Friday, October 28, 2011

Do Your Kids Trick-Or-Treat?

Shall we trick-or-treat?

Moving from the country to the city, I’ve found this question is a lot more complicated than you’d think. When we lived in an urban area, the answer was easy.
Hell no.
I didn’t know my neighbors, my neighbors didn’t know me, and I wouldn’t let my kids eat anything that came out of their houses if my life depended on it. We had a small Halloween party each year (mostly us and the candy cauldron) and that was that.
Then we moved, and things got a lot more complicated. Suddenly, we knew our neighbors. The block around our house was enough to guarantee a full haul by the end of the night. Most of their friends went into the city to trick-or-treat, so there was no point in having a party. No reason not to let them go, right?
I said yes to trick-or-treating last year, and it wasn’t too bad. This year, though, I’m having my doubts.
First and foremost, it’s freezing outside. Literally. There are already several inches of snow on the ground, and the wind has been whipping every night this week. Nothing about that says, “Let’s say no to sitting inside with a cup of hot chocolate and ‘It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ and go running around outside in a bunch of skimpy costumes for an hour or two instead.”
Maybe I’m just too spoiled to living down south, but if you have to freeze your tootie patootie off for a bag of candy, it just ain’t worth it.
Then there’s the candy. I love candy. I love chocolates. I love Starburst. I have the almost overwhelming urge to sing the Hallelujah chorus when someone brings a bag of Smarties home. So I am all about the Halloween candy. 
But there's a catch. There's always a catch, isn't there? I know most of our neighbors, but not all of them. Which means like every responsible parent, I check their candy when they come home. And like every responsible parent, I end up throwing half of it away, even though it’s probably perfectly fine, because it might have been tampered with. The twist at the end of the Smarties was a little loose. There was a tiny tear in the wrapper on their Tootsie Pop.
At the end of the day, it just doesn’t feel worth it to me. But the kids’ costumes are awesome. So maybe we’ll go out after all.
Where do your kids go on Halloween?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Are Your Kids REALLY Too Sick for School?

All right y’all, time for some brutal, unrestrained honesty. Who out there has ever pretended to be sick (or pretended to be sicker than they really were) so they could hook school? Go on. Raise those hands high.
We’ve all done it. No point in even pretending like we haven’t. And, surprise surprise, our kids are doing it too.
The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Send him to school? Or let him stay home with the pillow pet? Decisions, decisions...

 What Is Sick, Anyway?
My kids get sick. A lot. If it’s not asthma or allergy related it’s the flu, or a stomach bug, or some weird food allergy that I won’t find out about until six months later.
With as often as my kids are legitimately sick, you’d think my first instinct would be to keep them home. A lot. With their allergies, however, there are more mornings they wake up feeling icky than not. Half an hour later, they’re fine. So we had to come up with very strict criteria for what constituted “sick” in terms of staying home from school.
If they’re…
·         Running a fever higher than 99.5 degrees Farenheit
·         Throwing up
·         Wheezing and/or having trouble breathing
·         Complaining of a sore throat and swollen glands
·         Coughing too hard to speak
·         Sporting a new and/or spreading rash
·         Suffering from a bout of diarrhea that has them in the bathroom more than twice in the hour it takes them to get ready for school
·         Screaming in pain
·         Too lethargic to dress themselves and get to the table
·         Showing signs of pinkeye or some other fun communicable disease
…they get a free pass for the day.
If they’re ambiguously complaining they don’t feel good but don’t have signs of any of the above, we have a deal. They go to school. If, by lunchtime, they don’t think they can make it through the rest of the day, they know to go to the nurse and have her call home. I’ll come pick them up, no questions asked.
Don’t They Just Take the Freebie Jailbreak and Split?
I think I’ve had to pick a kid up at school at lunch exactly twice-and one of those was when Princess C fell asleep at the lunch table in the middle of the cafeteria. Usually, by the time they get to school the monstrous aches and pains and sniffles that made them miserable all morning disappear. By lunch, they’re so wrapped up in whatever they’re doing with their friends that coming home to mom sounds more like torture than a fun way to spend their afternoon.
Take the Fun Out of Staying Home
If you’re having trouble putting your foot down and sending them to school when they start complaining they don’t feel good, try taking the fun out of staying home.
You don’t have to crack the whip and make them do housework all day. If they really aren’t feeling good, that’s just not fair. I found, however, that by making my kids stay in bed all day instead of being allowed to get up and play when they start feeling “better”, and by restricting games and activities to books, movies and toys they can play with in bed (read: No computer or video games), they didn’t really want to stay home when they weren’t sick.
School’s just more fun.
Note: Feel free to restrict activities judiciously. My oldest son and the Wii were inseparable the week after his surgery. Ear infections are allowed to get up and play while they’re waiting on the doctor. Do what you feel is right for your kid.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is Quality Time Just Another PBS Special?

I love Mondays that kick off with a great debate. Don’t you?
This Monday’s debate was staged over at A Dad’s Point of View, hosted by author and radio show host Bruce Sallan, and focused on the myth that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to your kids.
His point of view? That you can’t plan when your kids are going to up to you. Quality time is a myth created by PBS to make you feel better about not spending enough time at home.
Mine? That quality time absolutely exists, it can be planned, it does you both good, and it’s something that you and you alone are going to make happen.
The Argument for Quality Time
Before you can argue for or against quality time, I think you need to define what, exactly, quality time means to you.
Healthy Parenting defines quality time as time spent doing something that’s meaningful to both the parent and the child. I’m inclined to disagree.
For me, quality time is when my kids have 100% of my undivided attention. 
It was pointed out that as a work-at-home parent, I have more time to spend with my kids than the average Joe. Unless I’ve run screaming from the house (not as unusual as you might think), I’m usually rolling around somewhere. They know they can find me. They know where to find me.
But being a work-at-home parent isn’t the same as being a stay-at-home parent. On top of a six to eight hour workday, I spend most of my day with one eye on my Facebook and email via my Crackberry. (Okay, HTC Ozone SmartPhone. You know what I mean.)
I have the freedom to take off and take the kids to dance, but I’m usually taking notes on a project while I’m there. The laptop comes with me to the doctor’s office, and I’ve been known to bounce back and forth between Twitter chats and reality while waiting for swim lessons to be done.
The moral of the story? Even though I’m home most of the day, I’m still not as there for my kids as I could be. That frustrates them sometimes, and spurred my firm belief in the importance of quality time.
Life Lessons for Working from Home
When I first started working from home, my younger two hadn’t started preschool yet. (They’re first and third graders now. Ay yi yi.) Someone, and I wish I remember who, gave me the best advice about working from home I’ve ever heard.
She said, “Give your children your undivided attention for the first hour of your day, and don’t work through your lunch break. Have an established quitting time. Stick to it, and just be a mom until it’s time for bed. That’s the only way you’re going to get anything done without making them feel like they’re being ignored. You can’t afford the therapy bill.”
In other words, even though I was going to be there, the quantity of time I was going to have to be the best mom I could be was going to be limited. I needed to be sure I was working plenty of quality time into my day to balance that out.
Quantity Matters…but Quality Does Too
Picture this. You’re married. Your spouse spends nine hours a day at work. They have an hour commute to and from. They get a good…let’s say eight hours of sleep a night. That’s nineteen hours of their day already swallowed between work and sleep. Give them an hour to get up and get dressed in the morning and an hour at the gym, and that leaves…what? Three hours?
Now, imagine they spend those three hours on the computer playing video games with their friends instead of hanging out with you. How’s that going to make you feel?
Quantity time is necessary for stability, but if you’re not getting any quality time in there your kids are going to feel about as loved and appreciated as you would if your spouse was blowing you off for World of Warcraft every night. They need times when they have your undivided attention.
If they’re always coming in second to your to-do list (and I know, oh, I know, how easy it is for that to-do list to swallow your day), they’re going to think they come second to you.
And that’s why quality time matters.
What are your thoughts? Does quality time exist? Or is it just something PBS made up to make moms feel better about sliding back into the workforce?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep Kids Busy on a Rainy Day: Bringing the Movies Into Your Living Room for Under $20

There’s something magical about the movie theatre when you’re a kid. Maybe it’s the big screen. Maybe it’s how tiny you feel in a room that seems to go for miles in every direction. Maybe it’s the movie posters that cover the walls.
It might have something to do with the popcorn, candy and soda around every turn.
Whatever it is, the movie theatre’s a rockin’ place to take your kids on a rainy afternoon. And by the time you’ve bought tickets, candy popcorn and paid for the gas and the dinner out, that fun ain’t cheap.
So it’s raining outside. The kids are climbing the walls. You’re down to your last $20. That’s the point where you decide the movies are a complete bust, hand them the fun noodles and tell them to beat each other senseless, right?
Eh. Maybe not.
The theatre might be out of the question, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring the awesomeness into your living room and keep your kids entertained for the same three hour time block you’d have killed sitting around the movies and your local McDonalds.
Step 1: Pick the movie. What do your kids want to see? If there’s something you have buried at the back of your movie cupboard that’s best, but if you’ve seen everything you have a hundred times you can either pick a new release ahead of time and order it through Netflix or, if you don’t have Netflix, you can rent a movie from Amazon for the day for under $3.
Step 2: Pick up some popcorn, a two liter of soda and a frozen pizza or two from your local grocery store. Or some pizza poppers, or some hamburgers and a bag of fries, or whatever your kids like for a “special” dinner when they’re out and about. Whip it up in your own kitchen.
Step 3: Set up the living room to their “theatre” specifications. My kids like to set up their living room trays on the floor, then drag out the chairs we take to the drive-in (yes, I still have one of those) and a pile of blankets and pillows and set it all up in front of the television. You might prefer to sprawl blankets out on the floor, or set the kids up on the couch. It’s entirely up to you.
Then serve up dinner, cut off the lights and settle in for the fun!