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By: Shana Cooper | March 31, 2010

 

I was recently commiserating with a co-worker. She mentioned that her oldest, who has one more year to go before graduating college with a degree in engineering, has decided that even though his world  is very comfortable (his parents were paying his tuition, room and board) he’s taking break to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

 

Although she wasn’t thrilled with his decision – although she had made sacrifices in her life specifically so she could lay a soft, flower-strewn path to adulthood for him – she’d come to terms with it. He was the kind of kid who always found his own way, even if it meant taking the road less traveled.

 

I completely understand. I have a kid who will purposefully take the bumpiest, most circuitous route simply because he feels driven to go his own way. Mine’s only 7, but it is comforting to me to hear how she, as a mother, is still working through those same issues. And it is inspiring to watch her let go with grace.

 

These kinds of kids will make for fascinating, resourceful adults. While their childhoods (and, in this case, young adulthoods) may be messy, frustrating and stressful, I think in the end they’ll develop amazing coping skills. And they’ll probably build an Eiffel Tower of self-esteem inside themselves when they realize they can accomplish anything on their own, in their own fashion.

 

But not every parent is comfortable with a child like this. These kids are difficult to raise. When you say jump over that puddle, they crawl through it instead. When other children patiently wait their turn to slip down the playground slide, they struggle to clamber up. When a teacher says do this work now, they simply won’t unless what they’re learning makes sense to them. They are not good soldiers.

 

They are salmon – swimming against the stream at all cost.

 

The trouble is even when their parents come to terms with their kid, others don’t. My co-worker laments she hears the tsk tsk from friends who don’t approve of her son’s choices – or her acceptance of them. She knows they’re thinking that if this were their kid, he’d follow the right path, do the right thing.

 

It’s painful, that disapproval. I know it well. I see moms look hard at me when my son dangles like a monkey from the highest point on a jungle gym. I see them shrug in confusion when I tell them he builds Legos by imagination, not instruction. And I hear them tsk tsk when he puts on my old boots, wraps himself with yarn, collects random household items and trudges outside for a suburban expedition.

 

He’s his own person, making his own way in the world. No matter how hard that may be for me, I know I’ve got to be vigilant in giving him the space he needs to grow – naysayers be damned.

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By: Shana Cooper | March 24, 2010

 

“Will Dora the Explorer die some day?”

 

This is the question my 4-year-old daughter has been grappling with lately. Death has been on her mind a lot. I think it must be a developmental thing. She’s trying to grasp the whole concept of here and gone. Young and old. Healthy and sick.

 

Heck, I think to myself, aren’t we all?

 

So, as we’re driving in the car – which is usually the site of our juiciest conversations – I tell her that Dora’s not alive. She’s a cartoon character, a drawing, on TV. Dora doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe. Dora wasn’t born, so Dora can’t die.

 

So my daughter says, “What about Carly? She’s alive, right? So will she die?”

 

Ah, smart cookie, that little girl of mine. Carly, of the TV show ICarly, is perky teenage actress Miranda Cosgrove. She eats, sleeps and breathes. She was born. She can die.

 

So I tell her Carly is an actress on TV. She’s also a character, like Dora. Carly will never die. But Miranda is a real girl, she can die, and someday she will.

 

I know, I know, too much info for one little curly-headed preschooler. But how else do I explain it? So she chews on that a while and then comes out with the brutal line of questioning all parents dread:

 

“Will I die one day? Will you and Daddy die? Will Ben die?”

 

Deep, emotional breath here… “Yeeesss,” I say in my calm, mommy’s-in-control voice. “Everybody who lives dies. That’s just the way it is. But that won’t happen for a very long time (I pray). So we don’t really have to worry about it right now.”

 

“And can we come back after we die?” she asks.

 

Maybe she’s thinking it’s like a life time-out, or a playground do-over. I’m tempted to launch into an explanation of reincarnation but figure my comparative religion lecture should wait just a few more years.

 

 Instead, I simply say, “No.”

 

She gasps.

 

“So how do I stay alive?” she wants to know, this time imploring me to impart the great secrets of life – as if I’m The Map on Dora, as if all we have to do is go over the Troll Bridge, through the Nutty Forest and that’s how we find Eternal Life.

 

My wisdom is once again woefully insufficient for this kind of question. I remind myself to keep it simple and wave my verbal wand: “Well, you eat healthy food, get a good night’s sleep, get lots of exercise, wash your hands and love your family.”

 

This seems to satisfy her, but I’m not sure for how long. Eventually reality will worm its way into her rainbow-colored world. She’ll realize that sometimes there are no logical rules to health vs. illness; no rhyme or reason to life and death.

 

I hope I still have the answers she craves when that time comes.

 

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By: Shana Cooper | March 16, 2010

 

I hate dinnertime.

 

I hate cooking well-balanced meals that aren’t eaten.

 

I hate glaring at children who refuse to use napkins and utensils – at least in the way they’re supposed to be used.

 

I hate scolding the dog to stop begging at the table; the two-more-bites negotiations; the constant plea for dessert.

 

Most of all, I hate the implied societal pressure that a healthy, happy family must endure a Brady Bunch-style dinner.

 

Ok, so growing up I did have a Very Brady dinner every night, complete with full-course meal and all parents and siblings accounted for. And I’ll admit, it was usually a lovely thing.

 

I’ll also admit that I wish we could have that in our family. But my husband doesn’t get home from work until well after the kids are fed and bathed. And school, work and extracurricular activities often interrupt my best-laid dinner plans. And my children are 7 and 4. Needless to say, sitting at a table is not their favorite thing in the world.

 

So we’re left with a tense, eight-minute meal that’s more familial ordeal than bonding time.

 

Recently (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) – after my two little privileged suburbanites sniffed some broccoli, licked some grilled chicken and declared their bellies full – I actually found myself lecturing them about children starving in earthquake-shattered Haiti. I consider that kind of emotional manipulation to be outrageous parenting behavior.

 

I know I should just chill out. When it comes to my kids, the bigger my fuss, the bigger their rebellion. And they do eat throughout the day – not just junk but fruits and veggies, protein and whole wheat carbs. And we do talk throughout the day – about important stuff like bullying, bugs and SpongeBob’s latest antics.  

 

But I just feel like at this stage in my family’s life, a formal sit-down dinner is a waste of time. I cook. They nibble. I yell. They whine. Nothing good comes of it.

 

Then, when I read articles like the one just shared with me by a friend about the connection between obesity and hunger/food insecurity, I feel immense guilt. (Here it is if you’d like to read it: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/nyregion/14hunger.html?src=me)

 

There are kids in this world, in this country, in this county, who eat but are hungry. Their families don’t have the money for or the access to fresh foods. Their neighborhoods don’t support grocery stores. Their parents are too worried about keeping their jobs and their homes to extol the virtues of the Food Pyramid.

 

So maybe I should take my dinnertime woes and do something useful with all that angst. 

 

Start volunteering at a soup kitchen? Start donating the money we’d normally spend on dinner to a worthy organization? Or start going European – dinner at lunchtime, breakfast at dinner. Now that’s a thought. Waffles anyone?

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By: Shana Cooper | March 10, 2010

 

I’d recently reached what I thought was a wonderful parenting stage – allowing my children to play right outside our home without my eagle eye watching their every move.

 

I’d become especially lax because they often play with the neighbor kids, who are all between the ages of 9-12. And, luckily, my home has lots of windows but no hurricane-proof glass, so I can pretty much see and hear all the mayhem without acting like a parental sentry.

 

It was a great arrangement. In the late afternoon, I’d make dinner, fold laundry and catch up on e-mails while the kids happily, idyllically romped outdoors – just as kids are supposed to do.

 

But I think I’ve gotten a little too comfortable of late.

 

You see, we had an incident.

 

The kids were play-acting they were wild animals – making cozy dens, hunting in the bushes, pretending to eat leaves and such – when, for some unknown reason, one of the big kids decided it would be a great idea to mash up the inside of a palm leaf and actually eat it. He convinced my two children, ages 7 and 4, to join him.

 

Despite my statement above about seeing and hearing everything, I (of course) did not see or hear this exchange of bright ideas.

 

What I did hear was my kids screaming and sobbing as they raced into the house shouting their mouths were burning.

 

Panic ensued.

 

While rinsing their mouths with water, I demanded to know what they ate. They didn’t know. I raced outside yelling to the big kid to tell me what he’d given them. He showed me the plant. Then I raced back inside to call my husband and ask him if he knew the name of said plant. He did not but began frantically looking online for some answers.

 

So I called Poison Control (1-800-222-1222).

 

I spoke to a nurse there who was amazingly calm, kind and clear-headed. She informed me that most Florida palms were not deadly, but that they do have an acid inside them that cause this kind of mouth pain. She suggested I give the kids something cold, like ice cream or frozen yogurt, which should ease their suffering. She also advised me to look out for obvious life-threatening reactions – hives, swelling, trouble breathing, etc. and to call 911 if any of those symptoms arose. She asked that I call back to let her know the outcome of our incident.

 

Did I mention how helpful she was? Did I mention she followed up with me a few hours later, since I forgot to call her, to see how everyone was doing?

 

Long story short, my kids are fine. After a lecture from my husband and me, I think they understand how vitally important is it NOT to eat any plants, flowers, berries, etc. they find themselves – nor to eat anything like that given to them by another kid no matter how cool he may be.

 

I know it sounds like I’m making light of this but that’s only to disguise my absolute terror. I could have really messed up. They could have eaten something extremely dangerous. And I would have never forgiven myself.

 

This kind of incident only reminds me to never throw verbal stones at other parents or caregivers. Supervision slips. Accidents happen. Kids get hurt.

 

I hope I learned my lesson.

 

Just so happens, National Poison Prevention Week starts March 14. So keep this info handy: 1-800-222-1222 or www.miamipoison.org 

And for more kid safety info,check out the Safe Kids Palm Beach County site: www.gocpg.org/Safe-Kids

 

 

 

 

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By: Shana Cooper | March 2, 2010

 

OK, it’s time to talk about my daughter’s mouth.

 

There’s stuff going on in there that I’ve been avoiding. (I promise it’s nothing gross. So you can keep reading.) I’m a pretty laid back person but I’m wondering whether she’s getting to an age when some things just aren’t cute any more. I’m wondering if she’s reaching an oral point of no return.

 

So first off, what the heck am I supposed to do about the thumb sucking? That girl loves to suck her thumb. Give her her baby blanket and her thumb and she’s as sweet and glazed as a donut. I just can’t bear to take this simple pleasure from her. Nor do I see the intrinsic harm in it. And, to back myself up here, neither does world-renowned pediatric expert Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. He says a child who sucks her thumb is a child who feels safe, loved and comforted. In short, a child who sucks is a child who can cope.

 

But here’s some dark history:

 

My son, now 7, was an avid sucker. I never really minded because it helped soothe him as a baby and calm him during that nasty tantrum period. But when his big boy teeth came in at age 5, it took only a few months for his neat little corn cob nuggets to turn into beaver chompers.

 

Don’t get me wrong, he’s still beautiful. But let’s just say my husband and I are weighing whether to raid his college fund to cover his future orthodontia bills.

 

My son still sucked even after gentle reminding from us turned to sock-over-hand sleeping. But he just couldn’t stop. Like an addict, he begged us for help. We took him to the dentist.

 

The dentist secured a metal habit appliance in mouth. It hung down from his roof and stood guard like a joyless Soviet-era soldier – blocking his thumb from nestling in his pallet and pushing against his teeth. I’m going to hold off on describing the weeks that followed. Let’s just say, it was emotionally grueling for our whole family. Oh, and did I mention it cost $500?

 

It worked. He stopped sucking (mostly). But to be honest, I’m not sure I’m masochistic enough to sign up for that again.

 

So back to my daughter.

 

I figure I should stop the sucking before we reach the intervention stage. I’m just at a loss as to how. And to be honest I secretly feel like it’s my fault my kids suck. My guilty mommy side whispers, “maybe you didn’t breastfeed long enough?”

 

OK, Problem #2 (which may or may not be related to Problem #1): My daughter has an adorable lisp. She can’t say her Ls or Rs and she tends to make her Ss really slushy.

 

For example:

  • When my husband kisses her goodnight she says, “Daddy, youaw beawd is tickwing me.”
  • When someone asks her name she says, “Shasha.” It’s Sasha.
  • When she’s talking to me, I often can’t tell if she’s saying crown or a clown. Either is possible, since both come into conversation quite often – She’s 4, after all.

 

I’ve heard conflicting opinions about speech therapy. Some say don’t bother, it’s normal and it will correct itself. Others say fix it now so it doesn’t become an even bigger problem when she’s older.

 

I’m at a loss.

Do I get her speech therapy? Do I force her to quit sucking? Or do I just leave her alone and let nature take its couwse?

 

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By: Shana Cooper | February 23, 2010

 

I’d picked my son up from the bus stop the other day and we’d been in the car less than 5 minutes when my blood started to boil.

 

It was just one of those weeks where I was feeling especially short-tempered and irritable. I tried to camouflage it with an abundance of hugs and soft words, but somehow my son’s kid-radar sensed a weakness and went in for the kill.

 

While in the car, on line to pick up my daughter from preschool, we attempted to do some of his homework. (I know, I know, my bad!) First he began jumping around the car before settling into the front passenger seat. After a few illegible math problems were put to paper, he felt compelled to poke his pencil into the glove compartment keyhole – snapping the point and rendering more homework-doing impossible. He then turned the passenger seat into a carnival ride, pushing the buttons down and up and back down again.

 

Seeing his sister was on the way, he leaped to the back of the SUV so he could jump out and scare her when she got in. Which he did.

 

Legs akimbo, he snaked his way into his seat, put on his seatbelt and began prodding his sister, eliciting high-pitched squeals from her (whether in delight or pain I couldn’t quite tell because my eyes were supposed to be on the road). He then rolled down the window, stuck his head out and began bellowing nonsense words – despite my repeated requests to stop screaming. Unable to resist, his sister joined in until both were screaming and singing and having a good ole time playing with their vocal chords.

 

And I’m sitting there, my fingers clenching the steering wheel, wondering what the heck is wrong with me. I knew in my heart this was just kid stuff. Nobody’s getting hurt. Nobody’s name-calling. Nobody’s whining or crying.

 

And yet I was inappropriately furious.

 

Luckily, home was only a few minutes away. And some guardian angel must have sensed my tenuous hold on sanity because when we turned into our neighborhood, my son said, “Mom, can I run home?”

 

I responded with a breathless, “Yes, I think that’s a great idea,” before adding, “but you’ve got to stay on the sidewalk.”

 

So out jumped my son, followed, of course, by my daughter (because she will not be left behind), and I drove along at two miles an hour while they raced home like puppies let out of a pen.

And watching my son’s legs pumping with 7-year-old joy, and watching my daughter’s pigtails waving in the wind, I fell in love again.

 

Now I’m just hoping I can hold on to the love through dinner time, bath time and bed time. Any suggestions?

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By: Shana Cooper | February 10, 2010

 

Something beautiful happened at my house the other morning, I think.

 

Shockingly, my 4-year-old daughter woke up first. It was a school day and she usually sleeps later than everyone else because she doesn’t have to be at preschool until 9 a.m. But for some reason she awoke a few minutes before my second-grader.

 

Now, like many families, we each have our places in life. I mean quite literally. My son, being older and more aggressive, has chosen the choicest spot on our couch – the cozy corner of the L where the two sides meet. This is the prime TV-watching spot, with a little lamp on a nearby side table for convenient snacking and Nintendo DS playing. My daughter, by default, always settles on the other side.

 

This has been an unspoken rule for years.

 

But this morning, in her grogginess, she decided to snuggle her curly-headed self into the coveted corner. She wrapped her baby blanket and her plush Princess Ariel blanket around her person and burrowed down.

 

A few minutes later, my son trudged into the family room, spied his sister in his spot, gasped in shock, turned on his heel and marched back into his bedroom.

 

This is only a problem because my son is notoriously late for school and, if he got back into bed and buried himself under his covers, we’d have a tough morning ahead of us.

 

My first instinct was to demand my son quit this nonsense, come out of his room, eat breakfast and get ready for school. Anticipating the fight that would follow, however, I held my tongue.

 

My second instinct was to demand my daughter move to her spot on the couch. But the ridiculousness of this train of thought stopped me in my tracks.

 

So, I did nothing.

 

After a minute or two, my daughter asked me to get her a pillow from her room (she actually said woom because she still can’t say her Rs and Ls, but that’s a story for another time). Before I could ask why, she explained she wanted to be cozy when she moved over on the couch to make room for her brother.

 

I gave her the pillow, wrapped her blankets around her, kissed her forehead and then went to tell my son his sister did a very kind thing for him.

 

And, in doing so, I wonder if I just cemented his sense of entitlement, her eagerness to please and a life-long sibling relationship based on dominance and passivity.

 

Or, just maybe, they learning how to problem-solve without me refereeing.

 

Wouldn’t that be novel?

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By: Shana Cooper | February 2, 2010

 

I’ve got a new theory: You really don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve lived with a 4-year-old.

 

My daughter has long since passed the why stage and has moved on to the how stage. The problem with the how stage is that you can’t use “because …” as an answer.

 

Here’s an example: If your child asks, “Why can’t I have this lollipop?” A wise parent can answer, “Because, my dear, a child’s body needs healthy food, like fruits and vegetables, to grow big and strong.”

 

But if she asks, “How are lollipops made?” A wise parent may find herself stumbling over a convoluted explanation involving such words as: sugar, boil, chemical reaction, molds, assembly lines and the like.

 

The stumped feeling only gets worse as the questions get more complicated.

 

“How are books made?”

 

“How does this Merry-go-Round spin?”

 

“How do airplanes fly in the sky?”

 

“How did we know to buy this car?”

 

“How are people inside the TV?”

 

“How come we have to die one day?”

 

The questions go on and on – peppering me in the car, in the shower, in the kitchen.

 

I’m tempted to ignore them, but I know that’s just bad parenting.

 

I’m tempted to BS a bit, but she’s a smart cookie and I have a feeling my startling lack of engineering knowledge will eventually poke through, causing her to knock me off that golden pedestal on which she’s placed me.

 

So usually, I say in a kind, maternal voice, “That’s a great question. I really don’t have an answer for you. But we can look it up at the library or on the computer.”

 

And when that doesn’t work, I just tell her to ask Daddy.

 

How is that a cop-out?

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By: Carol Rodriguez | January 25, 2010

I am in an uncomfortable position.  A boy in the neighborhood, I’ll call him James, is a friend to my 9-year-old son, Michael.  In my opinion James is a negative influence on my son.  I really don’t want my son playing with him and I don’t want James in my house.  When he is over he makes a mess of my son’s things, and the things of other family members, touches anything in the house he’s interested in, goes into rooms that we have deemed off limits, helps himself to refreshments in our refrigerator and pantry, just to give a few examples.  He is lacking boundaries and just plain respect and manners. 

 

I have made my son clean up the mess James has made, as it is not discovered until James leaves.  I tell Michael that he is responsible for making sure his friends follow our rules and respect our things when they come over.  If they don’t, he needs to tell me.  I know, though, that Michael doesn’t want to rat on him.

 

My other neighbor, who has an 8-year-old daughter, doesn’t let her play with James, and he is not permitted in their house.  When I asked why, he gave this example: he comes to their door and rings the doorbell and runs away.  (I remember doing that when I was a kid).  The other day this neighbor came out where my son was playing with James and yelled at James to stop ringing his doorbell. James replied that it was Michael.  Michael had disappeared into our house. I happened to witness this exchange and asked the boys for clarification. It turns out my son was the guilty party. 

 

While I was upset with my son’s behavior and walked him over to apologize, I can’t help feeling that James put him up to it. Am I just being naïve? Maybe my son has a naughty streak that I am tying to blame on James?

 

I’ve given James conditions before…you can come and play as long as you clean up after yourself, ask permission to eat or drink, etc.  All this, to no avail.

 

I have told Michael that I don’t want James in the house and I don’t like him playing with him.  However, they frequently run into each other in the street while riding bikes, scooters, etc. James will wander over to our lawn and before you know it, he’s in the garage playing Lego Rock Band on the XBOX with Michael and other neighborhood kids. I look at Michael with a look of disappointment, and he gives me an “I didn’t have it in me to ask him to leave” look.  I, also, feel bad about asking him to leave. He is, after all, just a kid.

 

At this point, I do not allow him in our house. But when he wanders over to our front yard or garage, or happens into Michael’s company playing on the street, I’m at a loss. Michael loves playing outside, and I encourage anything that gets him away from video games.  I can’t ask James not play in the street. I don’t want to punish my son by making him come inside, or kicking everyone out of the garage just to get James out.  I also don’t want to single James out in front of the other children. 

 

Am I just being weak? I’ve thought about approaching his parents, but I am at a loss for what to say. I’ve been rehearsing the conversation over and over in my head and each time the end result is damaging a relationship with a neighbor. As someone with no family in the area, I treasure my neighbors and see them as a source of support. James’s mom has been very nice to us, has taken Michael to the movies with them and invited Michael over for dinner or just to play.

 

What to do?

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By: Shana Cooper | January 20, 2010

My son’s been having a bit of trouble getting back into the Post-holiday homework routine. Monday’s are especially hard, laden as they are math, spelling, language arts, reading, etc.

 

So needless to say the whining and chair-wiggling has resumed. I’m trying really hard to avoid the cajoling-turned-scolding. That always leaves me churning, my son crying and – in the end – nothing getting done.

 

We’d gotten through most of the work but still had two pages of math hanging over our heads.

 

So I decided to try the age-old method of wagering.

 

On a whim, I bet my son he couldn’t finish his homework before I was finished making rice for dinner. If he finished first, I’d give him a prize.

 

The fix was in: rice takes 20 minutes; I knew he’d win.

 

So I told him he could pick his prize. He’s 7 so he’s still easily impressed with random junk I’ve collected over the years.

 

His choices: a leather rope necklace (appropriate for a boy); a seashell; a tiny, bright blue Tiffany jewelry bag (sans jewelry); or a keychain.

 

He was thrilled with his choices and, after much mulling, picked the bag. He said it was perfect for his shark tooth collection.

 

I’m happy because his homework’s done and I didn’t have to yell, scream and take away his Nintendo DS.

 

He’s happy he got a prize.

 

My daughter’s happy because I now actually have some time to spend with her before dinner, bath, books and bed.

 

Even the dog’s happy because we were able to take her for a walk before the sun went down.

 

But if I’m honest with myself, I’d admit this whole scheme was actually a bribe cleverly disguised as a bet.

 

So in my attempt to keep peace in the land, have I let my moral compass swung a little too far south?

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