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The Nicest Thing You Can Do for Another Parent Today

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

After you become a parent, there are some people you meet who you’ll never forget. You may not have caught their name at the time; you probably couldn’t even pick them out of a lineup. But they did something for you that you’ll remember forever.

This mom’s got it down. Hey, why not tell her?

Years ago, I was checking out at Target; my two children were bickering, I was hugely pregnant, and I was trying to keep everyone (including me) calm. I knew a woman was behind me in line, but only in that vague this-poor-innocent-who’s-subjected-to-our-circus-routine sense. I waddled out of the store, kids whining, as quickly as I could. When we got to the parking lot, the woman who’d been behind us at checkout approached me and said, “I just want you to know that you’re doing a really good job.” Someone else might’ve found such an unsolicited opinion, as positive as it was, patronizing. But given that I was having the sort of trying day when I felt like I was most definitely not doing a good job, I could have hugged that kind stranger for giving me a lift when I needed it.

I asked friends if they’d also experienced stranger kindness in tough parenting moments. I loved their stories:

“Once when my son was a baby I put him in his infant carrier and went for a long walk. It started to rain. Out of nowhere a young man appeared and gave me his umbrella. He insisted I take it, and I was so grateful. I had that umbrella for years—it always reminded me of his kindness.”

“I was upgraded to first class with my 7-month-old. As soon as the flight attendant set down a full can of soda, my daughter kicked it and sent it flying. The can landed just perfectly to spray most of the first-class cabin—except me—and doused one man in particular. Everyone, incredibly, laughed it off, assuring me that they had kids, too. I couldn’t even buy them a drink, because drinks were free!”

“Where I live in New York City, there are lots of subway stairs: Imagine carrying a stroller up a long flight of stairs with a 20-pound child in tow. Over the years many strangers have helped me up or down the steep subway stairs all over New York. Now whenever I see someone struggling with a stroller, I try to help.”

“On a boat trip in Bermuda my son, then 2, was climbing on and off a wooden bench, when an older woman next to us asked how old he was. I told her and said, ‘Sorry, he can’t sit still.’ She said, ‘He’s adorable and a perfectly normal 2-year-old! If your 2-year-old wasn’t doing that you should be worried.’ I was so grateful I started tearing up.”

“I went to pick up my daughter’s new school books and had both kids, ages 7 and 2, with me, and my 2-year-old was being cranky. When 11 books were put on the counter in front of me, a woman in line handed me her canvas bag and said, ‘Here, use this.’ I said, ‘But how will you bring your books out?’ She said, ‘I don’t need to, so it’s perfect.’ She made that moment in my day a whole lot easier.”

“One time in Starbucks my son gagged on a bit of muffin, and threw up everywhere. The lady at the next table immediately leaped up, said ‘Poor thing!’ and got napkins to help me clean up. I’ve never forgotten her.”

I remembered my angel at Target this weekend when my older daughter, now 9, and I were celebrating her birthday with a just-us-big-girls lunch at a sidewalk cafe. Beside us was a couple with their sweet baby, who had managed to sit nicely quite awhile in a wood high chair, and was then passed back and forth between her parents while they finished eating. At the end, she’d had her fill and started protesting more loudly, and the couple quickly gathered their check and paid.

As they packed up, the dad turned to me and said, “We’re sorry!”

“Ohmigosh, don’t be! She’s adorable!” I said, genuinely, adding I was impressed by how long she lasted. (If she’d needed to bail earlier, it wouldn’t have mattered, of course. She’s a baby!) I think her parents puffed with a little more pride as they walked away.

Now that I’m not the newbie parent on the block anymore and can offer up something kind to say to a parent having a tough moment in my midst, I should probably do that more freely. I don’t know why I haven’t—maybe it’s the reluctance to seem like a busybody—but I know how good it made me feel when a stranger said something nice to me about my parenting. I still appreciate any positive reinforcement I can get these days. Isn’t it always nice to be reminded, I’m not doing this parenting thing so badly or, yeah, my kid does kind of rock!

How about you? Has a stranger ever done anything to make your day as a parent a little better or brighter?

Crafts for Kids: Cozy Critters
Crafts for Kids: Cozy Critters
Crafts for Kids: Cozy Critters

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Schools Need Air Conditioning!

Friday, June 13th, 2014

It amazes me that in 2014, many schools still don’t have air conditioning. How can children concentrate, much less learn anything, sitting in a room with temperatures hovering in the mid 80s to the 90s, as many U.S. kids whose schools are still in session are doing right now?

“I have a question: Why no air conditioning?”

While technology and other projects have taken priority, physical comfort during the warmer weeks of the beginning and end of the school year, it seems, still lags on the list. “If prisons have AC, then so should schools!” says my friend Linda, a mom and former teacher who’s passionate about this topic.

Last week at my son’s spring orchestra concert, I wish I could have focused on the kids’ beautiful performance. But I was distracted by how uncomfortable they looked in the heat of the school’s un-air-conditioned auditorium. While parents fanned themselves with their programs and checked the time, children onstage blew hair out of their eyes, wiped their foreheads on their bare arms, and tugged at their shirt collars. Last night, I attended a literacy celebration at my younger child’s school, in a 100-year-old building, where we were encouraged to write notes of “warm feedback”—code for positive commentary, but could have just as easily referred to our pencil-smeared, sweat stained Post-Its.

I thought about these kids, and the school staff, who have to work in hot classrooms through the end of next week in our New Jersey district, and wondered how many other schools still don’t have air conditioning. In asking a few friends whether they had air at their schools, a theme emerged: If you were lucky enough to get some state grant money, and/or if your school had a strong enough PTA, and generous donations from parents, air conditioning is a popular project at the moment, with passionate supporters. Still, cooling a school is quite an undertaking: paying for individual wall units, updating electrical work, purchasing compressors and air handlers, and so on. Understandably, it’s been slow coming. But it’s also overdue.

In one of my favorite classic movies, The Seven Year Itch, a straight-and-narrow New York businessman’s summer gets interesting when the new girl who’s moved into the apartment above, Marilyn Monroe, comes downstairs to bask in his air conditioning. His wife and child are away in the country for the summer, as was customary in 1955, because it was too darn hot.

It’s been nearly 60 years since Marilyn famously stood in a white dress over a subway grate to catch a breeze. Our local elementary school is in the process of getting cool air flowing in classrooms—but not the large gym/auditorium/lunchroom—in time for next year. Schools that don’t have active PTOs, or in districts where parents can’t afford to make the contributions necessary to install air, are left behind. This is unfair, and not just from a comfort and health standpoint: Not surprisingly, studies have found that students working in stifling-hot conditions perform worse on exams.

I think about New York City schoolchildren—the many who don’t have air conditioning—who will have sweltering days in their classrooms through June 26th. Chicago is ponying up $100 million to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “sudden mandate to air-condition classrooms in 206 schools, even as CPS [Chicago Public Schools] faces a $1 billion shortfall and many other pressing capital needs,” as the Chicago Sun Times reported in April.

I detect judginess of Chicago’s mayor in those words. But as a mother who, like most parents, is sympathetic to sweaty, red-faced kids and teachers, I’m with Rahm.

Air conditioning, now!

Help your child keep track of her progress in school and shop kids’ backpacks for the fall.

What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

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How Young Is Too Young for Kids to Text Their Friends?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

With our first child, my husband and I had pretty strict rules. No TV until age 2. Bedtime at 8 pm, firm. Then our next kid came along, and all that flew out the window. Our second watched her big brother’s favorite cartoons from her bouncy seat, and bedtime became more like 8-ish

All parents of two know the second child gets perks sooner than the first does. So while my oldest, 12, got his first phone and began texting friends at the start of this school year (he’s a sixth-grader), his sister’s asking for the same privilege—specifically, to use iMessage on her iPod Touch—even though she’s a whole three years younger than he is. Then again all kids, whether they have an older sib or not, are tech-savvy at increasingly younger ages. How else to explain how well my 2-year-old can deftly swipe her way around an iPad?

But back to my dilemma at hand: How young is too young to allow your child to start texting friends? My son was ambivalent about messaging pals, but our second, who’s nearly 9, is eager for her dad’s and my permission. “All my friends do!” she said. I checked around, and indeed, her girl buddies are texting and FaceTiming.

I talked to a friend who’s been there, and this was her take: “It starts out innocently enough. You check her messages, and in the beginning it’s a lot of, ‘Hey. ‘Sup.’ And you think, OK, this is all pretty boring.

“But you can’t get lax,” my friend continued, “because then they start sending pictures. And at first it’s just animals, but then the next thing you know, their friends are writing or sending inappropriate things.” I was thinking of another mom pal whose fifth-grade daughter and her friends initiated a contest on Instagram to determine the prettiest girl in their circle. Their moms moaned a collective, “Ugh!” and promptly shut it down. Another mother I know has a blanket “no selfie” rule for her kids—no selfies of any kind, ever. Their house, their rule.

Right now, my third-grader just doesn’t want to be left out of deep discussions about Littlest Pet Shop and the like, and I sympathize. Texting is a way to socialize, after all, and I know it’s inevitable. (So far, her only texts have been occasional ones to me at work, from the babysitter’s phone.) Today’s children are “digital natives”—as Hanna Rosin wrote in this eye-opening story last year in The Atlantic, the “touch-screen generation” has never known a world without electronics, so no wonder my kids’ gen and mine will likely never see exactly eye to eye on what’s too much. I’m hardly anti-tech myself (I sleep with my iPhone beside my bed), but it feels all too personally familiar when I read that studies show kids ages 8 to 18 are spending more time on their electronic devices than any other activity. As Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D, writes eloquently in her book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Families in the Digital Age: Parents and children may be enjoying “swift and constant access to everything and everyone on the Internet,” but they are losing “a meaningful personal connection with each other in their own homes.”

We’re a happily pro-tech family, but my kids are on their devices plenty already. (Ditto.) Allowing my daughter to text a moment sooner than she needs to feels like one more pull down the deep digital rabbit hole. (Related: She also wants a YouTube channel.) Selfishly speaking, it will be one more thing for her dad and me to monitor. And if kids continue to adapt these practices at younger ages, at what age do you absolutely draw the line? In a few years will our toddler be messaging friends about what they’re wearing to kindergarten graduation?

I’m curious: How old were your kids—or how old do you think they’ll be—when you allow them to text, Instagram, and use other social media to keep connected with friends? Do you, or will you, check up on their activity?

I’d <3 to hear ur thoughts on this. ;)

Controlling Your Child's Digital Interactions
Controlling Your Child's Digital Interactions
Controlling Your Child's Digital Interactions

“R U raising a Digitally Healthy Child?” Take this Parents quiz.

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You Breastfed Your Baby Where?!

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

I cringe whenever I read these stories about moms who are innocently breastfeeding somewhere in public—and are asked to take their boobies and babies elsewhere. In the latest made-the-news instance, a mother was nursing her 9-month-old in the locker room of an LA Fitness and told by a club employee she wasn’t allowed to breastfeed there. Which is especially weird. It’s a locker room, for crying out loud, where actual nudity abounds!

I remember being asked to move, just once, when I was breastfeeding in a lounge area right outside a department-store restroom. I had felt awkward enough as a new mom wheeling my Snap-N-Go around trying to find a semi-private spot to nurse my crying baby. I found a chair, threw a baby blanket over myself, and my grateful, hungry infant calmed. That’s when a crisp woman in a stuffy suit appeared before me and told me there was a bathroom with a private lounge in the department store that bookended the other end of the mall. If she’d been nice about it, I’d have felt grateful—it was useful information to know, at least—but as she continued to stand there, unsmiling, it was clear I was being scolded and was expected to leave, which I did. I wouldn’t have minded just finishing up our feeding instead of getting myself and my baby together to walk to another lounge clear across the mall.

This was years ago, before people did things like post their outrage on the Internet and hold nurse-ins as a show of solidarity and support, like the one that ensued at LA Fitness. If my nurseshaming experience happened to me today, now that I’m a more experienced mom and have already been through that humiliation once, I wonder if I’d still move. I hope my reaction would be more of a whatever eyeroll and to sit tight—at least that’s what I think I’d do now. But it’s not easy in the moment when a bully comes along and you’re tired and just trying to feed your baby, so I feel for that mom in LA Fitness. It’s especially rude if the company indeed, as the mom said, never apologized.

Have you ever incurred comments or raised eyebrows for breastfeeding in public? And what’s the most unusual public location you’ve nursed a baby? Personally, I have to go with that time on a crowded subway. (The baby was desperate!) The guy next to me did give me a couple of downcast glances, but I had a thought that could apply to anyone who now, in 2014, would wither at the sight of a breastfeeding woman: Surely you’ve borne witness to more unusual sights than breastfeeding?

And if you haven’t, you need to get out more.

Are you ready for another child? Find out!

How to Hold Baby While Breastfeeding
How to Hold Baby While Breastfeeding
How to Hold Baby While Breastfeeding

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Has Your Child Been to the Emergency Room Yet?

Monday, April 21st, 2014

There’s really nothing to shave a few hours off your life like a medical emergency with your child, is there?

In short, my 8-year-old is fine (thank goodness). She’s a healthy kid who’s avoided any catastrophes thus far. Her big brother, on the other hand, has stamped his emergency-room card three times.

So I was only mildly concerned when in the bathroom at a Cracker Barrel restaurant near our hotel—we were on a quick getaway—my girl suddenly wasn’t feeling well. As I steered her out of the restroom towards the exit for some air, she stumbled in the gift shop and collapsed, all dead weight, in my arms that fumbled to break her fall to the floor. Panicked, I went into Boss Mom mode, looking up to the nearest stranger and asking him to go get my husband, who was outside with my other two. We carried our girl outdoors and she lay on a bench, her brow sweating and her eyes rolling back in her head. While we had a quick discussion about getting her into our minivan and where the nearest hospital was, the kind staff at Cracker Barrel offered to call the medics for us. My daughter was just regaining her color and coming to when a squad car, a red fire truck, and an EMS vehicle all showed up, lights flashing and sirens wailing. I smoothed away the hair from her face as I cradled her head in my lap. “Can you believe this is all for you?” I whispered to her, mock wide-eyed, and she cracked a smile, to my relief.

Working at Parents I have exposure to so much helpful knowledge and am a pretty swift thinker in an emergency. But it can be hard to make smart decisions when it’s your kid if you’re scared and in an unfamiliar place. While we probably would have driven to the ER of the closest hospital, I’m glad the emergency medical technicians were there to guide us a few extra minutes away to the pediatric emergency room of Virtua Voorhees hospital, a New Jersey affiliate of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (CHOP was among Parents“10 Best Children’s Hospitals,” an excellent story by my colleague Karen Cicero.) Picking a child-friendly ER if possible is the number-one piece of advice in a story Parents previously published, “20 Things to Know Before Taking Your Child to the ER.” My big girl got a lift via stretcher into the ambulance, where I sat on a bench beside her. My husband followed with my 11-year-old, who worried quietly, and my 2-year-old, who cried because she of course wanted to ride in the ambulance, too. At the emergency room, we were seen quickly, received excellent care, and with a toddler up past her bedtime, I was grateful for even the small things that kept her occupied, like a wood puzzle on the wall. This visit—child-focused, efficient, attentive—was nothing like the five hours I once spent with my oldest years ago in the general emergency room of a large city hospital.

We have it lucky—our daughter’s OK. For that and the kindness of strangers who helped us, I’m extremely grateful. On the dark ride back to our hotel, we were even able to smile about it, remembering that Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, one of our favorite stories, is also a “fainter.”

Now we know if my daughter feels this way again, we should have her immediately lie down, or sit. (It’s like the first time your child needs stitches, your stomach twists helplessly in knots. The second time, you call the plastic surgeon, whose number you’ve conveniently saved in your contacts list.) I’ll be following up with our pediatrician, and remembering to inquire about where the closest pediatric emergency room is the next time we need to go. I’d like to think there won’t be a “next time,” but then again, we have children, so….

Have you been to the ER with your child? What was your experience like?

Kids and Chronic Health Concerns
Kids and Chronic Health Concerns
Kids and Chronic Health Concerns

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