Eat what’s on your plate!

Just don’t follow my example.

I am getting super tired of hearing about how bad “today’s kids” are. They’re spoiled, they’re too techy, they’re rude, they don’t play outside… Who do you think is behind all of this, for starters? I don’t agree with any of these statements (save for the not playing outside enough one), but if they were true, would they not be from parents and other caregivers spoiling, buying the tech products, not modeling good manners, etc.?

Adults seem to forget that children are people, too—people with their own personalities, goals, likes, and dislikes. Instead, they see them as controllable objects to maintain, like pets. “Here, eat this dog food,” one might say to his pet, offering the same kibble at each meal.

The whole idea of forcing children to eat food they don’t like just sickens me. Maybe it’s because I can empathize; I certainly don’t eat anything I don’t like. Do you? When I was little, I was forced to eat chicken and dumplings at daycare and nearly vomited. Ever since, I cannot eat them, even though my husband loves them and would like to make them for dinner.

It’s not fair to ask kids to eat things they don’t like and then eat what you like—or don’t eat what you don’t like—in front of them. I saw this post going around Facebook the other day and got so irritated by people commenting things like, “Today’s kids are so spoiled! I would never make something special for my kid to eat.” No, but maybe you could use your brain and plan a meal they’ll eat in the first place—how about that?

I’ll tell you who is spoiled—the kids who are baby boomers today, and perhaps a generation or two after. They had far less homework than today’s kids. They had a parent at home who cooked, cleaned up after them, woke them up for school, and made sure they were ready for the day when today’s kids have to get up on their own, grab pizza rolls after school, and settle down with two hours of homework for nothing. Those kids played outside all of the time, ran around the neighborhood in freedom, and watched Saturday morning cartoons while today’s kids are watched like hawks out of fear or mistrust, cram in a week’s worth of activities in one Saturday since the rest of the week both parents are working (out of necessity, quite often) and remain inside often not because they prefer to, but because parents plop them in front of the television as soon as they can sit to keep them quiet. What else do you expect to happen from that?

If my child has a say in meal preparation—and she does; we decide things as a family—that is an example of our mutual respect. It also helps foster compromising skills, nutritional learning, meal planning skills, and especially peace in the home. Why fight over food because you, the “adult,” feel the need to be right and respected when it’s so easy to just respect everyone in the house?

Rise of the Guardians

If you see one family film this winter, let this one be it!

Every so often, you run across a movie that you were interested in seeing but just didn’t expect the wow factor it would have on you. Interesting plots become magical moments, and you lose count of the number of times you actually feel goose bumps on your skin. Rise of the Guardians is one such movie.

I guess a movie with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost, the Boogeyman and the Sandman—not to mention Hugh Jackman, am I right?—is bound to be filled with magic and mystery, but the degree of which this movie had both really surprised me. It’s not a predictable kids’ cartoon, but an absolutely epic family movie that you’ll want for years to come.

Sadly, no, this film didn’t pass the Bechdel Test—which is a standard that I now unconsciously use to rate just about every film, especially children’s films, these days. I can’t help it; I’m a girl and I want to see more girls in movies! So does my kiddo, also a girl. Having the main child be a female or giving the Tooth Fairy a more pronounced role (rather than being the first victim) could have really helped this movie.

All of that said, I have absolutely zero complains in the entertainment department. New, plausible (and non-religious!) explanations were given to each of the guardians as a back story, and I am in love with absolutely all of them—especially the surprisingly powerful Sandman and the seemingly tough, yet sometimes cute Easter Bunny. This film has surprises around every turn, and the magical worlds you enter through each character are just amazing. Like the people mourning the end of Avatar, I wanted to visit these worlds and see what it would be like to live in them (well, perhaps not quite as vehemently).

The plot is pretty simple—stop the Boogeyman from taking over the world, pretty much—but it’s so much more than that. And yes, we did have some questions left unanswered at the end—don’t you always with a cartoon?—but the experience was so engaging that we sort of didn’t even care, which proves it’s a darn good movie.

This movie knocked my socks off. I saw it with my family as well as my sister and her husband, and half of us cried. I’m not kidding. We don’t go to 3-D movies (sure, they’re expensive, but my seven-year-old won’t keep the glasses on anyway), but this was one that made me think that I would have loved to experience it in 3-D. Even so, it was so alive and vivid without the additional dimension that I can’t wait to own it on DVD and see it again. And again…

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Listen to your heart before you go insane.

Like a lot of people, I have a high track record of burning bridges—mostly because I wait to end something I don’t like until it’s completely unbearable, and by then I act like a total jerkface to get out of it as quickly as possible.

I quit my restaurant management job at the start of a shift rather than giving two week’s notice. I didn’t quit my last salary job soon enough and was laid off, which released me—but not before I suffered heart and stress issues, from my hair falling out to not sleeping and so many other ailments that led to hospitalization. Right now I’m in a rut of my own making again, this time in my family’s living situation.

We were warned that in this situation we would have no privacy, that there were dozens of idiosyncrasies to work with, and that it would be a challenge. I love a challenge, I proclaimed, and what do I have to keep a secret from anyone? The answer to that is everything, since the entire world (or at least everyone I know) now knows when and what I eat, when I sleep (although they’re often told that I’m asleep when I’m working, or simply unavailable), every word I say (and many that I did not say but are still attributed to me). It’s like having a live reality TV team streaming my life from my home without my permission and I can’t do it anymore.I’m ready to move out and live in my car if I have to.

But I have a six-year-old, so I have to be careful. I have to save up the nest egg I had before my layoff and then some in order to get our own place as soon as possible. We applied for a loan and though we were not approved, we were close; our agent said with just a little more work we could be on our way to owning a house—which is what we want, seeing as you can do that where we live as cheaply as, if not even more cheaply than, renting.

And I have to work really hard to not burn bridges this time, although I already feel it happening, because it’s family. I’m just tired of living under a dome; I need to live somewhere where I am the boss of my home and whatever I do—whether it’s work till two in the morning, homeschool my kid, have pets or not, grow vegetables or not, whatever—is my own damn business. This walking on eggshells life is just not for me.

Please don’t do what I did and wait until a situation gets unbearable before you try to fix it! If you find yourself in a rut, take the first doable step, no matter how small, to get out of it today before it costs you much more than it’s worth.

How co-op teaching works

Why not base schools around this method?

Many homeschoolers and unschoolers think that schools should not be improved but abolished entirely. I feel the same way in my heart, but I also know that such a thing will not happen—at least, not in my lifetime. It is too ingrained in our society—as much as taxes, or policing the world—to simply be wiped out entirely, though some areas have had to close schools, or run them part-time, due to budget cuts.

I do think that schools can be improved to some extent (though their very purpose itself is disheartening at best). There are so many things we can do to improve schools—give kids more say, abolish standardized testing and grades, provide optional class work and attendance in general—but one thing just occurred to me on Tuesday while I was hosting co-op classes for our homeschool group. Why not run schools like this?During my co-op classes, I provide instruction—but I do so while constantly asking the children for their own feedback, input, and interests. I held a comic book making class, for example, that was supposed to focus around the actual writing aspect, but we spent most of it creating our characters, drawing them, and deciding what they’d fight, which was fine! Some drew in cells, some practiced their characters’ expressions, but I think all had fun. And when it was time for the class to end and the parents were signing up for the next writing class I’ll offer, they didn’t do it automatically; they asked their children if they wanted to come or not. All of them said yes. Child input—indeed, meaning itself for the child—is crucial to learning. We don’t learn anything that we are not interested in learning in the first place.

I have no hand-raising, no kids put on the spot. If a kid figures out something—say, a fold in my origami class that comes next—I ask him or her if he or she would like to show everyone. In fact, I am trying to get it where some of our kids will host classes themselves, which would be so much fun for them and their friends; one has already volunteered to teach our next art masters class!

This is fun, engaging learning for everyone because they make it theirs. I do not have age limits in my classes (though I have offered to help individuals with certain things, such as SAT preparation, when requested). Sometimes I might have eight kids; sometimes twenty or more sign up! The only thing that I could really use is a larger space than my living room—or maybe some stock in origami paper!

Could you imagine a classroom where kids could choose what they learn, as well as how they learn it? These kids can and do, which is my wish for every child.


Just Stop It with the Mommy Wars

We’re all doing the best we can with what we know.

I am so sick of all of the judgmental bull we are being fed as mothers. From the breastfeeding hullaballoo (thanks a lot, Time magazine) to the working versus stay-at-home rhetoric to moms even arguing what makes a feminist a feminist, we seem to be at each others’ throats—which is of course what the media and the government are gleefully attempting to instigate in the first place.

And why wouldn’t they? There is a war on women in our country right now, and as happy as I am that our president FINALLY voiced his support for gay marriage, I have yet to hear him denounce this very real war. Sure, he’s said that he doesn’t like what laws states are passing in terms of women’s uteri, but what has he actually done about it?

If you can go to jail for having a miscarriage, there is something wrong with the way your country views its women.

And if you have to nag and nitpick and announce your way of parenting as the only right way to be a parent, there is something wrong with the way we view our fellow brothers and sisters—our kindred parents.

It’s time that we stood up as parents together and supported one another with a kind hug, a friendly ear, an open heart. Your way of parenting isn’t likely like mine but what right does either of us have to judge one another? If parents needed to support one another at all in history, right now—when schools are failing so badly, when family assistance programs and women’s health care are being slashed so violently, when so many men representing us think they know better than we do about how to raise children, make bodily decisions, and so many other things that most of them will likely never even do 50 percent of the time—is the time to do it.

I think we can, too. More and more parents are calling for either an end or at least a huge change in standardized testing. More parents are being open about what breastfeeding means, what attachment parenting is; even more encouraging, parents are pressuring Congress to outlaw harmful chemicals that can hurt our children.

Let’s not let politics come between us as we do our best to raise the future leaders of tomorrow. Instead, let’s work together, not allowing today’s leaders to wedge us apart, and form a circle of parental support. Because let’s face it—we could all use some of that.


Baked Macaroni and Cheese

A Meal Your Kids Will LOVE!

Sometimes it is tough to get your kids to eat, especially if they are picky.  There are many foods which are kid friendly, but I can barely think of any that DO NOT like Macaroni and Cheese.  Let's face it, Kraft is the easiest, but sometimes it is fun to make your own.  The recipe is quite simple and complements most dishes, ranging from meat loaf to chicken nuggets. 

In order to make this recipe, you will need the following:

  • 1 box of elbow macaroni
  • 1 can of evaporated milk
  • 2 bags of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Baking spray
  • 1 medium sized casserole dish
  • 1 large pot
  • 1 colendar

Begin by pre-heating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  While your oven is pre-heating, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, toss in your pasta and cook it according to the directions on the box.  After it is cooked drain and rinse it in the colendar.

Spray your casserole dish with your baking spray and pour in your evaporated milk along with a layer of macaroni.  Add a layer of cheddar or mozzarella over top of the macaroni and then add another layer of macaroni and another layer of cheese.  You can can be as creative as you want.  For example, you can use one cheese for each or mix them up together.  Continue layering until the macaroni and cheese are both in the dish.  Season the top with a pinch of salt and pepper and then bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. 

Once complete, serve and enjoy!  I can almost guarantee that your kids will ask for this dish again!

Once you master the basics, it is fun to experiment with different cheeses, such as American, Monterey Jack or even Swiss or Provolone.  It is always more fun to tweak it to your family's liking. 

The Creepy Croupy Cough

What It Sounds Like and More

Your baby wakes up and has suddenly developed a cough that is unlike anything you have ever heard, and you panic.  Most experts liken it to the sound of a seal; however, I think it sounds like a cat trying to hock up a hair ball.  Either way, its quite scary if you have never had a child with croup. 

Croup is a viral infection that attacks the vocal chords and causes swelling. A fever of less than 104 degrees Fahrenheit usually accompanies this virus, along with the hoarse sounding cough.  While it is typically not dangerous, it can cause the vocal chords to swell so badly that breathing is obstructed.  When this occurs, the child is typically given steroids to reduce the inflammation.  It occurs in children under 6 years old and most get it at least a few times in their life.  It is just as contagious as the common cold, so if your child is in daycare, they are much more likely to get it.

Older children tend to ward off croup much easier than babies, but it can become serious very quickly, no matter who has it.  Some signs that the croup is serious and warrants an immediate trip to the emergency room are:

  • Your child develops rapid, labored breathing
  • breathing retractions in which you can see a deep indentation in the collar bone when the child breathes, or being able to see the child's ribs when they breathe in
  • Stridor, which is a high pitch squeaking noise when the child inhales
  • Bluish color around the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigued
  • Sick appearance

No matter what, if you think that your child has a cough that sounds serious, call the doctor. It never hurts to have your child checked out.


When Teachers Don't Pay Attention

What Would You Put Up With?

I am a mom of 2, a 3 year old girl and an 11 month old boy.  My 3 year old goes to pre-school part-time.  This week is the first time I have had an issue with the teachers or anything that goes on with her school.  Since I have been a stay-at-home mom, it is very difficult for me to trust anyone else with my kid, as I have become extra attached and set in my own ways; however, I knew that this year it was time to let go and make friends her age and learn more than what I can offer at home.

This week, I experienced something that upset me and turned me off.  I went to pick up my daughter, and the kids were out on the playground playing.  There were approximately 10 kids and 2 teachers outside.  This should have been sufficient supervision.  The teacher told me, "She is playing at the table", which is in clear view from where the teacher was standing.  I walked over to find my daughter and three other children playing with filthy rain water, ice and dirt on the table.  The kids were eating chunks of ice and giggling about it and one older little boy was hitting a much smaller girl in the head with the ice.  I was beyond angry, but I simply smiled and told the teacher what the kids were up to as I left.  I then saw her remove the table.  I am wondering how she did not know what the kids were up to.  She was not standing far from them at all, and she should know what the kids are up to at all times.  She was not talking to anyone or doing anything besides staring into space when I arrived.  Does she not realize that without proper, attentive supervision, these kids could get sick, hurt or worse? 

When I got home I thought about how I should handle it.  I talk to the director on a regular basis, as she keeps good relationships with the kids and the parents.  I decided to send her an email about the situation.  I was pleased that she handled it well and the supervision seemed to improve between visits.  I have to say, I wanted to pull her out of school, but it would break her heart.  She loves school, so I am hoping that the situation is truly handled and nothing like this will happen again.  After all, I am paying for a service and for nothing but the best care for my child, and believe me, it is not cheap. 

Do you have any similar stories?  How would you have handled the situation? 

Do Not Panic When Your Baby Spikes a Fever

What to do and When to be Concerned

It is midnight and your baby wakes up screaming a scream that you have never heard before.  You high-tail it into their room with a thermometer.  When the thermometer beeps, you are shocked and frightened by the numbers you see.  You see 104.5 and you freak out!  This is what happened to me.  The first time I saw numbers such as these I called the pediatrician asking at what point do I take my daughter to the hospital.  I thought 102 was a "high fever" that warranted attention.  Boy, as a first time mom, I had A LOT to learn about kids and sickness.  Through experience, research and many doctor's appointments, I figured I would share some of my knowledge so that when you are in the same position, you can keep calm and handle the situation....without waking your doctor up.

A fever is the body's way of fighting off infections and viruses.  To spike a fever is actually a good thing when your child is sick or coming down with something.  It assures you that their body is working the way it is supposed to.  It could signify anything such as the common cold, or even the flu.  In children and babies, it is not uncommon to see high numbers ranging from 102 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you call the doctor, the doctor will most likely act as though it is no big deal that your child has a fever and tell you what to do and what to look out for.  I know my doctor says that if the fever does not break within 48 hours, or does not go down with Tylenol or Motrin, then to bring my kids in.  I typically bring my kids in after 24 hours, but it depends on what YOU are comfortable with.  Remember, you and your children are the customer.  Never let the doctor make you feel as though your child's illness or your concerns are insignificant. 

In order to help ease your child's pain and to help reduce the fever, there are a few things you can do.  The first, as I mentioned above is to administer Tylenol or Ibuprofen.  Follow the directions on the bottle and check their fever about one hour after giving the medication.  If their fever does not go down, call your doctor, because it could signify a more serious illness.  You can also give your child a warm bath.  That will help to lower their body temperature and to relax them, making sleeping less of an obstacle.  After all, when you are feeling crummy, it is hard to sleep, no matter how young or old you are.  It is very important to keep your child hydrated when they have a fever.  The fever may eat away at their electrolytes, which they need in order for their body to fight the illness properly.  If your child does not want water, Pedialyte and Pedialyte freeze pops are an excellent option. 

As always, keep a close eye on your child and follow your doctor's instructions as given.  Your doctor knows what is best and will not steer you wrong if you are honest with them.  Remember, keep your hands clean in order to prevent spreading more illness through the house.  Good luck and try to stay calm the next time you see high numbers on the thermometer.

Orajel Warning

Potential reactions to Benzocaine

Like most moms out there, I have used Orajel when my children have teethed.  It is quick, effective and lasts for hours.  It is an exhausted mom's dream come true.  I recently read an article that changed my mind about Orajel.  It warns about benzocaine, which is the main active ingredient in Orajel. 

In April of 2011, the FDA released a statement that warned that benzocaine can cause a potentially life threatening condition known as methemoglobinemia.  This condition causes a build-up of methoglobin in the blood, which in turn impairs the blood's ability to transport oxygen throughout the body.  This condition can occur within seconds of applying Orajel to your baby's gums, as well as hours after.  Signs to look for include pale, bluish skin, lips and nails, shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid heart rate, loss of consciousness and seizures.

As a result of this information, the FDA is recommending that products with benzocaine contain a warning label with information about this condition.  They also recommend not using benzocaine products on children on 2 years of age. Therefore, if your baby is teething, perhaps give them a cold teether or one of the other remedies that I recommend previous teething article.  If you need to use a product containing benzocaine on your child, use it sparingly and look for signs of methemoglobinemia.  As with any medications, be sure to keep all medications containing benzocaine out of reach of children.

Please be safe and do not take this warning lightly.  Remember, a good night's sleep is never worth your baby's health, or life.