Embrace Your Christmas Lunatic

About Childhood Children Christmas Holidays

Thrilled to be up on Washington Post On Parenting today, in which I admit to being nuts about Christmas. I’m done with elf bashing, complaints about Christmas Creep, and eye-rolling about yuletide cheer. I hope I’m not alone, otherwise, this is going to be a sad and lonely holiday. Check it out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/11/20/i-know-its-not-thanksgiving-yet-but-im-christmas-crazy-and-heres-why/

 

Thrilled to be up on Washington Post On Parenting today, in which I admit to being nuts about Christmas. I’m done with elf bashing, complaints about Christmas Creep, and eye-rolling about yuletide cheer. I hope I’m not alone, otherwise, this is going to be a sad and lonely holiday. Check it out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/11/20/i-know-its-not-thanksgiving-yet-but-im-christmas-crazy-and-heres-why/  


Things Are Looking Bright Around Here

About Books Children Education Parenting Reading

I am a reader and I’m raising my son to be one as well. Anyone who spends any time here at Cattywampus knows how much I love books. Which is why I’m excited to be a contributor to Penguin Random House’s new website, Brightly. You don’t need to wait until the official launch in February 2015, because the beta site is up and running and it’s a great resource to help moms and dads grow lifeline readers. Need book recommendations? Want tips on how to encourage your kid to love reading? Brightly has that and more. Check it out at www.readbrightly.com and sign-up for the newsletter or register for your chance to win a library for your kid. A whole library! (Ok, not a whole library, because that would be insane, but a wonderful, starter library of 50 books). You can follow them on twitter @ReadBrightly if you prefer your helpful info in 140 character chunks. If you hurry, you can be Brightly’s 17th follower – and how often do you get to be one of the first 20 of anything?

Don’t be shy. Pop over to see what I have to say about keeping your sanity as your child learns to read and why I have put my own booklist aside to read the books my kids are reading. There are other lovely contributors like Janssen Bradshaw who has a book list for kids who are obsessed with cars and trains and things that go and Iva-Marie Palmer who has discovered fairy tales your teens will love. But don’t take my word for it – go see for yourself.

_brightly_logo

 

I am a reader and I’m raising my son to be one as well. Anyone who spends any time here at Cattywampus knows how much I love books. Which is why I’m excited to be a contributor to Penguin Random House’s new website, Brightly. You don’t need to wait until the official launch in February

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Why I Buy My Kids Banned Books

About Parenting

Until this week, I thought I was an average mom. I cook dinners, make lunches and oversee homework. I live in the suburbs. I drive a sensible car. Today, however, I discovered that I am a hard-core dissident bent on undermining the fabric of our society. I am a radical in yoga pants. Why? Because I have filled my house with subversive books.

BannedBooksWeek-website-image

We own Green Eggs and Ham, Strega Nona, the entire Harry Potter series, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, A Wrinkle in Time, Of Mice and Men, Where the Wild Things Are, In The Night Kitchen, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Lorax, Little Women, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Giving Tree, The Giver, Harriet the Spy, Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte’s Web, The Hunger Games, Twilight, To Kill a Mockingbird, His Dark Materials, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Beloved, It’s so Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families, and every single Captain Underpants ever written.

I unintentionally filled my children’s shelves with books that have been challenged in schools or libraries on the basis “of content or appropriateness.” In other words, I am the mom who buys banned books. In my defense, I had no idea colored food and giant insects were so controversial. What could possibly be wrong with a kid in a candy factory? Who quibbles with a girl in ruby red slippers or a generous tree?

Apparently, quite a few people.

I’ve done more than just buy these nefarious titles. I’ve read most of them to my kids and encouraged them to read them on their own. Both Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax were frequent bedtime reads when my son was a toddler. We’ve dipped our toes into Harry Potter and started James and the Giant Peach last night. I bought my oldest the Hunger Games trilogy when he was 13.

If I had known I was bringing these divisive tales into my home, would I have stopped?

Not on your life.

When I was younger, I read my generation’s provocative stories — Bridge to Terabithia, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, 1984, A Separate Peace, Julie of the Wolves, Go Ask Alice, and Forever. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t end up a promiscuous Eskimo drug addict atheist prep school student who longs for a totalitarian state. Instead, I became an insatiable reader, propelled from one story to another, until the books became more than stories. They became windows into worlds and lives I would never experience. They forced me to think deeply about relationships, justice, culture, friendship, politics, family, freedom, addiction, choices, love, and loss. I cried a lot. I got angry. I was occasionally confused. The more I read, the more my world expanded.

My parents never censored what I read, and the shelves at our local library contained titles that other communities sought to hide. I want my children to have that same experience. Stories can be discomfiting, shocking, horrible, scary, disturbing, vulgar, explicit, pornographic, sad, ugly, racist, confrontational, dark, depressing. So can life. Banning books that deal with reality doesn’t stop people from cursing and having sex and doing drugs and going to war. Which is why I’d like my children to explore those ideas in books before they meet them in person. I want to prepare them, not shelter them. I also want them to see that those same stories can be illuminating, cathartic, optimistic, brave, illustrative, clarifying, informative, hopeful, and revelatory. I want to broaden their thinking, not narrow it. I hope they’ll learn to navigate the complex and contradictory in life rather than shy away from it.

This isn’t to say I think every book belongs in the children’s section. Libraries have to balance providing books that are appropriate for a wide range of children with protecting younger readers from material for which they aren’t emotionally or cognitively prepared. I think we can all agree that Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t belong in an elementary school. Generally, however, I believe that libraries should be sanctuaries. They should be neutral repositories for all the stories people want to tell, whether we agree with them or not. It’s up to us as parents and readers to help our children choose books and process what they read. I support parents whose personal beliefs lead them to make choices that are different from mine. I don’t support banning books from public institutions because someone is troubled by a given volume’s language or themes. I won’t allow my children’s world to be limited by someone else’s values, no matter how well-intentioned.

So, I’m going to make sure that I read banned books to my son this week. Lots of them. I hope you will too. I’ll also be wearing yoga pants, but your wardrobe, like your reading choices, is entirely up to you.

If you’re interested in more information about banned and challenged books, please visit the American Library Association’s website at http://www.ala.org/banned.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post and can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/devon-corneal/i-will-always-buy-banned-books-for-my-kids_b_5862612.html.

Until this week, I thought I was an average mom. I cook dinners, make lunches and oversee homework. I live in the suburbs. I drive a sensible car. Today, however, I discovered that I am a hard-core dissident bent on undermining the fabric of our society. I am a radical in yoga pants. Why? Because

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Wait! Was I Supposed to Have Poisoned Apples?

About Parenting

I am not going to lie. Having a piece in the New York Times this morning is pretty fabulous. Check it out for my thoughts on being a stepparent, sending your kid off to college without crying and finally being able to see the floor of my mudroom. Trust me, it’s all related.

I am not going to lie. Having a piece in the New York Times this morning is pretty fabulous. Check it out for my thoughts on being a stepparent, sending your kid off to college without crying and finally being able to see the floor of my mudroom. Trust me, it’s all related.


The World May End In Ice

About ALS Family Life Lessons The Sad Things

No one has nominated me for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I’ve been watching the videos in my Facebook feed for the past week wondering with equal parts hope and dread if I’ll be tagged. I’ve seen neighbors and friends participate with varying degrees of enthusiasm and frigidity. You slackers know what I’m saying. It’s an ice bucket challenge people, not a cold shower. The Kennedys, Bill Gates, Keith Urban, Justin Bieber and Jimmy Fallon have gotten in on the fun. If the Kardashians are involved, what about me? For those of you questioning whether this is just another way for attention seekers to get their two minutes of Facebook fame, you needn’t worry. The ALS Association reported today that it has received $15.6 million in donations in the past three weeks (compared to $1.8 million during the same time period last year). Shiver on, people, shiver on.

Still, I was feeling a little like the kid who gets picked last for kickball teams at recess.

But then I realized, it’s ok. I’m already aware. I got my ALS education twenty years ago.

In a world where nothing’s real unless it’s on the Internet, my grandmother barely existed. My search only turned up two entries for the woman who helped shape my life. Google will tell anyone who cares to look that Dorothy Corneal was born on October 1, 1921 and died seventy-three years later on December 20, 1994.  Google also knows that she became a licensed practical nurse in 1980. Lost are her maiden name (McCann), her mother’s early death, and her father’s career as an art teacher. You can’t find out that she was a widow who raised five sons, remarried and divorced twice, doted on her grandchildren, wore lime green bathing suits, made mediocre banana bread and loved ginger tabby cats. Strangers will never know that she honeymooned at a cabin in the Poconos that my grandfather and great uncles built with stolen materials where she brushed her teeth at an outdoor stone table with water drawn from the nearby spring. No one will discover that she drove my brother and me to the beach every summer in a blue Nissan station wagon with the back seats folded down or that we ate homemade tuna fish sandwiches and pretzels at the Howard Johnson’s on the New Jersey turnpike to break up the five-hour trip. There is no record of the diamond studs she bought for herself late in life because no one had ever bought her a pair. Stripped from her history is any mention of her vivacity, her energy, her fierce devotion to the people she loved, her stubbornness or her need to control everything and everyone around her.

© Devon Corneal
© Devon Corneal

If the Internet deprives the masses of anything other than the bare facts of my grandmother’s life, it also hides from them the process of her death. She died relatively quickly from ALS, which is to say, not very quickly at all. We took her to doctor after doctor, hoping for answers. She suffered on long car trips, embarrassed that I had to help her to the bathroom and humiliated when we didn’t make it in time. Her once steady hands and legs started to fail, and within a year, the woman who had claimed independence from widowhood was confined to her bed in a nursing home. Her voice thickened and slowed as she lost control of her muscles. She grew frustrated when we couldn’t understand her. Knowing how little time she had left, she struggled to mete out admonitions and praise and advice. Her mind was as electric as ever, even as her tongue refused to bend to her will. We removed her rings when her fingers swelled and watched her hands claw in on themselves. The nurses taught us to massage lotion into joints to ease the ache that settled into now immobile body parts. Her skin was fragile – paper thin and translucent. She was becoming simultaneously ethereal and earthbound. She would never make another loaf of banana bread or drive a car or brush her own teeth. The ocean was relegated to memory.

My uncle brought sweets to the nurses’ station – sacrificial offerings of food to ensure my grandmother’s bell would be answered quickly and kindly. My father sat by her bed going through family pictures, hoping that she could identify the somber faces in the faded images. She was the last of her generation – we had no one else to turn to for the oral history of those who came before us. I combed her hair and plucked hairs from her chin – her vanity intact even as her face slackened and drooped. There was nothing we could do, so we floundered in the inconsequential.

Then she had had enough. She mustered what little language was left to her to ask her doctor to end her life. She was blunt. So was he. They found a middle ground. She signed a document refusing food and water. She received a morphine drip to render her unconscious. And then we waited. We hovered. We gently stroked her lips with lemon-scented glycerin swabs. The process had dignity, but it wasn’t dignified. One night, assured by the nurses that she would still be there in the morning, we all went home. The house was decorated for Christmas, and we kept the tree lights on when we went to bed as a talisman against the dark. When my father woke me at 2 a.m., it was to tell me she was gone.

At my grandmother’s bedside, someone removed her diamond earrings and handed them to me. I wore them at my wedding and I’m wearing them now. Which, really, is all the awareness I need. Every time I put them on, I am reminded of the ravages and brutality of ALS. And, miraculously, every time I see another ice bucket video, I hope that somewhere out there, there’s a cure.

For information about ALS, the ice bucket challenge, or how to donate to find a cure, please go to http://www.alsa.org/donate/

 

No one has nominated me for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I’ve been watching the videos in my Facebook feed for the past week wondering with equal parts hope and dread if I’ll be tagged. I’ve seen neighbors and friends participate with varying degrees of enthusiasm and frigidity. You slackers know what I’m saying. It’s

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Game of Throw-Ups

About Parenting

We stand at the ready. We wait, knowing that there is a very real possibility that no one will be left standing.  All of our preparations may be for naught.

Norovirus is coming.

Actually, if you believe the rumors, it’s already here. Forget Whitewalkers, we’ve got vomit. Well over 100 kids went home sick from our local high school yesterday with the stomach bug. My teenager went down at 3:30 this morning. The high school is a ghost town — kids are either sick or their parents aren’t letting then go into the building of death. Everytime I check the computer, I freak out a little more. Forget the tyranny of perfection,  these days Facebook is competing with the CDC to track infectious diseases in my corner of New Jersey. I can tell you what schools have been infected, how many kids are out, what symptoms they have, and what the best remedies are. Varys and Littlefinger are amateurs compared to moms looking for information to sidestep the plague.

I am prepared. I have gloves, 10% bleach solution, and a washing machine set to “sanitize.” Hot water and soap are my wildfire. My sick one is quarantined  in the basement, forbidden from touching anything, isolated in the darkness. I’ve taken every vitamin known to man. I kept my kindergartner home from school, which may keep him healthy, but it does make things more difficult. How am I supposed to find the time to entertain him when there is so much to sterilize? Still, I’ll take another round of Candyland over rushing him to the bathroom every 10 minutes.

This is the thing about parenting. Just when you think you’ve turned a corner, when you’ve survived months of polar vortexes, feet of snow and a million snow days, something else comes and bites you in the ass.

I bet Ned Stark was surprised when they cut off his head too.

 

We stand at the ready. We wait, knowing that there is a very real possibility that no one will be left standing.  All of our preparations may be for naught. Norovirus is coming. Actually, if you believe the rumors, it’s already here. Forget Whitewalkers, we’ve got vomit. Well over 100 kids went home sick from

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My Work Here Is Done

About Parenting

And now, I cannot ever write anything again. Because this. When the New Yorker skewers an entire genre (Are parenting articles a genre? They should be.) you should just stop. There is nothing else to say. So, thank you Shouts & Murmurs, thank you for destroying all my hopes of happiness and future employment. But you did it with style and for that, I applaud you.

And now, I cannot ever write anything again. Because this. When the New Yorker skewers an entire genre (Are parenting articles a genre? They should be.) you should just stop. There is nothing else to say. So, thank you Shouts & Murmurs, thank you for destroying all my hopes of happiness and future employment. But

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Green Eggs and Ham

About Books Childhood Children Life Lessons Parenting

Green Eggs and Ham

My addiction started early. What began as an innocent desire to escape into fantasy and find some calm in the midst of chaos turned into a lifelong habit. I ran with crowds that accepted my behavior, only cutting back when I got my first real job and realized my extracurricular activities would have to take a backseat if I hoped to stay employed. My husband knew all about my history and even loved me for it. When I had my son, though, it all came rushing back. In the anxious, “Oh dear God, what happens if I drop him” first days of my son’s life, I needed something to keep me occupied and take the edge off the sleep-deprivation. I couldn’t stop the cravings.

I started reading again.

In the beginning, there wasn’t much else I could do while trapped in a blue puffy rocker with a voracious ten-pound newborn attached to my breasts. Before I figured out that I didn’t need both hands to hold him, I asked my husband to read to us. Picking from a shelf filled with carefully chosen childhood classics, we started with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, but quickly switched to “James and the Giant Peach”, because for reasons I cannot explain, an orphan boy living with giant insects flying over the ocean in an enormous piece of fruit seemed less terrifying than an orphan boy going to magic school and learning how to fly a broom. I would close my eyes and listen, soothed by the rhythm of the chair, as my husband’s voice filled the space between baby cries and cooing. Once I learned to juggle a book and a baby at the same time, there was no going back. I had rediscovered the magic and joy of getting lost in a good book.

I was hooked, and despite his focus on sleeping and spitting up, I was convinced Little Dude was too. I had a partner in literary crime.

Brightly colored board books lured us further into the dangerous world of reading. Designed to withstand the brutality of infant hands, I discovered that even board books could be ruined if you dropped them in the bathtub or chewed on them with newly acquired baby teeth. They are also strain-your-shoulder-wrench-out-your-back kind of heavy if you insist on taking fifteen of them on a trip to the park. I identified the magical properties of clear packing tape as I honed my book repair skills. Books are not discarded in our house, they are mended and tended and allowed to retire to the memory trunk in the attic. I perfected my sing-song voice.

Soon, however, board books were not enough. We needed more.  

Picture books gave us the high we were looking for, filled with more complicated stories and the occasional inside joke. When I say books, I am using the plural intentionally. I am incapable of restraint. During his toddler years, Little Dude picked out four or five books a night and I read each of them faithfully. We borrowed armloads from the library, made regular runs to the bookstore and gratefully took in refugees from our neighbors. I bought bigger and bigger bookshelves (thank you IKEA) and filled them. I stole space in the basement, living room, TV room, and kitchen, and made piles on the floor. We are never more than arm’s reach from a book, so we never have to wait for our fix.

These days we’re carefully adding in chapter books. I’ve been waiting for this for years. We’re talking Breaking Bad quality story-telling, so I’m going slowly. I read until I am hoarse, visiting with pirates, monsters, fairies, lost boys, animals of all shapes and sizes, knights and dragons, mischievous boys and girls, planes, trains, automobiles, construction trucks, sinking ships, and talking vegetables. I read when I am sick, or tired, or overworked. This isn’t to say that on occasion I haven’t wanted to poke my eyes out when my son picks the same book five nights in a row, but those times are few and far between. My husband loves to read to Little Dude too, but I rarely surrender my spot on the bed, snuggled up to a boy who smells vaguely of peanut butter and shampoo. Reading is one of those things that make sense to me as a mother, something that came easily and defines the contours of my days.

It’s also nearing an end.  

Three nights ago, Little Dude asked if we could read in the “big bed,” which is code for “maybe I can trick her into letting me sleep in here instead of my own room tonight.” Because he is cute and his dad is traveling on business and I am weak, I said yes. He hauled in a stack of books hoping that I’d agree to read them in addition to our nightly chapter of Harry Potter. (We’ve finally reached the point where his curiosity about what happens to the Boy Who Lived outweighs his fear of three-headed dogs and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. This is my Holy Grail.)

I told him to look through his books while I got ready for bed. I took off my necklace, brushed my teeth and started rummaging for a pair of pajamas when I realized that Little Dude wasn’t just looking through his books. He was reading one of them. Out loud. Using real words. In order. He was halfway through “Green Eggs and Ham” before it hit me that he was reading the bedtime story. I climbed quietly on the bed to listen. Sixty-two pages and one teary mom later, he was done.

Just like that, everything changed. I have loved Dr. Seuss for as long as I can remember, but none of his stories have ever made me cry. Not even “The Lorax” and if hungry Brown Bar-ba-loots don’t get you, nothing will. I’m proud and pleased that we’ve raised a boy who loves books as much as we do, but his independence means I’m no longer the gatekeeper to the worlds found between the covers of a book – he has his own way in. For someone like me, who has spent her life spellbound by good stories and addicted to words, this is no small thing.  It’s everything. And yet, I find myself . . . sad. My son is growing-up and while that is its own magic, I am grieving the little boy he’s leaving behind. Although I know he’s not going to abandon our bedtime routine tomorrow (Harry has six more years at Hogwarts and I think we’ll see them through together), I am on borrowed time. I must prepare myself for the day when I’m relegated to making snacks and stocking the bookshelves and helping him with the really long words as he prepares to travel to Narnia and Middle Earth and Olympus without me. I only hope he enjoys the journey as much as I did.  

My addiction started early. What began as an innocent desire to escape into fantasy and find some calm in the midst of chaos turned into a lifelong habit. I ran with crowds that accepted my behavior, only cutting back when I got my first real job and realized my extracurricular activities would have to take

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Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose

About Parenting

You gotta love Jersey. Because here in the Garden State teenagers sue their parents for child support. Yep, you heard that right. Eighteen-year-old Rachel Canning is suing her parents for child support and a few other things too. Here’s the basic gist: teenager starts fighting with her parents over things kids fight about with their parents – curfew, boyfriend, drinking etc; teenager leaves home around her 18th birthday because she refuses to follow parents’ rules; teenager moves in with best friend’s family; best friend’s dad is a lawyer and advances teenager legal fees so she can sue her parents for child support, high school tuition, medical expenses, transportation and college costs; teenager alleges inappropriate parenting; family goes to court; evidence introduced includes vulgar voicemail teenager leaves for her mother; judge is horrified; parents cry; everyone gets to play out this out on the national stage.

There are so many reasons to be saddened and disgusted by this case. What appears to be a decent family is unraveling. I don’t know if that’s because these parents couldn’t manage their child or because this child was unmanageable, but something is terribly wrong. No one appears to have gone to individual or family therapy, although both may have been appropriate. A young woman’s adolescent rebellion will be stored on the web for every future educational institution, employer and romantic partner to peruse. It’s hard to see how headlines labeling her a “spoiled brat” are going to help when HR does a background check. Someone is going to be paying significant legal bills, and those will likely cut into the money Rachel feels she is owed. Rachel is a legal adult but she is worlds away from being an adult emotionally, psychologically or financially and, frankly, she’s in over her head. Things are being said and memorialized in court documents that can never be unsaid or forgotten. A series of parent/child conflicts that are familiar to most parents of teenagers have exploded into nasty allegations, ultimatums, and estrangement.

Knowing what I know now (which, is I admit, not the whole story), I’m firmly with the parents on this one. The Cannings seem strict, but not draconian. (I doubt Rachel would last a week in Amy Chua’s house.) As parents they are obligated to set out rules and standards for their home that they believe will give their children the best shot at developing into healthy, successful, responsible adults – regardless of whether their children agree with those parameters. The fact that Rachel doesn’t want to adhere to those rules is understandable – she wants to see her boyfriend, stay out late, drink and do what she wants. It’s an intoxicating freedom to come and go as you please. Yet, ifreedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint,” then it only exists when you are independent and don’t require or rely on others for things like financial support, medical insurance or tuition. Rachel doesn’t want to be independent. She’d like her parents to get off her back and leave her alone, EXCEPT when it comes to paying for everything. It’s a classic adolescent struggle. In most families, it resolves after some trying times that force parents and children sit down around kitchen tables and on living room couches and sometimes in therapists’ offices to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.  

The Cannings, unfortunately, can’t do this and that’s the real tragedy here. Rachel doesn’t have to sit down with her family and work things out because the Inglesinos, her best friend’s family, have changed the dynamic, and not in a good way. By allowing Rachel to live with them indefinitely and advancing her money for legal bills (and perhaps encouraging her to sue in the first place?), the Inglesinos undermined Rachel’s parents’ ability to resolve things with their daughter and empowered a young woman who appears unprepared for the level of responsibility she claims to want. I’d like to think that the Inglesinos just wanted to help their daughter’s friend when she was fighting with her parents. However, there’s a line between helping and improperly inserting yourself into a family conflict and the Inglesinos crossed it a long time ago. Unless the Inglesinos believed Rachel was being emotionally or physically abused or neglected, at which point they should have notified the authorities, they had no place in her dispute with her parents. I’d have no problem if they had listened, sympathized, offered Rachel bed for the night (after letting her parents know where she was), and told her she was always welcome in their home. But in the very next breath, they should have told her that she needed to go back to her home and work things out with her parents. Nothing more, nothing less.   

It’s first and foremost a matter of respect for the Cannings and every other parent struggling with a rebellious teen. Families deserve the opportunity to muddle through crises together – it’s how children (and parents) learn respect and compromise and perspective and how to navigate conflict. Slammed doors and frustrations and the occasional “I hate you” are part and parcel of that process. We don’t want kids to run away when things get hard, otherwise, they’ll spend a lifetime sprinting away from challenges. But ultimately, it’s more than just giving parents the benefit of the doubt and not substituting our own values or judgments for theirs. Refusing to try to solve someone else’s problems is also a matter of self-interest. If I give someone else’s kid an “escape hatch” when things get tough, will they turn around and give my son a crash pad when we have an argument? Will I come home one day to find myself on the receiving end of court papers when my kid wants an iPhone? It’s a slippery slope and not one I ever want to be on. I wonder if the Inglesinos thought about that when they turned themselves into a long-term hotel for their daughter’s friend. Here’s to hoping they never have to find out.    

You gotta love Jersey. Because here in the Garden State teenagers sue their parents for child support. Yep, you heard that right. Eighteen-year-old Rachel Canning is suing her parents for child support and a few other things too. Here’s the basic gist: teenager starts fighting with her parents over things kids fight about with their parents

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Food For Thought

About Birthdays Children Education Elementary School Holidays Parenting Raising Children

It is rare that I read something and immediately feel the need to respond. But after reading Carina Hoskisson’s piece “Why Do Your Kid’s Allergies Mean My Kid Can’t Have A Birthday?” over on Huff Post Parents this morning, I can’t keep quiet. In her post, Ms. Hoskisson writes about her frustration regarding food allergies in schools and the limitations other children’s allergies impose on her children’s ability to celebrate their birthdays with cookies and cakes and cupcakes:

“I am rapidly reaching the end of my rope as I try to accommodate what feels like every child in the universe. Schools ask parents to bring items, to provide snacks and to help with class parties and celebrate birthdays. My children’s school requires that we only provide store-bought treats because some children have allergies or dietary restrictions. One mom told me there were so many allergies in her children’s classes last year that all she could bring was gummy bears and juice boxes.

Let me get this straight: I’m supposed to feed my kids processed, preservative-laden food because your kid has a wheat allergy? No. I don’t want to. I want my kid to have the made-from-scratch cupcakes, the ones made with fresh butter, sugar and yes, real flour with real gluten in it, and not a commercially prepared cupcake that has an ingredient list a mile long. How could that possibly be better? Not to mention that commercially prepared items are expensive.”

Now, I’m trying to be fair-minded about this. I think it’s important to note that Carina seems to understand the dangers of food allergies. She says, “I understand the problem with allergies because I have allergies; I’m allergic to egg whites. The difference is I don’t demand egg-free items when I go to parties or to work events. I don’t always get to eat what people are serving, but I certainly don’t demand that my friend make me a separate cake for me on her birthday.” So on some level, she sort of gets it. Kind of. I mean, she completely misses the point that an adult choosing not to eat cake at voluntary social events is radically different than being the only kid in a classroom day after day who can’t eat the fun treats the other kids are eating, but elsewhere in her piece she admits that allergies are serious and dangerous and that a kid’s life is more important than a peanut butter cookie. She may not be able to empathize (or even truly sympathize) with parents whose children face life-threatening complications from allergies, but she’s not completely lacking in compassion. What she seems to be lacking is perspective.

I don’t disagree that, for those of us who can eat them safely, homemade, nut-filled, gluten-including, dairy/egg-laden goodies are delicious and fun. I prefer them to many commercial products that contain chemicals and colorings and artificial flavors. I don’t believe that I’m required to bring in allergy-safe goodies in for celebrations, although I do because it’s easy and I hope all of us would go the extra mile to protect our children’s friends, teammates and peers. Most parents of kids with allergies don’t expect that though — they prepare alternative foods and often prefer that over taking risks with their children’s health. I’m sure we could have a robust debate about all of this, hopefully with recipes, but there’s a bigger issue here.

My problem is with the author’s starting point — her assumption that food (and sugary treats in particular) are necessary in order to celebrate a child’s birthday. Her position is that denying children certain food (specifically, baked goods from mama’s oven) in a communal setting is the same as denying them the ability to celebrate special events and that’s just nonsense.

I love to cook and eat, and on occasion, have spent days planning a menu. Food is the centerpiece of many of my family holidays. I look forward to parties largely because I enjoy nibbling on appetizers and sampling desserts. I’m not an ascetic who thinks kids should survive on organic wheat germ with no snacks. Yet, I reject the idea that we are depriving our children of some important experience if school parties don’t include frosting and sprinkles. Forget what we know about the downsides of sugar, let’s just talk about why we need to feed our children at every event. What hunger are we actually feeding? The proliferation of food-centric events is stunning both in and outside the classroom. Thirty or forty years ago, it was rare that anyone sent cupcakes or cookies in for a birthday celebration. Today, it’s practically mandatory. My son’s class has 25 students. If every one of them brings in cupcakes for their birthday, that’s 25 days out of 180 (the minimum required number of instructional days) that kids are getting a sugar “bonus.” That’s on top of all the holidays and class parties. Everything from Valentine’s day to Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day gets its own color-themed buffet. Sure, someone always volunteers to bring in fruit, but sliced apples don’t have the same allure as chocolate chip cookies. What happened to singing Happy Birthday and getting a class card and wearing a crown for a day or being line leader or getting to pick the book at story time? Can we celebrate milestones without resorting to sugary confections? I say this as someone who sent in cupcakes for my son’s 6th birthday this year, so I’m no saint. I did, however, make sure they were dairy and nut free because I like to balance my hypocrisy with consideration. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t sent anything at all and let our family celebration be enough. Next year, it will be.

Instead of blaming kids with allergies for ruining all the fun, how about we change the way we celebrate in our schools? Not only because it is fair to the kids whose allergies may be life-threatening, but also because we as adults need to rein in our impulse to give our kids treats at every turn. What if parents and teachers agree that we don’t need food to party and instead focus on creating games, traditions and activities that make holidays and birthdays feel special? Is it too much to ask that we save the cupcakes, nut-free or not, for our homes? I think the kids will be just fine.

It is rare that I read something and immediately feel the need to respond. But after reading Carina Hoskisson’s piece “Why Do Your Kid’s Allergies Mean My Kid Can’t Have A Birthday?” over on Huff Post Parents this morning, I can’t keep quiet. In her post, Ms. Hoskisson writes about her frustration regarding food allergies in

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