Watching your kid sled takes a year off my life

It’s snowing right now in New York City, where I live, and I am thankful my children are already at school and that today won’t be a snow day. Because snow days are sledding days and I still haven’t recovered from the last one. We arrived at our local sledding hill a couple days ago to find a blond grade-schooler already splayed out at the base of the ramp, eyes closed, as strangers tried to elicit the child’s name so they could run up the hill to find his mother. He’d flown down the slope, over the small concrete wall at the base, smacking a park bench on the other side. Fortunately, he landed on his back not his head; after 10 terrifying minutes, he walked away from the scene unaided.

But my heart skipped more than a few beats. And I found myself, as I do every time, positioning myself at the bottom of the hill and, like Lucy in the chocolate factory, racing to catch toddlers, grade-schoolers, even the odd grownup as they flew toward the wall. These days it isn’t my own kids I’m worried about. My youngest is 10, and for his entire life he’s worn a helmet while sledding. He’s always the only one in a helmet on our hill.  He also knows not to sled head first (you’d be amazed how many children do this).

My heart pounds as I work the hill. Preschoolers, I can simply catch if necessary. But a bigger kid barreling toward my kneecaps is frightening sight. To those  kids I yell, “Roll off!” or “Dig in your heels!” or, my particular favorite, “Brake with your feet, not your face!” I’m friendly about it, but it’s no laughing matter. In one 2011 study, 30 percent of children hospitalized after a sledding injury suffered significant head injuries, most often because their sled hit a tree. And my area has already seen one heartbreaking sledding-related death this season after a teenager on a snow tube struck a light pole. Over the decade between 1997 and 2007 there were more than 229,000 sledding injuries that required treatment by an emergency department according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. That’s an average of 20,000 per year.

The city government places bales of hay at the bottom of our hill, although never enough to cover the entire wall. At best, you have something to steer toward if you’re a)old enough to understand that concept, and b)in possession of a sled that can actually be steered. I’m glad the city has taken this approach instead of the strategy employed by the city council in Dubuque, Iowa: a sledding ban at all but a couple local hills. I’m not out to ruin all the fun. But no amount of hay can replace the attention of a responsible grownup. So join me on the hill, won’t you? And repeat after me:  Brake with your feet, not your face.

Dana Points is a mom of two and the editor in chief of  Parents and American Baby. She is also a member of the board of Safe Kids Worldwide.

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It Worked For Me: Safety Solutions
It Worked For Me: Safety Solutions
It Worked For Me: Safety Solutions

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If You Can’t Say It to My Face, Don’t Say It at All

Are people getting ruder? Um, yeah. (To use a rude retort.)

People can be so rude, in fact, that we decided to publish a whole story in Parents on this topic: “Rude Nation,” by Nicole Zeman, in our February issue. Rude behavior was one of those subjects that really got our staff going when it came up in meetings. Everyone, it seemed, had a story to share. Blown-off birthday parties. Outbursts on Facebook. Parents who seemed more than happy to go AWOL at the playground while their kids wreaked havoc.

Of course, rude behavior is nothing new. But parents seem to feel we’ve reached a new high, or, well, low. These were some of the findings from research referenced in our article, the fall 2014 Civility in America survey:

93 percent of 1,000 Americans agree incivility is a problem in our culture.

70 percent believe rudeness is worse compared with just a few years ago.

70 percent think the Internet encourages impolite behavior.

That last statistic hits upon something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I wonder how it’s possible to raise a generation of thoughtful, kind, think-before-you-speak kids, when we have so many adults spewing hateful, derogatory comments online. Healthy, spirited, civil debate is one thing. And then there’s some “in-between” rudeness that’s in the so-bad-it’s-good category (ever see Jimmy Kimmel’s “celebrities read mean tweets about themselves?”). But then, there’s just the downright despicable, with some of the worst behavior happening on parenting message boards or blog posts (of all places!). Sure, if someone’s posting a provocative point of view on a touchy parenting topic, they may be picking for a fight, or at least shouldn’t be surprised if a brouhaha ensues. However, I suspect some always-the-contrarian commenters are just hungry for attention—you know the type—and are best ignored so they can be free to move along to their next target. For proof of how insane our world has become, though, that absolutely anything can inspire Internet vitriol, check out the downward spiral in the comments section on this post about a…rainbow cake recipe. Finally, if you really want to hurt your eyes, go to YouTube—that’s where one study found the meanest commentary on the web thrives.

What’s going on with people? “The Internet gives us distance; people act as if it’s just a virtual space where everyone has multiple lives and there are no real consequences,” says Angel Kalafatis, an Evans, Georgia mom of three quoted in our story.

But according to a study from the Journal of Consumer Research cited in our article, how much and what we share on Facebook—even positive updates about our lives—affects how we treat people offline, too, and not always in the best way. It appears having a close network of friends with whom you share updates regularly can create something called a “licensing” effect, according to the study author, Andrew T. Stephen, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “The positive feedback you get from a tight-knit group on Facebook boosts your ego and leaves you feeling good about yourself and your life. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to ‘cut yourself some slack’ and devote fewer resources to self-monitoring and regulation.” That made me pause: Is it possible that Facebook and Instagram, where I see only the “likes” and love in comments on my (mostly) positive posts, has made me sort of clueless and less respectful toward others in “real” life? Yikes.

Social-media-fueled bravado might also help explain how two people I know, friends, got into a heated political debate on Facebook that got ugly, really ugly. What started as a disagreement about our POTUS turned into a grenade-fest of deeply personal insults. Would these two friends have ever sharpened their knives for the kill if they were having a political discussion around a table? I’m sure you, too, see things all the time on Facebook that you could never imagine saying to someone in person.

Just thinking here: Maybe that’s a guideline we could all heed more in our lives, both online and off?

If you wouldn’t say it to her face, don’t say it at all.

It’s a start.

 

Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and mom of three. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.

Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners All Kids Should Know
Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners All Kids Should Know
Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners All Kids Should Know

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For the Love of Good Neighbors

kid friends walkingWhen we moved into our house a year and half ago, we won the neighbor lottery. The house next door was home to children ages 4, 6, and 7, a perfect complement to our 4- and 6-year-olds. Over the last 18 months I watched the kids develop a deep friendship. It wasn’t just that they were the same ages, they were cut from the same cloth. The kids bounced from house to house, quickly becoming well-acquainted with each others’ toys and acting more like siblings than friends.

And I sometimes felt like a mom of five. The neighbor children knew how to interpret my pre-coffee grunts and what my favorite pajamas look like. Sometimes the familiarity got a little too familiar, like when the youngest started just letting himself in without knocking. But even that felt more good than annoying. Our little family was a bigger (crazier, more chaotic) family with our neighbors as an extension.

In spring, the kids’ friendship blossomed over Legos built in the driveway. In the summer, they played outdoors from morning to dusk, and sometimes beyond. They were spies on the swing set, football players catching a pass to win the big game and Civil War soldiers camping for the night in the garage. In the fall, they jumped in the leaves and went trick-or-treating together. In winter they built snow forts while “helping” us parents shovel. It was a friendship across the seasons.

And as for me, I loved having a neighbor who wasn’t afraid to ring my doorbell at 5 pm in her pajamas and an apron asking if I had a beer to spare. Never having to set up playdates. Always knowing there was somebody who had my back as a mother if I needed her. Living far from family, I’d never had that kind of support system—the kind you can access on a whim without having to drive for hours.

But as quickly as it started, it’s ended. A job transfer. The moving truck has pulled away and the neighbors are gone—2,775 miles away. The adults said our good-byes with tears in our eyes. The children didn’t seem as troubled, not realizing what a rarity it is to have what they had.

The kids have exchanged “I miss you” videos and letters and promised to visit each other this summer. And, alas, I’m now scheduling playdates and missing those easy days of yore when the kids could just run next door. We’re waiting for the empty house next door to be filled again—watching for the next moving truck with hope and tempered expectations to see who comes next.

Have you ever had neighbors who made a big difference in your life (good or bad)?

Tracy Odell is General Manager of Parents Digital and the mom of two boys who luckily make friends easily. Follow her on twitter at @tracyodell.

 

Image courtesy of Tracy Odell

It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks
It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks
It Worked For Me: Parent Hacks

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Snow Days: Best or Worst Thing Ever?

As I write this post, the Northeast region of the US is bracing itself for the worst effects of winter storm Juno, which blanketed New York City in a measurable, though nowhere close to historic, layer of fluffy snow. Other parts of the country, such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island, weren’t so lucky, getting pelted with thick layers of the white stuff.

In the city, we’d been warned that we might have to hunker down for a few days, as subway systems were shut down, ground transportation came to a halt, and many office buildings closed their doors and told employees to work remotely. The usual calamity ensued as super markets lines snaked around the block and grocery shelves began to empty of necessities (which for New Yorkers, includes kale and gluten-free snacks, apparently).

I marked it a big event that I could call today my first “adult” snow day (woohoo!)—even though I still have to work from home. Nonetheless, hearing the two magical words of “snow” and “day” in combination can’t help but conjure the feelings I got in elementary school (and even high school!) when I heard that school was cancelled.

Growing up in Ohio, snow days weren’t always easy to come by. Winters in the Midwest can be brutal, so often it took at least a foot and a half of snow to call off school. When my mom received the call that school wouldn’t be in session that day (she was a teacher, so she always knew before most other parents), the only emotion that could accurately describe my initial reaction was pure ecstasy. Sleeping in! Daytime TV shows! Unlimited snacks! Pajamas all day! Sledding!

Since both my parents were teachers, snow days were never a problem for my family. If I didn’t have school, neither did my mom or dad, naturally. Now, I realize how much of a burden snow days must be for some parents; the “real world” doesn’t exactly dole out days off from 9-to-5 jobs quite as easily. For young children, being left at home alone just isn’t an option, so that’s when daycare becomes the only choice—even if that daycare comes in the form of a trusted neighbor or family friend. I can’t imagine that scrambling to find someone to watch children for the day is an easy task for some parents.

Then, there’s the issue of multiple snow days in a year. How do different school districts handle them? It’s hard enough to get children to focus once warmer weather hits, but having to extend the school year to make up for missed days—as some areas must do—has to be next to impossible when the balmy days of June roll around. Some schools have taken to making up for days missed with Internet lesson plans; a great tactic, unless a child isn’t able to easily access a computer at home. The family I babysat for in college had to deal with “blizzard packs,” or take-home packets of instruction that parents were responsible for at home. Are parents supposed to be held accountable for unfavorable weather conditions and the resulting missed days of school?

I was fortunate to grow up with parents that had professions that allowed their schedule to essentially adapt to my own. How do other parents out there deal with impending snow days? What about educators?

Brooke Bunce is an editorial assistant at Parents who helps dream up kids’ crafts, games, and snacks. She’s an avid fan of snow days, since they allow for more time to watch cat videos. Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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Up in the Air: 1 Plane, 2 Kids, and 13 Hours…

Tikes on a PlaneOver the holidays my husband and I took our two daughters, ages 5 and 13 months (pictured here), halfway around the world to visit my family in India. My elder daughter, Ameli, has been several times, but this was our first time traveling with baby Isla in tow.

It wasn’t a journey for the faint of heart (not that traveling with little kids ever is). We took two flights—one a harrowing 13 hours—and had a layover. The promise of my littlest one meeting her great-grandmother for the first time and the wedding celebrations of a family friend helped propel us toward our destination, but if you’re curious how it really went, here are the sometimes-gruesome details:

8:30 pm on Christmas Day: Arrived at the international airport with snacks, several changes of clothes, and a charged iPad.

10:00 pm: Made it through check-in and security, with Ameli only asking “Are we there yet?” three times.

11:00 pm: On the flight, both girls started off sleepy and excited (not an ideal combination).

Midnight: Isla fell asleep. I requested a bassinet from the air hostess, who insisted my baby was too big for it. After a few deadly glares from me she brought it anyway. Isla just barely fit. Phew.

2:00 am: Isla realized her new digs were a bit too snug and insisted on sleeping on me…so I “slept” with one eye open in fear that she’d roll off. Ameli, meanwhile, fell asleep in her seat after complaining about not having enough snacks. (None of the dozens we brought were what she was in the mood for after midnight.)

Then there was a blur of messy diaper changes, food being flung from trays, and some wailing. I think we handled it, because if nothing else, we finally landed in Dubai with bleary eyes and frizzy hair.

After our six-hour layover in Dubai (yes you read that right, and remember it when you complain about some three-hour layover in Chicago), we were slightly rejuvenated with full bellies and stretched legs. We boarded a 4-hour flight to Kolkata. This time we were not seated together. My husband was right behind us…was that a hint of relief I saw on his face?

Neither kid was interested in more sleep. Or food. Isla flailed her arms and legs wildly, knocking everything off her tray. I desperately hailed down an air hostess but she curtly said that she would be coming back later to clean up. Ameli, meanwhile, laughed and clapped her hands with glee at her sister’s antics, inadvertently knocking over a glass of water and soaking my seat. As I tried to get my husband’s attention, I turned around to see him peacefully sleeping with his noise-cancelling headphones on.

We finally arrived in India wet and tired, with me wondering if it had been worth all the hassle. After immigration, as we exited the airport, we caught site of my family. Ameli yelled out “Mashi!” (auntie) and ran into my sister’s arms. As the mild air of my homeland warmly enveloped us I thought, “Yes, totally worth it.” And you know I’ll be doing it all again.

Sumana Ghosh-Witherspoon, a designer at American Baby magazine, grew up partly in Kolkata and now lives in New York City with her husband and two girls.

Image: Kunal Basu

 

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