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Blogger Lisa Suhay came home to find Norfolk, Va. Sheriff's Officer Nickolas Johnson on his motorcycle looking like a sentry, guarding three squirrel pups fallen from a nest and struggling in the street. (Lisa Suhay)

Compassion Games: Survival of the kindest right at my front door

By Lisa SuhayCorrespondent / 09.14.12

As parents, we spend so much time being told we must work to make our children smarter, faster, better, stronger, and leaner, there’s some relief in a “reality game” being played out over the next week in Seattle:  The Compassion Games - Survival of the Kindest.

There may not be gold medals, but organizers and parents hope the result will be a community populated with those who have hearts of gold.

It’s great to see a national movement that adds "be more compassionate" to the list of parenting to-dos.

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The event challenges residents to act and inspire their neighbors and children to make their community a safer, kinder, better place to live through volunteerism and random acts of compassion.

The games originated in Louisville, Ky. with Mayor Greg Fischer who was following the Charter for Compassion created by 2008 TED Prize winner Karen Armstrong.

Fischer is part of the international Compassionate Cities campaign, an international movement to enact The Golden Rule around the world. Fisher then threw down the gauntlet challenging other municipalities nationwide to out-good-deed them: “I’ve said from Day 1 that we’re going to pursue being recognized as the most compassionate city in the world – and if that prods other cities to try to outdo us, then ‘Game On.’ In a competition centered on compassion, everyone wins!”

Compassionate Louisville participants amassed over 90,000 volunteers performing over 100,000 hours of community service during its one-week Give a Day program in 2012.

Seattle is the first to accept the throw-down in this fight to the friendliest and their goal has a twist, engaging children and families.

And Rita Hibbard who has stepped-up in a big way after her community suffered a double tragedy on the same day in May of this year at two separate coffee houses. In one the man was captured after killing four and leaving one person critically injured inside Cafe Racer, a peaceful coffeehouse in the city's University District. A second shooting, about a half-hour later near downtown Seattle, left a woman dead, according to published reports.

In one incident the shooter was described by Hibbard as “a mentally ill man who felt shut out”

“Since then,” she says, “I hear so many people saying ‘I want to do something, but I don’t know how or where to start.’ So this is a way to make it easier for everyone to get engaged.”

 Part of that support effort comes from a Seattle group called the Community of Mindful Parenting, “an online community of expectant moms, parents, grandparents, extended families and friends with the goal to nurture powerful relationships between parents and their children.”

Their goal is to empower parents of children under 8 years old to become more effective, mindful and compassionate in raising their kids. They offer classes in Listening Mothers and Reflective Parenting, for long-lasting emotional health.

I just signed myself up for SuperBetter, which is free, and gave it a test drive. It’s not what I expected and that’s a good thing.

I’d expected it to be another smarmy video game and instead it’s a really unique concept that I am going to talk to my sons (ages 8, 13, 17 and 18) about tonight.

The game is designed to bridge the virtual and real worlds via “power packs” and “challenges” that have all ages doing everything from Googling pictures of their favorite things to promote emotional resiliency, to stretching, writing thank you notes and getting out there and rolling up their sleeves for charities like The United Way's public service projects.

As a mom who knows her high schooler needs community service credits as part of graduation requirements this is the best news I’ve had all week. It’s made better by being something I think we can transplant to our city as a family and community effort.

Louisville and Seattle may be kind, but we a pretty tight military and university community here in Norfolk, Va, and I think we could well be the next big winner of the Compassion Games.

Just this morning I had an example of why our city should participate when I returned home from walking my son to school and saw Norfolk Sheriff’s officer Nickolas Johnson was on his motorcycle looking like a sentry in front of my house. I was expecting the worst, and instead found he had spotted three  squirrels pups fallen from a nest and struggling in the street. He’d called it in to Animal Protection and was standing guard, directing traffic around them.

Let my City Council be forewarned. There’s a new Sheriff in town coming to ask everyone to play nice and put compassion on the agenda.

Rescue dog Albie and Wilson's puppy play-date was brimming with romp and shared territory. Hanging out in the backyard and sharing toys indoors, the two labs bonded quickly. (Peter Zheutlin)

Rescue dog: Albie breaks into new territory, puppy play date

By Guest Blogger / 09.14.12

When the good people at Labs4Rescue, through whom we adopted Albie, called and asked if we could help another Lab in need, we said, “yes,” of course. It wasn’t a big request.

A chocolate Lab, who’d come north from the same part of Louisiana as our pup, was going to be fostered in a home not far from ours until a permanent home could be found. But the foster “mom” couldn’t get to the shelter before it closed on the assigned day. Could we pick up Wilson and keep him with us for a few hours?

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When my wife, Judy, and I came home with Wilson we weren’t sure what to expect. Would Albie turn on him in a fit of jealous rage? Would he get territorial about our house and his toys? Would these two male Labs get along or get into a fight? In short, it was just like any other play date we’d arranged for our boys when they were little.

At first, Wilson and Albie could barely contain their excitement. In the backyard they jumped on each other, nipped one another, growled and took turns trying to show each other who’s boss. New to having a dog, it can sometimes be hard to discern true aggression from merely aggressive play, but for the most part it seemed like roughhousing with a few brief moments of, “Hey, that hurt.”

Once inside, we gave them both dinner, making sure to put down separate bowls at the same time and well apart from one another. Then, happily, things settled down. You could almost imagine the two of them, like brothers, sharing the house in quasi-equanimity. As the father of two boys I can vouch that general tolerance interrupted by occasional moments of true aggression just about sums up life with two boys, so this tableau seemed quite familiar. They played some more -- more gently than we saw outdoors -- and they alternately ignored each other and competed for affection; patting one on the head inevitably brought the other.

But the moment of truth came when Wilson helped himself to Albie’s favorite chew toy, which, fortunately, is not our sofa (though he helped himself to that, too, making himself right at home where Albie is forbidden to go). How many of our kids’ play dates ended over the enigmatic concept of “sharing”? How many tears have we seen shed over the equally enigmatic concept of “taking turns”? It was hard enough getting those concepts through to our children; it was surely not something that could be explained to a dog. Remember how proud you felt when your toddler first showed signs of generosity with things he treasured? When, instead of a tantrum, she responded to another kid taking a prized toy by busying herself with her second favorite? Those were occasions for heaping praise.

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Well, I am very proud to say that Albie was perfectly content to let Wilson wail away on his chew toy, and he didn’t even flinch when Wilson plopped himself down on Albie’s L.L. Bean dog bed (and later on our bed here Albie is also not allowed). Is there any doubt that this is attributable to excellent parenting? And while I’m being the proud, pat-myself-on-the-back Daddy…as readers of these columns know, last week we had a growing concern about Albie barking and growling at visitors.

Well, I’m happy to report that the refrigerator repairman was here today, and Albie was totally chill (no pun intended). I think we’re making progress.

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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Instagram is no longer exclusive to AT&T and can now be accessed on smartphone models besides the iPhone; A “how- to” demo is taught in New York, April 9, 2012. (Karly Domb Sadof)

Instagram: An app for parents to keep up with their teens

By Guest Blogger / 09.14.12

I first heard about this little social-networking giant when my then-14-year-old suddenly seemed to be taking a serious interest in photography.

Since then, I’ve come to see Instagram as more like the next Facebook than just another cellphone app (FB was smart to acquire it!). It’s almost game-like because it blends photography and socializing in a playful way, and only partly because of all the fun filter options that, with a single click, can almost make a snapshot look like art (then click again to undo and try another look).

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Further adding to its appeal – and this is huge, now, especially for young people – is that it’s on their phones, making digital socializing much more accessible at school and everywhere else. Seems like pure genius to me (I’ve had fun playing with it too).

According to fellow parent Michelle Meyers at CNET, Instagram is also a major workaround for kids under 13, “kept off Facebook by their well-intended parents” – even though they’re supposed to be 13 to use Instagram, too. Their Instagram use is even more elusive because mobile (and now available to Android phones as well as iPhone, iPads, etc.). Though most of them probably have nothing to hide (my son and his girlfriend both followed me the minute I set up my account, seemingly delighted I did), parents can encourage them to turn on the privacy setting that lets them pre-approve “follow requests” so that only their friends can follow them and see the photos they post – my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid shows you how to do that and take a couple other privacy precautions at his

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As for the numbers, Michelle at CNET cites Nielsen data showing that Instagram is the No. 1 photo site among 12-to-17-year-olds, with “1 million teens visiting the site during July,” beating out Flickr, the No. 1 photo site overall (“Nielsen doesn’t categorize Instagram as a social network” site). [See also "Why Facebook for under-13s is a good idea" and "Parenting in the digital age: Major insights."]

 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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Jessica Simpson, during the Katie Couric ABC program, showed a baby picture of her little daughter, Maxwell, who happened to be wearing a yellow bikini, Sept. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Disney-ABC Domestic Television, Ida Mae Astute)

Jessica Simpson, Levi Johnston: bikinis, guns, and babies … oh my

By Correspondent / 09.13.12

Thank goodness for the Levi Johnston baby and Jessica Simpson’s baby bikini picture. Even Nick Lachey is helping me out today.

Because I’ll admit it: with baby No. 2 on the way, we’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed at my house. Not that we’re not excited. Really.

It’s just that....  I kind of used up all the parental planning with Baby M. Now we’re just tired. (Sorry, second children out there.) So do we have a name picked out? Cute little outfits in the closet? An idea of where this kid will sleep?  Nope, nope, more nope.

So you can imagine my relief when I checked the news today and found guidance in the celebrity world.

First up, Levi Johnston, the Alaskan who might possibly have been the most relieved man in the country about Sara Palin’s 2008 vice presidential loss.

Remember, Mr. Johnston and Palin daughter Bristol were an item when it became known to the voting public that the unmarried Bristol was pregnant.  The two youngsters appeared in many a campaign portrait, talking about how they had decided to keep the baby and get married. But then Palin and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain lost, Bristol and Levi split, Bristol had son Tripp, and Bristol started a reality show.  Or something like that.

Then it became known that Johnston had a new pregnant girlfriend, Sunny Oglesby. (He said he “actually loved” this one.  Nice.) And today, we hear that the couples’ new baby girl has arrived into the world and – as promised – she is named after a gun. Awesome, right? Breeze Beretta is the name. (Beretta is the gun part, for all you other pacifist North Easterners out there.)

I e-mailed Husband immediately.  Look, I wrote, we’re not stuck with the celebrity names of Apple or Shiloh!  

He has ignored me.

But what to do with outfits? Or lack thereof? Here is where one of our favorite pregnant-turned-mama celebrities comes in. Just when you thought the critiques of Jessica Simpson’s procreating body were at an end, now we get a Simpson baby picture that has sparked new controversy.

See, during an interview with Katie Couric, Ms. Simpson apparently showed a baby picture of her little daughter, Maxwell, who happened to be wearing a yellow bikini. The onlookers were appalled. Cute? No!  Outrageous!  Who puts a baby in a bikini? They asked.

Everything that is wrong with the sexualization of young girls and inappropriate clothing is wrapped up into this one Simpson baby picture, if you go by the reaction. The yellow bikini, they said, was even worse than that bikini onesie of which we’ve heard so much.

Hey, I’m impressed that the woman gets clothes on the baby at all. At our house we’re having a shirt strike. Whatever, I figure, the weather is still warm.

But at least I have some fashion ideas for Baby 2. 

And then, of course, there’s the new Nick Lachey baby. In case you hadn’t heard, singer Lachey and his wife Vanessa Lachey had their first child yesterday.

RELATED: Are you a 'Helicopter Parent?' take our QUIZ!

(Connection, for those of you who try to ignore all this sort of thing:  Mr. Lachey is the ex-husband of Jessica Simpson. Coincidence? Hmmmmm.)

The name is Camden John Lachey. 

There’s not a whole lot to say about that one, really.  Just that it turns out that people have babies every day, even the rich and famous people. And somehow, they make it all work. Ish.

Which, I’ve decided, is my celebrity takeaway for the moment: I can simply stay in pregnancy denial for another few months. 

Happy Beretta-Maxwell-Camden Day.

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Chicago teachers strike: A woman pushes a stroller past a group of public school teachers picketing outside Amundsen High School, Sept. 10, 2012. The school is one of more than 140 schools in the Chicago Public Schools' "Children First" contingency plan, which feeds and houses students for four hours during the teachers strike started by the Chicago Teachers Union Monday. (AP)

Chicago teachers strike: Mom’s long view of city’s work stoppages

By Guest Blogger / 09.12.12

In the 1980s I covered three Chicago teacher strikes as an education reporter for a community newspaper. Today, 25 years after the last strike I reported on, I am watching as a parent.  

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what is different about this strike, and I’m not sure that watching it from this parental angle is what makes it different. Two things have changed: In the 1990s, most of the issues were around salaries and benefits. And in those days parents were largely on the sidelines and the children were in the middle.

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Today, both the teachers and the Chicago Board of Education say that it’s no longer about the money. It’s about class size, standardized testing, charter schools, and teacher evaluation.  It’s about a steady stream of policies – from charter schools to more tests to abruptly shutting down schools without parent involvement. Parents understand gang boundaries; the suits downtown do not. 

Parents get it. Most have experienced that hollowed out feeling on the first day of school when leaving a wide-eyed six-year-old in a classroom with 35 other six year-olds and one adult. We learn about “high stakes testing” when we see the 10-year-old worry over a test that will determine whether or not he or she gets into a selective enrollment middle school, which would ensure a similar enrollment in high school, which would have a direct impact on where he or she went to college. For some kids, it determines whether or not they go to college.

And they want more tests? Parents see how these tests shape their education long before they even have to take them. Preschoolers and kindergarteners suffer lockdowns with no recess, quiet lunches, no music, or dancing, or loud talking while the Big Kids take the test. They practice filling in Scantrons and watching the clock in first grade. I told my frustrated first-grader to take his time with his math homework, and then learned he was just practicing timed tests. We understand “Race to the Top” better than our elected officials think we do.

When the 1987 strike ended, some say it was parent outrage that forced the two sides to settle. But that happened three weeks into the strike. Parents have been angry about tests and class size for years, and seeing this taken to a national discussion has been somewhat cathartic.  

On the third day of the current walkout, parents from the private University of Chicago Lab schools – where Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his kids – joined teachers on the picket line at the school where Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent his kids before he went off to Washington. They volunteered at the hastily organized camps in a nearby neighborhood club for parents who don’t want to cross the picket line. “Our teachers don’t get subjected to these evaluations and our kids don’t get tested the way they do in public schools,” said a parent volunteering at the camp whose children attend the Lab schools and not public schools. She just wants to support parents in this crisis.

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Apparently Mr. Emanuel’s disconnect extends beyond public schools teachers and parents.

These past few days have been difficult as parents scramble for short-term solutions and pray for longer ones. I won’t predict how long the teachers will stay out, or what the outcome will be, but I hold out hope, remembering that the long strike in 1987 resulted in school reform. That reform created Local School Councils (LSCs) where parents worked with teachers, they hired (and fired) their principals, and approved the school budget. The long-term result is that parents are very involved and have a lot invested in the issues on the table. Mayor Emanuel doesn’t understand that the outrage of parents won’t come three weeks into the strike; it’s already there.

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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Camie Goldhammer, chairman of the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition, held her daughter Johanna, 6 months, after testifying before the Seattle City Council, April 9, 2012, on a municipal law that would make it illegal to discriminate against public breastfeeding. (AP)

Breastfeeding professor: Students get lesson in nursing debate

By Correspdondent / 09.12.12

So, an American University assistant professor breastfeeds her baby in class. Before you know it, there’s a Washington D.C.-meets-academia scandal at hand, complete with dogged journalists, passive-aggressive official responses, outraged defensiveness, female body parts, and a nice dose of commentary about concepts like “white privilege” and “gendered essentialism.”

It all makes me incredibly tired. And squeamish.

Not, mind you, because of the breasts involved. No, it seems to me that we should just get over our cultural issue with those. (And that goes for the people who don’t think women should be seen nursing their babies, as well as for the in-your-face, here’s-my-breast lactation soldier. I’d venture that we can all just relax.)

But squeamish I feel. 

In large part, I’ll admit, this is because the student journalists involved in this kerfuffle (“The Eagle,” the university’s student newspaper, plays a leading role) remind me of my own career as a college gumshoe, and it makes me want to cover up my ears and say “la la la” until the image goes away. 

But there is unease for other reasons. When I read assistant professor Adrienne Pine’s essay on the website, entitled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet,” I couldn’t help but feel that somehow we’re all missing the point.

To back up here, in case you missed the news reports about this: About a month ago, on the first day of her course “Sex, Gender & Culture” (I love that detail), Professor Pine, a single mother, woke up to find her baby daughter with a fever. Stuck without child care – she didn’t want to bring a sick baby to day care – Pine had the choice to either cancel class or take her daughter to work with her. She chose the latter.

So, the baby spent the 75-minute class either on Pine’s back, crawling around the floor, or being held by a teaching assistant. At one point, Pine nursed the infant. 

“When Lee grew restless, I briefly fed her without stopping [the] lecture, and much to my relief, she fell asleep,” Pine wrote in her essay. “The end of class came none too soon, and I was happy to be able to take the bus home and put my sad baby in bed where she belonged. It seemed like things had gone as well as they could, given the circumstances.”

But then a college newspaper reporter e-mailed.  And here, Pine gets snarky.  See, according to Pine’s recount of the e-mail, this reporter, Heather Mongilio, asked to talk about what happened in class, while saying that she understood “the delicacy of the matter and I do not want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Pine wrote that she was “shocked and annoyed” at the e-mail’s anti-woman implications, that nursing her baby would be considered “delicate” or “uncomfortable.”  Later, as Ms. Mongilio pursues her story – even having the nerve to try to interview Pine in person! What shoddy journalism they’re teaching over there – Pine becomes ever more offended, writing disparagingly about how the young reporter called her breastfeeding in class an “incident” and how the student newspaper overall was anti-feminist. (She quoted a rather unfortunate and unrelated date rape column to prove her point.)

Meanwhile, the university has not appeared particularly pleased with its professor, noting in classic institutional language that perhaps sick babies do best at home. According to the Washington Post, here’s part of the university’s position statement: 

“A faculty member’s conduct in the classroom must be professional. Faculty may maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom by taking advantage of the options the university provides, including reasonable break times, private areas for nursing mothers to express milk, and leave in the case of a sick child.”

There’s a lot wrong with all of this.

Firstly: Sure, the young reporter’s questions show a good deal of naiveté. Just because breastfeeding involves breasts doesn’t mean that it is an uncomfortable topic. And just because a situation involves breastfeeding doesn’t mean that it’s really about nursing – here, for instance, we have many deeper issues about women’s employment, child care access, and work-family balance, particularly for single moms. 

But the journalist is a student. It’s hard to blame her for not navigating in the most academically-accepted or progressive way what is surely a culturally fraught topic. After all, we're in an environment where a woman nursing her toddler is featured on the cover of Time magazine and a woman nursing her baby is kicked off a Delta flight. 

Then we have the professor, who, understandably, seems annoyed that this personal experience has become so publicized. But do we have to get all nasty about it?  Pine wrote that she had a disinclination to use her daughter as a teaching tool, which, again, I get. But why not, once the baby’s in class, anyhow?  Rather than getting her back up, Pine could have used the chance to have an open, detailed, and kind conversation with a journalist who had a mouthpiece to the university community.

And then there’s the university response. In a lot of ways, it seems pretty darn progressive. In its statement, it marks off all the boxes of a good-for-families workplace – flexibility, nursing facilities, and so on. But clearly, in this situation, its policies weren’t enough.

So where does that leave us?  With everyone peeved. 

Everyone involved in this story seems to be trying to do the “right” thing. But there is massive disconnect, along with a good dose of frustration.

And this, perhaps, hits at the root of the difficulties surrounding parenthood in today’s working American culture. Which is why, I think, I am squeamish.  By turning this into the latest breastfeeding controversy, with outrage all around, we are missing a chance to have a deeper, inclusive discussion about those unresolved challenges.

In this July 30 photo, Dave Krepcho, director of the Second Harvest Food Bank in Orlando, Fla., looked over a supply of goods that had arrived at the food bank. In the past four years, food distribution to 500 pantries, shelters, and other relief agencies in the area has increased 60 percent. (AP)

Poverty rate unchanged: Mom says hard times teach her kids compassion

By Lisa SuhayCorrespondent / 09.12.12

The overall poverty rate in 2011 remained at a record level – 15 percent of the American population at or below the annual income of $23,021 for a family of four, new data from the US Census shows. It was statistically unchanged from the 15.1 percent in the previous year. Blogger Lisa Suhay comments on how families in that 15 percent cope, and a bi-product for her kids is compassion.

I just spent several exhausting, sweaty days helping friends divest themselves of a huge chunk of their worldly goods. They were moving into a small condo across town, having hit a crater in the financial road and been forced out of their rental house.

I saw the excited avarice in the eyes of my sons as they were gifted with DVDs, books, and clothing. And I had to take the time to help them understand that these gifts came from someone’s misfortune and the price of those things was compassion for those in dire straits.

After the talk, I didn’t have to ask my sons to toil in the dead heat (the electricity in the neighbor’s house was shut off so there was no air conditioning) with us as we packed, sorted, and loaded vehicles bound for various places like Hope House Thrift Store and The Park Place Clothes Closet. They could have given all of their belongings to friends, put things on consignment or eBay; instead, the family chose to let others benefit from their loss.

"I think it's easier to part with some of these things if I know someone will really love them like we did," my friend said. "It helps to know they're going to good use."

It's interesting how unforgiving society has become about people who lose their homes, businesses or can't pay for something. It reminds me a bit of when children learn to play chess. As soon as a beginner slips up and moves a piece wrong, the opponent is almost sure to shout, "You can't make that move! He's a cheater!"

I always have to stop the action and explain that sometimes people make errors, but that doesn't mean they did it to make us unhappy or to cheat us.

My choice to be a freelancer so I could stay home five years ago when our youngest, now eight, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Aspergers Syndrome came back to slay us financially as the economy withered.

Last month we had one terribly rough week that left me counting my pennies at the supermarket. I came up short and had to ask the cashier to remove an item from my purchase. Two women behind me were annoyed that I was holding them up. "Just put it on your card," one said, exasperated. "You'll just have to come back for it later." The other woman muttered, "Jerk."

I had my 8-year-old with me, learning on the front lines, and had to turn to them and clarify that I simply didn't have a penny beyond what was in my purse, and we would not be coming back for the ice pops I had thought we could afford that day. I apologized and blinked back a big old flood of tears.

The women were unmoved. "Well, next time learn to count before you hold everyone up!"

Being humbled is a huge advantage in life because it opens your eyes and shuts your mouth. You really can't experience that kind of thing week in and week out, that kind of gutting, and not stand by a neighbor who is in financial disgrace and distress.

Before sinking to the no-ice-pop level, I might have tended to avoid people in financial trouble because it's just too scary. Fear tends to hide our social skills. When it's a neighbor, it's literally too close to home.

Very few neighbors helped; only a few even spoke about those moving. Part of that may have been an effort to be polite, but mostly it reminded me of the Shirley Temple film "The Little Princess" where the child goes from rich and adored to impoverished and shunned when her military father is reported missing in action and her bills go unpaid. She was still the same child, only now she was scorned, an outsider, perhaps carrying the disease of poverty.

The writer Douglas Adams would have called it a case of a "somebody else's problem" field. In his books, when something that is just too strange or frightening appears, people automatically don't see it because their brains protect them.

Having experienced joblessness, a brush with foreclosure and making pasta into an ongoing food adventure, I should probably be one of the main somebody-else's-problem-field generators, but I have always been pretty socially backward about most things. I am a journalist. We run toward fire and explosions, dodging all the sane people who are trampling us trying to head the other way.

You might even say I see life through everybody's-problem glasses.

When you run toward problems, you get the chance to report back what you saw. Hence I am here to tell you that in the end, my friends survived the social apocalypse.

They are good people, and they, like our nation, will rise again, stronger, better and even more giving for having been humbled, hurt, and doubted.

Until then, while we may not be comfortable running to help, perhaps at least we can steel ourselves not to walk away from our neighbors when they need us.

Morning wars – those important negotiations about food, clothing, and homework – can get out of hand if Mom doesn't find the right regimen for détente. There's six times the value in finding that regimen for Karoline Byler – mother of sextuplets – shown here shuffling her kids into the first day of kindergarten Aug. 20, 2012. (Kathleen Flynn/Tampa Bay Times)

“Morning wars” détente: Surviving bad socks and permission slips

By Guest Blogger / 09.11.12

In the front hall of a grade school one morning, I heard one mother say to another, "She's the person you should talk to." She was pointing at me. The woman she spoke to was upset. As the school psychologist, I am often sought out in such situations. After 20 years in this school, I'm asked for advice on everything from how to cure nose picking to easing the hurt of family breakups.

In this case I found that the mother was upset over one of the most common parental struggles: "the morning wars," those upsetting conflicts over getting children off to school on time.

The first mother was right. I was the person to talk to. Not just because I was the school psychologist but also because I was a veteran of the morning wars. In fact, that very morning I had just come from the front – with my own children.

These battles arise for all kinds of reason. Often it is finding, as you run out of the house, that a permission slip is missing or a special supply is required for that day. I'm sure I'm not the only mother who has learned, at the last second, that an empty milk carton was needed for that day's art activity. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has scrambled around pouring a half gallon of milk into every little jar I could find.

Prepare the night before

Over the years I've heard many stories from parents, most about clothing, breakfast and papers. From these parents I have also learned a few solutions. The overriding one is to do everything you possibly can the night before. A common clothing issue is having only the scratchy T-shirt clean enough to wear, then having to dig in the dirty clothes basket for the least dirty soft T-shirt. Or it may be the wrong socks.

I'm certain there were knights who spent less time looking for the Holy Grail than I have spent looking for socks that didn't have that uncomfortable seam in just the wrong place. Wearing them inside out helped a little. Then my daughter turned 6, which seemed to cure a lot of things.

Years ago I heard a well-known psychologist speak about his own children's resistance to getting dressed and how he once took them to school in their pajamas (no wonder we psychologists have the reputation we do). Nowadays such a strategy might get you reported to the authorities, even if it made you a hero to other parents.

Choose your battles

At a recent parenting workshop, a mother offered, almost apologetically, that she warms her daughter's clothes in the dryer. It makes them feel cozy and makes the child hurry to get them on before they cool off. The mother of a middle school student subscribing to the "choose your battles" approach occasionally allowed him to sleep in his clothes. She noted that he looked no different from his rumpled peers, and he passed the sniff test. Following the "do everything you can the night before" policy, a father shared his tip with glee: "My daughters have to set their clothes out the night before, or else I pick what they wear that day. And they know I don't have very good taste."

Battles over what to wear can sometimes be addressed by a simple housekeeping task. The mother of a first-grader rearranged the closet and drawers. Having a party section and a school section allowed the child to choose without being lured by one of those pretty little organza numbers.

The mother who was in the hall that morning did come talk to me. There had been a battle, with mom and daughter parting in tears. "I know it's silly, but I want to go into class and see that she's OK and tell her that I love her and that we'll work this out." I understood how she felt, but I couldn't offer her that option. Instead I went into the class and found her child playing happily with a classmate. The mother was relieved, and said she would try later to collaborate with her daughter on ways to make mornings go more smoothly.

Kids often have good ideas about the morning routine, though one mom reported that her child's suggestion was to put the toothpaste on the brush the night before (points for good intentions).

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Getting homework papers into the backpack the night before can prevent battles. Special places for such things as schedules and permission slips also help. Some families have a resource folder with information they will keep and a separate one for forms that need to go back to school.Getting kids to eat something nutritious is the battleground in many homes.One friend found a partial solution in the container section of the supermarket. She bought little plastic containers and measured out servings of cereal in some and ingredients for smoothies in others. It helped to have the children participate in choosing and preparing their breakfasts ahead of time.

Consistency is helpful

On some mornings, no matter what strategies you have in place, separation may be difficult. Transitions can be a big issue for little kids. From the comfort of their bed, from the dream world surrounded by their stuffed animals, from the familiar warmth of their home, from the arms of their loving family into what can be a challenging and stressful place – yikes! For these children, a consistent routine is often helpful. Set out clothing, have little containers of breakfast ready, have a special spot for backpacks and permission slips.

But on some days, no matter how well you are prepared, there will be morning wars. On those days the best strategy is to simply hold on to your sense of proportion. Life is short; childhood is shorter. Keep in mind that one morning, years from now, in a very quiet house, you'll wish you had a permission slip to sign at the last minute or a milk carton to empty into a dozen small jars.

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. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.

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A kid's "slave footprint" – how much forced labor in the global human trafficking economy is used to produce all her "stuff" – can surprise parents. There are alternatives to products that may be involved in human trafficking. Here...Maple Landmark, a family-owned toy factory in Middlebury, Vermont, uses sustainable resources and non-toxic paint to make toys for children. (Nicole Hill/The Christian Science Monitor)

Do you know your toddler’s "slave footprint"? Mine has 20 slaves

By Correspondent / 09.11.12

Apparently, I have 47 slaves.

This has come as quite a surprise to me. Like most comfortable and educated Americans, before a few months ago I barely realized that slavery – even as the somewhat more broadly defined “modern day slavery” – still existed. And if I did have a fuzzy idea about the forced labor and human trafficking that exists around the globe, I certainly didn’t think I had any hand in it.  I mean, I buy organic. I walk to the grocery story. I even had one of those "(Product) Red"  campaign Gap T-shirts, before I shrunk it. I’m a “good” consumer.

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But working on this week’s Monitor magazine cover story about sex trafficking, I came across a website supported by the US State Department that lets people find out their “slavery footprint.” Basically, you enter a bunch of information about your lifestyle – the rooms in your house, the sort of food you eat, and so on - and the super easy website shoots back the number of slaves you use, along with other information.

The results are sobering. But so is this: Of my 47 slaves, who is responsible for almost 20?  My toddler. 

I should have known I was in trouble when the website started asking me about bath toys. But I saw I was really in for it when I read questions about the number of dresses my 18-month-old baby owns, how many stuffed animals, strollers and soft toys, how many pairs of baby jeans and baby dolls. Every time I clicked – increasingly embarrassed – my slavery count ticked upwards.

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This was not exactly the image of sweet, innocent childhood that the various retailers of said products would like me to envision.
See, it turns out that many of the toys and baby products that fill American family homes are really bad for other families and kids – kids who live across the world in developing countries. While the nonprofit group Slavery Footprint, which launched the website last year with help from the US government, acknowledges that it doesn’t know whether your particular Winnie-the-Pooh romper was made by someone in slavery-like conditions at a Chinese sweatshop, or by a indentured child servant in India, it says has a pretty good idea of the averages. And those averages, such as the 1.9 “slaves” connected with Baby M’s diapers, are disturbing.  

Now, it’s easy to get hyperbolic about the idea of modern day slavery, and there’s a lot of hype about many of the terms surrounding global forced labor issues. (Our cover story zooms in on the way this sensationalism has impacted the fight against sex trafficking.) There are some experts who will quibble over what is “slavery” and what is a really horrible working situation.

But as a parent, it shouldn’t be much comfort to think that Baby’s favorite stuffed animal was made by a toiling 10-year-old girl far away in a dangerous and abusive sweatshop, even if that girl is not officially a “slave.”   

Although the Slavery Footprint website does not target specific brands, news stories over the past couple of years have reported about the child labor behind some of American kids’ most popular brands, such as Mattel, Fisher-Price, and Disney. (The brands involved usually say they were unaware of the conditions at their subcontracting factories and always vow to eliminate child labor from their business.)

Critics say that as long as children’s toy and clothing and diaper manufacturing takes place in countries with labor abuse records, our cuddly and cute products will inevitably be tainted. Baby will have a slave footprint.

So what to do?

The answer I've heard regularly is that parents can seek out ethical companies, those that sell sustainably sourced wooden blocks, for instance, or fair trade certified stuffed animals. These products are inevitably more expensive, but retailers count on buyers' desire to lower that slavery footprint as much as possible.

This is a fine approach. But I’d venture that another, perhaps healthier, reaction to the slavery footprint is to simply have less stuff.

The world’s system of forced labor, slavery, debt bondage, trafficking – all of these human rights abuses that involve the desperate living and work conditions of others – goes hand in hand with Americans’ desire to consume. A pattern of consumption, I might add, that studies have shown does us very little good.

We wrote a piece not long ago about a new book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Connecticut College, which looks not only at how Americans today have more things than ever before, but at how the sheer number of objects clutter our homes and stresses out our families.
Add this to the realization that little kids are just as happy – happier, often – with kitchen utensils or ice cubes or the objects they find in the yard or park than they are with the plastic (or even sustainable-helping-the-rainforest-wooden) toys showered upon them, and it seems like there’s a pretty easy way to lower your household’s slavery footprint.

Is this the right way to do it?  I mean, will impoverished children across the world be better off if the demand for their products decreases?  I’m sure that, like almost every question in this topic area, is the subject of much debate. 

But in the meantime, it’s worth considering whether you should give your kids less. 

As counter-cultural as that may be in today's US, it might well be better for the world.

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Choosing a college major is as big a job for students as it is for their parents. Soon-to-be college graduates share a colorful variety of messages on their mortar boards during summer commencement exercises Aug. 11, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. (Andrew D. Brosig/Texas Daily Life)

Choosing a college major: Parents have a balancing role

By Rex HuppkeChicago Tribune / 09.11.12

Parents are often told – by magazines, television news shows and Oprah – that they are doing things wrong.

Don’t give kids regular milk; give them organic or they’ll turn into mutant cow people. Don’t use plastic cups; they contain BPA, which gives children gills. Don’t keep your toaster so close to the bathtub.

But even if your kids are grown, gill-less and on their own in college, there’s still something you might be doing wrong. It involves preparing them to (hopefully) enter the workforce.

The thinking used to be relatively simple: Go to college, get a degree, and then you’ll find a job in your field. But between the bad economy and the diversification of job types available, today’s college students need more guidance to hone their skills and prepare to find work.

Elliot Lasson, executive director of Joblink of Maryland Inc., a nonprofit employment organization, recently wrote an interesting blog post on this subject. He highlighted several areas in which parents can provide advice.

One is balancing idealism with realism.

“When we talk about college students especially, they are going into the world to make the world a better place, to change the way things are, to rock the boat and change the status quo,” Mr. Lasson said in an interview. “And that’s great and parents need to support that idealism, but it has to be a balance. At the end of the day, if a kid wants to be able to move out and live independently, they’re going to have to pay the bills.”

To that end, parents and students need to remember that there’s a difference between a degree and skills. Companies are now less focused on what kind of degree you have and more interested in what abilities you can bring to the table – right now.

“Someone with a degree in English can’t hang up a shingle and say, ‘Hey, I’m a graduate of English from Northwestern University. Come talk to me,’ ” Lasson said. “What is it you can do? There are jobs involving writing skills – technical writing, writing for the Web – that did not exist even 10 years ago. The end-all now is how you leverage that degree in English or philosophy or whatever from Northwestern or Brandeis into something that you can actually use to be competitive in the job market.”

This requires considerable forethought. There may be critical job skills a student can hone well before graduation, but parents and students can’t wait until senior year to start identifying them.

“People still tend to think the person goes to college, they wander around and see what interests them, they get a major, they switch it a few times, and probably three months before graduating they think they’ll figure out exactly what to do,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “That won’t cut it anymore.”

Research is key to helping students figure out which of the 18 billion possible career paths might make the most sense. Carnevale noted that the glossy college catalogs students receive don’t come with charts that say what kind of money a person in a certain major might make and what jobs are available.

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