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Parenting: As Defined by All the Safety Straps

December 21, 2014

When my husband and I left the hospital, the car seat was securely strapped to the back seat. My husband bought it, but didn’t research seats online; it’s not his style. He just went to the store and chose one that seemed good.
Nick also figured out how to install it himself; he likes to control what he can. I read that the local police precinct would install car seats, and wanted them to check ours. But it’s not his style to ask for help.

As my daughter, then son, grew, it became pretty obvious that how my husband and I handle seat belts and other straps, was very different and revealed a lot about how we deal with our children.

There was the strap on the changing table, which I insisted on fastening securely, while he held his hand on our children himself so they couldn’t move. Then the strap on the high chair, which he cleaned constantly, and I let build up with old food.

Now six and eight, my kids have straps on their too-large backpacks. I insist they keep walking while I adjust the straps.

As they grew, I was overjoyed when Tessa and James hit the milestone of being able to fasten their own car seats. No more leaning over in the back seat, struggling with straps. I worry about the big stuff, plan for the future and check off achievements. My husband lives for today.

The laid back parents we know let their almost-old-enough children sit between our kids, strapped in with an adult seat belt. The more cautious ones won’t let their children ride in our four-door sedan.

When we go swimming, the kids hand us their goggles again and again, complaining about leaks or tight rubber suctions that leave red rings around their eyes. My husband will sit and work with the elastic straps until they’re perfect. Allowing the children to try them on and hand them back again and again. When the kids come to me, I say, they’re just goggles, swim without them if they’re causing pain.

This past weekend I took my six-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter ice-skating. It was all about the straps. They were too loose on my daughter’s ice skates. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn’t tighten them to her liking. They were too loose on my son’s helmet, although the helmet itself was too tight. I had to loosen both their rubber and plastic fastener, and re-secure them again and again as the crowded rink, filled.

My daughter continued to ask for help with her skates while holiday-season skaters jostled past. Finally, I tightened the skates enough. Then my son said he wanted to go home because the helmet was squeezing his head.

I wondered, what about all those rosy-faced children on Facebook, smiling on ice rinks and ski hills? Did straps cause their parents so much aggravation?

I had to remind myself that life isn’t the 20 minutes gliding on ice, but what is happening now, and now, and now. A truer measure of parenting character, than whether you take your kids skating, is whether you can put on their skates and helmets without losing your mind.

So, I took a deep breath, looked inside my son’s too-tight helmet and ripped out the padding.

Kim Brown Reiner is mom to Tessa, 8, and James, 6, an educational consultant and freelance writer. More of her work can be found at www.kimbrownreiner.com.

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How Do You Teach a Privileged Kid to Be Grateful?

December 20, 2014

I may have more questions than answers by the end of this, and I’m actually hoping that you, dear reader, will share some of your wisdom.

I married my husband when I was 19 and he was 21. We were both still in college and working to support ourselves. In other words, we were broke. We experienced a solid few years of squeaking by each month, living in a tiny apartment, sharing one car, and eating way too many ramen noodles.

When our waterbed broke (hey, it was the 90s, lots of people had waterbeds), our only choice was to toss the plastic mattress and sleep in the wooden frame of the box with whatever blankets we could stack up. After several months, we were saved from that setback when my parents visited and we “let” them sleep in our bed. In the morning, my dad came out and announced that he felt like he had slept in a coffin, and no daughter of his would sleep like this anymore. My parents, who knew that we needed to learn to make it on our own, made an exception and bought us a new mattress. We have never relished a gift so much – we couldn’t wait to go to sleep each night! I can honestly say that I am so glad we went through those lean times. It makes us appreciate everything we have now so much more.

Fast forward a decade or two. We have worked hard to complete our educations, establish careers, and are happy suburbanites with a teenage daughter. And she just doesn’t get it. She has no true understanding of how easy her life is, and how difficult the lives of other children are. Here’s the thing: I can’t recreate the experience of being broke for her. We live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and we have everything that we need. We have no intention of depriving her meals or not buying her the things she needs, so she can’t truly know what barely getting by looks like at this age.

She is certainly spoiled by world standards; with her tech gadgets, excessive ‘stuff,’ and constant (not free) outings with friends. By neighborhood standards, she is pretty well in check. I don’t buy her clothes from the expensive mall stores, she doesn’t get to buy school lunch every day (these are not the high school meals that I grew up with, there are fast food franchises in the building), and she doesn’t get her nails professionally done every 2-3 weeks like many of her friends.

My husband and I have had countless discussion over the years with each other and our family and friends asking this question: How can you teach gratitude to kids? I am a stickler for thank you notes; she sits and writes one out for every gift she gets. We have taken the time to point out the work that people have done to make parties and other events we attend so nice. And as many of you might suggest, we do a lot of volunteer work: food pantries, homeless shelters, and even making care kits for the sign-holding people on freeway exits. She is learning that it is important to serve your community and those less fortunate, but this does not translate to a deep understanding that it could be us who need help. We’ve all heard the statistic about how many paychecks away most of us are from losing everything. It’s scary, but pretty unfathomable to a teenager who has never made a mortgage payment.

And there is a distinct difference between not being spoiled, and having a spirit of gratitude.

Here’s a recent example that let me know her expectations aren’t completely unreasonable: Her friend dropped and cracked his phone. She told me, “his mom went out the NEXT DAY and had it fixed for him.” I asked what she said to him about that, and she said, “I told him when I cracked my phone, my parents said ‘have fun using your new, cracked phone.’”

This made us chuckle. Here’s the thing, she wasn’t in trouble for cracking her phone, it wasn’t intentional. But she had it out in the busy halls of school and wasn’t paying attention. We decided that she wouldn’t appreciate how nice it is to have an un-cracked phone and take the steps to maximize the odds of not cracking it until she had to live with the crack for a while. So we made sure she had a screen protector on it so she didn’t get cut, and she used it that way for 6 months. She was over the moon when we had it repaired, and she researched the best reasonably priced phone cases herself. She is noticeably more careful with her phone.

Yay, right? I love that she knows we are the parents who will not replace the items she breaks if she is not being 100% responsible. And she did demonstrate gratitude for the repaired phone. But I can’t say that this translates to everything else in her life. She still thinks we should upgrade her phone every time a new model comes out, she thinks she should own every new style of Nikes, and she will never understand why we don’t eat out most nights of the week.

So this is where I am stuck. I just listed a bunch of things that we think we are doing right. But I still have the sense that true gratitude is lacking in this wonderful girl of mine. And she is wonderful. She is a sweet, funny girl who tries her best at everything.

So what are we missing? I really would love to hear what your experiences are with your children, and what you do to try to get them to be grateful for the life they are privileged to live. I’m starting to think that the best we can hope for is that she does not feel entitled to the latest and greatest in everything. I’d even settle for her at least knowing that she will not be getting the latest and greatest, and to stop asking, whether she really understands why or not.

Is true gratitude unattainable until she is on her own and struggling a bit? Is it an inherent personality trait?

Debi Smith-Racanelli is a psychologist, author, and mom to a teenage girl. She is passionate about supporting the parent/child relationship, especially between moms and daughters, which she usually accomplishes with honesty and humor. Connect with her at www.betweenbabydollsandboyfriends.com or on Twitter.

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The Older I Get, the More I Want the Things Money Can't Buy

December 19, 2014

What do I want for Christmas? That’s a question I get asked over and over each year. I never have an answer because I’ve never really been all that materialistic. Sure, I like to have this or that, but most often it’s something small that I usually buy for myself. The majority of my money that gets spent on me – a luxury, as any mom can attest – is usually blown on books. I like to read and write. Pretty simple stuff that doesn’t require much.

Lately, I’ve gotten to thinking, though. There are things I want, but no one is going to be able to hand them over Christmas morning. They simply can’t be given that way. Things I want are…

1. An end to Mom-Shaming.

I cannot express enough how exhausting and devastating this activity is. I hate it so much. Just the other day an older lady saw me buying a boxed item in the baking aisle and said, “You know, it’s just as easy to make that from scratch.” What the little old lady didn’t know is that my attempts at making this particular item from scratch have seriously BLOWN. Like, the dog wouldn’t eat it, kind of BLOWN. I can’t tell you how long I cried about my homeade attempts to make food I could buy in a box. All I can say is… I tried. That should count for something? Mom-shaming means that it doesn’t count, and that is unbearably sad. I’m not Martha Stewart, and that gene was not on the option when I went swimming in my genetic pool.

2. An end to fat-shaming.

Sitting at a restaurant the other day I heard a man ask his wife, “Who is that woman on TV that you watch? You know. The fat one?” That’s all the information his wife needed to name Rosie O’Donnell. Seriously. I nearly stabbed them with my fork. I hate that a person’s weight is what defines them to so many people. It’s truly one of the last acceptable prejudices. It makes me sick. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of Rosie O’Donnell, if your first descriptor of her is that she’s fat, the problem is YOU not HER. If you look at me and all you see is a fat woman, it’s time to consider deepening your pool, because yours is pretty damn shallow.

3. More of the ‘feminist love’ from my sons.

Tony came to me and said, “Mom, my friend shared a meme with me that said something about women needing to be in the kitchen. He thought it was funny. I didn’t get it. What does that even mean?”

My response: “What do you think it means?”

Tony: “The truth?”

Me: (nodding my head)

Tony: “That he’s an idiot.”

Seconds, please.

4. A confidence boost.

I want to stop feeling like I haven’t earned my place at the table. Any table. As a mom, writer, aunt, in-law, wife, friend and human being: I feel like I let people down more than I help. There are days that I win like a boss. There are days that I am barely holding on, trying not to circle the drain. Regardless of what day it is, I’ve done the work. I’ve put in the effort. I need that boost of confidence to help me say to myself, “You are enough.”

5. Less self-imposed stress.

I want to tie a blindfold around the eyes of my Type A personality, offer it one last smoke, and blow its brains against a wall. Nothing has to be perfect. There are no perfect people. We are all our own special brand of f#cked up. We should embrace that and go with the flow. I’ve lost sleep over the fact that someone visited my house and the carpet looked unswept. They came in and looked at the floor with disdain. You know what? They didn’t know that I swept twice that day. They didn’t know that my vacuum bag got full and, much to my chagrin, that was last damn bag I even owned. I didn’t have time to go get another one before they came over with their white gloves and scowl. So what if the dog fur collected in the corner looks like I murdered an old woman or spend my free time shearing dogs? I’ve done my absolute best and that should be all that anyone, especially me, expects.

6. More people going out of their ways to write nice comments.

This one sounds like a no-brainer. I have seen so many folks doing good things and putting goodness out into the world, but that all gets swept away by just one jerk being an idiot and leaving troll comments on articles I (or other writers) have written. It’s not hard to be nice, people. Seriously. I don’t agree with 90% of what I read on the internet. I only comment when I have something positive to add to the conversation, or if I can voice my opinion in a way that shows I’m a grown human being who disagrees with the author and showed up with my manners intact. If the only comments you can leave are your guesses about my I.Q., and how that is impacted by the color of my skin, then just keep on truckin’. Those are personal attacks, not opinions. No time for that B.S. here.

7. More love, less hate.

You’d think this one is a no-brainer, but it’s not. Who in this world couldn’t use a little more understanding, love or kindness? Who could deal with a lot less hate? There are easy answers to these easy questions, but somehow, as human beings, we lack follow-through. Some people get so blinded by their anger, or are so very married to their opinions, that they don’t take the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Hate grows like weeds. It needs no attention whatsoever to take over this world. Weeds choke out the flowers just like hate chokes out love. When given the right attention, and making a concerted effort to eradicate hate, love will bloom. Mightily. Heartily.

If I were to get everything on my list, in the immortal words of Louis Armstrong, what a wonderful world it would be.

Miranda Gargasz is a writer from a small suburb outside Cleveland, Ohio. She is a contributor at What the Flicka? and The Huffington Post. In February of 2014, she published her first collection of essays entitled ‘Lemonade and Holy Stuff’. You can read more on her Blog, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Battling the Holiday Bulge: It's About More than Just Yummy Food

December 18, 2014

There is something about this time of year that makes me want to eat. I realize with the holidays we all battle this. We are surrounded by desserts, delicious dishes, family foods, and drinks made to please the pallet. It’s more than that for me right now. I feel I am also not able to eat the foods I want on a daily basis.

The change of seasons has made grocery shopping less appealing for me. I love fruits and veggies. Have you seen how the fruits look this time a year?! Not only are they not as fresh and ripe as I would like, they are over priced. I find myself standing in front of the strawberries and blueberries pondering if I want to spend five dollars on them or keep walking. I am frugal in my shopping. I will bring a calculator and try to keep it at the allowed amount that day. When I see an item I want that I consider over priced, I sadly walk away.

It is important to me to eat healthy. It is equally, if not more, important for me to try to feed my children healthy foods as well. If you have a toddler, then you may know how hard it can be to feed them a balanced meal. Since both my boys love fruits I try to be sure I have an assortment in our house. These days, it’s slim pickings.

I have resorted to buying frozen fruits. They hold the same nutritional value, and when I use them in my daily smoothies, they taste just as good. Frozen fruit is cheaper and you can get a little more for your money. Bonus right?! Yes and no. Have you tried to thaw some strawberries to hand to your wee one? They are still on the mushy side. There really is nothing like fresh fruit! I love strawberry and blueberry season. Right now I am mourning both.

Vegetables, too, are not at their peak. Luckily my grocery store has a good selection, and I’m not as disappointing in this area. As with fruits, I am not one to buy canned veggies or frozen veggies. I keep a few on hand – the kids love peas – I just enjoy cooking and eating handful’s of fresh fruits and veggies. I am missing our box garden to pick from.

Also, the cold is now setting in and the nightly salad I would have with dinner is becoming less appealing to me. I want warmer, more comfort food these days.

My diet is a way of life for me. What I put into my body is important. I work at keeping myself in shape. I am not one that can eat whatever I want and not have it affect me. Since having children, my body needs extra attention. Let’s face it, I am not 21 anymore. There used to be a time it didn’t matter… I am no longer in that time.

I have surrendered myself to the fact that during the holiday season I may gain a few extra pounds. I am okay with that. I do believe in indulging! Over the next couple of weeks there will be gatherings with friends and family, and I fully intend to enjoy these times without restrictions. It doesn’t mean that doesn’t come with guilt though. (I will be honest, I get food-guilt after consuming that piece of chocolate cake or had that extra glass of wine.)

This just means I will work a little harder after the holidays. It is me against the battle of the holiday bulge. I will win in the end!

What do you do to fight the holiday/ winter bulge? How to you satisfy your craving for fresh foods and stay away from the cookies?

I am the mother of two amazing creatures, my boys. I am a SAHM, and also work part-time as a Veterinary Technician. I am the creator of the blog, Discovering Me In Them, and author for VT Mommies. I am addicted to running, love taking pictures, and enjoy good food, beer and wine. You can also find me on Facebook.

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Admit It... The Toys You Buy Your Kids are for YOU: A Retro Toy Guide

December 17, 2014

Admit it: you don’t buy toys for your kids. Oh, you purchase mounds of them all right. But they aren’t for the rugrats gathered ‘round the Christmas tree. Nope. You buy toys for yourself. Oh, the kids might play with the toys, but we’re living vicariously. It’s a hard truth. It’s an embarrassing truth. But that stuffed sloth? That was all about me, people.

Toy companies have finally gotten hip to this truth.

So, this Christmas, Matel and company have rolled out some serious 80s and 90s toy envy. Buy yourself the childhood you always wanted with this year’s top toy picks – for you, not them.

Star Wars

Han, Luke, and Chewie are back. There’s an animated series. There’s a new movie on the horizon. And Lucas & Co. knows you’ll succumb to the siren song of a plastic Jabba the Hutt figure. While the new stuff might confound you – who the hell is Ezra Bridger? – you’ll find plenty of the old school trilogy to keep you happy. I hear Target’s even stocking a limited edition, super-slutty Slave Leia.

Barbie

Sure, Barbie never died. She’s sexist, unrealistic, with proportions that would make it impossible for her to even stand. But the accessories! Buy that Barbie Dreamhouse. Buy the pink corvette. She’s an astronaut. She’s a fairy. You can buy her a unicorn. Because, somehow, that acid-trip pink explosion was never complete without a unicorn.

My Little Pony

These ponies definitely look, well, sluttier than the ponies of yore. They’ve somehow contracted Barbie’s eating disorder and acquired anime-freak eyes. But you can brush their manes. That’s all you ever cared about, anyway.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Heroes in a halfshell! Turtle power! These make exactly as much sense as they did when you were ten. But just like when you were ten, you totally don’t care, because you can buy a strap-on shell and some nunchucks.

Giant Stuffed Animals

I mean, these were always around, but your parents never bought them for you. You really, really, really wanted that life-size stuffed dog, didn’t you? Your parents bought you the tiny one instead. You knew they couldn’t afford the big one, but dammit you really wanted that dog. Buy your kids a five foot tall Melissa and Doug giraffe to assuage that inner child.

Care Bears

Ah, the rainbow-colored fuzzy bears that live in the clouds and shoot love from their bellies. Like many products from the 1980s, they can only be explained by the excessive use of cocaine. But damn if they aren’t fuzzy and cute. The reboot bears look much like the old ones, and even include Funshine Bear and Tenderheart Bear. I’m buying them right now, even if they are a thinly-veiled advertisement for ecstacy.

Old School Lego Sets

Screw all that canned complicated Lego bullshit. Lego Bricks & More are all simple sets meant to encourage the same messing around you always loved about Legos. Sit down and build without some super-confusing instructions and tiny, specific pieces. Or just say screw it, and buy your kids the Lego Millenium Falcon. The choice is yours.

Playdough

Complicated bakery playsets that encourage eating the inedible? Or just a giant pack of dough in a rainbow of colors? The fun comes from mixing them all up, anyway. Roll it into snakes. Make a ball. Feels good, doesn’t it? Only now you’re the one scrubbing it out of the carpet.

Easy Bake Oven

Complicated bakery playsets that encourage eating the marginally edible. You could always let your kids use the real oven, but where’s the fun in that? The Easy Bake oven’s so much cuter. Bonus: your kid can scar themselves the same way you did two decades ago. Sort of like matching tattoos, except burn marks!

Snoopy Snow Cone Maker

Grind the ice. Cover in dye-laden, artificially flavored syrup. Eat. It’s still a pain in the ass to turn that crank, but damn it: you’re eating a snowcone. For almost thirty bucks, you’ll use it twice. But snowcones!

Cabbage Patch Dolls

Your parents beat each other up to buy one for you. Now you can purchase identical dolls at Target, complete with weird birth certificates and Xavier Roberts signed across the ass. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. But their creepy mythology and unsatisfyingly unbrushable yarn hair remains.

What retro toys are you buying this holiday season?

A mama to three sons, 4 and under, Elizabeth dropped out of academia to procreate and spend way too much time tie-dying. A certified educator with Babywearing International, she still misses teaching freshman English. Elizabeth practices attachment parenting out of sheer laziness, and writes about social justice and crunchy parenting at Manic Pixie Dream Mama. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, xojane, Mamapedia, Today Show Parents, and Time.com.

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