Five Words That Changed My Life

 

My first mixed tapes I made for Jeff.

My first mixed tapes I made for Jeff.

I did a lot of dating in my 20s. A lot! Family and friends set me on blind dates. I met men at parties or weddings. My grandmother even gave my number out to a stranger on an airplane because the stranger had the sweetest grandson (actually he was living with his fiancé when he asked me out). I dated so much that at one point I proposed a blind date book based on what I learned.

My goal wasn’t to date as many people in the New York Tri-State area as I could. No, I wanted to get married and have a family. I wanted to be a career woman too. But that I could do on my own. My frustration over not finding the lid to my pot grew and grew as I watched my peers marry off. I had a few long-term relationships but the vast majority of those dates ended before or after the second date. There was an issue with everyone. One guy too short. Another too hairy. One guy killed rats for a living for research (too creepy).

Some soul searching led me to the couch of a friend’s therapist to figure out why I couldn’t meet my mate. After about 8 sessions the therapist said the words that changed my life completely. He said, “Unless the guy is dangerous, go on a third date, with everyone.” Sigh.

Subsequently after my best friend Ellie’s wedding I was told that a guy at the wedding liked the look of me and wanted to take me out. He had good references just like all the guys before him.  When it didn’t work out with the rat killer I gave the go ahead for Jeff to call.

The first call didn’t go well. Jeff trying to make conversation remarked, “Catherine, that’s not a Jewish name.” Yawn, heard that one all my life. Not a Jewish name, yet still Jewish. We arranged a first date at a local Mexican restaurant. It was raining and Jeff was late. But he ran in apologizing profusely. Forgiven. Jeff was wearing a faded black t-shirt under a black and orange-checkered vest with faux silk back. After dinner, Jeff walked me the six blocks back to my apartment making it clear he wasn’t going to come up. I laughed because no one invited him up. In the end I went home with a happy glow of possibility. When I whined about Jeff’s wardrobe Ellie said, “Don’t worry about it. You can change the clothes.”

Then came the second date a.k.a. the point at which I usually cut guys off. Jeff was supposed to plan the date. He came up with nothing. Annoyed I put together a plan for us to walk along the West Side Highway. Somehow we ended up spending a full day together but it wasn’t a good day. In fact it was a pretty crappy date. Jeff was argumentative and opinionated. And he had the worst hygiene. From the time he picked me up until the time he dropped me back at my apartment he had a hard hanging chad of a booger attached to the end of his nose. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. And yet Jeff shockingly hadn’t noticed. Between the outfit and the booger I was becoming more despondent as the date progressed. Another date would end and I wouldn’t have found my partner, again.

When we reached my door I was ready to run but Jeff reached into his pocket and pulled out a mixed tape he made for me. I love music and loved making mixed tapes. I couldn’t believe Jeff thought to make this tape for me after only one date. Still I took the tape, said thanks, and went up to my apartment before the tears came. I knew I wasn’t going out with Jeff again. I didn’t care what the therapist said. Sure Jeff wasn’t dangerous but he was clearly not for me. The clothes. The booger. The obnoxious conversation. Mixed tape or no tape, there wouldn’t be a third date. I sobbed.

Despite my mood I put the tape in and started listening. With each song I cried a little less and laughed a bit more. Jeff was recklessly unafraid to put himself out there. By the time I hit Patti LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade I started to reconsider what the therapist told me. He said I was afraid a relationship wouldn’t work out so I preempted the end by not giving the guys a chance. I knew he was right. Although I wasn’t certain the guy with a giant crusty booger was the one.

Go on a third date.

Go on a third date.

Go on a third date.

So I did. And it was the third date that did me in forever. Jeff met me for bowling with gifts he picked up at the dollar store that day. The gifts were small and silly. He wasn’t winning me over with a dozen roses or a fancy restaurant. He was just showing me that he was thinking about me and that he was kindhearted (and he can’t resist a dollar store, although I didn’t know that at the time). We gave each other bowling names, Big Earl and Little Earl. We had a great night. And the rest is history.

It was five words that allowed me to get out of my own way. Five words pushed me to give Jeff another chance. Five words to overlook the stupid items on my checklist that didn’t matter. Now after 15 years of marriage I am beyond grateful to that therapist (whose name I don’t even remember). Those five words forced me to focus on the person in front of me. Jeff showed me from day one the kind of man he is, and all I needed to do was pay attention.

Jeff is one of the most thoughtful human beings on the planet. He would give the shirt off his back as well as his shoes and pants if someone needed them more. He loves his kids and works around their schedule instead of the other way around. I am more loved and cared for than I ever hoped would be possible. I am the luckiest girl, and it was five words that made it all possible.

I found my lid. And he’s perfect (well except for the clothes. On this, Ellie was wrong. You can’t always change the clothes.)

Happy Anniversary Earl.

Jeff and CAP at BM

Virtual Reality Learning Toy for Kids

view master emmett

View Master Virtual Reality Starter Pack $17
View Master Experience National Geographic Dinosaurs $14.99
Review by Emmett Pearlman, 10 years old

The View Master is a virtual reality phone holder. It doesn’t come with a screen. You need a phone to use it. You also need to download an app to use the View Master. There is a lever on the side of the VR set. When you push the lever it’s like tapping the screen. That’s how you operate the games.

Once you have the View Master you can also buy a lot of National Geographic apps on phone and use it on the view finder. My favorite game is the National Geographic Dinosaurs. In the Dinosaurs game there are a variety of different dinosaurs to interact with. There are also two different modes to play in. Kids can play in encounter mode which brings them to a 3-D scene with dinosaurs. Kids watch the dinosaurs and see what they do, what they look like and the area that they live in. The dinosaur interacts with the viewer. He may try biting you (only pretend bite). The Brachiosaurus comes really close to the viewer on the screen. It is very colorful too. There is a stampede of Stegosaurs that run by you. The Spinasaurus swims by and tries to nibble at you. It’s cool to see what the dinosaur does to you and very cool to see their habitats. You can switch the dinosaur’s skin that you can unlock in adventure mode.

View-Master Experience Pack, National Geographic Dinosaurs

View-Master Experience Pack, National Geographic Dinosaurs

In adventure mode you go through a series of levels with the dinosaur that you choose. In the levels you hatch more dinosaurs and defeat others. Each level becomes more difficult as you move on. In some levels you unlock the skins that can be used in encounter mode. Adventure mode is fun because it isn’t easy.

In the National Geographic Dinosaur game kids can learn what the dinosaurs might look like, where they lived and the names. Kids from 7-years old to 13 might be interested in this game.

These games are educational because it puts you in experiences that you wouldn’t think of. It tells you what it would really be like to be in that environment. The worlds look realistic.

There are other virtual reality games that can be used with the View Master. I would recommend the View Master and National Geographic Experience Packs to friends.

**Disclosure: As part of the National Geographic Insider Program I was provided with the items in this post to review. All opinions are my own and my son’s.  

 

I’m Pathetic and I Know It

lady-in-pants

For my birthday this year my wonderful mother-in-law gave me a generous gift card to Anthropologie. I love that store, and I was thrilled to pick up something fun.

A few days ago, I headed to the Irvine Spectrum with my daughter. She was busy shopping elsewhere when I tried on a T-shirt and pair of pants at Anthropologie. Both were insanely soft and comfortable. I rushed out of the dressing room on the line to pay. I was incredibly excited and satisfied with my purchases.

Most days I sit around at home working on my computer. I want to be comfortable. Typically, I wear my pajamas until I have to shower to get the kids. I try not to embarrass my kids at school pick up by showing up in my pajamas. At the same time I also don’t want to get super spiffy just to come back home again. So, my new pants and shirt were going to be just perfect. Stylish yet comfortable.

After shopping I showed my husband what I bought. He wasn’t enthusiastic. I didn’t care. My pants were comfy and cool because I bought them at Anthropologie. Everything is cool there, right (asks the women who has never been cool)?  I put on the pants with a nice sweater the very next day. I had a few errands to run before going to a neighbor’s house for an hour-long salad party. The party involved about 20 women bringing in a few salad ingredients and everyone shared to make salads in jars for the week. Brilliant idea.

Anyway, I was trying to accomplish way too much before the party so I rushed into my house to get my ingredients and then ran to my neighbor’s house. When I walked in my neighbor said, “Oh, thanks so much for coming. You are awesome. You came even in your pajamas!” Um, What? Yup, my neighbor thought my pants were pajamas. Whatever! I laughed inside because I knew my husband would love this story. I made my salad and that was that.

A few days later I told my friend the story about my new pants and how my neighbor thought they were pajamas. Ha ha, funny funny. So, the friend asked for me to send her a picture of the pants. I went to the Anthropologie website and found the pants and texted them to my friend. She texted back, “They’re cute! And comfy! You should wear them with pride.” I thought, “Yeah! I will!” But then I realized the picture of the pants I had texted featured a stripe running down the side—and my pants did not. Before long, a little teensy tiny thought started to formulate in my head. Maybe my new beloved pants are pajamas. Oh, crap!

Just to make sure, I decided to have a gander at the sleepwear section. And right there were my pants. Except they weren’t pants. They were Sonadora Sleep Pants.

And there you have it. I couldn’t not be less cool.

Thanks for nothing, Anthropologie.

Berlin Joggers on the left. Sonadora Sleep Pants on the right.

Berlin Joggers on the left. Sonadora Sleep Pants on the right.

Sonadora Sleep Pants on the Left. Berlin Joggers on the right.

Berlin Joggers on the left. Sonadora Sleep Pants on the right.

Side Note: You tell me if you think the Sonadora Sleep pants look so drastically different from the Berlin Joggers.

 

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

cold-outside

This morning I drove my 13-year-old daughter, Casey, to school just like always. It’s typically a rush from the moment we wake at 6:30am to the moment we head out the door at 7:00. I am not a morning person. So to avoid barking orders I generally take a more relaxed approach in the mornings. But recently I’ve taken a step back for another reason.

In four more years my daughter will head off to college. Just four years. That’s no time at all. If I want to prepare her to live independently with any chance of success I can’t wait until she is a junior in high school to start to allow her to make decisions for herself. I need to begin now when she can learn while still surrounded by our safety net.

To that end I have stopped telling my daughter how to dress or what to do with her hair. I don’t tell her how (or even where) to complete her homework. And I allow Casey to keep her room like a crime scene. If she can’t find something, it’s her problem. Casey does her own laundry, for the most part. She can vacuum and mop and empty the dishwasher. To my great delight she woke up before her parents on Sunday and made pancakes.

So this morning I was still feeling pretty good about the level of independence we are fostering in our house. Well, that is until my daughter took one step out of the car at school.

For first period Casey has gym. Since she has to change her shoes when she gets to school she usually walks barefoot to the locker room. Since we moved to California Casey hasn’t worn pants and she barely wear shoes other than flip flops. I’m freezing all the time but she isn’t. I figure if she gets cold she will put on more clothes. Today she got out of the car and I heard a teacher say, “Casey, you know it’s 38 degrees out, right?” I doubt Casey knew it was that cold but she wouldn’t have cared if she did know. She doesn’t get cold and her laziness about putting shoes on outweighs the discomfort of her feet becoming chilly.

However, at that moment I felt shame. I felt like I wasn’t doing my parenting job. What kind of parent allows their kid to go to school in a t-shirt, shorts and no shoes when it’s near freezing outside? I drove away embarrassed. My first thought was to make Casey put her shoes on before leaving the house from now on.

But as I drove away I realized this teacher isn’t going off to college with Casey. He has no responsibility for her future. There are tons of people who wouldn’t approve of some of our parenting decisions. I don’t care. They don’t have to live with my kids, and they don’t have to ensure their ability to work and live independently in the world.

When anyone doles out parenting advice (myself included) parents need to filter it through their philosophy. Our philosophy is to allow the kids to make reasonable decisions and learn from the natural consequences. Following that philosophy means an occasional bad grade for missing homework. It means losing a cherished item in the sea of a messy room. And it means letting the kids get cold or embarrassed or feel some small degree of pain to learn lessons on their own.  Some days that is easier to do than others.

***On a side note, my car is clearly a California car. An alarm sounded as a warning as I drove away to tell me it was cold outside. Maybe the car was trying to teach me a lesson!

 

Freak Shows By Another Name Are Just As Gross

Freak Shows By Another Name Are Just As Gross

Ringling Bros. “Congress of Freaks” circa 1924. Wikimedia Commons

Ringling Bros. “Congress of Freaks” circa 1924. Wikimedia Commons

Recently I watched an old fashioned freak show. No, I didn’t visit the circus or the state fair. I saw the show from the comfort of the couch in my family room. It isn’t currently tasteful or politically correct to call someone a freak. Yet, under a different name the same type of show continues. Parading people who exhibit psychiatric issues for the purpose of entertainment is commonplace on every major television network. The worst part is often a medical or mental health professional is the P.T. Barnum.

A prime example of this phenomenon occurred on November 18 when Dr. Phil McGraw welcomed actress Shelley Duvall as a guest on his Dr. Phil television show. Dr. Phil has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology but he does not have a license to practice in any state. This particular show consisted of an interview with Ms. Duvall and a clinically inappropriate attempt to provide treatment. During the interview Ms. Duvall states people in security or at the bank are trying to hurt her. She reports some unknown man is threatening to hang up upside down in his classroom. She believes people are listening in on her conversations and the internet has compromised the government and defense department. Lastly, she routinely remarks about objects implanted in her body.

To any trained mental health professional, Ms. Duvall is in the midst of a potentially serious psychotic episode. Dr. Phil clearly recognizes her symptomology because he takes the time to demonstrate to his audience aspects of her illness.

During the course of the show Dr. Phil repeatedly tries to obtain Ms. Duvall’s consent for treatment. However, Ms. Duvall does not have the capacity to make rational decisions due to her inability to understand information that is presented to her. People in Ms. Duvall’s state cannot choose or refuse treatment and require either another individual or a court to make decisions for them. Dr. Phil must have studied consent in his training yet he continually tries for the sake of the cameras to have Ms. Duvall agree to treatment.

dr-phil-shelley

The show takes Ms. Duvall on a wild goose chase from Texas to California for treatment with the cameras following. Shocking to probably no working mental health professional, Ms. Duvall does not do well on the trip. Once in California Dr. Phil reports that after three days at a treatment facility Ms. Duvall refused to sign paperwork to accept treatment or take any medications. The show closed with Dr. Phil reporting that Ms. Duvall is being seen by professionals closer to her home.

The line between entertainment and what appears to be counseling, medical advice or treatment is blurry to the average consumer. Television personalities that use the prefix “Dr.” represent themselves as helping professionals. Their shows appear to provide assistance to people with significant emotional and psychiatric problems. However, just like in a circus these shows exploit vulnerable people for the benefit to the TV personality, show and network.

Doctors and mental health professionals are taught to use codes of ethics as guides to protect patients from abuse based on an inherent power differential. Generally, when a licensed professional acts against the prescribed code of ethics, there are ramifications up to and including revoking the license required to practice.

But what happens when a person who earned a degree in mental health but is not licensed in that profession crosses an ethical line? Well, absolutely nothing.

The exploitive nature of the relationship between Ms. Duvall and the show is crystal clear. She is a highly vulnerable person in need of real medical and psychiatric treatment. Ethical principles such as do no harm, obtain informed consent and avoid exploitive relationships are without a doubt breached. Yet, the unlicensed Dr. Phil is merely providing entertainment so he is not bound by the same regulations. Exhibiting Ms. Duvall, with all of her obvious psychiatric issues, on television is an atrocious abuse of power, one that would be easily sanctioned by a professional ethical review board.

However, one need not be bound by a professional code of ethics to act ethically and morally. It is unacceptable for high-powered highly-influential television networks and personalities to continually abuse vulnerable people for the sake of entertainment. Sure, people should know that television shows simply provide information and entertainment and the material presented should in no way be conceived as clinical advice. But no matter how many times that sentiment is conveyed people continually line up to be helped by these famous professionals.

It is wrong to profit in any way off of someone’s misfortune. It is downright vile to do so while simultaneously publicly humiliating and potential worsening that person’s health crisis.

The lack of outrage from the public about shows like Dr. Phil, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and even Dr. Oz who peddles assorted products is deafening. Sure there may be a holler from time to time in relation to a particularly egregious show or when someone dies after an appearance. However, in rapid succession, business returns to usual. Eventually viewers become rabid for the next freak in line. And just like always, another vulnerable person is signs up for the show.

As a society, we can and should do better. Let’s not call the freak show by a more tolerable name. Let’s end the show once and for all by tuning out.

Parenting After A Dark Election

Parenting After A Dark Election

casey-and-em-floor-small

Tall Paul Photo

I cried myself to sleep last night. I cried for the people who have pre-existing chronic conditions. I cried for the Muslims. I cried for the people living with disabilities who just saw their most powerful bully get elected to the presidency. And I cried for all the women who were hoping the glass ceiling could be broken once and for all. However, of all the thoughts that swirled through my brain, here is what weighed the heaviest: How would I look my kids in the eyes and tell them about the election results? How would I deal with my own devastation to help them understand what I don’t fully understand?

Throughout the past few months my husband and I thought it was important to bring our children, ages 13 and 10, into the fray of the election. We watched the debates. We listened to the various soundbites and processed them over dinner. In the days leading up to the election my daughter watched me prepare my election-day pantsuit in honor of Hillary Clinton. I baked a victory cake, and we invited a handful of friends over to watch the election. This was going to be a big moment and our kids were coming along for the ride.

But it didn’t go as planned.

In all the excitement I forgot to prepare my children for an eventuality that I didn’t think was possible. And now, millions of parents are facing the stinging disappointment staring back at them in their children’s faces. It’s devastating.

But we can’t sit in the corner and cry over what happened. Life isn’t over, especially for our sons and daughters. Children have no historical reference for this election. When mine return from school today, I am going to tell them that, no, we are not doomed. There have been other times of great conflict and hate in this country. Slavery, internment and segregation are terrible atrocities that happened on American soil. And yet, when people came together, good eventually prevailed. The work of a democracy is never done. Many in our country don’t have equal rights and they experience prejudices on a daily basis. Millions of children still don’t have enough to eat or weather-appropriate clothes for school. Women still aren’t given the same opportunities as men. So we, the people of this democracy, will need to vote, protest, stand up for the vulnerable; will need to educate and reach across aisles of all kinds to address this nation’s issues. Strong and principled people did this in past times of darkness, and we can do it, too.

I’ll tell my children how government works, but in terms they can understand. One man cannot singlehandedly rule America. There are checks and balances. Laws are fluid and can be changed. People who are elected can be taken out of power through a well-defined process, if need be.

I will help my kids find their own voices and words for their feelings. I won’t leave them alone to process this on the schoolyard just because I am personally bereft. I will teach them how to use their voices to make change. I will show them examples of lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers and politicians who dedicated their lives for the betterment of our country.

I will not be able to deal with the fallout of this election with one conversation with my children. They will need more and so, truly, will I. In the coming weeks and months (and maybe even years) I will continue to read books, watch documentaries, visit important museums and landmarks, and do what is in my power to do to keep the conversation going in our house and elsewhere. I will use my children as my boomerang to bring me back to a place of hope for the future.

And we will find a way, collectively, to move ahead.

 

#Juslims: When Your Kid’s Halloween Costume Goes Viral and Affects Millions

#Juslims: When Your Kid’s Halloween Costume Goes Viral and Affects Millions


A week before Halloween talk turned to costumes. My son wanted to be Darth Vader. My daughter, Casey, and her friend, Yasmin, were going to be Juslims. Casey is Jewish and Yasmin is Muslim. They combined their religions to create a tutu and stripy-tight wearing superhero. Their superpower? Watching each other’s backs. Sweet, I thought and my husband took the girls to the store to buy matching t-shirts and a cape. And that was that.

Except it wasn’t.

On the Friday before Halloween the girls wore their costumes to school. A friend snapped a picture of the superhero duo. Later that day my husband and I posted the picture up on social media. Then it happened. It went viral beyond anything I’ve seen go viral. We watched the retweets and likes go up and up and up. First tens of thousands of people responded. Then hundreds of thousands of people. Someone in England’s Parliament tweeted about the picture and so did J.K. Rowling. People from Egypt, Ireland, Israel, Pakistan, Canada and Argentina tweeted it. Buzzfeed called and then the BBC and CNN and Upworthy. Teen Vogue featured the girls and so did ABC news in Los Angeles. The next day the Juslims were even on the homepage of Yahoo.

The number of people posting about the Juslims was incredible. But the comments were what really struck me. People wrote about having their faith in humanity restored. Some said the girls should run for president. Many people tweeted some version of, “I was feeling low but the Juslims gave me hope.” People tweeted to Marvel and DC Comics to make the Juslims into a book. And yet another person on twitter created a superhero cartoon of the girls in their costumes.

juslims-cartoon

My husband and I are beyond blown away that the sight of a Jewish girl and her Muslim friend in 2016 in America could affect so many people so deeply. It all felt strange and I started to feel a bit like a fraud. The girls weren’t trying to make a statement. They weren’t standing up for anyone’s rights. They were just two friends who weren’t encumbered by differences in race or religion.

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Casey and Yasmin being interviewed by Buzzfeed.

Days have passed since the picture went viral. There have been various people contacting us to see if the girls want to write a book or speak at a synagogue or perhaps do another interview. I’ve asked Casey if she is interested in moving forward with the Juslims. But she isn’t. Her costume was born out of a friendship that was thoughtless, meaning race and religion never came into play. Since there was no hidden message Casey can’t really see how she could authentically continue to promote cross-racial or religious understanding. She doesn’t even think about it. That is the most beautiful part of the Juslims.

Casey and Yasmin see that Casey is white and Yasmin is black. They know that Casey is Jewish and Yasmin is Muslim. Casey knows about Ramadan, and Yasmin attended Casey’s Bat Mitzvah earlier this year. They clearly see the differences. They just don’t care. And that is truly the best part of the Juslims. It was just two girls who didn’t think about their differences in any deep or meaningful way. They are different. So what. They are way more alike than different anyway.

Raising children to be colorblind was a misguided parenting philosophy of the past. Studies show that even infants see differences in color. When children are raised to see color but value those differences instead of creating biased prejudices you get the Juslims, two girls in tutus and stripy tights who’ve got each other’s backs.

I have realized from the great response to the Juslims that there are too many places where people are left feeling different and unsupported (or worse, persecuted and unsafe). I hope that the Juslims inspire people to bravely reach out to others. Invite people who look different over for dinner or a play date. Bring people of different faiths to your mosque or temple or church. Whatever efforts we collectively around the world are doing are woefully inadequate. As one person put it on Twitter, let’s hope that the values behind the viral picture of the Juslims become as viral as the post. I’ll second that.

Why Millions of Parents and Babies Now Won’t Sleep For A Year

Why Millions of Parents and Babies Now Won’t Sleep For A Year

 

Parents and infants should room together for one year after birth to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). That’s the latest recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—and it’s completely unreasonable.

When I first heard the news I felt irate and grave concern. For me, personally, the idea of sleeping for up to a year in the same room as my children when they were infants was downright frightening. As a light sleeper I know room sharing would mean that I would likely go 365 days sans solid rest. But as a family coach I know room sharing could have long-term negative unintended consequences that are not addressed in the recommendation.

Parents are subjected to a slew of suggestions on childrearing from experts. Breast is best. Cover outlets. Don’t leave infants unattended in the bath or on the changing table. Properly fasten children in car seats on all car trips. Avoid choking hazards. Address chipping paint and potential lead poisoning threats. Secure windows to avoid accidental falling. Cover fireplaces and guard stoves to prevent burning. The list of health and safety advice for new parents is long and frequently overwhelming. Based on solid research, these recommendations aim to prevent harm and improve health and wellness in children. That’s all well and good. But what happens when the side effects of solid advice are potentially worse than not following the advice?

Studies show that the risk of SIDS is reduced 50 percent if children and parents share a room. However, what goes unsaid is that sleeping in the same room has its own drastic consequences. Parents and infants who sleep in the same room both experience worse sleep than if they slept alone. Think about it. If a baby makes even the softest sound the parent might assume the child is waking and preemptively feed a bottle or pick up to soothe. But if left alone the child may well have just made some noise and gone back to sleep. Research shows that children have a higher incidence of night waking when they sleep with their parents. Furthermore, mothers who share a room with children report a more strained co-parenting relationship and higher depression symptoms. Additionally, women with a history of depression reported less attachment to their children even at six months of age when sharing a room. Also, chronically tired adults and children regularly suffer behavioral affects, including diminished patience, lower coping and impaired judgement.

According to AAP, each year nearly 3,500 infants die of sleep-related causes— including ill-defined deaths and accidental suffocation. In 2014, the last year for which data is compiled, approximately 1,500 infants died specifically from SIDS.  The numbers of SIDS deaths have declined sharply in the last 25 years due to an impressive education campaign. Doctors and literature all recommend that children are put to bed on their backs and without blankets and bumpers to avoid accidental suffocation.

The death of any child is heartbreaking. But one that is preventable is unequivocally unbearable. Therefore, it is logical that conscientious parents would do just about anything to prevent premature death. However, the latest guidelines cannot be considered in a vacuum. Preventing the death of 1,000 children yearly is vital. But what if the current guidelines potentially negatively affect parents of the nearly 4 million babies born every year in the United States? The collateral damage of the recommendation for the vast majority of parents must also be contemplated.

Thinking about parenting guidelines and collateral damage reminds me of my struggles to breastfeed after the birth of my first child. The clear recommendation for myriad reasons is for mothers to breastfeed for as long as possible. After my daughter had a brief stint in the NICU and I had major milk overproduction issue, I struggled tremendously to breastfeed. The pain of infection and physical exhaustion was damaging my relationship with my daughter. I didn’t even want to pick her up for fear of producing more milk or feeling pain. After the third distressed call to my doctor she uttered words that went against popular medical advice—“Maybe you should stop breastfeeding.” She didn’t want to discourage me, but she sensed what I knew all along. Breastfeeding, while highly recommended, wasn’t the only important aspect to consider when deciding what was best for my child. Our relationship was paramount and breastfeeding was impairing that relationship.

While I respect the AAP and use their recommendations on a variety of parenting matters, I do think a conversation needs to be started about how to interpret their guidelines. Parents need to be educated and supported to make choices that are right for their family considering the evidence presented. All of the evidence. Not just the narrow focus of one particular recommendation.

Preventing SIDS is immensely important. No parent should have to experience that loss. However, the AAP recommendation of room sharing should be interpreted as a guideline. In no way do I recommend putting children to bed on their stomachs or co=sleeping in the family bed. Those risks are considerably higher. But the benefit of room sharing just doesn’t seem to outweigh the relative risks.

My Daughter Can’t Wear Yoga Pants Because Teacher Says Boys Can’t Handle It

My Daughter Can’t Wear Yoga Pants Because Teacher Says Boys Can’t Handle It

dress code violation examples

On the middle school website the stated purpose “for student dress and grooming standards is to foster an educational environment.” Except at back to school night I heard a different story from the gym teacher. The presentation started out predictably dull. The kids were slated for hockey (wow!) and football (ooh!) and soccer (fantastic!) and, oh, the female gym teacher almost forgot to mention—girls were not permitted to wear yoga pants or leggings, because it might cause the boys to spring an erection.

Whoa. What?

Yes, you read that correctly. My daughter, barely 13, cannot wear yoga pants or leggings in gym, because some kid might be aroused. The teacher elaborated. She said boys this age had a difficult time controlling themselves. They could be stirred by the sight of a girl in exercise pants in exercise class. The resulting erection could be embarrassing. Hence, in order to prevent this type of humiliation for the boys the gym teacher required the girls put shorts over their exercise pants.

It all happened so fast. Did I actually hear the teacher correctly? After class I went back to speak with her again. She clarified. Well, she tried to clarify, as one tries to dig her way from a pile of quicksand. She told me one of the reasons this is an issue is because she requires the students to tuck in their shirts, you know, to be respectful. She believes when the girls have their shirts tucked in, wearing yoga pants, it’s just too revealing for the boys. Got it?

Um, no. I do not. In fact, I am horrified.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the girls all wore miniskirts that barely covered their rears, and the boys still managed to graduate. Walk on to any college campus today and one spots students wearing yoga pants, sweatpants and even pajamas to class. Somehow an educational environment is still maintained. The male students find a way to suppress any possible sexual feelings while in the classroom because it would be inappropriate otherwise.

Yet middle and high school dress codes are popping up with reckless abandon around the country. Girls can’t wear tank tops or spaghetti straps on dresses. Skirts need to be no shorter than fingertip length. Just fire off a quick Google search, and you’ll be startled by the number of schools limiting what girls—but often not boys—can wear. It’s happening in Kentucky. It’s in Texas. And in Indiana. And in Oregon. The girls in New Jersey were so fed up with the insinuation that they are a disruption they created the Twitter hashtag #Iammorethanadistraction.

Why is there a sudden problem with clothing being so terribly distracting in school?

The objectification of a woman’s body is pervasive in our culture. I don’t know of a single woman who hasn’t experienced cat calling, unwanted whistling, fear of being followed, sexual harassment or sexual assault. A national poll conducted by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation in 2015 reported that 25 percent of women attending college experienced unwanted sexual incidents. The problem isn’t that we aren’t creating an educational environment in school. It’s that we aren’t teaching boys and young men that women are not sexual beings first and foremost.

Banning yoga pants for the purpose of avoiding unwanted erections sends the message that boys are programmed to respond and can’t help what their bodies do. Boys and men are responsible for their actions. It’s no wonder some don’t stop unwanted sexual advances when they hear a woman saying, “No.” Short skirts and leggings don’t cause sexual advances—the inability to manage one’s desires does.

Instead of draconian dress codes what we really need are conduct codes. Enough with stifling the girls to help the boys control themselves. That’s demeaning to the boys as much as it is to the girls. Why not state the expectation that on school grounds any sexual activity or expression will not be tolerated. Children can learn to control themselves when there are clear expectations for how to behave with consequences for misconduct.

It isn’t the responsibility of my daughter (or any daughter) to help boys manage sexual urges. It is the responsibility of the boys. It isn’t OK to start shaming girls about their bodies by telling them to obsessively cover up. And girls should not have to disregard their own comfort to protect the comfort of the boys around them.

I came home from back-to-school night and discussed the gym teacher’s remarks with a male friend. He thought I shouldn’t have told my daughter the reason she couldn’t wear yoga pants. I disagree, strongly. Girls need women to break down these issues when they are young, before they are shamed or harassed or raped. It’s one step closer to showing girls that wearing a short skirt isn’t akin to asking for “it”. I need to show my daughter what saying no looks like. And I need to help change this policy so she can see what change looks like.

Shielding my daughter from the realities of being a woman will not help her stay safe in any environment, educational or otherwise. Speaking up about, in her presence, will.

Side Note: After speaking with the school’s assistant principal I was assured the gym teacher would be reprimanded for her inappropriate remarks, and the school is working on crafting a policy for gym clothes.

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The Importance of Playing Hooky

The Importance of Playing Hooky

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I had near perfect attendance in grade school. It was annoying. My sister was sick all the time and got to have the TV put in her room while I had to run off to school. One year my mom took pity on me and surprised me with a hooky day. She said I didn’t have to go to school. Instead we could do something fun. I don’t remember at all what we did. Clearly that didn’t matter. What did matter though was that I learned that sometimes taking a day off is more important than the seemingly important stuff in our lives.

Today I learned that lesson again. I am completely swamped with work and life. My to do list has several mini lists. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel at all. I’m stressed and burdened and missing the fun of life worrying about what I have to get done. I’ve been on the brink of tears for several days. My kids are out of school for the summer in just one more day. Panic is setting in rapidly.

Then I get a text. I wasn’t even out of bed but I was already thinking about what I will conquer first on my last full day to work. I grab the phone and it’s my friend Noel saying, “Last minute paddle board trip, share my board?” Oh crap. I have no time for this. No business at all dropping my work to run off with a friend to paddle. Then she adds, “Cloudy, but calm.” It’s at this point that the thought of my childhood hooky day floats by. The joy. The surprise. The adventure. I wrote back, “OK, Darn it. I’m coming.”

For the last year since I moved to California I have been trying to paddle with sea lions, whales, dolphins and anything else that wants to swim by. Usually it’s windy or murky or there are gigantic waves. When I heard it was calm I couldn’t resist.

So I hopped in the car and met Noel and another friend Michelle. The ocean was like a watercolor painting. Flat, reflective, beautiful. We saw another boarder out quite a way surrounded by dolphins. Noel was determined. I sat on the front of her board and she worked like a woman on a mission to paddle us out there before the dolphins left. For a while it seemed like no matter how far we paddled they were still further away.

FullSizeRenderWe took turns paddling. Finally, both exhausted, we made it. There were dolphins and more dolphins. They just kept coming in packs. Big, stunning, shiny dolphins only 15 feet from our board. It was a thrill of a lifetime that I almost missed because I have a lot of work.

Now I’m home and the to do list stands unattended. I haven’t made a dent. I’ll be up late tonight and I’m sure tomorrow night too. But a hooky day was exactly what my psyche needed. Now I feel ready to face the work with a smile dreaming of my dolphin friends from this morning. I’m not stressed. I’m happy.

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