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South Florida parents share their stories and advice

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November 30, 2009

How young is too young for a Nintendo DSi?

My six-year old has had her eyes on a Nintendo DSi for a couple of months now. I’ve put off buying her one in part because of the cost, but also because I’m worried that she’ll lose it.

It’s one thing to come home and forget your lunchbox or your folder, which is still something we’re working on in my house. But I don’t know if I’m ready to hear that the $169 Nintendo DSi has vanished.

Some people say let your child use it only when you’re around. I have to be honest, with the million things I have to track day to day, I really don’t want to add tracking the Nintendo DSi to my list.

My best friend, who happens to be my daughter’s godmother, said I should give in and buy it. It will be a good test of how responsible she’s become, she says. I sure hope that’s the case.

I’m still tempted to take out some DSi insurance!!!!

POSTED IN: Georgia East (44), Holidays (49), Shopping (28)

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Teach your kids about money by asking them to give it away

I am still struggling with how to teach my kids about money. I can think of only a few things that will impact children more in life than their approach to spending, saving and earning money.

Last week I worried that my kids didn't appreciate the value of money, and that without the basic human instinct known as greed, they would never move out. I was concerned because they never ask for their allowance.

One of you guys told me I was a control freak who lords money over my children, because I don't give the allowance out unless they ask for it. Click here for a memory refresher on our discussion.

But I also don't want them pursuing money like it's the most important thing in life. Something Creed said this weekend caused me to warn him: "Money is the root of all evil.'' To which he responded "And happiness.''

(Actually, the true Bible verse says that LOVE of money is the root of all evil.)

I want my kids to learn the money basics, like how to save it for something you want, how to keep an accounting of it (which so far, in 9th grade, my son has not learned in public schools), a healthy hatred for credit cards, and charitable approach to the world, meaning that some of that money must be given to others.

So I'm thinking of starting something new this year. I doubled both kids' allowances this week (and yet, neither kid asked for their allowance on Sunday!). And next I'm going to tell them that some of this new money should be budgeted for Christmas presents.

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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November 25, 2009

What makes children laugh?

There is nothing quite as enlightening as the full belly laugh from a small child. Honestly the best sound I have ever heard. Lately around our house, my six year old has taken to telling jokes. This began slowly last year when she started Pre-K, and I would hear her telling knock-knock jokes to her friends. Usually the punchline would make no sense at all, and yet they would laugh uncontrollably anyway.

All of this girlie giggling got me thinking — at what age do kids "get it"? I really feel that at 6 she is still too young to honestly understand many of the jokes I tell her (granted, I don't know that many). So I decided to do a little research, and I found this very cool article on which explains what makes children laugh. The article is a bit long, but offers some great insight and ideas for giving your kids a good chuckle—it even replayed the scenario with my daughter verbatim. Wild.

Now that I understand a little more about what makes kids laugh, I need some material. Once again I turn to Google and I'm handsomely rewarded with a great site on Yahoo! Kids. Now I'm ready to start my career as a comic. Share some of your favorite kid friendly jokes with us in the comments.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Chris Tiedje (51), Entertainment (114), Toddler (127)

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November 23, 2009

I make my kids ask for their allowance, and they never do

I instituted a weekly allowance program in the Wallman-Norman household years ago. So far, I've barely paid any of it out. My rule: If you don't ask, you don't get.

Some of you might be trying to decide how to handle allowance. I weighed all the options a long time ago and came up with this:

My allowance program is a set amount. Creed gets $5; he's 14. Lily gets $1; she's 7. We don't have a checklist of chores on the refrigerator. But each kid has work to do, including making their beds in the morning. If either of them asked for a raise, I'd consider it. Of course I'd add to their duties.

Theoretically, the allowance gets paid as long as neither of them did something outrageous that week. I consider it a pre-job. I get paid my salary at work, whether I wrote 20 stories or two.

But neither kid asks for the money. And my Rule No. 1 is "You have to invoice the person who owes you money. You have to ask me for your allowance.'' I consider it a lack of responsibility if they don't come ask for the money. They have to ask on Sunday, too, because that's payday for them, I've told them.

It concerns me that they don't value money. I think that might mean they've never wanted anything badly enough to save up for it, and secondly, it means I've given them too much.

I know some parents set up bank accounts for their kids and are helping them save. But I hadn't done that yet. That's my next approach. I sent the papers off this week. But where did I go wrong, that my kids don't care about money? With that kind of attitude, they might be living with mom and dad forever!

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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November 20, 2009

All I want for Christmas....

Though we've vowed to take it easy this gift season, there's still been a lot of talk in my house lately about wish lists. My husband wants camping and hiking gear. My son wants a new Xbox and games. My daughter wants a laptop (not a chance) and socks (this I can handle).

Me? Aside from what my mom has always wished for -- "I just want us all to be together as a family" -- my needs and wants are very simple.

10. Towels to be used more than once.
9. Shoes that put themselves away.
8. I want my children to like the same foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.
7. A self-filling dishwasher.
6. I want my questions to get answers of more than one syllable.
5. Chores to be completed without having to say it twice.
4. I want to remember everything I thought I would never forget about my kids.
3. More time in the day.
2. Peace and understanding.
1. An iPhone.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Holidays (49)

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November 18, 2009

The gift of life — Precious no matter how long

This morning I was checking my Facebook page and I found a note from a very good friend. His wife had just given birth! However, this normally celebrated occasion was a bit tempered as the baby is extremely premature. Weighing in at only one pound, the child has been given a 40% chance of survival by her team of doctors. I told him "congratulations", but it just didn't sound right.

After hanging up the phone, my mind started wandering back to my own experience with the birth of my first child. Although nowhere near as severe, my daughter was 6 weeks premature and weighed only 4 lbs. 15 oz. I remember the 18 days we spent in the hospital as if they were yesterday. The support we had from friends, family, and coworkers made all the difference in coping. It is amazing what the power of positive energy can do. My daughter just turned six, and we have celebrated every minute of her life.

I've seen my family go through the other side of this experience as well. My cousin had twins and there were serious complications. Long story short, only one of her daughters survived. Today is actually the anniversary of her daughter's passing. Listening to her and her husband speak at their infant daughter's funeral was one of the most heartbreaking things I have witnessed. Their story really showed me that every single second of life is precious.

Please help me send positive energy (prayers, if that is your thing), thoughts, and words out to this child who is only hours old and is fighting for her life. Share your stories with us if you've had similar experiences, and hug your kids tight!

POSTED IN: Chris Tiedje (51), Family Issues (231), Health (111), Newborn (39), Pregnancy (31)

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Does Shakespeare require translation?

Lost in the unfamiliar territory of 16th century English, my 15-year-old sought help on the Internet and found it: a translation of Shakespeare into contemporary language.


At first, I scoffed, insisting that if I had to struggle through Shakespeare, so should she. But as I explored the website, "No Fear Shakespeare," from SparkNotes, I decided it was intelligent and effective.

Here is their translation for Hamlet's famous soliloquy ("To be or not to be, that is the question"): "The question is: is it better to be alive or dead? Is it nobler to put up with all the nasty things that luck throws your way, or to fight against all those troubles by simply putting an end to them once and for all?"

If they read only the translation, kids would never know where famous expressions like "To be or not to be" came from. Still, if they read it side by side, as they can on the website, they may find Shakespeare more approachable than they had expected.

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

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November 17, 2009

What's your Mommy DNA?

Every mother has what I call a Mommy DNA –comprised of past experiences that shape who you are as a parent.

I was reminded of mine last week, when I spoke with the family of my childhood friend Shannon Melendi. Her parents, sister and U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen launched a petition drive to keep Shannon’s confessed killer, Colvin C. “Butch” Hinton, III, behind bars when he comes up for parole. (You can sign the petition here.)

Shannon’s kidnap and murder are never far from my mind as I raise my two children. If it could happen to a smart, independent 19 year old on a Saturday afternoon at a busy softball park in suburban Atlanta, it could happen to anyone.

I live with that reality. And that makes me different than a lot of parents who go through life thinking such cruelty only happens to “other” people.

My Mommy DNA makes me a protective mom. Some might call me overprotective. When I take my son to the park, I don’t just plant myself on a bench and engage in conversation with other moms. I move around to keep my son in sight. When he’s older and asks to spend the night at a friend’s house, I’ll say no. When we have a quiet moment, every once in a while, I fill the silence by asking him what he would do if someone he didn’t know asked him to get into a car.

No matter your Mommy DNA, you can take three simple steps that can go a long way in keeping your children safe.

Make sure you carry a recent photo of your child. That will help authorities should your child go missing. Even better, store it on your phone. Also, have your child fingerprinted and keep the card in a safe place.

Locate sex offenders near your home and kid’s school. There is a lot of information out there. Why not arm yourself with it? Two sites that I’d recommend: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) “offenders” site and

Talk to your kids about staying safe. Make sure it’s age appropriate. For younger kids, role playing helps. For older kids, it’s about keeping an open line of communication. Start early so that they grow comfortable talking to you about their day at school and friends.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67)

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So the kid is wailing, don't be such a cry baby

If your baby, toddler or child of any age is crying - you want to know why, right?

For instance, if your car were acting up, you might look under the hood before taking the vehicle to the mechanic. If your computer suddenly froze up - you're likely to push a few buttons or scoot the mouse around the pad.

So if your infant or baby is all red-faced, teary-eyed, fit-to-be-tied-bawling-his-or-her-eyes-out -- get over it - by checking it out the old-fashioned way: touch, hold, cuddle, sooth, coo, hug and in general assess the situation of said tiny being.

But wait, forget all that - don't trouble yourself - here's an App for that. I'm sorry to be the one to break the news to you.

The Cry Translator, according to promotional verbiage is, "an easy to use iPhone app that quickly identifies the five distinct cries made by infants: hungry, sleepy,boohoo.jpgannoyed, stressed or bored. These five cries are universal to all babies regardless of culture or language."

Wow. I'm speechless. Don't get me wrong - there are a few apps I am a huge fan of - Paper Toss is my fav.

But just imagine, you hear the child cry and you approach gingerly. Finally, thinks baby, I'll get some food or be held [insert other need/want here]. Instead, Baby sees tiny microphone held to face area. The outstretched arm is merely a tease. Baby increases wailing.

How will the app translate that?

Well, once is does, there are some suggestions on how to care for the child - which means while the Baby continues to cry, you begin reading a paragraph or two on what to do next.

Frankly, you really need to just put down your gadgets and pick up the child. It's called communication. What ever happened to consulting with the co-parent; Neighbors, people at work, on play dates in the park, grandparents, etc?

A 16-second Saturday Night Live skit says it all. Gosh.

Please, if you have this app - don't tell me. It'll make me want to cry.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Child Care (26), Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), Food (56), General (185), Newborn (39), Parks (12), Shopping (28), Toddler (127), medicine (9)

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Just answer the question!

I first noticed this phenomenon many years ago. It was a conversation with my nephew, and it went like this:

"How old are you?"
"I'm gonna be 7."
"You're gonna be 40. How old are you now?"

detour.gifI'm struggling to figure out why it is that people, particularly kids, find themselves utterly unable to answer simple questions. These days, with my stepdaughters, the conversations usually go something like this:

"Have you done your school project?"
"It's not due until next week."
"Oh. I see. So... Have you done your school project?"

The answer is related to the question I asked, but it's actually the answer to a different question. I think it has to do with a desire to save time. When I asked the kid how old he was, he must have figured I was more interested in his next birthday than with his current age, so he skipped to the next question. And the girls must figure it's easier to tell me why their homework isn't done than it is to just say no, seeing as my next question will be "Why not?"

Why do people do that? It's not just kids, either. My wife does it all the time, and I'm sure I do, too.

"Are you hungry?"
"What's for dinner?"

See, the answer is related to the question I asked, but it's not an answer. Would you be hungry if I made pork chops but not hungry if I made liver? No, that's not how hunger works.

I wonder if life would be more interesting if we ran things a little more like a courtroom. That way, whenever someone failed to answer a simple question, someone else could jump up and say "Objection! Non-responsive." They do that in court. Then the judge gets to decide whether the response really answered the question. The judge can tell the witness to give a more direct answer. That might be cool.

Then again, it won't work, because I'd never get to be the judge. So I'd never win. And I'd never find out whether anyone wants dinner.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47), Say what!?! (25), Step-parenting (59), Teen (158)

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November 16, 2009

Teens and cars: An act of faith

My stomach is turning over at the thought of three more South Floria kids dead in a car accident. Horribly, drowning after the car flipped over a guard rail into a canal. It's a particular kind of South Florida tragedy when the only survivor is the boy who was not wearing a seatbelt.

I will resist trying to turn this into a life lesson for my kids, though my son is just about ready to get his permit. He heard about the accident on the news, so what could I possibly say that would have any impact whatsoever? ("Don't wear a seatbelt" sure isn't a valid take-away from this tragedy.) Teens, with their oh-so-flimsy shield of immortality to protect them, don't hear an anxious parent's fears.

But I tell you this much: My son is going to be on a short leash when he does get his license. And he's going to be equipped with one of those underwater window busting tools.

It's a supreme act of faith to give the car keys to a teen. I'm going to start saying my prayers now.

My heart aches for the families and friends of these Coral Springs boys. Please, sign a guestbook for them here.


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November 13, 2009

A lump of coal for this aunt

Staff writer Megan O'Matz reports:
My nephew, age 9, left me a message one night, saying he needed to talk to me about something important. I figured he wanted me to buy stuff, like wrapping paper, from him for a school fundraiser. The next morning I called him.

“Hi, kiddo! What’s up?”

“I know there’s no Santa,” he said.


“I know Santa’s not real.”

I’m thinking: #$*(S!

“Of course he is!” I insisted.

“Aunt Megan, I know. Seriously. I know.”

He sounded so glum. Like an old man, resigned to living with arteriosclerosis.

“Who have you talked to about this?” I asked, fearing I was being punked.

“Mom, Dad and Grandma.”

“Ah, ok, well, you know. Santa is the spir…

“I know, he’s the spirit of Christmas.”

Clearly, someone had already tried this line.

“Um, yes he’s the spirit of Christmas!”

“No, really, I know he’s not real.”

Quick, think: how does that beautiful New York Sun poem go? Yes Virginia there is a Santa. Think, um… forever make glad the hearts of children..think! No Santa!...he exists as surely as joy and romance and…fairies on the lawn….and, oh crap. I’m a lousy aunt. Why aren’t I better prepared?

“Ok, well, are you sad?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“Well, you know, Santa is the symbol of Christmas, of love and giving…Think of all that your parents do to make you happy.”

“I guess,” he said, dejectedly.

He had worries. His little sister, he said, still believes.

“She thinks you can draw a Barbie doll and Santa will make it. What if she draws a Barbie that doesn’t exist? Then there will be trouble.”

Well, unless she draws a two-headed Barbie I’m betting that Mattel will have something pretty close, I reasoned.

Childhood: the innocence, the magic is so fleeting. Now this sweet boy is on par with me: a co-conspirator.

“Hey, at Thanksgiving, at least you know that the turkey is real!” I teased.

“Yeah, but it’s dead.”


“Are you still going to sit on Santa’s lap?” I asked, picturing his brother and sister at the mall, happily perched on Santa’s wobbly knee, while he sulked nearby, silent in his truthy misery.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. “But I’m not sure I want to. That will make me sad.”

Others in the family, he informed me, were taking this hard, too.

Grandma, he said, had talked to his Dad and “she sounded mad.”

I bet! I thought, like I said ..the spirit of Christmas, Grandma is going to kill someone…

Before hanging up, however, I detected a glimmer of his old childlike self, wiser but still merry.

“On the bright side,” he said, “I can eat the cookies we leave out for Santa!”

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231)

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Recycle your electronics at MODS on Saturday

Most families have at least one recycling fanatic. At our house, it's my 11-year-old daughter. She's the one who chides wrongdoers for tossing cans in the garbage. She reuses her plastic lunch bags and refills plastic water bottles.

So I don't think she'll mind giving up her collection of old cell phones. Whenever we got an upgrade, she liked to keep the old phone to play with. Now that she has her own (functional) cell phone, the old ones just litter her room.

But we can't just toss them in the trash. Cell phones and other electronics don't belong in landfills. They are filled with environmentally harmful materials, such as lead, mercury, acids and more.

So on Saturday, we'll drop off the old phones at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, which is partnering for the first time with Broward County Waste and Recycling as part of America Recyles Day.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Broward County residents can bring old phones, as well as TVs, computers, keyboards, mouses, printers, VCR players, etc. for recycling. (No business-generated waste, please. Call the county if you have a truckload of old computers.)

D.J. McPherson, public education coordinator with Broward County Waste & Recycling, says the county works with ARC Broward, which either refurbishes or recycles the donated electronics. Refurbished computers, for example, are wiped clean and rebuilt, then either sold to support ARC, or donated to other charities.

MODS will also have related activities on Saturday and Sunday. From 1 to 5 p.m., kids can make their own recycled paper, and at 3 p.m. there will be a relay race for teams trying to sort a mix of recyclables.

The recycling opportunity is available to Broward County residents only (bring proof of residency and an ID). The first 50 people to drop off recyclables will receive a free Firefly kid's phone (one per car).

MODS is at 401 SW Second St. in Fort Lauderdale.

Photo: Mike Stocker, SunSentinel file


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November 12, 2009

Caption this photo

Whoever writes the best caption wins... my undying admiration. For a few minutes.


POSTED IN: Caption This (3), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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November 11, 2009

Rabbi Shmuley to the rescue!

My kids are obsessed with reruns of "Jon & Kate Plus 8," so my ear perks up whenever I hear news of the reality TV stars, a former couple with twins and sextuplets, Jon and Kate Gosselin. Staff-photo-by-Scott-Fisher.jpg

They are said to be divorcing, and Jon has been seen with various women in public. In the latest twist, he is getting counsel from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, former advisor to Michael Jackson and other stars.

I went to hear the Orthodox rabbi last year when he was giving a talk in West Palm Beach. I was impressed with his theme of how we are driving our kids crazy by pressuring them to be the people we want them to be, not who they are.

Sounds like he is driving a similar moral point home to Jon Gosselin. According to CNN, Gosselin is asking "the public to please understand the challenges I face in living under constant public scrutiny, even as I am aware that I have at times courted that scrutiny."

I tend to say "he/she asked for it" when celebrities complain about the spotlight. But Gosselin seems to be showing true remorse at what his life has become. I hope Rabbi Shmuley keeps setting him right.

Staff photo by Scott Fisher

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

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November 10, 2009

Symposium addresses issues, challenges for GLBT youth

The Pride Center at Equality Park, along with other supportive agencies, is seeking to open up an exchange of ideas and solutions to help the community understand the needs and social circumstances of gay, lesbian and transgendered youth in Broward County.

So, this Friday, the GLCC Pride Center is hosting a conference from 10 a.m. to 2 their new location: 2040 N. Dixie Highway, in Wilton Manors.

Co-hosts include SunServe, the YMCA of Broward County, Safe Schools South Florida and Equality Florida. “Trapped in the Margins: Challenges of Meeting the Needs of Broward’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth,” will highlight issues and challenges; provide information and create dialog as a way to assist our GLBT youth.

Medical and clinical professionals, elected officials, youth service providers, business owners[ legal and protective service professionals and the general public will present case studies and speeches.

For more information about the symposium call 954-463-9005. To learn more about The GLCC Pride Center and their programs visit

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), General (185), Health (111), Safety (59), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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How shopping with a cranky child can turn ugly

Guest blogger Jenny Isenman talks about losing her cool. She last exposed how she lost her cool and used the "S" word: shut up.

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’ve discovered the quickest way to make people both despise and hiss at you. It’s a brilliant plan for anyone with too many friends, or any kind of social interaction anxiety.

Just bring a cranky, overtired 4-year-old to the grocery store and watch the magic unfold.

shopping%20cart.jpgMy daughter began our trip like a drunk: a little unstable, but mostly cheerful and giddy. I may have even gotten a "I love you man, I mean Mom," accompanied by a hearty chest bump. Well, her chest, my knee. But like most drunks, the second you shove them into the seat of the shopping cart, they get belligerent. Cindy, our favorite check-out girl, saw this up close and personal.

"Hello, my sweet Ryan," Cindy greeted. "Sweet Ryan" responded with bared teeth and an ominous growl.

I should have done a 180 then and there, but I decided that it was more important that my family have their precious food, than maintain goodwill toward our local grocery clerks.

By the meat counter, Ryan lost it when I pulled the ticket out of the number machine. When I felt her eyes bore a hole through my forehead, I succumbed, and allowed her to yank out 10 more numbers, much to the dismay of the deli staff and waiting customers.

By the time we hit produce, she had spiraled out of control. Ryan wanted grapes, but after careful consideration, I mentioned that they looked a bit pruny. This left her no choice but to unleash a bloodcurdling scream of disapproval. Clearly, I should have kept that horrifying tidbit to myself. How dare I attempt to pick ripe fruit?

I also affronted her by pushing the cart too slowly. When I sped up, she whacked her back on the cart, which was added injury to insult. It was unforgivable and ohhh did I feel her justifiable fury.

As I waited for her head to stop spinning, I decided to spare the customers the migraines they were acquiring and spare myself the gossip that was budding. I grabbed a few essentials, and made a beeline for the checkout line. Cindy’s lane was the shortest.

As I approached the end of the belt, Cindy looked at me with the sad pouty face adults make when imitating crying children; the last face any mother wants to see at such harried moments.

"Hello, Jenny," she said in a it's-not-your-day, kind of way. "Hello, Cindy,” I said in an Indian accent so she would be confused.

Next time I choose feeding my family over my daughter’s surly mood, I will remind myself that there is a reason fast food is making the youth of America fat. Then I will head to the nearest drive-thru.

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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Second pregnancy still full of surprises

Expect the unexpected when you’re expecting.

That’s my new motto, after giving birth to my second child last month. I had spent much of my pregnancy free of the worries and concerns that marked my first pregnancy. Been there, done that, I thought.

Little did I know there were some curveballs waiting for me this time. Here are a few that took me by surprise, things all expectant moms should keep in mind – even pregnancy veterans.

Check up on your doctors. I blogged just before giving birth that my doctor’s office informed me at the last minute that there was a real possibility that my doctor may not deliver my baby and that the only way to guarantee it would be to schedule a C-section. (She didn’t deliver my baby.)

I didn’t think I’d also be in for a surprise with my pediatrician. About a week before giving birth, I called my pediatrician (my son’s doctor) to let him know that my due date was quickly approaching. That’s when I was told that his medical group was not contracted with the hospital where I was giving birth. What? So who would examine my newborn baby at the hospital? Who would perform the circumcision if I had a boy? (I had a girl.)

In the end, it was the pediatrician on duty at the hospital who checked on my new baby girl. And it may have been for the best (see my second point). But it’s best to sort out these questions well before your due date to avoid a mini-breakdown (like I had) when your hormones are all out of control.

Bones break. I made it through my five-hour labor; held my new baby daughter; heard her first cry. It wasn’t until hours later when one of the nurses whisked away my little girl for yet another battery of routine tests that they returned with the shocking news: My daughter’s right clavicle broke during birth. (Thanks to the neonatal specialist who stood in for my pediatrician for discovering the break, which can go undetected in many newborns.) The doctors chalked it up to her being a big baby. No one looked worried. They seemed more concerned with how I would take the news.

I’m just glad this was my second child, not first. I’ve learned the hard way how resilient babies and children can be. I asked what I needed to do. They said, “Nothing.” Nothing? That’s right. The bone would heal itself and within 3-4 weeks she’d have full range of motion in that arm. I didn’t really believe it. But now, at five weeks old, my daughter is stretching both of her arms up high and pulling my hair so hard it makes me want to cry (literally).

Pay up. Babies are expensive. In all, I’ve paid a total of 8 bills related to my daughter’s birth. Just the birth, not the check-ups that came before or since. Before I left the hospital, I called my healthcare company to make sure it added my daughter to my plan.

As is standard, two days after leaving the hospital, I brought my daughter to my pediatrician for a check-up. After countless conversations and several phone calls, I had to pay out-of-pocket for the visit because my daughter was not yet showing up on my insurance plan. I’m still waiting to get reimbursed. Lesson here: Set aside some money for unexpected bills.

POSTED IN: Anne Vasquez (67)

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November 9, 2009

The burning of Michael Brewer

About two years ago, a handful of sixth grade girls in Seattle decided to mess with a classmate. They took her coat, tossed it around, and laughed about it. One of those accused of misconduct didn't actually participate in the bullying, but she didn't do anything to stop it, either.

And that ticked her mother off.

"She just stood there and watched," said Renee Womack, the mom. Her response to the incident was not to defend her daughter's inaction, but to hold her just as accountable as the other girls. Womack showed up at her daughter's school and sat in class all day. The lesson was clear: if Womack had to keep an eye on her daughter 24 hours a day to keep her out of trouble, she was going to do it.

Her daughter, now in eighth grade, has not been in trouble since.

Michael.jpgWomack recalled that incident when she heard about the burning of Michael Brewer, the 15-year-old Deerfield Beach resident who was set upon by a group of five schoolmates last month. One was directing the attack, according to investigators. Another poured rubbing alcohol on the victim. A third flicked a lighter.

And the other two? Their guilt lies in doing nothing to stop the attack, according to arrest reports released by the Broward Sheriff's Office. Jeremy Jarvis and Steven Shelton watched. And when their friend was literally burning before their eyes, they fled.

And that, in Womack's eyes, makes them just as guilty as the others.

Whether the justice system agrees remains to be seen, but Womack is adamant that they all be held accountable -- even the ones who, as far as is publicly known, just stood there.

Womack went an extra step compared to most who have followed the case, starting an online petition asking the Broward State Attorney's Office to charge the five suspects as adults. As of Friday, the petition gathered more than 880 signatures.

Although she is not a local (originally from Pennsylvania, she now lives in Washington State), Womack felt it important that prosecutors here understand the outrage in this case knows no borders.

"What they did to this young man is horrible," she said. "And then they laughed about it," she said, recalling an early report that two of the five suspects were amused as they were interviewed by detectives.

Lead prosecutor Maria Schneider has said that their decisions have to be based on the evidence and the law, and while they appreciate hearing public sentiment, they can't be swayed by them. The volume of correspondence demanding the harshest possible treatment of the burn suspects is unusual for an office that was widely second-guessed for treating Lionel Tate as an adult even though he was not yet a teenager when he was charged with killing 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick.

That was a capital murder case, punishable by life in prison. And that's the only circumstance under which Florida law allows prosecutors to treat someone as an adult who is under age 14.

Jeremy%20Jarvis.jpgJeremy, the youngest suspect in the Brewer case, is 13. As long as Michael Brewer lives (he's in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Burn Center), Jeremy will have to be tried as a juvenile, which means he's due to be released this week.

But the other suspects are 15 and 16.

Womack understands that bowing to public sentiment is the kind of thing that can backfire on a prosecutor, but in this case, she believes the facts of the case warrant adult charges. "I realize the law is the law," she said. "But is this not a heinous act? I mean, how much worse can it get?"

No one will need to monitor Jeremy Jarvis' behavior from the back of a classroom once he's released. According to his lawyer, Jeremy will be sent out of the South Florida region and will be homeschooled for now.

Renee Womack may never know whether her intervention in her daughter's sidelines-bullying stopped something far more serious down the line. But most kids would (hopefully) agree that the embarrassment of having a parent in the classroom today sure beats having to face a judge in the courtroom tomorrow.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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November 6, 2009

The holiday spirit will be different this year

With Halloween past, the official Christmas/Hanukkah season has started. The TV ads are being unveiled. The catalogs are filling the mailbox. The pumpkin pie filling and cranberries are lining grocery store shelves.

But I'm not feeling it. Are you?

Unemployment in Florida is at 11 percent. And I have too many friends and family who fall into that number, or who got pay cuts this year. It's still rough out there.

Many kids have had to deal with the reality of doing with less. A study released earlier this week suggested up to 50 percent of U.S. kids will be on food stamps sometime during their childhood. That's astounding.

For more about the impacts of the recession on kids, read an excerpt from a speech this week by the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

We are fortunate to have a two-income household, but my kids know that this has been a tough year for a lot of people. So we are going to really dial it back during the holiday season.

We'll concentrate on giving to others in need, and spending time, rather than money, on friends and family.


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November 5, 2009

Get great handbags -- and support charity this weekend

Who doesn't love a handbag sale? At prices starting as low as $1. And, benifiting a good cause. What's not to love?

On Saturday's the Sun Sentinel's News in Education program is hosting a sale of new and gently used purses, pocketbooks and totes, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Westfield Mall (formerly Broward Mall). Designer bags include Coach, Dooney Bourke, Fendi and others.

The sale benefits Women in Distress, the nationally accredited domestic violence center that has served Broward County since 1974. The sale also benefits NIE, which provides educational curriculum in schools throughout South Florida.

Westfield Mall is at Broward Boulevard and University Drive.


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November 4, 2009

Sesame Street still educating our kids 40 years later

As much as I try to avoid turning on the TV in our house, you can be assured that PBS is on for a least a few shows a day. The same held true at my house when I was growing up in the 70s. The amazing thing about Sesame Street is that I think you could say that it has touched almost every American's life in some way since it began on November 10th, 1969. Even Google is giving a shout out to Big Bird and the gang today.

One of the most incredible things about the show for me is how it has adapted to each new generation without losing its identity. Wish I could say the same thing for the Electric Company. Anyone see that show lately? Yikes. Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman wouldn't be caught dead on that piece of garbage. Thanks to my sister, I at least have all the original shows on DVD for my kids to enjoy—and they love 'em.

What has made Sesame Street so magical? Needless to say, the genius of Jim Henson had lots to do with it. I can't imagine that the show would've been half as successful if Oscar and the Count had been marionettes. Add to it the beautiful way that learning was snuck into the show without the kids even realizing that they were watching something educational, and you've got the longest running children's program on US television.

Congrats to creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morisett for giving children something fun and educational to watch, and giving parents 40 years of 30 minute breaks.


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Should I get a mammogram?

The public health messages about mammograms have never been more confusing.

For years, we were told every woman over 40 should get a mammogram every year so doctors could detect breast cancer before it became widespread. Although the American Cancer Society is continuing that recommendation, they admitted last month that mammography can “miss cancers that need treatment, and in some cases find disease that does not need treatment.”

That means women are going through chemotherapy and radiation for tumors that don't need intervention. Unfortunately, doctors can't tell the difference yet.

I've had a couple of mammograms over the years but let my prescription for the last one lapse because I've been reading so much about the controversy over their usefulness. I have an appointment next week with my ob-gyn and definitely will broach this topic.

POSTED IN: Health (111), Lois Solomon (211), medicine (9)

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November 3, 2009

Florida KidCare contest: Kids can win scholarship money

Middle and high school students can compete for a $5,000 scholarship by creating a 30-second TV commercial or a billboard promoting Florida KidCare, the insurance program for kids who otherwise would be without affordable health insurance.

Last year, the Act-Our for Health Contest drew 100 contestants. For guidelines and an entry form is at

The winning PSA commercial will air on TV and on YouTube, the winning billboard will be erected in the winner's hometown. Regional winners will also be picked, and, kids have the chance to vote online for a Kids Choice winner. Schools will also benefit: The winners' schools will get $2,000 -- making this a great contest for classrooms and school groups to work on as a team.

Florida KidCare is a state- and federally-funded insurance program for kids who don't have insurance. Kids enrolled in the program get preventive care, immunizations, dental and eye care. Some families pay as little as $15 per month for coverage, most pay nothing.


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Student drive: Collecting food and creating enthusiasm for helping others

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 all three Broward County schools participating:

The St. Mark's Episocal Student Council voted to have a Halloween-themed Dress Day and charged students $1 to wear costumes last Friday with proceeds to go to The Pantry.

The students also report that the Pennies for Pasta campaign is well under way while the Fort Lauderdale school's food drive continues.

When people understand a need, they respond," said student Kevin G

Several students have contacted The Pantry on their own wanting to volunteer.

Recent lessons at St. Mark's covering farming and the food cycle have prompted the eighth-graders to explore markets where they can go and pick fresh produce as a donation to The Pantry.

At Pine Crest School, Patricia Damoorgian, Service Coordinator for the Upper School, reports that students have expressed their enthusiasm in conducting a food drive.

At Coral Glades High School , The DECA Society students will begin their Thanksgiving Food Drive for The Pantry this week.

Inspired? Here is one way students can get involved: with The Pantry:

Help prepare the agency's monthly newsletter: Six to eight volunteers are needed for two days a month to fold the newsletters, place them in envelopes and affix mailing labels. This is a major communication piece for the organization and, therefore, a very important volunteer project.

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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It's such a cliche, the best part of my vacation is coming home

One recent vacation meant spending time without The Kid.

It was nice, I won't lie. But I missed him. I won't lie about that either.

I can survive without my children around (but only for a while). Still, we had adult time for days in a row. And over the summer, he had a vacation without us. And he's already participated in overnight school field trips.

And frankly, I'm the clingy one - every once in a while, I check the blog Free-Range Kids, to help me become more of a free-range mom, to be honest!

We were only a phone call away and he could have called us everyday. We called him a few times to chat. We sent postcards too.

The Kid truly has developed a confidence about his independence - or maybe it's me that is growing. I never took time away from his older brother or sister. And I didn't let them out of my sights.

But I think it is a healthy and normal part of growing up. I spent time away from my family as a kid. A summer camp here, visiting grandma there - overnight sleepovers at friends. IAnd many Saturdays, I even walked from my house to a major mall, as a kid.

Still, there were great things about our vacation: Back at home, The Kid made his school lunch everyday, did his homework, took out the trash, fed the pets and did the dishes. And not once did the adult staying with him have to ask him to do any of that.

I think giving children day to day responsibilities and having expectations about how those are carried out help to build a foundation for when they really are on their own.

But then, there's always coming home. That's nice, wonderful, actually, and I won't lie about that either!

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), General (185), Teen (158)

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November 2, 2009

What are you doing with that Halloween candy?


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Baby Einstein refunds should set parents straight

Recently Baby Einstein announced that it is extending refunds to some parents who purchased the company’s DVDs.

According to reports a group had threatened Disney, Baby Einstein’s parent company with a class-action lawsuit over what the group called, implied claims that the videos are educational.

On Baby Einstein’s website it states that the company makes no such claim. It also states that they’ve always had a refund policy in place.

I’m no Einstein, but I can’t fathom how any parent would think sitting their baby in front of a television for any extended period of time would make them a genius.

Yes, children can learn from television. But if any one program or CD could create an Einstein it would be flying off the shelves.

What’s sad to me is that some parents are so determined to have “the smartest,’’ baby that they spend time and money on products they think will get them on the fast track rather than fully enjoying their child’s development.

I have friends who used to listen to all sorts of music but now play nothing but classical at home because they want their baby's mind to be stimulated.

Some have latched on to companies promising to have children reading at two. Others have their toddlers in so many enrichment classes you would think they were a full time student.

Oh Please. There’s nothing wrong with introducing your child to educational tools, but let a child be a child. Let a baby be a baby.
After all, in some way or the other, we all have a Little Einstein.

POSTED IN: Entertainment (114), Georgia East (44), Toddler (127)

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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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