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October 30, 2009

How to spy on your kids without getting caught

Recently, an old friend posted something on Facebook asking for advice. Her son was turning 13, and she wasn't sure what to expect.

All the helpful comments were about communication. Particularly, about how this was an age when boys clam up. Information is on a one-way highway right through those adolescent ears. Blah blah blah.

Now that my own son is almost 15 and a freshman in high school, I've had to devise ways other than actual talking to seek information. And I still feel extremely uninformed. So if you have ideas, please share.

First, employ a spy. A younger sister can be effective, if she's paying attention and willing to divulge. But you can't abuse the relationship. Mostly, I've gotten tidbits he would find simply embarrassing. Nothing truly valuable. Like the time some girls yelled across a playground that they thought he was "hot." Whatever.

Second, the surreptitious backpack search. I was one of those parents who kept all the little reports from daycare about diaper changes. I diligently went through the backpack every single day through elementary school. I read all the school and PTA newsletters. I talked to or emailed teachers. I was informed. Now, I know nothing. It was weeks after the fact that I learned that school pictures had already been taken and the deadline for buying pictures long past. Somehow, hmmm, the form had vanished. So when I have a moment alone in the house, and the backpack just happens to be sitting out, well....I'm not above a little search. Mostly, I've found crumbs and empty bags of chips. Sometimes, the lack of evidence is very comforting.

Electronic surveillance. This one is tricky, because you can be caught. If you read his text messages, he'll know. My colleague Brittany Wallman mulled this option recently when her son's cell phone was taken away from him in school. My feeling: She had a perfect excuse to invade her son's privacy as part of his "punishment." But you can check your phone bill online to determine exactly what time of day your child is sending and receiving texts. My son still hasn't figured out how I knew those girls were texting him at 2 in the morning!

Online grade books. This is the club hanging over his head. If his grade falls below my comfort level, I get an email. And he knows that if a grade falls, his computer privileges will be severely restricted.

Facebook. He does not want to be my friend. And I can kinda understand that. I don't like it, but he hasn't given me a reason to go to battle over it. But...he's friends with his 20something cousins -- they'll be on the watch. And, I am friends with one of his friends, so sometimes I get a little glimpse into his world. Lemme tell you, it's pretty lame.

The school website. My son's school posts the daily announcements, and they are a gold mine of information about clubs he doesn't want to join and tryouts he doesn't want to go to. At least it gives me something to talk to him about. Not that he's listening.


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October 29, 2009

When to wean your teen off Halloween?

GoreHalloween2.jpgWhen are kids too old to trick-or-treat?

Seriously. I want to know. For religious reasons, I never participated in the annual extortion ritual that consisted of knocking on neighbors' doors and threatening them with mischief unless they handed over a Mars Bar or a Zagnut. So I never had to face the prospect that one day, I would be too old to do it.

But for the last few years, I've had the pleasure of tagging along with my wife while my stepdaughters have charmed the candy out of their neighbors. It's cute, but I'm starting to wonder whether they're getting a little old for this. They are 16 and 14, after all.

Have we reached the point in their lives when we should start planning Halloween parties instead of falling back on a ritual meant for children?

Are you as charmed by teenagers at your door as you are by the little ones? At what point do you feel more like you're being mugged than anything else? [And don't get me started on those who come to the door without a costume: you're not a trick-or-treater, you're a home invasion robber].

This isn't exactly related to my overall question, but I have to acknowledge the efforts of some churches to engage in a bit of counterprogramming on Halloween night. I grew up in a household that sapped the fun out of Halloween but didn't replace it with anything. It was just: "don't do it!" These churches don't ban the Halloween you know and love. But rather than say "don't do it," they say "do this instead."

Maybe such an event would be a good way to wean a teen off Halloween. I won't use this space to plug the activities of a particular church, but if you know of any counterprogramming, feel free to leave a comment.

Maybe I'll wait until next year to suggest a different Halloween activity. Why spoil the fun? Besides, in another year or two, our infant will be ready to start extorting the neighbors for a Watchamacallit.

And he can bring his sisters along, too.

[By the way, if you're wondering, those aren't our kids in the photo: it's Al and Tipper Gore in a 1998 AP photo].

POSTED IN: Holidays (49), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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October 28, 2009

Drunk Moms driving with kids. How have we come to this?

Here we go again. For the second time this month, a mother in South Florida has been caught passed-out drunk in her car with her kids. Can anyone fathom how a person's life could come to this? Really!?!?! Is getting loaded more important than your child's safety? Something is WAY out of whack here.

The first case was back on October 2 when Brenda Lee Duclos was found passed out behind the wheel of her minivan in her own driveway. The worst part is after she passed out, her 3-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter got out of the car and started wandering the neighborhood barefoot. The cops found FOUR empty bottles of wine in the car. When the police talked to the kids, one of them said "Mommy is drunk". Nice.

The most recent incident happened on Saturday when Joanne Martinez was found passed out in her boyfriend's SUV after drinking tequila at a family party Friday night. She apparently tried to drive home with 3 kids in the car, her 4 and 6 year-old children as well as her 7-year-old nephew. She was so drunk that when the cops woke her up she vomited. Who at this "family party" thought it was a good idea to let her drive?!?! Honestly?!

Maybe a MADD or an AA meeting complete with photos of bloody car wrecks would sober them up? Maybe the fact that the CDC reported that 68 percent of children killed in alcohol-related crashes in the United States between 1997 and 2002 were riding in the same vehicle as the drinking driver would be a wake up call?

I don't know whether to be sad, pissed off, or just plain disappointed that this seems to be happening more and more. Obviously both of these women have serious drinking problems, and that is nothing to make fun of. I hope for the sake of their children that they get the help they need.


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Should kids join their parents at school protests?

Now that the Palm Beach County school superintendent is giving principals leeway in the district's testing program and protests have quieted down, I've been wondering what effect the hostilities have had on our kids.

At several events organized by angry parents, kids were carrying signs and chanting slogans against the school system. I couldn't help but think they were learning that this is a proper way to act toward adults, such as teachers and principals, to whom they have been taught to show deference at all times.

The kids still have to go back to school and take a lot of tests. What will their attitude be? How they will feel about their teachers who have to give the exams? About school in general?

It's impossible for us not to pass along our beliefs to our kids. I'm just wondering whether they should attend rallies against a system they still have to participate in when the protests are over.

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

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October 27, 2009

Where are the brother's keepers?

A Coral Springs teen is accused in the stabbing death of his younger brother.

This mind-boggler comes nearly two weeks after five Deerfield Beach boys were arrested in connection with the burning of a 15-year-old schoolmate.

Who's watching our boys? Fellow blogger Gretchen Day-Bryant talked with a Harvard clinical psychologist about the disconnect between society and boy's development.

A Miami Herald story confirmed what many of us assumed in the case of the Deerfield Beach incident: the boys came from troubled family lives.

Decent people have emerged from wretched childhoods. So what's different now? Better yet, what can you commit to doing starting today to intervene in a young boy's life?


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October 25, 2009

When should kids start using deodorant?

Remember when true body odor didn’t hit until you were a teenager? It seem like those days are gone.

The other day my aunt came over and discreetly asked me if I had introduced my daughter to deodorant.

At six? Isn’t that too early? I thought.

But after raising this sensitive topic to some of my friends with young children, I learned that many of them have scoured the Internet looking for some form of child-friendly deodorant for their five and six-years-olds.

Some said they wanted to ask other parents about how they dealt with this prickly issue, but wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.

I know enough to know that there have been reports of health risks linked to using deodorant too early. Some experts say don’t do it, and to instead have your child bathe more often, wear loose fitting clothes and use some form of talc powder.

Some of my "organic only" parents said they have their children using deodorants from the health food stores that tend to have fewer chemicals. But is that harmless?

While no one wants their child to stand out because of their odor, we need to start taking a look at why our young children are developing so fast. Something is not right about having to introduce a first grader to deodorant.

What’s next, deodorant for toddlers?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Georgia East (44), Health (111)

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October 23, 2009

Every parent's nightmare. Are there lessons from Somer Thompson tragedy?

For those of you not familiar with this case, Somer Thompson is the 7 year old girl who disappeared while walking home from school on Monday. After a massive search and a nationwide outcry, her body was found yesterday in a Georgia landfill near the Florida state line.

The police report states that she got into a fight with another girl at school. While walking home with her sisters and some friends, she ran off ahead of the group and was never seen again. Imagine how they're feeling?

Reports are saying that the family lived near 161 registered sex offenders. Do you know how many live in your neighborhood? You should. Check the state database here.

Is knowing where the sex offenders in your neighborhood live enough? The latest reports say that none of the offenders in Somer's neighborhood are suspects, so what as parents can we do to protect our children?

Personally, I have experienced the loss of children close to me. My cousin recently gave birth to twins, and due to complications one of the girls did not survive. Listening to her speak at her daughter's funeral was one of the most moving events of my life. No matter how tragic that was, there is no way to compare that incident to the rage this family must been feeling towards the person responsible for murdering their daughter.

As I am writing this post, the reports are saying that the investigation is focusing on a vacant house in the neighborhood where she vanished. The police are also saying that they know how she died, but are not releasing that information yet.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR CHILDREN SAFE! Honestly, I am at a loss.

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Somer, and hope that the person who committed this horrible act is brought to justice swiftly.


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October 21, 2009

Think twice about your actions. Your kids are watching.

I saw this on a friend's Facebook page yesterday and it gave me goosebumps.

I like to think that I set a good example. My daughter will scold strangers who litter (always puts a smile on my face), but it is easy to get caught up in our daily routines and forget how closely our kids are watching.

Please pass this on and share it with other parents. Very powerful message.


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The constant struggle that is potty training

Two down and one to go, or so we thought.

My wife and I were hoping that we would be one step closer to becoming a diaper-free household, but our little man has other plans.

Despite the fact that we have purchased the full array of Thomas the Tank Engine and Disney undies, he still will regress to "poo poo diaper!" when the chips are down.

We have watched all the videos. We have the Elmo doll that comes with his own potty chair and sings. We've made the potty chart and rewarded him with gifts when he does his business on the throne. We have gone through all of the same steps that were successful with our first child, but as we all know — no two kids are the same.

Some days are great, but lately he really seems to be fighting the transition. We don't want to pressure him and risk that he'll fear the process, but at the same time we want to keep the training moving forward.

All of the experts say to be patient and maybe take a break from training, but I'm not sure I buy into that. We're ready to try just about anything. Anyone have any suggestions? Anyone try this "3 Day Potty Training" method? Share your stories with us.


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Finally, a full week of school!

We are in the 10th week of school in Palm Beach County, but it's only the third full week.calendar.jpg

There has been something to interrupt almost every week, including four teacher work days/professional development days/"learning team meeting" days.

I have always wondered if teachers are actually working on these days. I once saw one of my daughter's former teachers getting a manicure on one of these "work days."

These days off are a big disruption for working parents. Looking ahead at the coming weeks, there will be another "teacher work day" on Wednesday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day. Ugh.

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

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October 20, 2009

Fun, easy activity for playtime or gifts: The amazing crayon ball!


Lily and I found a cool activity in the latest Real Simple magazine. It might be the only thing in my house that Martha Stewart would want to take credit for.

It was easy, and as crafts go, quite fun.

Assuming you use old crayons that you have lying around all over the place, including all those red, blue and greens the restaurants give you to color menus with, you only have to purchase a styrofoam ball for this craft.

I'm also assuming you have some kids' paint lying around.

You buy a round styrofoam ball at the crafts store. It's about $6. (I know, overpriced. I was surprised.) Cut the bottom so it's level. Paint it. Let it dry. Stick crayons into it.

The one I show you in the photograph above isn't quite done. You're supposed to stick crayons all over the ball, but we stopped mid-way because all the rest of the crayons we had around here were broken.

It's a very cool way to store crayons, and I think it looks pretty great. If you used all new materials, I think this would make an awesome kid gift, packaged with a new coloring book.

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

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October 19, 2009

No more washing your kid's mouth out with soap?

I personally know what Ivory Soap tastes like, after saying the word "crap'' when I was about 8 years old.

My mother actually made good on what probably started out in this world as just a weird threat.

Well now I guess we have to keep the bar of soap in the soap dish. There will be no using it to "clean out'' your child's dirty mouth. Someone might consider it child abuse.

Check out this story from our sister paper, the Orlando Sentinel. The couple in question had their kids taken away, and were charged with child abuse and child neglect.

I found it kind of amusing that when I typed in "washing mouth out with soap'' into Google, the second choice was "washing mouth out with soap abuse.''

I put this in the same category with schools doing away with paddling. (Click here for my thoughts on that.)

We are raising a Spoiled Generation.

I'll bet if I search for "spanking your child,'' I'll also be offered links about "spanking your child -- ABUSE.''

These disciplinary actions certainly lose effectiveness if afterwards, the police show up and put you in jail, and your kids go eat ice cream in a foster home.

This nonsense has to stop.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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Why do celebrity single moms get so much attention?

I know celebrities in general get a lot of attention. But I’ve noticed these days when a celebrity mom declares she’s a single mom she’s elevated to another level of stardom.

Kate Gosselin from "Jon & Kate Plus 8" seem to be on every single-mom blog these days. There are blogs out there strictly dedicated to the celebrity single mom and their trials and tribulations.


I’m sorry, but while I know being a single mom is not easy for anyone, I don’t see why celebrity single moms should be given any special accolades. Most of these celebrities have a team of support staff helping them raise their kids.

They don’t have to worry at 5:30 when they’re asked to work late who will pick up their child from aftercare at school. They don’t have to stress about whether there’s enough in their budget to keep their children at a good daycare.

When I think of inspirational single moms, I think of a young mom I met recently, who works the early morning shift at my local supermarket. She has to get her nine-year-old son and her two-year-old daughter up everyday by 5 a.m. and shuttle one to preschool and the other to her sister's house before traveling almost an hour to work.

I think of all my single moms, who despite the work/life challenges manage to put in a full day at work, volunteer at their child’s school when they can and make a decent dinner at night, with no dad or partner to help.

I think of my single moms doing it day in and day out, without a t.v. crew or gang of paparazzi capturing their every step.

While I’m happy that celeb single moms are helping to shed the stigma sometimes associated with being a single mom, I’m not looking their way for inspiration.

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44), Single moms (14)

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October 16, 2009

'Giving can be a way of life': Out of the mouths of babes

The Pantry of Broward has teamed up with three Broward County schools in an effort to teach children the benefits of philanthropy.

Penny Loughan, the CEO of the Fort Lauderdale outfit that provides food and assistance to low-income seniors, offers this update on the students' progress at two of the three schools participating:

St. Mark's Episcopal School has a good friend in Daniel D. who, with his mom and his wagon, went door-to-door explaining the mission of The Pantry of Broward and collecting food.

He collected more than 170 cans of food, and the students of the Fort Lauderdale school delivered a bus load of donated food this week to The Pantry.

Nearly a month into the campaign, here's what some St. Mark’s students have to say:

Giving reminds me of how lucky I am, said Paige V.

Giving not only helps others; it makes me a better person, said Rachel K.

Everyone has right to eat; I am glad I learned to help, said Alessandra L.

Helping those in need is putting out love in action, said Alex M.

Giving can be a way of life, said Jordan D.

While across town, Pine Crest School put assembled cardboard boxes of groceries at The Pantry. On hand were: Sara, Danielle, Jen, Naimonu, Daniel, David, Matt, Alex, Ryan, Jake, Alexander and Kyle.

PineCrest%20Students.jpgPine Crest School seniors are also planning a Peanut-butter-and-jelly drive after hearing from Bruce Harris, The Pantry's development director about the serious issues facing seniors on low, fixed incomes and grandparents raising their grandchildren.


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What's happening to our boys?

For boys, it's all about "connections, connections, connections," said Dr. William Pollack.

Pollack, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School and director of the Centers for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital in Boston, has been studying and working with boys for years. He's written a series of Real Boys books, and consults with the U.S. Department of Education.

I sought him out to help me understand what happened to Michael Brewer, the 15-year-old from Deerfield Beach who was doused with rubbing alcohol and set on fire. Five schoolmates have been arrested in the case.

Pollack can't speak to the specifics of the case, but I asked him what's going on in general with boys this age. He calls it the "boy code."

As boys hit their teens, they naturally begin to pull away. And society pushes them farther. The message boys get is that real boys have to stand on their own two feet. So they feel left alone to solve their problems and deal with their pain.

"Kids are bathed in it, and boys soak it up," he said. "Boys are pushed away, told they aren’t real boys if they go for help."

By middle school, boys in particular feel disconnected from adults at school and at home, he said. They form groups partly to make up for the loss of adult connections. But while they yearn for adult connections, he said, they are afraid to ask because of the boy code.

So what can a parent do? "Just be there for them."

It sounds rather passive, but a parent can make connections, he said, by having meals together and simply being present. Remember, a boy isn't going to tell you how much he craves your attention.

My own 14-year-old son has told me to leave him alone plenty of times. Pollack said when a boy says "get away from me," that doesn't mean he wants you out of his life entirely. Acknowledge that you understand he needs his space. "Tell him you don't like the way he's asking, but OK, I'll be here." They have to feel safe to talk without fear of recrimination.

That reminds me of my brother-in-law. When his kids were teens, he would routinely just sit in the living room and read a book. Usually the kids rushed past him, but he was there for them on those occasions when they needed to stop and talk. And that was worth all the sitting.

And what can schools do? They can create an environment in which kids feel comfortable talking to adults. Anti-bullying programs will work, Pollack said, if they are "pro-social," or preventative. But the adults have to buy in, as well.

One technique Pollack uses when working with schools is to put the teachers and administrators into small groups. Each child is listed. The adults put a green mark by each child who has some kind of connection with one of the adults. They identify those who are worrisome with a red mark. And those children who don't have any kind of connection with an adult are left blank.

The next step is to find adults who, the very next day, will reach out to those kids who need a positive adult connection. This takes time and effort, but a school can reinvent itself.

"It's ultimately the human connection that will make a difference," Pollack said.


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October 15, 2009

Balloon Boy: How could it happen?

PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally written as the drama of "balloon boy" was still unfolding on television. The boy had not yet been found and had not yet made the now notorious statement that this was done "for a show." I think it's unfortunate that what first seemed like a teachable moment about the role of vigilance in child safety -- the subject of this post -- has degenerated into a spectacle over whether we've all been had by an elaborate hoax. But that's life.

A lot of us watching the riveting coverage of the Colorado balloon flight are asking ourselves how something like this could happen.

BalloonBoy.jpgThe answer: very easily. Too easily. And here in South Florida, that should come as no suprise.

Only with us, it's not 6-year-olds in experimental balloons. It's toddlers in backyard swimming pools, coupled with parents going about their daily lives and looking away for just one second.

Tragedy strikes when responsible people aren't looking. And while it's tempting to cast blame on parents who look away, it is unrealistic to expect anyone to have both eyes on all children at all times.

So while we shake our heads in disbelief at a little boy climbing into a balloon and untying the rope, let's not pretend this is much different than the kinds of tragic stories we read about all too often.

Any close calls in your family while you looked away?

UPDATE: The kid's been found alive at his home, a fortunate ending to a fascinating story. And thankfully, we can learn the lesson of constant vigilance without having to hear a eulogy.

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

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Beyond the ABCs: 12 easy ways to improve your child's literacy

Maggie Cary, a national board certified teacher has been an educator for more than 17 years. She is certified in secondary education and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education.

guestblog-mcary%5B1%5D.jpgOver the years she has mentored countless teachers and advised hundreds of parents. Cary has taught children from preschool through high school. She also offers classroom advice on website Classroom Talk.

She is the mother of two young adults and lives and teaches in Florida.

A good education is essential for your child’s academic success. There are millions of ways in which you can help your child’s literacy development, but here are 12 things to do with your kindergarten or first-grade child.

1. Go to the library often and let your child pick the books that interest him and read together for at least 30 minutes a day.

2. Do a “picture walk” before you read a book. Go through the pictures page by page and talk about what is probably happening in the story. Use the illustrations in a book to help decode the text. Discuss your child’s predictions as you follow up by reading together.

3. Talk about the beginning, middle and ends of books you read as well as the characters and setting.

4. Ask questions about books that you read aloud to see if your child comprehends. Discuss and explain.

5. Read lots of nursery rhymes (to help develop phonemic awareness) and predictable stories.

6. Encourage your child to retell favorite stories to you using puppets or dolls.

7. Help your child learn to identify letters and their sounds.

8. Make flash cards of easy basic “sight words” (the, go, like, can, we, went, etc.) and look for them in books.

9. Make a game of reading environmental print (fast food restaurant names, grocery stores, food labels, gas station names, street signs, etc.).

10. Help your child label pictures with words that you sound out together.

11. Write grocery lists together.

12. Help your child make mini-story booklets. Start by using three pieces of paper, one page each for the beginning, the middle and the end.


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October 14, 2009

Helping to feed minds and stomachs: The Pantry's Philanthropy Project

The Pantry of Broward has teamed up with three Broward County schools in an effort to teach children the benefits of philanthropy.

Penny Loughan, the CEO of the Fort Lauderdale outfit that provides food and assistance to low-income seniors, offers this update on the students' progress and welcomes the third school, Pine Crest School:

After learning of the philanthropy project that teams students from St. Mark’s Episcopal School and Coral Glades High School with The Pantry, a group of 20 seniors from Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale will visit the food center to pack groceries and prepare deliveries to the Broward County seniors that The Pantry serves.

The project is being spearheaded by students Wendi O. and Lauren H. and moderated by Ms. Birdie, senior class advisor, and Ms. Doolittle, student council advisor.

St. Mark’s students find many living on the edge

St%20Marks%20Students_Packing%20Food%20Boxes.jpgOn Oct. 6, seventh- and eighth-grade members of St. Mark’s Senior Student Council and a group of fourth-graders spent time at The Pantry. They filled pasta bags, packed soap and vegetables into boxes. They met with clients and helped carry boxes of food to the seniors' cars.

It was clear to The Pantry staff that this hands-on experience was an eye opener for the students and that the connection between lessons taught by St. Mark’s faculty and the reality of The Pantry: That many people are hungry and living on the edge.

St. Mark’s parent’s association is getting behind the food drive as well!

(Pictured: St. Mark's students Jake G., and Warren W.)


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Boys and violence: What do we do now?

Michael Brewer lies in excruciating pain at Jackson Memorial with second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body. He is 15.

Five other boys have been arrested for dousing him with rubbing alcohol and setting him on fire. Four are 15, one is a 13-year-old sibling.

And now we condemn – the boys, the parents and the culture that bred such heinous behavior. Where were the parents? Why are 15-year-olds in seventh grade? The bully – how did he get that way? There are so many troubling questions about this horrible situation, it’s almost paralyzing.

A lot has been written about the “boy crisis” in America, as well as the inevitable “myth of the boy crisis.” But I don’t know if this incident should be reduced to an academic discussion.

My only real question is: Where are the safety nets? Where are the after-school programs for kids with a variety of interests? Sure, there are sports – but only for those kids who are superior athletes. What about the vast majority of kids? What’s out there for them? I’m really curious …if you know, please comment.

The Broward schools have an aggressive anti-bullying agenda . Do these programs work? Are there other intervention programs that actually succeed?

And what’s out there for parents who may be struggling under the responsibility, who maybe don’t know how to deal with boys in crisis, how to teach right from wrong. What’s out there for them?

At a time when budgets are being cut across the board, when advocacy groups are struggling, this should be a wake-up call that as a community, we have a grave responsibility to address some of these questions.

What’s your suggestion?


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Can Chris Rock help me understand my kids' "black hair"?

Chris Rock’s new movie “Good Hair” about African-American women and their hair is on my must-see list. It could provide me insights into my biracial children. They are boys, but I see possibilities. The movie follows Rock as he tries to answer his daughter's question: "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"

First things first: I’m white, my wife is black. With that context, we can proceed.

My mother-in-law is visiting for two weeks. My wife is away on business and she is helping me care for the boys, ages 2 and 3. Naturally, she’s had lots of questions about the boys’ care – what they eat, wear and need for school. I had answers for everything – except one.

“What should I do with Alexander’s hair?”

Good question.

I searched for some shred of information about caring for his thick curly hair. It is awesome hair, but a total mystery to me. My only curl is a cowlick.

“I think there’s something in the bathroom…”

I stopped.

“OK, look, let me be honest: I leave this issue to the black side of the family.”

My mother-in-law paused, then burst out laughing. Normally, I avoid drawing such a racial dividing line of knowledge. But when it comes to hair, I make an exception. I’ll never forget how angry my wife was when, years ago, I once asked if her new braids were real. Oh boy, wrong thing to say!

Anyway, back to Alexander. Calls were made, some special spray was located and Alexander now spends several minutes each morning having his hair done. I look on, baffled.

As it turns out, there is a growing line of products that address all kinds of curly hair, including “biracial hair.” I even found this detailed website with tips for handling biracial hair.

Chris Rock, help me.

POSTED IN: Matthew Strozier (59)

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Palm Beach school officials' change of heart

I didn't think it could happen, but pressure from parents succeeded in modifying the Palm Beach County School District's new policy of testing students every three weeks to make sure they had learned all their lessons.

Now it's up to each principal to decide how often to administer the computerized tests. An amazing new movement of parents can take credit for this accomplishment, but I see from their Facebook page they see this as just the beginning of an uprising against the drastic changes the district made to schools this year, including departmentalization, in which elementary school kids have to change classes like they are in middle or high school.

I was skeptical that parents could succeed against the district's entrenched bureaucracy, but clearly board members and the administration heard the outcry and responded. Power to the parents!

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

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October 13, 2009

Burning Issues: The Great Halloween Debate

Like so many other things parents have to contend with these days, Halloween has become complicated.

There are safety concerns (predators lurk everywhere!), health and nutrition issues (we're in an obesity epidemic, after all!), and all sorts of landmines around costumes (hoochie mama witches, anyone?).

Just another thing for a beleaguered parent to sweat over. This week we're posing these questions and more in our First Annual (and perhaps only) Burning Issues Great Halloween Debate.

Follow this link to our first question: Is it OK to take your kids to the "good neighborhood" with all the best candy?



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Survival is an attitude

What would possess a woman to take joy in not shaving her legs or underarms for months, when she always had, and in fact - simply stopped using shampoo?

That same woman even got her eyebrows tattooed, started working out and shaved her head.

pink2.jpgThat's because this mother/daughter was getting ready for the battle of her life - fighting breast cancer. And October marks the annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It's been nine years since --Doris Pastl, now also a grandmother, and owner of the Boynton Beach-based Specialty Advertising Inc. was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. That's when she entered her own personal, self-imposed boot camp of readiness: creating a support group around her, a positive attitude, purpose, focus, and humor.

She underwent treatments and surgery. She endured wigs, hospital gowns, no hair, nausea, fear, strength, laughing and crying. She chronicled "This is My Story," in a pamphlet-style book with photos, short cutlines and lists.

Pastl lists feelings, advantages of being bald (you never have a bad hair day) and disadvantages (if you've had a face lift, the scars will show).

Pastl's simple presentation makes it an easy read despite the fact that it is about someone's real life emotional and physical roller coaster. Any woman: aunt, sister, mother, grandmother facing the challenge could sit with a child to read "This is My Story."

But Pastl also knows the experience is different for every one. So she wants other women to share with her, to add to her lists. Pastl wants people to read her story and share it with others. To obtain copies, to add to her lists, call Pastl at 800-433-7452.

For a donation, you can have a hot pink hair extension woven into place as another way to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness and as fundraisers. Find out here where PINK Extensions are available at participating hair salons throughout the month.

Do you have a breast-cancer survival story to share with the Sun Sentinel?

UPDATE: Find out about fundraisers this month on Rod Hagwood's Fashion calendar blog. Some events, starting around Oct. 18, are specifically geared to breast cancer awareness.

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Fitness (21), Family Issues (231), Health (111), medicine (9)

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October 12, 2009

Poll: I've got my son's cell phone. Should I read his texts?

I feel like I'm holding my child's unlocked diary in my hands: I have my son's cell phone.

It was confiscated by his teacher because it vibrated in class. In Broward County public schools, the kids are allowed to carry a cell phone, but it cannot go off in class. I think it's a sound policy. If it's taken away, it will only be released to the parent, on the next school day.

The phone was taken away on Friday. That meant Creed had a phone-less weekend. I told him it was good for him.

It didn't occur to me that when I picked up his phone, I'd have access to his text messages. I could find out what this 14-year-old is up to!

But that seems awfully close to something my own parents would have done, and I am very sure I would have seen that as a distrustful, dishonest move on their part.

What do you think? Take the poll.

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

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Keeping cultural traditions alive

I took my daughter to the Caribbean Carnival in Miami yesterday.

I knew from the beginning that this would be different for her. In her mind carnival is a place where you go on rides, eat cotton candy and play games.

But this was a Caribbean Carnival, a parade with thousands of masqueraders, steel pan music and Caribbean food.

There were no roller coasters, no candy apples, no cheese fries.

It was a totally new experience for my six-year-old. At times she watched the masqueraders in their huge sequined costumes with pure amazement. She wanted to know about the stilt walkers and how they kept their balance so long. She tried to catch the rhythm of the soca music.

As the sun was going down we shared some jerk chicken and festival, a traditional Jamaican dish.

And I thought about when I was her age and my dad would take me to the West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn. There are pictures of him and I in a sea of strangers. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know many of the people we posed with in pictures. They shared his immigrant experience, and he wanted me to feel like I was a part of that too.

I’m thankful that he exposed me to that side of his culture. As parents, if we don’t expose our kids to their culture who will?

When my daughter and I left the parade yesterday we were hot and tired. I thought maybe I overloaded her with a little too much in one day.

Then I heard her talking to her little cousin last night about all that she saw, and I realized when it comes to culture, there’s no such thing as over-exposure.

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44)

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October 9, 2009

Swine flu vaccine: Will you or won't you?


Earlier this week, it was announced that Broward public schools, and the county health department, would vaccinate students against H1N1, for free. This is quite a convience for parents.

But I wonder how many will opt out?

A recent AP-Gfk poll revealed that 38 percent of parents nationally would not give permission for their children to be vaccinated at school. Some are concerned about the side effects; some say the swine flu threat is no greater than any other flu.

There are those who eschew any kind of vaccination for fear of all sorts of terrible things; and then there are the germ phobes who would vaccinate their children against other humans if possible.

I'll probably let my kids get vaccinated, but that's mostly because I'm lazy. It's free and I don't have to schlepp them to the doctor. What's not to love about that?

What are you going to do? Take our poll here.


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October 8, 2009

Will you STILL let your kids walk alone?

Sometimes, the real world intrudes in a way that really makes you question your ideals.

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about kids walking to school by themselves. I wrote about how I believe kids need to be gradually given some freedom to get out in the world alone.

But yesterday, a Pembroke Pines girl, walking from school, declined a ride from a stranger, only to be surprised by him when she got home. This is simply terrifying.

The girl did the right thing. She didn't accept the ride, for starters. And she must have been alert enough to note his face. Then, she ran SCREAMING from her home when she found the man there.

We don't know much about her -- her age, or whether her family situation is such that she has no choice but to walk home. So I'm not about to judge her parents.

But I will commend her for being a quick thinker and being well-schooled in what to do in a terrifying situation. Yes, something horrible could have happened. But I still say, we can't insulate our kids from the real world, and we have to equip them with life-saving skills.

I wonder: Have I done that? Have I really prepared my kids well?

They don't walk to school, but they are in any number of potentially risky situations, at the park or the mall or a Friday night football game.

I think it's time to have another talk.

POSTED IN: Safety (59), School Issues (135)

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October 7, 2009

How does your garden grow? A guide to planting with kids

Jon VanZile likes experimenting with different soils, fertilizers, plants and growing methods to create the best tomatoes possible in a small, urban backyard.

jon%20vanzile-headshot.jpg He has written for Sun Sentinel and maintains two gardening websites: Houseplants and Growing Tomatoes in South Florida.

Here he shares his tips on gardening with a child.

I'm the kind of parent who sometimes worries that my kids will think broccoli comes out the factory encased in shrink wrap, like a video game or toy car.

I think it's good to have some kind of connection to our food, to the water and dirt that makes it all possible, and I strongly believe that growing things is good for body and soul. There's nothing quite like eating something you've grown yourself. It just feels healthy.

I'd love to pass along my respect for growing food to my kids, which means I've taken to planting seeds with my 4-year-old. A lot of seeds. Over the years, we've planted just about everything I can get my hands on. Papaya, hot peppers, herbs, sunflowers, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, avocado, lettuce, pumpkins.

It's great fun, really. We line up our little peat pellets, and I show him how to collect seeds from actual grocery store vegetables. Or I explain what the seed from the packet will become. Then he pokes holes in the soil, drops them in, we pat it down, and viola! Seeds are planted.

A few days later, the first sprouts emerge from the soil, and at least at first, you'd think we landed on Mars. I've found my kid balanced on high stools, craning over a tray of peat pellets, with his nose nearly touching the warm dirt to stare at tiny seedlings.


His little body quivers with excitement, and I'm reminded all over again about why I like to grow things. The truth is, I kind of agree with him. I think it's about the coolest thing in the world to plant a seed and watch it emerge from the soil like it's shaking off a long nap.

But unfortunately, this story doesn't always have such a happy ending. It turns out that it's an awful lot harder to take a plant from seedling to harvest than it is to drop a seed in dirt and watch it sprout. Seedlings are finicky. Sometimes I think they like to die.

And then there're the tricky questions that follow . . . can I grow cabbage in a container? (Actually, yes, along with almost any other vegetable you can think of.) Why are my young plants so spindly? (Not enough light, most likely.) What the heck is eating all my transplants? (Could be anything, but snails and slugs are a good place to start).

I think of these as the adult issues, and really, I enjoy figuring out the process. Maybe later, garden-herb.jpg
when my son is older, he'll stick with me through a whole season, instead of wandering off, bored, when I start talking about mulching and fertilizer and soil amendments. But for now, I'm perfectly happy to keep sprouting whatever we can get our hands on and wait for my own little sprout to take root.

Get to growing: Jon's suggestion for what to grow with a young child:

Herbs are always fun, and I've had great luck with papaya. It's easy to sprout, widely available, and kind of fun to collect the seeds. One note, though: papaya seeds have to be dried out for a week or so before they're planted to remove the liquid-filled membrane around the seed.

(For more tips on establishing a vegetable garden, read Jon's story.)

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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When you lose a gift, do you tell the giver?

With lots of envelopes being given to us during my daughter's bat mitzvah a few weeks ago, it was almost inevitable that some got lost in the shuffle.

When we entered the gifts in the computer so we could properly thank everyone, there were about five people from whom we hadn't received anything. The question became: Do we tell them or not?

When we have been on the giving side, people have lost our gifts and never told us. We found out either when we tried to balance our checkbook and saw the check had never been cashed, or we got a Thank You note saying "Thank you for the generous gift" when we had given the kid a necklace or a book.

In the end, we decided to tell the people and took the blame ourselves, saying it looks like we lost their gift. There were an assortment of responses: Some said they would write a new check, others said their gifts would be delayed. I'm glad we decided to clear the air instead of always wondering what had happened.

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211)

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October 6, 2009

The kid NEEDS an allowance!

Mama Kim at Moms at Work has some great suggestions for making sure your high-schooler gets his/her daily allowance of vegetables.

Under the category of why-didn't-I-think-of-that comes the tip to create a Chopsticks night. "Asian cuisine is so vegetable friendly, you won’t need to do as much persuading. And soy sauce makes everything better. (Just make sure it’s low sodium!)," writes Kim.

Check out the six suggestions and you smart mamas and papas out there share your tips for getting the kids to inhale vegetables.

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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Holiday spending: It more than just pinching pennies - It's about survival

The holidays are right around the corner. Of course, that's not breaking news to moms and dads. The kids also are quite aware.

But continuing economic challenges might cause familiesnomoney.jpg to re-evaluate the idea of giving and receiving gifts.

Of course every day is a good day to spend money wisely, if you have to spend it on something. And every day is is a good day to remember priorities - what's important in the big picture of life and love and family and friends.

As an aside, my son makes homemade cards for family on special occasions - it's a tradition we've all come to expect - and anticipate! It costs him more in time than anything else. But it comes from a place you can't buy - the heart. So it's also invaluable.

Don't get me wrong, we give and get stuff too.

But families are struggling, many, just to keep a roof over their heads. The idea of spending money on decorations or gifts pale compared to the need to pay a medical bill, the electricity or buy food.

Watching budgets will undoubtedly be a part of everyone's holiday spending plan.

What things will you do to celebrate the holidays, but because of the economy, a lost job and other challenges, your plan is different from past years?

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Cindy Kent (78), Entertainment (114), Family Issues (231), Holidays (49), Shopping (28), Toys (15)

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October 5, 2009

Is separating twins at school a good thing?

I was talking to a mom with twin girls this weekend and the conversation about school came up. My daughter and her fraternal twin daughters are both first graders.

I immediately wanted to know if they were in the same class.

I’m realizing there is a lot of debate around this issue. The mom I spoke to on Saturday said she wanted to keep her girls together in the same class but that arrangement was not allowed at the school they attend locally.

Her girls don’t look that much alike. They each have their own identities and sibling rivarly is not a big issue at her house. From a practical standpoint, she thought having them in the same class would cut down on homework time since they would both have the same work and could guide each other through it.

But she wasn't given that choice. I can't help but wonder how many other parents are in the same boat.

It seems there is no definitive answer about whether splitting twins up at school is a good thing.

The National Organization of Mothers of Twins Club publishes the book “Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School,’’ which highlight some factors to consider.

Some parents and experts say it really depends on the twins. While some twins look forward to being apart at school, there are others who are not ready for this kind of separation, which can prompt anxiety, experts warned.

My feeling is that there should not be a blanket policy for all twins. In the end, parents should get the final say on this one.

POSTED IN: Elementary School (54), Georgia East (44)

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October 2, 2009

Coral Glades High School accepts challenge to collect food for seniors in need

It can start small with pennies collected in a jar. Or it could be a multi-state plan worthy of coverage on CNN.

However philanthrophy starts, it should start now with our children.

The Pantry of Broward is a big believer in getting children involved in helping others. The group, which helps low-income seniors put food on their tables and get transportation to appointments, has teamed up with two Broward County schools to help kids learn the ropes of philanthropy.

Here's their story about how students at Coral Glades High School responded to the challenge of helping others:

The project was organized by recent alum Chris Harris, a sophomore at the University of Florida. As the president of the DECA chapter at Coral Glades, Chris has helped collect food for clients of the Pantry of Broward and reached out to Alex Sica, the incoming DECA chapter president, about getting the chapter involved.

Coral_Glades_001.jpgLast year’s DECA project included updates on Facebook, parties and contests, including one that challenged members to build something with the cans.

It's nearly certain that the students will have fun with this lesson on giving back.

What St. Mark’s Episocal has accomplished to date:

The pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes have been busily collecting their Pennies for Pasta and Nickels for Noodles. On Tuesday, 21 students from seventh and eighth grade will be at the Pantry to get their arms around why such an agency exists. Their morning will be comprised of packing the food boxes that are delivered to the seniors. The children seem to be more excited about the chance to really “be there” and to “do something that will make a difference” than being free from the confines of school for two hours.

The first-, second-, and third-grades have decided to decorate the boxes that the older students will be using to pack the food. The students are hoping that their drawings will bring a smile to someone’s face, joy to their day and let them know that someone they’ve never met really does care.

The fourth-grades are having a contest to see who can bring the most peanut-butter and jelly.

Dress-down day equals big bucks:

On Sept. 25, we had a school-wide free dress day --- each student who brought in $1 for The Pantry was excused from wearing a school uniform that day. Those days are always fun, but that Friday we knew that we were doing it, not just for fun, but to help other people in need.

The student body and the faculty raised almost $500 from the event.


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Mom terminates adoption when baby doesn't bond

Anita Tedaldi adopted a baby boy, but it didn't work out -- she couldn't bond with him. So another family took him off her hands.

That's the headline, the thing that has everyone buzzing. She wrote about her experience on the New York Times' Motherlode blog and appeared on the Today show on Thursday.

It's really easy to judge Anita: heartless, for starters. How about selfish. Intolerant. Probably just plain mean.

But this is a woman with five biological daughters, who parents alone when her military husband is deployed. She clearly does not shy away from motherhood. Maybe she wasn't completely prepared. But she had to know about colic and sleepless nights and worse. She knew that adopting a baby who had been left by the side of a South American road would come with some baggage.

Anita will be a punching bag for a few news cycles. Her motives will be questioned. Why did she need another child? And why on earth did she have to write about it? Was this some kind of grand publicity stunt to promote her own blog?

But why wouldn't she talk about it? We are in a self-confessional age in which everyone purges their transgressions on the Internet, and we all pile on. It's our new national sport.

I think the bigger question to ponder is not why she did what she did. But what would you do?

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Newborn (39)

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October 1, 2009

When parents resort to using the S word

Guest blogger Jenny Isenman talks about losing her cool. She last debated the age-old question to clean or not to clean.

Jenny is a freelance writer/humor columnist and wiper of noses, tushies and countertops. She has two perfect children, a boy who is 7 and a girl who is 4.

She has a fabulously funny and relatable Suburban Jungle blog: It May Be Suburbia, But it's a Jungle Out There.

I have something to tell you: I screamed “shut up” at my son today.


shutup.jpgNot “shush” or “sshhhhh” or even “ferme la bouche.” No, “Shut Up.” I didn’t say it in a whisper, or even hiss it through clenched teeth. I yelled it in a vein popping tone, and it felt sort of good, aside from the fear of having an aneurism. I hate to admit it, but in the moment I actually enjoyed the shock value.

In my house, “shut up” is still the “S” word. That and “stupid”…fine. “Shut up” is a phrase that I -- a person who has managed to say “Sugar” and “Fudge” through the last seven years -- have never uttered to my children.

Had I witnessed you on the street saying -- no, screaming -- that to your child, I would have judged you with disdain. I may have even considered calling child services on you. Now, I’m the one with the scarlet letter.

I’m not going to tell you what my son did, but just know, he started it! Fine, I’ll tell you. He was yelling at me, telling me “No,” contradicting me, and being incredibly obnoxious all at once, and all at warp speed. He never took a breath. I didn’t know whether to punish or have him try out for the swim team.

The funny thing is, I just finished writing an article about the Spanking / IQ study, and here I am doing exactly what I said I wouldn’t do: “ensuring my child will need hours of therapy.”

The worst part of this whole confession-inducing incident was the look on his face. It was somewhere between “Uh-oh, you said a bad word!” and a lip biting, “Sniff, sniff. You said that bad word to ME?”

Somewhat in shock myself, I had to regroup and think of my options: Apologize, use candy or some other bribe to gloss over it, or explain my actions. I went the obvious route, and when he finished licking the Kit-Kat residue off his fingers, I said I was sorry.

I’ll tell you, when my kids were little, I would have sworn this day would never come. How could you look at those sweet chubby cheeks and imagine they could ever frustrate you so much?

Conversely, when I told a few of my friends the story, they were shocked at how long I’d held out.

Wait a minute, I think there’s some praise in there. I amazed people with my nearly infinite patience. I deserve a medal, not a scornful eye. I take it all back. I am the best mom. It took me almost eight years to tell my child to “shut up.” Wahoo!

See, if you practice patience (but not too much), and bottle up frustration like seltzer (that your kids can agitate until it pops), you, too, can astound people.

(Picture by Tiago Riberio)


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Swine flu parties: A sick idea (and a myth?)

We've been reading a bunch of stories about swine flu parties over the last few days. Leading health authorities in the U.S. and Britain have denounced the idea. Medical experts are being sought out by the likes of CNN, The New York Times and other reputable news organizations to comment. Discussion boards are abuzz with conversations about it.

SwineFlu76.jpgI'm not saying I've conducted an in-depth investigation or anything, but I've yet to see any evidence that these parties have actually been held, nor have I seen anyone quoted who's hosted or attended one.

I talked to Dr. Margaret Lewin, medical director of Cinergy Health, who outlined precisely why a swine flu party is such a bad idea. I talked to Dr. John Livengood, director of epidemiology at the Broward County Health Department. I spoke to the media relations offices at several South Florida hospitals.

Everyone thinks it's a bad idea, but no one is aware of an actual swine flu party being held somewhere.

Still, it is being discussed in prominent circles, apparently a pre-emptive attack on a spectacularly bad idea no one's carrying out. Fair enough.

For the record, the concept of a swine flu party is similar to "chicken pox parties" some of us may recall. Because chicken pox is a more serious disease in adults than in children, and because a vaccination against chicken pox wasn't available until relatively recently, parents used to think it was a good idea for a children to be exposed to chicken pox, deal with the discomfort for a couple of weeks, and enjoy the benefit of the subsequent immunity to the disease.

Applying the same principle to swine flu fails on a number of levels, Dr. Lewin explained. First, she said, testing for swine flu is no longer routine. Attendees of a swine flu party would have no way of knowing whether the guest of honor had the H1N1 virus or the seasonal flu, or the sniffles, for that matter.

Second, there's no guarantee that contracting swine flu in 2009 would make one resistant to the disease in later years.

And third, there is a vaccination for swine flu. Why expose yourself to swine flu now or later when you can avoid it altogether?

H1N1 is serious business, and some good reporting has been done to educate the public about it without resorting to hysteria. The advice boils down to two simple principles: avoid getting it, or avoid spreading it.

I'm willing to bet that swine flu parties are a myth. Here's hoping they stay that way.

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

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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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