What Can I Write for You?

I am an award-winning journalist who writes about parenting, pop culture, and girlpower. As mom to a tween, I find creative ways to guide my daughter through the highs and lows of growing up. As a grown-up girl myself, I still love sports, music, and getting down on the dance floor. I have been published in Parenting, Volta Voices, Healthy Children, VisitSouth.com, and parenting publications across North America. Email me to discuss your publication’s needs.

The smell of puberty

Ah, take a deep breath. Do you smell that? It’s the smell of puberty. And it makes parents of tweens everywhere ask three important questions before the kids head out the door each day.

“Did you put on deodorant?”
“Did you brush your teeth?”
“Are you wearing clean underwear?”

One day our kids are toddling around in footed pajamas smelling like baby powder, and the next they’re stomping around in week-old socks smelling like, well, week-old socks. A change has come … and many times they’re oblivious.

Here’s the rest of the article, pasted here since the magazine where it was originally printed took down all its previous links.

“I just had a battle with a certain 12-year-old girl,” Amy Vanwestervelt, mom to three, said. “She was ready to head out to school in the shirt she was wearing the day before (that she also decided to sleep in), hair not brushed, and hadn’t brushed her teeth. She was ticked off that I made her change, brush and pull her hair back and brush her teeth.”

Give them the lowdown
Getting kids to pay attention to hygiene is an ongoing battle. My daughter loves to look cute for school – she’ll put together a pretty outfit and take time to put her hair in an actual bun. But brushing her teeth? It’s like I’ve asked her to deep clean the toilet with a toothbrush! And she has braces, so not brushing can lead to double trouble.

Short of constantly checking behind their ears and standing at the sink with a timer, what can frustrated parents do to get our children to take care of their bodies?

Jennifer Sheehy-Knight, Ph.D, psychologist at Children’s of Alabama, said education is key. “One of the things I often recommend is to pick up a book about what’s happening with their bodies and start reading it with them when you start seeing the first signs of puberty, usually around the ages of 9 or 10. This introduction will help with later discussions and you can use it as a reference.”

A few clues it’s starting: oilier skin, a growth spurt, growth of body hair, breast development in girls, and a change in voice for boys. If you’ve noticed a couple of these, welcome to puberty!

Kids this age are already anxious about starting middle school, the new boy-girl dynamic, and changes they feel in their bodies, so the last thing parents want to do is make it worse by telling them they stink.

“Talk about the changes in terms of puberty and development and that as a result their sweat is changing,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “Hormones change in each stage from childhood to teenage years to adulthood and everyone goes through it. Along with that development comes body odor – it’s a natural part of growing up. But that odor also signals that it’s time to get serious about how you take care of your body.”

Getting social
Additionally, puberty and its symptoms can also affect children socially. Who hasn’t been turned off by a friend’s bad breath or sweaty feet? Let’s face it, sometimes, even though we know it’s not nice, it’s hard to be around a person who stinks.

“Often kids cannot accurately smell their own odor,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said, “It’s important to use good hygiene, even if you think you’re OK, in order to avoid negative comments. Kids this age have to be more thorough. They can’t just give it the ‘once-over.’ Emphasize that it can impact them socially and help them understand that people will shy away. This might help them strive toward better hygiene.”

To do: Loosen the reins
This age group requires us parents to balance their autonomy with our authority. Explain the expectations then let them try to fulfill them. “They’re no longer children, but they’re not yet mature, so you still have to watch and monitor,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “As they’re making this transition, they are working toward more independence. However, they’ll also be forgetful, so a checklist might be a good idea.”

We all have to-do lists, at work, at home, on weekends. “You can help them create one for the morning routine and one for bedtime,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “This will allow them to take more responsibility and develop good habits.”

A checklist can work in tandem with a rewards system. For instance, set a showering goal of four days a week and when they reach it, they get extra video game time. Just make sure the incentive is something that will motivate them. It can be as simple as giving them a choice.

“A couple of things I do is buy a bazillion kinds of deodorant,” Heather Smith Davis said. “The girls can use any kind they want as long as they use it. And showers are on our chore list. Feed dogs, water dogs, sweep kitchen and hallway, take shower. They don’t get allowance if they don’t take a shower. And we have a gazillion soaps in there. Use whatever kind you want as long as it’s used.”

Orthodontist Britt Reagin, DMD, MS, said getting kids to take ownership is crucial to good hygiene, especially when they have braces. “We educate the child with an instructional video on how to take care of their teeth and what will happen if they don’t,” said Reagin, who completed his residency at UAB and now practices in South Carolina. Then he has them sign a contract, making them responsible for their teeth. “Most kids have never signed a contract, so it is a big deal to them. We also have in-office contests for kids who maintain regular hygiene visits with their dentist, and we grade hygiene at each visit. Much like homework, ultimately, it is home life and parents that determine good hygiene.”

Of course, parents still need to check that the kids taking care of business. Are they walking out the door with stained jeans or unbrushed hair? Are there more than two pairs of underwear in the laundry basket? Is the toothpaste tube still full? We can use our powers of observation to find out, no nagging required.

Light at the end of the tunnel
While we might think this battle over body will never end, hope abounds. Many parents report that one day their kids started showering daily or brushing their teeth without being told to, or, miracle of miracles, doing their own laundry! Eventually, they get the importance of good hygiene, as these moms can attest.

“My daughter is 12, and this summer she started showering without prompting and downright being made to,” Heather Hurlock said. “She now showers daily on her own. It has helped tremendously with the maintenance of her hair, and she even likes her hair being ‘cute’ again.”

Apryl Chapman Thomas said, “I battled with my daughter last year, but since she started sixth grade, she’s changed. She wants to blow dry and fix her hair. She loves lotions and spray from Bath and Body Works. I think her changes are not only because of her age and being in middle school, but also because she sees her friends doing the same, too.”

“It all comes down to education and understanding the possible consequences,” Dr. Sheehy-Knight said. “If you’re not cleaning your face regularly, you’ll get pimples. If you don’t brush your teeth, you’ll get cavities. Once they start keeping up with good hygiene, it will become one less thing they have to worry about when it comes to finding their fit socially.”

And parents can change the out-the-door conversation.

“Great job on that last report card!”

“Nice outfit!”

“I love you!”

13 Things You Could Do Before 2013 Ends

One of the few good photos we took while baking Christmas cookies. It was a good day.

1. Stargaze. December offered three nights of meteor showers, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology. First up was the Geminids Meteor Shower, or Winter’s Fireworks, with Dec. 13-14 (well, we missed this one!) the best time for viewing. According to Telescopes.com, on Dec. 22, the Ursids Meteor Shower happens as
 Earth moves through Comet 8P Tuttle’s dust trail. With patience, you could see five to 10 meteors per hour if you’re looking closely at Ursa Minor, aka the Little Dipper.

2. List the good stuff. What made your family smile? Laugh? What will you always remember about 2013?

Shhh! Do not disturb this peaceful child.

3. Grab a camera and snap photos of your kids sleeping. If they’re like my daughter, it’s one of the few times they’re still and peaceful.

4. Make a playlist of your family’s Top 10. For us, it would be One Direction’s “Best Song Ever,” Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” New Kids On the Block’s “Remix (I Like),” and “What Does the Fox Say.”

5. Screen your favorite tween/teen flicks with your kids. We’ve watched “The Karate Kid,” “Grease,” and we are working our way to “Sixteen Candles.”

Somehow she turned an airplane shape into a Christmas tree cookie.

6. Let your kid cook. It can be as simple as grilled cheeses or cookies. Of course, you’ll need to be around to supervise younger children and help older ones, just in case.

7. Volunteer or donate together. Each season, my daughter and I gather up too-small clothing and donate it to a home for abused children. Most libraries take book donations. Or you can volunteer to serve meals to the needy. Drive your elderly neighbor to the grocery store. Do some good.

8. Create a memory album. Take the list you made earlier and find photos to match to make a 2013 scrapbook. Make it as simple or as fancy as you’d like.

9. Bundle up and walk outside. Alone or with your family, a bracing stroll around the block can wake you up, help you think or just decompress.

10. Drink a warm beverage while sitting outside. Hot chocolate, coffee or hot tea (with or without a little extra) will warm your insides while you get some fresh air.

In “London” just before Ebenezer Scrooge shows up to “Bah-humbug” the holidays.

11. Catch a play. We saw our local children’s theater production of “A Christmas Carol” this year as is our tradition. You might prefer a non-holiday show. Check to see what’s on stage and support the arts.

12. Head to the drive-in. The next best thing to watching a movie at home in your pajamas is catching one at the drive-in in your pajamas, well, pjs for the the kids anyway. No drive-ins around? Head to the dollar movie theater for cheaper fun.

13. Grab a book. Relax in the tub. Enjoy the quiet while you can. Soon it will be 2014 and the fun will start again.

What do you plan to do before the year ends?

Why should my daughter be responsible for your son’s thoughts?

I’m tired of people telling girls how they shouldn’t dress, how they shouldn’t dance, how they shouldn’t talk, how they shouldn’t wear their makeup, how they shouldn’t BE.

STOP! Enough with the shaming and blaming and lecturing. It’s time to accept that girls are not pretty playthings out to destroy boys and lead them down the path of wickedness. They are intelligent, strong, beautiful creatures made in God’s image and should be treated with respect. Even if you don’t like what they’re wearing.

Two occurrences brought about this post: a sermon and a viral blog post. I moved the first event to the back of my mind, but when the second happened, I knew I had to say something. Here’s that something.

The last time I wanted to get up in the middle of a church sermon and walk out, a preacher was talking politics. This time a pastor was discussing modesty.

“Girls, if it causes a guy, when he looks at you, not to be able to think about Jesus, then you probably have made the wrong decision.” And he went on to say that he didn’t mean only in church, and said no telling how many guys have made bad grades.

My brain and my heart were all, “Say what?!” I kept waiting for him to say something about boys controlling their thoughts. Or respecting girls no matter what. And I kept waiting. And waiting. And I’m still waiting.

I was so disheartened and shocked that I tuned out the rest of the sermon. I just kept thinking, “Boys have no responsibility for taking their minds off Jesus? Girls are to blame? That’s not right!” I scribbled furiously on the bulletin. And I was so upset that I called my mom and railed to her as soon as church was out.

Then this week a blog post made the rounds via social media, (and, no, I’m not linking to it) in which a mom of boys told girls who post “sexy” selfies that they cause her sons to look at them in a sexual way, and therefore, they are not good enough for her sons.

My daughter takes dance classes. She wears shorts and a sports bra to some of them. If your son sees her walk from the studio door to my vehicle and then has naughty thoughts, who’s fault is that? Not my daughter’s, that’s for sure.

Why are we teaching girls to shoulder the blame for how boys think?

Soon folks will be telling girls it’s their fault they were sexually harassed or abused or raped. Oh, wait … THAT’S ALREADY HAPPENING!

Do you think a boy has sexual thoughts only when he sees a girl’s shoulders? Or midriff or thighs? Really? A stiff breeze caused my high school male friends to have those thoughts. And sexual thoughts at this age are normal.

Teach your sons to NOT think of girls as sexual objects. Why not teach boys to RESPECT girls no matter what they wear? Or don’t wear? (I bet boys are quite capable of understanding this. They are smart, strong, beautiful creatures made in God’s image, too.)

I’m teaching my daughter to dress appropriately for the occasion (though she won’t always listen, so don’t shame her for it). I’m teaching her to not judge others for what they wear, have, or look like. And that nothing you post on the internet is truly private. But I’m not freaking out when she wants to wear a strapless dress out to dinner. Or a two-piece to the pool. Or when she does a stupid duckface selfie in her pajamas, with no bra. Or when she sees your 1011916_10201236353372263_2119174101_nshirtless son on the track and thinks he’s “hot.” I’m teaching her that sexual thoughts are normal, and I’m teaching her how to handle them.

Here’s a terrific post – Seeing A Woman – to help you do the same for your sons.

Comments? Please leave one.

NYECheese12

Party down on New Year’s Eve

We made good on our New Year’s Eve plans by getting dressed up and going out. We had a fabulous meal at Rosie’s Cantina, our favorite restaurant, and we walked around Bridge Street until it was time for our movie, Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, to start. She giggled throughout the show and that’s what made it fun for me. We got home around 10, watched the ball drop at 11, played Just Dance 3, saw fireworks from our back patio, counted down to midnight here, and welcomed 2012 like only we can.

Peace

Saturday Night and the Single Mom

PeaceHere’s an excerpt from my latest column for Birmingham Parent.

Saturday nights used to be my favorite time of the week. After a day of fun, we’d be settling down for the night, looking forward to one more free day before heading back to school and work. Now I hate Saturday nights and bedtime. I feel guilty about what I did or didn’t do while Riley was with me. (Riley’s dad picks her up on Sunday mornings, and she’s with him until I pick her up after school on Wednesdays.)

When Saturday night rolls around, I can’t sleep for thinking about everything I did wrong. Am I the only mom who feels this way? How do you stop the guilt? How do you balance “mean mom” with “fun mom”?

Did I tell her enough that I love her? Did I yell too much because she wouldn’t clean up the paper clippings and glitter after an art project? Will she smile thinking about cooking chicken burritos together? Or will she cringe because I got frustrated after telling her for the umpteenth time to brush her teeth?

Please go read Saturday Night and the Single Mom and come back and tell me what you think. Thanks!

Jingle, jingle, jingle

Imagine the sounds of the Christmas season: the ripping of wrapping paper, the squeal of an excited child, jingle bells, the whispers to Santa, and your favorite Christmas carol.

Now imagine the holidays without those sounds. That’s how it was for Riley until she turned 2. With the help of cochlear implants and years of auditory-verbal therapy, she is able to enjoy all the sounds of the season just like any kid with typical hearing, including me yelling, “Riley! Stop shaking your presents!”

One of Riley’s favorite Christmas sounds is a DVD by The Wiggles. The kiddie band was one of the first things she heard after her implants were activated. “Mama, I don’t care how old I get, ” she says, “I’ll always love The Wiggles.”  The photo at right shows her gettin’ wiggly during her first holiday to hear. Pretty special, right?

Since then she has sung in numerous school Christmas programs and played three roles in her third-grade-class production of “A Christmas Carol.” Not bad for a girl who, when she was born, couldn’t hear a jet engine if you held her next to it.

When all the noise starts getting to you, stop and think what it’d be like if you couldn’t hear at all. No kids singing “Away in a Manger,” no friends laughing, no voice saying “I love you.” Then be grateful for the sounds. And take some ibuprofen and a nap and get on with your holiday-ing.

Christmas without my girl

Ever wondered what it’d be like without your child at Christmas? Well, here’s what it’ll be like for me this year: It Won’t Seem Like Christmas Without You.

And while I know Riley is excited about her trip to see her dad’s families, today my heart broke for her. As we were driving home from school I was singing along with the Christmas songs on the radio. Normally she sings too, but she had her hands over her ears and wouldn’t even listen.

“Mama, turn off the Christmas music. I don’t want to hear it.”

“Why not? You like it.”

“I don’t want to listen to it.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Because I want to be in Alabama with you on Christmas.”

Oh my heart! I told her that it was OK and that she will have a ton of fun on her trip. I reminded her that we’re going to do Christmas with my whole big family before she goes and with me and my parents when she gets back. She’s satisfied for now. I sure hope our FaceTime works while she is out there because it’s going to be hard without her.

 

Songs that remind me of boys

Music can set the mood, offer motivation, or take you down memory lane. Well, let’s take a stroll through my glorious teenage years when my hair was big, “holding hands meant something,” and these songs played on the radio.

1. Wild Wild West, The Escape Club – 10th-grade crush – He had the bluest eyes, spiked hair, was “so fine,” to use the vernacular of the ’80s, and was a year younger. “I love her eyes and her wild, wild hair” was the lyric, which I, of course, changed to “his eyes and his hair.”

2. Rock Me Amadeus, Falco – 8th-grade crush – I think we sat around singing the song during math class, and he would quote some “Saturday Night Live” joke about “I mean, hey, french toast …” I don’t even know what that was.

3. When It’s Love, Van Halen – Summer-after-my-senior-year fling – He is an actor now, and during the summer of ’90, we hung out when two of his friends were dating my friends. He made me laugh, and he was different from all the boys I knew. It was fun while it lasted. (See also: Epic, Faith No More)

4. Neon Rainbow, Alan Jackson – Senior-year crush – I had the biggest crush on this basketball player. We finally went out, and he promptly fell asleep during the movie on our first date. I like to think it wasn’t me … he was just bored by the Steven Segal movie! I think we went out once more and that was that. Now we’re Facebook friends.

Things seemed much simpler then. But were they really? I think so. What about you?

And what songs remind you of your Teenage Dream?

 

Girl trip!

Riley and I took our first mama-daughter trip two weeks ago during her Fall Break, and we had a great time. The only thing we argued about was what music to listen to … we compromised by using headphones (her) and plugging my music player into the truck’s radio. There’s just so much Selena Gomez and “Shake It Up” that a mama can take!

We made the 7-hour trip to South Carolina to visit my brother, his wife and their two boys. We were treated to baked spaghetti, barbecue cups and sausage balls as well as trips to make ceramics (see photo at left), shopping, and the pumpkin patch. And I finally got to see Charleston, thanks to my sister-in-law who willingly made the 2-hour drive just so I could walk around and snap pictures.

The boys were tickled to see Riley, and she was so happy to see them. They played Wii, ran around the house on stick horses, and read books and played with Little People playsets. Riley and Lincoln even made a “gingerbread” Halloween house, while little Griffin napped one day.

At The Mad Platter, we made gifts for my mom, Riley and Lincoln made a bat and a snowman, and Robin and I made handprint platters. It was fun to do something I wouldn’t normally do. Robin picked up our creations last week, and she said they look great. Can’t wait to see!

I think the kiddos had the most fun at the pumpkin patch that had a pirate ship on the playground. They were excited be able to run around and yell and “walk the plank” and fight the bad guys who were trying to take over their pirate ship. We also saw some goats, ducks, an ostrich and a little Shetland pony at the petting farm. Of course, Robin and I loved the great photo ops we got.

Our last day was spent in Charleston, walking around admiring the houses on Rainbow Row and the Battery. We had a picnic in Battery Park, chased the kids underneath the old trees and watched them climb on the Civil War cannons and cannonballs. Lincoln and Riley pretended to be fighting the battle, carrying cannonballs to the cannons and “launching” them out to strike imaginary invaders on the sea.

We walked downtown and looked through the vendors at the Market, which apparently used to be where slaves were bought and sold. The history made me squeamish – I still can’t wrap my brain around why people thought treating humans as chattel was OK.

Today, the Market features beautiful woven baskets, handmade jewelry, souvenir T-shirts, and photograph and other artwork. I bought 4×6 photos of various objects that spell out Riley and my names, and I’m looking forward to framing and hanging them in the living room.

The trip ended with my brother Michael and I hanging out in the backyard by his fireplace, listening to the high school football game down the block, and reminiscing and planning and dreaming. We might not agree on everything, but I love my little brother and times like these are the best.

Riley and I had a wonderful trip, and we already miss them! We don’t have to wait long to see them again, though, because they are coming here for Thanksgiving, and we’ll celebrate Griffin’s second birthday. My house will be filled with laughter, love, and my family.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Riley!

Riley turned 10 on Monday! I cannot believe I have a 10-year-old. :-)

She celebrated with a sleepover (the five girls were loud and fun), a Justin Bieber cake, pizza, and ice cream. Her dad and I got her an iPod touch, and she is thrilled. She has already downloaded Angry Birds and Ninja Fruit. And she and I are having a blast with FaceTime. It’s a cool feature from Apple, and I look forward to using it more. She thinks it’s hilarious to FaceTime me when she’s in the kitchen and I’m in the living room.

I love that she is technologically savvy but not too savvy. We keep a close eye on what she sees and hears online and what she plays. She doesn’t know any passwords to buy or download anything. And it’ll be that way for a long time.

When Riley was born, she made my life infinitely better, and my love for her is one that can never be measured.