Alpha Mom parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:29:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ad’mitt’edly The Best Teacher Gift Fri, 17 Apr 2015 13:29:10 +0000

Teacher Appreciation Week is the first full week in May.  I love thinking of ‘puntastic’ gifts. You know, those clever play on words paired with a little gift.  I especially like it when the gift is useful. I think this oven mitt filled with fun gadgets is just that.  It doesn’t need to be just kitchen gadgets. How about one filled with needed school supplies.

Oven Mitt Teacher Gift by Cindy Hopper for

Oven Mitt Teacher Gift Supplies

– 1 fabric oven mitt (these can be found at the dollar store)

– Elmer’s Painters

– Selection of kitchen gadgets or school supplies

– scissors

– printable I must ad’mitt’ you are the best teacher gift tag

Oven Mitt Teacher Gift by Cindy Hopper for

Let your child personalize the oven mitt in their own special way. These Elmer’s Painters work great!

Oven Mitt Teacher Gift by Cindy Hopper for

Print out the gift tag, cut and tie onto the oven mitt for ad’mitt’edly the best teacher gift.

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Blue Apron and Getting Your Teens Cooking Dinner Thu, 16 Apr 2015 12:45:28 +0000

This post is sponsored by Blue Apron. As always, all opinions are my own.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I got the brilliant idea that my kids would take turns cooking for the family one night a week. It was a brilliant plan, and it worked… until life got busy and we stopped. Between school, activities, lack of planning ahead, and just life, eventually we were back to the status quo—I do 99% of the cooking, because 1) I work from home and so can do prep or crock pot stuff during the day and 2) I’m that perfect blend of lazy (the kids always need “help”) and nutrition-conscious topped with a dollop of control freak, which means doing the cooking myself is, in many ways, just simpler.

But the reality is that I hope someday (maybe even someday soonish…) my teens will leave me and be able to feed themselves more than just ramen. So when the opportunity to try out Blue Apron came up, sure, some people would’ve said yes for the chef-designed recipes and the ease of having a refrigerated box of fresh ingredients in precise portions delivered to their doorstep, but not me. I said yes because I knew it meant a meal my teens could prepare with zero assistance from me, and it would be balanced, nutritious, and would not result in a crime scene of wasted food in my kitchen. Sign me up! (Also—read on, because we have a special offer for Alpha Mom readers if you want to sign up, too!)

[Okay, I lied a little. I did help them tie their aprons.]

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Blue Apron offers a wide variety of recipes (and they’re adding to their menu all the time), but their accommodations for special diets are still somewhat limited; because my daughter is a vegetarian and I can’t have gluten, I was worried it might be difficult to provide us with appropriate meals. (I did offer that I can always leave anything gluten-containing off my plate, provided it’s not a gluten-centric dish like pasta or something, and that a fish recipe with hearty sides would work for my daughter to just skip the entree.) To my delight, our test box arrived with directions and ingredients for a vegetable tortilla soup (and the tortillas were corn, so it was a full-on vegetarian, gluten-free meal that worked for all of us!) and a panko-crusted salmon with fingerling potatoes and a crunchy Waldorf-esque salad. The kids opted to prepare the soup so that they could test it out on a meal that needed no adjustments. (I later made the salmon and just didn’t put panko on my piece, but more on that later.)

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

The kids pulled out the soup ingredients and the recipe card and fell to dividing up the prep and chopping ingredients. While the soup itself was simple—a can of chopped tomatoes and water added to onions, garlic, and the included spices, plus a can of hominy making it more hearty—the stars of this creation are really the bevy of garnishes. My daughter sliced up and toasted tortilla strips while my son chopped cilantro, broke up the queso fresco, sliced radishes (“Mmmm, I didn’t know I liked radishes! Crunchy!”), and quartered limes and scooped out an avocado. There may have been a small scuffle over who got to use the garlic press. Jokes were made about how there’s “no crying in soup” during the dicing of the onion.

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

“That took forever,” my daughter huffed, once a quick consultation of the directions confirmed they were finally ready to get the soup going. (Forever, by the way, was approximately 10 minutes.)

“Welcome to what I do for you guys pretty much every single day,” I said. “It’s called cooking!” They love it when I’m supportive like that.

Together they managed to get the aromatics fragrant in the pot, then added the tomatoes and water and hominy. Now all that was left to do was some simmering and stirring, so of course my oldest shooed away her brother and told him to go set the table. He obliged, eventually. There may have been some shenanigans along the way.

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

Once the soup was ready, we filled bowls and everyone garnished them the way they liked. My daughter and I hogged the avocado (because the guys don’t care for it), and she skipped the radishes while her brother took a big pile of them. The toasted tortilla strips and crumbled queso were enjoyed by all.

Blue Apron Reviewed by Mir Kamin for

I’m not going to lie, here—during the cooking, with little dishes and cans spread out on the counter, I was skeptical that this was going to be enough food to feed “four adults or two adults and up to four children,” as the Family Plan purports to do. It just didn’t look like that much food, or even like the 500-700 calories/serving the Blue Apron meals are all supposed to be. But as I peeked at the kids prepping all of the soup garnishes, I realized I was probably just confused by all of the exact proportions, because if I was cooking from my own grocery shopping, I’d have extra of everything. The only thing that arrived in the box which was more than called for was the garlic; we were sent an entire head when the recipe called for 3 cloves. (Fine by me; we’ll always use garlic.) Everything else got used, and in the end we ate four pretty large bowls of soup and had a serving left over, even. Everyone was full and satisfied. And I didn’t have to cook!

A few days later, I made the salmon meal. I was not only impressed by the pieces of salmon themselves (let’s face it, that’d be an easy place to cut corners a little, but it was really beautiful fish, vacuum-packed), my children ate a salad dressed with a homemade Greek yogurt-lemon dressing and didn’t complain. Magic. Again, portion sizes were more than sufficient, so my daughter was able to make a complete meal of the salad and roasted potatoes.

The Good:

  • The only things not included are salt, pepper and olive oil. No scrambling for ingredients.
  • My teens were able to cook a meal from start to finish completely on their own. Both commented (at different times) that they felt the recipe card was easy to follow and they appreciated the pictures showing them what to do, too.
  • The ingredients were fresh (hooray for refrigerated shipping containers) and flavorful; the spice mix for the soup was much more complex than I expected (definitely not just “chili powder” or whatever).
  • Despite what my impatient kids may have said, it didn’t take very long.
  • When they say it feeds 4 adults, it really does. Portion sizes are generous.
  • If you want to cook without having to do planning/shopping, this is the service for you.

The Caveats:

  • If you have dietary restrictions in your family beyond “vegetarian” or “prefers fish,” you could run into some issues making sure everyone can eat the same meal. (I did go through their menu and found a bunch of gluten-free vegetarian options, actually… Quinoa & Tofu “Fried Rice,” anyone?)
  • Quick is good, but it’s not the same. To wit: Had I been making the tortilla soup on my own, I would’ve roasted and milled fresh tomatoes (we grow our own and use fresh whenever possible) and/or probably used my slow cooker to let the soup go all day. Although the soup was very good, canned tomatoes have a distinct taste that requires time to mellow. There were a couple of comments about how fresh tomatoes would’ve been better. (If you don’t usually cook from scratch, no biggie. Also, this is a very specific nitpick. The salmon meal was absolutely perfect and it’s possible I am just a snob about canned tomatoes.)
  • At roughly $8.74/serving on the family plan, there are certainly cheaper ways to feed your family. On the other hand, you’re paying for the convenience of perfectly-portioned home delivery of delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes and zero food waste. I would definitely consider this service a splurge, but if you can afford it, I do think it’s money well spent.

Thanks to the generous folks at Blue Apron, the first 50 Alpha Mom readers who sign up through this link will get two meals free on their first order after sign-up! I cannot guarantee you’ll be able to sucker your kids into making dinner for you, but it’s worth a shot.

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When “Sick” Isn’t Straightforward Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:03:27 +0000

A few days ago I stumbled across this piece by Eilene Zimmerman about how she nursed her college freshman daughter through a bad illness. Although I know better than to read the comments, I clicked to read them with some trepidation—after a lovely story about a mother and daughter finding their footing again after a fraught separation post-high-school, surely someone would be there to ruin it and accuse her of babying her grown child. But on the whole, the author was congratulated for following her gut and being loving.

I understand that the early years of kids-who-are-technically-no-longer-kids-but-hey-they’re-still-teens bring a kind of push-pull dynamic to even the most normal and stable of relationships. And although Zimmerman’s tale was lovely—and I hope I would behave with as much grace as she did in a similar situation, and that my child would be as grateful for it—when I finished reading I was mostly filled with a sense of dread. As I sat in a doctor’s office with my son this morning, my first thought after “Here we go again,” was “ugh, that article.”

I’ll try to explain: There was a time when we didn’t know if one or both kids would be capable of living away from home for college on the traditional timetable. At this point we’re just about a year from high school graduation for my oldest, and her brother will follow the next year, and it looks like both of them are leaning towards not venturing too far away, but yes, going to college and not living at home. Due to their various special needs, there’s all kinds of additional worries we’re wrestling, but most of the time I’m able to convince myself that it’ll all work out just fine. This morning, though, my son came downstairs for breakfast and he just looked… off.

“You okay?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him. I tried to remember how many days ago his allergies started acting up. “Are you still feeling congested?”

“Yeah. But I’m fine,” he said, pouring himself some milk and grabbing a banana. He sat down at his spot at the table. “I’m just tired, I think.” He peeled the banana and took a bite. “Also,” he added, “my ear feels a little weird. Probably nothing.”

I felt his head. I asked him if he wanted to stay home. He didn’t want to miss school, so I made him a deal: I would send him to school and call the doctor for an appointment, then come pick him up. He agreed. I refrained from shaking him and saying, “You are sick! You are very, very sick!” Even though I knew that was true, because the most fascinating (to me) facet of my son’s autism is that he almost never seems to realize he’s unwell until he’s right on death’s doorstep. He’s 15, and saying “my ear feels a little weird” is actually a huge triumph in our world. When he was a toddler, I would figure out he was sick either because he was burning up with fever or vomiting, and either way, he would insist he was fine.

A few hours later, his long, hairy legs dangling off the edge of the exam table in a room with Disney decals on the walls, he answered the pediatrician’s questions as best he could, identifying his right ear as the one that was affected. I can only guess what the ped sees on a daily basis, but the first remark upon peering through the otoscope was “Ohhhh, gross!” So, yes, infection in the right ear: confirmed. Then a quick check of the left ear… which was also infected. Because of course it was. “But it’s not as bad as the right!” Consolation, I guess.

So we fetched antibiotics and snacks and I convinced him to come home and rest a while. And I can’t help wondering what this scenario would look like if he was operating without someone who’s known him all his life to say, “Hey, dude, you’re sick.” If he was away at college, would he take himself to the health center if his ear “felt a little weird?” Would he even text me to mention it? I don’t know.

On the other side of the spectrum (pun intended), we have my other child, whose every ache and pain is imminent death. A cold is debilitating. She suffers from migraines, which can be legitimately debilitating, but even then, she doesn’t always possess the common sense to tend to her needs in a reasonable way mid-headache. I mean, I suppose simply going to sleep on the floor of the classroom rather than telling anyone you’re getting a migraine could be a reasonable choice in some situations… but… ummmm… yeah. Sussing out which of her issues require immediate medical attention and which do not is a not-so-fun game of roulette, complicated by the number of times we’ve either overestimated or underestimated the severity of her ailments.

If she was away at college and had a medical issue, would she take herself to the health center? Or would she just lie down somewhere? Or would she always be there, for every ache and pain, until a true crisis might end up overlooked because, hey, you only get to cry wolf so many times before people start to wonder.

I remember going to college and being amused by kids who didn’t know how to do their own laundry or cook. That basically just made for a lot of freshmen wearing a lot of shrunken, pink clothes and spending a lot of time in the dining halls. I don’t remember anyone not being able to figure out what to do when they got sick. And while my teens can both launder and prepare food, I have no idea how to teach them to tend to their physical health without me right there to either point out that they’re sicker than they think or not actually dying. Is this a teachable skill? Can I make them sign an oath that they understand they have to take care of themselves??

Whose idea was it that helpless humans possessing not-yet-fully-formed-frontal-lobes would be able to navigate the world without their parents, anyway? I find it highly suspect.

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Finding Your Voice Tue, 14 Apr 2015 13:38:28 +0000

I have no voice.

Like I literally have no voice.

This happens to me about once a year, sometimes twice, usually in tandem with a bad cold, and for a few days I’m left sounding like cross between Bonnie Raitt and a seal.

It’s just as awful as it sounds. (The seal part, not Bonnie Raitt. When it’s just Bonnie Raitt I get asked to create peoples’ voice mail messages for them).

Losing your voice is pretty inconvenient for anyone, but wrangling four kids on semi-permanent silent mode? Well, that’s just downright cruel.

At least I thought it was until I realized that there’s really nothing I can do, and when you realize that you can only gesture, write things (haha, that’s hilarious, especially with two kids who can’t read), or what I’m doing, speak very minimally and quietly (though not whispering, promise), well, you find your life becomes a whole lot calmer, not to mention, quieter.

I can have my yelling moments, like any parent I suppose, so being forced to walk to your kids to speak with them, or requiring them to come to you — with a whistle or a snap — has been, well, eye-opening. As you might guess, having to do this has slowed me down significantly. There’s no yelling for someone upstairs, while running down the stairs to tend to someone else because no one can hear me. It’s been a lot of one-on-one conversations, a lot of face-to-face interactions, and well, I really like it.

Of course on the flip side, I’m really hard to understand on a work call, which is only made worse when it’s a conference call with ten people. I loathe those anyway so to not be able to do anything but squawk, and then have to repeat myself because only about three people could hear me at such a low decibel gets pretty frustrating.

And I have a completely silent laugh that almost hurts when it happens. Without laughter and the joking and the singing at the top of my lungs, I’m just, well, not myself.

These blips of time when I’m rendered silent don’t last very long. And I try not to be the one to read into every situation, every happening like it’s completely full of life meaning. Sometimes you just lose your phone for the entire day or you burn your finger or you just lose your voice because you have a cold-slash-allergies-slash-tax-week.

But I’m also one to take notice when stuff like this happens, at what’s going on around me, in my life, in the life of my kids, and I do take a step back to ponder and meditate, not because I believe that something needs to be resolved, per se’, in order for me to get my voice back. But considering how I tend to see physical symptoms of what’s going on with me emotionally, it’s probably a smart move to slow down and figure out what all this quiet really means in my life right now.




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The Post-Pregnancy Body Changes That Nobody Talks About Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:39:18 +0000

Hi Amy – I have a two part question related to postpartum abs.

I am 99% sure I have diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal muscles) after having twins (who were 7.5lbs EACH at 37 weeks delivered vaginally) and being on bedrest for 5 months before and 2 months after. This was actually baby number 3 & (surprise) 4 and not one doctor ever mentioned this condition to me. I wonder if other women have the same problem and don’t know about it… My question is – there is conflicting advice about how to help correct it. I have been exercising for 3 months now doing pretty much everything you can traditionally think of (pilates, running, stairs, lifting weights, eating right, drinking water, etc.), lost all the baby weight and then some and am in the best shape of my life – but I still look about 3- 4 months pregnant! And we are talking 2nd baby 3-4 months! BUT a minor number of fitness instructions on the internet argue if you have diastasis recti and do traditional ab exercises (crunches) you actually make it worse because it causes the muscles to “bulge”. They employ the Tupler method and stress recovery of the transversus abdominis muscle (TVA) first. I have asked my OB/GYN, GP and a couple of different fitness instructors and they don’t know what the world I am talking about! Now, let me stress – I have realistic expectations here. I don’t expect to look like I did before ever being pregnant. But I sure as hell don’t want to be spending my precious time on exercises that make it worse! Is surgery the only thing that will correct diastasis recti?

Speaking of surgery – how can I tell if I have an umbilical hernia? My stomach is a mess of excess skin (that children’s book the saggy, baggy elephant comes to mind) and I just assumed that was it. But above my belly button there is a protrusion. It doesn’t hurt at all but…it’s odd. With all the pushing I did with the twins, could that have caused one? Because you mentioned those were kinda like sleeping giants that are going to wake eventually. And if it just excess skin – is the only way to correct that surgery? Yeah, everyone is different and give it time, etc., etc. But…really…what is the deal??? Twins is just an entirely different ball game compared to my two singles.

Thanks for any help you can send my way!


So I experienced diastasis recti right out of the gate, with pregnancy number one. Being a smallish person carrying a 9 pound, 15 ounce baby will apparently do that. It never corrected itself, but I at least didn’t notice it ever got worse after my subsequent pregnancies (with more reasonably sized 7 pounders).

I, too, got a lot of conflicting advice and recommendations from doctors, trainers and the Internet. Here’s my basic take: For some women, the separation can be improved through exercise, and for some women, the separation is permanent and requires surgical correction. I was in the latter group, personally.

I actually think the Wikipedia page on diastasis recti (I KNOW I KNOW) is pretty darn realistic, particularly the “treatment” part. There are a list of generally approved exercises that may or may not “fix” the problem, but are at least known not to make things worse. Incorrect exercises that involve pushing the muscles out (like crunches) have been found to make the problem worse in many women. That could just be anecdotal (since as you’ve learned, this just isn’t a problem that gets a lot of attention and grant money to study!), but I personally erred on the side of caution and chose other exercises after coming across that theory. Core strength exercises that focused on pulling my ab muscles in, mostly.  I HAD done a lot of crunches after baby number one because that’s what my OB/GYN suggested, so who knows. Maybe that’s why my separation remained so prominent.

When I consulted plastic surgeons, though, I learned that my diastasis recti was really pretty bad. Like over three solid inches of separation, so my “abs” were basically way over on my sides. I also had that lovely pouch of saggy, stretch-marked skin around my belly button. I’d lost weight and gotten in fairly good shape, and if anything my stomach looked WORSE, because without a little excess weight around my midsection it was so much more obvious that nothing was where it was supposed to be. So I don’t know. I honestly feel like I’d done everything I could and the choices were either to live with it, or fix it.

And I was okay living with it, except that after Ike was born my OB/GYN pressed on my belly button and told me I had an umbilical hernia. This is ALSO a super common thing that no one warns you about. They typically happen to women who have been pregnant a few times, or who have a multiple birth pregnancy. You’ve had four children via three pregnancies, so it’s entirely possible the protrusion you’re noticing is a hernia. Or not! Sometimes stuff just settles back weird in that area. The only way to know is to consult a doctor and have them feel around your belly button. (My hernia was not at all visible, but only noticeable if you pressed on it.)

My hernia became increasingly tender in the years after my third son, Ike’s birth — tender to the touch, but also bothersome when I bent over to pick something up, or had to carry anything heavy (like my toddler). This was evidence that the hernia was worsening, and after talking to my doctor and  reading up on the complications that could happen down the road (think emergency surgery to correct a puncture wound in your intestines!), I decided to get it fixed. Surgery is the only way to fix an adult umbilical hernia. Babies are born with them fairly often and those can heal without surgery, but for ones that develop later in life that doesn’t happen. Again, you need to talk to a doctor and have them assess your own personal risk and make their own recommendation.

So after three pregnancies, three c-sections, and now a need to go back under the knife for ANOTHER abdominal surgery, I made the call that I would get the tummy tuck at the same time. Goodbye extra skin, goodbye diastasis recti. It’s a big decision, a major surgery with significant recovery time, and (obviously) a big out-of-pocket expense. My insurance covered the hernia repair part, which lowered my personal costs (since the insurance pay out shoulders some of the anesthesia and OR fees), but it’s not something I would be all, “OH JUST DO IT YOU’LL BE SO HAPPY” to everybody struggling with diastasis recti and other post-pregnancy body changes. Personally, I am thrilled and entirely comfortable with my decision. Pregnancy — while wonderful and amazing and all that — broke a few things that I was unable to fix on my own. Plastic surgery is often reconstructive surgery, which is how I view mine.

Ladies out there — did your ab muscles separate? Did it ever improve on its own?  Have you been able to improve it with exercise? If so, what kind, how often, how long? If not, any other tips for minimizing the pooch or feeling better/stronger in general? Anything else that the miracle of life did to your stomach that you would like to rant about?

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Are Your Kids Being Treated Like an Invisible Patient? Fri, 10 Apr 2015 13:30:11 +0000

Back in the last century (remember, before the millennium?) when I was a teenager, I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled and my mom brought me to a highly recommended oral surgeon. I did not like the guy at all. He never spoke to me during the appointment. He only spoke to my mother. I felt like the invisible patient. At a certain point during the consultation, I said to him, “I don’t feel comfortable with you. We are leaving.” Obviously, as a 17 year old, I was pretty ballsy.

The stunned man looked at my me, then at my mother. She said, “Looks like we are going! It was nice meeting you.” We left and found a much nicer surgeon. One who actually treated me like a person.

My 10 year old daughter recently had a similar experience. She needs braces and was very nervous about the pain. A couple of assistants brought us in and started doing the prep work. They took photos of her teeth. They sat her down in a chair. They began fitting her for a mold. The orthodontist even whizzed by a couple times. But no one said hello to her. Or really talked to her at all. And my daughter began to cry.

I said to a few of the assistants, “If you could just say hello to her and explain what you are going to do, she will be much calmer.”  They were dumbfounded. The orthodontist came out and said, “We find that kids do much better if their parents leave.” The idea of me leaving made my daughter cry harder.

“Do you want to do this another day?” somebody asked.

“No, that will only add to her anxiety. If you could just explain the procedure, that would be great.”

In the end, one of the orthodontist’s assistants went through each step of the braces process and my daughter started breathing again. This same assistant even apologized for not explaining things earlier. It wasn’t that they were trying to be rude. They were busy, on auto pilot and not taking the time to do one of the most important things in patient care – talking to the patient.

No matter how old the age of the child, they deserve respect and kindness from practitioners. And as a parent it’s my job to make sure that is happening. I don’t expect every doctor to be warm and fuzzy but I do expect them to speak directly to my children.

Of course, lots of doctors are very good at this. My pediatrician is a master. And just the other day, I took that same 10 year old daughter to the allergist. This doctor communicated compassionately and patiently with her. She answered all of my daughter’s questions and I could watch my child becoming more relaxed as they spoke.

The truth is, with limited health plans, HMOs and visits to urgent care, sometimes we don’t get to pick the ideal doctor for our children. But we can speak up when we don’t think they are being served well. It’s really our duty as parents.

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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?


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The Dance Of Disclosure Tue, 07 Apr 2015 14:18:22 +0000

the action of making new or secret information known.

In a perfect world, everyone gets to be whoever they are, and no one judges them for it. Right? That’s the fantasy? Because the reality is that everyone is constantly in danger of being judged for… well… everything. And there is no stickier time for the judgment of others than during the teenage years. This is when kids either want to “be like everyone else” or be exactly unlike everyone else, but on their own terms. They want to control the narrative, and this is no time for anything which (they feel) may make them look weak or lacking.

And so, my friends, my family has arrived at yet another chapter conspicuously absent from the parenting manual: Disclosure of special needs.

Many, many years ago, before any diagnoses or labels or the in-your-face realities of raising kids with special needs, my youngest was clearly different, and struggling, and we were on a mission to figure out what he needed. I met some amazing and helpful people during that journey, but for every one of them, I also met (or already knew) someone who wanted to caution me against having him formally diagnosed. “People will judge,” I was told (over and over). “The label is all anyone will see,” someone told me. This point of view was—and remains—baffling to me, because it turns out that you can’t be, I don’t know, less autistic if you simply refuse the label out of fear of stigma. And from where I’m sitting, the label has gotten us services, accommodations, and often patience and understanding we might not have otherwise had. The label isn’t everything, but I see it as a useful tool. Being afraid or ashamed of it has never made any sense to me.

[And as a quick aside, which will have every fellow autism parent nodding, I bet: My son started occupational and social therapies when he was 5. My daughter—like many autistic girls/women who manage to fly under the radar—wasn’t diagnosed until she was 14. Go on, guess who’s arguably “better-adjusted” at this point. Guess who’s more comfortable with the label. Yeah.]

When the kids were little, disclosure was up to me, and I disclosed all over the darn place. “He’s autistic!” I would volunteer, the moment his behavior strayed from the norm or I noticed someone side-eyeing him. “It’s not an excuse but it is an explanation,” I drilled into both kids, hoping they understood the nuances of explanation vs. still understanding (and trying to work within) societal norms when expected. “I’m autistic so you might find me a little weird, or I might not look at you while you’re talking, but that’s okay. Just tell me if I do something that’s bothering you,” I would overhear my son offer by way of introduction. We’ve always been proud of who he is, and I’ve always loved those moments where it’s clear he’s comfortable in his own skin. My daughter has always been much (much much) less comfortable with disclosure, due, I’m sure, to a combination of later diagnoses, her inherent personality, being a girl (and much more attuned to social stigma), and the fact that at nearly 17, she is still working on that whole “comfortable in her own skin” thing.

High school means I show up for IEP meetings and advocate for the kids at school, but I let them take the lead in terms of what they’re willing to tell their teachers and peers. My son is still fine with letting his teachers know he’s autistic. I notice he doesn’t volunteer it to other kids as often as he used to, and he’s also better at “passing” than he used to be, so maybe he doesn’t feel the need (and that’s fine). My daughter is more complicated, in every possible way. She has multiple diagnoses and she has allowed them onto her IEP bit by bit, but I know a lot of what’s on there she has chosen not to share with her peers.

Now we are entering the realm of interviews—for special programs, for jobs, for college—and maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I find both of my teens resisting any encouragement to disclose where their special needs may be impacting them. “I just don’t think it’s relevant,” my son said to me with a completely straight face, which made me laugh (which made him mad; oops). “It’s going to sound like an excuse,” my daughter said, her mouth set in that hard line I’ve become all-too-familiar with, the one that means “I hate that this is hard for me.” They don’t want special treatment, either of them. And yet, they have different needs and challenges, and sometimes just making the other people in the room aware of them is enough.

“It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation,” I repeat, the words automatic, but my tone belying the frustration I feel on their behalf. How do you walk that fine line between demonstrating self-awareness and perhaps being taken as making lame excuses, when you’re not even old enough to vote? I know full-grown adults who are still terrible at this. Is it too much to expect my teenagers to advocate for themselves in productive ways when it means disclosing the parts of themselves about which they feel the most insecure?

There have been some crushing disappointments, lately… some which, I’d argue, might’ve been avoided or at least somewhat alleviated if the kid in question had been willing to disclose a bit more. But that’s Monday morning quarterbacking, so I could be wrong (and even if I’m not, what’s done is done). In the spirit of hope, though, here’s two recent real-world victories:

1) Getting the College Board to grant any sort of SAT testing accommodations appears to require an act of Congress, and my daughter has applied through the school and been turned down several times, already. After her last scores came back (not terrible, but more reflective of her learning disability rather than her capabilities), she did her own research and decided to take the ACT (and apply for testing accommodations there), instead. She got herself registered, rounded up her 50-page accommodations packet entirely on her own—which included basically sharing her entire diagnostic history, which I know was scary for her—and got everything in order well ahead of deadline. Her extended time accommodation was granted (woohoo!) and she is feeling relieved and ready to test. She disclosed and got what she needed.

2) My son recently attended a new-to-him club at school and at his first meeting he misunderstood something that was being discussed; he thought the advisor was asking existing members to weigh in on something when in fact she wanted everyone to chime in. He lost himself in a book while the discussion went on around him, much to the consternation of the advisor (who, understandably, thought he didn’t want to be there). With some gentle encouragement at home, he returned to apologize the next day. And even though he’d argued with me that disclosing was unnecessary, he ended up explaining that sometimes he misses social cues because of his autism, and he hadn’t meant to be rude. It turns out that the teacher has two autistic sons of her own; the apology was accepted and a rapport was formed.

What I tell my kids is this: Disclosing is always going to make you feel vulnerable, but it’s also the only way to make sure you’re being taken for who you really are. I’ll keep encouraging them to disclose and be comfortable with who they are, and I’ll also keep hoping that others can appreciate them, challenges and all.

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Toddler Attachments: What’s Normal? Mon, 06 Apr 2015 12:12:24 +0000

Hi Amy,

My daughter is 14 months old. She sees her dad every other weekend and Wednesdays (this arrangement started when she was 10 months old). I am an older than average mother and I was emotionally stressed during my pregnancy. I work outside the home and my daughter is in daycare (she seems to like her provider and the other kids). I love my daughter more than anything in the world. I am very nurturing- I still nurse, we co sleep, we play and read. We have a pretty consistent schedule. Except for the first couple of times I had to drop her off at her dad’s she doesn’t cry for me and now she wants to go to him and for the last few weeks when her dad brings her home she doesn’t want to come to me. I try not to feel rejected when she doesn’t want to come to me after I haven’t been with her all weekend but it does get to me. Is this within normal behavior? Just a phase? It also concerns me that she has recently been going up to strangers with no fear with her arms up like she wants to be held.

Thank you.

Absolutely normal, although I know it can sting. But take heart: Your daughter’s “rejection” of you around her father is in fact, evidence of her secure, confident attachment to YOU.

Yes, really. I can’t say ALL toddlers and young children do this, but the vast majority of parents I know (and I include myself here) have had their child go through a preferred parent phase. And anecdotally at least, the “preferred parent” tends to be the parent who is NOT the primary caregiver. She doesn’t spend as much time with her dad as you, and she’s old enough to be aware that her time with him is limited and special. The fact that maybe she’d prefer more time with him has NOTHING to do with her wanting less time with you. Toddlers her age just don’t really think in those zero sum terms yet.

My sons all went through a DADDY DADDY DADDY phase, where suddenly Daddy coming home was the greatest thing in the world and Daddy leaving for work was the absolute worst. Me? Meh. Our babysitter would show up and I’d head to my home office and they wouldn’t even acknowledge the transition. Or I’d pick them up from school and they’re be like, “oh hey” while DADDY got the big YAYYYYY response with big hugs and kisses for performing the same task. They wanted Daddy to give baths and read bedtime stories, not me.

It passes. It really does. Some toddlers will even reverse course and suddenly prefer the other parent, to the point of having separation anxiety.

(That’s my youngest right now. He flipped from his dad to me at some point this year and let me tell you: As much as it hurts to not feel like the “favorite” it can also be somewhat exhausting and guilt-inducing when your child openly prefers you and demands your attention/presence 100% of the time.)

But point is: Your daughter is deeply, healthily attached to you, to the point that she feels comfortable separating from you – and even pushing you away a little bit, deliberately or otherwise – because she knows you will always be there for her. Your love is unconditional and you are a safe, reliable presence in her world. This is a good thing. You’re doing things right, Mama.

As for the stranger thing…also normal. She’s too little to understand the danger or that it’s an inappropriate boundary. She’s a baby with a lot of kind, loving adults in her life and she sees the world as a whole as kind and loving. There is plenty of time before this worldview needs to be shattered. You really can’t start on the “stranger danger” talks until she’s about 3 or 4, and even then you don’t want to instill a fear of all strangers, but more of a healthy note of caution about certain situations. (Someone asking her to get in their car, claiming that you sent them, asking for hugs, uncomfortable touching, etc. And since non-strangers can do all these things too, it’s really best to focus on red flag behaviors/situations, rather than JUST the stranger aspect.) In the meantime, stay close in situations where she’s prone to approaching strangers this way (but no need to hover/helicopter). Most adults will think it’s cute, honestly, and you might notice that she’s choosing people she sees as mommy/daddy/grandparent types.

And once again, remind yourself that this behavior is yet another sign that your daughter feels safe and secure in her place in the world, and that’s a great foundation for a happy, well-adjusted child (and adult).

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Easy Spring Flower Garland DIY Thu, 02 Apr 2015 10:53:36 +0000

I’ve got Spring Fever in the worst way so I decided to liven up some white walls in my house with an easy spring tissue paper garland. So easy to make!

Easy Spring Flower Garland DIY by Brenda Ponnay for

You can make one too!

Supplies to make your Spring Flower Garland:

1. several small squares of colorful tissue paper (mine are roughly 2-3 inches but any size will work. Go big! Go pastel! You can do this!)

2. embroider floss in green

3. scissors

4. a cute kid to model your handiwork

This is so easy I really don’t need to write a tutorial but if you’re feeling uneasy about what to do first,  you could follow these steps.

Tutorial for your Spring Flower Garland:

First, fold two squares of tissue paper in half and then half again. Scallop the edges that are not folded with your scissors. This will make your flower. Unfold it and shift your tissue paper sheets slightly so the petals don’t match up. This will create a little more volume to your flower. If you’d like even more volume, use more sheets of tissue per flower. I stuck to two because I was more interested in getting it done quickly. Then poke your threaded needle through the middle of your flower and slightly crinkle up the petals up towards your thread. Move these flowers along your thread to where you think they look nice. Add more flowers until you’ve reached your desired length. You can create a pattern with your colors or do it randomly like I did. Then hang your garland and your house will instantly be transported from a dismal gray day to beautiful Spring!

We loved this garland so much I’m thinking I might have to plan a tropical garden party to go with it!

Easy Spring Flower Garland DIY by Brenda Ponnay for


Happy Spring!

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