You Talk Weird. Preschool honesty and the school yard bully.

Where does preschool honesty end and school yard bullying begin? 

“You talk weird,” my four-year-old daughter A told me one day after preschool, while we were driving in the car.

“Yeah, you talk weird,” her twin sister E chimed in.

There is nothing particularly striking about my voice, my cadence, or my speech patterns. In fact, it is A has a slight speech delay, is sometimes a little difficult to understand, and often has trouble modulating the volume of her voice. We’ve never talked about this in our home and so I suspect that A doesn’t even realize that these traits exist, let alone make her any different from her peers.

Because of this, I began to suspect that these were words she had heard earlier that day, perhaps at school. 

“Oh, do I?” I asked. I wasn’t yet sure if these words had hurt A in any way and so I decided to play along, to see if I could uncover what happened.

“Oh yeah!” They both yelled, excitedly. 

“What’s weird about my voice?” I pushed on, hoping to find out more.

“It’s just weird,” they responded, backing each other up with the same words, as twins often do. They seemed to like this game, a game where Mommy talks “weird” and didn’t seem upset by the words themselves so I decided to press.

“Did someone at school use those words today?” I asked.

“Yes,” E said. “Becky did. Becky told us that we talk weird.” 

WE. We talk weird. 

My daughter E does not have a speech delay. In fact, she has been praised by strangers in public places for how clearly and eloquently she speaks. So, although I knew who Becky was likely talking about, I was relieved that my twins are young enough to absorb these barbs from other kids together. Four year olds are natural truth tellers and usually don’t yet know which truths can hurt. Having a built-in ally can be helpful as young kids learn to express themselves, sometimes in less-than-complimentary ways. 

A didn’t seem upset by Becky’s words but I know this innocence won’t last forever and that one day these and other words like them can hurt. This experience left me wondering: where do the natural truth-telling tendencies of a preschooler end and school yard bullying begin? As a parent, how do we uncover it when it happens and then talk about it in the home? How can we give our kids the tools to handle bullying before it becomes malicious, before it gets to the point that causes some kids to want to end their lives?

“Do you like the way I talk?” I asked the girls.

“Yes,” they answered.

“‘If you like the way I talk, then talking weird can be a good thing. Right?”

“Oh yeah,” they said, understanding creeping into their voices. 

It was my hope to explain to my kids that, just because one person puts a judgement on something, it doesn’t have to mean the same thing to everyone. Being weird often has the implication of being unlikable but the world’s most brilliant and successful people are weird. Bill Gates didn’t build an empire by being like everyone else. Lady Gaga didn’t get noticed by wearing J. Crew. Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Alfred Hitchcock, Dr. Seuss, Oprah Winfrey. The world is filled with people whose non-conventional tendencies helped pave their path to success.

The following week or two of full and fun days led to the inevitable: our “weird” conversation faded from memory. We were again driving in the car and the Beastie Boys came on the radio. (My girls love the Beastie Boys. No judging allowed.) I turned the volume up so we could rock out in the car.

“Hey!” A exclaimed. “They talk weird! The Beastie Boys talk weird!” 

“Yeah!” E yelled, giggling. “They DO talk weird. Listen to how weird they sound!”

Like I said earlier, my girls love the Beastie Boys. And by love I mean that they LOVE LOVE LOVE the Beastie Boys. (Again, no judging.) Having been fully caffeinated, I had a moment of unusual clarity and realized that this was what my teacher friends refer to as a “teachable moment.” 

“Yeah,” I shouted along. “They sound so WEIRD!”

“Yeah! Yeah, weird!”

“Yeah!”

“Hey wait,” I asked.

“Yeah?”

“Do you like the way the Beastie Boys sound?”

“Yeah! The Beastie Boys are AWESOME!”

“Yeah, they’re awesome! I LOVE the way they sound!”

“Me too!” I yelled, even more excited than before. “I love how WEIRD they sound!”

“Yeah, they’re weird AND awesome!”

Just like that, the word “weird” became linked with the word “awesome.” 

For that one moment, I felt like mom of the year. I took a potentially painful experience and turned it into a source of pride. But then I realized that that they’re just four years old and their problems now are tiny when compared to what they will soon face. Right now, the worst thing that someone can say to them is that they talk weird. What will someone say to them a few years down the road? How much more will it hurt then? Will  they still talk to me enough for me to uncover these painful experiences and help them work through them? And, most important, how can a parent uncover real bullying if it occurs?

Have you or your child had an experience with school yard bullying? At what age does it begin? What can parents look for and how can they respond? Share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you. 

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The Shocking Truth About Food Allergies

Former Wall Street food analyst Robyn O’Brien went from feeding her kids Lego waffles, blue yogurt in a tube, and scrambled eggs to advocating for a whole food diet. Her dramatic turnabout was brought on as a result of a severe allergic reaction one of her children suffered upon eating a typical American breakfast.

On the heels of her child’s terrifying emergency room visit, Robyn learned some horrifying things about our American food supply. Namely, she discovered that, from 1997 to 2002, there had been a doubling of the peanut allergy, that one out of 17 kids under the age of three now has a food allergy, and that there had been a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions.

Robyn’s search for what caused these severe reactions to every day big food products led her to leave her successful career as a Wall Street food analyst and embark on a public journey as a food evangelist. She has founded allergykidsfoundation.org, written “The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It,” and speaks out around the country about what we’re eating and how it affects our bodies.

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On moving: top tips for decluttering as you pack

don't pack the babyWe all know that moving house tops the list as one of life’s most stressful events. In fact, according to a recent Huffington Post article, moving house can make one look and feel two years older. I really don’t like the sound of this news mostly because of this: my family is about to embark on our fifth move in four years. Yes, you read that right: FIVE moves in FOUR years. (My husband and I have promised ourselves that this time will the last.)

But still, I have to get through this one last move. I have a little less than three weeks to pack and the mere thought has me overwhelmed enough to break out in shingles. (No, I’m not kidding. And yes, I’m younger than that makes me sound. Much younger.) The ridiculousness of how my body manifests stress, though, is a post for another day.

For now, there’s a lot to pack, a lot to donate, a lot to toss. Sadly, even with so many moves under my belt, I’m far from a packing expert. In fact, I’m quite terrible at the task. I hold on to useless items long after they’re valuable or needed. My closet houses outdated clothing that are still in excellent condition, my kids’ room is littered with toys they’ve long since outgrown, and my cabinets are filled with packaging that I just love to save. I’m sure that one day I’m going to use these items for the most adorable crafting projects. But that day hasn’t yet arrived and moving day looms close. It’s time for me to get focused and figure out, once again, what to keep and what to toss/donate.

This time, my last time, I decided to do packing right. I knew I couldn’t figure it out on my own, though, so I reached out to some of the most important people in my life for advice. My friends.

My friends offered brilliant and insightful advice that I’d love to share with anyone else out there who’s also struggling with a move. Let’s get to it. How to decide what to keep and what to toss?

  • The “no touch” rule.  If you haven’t touched the item in two years, it goes. Anther more hard core friend modified the timeframe to one year, elaborating with, “I hate doing that, but I hate clutter as well. I just remind myself that it’s much easier to have a clean house when there is less in it.” That quote is sheer brilliance.
  • Be ruthless.  A friend who lives on the Jersey shore (no, not that Jersey shore), offered this: “I learned this after Hurricane Sandy….there is a lot of stuff that you don’t really “need”, but you sure think you do at the time.” Wow. Taken from someone who lost almost everything in the wake of that storm, this is an incredible piece of wisdom.
  • Toys will not be missed nearly as much as you think they will. Another friend offered this, “I came to an agreement with my wife. I went into the basement and took every toy that was on the floor……all the loose pieces and everything…put it in a bag (ok, 3 bags), and “hid” it in the garage. If the kids asked for it, it came back. If not, GONE (donated, consignment, etc.). They asked for NOTHING, and played with what was there. Basement got cleaned, and the kids use it more now because there is actually more space!” I really, really need to try this. Wish me luck on this front.
  • Accept that mistakes will happen. A friend who has moved almost as often as I have, offered this: “Accept wholeheartedly that when it comes to non-sentimental stuff, you’re going to make mistakes about keeping or tossing, and both have costs associated with them. Err in the side of tossing. You’ll be amazed at how incredibly rarely you regret freeing yourself of something you can replace at Target for $30 if you really had to.”

This is exactly the advice that I needed to hear as I box up my home and ship bags off to local donation centers. Someone at the Goodwill is going to come across some really great finds this week.

What about you? Have you moved recently? How did you decide what to bring and what to toss? Do you have any regrets? If you could do it differently, what would it be? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

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The Easiest Gluten Free Cookies You’ll Ever Bake

photo-7In general, if a recipe shows up on my blog, it’s pretty easy to make. I’m no culinary artist and my skills in the kitchen are mediocre at best. So when I say that these are THE EASIEST GLUTEN FREE COOKIES YOU WILL EVER BAKE, well, that’s for real, y’all.

Ingredients:

1 cup Nutella

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 egg

1 very ripe banana (optional but what doesn’t taste better with added banana?)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix all ingredients well

Spray a cookie sheet

Use a spoon to make cookie-sized dollops on cookie sheet

Bake for 10 minutes

Cool

EAT and ENJOY

 

See? That’s it. Super easy. My four year olds actually did most of the work while I sat back and watched them tear up my kitchen. These have been fully kid and parent tested and are delicious. Happy baking!

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Gluten Free Lean Turkey Meatballs

photo-6I’ve been working on creating a cache of meals that I know the kids will enjoy and that I can whip up in a jiffy. With our new gluten free diet, I feel like  I’m learning my way around the kitchen from scratch and I’m often at a loss for what to make. The upside is that I’ve become much more organized. To avoid being caught at dinnertime without a gluten free meal option, I’ve been creating a weekly menu. This takes a bit of time on the front end but has saved me much stress and worry in the hours before meal time.

In addition to working on my list of go-to meals, I’m also creating some frozen options that I can easily pop out of the freezer, defrost, and have ready for mealtime.

My most recent freezer success story is gluten free lean turkey meatballs. They took a little time to prepare but they’re chocked full of hidden veggies and will be an easy meal fix for those nights when my vegetarian husband is working late.

The recipe I used is from Betty Rocker and, for those of you interested in such things, they’re also paleo in addition to being gluten free.

I modified the recipe slightly based on what I had the in the house. I skipped the fresh parsley and used regular carrots instead of baby ones. Besides that, I pretty much stuck to the recipe. They were pretty easy to make, tasted great, and now I have a bunch of them in the freezer for future use. Serve with whatever sides you like (we served with broccoli and rice) and provide a side of dipping sauce for the little ones. I just used some organic pasta sauce from a jar and put in a ramekin so the kids could dip to their hearts content. You could always serve these with gluten-free pasta instead. My favorite is the quinoa-based variety.

The recipe as I made it is below. For the original recipe, click here. http://thebettyrocker.com/paleo-turkey-meatballs-gluten-free/

1 lb ground turkey (I used all lean breast from Wholefoods.)
1/2 cup almond flour (which can easily be made in the Vitamix)
2 eggs
1 small yellow onion
1/2 cup carrots, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed (or minced)
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 tsp salt
Fresh black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
    2. Prepare vegetables. I just stuck them all the Vitamix together until they were grated and then poured them in a bowl. You could use your food processor or a grater instead.
    3. Add ground turkey to a medium sized bowl, and add in the onions, carrots, basil and garlic. Season with fresh ground pepper and a little salt.
    4. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the meat mixture.
    5. Add the almond flour, and mix everything together.
    6. Form meat mixture into 24 evenly sized meatballs with your hands.
    7. Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil cooking spray and evenly distribute meat balls.
    8. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

For storage:

Let the meatballs cool to room temperature. Once cooled, stick them in a ziplock freezer bag and freeze in your freezer. To re-serve, pop a few out and heat using your favorite method. I like to stick them back in the oven but the microwave will work just fine.

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Homemade gluten-free pancakes

We had house guests last weekend and I was more than a little nervous about how I was going to pull off our new gluten-free diet with friends in our home. Amy is one of my best friends from college and let’s face it: we’ve drank more than our fair share of beer together. We’ve since grown up a bit and have both changed our Dorito-eating ways but going gluten-free is a little, you know, extreme. Or so I thought. When I told Amy and her hubs about our new diet she responded with this: “Oh yes, I have several friends who are eating gluten-free diets. I totally get it.” Whaaaat? Really, this is a phenomenon that is much larger than I ever imagined.

I hired a sitter for Saturday night so we adults could go out for dinner but Sunday morning was the real culinary test. Before going gluten free we had a family tradition of making and eating pancakes every Sunday morning. I had yet to find a good gluten-free recipe so our tradition had been suspended for a bit. With a few extra adults around to occupy my kids while I learned a new recipe, I decided that last Sunday was the perfect day to resurrect our tradition.

I chose a recipe from Taste of Home, which I modified slightly. First, I doubled the recipe (my kids can eat their weight in pancakes). Their recipe also called for chocolate chips but I’m a bit of a puritan when it comes to chocolate at the breakfast table. Fruit pancakes? Yes. Chocolate pancakes? Absolutely no. The girls were super excited to see pancakes return to our breakfast table. One girl requested plain while the other swayed between blueberry and strawberry before finally settling on strawberry. I made two batches, one of each.

These pancakes were a huge hit. My husband thinks they may even be better than my original, gluteny recipe. All I can say is hooray for brown rice flour and potato starch. And, as always, for my Vitamix, which allowed me to make ground almonds on the fly.

Below is my modified recipe. For the original, click here.

Gluten Free Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1 cup ground almonds (you can ground your own in your Vitamix. I have no idea if this would work in a regular blender. If you know, let me know!)
  • 6 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups fat-free milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 bag frozen strawberries (or use fresh if they’re in season)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the rice flour, potato starch, almonds, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, butter, vanilla, and mashed bananas; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in thawed strawberries or any other fruit, if desired. I suppose you could even use, sigh, chocolate chips.
  3. Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot griddle coated with cooking spray; turn when bubbles form on top. Cook until the second side is golden brown. 
  4. Enjoy!
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GF Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

peanut butter chocolate chip cookiesThe great thing about all this GF baking is that we’re quickly decreasing our dependence on processed foods. While cookies and cupcakes aren’t exactly health foods, the homemade versions have drastically less fat and sugar than the store-bought variety. This doesn’t exactly make them healthy, but it does make them better than the alternatives that we had been relying on before our switch to gluten free. It also makes me a lot more aware of what exactly we’re ingesting because, before our switch to GF, I wasn’t always the best label reader. Plus, making desserts together makes for a wonderful opportunity to create something with the kids. I figure the together time makes up for the sugar I’m pumping into their systems.

This week we made peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and they were delicious. I couldn’t stop eating them but I did manage to save a few for my kids.

GF Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup peanut butter*
1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
gluten-free chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Mix the peanut butter, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla
Add the flour and mix well
Add desired amount of chocolate chips
Spoon onto cookie sheet
Bake 6-9 minutes

*I made my peanut butter from scratch but any peanut butter will do. My favorite store-bought brand is MaraNatural Creamy. It’s also organic and wasn’t on the peanut recall list last year. Score.

To make your own peanut butter:

Place three cups of organic peanuts in your blender (make sure you have a powerful blender like a Vitamix or Blentec to do this), add some honey, and blend vigorously. Store any extra in an airtight container. Technically you’re supposed to refrigerate any opened peanut butter but I never do. It never really lasts all that long in my house, anyway.

 

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