She was concerned about her daughter’s weight. Still, she didn’t want to hurt Ramsey’s self-esteem or say anything that could spark issues of negative body image.
So Ms. Smith decided to frame the conversation around being healthy — and not about weight.
“I talked about being healthy and about making changes we could do as a family,” Smith said. “I told her I want her to live a long, happy, healthy life.” Since that conversation about two years ago, Smith and her daughter, now 13, have adopted a healthy lifestyle overhaul.
They started with drinking water instead of soda and eating more fruits and vegetables. They now often break out into 15-minute-long dance sessions at home, and they are planning to soon run together in a 5K. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta wants to help more of these talks – and transformations – take place.
Today, the hospital launches a new Strong4Life website providing parents with tools and tips for having “The Talk.” The website’s offerings include a database of doctors specially trained to counsel families struggling with weight issues, healthy recipes and an online health assessment. It’s part of Children’s far-reaching efforts to fight obesity. The hospital has a Health4Life Clinic for overweight children. It also runs a special summer camp for overweight children and trains pediatricians on how to discuss the often-sensitive subject of weight.
“We really want parents to start with themselves and for them to have a healthy conversation with themselves about family ... and the kind of role models they want to be ... and then talk to their kids,” said Stephanie Walsh, the medical director of child wellness at Children’s.
This latest push to fight obesity comes about a year after Children’s controversial ad campaign featuring black-and-white photos of obese children on billboards with messages such as: “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” and “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Walsh said the campaign was designed to help people realize – albeit in dramatic fashion – that childhood obesity is a crisis.
The statistics are staggering. Nearly one in three children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia is considered to be overweight or obese, according to the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health. Georgia ranks second in the country for childhood obesity (just behind Mississippi) according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010,” a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Now, Children’s wants to help parents make concrete lifestyle changes. Dr. Walsh suggests parents tackle health and obesity one small step at a time – such as begin taking a family walk after dinner, drinking more water, limiting screen time to one hour a day.
Talking to kids about weight can be difficult for parents. In fact, nearly one in four parents is uncomfortable talking about weight with his or her kids, according to a 2011 survey sponsored by WebMd and Sanford Health. For parents of teens, no other topic makes them cringe more. Not drugs (6 percent uncomfortable), not sex (12 percent uncomfortable).
Castulo Morales Alanis of Alpharetta, Ga. said he had no choice but to talk to his 8-year-old son, Jonathan, about obesity because his son’s feet hurt because his weight. Mr. Alanis and wife, Miguelina Arriaga, told their son they needed to make some healthy changes. About two months ago, with the help of Tthe Health4Life Clinic, Alanis and his son made some immediate changes, including switching from cooking in corn oil to olive oil, and they now eat vegetables steamed – not sauteed in oil. And while Jonathan used to go to the park to play only because his parents insisted he get some physical exercise, he now looks forward to playing outdoors with his friends. Alanis said talking to his son wasn’t easy, but he tried to keep the conversation positive and said his son has come around.
Meanwhile, Kathleen Boehmig found herself needing to have “The Talk” with her teenage son Allen, even though he is not overweight. Ms. Boehmig was concerned Allen, who is in the band and likes to play video games, was not getting enough exercise.
“We tell him that .... 'We want you to live a long, healthy life,' but it’s hard to impress that upon a teenager because it seems so far into the distance,” she said.
But something clicked when a veterinarian pointed out that the family’s golden retriever, Cody, needed more exercise.
“Allen has a big heart and loves the dog more than anything,” Boehmig said, “and he now walks the dog every day.”
To start “The Talk” with yourself: Honestly evaluate your family’s habits and the kind of role model you want to be.
Think healthy behaviors, not weight. This should not be a discussion about anyone’s weight – it’s a discussion about making good choices.
Keep goals reasonable. If your family drinks sugary beverages every day, it would be unrealistic to set a goal to not drink them at all. Make small changes for positive progress.
Nobody’s perfect. If you have a bad day, the next day is a new day to start again.
Ah, sleep training. Forget mommy wars and the pros and cons of extended breastfeeding. Forget, even, the presidential campaign and those questions about the role of government or the health care law. If you want to get new parents riled up and arguing – if, that is, they’re not too tired – drop the “cry it out: pro or con?” bomb and see what happens.
There’s a study published online in the journal “Pediatrics” today that shines some new light on this emotional debate. (And let me tell you, debates get all sorts of emotional at 3 a.m. when you’re wondering how the toddler can be fast asleep in your arms and then snap suddenly awake as soon as you rest her in her crib.)
But before getting into these new findings, some context:
For those of you who do not have babies, or who have simply blocked out those first two years of bedtime battles and 2 a.m. sniffles, you might not recognize the desperate dominance of the “how the heck do I get this kid to sleep” question. But not only does this quandary have a direct impact on parents’ health, work, relationship, and quality of life (just try functioning with a daily fear of three-hour bedtime routines and multiple wake-ups during a too-short night’s sleep), it seems that everyone out there has an opinion about how to get baby sweetly into dreamland.
Grandma says to let the baby cry until he falls asleep – no point in teaching him that you’ll come back if he just cries longer. Your best friend counters that this “cry-it-out” technique is barbaric, and you should instead take baby into bed with you – after all, this is how its been done for centuries. Neighbors, child development experts and pediatricians suggest everything in between, from the graduated sleep training method (coming back to comfort a crying baby, but letting her cry at gradually longer intervals before intervening) to the “camping out” technique, where you sit in a chair while the baby goes to sleep, gradually moving it further and further away until you are out of the room and the little tot falls peacefully to sleep all by herself.
And then there’s that oh-so-helpful friend who says she doesn’t know what the fuss is about; her child figured out how to go to sleep easily and has been snoozing through the night ever since he was five months old. (To this friend – please, stop sharing. Really.)
Meanwhile, everybody points to research showing that their way is the best, and that other techniques lead to deep emotional, psychological, and potentially even physical problems in children. (Or parents.)
Oh, and if you do this wrong your kid will hate you.
But today, a group of Australian researchers are helping us tired parents out. They published their findings from a longitudinal study of 326 children who were reported by their parents to have sleep problems at 7 months.
The good news: gentle sleep training, at least, does not have a negative impact on children. And, in the short term, sleep training can work to ease difficult bedtimes and night times.
In this study, half of the children were assigned a group where their parents were taught about soothing bedtime routines and two moderate “sleep training” techniques: controlled comforting, where you let babies cry for short amounts of time and respond at increasingly longer intervals, and that “camping out” method. Parents in this group could pick which sleep technique they wanted to use.
The other children were in a control group that did not use sleep training.
Now, 30 percent of the families dropped out of the study by the end of the five year research period. (I’m interested to know more about those folks.) But researchers found that among the children who remained, by the time they were six years old there was no significant difference between the control group and the sleep trained group in terms of emotional health or behavior, and no differences in the mothers’ levels of depression or anxiety. There was no difference in parent-child bonds.
Keep in mind: this study did not evaluate what have been called the “harsher” sleep training methods – in particular, the cry-it-out “extinction” method, in which the parent simply leaves a child to cry until he or she is asleep. Some sleep experts have called this method kinder than the graduated approach; others have warned that it causes stress and emotional trauma in kids, essentially teaching them that mom and dad won’t come to help.
That debate can continue.
Meanwhile, another tidbit from the research: sleep training, the scholars found, does work in the short term to help babies fall asleep more quickly and sleep longer at night. But in the long term? There’s no difference in the level of sleep problems among children who have had sleep training and those who haven’t.
A potential lesson in this for the sleepy parents: It will all be OK. Really.
Just try to keep that in mind at 3 a.m.
I share my family name, as well as a penchant for snooping, with “Judy Bolton, Girl Detective.” Fictional Judy was the star of her own mid-20th century mystery book series. Judy lived smack dab in the middle of Pennsylvania where, surprisingly enough, there was no shortage of mysteries to solve. In all 38 of her books, her snooping was always for the good and welfare of her family and friends. When I became a mother, I snooped for the good and welfare of my children.
Now that they are older, I don’t snoop in my kids’ lives very much. And I have never snooped because I have an unsavory curiosity about other people’s lives. (Though I will sometimes eavesdrop at the table next to me in a restaurant to figure out if a couple is on a blind date). I snoop for interesting stories. I snoop for inspiration to write those stories. I snoop to unknot the mystery of other lives as well as my own. Snooping comes with the territory of being a writer.
While I had no qualms about rummaging around in my children’s lives, it occasionally got me into trouble. When my daughter was 12, she said that I worried over nothing and that I didn’t trust her. She also said that I was nosy.
It’s true. I do worry over nothing until I have something about which to worry. She’s right that I didn’t trust her when she was the tender age of 12. But I didn’t trust because she was too young to understand how quickly the world can turn scary and dangerous.
I prefer to think of myself as curious. And once upon a time, my curiosity mostly focused on my children’s computer activities or the dialed and received log on their cell phones. When my children were old enough to have screen names, I ran a benevolent dictatorship. This meant that I was not always right, but I was never wrong. Each month they were required to show me any on-line friends’ lists.
The first rule was that my kids had to know everyone personally – in the flesh – anyone with whom they had an online relationship. All the better if I knew them, too, but I hadn’t met all of the sleep-away camp buddies. So, for 12 and up, I trusted, but only just a little. Under 12, I had to know everyone on a list. No exceptions. This rule, in place like cement, was instituted to prevent my kids from coming into contact with someone they had never met. This rule, to use a word that we used early and often since the dawn of preschool, was non-negotiable.
I also reserved the right to walk in at any time that my children were on the computer and ask with whom were they chatting online or what was new on Facebook. Speaking of Facebook, they had to friend me or do without it. If the spirit moved me, I would also ask what they had just typed. Did I mention that I ran a benevolent dictatorship?
All bets were off for a virtual chat room. This was expressly forbidden and would result in the revocation of computer privileges until the age of 25.
Before they were freshmen in high school and old enough to have laptops, my kids had individual accounts on our family computer so they could access the Internet for homework and pre-approved game sites. Each of their accounts had a filter so that a typo would not send them to God knows where in cyberspace. I always knew the passwords to their accounts or to anything else in their lives. If they somehow managed to get on to a commerce site and try to buy something, the dictatorship was no longer benevolent. Luckily, this never happened.
My children never seriously abused their Internet privileges because they knew I meant business. As generous as I am with them, and believe me, I am still generous to the point that it sometimes annoys my husband, they knew that I would not tolerate any infractions with regard to the Internet. Just ask my son about the time he hacked into my account and wrote an e-mail to his teacher to excuse him from an assignment. His third-grade grammar gave him away and the teacher immediately notified me that he was e-mailing her under my name. What followed were not good days for my boy.
But I never fully warmed up to being a dictator – benevolent or otherwise. I took unique pride in saying that my children were spoiled, but not rotten. Yet, when it came to snooping for their wellbeing, I held my ground.
I think my parents, particularly my father, named me with the hope that I would develop a curiosity that was both intellectual and empathic. Building on my father’s dreams for me, I taught my children to be as curious and responsible as my fictional doppelganger.
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. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at The Judy Chronicles.
As the claws of reality TV rake the ever younger, ever more innocent, the saga of chubby 6-year-old Alana Thompson – a.k.a. Honey Boo Boo Child the eponymous heroine of TLC's "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" – is easy to take a guilty peek at now and then.
This week's Boo Boo eruption on entertainment websites involves just how much she earns. If the little girl's most famous line - "A dollar makes me holler" - is true, there's probably a lotta hollah going on, suggest the reports. The Hollywood Reporter says that Boo Boo's family gets between $2,000 and $4,000 an episode; TMZ quotes Boo Boo's mom June Shannon saying they get "way more." After all, her show did beat the Republican National Convention last week in cable ratings, with close to 3 million viewers the night of Aug. 29.
The best explanation of why this kid is so compelling is Modern Parenthood's Lisa Suhay's recent blog. Suhay parses the stew of issues from class consciousness to body image in explaining her own guilty pleasure in watching.
Mom is still tired. But this time, so is Dad.
Last week, during the Republican National Convention, we wrote about how Ann Romney’s speech focused on the trials of Mom – how she always has to work a little bit harder than Dad, how she worries more about elderly parents and school assignments, how she is really just wiped.
“We salute you and sing your praises,” the wife of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said to the mothers of America. (Yup, motherhood and apple pie. Love the conventions.)
Well, last night first lady Michelle Obama took center stage, and it turns out that moms on the left side of the aisle are pretty darn tired, too. Back in Chicago, Ms. Obama recalled, she and Barack had date nights that would include either dinner or a movie – “because as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t stay awake for both.”
For most of the speech, however, Obama took a rather different mommy approach than did Ms. Romney. She certainly included some passionate comments about her daughters – she talked of her worries about uprooting them for life in the White House, for instance, and said, emotionally, that “my most important title is still ‘mom in chief.’ My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.”
But there was a lot less “I love women!” coming from Obama.
Instead, there were more personal anecdotes of the women and men in her and President Obama’s families working to make ends meet – President Obama’s single mother trying to raise a son, his grandmother hitting the glass ceiling, the first lady’s father putting on his uniform every day despite aching from multiple sclerosis and coming back in the evening to give Michelle and her brother a hug. And in Michelle Obama's speech, the dads worried about kids, too. Not just financially.
After all, according to her words last night, it was Barack who, “when our girls were first born, would anxiously check their cribs every few minutes to ensure they were still breathing, proudly showing them off to everyone we knew.”
And it’s the president who sits at the dinner table answering Malia’s and Sasha’s questions about issues in the news, “and strategizing about middle school friendships.”
Now, we'll leave the political analysis to others. But it’s hard not to see something substantial in the way Obama and Romney spoke about that oh-so-common candidate spouse subject of family. Something that perhaps goes even deeper than the more overtly political lines in Obama's speech, such as the praise for her husband’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act “to help women get equal pay for equal work,” or how “he believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care.”
It would be too simplistic to label this as a “mommy wars” issue, although Obama’s reference to specific policies certainly contrasted to Romney’s assertion that she didn’t want to talk about politics, but about love. Look at what each speech included, and did not include, and one can perhaps glimpse contrasting ways of looking at the world – or at least the relationship between moms and dads, dads and kids, young women and current events, work and home.
While both sides talked much about parenting, one might argue – no value judgement here, folks – that the GOP tended to equate that with “mothering,” and “women’s issues” with “mom’s issues.” The Dems seemed to give more weight to both parents, and present all of those questions of financial aid and work and child care as family issues.
All the political pundits say that women are a key constituency in this presidential election. Both sides are courting those voters; the GOP lined up the best and most powerful of their female figures to give keynote speeches; the Democrats reiterated their claim that the Republicans are waging a “War on Women.”
But rhetoric is different than policy. After Romenys’ speech, we wrote about a few policy topics – child care, maternity leave, and pay equality – that might be important to the sought-after mom voter. Here, after Obama's, are a couple more:
Family/paternity leave. Last week we mentioned maternity leave, and how the US is one of the only countries in the world where the government does not provide or mandate some sort of paid leave for mom after she has a baby. But what about dad? The US Family and Medical Leave Act allows “eligible” employees – male or female – to take 12 weeks unpaid leave after the birth of a child. But only about half of the US labor force is covered by this legislation, according to the US Department of Labor. Should there be a government effort to allow fathers secure time off work for family time, or is this a mom issue? Or a private concern all together?
Family planning. Ah, the contraception debate. This one has turned out to be big this campaign. A component of the new health care law requires all employers except religious ones to provide its employees birth-control services; an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R of Missouri, would allow any US employer to deny contraceptive health coverage to employees based on religious or moral objections. Mitt Romney has said he supports the amendment. This topic has gotten all sorts of emotional, with some Roman Catholic schools and hospitals saying the health care law infringes on religious freedom, and with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying in support of the policy.
So, should women have the right to access contraception as if it were any other type of health care service? Or is it simply not the government’s role to ensure that its citizens have access to this sort of family planning?
More policy questions as the campaign continues.
I've been catching the reports that the drought in the western United States is the worst to hit the region since the Dust Bowl years; how farmers are struggling; how livestock is suffering. The situation is similar where I've been traveling: in the Indian state of Gujarat, where some places are drier than they've been in decades.
The monsoon season, which usually soaks Gujarat with rain from mid-June through August, is a key element of the rhythm of life here: it waters farms, grasslands, and forests, fills cisterns and lakes, and cultural traditions and social rituals are timed to sync with it. But this year, it's simply failed to materialize in some regions, causing inconvenience for some, panic for others - especially those who rely on agriculture.
Among those hardest hit are families from the Maldhari tribes, some 5 million people including the Rabaris and Bharwads, who herd cattle, camels, sheep, and goats. Though many Maldharis migrate for half the year or more, moving from place to place in search of fodder for their animals, most return to their home villages for a few months (from about July to November) during and after the annual monsoon, as the grasses grow lush from the rain.
Traveling in August through the Saurashtra region, which has received less than 20 percent of its average annual rainfall, I could easily see the impact of the drought. Along the asphalt roads that traverse a flat patchwork of fields and open spaces, dotted occasionally with trees, thousands of cows and water buffaloes were marching, steered by men in turbans who wore thick silver bracelets, gold earrings, and carried large bamboo sticks. And they were heading away from their villages. There was simply no fodder for their animals near their homes.
I was with Lalji Desai, a member of the Rabari tribe who works with the non-profit Maldhari Rural Action Group (MARAG) and is secretary general of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples, an international organization that promotes pastoralists' rights and supports their cultures. He wanted to see the drought situation for himself, and how these organizations might help. Not long before sunset one day, when we saw a small Maldhari camp in a patch of land off the side of the road, we stopped to talk.
At a glance, it was hard to believe this was a camp. There were no tents or shelters of any kind, just a few of the typical woven cots known as charpais, out in the open, covered with quilted cotton blankets. Beside them were a clutter of brass and steel pots, jugs and bowls, and a stack of rice sacks filled with other belongings. Eight cute calves hovered around the charpais, looking like they were trying to figure out if they could rest on them.
Only five women were in the camp, plus a child of about two years old. The men who'd accompanied them were still out with their herd of cows.
About 50 miles from their village, they were heading away from it as slowly as possible. They'd tarried here for about a week, hoping that the rains would start so they could turn around and go home. But the grass here was running out, and they thought they'd probably have to move again in the next few days.
Friendly and eager to chat, the women insisted we sit and have tea, and we gladly obliged.
The women all wore lehenga cholis – long skirts with halter tops and headscarves. Three looked to be in their 20s, one in her late 30s, and another in her 50s. All had gold nose rings and earrings, silver rings on their toes, and flip-flops on their feet. A couple of them wore the Hindu bindi on their foreheads, and the forearms and hands of the eldest two were covered with geometric tattoos.
A pot was balanced atop three stones, with twigs ignited beneath it to cook the tea.
They were no strangers to the road, usually migrating for more than half the year, they told us, settling into an easy banter in Gujarati with Lalji, who translated.
"Every day a new village; every day a new fire hearth; every day a new well," said Puriben Rozia, who was dressed in vivid orange and spoke in animated tones. Though they are nomadic, she said, they always look forward to going home.
Jivanben, from the same family as Puriben, laughed and said, "For most of the year I live with my husband's family, but I always return to my parents' village during monsoon – and look where I am instead, sleeping in a field!"
She was in charge of the tea, which was classic Indian chai, made with milk from their own cows and dosed with plenty of sugar. It was served in typical Maldhari fashion – in saucers, which are easier to pack and travel with than cups.
Meanwhile, the patriarch of the family, Amrabhai Rozia, who was father-in-law of three of the women, arrived, just in time for chai. Puriben, along with her sisters-in-law Lavuben and Rajuben, held their headscarves out and at an angle, like gauzy walls between them and Amrabhai. In this region, social custom demands that women Maldharis hide their faces from their husband's fathers, uncles, and older brothers, as a show of respect. But they kept on talking while Amrabhai sat silently sipping his chai.
Lavuben, who looked to be in her late 20s, said that this was the first time in her life that there had been a "special migration" due to drought during monsoon season. On their usual migration, the whole family travels together, but this time she'd only brought her two-year-old and left her three other children – ages 4, 6, and 7 – back in the village; one was with her mother, one with her mother-in-law, and one with her brother-in-law.
"We took the cattle, they kept the kids," she said.
Life on the road is tough, and they'd already traveled for eight months solid "which is why they don't go to school," Lavuben added. It was better for them to have some time to rest and stay in one place.
Puriben agreed. She had left two children behind.
Lalji, sympathetic, said it must be difficult to be without them.
It was, Lavuben nodded, but she knew it was better for them to be home.
"And maybe we'll get to go back soon," she said. "We call every day on our mobile phones to check in. And the first thing we ask is, 'Is there rain?'"
As our rescue dog Albie becomes more and more a part of our life, the parallels to raising children become increasingly inescapable. Though I thought those years of nurturing and caring for two wholly dependent little creatures were over once the junior high school years ebbed and the driving lessons started, Albie has brought them back.
Like the boys when they were little, he stares out the window whenever we leave with a look on his face that would melt the heart of even the most hardened adult. He doesn’t know if or when we’re coming back, whether it will be an hour, a week or longer. And like the boys when they were young, he hangs on our attention and our praise. The feelings of devotion we have for him feel as intense as they did for the toddlers who used to wander into our bedroom at night in their cow-jumping-over-the-moon pajamas.
These feelings come in handy when it comes to managing some of the – how to say this delicately – more unpleasant tasks of living with a dog.
Before the boys were born, the thought of changing diapers was a bit repellant, but when it’s your child with whom you are madly in love, those feelings dissipate. Changing the diapers of someone else’s kid might make you squeamish, but since your own kid can’t yet make meaningless crayon doodles that strike you as brilliant art, what they do create is, well, theirs. You may not admire it, but you can tolerate it.
Without putting too fine a point on it, the same goes for picking up after your dog. When a friend of ours said she’d love to have a dog but can’t get past the idea of cleaning up after it, I assured her that when you fall in love with a dog, the once unpalatable becomes possible. I never thought I could live with the hair Albie sheds wherever he lies down, either. But, as house-cleaner-in-chief in our home, I just haul the vacuum out more often than I used to. You adjust.
On the other hand, it’s important to remember that dogs are not children and raising and caring for a dog isn’t nearly as complicated, or as worrisome, as rearing a child. For one thing, though fetch has replaced catch, I will never have to explain the rules of baseball to Albie which, as any parent of a five-year-old can attest, is like trying to explain the mysteries of the universe. Which brings us to another complex subject I’ll never have to discuss with Albie, but which, in fits and starts, I had to explain to my boys. I’m also reasonably sure Albie will never smoke pot, have a car accident, or ask us for money. He’ll never force us to answer the question, where does the girlfriend sleep when she comes to visit for the weekend? And he’ll never go to college in New Orleans, where our older son is in school, and tell us not to worry as a major hurricane bears down on the city.
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.
When we first visited Tulane University, where our son is now a senior, in 2008, Hurricane Katrina was on many a parent’s mind, and at the information session, school officials tackled the issue head-on by acknowledging the concern and discussing their emergency plans. Katrina shut Tulane for the entire fall semester of 2005 and students scattered across the country to take classes elsewhere. When the Class of 2009 graduated, those who had been newly arrived freshman when the storm hit, it was dubbed “The Class of Katrina.”
Every year that Danny has returned to campus during hurricane season, we’ve wondered, could it happen again?
But we’ve never regretted his decision to go there; New Orleans is the most distinctive American city. We consider it part of his broader education to be living there and have grown, over the course of many visits, not just to love it, but to care about it.
As Hurricane Isaac edged towards Florida, we started paying attention but, according to the news, only one computer model was forecasting possible landfall near New Orleans. As that started to change, two of Danny’s roommates drove to Tennessee. (He lives just off campus with four other guys.) And his girlfriend Libby and her housemates drove to Houston.
By the time we learned all this it was, for all practical purposes, too late to leave the city and there was no evacuation order for New Orleans, as there had been for Katrina. That was somewhat reassuring, as was the $14 billion levee and flood protection system that’s been built around the city since 2005.
Why he decided to stay, as did two of his other housemates, we’re not quite sure. But he texted us that they had stocked up on food that didn’t need refrigeration – the power was almost sure to go out and it did – and water. Losing power was also going to mean limited communication because even if cell service remained operational, he’d need to conserve battery power on his phone. There was little we could do but wait and hope that all would be well. We didn’t feel panicky, just powerless.
Early in the storm, well before the worst arrived, he texted that the power had already gone out. We asked him to stay in touch as best he could and kept our eyes on the news reports.
Tuesday night into Wednesday, Isaac bore down on New Orleans and we began to think of little pieces of advice we texted to him, unsure if or when he’d get them.
“Don’t be tempted to go outside just to see how hard the wind is blowing,” I wrote. “You could get hit by flying debris.” “Stay away from the windows and close the curtains so if the glass breaks it won’t go flying.” “When the storm’s over, watch out for downed power lines.” I knew it was about as useful as telling a kid to “drive carefully,” something said more for your own benefit than theirs.
On Wednesday he texted again and said, perhaps a bit hyperbolically, that it “looked like the end of the world” outside. But each text sounded calm and we were just glad for each message spaced hours apart. The last text (as of this writing) came Wednesday night.
Everything was fine and he thought power would be restored sometime on Thursday, though the basis of his optimism is unclear.
What is clear is that no matter how old the child and how capable, they are forever our little ones to worry about and try to protect.
Et tu Minnie?
Sure, we knew that it was getting a bit tough for the Disney Princesses these days, what with all those body image pressures out there. Just the other week, an advertisement for a Venezuelan plastic surgery practice made the rounds on the Internet, showing what the hotter, sexier version of a Princess should look like. There, before our very eyes, was Ariel, the Little Mermaid, swimming up for a tail removal (and enhancement), some hefty breast implants, a tummy tuck and a lip augmentation.
But Minnie Mouse?? We were positive she was safe. Because, really, who would give the skinny treatment to an animated rodent?
Turns out Minnie, along with girlfriend Daisy Duck and buddies Mickey and Goofy, are going to be the stars of Barney’s 2012 high-fashioned holiday window displays. (These displays are big deals in the fashion world – "Gaga's Workshop," with Lady Gaga on hand, was last year's campaign.) Executives from the department store flew out to Disneyland in March, WWD.com reports, to find inspiration and do research on the characters. They eventually decided to put together a short film for the display that centers around Minnie’s desire to be a fashion model.
But when they got to the good part – when Minnie and all her friends walk down the runway – the fashionistas realized they had a problem.
No matter how cute and peppy was their little mouse, no matter how well she rocked the polka dots, she just didn’t look good in a Lanvin dress.
“I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and they agreed,” WWD quotes Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman as saying. “When you see Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey, they are runway models.”
Or, if you look at the photos, stick figures.
Seriously, it looks like someone took Popeye’s Olive Oyl and put her on a starvation diet and then stretched her. And topped her off with a weirdly emaciated Minnie or Daisy head. (Although I’ve got to admit, Daisy’s Dolce & Gabbana dress, with matching bow, is lovely.)
But fashion sense aside.... really, people?
This might be cute and “fun” (as the Barneys executives described it) and all that on Madison Avenue. And it would be easy to respond with a big “lighten up” to those folks who raise questions about the messaging this sends to little girls, who already face a nonstop onslaught of social messages to be skinny, beautiful, and sexy.
But keep this in mind: Little kids love their Disney characters. And by this I mean that child development experts say that children actually have a real, true, emotional love for Minnie, MIckey, et al, the same way they might love the teddy bear in their crib, or even the family dog.
It’s why groups such as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood worry so much about using these characters to sell products. They say that it is simply not fair – as well as damaging to children and bad for families – to have sophisticated advertisers manipulating these early emotions well before a child can have any sense of corporate motive.
The Barneys holiday campaign – which will be called “Electric Holiday,” a riff off of the Disney’s popular Main Street Electrical Parade – is intended to “delight all ages,” according to Disney executives. Some of the stores will reportedly offer sweets and children’s toys, as well as Mickey Mouse ears.
Not to be a grinch here, but it just seems wrong. I mean, no time like the holidays to convince a little girl that beloved Minnie, in her regular shape, is fat.
Maybe the Disney Princesses have it easy after all.
Oh, scratch that: Snow White is scheduled to appear in the Barneys campaign, too. Guess we're all in this boat together.
Forget “family values.” These days – at least if you go by Ann Romney’s speech yesterday at the 2012 Republican Convention – the hot political topic is simply Mom. Mom, that is, and how amazingly tired she is.
Now, it’s not all that surprising that a presidential candidate’s spouse would take her (and yeah, it’s still pretty much always “her”) convention speech to talk about family, children, how she met the “man that should be our next president!,” yadda, yadda. It’s not even off the playbook to reference the struggling Americans she met and bonded with on the campaign trail. And given the polls showing Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney trailing among women voters, it would be expected to catch a concerted convention effort, led by Ann Romney, to display the party as female-friendly.
(Although that “I love women!” thing was maybe a bit much.)
Still, the emphasis in Ms. Romney’s speech on mothers – and in particular, on the “juggle” of work and kids and other family duties with which the the vast majority of moms struggle – seems to reflect something new: A widespread, bipartisan recognition that the way we’re trying to do family in this country is off. And specifically, it’s off because moms take on more than they should have to carry.
“Sometimes I think that late at night, if we were all silent for just a few moments and listened carefully, we could hear a great collective sigh from the moms and dads across America who made it through another day, and know that they'll make it through another one tomorrow,” Ms. Romney said. “But in that end of the day moment, they just aren't sure how.
“And if you listen carefully, you'll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It's how it is, isn't it? It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.”
She went on, talking to the moms out there.
“You're the ones who always have to do a little more. You know what it's like to work a little harder during the day to earn the respect you deserve at work and then come home to help with that book report which just has to be done. You know what those late night phone calls with an elderly parent are like and the long weekend drives just to see how they're doing. You know the fastest route to the local emergency room and which doctors actually answer the phone when you call at night.”
Cameras caught the women in the audience nodding, in that “You said it, sister,” sort of way.
The conclusion to Romney’s speech, of course, was that if we elect her husband, all will be better.
That’s obviously the subject of some good political debate. Democrats would surely scoff at the idea of the uber-wealthy Romneys – and the Rebublican party overall – being at one with financially struggling working moms. Meanwhile, Republicans say that parents are struggling more because of the Obama administration, and if the GOP could just run things, economic pressures would be far less.
We’ll leave that argument to the political junkies to analyze. But what we can do at Modern Parenthood is propose a few issues that pols from both parties could address as they "salute" and "sing the praises" of mom, and that voters might want to consider, as well.
We’ll keep at this during the remainder of the presidential campaign, but three for now:
Maternity leave: The US is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have some sort of government funded or mandated paid leave for moms after they give birth. Is that OK? Something that should change? A priority at all?
Child care: A recent study found that center-based day care costs more in most states than tuition at a four-year public college. Meanwhile, according to the US Census, millions of families cobble together various forms of childcare – from alternating shifts between parents to recruiting Grandma to using unlicensed home care – so they can make ends meet. Should there be any public relief for families struggling to pay for child care? Or is this a private issue, where if you have a kid, it’s your responsibility to figure out what to do?
Work and pay: Forget the mommy wars. Half of the American workforce is made up of women, and 65 percent of moms are employed. Women still make anywhere from 77 to 81 cents to a man’s dollar (depending on which statistics you use), while researchers have found that working mothers make 7 to 14 percent less than women without kids. Again, is this a public problem? One that should involve a political solution? Or is this about individual choice and effort?
The speeches are nice. We’ll see what the politicians from both sides say about the solutions.