Having kids forces us to reconsider how our house is set up.  Most people go through the process of childproofing for the purpose of making the environment safe.  But as babies grow into toddlers and preschoolers, I think it’s good to reorganize to help foster independence and grow practical skills.

A great place to start is in the child’s bedroom.  As the child is learning to dress themselves, why not give them access to their clothing?  Finding a matching pair of socks from a drawer or bucket is a great way for them start being independent and also learn some important matching/sorting skills.  Use the lower drawers of a dresser or a small chest of drawers to store a selection of shirts and pants.  Teach them to pick one of each to put together their own outfits.  The reverse process of putting clean clothes in the drawers is also helpful.  Within a very short time this can be a ‘job’ or chore the child can complete on his or her own.  

The kitchen is a room parents rarely think about reorganizing for the sake of the small ones.  But the payoff here is big.  Most people keep glasses and plates in the upper cabinets.  But if you separate the kids plastic cups, plates and bowls from the ones the grownups use then you can gather them into the ‘kid’s cabinet’.  Choose a lower cabinet and load it up with the full selection of kids dishes.  My youngest is 12 and we still have this configuration in my kitchen.  Why? You wouldn’t believe how it thrills young visitors to be able to go into the cabinet and choose their own plate and cup for a meal.  It makes them feel big.  
The reverse process works here too.  Now the littlest kids can help empty the dishwasher and put clean dishes away!  Depending on the temperament of the child, they may still complain about having to do the job but I’m convinced that having responsibilities around the house like this one is key to making them feel like a competent, important member of the family.

Toddling Teens

September 23, 2015

For about a year now I’ve had the pleasure of taking care of my nephew two days a week. He just learned to walk a few months ago.  It’s been a long while since my kids were in that stage and I’d forgotten the tension of those first few weeks of new found freedom.

I watched each step he took, ready to pounce and catch him when he stumbled.  He would stand and begin walking, head held high, confident that he was going to just stroll across the room.  I knew better.

Sooner or later he’d lose his balance and fall.  It’s just part of the process of learning to walk.  But while he showed no fear, I was constantly scanning the environment for places he might bump or bruise himself. He seemed blissfully unaware of obstacles like the toys, the furniture or even the wall.

One of my teens recently took her first steps in the world of employment.  The tension I felt reminded me of those toddler years.  She set off, supremely confident, seemingly unaware of potential stumbling blocks. And I sat by, ready to pounce…

But just like with toddlers, you can’t prevent every fall with teens.  They’re going to make some mistakes when they’re learning.  It’s just part of the process.  And teens, like toddlers, have a limited capacity to hear or heed warnings.

Fortunately, neither toddlers nor teens let the inevitable set backs keep them down. They just get right back up and head back out –  as confident as ever.  I suppose that’s a very good thing. Otherwise, we’d all still be crawling.

Responsible Teens?

September 19, 2013

I love how easy technology makes it to communicate. I think it’s great that teachers in my daughter’s school are taking advantage of this by using email lists and grades online to keep in touch.

But. There’s a big but.

But when I get emails from her teachers detailing what her homework assignments are and suggesting that I check her digital grades to see if she’s missing assignments… well, I can’t help but feeling that there’s a problem here.

See, my daughter is in 9th grade. That’s high school, folks. This should be where the responsible teens take care of their own business. Or am I just crazy?

When I was in high school it was accepted that teens were responsible for their education. Parents were only called in for extreme cases when a student was in danger of flunking out. Homework assignments? Getting good grades? Being prepared for tests? Passing a class? That was all on the student.

And maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I feel like that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Have modern teens somehow lost the ability to be productive, responsible and self-motivated? It wasn’t that many generations ago when it wasn’t uncommon for people still in their teens to have jobs, apartments of their own, get married or start careers or families. These days it’s common to have 20-somethings (or even 30-somethings) living off mom and dad, still not fully responsible for their own lives.

It’s no wonder it’s that way if we’ve gotten to the point where high school is no longer the place where we start handing off the reins to our kids.

It’s great that teachers can use technology to communicate. But they should be emailing their students homework assignments and telling them how to check their grades online for missing assignments – not the parents!

Too Much To Tell

December 28, 2012

So many times over these past few months I’ve thought to come and write here… but the same thing stops me each time… Where to begin?!

A year ago I could not have even imagined all the changes that have taken place. My life now is totally different from when 2012 started. To a great extent I’m still trying to get a grip on it all.

Adrian moved into a residential school in April. He’s doing well there. It becomes more and more clear that it was the right choice for him … and for us. But it’s hard to even begin to describe all the ways this changes my life.

The girls started homeschooling 9th grade in August. We’ve made it to high school. I’m very pleased with the independent study work the girls are doing. They’ve learned and done so much even since August. I love that I can give them time to follow their passions. But a lot of the work 9th graders do is (and should be) independent. I give them a monthly schedule of work to complete and they do it at their own pace and in their own time… My ‘teacher’ schedule is lighter with them.

Then there’s Zee. Though we’d encouraged him to give public school a try back at the beginning of the school year, it took him till November to decide he really wanted to give it go. So he began attending public school at the start of December. But that means that, quite suddenly, I’m not teaching a 3rd grader every day.

So here I am. Gobs of time on my hands like I haven’t seen since before I started having kids 16 years ago. A completely different life from what I had just one year ago. All good and wonderful but just so….. different!

And now I’m trying to figure out where to go from here.

School of Life

March 25, 2012

A lot of the usual focus on scholarly pursuits have been on hold these past couple of months.  We were fastened tightly in our car, riding the rollercoaster of red tape that accompanies most services for the disabled.  Our destination?  A residential school placement for Adrian.

We’re very close to the end of this ride and so our thoughts turn to where we’ll go next, when we get off this wild ride.

I know for myself, I’m going to need some time.  I’ll need time to decompress, relax and come to grips with what’s happened – the good, the bad, the guilt…

Then, it’s time to reimagine our life here.  So much of what we do day to day, minute to minute, is done because Adrian is here.  All that changes.

While we obviously wouldn’t be sending Adrian to a residential school if we didn’t think it was in his best interest, we also recognize that his moving will mean a lot of positive changes for the other kids as well.  I plan to seek their input in deciding on what life should look like when he’s gone.

This is huge.  Once again, the benefit of homeschooling is that we can balance our academic pursuits with the schooling real life is giving us.

 

How We Eat: Beverages

August 1, 2011

Ok, so technically this is what we drink, not what we eat.  But in many families it’s a neglected source of calories.  I know it used to be in ours.

Years ago we thought nothing of buying iced tea or soda for the grown-ups and juices or Hi-C for the kids. 

We thought we were doing pretty well at the time. We were proud of keeping our eldest 3 kids off soda till they were 6 or 7 years old.  The juices and fruit drinks we gave the kids were always diluted and they drank reduced fat milk as well. 

Then the sugar thing happened.  You know, where I learned it was bad for us.  😛

We switched to diet soda.  Which is better in terms of calories and sugar but let’s face it, it’s filled with chemicals and artificial sweeteners which are really just as bad.  Still, it was a step in the right direction.

We started making efforts to replace our usual drinks with occasional glasses of water.  I won’t say everyone took to it well.  It was hard for all of us to go in that direction after years of sweetened beverage bliss.

We diluted the kids drinks more and more.  We drank water between meals.  Then we cut back on the soda, making the rule that it would only be served at dinner.  I switched to homemade iced tea with little or no sweetener at all.

And that’s about as good as it got.  We spent several years there until my husband decided he’d had enough.  I was shocked as could be when he announced he was giving up soda and sweetened drinks.   For good.   :O

He would only drink water and, on occasion, a glass of 100% juice.   No more soda or drinks with artificial sweeteners or added sugar.  He stuck to it too, for weeks and weeks on end while the kids and I kept to our old habits.

Then, an amazing thing began to happen.  We all started to drink water with him.  Each night at dinner someone else would make the choice to have the water.  It happened in restaurants and at lunch and even breakfast till I realized NOW was the time to make my move.

I quit buying soda.  The only one who even cared was the 7 year old, Zee.  But even he didn’t put up much of a fight. 

The kids still drink Arizona’s Lite Half & Half  Iced Tea on a daily basis.  Still not great for ’em.  But we are all totally off soda.  And even in the restaurants, everyone but Zee orders a glass of water.  That’s pretty darn good when I consider where we came from.

And it just goes to show you, the example you set for your kids really does count!

In drawing up the plan for the girls I thought back on my own school career and just what I was learning when I was in 8th grade. 

My favorite subject was, of course, math.  8th grade was awesome because I got to do algebra… officially.   I remember smiling to myself as I first looked over that algebra book.  See, algebra and I were old friends already.  I’d picked up my mother’s college algebra book years ago and learned much of what we were about to cover.  I already knew how much fun it was and the teacher, Mr. Berry, made it even more so.  I not only had a lot of fun in math that year but I learned I was pretty darn good at it too. 

Science was a close second favorite.  The crazy old man who taught life science was actually quite funny once you got past the serious teacher persona he usually put on in class.  I had a chance to get to know him a bit better as my science notebook, worth a major portion of our grade, came up missing part way through the year.  Since I sat front and center and was always clearly interested in his lectures, he knew I’d kept good notes.  But since I didn’t have a notebook to grade, he opted to allow me to do a report for that part of my grade instead.

It was then I learned we had a love of oceanography in common.  I did a report on whales.  Favorite. report. ever.  He apparently enjoyed it too because I earned a grade of 100%.  I’ll always regret not being able to go on his Oceanography Club outings though.    My parents were anti-field trip so I missed the trips to the NJ shore to investigate tidal pools and other such fun.  But it was a great year in science nevertheless.

Still, the thing I remember most about 8th grade in general is that it was a year of discovering passions.  Algebra, oceanography, drama class, computer programming (on our Commodore 64 at home and on the Apple computers at school) and seeing Star Wars for the first time! I so taken by it that I wrote out the whole script – by hand – from a homemade audio tape (well, duh, cause my mother wouldn’t let me sit in front of the video tape for the many hours it took to write the whole thing out 😛 )

So many of the things I learned I loved that year have stuck with me right into adulthood. 

That’s really what I most for my girls this year too.  I want them to discover their passions and pursue them with everything they’ve got.  That’s what 8th grade should be about.

I don’t know why I first picked up these stainless steel condiment cups at Walmart but I know I didn’t have any idea they’d be used this often.   They are absolutely indispensable for portion control in our house!

We use them for serving up all kinds of snacks and treats:

*Nuts and seeds  (this cup holds the recommended one ounce serving of nuts)

*Trail Mix

*Mini marshmallows for hot chocolate

*Chocolate chips for a treat

*Maple syrup (it’s way easier to control serving sizes when everyone gets their own cup with an appropriate amount)

*Dried fruits

*Goldfish crackers

*Peanut butter for dipping

*Salad dressings and dips

*Ketchup or BBQ sauce (specially for my son who would fill half his plate with ketchup if it weren’t for this handy cup)

*Granola for yogurt

*Anything you want to the kids to only take a ‘little bit’ of… but they can’t figure out how much is a ‘little bit is’!

These things get tons of use in our house.  I highly recommend them for controlling portion sizes of things that should be measured by the tablespoon or ounce.

 

 

With the news I’d developed an insulin resistance problem came the realization that carbohydrates really were the enemy.  It was time to change my relationship with carbs.  There’s strong risk of diabetes on both sides of the family so it made perfect sense that I should also change the way my kids related to carbs.  

Enter hurdle number one:  my husband.   My husband loves his pasta.  I mean really, really loves his pasta.  He also loves his white rice.  Yes, that wonderful white rice he’d eaten at practically every meal in his house growing up…every meal that didn’t include pasta, that is.  And to boot, he didn’t mind white bread all that much either.  Ok, he really enjoyed his white bread as well.

I had a diagnosis.  He didn’t have any such motivation.  But being the great husband he is, he agreed to give up his beloved white carbs for me.   Now that’s love, folks.

The easy switch was to whole wheat bread.  100% whole wheat bread.  No one really minded that switch.  Specially since we still indulged in white specialty breads and rolls at that time.  Whole wheat toast was a-ok.

Pasta and rice were another story.  So I learned one of the most important lessons of changing my family’s eating habits.  Go slow.

We started with a pasta that was made with part whole grains.  I won’t say anyone loved it but they didn’t hate it either.  We ate that for about 2 years before I made the full switch to 100% whole grain pasta.  When I did, no one even noticed. 

Rice took much longer.  My husband couldn’t stand brown rice and I have to admit, I didn’t care for the fact it took twice as long to cook.  I gave it a whirl a few times but ended up shelving it (literally) for a couple years.  Just within the past couple of months I’ve made the commitment to going through the hassle of making the brown rice again. It’s been a challenge. 

But surprise, surprise.  The kids love the brown rice.  I would make both white and brown (to keep the hubby happy) and the kids were only eating the brown.  Meal after meal this happened until my husband finally had to give in.  He knew it was silly to have both kinds of rice and he was the only one eating the white rice! 

He’s not going to say he wouldn’t still prefer the white rice, but he’s also willing to admit the brown rice isn’t bad.  It took a good long while and some extra effort on my part but it seems we’ve finally switched over.  🙂

The rest of the breads have also slowly become whole grain.  Bee in particular loves her white rolls and I do indulge her on occasion.  Overwhelmingly though, the kids choose, eat and enjoy the whole grains.   Even Adrian has made the switch from white bagels to whole wheat. 

Carbs don’t have to be the enemy. Over the course of a 5 year period we went from a family who ate tons of white bread, rice and pasta to a family that eats far less of all those things.  And when we do have them, they’re full of whole grain goodness.  It all starts with a loaf of bread.  You can do it too!

Through conversations with my friends, I’ve been considering how my family eats lately.  A decade ago I never could have guessed so many healthy habits would be entrenched in our lifestyle.  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to write about some of the things we do and how we got here.

 

Of course I have to preface it with a warning.  We do not have a perfectly healthy diet and we never will.  I don’t know anyone who does it 100% right all the time and I have no interest in being one of those.  We enjoy our food.  We still intentionally make some really unhealthy choices sometimes.  I’m not writing this cause I have all the answers.  I’m just going to talk about the positive changes we’ve made in our overall habits.  No one should take this as ‘healthier than thou’. 

 

So to kick this off I’m going to talk about one of the biggies. About 5 years ago we gave up the more traditional fast food joints.   McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, etc.  

Prior to that we frequented these types of places several times a week.  My husband worked in NYC and it was a cheap, easy meal at lunch.  I drove Adrian to and from school half an hour away so many days the girls and I would be stuck out in the middle of the day.  It wasn’t worth the trip home because we’d have to turn right around to go back out to get Adrian.  We spent many days at the mall and a couple times a week we’d get fast food for lunch.

There were also the trips to Grandma’s house on weekends where we thought nothing of stopping to pick up fast food dinner on the way.  Then, of course, Grandma was more than happy to pick them up Happy Meals and Frosties.  We ate fast food a lot.

The breaking point came about the time we moved and several factors played into our decision to give it all up.  The whole family had been sick multiple times from fast food chicken.  Not fun.   Our new house was far enough away from the fast food places that giving it up at dinner was a no brainer anyhow.  Since we lived close to Grandma, there weren’t any more long trips to make.  My husband began working from home and I began homeschooling the girls so we were all home at lunch time together.

It was easy enough to simply fall away from using fast food with all those changes.  And it all gave me the notion that we could simply give it up for good.  So we did.  We made the new rule that we would not eat at any of the major fast food chains.

 I won’t say that my kids were thrilled.  Or even my husband.  No one likes absolutes 😛  But I can honestly say I never once regretted making that choice for my family.

And now?  Well, we break our rule on vacation sometimes (there aren’t a lot of choices at the airport).  But honestly, we’ve been away from it all for so long that even the kids will tell you that ‘that’ food makes them feel sorta cruddy when they eat it.  And it doesn’t taste all that good either.

We still occasionally get fast food, but we keep to a few restaurants that make our exception list:   Five Guys (I did tell you we were far from perfect eaters, right?) and Moe’s are two we’ll spring for on very rare occasions.  I know the food isn’t really better than all the big chains on our no-no list,  but I’m convinced the fact that our approved list is so short is part of what helps keep us on track.  We have an out for when we need it but we can keep our committment to staying away from all those other chains. 

Improving the way our family eats happens by changing just one bad habit.  If this is one you want to change for your family, I encourage you to make your short list of approved ‘fast food’ places and ditch the rest.  It’s worked for us.