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Friday, May 29, 2015

10 Tips For Quick and Easy Cleaning After Having a Baby -- S post

Courtesy Ginny Washburn

Describing life with a newborn baby to people who don’t have children can be difficult, because it is completely life-changing and certain tasks, such as cleaning the house, can get neglected, but you can clean the house when you have a small baby. Here are some ideas.

Get organized

Be as organized as possible before the due date. Buy extra sponges, cloths and cleaning products, so that you don’t run out at the wrong time. Invest in a dishwasher and washing machine from a trusted retailer, such as Tesco, and you will save yourself time and energy when the baby comes.

Clean as you go

Cleaning your house is much easier if you clean as you go. So, if you use a plate, clean it once you’re done. The same goes for having a shower; after you’ve cleaned yourself take 30 seconds to give your shower a quick spritz.

Ask for help

If someone offers to help you, say yes! Don’t feel like you need to be a super parent 100% of the time. Looking after a baby is hard work, so if someone offers to do the washing up, or to take the baby while you clean, do it.

Cook in bulk

One neat trick to try before and after the baby arrives is to cook meals in bulk and then freeze the remainder for another day.

Use a baby sling

Baby sling are great for babies and parents. If you need to clean, pop the baby in a sling and get on with your work, which can also help the baby sleep!

Courtesy Yoshihide Nomura

Babies love vacuuming

If you have the baby in a sling, or a wrap and they’re not happy, then simply plug in the vacuum cleaner and start cleaning.

This will not only help make your carpets and hardwood floors look much better, but it will also help the baby, as the white noise from the vacuum cleaner will be very calming.

Be consistent

Everyday cleaning tasks can pile up quickly, so try to be consistent about the jobs that you can do. A little goes a long way, so if you can commit to one or two tasks in the day, stick to them and you will see results.


Can you dust while you sing lullabies? Iron laundry while carrying a baby in a sling? Then you’ve already mastered the art of chores and parenthood – keep up the good work!

Set achievable goals

Break your chores into small tasks; clean one load of laundry, not four, or vacuum one room, not five, this will help you achieve your goals and make you feel better.

Give yourself a break

When you bring a newborn home, the urge to continue life as normal can be overwhelming, but you need to be kind to yourself too.

The world will not end if you didn’t get all the dusting done, so prioritize the basics, such as sleeping, eating and spending time with your beautiful new baby.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Language of labor

Women get pregnant.

They have contractions.

They're in labor.

They give birth.

In this long, 40-week process, women are in charge of growing and nurturing another being inside of them and the language we have to describe that process is...passive.


Mothers and mothers-to-be are an incredibly active sect of people. While terms like "laboring" and "birthing" are finally starting to come into the common vernacular, it has taken decades, nay, centuries for society to admit that a woman has an active role in the birth of her child. And women have had to fight for it.

The slow change in the language represents a large achievement in the way women are representing themselves--as autonomous beings. Finally no longer the passive receptor of a man or gestator of his baby.

My husband and I recently had a discussion about this because my children currently say "borned a baby". We simply thought it cute at the time, but the truth is, in the incredibly action-packed, very deliberate, very active "birthing" there is no commonly used active verb. In fact, women are given no verbs at all for the whole process. Let's take them one at a time.

You get pregnant.

This implies that you are receiving something. Sperm perhaps, or the embryo or fetus? But a man impregnates and a woman becomes impregnated. Passive.

When the baby is just about ready to come along, they say you're having contractions.

Now, I suppose you could say you're contracting, which would be just as accurate and more active in tone, but hardly anyone does. Instead, contractions become a condition foisted upon the yet again passive woman. Contractions happen to her, rather than her body contracting.

As those intensify, the phrasing turns to you're in labor. Again, laboring could be used and would be accurate, but it hardly ever is. Instead of a woman actively laboring, she goes into labor. A state of being. Passive. And there is nothing passive about labor.

Finally, you give birth. The emphasis here is on the baby. The woman is finally giving something, but it's the most passive form of action one can muster with the object receiving the attention. And, yes, birthing is used, and perhaps more commonly than contracting or laboring, but the main phrase is still 'giving birth'. Passing something on to something else.

In fact, the only common active verb in pregnancy/birth is delivering. Which at first I thought made this entire blog irrelevant. But then I realized that a doctor does that. A doctor delivers a baby.

Is this a big deal?

Not really.

But words carry intense meaning and the way in which they are used paint a picture of how our culture views its people. And women, particularly pregnant and birthing ones, are active.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Running through mud

It's taken me years to decide I'm a work-at-home mom rather than a stay-at-home-mom, and for me the distinction came with the money (although, honestly, I'm not making a great deal of income right now, so even though it feels full time, it's probably part time, but still...FEELINGS.)

It's tough because nothing ever seems to get done, although I know logically enough must be getting done because we can still walk in my house, my kids still love me, and I still get new projects each week. Still, it feels like I'm running in mud.

Today went like this:

At 6:30 a.m., I got up. I woke up the kids. Started getting them dressed and went out with the dog. One of the twins wasn't feeling well, and decided to stay home but not, of course, without a lot of hand wringing and drama over her decision. We weren't sure if she was actually sick at first, but since she never has faked this stuff before, we went with it, even though she had no fever or outward signs of ill.

I walked the other one to school at 7:30 a.m. and arrived back home just before 8, where I went in to talk to the sick twin and lo and behold, she had to upchuck...something blue? Welp, good decision on the staying home, I guess.

Anyway, after that, I set her up on the couch for just a hot second, after still making her get dressed because I had physical therapy at 9:30 a.m. and guess who had to come with me? But first I took out the trash and recycling and picked up all the dog excrement from the week (he goes in one spot in our yard, so it's, like, fine. Whatever). Then I came in and washed up, made my husband half his breakfast and his lunch, and girly and I got going.

I was at PT for an hour for this ridiculous neck/back injury that I reinjured somehow, I don't even know, but is for real a pain in the ass, and I hate every second of this new literal-pain-in-the-neck life. The PT didn't help, and Lilly was bored, but we got it done.

Back at home at 10:30, I made her some tea she didn't drink and toast she didn't eat. She did have a banana though, so winning. Then I set her up in front of the TV and she watched two Mickey Mouse Playhouses while I edited a piece on the minimum wage hike in LA for Time Ideas.

She wanted to play on her tablet after that, and the Brave game that we left at Nana's in Connecticut. Of course. We compromised and she played a Monsters Inc. game she'd forgotten about while I moved on to editing a piece on opioids in Montana. I ran into a bit of trouble with it, and it took me the rest of the time Dulce was in school to straighten out most of its kinks. This always happens. An edit that should take an hour takes three. My life. I gave Lilly half a turkey sandwich she didn't eat, and some crackers she didn't eat. She eventually had three slices of apple and some juice.

We picked up Dulce, and the girls had a snack which they mostly didn't eat. Then they played on their tablet together, sharing it, and I lay down for 15 minutes because my stupid neck. Got up and continued working on the opioid piece until about 3:30 p.m. when I just said eff it. Now I'm waiting on some return emails.

I sent emails out on three other stories and am waiting on replies. I contracted two new stories (I think. Maybe just one?) and another client followed up on a newsletter I'm supposed to be writing for them, but they didn't really follow up, only kind of. Got an email from my agent.

Great news! They think my new proposal is way, way, like, much stronger, and they're finally ready to send it back to the editor who was interested. Only that editor no longer works at the publisher. Womp womp womp. Of course.

Wrote a fantastic essay on pantsuits for Dame Magazine then, and pegged it to Hil's new pantsuit tee-shirt. That was a mistake, though, because they're full up on content this week, so I'll have to find a new peg in a few weeks and get back to it then.

Girls had moved on to watching TV at that point, and watched some show I hate called "I didn't do it" on Disney Channel for like at least an hour before I had to shut their whiny faces off.

Then we did chores together, the girls and I. Lilly did dishes, Dulce cleaned off the table and I cleaned the kitchen and living room spaces. It is our routine. After that I made them quesadillas for dinner with rice and broccoli as sides, and they ate half or most of it, depending on which twin we're talking about. Dulce had a cookie for dessert but Lil still wasn't feeling that great in her tummy so she skipped it.

My husband came home from work right after we finished going over their homework for the week, and they finished their dinners while I started making ours. Then I made them get ready for bed while they tried to play with dolls and walkie talkies, and glow sticks. My husband and I ate while they played a bit and then I managed to get them into bed. I went to do the dishes and I poured dog food in the soap container because I am utterly on top of things.

All day there were lots of hugs, lots of me breaking up silly fights and stopping silly tantrums, and lots of me getting them juice, gum, a snack, a tissue, some water, some tea, something. Anything. Get them something.

It's G day tomorrow, so we picked out green clothing and got two card games they could bring to school (I hope they don't lose Uno. I actually like that one). Hugs and kisses and I love yous to bed.

I really like this life, I just wish I could get more things done during each day. I was supposed to clean the kitchen and the bedroom and the bathroom today. I was supposed write two more articles than I did. I was supposed to play with my kids more. I was supposed to clean the playroom with them. I was supposed to finish research for my master's thesis.

I ran out of time. I always run out of time. Running through mud. At least I wrote in the blog today?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Homemade Samoas (yeah right) -- Fail Kitchen


"We can't use a knife. I failed too hard to use a knife."

Here's the recipe for those of you who are brave enough to try this:


For the cookies:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the coconut topping:

3 cups shredded sweetened coconut

15 ounces store-bought or homemade soft caramels

3 Tablespoons milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces dark chocolate (See Kelly's Notes)


Make the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In three increments, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter, mixing between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the milk and vanilla extract, blending until combined and the dough begins to come together in large pieces.
Use your hands to divide the dough in half, pressing it together to compact it into two disks. Wrap the disks securely in plastic wrap and refrigerate them until firm, about 1 hour.
Once the dough has chilled, roll each disk out onto a lightly floured surface until it is 1/8-inch thick. Cut out as many cookies as possible with a doughnut-shaped cookie cutter. (See Kelly's Notes for cookie cutter alternatives.) Place the cut-out cookies on a Silpat or parchment paper-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.
Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheet half-way through, until the cookies are pale golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire wrack to cool completely.
Make the coconut topping:
Spread the coconut flakes onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake the coconut for about 10 minutes in a 350ºF oven until toasted, stirring frequently to ensure even browning and so that it does not burn. (See Kelly's Notes.) Remove the toasted coconut from the oven and set it aside.
Melt the caramels, milk and salt in a double-boiler by placing the caramels in a medium saucepot set over a large saucepot of simmering water. Cook, stirring, until the caramels are fully melted. Remove the saucepot from the heat and combine 3/4 of the caramel with the toasted coconut in a large bowl.
Carefully spread the remaining 1/4 cup of caramel atop the cooled cookies then press on a portion of the coconut mixture. Let the cookies cool for 30 minutes. If the caramel-coconut mixture thickens too much at any point while pressing it onto the cookies, return it to the double-boiler and warm it until it's spreadable again.
Melt the dark chocolate in a double-boiler or in the microwave. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in the chocolate and place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet. Use a fork to drizzle the tops with chocolate. Let the cookies sit until the chocolate hardens fully.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Finding the new normal -- Guest post

It was a year ago at the beginning of April that Tom moved out. It's been a full cycle - summer, fall, winter, spring and back to summer. A year of holidays done differently. A year of school: Tai graduated kindergarten and is just four days short of finished with first grade, and Miriam started preschool and is almost through her first year. In this year, I've learned at least as much as the kids. Some lessons were obvious, others less so.

1) I learned that I don't have to ask permission. I adopted two cats, because I wanted to. I didn't have to make a case, I didn't have to prove anything. I have begun to make the house my own - to decorate in ways that please me, and to figure out what pleases me.

2) I learned I could do what needed to be done, even when it felt impossible. I've made it through several rounds of stomach flu with the kids without dissolving into a puddle. I even managed to hold back hair and rub backs. For an emetophobe, someone who would have a panic attack at the thought of getting sick, this was huge.

3) I learned I needed to take time to figure out who I am, on my own - to become an 'I' rather than half of a 'we'. I went on a few dates, met some interesting women who I enjoyed hanging out with - but realized quickly that I wasn't really ready yet. I haven't been on my own in more than twenty years.
4) I am learning what I want in my next relationship, and what I deserve. Someone who enjoys some of what I enjoy, who will go to concerts and musicals and the symphony and the opera and museums. Someone who doesn't hold me in contempt. Someone who is a partner.

5) I learned that I enjoy working out of the house. I've been a stay-at-home mom ever since I was pregnant with Tai. I hadn't realized I missed having a job until I went back to work. I feel like my days have a new structure, and I love stretching my brain in new ways.

6) I learned that I am the one. I make the rules, I enforce the rules. With the kids, and for myself. Not always a positive, but a part of the growing-up that I'm doing.

7) I learned that I'm grieving the loss of what I imagined I had, or imagined I could have, with Tom more than what I really had. 
8) I learned that I don't want to go backwards. I have never regretted the decision to separate from Tom, at least, not for myself. Even when I found out he was dating, when he began having sleepovers with the kids and the girlfriend, I never wanted to get back together with him.

9) I learned that I am okay alone. Even when I'm grieving, even when I am sad or scared or lonely, I can sit with that and it passes, and I am okay.

10) I learned that I am tired of keeping my life small and circumscribed by fear. I am ready to have a bigger life. To be who I am, in all of my messiness.

It has been 14 months since Tom moved out, since the kids have been traveling between our two houses. We've learned and we have found our own routine. We have made a new normal.


Aubrey Harmon is a mother and writer who blogs at World Split Open.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Feminist Flames of Pentecost -- Guest Post

Sunday is the feast of Pentecost, the day that falls forty-nine days after Easter. It is remembered by Christians as the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus as tongues of fire.

At my Roman Catholic alma mater, there was a stained glass window of the Pentecost event that featured the apostles and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Red, disembodied tongues floated piously over their heads, and with a stretch of the imagination they could be said to look like flames. It seemed to me a rather gruesome image when I was an undergraduate.

Now, as the feast of Pentecost approaches, I recall that window as a powerfully subversive image: the God whose word has been enshrined on the page had given ordinary human beings the authority to speak on God’s behalf. What kind of God would do that?

Maybe a God who wasn’t afraid of the alleged imperfections of ordinary human beings would. Maybe a God who wanted to empower ordinary voices to be extraordinary would. I think of Mary, mother of Jesus, and I imagine a woman—of all people--being given the power to speak for God. Then I look at my two small daughters, and I imagine their voices being given the very same power—to speak boldly, with authority. What kind of God would do this? The kind of God who was willing to share power and authority. The kind of God who valued what each voice could bring to the conversation. A feminist God. Am I right?

As I celebrate Pentecost with my daughters, I will share with them the story of the tongues of fire, and I will tell them that Pentecost was the day when the most powerful voice of all invited those who weren’t powerful to speak up, loud and clear. And maybe they’ll learn from their God a lesson in listening to the voices of others—and most importantly, listening to their own.


Kate is the married mom of two precocious tots. When she's not chasing them or dancing around them or singing at the top of her lungs with them, she likes to drink coffee, make yummy food with her hubby, edit other people's writing, pray, and write edgy pieces on religious topics. You can check out her blog, Thealogical Lady, at (And, for the record, that "a" in "Thealogical" is no accident.)

Show Dad You Really Care this Father's Day

Father’s Day is coming up on June 21! Don’t wait until the last minute to choose a gift. Instead, make this the year you do something extra special for the dad in your life (whether it’s your husband, your own father, or both!) by planning your Father’s Day gift ahead of time. Check out these ideas to get started with gifts appropriate for a range of budgets.
Come Up with a Handmade Gift
If you’re the crafty type, try to come up with something unique and thoughtful for Dad. Consider his interests and make him something to show you are taking an interest in his interests. If you sew, make him a mini quilt with the pattern of a golf ball on a tee. If you do paint decals or stamps, make him a hat to wear while working in the yard.

Get your kids involved in the project! Do flower or potato stamp paintings or tee shirts as a gift, for example.
Go Personalized
On Father’s Day, Dad should feel special and like his family gets him. Come up with some personalized gifts that really show that he has your understanding and respect. For example, make a customized gift basket full of things he can use, both fun and practical: a few books for his summer vacation, accessories for his favorite hobby (lures for the fisherman, camera film for the photographer, tees and balls for the golfer, etc.). Put it all in a customized container labeled “Dad.” You could go with a nice basket that he could keep for holding his socks or bedside books, or you could use something like a golf ball bucket.
Take Dad on an Outing
Nothing will make him feel quite as appreciated as getting to spend some time with his kids doing his activity of choice. This will be especially meaningful if you’re normally not so interested in his activities of choice! Pick something you will both enjoy like going to the batting cages or playing tennis, and then do something that he loves but you normally don’t do together. So if you are bored silly by fishing trips, make it a celebration of Dad. Go along and help out with all of the hard and less fun parts to keep him from doing any work on his day.
Make Dad a Nice Meal
No dad should have to work on Father’s Day, so help him out around the house with any chores he has to do, and then make him a nice meal to end the day. Consider his tastes and then try out something new that complements those tastes. For example, if he loves BBQ, buy a new marinade or spice rub to try out and grill some new items like corn on the cob or skewered shrimp along with the standards.

Don’t forget to compliment the meal with some interesting drinks. If he likes mixed drinks, look up some interesting cocktail recipes. If he likes beer, wine, or bourbon, check out some new and interesting looking ones to try out together.
Thinking About Store Bought Gifts
On Father’s Day, stores will be full of silly items targeted specifically for last-minute Father’s Day shoppers. Be smart and plan your gift giving ahead of time so that if you do want to give Dad something store bought, you can make sure it is something personal and meaningful, rather than something too silly. Ideas might include:

  • If he loves technology, go shop around for some interesting, unusual items or some techy accessories. For example, you could get him something practical like a new wireless mouse or phone charger, or you could buy something quirky; something that is not necessarily useful but would be fun for a person who loves gadgets.
  • Gadget lovers may also be interested in unusual puzzles or games. Go to game stores or shop around online for highly rated puzzles and games, especially ones that are for groups so you can try out the new game together.
  • For the hobby artist, consider going with gifts that complement his interest like paint brushes for the painter, or go with gifts that might encourage him to expand into new areas to broaden himself. For example, the painter might enjoy an airbrush kit.
  • For the music lover, consider a gift that might make his music listening experience better. You could go with some nice, unique headphones or a special case for his headphones (you can even get headphones molded to the shape of the ear for really exceptional listening!) or you could get something new like a record player that connects to his computer or a spinning record cleaner.
  • Just pay attention to what he asks for! If he has asked for anything in particular, keep that in mind for Father’s Day!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grocery shopping as a parent -- Guest post

Ever hear that saying, "don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry"? There's an even more important saying. "Don't go shopping with kids when you're hungry."

It's not just that you'll make poor choices, nutritionally and financially speaking. It's that shopping with kids is a soul-draining exercise, and you need to be prepared mentally and physically.

Think I'm joking? You've never been shopping with my kids.

(As I write, I am reminded of how hard it used to be. The best shopping trip then is equivalent to the worst one now. When the twins were two, and my eldest was being home-schooled for a year, I would often arrive home from shopping, park in the driveway, and sob for several minutes, from sheer exhaustion. Sometimes I don't know how I survived. One time I did the shopping, carried all the bags upstairs, put everything away, went outside to hang up the never-ending laundry, and came back inside to discover that they had squished an entire packet of tomatoes across the kitchen floor. With a rocking horse.)

Earlier this week I made an emergency post-school-pickup stop for eggs. The twins are exhausted after school, so I try to avoid it if at all possible. My boy twin attempted to kick me the entire way around the supermarket, and when I held his arm to make him walk without my shins being battered, he took to wailing "You're hurting me! You always hurt me so much!" He lay on the floor at the checkout, kicking the floor and repeatedly screeching in tones so irritating as to be beyond description. The check-out operator gave me a wide-eyed stare of sympathy. Or maybe it was accusation. I'm not sure; I was too busy unhelpfully hissing "You're too big for this. Get UP!"

My girl twin is nurturing, sweet and thoughtful, except when she's a rampaging shriek-fiend from Tantyville. Complete with foot-stomps. When the Beast comes out, there is little that will appease it.

One of the things that brings out the Beast is when her big brother gets to go on "missions" at the supermarket. This is usually something like "dagnabbit, I forgot the rice bubbles. Go get some, please?" He's twice her age, so while I am comfortable with him popping back an aisle, it's not an option for her. Oh, the fury. Oh, the injustice.

Unfortunately, while willing to please, my eldest is cerebral, often to the point of forgetting to look out for other people. I spend as much time apologising for his dreamy clumsiness as I do for his little brother, who careens through the crowds with gusto and glee.

Perhaps most frustrating, however, is my eldest's habit of needing to explain, in explicitly painful detail, his latest Minecraft creation. His timing is impeccable; "blah blah desert temple ocean monument redstone blah blah" always comes at the peak of my muttered mantra of "stay close, stay quiet, pointing not touching", as I become increasingly overwhelmed with the multiple stimuli of the commercial environment, and the twins' exuberant behaviour.

It's all too much for me.

Add a dose of hangry to the mix, and it doesn't end well. I will be snapping and grumping, and internally despairing of my children ever being fit to be in public.

Though it used to be worse, it can still be very difficult. A recent shopping trip with the entire family ended with fuming silences, and no screen time for ten whole days. Hubby and I shared meaningful glances that said "There better be gin at the end of this day, or there will be trouble."

And thus we discovered another important truth.

Going to the liquor store after grocery shopping with kids, is like going to the grocery store after not eating for a week. Everything looks good.


Donnelle Belanger-Taylor is a mother and writer living in New Zealand.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pretty good person, not a particularly good mom's mom

I'm the type of mom who wipes down her counter without catching the crumbs before they fall on the floor.

I'm the type of mom who won't sweep the floor until the crumbs have shown themselves worth by piling up and organizing a crumb protest.

I'm the type of mom who tidies her kitchen and dining room every day. Does the dishes, cleans off the table, replaces the tablecloth, washes the mats.

But the type of mom who moves the empty movie-sized box of Mike and Ikes from that table to the chair whilst cleaning it. Then puts it back.

I'm the type of mom who can't see a 3-month old bowl of cheetos on the counter. They've become part of the decor. My eyes don't see them.

I'm the type of mom who pushes all the condiments to the back of the counter and washes the front.

Because there is no room left in my cabinets for them. Or for the medicines. Or for the shot glasses.

I'm the type of mom who will clean those counters impeccably that one time and swear to never leave out the bottle of Advil or the package of juiceboxes again. Then do it the next day.

I'm the type of mom who can find important paperwork on a messy desk piled three-feet high with various crap, but lose it forever the second she puts it "away somewhere safe."

I'm the type of mom who cleans every single time with the hope that this is the last time. Then tries to make it the last time for months and months until she has no choice but to admit that it looks like she didn't even clean it at all, even though she clearly did. Three months ago.

I'm the type of mom who, in order to actually clean something effectively, has to look at a room and think, "How would Mom (my mom) clean this?

I feel like this is a pretty big mom failing. But I've tried to fix it for years, and the problem just isn't budging.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Blogging about kids is hard

There are so many poignant, important blogs I could write right now about the struggles and triumphs of my children as they blossom into full-fledged big kids. I have words of comfort for other parents, I have tales of trials and tribulations, I have questions about how to handle these phases now that my kids are old enough to fully and loudly voice their opinions about my parenting.

But I can't.

Every time I try to write about something we're going through, I have to stop. It's gotten too private. Things that would have easily gotten a pass for me to write about when the girls were babies or toddlers, I'm no longer comfortable discussing. Not because we have anything to be ashamed of, but because my girls are more than just extensions of myself. And I feel like they have the right to their quirks, oddities and behaviors. That they have the right to work out their personalities in some semblance of privacy.

And since any reflection of my parenting will inevitably involve them, I've really stopped writing. I don't know if it's the right decision, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. And given the topics on which I've written before I came to this conclusion, it may already be too late.

At any rate, my children can read well now. Anything I type down can be easily digested by their eyes and minds. And blogging necessitates a removal of self from the situation which is fine to require of myself, but unfair to ask my six year olds to attempt. There is no 'greater good' here other than the healthy development of my kids and their psyches and safe spaces.

So, to all the essays, blogs, articles and ideas I have floating around, I apologize for letting you grow stale. I'm sorry I'm letting you dry up in the recesses of my mind rather than typing you down. I'm sorry that it turns out you're not so important after all.

My kids have always been my number one priority for as much and as often as I fail with them. What started out as a way to better myself as a parent to them has become, as they age, a forum that feels exploitative and crude.

I'm not saying all mommy bloggers must stop writing, far from it. I'm simply saying I'm not a good enough writer right now to transcend the privacy issues I'm seeing with every single blog idea I have today.

Maybe someday I'll do better.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ask a Teacher: What's the deal with summer reading?

The school year is still underway for much of the country, but most schools and teachers are beginning to plan for next year. For a lot of students, that means it's time to think about summer reading. With the looming worry of summer work, some parents want to know what's the deal with summer reading? Is it beneficial? Do we even have to do it?

Overall, summer reading is a benefit to most students. Over summer, many students experience a learning loss as they don't use skills they were previously practicing daily. For students who are already struggling with reading, these losses can set students back even further. By encouraging students to continue reading over the summer, basic reading skills like inferencing can be practiced at home.

It's important for summer reading assignments to be age appropriate and as stress-free as possible for both parents and kids. If the assigned program is beginning to make your child say things like "I hate reading" it might be time to take a step back. Summer reading should involve a lot of choice for students at every age. The goal is to keep students reading and interested in reading. If your child only wants to read informational books, let them. Summer reading can help build a love of reading in your child.

As students get older, they should be assigned to read less books. The idea in the younger grades is that you are reading with your child. As kids get older, they should read more independently and read longer texts. Asking for a small project over summer is fine, but if it's taking more than a few days to complete, again it might be time to take a step back.

Be open and honest with your child's teacher when you return from summer. If you didn't read the number of books you were supposed to, don't lie about it. Talk to the teacher and explain that your child was struggling and beginning to dislike reading, so you took a step back. Openly lying doesn't alert your child's teacher to information that could possibly help your child during the school year. Also, if your child knows that you lied to their teacher, that can undermine the teacher.

Try not to stress about summer reading. It is only meant to benefit your child and shouldn't be seen as a major assessment of your child's skills or your parenting. Remember to utilize the library as often as possible and let your child lead the way in their reading interests.


Emilie is a high school English teacher with two children. She holds a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Secondary Education. After completing student teaching at an urban, Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school, she was placed at another PLA school in the same school district. Her Ask a Teacher column can also be found over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Creepster Alert (or how to recognize a potential stalker on social media)

This is a creeper alert.

So many of us post pictures of ourselves and our families and children on Facebook, and did you know that even if you do it friends only, someone can share that picture with their network AND save it to their photo page by tagging themselves in it?

Did you further know that if someone tags themselves in your picture (ie: you aren't the tagger), you, as the owner of the picture, do not have the option to untag them?

Did you even further know that unfriending the person will not untag them? You have to full out block them in order for that tag to be removed.

The good news is that if a creepy creepster is tagging himself (or herself) in your photos to make you part of a creepy FB picture collection, you probably want to block them anyway. So, seriously, get to blocking.

That's me yesterday. Those are my kids. We are going out with my husband to a Mothers Day dinner.

I do not know Jerry Jackson.

I was not "with" him.

I have never met him, and the one interaction I had with him before this left me with a creeper-alert feeling.

I was right.

He's now blocked.

But if you look at his photo page, he makes a habit of tagging himself in women's photos a lot. So that he essentially has an album of women in dresses. Probably hardly any of them whom he actually knows. That's some pretty bold creepy right that. That's some gross.

Here's the story:

Probably about a year ago, I accepted a friend request from a guy I didn't know. I never do this, but I accepted this request because we had a mutual friend who is also a journalist whom I respect without question and because his profile read that he was a professor overseas, and those two things combined seemed legit. She probably would know a professor overseas and maybe he read my stuff and liked it and had story ideas for me, or whatever.

After the acceptance, I forgot about it because we had no reason to interact.

Then two months ago, he sent me a random PM and I noticed our mutual friend had vanished. I also noticed that he spoke like a chain email from a Nigerian prince, but I've been insensitive to English Second Language before, so aside from noticing, no judgement. Except, probably not a professor. And today when I alerted a group of women to this man's behavior, their investigation showed that, no, he is not a professor at the University of Oxford. Jury's still out on whether or not he used to work for or with One Direction though. Um...

I'm one of those people who feels bad about unfriending people. In fact, this person has become only the second person I've unfriended, and he is the first I've blocked. As such, I actually replied to his response that day:

And that was the end of it. He let the conversation drop, which was fine by me. I had meant to unfriend him after that, but something in my real life distracted me, the little pm box vanished in my ever exploding inbox, and we had no further interaction of any kind, so I forgot all about it.

Until this morning.

When he tagged my photo of me and my girls.

Now, most of the women's photos where he tags himself are young, made-up gorgeous-looking women in fancy, sexy evening wear. But of the 80 or so photos (two of which he tagged himself in just minutes after tagging mine), a few scattered photos were like mine. A nice enough looking mom with her children. Why?

Two of his friends (both nice enough looking moms with children in their profile pictures) liked my photo within minutes. So my theory is, he uses photos of his 'friends' with kids to counteract the damn creepiness of scoping young, single women in dresses looking glam. My photo in which he tagged himself perhaps lent legitimacy to his online persona. The other women don't know I don't know him. They probably fully believe I was "with him" at the time. Or, if they've had their own photos co-opted by him, perhaps it gave them a feeling of peace. 'Maybe it's a compliment,' they might be thinking. 'Maybe he just likes the photos and tags himself to show how much more he likes them than the average liker. At the very least, I'm not the only woman this has happened to, so maybe it's more normal than I think.'

Well, I'm not going to be a party to normalizing creepy behavior online, and I'm certainly not going to allow my children's photo to be stacked up in an online library of pictures of women this guy "was with".

Before the internet, someone collecting photos of women like this would have easily been the subject of a crime thriller movie. Why on Earth would the medium of Facebook suddenly make it okay?

Ladies, if someone you don't know requests you as a friend, and you accept that request, if they give you ANY reason to unfriend them, do it.

And if they act like Mr. Jerry Jackson, here, block them and report them, too. It's not just for you. It's for the other women. And there are almost always other women. Someone must speak for them because too often they second guess and forget and do not speak for themselves. And then they're part of a collection of creepy photos online.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Parenting by doctor

I've had poison ivy for two weeks now. I thought, as an adult, if I didn't scratch it, it would clear up and go away on its own. I was slightly wrong. Despite my ignoring the terrible itch, it spread anyway. First, I thought it would clear up, so I didn't go to the doctor. Then I had a conference to go to, and didn't have time to go to the doctor. Then I thought, well, it's got to be almost done spreading by now, and didn't go to the doctor. Now, 16 days in, I'm sure there's nothing a doctor can do, so I'm not going to the doctor.

Growing up, we never went to the doctor if we could help it. My mother was a nurse and knew things I just do not know. She was able to assuage our tummy aches and fears, and we waited out a lot of illnesses and injuries. She knew they weren't so bad, that we'd heal. As such, I hardly ever take myself to receive medical care. I know it's not that bad. I will heal.

But when it comes to my kids, or even my dog, I'm almost the first in line to go to the pediatrician's. Because I'm not them, and I'm not a nurse, and they can't really tell me themselves if it's just a bit of bad food, or reflux, or a burst appendix. So we go. Just in case. My kids suffered bronchospasms last month. A symptom of a virus that we could do nothing about. I spent nearly $1,000 carting them to the doctor multiple times, buying humidifiers and nebulizers and inhalers. Anything to help my babies breathe. What if it wasn't a virus, but asthma. What if it was pneumonia and the docs weren't catching it? What if it were the flu? They never tested for the flu.

It was a virus. It went away on its own (though the nebulizer did help. The humidifier, on the other hand, is holding on to old water and probably becoming its own health hazard, as we only used it once. Great waste of $70 for sure.)

The other night, my puppy started acting strange. He wasn't...biting me. He's very playful and hates to be petted (like a puppy) and he was just putting up with it. Moving more slowly. Not interested in his toys. Growing up, we would have just waited it out. A dog is a dog.

But I was so concerned I was going to call the vet the very next morning. I mean, what if something was seriously wrong?

I waste a lot of money this way.

A lot.

And thankfully, the puppy was back to his old self the next day, so I avoided those fees.

I always try to tell myself to wait it out, that it's nothing. But I usually end up caving and bringing my little things to their doctor. It's always nothing. But what if it's not?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Signing up for summer camp, why you need to do it

Summers can be tough, and this one is coming right up. I know (from experience) that to try to entertain the kids by yourself all summer, even if you pack your calendar with fun things to do every single day, is a recipe for disaster. And, honestly, I'm getting old. I just don't have the stamina I had two years ago for kid entertainment.

That first summer before kindergarten we were going to cheap movies at 9 a.m., we took in every free library show we could. We went to the community pool, we went to every park in town. We had friends over for playdates. We did water activities in the backyard.

We were so sick of each other by the end of August it wasn't even funny.

The next year was so much better. I took the time to do my research for summer camps. This, by the way, is HARD.

First, you have to look up all the camps and what they do. For us, anything religious is out. I also stay at home, so I don't want anything in the mornings. My girls will sleep until 9 if I let them, and I'm not waking them up to go to camp. So we needed half days. Then there is the pricing.

First you've got your base price which is anywhere from $100 per child a week (for half time) to $400 per child a week (lol, no). So only the cheapest are for us.

Being that they ARE the cheapest, then we have to do a bunch more research. Where are these places in town? Are they a legitimate organization? Will there be appropriate supervision? Do they know how to help a child who is injured or sick? Are they planning on taking field trips or using vehicles to transport my kids and when? Do they provide food? How many other kids are enrolled and what ages are they? Lots of questions. I'm sure I'm forgetting about 100.

But wait! Your second child sometimes gets a discount! Fantastic. And sometimes if you register early, you pay less. Doubly fantastic!

But wait again! Regardless of all that, you are most likely going to have to pay a "registration fee" if you are not already a member of the organization. So add all that discount money back in.

Okay. Good. Now pick your type of camp. Sports camp, dance camp, all girls camp, sleepaway camp (lol yeah right), science camp (all of these are too expensive), etc.

Now pick your week or weeks. Go over your budget. How many weeks can you afford to drop more than $200 just so you don't have to stare at your kids all day long (working parents, obvi this doesn't apply. And, honestly, camp seems to be cheaper than babysitters for the most part. Actually, maybe not, we do half day. Probably the same or higher. I don't know, I don't know. Too much math and budget for me. Good luck, working parents. I know you already have this shit figured out, anyway).

I think we can manage three weeks this year, which is two weeks more than last year (yay freelance writing!)

I'll sign my kids up for two weeks of Capoeira Camp and a week of Gymnastics Camp. But the Capoeira is in two-week sessions. I should probably do the session right after school ends. Otherwise we creep up on July 4th and what if we want to go somewhere?

And then gymnastics camp is in late July. So what are we going to do for August? Well, we are going to Connecticut to visit my mom (I think) but that's the last week before school starts. Should I make it two weeks? It doesn't really add to our expenses to make it longer. But what about my husband? He can only take one week off from work, and the girls and I went to Connecticut last year without him and it sucked.

Gah. Summer. All these thoughts floating around. Nothing pinned down. Dollar signs, and calendars and catchphrases caught in my head leading nowhere. Signing up for summer. It's hard.

Worth it, though. I cannot recommend getting your kids into at least a week or two of camp per summer. Go get 'em.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Making it out of school alive (or Z to A month)

My kids do great in school. They make good grades, love to learn, have fun absorbing information like a sponge, and they both have wonderful, caring teachers this year, to boot.

So why do I have to dress them up like zebras, then have them bring in yo-yos, then Wheat Thins, and then wear velcro, and today wear University of Florida gear...

and then,

guys, it doesn't stop.

The first grade is doing this lovely little TWENTY-SIX DAY project called Z-A. And every day the girls have to do something different for the letter as addressed on the cutesy calendar the school sent home.

And I'm doing it, I really am. I'm a great mom, I swear. I even sent my kid to school today in one of my old Gator sweatshirts because we have NO gator clothes. I am committed.

But I am already tired.

And on top of it, it is teacher appreciation week (which I feel is much more important), so we're picking flowers off the roadside and making baseball cupcakes and other adorable snacks to celebrate our teachers. We're giving dollar bills in envelopes marked "room parents". We're bending over backward here, as parents, just as the end of the year sludge is trying to kick in full force. It is HARD.

I have another three weeks of letters and never has the alphabet seemed so long.

Superhero day, red day, orange day, queen day (girls wear crowns?). We don't have any superhero t-shirts, or red ones or orange ones. We might not have two working crowns. I'm dying over here.

I love the creativity. I love the idea. As an idea. As a thing that first graders do for an endless period of time, not so much. This is a lot of work for the parents, and probably a lot of work for the teachers. My kids would have been fine without it. What they don't know exists doesn't harm them.

Next year, in second grade, I hope we do a whole lot of nothing at the end of the year.



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