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U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, front left, her daughters Sasha, front right, Malia, right in the back, and Michelle Obama's mother Marian Robinson, left in the back, arrive at Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, Thursday, March 20. (Alexander F. Yuan/AP)

Extended family childcare: Take the help, table the advice

By Correspondent / 04.18.14

Ever wish you had more than two hands? I do, especially since I live in a 3rd floor walk-up apartment. Every trip to the grocery store is a workout, and every laundry day has me sweating bullets. It would be so much easier if I had someone around to watch the baby or carry a few bags upstairs with me on a day-to-day basis, not just when my husband is around on the weekends. 

It would also be nice to have someone around to drink a cup of tea and chat with regularly. When my husband gets home after a long day at work, he usually isn’t interested in a couple hours of conversation – he just wants to quietly relax and recharge. Plus, tea isn’t really his thing.

Living with extended family members is the norm in many cultures, where families bind together to help each other in all phases of life, especially when there’s a new baby or elderly relative in the mix. Korean, Indian, Greek, Japanese, and many Latin American countries are among many cultures that actively embrace multigenerational living under one roof.

As for the US, the Pew Research Center reported that, in 2009, 1 in 5 adults age 25 to 34 live in multigenerational households in the US. 

From 2007 to 2009, the number of multigenerational households spiked from 46.5 million to 51.4 million, due in part to the economy. From 1980 to 2006, it had been increasing steadily by about 2 percent each year. Among the major ethnic and racial groups, Hispanics showed the biggest leap in growth from 2007 and 2009, at 17.6 percent. 

I got a taste of what multigenerational living would be like when a bunch of my family members came together in one house to celebrate my cousin’s wedding last week. It was so helpful to always have family nearby to hand the diaper bag to when unloading the car, happily play with my daughter in the pool, or distract her for a bit so I could play cards with my aunts. 

And anytime a stressful situation arose, such as when my daughter threw up all over her car seat for the umpteenth time, they rallied around me to get her outfit changed, clean the car seat, and give me a hug after dealing with it all. On a practical level, it was great, but more than that, they lifted my spirits and helped diffuse my frustration. 

I started to wonder, what would it be like to have extended family around all the time? 

In Mexico, where my husband is from, having many family members around all the time is totally normal. One or two people often make dinner for the entire family, and daycare is unheard of for many families. My uncle, who lived in Mexico for a few years with two young daughters in the 1980s, explained that when he told Mexican friends that he was looking for a baby sitter for an evening out, everyone gave him blank looks and said, “Why?” Most Mexican families always have an aunt, grandma, or cousin around to help with childcare. 

My husband’s grandma often took care of him when he was growing up, and their special bond shows every time we visit his Abuelita Raquel. She wipes away tears when we arrive and leave, and she always prepares a special treat for him. The first time I met her, it was cow brains, which he apparently has loved since he was little, though the smell made me a little nauseous. There was no way I was going to risk insulting the family matriarch, so I politely had a bite, though I think it must be an acquired taste. 

Anytime my husband calls her, they talk for hours. He knows all the neighborhood gossip because of her. He doesn’t really care about any of it – he just cares about her, so he doesn’t interrupt her ramblings. It’s sweet how he indulges her as a way of reciprocating all the patience and love she showered on him when he was a rambunctious little boy. 

When my daughter was born last year, my dad visited for a month to help us adjust to our brand new lives as parents. I sent him off to the grocery store just about every day, and he did more loads of laundry than I can count. His favorite way to help was holding the baby in the rocking chair, and he hardly cared at all when she cried. He just gently held her closer and asked with a frown, “Does this mean I have to give her up now?” 

We really appreciated the help, though we definitely still viewed ourselves as independent parents. One time, when he heard the baby crying late at night and knocked on the door, my husband and I were irked. We wanted to prove that we could take care of this baby without his interference – though now I can see that he was just trying to help us out. Still, I feel like nighttime is a sacred space for new parents, and even though my dad had pure motives, I would probably stick with my decision to turn him away if we had another fussy baby on our hands again. Daytime help, yes please, night time, not so much. 

As of 2012, 10 percent of all children under 18 in the US had grandparents living with them and their parents, a total of 7.1 million, according to Pew. That’s not a huge amount, but still, that’s 1 in 10 children. I can imagine there are lots of ups and downs for the parents. 

For some, it opens up a kind of Catch-22 – constant childcare assistance in exchange for not always welcome advice. I’d love the extra helping hands, but I definitely have an independent streak – I want to raise my child my way, so don’t tell me what to do unless I ask for it. 

Also, it seems like family members, while helpful in small bursts, like while on vacation, might not be all that interested in helping long-term. 

At the end of our recent vacation, everyone went their separate ways when it was time to return the rental cars and get on our return flights, even though there were a few of us taking the same route. I frowned when I realized our family members had left us behind, but then remembered that that’s the way things are often done in the US – every man for himself. In a way, it makes sense (no one meddling), but when you're lugging a bunch of bags and a car seat, any help offered would be gratefully accepted.

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Brooklyn Beckham and Victoria Beckham attend Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year Awards 2013 at Claridge's Hotel in London on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. (John Furniss/Invision for Harper's Bazaar/AP/FILE)

Brooklyn Beckham cougar attack: A double standard?

By Correspondent / 04.18.14

Brooklyn Beckham, 15, oldest son of Victoria and David Beckham, is on the cover of the UK fashion magazine Man About Town, which has generated a disconcerting, inappropriate, and sexually-charged response from older women.

Apparently, when it comes to sexual predators and political correctness, some who might consider themselves "cougars" – older women who like to court younger men – think it’s OK to bend the rules when they like a Beckham boy.

In fact, perhaps we should take the shine off of female predators by changing their handle from “cougar” to “dirty old lady.”

Oh my, that’s an unattractive reality check. However, if a man in his 50s were to tweet about a 15-year-old girl in the same way that some posted about young Brooklyn, they would be called “dirty old men” in a heartbeat.

Frankly, I would like to see Mr. and Ms. Beckham take this opportunity to help publicly shutdown the practice of sexualizing minors of either sex by sending down a very public Red Card to all those women who are behaving badly over their son.

This isn’t about teenage girls tweeting their age-appropriate crushes, but the blatantly raunchy behavior of much older women making entirely inappropriate comments. One example, one of the few more tame examples:

While this admirer says she will be waiting for him, others simply say they would “have his baby” as soon as possible.

Seeing the tweets from women who appear to be old enough to be this child’s mother, I wonder how people would react if it were men sending these tweets to a girl of the same age.

I have four sons, ages 20, 18, 15, and 10, so I am keyed-in to the double-standard that seems to be present when it comes to ogling young boys.

While many of these people may be harmless, the social acceptance of the behavior has a very negative impact on the lives of the non-famous.

Two years ago, a reader in her mid-40s, began contacting me via Facebook to ask for my help in getting a teenage boy, age 16, away from a mother. The reader claimed the boy’s mom was abusive.

However, as time wore on, the woman began to send me pictures she’d taken of the boy when he wasn’t aware he was being photographed – shirtless, or through his bedroom window.

Her own Facebook page revealed she was behaving as a sexual predator while claiming to be “in love” with this boy.

I contacted the boy’s mother and local child-welfare authorities, supplying them with Facebook chats, photos, and Facebook postings by this woman.

The result was that at each and every stage of the case someone in authority smirked at the thought that this handsome teenage boy was in potential danger from an older woman they deemed unattractive, and therefore not a legitimate threat.

The woman had wormed her way into this teenager’s life by giving him a cell phone his mother could not afford to buy for him, a game console, and other expensive gifts.

Once the boy saw the woman’s Facebook posts and realized her intentions, he himself went to local authorities and testified in family court.

I was brought in as a witness, but never took the stand as the judge dismissed the case because the mother had once allowed the accused woman access to her home as a guest and had allowed her to pick the boy up from school before learning of her sexual intentions toward her son.

While the majority of sexual harassment cases consist of a man in the role of harasser, sexual harassment can come from men or women, according to statistics by Catalyst analysis, a firm which analyzes workplace trends, which looked at data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

“In recent years, the percentage of sexual harassment charges filed by men has risen from 11.6-percent to 16.3-percent of all sexual harassment charges being filed,” Catalyst reports.

Many of the cases we see in the news involving sexual harassment of teenage boys comes from older school teachers, such as the case of teacher Jennifer Christine Fichter, 29, of Davenport, Fla., who was arrested and accused of having sex with a 17-year-old boy in her pickup truck, according to AP.

Every time one of these cases makes the news, I hear people joking about being “hot for teacher.”

However, if it’s a case of a 17-year-old girl and an older male teacher, all I hear is outrage.

This double standard needs to be brought to light and parents of boys being harassed must come forward and make their cases known, because there is strength in numbers.

In the case of the boy whose family I tried to assist, I believe the woman providing the unwanted sexual attention needed help from a mental health professional. I also believe the woman’s own children and the victim needed more help than they received.

It is often said that victims of sexual harassment and crimes need to understand that these kinds of crimes are not about sex but violence, control, and other emotional issues on the part of the harasser.

Sadly, the people in authority in this case were dismissive to the mother, father, victim, and me.

They smirked and rolled their eyes until the day the boy didn’t come home because the woman had offered the boy a ride home and he accepted because he later told me, “I didn’t think anything bad would happen because everybody made it out to be a big joke.”

Nobody was laughing when it took a day and a night to locate and retrieve the boy from the hotel room she drove him to. Because there had been no help before the incident, the boy and his parents didn’t press charges. They just wanted it all to go away.

They had lost all faith in the system.

The offender vanished with her family later that week.

The boy graduated and immediately entered the military.

His mother and I lost touch as the sadness and the humiliation of what had happened to this boy weighed on us both.

Through it all, the only agency that treated the situation with the gravity it deserved was the public school system. I was exceptionally proud of the local school district for going extra miles in order to help the boy’s parents before, during, and after the incidents.

There was nothing I could do to stop the predator, who is now in another town somewhere.

The only thing I can do is tell the cautionary tale when the opportunity arises. Parents reading the story can pass it on.

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Ian Suhay stands face to face with a Lego statue at FAO Schwartz toy store in New York City in January. (Lisa Suhay)

Let go of your Lego? Pley offers rentals.

By Correspondent / 04.17.14

When Elina Furman decided to offer a toy rental service named Pley to help parents reduce toy clutter and develop a “sharing economy,” she picked one of the most iconic brands to start with, and quickly learned that there are two kinds of kids – those who will let go of a Lego set and those who won’t.

Lego is such a vital part of my family history that the sound of one of the big plastic storage containers being dumped onto the wooden floor upstairs with the clackity-click of plastic bricks and bits being rummaged through makes me grin ear-to-ear.

I love the sound that I associate with my four sons and my husband embarking on a building mission together up on the third floor of our house, which we all worked together to convert into to a bedroom and Lego play place.

However, when I read about Pley, I was immediately intrigued by the prospect of what life could be like without all the ownership woes that come with collecting building toys in both my home and vacuum cleaner.

I have lost more vacuum cleaner drive belts than I can count to little plastic bricks and bits that got sucked into the spinning brush and jammed up into the belt until the house reeked of burning rubber.

Unfortunately, I swiftly learned that Pley is not an option for my clan after showing the Pley website to my family.

“That’s got to be the worst, the most awful...tell me we aren’t doing anything like that,” sputters my son Quin, 10, when he looks at the Pley website. 

“The whole point of Legos is to have as many sets and combinations available as possible so you can be totally creative in your build,” he adds. “You collect in order to have options. This just limits what I can create!”

My youngest son turned from the computer screen where the Pley site was on display and looked at me like I had just suggested we drive to D.C. and paint The White House red. 

Apparently, just suggesting he give up ownership in favor of a collective arrangement that doesn’t actually involve collecting Lego, made him look like a ton of tiny bricks hit him on the head.

However, not everyone agrees with him. More than 15,000 families are currently enrolled in the rental service, which started last May.

Pley offers three monthly rental plans based on whether you want to rent small ($15 a month), medium ($25 a month), or large sets ($39 a month).

All plans provide members with multiple rentals per month – one set at a time, according to Ms. Furman, co-founder of Pley, who was born in Russia and now lives in New York City.

Furman explains that she understands Lego fans come in two camps, identifying “those who will never, ever part with them” and “kids who just want the experience of trying them.”

“With so many children these days, they just play with something while it’s new and shiny and then leave it,” Furman says. “This way, the child always has that new and shiny. They never get bored and we never get the clutter in our homes. Also, it’s eco-friendly.”

My four sons were raised with their father’s Lego bins, which we collected from my mother-in-law’s attic after our first son was born 20 years ago, and we have added to them ever since.

Our house is Legotopia to my kids and for me – while I may grouch about stray bricks – the most soothing, reliable thing in my life is the sound of a big tub of tiny plastic bricks being upended and rummaged through to find that perfect fitting piece.

That jumbled, chaotic din, followed by utter silence for hours as my husband and sons work side-by-side on the build of the day means all is right with my world.

“I am looking at America from the outside and Russian ways,” Furman explains. She and her family moved to Chicago from Russia when she was age 7. “I had only one or two toys, which I cared for carefully and appreciated.”

She adds, “Pley instills a sense of responsibility that’s lacking in children in this society.”

The sets are cleaned with a sterilizing solution and there is a 15-brick loss forgiveness policy as part of the rental agreement, according to the Pley website.

Kids must separate and sort out the bricks before sending them back and are encouraged to write a note to the next renter to tell them about his or her build.

“I love the idea of what Pley is offering,” says Beau Turner, a Lego League mentor and dad of two boys. “My boys will typically build the project as designed in a kit then within days cannibalize parts for other projects. After a week I am sure to find pieces or chunks of parts in our Lego buckets.” 

Mr. Turner added that as the cost of Lego sets continues to rise out of parental price ranges and yard sale picking get slimmer, he’s willing to give Pley a try.

While some parents would rather rent monthly and save space in favor of variety, and others prefer to put the money into a purchase of sets to keep, the end result is good times, creative family fun, and memories that will outlast anything they make.

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A "family" of crash test dummies, shown at Dorel Juvenile Group in Columbus, Ind., allows technicians to study car crash impact data for various age ranges. Photo taken Thursday, Jan. 30. (Andrew Laker/The Republic/AP/FILE)

Car seats present tough choices for parents

By Correspondent / 04.17.14

Car seats have been known to be one of the most overthought purchases of parenthood. 

From car seat recalls – of which there have been three in recent months – to automakers such as Volvo introducing an inflatable car seat, this decision might still be fraught with indecision for some time to come.

New parents have to decide what chair to buy (bucket carrier with anchored base or convertible seat anchored in car?), when to buy and install (hopefully before the first ride with baby), when to upgrade or turn their child from rear- to front-facing (two years, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics), and when to recycle (five years or so, though advice on this varies).

According to reports, Volvo has created a prototype for a rear-facing inflatable car seat that operates a lot like an inflatable mattress you might pull out for house guests. It inflates and deflates with one button, and packs away in a backpack when not in use. 

Volvo, by creating what I will call the “Ikea Aerobed Car Lounger,” is essentially trying to shorten the checklist of annoyances parents cite about their car seats, creating something that could be easy to carry, easy to install, and easy to use. 

While the idea of that kind of freedom is exciting, the trimming down of the car seat doesn’t mean it will make it a bestseller.

In simplifying the car seat concept, it could cut a few too many things out of the decision-making process for parents who are bombarded with advice on how to buy car seats from the birth of their child until that child has a driver’s license.

A forward-facing inflatable car seat is already on the market, the Easy Car Seat, which advertises on its site that it complies with US and EU car seat safety standards.

If Volvo’s inflatable car seat comes to market, will parents be willing to suspend all of the images of hard-sided seat fortresses that have been drilled into their heads by law enforcement, firemen, pediatricians, child safety experts, and their own friends and family? 

Assuming the seat performs up to top safety standards, if it operates with the ease of a camp chair, parents might think it too easy to be safe.

The news of this new car-seat prototype comes as a major car seat manufacturer, Baby Trend, announced a recall of more than 16,000 car seats earlier this week, due to buckle failure, according to the International Business Times

This recall follows news of recalls from two other major car seat makers, Graco (which recalled more than 3 million seats in February) and Evenflo (which recalled approximately 1.3 million seats last week), also for buckle and harness issues.

Parents interested in finding out more details about these recalls can contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

If the car seat purchasing gets too out of hand, parents can always choose to stick with biking. Good news is that Swedish company Hovding, has created an inflatable bike helmet that inflates on impact, so the Swedes seem to have you covered with inflatable safety no matter what mode of transportation you choose.

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Storks rest in their nest on a chimney as temperatures rose up to 16 degrees Celsius (61 degrees Fahrenheit) on a sunny day in Naegelstedt, near Erfurt, central Germany, Monday, March 10. (Jens Meyer/Ap/FILE)

Adult kids at home: Time to kick the birds out of the nest?

By Guest blogger / 04.16.14

Research continues to confirm what many parents already know all too well, that adults are still living in their parents’ home in sizable numbers. 

Gallup data released in February found that 14 percent of US adults ages 24-34 are living with parents, while 51 percent of those ages 18-23 were still living at home as well. All together, 29 percent of the under-35 population of the US are still living with parents.

This follows a 2013 Pew Research analysis of 2012 US Census Bureau data, which reported that 21.6 million "millennials" ages 18-31 were living at home with parents.

Parents, remember those empty nests we used to worry about? Well, they’re now being refilled. Our kids are re-nesting, or as one father described it “re-infesting.”

The reasons for this trend are many, but are often due to a transition for the young adults. Living costs are high, even if adult children share a space with a group, so they choose to spend some time back home and regroup before the next step. One commenter on a college blog described it as the only “responsible” choice.

My husband and I are among those readjusting to this situation. Our son decided it was a waste of money to continue attending a university out of the area. The local college is excellent and held the attraction of a track team he could join. So we, like many families, needed to negotiate the changes that must be made in a nest that had been adequately full with just the two of us. 

Our son is good company, but it is another body coming and going, doing laundry, inviting friends in, and occasionally needing reminders. Unfortunately, he was not gone that long, so my mother mantra that goes, “Did you remember…?” is still operational. For us and for many families, it is necessary to redefine the relationship as one between “adults.”

Parents observe that kids seem to be maturing slower than they used to and that these returns home are part of that condition. A cartoon on a friend’s refrigerator echoed this with a picture of a father shouting at his son lounging on the sofa, “When I was your age, I was an adult!”

My husband often says, “60 is the new 40, but 22 is the new 16.” I sometimes wonder if we have abridged their actual childhoods so much that they linger in late adolescents to try to complete the process of growing up.

We can even find reasons in technology. With computers and cellphones, there is often constant contact between parents and their children. That could be having some impact on this indirect route to adulthood.

My friend Karen shared that sometimes the birds do not return by themselves. Her bird brought another with her. The 28-year-old daughter returned from a service project in Central America with her boyfriend. The luxury of staying with mom and dad allowed their daughter to hold out for the “right” job.

That arrangement was acceptable to Karen, but some parents expressed discomfort around the issue of having “romantic companions” spend the night. Perhaps less of a generation gap on this and other issues has made the situation more comfortable for both parents and children, but clarifying conditions prior to the move is critical.

Whether the reasons are economic, sociological, or technological, as the child in the movie “Poltergeist once said, “They’re back.” So what do we do to make this new housing arrangement work?  

After talking to several parents, some of the common issues that need to be negotiated are: different schedules, different standards of cleanliness, sharing of housekeeping chores, and a plan to eventually move out.

A colleague who survived the return advised, “Think ahead to what will make you crazy and make sure that it is a clearly stated condition.” The deal breaker for her was having a lot of the returnee’s possessions lying around in shared spaces. That issue was top of her list when she made arrangements with her “visiting” offspring. 

The key in most successful situations has been a formal effort to create shared expectations. Parents have different priorities and pet peeves, but the consensus is to put them in writing and revisit them on a regular basis.

Defining a departure time for the re-nester helps some parents accept the situation with more grace. A plan to move out, even if it needs to be modified, is recommended. Some parents give their youngster a specific time after which point rent will be collected. Some parents collect from the beginning and save the money to eventually give to the youngster for first and last month’s rent in their own place.

Each family reported different concerns, and also shared some benefits. People had to give up guest rooms, sewing rooms, and exercise rooms that had been converted from their child’s room. They had to give up tidy spaces and a few nights of sleep with worries that linger when waiting for a “grown” child to come in at night. But most parents have become accustomed to the kids going out at about the same time they go to bed. 

They have gained precious time with their young adult to share life lessons and to simply enjoy them. It was a little surprising to hear the positive things parents had to say about having their youngsters return. It was equally surprising to hear how grateful the youngsters were that the nest was still there to help them gain the strength they needed to fly away again.

Your child is gifted

By Guest Blogger / 04.16.14

From Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" -

‘Don’t worry Scout, it ain’t time to worry yet,’ said Jem. He pointed. ‘Looka yonder.’

In a group of neighbors, Atticus was standing with his hands in his overcoat pockets. He might have been watching a football game. [He was actually watching the house next door burn to the ground.]

‘See there, he’s not worried yet,’ said Jem.

Last week, one of my mama friends called to tell me a story. Her daughter had come home from school and while she was eating a snack she said, “Mom, I’m sorry but I’m not gifted. They sent home letters today to the gifted kids. I’m not a gifted kid.”

Let’s talk about that. Sometimes I know something to be true, down deep in my bones, but when I try to turn it into words, it changes. Gets all jacked up. Which is why I predict we’d be better off if people talked less and just quietly knew more. 

Here I go. I’d like to talk to you about your brilliant children.

Listen.

Every child has gifts and talents. Every single one. Everything I’ve ever written about has been open for argument, except for this one. I know this one is true. Every single child has gifts and talents in a particular area. Every single one also has particular challenges. 

For some kids, the classroom setting is the place where their genius is hardest to see and their challenges are easiest to see. And since they spend so much time in the classroom, that’s a tough break for these little guys. But I know that if we are patient and calm, and we wear our perspectacles and we keep believing, we will eventually see the specific magic of each child.

Like my student who was diagnosed as severely dyslexic and also could’ve won "Last Comic Standing" at age 7. 

“Hey, Miss Doyle. Were you really busy last night or something?” 

“Yes, actually, I was," I said. "Why do you ask, Cody?” 

“Because your hair’s actually the same color it was yesterday!” The boy was a genius.

Like my precious one who couldn’t walk or speak because he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but whose smile while completing his grueling physical therapy inspired the rest of my class to call him the “bravest.” Genius, that kid.

Like my little man diagnosed with autism, who couldn’t have hurt another living being if somebody paid him to. He was the most gentle soul I’ve ever known. And he loved animals like they were a gift made just for him by God. Which, of course, they were. But nobody in our class knew that but him. Undeniable genius.

Like my third grader, who read like a kindergartner and couldn’t add yet. But one day I stood behind her at recess, where she played all alone, and heard her singing to herself. And that was the day I discovered her gift. It was also the day that she discovered her gift. Since I FREAKED OUT. And marched her over to the rest of the teachers to make her sing for them. And announced to the class that we had a ROCK STAR in our midst. And she quietly beamed. And she sang all the time after that. All the time. Actually, it was a little much. But we let it slide because you don’t mess with artistic genius.

Or the little man in one of my son Chase’s classes who was always getting in trouble. Everyday, getting in trouble. Chase came home one day and said, “I think he’s not listening because he’s always making pictures in his head. He’s the best draw-er I’ve ever seen. He’s going to be famous, I bet.” Chase was right. I’ve seen this kid’s work. Genius.

Or my little one who was gifted in learning the classroom way, and was miles ahead of the other kids in every single subject, but had challenges being kind and humble about her particular strengths. So had a lot of trouble making friends. Sometimes it’s tough to be a genius.

Every single child has gifts. And every child has challenges. It’s just that in the educational system, some gifts and challenges are harder to see. And lots of teachers are working on this. Lots of schools are trying to find ways to make all children’s gifts visible and celebrated. And as parents, we can help. We can help our kids who struggle in school believe that they’re okay. It’s just that there’s only one way to help them. And it’s hard.

We have to actually believe that our kids are OK. 

I know. Tough. But we can do it. We can start believing by erasing the idea that education is a race. It’s not. Actually, education is like Christmas. We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time. And it is a fact that each and every child has a bright shiny present with his or her name on it, waiting there underneath the tree. God wrapped it up, and He’ll let us know when it’s time to unwrap it. In the meantime, we must believe that our children are OK. Every last one of them. The perfect ones and the naughty ones and the chunky ones and the shy ones and the loud ones and the so far behind ones and the ones diagnosed with autism.

Because here’s what I believe. I think a child can survive a teacher or other children accidentally suggesting that he’s not OK. As long as when he comes home, he looks at his mama and knows by her face that he really is. Because that’s all they’re asking, isn’t it?

“Mama, am I OK?” 

In the end, children will call the rest of the world liars and believe us. 

So when they ask us with their eyes and hearts if they’re OK, let’s tell them:

"Yes, baby. You are OK. You are more than OK. You are my dream come true. You are everything I’ve ever wanted, and I wouldn’t trade one you for a million anybody elses. This part of life, this school part, might be hard for you. But that’s OK, because it’s just one part of life. And because we are going to get through it together. We are a team. And I am so grateful to be on your team."

And then, before we dive into “helping,” let’s just eat some cookies together and talk about other things. There are so many other things to talk about, really.

And then our kids will see that we are like Atticus Finch – Hands in our pockets. Calm. Believing. And they will look at us and even with a fire raging in front of them they’ll say, “Huh. Guess it’s not time to worry yet.”

And then we’ll watch carefully. We’ll just watch and wait and believe until God nods and says, “It’s time. Tear open that gift, Mama.” 

A version of this essay appears in Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Glennon Doyle Melton blogs at momastery.com/blog.

In this file photo taken Dec. 14, 2010, Family Dollar employee Pamela Ramos, left, assists John Conner with a purchase at a store in Waco, Texas. Family Dollar on Thursday, April 10, said it will be cutting jobs and closing about 370 underperforming stores as it looks for ways to improve its financial performance. (Tony Gutierrezfile/AP/FILE)

Family Dollar woes: Why dollar stores have value (+video)

By / 04.15.14

The Family Dollar retail chain has announced that it will close hundreds of stores, which might spur families to think about the value of the neighborhood dollar store that doesn’t come with a price tag.

As most families who are struggling to survive in a poor economy know, dollar stores are invaluable when it comes to everything from finding affordable groceries, birthday parties decorations, holiday table settings, and other sundry items, to teaching kids about finances.

Even as the economy recovers, families are still in need of low-cost supplies.

Having four sons means never having to say, “I’ve don’t shop at dollar stores.” In the area where I live, there are several dollar stores from which to choose: Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Dollar General.

According to reports, the operators of the Family Dollar chain based in Charlotte, N.C., issued dismal earnings report and announced plans to close 370 stores, roughly 5 percent of its locations.

Family Dollar blames poor earnings and harsh winter weather for the impending closures, according to the Yahoo report.

Multiple sources suggest the current economy is too healthy for dollar stores to thrive, arguing that dollar stores generally do best in weaker economic times when customers need to stretch their budgets.

This made me worry about my preferred dollar store chain, Dollar Tree, Inc., which was founded in Norfolk, Va. in 1953. It turns out this chain has not seen the same downturn.

“We had a very good quarter and in fact announced back on February 26 that we will be adding 375 new stores nationwide and moving or expanding another 75,” says Tim Reid, vice president of investors relations for Dollar Tree.

“We have a very different business model from other dollar stores because we’re the only one where everything in the store really is just one dollar,” Reid adds.

According to its website, Dollar Tree operates over 4400 locations in the lower 48 states.

From the time my sons could say “dollar” I have taken them to a dollar store to compare how much they can get there as opposed to a more expensive store.

My youngest Quin, who is a stickler for truth in advertising, will not set foot in a place that calls itself a “dollar store” if things inside cost more than a buck.

Over the years, and through living in many different states, my kids have learned how much, or little, a dollar can buy, and how to spend it wisely.

My husband frowns on my dollar store shopping trips saying, “There’s nothing sold at a dollar store that I will ever need.”

I’d bet a dollar he is likely sitting at a table laid with a table cloth, glasses, and part of his meal coming from just such a place.

I am not proud. If my family needs something, and there’s someplace I can afford to buy it then I am there. Of course, I’d like to be able to lay my table with finer things.

However, there is nothing more precious to me than the ability to provide what my family needs for both sustenance and small creature comforts.

When my husband is able to find hands on electrical tape, plastic containers, snacks, and a spare pair of gloves in winter, he has a dollar store to thank.

Before we moved to Virginia 10 years ago, my mom gave me a set of Dollar Tree Christmas plates that the kids still make me drag our each year.

It wasn’t until we shopped in the local store that I discovered that the “Royal Norfolk” stamp on the back of those “fancy-schmancy” plates referred to the Dollar Tree store brand.

“Yup, that’s our brand,” says Mr. Reid when I mentioned the plates. “I have them in my own dining room.”

When I first discovered where the Christmas plates came from, I called Mom who asked pointedly, “Do the kids still love the plates?”

End of discussion.

I’m pretty sure my mother has shipped most of the contents of her local Dollar Tree to our kids, in the form of everything from vinyl seasonal window decals to little solar-powered statuettes shaped like bears, flowers, and the like.

Whoever says “money can’t buy happiness” hasn’t found end-of-the-year gifts for multiple teachers, comprised of a solar-powered dancing pot of daisies.

Perhaps we could amend that old adage to read, “You don’t need lots of money to buy happiness. A dollar will do.”

Let’s hope that the next time any of us has a dollar to spend, there will be a place where it gets a family something more than a third of the gallon of gas it takes travel to a high-priced store.

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Failure is an option: Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (r.) and defender Younes Kaboul (l.) fail to stop Southampton's Jay Rodriguez, from scoring his team's opening goal during the English Premier League match at White Hart Lane, London, on Sunday March 23. (Adam Davy/AP)

Why I hope my children fail

By Correspondent / 04.15.14

Ultimately, I wish my future children more success than failure, but I hope life doesn’t cheat them out of a healthy dose of disappointment. Having spent most of my adult life working with kids of all ages as a tutor, a mentor, a teacher, and a coach, I have come to understand that growth is not possible without failure. And I want my children to be constantly growing.

The children who struggle the most in school, in relationships, and with realizing their dreams are not the ones who fail. They are the ones so terrified of failing that they never try.

I want to redefine the way we look at failure. More specifically, I want to change the way adults discuss failure with children. By itself, failure is not deserving of the negative connotations we prescribe it. The act of failing is both inevitable and necessary for success. I do not know of a single successful adult who hasn’t failed, and failed hard.

Teaching kids to avoid failure completely does them an enormous disservice. The error itself should never be the focus of a conversation about failure. What truly matters is how we approach the possibility of failure and how we react to our shortcomings. By failing, I will know that my children have tried. I also will know that they have learned.

Instead of protecting my future children from failure, which is altogether impossible, I intend to teach my children how to fail properly. In fact, my aim is to train them to be experts in the art of failure. 

In this arena I feel wholly qualified. To be totally honest, I am great at failing. I have failed at work and with love, with friendships and with finances. At times I have disappointed people I care about and I have let myself down. But I have learned from every failure. And because I have, I am stronger and more confident about my future success than I ever imagined possible. 

My parents were thoughtful enough to allow me my failures, and I am glad they did. To clarify, my parents never encouraged me to screw up, nor did they set me up to be unsuccessful. They motivated me to try new things. And any time we try new things we are bound to fail. My experiences were my own, and because they were, all the life lessons that came with them were mine as well. 

Much to his amusement, my dad allowed me to fall flat with my first car purchase. He kept his mouth shut when the dirt-brown 1974 Chevy Nova broke down on our test drive. He looked on in quiet appreciation as pieces of the car fell off in my hand as I inspected it. He let me buy that car at sixteen-years-old because it was my money and it is what I wanted to do.

He didn’t give me a lecture about financial responsibility or the importance of saving. We didn’t discuss compound interest or safety issues as we drove the sputtering, heaping mess home. Instead, he lent a hand filling out the appropriate paperwork and counting out every last dollar of my savings to buy a thirty-year old car that was more rust than it was car. 

To this day, I am grateful for every skill I learned as a result of having an undependable car. Because of that car I know how to fix flat tires, reupholster seats, and adjust faulty carburetors. I understand the importance of being punctual, and thanking strangers for help. I know how to install a car stereo, jump a battery, and put out an electrical fire.

Over the course of the five years I owned that car, I learned a life’s worth of lessons. What terrifies me most is the possibility of my children never failing in their youth. We must help kids accept that failure is a likely outcome of any endeavor. Rejecting the possibility of failure is a form of denial. The fear of failure is far more destructive than failure itself.

Entire lives are wasted, paralyzed by the thought that failure is not an option. Failure is an option, and sometimes a great one. After all, isn’t it better to endeavor and fail than never attempt? 

Failure teaches us how to respond to adversity and take on new challenges. It helps us learn from our mistakes and apologize with sincerity when we need to. We are only left with two options after we fail: we can give up or we can reflect on our experience, learn from it, and press on wiser than we were before.

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World's Toughest Job: This screenshot from YouTube shows an image from the new video advertisement for Cardstore.com. (Screenshot from YouTube)

World's Toughest Job: The impossible interview for the perfect job (+video)

By Correspondent / 04.15.14

A new ad campaign targeted at consumers just in time for a certain May celebration in the United States (you can guess what it is after you watch the video) has started to make the rounds, and was posted to my Facebook wall Monday night, less than a day after it was published.

At that point, it had already garnered more than 165,000 views on YouTube. As of 9a.m. EDT on Tuesday morning, the video had nearly 1 million views.

The premise for the ad is simple. A company called Rehtom created a fake job, including the following requirements, among others, for the position: Must be able to work 135+ hours a week; Willingness to forgo any breaks; Work mostly standing up and/or bending down, Must be able to lift up to 75 lbs. on a regular basis; Ph.D. in psychology or real-life equivalent; Ability to manage a minimum of 10-15 projects at one time; Ability to coordinate multiple, often conflicting, schedules; Ability to make independent decisions on behalf of others; Ability to work in a chaotic environment; Understanding of social media, mobile devices and video games; Understanding of finance; Selflessly driven.

Removed from the list are some of the requirements that might make the position more obvious to applicants. However, even with the brutal requirements, 24 applicants still applied for the position. Their interviews were taped to capture their reactions, and the result is a sappy, lovable tribute.

Looking at the video's comments on YouTube, there are naysayers that question if the interviewees are actors, but even so, the punchline is what is most valuable to share, so credit goes to the creative team at Mullen, the advertising agency, for creating a campaign that is nearly impossible to not share with friends.   

The bigger question is, will this actually inspire the purchase of more greetings cards, or just the sharing of a fun video? Time will tell, exactly 26 days to be exact, in case you haven't already figured out who is being celebrated.

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In this undated image, posted on the author's blog, a mother an daughter hold hands. (Rachel Stafford/Hands Free Mama)

Parents are doing something right

By Guest blogger / 04.14.14

“I must have done something right,” the father of a 19-year-old young lady was telling me after having fixed my troublesome garage door.

Although his daughter had drifted a bit during her early teen years, she was now coming over to her parents’ house on the weekends and was genuinely enjoying spending time with her parents again.

The repairman’s eyes lit up when he talked about the renewed relationship with his daughter. He seemed relieved about how things had turned out.

“I must have done something right,” he had said a few minutes earlier.

My oldest daughter is 10. I don’t want to wait nine years to know whether or not I’ve done something right. Because now is when I need to hear it.

Now – when I am in smack dab in the middle of raising her.

Now – when I feel the pressure to examine every choice I make, wondering how these choices will affect her now and in the future.

Now – when I want to trust my gut and live by heart rather than simply go along with mainstream opinion or “expert” advice.

Now – when I need little glimmers of hope to cling to each day.

So I decided not to wait.

Each day for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for a little rightness—a little what-is-right-in-my-world.

Notice I say “a little.” What I am talking about is practically unnoticeable. It’s hardly noteworthy. And it’s definitely not anything worthy of public sharing – at least not according to societal standards. But that’s why it’s working for me. That’s why it’s encouraging to me. Because looking for what is right in my world – in my day – in my hour – is far more encouraging than looking for what is “right” in my world according to social media, societal standards, or popular opinion.

I invite you to take a look. Maybe this list will inspire you to see what is right in your world today.

Right in my World

I took her to the “free” cake decorating class even though I knew nothing is truly free.
 I took her to try on jeans. Lots of jeans.
 I took a deep breath when I felt like I might explode.
 She took my hand as we walked across the parking lot and left it there a good long while.

I’m doing something right.

I gave her a backrub when the couch was calling my name.
 I gave her a second chance and she used it for good.
 I gave her some help cleaning up that disaster of a room.
 She gave me a happy-to-see-you-smile when I came to pick her up.

I’m doing something right.

I sacrificed sleep so she didn’t have to suffer in the bathroom alone.
 I sacrificed my socks because her feet were cold.
 I sacrificed a golden opportunity so she could see my face in the audience.
 She sacrificed a bite of her ice cream cone without telling me, “Not too much, Mom.”

I’m doing something right.

I offered to be her excuse if she wanted to leave the party early.
 I offered to walk beside her if she needed company.
 I offered to stay up and listen awhile.
 She offered heartfelt forgiveness when I admitted I messed up.

I’m doing something right.

I encouraged her to try.
 I encouraged her to see beyond her outer surface.
 I encouraged her to use her voice even if it trembled.
 She encouraged me to let down my hair and have some fun—and we laughed ‘til we cried.

I am doing something right.

I brushed away the nightmares.
 I brushed her hair softly despite our rush to get out the door.
 I brushed up on my tech lingo so I could keep up.
 She brushed past, but then came back for a hug.

I am doing something right.

I let go of yesterday’s disaster and chose to live in today.
 I let go of the to-do’s and accepted her “come and look at this” invitation.
 I let go of the need to control.
 She let go and began to soar.

I’m doing something right.
 I’m doing something right.
 I’m doing something right. 

 Tomorrow, I will try a little more.

So that is my list of what’s going right in my world these days. What I see as “right” now may not lead to society’s definition of “you did something right” later. These small signs of success certainly don’t point to future scholarships, academic or athletic achievement, power, fortune, or fame, but they do point to what really matters. I see signs that she is a kind and caring individual, that she is discovering her voice, that she is making wise choices and when she doesn’t, she owns her mistakes, that she’s taking risks, and finding she’s okay even when her attempts don’t work out as planned.

But there is more.

I have discovered something about my list of “rights” that relieves a lot of the pressure I often put on myself. And that is this: perhaps even on the days I don’t get it right, my child is still learning valuable lessons about life, persistence, determination, independence, failure, compassion, grace, and forgiveness. Maybe even when I am not getting it “right,” it doesn’t mean she’s going to turn out all wrong.

[Insert collective sigh of relief here.]

My daughter still has a long way until age 19, but yet with each passing day, I feel her getting older. The hugs don’t come as often. She doesn’t need me as much as she did before. But every once in awhile, she’ll walk up and just lean against me without saying a word.

And I take it – I take that rare opportunity to wrap my arms around her and revel in that divine moment of rightness, where there is no future or past, where my mistakes and her blunders fall away, where we hold each other and know everything’s going to be OK.

Because in that sacred moment, we know we don’t always have to get it right, me or her.

And yet, all is right in our world.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rachel Stafford blogs at www.handsfreemama.com.

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