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The discipline game

August
12

How many shared-custody situations are out there where the child prefers one parent’s home to the other because “it’s more fun?” Particularly for younger children, this usually means that one parent’s home is all about play and the other involves actual parenting — rules and restrictions and doctor visits and doing homework.

I can think of several single- and divorced-parent situations where this is the case. In one friend’s case, the dad’s house has tons of toys and the child is routinely treated to milk shakes, donuts and sweets, and is allowed to fall asleep on the couch watching TV. Because the dad routinely has the child on weekends, there are few situations where the child has to be woken up early, dressed and prepared for school. The child gets up when the child gets up, and then it’s usually a day of fun in the sun.

Then there’s the mom. She has to get the child to school, has to be more conscious of dietary needs and is constantly trying to include vegetables and protein in meals. There are plenty of toys and play time, but with school, doctor visits and other utilitarian tasks built in, it pales in comparison to the nearly limitless play time at dad’s house. The end result is the parent trying to do the right thing for the child is the “less fun” parent, and has to regularly hear her child ask to go to daddy’s house.

She’s not alone. Another friend’s teenagers see their dad’s house as a refuge and a “safe place” when the mom tries to set curfews and limits on this or that. She’s forced to instill discipline. The end result is that one of her teens finally moved in with dad, who has provided little financial support for his children’s needs and close to no emotional support. The teen now lives with few rules.

And this is gender neutral. I’m highlighting two of the situations I know of personally, but I — of all people — don’t want to sound like I’m beating up the dads. I had friends in a single-parents group I once belonged to who were dads in similar situations. One dad who lives in the Carolinas was raising his children almost entirely on his own, carting them to school, tutors and the doctor while constantly hearing from them how mom never made them do these things. The mom primarily showed up to blame the dad when there was a problem at school. He, like my two other friends, have been forced to do the hardest thing of all: Keep quiet. They refuse, to their credit, to set the record straight for the children. They refuse to put the kids in the middle. They shouldn’t.

But what does one tell a parent in that situation? My advice has been to keep doing the right thing and ultimately the child will appreciate it — or at least one can hope so. The pessimist in me realizes that poetic justice only happens in plays and novels, not in real life. My more optimistic side clings to the notion that good intentions and actions are ultimately rewarded, if not with appreciation then certainly with the satisfaction of knowing you made your child a better and healthier person in the end.

Because it would just be nice to know that it’s a game where there are no real losers.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008 at 3:17 pm |
| | 7 Comments »

Visit the dentist or scrub the sink?

July
28

I vote sink. While few of us are probably fond of dusting, vacuuming or cleaning up the kitchen crud, I infinitely prefer working around the house to taking a trip to the dentist. But, apparently, not everyone agrees. A new poll from iVillage’s <a href=”http://www.momtourage.com” target=”_blank”>Momtourage</a> site found that more than one in four people (27 percent!) would rather have a tooth drilled than clean their homes. Another 13 percent would rather get in trouble with their boss than tackle the home chores!

This wasn’t just an unscientific Internet poll, either. The results were based on telephone interviews of about 1,000 people and had a margin of error of just 3 percent.

So, what about you: How much do you hate or love cleaning in relation to other chores?

I figure with cleaning, at least you get a big reward at the end: A tidy home that everyone can enjoy. Though we’ve become a bit lax on the tidy front since becoming parents — our living room is Pumpkin’s playroom, after all — we have tried not to compromise on the clean front. Keeping a clean home was a value instilled in me by my mother and grandmother. I learned to dust and vacuum as early as junior high age, when I was assigned those duties as chores. By high school, I was often cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, too. I am fortunate, I know, because my husband does a big share of the household chores. We divide tasks not by gender, but by ability (for instance, I have allergies and he takes on the vacuuming).

The thing that’s unfortunate about polls like the one from iVillage is that they perpetuate the idea that a clean house is something that can happen only with odious labor. We’ve gone in a generation from being ashamed of having a dirty house to having to make apologetic sounds about having a clean one. Whenever someone comments on my house being clean, I feel like I have to say, “Oh, I have alleriges. We HAVE to keep it this way.” Keeping a clean house is definitely a value I hope Pumpkin will inherit. And I must make a note to myself: Stop grumbling about cleaning or else she will end up thinking I’d rather be doing anything else — even having my tooth drilled!

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Monday, July 28th, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
| | Comments Off on Visit the dentist or scrub the sink?

What’s in those backpacks anyway?

July
22

What is up with these backpacks that are so heavy that kids are being weighed down like mountaineers? At the risk of sounding like someone who should be leaning on a walker and eating dinner at 4 p.m., I’d like to point out that when I was a kid, we didn’t even carry backpacks! Somehow I managed to bring home all the materials I needed to do my homework without looking like I was ready to hike the Himalayas.

This is on my mind because it’s the time of year when, once again, the obligatory warnings about the dangers of the weight of these things are coming out. Consumer Reports, which is published in Yonkers, is way ahead on this issue. In their research, they found some sixth graders carried 18.4 pounds in the backpacks — about 17.2 percent of their body weight. Consumer Reports recommends staying closer to 10 percent of body weight.

What is in these backpacks, anyway? Pumpkin is several years away from homework assignments and all they entail, so I’m operating without first-hand knowledge. But I ask you other parents: Do kids really need to carry every book home, every night? Is that what makes up the load? Or, are your kids carrying mini survival kits on their backs? I know my daughter, given her druthers, would bring half the contents of her room with her in the car every time we leave the house for a half hour. So far, we’ve managed to keep it down to her Elmo doll (sometimes two Elmo dolls), a book, her sippy cup, a baggie of <a href=”http://www.annies.com/bunny_grahams” target=”_blank”>Annie’s Homegrown Chocolate Bunny Grahams</a> and her purple blanket. Are your third-graders carrying their own equivalent of this in their packs? Is that why they are so heavy?

If you are buying a new backpack this fall, Consumer Reports recommends looking for these features:

• Shoulder straps that are contoured and padded to soften the load of the pack on a child’s back.

• A waist belt to stabilize the pack and transfer weight to the hips.

• A padded or quilted back or one with mesh fabric to make the bag less sweaty on steamy days.

• Compression straps on the sides of the pack to tighten a partially-filled backpack.

• Reflective trim on the back and sides of the pack to add visibility in the fall and winter months, when kids may travel to and from school in near darkness.

Here is the special section on back-to-school at <a href=”http://www.consumerreports.org/backtoschool” target=”_blank”>Consumer Reports</a>.

I’m thinking about writing a story about the growth in backpack sales and how these have become a must-have back-to-school item. If anyone would like to lend their insight to the story, send me an e-mail at jalterio@lohud.com or call me at 914-666-6189.

Otherwise, comment here about what the heck is in your kids’ backpacks — unless you’ve been afraid to look!

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 12:49 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

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Ice cream on a stick

July
2

Like most kids, Pumpkin is far from immune to the joys of ice cream. This has always been fine with me. She doesn’t drink enough milk to begin with, and we’ve always tried to find ways to get extra healthy calories in her slender body. But this year, she has discovered the pleasure of a dubious treat: Ice cream bars, or as we call them in our house, “ice cream on a stick.”

good-humor-ad.jpgThis obsession started in April when I bought her an eclair-style ice cream bar on a whim after an energetic workout at Reis Park in Somers. There is always an ice cream truck parked near the playground there in the warm weather. Well, the tastiness of the treat and the novelty of visiting the truck and eating the ice cream in the car on the way home made quite the impression. And, if that wasn’t enough, she started asking us to read a cute little board book we have at home that’s shaped like an ice cream truck (before this, she didn’t quite get the point of the book).

Now, every time we go to Reis Park, Pumpkin begs for “ice cream on a stick.” Apart from the outrageous cost — $3 a bar — the fact is that these treats are far from ideal nutrionally. Back when she was content with the now-boring ice cream in dish, I bought all-natural ice cream that had ingredients I recognized. But just look at this list from the <a href=”http://www.icecreamusa.com/products/product.cfm?u=41000-05152&b=2″ target=”_blank”>Good Humor Chocolate Eclair</a>:

INGREDIENTS: ICE CREAM: NONFAT MILK, SUGAR, MILKFAT, CORN SYRUP, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WHEY, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, CELLULOSE GUM, GUAR GUM, POLYSORBATE 65 AND 80, CARRAGEENAN, ARTIFICIAL AND NATURAL FLAVORS. CHOCOLATE CORE: WATER, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), MODIFIED SOY PROTEIN, GUAR GUM, MODIFIED CELLULOSE, LOCUST BEAN GUM, POLYSORBATE 80. COATING: CAKE CRUNCH [BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, PALM OIL, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, BAKING SODA], SOYBEAN OIL, COCONUT OIL, SUGAR, CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, DRY WHOLE MILK, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR.

This does NOT make me happy. I pay more for organic milk and cheese. I buy natural eggs. We eat only whole wheat bread and whole-grain pancakes. I belong to a food co-op. But all of these strategies to avoid the overprocessed packaged foods at the supermarket are done in by the appeal of the ice cream on a stick.

Here is my question: Has anyone ever seen a “healthy” version of an ice cream bar? I did some nosing on the Web and found one company called Mister Cookie Face in Lakewood, N.J., that makes organic novelties under the <a href=”http://www.cookieface.com/woodlakefarms.html” target=”_blank”>Woodlake Farms</a> brand. But I’ve never seen them in local stores.

What do the rest of you parents do when it comes to dubious treats like these? And, before you all point out the obvious: Yes, I realize she is 3 years old. No, she doesn’t have her own money. Yes, I do in fact buy these for her. And, no, she couldn’t get them on her own. What, you say? Just stop? Well, it would take a tougher parent than I am to say no to her calls for “ice cream on a stick.” She just loves them too much. My goal is to find a manufacturer who makes these with, oh, let’s say five ingredients total, including milk, cream, sugar and chocolate — and without high fructose corn syrup.

Since we’re on the topic of ice cream, I thought you all might enjoy some links I found in my research. Here is a discussion of the <a href=”http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/ice_cream.htm” target=”_blank”>history of ice cream</a>, which has been enjoyed in this country since the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson — making it an especially fitting treat for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. And here is a link to an article in the National Archives on the <a href=”http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/popsicle-1.html” target=”_blank”>origins of Good Humor and Popsicle novelties</a>, originally called “ice cream suckers” and billed as a more convenient way to eat ice cream. Pumpkin would certainly agree.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008 at 1:41 am |
| | 6 Comments »

Why it’s still nice when your mom is handy

July
1

Sunday night, my husband and I spent about four hours at the emergency room of Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco to rule out appendicitis as the cause of the severe abdominal pains he had been experiencing. (He’s OK. Just sick.) We were there from about 9:45 p.m. until about 2 a.m., thankfully without the Pumpkin. That’s because when we spoke to the doctor on the phone, and she told us to go to the emergency room, I called my mom and said, “Can you come?” And, of course, she agreed. My mom moved to this area the year my daughter was born, first living with us while she looked for a place of her own and now renting an apartment. It has been unremittingly wonderful for us. My mom takes care of Pumpkin while I work — which is why I was able to keep my job after my daughter was born. If I hadn’t had my mom, I would have quit because I couldn’t have imagined putting my tiny little preemie in day care. The best part is I have every confidence that Pumpkin is in hands that are almost as loving as mine. The second best part is that my daughter is forming a relationship with her grandmother, not a stranger. But for my mom, there have been significant sacrifices. She left behind friends in Niagara Falls, her bowling league and the city she lived in for 70-plus years. She also left behind an affordable lifestyle. Her rent is double what she would pay in Niagara Falls — and takes almost half of her pension and Social Security every month.

My thankfulness for her presence in my life really came alive last night during the crisis. While I am always grateful when she throws a load of my laundry in the wash, it’s the willingness of a parent to drop everything and come running that makes them so special. I feel for the families who don’t have extended family nearby. Imagine a 3-year-old spending four hours plus in an ER? Yikes. But if my mom were still living in Niagara Falls, we would have had no choice but to bring Pumpkin. It must be even more challenging for single parents without family nearby. What if you are the patient? How can you expect the ER nurse to be a babysitter?

I’d like to invite Parents’ Place readers to share their own stories of events where your parents helped you out of a crisis — and to share how you coped if your mom and dad don’t live nearby or aren’t with you any longer.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 12:11 am |
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The prom date … revisited

June
12

Remember the prom date? “In this earlier blog,”:http://parentsplace.lohudblogs.com/2008/04/23/the-prom-date-debate I spoke about a mom who put her foot down when her 15-year-old son was asked to go to the prom by a senior girl in his high school. Her thinking was that he was too young, etc., etc. That sparked some lively debate.

Well, the prom came and went, and the 15-year-old did, indeed, attend with the older girl. It turns out that the boy’s mom ultimately had discussions with the girl’s mom, discussed it with her son, and they agreed to the ground rules. So she relented.

How’d he do? Things went smoothly. He was a gentleman, there were no after-parties, and he was home at the agreed-to time. By all accounts, the two had a wonderful — and safe — time together.

So, does this make the concern some of you had moot? Or did the mom dodge a bullet?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, June 12th, 2008 at 12:35 pm |
| | 3 Comments »

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What if you can’t stand your child’s pediatrician?

June
7

What if you can’t stand your child’s pediatrician?

I remember the moment my long-simmering (but still mild) dislike of my daughter’s pediatrician boiled over into actual antipathy. We were discussing Pumpkin’s milestones at her third birthday checkup when the doctor asked if she moved into a bed yet. I said no, and added that Pumpkin loves her crib and hasn’t even tried to climb out. (And this is a child who loves to climb everything else.)

The doctor’s reaction: “Most children have moved into a bed by age 2.”

My response, with an attempt at humor: “I can’t even imagine what her room would look like in the morning if she could get up whenever she wanted. Clothes and diapers would be everywhere, and she’d probably sleep on the floor or in her glider.” Said with a smile and chuckle.

The doctor’s response: “Well, she’s going to have to go into a bed eventually.” With zero (0) humor. No smile. She wasn’t trying to be funny. She was being sarcastic.

I should have replied with something like: “Oh, really? We were hoping to keep her in the crib until college to save money on a new bed and sheets.”

But that would have been the end of our doctor-parent relationship, and I am not 100 percent certain if it should be over. Now, let me say, if this was the first instance of us disagreeing, I probably would let it go, but it’s not. Just for instance, here’s another priceless exchange from the same visit:

Doctor: How much milk does she drink?

Me: About 9 ounces in the morning. She won’t drink milk later in the day, except chocolate milk, and even then, she’ll drink perhaps a half-cup. She really doesn’t like milk or even yogurt.

Doctor: She should be drinking three to four cups a day! (With a look that suggest she thinks I’m either stupid or negligent.)

Me (silently to myself): What do you want me to do? Have you ever tried to make a toddler eat or drink something they don’t want to consume? (For the record, we have this milk conversation every time we have a checkup.) Out loud, I offered that she eats cheese. To that, the doctor replied: “Doesn’t all that cheese make her constipated?” (I never said it was a lot of cheese!)

But even these disagreements — and even her sanctimonious attitude — wouldn’t get under my skin so much if there weren’t a bigger problem: She doesn’t seem to “get” that Pumpkin is a preemie.

Our first pediatrician, who was recommended by the doctors at the White Plains Hospital NICU, was terrific. He seemed to really understand the unique needs of micro-preemies like Pumpkin, who weighed just 1 pound, 13.4 ounces at birth. He was extremely cautious when it came to Pumpkin’s health. He ordered her to avoid public spaces and to stay away from all children, even her cousins, until she weighed 15 pounds. (A milestone she didn’t reach until shortly before her first birthday.) She had monthly shots of vaccine for RSV during her first winter. For you non-preemie parents, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is unpleasant but not an emergency. For preemies, it’s a big deal. I appreciated his personal attention. I liked the way he plotted Pumpkin’s growth on a preemie growth chart targeted to her week of gestation at birth. I was very sorry when we had to switch doctors because we switched insurance.

Our new doctor dismisses every attempt I make to talk about Pumpkin in the context of being a preemie. Last year on Pumpkin’s second birthday, she was unhappy with her speech development and suggested an evaluation, adding that we have to judge her by her birth date rather than her due date. The speech therapist disagreed and gauged Pumpkin’s development using her due date, which is a full three months later than her birth date. She turned out to be ineligible for services because although her expressive abilities lagged, her receptive speech was actually ahead of the curve. Perhaps not so amazingly, come August of last year, just after her due date birthday of July 27, Pumpkin’s speech blossomed.

So, this year again, the doctor was unhappy with Pumpkin’s speech, adding, “Most 3-year-old girls are chatterboxes, and she hasn’t talked to me at all.” Well, Pumpkin takes a while to warm up to strange people, and what kind of pediatrician judges people this way? She’s never met a shy child before? I shared the story of what happened with the evaluation last year, including the details of the speech boom in August. Her reply, given with obvious irritation: “Well, you can wait until July, but that’s only two months, and I doubt it will make a difference.”

Plus, she only charts Pumpkin’s growth on the regular chart, where her weight is in just the 10th percentile. I’d like to know how she measures up to other preemies born in her week of gestation, but I can’t find out at that pediatrician’s office. (Parents of preemies: Do you have this problem, too?)

So, what do you all think I should do. I started writing this post as a sort of “Can this doctor-parent relationship be saved?” Maybe it’s really a “Dear Joan” letter.

The hard part: How do you pick a new doctor?

Parenting books often have advice about choosing a pediatrician, suggesting that expecting parents interview potential doctors much like you are a boss hiring someone for a job. Has anyone actually done this? Are you expected to pay for the doctor’s time in these cases? Insurance sure isn’t going to cover it, and I’d be surprised if doctors are so eager for patients (especially the potentially cranky kind that demand pre-visit interviews) that they are giving their time away.

How did you choose your pediatrician? Do you like him/her? Has s/he ever said anything that made you want to wring his/her neck?

(Also: Out of curiosity: How old was your child when you moved him/her into a bed? And was it because of a new sibling? I find it hard to believe that “most children” are in their own beds by age 2!)

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Saturday, June 7th, 2008 at 2:20 am |
| | 2 Comments »

The prom date debate

April
23

Looking for input on this one.

This is an issue that came up in a friend’s family, and I differ with my girlfriend and others on it. The scenario is this:  A 15-year-old boy was asked to go to the Senior Prom by a senior at the school. The parents know each other and the kid’s a good kid. He’s never been in trouble, very mature and the whole bit. The girl asked him, and he said yes.

Next, he told his mom, who said he could not go because he is too young to go to a Senior Prom. The boy never shared this with the girl, and told her he would be going. When the parents ran into each other, the boy’s mom found out he had not declined as she told him. So, he got grounded and will not be going to the prom either way.

The two issues are this: Is a 15-year-old boy too young to go to a Senior Prom? Secondly, should he have been grounded for defying his mother’s wishes and not telling the girl he wouldn’t be allowed to go? Frankly, I’m not sure how he would’ve pulled it off when the prom day comes around, but perhaps he hoped to convince his mother before then.

For the record, the parent here is in a traditional two-parent home, so it’s not a single-parenting issue. Of course, I always think of these situations as they would apply to single-parent or blended family homes, and I think that adds other potential elements. So, my third question is, does your answer to the first two questions change if I apply the situation to a single-parent household?

Anyway, what do you think?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008 at 10:12 am |
| | 15 Comments »

Sick child? Whose turn is it?

April
16

Somebody’s got to stay home with the kid, right? That’s logical enough. But who misses a day of work?

A study last year by sociologist David Maume at the University of Cincinnati determined that moms are still significantly more likely to stay home than dads. Maume surveyed more than 1,400 parents and determined that 78% of women reported taking time off to stay home with a sick kid, compared to 28% for men. You can “read more about the study”:http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070813162452.htm in Science Daily.

The thing is that the study seems to have looked only at traditional homes, with mom and dad in the house. How does one handle the situation when they’re a single or divorced parent? Needless to say, this is a major problem if you solo parent. Unless there’s family nearby or a support group of some sort, you’re in a bind. And what are the rules on this in a blended family?

This has been on my mind this week because my girlfriend’s little boy has been battling the flu and hasn’t been able to go to his day care. She missed a couple of days, and her ex missed a couple and took him to his sister’s house for the day. Statistically, she ultimately takes more of those days on than her ex does, which seems to fit Maume’s study.

But at some point I wonder what my role is. I normally save my days off for when my son is sick, and juggle those with my ex. Is it my role as a stepparent figure to take off as well when my girlfriend’s son is sick? Or is that a responsibility that falls squarely  — and exclusively — on the little guy’s parents?

In the end I’m thinking gender isn’t all we should be looking at. Frankly, I’m thinking we need a new study.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 at 11:11 am |
| | 7 Comments »

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Daddypalooza

April
15

Sometimes dad needs a helping hand. Well, here it comes, thanks to the United Way of Westchester and Putnam, and Family Services of Westchester. They’re sponsoring the New York Father’s Conference in White Plains on April 26th. It’s long overdue, I say.

The idea is to bring together dads from all walks of life — be they happily married, divorced, single, etc. — for a day-long program to provide advice, guidance and referrals. It features guest speakers that include Hugh Price, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former president of the National Urban League, as well as former NY Jet offensive back Bruce Harper, who is the co-founding director of the youth program “Heroes and Cool Kids.”

Russell Ross, senior vice president of community initiatives for the United Way, told me they’ve had similar conferences elsewhere in the past, including in Rockland County. But this is the first in Westchester County — and he hopes not the last.

“One of the things that we’ve seen in our research and talking to a lot of folks that are working with families is that dads don’t really have an opportunity to interact with each other and learn and kind of share,” he said. “Women and moms, they have their groups.”

Scheduled workshops are to address a number of issues, including wise discipline, balancing work, helping kids succeed in school, and staying connected as a non-custodial parent. You can check out the entire list and get more details “on the United Way link”:http://www.uwwp.org/father.htm for the program.

If you can’t get to a computer, call the United Way at 914-997-6700, ext. 702. But think about checking it out.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, April 15th, 2008 at 1:03 pm |
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Bad parent alert

April
7

How could you forget about your kid? Well, that’s what cops are saying happened in White Plains this weekend.

According to the story filed by my colleague Rich Liebson, city officers spotted a 2-year-old boy sitting alone in the back seat of car on Sunday, then waited. And waited. Ten minutes later, the boy’s 25-year-old dad came back and, when questioned, told officers that “he forgot his son was in the car.”

The guy was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and the kid was turned over to his mom. You can read Rich’s entire story in The Journal News or on “LoHud.com”:http://www.lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage tomorrow.

Obviously, your heart goes out to the kid if the charge is proven to be true. If this is any indication of the father he’s going to have, there’s just some painful times coming for him. To paraphrase the old saying, you need to apply for a license to go fishing, but any screw-up can have a kid for free.

You can only hope the boy’s mom is more on the ball.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, April 7th, 2008 at 2:05 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

Joining the sandwich generation

March
31

Readers of this blog won’t be seeing my posts for a few weeks because I’m taking some family leave to care for my mom, who is recovering from surgery. We hope all will go very well — but this experience puts me for the first time in what’s being called the “sandwich generation.” There’s even a LoHud blog called <a href=”http://generations.lohudblogs.com/” target=”_blank”>In the Middle</a> that deals with the topic. The term applies to people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are responsible for their own kids while also helping their aging parents. My daughter is still a toddler and I’ll be taking care of my mom, who is in her 70s.

I am grateful that I am able to take the time off work (Thanks for the Family and Medical Leave Act, former President Clinton!), and also grateful that my mom moved to this area more than two years ago to help me with Pumpkin. This would have been much harder if I had to travel to my hometown of Niagara Falls. I can’t imagine how disruptive it would be for Pumpkin if she had to leave home for several weeks or, alternately, for me to be away from her for all that time. Just tonight, I had to sing her lullaby over a cell phone from my mom’s hospital room. (After apologizing in advance to her roommate!)

How are the rest of you Parents’ Place readers coping with your own sandwich generation experiences?

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Monday, March 31st, 2008 at 12:39 am |
| | 4 Comments »

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The stress factor

March
28

Heck, everybody’s got stress. It’s just that the most stressed people I know happen to be parents in single-parent or blended family situations. So, I figured I would share this story that I came across on the newswire from Woman’s Day magazine.

I added the emphasis in the text below for effect. I mean, we certainly don’t have a monopoly on stress. My colleague and friend, Noreen O’Donnell, says she’s written on this, and that there’s a direct correlation between stress and the amount of control you have in your life — not necessarily the number of stressors you have to grapple with.

Fair enough. But it seems to me that parents have additional worries — and are more likely to feel less in control — than your average citizen. More so for single or divorced parents, who have that and more stressors to boot. That’s just me.

But see what you think:

From the editors of Woman’s Day magazine
According to the annual Stress in America report from the American Psychological Association, extreme stress strikes a third of Americans regularly, with one in five getting hit a whopping 15 days out of the month.
Of course, there’s the everyday anxiety that’s caused by a looming work deadline or too-busy schedule, and then there’s the big-time stress that comes with a major life-changing event — like divorce or dealing with a chronic illness. Coping with both requires similar techniques and habits. Woman’s Day magazine outlines a plan that will reduce stress in your life now — and help you prep for the big stuff later.
• Pinpoint your biggest stressor: Go through a day or two with a pen and paper handy, and jot down everything that stresses you out as it happens. OR sit back (when you’re relaxed) and visualize your typical day; make a list of all the things you dread doing. Part of what gets people about stress is that it feels uncontrollable. When you get specific and have a concrete list, life starts to feel manageable. Decide what really gets your adrenaline going, and focus on changing that first.
• Cut back on one thing: If your issue is that you’ve got too much to do around the house between the cooking, cleaning, taking caring of the dog, and shuttling kids to school and activities, choose one night (or two or three) that you’ll order dinner out or pick up a prepared meal at the grocery store. In many cases, being overscheduled is the culprit so figure out what you can say no to.
• Prioritize: Make a list of what has to be done by this morning, the end of the day and the end of the week. Focus on what needs to be finished fist, then move down the list. Often what makes us panic is the big picture – not the three things we have to get done by today, but the 17 things we have to do by the end of the week.
With four steps down you can make these anti-stress moves part of your everyday schedule.
• Move: Regular daily exercise can lower levels of stress hormones
• Pop on headphones: Any music lover knows that listening to your favorite tunes can make you less tense almost immediately
• Chat on the phone with a friend: It keeps your social bonds strong, which gives you an overall feeling of support and belonging.
• Take a deep belly breath: Abdominal breathing increases the amount of oxygen in your blood, triggering the brain to decrease the concentration of stress hormones.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, March 28th, 2008 at 11:50 am |
| | 4 Comments »

Do you pay more to go ‘Green’?

March
17

I’m doing a report in time for Earth Day on the cost of going “Green.” I’m hoping to explore the choices consumers make to spend more money on environmentally friendly products even though there are cheaper conventional alternatives. This can include everything from organic milk to CFLs to chlorine-free bathtub cleaner to the Toyota Prius.

As a mom, I find myself thinking a lot about this issue because I worry about the cumulative exposure to toxins, pesticides and chemicals I can help Pumpkin avoid by doing my part to shop Green. But, there is no way around it, some of these options are pricier. I wonder if the cost is enough to limit the spread of this trend to people with more disposable income. (I know I find myself shying away from buying all organic produce because of the cost.)

Give me a call at 914-666-6189 if you want to be interviewed for my story. (I’d love your thoughts on this!) You can also e-mail me at jalterio@lohud.com. I need to hear from you this week to make my deadline.

Also, in my research on this topic, I came across this <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/WholeFoodsMarket” target=”_blank”>neat contest</a> that Whole Foods is running. They are urging young people to create a video about making the planet “a greener place.” So, if you have a preteen or teenage videophile, this might be a fun way to channel his or her energy.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Monday, March 17th, 2008 at 2:39 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

American-grown apple juice is hard to find

March
14

One day I am at the grocery store picking up a bottle of apple juice (very popular with the Pumpkin), and my usual brand-name juice is sold out. I look at the store brand and read the label more carefully than usual to make sure it doesn’t have added sugar, etc. I quickly notice a stamp that says the juice was made from concentrate from China. I am not too thrilled about that — not because of a kneejerk bias toward all Chinese products, but because I worry about what kind of pesticides are in use in foreign countries that have been outlawed in the United States. So, I keep looking, and wow, I soon discover that almost every apple juice bottle contains juice concentrate from China, regardless of brand name. And, if it’s not China, it’s another country — even an organic juice contains concentrate from Turkey. The only juice I can find that promises 100 percent U.S. apples is <a href=”http://www.motts.com/product_info/apple_juice_family.asp” target=”_blank”>Mott’s Natural Apple Juice</a>.

I learned last year when researching an article on the farm bill that New York is the No. 2 state in the country for apples. Apple growing is a $185 million business here in New York. Yet, here I am, a suburban New York mother, living in a state positively teeming with apples — and I almost can’t find juice made with U.S. apples, let alone local apples.

Finding the healthiest food for your child — that is, food with lots of nutrients but without harmful ingredients — can be a real challenge at the grocery store. I have pretty much rooted out everything with high-fructose corn syrup (with the exception of ketchup, without which Pumpkin would never eat eggs). I buy organic milk. We serve meals made with fresh vegetables every day. (Today’s dinner: a cup of red lentil soup with escarole and a slice of homemade whole-wheat cheese pizza.) And yet, I can’t help but feel frustrated when I think about having filled Pumpkin’s sippy cup with apple juice from China for nearly two years now.

This summer, we’re planning to join a local farm’s community-based agriculture program, which will give us a weekly share of the harvest. We do what we can. But when I think back to the recent slew of recalls from China, I think about all the dead animals who ate the tainted pet food. I plan to do more research on food safety. I want to find out how vulnerable we are to tainted food. Maybe the apple juice from China is perfectly fine. The <a href=”http://www.usapple.org/consumers/juice_safety.cfm” target=”_blank”>U.S. Apple Association</a> says it is. I’d love to hear from other parents about your own feelings on this. Do you check labels? How do you feel about your kids eating food made in China?

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Friday, March 14th, 2008 at 10:02 pm |
| | 15 Comments »

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About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE



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