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Parents are constantly forced to be alert to kidnappings and extortion throughout Mexico. Families wait outside the Luis Arnoldo Nunez elementary school for evening classes to start in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008. A sign appeared Nov. 12 on the front door of the Elena Garro kindergarten in the city, demanding, "Either give us your bonuses, or we will start to kidnap the children." (AP Photo/Ricardo Lopez)

Parenting in Mexico: Families' fear tested in 'virtual kidnappings'

By Staff Writer / 10.10.12

The phone rings at 11 p.m., jolting a father from his slumber. It is among the most dreaded moments of any parent's life.

But in Mexico, parents face more fearsome prospects.

“Hello?” my friend's father said into the receiver on a recent evening, as it dawned on him in a panic that his moment had arrived.

“Papi, they have me,” were the words he heard back. His sweet daughter.

Without thinking twice, he started to give what was demanded of him, including cell phone numbers of the family members. It was not until moments later that his wife gained calm and dialed her daughter's cell phone.

“What's up?” my friend asked of her mother, the din of a party just getting underway in the background.

Virtual kidnapping. It's one of the newer threats finding its way into the lives of ordinary Mexicans.

The voice, “Papi, they have me,” was not my friend's voice, but a recording. Criminals use these generic messages, chancing that at least some panicked Mexicans will deposit money or at least give out additional information, like private cell phone numbers, so that a more targeted scheme can be developed for the future. No one knows for sure who they are, if they are tied to drug traffickers, networks run out of the nation's jails, or just common criminals taking advantage of an environment of fear, as 50,000 have been killed in the nation's fight against drug trafficking in the past six years.

In many ways it's distinctly Mexican in the 21st century. In another time or place, without kidnapping and extortion so widespread, a father might pause. “Excuse me?” he might say, and when “Papi, they have me” is repeated, he might realize, “Who is this? This isn't my daughter's voice.”

I ran into my friend at a cafe the day after her family's ordeal. I asked her how they knew that the phone number they were dialing was that of a father with a daughter who could conceivably be kidnapped. "It's random," she says. "There is a 50-50 chance."

And in that way the whole scheme is also distinctly Mexican: Only in a country with generations of  sky-high fertility rates can a band of criminals play the odds so confidently that a random person answering a phone actually has a daughter.

I came home and told the woman who takes care of my own daughter about it. She was hardly surprised. In fact, she said a sister-in-law had just received a call from a nephew in the US.

“Aunt, I lost my job and need money to get back to Mexico,” he told her. And without thinking twice, she started borrowing money from other family members to wire into the account given to her over the phone. It was not until a daughter wised up that they stepped back and asked, "Is this extortion?” And indeed, the nephew had never called and has no intentions of returning home. (And again, such a scam only works in a country in which almost everyone has a cousin, son, or nephew toiling in the US).

Extortion is one of the crimes in Mexico that has skyrocketed since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and dispatched troops to fight drug trafficking. And, so far it seems, very little is being done about it, at least as underlined by my friend's experience.

That very night she called the program established by the attorney general's office to help extortion victims and was told to, in so many words, “carry on with your life.”

“There is really very little we can do here,” said the policeman who picked up the line at the 800-number provided, she says. The phone number from where the call was made was unregistered, “just as if the phone call had never happened,” he added.

But it did happen, and has happened, to countless other parents who, already naturally worried about their children out and about at night, have one more thing to make for a restless evening.

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One child at college means a change to routines for the rest of the family at home. Pictured is a dormitory at Boston University. (Sarah Philbrick)

College-bound, one daughter's departure means changes at home

By Judy Bolton-Fasman / 10.09.12

Here’s a joke that I recently heard. An optimist sees the glass half-full. A pessimist sees the glass half-empty. An opportunist drinks the water. Not all that coincidentally, these describe the various emotional states of my half-occupied nest. Sometimes it’s half-full; sometimes it’s half-empty. Although there is more time and space in my house since Anna left for college, I’m still shocked that she packed up and moved away a five-hour drive from me. Bearing in mind that our daughter wakes up every day almost 300 miles away, here’s a very short list of what’s changed at my house.

The bedroom. Be careful what you wish for because it may come true. Before she left for school, we blasted Anna’s room, clearing over eight years of detritus. We were sorting stuff that dated all the way back to fourth grade. There was that book project Anna couldn’t part with or that oh-so-pretty party dress that she wore on the bar mitzvah circuit six years ago! Six years ago?! Mind-boggling. In fact, Parents’ Weekend at Anna’s school falls on the fifth anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah. The quiet, clean bedroom matches the quiet, sort of clean house. I don’t mean to say that Anna is loud. But there is a liveliness, a spirit of wonder and a megawatt smile that she brings into a room. And with her departure for college, I’m now the only girl in the house. Even the dog is a boy and, like the men in this house, he could care less about the fabulous sweaters and pocketbooks that I find on sale.

The car. Anna never made the deadline we gave her for getting her driver’s license. Even her learner’s permit has expired. This means that Anna needed rides early and often. The longest ride we had together was between her school and Adam’s. I’ll admit I was almost always grumpy about the prospect of driving 15 miles in traffic between schools. But my annoyance evaporated when Anna got in the car and we had a half hour to ourselves. We put the time to good use. We’d talk about the books she was reading, the people she was hanging out with, the latest doings at Student Council. The car ride was the teenage equivalent of lying down with her before she fell asleep. When she was a little girl, that was the time that I learned what was near and dear to her heart, or conversely, what broke her heart.

Mealtime. Anna’s acute dairy allergy shaped who she was and, consequently, who we became as a family. Over the years, Ken and I worked to help her advocate for herself at a birthday party or a restaurant. It turns out that Anna’s allergy also informed our Judaism. Since we had such little dairy in our house and we had made the commitment to send our kids to Jewish day school, it was not such a big leap for us to start keeping kosher. At first, we practiced keeping kosher using our non-kosher dishes. That is to say, we didn’t buy new plates or get a second set of plates to separate meat from dairy more fully. The fully stocked kosher kitchen was a natural outcome of our kitchen remodel. Everything was new, including a dishwasher with two drawers, one for meat and one for milk. Nevertheless, we mainly lived a meat and pareve existence. When Anna left for college, I was sure that we would have a dairy fest every night in the house. I’ll admit that for the first couple of weeks, we went wild and crazy with cheese tortellini and traded some of our Mother’s pareve margarine for a tub of butter. But it wasn’t as fun as we thought it would be. There was something disloyal about indulging in all that dairy, and so, barely realizing it, we went back to our pareve life.

The brother. In many ways, Anna’s departure has been hardest on Adam. When it became clear that Anna was indeed going to college, he got downright depressed at the thought of being the only child at home. He’d mumble under his breath, “I can’t believe I’m going to be stuck with those two. “ Those two, in case you haven’t figured it out, are Ken and me. I tried not to be insulted and chalked up his rudeness to anticipatory anxiety. It’s been six weeks since Anna settled into a dorm room with posters of Coldplay and the Beatles, and Adam still can’t believe he’s stuck with the two of us. I thought he’d be thrilled to be picked up on time and have unfettered access to Parmesan cheese. It turns out he was just making noise about those things. He’d rather have Anna home.

When it’s all said and done, this half-empty nest, or depending on a given day, half- full nest, is ultimately emotional limbo. I’m not exactly pushing Adam out the door, but I’m kind of curious about what being an opportunist feels like.

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.

Etiquette is a tough lesson to teach to kids. Kate Behan, 7, learns how to properly hold her fork in a formal setting, January 12, 2012, during a Mrs. Good Manners class in San Jose, California. (The Christian Science Monitor/Tony Avelar)

Kitchen knives: Teaching culinary conduct to three kids

By Guest Blogger / 10.08.12

As I set down the orange juice on the breakfast table, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of my 12-year-old daughter struggling to cut up her pancakes. Holding her knife in her left fist like a ski pole and her fork like a video game controller, she ground the two utensils together until her plate became a mess of shredded, torn pancake bits. 

My future Mensa member and current household video game champion had no more ability to use a knife than had our house cat.

How did she escape learning this basic life skill?

Looking back, I admit I purposely kept knives away from my kids. I thought that giving a sharp object to a child could only end badly.

And on the occasion that we went to a restaurant and knives were recklessly set on the table, the inevitable sibling sword fight would ensue, confirming my suspicions. 

It’s likely also that kid foods were to blame. After all, one doesn’t need to cut up chicken nuggets, pizza and macaroni and cheese. But most nights my kids dine on more grown-up fare like salmon, shrimp and pastas – again, all fork-friendly foods.

After deciding to brush off the knife incident as a minor blemish on my otherwise spotless parental record, I was faced with another shortcoming.

When we were having some dinner guests, my two older girls wanted me to bake a corn soufflé to serve our dinner guests. Rushed for time, I instructed them to start without me by gathering all the ingredients and opening up the cans of creamed corn.

With the front room finally tidy, I went to check on their progress. I walked in to find every drawer in the kitchen open as my daughters rummaged about, muttering, “I don’t know which one is a can opener. Is this a can opener?”

“No, I think it’s this thing,” the other one said, holding a corkscrew. “Or maybe it’s that thing there?” while pointing at a garlic press.  

Astonished, I interrupted. “What? Do you mean to tell me that neither one of you knows what a can opener looks like?”

I reached into the appropriate drawer. “This is a can opener!”

“Oh,” they said in unison.

“You’ve never used a can opener?” I demanded, only to be treated to shrugs and the onset of uncontrollable giggles.

“Oh, yeah. Go ahead and laugh.” 

I tried to impress them with the seriousness of the situation. “It won’t be so funny when The Big One comes and Daddy and I are squished under the entertainment center and you kids have to fend for yourselves. What will you do then? Huh? I’ll tell you what you’ll do. You’ll starve! I can see the story on the ten o’clock news now: ‘Local children starve to death in a kitchen surrounded by cans of food!’”

Now gasping for air, Chloe somehow managed to squeak out, “We won’t starve. We’ll just order a pizza.”

I ignored her. “This weekend, the two of you are going to learn about the kitchen, and we will have a special class in advanced knife work.”

Morning came and, after a half-hour of Show and Tell with the kitchen utensils and appliances, I presented my children with a stack of easy-to-cut French Toast.

I gave them a lengthy dissertation on proper knife holding and exact index finger placement for maximum pressure and then encouraged them to try it themselves. 

Chloe tried to flaunt her knife skills first, but soon food went flying off the edge of her plate. Samantha made a couple of feeble attempts and then disregarded my advice and began mashing up her French Toast like she had her pancakes. Again, more giggles.

I was ready to admit defeat when my seven-year old asked, “Mommy, am I doing it right?”

To be honest, I forgot my overlooked third child was even at the table. But now, I was thrilled to learn someone had actually been paying attention.

 “Why, yes!” I gushed. “You are doing it right! Wow, girls... look at your much younger sister. See how well she wields her knife? Why can’t you two be more like her? Excellent job, Peyton. Here, have some more syrup and powdered sugar.”

I knew very well I had violated the advice of every parenting book by comparing the children to one another, but I didn’t care, I was feeling desperate.

But my efforts were apparently in vain. Chloe and Samantha soon abandoned their utensils entirely and resorted to ripping off bites of French toast with their teeth, much like the feral children they were apparently meant to be.

The good news was that at least my youngest child would someday be able to enter civilized society.  In the meantime, I can only hope that video game designers can invent a game that teaches kids how to use a butter knife.

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.

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Learning in a foreign milieu, Madeleine exercises her language skills with flash cards. (Courtesy of the Belsie family)

China adoption diary: Mom struggles to keep daughter afloat in school

By Gretchen BelsieGuest Blogger / 10.08.12

Now that school is in full swing, I’ve begun to get a feel for where my daughters are on the elementary school learning spectrum. Each new homework assignment helps me pinpoint, with growing accuracy, just where they are paddling in the great churning sea of knowledge. Fifth grader Grace is currently grappling with rudimentary experiments with rocks and minerals, perfecting her cursive writing, and memorizing the location and spelling of the major cities of the Eastern United States.

Let’s just say we were both caught off guard by Biloxi, Miss.

For Madeleine – with only three months in America and scant skills in English – the experience of acclimating seems overwhelming to onlookers and concerned family members alike. Yet I am proud to say that she has never complained about going to school or resisted the routine of boarding the big yellow bus and spending the day in her Sheltered English Immersion classroom just a mile up the road. She’s not the happiest on rainy days that cut into her recess time on the monkey bars, but other than that, she appears willing to give this American school thing a try.    

Grace and I had worked with her all summer, trying to help her amass a reasonable number of recognizable vocabulary words. Each morning, we’d drill the words using picture flashcards, and as the total grew, we all felt the joy of forward movement toward the far-off goal of “understanding English.” 

The afternoon reward was a celebratory trip to the local municipal sprinkler park.

But despite our most concerted efforts, Madeleine’s performance at the pre-school registration test for non-English speakers left a lot to be desired. The short oral test, administered by a jolly Hispanic woman with a heavy accent, lasted all of two minutes. The result? Madeleine identified pictures of an apple and a fish, but was unable to answer the question “What is your name?” Older sister Grace was the most disappointed of all.

That was then, but this is now: the same box of picture flashcards is now an old familiar friend. I can zip through the entire deck of nearly 100 cards at lightning speed and Madeleine doesn’t miss a trick. I’ve even begun to make my own flashcards with pictures cut from magazines so that she’ll be sure to recognize “strawberries,” “green beans” and “hair” in daily conversation.

So much for isolated nouns. Last week, the teacher sent home a small Ziploc bag of tiny word cards. The assigned drill was to help Madeleine create different sentences based on a basic pattern. As I got out the little cards and set them up on the coffee table, Madeleine seemed less than interested in working on the very thing she had done in class that day. But we persevered. Soon, she had unscrambled the cards and created “I like the yellow butterfly.” She read the sentence to me in her funny little voice, and for a moment, I felt tears coming.

All I could think of was “Is this where she is?” I knew she was proud of herself and felt a sense of accomplishment, but that one little sentence wasn’t even a blip on the screen of language competency.

Still, she could express herself, and despite the off-kilter pronunciation, it was music to my ears.

If working to increase English skills feels daunting, try explaining simple arithmetic concepts to someone who can’t understand your attempts in awkward Chinese. The most recent debacle was differentiating between the “greater than” and “less than” symbols in comparisons of number pairs. I had an unsuccessful go at charades.

Grace fell back on a favorite gimmick her second grade teacher had used: “Think of the ‘greater than’ symbol as a crocodile’s mouth. The hungry crocodile always points toward the bigger number.”   

Madeleine’s facial expression said it all. What do you mean by this word ‘crocodile’?”

We finally made some progress and the worksheet was completed, yet there was an uncertain peace about crossing that finish line. I consoled myself with the thought that there would surely be another opportunity to work on that concept – hopefully before a test.

A wise Chinese philosopher from the 5th century B.C., Lao Tzu by name, put it this way: “The longest journey begins with the first step.”

I believe he knew what he was talking about.

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.

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Up in the stands there's an Oriole mom despairing about her team and the Orioles princess onesie the team is hawking. Meanwhile, here, Baltimore Orioles' Nate McLouth hits a two run RBI double against the New York Yankees during the third inning of Game 1 in American League Division Series playoff baseball series in Baltimore, Oct. 7, 2012. (Reuters)

Orioles mom: There’s no princess in baseball, OK?

By Correspondent / 10.08.12

Maybe this is just long weekend grumpiness here.  Or maybe I’m still bitter over last night’s American League Division Series game between my beloved Orioles and the New York Yankees.

But waking up this morning, after jetting from Massachusetts to Baltimore so we could participate in the first Orioles post-season game in forever, only to sit through hours of rain delay, eight nail-biting innings, 40-degree weather and then a depressing last inning collapse by my Birds, there’s something bugging me more than even another Evil Empire victory.

It happened in one of the concession stands. Husband and I had gone there to get a T-shirt for Baby M. You know, consumer relief for the guilt of carting the 18-month-old down the east coast once again for our recreational whims.

We were thinking a little Matt Wieters or Adam Jones jersey. Instead, we found a different option for little girls: a pink, “Orioles Princess” onesie. And a smattering of other pink gear in the otherwise orange and black environment.

What? I exclaimed. There’s no princess in baseball!

But of course, there is.

We have written before about the tremendous power of princess culture in the lives of young girls. Our cover story about “Little girls or little women? The Disney Princess effect” explored how the prominence of a particular style of princess connects to sexualization and other challenges to American girlhood. Our guest blogger Rebecca Hains is a professor and expert in just this topic and has written about everything from Disney Princess prom gowns to the racial implications of the princess sorority.

But while the Disney Princesses – that pastel clique of Belle, Cinderella et al – may usually take the lead in princess culture, the phenomenon spills well beyond them. As was clear last night at Camden Yards.

For most people, I recognize, this is just not a problem. The baseball princess shirt is cute, as is the pink soccer ball or the pastel football jersey. And sure, in the grand scheme of world problems – such as more Yankees victories – the color or style of little girls' sports clothing seems pretty innocuous. Some people even praise this sort of gendered fandom. They say that if it takes a pink soccer ball to interest a girl in athletics, or to let her feel like the sport is hers, then all the better.  

But it seems lame, I must say, that something as connecting as cheering for a hometown baseball game has to become gendered. Instead of bringing girls and boys together, it teaches little girls that while some kids might dream of swinging a bat or throwing a ball, what’s cute for them is to become a baseball princess.

But who does… what, exactly? 

The poofy gown totally gets in the way of running in the outfield. The crown is way inferior to a batting helmet. And have you ever seen a princess break in a glove? Nope.

No, there are no princesses in baseball.

So we got Baby M a traditional orange Orioles shirt. Because that, we hope to teach, can be her color. Not just pink.

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Parenting styles are shaped by anything from religion and diet, to region or language. A couple walks with their baby in Mexico City, August 11, 2010. (The Christian Science Monitor/Melanie Stetson Freeman)

Parenting in Mexico: Concern versus prescriptive advice

By Staff Writer / 10.08.12

The first time I took my new baby for a walk in a park near our home in Mexico City, on a crisp sunny day last January that was probably about 55 degrees F, I had a woman rush up to me and inquire whether I should put another blanket on her.

Should I?” I thought, panicked. After all, I was a new mother.

But as winter turned into spring, the warmest time of the year here, and concerned parents and even concerned street cleaners would tell me my daughter needed an extra layer, I eventually realized that Mexicans overbundle – and they aren't shy about letting you know yours must be cold.

But there the unsolicited advice ended.

No one asked if I was breast-feeding, not once. No one asked what kind of stroller I had or whether I thought it was right to use a stroller in the first place. Blessedly, no one was telling me I needed to start looking at preschools already. The only thing anyone seemed to judge was whether or not I had an extra pair of socks on hand.

My daughter was very late to walk, and at 21 months still does not say much. I have had my moments, but generally I have not been worried. During one of those moments, however, when talking about this with a friend in the States, she mentioned that I might inquire about early intervention services.

Early intervention services? For reaching milestones late? Yes, she said, people she knows have accessed such help without even blinking.

Even if I wanted to, I have no idea where I would seek out such services here. I am sure they exist but definitely not in the mainstream. Parenting abroad definitely means that you may forgo some of the support built into the system at home. (Likewise, I have yet to find a pediatrician whose philosophy I fully embrace, so instead I crosscheck advice against my sisters and mom – none of whom remember anything and are of usually no help.)

But for the most part, the fact that a late talker here isn't necessarily viewed as something that needs immediate attention, or not engaging in conversations about whether certain strollers or gadgets have long-term emotional impacts, takes away a source of second-guessing in years that are already fraught.

Recently, like every other parent, especially those living abroad, I downloaded Pamela Druckerman's "Bringing Up Bebe," which compares parenting styles in the US to those in France, where she is raising her three children. Largely she finds a calm firmness in France, which she argues creates a group of better-behaved brood. I see parallels in Mexico. Of course there is anxiety here. But there seems to be less of an industry, which generates more self-doubt, which then creates the demand for more parenting books – and of course more unsolicited advice.

A friend of mine currently living here is from Berkeley, perhaps ground zero of mommy judgement. She says that raising her baby here this year has been liberating: She is left alone to follow her instincts and is not bombarded by others' opinions. She says that the only time anyone has questioned her parenting is on choice of attire for her daughter. 

While her girl is running around in sundresses, her Mexican peers are dressed in tights and pretty cotton sweaters. Parents also tell her she needs to bundle her daughter up. But even there, she says, she doesn't sense it is a statement or judgement call. "It comes from a place of concern," she says.

Albie dozes happily on Noah Zheutlin's bed, paying no heed to the no-dog-on-the-furniture house rule. (Courtesy of the Zheutlin family)

Rescue dog: Rule breaker or just plain cute? Pawing the line

By Guest Blogger / 10.05.12

Lately, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to be able to eat only when someone else offered me food, and then being able to eat only what they offered. In other words, I’ve been wondering what it’s like to be Albie, our half yellow lab, half golden retriever rescue dog.

When he first arrived about three months ago, he didn’t seem particularly obsessed with food. Perhaps he was just happy to have what seemed, at last, like a real home with people who loved him and thought he was the cutest thing since Shirley Temple sang "The Good Ship Lollipop."

But of late, Albie, now assured of our undying affection, has shifted his focus to all things edible, including a chipmunk he managed to snare, and which I managed to save, all while I was holding him on his leash. He’s quick.

He isn’t sitting next to us at the dining room table looking like Oliver pleading for a little more porridge – not yet, at least – but he does watch us eat, and when food is left out, he is displaying some deft opportunism.

A few nights ago, as we were cleaning up, Albie quietly circled the coffee table where we’d put out some noshes for friends who’d come over to watch the presidential debate. You could tell he was torn between retaining his self-control and going for the vanilla almond biscotti (one of my personal favorites).

Our kitchen is open to the family room, so he knew he was being watched. After about five minutes and a dozen circuits around the table during which he feigned disinterest, he quietly and gently made his move. Rather than the out-of-control lunge that you might expect of a dog driven mad by a food aroma he can’t resist, he carefully took one biscotti off the plate as if he were at high tea in "Downton Abbey."

I have to confess that little by little, we are giving way on some of the “rules” we thought we’d establish when Albie first arrived, mostly because he’s so darned cute when he breaks them. I mean, look at him doing homework with our son, Noah, on Noah’s bed (photo above). That’s the “no dog on the furniture” rule being flouted.

And I no longer try and stop him from jumping up, front paws on my chest, to greet me when I come home because his joy seems so unrestrained and it’s a welcome change from the general indifference that meets me whenever I walk in the door.

As for the no stealing food from counters and tabletops, well that’s proving tough to enforce, too. I’ve read that dogs have a sense of smell between a thousand and ten million times keener than a human’s, and that Labs have an especially keen nose, so they’re apparently at the higher end of that scale. It sounds like exquisite torture. Since I can hardy pass up a vanilla almond biscotti when I see one, I can’t blame Albie for cadging one when the aroma must be utterly intoxicating. At this rate, we may be drawing the line at no driving the car after midnight.

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.

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Giuliana Rancic and Bill Rancic attend an E! Network upfront event at Gotham Hall in New York, April 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

Giuliana Rancic's baby trains for Chicago Marathon

By Correspondent / 10.05.12

There’s a pint-sized nugget already training for next year’s Chicago Marathon (or some other race), according to celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic.

Yes, the E! News host and husband, who were hosting a Nike + Run Club event as part of the festivities leading up to the Chicago Marathon this Sunday, announced that next year, their baby Duke would run a marathon with them. In a jogging stroller, of course.

“We’re going to train next year,” Giuliana Rancic said. “And we’re going to stroll him the whole way.”

Right. 

Hear that, daughter of mine? Baby Rancic is going to let his parents push him in the Bob (or whatever other high-priced jogging stroller I’m sure they have) for enough time to actually train.

He’s not going to insist he’s hungry at mile four. (And if he does, I bet Giuliana will have remembered snacks).

He’s not going to shout “Done!” just as they’re pushing him up the super obnoxious hill in their neighborhood. Or “water,” even though there’s no way he’s actually thirsty at mile three.

He’s not going to scream just because his parents forgot to bring an extra sweater for him (it was warm when they started, really), or toss out the books that they’ve brought to keep him occupied.

I bet he’ll conveniently even stay light enough that running with the jogger doesn’t turn into the back-breaking, shoulder-wrecking, pace-slowing plod that might best describe our “runs” these days.

And maybe Baby Duke won’t insist, as soon as he can talk, that he would prefer to run himself, thank you very much.

Oh, wait.

Maybe he will do that last bit. 

As Giuliana says, she and Bill are going to encourage Duke to be fit. And it’s never too early to start that, they say.

Which is awesome.  The problem is... what’s physically advantageous for baby, we are learning in my household, does not always mesh with the sort of running we’d like to do. Sure, there are baby exercise classes and the joggers and all of that, but the blissful picture of happily striding with the contented baby? Not so much.

But no need to be a naysayer.  Kudos to the new parents for dreaming about long runs rather at all. When Baby M was a month old, all we were dreaming about was a full night's sleep.

As E! News and reality television aficionados already know, the Rancics have already struggled a lot for Duke, sharing with viewers years of infertility, a miscarriage, a breast cancer diagnosis and finally a pregnancy by surrogate.

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In comparison, I guess, the 26.2 might seem like baby’s play.

So we'll be eager to watch them go forth and train. Maybe it will help prompt us into gear, too.

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Applying for college is an expensive and overwhelming process these days. Studying in Newton, MA, Alexis Zelada concentrates on a sample SAT question during her Kaplan SAT Classroom Course, March 3, 2005. (The Christian Science Monitor/John Nordell)

College applications: Beyond test scores and competition

By Judy Bolton-FasmanGuest Blogger / 10.05.12

With much anticipation and a shot of dread, it’s time for some families of high school juniors and seniors to enter the college sweepstakes. Once a kid is knee-deep into her junior year of high school, the mostly self-imposed requirements to apply to colleges come fast and furious: SATs, SAT tutoring, subject test tutoring. AP classes, exams – midterms and finals. Everything is magnified in search of the Holy Grail at the end of sending out college applications – acceptance to a school you actually want to attend or bragging rights to the kinds of schools that accepted you.

Applying to college in rarefied circles – solid to upper middle class – is a virtual blood sport. The grueling psychological competition is explicitly and humorously laid out in a book I really liked called "Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College." The author, Andrew Ferguson, is a self-deprecating realist who manages to poke fun at, as well as take seriously, the business of shepherding your child to the threshold of his college dorm.

The fact is that 70% of high school seniors in the United States will go to college. Most of those seniors will not have cured cancer, written an opera or started a Fortune 500 business by the time they apply. They’ll be just like the zillion other candidates they’re up against at Fancy U. But bear in mind that 80% of college kids will happily matriculate at non-selective colleges – schools that offer automatic acceptance if you meet the minimum requirements. As my father used to say, “You can get a great education anywhere.”

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The rest of us well-meaning parents will shell out thousands of dollars for at least one of the following: SAT tutoring, regular subject tutoring, college coaching and application preparation. Here’s how it works at one extreme: An application boot camp can cost $14,000 for four days of marathon essay writing and interviewing strategies. If you’re willing to empty out your 401K, you can hire a private counseling service. The Cadillac of private college coaching can run up to $40,000.

SAT tutors in the Boston area can charge up to $200 an hour to prep a kid for “the test.” I’m glad I don’t live in the New York metropolitan area. SAT tutors in the Big Apple charge up to $425.00 an hour. In a New York Times article reporting on the fierce competition for perfect grades in high school, an anonymous parent at a tony private school in New York admitted to paying up to six figures in a given year for extra help in regular school subjects. That doesn’t count the steep tuition she already pays. I think my husband may be sitting on a pot of gold. Over the years he has saved us a bundle by tutoring our children in everything from calculus to biology.

Ferguson is at his wryest when he talks about the kitchen people – the folks who gather in the kitchen at a party to share war stories about their kids applying to college. In these clandestine conversations a parent would rather reveal the annual family income than her child’s SAT scores or GPA. Speaking of SATs – this is a test originally administered after the First World War to veterans with college aspirations. Somewhere along the line, the SATs garnered the power to make or break a college career.

I could go on about the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. This is the list that admissions offices love to vilify yet secretly pray for a top 20 spot. There’s the college essay, which demands an epiphany so wise, so rare, that most 17-year olds simply don’t have the emotional maturity to have earned it.

Overwhelmed yet?

In the spring of junior year, usually with a guidance counselor and with grudging parental input, a student creates “the list” of schools to which she might apply. The list is usually a mix of colleges for which a kid is a leading candidate and schools that are designated as “a stretch.” As a parent, you may look at up the admission statistics for your alma mater and shake your head in wonder at how you ever got into college.

At the core of every college application, job interview or personal relationship is the fear of vulnerability. Yet it’s vulnerability that gives us courage and compassion. Vulnerability begets connection; it keeps us honest. Vulnerability is important to show whether it be in the college essay or the alumni interview. Be human. You are multi-dimensional. And yes, you are not a test score.

I can remember Anna telling me that she didn’t need a campus full of valedictorians to feel academically fulfilled. During the process, she was also also wise enough to demonstrate to her mother that lists, whether it the US News & World Report or the college lists she generated, should be used sparingly and mostly for things like groceries.

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.

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Rushing from place to place never seems to gain you anything, says one mom. Mothers relax on the grass with their babies at Central Park during a warm day in New York, March 22, 2012. (Reuters photo/Lucas Jackson)

Slowing down and using time wisely lets one mom catch her breath

By Guest Blogger / 10.04.12

I pulled up to the 15-item line at the market and watched as a clerk came to open an adjacent lane. A man quickly pulled from a longish line into the new lane. The woman who had been ahead of him looked a little annoyed and then resigned. I caught her eye and asked, "Would you like to get in line here?"

She smiled, "No, thanks. I try not to be in a hurry."

"Me, too. It seems like it's just such a simple but good idea. It completely changes the way you interact with the outside world."

"Isn't that true," she replied.

It was so nice to discover a person with shared wisdom at the checkout line.

We chatted a bit more over the National Enquirer rack. Then we exchanged ideas on the little things we do to keep to that philosophy, such as starting out a few minutes early on every car trip, allotting enough time for tasks, or just stopping ourselves from hurrying when it's not really necessary.

When my kids were little, I would point out drivers who were weaving in and out of traffic and being rude or careless. Then I'd show them that same driver right next to us a few miles later. It helped them see that all that rushing often gets us nowhere faster. Now, as teenagers, they point out those same kinds of drivers to me.

Then, in the checkout line, a woman with only two items came in behind me and I urged her to go ahead of my 14-item cart. The "not in rush" woman and I had not finished visiting, and the two-item woman seemed so pleased and surprised.

I have a fairly busy life with work, two teenage children, and a house and yard to keep up. But none of this is helped by seeing myself as always in a hurry.

"So stressed" has become the generic No. 2 greeting these days: "How are you doing?" "Oh, I'm so stressed out." We often respond even before we assess our level of stress. It has become automatic – as has this concept of ourselves as being in a big rush.

To break out of this takes a bit more than just changing one's self-concept. This change requires one to make new, if only slightly different, habits. In addition to having a small time cushion of five or 10 minutes, it helps to be realistic about the time required for various tasks. If the concern is that you'll have too much time to waste at the other end of a trip, carrying a bit of paperwork is a good idea.

Because I write, I'm happy to have a few minutes to jot down some ideas, reread a work in progress, or fill a journal page. But anyone can carry a book to read or a notebook in which to make lists. Any extra time can be well used.

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.

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