The One Thing I’m Definitely Passing On to My Kids This Year

Here’s another one featured on The Huffington Post:




As parents, on a good day, we try to model positive behaviors, core values, a strong work ethic. We know the kids are watching. But there are those days when I seriously wonder, once they’re grown and out of the house, is it all going to come together? Are the little ways we try to work in the big life lessons for our kids seeping in somewhere between “Why me?” and “It’s not fair!?” Like, for instance, on “family cleaning day, ” which I’ve recently instituted as part of my plan to get more help around the house …

I gave them each one job. One. Clean your bathroom.

There were no specific requirements or “hard-knock-life” demands (they’re 6 and 9). Just a rag and a bottle of (natural) cleaner. Go to town. Do your best. I thought my son might even find it slightly amusing (you know, pretend it’s zombie spray or something).

You would have thought I asked them for a candy-free Halloween next year … especially when I handed my 9-year-old the toilet bowl brush.

You want me to actually do the TOILET? You mean the toilet where I put my own butt and where I like to leave you little “presents” because I have better things to do with my time than stop and flush? That toilet? Oh yeah, ok, Mom.

So ensued a string of moaning and gagging-like noises, followed by my instinctual “lecture” on pitching in as a family, the pride in a job well done, the luck of not being one of six kids like Mom who had to do her own laundry and make her own lunches, blah, blah, blah. They weren’t buying it. And my poo jokes didn’t go over so well, either.

But as kids have a way of doing, they were helping me see the bigger picture here. Mounting mommy workload aside, this was not about the wad of wet toilet paper wedged into the tile floor. And clearly I could do the job better myself, in half the time, without the bitching and moaning. I’m passing on lifelong habits here, kids.

And I know my hardworking dad, rest his soul, was somewhere up there cheering me on. My dad, who would usually awaken us bright and early on Saturday mornings for the project of the day (or just because he didn’t believe in sleeping in), would understand the value of this little task in my kids’ otherwise cushy little lives. Their increasingly automated, push-of-the-button lives that I wonder, as I do even about my own life at times, will churn out a slothful generation who is further and further removed from the do-it-yourself, survival instincts of their ancestors (who of course had to walk a mile to school, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways). A generation who can complete more and more of life’s functions from a stationary spot behind a digital screen, and who has come to expect a long list of conveniences. Just the other day, my 6-year-old wanted to know why the school bus couldn’t drop him off right in front of the house like it did last year. I guess the walking less than a block from the corner really throws off his play schedule.

Maybe I’m just feeling guilty about overindulging my kids in other areas of their lives. Sure, I have them set and clear the table, tidy up their rooms, vacuum here and there, and I’m sure there are those who would argue that toilets should be left to the older kids, or that there are plenty of other ways to teach the value of hard work. But while I’m certainly no taskmaster, I do think something like a little toilet cleaning (at the ripe young age of 9) has a way of really bringing the message home …

It’s not all pretty. And sometimes we just have to get past the stinky stuff.

Or maybe it’s my borderline obsessive-compulsive streak. I was one of those weird kids who actually offered to clean, and still get a deep satisfaction and sense of calm from it. But I’ve let go over the years as a mom. And certainly I don’t expect my kids to light up over a shiny sink faucet, or live up to my spotless standards, but my goodness, dear whiny children, it’s a bathroom. Filthy though it may be, it’s one …
little … bathroom.

After about a three-minute discussion/demonstration on how to unhinge a half-inch mound of dried toothpaste from the sink, I’d about had it. Still, somehow, the cleaning got done, and I somehow overlooked the still spit-spotted mirror and moldy tub mat, trying to keep in mind that it’s not so much about the result as it is the practice. And patted myself on the back for keeping my kids on task and not succumbing to a maid service (today). A service that should they decide to start one day, it appears, will surely leave them unemployed and living back at home with me. “Cleaning” for their keep.


Needing a Sick Day … or Two

Today I discovered a new talent. I have the ability to play Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots while writing an article about “Dating with MS” in my head. It’s similar to my other talent of answering work emails while listening to my daughter perform the new song she wrote, and then singing along verbatim by the third performance and the 10th email. My son is home sick from Kindergarten for the second day this week. And as twisted as this sounds, I kind of like it.

Yes, he’s calling for me every 10 minutes with a new “hurting part” on his body. Yes, he’s looking up at me with those pitiful eyes, too weak to hit the channel button on the remote. And yes, most likely he’s contagious, and I’ll be nursing my own fever and pawing at the remote by the weekend.

But on the up side …

He doesn’t have an appetite, so I get a reprieve from round-the-clock snack requests. He’s low on energy, so the noise decibel in the house is down a notch. He’s too weak to argue. And the illness is bringing out his affectionate side. No, I’m not getting any real work done, but I have a good excuse …

My boy needs me.

He needs me more than my editor at the moment. Or the pile of laundry sitting in the corner on the bedroom floor (that I’ve already washed twice now after the cat, with the recent urinary tract infection, peed on it). Or the dentist’s receptionist who seems a little too invested in whether or not my teeth get cleaned this year.

I don’t like that he’s achy and shivering, and missed his big field trip at school yesterday. I don’t like the symptoms-of-Ebola checklist that keeps running through my head. But I like that all he wants is for me to hold him, and closes his eyes when I smooth back his hair. I like snuggling up to his warm body and tucking the covers up tighter under his chin. And the not caring whether or not I get what he’s got.

It appears I have the magic touch, and this is right where I’m supposed to be.

I think he can feel it, too, especially as the fever lifted and he started to come out of the bad-breath, two-days-in-the-same-pajamas coma. I gave him an orange, and he asked if he could just suck out the juice, not actually bite it. Yes, I said. Two sucks later, we settled on some sugary dried oranges and a piece of leftover Halloween candy that, miraculously, he was able to chew. And yet another round of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em.

Still, he feels only “a little” better. And is not sure if he’ll be able to make it to school tomorrow.

Oh, he’ll be back at school, and I’ll be cleaning up the sickness aftermath and probably working straight through the weekend to meet my deadlines. But when I think about it, these last two days that started in a slight panic have turned out to be pretty special.

I think all the downtime has brought out his contemplative side, too. Lying in bed after watching Curious George spy on The Man With the Yellow Hat for the 4th time in two days, he said, Mom, I feel like I have lots of words in my head.

Yea bud, me, too.


Big Life Lessons in a Little Shoebox: Watching Operation Christmas Child in Action

So we’re just now getting geared up for “Operation Christmas Child” — even though we went shopping for our gifts back in early November (that’s the holidays for ya).

If you haven’t yet heard of this phenomenon by Samaritan’s Purse, Operation Christmas Child is an outreach program that packages and ships shoeboxes filled with toys, supplies and other gifts to children in need throughout the world.


We donate a couple of shoeboxes every year, and though there are usually drop-off locations throughout the city in late November, we typically take ours to the processing center in Suwanee, GA to watch the packing operation in action. It’s quite the production in this ginormous, festive warehouse with all of OCC’s happy little elves hard at work on the assembly line.


My kids like not only shopping for “their kids” gifts, but also finding out what all the other kids are getting in their boxes, and where they are headed.


The facility also offers tours with kid-friendly activities that illustrate how and why the organization chooses its recipients, and what it’s like for these kids living on the other side of the world. One year, they even had an amazing little girl speaker, once an orphan and shoebox recipient, who was adopted by the couple from Georgia who donated her shoebox!

What started out for us as a simple act of giving through our kids’ school, has now turned into a fun family tradition — one that reminds us about giving and connecting with children (people) from all walks of life.

You can still pack and get your shoeboxes to a processing center through December 20th. Call to find out about scheduling a family tour.

“Just a spoonful of honeeey helps the … allergy symptoms go away?”

It would be nice, and tasty, if this were true, and I for one was really hoping this rumored natural remedy for seasonal allergies would provide at least a little relief for my husband, my son and me. But the theory, it appears, is false. Experts will tell you that it’s generally the pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, not the pollen from flowers (carried by bees), that causes seasonal allergy symptoms. And local honey does not have enough of this type of pollen to ward off the symptoms.

Here’s how the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology puts it:

There is a widespread belief that eating local, unprocessed or “raw” honey can help allergy symptoms by regularly exposing you to pollen – not unlike the concept of how allergy shots work. Allergy injections help desensitize pollen-allergic people by exposing them to a specific pollen or pollen mixture injected at regular intervals. An important difference here is that the pollen amounts in allergy injections are known, and progressively increasing to a certain level, for best results. Studies have shown allergy shots are very effective for decreasing seasonal allergy symptoms.

Local, unprocessed honey does contain small amounts of pollen from the environment. The pollen in honey is mostly from the flowers where bees are found (with flowering plant pollen less likely to cause allergy symptoms) and allergenic, airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds (not pollinated by bees!) in lesser amounts. Thus, the amount of allergenic pollen in the honey is typically very small, as bees don’t intentionally incorporate this pollen into the honey. This is considered a contaminant, like the bee parts, mold spores, bacteria and other environmental particles that can be found in honey. (Commercial processing seems to remove most pollen and contaminants.)

There is no scientific proof that eating local honey will improve seasonal allergies. One study, published in 2002 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, showed no difference among allergy sufferers who ate local honey, commercially processed honey, or a honey-flavored placebo. And in rare cases there might actually be a risk. In extremely sensitive individuals, the ingestion of unprocessed honey can result in an immediate allergic reaction involving the mouth, throat, or skin – such as itching, hives or swelling – or even anaphylaxis. Such reactions may be related to either pollen or bee part contaminants.


So go ahead, put some local honey in your tea this fall, and enjoy. But don’t expect to stop sneezing or get a much-needed boost of energy from it. Better bet is to talk to a trusted doctor about where your symptoms are coming from, and what you both feel comfortable doing about them.


Bullying … or Kids Being Kids?

Sandra Bullock told the Huffington Post on bullying that when she would return to school from Europe, she looked like a clown compared to the cool way the other students looked and dressed. 

“So I got my ass whooped a little bit … Kids are mean, and the sad thing is that I can still remember the first and last names of every one of those kids who were mean to me!”

With a third grader in our family now, listening to the playground stories and peer divides can be tough. But how do you know if it’s just girls being girls or an actual bullying situation that you need to help resolve?

According to bullying expert Sherri Gordon, conflict is an important part of growing up but bullying is not. Conflict teaches kids how to give and take, how to come to an agreement and how to solve problems. But bullying only wounds kids.


Gordon writes that the best way to identify bullying is to realize that it is a deliberate act with the intention to hurt, insult or threaten another person.

Let’s face it, kids can be mean — even in elementary school. But the bully is not just the shover in the bathroom or the kid who threatens a beating after school. Yes, boys are more inclined to bully through intimidation and physical means, but girls tend to fire with rumors, whispers, exclusion and the silent treatment. Things that may seem to come with the territory of grade school, but can make attending school torture for your kid, or worse, lead to health and emotional issues down the road. Like Bullock said, kids don’t forget.

bullying(1)Problem is, you may never hear about it. Your child may keep it to herself out of fear or shame.

So what is there to do?

• Talk to your child at the end of each day, and find out what’s happening in her social circle.
• If your child does hint at bullying, try to find out specifics, and talk to her teacher and the principal. Ask them to have other staff be on the lookout for any incidents.
• Encourage your child to tell an adult when she has an issue, and assure her that reporting an incident is not the same as tattling.
• Suggest she find a trusted buddy she can stick with at recess, lunch or on the bus so she’s less likely to be targeted than when she’s alone.
• If you notice sudden or increasing stomachaches, headaches, missed days of school, lower grades, eating issues or signs of depression, you may want to schedule a visit with the school counselor.


The Dark Side of Sunscreen


Whoever invented spray sunscreen was a genius. I know many of you moms and dads would agree. No more lathering up our fidgety kids, itching to get in the water, with all that thick white stuff that takes at least 120 rubs before Casper disappears and a child re-emerges.


A few long puffs of invisible spray … and you’re good to go.


Sort of. Recently, I’ve come across some disturbing and inconvenient truths about these spray sunscreens, as well as some of the more mainstream sun care products in general. And as much as it pains me to say this, I’m tossing the spray can.

And taking a closer look at what we’re putting on our skin.


In my big plans to live better, eat better, etc., I guess I’ve been more focused on what we’re putting in our mouths than what we’re putting on our skin. The skin, after all, is essentially drinking up what we give it, and along with the good SPF, the chemicals that come in many of these sunscreens (and other lotions and potions) are seeping their way into the body, as well.


As my friend Jamie put it as she started looking for ways to protect her son (who’s had some serious health issues), “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Statistics show that our kids will be sicker than any other generation due to environmental factors beyond their control. And while I realize we can’t avoid every chemical out there in our modern world, when it comes to applying things directly to the skin, it seems to make sense that it shouldn’t be toxic.

Check the Ingredients

As it turns out, Vitamin A is one of the top chemicals to avoid in sunscreen, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Government studies have shown that on sun-exposed skin, vitamin A (often labeled “retinyl palmitate” or “retinol”) may speed development of skin tumors and lesions.

Another chemical called oxybenzone (found in more than 40 percent of beach and sport sunscreens) penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body. It can trigger allergic reactions, and has been linked to endometriosis in older women.


Rubbing these chemicals into your skin is probably not the best idea, but spraying them on is really not a good idea as it can pose serious inhalation risks, especially for kids, who are more likely to squirm around while getting sprayed. It’s also far too easy to apply too little or miss a spot. Even the FDA has expressed concern about spray products, yet we still see them out there on the store shelves.


These are just a few of the potential risks. There are more things to consider, like high “SPF” and “broad-spectrum” labels, which often are not what they claim to be. But I won’t rattle them off here. You can find out for yourself at, which includes a list of the safest sunscreens (and is really not as confusing as it may seem). The good news is there are some better options out there.


The EWG also offers some tips for using sunscreen with kids:

• If your child plans to swim and play in the water, look for a sunscreen that says it’s water resistant.

• Don’t buy sprays, powders and products with bug repellent.

• If spray sunscreen is all you have, spray on the hands first and rub it in, taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth.

• Infants under six months need special protection – a fair-skinned baby does not yet have protective melanin proteins and needs to be kept out of the sun.

• Make sure to apply sunscreen generously before you go outside, and reapply it often (especially if you’re spending a long day on the beach). Don’t believe claims that a product will remain effective for a certain period of time.


I’m grateful for this info now, especially as we dive into summer, but I can’t say I’m happy about it. These safer sunscreens tend to cost more, and letting go of the oh-so-awesome spray can is going to, well, suck.

But as I’ve found with most things, a little more investment on the front end is worth the rewards, and the protection, on the back. It’s just going to take a little longer to rub in.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to cover up with plenty of gear.

20140525_113908[1] copy

Here are some other recommendations:

SafeMama, a resource for information to help parents protect their kids:

Beautycounter, a company devoted to progress for safer skin care:


Post a comment to let us know what you’re using with your kid(s) … 


Could Your Kid Be Any Happier? Thankfully, Yes!

Ever since our kids started talking, we’ve had this bedtime gratitude ritual (among many others) that goes something like this:

What’s your “rose” for the day? I made a fort with Mimi.
And what’s your “thorn?” You made me take it down.

We still use this rose/thorn routine as a form of prayer or contemplation on the day — sometimes at night, in addition to or in lieu of other prayers, sometimes at the dinner table. But at some point we stepped it up (removing the “thorn” from the equation) with a family gratitude journal.

At least once a week, we each take turns writing (or telling Mom to write) down one thing:

My happiest moment of the day was …


Starting this at a young age seemed like a good idea. I’ve been doing it on and off myself for the past eight years or so, and still I’m always surprised at how hard it is to keep up. Not just finding something to be thankful for when things are at their toughest. But remembering to be thankful in the good times. For the small, simple things. I wanted it to become second nature for my kids.

For many reasons. Research shows that practicing gratitude leads to greater happiness and optimism, deeper relationships, reduced stress, increased energy, greater spirituality, more self-esteem and overall better health. Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, who focuses on the topic says that kids who practice gratitude “report better relationships with friends and family, higher GPAs, less materialism, less envy and less depression, along with a desire to connect to their community and to want to give back.”


Take Oprah. She’s been talking gratitude for years (Aha!), and journaling since she was 15. And look where she is?

oprah-yellow_main_storyOprah quote

Maybe I haven’t reached Oprah status, but what I’ve found is that in certain moments, this simple little practice of writing things down can change my outlook, even turn the day around. And doing it as a family … even more so. I’ve noticed the energy in the house actually shift a bit after we’ve all taken a step back, and focused on something happy.


It doesn’t have to be some grand moment with philosophical pondering. The simpler, the better. Roman’s happiest moment last week was “dessert.”

If nothing else, it’s a way to check in once a week (every day if you’re ambitious) and connect with one another. And to remember that if you can look beyond all the thorns of the day … eventually you’ll uncover the rose.

A happiest moment for me – planting this gorgeous new rose bush with my mom


Here’s the journal our family uses:


It’s a great little book with reflections, suggestions and inspiring quotes. But you don’t need this, or a fancy one – any notebook will do.

Let me know if you’re already doing this (maybe in another form), plan to take it up one day, or have other thoughts or ideas.

I’ll be most grateful.



5 Simple Steps for Allergy Relief (that you may have forgotten)

I never had allergies before last year, and even though I used to write a LOT about managing allergy symptoms for Schering-Plough, I was still sidelined by just how debilitating they can be. My son and I have been suffering for so long this spring, we both developed sinus infections. And even though we’ve managed to make it through with some o-t-c allergy medication, there are some simple things I forgot about (in the itchy, watery, sneezy fog — eewww), that could really make a difference.

Thought I would share them with you fellow allergy sufferers (so sorry) in case you’ve overlooked them this year, too:

  • Wear hats and pollen masks if you have to be outdoors for any length of time (especially on warm, dry and windy days).
  • Avoid hair gel and other hair products that can act as “pollen magnets.”
  • Change clothes before entering your bedroom; splash your face and gently wash your eyelids with water; and shampoo your hair in the evening.
  • Avoid touching your eyes and face, and use cool eye compresses to help reduce eye allergy symptoms.
  • Get plenty of water, and get to bed early to fight the fatigue that often comes with allergies (and the decongestants that can dry you out).

Talking to Your Kids About “Strangers” — Choose the Right Words

So I’m gonna get all serious here for a moment …

… about a notice that came home in my daughter’s backpack the other day.

It was from the Atlanta Public School system, informing parents that there had been recently reported abduction attempts near multiple school properties (though not ON school property, and not necessarily on OUR school property).

I must admit, I was a little surprised by how fast my heart was beating after reading the first couple of lines. You hear the statistics, that the majority of abduction attempts are by a relative or friend, rather than a stranger. That it can happen in any community, city or suburb. Public school or private. But, still … there it was. Too close to home.

We’ve talked to our kids about safety over the years. We’ve role-played a bit. They took a class at preschool. We even found this great video, The Safe Side, that delivers serious, practical safety tips in, believe it or not, a pretty hilarious way. Our kids really got into it and still occasionally select it from our “movie book” — which includes the likes of “Despicable Me” (1 and 2) and, now, “Frozen.” That’s right. “Frozen.”

Yes, this is a photo set-up. That’s Riley. There is no one in the nondescript van she is obliviously walking toward. I checked.


41avyb8oedLIn the video, the “Safe Side Superchick” separates adults into categories (“safe side adults” vs. “don’t knows” vs. “kinda knows”) and explains how kids should approach each. We’ve all heard the phrase “stranger danger,” but most now agree it’s an ineffective message for kids since most incidents occur with an adult the child knows or is familiar with (but that’s a topic for another post).

But I think the question for a lot of parents is how far do you go with the whole safety thing? And how do you know it’s really sinking in? The experts encourage role-playing. They also will warn you not to scare your child. Of course. But what do you do when you’ve got the little social butterfly who will mosey on up to chat with just about any Joe Schmoe on the playground willing to listen? Or the independent big kid who feels “big enough” to walk across the neighborhood alone? Is a little fear a good thing?

I know a few parents who tend to back away from it all — afraid they might go overboard and frighten their kids, or teach them to be generally untrustworthy people. Or who are under the impression that they live in a “safe” neighborhood, and the statistics don’t really apply to them.

It’s a balance, for sure.

What do you think? What do you tell your kids? And how often do you repeat it?


gr_safesideLogoHere are some safety tips for kids when they are out and about without supervision:

1. Develop a buddy system and walk in groups with at least 2-3 other kids. Never walk alone. Parents should walk with children when possible.

2. Plan the most direct route with the fewest street crossings. Never walk through alleys or across vacant lots, or go in or near abandoned houses.

3. Don’t talk on the phone or wear headphones while walking.

4. Be aware at all times, especially when walking by adults or people in or near cars (where they may pretend to be hurt or need help and try to grab or lure children in).

5. Never accept rides or speak to strangers (or even people you “kind of know”), even if they ask for directions, help or information. Or offer money, candy or gifts.

6. Report any abduction attempts to parents, as well as the police or school administrators, immediately.