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Free Life-Changing Experiences for Kids

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Some life experiences are priceless.

As parents, we spend a lot of money hoping that what we do now will pay off when our kids are adults. We invest in competitive sports. We hire tutors. We give them music lessons. Yet we can actually give our kids something that can be life-changing—and it costs nothing.

We can create opportunities for our kids to befriend a child with a disability. No, I’m not talking about having our son or daughter occasionally show up to become that child’s “helper.” I’m talking about becoming their friend, their buddy.

As a young girl, that chance absolutely changed my life.

When I was ten, Billy Mulligan moved onto our street. He was also ten, but he was different from the rest of the neighborhood kids. Billy had a pretty severe case of cerebral palsy. He could not walk or talk. In fact, he drooled quite a bit and also had minimal control of his arms and hands.

Yet, his parents never saw his limitations—and this was when people still referred to those with disabilities as “crippled.” But that’s not how Billy’s parents saw him. Nope, they just nonchalantly showed us how we could include Billy in whatever the neighborhood kids were playing.

It’s odd because decades later I know that I never had an actual conversation with Billy, but I still remember that his favorite television show was Divorce Court (he used to think it was so funny). I know that he knew the name of every model car and thought it was amusing when I couldn’t name the one he was pointing to.

I can also picture our neighborhood baseball games, where Billy sat strapped in his huge specially-made tricycle, taking his time to finally maneuver his hands around the plastic bat. And I remember his huge smile whenever he’d make contact with the large plastic ball and his brother ran to first base for him.

He was only on our block for a year, but I know that being Billy’s friend has stayed with me forever.

That’s because for my entire adult life, I have worked with all kinds of kids—including those with brain injuries, autism, and yes, cerebral palsy. But I can’t ever remember viewing any of those youngsters as anything but another great kid I was going to get the privilege to know. That kind of certainty had to have started with Billy Mulligan.

So, yes, we can provide life-changing experiences for our kids . . . and we can do so without ever spending a dime.

How Money Messes with Parents’ Thinking

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How often do we allow money
to dictate our parenting decisions?

What if our current finances cloud our ability to make decisions about programs for our kids?

There’s a simple way to prevent that from happening. We can either take money entirely out of the equation, or we can actually make it the entire focus.

Here’s what I mean. When we take money out of the equation, we pretend we’re Bill or Melinda Gates. That frees us to review a program solely on its merit.  Since this is merely a mental exercise, we really don’t have to think about money at that moment.

We only bring money back into the equation if we conclude the program is something we’d like our child to participate in.  And yes, at this point, we have to consider our current finances.

But since we’ve already decided our child would benefit from the program, we’re now more likely to explore creative solutions to make it happen.  On the other hand, there’s no chance our child participates if we go straight to: We can’t afford it.

The opposite mental exercise (putting money into the equation) can also be helpful if our child is participating in or offered a free program.  Here, we ask ourselves: Would I actually pay for this service if my child couldn’t get it for free?  If the answer is no, then we may want to reconsider whether or not our child should participate.

You might be thinking . . . But why would anyone opt out of something that doesn’t cost anything?

If a program isn’t a good fit for our child (i.e. we wouldn’t pay for it ourselves), there can be a definite downside.  Our child probably doesn’t have more spare time to participate in another program that better meets his needs. Or, if we try to cram that better program in as well, we risk putting our child on overload.

And what if our child doesn’t benefit after participating in various free programs?  We may then shut down when we hear about yet another program.  We become like folks who resist riding in taxis because they’ve already spent so much time on free buses that took them nowhere.

So that’s why we need to “play” with money in our mind.  After all, it doesn’t cost us anything to do so, and it just may shine a new light on our decisions.

Five Signs a Parent Needs a Break

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We are actually helping our kids
when we take time for ourselves.

The airlines get it. For emergency situations, fight attendants always instruct parent passengers to put oxygen masks on themselves before helping their kids. Yet making sure parents are fully functional “on land” is good advice, too.

Here are some tell-tale signs that we have too much going on or that we’re so involved in our kids’ lives, we’ve forgotten we have one of our own.

1) We’re still singing our kids’ CD songs even though he’s not playing them (or even around).

2) We’re waiting to see what grade “we” got on the project “we” worked on.

3) We find ourselves cutting our own meat into tiny pieces.

4) We rushed our child out the door for soccer practice—only to discover that practice was yesterday.

5) We wish we could vote for homecoming king and queen.

If you’re a parent in need of a break, you can easily modify or add to the list above. But the point
is . . .sometimes we think we’re being a good parent by trying to juggle everything or by parenting 24/7. Yet the truth is, we’re better parents when we take some time for ourselves.

So book a massage. Go play tennis. Read that magazine that’s been sitting on the table for three weeks.

Our families will be just fine without us for a few hours.

Why We Keep Talking About Vaccines

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Vaccinations remain an
emotionally charged topic.

Since California has now declared whooping cough an epidemic, there’s a push to make vaccines mandatory—eliminate all exemptions for everyone, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs.  In other words, close the chapter on vaccines. Discourage any discussion.

Yes, there are no studies proving a correlation between autism and vaccines. And yes, we have to acknowledge that many, many kids get vaccinated without a problem, and many diseases have virtually disappeared since we’ve vaccinated children.

But I don’t think the topic of vaccines is as black-and-white as many would like us to believe.  Here are some facts that are generally swept under the carpet.

1. A vaccination actually doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the disease it’s targeting.

Yep, you can still get the disease even if you’re vaccinated (although this fact is seldom mentioned in articles). Moreover, there’s no predicting who is more vulnerable to the disease.

2.  The medical community is not sure how long immunity lasts.

Booster shot guidelines (as to when and how often we need them) are so often changed.

3. Different countries have different vaccine schedules.

Since there’s no universally accepted schedule for vaccines, the timing and number of shots given at one time could be important variables to consider.

I may have some personal experience with the timing of vaccines. Within an hour of my youngest daughter receiving her first vaccine, her temperature shot up, and she started experiencing convulsions. We were lucky—no brain damage as my doctor feared may have resulted, but I’ll never forget that agonizing night.

My daughter was born six weeks premature. So in a sense, she was really only two weeks old when I dutifully took her to get her shot at the two-month mark.  Would she have had the severe reaction if I had waited until she was older? Who knows? After that night, our doctor wrote emphatically all over our daughter’s medical chart that she should never, ever receive any future whooping cough vaccines.

4.  Today’s seniors have not received the same number of current vaccines as today’s kids.

That means we don’t have medical studies that prove there are no long-term effects from vaccines. In the absence of such data, I’m guessing we won’t find even the strongest proponents of vaccines giving their patients a signed guarantee that there will never be any adverse effects as a result of being vaccinated.

Those are just a few of the facts that need to be included in a general discussion on vaccines. And then, throw into the mix all the parents who swear their child’s neurological development significantly declined after getting a shot. I’ve met many of them. These parents often have pre- and post-videos that underscore their convictions of the change.  You’ll never get them to believe that there wasn’t a correlation between the vaccine and the change in their child thereafter.

So that’s why we have to keep talking about vaccines, why we have to keep all parts of the discussion alive. Most importantly, we should be concerned about trends that automatically dismiss parents who question health and safety issues as ignorant victims of sensationalized media. Instead, we should all want to  encourage healthy discussions that focus on unfiltered factual information—until we find answers that are truly satisfying to everyone.

Keeping Kids’ Sports Fun

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Kids’ sports should focus on fitness and fun.

Kids’ sports should focus on fitness and fun.

My kids and their friends were involved in all kinds of sports as they grew up. Softball, soccer, volleyball, track, swim, ballet, tennis – you name it. My girls are now in their twenties, so I actually know the outcome of all the time and money my family and their friends’ families spent on sports.

By the time my kids were juniors in high school, they had already changed their perspective on sports.  Injuries (and pressure to perform while injured), a few abrasive coaches, and inordinate demands on their time ultimately overrode their original desire to become involved in high-level competition.

Did they give up sports altogether? Not at all. They only gave up the politics, demands, and pressure.  In fact, as young women they continue to be actively involved in the sports they love.

Out of all their high school athlete friends, few actually went on to play college sports. Even fewer received a scholarship that paid enough or was for the college they wanted to attend.  Of those who did play college sports, a large majority quit after the first year. They were already burned out and did not want to make their whole college experience centered on sports.

Of those who played all four years in college, one was actually drafted by a major, professional league.  Granted, that’s pretty darn good. But that’s a mere one out of the hundreds of teen athletes my kids knew.
The point? If you could look ahead and know that your child was not going to be the next (fill in the blank), would you be inclined to make your child’s sports experiences more enjoyable?

If so, here’s what I propose:

1) Pass on the premiere or more advanced team if it means your child is going to sit most of the time on the bench. No matter what anyone says, every kid and every parent wants a good amount of playing time.

2) Change teams rather than try to change the coach.

3) Say nothing when you think a referee or umpire made a bad call. In the long run, it all evens out: Sometimes a bad call is against your team—and sometimes, your team benefits from it.

4) Stay in the present. Don’t make this season all about grooming for that future premiere league or high school or college team that your child may never even play on.

5) Explore sports groups that aren’t focused on developing superstars. For example, check out Girls on the Run International. This nonprofit organization combines a 3.1 mile running event with pre-race workouts that encourage positive social, emotional, and physical development.

Will there still be parents who pour thousands of dollars into kids’ sports with the hopes such investments will pay off some day? Of course. But as parents, we don’t have to go down that road.  We can just as easily make decisions that ensure our kids’ sports experiences are positive and fun.

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