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Maybe it was over-the-top, or maybe I’m just from a bit of a different generation that my kids, but my childhood was filled with a mix of wild fun and play dotted by perfecting manners and etiquette from the age of 8. I spent endless weekends learning to pour tea (pour from the right, eldest/most senior woman served first) to working on my punch-drinking skills (take white gloves off, lay in lap, keep your head up). In retrospect, it seems a little intense, but I gots me some Emily Post skilz. I want to teach my kids manners that will help them navigate conversation and environment, and demonstrate grace when not nailing each other with Nerf darts.
Four tips I learned in finishing school (HA! DID I JUST TYPE THAT?!), that I’d like to pass along to my kidlets:
1. Ballroom Dancing: The Ode to Commander Unander. Every Friday night my brother and I would go to a hall with other kids in my neighborhood in our dressy clothes. I’d say it was itchy and uncomfortable, but actually, I liked wearing the dresses (below the knee), having my hair done nicely and wearing tiny high heels. The only thing I didn’t really like was the gloves. White gloves aren’t really becoming on anyone, especially on a girl like me with hands like Shaq. Over several years we learned to dance ballroom with a strict, old, washed-up ballroom dancer. “Commander Unander” and his shiny black tuxedo shoes swept me across the room like a feather. I loved it. Learning to dance ballroom was a wonderful gift — I can still walz and foxtrot my way through any wedding reception without wrapping my arms around my date like a drunk prom girl.
2. Table Top Knowledge: AKA Why do I have three forks? I can remember sitting at a fellow manners freak parents’ house for table training. It looked like a dishwasher exploded in front of me, but in truth, it was pretty easy to decipher after just a few times of practice. When in doubt, work from outside by course with your utensils, unless you don’t, then the waiter is likely to save you. Just don’t use the same utensil for multiple courses or take it off the plate and put it on the table (that was the kiss of manners death). It was more than napkins on laps though. A lot of what we learned here was subtle: don’t push a plate away from you, use the butter knife to put butter on plate not on bread, drinks go on the right. So far we’ve got the kids setting the table for dinner as a first step.
3. Host Management: Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds. As a kid, my parents took me everywhere — from dinner parties to galas. There’s only one whale at any soiree: the hostess. Once you get the gist that it’s all about paying respect to her, you’ve got it made. Bring a gift (Not flowers or food, but instead a small gift like a homemade card from kids or special soaps); look in her eye, give her a compliment about her home or food; and most of all, don’t do anything without the hostess doing it first. By that I mean don’t put any food in your mouth until she has. Neeeeevvver.
4. Food: Not See-Food. I don’t think I ever chewed a piece of food with my mouth open. I never remember doing it, anyway. My son, Thing 1, has never breached the open mouth gap, either. My dear Thing 2, however, is a see-food eater. Oh man, the battle. One thing I remember learning was a sure-fire way to help curb this food nightmare was to tell the kids to take very small bites. It helps, but it’s not full-proof. Counting to 10 while chewing is another trick. I’m all about learning opportunities, but this one I have no tolerance for. Chew with your mouth closed or don’t sit at my table.
I’ve come to understand that it’s not popular to teach etiquette to children in 2011 — I guess it comes off as snobby or wanna-be high class. I see it differently than that. I spent eight years as a kid going through manners training and in the end, I apply more of it today than most of high school classes put together. I want my kids to grow up with tools that will carry them from the house down the street to The White House and every little cottage along the way.
This post was inspired by the smarty pants team at the Yahoo! Motherboard. (#ymotherboard)
We sat quietly in the corner of the parking lot – inconspicuous as we could be, staking out the Rotten Robbie gas station. We watched people come and go, and waited patiently to pounce. Who was the next target of the day going to be? We wanted unsuspecting citizens — unaware of our stealth plan.
Inside the car, the four of us whispered, sitting low in our seats and diverting our eyes from suspecting passersby. How we’d pull-off the job was thoroughly discussed. And then, our opportunity arrived: a white Ford Explorer, driven by a 50-something woman. As we gave the O-K sign, I crouched down low and ran from our car into the gas station and shoved $20 into the attendant’s hand:
“HER!,” I whispered, “We want to pay for her gas! Now! Pump 4! Go! Go!”
I put my cap down and walked unsuspectingly back to our car, quietly closed the door and started the car. Next it was time for LaGringa’s part of the job. The woman walked into the station to pay for her gas and we peeled out of the parking lot, whipping an illegal u-turn and zooming up to the woman’s car. La Gringa jumped out and put our calling card on her car door. Then we took off, finding shelter, parked stealthily across the street and waited.
The woman came out of the gas station looking around in both directions — she was clearly suspicious of our actions. She walked carefully to her car and picked up the card on her door looked at both sides of it before reading what it said:
You received this act as part of Yahoo!’s effort to spread joy around the world. We hope this inspires you to make the ripple grow by doing something good for someone else. That’s how good grows. Share it at kindness.yahoo.com
Our car exploded with excitement. We pulled-off the job! Slowly, we creeped our not-so-stealthy red SUV out of the parking lot in cheers.
Back at the lair, we surveyed our booty: we secretly had hit three gas stations paying fo gas for unsuspecting citizens, bought bagels for two senior citizens who’d just gone for a run, and given out Lottery tickets to strangers on the street throughout San Jose. We were high on the thrill of secret giving. The feeling of giving a random act of kindness was not only contagious, but addictive. We piled in the getaway car and headed south, casing out our next target.As part of my role with the Yahoo! Motherboard, I was given $100 in cash to pass-on random acts of kindness during the holiday season. You can learn more at: How Good Grows, Start a ripple of kindness with one simple act. kindness.yahoo.com
I’m a family girl. For all the good and bad of it, that’s who I am in a nutshell. This means that every tradition, every person, every meal prepared has meaning to me. I crave Irish Nachos from Rosie McCann’s pub on May 6 each year to celebrate a romantic meal La Gringa and I had years and years ago. I play Barbara Streisand’s Christmas album all the way through because it reminds me of my parents dancing in the livingroom when I was a child spying on them playing Santa. I make tamales around this time of year too because it reminds me of my cousins and grandmother and her tiny kitchen with the vinyl seats and fake wood. I love tradition, and, until one fated night in Rome ten years ago, I still do.
I was traveling in an Eastern direction around the world in 2010, hitting nearly 30 countries and loving every single minute of my travel. My mom met me in Rome for a magical week in early October. It was set to be the last time I’d see her before Christmas eve. We decided to have Thanksgiving in Rome at a beautiful restaurant on the Vio Veneto called Cafe Veneto, an Argentinian restaurant at the Spanish Steps. The night was something I could never write about, filled with symbolism, music, food and love. It was Thanksgiving. That night, we bought the plate we’d eaten from and brought it home. To this day, I use the plate. That darn plate is one of my greatest family treasures.
I spent that year away from my family for the first time on Thanksgiving. I was 29. That’s a lot of years of Turkey with the same turkeys. Since Thanksgiving in Rome, I’ve let go of my turkey day traditions and opted for a new tradition: No Tradition! Each year, we pick something different to do. Last year it was LegoLand with our dear friends and tacos at the border on Thanksgiving, the year before we joined both of our families together for an eclectic celebration and the year before that we had 50 people to dinner complete with a serious game of flag football. Next year? Who knows! The tradition began in Italy and stays with me today — Thanksgiving is about a feeling, more than a series of rituals. Come over any night, you’ll find chatting, laughing and likely eating from The Plate in our daily thanksgiving.
Oh man. Here it comes the month when every fricking thing is pink or perfectly normal with a little pink ribbon on it. Blah. Ick. Puke. Here comes the pink ribbon month. Marketing blah blah. Pink ribbons mean nothing to me. Green dollars mean something to me.
I’ve seen the debate on the Facebook ‘like’ promotion for Breast Cancer Awareness. I’ve heard the breast cancer fighters pushing back. I’ve watched friends recover from breast cancer surgeries ranging from proud little tiny scars to wonking radical mastectomies. My paternal grandmother did not survive breast cancer; my aunt has barely scathed by. That said, this is not my pet project, my “I’m going to wear an unflattering t-shirt” level of passion (leave that for the Myelin Repair Foundation and ProMujer). To be honest, pink ribbons turn me off — it seems so marketing-y. The only way I knew it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year was when I saw hardcore NFL defenseman Jared Allen, wearing a pink sweatband, tackling a QB who was donning a pink chin strap on live TV.
It took NFL Sunday for me to notice awareness month, but I’m no fool. Breast cancer is a deadly bitch. The breast cancer numbers are staggering. Shocking, really. I’m always so moved by the women I’ve seen walking for days on-end with pink bras and ta-ta jokes hugging and laughing and talking with their flat-chested, bald-headed friends. That is some serious courage. Sometimes the subject of breast cancer makes me feel uncomfortable because I happily had my breasts reduced. I don’t like boobs. But I don’t want to have to lose them because of cancer, either.
Supporting Breast Cancer Awareness month used to be a stretch: I just couldn’t give money to a “Precious Moments” figurine and make the connection between that stupid trinket and the balls-out-hair-on-fire research that this disease requires. But all that’s changed. Women and marketers have gotten keen to the mutually beneficial attention to the Breast Cancer cause. For goodness sake, wineries are busting out massive donation campaigns this year. Now there’s a donation I can get behind. And that’s not all.
Did you know you could donate a mammogram by just clicking once? I thought it was total B.S. so I looked it up on Snopes and validated it. Yup, just a click donates a mammogram to a woman who cannot pay for one. Um. DUH. Before reading on, do that.
I met two incredible designers when I was at SocialLuxe this year — if you attended, you saw their cool greeting cards too. My favorite is featured on the top of this post: “Thinking of you as you Bitch Slap cancer” made me smile and gave me a shot of anger too. Both worthwhile feelings, if you ask me. Buy these cards and 50% of all proceeds go to Young Survivors Coalition.
Into cupcakes — and good cupcakes? Sprinkles Cupcakes, arguably the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten, gives 100% of proceeds of their pink cupcake to Breast Cancer research. Okay, that’s cool. I can do that. And after I eat a dozen of those puppies (at $4 a pop), I’ll have to use my Yummie Tummie to squeeze into my clothes. This company has one of my favorite products ever – the Survivor Tank which is designed for slip-in cups for mastectomy needs. Oh, and 100% of the proceeds go to the City of Hope Research Foundation. Even if you do have your boobs, it’s a great product. I own one, I should know.
Then there’s every other product under the sun from Purina Cat Chow to Donna Karan perfume that give proceeds to Breast Cancer research during the month of October. But do me a favor, don’t bother buying any product just for the donation element. It’s only a drop in the bucket. Ten percent of profits on your cat chow purchase is less than 25 cents. For goshsake, if you’re going to donate to Breast Cancer research then save yourself some time and a crappy pink ribbon product and just donate directly to the Susan G.Komen fund by TEXTING the word: “KOMEN” to 90099 to donate $10. That’s a lot more efficient than 10% off some pink water bottle you didn’t want anyway.
This post is inspired by my purple pals at Yahoo! who donated $50,000 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation this month.
You all are going to hate me. I’m going to sound cocky and rude and full of myself. And maybe it’s got nothing to do with me, but I think it might: My Kids are Rockstar Eaters. They always have been. I’ve never had to hide a vegetable. I’ve never pretended like Charlie and Lola that tomatoes were moon squishers and broccoli was magic trees. In fact, I don’t really get all the hoopla on the food issue. See, I sound like a total bitchy snob.
I never fed my kids separately from the food we were eating. Of course we chopped it up and for awhile, Thing 2 liked his food deconstructed — so Arroz con Pollo would be on his plate: asparagus separate from saffron rice separate from chicken separate from grilled onion. But they ate it. Always. I started serving salad to my kids for meals when they were about 2-years-old. They figured out the magic of salad bars by the time they were 3 and were begging for the salad bar at Whole Foods as a treat. Sushi is the family favorite, but I’ve limited their sashimi intake — not for fear of kids eating raw fish (the doctor said it was fine), but because it was costing us a fricking fortune. Those little kids can put away sushi like nobody’s business. I didn’t eat like that in the 70s!
I have a treat drawer. I’ve always had one. I didn’t really know how to tackle the sweets and treats challenge, so I just ditched the whole thing and put a drawer, nice and low and accessible with no child safety locks on it filled with candy and cookies. I’m not kidding. I told the kids they could have one treat per day from that drawer. They are 7-years-old now and still ask if they can have a treat from the treat drawer and will self-regulate (Oh! I had a cupcake today, so no treat drawer tonight!). They get whatever candy they want. But they don’t want it very often.
When the kids were 4, we started taking them to Farmer’s Market in Campbell with their own bags. They were allowed to fill it up with anything they chose — veggies, fruits of all different kinds went into their bags. That damn experiment was expensive too! But it worked. My kids eat colorful, bright veggies and fruits of all kinds — and better than that, they crave them. Don’t try to pass off a plain ‘ol apple on them; if it’s not HoneyCrisp then it’s not worth eating. Snobs.
I’ve written before that I was never really good with reading kiddie books to my kids — I always, instead, read them cookbooks. But that helped with eating too because kids wanted to cook everything I read to them. Soon they learned about meats and fish and herbs and seasonings and they were able to decipher which was which. This year, I taught them to tuck their fingers and use a real chef’s knife. Although I’m standing right there to help, I think trusting them with the knife, learning about the way food feels to cut and slice and, most of all, how to respect food, has helped them with their adventurous culinary spirits.
There are of course the days when the kids sigh at the sight of something totally foreign on their plates. We remind them of Andrew Zimmerman from the awesome show, Bizarre Foods and how Andrew says you have to try every food at least twice before saying you don’t like it. Other shows help us out too — we are huge, huge fans of Iron Chef America (Cat Cora for Thing 2, Bobby Flay for Thing 1). ICA helps my kids learn that the same food can be prepared many, many ways. That opens the door to trying foods that might be new, but with familiar ingredients. Makes things a bit less scary, I think.
We tell the kids frequently that in order to travel the world, they’ll have to appreciate foods from all cultures. This was great until the kids heard of cultures that eat bugs, spiders, fried crickets and tarantulas. They didn’t like that at all.
This post is inspired by the awesome, fun team of The Yahoo! MotherBoard.
Some people call me the Sleep Nazi. Others call me the Schedule Freak. Call me what you want, I’ve got the magic trick to getting kids (well, at least mine), to adapt to school easily.
Maybe you’ve read all the how-to books. You’ve mastered The Happiest Baby in the Condo Complex or whatever. You’ve changed sleep habits and Tivo’d SuperNanny. Do what you want. I’ve got your ticket to kids being ripe for transition. How did I get so smart? Dora the Fricking Explorer. Seriously. And even today, five years after I have even laid my eyes on Dora, my kids will go back to school with the same tricks I’ve used all these years. Watch me as I head back into my alter ego: The Schedule Freak.
Here is the Dora magic (and hellno, I am not a Dora representative, fan or even particularly fond of the show). Dora tells things in threes, Dora repeats the tasks, Dora has rewards at the end, Dora includes the children in the journey. Dora sets expectations. Dora is more of a scheduling freak then I am: ”Big Tree. Wide River. Magic Forrest!” Not only does the character tell things in threes, she’s super clever in that she repeats what has been done, so there is accomplishment throughout the journey. “We’ve climbed the big tree — now we need to find the Wide River to get to the Magic Forrest!” This repetition is enough to drive a parent crazy. Until, you can use that chubby little four-year-old to your benefit.
I started with simple stuff when the kids were about 3-years-old: ”First we’re going to the post office to send mail! Then we’re going to the grocery store to find fresh fruit! Then we’ll come home and make dinner!” I realized an immediate difference. The kids were invested in the process and loved the idea of being included. There were no secrets, certain conclusions and full knowledge that they wouldn’t be sitting endlessly in their carseats. Their tasks had a purpose. Shazam!
As they grew a bit older, I worked up to more complex rhythms: “First we’re going to get dressed, then we’re going to see grandma and then we’ll have lunch at the park.” The rhythms were more vague (get dressed means teeth brushing, clothes, hair, shoes) but the final task was always a reward (free time). The game still worked.
By school age, the kids craved the patterns: “We’re going to have breakfast, get dressed and go to school,” soon morphed into “We’re going to do our morning thing (breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, hair shoes, etc.), then we’re going to school (six hours of tasks), and then mommy will pick you up.” My children never spent one day afraid of school — they knew what came next. Call it kid empowerment, call it transparency. I call it Doraisms.
Today the Dora rhythm is still in-play at our home. The key to Dora-esque scheduling of kids and grownups like them:
1. Use a wide angle lens. Let the kids know what is happening in the big picture. We have a dry erase calendar and as they eat breakfast and dinner, they look at the calendar to know what’s going on around them. They count down just like Dora does. “Five days until we sleep over at Aunty’s house.”
2. Give them a Daily Dose. I let my kids know the schedule as it unfolds each day. They can not only depend on their schedule, but also trust that their needs will be met. If it’s a school day it works like this:
7 a.m. Wake up, cuddle time (15 minutes), no TV or videos
7:30 a.m. To the kitchen for breakfast and morning chat about daily expectations
8 a.m. Brush teeth, get dressed, brush hair, find your way to the front door for shoes and backpacks.
8:30 a.m. Leave for school
2:50 p.m. Mommy, La Gringa, Grandma or Aunty/Uncle pick you up. No exceptions, no disappointment (Dora doesn’t say, “Oh, go with the Grumpy Old Troll because mommy has a conference call)
3:30 p.m. Home, wash hands, change clothes.
3:45 p.m. Snack, homework
4:30 p.m. Play
6 p.m. Shower, jammies, cuddles
6:30 p.m. Dinner
7 p.m. Read with @La_Gringa
7:30 p.m. Lights out
3. Give them some Wiggle Room. Adding in spontaneity is key to a highly scheduled kid. My kids live and breathe their schedule, but they know if I tell them, “Today we’re going to chill out,” they will get more creative. This third part is vital to the life of a scheduled child: NO SCHEDULE. The entire reason to schedule my kids is so that I can break the schedule. The ability for my kids to adapt is important to me. I am learning daily how to make sure there is enough wiggle room for the kids to drive their own Doraisms.
As the back-to-school frenzy begins, I find myself happier than much of the unscheduled summertime. The kids knew their patterns for today and followed them beautifully. They wiggled-in an hour of four square, I squeezed in a quick trip to the fish market. In watching my children’s growth, I have come to understand that the Dora scheduling philosophy might have set patterns for my family that are so much greater than I ever imaged. Setting the patterns clearly, the goals cleanly and the success certain are the keys to Dora’s trove of wisdom that I hold so dear.
This post is for the topic of Back to School from my dear friends at the Yahoo! MotherBoard.