Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My family's reason for the season

When I was pregnant with my first, I was all full of how it was Going To Be. We would not be Those Parents, the ones who made it all about the gifts and went overboard. We would not be Those Parents who let Santa bring all the awesome gifts and get all the kudos.

Since Christmas came only a few days after my daughter was born, how we'd Do Christmas was at the top of our First Parenting Tasks.

And once we had both of our precious bundles of joy...it all went out the window. We just wanted to shower them with things that would make them smile.

Eventually though, we realized the love we had for our kids and our desire to bring them joy made it all the more urgent to find a way to ensure other kids who might not get quite the same deluge did get joy for Christmas too. How I loved my kids somehow moved outward and made me want to protect and provide for every child. To know some children needed, hurt.

It started when a club I was in adopted a family every Christmas. Their wish lists were generally simple needs. I'd sign up for the ones close to my kids' ages and I'd get the needs (often, clothes) but I'd have to add in a want, too. A little something. Something to make the kid smile.

My passion was for helping kids. As my kids grew older, they developed their own passions. Every time something caused us pause -- maybe a little hurt, maybe a little sense of our own blessings, maybe a little of both -- we did not sit in the suffering. We asked, "What can we do to help?" And we checked.

We don't wait for Christmas. We take opportunities as they come. Natural disasters? Special circumstance? Who needs what? How can we help? Let's check.

Often we concentrate on local needs, but other times we look further. Across the nations. Further. Across the globe. We've given a pig. Adopted a tiger. Donated toys. Sent money to animal shelters. Passed along clothes. Where the heart leads, I suppose, which, I guess, is the way generosity is intended to be.

Tonight, NPR told a story about malaria and developing nations building drug resistance. On the way home from her piano recital, my daughter and I listened.

"We have a lot of mosquitos, Mom, why don't we get malaria?" my daughter asked.

"That's a good question." I said. We have city budgets to manage mosquito populations, we have prevention measures, closed windows, medicine. We talked about it.

"Isn't there anything they can do in Myanmar and Africa?" she asked, listing the place of the news story and the place I mentioned.

"Yeah," I said, "Mosquito nets are supposed to help."

"Well that's easy," she said, with the confidence of childhood.

So probably, this year, our gift will be along the lines of mosquito nets.


It so happens, my friends from Razoo contacted my recently to ask me how I teach generosity to my kids. Until tonight, I struggled with it. I spent a little time feeling guilty. Okay I spent a lot of time feel guilty and lame.

A neighbor helps her kids foster dogs -- that's really admirable and an every day good deed. Another neighbor bakes food regularly for those in need, and brings her kids into the preparation. A friend runs a toy donation drive, the idea of her oldest. Another friend adopts seniors and her daughter runs a seasonal singing event. Yet another friend and her family dish out meals in a shelter. I felt a little...lame. What do we do?

But then I realized, we may not be organized and have a habit -- such as a a ritual serving of meals in a shelter or a big donation event -- and that's okay. It's not how we roll. It doesn't mean we don't care or do it wrong. It just means we have our own way, and it may not be that obvious or attached to a particular time of year. It may be slightly disorganized or spur of the moment.

It does, though, involved a lot of heart and mind. We open both and learn about different types of needs and different ways we can be Good Citizens in our world.

So as I tried to gain inspiration, I browsed Razoo's website. I noticed a chance to vote for funds for Humane Society, so I clicked that. Why not!

Then I read this great article by John Haydon about how giving is one of the best feelings -- and he even accepted that sometimes, giving isn't that easy. Yet we still try to find a way to be generous.

That's really the deal, right? Find your own way. It may not look like others' ways or be the way most admired or celebrated in DC or Hollywood or something  

But long ago I learned to accept that I had no showy talents, like singing or dancing. It's not as if people clamor to see someone...read a book intently. That's okay. We all have our gifts for a reason.

We share those gifts in our own way. I suppose what I try to teach my kids about generosity is that it comes in many shapes and sizes, and you can let the spirit move you...in your own way and ability.

While I was on the Razoo site anyway, I checked through donate to look for anything related to helping with malaria. I found quite a few fundraisers to end malaria, so we'll check those out together and choose one.

In other happy news...

Tell me your generosity teaching or learning moment and guess what? I'll give one of you a $50 Razoo Gift of Giving card for the charity of your choice (generously donated by Razoo).

Folks who know me might just need to check their stockings. I do love a good gift that does good. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Yogurt Dip--Super Easy Holiday Treat Recipe

Image shamelessly borrowed from Chobani because they took a better photo than I did and I like that yogurt and they have a fancier recipe. That involves a mixer. I just use a spoon. And I never thought of cream cheese.

This time of year I feel stuck in molasses. Every little thing seems a monumental effort. I think it is a drowning pool of too many things.

I also get asked to make and bring a lot of dishes to events.

Ages ago, when my oldest was barely two, and I had first mom duty to bring a "healthy but tasty for toddlers" treat for a school party...I felt stymied.

That's when I discovered Pumpkin Pie Yogurt. I think I made it accidentally. Or it flew to top of mind after I heard about it somewhere. Either way, I had all of the ingredients on hand and I test-mixed a batch. Winner winner with both me and the kid!

I took it to school and BINGO...not  bit leftover.

Here's the easy peasy pumpkin squeezy recipe:
  1. Mix half a can of pumpkin in about 4-6 ounces of vanilla yogurt (delish with Greek).
  2. Season with cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. Some recipes suggest pumpkin pie spice  I never have that on hand. So I've never used it.
  3. Serve with graham cracker sticks, gingersnaps, gingerbread, apples...whatever you want to dip!
If you want to serve small dishes of it, garnish with granola.

It's filling, healthy, low-fat (if you stick to the simple recipe), easy (low stress) and can fulfill that sweet tooth craving, especially this time of year!

I wrote this to support the American Cancer Society’s A Healthier Holiday Table. Here are some more tips from them:
  • Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of many types of cancer. Here are ideas on how to eat healthy and get active.
  • Did you know that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can help reduce your cancer risk? The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day. Here are two resources filled with ideas for upping your fruit and vegetable consumption through the day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products. Here are someinnovative ways to add more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to your day while watching your refined carbohydrates, sugar, and fat intake.
  • Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat. Some studies have linked eating large amounts of processed meat to increased risk of colorectal and stomach cancers.
  • Drink no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 per day for men. Alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, breast, and the colon and rectum.
  • Stock your kitchen with a variety of foods that you can throw together for healthy meals in a hurry. Keep these foods on hand for fast meals on busy nights.
  • Did you know that being physically active can reduce your risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrial, and prostate?  The Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. Here are some tips to help you fit exercise into your busy schedule.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Value Kids Over Cuts: Why Head Start is Crucial

 “Over the next few months, Congress will be faced with tough decisions. Deep, across-the-board cuts to education and domestic programs loom.
True story.
“Cuts will dramatically cost America’s children: across-the-board cuts could mean nearly $5 billion in education cuts. The cuts have real consequences: Fewer services for more than 9 million public school students and job losses for 80,000 Americans.” 


Head Start programs are often first on the chopping block, generally cited as an unnecessary indulgence.

Oy. What a misunderstanding of Head Start--who and how it helps.

Take 19 year old single mom Rosalie and her daughter in Phoenix.

Rosalie learned how to supportively parent her daughter, access preventive medical care, graduate high school, and get a job. Her daughter got the best beginning and Rosalie got herself and her daughter into a better position.

But now, according to the New York Times, “Tens of thousands of young children from low-income families could be dropped from Head Start programs if Congress cannot find a way to prevent automatic cuts to the federal budget in 2013.”

  • Nearly 1 in 4 Texas kids live in poverty. 
  • Texas ranks 42nd on per student spending. 
  • 60% of kids in Texas have two parents in the workforce. 
  • 14% of 3-year-olds and 57% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state pre-k, Head Start, or special education programs. 

(Source: Children’s Defense Fund.)

It’s really important to understand -- truly -- what Head Start offers and why these cuts would be bad in the short and long term.

What is Head Start? 

From Wisconsin Head Start Association: “Head Start, a comprehensive early childhood education and holistic development program for children prenatal to five years and their families. . .uses evidence-based best practices and partners with community-based organizations to help remove child and family barriers to success. No other provider of early childhood services. . .provides the depth, breadth, and scope of services that Head Start does.”

These services include: child rearing, job training, learning about health and nutrition, and more (from “What Can Head Start Offer Your Family?”)

And for those of you who worry about “takers,” the program is intended to build independence. To steal a quote, it’s a hand up, not a hand-out.

Most importantly, it works. Head Start kids achieve better in school, are absent less, are more likely to graduate, and the families have increased earnings, employment, and family stability, and decreased welfare dependency, crime costs, grade repetition, and special education. (Source: NHSA.)

Why Head Start early intervention is so important

WestEd’s For Our Babies is one of the foremost advocacy programs for early childhood programs--lead by Dr. Ronald Lally, an international expert on the effect of early intervention. He says:

“The human brain grows to 85% of its adult size between conception and age 3.” Early years are so, so very important and all kids deserve the best chance at a good beginning.

Without mincing words, For Our Babies states in its mission, “A focus on ensuring healthy development during this timeframe will pay dividends throughout life. Delayed, damaged, or insufficient development is very difficult and expensive to correct later in life. If we ignore the earliest years, we do so to the detriment of our children, families, communities, and nation.”

That’s it point blank: programs that benefit kids and their families in early childhood have crucial and long-lasting benefits for the kids, their families, their communities and our nation.

But we’re in a budget crisis.

So why does Head Start deserve funding in a budget and deficit crisis?

Everyone says we have to tighten our belts and everyone is going to have to sacrifice. But we can’t sacrifice our kids and future. That’s penny wise and pound foolish.

I don’t buy every man for himself, especially when it comes to kids.

Julie Weatherston at For Our Babies wrote:
“Pediatrician T.Berry Brazelton, in a recent Huffington Post blog The Bottom Line, reminds us that children must be a priority in post-election spending decisions. Unless Congress acts to come up with an alternate way to achieve the needed $1.2 trillion in savings, across-the-board budget cuts will take effect on Jan. 2, 2013. Dr. Brazelton argues that in order to provide the best we can for America’s children (22% of whom already live in poverty) we must continue to invest in them from the ground up, not cut crucial programs that do just that.”
Dr. Brazelton’s points struck at the heart of why Head Start is so important to all of us:
Children make up 24% of the U.S. population. How our nation treats its children reflects our societal values. Children can't vote. They depend on us -- parents, grandparents, pediatricians, teachers, and other child health advocates and professionals, to do right by them, stand up for them, and advocate for what they need to grow and prosper.
Dr. Brazelton pointed me to the American Academy of Pediatrics, who partnered with other organizations dedicated to the well-being of children and families, to urge Congress to
“. . .pursue a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not disproportionately hurt children. As part of this advocacy push, the AAP has partnered with maternal and child health groups to collectively voice concern with the adverse effects of sequestration on vulnerable populations, worked with other public health organizations to draw attention to the damaging impacts sequestration will have on the health and well-being of children and families. . .”
It seems that all the experts are in agreement: we MUST value kids over cuts.

Please voice that to your elected officials. Your school board. Your friends and neighbors.

Here are a few other simple things you can do to help value kids over cuts:

1. Please take the #kidsnotcuts pledge.

2. Join our podcast discussing kids not cuts on Tues, Nov 13, 2012, 10 am PT/ 1 pm ET to hear more information from experts.

3. Follow our Twitter party on Thursday, Nov 15, 10 am PT, hashtag #kidsnotcuts. Along with expert Lily Eskelsen from the NEA, join me, NYC-based education activist Leoni Haimson, teacher and Babble contributor Kelly Mochamomma Wickham, and Twitter party host Cynthia Liu of K12 News Network. Our expert Lily will be able to answer any of your questions or provide you more resources to see how the proposed cuts could affect kids you know, in your town or city.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The kindness of strangers...can mean the world

2012 has chosen its theme: The Year of Misplaced Trust.

In large part, this is being let down by folks I trusted to care for my kids. Yesterday was another example of this. Persistence has been struggling with hearing issues, and all that stems from that, due to consistently congested ears. Nothing we've done has helped. We started seeing specialists about this early in the year, but we really amped up our efforts this fall. It's been a rough go, involving a lot of tests, poking, prodding, and constantly disrupted lives with doctor visits. She's worn out with it all. And it's a lot of hard and complex stuff for a little kid to process. She's being a champ about it, of course, because if ever a kid had a heart for putting her head down and plowing through, she's that kid.

But she's ready for it to be finished. She's ready to have it fixed. And she's ready to launch into catching up on all she's missed and gotten behind on because her hearing has been impaired.

I want that for her 100%. Maybe 200%.

You know how it feels to be a parent and love this little person bigger than your body can hold. You feel a sort of glorious despair because you know your own human failings, which include not being able to hand her the moon and make everything okay all the time, even if you know neither of these things would be good for her.

Yesterday was the day the doctor's office was supposed to take Step 1 to fixing it. Instead, they not only didn't fix anything, but they were pretty dreadful health care providers who treated my daughter...well, as if she were an inconvenience to their day and basically ignored her as if she wasn't there.

Not one person in the ENT's office even spoke to her. They spoke to me about her, over her head. My repeated gentle suggestions to "Ask her." went largely unheeded. They were just...unavailable. I could go in to detail but that's not the point. They interacted more with their machines than with us.

Worst of all, the PA who saw us, because the doctor is never available, dropped the Surgery Bomb absolutely heartlessly and then...left. My daughter freaked out. As anyone would.

I did what I could to reassure her, but, not being a surgeon myself, I wasn't really able to explain how the surgery would work or what it would be like or how they did it.

After a little Conversation in which I shared our Extreme Disappointment in the treatment, Persistence and I headed to the hospital for yet another tests: an X-Ray.

By now Persistence was getting hungry, so I rooted around in my purse and came up with four quarters. She happily put in the money, pushed the buttons for her selection and waited for her Sun Chips to fall. Except, they got stuck, right on the ledge over the opening. Nothing I did dislodged them.

Persistence and I -- who had held ourselves together through a lot already -- found this kind of the last straw. She began whining and I got sharp.

Another mom in the lobby walked over to us.

And do you know what she did?

In the very nicest voice she said, "What's wrong?"

Persistence explained the machine would not give her the chips.

"Let me see what I can do to help," she said. And she did. She tried this and that. Eventually, she pulled out her own money, bought another item, and managed to get both down.

Persistence pumped her fist in the air and shouted with exultation. The other mom smiled.

My eyes filled and I mumbled a thanks through the lump in my throat.

"No big deal," she said, "You seemed like you needed help."

And just like that. Just like that. She saw us. She heard us. She was there. There when we needed her. For 2 minutes and $1.25 she saved us.

Everything felt inadequate, every word too weightless, every explanation too weighty.

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this," I said, "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she told me. She returned to her family. She was not in a better position. She was at the hospital for her child, same as me. She did not have some major privilege. She had a heart and she shared it.

Wherever she is, whoever she is, I sincerely hope someone does the same for her when she needs it.

I know this is a natural end point of the story but I have to go on. Because there is another Good Samaritan. Two more, actually.

Shortly after the Save the Chips situation, we got called back. I hesitated...Helpful Mom had been there first. The man called our name again and I said to Persistence, "That's us." But we still did not get up. Helpful Mom said, "You know, we've been waiting here...is there a reason we haven't been called?"

I braced myself. All day at the ENT we'd hit the big Not My Problem I Don't Care Wall. I waited for the man to tell them to just be patient. I waited for him to not care. I waited for him to make them feel Unimportant. As we had all day.

But this man stopped short, "You have? I'm so sorry, how frustrating for you. Oh no, let me go check..." and he came back again full of apologies and said they'd help the family right away.

Helpful Mom turned to me to and apologized, "I'm sorry to take your spot..."

"Oh no, no worries," I said, "You were here first. I wondered why we got called before you."

We smiled and they headed back.

Within a couple of minutes, we got called back. It was the same sweet young woman we'd met before. She's very gentle and sweet, and great with kids. She chattered calmly and cheerfully with Persistence all the way back to the exam room. She explained the entire process. She made Persistence feel like a person, one she cared about. Afterwards, she let Persistence come back and see the X-ray. She pointed out the parts of Persistence's body, naming bones. Persistence LOVED it. She felt big and important, and cool beans, she got to see inside of herself!

"I'm a skeleton," she giggled to me, "I'm a secret Halloween skeleton!"

As we left the hospital I asked Persistence if she wanted ice cream. She said she preferred a snow cone.

On we went to our favorite Hawaiian Shaved Ice Place, the SnoBall Hut. The young lady who we saw so often there during the summer was there again. She was sitting at a table studying.

I braced myself. We'd been treated too often that day as Unwelcome Interruptions to Better Things People Had to Do.

Instead she stood, and said in a happy to see us voice, "Oh hello!"

She welcomed us, gave us a beautiful smile, and chatted happily with us both. She fixed Persistence's snow cone. As she prepared to hand it over, my eyes lighted on a selection of sour flavors, "Hey look Persistence, they have sour cherry, let's remember that for next time!"

Looking at Persistence, the kind young woman asked, "Do you like sour flavors?"

"They're my favorite!" she said.

"Well why don't we add a dash of sour to the top!" the young woman said.

Persistence hopped on her toes with excitement. She rewarded the young woman with an exuberant, "YUM!" and beaming smile.

Maybe this sounds very ordinary. Maybe it is almost a dull story. Went to rude doctor's office, went to hospital, lady helped with chips, service lady gave service with smile.

But truthfully, it's become extraordinary. It is extraordinary.

In a day where those I trusted to help us, failed, it also provided a stark contrast and reminder of how kind and helpful health care professionals can be...when they do their jobs right, with heart.

It was a hard day, it's been a rough road lately. But at the end of the day, I felt lucky...lucky to have some people who helped, who gave a smile, who were kind. It fixed it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How to be a smarter (and more cost-effective, less stressed) patient

One thing we like to rail about is the high cost of health care -- and justly so. On the one hand, I don't mind paying doctors for their specialty (who wants to be the guy who says, "hey I want the cheapest doctor! who cares about credentials!") or drug companies for the healing medications they spend years and millions developing. On the other hand, sometimes I think we just aren't smart enough about our health care.

Sometimes I think we are too fast to accept health care exactly as dispensed and too slow to consider ways to make it work better for us (our bodies and our wallets).

Let me share a short anecdote and a few things I learned this week about being smarter with health care, choices we have that we may not know about and how to get doctors and pharmacists on board. In short, let me tell you about being an empowered patient who takes charge of our own health and wellness.

It all started last Wednesday when the pediatrician leaned back from my daughter and said, "Those are some dense, crackly lungs...we're going to try an inhaler, but you better be prepared to head to the hospital for an X-ray." And it just went downhill from there. Then the school nurse called about a problem with my younger daughter and within a couple of days we were at the specialist for her. Next my older daughter had a major reaction to the antibiotic and we had to change classes.

I bought half a dozen medications for my kids in less than four days. If we had gone with the original plan (prescribed treatment and medication) it would have more or less cost the equivalent of my mortgage, and that's not counting the office visits. We would manage to meet our $5000.00 deductible in a week.

You have that much spare change laying around? Me neither.

1. My pediatrician does it right: ask your doctor what she has on hand for you.
A big difference between my pediatrician and our specialist is that our pediatrician always checks for coupons, rebates and samples. I deeply appreciate that she is conscientious of our bottom line. When my daughter was diagnosed with seasonal allergies, our pediatrician gave us samples. We were able, without spending a fortune, to figure out which antihistamine most helped her. Other times she has provided rebate and coupons. If your pediatrician doesn't offer, ask.

2. When getting a prescription, ask questions. Find the right medications for you. Ditto for any treatment.
Why this prescription? How much does it cost? Does my insurance cover it? Is it easily available? Are there alternatives in this same class that are equally efficacious? Is a generic acceptable?

It may seem overwhelming, but your doctor's office or local pharmacy can help and, having done this, I can say it takes less time than you think. The antibiotic the specialist prescribed was (a) hard to find -- I had to call 7 pharmacies to find one that carried it, and (b) explained why that was: it cost over $800 so few doctors prescribed it or patients took it.

That's why I include the next tip.

3. Ask your pharmacist.
Most local pharmacies have a consultation window. Use it. You may encounter a surly, unhelpful, rushed or uncommunicative pharmacist. All pharmacies and pharmacists are not created equally. Change pharmacies if you can to get a pharmacist who will help you and be a partner in your wellness.

You're going to cite insurance, time, convenience and a bunch of other obstacles to this if you're like me. Bah humbug to all of that. Most of us have at least a couple of convenient pharmacies and it is well worth the potentially extra few minutes to get a great pharmacist. I changed pharmacies yesterday for this reason. Why?

  • The first six I called just said regretfully they couldn't help me. When service providers imply "not my problem, can't help you" they are not a fit for me.
  • The seventh pharmacy also said they did not have my drug in stock but they said it like, "No, and..." so I listened.
  • That Walgreens pharmacist said she had a different dose and would call the doctor to see if they would alter the prescription. This was beneficial because it meant a smaller amount for my child to take at once and a solution to my problem, plus the bonus of both prescriptions at one pharmacy (versus my near capitulation to splitting them across town). So be aware you can tweak prescriptions, too. So ask.

When I arrived to pick up my prescription, and nearly fainted from shock, the pharmacist began talking to me about alternatives.

NOTE: Pharmacies are very good in my experience of being open about cost, so I strongly advise calling the pharmacy before walking away with a doctor's prescription to get an idea of both availability and expense.

The pharmacist asked for my daughter's diagnosis and, using that and the prescribed antibiotic, suggested four alternative drugs that were less than $50 for me. We called the doctor's office and were prescribed one of those four.

That leads me to my next tip.

4. Be an empowered patient and keep your own health records.
I had to deal with a lot of diagnoses, information, tests, test results, prescriptions and more. I had to carry information from one health care provider to another.

The more information I provide to one doctor from another, the less redundancy and the more targeted care can be.

I shared the nurse's screening to the specialist and the physician's assistant and back to the nurse. It was invaluable to be able to have all the information I needed at my fingertips. I could answer every question put to me. How? I recently downloaded and started using an app called PocketHealth.

This app lets me input my own and my family's health records. I started using it after I started working on the account--so I will be forthcoming about that. But I have truly come to appreciate it. Especially in the last week.

Once I started using it, it prompted me (umm, not literally, just mentally) to start asking for copies of tests, results, etc. I do need to input that information, but it's worth it to be able to track, manage, review and share the health information.

I tend to overwhelm myself and think I need to start at the very beginning. In this case, I started in the middle. I'd been filling in the same health forms about four times before I wised up and realized I could input and re-use. So, my records start now and I can fill in as need be. I find time while waiting at kid events, for example.

Most of all, I can save money by not having to repeat the tests and save health (or life) by including important information such as my daughter's reaction to the antibiotic so we never get that one again (and don't they all sound alike). I can stop feeling guilty because I don't know the answers for what and when for our health care, quit feeling stressed about filling out forms or racing hither and yon to fetch records because I can't find them.

In conclusion...

I was frustrated that my doctor prescribed hard to find and overly expensive drugs. I was frustrated that they didn't know or care what hardship this would create for me. I felt guilty that money played a factor in health care for my children. I felt angry, too. I felt stressed and overwhelmed by the number of health hardships we faced all at once. I felt a little at sea with it all. However with the help of some good health care providers and technology, I found ways to solve problems and overcome that helpless feeling. I found the way to be an empowered patient getting both the care I needed at prices I could afford.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How my kids learned to earn (and value $$$)

This summer I tried something new. I drew a harder line than I ever have before for purchases for my kids. Their, "I want I want I want..." mantra had been getting out of control and no was not the best, long-term solution. Now that they are 7 and 10, it seemed about time for them to get an allowance.

But...how did we handle doling out an allowance?

Handing out money to them each week simply for being did not feel right to us. We think it is important to learn how to earn. Also, I am a big believer in kids learning the value of their work and how to negotiate and discuss money.

Tying money to their chores also did not feel right. We believe strongly that each member of the family has an important role and tasks that contribute towards making our home and family run well. Since they were very young, we expected our kids to do certain chores as members of the family. It started simply with picking up toys. Our expectations grew as the children grew. They must fold and put away their laundry, clean up their dishes, care for the pets, gather their trash on trash day, and so forth. In short, we expect them to take care of their own "household footprint" as is appropriate for their ages.

Still, I wanted them to learn to earn and to value a dollar and understand the cost of things, the real cost, when it comes out of your little stash of cash.

Prior to this, we'd provided everything they needed and a lot of what they wanted (within reason). So they perceived that money was something endless that came from mom and dad's bottomless wallets. Except money in our family is finite and our wallets are actually shallow. Having grown up with constant money worries, though, I didn't want my kids to be concerned. So we were sometimes indulgent, and often creative.

Image provided by: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It started with The List. They'd see something (or many things) in stores that they wanted. Usually, it was a passing fancy, an impulse, and not something I wanted to add to our house. The answer no could work, but after a while that didn't feel like the right response all the time either. So I established The Wish List. At first, I kept a piece of paper in my purse, one side for each child. If they really liked something, we'd consider adding it to the list.

The list comprised all the ideas for gifts when family and friends inevitably asked, "What do they want?" for birthday or Christmas. It was pretty handy. It gave them a sense of choice, eliminated "no" tantrums, and served a function. Plus, the list was rewarding because...they did end up getting gifts from it that they wanted.

The thing about the list, though, was the more that was on it, the less chance you had of getting what you liked most of all. A $2 doll at the doll store looks cheap and fun in the moment, but what if someone gets that and another cheap toy instead of the $7 doll outfit that fit the American Girl doll?

The list never got as long as you might imagine -- considering kids usually see 50+ things they "want" every time you go anywhere, see a commercial, or get a catalog in the mail.

Later, though, the cheap toys and junk was too young to appeal to them, and they specialized in things they liked, such as American Girl and Lego. The catalogs for those toys were more appealing, as were a couple of other lines. They'd circle items in catalogs, thrilling the grandparents.

The list? Was moot.

It set a valuable precedent though, and so I had little trouble in establishing the earn-n-spend system. And the kids had little trouble in comprehending it.

Roll Of Money by Anna Langova
This summer I decided to give it a go. My husband and I are extra busy in the summer, so more help around the house is welcome. I'd stop buying them stuff. I'd expect them to use their own money. And I decided that for the kids to get money, I'd try offering to pay them to do chores above and beyond their normal chore responsibilities.


There were strict parameters.

  • We'd negotiate a fair rate for each chore, chore by chore.
  • They had to track the date, chore done, and amount on a piece of paper invoice-style.
  • I'd offer chances, but the work had to get done, get done well, and in a timely way.
  • They had to show initiative and ask or propose work.
  • They could not begin demanding money for their regular responsibilities.
  • I recommended that they set a goal, have something specific to work towards to stay motivated.

This sure had the potential to teach a lot of lessons: how to negotiate, how to value work, how to track your earnings, how to bill, how to save, how to choose to spend, initiative, writing, math, diligence, and so on.

We outlined the opportunity to the kids, who signed up eagerly.

The 7 year old is a work in progress on this. She's earned some, but isn't yet 100% at the living it fully place. She does grasp the concept. She has an invoice, has some cash stashed in her bank, sometimes asks for work, sometimes takes work, but...work in progress. The key lessons are there with her, though. In the store, she wanted a $2 place mat, "It's only $2!" she pleaded. "Okay," I said, "You have enough cash to buy it. Is that how you want to spend your money? Or do you want to keep saving for the dolls?" She opted to keep saving. On another occasion, she started to ask for something but cut herself off, explaining, "It's a want, not a need, and I don't want to spend on it right now, or ask you to."

Joy Decoration by Petr Kratochvil
I may have indulged in a brief daydream sequence of a happy dance with confetti blowing around me.

The 10 year old took to it like a champ. She identified a toy she wanted desperately. It cost $108. However, you had to order it through the Internet, so we discussed projected shipping and tax, then went through the process of starting an order to make sure of the final amount. She needed to earn about $125.

We discussed average amounts for chores, from about $1-$5 max. We looked at how much she'd need to earn per day to have enough by the end of the summer to get the toy. She had her goal, and she worked out a plan. She set up her invoice page, including adding a column for running total so she could see her progress.

I definitely indulged in a long daydream sequence of happy dance, with peppy song and confetti.

Since June, that child has worked diligently. She's taken on tough tasks such as sweeping the drive and sidewalk after the weekly mowing. She's taken on yucky tasks such as scooping the yard of pet poop before the weekly mowing. She's taken out garbage and recycling, sorted recycling, emptied dishwashers, swept floors, vacuumed, dusted, and more.

About half way through, she got discouraged. "This is so hard, I'll never get there, I'm tired..." and so on. We sat down and calculated how far she'd come, how much to go, what she needed to do to get there, how she could maybe earn a big chunk to feel a big progress, and...she dug back in and kept going. A couple of times she'd be tempted by something in a store and we'd have the "weighing pros and cons" talk and she'd decide. Each time she decided to skip the tempting item and keep saving for her treasured toy.

One day she ran down the stairs, clutching a piece of paper, yelling happily, "I DID IT! I DID IT! I EARNED ENOUGH!!"

That day we sat down and ordered her toy. She handed me her invoice, I handed her the full payment, she marked her invoice PAID, then handed the money back to me and I ordered the toy with my credit card. I know it would have been satisfying to hand cash to a clerk but this seemed to work for her.

Then we waited. Seven to ten business days. Because, even though she wanted it right away, it wasn't worth the extra work and wait to earn the overnight shipping.

This week the toy arrived. She is delighted.

"It means so much more because I EARNED IT," she told me.

And so it does.

Thumbs Up by Petr Kratochvil
Like her sister, also, she has become wiser about spending. On our recent vacation, I gave them, as usual, a souvenir budget. Her 7 year old sister spent smartly, finding a deal and buying two things on sale. But spend she did, and quickly. She doesn't regret it, but later, there was a sad moment because she saw another thing she liked. Ultimately, though, she decided she still liked her purchases best. My 10 year old, though, was patient. She waited until the end of the trip, measuring and evaluating each thing for its worthiness. In the end, she decided to go to a nursery and buy a plant. She found the one she wanted, under budget. She wanted something that grew and lasted, not another thing to add to her room. Another thing to tidy. And she didn't spend every dime. "I just want to find something worthwhile," she said, "And luckily it costs less! So we can save the rest."

I'd end there, happily.

But the real ending comes only yesterday, when, while out, I saw something tempting, on sale.

"Oh Mom," said my 10 year old, "Do we really need that?"

"Yeah Mom," echoed my seven year old, "Or would you rather save that money for something more important?"

And there you go.

My kids have learned (will continue to learn) how to earn, how to save, how to spend in a smart way, and the value of a dollar.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It may be an odd life, but it's ours: Why you MUST see The Odd Life of Timothy Green

They stood in the kitchen arguing about the child and What To Do. A couple, loving and supportive of each other, rarely fighting, but now, in barely suppressed yells, they had a serious go at one another's parenting choices.

The child in question was upstairs (or so they thought) and he was their miracle. The longed for, finally gotten child. Exactly what they had always wished for.

Except what they were learning is that even when you get exactly what you wish for, it doesn't mean things turn out how you want. Or thought you wanted.

When the child appeared in the doorway and shouted, "Stop fighting!" They stopped. But they had been winding down anyway, realizing that they were arguing with fate or circumstance or something like it rather than each other.

The couple is Jim and Cindy Green, and the child is Timothy Green. They are the lead characters in the new movie, releasing today, The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

The unbearable lightness of being a parent: 
thrilled pride, 
jangling nerves. 
Absolute faith. 
Then absolute panic.
Then joy.
And so on.

And I loved that scene. I loved it because it was harsh, imperfect and real. I loved that scene like I loved the entire movie because the movie -- despite the metaphorical and implausible plot of a child growing in a garden under a cabbage leaf -- and its story and characters were more real than any movie I've seen in a long, long time.

Magical realism. In its ideal form.

You've likely seen the trailers and advertisements for this film. If you have, you get the start of it. A childless couple at the end of their infertility road decides to have a big sendoff to the idea of "their kid." They write down every trait they wish their kid would have. They bury it in their vegetable patch. Then, miraculously, that exact child appears, and he is even named Timothy, the only boy name on their list.

I bet you think that next it is one big Disney happily ever after trip. You'd be so, so wrong.

What's next is one big unexpected, yet real trip through so many emotions, situations, and family dynamics that any type of person will find at least one Moment in this movie. I found a lot.

It looks very pretty, but it's complicated.

The movie delivered one of the truest, most honest and heartfelt sense of infertility, parenthood, marriage, leftover childhood baggage, dysfunctional social dynamics, job and financial worries, marital strife, and...well, the human condition that I absolutely fell in love with it. I fell in love with The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The story it told. Why we keep our heads up. Why we keep going in the face of adversity. How we find things we lost, like ourselves. How nothing is ever perfect, how nobody is ever perfect, but how we find beauty and merit in them anyway. Sometimes. Sometimes? We just don't.

Maybe it's just the right movie in the right moment for me. But I honestly think it is technically an excellent film:

  • the cinematography is gorgeous and creates the scene as the other character in the movie
  • it's brilliantly cast by actors who are genuine and talented
  • the plot is beautifully done with just enough heartwarming to balance out the challenges
  • it doesn't hold your hand nor does it patronize you, especially not by smoothing out all the rough edges until you get a totally flat film
  • there is no conniving or easy stereotypes, yet it remains sightly unpredictable in a realistic way
  • it's tight and triple fudge thick in spots so that 20 seconds gives you a full, rich story without breaking the plot and going in to all this background
  • it never felt preachy or morality tale, instead, it felt as if it reflected back to us who we are, as people, without judgment or agenda; in fact, it almost felt like this sort of unconditional love or acceptance

There are things you will do for your child, family, loved ones...that you'd never do otherwise.
Even if, sometimes, you enter it knowing...just knowing...it's not going to go how you planned.
Sometimes that's even better.

I don't want to delve too deep or tell you how you ought to think of this movie. I definitely don't want to tell you what happens. Let the story unfold for you on its own, and I wish you to find in it what you want.

I will say, simply, that I loved this movie. And two days later, I still do. I want to see it again.

My husband also loved it, as did my kids (10 and 7). They agree with me that it was beautiful and ugly and real and sad and happy and hard and worthy. They agree you should go see it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why I Will Miss Mary McCormack Most of All

I hear a number of my favorite television shows are coming to an end this year. I am not good with this. I'm not good with this because a good show is hard to find, and a good show with an awesome "I love you woman" main character is even harder to find.

As this year becomes the year of trying to stuff women back into their boxes, I find TV shutting down its very best examples of inspiring women who never even had a box.

It makes me sad.

Missing, starring the oh-so-fab Ashley Judd, was not picked up for a second season. I suppose a super hot, smart and capable middle-aged woman was just too awesome. Or. Not politically correct enough in 2012. By which I mean, she wore a lot of pants (and hats, metaphorically) instead of being decorous in a flowery dress. (Bitter much? Why yes, yes I am these days, thank you for asking.) I say BOO on this one. I liked that show. Yes, I am a Judd fan, but also it was exciting. Former CIA operative running (usually literally) around Europe to save her son, constantly outwitting the doubting potential allies/enemies.

The Closer, starring an increasingly skinny Kira Sedgwick, is living up to its title and closing. This is an easier goodbye. I used to love this show but the skinnier Sedgwick got and the more clothing tailored her main character, Brenda Leigh Johnson got, also the more boring the show got. By this I primarily mean that as the show has progressed, Brenda was increasingly "beautified" and her formerly complex and maddening yet lovable character became more and more one dimensional. I used to love this show. I loved her cleverness. Her balance of strength and weakness. Her hats and goofy Southern-Sunday-Go-to-Meeting-Meets-LA-and-Cop Shop outfits. Her incredible competence alongside her slight lapses into total geek. She was like the perfect yin-yang character and show. But, as is common with shows that center around a strong, smart woman, the show devolved her rather than evolved her. And here we are with this season. Instead of her leading everyone by the nose, her immediate circle has closed in around her, trying to protect her from herself as she implodes. Yuck. Yes, end it. End it now before I hate it.

Worst worst worst of all is losing In Plain Sight. An intriguing twist on the neverending story (law and order), this one included some crime, some mystery, some solving, but mainly the human story of lives disrupted.

It never started as a crime drama that eventually did the disgusting turn of the main characters themselves being the primary crime drama every episode (I'm looking at you every show named CSI). It started as a show about marshals who marshal people through the most unusual worst day of their lives and it kept true to that. The guest characters always had a story, and the main characters always had a story, and it was always well-balanced. It did shift into "oh noes the main characters became the victims" but only for a minute and it actually made sense.

So it had a good, solid story line, good character development and strong, consistent core of "what it was" that it held true to, but what I really liked about the show and characters was the unapologetic non-compromising truthfulness of it. Mary (Mary McCormack) started as a tough, emotionally-challenged, closed off character, and she stayed that way. The writers never threw in a bunch of "we'll teach you your lesson and soften you up missy" crap awful preachiness that writers usually love to throw at strong female leads. Oh she went through life and all of its accompanying "may it be interesting" curse sort of events but she is who she is.

Mary also had a great interplay with the male co-lead, her partner Marshall Mann (Fred Weller) (is that name awesome or what) (it so makes him...just the dude sidekick, the way women are so often the just the chick sidekick, but, as a great actor, he made it into a role you just adored). But they never "Moonlighted" it, ruining the show and its characters. Instead, the friendship shifted, as Marshall struggled to balance his traditional BFF role in Mary's life with that of fiance to a woman he loved. And it worked out. I left loving it, and them.

In the final season, Mary was a single working mother trying to figure out the way to parent and be a marshal. She showed the way so many of us moms feel, and most importantly, she looked the way so many of us moms look. Really. When she was pregnant in the show, she was really pregnant, all over. The show blended real and storyline beautifully, and nobody asked her to do a Beyonce and look like "miracle OMG you'd never know she had a baby two days ago." Praise jelly belly. She looked and acted just like a real woman, not some sanitized version of a conceptual female.

(Note to Hollywood: No, real women don't fantasize about looking like a swimsuit model within days of giving birth. That's not the mirror we want held up for us. That's what you keep telling yourself and telling us that we want but we don't. We want you to hold up a post-partum Mary McCormack and say "see, a little leaky and slightly too fleshy with a shower past the okay by date but STILL AWESOME." We know how we are really and we want you to hold up a mirror and show us how that's OKAY. If I'd been writing for the show, I'd have had her pull out a pack of wipies, swipe the pits, re-apply some Secret -- heh heh product placement -- and say "good enough" like I did a time or two.)

What the show did was give us a woman who measured herself by her own standards, not some arbitrary what makes everyone else more comfortable because it meets our expectations. As a result, even though it was occasionally tough, uncomfortable, annoying or all of the above, she stayed true to herself and we came to realize that who she is is not made of wrong and she doesn't need a self-help course. Maybe it is us, the culture, who do, in order to broaden our definition of okay.

I'll miss that. Most of all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#epicfail and Other Parenting Moments

Running unprotected by water and stones.

Have you ever noticed how some people cough *other parents* cough just love to kill the buzz?

Okay let's take other parents.

Say you're somewhere, like the playground, and you and the other parents are gabbing, and you maybe know some, don't know some, you know how it is. And you're being yourself, which in this case happens to a person with a very dry wit who often speaks rather facetiously. And you're all talking about your kids. And then you're all whipping out the iPhones to show kid photos.

Even though the kids are all right there on the playground, for real.

But you all just have to share this funny or magical moment caught by the phone camera to illustrate some parenting triumph.

So you get your turn and you show this photo of your kid, maybe riding a bike, maybe a two-wheeler without training wheels, for the very first time.

All the parents are oohing and ahhing and you feel it coming, the other stories about that moment you first let go of the bike and the kid takes off and then everyone will bask in the warm fuzzy glow of the metaphor.

Except that's not what happens.

One parent says, "You let your kid on a bike without a helmet?"

"Oh," you say, "Well normally they wear helmets but this one time, ha ha, you know, just that time...she wasn't going very fast, you know and we were right there..."

"I know this one kid," that parent continues, "Who was brain dead after falling off a stationary bike...a bike that was not even moving..."

You stare.

"Brain dead," that parent reiterates as if you didn't catch it the first time, "One time."

You sort of stutter a bit, because umm that is so not the point of this entire conversation. This is a metaphor, it's iconographic, this photo. We are supposed to be basking in warm fuzzy glows. Not struggling for a response that is both appropriately explanatory and defensive while simultaneously steering us back to the right spot, which is not this speechless horror and let's be honest, this sort of atavistic Neanderthal rage that makes you want to rip off the other parent's face.

And, okay, that's really from the shame you feel at being called out as a craptastic parent who wants their kid brain dead, and also you are thinking this other parent is a real self-righteous...no better not use that word as it has now firmly entered your five year old's vocabulary after that incident where the red truck cut you off on the freeway.

And while your brain veers further off course, your mouth opens up and says, "A stationary bike? Like the kind that just sits there, and doesn't move? An exercise bike?"

The other parents sort of lean back because they take this as a challenge. Now it's going to get interesting. You have managed to steer the conversation straight in a new direction, all right.

Now you are the flaky craptastic parent who wants their kid brain dead, and who issues a challenge when you have no ground to stand on.

Speaking slowly like one would to a truly flaky person, that parent says, "Nooooooo, a stationary bike as in a bike that was not moving."

Now you are really determined to get to the bottom of this, "So a stationary bike orrrrrrr," you drag out a syllable because two can do this, "A bike that was not moving?"

"A bike! A bike that was not moving!" the other parent says.

"So not a stationary bike," you say, "A regular bike, but just not moving at that moment."

"Yes! Yes!"

"Riiiiight," you say, "I see. That's so tragic! The poor kid, the poor family. How are they doing now?"

"I don't know," the other parent says, "Sad, I guess."

"Because their kid who was not wearing a helmet fell off a bike that was not moving," I say, starting to feel suspicious there was never this kid, or that it was The Poor Tragic Kid in one of those urban legend emails probably started by a bike helmet company to get free viral marketing and a mad rush by parents to buy helmets.

"Wellll, actually," that parent says, "The kid was wearing a helmet. But it fell off."

You can't really say how long the silence stretched on but it did for at least 200 hundred years while the prince tried to find his way through the brambles to those of us who slept under an evil spell in the castle. That's exactly how long it stretched on.

"That's really awful," you say, feeling the burden--since in some way you did get us to this point--to be the prince rather than the sleeping beauty, especially since all of the other parents have decided to vie silently for that role, "Really really awful. I think we've all learned a valuable lesson here," you say, clicking your photo album shut and slipping your iPhone back into your pocket.

The other parent nods, but without the smugness he expected to feel, it's clear.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What price an apology?

I read an article today about a man who spent over 30 years looking for his teacher, to make amends for a slight that had troubled him ever since. But why? And was it right? It's an amazing story.  

39 years ago, a boy named Larry asked to leave a well-liked teacher's class and did not offer a reason. The teacher, Mr. Atteberry, was gay during a time that this could get a teacher fired. Some students suspected his homosexuality, and teased Larry, who was often praised in class for good work. The teasing escalated to bullying, and Larry thought if he left the class and never spoke again to the teacher, it would stop. So he left. Then he regretted it ever after. He kept trying to find the teacher to apologize, and nearly four decades later, he did, through a news article. That's where the article I read, "A teacher, a student and a 39-year-long lesson in forgiveness," began. 

It's incredible what weighs on us, causes shame. This troubled this man for so long, and it's something I bet many would not even recall. How neat he kept trying and ultimately made amends.

But why...why did he pursue it for so long? What made fixing this so incredibly important in his life?

I tried to think back through childish mistakes I made, and to my shame, I imagine most of the hurts I caused fell into that "clueless and oblivious" bucket. I was probably hurtful to people, thoughtless, or lily-livered. I recall spending a lot of time thinking others owed me amends. Many times, I was wrong. A lot of times, I was right.

Sticking to the school example, I thought of Mrs. Morini, my senior year AP English teacher. She wore her hair like Frankenstein's bride, and (probably handmade) dresses cut in a straight, fitted Mad-Men style (think more Peggy than Joan -- not that fitted). She had a dozen or so of these dresses and she wore them in different colors, every day, with tall black heels. She was extremely petite, and, had anyone asked, probably self-identified as one who did not suffer fools gladly. 

She decided I was a fool and treated me as one all year long. She derided my interpretations, points of view, written perspectives, and, worst of all to an aspiring writer, my writing. She told me I wasn't very bright and wouldn't likely make much of myself. As the end of the year and graduation approached, I survived by looking forward and ignoring as much as possible where I was. I applied for the AP tests to place out of the "weeder" undergraduate classes. Mrs. Morini withdrew my application and did not tell me. When I tried to take the tests, she triumphantly told me she'd pulled my paperwork, and added that it had been done to spare me humiliation, because I simply was not smart enough to take the tests.

My fury was meaningless to her, and I remained unapologized to, uncompensated and unrequited in my quest to fix it. To fix her.

I took the placement exams and ultimately started college as nearly a sophomore, with a solid A average. And yes, I graduated in four years. If it ended there, it would seem as if fate (and my test taking skills) had righted the balance of the unfair universe. But that's not all; life isn't in a vacuum. What she did, that one act of vandalism and cruelty, set in motion a series of unfortunate events.

Because I was unable to take the test, I was set back in my college "graduate in four years" plan. My father required no more than four, and I had to achieve it. I knew money would be tight, too. So I'd need to work summers, versus take classes.

I checked into alternatives. I could take a couple of courses at the local community college, but this would force me to cut back work and earn less during the summer. I signed up for one, and tried to live as frugally as possible.

This also forced me to move to college two weeks early and spend hard-earned summer cash to take placement exams. I lived, alone, in the private dorm, lonelier and more lost than I had ever been in my life. And I am one who can stand to be alone. I met other stragglers, but it wasn't a good tale of bonding and unlikely friends.

If I hadn't gone to college early, it wouldn't have given a jealous classmate back home the opportunity to pursue my boyfriend, and put bugs in his ear about me being unfaithful. He wouldn't have forced an angry confrontation and ultimatum that lead me to give him his marching orders...away from me as fast as possible.

If I hadn't been so upset and so lonely and lost, I might not have turned to a good friend for comfort, shifting something nice into something romantic. He felt more than I did and I lost a best friend.

If I hadn't arrived early for the exams, I would not have met that odd girl, the punk one, who, because I am like that, I was friendly to and got to know. And not really like. Because she was sort of as prickly as the safety pins lining her clothing. Then I learned she was even pricklier than that -- she was knife sharp. The day I finally gathered my courage and told some pretty sorority girls to quit being mean to her became the day I learned some people can be even more vicious to those who try to help than to those who hurt. As I stood, silent and humiliated in the hallway, with the cruel words of the girl echoing in my ears, even meaner than the taunts of the sorority girls to her, I felt a wash of hate. 

I hated her. I hated the mean sorority girls. I hated being at college early. I hated missing my friends. I hated being so confused and lost. I hated this college. And I really, really hated Mrs. Morini, who, at the time, appeared to be the catalyst to it all. The one who ruined my life.

What she did was truly unforgivable -- not that she ever asked my forgiveness. But what came from that was all me. And probably, in there, a lot people -- mainly me -- owed others apologies. I had the chance to do so in some cases, and I took it. 

In the end, I learned to live with all that happened. Had none of it happened, I might not have what I have now, be who I am now. I might not have made friends with a girl I met at the French placement test, who introduced me to a girl from her dorm, who introduced me to the man I am married to now, and with whom I have two amazing kids. It all happened and it all lead to here.

But what would I think, now, if Mrs. Morini came to me with an apology?

What would someone from then think, now, if I came to them with apology?

What if I did someone some harm, even incidentally, but maybe they didn't realize, and I revealed it while begging forgiveness?

I often wonder about the value of an apology, when it is positive and when it is self-serving, when it does more good and when it does more harm. When you have to make it and when you have to take it. I wonder about the making of amends. There has to be a lot of wisdom in it, and I'm not sure many of us have enough of it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

We are the tardy people...don't hate us

My kids are tardy, frequently.

It is a source of daily stress and distress. I start every single day unhappy.

You are going to judge me. Tell me it's rude and disrespectful. It disrespects the school, the teacher, the class, the other kids, and my own kids' access to learning. Tell me it is undisciplined. A necessary life skill, failed.

You think I do not know this?

You are going to assume I do not know what to do or how to fix it. You are going to tell me about sticker charts, incentives, punishments, egg timers, consequences, school talks, how you fixed it (therefore you understand but you also know it CAN and SHOULD be fixed), how your neighbor's mother's cousin's daughter fixed it.

You think I do not wish I had the magic fix?

You are going to think you know what our deal is. You are going to suggest I put my kids to bed earlier or wake them earlier. You will tell me we ought to make lunches the night before. Create schedules. You may offer websites, books, magazine articles, or what your child's teacher told you.

You'll express some kindness, maybe, try to get at what is happening, how and why it is not working. You'll suggest that perhaps expectations are too high or we're trying to do too much. You'll offer advice about shifting this and that and altering the schedule.

You might dissect us. Tell me how this is open rebellion on my kids' part, a reflection of something inherently wrong in our family and relationship or in the school or life in general. You'll figure this is a symptom of a bigger problem. You'll let me know how this is reflective of my own lack of discipline or how I am doing it all wrong or how my kids have been let loose to go awry.

You think I do not want to understand why it happens, no matter what?

Trust me. I've heard, seen, read, had it said, and been told it all. At least four times.

There is nothing you can say to me that is worse than what I have already said to myself, and to my kids.

Whatever you are thinking is the solution is probably something I've already tried. At least twice.

And yes, I did it right.

I have tried sticker charts, incentives big and small, consequences minor and dire, egg timers, shifted schedules, buying lunch, making lunch the night before, organizing charts, talks by the school and so on and so on and so on.

We've been dealing with this for the five years of school.

We've tried something to work it out constantly.

Each time we try something, it works for a bit and then the kids backslide. So we try it again and it fails, so we try something new.

We don't like it. We know it is rude. We know everyone hates tardy people. We know everyone thinks poorly of us. We hear it all the time, in general. Not to us directly, but about late people, in general.

I am tired of hating myself. Hating my kids. Hating time.

I wish we fit better into this construct.

But we do not.


All I want you to know is...you do not know, not really, all that we do; but we do try, hard.

All I want to know is...you do not hate me, or us, or judge me or us, and that you think that being late is not the worst thing a person can be--there is much, much worse a person can be. You know I try.

But somehow, something always happens on the way to the forum.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What to Read for Earth Day 2012 (Sunday April 22, 2012)

It's almost Earth Day!

What are you going to do?

Turn out the lights for an hour? Plant a tree? Go green? Start a compost pile?


How about also...read a book!

If you know me at all you know how much I work to get my active on-the-go kids to sit and read. I found two earth day friendly books they liked!

My oldest is a big "how stuff works" fan. For her, we found she liked this:

With a LEED certified architect dad, she enjoyed the look at structures that are earth friendly. Also,this book is heavy on call-outs and factoids. It begins with a look at the roles in building. Then it talks about elements of structure and building. Next, it highlights some incredible examples around the world of earth friendly structures. Throughout it offers some great ideas of DIY projects kids can do at home. Today I get to go buy more pipe cleaners to complete the cross-bracing experiment (page 13).

Last night we got a string of jokes. Did I mention there are funny jokes throughout, such as, "Why did the hole go to the dentist? Because he needed a filling!" lol

The best part for both me and my daughter was on page 53 -- which included a pros and cons debate "To Dam or Not to Dam." She just joined the school's Debate Club so this book and in particular that page gave her a great weekly topic.

For my younger, she liked this one:

Her one complaint was that it lacked monkeys.

However, what it did have was a lot of great illustrations okay for "big kids" and short text sections. I did find that some of the vocabulary was beyond beginning reader (K-1) and I had to help her a bit with an average of 3-4 words per paragraph.

She enjoyed checking out the experiments, and she tried one with cucumbers (page 44). She really grasped the idea of osmosis. She also liked the new facts she has and can share.

We're well situated for Earth Day and also for the summer (with plenty of experiments - most of which kids can do on their own with minimal supervision and assistance).

As usual, I got these books from Kids Can Press. It's a rich resource for fun, and good to know and enjoy books for kids.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Frog went a' courtin' and he did right...by Stevie Wonder

Last night, as I tucked in my oldest and sat with her for a minute, we listened to the frogs. It's spring and rainy so it is time for them to find their happily ever afters.

Every night, a plethora of them call to each other. I always imagine they each have their own song, like Happy Feet.

It used to bother me, the crazy racket. Then we put in a pond and the frog songs amplified from racket to live concert level loud. You'd think we could have foreseen this but no, we did not. We thought only of managing mosquitos and happily watching koi.

So last night, my daughter and I lay in her bed and listened to the frogs.

"What do you think they are saying?" she asked me.

I paused, wading through the truth, which in my head sounded heavily open air market-like but in a vaguely "Good morning Vietnam-ish," with a little "Dear penthouse..." thrown in way.

"They are singing love songs to find their loves," I told her.

"What sort of song? How does it go?" asked my little popular music aficionado.

I told her I thought it might be a little like Stevie Wonder's "Hey Love." This morning, she demanded I queue it up on the iPod. We all listened for a minute, and finally she declared, "Yes, oh yes, I can really see this is like the froggie love song."

And, forevermore, I will imagine little muppet frogs singing and dancing to this song, 60s beach blanket bingo style, little bouffants bouncing, webbed feet and long tongues flashing as they sway.