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I have strung words together for The New York Times, Vice, and more. I write and shoot people (with a camera, you guys) from my home in upst...

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    party balloonsOnce upon a time -- about a week and a half ago -- I thought I'd heard the worst in proud parenting moments. Potty parties -- throwing open the doors and inviting the neighbors to celebrate the fact that your kid took a dump in a toilet -- were the worst that this generation of parents overly impressed with their kids had to offer. I was wrong. Introducing: period parties.

    Yes, that period. It seems we've just jumped ahead about 10 years, and gone from one bodily fluid to another, and OMG, it's much, much worse. Sometimes called "menarche parties" -- because apparently that's classier than sending out an invite that says, "Aunt Flo is finally in town for my girl, let's all get down and par-tay" -- are both officially "a thing" and officially a sign that parents have lost their ever loving minds.

    I get it. Every girl gets her period. We are all members of the sisterhood, united in that one week out of the month when we feel like our body is revolting against us. Menses matters aren't going away any time soon (at least not until we hit about, oh, 45?). It's about darn time society get over the shaming females have to endure when they have to hide that little tampon packet in their hand and sneak off to the bathroom every few hours.

    I'm just not convinced that inviting in the neighborhood to celebrate the fact that your daughter is now bleeding from her you-know-what is the way to do this. It could be a good way to make her run, screaming, to her room, where she'll slam the door and refuse to come out until, oh, college? But as far as celebrating her entrance into the womanhood, it's far from optimal to have a chat with the whole fam and your friends about what comes out of her vagina.

    Got that? Her vagina. Also known as her private area. You wouldn't want the neighbors talking about in any other context because that would be creepy and invasive.

    Might I suggest a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a hug, a heating pad, and a big box of chocolates instead? An honest, open talk about the realities of what is going on would be nice too.

    The early days of menstruation are hard. They're confusing. They're often painful. And they're pretty much always disgusting. The last thing the poor kid needs is the neighbors coming in with box of Playtex in wrapping paper congratulating them on getting her period.

    What would you have done if someone threw one of these parties for you?

    Image via Natalie Maynor/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    OB wardI always thought the nurses on the maternity ward were some lucky ducks. Here they get to spend every day around babies ... beautiful, adorable, cuddly babies. And best of all, after a few days, they get to send them home with us, the moms!

    No late night feedings or weeks without a shower for those OB nurses. No sirree. But a few of the folks who hang out with Mom Nirvana just spilled the secrets of the OB ward to The Stir, and I'm rethinking that whole "lucky duck" envy! Turns out the mommy heaven that is the maternity ward is just chock full of some crazy. Check out what some real nurses told us (all information has been generalized by the nurses in order to protect patients and their identity):

    One patient was late for her own (scheduled) induction because she said she couldn't do her hair and makeup and be at the hospital by 5:30 a.m. A patient who had scheduled an induction with her doctor arrived at the hospital and then said she was refusing the IV ... it's kind of hard to induce labor with pitocin if you can't inject the patient WITH the pitocin! One mom was obsessed (and I can't stress obsessed enough) with putting lotion on her feet. Constantly! And when she couldn't reach them anymore, she made her husband do it. She said they were going to get dry! As if the feet were the most important part? At least that woman knew what body part had her down. Another patient told her husband she wanted her feet rubbed during labor. But as soon as he'd touch them, she'd change her mind. She would yell at him, "Rub my feet! No rub my back! I told you to rub my feet! Rub my back!" The poor guy didn't know what to rub. We got a call from the ambulance that they were bringing in a girl in active labor who was ready to push. I set up a room really quickly, and in comes a lady soaking wet, dressed in a full-length yellow polyester dress. I peeled her like a banana, got the saturated dress off, put a gown on, put a fetal monitor on, and there's no heartbeat. Now, she's pushing this whole time, grabbing her belly, while I call in the midwife. We take her down for an ultrasound and find out ... she's not even pregnant. Constipated maybe, but definitely not pregnant! When the midwife broke the news to her, she said, "Oh, Ok, thanks, good bye!" She jumped up, got dressed, and left! I should preface this by saying I'm not lying here. A woman came into the hospital in early labor. She was on a monitor for awhile, but then asked to have it taken off so she could walk around. Next thing I know, she got up, went into the bathroom, got out her hairdryer, and sat on the floor and proceeded to use the blow dryer to blow dry under her gown. She blow dried her crotch/abdomen for hours. It was like 100 degrees in the bathroom, and I asked her what the heck she was doing. She replied that the blow dryer and the warm air were the only things that helped the pain. A mom came into the maternity ward because the baby always moved at the same time each day, and today it wasn't. The nurse put her on the monitor for a non-stress test, and everything was OK, so the patient was OK'd to go home. She kept wondering about the baby not moving at the usual time. Then she said, "Oh my God, I know! It's daylight savings today! The baby didn't know it was daylight savings day, and the baby didn't know what time it was." I had a family arguing about what the brand newly born grandbaby was going to call the grandmother present in the room. Now remember, the kid wasn't even going to talk for months, but there was a heated argument going on about what this kid was going to call the woman! 

    Which story is your favorite? Still thinking the OB nurses have the best gig in the world?


    Image via cantaloupe99/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    Mitt RomneyMitt Romney is many things. Likely Republican candidate for the presidency. One-time governor of Massachusetts. Star of the funniest viral video to hit the interwebs since, well, ever. Wait, what?

    Famous (on the Internet anyway) video creator Hugh Atkin has struck again with Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up, mashing ol' stodgy and staid Mitt with Eminem's catchy hit for a political parody that manages to hit on all the hot buttons without bashing us over the head with a flip flop (he leaves that to Romney). Can I have your attention please!?

    By the way, before we get into it, a warning that it sounds like Mitt says masturbating. As much as that would make this video truly hilarious, he's not. That would be "mass debating," you perv, making this totally safe for work. And action!

    See this video on The Stir by CafeMom.

    OK, be honest folks, even if you're a Mitt Romney fan ... it was clever! If you've already accepted the guy's faux pas, this video wasn't going to change your mind anyway, but you should be able to accept that the video was an ingenious way to inject some levity into this dreary campaign season.

    And if you're not a fan? Well, let's hear it for zinging Mitt Romney! How loud was the guffaw at "my dog is on the roof, my dog is on the roof ..."? Go ahead, give me a number between one and the number of people Romney has enjoyed firing (zing!).

    Atkin has the text of each snippet on YouTube if you want to check it out. What was your favorite part?


    Image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    kid in car
    Quick, what's the safest spot in the car for your kids? Need a hint? If you're just following your state's child safety seat law and plugging the kid's car seat into the LATCH system in your car, they're probably not in it.

    Did your eyes just bug out? Now you know what goes through my head every time I buckle my kid into her booster seat. But don't take my word for it, there's yet another study out that says just putting your kids in the backseat of your car does not mean you're putting them in the "safest spot." You ready for this?

    The best place in the entire car for your kiddo is the middle seat in the back of the car. Turns out when researchers from University of Buffalo studying crash-related fatalities specifically looked at seat location, they found the backseat could be as much as 86 percent safer than the front, but it's the middle seat that really hit the safety jackpot. That's a whole 25 percent safer than the window seats!

    Holy huge jump in safety Batman! I'll be honest, I always put my kid in the middle, but most parents I know don't -- and I happen to know these parents care just as much about their kiddos as I do. So why aren't more parents hip to this knowledge?

    I mean, it all makes sense. The farther our kids are from the windows, the farther they are from any kind of impact to the side panels. But when I think about it, most child safety systems aren't set up for the so-called "safest" spot. We parents are getting a whole lot of mixed messages on the "best practices" front.

    The car and booster seat laws have to specify backseat in general because parents with more than one kid can't put each child in the middle seat (you think they're annoying each other when there is a seat between them? Imagine if they were fighting for that one spot ... yikes!). Still, the way the laws are written, it's confusing because most of us think "ooh, I'm following the law, so I must be doing the best for my kid." Not exactly.

    And what about the car makers? Ever looked in your backseat? What do you see in the middle "safest spot in the car" seat? Or rather, what don't you see? Did you say a LATCH system for the kid's car seat! Ding, ding, ding! I haven't had one of those in the middle of a car in all the cars I've owned since this law went into effect.

    The feds told us LATCH was supposed to make putting car seats into cars correctly a snap and keep our kids safer, and the lower anchors are now required -- by law -- in every lightweight (read likely to cart a family) vehicle in America. Except in the one seat where the researchers are telling us our kids are safest from a crash. Gee, that makes sense. Snort.

    Seems like we need to get this message out to more moms and dads ... because the folks who are supposed to be guiding us aren't doing a good enough job! This is a good message for parents with just one kid, but it's also a message for parents with two or more who can do some shifting around between stops or maybe use that extra row in the mom-van that's never used. This could change some parents' practices big time.

    Where is your child's car or booster seat located and why?


    Image by Jeanne Sager

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    teen mom 2Good news Teen Mom fans! The first edition of the show is still officially cancelled, but it looks like Teen Mom 2 is safe -- for now anyway. Stars Leah Messer and Jenelle Evans have shot back at rumors that they'd stomped off like petulant teenagers from contract negotiations with MTV.

    So call your favorite teenager into the room, plop a box of condoms in his or her lap, and settle down on the couch for some gawking. These two troubled teen mothers are sticking with the reality show! Did you really expect them to make smart decisions now?

    If it sounds harsh, let's be realistic here -- these girls signed up for Teen Mom 2 after seeing what it was like for the girls in the first iteration of the show. And they stuck with it. Not to mention they've been tabloid fodder more than their co-stars Kailyn and Chelsea because they've made more mistakes on camera. Knowingly!

    More from The Stir: 'Teen Mom' Jenelle Evans Could Go a Month Without an Arrest -- Just Not This One

    You don't whine about how you are addicted to marijuana (Jenelle!) or cheat on your husband one week before your marriage (Leah!) when a reality show is tracking your every move and win a prize for "most likely to make good choices." If anything, it seems like these two girls court the drama that comes with being on a controversial reality series. I might even say they're a wee bit addicted. And if you don't believe me, have a look-see at how long it took Jenelle to get back on Twitter after she claimed she was going to stay away for a whole month (hint, she didn't make it).

    Of course they're sticking with the show! And if you don't believe me, check out the evidence:

    Leah's mom, Dawn Spears, came to the defense of her daughter, whose recent pregnancy and miscarriage made her the hot topic of the interwebs. Tweeting that there was no truth to the rumors, she also took particular aim at folks in her hometown who referred to her as the "redneck Kim Kardashian" in the HollywoodLife article that started the buzz about their departure:

    they probably got money like others to sale a BS ARTICLE #nothing new

    And speaking of money, Jenelle, whose troubles with the law are regular tabloid fodder, admitted her manager has pushed her to go for more cash, but insists that she never said a word about it.

    So there we have it, another dumb decision from these two. Can't say I'm surprised, how about you? What do you think Leah and Jenelle should be doing?

    Image via MTV

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    SharksNeed a reason to feel better about the fact that you're not on vacation swimming off the coast of Florida right now? Chances are you won't be attacked by a shark today! Sadly 15-year-old Sydney Levy can't say the same thing. But wait ... there's good news!

    When the shark pulled her daughter underwater, Sydney's mother, Valeh Levy, wasn't going to let her go without a fight. She fought the hungry sea beast off. Twice. Seriously? That's it. Any further attempts to be bravest woman in America for the year 2012 should be called off now. Valeh Levy gets the prize!

    I know there's probably someone sitting there huffing and saying, "Of course she fought a shark. She's the kid's mother; what else was she going to do?" And as a woman who has spawned myself, I'm not going to disagree. We members of the procreating posse are pretty badass.

    But I think it does a bit of a disservice to Levy's chuztpah to put it all down to motherhood. This woman actually reached into the water, twice, and pulled someone else out of a shark's mouth. She faced a challenge head on, and she kicked ass at it. That's not something everyone can do, good mother or not.

    Some people can handle pressure. Some people melt into a shivering pool faster than a teenage girl when Robert Pattinson walks into the room. It's the genetic make-up that separates someone who decides to become, say, a soldier or a fireman from someone who says, "Eh, you know what? I couldn't handle that, I'm going to stay right here in my office, thank you very much!"

    One isn't more important than the other in society, per se, but as one of the wussy ones, I'm going to tell you right now I am thankful every day that there are people with more courage than me. They keep the world running. They're the type of people you want on the surfboard beside you when Jaws swims up and puts his powerful chompers around your leg and starts pulling.

    You don't want a "me." You want a Valeh Levy!

    When have you pulled a Valeh Levy? Think you could do the same in face of a shark?


    Image via USFWS/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    homelessAdults love to go on and on about how we're so charitable, and kids today are so gosh darn greedy. But what do we adults really do? OK, we give money, but I'm going to break it to you: pulling out a checkbook has nothing on volunteering to live on the streets for four whole nights to raise awareness of the plight of homeless veterans.

    And yet, a plan to do just this comes out of the home of today's "greedy," "spoiled," and "disaffected" youth: a college campus. Kids who attend the University of South Dakota are  voluntarily spending night after night in a cardboard box with no showers, eating only what's donated, this week.

    Honestly, I'm not surprised. Every year I shave my head to fight childhood cancer for the St. Baldrick's Foundation (usually in March, but I've put it off until September this year in honor of childhood cancer month), and every year the number of teenagers in the room far outnumber the adults ... at least in terms of giving up their hair. Most of my funds come in from adults because we have the discretionary income, but it's the kids making the real sacrifices.

    A good lesson for parents who are despairing about the greedy kid asking for the new iPad, isn't it? If you asked your kid if they'd go sleep on the streets for a cause or push a broom around the local community center, have you raised them well enough to actually do it? Are they really so selfish they won't get their hands dirty for some good? They might surprise you!

    Meanwhile, we adults are, by and large, set in our ways. If push came to shove, I'll be honest, I don't think I'd be as ready as these kids are to go live on the streets -- even though I believe in their cause. Our men and women who serve deserve better than a life on the streets. But I'm a mother. I like my blankets and my pillows. I love my shower and my deodorant.

    Selfish? Yes. In that sense I am. And that's what I love about kids. Given the chance, 9 times out of 10, kids are very giving on themselves and their bodies. They haven't gotten too comfortable or set in their ways. They'll do stuff like give up showers and good food for four days for the men and women who have given so much to this country.

    By the way, for their efforts, the students in South Dakota hope to earn pledges for hours spent living like the 67,000 or more veterans on the streets in America -- they'll use the funds to help support a local shelter for vets. To help them out, you can e-mail vetsclub@usd.edu or send a donation to USD Veterans Club, C/O SAC Office/MUC, 414 E. Clark St., Vermillion, SD 57069. Maybe you'll send a pledge -- because that's the adult way. Or maybe a cheer for what youth can do?

    What incredible things have you seen teenagers do in your community?


    Image via Aoife city womanchile/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    stuffed toyIf you've ever been on a trip and gotten one of those phone calls from a sad, sniffly kid, you know it's the pits. Sure, it's nice to know they miss you, but it's hard to give a hug from a few thousand miles away to fix separation anxiety! And this, my friends, is why every parent needs a camera phone.

    Trust me. I was all the way across the country last year when my daughter called in tears, and my smartphone saved me from melting into a pool of mom guilt! Even if you're just going to be separated for a day or a few hours, here's how to make the camera phone work to keep your kids from missing you too much!

    1. Take one of their favorite stuffed animals on the road, and shoot pictures of him (or her) hanging at the spots you've visited that you can text to kiddo's caretaker. They don't have to be exciting spots. If your trip is a slew of conference room after conference room after conference room, it's OK. Focus on you and the little toy -- not the "scene" because just seeing their best bud and you in the photo will let them know you've got a connection.

    2. Snap a few photos of you together before you leave, and store them on your phone. Then talk to your child about how you'll be looking at those photos whenever you feel down. It's sure to be the truth, and it will give them a little mood boost knowing you're carrying them with you everywhere you go!

    3. Shoot photos of the various places you visit, and send them back home. There are apps you can use to turn your photos into postcards -- virtual or physical! Seeing where you are can ease a little one's anxiety big time. Bonus: if this is a place you will frequent, you can use the photos later to build a small book for your child to reference when you're away.

    4. Add your favorite photo upload site to the favorites on your child's computer (or a caretaker's computer). Upload photos you take while you're away to that site, from the food you're eating to the look of your hotel room, so they can keep tabs on what you're up to. If you are going to do this, try to let them know when you'll be uploading so they aren't disappointed when they check out the site.

    5. Take photos or a video of the people you're spending your time with waving to your child and send it back home. Knowing Mom or Dad is passing the time with someone nice can set their little minds at ease!

    What are your favorite photo tricks to ease your child's separation anxiety from far away?


    Image via Lara604/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    boomboxMy first grader's worksheets make me feel ancient. You know what I'm talking about. Your kid comes to you totally confused about the identity of a picture on the page, and you realize there's no way they would know. Because you haven't actually seen one of those things yourself since you were a kid ... in the 1980s.

    Parents, there is a whole world out there that makes sense to us and absolutely mystifies our kids at the same time. It was about time someone mined the divide for Internet hilarity, wasn't it? There's now a viral video of today's kids pitted against the technology that their mom knew and loved during childhood that will make you laugh and cry at the same time:

    See this video on The Stir by CafeMom.

    Oh God. That is the story of my life starring another family! My 6-year-old can work my iPhone, but put her in front of an old tape player and she stares at you like "um, what is this thing, and what exactly do you expect me to do with it?"

    We love to talk about how the stuff from back when we were in underoos is far superior to the plastic crap our kids have today. And for the most part, we're right (except computers and tape players, natch ... because if you claim you only fished one cassette tape out of your old car's tape deck, you are just blocking the sad memories of what happened to your favorite mix taped off the radio). Sadly, we can brag about how awesome the '80s were all we want. The trouble is, if we actually tried to make our kids live with most of that stuff, they'd look at us like we were nuts!

    But at least this mom proved one thing ... they may think we're crazy, but at least we know how to use a joystick, make a tape player work, and get something accomplished on a Commodore. Yeah, and our kids think they're sooooo smart! Ha!

    What references from your childhood did you haul out, only to realize your kids were completely in the dark?


    Image via JeremySeanA/YouTube

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    George ZimmermanMore details are out on the 911 call made by George Zimmerman, the man who admits to shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as he walked through a gated community in Florida. The debate over whether Zimmerman mumbled a particularly disturbing racial slur has added fuel to the firestorm of folks demanding the death of the black teenager be classified a hate crime. I'd like to agree, but I'm worried.

    The Trayvon Martin case is not a "black problem," America. It's an everyone problem that happens to have racial implications as well. To treat it as anything but is to let the George Zimmermans of the world continue their reign of terror.

    Let's look at the facts. George Zimmerman says he shot Trayvon in self-defense. Even though the 911 call reveals he followed the child (yes, 17 makes this boy a child) when 911 operators told him not to. Even though he himself told 911 operators that he didn't know what was in Trayvon's hands (it turned out to be Skittles and an iced tea).

    Now people who took a long, hard listen to the 911 tape say Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, muttered the words "f---ing c--n" as he gave chase (again, after being told NOT to by the operator at 911). It has race written all over it. And yet, I worry that we'll get too caught up in that side of the issue. Not because it's not true, but because of what that will do to the Trayvon Martin case.

    In a country where a black teenager can be deemed "suspicious" for walking in a pre-dominantly white neighborhood, minding his business and carrying candy, I worry that the more we delve into the racial issues, the more people will tune out. Because people like to pretend that we live in a happy-go-lucky post-racial world now that we have a black president. And the shooting of an unarmed black teenager doesn't have a place in that pretty picture.

    We need to talk about race because it's wrapped up in what happened to Trayvon Martin, but we need to keep this in the public eye. And so we need to talk about all the other issues swirling around the shooting of this child.

    The Trayvon Martin case represents the parents in America who can't simply be content in raising a child who loves math and volunteers with the local Little League. They have to worry about their child, their good-hearted, innocent child, when he goes out to buy a bag of Skittles because there are crazy people everywhere. This is an American problem, not just a black one.

    It's a reminder that gun ownership in America will never be a cut and dried issue. There will always be guns on the streets that are "legally" held but used irresponsibly. George Zimmerman may have had the right to use the gun that killed Trayvon. But it is looking less and less likely that he used it responsibly. This is an American problem. Not a black one.

    A federal probe has begun into why Zimmerman wasn't charged in this case, even though he's admitted to shooting this unarmed teenager. There are claims of police corruption and a possible cover-up. We don't yet know if they're true. But they could happen anywhere. That is an American problem. Not a black one.

    Every American should care about the death of Trayvon Martin. And every American should be fighting for justice for this child and his grieving family. Are you?

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    baby footI'm one of those Americans who supports the troops because what they do on a regular basis -- walk into the middle of war zones for their country -- is the stuff of my worst nightmares. So I was surprised to hear a veteran of two tours in Iraq talking about something much worse than the time he spent in combat. Surprised ... until I found out he was the father of a severely sick baby girl.

    Adam Brazil just did what no parent should have to do. He laid down on a table in an operating room so doctors could remove his kidney and place it in his baby girl. I think I get it now.

    It may not be a warzone, but there's no parent who would willingly put themselves in Adam Brazil's shoes. We would much rather have healthy kids than have to face a sick one!

    We eagerly await the day our children will enter this world. We prep the nursery. We stock up on adorable stuffed animals and cute little onesies. And when they finally arrive, you're thinking life cannot possibly get better than this. You are a parent, and this little bundle of joy is 6 pounds, 14 1/2 ounces of perfection.

    And then something happens. Maybe it's just their first virus or maybe it's something truly awful like congenital nephrotic syndrome, the rare kidney disease that required Hayden Brazil to get her daddy's kidney transplanted into her 1 1/2-year-old body. Frankly, to every parent, no matter how serious that first sickness is, it's like the world is ending. This person you created, who you brought into this world, and who you promised to love and protect with every breath in your body, is hurting, and you can't just make it go away.

    If you think you love your child more on the day they're born than you could ever love anyone, you're wrong. The first time they get sick, you fall deeper. And it will continue like that. Seriously. My kid is 6, and it will sound corny as all get out, but I find something new that makes my heart dance around in my chest every single day (OK, maybe not on days when she's trying to tell me that she does NOT like to clean her room and she hates, hates, hates me for making her do it ... but the other days).

    I would never say that the despair at seeing your child sick is comparable to a warzone. But when a soldier like Adam Brazil, a man who spent two tours in Iraq as a tank mechanic, says it, it makes sense. He can train with his fellow soldiers. He can prepare himself mentally for combat. But nothing in this world knocks you on your butt like knowing your helpless, wonderful, sweet little baby is sick.

    What moment in your baby's life has bowled you over the hardest?


    Image via sabianmaggy/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    Malia ObamaIf there was ever a day not to be jealous of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, today is that day, folks. The president and first lady decided to give daughter Malia Obama the go-ahead to go on a school trip to Mexico, and what happens? An earthquake, that's what!

    As if they weren't already dealing with some silly criticism from Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum for sending her into a county that isn't "safe" (at least in Santorum's over-generalizations)! The good news is Malia is doing just fine, as are her school pals, but I have to wonder if the Obamas are questioning themselves big time. I think they did the right thing, but I know I would be second-guessing myself anyway if I were in their shoes!

    I don't know if I could let my 13-year-old go out of the country without me. I won't even let my daughter spend a week with my in-laws in this country! OK, so she's 6, and my in-laws live a full day's car ride away. If they were across town, like my own parents, she'd be camping out in their living room any time she wanted. And eventually, she will be able to spend a week crashing at their Southern home.

    But my parents, who spend an awful lot more time with my daughter because of their home's proximity to ours, have floated the idea of taking her with them on one of their frequent trips to visit relatives in Germany ... and I don't know when I'll take them up on it, if ever.

    It's not the chaperons. It's the fear of letting her cross a border without me. A trip to Grandma's doesn't doesn't require a passport. It's certainly much easier for me to get her if something goes wrong. And I speak the language if she ends up sick. There's even a fair chance the hospital will accept my insurance.

    On the other hand, I completely understand why the Obamas OK'd Malia's trip. She's 13 -- almost 14. She's not a baby. She was going with her school, which is about as safe as it can get for kids. And there is nothing like a visit to another country to broaden your teenager's horizons. Travel is the gift that keeps on giving even after they get home.

    I know firsthand. My parents sent me out of the country without them I was freshly 15 and headed to Paris for a trip with my church youth group. I didn't exactly make it easy on them while they were deciding whether it was safe. I begged and pleaded and generally annoyed the crap out of them because I was 15 and thought I knew everything there was to know about everything.

    In the end, they let their only daughter get on a rickety airplane (seriously, you don't know fear until you've flown Pakistani Airlines) and leave the continent without them because they wanted to give me a chance to form my own opinions about the world around me, and they were willing to trust a grouchy priest chaperon to keep an eye on me. I survived just like Malia Obama, and I still have some amazing stories to tell ... just like she will.

    Just remind me of those stories when my 13-year-old wants to hop a plane for Timbuktu. I'm going to need them to keep me distracted so I don't jump in her luggage! I'm not ready for that nightmare week of worry!

    What age is "old enough" for your kids to leave the country without you? Would you have let Malia go if you were the Obama family?


    Image via Congressman George Miller/Flickr

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  • 03/21/12--10:45: Good Dads Don't Need Sons
  • Post by Jeanne Sager

    girl and dadWhen I tell people my daughter is going to be an only child, without fail, I get the same response. "Oh no, you need to try for a boy ... for your husband." As if somehow the whip-smart, quirky, hilarious, gorgeous human being standing in front of them just ain't good enough because there isn't something dangling between their legs.

    Of course when I point that out (because yes, she got that whip-smart, quirkiness from somewhere y'all), they start backpedaling like crazy and throw out stuff like "oh, but, well, he needs someone to go to baseball games with him." America, I want to thank y'all for being so concerned about what's going on between my daughter's legs. Now do me a favor, would you stop telling her it means she doesn't matter?

    Because when you start talking about how their dad "needs" someone else to be happy, that's what you're telling a kid: that she's not good enough. If my husband wasn't the kind of guy who enjoys spending an afternoon in his armchair with our daughter firmly on his lap watching her favorite movie du jour (this week that would be The Muppets, last week it was some My Little Pony flick ... he doesn't care as long as she's happy), she might even begin to worry that she'd done something wrong.

    Why would anyone do that to an innocent child? Make her feel like she'd made a mistake simply by being born?

    Because our society still clings to a misguided notion that fathers need boys to do "boy" stuff with, and mothers need girls to do "girl" stuff with. Ironic, isn't it? We fuss about the genderization of toys by corporate American, but we do it ourselves. And it's not just for dads and sons or only children. We walk up to women who have three boys and ask if they're going to "try again" to "get that girl." As if her cup hasn't runneth over with love for her little men.

    It's because I have a girl that the "he needs someone to play baseball with, kick a soccer ball around with, etc." idea really rankles.

    My husband happens to be one of those dads who really wanted a daughter. Even when she crossed her legs during the sonogram and we were unable to find out the gender of our little Squirmy (as we called her), his faith was steadfast. He would have his little girl.

    Would he have been happy with a son? Of course. We wouldn't have tried to get pregnant with the 50/50 chance if he wouldn't. But the fact that our newborn was a daughter was like the most delicious icing you'd ever tasted on a cake so exquisite one bite made you feel like you were seated in nirvana.

    And I'm not just going to say this because I married him ... he is the kind of dad that every little girl needs. He takes her outside to kick a soccer ball around because it would never occur to him that a "daughter" couldn't do that. She has two feet, doesn't she? Indeed. On the other hand, he's the kind of dad who wouldn't dare let it slip that he finds dance recitals dreary and boring because goshdarnit, that's his little girl up there, and she is having fun.

    Next time someone tells me my husband needs a son, I have an idea. I'm going to ask them what they think my daughter needs. Because I think she's already got it.

    What's the most insensitive thing people have said about the gender of your child or children?


    Image by Jeanne Sager

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    Hailey DunnIs there really such a thing as a "good" discovery of human remains in a random pasture? I'm thinking no. But when you add the possibility that the body found in a field in Texas this week might be that of missing cheerleader Hailey Dunn, you go from horrible to ... what, unthinkable? Unspeakable?

    Hailey was just 13 years old when she went missing a year and a half ago. Thirteen! Her age is what makes this whole story so hard to take.

    According to police, Hailey's mom's boyfriend, Shawn Adkins, was the last one to see her before she went missing two days after Christmas in 2010. Although she broke up with the guy, and police have continued to say he was a "person of interest" in the girl's missing person's case, there was never any real movement. Until now.

    The remains discovered have not been positively identified as Hailey yet, so I guess there's hope for her poor mom. But I don't know what I would rather hear if I were in her shoes. Is it better to get closure and know, OK, this is what happened to my daughter, and I don't have to keep wondering? Presence of a body could very well lead to an arrest and justice.

    Closure can be a grieving parent's best friend. It doesn't fix the pain, but it can jump start the healing process.

    Then again, if the body is Hailey, that's it. It's over. There is no hope that magically, miraculously, her teenage daughter will be found living on the beach somewhere selling surfboards or some other soap opera fantasy. And I can't help wondering, as a parent, if I'd prefer hope, prefer to cling to the belief that my child is really OK. But even that would put Hailey's mom back where she's been since December 2010, wondering, waiting, worrying about her daughter.

    There is no perfect answer here, is there? I just hope something gives Hailey Dunn's mom peace.

    What do you hope happens in this case?


    Image via National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

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    Post by Jeanne Sager


    Safety 1st Push n Snap LockParents who prepped for the day their baby starts crawling with the Push 'n Snap Cabinet Lock from Safety 1st, beware! The popular babyproofing item has been swept from the shelves in a major recall after at least 140 kids were able to get past the safety system and into the cabinets their parents had so carefully locked up -- some as young as 9 months! This affects 900,000 of the locks sold by the Dorel Juvenile Group.

    But before you panic, here's what you need to know ...

    1. The recall is only for the Safety 1st Push 'n Snap Cabinet Lock, not other items in the company's babyproofing line. If your lock is one of the recalled items, it will have two straps that wrap around the knobs or handles on a cabinet door. If it's in the "lock" position, a green triangle can be seen through a window on the device.

    More from The Stir: Infants' Tylenol Recall: The 6 Things You Need to Know to Protect Your Child (VIDEO)

    2. This is not a recall you should ignore -- the items are being voluntarily recalled after 200-some complaints that the locks do not securely close cabinet doors. Of the 140 kids who managed to make it inside the cabinets, at least three received emergency treatment after they'd swallowed or handled dishwasher detergent, window cleaner, or oven cleaner.

    3. Fortunately this does not involve all of the cabinet locks; only model numbers 48391 and 48442 (printed on the back of the product). They were produced between January 2004 and November 2010 (date of manufacture is also on the back of the product).

    4. The locks were sold at retailers online and nationwide between January 2004 and February 2012 but have since been pulled from the shelves.

    5. Safety 1st will replace the faulty lock free of charge. To get a more secure system, call 866-762-3212 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST Monday through Friday or email the company at cabinetlatch@djgusa.com. You can also visit their website to ensure yours is on the list.

    More from The Stir: Top Most Dangerous Baby Products: I Used 4 Out of 5

    6. If you have removed the lock, be sure to move any dangerous items from the cabinet so your little crawler can't get at them until a replacement arrives!

    Have you been babyproofing with cabinet locks? What could your little one have gotten hold of if the lock failed?


    Image via Consumer Product Safety Commission

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    Ellen Degeneres BullyWhen your child comes home upset about some jerk on the schoolbus, it's a parent's job to tell our kids we love them and try to convince them the big mean bullies just don't appreciate their special brand of awesome. But after watching the grieving parents of bullied to death teen Tyler Long -- whose high school struggles are among those told in the already controversial documentary Bully -- on Ellen DeGeneres' show this week, I'm starting to feel like we've been doing it wrong all along.

    The Longs did that, and more, for their son, whose Asperger's made it hard to understand why the cruel kids who told him he should die wouldn't simply stop the unending torture. He committed suicide despite having loving, supportive parents at home who did everything they could to fight for their boy. And Tina Long told Ellen a shocking truth more parents need to hear.

    We aren't enough. As Tina Long said:

    What peers think of our kids, I think we downplay that ... A parent can only do so much ... we can love them tremendously, but when they walk into that building, something else happens.

    Something in Tina's words hit me in a way that nothing has in all the talk of bullying in the past few years. We all yearn for acceptance. And yet, we parents don't like to admit that ours is not enough.

    Instead, we talk about raising our kids to think for themselves and to stand up for what they believe in. We talk a lot about self-confidence, and self-love, and self-preservation. And these are all important, don't get me wrong. I want my daughter to know that she really is all that and a bag of chips. She's smart, she's funny, she's quirky ... but really, I don't need to be a braggy mom. Point being: she rocks.

    She doesn't need someone else's approval in order to be incredible. But it's nice, isn't it? It's life-affirming to hear that someone else thinks we're pretty cool. It's why we live in a society where people have friends, and why people couple up. It's human nature to crave affection and positive attention. And as much as we, the parents, want to think our love is enough, face it ... we went off from our own nests, made new friends, coupled up, became parents. Because our own parents weren't enough.

    We aren't enough for our kids. They need what we need too. But if you were to stand up in a room full of parents and admit you wouldn't mind having a kid who was popular, the clucking tongues will start going a mile a minute. Didn't you know your kids are supposed to ignore what other people think of them and just be their own awesome selves?

    Well, yes. And no. Bullies should not have the power to tell our kids who they can and cannot be. Whether your kid has autism or your kid is gay or your kid is a geek or whatever has suddenly made them a target, it's not "their fault" that someone else is acting like a complete jerk. But "it gets better" does not solve the problems of "right now." It does not suddenly make being picked on FEEL good. There is no magic switch that can be flicked to suddenly lower the volume of everyone telling you that you suck to the quiet tittering of a mouse.

    Yes, our kids are incredible. But Tina Long is right. We can't just sit here telling them that out of one side of our mouths and, out of the other, tell them that their basic human need for love and acceptance is a weakness that they need to rise above.

    Check out Tina and David Long's chat with Ellen (please, get the tissues out first):

    See this video on The Stir by CafeMom.

    How have you talked to your kids about the bullies? Do you find yourself falling into the "well, they just don't know how cool you are" trap?


    Image via The Ellen Show/YouTube

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    little girl
    I'm starting to get nervous every time a gift-giving occasion crops up. Is my daughter going to get another piece of toxic crap from a well-meaning but absolutely clueless friend of the family? First it was the cheap jewelry coated in lead and cadmium. Now that she's officially a "big kid," we've moved onto creepy cosmetics territory.

    We're far from mascara and eye liner stage (thank God). But there's just something about little girls that makes people want to buy them cute little bottles of nail polish and sweet tubes of barely there lip gloss. This past Christmas she even got a gift pack full of so many bottles of bubble bath she could start her own spa. And every one had something awful inside.

    Parabens. Polyethylene glycol. Diethyl phthalate. And the list goes on and on. Some of these are in products that are cute and little, and really nice people bought them out of the kindness of their hearts because they thought they'd be just perfect. Others, the ones that bother me more, actually, are made FOR kids, and yet they contain the toxic nasties that experts like the Environmental Working Group tell us to avoid at all costs when it comes to our kids.

    The EWG estimates kids are exposed to an average of 27 personal care product ingredients that have not been found safe for developing bodies. And out of 1,700-some products sold "for kids," they say 77 percent of the ingredients haven't been assessed for safety.

    Are you seeing why I dread all those gifts? It's not that people don't care. It's that this crap is hiding out just waiting for some person who thinks they're being nice to deliver to my kid. And that makes me the bad guy when I have to confiscate some bottle of sparkly pink nail polish because I don't want it to give her cancer. I hate to be one of those greedy controlling parents who hands out a pre-approved list of gifts for my kid, but I'm at a point where I'm wondering what else I can do. Toxic cosmetics are not the same as annoying toys -- they're putting my daughter's health at risk.

    I don't know that I'll hand it out, but here are some of my go-to options:

    Piggy Paint -- I first got hold of some of this nail polish in a public relations sampler, but ever since I've refused to buy anything else for Mommy/Daughter mani-pedi nights because it doesn't have most of the toxins in the stuff I put on my own toes. It's water-based, so it chips more easily, but frankly my 6-year-old tends to lose her polish in a day and a half anyway from playing hard, so that part doesn't bother me. And there are plenty of pretty colors to suit her every mood. She especially loves rainbow nails!

    Little Twig -- The only bubble bath we use these days is by the company that uses natural scents like rosemary and citrus and pairs it with vitamin E and aloe vera to soothe kids' skin. What don't they use? Scary stuff like parabens, sulfates, phthalates ...

    Glory for Girls -- My daughter carries a little pot of grapefruit flavored lip balm to chase the chap monster away. But the real monsters it keeps at bay are the chemicals. The main component of this stuff is beeswax.

    How about you? What beauty brands do you trust using on your kids? And how do you deal with the other products that are purchased as gifts?


    Image by Jeanne Sager

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    jarI'm not sure what was more shocking. The fact that customs agents discovered two human fetuses in jars in luggage at the Miami International Airport? Or the fact that the women who brought these bizarre packages into the US aren't in any trouble.

    Really, folks, carrying around fetuses is legal? That's ... well, it's creepy, for one. And it's so mysterious that I just can't leave it at that!

    According to media reports, the fetuses, one male and one female, were determined to have been stillborn -- they were never viable. So at least we can write foul play and the abortion debate off the list of what ifs. But here's where it gets really iffy: the fetuses were also not the product of either of the women's wombs (one woman was in ther 60s, the other in her 70s). In fact, customs agents are taking the word of the Cuban-American women -- who were coming back into the country after a trip to Havana -- that they didn't even know what they had packed in their bags.

    The ladies said they'd picked up the jars from a Santeria priest back in Cuba, who had asked them to make a delivery to someone here in the states. Hmm. OK. But still. Human fetuses, people. In jars! Being trafficked internationally! By people who didn't have any connection to them!

    I don't mean to be culturally insensitive, but I think it's also worth nothing that Santeria is a religion known for its use of animal sacrifices in its rituals. Cuban-Americans who practice Santeria have even gained permission to do so here in the United States. Considering it was a Santeria priest in Havana who sent these fetuses over to the states, your mind can do a little jumping, and connect the possible dots here, folks.

    Maybe it's because I am a mother, but I can't just nod and say, OK, no harm no foul here because the customs agents didn't find a broken law. What about the people who created these fetuses? Didn't they bury them? Maybe in Cuba they gave permission for a hospital to take care of disposition of the body ... but something tells me they weren't thinking they'd land in the hands of some priest who would then hand them off to a stranger for a trip in a jar to America.

    It's too strange to me to think stillborn babies would simply end in jars, in the luggage of some strangers, on a plane. I'm thinking they were stolen from a hospital or even, I hate to say this, maybe from a cemetery? Ugh. Honestly, I'm shuddering here. Literally! Even if the women aren't charged, someone has to explain what's going on here!

    Can you just let this lie? What do you think should be done here?


    Image via mjtmail (tiggy)/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    poolsideWhen most people hear I don't know how to swim, they assume I grew up in some landlocked town far from water and my parents never took me to a pool. They're wrong twice over: I grew up beside a river and spent summer after summer in swimming lessons. And yet, just like the heroic grandmother who died this week trying to rescue her 3-year-old granddaughter in the pool, I'm a major drowning risk.

    The Woodbridge, California tragedy scares me today because that could be me. A woman and child are dead because of a nightmare that points out pool safety isn't just about little kids.

    There are plenty of grown folks in America who don't know how or can't swim. There's me, who -- despite all those lessons and a childhood spent literally feet from one of America's major rivers -- is just so uncoordinated that I can't do it. There are people who grew up too poor for lessons and far from water. There are people with medical conditions and mental conditions ... And you can say, well then, those people shouldn't go near water, but tragedies like this prove it's not that simple.

    Police say the little girl and grandmother were discovered by the employee of a lawn maintenance company, so they can only guess at what happened. Because there was a stroller in the pool, they're guessing the child fell in, and the grandmother jumped in after her to rescue her. Because Grandma couldn't swim herself, both, tragically, drowned.

    But what choice would you have given her? She jumped in because that's what people do when there is a child in the pool -- whether they can swim or not. It's called being selfless and caring about a child in need. The tragic ending doesn't negate her heroism.

    But heroism doesn't address how tragedies like this happen to begin with. I wasn't in the least bit surprised to find out there was no gate blocking access to the pool at the family's rental home. I live in a state where this is the law, and I can't tell you how many people have still skipped out on this simple life-saving option.

    They complain that it costs too much or that "oh well, you know, I know how to swim and so do my kids."

    OK, but why take the risk? You don't think you'll ever have someone else there? There will never be a reason to put safety measures in place? Never ever?

    Let's be realistic for a second. Kids see water (and they don't see property lines) as fun without seeing the hazard. And if a kid goes into the water, guess who goes after them ...

    How many people do you know who can't swim? How old are they?


    Image via slava/Flickr

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    Post by Jeanne Sager

    student deskI'm going to go out on a limb here folks. I don't think there is a parent out there who wakes their 8-year-old up, slips a lunchbag in their backpack, and sends them out the door in the morning thinking "Hooray! Today is the day my kid sees two other third graders having oral sex in their classroom!" So. Wrong. And apparently so true.

    A teacher has been fired after administrators say that exact horror happened under a table in a classroom at the Tallulah Elementary School in Louisiana's Madison Parish. And I can't help but think of all the OTHER little kids who are sharing a third grade classroom with two kids who engage in oral sex.

    Can you imagine what that conversation was like? Here's this kid whose Mom and Dad have made a point of limiting their TV watching to Disney and other non-oral-sex-type appropriate-for-8-year-old fare. He's sitting at the dinner table at night and Dad asks "So son, how was your day?" And he starts asking about mouths and private parts and . . . yeah, I'll stop there.

    It's wrong. Third graders aren't supposed to know the words oral sex, forget the actual act! Most don't because we parents make sure they don't.

    I've got the feeling that at least one of the two children involved in that incident was either a victim of sexual abuse or of an overly-permissive adult who allowed them around material that was wildly unsuitable for kids. It may well be that the second kid just got roped in, guided down a perverted path. I feel sorry for those kids, and I'm glad the school gave them counseling in addition to getting rid of the teacher who somehow did not notice that two kids were under a desk doing something sexual. But what now? We just put them back in the classroom, like nothing ever happened?

    What about all of those other kids, who can't unsee what they saw? The kids who now spend day in and day out with two kids who obviously do not a handle on proper in-classroom behavior. Is that fair to them?

    I can't say that I'd be terribly comfortable with knowing my kid was sharing a classroom with a kid like that. I'd always be wondering what was next, what would the kids do, and worst of all, would my innocent, sweet, well-raised child be targeted by a child whose barometer for right and wrong is way off? I hate to punish

    Getting rid of the teacher is a good step, but if I were a parent with a third grader at Tallulah, I'd be asking for more. She didn't make these kids do this. That's on the kids -- as disturbing as that is to face. 

    Would you allow your child share a class with children who were caught at this young age engaging in oral sex in the classroom?


    Image via Renato Ganoza/Flickr

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