Be the Parent You Needed in Middle School

In many respects, we are better suited to guide our charges through these clumsy years than our parents were.

Few people look back at middle school and say: “What a formative, profound, and fulfilling time of life that was.” Instead, most of us remember it as three years of embarrassment and awkwardness that we suffered through as we tried to figure out our place in the microcosm of society. For our kids entering this phase, not much has changed.
Middle school remains a developmental minefield where the academic focus shifts from facts to theory, and the responsibility for learning falls squarely on the student. In addition, kids are still expected to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, and keep up on the happenings of their friends – all while staying afloat atop swirling undercurrents of peer pressure. Self-confidence wanes as adolescents become aware of conflicting gender and socioeconomics roles, and their behavior reflects this. Middle school is the coming-of-age trifecta, where kids face challenging transitions on three major fronts: physical, emotional, and social. The difference with our kids, though, is they have us to help them through it.
I’m not saying we are the first generation of parents who are self-actualized enough to be useful, but we do have the distinct advantage – with a foot in each century – of witnessing and influencing modern social trends. In many respects, we are better equipped and more willing mentors than our parents ever hoped (or tried) to be, and we are ideally suited to guide our charges through these clumsy years. Here are four ways you can be the person you needed so badly in middle school:

1 | Show your middle-schooler physical affection

Puberty often acts as a barrier forcefield, deterring parents from casual physical contact. As kids’ bodies change, they become more self-conscious and are less likely to initiate affection. They may, at times, act aloof and reject a caring touch. Parents will take this as a cue their kids want space and gradually the hugs and other non-verbal expressions of love subside.
Studies show, however, that kids who feel deprived of physical affection have more difficulties gauging healthy boundaries in romantic relationships and place too much importance on filling this void.  Our job is to keep offering appropriate affection and not take it personally when it’s rebuffed. Your seventh-grader might not climb into your lap for a cuddle, or kiss you goodbye in front of her friends, but she would probably love to sit close on the couch while you watch a movie.

2 | Model the behavior you want to see

The “Do as I say, not as I do” period has expired. Lectures to your kids about your expectations are quickly muted. Threats are obsolete. Your kids already know what you expect, and they know how you’ll react to defiance. They already know what you think and how you feel about pretty much everything. They know your opinions and where you stand on all the issues. It’s time to put up and shut up.
You don’t want them to smoke? So, don’t smoke. You want them to be inclusive and tolerant? Don’t gossip and say disparaging things about your friends. Want them to have a good body image? Stop calling yourself and other people fat. Want them to respect women? Respect women, comprehensively.
Consider this the trial phase of your child-rearing experiment, where your prototype is tested in a real-world setting. Theoretically, your child has the tools he needs to succeed but needs practice implementing the skills, and he will constantly look to you for demonstration – so set a good example.

3 | Respect your middle schooler’s individuality

Adolescence is a time when kids foster their own identities, distinct from their parents’, and it is crucial we recognize this. Pay attention to what they enjoy, encourage hobbies and activities that challenge them to improve physically and mentally, and leave your ambitions out of it. If your daughter shows no interest or aptitude for sports, quit signing her up for sports. We all know families where kids are miserable trying to fulfill their parents’ hopes and dreams vicariously. It’s time to step back and let them follow their talents – be supportive and encouraging as they uncover their own talents.

4 | Like your middle schooler

Of course we love them, they’re ours, but do we like them? Adolescents are so accustomed to being treated with disapproval and distain, they have grown uniformly defensive. They are criticized more than praised, doubted more than trusted, and ignored as contributing members of society. They have no independent legal rights, they aren’t wooed as a voting bloc, and they aren’t considered a valuable consumer demographic. But they are the future of our nation and they have much to offer.
Make a point of getting to know your middle schoolers without preconceived notions. Include them as full-fledged people, ask their opinions, ask their advice. They are actually delightful, multi-dimensional, almost-grown humans – and very helpful when you need technological support.

What I Wish I’d Said When My Kid Asked Me What All Genders Meant

My husband and I have talked with our kids about bodies, private parts, and where babies come from. But a talk about gender is not about sexuality.

I recently took my daughter to the restroom at a local restaurant. As you might expect, in a health food restaurant in a progressive city, the restroom was labeled not men, not women, not family, or even just restroom. It said “all genders.”
It didn’t occur to me to think about my daughter’s reaction to that term, given the Class One Potty Emergency at hand. But my daughter did not miss the sign.
Once she was settled on the toilet, she asked, “What does all genders mean?”
“Well, it means, men, women, and…anyone who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman.”
“But what else is there?” she asked.
“Like, someone who just wants to identify as a person.”
“But why can’t they just be a man or a woman.”
“Like I said. They just want to be a person.”
Though I know I will appreciate her persistence someday, on this particular day, it was a challenge. I tried a different tack.
“Do you know what ‘binary’ means?”
“No.”
It was worth a shot. “It means that something is either one thing or another thing. You know what ‘non’ means, right?”
“Not.”
We were getting somewhere. “Okay, so there’s something besides man or woman. It’s called ‘nonbinary,’ which means not one thing or the other thing.”
My daughter looked at me with her head cocked to one side, then washed her hands and skipped back to the table, where she resumed coloring on the kids menu.
“How the hell do you explain nonbinary gender to a kid?” I whispered to my husband.
Not surprisingly, given the fact that my husband, myself, and our two daughters are cisgender, the topic of gender had never come up until we saw the “all genders” sign. According to Trans Student Education Resource’s website, the word cisgender, from the Latin “cis,” meaning “on the same side,” is an adjective that describes someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
The book “Who Are You: The Kids Guide to Gender Identity”, by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, explains, “For some people, the grown-ups guessed right about their body and their gender. This is called cisgender – when someone’s identity matches their sex assigned at birth.”
My husband and I have certainly talked with our kids about bodies, private parts, and where babies come from. But those were conversations about sexuality, not gender. So, I was caught off guard by the “all genders” sign and unsure of how to begin to explain it.
Says Talcott Broadhead, author of “Meet Polkadot”, the brightly illustrated story of a nonbinary, transgender child, when you talk about nonbinary gender, talking about the gender binary is a good starting point. Broadhead explains that the gender binary refers to “who you should be, think, look, feel, and act like” as a girl or as a boy.
The problem with the traditional gender binary is that people don’t always fit neatly into a prescribed notion of what it feels like to be a boy or a girl. Pessin-Whedbee explains that the sex you’re assigned at birth, whether it’s male or female, may not match your gender. While your sex is based on your body parts, gender is an expression of who you are – including what you feel, what you like, how you dress, and “who you know yourself to be.”
How you dress is an example of gender expression as is the way you express yourself through your clothing or hairstyle (e.g appearing masculine or feminine). Gender identity, on the other hand, refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both of these, or another gender or genders.
In “Pink is a Girl Color…and Other Silly Things People Say”, author Stacy Drageset dispels some common myths for young readers. For example, ballet is not just for girls and anyone can play basketball. Drageset explains that, rather than choosing clothes based on whether they are “boy clothes” or “girl clothes,” it is more important to dress according to what you like and feel comfortable in.
As Pessin-Whedbee writes, “There are lots of ways to be a boy. There are lots of ways to be a girl. There are lots of ways to be a kid.” She lists a number of other ways in which people may choose to identify themselves, including:

  • trans
  • genderqueer
  • nonbinary
  • gender fluid
  • transgender
  • gender neutral
  • agender
  • neutrois
  • bigender
  • third gender
  • two-spirit

While Pessin-Whedbee refers to the gender spectrum as an alternative to the gender binary, Broadhead’s book does not. In a conversation, Broadhead – who uses the pronoun “they” – explained that the notion of a gender spectrum implies that male and female occupy distinct ends of a scale, whereas they feel gender is, in fact, too fluid and unique a concept to fit a linear model. They prefer the concept of gender diversity, which includes a gender universe, in which “we are each our own star.”
The Genderbread Person 2.0 graphic is an excellent resource, showing the variations on different aspects of gender that make gender so personal. Whether they take the approach of a gender spectrum or a gender universe, experts agree that you are the only one who gets to say who or what you are (with the caveat that the term two-spirit is specific to certain indigenous cultures).
I spoke to Heather Thompson, the deputy director of Elephant Circle. A self-identified genderqueer person, postpartum doula, and an advocate for “queer, trans, and non-binary folks” in the Denver birth community, Thompson recommends using everyday encounters to open conversations with children about gender.
For example, when my five-year-old asks me why our cashier has an earring “even though he’s a boy,” I can take the opportunity to explain that you don’t actually know what a person is when you meet them.
A mother herself, Thompson acknowledges that kids often understand a lot more than we give them credit for: “In my experience, they get the middle [of the gender spectrum], they just didn’t know we could talk about it.”
Certainly, books like the ones mentioned above can also be great conversation starters as well. For parents reluctant to open a dialogue about gender for fear of not having all the answers, or feeling that they should have opened the conversation earlier, Broadhead has advice:
It’s never too late to tell a child something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t actually sharing everything I know about gender. You and I know a lot about our own gender and it makes sense to us and it’s who we are, but what I haven’t explained to you is that there are actually a lot more genders.”
If your kids have questions you can’t answer, they recommend looking at websites like the Trans Youth Equality Foundation or asking someone who would know. What Broadhead doesn’t recommend is cornering the one trans parent at your child’s school in the pick-up line and interrogating her. “That’s obviously inappropriate.”
And, of course, dining in a restaurant with an “all genders” sign works quite well, too. While bathrooms have nothing to do with gender, I am grateful for the public restroom that started a conversation about gender in our family.

Having Empathy for Those With Tree Nut Allergies

The struggle is very real for parents and children when it comes to food allergies.

I love peanut butter. Trail mix is my favorite snack. I add nuts to salads, pastas, and baked goods constantly. We are a nut-loving family and this powerful protein is practically its own food group in our household. However, there is one thing that makes us go cold turkey on the tree-nuts: hearing that someone we know is allergic to them. I’m lucky to have three kids that can eat PB&Js whenever they want, but I do know a few families that do not have this type of luxury. Hearing about the constant worry that surrounds their everyday life has made me take notice and be more empathetic to their struggles.

I know a seven-year-old named Grace who has an anaphylaxis allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. Her mother explained that this is a life-threatening condition. She told me, “We don’t avoid nuts because they make her feel bad – it’s because they literally could kill her.” Grace has had two major scares in connection with her allergy, and one time it came from skin contact alone, not ingestion.

Grace’s family and others in this situation do more than fret, they borderline agonize over keeping their child safe. To quote Grace’s mom again, “We worry all the time. All. The. Time.” Imagine routinely having to re-think what should be a normal activity. Every time you were brave enough to go out to eat, you would be required to locate a restaurant that was accommodating, speak with the kitchen staff, and wipe down tables and chairs as a precaution. I can barely do half these steps at home, let alone somewhere that requires you to pay for the food service.

What about flying with a peanut allergy? Well, it’s an option, but it takes a lot of preparation and precaution. Even with consistent diligence, a person in this situation can never truly relax. My friend says that they have had good success with Delta and Southwest because these airlines allow them to pre-board. The airlines will also make an announcement over the loudspeaker and are very good about sanitizing. Still, you can’t let your guard down and must always carry an expensive but potentially life-saving epi-pen.

 
seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids
 

Think about all of the headaches parents go through when it comes to taking kids on an airplane. Upgrade that headache to a migraine if you’re flying with a little one that has a food allergy. It would be so difficult to be on constant guard in everyday life, but even worse while catching a flight for vacation because you’re also dealing with issues of squirmy children that don’t want to sit in their seats, potential airport delays, and the possibility of being surrounded by grouchy travelers.

If my child had a severe nut allergy, I would be tempted to lock him up at home so he would always be safe, but that is not realistic. Grace may be allergic to nuts, but she’s also an active third-grader. She enjoys soccer and is a sweetheart with a wonderful smile. Grace is healthy, and only three weeks younger then my oldest daughter. Her allergy is a struggle, but thanks to a strong family and caring community, she is not defined by it.

I am very proud of the fact that my child’s elementary school is 100 percent peanut and tree nut free. Administrators and teachers work diligently to keep the building safe for every single student and inclusive to all of the kids. We get lists of safe foods and constant email reminders to check labels. Basically, our school clearly spells out the specific steps parents need to take if we want to send treats to the classroom. There are plenty of nut-free snack options: fresh fruits and vegetables, Pepperidge Farms Cheddar Goldfish, Gogo Squeeze Applesauce, Doritos, Cheez-It Crackers, Dum-Dum Suckers, Oreos Chocolate Sandwich Cookie, Kraft String Cheese, Florida Natural Fruit Snacks, Plain Chocolate Hershey Bars, Skinny Pop Popcorn…the list goes on and on from there. Even with all of the help, guidance, and foresight, I still hear a grumble or a sigh from other parents and guardians.

I once overheard a group of adults at an extra-curricular activity discussing the topic of food allergies. Some of them were complaining about how unfair it was to make a school be 100 percent peanut-free for just a few kids. I wasn’t a part of the conversation but I was sure I misheard these people, because in my head I was running through a very confrontational dialogue. How could they not want to accommodate kids allergic to tree nuts? And by accommodate, I mean leave the Nutella at home and read ingredient lists for good snack options. It really is easy, just check labels and send safe cold lunches (or be lazy like me and mandate that your kids can only eat hot lunch because moms are not short-order cooks).

I try very hard to not take for granted the fact that my family can eat anything and everything. Fortunately I don’t have to worry that my child may be sent to an ER after accidentally ingesting a pasta sauce with ground-up cashews or a candy bar with hidden hazelnuts. That type of worry would be haunting. I stress enough about my kids crossing the street without looking or riding bikes without helmets. It would be incredibly hard to handle all of the normal parental concerns coupled with having to examine food ingredients on a constant basis.

Children with nut allergies want to be included just like everyone else. My friend on the West Coast has kids that go to a great charter school. The only complaint I’ve ever heard from her is that the school is not peanut free. They have students with food allergies, and so the school provides them with an “allergy table” at lunch. When I heard this, my eyes got watery. Seriously, if you have an allergy you have to sit in one certain spot and can’t be by your friends? Even worse, you’re seated at the “sick table” because some little kids don’t understand allergies or the polite way to label things. The whole situation is heartbreaking.

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people suffering from tree nut allergies do not outgrow them. Therefore it’s nice to see more schools, clubs, churches, and public places going nut free. It’s also important to keep in mind that while parents are struggling to keep their allergy-ridden children safeguarded, those kids are also struggling. From a very young age, they must be mindful to keep safe snacks on hand and sanitize their surroundings. As they grow older, they need to counteract bullying and find safe atmospheres.

I will get off my soapbox now, but seriously, the struggle is very real for parents and children when it comes to food allergies. My family does not personally suffer from it, but we do see how it affects others. We can help by listening to their concerns and following some simple instructions. Hmmm…listening and following directions, it sounds like something every parent says and would be glad to do. Plus it will open your eyes and taste-buds to new snack options.

This article was previously published on Familyfootnote.com

5 Tips for Nerding Out On This Year's Solar Eclipse

On August 21, 2017 families have the unique opportunity to experience a rare solar phenomena: a total solar eclipse. Here’s how to do it right.

This year families have the unique opportunity to experience a rare solar phenomena: a total solar eclipse. While eclipses happen in some part of the world with regularity, this year’s eclipse will be visible in just about every part of the United States on Monday, August 21. Here are some ways you can make the most out of this amazing event:

1 | Make sure you can see it

Every part of the contiguous US will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, with the path of totality ranging from Salem Oregon to Charleston South Carolina. The first available viewing spot will be Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 9:05 a.m. Over the next 90 minutes, the eclipse will make its way along the center of the country ending in Charleston, SC at 2:48 p.m. A little after 4 p.m. the eclipse will be completed.
The Los Angeles Times has an online interactive map where you can type in your address and see how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to view from your area.
Although hotel rooms and campgrounds along the total eclipse areas are filing up quickly, you can host your own Eclipse 2017 party wherever you are.

2 | Have protective eyewear on-hand

Even though the sun appears darker, the harmful rays emitted by the sun can still damage your eyes. Never look directly at an eclipse. Even wearing dark sunglass won’t protect your eyes.
Eclipse glasses look similar to movie 3D glasses, yet they are very different. If you purchase eclipse-viewing glasses in your local store, check to be sure they meet the specifications set forth by NASA:

  • Appropriate eclipse glasses will have certification information with a designated ISO 12312-2 international standard printed on them
  • Also printed somewhere on the glasses will be the manufacturer’s name and address
  • Do not use glasses if they are more than three years old or have scratched or wrinkled lenses

For craftier families, another option to view the eclipse is a simple homemade projector:

  • Use two pieces of white card stock or even two white paper plates
  • Use a thumbtack to make a tiny hole in the center of one piece of paper
  • With your back towards the sun, hold the paper with the hole over your shoulder so that the sun is shining on the paper
  • Hold the second sheet of paper at a distance to act as a screen
  • An inverted image of the sun will appear on the second paper

A  box projector is a little more involved but still simple enough for older children to create.
 
seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids
 

3 | Prep the kids in advance

It’s good for little ones to have a basic understanding of the solar eclipse. Here’s a very simple, kid-friendly explanation: A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun causing a shadow to fall on certain portions of the earth.
The moon orbits the earth once a month, and eclipses happen when the moon lines up exactly with the earth and the sun. Eclipses do not take place every month because the orbits of the moon and earth are tilted at an angle.

4 | Cloudy day backup plan

If you are lucky enough to live directly in the path, a simple drive a few miles away might be enough to catch a break in the clouds. Totality – the short period when the sun is completely covered – only last a couple minutes, but the full phase of the eclipse takes about two hours.
Alternatively, you can watch a live stream of the eclipse at NASA.gov. No special viewing glasses are required for watching the eclipse online.

5 | Sneak in a little education before the big day

Younger children, about elementary school age, will learn a lot and have fun with “Where Did the Sun Go? Myths and Legends of Solar Eclipses Around the World Told with Poetry and Puppetry” by Janet Cameron Hoult.
For middle school, my teacher friends recommend “When The Sun Goes Dark” by Andrew Franknoi.
Older teens and young adults will find more technical aspects as well as a history of how eclipses have influenced mythology and religion in “Sun Moon Earth: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets” by Tyler Nordgren.
If you miss this year’s eclipse, your next chance to see a solar eclipse in the United States will be April 8, 2024.

Infuse More Fun Into the Sidelines of Spectator Sports

Even if your kids aren’t fans of your favorite sport, you can make spectator sports fun for the whole family.

Fitness experts often discuss the importance of playing and exercising with your family, but watching sports together has benefits as well. You’ll spend time together and share your passion and excitement for a team or a sport. You bond over a common interest or have fun playfully antagonizing one another’s favorite teams. Even if your kids aren’t fans of your favorite sport, you can make spectator sports fun for the whole family.
So turn on a game, a match, or a competition. Gather the family and have fun.

Join the chants

Whether you’re watching a game in a stadium or from your own living room, chanting can get everyone excited. Teach your kids the usual call-and-response cheers. Explain the cheers about specific players or just sit back and watch your kids boo as loud as they can. See if they can come up with their own cheers – with bonus points for terrible rhymes.

Explain a player’s backstory

It’s easier for viewers to empathize or get excited about a player when he or she is more than just a number, a helmet, or a set of pads. Pick a player you know well and explain his backstory or why this particular game might be important to that player. Is it the captain that’s been on the team for years or an up-and-coming player on a hitting streak? Has the player overcome an injury or a tragedy to make it to this game, or is she simply fun to watch in interviews? Point out when that player comes into the game or has a great play, so you can cheer together.

Track statistics together

All sports can hit a lull in the middle sometimes, so consider tracking something through the game. You can use a scorekeepers pad and teach your older kids the official symbols to track each play. If you want something easier, make a chart track one or two statistics, such as goals and assists or 3-pointers and 2-pointers. Maybe make a poster to track rare events over a whole season, or make a list of different things that happen during games and turn them into bingo boards.
 
seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids
 

Look for strategies

For older kids, part of the fun of sports can be trying to understand why teams and players make certain plays. Why did the pitcher throw a strike at that point? Why did the quarterback call for a passing play? Was that soccer foul intentional or just a bad tackle? You won’t be able to answer every question, but you’ll get your kids thinking about cause and effect. They may even come to see sports as skills with real strategy instead of a game that’s all luck.

Watch the players who aren’t active

Have your kids watch the players who aren’t involved in a particular play. Where are the midfielders when the strikers have the ball? Where is the wide receiver on a running play? Where is the point guard standing when the basketball’s thrown back in or the pitcher when a baseball comes from the outfield to the plate? Watching the other players adds a new twist on a game that seems so familiar, and your kids might not be as bored on a blow-out game if they have something else to watch. Plus, they might see how much a player runs even when it might not matter.

Find the life lessons

Change the way in which you talk about sports. Talk about the hard work and determination the players have. Talk about the importance of coming back from mistakes or learning to handle losses without giving up. Explain how to take criticism or listen to coaches. Sports are full of teachable moments if you know how to reframe what you’re seeing.

Play during the game breaks

Between innings at a baseball stadium, games pop up on the scoreboard or sometimes in the field itself. Make your own version of game-break games. Come up with a list of quick activities to play or go down the couch so each person come up with their own two- to three-minute activity every time the game goes on commercial break. Set an exercise to an action in the game, such as jumping jacks every time there’s a pitching change or swinging your kids upside-down after every field goal.

If all else fails, use food

Sometimes, no matter what you try, your kids just won’t get into a sport you love, so make the event special anyway. Make a favorite nacho dip for every football game or hot cocoa for hockey games. Only order chicken wings when your favorite team is playing. Get your kids excited that the game is on, even if they end up paying more attention to their food than anything happening on the screen.

I Don't Care If the Future Is Computers, My Kids Are Going to Work

For as long as work exists, my kids are going to get jobs. Because the world will always need people who know the value of self-sacrifice and manual labor.

Amazon bought Whole Foods. Robots are stocking the warehouse shelves. My cable company representative is a staccato automation. This is not Blade Runner. This is the world.
I bussed tables in a meat-and-three at age 15. That was my first job. Despite the fact that I wasn’t allowed near any food that hadn’t been chewed or manhandled, I still had to dress the part. I was issued black pinstriped pants with an elasticized waist – gigantic joggers before joggers became trendy. Tucked into these kitchen pants was the oversized button-down oxford shirt, the Felicity Porter look that only worked for Felicity Porter. Over it all, I draped and tied and triple-tied my apron, so stiff from starch and the crusted food of meals past that it could stand up on its own in my bedroom, a phantom waitress on shag peach carpet.
The café was in a strip mall next to Piggly Wiggly. When we ran out of bread for the chicken salad, I’d be sent on a Wiggly-run. I’d shuffle over in my scuffed up Danskos, like a nurse on the night shift. Three loaves of wheat, stat. I’d split my tips with the other bussers. Dollars were big money. We mostly operated in change.
After several months and only one disaster where I broke a full tray of dinner plates after slipping on the non-slip mat (the irony is not lost in me), I was promoted. They moved me behind the counter, to the pastry department. This is where I really shined. I could sell a buckeye or slice of carrot cake to the most stringent of old ladies. They’d be groaning over the pinto beans already gassing them up and I’d swoop in with “a little something for the road” and nab a dollar for my trouble. Everybody’s a sucker for food on a doily.
 
seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids
 
Two years I worked this job until I left for college, and then I found a part-time gig there as well. Nothing to stem the tide of tuition, but enough shifts at a pottery painting shop (back when people still did that) to earn some food and gas money and furnish my pocket-sized dorm with a full set of watercolor wineglasses that looked like they came from a drunken bachelorette party. I am not an artist.
I knew what it was to balance school and work and budget my groceries and my car-cruising. In high school, I was lucky to have parents who provided the basic necessities, but if I wanted Ben & Jerry over Blue Bunny, I’d have to work it out on my own. I also learned how to deal with people. You know, people – the other 320 million Americans who might wander up to my counter in good moods and bad, in sickness and in health, pre- or post-pinto bean. Work taught me how to manage people just as much as time and money. Which is why, when I read in Wired Magazine that robots might just be the future of our work force (sooner and more overtly than we thought) I had to wonder. What would it look like if human work was obsolete – if the world was left to its leisure?
Would my kids know how to lay their time at the feet of  a manager setting schedules or a patron needing help? Would they learn how to smile in the face of an angry customer, let it run off them like oil on water, because their job was to stem the tide and not fall under it? Would they learn the different levels of communication, like when to engage in niceties over empathy and vice versa? And what would they do with their time? If this existential crisis is quickly approaching, what will the definition of work and their place in the world be? How can I, as their parent, help them define it?
My answer? They’re going to work. For as long as work exists, my kids are going to get jobs at the library, at the café, at Target, at the grocery store – wherever they are needed. They will fill out the paper work, wear the uniform, get a check, and learn how taxes work. Because the world will always need people who know the value of self-sacrifice and manual labor. We all need to know what it is to watch the minutes tick by on a slow shift.
If, as CNN reports, “38 percent of jobs in the U.S. are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years,” then it is even more important for my children to know the value of paying their way, of counting change, of helping others, of being human.

10 Cures for Holiday Break Cabin Fever

Don’t let cabin fever drive you mad. Try these creative ideas and give your kids some winter memories to last a lifetime.

Christmas break will soon be here. With time off from school and more time spent indoors, cries of “I’m bored!” will soon fill the air. This added time together can make for a terrific opportunity to plan activities that nurture your bond with your child and create valuable memories. If you involve your child in the planning and preparation for these activities, it will only add to the experiences you share.

Preschool to early elementary kids

Library Scavenger Hunt

Have your child make a list of topics that interest him. Use the computer catalog to locate the books. Then the hunt is on! Topics like dinosaurs, transportation, hobbies, fun facts, world records, pet care, and joke and poetry books may spark a new interest or revive an old one. Be sure to bring a book bag to take your fun finds home.

Turn up the music

Sometimes it’s fun to just turn the music up loud and dance around the house together. Create a crazy line dance or lyrics of your own. Dust off the piano or guitar, and work together to create a new musical composition.

Organize those art projects and crayon drawings

Create a scrapbook out of a three-ring binder and plastic page protector sheets. Work together to organize artwork by ages or stages to create a lasting (and organized) memory book.

Visit the local scrap store

In Michigan, we have the Scrap Station, where industries donate their scraps. Teachers love these stores as they often charge by the bag and include things such as adhesive stickers, cardboard tubes, vinyl sheets, and other materials that can be combined to create a variety of unique art projects.

Try a science project

Make rock candy, clean coins using vinegar and baking soda, make salt dough clay, or create a crystal rock garden. My favorite ideas for projects came from The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions, which includes fun recipes using household ingredients. Take pictures of the different steps involved in the experiment, help your child put the photos in order, and write captions for each step of the process.

Upper elementary to middle school kids

Cook together

Don’t just order pizza. Help your child make it herself. Other child friendly recipes include soups or stews, fruit kabobs with dip, guacamole or hummus with homemade tortilla chips, or main dishes such as chili, chicken fingers, or rolled sandwiches.

Exercise together

Take a yoga class, visit a climbing wall, hike a nature trail, go geocaching, or try an exercise video. Keep kids moving with outings to a skating arena, laser tag, bowling alley, or disc golf course.

Go stargazing

Bundle up and head outside to find constellations to enjoy the clear winter sky coupled with evenings free from homework demands. A rare treat.

Make a video

Kids can work with their friends to write a script, make costumes or masks, and film their video creations. If no other kids are around, action figures or stuffed animals can play a part in the movie. 

Visit an art studio

Many museums offer art workshops with classes geared to specific age groups, ranging from pottery and painting to weaving and mask-making. 

Be sure to have a camera to record the fun times that you share with your child this holiday season. Enjoying the time you have together will create memories that last far beyond the holidays.

Hey, Future Teenage Daughter, You Embarrassed Me First

There’s going to come a day when the mere mention of my name makes you want to wither with embarrassment. Well, kid, you did it to me first.

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was a young teenager begging my mom not to come to my kickboxing class, fearing she would do something terribly cringeworthy in front of the older girls from my high school.

She promised me she’d stay on the opposite side of the room. I think her exact words were, “You won’t even know I’m there.”

I really didn’t want her to go. She really wanted to go. I went. She went. I kick-shuffle-shuffled. She kick-shuffle-tumbled into a table and fell to floor, drawing the attention of the entire room. Mortifying.

We’ve all been the teen that’s too cool for their mom, and although my peanut is only three, I’m already dreading the day that I become – dun-dun-duuunn – embarrassing. Doesn’t she know that I’m cool? I mean, I listen to rap music, cream contour my nose, and even occasionally rock the hell out of a crop top.

Nonetheless, my day will come, because all of our days come eventually. We can either acknowledge this fact and take it as a challenge to be the least cool we can possibly be, just to spite the teenage sass, or we can look as desperate for our child’s acceptance as Regina’s mom in Mean Girls.

Not a good look.

As this day looms in the not-so-distant future, I just want to take a moment to note that my future teenager embarrassed me first.

That’s right, I said it. I resorted to the old, “She did it first,” line because, well, she did it first. You hear that threenager? This next part is for you…

Today in the airport, after spending a week holding it all in because we were in my father-in-law’s very compact home, I had to (for lack of better terms) go. The close proximity to family members had prevented me from doing so the ENTIRE TRIP.

Against what should have been better judgement, I took you with me so that you could go potty before the flight. You joined me in the stall where you quickly shouted, “Mommy, you did it! You pooped!”

Chuckles came from the surrounding stalls. I started sweating, my face turned red. You hadn’t the slightest clue that your excited congratulations would force me to poop-shame-walk out of the airport bathroom. Well, it did.

Even before you were old enough to say things capable of making me hide beneath that table my own mother plowed into, you were manipulating my body to do things of the like.

Enter, pregnancy.

Had to sneeze? Peed my pants a little. Laughed too hard? Tinkle tinkle little drops. Slam on the breaks in a car? You guessed it. And nothing was quite as glamorous as having a room full of med students analyze just how dilated my hoo-ha was for hours prior to your birth.

So kid, when you finally approach the age in which you no longer think I walk on water, the age when your friends become the authority of all things trendy, the point in time when you find my utter name to be humiliating, just remember that you did it first.

Remember when you dropped your sippy cup and uttered, “Oh, shit,” under your breath and revealed to the entire church nursery that either your father or I must blurt out this phrase whenever we allow things to slip through our fingers?

You did it first. You started it. And, oh, how I can’t wait to finish it.

6 Reasons Why Having a Winter Baby is Actually the Best

Mothers of summer babies may have their cute maternity sundresses, but there are all kinds of reasons why being the mommy of a winter baby is awesome.

Winter babies hold a special place in my heart. My son was born in the middle of January almost three years ago and, this month, I’ll welcome my second baby.

In the months leading up to my son’s due date – and during the snuggly newborn months after – I could not have been more grateful that he was a winter baby. Mothers of summer babies may have their adorable spring baby showers and cute maternity sundresses, but there are all kinds of reasons why being the mommy of a winter baby is awesome.

No one expects much of you during the holidays.

When you have a winter baby you’re either very, very pregnant or you’re the parent of a newborn as the holidays roll around.

Because of this, no one expects you to be the one to cook, or clean up, or to do the extensive planning, shopping, and decorating that can suck the fun out of the holidays. For this year at least, you’ll get to sit back and relax (as much as one can with a huge belly or tiny baby).

You’ve got the perfect excuse not to let anyone hold the baby.

When you have a new baby – especially a cute one – it seems like you can’t head out with friends or to family events without expecting to hand them over to everyone in attendance.

While a break is nice every now and then, sometimes you just don’t want to give up your snuggle-time. During winter, you have the perfect excuse to keep your babe in the Ergo and refuse any offers to hold the little one. After all, it’s cold and flu season, people. No one gets their hands on that baby without a thorough scrub down.

And, if you just don’t want to share, no one can argue with a mom looking out for baby’s health.

The food.

The only person hungrier than a pregnant woman is a mom who’s nursing.

Don’t hesitate to share just how starving you are as you make your way to the front of the buffet line. Holiday foods aren’t known for being particularly calorie-conscious, but pregnant and nursing moms need the extra calories.

So, please, this year, indulge knowing that you absolutely need the extra energy for your little one.

Your ankles are out of view.

Almost every mom I know has a moment – sometime in the last few weeks of pregnancy – when they realize that they’re going to have to leave their shoes unlaced or opt for clogs a few sizes too big for the remainder of the pregnancy.

Luckily for the mom of the winter baby, those ankles will be tucked away from prying eyes and rude comments under a nice pair of long leggings or maternity jeans.

Adorable winter party themes to daydream about for years to come.

Sure, summer parents might get to plan fantastic pool parties and easy get-togethers at the playground, but winter mamas get to drool over Pinterest’s winter party themes as they plan their baby’s birthdays for years to come.

I pinned somewhere close to a thousand Winter Wonderland ideas long before my son emerged from my womb.

Lots of quiet, snowed in bonding time.

Though a cold, stormy winter can make even the most introverted mom go a little stir crazy, there are some wonderful benefits to being snowed in. A cold winter provides ample opportunity to build a fire, cuddle up with your partner and your new baby, and bask in the simple joys of hot chocolate, warm blankets, and a perfect newborn to love.

The Memories That Stick and Those We Trade For New Ones

I was shocked that my mother had forgotten so many details of my birth. But after I had my son, I realized there was so much I too had forgotten.

When I first learned that my son was swimming around in my belly, I craved nothing more than information.

I wanted to know how big he was and how fast he was growing and when he would get his arms and his fingers and his eyes. I wanted to know when my belly would begin to swell and when I would begin to really feel pregnant.

I dug into my grad school books on fetal development and signed up for weekly emails on my baby’s growth, but the information was vague, all averages and anecdotes. I didn’t care to know that the average woman began to show between 12 and 20 weeks, or that her labor often lasted between 16 and 24 hours, or that the average baby was between 7 and 7.5 lbs.

I wanted to know when I would start to show and how long my labor would be and how much my little one would weigh.

To satiate my curiosity for personalized information, I turned to the woman whose experience I thought mine would most closely mirror – my mother.

As we laid together on the couch, talking about the future, I asked her about the past. I wanted to know what time I was born: “Sometime in the morning,” she responded. I asked how much I’d weighed and how long I’d been: “A little under eight pounds and pretty long, but not that long,” she said.

I was shocked that the details of my early life had been somehow lost over the decades.

Confused by the vagueness of her memory, I dug deeper. My first food? She didn’t remember. My first word? She thought it was “car” or “dada,” but it was tough to recall. She didn’t remember exactly how old I was when I first rolled or crawled or walked, though she guessed for each.

I understood it had been a quarter of a decade since the events I was asking her to recall had taken place, but I was shocked that the details of my early life had been somehow lost over the decades.

When I asked what she did remember, she told me about how happy I was on the day I met my little brother and the way I used to stay up late talking to my sister who wanted nothing more than to go to sleep.

She told me about swim lessons and softball games and afternoons barefoot in the creek. She also talked about middle school dances and high school tears and the fact that even now, pregnant with my own child, she still saw me as her baby.

As my belly grew, question after question that had raced through my mind in the early weeks of pregnancy was answered. As it turned out, I would never have morning sickness, I would start to show around 14 weeks, and I would gain over 40 pounds. My pregnancy would last exactly 40 weeks; contractions started just after 4 a.m. on his due date.

On the day of my son’s birth, more answers fell into place: Labor was nine hours, he drew his first breath at 1:19 p.m. He weighed nine pounds, nine ounces and was 21 inches long. His eyes were slate blue, his head nearly bald. His knees were thick and his cry, soft and sweet, left me breathless with joy and disbelief.

It was the most wonderful day of my life and I swore, in the moment, that I would memorize every detail, and hold onto the memories forever.

As I began to test my memory I realized that there was already so much I had forgotten.

A few weeks ago, just after my son’s second birthday, I was chatting with a friend about my boy and how quickly he’s grown. I recounted the day of his birth, still beaming with pride and overcome with joy.

“Was it cold on the day he was born?” she asked, and suddenly, I couldn’t remember.

I’m sure it was, he was born in January, but I couldn’t remember a thing about the weather on the day of his birth. As I began to test my memory, I realized that there was already so much I had forgotten: What I had done the day before his birth, what I packed in my hospital bag, what my son wore home from the hospital, and how we spent his first afternoon once we got there.

Though the prospect of losing these details once puzzled and horrified me, in that moment, I began to understand. Once, my boy was just an ultrasound. I treasured the curve of his elbow and read tenderness into the way he sucked his thumb in the grainy black and white image. I swore I wouldn’t forget when I’d felt the first kick.

Then he was a birth story, the hours and the pushes and the weight and length, and I treasured the details of his arrival, ascribing kindness to his promptness. I swore I would remember them all.

And then he was a first roll and a first babble and a first laugh. I treasured them all, trying my best to capture them in video or journal or photograph.

Now he’s my boy, strong and tender and kind, and as I treasure every moment of his early boyhood, I’m trading old memories for new ones.

The human brain can only hold so much.

The human brain can only hold so much. The memory of the weather on the day of his birth was probably replaced with the memory of his first steps, with the way his hand slowly loosened its grip as his foot stepped forward. The memory of the contents of my hospital bag was likely replaced with the memory of his first day of preschool and the nerves and tears that swallowed us both.

The memory of his first outfit and what we did when we got home from the hospital was probably replaced with the memory of his first joke, told just last week.

Becoming skilled in avoiding bedtime, he called me into his room with a panicked sounding, “Mommy! Hanky foot stuck!” I ran in to help and, when I noticed his foot was neither tangled nor trapped, I asked, “Stuck where buddy?” With a giggle and a grin he spit, “To the end of Hanky’s leg!”

If these are the memories that stick or, if someday they disappear, too, replaced by something even better, I think I’ll be okay with that.