Thursday, June 25, 2015

Adoptive Parents: How Would YOU Have Handled This?

“Mom, Mrs. Craftson wants to talk to you.” As my child announced this upon dismissal from school, I was a little nervous. Mrs. Craftson NEVER wants to talk to me. Turns out, I need not have worried. 

“We're going to be discussing immigration and having Immigration Day next week. How do you want me to handle it?” 

She asked me that because my daughter is adopted and the teacher was showing sensitivity to Diva's background. Still, it caught me off guard.

Since my daughter is Chinese and the rest of the family is not, it is readily apparent that she is adopted. She and I have given school presentations on it over the years, enlightening students as to what adoption is and answering any questions the children might have. Diva is proud of her Chinese heritage and readily talks about her background. After thinking for a moment, here was my response to Mrs. Craftson's question:

“When you're discussing immigration and family trees, please mention that families come together in many ways, so immigration is about your family's background, no matter how your family was formed.”

Diva came home a few days later and asked what her heritage is, besides being Chinese. That started a wonderful conversation about my background and that of my husband. When she needed to dress like an immigrant, she chose to be someone from Italy because, she said, “That's where our family's ancestors came from.”

It wasn't that she'd forgotten her background; rather, she was embracing our entire family's origins. 

Blood may determine genetics, but I don't believe it determines who is in your family.  So many of my friends are FAMILY to me.  Diva belongs to me, no matter how she came to be mine. 

Every once in a while I, as the parent of an adopted child, get thrown a curve ball, something that parents of biological parents to not experience (I know because I also have a biological child). I've found that tackling the question head on, and emphasizing that families DO come together in many ways is the best way to handle heritage questions. Adoption is an amazing way to grow a family and I'm delighted that the educators I've met thus far are sensitive to the feelings of adopted children. 

So, do you think I handled this correctly?  If not, what would you have done?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"You Want What?!" Why I Bought The Teenager THIS

My teen is a pretty low-maintenance guy who doesn't ask for a lot. Hell, he'd had holes in his sneakers for two months before we even knew he needed new shoes!  Thus, when he does ask for something, I usually get it for him. But I was not prepared for this request: 

“Mom, can you get me a kazoo?”

Huh? Kazoos are toys, silly things that go in goodie bags. I “accidentally” break them because they're so annoying. It is played by singing or speaking through a tube. This activates an air current that causes the membrane to vibrate and results in a nasal sound. It's so easy to play that toddlers can do it. But the teen wasn't asking for liquor or cocaine so off I went, searching through the house for one. I eventually wound up buying the damn thing at a music store that sells serious musical instruments.

Which brings me to the question: is a kazoo an actual musical instrument?

Apparently it is! I only learned this because shortly thereafter, Junior played me some kazoo music from an amazing musician named Tsuko G. Check out one of his YouTube videos:

Okay, so it's not Beethoven. Tsuko G plays mostly video game music, but it's actually good. 

This instrument of derision, known for its silly sound and found mostly in novelty music, circuses, and carnivals has its origins in the African mirliton. It was made out of the horn of a cow with the membrane consisting of the eggshells of spiders (source). The kazoo was patented in the U.S. in the 1900s and there's actually a Kazoo Museum in South Carolina. 

What's fascinating about the kazoo (two words I would never have thought could go in the same sentence) is how it allows all sorts of musical instruments to be imitated. The soprano kazoo can mimic a high-pitched flute while the alto kazoo can sound like a clarinet or trumpet. Similarly, the tenor kazoo resembles the sound made by a saxophone, the baritone version mimics a french horn, and the kaboom kazoo can sound like a tuba. 

My son has been playing his kazoo for about two weeks now. Some of it is silly stuff, parts of songs that find their way into his head. But some pieces are ones he plays on his clarinet and they sound quite nice. I've woken the kids up to kazoo music ("Reveillee") while Junior somewhat tenderly played his sister a lullaby which ended on such a silly note that it had us all giggling.

I'm glad I indulged the Boy in his request for this little $1 instrument. It's given us many hours of pleasure, both silly and non. Who knew a kazoo could bring one family such joy.

What do you think of kazoo music? 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

8 Tips For Surviving Your School's Fair

This evening, I'm sitting in a lawn chair parked in front of my daughter's elementary school. After seven hours of being cooped up learning on this lovely Summer day, she sprinted back to school for this, the event of all events, The Spring Fair. This annual gathering promises an evening of delight complete with inflatables (water and dry), a tiny train, carnival games, crafts, and the opportunity to cavort with her friends.

I'm less enthusiastic. Because she is my second child, it's my 10th year at this fair and they haven't changed the line-up in all of those years. So as I sit in my chair, let me share

8 Tips For Surviving Your School's Spring Fair

1.  Review With Your Child That They Are ONLY To Go Home With You (or whomever you designate). Our community is pretty safe, but I don't want Diva thinking that if she can't find me she can leave with someone else. Stress this before you even GET to the venue. 

2.  Prepay if you can. I ordered armbands the day they were announced. Kids are so excited by the prospect of fun, fun, fun that all they want to do is run off. Save yourself trying to find exact change with a hyper child by your side, grab a pre-paid armband, and set your kid free. 

3.  Set Up A Base Camp So They Can Find You.  If your child is old enough that you don't have to follow them, set up a base camp, preferably near some sort of reference point like a big rock, tree, bush, window, etc. Tell the kid where you're going to be and stress that they MUST check in periodically. They'll have to anyway if they want to buy food.

4.  Bring Cash.  Don't kid yourself that you're going to get away without buying anything at this event. Sure, you can bring all the organic, GMO-free stuff you want, but all that will happen is that your child will either A) wind up staring at his friends who are eating pizza or B) begging their friends or you for the crap they're serving. Bring water and maybe a snack or two, but resign yourself to the fact that you WILL be buying something. 

6.  Sit AWAY From The Loudspeakers.  For some reason, PTA people and school personnel don't like telling disc jockeys and entertainers that they're TOO FUCKING LOUD and that the noise level is GOING TO MAKE OUR KIDS HARD OF HEARING. Make your base camp away from the speakers and you can mitigate hearing loss for the both of you. You might even have a prayer of talking and listening to other parents.

7.  Be Prepared For A Tantrum When You Leave.  Understand that if you try to drag your kid away from the event before it officially ends, you're pitting yourself against a tired, wired-up kid who IS going to have a tantrum. Fortunately, it will probably be so loud there that no one will hear you arguing.

8.  Enjoy! The time is coming when you'll be dropping your kid off at an event and you won't get to see them having fun with their friends. Take some photos when they're not looking and remember how they look now. They'll only be this little once. 

We're home, and the Fair is now a memory. After being covered in foam and having her hair sprayed red and white, she's upstairs recuperating. Watching her have a blast was wonderful for me; I wouldn't have traded it for anything. Use these eight tips and you'll get through the Fair with a minimum of problems and, hopefully, a good amount of pleasure!


Yeah.  That's me...right....

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Mom's Guide To Comic Book Shows

I recently wrote about my experience at Special Edition NYC, a “pure celebration of comic book culture created specifically for die-hard comic book fans, creators and publishers” for The Geek Parent (read it here). I basically went because I'd never gone to a show like that before because, honestly, I'm just not into comic books. But I figured, if I truly am a geek parent, I should probably see what all the fuss was about.  It's good to try new things. 

Special Edition NYC was, according to an acquaintance who is a comic book aficionado, the perfect show to “cut my teeth on” since it's considered a relatively small show, as opposed to the various Comic Cons.  Also, the tickets were pretty cheap; it cost all of $30 for a Sunday pass. (I won't mention how much the tolls into the City and parking were, but going into NYC ain't cheap!

Even though I attended as an unofficial member of the media, I couldn't help but evaluate the show from a mom's perspective, especially since there were a fair number of kids under the age of 16 there. So, if you're considering taking your child to Special Edition NYC or a similar show, here's what you need to know: 

The Pros:

  • Special Edition NYC was extremely organized. Each person who worked there knew where the various lines, panels, and exhibitors were. Considering that I was insecure because I was certainly not in my element, this was refreshing!

  • The artists and writers were incredibly nice. These are professionals who are passionate about what they do. I especially enjoyed meeting artists John Trumbull and Rey Arzeno who both seemed to be doodling but were, in fact, effortlessly drawing amazing works of art while they chatted with me about what being an artist is like.  These guys are PASSIONATE about what they do and watching them would be fun for any kid.

    John Trumbull
    Rey Arzeno

  • There were lots of cosplay people (people in costume) there and a sign up reminding the rest of us to ask before you took a cosplay's picture. This is common courtesy, but the reminder was certainly appreciated. The cosplay people were even kind when I admitted that I didn't know who they were dressed up as.


  • There were panels that kids would certainly be interested in. Some were just fan meet-ups and autograph sessions, others involved engaging topics like how the writers get their ideas and how to pitch your comic books series to publishers.  I wanted to go to one on transgender characters in comic books (they've been around for ages), but didn't have the time.

  • Security was not checking bags, so you could easily bring food in for your kids to avoid spending a fortune.  Now I don't know if this is true for all shows, but it was a plus at Special Edition.

  • The vendors, too, were great. One in particular, the dashing Robert Quill, gave a really funny pitch as he explained his line of “Kreepsakes – Not Your Grammy's Cameo” which featured creepy, glow-in-the-dark pictures.

    Robert Quill and his "Kreepsakes"

The Cons:

  • The target market for many of the comics is young males, so there were MANY drawings of scantily-clad women and, indeed, some of the cosplay people were in skimpy costumes.

  • There are plenty of violent and scarey comics, so there were PLENTY of horror-type posters up.

  • While there weren't' many people there on Sunday, I understand that Saturday was packed. Before you go to a show, you may want to ask around which day is better.

    Photo From Special Edition NYC

All in all, Special Edition NYC was a lot of fun! 

It was...different and I'm glad I went. I may even pick up a comic book or two the next time I run across one. And I'm delighted with the souvenir I bought from Out of the Toy Box Jewelry. It's a necklace of the Jetson robot, Rosie, which is serving as a reminder to my family that I am NOT their maid!

Take into account my pros and cons and think about whether you'd take your child to a comic book show. It will definitely be an experience you won't forget!

Just for me:  Rosie from the Jetsons!

Thank you for reading!

Friday, June 5, 2015

What You MUST Know About Your Children's Friends And Why

Tis the season when children are finishing the school year and getting ready to embark on a summer full of activities and new friends. Of course, friendships are important and rewarding, but think about the powerful influence friends have over children. Undesirable behaviors and language are contagious as are concerns about body image and eating. Bullying can also rear its ugly head, even amongst “friends.” 

So here's what you need to know about your kid's peers and why:

  1. How they behave when they're with your child.  
    Observe the interaction between the kids, especially when they think you're not watching or listening. One of my daughter's friends threatened to “tell your mom on you” when the child was at my house. This later turned into a bullying issue that manifested itself at school. Listen for inappropriate language and whether they try to get around your House Rules. (Note: You can also learn a lot about YOUR child when you listen to them play with their friends.)

  2. Who their parents are. What are their parenting styles and values? Do they smoke or let their
    kids do things you wouldn't let your kid do (run wild in the neighborhood, watch/listen to inappropriate media, etc.)?

  3. How they interact with you. Is the child polite and respectful of adults? Does the child have manners? I've had kids go into my refrigerator and start rummaging through, looking for a snack. Others have demanded food instead of asking. And one kid decided to swing off a curtain rod (she didn't come back here again). Remember that behaviors spread and, honestly, I have NO problem reprimanding a guest.

  4. Who your child's friends' other friends are. You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Do they hang out with snobby kids or an older, faster crowd?

  5. What kind of student your child's friend is. If the friend is one who believes in working hard and getting their homework done, it can inspire your child to do their best, too. But, if the friend hates school and slacks off, that will also influence your kid. 

  6. Whether there are other family members or visitors in the child's household that you need to be aware of. This is especially true if your kid is having a playdate or going over the other person's house. Are there older siblings who might exhibit inappropriate behavior? Is there a nanny who will be taking care of the kids? One mother didn't tell me that she wouldn't be home for a playdate and that the nanny would be taking care of the kids. Since I didn't know the nanny, I was not okay with that!

When in doubt about the friend's family, try to get to know them by staying for a playdate or asking about them. I invite parents to come and stay! I get to know them and they see that we don't have any drugs, firearms, etc. around the house. One woman told me she'd asked around before letting her son come to play. I thought that was BRILLIANT and praised her for it. 

Friends have a powerful influence over our kids. 

Children are exposed to new ideas, values, and behaviors as a result of those relationships. By knowing as much as possible about who our children are hanging with, we can protect and teach our children what WE value and what needs to be left behind.

Friday, May 29, 2015

4 Easy, Effective Homemade Cleaners & One INCREDIBLE Fail

I love saving money with homemade cleaners. Years ago, when our dog was a puppy, I learned how effective diluted white vinegar was in cleaning up pee stains and neutralizing the odor. Soon after, I learned that white vinegar is great for disinfecting counter tops as well and it's now my family's FAVORITE cleaner. But there are others.

My FAVORITE cleaner - cheap and it has anti-bacterial properties.

Here are my four favorite homemade cleaners followed by one I tried which was a complete disaster.

  1. Laundry Stain Remover: In a spray bottle, mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide, 1 part baking soda, and 2 parts water. Spray on stains, wait two minutes, then wash.

  2. Drain Declogger: Before you reach for the Drano, try this first. Sprinkle one cup of super washing soda (find it in the laundry aisle) into the drain and then add two cups of boiling water (feel free to add more) down the drain to flush. This is great for drains that are slow and it's also great to do periodically to the kitchen sink to prevent clogs. 

  3. Floor Cleaner: Mix 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 gallon of hot water, ¼ cup of liquid soap and 1 to 2 tablespoons of pine or lemon oil. Clean the floor with a mop or damp rag. Follow with a clean-water mop. 

  4. Enamel Or Porcelain Cleaner: Mix 1 cup of baking soda or borax, some warm water, and 2 to 3 drops of liquid soap (I use Dawn). Apply to surfaces and let sit about 5 minutes before scrubbing with a non-abrasive sponge. Rinse and wipe off any residue.

Now about that epic fail...I've seen several recipes for homemade dishwasher detergent. Most include either borax or baking soda, maybe even super washing soda, as an ingredient. So I tried it on my GE Washer. BIG MISTAKE. The powder got into every crevice of the machine and coated the dishes. The heat cycle then baked that residue in. It effectively KILLED my $800 dishwasher. 

I also made a furniture cleaner with olive oil which left a nasty coating on my living room table. So what did I learn?

IF POSSIBLE, TEST THESE CLEANERS OUT BEFORE YOU USE A LOT OF THE STUFF.  Don't take my word or anyone else's.  No, there was no way of knowing the dishwasher detergent would kill my GE, but maybe if I'd tested the furniture cleaner out before using it on my table, it would have saved some scrubbing.


Happy Cleaning! 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day For Kids (With Links)

With the three-day weekend upon us, it's important to remind our kids (and ourselves) that Memorial Day is more than burgers and parades. It's a bittersweet occasion to remember those who protect our country now and did so in the past. 

The holiday originated on May 30, 1868, when Union General John A. Logan declared the day (then called Decoration Day) as an occasion to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers. A mere twenty years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day. On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. President Richard M. Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May. 

To celebrate it, you might want to take the kids to a local military site (it could be a graveyard, museum, or historical venue) to chat about what it means to be in the military and the sacrifices each service person and their families make. Here's a list of links that explain what Memorial Day is all about:

1.  This link from Apples4TheTeacher offers short stories about Memorial Day; they are appropriate for elementary school kids.  

2.  Visit Arlington National Cemetery online and show the kids how important this site is to our country.

3.  This site, US Memorial Day, gives the full history of the holiday and explains why the red poppies are the symbol of veterans.

Oh, and watch this excellent YouTube video explaining Memorial Day:

I think it's important for kids to understand the sacrifices those in the armed forces have made and continue to make. Memorial Day reminds us that freedom comes at a price and that many have paid that price so that we can live free in our country today. 

How will YOU celebrate this holiday? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Got Entitled Kids? Look In The Mirror Before You Blame Them

Yesterday, I parked two blocks away from school to pick up my daughter. I was running late and understood that the walk was my penalty for five extra minutes of seeing the DVRed finale of Mad Men. When I got to the front of the school, I was astonished to see a woman pull up in her massive 2015 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUV and park IN THE CROSSWALK. She was nonchalantly talking on her cellphone about her full-time nanny and how her tennis game had just gone. Apparently she didn't get the concept that 1) it's illegal to park in the crosswalk 2) she was blocking the visibility of kids and parents who would soon be in that crosswalk and compromising their safety 3) that was she was doing was just plain WRONG. 

We've all heard, and many have experienced, the behavior of “entitled kids” who feel they should reap rewards and gain benefits without doing anything to earn these things. Yet, I wonder how many of us realize those kids act this way because many of their parents act “entitled." These are individuals who don't feel that societal rules apply to them, ignore rules because they consider themselves above authority or don't obey rules because they know people who can fix any penalties they might incur.  I would also add that some older people consider themselves entitled merely because of their age. 

You've met these adults!  In addition to the example given above (bitch!), they are the people who:

  • cut in line at the bank, grocery store, movie theater, department store, bus stop, etc.
  • get their food faster than the rest of us in a restaurant because they complain loudly

  • run their cars in the “no idling” zone at school
  • let their kids run all over a restaurant without blinking an eye
  • talk loudly and often use their phones in the movie theater

  • send their kids to school in inappropriate clothes knowing that the principal won't do anything about it because he doesn't want to deal with them
  • take up three extra seats on the train so their bloody diaper bag has a seat while you stand
  • have free reign at a department store as their kids play under the racks of clothes

  • drop their kids at the library and expect librarians to babysit the kids

I'm sure you could add to this list. So what can you do about these people besides gritting your teeth or letting these situations roll off your back (which, admittedly, is probably the healthiest option):

  1. Call them on it, but only if you're sure it won't result in any danger to you. For example, a few weeks back when another parent parked in the crosswalk, I gently knocked on her window and explained that what she was doing was dangerous and that she COULD get a ticket for parking there. She probably blew off the “dangerous” part, but the prospect of getting a ticket perked her up. She hasn't parked there since. It's remotely possible that the perpetrator honestly doesn't know or realize that what they're doing is wrong.

  2. Let an authority know. I've called the principal a few times when the same person kept her car idling in the “no idling” zone. He went out and spoke to the mother and is now monitoring the situation.  I've also called the police.  Okay, someone parked in a crosswalk isn't life-threatening, but it does pose a danger to the general public.  Dangerous situations should be reported.

  3. Embarrass these people. No one likes to be embarrassed and when I see kids with free reign at a department store, I rather loudly say to my child, “See how kid is allowed to run around? It's dangerous because they could get hurt or taken. WE DON'T DO THAT.” Most entitled people are idiots and don't care, but you could impact one who does.

Correcting other people is always dicey at best, but for me, knowing that I tried to solve the problem makes my blood boil less. And if people don't like me for it, so be it. Who wants to be friends with people who consider themselves above the rest?

Oh, and a world to anyone who feels entitled because of race, economic status, or age: GET OVER YOURSELF! YOU'RE NO BETTER THAN THE REST OF US!

Note:  I'll resume calmer posts soon.  This piece was prompted no only by the woman in the SUV, but as I'm reading the book, Teaching Kids To Think.  Review coming up shortly.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

7 Natural SolutionsFor Seasonal Allergies

I couldn't wait for it to be here: Spring! Warmer weather, flowers blooming, trees blooming.... and New Jersey hit with what they're calling a Pollen Tsunami. For the last three weeks, at least one of my kids has been sneezing; their eyes water and get itchy. They are cranky and miserable. 

They're pretty, but their pollen causes suffering!

So, outside of giving them over-the-counter medications (which I'm not opposed to, but I don't want to reach for first), how can I help them?

  1. Saline Solution – I buy a basic, generic saline solution for the nose and encourage them to use it. Irrigating the nose with salt water (JUST salt water – no decongestant) may help soothe upper respiratory allergies by removing irritants that become lodged in the nose and cause inflammation. Saline solutions can even wash away some of the inflammatory cells themselves. Tip: if you have multiple kids using multiple bottles of this stuff, label them. You don't want kids sharing this (ewwwww!).

  2. Nightly Washing – Every night we wash our faces, but what about the pollen that collects in our hair and is deposited on our pillows? My kids take a baby wipe on nights they don't shower before bed and wipe down their hair.  And even I do this so I don't transfer pollen to my daughter's pillow when we cuddle. 

  3. Close The Windows – Sure, it's lovely outside, but breezes carry pollen. We've turned on the
    air conditioner early in both the house and car.

  4. Drink Lots Of Water – Keeping everything hydrated washes away irritants and helps our mucus membranes get rid of pollutants. 

  5. Wash Your Pet – We have an indoor cat, so this isn't a problem for us, but friends who have dogs are giving their pooches nightly washes with water on a washcloth to remove pollen from their fur.

  6. Mint Tea – The kids are drinking decaf (OMG, yes, DECAF) mint tea with breakfast to open up the airwaves.

  7. Cold Tea Bags – Since we do drink a fair amount of tea, I keep a few used teabags in the fridge to sooth puffy eyes at night. The coldness feels really good on inflamed eyes. 

If the kids do need medication, the first thing I try is Hyland's 4 Kids Complete Allergy. This stuff is all-natural (or supposed to be) and doesn't make them sleepy. My daughter was on this for months last year and it was great. I like the fact that it doesn't last 24 hours because, honestly, her allergy symptoms only presented in the morning.  To learn more about Hyland's, click here.

Now, please note: I am not a doctor. I am a mom. These are remedies that work for me and my family. Please consult a doctor if you have any questions or if your child has severe allergies.

How do you cope during allergy season?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Take A Pic, Post It To Instagram, & Get A Needy Child A Pair Of Shoes

What is you could help a needy child and it wouldn't cost you a cent?  Now you can! 

Between May 5th and May 21st, the shoe company, Toms will donate a brand new pair of shoes to a child in need and all YOU have to do it take a photo of your bare feet and post it to Instagram with the hashtag #withoutshoes.


Yep, that's it!  Just post a picture of bare feet (your own, your family's, neighbors, etc.) and Toms will give children in the United States and abroad a new pair of shoes. 

Think about it:  YOU can make a real difference to needy children!  For more information on #WITHOUTSHOES, click here.

Spread the word!  This is too easy NOT to share!