Checking In

Dear treasured readers,


Are you wondering if I have dropped off of the face of the planet yet? (God I hope so, because it means you are still checking back here from time to time.)

The truth is, I have been missing you all as well. I have been missing the opportunity to sit down and craft a piece to share, a wrong that needs to be righted, a thought that needs to be shared. The truth is, I have no idea most weeks when or if that time is going to be given to me and it is mostly because I am so physically exhausted all the time.

You see, the most amazing thing happened to me about six weeks ago. There I was, end of the summer, trucking along and looking forward to fall. I was busy planning all the writing I was going to do once school started since Starman was going to be headed off to preschool and I was finally going to have some time to be at home by myself. The goal was to make enough money each month with my writing to cover the cost of his school - a goal that was totally doable considering my springtime pace. God, per usual, had other plans for me.

Six weeks ago the phone rang, and since we were on vacation with the family I let it go to voicemail. Later that day I picked up what turned out to be a message from a local Christian preschool. The director had found my resume from last year in a desk and wanted to know if I was still interested in a job? I called her the next day as soon as we hit home. Not one to turn down potential opportunity, I agree to interview the very next day.

The following day I went in and met with the director, who I took to immediately. She made me an offer I could not refuse. And thus I officially became the new PE teacher at a local Christian preschool. Every single day I have to wake up and pinch myself to make sure I am really awake, that this perfect job really did just fall into my lap.

I basically am spending every morning (you know, that same time I had set aside for writing) running around a gym and playing with preschoolers. And you know what, I am actually getting paid. This is a real job. Check out how much fun I get to have every day:

The only thing is, after four straight hours of running and jumping and dancing and balancing and stretching and catching and throwing and hopping and skipping.... all I want to do is have a nice cup of tea and pass out. After freelance writing for the last year, I am not exactly in the best physical shape of my life....or at least I wasn't before starting my new job. Now...well, let's just say after a year on the job, I am probably going to be fierce! Since starting, I have lost 7 lbs and can now full out run almost 2 miles on the treadmill. I am getting stronger, faster and sleeker and I am loving how good I feel.
The only downside to my new endeavor, is that I have been so tired every night, that writing has been the furthest thing from my mind. I have so many articles, so many things that I feel I need to be writing about, and they are just rattling around unwritten in my head. I do not want my readers to think that I have completely abandoned you, I haven't. And, the good thing is, that as my stamina increases, I find that I have more time to get more housework stuff done at night vs. before where I was skipping dinner and passing out on the couch at 8pm.
I figure sometime soon I should find a new rhythm, and once I do, I should be able to post more articles here and hopefully some more published ones elsewhere (I have had to turn down a couple of assignments this fall and it has felt like torture, but as they say, "know thy limits"). In the meantime, I am gong to continue to go to work everyday and jump around like they just don't care (trust me, they totally don't...with preschoolers, the sillier the better) and I will upload things as they are completed. It won't be scheduled like my old Monday/Friday posting schedule, but I will try to hold to those days as much as possible for tradition's sake.
Anyway, I hope you all are having a wonderful fall and embracing the one life you have been given.

Hope to see you here again soon,
(Blogger, Writer, Mom and Preschool PE Teacher Extraordinaire.) 

Women's Equality Day; Is your voice being heard?

Last Wednesday was National Women's Equality Day. This year (2015) marked the 95th anniversary of the day that (white) women were granted the right to vote. It was a huge victory towards gender equality, but ultimately not the panacea that it was hoped to be.

When women gained the right to vote there was the hope that by giving them a political voice it would spell an end to social and economic inequality, something that clearly still resonates today. While the amount women earn to men is frequently argued upon: $.60, .77, .83 or .91 to the dollar, what is not argued upon is that women make less than men in almost every profession. In almost 100 years since gaining the vote we are still struggling to catch up.

We know this as fact, so what we need to look at is why? Why after nearly a century of political freedom to affect policy are we still struggling to balance the scales? The answer, as in all things that are political, is complex and interconnected, but ultimately falls under the broader umbrella of gender stereotypes.

The first and foremost issue, as I see it, is that we lack the representation we need in government agencies. Sure, we may have women in the legislature, but there are relatively few younger women. How can we expect to pass legislation benefitting families and caregivers that are situated in our current economic and social reality if we are still being guided by the previous generation of families? The key is that we need younger people of both genders, but most specifically women to have a voice at the decision making table. Our generation's reality when it comes to children, elder care, and basic life balance is markedly different from even 10 years ago.

We need to buck the idea that women belong in the home when their children are young, that women have "seasons of life" or that family politics automatically equates to "women's politics." Family politics affects families. Men have health care crises, become caregivers for aging or ill family members, and experience need for end-of-life care too. Women are not the only ones affected. We need to put the idea to bed that the term "family" somehow fails to include men. These issues affect everyone, across the board. Families are in a much more precarious position these days and we all need to sit up and take notice.

Over the last three decades family income volatility has increased substantially. The economic vulnerability of families has intensified so that people born in the 1940s and 50s have a substantially different understanding of how raising children and caring for elders fits into the larger socioeconomic scheme than families of the 60s and 70s. The women born to these decades are proportionately higher in the legislative branches than women born in the late 70s and on. Because of this, the people who are currently at the decision making levels are the least likely to truly understand the challenges facing younger families today.

There is virtually no way around it: the economic reality for families from only 10 years ago is vastly different than the realities facing us today. Parents of younger children are from the new generation of families that are bringing children into the world at later and later ages. Say a woman has a child at 35 ,whose own mother was most likely already childbearing at a later age than the previous generation. Imagine her mother birthed her at 25. That would mean that at the age of the first grandchild, the grandmother would be 60 years of age. Assuming there are more children in the family the grandmother could be 65 or 70 by the time the last grandchild is born. If the family is truly blessed, that last grandchild would be 20-30 before they have to face the possibility of elder care stress. What is more likely however, is that the child may still be in high school; a bit harder, but still manageable.

Now, imagine that this trend continues. The same scenario for the next generation would be a 35 year old woman birthing a first child today that, in turn, doesn't have their own first child until 40. (The average maternal age in the US is currently 26, but the maternal rates for 35 years and older has been increasing steadily since 1970. It is now over double what it used to be for 40-44 years of age and NINE TIMES what it was for 35-39.) That would mean that our generation would be looking at becoming grandparents for the first time at 75 years old.

The average age of care recipients in the US is 75 years of age. That means that just as new families are getting started, either during the intensive newborn years, or shortly there after, they are going to be looking at not only having to juggle children and income production, but elder care, children and income production.

There is absolutely no way our current system is going to be able to sustain an entire population of people with three competing responsibilities. That is not to mention that grandparents, in the past, have typically provided much needed support, advice and help during the transition to family life and the loss of that support is an added stress on new parents. There also is the loss of the grandparent relationship when the grandparent's generation is too far removed, which can have an overall affect on the next generation as well.

Obviously these are generalizations. There are going to continue to be people have children at younger ages, people whose relationships with their parents are too strained to gain benefit, or whose parents live long, and vibrantly healthy lives and can engage actively well into their 90s. But, when the statistics suggest that more and more women are delaying childbirth, to the point that some businesses are offering egg freezing and fertility counseling as part of their benefits packages, we are looking at an unprecedented and alarming social crisis.

Luckily, the last few years have had the solution on the docket. It hasn't passed yet, but there is some exciting legislation that is working its way slowly through the system which could provide a desperately needed safety net for all families regardless of where they are in their life cycle.

Here in Colorado we had a bill that was just recently voted down on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives. The FAMLI Act: HB 15-1258 was a bill that would have provided Family Medical Leave Insurance for all Coloradans. It was a bill sponsored by Representatives Faith Winter and Joseph Salazar and Senator Jessie Ulibarri. The FAMLI (Family and Medical Leave Insurance) is designed to be a compliment to the existing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The current bill allows employees who meet a certain set of criteria to take up to 12 weeks UNPAID leave in order to care for a loved one, spouse, relative or self in the event of an injury or illness. The FAMLI act was designed to provide an insurance system that would allow those 12 weeks to be partially paid with at least 66% and up to 95% based on the employees income level.

While this bill is not going to make it to the vote for the 2015 November elections, there is still time to convince or government representatives that this bill needs to be considered for the next year's voting season. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting with one of its sponsors, Faith Winter, and a team at 9to5 Colorado in order to look at what still needs to be done to get this bill passed. It was a pretty amazing meeting, and I walked away with quite a few ideas for future posts surrounding the legislative process and the state of work/family balance in America.

Meeting with Faith Winter at 9to5 headquarters
The fact is, the FAMLI act just makes sense. It is a needed safety net; helpful for workers and employers now, but positively crucial later. Unless a substantial shift occurs in American culture in the next few years, there is going to be a significant age gap between generations. This gap is going to demand that businesses begin to acknowledge the importance of care giving, but it would be so much better to adapt the policy when we want to so that we have time to get it right, rather than after the crisis hits and we have no choice.

The only way that is going to happen is if more voices start calling out for more family friendly/ caregiving friendly policies. These voices are only going to be motivated by two things: necessity or representation. We need to get more voices in the decision making process who understand the unique socioeconomic forces that are putting pressure on families today. It started in the early 21st century, but intensified after the real estate market crash. Families are in trouble, the middle class is shrinking and the future looks bleak unless we act now.

What can I do?

First and foremost, tell your politicians you don't want hear about Family Values, but instead on how they plan on putting forth a plan focused on Valuing Families. Let them know that other than just hearing about social/moral politics like abortion or same-sex marriage, we want to hear about real solutions to help businesses and families thrive.

Write, call or otherwise contact your representatives!!! I cannot stress this enough. This is crucial. The more voices, and the more diverse the voices they hear (demographically, geographically, and across the age, gender, race and religious lines) the more they realize that an idea is popular. Diversity is democracy! They are not going to risk failing re-election by voting on something they aren't certain on. Your voice is important. Exercise your right and let them know that families have value.

Let people know about legislation like the FAMLI act. Let them know about its benefits.

Tell your story. If you have experienced hardship caring for an aging parent, a terminally or chronically ill family member or are parenting a high-need or special needs child and are struggling with work and caregiving, tell your story. Make sure your experience is acknowledged.

Run for office. If you have a compelling story, are young, or see a deep need for family policy, run. We need more voices who understand the realities as they are now, not as they were 10-20 years ago.

My Mom always told me that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the grease, so get out there and squeak! Make sure you are loud and make sure you are persistent, because if we don't do this now, it is possible a whole lot of individuals will be suffering as a result of scarce and improper care.
9to5 Winning Justice for Working Women (and working families)

Disagree with Love

I have had a very hard time writing here this summer. In part from having all the kids here 24/7, but almost more so, because of the extreme funk I found myself in with the craziness I have seen circulating on social media. I am talking about the "discussions" (if we can even use that term) on racism in the police force, the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriages, and the first rising tide of what I anticipate to be an intense presidential election season. The things I have seen voiced "out loud" on all sides of debates have been offensive, hurtful and down right intolerant.

I could tackle any one of those subjects, and in fact I already tackled election-time behavior back in 2012 with, Applying the Mom Pledge to the 2012 Election. But, despite voluminous articles (most of which I read) on the subject, I decided to explore my point through the lens of same-sex marriage. Ultimately the subject matter itself is not what I want you to focus on, but the process. There are too many people in America to expect us ever to be in total consensus, decisions are never going to please everyone, but I promise- there really is a way to disagree respectfully with love.

The day of the landmark SCOTUS decision legitimizing same-sex marriage, my Facebook feed was filled with celebration....and mourning. The hardest thing for me was watching as the celebratory joy that many of my friends felt as their families found a stronger foothold in the ability to speak out on their rights as caregiving workers (which is what this blog, and my grassroots Facebook group Valuing Families: A Social Movement are all about), was circumvented by the discomfort at the vocal disappointment from those in favor of "traditional marriage."

The joyfulness that I saw was quickly replaced by vitriolic hate that was spewed forth on both sides of the issue. Within the day, my Facebook feed had devolved to name calling and base insults. Some of my friends were painfully boastful, and others were uncomfortably bitter and resentful. My depression set in as I saw friends and family, people I love dearly, attack each other in an effort to "win" the argument for their side. Some of the things I saw flung at people I love were truly painful to see. The hate, the anger, the disgust. How could this be coming from people I cherish?

It took me a long time to process through these feelings and wrestle them onto "paper," and I am here to tell you, the truth I have come to is- there is no "side." We each speak the truth that we feel, and we each arrive at our own truths through our own experiences, education, culture, family and from plumbing (or not) the depth of our own hearts. You can argue, you can rail, you can even scream or threaten harm, but what you can't do is change their minds.

As an anthropologist I will tell you that for my first paper in graduate school, I was tasked to write a 10 page paper on the definition of marriage. The catch was, I had to make it universal for all faiths and cultures that we had read about thus far in our class. It has been a long time, but if I remember correctly there was a tribe of people from the Amazon rainforest who raided neighboring villages and stole their wives, who then became the one bride for all the male brothers in a lineage. We had to explain marriages in the sub-Sahara and Africa where resources are scarce so the males migrate regularly, and as a result, a woman would take more than one husband to provide income for her family. We read about marriage in the United States, both monogamous and polygamous and we read about the Arab traditions of taking multiple wives.

The list was much more extensive, but in each case we looked at the benefits to individuals and the surrounding area that each marriage system provided. We looked at children who were considered legitimate and illegitimate, and why, and how that affected their life outcomes. We looked at how each system helped individuals be successful in their particular culture and economy and what it would look like in that economy, or what would have to change, in order to superimpose our American ideal of one man-one woman in a monogamous marriage. In many cases, the local economy, or the ability to access resources would become untenable under a nuclear family lifestyle. Marriage systems clearly developed around what would provide the best possible survival for the people in question.

My thesis to this paper has stuck with me for years, and to this day guides how I perceive the concept of family. I especially see it being true in America, where family is undergoing such a dramatic (and scary and uncomfortable for some) transition to include families it would have never accepted 100 years ago. Today, our American ideal no longer (or usually does not) punish people for getting divorced, for becoming single parents, or teen parents, for interracial families, same-sex families, blended families, or families of open adoption. We have even grown to accept that people with disabilities have the capability to make decisions on their own lives in regards to love, reproduction and marriage.

My thesis was simple; the definition of marriage is the way a culture codifies sexual behavior, defines family responsibility and legitimizes children in the larger culture's eyes. In other words, we use the definition of marriage, regardless of the specifics, across the globe to dictate whether or not a child would be considered "bastardized" within the larger culture, to codify familial roles and responsibilities and who it is acceptable to be having "relations" with.

The stance of The Two-Penny Soapbox, and myself as its author, is that any definition of marriage that removes stigma from children and allows them to be accepted as treasured members of society, with the same rights, accesses, and opportunities as those whose parents are not divorced, young, old, blended, single, inter-racial, living with a disability or in a non-traditional relationship, is a definition that I will whole heartedly embrace.

But, defining marriage is not the point of this piece. The point of this piece is, that you will never change some people's minds about something unless they come to it in their own time and in their own way. I say this to my friends and family who find discomfort and anger in someone saying, "I condemn your lifestyle," or "being [LGBTQ] is a choice." I say this to some of my dear, dear friends who believe, all the way to their core, that God sanctioned marriage only between one man and one woman. Any other culture in the world that does not practice this, for them, is just a culture that has not been missionized yet. To all of you, please, be respectful. If you must, state your case with kindness, listen with an open mind, and then if you are not moved, agree to disagree. Name calling, threats, violence, hatred, fear, animosity- these things are not okay. Ever. Someone is not an idiot just because their world view profoundly differs from yours.

In my mind, finding God's grace and the spirit of Jesus is the single most important thing in the world. True love and acceptance comes when you can look at someone, someone who believes something so fundamentally different from you that it seems impossible that you can co-exist peacefully, and you listen to their story. Listen without forming the argument in your mind and waiting for your turn to speak. I mean, really, truly listen to the truth that is them, and then try to understand their viewpoint. When you do, you may find from time to time that you can connect with something within their argument that makes a grain of sense. Hold on to that grain and you will have discovered the common ground to try and love them for who they are and where they are coming from.

The world is full of breathtaking moments of glorified diversity. And in that diversity there is beauty, there is peace, there is the divine. There are people in the world that, despite what most would consider the unassailable evidence of science, still believe that babies are created by standing on a sacred spot, facing the sea and inviting their ancestors into themselves. Who are we to take that from them? What a beautiful belief system. A belief in the interconnectedness and joy of coming and becoming from a single line of people. Who am I to point to a diagram in the book of reproduction and say, "You are an idiot. You are wrong. You are ignorant and uneducated. Thank goodness I am here to show you the right way to believe"?

So please, in the wake of recent social unrest around racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance and the hatred born from fear that is rampaging social media- please take a moment and try to love your neighbor. Love them even if it hurts to look on them. Love them even as you fear their actions. Love them for the divine light that exists inside of them and accept that they have to follow what is true and evident to them, even as you do. Inequality exists. Hatred exists. Differences exist. But, what a beautiful world it could be if we all found a way to connect on a different level.

As humans, we are set adrift in a universe that provides life as diverse as it is populous. Embrace the beauty in the diversity. Look past the details and find the humanity underneath. You may find you are less angry, less fearful and more loving. And wouldn't that be a better place for all of us to be?

With that, dear reader, I leave you with this;

I love you. I love you for your faith. I love you for your choices. I love the way God made you. I love the burdens you carry, the fears you harbor and the hopes you have for your vision of the future. I love that the world you forsee is a better place, even if we can't agree on what that looks like. I love you for your heart. I love you for your friendship. I love you, just as you are.

As we always hear - kindness costs nothing and love is free.

So mind your words. Speak with respect. Disagree with love.

MAVEN Provides Quality Solutions for Time-Crunched Moms

A recent conversation with a good friend about healthcare got me to thinking about how much time is lost by working Moms, caregivers and busy families with simple visits to the doctor’s office. The conversation that sparked this research involved a good friend of mine who was lamenting her third trip to the doctor’s office that week for a sinus/ear infection that was circulating through her very large family.
“I am going to have to take off yet another whole afternoon of work just to take my daughter in so that they can give her the same antibiotic ear drops they gave to the other three. The same thing happened last month when they all got pink eye…. I miss my old pediatrician. She used to just automatically call in prescriptions for all of the kids for certain things. This new one requires I bring each child in.”
After that conversation, I began to think there had to be a better way to handle simple healthcare requests than taking 2-3 hours out of a busy day to drive to school, pick up the child, head to the doctor’s office, sitting in the waiting room, being seen by the doctor, checking out and heading home, or back to work and school.
As it turns out, an emerging market known as telehealth is primed to answer that very need. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Telehealth is simply using digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to manage your health and well-being.”  Telehealth practitioners rely heavily on video based appointments, a technology that more and more Americans are becoming familiar with thanks to applications like Skype and Facetime.  Video based appointments are still a relatively new phenomenon, but as more consumers are seeing the benefits of using these emerging companies and are embracing the benefits that technology, insurance companies are increasingly embracing them as well. In 2013 US News published a report on the convenience of this new technology, “Telehealth: The Ultimate in Convenience Care.”
Like any new technology, the regulation and laws are working hard to keep up, but thus far the telehealth industry has proven that the convenience and benefits are significant, the cost savings to the health industry substantial and the tendency for fraud and misrepresentation to be no higher than in traditional health care settings.
One new company joining the existing ranks of telehealth is Maven. The company focuses primarily on women’s health, specifically prenatal, post-partum, lactation consulting, pediatric needs and nutrition and mental health needs.
I had the pleasure of giving Maven a try, courtesy of the incredibly kind and engaging owners and managing staff.  I found the application to be easy to use. First I downloaded the application with a simple click. After navigating through the customer friendly website I found it very simple to find a Nutritionist that I thought sounded like a good fit. I made the appointment filled out the pre-appointment forms in less than 5 minutes. The process of connecting was also very user friendly (and this is coming from someone who is somewhat of a technophobe). All I had to do was to click launch appointment and allow the program access to my camera and microphone.
The practitioner I spoke with was extremely professional, kind and knowledgeable. We discussed some issues I have been having with finding the right diet to help with some current health problems. She listened and then provided me some good suggestions I could implement immediately, as well as options for on-going monitoring and support.
The only frustration that I experienced during my appointment time was the stilted video feed and the fact that we lost connectivity twice. The first time I panicked when my I-pad dropped the signal, but I quickly realized that reconnecting was as easy as retouching the “launch appointment” button again.
As a user, I was extremely impressed with the openness of the practitioner to provide email and telephone information, as well as a plan for ongoing monitoring if I was interested. At no point did I feel like I was just a “patient,” but instead I really felt like a person.
I admit, I was somewhat skeptical about the benefits of telehealth, but after experiencing it for myself, I feel that these telehealth options could very well be the answer for families already strapped for time and money. The application is affordable, relationship based, user-friendly and extremely convenient from a time perspective.
The Two-Penny Soapbox is not typically a site that provides reviews, or advertisements, but in this case I feel that the benefit to my readers outweighs my objections to product endorsement. I will definitely be using Maven again in the future. While telehealth is never going to fully replace in-person healthcare, when it comes to everyday health questions, using telehealth services just makes sense.
So, as a conclusion, let me run-down of the benefits and drawbacks of Maven’s application.
  • Exclusively on Apple/ Android devices not yet supported
  • Connectivity issues

Yep, I only found two drawbacks. The benefits, on the other hand are significantly higher in number;

  • The application is simple to download, simple to use
  • Compiling your health history is automatic and easy to access
  • Providers make themselves very available
  • Extended communication and post-appointment notes create a relationship based health care
  • Appointments are affordable
  • While not currently supported on Maven, telehealth options are increasingly being accepted and utilized by insurance companies
  • Even when connectivity is lost, reconnecting is as simple as clicking a button
  • A free forum where providers answer questions is available in addition to video appointments
  • The time savings are immeasurable

So, as a gift to all my readers, Maven has provided me with an access code that allows you to try out the Maven application. Just use your special reader code TWOPENNYSOAPBOX for $25 (one free appointment). I promise you won’t be disappointed. And while this doesn’t let businesses off the hook in regards to the need for more family-friendly policies, the telehealth industry provides a much needed time-saving solution for busy families while we are waiting. 

Note: Maven in no way paid for this endorsement. The only benefit I received was the same free appointment that I am extending to all my delightfully loyal readers.

How America is Shooting Itself in the Foot

As an anthropologist, I have become frustrated by certain subjects that have come up in recent news stories. News stories about things like; the dangers of technology for children under 12, the growing obesity epidemic, the increased awareness of fat shaming, how the American work week has increased in hours, and of course, the previously discussed topic of pressure on parents to supervise their children 100% of the time.

What I see, from an anthropological perspective, is that all of these disparate things are actually all very intimately interlinked with each other. There is not one issue on that list that is not caused by, affected by, or is the causal effect for something else on the list. America is shooting itself in the foot by focusing on the symptoms, but not recognizing the underlying issue.

Americans are putting more hours in, for less buying power and less vacation/sick time than at any point in history. Because of this, we are experiencing a severe time crunch in regards to outside of work activities (not to mention a spike in stress and depression related illnesses and a decrease in overall health-but that is a topic for another day).

With the expansion of the 9 to 5 workday to a more typical, 8 to 6 schedule, a casualty has been the time to make from-scratch, home-cooked meals. Convenience meals are great for speed and efficiency, but they are typically higher in sodium, fat and chemicals than meals that are prepared from scratch. Also, they are typically higher in price per serving.

We complain about obesity and yet we live in a fast-food, convenience food culture. Our culture demands that workers eat to live vs. live to eat. Take certain European cultures like France, Spain or Greece in contrast. These countries have a thriving culture of  the importance of experiencing food as a family event. Because of this, businesses set aside specific hours to honor that. In America, your average retail worker gets 30 min for "lunch,"  which depending on the schedule, can often be at odd times of the day. Our workplaces are not concerned about our health or our enjoyment of our nourishment, it is merely a means to an end, a necessary step to productivity.

With people having less free time and eating more instant food, or restaurant food, we have a growing problem with obesity in this country. Childhood obesity has specifically be targeted as something that America needs to address imminently. As a result, a host of organizations have sprung up in the past decade in attempt to change things. In rare, but increasing cases, governing agencies have removed children from their parents for being too obese.

The most common answer to childhood obesity? Encourage parents to make sure their kids get outside as much as possible. Then add in all the stressors on parents about not letting children experience too much "screen time" and exposing them to more nature. These articles frequently come in fear-mongering style about how without more nature and less technology your child will end up fat, stupid and riddled with issues like ADD, Sensory Processing Disorder, depression, anxiety, and technology addiction.

But wait! You are absolutely NOT allowed to let them outside without proper supervision, which means that you need go outside with them. They should only have 30 minutes to 1 hour of screen time, which means a huge chunk of time should apparently be given to supervised outdoor play. If you send your child outside or up to the park unsupervised, beware. You will probably receive a visit from Child Protective Services for neglectful parenting because limiting screen time is really only a secondary priority to constant supervision.

Now let's revisit the first paragraph. As previously mentioned, parents are in a time crunch. They barely have time for family and caregiving as is, and they certainly aren't given the space or opportunity to really sit down and make and enjoy a good meal. So how the heck are they going to supervise their children outside for large periods of time? That right, they aren't. Parents can barely skate through their existing responsibilities, much less add intense child supervision to their list.

So, out of fear of that well-meaning call from a well-meaning neighbor to social services about children running around unsupervised, parents lock their kids up inside and pacify them with screens. This is done out of survival, not out of laziness. Then we are bombarded with guilt that we are failing our child somehow. We feel victorious when we get something on the table that doesn't come from a box, and where everyone sits and eats at the same time. We constantly feel pushed and pulled between what we "should do" vs. what we "can do."

Use of convenience foods and lack of exercise lead to obesity. Obesity leads to fat shaming and lack of opportunity. Lack of opportunity leads to long hours in poorly paid jobs.....and we have come full circle. The only way we are going to break this ridiculous cycle is when businesses step back and realize that taking care of caregivers and families, or in other words, taking care of their employees as people, is the sole path to change.

Start "Valuing Families" and many of these "American problems" will self-correct themselves. So writers, I beg you, stop writing about how parents or society can do better and focus on how businesses can do better. Focusing on caring for employees can strengthen a business in the long run, obtain higher productivity and less time out for health issues. It really is a win-win for everyone.

Top 5 Things NOT To Say To a Mom With A Late Potty Trainer

In my humble opinion, potty training has got to the be the hardest, most frustrating time of parenthood. I understand it doesn't work that way for everyone, but for me I have struggled with not one, not two, but three hard to train preschoolers. I would have had more children, but I waived the flag when I realized that with the time and money that I have spent training my three, I could have trained six "normal" kids. I have gathered a plethora of information on how to handle potty training parents you know who might be struggling. So here is a list of 5 helpful suggestions on what not to say to parents of late potty trainers:

1. "Oh, is she still not potty trained?.....How old is she now?" - Yes, I get it. My kid is still in diapers, thank you so very much for pointing that out to me. Furthermore, your question about age is really just a thinly veiled judgment, rude at best and insulting at worst. You and I both know by listening to her talk and the fact that she is a head taller then a normal sized two-year old clearly means she is "too old" to be in diapers. I get it. This question is in no way helpful and actually makes me feel more horrible about the situation than I already do. Don't. Just Don't!

2. "You know what worked for me..."- Trust me when I tell you that any parent whose child is over the age of 3 1/2 doesn't need to hear this. We have already Googled every method we can think of, read every book, talked to our pediatrician, experimented with strategies, and bashed our heads against the wall at least half a dozen times. There is a very high probability that the miracle solution that you are about to proffer is not something we need or want to hear. Unless specifically requested DO NOT tell me how your magic bullet was the M&M method, bare bottom drills, sticker chart, jelly bean jar, offering him something he really wants or making him want to be part of the big kids. Been there done I have to go change another diaper.

3. "Well I just made them change/clean up after themselves."- Seriously? How does this even work? I attempted this method with my middle child when she was approaching four and do you know what it got me? A bathroom covered in *redacted* and a whole stinkin' (literally) load of laundry. What it did not produce, despite 4 dedicated weeks, was a potty trained child. In fact, I would pay good money to meet the child that this method actually worked on because I feel like they would be akin to a unicorn or the Loch Ness monster - pure fantasy.

4. "Well all children potty train in their own time." - This statement in itself is not actually that offensive, but it so frequently is what is proffered after the three sentences above have already been covered. They start out with, "Oh, not potty trained yet?," and move on to, "well, have you tried...?," and finish up with the lame, "well, you know, kids do things in their own time." If you want to close down an uncomfortable potty training conversation with a poor soul whose child is clearly not as advanced as your precious angel, just say something like, "I am so sorry, that sounds frustrating. I will send good thoughts your way that it is over soon."

5. "My child potty trained in X-days at X-age." - Pretty much anything along the lines of indicating that your child potty trained in 3 days at 18 months is bound to be met with jealously and resentment by anyone still having to change disturbingly large diaper disasters at the age of 4. I feel a little piece of my soul die every time I hear my almost 4 year old say, "Mommy, it is time to change me." It isn't that we don't want to celebrate your amazing success, it is just that right now, in the thick of our frustration we most likely can't dig deep enough to get past our own angst. If you know someone is struggling with potty training it is best to avoid sharing those stories with them until it is all over. Then, and only then, is it okay to say, "I felt so bad for you having to deal with that for so long, you know little Jr. only took 3 days to potty train at 18 months and it was just so easy." It is safe at that point because then we can sit quietly in our own smug superiority and think how we had to fight in the trenches and persevered. We didn't have it handed to us on a silver platter.

I hope this list has helped you. Remember, just like you can't force an anorexic to eat, you can't force a potty resistant child to "get over it" and start using the bathroom. Parents of late potty trainers are often stressed out, frustrated and just a little bit jealous- so tread carefully. We will get there too- eventually. As it is so often stated to me by others, "most kids don't go to kindergarten in diapers."

Moving Beyond the Sandwich Generation

The term "sandwich generation" was coined by Dorothy A Miller in 1981 but was publicized by Carol Abaya, a nationally recognized expert in aging parent and eldercare issues. Her website provides a place where caregivers can find testimonials, information and research on caring for aging family members.

The term, "sandwich generation," primarily refers to individuals, typically in their 40s and 50s that are sandwiched between caring for elderly parents and their own children. Additionally, Carol Abaya has added the following terms to more specifically describe subsets:
Traditional: those sandwiched between aging parents who need care and/or help and their own children.
Club Sandwich: those in their 50s or 60s, sandwiched between aging parents, adult children and grandchildren. OR those in their 30s and 40s, with young children, aging parents and grandparents.
(Term coined by Carol Abaya) 
 Open Faced: anyone else involved in elder care.
(Term coined by Carol Abaya
The descriptions of the sandwich generation assumes that the individuals dealing with aging parents are most typically parenting older children, however, with the recent increase in maternal and paternal ages for first-time parents, those children are often much younger. Or, in other words, the Club Sandwich group is growing exponentially.

So, what does that mean for families?

In the past, young parents could count on the help of their family and their community in order to make it through the draining years of raising infants and toddlers. Now, however, with two-income families, older families, later retirement for grandparents and families separated by distance, that help is simply not there. Additionally, the American workforce has put little, to no emphasis on providing flexibility or job security for caregivers. With Americans delaying childbirth, they are increasing the chances that they will be caring for small children and aging parents simultaneously, thus doubling the strain of maintaining reliable income production.

So, what are we supposed to do?

Things like the Family Medical Leave Act, Short Term Disability, Flextime, telecommuting, job sharing, and part-time options are all fantastic starts to allowing family members to balance their work with their caregiving responsibilities. But, with more parents being sandwiched we need to expand those options.

9to5 is currently working on "the FAMILY Act, a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would allow workers to take paid leave to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or their own medical needs." which would be a huge boon for families struggling to balance competing demands.

We also need to encourage companies of the value of embracing the benefitted part-time employee. By allowing workers time to meet their (often non-negotiable) caregiving responsibilities without stretching themselves so thinly, the company is ensuring a dedicated and focused worker.
A worker who feels valued will in turn value the company. A worker who feels cared for, will care in return. And if all else fails, a worker with strenuous caregiving responsibilities will not walk away from the rare gem that is quality part-time work.

I could quote the many studies that have proven that America's obsession with long hours actually equates to very little increase in actual productivity, but The Economist said it best with their article, "Proof that you should get a life." Cutting work hours just makes sense for everyone. We don't need to "prove" ourselves as dedicated worker bees by being present for long hours, we should judge and be judged on the quality and output of our work. By giving everyone a little breathing room, we may find it improves everyone's lives.

Take Action
  1. Click on the 9to5 link above and find out how you can take action to support the FAMILY Act.
  2. Encourage businesses and employers to embrace benefitted part-time work
  3. Find a family struggling with caregiving responsibilities and offer to help out in some small way
 We can only build our community one brick at a time, but change starts with you. When America can finally recognize the value of our workers as people and not just the bottom line, we all win.

And as always, remember to throw out Family Values and start Valuing Families!!

The Danger of Choices

Anyone who is, or has parented a toddler can tell you that giving them too many choices is like taking the fast-train to Meltdown City. There is a reason for that. Children can get overwhelmed and stressed out by too many choices. Give them too many, too often and they can begin to expect them, developing a Machiavellian-sized sense of entitlement and of their ability to influence the world.

But, news isn't that much different for adults.

When I was living in England I was eating a small café with a friend when I ordered a sandwich, "could you please hold the tomatoes and can I get that on the whole wheat bread instead of the onion bread?" Yeah. I am pretty sure the look the waitress gave me at that point was because she was trying to decide if I was some sort of royalty in disguise, an alien from outer-space, or perhaps both. Then she said, very politely, "Perhaps you would prefer to order something else then."

And there it was. She didn't say "no," but it was implied. I cringe when I look back on myself at that moment, at the entitlement and offense in my response. I turned to my friend and started griping about how incredibly rude the waitress was and how "it wasn't like I was asking her to remake the entire sandwich, just make a couple of small substitutions." And there it was, right there in my belief  that exceptions had to be made for me for no other reason than I wanted them.

Luckily for me, my friend was very understanding and explained what I should have already remembered; that I was in a foreign country and I certainly wasn't in Kansas (or any other American state) anymore. Apparently in England (and possibly everywhere that isn't America, I can't speak to that) you order what is on the menu. Period. If you don't like something or are allergic to something, then you order something else. Because it actually isn't as simple as it sounds to make constant substitutions. The thought being, constant substitutions increases the possibility that the product quality can decline or mistakes can be made.

My friend lovingly and patiently explained this to me and then told me to, "either order something else, or pick the tomatoes off the sandwich, and stop being so bloody American." This then led us to discuss the new Subway opening up in London and how it was such a novel concept. The idea that you could build your sandwich with so many combinations was mind-boggling to her (and as she reiterated, so typically American). She thought that perhaps she might never go there because the choices would be too overwhelming. She also said the same thing about coffee houses which were not popular in England where they tend prefer pubs instead.

"You Americans have too many choices," she said. "You seem to need all those choices because you all are so set on being unique. You founded your country on freedom, but then you just let it run wild. You expect that everything in your lives has to be customized, reconfigured or rebuilt to each person's unique tastes and preferences. That is just madness."

I thought about and realized she was right. After I moved back to the states I started noticing how much more customized everything was here. We customize our phones, our shoes, our food, our television, we customize anything and everything. We even market it that way.

Take Burger King's famous "Have it your way" slogan. Or the ridiculously American notion that "the customer is always right." We give consumers too much power sometimes, too many choices.

Buying a cup of coffee is no longer an act of being thirsty or needing a jolt of caffeine; it is a chance to flex your unique triple-shot, non-fat, no-foam, vanilla latte, hold-the-whip-self. Brides are forced to agonize over what centerpiece will truly reflect their authentic selves. We have to decide what to watch when we have access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Xfinity On-Demand, and 150+ channels. If you are like me, then some days you just spend an hour endlessly flipping not really taking in anything. We waste so many hours trying to pick the perfect phone, shoe, t-shirt, or car that will reflect our personalities. We do this, because if we choose wrong, then we aren't projecting what makes us, well us--anxiety ensues.

We are all a bunch of toddlers with too many choices (yes, even me).  Barbara Meltz, a fairly well-known parenting consultant writes, "...children of all ages feel most secure when they know what their (again, age-appropriate) limits are, when those limits are consistent and when there are consistent consequences for infractions." I would argue that it isn't just about children. Adults can get overwhelmed from too many choices. We spend needless hours on picking just the right -- whatever it is we are buying. Think of how much time we would get back if we limited those choices.

Apply this quote from Meltz to adults and you will find it doesn't sound too far off; them choices and/or control for the wrong reasons, they end up feeling anxious and insecure. And that, in turn, can contribute to a whole array of behaviors that could include tantrums and sleep issues.
Anyone who has ever worked a customer service desk can tell you all about adult tantrums. Even I have not been immune to it; I lost it at a counter once because I had been to three different stores with the promise that the next one would have what I wanted, a very specific color of dishes (this was before England). Did the color really affect the food? A dish is a dish. It is the intense pressure of all those choices. Everything has to be perfect.

So here it is, an idea that is bound to be wildly unpopular -- Perhaps we shouldn't allow people to customize their own gear like Nike does. Perhaps we should just order the sandwich offered and pick off the tomatoes, or go back to the menu and order something else.

Maybe, ultimately, we might even been happier.

**disclosure: the event described happened over 15 years ago, British culture and opinions on choice may have changed by now.

Guest Blogging Opportunities This Summer

It has come to my attention that we have kind of a crazy summer planned here at our house. It is crazy in a good way, but still crazy. As a result, it dawned on me that I should consider opening up my blog to feature some new voices.

A few years back I had the opportunity to guest post on The Mom Pledge Blog when she opened up her website for a similar reason. I jumped at the chance and it was a really fun experience. I garnered some new readers for my own blog, got a little exposure and as a result, met some new people I still occasionally exchange emails with today.

So after much discussing with The Husband, who is annoyingly right in almost all things (although please don't actually tell him I told you this, because he will be even more unbearable than he already is) I have decided to take his suggestion to accept guest authors here at The Two-Penny Soapbox this summer.

If you have an idea about parenting, culture, making work easier for families, elder care, primary caregiver responsibilities, adoption, or anything else you think might be a good fit here, send me an email with "The Two-Penny Soapbox Idea" as your subject line:

I would love to add some new perspectives and new visions and I am happy to share my soapbox to do so.

So, send in your ideas and let me know. I am only looking for between 4-8 pieces and I will be doing them on a first-come-first-serve basis, so don't wait.

And if not, stay tuned, keep reading and have an amazing summer!

Happy Memorial Day!

What do you do to celebrate Memorial Day?

I believe that we owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women serving our country, regardless of whether or not you agree with the politics that put them there. Today, The Two-Penny Soapbox is taking a moment to acknowledge the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families.

In tribute, The Husband and I have the tradition of running the annual Bolder Boulder 10K Road Race. It has been a family tradition since before we were even a family. We ran our first race together back in 2003, not long after we had gotten engaged. I had never run in honor of someone specific until I had the pleasure of getting in contact with my birth father in late 2012. That following 2013 Memorial Day, I ran in honor of him; Ron Walker, 82nd Airborne Division, combat veteran. I have run with his name every year since.

Last year was my oldest daughter's first Bolder Boulder. We weren't sure how she would do, but that girl trucked all 6.2 miles like a rock star! She has been counting down the minutes (no seriously, she is actually doing the math) every day for the last week.

So, while you are barbequing, lounging around, playing in the sun, or running one of the most fun road races in the States, don't forget to honor those whose day it is.

Happy Memorial Day!!!

The Dog Factor

The beautiful thing about stepping out into the world and experiencing other countries and other cultures is that you see things from another point of view. Sometimes it is one you hadn't considered before. And sometimes, you learn something about your own culture you never would have questioned before.

I had this happen when I was living in England. I had an experience that allowed me to see what Americans look like to...well, not Americans, and this revelation all started with a movie.

I was living in the UK in 1998 and 1999, and you may or may not know that American movies used to get released over there later than they do here. Because of this I had the opportunity to see the movie "Independence Day," twice with new-to-the-movie audiences.

The first time I saw the movie, I was a sophomore in college. I saw the movie in Denver, at a fairly well-known and very large theater. I also saw it mere days from when it came out, so we were in the Fourth of July spirit. The theater was hushed most of the movie, with a smattering of gasps and snickers during scary or funny parts. When the lights came up, people cheered. It was a serious (albeit fluffy) action film.

Or so I thought.

Then, two years later while living in Norwich, England, I attended the performance with four of my British friends. Within the first fifteen minutes I had begun to wonder if I was even watching the same film as they were. The entire theater would erupt into raucous laughter at parts I couldn't even begin to see were funny. By half-way through the movie it began to dawn on me that what I had previously experienced as a serious action film at home, was instead being treated like a full-on comedy by my British compatriots.


I left the theater bewildered and perplexed. How could an entire theater find humor in a dog running down a tunnel from scorching flames, only to jump to safety at the last second? Why is that funny? Where was the humor in people communicating with each other at the end by Morse code? Somehow, amidst what I perceived, there was a thread of humor that seemingly everyone could see but me.

Later I asked my friends about it and they laughed and laughed and made comments about "Americans and your cinema," how "Americans sure love their dogs," and "isn't it always the Americans the save the day. The rest of us don't sit around waiting, you know."

Later, when I was back stateside, I rented the movie for a third time and attempted to watch it from their perspective. And after spending a year, as anthropologists call it, "going native," I suddenly could see exactly what they were talking about. This scene truly is hysterical:

As this scene was as well. Trust me, most Brits found this either hysterically funny, or deeply offensive...."About bloody time" those American got off their butts and saved the rest of us....

And it wasn't just "Independence Day," either. No, suddenly all movies were viewed with the dual lens of American and British. Suddenly, I was the one laughing hysterically at bizarre moments. Because I am here in America, I mostly laugh alone. But once I saw things from their perspective, I couldn't un-see it. It is there, in my brain, forever. And Americans, Oh my LORD are we obsessed with our dogs!! Once I saw was permanently ingrained and suddenly I saw dogs everywhere.

So, next time you are sitting in a movie like the "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and you hear someone bust out laughing as the random dog leaps to safety as they are leaving the danger zone, or you hear someone snicker at the random dog in Transformers, or any other action movie ever made, just know, that what we see, isn't always what someone else sees. The dog factor is real. They truly are everywhere!

We even put them in movies that they have absolutely NO business being in. The novel, "The Road," which is a post-apocalyptic dystopia that has people eating people, made mention that few-to-no animals were left in the world because they had all been eaten. And  yet....and YET.... the movie, "The Road," ends like this:

Yes. That is a very healthy, well-fed dog you are seeing. I am sure that family, while attempting to resist the cannibalism that is rampant throughout the rest of the world, would have eaten that dog long ago. Not to mention, in a movie where food is that scarce, they never would have wasted it on a dog. But, this is America, and there has to be a dog in everything!

Seriously, this dog, from "Transformers," is just there for humor value....that and the unwritten rule (I can't find one) that you can't make an action movie and not put a dog in it somewhere. I suspect it is in some secret film maker by-laws:

I want you to think about that the next time you are watching a movie. Pay attention to the dogs. You will realize they appear in almost every film, not the just one's that are part of the story (The Husband has been converted, he sees the dogs now too so I no longer have to laugh alone.)

They are often random and extraneous, but God forbid you pull something like Ridley Scott did in "Gladiator," where you make the dog a part of the story and then fail to deal with what happened to him. That is tantamount to crucifixion-worthy.  No joke. You should see the message boards. Whether he forgot the dog as he claimed, or killed him off only to find out that wasn't acceptable to American viewers is hotly debated, but not dealing with it at all created a storm of criticism.

Americans do not stomach killing dogs very well. We even made a movie about a hit man coming out of retirement because someone killed his dog in "John Wick." Someone killed his dog, and that fact somehow justified his killing somewhere upwards of 75 souls. As an audience member, you are supposed to be ok with that math; 1 dog= 75 humans. And the sad part is, we are ok with it. Americans are really, truly obsessed with dogs. I am not sure what it is about the American culture that bonds so significantly with the loyal canine companion, but it is there, indisputably there.

So, whenever I am struggling with seeing something from someone else's viewpoint, I stop and think about my total confusion as I sat through a movie I thought was a serious action film, while everyone else was busy wiping tears of laughter form their eyes. Sometimes we are just coming from very different places. That is okay, as long as you can step out from time to time and realize that sometimes the dog really is the elephant in the room.

I am curious to know. Comment and let me know if you see it, the dog factor. It is like one of those hidden messages in the optical illusion, pay attention and you will start seeing it....then you won't be able to stop seeing it.

Summer is Coming!!!

This is a quick, fluffy blog. Mostly because I, like my kids, am totally suffering from spring fever. I too am ready to be done with daily grind of the school year. I am wearing out on packing lunches, finding library books buried under toys, asking for the 10th time if everyone's homework is really done.

I want to play. I am ready to get outside and garden. I am ready for hiking and kayaking and biking. We are only a few weeks away from trips to the zoo and the museum or afternoon movies at the discount theater, but I want it now. Are we there yet?

It is during summer when I really truly appreciate working from home and being a mostly-at-home mom. I get to party with my kids for 12 weeks and now that they are older, I love every minute of it. I  am counting down 8 more days of school!

It was much harder when the kids were small. When the daily grind of baby care and caring for school aged children made our days confined and monotonous. Back then I had bored kids or a cranky baby. We couldn't go to the zoo or the museum, or if we did, we couldn't stay long because the baby needed to nap. Art projects were hard because we had to pick toddler-friendly supplies.

Back then, summer was a 12-week long wasteland that seemingly stretched on for what felt like forever. But, that was a different season. We are exiting the baby season of our lives and I am looking forward to summer because....*fingers crossed* this is the summer we finally potty train Connor (3 1/2) and say goodbye to the last vestiges of babyhood. This is my summer of transition.

This summer I officially move into the role of "mother of older children." This past weekend my 9 year old asked me if we could watch "Jurassic Park". The weekend before we took our girls to see "Age of Ultron." For those of you still attending movies like "Home" or "Minions," have no worries, the time is coming when you will get to mix it up and go see something that is actually on your radar. You can go see something you would have gone to see without your kids.

Older kids are fun! And I am going to get to hang with them this summer and enjoy their company while they still think I am cool. This is the proverbial "honeymoon period," or "second trimester," of child raising. We are post- high-need, cry-happy, tantrum-thowing baby and toddler-hood. We are pre- puberty, pre- eye-rolling, "mom, could you just walk five steps behind me so people don't know we are together" teenage-hood (something I actually said to my own mom).

Right now, my kids still think I am cool, and right now I think they are pretty cool too. We are in the best part, and I intend to enjoy every single second of it!

So, eight more days! And then, let the fun commence!

With that,  here are just a couple of pictures from our awesome summer last year:
End of Soccer Season Fun

Colorado History Museum

Fourth of July Fireworks

Children's Museum

Cherry Creek Reservoir

Backyard Fun

Risk Is Real, Lawsuits Won't Change That

I spend a vast amount of time scrolling through the net seeking out articles on my passions:
  • risk management
  • parenting
  • reconnecting kids with nature
  • improving the workplace for all caregivers
  • political movements to improve the lives of working women
  • anything on how to build communities, or communities that have made the news
Occasionally, my searches bring me to an odd conglomeration of articles that trigger a thought process that takes me outside of my "box" that I normally think from.

Last night I found a news story about a local cat café that is being sued by a customer. She is being sued because the customer got a cat bite and it became severely infected and she ended up missing a week of work. Her family income situation was precarious and the incident was apparently devastating to their economic position so of course they had no choice to but to file a nearly $6,000 lawsuit.

On another note, this past Monday the verdict finally came down in the lawsuit where a police officer sued Starbucks after he burned himself on a free cup of coffee in 2012. Yes, in case you hadn't heard of that case, the officer was given....GIVEN....a free cup of coffee. Apparently the lid on this coffee disintegrated and he was burned. This apparently caused his Crohn's  disease to flare up which then required surgery. He didn't win.

Do you know what we would have called this before we turned into a "litigation nation?" We would have called it a misfortune. We would have called it a tragedy. We might have even said it was just a seriously crappy day. What we would not have done is point our finger at someone else and say it is their fault. We would not demand monetary compensation for any and every horrible thing we experience. Sometimes shit just happens, as they say.

The stories are tragic for those affected. What they are NOT, are acceptable law suits. This stuff is making me crazy. I am not joking....C.R.A.Z.Y. Here are the facts, and I will offset them so as to make a stronger point:

Coffee is hot, Cats are unpredictable, and children get hurt sometimes. Risk is real. Suing every time something bad happens does NOT, contrary to popular belief, prevent risk. All it does is instill fear in everyone.

A short time ago I wrote a series of articles on the subject of risk and how we treat risk in America has created a ridiculous standard for parents. If you want to check some of them out, I am including a couple of the more popular posts.

Moms, Let's Ditch the Defensiveness
Taking Page From the Homebirth Movement
Parental Pinch Gets Tighter

Additionally, after I was done ranting and raving on social media about the 9 news story about the cat café and the ridiculous cop, I found an article, Criminalization of Natural Play, which then led me to explore the website, Children and Nature Network . The authors on the site posited various study results which posit that the increase in sensory issues, balance problems and lack of body awareness in older children these days is directly related to the lack of outdoor play, physical activity and the increase in screen time, indoor activities and organized extracurricular activities.

The idea that was proffered throughout the site, is that by attempting to make children safer, we have in fact made the LESS safe. Would you like to read that again?.... By attempting to make children safer, or in other words, by trying to anticipate every risk they may encounter, we have actually made things more dangerous for them. Children are less balanced, less body aware and more likely to injure themselves with mundane tasks because we won't let them climb trees, play outside unsupervised, or allow them to roam unattended by adults.

I have reached a point where, every time I read one of these lawsuit stories, I just want to weep for society. For me it is a total *head desk* moment. Do we, as a society, not see that we are gradually making everyone's life harder every time we add a new waiver form, disclaimer posting, change in behavior, state requirement, or need for reliance on liability insurance? Every person who files a frivolous lawsuit or engages in any type of risk that turns out badly creates another level of fear in America.

Teachers know what I am talking about. Many of them are terrified to discipline children in school because there is always the ever-present threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads. I would even purport that there may come a time when disruptive students are either automatically expelled or immediately turned over to law enforcement because teachers don't dare touch a student, no matter how violent or disruptive they are being. 

Many parents, like many teachers, want to let their children take risks. I, as a parent, want to let my kids climb trees, walk to school on their own, ride their bike around the neighborhood, walk down the street to their friend's house, be adventurous in the classroom and on the playground. I want them to take risks so they can learn their own limits and build their own confidence.

Sure there are times when I have a moment of terror, like the time I went out into our backyard because I couldn't see the kids from the window and I found my oldest balancing precariously on the tippy-top of their two-story playhouse.

And if something happened and the beam broke and she fell and hurt herself, or God forbid, she was killed. I would seriously hope that I would have the good sense to recognize that it was an accident, and not someone's fault. But, too many people's first response would be to sue the playground equipment maker, or demand that we change the composition of the equipment itself (make it shorter, wider, safer etc.).

If we keep on instituting this culture of fear, this "litigation nation," we may find that we have an entire generation of children who are more dangerous to themselves just walking around, than they would be if we just let them takes some risks now while they are young. Not to mention totally unable to function outside a controlled, organized environment. Just when the country will need new innovaters we will have an entire generation of kids that believe, with all their hearts, that all risk is bad.

And so, I will leave you with a quote from a great article, titled, "THE UNSAFE CHILD: Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good":
Secondary to restricted movement and less time outdoors on a regular basis, more and more children are walking around with underdeveloped vestibular (balance) systems. In other words, they have decreased body awareness and sense of space. Teachers are reporting that children are falling out of their seats in school, running into one another, pushing with more force during games of tag, and are generally clumsier than in years past. In fact, the more we restrict and coddle our children, the more unsafe they become. -Angela Hanscom

Why I Loathe Mother's Day

I hate Mother's Day.

It sounds bizarre, but I do. For weeks before the day I start griping about it. I complain about how when you live near your own mother, Mother's Day is never about you. It is like a hierarchy. You don't get to celebrate Mother's Day the way you want to until you are no longer the youngest mother on the totem pole or unless there is significant distance between you.

Wow, that sounds ridiculously selfish as I type it, let me explain.....

I am terribly susceptible to all those Mother's Day commercials floating around that show this idealized vision of the perfect Mother's Day. I tear up when I see the family gathering around to celebrate Mom, and yet, in the back of my head I am already starting to get grumpy, because I know it is an unrealistic expectation.

And that is the long and short of it. I hate Mother's Day because somehow, on that day, our families are somehow supposed to magically create enough love, goodwill and thoughtfulness to carry us through a whole other year of self-sacrifice and hard work. Somehow the expectation is, for 24 hours, our families are supposed to prove how much they truly appreciate us, as mothers.

Normally, on Mother's Day, I make dinner for my Mom and my Mother-in -law. I work all day long in the kitchen (forget that it is my day too) and whip up some fantastic feast to show them both how much I appreciate them and all they do for us. I love them both. They are truly magnificent women and I am lucky to have them in my life. But, I will admit, when the three of us agreed to take this year off, I was relieved. I was going to get to spend the day how I wanted a total hermit. Yay!

Because, unlike my mother's theory that I somehow hate the day because I was rejected by my birth mom, which is ridiculous, I hate the day because it sets up unrealistic expectations. Actually, I hate Valentine's Day for the same reason (although with much less vehemence). It is a holiday that excludes people by its very nature. Also, it puts moms in the mindset to seek out perceived slights.

Somehow, by going through the motions of getting chocolate and flowers on Valentine's Day or buying your mom the "perfect present" which shows her how you "truly feel about her," you have fulfilled some cultural expectation and proved that you love the person receiving the gifts. Forget about the other 364 days a year when you love them just as much. You have to prove that you love them on this day. In my opinion, that isn't how love works.

Does it really mean anything when you have to do it?

And yet, my expectations are just as bad.

6:35 a.m.:  Same as every morning, I awaken with a 3  year old shaking me, "Mom, just get up and get me my strawberry [milk]." I roll out of bed, sore from the previous day, and head downstairs. I do this every day of the year without fail, and yet because I know what day it is, I shoot hateful daggers at my sleeping husband. I assume, because despite it being our normal routine, he should have somehow set an alarm and beat the baby out of bed so I could sleep in.....because, HELLO, it's MOTHER'S DAY!

We head downstairs and I get Starman his milk, set up his morning cartoon, feed the animals and start on the dishes. Now I am pissed off because, they should have known it was Mother's Day today and, despite the fact that I do the dishes every morning, they should have known this wasn't what I wanted to encounter first thing on MY DAY.

About an hour later, as I am finishing the dishes, the rest of my family joins me. They immediately  wish me a Happy Mother's Day. But, instead of being happy, it irritates me. I go upstairs and take a shower only to hear my husband yelling. Turns out my 3 year old broke a shelf off the wall. My immediate thought, "of course he did, because it's Mother's Day."

Ten minutes after that, the girls start fighting, which prompts me to scream, "GREAT! This is exactly what I wanted to hear on Mother's Day. I knew today was going to be horrible." (Because somehow the girls fighting on Mother's Day felt like a personal insult, "Can't I get one day of peace?") The Husband immediately responded with, "Ah, yes. Of course you are already a bitch this morning, it's Mother's Day. I figured you would be. You have been bitching about today for weeks."

I stomped to the family room, kicked everyone out and binged on three hours of uninterrupted television. By myself. Heaven.

While I am watching t.v, the girls bring me their offerings. For some reason they annoy me because they feel so obligatory. They are cookie cutter assignments from school and don't feel that they have much of my girls in them. (In contrast, I melted like a puddle over the bouquet of dandelions they proffered me after school a couple weeks ago. And Saturday, because Starman was spending the night at grandma's house, they made us breakfast in bed.) My kids are awesome, and I feel like a total jerk for not feeling it more.

The kids started complaining that I hadn't fed them yet, so The Husband talked me into going out to Sweet Tomatoes (or Soup Plantation in other parts of the country) for brunch. On the way there, I mentioned that even though I spoke to my Mom the previous day in person, hugged her and wished her a happy Mother's Day, no doubt she would still be expecting a phone call. I told him I would need to do that when we got home.

Brunch put me in a better mood and I was going to call my Mom when we got home, but the girls begged me to watch part of their movie with them first, so I did. I only made it about 10 minutes in when I fell asleep on the couch... for the next three hours.

I awoke when I realized that the dog was barking and barking, which meant someone was at the door. It was my cousin and his girlfriend, and their 3 year old. Bleary eyed, I pulled open the door. They just wanted to stop by and surprise me.

I invited them in, and discovered that the whole family was asleep, so I went around waking them up. By the time I got Starman up to play with his friend, got everyone drinks and snacks, and visited for a while, I realized it was nearly 4:30.

Oh crap! I excused myself and told them I really needed to call my Mom.

I knew she was pissed off when she answered the phone. We had a short, brisk conversation and I explained I would call her later when the company had left. They left around 6:30 and I called her as I was making dinner. We talked along, and I thought we were good. I thought that right up until she told me that my not calling her until 4:30 was clearly a reflection on how I "truly felt about her." Then there was something about being ungrateful and my attitude being a reflection about my birth mother's rejection.

Suddenly, just like me with my own family, the other 364 days of the year meant nothing. It didn't matter that we hugged the afternoon before and I wished her a happy Mother's Day. It didn't matter that we discussed putting off celebrating the day until it was less snowy and cold. No, the only thing that mattered was that I didn't call her until 4:30, so clearly I love her less.

Just like my own feeling that clearly my family loves me less because they didn't bend over backwards to make my life easier, change up our routine, and in all other ways prove that they value me. And that is why I hate the day.

We set up these Hallmark card expectations and then, these mothers who are busy sacrificing and giving the very best of themselves 364 days of the year, somehow have to cash in for one, inevitably disappointing day. Because, ultimately, there is no way to properly appreciate your mother. She is the end all and be all of existence. My mother gives and sacrifices and loves me all year round, and I appreciate her, whether she sees that right now or not.

I woke up this morning feeling relieved that the day was over. I came downstairs and sat down to write this post.

My husband came down soon after and came in and hugged me, "Happy Day after Mother's Day," he said with a smile. "What would you like to do to celebrate you today?"

And just like that, I melted. Because today he didn't have to. Today it feels like appreciation vs. obligation. You know what.....I think I might call my Mom.