Alpha Mom » Wendi Aarons parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:13:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tuning Into Your Kids’ Taste in Music Thu, 07 May 2015 14:53:46 +0000

My kids love crappy music, and I think that’s great.

At ages 11 and 13, they’re now old (and tall) enough to sit in the front seat of the car, and also old enough to ask to switch the radio station from NPR to one that plays Top 40. (Well, now they ask after I yelled, “Get your paws off my buttons, fool!” more than a few times.) I almost always say “yes” to their request, then grit my teeth as the pumping music of Pit Bull, Rihanna, Nikki Minaj or some other artist born after 1980 blasts out of the speakers. Most of it is really not my taste and sometimes, it’s a little painful to endure. (“Truffle Butter”?) But here’s the thing: isn’t it supposed to be? As a parent in her 40’s, aren’t I supposed to think that the music I grew up with is good and my kids’ is awful?

Of course, I fully expected this would happen because it’s happened in every generation since the dawn of time. My parents didn’t like the Wham! and Culture Club my sisters and I blared in our rooms, and I’m sure that their parents hated the Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis music they adored as teenagers in the late 50’s. And their parents’ parents no doubt wanted to throw the jazz records their kids played on the Victrola into the trash. That’s the way it works. You may love music from all eras and in all styles, but the music you first discover as a teenager is what will always matter to you most.

That’s why it’s important to me that my kids find what they like on their own, or with their friends. I don’t want them to like a song just because it’s something I told them they should like. Because it’s a song that I think is a classic and it doesn’t have “stupid auto-tune.” And they’re doing just that with their iPhones and radio adjusting—finding the songs they like despite my (sometimes strong) opinions. I’m sure there are many studies about generational gaps and why kids reject their parents’ music as part of building their own identities, but I’m not ambitious enough to find them. Plus who’s to say that my music is that great, anyway? Much like humor, Adam Sandler and cilantro, music is subjective.

Still, not a day goes by that I don’t see a parent on social media proudly announce that their kid requested they play The Who or Nirvana or The Clash, and then they add, “My work here is done!” Good for you, if that’s important to you. Dress that baby in an Alice Cooper onesie and start her on guitar lessons at age three. But these posts always makes me smile because I can’t imagine my parents sharing a picture of 5-year-old me hugging a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass album with the hashtag #ourlittlerocker. It just didn’t matter to them that I like their music. (Of course, I now adore their music and regularly listen to on Pandora’s Fit & 50’s station. I love you, Frankie Valli!)

But that’s exactly how I feel about my kids. I really don’t care if they like my music. They spent years listening to me play Aretha, Luther Vandross, The Rolling Stones, etc. and if they one day said, “Hey, Mom? Can you put on that one AC/DC song?”, that’d be great. But I certainly don’t expect it. Just like they don’t expect me to say, “Hey, kids? Can you put on that one Tyler, The Creator song?” Besides, if I did, they’d probably immediately know it was time to stop liking it. Nothing horrifies a teenage boy more than seeing their mom sing along to a hip-hop song. Last fall, my friend Laura’s son told her he was “permanently scarred” after she actually twerked in front of his friends at a Halloween party. Poor Laura. She’s still taking Motrin for the hip injury, too.

But all of that said, I definitely love it when a song pops up that all of us like. “Uptown Funk,” “Happy” before it was overplayed, and that Taylor Swift song about Starbucks lovers are the rare examples. When those songs come on the radio, everyone’s singing, everyone’s happy and nobody’s gritting their teeth and wishing they didn’t have working ears. The generation gap, for three or four minutes at least, is filled. We’re all on the same page. We’re all, young and old, loving the same music.

At least until “Truffle Butter” starts.


]]> 2
Best TV Shows to Watch with Tweens Wed, 08 Apr 2015 14:06:04 +0000

I like watching TV. I like watching TV with my husband. I like watching TV with my kids. In fact, sometimes I think there’s nothing better at the end of a long day than watching TV all together as a family while snuggled on the couch. Does this make me sound like an unsophisticated loser? Maybe. But at least I’m not spilling my nachos on a library book.

Also, now that my boys are 11 and 13, there are a lot more shows that we can all enjoy and watch together. No more gritting our teeth through painful kid programming like The Wonder Pets or the one show that makes me want to scratch my skin off with a dull butter knife—Jessie. We’re in the sweet spot where we can happily meet in the middle with entertainment that isn’t too kid or too adult. Here are some of our family’s current favorites (and all are my unsolicited opinion–a lot of them just happen to be on ABC):

The Middle
This show about a lower middle-class family in Orson, Indiana has long been our family’s go-to because it’s funny for both kids and adults, without anything inappropriate. The problems the Hecks and their three children deal with are as mundane as losing the TV remote or a kid leaving a school project to the last minute, and as weird as the kitchen sink breaking and the family washing dishes in the bathtub. The parents and kids can be selfish and do dumb things, but they always come together in the end. But, this is key, not in a sentimental, lesson learned type of way. Funny, relatable and the acting is really great. It doesn’t have the accolades that Modern Family gets, but it’s also not as smug and overly clever as that show tends to be and that’s what makes it a winner in my eyes. The Middle is also in syndication. (Rated PG)

Fresh Off The Boat
Only in its first season, Fresh Off The Boat is the story of a Taiwanese family that relocates to Orlando in the early 90’s and it already has my boys counting the days until Tuesday night when a new episode will be on. The main character, Eddie Huang, is a middle schooler who thinks he’s Dr. Dre, his dad is trying to run a cowboy restaurant and his mother is both a Tiger Mom and a flawed, real human. Really, really funny on levels that appeal to all of us. There was one scene where Eddie–flirting with preteen hormones–tries to impress his attractive, grown neighbor in a video store by buying her Skittles. “Hey, girl, taste the rainbow!” he says as smooth as possible. My boys skipped back and watched that over and over, laughing their little butts off. For a 7:30pm CT show, it’s a little mature, however, most of the innuendo goes over my kids’ heads. The recent episode where the mom’s college boyfriend visits and they all discuss him being gay was handled really well–funny without being insulting. (Rated PG)

Shark Tank
Shark Tank has long been one of the biggest reality/competition shows on TV.  We first saw it by accident somewhere, and the boys were immediately hooked. I never would have thought to watch it with them because it seems so grown-up, but they get really into seeing entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to high-profile investors. It’s entertaining for sure, but the kids are also seeing how to present yourself and they’re learning a little about negotiating. (Namely, from Mr. Wonderful, the toughest “shark.”) Their favorite parts of the show are the updates, where they see how a product has done after getting a deal, and when there’s a kid entrepreneur on, like the recent episode with a little girl from Austin who has her own lemonade company. (Rated PG)

Yet another ABC offering, Black-ish is also new this season and a very well-written sitcom. It’s about an African-American family of six with a dad who’s trying to keep the kids real despite them living the life of private schools and privilege. The plots are very relatable, like parents trying to impress their kids and failing, and the acting is top-notch. (Most notably, Tracee Ellis Ross is hilarious and the little girl who plays Diane is adorable.)  The episode about Martin Luther King Day was especially good, with Dre the dad freaking out that his kids didn’t know “the struggle,” and trying to educate them on the long drive to their skiing weekend. The tone of the show is very impressive as it pokes fun at all worlds, and doesn’t make any one group the butt of the jokes. Not always easy to do. (Rated PG)

Saturday Night Live
While this seems like an odd choice for kids, we actually watch old SNLs on Netflix because we already know which sketches are inappropriate and should be skipped. (Yes, we’re comedy nerds.) Unfortunately, there’s not a database that describes the sketches in each episode–at least not one that I’ve been able to find, so parents who aren’t as familiar may have to have their finger on the “skip” button should something not so clean come on.  That said, there’s nothing more fun than watching your kids go into a giggle fit when Matt Foley screams he “lives in a van down by the river.” The “Best Of” shows are usually great, as are the more recent ones with hosts Justin Timberlake and Melissa McCarthy. (“There’s a Hidden Valley Ranch party in my mouth.”) (Rated TV-14)

American Ninja Warrior
This reality game show features regular people who run through elaborate, incredibly difficult, obstacle courses. American Ninja Warrior is a competition where there’s one winner crowned at the end of the season, and that makes it really exciting to watch over the weeks. The announcers can be a bit tedious and repetitive, but my boys really get into cheering for the athletes. (But, thank goodness, they have not gotten into scaling walls and jumping over hedges like I’ve seen kids do in many pics on Facebook.) There’s really nothing offensive or too mature about this show, so it can safely be watched by almost any age unless you’re weird about your kids seeing women in Spandex.  New season begins May 25, 2015. (Rated PG)

America’s Funniest Home Videos
On the sophistication scale, this long-running show definitely falls near the bottom, but it’s still pretty fun to watch. There are always really silly animal segments, and what could be better than seeing people get hurt in the crotch? (Every adult in the room when that happens: “YOW! Hope he has insurance.”) I suspect that the kids will tire of this one fairly soon, but for now it’s something we can all watch together. (Rated PG)

That’s about it for us right now. As the kids grow up a little, I look forward to watching more adult shows with them, like American Horror Story. (Okay, so they’ll have to grow up A LOT to watch that with me.) And I do want to explore more of the Netflix, Hulu and streaming video options because there are probably many more shows that all of us would enjoy. You know, when we’re sprawled on the couch with our nachos. What shows do you watch with your tweens/teens?


]]> 8
The Straight Truth About Orthodontia for Kids Wed, 18 Feb 2015 15:15:06 +0000

Something you don’t realize when you first become a parent is how much of your daily existence will be taken up with concerns about your child’s mouth. First there’s the nursing and teething, then dental hygiene and loose teeth and the Tooth Fairy and finally, the granddaddy of them all—orthodontia. If you just involuntarily gasped and grabbed your wallet when you read that word, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

My boys are 11 and 13, and we’re already very well acquainted with our orthodontist. (And not just because he’ll probably buy a sports car after we’re done with our treatment.) Our doctor has thoroughly explained the boys’ tooth-straightening process to me along the way, but there are still a few things I wish I’d known before we began treatment. So if you’re just beginning the process, here is my handy guide to getting started:

What age should my child first visit the orthodontist?

The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children be screened around the age of seven. However, there’s also the school of thought that it’s okay to wait until kids are nine or ten and they have more of their adult teeth. Both of my boys first went at age nine, and that was at the recommendation of their dentist who saw potential issues with alignment, crowding, bite and jaw growth. My advice is to ask your dentist what they think, starting when your kids are six or seven.

OK, but what problems can I look for for myself?

Per our orthodontist: “If the child still has only baby teeth, the teeth should ideally be slightly spaced. Baby teeth that are have no spacing, or that already have some crowding, generally mean that the permanent teeth will also be crowded. Other indicators of early orthodontic problems include underbites and crossbites. An underbite is when the lower front teeth are in front of the upper front teeth. A crossbite is when the lower back teeth are on the outside of the upper back teeth. Both bite problems usually indicate a skeletal growth problem that might need to be corrected at an earlier age.”

In my experience, even if their baby teeth are gorgeous, it’s a whole new ball of wax once their adult teeth start to come in. We didn’t expect our oldest to have any issues since he didn’t ever suck his thumb or drink from a bottle, but he still wound up with an overbite that needs major correcting.

Why see an orthodontist if my kid’s teeth seem straight?

As mentioned above, crooked teeth aren’t the only reason orthodontia may be needed. In fact, there are a whole host of other reasons that may not be visible at all. Bite, including over and under and cross, crowding, too much space between teeth, and alignment are just a few of the issues that may need to be corrected before braces are even discussed. For example, my oldest son wore a removable “palatal expander” for 18 months to stop the tongue thrust that made his front teeth jut out. Doctors are eager to fix certain problems before puberty, while the jaw and mouth are still growing, because it’s harder when kids get bigger.

What will the first visit entail?

The doctor will examine your child’s mouth, and may also take X-rays, photos and a mold of their teeth. (This may take a few tries if your kid has a strong gag reflex like my oldest.) It’s important to mention any chewing issues, or if the jaw popping the child may have. The doctor will then say everything looks good, or recommend a treatment plan. And while it should be taken seriously, of course, the treatment plan also needs to be carefully considered because not every insurance plan covers more than one orthodontic issue.

What insurance issues should I be aware of?

If you have orthodontia insurance, good for you. Any bit helps when you’re looking at expenses in the thousands. (Full disclosure: My oldest’s braces are $5,500.) However, before you start any type of orthodontia—even a small retainer—take a good look at your insurance policy because some of them only cover a child’s treatment once. Friends of mine had a small device for their daughter paid for by insurance when she was nine. Now she’s 13 and needing more expensive braces, and it’s not covered because they already used their one payment. Check to see how much is covered, then carefully compare it to your child’s treatment plan.

You should also find out if there are any other limitations in your orthodontics insurance, such as age of the patient, maximum amount, deductibles etc.

What can we do if we don’t have orthodontic insurance?

There are certainly plenty of “low-cost dental plans” out there to use, but an internet search for them can prove to be a bit overwhelming. Plus, most of them look a little fishy, at least to me. Your best bet is to talk to your orthodontist’s office and see if they can recommend a plan. Chances are, they’ve worked with many of them and know which one is the best. Many practices will also let you make a down payment on the braces, then you can continue with monthly payments.

Should I wait until middle school? Why the rush?

When I was a kid, nobody had braces until they were at least 12 or 13. Now you see kids in grade school already wearing braces. This seems to be because some doctors don’t feel the need to wait until baby teeth are lost. In fact, many doctors will pull out teeth so they can get the process started early. If you’re okay with this, then go ahead. Our doctor wanted to wait until most of my oldest’s teeth fell out on their own before putting on braces, so he didn’t get them on until he was 13. This means that he’ll probably still be wearing them when he’s 16, but I feel okay with the decision. Again, talk to your doctor and if you don’t like what he/she is saying, either let them know or find someone else to handle your child’s needs.

Of course, I have plenty more to say about the actual devices, braces and incredible fun you’ll have repeatedly telling your kid that he can’t have popcorn for three or more years, but that will have to wait for my next post. If you have any of your own orthodontic advice, please feel free to share!



]]> 14
The Middle School Snoop Wed, 11 Feb 2015 22:59:08 +0000

Middle school has turned me into a snoop.

I’m not talking about my middle school, of course. First of all, I didn’t even have a middle school; I had a junior high. And second of all, I was far too busy making sure my Toni home perm was nice and fluffy to do any snooping way back then. No, I mean now that my oldest son Sam is in 7th grade, I have to use my investigative skills every time he wants to hang out with a friend I’ve never met. I’ve become Magnum PI in yoga pants. Instead of a Ferrari, I drive a Volvo.

I didn’t have to snoop when he was in grade school. All of his classmates lived in our neighborhood, so I already knew most of the parents. I also regularly volunteered in the classroom. But now he’s in a big school that combines three different neighborhoods, and I only volunteer when under court order. That means I don’t know anything about the kids he now wants to hang out with, and since he’s no help at all, I have to dig.

“Mom, can I sleep over at Miguel’s on Friday?”

“Who’s Miguel?”

“This kid in my Science class. His last name starts with a W or a P or something. Maybe G?”

I then have to tell him to text Miguel, ask for his mom’s number, then give me the number so I can text or call Miguel’s mom and casually let her know that I’m normal while casually finding out if she’s normal, too. And that’s way easier said than done. Nothing says, “I’m a weirdo!” more than texting the words, “I’m not a weirdo!” Trust me. I’m a weirdo. I know these things.

Of course, I could just let my investigation end with the texting and phone calls, but I’m far too resourceful to do that. And by “resourceful,” I mean “paranoid.” I just want to know more. I’m trusting my baby with these people, right? So obviously I need to gather info until I’m satisfied they’re not the type to sell him at a carnival. Therefore, once I find out which grade school the new friend attended, I immediately suss out the moms I know who had kids there, too, and pump them for info.

“Need some intel on a Miguel P. Or W or G,” I text.

“Nice kid. Parents nice, too. Own a lake house,” my friend texts back.

“Voting history, degrees earned, felony records?” I ask.

“Get a life,” my friend responds.

Then, if I’m really on fire, I take to Google and Facebook and search up the parents’ names. It’s a good plan. In theory, anyway. But then things happen, like the time a dad’s name popped up on “I don’t think Sam should sleep over at Wyatt’s house tomorrow,” I whispered to my husband. “Look! His dad scored 4 out of 5 flames on the Cheater Meter!”

“Well, Sherlock, that Tom Johnson lives in Phoenix and he’s only 21-years-old,” my husband answered. “So I’m pretty sure he’s not the dad of a 13-year-old in Austin. Besides, what do you think these parents will find if they Google your name?”

Shit. He had a point. If that happens, my kiddo won’t have any friends.

You see, I’ve been writing humorous things on the internet for years now, and a lot of it is—how shall I put this?—rather odd, so if a mom searches up my name, her computer will probably turn into a giant, red flag. I mean, not everyone sees the humor in an angry letter to a maxi-pad company. I also have one or two readers who regularly make original artwork of me, so this is the type of thing that appears if you do an image search:

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 12.55.00 PM

Yeah, don’t ask. But would you let your child stay at my house after seeing that?  No, you’d call the authorities. And maybe a priest with exorcism experience. Which is a shame because I’m actually a very responsible, lovely parent who makes excellent pancakes in the morning whenever kids sleep over.

Just ask Miguel W or P. G?

]]> 0
When Winter is Shorts Weather for Kids Wed, 28 Jan 2015 16:35:08 +0000

Before I had children, I used to see a kid dressed inappropriately for cold weather and sneer, “What is wrong with his mother? Why didn’t she make him wear a jacket?” But now that I have children, I know the answers to those questions: “Nothing” and “Because she finally gave up.”

Yes, I am the not-so-proud owner of an 11-year-old boy who refuses to wear pants in the winter. He (very strongly) insists on wearing shorts year-round, even when the temperature is only in the high 20’s. We live in Austin, Texas, so we don’t have many super cold days, but we still have enough to cause household conflict in the mornings. Nothing like a pants fight at 6:30 a.m. to get your heart rate going! Whee!

I thought I was winning the game this year when my son willingly went to the mall with me and picked out a few pairs of jeans. “These will look great at school!” I remember saying. He enthusiastically replied, “You’re right! Thanks so much for taking care of my health and well-being, mother! I so appreciate you!” Or at least that’s how I interpreted his tween shrug when he glanced up from his iPad game for 1.2 seconds. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

Unfortunately, the jeans haven’t had much use because he claims they make it “hard to walk.” To illustrate his point, he’s even been known to collapse dramatically on the floor like a mummy in a horror movie. A few times I’ve suggested that he wear athletic pants like his brother so he’ll be able to walk better, but that idea was also squashed. The definition of insanity? Asking your tween day after day to wear pants and expecting a different result.

So, after weeks of fighting, I’ve finally decided to just let him wear shorts. I justify it by the fact that he only stands outside for less than 10 minutes waiting for the bus (Neighbor who has a kindergartener: “Oh, are you the mom of the boy who is always in shorts?” Yes, yes, I am, and get back to me in about six years when your precious baby’s a tween, lady). He then spends the rest of the day indoors because our slightly wussy school doesn’t let the kids go outside for recess if it’s below 40 degrees. But more than that, I’ve also come to the point where I think he’s old enough to deal with the consequences of his decisions.

“Let him wear shorts and get cold,” I told my husband one chilly morning. “This is called ‘tough love’.”

“Fine by me,” he answered. “I know I could go a day or two without hearing you scream, ‘PUT ON PANTS BEFORE I PUT THEM ON FOR YOU!’’”

It’s the end of January now and so far, my son hasn’t caved and switched back to pants. And that’s okay, I guess. He’s not going to die from goose bumps. You can’t really get sick from cold weather. I also felt better about my decision when I read this article that discussed how common winter shorts wearing is with boys, as well as offering scientific evidence that they really might not be cold when they say they’re not cold. Huh.

I still believe in that well-known saying of a mother telling her kids, “I’m cold. Go put on a sweater,” but I’m going to let my tween make up his own mind this winter. Just promise me that you won’t ask “What’s wrong with his mother?” when you see him at the bus stop.

Take our poll below.  Let us know if you’re in the same boat.  Do your kids insist on dressing inappropriately for the weather?

Photo credit: 

]]> 7
The Family Dinner That Changed Our Family Dinners Fri, 16 Jan 2015 16:03:25 +0000

This post represents a compensated editorial partnership with The Family Dinner Project. All storytelling and opinions are my own.

I grew up with family dinners. Almost every night, my parents, two sisters and I would sit around the table discussing our days, telling jokes and good naturedly expressing for the millionth time how much we hated my mom’s meatloaf. It was a comforting, comfortable nightly routine that I intended to share with my own kids. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case.

Like most families, we’re busy with sports practices, homework and crazy work schedules. Add to that my non-existent enthusiasm for cooking, and it’s no surprise that our evening meals are sometimes more grab ‘n go than sit ‘n savor. I’ve always told myself that this is okay because it’s not like my boys and husband and I don’t talk to each other. We do. A lot. Well, two of us mostly talk about Minecraft and nachos, but that still counts, I think.

So, that said, when I heard about The Family Dinner Project and their movement to encourage families to share food, fun and conversations about things that matter, I sort of—shrugged. I honestly didn’t think we needed something like that. I thought we were doing just fine without “meaningful mealtime interactions.”

“Let’s just try it, anyway,” I told my husband Chris. “Let’s eat and try to have a ‘real family discussion’ and see how it goes.” So last night, that’s what we did. And I’ll be the first to admit that it was awesome.

The four of us sat down for a meal of pasta, and after the usual chitchat, Chris brought up the issue of race in America. It’s not something that we’ve ever shied away from discussing honestly with our kids, but we usually only talk about it when they have questions about people they’ve heard about on the news. Most recently, people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. (And the luxury of not “needing” to address race with our kids is the textbook definition of white privilege, something we also discussed with the boys. How their experience in the world is not always the same as that of their friends who aren’t white.)

What I found to be so special about our dinner last night was that for the first time in a long time, we didn’t just give the kids a quick answer to their questions. We took our time to explore issues like racial profiling and stereotypes, and that helped them feel freer to contribute their own ideas and experiences. Sam, my 13-year-old, mentioned that he knew the names of the African-American kids at his school because there are only two of them.

My 11-year-old, Jack, asked about the NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. “I think it’s good they’re doing that,” he said, “Because they’re upset, but I’m not sure why.” We then had the opportunity to tell him why they, and millions of others, were so angry about the Eric Garner injustice and how they’re expressing it through marches and in social media using #blacklivesmatter. It was a good reminder that the kids may know a little about something in the news, but they don’t have the full story and/or understand the history and context of the current events.

Besides being very eye-opening, our dinner conversation also couldn’t have been timelier. Not only is Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up, but we’re headed to Dallas this weekend to visit the 6th Floor Museum dedicated to President Kennedy. It includes many displays about the Civil Rights movement, and I feel that our dinner was the perfect jumping off point for the conversations we’ll have after the boys see them.

So thank you to The Family Dinner Project for inspiring me to place more importance on our nightly meals. I know our family dinner last night was just the first of many more to come.

This month, The Family Dinner Project has partnered with Points of Light’s America’s Sunday Supper (held on January 18th) to inspire #familydinnerforward. Join the movement and pledge to host an America’s Sunday Supper. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of people of diverse backgrounds interacting on personal levels, America’s Sunday Supper encourages people to share a meal and discuss issues that affect their communities, to increase racial and cultural understanding and, to promote unity.

]]> 0
Holiday Letter Writing Advice (the Not-So-Serious Version) Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:15:40 +0000

Mid-December means it’s time to enjoy the wonderful traditions of the season. Traditions like decorating trees, singing carols, wrapping presents, and bragging your little mom butt off in your annual holiday letter. But before you do that last one, I beg of you to please take a moment and reconsider making your family sound perfect. Lord knows we get enough of that crap on Facebook already.

Instead, I suggest that you follow my letter writing advice. If you do, your family will actually sound fun, normal and relatable this year. And that means two things: 1) We can all relax a little more and 2) Nobody will try to run you over in their minivan in a crazy fit of mom jealousy. What’s not to like?

My holiday letter writing tips:

1. List your family’s accomplishments: This year, Jessica became the Jr. Chess Champion of the Southwest!

2. But also list your family’s failures:  This year, Jessica flunked P.E! Dodge Ball is SO NOT her sport!

3. If you’re not comfortable listing your family’s failures, remember that it’s perfectly okay to put a positive spin on them. Let everyone know that life is sometimes hard, but you know how to persevere:

We were so upset when Henry (15) was arrested for shoplifting women’s lingerie at Ross Dress for Less, but being fingerprinted and booked in county lock-up gave him great insight into how our criminal justice system works! Future lawyer? LOL!!

4. You should of course include the good deeds you did throughout the year, but try to do it in a way that doesn’t make you sound like a saint and/or Oprah. That just makes everyone else feel like a useless lump. So instead of this:

Volunteering at the soup kitchen is one of the Henderson family’s traditions. But you know what? I think it helps us more than it helps them. #blessed

Try writing something more like this:

I’d rather watch Netflix than put on pants and volunteer, so this year, I just wrote a few checks to Jerry Lewis.

5. Also, be sure that you don’t shy away from the truth when talking about yourself and/or your spouse. This is key. “Real” people let everyone know the truth. “Real” people are comfortable sharing both the highs and the lows in their lives. For example:

I worked really hard to “eat clean” this year. Unfortunately, Arby’s doesn’t sell kale, so it looks like I’ll probably flunk another physical.

After 25 years, my marriage to Kurt is still magical! Mostly because every night he disappears into the “no nagging zone” he built in the garage.

Wine and Facebook stalking old boyfriends have kept me really busy lately, but I still found time to cry.

6. It’s important that you be honest when you talk about being a Mom, too. However, you don’t want to be TOO honest or your cousin will call the authorities immediately after reading it:

One night in March, I left home and dyed my hair in a gas station bathroom, but the husband and kids still found me. Sigh.

Basically, what I’m saying is that there’s no reason to make your family seem perfect because we all know it isn’t. Nobody’s family is perfect. (Well, maybe Princess Kate’s is, but ten bucks Pippa borrows her gowns and returns them with rips and stains.) So let’s all be honest in this year’s holiday letter. Be sincere. Be real. Show everyone our warts and all.

And if you do that, I’ll be so proud and happy that I’ll brag about you in my holiday letter.

]]> 0
Holiday Toys and Games for Big Kids Thu, 27 Nov 2014 16:30:42 +0000

It’s Toy Time again. Or, as we call it in my house, “What the heck can we buy these boys for the holidays now that they’re 11 and 13 and they only want cash and food?” Honestly, I miss the days when we could just gift them a cardboard box and a toy hammer and those would keep them occupied until nap time. But since that’s no longer possible, my sons tried out a bunch of toys and games that appeal to their age group and aren’t “for babies.”

Here are our favorites toys and games this holiday season:

Kinetic Sand 2-Pound Packet Sand Art

Kinetic Sand 2-Pound Packet Sand Art: I was pleasantly surprised by this magnified sand that sticks to itself and remains fairly contained. The kids put it in a big box and ran their hands through it, making shapes and tunnels, for much longer than I expected.The boys begged for this sand toy when they played with it at some store in the mall, but I refused to buy it.  After all, why would I willingly bring dirt into my house that I’d then have to vacuum up for hours? But I was pleasantly surprised by this magnified sand that sticks to itself and remains fairly contained. The kids put it in a big box and ran their hands through it, making shapes and tunnels, for much longer than I expected. Younger children would probably play with it even more.

You can buy Kinetic Sand 2-Pound Packet Sand Art at Amazon.

Boogie Board 8.5-Inch LCD Writing Tablet

Boogie Board LCD Writing Tablet: “super cool” according to my boys. Kids can write whatever they want on the screen with the stylus (or their finger), then click a button to immediately erase it and have a blank page.This Boogie Board LCD Writing Tablet is a big seller at our local toy store, which was a bit perplexing to me. After all, a lot of kids now have iPhones or iPads or something similar, so what’s the appeal of this glorified sketch pad? Well, it’s only $20-ish and “super cool” according to my boys. Kids can write whatever they want on the screen with the stylus (or their finger), then click a button to immediately erase it and have a blank page. Jack took his to school (it’s easily packed in a backpack) and he used it when he did math problems. It’s also be a great way to play Hangman or Tic-Tac-Toe when you’re on a roadtrip or at a restaurant and don’t have paper and pen.

The Boogie Board LCD Writing Tablet can be bought via Amazon.

Club Champ Automatic Golf Putting System

Club Champ Automatic Golf Putting System: This is a great inside toy during the winter months–kids can arrange tournaments, place obstacles on the green, etc. But only if you think they won’t hit the ball too hard and break a window.This seems more like something an 80’s lawyer would have in his office, but my boys still had a lot of fun with it. The Club Champ Automatic Golf Putting System is a portable putting green and is basically just a strip of turf leading up to a hole—very no frills. You need to supply your own golf club, which we didn’t own, but a quick trip to Goodwill yielded two nice putters at $3 a pop. This is a great inside toy during the winter months–kids can arrange tournaments, place obstacles on the green, etc. But only if you think they won’t hit the ball too hard and break a window. This golf putting system is available through Amazon.

Zing Air Hunterz Target FFP Pack

Zing Air Hunterz Target FFP Pack: Perfect for little Katnisses and Robin Hoods.Per my son Jack: “It’s fun because you shoot at the targets and it’s fun to see how good you can do and the bow and arrow is really fun.” So I take that to mean this plastic/rubber/foam safety bow and arrow set with targets is, in a word, “fun.” Though the Zing Air Hunterz Target FFP Pack is best for outdoors, this set is still doable inside because there’s nothing sharp or hard on it. If you shoot the arrow into a wall, it just bounces off and doesn’t leave a mark. Kids can set up the cylindrical foam targets and try to knock them down. Perfect for little Katnisses and Robin Hoods. The Zing Air Hunterz Target FFP Pack is available via Amazon.

X-zylo Ultra Gyro Toss

X-zylo Ultra Gyro Toss: Priced under $10, this flying gyroscope is the perfect stocking stuffer. A new twist on a Frisbee, this small, plastic toy can be thrown like a football up to 200 meters.Priced under $10, this flying gyroscope is the perfect stocking stuffer. A new twist on a Frisbee, this small, plastic toy can be thrown like a football up to 200 meters. (We haven’t made it that far yet.) The X-zylo Ultra Gyro Toss is best played outdoors in a park with two or more people so you can catch and release. Very cool. Available through Amazon.

Pro Chip Island Golf

Pro Chip Island Golf: Pro Chip Island Golf is a “portable floating practice target for the avid golfer,” this twist and fold green is placed on the water, then you hit velcro-covered balls onto it from the deck and try to get them to stick closest to the hole. OK, a little silly, but my boys really loved it.A pool toy seems like an odd choice for a holiday gift, but since we live in Texas and have a pool, we thought we’d try this out.  Pro Chip Island Golf is a “portable floating practice target for the avid golfer,” this twist and fold green is placed on the water, then you hit velcro-covered balls onto it from the deck and try to get them to stick closest to the hole. OK, a little silly, but my boys really loved it. Plus you can also play with it on the grass. I imagine this will be a lot more fun in the summer when we can actually get in the pool to retrieve the balls instead of having me do it with a net while trying like crazy to not fall in. Available through Amazon.

PUGG 4 Footer Portable Training Goal Boxed Set

Portable Training Goal: My kids LOVE these portable 4-foot soccer goals that they can easily set up in the backyard.My kids LOVE these portable 4-foot soccer goals that they can easily set up in the backyard. The portable training goals come in a carrying bag, then twist open and can be anchored to the ground with attached pegs. All of that is good news because they can also be easily taken to the park or the school, and won’t fly away even when it’s windy. They come in various sizes, but the 4′ ones seem to work for my 11 year old. Available through Amazon.

Quoridor Quick Play Strategy Game

Quoridor Quick Play Strategy Game: This deceptively simple game is actually a wonderful way to get your kids thinking strategically.This deceptively simple game is actually a wonderful way to get your kids thinking strategically. Players must choose to either move their pawn or block an opponent by adding a fence. All four of us played Quoridor and it was really challenging. The boys especially loved it and I could tell they were getting better and better at anticipating their next moves. The price is a little high for a game, but it’s really, really nicely made out of wood and quite pretty to look at. I can see this lasting long enough to be handed down to grandkids. Available through Amazon.

Quarto Strategy Game

Quarto Strategy Game: From the same maker as Quoridor, this is also a strategy game. Albeit a bit easier, as it’s recommended for ages 6+. Quarto is also their most popular game, and I can see why because it’s fast and fun, but there are levels of strategy you can still employ.From the same maker as Quoridor, this is also a strategy game. Albeit a bit easier, as it’s recommended for ages 6+. Quarto is also their most popular game, and I can see why because it’s fast and fun, but there are levels of strategy you can still employ. You win by placing the final piece in a row of four that has a single characteristic among all four pieces. The twist is that your opponent always selects the piece you play. The boys really enjoyed this one. Available through Amazon.


GameDay Basketball Scoreboard

GameDay Basketball Scoreboard for Kids Portable Driveway Basketball PolesI don’t know about your kids, but when mine play a pick-up basketball game in the driveway, there’s almost always controversy. Who fouled who, how many points does someone have, what game should we play, etc. That’s why I’m in love with this digital scoreboard that tallies scores from 0-99. It’s also programmed with 10 games, which livens up their playing big time. Games like HORSE and PIG are shown on the screen with the letters and it even oinks like a pig when you lose. (Okay, I didn’t appreciate that when I lost, actually.) But the best part about this electronic that straps easily onto portable basketball pole, is the REF feature. Whenever there’s a play or a possible foul in dispute, kids hit the REF button and the scoreboard makes the call. Not mom. And that’s a slam dunk. Available through Amazon.


So there you have it. Lots of toy and game options for bigger kids who want to play both outdoors and in. If you have other recommendations for toys that your family uses and loves, please let us know in the comments section.
Happy Holidays!

]]> 0
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.
]]> 0
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!


]]> 4