Promoting a Healthy Relationship to Food for Your Tween

Have you ever used the word “diet” with your kid?  Do you reward or punish with food in your home?  Do you cook – and if you do, do you involve your kids?  We are going to tackle the big topic of kids and food this week at our KidzVuz twitter party.  We’ve all heard the scary statistics about kids and obesity, diabetes and other illnesses caused purely by poor diets in this country.  And then we are bombarded by the other images – the anorexic and bulimic girls – on the other end of the eating disorder spectrum.  So, how can we find a really good, healthy way to approach food and teach that to our kids?

On Wednesday, October 19th at 10pm we will be talking about food and tweens with a teacher and mom of a tween daughter, Cristie Ritz King and nutritionist and founder of Foodtrainers, Lauren Slayton.  We’ll be dishing about picky eaters, creating healthy eating habits, having fun cooking together and more.  Plus, it wouldn’t be a twitter party without prizes, so we’ll be giving away 2 $25 gift cards to GrubHub (because it’s also fun to order in as a family!) and a $25 gift card to Panera Bread so you can get some freshly baked bread to go with your homemade meals.  (or course you could also get some yummy desserts, that’s up to you!)

So click over here and join us on Wednesday night!

My Back to School Promise to My Daughters

This week my daughters had to sign a Code of Behavior Agreement for their Hebrew School.  It stated that they wouldn’t use electronic devices at school, would arrive on time, respect others and the property and basically act like a decent human being.  Not much to ask for.  At their real school the discipline code is a ridiculous generic booklet sent home by the DOE that reads more like a legal document and doesn’t mean anything to a child.  Either way, the idea of child signing a slip of paper as a way to enforce real respect and civility is a waste of time.  The real code of behavior comes from home where expectations are discussed, debated and understood.  Same is true in effective classrooms.  And that is all well and good.  What I haven’t seen much of is a code of behavior to be signed by parents.  (or teachers and staff for that matter)  So I’m laying out my behavior contract for how I will help them with their educational goals and work for the year.

  1. I will provide an organized workspace for my kids.  Folders, pencil cases, supplies and quiet.  They will know where their stuff is, be able to find it and put it back themselves and feel like they have a real space to work.  It’s called the kitchen table but it’s theirs until dinner time.
  2. I will make them go to bed at a reasonable bedtime.  Isn’t that nice of me?
  3. I will not give them ready answers to homework problems or let them give up on difficult questions.
  4. I will volunteer – way too much – at their school, but still try to attend events with them.  This one is my tricky one.  The irony of being so heavily involved at the co-President level of the PA is that it sometimes comes at the expense of actually being there for your kid.  But, that’s something I’m getting better at balancing.
  5. I won’t embarrass them.  (well, not intentionally anyway)

And really I don’t know what else to say.  There’s the important stuff like fighting budget cuts and pushing for better and more challenging curriculum and enrichment but those are huge, big picture items that are part of my job.  I wish I could promise that I won’t complain in front of them about the things that make me nuts at their school and at the Department of Education, but that would be almost impossible.

So, that’s it.  That’s my code of behavior for the year.  I wonder what would happen if schools really did make parents sign contracts – and held them to it – and vice versa.  What do you think you can do to help your child’s education goals for the year?

Join Parenting’s Mom Congress on Education and Learning on Facebook at to connect with parents around the country who are standing up for great schools.  Want to make your school great right NOW?  Enter the Mom Congress School Transformation Grant contest to win $20,000 for your school. 

Writes Like an Angel – Lisa Belkin Dishes with the Blogging Angels

There are certain women journalists who have inspired me as an essayist and writer waaaay before the word blogging was invented.  Anna Quindlen was one and Lisa Belkin the other.  Aside from writing for The New York Times both women had a voice that spoke to me as a young woman starting out in the world – in college and afterwards – as they wrote frankly about work/life balance, feminism and in varying degrees, motherhood.  As a Film major and American Studies major in college I was steeped in the cannon of feminist literary, social and film criticism.  But few mainstream journalists were talking about the real issues on the ground in a way that made “women’s” issues a normal, worthy part of the public discussion.

I always looked forward to Lisa Belkin’s New York Times Magazine stories and later her Life’s Work columns.  When she launched The Motherlode blog on the site I was thrilled.  Not only is it an enormously vibrant community but it gives further discussion to so many of ideas and stories in the paper that normally would be a “lifestyle” piece and nothing more.  It also has a way of really tapping into the current ethos (and neuroses) of our current state of parenting like nowhere else.  Last year I was such a fangirl that Amy Oztan took pity on me and swung me an invite to a lunch Lisa Belkin held for parenting bloggers at the New York Times cafeteria.  We’ve been trying to get her on the Blogging Angels podcast ever since, but coordinating schedules is never easy.  Then, last month at BlogHer, Nancy Friedman luckily attended the same session as Lisa Belkin and jumped a the chance to have her record with us right there in the hotel in San Diego.  Unfortunately Heidi had an outrageously fabulous event to attend at the same time and couldn’t make this podcast, but we did our best and Lisa Belkin was a guest angel extraordinaire!

Listen in and hear all the scoop on the New York Times and bloggers, the future of journalism and all sorts of dishy stuff on parenting, mom blogging and what it all means.  Really, all that in a mere 40 minutes.  She’s that good.

Lisa Belkin Podcast  or listen on iTunes!

Mom Congress Day 1: How Many DC Cupcakes Can I Eat?

I guess this doesn’t really qualify as a first day since the Mom Congress started at 4:00pm with the opening remarks and an icebreaker session.  We were talking advocacy – the most effective ways to rally your cause, present your case and influence policy.  It was a reminder on how powerful data can be and how important a consistent, well-crafted message is to making yourself heard.  Something I am fortunately well acquainted with in our hyper political school.  I am more thankful than ever for the incredible parent advocates at my school who routinely spearhead petitions, rallies and letter and phone campaigns to politicians.  We are an obnoxious bunch and better off for it.

I’ve met some dynamic and incredibly engaged women so far.  The passions are varied – from gifted education to class size, school nutrition to speaking out against the standardized testing mania, these moms are vocal, organized and smart.  It gives me hope that there truly is a national force out there ready to fight the budget cuts and maddening discourse.  Tonight at dinner Marguerite Roza from the Gates Foundation spoke to the delegates about the exciting technology emerging to help change education as we know it, about teacher evaluation systems, about reallocating resources (i.e. raising class size) and about measuring teacher effectiveness and creating best practices.  I don’t think she won over the crowd.  She is undeniably smart, incredibly knowledgeable and striving to make education better.  But, the questions and concerns from the audience were real.  Class size increasing?  Not something parents want.  Standardized testing?  Not something parents want.

There is no doubt we are looking at big financial decisions and a need to rethink how our resources are spent but right now is really a giant experiment at the expense of our kids.  It’s not OK to say someday we’ll have much better feedback about student achievement because of coming technology so hey, then we won’t have big standardized yearly tests.   If those tests are the ultimate measure of a teacher’s effectiveness  – whether or not that is fair to anyone – then kids will be taught to the test.  These tests are much cheaper than having a real curriculum overhaul, professional development and personalized technology.

These are the debates and discussions we’ll be having over the next few days and hopefully some real plans and advocacy will come out from all of these smart, dedicated, energized delegates.  It would be incredibly to pool together all of these local advocates and know how and create a real, organized national parent voice.

Why Aren’t Parents Rioting in the Streets?

PREPARATION: Education Budget Cuts Protest

Image by infomatique via Flickr

This is the question an educator asked me yesterday.  A private school educator in New York City.  We were among over 200 people invited to Barry Diller’s IAC headquarters in Chelsea to have lunch and listen to the presentation for a brand new private school in Manhattan called Avenues The World Schools.  I wasn’t invited to this lunch as an NYC blogger, I was invited as the Co-President of the Parents’ Association of my daughters’ NYC public school and went there with my Co-President.  To be honest, it’s hard to explain this sort of event to people who have never been to a NYC media and money filled event.  This was not red carpet, this was not celebrity – this was the kind of thing that reminds you where the real power lies in this world.  Money.  Bankers, publishers and mostly bankers.  I haven’t been to something like this in more than 10 years – since I worked for a billionaire family here in NYC.  It made me sad.

That sounds weird right?  Here I was at an event where some of the top educators in NYC were pitching their new school.  I happened to be sitting at the table with the new head of their lower school and their head of the entire school.  These are serious people who have spent their life in education – in private, uber-privileged education.  Joel Klein, our ex-Chancellor was there and all I could think was he’s got some nerve.  You see, part of this school’s pitch was to show the incredible growing demographic of children under 5 in the city and the dynamic increase in the number of families staying in the city rather than leaving when school-age hits.  The irony to watching these men use these numbers to sell their school hit my co-president and me in the face.  For the last 4 years public school parents have been trying desperately for the Department of Education (DOE) to recognize this fact but they staunchly denied it.  As schools have become overcrowded and people are now waitlisted for their PUBLIC school the DOE has shrugged and said you can always take your 5 year old on the subway to another school.  Those numbers this school was using to show the need for more seats in Manhattan?  Those were our numbers – the ones we culled independently of the DOE – the ones that they finally admitted were true after years of arguing.  And there was Joel Klein smiling away in the front as these numbers flashed on the screen.

So after they show us the 30% increase in school age child growth what do you think their answer is?  Let’s create a school where the tuition will be $50,000 for kindergarten (yes you read that right.)  A for-profit school costing 100s of millions of dollars.  I won’t go into the curriculum goals or the giant presentation of what the building will look like when it’s completely renovated, etc.  The whole thing just left me sick.  And sad.  I keep coming back to the fact that it made me sad.  When I saw that educator I spoke about in the beginning I knew she’d have a good perspective on the school.  She herself had been involved in the creation of a new private school in Manhattan a few years back – and she still heads a large private preschool group.  We talked about how all schools have these goals and lofty ambitions but at the end of the day any new school is going to take whomever can write a check.  What I wasn’t prepared for her to say was “I don’t understand why parents aren’t rioting in the streets.”  And she meant it.  And she was right.

The same day I went to this event to see the future school which will educate the most privileged children in NYC who already have every advantage imaginable Governor Cuomo announced the steepest cuts to education EVER in New York State.  Most of it cutting the city’s education aid.  I sat in a room full of people eating petit fours and drinking wine who all earnestly talked about the dire state of education and how our children are falling behind in the world – so they were building a school that would service those for whom none of this was true.  And at the same time I thought about the teacher lay offs, crumbling buildings, slashed arts programs and lack of basic supplies that were about to become even more entrenched realities.  The NYC public school system has 1.2 million children in it.  That means there are at least 1.8 million parents I’m thinking who should storm Bloomberg’s office and Cuomo’s office and the White House and demand better.

But here’s the one thing that got me most of all.  In that beautifully windowed room, with gorgeous centerpieces and ladies in Armani and men who have been running the world forever there was a lot of passion about education.  There really was.  That is what made me sad.  Imagine if these resources and talents – and money – were being put towards public education.  Not for charter schools, not for tiny little programs – but a serious discussion about what it’s going to take to change our school system.   And I’m not going to talk here about unions – I know.  Trust me I know.  I used to joke about imagining a city where private school was not an option – how quickly the schools would change if those with the most power to change them had to be part of the system.  Now I’m not joking.  The inequality is so gross and glaring and this event just focused that to such a sharp degree that I almost feel like it’s hopeless.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Look at Egypt this week – now read this article in Think Progress about the greater income inequality in the US.  Then ask yourself – WHY aren’t parents rioting in the streets?

This post was republished, with permission, in the Washington Post. They made me sound a little nicer.  Thanks.

I also have a problem with people telling parents HOW they should be involved.  Check out this post about Thomas Friedman’s misguided op-ed for more.

Top Ten Parenting Truths of 2010 (learned the hard way)

  1. If your child is a raging maniac for no reason chances are they will wake up in the middle of the night vomiting with 103 degree fever.
  2. Always put a bowl next to your child’s bed if they say their stomach hurts before bedtime.
  3. The first 6 weeks of school are always terrible.  It will get better.
  4. The last 4 weeks of school are always terrible.  Deal with it.
  5. Sleep-away camp is good for kids and even better for your marriage.
  6. Parenting is all about follow through – make good on promises and consequences or you will lose all credibility.
  7. Don’t rush your kid.  There’s plenty of time to see plays and movies and read books that they aren’t quite ready to emotionally process yet.  Just because something has music in it doesn’t mean it’s kid-friendly.  Glee is not a kid’s show.
  8. Don’t underestimate your kid.  Sometimes a child is ready for something new. Don’t let your own fears keep them back.  Unless it’s horseback riding.  Or swimming in the ocean.  Yeah, I’m still working on this one.
  9. Breathing is your friend.  (especially near said horses and ocean)
  10. Put down the phone.  Turn off the screens.   And listen.

I am gearing up for the lessons of 2011.  How about you?

This is an original post – it also appears at Yahoo! Shine on the Yahoo! Motherboard section.

It’s Not Just Another Walk – A Very Personal Perspective on Why Breast Cancer Walks Matter

Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before – I’m posting a guest post.  As part of the Yahoo! Motherboard‘s recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month I wanted to write something that would resonate, be authentic and affect people.  The only way I could even fathom doing this was to have my friend Shari write about her incredibly strong, dynamic and loving mom.  I met Shari 6 years ago when our daughters started preschool and I don’t think I ever knew her mom as a non-breast cancer patient.  I am one of those people who believes that good people – truly honest, sincere, rock solid people don’t just happen – they are formed in the best way by their parents.  Shari is one of those people and there is no doubt that her mom helped make her so.  (Her dad’s pretty great too but that’s a whole other side of Shari I won’t get into here…)  I hope you will read Shari’s guest post and be moved in some way to donate or participate in the fight to find a cure.   At the very least, take 5 minutes to reflect on the women in your life and the way they’ve influenced the person you’ve become.

Throughout the years, my mom was always within arms reach. Whether it was setting up my new dorm room, fielding a helpless phone call after a lackluster term paper, or providing that last supportive hug as I whisked off for my honeymoon, no matter what was happening in her own personal life, she never once dodged any of the emotions, needs or complaints I so often (selfishly) hurled in her direction – even while she was battling terminal metastatic breast cancer.

Five years is a very long time to live with metastatic breast cancer.  There are only so many brain radiation and chemo treatments one can handle before they start taking their toll.  Unfortunately, I remember Mom’s very last hospital stay as if it were yesterday.  Outside, the day was crystal clear.   We were all in her hospital room  (the 3rd one in two weeks) and the grandchildren were on the floor obliviously making “Get Well” pictures to hang on her wall.   Mom asked me to comb her hair and to gently apply lipstick and blush so that the kids “Wouldn’t be able to tell” that she was sick.   After I finished, she let out a sigh and stared out longingly at her grandchildren and watched them play.  It would be the last time she would ever see them play.

Mom was my beacon:  a role model for me throughout grade school, college, marriage and motherhood, a friend with whom to share triumphs and fears, a confidante to my innermost feelings.  Home-cooked meals graced the dinner table every single school night.  Her sideline cheers and support buoyed me through every field hockey game and tennis match.   When I swallowed a bottle of pills at age four and was hospitalized for a week, I’m told mom kept vigil by the bedside.   When I transferred schools in sixth grade and feigned illness for a trip to the nurse’s office (and potentially a ticket home) Mom drove in every time and convinced me to stay.

It’s amazing how much about my mom’s life I learned through her death. I always knew Mom was a very private person.  Yet, her funeral boasted myriad outsiders who were somehow touched by Mom; it was my window into her true depth of compassion for others, even during her personal cancer struggle.  The receiving line represented grieving people from all walks of her life:  the Russian manicurist who looked forward to seeing my mom every week for the last eight years (even during her marathon chemo infusion days), the dry cleaning lady who loved receiving my mom’s crafty hand-written recipes each week, teachers from my grade school (over 35 years ago) who worked with her as class mom and were still kept up to date on my milestones, my high school friends from near and far–one of whom finally told me at the funeral that my mom had taken her to get an abortion her senior year in high school – mom never told me she did any of this.

Mom’s quiet strength prevented most people from even knowing she was deeply suffering from a terminal illness.  She always drove herself alone to her multi-hour chemo treatments at the hospital.  Devoid of emotion, she’d “Plug into” her chest port and start reading her favorite book or finish a crossword puzzle. When her hair fell out, she always had new wigs lined up ready to be styled.  When her eyebrows fell out, without hesitation new ones were tattooed on.  With the fifty -pound weight loss came new, vibrant zany outfits.  She didn’t outwardly pity herself.  She wasn’t willing to allow herself to give in.  She was always a pillar of strength to her friends, to her family and to cancer.  After her funeral, I vowed that I would do anything I could to not only preserve her memory but, to also raise money to help fund breast cancer research, awareness and screenings.  So, for the past two years, I’ve amassed a team of courageous women to walk beside me and a thousand other strangers in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-mile walk.

Participating in the 3-day walk is a vicious physical challenge. The medic tents at every stop are always overflowing with people suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, severe “road rash” and blisters—yet, the physical challenge pales in comparison to a cancer patients’ struggles.  The inspirational journey that takes place is beyond overwhelming.   I meet the most interesting people, from motherless children to 3-time survivors.  I hear their intimate struggles with the disease and how it has affected them or someone close.  Complete strangers become instant friends; we bond through something we despise – cancer.  Along the road I laugh with them, cry with them.  We support each other.  We never forget each other and the constant pain this disease has caused.

I walk the grueling 60-miles with Mom by my side, in my head, and in my heart.  I walk attempting to feel just a small part of her pain and her struggle.  I feel her life force as the wind carries me along the winding route. I walk because I am so angry that Mom is missing years of my life and my children’s life.  There will be no more handwritten notes, no more phone calls on my birthdays, no more fresh banana chocolate chip cake awaiting my Thanksgiving arrival.  Her comforting smell is now only preserved in a sterile perfume bottle I took when cleaning out her medicine cabinet.  I walk with a searing pain through my heart remembering my 5-year old son declare he “couldn’t really remember my mom, “Meema. “

I believe that Mom truly benefited from the anonymous effort of strangers who participate in these fundraising events.  Thanks to advancements in drug research (due in part to funding), Mom definitely lived longer than anyone had anticipated -with a decent quality of life.  How can I not be a part of something that can possibly, even remotely, help others live long, fulfilling lives?

The way I try to live my life is the greatest testament to Mom.  She will be an inspiration to me always – in life and in death.

I walk because everyone deserves a lifetime.

I walk because I can.