Are Allergies, Autism and Maternal Age Linked?

Since this is my soapbox, and I have free reign on what I say here, I am going to go out on limb this week and share an idea that has been rattling around in my head.

Before I get started, let me issue a disclaimer:
  1. I have absolutely NO scientific or medical training
  2. These are just ideas, so please don't take them as "fact"
  3. Correlation does not imply causation
So, without further ado......

In the last ten years, certain news stories have grabbed attention in the press. News stories covering the statistical increase in life threatening allergies and autism have posited many possible causes. They have suggested an over-hygienic environment, increased chemical exposure, an expanded ability to recognize and identify the conditions, and a broader definition. These may all be true. The CDC reported, "the prevalence of food allergies increased from 3.4% in 1997–1999 to 5.1% in 2009–2011."

What recently caught my attention was an article on the increase in early-onset of puberty. In fact, the average age of the onset of puberty has fallen five years since 1920.  After doing some more research I found that the two commonly agreed upon causes appear to be phalates disrupting the endocrine system and obesity. In then occurred to me to start looking into early menopause rates. Unfortunately, the only article I could find was from the UK in 2011, but suggested a similar causation from chemicals, Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs). Although the article did suggest there might be a correlation between early puberty and early menopause. An article in Scientific American from February of this year confirmed that PFCs and phalates appear to be the primary causes of early menopause.

Lastly, take the statistics on average age of childbearing, which evidence suggests that the age that women are having their first child is increasing. In 2009 the CDC released a report, "Delayed Childbearing: More Women Are Having TheirFirst Child Later in Life" Additionally, another report on births in 2013 stated, "Birth rates declined for all women under age 30 in 2013 from 2012, rose for women aged 30–39 and 45–49, and were unchanged for women aged 40–44."

 While on a trip to work on a current long-term project, I got in a discussion about allergies in the classroom. Another mom and I were discussing whether or not lunch options should be limited for kids without allergies in order to accommodate the child with the allergies. Her take was, since they are so rare, those children should be treated like their allergy is a disability and understand that they are going to have to plan accordingly. I argued that they were, in fact, much more common and that it is important to make sure those kids are safe at school, at the very least at the elementary level, until they are able to protect themselves more efficiently.

It quickly became obvious that we had very different experiences in regards to allergies. This evidence is purely anecdotal, but during the discussion we realized my children have TONS of kids with allergies in their classrooms, while she could only think of a few kids in any of her four kids' classrooms over 12 years of school experience. Unfortunately, I could not locate allergy rates broken down by state, so whether our experiences are unique, or more wide-spread, I can't say.

It began to run through my mind, that if girls are starting puberty earlier and earlier, and women are having babies later and later, than surely there must be some ramification for that. Could increased increased allergies and autism be linked to older eggs, in addition to chemical influences? Are the health affects that are incurred from the earlier onset of puberty adding to the increase of these issues?

If what we discussed is true, and Texas really does have less incidences of food allergies, than it is possible it is linked to maternal age. Looking at the following map off of the CDC's article the age of mothers when their first child is born, you can see, Colorado has a much higher maternal age than Texas. It would be interesting to see if allergy rates are higher in the darkest blue states in Washington and on the East Coast and lower in the light green states.

Short of extensive, long-term scientific and census research, we may never know. But, it seems it might be food for thought. Maybe seeking to delay childbirth (see my article on companies adding egg freezing into their benefits package) is a more impactful decision than we thought. Maybe instead of delaying childbirth until couples have more time and resources, we should instead find a way to support younger families with more limited resources. It would take a huge cultural shift to bring the average age of childbearing back down, but perhaps it is worth it.

Overworked and Exhausted: Feeding America the Right Way

In doing research about the work/family/life balance it has come to my attention that workers in the US are definitely overworked, clocking longer hours and more in-office time than almost all countries in the world. In addition, they are also not given any mandatory vacation time, which is the norm in most of the world. Ultimately, this is leaving American workers burned out.

As American employers are focusing on health care issues with programs that concentrate on smoking cessation and reducing obesity as well as targeting how we can decrease sick days it is surprising to me that no one has put 2 and 2 together and realized that part of our so called heath-care crisis can be linked back to the fact that Americans just work too damn much.

With increased hours at work, we also have achieved less family time. More and more families are dual income households and often with longer commutes as work has become more scarce in the current economy. The unintended consequence is stressed, time-crunched families who are unable to get home in time to put a good, healthy meal on the table.

There are tons of last minute supper options, meal prep businesses and quick meal recipe subscriptions that have sprung up trying to fill that niche, but the fact is, when we work too much, food becomes just something we have to do before we get back to work. As a result, we are missing the opportunity to connect over what is essentially a vital function for all human beings.

Convenience food and a general disconnect from the vital process of eating, in my opinion, is a huge contributor to obesity. Add stress from overwork, a drain on leisure time, lack of sleep, and food becomes something you do as quickly and with as little effort as possible. The result is we are not intimately connected with what we are putting in our bodies.

What if, we, as a culture, made a point to create the expectation that we prepare a meal together as a family. I am not talking a stressed out Mom in the kitchen by herself trying to get a dinner on the table for everyone, I am talking kids and parents in the kitchen mixing, prepping, talking, spicing and creating something together. The act of nourishing ourselves should be something sacred, special, a bonding moment for families to nourish themselves, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

Instead Americans have all kinds of hang-ups about food. From the obsession with thinness, to parents obsessed with being super healthy, organic, anti-sugar etc, to the huge amount of casual fast-food restaurants available. We drive-by, drive-through and mindlessly ingest in front of the television. It isn't what you eat, but how you eat it.

I make a point to cook with my kids (which I am lucky to have the ability to do because I am a mostly-at-home-mom). I cook with them because I want them to have a connection with what they are eating. We have a garden because I want them to understand where food comes from. We prep food from scratch because I want them to understand what goes in to making their food. And most of all, we talk about how food makes you feel, because I want them to eat to fuel their bodies, not to fill an emotional void or release stress.

If workplaces truly wanted to invest in lowering health care costs, the first thing they should look at is the average American work week. By allowing more time off for families, you would allow a connection over the dinner table, lower stress and increase heath benefits. Companies would benefit from healthier, less-stressed employees and heightened productivity. Employees would benefit from decreased stress, improved health and a deeper connection with their families.

From what I can tell, that would be a win-win for everyone.

It Is All About Perspective

I almost ran over a motorcyclist today.

No, that isn't a joke, or a punch line, or in any way untrue. I actually nearly ran over a motorcyclist today. It was extremely upsetting. The good news was:
  1. my kids were not in the car
  2. no one actually got hit
  3. I got an epiphany from it
What happened was, I was driving along the same stretch of road I drive nearly every single day. I was deep in thought about my trip this weekend (which I will actually be on by the time you read this). I realized I needed to change lanes so I put on my blinker (which is a near obsession of mine, I despise when people change lanes without notification), I double checked all of my mirrors and I started to pull into the left lane.

As soon as I started to merge over I heard this strange whistling, high-pitched, shrieking noise. It startled me as I could not figure out where the heck it was coming from. I checked all my mirrors again and straddling the line, I slowed down. That was when I spotted him.

Behind me, DIRECTLY in my car's blind spot, was a low-riding Harley Davidson. The rider was an older gentleman with black leather boots, jeans, a black leather jacket and....NO HELMET. As soon as I spotted him I realized that the high-pitched shrieking sound must be coming from that what motorcycle horns sound like? I had never heard anything like it.

He pulled up next to me shouting things that I will not repeat on this family-friendly blog. For about 30-45 seconds he rode up next to my window shouting horrible things about me and my driving (Like I said, I was glad the kids were not in the car). I mouthed I am sorry, and signed it (more out of habit from the kids, than any thought that he would understand). He drove off flipping "the bird" at me.

As for me, I genuinely did not see him. I was as shook up as he was. He was riding directly in my blind spot, on that low-riding Harley. I honestly didn't see him until he pulled up beside me. It shook me up too, and I really did feel bad. When I arrived at my Mom's house, which was where I had been heading, I told her how bad I felt and how I knew I had scared him, but I always check my mirrors and hadn't seen a soul.

That was when my Mom made the comment that he probably went home and told his friends and family about the terrible driver who almost ran him off the road. I thought about what she said and realized, from his perspective he was almost run over by a "dumb woman driver" who, by the time he finished his 10th telling of the story, was probably talking on the cellphone while applying makeup and eating a hamburger. From his perspective I was either dumb, negligent, or both.

All that got me to thinking, it really is all about perspective. When we see a mother chastising her child in the parking lot, or a Mom hauling off a screaming toddler from the park, what do we see? Do we see a "terrible mother" or do we see a Mom who is in context? Do we see it from her perspective? We don't know what mental process a Mom has gone through before she makes the decision to leave her child in a car while she runs into the store. Yes, it is possible it is a result of neglect or stupidity, but just as likely it is a result of a whole list of calculations from the weather outside, to the need for speed, to the age of the child, to the length of time it will take inside, to the child's needs.

I recently read an upsetting article about women, good mothers, who left their children in a car for just a few minutes only to have it turn their lives upside down by being arrested charged with criminal negligence. What floored me is that in these cases, the officers jumped to conclusions, much like the guy on the motorcycle. He assumed I wasn't being diligent or I was being irresponsible. The same conclusions those officers came to about those mothers. He didn't stop to think that he was driving right in the one spot in the back left (or right) on all SUVs where there is a significant blind-spot. It wasn't his fault, but it wasn't mine either. It was an accident, a convergence of situations that result in an unexpected outcome. The reaction of the motorcycle driver (anger and fear) is not far off than the reactions of the cops arresting these otherwise good mothers.

It truly is all about perspective. We all need to stop and take a minute (even me, I'm guilty too), and step out of our own lives and try to imagine other possibilities or contexts to certain situations. We may just find that by doing so, we will be promoting more kindness and less judgment. In the long run, that is something that would benefit everyone.

First World Problems

#firstworld problems

The phase brings images of memes and jokes such as "The one day I try to sleep in, my maid wakes me up." The jokes are sometimes funny, sometimes insulting. The fact of the matter is that stress is stress, no matter where it comes from.

That phrase serves to remind us that in the midst of complaining about getting cut off on the way to work, getting the wrong coffee after standing in line, finding yet another bill in the mailbox, or struggling to get homework done with the kids while trying to make dinner, as much as these feel frustrating in the moment are ultimately problems experienced only by people who are inherently blessed in other ways.

The fact of the matter is, if we have access to income, healthy children, a roof over our family's head, access to good medical care, quality education, and clean drinking water, we are fundamentally more well-off than half of the world.

This week is one of those weeks that I really needed to remind myself of that. I spent this week working around the house and the yard because I knew this weekend would be full of friends and family. The Husband and Raindrop actually share a birthday, which is always fun, but lots of work. Monday night, knowing we would probably be sitting out back, I hauled out the brand new patio umbrella my parents gave me last summer. I thought I had hooked it in tightly enough, and put it down far enough, but while watching TV later that night the wind really started to blow and I heard a giant crash outside. I went outside to see the umbrella had lifted up and blown into the house. I was so bummed out looking at its broken pieces laying on the patio.

On Wednesday I had a friend over for a visit when I realized the kitchen chair I was sitting in had cracked and broken.  When I looked at it, I wasn't confident I could fix it. Totally bummed, I dragged it out to the garage and put it next to the remnants of the umbrella. Later when I tried to fix it, I realized I had misplaced the charger to the electric drill, so I had to leave it until next week.

Later that afternoon my cat, who had gotten out earlier that day, came back home. Late that night, I noticed he was still sleeping, which was unusual. I tried to pick him up and he meowed out in pain. That was when I noticed his breathing was more rapid, he was shaking and in obvious distress. Needless to say, I immediately called our vet and he recommended we take our kitty to the animal ER straight away. He turned out to be fine, but he had gotten injured somehow when he got out and $400 later, the vet had him all fixed up with a prescription for pain meds and rest.

On Friday I had to take the car in to the mechanic because the check engine light was on, the car needed emissions testing and we are already in our grace period for tags. Needless to say, after spending hundreds of dollars at the vet, I was a little stressed out about the verdict from the mechanic. Miraculously, it turned out to be a simple issue that cost less than $100 to fix. Hallelujah!

It is so frustrating when it seems like everything seems to be breaking at once and bills keep piling up, but ultimately, even if we get snowed under for a while, I know we will be ok. These are first world problems.

So, The Husband and Raindrop's birthday party isn't super perfect. So what!? So what if we have to tighten our purse strings a little bit? It is all about perspective, and ultimately these are all first world problems. I have food in my fridge. I have a roof over my head. I have access to and can (usually) afford quality medical care. My kids have access to quality education. We have two cars, no car payments and we almost always have money to put gas in them. Most of all we have the freedom to tighten our purse strings to the point where I can stay at home with the kids, and if we get too underwater, I have family members who are capable and willing to help us out.

How lucky are we!?

This week still brought stress and worry, that doesn't change. But,when I stop and realize what others are facing, it makes me realize that these things are unimportant in the long run and reminding myself to be grateful for what we have helps me feel so much less stressed.

So, next time you find yourself freaking out about things going wrong, take a moment and remind yourself that the stresses in your life might just be first world problems. The memes and jokes may not feel funny when you are legitimately struggling with stress and strife, and telling yourself they are first world problems is not going to make things less frustrating or stressful or easier. But sometimes just the reminder, the moment you stop and take a deep breath and acknowledge there is a lot to be grateful for, that is the moment that things can feel less bleak.

A Helping Hand is Better Than a Pointing Finger

I have done a lot of posting on parental judgment, and surprise, surprise, today is not going to be different. Today I have an alarming statistic to share with  my fellow parents. In January, an anonymous tip line for child abuse was opened here in Colorado and the following quote was reported at the end of the first quarter:
"The hotline number has been live since Jan. 1 and, although not widely advertised, was spread by child advocates and county child welfare officials. In the first three months of this year, it received more than 54,000 calls, more than 7,000 of which were referred to caseworkers for investigation."

In the first three months that the hotline was open they received 54,000 calls. They didn't advertise. FIFTY FOUR THOUSAND!! Really?! So, there we should believe at least 54,000 incidents of child abuse in the state of Colorado warranted a phone call to the child abuse hotline? That is incredible when you look at the fact that, as of the 2013 census, only 1,238,940 (23.3% of the total population) of our population are minors under 18 years of age, and an estimated 337,414 (or 6.4% of the total population) are children under 5 years of age.
That would mean 6% of the total population of children under five have reported being abused...just in the first 3 months. It that is true, it would mean that more than 6% of our children are being abused right now. That is either horrifically sad, or grossly inflated.

The reality is much more likely that this well-intentioned hotline is being used for self-righteous armchair parenting. "Good Samaritans" are using the ease and convenience of the hotline to call and report children in cars, parents yelling at their kids in the parking lot, children walking home from school alone, parents that are letting their children climb trees or play out front without supervision and other things that they might consider "abusive."

So, what will this accomplish? Sure, it will catch a couple more kids that might have fallen through the cracks otherwise. Lest you think that I am unsympathetic, let me assure you I am not. I want those kids to be found, but the mass blanket invasion of thousands of homes across the Denver Metro area is, in my humble opinion, NOT the answer. We are flooding an already overworked system with 54,000 calls in 12 weeks. They don't have the manpower to personally assess each case at that volume, and they don't have the ESP to just know which cases are worth investigating.

Every time a person calls on what they, in their judgmental mindset is a "risky" or "dangerous" parent, but turns out to be a false alarm, that is one more kid that will fall through the cracks. Before we can open up the lines to easier reporting, first we need to shelve the culturally acceptable parental judgment.

News Flash. Parenting is HARD. Safety is an ILLUSION. And all parents have probably had at least one moment in their parenting career that could have been interpreted as "abusive" by an onlooker without context. The situations that occur in public are rarely if ever true abuse. The key is to catch the less obvious ones, the true abusers are not the type to advertise in the middle of a Target parking lot.

Families need more community, more support, more cultural acceptance and less judgment. We need to start Valuing Families. Rather than spend more money on a "reporting" service, we should spend that money in providing support for stressed families. We need more community centers that provide free monthly parents night out (or kids night out) programs. We need free parenting classes. And most importantly, we need to recognize the ongoing stressors that our workplace puts on families of all kinds and understand that many times abuse is a reaction to the stress parents are under trying to balance work and family.

Moms, Let's Ditch the Defensiveness

Moms, I have noticed something that we need to change Right! Now!

A week or so ago I had a friend message me with a suggestion for an article on moms' tendency towards defensiveness. Her suggestion stemmed from a picture she put on Facebook in which her youngest child, a little girl with Down Syndrome, had crawled into her old five-point car seat, buckled herself in and fallen asleep. She thought it was so sweet she snapped a picture and shared it with friends and family on Facebook with the caption "content."

Immediately she commented under it, "PS: She is safe, even though her chest clip is low. She is in the bedroom, not the car (this is her lounge chair). I know some of my mommy friends are cringing..."

Shortly after she made that comment under the picture she messaged me privately (reprinted with permission):
"Next blog idea: I always feel like I have to put disclaimers on my posts... like the one I just posted where [my daughter] is sleeping in her infant seat - because otherwise I know my mommy friends are judging me. Sometimes out loud, sometimes to themselves, but I feel like I need to beat them to the punch all the time."
She feels she needs to beat them to the punch....the PUNCH. Yep, because that is exactly what it feels like when a friend or family member feels compelled to make a comment that suggests you might not have your child's best interest at heart. It feels like a punch to the gut, and so we get defensive. Furthermore, when we know it is coming, we get defensive in advance, which almost validates its existence in the first place.

I do it too. When my 3 year old son is on the floor screaming in a store, which happens more than I would like to admit, I have been known to shrug my shoulders at passers by, look contrite and say, totally unsolicited, "what can you do? He missed his nap today." Sometimes it is true, and sometimes it isn't true and I am just looking for a way to deflect the judgment I feel.

WHY!? Why do we feel we need to judge each other? Why do we feel the need to deflect judgment? The fact of the matter is 90% of parents out there are just feeling their way forward, trying to do the best they can for themselves and their children (yep, I just judged myself by asking if I should have reversed that statement to read, "their children and themselves," but I stand by my original statement).

Easter Sunday, while working in the church nursery, we had to go get a Mom because her son was inconsolable. We had already gone through all our tricks and tactics, but he wasn't calming down. Both of us noticed that he had swollen gums, was the right age and clearly was beside himself. We rightly concluded he was teething and decided it would be best to call Mom. She came down and we ended up all standing there talking and sharing war stories. Midway through one of her stories she stopped and said something along the lines of, "Sorry, I know that must make me look like a horrible Mom."

I stopped her immediately and told her that she NEVER had to apologize around me and we all discussed the fact that all of us parents deflect, self-deprecate and make defensive statements. Listen for it next time you are in a group, or look for it on Facebook. It won't take you long to see what I am talking about.

I am speaking TRUTH here ladies. We are all amazing moms, and we are all terrible moms.

Some of us are better at crafts, some at keeping things clean and organized, some at cuddling, some at dressing their kids in adorable clothes, some at doing cute hairstyles, some at routines, some at enrolling kids in extracurricular activities, some at remembering and marking special events and so on and so on. We all have strengths and gifts and we all have our own weaknesses and challenges. We are all very, very different and we need to stop assuming what is right for your own child or family is automatically right for someone else's child or family.

And yet, a friend of mine (who gave me permission to use her pictures and status) just had to post the following on Facebook after deleting two pictures from her page. She deleted them because she had received comments on them that made her feel attacked in regards to her parenting skills:
"Due to certain members of Facebook, you know who you are, I must include disclosures on my pictures. The tree [my daughter] climbed wasn't that high. I had to lay on my back to get the whole shot. And [my daughter] is very strong, confident and careful when she climbs. I would never let her do it otherwise. I would lay my life down for my children.
But there is a fine line between protecting them and never letting them find out how good they are. The tree climbing was a safe risk without possibility of death unless someone shot her from the tree. Please do not contact me directly or indirectly regarding this."
  In honor of her bravery as a parent, I have turned her controversial tree-climbing pictures into memes. Please feel free to share away:


Last time I checked, tree climbing was considered an ages-old childhood tradition. In fact, if anyone argues with children climbing trees, there is a plethora of literature out there that speaks to the fact that tree-climbing is actually a good risk.

 Pick up any literary novel about children and you are bound to read about tree climbing. You have to take risks and embrace life, or you will have nothing of note to read about. Some day that little girl will say, "remember the summer I finally made it to the top of the giant pine tree!" Even if she fell out, her story could be, "remember that time I fell out of the tree trying to make it to the top and broke my arm." What a great moment in her childhood! Think about the confidence she is going to have because she accomplished something risky and hard. When she is an adult and she has to make a choice on taking a risk that could lead to success, she can call on that tree moment and embrace the chance. Life is not safe, and safe stories are boring.

What stories will all those coddled, super-safe children be able to tell? Will they tell the story, "remember when I watched that educational television show while safe in my living room?" Or maybe, "remember that time I went to tumbling class with five other adults in a super padded room." Last time I checked, truly great literature was made up of fantastic stories of bravery and risk. Are we really going to deny our children that on a fools quest to reach a 0% mortality rate?

Perhaps we all needed to pay more attention when watching Finding Nemo for the 1,000th time when Marlin said "How do you know something bad isn't going to happen." and Dory says, "I don't." Or, when later Dory tells Marlin, "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."

So parents, stop feeling you need to defend yourselves and apologizing before the judgment comes. You are only reinforcing the judging behavior. And lastly, we all need to learn to hold our proverbial tongues and refrain from commenting negatively on other people's parenting styles. Just because it is different does not make it wrong.

And for the sake of all that is holy and good, please get out there and take some risks with your kids. Give those future writers and entrepreneurs some fodder for an interesting life. Our future demands creative solutions and we aren't going to get them if we don't start teaching our kids to take some risks and learn the hard way.

 I can't promise nothing bad will happen, but I can promise you will feel more alive.

If you liked this article, you can read more on risk-taking and judgment from The Two-Penny Soapbox:

Taking Steps Toward a "Brave New World"

Ok dear readers, hold on to your hats because this week we are headed deep into post-apocalyptic, futuristic science fiction, dystopian, Twilight Zone territory. That's right, the future is now and it isn't pretty. Yesterday I discovered that certain companies have started including egg freezing in their benefits package for women employees so that they can focus on their careers and postpone childbirth. While I understand that this is hardly breaking news, it was new to me.

Living in my little at-home bubble that consists of school, writing, kids' homework, extracurricular activities and an alarming amount of time spent in my pajamas, sometimes I miss things. Sometimes I miss a whole lot of things. Luckily for me, The Husband brings these things to my attention thus alleviating any need for me to go out and discover this stuff on my own.

So this morning he was on his way to work and heard a discussion on the radio involving the NPR article, Silicon Valley Companies Add New Benefit for Women: Egg Freezing, and the New York Times article, Freezing Eggs as Part of Employee Benefits: Some Women See Darker Message. The idea is that benefits offered to women executives includes a costly elective medical procedure that will give women peace of mind as they focus on their careers. He immediately called me and said, "Oh honey, I have a great topic for your blog....are you ready?"

Having been a news piece for a while, places like Huffington Post are already filled with articles arguing for and against the practice. I am going to have to say, I definitely agree with the ones that argue that this is a disturbing answer from corporations in regards to the work/family balance. It feels an awful lot like the beginning of the descent into Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (where babies are created in factories).

Putting off children, in my opinion, is dangerous, chancy and irresponsible. That sounds harsh, but I stand by the statement. Ignore the fact that pregnancy is far from guaranteed with frozen eggs, from my point of view, having children late in life just increases the chances that those children are going to be sandwiched in between elderly parents and young children (if they choose to have them).  If that happens, it only increases and intensifies the problems of work/family life balance choices for the next generation. Also, being raised by older parents increases the risk that their parents might not survive to see them reach adulthood. My father-in-law passed away three weeks after his 48th birthday. Most of my grandparents died in their 60s. It happens. I think egg freezing is an irresponsible choice for corporations, a figurative finger in the hole of the dam of work/family relations, temporary at best.

If companies really want to help their women executives, a much more fitting benefit would still be, and will always be, the inclusion of on-site childcare facilities for employees. Employees could go have lunch with their children, feel safe that they are well-taken care of and close by so the employee can focus on their work and ultimately work at a higher level of productivity. Also, it would prevent workers from having to run out early, or struggle to find care because the center would operate during the same hours as the employee. Quality would be assured by mere parental presence, extreme licensing would most likely be unnecessary.

Unfortunately the chance of companies creating on-site childcare sites is as likely as all of us getting magical unicorns to ride to work. It is never going to happen. The problem lies in the fact that we have increased insurance premiums on childcare centers to alarmingly high rates and imposed insane amounts of quality assurance legislation dictating environment and space. We did these things in the name of improving care quality, and we have, but at what cost?

Even our local gym that used to offer parents' day out programs had to indefinitely suspend them because the insurance premiums became too expensive to continue to allow parents to leave the premises. Premiums and quality control are significantly less if parents are on the premises, which should be good for companies, but most are not willing to take on that "risk" or "expense."

These companies would rather put in an employee gym (which they often charge for) or pay for two egg freezing treatments which can cost up to $20,000 rather than add a childcare facility for their workers. It says a lot about priorities. They are trying to appear family friendly, but as other authors have said, it only exerts subtle pressure on women to delay starting a family. Ultimately it is the simple solution of writing a check rather than the messier, long-term solution of taking responsibility for our country's families.

A true solution would be something similar to the crèche program in Brazil. Run by either the government or the Catholic church, the free crèches provide child care, education, basic health care and some of the Catholic-run centers even include a kitchen where workers can pay for an inexpensive, hot meal after picking up their children. As with any social system, there is a higher demand for services than availability, and quality varies, but for the families who gain access it is an invaluable tool in mixing child rearing with income production.

Imagine: A woman goes to work, dropping off her daughter on her way upstairs and works unhindered by worry for three hours. Taking a break, she goes downstairs and interacts with her daughter and a little with the other children and the teachers.  Mentally relaxed, she works productively for another hour and which point she heads down and has lunch with her daughter. Coming back in the afternoon she is able to focus and work undistracted for another four hours at which point she heads down, picks up her daughter and they head home.

If businesses were really truly thinking about bottom line productivity, they would realize that stepping out on a limb and embracing families might actually put them ahead, rather than behind. It is scary and financially adventurous, but if the studies about stress and overwork have shown us anything, it is that employees' health, welfare and productivity are greatly enhanced when their stress level is lowered. And nothing would lower a working Mom's stress level more than knowing her child is just downstairs, down the hall, or down the street. Bottom line is that 80% of women will eventually bear a child . Surely, if this is something that the majority of women are facing, we should do something about it.

Employers, please forget freezing eggs. Forget about pressuring women to put their career first before having children. Forget parental hiring discrimination. Embrace the whole family as a unit and you will have an employee that would probably sell her soul for you...or at the very least, her talents.

Big Celebrations with Little to No Effort

Today I am going to weigh in on the idea of the "perfect holiday." I originally had another post planned for this morning, but I bumped it out to Friday after seeing the Huffington Post article, "Can We Bring The Holidays Down a Notch?" circulating on Facebook.

The basic idea of the article is that thanks to Pinterest and creative parents everywhere, our kids are bringing home ideas from school about how every holiday can become EPIC. Some examples:
  • Elf on the Shelf (seriously? what masochistic person came up with the idea of moving something every day during the busiest time of the year? And how did parents jump on board?)
  • Leprechaun traps, gold coins and chocolate and messing up the house.
  • Dinovember, an invented celebration where dinosaurs come to life for a WHOLE MONTH (again...really? So, after having Halloween and looking down the tunnel to Thanksgiving and Christmas....we managed to INVENT a holiday. Good job guys.)
  • Valentine's Day (for the record...that homemade card, with the sucker taped to it...that would be from our kids. Sorry it isn't a clever Pinterest project, or a giant goody bag)
  • 100 Day School Parties
  •  12 Days of Christmas (this one was new to me. Apparently a Christian tradition that starts after Christmas and extends to the start of the Epiphany.)
  • Time capsules on birthdays (another thing I only recently discovered that some crazy *ahem* I mean, thoughtful parents do for their kids.....probably parents who have less kids than I do)
  • Dr. Suess' birthday
As any anthropologist worth their salt can tell you, despite the pressure to celebrate every holiday at maximum levels, there really isn't a need. Holidays are about traditions, repetition, and marking time. They serve to provide a common gathering point for cultures. They don't have to be all-out magical extravaganzas to make an impact. As long as you choose a few things each year as a tradition that works for your family, your kids will have that magical childhood you long to give them. They don't need all the trappings, just a few. So, pick a few traditions or holidays that your family celebrates and then let the rest go.

And here is another tip. Holidays are about passing time, therefore it is okay if you miss something. This year our family has been very busy. Because of this we missed carving pumpkins at Halloween, putting out reindeer food at Christmas and dyeing Easter Eggs this past weekend. Guess what? That is okay. Five years from now my kids will be talking about the year we went to Disney World to celebrate Halloween, or they will say, "Remember the year we missed dyeing eggs." It helps them mark their own personal history. Missing a tradition (especially one that happens fairly consistently) actually has value. It's absence can highlight its presence.

So, relax. We don't need to compete to see who can make the most over-the-top holiday celebrations. Just pick a few great ideas (from the millions on Pinterest) and run with it. If you miss something, don't stress about. it. Just find some way to mark the year's passing. Having positive traditions (events that replicate themselves) is more important that what those traditions actually are.

Celebrate in a way that works for your family. Here are some low maintenance examples from our family's traditions:
  • New Year's Eve we watch Grease (a continuing tradition from The Husband's childhood) and play board games (a tradition from my childhood)
  • Valentine's Day we make our own homemade Valentine's. On the day I sneak out and buy heart shaped doughnuts.
  • We wear green on St. Patrick's Day...yep. That's it.
  • We dye eggs before Easter and attend our church Egg Hunt. The kids always get chocolate bunnies and new gardening gloves in their basket from the Easter bunny (along with a few other things that change from year to year) and he hides plastic eggs filled with candy and change during the night.
  • The Husband always takes a day off of work on his birthday because he shares the day with our middle child, Raindrop. We pick something "big" to do that day like a museum, the zoo or some other activity.
  • The Husband takes the girls to work every year for "take your child to work day."
  • We have the Grandmas over for dinner on Mother's Day
  • The Husband and the girls go to Daddy/Daughter date night at Chic-fil-a every year on Father's day
  • We don't have any real traditions for July 4th. We do different things each year.
  • Pi Day or Pie Day (actually a pretty darn awesome tradition from my nerdy perspective, but not one that I feel compelled to add in to our family calendar, both because I am too lazy, and also because I don't really like pie.)
  • Every Halloween The Husband watches Michael Jackson's "Ghosts" video with the kids. We carve pumpkins and Trick or Treat with the family down the street.
  • For Thanksgiving we eat breakfast together and watch the parade. Then Daddy and the kids play games while Mom cooks. The kids make the place cards/place mats for dinner.
  • For Christmas we paint ornaments and date them, decorate cookies, use 3 advent calendars (a count down, a count up and chocolate calendars for each child), put out cookies, milk and reindeer food. We have dinner with the cousins and my Mother in Law on Christmas Eve and then Dinner with my parents and cousin on Christmas Day.
As you can see, our traditions are not complicated, expensive or extravagant. They don't have to be. But I am confident that if you ask our children they will tell you that holidays are special at our house. So let go of the guilt and listen to your friendly neighborhood anthropologist, make sure you have something that occurs every year, that marks time, and I promise your children will have great memories when they grow up.

Potty Training Power Struggles: Part 2

 Just to review, Part1 discussed our potty training experiences with our first two children,  Snowflake  and Raindrop. I also detailed some of the many techniques we used in our journey.

Today's post will focus on our son, Starman, who is still wrestling with the process. Aftewards, you will find a comprehensive review of methods, which while unsuccessful for us, we feel hold promise for children who are more motivated and invested than our children were when we tried them.
After the trauma of our first two kiddos, The Husband and I decided that we would approach #3 differently. We were going to get it right this time. When Starman was 18 months old we hauled out the potty chair and explained how it worked. We thought after trying at 2 1/2 and 3, maybe the answer was earlier. At 20 months he started asking to go potty. He did great. We took him whenever he asked and we started to hope. I bragged that "God wouldn't curse us with another tough potty trainer, surely we deserve one easy one."
One weekend we had work/school stuff  that prevented us sitting for hours in the potty reading books, which is what he wanted to do. It was just not possible that week with work, school, 2 other children and the holidays so, we put a diaper on him for two days. To this day, I wonder. If only I  hadn't done that, If only I had dropped my class instead, at least for that semester, would he have trained? Maybe, maybe not. I'll never know.
After that week, he never looked back. For the next year the mere mention of the potty would send him running. So The Husband and I decided, this time we really will be patient and wait. He will do it when he is ready. We will model potty use, but ignore the subject of training all together. He was going to need to get there on his own. I was done, this kid was going to have to potty train himself.

That worked right up until he turned three. Shortly before his birthday I noticed that I was staring to get pointed questions from people, "have you guys started potty training yet?" or "I noticed he is still in diapers, still not training yet, huh?." I also got loads of "helpful suggestions" from people like, "oh he is still in diapers, have you tried X, Y, and Z yet?" To be honest, it was all I could do to hold my tongue and not shout at them....."My daughter was in a life threatening situation because she refused to potty train, do you HONESTLY think there is something out there I haven't already tried!!?!" Instead, I just thanked them for their suggestion and walked away feeling pressured and out of sorts.

Around his 3rd birthday the social pressure became too much and I decided we were going to go cold turkey. Starting shortly before his birthday I talked up the idea of no more diapers. We placed a stack on the fireplace and watched it dwindle, and then when it was gone, we put him in big boy underwear. I held fast to that for almost 6 weeks. And all I got for my trouble was a whole lot of time on my hands and knees cleaning my carpet and doing laundry. For the record, when I bought that box of diapers at Costco, I cried, right there in the aisle at Costco, big fat crocodile tears.

He now has a sticker chart, and M&Ms, cheerios to aim at, and we bought presents for him and placed them on fireplace mantel. We also got him a potty watch and special big boy underwear with his favorite characters on them and tried reverse psychology saying that I was glad he wasn't potty trained because it meant he couldn't go stay at Grandma's house over night yet and that I wanted to keep him home.
He is almost 3 1/2 now and he is showing little to no signs that this potty training thing is EVER going to happen. He asks to go occasionally, but the minute I suggest it myself we backslide. Logically, I know we will get there. But, I want it NOW! I am tired of waiting. Seeing the end of the tunnel is agony and it feels like this car is not moving fast enough. Besides, I need to start my counseling for potty-training PTSD (a half-joke at best).

Most of all, I am ready for the judgmental looks, pointed comments and "helpful" suggestions to stop. I am tired of the smug satisfied, "Oh, he is still in diapers? How old is he now? Well my little darling trained on his second birthday, in a weekend.....did you try X, Y, and Z yet?." I can see the sub context clear as day, that they are a much better parent, how sad they are for me, and there must be something wrong with that kid.
But if Starman's response to my friend tells me anything, it is that we have a long way to go.  My friend, trying to help me out, said to him, "don't you want to use the big-boy potty like your friend Jonathon (10 years old)?
He looked at her, cocked his head and said, "Nope. It's not my problem. I not going to  use the potty, Mommy just has to change me"

WHAT!?  *deep breaths, deep breaths*
The Moral
The moral of this story, and the lesson I hope you come away with, is that our children are their own little people. Sometimes the best parenting in the world can not make them deviate from their own chosen course. Potty training my kids has taught me, unequivocally, that it really is not me. It really is them.

Because of this, I have also found that the most frustrating thing for me, as a parent of 3 late potty trainers, is the constant "advice" and judgmental comments I receive from well-meaning friends and family.  Comments like,"Well we just  used [insert whatever trick or method you want] and it just worked like a charm" drive me crazy because, trust me, we really have tried EVERYTHING!
So the next time that a parent smugly tells you how little Jr. potty trained in a day at the age of 18 months, sure their children may be potty training savants, but it is probably just their personality, not some model of perfect parenting. And parents, if your child is one of those resistors, if you are fighting the good fight and living with despair and frustration, it is not your fault. It may be hard to see in the moment, but it really won't last forever (something I am typing out because I really need the reminder myself).
So with that, maybe your little darling will find his or her perfect currency on the list below. We have tried many, many things and I am sure all of them work for someone. Just apparently, not us.
  • Bribery: this can be M&Ms, candy hearts, jelly beans, a trip to the zoo, stickers, whatever you think will resonate with your child. Some people do one small treat each time their child tries to sit on the potty and then graduates to when they actually go. Some people give one candy for peeing in the potty and 2 or 3 for pooping. Another bribery trick is to buy something they want and place it up high so they can see it, but not touch it. The idea is that they will want the toy and therefore train faster.
  • Intense Training: We had limited success with this. The 3-day potty training technique, the doll/potty party technique and the potty watch/going every 20 min for 5 days. This takes seriously dedicated time to achieve and can have good results (think rehab, as long as the addict is truly committed). It is however extremely soul-sucking to take 3 days off of work to try and accomplish something only to have it fail, so be realistic before making this choice.
  • Cold Turkey: I have heard this works for some people. We have tried it with all of our kids and it has not worked for us, but for the less stubborn, head-strong child I imagine it would probably be fairly effective. Just putting them in underwear is going to be messy at first though, so be prepared with proper cleaning solution and lots of patience.
  • Go Naked: We did this over Christmas break and I fully plan on trying this again if Starman hasn't trained by the time summer comes around. The idea is that going naked helps them figure out what is going on faster. Again I caution, make sure you have all the proper cleaning supplies and that you are prepared for a mess at first.
  • Reverse Psychology: I read this fantastic article about a lady in California who told her son that she was so glad that he hadn't potty trained yet, because the pirates called and they wanted him to join their gang, but only boys in underwear could join. He potty trained in a day and then she took him down the road to Disneyland where she signed him up for the Pirate for a day program. Genius. Now if only I lived near Disney. I imagine this technique works best if you have something epic to dangle in front of your child.
  • Ignoring the Elephant in the Room: This is what worked finally for Raindrop. We finally gave up and stopped talking about it and one day she just did it. I imagine doing nothing does eventually work for everyone, but the key is being able to resist social pressure to be more proactive. Despite my vow that I was going to ignore potty training with Starman, I bowed to that peer pressure and impatience and started trying other techniques. 
  • Modeling and Positive Reinforcement: These are great. Singing a potty song, reading potty books, taking your kids with you to the bathroom to show them how it's done are all fantastic. Giving high fives and celebrating after every success is wonderful too. And for the child who is self motivated to train, these things may be all you need to achieve success. Congratulations, you are one of the lucky ones.
  • Negative Reinforcement: I only add this to the list, because for us desperate parents, feeling the pinch of social pressure and KNOWING that our little darlings are perfectly capablebut they just won't do it, this technique tends to find its way into the mix. Watching your child achieve success only to backslide can cause anger and frustration. You know that they can do it, that they are aware of the situation and that they are making a conscious choice not to. This can cause parents (read: me) to start giving time-outs, making kids wash out their own underwear, cleaning up their own messes, etc. These techniques do not work. Even if the nice lady at church assures you that these techniques are the magical answer, they really aren't.