Musings About Life... After Birth


Posted by Chelsea on August 23, 2011

I just got back from a wonderful family vacation in Cape Cod, MA. We hung by the beach and pond, ate lobsters like it was going out of style and hung out with all of my husband's family, who we see less frequently than we'd all like, as we're spaced out all over the East Coast. Kinda bummed to be back because it was so much fun, and now I'm zooming around trying to get the kids ready to go back to school. Guess this means summer is over. Boooooooooo.

As awesome as the trip was, what was not so awesome were the major-league breakouts I experienced while there (likely the cause of the copious amounts of sunscreen with which I slathered myself - sunburn/skin cancer or breakouts: pick your evil). I didn't bring any good stuff with me to combat acne, but when I got home, i ran for my Let Me Clarify, a refinining gel treatment from mybody. 


Let Me Clarify Refinining Gel, $56.50 at doctors' offices nationwide


Y'all, this stuff works miracles. Its gentle, so it won't leave your skin all red and raw (and its safe to use while pregnant), yet it works like a champ, so you'll be clear of pesky blemishes in no time. After a couple of days of use, my skin is zit-free and glowing again. LOVE.

The good folks at mybody are offering one for us to give away, so if you've got some clearing up to do, let us know by posting a comment here, sending us a tweet or posting on our facebook page. We'll select one winner next week!

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Posted by Janna on August 20, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, the next JASON ELAM!!!

One of my favorite pregnancy memories is the sensation created by fetal movement in the latter stages. As my pregnancy progressed, I was amazed by how my son’s movements changed from these tiny little flutters to strong kicks. They were particularly pronounced in the evenings, and I can remember just placing my hands on either side of my growing belly and thanking my baby for the reassurance his motions provided. Not to get all “out there” or whatever, but there was definitely this sort of cosmic bliss in those experiences. I’m sure a lot of you momma’s know what I mean. It is just indescribable, and there’s nothing else I can think of that comes close to being similar.

I was pregnant during football season, and my favorite piece of maternity wear was a fitted Atlanta Falcons tee. I stretched it over my pregnant self every week when the Falcons played, certain that I was doing my part to create another Dirty Birds fan. Over the course of the NFL season, my growing baby began to feel less like a butterfly and more like a football player. As such I began daydreaming about him growing up to be a kicker for my beloved Falcons. I know that football is a brutal sport – but it is AWESOME! And anyway, I figure that a kicker has the best odds of escaping each game without serious injury.

I was so excited about this idea, that I began doing “research.” I asked the students in my classes who were football players if there was anything I could do to help my son obtain the skills needed to become a kicker. Their advice was that he should definitely play soccer – several of them felt like that was even more important to a kicker’s skill set than football. I went home and immediately began searching online to find out how old a kid has to be in order to sign up for soccer.

Now my boy is no longer in utero and as football season gets ready to take off, you can bet that my baby will be decked from head to toe in Falcons gear on each and every game day.

In a few short years, I guess we will hit the soccer fields… and the football fields shortly thereafter. And it’s gonna be awesome, right?

Unless he hates it. Unless he begs me not to make him play. Unless he throws a tantrum on the way to every practice. Then what?

I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about the whole “should kids be forced to play a sport” debate. Most seem to lean towards yes. Interestingly, most are also the offspring of parents that did not force their children to play a sport.

That got me thinking. I did a little Googling, and you know what? It seems that our parents were much more likely to have been required to play a sport (or an instrument, or take ballet, or whatever) than we were, regardless of their level of interest. It kinda makes you wonder if this isn’t some sort of parenting backlash cycle. Odd.

I guess, though, the real question here is which school of thought is the better school of thought? We know that sports offer all sorts of potential benefits for children, such as improved self-confidence, discipline, and an affinity for teamwork. However, most every sport also carries the risk of injury (even golf – read this if you don’t believe me). And when you start talking about football (or lacrosse, hockey, or rugby), the risk of injury increases and the types of injuries that can occur are downright scary. I mean, have you read any of the recent articles about sports-related concussions? It seems that they can have some rather devastating consequences, especially for young people.

Luckily, I’ve a few more years to sort out my own stance on this issue. For now, I still plan to enroll Tommy in soccer and football as soon as he is old enough. If he doesn’t like either of those, I guess my course of action will be to help him find a sport that he does enjoy and encourage him in that direction. Can’t promise I will be happy about that though, because I reallyreallyreallyreallyreallyreallyREALLY want him to play for the Falcons!


Posted by Colleen on August 17, 2011

I’m flying to Chicago tonight with my three kids, sans husband. Somewhere today are the individuals who will be on the same flight as us. They’re going about their business, peacefully unaware of the potential hell awaiting them. Of course, my toddler and infant may sleep like angels (ahem, Benadryl) while my Tween is immersed in her Dsi (with ear buds, natch). It may be a non-issue and the other passengers may never even know we're there. But I like to play a game called “Worse Case Scenario.” It’s pretty self-explanatory. I imagine the worst-case scenario, not out of morbidity, but for two reasons. First, in my superstitious English-major’s understanding of probabilities, I imagine that this reduces the chances of it actually happening. To say, “I bet on my way to the grocery store I’m going to get struck by lightning” and then actually have it happen? Crazytown…that would make me psychic. Which I’m not, or I probably wouldn’t have majored in English. (Kidding.)

Secondly, once I’ve imagined the worst case scenario, whatever happens, even if it’s pretty bad, seems tame in comparison. (I have a pretty vivid imagination.) Yesterday I had a pretty clear idea of the worst case scenario when the Infant, the Toddler and I (oh, my) all were struck with a 24-hour stomach virus.

The cons: Yuck. Yuck, yuck. The laundry. Yuck. Feeling like crap and crashing on the couch when I needed to be packing.

The pros: I think I lost five pounds, which is good, because since the bachelorette party I’ve decided that brownies are a food group. My lovely bridesmaid’s dress is hanging in a closet in Chicago, and I’m a little skeered to try the bad boy on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…thank God for Spanx.

Luckily, this virus was one that stuck to a strict schedule, and by this morning it seems to have moved on, leaving us all a bit weak but less…fluid. Halle.freaking.lujah. This? Along with the Spanx proves that God loves me.

So worst case scenario: Three kids on a plane, screaming, diapers, vomit, diarrhea, while sick to my stomach myself. And in my mind, this beats firey inferno of a crash.

We’re gonna be golden.

But just in case, here’s how I’ve prepared for a 1.5 hour flight solo with three kiddos:

  • The Husband is getting a gate pass so he can help get us through security, so I'm not having to convince my toddler to cooperate with the body scan machine while holding an infant and trying to collapse a stroller. All while trying to explain the the uniformed officer that unless it causes yesterday's reaction in the baby's stomach,  the contents of her bottle aren't explosive. 
  • The Infant and The Toddler are going in a double umbrella stroller by McLaren. This product? Up there with the Spanx.
  • Packing was done with great efficiency and deliberation. We’re going to do some laundry while in Chicago, so I didn’t pack a full week’s worth of clothes. Since I’m going to be pushing the stroller, I packed bags I can carry on my shoulder, and  a suitcase with wheels that my Tween can help me with. Minimal luggage means minimal juggling. 
  • Snacks. This will be my first time bringing snacks through security so we’ll see how it goes, but I’ve heard it’s pretty simple as long as you declare them. When going anywhere with kids, I've learned that food paves the way to a peaceful experience. Doctors have lollipops at the checkout for a reason. 
  • Packing said bottle. I’m nursing but occasionally supplement with formula, especially now that baby's appetite is through the roof. The logistics of popping my boob out on the plane without flashing the other passengers intimidated me, although they may need a mercy flash. I have my nursing wrap packed in case, but the bottle helps covers my bases. (Pun intended.)
  • Activities. In the diaper bag I have a plethora of new funsies…cheap little activities I’ll bust out in case of emergency. You know, if the Benadryl lets me down.
  • Car seats at the destination. Rather than dealing with checking car seats and having to strap them into the car, my aunt and uncle borrowed some and are going to have them there and ready to roll when they pick us up. Whew.


The Land of Nod has a fabulous new blog, Honest to Nod, that has great ideas for moms. They published a post on making favors for the surrounding passengers when you travel with kiddos…you know, just to smooth the way. Brilliant. Did I have time to do this? Please. I haven’t even packed my toothbrush yet.

Wish me luck. How about y’all? Any tips for flying with small people?

Tags chicago, wedding, travel, flying, traveling with kids


Posted by Colleen on August 15, 2011

Although it’s taken me several weeks to recover, the bachelorette trip I went on in Chicago was worth mentioning. (I must note that it was more sleep deprivation and less alcohol I was recovering from. If I go to bed anytime after 11 my wake cycle suffers. I? Am a toddler.)

The trip was to celebrate my cousin Katie, a special lady who’s getting married this upcoming Saturday. I hadn’t met any of her friends before the party, but had a blast getting to know them all. By the time the weekend was wrapping up we were all fast friends, and I’m looking forward to seeing them this weekend.

In planning the trip, I aimed for a fun but adult approach to the weekend. (Read: nothing phallic.) I would have done anything to make the weekend what Kate wanted, but luckily she was on-board with a classier approach.

Part of the fun of a bachelorette trip is always sweeping through the city en masse, feeling like the world is your party and everyone else was invited to celebrate. To achieve this, it’s important to dress up. Katie’s wedding is going to have an elegant, vintage vibe, and I wanted to tie into that. We requested that the guests all wear black, with the bride-to-be in white. (Throughout the night, we had multiple people ask which of us was the bride. This amused me.) Here are some of us right before the limo picked us up.

The rest of our party met us downtown. The dog stayed home, along with Katie's dog daughter Ramona, who guarded the bow bouquet. (Isn't Ramona the perfect name for a pug?)


I love the fascinator trend, but didn’t see any that were exactly what I wanted, so I made one for each of the guests. (They were simple…hot glue all the way.) We gave these, along with masses of white beads, to each of the guests. Simple, elegant, cheesy. Check.

For Katie I made a birdcage veil. This was fairly simple. I would encourage anyone to at least attempt to do it themselves, but be prepared for it to take several attempts to get it just right. Add a skinny feather boa, and Katie looked amazing. Just getting dressed up and hitting the city with this lovely group of women would have been a fun enough experience.


We wanted to do something fun and memorable during our event other than dancing (although that came later, make no mistake). Kate has some education from the Art Institute under her belt, so after a lot of fun brainstorming (Kentucky Derby? Belly Dancing lessons?) we opted for a private painting class at Bottles and Bottega in Lakeview.

The venue was beautiful…lots of windows so you could see the city. The staff was amazing…the owners worked with me and another bridesmaid (in Georgia and DC, respectively) to plan the event and the owners, Stephanie and Nancy, couldn’t have been more helpful. They host regular events, not just private parties, so if you’re in the market for a fun date night in Chicago (with you SO or your girlfriends), this would be a great place to do it.

We catered in food and brought our own wine. We each painted the same picture, although our results were all widely different. (Katie’s was gorgeous and I schemed to switch ours out, but was foiled in my short career in art thievery.)

Here’s the lot of us…aren’t we lovely?

The rest of the evening involved more traditional activities, such as cramming too many girls in a cab. We read that Snoop Dogg was in Chicago that weekend and attempted, through a iPhone/Twitter/Facbook bomb, to get him to join us in our shenanigans, but he was a no-show. In hindsight, I think perhaps that was for the best.

A visit to a Sidetracks, a gay bar in Boystown, was next. This bar was clean and lovely, and had amazing Arnold Palmers…for only $5 a pop.

A note on gay bars on bachelorette trips: I recommend them highly if you’re interested in avoiding too much attention and focusing on your friends, as we were. The other patrons were friendly but respectful. We did chat with one couple that made me laugh…the blonde gentleman introduced me to his Italian boyfriend and gushed, “He’s from Italy. He knows the Pope.” Which makes absolutely logical sense. Since I’m an American and by the same logic should be acquainted with Michelle Obama. (Should I feel slighted we have yet to have dinner?)

The night concluded with a trip to Hangee Uppee, a dirty, loud, overcrowded bar that played every song you ever forgot you loved. They didn’t serve white wine, my shoes stuck to the floor, and around midnight as we sang “Love Shack,” (Tiiiiin Roof! Rusted.) I realized I was quite ready to go. Can you tell?

Katie danced on the small stage, artfully avoiding the advances of every drunk male willing to offer his services for her last hurrah. However, two hilarious guys joined Katie for an impromtu air band with Katie on bongos, a trombone, and a guitar. This performance will remain one of my favorite memories. Unfortunately the camera batteries died at this point, so I don’t have any pictures to share.

Great memories were made, and I’m looking forward to the wedding this weekend…although I’m traveling up early with the three kiddos so The Husband can finish the work week, so expect a whole other post on that.

Tags chicago, bachelorette party


Posted by Janna on August 13, 2011

Today, our family made a construction paper *stained glass window* together. It was super easy and really fun, too!

Now, don't worry if you are not an artistically inclined individual. I certainly am not, but this is an easy little project that anyone can do. Seriously.

Here's what you need:

  • Pair of scissors
  • 4 or 5 pieces of colored construction paper (we used purple, green, blue, yellow & red)

  • 1 piece of white construction paper (I was out of white, so we used tan)
  • Glue stick

  • Masking tape (optional)
  • Wipes for cleanup

Before you get your kid involved, grab the scissors and colored pieces of paper. Cut the paper into various shapes, like this:

Once the shapes are ready, you can put the scissors away.

Gather the colored paper shapes and remaining materials and head with your child to a kid-sized table or his high chair.

Place the white paper on the table (you might want to secure the paper in place with masking tape).

Show the colored paper shapes to your child. Choose a shape and demonstrate how to glue it down on the paper. Then, invite your child to select a shape. "Tommy, which shape would you like to use now?"

Once your child selects a shape, be sure to point out the color. "Very nice, Tommy. You chose a blue shape."

Now, help him apply glue to the back of it. Then encourage him to find a spot on the paper for the shape. "Tommy, where would you like this blue shape to go?"

When he indicates a spot, help him place the shape on the paper.

Repeat this process for as long as it holds your tot's attention. For my boy, it lasted about fifteen minutes. Then pick up your child's finished work and lay it flat to dry. If you have any shapes left over, you might want to store those to use for another project.

Once you are finished with all that, use the baby wipes for clean up. I know that this is probably stating the obvious, but I am mentioning it because my husband Andrew has turned it into a little game. As a result, our Tommy likes to help wipe down his table and high chair. When Daddy cleans the tabletop he always lets Tommy take a turn and sings "Clean! Clean! Clean!" Tommy adores it and sometimes he sings along, too.

Once the glue is dry, the only thing left to do is to write your kid's name and the date on the project and display it on the fridge. Here is Tommy's *stained glass window* from today:

What do you guys think? Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this project? What about some other art ideas for tots? Please share!


Posted by Chelsea on August 08, 2011

When it comes to celebrities, I am most opinionated. Obviously, I know them all super-well, so I clearly have all sorts of gounds on which to form said opinions. I mean, doesn't three years of Us Weekly subscriber status offer one the right to judge? Um, I think so.....

Regarding Jessica Alba, I have never been a fan. I find her pretty and all, but my distaste for her comes from the fact that I think she's a really crappy actress who has been in a bunch of really crappy movies and therefore I think she's not so deserving of the fame she's earned. Sorry, Jess.  That's just how I feel.

When I saw Jessica on the cover of the September Lucky magazine, I groaned. She's already not my fave, and there she is, looking not one ounce pregnant despite getting ready to give birth any day now, with the cover touting that she'll share her thoughts "on nudity, hating diets and her secret splurges." Gag all around. Imagine my surprise, then, when I read the story inside and found her comments about losing baby weight (in my opinion, one of the all-time worst task EVER) refreshing, honest and just flat-out awesome. Reading what she said made me want to literally cheer out loud, and I'm not being hyperbolic. Tell me you don't love what she says:

On her post-baby shape-up plans: "I have a hard time with portion control, so I have 1,200-calorie meals delivered. But I also work out, so basically I'm starving  - it sucks." 

Seriously, thank, you, Jessica, for admitting that the way celebrities drop their baby weight in record time is to a) pay lots of money for someone else to make them portion-controlled meals and ultimately, b) work out so much that they literally starve themselves. And, naturally, that that particular course of action sucks. Of course that's what they do, because there is NO OTHER WAY to lose 35 pounds in a freaking month. At all. I just loved hearing someone admit it and not be all, "I just have really good genes," or, "I did a lot of pilates when I was pregnant." Please.

On working out: "Working out every day for even just 45 minutes is good for my mental state. But getting dressed and actually doing it is the worst. It's hard to get motivated...In the gym, I have like five things to distract me "TV, iPod, magazines. Workout partners are good, too, so you can chat and not just drown in your own misery. Sorry, does that sound bad? I just hate working out."

Again, Jessica, I am loving your honesty here. i know the "I hate working out" statement isn't original or particularly Earth-shattering, but again, I love that she freely admits that working out makes her miserable and that essentially, she'd rather be sitting on the sofa watching the Real Housewives than on the treadmill. I feel that way, and I love hearing that someone else  - especially someone who looks like her - admit that they have to force themselves to work out and that they don't just "loooove the endorphins!!!!" it provides them.  A celebrity actually being real  - especially about this kind of thing - just makes me happy. 


Jessica, I heart you. 


In light of Jessica's comments, I have now decided that I officially love her and will no longer diss or avoid reading stories about her. I will not, however, go and see "Spy Kids 14" or whatever the heck her next movie will be. Sorry, but I still do have some standards. 

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Posted by Colleen on August 08, 2011

I have a confession to make.

I use disposable diapers. (Go ahead. Gasp. Hater.)

Yeah. I feel pretty guilty, knowing that my most enduring legacy won’t be my children, but instead the products of keeping my childrens’ prolific behinds clean. I know that many moms, like the super-cool-mom-I-think-im-friends-with-but-forget-ive-never-really-met Sherry at Young House Love, have used cloth diapers, and I think this is amazing and admirable.

I swear I thought about doing the same. I really did. I just knew I couldn’t hang. Hosing “solids” off of soiled nappies? Keeping a bucket of bleach around to soak said nappies in? Egads. I have a hard enough time keeping my house sanitary as it is. Add in buckets of marinating fecal matter and I’d be one rough week away from inspiring a bad Lifetime Movie.

In what I can only think is some version of the universe giving me the cosmic finger, two of the disposable diapers I opted for over saving the earth somehow got thrown in the washing machine today. Naturally I didn’t realize this until after the cycle had run all.the.way.through.

In case you’ve never had the pleasure of duplicating this particularly messy science experiment, let me tell you what happens when you soak two high absorbency diapers in gallons of hot water and then spin them around at NASA-inspired speeds. What happens is they absorb until their little hearts simply can’t absorb anymore. And then they explode.

The resulting carnage takes the form of a bazillion tiny beads of sticky silicon* yuckiness that cling to wet clothes, skin, and metal appliances. The stuff gets everwhere.

I’m sure there are plenty of moms (Sherry?) who would know how to handle this situation and have it cleaned up in no time. I’m not one of them. But we here at The Momtourage are all about information sharing, so I'm going to share my own mature step-by-step reaction to this sticky situation:

  • Curse loudly. Squeeze in as many PG- and R-rated words as possible before your children, who came flying to investigate the second you started screeching, are within earshot.
  • Slap wildly at your hands until you realize that you are not, in fact, being attacked by crazy spiderwebs THATARESMARTANDHAVESUPERPOWERSANDGOINGTOTAKEOVERTHEPLANET.
  • Blush when you turn to see your concerned children, who apparently think you’re dying.
  • Smile and suggest they help themselves to a cookie, ensuring their immediate vacation of the laundry room.
  • Shake one of the silicone-encrusted shirts. Watch in awe as the shimmery beads rise in the air, creating an almost pretty effect…before landing all over the next load of laundry.
  • Curse again.
  • Consider the possibility of using duct tape to remove said silicone.
  • Realize that there is at least one situation in which duct tape will not be of any help whatsoever.
  • Consider calling Sherry.
  • Consider calling Google.
  • Curse again. Kick the front of washing machine for emphasis.
  • Curse again, this time because you’ve hurt your toe.
  • Remove laundry from washing machine and throw it into a basket.
  • Using paper towels, wipe silicone from the inside of the machine. As it’s invisible and is known to be invincible, wonder if you will be finding little gel beads on your clean clothes for the rest of the machine’s lifespan. Or yours.
  • Stare blankly at semi-clean-but-gel-covered laundry. Stupid laundry.
  • Stick basket on back porch.
  • Channel your inner Scarlet O’Hara and decide to deal with the mess tomorrow.

Ever the optimist, I am very grateful to acknowledge that the diapers were, even before the spin cycle, clean.

My toddler had corn yesterday.

And we all have our limits as to what we can handle.

*I’m sure it’s not really silicone inside the diapers. Or maybe it is. Whatever. But for the sake of this story, let’s just agree it is, kthanks.

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Posted by Chelsea on August 02, 2011

Who's been enjoying this lovely summer weather? Hot, sticky and humid? Whee!!!!! Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

As if just plain 'ol enduring the heat wasn't rough enough, this grossness wreaks havoc on your hair, no? Don't know what kind of locks you're rockin', but my curly mane transforms into one big 'fro in this weather unless I use my trusty John Frieda Frizz-Ease products - namely, the Smooth Start Repairing Shampoo & Conditioner and the Frizz-Ease Original Strength Serum. I swear, this stuff is miraculous - so much so that random people stop me in the CVS and stuff to ask me how I get my curls to look so smooth and pretty. Swear!

If you'd like to enjoy the near-religious experience that these products offer, you're in luck! We're giving away one full-size set of all three products to one lucky winner! Here's how you can receive all sorts of  chances to win:

1) Become a Follower of The Momtourage Blog on Facebook (this is easy - just click the little blue Facebook button over near the top right-hand side of the page!). If you're already a follower, you're already entered!

Here's how you can earn additional chances after you become a fan on Facebook (or if you are already a fan):

2) Subscribe to the Momtourage mailing list  - in the light green box at the top, right-hand side  of the page here! In doing so, you'll be the first to know about special promotions, discounts and major league giveaways!

3) Follow us on Twitter: @themomtourageblog or, click on the little blue twitter "t" button over near the top right-hand side of the page

4)  Write about and link to this giveaway on your OWN blog! This will be worth THREE entries since it takes a little extra effort!

Good luck! We'll announce the winner next Monday!

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Posted by Janna on August 02, 2011

A couple of nights ago, the mister and I were watching one of our favorite television programs for grown-ups (I’m pretty sure it was True Blood). Our 16-month-old was in his play area, not watching but apparently listening. One of the characters dropped an F-bomb, which is not unusual for this show. All of a sudden, my angelic baby boy jumped up and yelled “FUH! Fuhfuhfuhfuhfuhfuhfuhfuh!!!” Oh, crap.

Obviously, we need to be more careful. Our son is definitely becoming more aware of what is going on around him (on television or otherwise) with each passing day. Since it is clearly time to start monitoring what’s on television when he is watching (or within earshot), I have started checking out some of the programming available for his age group. I know he shouldn’t watch too much television, but he does enjoy it, so I let him watch a couple of shows each day.

My other super swell sister-in-law (both of my sisters-in-law are awesome, but here I am referring to the one who does not also write for this blog) introduced me to the coolest program. It is called Ni-Hao, Kai-Lan and it’s part of Nick Jr.’s lineup.

Image courtesy of

On each show, Kai-Lan and her friends are typically working on some sort of “project,” such as planning a party. While the characters are working together, something occurs to cause one of the characters to become frustrated, angry, sad or afraid. When this happens, Kai-Lan and the gang try to figure out what is wrong and then help their friend deal with the problem in a positive way.

I think these lessons about feelings and how to handle them are so important for young children. I think that they are probably more important than learning to count – at least for my son’s age group. I can remember being little and feeling frustrated and adults telling me “It isn’t nice to be angry. Be a sweet girl.” That was so not helpful, because in addition to being mad, I also felt like I was being a bad girl because of something I really hadn’t learned to control. I can also remember going to an amusement park for the first time and being too frightened to ride a rollercoaster. I got so nervous that I was teary-eyed. I was told that I was “being silly” and I should just “get over it” because I was keeping the others from having fun. Again, not helpful. It just added shame to the fear I was already feeling.

Yuck, right? But seriously, I think it is very easy to fall short when addressing behavior and emotions with a child. As a teacher, I know I have screwed that up on many occasions. Telling a kid to “knock it off” or to “get over it” really does not work that often. However, I was actually able to help a student make a positive change to his or her behavior those times when I did take a moment to talk to the student to find out how he or she was feeling (and how that feeling led to whatever behavior that he or she was exhibiting). It definitely takes effort to help a kid understand that anger, boredom, fear, frustration, etc., are okay to experience. And it takes even more to help them find good ways to express those feelings. But that extra effort is effective.

I really want to do that for my child. I know I will have to discipline him once he is old enough to choose to misbehave, but I hope I will always do it with love instead of vexation. And, following little Kai-Lan's example, I hope when he does act out because he is frustrated or sad or bored that I will always be willing help him find a better way of expressing those feelings rather than just telling him to “be a nice boy.”


Posted by Janna on July 30, 2011

What's the worst thing a mom can hear from her middle schooler at ten o'clock at night? How about "Mom, I think I left my history study guide at school. Oh, and the test is tomorrow."

What can be done? Nothing, really. I mean, I guess you *could* stay up until midnight hunting relevant information on Google and then help your kid cram for a test with facts that may or may not be in line with that damned study guide...but at this point, there's truly not much you can do other than anticipate a really crappy tomorrow. If you've had any dealings with tweenagers, either as a teacher or a parent, then you know that this type of thing is not unusual for many of them.

I teach middle schoolers. Honestly, I think they rock. I also think that most of them need serious help with organization. I cannot tell you how many brilliant kids I have seen through the years who have grades that are in the toilet before the end of the first grading period because they can't keep their sh*t together. And seriously, I don't know who to feel more sorry for: those grim-faced kiddos or their frustrated parents.

The thing is, most of these kids are able to achieve grades that truly reflect their abilities when just a few simple tools and strategies are put into place. Knowing that, it seems to me that a great time to think about organization is before the school year begins (rather than after that scary progress report comes home).

To help you prepare for an organized (and hopefully less stressful) school year, I've compiled a list of nine items and accompanying strategies that your child can use from day one.

1. A well-planned student planner

Not all planners are designed with school-age kids in mind. An agenda like the one you use for tracking appointments or play-dates is probably not the best choice for your tween. Instead, look for an academic planner that includes both monthly and weekly spreads. The monthly spreads are best used for marking project due dates, tests, and other items that require time management over several days (or even weeks). The weekly spreads, which should also include labeled sections for each subject area, are for listing nightly homework, quizzes, and tasks that need to be completed to accomplish the larger items that were placed on the monthly spreads. This one, available at Amazon, gets serious Momtourage props.

Student Planner 2011-2012 School Year Planner High School / Middle School Content- 7X9" by The Student Planner, $5.75, available at

2. A sturdy locker shelf

You really would not believe how much middle school drama is directly related to poorly designed locker shelves. By poorly designed, I mean the ones that are held in place by tension. Seriously, don't do that to your kid. Before the first semester is over, that shelf will fall and sheer panic will ensue. Luckily, this is preventable if you look for a well-constructed locker shelf. The Container Store clearly knows what's up. Their Janus Locker Shelf is adjustable and allows the locker to be divided into three sections. It should be arranged so that the bottom section is tall enough to store upright textbooks. The middle section should be used for binders, folders, notebooks and extra packages of paper. The top should be reserved for a lunchbox and/or pencil bags.


Janus Locker Shelf, $24.99, available at

3. Durable binders

If your school requires that students carry a different binder for each subject area, do yourself a favor and look for binders that can take a beating. Yes, you can find 99 cent binders at Wal-Mart, but you will likely have to replace those before winter break (and maybe again before the end of the year). Durable binders, like these by Avery, should last longer. They are also available in a variety of colors, which is important since each binder should be a different color. Read on to find out why.


1" Avery® Durable Binder with EZ-Turn™ Rings, $2.99, available at

4. Stretchy fabric book covers

These are a no-brainer. Every school that I can think of asks that students cover their textbooks. But instead of spending hours cutting up paper grocery bags, why not just grab some of these Jumbo Book Sox? Be sure to choose colors that match the binders you purchase. This will allow you to help your tween set up a color coding system. Give each subject area its own color, and make sure that each textbook is covered in the same color as its corresponding binder. This way, your child can quickly and easily find what she needs each time she visits her locker.


Book Sox® Jumbo Size Textbook Covers, $3.99 each, available at
5. A backpack designed for older kids

Your kiddo's elementary school backpack is not going to be the best choice for middle school and high school. Luckily, there are some great backpack options out there for older kids. This one from L.L.Bean offers plenty of storage and features a reinforced bottom and padded straps. Backpack tip: help your kid clean out his backpack each weekend. Less clutter in a backpack makes finding needed items much easier. While you're at it, look through those binders and make sure all papers are properly filed, too.

Super Deluxe Book Pack, $54.95, available at

6. Two pencil pouches

The best pencil bags aren't pencil bags at all; they are zippered leatherette bank bags. I realize your tween daughter may not be super psyched about these plain bags. I mean, they aren't exactly cute. However, you can help her get on board with this idea when you explain to her that they are perfect for decorating with paint pens and Sharpie markers. She can have all her friends sign one side and express her undying devotion to Justin Bieber all over the other. Now, why do you need two? Pencil bags, much like backpacks, become ineffective when there's too much stuff inside. Get two bags and have your child keep pencils, pens, and items that are always needed in one and place art supplies (such as markers, scissors, and glue sticks) in the other.

MMF Industries™ Zipper-Top Blue Leatherette Wallet, 6" x 11", $3.99, available at

7. A plastic folder for homework

Lost homework is such a pain in the ass. I believe that kids lose homework papers because there are too many opportunities to file it in the wrong place. A designated homework folder solves this issue. I suggest purchasing a plastic one, such as the Storex® Recycled Poly Two-Pocket Portfolio. Paper folders are just too flimsy to last for an entire school year, but a plastic one can. Each day, your tween should place assignments that are to be completed at home in the left pocket of the folder. As an assignment is completed, it moves to the right pocket. At school, the folder should be carried to each and every class (along with the student planner, of course). That way, when a teacher asks for an assignment, your kid will know exactly where to look instead of frantically searching for a half-hour through his notebooks, binders, textbooks, backpack and locker. Nearly every student I have had in my classroom who put this strategy into use was rewarded with a higher grade. True story.

Storex® Recycled Poly Two-Pocket Portfolio, $1.99, available at

8. White out tape

White out tape is truly a miraculous invention, especially for older kids who are frequently required to complete assignments in ink. This tape eliminates all of the hassle of using liquid white out (i.e., no mess, no drying time, no unpleasant odor) and allows your child to make corrections to assignments without messy scribbles. This is especially important when it comes to taking notes, because if notes aren't legible then studying becomes confusing and ineffective.

BIC® Wite-Out® Brand Exact Liner® Correction Tape, $6.49 for a package of two, available at

9. No smear highlighters

How bad does it suck when highlighters smear printed or handwritten words? Nearly all the highlighters I have ever owned have this design flaw. However, these highlighters created by Staedtler were tested by the folks at and not one of the eight colors smeared inkjet print. As for student organization, highlighters are invaluable tools. Students should use them to highlight key points in notes and directions on all worksheets, tests and quizzes to help ensure that they have read all of the instructions carefully. Students can also use different colored highlighters on their planner pages to mark homework that has been completed in advance, as well as assignments that require immediate action.

Staedtler Textsurfer Classic Highlighter, $10.75 for a package of eight, available at


Happy back-to-school shopping, y'all!


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