Moms & Dads

South Florida parents share their stories and advice

Category: Brittany Wallman (160)

Teacher tells fourth-graders there is no tooth fairy

My fourth-grader daughter's teacher told the class that there is no tooth fairy.

Lily told me on our drive to school this morning. I'm kind of glad. And I don't want to get the guy in trouble. He's a pretty no-nonsense teacher who tells them all kinds of interesting things about his life.

She said, "Mom, Mr. (Name Withheld to Protect Him from Crazy Parents) said the tooth fairy is our moms and dads!''

I burst out laughing and asked for the context. She said a boy who gets in trouble all the time was messing with a loose tooth, and the teacher said, "What, are you waiting on the tooth fairy? Well it's just your mom and dad, so give up."

I laughed some more, and she never did ask, and I never did tell.

I'm thinking fourth-graders, ages nine and 10, are probably a bit old to still believe in fairies and yes, expensive notions like Santa Claus that require us to buy two sets of gifts. I don't even remember how old I was when I stopped believing. Do y'all?

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Poor, deprived South Florida kids can finally see snow

Last Sunday, I asked a group of children at our church who among them has seen snow. All but two of them raised their hands. One of them was my own daughter, Lily.

She's nine, and has yet to see one of the most amazing natural occurrences on the planet.

Having grown up in Iowa, it does make me sad to think of a childhood without snowballs, snowmen, snowdrifts, snowtunnels, sleds, on and on and on. My three sisters and I would bundle up in full-body suits with gloves and scarves and boots and hats and spend hours outdoors in the snow.

But we're raising our kids here in South Florida. And my 16-year-old son's first view of snow was at none other than the Broward Convention Center, and it was of course fake snow, a mountain of it. I've never forgotten it -- it meant something to him, and to me.

I know I'm not alone. Some of you parents haven't taken your kids out of state at the right time to view snow. So if you're feeling lousy about it like I am, take them to Hollywood Friday night to see some "snow'' from a snow machine.

My colleague Tonya Alanez reported this morning about the event. Read the details on the jum page.

Continue reading "Poor, deprived South Florida kids can finally see snow " »

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Alert! College info fair is today at convention center in Broward

Just in case your child did not inform you, and you didn't listen to your robo-calls from the Broward School District, here's some breaking news:

Today and today only, Wednesday, Oct. 19, you can go to the Broward Convention Center in east Fort Lauderdale and pick up a lot of college information.collegefair.jpg

The college fair is free, and many, many, many colleges in Florida and other states are represented.

Here's a website about it:

I picked up materials from University of Florida, University of Chicago, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, the University of Georgia, etcetera.

There were representatives from federal student aid and loan programs, and applications for the SAT and ACT. Every kind of college info you need as a parent, I think, was there.

The fair resumes from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. tonight. It went on this morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tonight there are workshops for parents, starting at 5:30 p.m. I'll be attending a workshop on financial aid and Bright Future Scholarship Programs, (5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 workshops) but there are workshops about how to get into highly competitive colleges (7:15 p.m.), and how to navigate the application process if you're a first generation college student (6:15 p.m., with Haitian-Creole and Spanish translations). Also available tonight: Making your college search count (5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.), Financial Aid en Espanol, 5:15 p.m., 7;15 p.m.) and in English, 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Hot Jobs and Majors, 6:30 p.m. Lastly, there is Becas, en Espanol, at 6:15 p.m.

The fair is free. You'll pay for parking. I was there an hour and paid $3.

The convention center is off 17th Street. Don't forget, you'll have to go through Port Everglades security. Bring a photo ID. Directions are on the jump page.

Continue reading "Alert! College info fair is today at convention center in Broward " »

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Having second-thoughts about that smart phone?

I know there are apps that would allow you to track your teenager as he journeys from one forbidden place to another. And a wise parent can log into their children's Facebook pages and spend hours upon hours reading things that will keep them from ever sleeping again without a prescription medicine.

But do you ever have second thoughts about all those electronic devices?

My colleague Paula McMahon would like to talk to people or families from Broward or Palm Beach counties who use a lot of electronic devices like iPhones or other smart phones, DVRs, store loyalty cards, Facebook, Twitter or other services that record information about where they go, what they like to do and what they buy.

If you’re willing to be interviewed for a story about related privacy concerns or you think the convenience and fun of these devices and services outweighs the potential hassles, please contact Paula McMahon at 954-356-4533 or

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Overwhelmed with housework? Hand that mop to your child

Now that so many women work and also raise children, there's a huge number of us feeling overwhelmed with housework. We're also overwhelmed with child-rearing. And the solution is just so obvious: The kids should be doing the housework.

I was inspired when a co-worker told me that she has her four-year-old mopping.

I decided it was time to stop protecting my children from suffering the overload of housework that I felt I suffered as a child. I decided I had to stop cleaning messes immediately, and learn to walk away, assigning the work to one of the kids.

It takes an adjustment.

Some readers might be appalled that there is any mom out there not forcing her children to help clean the house. But back me up, working moms. Do you always have time to get your child to clean her room, if you arrive home from work and childrens' extra-curricular endeavors at 8 p.m., feed your starving kid, make sure homework gets done, toss the kid in the tub if needed, and put her to bed well past a reasonable bedtime for a child?

Are you even home on weekends? And if you are, is your child at someone else's house playing, or having someone else play at your house? Are you at a sports game your child is participating in? A birthday party for a friend? Does your child, like mine, get homesick because she's never there?

Do you really always find time in a given week to check boxes on some kind of Martha Stewart chore chart?

If you are juggling all that and a more-than-40-hours work week, and ever getting five minutes to speak to your spouse, you are a better working mom than I am.

So here we are. And it takes effort to add housework to your child's day. But the child behavior experts seem to think it's a good idea.

My nine-year-old daughter resisted the first time I made her walk away from something fun, to do some housework. She moped around with her hair hanging over her face, her body slouched. She wouldn't speak to me as she trudged around cleaning. But she picked up steam as she saw the results of her work. Housework is so rewarding in that way. My daughter took pride in how clean her room was by the end of it. And she happily accepted the mop, too. I quickly progressed to giving her baskets of towels to fold.

Then she felt like she'd actually earned her allowance. Same with my son, a 16-year-old, who I decided would be cleaning the main bathroom from here on out.

Finally, a parenting decision that makes my house cleaner.

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Disappearing teens can drive parents crazy without saying a peep

If 7-year-olds could storm out of the house and disappear for a few hours while you sit home envisioning them in the back of a child molester's van, they probably would once in a while. But at that age, they're still afraid to leave the neighborhood alone.
Teen-agers have the guts to pull stunts like that. ("Stunts'' is what my parents called it, using angry tones of voice.)

This cute and innocent looking Davie teen was
so mad about his chores he even left his cell
phone behind.

I have to draw your attention to this story we had in the paper today, about a Davie 14-year-old who scared the crap out of his parents by walking off his mowing chore and disappearing overnight. Click here to read it.

I absolutely love the end of the story. This is a story you can laugh about; we know the teen came home safe and sound. Plus, it wasn't my son.

But I know, believe me, that teen-agers have just the right mixture of independence and mobility to take their protests farther than you ever could imagine, as a parent. That is, it's hard to imagine that Little Johnny, whose every stinking whim you catered to for 13 or 14 years, would leave you home replaying the Adam Walsh story in your mind over and over.

The first time your teen isn't where he's supposed to be, and is unreachable for an hour or two, you'll know what I'm talking about.

With my darling 16-year-old, I insist on having the cell phone numbers of all of his closest friends, as well as home numbers. If he doesn't pick up when I call, and still doesn't pick up when I call again a couple times, I call the friend. No answer? I call the next friend. Yes, I might be known by them as Creed's Psycho Mom, and I know I owe these boys lots of good snacks at my house. But I just can't stomach the not-knowing.

I'll post the full story on the jump, of the wayward Davie teen whose disappearance sparked a huge police department kidnapping search.

Continue reading "Disappearing teens can drive parents crazy without saying a peep" »

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School is back, and so are the annoying robo-calls

The summer was long enough for me to forget the most annoying part about school. For my kids, it's probably the homework. For me, it's the annoying automated phone calls we get from the schools.

In the past week, we got nine of them.

This brings back back memories of the calls I got during my vacation last year, every single day, to tell me my daughter owed 10 cents on her lunch account. (Click here for a memory refresher on my blog post about the man who called school board members in the middle of the night, he was so angry about robo-calls.)

A teacher last year gave me this phone number, 754-321-0800, where you can listen to the messages you've gotten from the system, Parentlink.

That number is handy if your child deletes the message, because the message could be telling you that your child was absent from a class, or tardy.

I called the number and re-listened to the nine messages I got.

I'll post them on the jump page. But for an example, I got one call to tell me that my son's bus stop is at such-and-such address, which happens to be about as far from our house as his school is, and what time the bus would drop him off after school. And then I got a second message telling me the same information, but it told me what time it would depart in the morning.

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Are people who hate kids just jerks?

I know our bodies go through some changes as we progress through life. Women have hot flashes and all that. Men go bald, among other things. But when will we start hating kids?

I've noticed it happens to some people in their 40s. And I've seen a rare few make it through life still enjoying children and their laughter, their frivolity, and their temper tantrums.

My mother-in-law lives in one of those senior communities where most of the people hate kids. That is why they live there. (She's not one of them. How could anyone hate my kids?) My son jumped into the pool there, and was promptly attacked by a senior citizen, who said if he jumped in the pool again he would be kicked out. Nice to meet you, too!

A friend of mine sent me this news article about a restaurant that was going to ban kids ages 6 and younger, because they're rowdy and bother the customers. The news piece goes on to talk about such bans on airplanes.

Why are all these people so grouchy? And why do they expect parents to be able to keep their kids from crying?

If I were sitting next to one of these geezers on an airplane, and I began sobbing, runny nose and all, I'll bet I'd get some sympathy and a Kleenex. What's the difference?

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You still can't wear slippers to Broward schools

My favorite part of the Broward County schools code of conduct is the dress code.

The public seems grossly obsessed with what kids wear, due largely to the "pants on the ground'' trend (resulting in a new Florida law signed by the governor on Jun. 2.

If you were to read the rules as an indicator of what is in style around here, you would conclude that kids still like to wear clothing with rips and tears in it, that bloomers and pajamas are tempting to wear to school, and that those stretchy biker shorts are in vogue. You'd also find that bodysuits or panty hose with lace trim probably would be worn without a large blouse, if it weren't outlawed by the schools. The gals might wear curlers in their hair. Wallets that are chained to the belt loop would show up on campus.

And then, of course, the bedroom slippers. Here's what is said about that:

For grades K-12, bedroom slippers are not allowed, and for elementary students, backless footwear is not allowed. Additionally, elementary students may not wear backless, sling-backs, or open-toed footwear. Socks may not be worn with backless shoes as a substitute back for backless shoes.

The code can't cover every conceivable fashion. What if feather roach clips (worn in the hair) make a comeback, for example?

So the rules do contain this catch-all warning:

Changes in clothing trends will not override the dress code policy.

Govern your child's wardrobe accordingly.

Click here to read the new Code of Student Conduct, online this year for the first time.

(You can also find out about discipline, and what is considered a weapon. A compass can be a weapon, apparently, if used outside of math or science class. And thankfully, "shotgun'' made the list as well.)

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The height of teen ingratitude: Beating parents to death with hammer (allegedly)

I ran to the TV when I heard the newscast last night about the teen-ager up in St. Lucie County accused of beating his parents to death with a hammer and then throwing a huge house party as his parents' bodies remained in the back bedroom.

Did you see this?

If not, click here.

Is this really a story we want our teen-agers to read?

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Things I forgot to teach my child

When you have two kids and a full-time job, it's easy to forget to tell your child that Bigfoot doesn't really exist.

Our daughter is 9. We spend a lot of time parenting her brother, the teenager, because he presents one parenting quandry after another.

We sort of assume that she will learn in school a lot of the basics, like the fact that the earth is not flat and the moon is not made of cheese. And we're teaching her the big moral issues, the character issues.

Who was supposed to teach her about Sasquatch?

A Bigfoot-watching show was on TV last night, and that's when we found out that Lily is a believer. My husband called me in to the living room to tell me. And Lily said, "No, I don't think. I know!''

I'm going to have to sit down with her and chat. It might be too late to tell her that UFOs aren't real, emails from Nigeria should be ignored and there never was a babysitter who got a call from a man who said "I'm calling from inside the house.''

What else have I forgotten to tell her, I wonder!

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(Weird) mom keeping gender of her baby "Storm'' a secret

I'm sure glad I didn't have an activist mom. I didn't have a weirdo mom. My mom didn't use me or any of my three sisters to make some social statement.

Check out, if you haven't caught wind of this, the story about a mom who is keeping the gender of her baby a secret. The baby's name is Storm, and it looks like a boy to me. But whatever.

If my mom had done that, suggesting I look plain enough to possibly pass as a boy, and dressing me in gender- neutral clothing so that she robbed me of precious pink baby photos, not to mention made me the center of a media "storm,'' I don't think I would approve. Nor would I want my name to be Storm if I were in fact a girl.

Click here to read about it.

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Plato's thoughts on parenting

I'm at the point in my parenting that I need to look past Oprah, Fox News, the strict Chinese "Tiger mom'' or whoever else might have tips for me. I am going to the great philosophers of all time.

I happened to glance through some Plato this morning. It's not worth explaining why I was doing this. Suffice to say that I do not, on a regular basis, read Plato in the mornings. But this morning, I happened to.

And this one section grabbed me. I wanted to share it with you as food for thought. I don't know the context, except to say this was in his "The Function of the Rulers'' chapter of The Republic.

"... Our children's pastimes, then, as I began by saying, must be kept from the first within stricter bounds; if any license be admitted, they will catch the spirit and will never grow into law-abiding and well-conducted men. And so, when children have made a good beginning in their play, and musical education has instilled a spirit of order, this reverence for law will attend them in all their doings and foster their growth, restoring any institutions that may earlier have fallen into decay.''

This is another vote for strict parenting. How many votes do we need before we crack down?

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Teens would probably take full advantage of the list of "Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play''

Please don't tell my teen-ager about the the news came out the other day about the deadly choking game.

You would foil my effort to shield him from the a website about Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play.

Now that he's almost 16, and he's going through changes, my husband and I are going through changes, too. Namely, we're trying to wrap our minds around the fact that this creature living in a teen habitat in our house (I actually saw a lizard crawling on his wall this morning, and it had to scurry past a cobweb), is the same being that was our darling and obedient son not too long ago.

I think of it like a science fiction film, in which an adorable, little robot that likes to nod its head and carry out instructions gets huge, to where it towers over its owner, then goes haywire, sprouting random hairs, wrecking the house and shooting laser beams out of its eye sockets.

Continue reading "Teens would probably take full advantage of the list of "Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play'' " »

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Should cursive writing still be taught? What for?

There's a lot of buzz out there about whether schools should still teach cursive writing.

My daughter is in third grade, and she's learning cursive now. And I have to say, when she started bringing this stuff home and saying that she'd been corrected for not writing her cursive capital "G'' correctly, I realized I hadn't done it myself since I was in third grade in Iowa.

Some of those letters are just way too time consuming, the capital "S" being another.

In fact, I don't use cursive writing, even though I take a fair amount of notes and need to do it quickly. And I don't know shorthand.

I couldn't even remember why cursive writing was taught. Obviously if you have a computer to type on, you certainly don't need cursive writing to make your task easier.

Click here to read The Washington Post's story about cursive being a dying art. And if you search the Internet for that topic you'll see that schools all over America have considered deleting it from the curriculum.

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Mom makes lackluster teen student stand in traffic with sign, to learn a lesson

Some might think this mom engaged in bizarre teen abuse, but I for one was touched by the story.

Click here to read the full story. It recounts how a Tampa mom was so upset about her teen son's apathetic approach to high school, and his pathetic grade point average, that she resorted to a desperate effort to make an impression on him. She sent the 15-year-old out to the streets to hold a sign that asked drivers to "honk if I need an education.''

Of course the state is investigating the case. But neither the mom nor the dad graduated high school, and that fate was not what they want for their son. The mom wanted her teen to see what's it like standing out in traffic; if he doesn't make it through high school, he might need to get used to standing there asking for money.

We're always hearing that having parents who care is essential to a student's success. I support this mom's passion.

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Single moms still treated like social failures, one mom says

Society has largely come to accept step-families, mixed marriages, unmarried couples and other family arrangements kids might have, but single moms are still looked at like social failures, one mom complained in a magazine article.

I've even noticed when filling out emergency contact forms or sign-up forms for my kids that the schools now routinely include questions about whether there's a parent who is legally not allowed contact with the child. So there's an expectation that some of the parents will be involved in hideous breakups or have restraining orders against one parent.

But as this mom writes about in her magazine article, society still looks askance at moms who "mated'' with sperm donors at fertility clinics, or adopted a child with no father, or partner, present at all.

The mom in the above column said she was told she had “social infertility.” As if she's too anti-social to be able to form a lasting enough bond with someone to have natural reproduction. A divorced mom would get more credit, in other words.

I know a few moms who fulfilled their yearning for a child even though they didn't have a spouse or partner. They're warm, friendly people who have lots of relationships with others. Maybe they'll marry one day, maybe they won't. I consider them successes.

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Third graders learn that unions are great and America "defeated the Taliban''

UPDATED with the additional three worksheet pages
On television right now, workers' unions are really getting beaten up. But in the classroom, our kids are learning how wonderful they are. On television, Americans are told we are still tangling with the Taliban, a network of terrorists that seemingly cannot be wiped out. But in the classrooms, our kids are told we already defeated them.

It's risky business writing "history'' about recent events, let's admit. And I'm fascinated with what these people come up with. It's also tough to present an ongoing controversial element of our country's politics, like unions, to school children in a balanced way.

Third-graders don't want to be taught that our country hasn't yet won the war that began almost 10 years ago, when they were newborns or still in the womb. They don't want to try to weigh the pros and cons of a labor union, in the past and present, either.

So I've been reading my daughter's news and history worksheets, just out of fascination.

Click here to read the school paper about unions from my daughter, Lily, who is 8. Click here to read the back sides of those worksheets, showing the additional pages, as requested by one of you readers. (My daughter's handwritten answer doesn't show up well on the last page. Sorry.)

The union worksheet is about the grape workers in California, not teachers' unions in Broward. Or the labor unions in Wisconsin.

Questions from the worksheet: "Unions can help their members preserve some of the things they have already won, such as higher wages.' Which definition below tells what the word 'preserve' means in this sentence?'' Another: "The union helped restore pride for many guest workers. In this sentence, the word restore means ...''

Click here to read the worksheet telling kids that "U.S. forces eventually defeated the Taliban'' and implies, I think, that the war is over.

Yet a top U.S. military commander just said earlier this month that the Taliban is shifting tactics and is "not on the ropes yet.''

Kids need the Hollywood ending, to everything.

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Who forces a kid to reveal Facebook password to mom, dad?

On the morning news (FOX News) recently, I listened to a father saying that he requires his kid to give him his Facebook password, and warned the kid that the page could be checked at any time.

He is not the first parent I've heard say this.

The idea outrages me. It takes me straight back to my own teen years, when my parents instituted rules that I felt were so ridiculous and unfair that the only appropriate and logical reaction would be for me to run away, (which I did not).

To me, this would be like requiring a child to reveal the password to his or her diary, and warning that at any moment, the parent will read it.

Believe me, I don't come from a lax upbringing where I was allowed to hide lots of things from my parents. We spent my elementary years a few feet from a women's reformatory my father ran, and my mother obviously paid lots of attention to the ways of a warden, in raising the four of us (all girls.)

But I strongly believe these two fundamentals about children who are 13 and older:

1. They have a right to privacy. A parent doesn't require a kid to give up the key to the diary, nor the password to an online account where the kid communicates with friends.

2. Most information a parent would learn from reading a teen's Facebook page would be disturbing, might keep the parent up at night, but isn't really something a parent can take action on. You will feel incredible angst reading comments from the other kids that make you wonder if they're up to no good but never really provide sufficient evidence.

I'd takes this off the table if the kid starts acting incredibly strange and you suspect something is very wrong. But as a general rule of thumb, I say do yourself and your teen a favor and let your kid have those conversations, without a doesn't-understand parent listening in.

If you want to hear more voices on this, they're out there. Be aware, you'll see the tantalizing headline "can parents make their kids pay rent?'' when you do this Google search. I also ran across a Facebook link to join a page called "Kids whose parents watch too much Fox News.''

I have a few bonuses for you today. Below are two helpful links, and on the jump page, a really great "stay-at-home mom'' thing that was forwarded to me today.

Broward library offers some good stuff for students who need extra help.

Tips for keeping insurance costs low when your teen learns to drive.

Continue reading "Who forces a kid to reveal Facebook password to mom, dad?" »

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Magnet strip for kitchen, and other time-saving items for moms and dads

Occasionally, I'll find an item that saves me so much time and frustration as a mom that I feel compelled to share it with you all on this blog.

We live a pretty chaotic existence, and I don't like wasting time at home searching for scissors, the bike pump needle and screwdrivers.

My life has improved significantly since I bought and installed the magnetic strip you see pictured here. It was less than $10. There are various sizes, and the strip can be installed vertically or horizontally. The magnet is incredibly powerful, as you can see.

It's made for cooks who want a knife strip. I'd always wanted a knife strip, because I can't stand looking for sharp knives, either, and the more stuff I can get off my counter (knife block), the better.

But I decided to use it to also hang items I'm constantly needing to run the house, and as you can see in this photo, it's getting lots of use.

There are a couple other must-have items I've blogged about, for parents of school-age kids. many of the items are school supplies. To refresh: In order to avoid a late-night dash to the store:
1. Always keep a piece of plain poster board on hand.
2. Buying a hot glue gun is well worth the investment.
3. Keep a glue stick and a bottle of old-fashioned Elmer's style glue in a convenient location at all times.
4. Buying a stapler is also well worth the investment. Throw in an old-fashioned pencil sharpener that can be attached to the wall, and you'll really be set.
5. Wait until a month or two after school starts, when the stores put deep discounts on folders and pencils and other supplies. Buy a lot of them, for the inevitable night your child tells you he absolutely must have a new folder to organize his papers or his teacher will give him an "F.''
6. If you spend the $25 dollars to buy one of those small helium tanks to blow up balloons, you'll probably want to hug yourself every time you get to use it to make a birthday present look better, or for a family member's party. No more wasting money on overpriced helium balloons.

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Broward schools over-do the annoying robo-calls

I had a real rude awakening as a parent when I got my first Broward County school system robo-call.

It's beyond impersonal. Even junk mail addresses me by name. But the Broward school system robo-calls say "This call is for the parent of ... (long pause where you assume your child's name is coming next) ... the student.''

Lately, whoever is in charge of sending out these annoying spam calls has been drinking too much caffeine. I'm getting two or more robo-calls a day.

On our Christmas vacation, we got a robo-call every single day to tell us that Lily owes 10 cents on her lunch account. I am not kidding you. A dime!

So I was very amused when I saw a dad on FOX and Friends the other day who said he got a school robo-call in the middle of the night. He returned the favor to each member of the school board.

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(UPDATED) A learning moment for parents: 12-year-old son on a driving lesson veers right into canal

UPDATED with death of the mom:
The mom whose 12-year-old son was being taught to drive with the whole family on board has died. I wanted to update my blog post about this, because this story is so incredibly tragic. Imagine the pain this 12-year-old will live with. I'll post the latest story, about the mom's death, from our partner at The Palm Beach Post, on the jump. My original blog post is below.

I once considered giving my son a driving lesson before he reached the legal age of 15-and-a-half and had his driver's permit.

Rather than go through a lot of hypothetical disasters my son could have rained upon our kiddriverPBPOST.jpg
neighborhood with his driving, I just alert you to this story in this morning's newspaper. It, and the photo here, are from our partner, the Palm Beach Post.

Click here to read about the tragedy involving a 12-year-old driver.

The dad let the 12-year-old son take the wheel, with his mom, 1-year-old sister and six-year-old brother in the back seat. The kid drove straight into a canal in Loxahatchee. His mom and siblings are in the hospital. His dad is OK, and so is he.

I greatly sympathize. It's a tragedy I cannot wrap my brain around. The impact is yet to be known. The mom was trapped in the SUV for a time span described as "between 10 and 30 minutes."

Aside from something disastrous like that happening, there's another good reason not to give kids an advance lesson in driving. Why make your child familiar with driving at an age when he is so lacking in good judgment he just might take off in your car the next time he's really angry?

For another real-life horror story, consider this one that ran in our paper not long ago. A 13-year-old autistic boy stole the family car, drove to Fort Lauderdale airport and flew across the country. His dad said he'd never driven before, but if we all taught our early-teens to drive, this would be happening all the time.

If you think the 87-year-old drivers are bad, just consider adding 13-year-olds to the mix. It's chilling.

Of course I wasn't about to tell my son that "you don't need to learn how to drive yet. Then you just might steal our car the next time you're mad at us.'' All Creed would have heard was "Steal our car the next time you're mad at us.'' So I just stick with good ol' "That's illegal.''

(Riding with a 15-and-a-half-year-old isn't that great, either. I'm getting a window into the workings of a male teen's mind. Creed thinks he has to catch up with any drivers that are ahead of him, an ambition he described, wrongly, as "keeping pace with other drivers'' and being "a harmonious driver.'')

The lesson to pick up here, I think, is to lock up the car keys until your kid is legal age, and then immediately push the kid to get a permit so he or she can get as much practice as possible before going out there alone.

Continue reading "(UPDATED) A learning moment for parents: 12-year-old son on a driving lesson veers right into canal" »

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Censoring the news from our young ones

This might seem strange coming from a news addict, but I think it's time to censor the news from my daughter.

This weekend's horrific tragedy in Arizona, with the congresswoman and her constituents and staff being shot, played on our televisions every second we were awake. As a reporter who covers a lot of politicians, I just couldn't get enough of this story and all its awful details. But my daughter overhead talk of the 9-year-old who was murdered.

Lily will be 9 in March. She's met a congressman. She's come along with me on an assignment or two. Naturally, she seized on it, wanting to know what happened to the girl, why she was there, how she was killed, etcetera.

Just like we as parents shield our kids from graphic movies or television shows, I think we also have to consider shielding them from news. With news reporting being geared toward coverage of the worst in our society, I think we run the danger of giving our young ones the impression this world is riskier than it really is.

I've already fielded a lot of questions from her about crime, the safety of our neighborhood, and other news-related "reporting'' she does. This time I answered Lily's questions truthfully, as I always do (do parents still lie to their kids?). But I quickly followed up by telling her that "this almost never happens. This was extremely rare. That's why there's so much coverage of it.''

She accepted that. But she came crying into our room in the middle of the night, saying she'd heard a scary noise. Related? Perhaps.

On the other side of the coin, I over-expose our 15-year-old son to news of teen-age drivers getting into car accidents. He probably thinks it happens about every minute. Maybe it does.

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Chalkboard paint a fun option for parents

Sometimes the best way to get a message across to your kids is to speak to them in a method they understand: By writing it on a chalkboard.

I let my 8-year-old pick the wall
color in our kitchen, and we painted the room
over Christmas break. I added this chalkboard
area around the wall phone (yes, they still
make wall phones, but I bought the last one I think.)

The great thing is that you can do this without buying a chalkboard. You can actually purchase chalkboard paint. It's one of those discoveries I made that I feel should be shared with the world because it's so cool.

You can buy chalkboard paint in many different colors, including pink.

I've used it to paint a concrete surface in my backyard that once was a shuffleboard court. I've used it to paint a portion of a wall in my garage (that the kids use as a playroom.)

And this week I painted it on the kitchen wall around the phone. (See photo.)

Even though it's a fun option, I will use it for messages that aren't fun at all, like today's "Back to school!'' note. I scrawl a note when I'm leaving to run an errand ("B.R.B. -- Mom"). I think I could post reminders like "If you didn't make your bed, get your rear end back in your room and do it.''

And of course, the kids can use it to tell us their requests and complaints. That's what the eraser is for.

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Raising a brood of kids close in age is tough, but there's a payoff

Some of you are going to just nod and smile when you read this headline:

Having a sister makes you happier.

Here's a link to the New York Times column on this subject. A study showed that sisters are the root of happiness, or something like that. There's disagreement about why, but suffice to say that this should give you ammunition in your argument with your spouse about whether having just one kid is enough. (It's not!)

I grew up with three sisters. That should make me one of the happiest people in America. And I have to say, I am smiling most of the time.

My sisters and I. If we see clothes we like, we buy three!

It doesn't matter how many friends I pick up along my journey, and how great they are; the only ones I am in constant contact with are my sisters.

We were all born within two years of each other. When my little sister was born, I was 1 and a half, my next sister was 3 and my oldest sis (who, sadly, died in 2005), was 4.

Continue reading "Raising a brood of kids close in age is tough, but there's a payoff" »

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Which do you prefer? Your child, or your iPhone?

I'll never forget the first time I saw our sad new reality reflected on the big screen -- meaning it was happening in all of your homes, and not just mine: The parents in the movie Coraline ignored their daughter because they were so busy tapping away on their laptop computers.


Lily's technology-free zone.

That was the first time I'd seen it acknowledged, in a big way. But privately, in our home, we'd been doing the same thing for about a year by then.

It must be upsetting to the younger kids, whose lives were interrupted by mobile technology in the rude kind of way a new sibling comes along, sucking all the attention away from them.

My daughter Lily was born in 2002. She was able to live her toddler years without competing for my attention with a smart phone; I just relented and got one this year. I had a laptop computer back then, but before blogs became prevalent in newsrooms, I wasn't half-listening to her while writing blog posts.

Lily recently instituted a new rule in our house. She said that she and I can't use electronics after 8 p.m.

She brought me her Nintendo DSI and asked me to hold it for her, saying she was becoming addicted. When she sees me checking emails on my Blackberry, she reminds me gently, "Mom. The rule.''

It made me feel bad. It reminded me of a blog post my colleague Anne Vasquez wrote a while back, telling you that her young son was asked to fill in the blank in the sentence "My mom likes to BLANK.'' He wrote "WORK."

(Click here to read her tips on separating yourself from your electronic tethers.)

Which do you spend more time with? Your child, or your iPhone?

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My teen-ager, my historian

A note to parents of young children, from the parent of a teen-ager:

Guess what? When that bundle of hugs that is your child grows up and has a mind of his own, he will be an expert on All Things You. He will see trends in your behavior. He will see your short-comings.

He will see right through you.

We have two children. Creed is 15; Lily's only 8. Lily gives us the benefit of the doubt, in everything. Creed is our hostile historian.

I was reminded of this Saturday night, when we all went to dinner. Creed said I'm not raising Lily correctly, because she doesn't know how to eat spaghetti properly. Of course, this isn't the only parenting advice I've gotten from Creed. He gives it to me all the time.

It's a good thing to keep in mind when your kids are young. You aren't going to fool them. You really have to live the way you want them to live one day. You really do have to set a good example, every day, every decision.

Just summing it up in a speech is not going to do it. That only works when they're 8. By the time they're teens, they're paying a lot of attention to what you do, and absolutely none to what you say.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my kids spending their adult years telling people about my bad days. So I'm trying to make them all good.

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Why is it so hard to find a pregnant doll?

If you want to be shocked and outraged, do a search online for "pregnant Barbie.''

I'm not saying the concept of a preggers Barbie doll is shocking. What is outrageous is that they don't make these dolls anymore, and if you want to buy one online, you'll have to spend at least $70. preggersmidge.jpg

I cannot believe that in 2010, no toy maker produces a pregnant doll! Why in the world not?

Mattel actually used to make one. It wasn't Barbie herself; it was her friend "Midge.'' There was a whole lot of controversy at the time, (2002), about it.

But you'd think we would be over that now. You'd think a mom could buy her daughter a Barbie doll -- or any kind of doll -- who is "in the family way,'' so our daughters can act out their ideas about how Ken should put a footstool under his pregnant wife's feet, clean her doll house, brush her hair and put a cozy robe on her.

Lily and I were visiting friends when she encountered her first pregnant Barbie, and Lily fell in love with it. Our friends tried to give it to her, but I said, "Oh, don't worry about it. I'll buy her one online.'' (I say this about everything.)

I've had to tell Lily since then that pregnant Barbie is too expensive. To which she replied, "then I'll ask Santa for it.'' I told her I'd make her one using half of a plastic Easter egg and some tape.

Judging from the prices out there, this is a niche market someone should grab.

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Teen-agers attracted to potent alcoholic energy drink, Four Loko

I'm not saying that your teen-ager got drunk this weekend. But chances are, if your child is in the mid-teens, he or she has heard of a drink called Four Loko, and knows someone who has tried it. And maybe your own child has tried it.

If you haven't heard of Four Loko, now is a good time to read up on it.

Four Loko is a new alcohol drink, introduced two years ago. It has a very high alcohol content (12 percent!), and a lot of caffeine. It's an energy drink that gets you trashed.

Four Loko and its allure for teens has been a huge national story lately.

It's been called "blackout in a can.'' Teens have been hospitalized after guzzling it. And many are complaining that teens are the target audience of this canned drink. Well, let's see. They're grape and orange, lemonade, blue raspberry and other kid friendly flavors. The can is brightly colored, and the cost is low, $2.

The Food and Drug Administration is studying whether caffeine and alcohol make a safe mixture. And New York Sen. Chuck Schumer is complaining about the packaging.

A couple days ago, it was banned from being sold in Michigan.

The company denies marketing to teens, saying on its website that "Four Loko’s can colors are no brighter or more appealing than the blue, red, and green labels of established beer brands like Budweiser and Heineken.''

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"Halloweenagers'' swarm neighborhood for free candy


I carried a Halloween bucket
last night while trick-or-treating
with Lily, but I sure as heck
didn't ask anyone to give
me candy, at this age.

I heard a new word today: Halloweenager. That's a teenager who doesn't dress up for Halloween, but still shows up at your doorstep begging for candy.

I saw quite a few Halloweenagers last night, as my 8-year-old daughter and I traversed the neighborhood in the rain, trick-or-treating.

And now I have to admit something: My own son was one of them. He's 15. And when he came home from hanging out with his friends, he had a sack of candy.

"Did you dress up?'' I asked him with a scowl on my face.

"No,'' he said, sitting there in shorts and a blue T-shirt. The blue T-shirt has a Monster energy drink logo on it, which looks like slash marks from claws. "I said I was a warrior,'' he said, touching the logo.


I think 12 is about the oldest a trick-or-treater should be. Anyone with hairy armpits should be disqualified.

I guess that means I disagree with my colleague, Rafael Olmeda, who came to accept the idea of his teen daughters trick-or-treating. Personally I see too much evidence of teens not wanting to grow up.

On a related note, check out the jump for my tips on carving pumpkins so they look like works of art.

Continue reading ""Halloweenagers'' swarm neighborhood for free candy " »

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Teens don't care anymore about getting a driver's license

I've finally had the chance to shake my head disparagingly and utter, "kids these days.''

And what gave me that opportunity to feel like an old person, a veteran of life, a person brimming with the wisdom that only people of my generation possess, is the fact that I'm seeing and hearing about a lot of teen-agers who don't bother getting a driver's license or learner's permit.

This is not just a Brittany observation. There are signs out there that fewer minors are getting their licenses. Read this USA Today article about fewer teens getting cars, as well.

Please tell me that when you were a teen, you got off your lazy rear and took whatever test was required, and jumped through absolutely every hoop held out, in order to get those car keys in your hands. I know that I did, even though the keys were to the ignition of a stinking station wagon.

Yet now that my son, Creed, is 15, and he went through the not-very-laborious process to get his learner's permit, I'm finding out about a lot of teens who haven't bothered. I'm hearing from lots of parents whose kids haven't shown interest.

I have no good working theory on it. No one I've talked to is quite sure, either. I'm leaning toward thinking it's because kids these days are spoiled, which is my pat answer for all their ills, and in general is accurate.

Click here to see one person's theories, including that everything kids need is just a web click away. What do they need cars for?

This writer mentions that kids are taught now that cars are polluting machines, so maybe that has something to do with it.

I'm going to hang it out here today, though, as an unsolved mystery. There's something about it that rattles me.

On the jump: A story we wrote about this three years ago.

Continue reading "Teens don't care anymore about getting a driver's license" »

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Online etiquette poll: OK to post photos of other people's kids?

Some of the most darling photos I have of both my kids are photos with their best friends. And oftentimes, they're in swimwear. And so ... I stop myself before posting them on my Facebook page, or uploading them to YouTube.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think it's OK to post a photo of another person's child online, without their permission. Yesterday I inched a little bit off of that position, and posted a photo of my daughter with one of her best friends, but I posted it on the Facebook page of the friend's mom. I figured if she didn't want images of her daughter online, she could easily delete it.

I think that's a good compromise. I also didn't write a caption to identify either girl.

I post videos and photos of my own 8-year-old daughter all the time. (I would post photos of my 15-year-old, but he doesn't allow photography much. ) Yesterday I posted a video of Lily singing in the backseat of our car, for example. It made her feel like her song-writing was being exalted. (I especially loved her line "Don't you talk to me in that tone.'')

It's kind of perplexing to see that more than 1,000 people have watched the four-second video of Lily on her first day of kindergarten. But I'm not one to dwell on horrors I'm only guessing at.

I really wouldn't mind at all if someone posted images of my kids online. But I still think other parents would be offended if I did it to them.

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Broward schools co-hosts college fair for parents of high schoolers, Nov. 4

Even though my son, Creed, is only in 10th grade, he and I already talk quite a bit about college. He and his friends are under immense pressure, constantly reminded how hard it is to be accepted even to the state schools where he has a pre-paid tuition fund awaiting him. (I'm a Gator!)

So when I saw that the school system is hosting a college fair for parents of high-schoolers, of course it caught my eye.

Here's the news release:

The Greater Fort Lauderdale National College Fair will be held on Thursday, November 4, 2010 at the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 - 8:30 p.m. Sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and hosted by the Southern Association for College Admission Counseling (SACAC) and Broward County Public Schools, this event is free and open to the public.

As the process of applying to and selecting a college becomes more and more competitive and complex, students and parents need all the help and information they can get. Attending a college fair is the best way to gather information about colleges and universities. The national college fair program provides valuable resources for students and parents attempting to navigate the college-admission process.

Read the rest on the "jump'' page, including how to register ahead of time, online:

Continue reading "Broward schools co-hosts college fair for parents of high schoolers, Nov. 4" »

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Daughter's prayer request raises alarms in Plantation church

I was busy at work when my phone rang. It was Pastor Chip, from Plantation Community Church. My church.

"Now don't be offended,'' he started out. I don't know about you, but I've never had anything good come after the words "now don't be offended.'' I braced myself for an insult. I had just volunteered to teach children's church classes, so immediately I wondered if Pastor Chip was calling to gently say that I hadn't passed the background check, so to speak.

"We got a prayer request,'' he delicately went on. Now I wondered if someone had suggested my family is so dysfunctional that we needed some extra attention from God. Which is true.

"Lily filled out a prayer card,'' he said. "She said she's hungry, and there's no food.''

What a relief!

I burst out laughing.

Lily, my 8-year-old daughter, had skipped breakfast that morning, looking forward to her church donut. But then she decided she was "starving'' and she wrote her concerns on a prayer card and dropped it in the offering plate. I had seen it and thought the church deacons would read it and chuckle.

Nope. My pastor was so concerned he showed up at my house the next day, ready to fill my cupboards. I wasn't home, so he called me at work.

Click here to read Lily's plea for food from God.

Even after I told the pastor what had happened, he wasn't sure. He pressed me again: If you need food, he said, we'd be happy to help.

Nice to know, isn't it?

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"Student driver'' magnet seems fitting for 15-year-old drivers

Perhaps I'm naive, but I think if i spend about 10 bucks on a magnet, my teen-age son's driving experience will be improved exponentially. The magnet I am threatening to buy him is pictured here. It says "Student Driver.'' They're available online.

Creed has no idea how to operate a motor vehicle. He got his driver's permit recently (click here for a memory refresher and my tips on what to do before your trip to the dreaded DMV).

I don't want a bunch of angry New Yorkers honking at my baby if he decides to stop at a yellow light instead of racing through it. If he hesitates before making a turn at an intersection, or drives below the speed limit, I don't want him to be attacked by a road raging South Florida moron.

So I told him I'm buying a magnet that says "I am a complete idiot when it comes to driving and I have no idea what I'm doing behind the wheel,'' or something to that effect.

My husband thinks I need the same magnet on my car. If it would cause other drivers to steer clear of me, I just might use it.

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Another birthday party option: Broward County's horse stables

Grassy plains, grazing horses, white wood fences. It almost looks like Kentucky. But it's Coconut Creek.

Tradewinds Park horse stable is on the north side of
Sample Road, west of I-95. It's directly across Sample from the
entrance to Butterfly World, which is on the south side of
Tradewinds Park.

I paid a visit last week to the horse stables at Tradewinds Park, a county government property, and came away with another option for kids' birthday parties. The county is in the birthday party package business, unbeknownst to me.

For $10 per child, with a minimum of 10 children, a maximum of 20, you can give your child a horse party.

You get a tent near the playground. Five picnic tables, a grill, two pony ride tickets per child (kids have to be 52 inches or shorter), a barn tour and party invitations.

Food costs extra. So do jumps in the bounce house.

But it's an option.

Check out Tradewinds Farms birthday party packages online by clicking here. The county's website is confusing on this issue, so here's what you need to know: There are two options -- one is for a county-run party, and another is for a party run by a private entity.

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Three tips for making your DMV appointment with your teen easier

You know you're in for a bad time at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you pull up, you see a line of people standing outside in 94 degree heat, and someone is selling Gatorade from the back of his truck.

I certainly didn't expect to have a pleasurable experience at the DMV when I took my son to get his learner's permit the other day. And I didn't. But it could have been a lot worse.ATT356808.jpg

My colleague Mike Clary has a story in today's newspaper about the Broward DMV offices, the average wait times and such. I'll post it on the jump.

It's worthy to note that one of the people in his story was there with her 15-year-old son getting his permit. It only took them FIVE HOURS!

Let me see if I can make it a tad easier for you, if you're taking your teen to get a learner's permit. You can do this when your teen turns 15. Click here to learn more about Florida teen driver licenses.

My tips:
First: Do NOT go to the DMV without first getting an appointment, which you can do online, even though you might not find an available slot until weeks in the future. Click here to get a DMV appointment for you and your teen.

Having an appointment allowed Creed and I to get in the shorter line at the Lauderdale Lakes office (maybe five people, 15 or 20 minutes) and go straight into the air-conditioned office to wait. Everyone else was in a longer line, (maybe 40 people, an hour or two wait time in 94 degree heat).

Second: Have your teen complete the written tests online. There are a variety of driving schools online whose testing is accepted by the state of Florida. Your teen must take a drug and alcohol test (the Traffic Law and Substance Abuse and Education Course) which can be completed online. And then your teen must take the written driving test, also available online. For the first test, you'll receive in the mail a certificate of completion to take to the DMV. For the second test, you'll receive a waiver number, which gets you out of taking the test at the DMV.

Continue reading "Three tips for making your DMV appointment with your teen easier" »

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Parenting by poll question

I make my best parenting decisions when I'm facing a hypothetical situation involving someone else's child.

When it comes to my own kids, I find the biggest difficulty in parenting is making up my mind. Should I let Lily eat a snack an hour before dinner? Should I let Creed skip the family trip to the west coast and stay here with a friend? Most of the time, I just don't care. I don't care enough to feel strongly either way.

My parents handled these things with aplomb. They said no to everything, and you could tell that they passionately felt it. NO! AbsoLUTELY NOT! That must make parenting easy -- feeling that strongly about all the permissions your child aks for.

When I'm around other parents, we spend most of the time comparing notes on parenting. It's a big help. I'm thinking it'd be great to take that idea to the computer, and start Parenting by Poll Question.

I seriously thought about letting you readers make one of my parenting decisions last week. I must be missing that Parental Indignation gene. The poll after the jump contains one of my latest dilemmas.

Continue reading "Parenting by poll question " »

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Handing car keys to a teen is like ... (fill in the blank with something terrible)

On Friday the Thirteenth, I have an appointment at the DMV.

The purpose of my visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles is even more frightening. My son belovedvolvo.jpg
is getting a learner's permit. To drive a car. My car. That I have to pay the insurance for. On streets where other people who have loved ones at home are driving.

News flash: Teen-age boys do not have good judgment. It's a fact that they have worse judgment than any other species with the dexterity to turn a steering wheel. Teen boys are bursting with life, driven by adventure and handicapped by a giant heap of stupidity.

As I sat in my bedroom last night working on my laptop, I received a reminder of this truism. I heard footsteps on the rooftop, and got to the sliding glass door in time to see one of my son's friends flying through the air into the swimming pool. Shortly thereafter, Creed, my 15-year-old, flew into the pool from the roof.

Do you see what I'm talking about?

"Do NOT!'' I warned them. And they burst out laughing. "Why?'' was Creed's automated response to everything that makes good sense. Later, when I gave him my sermon about the boy who slipped while jumping off the balcony into the pool and landed on the pool deck and died (I have true tragedies to go with every possible risk, thanks to working at a newspaper all my adult life), he scoffed.

"I could survive that fall with ease,'' he said, then stood up from a chair, jumped up and touched the ceiling with his finger, as proof that it isn't that high. "I could jump off the roof and do a cannon ball into the concrete and survive,'' he said.

This is the young man I'm trusting my Volvo with?

When I hand my son the keys to my car for the first time, I'll have the same mindset that I walk into airplanes with. I wear sneakers in case I have to jump out of the escape hatch, I thank God for life, and I look for the vomit bag.

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Another day, another funeral for my daughter's beloved goldfish

I have to be honest: One reason I bought my daughter a goldfish bowl for her 8th birthday is to expose her to the cycle of life. You know -- birth, growth and the inevitable trip down the toilet pipes. And then Fish Heaven.

Thank goodness the fish are only 25 cents. We've been through quite a few. This morning, we woke up to find all three fish -- whom she had named Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy -- floating lifeless in the bowl.

I've gotten to where I don't make much ceremony about the burial. I just toss them in the toilet. But friends have told me about burying these four-for-a-dollar beings in tissue paper and boxes, or floating them in a river, on a paper plate. I'm not sure how big of a deal to make of it. I didn't want her sobbing. But it might be important to put some value on life, even if it is just a goldfish, so she doesn't go on to become a serial killer.

As you can see in the above clip from this morning's service, I did at least utter a quick prayer before the ... FLUSH!

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Photographing my teen -- a "status update''

I'm not going to go so far as to recommend this to you, but I did find a pretty good way to obtain photographs of my teen-age son, Creed.deerfield2010creed.jpg

I told you before (click here for memory refresher) that when my son advanced into his double-digit years, he stopped wanting to be photographed by me.

The photo you're looking at is a fresh attempt, in fact. I shot this one on our family vacation.

But a serendipitous thing happened recently. I clicked on Facebook to play with my friends, and lo and behold, I found myself staring at my son's wall. I had attempted to Friend him, but as of yet, I was (and still am) awaiting confirmation. So there I was, with free access to my son's Facebook account. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

I would never attempt to hack into his account, but don't we all agree that if I innocently visited the Facebook homepage and found myself on my son's wall, that I have not committed any crimes of dishonesty?

Among the things I learned were: the new word for something we might have called "lame'' or uncool is "stale.'' As in, "that is so stale.''

The other thing I learned: that my son has no issue with being photographed by his friends. So I got very busy right-clicking and saving, and now I have enough really cute photos of my son and his friends to fill a quarter of the new photo album I just bought.

He will thank me for this, don't you think?

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Traveling with kids? Try these books to keep them from wailing

It's family vacation season. I have a small tip on how to prevent your travel time from being ruined by your offspring, assuming you've already checked with grandma and she said you can't leave the kids with her.

We just returned from a trip to Colorado. We had the misfortune of flying during a bad storm, headed towards the Denver airport, which was closed temporarily because of nearby tornados,lilyonplane.jpg

and being subjected to an extra hour of flying time in said storm, as we traveled in a "holding pattern'' awaiting permission to land, well after midnight, during which time we alternated between getting small bites of sleep and being frightened into wakefulness by the jet shaking like a blender due to storm turbulence. That was not the worst part. The worst part is that we were sitting directly behind a child who cried the entire flight.

Hence, I dedicate this blog post to him.

Parents, do yourself -- and the passengers behind you -- a favor and purchase special travel coloring books. It's not OK to just bring along used coloring books from home, or even a new coloring book from the dollar store.

The only thing that is really going to capture your kid's interest enough to stifle some cries is a SPECIAL coloring book that is made just for traveling.

I found one such book at a gas station. It's shown in the above picture, holding my daughter's attention for hours. It is published by the map-maker, Rand McNally. There are a few others in the set, including the one above that's entitled "Are We There Yet,'' another called "The Best Travel Activity Book Ever,'' a third called "Kids' Road Atlas,'' and lastly, "Coast-to-Coast Games.'' There are other publishers of kids' travel books, of course. You can find others online. But I happened to purchase this brand.

The books go beyond coloring to include mazes and crossword puzzles, songs, and a Fun-O-Meter to rate the trip. The contents are all travel-themed, of course. One maze challenges you to "hurry and find your seat before the plane takes off!''

Highly recommended.

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When Facebooking goes wrong ... One parent's story

I've already admitted to reading my son's Facebook wall even though he refuses to "friend'' me.

But now I see that my Facebook woes are petty compared to some other parents'. As a colleague of mine said, social networking sites cause parents to behave badly, moreso than kids. True!

I'll post the story I'm talking about on the jump. Suffice to say that if your Facebook dealings result in a conviction of any sort and an Associated Press article, your Facebook problems are worse than mine.

Continue reading "When Facebooking goes wrong ... One parent's story " »

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When it comes to naming your baby, homemade is not better

One of my best friends from childhood is pregnant, and she asked me what I thought of the name "Prince Raffa'' for her son.

What would you have said?

I already know what happens when you give your son a strange first name. My son's first name is something you say to him if you want to tease him. We named him Fulton Creed Norman knowing that we'd call him by his middle name.

We had no idea that in a large school system like we have in Broward County, it would be impossible for teachers to call someone by the name that doesn't appear on the computer printout from the office.

Continue reading "When it comes to naming your baby, homemade is not better" »

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Catching my teen on film is like chasing Bigfoot

If anyone were to look through my family photo albums, they'd have to conclude that I used to have a son, but he disappeared when he turned 13.

That's when he stopped allowing himself to be photographed.

There was a progression. First he stopped smiling for the camera. The last packet of school photos we ever got, back in middle school, contained a mugshot of him that looked destined for the front page of a newspaper somewhere near a headline with the word "rampage'' in it. Creed confiscated the packet.

Then he started trying to destroy the historical record of himself, if it involved photographic evidence of anything he is now embarrassed about (for example, Creed in a Cub Scout uniform). Thus, he could no longer be trusted to look through family photos without supervision.

And then he moved to where we are now: full blown photo-dodger. He throws up the hand every time I pull out the camera. The photo you're looking at now is an actual recent shot of my son, who is almost 15. He's a good looking kid but you'll just have to take my word for it.

I noticed last night that his Facebook page is full of pictures of him and his friends, photos I'd never seen. Perhaps if he confirms my friendship on Facebook, (still waiting, yes), I'll be able to fill some albums. For now I have to figure out how to coax him into a photo.

I told him that "some day you will want to look back and laugh at yourself,'' but that just wasn't a compelling argument, I guess.

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Tuesday is Teacher Appreciation Day -- Don't forget!

There's one thing you cannot forget if you want your child to do well in school.

It's not homework, it's not getting eight hours of sleep, it's not eating a balanced breakfast.

It's remembering that Tuesday, May 4, is Teacher Appreciation Day.

That means you should send flowers, or a note of thanks, a gift certificate, extra classroom supplies, or cookies. (If your child is one who causes problems in the class, the teacher might not trust home-baked foods from you, so better to buy something packaged.)

Teaching kids is a tough task. This is the day to say thanks.

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"We're not playing 50 Questions'

That's what my dad used to say when my sisters and I started zapping him with question after question after question: "We're not playing 50 Questions.''

My mother would cut me short after a few questions and tell me I had to save them up for the evening, when she would address them all at one time.

I have to admit, now that I'm a parent, it does get annoying answering all those questions that require the general knowledge you never did acquire.

My daughter was hitting me with all variety of questions on a recent road trip to Orlando. Instead of crying or turning the radio up so loud she couldn't be heard, I started writing them down. Here they are, in order:

"Who invented hours?'' "Can I flush one of my goldfish down the toilet?'' "When you bury a fish does it turn into stone?'' "If you roll your fingers up in the window, will your fingers break off? Does it hurt?'' "What body part would hurt the most if you broke it? The eye?'' "What's the awesomest number?'' "Are lipsynchers good people?'' "When you lipsynch will you get in trouble?'' "What's the worst thing you could do on this Earth?'' "Who are you most embarrassed of?'' "Who's your worst enemy?'' "Were dogs invented before dinosaurs?'' "If I were a singer, would you put any of my songs on your i-pod?''

The problem is, these are not rhetorical questions. They all require an answer.

So I had to laugh when a friend of mine wrote on Facebook the other day, asking other moms if it's OK to tell her kid to "just *@#$#ing Google it!''

I can relate.

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State law says pedophiles can't dress as clowns or Santa

You like to think that when you take your child to sit on Santa's lap, you aren't providing fantasy fodder for a child molester. But this is not codified into law, apparently. State legislators in Tallahassee are working right now on this issue, with bills that would make it illegal for registered sex offenders or registered sexual predators to dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas or thereabouts.

The proposal would clean up the clown ranks, as well. We all know that unlike Santa Clauses, clowns are creepy, and some of them are way too fond of children. The bill would prevent registered sex offenders from wearing a clown costume, "or other costume to appeal to children.'' It also specifically names the Easter Bunny as a costume on the banned list. The offenders also could not entertain at children's parties.

None of the above would be allowed, that is, unless a judge approved it beforehand.

The proposed law's primary purpose is to set "safety zones'' around parks, day cares, schools and other kid hangouts, where registered sex offenders cannot loiter or prowl. The House version, HB 119, passed last week. The Senate version, SB 1284, has another stop in a committee before heading to the Senate floor.

One last provision in this law: Registered criminal pedophiles no longer could give out Halloween candy. (These legislators think of everything.) If you're interested in seeing which homes in your neighborhood would be dark on Halloween, under this provision, click here to see the registered sex offenders in your vicinity. There are two in my neighborhood, and another 161 in Broward County who either absconded from registration or gave "transient'' as their address.

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Mall in Palm Beach County features photos of adoptable kids

Similar to what's going on at the Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale, the Boynton Beach Mall is showing a photo exhibit of 40 parentless kids, from March 31 to April 12.

The Heart Gallery dispaly includes bios of these kids, who are looking for permanent homes.

A program of Children's Home Society of Florida, the Heart Gallery works with local organizations to show photographs of kids in need of adoption.

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City of Sunrise hosts free concert for kids on April 10

The city of Sunrise alerted me to a cool-sounding event for kids.

It's the city's Earth Day Festival on Saturday, April 10, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Here are the particulars, from the city:

This free, family-friendly event will take place at Sawgrass Sanctuary (237 North New River Circle, Sunrise 33326), a 20-acre park and environmental learning center near the junction of I-75, I-595 and the Sawgrass Expressway.

The Earth Day Festival will feature a Kids’ Korner with hands-on activities, face painting, a bungee jump, inflatables and more.

And at 11:30 a.m., nationally-known singer/songwriter Randy Kaplan will perform on the Festival’s main stage. Kaplan’s Loquat Rooftop was named one of the “Top 10 Children’s CDs of 2008” by National Public Radio (NPR).

Also at the event, a farmers’ market, food, a fashion show, crafts, and live music for adults. The first 1,000 people there get a reusable shopping bag from Whole Foods Market, and a BPA-free water bottle from the city of Sunrise utilities department.

Click here for more information.

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"Mom strike'' struck fear into the family

Alert: Mother's Day is May 9. You have seven weeks to thoughtfully consider how you will honor the Mother in your life. A lot of advance notice is needed for some people, apparently.

Last year, only my daughter showed me how much she cherished my existence. My son and husband carried on as if it were any other day, which is to say, leaving a mess in the kitchen and not picking up my vibes about wanting to be worshiped.

Consequently, I went on a Mom Strike. Click here to read my post about it, from last year.

I can now report to you that the Mom Strike was incredibly successfully, and is seared in my family's memory.

My son is terrified that he will forget Mother's Day again. I was reading a piece of advertising Saturday targeted toward Mother's Day, and he froze. "Is Mother's Day coming up or something?'' This is the first time the topic's been raised since last year. I told him it's not until May.

"Isn't that when you freaked out and went crazy?'' he asked, just to be sure.

"Oh, you mean my strike? Yes,'' I replied.

One day later, I was admiring a drawing Lily made for me, and as I read aloud her cute expressions about what a great mother I am, once again Creed suffered a minor heart attack.

"Wait,'' he said, "is it Mother's Day!?''

Seriously, I had just told him the day before that Mother's Day is in May. But this was a visceral reaction, a fear that seized him before his brain could kick in.

"You got me worried,'' he said in relief when he realized.

Wow. Time to study up on psychological warfare. Whatever works!

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Competitive sports prepare kids for the worst in life

If I left the decisions up to my daughter, she'd never play competitive sports (and she'd eat Pop Tarts at every meal).


In real life, you're not always No. 1.

Her first season of forced sports, when she was four years old, she cried every time she kicked the soccer ball. She stopped on the way from the parking lot to the soccer field, wailing that her legs hurt. And worse, she cried, "I'm sweating!''

A few years have passed, and she just completed her fourth soccer season. She's starting her second year of softball. Sports trophies line her window sill.

When basketball sign-ups came along last fall, she said she wasn't interested. I signed her up anyway. It was one of the best experiences of her little-girl life.

I learned from the years of football, soccer and baseball in my son's youth that kids need to experience being on a team, and they might not beg you to sign them up. You might have to force it on them.

They need to learn about sacrificing, and about commitment. When my now teen-age son is forced to get up for a 9 a.m. baseball practice on Saturday, he's getting a hint of adult reality.

If you read parenting articles out there, you'll find plenty of folks who shy away from competitive sports because they want their kid to always feel like a winner. I don't know what kind of idyllic life these parents must be leading, but in my world, I'm thinking I need to sign my kids up for something that will teach them about life's devastating disappointments.

Hence, I think my daughter picked up some good life lessons when her team lost almost every game last season.

Sometimes life is like that. Sometimes you get a bad call, the people on your team suck, you're tired and don't feel like playing, the coach is mean to you, someone scratches you in the face and steals the ball, and the snack parent forgets to bring treats. And the next week, you put on your uniform, and you give it your best.

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Flamingo Gardens in Davie a hit with kids

If all goes well for Harmony and her mate, Abe, a baby bald eagle will hatch on Wednesday. We stood within a few feet of the majestic eagles this weekend, at Flamingo Gardens in Davie.

The not-for-profit botanical garden and animal sanctuary is a great Plan B when you get tired of taking your kids to the beach. It's in Davie, at 3750 S. Flamingo Road in southwest Broward County.

Adults, you'll probably like it, too. Who wouldn't want to stand a few feet from a bald eagle? How many times have I tried unsuccessfully in the Everglades to spot a Florida panther? Where else could I have purchased a cricket and larva embedded in candy "amber" and considered edible?

This place has snakes, ducks, turtles, talking parrots, a historic home and gorgeous native plants and towering trees. Check out my video to see some of the highlights, including the bald eagle, Harmony, flapping her wings. Read the jump to find out more about Harmony and her Abe, both injured eagles, and their attempts to become parents. Also, admission info is on the jump.

When we visited this weekend, a little girl was having her birthday party there. Not a bad idea. Also, teen-agers 16 and older can volunteer, a good way to earn some of those service hours they need to graduate.

Click here to check out the website.

Continue reading "Flamingo Gardens in Davie a hit with kids" »

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How do parents get mad enough to beat their kids?

One thing I wasn't prepared for when I became a parent was how hard it is to discipline kids if you're a person who is slow to anger.

I could never be a child abuser, because kids just don't make me that mad. That also means I'm not a great disciplinarian, because I find it difficult to care very much about things like wire hangers.

In some families, a mother who lacks that school-marm instinct is balanced out by a dad who is scary. Or vice versa. In our household, both parents are laid back.

I find myself having to fake it quite a bit, and wondering how other parents find their anger so naturally.

When I'm in a great mood, and the phone rings, and it's one of my kids' teachers saying my child is talking too much in class, I know the expectation is that I'm supposed to go from copacetic to irate in two seconds flat. I wait two seconds, but I'm still in a good mood. So I sternly say something like, "Well, there will be consequences for him when he gets home!'' And that makes the teacher happy.

I found a helpful column about the seven signs of laid-back parenting, which I'll post on the jump. It's frightening, really.

Life would be so much easier if I had a deep well of Parent Anger to tap into, like my own parents did.

Continue reading "How do parents get mad enough to beat their kids? " »

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Poll: Is it dangerous to post kid photos and videos online?

I read an advice column a while back that suggested it was OK to post videos on YouTube of, say, a children's birthday party, to share with other family members and parents of the kids who attended.


I'm not over protective, and I do have photos of my kids on Facebook. But I don't think it's OK for an adult to post videos of anyone else's child on YouTube. And I wouldn't post pictures of someone else's child online anywhere.

Here's a story in the New York Times that addresses this point. Parents are in wide disagreement about what's OK and what's not. The mom in the story posted photos of her daughter on Flickr and they turned up on someone else's page in Brazil.

I've heard parents warn that some pervert is going to print out childrens' pictures and paste them on his ceiling, but I don't spend a lot of time worrying about stuff like that. Is it possible that he's going to find my daughter and snatch her, or just salivate over her photo unbeknownst to me?

What do you guys think?

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Girls rule, boys drool

Any parent who has raised both genders would probably back up what I'm about to say: Females should be running this planet.

What in the world is this thing?

Yes, the boys of the world have many positive attributes that aid them in their positions as leaders of most countries. But I've noticed -- and talked to many other parents who've noticed -- that girls exhibit the behaviors of a successful CEO at a very young age, while their brothers are playing X Box.

A girl might lay her school clothes out the night before, tucking socks carefully into each waiting shoe. A boy might declare, at the moment it's time to walk out the door, "I can't go to school. I don't have any socks!''

A girl might warn you weeks in advance that school pictures are coming up, so she can be sure to fill out the form and bring in the money on the required day. She might even write it on her calendar. A boy might leave his picture form crumpled in a ball at the bottom of his backpack, which he then leaves at a friend's house for a few days, and then you find it the week after Picture Day.

Does anyone out there know what I'm talking about?

I'm not bashing boys. For the most part, they're the ones telling us girls what to do in this world, and I respect their authority, (in most cases). And I feel the need to say, just for the record, that I appreciate the things my son is great at, which are many.

If my daughter grows up to be a wife and stay-at-home mom, believe me when I say that would be fine with me, if she's happy and her husband treats her with love and respect.

But I want her to know that girls can do anything.

Boys already know that about their futures. Girls might not be sure. Lily has already asked me what monetary denomination has a woman's face on it. (Lady Liberty doesn't count!) And then, of course, I had to explain what in the world a "Susan B. Anthony dollar'' was.

So I tell her, quite a bit, that she's going to be the first female president of the United States.

Or maybe, by then, I tell her, you'll be the second or third.

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No time like the present to take the family camping

My Dad didn't grow up camping. He grew up in North Miami and probably wasn't introduced to camping until he joined the Army. But he bought a pop-up camper and he and my mom took me and my three sisters camping all over the state parks of Iowa.

Don't let unhappy faces fool you. Camping is fun!

As anyone who was brought up camping understands, I arrived at adulthood feeling this compulsion to buy a tent.

We've been camping a lot over the years, and those weekends are some of the most memorable we've had as a family. Raising my son in Cub Scouts, we camped all over Florida. My daughter was sleeping in a tent as an infant.

Every New Year, I think about camping. I make a resolution to get the family out in the tent at least once, maybe three or four times.

For something new this year, I forced the family to go camping on New Year's Eve. Creed being a teen-ager, we let him bring his friend, Alex, along. We found a tent site at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. If you're looking for a campsite, just search this site, Reserve America. It's easy.

I've been talking to a few parents lately about camping. Some have camped in cabins at places that have heated pools and bounce houses. In other words, you don't have to totally rough it if your spouse wants to camp and you'd rather be at a bed-and-breakfast.

On our trip to Key Largo, we grilled steak and lobster, we had hot showers, we rented canoes. We drank champagne, the kids drank bubbly apple cider. We hiked in the light of the full moon. We even played badminton. As others were partying back home in South Florida, we were sitting at a picnic table listening to a guy play John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads'' on his guitar. I cannot think of a better way to ring in a New Year. No TV, no ball drop, no mob of drunk people. Just the family and a tent.

When Lily returned to school after the two week Christmas break, her second-grade teacher asked each child to report to the class about what they'd done during the vacation.

We'd taken Lily to Miami Seaquarium, to Jacksonville, to Port St. Lucie, to the beach at Las Olas, to the movie Avatar, and a whole lot of other things. And the camping trip was just a 24-hour deal. But when asked to sum up what she did over the break, that's what she said. "I went camping.''

Do your family a favor this year and buy a tent. It'll cost you less than one night in a hotel room.

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The sane Mom's New Year's resolution: Accept the mess

My son said you're not supposed to have "negative'' New Year's Resolutions.

This was after I announced that my No. 1. resolution this year is to "stop keeping the house so clean.''

Did someone say the living room is messy?
I can't see it from this comfortable chair.

He did a rapid-air-intake gasp of disgust when I said it. Ever since he became a teen-ager, he's been concerned with cleanliness. Nevermind that his own bedroom is a pit, and that he probably thinks you can sanitize something by spraying a third of a can of Axe cologne on it.

"The house never has been clean!'' he said to my New Year's resolution announcement.

This was after I had cleaned the living room. And his Dad had tossed one pair of dirty socks on the floor, to mark the space as his.

"I'm just not going to drive myself crazy trying to keep the house clean,'' I explained to Creed, my 14-year-old, as I chopped vegetables and lettuce to fulfill my No. 2 resolution ("Eat more salad.'') "I'm going to accept the mess,'' I told him.

This exchange was just days after a New Year's Eve campout in Key Largo -- planned, shopped, packed and executed by me -- during which he complained bitterly that I had not brought paper plates on which to eat the lobster, steak, scallops and baked potatoes I'd brought along.

"And your top resolution,'' I advised him, "should be to pay more attention to the hard work your father and I put in to make your life better.''

He went on and on in a teen-agerish way about us not teaching his 7-year-old sister to keep her belongings in her bedroom, about the supposed fact that none of his friends' homes are as messy as ours, that even when they are in the midst of cooking dinner, his friends' kitchens are spotless, and on and on. So I gave up.

But I've already left my mark. On the refrigerator is a new magnet I bought during the Christmas break, at Miami Seaquarium (annual passes!).

I took down all the photos, the A+ spelling test, the cutesy drawings of Mommy. And on this clean slate I put up one ceramic, square magnet. It has a fake button on it, kind of like a doorbell, and it says "Press button for maid. If no one answers, Do it Yourself!''

The sad thing is, everyone in the family, including my husband, actually pushed on the fake button. They looked around the kitchen, but there was no maid. Only me. And I'm accepting the mess.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are raising a Spoiled Generation.

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

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

This nonsense has to stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think? Take the poll.

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Would a doctor's prescription make you a nicer mom?

We see a lot of women these days who are high-performing, over-achieving Supermoms we want to strangle.


Might Mommie have accepted
wire hangers with a shrug,
if she had been on prescription drugs?

But what about the moms who are drowning in life, the under-achieving, just-getting-by moms? I had to admire the honesty of one mom-blogger, who admitted that she resorted to taking medication to avoid creating a reality sequel to Mommie Dearest.

She felt remorse after screaming at the top of her lungs at her kids, who were ruining what might have been a wonderful Hannah Montana moment. She'd bought them a Hannah CD double-pack, and the kids were arguing over which of the two CDs to listen to.

This reminded me of when my sister and I took our kids to Disney World. (Click here for memory refresher about the trip our kids might remember as "the horrible day when I didn't get the souvenir I wanted.'')

Here's a link to the mom-blog about taking drugs to be a nicer mother.

Her conclusion:

"Maybe we moms should do more yoga, cut back our responsibilities, see a therapist, exercise more, put duct tape over our mouths every day after 5 p.m. Maybe we should do anything to avoid relying on drugs to become calmer, happier people. But unlike Hannah/Miley I only have one world. And I want to enjoy it as much as I can."
I don't think drugs are the answer, myself. I think we should all just stay away from Hannah Montana stuff.

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Which one's a grandfatherly guy, and which one's a pedophile?

Maybe I'm a paranoid mom, but I consider any adult male whom I've just met, who spends more than 10 minutes chatting with my young daughter, to be a pedophile.

End of story.

If I'm wrong, so be it. But if I'm right, I've helped prevent something horrible from happening.

This weekend we were at a cute waterfront Inn in Jensen Beach, and a friendly guy was hovering a little too closely to my daughter in the swimming pool. It was 9 a.m. or so, and he was already drinking a beer. At that hour, I don't even think the idea of "it's 5 o'clock somewhere'' applies.

My sister called my daughter back to the room and reminded her not to be alone with strangers.

"Dan is not a stranger!'' was her response.

After that I mentally branded Dan as a pervert, and kept her away from him. Is this fair? Maybe not. Some men like little kids, right?

My sister has a neighbor who is an older gentleman, and he's shown a lot of interest in her young son. He recently offered to babysit. I told her the guy is a pedophile. Obviously!

How do you know who is safe and who's not? For starters, in your own neighborhood you can check regularly for registered sex offenders. Click here to do so now. You can also sign up there to get an e-mail alert if a registered offender moves into your neighborhood.

I might note that there are two in my neighborhood, and another 80 in Broward County who are listed as "absconded'' or not yet registered. With photographs.

This list I found offers Eleven Ways to Spot a Pedophile. It has some interesting insights on it, such as noting that something might be amiss if an adult man decorates his home with cartoon characters.

The writer ends by saying, "Don’t look for proof that your instincts are right or wrong. Trust them. They are always right."

Read the jump page for a proposed children's book text one reader sent me, on this issue.

Continue reading "Which one's a grandfatherly guy, and which one's a pedophile? " »

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It's never too late to start a family "tradition''

Until earlier this year, dinner time at our house was a free-for-all.

The rarity of our all sitting down to eat together was evident in that it even had a name: "family dinner.''

But how hard is it to start a new habit, and to have your kids thinking for the rest of their lives that we ALWAYS sat down at 7 p.m. to eat?

Pretty easy, actually. Lily is only 7. Do you think she's going to remember eating Hot Pockets in front of the television in the back bedroom? Of course not! Not if I can help it!

Creed is 14. I have four more years to create a lasting memory he can miss when he's eating Ramen noodles in the dorm. I want him to tell people about the meals his mom used to cook, and there can be no name brands (like Totino's Frozen Pizza Bites) mentioned in this discussion.

So about a month ago, I started a family dinner routine. Every night, we eat together. I am still amazed at how quickly the kids adapted to it, and how easily it became the norm.

They say you can start any habit with just a few repetitions.

It's like re-writing your family history. You take a look at what you don't like in your family schedule and operations, and you do something about it.

A lot of research has established that human memory is malleable. So if you don't like the memories you're creating for your kids, change them.

It's as simple as that.

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Show me your texting bill and I'll tell you your age

I found the Generation Gap on Sunday. It was right there on my cell phone bill, on the "data'' page. That's where it logs all the text messages sent from the cell phones in our family.celltext.jpg

So far in a little less than a month's time, our three-phone family has sent or received 2,979 text messages. About 100 a day.

Of those, my husband is responsible for eight of them. I can lay claim to 322. And Creed, the 9th grader, has his name on 2,649 of them!

I grew up in the 70s and 80s. My kids are growing up in the 00s. (How do you even say that?)

Their mode of communication is what I'd call "conversation heart-speak.'' Remember those? Those chalky candies were so tiny, they could only fit partial sentences like "2 Sweet 2B 4Gotten'' on them. And that wasn't considered "sexting.''

I have never considered limiting my son's text messaging. I don't know any parent who does. I accept it as a way for teens to communicate, even if it's inferior to actually speaking to people.

I'm taking advantage of it, to keep track of my teen. You can be sure that some of the hundreds of texts he received were from Mom.

I think public opinion is still forming on whether texting is good or bad for teens. Some say excessive texting is linked with anxiety and sleeplessness and immaturity. But isn't being a teen linked to those things?

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How do YOU keep your teen out of the vodka bottle?

Now that my kids are 14 and 7, I got the Phillips head screwdriver out on Sunday and removed the child-proof latches from the bathroom cabinets.


But now apparently I need to apply some kind of latch to the vodka, maybe to prescription meds in the house, and quite possibly to any cigars my husband might have lying around. Why? Because as I said at the beginning, I have a 14 year old.

A few weekends ago, I was in bed reading a book (John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, about an innocent young boy and his beloved horse), when I heard an ambulance, and sirens. Sounded like they were heading our way.

They were.

A group of young teens, my son included, were at a friend's house a block down the road, and her mom wasn't home. Some of them guzzled the vodka. One of the teens passed out, several vomited. A neighbor checked on them, found the grisly scene, and called 911. The sober kids, my son among them, were told that one of their friends "might not make it.'' Three of them were taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Did they learn a lesson? I hope they did. And so did we, the parents.

A lot of the important work raising kids is done by the time your child is 14. You've built the foundation, and when your kid's a teen-ager, you find out how sturdy it is.

Is there anything you can really do to stop a teen from drinking?

Will a child-proof latch work?

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First day of school jitters -- or real, genuine child anxiety?

Don't automatically dismiss your child's jitters about returning to school, one child psychologist warns. They might actually be suffering from bonafide anxiety.

Wendy K. Silverman, a psychologist at Florida International University’s Child Anxiety and Phobia Program (CAPP), says parents might just dismiss child anxiety and that it could mushroom into depression, severe behavioral problems and even substance abuse later in life.

And really, would you want that pinned on you? I wouldn't!

Silverman and colleague William Kurtines are in the midst of a $3.3 million study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to develop state-of-the-art techniques to diagnose and treat children with anxiety.

(If you think your kid has had anxiety for at least six months, call the Child Anxiety and Phobia Program at 305-348-1937.)

Click on the jump for Silverman's tips for getting children ready for the school year:

Continue reading "First day of school jitters -- or real, genuine child anxiety?" »

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Dear parents, Welcome to our (D-rated) high school!

Creed's first day of high school is Monday.

A big deal, to me. I was waiting for a letter from the principal welcoming me as a parent, embracing me as we work together to help my son succeed, holding my hand as we step across this threshold together, nervous yet eager.southplantationhigh.jpg

It came in the mail Saturday, from the principal of South Plantation High School, where Creed will begin his journey to adulthoood.

"I would like to set the record straight and ease any anxiety you may have,'' it said. Yes, Mr. Principal. Tell me more!

I read on: "As you may or may not know, our school grade is a 'D.''

Oh. No, I didn't know that. Thought it was higher. Um, keep going?

"How did we become a D?'' The letter went on to explain that the lowest quartile of students didn't make enough progress in reading and writing, and that instead of going up a percent, they went down. "That's it,'' the principal wrote, like we should be comforted by the reduction in progress. Well, Creed's not in the lowest quartile, but I am quite sure the parents of struggling students would not get a warm feeling from this letter. And neither did I. I was crestfallen, actually.

I wasn't fixated on the school's grade, until I got his letter. I've always been a supporter of public schools, and I continue to be. But this is disturbing. I have friends sending kids to St. Thomas or American Heritage or even Pine Crest. Am I accepting mediocrity by allowing him to enter a school whose grade would draw a severe grounding if it showed up on his report card?

Maybe I can send a letter to colleges when he's applying, saying, "I want to soothe your anxiety that my son's grade point average is a D. You see he just didn't do well enough in school.''

Click here to see his welcome letter.

And click here to see the grades of all Broward County high schools. There are very few A-rated high schools in Broward County's public system.

Click here to read our schools blog, about changes in the way high schools are "graded.''

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Anti-bullying advisor: Use psychological warfare to silence brats

I ran across some realistic and possibly unorthodox advice for kids who are mistreated by other kids.

You know what I'm talking about: BULLYING. There's a national obsession with it. Just like suddenly everyone started bringing their own grocery bags to Publix, they also are all obsessed with the bratty behavior of children, and are trying to stop it.

Broward County schools definitely is on board with it. They have my 7-year-old talking about this person or that person as "my bully.''

I'm all for coming down hard on the kids who do this. (Although I wonder, would I be the same person if I hadn't been called a "shrimp'' and teased with the name "Walnut'' when I was growing up?)

I'm posting more info about Broward County schools' anti-bullying policy on the jump page, but I want to share this interesting advice from Costco's shopping magazine. Izzy Kalman takes a psychological warfare approach, in his "tips for kids who are bullied.'' Just as he suggests in the above video, he favors a "so what?'' approach, where you don't let the bullies know they bothered you.


Up until now, 100 percent of the advice I've seen from adults to students is totally ridiculous. They want you to say things a child would never say, like "Your behavior is making me uncomfortable.'' That's only going to lead to more bullying.

Here's Kalman's advice:

*Be nice to kids when they are mean to you, and before long they will stop being mean.

* Don't tell on kids who upset you. They will hate you and want to beat you up. Talk to them directly and they will respect you much more. Tell an adult only if there is an emergency situation, or becuase you want the adult to teach you how to handle the problem.

* Don't get angry when kids insult you. They love to see you getting angry.

* If kids bring you nasty rumors, don't defend yourself. Just ask the kids, 'Do you believe it?'' If they say they do, answer "You can believe it if you want.' You come out being the winner, and they will leave you alone. And if they say they don't believe it, you also win!

* If kids hit you and you're not hurt, act like nothing happened. This way you look tough and cool because you don't get upset over nonsense.

Continue reading "Anti-bullying advisor: Use psychological warfare to silence brats" »

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Fun craft for the bathtub, from the comfort of your couch

Sometimes on weekends I get desperate for things to do with Lily, that don't require me leaving my chair, or my house. We run around like crazy a lot, and sometimes, I just want to stay home to wash clothes, cook, and pretend I'm one of those wives and moms I saw on TV when I was Lily's age.newsponge.jpg

So I subscribed to a magazine called Family Fun. It has some easy crafts and projects you can do with your kid. This one I really, really liked. In order to rise to the top of my Really Liked It list, it has to be both easy and something I have all the supplies on hand for. If it's something that would make a cool kid gift, it gets bonus points. It needs to make me feel like Martha Stewart, but require only the skills and effort of maybe The Cable Guy.

This one was all of that. Check it out in the picture. It looks even cooler if you have three different colored sponges. I had two yellow and one green.

Here's how you make it:

Cut each sponge into five long pieces. Put them back "together'' as sponges but with the colors all mixed up. Stack them on top of each other. Then take a piece of yard and just tie across the middle. NOTE: You have to get the sponges a tad wet, for this to work.

Voila. A really sudsy, fun bath sponge.

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How do you have fun with a kid all day for $10? Tri-Rail to Miami!

It might not jump out at you at first as a kiddie attraction. But kids love trains, and we have one running through South Florida every day, all the time. It's called Tri-Rail.

My nephew Logan Smeltzer was here visiting me this weekend. He lives in a small town in Oklahoma, and he loved the idea of taking the train to Miami.

To get to Miami from Fort Lauderdale we took Tri-Rail, then Metrorail, then Metromover.
loganattrainstation.jpg All for $5 each, roundtrip.

When we got to downtown Miami, we ate lunch and looked at all the big sculptures of public art, peeked in the library and snapped photos here and there.

We had an awesome time. Like so much in life, it's not about what you do when you reach your destination. It's about the journey.

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My kids heard it on TV: President Obama smokes!

While everyone else was reminiscing about parachute pants and psycho-analyzing the late Michael Jackson, my kids latched onto a different story they heard on TV: The president smokes.

"Creed!,'' I heard Lily yell from another room. "Obama smokes!''

"He's the president!'' she said later, reporting this disturbing news to her grandmother. I guess she missed this news story when it came up before his election. But President Obama was re-interviewed on the subject, and admitted he still slips up and smokes now and then. He called himself 95 percent cured.

"He might die!'' was the conclusion that Lily lept to. A conclusion which is true, of course. He certainly will die, eventually.

One of the president's comments was this: “I don't do it in front of my kids,” he said. “I don't do it in front of my family.''

Well he might as welll have just smoked in front of every child in America. I didn't bother with the explanation about the president not being perfect. He is supposed to be a role model, a mere mortal or not.

On another note, I met a guy at the gas station Monday morning who had just run out of gas. It was raining (of course), and he was putting gas into a tiny gas container. I asked if he needed a ride to his car, and he said, "Oh, no, no, no. That's my son over there.'' Then he said he planned to use the drive to his gas-less car to give his son a talking to, because he'd gotten no Father's Day card from him this year.

"I don't care how poor you are,'' the guy said to me. "You can get your dad a Father's Day card.''

Amen to that. (And click here to be reminded about the day that in our household can now be known as I-Didn't-Get-A-Mother's-Day-Card Day.)

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Buy a blank book for your kid's funny questions and comments

I'm not one of those moms who jumps into every spontaneous scene with a camera, and makes people line up and smile. I think it's much more fun, and less annoying, to capture what my kids are saying.

Someone bought me two blank, hard cover books. The covers are canvas, for a kid to draw on. I marked one for Creed, and one for Lily. And I've been writing their hilarious and ridiculous questions and comments in them for years.

When and if I ever deem them old enough and responsible enough to appreciate these keepsakes and not to lose them in a stack of school yearbooks, I will give them these treasures.

Lily gave me three more questions last week to add to her book:

"Why do we have to wear underwear, anyway? What does it do?''

"Has a dog ever peed on you?''

"Can a person be born with pierced ears?''

Hand me the pen!

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Recession buster: Use every piece of stale cereal in the house

I've learned a lot about frugality from my mother-in-law. She's the best kind of economizer: She's got a generous heart, but a frugal lifestyle.


Stale cereal can be yummy.

She and my late father-in-law gave my kids their first savings bonds and $100 bills. But she also uses empty cereal bags to store leftover foods.

So I'm dedicating this recession busting idea to her, even though it's so sugary, she probably wouldn't approve of my feeding it to the kids.

It's my way of using all food, and letting none go to waste. (Just like restaurants take their wilting vegetables and make vegetable soup.)

The principle is that of Rice Krispie Treats. Just sub out whichever cereal is getting stale. I keep a bag of marshmallows on hand for this very purpose. Melt the marshmallows, add a tad of butter to the mix, pour on the cereal and refrigerate.

No matter what kind of cereal it is, believe me when I say, it will be delicious when covered with melted marshmallows.


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Rope jumpers bring City Hall to life

As I've said before, I love rope jumpers. If it were an Olympic sport I'd be one of those crazy parents and Lily would be training on the rope every day.

Tuesday, some of Fort Lauderdale's finest little rope jumpers, the Warfield Park Double Dutch team members, visited City Hall to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and show some of their stuff.

Check it out!

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Is your child unpopular or emotionally stunted? Buy him a dog

It's almost like having another baby, making that decision to bring a dog into the family. But if you have a kid, it's almost inevitable that they'll ask for one. Then you'll see that saying no is not an option. Everyone's parents gets them a dog. Thus if you want to maintain custody of your child, you also have to get a dog.

I heard someone tell a guy this weekend that having a child is the best and the worst thing that will ever happen to you. Your child will bring you your highest highs, and quite possibly your lowest lows. A dog can also have this effect, especially one that poops on the floor.

But is there any other single decision (and sacrifice) you can make that will change your kid's life more?

Previous generations of families had more stay-at-home moms and more kids, so adding a dog or two was less of an ordeal, I think. Now, it's seen as a burden. If you work, you not only have to find a doggie daycare, you have to find one with a good curriculum.niceallieshot.jpg

My son begged for a dog for years. We told him he couldn't have a dog until he was 10. Then when he turned 10, we said, "No, not when you turn 10. You're really still just 9 plus 365 days. You have to wait until you've actually been 10 awhile!'' He cried. That probably wasn't a very happy birthday, come to think of it.

Anyway, that fall we finally brought home Allie from the Humane Society. She had some kind of hurricane refugee mystery surrounding her, as they claimed she was sent here from Alabama after Hurricane Katrina. But they also told us her name was Mary, and that's obviously a made-up name that no one would give a dog, so I'm not sure we can trust the hurricane story, either.

Creed wouldn't be the same kid without Allie. He just wouldn't. Allie is always by his side, and if he's not home, she drags a pair of his stinky shorts by her side. She doesn't even want me approaching him when he's sleeping, in case this might be the time I come in to his bedroom to kill him in his sleep.

He's not an unpopular or emotionally stunted kid. He's pretty normal. But Allie's brought so much to his life, it's hard to imagine the alternate reality where we said no.

For parents of troubled kids, a dog can work miracles. Sometimes it's that furry mutt that draws the kid out and helps them be who they're meant to be.

Read this story by Ginny Blansford in Newsweek for a great example. This little girl who was adopted after her first adoptive mom died finally wailed about her life circumstances when her beloved dog went missing. If you don't tear up reading this, then you are emotionally stunted and need a pet.

Here's an excerpt:

Liana came back into the house, sat on her new dog's bed and cried. In her four years with us, she had hardly ever cried. And she had hardly ever mentioned her adoptive mother, my best friend. I almost resented that she seemed to have moved past grief without a second thought. But now she sobbed. She howled. Her thick black hair stuck to her cheeks, wet with tears. She wrapped her arms around herself, then around me, squeezing hard. She cried for three hours—until well after John returned. "She's gone," Liana moaned. "My dog is gone. My mother is dead. I loved my dog. Why did my mother die?"

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Giving pre-teen a criminal record seems harsh punishment to me

I am on the run today so I'll have to wait till later to tell you the latest about my Mom Strike at home. And no, I still haven't gotten the Mother's Day gift that I so richly deserve.

But I do want to post a news story in here that is sure to spark debate. A dad in Plantation is pressing charges against his 12-year-old for driving off in his car for the second time.

My 13-year-old has started showing a fascination with the car, and has asked if he can drive it around the block.


But one mission I feel I'm given as a parent is to get him to the age of 18 with a clean record.

What do you think of this?

Girl, 12, takes dad's car on joy ride in Plantation
Father presses grand theft auto charges

By Sallie James
South Florida Sun Sentinel

May 19, 2009 PLANTATION A 12-year-old girl who took her dad's car on a joy ride and initially refused to stop for police has been charged with grand theft auto at her father's request, police said today.

Police quickly spotted the youth Monday because she forgot a basic tenet of night driving: headlights.

The child disappeared with the yellow Nissan about 10:30 p.m. while her father was visiting her ailing 19-month-old sibling at Plantation General Hospital, said police Detective Robert Rettig. The ordeal started and ended in the hospital parking lot at 401 NW 42 Ave., Rettig said.

Continue reading "Giving pre-teen a criminal record seems harsh punishment to me" »

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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.

Flowers and a messy table cancel each other out,
don't you think?

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.

Only Lily, my 7-year-old, remembered Momma. She brought home three Mom's Day presents she had made at school. (That included a poem with these lines "my love for you is as humongous as a tiger's roar, and as everlasting as the deep, blue ocean's floor.'' Nice!)

The two males in the house acted like any other day. I had to pout for 24 hours to get belated Mother's Day flowers, set on a table Monday night in a horrendously messy kitchen. I looked at them and went to bed. It was only 8:30 p.m. I never got up. I was on strike.

Creed, who is 13, is way past the age when he might write me a poem. But couldn't he have cleaned the kitchen? A friend of mine was treated to a rose petal bath by her teen-age son. That hurts!

Creed was asking me for something Monday morning and I told him, "Tell whoever you gave a Mother's Day card to. Maybe she'll listen.''

I don't think I'm overreacting. A Mom Strike feels just right.

There is no such thing as a belated Mother's Day gift. If you missed the opportunity to honor a mother on the day that is designated as such, then it's a Mother's Day apology.

Help me feel sorrier for myself -- tell me what wonderful gifts your family heaped upon you. Anyone?

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Worldless weekends: How do they DO that?


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Mom throws tantrum, wants pacifier back!

I sucked my thumb until I was 11, probably because my mom was like you folks who don't believe in pacifiers. Well, I do. And I bought them for both of my kids. Hence, they don't have callouses on their thumbs like I did.

For those of us who provided our kids with a piece of plastic to suck on, taking it away for good can be tough. And I'm not talking about the tantrums your toddler throws when forced to live without. I'm talking about the MILESTONE this is. In other words, it's Baby No More.

I met a Fort Lauderdale mom the other day who has a very amusing parenting blog. She's going through this my-pacifier-sucking-baby-is-not-a-baby-anymore issue right now.

Read her post about it by clicking here on her blog, The McMommy Chronicles.

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A two-year-old Mensa member. Why didn't I think of that?

I'm feeling a little slow on the take as a mom for not nominating my daughter for Mensa membership. She's a genius, of course. Duh.

Check it out. This girl is only 2!

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Free "family fun'' day at Fort Lauderdale pool on Saturday

The city of Fort Lauderdale is holding an open house at the beach aquatic complex, also known as the International Swimming Hall of Fame complex, for city residents.

Address: 501 Seabreeze Blvd.

Date: Saturday, May 2.

They're suggesting you bring a swimsuit. You can sign up for junior lifeguard training, swim or dive team, or just swim laps.

Here's a link for more info.

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Autistic 13-year-old drives to airport and flies to California

In case you missed this story in today's Sun Sentinel, check this out.

It's a story about a teenager who ran away from Boca Raton and ended up in California.

I like how the dad's reaction was to be impressed that his kid actually drove the car to the airport.

I mean, he was upset, also. But as the mom of a 13-year-old, I have to agree. My first reaction might be pride that he was able to drive to the airport and get on a plane by himself.

The story's on the jump page.

Continue reading "Autistic 13-year-old drives to airport and flies to California" »

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Best idea for organizing crayons, yet

Let's be practical today. Wouldn't life be simpler if for some reason, in the same way China allows families only one child, America decided each family had to get by on just one box of 64 crayons?


I've thought of giving them away. But there they lay, scattered in shoe boxes and cute plastic buckets. Lined up in that car compartment where you didn't realize they would melt into one mega-crayon. Under beds, and under foot, broken.

I recently found the best idea yet for how to take care of the scores of needy crayons in your house. The solution involves brightly colored duct tape (did you know this product exists? It does!), some zip-lock baggies, and a three-ring binder.

The picture is self-explanatory, I think. The duct tape (aqua, in this photo) reinforces the plastic baggy so it doesn't rip. I've made a bunch of these, filling the baggies with crayons and the pockets with paper.

If you lay awake at night thinking, "why do I have all of these crayons?'' you owe it to yourself to try this out.

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If you're worried about putting your child on a county bus, check this out

I've told you that our 13-year-old gets around the county on the bus.

My colleague Scott Wyman writes that the county is considering putting cameras on the buses. Click here to read about it.

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Son, here's your new car. It's a Broward County transit bus!

About a year ago, my husband and I made one of the best parenting decisions of our lives. In response to one of our son's many, many requests for a ride somewhere, we finally said, "Take the bus.''250px-Broward_County_Transit_logo.png

I think requiring your young teen to use public transit, such as it is in Broward County, is the most useful parenting advice I have to offer, along with "always keep a blank sheet of white posterboard on hand.''

How many times have we run into those scheduling impossibilities, and then suddenly a stinky exhaust pipe went off in our minds and we realized: Phew! He can take the bus!

I was nervous at first. Some of you probably would be, too. I tried out the bus, taking it on the occasional weekday to work downtown. Because as parents, we know we should never ask our children to do something that we personally wouldn't do, if we're going to be writing about it and exposing that hypocrisy.

I felt satisfied that riding the buses around here is safe, even if it's not a very efficient way to get around.

Creed was only 12 when we forced him to join the car-less and the people who've lost driving privileges. But he was ready for this new mobility.

Now he rides the bus quite a bit, of his own volition. He rides with a friend or two, and with cell phones. These suburban boys are learning to get around their part of the county, to malls and movie theaters.

When I tell other parents, they often react with an, "Oh!''

Like, "oh yeah, we do have buses around here, don't we?'' mixed in with, "oh my gosh! Dear Lord!''

I think if the masses of youth in Broward grew up familiar and comfortable with our bus system, we'd have a better Broward for their adult years. There might be fewer cars on the road, and better transit options instead. Dontcha think?

Here's the county transit website. You can buy a student bus pass for your kid's next birthday, for $26. That'll buy them a month's worth of rides, and buy you a month's worth of freedom from giving rides.

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Listen to Hannah Montana movie tunes, for free

I know I'm not the only somewhat normal person who enjoyed the new Hannah Montana movie. Am I?!

Here's a link my colleague found where you can legally, and without cost, listen to the soundtrack of the movie. The songs are great.

Of course, my favorite show ever was the live performance of Barbie Fairytopia at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. So that's where I'm coming from.

Click here to listen.

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Hannah Montana movie surprisingly good

I put it off as long as I could. My 7-year-old started talking about the Hannah Montana movie long ago. She knew the date it would open in theaters (April 10), and she begged me to take her. It seemed unavoidable so I said yes and started dreading it.

The big day came, and we had other plans. Couldn't take her. She cried. Next day, same story. We don't practice "consensual parenting'' in our house, by the way. So what we say goes, and Lily doesn't control the schedule. Life is full of disappointments, and now she has a fresh example of that.

Anyway, last night I finally took her to the movie. I know the reviews are mixed, but I tend to agree with this one I saw on the Rotten Tomatoes website: "I'm almost embarrassed at how entertained I was.''

Now, I do admit I like cheesy music, like Abba and John Denver. So I really liked that this movie has a lot of music in it. Believe me, I've seen many an episode of her TV show. The movie was definitely better, and worth the money.

Oh, and Lily liked it, too.

My only beef with the movie was that the person Lily identified as "the bad guy'' was a reporter. Sigh.

Click here for movie times.

p.s. If you search online for "Hannah Montana coloring pages'' you can print out some pretty cool looking stuff for your kid to get creative with.

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Miami Seaquarium birthday a good ticket, overall

One factor it pays to remember when planning that fabulous one-on-one day with your child where you're going to spend all day bonding, just the two of you: Children are crazy. .Lily7thBday%20099.jpg

Really. If I took an adult friend to Miami Seaquarium, paid for an annual pass, bought her a slushy and practically knocked people over to get her second row seats to the killer whale show, and then she got splashed by the whale in the first 15 seconds of the show, and burst into tears and said she wanted to go home, we would all conclude that my friend was nuts.

But this is what happened last week when I took my daughter there to celebrate her 7th birthday. And this kind of behavior is just normal for a little girl turning 7. You just can't plan for it. If you don't believe me, go to Disney World and look at all the crying kids, and their parents, who spent $700 for that experience.

Anyway, at the Seaquarium, as we wiped salt water out of our eyes (Thanks, Lolita the killer whale!), no one even noticed that one of us was sobbing. I got out a packet of Yogos and handed them to her one by one. I recognized the outburst as a cry of hunger. And the day was all uphill from there.

I'd been warned by friends that I might not be impressed by the Seaquarium. But it was a great afternoon, except those few crazy minutes at the whale show. Click here for the Miami Seaquarium website.

My son would say that anyone who keeps a giant sea-being captive is a "monster.'' But the exhibits and shows promote appreciation for nature, and for sea life. If a few sea creatures spend their days bonding with fun humans, for this purpose, that is OK by me.

It takes about four hours to see all the shows and have a good time.

And a bonus at Miami Seaquarium: They still have those machines that make a wax model of a dolphin or a shark, for only $2.

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Consensual parenting? Thanks, but no!

I just heard on the radio this morning about something called consensual parenting. It's also referred to by some as consensual living.

The idea is that your child gets to help make the decisions, is taken seriously and treated as an equal in the household.

No thanks.

That's probably all you need to know to figure out what a bad idea this is, and to look into the future and see the spoiled brat never-grew-up adults they will become.

Here's a link to more information about this abdication of parenting.

An excerpt: "If we take the right to self-determination away from any individual, we are changing the course of their life, and may never come to know the person they were meant to become."

Right, why should you as parents get in the way of your children's fate, however horrible it may be? Go ahead, just hand them the joy stick to control their own lives, and see what happens.

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What's up with Webkinz World?

I can see from a search of cyberspace that we're not the only ones who've paid a lot of money for a Webkinz animal and then had trouble getting into Webkinz World online.

That's pretty annoying, considering that if you just wanted a stuffed animal, they come a lot cheaper if they're not carrying a secret Webkinz code.

We bought Lily three new Webkinz pets for her 7th birthday, but getting logged in was a nightmare.

I sent an email to Ganz customer service, but got no response. That's after I searched all over their website looking for an explanation to the problems.

However I did find information about this on a site called And 187 people commented about it, and their frustrations with the website.

Good to know.

Click here and here for my previous posts about

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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

Lily pouting.
have next door to your child and his or her family. How you'll walk over with freshly made Rice Krispie treats, and stay to chat and laugh. How you'll push your grandbaby in a stroller to the local exercise trail, and you'll have one of those cool grandma names like GiGi.

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 6-year-old daughter Lily gave me a good dose of this reality a couple weeks ago. Lily is a real Momma's Girl. She writes me letters, she makes me homemade books that are stapled together. She draws pictures of us together, with lots of hearts. She's a love bug.

So she gave me one of her love notes. It said "You are the best mommy in the world. I love you.'' The word "love'' was in a heart with two birds, and she signed it. She also stuck a "sealed with a kiss'' sticker on it.

I put her to bed, and was rearranging some of her toys when I found a slip of paper that had fallen behind her toy shelf.

Here's what it said: "My heart is broken because of a big fat meany.'' It had some pen swirls, and said "ugly.''

I read it out loud, and she knew she was busted. I asked her who she was calling a "big, fat meany'' and she said, "uhh, my invisible friend.'' Great answer, but an obvious big, fat lie. So she admitted she'd written it when I had yelled at her for something.

Mentally, I extrapolated this to 10 years from now, or 15, or 20. We're going to have actual fights, I realized. Am I ready for this?

The best way to approach it, I think, is to simply remember: Act like a parent, not a friend.

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Teacher's death leaves parents with the funeral decision

Braun.jpgWhat a tragedy for the children whose teacher died yesterday on Interstate 95, and for the woman's family and friends. Sharon Braun, a fourth grade teacher at Stephen Foster Elementary, died in a horrible crash that also critically injured a P.E. teacher at that school, Gail Carter.

Braun's students had to take the FCAT today, anyway.

An elementary school teacher makes a big imprint on a child. And if I were one of the parents of the kids she taught, I'd be trying to decide: Should I take my child to the funeral, or not?

It's going to be traumatic, but might it be therapeutic?

Some experts say if a child is old enough to go to church, he or she is old enough to attend a funeral. Some say a child needs to face the reality of death. Still others say that a child forced to go, or forced to stay away from a funeral, will suffer the most. They're saying the most important thing is that your child makes the choice themselves.

Personally, I think I would take my child. It's a good time to talk about life, and what it all means.

Continue reading "Teacher's death leaves parents with the funeral decision" »

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After all the Obama brainwashing, kids should be receptive to voting

Maybe this would be true even if Barack Obama hadn't won the presidency, but I've been really surprised how much my daughter knows about him, and about Michelle Obama and the girls. And this is my first grader we're talking about.

She picked this stuff up at school. She comes home with pictures of President Obama to color.

Well, today is election day again. This time, the elections are small, in various cities in Broward County. My city, Plantation, has an election. But I want to raise a voter. So I'm talking to the kids about the races.

If you want ideas on teaching your kids the A, B, Cs of good citizenship, check out Kids Voting USA.

And by the way, the Kids Voting election results also went Obama's way. But I found it interesting that 494 kids voted Socialist.

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Broward schools: Parents should be more involved

Broward County schools are trying to get parents more involved in their kids' academics.

They've launched this website, which is pretty cool. Among the material on there is a flow chart on how to deal with what you think is unfair treatment of your child by their teacher. There's also advice about how to deal with a child who hates school and thinks it's stupid. (Besides saying, 'Congratulations, you're human!'')

The district also has parent involvement meetings. Here's the schedule. The next one is March 23. Download file

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Check out your high school's dropout rate

Some of you believe that until a teen-ager is 18, the parent is in charge. Well you're wrong. Florida schools allow kids to make one of the most important decisions in life -- the decision to be a high school dropout -- at age 16.

And apparently Broward's dropout rate is not necessarily something to brag about when you're trying to sell your house to someone from outside the area. The rate of graduations is 69.7 percent, compared to the state's 75.4 percent.

Here's the latest dropout data, including school by school dropout rates. Download file

The school board did what school boards do when faced with something this terrible: They convened a task force. Someone from that task force spoke at last month's Broward County's High School Council. According to the draft minutes:

The risk factors or predictors of dropping out are well known and include being over-age, behavior problems, poor attendance, low performance on standardized tests and grade retention. Minority groups are overrepresented in the dropout statistics.

The Council is talking about dropouts again this month. Their meeting topic is "Entering High School & Exiting With a Diploma.'' That's depressing. I have much higher hopes for my own son, who enters high school this fall. Exiting with a diploma I assumed was a no-brainer. Guess I was wrong.

If your kid is in middle school, you're welcome to attend the Council's meeting. It's on Thursday, March 5, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Plantation High School, 6901 NE 16th St. (graduation rate 71.4 percent).

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Broward County parents of gifted kids need to stay informed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that way too 2009 of me?

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Coraline: a horror flick for the young set?

Coraline Trailer

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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Teens in Broward County need earlier curfews!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Teaching a kid to ride a bike is for Supermoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Teaching a kid to ride a bike is for Supermoms" »

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Advice to parents, straight from the teens' mouths

Two teens are here at the Sun Sentinel today, shadowing me in my job as a reporter. I asked them to give parents advice on dealing with teen-agers.

High schoolers Famishia Williams and Kelsey Dean


"As far as advice for parents of other teens, give us space, but not too much. We're still learning. We will make mistakes.
Don't brush us off as children, but don't assume we know what we're doing all of the time.
Overprotection and underprotection can cause rebellion. And even if you're doing everything right, we'll criticize you anyway. It's how we get our point across.
Also, don't undermine a teenager's problem; it might seem irrelevant to you, but to us, it probably means the world, at least for the time being.''


"Communication is key. When dealing with teen-agers, especially girls, it's important not to simply assume that you know exactly how they feel and what's going on with them because you've "been there before.''
It's important to do more listening than talking because honestly, we want nothing more than to express the way we feel and tell parents everything that's going on in our lives without being judged.
Most parents feel uncomfortable with talking to their teens about certain subjects such as sex, love, drugs and other things that are important to us. Parents have to sometimes cross that line dividing parenting and befriending. Parents have to come out of this dictative mindset and talk to teens. That 'my house, my rules' cliche is becoming a bit overrated.
Children are tired of being silenced. It's time to listen.''

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Family campouts: When else is such a huge hassle so much fun?

We pulled into Jonathan Dickinson State Park, watching water spouts form in the black cloud above us. Could the park be cursed, or is it only when I want to go camping there?

Last time I'd taken kids camping at that state park, which is about an hour-plus north of here, a tentcamp.JPG
controlled burn raged out of control in the fast winds, and the park was severely damaged.

I had my Cub Scout den there, and it's a campout none of them will forget. They couldn't breathe; the smoke was thick. Fire was licking the sky, and firemen (and, maybe, firewomen), were shouting for everyone to get out, quickly. We threw all of our stuff in the car, amidst chaos and screaming, and coughing and choking, and we left. Many, many other people must have lost their campers, tents and gears, because the fire lept across the lake to our campsite.

For some of them, it was the last campout they've had. Not that they died in the fire. They just couldn't shake the traumatic way that campout ended, when they were only 9 and 10 years old.

But the park itself is quite nice. So I took my two kids there last weekend. We did a one-night camping trip. And it was wonderful.

Mind you, as during any campout, I had moments where I wondered: Why in the world would I do this to myself? The wind started to pick up, and the sky looked ominous. People were videotaping the water spouts -- mini-tornadoes -- forming in the clouds. And it was one of the coldest nights of the year.

It was so difficult putting the tent up in the wind that I became a spectacle for other campers.

But that's one of the reasons we camp, instead of going to a hotel. You "build'' your little house for the night, and you have a sense of accomplishment. There's no TV. You have to resort to good, old-fashioned fun, like kickball, hiking, building fires, and maybe cards.

It's great for city kids like ours growing up in Broward County. You'd think they'd never seen a cactus the way they enjoyed finding them on hikes.

I started looking for another place to camp, to show my kids all the faces of Florida. This site, Reserve America, allows you to reserve campsites and pay for them online. That's how I reserved the campout last weekend. But it doesn't have all the campsites in Florida on it. So this is another good resource: The Official 2008 Florida Camping Directory.


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Broward performing arts center is offering summer camp

I've barely given thought to summer camps yet, except to set up deductions from my paycheck so that I can get out of paying taxes on my summer camp expenses. (If you didn't know that childcare was tax deductible, now you do.)

But the Broward Center for the Performing Arts announced it's starting early registration for a theater camp this summer.

Last summer, we did a Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art camp that probably qualifies as Lily's Best Life Experience to Date.

So I might consider this one, too. The youngest age is 7. Lily said she's got "stage fright,'' so I'd have to really push her into it.

The trick is to mish-mash a bunch of good, short camps together into a good summer curriculum for your child. That's much better than sticking them in one, generic camp all summer. It's also more expensive, and you can end up with overlapping camps, otherwise known as wasted money.

But that's why it's important to use pretax dollars for camp, or deduct them when you file your taxes. Please, don't take my word for it; ask a licensed accountant.

Here's the camp info from the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, which has a camp in Miramar and a camp at the downtown Fort Lauderdale center. Looks like the camp ends at 4 p.m. For working parents, that's tough but it's good to ask if the camp offers after-care. I found that many of them offer it for an extra fee:

Secure a spot for your child at Summer Theater Camp!
This year, Summer Theater Camp has...
2 Sessions • 2 Age Groups • 2 Locations
Monday to Friday • 9am–4pm

Register by Feb. 1, 2009 – and SAVE $50

Our unique Summer Camp program sparks interest in the theater arts, sharpens performance skills and develops self-confidence in the campers. Each 4-week session exposes campers to all facets of the performing arts, and studies culminate with a show performance in a professional setting.

Young Camper Shows (Ages 7-13):
Session 1: Fiddler on the Roof
Miramar Cultural Center/ArtsPark • June 8–July 3
Broward Center • June 15 –July 10
Session 2: The Wiz
Miramar Cultural Center/ArtsPark • July 6–July 31
Broward Center • July 13–Aug 7

Young Professionals Program (Ages 14-18)
Session 1: Seussical The Musical
Miramar Cultural Center/ArtsPark - June 8–July 4
Broward Center • June 15–July 11
Session 2: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Miramar Cultural Center/ArtsPark • July 6–Aug 1
Broward Center • July 13–Aug 8

Or call today! 954.462.0222

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Still waiting for Santa to write back ...

Dear Santa Claus,

Why haven't you written my 6-year-old back like you promised?

Still waiting.

Brittany, mother of Lily Norman

p.s. First the Tooth Fairy forgets to leave money, and now this. What's the deal?

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My teen, my critic

One thing I hadn't prepared myself for as a parent was having an in-house critic analyzing everything about me.

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. Suddenly I have another set of eyes on me. It's like being on reality TV, where every mistake I make is fodder for discussion.

If my husband and I argue, I no longer walk away feeling victorious. Now I have to hear, "Why did you say that to Dad?''

I'm still trying to get used to this new arrangement. Kids walk around oblivious to the world for so many years, and anything that does snag their attention can easily be smoothed over with a parent's white lie. ("Of course that's not beer in my cup! They don't allow beer inside movie theaters. It's Sprite.'')

Right about this age, you're finally seeing the results of your consistency in the first dozen years.

If you didn't consistently impose homework requirements and academic standards, you'll be lost at this point. If you were off-and-on about your child keeping his room clean and his bed made, don't try now. If you didn't consistently show through your own behavior the kind of character you want your kid to have, you can't really start in the teen years.

So in some ways, the incubation is over, and the hardest work is done.

But in another respect, after a dozen years of correcting your child's behavior and pointing out their mistakes so they can reach their full potential, the tables get turned on you. Better hope you have nothing to hide.

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What a difference a table makes

I found a way to help my middle-schooler son get homework done. It was a lot more expensive than a tutor. But it's a one-time expense. It's called a table.


Adults have grown used to working in cramped, uncomfortable quarters. They have learned to adapt to a cubicle habitat.

But kids have a long way to go before they learn to love office furniture. At this point they're not even getting paid to do the work, so something about the experience needs to be pleasant.

A comfortable, roomy place to spread out the work. A place with relative silence. An official "assigned seat'' and maybe even an assigned time.

If you research the best studying methods, experts and non-experts alike seem to agree that one important factor in getting homework done is to find the right place to do it.

It's obvious that doing homework in front of a television set is a bad idea. Yet I've allowed my son to do it; I measured the results. If he was getting his work done there, I reasoned that maybe it was just they way he functioned best.

Yeah, right. I've come to realize what a bad idea that was. But you have to offer a good alternative.

I bought my son a desk; he doesn't sit there. I led him to a seat at the dinner table, he didn't take to that well, either. No spot seemed conducive to getting science fair projects done, algebra, sociology, Spanish.

Over the holidays, we bought a large, square table for the kitchen. In moments, it became clear that I'd just accidentally purchased the Great Homework Solution. Everyone immediately gravitated to this large table to work.

As I write this now, we're all three sitting at this table working. No one is allowed to speak (within reason; I'm not Mommy Dearest).

In here, the only distraction is the refrigerator.

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If your child writes Santa, he'll write back!

According to our story today by Robert Nolin, the local postal employees will make sure your lettertosanta.jpg
child gets a note back from Santa if your letter to him has a return address.

Read the story here

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The Tooth Fairy is a flake!

Now that we're duping our second child into believing in imaginary characters, we're kind of losing our excitement about it.toothfairy.jpg

For instance I don't think we'll take Lily to sit on any Santa's lap this year. A letter will do.

And this morning I heard those dreaded, dreaded words: "Mom, the Tooth Fairy's not real. She didn't leave me any money!''


You know your priorities went askew when you stay up till midnight sending emails, but forget to put a couple dollars under your child's pillow when a front tooth falls out.

Gulp. My mind raced through various options of "recovery'' from this mortifying oversight. Should I take the pink tooth bag into another room and declare that I found money in it that she had missed? Should I stick money under another pillow when she leaves the room and tell her she didn't look in the right place? Should I make up something on the spot about the Tooth Fairy not visiting little girls who don't clean their room?

"Well,'' I said, "we'll just have to try again tonight.''

"She must have looked under the wrong pillow,'' Lily decided, because she was sleeping in the wrong direction and had her feet on the tooth pillow.

Thank goodness kids always give the Tooth Fairy the benefit of the doubt.

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Your neighbor, the sexual predator

On the radio this morning I heard an advertisement for a service that helps you keep your child safe from molesters. They said you could order a report that would include information about potential sexual offenders in your midst.neighborhoodimage.jpg

Fortunately that information is public record, and available for free to all of us in Florida.

I look up my neighborhood once in a while on the state's sexual offender and sexual predator database, to see which neighbors of mine to look out for.

Here's the link to the Broward Sheriff's Office's map. When you place your cursor over a dot, you get multiple photos of the offenders.

It's appalling how many there are.

You can even sign up to get an email if a sex offender moves in or out of your community. And on the state's searchable database, here, you can look up email addressess and Instant message names to see if they're registered to offenders.

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What to do with all that kid art?

Used to be that when my daughter came home from school with a cute drawing or some kind of construction paper and glue creation, I'd get all excited and proud, and I'd think, "Now this I have to keep.''kidart.jpg

Now I assess it quickly, and if it's not brilliant, I think, "which trash can should I throw this in that Lily won't see I threw it away and start crying.''

Because if you save kid art long enough, you have to invest in some of those giant plastic tubs with lids, and then after another year or two, you get a citation from code enforcement for "improper outdoor storage.''

I do want to keep some of these hints into her little mind, though.

(I'm a big advocate of promoting a child's artistic side. Click here to read my earlier post about art supplies and displaying your kid's art in the home.) (And click here to find out about the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art's summer camps, which are awesome. Click here to find out about their Saturday morning art classes for kids.)

So there's definitely need for a "system'' in the house when it comes to the kid-art. Keep, or toss?

I've heard some good advice on this. One is to toss any art that was done from a pattern, like one of those cute Thanksgiving construction paper turkeys, for example. Toss anything that involved coloring in an existing drawing, like from a coloring book, no matter how great it looks.

Keep only original works, in other words.

You'll still end up with too much. But I have ideas on what to do with some of it.

Holiday art you can keep in your box of decorations for that holiday. Take it out and display it at the right time.

The rest? I keep a stack of Lily's cutest drawings, including some of her homework that has her drawings and her attempts at writing. And every time I have to write someone a letter, be they friend or family, I grab one of Lily's drawings and throw it in there. I reason that I enjoy when friends put the latest school photo in the envelope, and I'd enjoy seeing kid artwork as well.

In my Christmas cards this year, for example, I'm including a copy of a recent Lily poem.

My husband thinks that's going overboard. But I figure, why not?

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Tap your kid's inner artist, for cheap

It costs nothing to tell your child that he or she is an artist. And you're not lying. Anyone can take the label of artist, and mean it. Isn't the quality of art in the eye of the beholder?

So my top pick this year for birthday presents, Christmas presents, or for whatever holiday you celebrate and have need to buy a kid a gift, is art supplies.



The exercise is pointless unless you take the art that your child slaps on these blank canvases, and display it proudly in your home.

If you always wanted to have original art on your walls, then this is a win-win situation!

I think it makes a child feel good to see that you're so proud of their work that you hang it on the wall. (These photos are Lily's work, displayed right outside her bedroom, in our hallway.)

Big Lots! has very cheap blank canvases, a few dollars, less than $10 for even the largest canvas. They also have the table top easels and paint.

I know someone who takes a look at "real'' art, picks out something that looks beautiful, and then makes a family project out of painting it on a blank canvas.

I have another friend who made a gigantic canvas and had her daughter paint a simple but very cool design on it, and it's the expensive looking centerpiece of the living room.

I think that's a great way to show appreciation for art, and to develop your child's creativity.

And that's helpful no matter what vocation your child chooses.

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Students at Broward, Palm schools write cards to U.S. troops

Students at Broward County schools sent holiday cards to U.S. troops in Afghanistan this week, with the help of U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton.ushouselogo.gif

Klein got kids from these schools in Broward to create cards and write notes to the military personnel: Norcrest Elementary School, Winston Park Elementary School, Park Springs Elementary School, Eagle Ridge Elementary, McNab Elementary, Country Hills Elementary School, Coral Springs Elementary School, Harbordale Elementary School, Coral Springs Middle School, Bayview Elementary School, Park Trails Elementary School.

And kids at these schools in Palm Beach County: Palm Beach County: Conniston Community Middle School, Palmetto Elementary, Palm Springs Middle School, N. Palm Beach Country Elementary, S. Olive Elementary, Howell L. Watkins Middle School, Palm Springs Elementary School, Lake Worth Middle School, Jupiter Elementary School, Royal Palm Beach High School, Boca Verde, Orchard View Elementary School, Boca Raton Middle School.

“This program helps the next generation of Americans understand the importance of military service and support for our veterans,” Klein said in a news release. “I am so proud of the thousands of students who took the time to make cards, write notes and share their personal thanks with the military men and women serving in Afghanistan this holiday season.”

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Parents of high schoolers can get answers at Nova

Navigating your high school students' academic path to college can be daunting.

Nova High School is offering a "parent university'' where you can find out about high school graduation requirements, choosing a college wisely, financial aid and scholarship opportunities, SAT and ACT information and expectations of AP and Honors.

It's open to parents in the Broward County public school system, on Dec. 13, which is a Saturday, from 8:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Nova High School, 3600 College Ave. in Davie.

For more information call 754 323-1650.

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When parents get too friendly, bad things happen

When I was a teen-ager, one couple in town would throw big beer keg parties at their house. They had two sons. I think they reasoned that they knew their sons were going to be drinking alcohol, and this way they at least knew their kids were safe at home and under their beerkeg.jpg


Parenting is hard; sometimes you think you have a novel approach to parenting that is quite genius. And later you look back on it and realize what a dope you were.

I don't know if they regret their irresponsible approach to underage drinking. Turns out they no longer have either son, because one died of leukemia when we were young, and the other is in prison on a life sentence for murdering his wife. So who am I to second guess the way they spent their limited quality time with their sons?

But it's always at the back of a parent's mind, wondering how friendly we should be with our kids. It's easier to be your kid's friend than their parent, that's for sure. And we want our kids to like us, don't we?

I was on MySpace the other day wondering if I should try to get my son's friends to add me to their friend lists. I wanted to be able to read their pages, and that content was only available to those they've agreed are their friends.

Then I read this story in our paper saying that my idea was terrible.

It's not the same as offering beer to my son's friends, but I had to reluctantly agree that it would be creepy for someone's mom to try to "friend'' them online. Ew.

There's something desperate about a parent stooping down to the social level of teens. But you sure would find out a lot.

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Busy working moms in Boca set up website

I know I'm not alone when I say that working moms are some of the hardest workers in this country. And yet we're not lauded for all that work. We're not like firemen whose alternate label is "American Hero.'' Instead, there's some kind of unspoken distaste out there, still, for those of us who aren't at home cutting the crust off of our kids' peanut butter and homemade jam sandwiches.

A couple of working moms in Boca Raton set up a website for us. Ironically, it will require your time and effort to look at it. As if you have any left!

That's why it's taken me a couple of months to actually pull it up and share it with you. Sorry about that. I had lots of laundry to do, had to pick my son up from football, my daughter's school needed a speaker for Career Day, I had to work late on a story, my husband was hungry for lasagna, I was bidding on some Christmas presents online, my friend said I was neglecting her, we lost the 'Strawberry Shortcake' DVD we rented from the library so I had to ransack the house to find it, the political blog at work was desperately in need of another post, I had to help our new TV partners on a story, and I decided to take up jogging.

Here's the website:

It's a fun website, with some tips on saving time, some advice, and some stuff designed to make you laugh. I got a chuckle out of the mom who was a pothead, whose daughter walked in on her cloud of cannibas. That probably wasn't one of the items on this website designed to draw a chuckle. Oh well.

This "worst slogan translation,'' however was designed to be funny:

The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read "Are You Lactating?"

Good stuff. Check it out.

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He's 13. Can I stop parenting now?

Some cultures convey adulthood on a boy when he turns 13. My son's 13 now. Looks like my job is done.

You're 13! Here's
your new car!

You know, that's the age of the Bar Mitzvah. (We're not Jewish, but still!) And according to the great Internet, it's the age in some other countries when a boy is considered a man.

The Internet also tells me that 13 marks the age when a boy can mount an adult size Hippity Hop Ball and have a lot of fun.

And that's exactly what I'm torn with here. Is a 13-year-old a baby, or a little adult who should start making his own decisions in life?

I feel like I've already raised up my child in the way he should go. I've instilled all the character traits and values that will fit.

At this point, I think, I'm pouring into a vessel that is not only full, it is vomiting out everything I attempt to put in.

Should a teen be able to handle their own school responsibilities without a backpack-ransacking parent by now? Should a teen be allowed to skip church sometimes? What about sports and extra-curricular? Let the teen decide?

I'm thinking yes, within reason. If a 13-year-old doesn't have a good parenting foundation by now, it's really probably too late.

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Why do so many strangers want to see my daughter jump rope?

I was mildly disturbed to find that 268 people viewed my home video on YouTube of Lily jumping rope, if you can call it that. She was 5 years old in the video, and just learning. Meanwhile I was just learning how to upload a video to YouTube.

This week I put up a new one, because she performed this rope-jumping "talent'' in our church talent show Sunday.

That's when I noticed that strangers are watching my baby jump rope. You're saying to yourself right now, 'What did you expect? You put videos of your child on YouTube!''

Yeah, I know. But as videos go, it's LAME!

I really don't care that much if strangers watch her jumping rope. It's just kind of weird. Five websites linked her video (phew! they were rope jumping websites!) and three marked it as a "favorite.''

I don't know if there's parent etiquette for posting our kids' videos. She's way below the age to consent.

It seems pretty cool to me; friends, family and whoever else can watch. And I don't think this will keep her from getting a job 20 years from now, when she graduates with her PhD.

Check it out.

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FCAT invades little brains

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

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

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

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

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

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Magic Kingdom not so magical for this mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time to talk politics with the kidlets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, wouldn't that be cool.

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Kids are so dang gullible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery solved.

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The inner workings of a 6-year-old's mind

"George Bush was the last president,'' Lily told me one day recently on the way to school.

I was impressed.

"George Lincoln is dead.''

Not impressed. I corrected her.

"Just let me say it the way I want,'' she insisted. "I'm not that smart.''

The same day, she asked me all of the following: "Can we go to Disney world?" "What does someday mean?" "Can we get a puppy?" "Why do farts smell so bad?''

I also had to explain the difference between a diary and diarrhea. I'm not kidding.

Saturday she advised me during a discussion about college that "I don't want a job. I want to get married and do nothing.''

I told her Sunday that, "we're going to get you the best doll house for Christmas.''

"You know what,'' she answered. "Tell Santa. I don't want you to have to spend your money.''

Last night she said I was distracting her from her Webkinz activities.

"I can't focustrate!'' she said.

This is what parenting is all about. Answering weird questions like "do ponies lay eggs.''

It's a lot more fun than answering the questions she'll probably ask when she's a teen, like, "Are you sure this dent wasn't in your car before I drove it?''' or "Who washed my cell phone?''

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Weston mom writes a book about her struggles with teen daughter

I'm not sure I want to start reading books about horrible teen-agers just yet. My son is a fresh teen-ager, turned 13 this summer. But he's still a good kid.

For those of you already trying to decide what size cage to purchase for your teen, you might want to read a Weston mom's account of how she handled her daughter.

Sue Scheff turned her ordeal into a book called "Wit's End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen." She also does parent consulting now, I guess you could say. In other words, she turned her trials as a parent into a career.

I sure hope my trials as a parent do not provide me such a rich experience that I will spend the rest of my life telling other parents how awful it was.

Apparently this Weston lady was a single mom in the 90s when her daughter "embraced disturbing friends, beliefs and behaviors.'' Ultimately, she sent her to a residential treatment facility, which made things worse, Scheff says.

Beyond writing a book about it, Scheff also founded Parents' Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.), to help families who have at-risk kids. She's been on national TV news shows and in newspapers and on talk radio. She has a website here.

Like I said, I haven't read the book and am not sure I want to jinx myself by doing so. But if you're already suffering, it's another source of info.

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Webkinz comes to Lily's rescue!

Today I got a call from the Ganz folks up in Canada who make Webkinz stuffed animals and their accompanying virtual world website.

They were feeling sorry for Lily because she was the victim of a home invasion robbery in Webkinz world. See my post on that by clicking here. They wanted to know if there was something they could do to help.

Awww, isn't that nice?

To bring you up to date, I very stupidly published Lily's logon and password on this blog, (see the post here) and joked about someone stealing the "furniture'' in her bunny's bedroom.

Surprise, surprise! Someone did just that. Yes, it's true, one of you readers is THAT MEAN!

The cyber burglar also cleaned out Lily's Webkinz virtual bank account. Lily was devastated.

But I told the Webkinz spokeswoman that Lily is already rebuilding from this life tragedy. She got a new job, has a fresh infusion of cash to pay her veterinary bills, and has almost gotten over the mental anguish she suffered.

Susan McVeigh, a spokeswoman for the company, advised me that many a child has had the "learning experience'' Lily had.

"We say never share your password. Never,'' she said.

Kids can learn "safe Internet practices'' at a young age on, she noted. And many a child has given out a password to a friend who is no longer a friend, or to a sibling, and been victimized like Lily was.

However, not many kids are victimized by their own parent publishing the password on the Internet, McVeigh noted. Not very smart.

"Send me the link when you do one with your bank account logon and password,'' McVeigh said and laughed.


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Burglar strikes Lily's Webkinz world; was it you?

Lily is only 6, and already she's been the victim of a major crime. A burglar broke into her home, stole all her furniture and all her money. And, inexplicably, left four new chairs in her bedroom.

All of this occurred in cyberspace, in Lily's beloved Webkinz world.

She came to me crying hysterically, and told me of the invasion. Real tears were streaming down her cheeks. She'd earned $24 doing Webkinz "jobs,'' and it was gone.

"I went to get my pet some medicine,'' she told me, "and $1 came up. And then, sadness,'' she told me.

She wept openly as she told me that making this tragedy even worse was the fact that "my bunny is so SICK!'' And she had no money to take him to the vet.

In Webkinz world, which I told you about in a previous post, you earn "money'' working "jobs,'' and then you can "buy'' special beds and nightstands and such and furnish your pet's room. Lily had carefully done so. I specifically remember a cute little pink love seat. And a pink bed. A pink phone.

All of it, now gone.

"And they left four chairs in my room. Why would I need that many chairs?!'' she cried.

I tell you all of this to warn of the danger of sharing your logon and password with any friends or cousins. Or newspaper readers.

I shouldn't have published Lily's logon information, huh?

Did one of you make Lily cry?

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Who buys their child three backpacks?

I got a little bit of helpful advice from my son's middle school principal. I had just shelled out $35 or $40 for a new backpack. And she suggested I buy one or two more. backpack3.jpg

Great idea!

The principal advised in a letter to parents that our kids could really have their crap together if they color coordinated their backpacks to the classes of the day. And I quote:

"Parents have found it helpful to have two or even three different colored backpacks to maintain organization at home, especially in th emornings when everyone is in a hurry to get out of the house.''

Hmmm, I thought. Did principal Kris Black read this in a Martha Stewart magazine?

The school, Seminole Middle in Plantation, is on block scheduling, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays they have four 85-minute classes, and on Wednesdays and Fridays they have four different classes, and on Mondays they have a short version of all eight classes.

I asked Creed what he thought of the idea.

"Creed, do you want me to buy you different colored backpacks for your odd and even days?''

"No,'' he said indignantly.

"Why not?' I asked.

"I'm not organized!,'' he said, as if the word "organized'' was a disease.

"Yes," I said, picturing his messy closets, "I know.''

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Questions you just can't answer

Sometimes kids ask questions you can't answer, or you don't want to.

I got this question from my six year old, Lily, this week:

"Mommy, how do you stick a knife in a bad guy?''

I just didn't know where to start, to respond to that.

"Do you just stick and stick and stick until it goes in?'' she asked. "Because knives aren't that sharp.''

Ahh, now we're getting somewhere. Our knives in the kitchen are so dull, they probably would not be effective against a bad guy. I agree.

"It's not nice to kill someone who isn't a bad guy,'' she added.

Not nice. So true.

Sometimes you're just not in the mood to give a Big Speech. Ya know?

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Hand clapping games never die

There's something enduring about hand clapping games. handclap.bmp

My 6-year-old daughter Lily makes me play them all the time. Just like I did when I was six.

You know what I'm talking about, where you clap hands with each other while singing the lyrics of a silly song?

Here's the one Lily was chanting the other day:

Mr. Mailman do your duty

Here comes a lady with a big, fat booty

She can do the pom pom

And she can do the twist

But most of all she can kiss kiss kiss

K-i s- s

What does that spell?


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Schools continue to favor at-home moms

I was pretty dismayed when I read my letter from Seminole Middle School Principal Kris Black. It welcomed parents to an exciting school year, and listed "upcoming important dates.''

And once again, the at-home moms are favored above all. The school is holding its parent panthers.gif
meeting for its DECAL program (Division of Enhanced Communication and Law for advanced and gifted students) during work hours on Wednesday. It's at 3 p.m.

I called the school to ask why they're holding it during the day and to register my discontent. They always hold it during the day, I was told. "Unfortunately, the teachers aren't here in the evenings,'' I was told.

So once a year they can't accommodate the parents by holding the meeting at 5:30 p.m.?

Or do they not want the parents to be able to come?

I might be able to get off work for two to three hours in order to drive out there, attend the meeting, try to address my son's schedule (he said they put him in Sign Language II instead of Spanish II) and return to work downtown. But how many other working parents will be able to? What if they work in Miami or Palm Beach County?

Black tells us in her letter that research shows that "when the home and the school work closely together'' children benefit.

I agree. But I've noticed over the years that the schools cater to the parents (usually moms) who don't work.

Moms who work have it tough. We labor all day, and then we go home and have to take care of housework, homework and everything else, crammed into the few hours until bedtime. It takes a lot of effort to be an involved parent in your child's school if you work full-time. I'll bet the kids of working parents are the ones most at-risk of failing in school. These are the kids and parents the schools should be trying harder to reach.

It sure would be nice if principals like Black faced reality and tried to make it a little easier for the working parents to be involved.

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Who will miss Mr. Rogers?

It is with heavy heart that I report, two months after everyone else reported it, that PBS is drastically cutting its offerings of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.''mrrogers.bmp

Goodbye, King Friday. Henrietta Pussycat, we sure did love you. Queen Sara, we admired your community involvement.

Here's what the Associated Press reported in June:

"PBS says it will no longer offer episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to its member stations each weekday, but will instead send stations just one episode per week to air starting in the fall. PBS says it is making the decision because the show is no longer in production, and because its menu of other programming continues to expand.''

That means a station would have to pre-record all the episodes of the show over the summer if they wanted to try showing the tennis-shoe tossing Mr. Rogers every day.

Somehow I missed this news and only heard it on the radio this week, in August.

It's one of those things you feel you have to talk through, so I told a cashier yesterday and she was pretty broken up, also.

One guy is so upset about losing the "special nurturing voice'' of Mr. Rogers that he created this website,

As we try to absorb this devastating news, let's pay tribute to the late Mr. Rogers (he died in 2003 of stomach cancer) by reading the lyrics of one of his special songs. It's good to know that Mr. Rogers even loved our internal organs:

I think you're a special person And I like your ins and outsides. Everybody's fancy. Everybody's fine. Your body's fancy and so is mine.

Goodbye, neighbor.

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Webkinz ... Does it lead children to more serious abuse of video games?

I feel that I should retaliate against my cousin for buying Lily a Webkinz bunny.

He asked me if she had one, and informed me that his kids love their Webkinz so much theybunny.jpg
are on the computer every single day.

Even though he's one of my favorite cousins, I should have burned the bunny right then and there.

It's cute and all. But Webkinz is one of those stuffed animals that comes with a secret code. And it turns out the bunny can be tossed in the fire. Because as long as your child gets that secret code, he or she has access to a special website where a cyberversion of the bunny "lives.'' And apparently it's so much fun even for a six-year-old, that they will want to hog your computer every extra minute.

I thought we had all decided that people who live cyberlives online, who have "jobs'' and "earn money'' and "purchase things'' all in quote marks, online, are socially deficient and pretty weird. No?

Yet almost every day, I have to hear Lily ask, "Mommy, can I get on w-w-w-dot?'' And I let her.

On the company's website, they answer such questions as: "Are the wishing well and the Wheel of Wow gambling?'' And "Can Webkinz pets die?''

I'll leave you hanging on the answers.

The game is educational I suppose. But so is going to the library and checking out five books.

Should I be writing in her babybook that her first logon name was "crystal5pink'' and her first password "babydolly5''?

And now that you all know her secrets, will she get on the website to find that someone has broken into her bunny's "apartment" and stolen the "pink couch" out of his "bedroom"? Will you get her bunny fired from his "job" "painting fences"?

Please, parents, help me find that perfect Christmas gift for my cousin this year.

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Now we have a gun-toting teenager

At first I wasn't sure if arming my teen-ager would be a good idea. I pictured him sawing off the end of his new BB-gun rifle and shoving the weapon into his shorts, jumping on his bicycle anddaisygun.jpg
riding towards some kind of stand-off with Plantation police.

But putting trust in teens, scary as it might feel, can actually build a sense of responsibility in them. I think kids rise to expectations. And you have to set them very high.

So, yes, we bought Creed a BB-gun for his 13th birthday. We also bought him a few pistol-style air guns that shoot plastic BBs and are less powerful than the rifle, in case you "accidentally'' shot someone with it.

I think most boys had a BB gun at some point in their youth, and I wasn't going to deprive him. Even I spent quite a bit of time as a teen shooting BB guns. I was on a BB-gun shooting team with other kids whose parents worked at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. We were taught to shoot by convicts, so I guess you could say we were trained by experts.

But there was a kid among us, Jimmy Cook, with a glass eye -- the result of a ricocheted BB. Creed has heard about him 1,000 times. So Creed wears his gun goggles.

So far, no one has been seriously injured.

I told Creed he could shoot lizards. He was horrified. That's when the teen came out:

"Mom, I don't shoot lizards! I'm not a monster like you!''

OK. Guess I'll have to dust off my trigger finger and take care of those lizards myself.

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Football: like military school only cheaper

Any parent who's had a boy in tackle football knows what I'm talking about when I say that it's the next best thing to disciplinary boot camp.footballIMG_2726.jpg

They might not paddle in the schools anymore, but thank goodness football hasn't wimped out.

Kids who are treated like babies into adulthood will always be babies. I'm sure you work with some.

Not in football. In football, it's, 'No excuses, just do it.''

Creed's coaches are fond of telling his team that football is about "controlled violence,'' and "controlled aggression.''

Strength of body, and mind.

When a kid got yelled at for not paying attention and then glared at the coach, he was outta there. You will not disrespect a coach, he was told. Take your stuff and leave.

They teach physical toughness, too. When a kid was sitting on the field the other night after a tough two hour practice in the blazing sun, he was asked: Are you passing out? No, he wasn't.

OK, came the coach's response. Then get up on one knee! We don't sit down on the field!

One coach told my son's team that they're there to learn about life: That life is tough, you have to work really hard, and sometimes someone's going to put a foot up your rear. And you just have to learn to deal with it.


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Kids say what they're thinking, while parents cringe

We've probably all had the experience of our young ones making some kind of rude observation that is best kept to oneself. (Such as when Lily looked at a woman in the Publix checkout next to me, and asked, "Mommy, is that a man?''')

Adults who don't have a self-censor have no friends. But we have to expect this kind of embarrassment from kids.

This weekend we went to visit the grandparents. They're in their 70s.

Lily and I and her grandmother were sitting at the kitchen table.

"Are you going to live in this house forever?'' Lily inquired.

"Well, I don't know. Maybe,'' her grandmother replied.

Lily paused for a great while.

And then she said, so innocently:

"How do you spell die?''

Great question, Lily. And why do you ask?

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County water parks not a bad deal

I've checked out a couple of the county's water parks in recent weeks, and I was impressed with one of them.

If your child is in daycare they've probably already been there, to T.Y. Park in Hollywood. That's TopeeKeegee Yugnee Park, off Sheridan Street. It's a lot of fun, and reasonably priced.

On the other hand, the new regional park in Lauderhill, the Central Broward Regional Park, was a maddening experience for me and the other parents. That park is off U.S. 441 and Sunrise Boulevard.

Apparently the county has two other water playgrounds. One is at C.B. Smith Park, the other at Quiet Waters Park. I haven't been to those yet.

T.Y. Park's Castaway Island is $6.50 for entry. They allow you to bring in food and drinks from outside, so you can really keep the cost down. Only when they're packed do they charge you by the session, one hour and 50 minutes, and make you pay $4.50 for an additional session. When I went there a couple weeks ago, we paid one fee and stayed as long as we wanted.

You also pay $1.50 per person to get into the park gate itself, on weekends. We went on a day off from school, so it was free to get into the park.

At the Lauderhill park, which is new, the entry fee to the water playground is lower, just $4.50. But it only allows you incbrptropical.jpg
for one session of an hour and 50 minutes. There's no provision for a person who arrives in mid-session.

Let's say you arrive at 12:40 p.m., like I and another parent did. The session was set to end at 1:20 p.m. We either had to wait 40 minutes for the next session to begin, or throw out $4.50 per person for only 40 minutes of fun. Both of us had a few kids with us, and we felt ripped off. I had hoped to make a day of it. I asked what would happen if there were only 20 minutes left when a person arrived, and they said they would still charge full price. That stinks.

The other guy started yelling about how his tax dollars were being used for this new park, and he was highly upset he had to stand around 40 minutes to get his money's worth.

I didn't have the patience to stand in the blazing sun that long, so I paid and got the shortened experience. This waterpark also bans coolers and food from outside vendors, so we had to eat our Subway sandwiches in the parking lot. Not cool.

By the way you also have to pay $1.50 a person to get into this park on weekends. No wonder no one goes there, as we wrote about recently.

If you're going to check out this water park, I recommend calling to find out what time the sessions start, so you don't feel ripped off like I did.

Central Broward Regional Park
3700 N.W. 11th Place
Lauderhill, FL 33311
Phone: 954-321-1170
Fax: 954-321-1110

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Do we really have to remind kids not to wear pajamas to a dance?

Attention, students.

This is not
a good outfit
for the prom.

I know you thought it would be a good idea, but please do NOT WEAR PAJAMAS to the FORMAL DANCE!!!

Apparently there is enough real danger of eighth-graders doing just that, yes, wearing their p.j.s to the high school f-o-r-m-a-l, that Seminole Middle School felt the need to send an alert in the school newsletter.

And it says, after noting a formal dress code, that "the following is NOT ALLOWED!'': Jeans, sneakers, slippers, PJs, underwear that's showing, low necklines, bare midriffs, strapless dresses.

Am I the only one surprised by this? Don't 13- and 14-year-olds know that an evening gown is not the same as a night gown? Don't they know that Cinderella's "slippers'' were made of glass, not fuzz?

I know fashions do change over time, but come on!

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Can I pick my child's occupation?

No sooner had we paid off one kids' pre-paid college tuition plan, and gotten within a few months of paying off the other, when the two announced their career ambitions: trash man andtrash.jpg
drive-through restaurant cashier.

Creed, who is 12, launched the conversation with his comments about how much fun it would be to work on the trash truck. It was the day after bulk trash pickup.

"I'll come visit you in your cardboard box,'' I said.

I don't know how to write the sound that he makes when he thinks what I'm saying is wrong. It's what I call the Exaggerated Gasp, and it is akin to an asthma attack wheeze into a microphone.

"Garbage men make a lot of money!'' he said. "They make more than teachers.''

I suspect he picked up that fact from one of his teachers, probably someone up high in the union.

"Teachers get the summer off,'' I countered, "but while they're on the beach, you would still be sifting through people's castoff garbage.''

Lily piped in. "I'm going to be a register.''

"What is a register?'' I asked, picturing an accounting ledger, and Lily sitting over it with a sharp pencil and designer eyeglasses. I was starting to feel better.

"You know those people you give money to with the register? They get paid!'' she said.

"You mean like a McDonald's drive-through lady who works on the cash register?''


I had a flashback to a running discussion I had with Creed when he was about 5. The theme was "Is BLANK a good job?'' And he had asked me after we went through a toll booth on the Turnpike, "Is that a good job?''

I'm not criticizing all the good people who hold these jobs. But we've spent a fortune on college tuitions for these two, already. And if you don't use these pre-paid plans, you don't even earn interest on all the money you shelled out!

Plus, as parents aren't we supposed to push our kids to get as educated as they can? Because I want to live in a nice assisted living facility when I get old. A place with a nice hot tub.

"Lily, you are going to be a doctor who delivers babies,'' I said. "And Creed, you're going to be a veterinarian.''

End of story. Unless, of course, Creed's high school graduation coincides with bulk trash day, and he succumbs to the dream.

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If your child curses in his sleep, does that count?

Our 7th-grader has never used profanity in front of us, nor have we ever overheard him cursing with his friends. He has three favorite exclamations these days. One is, "Wow,'' which I wrotecursing.jpg
about previously. It's his way of expressing just how amazed he is at how dumb his parents are.

Another new favorite is simply what I would call the Exaggerated Gasp. I hope he never uses this rapid (and very loud) inhalation when small parts or flying insects are near his mouth, because he might end up choking on something.

The third is, "What the heck?!'' He says this all the time. I don't mind it at all. How sweet, I thought.

Until this weekend. Creed has a tendency to talk in his sleep, and occasionally to sleepwalk. I read a story this weekend about someone being cleared of a crime he committed while supposedly sleepwalking. I guess that's what inspires this blog post.

In the middle of the night, Creed shouted at the top of his lungs, "What the HELL????!!!!!!!!''

The first thing I thought as I was startled from sleep was, "He cursed. So that means all this time when he substituted the word 'heck,' it was only for the benefit of his parents. Sigh.' "
The second thing I thought was, "Oh my gosh, is Creed alright?!''

I went in his room and he was sitting up in bed, apparently recovering from a nightmare.

The next day he had no recollection. He sure did think it was funny, though. I think he laughed for 10 minutes straight when Bob told him what he had screamed.

If I were really an insane and unfair parent -- and some of us were raised by such people -- I would use this as a confession from his subconscious. And punish him accordingly. I told him I was considering it -- I was joking but wanted to broach the issue -- and he said that "Hell'' is not a curse word. He claims he has used this word in the classroom when necessary.

True a preacher can say it without raising eyebrows. But not a 12-year-old who is not giving a sermon.

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Weston school's reality show panned

The Contra-Costa Times wrote about the new reality TV show that features students at Cypress Bay High School in Weston.newspaper.jpg

Here's a sample of what they wrote: " God bless Amanda Lorber, a senior at Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., who says "Journalists are the most important part of the world."

It doesn't stay all rosey, though. The writer eventually comes to this conclusion: "Just one problem: "The Paper," while certainly worthwhile, has yet to live up to my lofty hopes. For one thing, Amanda's a bit of a dork — a power-hungry, show-tunes-loving Pollyanna who fails to see that she doesn't have the respect of her staff. Seizing upon this dynamic, the producers seem obsessed with turning her into one of those caricaturized love-to-hate-her females that TV thrives upon.''

Read the full story here.

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Cursing jar in high school? What the @#$#@?!

When you were in school, if you launched a mouthful of profanity in one of your classes, and your teacher overheard, could you have just paid the teacher 25 cents and been done with it?

If you said, "no, I would have received a painful paddling with a piece of wood'' then you are not a recent student at Cypress Bay High School in Weston. profanity.jpg

Two of the teachers there apparently have "curse cans,'' where quarters are collected from students who use profanity in class.

I am judging a high school journalism contest and that's how I found out about this. Student journalist Emily Miller wrote about it for that school's newspaper, The Circuit.

One student was quoted saying "I have probably paid over $15.''


That's 90 curse words that flew out of her mouth!

By the way, this is the same school and paper that are the subject of their very own MTV reality show.

This swear jar seems unfair. Why should rich kids be able to curse more than poor kids?

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School board sends advertisements home with students

I got a thick envelope in the mail from the Broward County School Board.junkmail.jpg

Must be important, I thought.

Inside was a packet of advertisements. The Miami Herald, Huntington Learning Center, Wyndham Vacation Resorts, Vonage phone service, Dish Network, Proactiv, ADT Home Security systems, Payless Shoes, Sears, and oh, a newsletter from the school board.

They might as well not bother throwing the flimsy newsletter in there. Most people probably don't get to it before they toss the packet in the trash.

I sure hope they're making lots of money selling out the parents to a bunch of advertisers.

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Bullying is all the rage in elementary

Apparently a large percentage of kids get picked on at school. bully.jpg

Lily, my 6 year old, regularly complains of being bullied, usually at the hands of a boy who likes her. At Spring Break camp, a 5-year-old boy actually used the "F'' word in telling her "F--- you.'' I was quite surprised to hear this come out of her mouth. This same lad also told her that her mother (that's me) is ugly. I found that much more offensive than the first thing he said.

I find it really telling that boys start in kindergarten driving the females they love insane, as a way of showing love. Hmmm.

Anyway, our sister paper in Orlando, the Orlando Sentinel, has an interesting post about bullying on their parenting blog. Check it out by clicking here.

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Tell your kid to take the bus

I found a way to get more for your tax dollars: Instead of carting your kid all over town, tell your kid to ride the county bus!

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, since a county bus comes belching by a block from my house every few minutes, seems like.bus.jpg

But I turned to public transportation after Creed, my 12 year old, told me something that scared the crap out of me. He and his friends were riding their bikes all the way out west -- trying to get to Sawgrass Mills! That means riding through intersections like Broward Boulevard and University. Not safe.

I suggested they take the bus. And now I'm offering to buy him a bus pass. I mean, the kids can explore the county on the bus. They carry cell phones, so it's not dangerous, certainly compared to riding a bike. They've ridden it a couple times now to Sawgrass Mills, to see a movie.

He's learning the layout of this area, learning a little bit of responsibility, and gaining independence. And he'll grow up appreciating the possibilities of mass transit.

A few days after we allowed Creed to take the bus for the first time, I asked Bob how Creed's dentist appointment went.

"I don't know,'' he said. "I had to drop him off and told him to take the bus home.''

Yes, this idea is catching on nicely.