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Why Most Plastic–Even BPA Free–Isn’t Safe. Especially For Kids

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

It’s amazing I don’t have 3 arms and 4 eyeballs. While I was growing up, we regularly microwaved food in Tupperware containers. Sometimes we even covered it with Saran Wrap before putting it in, just to give us an extra boost of toxicity.

Nowadays, unless you live under a bridge (in which case you won’t likely have a microwave), we know better. Now we buy our kids expensive Sippy cups and plates with two important words that allow us to sleep at night: BPA-Free. But before you really go into your dream cycle, I have news that may keep you up, rethinking what you’re using.

According to a recent article in Mother Jones, the hoopla about BPA-free is only the beginning. Most plastics are apparently toxic, some even worse than BPA. And most contain synthetic estrogens–which you don’t want kids ingesting. But chances are, they are.

In case you have been living under that bridge and you don’t know: BPA is common plastic additive (bisphenol A), which mimics the hormone estrogen. It’s been linked to a long list of serious health problems.  We touch it every day. It’s on our ATM receipts, in most food packaging and it’s probably in the computer keys I’m typing on right now. You can’t really avoid it. That’s why I was so relieved to at least have BPA-free dishware for my kids. Until Mother Jones shattered my safety bubble.

Now granted, I go back to my childhood and know I am healthy, despite all the plastic and crap we ate. My parents wouldn’t let us eat sweet cereal, but plenty of my friends’ parents did. I would scurry over to their house after school and inhale a bowl of Frankenberry. In the 1970′s that same cereal caused a fecal frenzy when terrified parents saw their kids’ poop turn pink. No sh-t.

There is no end to the madness that products, consumerism and corporate greed can inflict upon you if you let it. I would have to build a yurt in my backyard and eat out of a glass jar, not made in China, to even begin to feel safe.

After reading the article in Mother Jones, I ordered glass mason jars with straws for my kids to drink out of. But I didn’t realize until they arrived that the straws are plastic. So there went that. I sent them back. Then I ordered a stainless steel plate, bowl and cup, only to realize Emmett will dump the cup over if it’s not contained. I could envision blueberry smoothie all over our new couch. And for $24 a set, I could go broke ordering multiple ones–not to mention the aggravation I’d face in explaining to Phil why I was once again changing all the kid dishware in our house.

“No more plastic!!!!!” I now scream at the dinner table as he puts down the noxious orange cup in front of Fia. It’s the equivalent to Mommy Dearest: “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!!!!” Only I’m saying it because I want to protect my kids, not beat or poison them.

But at the end of the day I realize that there is only so much I can do. Rather than drive myself completely crazy and leave my kids motherless because I’ve been committed to the psych ward, I decided to compromise: I went back to my good old plastic stuff, BPA-free, with my mind rationalizing that if I don’t put the products in the microwave (which I never did anyway) and don’t put hot liquids in them, my kids will hopefully be safe. At the very least, they (hopefully) won’t sprout a third eye or an extra bellybutton.

You have to draw some sort of line in the world of parental obsessing, right?

I also decided to teach Fia to drink out of our glasses and eat off our ceramic plates. She’s old enough to not break them. And I double-checked on the ceramic plates; they are not painted in China. Of course the one ceramic bowl Emmett loves, with a giraffe at the bottom, is painted in the land of toxic dumping. He already broke the zebra one, so I’m betting this one isn’t long for this world either. Soon I will get him to eat and drink from glass. It’s a higher priority right now than potty-training.

At the same time my obsession was in full force, I got an email from a company that makes stainless steel keys for kids to play with. Granted my kids are past that stage and never really played with keys–probably because I never gave them mine. But I know kids do love playing with keys. And after doing some research, I now know house and car keys contain high levels of lead and kids who put them in their mouth can end up with high lead levels in their bloodstream. So I thought this was a cool invention: Kleynimals. The key ring has 3 different keys in the shapes of animals. It’s made in the USA, non-toxic stainless steel and lead-free. I think I know what I’m getting for the next baby shower I’m invited to.

So my crusade to provide a safe environment for my kids goes in ebbs and flows. I get obsessive, then I calm down, and then something will ramp me up again. But I do think it’s important to know not just what is in your food, but also what’s in the serving ware.  From there you can make your own decision as a parent where to draw the line and how close you want to come to being put in a mental institution.

 How much do you know about toddler nutrition?

The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years

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How I Almost Missed My Mother’s Day

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Phil always takes Fia to school while I do the pickup. He walks her to the classroom, thus passing the board postings with sign up sheets and information about all that is going on. I find her on the playground and don’t walk past the boards. Which is why I got a call from Phil at 9:05 this morning wondering why I didn’t bring her to school.

“Are you aware there is some Mother’s Day tea thing you’re supposed to do with Fia this morning?”

“Um, no,” I said as I looked down at myself, still in my pajamas, while Emmett ran around in his diaper, snot pouring out of his nose. Leave it to me to mess up my own holiday.

“Well there is a 9:30 slot. I signed you up. You have to come right now. Bring Emmett with you and I will take him home until you get back.”

It figures it’s a day that Em has a cold and can’t go to preschool. I hate inconveniencing Phil. He writes from home so it feels like a slippery slope when I have to ask him for a favor. But in this case, he volunteered. Still, I was stressed about his potential annoyance of this event cutting into his workday.

I threw Emmett and myself together in exactly 243 seconds and bolted out the door.

I cursed traffic and myself for not checking the board. I thought, Maybe Phil should just quickly do it since he’s there already. Then I can do Father’s Day or something….I mean, will she really know the difference or care?

I got there at 9:34, handed off Emmett to Phil, (who luckily didn’t seem at all resentful), and ran in.

There was Fia in her pretty red dress and striped tights waiting for me. I was the last mom to arrive. She beamed and took my hand.

“Come Mama, first we do a work project together.”

(This being Montessori, I’m always curious about what they do during the day.)

Fia sat down at her table where her “cracker work” is. Now this is something she does every single day. Usually it’s her first task. It’s a tough one. You put 4 saltine crackers on the grid, then eat them. It’s only for the very brilliant. This little morning ritual cracks us up.

Every day, “Fia what work did you do?”

“The cracker work!” she says through giggles.

“Of course you did,” we reply in unison.

However, today the teacher and I agree that maybe we can find something slightly more interesting (albeit probably not nearly as challenging) for us to do together.   Fia picked a project where she had to match picture cards of baby animals with their mama’s. Appropriate since we are honoring Mother’s Day.

First up: An elephant. Whose baby is called a….. Baby elephant? (My guess). Nope, a calf.

Next: A horse, whose baby is called a…. Pony? (My guess). Nope, a foal. And mama is a horse? Nope, a mare. Dad’s a stallion. Oh right. 

Perhaps I should have stuck to watching her eat Saltines. I did manage to get the Kangaroo and Joey combo correct so all my schooling wasn’t for naught.

After we completed the work Fia again took my hand and brought me outside to a table. There, she served me cold tea with banana bread and fruit.

It’s amazing how small things like this can be so damn touching when you become a parent. I noticed her confidence in taking my hand and guiding me; her pride in telling her friends, “here’s my mom!” and her love, which is fully encompassing.

I am so happy I didn’t miss this little event. It’s a simple reminder that despite the daily schlepping grind, the diaper changing and snot wiping (at least for Emmett), the battling of traffic–and battles in general– it is a privilege be carry the title “Mom.”

When we were finished eating she gave me a card, neatly wrapped with a paper flower and bookmark she had made. In it there were sentences she had finished. “I like my mom because (fill in blank).” Her last line said, “My Mom is special because…she really really really loves me.” 

She will just never know how much…until she becomes a mom herself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. We are the luckiest club in the world.

Find fun, crafty projects your daughter can bond over,  here.

Mother's Day Paper Crafts: Cupcake Carnations
Mother's Day Paper Crafts: Cupcake Carnations
Mother's Day Paper Crafts: Cupcake Carnations

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Have You Ever Come Down With Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

I did. And not because I ate my poop. Or my kids’. Or even Wayne’s for that matter (though I am the one who scoops his box).

It began with Fia. She had a semi-mild fever, ranging from 100-102 degrees off and on for a few days. She would break out in splotches of hives as well, which is how her body sometimes reacts to a virus. Other than that, she was totally fine. She wasn’t tired or cranky and she wanted to play and do all her usual things. I was puzzled.

Going on day 4, I took her to the doctor. As soon as they looked in her throat they discovered the mystery cause. She never had the sores that often form on your hands and feet, thus giving this disease its name. This is the second time she’s had it though and I hear there are something like 54 strains. Each time you get one, you don’t get that strain again. So now she only has 52 or so to go (not to worry. This isn’t a contest to get them all. Most of us only get a couple). That’s one reason why adults don’t usually get it. We’ve all had a strain–or 5–when we were communing with other Petri dishes in our own preschool days, so typically that immunity pays off.

Before she was diagnosed I probably wasn’t as careful as I should have been in not eating or drinking after her, though I stand by my non-poop eating statement. After the doctor I became diligent. But it was too late. Whatever strain Fia had, I apparently wasn’t privy to in my childhood (and there is a new one that came out in 2012). I woke up 2 days after Fia was diagnosed feeling like I had razor blades in the back of my throat. The telltale sign is little red spots on your hard pallet. Check.  Fia was almost 100% better by then. I was down for the count. It hurt to eat or drink anything and the only thing I could do was take ibuprofen and wait it out.

Thank god my in-laws were in town. It was Fia’s spring break and my lucky one. They played with her while I rested. I wasn’t sick all the time. I would wake up with a decent amount of energy, run an errand and get suddenly wiped out.

But the real problem is the name of this virus itself suggests you should be confined to a leper colony: Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Imagine if the common cold was called the “Common Mucus Disease.” We’d all be walking around with a rubber bubble duct-taped around our body.

It can be transmitted a few ways: Oral contact with poop–which we’ve covered. It can be from trading blister fluids, which sounds like a blast, though we are a blister-free household.  And then there’s snot, which we do have a lot of. Emmett is to snot what Mt. Vesuvius and it’s spewing lava was to Pompeii. There seems to be a constant flow. So I suspect he probably picked it up from his 2 days a week at preschool and passed it along to Fia and we never knew he had it.

According to the CDC, this virus is often confused with foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which is a disease of cattle, sheep, and swine. However, the two diseases are caused by different viruses and are not related. Humans do not get the animal disease, and animals do not get the human disease. I guess that takes the possibility of me eating Wayne’s poop out of the equation. So at least that’s a relief.


pic of sick child via shutterstock

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College Prep. For Kindergarteners. Really.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Have you heard the news? It’s great. One school in Long Island is so hell-bent on making sure they produce college graduates, they are canceling their “kindergarten show” in order to prep these 5-year olds for the big wide world they will enter in, oh, a decade and a half.

You might expect this from an uptight, competitive school in Manhattan. Might. But on Long Island? Come on. It’s not even an outer borough.

The administrators at the Harley Primary School in Elwood, NY sent a letter to parents. This, after protests began on the school’s decision to axe what is equivalent to an end-of-year school play.  Here’s an excerpt:

“We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.” 


This take on it from Gothamist sums up what the school must really be going for:

“Gaining acceptance into a top school by 18, advancing quickly in a high-powered career by 25, developing a crippling addiction to pain pills by 32 and, if all goes well, a swift, stylishly-timed heart attack by 40. That’s efficiency.”

In all fairness, perhaps this little school in Long Island wants to make a name for itself and its students. Perhaps it is trying to be more like South Korea, which has one of the best education systems in the world, along with one of the highest student suicide rates in the world. Competition is cutthroat. Pressure is fierce.

I don’t blame them entirely for being worried about the next generation of kids. Many of the Millennials (and to some extent my generation, Gen-X) here in the U.S. have given us a crisis in confidence.  A minority of entitled slackers have made the majority fearful of becoming a country of deadbeats. But I’m not sure canceling a kindergarten show is the way to change that.

Anyone else care to second that thought?


pic of schoolteacher from

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Part 2: Can You Top This Sleep Training Saga?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

We left off yesterday with my friend Jennifer’s saga to sleep train her daughter. Eleanor is 2 1/2-years old and Cece is 4-years old. Both have been good sleepers. They share a room. But a few months ago Eleanor began to fuss. And Jennifer began to go in. Before she knew it, they were playing musical beds in the night, no one was sleeping, she and her husband were fighting, and everyone was miserable. Something had to give.

So they hired a sleep consultant, Renee Wasserman, from SleepHeadSolutions, to give them a plan that would work. For more on all this, and all the drama it entailed to reach this point, you can refer to Part 1.

Now it’s the second night and Jennifer is hoping it will be better than last night’s fiasco. So here she is again, with the play-by-play:


We get a late start to bedtime.

As usual, Cece falls asleep right away.

As usual, Eleanor starts screaming under the door immediately.


I realize we forgot to give Eleanor her antibiotics. Yes – we’re sleep training this poor child while she’s on antibiotics for an ear infection. In our defense, we’re halfway through the prescription and she hasn’t complained about her ear in a week. And we’ve found that there’s always, always a good reason to put off sleep training…

I bring in the pink medicine (this kid loves taking it) and then since I’m in there, I give in to her screaming potty request. She pees in the big potty in the bathroom, which is probably one less pee I’ll have to clean up off the floor in the morning.

We return to the girls’ bedroom and Eleanor wants to get into her sister’s bed. I let her sleep with Cece since I figure she’ll most likely end up there during the night anyway. Night two is around the same as night one but Eleanor cries for shorter periods of time. And she keeps her pajamas and diaper on all night. Huge progress!

We celebrate in the morning.


Eleanor is up twice during the night but not for long. Again she keeps her pajamas and diaper on. She sleeps in her big sister’s bed all night. It feels like we’ve moved a mountain! I know it’s not ideal for the girls to be sleeping together in a twin bed. Cece complains about Eleanor sleeping on her hair and rolling on top of her, and, as our sleep consultant points out, she might just be replacing me with her sister.

In a perfect world Eleanor would be capable of sleeping through the night in her own bed but I gave up on a perfect world a long time ago. And I know we’re headed in the right direction.


Eleanor sleeps through the night without waking up! She snuggles with her sister but now they both seem pretty comfortable together.


Eleanor has another successful night. This is changing our life. We realize we didn’t have evenings before this – I used to tip toe out of the girls’ room at 11pm, trying not to wake them and then it would be musical beds all night. Having kids that sleep feels amazing! The next day after school/work we go for a celebratory dinner and then to Pinkberry for dessert.


We have a bit of a relapse tonight. Maybe from the Pinkberry sugar? Eleanor is up a few times crying in the night. It’s still a whole new world though. I just look at her on the monitor and don’t go in. Now I can say with confidence she will figure it out. And sure enough, just a few tired tears and then right back to sleep.

Now the question is: do we allow them to keep sleeping together in one twin bed or do we try to nip that in the bud too?

Per our sleep consultant’s advice we talk to the girls about having more space for their bodies to stretch and grow if they stay in their own beds. Eleanor is going to try to sleep on her own tonight. Their snuggling is so damn cute though. And I’m very proud of Eleanor’s progress and I feel bad enforcing another difficult challenge so quickly.


In an effort to get Eleanor to stay in her own bed, we decide to push the girls’ two twin beds together. This way the girls can be in their own beds and also beside each other. So far so good - 10pm and not a peep. Maybe pushing the beds together is the answer?  Nope – Eleanor ends up in her sister’s bed again. We think about it and decide we’re ok with this arrangement for now. Hopefully they’ll outgrow sleeping together when they’re ready and if they don’t, we now have the tools to make another change when we’re ready.

It’s been less than a week of sleep training and life has already changed so much! The improved sleeping has made a huge impact on all of our lives. The girls seem more rested, we’re all happier people, my marriage feels easier, I’m more productive at work… I can’t believe It took us this long to finally fix the problem. We should have done this many, many months ago. Getting outside help was key for us – we were too tired to think straight and our repeated attempts weren’t working. I realize now that Eleanor’s job was to test us and she was doing great. We just needed to set the limits for her. When I think about it, Renee really sleep trained us.

If anyone wants to contact Renee her info is:

Renee Wasserman, P.T., M.P.H.

SleepyHead Solutions

Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant


Pic of girl sleeping via Shutterstock

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