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Essays

May 04, 2021

Sneaking Off For a Date...

It's Sunday, and Randy and I needed to run to Home Depot and other exciting spots to do some shopping that would bore Matt (age 12) to tears.

So Matt volunteered to stay home and work on homework and household chores(!) while Randy and I went to buy towel bars and toilet plungers. (Yeah, marriage doesn't get any sexier than that...)

In the middle of running errands, with my stomach growling, I spotted our favorite burger joint, In 'N Out. I didn't have to work too hard to convince Randy to stop for lunch. We had so much fun! (Especially since our usual at-home meals consist of healthy chicken, pasta, fish, chicken, pasta, fish, chicken, pasta, fish...)

Can't remember the last time the two of us had just gone out for a burger, alone, on the spur of the moment. "Don't tell Matt!" we laughed, knowing he'd be mighty jealous.

As marital secrets go, this isn't a barn-burner, I know. But Randy and I must have looked pretty funny, sneaking out of the car when we got back home and tossing our In 'N Out soda cups in the recycling bin out by the street before we entered the house.

Shhh! Don't tell Matt.

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 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 05, 2022

Parenting: The Same in Any Language

Thank goodness for Google and its ability to "speak" so many languages. In the past week alone, Parent Talk Today has had visitors from Italy, Egypt, Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, France, Thailand and Vietnam.

Many simply used their native language in a Google search, and they ended up here. Pretty amazing. (And with today's website-translation services, they can actually read the blog when they get here. A definite plus.)

While I don't have any detailed information on individual visitors (nor would I want to invade their privacy that way), I do see the Google searches that brought them to this blog, and I've come to a happy conclusion: We parents are pretty much alike around the globe. We all worry about what to feed our kids, how to get them to sleep and what's normal (and not) with their development. We wonder how to talk with them about sex, and bullying and drugs.

We all love our kids to pieces — and we all have days when we wish we could just take a  break from parenting. We feel guilty for not being perfect and we thrill to first smiles and first steps. We feel like part of a community — and yet we have days when we feel very much alone with a particular parenting challenge.

So it's good to know we can meet at blogs like this one on the Web, the electronic back fence that's available to us all, even in the middle of the night when we're sitting up with a colicky baby or waiting up for a teenager's car to pull into the driveway.

It's good to know that parents around the world are alike in so many ways — and that we really are all in this together.

February 25, 2022

When Life Spins You Around

On Super Bowl Sunday, 2003, a drunk driver changed Woody Woodburn's life forever.

The journalist and father of two was covering the big game as a sports columnist for the Torrance, California Daily Breeze. "A few hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned the Oakland Raiders into twisted, total wreckage, 48-21, an uninsured drunk driver did the same to my Honda Accord," he says.

The accident changed not only Woodburn's body, but also his career and his relationship with his family — to the point where he now calls that day "a blessing."

I'm honored to share his story, which recently ran as an essay in the Los Angeles Times. Check it out here.

February 04, 2022

Get Thee Behind Me, Cheesecake!

How do you spell S-T-R-E-S-S?

My son, Matt, was fighting a cold this morning and trudged off to school looking like a doomed man. I had to take the dog to the vet. And then I had one of those work mornings I'd just as soon bury in the back yard...

But there was no time for pity parties. I had a lunch date scheduled with my friend Robi, who deserved to have a happy lunch companion for her BIRTHDAY lunch, for crying in the soup! Clearly, it was no time to actually cry in my soup.

But as I was driving to meet her at the Cheesecake Factory, where I usually order something diet-worthy, like the luncheon-potion grilled salmon, I was overcome by an urge to eat cheesecake. A BIG piece of CHOCOLATE cheesecake. Because (say it with me now) I DESERVED IT.

You know the drill: Stressed-out mom has a tough day and decides to indulge in something that (a) doesn't talk back, (b) provides unconditional comfort (at least until I try to fit into my jeans or I need an angioplasty) and (c) makes me happy.

Well, let's hear it for the power of friendship. Robi actually encouraged me to whine a bit over my salmon. (What a pal.) Then we went on to talk about everything from scrapbooking to writers' conferences. Some things are even better — and certainly better for me — than scarfing down a huge wedge of cheesecake.

I ended up bringing home a slice for my son as a special treat. (He's on the swim team and burns calories like crazy, but I don't even let him eat stuff like this all that often.) I checked out the nutrition information later and learned that one slice of the Cheesecake Factory's chocolate mousse cheesecake is (get this!) 780 calories and 55 grams of fat. Yowza.

Thanks to my Robi-therapy, I didn't rip open the to-go box and down the whole thing in the car on the way home.

And when he sat down for his after-school treat, Matt noticed that the edges had only been slightly evened up.

To follow this mom's weight-loss journey from the beginning, just click on "Weight Loss" on the "Categories" list at right and scroll down.


 

January 30, 2022

What Do You Really Value?

Today we're featuring guest blogger Carol Muse Evans, publisher of Birmingham Parent magazine in Alabama. When I read her publisher's letter in the January issue, I asked to use it as a guest post here because I thought it would speak to a lot of parents the way it spoke to me. Thanks, Carol!

Each year, I and many others write a list of New Year’s resolutions that are often abandoned before the ink is dry. But this year, my resolutions aren’t about losing weight (though I need to), exercising more (ditto) or other frivolous causes. I have more lasting things on my mind.

I’m more reflective in 2008 — perhaps I’m feeling my age a bit, readying for my empty nest in a few years since I now have teenagers, and just realizing that life is a little shorter as the obituary page becomes a bit more familiar each day I open the newspaper.

I don’t mean to be morbid, but I am trying to live more like I would want to, and want to be remembered for. It seems books I read, movies I see and sermons I hear are moving me in that direction. Perhaps it is God who is leading me down this path.

This year, my list is more important than ever to me, and I’m going to try really hard to make it. Here are some of the things on MY resolution list:

•    I want to right wrongs. For those I have hurt inadvertently or purposefully, I want to try to make it right. While I cannot make people forgive or forget, I want to try to bring resolution in areas when I need to.

•    I want to get over being bitter about things. Old relationships, old hurt, old business dealings gone wrong and even old school-day pains. I want it gone, out of me.

•    I want to reunite with old friends and relatives with whom I’ve lost touch. We get so busy, we often let relationships, particularly long-distance ones, go.

•    I want to let my house get a little dirtier and have more fun. I want to give up trying to have the perfect life and really have the perfect life — by spending more time having fun with my family. I want to do things I’ve never done — like snow skiing, taking that ballroom-dancing class, etc. — and enjoy life.

•    I want to help the less fortunate. Many of us just think of it during the holiday season, and while that’s important, I want to remember those who are in need ALL year long and do more than I’ve ever done before. God has blessed me, and I want to pay it forward.

Ultimately, I hope by doing the above that I’ll be the best example to my children. I hope they’ll think more about the truly important things in life because they see Mom finally doing it. And that would mean everything.

Happy New Year!

December 04, 2021

Friends for All Seasons

My friend Roberta Wax, a terrific journalist and essayist, has a wonderful piece that was just published over at divinecaroline.com. She was kind enough to let me give you a peek:

It was one of those days. The dog had eaten the meat that was defrosting for dinner, my daughter was moaning about her homework, my son wanted to skateboard in the hall and the dry cleaner gave me someone’s toreador pants instead of my husband’s suit.

I needed to vent and I had two choices — my husband or a girlfriend. She won. While my husband would listen for a bit, he would cut short my tale of woe and, in typical male M.O., attempt a quick fix with a male-oriented solution.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, would give me what I really wanted: a sympathetic ear and a soothing dose of “there, there” and “poor baby, what an awful day,” with nary a solution in sight.

OK, now you love Roberta, too, right? She just gets it. As much as we love the guys in our lives, our girlfriends bring something to the party that's irreplaceable. And there are different friends for the different parts of our lives, and even for the different part of ourselves.

Click on the link above and head on over to divinecaroline.com to read the entire essay. Then come back and tell us, in comments, about the friend you appreciate most today. (And thanks, Robi! I'm glad you're my buddy.)

 

October 26, 2021

Can Parents Preach Abstinence AND Safe Sex?

I was flipping through the newspaper at breakfast recently and I about choked on my toast when I saw this: About 1 in every 4 or 5 young people in Los Angeles County, California (where a recent study was conducted) contracted a sexually transmitted disease in 2005. Epidemiologists at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, California (who conducted the study) were even taken by surprise at the numbers, saying "this was a shock."

Especially scary was the large number of new cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, which are associated with HIV and are considered to be among the most serious STDs, the researchers say. The reason for those numbers? Too many teens and young adults today are having unprotected sex.

One bit of good news is that human papillomavirus — which can lead to cervical cancer — is now largely preventable with a vaccine. The bad news is that we're apparently doing a lousy job of convincing teens to use condoms if they choose to have sex.

Yep, it's a tricky topic for parents. If you talk about safe sex and condom use with your child, are you encouraging too-early experimentation? If you skip the condom talk and go straight to "just say no," will your child be dangerously uninformed and ill-prepared and end up with an STD, pregnant or emotionally messed up (or all three)? It’s enough to tempt any parent to avoid bringing up the subject at all. But we can’t duck this one. Too much is at stake.

So what's the answer?

Continue reading "Can Parents Preach Abstinence AND Safe Sex? " »

October 08, 2021

Driven to Distraction

Cell_phone_2 A couple of years ago, my husband, then-9-year-old son and I had a too-close call with a cell-phone-wielding woman maneuvering an SUV through our always-crowded downtown area.

She hung a fast right on red without stopping, slowing or, apparently, even wondering if any pedestrians might be taking advantage of the flashing “walk” signal. Fortunately, my husband saw her and pulled both Matt and me from her path. She never even noticed us scrambling out of her way.


Continue reading "Driven to Distraction" »

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