Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

I am baaack and so grateful to be in my routine. While I was in El Salvador, I got e.coli from something that I ate, but haven’t been able to identify. DH got sick, too, but the kids and my in-laws were unscathed.

I had the worst of it, landing in the emergency room near my folks’ home in New Hampshire twice for dehydration. Ugh.

It took 10 days before I could eat a meal, and right now I feel 95% normal. That said, the vacation wasn’t all bad. I did get plenty of rest, and wasn’t lacking for childcare so I didn’t have to worry about anything but getting better. The kids met a major milestone: they were with their grandmother three full weeks in El Salvador, two of those weeks without us. It is heartening to see them so grown up and mature, but I am also sad. I love the ages they are at — 10 and 7 — and now I am feeling the time fly. Sniff.

For many years, I wondered if my kids could be close to their grandparents since they only see them once a year. I’ve learned that it’s not about the quantity of time, but the quality of the time. My kids love their grandparents. Eli was crying that she didn’t want to go back home.

When I asked them what their favorite moments of their summer vacations were, they rated, equally, the time that they spent with their grandparents in El Salvador and in New Hampshire. One of their highlights was a day trip to Canobie Lake Park with my dad:

How’s your summer been? When do your kids go back to school? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready! lol. My kids return to school the day after labor day.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


All About Summer Vacation

I have not stopped since last Thursday when I went to BlogHer. On the same day that I returned home, I went back to the airport to pick up four cousins, who are visiting this week from Pennsylvania. Their ages are 16, 15, 12 and almost 11. It is their first time flying solo and in California, and all summer they’ve been counting down the months, weeks, days and hours until their arrival on Sunday. It’s cute.

And while the days are long, we’ve had a blast. In just two days, we have gone to the famous prison on Alcatraz Island — the audio tour is worth the trip! — Fisherman’s Wharf, a car trip throughout the entire city, the Golden Gate Bridge, the fort right after the bridge and Sausalito. We watched the San Francisco Giants-Pittsburgh Pirates game just outside the stadium last night as there were no more tickets. AT&T Park is stunning at night:

We also snuck in a quick trip to Emeryville to see the front of Pixar Studios and eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe. It is owned by one of the members of the band Green Day. Oh, and the kids tried Ethiopian food for the first time.  

Today we plan to do a little back-to-school shopping. Later in the week, we will go to an amusement park and check out my hometown of Berkeley. Whew!

I grew up surrounded by extended family taking us everywhere over the summer. They were some of my fondest childhood memories. My parents would put us on a plane, and our paternal grandparents in Pennsylvania would be waiting on the other side. We would stay for the entire summer.

While my cousins will be with me for only six days, I am thrilled to share a little part of my childhood with my kids who are deliriously happy having a full house. And my cousins are great kids, shattering any preconceived notions I had of tweens and teens. They are open and independent, yet innocent at the same time. The girls, especially — they are 12 and almost 11 (next week) — get along great even though they are from two different sides of my family, and they look like they enjoy playing with Ari and Eli in the backyard. In the mornings they wake up early just to play outside. It has definitely taken the pressure off of me that I don’t feel like I have six kids in the house.

Unlike their big brothers, they girls also have a lot of energy. By the end of the day, the guys and I are ready for bed, and they are ready for a board game! Two nights ago we were cracking up playing Apples to Apples (the junior edition).

What’s been the highlight of your kids’ summer? Any good family-friendly places you recommend for visiting?


How To Make Family Trips Enjoyable

With the summer coming up, Mamapedia ran the perfect article about family vacations. Sorry, you must subscribe to get the link, so I will run a clip that resonated with me:

A family vacation is not just about the parents getting away and relaxing. Some parents never realize this and end up hating family vacations because kids ruin this expectation for them. They resent their kids being there. Tensions run high the duration of the trip. Parents fuss. Kids argue. There may be glimmers of enjoyment, but overall everyone wonders why they did the vacation in the first place. Everyone comes home needing a vacation from their vacation.

Other parents decide that they are just parents, let go of all parts of who they are outside of parenthood, and make their family vacation all about the kids. All activities, locations, and food choices are all decided based on what will make the kids happy. The vacation is really an entertainment package for the kids, and while Mom and Dad may feel some joy in giving their kids a great vacation, parents get little or any opportunity to rejuvenate their own souls, connect with each other, and still may end up secretly resenting their kids for robbing them of their vacation time. Parents come home still needing a vacation from their vacation.

Families will enjoy their vacation when they change their expectations. A family vacation is about enjoying each other as a family. Not just making sure the parents are happy. Not just making sure the kids are happy. It’s about doing something together as a family to create new experiences together and forming lasting memories. It’s about getting the kids to try new foods or go to the local museum because they know it’s something important to Mom or to Dad. It’s about enduring the crowds and going to the festival because it’s something the kids really want to do. And most importantly, it’s about understanding that a family vacation does not take the place of a” parents only” vacation that needs to happen periodically as well.

This article touched a nerve with me in so many ways. First of all, it did make me realize that I need an attitude adjustment when it comes to family vacations. I admit, that on more than one occasion, I have felt resentful at not having alone time with my husband. Our last trip (to my MIL’s in El Salvador) involved having at least one child sleeping in the bedroom with us, and one of us still had to tend to his or her needs in the morning. I will come out and say it. This was hardly as enjoyable as the pre-child vacations DH and I took that, at minimum, included sleeping in the mornings and not having to take anyone to the potty.

OTOH, I thought the author of the article was way too nonchalant about mixing up family vacations and  “‘parents only’ vacation that needs to happen periodically as well.” As NJmom and others pointed out in her diary recently, many of us live far away from our families and must use up our vacation time to visit them.

DH and I are fortunate in that his job requires travel to not so bad places, and in the last two years, we have been able to tack on some alone time on those business trips. Our next trip together will be to Las Vegas for Netroots Nation. My MIL will come to California to stay with the kids, while we go for a week. We will have to do some work, but we will have a few days to enjoy ourselves.

As for family trips, I would say they are getting more enjoyable as the kids become more independent. Ari is actually easy to take on a plane ride, and he enjoys everywhere we take him. But Eli is still throwing tantrums typical of a three-year-old. She does need to be entertained, and when she is up, an adult has to be up with her. Nonetheless, I do recognize she — and Ari — are beyond the infant phase, which means we don’t have to get up every hour in the middle of the night on a “vacation.”

As for the rest, I did think the author of this piece, Tara Wood, had some nuggets of wisdom:

We just came back from one of many family vacations we have taken since that trip to Vail. We were very thoughtful in how we planned the week to make sure that it was enjoyable for everyone. This time, we rented a house instead of staying at a hotel so that we could put the kids to bed at night and still stay up to sit outside drinking wine by the pool instead of feeling trapped every night in a hotel room once the kids went to bed. This also allowed us to not only save money on food, but be more flexible in making sure there was good food choices for everyone. Once we were at our destination, we had a family discussion about what each family member wanted to make sure they did during the trip and planned out together when and how we would make sure those things got accomplished. And when our nine-month-old woke up almost every night at 1:00 am for an hour-long cry fest, my husband and I would joke that at least we’re up in the middle of the night feeling the ocean breeze.

What other tips do you have to enjoy a family vacation? As always, our expert traveling mom, Mara, is full of wisdom at the Mother of All Trips. It’s a good blog if you haven’t read it!  


Traveling Without Kids

I cracked up when I read Expecting Words blogger Laurie Puhn’s description of her first trip away from her toddler boy, Blake. This is me to a T:

Apparently, I need to take a vacation from my brain.  For the first day of my trip, I just wouldn’t stop the movie reel: what if our plane crashes?  What if Blake desperately cries for me for hours?  What if they put him in the warmer pajamas but the heat is turned too high and Blake overheats in the middle of the night?  What if they forget to read him “Goodnight Moon“ at bedtime?

What if I shouldn’t have left my baby?

Of course, Puhn had a fabulous time in Cancun. I, too, have never had any problems arise from leaving my children with family members or friends to go on a trip with my husband — despite all my incessant worrying. I think back to my childhood when my parents would put me and my sister Nidia — we were respectively 7 and 6-years-old — on a plane by ourselves to spend three months of the summer up north with our grandparents. To this day, my childhood summer vacations are some of my best memories. Also, I had an incredibly close relationship with my grandparents who I affectionately called Mamá and Papá.

Have you traveled without your kids? How old were they? How did you stop the “movie reel” of worst-case scenarios from playing in your head?


Obama Wants to Add to School Day, School Year

The three-month summer vacation was crucial in an agrarian society where children worked on family farms.

Because that is no longer the reality for most American kids, President Barack Obama wants students to attend school for longer hours and more days to compete with other countries that do not have such a long summer break.

From the Associated Press:

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

“Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Fifth-grader Nakany Camara is of two minds. She likes the four-week summer program at her school, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Nakany enjoys seeing her friends there and thinks summer school helped boost her grades from two Cs to the honor roll.

But she doesn’t want a longer school day. “I would walk straight out the door,” she said.

Experts quoted in the story did not dispute the advantages of a longer school year. Low-income students, especially, are at a great disadvantage when they take three months off from school and must catch up in the fall.

But there was not as much enthusiasm for a longer school day.

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the United States (180 days).

I am of two minds with the longer school day. As long as the longer day includes a supervised homework session and extracurricular activities, I would have no problem with it. I, too, agree that being at school is probably safer than staying home alone or being anywhere else.

On the longer school year, I am a fan. Recently, I met a teacher who looked well-rested and was about to go on (another) two-week vacation. She said the kids have better attitudes and do perform better with regular breaks. As long as working parents are given childcare options — like camps — during those breaks, I think it is a good idea.

What do you think of a longer school year? How about longer school day?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Good morning fellow moms, dads and caregivers!

I am back with your weekly parenting news update. Here are some topics we recently discussed at MotherTalkers:

Paid family leave has been on our minds lately. Salon Broadsheet — a great women’s blog, by the way — covered a story on how the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to give federal employees four weeks paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The bill passed largely along party lines as Republicans fear federal workers will continue to make or adopt babies to collect checks. Eye roll. In related news, employers in England are laying off women in pregnancy or on maternity leave at an alarming rate that it has set off a barrage of discrimination lawsuits, according to the Guardian. Just to show you how important mandatory paid leave is at this time.

Where I live (Berkeley, California), hunting for a preschool is serious sport. Such schools boast years-long waiting lists and it is rare to spot a child three years or older during the day as they are in school. It can be overwhelming for parents, which is why this father’s essay poo-pooing the process was welcomed. Did you tour multiple preschools or elementary schools? What made you decide on your child’s school?

This is a heartbreaking story and I am sorry to bum you out. But it has been the talk in my neck of the woods as it happened two towns away from us and I can’t shake it off. A 42-year-old father on the way to his banking job in San Francisco left his 4-month-old in the car at a public transit station. The baby was discovered dead after the mother was alerted by daycare workers he hadn’t shown. Neighbors described this couple as responsible and doting of their first baby — just to show you this can happen to anyone. The San Francisco Chronicle article of the tragedy offered tips to help new sleep-deprived parents remember their babies in the backseat of the car. Sleep deprivation and a change of routine could be a deadly combination.

In case you missed it, Newsweek ran its annual list of the country’s top high schools. While some moms on our site were thrilled to see their or their child’s school make the list, they took issue with the way the magazine measured excellence. A school’s ranking was based on the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by the students at the school in 2008 divided by the number of seniors who graduated.

Our resident cool mom Gloria covered a study suggesting that listening to music with degrading sexual lyrics could prompt teenagers to have sex at an earlier age. She was wondering what to do about her young son’s listening to such music.

Summer vacation is upon us. Shenanigans debated the pros and cons of letting out school for the summer. Also, we have had a lot of book reviews lately. One of our moms, brave, reviewed mommy blogging pioneer Heather Armstrong’s book, It Sucked and Then I Cried. What do you plan to take with you to the beach?

What else is on your minds?


Summer Vacation: Pro or Con?

beachWhy We Should Get Rid of Summer Vacation, as the author writes, is written every year. American kids typically get 180 days of school a year. Other countries may go as many as 230.

What are the good and bad aspects of summer vacation?

The good: Kids get to do new things, and get some independent time to play and read and do other activities. Summer camp (with the Girl Scouts) was a key part of many of my summers when I was younger, and when I was older, I spent days as a working student, helping other people with their horses in exchange for my riding lessons. I went hiking and exploring in our neighborhood. We took two weeks each year to go to Santa Fe, NM, where I roamed my uncle’s 5 acres of dusty cactus-studded arroyos. My mom was a teacher, so her vacations were mine, a factor I never fully appreciated as a youngster.

The bad: the quality of the summer experience is strongly proportional to socioeconomic class. Wealthier  kids spend the summer at sports or academic camps, or may get to travel. Poor kids may stay at home, in neighborhoods that aren’t safe to roam, stuck inside with the TV. Thus, summer widens gaps in opportunity that already exist.

To me, this just suggests that we need to design the school year to better create all those opportunities for every kid. I think sending my daughter to her school – even though it’s a lovely school – every day all year, 8-4, would crush her spirit big time. She needs to be able to have time to do activities that are unique to her – not every child wants to do the same things as all the other kids every day. And it’s valuable, I think, for her to go away and experience new places. My daughter and I both benefited from her week away at camp.

Fundamentally too, to create a longer school day or year, requires funding. Are we willing to step up and create that funding?

The irony is, of course, that some of that money is already being spent. Typically a day program runs $300 or more a week, a number that jumped out at me when our Governator proposed cutting the school year by a week. DH and I both work full time, and don’t have any vacation, though we do work from home. I don’t quite know how families with two full time workers who commute manage, especially people without immediate family around to take the kids.

I’d like to see optional summer programs for all kids at all schools, that keep them going on academics but focus more on project type lessons – gardening, art, writing, etc.

So what are your thoughts: is summer vacation an important developmental time, or is it a lost opportunity? Maybe both?


Monday Open Thread

What’s been on my mind lately? Summer camp. What do I do with my son when school lets out?

His Spanish school offers its own summer program, but I want him to feel like he is getting a break from school. So far, I have signed him up for a two-week-long zoo camp and and a week-long science camp.

We will be in Austin for the Netroots Nation Convention in July and  I will attempt to head to New Hampshire for a couple weeks to see my parents. But what do we do the rest of the time especially since we work?

What are your plans? What do you do with your children the long summer months?

My rant for the day: It’s so annoying that these camps are half days, only a week long and cost $300. What’s up with that?!