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  1. Recently I was in NYC for work, and as I was walking through the city it became clear English is not the only dominating language. You could hear Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese spoken at shops, and chattering among street vendors in Hindi and Arabic. This is definitely a phenomenon in the United States of America—a country of immigrants. In addition, when I look around, there are many kids nowadays from cross-racial families, like mine. Looking exotic is fun, and being able to comprehend and speak multiple languages is a bonus. In the past generations of immigrants, people abandoned their native tongue or didn't encourage their kids to speak it because the common desire was to learn and to only speak English so they could immerse themselves into the new country quickly. That notion has changed completely in the modern parenting, especially for those whose families have diverse ethnic backgrounds. Linguistics and early childhood education shows a child can learn a seocnd language three times faster before age 7, and pretty much slows down (or becomes difficult) after age 14, compared to an adult. Many of my friends lament that their kids can't speak their ethnic language. The moment their kids started elementary school, they refused to speak other language besides English, unless other immersion learning environments were provided. Otherwise, you are pretty much stuck with learning a language in school, which will never encourage fluency. Which is a pity. Therefore, my takeaways are: 1) The golden learning window is small, better optimize than regret later; 2) Learning a second language stimulates the brain in a different way. (Even if simultaneous translation glasses become available for our kids' generation, the cultural aspect of learning a language will never be replaced by robots!) The following is the language program I've developed for my almost 3-year-old and 8-month-old: English: They will master on their own by living in an English-speaking country. At home, we only focus on reading books (yes, paper ones) every day for 20-40 minutes, by me, by Daddy, or any guests visiting when I have a chance to outsource the task. Mandarin Chinese: We have some advantages on this front, and I am leveraging them as much as possible: a Chinese nanny (who speaks no English); a Taiwanese educational program "Ciao Hu" shipped by my parents from Taiwan every quarter with seasonal toys and a DVD; Mandarin language class every Saturday at Language Stars; one-month winter vacation in Taiwan with my parents once both kids are potty-trained (escaping unbearably cold Chicago is a bonus). Romanian: We also have some advantages here (my husband is Romanian), but due to Daddy's work and travel schedule, we are still trying to improve the learning opportunity: part-time Romanian nanny (who speaks no English); Dino Lingo apps for games, books and video; spending the summer at their grandparents' Transylvania orchard country house, where they'll learn how to milk a cow and how to make Romanian crepes from scratch. Spanish: Look, 1 out of 4 people in the U.S. speak Spanish, so why not? We are doing Spanish circle time at preschool, Urban Child Academy and Language Stars every Sat morning. So, how do my kids do? My 8-month-old takes all in, no complaining. And my almost 3-year-old is totally confused between Spanish and Romanian when she is asked to count to 20 (a natural occurrence, according to linguists). However, she is able to translate for our Chinese nanny to place a food order at Navy Pier during their weekly Children's Museum excursion. The fact is my own four-language journey (Mandarin, English, Japanese and French) started after 7, which is clearly too late, so I am not good at any of them. However, I'm starting to feel it could be mission possible for my kids. Stay tuned.
  2. I remember it being a relatively uneventful Monday afternoon at work when this sobering message from 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman hit my inbox: “According to the Chicago Police Department, at approximately 10:30am today, there was young man shot on the 900 block of West Buena Avenue. The victim was approached by two offenders and was shot in the chest. Police say he was taken immediately to Illinois Masonic Hospital where he is undergoing surgery and remains in critical condition. Chicago Police detectives are working with neighbors and nearby witnesses to try and gather accounts and surveillance footage. Police have stated that the victim was most likely known and targeted by the shooter.” I was horrified. No, I wasn’t lamenting another Chicago shooting that’s made our city the poster child of the gun-violence epidemic in our country. And, no, even though I understand families in the city are burdened by shootings and the threat of gun violence on a daily basis, I admit I wasn’t thinking about the victim or how this act of violence must be affecting his family. My concern as a hyper-vigilant father-to-be was that this was news happening a block from my home. There was no changing the channel and ignoring this shooting. I walk along the 900 block of West Buena Avenue all the time. It’s where one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants is located. It’s also where my then-8-months pregnant wife, Ewelina, and I envisioned we’d be taking our son one day for story time at the Uptown Library. But plans change. Shots fired, shell casings and yellow police tape steps from your home will do that. Before I finished reading the rest of Alderman Cappleman’s email, my thoughts shifted to my pregnant wife and how there was no way we were going to let our first-born child be raised in a neighborhood like this. Where it isn’t even safe to walk around the block on a Monday morning. After forwarding the news to my wife (with the hastily written subject line: “WTF … from Cappleman”), I did what any overprotective father or father-to-be with the ability to move his family would do—check the real estate listings for homes in safer areas of the city. Hell, let’s even give the suburban ads a peak while we’re at it, I told myself. Maybe my wife, who was raised in Paris and has made it abundantly clear on numerous occasions that we will forever be city-dwellers, would finally accept moving to the suburbs (gasp!) after what happened down the street. To give some context on why I reacted the way I did, I was raised on the not-so-dangerous streets of Schaumburg. Where getting my bike stolen in front of the local swimming pool was the biggest danger I faced during my adolescence. When we found out last year we were pregnant, I understood that our son would have a far different experience growing up than I did. At the same time, I never imagined that that experience would be dealing with gun violence. Maybe that’s just me being naïve or not living in the city long enough to know that that’s the sad truth of being a Chicago resident these days. However, as a first-time father who never thought having a child would be possible, I think you tend to overreact to certain things, and you tell yourself you will do anything possible, even uprooting your family on a moment’s notice, to prevent your little one from facing any pain or negative experiences. I guess that’s just faulty thinking, though, because you can’t insulate your child from the realities of the world. I’m glad we didn’t end up moving—although my wife will attest that for a couple days after the shooting I pushed hard to pack up and leave—because I would regret not having our son grow up in Chicago. He won't have a backyard like I did. Instead, he'll be just minutes away from a beautiful lakefront path and many, many parks. He won't just be watching the Cubs on TV when he gets home from school like I did. Instead, he'll be able to walk the 15 minutes down Sheridan and Sheffield and catch the game in person. He probably won't have a pet like I did (sorry, kid, but I'm not cleaning up after pets after 20-plus years with cats and litter boxes in the house). Instead, he'll be able to ride his bike or walk to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Not everything about living in the city is as ideal as spending an afternoon by the lake, in the stands at Wrigley, or at the zoo, as this shooting near our home, and the many others that occur in Chicago every day, give people plenty of reason to leave. But we're not going anywhere with our son. This is our city. This is our neighborhood. This is our home.
  3. If there is one thing I would change about my body it would be how people view it. Because they don't just view it, they feel the need to comment about it. In front of my children. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop talking about bodies, about my body. "Oh my god, you're so skinny!" isn't praise or a helpful observation. It's annoying, unnecessary and not something I want my children to hear on repeat. I actually own a few mirrors. I've seen my reflection and I don't need every other stranger and non-stranger to mention my appearance. I don't need your help in forming an opinion about my size. I especially don't need my children seeing my body through those comments. At the current rate of remarks, my poor children are going to grow up thinking bodies are the most important thing to talk about. "Oh my god, you look so... " STOP. Is that really the first thing you want to say upon seeing me? Is that supposed to be a greeting? How about asking how the kids are doing? You know, these little humans, right here, in front of us, hearing everything you say? Oh, my dear fellow women who also struggle to love their bodies, what makes you think skinniness is a thing to be praised? Do you really want my daughter growing up thinking she needs to walk around seeking public appreciation for her body? My weight is not a badge of pride. It's often a sign a stress. Stress impacts bodies. So does illness and an endless list of other things that are not worthy of praise. Things that are not always in my control. Things that are actually scary and not something I want to talk about, especially if you're not a close friend of mine, and certainly not in the middle of Target. So please, let's find a better way to greet one another and more meaningful things to chat about. I am proud of the things my body can do. It can follow wobbly toddlers and keep them from falling, it can soothe crying babies when I hold them close, it holds a heartbeat that my daughter loves to nuzzle in and listen to. I want our children to see us finding as much comfort and love in our body as they do. It keeps them safe, regulated and calm. That's how they view my body and that's the view I want to have reflected back to me every day. It's what I choose to see. I don't need you interrupting that.
  4. Article
    You fear viruses, kidnapping, accidents, and other parenting woes. I fear the day my sweet baby boy becomes a Black man. I fear the world that doesn't value his life. The world that lives in denial, claiming all lives matter to them. When I think about the day my son will drive a car and be stopped by the police, I shudder in fear. I wonder, How I can protect him, a camera in his car? An alert that will dial me immediately and send me his location if he gets pulled over? I will teach him to respect police, be polite, keep his mouth shut, stay alive, but I know that without real change, it won't be enough. He will have to learn the painful lesson that he can't act the same as his white friends and his own white parents, that he doesn't have the same freedoms as them. He can't ask why he is being pulled over, he can't quote his rights. He must stay painfully silent and compliant or risk death. I will try to teach him to strive for perfection, that small infractions will be punishable by death, but it won't be enough. The videos confirm, it won't be enough. My small voice feels powerless to control how the world chooses to see him, but still I advocate endlessly. I fight for a world that won't see my sweet, snuggly, special-needs boy as a threat. All of the horrific murders play over and over in my mind. I picture my son's face. I have nightmares of his body broken, bloody, left to soak in the asphalt because he has to live in a world that doesn't value him. I am afraid for these Black children entrusted to my care, their birth families, my Black friends. I am just afraid. I see murder after murder and lay awake in hopeless despair. I want the rest of my community, my family, my friends to grieve with me, carry the sadness. A few do, but most won't. Their silence speaks volumes. They claim to love these children, yet they are unwilling to speak up for them. My feelings as a white woman parenting Black children are insignificant in comparison to Black parents who have carried this trauma, this fear for centuries longer than I have, who not only fear for the safety of their children, but also for themselves, because being killed in front of their children in broad daylight and leaving them orphaned is a very real threat. While I am outraged and scared, it's nothing like what Black families have lived through and have felt for hundreds of years. They are the true experts on this topic, but in honor of raising awareness and giving them a break to process and grieve recent events, I share my experience. Fellow parents, this isn't the time to argue or point blame, it is the time to cry for justice and safety together. This is a time to rally together and say enough is enough. It's time to listen to the Black voices who have cried out in fear and oppression, respect them, grieve with them, not blame them for the violence against them. I hope to add advocates to the ranks in my community. Don't let it be the death of my son to be the thing that finally wakes you up, because let's face it, if nothing changes my son could be shot by the police playing alone in a park in broad daylight. From one parent to another, please, join the movement, fight injustice, advocate for a world where Black lives matter.
  5. With my British upbringing, I was surrounded by traditional etiquette. My sister and I were taught to listen without interrupting, learned how to eat with a cake fork, and always wrote formal thank-you notes. In today’s busy, digital work it’s easy to forgo the handwritten approach and even to forget to show appreciation altogether. Now a mother myself, I want to be sure to teach my daughters, aged 2½ and 1 year, the value of being thankful. Like many parents, we’re anxious that abundance doesn’t manifest itself into entitlement, but are instead hoping to foster feelings of gratitude. [Related: You can make eating out with your kids actually enjoyable] Writing thank-you notes. We planted the seeds of gratitude early on, writing thank you notes on our first baby’s behalf. Once she began to hold a crayon by herself I seized upon the opportunity to get her “signature” on my handwritten notes. Now that she’s a fully fledged toddler she’s taken ownership of these little cards. She will spend a long time focusing on “writing” her name and drawing the latest favored doodle. I still add the language, but I also talk to her about the fact that we’re saying thank you for something. Saying thank you. Of course creating a culture of thanks does not only mean writing note cards. Saying the words is also incredibly important. “Tank-coo” became a well-used phrase early on in our eldest daughter’s world as we offered her many opportunities to “use her nice manners” — to babysitters for fun activities and play, to grocery store staff for packing our bags, and to waiters for bringing us food. Performing acts of kindness can also contribute towards creating a culture of thanks. It’s easy to purchase a gift and just hand it over, but we like to include our girls in this whole process. Our oldest has helped to make shortbread for her teachers at Valentine’s Day, chosen donuts to take on play dates, selected flowers for family friends, and toted gift bags around the holidays. [Related: Make kindness a daily act with your kids] Making donations. Above all, creating a culture of thanks means learning to be thankful for what you have and remembering those that are less fortunate. Although this concept is an alien one at the moment, I do believe that now is the time to start instilling a thankful way of life. When school asks for donations to their book drive or toys around the holidays, our daughter is used to adding her chosen item to the pile with no protest. Being thankful for each day. As a working mom with two little ones, it’s easy to subscribe to the belief that there just isn’t enough time — there isn’t. However, I truly believe that there’s always time to say thank you; you just need to pause and reflect. Bedtime is a good time to recap the day with your family, to remind yourself — and teach your children — just how lucky you all are.
  6. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its rules for screen time for children to meet more modern times. Much has changed since I had my first child in 2007, back when iPhones had just come out and iPads did not exist. Establishing healthy screen time boundaries has been a priority for me from the beginning. As a health educator, I have read up on the studies about too much screen time. It can lead to attention problems, sleep disorders and being overweight. My goal is to raise emotionally, intellectually and physically healthy children. While our bodies continue to get acclimated to our advancing technological times, setting healthy boundaries is key for their physical growth and emotional well-being. A few tried-and-true guidelines: No screen time while dining out or at the dinner table No iPhones at restaurants? YES! Remember: We are made for relationships, and having our kids learn the art of conversing starts by watching us. Engaging in lighthearted conversations while dining out is, unfortunately, a learned skill-set these days. Lead by example: put your phone away and converse. Each night at dinner, I ask my kids to share the peak and the pit of their day. By the time we are all done sharing, we have finished our meal and had a wonderful conversation. Schedule unstructured playtime It stimulates creativity and fosters imagination. No screen time two hours before bedtime There is plenty of evidence that blue light, emitted by smartphones, tablets, laptops, and many other electronic devices, is impacting on the quantity and quality of the sleep we are getting. Getting blue light naturally from the sun is important; it helps us to stay awake. However, blue light that comes from screens tells our brains that it isn’t time to sleep. This disrupts our pineal gland from producing melatonin. Melatonin is the most important factor and plays an important role in our metabolism and our keeping our immune system healthy. This is true for all ages, but more important for our young children, and here’s why: One of the important hormones that is released during the deepest stages of sleep is Human Growth Hormone (HGH). This is essential for our body to heal, recover, grow and to perform well in athletics. Disconnect to reconnect If you are giving into your child for more screen time, ask yourself, Is it really for my sanity? Or is it to keep my child quiet? Saying no will empower them to think of something else to do. If not, show them another option. Building, playing dolls and coloring are all useful ways to grow their minds and learn other fundamental skills. Related articles: I feel no guilt about my kids' screen time How unplugging made me a happier parent
  7. More than 30 percent of children in the United States play with mobile devices while still in diapers. You may have seen older news reports in which the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children under two shouldn’t have any screen time, and older children and teens should be limited to no more than two hours of screen time a day. Just months ago, the AAP changed what it considers its “outdated” policies. I’ve never been guilt-ridden over screen time. I’ve always known that my toddler’s screen time can lead to some amazing personal discoveries. Also, while I know I can parent, I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m not one to do flashcards with my kids. Since this is the case, I see no problem in their using a screen (under my supervision) to learn about animals, colors, and other basic concepts. The screen time doesn’t just help my kids, but me as well. I am a person, darnit! I have needs. If some screen time gives me 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, my kids have a happier and calmer mommy. Sure, there’s risk to it, and it can be overdone. Like anything else, it’s all about balance. My kids would live on FaceTime, Xbox and Instagram if I allowed it. But because we lead balanced lives, they get straight As in school, sleep like rockstars and aren’t anti-social zombies. [Related: For young kids, technology should be like ice cream: a sometimes food] Based on my experience, a few tips on how to make the smartest screen choices for your toddler: Be choosy about content. Let your toddler watch a show that is relevant to his age and learning level, but there’s no need to dumb it down. Top-rated apps like Super Why ABC Adventures and Peekaboo Barn, electronic picture books, or family videos on your phone are always good choices. Be aware of when your child is having screen time, and make sure you balance it with free play and time with the family. Be proactive in terms of how the screen time impacts your child. The screen time itself may spark new interests or necessitate more parent-time, depending on who your toddler is. Be smart about when you allow screen time. We use screen time when the kids wake up and go to bed as part of their routine, allowing them to wake up slowly and mellow out easily. Yes, it’s a crutch — but an effective one. I’ll allow 15 minutes of screen time for instant Zen every time. Be involved in your child’s screen time. Yes, it can be mind numbing talking about Minecraft, but it means a lot for her to take you into her world and interests. Give her interests some validation while likely giving you some much needed new conversation topics. Be firm when enforcing limits. Tell your children what goes and stick to it. It’s just like anything else in parenting: You’ve got to set boundaries and be consistent so your kids know what to expect. Parents need to remember that while technology keeps changing, parenting has not. Life balance is important and everything in moderation, so keep an eye on how much time your children are spending in front of a screen, just as you want to keep an eye on how much they’re doing something else. Related articles: Limit screen time for a happier, healthier kid How unplugging made me a happier parent
  8. You know that commercial where the guy is like, "I'm never getting married." He gets married. Then he says to his wife, "We're never having kids." And then they have kids. And then he says, "We're never moving to the suburbs." And they obviously move to the suburbs. Yeah, that was kinda me. Not so much the marriage and kids part, but I definitely thought I'd never move to the suburbs. ***Cue all the suburbanites laughing at me in unison.*** My husband and I were the couple that loved living in the city and thought we would stay there even after we had kids. And then we actually had kids. And I realized the other day (while I was sitting in my single family home on a tree lined suburban street, without a single graffiti mark in sight) that I've officially been a suburbanite for six months. I think that qualifies me as an expert on both city and suburban living, right? Okay, maybe not, but I'm still going to talk about the pros and cons of city versus suburban living. Pro: The so-very-obvious SPACE. More room for your kids to play and more space for aaaallll the stuff that babies come with. When we lived in our two-bedroom condo we had to do a football-player shimmy, one-two step, roll-to-the-side maneuver to get through the front door with our mammoth stroller in the way. I don't miss that. However, more space means more money spent on furniture and more room to collect knick-knacks. Plus, your parents will now want to give you back everything they've been storing for you in their basement. Con: Food. This is one thing I really miss about the city. World-class dining within steps of where you live. I still haven't found a restaurant I love eating at in the suburbs. 😞 Pro: Backyard. This one is especially great when you have a dog. I always enjoyed walking my dog in the city, but after my daughter was born, what was I supposed to do when the dog is about to make a no-no on the carpet but the baby is taking a nap? Con: Blandness. One of the things you don't realize you'll miss until you don't have it anymore is the people, noise and vibrancy of city life. I wish that my daughter could grow up in a place where there's diversity and culture, but most suburbs don't quite have that. Pro: Garage parking. If you live in the city, you're lucky if you have one parking spot, but in a two-car household, it's likely that one of you is parking on the street. Garage parking means no more driving around looking for a spot, shoveling your car out of snowmageddon, and no more running in the rain to your car. But even more than that, it means no schlepping a stroller, carseat, diaper bag and groceries through two doors, an elevator and another two doors (or in some cases, two flights of stairs). If that's not #winning, I don't know what is!

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