Check out Marlene’s website!

I’m all for getting real food into kids but realize that the biggest hurdle is the family chef doesn’t know what real food is!

Sadly, we are the generation of parents raised after the microwave made it possible for anyone to eat any time instead of waiting until everyone was home and sitting around the kitchen table.  The convenience of packaged “food” seemed to solve a lot of problems- it was inexpensive, it took little time to prepare and big sister could cook if mom or dad were busy with personal development (also known as overtime- heck yeah, there used to be so much work people were paid to stay late and get it done).

Prior to the microwave (a giant beast that took up the entire top of the counter) we relied on the stove to make meat, a veggie and a starch. Now we were using canned soups, canned veggies, and meat that could be nuked and on the table in less time than it took Dad to make the commute home from work.  My comfort food was redefined.

Flash to the future and I’m feeding my kids the packaged food from birth and now trying to introduce the old meat,veggie, starch as better.  My kids think comfort food is goldfish crackers, pop tarts and chicken nuggets. A carrot is the most adventurous veggie they have embraced and only if it is dipped in high fructose corn syrup mixed with some partially hydrogenated oil whipped into a sad version of ranch dressing.

Lucky for me, I love to cook and now that I’m connected to a CSA and get new recipes regularly I’m able to pause mid-grab at the grocery store and ask myself- is this convenience food or real food before I throw it in the cart. I cook. I cook things no one eats but me, sometimes but the kids are coming around.

This new website is one you can check out to learn how to cook without spending hours in the kitchen and with results that are nutritious and everyone will try.  We’ll see! http://www.marlenesmealmakeovers.com/

Bon appetit! or Let’s have some Eats!  as mine say.

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Spring Break and Children by childgrower A. Woz.

For now, it is off to spring break with the kids to see the Grand Canyon and other westward wonders! Travel is a wonderful teacher and we are looking forward to the road trip.

As a child our family took one vacation (ever) to see relatives in Kansas and I have fond memories of the long drive and the silly things that happened. We took Grandma and Grandpa with us and had to borrow a friend’s station wagon as ours was not road worthy. On the trip out I fell asleep and woke to find Grandpa had drawn on my leg a funny little character in blue ink. It grinned at me when I woke from a nap and Grandpa joked about it all the way to Topeka.

And I won’t forget that my younger sister was potty training and we had the potty chair set up in the way-back and she used it during the drive!  Those were the days before seat belts and such! I recall my giddiness on the last leg of the trip, when my dad allowed me to drive the final stretch on the back roads and park the beast in our driveway where after just one short trip to another state I found our home to be more comfortable and our town to be so much smaller than I remembered. I was almost 13 and honored that Dad allowed me behind the wheel. As it turns out, it had nothing to do with allowing me to learn, but more that he had driven most of the trip out and back- and was exhausted!

Our children have already been on an airplane several times and are bored with the flying part (incredible!) They are potty trained, no where near driving age, and Grandparents live far away. The schools close for the week to welcome the spring weather, “coincidentally” allowing time for some to fully partake in religious celebration and tradition. Over the break some children will travel the roads of our great country and some will stay home or go to camp while mom and dad go in to work.

Some things have changed, some haven’t. Some things I don’t want to go back to and some things I’d love to resurrect. Thankfully,  it’s not my job to put the world in any order but instead, like most responsible parents I guess, I will diligently focus on managing the little things of school, community, the inside of our own home.  Mostly, my husband and I will always be learning the best and worst about ourselves through the raising of our children and we promise to slow down and embrace the meaningful moments as they are revealed.

Autism Vaccine Link a Fake by Childgrower A. Woz.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/health/research/03lancet.html?hpw

What parent hasn’t considered the possibility of postponing or rejecting routine vaccinations out of fear of a link between vaccines and autism?

Over a year ago, and with little fanfare, Dr. Wakefield’s 1998 study indicating a link between the Measels, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was exposed as a fake.  At that time, medical personnel worried that calling attention to the inaccuracy of the study could lead to a resurgence of vaccination avoidance and stir up the debate again.

The false link is being widely publicized this week, now that Britain retracted the research results after it surfaced the study’s author had published deceptive results.  According to the New York Times report, “Part of the costs of Dr. Wakefield’s research were paid by lawyers for parents seeking to sue vaccine makers for damages. Dr. Wakefield was also found to have patented in 1997 a measles vaccine that would succeed if the combined vaccine were withdrawn or discredited.”

Since the rate of autism diagnoses are increasing- and even though a majority of parents affected by this original study have children far beyond vaccination age-  more information is always better than less.

As a new mother in 1998, I recall hesitating, researching the web, polling my family and friends and seriously weighing my parental responsibility to do what I had to do to keep my child healthy. Do I vaccinate or not?

Usually, when parents are presented with solid information an choices, we are able to make decisions on behalf of our children that work best for our family.  I vaccinated. I worried, but I asked questions, and I forged ahead trusting our family doctor and my own judgement.

Some families in my circle of mother-friends decided not to vaccinate their children against MMR primarily because Wakefield’s research suggested the bundling of the three was unsafe.

Some parents of toddlers in our playgroup decided the onset of autism indicators and the scheduled vaccinations seemed too coincidental to ignore and not only did they refuse MMR vaccines, but refused all vaccinations, in an effort to eliminate the risk of autism claiming another toddler.

I know moms who went to great lengths to avoid vaccines, repeatedly filing out the necessary paperwork at school, rejecting the vaccinations for personal reasons, even when their hesitancy was met with looks of skepticism or a solid dose of patronizing head patting.

Then came the public push to promote what was thought to be Wakefield’s honest research. Movie stars began trumpeting an anti-vaccine message and Internet chat rooms filled with debates and arguments for and against vaccinations, against thimerasol, additives, preservatives, etc.

Sadly, those vaccine-avoiders neither hurt nor helped their children prevent the onset of autism and Wakefield’s cautions and the debate that followed, actually had little affect on the rate of Autism, a diagnosis showing steady increases for children today.

According to the Autism Society, autism now affects one in every 111 children and each year 1 % of children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum disorder.

Wakefield’s study did affect children’s well-being, but in a different way than expected; over the last 12 years, thousands of toddlers were not given routine vaccinations for old childhood illnesses like measles and mumps. The very serious illnesses that our grandparents prayed would spare their own children, our now-ageing parents, have returned, and are affecting today’s school-age children.

In just one generation’s time, some parts of the United States are now seeing a resurgence in these diseases and the serious complications associated with them.

The only thing worse than learning the Wakefield study was faked in 1998 for the researchers personal gain, is the shameful fact that 12 years have been wasted investigating false leads and distracting medical researchers from identifying the true causes or triggers of autism.

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Bad Hair Days by childgrower A. Woz

Have you read about the Mesquite School District school board decision? As reported in the Dallas news Taylor Pugh, a four-year old pre-kindergarten boy has been told to braid and pin up his long hair or he will continue to be separated from his classmates for not following the school dress code. The dress code prohibits long haired boys from disrupting classrooms.

Taylor, in pre-school, has been hanging out in the library with an aide since November and will continue to remain there until his parents cut his hair or the board changes the 40 year old dress code policy.

According to the district dress code, all boys’ hair must be kept out of the eyes and cannot extend below the bottom of earlobes or over the collar of a dress shirt.  “Fads in hairstyles designed to attract attention to the individual or to disrupt the orderly conduct of the classroom or campus is not permitted,” the policy states. http://www.mesquiteisd.org/students/policies/dresscode.asp

It seems like a stretch to declare that a ponytail or long hair is an inappropriate fad for men when our founding fathers wore powdered wigs and pony tails.  Wigs aside, after an appeals process, a compromise offered by the school board allows Taylor to return to school in braids.  This compromise seems absurd and contradictory to it’s own policy.

Worse, the parents plan to bring him to school, hair in a ponytail, even after the ruling. They declare he doesn’t want to cut his hair or they would. Remember, Taylor is four.  A hair cut might make him cry but he’ll adjust. Kids are resilient. The parents may take the longest to adjust. How much longer will they hide their child in the library while their egos heal?

It’s not the dress code or the definition of a fad in the dress code, no,  it’s not even the underlying gender bias or even the poorly written policy that bothers me so much as a child put in the middle while the school board and the parents duke it out in meetings and a media circus.

  • His parents have not accepted the dress code and elevate the value of hair length to be above education and socialization for their son.
  • The school board upon appeal adjusts the dress code and ignores their own policy- Why have one!
  • The 4-year old has been separated from his peers and his optimal leaning environment for almost three months.
  • The inconsistency of the decisions made by the adults in Taylor’s life  send some serious mixed messages.

Come to think of it, he might be learning a whole lot about how the world really works!

My point is, neither the school board or the parent put the kid’s education ahead of the control issue. The adults are squabbling for control over hair.

Meanwhile education remains under-funded, learning environments are less safe and more chaotic and yet parents and federal standards expect kids to be taught and teachers to be teaching.

What students learn from parents and educators in this situation and similar battles between school boards and communities playing out across the classrooms of America, remains to be measured.  Our future leaders are the products of this system, our social norms and culture defined by each graduating generation.

Policy, parents, appeals aside, those trusted to educate our children will get right on that important job of teaching reading, writing and the basics- just as soon as they deal with all the extraneous responsibilities of schools today like cutting budgets,  massaging parents and policy holder’s egos, and those darn bad hair days.

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Minivan Timeouts by ChildGrower A. Woz.

Driving in the car with two children seated too closely to each other is like listening to fingernails on chalkboards for a few too many miles.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Distance the two youngest. Parents: Save Your Sanity!

He shoves his books towards her so they are touching the edge of her car seat.

She shoves them back with a stern, “Get your stuff away from me.”

He counters with drawing an imaginary line between them and then dares her to cross it. She crosses her legs and uses her foot to deliberately cross into the neutral zone and “accidentally” brushes the side of his leg. He wails and kicks her foot away and then she tattles and tells me that he hurt her.

My neck is on swivel mode and I’ve used up all my nice words.

Dad reminds me that they should NEVER be seated next to each other.

I crank my head around and take my boy’s books and tell him that if he doesn’t apologize to his sister I am going to keep his books. The little guy tells me that I took his books just to be mean. I fire back, “I’ll show you I mean business!” similar to the kind of commentary that my father gave me before the spanking ensued.

Lucky for them, we don’t spank.

My husband says again, “They should not be sitting by each other.”

I’m in my mad zone and use the same voice I just used on my six year old and tell my husband, “If we let them sit apart they will never learn to sit side by side. I’m not giving in to this bad behavior.”

Whoops! I just spoke to my life partner like he was three and I yelled at him in front of the kids. Right idea, wrong tone.

I make amends- also in front of the kids- and we both listen to the irritating sounds of two children crying because they are both very mad that I didn’t fix anything but instead, I just added to the yelling.

What kind of example am I giving when I yell at them during an argument? I have just modeled the exact opposite of what I want them to do when they are faced with a conflict.  I take a deep breath and tell the two that we will talk about this when we get home.

That gives me a bit of time to figure out how I can teach them to avoid touching another person whenever they are angry. I’m finding that this has quickly become my newest goal when teaching them to deal with conflict.

Do not touch someone else when angry. Walk away! Hard to do in a car…

Good Grief! This parenting business is real W O R K.

Ok, when in a place where we can’t walk away ( a car, grocery shopping, in the line at the theatre) what can we do?

Later, when the two of them are sitting in the kitchen on stools placed less than an inch apart,  we try and recreate the scene and come up with some ideas to make the next van ride more peaceful.

Rule 1: Are both people are having fun?

Rule 2: What can I do differently so that both of us have fun?

How does this work? We don’t know. We just made it up. Just like parents do every day. We try new things, we read a new book, we know our child and we try something. We know they like to have fun. And we know from all the bickering that the race to have the most fun is a part of how kids operate. They want to be first, they want to win, they don’t necessarily want the other person to have fun unless they are having fun. So we decide that two people having fun is better.

And we cross our fingers. And toes. And hope for the best- or at least a really good radio that we can crank up very very loud.

### by Annita Woz, January 7, 2010 for Childgrower Blog and EP.

Mommy Overboard

As usual I have done it again.

Over the holiday, we signed up as a family to go to the local food pantry and sort cans and stock shelves and organize the donations that the community generously rounds up through food drives and fundraising events.

I’m ashamed to admit this is the first time we have done anything like this. Sheltered in the comfort of our neighborhood we have gone about our days oblivious to the real needs that exist just around the corner.

Determined to give my kids a dose of reality, I take my two daughters and each brings a friend to spend a sunny Saturday morning working together at the local food pantry.

I am hoping to simultaneously do some good and teach my kids to be grateful for all that they have.

Together with about 25 volunteers, we lug boxes filled with canned goods and stack all sorts of beans and soups and fruits for a solid ninety minutes. The work goes fast, spirits are light, the sense of community feels really strong. We see other families from our school and we see strangers, but we all feel like we have important work to do and we are happy to lend the muscle to do it.

As soon as we leave the pantry, one of the youngest announces that she is really, really hungry and wants to go get something to eat.

In typical mommy overboard fashion I have to push the limits of this teachable moment and get on the “be grateful”  soapbox.  To make sure to drive home the importance of taking care of the hungry in our community, I respond immediately with, “YES, go with that. You are hungry. Imagine waking up every day and going to bed every night hungry, just like you are now…really feel that hunger so you know what other people are feeling…”

Oh, yes. That is what I said.

My two girls roll their eyes, used to my dramatics, but their two friends are staring with disbelief – alternating looks of anger at their buddies who have gotten them into this-  and all look at me to see if I am joking.

No, not me.

I can’t simply focus on the good part of volunteering…the part about helping and how good that felt.

Oh, nooo.

Instead of choosing to cement volunteering with the good feelings I choose instead to link it solidly to this life lesson, in a fashion likely to turn them off to doing anything good ever again!

This is what mothers do.

Yup, I link the whole morning with growling stomachs instead of with what we can do to help keep tummies from rumbling.

Do I then reign myself in and find the hard workers a quick snack?  No. I do not even dig for a cough drop from the bottom of my purse. Instead, I proceed to drive a few miles and drop off some of the clothes and toys mine have outgrown at the Salvation Army donation center.

More of that giving spirit and grand effort to get through to my kids.

Somehow I do not notice the sulking while rattling on about helping others and how good it feels.

Overlooking the two younger ones as they grow more pale and sort of glassy eyed I finish off my homegrown social studies unit and make them go in to the animal shelter and register for volunteer hours all the while wondering why they just don’t seem interested in petting the animals or enthusiastic about the opportunity.

I carry on with the “lesson” of how children have empty cupboards and attempt to connect them to the hungry feeling and really push it by making one more stop to get milk and a few things from from the local grocery store.

So lost in my effort to overdo a good thing, I refuse to buy any snacks, not even a donut hole.

While walking up and down the cart filled isles, they tell me how hard it is to look at the food all morning and the food pantry and to carry it around and stock the shelves.

They actually were thinking about food and not having it, for one entire morning.

Oddly enough, as I push my groceries around the salad dressing isle, I bump carts with another parent who was just at the pantry with us.  And across the bread isle, we recognize another person who spent the morning sorting the jars of spaghetti sauce from the jars of peanut butter.  And in the frozen food section another hungry helper fills her cart.

We all wave at each other and though we don’t know each other’s names, we make small talk and our children smile and wave goodbye after the grown ups move to the next item on our lists.

The volunteer families are still putting food on our tables the way we always have, but today, we are changed a little.  We don’t actually need to see the pantry shelves filling the carts of the families who have the empty cupboards. We don’t actually need to go hungry to understand how cupboards  get filled.

As we fill ours, I feel as though we have all gotten the message.

No lecture required. No need to go overboard, moms. We have all grasped the meaning of the morning and feel we are the ones who have been given more than we gave.

The lesson teaches itself.

### by Childgrower A. Woz for EP January 3, 2009.

Chopped

A revised version of this post was featured on http://www.empoweringparents.com on February 11, 2010.

When we have visitors the kids like to get in the kitchen and play a game called Chopped. It’s based on a television cooking show where chefs create entrees and are judged on taste, presentation and originality.  The chef who doesn’t measure up is eliminated from the competition.

When they play at home, the eliminators (usually the moms) use a point system for each category and are instructed to never declare a tie.

They want a clear winner and they want the truth.  Just like in the show.

Now I’ve watched the program and I see how this works. When the professional chef gets the ax, the camera follows them out the door and down the hallway under the guise of getting an exit interview but mostly just to capture the emotion of losing.  It’s a vulnerable time where some chefs look tough, some are crying and some look as if they prefer to hit the camera man with a frying pan.

Chopped contestants in this weekend’s Woz family kitchen jockey for top honors by playing to their strengths and pointing out the other’s weaknesses. Usually on the show this is done by the commentator.  Evidently the game just isn’t as fun if it isn’t done without constant criticism. Harsh, but we know that kids can be tough on each other. Much tougher than parents will be.

As moms in the hot seat of judging, we try our best to ignore all the antics and concentrate on the duty at hand knowing we cannot get out of putting the creations in to our mouth even when the secret ingredient is say, clam sauce.

Moms are brave.

And we must also separate our desire to make everyone happy.  We steel ourselves to chop the offending dish and chef, and hope that good manners prevail and the losers are good sports.

Unlike every other time, the youngest in the group and also the one who cries foul when she doesn’t win,  has locked-in the presentation and originality category – best two out of three – and has avoided the chop!

Unfortunately, going against two older cousins hasn’t historically gone well and she is so sure she is going to lose,  that when it is announced she has won two out of three,  she stomps off at the indignity of not taking all honors! She shoves her brother in the hallway and shouts in an angry tone over her shoulder something about the other contestants influencing the judges, and then slams the door to her bedroom.

She was so sure she would not win, that even when she does, she cannot accept the honor.  She has self- sabotaged her own win with her excessive worry of failure.

The other judge, a social worker friend of mine, shares a summary of a recent workshop she attended.  It concluded that young men and women entering college are finding themselves paralyzed by the fear of failure and some are getting lower grades than they imagined for themselves and are avoiding degrees in known challenging studies such as the hard sciences.  College counselors are experiencing more anxious students engaging in more self-destructive behaviors who seek the easiest route to the most glory.

Unfortunately, they are finding there is no easy route.  And they are angry, depressed, and frozen.

I wonder if my daughter is going to spend more years in a therapist’s chair than she will in college and once in the workforce will she be left behind, in a mediocre job with limited creativity, a crabby and angry woman who slams doors and isn’t willing to put in the time to improve either?

Will she fall into the ranks of the many graduates who return home to the welcoming arms of parents without the job that school is supposed to prepare them to take and without the stable job that declares her a successful adult… And how angry will she be then?

We came to one conclusion as we sat sipping tea and tasting the creations from the cooking competition:  Kids learn best via honest feedback and less fake-fairness.

If she hasn’t made a chopped recipe worth eating, then spare her the niceties, no accommodations for her age, no adjusting for never winning the best tasting category, no sugar-coating the unpalatable truth.

As I roll the dessert she made around on my tongue, this strange combination of oyster sauce and brown sugar, I seek a way to say something nice.  But instead, with the strength of another caring parent to back me up,  the mom judges decide to follow the rules of the game,  just like the rest of the world will.

Spare no chef! Spare no truth! “This cookie tastes like a fish taco,” and we swallow hard and brace for the fit throwing,  “and,  you have been chopped!”

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A.Woz for Childgrower Blog and EP

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