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Archives for Families and Family Life

Home Spaces


It’s always been pretty clear that astronaut wasn’t my dream job – mention a spacesuit to me, my first thought is, “What about itches?” – but it’s now certain beyond a doubt that I should cross that one off my potential career list.

You have one little butterfingers move and it’s worldwide news? Is this fair? Forget it, I couldn’t take the pressure. How could you not let a hammer or something go when you’re out there on a spacewalk repairing the thrust decombobilator or whatever? If the astronaut examination board were drinking mai tais one morning and let me go up in space, there’d be so many nails and screws and things flying around out there, astronomers would have to name a new asteroid belt.

Not that it seems that this astronaut really dropped the tool bag. It sounds like it might just have been a knot that came undone, which can happen to anyone too. But as ever, it also comes down to cleaning: astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper seems to have been partly tripped up by a greasy mess, and hey, what woman hasn’t?

The way the whole crowd around my house lets dishes and glasses and other breakables go flying (accidentally) is enough to make the husband check out that rubbery playground flooring to see if it would work in kitchens.

Although there is one really appealing bit to the astronaut gig – I’m jealous of how quickly they can get a toilet fixed. Plus, they’ve got a whole team to do renovations? This is how many thousands? millions? OK, really it’s hundreds, of miles out in space? But they’ve just done some additions, changed a few rooms around, and the team even cleaned up after themselves? And this summer they got someone to come right out to the space station, fix the toilet and they’re all set? I bet it’s really fixed, too, not like some of the “fixes” I’ve seen.

If the space station worked like my household, I’m telling you, there’d be a heck of a lot more space news bulletins. They could even build a TV series, maybe one of those docudramas that National Geographic likes so much.

First: “Space station crew says, ‘Toilet seems to be working funny.’” Then, “Crew hopes toilet will repair itself.” And, “Crew agrees, toilet definitely not working, someone should call someone.”

Then the action part of our drama: “Crew searching for decent plumber.” “No good plumber recommendations found, crew calls random plumber, schedules appointment for two weeks from now.”

The climax: “Plumber comes, does something, charges a lot; crew agrees plumbing is a fine career for offspring.”

And the re-runs. “Crew says, ‘Toilet still seems to be working funny.’” And so on.

So maybe I should check out the astronaut career path. Since the astronauts are actually their own plumbers/contractors/carpenters/etc., NASA must train you in these home repair skills – while you’re learning not to scratch.

Now, that would be very handy.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 5:57 AM | Permalink

Merry Thanksgiving


Just for a change, today I’m going to talk about something I like.
I really like Thanksgiving.
I like the menu; I like getting together with family; I like people flying or driving in for a real homecoming; I like the parade; I like the weather – crisp and fally, or even if it’s gray and wet, it’s too early in the season to be sick of it; I like the timing of a holiday followed by a long weekend to recover; I’m even not as annoyed as usual by the football someone might insist on putting on TV (just keep the sound down, please).
For us Jews, Thanksgiving is an uncomplicated treat as we enter the “um” season. “Got your tree yet?” “Um…” “Where are you going for Christmas?” “Um…” “Mommy, is Santa coming to our house?” “Um…” Of course many people assume that everyone else is celebrating Christmas, and that’s fine. I’ve never met anyone who minded being corrected in that assumption.
The compensation for being odd-man-out at this time of year, and excuse me, my frazzled Christian friends, if I gloat a bit, is no stress. Thanksgiving is like a lower-stress Christmas. It’s the “joy” without the “oy.”
No expectations: after November, no more tense or otherwise required family gathering; no need to buy the tree, decorate the tree, hang the lights, tack up the stockings; no presents for everyone (sure, too many for the kids at Hanukah and whatever other friends and family you select, but no big obligatory list); no traditional foods to prepare for Christmas Eve, for Christmas breakfast, for Christmas dinner. No requirements. (And yes I know, many of you of course enjoy it, and yes if we’re lucky we do enjoy an invitation to share parts of others’ celebrations.)
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, gives you the holiday highlights in a pretty simple format. Not too many required rituals – decorating might simply be getting out the increasingly tattered construction paper turkeys made from a hand tracing. Just one huge meal, usually cooked by one beleaguered but uncomplaining person (woman), the family gathering with its pleasures or pains, and then an easy slide through the holidays until it’s time to worry about a New Year’s Eve date.
(Thanksgiving is an important ritual too in Barry Levinson’s movie “Avalon,” about a Baltimore Jewish family, if you’re looking for a good movie to watch while you digest.)
Who can argue with a big meal and loved ones gathering? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all celebrate it that way? In the meantime, I’m going to think about what I have to be so very thankful for. I wish you all good turkey, or the vegetarian equivalent.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 8:52 AM | Permalink

Movies of Value


Have you ever seen that cartoon of a woman with a balloon over her head saying “Oh no, I forgot to have kids!”?
Well, I remembered the kids, but they bring other “oh no” moments with them now. Like with teaching them things. Every so often your offspring will do something that’s wrong in a really basic way, like wiping their mouths on the tablecloth, and you wonder how they can even think of doing that. And yet, did you ever tell them not to wipe their mouths on the tablecloth? No, you didn’t. Remember, they come into this world as ignorant lambs. How were they supposed to know not to use the tablecloth as a napkin? (Yeah, I think they could have worked it out on their own too, but we’ll let it slide this time.)
The lessons that really seem to slip through the cracks are those about “teaching values,” you’ll excuse the expression. I suppose a good parent would have regular character-building discussions about right and wrong, how to treat other people, what qualities are important to be a good, happy adult, etc., etc. But around here it’s more like, “Oh no, I forgot to tell the kids not to lie, cheat and steal.” I mean, by the time we’re done talking about the tablecloth, finding more napkins, clearing the table, getting ready for bed, etc., etc., moral uprightness just has to wait for another day. Ideally, they could pick up the proper values from my noble example, but quite frankly, even on my best days I’m usually striking out on two out of three, and sometimes the third, depending on how you define stealing.
But you know, I’m completely in favor of teaching my kids not to be rotten. At the same time, it’s summer for lots of us – not my favorite season for heavy duty teaching. So I was quite happy to see this list of ten movies for kids, just right to plug your children into while you take a bath, I mean, for family viewing.
They’re “Family Movies that Teach Values” from the “Movie Mom,” Nell Minow, at Beliefnet, the multidenominational site. Despite the headline, there’s nothing at all medicinal about them – they’re good movies, at least the ones I know, that, oh yeah, do seem to have good points to make. Make some popcorn, turn on a DVD, seems like a fine low-effort way to get credit for Teaching Your Children Values. I suppose you’d get extra points for actually discussing the movies. And here’s the key – they also seem like “family movies” that the grownups in the family can actually watch too, as opposed to, say, nodding off in the middle.
If you’re looking for other suggestions (yes, summer is a long, long season), around here I’m embarrassed to admit that we do tend to watch too much of the completely valueless Scooby Doo, but when we can enforce a grownup choice, a classic musical like Singin’ in the Rain has made everyone happy. After all, an appreciation of a funny song and dance routine is pretty valuable for any family too.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:29 AM | Permalink

Security Mom


Spain’s defense minister recently gave birth to her first child.
Yup, you read that right. The prime minister naturally called to congratulate her and then politely informed her she was fired. Just kidding.
No, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has made a point of pursuing gender equality in his government and legislative proposals, did know Carme Chacón was pregnant when he named the 37-year-old defense minister. She took up her post at the beginning of Zapatero’s second term, when she was seven months pregnant.
Naming a pregnant woman to head the most stereotypically male of departments drew notice, good and bad. Pictures of Chacón reviewing troops just after being named, or hauling herself and her belly to Afghanistan to visit Spanish troops there are an exercise in retraining the eye, whether you welcome that change or not. Chacón is Spain’s first female defense minister and first minister of any department to give birth, according to press reports. Female heads of state and government are less and less uncommon these days, but few countries have ever had a female defense minister.
Old-guard soldiers and other who objected to her naming included among their public complaints the fact that she hadn’t worked with military affairs before, and that the birth would take her off duty for a period. Spanish mothers get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
But reports after the birth have now neatly explained how she would cover. Zapatero named the interior minister to cover Chacón’s post while she’s out, the defense ministry’s second in command will take care of the bulk of matters, Chacón will likely split her leave with her husband and, the reports noted, she will most likely be back in cabinet meetings long before her official leave is over. Next question.
So here’s yet another picture of how to combine maternity with work. The more that pile up, that more all these firsts can eventually be seen as something normal. (Although it looks like we’ll be waiting a while yet for that big first.) While women may have certain legal protections for maternity in Spain, and other parts of Europe, employers can and do circumvent those laws, including by simply not hiring women they think may get pregnant, because of what they see as extra costs with pregnant employees. As many feminists will remind them though, men too have physical issues that take them away from work, but those can’t even be planned for. (How about not hiring guys likely to break something during weekend warrier sports?) Not to mention that children are simply a fact of life, and a necessary good for society that society has to assume some degree of support for – even more than, say, roads.
Workers are human beings, not just minds linked in to the Internet 24-7 (or at least not yet). Do we not need to sleep when we’re exhausted, eat when we’re hungry, see sunlight on a regular basis? – all activities that take away from work time. Having the model of the defense minister taking maternity in stride like this is useful for both women and men. The more options that are seen as normal and possible, the better, for anyone looking to balance work with any other aspects of their life that are important to them.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:42 PM | Permalink

Putting the ‘Ma’ in Asthma


You might share my opinion about housecleaning, which is basically that dust bunnies can be a legitimate form of creative, artistic expression. But I do accept that there’s a certain level of cleaning necessary in a house containing child occupants, that level to be determined between you and your inner scold.
Or maybe, you and your doctor, if your kid is one of the 89 percent of American children with asthma and allergies (well, not really that many, but it seems like it). Son the elder has (luckily very mild) asthma. One of the common asthma triggers is an allergy to dust mites, so one of the first things you find out when you get the asthma diagnosis is what you as a parent (mom) can do to help your poor child feel better: clean house.
Dust mites are these miniscule little critters that feed off our skin flakes (gross) and particularly build up in mattresses and stuffed animals and other things around us where we sleep; you can reduce their numbers with hot-water washing and vacuuming and other forms of cleaning (gross).
Flu can be another trigger, but that season is over for now; for pollen allergy sufferers it’s their difficult time now. But dust mites are always in season.
We’ve gotten similar instructions in two countries. In the U.S. there was a little more emphasis on buying a hypoallergenic mattress cover and washing everything in hot water a lot; in Spain we’ve gotten more emphasis on daily cleaning, having fewer things in the bedroom (ha! try that in the U.S.) and ironing bed linens and such with a hot iron (ha! again).
I don’t really take this personally. I know the doctor’s not really hiding a chuckle as he hands over the “Managing Asthma” cleaning instructions. What kind of mother wouldn’t want to do everything she can to help her sick child? Sure, supporting public transportation and stopping global warming would seem to be a good idea too, but it’s a bit simpler to get parents to clean house.
One of my favorite kid doctors that we’ve come across, the allergist back in California, earned his high rank on my list by listening to what parents had to say. Allergies are a medical issue with uncertain areas, so he made an extra effort to understand each child’s individual response.
So while I have no reason to doubt that cleaning is a helpful treatment (or maybe I do), I do wish there were a way to exploit the theory that suggests that the current widespread wave of allergies have been in some way triggered by too much hygiene. (Sorry, as far as I can tell, the theory has nothing to do with treatment. But still…)
“Ms. Klosky,” my own Dr. McDreamy would say, “I can tell you’re a really conscientious housekeeper. But you have just got to let the dust build up. Sure, it’ll be tough to let the dirt just lie there, to leave the teddy bears unwashed, the tchotchkes to wallow in the muck, but you’ve got to do it – For Your Son’s Health.”
That would be a TV episode I’d cheer.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 1:44 PM | Permalink

The Selection Process


Apparently there’s another election thing going on in the U.S. (There’s one going on here in Spain too but we’ll leave that for now.) Every four years is getting a bit ridiculous – you’d think we could find someone we like and stick with her, or him.
But no, every four years it’s a new courtship. And that dating metaphor is one that gets used regularly too. The politician tries to court the voters, to seduce them, the voters try to decide who they like, who they want to spend the next four years with; once elected there’s a honeymoon period, followed by, you got it – the backlash, revulsion, disgust.
What, almost half of marriages end in divorce right? And those are people who had a chance to sleep together before making it permanent. What possible chance is there of a picking a president we like based on a few speeches, some debates, a policy paper or two for the most earnest of us – even the most high-definition screen doesn’t get that close.
Let’s say you’re (formally or not) mate shopping. What’s the first characteristic you use to winnow down the candidates? There’s shared values, character, intelligence, wit, blah blah blah. But from across the bar, what you’re really going with is…looks. And that’s a nice reliable one. You only have to watch some Hollywood couplings and uncouplings to see that attractiveness is not a reliable guide to long-term suitability.
But OK, you go with instinct – this person feels like the one. And you bring him or her to hang out with your friends. And they hate him, or her. Well, what do you do? Ignore the friends, of course. If you’re lucky, they won’t say I told you so later. And that’s exactly like an intra-party debate. You stick with the one that you brung. Your gang’s hanging out, trading barbs, getting a feel for each other. But if you go into the debate supporting a candidate who doesn’t do so well, you make excuses, you don’t notice – you even think they did well.
And what’s another relationship test? Bringing the date to meet the family. That’s just like a press conference – bam, bam, bam, everyone’s shooting off questions and pictures. And so what if the candidate looks a little weak, unprepared or ignorant. Everyone can have a bad day, right? They’ll change. Ha!
The trick is whether we’ll still want our pick when conflict comes up down the road. According to this article, how couples work out differences is the key to staying together. And in that respect, spouses have one up on presidents. Couples can try to work things out, but not one president has ever called me to chat when he does something that annoys me. How can a citizen not become disillusioned?
A lot of dating and presidential picking involves wishful thinking and selective attention. Logically it’s about trying to project behavior in a set of unknown future circumstances, which is tough, if not impossible. And despite the way it looks from internet dating or the initial multitudinous candidate field, we’re also not really choosing from an infinite number of possibilities. So we go with the illogical. Hey, it does work half the time.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:08 AM | Permalink

Minivans Were Us


It looks as if I’ve moved out of the U.S. just in time. That statement has nothing to do with politics. No, it’s much more serious – what shocks me is the declining popularity of minivans.
What does this mean? That my fellow tribesmen, the mommies, I mean Mommies (always capitalized, please), are giving up their identities? What’s next – no more Mom jeans? Letting the kids work it out for themselves at the playground? Blowing off PTA meetings?
I shake my head in sorrow, although not as much sorrow as I felt at giving up my own Mom machine, aka my beloved minivan, when we moved to Spain. But now, oh yes, I am trying to create my own piece of rolling American Momdom in our minivan here. This is despite that fact that we replaced the American (sort of) minivan that we had in California with a Spanish (sort of) minivan here. Which means, naturally, one big change – a lot fewer cupholders.
I can live with the cupholder lack (breathe deeply and repeat: just don’t think about it, just don’t think about it) but somehow the whole tribal identify thing doesn’t seem to work here. I just don’t get the same sense of fellow Momness among us minivan drivers.
Somehow, and maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive, but somehow I feel that when Spaniards see a minivan their first thought isn’t “Mom,” but rather “not a Mercedes.” Maybe I’m wrong.
But OK, if American Moms are deserting me, I can try to seek out my tribe here in Europe. So I keep an eye out for that Mom identity American Moms pull on like a stained t-shirt and elastic waist pants – half reluctantly, half relievedly, maybe another half with a sort of pride, and how about another half because it’s the first model at hand. (A Mom identify, besides increasing minivan sales, can also on the positive side be tapped for political efforts.) But somehow, I don’t see any other Moms with “sensible” haircuts who might want to commiserate about how they never have time to shower. I mean, I bring up the shower thing with other moms here and they sort of take a step back. I don’t know why.
So maybe Moms in hospitals here get a bagful of their own cute clothes back instead of a coupon for a free “Baby Can Be a Genius If Mom Works Hard Enough” class. (I’m betting this is true in France too.) But I know there’s gotta be some other connection among us Schooner of the Road skippers. Still, looking around, I do sometimes see driving Moms, or dads, or maybe even Dads…smoking. Or with kids…in the front seat.
The Mom code of conduct requires strapping those kids in the back seat until they’re 20. (The side benefit of this practice is that you can implicitly criticize lots of grandparents, who raised their kids (you and your partner) pre-car seats and just let them rattle around in the car. Safety and a family dig – who doesn’t love it?) And no smoking is allowed, but periodically bags of fast food picked up at a drive-in window should be tossed back at the little creatures, especially when they start to struggle at their restraints. That doesn’t work here so much; see above re: fewer cupholders, not to mention fewer drive-throughs.
California, for example, just enacted a law banning smoking in cars when there are kids in them. Spanish parents certainly worry about their kids’ safety, but they’re not quite as…um…militant, let’s say. There’s lots of safe driving practices campaigns from the government, but even with something like drinking and driving, you still have a certain percentage of Spaniards – including possibly a former prime minister who said he should be able to drink as he sees fit – who think it’s their right to drive back and forth from a big Sunday lunch washed downed with an appropriate amount of wine. Especially if Mom’s cooking.
My minivan here is fine, maybe not so beloved, but fine. But the Metro system – now that’s something to catch the eye.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:06 AM | Permalink

Scary Tales


Halloween’s over for another year, and I hope no one was too frightened. As adults we can pretty much handle those bobbing, plastic bats with the light-up eyes that hang from the ceiling. No, you really want to scare an adult, let’s talk about a truly terrifying subject: family finances.
Aaaargh, noooooo.
Oh, buck up. We all know if the middle-class family is having any financial problems it’s just because they’re tossing down too many fancy coffee shop lattes. Cut out the little indulgences, and watch your savings add up, financial advisers lecture.
Now, that’s an idea that certainly has merit, but it’s also why I thought this MSNBC article was interesting (despite the truly scary series logo and name – Gut Check America – creepy!). It says that middle-class families aren’t feeling squeezed financially because they’re a bunch of shopaholic, self-indulgent latte-sippers. Rather, they’re feeling squeezed because the basic components of a middle class budget are – more expensive.
Big-ticket items like housing and a college education have increased much faster than salaries and inflation in recent decades – and there’s a whole new huge expense of child care, to enable the two earners necessary for the whole enterprise. Health care costs too are part of the bite, according to the article.
Housing costs, at least on much of the U.S. coasts and some points in the middle, have soared way out of proportion with average salaries – not everywhere, of course, only the places where more people want to live. Now, house prices are dropping in many of those outrageous areas, meaning homeowners have lost that feeling of wealth from thinking of their house as a constantly rising asset to be tapped as needed, with the drag on the economy that entails. But even so, for people hoping to buy a home, prices still haven’t dropped to what anyone should consider reasonable.
College costs are equally or more ridiculous. In Spain, many families feel as pinched or more about the gap between salaries and home prices, but there’s one expense they don’t worry about: college education is state funded, essentially free or with only nominal charges. Imagine what your family budget might feel like if you didn’t have to worry about possibly having to come up with $200,000 per kid just to help them get what’s considered a basic education these days.
Certainly with colleges there are cheaper options, and community colleges (in some cases a great educational value) and state schools (not that they’re always so cheap) can provide an excellent education; you’re just giving up the prestige value (and whatever networking advantage might translate to careers) of the fancy-pants schools. For homes too, you can buy what you can afford, but that’s at a greater and greater sacrifice – of space, or by having a huge commute, or living in what are considered worse public school districts, or you find a job somewhere else and move to a whole different location. And that’s all part of what an economist quoted in the MSNBC article meant when he noted that Americans are no longer sure that the idea that each generation can do better economically than its parents is true.
Two New York Times columnists recently pointed to Hillary Clinton as the presidential candidate who is looking at these economic issues they see as vital to voters. While Democratic candidate Chris Dodd does focus on child care, Clinton is the only other candidate to have even mentioned it, says columnist Gail Collins. And Judith Warner writes that Clinton’s attention to middle class needs means her “surprising” lead shouldn’t be so surprising.
I’d agree that these money issues are something that you’d think would be relevant with voters – just don’t expect to see them talking about it over a latte.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 12:57 AM | Permalink

Interior Design By Three-Year-Olds


Even the most plaything-crowded toy-storage-facility-with-attached-kitchen (a home) needs some furniture. Sure, you can try eating off of a table you put together from thousands of Legos, but sometimes it’s a little unstable if you’ve got a heavy casserole or a turkey or something. And the seats in Barbie’s airplane just are not comfortable for sleeping night after night, no matter how many little pillows you beg off the flight attendant.
I appreciate a nicely furnished and decorated home as much as the next gal, it’s just that achieving that state seems to take more time and money than I’m interested in spending. At its best, my home décor style can be described as, what’s that decorators’ term?, oh yeah, “unlikely to be totally rejected by a thrift shop.” And we haven’t been in our house that long, so we’re sort of still in a primitive state of arranging things – but really soon we plan to choose our own spots to hang pictures, not just go with whatever holes were already there.
We have made a big, first step; we bought that key item of home decorating these days – a desk chair. It’s nothing fancy, but unlike many other things in the house, it’s unstained, unbroken and not unattractive. So naturally it doesn’t fit in at all. And it’s a bit snooty about the whole thing too. I mean, I know my garden has no respect for me, but now the furniture is mocking also.
I can just imagine what the chair’s thinking: “What did I do to deserve this? Look what I’m surrounded by.”
And then the toy basket pipes up, “Hey, hi there, I know what you mean, I’m from Ikea too.”
“Let me guess,” says the chair, with a sneer, “You’re multifunctional. And I see you’re wicker – and falling apart.”
“Uh yeah,” says the poor basket. “Look, storage and a seat. I thought that was pretty neat. It’s just that the kids kind of poked me. And you know, the top gets thrown around, and, uh…”
“Oh, ignore the basket,” says the couch. “It’s been around for ages. Look at me, I’m young.”
“You’re young? Dear god, what happened to you?” says the chair.
And now the poor couch is abashed. “Oh, well, they were working on teaching the younger kid that you only draw on paper, but it took a while to sink in. And then this problem spring I’ve got, I don’t know, the kids like to jump on me.”
“Yes, well, neither of the adults here are lightweights, I’ve noticed; it could be from them sitting around channel surfing all the time,” that nasty chair says.
“Oh no,” says the basket, still trying to be friendly. “The clicker’s been missing for ages – they’ve looked everywhere but they can’t find it.”
“My god, these people are pathetic,” the chair says. “Am I really doomed to be here?”
And you know, chair, one more word and you just might be out. Because it’s much easier to get rid of one new chair that’s making everything else look bad, than to actually replace all the other junk.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 11:10 PM | Permalink

Toys and Plastics and Additives, Oh My


Maybe you have a neighbor like this: She made her own baby food from organic produce, then moved on to only feeding her kids organic whatever and no sugar, no preservatives, no processed anything. Forget about fast food. Toys are wooden, classics, mainly European, no plastics, no marketed characters. And her kids’ clothing – it’s from small boutiques, all made from organic cotton and hemp starting with the cloth diapers.
The best part about having her as a neighbor is that there’s always something to make fun of – maybe to ease your guilty conscience? – if conversation flags when you’re sitting around with another mother over the plastic-toy- and wrapper-littered table at your local McDonald’s, looking for a lone remaining French fry while your kids play in the enclosed plastic climbing area.
Sure, who doesn’t want to be careful about what your kids are exposed to, but there’s no need to be excessive about things. An action figure now and then can’t hurt, can it? Except, what if your neighbor’s right? Because mainstream, middle-class, childrearing practices – even getting kids to eat their spinach – have taken quite a few knocks lately, and those alt/eco/crunchy parenting techniques are looking more and more like they’re worth the time and trouble.
Toys, of course, are the big problem lately, with safety problems like lead paint and dangerous magnets meaning that millions of toys now have to get dumped over the side of that slow boat from China they came on. And it’s not just those little junkie dollar-store type toys either, which you buy with your fingers crossed, but stuff you thought you could count on – Fisher-Price and Elmo and Barbie, for god’s sake.
Maybe your neighbor objected to the toy junk before on aesthetic (kids need natural materials, not plastic) or ideological (you’re teaching them to consume too much, or to buy into sexist notions) grounds. But now she’s got safety concerns – harder to ignore – on her side.
Plastic too is looking less and less a healthy material to have near kids. Studies seem to have gotten clear enough to make it reasonable to limit exposure.
And let’s not forget about food additives and colorings, which can increase hyperactive behavior, according to a recently released study that “was the first time researchers conclusively and scientifically confirmed a link that had long been suspected by many parents,” as the New York Times reported.
Your crunchy neighbor’s looking wiser and wiser. If scientists ever find a link between childhood vaccines and autism, something some parents believe but which has never been proven, it’s definitely time to switch to an all-organic lentil diet and homespun shirts. An organic clothing store owner interviewed in a Washington Post article says when she first opened her store “people would come in and make fun of it.” Uh, naturally. Now, we’re all looking for her website. (The Post article by the way gives websites for some of those alternative, wooden, Euro-style, hopefully safe toys, in case you’re looking.)
So, OK, maybe the neighbor’s right. Let’s all live alternative LOHAS, lifestyles of health and sustainability, a trend that my Spot-on colleague Jonathan Ansfield reports, is now starting to pop up in China, world center of cheapo toys.
These days, almost anything you can buy for your kids, or any childrearing practice you follow, has its traditional (mid- to late-twentieth century) solution, or its new-old-style alternative. But the crunchy alternatives usually take more time and/or money than the mass-marketed option. Sure, those European wooden train sets are nice, but there’s a reason Chinese-made toys have conquered world markets – their price. (Have you seen some of the toys that come free with kids fast-food meals lately? Or maybe you’re paying for the toys and the food is free. But in any case, there’s some fancy stuff.) For a good old PB&J sandwich, you can get a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly at the local drugstore; it’s the organic almond butter (peanut allergies on the rise!) and sugar-free preserves that take a little more money and effort to find. (Or there’s my favorite time suck: finding and following a non-drug alternative to killing head lice.)
And regulators and lawmakers, as we’ve seen, can’t and/or won’t protect children from everything that’s unhealthy for them (though some try harder than others).
So as middle-class parents can afford to get more cautious about toys and foods and clothes and medicines they give their kids, and as the crunchy alternatives seem to be not just a lifestyle choice but better for kids in some ways, there’s a chance the gap between poor and rich kids’ health and prospects will get even wider. You can see it with breastfeeding, which gives kids a whole range of benefits: there are higher rates of nursing among mothers with higher income and educational levels. Or, in the fact that in poor neighborhoods, there’s less access to fresh food, and more to fast food and junk food.
The toy recall has already hit kids differently. Many middle-class kids are overwhelmed with stuff; taking away some of their toys because they’re dangerous is a shame, but not tragic. But for a child who has just a few toys, that some of those are found to be unsafe – that is a real shame.

Posted by Deborah Klosky at 10:57 PM | Permalink

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