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An image from the Hands Free Mama blog of Rachel Stafford with her daughter. (Rachel Stafford/Hands Free Mama)

It's never too late for forgiveness

By Guest Blogger / 02.28.14

It was a simple enough recipe – place peanuts and several types of chocolate in a crockpot for two hours and then scoop out the melted mixture in dollops to create bite-sized treats.

Simple, right? Well, not if you forget about it for four hours.

My younger daughter came downstairs when she smelled a pungent odor wafting from the kitchen. “What is that horrible smell, Mama?” she asked scrunching up her face as I scraped peanuts that now resembled black beans into the sink. 

“I just wasted four bags of chocolate because I forgot to turn off the crockpot. I cannot believe I did that!” I chastised myself as I aggressively shoved charred clumps of chocolate into the garbage disposal. “And now I don’t have anything to bring to the party.” I didn’t try to hide my disappointment. I couldn’t believe I’d messed up something so simple.

And that’s when a little voice of wisdom cut right through the burnt haze of my frustration.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” consoled my daughter. “Remember, Mama?”

Remember.

She was telling me to remember because those have been my words to her over the past three years. In every possible way, I tell her mistakes are okay. Mistakes are necessary. Mistakes are what happen when you are living life and taking chances.

Unlike her older sister, she doesn’t remember how it used to be. During my highly distracted years, the pressure to be perfect was fierce. Innocent mistakes were met with aggravated sighs and eye rolls. It wasn’t until I saw the pressure my older daughter was putting on herself that I realized I needed to stop shunning mistakes and embrace them as part of our home and our lives.

Although my older daughter lived with a perfectionistic mother for six years, her memories of the controlling, impatient, unapologetic version of myself are fuzzy. I know this because I brought it up recently during our nightly Talk Time. Earlier that day, I’d participated in a follow-up interview with Good Housekeeping magazine about letting go of perfection. Unexpectedly, the editors requested a fresh, untold story that I’d never written about before.

“Can you describe a time when you wanted things to be perfect to the point it made you lose your temper?” the editor had asked in an effort to jog my memory.

I closed my eyes and thought. Snippets of difficult to re-live memories were more easily retrieved than I expected. As I envisioned pink and yellow checked outfits, I felt sadness well up in my throat. I vividly remembered the pressure building up inside me as I tried to get my daughters out the door to meet new neighbors. We had just moved, and I knew no one. I felt so unattractive that day – so far from perfect. And there were my precious girls wanting to wear comfortably worn mismatched shorts. They wanted nothing to do with pretty outfits and neatly secured ponytails. They just wanted to play and be kids. Of course, in true drill sergeant fashion, I made them wear the pristine outfits despite their cries.

I recounted the story to the editor – a story no one had ever heard before – a story I’d tried to forget and almost did.

“Oh this is wonderful. Lots of people will be able to relate to this,” she encouraged.

But, yet, I felt regretful and alone. I thought about that painful memory all day, so much that I felt the urge to apologize to the one I knew probably remembered it too. Although it happened several years ago, I’ve learned it’s never too late to ask for forgiveness.

“I am sorry I used to want things perfect all the time,” I blurted out to my older daughter in the glow of the nightlight at Talk Time.

“Give me an example,” she asked unexpectedly.

“Do you remember how stressed out I would get about wanting things to look a certain way when we left the house? Or how I made such a big deal out of trivial mistakes and mishaps?” I asked, bracing myself for distressing recollections.

“Not really,” she shrugged. “I just remember how you used to lay out my clothes every morning, and I didn’t get to pick. But now you let me wear what I want.” She snuggled closer. “I like it the way it is now.”

“Well, I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner that being happy matters more than making things look perfect. I’m sorry I didn’t change sooner,” I admitted with regret.

“It’s better to know it now than never know it at all,” she wisely offered.

My child’s profound words were fresh on my mind the next morning as we prepared for school. Her little sister was standing in front of the mirror, parting her hair straight down the middle. She completely ignored the back of her hair and as a result, it resembled an angry cactus.

I could see my older daughter eyeing her sister’s disheveled mess. She reached out her hand to take the brush, but then quickly drew it back without saying a word. My younger daughter, unaware she was being observed, walked out humming to herself happily.

My older daughter looked up at me. I was about to find out just how much my confession the night before had resonated with her. “The old you probably would have fixed her hair, and she probably would’ve cried.” After pausing for a minute she admitted, “I thought about telling her to change it, but then I decided not to say anything. It’s better to just let her be who she is.”

My friends, I am simply the messenger on this journey, and today I have some thoughts for you to consider:

Maybe the words, “I’m sorry,” can be the start of a liberating dialogue your heart’s been yearning to have.

Maybe those you have wronged can be more forgiving than you are to yourself if given the opportunity.

Maybe second chances are not given to you, but rather something you offer to yourself by using new words and new actions.

Maybe who you are now is more important than who your were then.

Whether it’s been five minutes, five months, or five years,
it’s not too late to speak words of remorse,
it’s not too late to offer forgiveness to yourself or those you love,
it’s not too late to be the person you always wanted to be.

Because who you are now is more important than who you were then.

I think that sentence bears repeating:

Who you are now is more important than who you were then.

Just think of the gift you’ll be giving those who are learning how to live by watching you live – not perfectly, but with small, positive steps and daily doses of grace.

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.

Cast member Kate Mara poses at the premiere for the second season of the television series 'House of Cards' at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles on Feb. 13. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Kate Mara: 'House of Cards' star's sibling bond

By Correspondent / 02.28.14

Sibling rivalry is a common parenting lament, so it’s good to see Kate Mara so public about turning to her younger sister, Rooney Mara, for career advice.

For fans of the popular Netflix series “House of Cards,” Kate Mara is all the rage. News of her asking her young sister, Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Social Network”), advice on working with director David Fincher – who directed “The Social Network” and the first two episodes of “House of Cards” – is making its way around the Web.

When Kate was asked to work for the director, she went to little sis for advice and it seems everyone is surprised.

I think that surprise stems from the fact that siblings fighting usually makes for juicier headlines than a love fest.

The first time I tell anyone I am the mother of four boys, I hear two things, “You really have your hands full” and “How do you handle all the fighting?”

I tell people that all parents “have their hands full,” no matter how many kids there are. I was probably more overwhelmed with my first child than with my fourth, due to the difference in parenting experience.

However, on the matter of fighting, I tend to look at them and smile that “I’ve got a secret” smile, because I know that nothing is more terrifying than when siblings unite.

While they may fight, grumble, complain, and roll their eyes at each other daily, all any siblings need is a common enemy in order to come together as a fighting unit.

Some of the most impressive things I have ever seen my sons achieve together have come as the result of responding to bullies, breakups, and being forced to do a household project by their father.

“Oh, all it ever takes is common enemies with us,” said Zoltan, 20, over the phone this morning from his college apartment in Richmond, Va. “Remember how bad we were all fighting that one summer until Pop decided to build the massive brick patio and deck?”

I had forgotten that they were all sniping at one another that summer, but building a deck in the record 109-degree heat in Norfolk, Va., had a galvanizing effect on the boys.

However, siblings united isn’t always fun for parents.

In a house with four kids, it’s a lot like watching the TV show “Survivor” or playing the board game Risk, as alliances are built and the balance of power shifts, depending on which of the kids are bonding at the moment.

It’s great to see the Mara sisters sharing advice on jobs.

In our house, brothers tend more toward discussions of strategic video gaming and anti-parental tactics.

In our household today, Ian, 18, and Avery, 14, are the currently bonded pair, repelling all parental efforts to get them to do chores, or anything else they don’t want to do.

Quin, 10, is perpetually on the outs with Ian and Avery, but bonded tightly with Zoltan and will Facebook message his big brother for advice on life and how to handle his brothers.

However, as mentioned earlier, all bets are off when a common enemy is involved, particularly one outside the family.

I remember when Zoltan and Ian (17-months apart in age, with opposite personalities) were at the height of their fraternal dislike, we learned that Ian – a freshman in high school at the time – had been bullied at school for months. 

The two of them made a stunning shift in communication, from barely acknowledging each other’s existence while sharing a bedroom, to Zoltan having his arm draped over his younger brother’s shoulder as they huddled to discuss strategy.

Apparently, the visual impact of them together, and a few choice words from big brother, went where no teacher conference had gone before.

“You mess with one of us and you get all of us,” is the phrase Zoltan coined that day at school and I believe it will stand the test of time.

The next time your kids are fighting, remember that while they may often pull apart, the most powerful instinct siblings have is to pull together.

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President Barack Obama is meeting with leaders in the education and non-profit sectors to discuss his new 'My Brother's Keeper' initiative, which will aim to disarm zero-tolerance school discipline policies and help keep minority boys out of prison. In this photo, President Obama speaks at the Union Depot in St. Paul, Minn., Wednesday, Feb. 26. (Jim Mone/AP)

‘My Brother’s Keeper’ helps minority boys, needs family support (+video)

By Correspondent / 02.27.14

President Barak Obama brings stakeholders in the $200 million “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to the table Thursday to assist young men and boys of color. 

Parents should be eyeing a seat at that table, as that is the place from which they can ensure both the end of "zero tolerance" policies that have plagued education and the success of our nation’s children.

I applaud the fact that Mr. Obama announced a $200 million commitment from nine foundations to help young men and boys of color, according to Yahoo News.

According to reports, this is a component of a bigger plan to get private businesses, non-profits, and local governments to work in concert to step into the lives of African American and Hispanic boys at key points. 

The plan would focus on providing pre-kindergarten education, lifting third-grade reading proficiency, leading schools away from "zero tolerance" disciplinary policies that kick misbehaving students out of school, and convincing businesses to train and hire young men of color.

I am no fan of “zero-tolerance” policies in schools because they criminalize our kids over minor and often misinterpreted actions.

I am a white woman, with four white sons, and zero tolerance took my eldest son, Zoltan, now 20, out of kindergarten for an entire week when he was little.

We had just moved from a sailboat docked in Florida with no TV to a New Jersey community. It was just after the terrorist attacks of September 11.

On his second day of kindergarten, the principal of the elementary school called to tell me my child was being suspended for “terroristic threats.”

“His teacher asked if he liked Barney – the purple dinosaur – and your child said, ‘I hate Barney! You gotta get a mask and a knife and get rid of him!’ ”

After a long day filled with family services people, clipboards, and a school psychologist, I was finally able to clarify that my child had been raised without TV and “a big purple Barney” was a barnacle, which his father “hates” resulting in him having to put on a dive “mask” and “get rid of the barneys” with a putty “knife.”

It was really touch-and-go for days.

Having read the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) posting from January that talked about the overall damage the “zero-tolerance” policies have done in specifically the African-American community and the broader education system in general, I shudder to think of what it would have been like for my son today had I been an African-American or Hispanic mom trying to explain the Barney mishap.

Would my son have been expelled? Would being marked as a “bad kid” have dogged him and resulted in him being in a jail cell today instead of a college classroom?

These are reasonable questions being asked by people at the highest levels of our government, and I think it’s time more parents, of every race, joined the discussion.

While these policies were meant to prevent guns, drugs, and weapons in schools, instead, they often times have resulted in banishing children from the learning environment for using a finger as a “gun.” 

In a recent report, “A Generation Later: What We’ve Learned About Zero Tolerance in Schools,” the Vera Institute of Justice examined the research on zero-tolerance policies over the past 25 years. The JLC broke down the findings of the study in its own report.

According to the JLC, researchers found that after a generation of this policy, “Zero-tolerance policies are one piece of the epidemic known as the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ – the criminalization of school-based student misconduct that increases the chances that students – especially low-income students of color – will end up involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system.”

At this point, it’s also important to note that no amount of money and policy change will truly make a difference in the lives of our nation’s youth, if the most important stakeholders – parents – are absent from the table.

For all races, charity – giving of our time – begins at home.

Parent and caregivers must show support and let kids know that they have greater expectations for kids than many kids have for themselves.

We also need to make time to mentor kids who are not our own, because in this economic climate many parents are unable to be there to guide and strengthen their kids.

I volunteer by creating free chess programs for the community to bring at-risk kids, mentors, and families together across a game board.

For years, I was frustrated that so many fathers would come to the community center to work out and never set foot in the chess room to see their sons and daughters play.

While dads often encouraged their little girls, they would be very negative about their sons learning the game.

Too often, a father would say right in front of a son, “Don’t bother with him. That game won’t do him any good. He’s not going to be a lawyer or anything.”

I used to get angry, until I took more time to coax dads into the chess room and talked to them about why they had been absent.

Turns out that the dads in question never got the kind of breaks “My Brother’s Keeper” is expected to provide.

Because these fathers deeply love their sons, they often want to spare them the disappointments by managing a son’s expectations of success in school, business, and life.

Once they saw their boys play – and win – these same fathers made it their mission to be there every chance they got.

When the dads took their seat at the table the kids did better at chess, in school, and in the disciplinary area as well.

It seems to me that $200 million will buy a pretty large table, and it’s my hope that Obama leaves seats open and available for parents to be a part of the difference.

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Mayim Bialik arrives at the 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 18. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/FILE)

Mayim Bialik: Breastfeeding defender, obesity fighter (+video)

By Correspondent / 02.27.14

Actress Mayim Bialik spoke in a HuffPost LIVE interview on Monday to once again defend breastfeeding and her attachment parenting lifestyle. 

During the interview, Bialik recounted a 2011 incident on the New York City subway, during which she breastfed her 3-year-old son.

Ms. Bialik told HuffPost, “What I like to point out is that was the best way for that subway ride to be pleasant for everyone.” She later added "I don't believe you need to cover up a baby eating anymore than you need to cover a baby drinking a bottle."

Bialik also declared during the interview that breastfeeding is “NOT a sexual act.”

Bialik is an actress and neuroscientist. She's currently playing Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS's Big Bang Theory.

Her defense of breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood comes as the US reports a marked drop in child obesity rates for pre-school age children. 

Breastfeeding children beyond the age of six months has been identified as one of the potential reasons for the obesity drop. 

A government report released Tuesday showed that the obesity rate among children 2 to 5-years-old dropped by nearly half over a decade, from 14 percent to 8 percent.

According to government figures, some researchers believe breastfeeding helps children regulate their intake of food, helping to lower their obesity risk later in life.

Of infants born in 2010, 49 percent were breastfeeding at 6 months, up from 35 percent in 2000. The breast-feeding rate at 12 months increased from 16 percent to 27 percent during that time period.

Judy Dodd, a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics, told the Associated Press that government programs and other services have encouraged breast-feeding by providing free or low-cost breast pumps, access to refrigeration and more offices with private, comfortable rooms where new moms can pump on the job.

"When a woman goes back to work, how does she continue to breast-feed? That's the biggest challenge I'm hearing, and there have been improvements," Ms. Dodd said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

 

This undated photo, released by Gomez Trial Attorneys courtesy the Pankey family, shows Aidan Pankey and one of his pet rats. (Courtesy photo from Pankey family/AP)

Infected rat: Keeping your kids safe with any pet

By Correspondent / 02.26.14

Following the death of a 10-year-old boy who died, according to the San Diego County medical examiner's office, as the result of being bitten by an infected rat bought as a pet, parents may want to rethink the value of unusual pets and how to warn children before allowing them to play at a home where more exotic animals are kept.

Aidan Pankey died one day after he brought home a new pet rat that was bought at Petco, according to the ABC affiliate in San Diego. His family is now filed a lawsuit against Petco.

After reading about young Aidan’s death, I am reminded, as all parents should be, that with great pets comes great responsibility for a child’s safety.

As the mom of a 10-year-old boy who adores all animals, and would cuddle and adopt anything that walks, crawls, or flies across his path, Aidan’s story captured my full attention.

Most parents already know to warn kids about how to approach strange dogs – palm down and let them sniff the back of your hand so the dog doesn’t think the child is holding a treat it could snap at.

However, dogs seem to be where our cautionary advice to kids on pets ends, and this news story is a powerful reminder that we should also consider how to approach more exotic pets.

The Animal League website offers some good basic rules for any pet: 

  • Children should not be left alone or allowed to sleep with an animal.
  • Ensure that you and your child always wash hands with soap and water after handling pets.
  • Teach your child not to pull on the ears and tail of animals, or pinch, squeeze, or make loud noises.
  • Never approach strange dogs or animals.
  • Don't allow your pets to lick your child's face or any cuts or scratches.

The choice of an exotic or unusual pet means reading all the literature that comes with it, plus some additional research by parents.

As with anything you hand your child, read the instructions and know the potential dangers before handing it over.

In Aidan’s case, according to ABC, he already owned one rat and had kept it without incident. This was a companion to the first animal that caused the tragedy.

While I am not a rat person, I recently saw how a boy could love one as a pet.

Last month, when the weather was extremely cold, a river rat got into our dining room and was cornered by our two cats.

Quin, 10, and his brothers Ian, 18, and Avery, 14, said, “Aaaaaw! Save it! We can keep it.”

I was shrieking, “They bite! Hit it with something!”

We ended up compromising, with Ian trapping it in a large container and me escorting it to the river a few blocks away with the stern warning not to return.

So rats aren’t my thing, but I know all about how great it is to see your child love a pet, no matter how unusual an animal it may be.

Frankly, when parents consider a pet, we may think more about the creature’s welfare than the child’s, asking “Who’s going to feed it?” and not “Will it hurt my child?”

I was rough on pets as a kid.

When I was a little girl, my father would buy any pet I asked for.

There was the chameleon bought at the circus that I let out of its cage so it could “get some fresh air.” Gone.

There was the canary the cat actually ate, just like in the old expression.

Then there was the bunny given to me at Easter, which died after eating plastic flowers I put in the cage to “make it happy.”

As a parent, I run a two-cat and one-massive-dog family.

The most exotic we’ve gotten as pet people is when my pal Ed Florimont sent the boys a “singing” frog via Grow-a-Frog kit, that allows the owner to watch a frog grow from a tadpole sent in the mail.

Hence, we raised a Xenopus laevis, or African clawed frog, which would trill or “sing” when it was about to rain.

When we moved to Virginia from New Jersey, we donated our frog, which we had dubbed “Frogginstein,” to a local school.

Still, I realize many parents choose more unusual animals as pets because their kids' friends own an exotic pet of their own. Over the years, my four sons have come home asking for: a snake, a ferret, a rat, a hamster, and various lizards – all the result of friends owning one.

Because of these friends, and the requests that resulted, I have become more careful about asking the parents of potential playdates if they have any pets that fall more into the zoo-than-home category.

Animals can add so much to our kids’ lives, teaching them to be responsible caretakers, but we must never forget that these are all domesticated animals with wild instincts.

When we tell our kids the bedtime stories of “Where the Wild Things Are,” it’s important to remember that some of them may be under our roof, curled up beside our children.

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After tumbling more than 8 percent on the way to record lows after the 2008 financial crisis, the US birth rate is expected to increase over the next two years for the first time since 2007. A woman walks with a child stroller across a pedestrian crossing, in San Francisco on February 19. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

Attachment parenting? Take a break.

By Correspondent / 02.25.14

Yes, I’m one of those people. I'm a mom who practices attachment parenting, a term coined by Dr. William Sears that includes babywearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping. I’ve done all three with pride since my daughter was born 10 months ago. It just came naturally to me – I never really thought about it very seriously.

But as a recent Huffington Post piece points out, a mother's needs can often be left out of the attachment parenting process.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Children and Family Studies suggests that attachment parenting led to higher levels of stress and lower levels of satisfaction for many moms.

Among the on-demand nursing sessions (for the first few months, my baby nursed about every 45 minutes, all day long), always focusing on her needs first (I remember gobbling down meals as quickly as possible during those first six months), and co-sleeping, oftentimes my needs have been completely forgotten.

All of this is OK, for a time, but it is so special when the mother is mothered, too. I remember being absolutely giddy when, among all the other special packages sent for the baby right after she was born, one of my aunts included an enormous bar of German chocolate for me. 

I didn’t expect anything like that because I was completely focused on my baby – addressing every single little need as soon as it came up. This is the way I’ve chosen to mother my child and it makes me so happy most of the time. However, I do still need to recharge my batteries occasionally.

A few days ago, I had a job interview for some freelance work, and as a stay-at-home mom, this was a really big deal in my little world. I was thrilled to take my actual purse with me, not the diaper bag with my wallet and cellphone hastily stuffed in. I even put on a little mascara, lipstick, a dress, and high heels. My husband’s eyes popped out when I kissed him goodbye as I walked out the door. I think it was good for him to see me out of my stay-at-home mom uniform of a T-shirt and jeans, too.

I adore being at home with my baby, but even the most steadfast attachment parenting moms need an hour or two to just be themselves, and not only a mom, just for a little while.

When I returned home from my interview a couple hours later, I scooped up my little girl, and let her cling to me like a koala bear cub for the rest of the day.

Nurturing my child is a top priority for me, as it is for so many moms of my generation. Judging by the plethora of nursing covers I see at Starbucks on any given morning, pieces of the attachment parenting process are becoming more common. Most people smile and nod if I mention that we’re co-sleeping, and I see more baby carriers than strollers gliding past my house, too.

A new video is making its rounds around my mom circles, and it depicts a baby persistently holding onto its mom right after birth. To me, it exemplifies the beauty of attachment parenting – it follows a mother’s natural instinct to gently, selflessly nurture her baby, and a baby’s natural desire to be deeply nurtured.

Yes, diving into parenting your child whole-heartedly is awesome, but don’t forget to take care of your needs, too. Eat the chocolate.

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich, from left, talks with Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight after they received the Governor's Courage Award, during Mr. Kasich's State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center in Medina, Ohio, on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight's courage through fear (+video)

By Correspondent / 02.25.14

Today we have a powerful reason to talk to kids about how courage can be all about running away, after Ohio Gov. John Kasich presented medals for courage to the three women who survived imprisonment in a Cleveland house after being kidnapped.

After reading about the courage shown by Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus, and Michelle Knight to escape from captivity last May, parents can tell kids the Cowardly Lion from the “Wizard of Oz” had it right, because he recognized danger, ran from it, and still rescued himself and his friends.

As parents of younger children, we might prefer to tell the story of the Cowardly Lion to younger kids, rather than the story of how Governor Kasich came to present his annual Courage Awards on Monday to the kidnapping victims during his annual State of the State address.

The three were rescued last May after being kidnapped from the streets of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004, at the ages of 14, 16, and 20, according to the Associated Press.

The first time that most of us heard of the news was the recording of Berry’s call to 911 after she broke free from the house, her voice quivering with terror.

Kids, and adults alike, often fail to realize that courage doesn’t mean being unafraid, nor does it only apply to spectacular stunts like running into a burning building to save a kitten.

As the fictional Dr. Who once explained, “Courage isn't a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.”

That is a quote I wish I’d heard as a child because nobody ever told me that being afraid could be part of being courageous.

I remember being told to “find your courage” when I was crying over being afraid of the clown at a birthday party, or when I didn’t want to try swimming in the ocean.

Over the years as a parent, I’m sure I have said similar things to any one of my four sons.

They too were introduced to a light-hearted notion of courage via “The Wizard of Oz” and the Cowardly Lion, who sings:

Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

From the Cowardly Lion in the film, kids learn that cowardice equals fear and bravery means a lack of fear.

Following the Cowardly Lion, I have come to the conclusion that we need to bring our kids back from Oz and teach them the truth. Being afraid shouldn’t stop them from showing their courage, but should instead be the fuel that gets them to a better, safer place.

Many times a day, all over America, children just like ours are exhibiting bravery worthy of a medal, and all the while beating themselves up inside thinking they are weak cowards, because they are afraid.

I have met kids in our community surviving horrors of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and bullying.

Too often I have heard counselors telling them their heroism comes from facing the horror over and over again and adapting as they look for ways up and out. 

My kids and I volunteering through our church to help the homeless, and the hardest part is seeing homeless teens and young adults who don’t ask for help because they think that makes them weak.

The truth is, kids need to know that asking for help shows your strength. Meeting that help half-way, as Amanda Berry did, is very brave.

I wonder if we avoid teaching our kids how to survive hardship because we don’t want to scare them. Perhaps we don’t want to scare ourselves by admitting that something could happen that we could not fix for our kids.

It is better to be brave and prepare our children for what to do if they need to rescue themselves.

We need to let kids know that we don’t have to run into the danger to be a hero. 

Sometimes we just have to hang on and stay cool until it’s time to run away.

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Stanford University has announced that it will end sales of tobacco through vendors serving students around its campus. In this file photo, a sampling of electronic cigarette supplies are seen in a shop in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. E-cigarette inhalers are an odorless, vapor-emitting substitute for tobacco cigarettes. (Sue Ogrocki/AP/FILE)

Students and smoking: Stanford University ends tobacco sales

By Correspondent / 02.24.14

Stanford University students can breath easier when heading to school because of a new tobacco sales ban on campus.

Stanford University is eliminating sales of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes starting next month.

The university has nearly 7,000 undergraduate and more than 8,000 graduate students enrolled, according to 2013 registration numbers.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that vendors who operate convenience stores at the Valero gas station and Tresidder Union on campus have agreed to the university's request to phase out all tobacco sales.

Susan Weinstein, assistant vice president for business development, who oversees the vendors, says administrators have been considering the new rules for months.

”The university is an advocate for the health and well-being of its entire community, and tobacco sales are inconsistent with our many programs that support healthy habits and behaviors," Ms. Weinstein told the school’s daily email newsletter, the Stanford Report.

The Mercury News says the move builds on Stanford's "smoke-free environment policy," which prohibits smoking in classrooms, offices, enclosed buildings, and facilities. Smoking is permitted outdoors, except during organized or athletic events, and is limited to areas more than 30 feet from buildings. 

The Stanford School of Medicine has been a smoke-free zone since 2007.

According to recent report published by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, at least 1,182 college campuses around the US have adopted a 100 percent smoke-free policies, nearly double the rate of smoke-free campuses in 2011. Of those 1,182 smoke-free campuses,  811 are completely tobacco-free.

This latest tobacco ban comes as electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, gain popularity in the US. The rise in the use of e-cigarettes has sparked a debate between whether or not e-cigarettes are more of a smoking cessation tool, or an introduction to tobacco use that leads to regular cigarette smoking.

The national drugstore chain CVS announced earlier this month that it would end all tobacco sales at 7,600 retail stores by October 1. The drugstore chain is the first major retailer to announce a tobacco-free policy.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this article.

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Liam Neeson was interviewed on CBS '60 Minutes' about the death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. His interview conveyed a lot about how people grieve differently. In this photo, Mr. Neeson poses during a media event to promote the film "Non-Stop", in London January 30, 2014. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

Liam Neeson teaches that we all grieve differently (+video)

By Correspondent / 02.24.14

This weekend, Liam Neeson opened up to interviewer Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes” about the death of his wife in 2009. In doing so, he gave the parents of boys a window into how differently boys and girls cope with grief.

Over the past five years, since Mr. Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, died while on a ski vacation in Quebec, Neeson has remained silent, showing the world a stone face, not discussing his feelings publicly until now.

This story caught my attention on various levels: celebrity, lost love, but mainly as the parent of a son who recently lost a friend to suicide and grieved in a way I couldn’t understand at the time.

When a neighbor of mine, Sarah Peterson, 14, committed suicide last month, girls in her hometown were devastated, red ribbons were tied around trees, vigils were held, and grief poured over them all like a hard rain.

However, as I wrote at the time, my son Avery, 15, stood high and dry, aloof from grief. So, I worried.

I worried on levels from the reasonable to the absurd: Would he too become depressed from holding it inside? Should I be doing more to help him? I even briefly worried that I had raised an alien boy with ice water in his veins.

Had Mr. Cooper spoken with Neeson a bit sooner, I would have worried far less about my son and perhaps handled it better with him, as well.

However, I am grateful to Neeson for granting the interview at any time because it gives moms something they actually can do to help grieving boys – show them the interview.

It’s interesting in retrospect that I had similar worries about Neeson as I did about my son Avery.

Because Neeson and Ms. Richardson were a couple I always admired and Neeson is one of my favorite actors of all time, I worried that either their romance was just another Hollywood fable or he was heading for a breakdown.

However, as he showed in this interview, people grieve differently and just because someone isn’t grieving the way you or I would doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling the pain of loss very keenly.

While his craggy, Irish face remained as unmoved as a mountainside, you could see in Neeson’s eyes the depth of his emotion and loss.

What struck me was when Neeson uttered words so similar to what my son Avery told me when I asked him how he was doing after Sarah’s death.

“It was never real. It still kind of isn't,” Neeson told Cooper of the loss of his wife.

Neeson didn’t talk about his wife because, like all four of my sons, it seems that the males of our species often tend to prefer to process deep feelings internally.

As a woman, I can tell you there is never any mistaking when I am sad, angry, or grieving, because you can follow the trail of discarded tissues right to my face where my feelings are on display.

This is generally true of little boys, as well, until they hit tween-age, at which point I have seen a clear departure from anything I can relate to in the grief and upset departments.

Ask a girl who is upset what’s bothering her, and you get a tearful earful.

It’s been my experience that boys brood and wallow.

Ask a boy if he’s OK after something bad happens and be prepared for “I’m fine. There’s nothing to talk about.”

I notice that all too often in my house I hear my sons or my spouse say, “There’s nothing to talk about,” just before whoever is upset throws himself into a project, game, or bike ride.

It seems that when girls are upset they need to openly process with others, while boys and men prefer to literally work it out via exercise or projects.

I could see past Avery's words into the conflict and hurt in his eyes. Moms tend to be eye readers.

We look into our kids’ eyes to see the truth they are trying to disguise with a stone face or cool look. It’s how we can spot a lie, a worry, and anything else our kids are hiding.

From his eyes, I knew something was wrong but what I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t something I could fix with a hug and a talk.

He needed to bike, walk, and game his grief away. Talking only made it worse. What looked like avoidance was really just emotional processor lag.

Neeson confirmed this in the interview, telling Cooper, “I'm not good with – without work. I just don’t – I wallow too much. You know? And I just didn't want to – especially for my boys, to be – seem to be wallowing in sadness or depression or…“

"The actor added that work and a schedule have gotten him through the past five years in which he has made more than 20 movies, according to CBS.

Recently, Avery began talking about his friend Sarah, her suicide, and how much he really did care but had been unable to show.

“Too many people were asking if I was OK – at school, at home,” Avery explained last week. “It was like it was everywhere and too big to be real. The only way to make it real was to keep my feelings private. Grief is private.”

It seems that for men and boys alike, the best way to help them is to let them know you’re there if they need you and then leave them alone.

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Ashley Wagner of the United States competes in the women's free skate figure skating finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Olympic figure skating: Learning to lose with grace

By Correspondent / 02.21.14

Figure skater Ashley Wagner is unwittingly cutting herself down by publicly criticizing the Winter Olympics judges after Thursday night’s medal round competition in Sochi.

I feel for Ms. Wagner because she may have been one of those little girls – like I was – who constantly heard a parent saying, “If you keep making that face it’ll freeze that way!”

Her frustration with the judging at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the conclusion of the event was etched all over her face. While it’s hard to control facial expressions in a moment of upset, we can learn to control our mouths afterward. 

The scoring in figure skating is a perennial issue, leaving many competitors and spectators wondering about how winners are decided in competitions measuring subjective and objective elements.

This is where Wagner tripped up, essentially suggesting that the two Russian skaters, gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova and fifth-place finisher Julia Lipnitskaia, had been given unfairly inflated scores.

"I feel gypped," said Wagner, according to Yahoo, who skated two programs without any falls.

She didn’t stop there. I really wish she had because it would have been a much more recoverable situation.

"To be completely honest, this sport needs fans and needs people who want to watch it,” Wagner added. “People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can't depend on that person to be the one who pulls through. People need to be held accountable."

Seeing the news of Wagner’s sour grapes comments against the judges prompted me to call a different kind of Olympian-turned-coach, whose motto is, “Win with grace. Lose with dignity,” Chess Olympiad champion, Grandmaster Susan Polgar.

Chess, while far less subjective, is an officially recognized sport by the International Olympic Committee, complete with an Olympiad, arbiters, and medals.

Ms. Polgar, born in Hungary, has kicked down plenty of doors in her time and has been the subject of controversies for taking on male-dominated systems in her sport. She was the first woman in history to earn the Grandmaster title (1991) and won the Chess Olympiad four times with an unbeaten record of never having lost one of the 56 Olympic games she played between 1988 and 2004.

She is also a tremendous fan of figure skating.

When I called her this morning at her office at Webster University, where she is the coach of the men’s championship-winning chess team, she had some advice for Wagner on how to improve her post-Olympic game.

“My advice to her is to work even harder when external events take place that she cannot control,” Polgar says. “Use that as motivation to work harder, try harder.”

Polgar agreed it was a bad move for Wagner to take this critical position, especially on the heels of the controversy over how she was chosen for the US Olympic skating team. The members of the US Figure Skating committee chose Wagner, even after her performance at the US Figure Skating Championship finals imploded with fall after fall, instead of one of the other female skaters who finished above her, according to The Christian Science Monitor. 

“When your sport of choice has such a subjective element, you must realize that sometimes it will favor you and sometimes it may not,” Polgar says of skating’s hierarchy. “Still, as a fan, I don’t want to see someone being a poor sport.”

It's true that Wagner ended up ranked lower than Lipnitskaia, who fell in each of her programs, and Mao Asada, who also fell during the short program, and fourth-place Gracie Gold, her fellow American, who also fell on the ice Thursday. 

Wagner skated cleanly, if not remarkably, Thursday night. But her complaints take away some of the sheen from her beautiful program.

As a mom, I always find it hard to be the judge of when my child has a legitimate complaint about a teacher and when it’s a cover for slacking, or not grasping the material.

Many a child has told a parent who is holding a bad report card in hand, “It’s not my fault! That teacher hates me.”

Grades in school can be very similar to figure skating when it comes to essays and answers given.

Every day, we teach our kids that they must find ways to work within the system that may not always be fair or just.

In life – as in sport – it’s important to remind our kids that it’s not their failures, but the way they cope with them that makes us the most proud.

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