Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Halloween a religious holiday -- and should it be celebrated at school?

Tomorrow is Halloween, and this morning I dropped an adorably ferocious dinosaur and a sparklingly happy winged fairy off at preschool. They have been looking forward to their class parties all week, proudly making decorations and planning games and treats (a pinata shaped like a ghost! Slightly spooky stories at circle time! Haunted apples!).

The month-long march toward trick-or-treating with ghosts and ghouls (and princesses, and superheroes, and animals, and celebrities, and licensed characters like Harry Potter or Dora the Explorer) is considered pretty standard, by most people. Apple-picking and pumpkin carving are traditional celebrations of fall, and Halloween is a time for dressing up and having fun.
But there are many parents who consider Halloween to be a quasi-religious holiday -- and they don't want it celebrated in schools.

Most Evangelical Christians and many devout Catholics consider all aspects of Halloween to be "of the occult." But before you leap to the conclusion that this is purely a Chrisitan conundrum -- I'll admit that I thought so, at first -- let me point out that some devout Muslims and Jews also object to Halloween on religious grounds. Conservative Muslims consider Halloween forbidden (haram) not only because it's a non-Muslim celebration, but because they believe it represents the devil. Orthodox Jews discourage Halloween because of it's Pagan and Christian roots.

Halloween is thought to have started with the Celtic festival Samhain, in which the souls of the dead were thought to return to their former homes to be entertained by the living, who offered food and shelter to them in order to ward off evil spells. Later -- in about 8 A.D. -- Pope Gregory IV decreed that the Feast of All Saints, which was celebrated in May, be held on November 1 instead. (Some historians say that it was Pope Gregory VII who did this, sometime around 1080; either way, the point is that it was established independently from the Pagan celebration.) The night before the feast a vigil was held, and it became known as "All Hallows Even," or "Hallowe'en."

"If you're going to kick Christian celebrations like Christmas out of the schools, and leave Halloween in, you're going to have a reaction," Robert Knight, director of cultural studies for the conservative Family Research Council, pointed out in an article on "And if they're going to be evenhanded in not establishing religion in the schools, they're probably going to have to do away with Halloween."

Which makes a lot more sense to me than protesting over the occult aspect of October 31. Frankly, the whole "we don't celebrate the undead" argument I've heard doesn't fly with me, especially if one celebrates Easter. And if it's OK to sprinkle blessed salt and holy water on your doorstep to ward off evil, how can carving a pumpkin be evil? And I really don't see how a 5-year-old in a fairy costume is disturbing while a little girl dressed as St. Lucy, holding her gouged-out eyes on a plate, is not).

What do you think, parents? Harmless fun or dangerous indoctrination? Should ghosts and ghouls be celebrated in schools?

Working moms raise unhealthy kids, study says

My friend Nataly over at Work It, Mom! sent me a link, and I had to take a couple of deep breaths in order to get past the first paragraph of this BBC News story: "Children whose mothers work are less likely to lead healthy lives than those with 'stay at home' mothers, a study says."

The study by the UCL Institute of Child Heath (ICH) focused on the families of 12,500 5-year-olds; the same children took part in an earlier study which found that those with working mothers were more likely to be obese or overweight by the age of 3.

So, let me get this straight: The new study "discovered" that the same kids who were likely to be obese or overweight by the age of 3 were also less likely to lead healthy lives at age 5? And that it's all mom's fault for working outside the home?

Sorry, BBC and ICH. I'm calling foul on this one.

Among the findings:

  • 5-year-olds whose mothers worked part-time or full-time were more likely to primarily consume sweetened drinks between meals.

  • 5-year-olds with working mothers used their computers or watched television for at least two hours a day.

  • Kids with working moms were more likely to be driven to school compared to the children of "stay at home" mothers who tended to walk or cycle.

Among the loopholes:

  • Working outside of the home doesn't automatically make you buy cookies and soda when you're stocking the pantry; sounds like more of an education issue than an employment one to me. Also: These studies took place Great Britain, where the schools are notorious for serving nutritionally bankrupt food to students (check out chef Jamie Oliver's efforts to change this). How is that the fault of working mothers?

  • A Harvard Medical School study earlier this year found that while TV time isn't beneficial for kids, it's not necessarily harmful either. While spending tons of time in front of the tube isn't good for anyone, what your kids are watching has much more of an impact than the fact that the TV is on. (As for the computer, there are plenty of great educational sites for kids out there.)

  • For goodness sake, are moms really the only ones responsible for taking kids to school in the morning?

Professor Catherine Law, who led the new study, theorized that working moms may not have enough time to provide healthy foods or opportunities for physical activity, but insisted that the results of the study "do not imply that mothers should not work." (No... the British Institute for Economic and Social Research took care of that with their 2003 study, which concluded that "going back to work after the birth of a child can have a negative impact on a child's development - unless you have lots of money.") Instead, Law says, her study shows that there need to be more policies and programs to help support parents (which, presumably, mothers would be too busy to participate in because of all that detrimental working they insist on doing instead of being at home where they belong).

The ICH study did not look at fathers and their employment levels, because their numbers have remained stable while the number of moms in the workforce has "increased dramatically." Here is a brief list of other things that have also "increased dramatically" but are not taken into account in the study, in my opinion:
  • Household expenses, making working outside of the home less of a choice and more of a necessity for many people.

  • The availability and marketing of processed foods, making it more expensive -- and, for some people, more difficult -- to buy the wholesome foods that are actually good for you.

  • Nostalgia and the belief that old gender stereotypes are the only way to go, making "working mom guilt" more widespread than ever.

The embers of the Mommy Wars must have gone dim for a second. Lucky thing this study came along to fan the flames.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yelling vs. spanking?

I read the New York Times article last week about how, for some parents, shouting at kids has replaced spanking, and I immediately felt guilty.

I've been solo-parenting for the past week while my husband is with our oldest kids, out of state. I've noticed that I've been yelling much more than I usually do, and over things that usually don't frustrate me right away.

My about-to-turn 3-year-old is really pushing limits, trying to see how much he can get away with. After asking him to do something (or, more commonly, not to do something), my voice gets louder and sharper, and there I am, yelling instead of speaking calmly. I'm not saying anything awful, but I'm definitely angry -- and he can tell. It gets his attention, but it's having an effect I didn't notice right away: My sweet-tempered 5-year-old has picked up on my frustration, and when he gets in her way now, she yells at him.

And I cringe.

I'm not a yeller. At least, I didn't used to be. I don't yell at our older kids, even when I'm angry, probably because as a stepmom I've never really felt like I could squander the emotional currency I'd banked; with step kids, you can love them like your own but it doesn't guarantee that they'll love you back.

With my youngest kids, it's different. My stubborn little boy asks for cuddles even after he's pushed me to my limit by not listening. I know my youngest girl won't hold it against me if I raise my voice because she's taken 20 minutes to eat a single bite of rice. But when I shout, it's along the lines of "Pick up your toys right now!" or "Put that down, that's dangerous!" Not “This is ridiculous! I’ve been doing things all day for you!” Or worse.

I think there's a big difference between raising your voice to make a point and screaming something cruel at someone, especially a child, but the New York Times piece doesn't really address this. Of course yelling affects a child -- "If someone yelled at you at work, you’d find that pretty jarring. We don’t apply that standard to children,” says one of the study's lead author's, sociologist Murray A. Straus. But isn't what's being said as important -- or as detrimental -- as the tone in which it's said?

The study doesn't offer an alternative to yelling, though Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, acknowledges that most of the techniques out there don't do the trick. Parents "resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior," she says in the article. "In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”

Maybe what we need to do is just accept that we all lose it from time to time -- even supermoms and dads are only human. So, I'm asking my readers at these questions: How do you keep your temper when your kids are pushing you to your limit? And what sets you off?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Which is more offensive: Nudity or violence?

My post at Child Caring about Hillary Swank being nude around her boyfriend’s child sparked some interesting discussions, one of which took place on Twitter. “Nudity is natural. Violence isn't," one person wrote. Others shared stories about parents who covered their kids' eyes during a brief nude scene but let the same kids watch the hours of violence that preceded the kissing.

Which got me thinking about Halloween and all of the slasher movies and tortureporn (like the Saw series) out there... how come that stuff is acceptable in the mainstream, but nudity isn’t?

The violence-is-acceptable theme isn't limited to older audiences. Hey, Disney: What’s with the whole killing-off-of-the-parents thing? (Think Nemo, Bambi, The Lion King for starters.) Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons -- my childhood favorites -- are so violent that I cringed when I saw them recently, and was reluctant to let my preschooler watch them.

Meanwhile, people can get arrested for indecent exposure in their own homes, and TV dramas for teens (like BBC America's series, Skins) show little nudity but deal openly and explicitly with sex.

On his blog, C.S. Daley points out: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has a man's beating heart removed from his chest and gets a PG-13. If it had been a woman and her chest had been bared, automatic R.”

Parents of older kids, weigh in, please, here or at Child Caring: Which are you more likely to let your child watch and why: a movie that shows nudity (male or female, doesn’t matter) or one that’s explicitly violent?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Family field trip to Great Brook State Park

Some gorgeous summer weather a while back prompted a trip to Great Brook Farm State Park (which, of course, prompted me to write about it for The Boston Globe)...

Farm-fresh cones

By Lylah M. Alphosne, Globe Staff

WHO: Lylah M. Alphonse, a member of the Globe Magazine staff, and two of her five kids, ages 4 and 2, and some of their friends
WHAT: Ice cream, farm animals, and the great outdoors
WHERE: Great Brook Farm State Park, 247 North Road, Carlisle; 978-371-7083,

In the winter, Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle is a crystalline wonderland, a web of cross-country ski trails and snow-covered woods. When the warm weather comes, the park offers frozen beauty in another form: about 60 flavors of incredibly rich homemade ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, and frozen yogurt.

The 1,000-acre park is home to an active dairy farm that operates all year long; the ice cream stand has a viewing area at the back, where you can peek in on some of the more than 100 Holsteins tended by Mark and Tamma Duffy. A small petting zoo has several goats, sheep, pigs, and calves the kids can pet and feed while their ice cream melts on the picnic tables.

The park is full of historic markers, from a clutch of 17th-century cellar holes marking “the city’’ where early English settlers lived while working in the mills, to spots used as sacred sites by Native Americans. Barn tours of the dairy are available daily by appointment, and public tours run at set times on weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Ice cream isn't the only draw: In summer, the 20 miles of trails are filled with hikers, cyclists, dog walkers, and horseback riders; campers and letterboxers roam the premises as well. Meadow Pond is said to be a super fishing spot, and offers a canoe launch for those who bring their own. Parking is $2 (free if you’re only stopping for a quick cone), and the rambling, wildflower-edged paths are perfect for letting kids run off their sugar highs. The ice cream stand is open from 11 a.m. until dark, but the rest of the park is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Book review: Diary of an Urban Farmer

I fell in love with our house when I saw the huge eat-in kitchen. I looked past the hideous, dark-wood, 1970s-inspired "rustic country" decor and goldenrod-colored appliances and saw potential.

Similarly, my husband fell in love with the land. He looked past the overgrown vines and tumbled rock walls, focused in on the abandoned chicken coop in the back yard, and saw potential.

We've cleared space and planted gardens, but that chicken coop has just been sitting there, falling apart a little more each year, mostly because I've resisted the idea of really plunging in to urban (or, in our case, suburban farming). We don't have time. I certainly don't have energy. We can keep the dog away from the chickens, I'm sure, but what about the coyotes and fishers and foxes who call the woods behind out house their home?

Then I read Novella Carpenter's latest book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. And now raising a few chickens in plenty of space seems pretty easy, compared to what she accomplished in the middle of a city. Here's my review, which ran in The Boston Globe recently:

October 9, 2009

Urban farmer establishes her roots

By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

For many city-dwellers and suburbanites, being green and eating locally means having a patch of tomatoes out back or in containers on the deck, a few pots of herbs on the kitchen windowsill, and regular trips to the farmers’ market.

But not for Novella Carpenter. In “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,’’ she shares how she transformed a weed- and garbage-filled lot next to her second-floor walkup in GhostTown - a gritty section of downtown Oakland, Calif. - from an urban wasteland to a full-fledged farm. What started out as a few raised beds and a bee box on her balcony grew to include fruit trees, chickens (for eggs and for meat), ducks, turkeys, rabbits, and even a couple of 300-pound pigs, producing enough food to feed herself exclusively and supplement the meals of neighbors.

Urban farming isn’t a new concept, no matter how trendy it and the local food movement is just now. Carpenter points out that during the depression of 1893, the mayor of Detroit, Hazen Pingree, looked at the city’s abandoned lots and “wondered why the unemployed should not be allowed to cultivate food on them.’’ Three years later, potato patches flourished in Detroit, nourishing nearly half of all families seeking public relief in the city. New York, Philadelphia, and other cities soon developed vacant-lot farming programs of their own. The programs waned when times were good, Carpenter points out, but were revitalized during both world wars.

Carpenter isn’t the only one trying to grow food in the ghetto. “Ten blocks from my house, I found Willow’s farm and garden,’’ she writes of a fellow urban farmer whom she met at a neighborhood party. “The Center Street garden, just off 16th Street, burst with vegetables and fruit. A pen of ducks and chickens straddled the back of the property. A chayote, a vining squash, covered the entire front fence. Tall columns of peas stood guard near the gate, with strawberry plants at their feet.’’ The soil on the vacant lot where Willow farmed had been full of lead, but the fig and mulberry trees helped purify the soil. “The leaves, which pulled the lead out of the ground, were hauled to the dump. Every year, the soil was getting cleaner. The garden, then, was a giant remediation project.’’

A “poor scrounger with three low-paying jobs and no health insurance,’’ Carpenter
understands that she can’t really afford the high-quality meat and produce she craves. “Since I liked eating quality meat and have always had more skill than money, I decided to take matters into my own hands,’’ she writes. She buys a box of baby birds - two turkeys, 10 chickens, two geese, and two ducks - for $42 and starts raising them for dinner. This brings her to another turning point in urban farming: When the time comes to butcher Harold, her heirloom turkey, for Thanksgiving, she’s forced to deal with the gap between raising your food and cooking it.

An incredible stint in the kitchen of chef Christopher Lee’s restaurant, Eccolo, where she learns how to make classic Italian salumi and hams out of her own pigs, is a treat to read. “Farm City’’ is an eye-opener in many ways, leaving you grateful to Carpenter for sharing, in such detail, the real fruits of her labors.

FARM CITY: The Education of an Urban Farmer
By Novella Carpenter
Penguin, 288 pp., $25.95

Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drug-free ways to soothe cold and flu misery

Let's face it: Whether you get the flu shot or not, and whether you're worried about H1N1 (a.k.a. Swine Flu) or not, chances are you and your kids are going to be facing some flu-like symptoms this season.

Why? Well, even if you've gotten the vaccine, it can take as long as two weeks for your body to produce enough antibodies to protect you, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And the flu shot only protects against flu -- if you catch one of the many, many non-influenza viruses out there, you can exhibit miserable flu-like symptoms but not actually have the flu.

This isn't a post about whether or not to get the flu shot. (Want to discuss that anyway? You're in luck -- this one is!). But if you're looking for a drug-free way to ease the misery at home, regardless of the state of your immunizations, check out these options:

Hot packs. For some reason, even if my fever is high enough that my kids are taking turns using me as their own personal heater, I feel shiveringly cold. Not to mention really, really achy. Fill a small cloth bag with raw rice or millet and zap it in the microwave for a minute or two for instant heat that won't leak all of your bed the way an improperly sealed hot-water bottle can. (Not that I'd know anything about that. Ahem). In my house, we call them "Smelly Pillows" because they have a handful of lavender flowers mixed in with the millet. You can call them something more normal-sounding at your house.

Chicken soup. Your Grandmother was right: Chicken soup really does help. I usually have a stash of homemade broth in the freezer (and you can, too! Do more with less!), but any kind of broth will do. Go easy on the spices and chunky things -- trust me. Clear broth stays down more easily, if you know what I mean.

Ginger tea. I make mine do double duty as a cough soother by adding a ton of honey, but if you're making it for a grownup, a nip of rum can make this tea even more soothing. Boil a kettle of water, chop up a small handful of crystallized ginger, and put it into a huge mug along with the honey, a bag of Chamomile tea, and a splash of lemon or lime juice. Fill the mug with water. Breathe in the steam while you wait for it to steep. Eat the candied ginger when you're done.

Apple cider vinegar. I gave up salt-water gargles for apple cider vinegar a few years ago, and have not looked back since. Mix the vinegar half and half with warm water and gargle it, trying to keep it up against your enormous tonsils for as many seconds as you can (warning: you can't do it for long). Spit it out into the sink, dry heave, and do it again. Tastes nasty, but it fixes my sore throat like nothing else.

And don't forget the old adage: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can minimize your chances of getting the flu -- or any other virus -- by taking these simple steps, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

1.) Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze.

2.) Washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel frequently.

3.) Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

4.) Not shoving that used tissue back in your pocket. (Come on, Moms... we all do it, especially if the nose we've just wiped belongs to one of our kids.)

5.) Staying home from work when you're sick. (I know, I know... we live in a world where not everyone has sick days, and in this economy, none of us can really afford to miss work. But one can dream.)

How do you cope with cold and flu season?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dealing with military deployment, and helping kids cope

The American Psychological Association estimates about 700,000 children under the age of 18 have a parent deployed overseas for military duty; according to the Department of Defense, more than 30,000 teenagers have at least one parent in the National Guard deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

I'm in awe of the way so many parents are coping, and with the stories I've found about kids who are dealing with their mom's or dad's deployment in inspiring and constructive ways.

Some teenagers are stepping in to fill their parents' shoes: Sixteen-year-old Tyler Dix tells "It's a lot of responsibility, but I don't really have a choice. My dad told me I am the man of the house, and I have to act like it." He takes his 9-year-old sister Tayana to her extracurricular activities each day, and is an emotional pillar for his 13-year-old brother, Tevin, when he misses dad.

Others are inspiring their peers -- and the rest of us: High school students Kaylei Deakin and Moranda Hern created the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs (short for "battle dress uniforms") to help girls cope with their parents' deployments. They are trying to organize a conference, tentatively scheduled for March 2010 in California, for girls whose parents who have gone overseas to war.

"I hope The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs will inspire other young people to look beyond themselves, to see a need and meet it," Hern told Lemondrop. "I created the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs because I felt a need in my own life to connect with other military girls who understand my challenges, emotions and triumphs."

While having a parent in the military may force a teenager to grow up quickly or take on more responsibility, it presents some very different issues for younger children. When you're facing temporary single parenthood with little kids at home, just explaining the concept of deployment can be a struggle.

Phe, who is in the Reserves and has a toddler daughter, expects to be deployed sometime before her daughter turns 3. She offered up plenty of sage advice in a comment over at Child Caring; you can click through to read all of her advice, but here is some of it in a nutshell:

Consider the Sesame Street "Talk, Listen, Connect" program to help both parent and toddler understand and try to cope.

Her installation makes "Parent Pillows" for young kids. "They take a photo of the deploying airman and make it into a pillowcase so that the child can snuggle their deployed parents' likeness," she writes. (With iron-on transfers available at most craft stores, this is something you can try at home, too.)

Use the resources that are available to you. For instance: The Department of Defense will pay for "respite" daycare -- up to 16 hours a week -- for the parent left behind to have some child-free downtime. Join your local VFW to connect with others who understand what you're going through. If you live close to a military installation, exercise your dependent privileges and find out what activities you can join -- if your spouse is Guard or Reserve and deployed, you're entitled to use all base privileges and attend activities. Most active-duty bases have a wide range of programs for toddlers to teens, including daycare, after-school programs, youth centers, and organized outings, she says.

Talk honestly with your kids, and do not glue yourself to news of the war. It's generally incomplete and/or incorrect reporting, and it will only cause more worry and stress that you don't need. But remember that your spouse may not be able to put your mind at ease and tell you what it's really like. A lot is classified and they can't talk about it. So do yourself a favor and turn off CNN. You won't get the real and correct and full picture from watching it.

I'm a big fan of Asha Dornfest's Parent Hacks, and that's where I read about a slide show put together by Kristen Chase of Cool Mom Picks. Her husband, a commercial pilot, has been deployed for two months to Afghanistan. Her slide show is simple and direct without being scary. "We've always taken an honest approach with the kids when it comes to telling them about his whereabouts, so we weren't looking to try to avoid anything," she writes. "But discussions about planes and war are difficult for anyone, let alone a two- and five year-old."

Here's her slideshow:

Military moms and dads, how do handle deployment? Any single parents with tips to share with other moms and dads who are flying solo?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Decreased flexibility equals increased productivity?

I was working from home, playing "beat the clock" with my to-do list, doggedly trying to get as much done as possible before I had to pick my youngest kids up from school and take them to karate. With my connection to my office up in one window, a layout program up in another, iTunes loaded in the background, and Firefox humming with five or six tabs open at the same time, my shiny, blessed laptop suddenly displayed the whirling rainbow circle -- the Mac equivalent of a PC's hourglass. And it would not go away.

I waited. Made another cup of coffee. Tidied up the dining table -- I mean my desk. It was still there.

I shut the machine down, rebooted, got back to work. And minutes later, it happened again, but with a horrible grinding sound.

My hard drive was dying. I pulled as much info off it as I could -- family photos, calendars, addresses, files all went onto whatever thumb drives I could find around the house, booting up over and over again to try and salvage what I could. Finally, it wouldn't even boot up.

"This," I thought, "is not going to be good for my work-life balance."

But actually... it kind of has been.

Aside from the major PITA (Pain In The, um, behind) of having to recreate the notes and images to go with more than one project for more than one client, the crash and the loss of my computer has actually done wonders for my productivity.

It's a lot harder to procrastinate when your computer time is limited to the hours you spend at the office. Sure, I can swipe my husband's computer late at night, but since his concept of work-life balance is even worse than mine, it's usually in use. The kids' desktop PC is ancient and runs a bizarre operating system that I can't even spell right; it's great for keeping viruses and malware at bay and for limiting my tween's access to certain sites, but it's not compatible with my company's tunneling software and so slow that, believe it or not, it's faster to type on my iPhone, peering at a screen the size of a business card. Which is what I'm doing right now.

It should be fixed next week, they hope, and then I can get back to my usual business of working and juggling and procrastinating. But until then, the decrease in connectivity comes hand-in-hand with an increase in productivity, and I'm just going to embrace that while I can.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Naked in front of your kids? What if the kids aren't yours?

Over at's Child Caring column, I'm talking about the buzz over Hillary Swank's interview in November's Marie Claire, in which she tells Joanna Coles that she sleeps in the nude -- even with her boyfriend's 6-year-old son around.

Our society is a little over the top when it comes to equating nudity with sexuality. (It's OK to wear a bikini at the beach, but if my child sees me in my bra and undies at home I've scarred him for life? Come on). Granted, most of us don't have Hillary Swank's figure, and so the issue of sexuality isn't quite as blatant for most of us. But still, it's there -- even more so if the child isn't biologically yours, and still more so if the nude or semi-nude adult is the dad and the child is a girl (the interview doesn't mention whether Swank's boyfriend is nude in front of his son).

From the interview:

JC: What do you sleep in?

HS: I don't sleep in anything. Do you sleep in a nightgown?

JC: I sleep in pj's. I have two young sons, so I have to be conscious of that.

HS: Well, my boyfriend's son is 6 years old, and you wonder at what age you should stop walking around nude. Every morning he comes into the bedroom, and you're just nude. But he doesn't look twice; he doesn't think about it yet. I just toss and turn too much when I sleep, and if I'm in clothes, I get all twisted up.

I think she has a point: Little kids don't really think about nudity yet, at least not in terms of sexuality. And I totally understand what Swank means about getting all twisted up; I hate sleeping in pajamas, and I hate the way nightgowns ride up. And yet... even when my big kids (my stepchildren) were very young -- young enough to be running around naked themselves -- if they were at home with us I kept my nightclothes on.

Interestingly enough, when my two youngest kids were born, I didn't have any qualms about nursing them in front of our big kids -- that kind of micro-nudity felt perfectly natural. And I still don't worry about my 5-year-old girl or my 3-year-old boy barging in on me while I'm in the bathroom or changing -- something that happens at least once a day, it seems.

Back in June, there was a great Parenting Traps column by Jennifer Mattern in the Globe Sunday Magazine. In it, she wrote:

In this all-female household, there are no locks on bathroom or bedroom doors. The three of us wander around in various states of undress. I brush my teeth in the buff while my younger daughter, who is 5, sits behind me on the toilet, singing to my rear end. My elder daughter, 8, sticks her head into the shower to ask me about the various “yuck” factors of puberty, about the feminist and anthropological ramifications of shaving my legs, about the real low-down on babies finding their way into their mommies’ bellies. I tell my girls that what they are seeing when they see me is a real woman.

I think that countering the much-hyped image of Photoshopped female perfection and having your daughters understand what a woman's body really looks like is a good thing. That said, having a blended family lends a layer of complexity to the nudity question.

For all of the comments I've read at The Huffington Post (Sample: "Being nude is actually the most natural thing in the world. Kids only have a problem with it when they're TAUGHT to have a problem with it") and at Yahoo!'s Shine ("Naked in front of your own kids is one thing...but naked in front of your BOYFRIENDS 6 year old son is very creepy"), I'm still left wondering about two things:

1.) Would people still think it was creepy if her boyfriend's child was a girl?

2.) Would people still be outraged about it if she and her boyfriend were married?

Moms and Dads, what do you think? When do you cover up in front of your kids? And if you're in a blended family, where do you draw the line when it comes to nudity?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Looking to get -- and stay -- organized? Look online.

Way back in 2003 -- nearly a lifetime in the online world -- I wrote an article for The Boston Globe about using online tips and tools to get organized. Here's an updated version of the story (the original is still up at Though much as changed, the basics are still the same: If you need to brush up on your organizational skills -- or gain some in a hurry -- there are several of websites that can help with scheduling, organizing, and decluttering.

Many experts advise that you work slowly but steadily, scheduling a little time each day to tackle the clutter until it's gone. There's a lot of information out there, and sorting through it all can be a bit overwhelming; luckily, most websites that deal with organization are pretty well organized themselves. Here's a run-down on some of the best ones we've found.

For tips and techniques has a guide to help you decide how much you really need to organize. It also has a calculator to help determine how much your time is worth (in dollars), and another to find out your OQ, or "organizing quotient." A list of keywords helps you get to what you want in a hurry (yes, there's one for "clutter"), and you can sign up for a monthly newsletter, read blogs, inspirational stories, and get advice. There are plenty of tips and a multitude of checklists to help you get organized at home or at the office. Ready to tackle that hall closet? Order the tools you need to do the job yourself through the site's shop, or peruse the directory to find a professional organizer to hire. is the online home of Donna Smallin, author of seven books on organization. The site offers a free monthly newsletter about getting organized, the newsletter's archives, and an comprehensive list of online organizing resources, including clutter support groups and services. straddles the fine line between "highly organized" and "obsessive/compulsive." Example: downloadable labels for the spine of your Christmas organizational three-ring binder. The site is not really geared for those who are searching for a way to juggle work and family; it offers a lot of tips for crafting and sewing projects, "seasonal cleaning," and guidelines for holiday preparation (the Houseworks Holiday Plan Calendar starts in August and gives detailed week-by-week to-do lists leading up to Christmas; for instance, you should have decluttered and reorganized your crafts room during the week of September 6th in order to deck the halls more efficiently). But if you need serious help with organization, this site will set you straight.

Real Simple. The online home of the uber-organized magazine, Real Simple has an entire category of ideas for organizing, cleaning, decorating, and otherwise improving the home. Be sure to check out "New Uses for Old Things" -- it's a real eye opener.

Gadgets and gear

You can find all kinds of gadgets and gear at Target and IKEA, of course, but if you need something specific and you don't have a lot of time, online shops are the way to go. Here are three good options: offers inexpensive gadgets and plenty of do-it-yourself solutions for storage spaces. Shop by category (kitchen, closet, home office, family room, bedroom, bathroom, laundry, outdoors) and get your home ship-shape one area at a time. has everything from hooks to shelves, from bins to boxes. carries the Elfa line of closet systems, and has a great "Plan a Space" feature that walks you through the steps of planning your perfect closet, garage, pantry, home office, dorm, or laundry room. has storage ideas for things you didn't even know you needed specialized storage for, like Halloween paraphernalia and craft supplies. The sheer number of options available for organizing one's laundry room is enough to make me want to race home and update my washer and dryer right now.

And how could I not plug my favorite finds here? Affordable Luxuries at Work It, Mom! has a whole section of products that can help busy working parents with organized living, and there are several great slideshows, quick tips, and checklists to help you get on the ball (and stay there)!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Searching for a little work-life inspiration

I have a thing for inspirational quotes. It started back when I was in high school, I think -- in the yearbook, seniors each got an entire page to do with as they liked, and it was traditional to include at least one, usually several, quotes. So I started collecting them in a little fabric-covered book, which I still have. I filled that book, started a second one, and then just kept jotting them down on random post-it notes and scraps of paper. Eventually, when I got an email address in the 1990s, I started collecting them in a folder online.

I came upon a stash of those little scraps of paper while trying to declutter my house, and all decluttering ground to a halt while I re-read these snippets of inspiration. Some are long, like The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (which begins "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence" and offers up wisdom in every line), but others are short and sweet.

Here are a few of the quotes that have always hit home with me:

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." - Albert Einstein

"One should count each day a separate life." - Seneca (B.C. 3-65 A.D.)

"If it ain't so, act like it is so, until it is so." - Anon.

"When your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt." - Henry J. Kaiser

"Shine like fire, that mirrors nothing." - Wallace Stevens

"It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow. ... But of course, without the top you can't have any sides. It's the top that defines the sides." - Robert Pirzig

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." - Eleanor Roosevelt

"And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." - John 1:5

"Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing." - Thomas A. Edison

"The person who knows how will always have a job. The person who knows why will always be his boss." - Diane Ravitch

"It's amazing what you can do if you don't know you can't do it." - Anon.

What words inspire you?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Do you and your kids have the same last name?

Last week, supermodel and Project Runway star Heidi Klum has filed a petition to take the name of her husband, Seal.

The singer's full name is Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel.

No word on whether their oldest child, 5-year-old Helene "Leni" Klum -- who was legally adopted at birth by Seal but is the biological daughter of Klum's ex, Flavio Briatore -- will change her name as well. Their two sons, Henry Gunther Ademola Dashtu Samuel, 3, and Johan Riley Fyodor Taiwo Samuel, 2, already have Seal's last name, as does their baby daughter, Lou Sulola Samuel, who was born this morning (Oct. 13).

Like many women, I kept my name when I got married. Which means that I have a different last name than my children, which is what we're talking about today over at Child Caring.

There are many reasons why I did it: I was in my 30s by the time I walked down the aisle, I already had a career in my own name, with a reputation and bylines and even a book. I owned my home and car and other things outright, and changing my name on all of those legal documents was a hassle.

The biggest reason why I kept my name, though, because it was my name -- I was used to it, and replacing it with my husband's made me feel like I was erasing my history, somehow.

But then I had kids. Well, more kids -- I married my stepkids the same day I married my husband. But my biological kids came a long a couple of years later, and as we talked about first names while I was pregnant, we talked about last names as well.

Make them Alphonses? Hyphenate? Use just my husband's? How would I feel about being "Ms. Alphonse" when everyone else in my family had a different last name?

We decided that they'd have two last names -- no hyphen -- which worked fine until the first time I took my daughter to the pediatrician, and they couldn't find her file because it wasn't with her older siblings'. So now they use just their dad's last name, like their big brother and sisters do. And I am the only Alphonse in my household.

I get called by my husband's last name all the time, and I don't make a fuss about it -- I kept my name because it was my name, not because it was a moral imperative.

Did you keep your name when you got married? Did your feelings about having done so change after you had children?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Women are becoming more unhappy, surveys say. Is it by choice, or because we have choices?

If you're not happy right now, take heart: You're not alone.

According to the newest data from the United States General Social Survey, women today are less happy then they were back in 1972. Moreover, the survey found, women today become increasingly unhappy as they age compared to men, whose happiness levels trended upward as they got older.

It would be easy to dismiss it as another All-Is-Crap-With-The-Economy statistic if not for the fact that the General Social Survey has been asking the same question -- "How happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being very happy, and 1 being not too happy?"-- to 1,500 men and women, of all ages, income levels, educational backgrounds, and marital statuses since 1972. And that the survey's findings jibe with the results of six other major, long-term happiness studies around the world -- more than 1.3 million men and women surveyed over the last 40 years, and in every study, the greater the opportunities women have the less happy they are over time, as compared to men.

But you know what? I think you have to choose to be happy. And that being able to consider personal happiness is a privilege afforded to those for whom the basic necessities -- food, clothing, shelter -- aren't an issue. And that surveys, even ones as broad and as far-reaching as these, are still full of holes.

One hole is that these surveys didn't put the question to the same women year after year. I don't know about you or your family, but if someone asked my mom in 1972 whether she was happy -- at home, married for just over a year, her two Masters degrees collecting dust and a squalling newborn (me) who refused to nap (sorry, Mom) spitting up over everything (really, really sorry, Mom) -- I doubt she would have been singing with joy. Ask her now? She's probably happier in many ways. But ask me instead of her, and compare the data? Her increase in happiness probably isn't reflected in my response.

In fact, it's likely that I'm just as stressed out as she was in '72 -- possibly more so. But the stressors are very, very different. I'm a different person, for one thing. And I've made very different choices in my life.

In an article at The Huffington Post, Marcus Buckingham suggests that the very fact that women have more choices available to them today has contributed to their unhappiness. He writes:
The hard-won rights, opportunities, and advantages were supposed to have netted women more than just another burdensome role to play -- "you at work." They were supposed to have fostered in each woman feelings of fulfillment and happiness, and even, for the special few, the sustained thrill of living of an authentic life.

This hasn't happened. Over the last 40 years or so, life is not trending toward more fulfillment for women; life is, in most ways we can measure, becoming more draining instead. To use Thomas Jefferson's words, though women now have the liberty to choose whichever life they'd like, many are struggling in their pursuit of a happy life.

At The New York Times, op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd is a bit more blunt about it, asking, "Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?" She continues:

"When women stepped into male-dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage."
I see their points, but I take issue with the whole "women have brought this upon themselves" premise. (Not to mention the idea that a woman's happiness depends on how she fares compared to her friends in various frivolous, material, or social-networking categories. Come on... that's not feminism.)

I emailed Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (both book and blog), and asked her for her insight into this latest happiness survey. "It’s clear that having more choices doesn’t always make people feel happier," she told me. "Nevertheless, people want to have choices. Happiness has many levels, and sometimes to be happier on one level means being less happy on another level."

"As always, the secret to happiness is to know yourself and to make mindful choices that reflect your own true interests, values, and priorities," she said. "And to try to get enough sleep."

Here's my take on it: I think we're wrongly equating temporary stress with long-term unhappiness. As I've mentioned before, there are four different types of stress, and some of it can even be positive. But it's rare that we're on a constant eustress high -- which means that when we're stressed out, we're unhappy, but that unhappiness isn't necessarily permanent.

I also think we're confusing "happiness" with "satisfaction." On the whole, women worldwide have become more aware. We know what's available to us, and can compare it (favorably or unfavorably) to what's available to other women in other places. We know what we want, and we know whether it's within our grasps. We are more ambitious, more competitive, and more selective. We simply want more from life. If ignorance is bliss, it's no wonder that women are less happy now than they were nearly 40 years ago.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The early literacy crisis in America

In spite of certain lawmakers who liken universal preschool to government-funded "babysitting," there's no denying that there's a real need for solid early education in the US.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 35 percent of children enter kindergarten without the skills they need to learn how to read. Those language skills -- things like phonological awareness and knowledge of the alphabet -- are the building blocks of reading, and the best way to teach your children about them is to spend time reading to them. Over at's Child Caring blog, we're discussing ways to help your child learn (and love) to read.

In "The Science of Early Childhood Development," a report by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, studies show that future school success is impacted by the learning foundation set in place in a child's early years. And the long-term effects of an early literacy crisis are chilling. As Ben Russell, assistant director of early childhood education for the Boston Public Schools, ,told reporter Patti Hartigan, when they calculate the number of kids who are not reading at the third-grade level, “We use those numbers to create prisons. And that is a tragedy.”

Jumpstart is a national not-for-profit trying to bridge the early education gap between high- and low-income students. According to Susan Werley, Executive Director of Jumpstart's Northeast region, 61 percent of families from low-income communities lack age-appropriate books for their children; a lack of access to books and of being read to before age 5 are key reasons why this early literacy crisis exists.

Jumpstart provides books to these families and pairs children with trained volunteers who provide one-on-one story time and attention. To bring attention to their cause, they've launched "Read for the Record Day" today (Oct. 8) in Boston. You can support the effort without even opening your wallet by reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to your child today; volunteers are reading it to thousands of children in various places around the city in support of early childhood literacy.

Here are some of the AAP's suggestions for helping your child learn to read (you can find all of their recommendations on their website):

1.) Run your finger under the words as you read to show your child that the print carries the story.

2.) Be animated! Use funny voices, ham it up, and get your child excited about the story.

3.) Pay attention to the pictures. Stop to look at them, ask your child to name things she sees in them, and talk about how they relate to the story.

4.) Invite your child to join in whenever there is a repeated phrase in the text.

5.) Keep reading to your child even after she learns to read. A child can listen and understand more difficult stories than she can read on her own.

6.) Set aside time every day to read together.

7.) Leave books in your child's room for her to enjoy on her own.

How are you helping your children learn to read? Parents of older kids: Do your kids like to read, or do they think that reading is a chore?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dealing with "The Terrible Teens"

After talking with friends who have college-age kids, and now that I have a couple of teenagers in my own house, I've come to the conclusion that teens and toddlers are similiar in many ways. Teens would probably chafe at the comparison (toddlers would probably be pleased), but there's no denying that the tantrums and limit-pushing we struggle with during the Terrible Twos reappear about a decade later, as our kids enter what is, for some, the Terrible Teens. I offered up a remedy in a "Parenting Traps" essay in The Boston Globe Magazine last weekend; click on the picture to see the print version, or read the essay below:

Teenagers and toddlers have a lot in common. Both need to be reminded to “use your words.” Both get mad at you for not being able to read their minds. Both can be exasperating. And while a toddler thrashes around on the floor when she’s furious and a teenager stomps to her room and slams the door, the bottom line is that there’s quite a bit of overlap between the Terrible Twos and the Terrible Teens.

We have five kids, ranging in age from 2 to 15, which actually provides a little bit of balance: The ego-bruising effect of a teenager who thinks you can’t do anything right is mitigated, in part, by the adoration of a toddler who thinks you can’t do anything wrong. (“Pre-tweens” are good that way, too – everything you do is amazing, for the most part, and even when they’re mad at you, they still want to cuddle.)

Mary Ostyn is mother to 10 kids, ages 4 to 21, eight of whom still live at home;
she blogs at and is the author of A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family. When I asked her about the pitfalls and perils of parenting across such an age range, she said that she doesn’t see many downsides. “I love the variety in ages and interests,” she says. “Having kids at different stages and maturity levels means that there’s never a time where everyone is mad at me at once!”

Parents can help to bridge the age gap – and get a break, too – by asking older kids to help out with the little ones, at least some of the time, she suggests. “They learn to be more nurturing, and the little kids learn from the example of the bigger ones.”

Granted, there are emotional and financial challenges to raising toddlers and teens simultaneously (our youngest will hit kindergarten the same year our oldest goes off to college). So if you don’t want to start over with a new baby, borrow a friend’s preschooler for a day. Your friend gets a well-deserved break, and you get a bit of hero worship that will restore your will to parent, as well as a reminder: You got through the Terrible Twos; the Terrible Teens are just another phase. This, too, shall pass – and more quickly than you think.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why the increase in autism rates? More awareness? Or more misdiagnoses?

A Department of Health and Human Services report released Monday says that the autism rate in the U.S. is higher than previously believed -- about 1 in 100 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the report says, up from the previous estimate of 1 in 150.

The details are even more troubling: The report, which appeared in the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal, Pediatrics, shows that while the 1 in 91 children are on the autism spectrum, the rate for boys is a startling 1 in 58.

Why the sudden uptick, especially given that the rate was just raised to 1 in 150 earlier this year? Over at's Child Caring blog, I'm asking my readers what they think.

"Increased awareness" is the easy answer. A generation ago, a child with autism would simply have been labeled "difficult" or "quirky," but we have a better idea now of what to look for (and how to help). Another possibility: The autism spectrum itself has grown to include things like Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, and the all-encompassing PDD-NOS, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Whatever the reason, the results of the study, culled from the responses of more than 78,000 parents, can't be ignored.

(Back in April, I wrote a four-part series on autism as part of Autism Awareness month -- you can read them all here. )

No one really knows what causes autism. A recent article in Science Direct indicates that children living near toxic waste seem more likely to have autism. Though the link between Thimerosal and autism has not been scientifically and definitively proven, many people still support the theory, citing anecdotal evidence that the mercury-laced preservative triggers a toxic tipping point, damaging the immune system. Others believe that a toxic synergy is to blame; many of the studies disproving the Thimerosal/autism issue do not explore the effect of multiple vaccines administered simultaneously, and many of the "harmless" chemicals and additives in everyday food and consumer products become toxic when heated or combined. (Randall Fitzgerald's book, The Hundred-Year Lie: How Food and Medicine are Destroying Your Health, does a great job of explaining the concept.)

Children who were extremely premature are thought to be at higher risk for autism. In 2008, some studies showed a possible link between autism and certain metabolic diseases. And of course, there's the genetic link: “Autism is probably caused by many, many things, most of them genetic, and this is one of them,” mitochondrial expert Salvatore DiMauro of Columbia University and the author of a study of autistic individuals with mitochondrial disease, tells the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.

In spite of not knowing the cause, and in spite of not having a cure, a device has hit the market that claims to offer parents a way to detect autism in their child early on. The LENA Language and Autism Screen is raising red flags in the medical community. The device analyzes speech patterns in 2- to 4-year-olds, but not all children with speech problems are autistic. And, as Dr. Susan Anderson, director of the Autism Clinic at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital, told ABC, autism "is also a disorder of non-verbal communication, a disorder of social development (including play skills) and interactional skills, and a disorder which includes atypical behaviors. Any means of screening for autism needs to include all of these measures."

Our 11-year-old son is on the spectrum and I'll admit that, after his diagnosis with Asperger's Syndrome more than five years ago, there was a point where I felt like I was seeing signs of autistic behavior in nearly everyone I met. According to the study in Pediatrics, "Nearly 40 percent of those ever diagnosed with ASD did not currently have the condition." Does that mean that Autism Spectrum Disorders fade away with time? Or that maybe more kids are being misdiagnosed with ASD in an attempt to explain their not-quite-perfect behavior?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why "color blind" isn't the best we can do when it comes to race

As a child, I never gave the color of my skin much thought. I grew up in a very sheltered community, and my parents sacrificed a lot to send my brothers and me to a wonderful private school. I thought of myself as half Indian (from India) and half Haitian and entirely American. I knew my father has a blend of French, German, Arawak, and Africa blood running through his veins while my mother's side is basically an unbroken bloodline from Persia, and I thought that everyone was mixed on some level, and that's about as far as my race-related introspection went.

I went to college in a very urban environment, though, and that's when I realized that while I didn't think of myself as one thing or another, other people were struggling to figure out to which group I "belonged." A campus cop told me that I "talked English real good" for an exchange student. A boyfriend's mother told her friends, while I was within earshot, that I was "such a nice girl, it's such a shame she's not white." An African-American friend laughed that I was "an Oreo." People routinely asked me where I was from, and when I replied, "New Jersey," they'd say, "No, really, but where were you born?"

Over at Child Caring, I'm asking how we raise multi-racial kids in a color-conscious society. Because, in spite of having a mixed-race president -- or, perhaps, because of it -- the issue of race is very much alive in modern America.

In 2000, for the first time the U.S. Census offered people the option of identifying themselves by more than one race. About 6.8 million people recorded themselves as being multiracial; more than half of those who consider themselves multiracial are younger than 20 years old, which seems to indicate a growing acceptance of interracial relationship and a rise in the number of biracial and multiracial kids.

And yet, when it comes to raising these children, some parents are still facing questions and, at times, criticism.

At Babble, Elizabeth G. Hines shares a friend's reaction to her donor-assisted pregnancy: Why, the friend wondered, would you choose to create a mixed race child? Why wouldn’t you just stick with one race or the other?

She writes:
"... she asked me what my ideal donor would look like. I answered honestly that I had no pre-set "ideal" in mind, but assumed that my partner and I would pick a donor that reflected the racial background of the one of us who was not biologically related to the child. At the time, I was in an interracial relationship — which meant, she quickly deduced, that I was talking about conceiving a bi-racial child. That, and that alone, was enough to make my fair-minded, thoughtful friend shed her liberal cool and call into question my credibility as a potential parent. Not my identity as a gay woman, mind you, which might have been an easy target. This was about race, and the perceived disadvantage I would be burdening a child with by choosing to create him or her from two different racial gene pools."
The idea that belonging to more than a single racial group could be a disadvantage or a burden is one that I've never understood. I'm multiracial. My kids are, too -- even my stepkids. My father is of mixed race. As are his parents. And their parents. And their parents. When it comes to mixed marriages, my family's been doing it for generations.

So, when it comes to defining my race on a form, I check "other" and, if that's not an option, I don't check anything at all. Maybe it's a matter of privilege, but I've never been adversely affected by being multi-racial.

That said, while the color of one's skin may be as insignificant as the color of one's hair, it's still a detail that gets noticed, no matter how old you are. Jenn at Juggling Life saw this first hand when her first-grade class was working on self portraits and most of the children, even ones with dark skin, chose peachy-pale paper cutouts to decorate. With a second self-portrait project, she distributed paper cutouts herself, and "You should have heard the outcry! Students were outraged at not having the peach color." Does this illustrate an issue with race, or one with the ideals of beauty or acceptability? Is it even possible to separate the two?

I think that how we choose to define ourselves has as much to do with politics as it does with genetics, and I don't consider one part of my genetic makeup more significant than any other part -- together, they make me who I am. And while my kids may color cafe-au-lait faces on their self-portraits, they're paying attention skin color, not race. To them, right now, it's a detail to be noted, but it doesn't actually mean much of anything. Which, I think, may be better than being color blind.

Do you talk to your kids about race?

Friday, October 2, 2009

An easy baby shower gift you can make yourself

A few weeks ago, when I was stumped about what to get my brother and sister-in-law for a baby-shower gift, I asked my readers at what they thought new babies really needed.

So, what did I end up getting? Nothing from the registery (I just couldn't bring myself to buy a wipe warmer -- sorry, guys). Instead, I went to Target and Babies R Us and put together a practical present: A diaper-changing station that they could easily take with them from room to room.

At Work It, Mom!, I've whipped together a cool little slideshow about the items that went into it. If you want to make your own, print out this post, determine your budget, and start shopping.

You'll need:
  1. A basket to put everything in. I chose a powder-blue plastic shower caddy at Target, because it was inexpensive, roomy, easy to carry, and easy to clean; there are plenty of fancier options out there (like the SaraBear Diaper Caddy, pictured above left, also at Target). Pick out a pretty receiving blanket to wrap it all up in.
  2. Newborn-size diapers. My youngest is nearly 3-years-old -- I forgot how tiny newborn diapers are! This is one thing new parents sometimes forget until the last minute, and when you're coming home from the hospital, the last thing you really want to do is stop off at the drug store for supplies. If you're uber-organized, you can keep an eye out for coupons in your local paper, and sign the mom-to-be up for coupons at and/or (If you know for sure that the new parents will be using cloth instead of disposables, tuck a stack of pre-folded cloth diapers in the basket instead.)
  3. Baby wipes. No warmer required. Go for the "natural" or "sensitive skin" versions, just in case.
  4. Baby gowns. It's so much easier to manage those midnight (and 2 a.m., and 4 a.m.) diaper changes if you don't have to deal with snaps or zippers. These gowns are open at the bottom (see the picture, second from left); if you're worried about tiny cold feet, throw in a pair of botties or small socks.
  5. Lotions and potions. Burt Bees has an excellent line of baby products; you can even pick up a package of trial-sizes. I chose Boudreaux's Butt Paste instead, because a.) it works well and b.) I knew my brother would laugh at the name.
  6. A changing pad. There was a good selection of no-frills changing pads at Babies R Us, but a changing wallet from Skip Hop has everything you need to change diapers on the go, all folded together in a handy, small package.
  7. A funny parenting book. I should probably write a separate post about the great parenting books out there. Two funny-yet-practical choices that appeal to both moms and dads are Jenna McCarthy's Cheers to the New Mom/Cheers to the New Dad and Christopher Healy's Pop Culture: The Sane Man’s Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood.
  8. Hand sanitizing gel. This kind of goes without saying, doesn't it?
  9. A swaddling blanket. It can take a while to get the hang of swaddling your newborn; the SwaddleMe blanket (second from right, above) makes it easy to do right away. Fasteners keep the blanket snug, and the bottom flips up for easy diaper changes.
  10. Peepee Teepees. If the bundle of joy is a boy, these little cones (pictured above, far right) are great for avoiding getting soaked while changing the diaper.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Parenting by lying: Where do you draw the line?

Parents have long rated honesty as the top trait they hope to teach their kids. But when the child loses a tooth or is late for school, the parents are the ones putting bicuspids under pillows for fairies or coming up with convincing excuses for teachers.

So, is lying learned behavior -- and are we the ones teaching it to our kids?

Over at Child Caring, I'm wondering where parents should draw the line between fact and fiction. Children lie for a variety of reasons: To get out of trouble, to get what they want, to get attention. While parents may lie to other adults for the same reasons, a new study shows that they tend to lie to their kids to make them feel good or to change their behavior.

"We are surprised by how often parenting by lying takes place," researcher Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, Canada, told Yahoo. "Our findings showed that even the parents who most strongly promoted the importance of honesty with their children engaged in parenting by lying."

"Parenting by lying" ranges from telling tall tales (about the tooth fairy, for example), to fibbing ("Tommy, what a beautiful drawing!") to manipulation in order to change behavior ("If you don't clean your room, I'm going to give away all of your stuff.") It might work in the short term, but in the long run, research suggests, lying could harm parent-child bonds or prevent children from learning. "If I am always lying to the child in order to get the child to do X, Y, or Z, then they have never learned why they should do X, Y, or Z," Victoria Talwar of McGill University in Montreal points out.

Is it appropriate to teach kids that some kinds of lying is OK? Or should we still be shooting for "honesty is the best policy"?