Alpha Mom » Wendi Aarons parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Wed, 26 Nov 2014 02:34:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Quiz: What Type of School Parent Volunteer Are You? Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:01:37 +0000

Every parent of a kid in school probably puts in some volunteer hours during the year. But have you ever wondered what your volunteering style says about you? Well, wonder no more! Just take our super easy quiz and you’ll find out:

1. When you see a PTO mom holding a clipboard, you:

A)   Immediately rush over to sign-up for everything! OMG, the school needs you!
B)   Wait until she makes eye contact, then grudgingly agree to volunteer for one or two easy things.
C)   Sprint to the boys’ bathroom and barricade yourself inside a stall until the police department sends over a hostage negotiator with a kitten and a box of wine.

2. The 2nd Grade teacher asks you to read to the class, so you show up with:

A)   Your favorite book from childhood that you can’t wait to share with these adorable kids.
B)   A willingness to read whatever the teacher wants you to read. You’re just happy to help!
C)   Your iPhone, a pillow and the TMZ app.

3. When you get the class party sign-up email, you immediately:

A)   Reply-All that you’ll bring at least 10 of the items listed, plus a chocolate fountain for extra fun!
B)   Politely reply to the Room Mom that you’ll bring enough napkins and plates.
C)   Click “Spam” and set fire to your laptop.

4. You love being Snack Mom at soccer games because you can treat the kids to:

A)   Hand-cut, organic fruit kabobs and freshly squeezed orange juice.
B)   A cupcake or two because a little sugar is good once in a while, right?
C)   The Splenda packets and stray cat food you find in the bottom of your purse.

5. In your opinion, the school carnival could be vastly improved if:

A)   More parents pitched in and did their part—it takes a village!
B)   Better supervision was provided for the kids so parents could relax.
C)   Your cousin Weasel the Carnie was allowed to sell bootleg DVDs by the Tilt-A-Whirl.

6. The last time you volunteered, you were filled with:

A)   Smug self-satisfaction
B)   A sense of contentment
C)   Prescription Meds

7. If asked to chair the school fundraiser, you say “yes” because:

A)   It’s one of the most important, high-profile jobs at the school.
B)   It suits your excellent money management and people skills.
C)   You lost big at the track yesterday and Big Johnny needs his money.


If you answered mostly A’s, you are a Super Volunteer! The school and other parents love you for your bossy, we mean managerial, style and willingness to devote your life to Box Tops.
If you answered mostly B’s, you are a Pretty Good Volunteer! You help out when you can, but don’t overdo it. Everyone knows they can rely on you to get the job done at some point.
If you answered mostly C’s, you are…me.
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Declare Your Future Career… At Age 14? Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:25:08 +0000

When I was 14 years old, I had a major plan for my future life. I thought about this plan almost every day for a year, and I just knew in my heart of hearts that if I studied hard, listened to my parents and went to church every Sunday, my life’s dream would happen the very minute I turned an adult at age 18.

Alas, Tom Selleck never answered my letters, so I’m not currently driving around Hawaii in his Magnum PI Ferrari. Oh, well. His loss. That mustache was probably too tickly, anyway.

I thought about my crazy dream life recently when I heard a story on my NPR station about Texas Bill 5, a somewhat controversial educational plan that will require kids as young as 14 to declare their future careers. Yep, 14. The entire idea immediately struck me as ridiculous, and not just because the lawmaker interviewed about it said that many kids at that age might want to grow up and become “cost estimators.” Yeah, buddy, take a walk around an 8th grade hallway and you know what you won’t see? Boys wearing t-shirts featuring pictures of their cost estimator heroes. (Also, based on all of the skateboard crashes I see at the mall, teen boys aren’t exactly known for their estimating skills, anyway.)

But that said, I’m sure there are arguments about how making plans and goals like this will inspire some kids to stay in school and stay the course. And that’s beyond valuable. I’m definitely in favor of making teens career-minded. What I’m not so much in favor of is the age at which they’re asked to do this. Most fourteen-year-olds are having too much fun being 14 to worry about what they’re going to do at age 35. Or at least I hope they are. Maybe I should tell the 8th grade girls who live in my cul-de-sac to stop focusing on perfecting their high kicks and focus on their future Healthcare jobs instead. I’m sure they’ll jump right on that.

When I mentioned something about Texas Bill 5 on my personal Facebook page, I quickly discovered that my dream of marrying Magnum PI wasn’t that far off the mark. In fact, I had about 100 hilarious comments about what some of my friends wanted to be when they were 14. Here are just a few:

Peyton Price:  Plucked out of the audience to replace a Broadway star.

Nichole Beaudry: A professional cheerleader. What? Stop laughing. There’s still time.

Tracy Morrison: The 4th Charlie’s Angel.

Megan Billowitch: A groupie for Guns and Roses!

April Martini: Rob Lowe’s girlfriend, I’m still waiting.

Jen Hajer: A VUARNET sweater designer. Duh.

Jenn Bobbitt Larson: Vegas Showgirl or a CIA operative. So apparently Jennifer Garner in Alias… but this was pre-Alias which makes me super cool.

Jessica Ashley: I wanted to be a writer…leading the glamorous life. I even wrote an essay about it in 8th grade to seal the deal. And it obviously came to full fruition. (Then she posted a video of Shiela E.)

Penne Heede Pojar: I wanted to be a Corvette designer who owned the Denver Broncos. I wrote it down even so that it would come true.

Tristan Mercado: I practiced being Mary Mother of God every night after I got out of the tub with a towel pinned to my hair and cradling a fake baby Jesus. I totally had it down.

Well, you get the idea. It was a funny interaction, but the take-away is that 14-year-olds of my generation are no different than 14-year-olds of today. At least my 13-year-old son isn’t because when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he shrugged and said, “I dunno. Is watching baseball a job?”

Middle school and early high school is when kids should be allowed to still have dreams and crazy aspirations about their futures.  Yes, it’s still a time to study and get a good education, but reality will hit soon enough. Let the kids be kids a little while longer. The world can do without another cost estimator.

What did you want to be at age 14? Tell us!


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Card Sharks: Fun Games To Play With Your Kids Thu, 28 Aug 2014 16:20:36 +0000

My boys came home from two weeks spent at summer camp and on the drive home, I asked them to tell me their favorite activity. I expected to hear them rave about the jet skis, the pool slides, the dances, or the awesome sport courts, but their answers came as a huge surprise. “Cards,” they both said. “We loved playing card games.”

“Well that would have been nice to know before I spent thousands of dollars on camp fees,” I thought to myself. “Next summer I’ll plop down $2 on a pack of playing cards and call it a day.”

I’m kidding, of course, because the truth is that I’m actually thrilled they found something to do with their cabin mates that didn’t require batteries or Wi-Fi. We also play cards as a family quite often, and it’s some of the most fun we have together. And, judging by the summer fun photos I see on Instagram, it’s something a lot of other families love to do, too. After all, you can take a pack of cards anywhere and instantly set up a game. Perfect for those times you’re stuck in an airport or in a cabin for a week of family fun.

So, with that in mind, here are just a few classic and not-so-classic card games to play with kids. Click on the name of the game for a link to a website that details the rules more than I ever could. (Note: These games are all played with a traditional 52-card deck; I’m not including specialized games like UNO or SET.)

Go Fish
This is probably the first card game every kid learns. I know it was for mine. In fact, I still remember little 3-year-old Jack yelling, “Go fwish, mommy!” Awww, now I’m sad. Anyway, this game is super easy and fun. Best for ages 3 and up.

Crazy 8’s
This is another game that younger children can easily figure out. Similar to UNO, players have to place cards from their hand that matches the one on the deck. And the 8’s, just like your kids after playing this for hours, are totally crazy.

Another great one for smaller kids, this is basically a matching game. All cards are placed face down and the players turn two over at a time, hoping to get a match. Kids must use their powers of memory, or concentration, to remember where certain cards are in order to find them again. Maybe I should start playing this myself now to boost my memory since I’m in my 40’s and forget pretty much everything.

My friend Ann Imig loves to play this easy, fast-paced game (also known as Pig or Tongue), with her boys. Spoons are placed in the middle of the table and once a player gets four matching cards, they silently (or not so silently) remove a spoon. Other players must then grab one, with one player being left spoonless. Sort of like Musical Chairs, but with cards.

This is a very, very easy game for young kids and gives them permission to actually slap something, which is always appealing to the preschool crowd. (Although, if you, like me, have a kid named “Jack,” your other kid will spend days yelling, “I’m playing Slapjack!” and smacking him. Good times.)

This is a fun, fast game that can be played with two players or more. Kids just need to be able to know which cards are higher in rank than others (personally, I think Queen should go above King, but that’s just me), and then they can go to “War.”

This is a very, very popular game with many of my friends and their kids. I confess that I don’t quite get the rules yet, but I really want to learn it. After all, they play it for hours and hours and have a rollicking good time. (Yes, card games can be rollicking. At least here in Austin, Texas.)

Now we’re talking. Also known as “21”, my boys are crazy for this easy casino game and not just because their uncle is a Pit Boss in Lake Tahoe and passes on his wisdom. This can be played with just two players, a dealer and a, um, dealee? Anyway, my boys love this so much that I’m a little worried about our trips to Nevada to visit my parents.

Texas Hold ‘Em
This is another game that my boys played non-stop at camp. They even insisted we buy them casino chips so they can pretend they’re really playing at a high stakes table instead of our slightly stained coffee table. (And if there’s anything cuter than a 12-year-old boy saying, “I see your $1,000 and raise you $5,000, Mom,” I don’t know what it is.) There are many rules and variations on poker, of course, but Hold ‘Em seems to be one of the easiest to pick up.

Of course there are thousands of other card games out there. So many that Bicycle Cards even has a new searchable How to Play app with rules for over 75 games. There also some great books that have a lot of card game ideas, like:

1. The Book of Cards for Kids

2. Hoyle’s Modern Encyclopedia of Card Games: Rules of All the Basic Games and Popular Variations

3. 101 Best Family Card Games

So grab a deck of cards, find the kids and sit down for a few hours of fun with some of these games. You’ll have a great time no matter which one you play—well, just as long as it isn’t 52 Pick-Up.

Tell us what your favorite family card games are to play!

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5 Summer Camps Parents Wish Existed Mon, 23 Jun 2014 15:33:37 +0000

When I was a kid, there were basically two types of summer camps you could attend: sleepaway and not-sleepaway. But now it seems like there are camps that specialize in almost any interest a child might have. In Austin, where I live, there are day camps for things like Drama, Art, Water skiing, Science, Sports, Stunts and even a Victorian Era camp for the kids just itching to crochet, drink tea and play badminton when it’s 110 degrees outside. (No word on whether the girl campers will be asked to wear corsets or if there’s a fainting couch should they develop the vapors.)

But while all of those camps are great, they’re tailored to what kids are interested in learning and doing. Not what parents are interested in their kids learning and doing. Therefore, here are just a few of the camps on my wish list:

The Don’t Fight With Your Brother Camp & other Summer Camps Parents Wish Existed

The Don’t Fight With Your Brother Camp
Campers will be placed in the back seat of a car and driven around the block until they can touch each other without either one of them yelling, “Stop touching me!” (Advanced campers will do this in a Mini Cooper with a busted air conditioner.)

The How To Load the Dishwasher Camp & other Summer Camps Parents Wish Existed

The How To Load the Dishwasher Camp
Campers are given a full meal to eat, then they must figure out how to get their dirty dishes clean again. Plop them in the sink? Let the dog lick them? Not at this hands-on camp! Counselors will explain everything there is to know about a dishwasher, starting with what a dishwasher is. (Hint: It’s not Mom.)

The Stop Leaving Your Socks Around the Damn House Camp & other Summer Camps Parents Wish Existed

The Stop Leaving Your Socks Around the Damn House Camp
During this intensive week-long camp, kids will learn how to place their socks in the laundry basket and not anywhere else in the house. Sock lessons, including how to not lose one of each pair the moment you open the package, will be taught through a series of fun games, role play and light electric shocks.

The Disney Channel Deprogramming Camp & other Summer Camps Parents Wish Existed

The Disney Channel Deprogramming Camp
The perfect choice for kids who have picked up the sassy come-backs, overacting and other annoying traits prevalent in Disney shows, this super-fun camp lets kids choose between watching C-Span or playing outside with a stick and a grasshopper. (Note: If your child watches “Jessie,” it is recommended that they attend multiple sessions.)

The “I’m Bored” Camp & other Summer Camps Parents Wish Existed

The “I’m Bored” Camp
Don’t forget your swimsuit, campers, because at this fun, aquatic camp, you’ll spend hours sitting on the platform of a dunk tank. Then, each time you scream or mutter “I’m bored!,” volunteer parents will throw a ball at the dunk tank’s target, hoping like mad that they’ll plunge you into the icy cold water. Hey, is that your own mom holding a ball? It sure is!

What are your dream camps? Let us know.

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That Totally Comes From Your Side of the Family Thu, 03 Apr 2014 20:14:25 +0000

Recently, my husband, two sons and I were sitting on the couch watching a TV show after dinner. I happened to glance over at Jack, our 10-year-old, and noticed a red splotch behind his ear. After momentarily panicking that he had picked up some rare, fatal disease in the Ikea ball pit, I realized it was actually food.

“Jack,” I sighed, “how did you manage to get pizza sauce behind your ear?” Like all small (and big) boys under the spell of TV, his only answer was a grunt and a confused shrug. Then my husband piped up.

“Food behind his ear? Again?” he asked. “Well, that totally comes from your side of the family.”

Because that’s what we do in our house. We blame our kids’ less desirable characteristics on our partner’s gene pool.

Sam’s refusals to take naps when he was a toddler? My side of the family.

Jack’s irrational fear of sunflowers? My husband’s side of the family.

Sam’s car sickness if we take too many right turns? My side of the family.

Both boys’ tendency to eat so much popcorn at the movies, they sound like a swarm of locusts destroying a wheat field? Well, that legacy is still being hotly debated because my husband has a second cousin nicknamed “Colonel Popcorn,” but I also went to a lot of movies when I was pregnant. (And by “a lot,” I mean I almost named one of the kids “Concession Stand.”)

The two of us have been playing this bizarre inherited trait blame game for years now, and I’m still not sure why we do it. After all, we completely admire and love each other. We admire and love each other’s families. And I absolutely adore the physical features our children got from my husband, like Jack’s freckles and Sam’s nose, and vice versa. So that said, why did I turn to the father of my children yesterday and say, “Sam wants to download Pit Bull’s new album. I blame your entire family ancestry.” I mean, is bad musical taste even in human DNA?

Of course, besides blaming nature, there’s also nurture, where kids pick up behaviors from watching and mimicking their parents. Meaning, I couldn’t really make excuses the time 3-year-old Sam yelled, “Kiss my ass, loser” and kicked the political sign displayed in our neighbor’s yard. (Although, in my defense, I honestly thought he was asleep in the stroller the one—or um, fourteen—times I did that myself.)

Nurture is also why my husband had to take full responsibility the time Jack took a beer coozie to preschool to use on his sippy cup “like Daddy does.” Trust me, nothing impresses the other parents at school more than your toddler carrying around a foam beer holder with “Heineken” written on it. However, we weren’t asked to volunteer at school much that year, so I didn’t blame my husband so much as give him a hearty pat on the back.

Of course, every time the “your side of the family” gauntlet is thrown down, the accused immediately and vociferously defends themselves. “What? No! You’re crazy! There’s no way he got that from my family!” We’ve had many the heated discussion over why someone would even say such a thing about someone else who sleeps in the same bed. The same bed! Honestly, one would think we both come from a long line of circus sideshow performers based on some of the wild accusations that have been thrown out over the years. (And I can’t speak for both of us, but just know there’s definitely no circus blood in my veins.)

But because of all of this drama, we’ve decided we should be better about giving each other credit for our kids’ good behavior and stop finger-pointing about the bad. We both think it’s the right thing to do. So that’s why, when Jack scored two goals in his soccer game last weekend, I turned to my husband and very generously said, “He gets that from your side of the family.”

And to show his thanks, he didn’t say a single word when he then reached behind my ear and gently wiped off the blob of pizza sauce that was stuck there.

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Quiz: Do You Need to Simplify Your Life? (+ $300 TargetGift Card Sweepstakes) Wed, 12 Mar 2014 13:50:19 +0000

This post is underwritten by P&G.
(Please scroll down for a $300 Target GiftCard Sweepstakes)

If you have a computer, you of course know that online quizzes are everywhere these days. “Which Disney Princess Are You?” “Which 80’s Band Are You?” “Which Hot Dog Topping Are You?” Just to name a few. So in the spirit of these non-stop quizzes, here is our version. You won’t find out what Cat Breed you are, but you might learn how to keep your home more tidy and how to keep your life more fun.

1. If you had a job title, it’d probably be

A) CEO of Organization
B) The President of the House
C) The Laundry Dork Who Cries A Lot

2. Your home decor can best be described as

A) Modern and airy
B) Comfortable with a little clutter
C) Season 3 of “Hoarders”

3. When putting an outfit together, you always

A) Match your shoes to your purse
B) Take off at least one accessory at the last minute
C) Draw inspiration from Miley Cyrus videos—WRECKING BALL, Y’ALL!

4. The one thing you always keep in your home office is

A) Files, labels and paper clips
B) A laptop with the latest software
C) Popsicles because you shoved all of your bills in the freezer when you didn’t want to pay them

5. The one part of housework you wish someone would make easier is

A) Nothing—it’s all easy
B) Knick-knack dusting
C) Washing five loads of laundry after “The Super Fun Time Family Stomach Flu Experience”

6. When it comes to meal planning, you

A) Keep a detailed list to use while grocery shopping
B) Always refer to the food pyramid
C) Open the pantry door and stick whatever falls on your foot into the oven

7. The best smelling part of your home is definitely

A) The linen closet
B) The sock drawers
C) You don’t understand this concept because you lost your sense of smell after you sniffed milk left in a sippy cup for five months straight

8. Your kids are known for always wearing

A) A coordinated outfit for each day of the week
B) The latest styles and fashions
C) Scuba flippers and the dog’s Halloween costume because who has time to finish the laundry when there are “Laverne and Shirley” episodes to binge watch?

9. The best way to keep your spare sheets fresh is by

A) Washing, drying, then ironing them
B) Storing them in a silk-lined box
C) Hahahaha! What are spare sheets?

10. When life gets overwhelming, you like to unwind with

A) A few deep breaths and yoga poses
B) A fun Girls’ Night
C) My best friends in the whole world, Ben and Jerry


If you answered mostly A’s

You are a super organized person who likes to have a place for everything and everything in its place. And if it isn’t, you probably have a super weird involuntary tic thing happening. Maybe people even call you “Ye Olde Eye Twitcher.” Yes, your life is already simplified, but you can ensure it stays that way by picking up some mess-free, spill-free Tide Pods on your daily trip to Target. And then you’ll have even more time to iron your daughter’s Barbie clothes.

If you answered mostly B’s

Your spice rack and underwear drawer are probably both alphabetized and registered with the Library of Congress. You are never late and never flustered, which also means you are never fun. It’s all work, work, work with you, which is why you desperately need to free up an hour or so to goof off. (And de-alphabetize your undies.) And the best way to do that? Simple, time-saving Tide Pods, my friend.

If you answered mostly C’s

You might often be described as a “hot mess,” “a work in progress” or “the lady responsible for the accident, your Honor.” Your life definitely needs more order and structure and clean clothes, so obviously Tide Pods are the perfect solution for you and your family. Not only will you get your laundry done efficiently, but you’ll still have time to relax. And then you can put the dog’s Halloween costume—back on the dog.


Want to try Tide Pods so you can simplify your life? You can pick them up at Target, so we’re giving away a $300 Target GiftCard to one reader. Visit our sponsored post on Simplifying Laundry for our Busy Family and leave a comment on that post (NOT below) answering the question “What little things do you do that go a long way?”.  

The sweepstakes ends at 11:59:59 PM ET on March 31, 2014. A winner will be selected at random on April 1, 2014 and contacted via the email address associated with the comment left below.  The winner will have ten (10) days to respond and claim the prize.  Limit of one (1) entry per person, per blog, throughout the Sweepstakes period. The sweepstakes is only open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, who are at least 18 years of age or older as of date of entry (19 or older if a resident of Alabama or Nebraska). Other restrictions may apply so please review the complete sweepstakes rules, provided here.


This post is sponsored by P&G. Save on NEW Gain Flings and Tide Pods at Target. Text CLEAN to Target (827438) for mobile coupons*.

*Message and data rates may apply. 1 message per request. for Terms, Conditions, and Privacy Policy. By texting the key word to us, you agree to receive an autodialed text message from Target at the mobile number from which you sent your request. Consent to receive messages is not a condition of purchase.

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Parenting Trends Are So…Trendy Thu, 19 Dec 2013 13:49:04 +0000 was kind of like living in a cave, I guess, because I missed many of the trends that have now become permanent fixtures in the life of parents. Gender Reveal Parties? Smash Cakes? Elf on the Shelf?]]>

Although my kids are still relatively young, just 10 and 12-years-old, sometimes I feel like I became a mother in the Dark Ages. But 2003 really was kind of like living in a cave, I guess, because we didn’t yet have amazing things like iPhones, Twitter and Facebook. OMG, how did we even survive? How did we make it through early motherhood without being able to show the world 100 pictures of our kid’s first poop in the potty?! I have no idea.

But because I had my kids when I did, I missed many of the trends that have now become permanent fixtures in the life of parents. Some of these trends I like, some of them I don’t, and some of them just make me shake my head and say, “Why? Why? WHY? I don’t want to know that even exists, weird cousin on Facebook! Stop it with the hourly pictures of Elf on the Shelf!”

My (admittedly strong) opinions aside, Alpha Mom wants to know what you think of some of these now commonplace Parenting Trends. Should they Stay? Or should they Go Away? Let us know what you think!

Smash Cakes

smash cake trend
It’s now popular to bake or order a special mini or “smash” cake for your baby’s first birthday party. Basically, this is an individual cake given to the little one to destroy while the parents take as many pictures as humanly possible. Whee! Cake material supplier Wilton and Betty Crocker even have recipes and designs for very elaborate smash cakes on their websites, but I think it seems like a lot of work for something that’ll be wrecked almost immediately. (But please note that I wouldn’t mind getting one of these for my next birthday. I’m in my 40’s. Lemme smash something.)

Elf on the Shelf Shenanigans

inappropriate elf
Years ago, there was no such thing as an elf figurine that parents put in different places every night to “spy” on their kid and report back to Santa. No, we had to make our kids behave the old-fashioned way: With threats and intimidation. But while Elf on the Shelf seems like a lot of fun for some kids, we have to wonder: does it only work if the parents post 1,000 pictures of their elf on social media? Also what about the pictures of the naughty elves snorting fake cocaine? (okay, those Inappropriate Elf pictures are totally for the parents and they’re pretty hilarious.) But why so many elves, people?

Gender Reveal Cakes and Parties

gender reveal cupcakes by sweetpeaskitchen
I didn’t find out the sex of my babies in advance, however, I’m in the minority in that now it’s even become popular to have a big party where the gender of the baby-to-be is announced to friends and family with a grand flourish (in fairness, Alpha Mom did a party craft idea post around it as well, and it was controversial). Sometimes the mother even goes as far as giving the bakery the secret ultrasound results in an envelope, then the bakery makes a cupcake with either a pink or a blue filling that the pregnant woman only sees when she bites into at the party. “I taste boy!” Might be fun, but let’s hope a bakery never screws up and uses green frosting.

Elaborate Pregnancy Announcements

pregnancy annoucements
If you’re pregnant and don’t make your own rap video to announce it like this couple in Utah did, are you really pregnant? Much like wedding proposals, pregnancy news has now become more of a production than simple, happy words you tell your friends and family at a backyard BBQ. There are art-designed cards from places like TinyPrints, original songs, poems and many other creative ways to spread the word. Not to mention the plethora of peed-on pregnancy test sticks we’ve seen posted on Facebook. Yeah. Don’t do that.

Valentine’s Day Cards for Every Kid in Class

class valentines trend

When we were kids, you gave a card to whoever you wanted to have one. Now teachers and schools insist that everyone gives a valentine card to everyone else in class so nobody gets their feelings hurt. (But that doesn’t bother us as much as the handmade fancy cards some moms make and pretend their 3-year-old did it.) We don’t see anything wrong with this, but what do you think?

Decorated School Lockers

decorated school lockers trend
Believe it or not, the boring, metal school lockers that we grew up with are now worthy of their own show on HGTV as they’re sporting shag carpet, decorated mirrors and even working chandeliers. In our opinion, all a school locker needs to be awesome is an 8 x 10 of Shaun Cassidy and a few packs of Bubble Yum, but it seems that times have changed and now parents want to give their students something unique. What do you think? Do lockers need carpet?

You’re Going to Disneyland! And We’re Telling You On Camera!

surprise disney trip videos
Why give your kid the exciting news that they’re going on a big trip in private when you can videotape it and post it on YouTube for the world to enjoy instead (especially the epic failures)? We’ve seen a lot of these videos go viral and we’re sure that Disney loves every single one of them. But we have to wonder where all of the “You’re going to the pediatrician for booster shots!?!?” videos are. Those seem like a fun idea, too.

Public Shaming

shaming children in public trend
Posting a picture of your dog on social media wearing a sign around his neck that says, “I Chew Shoes” is bad enough, but at least the dog doesn’t have access to Wi-Fi. Unlike the kids who will someday find the “hilarious” pictures their parents posted of them wearing signs that said things like “I pooped in the bathtub.” We’re guessing they won’t be laughing much. On their therapist’s couch.

Push Presents

Not too long ago, the present a woman got after going through childbirth was….a child. But now we have “push presents” where significant others are made to think they have to give the new mom a piece of jewelry to, I don’t know, reward them for their hard work? I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been happy to get a pair of earrings while recovering from my C-section, but it certainly isn’t something I expected to get. Push Presents apparently started being a thing in the early 90s, but I didn’t get the memo and was happy with the can of Diet Coke my husband brought me from the cafeteria.

Whew, finally got all of that out of my system! Now, tell us what you think about each new parenting trend. And if I forgot any, please let me know that, too. I’m still trying to escape the Dark Ages.

Photo sources: Inappropriate Elf, Gender Reveal Cupcakes, Elaborate Pregnancy Announcement, Class Valentines, Decorated School Lockers.

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Holiday Gift Ideas for Bigger Kids: Active Toys Mon, 02 Dec 2013 15:19:47 +0000

When your kids get a little older, like mine who are now 10 and 12, it can be hard to find good holiday toys for them. Legos, dolls, and action figures no longer cut it for kids who now think they’re super mature. Honestly, if my boys had their way, everything they got from us would be a video game. Or cash. They like cash.

Which they use to buy video games, of course.

But because I want them to be active and not pale couch potatoes, I decided to try out a few toys that would get them moving or at least keep them active. We played with all of these over the course of a few weeks and had a lot of fun. Some toys we loved, some we didn’t. But at least none of them needed to be plugged in.


Ages 6+, $24.99

squap toy review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)I can’t really explain this throw and catch game very well in my own words, so here’s what the manufacturer has to say: Just put the ball into the Squap mitt and open your hand as quickly as possible. The ball launches, then soars through the air to a friend who catches it by snapping the Squap mitt closed around the ball.

My kids LOVE this simple, but still challenging toy. You can play it with another person, or by yourself against the wall. It’s basically a great test of hand-eye coordination. It doesn’t take any batteries, which is always a plus, the balls are lightweight like ping pong balls and it can be played indoors, outdoors and in small spaces. (It’s a little noisy, but not that bad.) So for that reason, I really like this one.

Verdict on Squap: Pick



Ages 3+, $32.99

Build-a-Fort Toy Review and Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)My boys have built forts for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, they usually do so with every blanket, towel and pillow they can get their hands on and then I have to spend the rest of the day remaking our beds. The Build-A-Fort kit seems to be made exactly for kids like them and parents like me.

The kit contains two large lengths of camouflage fabric (so they can blend in to the ficus tree?), a rope, six giant clips, six suction cups and two glow wands to use for light once you’re inside the dark fort and want to read your comic books. The suction cups, clips and rope make it easy to customize the fort as they can affix the fabric to doors, dresser knobs, walls, etc. (Note: Although it’s for ages 3+, I wouldn’t let young kids use this unsupervised due to the rope and smaller parts.)

My boys loved this fort kit and got very creative in how they used it. My son Jack even took it over to a friend’s house for a sleep-over (it’s easily packable) and built a fort to sleep in over there.

Verdict on Build-A-Fort: Pick


Madd Capp Checkers

Ages 8+, $25.99
cat checkers toy review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)
It probably says a lot about our family that we were immediately intrigued when we read the phrase “For Friends & Fans of Checkers … and Cats!” on the Madd Capp Checkers box. After all, we like checkers! We like cats! Meow! And we’re all bored with regular Checkers, so this version was a lot of fun.

Madd Capp Checkers has some twists like a dice popper as well as slightly different rules. The main one being that you can move your opponent’s cat bowls (yes, I said “cat bowls”) and get “kinged” with a fish skeleton crown (yes, I said “fish skeleton crown”). All of that makes this game fast, fun and strategic and something kids will want play more than once or twice because it’s actually challenging. (I will say that I think it’s priced a little high for a board game, so be alert for sales.) And if you’re not a kitty fan, there’s also a dog version.

Verdict on Madd Capp Checkers: Pick


Super Slam Basketball

Ages 5+, $19.99

super slam basket ball toy review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)My basketball-obsessed son Jack was very excited to get this toy that’s kind of a mini electronic version of the Pop-A-Shot arcade game. It can be played by either one or two players and to you put a plastic ball on a lever, then pop it up and try to get it into your basket. A digital scoreboard counts down from 60 seconds and keeps score for Home and Visitor.

The plusses to this game are that it kept Jack occupied for a while and he kept trying to get a better score. But unfortunately, the minuses are much more plentiful.

First, it’s really, really flimsy plastic. The sides of it keep coming loose and it’s a little too lightweight. Second, it’s better when played by just one player because it gets very cramped when two players try to do it together. (Especially when one is a middle-aged-mother.) And third, it’s super loud and has no volume control.And I do mean super loud. I put a towel over it at one point to muffle the sound, much to Jack’s dismay.

Verdict on Super Slam Basketball: Pass


Playmobil Take Along Soccer Match

Ages 5-10 years, $64.99

playmobil soccer toy review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)Per the manufacturer: “With six athlete figures primed and ready to play, this set comes fully equipped with everything kids need to have a complete game experience. Goalie figures connect to an included goal joystick that allows kids to control the goalies’ movements from behind the goal net. This compactable and travel-ready set also includes a 22 x 33 inch field, soccer ball and other accessories.”

Per my kids: “This is kind of lame.”

While this toy looks amazing and is very well made, like all Playmobil products, it was super disappointing. It’s too big and long to be played by one player, and even two players is difficult because you can’t move the figures in the middle of the field while also manning the joystick-controlled goalies. My boys quickly lost enthusiasm for it and had to be asked to give it a few minutes of play by me.

Also, while it’s supposedly a “take along” game, it’s not that easy to pack it up and go. There’s no hinge, so the entire thing has to be taken apart, then reassembled and the small parts put in a bag and who wants to do that? It’s too much buck for not enough fun.

Verdict on Playmobil Take Along Soccer Match: Pass


Y’all Ball

Ages 3 months+, $12-36

y'all ball toy review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)Because we live in Texas, it makes sense that we’d have a Y’all Ball in the backyard. (And it’s “y’all,” not “ya’ll. Remember that, folks.) I’d never heard of these balls before, but the boys went nuts for them when they saw them displayed in a toy store. Basically, the Y’all Ball is—-a ball. Can’t get simpler than that. But it comes in three different sizes and is very, very bouncy without being hard like a volleyball.

Y’all Balls are covered in soft, colorful, glossy fabric that seems really durable so far. (Also, it’s hand-washable.) Our ball was silver and blue XL version that was easily inflated by my son Jack with a sports ball inflation needle.

The boys have played with this ball in the backyard for weeks and still don’t seem to be tired of it. I’m not exactly sure what they do with it besides run and round and yell, “Dude!” but it’s entertained them and their friends for a lot longer than I expected. We keep it in the garage, but it might be a pain to store in a small apartment without deflating it first.

Verdict on Y’all Ball: Pick


Mookie All Surface Pro Swingball

Ages: 6 months (what is the manufacturer thinking?) to 8 years, $49.99

Mookie All Surface Pro Swingball Review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)This is basically like the game tetherball, except instead of hitting a big ball with your hand, you hit a tennis ball on a rope with a paddle. (I think there was an older version of it called Zim Zam?)

You have to build the game before playing it the first time, and it’s basically a steel pole put into a plastic base that you fill with water or sand. That’s important because once the kids get going, the ball whips around pretty fast. To play, two players hit the ball alternately, one player hitting in a clockwise direction around the pole and the other hitting counter-clockwise. The first player to the groove at the top of the Loose Loop wins. (That makes more sense when you look at it.)

My kids really, really loved playing this in the backyard. And it’s really portable—everything packs into the base—so it could be easily taken to the beach, park or anywhere you like. Lots of fun and a good work-out, too.

Verdict on Mookie All Surface Pro Swingball: Pick


Sumo Bumper Boppers

Ages 5-12, $19.99 each

Sumo Bump Boppers Review and other Active Toys for Big Kids (Picks & Passes)Toys don’t get much simpler than an inflatable tube that you put around your waist, then run and slam into your friend who also has an inflatable tube around her waist.  That’s Sumo Bumper Boppers in a nutshell.

The boys had tons of fun with these, but they’re definitely an outdoor toy. The bumpers are pretty sizable and cumbersome and I can see them causing damage in a house with a lot of breakables. We used ours in the backyard only.

A few things I didn’t like about them were the time it took to inflate them. Our basketball pump didn’t work, so I tried to blow them up myself. (Which gave me a nice, cheap high, but blech.) My husband noticed that the flap in the nozzle wasn’t punched through, so he had to do that to get the air inside the tube. Also, they are sold individually, so you really have to buy two (for a total of $40) to play with them the right way. And while they’re still holding up, I imagine that the thin plastic might tear or get holes with enough crashing and bopping into each other.

Verdict on Sumo Bumper Boppers: Pick (with some reservations)

So there you have it. Lots of options for big kids who need to be active. If you have other recommendations for toys that your family uses and loves, please let us know in the comments section.

Happy Holidays!

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Keep On Keepin’ On and Other Lessons to Teach Your Middle Schooler Tue, 12 Nov 2013 07:48:36 +0000

Sam was a flawless baby. I know every mother thinks that about their bundle of joy, but he was to me. Perfectly chubby with pale pink, smooth skin and fluffy white blonde hair that made him resemble a happy baby chick. He didn’t have a single mark on him besides the small red dots on the back of his neck that we called his “stork bites.” And except for the times we put him down to take a nap, he was always ridiculously, deliriously happy. He was the baby who charmed everyone he met with his gummy grins and backward waves.

That sweet version of Sam popped into my head recently. Specifically, the morning after this past Halloween night. My now 12-year-old son had been at a friend’s house for a party and he came back home a little worse for the wear. Well, a lot worse for the wear. He had crashed into a wire while playing touch football and received a huge scrape on his forehead, another on the side of his nose and a small cut under his eye. He looked like he’d just lost either a prize, bar or bear fight. And lost it badly.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time he’d been scraped up–he is a boy. But when the injured face was added to the skinny legs covered in bruises, mosquito bites and scratches, to the messy hair that’d recently been treated for lice, to the small pimple on his nose and to the too-big preteen teeth in need of braces, he seemed pretty damn far away from ever being that flawless baby.

Unfortunately, he’s also pretty damn far away from ever being that ridiculously, deliriously happy baby, too.

Now a 6th grader, Sam has been navigating the social confusion that happens when three elementary schools combine into one big, crazy middle school. The stress of that, plus his preteen hormones, have made him a little crabby as of late. We’ve had door slams, scowls, pouts and quite a few, “Why are you so mean?” questions thrown in my direction. He would sooner hide in his room for two days than give a stranger a smile and a backward wave. It’s all part of growing up, I know, but still. It’s hard to watch your baby suffer the slings and arrows of life for the first time and he’s had a lot come his way recently.

The day after Sam’s Halloween injury, his best friend from grade school sat at another table in the lunchroom because he wanted to be next to the girl he’d just started dating. The same girl Sam had a crush on. The day after that, he was the last batter up in the playoffs, struck out in three pitches and his team’s season was suddenly over. Next up on the hit parade was the C he got on his report card. The first one ever. His banged up body seemed to me the perfect representation of his banged up emotions.

But those set-backs are how character is built, I tell myself when I see him looking upset and gloomy. He’s learning how to handle disappointment. He’s learning how to roll with the punches. He’s learning how to keep on keepin’ on, like a t-shirt I used to wear said in puffy letters. “It’s not good to peak when you’re 12,” I told him the other day. “Trust me on that.” I hope he does.

Yesterday, he got off the bus with a shy smile on his lips and light in his eyes. The scrapes on his face were mostly healed and, for a quick second, I saw a flash of that little chicken haired baby from long ago. It’d been a good day—he beat out 1,000 kids to get into the finals of the middle school spelling bee, he’d been invited to a new friend’s house and the book he’d been waiting to check out of the school library was finally in his backpack, ready to be devoured.

As we walked into the house, he let me hold his hand for a few minutes, then skipped off to his room to start his homework. I stared after him knowing full well that next few years aren’t going to be flawless. Not even close. But during that moment, that minute, I was still ridiculously, deliriously happy.

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How To Help With Homework If Math Is A 4-Letter Word In Your House Fri, 01 Nov 2013 13:01:51 +0000

I recently posted a picture on Instagram that showed a close-up of the 4th grade multiplication worksheet my son Jack was working on. I think my caption said something like, “Math homework: Don’t ask me for help, kid.” And apparently I wasn’t alone in my sentiment of being mystified by grade school math because other moms immediately left comments on the picture agreeing with me. Or saying something like, “That’s why I’m glad I married my husband, so he can help with fractions!” Oof.

I admit that math was never my favorite subject in school, but one would think that with my college degree and previous job managing a multimillion dollar budget as a network media buyer for Disney, I’d be able to at least understand what nine and 10 year-olds are learning these days. But no. I take one look at my son’s worksheets and run in the other direction. And I don’t even get close to my older son Sam’s 6th grade advanced math book because it’s so scary. The way kids do math now just seems so different from the way we learned it back in the dark ages, doesn’t it? But because my kids often yell for me when they’re stuck on a problem, I decided I had to get over my math aversion and find a better solution. Well, a better solution than just yelling, “I have no idea what time the first train arrived at the station! Google it!”

So, here are my suggested ways to help kids with their math homework:

Ask Them To Explain The Lesson To You

Per Jack’s 4th grade teacher’s advice, I tried this one out and had limited success at first. (“What? I don’t know how to do it! That’s why I’m asking you!”) But with a little patience, and me easily playing dumb, Jack warmed up to the idea of him telling me how to do the math problems. Saying the lesson out loud helps a lot of kids understand it better and it made me understand it, too.

Suggest They Study Before Solving

Kids are given math homework to reinforce what they learned during class. Therefore, teach them to go over the worksheet or textbook examples a couple of times before diving in to the problems. It may seem like an obvious step, but most kids don’t take that extra minute or two to understand what they’re doing before they starting the first question.

Rely On Older Siblings

My boys are only two years apart, so fortunately Sam still remembers everything that Jack is doing in class. Of course, Sam sometimes just tells him the answers because he wants to go play videogames, but most times he’s good at explaining to Jack what needs to be done. As far as helping Sam, the oldest, with his homework, we’ve called friends with older kids and/or asked our high-school babysitters for help when desperately needed.

Don’t Be Scared To Have A Math Lesson Yourself

It might be embarrassing to ask a grade school teacher for a math refresher, but I know a few parents who’ve visited their kids’ teachers during office hours and asked them to explain certain lessons. Teachers realize some of us learned things differently than kids do now and are almost always happy to help. I’ve also had a few friends highly recommend the book “How To Help Your Kids With Math” because it explains math with quick, simple visuals.

Keep Your Cool

I can say from personal experience that frustration with math homework may lead to tears from a kid, a parent or both. So be sure you take a break when needed and consider coming back with a different approach. The website (which my kids love) also has a lot of great advice for parents helping with homework, including simply saying, “Let’s read the problem together and make sure we understand what it’s asking.”

Make Sure Your Child Shows Their Work

A lot of teachers require this on homework, much to Sam’s dismay, but even if it’s not required, it’s still a good idea to have your child do it. That way, if they don’t get the right answer, you can both look over what they’ve done and see where they’ve gone wrong in finding the solution. Yes, it takes longer, but it can help make things easier in the long run.

Finally, last week a friend mentioned that her daughter’s middle school math teacher was trying out something called a “Flipped Classroom” in which kids don’t have a traditional classroom lesson, then take-home homework. Rather, they watch the teacher give a lesson at home via YouTube, then do the hands-on work the next day in the classroom under the teacher’s supervision. I absolutely love this idea and hope more teachers consider trying it out.

As for me, my efforts to be more patient and open to learning have made me slightly better at 4th grade math. But more important, they’ve cut down on a lot of frustration for all of us.

But I still have no clue what time the first train arrived.
What tips or tricks do you use to help your child with math homework?

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