Tag Archives: parenting

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Give Back This Holiday Season

screen-shot-2017-12-05-at-2-11-08-amBy Farrah Alexander 

AS I’VE EXPLAINED to my two small children, different households celebrate different holidays during winter. Many households welcome Christmas and our home welcomes Hanukkah. I grew up in a house that celebrated Christmas, but as I became an adult I found myself on the path to Judaism.

Because I don’t come from a Jewish family with generations of deeply held holiday traditions, it’s up to me as a parent to make my own.

This has been really fun.

Every night of Hanukkah, (which is eight nights, just like the Adam Sandler song), I light the candles on the menorah along with my children, and they put the little felt candles on the menorah we display on a wall in our living room. Then, the moment they really get excited about – presents!

Each night, the kids get a small gift after we light the menorah and it officially becomes the next night of Hanukkah. It may be a book, a set of new pajamas or maybe even a toy they have been asking for every single time we go to Target.

screen-shot-2017-12-05-at-2-11-19-amOne night of Hanukkah always falls on Shabbat, which is the Sabbath or Jewish day of rest on Friday night. This is a particularly special day during Hanukkah. Although Hanukkah is a holiday that comes around once a year, Shabbat is a holiday we celebrate every week.

So, on this night I bring out a gift, show it to my son and explain that it’s not for him.

My children, like so many of ours, are very fortunate and blessed. They live in a safe, climate-controlled home with a loving family. They have access to food whenever they’re hungry. They have clothes and puffy coats to keep them warm when the weather gets chilly. They’re so blessed that they even get gifts that they want for Hanukkah!

On Shabbat during the days of Hanukkah, I remind them of this. I teach them the uncomfortable truth that there are many people, including children like them, that are less fortunate and have significant needs.

This is my way of incorporating the fundamental concept of tzedakah in our holiday traditions. Tzedakah is a Hebrew word that basically means charity in English but is actually derived from a Hebrew root meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. So it’s not simply an act of the more fortunate generously giving to the less fortunate. It’s a duty.

I do this on Shabbat because tzedakah is a fundamental part of Shabbat and this is the perfect time to reinforce this value that shapes our religious and world view. After all, Hanukkah, like Christmas, is a religious holiday. So it’s perfectly appropriate to take this opportunity to teach some of our most basic religious values.

Everyone in my family – my husband and two little ones – receive gifts on each night of Hanukkah excluding Shabbat. In the past, I’ve chosen charities and causes that seem appropriate for each member. For example, when my daughter was just a baby, I donated to a local shelter for women and families. My husband is a veteran who is very committed to issues affecting veterans so I chose to give to a charity benefitting veterans in his name. My son, like most kids, loves toys so I donated a toy a child his age in need would enjoy.

Each year is a little different. I don’t always donate to the same charities. As the kids get older and they become more accustomed to the tradition of tzedakah, I expect and hope they’ll be more involved. Maybe they can choose their own charity or cause to support. Maybe we can donate our time to support those in need together as a family. I hope it’s a tradition they’ll welcome and embrace even if it means they don’t get a special treat that night.

While you’re making your lists of things to get for the holiday season and shopping for your family this year, I encourage you to find some way to give back. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice or nothing at all, the season is perfect for expressing gratitude for your blessings and helping those not as fortunate.

If you’re looking to support a national or international non-profit, Charity Navigator is a fantastic resource for finding highly-rated charities that use their donations wisely and operate efficiently. If you or someone you love is passionate about civil rights, humanitarian relief, animal welfare or a multitude of other causes, I’m confident there’s a great organization you can find and support. You can browse non-profits and check ratings of those you’re interested in on charitynavigator.org

There are many reputable local charities you can easily support online such as My Dog Eats First, Jill’s Wish Foundation, Family Scholar House, St. Vincent de Paul, Blessings in a Backpack and Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

Many charities cater specifically to local families in need and provide them with a memorable holiday, such as the Center for Women and Families, the Salvation Army Angel Tree and Marine Toys for Tots.

But monetary donations are not the only way to give back. You can donate your time or much needed items to an organization like Exit 0, which benefits the homeless community in Jeffersonville and surrounding area.

Before the holidays is the perfect time to prepare for the influx of new toys and clothes your kids may receive. You can purge the well-loved but still usable items and donate them to a local thrift store or charity for someone else to love.

There are countless opportunities to give back and support our community in need this season. Imagine what an impact we all have the opportunity to make by supporting the wonderful organizations helping our community as well as the values we can instill in our children as we’re spoiling them rotten. I hope you all find a fun way to give back this season and I hope whatever holiday you celebrate is a happy one.

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How Thomas Jefferson and King Kong Led to the End of My Child’s Innocence

screen-shot-2017-12-05-at-2-10-54-amBy Ray Lucas 

THIS SUMMER, my 5-year-old son peed on the president’s barn.

We were on vacation and had stopped for the day at Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson. While touring the historic Virginian plantation, we stepped into the presidential stable where my wife and I read about what an avid horse rider Jefferson had been during his lifetime.

I was leaving the barn toward the fenced-in pasture, where TJ’s horses once grazed, when I heard fellow tourists giggling and clicking their camera. Curious, I turned toward the scene that held their attention and discovered my son, shorts and underwear completely around his ankles, peeing on the side of the white-washed barn so dear to Mr. Jefferson. Bare cheeks in the wind, he showed no modesty nor shame.

Containing my smile, it occurred to me in that moment that I was far overdue for a conversation with him about when a boy can and cannot pee in the yard. Walking the grounds toward the Jeffersonian mansion featured on the back of the nickel, we began our talk about being discreet while our fellow tourists were probably posting photos of his transgressions with “Ha-ha” emoji’s on Facebook.

The experience led me to the question, “What other conversations in my life have I been putting off?”

I made a mental list of a few that were seriously overdue.

• “The birds and the bees” part one with the 10-year old son and “the birds and the bees” part two with 17-year-old son.

• “I’m not as crazy about the movie White Christmas as I led you to believe while dating” with wife (I think she already suspected).

• “I’m not so sure Simba really escaped to the woods with all of the other bunnies” explaining the untimely demise of her childhood rabbit, with now 19-year-old daughter. (Sorry, honey!)


IT’S HARD TO TELL YOUR CHILD THAT THERE ARE BAD PEOPLE IN THE WORLD AND SOMETIMES THEY OVERPOWER THE GOOD IN THOSE AROUND THEM.


A few weeks ago, another conversation came to mind. My wife and I allowed our 5-year-old to watch a movie he had seen the previews for and begged us to watch – King Kong. At the end of the story, our young filmgoer had grown attached to King Kong and was jumping up and down on the couch cheering each time the great ape swatted an attacking biplane out of the sky atop the Empire State Building. Even while his hero took bullets and grew weak, our boy felt certain that Kong would prevail.

Finally, as King Kong slipped from the building and fell to his death our son became sad and confused. He looked at me as if he had been betrayed. His voice quivered: “That’s not supposed to happen.” He couldn’t help himself as he began to weep. He was embarrassed and crying and mad. “Why did the bad boys kill him?” he sobbed. He cried for a solid five minutes as we consoled him. We were both unprepared at how upset the ending had made him.

Obviously, this was another conversation that was overdue – the good guy doesn’t always win. It’s hard to tell your child that there are bad people in the world and sometimes they overpower the good in those around them. One needs only to look at the headlines of the past few months to know this truth.

So why are these conversations hard to have? Sometimes it’s the fear of hurting feelings or bringing up a subject that we find uneasy about ourselves. But these experiences have led me to understand more often than not the hardest conversations to have with our children are the ones that mark the end of a certain innocence that we aren’t ready to see pass.

Most recently I have wrestled with another conversation with our 5-year-old that is long past due: “It’s time for you to sleep all night in your own bed.” We never let his older siblings sleep with us, but as the baby, we would occasionally allow him to slip into our bed in the middle of the night. As a toddler, it was sometimes cramped, but he would snuggle up, put his arms around your neck and smile in his sleep. How could we resist?

Today, he takes up more bed space than I do, kicks the covers off each night and his cold feet usually end up in my wife’s back. We agree that he needs to stay in his own bed, but because we have grown used to the arrangement or because we are typically too tired to get up and lead him to bed, we have not had that final conversation that is way past due. Or perhaps we both fear that this, too, will mark a passing of innocence that we are not ready to see end.

It’s true – our kindergarten son still sleeps with an innocent smile in our bed. Judge me if you like, but at least he no longer pees on presidential barns.

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The Paradox of Parenting in the Trump Era

By Farrah Alexander

“Mom, do you like Donald Trunk?” my four-year-old son asked with a somber, quizzical expression.

My son, with his limited knowledge of our nation’s current polarity, couldn’t have possibly understood what a loaded question this was. Although I’m pretty passionate about political issues, I tend to shield my children from civil discourse. At least until after kindergarten.

But I knew my son needed an answer to this question, which was very simple in his mind. He’s starting to grasp new concepts such as that he lives in the United States. Also, we have a president of the United States who sits in a very prestigious looking office and wears suits. Also, his mom doesn’t seem to like the president very much, which is strange because she seems to like everyone.

One week before the 2016 presidential election, I wrote a piece published on HuffPost and Scary Mommy with the headline “I Have to be Able to Tell My Children I Stood Against Trump.” In the piece, I discussed why I felt a personal responsibility as a parent to do everything I can to prevent a Trump presidency:

“I believe after our children learn of the atrocities committed by Trump and the carnage left behind by his vile campaign, they’ll then look to us – as survivors of the 2016 election – and want to know how we felt. More than that, what did we do about it?”

Honestly, I never genuinely considered the possibility of Trump actually winning. I felt assured by Nate Silver’s projections that Clinton would win by a large margin. But beyond poll numbers, I really just had enough faith in the American people that they would not elect someone who spewed vitriol and embraced such intolerance. And yet, here we are and my son is asking if I like Donald Trunk.

It’s quite the parenting dilemma. I have to explain to my children that while Trump holds our nation’s highest office, I hope they never grow up to be like him.

I may have differing political opinions than Trump, but that has no bearing on my opinion of him. If my son asked about George W. Bush, I would choose to talk about how he sought to unite our country after the most horrific terrorist attack most of us had ever seen. If my son asked about Barack Obama, I would discuss how he worked so audaciously his entire life to break down walls and became the first black president. Even if he asked about a presidential candidate such as John McCain, who I didn’t vote for, I would discuss his tremendous courage and bravery in an utterly hopeless scenario.

I plan to teach my children to treat everyone they encounter with respect, regardless of religion, gender, nationality, sexuality, race, disability or any other inherent differences. They are neither inferior nor superior to their peers. I’ll encourage them to treat others as they would like to be treated and choose to be kind.

When I see Trump mocking a disabled reporter, hear him bragging about committing sexual assault and read his callous insults on Twitter, these are all examples of how I raise my children not to behave.

I believe the Maya Angelou adage that when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. With Trump’s position of high visibility, I know my kids will be exposed to both his past transgressions and his future offenses. I’m not a total pessimist, but I’m not hopeful that Trump will suddenly put a stop to the same vile behavior that brought him into the political realm.

Many have accused Trump of acting like a toddler. As a parent of a toddler, I find this assertion completely absurd. My toddler is more mild mannered, sweeter and doesn’t whine nearly as much.

I understand my children will likely see Trump as someone who has had fame, fortune and now the oval office. After all, his name alone is plastered in large gold letters on the sides of skyscrapers in most major tourist destinations. Many people probably view such success as a goal to aspire towards. So, I know it’s difficult to tell my children not to emulate the behavior of someone in such a unique position of power.

Behind the glitz, tweets and presidential seals, Donald Trump is just a man. He’s a man who has said and done some very bad things that lead me to believe he may not be very nice.

I always want to protect my children from bullies as they grow and bullying becomes an unfortunate reality. But even more so, I never want them to become bullies. Zero-tolerance policies common in schools would discipline any student using language like Trump routinely uses in an attempt to eliminate the bullying behavior. Elementary school students are not allowed to model the behavior they see from the sitting president.

Success is a worthy goal and I hope I give my children the tools to achieve their own definition of success. But success is not the one and only goal to chase in life. Whether my children grow up to be professional street performers who juggle fire for tips in a can or real estate moguls, I just hope they also have character and integrity. I hope I raised them to be good humans.

I want to give my children the strength and courage to stand up for what is right, even if it’s difficult. It’s my job to monitor who influences my children, helps shape their character and molds them into the contributing adults our society depends on. I know I don’t want that influence to come from Donald Trump.

No, my son, your mother does not like Donald Trump.

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A Life in Progress | Sunday Morning Tech Lessons

LET ME BE CLEAR: I am not anti-technology. In fact, I’m an early adopter. I had a Mac in college when everyone still adored PCs. My first iPod had an actual wheel on it that you spun to find your music. As a kid, I had an Atari video game system that played only one game: Pong.

Technology is good. In general, it works to make our lives better not worse. I never want to be that old guy fighting technology with nostalgic tales to my grandchildren. “I remember walking barefoot to school both ways in the snow, without an iPhone 6, and so should you.”

With that backdrop, I have to admit when my children were still small I began to have second thoughts about how much they were starting to rely upon technology. When my oldest son was six, the water dispenser on our refrigerator broke. Walking right past the sink he asked with real concern, “But Daddy, how will I get water?”

When our youngest was still a toddler of two, his mother and I showed him my old family photo album. He loved seeing photos of me as a child but would try to “swipe right” with his finger on the plastic photo page to turn to a new photo. He was obviously more adept with an iPad photo album than with an actual photo album.

My final hesitation about tech involves great memories of our Friday family movie nights. When my teenagers were still young, we loved going to the video store to pick out two to three DVDs for the weekend. We would lay out blankets in the living room, eat popcorn and watch Shrek. These are some of my favorite family memories. A few years ago, I tried to recreate the old magic except with Netflix on-demand. What has changed in those few years since my teens were little is that we now have exponentially more screens in the house.

We started family movie night with the New Adventures of Scooby Doo. Minutes into the movie, one teen child was texting friends, one was scrolling through their Twitter feed, our eight-year-old was battling Bowser on his Nintendo DS while the three-year-old watched Scooby and the gang foil the evil plans of Old Man Withers. Even my wife and I were guilty of toggling from movie time to Facebook on our phones. Everyone was glued to their own personalized screen. The magic was gone.

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As sad as this turn of events is to me as a father, I honestly understand how hard it is in today’s world for kids to shut out technology. When I was in high school, there was a Radio Shack commercial that showed all of the great tech toys Santa may be delivering. The commercial panned through their store and showed a VCR, TV, phone, answering machine, computer, boom box, digital watch, video games, and a large, expensive video camera that weighed 20 pounds and sat on your shoulder. Today, all of this technology (and more) is in our phones. All of it!

It’s no wonder my children began asking to borrow my phone before they could even walk. I heard an interview recently where an author, speaking about technology and kids, referenced a college survey on whether students would prefer a broken phone or a broken bone. Forty-six percent chose the broken bone option. I don’t want my children to be sent to the island of misfit kids with broken bones and no iPhones, but I also want them to know what it’s like to entertain themselves without a screen.

Like most parents, we try to limit screen time and encourage playtime each day. One of the more ambitious things we have done is to set aside Sunday mornings as a screen-free time in our home. No TV, video games or internet until 1 p.m., which is conveniently the time NFL football kicks off (it pays to be the one setting the rules). They read, play games, swing on the playset – you know, all the things kids should do.

In setting aside Sunday morning as a tech-free time, I have learned a few unexpected lessons. First, I am usually the first one to turn on the TV at 1 p.m. sharp for football. Also, I am frequently guilty of “needing” to check my work email. And several times a morning, I have the strong urge to pick up my phone and scroll through the news or social media.

One Sunday last fall, I took my phone outside on the porch where I hoped I wouldn’t be noticed so that I could set my fantasy football roster on the ESPN app. I knew I was breaking the rules, but not having the right quarterback in a starting position is serious stuff.

My five-year-old walked onto the porch abruptly and – clearly enjoying the role reversal – corrected me with a wide grin, “Daddy! You’re not supposed to be on your phone. It’s not one o’clock yet.”

“You’re right. Daddy must have forgotten,” I lied. “I’ll put my phone away.” Walking back into the house and setting my phone on the counter, I realized the lesson about needing to regularly unplug is as much for me as for my children. I am the one that needs encouragement to pick up a book, listen to music or play chess with the kids. Apparently, my children are the ones teaching the lessons on Sunday mornings.

If I continue to be honest, I also feel a tinge of regret that my son caught me in my moment of tech weakness before I could move Tom Brady to my starting QB position. In the words of Old Man Withers from those Scooby Doo family movie nights, “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.”

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HOOSIER MAMA | Kids Just Wanna Have Fun

By Farrah Alexander

Four years ago, I was a brand-new mom taking my brand-new son out of the house solo for the first time. I was still recovering from an intense labor and delivery and the newfound state of extreme exhaustion I never knew existed. My husband returned to his demanding routine of balancing grad school, an internship and his full-time job. My baby was adjusting to the world after an early arrival, recovering from jaundice and breastfeeding struggles.

We were tired. All of us, so very tired.

Even the tiny goal of a trip to the post office seemed daunting. What if he cries? How am I going to carry these packages and a baby? What if he’s too cold? What about the germs? Oh my God, the germs. But off we went.

As I struggled with the logistics of getting my newborn out of the car seat, into my carrier and out into the farrah3world, I spotted and locked eyes with another mother. Although she was clearly in another stage of motherhood, she also looked tired as she shuffled her small army of little ones into her minivan. I must have looked desperate and overwhelmed to this veteran mother who had years of experience compared to my mere weeks.

Now that my oldest just turned four, I know this mother could have told me anything. She could have scoffed at my exhaustion and warned me to just wait. Just wait until potty training. Just wait until school bullies. Just wait until sibling fights. She could have turned her experience into pessimism.

Instead, she looked at me without even pausing her shuffle of buckling kids in their seats – a routine she’s clearly done countless times – smiled, let out a half-hearted laugh and said with absolute certainty and conviction, “You’re going to have so much fun!”

farrah2Just as I now know all mothers face different challenges as their kids get older and all mothers face some level of physical or mental exhaustion, I also know she was right. It is so much fun.

Before I became a mother, I thought parents were surely lying when they claimed life was more fun with kids. I thought it was something they said to justify the monotonous realities of parenthood. Choose late nights up with a fussy infant over catching a late movie? Then spending weekend mornings up early watching Curious George rather than sleeping in and relaxing with a hot cup of coffee in your pajamas until noon? No, thanks. I honestly thought much of the fun ended when you began having kids.

The truth is it’s a different kind of fun. “Netflix and chill” is more than just a euphemism. Now, I spend the latter part of my evenings looking forward to putting the kids in bed, snuggling up on the couch with my husband until one of us falls asleep under the warm glow of the television. It is a truly rare occasion that farrahI’m still wearing makeup and actual pants past 8:30. Weekends are spent going to the zoo, attending kids’ birthday parties or something else I wouldn’t have any interest in if I wasn’t a parent. You don’t go to events like Disney on Ice because you want to see if Mickey Mouse has skating skills. You want to see your child’s face light up with the sense of wonder and excitement that only exists when you’re a child.

Suddenly all these silly, goofy things are fun because you have kids and the kids make it fun.

There’s so much fun to be had and there’s no one more eager to have fun than a kid. Although as a parent, you obviously carry all the responsibility and the less fun factors of being an adult, you also get to call all the shots.

So, you remember trick or treating at the house with the full-sized candy bars? You can be that house. You remember wanting to wear your Batman costume for no particular occasion, other than Tuesday? Well, happy Tuesday, kid. You’re the caped crusader overseeing our daily errands.

The days are long, but the years are short. This time in our lives is fleeting and one day will be but a memory. Everyone only gets one shot at childhood and we, as parents, largely shape just what kind of childhood that will be. So, let’s have some fun.