Moms & Dads

South Florida parents share their stories and advice

Category: Matthew Strozier (59)

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

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

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

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

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

Good question.

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

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

I stopped.

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

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

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

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

Chris Rock, help me.

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A toddler discovers his you-know-what

It started as joyous praise when we changed his diaper. This was a few weeks ago. He would grab himself and shout, “My penis!” with gusto. I noticed something similar with our first son, but not with this much vigor.

Still, this should be handled maturely, even with a boy not-yet-2. Like many others, my wife and I believe in using proper names for body parts, as well as engaging in the inside voice/private parts discussion. (See this related Moms and Dads blog on this subject.) So I would say, “Yes, that is your penis, but that is private.” And then I would try to finish changing his diaper with a straight face. Difficult.

Then, he stopped. I thought the stage was over.

The other night as I changed him, he grabbed himself again. But this time, with his language developing, he could elaborate. He has two new words these days -- usually reserved for cars and trucks -- “big” and “huge.” Hence, he shouted, “My big penis.” And then, “My huge penis!”

What do you say to that?

Here’s what some experts say. “For the toddler, explorations of all kinds are normal,” write the authors of What to Expect: The Toddler Years. They make the point that, for toddlers, their private parts have been “largely out of [their] reach – under wraps, so to speak.” Our youngest isn’t out of diapers yet, but he’s realizing that he will be. What to Expect also offers a tip: if their hand is wandering in public settings, and it makes you uncomfortable, try distracting them with an activity such as blocks. And engage in the public vs. private discussion.

The New York Times’ Jane E. Brody wrote on a related topic this week in a column about the importance of talking with children, and providing them with the correct names for things, including body parts. “Avoid 'baby' words and baby talk, which can confuse a child who is learning to talk,” Brody writes. (This column will also make you think twice before listening to an iPod at the playground with your kids.)

This advice reminds us that, while these moments prompt some inevitable laughter and perhaps discomfort, they are crucial for your children. It’s not enough to say, as I did, “well, that’s private.” That's really just a starting point.

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Do your kids eat too much pizza?

Restaurants are still on my mind.

The suggestions of good spots for kids impressed me. It’s clear parents appreciate a place that welcomes kids, whether with menu specials, an activity or just an attitude. So keep offering more ideas. Post them here or on the earlier post.

Still one comment struck me. Here it is, in part:

Holy cow, do you people ever feed your kids anything healthy? Donuts, noodles, pancakes, fried food. Geez, no wonder childhood obesity is out of control.

A bit snarky, but this raises a real issue. We all wage a quixotic struggle to get our kids to eat well. Failure awaits at every meal. Chicken nuggets beckon. Given this, should we skip restaurants entirely? Or is it OK for my preschoolers to eat pizza once or twice a week?

This prompted some simple online research. Turns out the USDA’s website allows parents to design a food pyramid for your kid. Give it a try. I did, and reminds me of a simple lesson: kids learn to eat well at home. Get that straight and then enjoy that night out. Sounds easy, doesn't it?

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Parents: Where do you eat out with the kiddies?

I got some interesting comments to my recent post about good restaurants for kids. But I need more. will feature these recommendations with a short description of the eatery.

Remember that we don’t necessarily mean places with flashy lights or playgrounds outside – although those places are fine, too. Just tell us where you go on those Friday nights when you can’t possibly bear cooking macaroni and cheese one more time, let alone face another stack of dishes. Restaurants down here run the gamut; it’s not just a question of fancy or fast food. We get to choose between the tiki bar or the hotel lounge. It’s a hard life, as we all know.

So where do you go? Where do you feel comfortable bringing kids?

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Do you stick up for your kid at the playground?

Here was the scene: My 3-year-old at the playground Monday. At one point, an eager boy about his age pushed him as he readied to launch down the slide. Nothing mean – the other boy was just wanted a turn. I shouted, “Hey, no pushing!” Then I realized the boy’s mom was next to me. I braced myself for her reaction. She apologized instead. Everyone moved on.


But it raised a question for me: Should we intervene on the playground? If so, when? Where’s the line?

I try to resist doing so. That voice inside my head says, “He needs to learn to speak up. I can’t always be there.” Still, there’s a competing voice: “But he will only know it’s wrong if I say so.” There’s another issue: what if someone is hurt? And I don’t want it to be my kid.

We probably all have a story from childhood on this point. Here’s mine: I was on a seesaw with a friend, who was much smaller (I was a pudgy kid). It seemed like fun to smash the seat into the ground. Next thing I remember, my slight friend was lofted into the air. He crashed into the metal bar, chipping a tooth.

If only someone had stopped me.

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Sesame Street: still funny after all these years

Rediscovering Sesame Street ranks among the joys of parenthood. Not all of it, of course, but the skits have impressed me anew in the last three years. They are just downright funny. (I can't understand why they still use those dated videos in other segments, but that’s another matter.)

This “Meal or no Meal” skit had me laughing out loud. Yes, perhaps I need to spend more time with adults, but hey, I’ll return to grown-up social interaction in a few years. For now, I’ll search for laughs amid the simple pleasures of Sesame Street. There are plenty of imitators these days, some of them pretty good, but too often they are, as the saying goes, too clever by a half. Not so here. The “Meal or no Meal” show is hosted by “Howie Eatswell.” That’s funny. And clever.

Now name your favorite Sesame Street skit.

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On the bookshelf: Blueberries for Sal

Some books are defined by a phrase. With Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal, it’s the words “kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.” As in: “Little Sal picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail… kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.”


The book was first published in 1948, but seems to be in the midst of a revival (see this Publishers Weekly story for an explanation). The phrase appears as Little Sal and her mother go to pick blueberries on Blueberry Hill. It turns out to be a busy day on Blueberry Hill, with a bear and her cub also out looking for blueberries. Little Sal and the cub get mixed up, mothers get confused, but then everyone returns to their proper place. They all leave Blueberry Hill with either a stomach or pail full of blueberries. Or both.

To be honest, our boys are not crazy about this book. It meanders a bit, which is also part of its charm. Still, our 3-year-old loves to say “kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.” And Blueberries for Sal uses the phrase as a thread through the book. It mimics a child’s fascination creating words. Our 3-year-old loves to say “Bobo.” Bobo this, bobo that. We call it his “bobo language.” It's the same idea as “kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk.” It just sounds fun.

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How often do you ask your parents for advice?

A recent book review by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker made me think about this. The review looks at how we’ve come to rely on parenting books (and, as she notes, parenting blogs!) instead of family and experience to answer our questions about child-rearing. It used to be that everyone raised kids, so that, Lepore writes, “to be an adult was to be a parent.”

That’s all changed, as Lepore says. Women have fewer babies and extended families are spread around the country, or world. So now we turn to experts or fellow parents for help.

Anyway, this has led me to a little project. I’m going to ask our boys’ grandparents for advice more often. I want to see what they suggest. We tried last night with a potty-training question about our preschooler. Stay the course, my mother-in-law said, he’ll figure it out. So simple, so true.

As many have said, our generation takes parenting seriously – maybe too seriously. So perhaps we should loosen up a bit and let our parents guide us more. You agree?

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Study says rear-facing seats are safer

Did you see this? A new study in the British Medical Journal says that rear-facing seats are safer than forward-facing seats for children under 4. “In rear facing car seats, the head, neck, and spine are kept fully aligned, and the crash forces are distributed over all of these body areas,” it says.


This is quite a shift from current practice in most places, where babies are moved from rear- to forward-facing seats at about 20 pounds, usually 8 months for a boy. I think we waited until a year with our boys, but no longer than that.

The authors, Elizabeth A. Watson and Michael J. Monteiro, acknowledge the difficulty of even finding rear-facing car seats for older kids. “In North America, no rear-facing seats are available that are suitable for children over 35 pounds,” the study says.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: 70 to 75 percent of Swedish children under 3 ride in rear-facing seats, and crash data say that’s a good thing. The study cites an analysis of crashes reported to Volvo’s insurance company from 1976 to 1996. Once again, rear-facing seats performed better on the “injury reducing effect.”

The study doesn’t say that forward-facing seats are unsafe, just that rear-facing seats are safer. So I don’t think it’s a reason to panic for those of us using forward-facing seats, but it is clearly a call to do things differently. Maybe our bankrupt car companies should start offering good car seats to parents. There’s a market there.

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Do you argue in front of kids?

Like every couple on the planet, my wife and I sometimes argue. Usually, I’m wrong. But that’s not the point here.

It used to be just our problem. We could sulk for hours, even days, or carry on that time-honored traditional of low-level marital guerilla warfare in which complex emotional problems are reduced to some tiny personal habit such as how you drink coffee or whether you plop into bed (random examples, I swear).

But alas, this is not a marital blog, it’s a parenting one. So what’s the point, you ask.

Yes, fighting – arguing – in front of them.

We all say we won’t do it. But, honestly, how can you avoid it?

And does it make sense to shield your children from all conflict? Don’t we need to learn how to handle conflict?

This came up the other day. Once again, for the record, I was wrong, but the subject matter is immaterial. We disagreed about something. The kids were playing in the living room as we tossed verbal volleys back and forth. I thought about saying, “Let’s talk about this when the kids aren’t around.” But, really, when is that? An hour or so before we go to sleep? And that would break another oft-quoted rule, “Never go to sleep angry.”

So we kept at it a bit. Nothing major. But I could tell that the boys – ages 3 and 19 months – noticed something. They quieted down and, oddly enough, let us have a conversation, or an argument.

We stopped shortly thereafter, although the issue remained unresolved. We both sensed, without saying it, that it probably wasn’t right to argue in front of the kids.

This got me thinking: When is it OK to argue in front of little ones?

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Is TV OK at preschool?

Our toddlers don’t watch much TV. We limit it, on most days, to about 20 minutes of their favorite on-demand show, which is usually Thomas & Friends or Bob the Builder. We need them to sit still long enough to prepare dinner. And it works, providing us a respite from the chaos that usually surrounds these adorable but spirited little boys.

So I understand why preschool and day care teachers sometimes turn on the TV. I need a break with two kids; they endure 10 or so little ones for hours on end. It’s a long day, and plopping them in front of a TV probably seems like a way to regain one’s sanity. And I fully support sane teachers for my children. That said (and you see where this is going): What’s an acceptable amount of TV in preschool or day care? Our boys are 3 and 18 months.

My wife and I have debated this recently as we noticed that our 3-year-old seemed increasingly familiar with cartoon characters. Some he learned at a friend’s house, but others clearly are coming from TV sessions at his school – either during aftercare or the normal school day. We’ve raised this issue before with school folks, but I wonder how far to push it. What would you do?

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Can you child-proof a paper shredder?

Paper shredders and little kids, or pets, don’t mix. We’ve all heard the stories: Little fingers mangled, dog and cat tongues torn apart. And more. This site has a sampling. Not fun reading.

So I don't want a shredder. But that creates a dilemma: How to dispose of all those personal documents? Cut credit card offers, or whatever, into tiny pieces and then toss them in the trash? That doesn’t seem terribly efficient. I imagine someone has devised a child-proof paper shredder. But I haven’t come across it.

I’m a bit surprised to see that some Web sites just suggest unplugging the shredder and putting it away. Is it worth the risk of forgetting, even once? Then again, identity theft isn't anything to take lightly.

How have you resolved this?

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Need a new children's book?

Check out “Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee” by Chris Van Dusen.

This is a household favorite these days. Our boys, ages 17 months and 3, delight in it. It’s about an adventurous boat ride of Mr. Magee and his “little dog Dee.” As I write, I hear the first lines in my head:


Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee
Loved spending time
In their boat on the sea
So early one morning at 6:32
They made a decision:
That’s just what they’d do!

Our 17-month-old Rowan is a bit young for the book, but he still loves mimicking the whale sounds described in this tale. Alexander can follow along, and has even memorized a couple of lines. This is his first mastery of rhyming – aside from the line of “Rapper’s Delight” detailed in my post last week.

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Great moments in parenting: ‘Rapper’s Delight’

Can’t beat this: My 3-year-old starting singing “Rapper’s Delight” the other day. Here was his line: “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn…” I consider this among my greatest successes as a father. There’s a huge demand for video of this event, but it doesn’t exist yet. So enjoy the real thing in the meantime.

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Imaginary friends are here!

Oh, it’s arrived: that rich childhood imagination full of stuffed animals coming to life and trucks and trains capable of talking. This isn’t the stuff on TV; it’s the conversations in the backseat of the car or the corner of the living room as I talk on the phone. Here’s what I love the most: summaries of the exchanges. I’m told one day that my 3-year-old’s stuffed elephant saw a red helicopter as we drove near Orlando. "Juliana the giraffe" is still asleep, he tells me another day, because nobody woke her up. “Lamby the lamb" likes her new toy train, he reports.

These are not, strictly speaking, imaginary friends, but I sense we are not far from there. And, really, I can’t wait. Adults worry about the world we know. Kids dream up the world they want. That’s a beautiful thing. In honor of passage into this phase, I’m going to reread Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker essay, “Bumping Into Mr. Ravioli.” It’s about his daughter’s imaginary friend, Charlie Ravioli. Gopnik evokes the magic of his daughter’s conversations with Charlie, and what they say about her world. Enjoy Gopnik’s piece, and share your story about imaginary friends.

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Top ten reasons to take Amtrak on your family vacation

Background: We took the train to our vacation in St. Augustine. Our toddler boys love trains so we thought it would be an adventure. It was.


10) Seats. The seats feel like, as a friend described it, a barber’s chair. There’s a footrest, a comfy headrest and friendly people around you (with whom you sometimes even want to chat).
9) Dining car. Not that the kids sat still, but it’s a cool picture later on.
8) Conductors. Sure, they’re on commuter trains, too, but we don’t ride those much down here. And for a 3-year-old, nothing is cooler than getting your train ticket punched.
7) Windows. Kids can stare at all those trucks, cows and orange groves in Central Florida. When they start crying, point at something out the window.
6) The coffee. It's good, and helps you survive the long ride.
5) Sleeper cars. We didn’t take one (trip was seven hours), but our 3-year-old was still fascinated by them. How can you not be?
4) Café car. Another distraction, even with the spilled milk and juice.
3) Regular stops. It’s the train, so who cares if the kid is crying? If somebody can’t handle it, they can get off at the next stop.
2) No traffic. Watch the traffic jams on I-95.
1) Your kid’s face when the train pulls in: You can’t beat that.

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Looking for Disney suggestions

That special Florida moment has arrived: Our first trip to Disney World.


Our older son turns 3 on April 11, and we’re taking his birth certificate for his free admission and heading to Lake Buena Vista for the weekend. So now I turn to you, loyal readers of the Moms and Dads blog: What should I know about Disney World?

I know there are plenty of tips out there. In fact, a simple Google search turned up a discussion board about Disney World tips. One woman asked how she should wear her hair in the parks since she has "long straight hair and it can really get on my nerves in the heat & humidity." She got about a dozen responses, and decided to try a ponytail.

Anyway, trips to Disney World seem to be one of the few common experiences of Floridians. Everyone, at some point, ends up at Disney. It’s like New Yorkers and the Statue of Liberty. No matter what, every New Yorker rides that ferry to Liberty Island at some point. So that’s why it’s fascinating to ask for recommendations: Everyone has one. And I need them.

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You are not stupid

“I’m stupid.”


My 3-year-old son said this yesterday.

I said he is absolutely not stupid.

He said it again. Then just “stupid.”

Please stop saying that word, I said. Then I queried some. It seemed that a friend at school had called someone stupid, and it appeared the friend had said it to Alexander’s friend. It bothered him, clearly.

School can be tough, as we all know. I shudder to think of my kids hearing all the mean things that get tossed around schools every day.

But the word “stupid” isn’t confined to bullies in the lunchroom. We say it at work all the time.

It’s on TV (watch a few minutes of the AIG coverage today and you’ll hear it countless times, I’m sure). Questions are stupid, ideas are stupid, politicians are stupid. Really, can we escape this word? Is it realistic to tell a kid it’s a bad word not to be used?

So while it’s easy to tell my son that he’s not stupid, he’s smart, I found it much harder to explain “stupid.” I said it was a “bad word” because I knew that would make sense to him, but that wasn’t really accurate. Bad words are a different category. This word has value in certain contexts, but is just mean in others. It’s a difficult distinction to make to a kid.

It’s like the semantic equivalent of explaining that we bounce soccer balls outside, not in the house.

What’s terrible is hearing your kid says he’s stupid.

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Do toddlers count for the HOV lane?

This question came up the other night at dinner with friends. It seemed like they would, but we all hesitated a bit. After all, it’s not like taking a kid to school is removing a driver from the road. And isn’t that the point of HOV lanes – cut down on drivers?


So I posed the question to Michael Turnbell, who writes the On the Roads column for the Sun Sentinel.

Here was Michael’s answer: “Yes, children and infants count as the second passenger in all states. The law only specifies the number of occupants (in South Florida’s case, two or more), not the age of the occupants.”

But are they safe in HOV lanes? I’ve hesitated to use the HOV lane in the morning driving my toddler from Fort Lauderdale to school in Boca Raton. The HOV's motto should be: “Speed and drive dangerously.” That said, my wife swears by them. Using the HOV lane in the evening, she says, “has changed her life” (that’s a quote from her Facebook status).

Then again, who knows how long HOV lanes will be around. The I-95 express toll lanes are clearly the future. Interestingly, the rules are not as simple for the new express lanes. Registered carpools there of 3 or more can use those lanes without paying a toll, and those carpools are defined as "at least three commuters traveling to and from work in one vehicle." (To register, visit this site.)

So enjoy that HOV lane with your kid while you can.

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Looking for colorful schools

My wife has a line about schools: “I don’t want our kids to be the ‘only only.’” By that she means the only brown-skinned kid in the class. Our two boys are biracial. I’m white; my wife is black.

The question has arisen lately because we are considering new schools or day cares for both boys. (One is 16 months; the other is almost 3.) What’s interesting is defining how much racial diversity is enough. And what happens if a school gradually shifts while your child is there – say it loses most of its black, or white, students over several years. Do we notice?

South Florida is interesting in this regard. People often extol this area for its rich mix of people and races. And it’s true: that does exist. And, compared to Northern cities, it’s still a relatively “new” metropolis, so social divisions are not as entrenched. So what does this mean? Well, we have friends who resemble our extended family – black and white, working-class and well-to-do, with international connections mixed in here and there. My kids have more Spanish-speaking friends than would have had in New York.

But still I wonder. It’s easy to create social worlds that look exactly like us. And honestly, I find there’s a voice in my head that says: “But if it’s a great school, then its racial makeup can take a back seat.” Easy for me to say, perhaps, since I’m white. So that leads me back to the question: how much diversity is enough?

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Birthday party helps orphanage

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

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

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Recession babies

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

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

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Save the economy! Give parents money!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your ideas?

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Bowlegged baby

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

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

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

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Costco, where art thou?

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

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

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

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

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Confederate flag on our bookshelf?

We had an interesting dilemma this week. Our son, who’s almost 3, wanted to take his new truck book to school. He got it from the Broward County Library.

It’s your normal truck book, filled with all kinds of vehicles to marvel at, except for one thing: a page with an illustration of a Confederate flag atop a monster truck. The flag has a skull and bones in it, and above it words to the effect of, “Look at the flag fly.”


First things first. I’m not looking to ban anything here. Parents are free to put whatever book they want – or don’t want – on their shelves. In fact, this book seems accurate enough in its depiction of monster truck culture. I’ve seen a few Confederate flags atop monster trucks in my day. The point is whether we wanted to make Confederate flags seem normal in our house. We’re all familiar with the debate about the flag’s meaning. To me, it’s like global warming: the research has spoken. It’s impossible to sever ties between the Confederate flag and slavery. Could it represent something else? I suppose, but I don’t see how it’s not tied to slavery.

Still, is this something I can explain to a toddler? Would reading the book prompt a helpful conversation about the flag and its meaning for America? Or would it make something I find objectionable seem acceptable?

In the end, we decided to remove the book from the house for now. I need to answer those questions for myself before bringing it back.

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Bush twins offer advice to Sasha and Malia

The Bush twins, Barbara Bush and Jenna Hager, wrote an open letter last week to Sasha and Malia Obama about growing up in the White House. It was published in the Wall Street Journal, and NBC had them read it and produced this piece.

It’s hard not to be moved, no matter what your feelings about W as a president. It’s remarkable, and I think refreshing, to know that there is always a space inside a family that remains unknown to the outside world. Bush’s daughters remind us of this.

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Rest stops for parents

OK, parents, here’s a question: Where do you escape?

We live in Fort Lauderdale, and we’ve found a few spots for those long afternoons with the kids. The first is Barnes & Noble on Federal Highway, across from Whole Foods. There is a Thomas train setup there that can easily keep a kid distracted for an hour. Things go well until the table and toy train tracks get crowded, or the size and ages of kids get out of whack. Then the tussles start, and well, it’s time to go.
We also head to the playground at Holiday Park. That takes more work, but it buys some time. We live right next to the park so it’s just a short walk away. If I’m really worn out, we’ll head to the fields, where the kids just run around. It’s easy, and I don’t have to worry about toddlers falling off playground equipment.

Another one: the 17th Street Causeway Bridge. My 2-year-old loves cruise ships, and seeing them from the car is enough to keep him content for a while. Not to mention the stop at Starbucks on Davie and Federal on the way back. That's the real escape. Caffeine.

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Check out Dylan's 'This Old Man'

Let me continue the music-themed posts. Among my favorite gifts this year was a CD from a good friend that included Bob Dylan’s version of “This Old Man.” It appears on a charity album for pediatric AIDS. A reviewer on fittingly describes it as “unforgettable” and “phrased and delivered as only Dylan can with his mercurial invention and powerful character.”

Dylan echoed through my house when I was kid. Hearing his voice now brings me back to the rural Illinois home where I spent my formative years. Playing his music for my kids gives me a certain E.B. White “Once More to the Lake” chill, but it’s worth it. Take a listen.

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Pets for everyone or just my kids?

OK, moral dilemma here. Someone on the condo board asked me recently what I think about the building’s “no pets” policy. There's a movement afoot to reconsider the policy, and as a board member, I might have some sway in the matter.

So here’s the question: Is it OK to support changing the policy to benefit my kids if I wouldn’t otherwise? I grew up with pets, and it’s generally made me a better person (or at least I hope). There are also practical benefits, like cats keeping mice away. Still, truth be told, I don’t want everyone to get a pet. I just want one for my kids. Even then I wonder how a cat or a dog would fit in our condo.

As you can see, I’d like the option for my kids. But as an owner, I worry about people failing to take care of their animals, both for the sake of the animal and the building. So it’s the personal vs. the collective good here. In the immortal words of Bernie Mac, America, what should I do?

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'Just one more bite'

In looking for something to blog about, I came across the Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents: A Guide for Practitioners. It’s a consensus statement from the American Heart Association and was published in 2005 in Circulation, the AHA’s journal.


There was plenty to, yes, chew on in this, but here’s a gem in the ages 2-6 section: “Two natural parental impulses, pressuring children to eat and restricting access to specific foods, are not recommended because they often lead to overeating, dislikes, and paradoxical interest in forbidden items.”

This comes after a reminder that parents choose what is eaten, and when and where, and kids decide whether to eat and how much. Of course, the article is full of reminders about what we want kids to eat, and even suggestions about ways they might actually eat it.

All this leads me to the dilemma of the fish nugget. I cooked dinner the other night, and our 2-year-old was really only interested in his macaroni and cheese. I heated a fish nugget despite his warnings that “I don’t want that, daddy.” He took one bite. I could hear that voice in my head, “He’s got to eat more.”

How many times did we hear that as kids: “You can leave the table after one more bite.” To this day, I hate Brussels sprouts because that “one more bite” made me once want to gag. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned.

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Don't fear the fever

So fevers aren’t to be feared?

I love this kind of stuff -- debunking accepted wisdom. Here’s how “What to Expect: The Toddler Years,” puts it: “It appears that higher body temperatures help the immune system to fight infection and that some microorganisms are unable to thrive at these elevated temperatures.” Even temperatures as high as 106 do no permanent damage, the authors quote scientists as saying. Fevers, they say, are a way for the body to protect itself.
Our 1-year-old has had fever spikes lately, and it’s startling to see those numbers rise above 100. But it’s reassuring to know body reacts on its own to a virus, even if we reach immediately for the Children’s Tylenol. “What to Expect,” for example, goes on to say that fever may lower iron levels, “while increasing the invaders’ need for that mineral – in effect, starving them.” Fascinating. There’s more, so read up.

This seems to be part of a trend. It’s like the rediscovery of the swaddle for babies. Or people realizing the benefits of breast milk over formula. It’s as if we’ve had a collective recognition of “oh, yeah, this stuff is there for a reason.”

This is not an argument to ignore a kid’s temperature (and there are exceptions, such as heat illness, to this). Clearly, there’s something going on the when the numbers rise. But what’s misplaced is the automatic alarm I grew up with about fevers. I always assumed that once a fever hits, then you’re really sick. Turns out the opposite might be true.

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Cheap groceries: Part II

I blogged recently about whether we should join Costco. The response was surprisingly strong - maybe even a tad heated. The lengths people take to save money on groceries made me look like a slacker.

Anyway, we plunked down our $50 recently and entered the bounty that is Costco. The shopping experience was not among my favorites – those big carts are hard to negotiate – but we found some bulk items worth the effort. That said, here’s what I learned: there’s little room for error at this place. One of our sons insisted he would eat Honey Nut Cheerios, and persuaded us to buy a big box. He later took one bite and declared them too sweet.

Then I stumbled upon this item in New York magazine. The magazine took a family – mom and dad and two kids – and compared how their weekly grocery purchases would come out at three different grocers and a Costco. Anyway, Costco did very well. Take a look.

There’s an important caveat at the end, though. Make sure you read that. Because when it comes to Costco, the devil is in the quantity. Or, for us, in a huge box of Honey Nut Cheerios.

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‘Don’t hit your brother’

This has become a familiar line in the household. Our sons, ages 1 and 2-and-a-half, are taking to taking their frustrations out on each other. You’d think that it would be driven by the older one, but no, both engage in this age-old sibling tradition. I never expected to order my 1-year-old to “stop hitting.” I mean, he can’t even say the word! It seemed like that parental refrain would be saved for later years.

My question is whether, psychologically, they can understand at this age that it’s wrong. We can tell them not to do it, and that will have an effect. We remove treats, take away fun trips and put them on a time out. So maybe the association of hitting-leading-to-disappointment is what we hope for at this point. But I wonder: How can we get toddlers to understand that hitting is inherently bad? What worked for you?

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Day care recommendations?

We’re considering a new day care for our 11-month-old. Here’s why: My wife’s office moved to Tamarac, and mine is about to move to Deerfield. Without getting into great detail, there is a lot of schlepping going on these days between Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale -- with more to come if we don’t adjust. (Our 2-year-old attends a Montessori in Boca Raton.)

So I’m looking for recommendations for day cares in Tamarac or thereabouts. The I-95 corridor up to Deerfield is also an option. We may stay where we are, but it’s worth seeing what’s out there. Suggestions?

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What's fun and free? The people mover

We were lost in Miami recently, but ended up on the best adventure in a while. And the cool thing was this: it was free.
The source of such fun? Miami’s Metromover, a k a the “people mover.” Alexander, age 2, is in a train phase, and often points excitedly to the “people mover” on our Miami visits. Rowan, at 11 months, is happy to come along for the ride.

We boarded in Mary Brickell Village and headed north for the downtown loop. Crossing the Miami River gave me pause, and I did have thoughts of tipping. But everything was fine, and we continued on our loop. Our car lacked sufficient air conditioning, so I was ready for some fresh air by the end. But no matter: it provided lots of excitement and plenty to tell mom about later.

Mary Brickell Village, by the way, is a surprisingly “walkable” neighborhood once off the Metromover. It’s not Manhattan, but it makes for a pleasant afternoon walk when the weather cools a bit.

And that is free, too. Except the lunch.

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Oh, my noisy kids

For a while, there was an upside for us to the bad housing market. We live in a condo, and for several months we had no one next door or below us. This meant we spent less time trying to get our kids (ages 2 and 11 months) to be quiet “for the neighbors.” This is, of course, a mostly futile task. The older one listens briefly, but then is back to jumping off a bed or couch once we turn our heads.

But the “sound vacation” is over. We now have a couple (without kids) below us, meaning we are back to pleading with our kids to be quiet for the neighbors.

We’ve never gotten a complaint, and our neighbors seem to be patient and understanding. One former neighbor even said “that’s what babies do” when I warned her that our baby would be crying for long periods while he learned to sleep through the night.

Here’s the question: How do you deal with neighbors and noise? Do you talk to them beforehand about it? Do you apologize for particularly noisy days? Or do you let them address the issue to you? What’s worked?

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Vote now: Who's the enforcer in your house?

Our 2-year-old, Alexander, figured something out recently: If one parent says no, try the other.

We've tried to hold the line, but there's been at least one crack in the "we're united on discipline" front. I confess that I was to blame for that one. (Sorry!) But it's a fascinating process to watch unfold. He wants to know what buttons to push, and when to push them.

That got me thinking: How does this apply to your household?

So cast your vote below.

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The endless trip to the grocery store

Remember those “quick trips” to the store?

They’re gone, along with Friday nights at the movies. Now every trip within 100 feet of Publix means you will soon be walking the aisles with a full cart and a soon-to-be empty wallet. No matter how much we shop, there’s never enough baby formula.

So there’s a little debate going on in the household about whether to join Costco and start buying in bulk. I hate paying for a membership, but it’s jarring that the folks at Publix and Whole Foods are getting to know us by name. Not that they aren’t lovely people, of course.

So here’s my question: what’s your grocery shopping strategy? Do you go during the week or save it for Sunday? Do you buy in bulk once a month? Does that really save you money?

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Talking race with kids

Something surprising happened the other day: my son commented on someone’s race.
He’s just over 2, but I had this fantasy it would have taken longer than this. That difficult conversation of “what is racism” must be just around the corner.
Here’s how it went:
The four of us were in the car, packing up after a trip to Fort Lauderdale beach. Just to make small talk, I asked Alexander what he saw out of the window.
“A tall, white man,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.
My wife and I looked at one another. Well, isn’t that interesting, we said.
Our sons are biracial. I’m white (although I wasn’t the man Alexander was referring to) and my wife is African American. We know from a certain Democratic presidential candidate how complicated this racial experience can be for a kid. They are likely to benefit from our new societal sensibilities about growing up with both black and white parents, but it's never going to be easy.

Still, despite all the talk about race this campaign season and the major role it plays in my life, I’m always queasy at the topic. Sure, I talk about race frequently, but it’s never easy. And when it comes to kids, I don’t know when it’s confusing and when it’s helpful to raise it. (Rowan is only 10 months, so I’ve got some time there.)

So when did your kids first ask about race? What did you say?

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Slip sliding away

Watching your kid fall has to be the worst thing for a parent. That was me this week, as my 9-month-old tumbled off the couch head first. All I saw were his feet as he went overboard.

Rowan was fine, but the image of those feet keeps playing in my mind. So it got me thinking about falls. My father still has nightmares about the time my sister fell down the stairs. I have a friend who talks about the time she jerked backwards in her high chair and landed flat on her head. (The only thing it hurt, she jokes, was her math skills.) And I can’t even count the times I fell as a kid.

What do you do to avoid falls? We don’t, I’ll be honest, do much baby- or toddler-proofing of the house. My philosophy has been that they should learn to function safely in the space we have. Maybe that’s misguided. We cover the electrical outlets but we don’t block off rooms to the kids (ages 2 and 9 months). What has worked for you?

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That long trip from here to there

I was in New York last week visiting family and friends. I took Rowan, our 9 month old. This meant many things, including: the Great Subway Lift. (That’s us in the picture). Yes, that arduous climb up -- or down -- the stairs with a stroller jammed with bags. It’s a moment when you want your kid to stop growing. Instead, your baby looks huge in front of the flights of stairs. It’s hot. No one wants to help you. And then you realize: this is only the first trip of the day.

This got me thinking. What is the South Florida equivalent of the Great Subway Lift? Here’s my answer: the walk to the beach. It’s brutal. You park and think, “We’re almost there.” But no! The journey has just begun. You corral the kids and gather the beach accoutrements, but part of you just wants to turn on your heels and go home. But like the subway, you plow on. Family compels you. You think, “This is fun.”

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Are Dora bikes for boys?

My son wanted a Dora bike. So what if it’s a “girls bicycle”?


Still, I hesitated. Couldn’t he just make this easy and choose the Hot Wheels bike? But why should he? The Dora bike was colorful, much livelier than the muted blue-and-orange Diego bike next to it. Should I tell him that adults have categories of “girls” and “boys” that we generally follow? When is it appropriate -- or offensive -- to reinforce gender identity?

The same thing happened at Target last week. He wanted the pink Dora pull-ups. Reflexively, we said they were “for girls,” but then we asked ourselves why it should matter.

Back in college, it was easy to “deconstruct” gender categories, to dismiss the “hegemony” of how they falsely shape our world. Then we had kids. And we realized that gender helps order their world. Alexander also loves trucks, and I’m sure that’s not an accident. Somehow, he figured out that boys like trucks. But it’s a fine line, of course. I’m not looking to raise intolerant boys.

OK, so you want to know, right? He ended up with a Thomas the Tank Engine bike. I told him he could get the Dora bike if he liked. But he chose the train instead.

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Apple sauce for everyone!

Alexander, our 2-year-old, has launched a battle for the household’s hearts and minds. His strategy is clear: small victories will change the parenting landscape. What, mom says no apple sauce until I finish lunch? Well then, head over to dad on the couch and ask in that adorable 2-year-old voice, “Daddy, can I have some apple sauce?” Who can resist that? His ostensible target is one plastic cup of applesauce, but the campaign is more sweeping: to be greeted by apple sauce at every meal. To be, indeed, the apple sauce king of Fort Lauderdale.

Why stop there? If that trip to the potty seems intimidating, ask oh-so-nicely that “mommy take you.” She is, after all, in the bedroom dressing for work, buying you several key minutes with Henry, your new Thomas the Tank Engine piece. Who knows, you think to yourself, maybe they’ll forget. Sure, there’s a slightly wounded parental ego to consider, but the prize is much bigger: spending the entire day in pajamas with trains. This is, after all, the side of good.

But sometimes it doesn’t work. Parents get stubborn. In that case, remember you are a big brother. Get mom and dad to focus on Rowan while you repeatedly jump off the couch. Victory at last.

And how does this play out with your little ones?

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A house divided on the doctor's visit

My wife, Shola, and I see doctors differently. I avoid them; she sees them as a resource. To me, it’s a challenge to stay out of the doctor’s office; she sees a doctor's visit as a faster route to good health. Neither is wrong, but they inevitably conflict when it comes to parenting – as they did this week.

Rowan, our 7-month-old, gets sick regularly. He has bronchiolitis, and the pediatrician says he’ll get sick on and off until he’s 2. The tricky thing is to figure out when his routine illness is turning into something else. And this week Alexander, who’s 2, got a double ear infection. Then Rowan started pulling on his ear. And just to make matters more complicated, Rowan is teething. So the question arose: should Rowan visit the doctor?

I said no. My reason wasn’t medical. I was falling back on my hardy Midwest upbringing. I’m sure I went to a pediatrician as a kid, but I have no memory of it. Heck, I wonder if our “gentleman’s farm” in Central Illinois even had heat. So I protested that Rowan didn’t need to see the doctor, and cited the evidence from my childhood. Yes, Shola responded, “that’s why you can’t hear now.” Fair point, I thought: I do like the TV much louder than she. So I relented, given that winning this argument essentially involved putting our child at risk.

So I took Rowan to the pediatrician, which thankfully did not take all morning. She checked him and pronounced ears “perfect.” He was sick, but in the familiar way. So I enjoyed a moment of pride – we didn’t need a doctor after all! (This reaction, of course, is nothing to be proud of.) But then the pediatrician offered this line: “It’s hard to tell when his congestion gets more serious, so you were right to bring him in.” Ah, so close to victory!

Later that day, as I gave Rowan a bottle, something else happened. He pulled at his ears.

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Eating without wandering

I had one of those “ah ha!” moments this week. I noticed that when I get up from meals, Alexander, our 2-year-old, tends to wander away as well. Obvious, right? But somehow it just made sense this week.

It might be that Alexander is growing more and more independent. He’s sleeping in a “big boy” bed now and learning to play on his own. So it makes sense that he’ll decide to get up from the table when he wants to. He’ll also follow our lead. If he feels like there’s fun to be had at the table, he’ll stay. So our job is to stay put as a family and eat a meal.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Our big meal together as a family tends to be breakfast, and that’s inevitably rushed. Unfortunately, I usually get home too late for dinner. This probably gets into the debate over “equally shared parenting” that Lois Solomon wrote about earlier this week. I’d love to give my kids the kind of fun, conversation-filled dinners I had growing up. But newspapers have a way of eating into evening hours. So perhaps I’ll try to set a start time for breakfast to avoid the coming and going. We’ll see if it works.

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Wow, it's quiet

Not much to report on the parenting front this week. The wife and kids are out of town. The boys, ages 7 months and 2, are with grandma in Connecticut while my wife travels for business. They left Thursday and return Friday.

So this is what it was like before the kids ruled the roost. Quiet. Things stay in the same place until I move them. In fact, the whole house stays still if I leave. I need to find things to do instead of thinking, “Remember when we went to the movies?” Or: “That would be fun if I had the energy for it.” When the kids are around, they are the activity. Tons of it. So much that I wait, longingly, for that glorious time of the day: naptime.

Breaks are good, and I’ve enjoyed mine. I’ve seen a movie – You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – and sat through a Marlins game – they lost. I’ve had a couple of realizations since they’ve been away, though, that apply here. First, I am struck by how much we, as parents, get done on an average day. It’s a daily whirlwind of tasks, games, meals and just plain silliness. On most days, I worry about what’s not getting done. It’s good to remember that the opposite is the case.

Second, as they saying goes, life is in the details. I miss my family for those little moments when you connect: the car ride, the funny game and the good meal. You experienced parents out there know this well. I’ve heard you tell me it many times. I’m just not sure I understood it until now.

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Parents, need a laugh?

Watch Knocked Up this weekend.


Perhaps you’ve already seen it. I had. And, frankly, it didn’t do much for me the first time. Funny, sure, but I found some of the performances uneven -- even flat.

Now it’s on the HBO rotation, and I’ve stumbled upon it a couple of times. How much I missed! There are all these hilarious asides, mostly from Ben Stone (played by Seth Rogen).

Here’s one I caught last night. Ben and Alison (Katherine Heigl) are shopping for a crib with Alison’s sister Debbie. One catches their fancy, but then they note the hefty price tag. Alison suggests they borrow Debbie’s. Then Ben counters that there’s one in an alley behind his house. “We could just grab that. Just rub Purell all over it.”

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I don't know that language, my kid will

Here’s an interesting Sun-Sentinel story for parents who would like their kids to speak another language. I fall into the category of a “parent who doesn’t speak another language but would like my kids to be bilingual.” Of course, I’ve studied lots of French and Spanish over the years, but I’m a long way from bilingual.

But it’s hard work to teach kids a language you don’t really speak. Georgia East's story offered some good suggestions. Two stuck out: join or start a playgroup to focus on the language; and use books and videos to help the process along. Along those lines, I’m looking for recommendations. Anyone know a good children’s book in Spanish? And how about children’s music in Spanish?

There’s also a bigger question to ponder: What are the drawbacks of dual-language schools? I’m not talking about traditional bilingual education for kids who don’t speak English at home. That’s a different debate, full of politics. I’m thinking about schools we would seek out that would immerse our kids another language. Oftentimes, these schools follow the educational model of another country. Everyone seems to love them. That kind of consensus usually makes me nervous. So what are the concerns?

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Toys as far as the eye can see

What to do with these toys? They are overtaking our modest condo. Trucks at every turn. Stuffed animals, puzzles, balls –- baskets full of the stuff. It’s beginning to feel like a wave that continues to crash around the house. You clean one area, and then another corner is swamped with gadgets of one sort or another. So some clearing out is in order. But where to start?


I’ve heard about families in which kids had to give away a toy once they got a new one. I like that idea, but haven’t had the stomach to start it. Anybody out there do that?

And are people giving away plastic toys these days? I don’t know of anything under recall in my house, but I wonder if I've seen all the notices. And then there is the other problem: What if you give away something that is later recalled? But sending plastic toys to the dump seems like such a waste, on many levels.

Then there’s the question of hand-me-downs. Alexander, who is 2, has clearly outgrown some toys. Rowan, who’s 6 months, may want some. But should we keep them all until we know which?

Anyway, how do you handle this?

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Bluegrass for kids?

I got lots of suggestions after a recent post looking for new music for Alexander, 2, who loves Raffi. Thanks for those. Raffi still remains the first pick, but I had success with something yesterday, the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?


Not everything worked, I must say. On a few tracks he said, “I don’t like this song, daddy” (including “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow”). But he seemed to enjoy “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “I’ll Fly Away.” It was fun since I’m a fan of the soundtrack, which is a lively mix of humor, politics, religion and Southern culture. By the way, I read in Wikipedia that there are kid-friendly versions “Big Rock Candy Mountain” in case you don’t want your kid singing about “the cigarette trees” and streams of alcohol.

Anyway, it wasn’t perfect, of course. He still asked for Raffi when we got in the car today.

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Visiting great grandma

We are just back from a long weekend visiting family and friends in Washington, D.C, New York and Philadelphia. It ended with a visit to my grandmother, Margaret, who turned 97 on Mother’s Day. She opted recently not to have major surgery for an apparently cancerous growth on her neck. This has spared her the pain of surgery, but it also means her time remaining with us is limited. She told me Sunday during a family dinner that she just “hopes it’s not complicated.” Then she changed the subject to ask about Florida; she’s not one to dwell.

Rowan, at 6 months, is too young to register much from the visit. Alexander, who is 2, was aware of much more. As we drove to my grandmother’s assisted-living center Monday morning, Alexander said again and again, “say goodbye to grandma Margaret.” This kind of repetition isn’t unusual for him, but I wondered if he sensed something more. He later told her he loved her. Did he know this visit was different? That it could be, as my father said, the last such weekend with her?

I don’t know. Nor do I know how long my grandmother will be with us. Months, the doctors say. We hope longer. She understands her choice, and is at peace with it. It will be my job to explain that choice to Alexander, and later Rowan. Here’s the truth: I have no idea what to say.

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Your baby is crying! Call his mom!

crying2.jpg So there I was in Macy’s with the kids, 2 and 6 months. We were buying a Mother’s Day present in the wristwatch section. (Don’t worry, my wife is getting her present early this year, so I’m not spoiling anything.) The process took some time, and the boys were in their double stroller – fidgety but content.

Then Rowan decided he had had enough. He was tired, and couldn’t get himself to sleep. So he let out a spirited cry, and didn’t let up. I was determined to get this present, so I picked him up and tried to soothe him. It didn’t work.

Here’s the punchline: This woman next to me got very nervous, and starting asking “if I had any milk for him.” I smiled and said he had just eaten. When I said he was just worn out, she looked at me and said, “Where’s mom?” Then she darted her head around as though she would recognize my wife. I was fine, and Rowan would be soon, but apparently this woman needed my wife to be there.

For the dads out there: This sound familiar? People assume that you’re with the kids because “mom’s away” or “you’re doing something special.” It’s often said in a kindly fashion, particularly when it's older women, but the underlying suggestion annoys me. Besides, it sets the bar ridiculously low for dads: Just spend a couple of hours with your kid and you’re a rock star!

Epilogue: Rowan went to sleep, and we got our present. When we returned after a walk, the same woman looked at me and said, “How’d you do it?”

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Albuterol? What's that?


We have a new member of the household: a nebulizer. It arrived a couple of weeks ago after our baby, Rowan, got bronchiolitis.

He takes his medicine, albuterol, two or three times a day through the nebulizer, which allows him to breathe it through a mist.

Our 2-year-old, Alexander, was at first scared by the apparatus, but now finds the chicken design on the mask funny and announces that it’s time for “Rowan’s medicine” when he hears the machine’s loud humming kick on.

Bronchioloitis appears among babies at day care, which Rowan started at 3 months. But I’m curious about other people’s experience with albuterol. Rowan seems to be OK with taking it, but I doubt that will last. I gather that bronchioloitis can last up to age 2. Our good friends talked about getting to the point of having to hold their daughter down in order to use the nebulizer.

Have people found it worked? What’s been your experience? Any side effects from the medicine?

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A truck by any other name


Could we agree on some common terminology for trucks? Each children’s book uses different terms for those big lumbering things. Is it a container truck or a semi-trailer truck? Or a tractor-trailer? Or a transporter truck? Or a box truck? And let's not even get into names for tractors. How are my kids ever going to get their trucks straight!

There was a wonderful story last year in the Washington Post about parents, particularly dads, who, when faced with a technical question from their kids, just make up an answer to cover for their faulty memory or ignorance. The Post story said: “But probably no venue generates as much paternal misinformation as the museums, such as [The National Air and Space Museum], that specialize in machines, gadgets and technology.”

I think this also explains the range of terms for trucks in all those books. Don’t know the name? Well, call it a box truck! Can’t distinguish between a transporter truck and a semi? Well, just use the name you like! And say it with authority -- as people tell lawyers about words they don’t know but must say out loud in court.

All of this leaves me in an occasional pickle as I drive with Alexander, who is 2, on Interestate 95. What’s that, he says. Well, that’s easy, that’s a tanker truck. Or a tank truck. Whatever.

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Boy, I sounded like a parent today.

“Alexander, I’m not going to tell you again…”

The subject at hand was flushing the toilet. He’s being potty trained, and he likes to flush the toilet repeatedly during the process. Of course, I did tell him the same thing again. And again.

There are other versions of this: “Don’t make me come in there again,” “You won’t get a cookie if you…” These statements are usually followed by the action that you just vowed not to repeat.

These are not ideal parenting strategies, but we all resort to them at one time or another. But alas, this post should be short because, well, I’m not going to tell you again.

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Raffi has arrived!


We thought it wouldn’t happen. We told ourselves, we’ll do things differently. But, yes, Raffi has entered our home. Our 2-year-old, Alexander, loves him. He has a Raffi CD from my stepmother, a preschool teacher. For a long time he never showed any great interest in it. Then about a week ago, he learned how to turn the stereo system on and off. And he realized that he could press a button and – voila - there would be Raffi! Life has really never been the same for him.

Or for us. We walk around the house now humming the tunes (“Down by the Bay” is my favorite). In fact, I heard the same Raffi CD four or five times in one morning the other day. Alexander, for his part, lies on the floor in front of the stereo system, as though he half expects Raffi himself to jump out and say hello. He’s even developed favorite songs, and asks me to play them (“I don’t like this one daddy”).

Our fantasy was that we would teach him to appreciate grown-up music early on, so he would enjoy U2 and Sarah Vaughan in preschool. But when I played a Vaughan song the other day, he said, “Yucky music.” My wife tried another tact: she found a different CD of children’s music and got him interested in that. But this one just isn’t as good, at least to my ears. Raffi may get old, but he’s good. So who do you like?

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Not going swimmingly

OK, maybe I got carried away. I assumed Alexander would always love swimming, that his early exposure would lead to a lifetime of passion for swimming, Olympic trials and deep gratitude to his father exposing him to the sport. Then came Saturday.

Let me back up. We arrived in South Florida more than a year ago, and I knew this area presents a particular hazard to kids: swimming pools. It seemed like warnings about pool safety were handed to us with the sets of keys to our condo.

So we started Alexander in lessons shortly after arriving, when he was 8 months. Soon enough he was a star of the class. He laughed, jumped under water with ease and flapped his arms whenever I said the word “swim” to him. With my hand on his belly, he swam across the pool, moving his arms and kicking his feet. I was amazed. The high point came when he was invited to a photo shoot for the swim school, AquaChamps, which now has a picture of him on its Web site. We got free copies for taking part, so professional pictures of him swimming under water are framed in his room.

Then the classes stopped for two months as AquaChamps moved to its new site in Wilton Manors. We swam a couple of times during the break, but it was far from weekly.

Alexander’s lessons restarted two weeks ago, and, well, how things change. At the first one, he was wary but willing to be in the pool. A week later he didn’t even want to get in. He clung to me tightly around the neck and cried when I tried to let go. The others were having a blast, and I was the dad with the unhappy kid. I wanted to tell them, “He’s a great swimmer, trust me. Really, really, believe me.”

Anyway, I’m struggling now with what to do. The instructor last time said we should give it another week and then decide. That sounded a bit ominous, although I know she just meant another approach. How much do I push it? Is learning to swim down here like eating vegetables? Or will this be the thing he complains about that his dad made him do?

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Winning the bottle battle

I’ve just returned from two weeks home on paternity leave with my newborn, Rowan. (By the way, ever notice how rarely you hear that term, “paternity leave”? But that’s for another post.)

Anyway, I’ve learned a crucial lesson: bottles can matter. And I must concede that Rowan is a fan of Dr. Brown’s bottles, which are designed to eliminate air bubbles.

Rowan and I engaged in a feeding standoff for several days during our first week together. He just wouldn’t take the bottle. He would only relent in two situations: 1) When he didn’t realize what he was doing; or 2) When he was just too hungry to fight me anymore.

But, boy, did he fight.

There was a long afternoon at a car dealership when he cried if the bottle got near his mouth. I gave up and walked him to a Home Depot to distract him. He finally took the bottle as we stood in the lighting aisle.

So after the fourth day of this, my wife suggested I try another brand of bottle…

OK, I’ve got to stop here. There is some disagreement in my household about when, and how many times Shola suggested that I try a Dr. Brown’s bottle. She threw out the number “30” in a discussion about how many times she offered this idea. I think there might have been at least one prior mention. Regardless, I’ll accept that perhaps I had ignored some initial prompting.

Anyway, Rowan is a big fan of the Dr. Brown’s bottle. Took to it right away. Maybe he would have given into the other bottle by the fifth day. Our first son took the initial brand of bottle we gave him, and never protested much.

I generally think it’s more the idea of the bottle than the kind of bottle that matters. And from a quick Google search I just did, it’s also important to check out the safety of bottles. I should probably do that myself.

Either way, Rowan finally took the bottle, and life was much easier.

Any of this ring a bell with anyone?

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

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