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How Much Do You Spend On Your Kid’s Activities?

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

I’m always writing out a check for something related to my 12-year-old daughter’s passion for acting, dancing, and singing. But since her first ballet lesson nine years ago, I’ve somehow avoided adding up how much I spend in a year. So last Sunday when my husband and I sat down to make the family budget, I was shell shocked at the total on the calculator: more than $3,000—and that’s not counting her summer camps (which is a financial black hole all on its own) or “little” extras (like the countless pairs dance tights she’s ripped or the 9 p.m. Chipotle runs because she’s starving after play practice). I fessed up on Facebook about how much money I spend and asked friends to do the same. While some friends are still in avoidance mode (“I’m afraid to add it all up!” one mom of a 2- and 5-year-old wrote), many did privately share:

“Competitive gymnastics is costing us almost $6,000 a year now and she’s only 8.”

“It’s $3,710 per year for my boys, ages 2 and 5, to have swim class, gym sessions, and learn the Chinese language.”

“We spend $10,000 a year for our two kids to play ice hockey.”

“$1,700 on piano lessons for two kids—plus we pay for dance and sports too.”

“We’re at $5,000 since summer for competitive soccer.”

“Competitive cheering costs us $10,000 a year.”

“Just one gymnastic competition leotard costs me $300.” (Makes me feel better about those $4 kids’ dance tights from Target.)

“We spend $425 a month on music lessons for two kids. I don’t even want to do the multiplication.”

“Between horseback riding lessons and competitions, I spend $4,000 a year. That’s why she has to teach herself piano.”

Before you think I must have rich friends, I need to tell you that’s not the case. These middle-class families devote a lot of their disposable income to helping kids pursue their passions. As one friend said, “I spend $3,000 a year on piano lessons for my two boys. I love their teacher, and it’s worth every penny.”

I know my daughter would freak at the prospect of cutting back her theater activities—and whether or not she ever realizes her Broadway dream, the confidence and friendships she’s gained are more than worth the tuition costs. (So what if I can’t afford to re-model the kitchen right now?) Weigh in: Do you think it’s absurd to spend that much? Or are you doing the same? Tell me in the comments!

Karen Cicero is the Contributing Nutrition & Travel Editor at Parents and mom to a dramatic tween, who was just cast in a local production of Narnia. Follow her on Twitter @karencicero.

How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer
How to Pitch Like a Big Leaguer

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Why I Don’t Like School Rankings

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

I spend a lot of time every week working for Parents on stories that rank things—from children’s hospitals to Caribbean islands, theme parks to birthday party places. By all accounts, the numbers geek in me should be all over my daughter’s school rankings, whether they’re from the state or an education website. But I don’t even bother looking them up anymore because I think the methodology is shaky. And if you’re using rankings to decide where your child is going to go to kindergarten in the fall, I’d put more stock in the gut feeling from the school tour.

Here’s why: The basis of these rankings is most often standardized test results (and they’re under a lot of fire these days for whether they’re a valid way to measure what kids learn). Even if you do have a sound standardized tests that all kids could take, you’d still have to be very careful when looking at the data comparing two schools because the number of children with learning disabilities, non-English speaking students, and economically disadvantaged kids (all of which likely have lower test scores) would probably be different at each school. What’s more, if a school has a lot of students who transferred there within the last year or two, it muddies the picture too.

A couple of years ago, a national magazine ranked a high school in my area the second best in the state. I was confounded at that because this school didn’t have high-school sports teams, a theater program, or much else in the way of extra-curricular activities. But the magazine didn’t take that into consideration.

For what it’s worth, I think the best schools have a diverse student body; loving, involved parents; dedicated teachers who are problem-solvers, as well as an administration who is willing to take risks. Unfortunately, school rankings come up short in giving up this information.

Karen Cicero is contributing nutrition and travel editor at Parents, and mom of a tween. You can follow her on Twitter at @karencicero. 



Preparing for the First Day of School
Preparing for the First Day of School
Preparing for the First Day of School

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One Mom’s Christmas Wish for Her Daughter With Rare Disorders

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

This is a guest post from Nicole Burns D’Angelo, whose daughter, Ella, has rare brain and intestinal disorders. She’s been treated at the two top children’s hospitals in the country—The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Boston Children’s Hospital. I first learned of her story because some friends posted on her Facebook site, Team Ella. Nicole’s Christmas wish is to spread Ella’s story so that families with children also facing the same challenges can connect. 

I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in April 2012. Our joy soon became fear. Ella wasn’t able to eat. We rushed her to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where many test were performed. Ella wasn’t thriving and we needed answers. After countless test we finally received the news that Ella had an extremely rare brain disorder called Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome or CBPS. A brain disorder so rare our likelihood of meeting someone else with the same disorder were very slim. CBPS consist of feeding difficulty, partial paralysis of the facial and throat muscles as well as hard to control epilepsy. There’s no cure. It was all so hard to understand we just kept asking why. It didn’t end there.Soon following Ella’s brain diagnosis, her intestines stopped functioning properly. There we were back again having test after test. Ella was diagnosed with Enteric Neuropathy, a disorder that effects the nerves in her entire intestinal tract. Ella is surviving off of TPN (IV nutrition) which she receives through a central line in her chest. IV nutrition can only help her for so long. It can not be a long-term plan. IV nutrition can affect major organs one being the liver causing failure. We spend a lot of time at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, but we make the most of every moment. Ella is the happiest 2 -year-old despite her struggles. She faces everything with a smile.

The holidays are here, and we hoping for a Christmas miracle. The miracle of a cure, a promising treatment, or even a family we can talk to who are facing our same battle. Our Christmas wish is to spread her story. We want other parents to know they are not alone, never give up, and always have hope!

How to Make an Angel Christmas Ornament
How to Make an Angel Christmas Ornament
How to Make an Angel Christmas Ornament

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Why Is It Okay to Bash Teens?

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

My daughter is 12—still seven months away from her birthday—yet acquaintances have been going out of their way to warn me about the teen years. Elizabeth Lauten’s now famous-Facebook post that criticized the appearance and behavior of the First Daughters also took a swipe at all teens. You might recall that her rant started out as, “I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but…”

I’m not so foolish to think that teaching my daughter how to drive, dealing the pressure of the SATs and college application letters, or helping her navigate boyfriend drama won’t be stressful. But come to think of it so were potty-training, separation anxiety, and the science fair. As for behavior, I’ll take eye-rolling over throwing herself on the ground in the middle of Target any day. And while I likely won’t prefer everything she wears and watches (Miranda Sings, you know who you are!), I didn’t when she was five either.

In the midst of thinking about all this, I ran across an interesting article today in my newsfeed about the teenage brain. Researchers from three major U.S. universities studied 40 kids ages 11 to 17. In the study, the kids listened to an audio clip of their own mothers saying, “One thing that bothers me about you is that you get upset over minor issues. I could tell you to take your shoes from downstairs. You’ll get mad that you have to pick them up and actually walk upstairs and put them in your room.” During criticism and for little while afterwards, researchers found that the pre-teens and teens had reduced activity in the areas relating emotional control and empathy. In other words, their brain starts shutting down, which helps explain why they tend to be maddeningly unresponsive while you’re being critical. So maybe it’s biological…not defiance.

Whether that’s the case or not, I have no intention of going into the teen years with dread. Won’t you join me? Parents of teens or soon-to-be teens, weigh in!

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Where Are All The Lifeguards?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

My daughter is not a strong swimmer. And I have a bit of helicopter tendencies. So even though I’m watching her whenever we’re at the pool or beach, I appreciate an extra set of eyes too. And it shocks me how many hotels and resorts don’t have lifeguards—even if they have multi-million dollar water play areas. When I survey beach resorts for Parents 10 best stories, I always ask about lifeguard coverage. Much to my surprise, I’ve found that at least half of resorts, even the super-pricey ones, make you swim at your own risk. It’s even worse on cruise lines. When I was researching our cruise story this year, I was shocked to learn that only one major cruise line, Disney, has lifeguards.That’s despite the fact that this year, a 4-year-old drowned in a pool on a cruise line that didn’t have guards at the pool.

If some resorts can afford seemingly over-the-top perks like a concierge just for kids, why can’t they pay a lifeguard-certified college student to patrol the pool? I’ve asked that to travel industry friends over the years, and they say it comes down to liability. If something were to happen while the lifeguard were on duty, the resort might be deemed responsible. A warning sign about not having a lifeguard apparently lets them off the hook.

In a recent survey, 80 percent of parents say they’d look more favorable on a cruise line with lifeguard backup. So do me a favor (and I’ll do the same) if you visit a hotel, resort, or cruise ship without a lifeguard, mention it when you’re asked about your stay. (And by the same token, express your appreciation for lifeguard coverage.) If more moms and dads made it loud and clear that we’d like a lifeguard on duty—and told the travel industry that was a factor in making a decision about where we spend our vacation dollars—things might change. Are you with me?

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