Monday, January 31, 2011

How step parenting advice relates to office life

I've been a stepparent for about a decade now, and so much of what you read in books, articles, and online highlights the negative aspects to what really can be a very difficult life choice. National Stepfamily Day was in September, and in honor of the occasion, I decided to focus on the positives -- and maybe help a few other stepparents find a way to celebrate what they have.

You can read my stepfamily article over at Work It, Mom!, and you can read my interviews with three stepparenting experts here, because this post isn't going to focus on stepparenting issues, per se. You see, while doing my research and talking to these knowledgeable women, I was surprised to discover that many of the ways one can find happiness as a stepparent also apply to finding satisfaction -- or at least peace -- with your job.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good caregivers don't stay strangers for long

I went to pick my little kids up from preschool one day last week, and when I got there I found my 4-year-old son curled up in a small ball on his caregiver's lap.

The backstory: He and his buddies had been playing (probably superheroes, their current obsession), and playing escalated into rough housing, which escalated into arguing, which escalated into fighting. One friend grabbed a toy out of my boy's hands; another defended the first, and that was just too much for my little guy to bear. He burst into tears -- a common enough occurrence at home, but a rarity at school -- and, since I wasn't there, climbed into his teacher's lap for reassurance.

I got there about half an hour later, and there he was, all cuddled up. And, instead of feeling protective or territorial or jealous, instead of feeling guilty for not being there when it all happened, or angry that his feelings had been hurt, I just felt... grateful.

Monday, January 24, 2011

How do you cope with stress? (I cook)

A few weeks ago, I did a lot of cooking. Produce was on the verge of going bad, meat had been sitting in the deep freezer for far too long, empty lunchboxes that cried out for homemade goodies, a budget that cried out for those lunchboxes to be filled instead of eating out at the office. I'd update my status on Facebook feeling like I'd accomplished a ton:
Lylah Alphonse made 12 cups of apple sauce, a big apple crisp, and 3 cups of oven dried tomatoes (originally a grocery-bag-full of the last tomatoes from the garden. They really do cook down quite a bit). I would have made salsa verde but forgot to buy limes.
Lylah Alphonse made split-pea and ham soup, 16 cups of it, and has black beans cooking on the stove. This is what happens when the urge to clean out the freezer strikes at the same time as the cold weather. Also: Aside from the occasional stir, these things pretty much cook themselves. It's lazy perfectionist heaven.
There was more cooking -- 18 jars of salsa verde, 8 pints of green tomato pickles, 12 pints of green tomato chutney -- that I didn't post about because, all of a sudden, I went from feeling accomplished to feeling like it was all a bit excessive. I was stress cooking. And things were getting out of hand.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mini-Snooki? This is not OK

"I've always said, you're never too young to look bangin'," says Jersey Shore star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi as she prepares to make over squeaky clean 11-year-old Jessica in her image.

Um.... yes. Yes, you are. Eleven is way too young to "look bangin'."

The Jersey Shore star slathers bronzer and eye shadow on the pre-teen before ratting her hair and enveloping her in a cloud of hairspray as part of the "Snookification." Snooki sprays her own hair for good measure, then dresses the girl in an animal-print tank top "for the perfect Snooki look." She presents her as "Mini-Snooki" and they pose together for the camera.

Who thought this was a good idea?

While I'm not a huge fan of the slut-it-up Halloween costume trend starting earlier and earlier, at least there's a reason behind it. These kids may look outlandish and ridiculous, but they're not on MTV (though now they are all over the internet, and that's an issue unto itself). But 11-year-olds aren't known for their ability to separate reality and fantasy very well -- remember the infamous Jessi Slaughter videos? -- and the cast members of Jersey Shore are questionable role models. This isn't an example of a kid trying to emulate Miley Cyrus and her transformation from sweet Disney star to hyper-sexualized pop tart; this is a case where adults are dressing an 11-year-old up as a hard-partying, hot-tub hopping "guidette" for their own entertainment.

I really don't think we need to be encouraging preteens to be like Snooki. It's one thing to have scores of young adults inspiring to reality television fame, but 11-year-olds? They don't need to "look bangin'." They need to look -- and act -- like 11-year-olds.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Are Chinese parents better than Western parents?

Over at, I'm weighing in on the latest parenting controversey: Yale Law professor Amy Chua's assertion that "Chinese mothers" are superior to "Western Parents."

Chua's book excerpt appeared in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend and immediately touched off a firestorm among parents, readers, bloggers, and child development experts.  While some of her points make a lot of sense -- she writes that one of the worst things a parent can do to a child's self-esteem is to not insist on success -- her methods have led many to accuse her of being abusive. Here's how she describes coercing (her word) her then-7-year-old daughter, Lulu, to play a difficult piece on the piano:

"I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.... I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom."

Her husband, who is not Chinese, was aghast. "He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful," Chua writes. She persisted, the child eventually learned the piece, and Chua chalked it up as proof of her parenting superiority.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Toning shoes: Why do women search for a quick fitness fix?

I will be the first to admit that I could use a little more exercise. OK, a lot more. As I'm nearing 40, I jiggle in places that I never used to before. And, as a working mom, I know that even though I'm plenty "active," chasing after kids and working a desk job doesn't translate into fitness.

But even though I understand the allure of a quick fitness fix, I'm amazed at the amount of "magic bullet" fitness and weight-loss products out there. This week, at Yahoo!'s Shine, I wrote about the lawsuits filed against New Balance and Reebok over claims made about their "toning shoes," and took a look at some of the other products on the market that make promises they can't reasonably keep. Here's the top of the story; click through to read the rest.