachers to assign academically challenging work while also being considerate about not assigning too much homework over religious holidays and weekends.

While the policy is careful not to assign time limits for homework, the district's guidelines suggest 10 minutes of work for each grade level. So a first grader would get an assignment that takes about 10 minutes to finish, while a high school junior's total homework load would take 110 minutes to complete.]

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Elementary School (54), General (185), Politics (18), School Issues (135), Sports (29), Teen (158)

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Will you buy your kids a "Smash-Me Bernie"?

If Bernard Madoff had made off with my life savings, I'm sure I would see him as the devil incarnate.madoff.jpg

But I'm not sure I would want to pass along that anger to my kids. That's why I find the new "Smash-Me Bernie" doll, with a likeness of Madoff dressed as a devil, so disturbing.

The doll, which was unveiled yesterday at the New York Toy Fair, comes with a hammer so investors or anyone else can get out their frustrations on Bernie.

My first impression was that it was anti-Semitic: portraying a Jewish man associated with Jewish money as the devil.

But Andy Rosenkranz, Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, told me the doll is simply "in poor taste."

"There's nothing that brings up the fact that he's Jewish," Rosenkranz said. "However, to advocate violence, even as a joke, is not a good thing."

This joke is clearly intended for adults: It will sell for $99.95. But who would shell out a hundred bucks for a doll like this? It's unlikely Madoff investors will want to invest in the likeness of the man who ruined them.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Toys (15)

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February 17, 2009

Mom on the Go: Weekend plans


It's going to be nippy weekend, with low temps expected in the mid-50s and highs just over 70. But don't let that keep you and rugrats indoors.

Take the knee-high ones to Miami Children's Museum, which has free admission on the third Friday of each month.

Or check out the Fairy Fun at Tequesta's library, where children 3 and older can locate fairies in books, sing songs and create fairy crafts. The 45-minute program starts at 11 a.m. Feb. 21.

Take the hip-high ones to see what it's like in an aquarium at Hollywood's Anne Kolb Nature Center. It'll set you back $1 per person for the Saturday and Sunday tours from 2 - 3 p.m.

And for the ones who are nearly as tall as you and love to skateboard -- check out Deerfield Beach's skate park. Our reporter Liz Doup did a photo-feature on the skate park.


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Teens in Broward County need earlier curfews!

Just a few years ago, I vividly recall seeing the hordes of teen-agers loafing around at Sawgrass Mill's Oasis area, and declaring, "I would never let my teen just go hang out at a mall.''

I felt the same way about the teens loafing at Riverfront complex in Fort Lauderdale. "Who drops their kid off with no money and nothing to do but bother people?'' I would say.

Life has a way of providing answers. Now my son is 13, and it's all become crystal clear to me.

On weekend nights, all the brats of Broward County congregate in public places like movie theaters and malls. Parents drop them off, or the kids ride county buses to get around. Or they walk or ride bikes.

I grew up in rural Iowa, and then rural Oklahoma. So I don't have experience with teenagers in urban settings.

What should their curfew be? Creed is only 13, but when I made him come home at 11:30 p.m. from some kind of carnival that was going on out west, it seemed he was leaving the entire teen population of Broward behind.

What kind of county is this, where kids stay out till midnight or later doing nothing?

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Teen (158)

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February 16, 2009

Practical advice for soon-to-be dads

My son was born a week and a half ago. My feet haven’t quite touched the ground yet, but I’m back at work and still trying to take stock of how much things have changed.

Shortly before Leo was born, I asked readers for a bit of advice. The feedback was good and profound. A reader named Cathy wrote, “There's a good line from a Steve Martin movie...there's no way to be a perfect parent but there are a million ways to be a good one.” I liked that. A personal friend told me to remember “the days are long, but the years are short.” Very, very true.

swaddling.jpgThe two pieces of advice I have are not nearly as profound, but I hope they help more than one dad-to-be out there. Here it goes:

First, learn to swaddle the baby. You’ll mostly need this skill on night two, when the baby realizes his change of environment is permanent. He’ll feel a little more secure if he’s in that snug environment. It’s likely the nurses and other hospital staff will be able to help you with this, but you’ll be proud to be able to do it yourself.

Second, assuming you’re going to be spending a night or two in the hospital with your wife, do yourself one favor. Bring an air mattress. The sofa bed you’ll be sleeping on is not fit for human backs. True, you’ll be so tired those first two nights that you will manage to sleep anyway. And your discomfort is nothing compared with what your roommate will have just endured, but still.

I hope you weren’t expecting anything more profound. I don’t have it, yet. I can tell you that I feel so much closer to my wife. I feel closer to my stepdaughters, too. I don’t share a blood relationship with Kay and Pax, but my son is their brother, and that cements us as a family. From the day I married their mom, I promised Kay and Pax that I would love them as my very own. But how could I have known what that meant? I didn’t have a child of my own until a week and a half ago.

Now I have three, because I understand now what that promise meant.

Everyone is different. I can’t tell you that you will become closer to the members of your household. I can’t tell you that your relationship with your wife will become deeper and more meaningful. That’s not advice. It’s been my privilege to experience, and it is my wish for you.

My advice? Learn to swaddle. And bring an air mattress. Your back will thank you.

POSTED IN: Newborn (39), Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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February 13, 2009

Mom on the Go: A quaint fair

If you want to venture off the zoo/park path this weekend, then check out St. Bernadette Family Festival in Hollywood.

This folksy church fair, which started Thursday, has the usual rides and fair food coupled with retro games such as the bean-bag toss.

The fair is open through Feb. 15 at 7450 Stirling Road. Entry will cost you zip, zilch, zero. Rides are $25 for an all-day pass.

The hours: Friday 6 - 11 p.m.; Saturday from 1 p.m. - midnight followed by a midnight Mass; and Sunday noon - 10 p.m.

For more info, call 954-432-5313.

And if this fair isn't your cup of tea, there's the Coconut Grove Art Festival and the Delray Beach Garlic Festival. See our listing of weekend events, here.


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Hair - need I say more?

Oh boy!

And I do mean oh, Boy!

It’s about The Kid’s hair. He’s got that grooming thing going on now.spike.jpg And, I must say, he looks pretty dapper!

In the morning getting ready for school, we hear him thinking out loud: “Which gel today? The one that makes them want to run their hands through my hair? Which cologne?" Then we hear humming. Water running, straightening the collar; another quick glance in the mirror – lights off and he’s out the door.

"Bye," he calls out with a smile. He heads to the bus stop, a spring in his step. This is one confident and happy guy.

For those totally overwhelmed and baffled parents and teenagers, KidsHealth offers lots of tips and advice on personal hygiene.

In the meantime, we’re going to have to rearrange a few shelves in the bathroom, to make room for his stuff.

What fashion raves and grooming obsessions is your teen going through?

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Fitness (21), General (185), Health (111), Pre-Teen (57), Teen (158)

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February 12, 2009

Entering the world of pre-kindergarten

We're starting to talk up school to my daughter, Ana Isabel, who turns four in August. Just in time to enroll in pre-kindergarten.


Aside from getting her ready, it seems her parents have a lot to do to get ready. I have to take a day off of work so that we can go get a Voluntary Pre-K voucher. Then we need to bring it to our first choice of three programs that we've think fit Ana best out of hundreds in the county. Of course, we whittled the list down by asking for recommendations from friends.

After that, we wait and see if she gets in. If not, then we have to take the voucher to our second choice and pray she gets in there.

My wife already has gotten her medical records. But Ana won't have all her shots until after her birthday, which gives us very little time to get that information to whatever program has room for her. And we haven't even gotten to school supplies yet.

This is just the beginning, I know. But to me, it seems like we're not ready. I'm not ready! Ana just got here and already she's off to school.

Check the Broward County Early Learning Coalition for a list of all the sites and information on voluntary pre-K, which by the way, is paid for by the government.

POSTED IN: Luis Perez (32), Pre-K (25), School Issues (135), Toddler (127)

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February 11, 2009

Does the child exist who does not need braces?

My first daughter is done with her braces. My second child is about to enter "Phase 2."braces.jpg

I am told Number Three will need braces too. It makes me wonder: Is there a child in America today who does not need braces?

I don't know anyone who has visited an orthodontist for a consultation and been told that their kids' teeth are fine. Every kid needs lots of metal over a course of several years, with some combination of braces, retainer, brackets, rubber bands, spacers, head gear and tooth removal.

I went to the Web site of the American Association of Orthodontists and learned that imperfect teeth are not only unsightly but can cause tooth decay and are more prone to break in an accident.

I don't deny this, but I also can't deny the thousands of dollars it costs for each kid. So I'm wondering: Is there anyone out there who did not have orthodonture and your teeth are fine? And is there a kid out there who went to a South Florida orthodontist for a consultation and was told there was no need to come back?

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

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February 10, 2009

Bowlegged baby

Our adorable 15-month-old baby, Rowan, has bowlegs. We were at the pediatrician yesterday for his checkup, and I was warned it will get worse for the next three months. Then again, I shouldn’t say “worse” because, as I’ve learned, there’s nothing wrong with his legs.

Once upon a time, parents were alarmed by this situation. Special shoes, braces -- whatever. But that’s no longer the response. As the Web site “Pregnancy & Baby” explains, a “bent” tibia could be connected to the way the baby was curled up inside the uterus during pregnancy. But that explanation doesn’t convince me. If that were the case, why wouldn’t every baby have bent legs? Rowan is also in the 90th percentile for height and right up there for weight as well, factors I would put my non-MD money on.

Regardless, it is interesting that we’ve dispensed with such draconian responses to normal childhood conditions.

POSTED IN: Health (111), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Teaching a kid to ride a bike is for Supermoms

At some point, your child's inability to ride a bike becomes a reflection not of his or her state of physical ability, but on your parenting.bikeride.jpg

So I've been thinking, Lily can't ride a bike yet. What is wrong with me? (See my previous post, topic Lily can't swim yet.)

She's actually very physically able. She just got selected for the "All Star'' soccer team. And she's a great rope jumper, as I've shown you before.

But when you mix in her fears, you start to realize why she is headed toward age 7 and is still scared to ride a bike EVEN WITH TRAINING WHEELS.

OK, add in a bad experience (a previous effort ended up with her splayed on the rocky landscape feature of my next door neighbor.)

But every time I see a young Olympic contender, I know how much the parents had to do with that. Because in the end, it's the parent's choice to push a child to learn some difficult physical task, like exceling in gymnastics, becoming a superstar tennis player, or just riding a bike.

I work. I don't have every afternoon to select what I want to play with my kids.

On the weekends, in our little bit of spare time, I can either take Lily to the library, which I did this weekend and she loved, or take her to the pond to feed stale bread to the ducks, which I also did this weekend and she loved. Or I can spend a bunch of time trying to make her learn something physical that's hard, like riding a bike.

And you start to wonder: Does everyone in the world really have to know how to ride a bike? Can't she ride one of those giant tricycles?

What finally pushed me over the edge was a little kid, maybe 3 at the most, whom I saw riding his bike without training wheels at Plantation's Central Park this weekend. I was shamed by a toddler!

So I told her she was going to learn, like it or not. She said she didn't want to, that "it's not my thing.'' But I bribed her with a new Lil' Petshop figure if she could do it, and she did. Sort of.

It did not come easy. It wasn't one of those things where the kid is riding along fine and you had let go five minutes ago.

No, she's going to need practice. Her balance is not perfect, is really the nicest way I can put it.

And she's afraid. She walked up to a tree and banged her head on it to see what it would feel like if she crashes.

I looked up some websites about bike riding. Apparently having a kid for whom bike riding doesn't come naturally is rare. The instructions on some of these links don't take into account that some of us can't run as fast as we can while bending down holding onto the seat of a tiny bike, for 20 minutes.

Nevertheless, here they are if you want help:

How to teach a kid to ride a bike

Teaching kids to ride

Common mistakes in teaching a kid to ride (including pretending you're holding on, when you're not, which I actually thought was a great idea -- oops)

An interesting alternative method of teaching that involves taking the pedals off ... Um, I already told you I work, I don't have time to dismantle a bicycle but maybe it'll work for you.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160), Family Fitness (21)

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February 9, 2009

Mom on the Go: The 411 on money-saver

I have the saddest cell phone plan in the land: No text messaging, no free calls. So I was plum happy to find a money-saver for when I needed to call for information.

Google is offering a free 411 service and it works like a charm. At least it did for me on Friday, when I wanted to place a takeout order for shrimp fried rice.

I dialed the Google number, and told the Dude (an automated voice) the name of the restaurant, city and state of its location. I had part of the name wrong, but Dude corrected me and then connected me. google.jpg


Save this number in your cell, and let me know how it works for you. Of course, normal cell phone fees apply if you have a limited cell phone plan as I do.

The number: 800 GOOG 411 (that's 800-466-4411).


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Choosing baby's name

Welcome to the world, Leo. Nice to finally see you.

LeoEnriOlm.jpgI don't have much time to write today. I have the week off work to take care of the newborn. That's him. Leonardo Enrique Olmeda.

My wife and I took our time settling on the first name. I insisted on his middle name, in honor of my late stepfather Jose Enrique Girona. My dad and namesake, who lives in the Bronx, is content to pass on the last name (another grandson has his name).

Two things I like about Leo (the name). Just like his dad, Leo is a pizza-loving, crime fighting turtle. And his initials spell out his name. That is so cool. My initials spell out Superman's deity. Not so cool.

How'd you pick your baby's name?

POSTED IN: Newborn (39), Rafael Olmeda (59)

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February 6, 2009

Mom on the Go: Indoor activities

If it's too cold to head to the park this weekend, indulge in these home-made activities:

Dust off the classics

Teach the kids a thing or two about real games. Pull out the Parcheesi, Sorry or Bogle. Replace missing game pieces with buttons or coins.

Knock 'em down

Set up a bowling lane in the hallway. For pins, use empty liter bottles or soda cans and get ready to strike.

Hide in plain view

This game is from and is best played with young children. While everyone else is out of the room, one player places the object somewhere unexpected but in plain sight. The other players then return to search. Whenever a player sees the object, he sits down where he is -- being careful not to give away the object's location.

Camp out

Create a forest in the living room with all the container plants brought indoors earlier this week to avoid the cold snap. Plop down sleeping bags, or open the pop-up tent. Have S'mores and Vienna sausages, or get a special delivery from the local pizza joint.

See the big picture

Choose a DVD that's a family favorite, or find something on Comcast's On Demand channel. Designate a person to man the ticket booth, concession stand (aka microwave) and theater entry. Then settle down on the sofa, floor or ottoman for a great flick.


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Parents really do make all the difference in the World

I can vouch for the influence parents have over their communities.

When I was way too young to remember, my dad was on the front lines of the civil rights movement. He represented white people pushing for change, he represented his faith as a Presbyterian minister, and ultimately, he simply represented his family.

Recently, one of my brothers found this clip about him from an old 1961 edition of Jet Magazine. He was quoted, “Let me tell you of several incidents when Jesus was caught in the act of sitting-in,” said Henry Warren Kunce. I cannot begin to express my pride!

So it’s not a stretch for me to see the value in National Parent Leadership Month that honors and celebrates parents for the vital roles they fill in their homes and communities.

But, not everyone has the opportunity to take on a mission like the one my dad did.

Still, child%20and%20parents.jpgother issues are just as noble, like Prevent Child Abuse Florida. For many, it’s a cause way too close to home.

The organization engages parent leaders in developing program strategies and public awareness materials through its Florida Circle of Parents program, to prevent child abuse and neglect through mutual, self-help parent support groups.

Based on shared leadership, mutual respect, and inclusiveness, the free, confidential and non-judgmental groups are open to anyone in a parenting or care-giving role.

There are 54 groups throughout Florida.

Find a Florida Circle of Parents support group in your area.


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February 4, 2009

Costco, where art thou?

I knew this would happen. We’ve been to Costco once since joining in October.

Let me explain. I posted in the fall about my frustration with repeated trips to the grocery store. Several people talked up the benefits of Costco in response, online and in the office. So we headed to a Costco not long thereafter and joined up. We spent several hundred dollars on all those oversized items. It seemed like a good decision.

And I think it was. But we haven’t been back since. I thought of this when I saw the remaining two items from that trip: a huge container of olive oil and the last of the almonds.

I suppose it’s the old dictum: you’ve got to spend money to save money. In the meantime, I’ll just run out to Publix. But tell me, how often do you go to Costco?

POSTED IN: Food (56), Matthew Strozier (59)

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Mom on the Go: How to get dinner to the table fast

At the end of a long work day, the last thing I want to do is make a nutrious meal for my 23 month old.

On those days, I usually rely on party foods to make a meal without making a meal. The crackers come out its sleeve, the block of cheddar gets sliced and topped with pre-sliced, bagged apples.

But the other day I rediscovered how to get a fuller meal to the table without lifting a finger: have hubbie make a casserole.

We've eaten severals meals from the one-dish wonder of chicken/rice/broccoli. And I've committed myself to making TWO casseroles this weekend to serve during the week when energy is in short supply.

If you want the recipe, click below. Otherwise, share a link to your favorite casserole recipe for other time-strapped parents to use.

Note: This recipe is for who are at ease in front of the stove.


1 lb chicken
1 cup uncooked rice
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
2 cups shredded cheese (reserve some for topping)
10 crumbled crackers
3 tablespoons softened butter for buttering casserole dish

Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until done on the stovetop or in the oven. Prepare rice with chicken broth. Cook broccoli to taste.

Dice the cooked chicken and mix with rice, broccoli and 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Top with cheese and crumbled crackers. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Hubbie recommends checking halfway through the cooking process for dryness. Add a little chicken broth to mixture if dish appears dried out.

Have the kids set the table and dinner is served!


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Should we glorify a single mother of 14?

Like the rest of the country, I am reading every word about Nadya Suleman, the California mother of six who just gave birth to octuplets.
The lurid details continue to fascinate: She is single. The first six were also born by artificial insemination. One of the first six is autistic. Her mother is refusing to help her anymore.

But for me, the key questions are: How could the doctors allow this? Who is paying for the babies' hospital care (taxpayers?)? Who will support these children financially (a book deal)?

At the end of this report is a good quote from a Parkland psychologist, Judith Horowitz, who works on fertility issues: "This woman could not comprehend the ramifications of having eight children of the same age at the same time...After Pampers stops delivering the free diapers, then what?"

POSTED IN: Child Care (26), Family Issues (231), Lois Solomon (211), Pregnancy (31)

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February 3, 2009

Who are the best role models for South Florida children?

Michael Phelps, what have you done?

Phelps1.bmpSomething dumb, and he admits that. I do find it strange that someone can take marijuana and still perform as well as Phelps did at the Olympics. As Robin Williams said, it’s not exactly known as a performance enhancing drug (caution: link contains profanity): one thing you do not feel after smoking marijuana is empowered.

But the Phelps fiasco got me to thinking: who counts as a role model anymore? Granted, no one’s perfect, but still. Can’t read about the good teachers without first having to wade through too many stories about the bad ones.

Then it hit me: the best role models, the ones that really matter in the long run, are usually unsung. Sure, our girls would probably rattle off names of people they admire, such as Chris Brown and the Jonas Brothers, because these are people who put their talent to use and got rich and famous for it.

Sure, I can think of some famous role models I've looked up to. But ask me who really mattered, make me really think about it, and I'll probably come up with names you've never encountered. Like Herman Cohn, my seventh grade homeroom and history teacher at John Phillip Sousa Junior High School in the Bronx. He was the first to teach me to question the stories I was told. "Prove it," he demanded. The advice always came in handy.

I'll bet there are role models like Mr. Cohn among us, people who inspire, people who dedicate their time and energy and devotion to just causes, and give our kids an example to admire. No one's perfect. But still.

Who are the role models among us?

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda (59)

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February 2, 2009

Give your advice to a first-time dad

Well, here goes everything.

If all goes according to plan, the next time I report in this space, I will be a biological father for the first time.

caveman1.jpgI've been a stepfather for the last 19 months, but it's not the same thing. I wasn't there for their births, for their first words or their first steps. I didn't see them off to school for the first time ever, and I missed maybe 100 dance recitals and performances. I've done what I can, screwed up plenty, tried to understand and tried to get them to understand.

I feel as though I have evolved so much in the last two years. I'm no longer the clueless bachelor stepping into fatherhood, but neither do I feel ready for what's coming in just three days. This tiny little boy is about to show up and change everything I've ever known.

Can I confess to being nervous? (Could I possibly deny it?)

One of the things I hear all the time from parents is that they wish they knew then what they know now: about parenthood, about being a father, about life, about children, about what makes a marriage strong...

Well, you can't go back in time, but you can throw a little bit of your hard-earned wisdom in my direction.

So let me have it. Give me one piece of advice, a piece of advice you wish you'd had before you became a dad for the first time.

POSTED IN: Newborn (39), Pregnancy (31), Rafael Olmeda (59), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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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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