Mom Fear

The world is a dangerous place.

My friend Audrey was over for coffee and as I walked her to the car, I grabbed my mail. There was an envelope I recognized immediately. It was a notice from the Warwick police department informing me that a sex offender had just moved into the neighborhood. We get one of these notices every year or so. Anyone with a child registered in the public school gets them.

Audrey was somewhat aghast.

'What do you do about it?' she asked.

Good question.

The police have no advice in the letter. They warn against harassing the guy. They give the street he lives on, and offer a hint as to the nature of his crime, but they don't say anything about what we are supposed to do with this information.

Do I keep the kids home, where I can watch them? Noah is at the age now where he wants to ride his bike around the neighborhood to visit his friends. Every day after school, the pack of them migrate like cape buffalo, eating their way from one house to the next. Am I supposed to keep them home?

Do I show him the letter and tell him to avoid this guy if he sees him somewhere? Do I tell him to run in the opposite direction? Do I plant little seeds of fear in his heart?

So far, I haven't done any of those things.

Here's what I do do. I talk to the kids. I tell them what to do to stay safe. I remind them that they should always tell me if something scary or uncomfortable happens to them, even if they are warned not to tell. Especially if they are warned not to tell. I tell them about my own close encounters with dangerous people when I was a kid. I pray for my boys that they will be safe. And maybe I will pray for healing for the offender, too.

But somehow, I don't feel that letting fear get the best of us is a healthy way to be in the world.

Grades for Sale

Audrey says:

The new head of public schools in Washington DC is planning to pay middle school students for good grades. This just might get more A's and B's on the report cards. What the heck, let's pay them to eat healthy foods, for acts of courtesy and kindness too. We've commodified everything else in our children's' lives, it's about time to sell out learning.

What have we gotten with the runaway focus on money, jobs, advancement, and lives spent in pursuit of material goods? We've ruined our reputation in the world community, we've quite possibly ruined the planet, we've become one of the fattest nations on earth, just to name a few consequences.

Yes, as far as I'm concerned, there is a link. We need to go back to stressing learning over fact-gathering, critical thinking over test-taking, and informed citizenship over consumerism.

We need to teach and model the genuine satisfaction that is found in really learning, knowing, thinking. We need to let our children hear intelligent conversation so they can recognize the respectful play of ideas. We need to teach them to love good literature so that they can turn to it for real insight and solace. We need to turn off the TV and walk around outside in the air, saying hello to our neighbors.

We don't need to pay for good grades.

I recommend Susan Jacoby's new book, "The Age of American Unreason" on this topic.

Rachel Chimes in:

Paying kids for good grades in an under performing school system seems like a band aid to a much bigger issue. The system is clearly broken. My parents never gave me incentives for grades. I just got good grades because that was what was expected. I would never pay my own kids for grades, either. But I am really lucky to have two motivated and engaged children.

I do have to say, though, that sometimes the spiral downward in the inner city school system seems so out of control, I understand why the superintendent is considering this. Maybe he figures if he can break the cycle and help these kids feel some enthusiasm for school, it will have an impact on the rest of their issues.


Rachel writes:

Those of you who work full time are going to wonder what I am fussing about, but I have just started a couple of part time jobs for the first time since my kids were born and boy am I noticing the impact on the home life.

When my oldest son was born, I was in the fortunate position to be able to quit my full time work and stay home with him. Over the years I have had several occupations, from teaching childbirth classes to selling kitchen tools, but all of those gigs have been in the evenings when my husband was able to watch the boys. Once the kids started school, I had my days free.

In the last couple of weeks, I have started 2 very part time jobs during the day. These are mother's hours jobs which get me home in time to pick the kids up at school. On paper, it seems like this should have no impact at all on the family life, right? I mean, how hard is it to juggle home and work when you are only working a couple of shifts a week?

Surprisingly, I am finding the impact to be much greater than I expected. All the things I used to do during school hours, like grocery shopping, paying bills, cleaning the house, etc, are squeezed into less and less time. The afternoon rush of picking up the kids, supervising the homework, getting dinner going and getting ready for all the things I still do in the evenings is really exhausting, I have to say.

I am extremely lucky that my work is in areas that feel meaningful to me. But I am going to have to learn how to balance all this on the home front.

How about you? How do YOU manage the work-home balance? I'd love to hear from those of you who work full time, too.

Audrey adds:

Boy Rachel, I know this feeling. I've always worked on a contract basis and controlled the hours I work. When my kids were little and I unavoidably had days with 3 different work appointments and found myself rushing to get home to greet my the bus and make supper, I found I had no physical, and little emotional energy for parenting. All I could manage on those days was getting the kids fed, and then making it through homework and then bedtime. Any small glitch or behavior problem seemed almost insurmountable. I remember thinking that this is what moms who work full-time paying jobs go through every day! I feel very lucky that my children's' father earned enough for me to work part time, though we always lived very simply.
As an aside, this is why I cannot believe that along with raising 4-5 kids, and running a city, then the state of Alaska, Sarah Palin says that she also ran 7-10 miles a day. I know the days can be long up there, but I'm pretty sure that they get the same 24 total hours we have in the lower 48.
I would also love to hear from full-time moms out there. Are you all drinking 10 cups of coffee a day? What does 6pm look like at your house?

Witnessing a miracle

The other day I brought my children to visit a family friend in the hospital. My friend has been on a transplant list for a new heart and has been stuck in a hospital room in Boston for weeks waiting. I knew it might be a little scary for the kids, what with all the tubes and equipment, but I also knew that it would be a blessing for my friend to see the boys. I also felt it it would be a blessing for the boys to see him again. It had been a long time.

We had a lovely visit. My friend told some wonderful stories, as he always does. The kids weren't upset by the IVs or tubes. We created a bit of a stir in the corridors because we were all on our way to a wedding and were decked out in our best clothes.

Later that night, after we left, my friend was informed that a heart was available. He had surgery the next morning and is doing extremely well. Today, in fact, he may move out of ICU and into a regular room.

My children know that I have been praying for my friend's recovery for years. We include him in our prayers at dinner time. We include him in our prayers at church. They have seen my grief at his setbacks and awe at his patience.

And now they know that sometimes, prayers get answered.

Audrey responds:

Rachel's friend is also a friend of mine. I'm so elated for him.

Though I don't believe in miracles or the efficacy of remote prayer, I honor Rachel for visiting the hospital with her children to support our friend. In my opinion, modeling active, engaged compassion is the best way to raise compassionate human beings.

The Best Backpack Ever

Rachel writes:

You already know I am not a name brand fan. I'll buy stuff from the thrift store at every opportunity. But I make a big exception for one thing: The kid's backpacks. For that, I am willing to buy retail, pay full price, and get a really good one even if it costs more.

Early on, I discovered Land's End backpacks. When Noah was about 2, he started at preschool a couple of days a week and needed a backpack to carry diapers and supplies. I bought a small yellow backpack from Land's End. It wasn't even that expensive. I think it was about $20.

Well. That backpack lasted until Noah was in Kindergarten. Then he passed it on to his baby brother, who also used it through Kindergarten. Altogether, I think we got about 6 years out of it.

Next, I bought them both Land's End Classmate backpacks. These lasted 2 years, and I think would have been good for at least another year if our bad rabbit hadn't nibbled holes in them.

This year I procrastinated, so at the last minute we ran to Sears because they sell Land's End stuff. Not only did we find great backpacks, but they were on SALE for 30% off.

I am not a name brand kind of girl, but when it comes to backpacks, only the best will do.

How about you? Do you have a brand that you absolutely can't live without?

Do tell!

Kathy Adds:

I am not so much loyal to a product as I am to a store. I am the queen of reward cards and do all my shopping accordingly. I hit Staples for all office and school supplies, CVS for the occasional toiletry, card or gallon of milk. Dicks is the only place I go for sporting goods and DSW for shoes. I hit Barnes and Noble or Bed Bath and Beyond for gifts and household items when necessary. And then there’s Bobs, which any mother of boys has to visit only once to know they have everything boys need. While I would shop at Whole Foods every day if I could afford it, my Stop and Shop card has saved me hundreds so far this year. I rarely go to any of these places without a coupon or a check for $10 toward a purchase that I was going to have to make anyway. I have an envelope in the door of my car with all my coupons and checks in it, and always look it over before I go to make a purchase.

Many people have said that these things just lure me into the store so I buy more, but I really don’t believe that is the case. There are certain things that every family needs routinely. We are no different than anyone else. I just only buy at certain places. These stores are clean and well stocked with helpful employees. There are all conveniently located within 10 minutes of my house. At this point, I know their layouts like the back of my hand, making my trips quick and saving me time. And if I can save some money each time I shop, why not? Sign me up!

Shopping for School Clothes

When I was young, I loved shopping for school clothes with my mom. Or, I should say I loved the thought of it. Every year I imagined that I'd finally find the right combination of skirt, sweater, and shoes that would launch my social career. It never happened. My Mom would invariably veto items that were not her own taste, too expensive, or too “grown-up”. But I'm a slow learner and hope sprang eternal in my unfashionably flat chest. I especially remember princess pumps, then ribbon trimmed cardigans, then leather mini-skirts. I did have a faux leather mini that stuck to my chair and was as comfortable as a thick layer of Saran Wrap in the hot Rhode Island Septembers.

I'm assuming that parents are still buying back-to-school clothing for their young children. I wonder at what age the kids are just being handed some cash as they're dropped off at the mall. For most of my children's younger years, we shopped at an excellent resale shop in the wealthier section of Providence. The kind proprietor seemed to know every child's name and if you were looking for a special outfit for a recital or awards ceremony, she would keep an eye out. I loved that shop.

Both of my kids attended a magnet inner-city primary school and there was very little competition about fashion. Even in middle school and high school, the fashion of impossibly baggy jeans and a very large t-shirt for the boys, and tighter jeans and top for the girls seemed to foster conformity as well as any uniform. Sure, there were boys with their belts literally below their butts, and girls with clothing so tight that it seemed you could identify their internal organs, but my kids either didn't care, or knew that they weren't going to win any argument about showing underwear or the more intimate body parts.

There are many private schools in our region and I've always wondered about uniforms. The boys seem fine in sensible slacks and a polo or button down, but the girls look either frozen or entirely too sexual in their little plaid skirts.

I do have to wonder about the way some parents dress their littler children. When the 3 and 4 year old little girls at one of the nursery schools where I teach came in wearing black clothes and leopard prints, their wonderfully French teacher was appalled, saying something to the affect of, “Children should not wear black or animal, they have no idea what it's for.”

Where's the line for you on school clothes? Is it more important to fit in with a peer group, or to appear to be civilized in adult eyes? Are you the final judge or just the ATM? At what age do you just keep your eyes on the road or the newspaper and say a cheery, “Have a good day?” as they head out the door?

Kathy adds,

I feel fortunate to have my boys in a Catholic grade school and high school, so I don’t have to deal with this too much. The younger ones have uniforms, the older ones a shirt, tie and khakis. Pretty simple. Keeps the cost low which I appreciate and eliminates most of the competition.

They are growing like weeds though and need clothes for the rest of their lives. And it is at those times that I feel even more blessed. I have become the personal shopper! I love to shop, they don’t care and I spend infinitely less money shopping alone. These boys are happy when I bring home a few pairs of Levis, new shirts, a pack of boxers and some new socks. What is wrong with them? Have they no fashion sense?

I remember vividly shopping with my mom and my 3 younger sisters for school clothes. The woman is a saint. It took days. Finding something, putting it on hold in case there was something better out there, and then returning to where we started, only to buy that first item! I honestly don’t know how she did it. I am certain I would have killed me. But it was an experience, we were all together and happy and somehow the job got done.

Now that I have 2 in high school though, I am noticing a little more effort in appearance. Suddenly J Crew is much better than Kohl’s or Bob’s. Thank heaven for gift cards from the grandparents and aunts! The two of them actually pulled me aside in the Gap the other day to view a very stylish blazer, pointing out that the color was great with their red hair and made their shoulders look strapping! Maybe they don’t need a personal shopper after all……

Rachel's take,

I keep waiting for the moment when I realize that I am asleep and that this has been a dream. My kids have absolutely no interest in clothes whatsoever. We mostly load up on the basics at Wallyworld and then suppliment those with finds from the local department store thrift shop.

When I was a kid, I bitterly resented that I got all my clothes at thrift shops. Until, that is, I was able to take my own ten bucks and shop for myself. Suddenly the shopping seemed fascinating as I sifted through plaid mini skirts and dreamy 1940’s women’s blazers. I was a freak in high school, I admit, stomping down the hallways in stilleto heels with my sweaters on backwards. Once, a former babysitter ran into me on the street and pointed out that the skirt I was wearing had once been hers.

My oldest son has discovered grunge. For him the bigger, the baggier and the filthier the better. He now roots through my husband’s work clothes for jeans that are huge (on him!) and stained, ripped to shreds and apparently extremely cool.

Emmett just doesn’t want to wear power rangers anymore, thank you very much. Other than that stipulation, he’s ammenable to anything.

So, for us, school clothes shopping is a non-event. Next week they will have new shoes and the same shorts and shirts they have been wearing all summer. When the weather cools, we’ll get to the store after the rest of the frantic parents have left and pick up some stuff on sale. It’s all good!

Audrey concludes'

Okay, it seems like none of our kids are going to be voted onto the anyone's best dressed list in the near future. Parents of the fashion-forward out there, how do you deal with your Hannah Montana and P Diddy wannabes?

Hug a Grandma Today!

Have your kids hugged any older folks lately? I ask because I live in Rhode Island, which seems to be one of those rare American places where extended family still means a great deal. I know families that still gather at grandma's house for their weekly Sunday dinner. That said, my own parents moved 3000 miles across the country soon after my daughter was born, so my children saw them very rarely. Thank heavens for their father's parents. His mother was a wonderful grandmother, very loving and gentle. His father, still living, is a quirky representative from a quieter, more learned time.

I've been thinking about grandparents because there are some young people doing summer volunteer work at one of the nursing homes where I work. I wish there were many more children of all ages visiting nursing homes all the time.

Most older people love to see children and children need to realize that the old are just like them, with likes and dislikes, humor, and sometimes surprisingly interesting lives. They were young themselves, and during some very interesting times. I remember asking an 86 year old man who, at 19 had been at the bombing of Pearl Harbor if he'd been very scared. “No,” he said, “I was really mad 'cause we were supposed to have steak and eggs for breakfast, and there I was in the water thinkin', I'm not gonna get my steak and eggs!”

The young adolescent volunteers at the nursing home appear to enjoy their time there. They look confident and like to kid around with the older folks. Everybody seems to be having a great time.

If your children see their grandparents so rarely that they barely have time to get reacquainted before they say “Goodbye”, why not visit a local nursing home? Lots of folks wait until Christmas but the elderly are there all year round. Call your local nursing home and ask about volunteering to read books, sing songs, play games, or just sit and listen. It's a win-win situation for everybody concerned.

Rachel adds:

In high school, one of my brother’s friends had a regular gig going to nursing homes with his punk band. They’d show up with safety pins in their ears and funny colored hair, whip out a vintage silver microphone and start singing old standards from the 1940s. They were always a huge hit!

Social Beings

My son, Sam, wakes up every morning and asks, “who’s coming over today?”. We always have people over to our house. On a daily basis, we have at least two therapists who come to work with my son, Jack and at least one other child that I babysit. Sometimes it is a neighbor, or even a former neighbor for that matter who stops in for a quick visit. I also have friends, who live near and far, who pop in whenever they have a chance. I haven’t even mentioned any of my family members who drop in, either announced or unexpected. Some may think of these visits as impositions but we just think of it as normal life.

Growing up, my family was very social because my mother could start a conversation with anyone. When we went to the beach, which was almost daily in the summer, we would inevitably make friends with other beach-goers. At home, ur neighbors stopped over frequently for tea with my mother and of course, all the neighborhood kids would play together. We never had fancy, organized parties but we would get together with my mother’s friends on a whim.

I have always found it easy to make friends. I can talk to just about anyone. I think my kids will be able to as well. They are not shy children and when they hear a door open or a knock, they instinctively yell a cheery, “who is it?”. I think it is important to teach children, by example, how to be social member of their community. I have often thought that signing kids up for organized activities may not be the best way to teach out children socialization skills. And surprisingly, I think when kids feel comfortable around other people they also feel more comfortable being alone.

Audrey Adds:

Sharon and I are neighbors. When I visit her home, I feel instantly welcome. Her young children are shy for about 30 seconds and then they are showing me their toys and sitting on my lap to have me read a book. Usually, while I'm there, one or two other friends or neighbors or extended family will drop by. There is such a sense of ease and welcome.

I hope that lots of kids are growing up in this kind of family. It seems like a great way to show children that the world is, by and large, a friendly place and that most people are worth knowing.

Someone asked my opinion about helping children to understand and cope with events like the recent Amber Alert in our locality. I think that Sharon's family is a great model of how to innoculate your children with open friendliness towards others. We need to protect our kids from so many damaging forces, one of which is irrational fear itself.

Blackberry Surrender

It started a few years ago. I think a songbird dropped a single poop in our flower border. In that poop, the seeds of destruction were hiding. A shoot emerged the following year. Nothing to worry about, right? I donned a pair of kidskin garden gauntlets and yanked the offending shoot from the ground. It broke off suspiciously easily. A few days later, dozens more sprouts made their appearances in it’s place.

Now, at this point, I must admit that I am a weed gardener. By that I mean that the only plants that survive in my flowerbed are basically weeds. Echinacea, liatris, daylily, tickweed. I planted loosestrife before I realized what havoc it was causing in our wetlands. I look longingly at Joe Pye weed and aesclepias, knowing full well they would take over whatever ground they are planted in.

So I am not averse to weeds in the garden, but I want them to be there in my terms. The blackberries were pushy. They shot through the sweet yellow flowered bush my Italian neighbor gave me as a cutting. They bullied their way through the weedy flowers I had haphazardly planted. They marched across the shady spots, the sunny spots and everywhere in between. And every year I tried to pull them up, dig them out, catch them before they blossomed and bore fruit…. Because God knows if they drop seed, we are in trouble. The whole neighborhood will be taken over.

But this year, I got side tracked and the canes began to blossom before I got to them. And then I realized that they were heavy with unripe berries. Hundreds of them, bright red, waiting to ripen in the sun. So, against my better judgment, I left them to ripen.

Today, the harvest began. How much trouble can they cause if we are eating them, right? My 7 year old and I went out with a plastic container and collected the first cup of berries. We washed them when we noticed tiny green creatures crawling around on them. Tomorrow we’ll see if more are ripe. Then the next day. Then the next.

In the mean time, I have my gauntlet gloves ready for the final attack at the end of the summer. But secretly I wonder if a blackberry border would be such a bad thing after all.

Making Memories

I am writing this from the road. We are a day into a trip halfway across the country to see my in-laws. My family just indulged me with a stop in Shaker Heights Ohio, the place where I spent my middle school years. It wasn’t even my idea; it was my husband’s, which made it even more enjoyable. We drove past my old house, saw my Catholic grade school and had lunch in the little town I rode my bike through countless times. I was completely overwhelmed with wonderful memories of people and places from a time in my life that I remember most fondly.

It made me think that this is what I want for my children: wonderful memories. I want them to remember times when it was just the 6 of us, exploring and trying different things. All of us working together to make the trip happen. Staying up later than we should, eating things we shouldn’t and loving it! I want them to remember times when it wasn’t all about work, schedules, studying and scrimping money. I want them to notice how well they all get along without any outside influences and how happy we all are just to be together. Because we really are a happy, lucky, and blessed family. I want them to recognize that and realize it while they are in the midst of it. And if I am really lucky, someday they will drive their family thru our little town in Rhode Island……

Feed the Birds

Now that we're all trying to figure out how to have fun without driving anywhere, may I suggest a bird feeder? No, it's not a solution to the energy crisis, although I am wondering if there might not be a way to use the copious amount of bird “doo” which has accumulated below my feeder.

Bird feeders come in all shapes, sizes, and methods of hanging so there's probably a perfect bird feeder for your budget and location. Bird seed is now available at the supermarket, in the pet food aisle. There's all kinds but I buy the black oil sunflower seeds which are reputed to attract songbirds.

Bird feeders are the easiest, cheapest, most convenient way to watch real wild life. If you've got little ones who are entranced with dinosaurs, you can explain to them that birds are the living link to those long extinct monsters. And the way the finches fight at my feeder, they put veloceraptors to shame.

I am really sorry that I didn't have one of these when my kids were growing up. As it is, when my daughter came home from the Peace Corps last summer, we really bonded over finches and hairy woodpeckers. We got ridiculously excited over whether we were seeing an oriole or a goldfinch. We accumulated a library of books including the bible of bird watching; Petersons Field Guide to Birds. Peterson's not only has lovely illustrations and all the information you could wish about the birds of your area, they also have a life list which is how true birders keep track of which birds they've seen throughout their lives.

Do you have a couple of competitive children? Have them start competing life lists, posted conveniently close to the window nearest the feeder. Offer a prize to the kid who sees the first Tufted Titmouse or Red-Breasted Nuthatch or whatever cool bird flies through your part of the world. A pair of binoculars is a nice investment, in order to discern those more subtle markings, but not necessary.

Birds don't need humans to feed them, they get along fine on the foods they've eaten for millennia. But children, all of us, need to understand more about these intrepid travelers. It's one thing to see a cute little bird, it's another to learn that your feeder is a brief stop on what may be a 5000 mile journey. Sure, the zoo is a great place to see “wild” animals in their own “habitats” but the finch at your feeder is a truly wild creature. And, filling the feeder is a great chore for your nine-year-old.


Noah is off to overnight camp this week. He will be spending a week at the summer camp our Diocese runs.

I remember my mother telling wonderful stories about her experiences at bible camp as a kid. We learned all about the little practical jokes, the stories they learned, the cheesy Christian songs. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so...”

Because we weren’t church goers when I was a kid, we seemed to miss the whole overnight camp thing. Maybe we could have gone to a secular camp, but they are much more expensive. So my brother and I had a few skirmishes with day camp, but never did get to toilet paper the camp director’s cabin. Sigh.

Driving to Noah’s camp yesterday to drop him off, I felt such joy at the fact that he was going to get to experience this. The place is simply wonderful. All the councilors were friendly. Noah spent about 3 minutes feeling nervous before his cabin councilor, Andy, asked him what he wanted to listen to and started playing some pop songs on the ipod hooked up to speakers. When we left, Noah was playing frisbee with a bunch of other boys. He barely looked up to see us go.

The truth is, he probably wouldn’t have agreed to go if we hadn’t invited one of his friends to go too. Plus a couple of the councilors are teens from our church and one of the chaplains is a friend, too. I feel sure that Noah is going to feel right at home this week.

Yeah for camp!

One Cuts, The Other Choses

One Cuts, the Other Choses

I was delighted a while ago, when I caught a commercial on TV, on which a mom told one son to cut the last piece of contested dessert into two pieces and the other son would then chose which piece he wanted.

I loved discovering this technique as a young mother of two pre-teen children. This not only gets the parent out of the fight, it fosters a sharing attitude. And I'm pretty sure it gave my daughter the precision of judgement she's using at law school and my son the keen vision that has led him into art. Brilliant.

It really cools the emotional temperature of a battle over chocolate cake when the slicer has to slow her breathing and steady her hand for the important cut. Meanwhile, the choser is readying himself for an all-but-atomic level examination of the 2 pieces. This is serious stuff!

Actually, after 3 or 4 sessions of this the older child realizes that there are many more important matters, and the younger child takes her cue and adopts a more casual attitude to what previously had been a life or death power struggle.

This is an example of my favorite type of parenting technique, one that supports positive sibling-to-sibling interraction, lowers the emotional temperature of the situation, and provides a little entertainment to the onlooking parent. Obviously young children should not use any sharp implements without adult supervision.

Rachel adds:

Audrey, my parents used the 'one cuts the other chooses' technique when my brother and I were growing up. Eventually, we had to alternate who got to choose because that role seemed to have the advantage!

Sharon adds:

My children are just starting to argue, now that my daughter is two and everything is “mine, mine, mine!”. If they argue once, I remind them that they need to share or take turns. If they argue twice, then they get separated and have to play alone. It only takes about five minutes for them to realize that playing together is way more fun than playing alone. It usually solves the problem for that day, anyway. Plus, it’s an extra bonus for me to see them hug each other like they’ve been separated for months when I finally agree to let them play together again.

Party On

As my daughter’s second birthday is quickly approaching, I was thinking about how children’s birthday parties have changed. As a child I did not have big elaborate parties with bouncy houses or a petting zoo in the backyard like some, or dare I say, most kids do today. Instead, I had paper streamers, musical chairs, and pin the tail on the donkey. Let me add that a simple party was just fine because everyone had a good time anyway. I have been to a few parties at bowling alleys, cake shops, and the local Chuck E Cheese, but they are usually so scheduled and nerve-racking that I don’t really enjoy them. So I have decided to have a party that falls somewhere in between.

Anyone who knows me knows I like a party with a theme. Because Nicole is turning two, I have planned a tutu-themed party. All the little girls will have fairy princess tutus and the boys with have foam prince swords. I am making the no-sew tutus from a pattern I found on the internet for less than three dollars a piece and I was able to order the foam swords on-line for less than four dollars a piece. Having this theme also eliminates the much dreaded, waste-of-money “goody” bags that I usually give out because the tutu and swords are the favors.

The menu is equally as simple. I am serving chips, dip, and pizza strips. I’ll serve the cake, which I’ll make so that it will match the theme, along with some Hoodsie cups (this is ice cream for all you non-Rhode Islanders) for dessert. As for the games…we’ll play musical chairs and pin the tail on the donkey. Why mess with a good thing.

Kathy Adds:

Is it me or are things getting to be way too extravagant for our children? You wouldn’t believe some of the children’s parties I have been too. The amount of money spent and the indulgence is ridiculous for an adult, not to mention a child. I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money even if I had it. If we are taking our 5 year old daughters to a spa with all of their girlfriends for mani/pedis, what are they going to expect when they are 12 or 16?

I recently had a party at home for my 6 year old and it was fantastic! It was a treasure and scavenger hunt. We started out by breaking the kids up into small teams of about 3-4 kids. Each team had a cooler and much bigger brother and his buddies in charge of the group. (One poor group had to go with me and didn’t have nearly as much fun.) The teams each had a paper bag with a list of items on it and they had to go throughout our neighborhood and find them by asking neighbors to help them out. Among the items on the list were…a golf ball, paper clip, pen, nickel, yarn, and a stamp. I am sure you get the idea. The kids ran themselves around our neighborhood for a half and hour and came back hungry and happy. They were then served a gourmet delight of pigs in a blanket, (Why don’t you make these all the time my boys asked?) and sent off again in search of the treasure chest, which was hidden in my best friends yard in a wheel barrow. It was filled with candy and small toys and the kids then made their own treat bags. I made the birthday cake myself and it was one cheap party. Most importantly, it was exactly what my son wanted and everyone enjoyed themselves, even the teenagers!

The Safe Childhood

I'm reading the second book in Alexander McCall Smith's excellent series, 44 Scotland Street. Mr Smith is at his wryly observant, compassionate best in this series. It's about a varied group of residents at the eponymous address. One character is little 6 year old Bertie. Boy, does he have a bad time with his perfectly awful mother. She's a concerned, committed mother in all the worst ways. She uses her very bright little boy to play out all her own pathetic fantasies of accomplishment. And she shelters him terribly.

I grew up walking alone a mile through the woods to a lake where I, like my sister and brother before me, swam for hours in the summer.
I shudder now to think about it. My brother went scuba diving in that lake, by himself. He also hunted in the woods with a shotgun or a bow and arrow. He constructed rafts that invariably sank. Amazing! We were all young teenagers when we went on these adventures; 14, 15 years old. Would I have let my own children hunt and swim by themselves with no adults around or any kind of rescue available? I don't think so.

Now our children are constantly linked to us by cell phone. Many suburban parents do not let their young children play in the front yard without adult supervision. Unscheduled time is usually spent watching television or playing under an adult's eye on the safety-minded equipment in the backyard. Tom Sawyer would go stir-crazy!

It seems that the time for childhood adventure has past. Is this a bad thing? What do we sacrifice when safety is our highest priority?

Kathy responds:

This whole topic makes me sad. I too have tremendous memories of adventures with my sisters that just wouldn’t happen today. I suffer from the apprehension that many mothers’ feel when their kids are out of eyesight for a half an hour. I am constantly reminding myself to let my kids play, get dirty, go exploring. But there is occasionally this underlying fear of what if?

I then read a great book that helped me get over it, to some extent. It is called “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. It is all about how the feeling of fear is a gift that helps protect us, and how in American society we have gone way overboard to the extreme side of fear and protection of ourselves and our kids. It is a self help book that reads like a novel and I couldn’t put it down. Once I finished it, I recommended it to every woman in my life, because I thought it was that important for those I knew and loved to read it. His follow up book, “Protecting the Gift” deals specifically with how to protect our children, whereas the “Gift of Fear” helps us protect ourselves. Both books really changed how I handle myself in difficult situations and how I teach my children to protect themselves without scaring them to death.

Most importantly, they empowered me as a parent. These books helped me let my children make mistakes while they were with me, so that they had that experience to draw on when they weren’t. When we travel, I subtly teach them how to navigate the city we are in, and make it fun. When shopping, they wander. In an airport, they can go to the news stand and buy themselves something without my assistance. We have a plan if we ever get separated and I am confident they know what to do. Am I irresponsible? I really don’t think so.

There is someone in my life who I have watched over the years protect her children diligently. These kids always have choices, but it is between a great option, a better one and the best one of all. They very rarely fail and everything is carefully orchestrated so no that mistakes are made. A move was even contemplated to prevent their teenage driver from having to turn left when exiting their subdivision. In the end, it was decided that a series of right hand turns was a more cost effective option, but boy was there agony about that decision! Teaching the driver how to turn left at a dangerous intersection wasn’t even an option, because after all, that’s dangerous.

I want to do the best I can to keep my kids safe. Rather than limiting their experiences, I am teaching them how to handle the difficult ones when they are young and with me. They frequently fail, which is painful to watch sometimes, especially when I could have prevented it! But I hope that by doing this, when they are away from me, they can think for themselves, make good choices and be safe.

Sharon says:

I too, played in the woods with my sisters and we rode bikes in the street unsupervised (and without helmets!). Would I let my kids do it? Absolutely not! In my neighborhood, one parent, usually the mom, stayed home. Even in households where the children had long since grown and moved away, the woman continued her role as homemaker. I knew if I did anything dangerous or stupid, someone would see me and call my parents. Likewise, if I strange car pulled up and asked a group of us children for directions, a neighbor or two would be by our side in an instance. With both parents working and many single parent homes, there is no one to keep a watchful eye over the neighborhood kids anymore.

Breakfast for a crowd

This week, my 2 nieces and my nephew spent the night. We had 4 hungry kids the next morning! Rather than make individual pancakes and slave over a hot stove, I decided to bake my pancakes in a jelly roll pan. I have a stoneware bar pan from Pampered Chef. If you are using a steel or aluminum one, I would spray it with non-stick coating and then line it with parchment paper to keep the pancake from sticking.

I used a whole grain pancake mix. For the 10 x 15.5 inch bar pan, I used 2 ½ cups of mix, 2 ½ tablespoons of oil, 3 eggs and about 2 ½ cups of water. Your mix might vary a little, but I think you want to start with about 2 1/2 cups of dry mix.

Spray the pan with cooking spray. Pour the pancake batter into the pan and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The duration might vary if you are using a metal pan. I’d check it after 10 minutes.

Spread a bit of butter on the top and then cut into squares and serve with syrup.

The kids LOVED the square pancakes! Even the most finicky one went back for seconds.

Next time I will try adding some cinnamon and applesauce, chopped bananas and pecans or even ham and cheese chunks. Because the batter isn’t sweetened, I think just about anything will go with it.

Easy, quick and good for ‘em. What could be better?

Mommy Breaks

Sharon writes:

I have a confession. Yesterday, I was so tired that I lied to my child and said that I needed to go potty and then, I locked myself in the bathroom to take a nap on the bathroom floor. Keep in mind that my bathroom is not just small but extremely small. So small that while lying on a folded up beach towel (for comfort), I needed to bend my knees and lean my legs against the door. There wasn’t even enough room to fold my arms under my head because my elbows would hit the closet door on one side and the toilet on the other. So, therefore, I had to keep my arms above my head but slightly curved so that they wouldn’t hit the wall at the opposite end of the bathroom. After a quite refreshing 20 minute cat nap, I couldn’t feel my arms or legs because the “pins and needle” feeling was so bad.
You may ask why I didn’t just nap like a normal person on the couch or in my bed. It is because I have a four-year old with a mommy-tracking / sleep detecting system so strong that the military would be jealous. I could clean the entire house, wrap a million presents, or bake a wedding cake and I could probably get away with it with minimal interruption if I put on a Scooby- Doo video. But the minute I lie down and close my eyes my son is hovering over me. I can ask him to let me rest for a minute and he will agree that it’s a good idea. So good, in fact, that he will decide to join me. He’ll want to “cuddle”. And by “cuddle”, I mean lay next to me or on top of me. Inevitably, some part of his bony little four-year old body will be poking me, usually an elbow in the ribs or his chin in my back. I should also mention that he is not very still. Or quiet. He’ll talk continuously, saying things like, “Are you sleeping yet Mommy?” or “It’s always good to take a rest when you’re tired, isn’t it Mommy?”. This was not working so I went to the one place where I still have peace and privacy, but this place is usually where I make important phone calls, the bathroom. I know that I am lucky because some mothers don’t even catch a break in the bathroom.
The whole incident made me realize that I don’t make enough of an effort to take “Mommy Breaks”. I usually feel so guilty that I plan my “alone time” for after the children are in bed. But, honestly, after the kids are in bed I usually have to straighten up the house or finish the laundry and then I am just too tired to do anything. I need to make plans during normal, daylight hours to do something for me, whether it’s going to get a manicure, going out for a run, or just to take a nap. I think taking a “Mommy Break” once in a while will actually help me to be a better mother. After all, how can I take care of other people if I don’t take care of myself? Sadly, I know I am not the only mother out there neglecting myself so I hope my “napping on the bathroom floor” story helps other women recognize the need for a “Mommy Break” as well. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in this case, a desperate mommy calls for the babysitter!

Rachel says:

Sharon, what a funny (and strangely familiar) story! My kids are now old enough so that I can lie down for a nap more or less uninterrupted but there were certainly times when I would hire a babysitter, put in some ear plugs and shut my bedroom door.

I can’t wait to see what the comments are on this one!

Audrey adds:

Ah, those days when I would have cheerfully boarded the next jet to India, leaving a little note,
“Sorry my dear children, you are wonderful, but I now realize it would be less stressful to be a street musician in New Delhi, than to spend one more day not being able to pee without someone watching me.”
Now I call my kids, not too often, and ask for a few news items about their exciting independent lives. No, I don't want company in the bathroom, but.....

7 Words

With the recent death of one of my heroes, George Carlin, I am thinking about words. George Carlin was a master of the English language. Check out his performances on Youtube to hear his flawless delivery. He was most famous for his piece on the 7 words you can't say on television. He recited these words like poetry, like a song. He made them approachable, friendly. He helped us to understand that the only power they hold is the power we invest in them from our own feelings about the human body and it's functions.

I remember my mom's technique with “bad” words. She would arrive at the word she herself had obviously chosen and either whisper or spell it. How odd! Her manner gave the word such mystical power! We all knew what she was saying, what exactly did the whispering or spelling do?

By the time my own children were growing up and attending school in inner city Providence, they heard every word, every day. Not that there weren't people, mostly the church-going folks, who would ostentatiously shush anyone who blasphemed in their hearing. I had by that time become a George Carlin convert, a relaxed Christian, and
a rather clumsy, do-it-yourself homeowner, so they heard a few obscenities and blasphemies from my very own mouth.

I don't advocate the use of these words by or in the hearing of children who are too young to have a good command of the English language. Both of my children understood that the use of such words in public places and outside of one's peer group must be weighed carefully. They never used the words in front of their paternal grandparents; a minister and his wife. My children are both articulate, intelligent people with large vocabularies. They also understood that those 7 or so words, which seem to have such power over so many people, are no more or less powerful than any other word. And that giving them power is indulging in a kind of Victorian bowdlerism that makes hypocrites and cowards of us all.

So thank you, Mr Carlin, for your authenticity and wit. Thank you for always urging us to take a fresh look at our words and our world.

And the next time I stub my toe, or hammer my thumb instead of the intended nail, after everything else I say, I'll thank you once again.

Childhood Memories

While sitting around a campfire this weekend, I was reminded of all the wonderful things that I used to look forward to during the summer months when I was a child. I knew summer had arrived when my sisters and I ran around outside with no shoes on from dawn until dusk. And on those hot summer days we would get giddy just hearing the sound of the ice cream man’s bell far in the distance. We would wait on the curb, with our dollars in hand, for what seemed like hours. Eventually, we would be rewarded with an Italian Ice or a Nutty Buddy.

My family also spent a lot of time at the beach. We would leave early in the morning in order to stop at Allies Donuts along the way for what was the best and biggest donut I had ever tasted. On the Fourth of July we would stay well after dark and light a campfire. We would toast marshmallows and make S’mores. Nothing beats the taste of a crispy marshmallow with a warm, mushy center smooshed between chocolate and graham crackers. I get chills just thinking about it!

When I think back to all the beach houses we rented and the campgrounds where we slept in tents, I always find it is the little things I remember. Like Kool-Aid mustaches, burying my feet in the warm beach sand, and trying to catch lightning bugs in jars. Now that my babies are growing up (the boys are four and my daughter is nearly two!), I look forward to sharing these little things with them all summer long. I can’t wait to see the smiles on their Kool-Aid stained faces.

Having a Baby, Raising a Person

17 teenagers at Gloucester High School made a pact to get pregnant. 17 girls made a decision that, one way or another, will change the course of their entire lives. What were they thinking? Well, I'm sure they weren't thinking, “I'm going to get pregnant and then raise a person!”

No, they were each thinking, with dreamy visions of sweet pudgy toes and chubby tummies, “I'm having a baby!”

I don't want to seem flippant about the sad, foolish pact these children made. Doubtless there will be ongoing debates about the best way to change a girl's circumstances so that she doesn't think a baby is the only way escape an otherwise grinding existence.

But maybe we could start by owning that motherhood is a 25 year journey. We do give birth to babies, but we have those babies for under two years at the most, and then they are toddlers, frequently willful, loud, egocentric toddlers. Then we are parenting school children, for 12-16 years. Then, if we've done a reasonably adequate job, the young adults we've loved and nurtured begin to make their own way and we are left to figure out the second half of our own lives.

We don't have babies, we have people. If we are lucky, we spend perhaps 1/25th of our mothering lives with real, cooing pudgy babies. Often our babies are bawling, frustrated, smelly, violent egomaniacs. I know this to be true and I love babies. I love motherhood, but it's not a Disney colored dream, it's difficult, sometimes dirty, sometimes heartbreaking, joyous work. Perhaps one of the most powerful things we can do to curb teen pregnancy, and to legitimize and prioritize the work of parenting is to rename it:
We are not having babies, we are raising people.

Kathy’s response:

Wow! What a topic. I saw this on the news and it just floored me.
What could these girls possibly be thinking? Or is it rather that they are not thinking? Either way, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend and doctor who is the mother of 2 girls. I respect her opinion very much. We were discussing the mistakes our children would inevitably make and how best to handle them.

She told me that she had mentioned to her girls that there are really only two mistakes you might make that you can’t change, fix or take back. One is killing someone. Nothing you ever do will bring that person back. The other is becoming a parent too soon. Once you become a parent, you will always be one, whether you take responsibility for that or not. It will change your life forever. While many of those changes are miraculous, most alter the course of your life and temporarily limit your options.

How I wish someone had pointed that out to these girls! While they will no doubt love these children, they could have done better, for themselves and for their future children.

My husband mentioned when discussing this that these girls had no hope in their home. It’s not the schools fault or the town’s atmosphere; it’s their homes, and what they feel there. Had they had hope for their future and all they could accomplish, they might not have had such a hopeful romantic view of parenthood arriving too soon. Maybe, while we are raising people, we should focus on the hope of all they can be and accomplish. We can raise them to be smart adults, who when able, are well equipped to raise people.

Sharon also responds:

Not only was I shocked by what I read in the newspapers, but I was saddened. Sad for the girls and all the fun they would miss, sad for their parents and siblings who will surely have to share the burden, and. of course, sad for the babies being born. I am not saying that all young mothers are bad mothers. I am just saying that any girl who enters into a pact to have a child without recognizing the consequences is definitely too immature to be a good mother. Being a mom at any age is difficult but I can’t even comprehend what being a mom at sixteen must be like.

I don’t understand why anyone would choose to do this. I fear it is because some celebrities in Hollywood are becoming pregnant at such a young age and without partners. Does having a baby seem glamorous? Trust me, it is not. Maternity clothes, hemorrhoids, poopy diapers, and spit-up are anything but glamorous.

Summer Fun and..... Chores?

As of this Tuesday, I have 4 boys home for the summer. I have many fun activities planned. But, I have discovered one thing that has really helped to keep me sane when we are all together, and make our fun times even more fun. And that is…..CHORES!

We start each day with a list of things that need to get done before we head out for the day. You wouldn’t believe the list I had in my head before they were even out of school! I am actually excited about it! We will spend about an hour together every morning, making sure the usual stuff is done: beds made, bathrooms and kitchen cleaned. In addition, I always have a project: clean the garage, basement, fridge, pull weeds in one of the gardens, pack up old toys for Savers etc. This really helps to keep my house somewhat clean when all six of us and the dog are home, and it does a lot to keep me sane. I enjoy my time with my kids when I know we are on top of things at home. It also helps my sons realize the amount of work involved in keeping a house orderly and they have learned to take great pride in a job well done.

They also have learned to give back to me. They know that 75% of my day is about them and keeping them busy and happy. They can give me an hour of their time to get things done that are important to me and the maintenance of our house. And when we are done… we are off to
have fun!!!!

Audrey responds:

Chores, what Chores? Probably because I resented the huge amount of work I, and especially my older brother had to do as children, my kids had very few chores. I decided that I didn't care about unmade beds and that it was less trouble to clean the kitchen myself than to do battle at 7pm.

Have there been dire consequences? I don't think so. My adult children work hard for their goals and pitch in with chores when they visit. If I don't like the state of their kitchens when I visit them, we can always eat out.

Lies, truth, consequences

Hi 4Moms,

I am concerned that my child’s “little white lies” are becoming a problem. Does anyone have suggestions for “curing” my nine year old of this horrible habit? My mother used to tell me when I was a child, “If you’ve done something wrong and tell the truth about it, I will be easier on you than if you lie about it when I ask you about it”. I convey this message to my kid and she stands firm that she is telling the truth. It infuriates me to think that she is not telling the truth and yet part of me always doubts her even when she seems to be truthful.

We are not talking about a kid who is constantly naughty or spoiled rotten. This kid has rules and boundaries that I am consistent with and I follow through on the punishments I give. This issue is just a small one now but I worry if I don’t nip it in the bud, I will be threatening my 22 year old that her nose will grow if she tells a lie. Any pearls of wisdom or unique tricks to solve my dilemma?

Signed, Dreaming of the truth

Audrey answers:

Kids lie, yes they do. And so did we. I'm not an expert on the stages of growth but it seems to me that we all had that “Aha!” moment when we realized that we could withhold the truth or lie to our parents. What power! Perhaps all we can do is model honesty and authenticity with our kids. So, we don't get to lie in front of them, saying, “ I'd love to come!” to an unwanted invitation and then making up an excuse later on. Kids can sense a line of “malarky” from a mile away, so we can't say, “No, your Uncle Theodore does not smell!” when both you and your 6 year old have had to share a long car ride with said hygiene-challenged uncle. It isn't always easy. At some point, some friend is going to lie to your daughter. If you are lucky, she'll come to you and then you both can talk about how lying hurts. Or, the next time you know she's lied, wait a couple of hours and then tell her that you made her favorite dessert. When she's eaten her dinner, and looking forward to her big, delicious piece of chocolate cake tell her, “Sorry, I lied!” That should get a dialogue started, while the two of you make the chocolate cake together.

Rachel responds:

For a very brief period, when my younger son, Emmett, was about 5, he told a few lies. When I caught him in one, we talked about how important it is to build trust, and how easy it is to lose that trust. When I asked him if he had told other lies, he remembered 3 or 4 times. To this day, if we have a conversation about honesty, he remembers those incidents.

If your daughter isn’t willing to fess up, I think it is time to begin discipline. Make it dramatic, like sending her to her room for a whole day. It is critical to impress upon her the importance of honesty. I only had to send my older son, Noah, to his room for a whole day once. After that he knew that I meant business. With Emmett, I never had to do it because he saw what a bummer it was for Noah and learned from his brother’s experience. (Would that we all could do that!)

(Incidentally, I have Noah and Emmett’s permission to share this!)

Kathy adds:

I confess I am going through a little bit of this myself right now. I have a 10 year old who literally will be caught in the act of doing something, and deny, deny, deny that he is doing it. Then he gets incredibly offended and teary that I don’t believe him when he says he wasn’t ….pushing someone into the pool. When I clearly saw it with my own eyes! I have decided to play hardball and take Rachel and Audrey’s advice, because this makes me crazy with anger. I just don’t get it! We are going to have a heart to heart about it, discuss issues of trust, and come up with a plan for the consequences going forward. I am also going to start making statements and stop asking him questions that give him an opportunity to lie to me. For example, rather than saying: “Why did you push Jack in the pool? I will say, “I saw you push Jack in the pool. You and your friends are being too rough with each other and it’s not safe. You are also setting a bad example for your little brother and his friends. Someone is going to get hurt. If I see that behavior again, we are leaving.” I am hoping it works! I will let you know how it goes……

Don't Forget to Waste Time

How old are you? If you are around my age; a child of the 50s or 60s, you may remember long aimless bike rides, endless hours by the lake or pool, whole afternoons spent in a hammock with a book. Or maybe you're a city kid and spent summers on the stoop in day- long conversation with the same friends you'd talk to the day before. You'd come in for supper to the usual:

“Where have you been?”
“What have you been doing?”

Do kids waste time any more? Perhaps it's impossible now. With both parents needing to work, with the lack of unscheduled time and the pressure to succeed, maybe there's no space for children to “waste” their summer.

I urge parents; don't over-schedule summer. Even in our performance driven society, surely, one sports team membership, one “enriching” activity is enough. Don't be afraid of your children sometimes doing “nothing”. And by nothing, I don't mean watching TV or playing video games. I mean breathing, looking, listening, dreaming. Childhood and summer is so short, make sure they get to “waste” at least a little of it.

Summer Sanity Savers for Stay at Home Moms

Rachel writes:

I admit it. There are 4 days left of school and I am beginning to experience the annual “Oh my God, what am I going to do with the kids all summer?” blues. Every year since they started school I have faced the summer with a sense of low level concern that I am going to be certifiable by August.

Here’s the thing, though. After a few years of this, I am finding ways to keep sane and even have a great time. Here are my sanity savers for the coming summer months. What are yours? Feel free to comment!

The beach bag.

I am not a beach person. I am a redhead. Redheads cower from the sun like vampires. But I have learned to overcome my phobia of old Sol by being well prepared. At the beginning of the summer I pack a big tote bag with essential beach items. SPF 6000 for me. Kids sunblock for the boys (who luckily have darker complexions.) An old tablecloth that doubles as a blanket. A couple of mismatched old towels from the back of the linen closet. With the bag I carry a beach chair and an umbrella. These things live in the back of the minivan all summer so that when we get the hankering to go off to the beach, we just jump into our suits and go. This could just as easily work if you joined a pool or have a lake or pond in the area. Throw in a gripping novel and you have a day in paradise.


This is huge on my list of sanity savers for summer. For a long time I was a member of a church that basically shut down in the summer. Sunday school was canceled until September. There were no summer activities for the kids. My new church, on the other hand, has started offering all kinds of things for adults and kids all summer long. For example, our high school and college kids are going to run a Sunday school ‘camp’ so that parents can continue to participate in the adult religious education programs before the services. This happened because parents talked to the priests and asked for things for the kids. Summer is the time we need it the most! If you don’t have a religious community, check out things like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs or any other kind of program available for kids and adults.


I am a person who needs some kind of schedule or I go crazy. If left to my own devices, I wouldn’t be ready to leave the house until noon. During the school year, this isn’t a problem because I have a reason to get up and out every day. (School, church, etc.) But in the summer, I can find myself in my jammies at 10:43 am and wondering where half the day has gone. So this year, I am going to create a schedule for myself that requires me to be up and ready to face the day by 8:00 every morning.

Me Time.

Yes, I am going to hire a baby sitter once or twice a week so I can have some time to myself. Maybe I’ll go to the gym. Maybe I’ll do the grocery shopping. Alone. Maybe I will take a nap, take a drumming class, take a walk. Whatever it is, it is worth the $7 or $8 bucks for an hour to myself.

And speaking of grocery shopping: In my area there are stores that deliver now. So for that same $7 or $8 you can order your groceries online and the next day they show up on a truck. How cool is that?!

Summer is here. Let’s have some fun! Tell us in the comments what you do to stay sane.

Summertime Fun

Sharon writes:

My children and I like to play outdoors all year long, but the warm weather let’s us incorporate some “messy” fun into our routine. Here are some suggestions for some good old summertime fun:

Use small cups of plain water and some paint brushes and let kids “paint” on fences, driveways, or sidewalks. The water will dry quickly enough so that they will always have a fresh canvas on which to paint.

Fill beach pails with sand box sand and add water. Your kids will spend hours making mud pies. When they are finished, dump out the mud on a patio or driveway. When it dries, sweep it up and put it back in the sandbox.

Fill empty plastic soda bottles with a little water. Arrange them like bowling pins and have an outdoor bowling game.

Use sidewalk chalk to draw roadways on a patio or driveway. Be sure to draw in an area for a “car wash”. Children can take turns washing their tricycles and bikes.

Set up obstacle courses in your back yard. Include a tunnel to climb through, a hoola hoop, a jump rope, bouncy balls, and a ring toss. Kids can take turns rearranging the course or making up new uses for the equipment.

If you’re looking for some new toys to add some fun to your summer, here are my favorite picks. They are my absolute favorites and my kids love them too!

Favorite Toy for Turn-Taking:

Stomp® on the Launch Pad and a blast of air propels the Stomp Rocket® over 100 feet in the air! The kit comes with 4 foam rockets. The Junior is designed for ages 3 and up.

Favorite “Make-Pretend” Toy:

Let children’s imaginations run wild when they play with this tent. With the look of 2 castle towers and a connecting passage there is plenty of space for them to play with friends or alone. Closeable doors and windows help to keep the castle private, but don’t prevent airflow. The castle also provides a place to store toys and stuffed animals.

Favorite Ride-On Toy:

PlasmaCar Ride-On Vehicle
• Kid-powered ride-on toy is set in motion by your child’s energy• This unique vehicle moves with gravity, centrifugal force and friction—no batteries required• Turn the steering wheel from right to left to propel it forward• Made of sturdy plastic with a contoured seat; holds up to 220 lbs. on smooth surfaces, 120 lbs. on rough surfaces• For ages 3 yrs. and up; 16.5Hx31.13Wx14.25D"• 2005 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal
Available at Target.

The Best Bubbles Ever!

Five bubble ports are the secret to making oodles of bubbles with one easy blow. Set includes one easy-grip wand, a non-spill tray and four ounces of Bubble Oodles formula. Through play, children develop the self-esteem, coordination and social skills necessary to grow. Use Bubble Oodles to develop your child's fine motor skills and cause and effect cognitive skills.
Available at Gymboree.

Underage Drinking

Dear 4 Moms,

I recently arrived home from work to find my 19 year old son with his feet up casually drinking a beer. When I tried to calmly address this with him, he used the excuse of having a tough day at work. He just moved back from college two weeks ago and began working for a landscape company. He believes that because he is working and behaving as an adult, why shouldn't he be able to have a cold one if he wants to. As our conversation turned to argument and I started to lose my cool and composure, he laughed at me and told me how cute I am when I am angry. Any advice on how to handle this?


Audrey replies:

Hi Tracy,
I won't answer your question directly, instead I'll talk about my own experience.

Early in his college career, my son came home for a weekend to help me with heavy yard work. I like to think that he and I have a good relationship and that he feels he can talk to me about pretty much anything he needs to without fear of censure or withdrawal on my part. He'd already told me about being arrested for graffiti and my reaction had been to ask if they were using electronic fingerprinting now, as opposed to back when I was arrested, for civil disobedience, in the 70s. I listened calmly while he described being in New York City's central holding overnight. See, I'm a groovy mom.

During that same conversation, I also took it upon myself to ask him if he'd tried various drugs, other than pot, which I knew he smoked. We had pretty educational (at least for me) conversation about that subject. I was proud of my open-minded accessibility, I can tell you.

Then he came home. I had bought a small chain saw and was wearing gloves, safety glasses, and jeans whenever I used it. My son laughed at all that stuff (see previous “Helmet Wars” post) and wouldn't use it. I didn't make him.

That night he went out with some friends. The next morning, when I got up to go to work, I found a cigarette butt on my kitchen floor. There went the “groovy” mom. Now, you've got to know 3 things: I'd just bought my little bungalow all by myself, the kitchen floor is carpeted (came with the house), and I am a runner and a singer and I despise cigarettes. I saw that butt and went ballistic. It was about 5 am and I'd heard my son come home around 2. Well, he was going to lose some beauty sleep.
I knocked on his door and when I heard the sleepy, “Come in.” I went in, stood over his bed, and yelled like I've never yelled before. Really, my kids know where I stand on things, but I'm not a yeller.
In no uncertain terms, I allowed myself to tell him how disappointed I was with his behavior, I expressed my anger at his callousness about fire and the risk to my property, and most importantly, my fear at the idea of him being a smoker. If it sounds like I spoke politely, let me correct that impression. I didn't.

A few days later, I was at the therapist who was helping me process my fairly recent divorce. I told him the whole story I've just related to you and he said, “Well, he pushed and pushed, and finally got your attention didn't he?” Duh! I felt the proverbial lightbulb go off above my head. I was relearning that old lesson, ie, my son does not need me to be a friend, he needs me to be his mom. At that point, with the divorce, adjusting to college, the move to a house he hadn't grown up in, my son needed to know that at least one thing hadn't changed; he needed to know that I was who I had always been, his mom.

Tracy, look at your son's flagrant behavior, his language. Think about when he was 2 or 3 and would act badly and then glance over at you to make sure you were looking. The saddest children I've seen are those whose parents want to be their friends. Our growing sons desparately need us to be moms, even if they'd deny it with every breath. We cannot control or shelter them but we can let them know what we believe and were we stand. We can, we should, they want us to.

Kathy responds:

Wow! I dread this day and I know that as the mother of 4 sons, it is going to come. My husband is a big fan of beer, not to excess, but does enjoy it after a long day. Okay, sometimes short days too. So, my kids have seen this behavior. We also have alcoholism in our family, which makes us very cognizant of setting an example of responsible drinking behavior. I write this the morning after 2 glasses of wine during dinner with my husband, which I am thinking might have been one too many for me. :-)

I am learning as I get older that when I don’t know how to respond, or am aware I am going to respond badly, to step away for a minute and regroup. This helps me to be less emotional and hopefully clear speaking and rational. The conversation I would hope to have would start out sympathetic. You are working really hard, it’s tough I know. Then I would let him know how proud I am of that behavior, his responsible attitude and the path he is taking toward becoming a responsible adult. Then, you drop the bomb. He is not a responsible adult yet. Responsible adults don’t live with their mommy. They don’t break the law, which he is doing by drinking underage. (Correct? Is it still 21?) Responsible adults honor their parents, and aren’t disrespectful by breaking the law in their mother’s house and telling her she is cute when she is angry.

Next, lay out the consequence for that behavior. I don’t know what that would be in your family, but I am assuming he is somewhat dependent on you for something other than shelter. Maybe this time he gets a free pass, as your expectations weren’t discussed prior to this incident, but now he knows. So how will you handle this going forward, and are you prepared to follow thru? You are still the Mom, no matter how old the kid is. It is your job to point out bad behavior and help your kids get thru it. You also have the right to be respected throughout that process. You won’t get that respect if you don’t do your job well.

Rachel chimes in:

Lately there have been a rash of deaths here in RI associated with underage drinking. In many of the cases, parents were either directly involved in supplying the alcohol, or they willingly turned a blind eye and allowed the kids to drink in the house. As parents, we have to be very clear about our position on this issue. It really is a matter of life or death. And while I don’t think Tracey’s son is going to get hurt having one beer, it is clear that he doesn’t take Tracey or the situation seriously. I agree with Audrey and Kathy that it is time to set very clear boundaries.

Letting Go

Audrey writes:

Last month, when my dear 25 year old daughter didn't respond to 2 or 3 phone calls over the course of 3 or 4 days, I got anxious. It doesn't make any sense. She's terrifically competent, widely traveled, and was in the Peace Corps for 2 years. She can take care of herself. And between law school, work, volunteering, and a rich social life, she's pretty busy. Still, after not hearing from her, my mommy brain kicked in. It was obvious to me that she was dead. Yes, I'm going to use that word.

When she first got her driving license and negelected to honor our agreement that she would call me when she'd reached her destination, I explained my “reasoning”,
“When I don't hear from you, I'm not thinking, gee, she's stopped to talk to friends, or she's just forgotten. No, I'm thinking:

I think that this over-the-top behavior is a vestigial primitive glitch that comes with your baby's birth. That baby's birth also brings the frightening realisation that we cannot always protect our children from this vast, dangerous world. This sense of helplessness can be taken way too far. At the nursery schools where I work, it is not the children who have separation anxiety, it is definitely the moms. Moms who come back for one more hug after the child is busy with her friends, moms who won't leave the classroom at all.

When my daughter left for the Peace Corps, after having already been away at college, there were folks in my town, including a couple of her high school teachers who said, “How can you let her go so far?” I didn't respond by saying that I thought her leaving was preferable to an alternate situation I've seen way too often; having one's child, his lover, and their baby living in one's basement.

Yes, letting go hurts. Yes, I cry. My son just graduated college and is living in New York City. My daughter just bought a scooter (and helmet) to commute to school and work. I miss both of my children and I understand that I need to stretch myself to cope with their widening horizons.
Me? I've just started a blog.

Kathy replies:

While Audrey was watching her son graduate from college, I was DC with my teenage sons. We were there to watch the younger one compete in a national competition, but decided to spend some time looking at colleges for the older one.

This is my first experience with this, and I’d like to think I handled it well. But on the inside, I was frantic. He wants to be in a city, he wants to travel abroad, DC is so far away! Of course I want all these things for him. I don’t know any boy more capable of handling it than him. But what if something like 9/11 happens again- we need to have a plan for him. I though about that all weekend, which kept me from thinking about the bigger issue. He will eventually leave, they all will. I can’t even think about it, without being reduced to tears. He is my first of four, and I can’t imagine not seeing him everyday. I can’t imagine going days without speaking to each other. They are my whole world. Thank God I have 2 years to get used to the idea. But will I? Ever?

But it does beat the alternative, as Audrey pointed out. Isn’t this what we want? To raise independent responsible people who can take care of themselves; adults who are not dependent on their parents for food, shelter and clothing well into their 30’s!

Maybe we just want them to check in and let us know they are alright. Pretend that they still need us. If they do that, maybe letting go won’t be so hard.

Food Fights

Sharon writes:

Getting toddlers to eat their fruits and vegetables is tough. Getting three toddlers to eat their fruits and vegetables is nearly impossible. I have found a few simple “tricks” that help to ensure that meal time is a little easier to digest:

Almost any child will eat vegetables if they can be dipped in something, whether it’s ketchup or ranch dressing. My daughter even dips cooked carrots in ketchup!

Kids love to eat with their hands. I never get an argument if I serve corn on the cob or watermelon as a side dish.

Sometimes I’ll serve “snacks” for lunch. This consists of chunks of cheese, raisins, black olives, and small crackers. When all the food is snack-like, kids don’t realize that it is also good for them.

When making french toast, I add a few tablespoons of mashed sweet potato to the egg mixture before soaking the bread. It gives the toast a light, sweet flavor and boosts the nutritional value.

Audrey's Hardcore Food Policy:

I never cooked different foods for my children. Luckily, neither of them was a picky eater. Even when they were babies, I would puree whatever I'd prepared for their father and I, and that's what they got. My daughter loved pureed stir fry though it looked like the dog's dinner to me. When the kids got older, if they said they didn't like whatever I'd prepared for supper, I'd simply say, “That's fine, the next meal is breakfast.”

The last year I made my daughter's lunch, she convinced me that she hated peanut butter so I spent a year without using that marvelous staple of sandwich making. When September rolled around again, I told her that she was now in charge of her own lunches. She made herself peanut butter sandwiches almost every day.

Rachel adds:

Really, I think the most remarkable thing about the food fight in our household is that it is a total non-issue. Right from the start, I decided that this was not going to be a battle I was interested in fighting. I serve the kids whatever we are eating. I have never made a big fuss about having to eat anything in particular, I just put things on their plates and have discovered that most of the time they will eat their vegetables without a problem. In fact, my kids love veggies now. A pediatrician once told me that as long as they had a more or less balanced diet on a weekly (not daily) basis, they would be fine. From that point on, I never worried about it.

Kathy has a great solution!

I wish I could take credit for the wonderful sense of adventure my children have regarding food. The hotter and spicier the better, as far as they are concerned! This all comes from their father, who does most of the cooking, and will truly eat anything. What I tell the moms who ask for my advice on this topic, comes from Ellen Satter, a nutritionist out of the University of Wisconsin. She writes great books about feeding children. She states simply that is our responsibility to provide healthy food for our children, it’s their responsibility to eat it… or not. As a young mother, this was liberating for me! I did my job, and put a reasonably healthy meal in front of them. If they didn’t eat it, that was their problem. Another meal would come along in a few hours, and then maybe they could get Dad to cook it!

The Helmet Wars

Audrey writes:

I guess my son was about 12 or 13 during our Helmet War. It might be more accurate to call it the Helmet Negotiation. We'd already had some “discussions” about bicycle safety. Then we moved into a neighborhood where a group of boys around my son's age spent hours on their skateboards every day. About 6 boys. None of them wore helmets, or knee pads, or elbow pads, or any type of safety gear. It drove me crazy. What really drove me crazy was the attitude of the boys' mothers. It seemed to me that if we banded together and laid down the law about safety equipment, all of our sons would have to use it and none of them would feel dorky or overprotected. No, nope, none of the other moms were interested. They said things like, “Whaddaya gonna do?” and “Boys will be boys.”

Halfway through the summer, one boy fell badly off his skateboard. He suffered a compound fracture in his lower arm. Two days after the event, I spoke to one of his friends who'd seen the accident; the boy was still shaken describing the bone coming out of his friend's skin. Still, no safety equipment.

Naturally, my son did not want to be the only boy wearing a helmet and pads. Naturally, I did not want my son to have an horrific skull injury just so that his 12 year old ego could remain unbruised.

I offered a negotiation. We would each research to support our side of the argument. If he could find data disproving a link between helmets, etc and safety, he could ride without them. If I found data supporting a link between lack of safety gear and injury, he would have to use them. Of course I won, and learned to use the term “eggshell fracture” with confidence. My son honored his side of the bargain by not bicycling or skateboarding at all. Or he just waited until he was out of my line of sight before using a friend's bike or board.

Whaddaya gonna do? I often see adults bicycling without helmets. Sometimes they have young children with them who are wearing helmets. It seems to me that the message they are giving to their children is, “Wearing safety gear is nerdy and childish. You have to wear it now, but when you get older, you won't.” I wish that safety gear was sexier, it ain't. Helmet hair is not a good look. All the cool competitive skateboarders wear helmets and gear but that doesn't seem to translate to the kids on the street.

I think that my son learned that I wasn't going to give in when his safety was a stake. I hope he understood that I cared enough about his health to be unpopular with my own neighbors and to put being his mother above being his buddy. When he went off to college in New York City, I willed myself not to imagine him careering through traffic without a helmet.
I still wonder about other parents and the helmet wars. What's your take?

Rachel replies:

Not only do I make my kids wear their helmets, but I insist that their friends do too. If a friend shows up at our house on a bike without one, I send him home to get it. At first Noah's friends were aghast, but after a few times, they knew I was serious and started to show up wearing helmets. If they claim not to have one, I have extras to spare!

And by the way, my husband and I always wear our helmets too.

Skin Deep

Dear 4 Moms,

We are very close to another family that has 11 and 13 year old girls like we do. We are compatible in most ways and enjoy each other's company several times a week. However, I have a problem with the way the mother is constantly commenting on her daughters' appearance. She is forever fawning over them, saying how gorgeous they are, how beautiful they look in these pants, that shirt, their skin, their blond hair, their blue seems to be getting more excessive as they get older.

Frankly, it makes me squirm and I don't what, if anything, I should say to her. I love her girls and we would miss them greatly if we had a falling out, but I don't think her behavior is healthy for them (or for my kids for that matter). Is there a way I can confront her without alienating this family? Should I say something privately to my own girls?

Rachel’s take:

How big an issue is this for you? Are you willing to lose a friendship over it? The fact is, we all have different parenting styles and it is important to give people slack in the way they raise their kids. Unless their behavior poses some kind of danger, it is really not our business how they handle their own kids. I think it IS appropriate to talk to your own children about it, especially if they bring it up in a way that compares your family to their friends. “Why can’t I get as many new clothes as Janey does?” can invite a conversation about how different families have different values and rules. I would caution you not to condemn the other mom, however. Just explain that her choices are different from yours.

And honestly, I used to have a friend that thought she knew everything about parenting and was always trying to tell me the ‘right’ way to do things. It was really irritating.

Audrey's response:

You don't say how long you've known this couple or how close you are with the mom. If she is really focused on fashion and appearance, I would say that your chances of changing her behavior are pretty slim. That being said, I would counter every remark of "Oh Alexa, you are so beautiful in that spangled tube top!" with "Yup, and I bet you can do a mean cartwheel."or "And I know you can spell like nobody's business, spell MIssissippi!" If she remarks on your remarks, I would sit down with her and say frankly but gently that you are not comfortable that she praises her children's appearance so often in front of you and your children. I might say something like, "I'm a little uncomfortable that you praise Alexa and Natasha's looks so often. Your kids are gorgeous but they're also really funny and smart. Can we maybe tone down the physical compliments a bit?And if your own children bring up the issue, you can use it as moment to talk to them about what's important in your family compared to what the society thinks. This is an important issue for every child, especially girls.

Sharon adds:

Sadly, my mother was guilty of this kind of praise with me and my two sisters. Unfortunately, it came from her mother always telling her she wasn't pretty enough! I agree with Audrey to make sure that all the children involved realize you can be great at many different things in addition to being physically attractive. This is not something to keep quiet about as it can be quite harmful.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Feel free to comment!

Children's Birthday Gifts

Sharon says,
I find that as the temperature warms up, the number of birthday parties I am invited to increases as well. Often, the biggest dilemma is what to get for a gift and how much do I spend? I remember when I was a little girl, I received toys from my friends and clothing from relatives.
It seems today that it is not uncommon for parents to request gifts for their child. I myself find it offensive to see “Jeffrey would love to have gifts cards for the Gap” scrawled on the bottom of the invitation. This year, I have decided that my gift will consist of a small toy along with a small item of clothing, whether it be a sand pail and a swimsuit, or pajamas and a small teddy bear. I think this will satisfy the needs of the child and the parent.

Rachel adds,
I have to admit that I am mostly very lazy about getting gifts for my sons' friends. Usually it is a last minute trip to Wally world for a box of Legos or some sort of action figure. But once I had a great idea for a friends daughter's birthday. She was about 5 at the time and I got her a whole collection of things for baking. I found a mini muffin pan, a small whisk, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons and a couple boxes of cake mix. I packed it all up in a basket from a discount shop. To this you could add a little apron made from a square of cloth and some ribbons, and even a chef's hat made from white cardboard stapled into a tube. My friend's daughter loved it and they had a great time making cakes and muffins together! And if you do your shopping at a dollar discount store, the whole gift would be very inexpensive.

Talking about tragedy with children

Audrey writes:

The dreadful tragedies in Burma and China are all over the news these past few days. Even if you don't watch TV, it's difficult to filter the radio and the newspapers for the young ones in your family. Our children can be finely tuned to every fluctuation in our emotional state. We worry, they worry, even if they don't know why. I believe we can wait for our children to ask difficult questions when they are ready. But we can create a comfortable atmosphere for them to ask by being open and honest about our own lives in an age appropriate manner.

Answer your child's concerns by showing them that you are donating to help the relief effort. Let them donate too. Volunteering in their own community helps children feel connected and capable in their world.
Young children are concerned about their own safety. Tell them that they are safe. Use a map of the world to show them where China and Burma are. You can also explore geology and weather together. Knowledge is a great antidote to fear. If they ask, you can tell them your own emergency plans. If your child would like to have some sort of emergency kit under his bed, help him make one.

Make sure, by word and action that your children know that you will take care of them.

Sharon responds:

For children aged 4 and younger, I think it is appropriate to wait for them to ask questions regarding situations like natural disasters. I found that when I initiate the conversation I tend to tell them more than they wanted to know and I end up scaring them by telling them about situations they hadn’t imagined.

For example, my son once saw a news program about some street flooding that showed a dog stranded on top of a picnic table. He asked me if the dog was going to be all right. I explain that it had rained really hard and the river overflowed and a whole neighborhood was just full of water. For weeks, every time it rained my son wanted me to get his “floaties” from the shed. He really had just wanted to know what happened to the dog.

Kathy replies:

I think the most important thing is to answer their questions in an age appropriate manner, and don't give them more than they ask for. I, like Sharon, make that mistake all the time. I am so happy they are talking to me, I want to keep the conversation going! I am constantly reminding myself to be like the CIA, and operate on a need to know basis. Tell them no more than they need to know, and it usually works out just fine. That's usually all they can handle, and it makes it a teachable moment, instead of a stressful one.

Welcome to 4Moms!

Variation on an old joke: How many moms does it take to answer a question? Answer: Depends.

We are a bunch of moms whose kids range in age from under 2 years to over 25. We're singers and nurses, we're drummers and teachers, we stay at home, we have careers. We've each had that long night alone in the dark, worrying and feeling like the most clueless mom on earth. We are praying for that last day in diapers, we are dreaming of that first grandchild. Between us we've had about 2000 years of mothering experience, at least it feels that way. Needless to say, while we all love our kids and we all know we are excellent mothers, we don't always agree on what an excellent mother might do in any given situation. So, ask us your questions. You're sure to get at least 4 different responses. Anything from childbirth to college tuition, from potty training to pot smoking, from grade school to graffiti. Sports, spots, sex, smoking, thumb-sucking. We've been there, we're here. Ask us.

To celebrate the Mother's Day launch of I'd like to share the best gift I've ever gotten from one of my kids, or anyone else. My daughter Heron, was 18 and away at college. I got a small package, it might have been for Mother's Day, or my birthday. Inside was an old applesauce jar. She'd taken up deccoupage that year so the outside of the jar was covered with magazine headlines like “perfect” and “girl power”. They made me smile. But inside, inside were 31 tiny slips of paper. Each one had a memory written on it, or something I'd done that she was thankful for. One mentioned the play stove I'd made her when she was 2 from contact paper and a cardboard box. Another praised my lasagna. Some were just fond memories of childhood. I've gotten great presents from both my children since then, but I can't imagine anything will ever match that gift. I do not need the Noble Prize or the Pulitzer, I've gotten the Mommy jar. Thanks Heron, I love you.