kids Jen and John Speak

Tag Archives: kids

Survival Instincts

By John

I grew up in some pretty tough neighborhoods in New York City. By the time I graduated Elementary school I had dodged a bank robber, gotten away from muggers, lived through a riot during a blackout, and learned how to avoid drug dealers.

When I was ready to start a family, I wanted my kids to have the perfect suburban life. And they do. From time to time, like a kid again, I share in their wonderful, safe, carefree childhood that I didn’t have. It’s a wonderful feeling to laugh, be silly and live innocently in their world.

But now, as my oldest son is about to graduate from elementary school, I wonder what kind of survival instincts he possesses. Is he ready for middle school? Still to this day, I have my spider sense to alert me to danger. I’m really good at avoiding all kinds of trouble. I know how to walk down the street and not look like an easy target, and know when and how to puff up my chest when I’m confronted by a bully. My kids are peacemakers, something that the schools have taught them and a theme that’s reinforced at home. I don’t think my kids have the spider sense to warn them of danger.

So I decided to help my kids develop some survival skills. Yet as I began to develop my plan, I couldn’t stop smiling as I visualized my kids having fun and enjoying life. I realized that my kids have many friends, possess great social skills, have good manners, are very happy and love the world. They have their own set of survival skills.

• They may not know how to get away from muggers, but they know how to make friends and respect others.

• They may not know how to dodge a bank robber, but they know how to deal with a school bully and be involved in school.

• They may not know how to puff up their chest when confronted by a bully, but they know how to do well in their classes and help with the food bank.

• They may not have a spider sense to warn them of danger, but they’re kind, caring, helpful, and as one teacher described my oldest, he’s really comfortable in his own skin.

Yes, I learned how to survive in the big bad city, but my kids are developing instincts beyond fear that give them a future to engage in a world of hope, peace and justice. And even though usually I still have a plan, its much water-downed.

What kind of survival instincts do your kids possess? And what kind of survival skills are you teaching your kids? Please share your tips and thoughts. As a parent you know you’re always looking for a better way to help your family.

Great and Now I Feel Guilty…

I am a bad mother.

As much as I love my children, there are some things that other mothers think are SO fun and are so delightful that make me want to run and hide.

Case in point, a couple of weeks ago my daughter received a letter in the mail. It was from one of her friends. It told her she was now part of the “Sticker Club” and all she needed to do was mail a pack of stickers to the girl listed on the letter, then add her own name to the letter and mail it, along with a blank copy, to 6 other friends. Within 2 weeks she would apparently receive 36 packs of stickers!

Shoot me now.

The letter sat on the hall table for a week just staring at me before my husband started badgering me about it. Pointing out the fact that good mothers had probably already gotten on the ball and sent theirs out.

What he didn’t understand was that first, I had to figure out what copies I had to make, what addresses I had to find, how many stamps I had to buy, and also run out and buy a pack of stickers. Then I had to set aside time to hand write all the addresses, make all the copies, etc.

I barely have time to wash my dishes.

I finally sucked it up and mailed out the letters with my daughter last night. She was of course clapping her hands in delight the whole time. (insert mommy guilt.) I’d also like to point out the fact that I was a week late in sending these out. Which means there will be other disappointed girls who don’t get their stickers on time.

Sigh.

Now I feel guilty about all the other moms we probably stressed out with this project. (If you get one and you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)

How do supermoms do it all? Because I sure can’t figure it out!

Your thoughts?

Conquering the Math Beast

I know exactly when I started hating math.

It all started in 4th grade. I got Mrs. Potter as my math teacher. I hated her and she hated me. I was a kid with lower than average social skills and she couldn’t stand me. I returned the favor. It was a miserable year. And then she moved up to 5th grade and I got her again. That pretty much ended any chance that I could have a positive view of my ability to do math ever.

And the unfortunate thing is that I carried that through for pretty much the rest of my life. And it has affected my ability to manage finances. And I think I’m not the only one. So many women have been led to believe that they are not good at math, and that has carried over into finances. (Barbie says “Math class is tough,” remember?) And that’s a big deal, because I believe that it’s part of the reason our economy tanked. We’ve spent too much because we weren’t looking closely enough at what we were doing.

Budgeting is not that hard. You look at how much you make, figure out what your fixed expenses are (mortgage, car, groceries, etc.) Whatever is left over is saved, donated, or spent. Don’t spend more than you make and you’re in good shape. Spend more than you make and you’ll never be able to retire. It really is pretty much that simple.

But how many of us avoid looking that closely at our finances because instinctively we’re afraid to? We’ve been so programmed to think that this is beyond us that we make bad financial decisions? And then WE PASS THAT ON TO OUR CHILDREN.

I’m not saying you have to be good at higher math. But adding, subtracting, and multiplication can be done on a calculator. It’s not that hard. And if you want to be a good parent, you have to teach your kids financial responsibility. Heaven knows the schools aren’t doing it.

So conquer your own math beast and get over your fear. The math required to make good financial decisions is not beyond you. And your kids need your good example if they are going to be financially secure one day themselves. Don’t spend more than you make. Save some. Delay gratification when necessary.

Conquer the math beast.

Your thoughts?

Review: Lego Friends for Girls

Note: This is an unsolicited review based on our personal experience with a product we purchased.

As the mother of 2 boys and 1 girl, I can’t tell you the number of times I wished they had more girl-focused Lego sets. Now I realize this may cause my feminist card to be revoked, but as the mom to a girl who appreciates both Star Wars AND playing Barbies, I am all over the concept of Legos targeted specifically towards girls.

I was a little disappointed when I saw the initial reviews come out of the Lego Friends line targeted towards girls. From what I saw, people felt that they were stereotyping what girls should play with. As a strong independent woman with the desire to raise another one, I was duly horrified.

Until I saw them today at Target. And I have to say, I love them (and so does my daughter.) They had the beauty salon set, the fashion designer set, and the veterinarian set. All stuff my daughter is into. Each one is built around a character (I would love to see more multi-cultural sets in the future.) We agreed to get one of the $10 sets, and so she chose the fashion designer set. It was a pretty natural choice for her. Her grandmother works in the fashion industry in NY, and she loves fashion.

When we got it home, I felt like it was comparable to Polly Pocket (as did my son, who voiced that opinion independently.) My daughter must have thought so too, because she went to get her Polly Pocket dolls (which were twice the size of the Lego girl.) The set came with a desk, a chest of drawers (that opened), a lego laptop, a lego camera, a lego sandwich, and a few other things.

My daughter put together the set in about 10 minutes, and then couldn’t wait to start playing. It was very similar to how she plays with her other dolls. She did lots of role-playing, and enjoyed the laptop and camera especially. She told me how her lego doll had just designed a new fashion and was going to blog about it. 🙂

Overall, I have to say I was really impressed with Lego’s first foray into the girls’ market (beyond some token pink legos that we got when my daughter was younger.) My daughter loved them, they were relevant to what she’s interested in, and I will definitely get her more sets as the opportunity arises. (I totally want to get her Olivia’s Inventor’s Workshop next: http://friends.lego.com/en-us/Products/Details/3933.aspx) Legos are awesome for intellectual development, and the social aspect of play is just an added bonus.

Have you seen the new Lego sets targeted at girls yet? (You can see the entire line here: http://friends.lego.com/en-us/Default.aspx) What do you think of them? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Communicating with the Working Parent

With all this technology, you'd think it would be easy to send messages to working parents.

Communication has changed drastically since we were kids, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of schools and kids’ after school activities failed to get the memo.

As a working parent, I feel the brunt of this on a weekly basis.

My husband is responsible for going through the backpacks and managing the paper so I don’t see everything. And as a result, I find out about things like the fact that it was Crazy Hat Day when we arrive at the bus stop in the morning. Without our crazy hats, of course.

And then of course you have after school activities like ballet, where the preferred mode of communication is pinning up notices on the bulletin board. Which of course only works if you are the one dropping your child off and picking them up.

It seems like the entire world of communication around kids is geared towards the stay-at-home mom sitting in that waiting room, and going through the backpack after school.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who would be completely on top of things if they would just send a damn email? Or a text? Or a Google Calendar invite?

Gen Y considers email passe, and the schools haven’t even caught up to that yet. How on earth are they going to communicate with parents as communication ever changes?

I am a working parent. PLEASE send me an email if I need to know. So my kid arrives with the crazy hat on Crazy Hat Day. Thank you.

What do you think?

This Thanksgiving, We Went Out for Chinese

Our family on Thanksgiving Day

This Thanksgiving we went out for Chinese food.

Now I can of course claim that part of the reason we did so is because half of our family heritage is Chinese.

But I have to tell you, as I was walking through the supermarket on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I felt a little smug that I was simply picking up essentials as I walked among the folks with the glazed eyes who were stressed out over preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal.

This year I only cooked little desserts because I wanted to.

This year we spent the day hanging out with each other and putting up the Christmas tree. Instead of spending quality time with my oven, I spent it with my kids. And it was sweet.

And I didn’t have to do dishes after dinner.

Don’t get me wrong…I love to cook. But I love that we avoided the whole “command performance” thing (and honestly, my kids don’t even LIKE turkey.) It was fun, when people asked the inevitable question: “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” to answer, “We’re going out for Chinese.”

Granted, it was good Chinese. It was the place where my husband and I celebrated our wedding banquet.

Sometimes it’s fun to buck tradition and do something different.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Fighting the Germ-Fest

With the cold weather comes the germies!

This is that time of year when we begin battling the school germs in earnest. One son has already battled bronchitis, the drips from fall allergies begin, and I shudder to think about what those little hands do before they touch the things my kids touch. After a couple of years of constant sickness in the house, I’ve started to get pretty serious about fighting the germs. Here is some of what we do:

  • Hands get washed the second they get home from school. They’re not allowed to do anything else before that happens.
  • I wipe down the shopping cart handles, sides, etc. I love it when supermarkets provide wipes. But when they don’t, I have my own in my purse. I focus on more than just the top and bottom of the handle…I wipe anything on the cart my kids might touch.
  • I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. It’s in the pocket right behind the front passenger seat. That way I can reach it from the driver’s seat, and the kids can also reach it and pass it around. Whenever we’re out, the first thing we do when we get back in the car is sanitize.
  • All children have been trained to cough/sneeze into their elbows, NOT their hands.
  • Healthy diet. This is always, but especially during the cough/cold season, it helps.
  • Staying home. The second a child shows signs of illness, we pull them out of school. It doesn’t help their immune system or the rest of the kids at school to send my kids back as contributing members to the germ-fest. Instead, they stay home and get better first.

Do we avoid every illness floating around the school? No. But we definitely do better than if we didn’t take these steps. I never want that year of constant sickness again!

How do you avoid the germies passed around school this time of year? Would love to read your tips and hints in the comments below.

Healthy Halloween Treats

My most impressive 100% fruit juice gelatin jigglers from last year's class Halloween party

I’ve written before about how we’re Head Class Parents for 2 of our 3 kids’ classrooms. That means we’re in charge of organizing the annual Halloween Party for these classrooms. We’ve met with the parents and are in the midst of planning. But our school, like many others, has gotten really strict about the food.

There are a couple of reasons. First, allergies have become a big issue. We have to avoid all nuts, and in some classrooms dairy and wheat is an issue. (It stinks to be the kid who can’t snack on the good stuff!)

Then, there’s the “healthy food’ issue. The school wants to make sure the treats the kids have are healthy. That means sugar can’t be the 1st ingredient, avoiding fat, etc. Now while I’m on board with serving healthy food, I do feel like the school goes overboard on this. Particularly because the crap they serve on a regular basis in the lunchroom doesn’t fit the party requirements they require us to adhere to! (but I digress…)

Anyway, here are some healthy snack ideas that the parents in our classes have come up with. Would love to hear if you have any other healthy ideas to share!

  • Popcorn “Hands” – Fill plastic gloves with popped popcorn and serve!
  • Apple “Teeth” – Take apple slices, and cut a slit along the peel side. Add black raisins in the slit as teeth.
  • Fruit Kabobs – Black and orange fruit on skewers (oranges, blackberries, etc.) It’s color themed!
  • Spooky “Fingers” – Cut string cheese in half. Then cut green or red pepper pieces into triangles that are about 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide at the base. Cut a small slit in the rounded end of the string cheese half, and insert the pepper triangle (which now looks like a pointy fingernail.) (Or make these.)
  • 100% Fruit Juice Jigglers – Boil 100% Fruit Juice and then add Knox unflavored gelatin (follow the directions on the back of the Knox packet.) Pour into a 13″ x 9″ pan and refrigerate to set. Then use Halloween-themed cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes. Serve on Halloween-themed cupcake liners.
So what other healthy Halloween treats do you serve at class parties, or with your kids at home? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

Autumn Breeze

Image credit: rankinz302

by John

The night is longer,

School has started,

The wind howls as it chills the air,

The blue sky deepens and crisps,

Monday back pack checks and warm breakfast fills chattering bellies,

A whiff of fluoride, a palm wipe around the mouth, and smoothing kinked strands of hair,

Visions of day-mares that horrify mirrors to cheering squeals,

Dusting off bats, ghouls and head stones,

Sweeping, corralling, twitching crackled lifeless leaves into bean bag-like blobs,

Flip flop cold and hot baked days,

The day is shorter,

Cluster tree tops of fiery reds, mustard yellows, moldy violets and hint of distant greens,

Ends with counting lollipops, chocolate bits and tired belly aches,

And hints of snow dust in the horizon.

Playdate Mantra – The Cause and Effect

by John

As my kids are getting older we are starting to arrange more play dates. Like all parents we talk to our kids about appropriate behavior on a play date. Things like use good manners, don’t play too rough, say thank you and please, don’t break anything, cooperate, be friendly, help clean up and listen to the parent in charge. Our play date mantra is “Kids who behave themselves get invited back”.

My kids easily understand this cause and effect. Once I got them to understand the concept of cause and effect I’ve used it for everything. Things like:

  • If you finish your homework early the effect is more play time
  • If you review your school material and study for your test the effect is good grades
  • If you clean your room up the effect is more friends can come to visit
  • If you eat healthy the effect is more energy and feeling better
  • If you brush your teeth the effect is less dentist visits and no painful cavities
  • If you develop good listening skills the effect is less confusion and better learning
  • If you are friendly and positive the effect is more friends
  • If you read more the effect is improved writing
  • If you practice the effect is improvement
  • If you are willing to try new things the effect is finding more things you love
  • If you care about others the effect is others will care about you
You get the idea. With my kids I’m always trying to find their Ah-Ha moments. Understanding their Ah-Ha moments helps me communicate better with them, lay the foundation to more complicated issues, and helps me rediscover the joy of childhood.