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Archive for the 'Working parents' Category

‘Coraline’ and the distant parent

August
5

Watching “Coraline” on DVD this past weekend, I cringed and even paused the movie to turn to my husband and say: “I hope that’s not how the Pumpkin sees me.” If you’ve watched the movie, you are familiar with the scene in the beginning when Coraline fails to wrest her mother’s attention from her computer screen. (Warning: If you haven’t seen <a href=”http://coraline.com/” target=”_blank”>”Coraline,”</a> stop reading now and go rent it. It was wonderful.)

I was speaking mostly in jest, of course. I’ve never shooed away the Pumpkin so harshly, but I have to admit that there are times when she knows that I’m working on the computer and can’t play with her. Given the amount of indulgence and love my daughter gets in general, I’m not worried about her. But Coraline does make you think about children who aren’t so cosseted and whose parents really do tell them they are too busy to make time for them much of the time.

The evil witch who preys on Coraline’s vulnerability isn’t just a fairy tale creation. There are those who prey on young children by offering them the love and companionship they are missing at home. Just as the “other mother” offers Coraline the homecooked meals and cozy surrounding she craves in hopes of stealing the child away, pedophiles and other criminals can weasel their way into youngsters’ hearts by exploiting their need for love. Children are vulnerable when their parents are absent or uninvolved. Even if they don’t encounter a witch who wants to steal their souls and replace their eyes with buttons, they will encounter peers with dubious morals who might offer the approval they aren’t getting at home.

While cast as a fairy tale (that would earn an R rating if it were a live-action picture)‚ “Coraline” teaches its younger audience about the dangers of believing in something that’s too good to be true. And it provides a reminder to the parents watching that if you aren’t there for your child, someone else (someone scary) might be.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 at 2:36 am |
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Playing hooky: a parental judgement call

May
24

Well, I did it: I kept my son out of school on Friday even though he had two tests and a project due. And I hope I’m not getting him in trouble by posting on it.

Okay, so the truth is I arranged with his teachers to have him take both tests on Thursday, and hand in his portion of a team alegebra project the same day. So, the damage was minimal, if there was any at all.

But in the end I reasoned that he wouldn’t remember that day at school in years to come. He will, however, always remember our day: We went to the free Green Day concert at Central Park for the Good Morning American summer concert series.

Needless to say, it’s his favorite band, and pretty high on my list as well. And I can’t ask for a better day, nor a more fun outing for him (above). No, that’s not me on the right. I took the photo. (I still have a tad more “coverage” on my head — no offense to the man in the photo.)

Anyway, this has been a periodic judgement call for me, as it is for many parents, I suspect. I had the day off, so it was no issue on my end. But education is important, and occasionally parents may opt to keep the kid home. I handle it on a case-by-case basis, but it’s something I take seriously.

I spoke to a couple of other parents at the show who had done the same thing, and they had all made the same decision: That it was a treat worth cutting school for the day.

Is it something that can be abused? Certainly. I have friends who were periodically kept home from school for a “mental health day,” which I think is of limited value for most kids, depending on age and circumstances.

But the question is when do you think it’s okay to have your kid play hooky?

One final note on the show, it really was a treat. I’ve blogged on the music element of it on The Listening Room, our music blog. But for those that didn’t see it, here’s a clip from GMA:

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Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Sunday, May 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am |
| | 3 Comments »

A dad’s place is…. on a blog

April
23

Leave it to a dad’s blog to make this case, but the Examiner’s fatherhood blog has put out a list of five reasons why dad blogs are worth keeping an eye one. You can read the post here.

(Kathy Gardner/The Journal News)

Obviously, Parents Place is a general parenting blog, with capable dads AND moms in the mix. So, we’re more inclusive and take a wider view of parenting.

But I’ve always felt that there’s a need out here for more of a voice from fathers, whether it’s dads in traditional homes like my co-bloggers Jon and Len, or myself,  a father building a blended family. So it’s reassuring to see a list like this out there, especially with more dads involved in hands-on parenting.

And remember, there’s no shortage of good dad blogs on our blogroll, including Crazy Computer Dad and David Mott’s Dad’s House.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 at 8:00 am |
| | 3 Comments »

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National Provider Appreciation Day coming in May

April
16

The folks at Child Care Aware sent out a reminder that next month will bring National Provider Appreciation Day, when child care providers we entrust with our kids get honorable mention.

Not a bad idea, depending on the care the kids receive. We’ve been lucky that way, so I figured I would send CCA’s press release along for your consumption:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 11.3 million children under the age of 5 that spend some part of their week in child care. If this number includes your family, chances are you’ve added an extended family member or two to your daily routine. And you’ve selected a person that you feel will provide the best care for your child.

Child care providers put a lot of love and hard work into their careers, and they’re often rewarded with little hugs and a “thank you” every now and then. As your child spends time with his/her child care provider, a special bond begins to form. This person is an additional teacher, friend and trusted caregiver. Your child shares many special moments with the child care provider, and you enoy the benefits of these relationships on a daily basis.

This year, take some time to show your child care provider how much you appreciate what she does for your family. On Friday, May 8, 2009, the nation will celebrate National Provider Appreciation Day – a day set aside each year to honor those who are caring for our young children.

For more information on Provider Appreciation Day, go to www.providerappreciationday.org.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, April 16th, 2009 at 4:13 pm |
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Who lays down the law?

April
10

Who wears the pants in a blended family? More to the point, who handles discipline?

According to blended-family blogger Cathy Meyer, the biological parent should discipline their own child or children. The stepparent should, in turn, deal with their own child.

Well, it’s an interesting dilema. I find that in our home my girlfriend and I often defer to the biological parent to dictate terms and punishment for misdeed by the kids. For us, this always entails a verbal reprimand and nothing more. But the tendency of both our children to be a tad more uneasy with the stepparent issuing the reprimand is part of a learning curve that I think takes time – and we’re still working on.

But I have never seen it as a black-and-white issue. We do consult each other regularly and we have gotten comfortable with correcting or issuing mild reprimands to the others’ child. If it’s still a learning process it is more so for our two boys, and they are coming along.

Still, Meyer seems to take a harder line in her blog:

“As a stepparent, you should avoid any decisions about the discipline of your stepchild. This can and does depend on the situation but in most cases, it is best to leave issues of discipline up to the biological parent. Your role as a stepparent is that of mentor and supporter, not parent. This is something many stepparents have a hard time coming to terms with.”

I don’t think it’s that rigid, and I think it is something that has to be overcome for a blended family to eventually succeed. What do you think?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, April 10th, 2009 at 11:45 am |
| | 4 Comments »

Study: More kids now homeless

March
11

Troubling report his week from The National Center on Family Homelessness, which released a study that found 1 in 50 children in the U.S. were without a home. That’s about 1.5 million kids, according to the study. And the troubling thing is that the figures were compiled in 2005-2006 — before the current economic downturn that has more and more parents without jobs.

(Angela Gaul/The Journal News)

The study ranks New York 38th overall in a national review of states. The Empire state was 39th in child well being, 31st in risk of child homelessness, and 22nd in extent of child homelessness. It also classified New York’s policy and planning on the issue as inadequate.

It’s just a reminder that as more folks end up out of work, there’s a whole generation of kids tagging along.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 at 11:39 am |
| | 2 Comments »

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Study: Kids benefit from grandparents

March
6

Kids are better behaved and have better social skills if a grandparent is involved in their upbringing, according to a recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology, That’s kind of a no-brainer for most of us, but take note of the fact that the study found it’s particularly true in single-parent and divorced families.

(Joe Larese/The Journal News)

Obviously, plenty of children grow up to be marvelous human beings without significant influence from their grandparents. It was largely lacking in my childhood. But, and especially in single-parent homes, what an element of stability that can add to a child who doesn’t have the benefit of both parents in the home, or is struggling emotionally with the adjustment to a step-parent.

That’s a noteworthy footnote to the whole thing. At least it is for me.

 

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, March 6th, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
| | 4 Comments »

Census: Fewer families with kids at home

March
4

Interesting stats out from the U.S. Census Bureau. In a nutshell, fewer families have children under 18 living at home. The number dropped to 46 percent last year, down from 57 percent in the ’60s.

The reason, the bureau says, is because of lower fertility rates and the aging of Baby Boomers.

“Decreases in the percentage of families with their own child under 18 at home reflect the aging of the population and changing fertility patterns,” said Rose Kreider, family demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau.
“In 2008, not only were baby boomers old enough that most of their children were 18 and over, but they were having fewer kids than their parents, as well.”

Among the factors:

• Increases in longevity: The average numbers of years of life remaining at age 30 increased by about three years, comparing those 30 in 1960 with baby boomers who turned 30 in 1980 . As adults live longer, more married-couple households will be older and either childless or with adult children who live elsewhere.

• Increases in childlessness: The percentage of women 40 to 44 who were childless increased from 10 percent in 1976 to 20 percent in 2006.

So, society is getting older and having fewer kids at home. Or is there a deeper story behind the stats?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

Single-parent bailout?

February
23

Single-parent blogger Jennifer Wolf addresses an interesting issue in her About.com column: Are single parents included under “families” getting a helping hand in the new economic stimulus package? Well, according to her, the wording of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 suggests not.

There’s at least some legs to the issue: Examiner.com picked it on their site. To me, it’s less about the stimulus package and more about the redefinition of “family,” as Wolf points out. I suppose there’s two viewpoints on this: A family should legally be a traditional family, or it should be much more loosely defined. The latter is up for interpretation, either a household of children and at least one adult in a parenting role, or whatever. And you could argue that the traditional family definition ignores some demographic realities.

No doubt the issue is heightened when you’re talking about who gets stimulus money and how much is out there to give. But I suspect it’s a gray area we’re going to have to define at some point or other.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

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Is Spongebob killing our kids?

January
23

It seems this issue has been around forever. In 2006, a group of parents and advocacy groups threatened to sue Kelloggs and Viacom, Nickelodeon TV’s parent company, over the peddling of unhealthy food on commercials during shows like Spongebob Squarepants. In 2007, Kelloggs agreed to get more health-aware, and the suit was dropped.

But with Spongebob still flipping greasy crabby patties, and sugar-laced cereal still being plugged on the tube, it seems a lot of parents and advocates are still up in arms. The current issue of Best Life, put out by Men’s Health Magazine, takes issue with corporate cartoons and lists how to fight back. In October, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood took issue with the whole health thing as well. And I understand the concern, as kids’ waistlines are growing and growing. But aren’t we missing the point?

I mean, isn’t this whole thing about parenting? It seems to me the best thing I can do to make my son healthier is to buy him healthier foods to eat, and perhaps to eat healthier myself — something my girlfriend has had an incredibly positive influence on. If the kids want fruity-sugar cereal, you just say no. Am I off on this?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 23rd, 2009 at 12:27 pm |
| | 23 Comments »

Do we have to tell the kids?

January
16

It’s hard to miss the sad state of our economy right now: Layoffs everywhere, furloughs here and throughout the working world, etc. But do the kids really need to be in on it all? Granted, I hope I don’t get to the point where I have to tell my son that times are going to be hard because dad’s out of work. But until then, I wonder if we need to go there. Or am I naive?

Let me back up a sec to the more dire situation. I appreciate that there’s advice out there to help parents talk to their kids in the worst-case scenario. A couple of good ones come from Parents Press, as well as from Kiplinger .com and a good one for parents of teens from Businessweek

Fast-forward to where we are. I think we should all be telling our kids to be frugal anyway, and teaching them that a dollar wasted is, well, a waste. And my 11-year-old son sees the news, so the has a mild sense of it. But I think some worries belong largely with the parents until its unavoidable. Or am I wrong?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 2:28 pm |
| | 7 Comments »

The ragged edges

January
16

So, my New Year’s resolution was to get busy blogging again and write an essay about why I fell off in my frequency so badly. But then life struck. We have been sick in my house for the past two weeks. It’s hard to express how miserable we’ve all been first with the stomach flu and now with nasty colds. I’ve had lots of good blog fodder coming into my head, though, at 3 a.m. when the child wakes up miserable. Sadly, though, so far no energy to write it up. Some thoughts:

• I can’t help but feel a bit like a failure as a mother because I just CAN NOT deal with vomit. Sorry. Can’t do it. During the worst vomit days, my husband bore the brunt. Fortunately for me, Pumpkin did her sick-making in the evening primarily, so I was off the hook when it came to cleaning up. Who does the dirty job in your household?

• Who doesn’t like Saltine crackers? They are the least offensive food I can imagine. But Pumpkin is turning her nose up at them and about 30 other foods as she slowly recovers her appetite. Worst of all, she is wishy-washy about what she wants. She says, “I’m hungry.” I say, “What do you want?” She says, “You pick it.” Then we go through every food in my fridge and pantry and I try and tempt her taste buds. Tonight, after turning down almost everything when I was ready to put her to bed even as she kept insisting she was hungry, I finally asked if she wanted peanut butter on bread. She ate three slices — crusts off. Go figure.

• She refuses to let me use saline to clear her nose or ChapStick on her lips, which are cracked and dry from the runny nose. My mother thinks I let her get away with too much. I dunno: Does your 3-year-old have autonomy? Mine seems to.

I realize this isn’t exciting stuff, but it’s my life these days. I have other stuff I will get into as soon as I’m not in a sick fog, like the awesome talent show we had on New Year’s Day with Pumpkin’s cousins. Pumpkin sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by heart. I also want to talk about having had the quintessential parent experience: Staying up until 2 a.m. Christmas Eve putting together a toy, in our case a play kitchen. I also want to put in some time trying to explain why blogging about being a mom got a little bit painful when I felt I wasn’t having enough time to BE a mom. Now I regret all the entries I didn’t post because I’ve missed out on sharing all the common and wonderful experiences I’ve had. I’ve also missed out on your reactions, dear blog readers, which is the best part of this gig.

So, here’s to a year of blogging. I’ll be here if you will … after I get over this darn cold, that is.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 3:28 am |
| | 1 Comment »

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The working-parent dilemma….and a single-mom victim of it

October
15

Don’t people work? You would assume with all the working parents out there and the growing number of single parents around that you’d find more after-school activities for your kids that accommodate a busy work schedule. But try to find a broad range of after-school activities that fit that criteria and see what happens.

My girlfriend recently got an education in this. She sought new weeknight activities for her energetic 4-year-old, only to find that many after school programs run roughly from 2 to 5 in the afternoon — hardly designed for working parents. He already plays soccer on weekends, but extensive weekend activities are difficult because she splits those days with her ex as part of the custody agreement. So, a weeknight activity was the goal. She ultimately settled on a gymnastics program that runs from 6:30 to 7:30 once a week. She would have preferred something a tad earlier in the evening that fit both her schedule and met her desired goals for a program. And this place is hardly around the corner from our home. But she was lucky: It’s a good program despite the long day it results in.

I had a minor taste of this myself with my son. He’s in sixth grade now and, as he did last year, he plays the saxophone in the school band. Also like last year, he was invited to join the jazz band, which practices after school. Normally, there’s a late bus to take him right to his after-school program. Only that doesn’t start until the end of this month, which means that either his mom or I would have to pick him up by 4:15 p.m. or he takes the early bus and  misses band practice. Well, we have jobs.

The end of the world? Not by a stretch, especially with what’s going on in the world these days. But if you’re a working parent who wants an active, involved kid, it’s certainly frustrating — and occasionally unfair. It’s also proving costly for at least one single mom.

Here’s her story: Seeking a martial arts program for her young child, this working single mom signed up for a late class in Pleasantville, N.Y. The child has auditory processing delays, so he is occasionally unable to follow some verbal commands. She met with the martial arts instructor, explained this and was assured that the classes would be small in size — no more than five kids — and that his teaching method was designed to accommodate children with mild to moderate development issues. He required a contract and would not accept cash or checks: Only a credit card number. So, they were off.

Well, the class quickly rose from three kids to 12, and the teaching method changed by the second class, with the instructor suddenly facing away from the children and using increasingly complicated commands, moves and sequences that the kids were require to quickly learn and replicate. Needless to say, the single mom’s child was unable to keep up. It became a very frustrating and difficult process, and was certainly not going to build up the self-esteem she felt her child needed and would gain from the classes. So, she phoned and told the instructor she would no longer be able to attend because her child would have difficulty continuing, coupled with a change in her work schedule that made attending the classes on time very difficult. She said she received a follow-up online newsletter from the instructor, and thanked him for it but reiterated that the child could not continue.

This particular martial arts program stipulates that you must give notice if the contract is to be terminated. Nonetheless, the instructor billed the mom for an entire first month of lessons two weeks later, although her child only attended three classes. To make matters worse, when she politely asked if he could halt the billing, he mailed her a statement announcing his intent to bill her more than $700 for a three-month set of classes which she initially signed up for but, as he was now aware, the child would not be attending — not to mention that he had already billed her for an entire month’s worth of classes for just three actual sessions.

This borders on criminal. Obviously, the mom needs to take action to halt payment and report the school for misrepresentation or even fraud. But I think what irked her most — and what most bothers me about it — is the idea that she is being taken advantage of, if not outright being robbed. She had limited options for martial arts programs because of her work schedule and her child’s developmental needs. And, as a single mom, she is limited financially as well, and plopping down that much money is an indication of the sacrifice she was willing to make for her child’s wellbeing and happiness. And then this.

It doesn’t help when your schedule as a working single parent limits the extra-curricular activities you can treat your kid to in the first place. It helps even less when someone finds a way to make an extra buck from it.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 4:01 pm |
| | 13 Comments »

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?

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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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