What About the Children?

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D’aja Robinson, 14

Gabrielle Molina, 12
Gabrielle Molina, 12

I’ve put this post off long enough. A few weeks ago, two tragedies hit relatively close to home in my hometown and current place of residence, Queens, New York. A 14-year-old girl was fatally shot on the bus after attending a party. The shooting took place a few blocks from my home. On the day of the funeral, I learned from my first-grade son that the victim was the cousin of one of his classmates and the funeral was held at the church that runs my children’s school.

A few days after the shooting, a 12-year-old girl hanged herself with a belt from a ceiling fan in her bedroom, the result of being cyber-bullied. This little girl attended the same school as my best friend’s daughter, whose classmate was friends with the little girl.

Like many others, I am deeply affected by tragedies that involve children. When a child’s life is cut short, due to accident, senseless violence, abuse, or even at the child’s own hand, it cuts me like a knife. But something about these two stories, so close to home, and so close to each other time-wise, just shook me. In reading about the suicide, I learned that the little girl, who was a beautiful little girl, had been bullied about her looks and had once been attacked by girls at school, who then posted the attack on YouTube. Her parents were aware of the bullying, because the father had complained to school officials about the YouTube video. She also had Facebook and other social media accounts, where the cyber-bullying was taking place.

My heart goes out to the parents of the 14- and 12-year-old girls. And I can only imagine what goes through the mind of a parent whose child has taken her own life. Of course, I turned to my children, and my parenting choices. Please, don’t misunderstand; I am IN NO WAY saying that the actions of these parents had anything to do with the outcomes of the situations.  I just think all of us would ask ourselves if there were signs of what was to come. All one can do is tighten the verbal communication reins, and more closely monitor, eliminate, or continue to keep our children away from social media.

How much do we talk to our children? Even at a young age, our children are experiencing far more than we did growing up. My six-year-old son told me last week of what a terrible day he had had – filled with ‘minor’ disappointments at school (not getting a toy during a school trip, a disagreement with a classmate, etc.). Even more important than how much we talk to our children is HOW we talk to them. How do we react to what they are telling us? Do we blow off their concerns, thinking “Oh it’s nothing”? Or do we show genuine concern and help them to sort out their feelings? Bullying is a lot different than it was when we were growing up. I find it interesting that the subjects of taunting are still the same – a child’s looks, grades, interactions with other kids, etc. However, the internet and social media outlets takes the bullying to a different level – instead of just being between the victim child and a small clique of bullies, the hurt is magnified as it spreads to other schoolmates over the internet and throughout social media.

The question also arises of how old children should be before they are allowed to have social media accounts, if allowed at all. I polled Facebook friends of This and That With Calandra. The average age was about 15, and some felt it depended on the maturity of the child. But all agreed that at any age, there should be strict parental monitoring. I have my own opinion about young teens and social media – they don’t mix. Who in the world do they need to be in contact with? As my mother used to tell us about using the telephone during the week, “You’re gonna see them in school tomorrow. Get off the phone!”

It’s tough being a kid these days. When we were growing up, the most we had to worry about was an after-school confrontation. We did not have to worry about being shot as an innocent bystander, or feeling so in despair about bullying that we needed to take our own life. The other thing that breaks my heart is the devastation done to their classmates. Growing up, because these things just didn’t happen, we didn’t have a need to see grief counselors, or have nightmares of some vicious attack on a schoolmate. I just continue to pray for the children, for the parents.

On a final note, This and That With Calandra would like to express our heartfelt sympathies to the family, friends, classmates and teachers of Gabrielle Molina, 12 and D’aja Robinson, 14. May they rest in peace.

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Just Say No: The Holiday Toy Edition

“A Christmas Story”

Up until now, I have considered myself fortunate in that my children have never been whiny or continually asking for toys every time they see a commercial on television. Actually, that has happened in part because the only channels they watched up until this year were Sprout, Nick, Jr. or PBS Kids, neither of which really play too many commercials. However, this summer, my 6-year-old son Izzy decided he was too old for pre-school television and now opts to watch NickToons, home of the Power Rangers franchise, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Supah Samurai, etc. These are the shows that are chock-full of commercials for dolls, action figures, games and the like.

After 6 years of safety, I am now exposed to the constant cries of “Ooo, I want that…” and “Mommy can I have that?” But I have to say, I’m pretty proud of myself. Instead of going on some long tirade of why they can’t have a toy or how Daddy and I have not yet decided what you’re actually getting for Christmas, I take the easy route and just say, “No.” What parents sometimes fail to realize is that children don’t always respond negatively to the word “no.” They don’t always begin to whine, cry or protest. It’s actually kind of funny – sometimes all I get from them, especially Izzy, is “OK.” Five minutes later, they ask for another toy. I say “No,” they say, “OK,” and we’re golden! 🙂

In Christmases past, I have actually been thoughtful about what we bought for them, even if there was no direct request. We knew the characters the kids liked, so we based our choices on that. And like any good parent, we included educational toys and clothes (how many hat and scarf sets did YOU get for Christmas?). But this year, I went the route of my parents. Since there were so many requests, instead of hiding the Toys ‘R Us catalog from them, I actually let them peruse it every day, over the past 2 weeks. They studied it like there was going to be a test on it, and they asked for the moon. But they were warned that they would only get a few things from their list. Going through the book with them this morning was HILARIOUS!! There were a few ground rules about what could NOT go on the list – no plush toys, nothing with tracks, no large toys that took up too much space, nothing with too many parts and pieces. They knew the rules so well, that they automatically skipped pages in the book that didn’t apply. Side note: children also know how to tell themselves “No”! It’s also funny that they understand the meaning of the famous phrases, “Batteries not included,” “For ages 3 and up,” and “Each piece sold separately.” One day, I hope they will also become familiar with “Some assembly required.

So the word “No” has its place in our home and can live peacefully in your home too. C’mon…say it with me…”N-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o-o.” That felt good, didn’t it?! 😉

…Because I Said So!

Growing up, I was not one of those children who vowed to not be as hard on her children as my parents were on me, in part because my parents meted out a fair amount of discipline, mixed with more love than discipline. Secondly, as I became older, I reflected on their parenting practices to help mold how I would one day raise my own children. Fortunately, my husband was raised in a similar household to mine, so our general thoughts on parenting are in synch, even if our approach may be slightly different in specific situations.

The idea from this post came out of my Facebook status earlier this evening. On the way home from school, I cautioned my son Izzy to not shuffle his feet in the snow that had suddenly fallen. Actually, I had already explained to him that I didn’t want his ankles to get wet, but he wasn’t listening to me (go figure), so when he asked me why he couldn’t shuffle in the snow, I simply answered him with the parental mantra, “…Because I said so!” Now generally, I don’t make a habit of using this phrase as often as our foreparents did. I do communicate quite a bit with my children, sometimes ad nauseum, using every opportunity for teachable moments. Child psychologists probably admit that explaining the ‘why’ to a child encourages them to submit to their parents’ request, instead of allowing them to blindly ‘do as I say do, not as I do’ (another parental classic!)

When I was pregnant with Izzy, I made a point to NOT read parenting books, although I did peruse parenting magazines for fun, just to see what kind of New Age foolishness was out there. Admittedly, there is a lot of value to some more modern aspects of parenting, but I’ve found that many of the classic styles are still tried and true. I remember when Izzy was a toddler, my mother came to visit and she offered to stand back and watch how we handled him, to see how us ‘new parents’ deal with situations. Was she serious?  Although I appreciated her desire to be respectful of our ways, I told her that much of what we did was predicated upon our upbringing, and that she should feel free to dole out the Grandma discipline at her discretion! I assured her that she would find we were not too far off from how she and my father had raised me.

So yes, maybe we can do without some of the extreme measures that were used when we were growing up, and there is some merit in modern parenting, but sometimes it’s just not that deep, and it is what it is…because I said so!

This & That This Week: Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins

Photo by Disney Junior

I have reviewed children’s programming on This and That’s YouTube Channel, but this is my first time blogging about one. Now as a disclaimer, I do not work for, nor receive any type of compensation from Disney or any of its subsidiaries. Last week, my children and I saw a commercial for Disney Junior’s new show Doc McStuffins. This morning, we watched the preview episode, leading up to it’s official premiere on Friday March 23, 2012 at 10:00 am/9 c. It will be seen on Disney Junior, a morning lineup of preschool-age appropriate shows hosted on the Disney Channel. And just on a program note, Disney Junior will soon become its own 24-hour channel, right up there with Sprout and Nick, Jr. Unfortunately, you will have to check the website (DisneyJuniorthechannel.com) to see if your cable/satellite carrier will have this station in your area.

Having said all that, let me introduce you to Disney Junior’s newest resident (no pun intended), Doc McStuffins, a 6-year-old girl who talks to and “fixes” stuffed animals and toys. The other human characters don’t know the toys can walk and talk, so you could think of this as a cross between Dr. Doolittle and Toy Story! There are a host of characters, my favorite being Hallie the Hippopotamus – Doc’s “nurse” (voiced by the talented Emmy-winning actress Loretta Devine). What I love most about the show is that Doc McStuffins is a little African-American girl, adding to the diversity of many of today’s cartoons – a far cry from the cartoons and children’s shows I grew up with. As mother to a girl, it makes me glad to see positive African-American images both in “real life” television, as well as in the animated world. The show emphasizes friendship, teamwork, and compassion for others. Overall, it’s a cute show and one I don’t mind my children watching – no corny or irreverent catch-phrases, no baby talk, or any other of those annoyances found in some children’s programming.

So for those of you who are parents, Godparents, grandparents, aunties and uncles of toddlers, make sure you tune in to Doc McStuffins. I predict it will be well worth your (and your child’s) while.

What are your child’s favorite animated shows?

Breaking Routine

After returning from our family vacation last week, I had another vacation to look forward to…My in-laws are keeping the children at their house this week! It’s a win-win for everyone. Hubby and I get a break and the kids get to spend a week with their grandparents and their cousin. Not sure where my in-laws fit on the win-win scale, but hey…

I have to let you know the significance of this week. The children have never been away from us for more than one night. And there have only been 2 overnight stays in the 5 years we have been parents. A whole week of peace and quiet – no arguments to referee, no toys to clean up, and no incessant cries of “Mom! Momma! Mommy! Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!!” But here’s what’s funny…I still set my alarm to wake up early to help get the kids ready before I go to work. When my husband had to get something from the drug store the other evening, I started to say, “Why don’t we just stop there on the way to picking up the kids from camp?” When hubby and I went out to dinner with friends, I sat in the back seat. I hadn’t seen the back row without car seats since…since…well, NEVER! Yesterday I was rushing home from work, thinking I had to pick the kids up by 6. I never realized how ingrained my daily routine was. It was a little scary, but at the same time I realized that I LIKE routine! Our children like routine. In fact, they are quick to point out to others when they are breaking routine. My daughter’s ears were pierced last week, so I asked my mother-in-law to continue cleaning the piercing. When she approached my daughter with the antiseptic-soaked Q-Tip, Yvette quickly informed her that “Mommy doesn’t use a Q-Tip, she uses a tissue. And when she turns the earring, she does it with the tissue in her hand.” I was partially mortified that she had corrected her grandmother, but also intrigued that she had been paying such close attention to our routine.

My sister e-mailed me today and asked if I was missing the babies or was I busy enjoying the quiet house. I replied that it was a little bit of both. She told me that was the response of a real Mommy! I just hope I don’t fall into the new routine of getting used to the kids being gone. :/ LOL

Watching From a Distance

While on family vacation in Florida, I have been able to do something I rarely get to do these days – watch my children from a distance. I have a boy and girl, ages 5 and 3, respectively. When they aren’t in school, they spend all their time under the watchful eye
of my husband and/or me. We don’t have a regular sitter for them, and so they are always with us. As you can tell from their ages, they are quite a handful and require either our guidance to give them something to do, our undivided attention to play with them, or our referree skills to keep them from trying to take each other out! LOL.

Sometimes it is hard to FULLY appreciate the beauty of your developing children when they are under your constant supervision. So this week, as my mother and sister have been spending time looking after them while we are all together at my Mother’s house in Florida, I have really been able to sit back and observe my children. Now don’t get me wrong…I’m not learning anything NEW about them, just better absorbing and enjoying the things I’ve already known.

My son, my firstborn, the scholar, is extremely inquisitive and quite bright. He can read anything, has a great musical ear, an eye for design, and has cognitive skills beyond his years. He is a jack AND master of all trade! Yvette is my little Teflon girl, as my sister-in-law calls her. She is feisty, confident, sharp as a tack, and fears NOTHING! She came into this world 6 1/2 weeks early, but as I was continuously hooked up to the fetal monitors for three days before her birth, it was the sound of her strong heartbeat that put me to sleep at night and awoke me each morning. I watch her now and imagine how all she has experienced in her 3 years will mold and shape her into the brilliant young woman she will become.

Am I bragging about my children? ABSOLUTELY!! They are my miracles, my heart, my inspiration. Sometimes it’s hard to see their preciousness when you are busy monitoring, scolding, negotiating and cleaning up after them! But I am thankful for moments like these – when I can take a break, and watch them from a distance. For a few moments I can see them not just for who they are, but think about who they will become. Parents…even in those difficult days, find time to
watch your children from a distance. It will recharge you and help give you strength to get through the tough moments, and allow you to appreciate a parent’s greatest blessings – your children.

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Adventures in Traveling: Part 2

Now that I’ve had real sleep in a real bed, I can appreciate the beauty of South Carolina and my sister’s new apartment. What I reflected on this morning was a meeting of past and present. Those who know me know I LOVE to reminisce. So what moved me, beside seeing my sister after all this time, was seeing two pieces of our childhood sitting in my sister’s living room. The first is a Castro Convertible marble-top cocktail table. This classic was our coffee table for years. I thought about how I used to sit under it and pull the crank back and forth. The table rose high up in the middle and you could place your drinks along the table ledge. Made me think of all the family gatherings when we’d crank up the table and then pull out the table extension. Those Castros were furniture geniuses!

The second item is a glass and metal serving cart from Fortunoff, circa 1965. We kept our glasses and collectibles on it. It was beautiful but I was the designated glass-washer and it seemed to take me forever to finish!

It was nice seeing these items from my childhood now gracing my sister’s new home. I guess it gives her a little piece of our New York childhood as she adjusts to her new life.

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