We are a Paleo family. Paleo is such a trendy diet that admitting it makes me cringe a bit inside. It sounds as if I’m also the type who has a teacup pig as a pet that I carry in my LV backpack. But the truth is that I have been Paleo (or a version of it, which I will explain) since my son was born six years ago. And I have learned a lot from trying to feed a family of four healthfully when the whole world is tempting me (begging me?) not to. I’ve had to bend some of the rules of Paleo, which if you follow the hard-core definition includes no dairy, no legumes, no grains, no alcohol, all-free range meats, pro-organic and anti-GMO everything, and no processed foods whatsoever (cereal, bread, pasta, condiments, etc). I’m sure that the Paleo Police will put me in jail (what would they serve if not bread? nuts?) if they read this, but it’s how I manage it. (btw: we never went this far; yikes!) And honestly, it’s not that difficult after you get in the hang of it.
If you are looking for a way for your family to be healthier without going all whole 30, give my Paleo Light rules a try:
1. Only control what the kids eat in your own house. Outside of a few key things that I note below, we try to be strict within the walls of our own home. We eat homemade meals made from as little processed foods as possible (i.e., store-bought ketchup is allowed in the meatloaf, but no noodles in the lasagna). But I can’t control the outside world and I’ve stopped trying. Paleo is not like an allergy. It’s not going to kill my kids to eat “regular” food. So when they go to other kids’ houses, birthday parties, soccer games, Girl Scouts, and pretty much every other child-focused activity or event known to man they can eat the cookies, crackers, pop-tarts, cereal or whatever other crap is on tap. (I use to hold out hope that they’d resist, but let’s face it: What kid can say no to Oreos?!) When other kids come to our house? They get apples, clementines, dates … and if they are really lucky homemade almond crackers. (please don’t roll your eyes!)
2. Value your own sanity. Like any parent, I struggle to pack a healthy lunch every day. So much so that about two years ago, I passed the job off to my husband, who was the Paleo pioneer in our house. (“You want them to eat Paleo? You pack their lunch!”) And even he struggled to make a lunch without sliced bread. So now wheat bread is in the house for lunches. And peanut butter, too. But I check the product labels so sugar isn’t in the ingredients or is as far down the list as possible (quite a challenge!). I also cook from regular cookbooks — How to Cook Everything is still my bible — and adjust where necessary (skip the sugar in the pasta sauce, sub almond flour for bread crumbs, pureed cauliflower for mashed potatoes, etc). Having to use only Paleo-specific recipes can be exhausting. And no, I don’t use coconut sap. But I do try to use maple syrup, agave or honey instead of white sugar when I have to use sweetener.
3. Don’t buy all organic. My son alone will eat 2 dozen apples in a week if I put them all out at once after a Cosco run (which I’ve learned not to do). And the trouble with apples? They are always on the EWG Dirty Dozen list, so I suck it up and buy them organic. But there are a lot of fruits and veggies you can skip the organic markup (pretty much anything with a tough skin like watermelon, bananas, pineapple, etc.) And while I try to buy free-range eggs and meat and line-caught seafood, I can’t do it at the Farmer’s Market or even at Whole Foods even though I wish I could. Instead, I stock up when I can find these foods at Cosco and Trader Joe’s. (TJ’s is a Paleo Mom’s best friend; the cheap bags of almond flour alone is reason to go.)
4. Bake in Exceptions. Every Tuesday is Pizza Day at my kids’ school and they get to forgo their Paleo Light packed lunch and partake just like everyone else. (And Dad gets a day off packing it). Every Thursday is Pancake Day with maple syrup and yogurt (even though they are made with almond flour!). And on the rare occasion we go to Smash Burger the kids eat burgers and hot dogs with the buns (I do insist on subbing in sweet potato fries). All birthdays get a cake with real flour and (horrors!) white sugar. Except for my husband who prefers a flourless chocolate cake (you should try it; it’s amazing).
My own concession? I may skip the pasta, the bread basket, and the rice (and oh do I miss it all), but I will never rule out wine or my favorite cocktail. I mean, there have to be limits to everything. Seriously.
Over the past several months, I’ve become more and more concerned about the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (AKA the PARCC) that’s being given to students in grades 3 through 11 here in New Jersey and in a handful of other states. So concerned, in fact, that after doing extensive research on it, I chose to refuse the PARCC test for my daughters.
And now, I’m feeling even more convinced that there are major issues with the PARCC. Just this week, news surfaced that test-maker Pearson has been vigilantly monitoring social media for mentions of its controversial new standardized test, then asking the Board of Education to step in and punish students who are tweeting about the PARCC in ways that they deem inappropriate. The superintendent of Watchung Hills Regional High School in New Jersey was the first to sound the alarm bell, after receiving a late-night call from the New Jersey Department of Education. Pearson claimed the student had posted a screenshot of a test question during the testing timeframe—but it turned out that the student hadn’t posted an image, and had tweeted about the test after school hours.
This whole social media monitoring scheme seems to be pretty unfair, given the fact that some of the schools in New Jersey have not allowed parents and students to refuse the test or have used pressuring tactics like making them simply sit and stare during the duration of the test if they refuse to participate. So now, these kids not only may be forced to take this test against their will, but if they are caught “revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication,” Pearson will find out through their apparently eagle-eyed social media watching program, track down the student and their school district, and demand punishment. And at least one child in New Jersey is currently on suspension as a result. (I’m thinking that hardly seems legal to silence the students given the freedom of speech afforded by the First Amendment, and the fact that even though Pearson required all teachers and proctors to sign a nondisclosure agreement, the actual test takers are minors and can’t legally sign a contract.)
But Pearson is doing more than snooping on what your kid is tweeting. It’s getting quite a bit of data about your child through the PARCC test. That includes more than the basics, like name, birthdate, sex, and ethnicity. Pearson also knows what disabilities your child has, whether he or she has been labeled gifted and talented, and if she’s eligible for reduced/free lunch (so that gives them a clue about how your family finances look). And then, of course, Pearson is getting all sorts of data about how your child is doing on their test. (Though the actual value of that data is uncertain, given the concerns about the structure and style of the PARCC.)
The amount and types of data Pearson is collecting raises concerns about security breaches, as hackers could access this very personal information about children. And it also makes you wonder what Pearson has planned for this data. One potential clue is an Instagram image that’s been posted around, of a potential student data file of the future—it’s a screen capture from a video Pearson produced. For a kid that looks to be about a fifth grader, it suggests a single career path, five potential colleges, and a high school schedule. Should we really be trying to pigeon hole kids to a certain career before they hit junior high, based on a series of standardized tests? (I can assure you that my fifth grader’s current career aspiration, ballet dancer, won’t be among the choices offered by Pearson.)
If you’re worried that your child’s privacy may be compromised, there are steps you can take:
Contact your child’s school and ask them what private companies or third-party providers have access to your child’s data. There are two laws in place that are meant to protect your child’s data at school: FERPA and COPPA. Neither is perfect, but they will at least allow you to find out who has your child’s data, and start contacting these companies to request that they remove identifying information.
Refuse the PARCC tests. Even if your child took the first set of testing this March, there’s more PARCC to be had later in May. You can refuse the test and prevent Pearson from getting more of your child’s information.
Share your concerns with your school board, state legislators, and local media. The more voices that speak up with concerns about these possible violations of student privacy and freedom of speech, the more likely that the voices will be heard.
Lisa Milbrand writes Parents.com’s In Name Only blog and is the mom of two girls.
3 Things Parents Can Do to Help Kids Manage Homework
The study found that 54% of children ages under age 5 are read aloud to at home five to seven days a week, as compared to only 34% of kids ages 6 to 8 and 17% of kids ages 9 to 11. Nearly one in four parents stopped reading to their child entirely by the time she was 9. However, 86% of 6- to 8-year-olds and 84% of 9- to 11-year-olds (and even 80% of 12- to 14-year-olds) said they either liked or loved being read to.
I’ve got nothing against Ivy and Bean, but the truth is that sometimes the books at your child’s reading level just aren’t as interesting as ones that are a bit too hard for her to tackle on her own.
For the last few years, I have been reading to my daughter, now 10, while she eats breakfast. One reason I started this routine was just to distract her so she’d sit still and eat, but it has really helped her get her more excited about books. And I’ve been able to introduce her to titles she might not have chosen on her own. “Sometimes it’s easier and more fun to listen to a book than to read it yourself,” she told me today.
Ten minutes at a time, we read all three of The Land of Stories books, by Chris Colfer, for example, and she’s recommended them to all her friends. The cover of E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan (one of my childhood favorites) looked boring to her, but I insisted we give it a try, and she loved it. Although she’d read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by herself, she got scared when she started reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was less scary when I read it to her, and I’m hoping that she’ll go back to finish the rest of the series on her own. Since she had enjoyed reading Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind on her own, we’re now reading Stella by Starlight, the author’s newest book about a North Carolina girl’s encounter with the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s. It’s already sparked a lot of discussion.
Part of me wonders whether I’m robbing her of the opportunity to read these great books on her own, but maybe she’ll go back and read them again someday. Right now, I feel lucky that I can share the experience of reading them with her.
Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two daughters.
Any tennis players out there? Fans? People who think tennis is boring? (I’m here to prove that group wrong.)
My family is big into tennis—our dog’s name is Wilson, named for the ball. I grew up learning to play in the summers, mostly during free clinics at our outdoor Jewish Community Center. I forfeited around the age of 12 when I decided that 1PM lessons in the heat of the day with a heavy racket bothering my wrist and my flat feet pulsing was not my idea of fun. Which is why when the United States Tennis Association launched it’s Youth Tennis initiative in 2008, I hit my head and thought “Of course!”
The Youth Tennis movement emphasizes that kids should learn to play the sport in a world customized to their size—smaller rackets, bigger and softer balls, a half-size court. In the words of the USTA, why should a 5-year-old play with the same racket and be asked to hit the same distance as Rafael Nadal? Touche.
I stopped swinging at age 12, but I have become a SUPERFAN since. Even when I wasn’t playing, tennis taught me the lessons of dedication, perseverance, mental strength, and problem-solving. Not to mention, the value of staying physically active.
In celebration of World Tennis Day this past Tuesday, I watched a Youth Tennis demonstration before watching tennis legends Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini, Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov take the court at Madison Square Garden. Throughout the month of March the USTA will host thousands of Tennis Play events across the country. Watching these players from age 7 to age 44 play in the same night emphasized one of the greatest things about tennis: You can play at any age. While I gave up the sport as a kid, you might say that I’m planning to come out of my retirement because tennis is a lifelong sport.
As former World number 4 James Blake said, “To have a lifetime sport like tennis, where my mom is playing at 80 years old, where [kids] can play and love it at any level, you can have fun playing the sport and it keeps you in great shape.” Since tennis is a great sport for all ages, it’s a great way to spend time with your family. My parents used to play mixed doubles against my two younger siblings and I’d play chair umpire/ball girl. (See? I got my exercise in.)
What’s more, tennis can be a great bonding experience off the court. Blake said his fondest childhood tennis memory was going to the U.S. Open with his dad, “I really cherished the ability to have quality time with my family. That can’t be substituted for. I got to sit there and watch three hours of a tennis match and talk to my dad.” A father of two girls under two—Riley and Emma—Blake looks forward to sharing moments like this with his daughters.
I’ve been going to the U.S. Open with my family every year since 2000. One of our greatest memories was watching a 5-hour-and-19-minute match on a tiny side court and cheering on American player Scoville Jenkins into the night. Now, when we watch tennis on TV, we text each other constantly. It’s a string that keeps us bound. If that’s not a reason to consider the sport, I don’t know what is.
Playing With Baby: Get Moving
Ruthie Fierberg is an editorial assistant at Parents. Though she does not have children of her own, she’s practically been raising kids since her first babysitting job at age 11. She is our resident theater aficionado and can be found constantly running around New York City to find the best new show, the most awesome dance party, or the hottest Bikram yoga studio. Follow her on on Twitter @RuthiesATrain.
Parents, the kind who know how to behave in polite society, don’t lose their cool in public. Nope, we save the screamy moments for behind closed doors. But—blush!—Sheila McCraith was caught red-handed when her handyman came upon her yelling at her four boys, then all under the age of five. “We’re talking red-in-the-face, body-shaking, full-on screaming. I was mortified by my behavior…and then, after some soul searching, inspired to finally change my behavior,” says McCraith. McCraith set a formidable goal: She wouldn’t yell at her children for 365 days. Even more ambitious: If she did yell, she would have to reset her counter, and start her no-yell challenge over from the beginning. Because she’s human, McCraith did break down: eight times.
When McCraith went public with her experience, launching a blog called The Orange Rhino Challenge, she met many others—moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, caregivers—who identified with her struggle, and shared her same feelings of shame, disappointment, and frustration. Me? I’d prefer to hide from the conversation here and say I don’t have a yelling problem per se, but who am I kidding? I, too, have yelled with the best of them, and like McCraith, I’ve really regretted those times, even though my kids still love me and seem to forgive me.
Still, who wants to be a yeller, ever? That’s why I was so glad to learn about The Orange Rhino blog, which was one of our winners in Parents’ Best Blogs of 2013. McCraith has compiled her hard-won success and experience into a new handy, easy-to-follow book, Yell Less, Love More. What I love about this book is that it’s written by a fellow parent who’s so been there. (Four kids!) McCraith gets us. And she’s generously baring her screw-ups and success for the rest of us to learn, and to simply feel less ashamed and alone. “Parenting isn’t about perfection, but about progress,” McCraith writes. “Mistakes happen. It’s what I do afterward that’s more important than the mistake.”
These are just a few helpful tips from McCraith, a “recovering yeller.”
1) Yell at inanimate objects.
“Inanimate objects don’t have feelings, kids do,” writes McCraith, who’s yelled into toilets and into refrigerators. “The waffles in the freezer won’t get scared if I yell at them, my kids will. The toilet won’t scream at me, ‘You’re the worst person ever!’ if I yell into it; my kids will.” The more McCraith practiced controlling where she directed her yells—and the more her kids laughed watching her yell at her clothes—“the more I learned to calm myself down so that the yell didn’t come out at all.”
2) Track your triggers.
It’s hard, uncomfortable work, but McCraith suggests writing down when you yell, or even when you’ve wanted to yell and didn’t, so you can recognize trends. As she points out, when you can recognize triggers, you can gain mastery over them, instead of letting them master you. McCraith notes that writing down the superficial reasons—the kids left crayons out, or they wouldn’t stop whining—will help you to dig deeper when looking over the day’s events. Then you can ask yourself: Were the kids really acting “bad,” or were they merely being kids, and I was perhaps just in a bad mood? Did I have a fight with someone today? Is my to-do list overwhelming me today?
3) Fix the fixable triggers.
Agitated before dinner because you have no clue what you’re going to eat, and people still need to be fed day after day? McCraith suggests making a menu for the week every Saturday morning, grocery shopping for said menu, and posting the menu on the fridge. Poof! The stress of what to cook and not having the necessary ingredients is gone, along with a trigger for yelling. I identify with one of McCraith’s personal triggers: clutter. I can’t stand watching it amass in the family room, the kitchen, the kids’ rooms, and it’s when I’m most likely to have a sudden outburst. I like McCraith’s simple suggestion of taking five minutes each night to put away any clutter she sees. So the next morning when she has four kids asking for milk, juice, and cereal, she starts calmly with a clean counter, instead of an agitating, most-likely-to-trigger-yelling scene.
McCraith has these and many more wonderful insights. With 100 alternatives to yelling in the book, there’s really no excuse. She has a summary of her top 10 revelations about yelling, and I’ll be keeping this sweet, motivating one in mind:
“Good things happen when I don’t yell. Whether it’s extra hugs, extra spontaneous ‘I love yous,’ or extra special conversations, good things happen if I keep it together.”
Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mom of three. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.