My Christmas lists as a kid were legendarily long and detailed (if sloppily handwritten)—kind of like this girl’s wish list, which went viral. (I wish I had thought to ask for “a little thing that can turn into anything at any time,” because that would have been incredibly helpful about 20 different times this morning alone.)
But these days, my wish lists are extraordinarily small. That’s a product of being among those lucky enough to be able to afford the necessities and plenty of extras, and being a working mom of two very busy girls, which means my hobbies are things like sleep and laundry. And that also means that my husband and daughters have a tough time coming up with gifts for me (fancy dryer sheets?). I find myself asking for the same exact things my mom asked for 30 years ago, which led to much eye-rolling and sighing from my siblings and me. And now leads to much eye-rolling and sighing from my husband as well.
So here’s what I’m hoping to be gifted with this Christmas:
1. Child-produced awesomeness. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more wonderful than my daughters’ handprints in clay, stick-figure family paintings and photo-adorned ornaments, or whatever other crafty ideas my daughters’ teachers dream up. They’re even better when paired with the hilarious messages the girls often write in the cards they make. (At Thanksgiving, my oldest was thankful that we have jobs so we can pay taxes. I am thankful for half of that statement.)
2. Child-chosen gifts. A close second in my estimation are the goofy gifts the girls buy with our money at the school Santa shop. I like seeing where their imaginations and tastes take them. The “diamonds” may fall out of the ring two hours later, and the bouncy ball may not be the most utilitarian gift, but they’re cherished just the same.
3. The banishment of certain phrases from the family vocabulary. I would like to call a moratorium on the following: “It’s not fair,” “Why does she get to…,” “I don’t want to go to school,” and “She’s touching me.” That’s just for starters.
4. An honest-to-goodness sleep-in day. At last count, I’m about 324,000 hours into sleep deficit. There’s no hope of making that up, but it would be nice if on any given Sunday (usually our only day to sleep in), my daughters could read quietly and fix a bowl of cereal instead jumping on me demanding pancakes.
5. A (reusable) guilt-free pass. Kind of like that Monopoly Get-Out-of-Jail free card. I probably would need to use that on a daily basis. Like when I forget about being mystery reader for my daughter’s class, or show up last at pickup. When I’m short-tempered and always in a rush. When I completely suck at sending out proper thank-you notes to my daughters’ friends for their birthday party gifts. (If you’re reading this, sorry, and she totally loved the craft kit/gift card/board game.)
6. A rocking bass guitar. Because sometimes, a mom just has to do something besides track down lost leotards and harangue her children into eating clementines instead of cookies. I choose to rock out with my band.
7. The services of a professional organizer, and carte blanche to spend at Container Store. I was voted Most Disorganized in my high school class (along with Most Likely to Succeed)—and unfortunately, I haven’t improved in the intervening years. And even more unfortunately, I married a packrat myself. Still, I aspire to have my house someday look more like the Pottery Barn catalog and less like a sea of papers atop a Pottery Barn coffee table.
8. A few extra hours in the day. If I can’t have the aforementioned “little thing that turns into anything at any time,” I really want Hermione’s time turner from Harry Potter, or Doctor Who’s TARDIS, or some other item that would allot me extra hours to get things done. Then when my friends all say, “How did you manage to bake 10 dozen cookies, get your daughter to Nutcracker rehearsals, order Christmas cards, clean your house for out-of-town guests, host a fabulous party, finish a work project for a client AND still find time to take your dog to the groomer’s?” I’ll just smile and wink. (By the way, all that and more needs to be accomplished in the next 48 hours at my house. A time turner would be awesome right about now.)
9. Nothing more than what I have right now. When it comes down to it, I have everything I could possibly want right here, right now. The best husband, two amazing kids, three cats and one big goofy dog. My parents, sister and brother, who I love dearly—even if I don’t get to see them very often. A roof over my head, and food on my table. A large and crazy web of aunts, uncles and cousins—and my amazing grandma, still going strong at 80+. Great friends who are like family, the kind where you kind of just walk into each other’s homes and wouldn’t feel too bad about calling during a 3 a.m. emergency. (And thankfully, we haven’t had to take each other up on that.) And really, what more could you want than all of that?
So tell me: What do you want this Christmas?
If your Santa needs a little help, check out our favorite toys for kids, or find fun activities to jazz up your holidays.
Image: Gifts at Christmas by Ariwasabi/Shutterstock.com
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Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments
In October, I received a random Facebook request from Jonathan, an old high school friend I’d lost touch with. It was an invitation to Like a page for something called The Julie Valentine Center. Googling it, I saw that it’s a sexual assault and child abuse recovery center in South Carolina. My first thought was that Jonathan knew I work at Parents and wanted me to be aware of the center. (He didn’t know where I work.) When I went on their home page, I saw they were promoting a blog series about life after sexual abuse written by Jonathan. I winced, understanding that he must have been sexually abused as a child. My mind flashed back to Jonathan in school, one of the smartest kids in our class, who went on to Pepperdine. You just never know what people are going through, I thought. Then I looked more closely at the blog post and my stomach dropped. Jonathan hadn’t been sexually abused. His 3-year-old son had.
As Jonathan now very openly explains–in an effort to make some kind of sense out of the horror he, his wife Michelle, and three older sons are still enduring–his youngest son, now 4, was sexually abused more than 20 times by Jonathan’s then-15-year-old nephew.
Jonathan has told me that they are all suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and feeling the effects of not only the abuse, but the way it has fractured their extended family. He is determined to speak out, though, if it means it will positively affect anyone else living through the aftermath of abuse.
He’s about halfway through a 12-week blog series and I hope all of you read what he’s written so far. His words are poignant and full of every emotion imaginable, including sadness, rage, empathy, guilt, hope, and most of all love. I showed them to Linda E. Johnson, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, who was instrumental last year when we ran this story in Parents about protecting your child from a sexual predator. She said of Jonathan’s writing: “I was very, very moved and very impressed… and very saddened by what happened to his little boy. But what was so important to me is that they just did everything right.” She praised their son, too. “Only one or two in every 10 victims tell while they’re children. The fact that he could is a testament to the healthy and loving relationship his parents have built with him. And he was right! He was right to tell, because they immediately believed him and acted upon what they learned.”
I asked Linda whether it’s common for parents to respond as thoroughly and publicly as Jonathan and Michelle have, especially considering they’re still feeling the immediate impact of the abuse. She said, “I want to believe what they’re doing is part of a movement toward the positive. But many parents succumb to the guilt trips put upon by other family members, or fear, or shame,” and don’t speak up.
She had kind words for The Julie Valentine Center as well. “The advocacy center deserves to be in the spotlight, too. They do yeoman’s work in supporting and guiding families and helping them with expectations during the legal process–expectations that may not be met.”
Of all of Jonathan’s posts so far, the one that feels most illuminating follows. Knowing that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they’re 18, and how likely it is that someone you know–child or parent, friend or family member–has been affected by sexual abuse, I urge you to read the rest.
Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle: Myths and Misconceptions
By Jonathan Mitten
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support in response to my first post. Many friends have come forward to share their stories of being molested as children and wish their parents had stood up for them. I write in an effort to find some greater meaning in my family’s pain that they and those who have suffered the same, might find some sense of comfort or belonging. In both my and my wife’s eyes there lies sorrow reaching deep into our souls. It is a look I now recognize in the eyes of others who have been through the same. It is not a look of resignation, for underneath burns a fire that ignites whenever we encounter one of these myths, or as I now call them “lies.”
These excuses to which I refer are born of a deep denial, a desire to “put the genie back in the bottle” so that life can return to the way it was without acknowledging the horror of what has been done. It is a desire to minimize the pain inflicted so the charade of a happy family can continue unabated. The following myths and misconceptions were ones that we encountered over the last seven months. —Jonathan Mitten
It’s a family matter that doesn’t need to be reported
Unfortunately most child sex abuse is committed by family members, family friends, or others in a trusted position, not by strangers. When our 3-year-old first spilled the beans to my wife, she immediately confronted the offender who admitted his crime. My wife’s family expected that we would treat this as a family matter and not report the incident to the police. The reality is that all sex abuse must be reported. We cried for a day and I made calls trying to find some other way to minimize the impact to this young man’s life. It took two calls to the police and two visits before we finally filed a report. I had to have an EKG in the middle of this because my doctor feared I was having a heart attack. Ultimately, we immediately sought treatment for my son and were told that we had to file a police report and see a forensic counselor before he could be treated. A parent that fails to notify the police may be classified as a non-protecting parent.
A 3-year-old won’t remember
Unfortunately this is false and I truly wish it was true. We have not brought the topic up with our three year old. He on the other hand, now that the secret is out, has shared with us, with neighborhood children, and random folks at our house. He has shared everything in much greater detail than we necessarily want to know. It is a good sign that he doesn’t feel shame but he breaks our heart each time he brings it up. We have had several adults speak to us privately about their own experiences and unfortunately those who were his age when it happened still remember vividly what was done to them. It was stated at the sentencing hearing that the offender believes that our child wasn’t hurt and that he would “forget about it if people would quit bringing it up.” How I wish that were true….
Myth # 3
It didn’t hurt (he didn’t say no/he enjoyed it)
My stomach turns every time this lie is repeated, and I seethe with a thinly veiled rage. Forced sexual acts are humiliating, hurt physically and leave deep psychological scars. Anyone who says otherwise is in in deep denial eschewing all common sense and reasoning, not to mention volumes of documentation. Both the offender and his family have used this as a way of implying that there was no crime and that what happened is no big deal.
It’s just a teenage boy thing (hormones or just a phase he’s going through)
We all know that teenage boys are full of raging hormones that get the best of them and that they fantasize about a lot. I remember talking to the police officer by his cruiser as he was getting ready to leave and he made this point: It has not and has never been normal to fantasize about prepubescent boys and girls. He is correct. Those who fantasize about little kids are pedophiles and those that act on their fantasies are molesters.
It was suggested that Thanksgiving and Christmas could still be the same, as long as the molester had adult supervision at all times and was not left alone with the other kids. The biggest myth of all? That we can put the genie back in the bottle… really, we can.
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Image: See it stop it written on the child’s hand via Shutterstock.
Editor’s Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.
“Guess Who I Am!” (charades to the rest of the world) was a favorite holiday family treat for our kids. Kids may never be more creative than when trying to silently convey a concept to the rest of the family. But that wasn’t the case in our house.
Our daughter began loving “Guess Who I Am!” during family gatherings just before she turned 2 years old, and throughout the holidays that’s all she wanted to play. We’d all assemble in the living room on the navy blue canvas sofa, the one with all the fossilized spit-up stains from when the kids were babies, and play our version. The rules were simple: Each player had to act out a person or thing that we all knew, without revealing who or what, while the rest of us tried to guess.
Our 4-year-old son was usually a fireman, policeman, cowboy, Superman, baseball player, basketball player, football player, Power Ranger, Ninja Turtle, fisherman, swimmer, astronaut, dinosaur hunter, lion hunter, or bear hunter. It was tough for us to distinguish one hunter from another, but we got a clue with the dinosaur hunter since my son usually looked all the way up to the ceiling before shooting. Eventually, he caught on to his “tell,” and threw in giraffe hunter once in a while to trick us. For our turns, my wife and I tried to be creative, but mostly we picked similar “Guess Who” roles as our son, sticking to the rule about choosing a clue that we all knew. Sometimes, for variety, one of us would mimic a grandparent or neighbor. Our 6-month-old was amused by the game, giggling frequently, waving his arms, and kicking his legs in apparent simpatico with whoever was performing. Most of the time, though, he just added spit-up stains to the sofa.
Because our daughter did (and still does!) everything with flair and a flourish, it wasn’t surprising that she developed the most unusual approach to the game. On her turn, she would always take center stage (the middle of the faux-Oriental square rug in the living room), raise her right hand in the air, put her left hand on her hip, and turn around in circles. If she was wearing a dress, her left hand held the dress out to her side as she twirled. She did this every time. Every time!! The routine never varied, nor did the secret character she was portraying—she was always, always, always either a ballerina or a teacher. While we understood the ballerina’s movements, we really never got why a teacher would hold one hand in the air, the other on her hip, and twirl about. She hadn’t gone to preschool yet, so she couldn’t be imitating something a teacher did in class. Maybe a pirouetting princess is what she hoped her teachers would be like when she started school (and starting school was high on her list of best possible things to ever happen to a kid). When she accompanied me or my wife to drop off her older brother at preschool every day, she was so, so jealous. (Maybe one of her brother’s teachers twirled while we weren’t looking?)
However the ballerina-teacher thing developed, here’s how our December evenings would usually play out: Our budding thespian would stand center stage, assume the position, and twirl. Her big brother would roll his eyes. We would give him “the stare,” which meant he had to pretend he didn’t already know the answer, to which he would usually respond by slamming his hand onto the sofa in frustration. Then we would all make random guesses, to which our little girl would happily shake her head “no,” until one of us would finally ask, “Ballerina?” It was 50-50 whether we were right on any given performance. But if we didn’t choose correctly, we let big brother get the final victory. “Teacher?” he would guess, feigning ignorance. “Yes!” our little actress would joyfully nod.
May your own cold December nights be warmed by ballerinas and teachers, firemen, policemen, cowboys, Superman, baseball players, basketball players, football players, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles, fishermen, swimmers, astronauts, and hunters.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Frosted window with Christmas decoration via Shutterstock
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Will you be taking your kids to a movie this holiday season? If so, how will you decide what’s appropriate for them to see?
A movie’s rating—whether it is rated G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America–is intended to help guide that decision. But a new study, published earlier this month in the journal Pediatrics, finds serious flaws in the rating system when it comes to on-screen violence.
Recent PG-13 movies have contained at least as much violence as R-rated movies, according to the study, while violence in movies overall has increased dramatically: “Our research found that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and that gun violence in PG-13 films has increased to the point where it recently exceeded the rate in R-rated films,” the study concludes (emphasis mine).
Making matters more confusing, Entertainment Weekly points out ways in which the MPAA ratings can seem arbitrary. The Dark Knight Rises got a PG-13 despite its violence and dark themes, while the new Judi Dench film Philomena originally received an R (later changed on appeal to a PG-13) for using the F-word twice.
The MPAA defended itself to Entertainment Weekly by saying its decisions reflect the values and concerns of parents across the country—hence, a restrictive rating for foul language. No doubt this is true, and I appreciate such warnings, but what about violence? Are most parents OK with that for young children (or even 13 year olds) who might be drawn to a PG-13 film in part because the rating signals a more mature movie? Personally, I am much more concerned about my kids watching movies filled with violence and its aftermath than I am about characters dropping a few F-bombs (though those do concern me as well). I am guessing I am not alone in this.
The Pediatrics study did find a slight decline in violence in G- and PG-rated movies—good news for those of us with young kids—but the huge rise in PG-13-movie violence is troubling. These movies are not restricted the way R-rated movies are, and the rating is just an advisory.
The study suggests we should be worried about how much violence our children see in movies, because “virtually all scientific and health organizations have concluded that media violence can increase aggression.”
For decades, researchers have studied the effects of exposure to violent media on aggression in children and youth. The evidence from these studies has been reviewed numerous times, and nearly all researchers have reached the same conclusion: exposure to media violence can increase aggression. After reviewing the available evidence, 6 public health organizations (the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association) endorsed a joint statement that concluded: “The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”
Where does all of this leave us parents? To state what should be obvious: Do your research and don’t rely just on a film’s MPAA rating. Many great resources, most of them free, offer a more in-depth look at the movies our kids might be seeing, allowing us to make educated decisions based on our own personal values and what we feel is right or wrong for our kids to see.
The best of these services look not just at the potential kid-related problems in a movie—whether it has bad words or exposed skin, for instance—but also explore whether kids will actually like the film (so we can avoid the wholesome-but-boring offerings) as well as how we might use the movie to spark family discussions about important issues. Common Sense Media’s movie review section is one such resource, as is the blog Movie Mom, by Nell Minow (whom I used to edit, in full disclosure). At both of these sites and others like them, parents can find detailed, nuanced, and very helpful reviews that go beyond a mere letter to help us make movie-watching decisions that are right for our kids.
Find kids movies at Shop Parents, or get great family activities with our Activity Finder.
Violent Video Games, TV, and Movies
Image of dark movie theater via Shutterstock.
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Tonight, my boyfriend and I will be making the long drive to Tennessee to celebrate the once-in-a-lifetime holiday mash-up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. I am so grateful that we get to spend these holidays with my family, especially since I haven’t been home in over a year.
However, I remember a time when having a family that didn’t celebrate Christmas felt frustrating. It was hard to explain why we didn’t celebrate Christmas to my friends. Once it was established that I celebrated Hanukkah, I had to clarify that we don’t actually get eight presents and it ranks low on the list of Jewish holidays.
“That is so uncool,” everyone would tell me, “And the other Jewish kids have trees.”
The trees weren’t in their imagination. A recent Pew study of Jewish Americans reports that there are more interreligious families than ever, at least among Jewish people. In fact, 58 percent of Jews who tied the knot between 2000-2013 married a non-Jewish spouse. (For my generation’s parents, it was 41 percent.) This has lead to an increase in multi-holiday celebrations and a decrease in menorah-only homes.
Because I felt left out, I spent a good portion of my childhood winters begging for a Christmas experience. I even began my journalism career with an article for my high school newspaper about my sadness over the tree-less state of my house.
But now that I’m nearly 1,000 miles away from home in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, I am looking forward to going home to, well, not much of anything. We won’t be crafting or Christmas cookie baking or stringing up any lights. I don’t even have to worry about giving huge gifts or wearing festive attire. There is nothing wrong with having holiday spirit, but I am thankful that we will have the only dark house on our block in December. We’ll light candles, say some prayers, and hopefully feast on some latkes. And that’s all I need.
Jen M. L. wrote an amazing article over at the Huffington Post about embracing the title of “World’s Okayest Mom” and not starting new traditions because of media influence and general mom competition. I think her attitude is perfect. Parents: I hope you stick to your holiday traditions, however simple or small they may be. You don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to make this season special. No matter what you do, your kids will be appreciative, even if it takes a few years for them to realize it.
Christmas Crafts: Polar Bear Ornaments
Image: Boy with father and grandfather spinning dreidel via Shutterstock.
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