Alpha Mom » Wendi Aarons parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:22:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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!



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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?

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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: 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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