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Lessons I Learned During a Kid-Free Vacation

Friday, June 27th, 2014

In our nine years as parents, my husband and I have never taken more than 24 hours off from the job together. We already had nine years and countless adventures together pre-kids, so we figured we might as well spend lots of time with our daughters while they still liked us. (And since we’re starting to get some eye rolling if we so much as breathe in our daughters’ presence, the time when we become completely uncool to our kids is close at hand.)

And besides, we adore our daughters—so why not spend some time with them?

But when my mom retired last year, her very first request was to host the girls for a few days of “Nana Camp,” where they could get their craft on (my family’s craft genes skipped my generation), and my husband and I could get a little peace and quiet.

It wasn’t easy, though, for us to say goodbye—I had a big lump in my throat as I watched them walk away with my mom. I knew my girls were in good hands, and they’d barely notice that we were gone. But without them around, my house would be quiet. Too quiet.

I’m leaving in a few minutes to trek up to my old homestead to pick them up, but in the meantime, here’s what I learned in my 96 hours sans kids.

1. We haven’t become an old married couple—yet. We’re 15 years into our marriage, and more than 18 into our romance, and I was worried that without the kiddos around, we’d just sit and stare at each other, sip soup loudly and say things like, “I wonder what the girls are doing.” But when we’re alone, we’re still the same kids we were when we tied the knot—just a bit grayer around the edges. When we first got home without them, we were at a loss as to what to do with ourselves—we ended up just sitting around, watching World War Z and eating cheese. But the next night, we hit a local tapas bar and had a ball—and only mentioned the kids in that “we obviously can’t take the kids here” way. We still know how to have fun with each other, without the kiddos—and I have high hopes for a decade from now, when our kids are grown (if not exactly gone).

2. My kids are to blame for the way my house looks. Yeah, this wasn’t exactly breaking news, as it generally took three seconds after their arrival after school before their backpack contents were scattered about like giant paper bombs had exploded in our living room. And despite trying nearly every system to get our kids to clean up after themselves, we’re still figuring out how to get them to put their shoes (and their dolls’ shoes) in the right spot. Our cleaning lady came on the same day we left to take them to camp, and three days later, our house still looks like it did when she left. Maybe it’s the lack of clutter, or maybe it’s the lack of bickering, but our house feels so much more zen over the past few days. And I’d like it to stay that way—so my kiddos should expect a lot more haranguing to keep their messes contained.

3. My parents have gone soft. Once upon a time, I got grounded for a week for not playing tennis with my baby brother, and was never allowed to have soda or Lucky Charms. But apparently, they’ve now cultivated an atmosphere that’s more like Las Vegas for the 18-and-under set. There’s sugary cereal and the limits I normally place on my kiddos apparently don’t apply. I’m beginning to become concerned that my children will not want to come back to our house, where there are proper bedtimes and restrictions on video games. And I’m absolutely certain that my children think I lied when I tell them my stories of woe from growing up with their beloved Nana and Papa.

4. I wouldn’t change a thing. Yeah, living a kid-free life means a lot less stress, a lot more sleep, a lot less arguing and a lot more grownup fun. But I miss my girls terribly, and I can’t wait to have their hugs and chatter and noise back in our house again.

Tell us: Do you take kid-free breaks? How does it impact your relationship with your mate and your kiddos?

Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do
Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do
Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do

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Battling the End-of-Year Blues

Friday, June 6th, 2014

For so many of my friends, summer has already begun. I’ve been positively pea green with envy as I see all those cute last-day-of-school pictures and celebratory ice cream cones. Because here, we’re still drowning in homework and the endless parade of end-of-school events, and we have about 12 days, four hours and 35 minutes left until it’s finally over. (Not that I’m counting.)

Don’t get me wrong—I love school. I ADORE school. And my kids generally do, too. It’s just that the end-of-year hoopla is as relentless and draining as the pre-Christmas/Hanukkah frenzy. And based on the hollow eyes and Walking Dead zombie shuffles I’m seeing at dropoff, it’s clear that my fellow parents are about one to-do away from collapsing on the sidewalk in a slightly soft and sweaty middle-aged heap.

For starters, my youngest daughter’s teacher is a sadist. She sent my daughter home last week (LAST WEEK!) with her very first (and fingers crossed, last) first grade project. It’s a report about an animal, with an accompanying diorama of the animal in its habitat. Her teacher insisted that we couldn’t half-ass it and buy one of those tubes of tiny plastic animals from the craft store (or 1-Clicking it from Amazon, which would have been my M.O.). So instead, we spent two hours modeling a cheetah-like creature out of clay so we could hot-glue it into her shoebox. I had planned to cover the outside of the box with paper to make it look nicer, but my daughter couldn’t care less, and neither can I. (If my daughter’s teacher had wanted a fancy paper covering, she should have scheduled this particular project in April, when we still gave a hoot.)

My schedule this week also includes two recitals (with accompanying dress rehearsals), an awards ceremony of indeterminate length, our regular slate of post-school activities, a Girl Scout moving up ceremony, a “fun Friday” event at the school, and naturally, baking a cake that my oldest daughter could bring in to her class to construct a massive map of New Jersey out of sugar, and then eat it with her classmates. (That’s the culmination of a full year of studying New Jersey history.)

My youngest daughter’s Girl Scout ceremony conflicts with her dress rehearsal, and comes right after “fun Friday,” which includes events like face painting, water balloon throwing and eating a full year’s supply of red food coloring in the form of Italian ice. We have argued every single day this week about why she can’t get her face painted, because we have had situations where even sandpaper doesn’t seem to get the face paint off of her thoroughly, and her dance teacher would probably frown on that accessory. However, I’m fully expecting that my daughter’s going to come home today with a big black owl painted on her cheek, which I’m sure will look lovely with both her rainbow sparkle tutu and her haphazardly adorned Daisy tunic (we lost about 79 percent of the badges before I had enough spare time to try to iron them on).

But that’s nothing compared to what my equally fatigued book club pals have. As we slumped in chairs and tried to resuscitate ourselves with prosecco and peanut butter cookies, we traded war stories. One was convinced her daughter stopped actually learning in March, so her class could squeeze in all the field trips, bonding events, and celebrations that come with graduating sixth grade. Her dance card’s still full with special breakfasts and ceremonies through the end of the year. Another has a second grade graduation to attend next week at 9:30 a.m.—and the note came home saying that “most kids go home afterward with their parents to celebrate for the rest of the day.” (She guesses most parents in her school must not actually work for a living.) Her school, inexplicably, goes one half-day longer than ours, but she’s rebelling and taking her kids to the beach on the last day of school instead.

I’m putting a plea out now, for next year, to all the extracurricular activity runners and the teachers: Go easy on us in June. We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re sick of sending in healthy lunches and signing permission slips and nagging about homework. Move whatever you can to March or May or better yet, October, when we’re still fresh and excited and eager. Right now, all we want to do is sip iced tea in a hammock and let our kids run through the sprinkler. Or maybe sleep in a hammock for an entire day. Either way, I’m officially washing my hands of all cheetah-sculpting and book report reviewing—until at least September 1.

Tell us: What’s on your agenda for the rest of the school year? Or are you—lucky dog—already done?

If you’re looking for fun activities to keep the kids occupied this summer, check out our cool summer craft ideas. And sign up for our Parents Daily newsletter to get fresh ideas delivered to your inbox every day. 

Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes
Snow Cone Cupcakes


Image: Blackboard summer message by blackboard1965/

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Why #YesAllWomen Should Matter to Parents

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

In the wake of yet another mass shooting of young women and men in Isla Vista, the hashtag #YesAllWomen took off, as a way for women to share stories about the ways that male violence and harassment have impacted their lives. Odds are, you’ve probably seen this in your Twitter and Facebook feeds—and the stories I’ve read were harrowing. Horrific stories of domestic abuse, rape, even murder—and even the more typical tales of girls groped on the subway, women who don’t feel safe walking around alone at night, women who are told they should feel flattered when they get catcalled on the street. And really—should it be considered “typical” for a woman to feel like a walk around the block is too dangerous to risk? (If you want to just get the Cliffs Notes version of this debate, check out this list of some of the most thought-provoking #YesAllWomen tweets.)

But even though the tweets themselves are scary, scarier still is the backlash and comments these statements have provoked from a few men, who have harassed and even threatened women who chose to speak out. Because what we all should be doing is coming together and figuring out how to solve this issue—not intimidating people who are brave enough to share their stories. And who better to start on the path toward solving this than parents like us, who are raising daughters and sons.

I want my daughters to be smart and strong and kind and loving. But because I also don’t want them to be victims, they’ve been taught stranger danger, instructed not to trust adult men, and sent for years of karate and jiu jitsu lessons, so they can fight back if something does go terribly wrong. These are not the lessons I want to be teaching my daughters.

I’m hoping that my friends with sons will be teaching them a different set of lessons—how to honor and respect the women and girls they meet. That no means no, no matter what a girl is wearing or whether she’s had a few margaritas. That women aren’t conquests—that their opinions, thoughts and feelings matter more than their level of hotness. That sometimes, “manning up” means stepping in when your friend is crossing the line with a girl—and not staying silent. Because that silence means that you’re supporting whatever actions your friend is taking.

But I’m worried, because I can already see it starting. Lately, the girls in my daughter’s fourth grade class have been complaining nonstop about the boys, who keep trying to boss them around and put them in their place. Right now, it’s “kids’  stuff,” fights over kickball games and whose turn it is to lead the line. My daughter comes home angry about the latest boy-related slights to her and her friends, and tries to work with me to come up with strategies to deal with it.  I’ve been telling her to just ignore the boys and they’ll probably stop. But maybe that makes me part of the problem, by teaching her to stay silent and not speak up about the issues, like we’ve all been doing for far too long. Maybe we should be supporting our daughters as they fight to be treated like equals.

Tell us: What do you think of the #YesAllWomen movement? What lessons and values are you hoping to instill in your kids?

Image: Loving hands by CHAINFOTO24/


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Are Schools Bullying Kids Over High-Stakes Testing?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Last week, my 9-year-old endured five days of testing, thanks to a government who doesn’t believe her teachers can do their job, and a school that desperately needs the funding that they will (hopefully) get if the kids filled in those little bubbles correctly. And so, the school devoted hours to test strategy and practice tests, and sent my little perfectionist home with high-pressure messages that sent her over the edge. We considered refusing to let her take the test—here in New Jersey, unlike New York, there’s no official “opt out” policy, but we still have the legal right to refuse. But we didn’t feel courageous enough to do it, and my straight A+ daughter desperately wanted to boost her NJASK scores, in the hopes that she could finally qualify for her school’s gifted and talented program. (That’s another whole story!)

But what was most shocking to me was when I started hearing stories about how some of the schools handled the children who refused to take the test. (And let’s face it—in most cases, that was the parents’ decision, not the kids.) While some kids were able to hang out in the library and read, or help out in the kindergarten classes, others were forced to stay in the test room and “sit and stare.” They couldn’t read or work on homework, but had to sit and stare at the wall for a few hours. Others were sent to the principal’s office, as if they’d committed some crime. In some high schools, the administrators said the children could be written up for insubordination. And at my daughter’s school, the principal threatened the one child who refused to take the test that she would be excluded from a “NJASK dance” they were having during school hours, that is sponsored by the school.

If other children did these sorts of things to these kids, they’d call it bullying. But apparently, in an effort to try to ensure that students take these tests, the school administrators felt they could use any means necessary, including abuse. (And let’s face it—forcing a third grader to sit silently for a couple of hours without allowing them to read, doodle, draw or do something engaging is pretty darned abusive.) And I’m sure there are parents who caved and let their children take the test after all, rather than make them spend several unfruitful hours over several days engaged in this battle of wills. There’s a point where fighting for what’s right isn’t worth the price to your kid.

Next year, our state switches over to the PARCC tests, a series of tests that’s supposed to make the NJASK seem like a walk in the park. I’m sure that more parents will be exercising their option to refuse next year—which puts even more kids in the line of fire.

Tell me: Did you opt out or refuse to let your child take high-stakes tests? Why or why not? How did your school handle it?

How’s your little one doing in school? Keep track of her progress using our free progress report.

Image: Mighty Sequoia Studio/

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Why I Pity Gwyneth Paltrow…Sort Of

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Let’s face facts: We all love to hate Gwyneth Paltrow. And she makes it really hard not to hate her. She still looks like that all-too-pretty popular girl from high school, with her over-whitened teeth and sleek blond locks. Her dating pool has been A-list all the way (we’re talking Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck before she settled down with her soon-to-be ex, Coldplay rock star Chris Martin). She has an Oscar, for God’s sake. And as the celebrity daughter of a celebrity couple, she’s never really ever set foot in the real world, which explains why she doesn’t quite get why we won’t be spending $450,000 on our spring wardrobes. Nor does she understand why her recent comment about how much harder she has it, working 14-hour days on a movie set, than those of us with “office jobs,” is setting the social media abuzz. (Don’t even get me started.)

But as she’s undergoing this divorce (ahem…conscious uncoupling), I’m feeling a teeny, tiny bit bad for her. Because in some ways, she’s just like you and me (or at least, like those annoying acquaintances we haven’t had the heart to unfriend yet). We’ve all been guilty of trying to make our lives look better and more perfect than they really are. We shove the dirty clothes out of the Instagram shot we’re taking of our kiddos finally playing nicely together for once. We gloss over the fact that we fed our kids chicken nuggets five times this week, and instead showcase the awesome tofu stir fry we whipped up on Sunday. (And we also neglect to mention how the kids made barfy noises when they looked at the dish.) Gwyneth’s just kicking her efforts to look perfect up a notch by getting some pseudo experts to reframe her crumbling marriage as a success, and by name dropping all her famous friends into interviews (Beyonce, Jay-Z, etc., etc. ad nauseum).

Gwyneth also has a tendency to get (more than) a little judgy. Like when she said that she’d rather die than let her kids eat Cup a Soup. Or when she talked about how she couldn’t wait to get back to Europe, because America’s such an “adolescent culture.” But let’s face it—we’re all judgy. Even with our very best BFFs, and most especially with strangers. (Have you ever seen some of the comments on blogs and Facebook pages? Seriously, it’s enough to make even the Grinch cry.) And didn’t we all have a lot of fun dissing her choice in baby names? (Apple, anyone?)

But still, who really wants to be in her expensive shoes right now? No matter how you try to spin it, divorce sucks. And it’s got to be even worse to break up your marriage when you’re always in the public eye and you have small kids you’re trying to protect.

So maybe we don’t really believe her (and we kind of roll our eyes) when she comes out with a gem like: “I’m just a normal mother with the same struggles as any other mother…There’s absolutely nothing perfect about my life, but I just try hard.” But she does have a struggle that many families are facing right now—and one I definitely don’t envy her.

Tell us: Do you love or loathe Gwyneth Paltrow?


Image: Gwyneth Paltrow by DFree /

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