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Modern Parenthood

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) hits the ball away from San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) and is intercepted by Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) during the NFL football NFC Championship game on Jan. 19. in Seattle. (Hector Amezcua/The Sacramento Bee/AP)

Charity, losing with(out) grace, and other lessons from the NFL championship games

By Correspondent / 01.20.14

From Peyton Manning raising money for charity via his “Omaha!” play calls, to Richard Sherman snatching personal failure from the jaws of professional victory, the runup to Super Bowl 2014 is an epic parenting opportunity.

Our kids learn a lot from watching sports on TV, especially if we are there beside them to give the color commentary on good and bad behavior exhibited by the players. 

Sunday was a highlight reel of teachable moments, both during and after the game.

The main message I found in both Mr. Manning's and Mr. Sherman's performances is that our words have the power to build or destroy our image in an instant.

On the positive side, I got to tell my son Quin, 10, that every time Manning yelled “Omaha!” at the line of scrimmage, money was donated to his charity, thanks to help from the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and other businesses. 

According to CBS Sports, the Denver Broncos' quarterback has made a practice of shouting "Omaha!" before the snap, and this week a group of city officials and business owners in Omaha, Neb., announced they would contribute to Manning's Peyback Foundation every time Manning said the word on Sunday.” 

While it wasn’t Manning’s call to make his shout into a fundraising opportunity, it’s still a positive and creative way to tie social responsibility into the game. Bravo to all those involved.

During the Broncos' 26-16 win over the New England Patriots for the AFC title, Manning said “Omaha” enough times to earn the Peyback Foundation a $24,800 check, CBS reported.

However, Quin, a gamer and math whiz who's a latecomer to football fandom, was baffled. “Omaha?" he asked me. "Why not Minecraft or decagon, octagon, triangle!”

It became a source of laughter as we sat in front of the set and tried to decipher what the quarterback was yelling.

Drapes!” I said at one point in the game. "I think he said drapes.”

My husband rolled his eyes and said, “Grapes. He’s saying grapes.”

Turns out hubby was right.

My husband and I watched both the Patriots vs. Broncos and the Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers games on Sunday, while Quin drifted between the games and the Minecraft game he was playing a few feet away.

My husband, Robert, has been spending a lot of time lately teaching Quin how to throw a football. Quin has been excluded from casual play before school for his lack of skill.

Quin got a football for Christmas and each and every day you can hear the calls from our backyard, “10, 42, rhombus, Picachu, hike!

As we watched Sunday's games, Robert took the opportunity to teach Quin more about the game, while I used it to point out the good and bad behavioral choices made by the players themselves.

Thanks to Seattle Seahawk's cornerback Richard Sherman, I got to tell our son that no matter how great a player you are, if you’re a bad sport, you’re a loser.

Sherman made the most dazzling play of the playoffs when he broke up a throw to San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree in the end zone that linebacker Malcolm Smith then intercepted, essentially ending the game and sealing the Seahawks' 23-17 win.

Just as Sherman – known for his poor sportsmanship – had victory in his hands, his bad habits sank him.

First he slapped Mr. Crabtree on the butt, then he made the choke symbol at the opposing team and capped it all with an interview after the game where his mouth just kept running.

"I'm the best corner in the game!" Sherman screamed at Fox reporter Erin Andrews. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's what you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me!"

While Ms. Andrews stood gaping, Sherman continued, "Crabtree! Don't you open your mouth about the best. Or I'm going to shut it for you real quick!"

That was quite the teachable moment.

I reviewed the play with Quin this morning because I have spent a lot of time emphasizing how important it is to be a “good loser,” because of his temper fits when he loses at anything.

My friend, chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar (also a huge football fan) is my go-to for coaching kids in any game because of her motto, “Win with grace. Lose with dignity.”

I reviewed that motto with Quin today, and Ms. Polgar also tweeted it as a reminder. Meanwhile, Quin was worried for Sherman, saying, “I bet his mom saw him do all that. I feel sorry for him!”

Maybe the NFL should create helmet visors (perhaps with Google Glass?) that show players an image of their mom or dad superimposed on the field at critical moments.

Until then, we have to rely on old-school parenting to teach our kids that our words can either support our goals or undermine them.

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Screenshot from Jennifer Lopez's Instagram account, showing a letter written to her by her son, Max. (jlo on Instagram)

Jennifer Lopez, cherish your son's love note when he is a teen

By Correspondent / 01.17.14

Jennifer Lopez just got her first love note from her son Max that made her cry, but what she doesn’t know is that by saving that note she will have a lifelong source of tears beginning when her child becomes a teenager.

Ms. Lopez, 44, said on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" on Wednesday that, "It says, 'I'll luv you beyond forever Mom.' I'll cry right now! Stop it!"

"It just made my whole life," the American Idol judge said of the handwritten message, which she also posted via Instagram.

Hang on to that note, J-Lo. Once Max hits his teenage years, you’re gonna need it like a child needs a security blanket.

When my son Ian, now 18, was little, he wrote to me, “I love you to the moon and back. I’m gonna marry you Mommy.”

As soon as he became a teen he coined the expression, “Mom’s touch burns like dragon fire.” He’s now 18 and can just about manage not to flinch when I try to hug him.

Actually, Lopez has a sporting chance that Max will not become a “touch-me-not” teen.

My sons Zoltan, 20, and Avery, 14, both came through the “Mom’s touch burns like dragon fire” stage and are back to being huggers again. My youngest son Quin, 10, is still a major hug monster.

When I saw Lopez’s story, my heart just turned over for her, but more for those aging love letters tucked away all over my house. I never did scrap books, but I have the notes squirreled away in books and in drawers.

In fact, Lopez inspired me to call my mom, 83, in New Jersey this morning to ask if she ever kept the love notes my brother, Adam, and I wrote to her.

“Oh, you’re killing me with this call,” she said. "I go looking for something else and instead up pops one of the love notes from your brother or you. I smile and cry at the same time. It’s crazy. I love finding them, but it totally wrecks me.”

I often feel deeply sad for my husband that he does not have a daughter to write love notes to her daddy. He has missed something truly precious because boys in our house don’t write lovey-dovey notes to Papa.

That means that as each son hits his teenage years, my husband lacks the secret weapon that has helped me to survive. When one of the boys is rude, or otherwise trying my patience and making me question why I ever had kids, I can go to their notes for moral support.

However, my husband and I both share the quirky joy of all those school-generated inadvertent love letters from our kids.

I am talking about the times when teachers assign essays with topics like, “My favorite person is…” and “My hero.”

Dad almost always makes it as the “hero” in the essays our sons have written.

I have noticed a few of those tucked away by my spouse, along with some misshapen pottery gifts from the boys when they were little.

Since Valentine’s Day is not far off, Lopez and other moms can add to their arsenal of love notes.

My mom used to have us write and draw with special Crayola crayons that allowed her to transfer those love notes by ironing them on to fabric for pillows and shirts.

Jennifer Lopez has her own clothing line and could take that a step further. My suggestion is for Lopez to solicit kid love notes from parents around the world in many languages and put them and Max’s note on wearable items.

Then, she could donate proceeds to struggling low-income parents – Wear the love and share the love.

No matter how Lopez decides to enshrine that adorable note, she now knows that, as a parent, nothing has a more lasting and powerful effect than the written words of a child we love.

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In an undated photo, a member of the Lambert's Point community, Trey Robinson, 10, poses under a banner for the NICE chess program, which takes place at the local Lambert's Point Community Center. He plays on a local football team and is a chess star in the making thanks to affordable community programs that serve families of all socioeconomic backgrounds. (Lisa Suhay)

Harvard obesity study: Low-income kids more at-risk

By Correspondent / 01.17.14

A new Harvard University study shows that richer teens are thinner than lower-income teens due to better access to exercise and recreation programs. The study reports that teens from lower-income families exercise less and are effected by less-educated parenting decisions. Still, there are parents working hard to create affordable opportunities for their kids and communities.

“Increasing Socioeconomic Disparities in Adolescent Obesity” was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It reports, “Obesity rates have fallen among children of educated parents but has continued to rise among children of less wealthy, less educated parents.”

According to the study, “Low-income neighborhoods have fewer playgrounds, sidewalks, and recreational facilities. Participation in high school sports and clubs has increased among high SES (socioeconomic status) adolescents while decreasing among their low SES peers.”

To add to this challenge, other studies report that the rising cost of after-school clubs and activities could be another reason low income children miss out.

I am thankful that here in Norfolk, Va., where we live, not only do we have some wonderful recreational facilities, but they are also affordable. Membership is only $50 a year for a family of four, which allows a family to use any rec center in the city. These same centers are free for those over age 65.

Growing economic disparity is one of the root causes of childhood obesity, especially as it pertains to the inability to afford participation in a team sport, or an after-school activity that engages kids in something other than snacking in front of the TV or a video game.

Yet, despite the Harvard study and others, I do see exceptional programs developing that are keeping kids active and healthy.

In Norfolk, the Lambert's Point Community Center is an example of community-inspired, open-to-all neighborhood gathering place that supports families of all backgrounds with sports and recreational groups.

In August of 2011, the Lambert's Point Community Center In Norfolk joined other centers nationwide to encourage kids to learn and perform group dance routines in unison to Beyonce’s song “Move.” 

At that time, Ellen Pryor Harvey, then 88, led the Lambert's Point children each and every day as they learned the routine. While Mrs. Harvey died last fall at age 90, the kids still do the dance workout in her memory, because she was a remarkable woman who knew the value of getting kids moving in the right direction.

It was a magical thing to see, and it would never have happened if a community superstar like Harvey hadn’t decided to encourage kids and families to get a move on, in addition to the broader community supporting a free fitness program for kids.

The Lambert's Point Community Center is fairly new, and one of many Norfolk has developed in order to serve the entire community, not just the affluent residents. The city built the community center in the lower-income Lambert's Point neighborhood because Harvey, active in her local civic league since 1983, got her neighbors to make a lot of noise to make sure the local children were served.

Now without Harvey, the low-income sector here needs to turn to new champions, while too many communities have no one stepping up to the plate for kids who need both indoor and outdoor recreation facilities in order to be fit and healthy.

According to the Harvard study, “One in five kids from less educated, poor families report not having exercised or having played sports for at least 20 minutes sometime in the last seven days. By contrast, only one in ten kids with college educated parents report similar levels of physical inactivity."

Because sports clubs are so expensive, a group of parents at Lambert's Point also created affordable sporting opportunities via The Fast & Furious Track Club established in 2011, by Lerenzo and Neshell Nicole Leavelle, Monique Francis, and Tawanna Hardy.

“The purpose of The Fast & Furious Track Club is to educate and train young athletes in the sport of Track and Field, competitive excellence, personal accomplishment and good sportsmanship; to support and develop athletes for Amateur Athletic Union regional and national competition; and to give youth an alternative to delinquency and organized gangs,” according to the group's page on Facebook.

I met the Leavelle family through its extraordinary children: Deja, 16, Je-Da, 10, and twins Kadejah and Kalil, 7, when I started a free chess program at the Lambert's Point Community Center shortly after it was opened by the Norfolk Department of Recreation, Parks & Open Space in 2009. 

I have spent the better part of the past six years as a volunteer teaching chess to kids in Title 1 schools and in the Lambert's Point Community Center.

Thankfully, families such as the Leavelle's prove there are exceptions to study findings, as the children serve as role models for every activity they take part in, from being strong team athletes, to honor-roll students, and great chess players, too.

Sadly, the Leavelle family's struggles also drive home the Harvard study’s point about how the economy affects the availability of affordable programs. I just learned that Mr. Leavelle lost his job last year and he and his wife were forced to shut down the track club as they race to make ends meet. He lost his job and, as a result, the entire community lost its only affordable track and field program.

In order to continue a trend in stopping obesity among low-income kids, we need to support more centers like Lambert's Point around the nation, serving communities in need, led by community leaders like Harvey and the Leavelle family who drive change from within. 

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A pin from the 'All Things Girl Scouts' board on the Pinterest page of the Girl Scouts of the USA. (

Girl Scouts and fans embrace tech to make cookie season sweeter

By Correspondent / 01.17.14

This time of year brings views of sashed and vested girls knocking on doors, parents coaching their junior saleswomen, and enough money changing hands to build one of the most lucrative baked goods businesses in America.

In case there aren't Girl Scouts already canvassing your neighborhood, or a co-worker hasn't passed you an order form over the wall of your cubicle, don't fret. The business savvy Girl Scouts have an application for easy cookie location, available for iPhone and Android smart phones. The app was developed by Little Brownie Bakers, one of the two licensed bakers of Girl Scout cookies in the US.

And more Girl Scouts are using technology to track their sales goals and achievements. Girl Scout troops in the US using ABC Bakers, the other licensed baker of Girl Scout cookies, can now use the COCOMobile app on their iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. The app allows the scouts to enter and manage cookie orders, set and track cookie sales goals, and even e-mail order confirmations to customers, among other tasks. 

Need to whet your appetite before placing your order? Girl Scouts of the USA and individual chapters nationwide maintain Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards, and Facebook pages to keep troops and cookie fans up-to-speed on cookie availability and other scouting activities.

It's not surprising that the century-old organization is embracing technology, since selling cookies is big business. According to a 2013 USA Today story, "The Girl Scouts generated cookie sales of roughly $785 million in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Mintel consumer research firm, which estimates a similar showing this year."

According to those numbers, if the Girl Scouts were a for-profit corporation, they would be ranked No. 3 cookie company in the US, reports USA Today.

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In this undated image from the MTV shows blog Maci, a member of the 'Teen Mom' cast, holds her son, Bentley. Maci lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. and is co-parenting her son with her boyfriend, Kyle. (

Teen pregnancy: For better or worse, reality TV skews real life

By Correspondent / 01.15.14

Admit it: you watch reality TV on occasion – most of us do. It’s highly entertaining! You get to dive into someone else’s world – their families, choices, careers, etc. – without ever having to leave your living room. But what are the effects of this kind of voyeurism on our society?

One new study, done by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggests that the recent decline in the teen pregnancy rate in the US – dropping 5.7 percent in 18 months – is at least partially caused by MTV reality shows such as “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant.” It could be argued that these shows serve as warnings to all teenagers that life with a baby is not all it can sometimes be cracked up to be. It’s full of sleepless nights, big decisions, and it really shakes up the relationship between partners, especially if they’ve yet to finish high school, much less committed their lives to one another.

On the other hand, another study, published by Indiana University and Utah University, found that reality shows give teens an unrealistic, glamorized view of pregnancy and teen parenthood. The study reports that these shows make teen pregnancy seem too easy to deal with, especially since the stars of these shows are paid far more than average teen parents earn in a year. Financial hardship is one area that isn’t depicted much on these so-called “reality” shows. 

These studies seem to contradict each other, but doesn’t that mirror our society’s love/hate relationship with reality TV? Just as much as it repulses us as we watch, it draws us right back in.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I felt the reality TV pull. Shows like TLC’s “A Baby Story,” which so many people specifically told me not to watch, drew me in. It made my imagination run wild as I thought about what my birth experience would be like. 

But the thing is, it’s not realistic – not even close. An entire birth is summed up in the space of half an hour at the most. My daughter’s birth took 19 hours, and I would say that falls within a normal amount of time for a first baby. The show only features the most dramatic aspects of birth, which are a far cry from the usual hurry-up-and-wait reality of childbirth.

Now, when my first-time-mom friends ask me what to do to prepare for birth, I recommend talking with other moms (especially ones who have had positive birth experiences), reading a blog called Birth Without Fear (which includes straightforward personal stories about birth that don’t seem sensationalized), and books like Ina May Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth” (which I feel reinforces women’s natural confidence in their ability to give birth naturally and fearlessly).

Preparing for the reality of having a baby is definitely important, but preparing for it through reality TV is always going to lead to mixed results. Reality TV just doesn't include accurate portrayals of birth or parenting – it would take way too long to fit every important detail and nuance of these topics into a TV time slot. 

And all the makeup, lighting, and other production tricks make everything – even struggle – appear more glamorous than it actually is. 

Reality TV gives us unnatural perceptions of what our lives should be like. It sets in motion unrealistic expectations (good and bad) that don't include the variables of everyday life because of scripts and production crews. 

Reality is unpredictable – reality TV is much less so. Which will you choose to govern your life choices?

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This promotional image provided by Monster Energy highlights one of it's sponsored athletes, "Ballistic" BJ Baldwin. In this shot, Mr. Baldwin races through Baja, California on his way to winning the SCORE International Baja 1000 in 2012. (PRNewsFoto/Monster Energy/FILE)

Monster drinks and fighting for healthy teens at home

By Correspondent / 01.15.14

If parents want to make sure caffeine-laced energy drink sellers like Monster Beverage Corp. keep their claws out of kids, they need help from lawmakers, search engine operators, a food rainbow, and their own willpower to resist the very substances they hope to ban from the kids’ table.

I am sitting here with my third cup of green tea instead of my usual coffee, because I realized this morning that it’s hard for my kids to accept my “no energy drinks” rule when I am rarely seen without a cup of coffee in the morning.

I bagged coffee in front of my sons today because I want to do my part to support both the San Francisco city attorney and New York state attorney general who claim Monster Beverage Corp. energy drink maker is marketing to children.

This idea is a throw-back to when my husband, Robert, quit smoking 15 years ago and the boys saw what he went through to get healthy and sane again. Not one of the boys has ever touched tobacco products and they tell stories of his withdrawal-induced grouchiness the way other kids tell tales of werewolves and things that go bump in the night. 

Now, two of my sons are teens and I’m worried about them hiding a Monster (the kind you sip from a can) under their beds after my husband and I repeatedly forbade energy drinks. Hence the extreme measure of going without coffee for the next month.

Frankly, if more parents gave up caffeine for a month kids would get the message of just how addictive, unhealthy, and personality altering a substance it can be. (Yes, green tea is caffeinated as well, but coffee comes with 2 to 10 times more caffeine per volume.)

However, while I believe parents can fight big beverage and fast food sellers and their hype by leading through example, I also agree with Sara Deon, Director of Value the Meal Campaign at Corporate Accountability International.

Through an e-mail interview asking about marketing to kids, Ms. Deon said:

"Since Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, the junk food industry has relied on tobacco industry tactics to hook kids on its unhealthy products and make them customers for life. Simply put, parents cannot compete with the billion-dollar ad budgets of the food industry that seek to reach kids at home, at school and increasingly online. We must pass mandatory regulations on junk food marketing and promotion like Monster's, in order to give parents the space to keep their kids healthy."

Show me a corporate spokesperson or CEO anywhere who admits to marketing unhealthy food or drink to kids and I will show you a job opening where they used to be.

You will be able to see through that opening clear down to the basement where the company’s stock price will be.

In order to decode what’s happening here, and figure out how to protect our kids, we need to understand semantics.

Parents become experts at semantics because kids are born knowing how to use them to get around us.

Parent: “I don’t want you walking home with those kids anymore.”

Child after being caught with the kids on the way home the next day: “You said I couldn’t ‘walk home.’ I’m on my bike!”

That’s semantics.

However, those same parsings never work in reverse. If Mom says, “Caffeine is bad for you.” Kids will respond, “But you love it. You even posted coffee pictures on your Facebook wall!”

Monster is playing with semantics by saying they don’t market “directly” to kids by putting their products in lunch boxes, but they still advertise on gaming websites, at sporting events, and serve as the sponsor of YouTube videos my kids watch.

I can usually count on videos of “Sonic the Hedgehog” or other speed-related games to include Monster ads, if not as the lead-in, then on websites covering the game.

We can also thank search engines like Google, which match online ads to search habits, thereby constantly linking our kids with products we might oppose when they are online.

I know parents can beat the marketing machine at its own game through persistence, because last year I wrote about one mom who got her daughter past the marketing hype via “food rainbow.”

Hannah Robertson, 9, of Canada helps her mom make videos on how to cook healthy foods in their Rainbow Kitchen.

Hannah passes on what her mom taught her, encouraging kids and parents to partner in the kitchen, to “Eat a rainbow every day,” according to their site

The Monster issue is important for parents because researchers such as Kathleen E. Miller, principal investigator at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo, tell us that kids who drink-in the combination of caffeine and marketing make everyone around them suffer.

Ms. Miller told The New York Times magazine, “I’ve found that if you report that you have six or more energy drinks over the course of a month, you’re also more likely to report that you got in a fight last year, that you had sex without a condom or that you drove without a seat belt.” 

Miller also told the Times magazine, “They [Monster and Red Bull] may be reinforcing some of these behaviors not so much because of the caffeine content – which can certainly have an effect – but because of what the ads are telling people.”

If we want to fight the marketing, parents need to support lawmakers' efforts, and vice versa.

Maybe we can all get together over a cup of herbal tea and talk about how we can be more effective.

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Two mothers, one with a double stroller, cross the street with their son and daughters on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, New York, New York on May 17, 2012 . (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/FILE)

Mom rage, fighting against the new normal?

By Correspondent / 01.15.14

Bloggers who are mothers are abuzz lately with the notion of mommy rage – what to do when you see moms, pushed to the brink by their kids, freaking out in public. Or worse, what to do when the mom is you. Wendy Bradford, for instance, recently spoke out in the Huffington Post.

Maybe not every day with kids can be a good day, but surely moms can up the odds. For instance, Motherhood 101 – easily forgotten in the swirl of daily life – says that a meltdown, be it of mother or child, can often be headed off. If both of you are rested and fed and back home before the next need for food and sleep, then chances look up for a good day.

That means a huge lifestyle shift for the new mom: creating and committing to a daily schedule for meals, naps, bedtime, and activities. Boring. But for day-to-day harmony, structure is the child’s – and thus the parent’s – best friend.  

Just one extra errand too many can ignite trouble, so be careful not to push too many things into a day. And if, despite it all, your child is provoking you, the conventional wisdom and etiquette is to pretend you feel calm, pick up the child, and leave, even if it’s hugely inconvenient or embarrassing. 

As in many parts of life, ratcheting back your expectations takes family life out of the vise grip. The less you expect, the less frustrated the realities of life with children will make you. There will be more days than not when a peaceful co-existence means you get nothing done but the naps and the meals.

You may be happier if you try to fit less into a day, and extend that to a week, and even a year. Raising young kids in particular, you are often in a period devoid of the kind of accomplishments much of the rest of the world considers important.

It’s a sacrifice, let’s face it. Baby bump and how-fast-did-you-lose-your-baby-weight talk aside, raising a family is serious business. Parenthood holds many rewarding moments, but fun is not the goal. When you’re out with the kids, be mindful that as a mom you have great dignity, and that it is no small matter to care for them, and to anticipate and head off trouble as you’re teaching them how to go about daily life.

Even during the simplest errand, you’re demonstrating how to wait, to ask nicely, to reply politely, to learn to say no to many impulses, to be friendly, to call people by name, etc., etc., etc. Yours is a big job, which is why, again, you deserve to be rested, and so do your children. 

And that brings us to the work/life balance. An occasional flareup is part of things. Doesn’t every kid know what it’s like to “get yelled at?” But if you’re struggling with ongoing anger, you might need to look for a broader solution than an evening yoga class. Maybe you need to get a job and a babysitter. Maybe you need to quit your job and scale expenses way back. Maybe you need professional help, be it from a cleaning service, a parenting course, or a therapist. We’re all different. Just be sure the demands you’re placing on yourself reflect you, and not someone else’s idea of what mothers should be doing.

For their part, witnesses to a parent’s distress can help head off trouble. God bless the lady behind us in line who makes funny faces at our cranky toddler, shortening the wait. And the hostess who distracts the little girl whining to go home. And the fellow passenger who engages the restless boy in talk of sports.

Again, all mothers lose it from time to time, and the memories can be awful. Sure, this can also be an opportunity to reflect, to adjust your ways. But staying too long in the muck and mire can make you feel so bad you forget the good you do.  

Some spiritual thinkers recommend a habit of reflecting, each evening, on the ways you might have seen God during the day just passed – in the actions of a stranger, perhaps, or in the friend who called with a funny story, or a child who ran for a toy to calm a crying sibling. Never forget that, were your family to look back on even the worst of your bad days together, they’d still see God present over, and over, and over again in your actions as Mom. 

Robert Suhay helps his son Quin cut a piece of wood for a science fair project, a "true mirror," outside his home in Norfolk, Va. on January 10, 2014. (Lisa Suhay)

Science fair season, a lesson in hands-off parenting

By Correspondent / 01.14.14

It’s science fair season at elementary schools around the nation and while parents may be tempted to rush in and take over the project to "help" their kids, they should resist or risk losses far greater than a first place finish. 

For the last 10 years (about the time my oldest son reached science fair age) I have watched parents lose their minds because they were less concerned with how the official would judge their child’s project than how other parents would score them.

Long before the officials check out the projects, parents are unconsciously judging themselves and their parenting against others based on how good their own child’s project looks.

During my own elementary school days, I was always the kid running into the gym or cafeteria where the fair was setting up at the last minute with three cups of dirt containing the beans I forgot to plant months earlier and a ratty piece of poster board with hand written information that slanted up to the right like a cursive mountain.

At age 7, I experienced the humiliation of forgetting my science project completely and having my dad swoop in and take it over in the final hours before it was due. Thanks to his skills it looked like a Wall Street boardroom presentation, and I was disqualified.

Therefore, I tend to be hands-off with my sons’ projects as much as possible.

When my son Quin, 10, needed to cut a piece of wood into a triangle for his science fair display, my husband helped him cut it safely.

I was so worried Quin would be disqualified for that I finally stepped in and asked him to inform the teacher and judges that his dad had cut the piece.

His project poster now has a materials list that reads: “3 mirrors (the Dollar Store), poster board, 30-inch piece of wood, screws, yard stick, cool patterned duct tape, and 1 father.”

“Measure a 90-degree triangle and draw it on the wood. Then, this is where you need to use your dad to cut the wood to make a triangle,” Quin added to the procedures section of the poster.

For me, parenting is my life-long science project involving two species: what I will consider the proverbial “ant” parents and “grasshopper” parents.

Here’s a breakdown of my two-point hypothesis for the experiment I have been conducting over the past 20 years: 

  1. “Ant” parents have “grasshopper” kids (and vice versa). 
  2. It ALWAYS rains on science fair project delivery day.

By nature I was born a “grasshopper,” and it so happens I married another “grasshopper” like myself. Then came the four variables in the experiment, our sons, now ages 20, 18, 14, and 10.

Becoming a mom taught me how to cheat my “grasshopper” roots and at least act like an “ant” organizationally. It also taught me how to lift 100 times my base intellect in problem solving.

Over the years my hypothesis has been largely proven correct. All four of my sons exhibit primarily “ant” qualities. Son #1 was born an “ant.” Son #2 fooled us until college by acting like a “grasshopper” who tested my ability to help him fix anything in under 24 hours. But he morphed into a "fire ant,” devouring his work freshman year of college. Son #3 is an all-out “ant” never missing a project deadline. Son #4 has Aspergers Syndrome and can only survive in an organization-rich environment. He’s my “Super Ant.”

The one true constant that has happened each and every time one of my kids had a project to bring to school, especially on science fair day – it rained. Today is Quin’s science fair deadline and it’s teeming out there.

I admire my "ant" sons and those like them. I always wanted to be a planner. I tried but it seems the only deadlines I am capable of making are those that involve writing.

Over the years I have watched “ant” parents in admiration as they swarm into the school auditorium on science fair project delivery day in neat, organized, confident, and of course wet (from the annual downpour) lines.

I have also seen many an “ant” parent go into Tiger Mom mode berating their kids for lack of planning and then go all Martha Stewart on the project posters.

Male “ants” (and even some “grasshopper” dads) I know head right into the Jack Bauer zone, shouting the classic line from the TC drama “24,” “We’re running out of time!” as they push kids to complete projects faster, better, smarter etc.

As I looked around the room at all the other tri-fold posters I wondered if Galileo’s parents or Einstein’s ever took over their school projects, or if that’s just a new school development.

If the parents of the great scientists did butt in, did it help or hinder the final product?

The rule of thumb for project intervention should be to step in and help if it means protecting the child from losing a digit, but only the kind that you put gloves on and not the ones on a score sheet.

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At Park Elementary School in Casper, Wyo. all students in kindergarten through fifth grade currently receive 90 minutes of Spanish instruction per week, and the school has sought to implement a dual-language immersion Spanish program. Zoey Pickett, left, and Nevaeh Hodge work on creating Christmas cards during their fourth and fifth-grade Spanish lesson, Dec. 6, 2013. (Alan Rogers/Casper Star-Tribune/AP/FILE)

Bilingual benefits: Raising a child with two languages

By Guest blogger / 01.14.14

We had a simple family rule when my siblings and I were growing up: speak Arabic at home. For the most part we did, especially when speaking with our parents, who were born in Egypt and Arabic was their native language. 

But often times, it would be easier to speak in English with my brothers and sister, so we would slip a couple of English sentences here and there. My parents reminded us to switch back to Arabic whenever they overheard our conversations. 

I never realized until I grew older how important that house rule was until now. The reason my siblings and I are bilingual is because of that “speak Arabic at home” rule. More and more families are realizing how important it is to preserve their native language. In the US, studies have shown that bilingualism has tremendous cognitive and social benefits compared to speaking only one language. 

Some benefits include: better concentration, cultural awareness, increase in creativity, problem solving, multitasking skills, and advantages in finding jobs later in life. 

Parents can begin exposing their children to more than one language at any age. However, it is highly recommended that parents begin introducing their children to the minority language as soon as they’re born. 

Research shows that when children learn a second language before the “critical period” of age of five, they are less likely to have an accent and to speak as fluently as native or near-native speakers of that language. 

There are different methods to teach one’s child to become bilingual depending on the family’s situation. A friend of mine is bilingual in Tagalog and English, while her husband speaks only English. They use the One Person, One Language  (OPOL) method for teaching their daughter two languages: she speaks to her daughter in Tagalog while her husband speaks to the daughter in English. Now at age 3, she is proficient in both languages.

Since my husband and I are both bilingual speakers of English and Arabic, we speak to our 1-year-old daughter in Arabic 95 percent of the time. This is often referred to as the Minority Language at Home (MLAH) approach. Since Arabic is a minority language and English is the primary language spoken in the US, we feel that exposing her to copious amounts of Arabic at a young age is crucial in order for her to be entirely bilingual. 

She is then exposed to English when we are out on play dates, shopping, or at the park. Further, she will be exposed to more English when she attends day care and school.

If you are wondering how you can raise a bilingual child, here are some practical tips for getting started, especially for parents or caregivers who speak more than one language. 

Make it fun and interesting. 

Singing, reading, playing, and talking in the minority language whenever possible with your baby is essential. Research shows that language skills improve when parents have one-on-one conversations with their babies.

Since Arabic language materials, such as books and toys, can be difficult to find in the US. I often translate English words to Arabic and point to the words in the book. I have Arabic letter blocks and printed Arabic alphabets in my daughter's room that I found online after some searching.

When kids are older, consider using technology such as smart phone and tablet apps, and online resources such as blogs. Limited intake of cartoons in the minority language can help to capture the attention of your child, but remember that only serving up cartoons without other language-oriented interactions will not teach a toddler a second language.

Make them value the language. 

One should not be ashamed of speaking to your child in a different language when out in public. Don’t whisper the minority language when you’re out with your child; rather speak in a regular tone so your child understands its value.

It’s all right if at some point your child asks you to stop speaking to them in the minority language in front of friends, especially once they reach the teenage years. At that point, adjust your guidelines for when and where you speak a second language together. Insisting on speaking in only the second language can result in your child devaluing and abandoning the language if pressed too hard.

Find speakers of the language around you.

Try to find people around in the community who speak the same language. One can find groups or organizations that gather to teach or practice the language. Find a babysitter or other parents with children who speak the same language. As your child gets older, immersion schools in your area can offer an additional challenge through a curriculum focused on day-to-day learning in a second language.

Travel to places where the minority language is spoken. 

One thing that my parents did that made us love and appreciate Arabic was taking us to Egypt over the summers to spend time with our extended family. This helped us practice our language and become exposed to the Arabic language and culture. Although it’s not practical for everyone to travel overseas often with kids, one can find a plethora of communities across the US where minority groups live and work. These places are great for children to visit because of the authentic food, language, and exposure to the culture tied to their second language. 

Make sure your child’s teachers are supportive.

I’ve heard unfortunate stories from friends in which their children's teachers have told their bilingual children to “speak English only.” Often times, teachers are not familiar with working with bilingual students. Explain up front to teachers how important the minority language is for your family, both inside and outside the home. I remember in second grade my teacher asked me to write down all of the students’ names in Arabic clearly on a sheet of paper. I had my mom help me translate their names and handed them to the teacher the next day. Each student then took their name in Arabic and wrote it on their own on construction paper, decorated it, and we made a quilt with all of the names on the wall. Such a simple classroom project is excellent to make bilingual students feel more comfortable with their minority language. 

Be patient and have fun. 

Teaching a child to be bilingual requires extra work, patience, and support, but it is worth it in the end. Here are some of my favorite blogs and books to help with teaching your bilingual children: Multilingual ParentingOn Raising Bilingual ChildrenRaising A Bilingual Child: A Step-By-Step Guide for ParentsMulticultural Kid BlogsMulticultural Kids.

In this photo, Vietnam War veterans form part of a line to block an anti-gay protest held by members of the Westboro Baptist Church (rear, hidden) at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Veterans Day, 2010. (Kevin Lamarque/Reauters/FILE)

What to do if Westboro Baptist Church shows up on your doorstep (+video)

By Correspondent / 01.13.14

In light of the increasingly disturbing appearances of the members of Westboro Baptist Church – protesting soldiers' funerals, other churches, and even the Golden Globes – parents should think about ways to look beyond the anger often present in religious disputes.

It’s actually very easy to preach “love over hate” to our kids, but they’re just too smart to walk that walk if they see their parents raving at the TV set, Internet, or newspaper over the images of Westboro members desecrating a military funeral or holding up picket signs that announce “God hates America!”

It’s hard to teach kids to handle hate with love when some haters are so good at hitting us where our spirits come alive – at church.

I have come to believe these displays of public hating can serve to unite us if we can see them not as a common enemy, but a shared funhouse mirror, showing us the reverse image of what we want to be.

The world seems to be playing the hate and vengeance theme song so loud we can become a little hard of hearing when it comes to the voices of reason, love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, and tolerance.

The Westboro group worries me because it has the ability to pollute the spiritual experiences of families.

Recently, Westboro followers have appeared at Salem Lutheran Church and School, First United Methodist Church, Glendale Presbyterian Church, and Holy Family Catholic Community, all in Glendale, Calif., according to UPI.

Pastor Keith Banwart Jr. of St. Matthew’s Church shows that it’s not an unreasonable fear to imagine this anger coming to a church near you.

According a a recent interview with UPI, Pastor Banwart said, “They come out for the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. They travel across the country protesting at churches, military funerals, believing that God’s wrath is coming down on America and not allowing LGBT people to live in peace.”

While I have tried to live in love, it is just not something that comes as naturally to me as I would hope, and seeing WBC’s actions in the news yanks me off the path of love and faith pretty easily. Especially when faith has been a touchy subject in my household recently. 

Therefore, the WBC is preying on my mind because I have been separated from my faith by anger before and don’t want it to happen to me or anyone else again.

I left the Catholic Church after a bullying experience at a Catholic school which ended so badly that three of our four sons have completely refused to set foot in a church again for the past six years.

Seeing my kids lose faith, I lost faith too, until six months ago when my need for community, fellowship, and family unity in faith became so strong it carried me to a different church community entirely.

However, only our youngest son, Quin, 10, who had never attended a religious school, went with me every Sunday.

My husband, a non-church person from the start, was disappointed in my decision to go back to church, largely because of groups like Westboro Baptist Church and the headlines they generate.

He called out religion in general as mean, intolerant, ugly, hateful, spiteful, and responsible for countless deaths via holy wars and hate-fueled incidents.

In response, I did exactly what I would tell my kids not to do – I became defensive and angry.

At times, our disagreement was so encompassing, we were barely on speaking terms. One day, leading up to the holidays, he asked tersely what I wanted for Christmas. I shrugged.

The next Sunday, as Quin and I drove home from church, he said I should not let my anger get the better of me. This is a lecture I preach to him daily, so hearing this from him hurt in a way only the truth can. 

His words inspired me to re-start the religious discussion with my husband, this time with love.

Later that same evening, I told my husband, “I know what I want for Christmas. But it’s going to cost you a lot.”

My husband rolled his eyes, because we were dead broke. “Fine,” he said. “What?”

I told him I wanted the entire family to join Quin and me at church Christmas Eve for the service.

Before my husband could decline, our son Ian, 19, became the human incarnation of wrath, “Never! Never happen in this or any other lifetime. No! N-O.”

Our other son Avery, 14, joined in with his brother, although less forcefully.

This outside (non-marital) force of anger from our own kids had the effect of unifying us as parents in an instant.

My husband did a complete 180 and said, “We’re going. It’s not about religion. It’s about family and showing your mother respect and support. We’re ALL going.” 

On Christmas Eve, for the first time in six years, our family went to church as a whole.

When the little girl in white with a silver pipe cleaner halo said from the pulpit, “And Mary had her first ever son and he was a boy – Jesus…her son…who was also a boy,” we laughed together, the walls we had built against one another crumbled, and were unified.

It’s amazing how both anger and love can unify us. Knowing that might just make it easier to get past the protesters and into the spirit.

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