Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bad boss? Here's how you can tell

My bosses happen to be pretty cool, but I know I'm one of the lucky ones -- there are plenty of people out dealing with bad bosses every day. They aren’t as glaringly obvious as Bill Lumburgh from Office Space (”Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?”), though. It can take years to recover professionally, not to mention emotionally; bad bosses can really do a whack job on your self esteem.

How do you know if you have a bad boss? Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're talking about the warning signs. If you're wondering about your boss, ask yourself these questions:

1.) Would she be willing to do what she just asked me to do?

2.) Who gets the credit?

3.) Is he even in today?

4.) Whoops. Now what?

5.) Does she want me to move up, or move on?

Get the details at The 36-Hour Day, and be sure to share your war stories in the comments (anonymously, if you like!)

How do your food phobias affect your kids?

Parents regularly beat themselves up about what they're feeding their kids. But there are also people who, battling their own eating disorders, inadvertently pass their food phobias on to their kids. The issue usually has to do with weight, but not always; recently I read a fascinating New York Times article about parents who are so obsessed with eating well that their kids end up terrified of food.

We're discussing how our views on food affect our kids over at's Child Caring blog...

A study by the Journal of American Dietetic Association last year indicated that parents of kids in daycare centers in Texas don't know how to pack a proper lunch. The study was tiny -- just 74 kids -- but half the lunches provided less than a third of the recommended intakes of key nutrients (like carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C), most provided too much sodium and not enough fiber, fruit, veggies, or milk.

Parents regularly beat themselves up about what they're feeding their kids. But there are also people who, battling their own eating disorders, inadvertently pass their food phobias on to their kids. The issue usually has to do with weight, but not always; yesterday I read a fascinating article about parents who are so obsessed with eating well that their kids end up terrified of food.
“It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami, said in the article. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.”

Now, I'm concerned about trans-fats -- to an extent. And about high-fructose corn syrup and excess sodium and Red Dye No. 40. After reviewing "The Hundred-Year Lie" by Randall Fitzgerald a couple of years ago, I started paying more attention to the chemicals in our food. And then, my youngest daughter got really picky.

All of a sudden, she was only willing to eat cheese, pasta, cheese, whole-wheat toast, cheese, apples, and cheese. She might have nibbled at other things from time to time during that phase, but those were the only things she really ate.

I started to fret, and then obsess about it. She wouldn't touch meat, not even kid-friendly chicken nuggets or burgers. She lobbed her roasted sweet potatoes at the dog. She constructed vast forests out of broccoli, and left them on her plate. She wouldn't even eat her multivitamin... how could she possibly be getting adequate nutrition?

And then I stopped fretting. Our older kids are omnivorous and, eventually, she would be, too. I kept offering her a variety of foods at every meal, instituted the "polite bite" rule (one bite -- just one! -- and if she didn't like it she didn't have to eat more at that sitting), made sure she saw the all of us eating plenty of different things, and you know what? She got curious -- and hungry. She still avoids meat if she can help it, and she certainly doesn't devour everything I put in front of her (she is 4, after all), but she eats a good variety of foods and is fit and healthy. She even gets sweet treats now and then. And, as for what's going into her lunchbox... I'm not beating myself up about it.

Everything in moderation, right? Isn't that just common sense?

what do you think? Is it a good thing that kids have become so health conscious? Or should they be OK with eating an Oreo every now and then?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

When is your child too sick for school?

If you've ever been on the fence about sending a sick child to school, you're not alone. According to a new survey by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates on behalf of Triaminic, 78 percent of parents faced at least one situation in the past year when they were not sure whether to keep their children home from school when they had cough or cold symptoms.

Now that we're in the thick of flu and cold season, I find myself assessing my kids almost daily. Runny nose, but no fever? You're fine, get your backpack. Hacking cough, but bouncing off the walls with energy? You're going to school.

But there are days when I'm on the fence. Is that a fever, or were you just running around the house? Is that cough bringing up phlegm, or just a reaction to a tickle in the throat? Who has a math test they didn't study for?

According to a nationwide study conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates on behalf of Triaminic, 78 percent of parents faced at least one situation in the past year when they were not sure whether or not to keep their children home from school when they had cough or cold symptoms.

The National Association of School Nurses suggests that you keep your child home if he or she exhibits any of the following symptoms:

1.) A fever of 100.4 or higher
2.) Vomiting
3.) Symptoms that could prevent him or her from participating in school activities, such as fatigue, lack of appetite, body aches, productive cough (one that is breaking up and bringing out congestion), or headache.

Those are guidelines that many doctors seem to apply to their own kids, which works for me -- in fact, my youngest two are home right now, hacking away (as am I). But what works for you? How do you decide whether your kid needs to stay home from school?

While cold medicine is no longer recommended for children younger than 4, if your child is 4 or older, the correct dose can help ease symptoms long enough for your child to get the rest he needs in order to get better. Triaminic has offered to let me give away 10 packages of their Thin Strips to help you battle cold and flu season; all you have to do to enter is leave a comment (and your email address) over at my Affordable Luxuries shopping blog by 11:59 p.m. on March 2. My random number generator and I will select 10 winners on March 3!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The "write" gear for your trip

Most kids love anything they can personalize; parents love it as long as the writing doesn't wreck the thing. Graffeeti's backpacks and sneakers have built-in dry-erase panels on which kids can scribble to their heart's content -- makes them perfect for travel, too!

Gearing Up
February 22, 2008

The Write Backpack
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

With a dry-erase panel that you can write on, you don't have to rely on colorful ribbons or handle wraps to make this bag stand out. Your tween can print her name and destination right on her Graffeeti backpack, doodle to stave off boredom while in transit, collect autographs, or scrawl Keep Out as a warning to pesky younger siblings. Each bag comes with a set of special markers. About $30 at or call 800-851-1272. [More]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cringe-worthy meltdown? Here's how to cope

I%20brake%20for%20meltdowns.jpgAt's Child Caring blog, we're discussing something we all have to deal with as parents: At some point, often right around the 2-year mark, our sweet little toddlers morph from adorable cherubs to masters of the meltdown.

It's bad enough when you have to deal with massive temper tantrum at home, but when it happens in a public place, as it often does, it can be even worse. Parents can feel judged, frustrated, inept -- and furious.

Michelle Nicholasen of Somerville, Mass., an award-winning filmmaker for Nova and Frontline and the author of I Break for Meltdowns: How to Handle the Most Exasperating Behavior of Your 2- to 5-Year-Old, has plenty of experience with public meltdowns -- she has five kids under the age of 8, including a set of 5-year-old triplets. The worst incident, she says, took place at a Mexican restaurant in Connecticut, during a long road trip.

"After being cooped up in a minivan for six hours, my kids came unhinged," she told me in an e-mail interview. "One of my daughters took an ornament off the Christmas tree and smashed it. Another one got annoyed with her food and crawled under the table and wouldn’t come out. My oldest daughter, I think 5 at the time, got into an argument with her grandfather and defiantly poured her drink on to the middle of the floor. I will never go back there."

In her book, Nicholasen and Barbara O'Neal, the Educational Director of Arlington Children Center in Arlington, Mass., share their wisdom on what to do in the most cringe-worthy situations. Nicholasen sat down with me recently (at our respective computers) to chat via e-mail about her book, her blog, and how parents can handle the behavioral challenges young kids often present. (You can find the full interview at here)

"As parents, we are much more self-conscious about being judged when our child is misbehaving in public," she says. "The things that go through our minds are: Am I raising my child to be a wild animal? Have I not taught him enough manners? My child is acting like a little brat; what am I doing wrong? But even when you do your best, sometimes a collapse will still happen."

Nicholasen suggests a few coping strategies for parents who find themselves facing a screaming sweetie in public:

1.) Find the humor in it. "Imagine a grown-up acting like your child, and you will soon have to stifle a smile."

2.) Take the pressure off of yourself. "Assuming you’ve done your best to prepare our child for the trip, take the pressure off yourself -- this tantrum it not necessarily a reflection of your parenting skills," Nicholasen points out. "Do you know what is, though? How you react to it."

3.) Don't escalate the situation. "Parents can make tantrums much worse by yelling at their child to stop, or by threatening them. The behavior just gets worse. The other hard thing to do is not give in. Once you've set a reasonable boundary (ie, no candy at check out), don't renege just to quiet her down. If you do, she has just learned that her tantrum works. Best to scoop up your tyke and take her to a place where she can calm down without being disruptive to others," she advises. "Is it a drag for the parent? Oh yes, and tiring, too. But wait out the storm and it will pass."

Parents, what was your worst meltdown experience? How did you deal with it?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Do your kids get an allowance?

Does getting an allowance teach kids to manage money, or does it just condition them to expect a handout? Should you tie the allowance in to chores, or should chores be considered a non-negotiable family responsibility? And how much should a 10-year-old get, anyway?

When I was a kid, my dad used to solemnly dole out a dollar a week to me and my two brothers. Every Sunday, after dinner, we'd wait for my father to take that last sip of wine, fold his napkin, and reach into his pocket for his wallet so we could line up next to his chair and get our weekly allowance.

Kids today get much more. Some experts suggest that you give them $1 per week for each year of age -- which means that I'd be shelling out $44 a week for my five children, which means I'd soon go broke. Others suggest paying kids for the chores they do around the house, which means that some weeks my 13-year-old would be rich while my 15-year-old would be destitute. Or vice versa.

David McCurrach, founder of, says that giving kids an allowance is an essential step in helping them learn to manage money. "If your kids don't get allowances, you are managing their money for them by deciding what they will buy and what they will do," McCurrach writes. "Their role is salesperson and manipulator."

In order to determine how much to hand out each week, McCurrach says you should first figure out how much money you already give them and then decide what you expect them to pay for
themselves. "Keep in mind the fact that kids have three uses for their money -- spending, saving and sharing," he writes. "Consider all three areas when you are coming up with the amount."

If you have never discussed money with your kids and you need to now in order to handle a financial crisis, keep things open and honest, upbeat, and to-the-point. Sharing household budget constraints can make it easier to save money and lets kids feel like they’re helping, Myvesta Foundation president Steve Rhode told Reuters recently.

Older kids can benefit from lessons in budgeting and a carefully monitored trial run in the real world. "If your teen blew all of her money on a new outfit at the beginning of the month and now doesn't have enough left to go to the movies with friends, be sympathetic but don't bail her out," says the parenting editor at "Explain to your teen how checks and credit cards work, and how banks operate. Be sure to mention interest payments and service charges."

While it seems to make sense to offer an allowance in exchange for doing chores around the house, experts contend that doing so might actually get in the way of teaching your child good money management skills. "Chores should be considered a family responsibility that should not be associated with money. Also, kids may not do their chores if they only have to give up a small allowance" or if the amount they're getting is not consistent, an article at advises.

Parents are split over the allowance-for-free vs. allowance-for-chores issue. If it's essential to you to tie allowances to chores in some way, consider these compromises:

1.) Give extra money for extra work. Kids can get a base allowance each week, and have opportunities to earn more money by completing extra chores. Use a chore chart to determine the value of additional chores or to help kids keep themselves on schedule.

2.) Make chores mandatory, but easy. Designate as "chores" some of the
things you want them to learn to do by themselves anyway -- brushing their teeth
twice a day, making their beds, putting their dirty laundry in the hamper instead of on the floor of their rooms.

3.) Earn something other than money. If you use an allowance to teach kids about money, use a point system to teach kids that there are rewards that come with hard work. Handipoints offers a system that allows parents to customize chore charts and set goals for kids, who earn points that they can trade in online.

Whatever you do, it's imperitive that you talk to your kids about finances. If you have never discussed money with your kids and you need to now in order to handle a financial crisis, keep things open and honest, upbeat, and to-the-point.

Big Family? That's fine.

As a mom and step mom of five, I haven't really weighed in on Nadya Suleman and her 14 children mostly because I just can’t imagine what her work-life juggle is like, or will be like, once her tiny octuplets come home.

I did ask readers at the Boston Globe's Child Caring blog about how they parent in a large family, and a comment on another post there prompted me to write about big families at The 36-Hour Day. And here's what it boils down to: Enough with the judgement. Big families can do just fine, thank you.

There’s no “perfect” number of kids to make a family. Parents of singletons get
criticized for
having just one child; moms and dads of many are taken to task for overpopulating the planet — which really doesn’t make sense, given that US census data shows that the average number of kids per family is still about 2.7 and, according to a recent New York Times story on big families, “Total
fertility rate, which predicts the number of children an average woman will have
in her lifetime, reached 2.1, considered replacement level, in 2006, but it was
the first time it had been that high since 1971.” ... [
So let’s discuss something else about the Suleman case. Selective termination. Infertility treatments. Baby addiction. The medical and moral issues surrounding mega-pregnancies. The outrage over the fact that taxpayers will probably be footing a large part of the bill for her youngest babies’ hospital stays. How she’s been getting death threats, and the craziness that makes people think that would make the situation any better.

Join the discussion at The 36-Hour Day, or start one here, in the comments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do most working moms want a makeover?

I was on my way out the door the other day when I skidded to a stop in front of the hallway mirror, struck by the huge dark circles under my eyes.

Don't all busy working moms want a makeover? It seems so... even the celebrity ones who already look great.

Jessica Alba got a bit of a digital assist for a recent photo shoot, and she still doesn't feel good about herself:

“Eight weeks after my girlfriend had her baby, you could see her six-pack,” Alba tells Elle Magazine in the upcoming March issue. “She told me to put an elastic band around my waist — any kind of band or girdle works. She was like, ‘I slept in it.’ I didn’t recover as fast as she did. I [still] don’t have a six-pack.”

For the record: “Still” means “About eight months after giving birth.” I’m sorry, I’m 27 months post-partum, and the only six-pack I’ve got is in my fridge.

Do you think you need a makeover? Read the rest (and sound off) at The 36-Hour Day.

How many extracurriculars does your kid really need?

Unlike many of her classmates, my preschooler takes Taekwando a couple of times a week -- but that's it. No art class, no ballet, no cooking seminars, no gymnastics, no "Mommy and Me" anything.

My older kids are plenty busy, but thus far I've been reluctant to sign my 4- and 2-year-old up for many extra curricular activities. Money isn't the only issue here... we're so busy during the week, I'm loathe to give up our weekend time as a family.

I'm not sure how guilty to feel about this. On the one hand, I'm all for kids having plenty opportunities to learn and grow and do things that have captured their interests. With older kids, there's a measure of self discipline, self awareness, and self esteem to be gained from certain kinds of extracurriculars -- team sports, for example, or Mock Trial or maybe even a part-time job. (Added bonus: If teenagers are super busy, maybe they won't find time to date until they're out on their own!)

But preschoolers? Toddlers? Do they really need extracurricular activities -- especially if they're already in preschool or daycare?... [More]

The discussion is going on at The Boston Globe's Child Caring blog; go over and weigh in. Are we overscheduling our kids?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Should kids celebrate Valentine's Day at school?

As I picked my 4-year-old up from preschool yesterday, I asked her teacher whether the class would be doing anything for Valentine's Day and was surprised when she told me that she's not allowed to plan anything for them.

"If parents want to send in cards or treats, we can't stop them from doing that," she told me apologetically, "but we're not supposed to do anything ourselves."

(The answer surprised me so much that I brought it up on's Child Caring blog. The reactions in the comments were interesting -- take a moment to check them out.)

Now, I don't think of Valentine's Day as a religious holiday, and I do see the point in trying to prevent kids from getting their feelings hurt ("Jimmy gave Cathy a card but not me! Waaaaaa!"), but avoiding it entirely? Why?

Most kids are aware of Valentine's day -- it's a mainstream "holiday," and we're inundated with advertising and programming and craft ideas for and about it. So why not celebrate the day in the classroom and use it as a chance to teach kids about the importance of friendship and caring for others? Shift the focus away from hearts and candy and have kids bring flowers and fun to a retirement home. Collect donations for a food pantry, or bring books and toys to the children's wing of a hospital.

I baked tiny cookies for my kids' classmates anyway -- if they can't have a party, they can just call it snack. And I'll be making cards for my kids tonight, just little notes telling them how important they are to me, sealed with a lipstick kiss.

Do you celebrate Valentine's Day with your kids? Should it be kept out of the classroom?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Should kids care about Valentine's Day?

As I picked my 4-year-old up from preschool yesterday, I asked her teacher whether the class would be doing anything for Valentine's Day and was surprised when she told me that she's not allowed to plan anything for them.

"If parents want to send in cards or treats, we can't stop them from doing that," she told me apologetically, "but we're not supposed to do anything ourselves."

Now, I don't think of Valentine's Day as a religious holiday, and I do see the point in trying to prevent kids from getting their feelings hurt ("Jimmy gave Cathy a card but not me! Waaaaaa!"), but avoiding it entirely? Why?

A few teachers have weighed in on this discussion over at my parenting blog at The competition among kids -- and their parents -- can be fierce, one points out; there is a concern about allergies and homemade treats, another mentions. But what about using the opportunity to teach kids about friendship or community service?

What do you think? Should kids care about Valentine's Day?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Learning from on-the-job mistakes

Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're talking about on-the-job mistakes and how we can learn from them (or, more to the point, how I've learned from my most recent one). Come over and weigh in -- what have you learned from your mistakes?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Resurrecting a role model

At The Boston Globe's Child Caring blog, we've wondering if Michael Phelps can still be a good role model:

My family, along with most of the nation, held our breath and watched as Michael Phelps made Olympic history last year. As a parent, I cheered for other reasons, too: My kids and their friends were fascinated by a clean-cut, hard-working, dedicated and driven young man whom I would be happy to have them emulate.

And then came the photo from the party in South Carolina of Phelps with his cap on backwards, smoking what appears to be marijuana from a glass pipe.

And then the outrage and disappointment -- from parents, from the media, from his corporate sponsors, from the United States Olympic Commission.

But I still think he could be a good role model.

Now, please note that I wrote "could be," not "is." He made a stupid choice (I can't really call it a mistake... I don't think you learn how to use that particular type of pipe by accident). He's being punished (banned from competitive swimming for three months, among other things). But I'm not sure that focusing on his mistake is the way to help our kids learn from this.

I think that character is shown, not just by the choices you make in life, but also by the way you deal with the consequences of those choices. So I'm interested in what happens next.

Our kids aren't perfect -- they will make stupid mistakes and bad choices, too, and some of them will leave us staggering. Along with hoping that they make the right choices, can we teach them to learn from their mistakes and improve themselves? Or do we show them that, if they're not perfect, we'll turn our backs on them?

Parents, do you think it's possible for Michael Phelps -- or A Rod, or Michael Vicks, or Britney Spears, for that matter -- to still become a positive role model again?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

5 tips for making your boring job better

An old friend of mine once told me that she used to adore reading until she started writing literary criticism for a living. Even at the best of times, we don't always love what we do, and when times are tough -- like they are right now -- it's not so easy to ditch a job just because you're not enjoying it.

At The 36-Hour Day, I'm writing about ways to make your boring job better -- or, at least, ways to make yourself appreciate it a little more. The details are over there, but here are the basics:

1.) Get energized. Here are a few ways to boost your energy levels without leaving the office.

2.) Personalize your space.

3.) Have a life outside of the office. If you’re not deriving satisfaction from your 9-to-5, look for ways to feel fulfilled when you’re not at work.

4.) Turn off the inner critic or control freak. If that seems like too far-reaching of a goal, focus on this: Pick your battles. Figure out what’s most important to you and fight for it -- and let the rest slide.

5.) Face the facts. If you’re truly unsatisfied with your job, and you’re willing to take a few risks, now may be a great time to figure out what you really love to do. If you can’t figure out a way to get paid for it, do it on your own time and put it on your resume — as Penelope Trunk points out, your resume isn’t about your income, it’s about your experience.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Travel smart: Water Wow painting books

I happened on these in a Michael's craft store a few months back, and handed them over to my youngest kids during a recent long car trip. My husband braced himself -- he was certain that the kids would be flinging the water-filled pens in seconds -- but the silence went on for miles as the kids happily painted water onto the books pages, let them dry, and painted them over again.

February 9, 2009
Gearing Up
Just add water

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

If your kids paint with water, it doesn't matter whether they decorate the tray table or the car seat (or, for that matter, their siblings).
Water Wow books are filled with colorful pictures your child can discover simply by brushing water over the pages. The books air-dry in minutes, so they can be used over and over again. They cost about $7 at most Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Michaels craft stores, and Target. (You can also find them online at [More]

Do moms make it harder for dads to parent?

Do Moms make it harder for Dads to be good parents? We're figuring out the answer at's Child Caring blog. Here's my own experience:

When I went back to work after having my first baby, I was working days while my husband worked nights. He'd hang out with our baby during the day, then take her in to the office at the start of his shift. My shift ended when his started, and he'd hand her off to me and I'd take her back home for what I called my Second Shift with the kids (my first baby was also our fourth child).

I often said that the thing that made returning to work after my first maternity leave most manageable, for me, was the knowledge that my baby was spending the day with her dad. But, according to a recent survey by Parenting magazine, 46 percent of moms said that they get angry at their spouses at least once per week -- and the majority of them are getting mad about parenting issues, not bills or chores or who has the remote. In fact, a full 40 percent of respondents said they were furious because "their husbands seem clueless about the best way to take care of kids."

We've all heard the jokes about dads who diaper the wrong end of the baby, dress them in eye-aching combinations of stripes and polka dots, let them eat chocolate cake for breakfast (it has eggs, milk, and wheat, right Bill Cosby?), etc. We've all heard stories of fatherly incompetence from our friends from time to time, and horror stories about neglectful parents, male and female.

And, goodness knows, there have been times when my husband has wholeheartedly given the kids permission to do something that I definitely would have vetoed (like playing "Rock Band" until 1 a.m. or watching Predator on cable). But, during the year and a half that our now-preschooler was home with my husband during the day, it never, ever occurred to me to micromanage his parenting.

Maybe it was because my husband was already a parent when we met -- since he’d done the baby thing three times already, why would I have to tell him what to do with his fourth child? Maybe it was because I assumed that a nearly 6-month-old baby who loved to nap (three hours at a stretch! I miss those days) would be a piece of cake. Or maybe I was so worried about earning enough money to support our expanded family that it was a relief not to have to worry about who was taking care of her while I was at the office -- even if it meant my husband and I were like ships passing in the dead of night for a while.

But the thing that I wonder most about is this: How can moms complain that dads aren't involved enough or nurturing enough if they don't trust their husbands to be good parents without supervision?

Moms, do you feel the need to micromanage when your child is alone with his or her father? Dads, have you ever felt like you were being asked to babysit instead of parent?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Are your child's toys toxic?

It seems like a no-brainer: If the toys you're selling contain something that's harmful to children, you shouldn't sell them.

But you'd be surprised. Sometimes, it takes an act of congress plus a lawsuit to make companies pull the toys off their shelves.

This week, a federal judge upheld the congressional ban barring stores from selling children’s toys and childcare products that contain phthalates, a chemical that softens plastics and also acts as a hormone disrupter. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday, February 10.

Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen filed the lawsuit against the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) late last year, after learning that a law firm had asked the CPSC, on behalf of unidentified clients, to apply the U.S. ban on phthalates to the production, but not the sale of, children's toys. Just two days after the letter was sent, the CPSC agreed. Meaning that while phthalates couldn't be used on toys manufactured after the Feb. 10 cutoff date, existing toys with the harmful chemical could still be sold.

Hence the lawsuit.

Now, I can see the business side of this: The economy is awful, and businesses want to minimize their losses. But from the parental side, all I can think is: Are you kidding me? First lead, and now this?

The law, which was signed by President Bush in September, bans the same six phthalates that have been banned in European toys for nearly 10 years. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, other countries -- including Argentina, Japan, Israel and Mexico have also banned the chemicals. And Toys R Us decided to pull some toys containing phthalates off their shelves by the end of 2008.

Parents, you can't rest easy quite yet: The Toy Association of America says that, based on independent research and "a 50-year track record of safe use," they believe that the phthalates used in toys pose "no significant risk to children’s health." And, as an article at points out, "any replacement chemicals would not necessarily have such a long history of use and analysis."

Parents, have the lead or phthalate issues changed the way you buy toys?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Is it ever OK to butt in?

We’ve all experienced the Mommy Drive-By — unsolicited advice (or assvice, as the case may be) given by people who are positive they can parent your child better than you. But is there ever a time when butting in is the right thing to do?

I think so.

ABC News has a new segment called “What Would You Do?” and a recent installment was on a topic most parents couldn’t ignore: Leaving a baby alone in a locked car.

The clip on the website is a little inflammatory, with passers-by confronting the actress who is pretending to be the mom of the baby (a very life-like doll). But what really infuriating is the way people respond — or don’t — to what appears to be a distressed baby trapped in a parked car on a hot day.

What would you do in that situation?

Me, I’d probably try the doors to see if they’re locked, scan the area looking for the parent, and then call the police. I don’t think I could just keep on walking by.

What would you do if you came across a child who seemed to be lost? Would you stop and try to help him? Locate an official or an officer and point the child out to her? Keep walking?

A few months ago, I was visiting a museum with four of our kids in tow. My husband and our oldest daughter were out shopping — it was just me and the rest of our crew. Our youngest, then about 1 1/2, was strapped into his stroller and very pissed off about it. Our 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son were paired up, experimenting with a hands-on exhibit in an adjoining room. Our 4-year-old was sitting just a few feet away from me — or so I thought, until I looked over at her and, all of a sudden, she was gone.

My heart stopped.

I called her name. No answer. I looked around — couldn’t see her at all in the suddenly way-too-crowded room. I pushed the stroller closer to where my older kids were, just in case she had wandered over to her siblings. She hadn’t.

Just as I was looking around for someone — anyone — who looked like the worked there, I heard my name being called, loudly and by a strange voice. An adult’s voice. And there was my girl, holding a young woman’s hand. The woman was calling my name, and she looked furious. Like I’d left my child alone on purpose.

My little girl had the presence of mind to look for “another mommy” and ask her to help find me, using my “grown-up name.” Yell “Mama!” in a crowded museum and at least half of the room turns around, but there aren’t very many “Lylah”s out there.

The whole episode lasted, at most, for about three minutes. But it was long enough to see the merit in those baby leashes. And to promise that I’d always, always butt in.

What do you think? When is it OK to butt in? There's a great dicussion going on at The 36-Hour Day!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Do more with less: 5 websites that can help you save money

I seem to be really focused on two things right now: food and money. Last week I was all about trying to get along with my slow cooker and whipping up some Superbowl snacks; this week, I'm looking for ways to save money when I shop online. Because if you have to buy stuff, you might as well get as much as you can for as little as you can, you know?

Here are my five favortites (for details, check out the whole story at The 36-Hour Day):

1.) Coupon Cabin. Coupon codes to websites from Abercrombie to Zappos.

2.) Baby Cheapskate. Online deals for and great information about baby essentials.

3.) Want not. Combing the web to find the best bargains out there.

4.) Money Saving Mom. For learning how to coupon effectively, roll with the CVS extra bucks, or reap the Walgreens rebate savings, as well as tips on how to make the most of your money.

5.) Consumer Savvy Tips. For those of you who are looking to save money over the long haul, rather than a few dollars right now on a particular purchase.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Shine on: Earning money and boosting energy

At Yahoo's Shine, we're discussing ways to earn money without getting an extra job (hint: declutter!) and how to boost your energy levels without leaving the office (it's full-on winter here in New England, and going for a brisk walk would be just a little too brisk). Have ideas to share? Click on the links and join the discussions!