Book Review and My Personal Reactions: “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

To begin my small book review and personal reaction I would like to quote Dr. Schlessinger’s Preface for “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms”: “With appropriate apologies to Shakespeare, I come to praise at-home moms, not to bury full-time working moms. This is not another missile attack in the ‘mommy wars,’ nor is it debate on day care versus mommy care.” These were literally the first two sentences that I read in this book and they served to immediately allow me to enjoy and finish her work in less than a week.

I received the book as a Christmas gift from my husband and appreciated it but in the haste of the holidays and family in town I never looked at it until one of my exhausted and depressed evenings last week. I guess I was a little skeptical at what this Dr. Laura would have to say. In truth, I’ve not listened to her radio show nor read much of her writing expect for excerpts from folks that don’t have glowing feelings for her in the mainstream media.

After ingesting this book I believe it’s a great book for all types of mothers out there, not just those whose full-time position is regarded as SAHM (Stay-at-Home Mom), homemaker, CEO of the Home or my favorite per one of my girlfriends: domestic goddess. She breaks it down into several chapters including poignant sections like: “The Decision, How Staying at Home Impacts the Marriage, The Good the Bad the Unforgettable”.

Overall the style of “In Praise-“ is conversational and has many transcripts and letters from her radio show and correspondence of listeners and readers. It is a strange comfort to read other women’s struggles with leaving the career-driven workforce for what can seem to be mundane housework, child care and certainly no financial rewarding reviews at the end of each pay period.

It was also refreshing to learn of Dr. Laura’s odyssey to becoming a SAHM herself during her life. It was reminiscent of my own experience and those of many of my girlfriends and colleagues in general. She was educated, went on to pursue a path of career excellence and in the course of it all found that even the markers of secular/business success were not “completing” her personhood. A comical reflection on watching the old PBS NOVA 60 minute presentation on the miracle of life is what finally propelled her to seek what ultimately brought her joy, albeit not perfection and not always happy times, but true completion as woman, wife and mother.

Although I was married nearly 8 years when my first child was born I still consider myself a late-bloomer to being a self-professed CEO of the Home and full-time wife and SAHM. I was simply petrified to follow somewhat closely in my own mother’s footsteps of having children at an early age as a young woman in my twenties. It’s as if I felt I needed to rack up respect or evidence that I was competent in “real life” in the full-time workforce. This brings me to Dr. Laura’s Chapter Two: The Stay-at-Home Mom’s Inner Struggles. “The older you are when you decide to marry and have children, the more ingrained you are with your own habits, and the more control you’ve been used to having over your own life…It was remarkable to me that something that barely weighed anything, couldn’t roll over on its own, couldn’t feed itself, and couldn’t talk to me literally ruled me, my husband, our time, and our home…There were days I didn’t shower until my husband came home”.

The dirty little secret for many of us SAHMs is that although our regret ratio is low, we still battle our inner doubts, our jealousy of our husbands and colleagues who have kid-free workdays and the loss of income that is especially felt if we had once enjoyed the cushion of being DINKs (double income no kids). Dr. Laura doesn’t mince words to this truth and share many experiences from her own life as well as other women who have shared their lives.

Undoubtedly the most impacting part of this small book were the tidbits sharing tender interactions between mother and child/children or quoted words from the children of SAHMs or their own written words. I was even more floored when I read about a mother who wasn’t a SAHM but then became one later during her son’s young life: “He handled it all so well, never complained when he had to be shipped off to another location or do things he didn’t want to do. It was the greatest gift to give him when I told him I would be home all the time to take care of him. He became less stressed, happier, calmer, and more loving. He could actually have a childhood with friends, play dates, and join things if he wanted. I will never regret staying home. Wish I could have done it sooner, but it’s never too late to make your child a priority…”

I realize by sharing this book review and personal reaction piece that I risk making some of my female colleagues feel certain emotions that may not be positive, perhaps downright hostile or defensive. Yet I would rather risk this because as my own life journey has taught me, there is nothing like being there for my child and husband even though we at the moment don’t even have our own personal living space. It is not the easiest and many times seems like it lacks any rewarding element—especially as my 33 week pregnant self with our second child fatigues easily. However, there are moments that I am able to witness and relay to my husband that I would otherwise miss if cloistered away in my work office during my son’s active days.

A final note on Dr. Laura’s book “In Praise-” is that even those women who are without children or unmarried can benefit from reading it as there are great pieces of advice on how to prepare for life as a SAHM—even though the reality is you can never be fully prepared for the ride it truly is when it occurs. Another touching shared experience from Dr. Laura’s book: “My son proceeded to tell me that he’s glad that I don’t work because at the CDC (child day-care center) you don’t get to do whatever you want, like go to the fridge to get a snack or go to your room to play with your toys, which he enjoys immensely after a long, structured day at school. He continued with, ‘Mom, do you know why I like to be in the kitchen so much?’ I replied that I didn’t and could he please tell me. My adorable son then went on to tell me that it’s because I’m there”.

Does Dr. Laura ‘preach’ that once you’re a SAHM you can’t take on any work that brings a paycheck to the household?—of course not, she herself still worked on her radio show, the caveat being that she went to the studio after her son had gone to bed for the evening. I myself am hashing out this blog piece at a start time of 4:57am on a Thursday morning; my track record usually is after my little man has passed out in the evenings when my own thought processes are delirious at best.

I encourage you to read this book if possible, especially if you have decided to take on the now-taboo work title of “homemaker, stay-at-home mom”. We need to remember that although the feminist era in the 20th century may have given us some freedoms and allowances, they also did us a disservice by trying to convince us that “quality time” with our children is better than “quantitative time”—try to teach your child or children that when they recall their childhood one day and either remember you being there during the good and bad times or just the “quality times”.

RVSB

Smart Phones: Dumbing and Numbing Parents and Children Alike

PART ONE

In full disclosure, if you don’t know me personally, I will admit that I have always had a love-hate relationship with technology in its countless forms in both the 20th and 21st century.

In the last two decades of my life alone, I’ve witnessed our dependence and lust grow for the personal computers, internet usage, cell phones and now the latest tech combo plate menu item: smart phones.

As a wife and mother who juggles her little family and extended family’s needs as well as the drive to stay connected to friends and current events, I can’t say that the advent of these multi-tasking devices (my favorite is the blackberry) hasn’t helped me.  But lately, I find myself forcefully putting my blackberry into my purse or even leaving around in the house or car because my heartburn is growing as I witness the gap these devices are contributing between parents and our children.

I can speak to the infant and toddler experience in parenting as my son T.A. is 2 years old and I’m expecting our second. 

PLAYGROUNDS

Why on earth are you engrossed in your phone during your child’s playtime either at an inside or outside playground?  I’m not talking about the occasional “checking the time” or “who’s calling/texting” and such.  I’m talking to the dad I saw the other day who was utterly consumed in his blackberry while his child wrecked havoc on others as well as himself.  I’m recalling the mother whose little girls were trying to get her attention outside while she chatted away on the phone and didn’t even take a break to let them know why she needed to take such an important phone call (I hope it was).  Yes, I sound harsh and I am the first to admit that I’ve had to answer the phone or reach out to someone–but the difference is I make it a point to communicate this to my son  before, as and after I do it.  You see, they still absorb everything we do, as young toddling ones did hundreds of years ago…the only difference now is we have these gizmos that cast this weird silence upon them when we get lost in using them for both good and bad reasons.

Again, I’m not saying you should never have these phones/devices out while with your children in a playground setting.  I’m just trying to suggest that it’s probably not necessary that we do and I’d rather we spend our attention on our children as one day they’ll be grown and won’t ever need as much as they do now–how critical it is that we don’t become that absent parent while physically present.

APPS FOR DISTRACTION

Who hasn’t been frazzled by their child’s behavior at a restaurant, place of religious worship, et cetera?  I have used our digital camera at an eatery before to help squeeze out the final course or conversation with those at the table–as a last resort. 

A couple of weeks ago, though, I read an article about how parents pacify their children during card rides with phone apps varying from games to videos.  I also witnessed a mother at my church who had her toddler holding her smart phone with a video during a children’s history event on our Greek OXI day.  This blows my mind as we are called to help our little infants and toddlers to experience life in all its forms…not always defaulting to the digital/virtual one.  In the car, my son has books, toys, writing pads, stickers and all the like.  I refuse to hand him my phone and now have determined that I don’t even want DVD players in any future cars either. 

Again, it’s not a necessity and we certainly should not help them nurse a dependence on this sort of instantaneous entertainment that will always have to be trumped somehow.  Why miss out on the conversations you can have with your toddler about what we see on our way to the grocery store or mall?   My son will sometimes recalled up to half a dozen times in a week something we saw last week–it is fascinating how their mind makes connections without the constant feed of a video on a phone that would only serve to distract them from their surroundings.  Don’t we want to help our kids have a better grasp on people and things around them on a daily basis?  Is it worth the silence and not being “bothered” by your child when in several years you’ll have a teenager who has no empathy or depth of perception in the real world?

CLOSING OF PART ONE

I want to write further on this subject and I welcome any comments or criticisms as I know my tone can sound pretty convicting.  If I want anything to be remembered from this it’s that I feel it’s more important to put aside these smart devices and play with them on our own time than our child’s time. 

RVSB

Virtual Schooling: An Alternative to Both Homeschooling and Conventional Public or Private Schooling

Quick Note:  Apologies to my frequent readers, life has been a busy ride with many stops along the way in the past month that has rendered me paralyzed from writing more on this site–however, I hope to remedy that dry spell in the coming weeks–read on!

On Monday, October 18, 2010, our local newspaper The Palm Beach Post ran a front page article by Kevin D. Thompson entitled “In A Class By Themselves” that could be easily missed by most of us harried parents (especially those in stewardship of children 4 years and younger).   Even if you don’t have time to read my blog, please look at the link of this article if you are still mulling over what your options are for the education of your child.  You should be able to pull the link here: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/schools/palm-beach-county-students-benefit-from-virtual-classroom-977282.html?cxtype=rss_news or you may also search on their website: www.palmbeachpost.com

I don’t know where I’ve been in the past several years but after reading this article I found out that it’s been a growing phenomenon to have students from pre-kindergarten age through 12th grade attending some type of school online.  The article cites research data from groups like Ambient Insight and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning who “reports that the number of students taking classes online is growing 30 percent annually.”

Evidently in our own Palm Beach County here in South Florida, we have almost 300 students currently enrolled in the 2010-11 school year and I’m truly excited to hear that there are actually three virtual schools available to our students in this county.  The major difference between a student in virtual school or being home-schooled is that with virtual schooling the student  takes classes online and their parents supervise and encourage while there are state-certified teachers who communicate with the student “regularly through e-mail, voice mail, phone conversations, virtual meeting sites and instant messages to complete the course work.”

It is so refreshing to find out that there is another option for parents who are seeking an alternative to sending their kids to the public or private schools in their areas.  We have a couple of generations now following the infamous “generation X” that have graduated from high school with some apathetic senses of being and as we’re raising our own children we fear sending them into educational systems that only remind us of those endless hours of boredom, frustration, harassment and so forth.

There are two major factors that I feel appeal to parents regarding the virtual education choice: one is definitely cost as most programs are free and open to every student (at least in Florida’s case), the second is the fact that the actual mantle of teaching falls on the state-certified instructors who teach at these virtual schools.  The cost factor explains itself, the teacher factor is helpful for those parents who although they look forward to being involved on a daily basis in their child’s education–they may not feel comfortable enough to be the solely responsible adult teaching as in the case with some homeschooling programs.

This article does cite the standard cons of online learning (and perhaps, tongue-in-cheek about home-schooling as well) that include the thought that maybe these students lose out on interaction with other kids their age and don’t get the socialization that they would in a four-walled classroom.  I personally dismiss that idea immediately as there are so many opportunities for our children these days than when we ourselves were kids in the 70s and 80s (no offense please to the older generations).  It’s just that with all the mommy-and-me programs, sports, religious organizations, internet society and other extracurriculars, I think that kids these days are actually overstimulated to the point of apathy or burnouts.

The other side of this discussion is mentioned in this article and it refers to the teachers who are behind the virtual education and the fact that they are able to be more communicative with their students as they’re involved in writing and responding to them instead of just standing in front of a classroom.  I think this is a great career move for teachers out there who have becoming discouraged in their work because they spend so much time focused on disciplining their students instead of actually educating them on the curriculum at hand.

In the end it always comes down to the parents’ decision on what type of education program is best for their children.  It’s just nice to know that you now have more choices that each carry pros/cons.  In my mind, as I ponder my toddler’s future academic career, I am looking at public/private schooling, home-schooling and now Florida’s virtual schools.  Best of luck as you assist your beloved children, just remember you are always their first and most important teacher in life!

RVSB

Nature as God’s Classroom…

Gardening or farming is not for everyone as a hobby or career, however, I do believe it should be part of our education as children with refresher courses in our adulthood.

This past weekend I worked in my garden and mini-fruit tree orchard with a hired hand to go through my approximately 25 x 75 foot raised bed garden and surrounding area weeding, mulching, digging and planting.  My subject of my nature lesson on Saturday became dramatically clear as we bagged nearly half a dozen black lawn bags with unwanted weeds and dead vegetation.  How do my plants survive through adversity?  Translation:  How do we humans fare in adversity?

In my nearly twenty years of active “gardening” of some sort, I have often run into living analogies of our humanity in the natural world of plants and organisms.  As I’ve matured in my adult life, I’m comforted by witnessing both the triumphs and failures of things in nature as they echo of my own life experiences up to present.

This past Saturday’s lesson is a repeat, I’ve seen it before but I never get bored with its wisdom revealed.  Of the 9 fruit-bearing trees that I’ve planted in the corner of my mother’s property, 5 of them are actually growing well and thriving.  The remaining four have been a struggle to keep from withering away.  Conventional wisdom would have us infer that the five trees which are doing well had been meticulously monitored since their planting complete with consistent water, perhaps a protecting plastic for the young trunks, clean mulch lacking weeds, good feed and soil and so forth.  The reality is that I was only able to really pay special mind to the four trees that are now barely clinging to life–they have been hit with water stress, bugs, molds, fatigue, et cetera.

What does that say?  Does it mean I let the five go on untouched?  No, actually, I have gone in a couple of times this year and cleared the five healthy trees of their choking weeds, refreshed their soil, put down mulch again, fed them and pruned.  However, I did allow them to weather the trials of a record summer of heat in Florida, bear the burden of giant ant hills and thick weeds.  Basically, I didn’t try to protect them from any and all adversity that could strike them.  I did endure guilty feelings this season as I thought I was truly neglecting them and would suffer their loss.  Instead, as I would clean them up periodically, I found that they had gained strength, built immunities, grown thicker and taller and overall have a bright future of bearing me healthy fruit yields in future seasons.

As the worker and I finished our labor this weekend, I walked and inspected each of my nine fruit trees individually.  I’m still amazed by what seems such a backward logic to many of us, especially parents.  By allowing some of my young trees to fend for themselves on a number of naturally occurring elements, I essentially ensured that they would garner their own armor and future strength reserve for battles ahead.  While my poor four trees that I donned so much attention on ended up stifling them and rendering them ill-equipped for the unforseen weather patterns and bug raids that would occur in this summer season.

For myself, this lesson yielded a few layers of personal learning.  As a parent, it tells me that it’s okay to not hover over my son constantly in certain situations.  Obvious things aside like danger of drowning or being burned by the stove, it does benefit my son to let him navigate some social situations on his own or witnessing him making mistakes in a play scenario so that he can nurture his own sense of troubleshooting through things.  As a wife, it reminds me that my husband and I will sometimes feel that God has gone silent in our marriage when we seem to be capsizing in one of life’s tumultuous storms out in the proverbial sea.  But as we cling to each other and our love for our Maker, we will weather those storms and truly enjoy the stronger vessel our love is as we sail gorgeous seas together.  As a friend, it comforts me that while I cannot always properly nurture all my relationships, this doesn’t mean that I will be destined to lose any particular friend as there are those whom we cross paths with in this life that are not affected by the passage of our human time.

This is a pretty inexhaustible subject and yet I wanted to share it with all of you because we are so busy in our lives that when a nature lesson like that hits me with precious information that can help everyone I want to shout it out to the world…so I type this post to you world.

Happy Labor Day!

R.V.S.B.

Bilingual Education: A Two-Way Street of Learning

When people ask me what language I learned first as a child, I find that question difficult to answer one way or another.  The fact is both my parents had recently left Europe when I was born a mere few weeks later in the United States.  I assume that I heard them speak both languages (Greek and English) and just used English more during my scholastic years.  It actually wasn’t until my early twenties that I had a renewed interest in speaking more Greek among my peers when I joined young adult groups through the Greek Orthodox church.  I was thankful that my mother had instilled a basic vocabulary in me so that I could build on it.

After I found out I was pregnant with my son back in 2007, I knew immediately that I wanted to speak to him in Greek.  When folks would ask me if I would I answered them affirmatively.  Then I realized that I did know a little bit of French from my school years and would also like to share that language with him while also learning more myself.

The first year of my son’s life I found it quite easy to settle into speaking Greek to him when home alone with him.  Usually my words were simple and sentences short, I figured this would be easier than I thought. How silly right?

Now as my son has barreled past his 2-year-old birthday, I have begun to realize my limitations.  Reading his English books have become a little more complicated in Greek, explaining things around us like a mini-lecture series for toddlers has also become dicey in Greek.  In fact, I’ve been humbled by the fact that my vocabulary is limited in Greek and now I need to learn more.  So together I’ve sat with my son through Greek video or computer programs.  My mother-in-love sent us the Rosetta Stone for Greek.

As my son T.A. spouts out words in both English and Greek everyday, my husband and I find ourselves going to “school” at night with our educational assistance.  It turns out that teaching your child another language benefits yourself as well.

I still share some French with my son and am blessed by the fact that there are loved ones in his life that also know French like his great Aunt and music teacher.  I have asked these ladies to let loose in French to him, I suspect it’s also been great practice for them.

Then there is the peer exposure.  My son and I have started a friendship this summer with another mother and son–the mother is from Slovakia.  She and I continue to chat in English while we also speak our Greek and Slovakian to our sons together.  We have noticed how the boys have swapped some words with each other and use them in their limited toddler conversations.  “Kok” means kick in Slovakian and my son says it repeatedly now when we go swimming in the pool and ocean.  I get a kick out of the fact that my son is speaking even one or two words of Slovakian without me even trying to teach him.

If you haven’t begun another language for your child or children, it’s never too late.  What’s better is if you participate in their learning process, even if you have a foreknowledge of the language.  I believe there are only benefits to knowing another language or two or three, et cetera. 

Many in the U.S. will pick Spanish as a second language to teach their children, that’s not a bad thing but it’s also not the only language you need to consider.  Try to pick something you and your partner in parenting will both be enthusiastic about so that the child(ren) will sense that this is something worthy to know and speak.

There is so much I can say on this subject but I just wanted to get the message out that teaching your kids more than just English is really a great idea and promotes extra-curricular education for both you and your child.  We have so many resources at hand now, like children videos, computer software and even classes for little ones pre-kindergarten.  If you have older kids, pick a country/region you would really like to vacation to one day as a family and make it a goal to learn that language on a conversational level.  Bilingual education is most effective when it becomes an activity involving the entire family, not just sending the kids to a language class in school.

RVSB

Who is Salt?

Perhaps it’s best that one of the action flicks of the summer 2010 would be entitled “Salt”.  Although the film starring Angelina Jolie has little to nothing to do with nutrition, the connotation is valid as the concerns over sodium in our American diet has the recurring headline theme in many media pieces including today’s Palm Beach Post article in the Accent section “Is Salt At Fault”.  You can find Ms. Staci Sturrock’s report online at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/health/why-salt-in-your-diet-could-be-the-783042.html

It was probably about five years ago that I really started to pay attention to the salt buzz.  I admit I scoffed at the idea of cutting down my salt intake as I am a professed lover of salty things divine such as Greek feta, Kalamata olives, other tangy cheeses, chips and the list goes on.  

Being a busy twenty-something with nothing but career-climbing and a young husband in mind, I figured that we were healthy and didn’t need to worry about salt unless we were diagnosed with something that prescribed omission of the condiment.  How very ignorant I was, the proverbial blissful existence was what I was leading.

It wasn’t until we had family that was facing health issues that demanded attention, including cutting the salt, that we finally started to examine the idea more closely.  If you get to read Ms. Sturrock’s piece, you may learn for the first time that many of our processed foods already include an incredible amount of salt and you may not recognize it in the ingredients listed.

My daily dinner menu for my family now focuses on trying to put together meals that come from the freshest possible items.  By cutting out the processed foods I have more control over just how much seasoning is used, including salt.  In the process I’ve learned some fun tricks, like how lemon or lime can help season certain vegetables like artichokes and asparagus, thus reducing the reliance on salt.

Ms. Sturrock’s article does a good job of stating statistics sourced from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as polling from health specialists.  She reports that the FDA is “considering a plan to place restrictions on the amount of salt that manufacturers are allowed to add to processed foods.”  Toward the end of Ms. Sturrock’s piece, Dr. Andy Larson of South Florida’s JFK Medical Center brings up another valid concern about our diet saying ” ‘are we sure that we want to single out salt when the real problem is the junk calories in the food — the processed flours and unnecessary vegetable oils that have the calories.?’ ”

My one political comment concerning Ms. Sturrock’s report would be that I’m not so sure that I support government mandates on what food producers put out on the consumer market.  As a proponent of personal responsibility, I truly believe if Americans en masse start shopping for fresher or low-sodium alternatives, companies will take notice and react accordingly to supply the demand of the consumers.  More government intervention means more tax dollars out the door and so I think we are adults that can be responsible for the choice of getting the white-caked french fries or finding another choice of potato preparation.

My husband and I have noticed how the overall reduction of salt in our diet has benefited us health-wise.  Of course we’re not perfect and there are times that we probably far exceed the daily recommended 2300 mg (a teaspoon size) of sodium–especially when eating out at a restaurant or the ever-forbidden fast-food joint such as McDonald’s (you know that’s not fairy dust on the fries).

It turns out that if you can try to weed out processed foods in your daily diet, you’ll end up tackling other nutrition pitfalls.  I’m not suggesting you go for the “raw diet” that has become quite the fad in some circles, but there are ways you can incorporate more simple ingredients.  For example, when you make pasta dinners, why not reach for a can or jar of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce sans salt and then add your own Italian flare: it can be fresh or dried herbs of your own choice and perhaps just a pinch of sea salt and sugar, voila spaghetti sauce a la your creation!

Who is Salt? I still want to watch the Jolie movie, hopefully the subliminal effect of its title will help us remember to pay a little more mind to sodium’s place in our diets so that we don’t have to halt the salt completely when we hit our sixties or seventies.

Note: For those already above the aforementioned age-group, I hope you’re mitigating your diet as needed, for more information you can check our government’s guidelines: www.fda.gov

R.V.S.B.

A Study Report You May Have Missed This Week: Link Between ADHD & Pesticides

Good Thursday to all of you!  It’s been a busy week yet again in my personal orbit but I haven’t forgotten the one little Associated Press report I read in my local paper that had been stuffed/hidden in page 7a.  This was released back on Monday, May 17th, you can Google search to find it or just go to this Time publication link: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1989564,00.html

The title of the report simply describes it: “Study Links Kids’ ADHD to Pesticides”.  It turns out that a recent study has scientists buzzing about and clamoring for more research studies to be conducted on the possible health effects of pesticides on children.  A quote worth remembering from the study: “In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that ca be measured in urine. Almost universally, the study found detectable levels: The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent of the children.”

That’s right, whether or not the pesticides themselves can put our children at greater risk for health problems such as ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) is going to be up for more debate as more research studies is needed–however, the sad and sobering truth remains that we are absorbing these chemicals into our bodies when exposed and our children being smaller are really taking a hit physically.

Unfortunately, this particular report doesn’t determine/reveal how the children in the study were exposed to the pesticides: had they eaten food treated with it, breathed it in the author or swallowed it in their drinking water?

The findings that were published on Monday in “Pediatrics” have the lead author Maryse Bouchard from the University of Montreal saying that one way we can limit our family’s exposure to pesticides is to eat organic produce when available and scrub all produce to get external residue off (regrettably, some things like blueberries and strawberries will have the highest concentration of pesticides absorbed in the fruit-so do try getting organic fresh or frozen.)

For my own family, I do try when available to purchase organic produce, but it’s not always in the store right?  That’s probably why I also try to grow in my garden items that our family regularly consumes in our weekly menus so that I can control what the plants are exposed to.  But what about rain that may fall with pollutants from the atmosphere?  We have to temper our aversion to the reality that our human society is polluted whether we like it or not.  As consumers, we still have some power play left as we can guide the market to reduce its dependence on poisons such as widespread pesticide use.  However, we must educate and arm ourselves with information as to what we want ourselves and our families to be exposed to when eating certain products.  Ultimately, you make the choice as to what path your household will consume whether it be based on environmental or cost-effective terms.

Here are a couple of helpful online resources for your own personal research needs: www.organicconsumers.org , www.organic-center.org and www.heathlychild.org, www.chemicalfreekids.com , www.centerforfoodsafety.org , www.foodandwaterwatch.org , www.ewg.org  .

RVSB

ROAD TRIP: A mini-guide for road travel with little ones

I’ve been absent from writing on my humble website as my son T.A. have been away for 10+ days on a road trip originating from West Palm Beach, Florida through Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky and then back again. 

We were able to stay and visit with various friends and family as we traveled and we also treated ourselves to one night at the Gaylord’s Opryland Resort where we explored their multi-faceted atrium complete with a little riverboat ride

In an effort to share what pros and cons I’ve encountered in road-tripping with my son since he was 5 weeks old-I’ve compiled a fun breakdown of the word ROAD TRIP in sharing some tips:

Relax, Overnight Bag, AAA, Diapers and Toiletries, Technology, Reveal New Toys/Remind Old Toys, Inquire with Locals, Point Out to Yourself and Your Crew

RELAX

Relaxing may seem pretty impossible when embarking on a road trip with one or more children.  However, I have found that it’s helpful to focus on enjoying the actual journey and new experiences together and try to avoid obsessing over details like how well or not well your kids are eating during the trip.  Early on in our journey I immediately noticed that my son was snacking much more and eating less at sit-down meals.  He sometimes avoided the food served to him entirely, thankfully I pulled myself from the ledge as the days wore on and found it liberating to let him splurge on things I otherwise wouldn’t allow back at home.  When he was cranky and tired, I would try to just listen to my music and look around at the sights while driving. 

There was one instance where we were sitting at a T.G.I.Fridays in Chattanooga and T.A. had a level 4 meltdown after the meal was served.  It was at that point I calmly picked him out of the high chair, kissed him and then put him in his jogger stroller, reclined the seat, pulled down the sun shade, made sure he was secure, had a blanket draped and told him he needed to take a nap.  While he railed in the stroller I then summoned the waitress and ordered a Coors Light and proceeded relax accordingly as within a few minutes my son gave in to his over-stimulated exhaustion and I enjoyed my beer followed by coffee and an ice cream brownie drizzled with Bailey’s Irish Cream (no worries, we were walking around downtown for hours following that lunch).

OVERNIGHT BAG

This may seem elementary to most of you but for some reason I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of how to pack clothes and such for road trips even though I’ve done a few already with my son during his young lifetime- his first interstate road trip in the car being at five weeks old!  I often have found myself resembling some Biblical era nomad with tons of little bags and things.

So I finally figured out prior to leaving this time that I could pack a big suitcase for both of our clothes and have it act as a traveling dresser while I had a medium-sized duffle bag be our overnight bag that I packed prior to every stay at someone’s home or a hotel.  I found this to be liberating and much lighter for our helpful family and friends who were always asking to take our things to the designated room they had for us when we arrived.

AAA

That’s right, I’m plugging for AAA, the auto club of America, you can find them easily at http://www.aaa.com . If you are only an occasionally road tripping sort, then this is probably not a membership you necessarily need, although their roadside assistance benefits are worthy of consideration. 

I love AAA for the continuously updated travel software programs available to members such as myself.  Their TripTiks, for example, is very detailed and accurate in its directions and mini-maps, I prefer it over Mapquest or Google maps any day.  I also appreciate AAA’s tour books for all the different states that give you great travel info such as where are the best hotels to consider, what the main attractions in the different cities and towns are.  Those books also give you information in detail about the name and numbers of exits on the interstates in conjunction with various sites and attractions.  Between what signs I saw along my road travels and what information I had in my AAA tour books and maps, I always felt pretty well educated and prepared as I drove my son and myself through four different states.

DIAPERS AND TOILETRIES

Diapers are an obvious mention for those whose little ones aren’t potty-trained yet.  However, the toiletries portion also refers to the parent not just the child/children’s needs on the trip.  

Before I left town I visited some of my favorite places like L’Occitane and Aveda to pick up a couple of travel-size toiletry treats that made me feel taken care of as we traveled.  Things like a little bottle of sweet smelling hair spray and a Bergamot tea lotion mist from L’Occitane that was neatly packed in my oversized make-up tote that contained my staples like mouthwash, toothbrush, eye cream and lotions.  Having a small-scale but well stocked toiletry pantry in my overnight bag made the beginning and ending of my busy traveling days have a pleasant and energizing routine. 

For my son I had a small blue plastic container filled with one of his favorite bath toys, a small travel container of his bubble bath from home (we love Burt’s Bees!), his little toothbrush and toothpaste and his night lotion and butt crème.   This provided him with a familiar bin of his own that we opened together every morning and evening for his respective pampering needs that helped his days have a proper start and closure.

TECHNOLOGY

This is a fairly recent development as families driving through our nation as a mode of travel in the 1940s and 1950s would just stare in astonishment at the options we parents now have available to us and on average our American families containing less children than they had in those decades.

My friends and colleagues who know me well understand that I have an overall avoidance issue with most forms of technology.  For example, if I hadn’t married my husband I may still have lived without a computer in my personal home space.  Of course, I use them especially now as a mode of writing and communicating, but I still try to spend less than 5 hours a week on it as I used to have to spend WAY too much time on a computer when I was working in the government and corporate worlds.

However, I do admit that I carried a separate bag on this road trip of two particular items: a mini-DVD player and my iPod player with nano iPod.  The DVD player was NOT used in the car; I have a personal philosophy on playing movies in travel.  I feel they are okay for long airplane rides where one is restricted especially with small lap children.  But I believe that part of doing a road trip is to see the sights around you and usually you have the time to play with and stop whenever needed for extra distractions.  Plus, my toddler son has a short attention span so I was much happier to use the DVD player in our room when we would settle in for the evening so I could wash my face, re-pack or just generally take a break from his need for attention-why waste that in the car?

The iPod player was used only for the evenings when my son was washed and dressed in his pajamas and it was time to go to bed.  I always pressed play on my “lullaby” playlist that helped calm both of us down as he wound down for a restful sleep after some busy days during our road travel.

Then there are the additional understood staples such as your cell phone and digital camera.  It’s a good idea to keep your chargers with you at all times during road travel and make a habit of recharging them at night and then throwing the chargers back into your overnight bag each morning so as not to lose them.  I will admit that on this trip I lacked a car charger—those who really know me well will recall my cell phone explosion in the 2004 car trip with my husband from DC to FL that gave us both 2nd degree burns, let’s just say I’m a little paranoid about those unstable lithium batteries in the car charging.

REVEAL NEW TOYS – REMIND OLD TOYS

This is a two-part approach that seems opposite in nature but its intentions are the same: the goal is to help your little road warrior(s) travel as comfortable as possible in the vehicle as well as in the places you lay your head each evening.

One of my good friends L.H. had given me the advice last year for traveling for a 6+ airplane flight that it is good to break up the trip with revealing new toys/books to my son.  It worked well and I have stuck to the habit ever since.  This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune or buy elaborate toys, it can be simple stuff really and just ask me if you need ideas.  As I planned this past road trip, I looked at when my longest drive segments were and planned accordingly with stocking a few new things in the back of the car hidden.  Also, for the older children, there is always the ‘souvenir’ option as you travel through attractions or various places.  Thankfully, lots of Wal-marts along most of our interstates these days!

Old things are also good to travel with: their favorite toy or nighttime reading, the security blanket or stuffed animal.  These familiar things help your child(ren) feel some security as they travel the unknown with you.  Remember that you’re not the only one enduring stressful emotions on the road trip, they go through their own versions and it’s good when they have their own fall-back items and habits to help ground and re-center themselves.

For example, when staying at folks’ homes, T.A. enjoyed being in the kitchen with the adults as they or I would prepare meals.  I had a canvas tote bag with his fond pot and lid with a small bin of plastic fruits and vegetables that he likes to play with at home when I’m cooking food.  So I would bring that in whenever he started asking to participate.  We still ate out as well but this was nice for when we were hanging out with our hosts while food preparation was in full swing.

INQUIRE WITH LOCALS

Although we have AAA, you may have Apps on your iPhone and our laptops with wireless internet capabilities, my personal experience is that I found the best eateries, major attractions, parks and stores with the help of a local resident’s counsel.

For instance, Chattanooga’s Sticky Fingers is a great place for ribs and smoked wings, I’m so glad that locals verified that choice and I highly recommend it if you’re ever passing through there. 

Also, there was one day about a week into the trip that I wanted to make a comfort meal for T.A. at my family’s house in Tennessee but I didn’t know where I could find my specialty ingredients.  While at a children’s discovery museum I approached a couple of mom’s and asked and they told me about a great fresh and organic market not far from there and it was the best! 

Technology and such is great, but nothing beats asking someone who knows where’s the best this-or-that and I’m glad I did in almost every state I hit.

POINT OUT TO YOURSELF AND YOUR CREW

This last one is a little silly but I found it to be truly effective for my little crew of my son and me during this particular road trip.  Sure, he’s young and perhaps this little trick will fade in its attractiveness or maybe we’ll just progress and evolve into more detailed absorption of what scenery we encounter.

Whenever we saw cow pastures, I pointed them out to my son and talked about them. He would usually respond with the sounds of the cows and his recent adaptation of “Whoa Bull!”  If I saw construction vehicles, trucks or boats (all of which he LOVES right now), I would also point those out and we would go back and forth about them in adult vs. toddler language exchange.  You get the picture?  What surprised me about this constant observation activity was that it helped my driving go quickly and I found myself being intellectually stimulated even though I was making simple statements to my son, I was expanding in my thoughts on whatever the subject was and therefore more thoroughly enjoying my travel with him.

ROAD TRIP

I had a good time with my little road warrior and actually look forward to more trips in the future.  We’ll still use air travel from time to time, but the benefits of road trips outweigh those of airplane usage to me since it allowed me to visit with friends and family in greater quantity than I’d be able to do if I had to pay for all the air, car rental and hotel stays required in that mode of air transport.

If you have a road trip in your near future with your family, I wish you safe travels and most of all hope that you have fun new memories etched in all your hearts.

RVSB

Palm Beach County’s Possible Folly: Easing Ban On Cellphones in Schools?

Generally speaking, every morning it takes me a nice cup or two of coffee to help me open my eyes and get the fuzz off my brain’s exterior.  However, this morning I was spared my routine overdose of caffeine by the Palm Beach Post’s front page article entitled “Plan to ease school district’s policy on cellphones gets fuzzy reception” that sent shock waves through my cerebellum.   If you don’t live in Palm Beach County, Florida, you can look up the article written by Ms. Cara Fitzpatrick on their website at www.palmbeachpost.com: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/schools/palm-beach-county-school-board-gets-hung-up-535575.html

I struggled to read through the entire article without yelling aloud in back talk as I’m prone to do–especially if I’m watching political pundits on TV.  Evidently there is a group of school technology officials in Palm Beach County that are suggesting that school board members consider easing the district’s restrictions on cellphone use, possibly using them in classroom instruction.

As I must applaud the creativity of using texting to send out memos to students during the day, I also abhor the idea of further overwhelming our youth with technology that offers little benefit overall.

The reality is that as with much of the technology bingeing that our society has participated in only the last three decades, the cons come out much later after we’ve been sold on the pros of the latest gadget or concept (like the world-wide web internet).

In this particular case, school officials have essentially become perhaps a little worn down by the constant need to reprimand their students for illicit cellphone use.  At the same time, I do believe that parents are to fault for sending their children to school with a cellphone in tow.  As for you parents that may be reading this and get upset with me: then at least consider if you do deem it a necessity for your child to carry that cellphone on their person, you are also responsible for ensuring that they do not use that phone during school hours unless it is a serious emergency on your part or theirs (which, honestly, those calls should be conducted in the school administration office, not in the classroom).

One of the ideas for a revised mobile phone policy in Palm Beach County mentioned that “use of cellphones would be ‘generally banned’ in schools, but would be allowed in classrooms for the instructional purposes as determined by the teacher and principal”.  Again, we’ve already learned that computers, both desktops and laptops, offer some benefits in classroom use, but they cannot replace the instructor-student interaction necessary for proper learning as appropriate for the respective grades.  Why would we then incorporate cellphone use on top of a pre-existing educational technology with bigger screens and memory?

A funny proposal was the one I read that offers “students, parents, school employees and others would be allowed to use electronic signatures to sign documents.”  Now I think we’ve truly gone tech-stupid.  The moment a John Hancock is too much for a parent to do in person for their child just makes me angry.  You may want to argue with me on this one and I invite you to do so because perhaps I’m simply a dinosaur in this regard.  I still think I want my child to bring a paper to me in person so we can discuss what it’s asking of he/she as well as myself to sign off on.  Why would we want to treat our interaction with our children regarding their education like some faceless technology swap with our big-wigs at the office or the bank loan officer we’d rather not meed in person?

Ultimately, the article leaves the cellphone discussion “to be continued” in this school board’s case in Palm Beach County, Florida.  It did wake me up again to the fact that our idea of how school was for us certainly is not the same for our children today.  However, I also stand firm that change doesn’t mean throwing away the template completely to make way for something that we still don’t know the true ramifications of in the future.

I’ve written before on the subject of the current epidemic of today’s children not knowing how to interact outdoors in nature unabated.  That is a direct result of a number of factors, mostly involving overuse and overstimulation of TV, video games, computers and other indoor medias that have paralyzed an entire generation of kids.  We must tread carefully as we now witness our technology becoming increasingly handheld, head held (like the annoying blue tooth, I lasted with that for a few months before I decided no thanks).

Of course I’m not saying that we can avoid it entirely.  But I know we as parents do still hold the key to teaching our children how to exercise moderation in every aspect of their lives with technology increasingly becoming a pervasive part of it for them.  Already I am curbing in my own usage and have found that it benefits me personally as well as hopefully an example for my son T.A.–and, no, he will not have his own cellphone in middle school, I can promise you that.

RVSB

Wyoming Life

"God bless it and keep it wild"