Moms & Dads: Stories, tips, and advice on raising your kids from South Florida parents | Sun Sentinel blogs

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South Florida parents share their stories and advice


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December 31, 2009

Part 2: Our favorite posts of 2009

Continuing our list of favorite posts of 2009 (in no particular order), we note with pride that our own Anne Vasquez had her second child, a girl, in October. Throughout her pregnancy, she shared what she was learning about parenting in this space and on the WSFL Morning Show. We'd be hard-pressed to pick out favorites from among her posts, so we let you do it: here's the one that got the most comments from you:

Miami among the worst cities to raise a family? No way!

Yes, I know the analysis of FBI, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and other expert sources researched more than 30 factors parents consider important, such as crime and safety, education and health. But stats alone don’t tell the story of a place as vibrant, unique and culturally rich as Miami.

In that spirit, here is my list in favor of raising your family in Miami.

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What I learned from stay-at-home moms

I marveled at their ability to call a girlfriend in the middle of the day and talk for long stretches. (What luxury to have a friend available!)

I marveled at their firm bodies. (Who has time to work out?)

I marveled at their expertise. (No, I didn't know there was an indoor playground four miles from my house.)

My time spent with the moms reinforced three things about parenting...

***

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 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!

***

First day assignment: Communication skills

"We don't have to wear uniforms!" What??????

Why I didn't know this before Monday, I don't really understand. My husband says, "It was on the website." And, "I didn't know you were shopping for uniforms."

You would think that a mom who'd already had one kid go through the school, and whose HUSBAND WORKS THERE, would have an inside track on information. True, I did not check the website. I accept that. But still.

***

Mom on strike: Where is my Mother's Day present?!
Here are four words that have really ticked me off this week: "Happy Belated Mother's Day.'' Or, as it was put to me the day after my gift-less Mother's Day: "Happy Mother's Day Week,'' the implication being that sometime in the span of seven days, I might get the token of appreciation I deserve.

Yes, that's right. Even though Mother's Day is printed on all calendars in America, and advertisers have sent a lot of ideas in the mail that my husband could have caught onto, I was snubbed...

***

Look before you lock: Check the car seat every time you leave the car

The air conditioner had been on during our trip, and I parked under a tree, so the temperature in the car had not even begun to get uncomfortable. If another few minutes had passed, that would have started to change. Quickly. It was late in the morning, a typical day in May. How long would it have taken for my moment of failure to evolve from error to emergency to tragedy? Thank God, I will never find out.

***

Is Katie Holmes wrong to let her toddler wear high heels?

What started out as shoes to complete the Minnie Mouse Halloween costume has snowballed into nearly daily requests from my little one to wear her sparkly yellow high heels. And I let her. In the house.

For months she's clobbered the tile floors in my high-heel shoes and Dad's ginormous sneakers. So why not a pair of play shoes made just like an adult's...?

***

And finally, no post in this blog got anywhere near the reaction of this one. Something about dogs, or pit bulls in particular, really struck a nerve.

The pit bull or the baby: One of them has got to go

I sympathize with those who have tried to stand up for the breed’s reputation.

But I’m also a reporter, which makes me paranoid, and a father-to-be, which makes me doubly so, and that paranoia leads me to think that when campaigns have to be organized to assure me that a particular animal is safe around infants, it’s because they’re not. Pit bulls and babies go together like Freddy Krueger and teenagers.

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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Our favorite posts of 2009 Part 1

These aren't in any particular order, and there's more to come, but we thought you'd enjoy revisiting some of our favorite posts of 2009 with us.

Should a date pitch in for babysitting?

There is a debate stirring among some of my single mom friends about who should pick up the tab for baby-sitting.

While no one expects a first date to pitch in for someone to watch your child, when you’ve been dating someone consistently for a few months, I think the cost of baby-sitting should come up in conversation at some point.

***

Are kids assigned too much homework?

Of course I think most students can handle the homework load they get. Parents overbook their kids in after school programs like dance, sports, clubs, etc. Sure, some kids, maybe many, many kids have the drive to do 1,483 things after school. How many of those things include chores – that’s homework too.

How about telling your future ballerina or football star that school matters?

***

Defying the 'Breast Milk Mafia'

We did try breastfeeding. It didn’t work. There’s a part of me that’s defensive about it, that wants to explain our efforts and justify our decision to switch to formula. But why? Do we owe someone an explanation? ... We switched to formula. The decision was made with tears, followed by relief. Leo slept longer. His weight loss reversed. I can feed the baby. Mom can feed the baby. Big Big Sis and Little Big Sis can feed the baby.

The literature, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, will tell you that “Breast is best.” And they’re right. Who am I to argue?

***

My teen, my critic
I open my mouth occasionally while chewing, I don't keep the living room clean enough, I have bad hair days, I've been known to drink out of the orange juice container, and sometimes I eat with my fingers instead of using a fork.

All of that has gone happily unnoticed for years in our household. By now, my spouse has learned to look past my flaws because he knows I will never admit them. Thus, there's no point bringing them up.

And then Creed turned 13.

***

Questioning gender is a real mind bender

If it takes a famous person like Chastity Bono to openly go through the process to create dialog, that's great. But not everyone is so lucky to have a built in fan-base, financial reserves, good connections. And not everyone is an independent adult.

Your questioning child still depends on you.

It's a complicated issue for those on the outside looking in. But "complicated" doesn't even come close to describing the process for the individual going through it. How does he or she even begin to articulate it to others?

***

If you think you're reproducing tiny "friends," think again

My kids aren't old and mean enough yet to hurl the I hate you!s around. But I know it's coming.
When your kids are young, it's tempting to start dreaming about the future, and the house you'll have next door to your child and his or her family... But these are the thoughts you have when your kids are young, and still nice to you. We mustn't forget that it's probably not going to last. And if you try to remain friends with your child through their teen years, you'll probably do some really terrible parenting.

***

My son's race

What is my son’s race? He’s going to ask me someday.

There’s a census coming around next year, and I’m fairly certain questions about race will be on the form. What are they going to make of my family? And when the time comes for Leonardo to answer that one on his own, what will he say?

My son is descended from white Europeans. And black Africans and Native American Asians. As the brown-skinned son of a brown-skinned father, he’ll probably identify comfortably with the “Hispanic” label, as much as it will miss the point. He’s lucky, in one sense. When idiots tell him to go back to where he or his people came from, he can pick from pretty much anywhere in the world.

***

A little bad is good, right?

When my colleague, Joy Oglesby, whimsically took a photo of a sign I hung on my cubicle wall and playfully Tweeted it, it gave me pause to actually consider the message between the lines - not too seriously mind you...

The sign reads: "Dear Santa, Define Good."

POSTED IN: Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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December 29, 2009

In 2010, I promise to....

Ring in the new year.

Wait - I do have a few more days to continue my current bad habits, before my 2010 Attitude Adjustment.

For 2010 - my New Years resolution is to use my time more wisely. Everything else will fall into place:

I'll be more organized, the house will be cleaner, therefore the child will eat better-and because he'll be more nourished and have more energy: his grades will improve; he'll grow, he'll do more chores-the chain reaction of successes will be endless, merely due to my one humble effort.

OK-I'm good.

Now-on to the child - It will be a joy to remind him of his "promises" throughout the year - only so far I haven't been able to get him to make any new year resolutions.

Do you make new year resolutions? Do your kids?

What special activities or traditions does your family celebrate to ring in the New Year?

Is there a special treat or meal (we have a black-eyed peas dish with our meal) that is a part of your New Years activities.

Have a Happy New Year - but first, share your ringing-in-the-New-Year tips, advice and traditions!

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), Holidays (49)

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Are you celebrating Kwanzaa?

I'm on uncertain ground here.

Olmeda60x56.jpgkwanzaa.jpgKwanzaa. It's not part of my family's culture (the things we actually do) or heritage (the things my parents and their parents actually did).

But as diverse as my circle of friends is, I can't honestly say that I know of anyone who is taking time out this week to mark Kwanzaa, an Afrocentric holiday season hailing the principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

I've seen celebrations. I've covered them as a reporter. But I never knew any of the people there. Kwanzaa runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

Will you be celebrating? How?

What am I missing?

Update:
I guess 'tis the season to be a rabid racist. As you can see by the comments below, not everyone respects Kwanzaa, its history or its principles. And that's okay as far as civil discussion goes. Not everyone agrees with Columbus Day either. People disagree.

But some people were incapable of expressing their disagreements without exposing their rabid racism for all to see. I have no problem with the existence of racists, nor do I have a problem with their right to spew their hatred. But they're not going to use this platform to do it. Just sayin.

So for the time being, we'll have to review comments before they post. It's a temporary cleanser for what has unfortunately proven to be a tough-to-remove stain.

POSTED IN: Holidays (49), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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December 28, 2009

You'll shoot your eye out, kid

If ever there was a case that illustrated the need to disarm the general population...

Well, this isn't it.

But what this case does illustrate is the need to educate people before you arm them. And the need to acquaint some people with the classic tale of Ralphie and the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

A 39-year-old "man" has been charged with child abuse for shooting a boy in the chest with a pellet gun to teach the kid a lesson after the kid shot another boy in the but-tocks with the same gun.

CadySomeone disarm these people!

Seems the kid got the gun as a present, then shot his autistic cousin. The "man," who by the way just happens to be a registered sex offender (hanging out with armed adolescents and their young autistic cousins) took the gun from the shooter and fired to show him, hey, you don't do that. It hurts.

Let's see: to show someone that his actions are painful, you subject that person to the very pain he caused.

Is a registered sex offender really the person who wants to impart this lesson?

Christopher Fred Cady was charged with felony cruelty toward child without great harm. He is being held in St. Lucie County Jail without bail for failing to report a change in address or name as a sex offender.

No word on whether anyone involved will be forced to sit through repeated viewings of A Christmas Story.

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

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December 27, 2009

Wrapping up Christmas

After the Christmas gifts were opened -what happened to all that wrapping paper?

We actually do something now that I'd only seen my grandmother do and I thought I was "stupid" and "weird" at the time - she'd fold up the wrapping paper to reuse another time.

Yep - I recycle-OK-I reuse - as much as I can. And I think I out-do my grandmother in the weirdness department, because I will use bath towels or blankets to wrap larger gifts. Yes, you read that right - I use towels and blankets for larger gifts.

I'll admit - it creates an unusual multi-tasking moment: folding laundry and receiving a gift at the same time. Oh well.

Besides, more and more, I feel guilty creating waste using wrapping paper and boxes that will be tossed out - unless I am there to the rescue.

Oh yeah, and then there's the Christmas tree - Ours ends up in our outside fireplace during the remaining cool or cold evenings-nothing goes to waste as we sit by a crackling fire with a little glass of wine under a clear starry night....

How do you minimize gift-wrapping waste - what do you do with your Christmas tree?

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Cindy Kent (78), Holidays (49)

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December 24, 2009

Share your family's Christmas traditions. Yes, I said the "C" word.

Sorry if I'm stepping on anyone's toes for not being politically correct, but we celebrate Christmas in our house. Not that we're religious - quite the contrary - but since it is Christmas eve...

Unfortunately I'm still stuck here at the office for a while, but soon I'll be at a friend's house for a cocktail party to be followed by seafood and egg nog around our tree at home. We're starting some new traditions in our house since our children are still young. For instance, tonight before we tuck the kids into bed we'll read them Twas the Night Before Christmas. After that, things get a little tricky.

Our two boys sleep with their door open, mostly because my two year old gets out of bed in the middle of the night to go pee-pee and has trouble getting the door open when he's half awake. This becomes a much bigger issue tonight as the man in the red suit needs to set up all of the goodies without any kids walking through the living room. Tonight will definitely be interesting.

So, if any of you are reading this post instead of enjoying some quality family time—STOP! Go back to your friends and family and turn off the computer! But before you do, share with us some of your favorite traditions.

POSTED IN: Chris Tiedje (51), Holidays (49)

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December 23, 2009

Can a nice Jewish girl sit on Santa's lap?

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-thumb.jpgJenny 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’m not gonna throw myself under the bus and call my children spoiled, as I would have only myself to blame.

I will say, however, they have an extreme sense of entitlement, which I am sure has little to do with them being lavished with gifts undeservedly. My children want everything they see, hear about, could get as a party favor, could find in a McDonalds happy meal, a cereal box, a piñata, or view in a commercial.

“Mommy can I have that? Will you buy me that? Mommy friends neighbor has that. I want that. When can I have that? Mommy? Ma? Maaaaaaaa? MOM! This exchange of words usually ends with, “If you mention it again, the answer will be never.” “Never? I can’t even have a Clone Trooper Voice Changer Helmet when I’m 25?” “Sure. If you still want a Clone Trooper Voice Changer Helmet at 25, you can wear it to therapy.”

“How about I get it for my next birthday, or maybe Kwanzaa?” My son is already eyeing a camouflage pencil set for Secretaries Day, and has informed me that, although we are Jewish, he will be giving up vegetables for Lent.

My children’s Chanukah wish lists were so comprehensive, I was forced to explore alternative channels in my gift search. Consequently, I sent a friendly letter asking someone who has slighted me in the past for help.

Some might say it’s more of a formal accusation, but really it’s just a hand delivered note that needs to be notarized and signed on receipt.

Dear Santa,
I have never complained about you forgetting us Jews in the past, but times are tough. I mean, I don’t want to threaten you or anything, but let’s talk religious profiling, shall we?

I’m sure the fact that we don’t believe in you has something to do with you snubbing us year after year. Do we, a people known to produce a whiner or two, complain? No, some of us, me included have made an effort to believe.

Let us not forget Christmas of 83’ when I sat on your lap asking for a Speak N’ Spell, a Magic Eight Ball, and Shawn Cassidy’s “Da Doo Ron Ron” 45. I have a laminated picture from Macy’s to prove it.

Do you not bombard us with your festive songs and holiday movies made with delightfully animated reindeer and elves? Do Jews get to go a-caroling? No, we have one song… about kids gambling. Has Dreidel ever starred in a delightfully animated holiday movie? Has Snoopy, or Barbie, or a single Disney character ever lit a Menorah? Maybe in the privacy of their own homes, but certainly never on camera (it’s in their contracts.)

We’re okay with that, because we wrote those contracts. Sure, we take advantage of your sales and vacations. We watch your shows, and sing your catchy songs. We’ll decorate a tree with blue and white twinkle lights, top it with a six pointed star, and call it a Chanukah bush.
Santa, my Roth IRA is down 40%. I deserve a little holiday cheer. You can look me up, I’ve been nice, and I’d like to keep it that way.

My daughter wishes to receive the “true to life" --and possibly poisonous-- Zhu Zhu pets. She would also like the “now true to life on the streets” Bratz Doll, which comes complete with Brazilian waxing kit and requisite diaphragm.

My son “just has to have” the new Guitar Hero “I Choked on My Own Vomit Tour,” a super Bakugan the size of his head, and some alone time with my daughter’s Bratz doll. I will forward you the unabridged version via zip file. I look forward to us all getting along!

Sincerely,
Frustrated Jewish Mom

P.S. I feel like maybe we got off on the wrong foot here. I didn’t mean to sound so hostile. Santa, just tell me what a girl’s gotta do to get some Christian love? I can be naughty if necessary (wink, wink).

POSTED IN: None

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Aw, mom, can I open just one - please?

One, as in one early Christmas gift.

Of course, I have to admit, it's actually a family tradition that the adults in my house started - so we don't really blame the kids for asking and begging to open an early Christmas gift.

Actually, the asking starts soon after Thanksgiving - and its kind of fun to torture the child. giftstack.jpg

"Maybe," is our single-worded answer until the day before Christmas when our answer changes to "possibly," and finally - "yes."

The choice is ours - we pick out the gift to get unwrapped early. That's also part of the fun.

Though no gift is a dud - sometimes we give what he'll perceive to be the "blandest" of the bunch (and serves as merely another fun parenting moment!)

Do you let kids open early Christmas gifts? Is there a tradition or purpose behind your Christmas Eve early unwrapping? To be honest, I couldn't come up with a good reason as to why we do either.

Merry Christmas!

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), General (185), Holidays (49), Pre-Teen (57), Teen (158), Toys (15)

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December 18, 2009

Family time: Myth vs. reality

wonderful-life.jpg
For the first time EVER, my husband and I both have Christmas week off. I'm so excited. Typically, since he's a teacher, he holds down the fort while I work, and I squeeze in holiday prep when I can.

But next week will be awesome! I made dentist, orthodontist and doctor appointments for the kids. They both have school projects to work on. Have to finish gift shopping and mail the cards. Plus wrapping. Bake delicate Scandinavian goodies -- since the weather will be cool enough. Have to clean the house. Get a new air conditioning system installed (which means taking apart a closet and putting it back together again.) Take the car in.

Sounds a lot like work.

But, we've vowed to do something fun every day as a family -- nothing too extravagant. But something. Watch a movie. Go somewhere different for lunch. Take the dog to the bark park. Play a boardgame.

In my imagination, this is how families spend time together -- everybody is smiling and laughing and drinking warm apple cider, and the teen wants to play board games instead of Modern Warfare on his XBox.

Is this your reality? If you are lucky enough to have time off over the holiday break, tell me how you plan to carve out some family time. I need some ideas -- and a reality check.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Family Issues (231), General (185), Holidays (49)

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December 17, 2009

Let boys be boys, and gentlemen

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%255B1%255D-thumb-thumb.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 last wrote about three vocabulary games to play with young children.

Is your son a gentlemen? It's a word that we don’t use too often these days. The way we raise our boys today will determine the types of men that we have in our society in a decade or so. With more equality for woman and girls, we are now asking less of our young men and boys. Each day I see boys, and girls, too for that matter, that are not held accountable for their actions. All parents need to teach courtesy, manners and respect for others as a life skill.

Some might argue that, “ladies first,” is a phrase from the past. Maybe so, but as a parent and teacher, nothing pleases me more than seeing a boy with manners. Proper courtesy to others is a reflection of a family's values. Teaching manners instills both a respect for others (including siblings), and respect for oneself. Does your son practice the behaviors listed below? If not, perhaps it's time to teach him these:

1. Open the door for others, especially women, mothers with strollers, and older people

2. Shake hands and look people in the eye when greeting them

3. Assist seniors (grandparents, etc.) with getting in or out of the car and carrying groceries

4. Take off hats during the national anthem (any country's) and Pledge of Allegiance

5. Know not to interrupt adults or peers when they are talking and instead listen and have respect for what others have to say, even if they have a different point of view

6. Accept responsibility for actions, good and bad

7. Use "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" as appropriate

Good manners should be an unconditional parental expectation. The best way to teach manners is to model them daily yourself. Although children often learn best by emulating what they see, it’s also important to make clear what your expectations are. Praise your son when he exhibits good manners. Children want attention and will strive to get it. If they get more attention when they are praised than when they are corrected, the good behavior will become the norm.

Of course all of the above goes for girls, too. Although when they get older they’ll appreciate, "ladies first." You can count on it!

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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December 16, 2009

A little bad is good, right?

When my colleague, Joy Oglesby, whimsically took a photo of a sign I hung on my cubicle wall and playfully Tweeted it, it gave me pause to actually consider the message between the lines - not too seriously mind you, but it inspires today's missive.

The sign reads: "Dear Santa, Define Good."

As a kid growing up, I learned that back in the day, St. Nicholas would put coal in cubesign.jpg stockings of children he deemed undeserving of any other gift that year. I wondered, could the poor soul have redeemed him or herself with a last minute good deed?

What about giving? I don't believe for one minute that as we shop for holiday gifts each year, it's completely without judgment. I don't know if that's good or bad.

I think we do consider how our children behave. We recall how our friends treated us all year long. We decide if other family members have been naughty or nice.

I think most parents are in year-round, is-my-kid-good behavior-assessment mode anyway. How good are the kids' grades? Do they do their chores with grace? (I know, that is a lofty idea!). Are they polite to the grandparents, friends and us?

But as the holidays loom, and we haven't had a chance to do early Christmas shopping, another opportunity for us parents arise: to further define good by looking at even smaller behaviors!

As I brave the crowds of other harried and over-stressed consumers, I know I'll be asking myself: do the kids pout-did they shout? Do they cry? They better not have- at least not from around Halloween on through the holiday shopping season. Because us parents are doing enough of that ourselves waiting in lines to purchase stuff.

POSTED IN: Activities (143), Cindy Kent (78), Family Issues (231), Teen (158), Toys (15)

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Palm Beach County schools snub parents with calendar

Once again, the Palm Beach County School District has ignored the parents who worked hard two years ago to get the state to set a mandatory minimum school start date, two weeks before Labor Day.augustcalendar.jpg

District officials got a waiver from the law in the current school year, and announced last week they will use it again next year, when school will start Aug. 17. Without the waiver, the earliest date would have been Aug. 23.

You may ask, "What's the big deal? It's just a six day difference." But district officials have proven this year that they have trouble working with teachers and parents, many of whom lobbied the state to get this law passed. This is another example of their willingness to snub.

I'm familiar with the argument that the district wants winter break to begin after mid-terms. They don't want kids to worry about their exams during their vacation. But why do most other states not concern themselves with this issue, and their education systems are much better than ours? I doubt the timing makes much difference in our students' achievement. Let's get in sync with the rest of the country.

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

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December 15, 2009

Filling the pantry: How students helped seniors

For the last five months, 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:

All of us at The Pantry of Broward are truly awed by the efforts of the students at St. Mark's Episcopal School, the Pine Crest School and Coral Glades High School. These youngsters selflessly went about the task of raising funds, conducting food drives, visiting the Pantry to assemble newsletters and boxing grocery items for delivery to our senior clients, which, all in a short span of time, generated awareness for the seniors who are assisted by The Pantry of Broward.

Their efforts can be tallied big time: St. Mark's students presented several hundred pounds of donated food items as well as a check for $708 that was collected from their "Dress Down Day," "Pennies for Pasta" and "Nickels for Noodles" campaigns.

Pantry-check.jpgWe are also happy to report that the Coral Glades High School DECA Club collected 681 pounds of food for The Pantry of Broward.

Thank you, Sun Sentinel for this opportunity to tell our story over these months and to make new friends among your readers.

(Pictured: St. Mark's student Lauren M., president of the Senior Student Council presents a check for $708 to Bruce Harris of The Pantry of Broward.)

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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My son's race

What is my son’s race? He’s going to ask me someday.

There’s a census coming around next year, and I’m fairly certain questions about race will be on the form. What are they going to make of my family? And when the time comes for Leonardo to answer that one on his own, what will he say?

LeoSteps.JPGI am Hispanic. But Hispanic is not a race. There are black Hispanics and white Hispanics. Roberto Clemente and Celia Cruz were Hispanic. So is Martin Sheen, the all-American man who played John F. Kennedy and Josiah Bartlet.

So telling you I’m Hispanic tells you nothing about my race.

I am brown, a descendant, likely, of European settlers, African slaves and the “indigenous” population of the Caribbean, which according to anthropologists migrated to the Western Hemisphere from Asia.

I am the white descendant of Europeans, the black descendant of Africans, the Native American descendant of Asians. For some reason, when the counting is done, the easiest thing to do is to say I am Hispanic, as if a word that does nothing to describe “race” can somehow eliminate the need for further discussion.

And my son is Hispanic.

But wait. His mother is not.

His mother is one-hundred-percent Italian. And another hundred percent Scottish, and Polish… There’s a heritage there that, like mine, is rich and beautiful. There is a history of struggle, determination, migration and immigration. There are achievements that should be celebrated, and some that serve as history’s warnings against pride or the lust for power. Just like my heritage. And yours, I’ll bet.

My son is descended from white Europeans. And black Africans and Native American Asians. As the brown-skinned son of a brown-skinned father, he’ll probably identify comfortably with the “Hispanic” label, as much as it will miss the point. He’s lucky, in one sense. When idiots tell him to go back to where he or his people came from, he can pick from pretty much anywhere in the world.

What is my son’s race? He’s going to ask me someday.

Maybe I’ll tell my son to answer the way my college professor, Bob Martinez, answered. Check all the boxes that apply. Which is to say: check all the boxes.

What is my son’s race? He’s going to ask me someday.

And I’m going to answer.

Human.

POSTED IN: Family Issues (231), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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December 14, 2009

Kid piggy bank takes money management to new highs, or lows

I noticed a new piggy bank on the market that I wanted to share with you. It was featured in a story in our weekend paper. It caught my eye because I've been teaching my kids about saving money, and recently opened savings accounts for them at a credit union.

Well this story has a ton of gift ideas that tie into educating your child about money. And the piggy bank is one of them. (Click here to see it.)

It's a modernized piggy bank in that it has four segments: Save, Spend, Donate and Invest. You can buy a booklet to go with it. I have to admit the description made me laugh:

Kids can color the pages while they learn about important concepts such as bartering, interest on your savings, goal-setting, smart-spending, philanthropy, long-term investing and entrepreneurship. Other activities include establishing personal savings goals, creating a spending wish list, designing a worthwhile charity, and crafting a business idea.

Ok, whatever. In our household we haven't really gotten past "Let's go spend your allowance at the Dollar Store.'' I'm not sure if my daughter is ready to design a worthwhile charity.

But the idea of teaching investment is intriguing. You can actually buy one share of stock for your kid, framed, to get them started in the stock market. Click here to see.

Then again, if the stock drops, how much fun would that be? Would this be a good opportunity to teach our children why they will be taking care of Mommy and Daddy for the rest of our lives because of the performance of our 401(k)s?

By the time I read all this I had already bought my kids an investment of sorts, anyway: scratch off tickets for the Florida Lottery. Is that so wrong?

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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December 11, 2009

Look before you lock: Check the car seat every time you leave the car

The Washington Post article mentioned in this post has been honored with the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. Kudos!

They were the longest 20 seconds of my life.

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

That’s about how long it took for me to get from the waiting room of the doctor’s office, across the parking lot to the shaded space where I’d left the SUV just a few minutes earlier. When I opened the back door, Leo, my 3-month-old son, looked at me and smiled, blissfully unaware of the foolish, unforgivable, incomprehensible mistake I’d just made. I picked him up, hugged him, kissed his chubby cheek, begged him to forgive me and held him close, vowing I'd never, ever allow myself to become so distracted again. Ever.

BabyBoard.jpgLook before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

The air conditioner had been on during our trip, and I parked under a tree, so the temperature in the car had not even begun to get uncomfortable. If another few minutes had passed, that would have started to change. Quickly. It was late in the morning, a typical day in May. How long would it have taken for my moment of failure to evolve from error to emergency to tragedy? Thank God, I will never find out.

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

"How could any parent forget a baby in a car?" That’s the refrain from the public every time the tragedy occurs. Then comes the judging. "Self-centered." "Should be sterilized." "I could never forget my kid." "Bad parent." "Idiot." I fear for those who so readily pass judgment, who feel they are above doing something so avoidably tragic. I fear for those who are so self-assured that their vigilance is reduced, because I was one of you, and I almost did it. I almost did it to my baby.

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

Earlier this year, the Washington Post ran a powerful story on the subject, a story you MUST read. I learned about it from the excellent New York Times blog Motherlode. In the Post article, writer Gene Weingarten went through the list of people who weren’t as lucky as I was. People who did not realize their mistake until it was too late. People who probably were once among those who thought "I could never forget my baby in the car."

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

“In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker,” Weingarten wrote. “A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.”

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

I always used to cringe when I saw stories about parents facing homicide charges for forgetting their children in hot cars. Now the feeling is worse. Now I have an infant, and now I know I was that close to adding “news reporter” to Weingarten’s list.

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

The Motherlode story refers to gadgetry that might help avert these tragedies. You know how some cars chime when the door is opened while the key is in the ignition or the lights are on? At least one company is making a gizmo that plays a lullaby whenever the baby is in the carseat and the car’s not moving. Good idea.

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

I don’t know whether the gadget will catch on. I’ve settled on a different routine, one that involves opening the back door and physically looking to make sure the car seat is empty. It’s an easy habit to develop, and could be a tragic one to ignore.

Look before you lock. Check the car seat every time you leave the car.

For more information on car safety for children, visit www.kidsandcars.org.


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

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December 10, 2009

Christmas music from Heck

I can't wait to teach my kid "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and all sorts of other Christmas carols that somehow invaded my home despite my upbringing in a religion that frowned on most holidays.

But there are some Christmas songs I'd rather skip, thank you very much.

1. Do They Know It's Christmas (Band Aid)

I know it was a big charitable hit and it was written to inspire philanthropy, so I can't knock it that much. And I love the bells. But 25 years after the song's debut, I've finally come to the realization that it's an insipid ditty best left to music history classes. In any event, it should not be a holiday staple. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime." Of course not. There won't be snow in Puerto Rico or Argentina, either. So what? It's the southern hemisphere. It doesn't snow at Christmastime in the southern hemisphere.

"Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow..." What? Nothing ever grows... in Africa? Is that a joke? Ever hear of the Congo? No rain or rivers flow? Someone's in de-Nile!

2. Step Into Christmas (Elton John)

"Welcome to my critique of your Christmas song. I'd like to write about how bad it is." Musically, lyrically, ugh. A guaranteed tuner-changer in my car every time it comes on.

3. Happy Christmas, War is Over (John Lennon)

What a DOWNER! This is like getting a Christmas card from Scrooge before the ghosts came by. And the kids are supposed to sound cute, but instead they define cacophony. This song exists solely for the purpose of sapping the joy out of the season.

P.S. War is not over. But it is nice to imagine.

And speaking of the British and the Beatles butchering Christmas...

4. Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney)

Who wrote this? Seriously, who? Dull. Ding dong ding dong! It kills me that the person who wrote this gets royalties for it every year. I know, he's got more musical talent than I do. But this song does not prove that case.

5. Winter Wonderland (The Eurythmics)

This is actually not bad, but the opening! It sounds like it's introducing a cheesy 1970s horror movie.

Ok, am I through picking on the British yet? Oh, wait, no, I forgot one.

6. Last Christmas (Wham!)

Let me get this straight. You got dumped on Dec. 26, and I have to hear about it from Thanksgiving through Dec. 25 every year for the rest of my life?

Okay, no more picking on the British.

7. The Christmas Shoes (Newsong)

Gag me with a sugarcoated saccharine pill. It sounds really sad and heartbreaking until it's over and you realize how relentlessly you've been manipulated.

8. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Bruce Springsteen)

Actually, I despise all similar versions of this song (the Jackson 5 version is particularly bad). But there's something about the Boss' version that deserves exceptional contempt. Why? He sounds drunk.

9. Feliz Navidad (Jose Felciano)

I first noticed a couple of years ago that this may be the most redundant song in the history of music. Inspired by Weird Al Yankovic, I came up with the following rewrite:

This song has five words. This song has five words.
This song has five words, so won't you help me think of some more.
This song has five words. This song has five words.
This song has five words, so won't you help me think of some more.

I wish that I had some brand new lyrics. I wish that I had some brand new lyrics.
Because if I had some brand new lyrics, I would add them to this song.
I wish that I had some brand new lyrics. I wish that I had some brand new lyrics.
Because if I had some brand new lyrics, I would add them to this song.

This song has five words. This song has five words.
This song has five words, so won't you help me think of some more.
This song has five words. This song has five words.
This song has five words, so won't you help me think of some more.

I wish that I had some brand new lyrics. I wish that I had some brand new lyrics.
Because if I had some brand new lyrics, I would add them to this song.
I wish that I had some brand new lyrics. I wish that I had some brand new lyrics.
Because if I had some brand new lyrics, I would add them to this song.

This song has five words. This song has five words.
This song has five words, so won't you help me think of some more.
This song has five words. This song has five words.
This song has five words, so won't you help me think of some more.

What's on your list?

POSTED IN: Holidays (49), Music (22), Rafael Olmeda 2009 (47)

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December 9, 2009

Teacher gifts: A simple note of thanks will do

kid-gift.jpg
Buying teacher gifts are kind of a chore, right? The older my kids get, the trickier the whole enterprise is: When you've got six or seven teachers to buy for, it really adds up. (And persuading my son to actually deliver a card without drawing attention to himself is another obstacle.)

In this economy, families may decide they just can't give anything to teachers this year. But that's OK. Don't let that stop you from showing your appreciation. Send a heartfelt note from you or your child, and you will make that teacher's day.

My husband loves to get notes like that from his eighth-graders. He saves them, and looks back on them years later. They remind him that, perhaps, he did make a difference. He remembers those cards much longer than the Starbucks gift cards (although he certainly appreciates those, too).

But if you are going to buy gifts this year, consider gift cards to bookstores, especially. That's something a teacher can use for herself or in the classroom. If you know the teacher really well, try something more personal.

Here's what to avoid: knick-knacks, fragrances, clothing or accessories. Food and candy is risky because you may not know about diets or allergies.

And here's another idea I really like: Buy a pack of EXPO dry erase markers, and include a note to the teacher that the gift helps other teachers, too.

For every pack of EXPO markers sold in November and December, EXPO will donate another marker to the Kids in Need Foundation. This foundation operates 23 centers around the country, including in Broward County, where teachers at Title 1 schools can shop for free supplies.

Mari-Lee Baxter, program coordinator for the Broward Education Foundation, which operates the resource center, says teachers spend $500-$800 of their own money for school supplies each year. That's not surprising. My husband teaches at a school with generous parents, but he routinely has to restock the tissues and Purell and, yes, the dry erase markers.

Baxter's center helps 140 Title 1 schools in Broward County. She said teachers especially need those dry erase markers, pencils and composition books. And they cheefully accept donations.

To help, contact Baxter at the Broward Education Foundation or call 754-321-2034.




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Should 11-year-olds go to the mall unaccompanied?

I was willing to let my 11-year-old and three friends go to the mall without an adult last weekend. The other mothers wanted a grown-up nearby, so they ended up going to the mall with the kids.

The girls were trying on bracelets in one of the stores, and two of the bracelets broke. The store clerk, who was watching them, accused them of trying to take the tags off the bracelets, and an incident ensued. The mom who was with them but in another store at the time came in and rectified the situation.

Although I couldn't have imagined this scenario, I still think a mall is a relatively safe place to be. You are never alone. At the same time, situations may come up that the kids are too young to handle.

Do you let your kids go to the mall with friends?

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Pre-Teen (57), Shopping (28)

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December 8, 2009

What's on your teen's Christmas lists?

"A baloney sandwich!"

Donald Duck put one on his Christmas list, as anyone who's seen the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode "Mickey Saves Santa" can tell you. I think you know your Christmas list has gotten out of hand when it includes lunch.

MickeySanta.jpgI got my parenting job a little late. By the time I entered the picture, the girls were entering their teen years. So I pretty much missed the part where they were solely on the receiving end of the gift-giving process. I'm seeing that now with my newborn, who's about to experience his first Christmas.

We broached the subject of Christmas lists in our family a couple of months ago.

"I want..."

Name it. An iPod Cold Fusion, a latptop with Windows 40 for Macs. A flying car that runs on a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. And a gift card with an unlimited balance at Coldstone and Starbucks.

"And what's on your other list?" I asked. "What's on your GIVE list?"

Huh? What's a give list?

I think teens need to learn, especially as their "gimme" lists become smaller yet more expensive, that the season has more to do with giving than with receiving. I'd bet that teenagers who develop lists of what they want to give for Christmas, and follow through on getting those things for others, will develop a deeper appreciation of what they get for Christmas.

My teenage stepdaughters and I are conspiring on gifts for their mom, and they're working with her on gifts for other family members. And I think it's as much fun for them as it is for us.

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

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December 7, 2009

It's high time to stop waking up your child every morning -- alarm train ASAP!

The thought didn't strike me until my son entered high school: Why am I still waking him up every morning, like he's some kind of toddler?

And so I am alarm-training him.

It's not that waking him up was a chore. In fact, we laughed about the fact that in order to wake him up, all I had to do was touch him with one finger on his arm. And I liked greeting him in the morning, welcoming him to a new day.

But we mommies aren't going to be in the dorm room. We aren't going to be around to make sure our kids get up for work on time. At some point, we have to stop wallowing in the joy of motherhood, and teach our kids to be self-sufficient.

I bought Creed an alarm clock. It has a loud, obnoxious ring. At first, he was taken aback by the whole thing.

"What the heck?!!!?!?!'' he shouted the first time his sleep was interrupted by a blaring alarm.

But now he's getting used to it. This writer says we should be alarm-training our kids much younger, as soon as they are school age. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Another writer suggests letting your child pick out an alarm clock. There are some cute alarm clocks on the market, for children.

But I'd add this one important bit of advice: Do not teach them about the snooze button!

POSTED IN: Brittany Wallman (160)

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December 4, 2009

No more helicopter parents

helicopter.jpg
Because I tend to worry unnecessarily about silly things, I've been worrying lately about whether or not I will be a helicopter parent when my kids go to college.

These are the parents who hover, who refuse to cut the apron strings. Who talk to their young adult children multiple times a day. Who try to solve all their problems for them. Who intervene with professors and deans and dorm resident assistants. Ack.

My husband thinks I have these tendencies, but he is wrong, wrong, wrong.

For more, check out Time's recent excellent piece on the topic.

So I was excited to observe on Facebook a new phrase being coined, perhaps, by some friend of someone I once knew.

This dad said he was a "flare parent." He fires off a flare every once in a while so the kids can find their way home.

I like this, and intend to adopt "flare parenting" as a philosophy.

Unless there's a better one. I'm still shopping for good parenting philosopies. Any ideas?



POSTED IN: None

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December 3, 2009

Three quick games to help your child read

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-thumb.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.

When my daughter was a year old and only had a few words in her vocabulary, I did a really great thing without realizing that I was doing it. I'd sing her a song that she had heard me sing before, this time leaving out a word or two of the chorus.

I'd also recite nursery rhymes repeatedly letting her fill in the words that rhymed. I didn't know until years later that I'd stumbled upon phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is a reading strategy. It is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds (or phonemes) in spoken language as they relate to written language.

It is not to be confused with phonics which is a code to sound out written words. I like to describe phonemic awareness in young children as their ability to hear, use, and understand the rhyme and rhythm in our speech.

Phonemic awareness improves children's ability to read, spell and comprehend what is read.

Here are three quick games to play with your child. Most don't require a paper or pencil so they are great activities for the car.

SEGMENTING SYLLABLES

Say aloud and clap the syllables in words. Example: How many syllables are in the words: cat; cupcake; elephant; television; etc.?


BEGINNING SOUND SUBSTITUTION

Change the first sound of the word to make a new word.

Examples:
"Can you change the word cat to mat?"
"Can you change the word cook to shook?"
"Can you think of a word that rhymes with sock, but starts with an 'l/'?"


TEACHING SOUNDS IN ISOLATION

Identify individual sounds in words.

Examples:
"What sound do you hear at the beginning of the word hen?"
"What sound do you hear in the middle if the word pig?"
"What is the ending sound of lion?"
"What sound do all of these words begin with: duck; dog; damp?"
"What do these words end with: sock; quack; kick?"

Identify words from individual sounds.

Examples:
Slowly stretch out the sounds in the word: c / a / t. Then ask, "What word am I saying?"
Slowly stretch out the sounds in the word: j / u / m / p. Then ask, "What word am I saying?"

POSTED IN: Guest Post (79)

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December 2, 2009

Tiger Woods and the death of family values

The greatest golfer in the world has proven that he is a mere mortal. We've all heard the news by now that the man whom many held in the highest regard has committed what in this writers eyes is the worst of all sins — adultery. Now I'm not a religious man, but there is nothing in the world more precious to me than my wife and children. I cannot imagine for one minute that any affair with even the hottest of supermodels is worth hurting my family. Call me crazy.

I'm not trying to say that I am perfect by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I saying that this is anyone's business but the Woods family, but the cat is out of the bag and what seemed to be an idyllic family image is shattered. I sincerely hope the best for them and hope that they can work things out for the sake of their kids.

We all probably know someone who has had their family damaged by an unfaithful spouse, and unfortunately it is usually the children who pay the price. I found this article titled "How Infidelity Affects the Child" which talks about how kids learn from their parents — for better or for worse. A child who experiences infidelity is more likely to become a homewrecker themselves.

I hope for the sake of Tiger's kids, Sam and Charlie, that they are too young to be changed by these events.

Do you know someone whose life has been affected by an affair? Anyone have any advice on how to soften the blow on the children? Share your thoughts with us.

POSTED IN: Chris Tiedje (51), Family Issues (231)

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Miley and me: That girl has a hold on me

miley-ej.JPG
In my concert-going prime, I saw everyone from Willie Nelson to Public Enemy, The Cure to Chick Corea. Even Wendy O Williams (true story...I cried it was so awful and scary). And there are a handful of artists I've seen more than once -- Springsteen, REM, U2 (several times).

Now, add to that multiples list: Miley Cyrus.

I really am having a hard time grasping this, what I've become. Not one Miley Cyrus concert, but two. And it gets worse.

This sounds like a bad Jeff Foxworthy joke, but, you know you're an indulgent mom when you let your daughter skip school to go to Orlando for a Hannah/Miley concert, which is what happened during the pop star's first tour. Remember the frenzy over those tickets? I actually didn't even try. But, my friend got four tickets and invited us along, and it was a one-time adventure, and we spent a day at Universal, and ...Oh, I don't know how I rationalized it at the time. It was nuts. In my house, we don't skip school for anything, not even a runny nose.

So I don't really understand what got into me when I ordered four tickets months ago for Miley's concert tonight in Miami. On a school night, no less.

And the thing is, Erika is not a crazy fan. She may be a pre-teen, but she's no teenybopper. Sure, she likes Miley, likes the TV show, has the CDs. But there are no posters on her wall. No stickers on her school folders. No Miley-brand clothes in her closet. Whether or not Miley is a good role model is sort of irrelevant in our house because, bless her heart, Erika is not much of a stargazer. She just likes the music.

I'm sure we'll have a good time tonight, with another friend and her daughter. We'll sing along and hold up our cell phones in the darkened arena.

But I draw the line at buying a t-shirt. No really...I mean it.

P.S. Here's the set list for tonight's concert.


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Kid soccer players should eat healthy food

I am thrilled that my fifth grader is finally getting some exercise by playing soccer in our local league.girlsoccer.jpg

Parents alternate bringing snacks for the kids after the game. I have been shocked by the junk food people bring: potato chips, popcorn, candy, sweetened juice drinks.

On the other hand, I thought about what I will bring when it's my turn, and I was stumped. It's hard to come up with a healthy snack for a dozen girls who have just played soccer for two hours.

Cut-up vegetables are not going to be a big hit. Fruit salad might work, although I'm not too excited about cutting up fruit right before a game. Please help me with ideas!

POSTED IN: Lois Solomon (211), Sports (29)

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December 1, 2009

Is Katie Holmes wrong to let 3-year-old wear high heels?

Katie Holmes' 3-year-old is wearing high heels and E!Online is aghast. Really, E!Online? Do you have a child?

High heels fit for a toddler have come to roost in my house, so I won't wag my finger and tsk, tsk with the best of them.

minniemouseshoes.jpgWhat started out as shoes to complete the Minnie Mouse Halloween costume has snowballed into nearly daily requests from my little one to wear her sparkly yellow high heels. And I let her. In the house.

For months she's clobbered the tile floors in my high-heel shoes and Dad's ginormous sneakers. So why not a pair of play shoes made just like an adult's to go along with her kid-sized kitchen, and doctor instruments and screwdriver (the tool not the drink)?

Where do you stand in the high heels for toddlers debate?

POSTED IN: Joy Oglesby (134)

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Make a date with your child's future

What does your son or daughter want to be when they grow up? Some kids already know while others explore all kinds of careers.

About a year ago, we took The Kid to a magnet school showcase presented by Broward County Public Schools. Going helped us to make a decision as to which high school he would attend. He visited booths, talked to teachers and students.

The next one is Wednesday, Dec. 2. Make it a dinner date with your child. The connections students develop run much deeper than just spending another day at school.

The Kid looked at every single school's booth, displays and projects. He considered everything. Already participating in a marine science program at New River Middle, he choose to continue the marine science program at South Broward High School.

Magnet programs focus on skills from art to architecture; music to math and everything in between. There is an awesome array of resources, dedicated and passionate teachers and administrators.

The Kids really liked the way his soon-to-be fellow students conveyed their experiences so positively. It's no cake walk, they told him. It's a lot of work and responsibility. Now, those students are his role models.

Here's an update: The Kid will be one of about a half dozen students representing his school at the showcase this year. And as middle-schoolers and their parents browse the aisles he'll be there to greet, discuss, show and guide - another role-model in the making.

POSTED IN: Cindy Kent (78), School Issues (135), Teen (158)

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About the authors
Gretchen Day-Bryant has a son in high school and a daughter in middle school. She’s lived to tell about the struggles of juggling little kids and work.
Joy Oglesby has a preschooler...
Cindy Kent Fort Lauderdale mother of three. Her kids span in ages from teenager to 20s.
Rafael Olmeda and his wife welcomed their first son in Feb. 2009, and he's helping raise two teenage stepdaughters.
Lois Solomonlives with her husband and three daughters.
Georgia East is the parent of a five-year-old girl, who came into the world weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces.
Brittany Wallman is the mother of Creed, 15, and Lily, 7, and is married to a journalist, Bob Norman. She covers Broward County government, which is filled with almost as much drama as the Norman household. Almost.
Chris Tiedje is the Social Media Coordinator and the father of a 7-year-old girl, and two boys ages 4 and 3.
Kyara Lomer Camarena has a 2-year-old son, Copelan, and a brand new baby.


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