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March 2008

March 29, 2022

Please Pass Down the Manners!

The three children vied for their mother’s attention and sipped from plastic juice bottles as their mom and grandmother unloaded the cart in the Target checkout line ahead of me. Of course, it was just a matter of time until the inevitable happened and someone’s juice hit the floor. No biggie, I thought. I’m a parent. I know how Mom and Grandma feel. Been there, cleaned that up. 

But when the youthful-looking grandmother surveyed the mess, she simply said “pick up your bottle” to the preschooler — and continued on as if there was nothing wrong with leaving a puddle of juice for the rest of us to trudge through. When the little boy started skating through the juice, spreading it further with each glide of his tennis shoes, I thought surely Grandma would realize this was not just a sticky mess but a potential hazard for the shoppers in line behind her.

Watching the boy, Grandma continued putting items on the conveyer belt. Okay, now I was getting cranky.

Thinking I might demonstrate a more-appropriate response, I leaned close to Grandma and said to the check-out clerk, “Excuse me. Do you have a paper towel? There’s juice on the floor, and I’m afraid someone might slip.”

“Sorry, I don’t have anything,” she replied. Okay then. It was clearly time to go straight to the source. I’d simply embarrass the woman into cleaning up the mess. “Ma’am, do you have any wet wipes in your purse; anything like that so we can clean up this juice?” I asked Grandma.

She rooted around in her purse and came up with… a man’s white athletic sock. “OK, that’s a bit odd, but I guess she could use it,” I thought to myself — right before she handed the sock to me.

“Here you go!” she said brightly. “It’s clean.”

I was too stunned to reply. With visions of an unsuspecting elderly shopper breaking a hip at checkstand 9, I knelt down and mopped up the juice with the sock while the woman watched.

By then I was more than a bit cranky, not to mention a bit overdue to receive an embarrassed “Why, thank you!” at least, if Grandma and Grandson weren’t going to do the job themselves.

She said nothing. Not a peep. “You know, you could thank me for wiping up your grandson’s juice,” I finally blurted out, looking her in the eye and holding up the juice-filled sock.

“Oh, just drop that anywhere,” she said, pointing toward the sock. “That’s disgusting.” And with that, the five of them were on their way, leaving me to find a trash can for the drippy sock.

Yes, it certainly was disgusting. But unfortunately, it’s becoming less and less surprising. Life’s little niceties, like holding the door open for the person behind us, saying please and thank you and even just having basic respect for those we encounter every day, seem to be disappearing faster than we can say “It’s all about me.”

Grocery clerks will be the first to tell you how much common courtesy has vanished. Ask them how it feels to ring up $100 worth of groceries for a shopper who continues a cell-phone conversation, hands over a grocery-store club card, runs the debit card through the machine and then leaves without ever making eye contact, much less saying “thanks.”

It’s easy to encounter the “it’s all about me” folks on the road, too. As our once-wide-enough residential streets become virtual one-way passages, narrowed by parked SUVs on both sides, there’s often room for only one vehicle at a time to go by. When I pull my car to the side of the road to let someone else pass, is it too much to ask for a friendly “thank you” wave or a smile? When someone responds with that simple gesture, it brightens the rest of my day. I’m guessing it perks up their day, too. But if it happens one time out of eight, it’s a good day. Most folks just drive on by as if to say “Of course, you should pull over for me.”

Not long ago, our local parks-and-rec department offered an “Etiquette and Social Skills” class for kids ages 7 to 12. Parents ponied up 70 bucks per kid for two 3-hour classes so that someone else would teach their children why manners are important, how to behave in a restaurant and how to be polite.

The trouble is, such a class may teach a kid the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork, but it can’t create a thoughtful child. It can’t instill basic kindness or the desire to consider others’ feelings. That’s a parent’s job, and it takes years. And you can be sure our children are checking out our moves, noting how we behave.

At first I was incredulous that the mother of that preschooler, who continued to unloaded her cart and watch while the “juice incident” took place, didn’t step in to show her young son the right thing to do. But then I realized the sad truth: Her mother had never taught her the importance of common courtesy. And now Grandma and Mom were passing on that same lack of concern for others to a third generation.

Our children want so much to be like us. So they watch closely how we treat cashiers and waiters and crossing guards and fellow shoppers and fellow drivers and all the other people whose paths we cross each day. They also see whom and what we ignore — the people and things that don’t make a blip on our radar screen as we go about our business.

It doesn’t take a fancy etiquette class to teach our kids how to treat others with kindness. Sometimes all it takes is the willingness to clean up a little spilled juice.

March 27, 2022

All Hail The Anti-Princess Reading List!

For little girls, Cinderella and Snow White may be the ultimate storybook characters. And these princesses certainly have their place in a child's world — up to a point.

For parents who want their daughters to grow up looking for a bit more from life than a prince to rescue them, there's the "Anti-Princess Reading List" (click on it under "browse by category") over at a wonderful website I just discovered: mommytrackd.com.

Just looking at the titles brought me back to some of the heroines I loved as a girl: Nancy Drew, Pippi Longstocking, Harriet the Spy. These gals solve crimes, wear what they please (and it rarely includes taffeta), and have marvelous adventures.

I'm not suggesting an all-or-nothing approach here. After all, who says a kid can't wear her Princess Jasmine costume while reading a story about a girl taking first place at the school science fair?

March 24, 2022

Why We're Hooked on HBO's "John Adams"

Thanks to his wonderful fifth-grade social studies teacher, Mrs. Stelter, my now-12-year-old son Matt is completely jazzed about anything having to do with the American Revolution.

I'll confess, my fifth-grade social studies teacher didn't inspire such enthusiasm, and (while I've never shared this with Matt) I had always equated American history with "Read chapter 6. We'll have a test on Friday." But now Matt's enthusiasm is inspiring my own.

Mrs. Stelter made the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the battles that followed, come alive for her students. Matt would come home from school last year talking endlessly, and in great and gory detail, about what hardships the soldiers endured in their fight for liberty. (Mrs. Stelter knew how to throw in just enough yucky stuff to keep the boys enthralled.)

It was Matt who first started talking about HBO's new series, "John Adams." We started watching it as a family the other night and we're hooked. Starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, the series sucks you in from the first five minutes. (Executive producer Tom Hanks read David McCullough's Pulitzer-prize-winning book by the same name and decided this mini-series had to be made. Thanks, Mr. Hanks.) HBO also offers a free teacher's guide and a student's guide on the website, which you can download as a PDF file.

The series is definitely not for young kids. It's appropriately rated TV-14, and I think it's probably fine for mature middle schoolers. (Randy and I are pretty careful about Matt's exposure to movies and T.V., and we don't let him watch most other shows rated TV-14 just yet. But we happily made an exception for this one.) There have been two pretty hairy scenes so far — one showing a man being tarred and feathered and another showing Abigail Adams and her children being vaccinated for smallpox. (I didn't know how it was done back then. Yikes. Let's just say I'm happy to be alive in 2008.)

HBO shows lots of repeats of each episode, so it's not too late to catch up if you haven't started watching it. (There's also an episode guide, with a synopsis of each show, on their website.) And if you don't have HBO? Not to worry. This seven-part series is sure to be available, not too far down the road, on DVD. Either way, if you have older kids, check it out. Heck, if you have NO kids, check it out. It's terrific.

P.S. Here's Matt as Thomas Jefferson last year during a production of "Walk Through the American Revolution," put on by Mrs. Stelter's class in conjunction with a terrific company, California Weekly Explorer, Inc. (Don't ask how many cotton balls I glued to that backward baseball cap!)

March 21, 2022

Hey, Doc — Can You Talk With My Kid About Sex?

When we bring our wanna-be-teen and teenage kids to the doctor for routine check-ups, many of us are hoping our kid's doctor or nurse practitioner will do more than just check blood pressure, listen to our child’s heart and keep the vaccination record up to date.

We also want the doctor to talk with our kids about sex, diet, drug abuse and smoking, says a new report from the University of Michigan.

The poll — which asked parents of 11- to 17-year-old kids to rate 18 health-related topics for healthcare providers to address during an adolescent’s routine check-up — found that diet/nutrition, exercise/sports and the physical changes of puberty were the overall top three issues parents want discussed, followed by drugs, tobacco, sexually transmitted diseases and depression/suicide.

Doctors have heard it all, and they know how to talk with teens and pre-teens about these potentially touchy topics. So if there’s something on your mind that you’d like your child’s doctor to discuss during an upcoming office visit, call her in advance and let her know.

P.S. This all leads me to a question our family is considering right now: When to switch 12-year-old Matt from our much-loved pediatrician to our family doctor, who is also terrific. Matt has been seeing the same doctor since he was a toddler, but lately when we enter the waiting room, he looks pretty out of place, at 5'6," surrounded by those tiny chairs and Thomas the Tank Engine books.

If you've made the switch and given up your pediatrician, how old was your child when you did it? And are you happy you switched?

March 19, 2022

Kids' Solo Travel Made Easier

How did parents ever survive without the Internet? Just think how often we take it for granted these days.

Need a recipe for homemade clay? Google it. Want to know the symptoms of fifth disease? It's all there. Need the lyrics to a Led Zeppelin song to win a bet with your teenager? The Web is your not-so-secret weapon.

So of course I knew right where to go when Randy and I decided that our son, Matt, would be taking his first solo flight (as an "unaccompanied minor," to use the airlines' terminology).

After talking with the airline and scoping everything out, I relied on Google to dig up some additional tips. The best ones I found were at www.travelwithyourkids.com, including:

°   If possible, select early-morning flights. These are delayed less often and, if there is a problem, the airline still has the whole day to sort things out and still deliver your child.

°    Make sure the person picking up your child at the other end has proper photo ID. If the airline is doing its job, they won’t release your child to a person without ID no matter how loudly your kid shouts “Grandma! Grandma!”

Will I still worry a little until Matt's safely back home? Sure. But Delta Airlines couldn't have been more helpful in answering my basic questions. And Google and travelwithyourkids.com helped me answer those questions I didn't even know I had. Gotta love the Web.

March 15, 2022

Laugh it Up at MommaSaid.net

Hey mom! Need a break? Grab that non-fat latte and head over to MommaSaid.net, the creation of Jen Singer, a terrific mom, a very funny writer and a chick with fab hair.

MommaSaid.net was created in 2003 as a virtual community for full- and part-time stay-at-home mothers around the world, says Singer. One of my favorite spots on the site is the Back Fence, where moms share stories like this one, which Singer has generously allowed me to re-print here:

Pretty as a Picture

Thanks to Rebecca Norton of Norfolk, Massachusetts, for this story:

"I was on my way out the door to my cousin's bridal shower. I really don't like bridal showers, but I found great joy in putting on some 'real clothes' with no stains and 'real shoes' that were not good for chasing children.                                                    

"When my four-year-old daughter saw me, she said, 'Mommy, can I take your picture? Because we don't get to see you pretty!'"


                                                      

March 13, 2022

Money, Sex & Kids

It has been a hoot carrying around a copy of the new book Money, Sex and Kids (Adams Media; $14.95) by Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. for the past week or so. If I'm reading it in the orthodontist's waiting room, for instance, people take a look at the cover and you just know they're wondering, "Hmm. I wonder what her problem is: money, sex or kids?"

Actually, reading the book is a good way to help head off potential problems with all three. For instance, Tessina offers down-to-earth tips on how to resolve fights constructively — and lovingly (it’s possible!).

She's is a psychotherapist in private practice and she isn’t afraid to tackle these three biggies in most marriages. Her tips for understanding each other better during an argument make a lot of sense:

°    Seek first to understand.
°    Pay attention to how your words are landing.
°    Focus on the solution.
°    Separate emotion from solution.
°    Don’t beat dead horses.
°    Be nice.

Come to think of it, doing those things in marriage seems like pretty good preventive medicine, too.

March 11, 2022

Guest Post: Let Them Be Girls!

Today I'm jazzed to share with you a guest post from Juliana LeRoy, an award-winning writer and editor at Family-Life magazine in northern California. LeRoy also blogs over at at www.mamabear.pnn.com. I love what she has to say about shopping for clothes for young girls.

It seems to me there is a massive disconnect between what people want and what we have to choose from in the marketplace. Like the ridiculous clothing choices available for girls, when everyone is so against the objectifying of them.

In 2005 Abercrombie & Fitch put out tee shirts with phrases across the front that were demeaning to girls, including, “Who needs brains when you’ve got these?” A group of girls in Pittsburgh decided to take the company to task by “girlcotting” the stores — their version of boycotting — and they made their voices heard. Abercrombie & Fitch removed the offending shirts.

Mothers Acting Up is a group that has taken “girlcotting” to another level and made it an active way to support companies that are aligned with their values. They promote companies that have fair trade
agreements, or commitments to offering a living wage. The idea is to draw attention to good things and make them more visible.

My daughter, Megan, is eight, and she is tall and slim. Her sense of style is emerging, but she mostly wears clothes that you can move in: leggings because she’s too skinny for most pants, and she’s too busy for
skirts. She doesn’t wear tees with slogans on them, unless they say something about one of the Girl Scout camps she’s gone to, or have a school mascot on them. She’s active, and she’s feminine, and loves to feel extra pretty when the occasion calls for it.

When Megan needed a dress for a father-daughter dance, I was sure I’d be able to find something cute and fun and suitable for a third grader in no time at all. We wanted it to be fancy enough for her to feel really dressed up and special, but not too fancy. You know, something girly and pretty and sweet. Not smocking and pinafores, but not Christina Aguilera, either.

I looked online for a girl’s size 7 for Megan, and in some local department stores. It was too late for the holiday dresses, and the Easter dresses weren’t in yet. What I found was slinky materials, skimpy necklines and arms, high hemlines. The dresses were miniatures of the adult sizes, with bold prints and bright colors. They were cute, but not for the ages the sizes were for. I was puzzled and frustrated. What nine year old needs to dress like Britney out on the town? What seven year old needs to show off cleavage?

The dress we finally chose was a pretty blue shiny material, which Megan loved, and it was very simple, which I loved. It was more adult than I originally wanted, but it wasn’t a complete sell-out.

Other moms I’ve talked to have run into the same trouble looking for sixth-grade or eighth-grade graduation dresses. “We had to look all over for a dress that didn’t have spaghetti straps, or no straps at all,” one mom said. “The school has a dress code, and finding something that was dressy enough without being ridiculous was hard.”

“Last year my daughter graduated from 6th grade,” says one mom. “We went to every department and dress store, Mervyns, Macy’s JC Penney, Gottschalks, Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, second-hand stores  and bridal stores. Everything was sheer, strapless, super short, tight fitting, plunging necklines and/or backless — for a 12 year old?! I don’t think I’d let my daughter wear most of these styles to prom. I think they make girls look hookers. We finally found a dress at a bridal shop, paid too much, and had to sew on straps besides. Isn’t there anybody out there that has decent dresses?”

Today’s girls and teenagers want to feel cute, and want to be fashionable. Why can’t the clothing choices be appropriate and cute? Why does everything have to be low-cut, tight, revealing or provocative? To answer that it doesn’t, two major department stores have recently introduced more modest clothing lines, aiming at the vast market of girls, teens and women who believe confidence and intelligence is sexier than any amount of skin showing: Macy’s Shade line and Nordstrom’s Modern and Modest line.

What do you think? Are the choices out there in keeping with your values and sensibilities? Are you comfortable with the styles and examples we are being sold? Why or why not? Where’s the best place to find cute dresses for young ladies?

March 08, 2022

Can't Say No to Your Kids? Here's Help

In response to my Feb. 27 post, "Are You Crazy Busy?" Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of 13 parenting and relationship books, including The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It — and Stop People-Pleasing Forever got in touch and offered to share these tips, from her wonderful book, with the rest of us:

When something needs to be done, you’re the one to do it. It often feels as if you’re the only reliable person you know. The trouble is: Everyone else thinks that way, too. Especially your children.

Children have no trouble saying no. But it’s a word you avoid because it sets your guilt meter running, particularly where your children are concerned. You don’t want to disappoint them or make them unhappy. When you say yes to your children’s every want and whim, you wind up saying no to yourself, being overwhelmed and exhausted. You can’t be a happy, effective parent if you always function on overload.

At times, it seems a child’s needs involve you in different and demanding ways every waking minute. You have every right to say no to a child who asks to stay up later or eat more candy than you think is healthy, just as you do to an adult child who seeks dollars to start a seemingly risky venture.

NO Teaches Life Lessons

In some situations, no is the obvious answer, but what happens when your child asks to add another extracurricular activity to her already-full schedule? You’re proud of her initiative and want her to excel, but at the same time, your brain calculates the extra costs, both monetary and physical, that will result if you give permission.

When faced with the decision to add another activity to your child’s crowded schedule, grant a privilege or buy the latest electronic gizmo, listen to your gut feeling and ask yourself these questions: Can you afford to invest the time or money? What will it take away from other children in your family? From your job? How much stress or pressure will it add to your life?

By calling up a no when you need it, you gain a bit of deserved time for yourself, and equally important, no prepares your child for the “real” world. Parental no’s teach children how to cope with disappointment, how to argue, how to strike a balance between work and play, time management and task prioritization — essential experiences that aren’t always taught in school. When children grow up learning these concepts, they are more likely to be successful in their academics, relationships and, later on, in their careers.

10 Tips for Saying NO

In The Book of NO I point out that you have certain rights. Among them: Using no to get your life in control and to be in control of it; requesting details before committing; refusing anyone, including your children, who insists on an immediate answer. Exercising your “no” rights will change how you think when your children’s requests seem excessive, unnecessary or impossible to meet given your other commitments.

In our culture of “yes parenting,” here are suggestions and reminders to make saying no to your children easier:

•    Don't get in the habit of putting your children's wants and wishes before yours.
•    Forget about keeping up with the Joneses (one of the reasons many parents say yes).
•    Think about what’s really involved (in terms of time, money, health, pressure — yours and theirs).
•    Children get over disappointment far better and faster than parents do.
•    Don’t say yes to avoid confrontation.
•    Appropriate use of NO teaches important life lessons.
•    Saying NO helps instill your beliefs and values.
•    Remember, it is your parental right to say NO.
•    Park your guilt. As adults, your children will find something other than your refusals to fault you for.
•    Your children may even thank you for teaching them how to say no.

Thanks, Dr. Newman! For more on how to say NO to your children, friends, family and at work, visit www.thebookofno.com.

March 06, 2022

Cell Phone in the Washing Machine - Arg!

Talk about timing...

So I'm sitting here working on a magazine article on kids and cell phones, and I decide to take a break from the home office and switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer. (OK, and maybe grab some Triscuits and cheese... If there are downsides to working from a home office, like the constant reminder of dirty laundry, there ought to be upsides, like snacks. Right?)

Perfect time to discover that my 12-year-old son left his cell phone in his pants pocket and it went through the wash cycle. &*^())#$#^!

I knew I wasn’t alone with this problem when I Googled “cell phone in washing machine” and up popped 332,000 results. That seemed a bit overwhelming, so I decided to go straight to our service provider, who suggested removing the battery and letting the phone dry out for a few days. Sometimes that does the trick, they said — but often it doesn’t.

Unfortunately phones that are damaged by liquid aren’t covered by most manufacturers’ warranties. So this may be an expensive lesson for one young man regarding always emptying his pockets at night. (But his dad’s wallet went through the laundry — again — two weeks ago, so this may be a genetic problem we’re dealing with here!)

Hey, anything for a good article-sidebar idea, right?

Has this happened at your house? If so, did the phone ever come back to life?


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