Musings About Life... After Birth



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!



Posted by Chelsea on July 28, 2011

Some cool contests and giveaways out there right now, y'all......check 'em out:

Mutsy, Carousel Designs, Naturalmat, pediped® and Kushies® Royal Giveaway (Valued at $2,000!)

Socre some seriously awesome loot with this one, folks! Enter to win one of 23 great prizes: From Mutsy: Mutsy’s signature 4Rider stroller in purple. From Carousel Designs: a Purple and White Dandelion 4-piece crib bedding set. Wispy dandelions float freely atop pure white cotton in this striking crib bedding set for baby’s room. The set’s comforter is backed in luscious soft and white minky fabric perfect for snuggling. From Naturalmat: a handcrafted Coco Mat crib mattress. From pediped®, 10 winners each receive a pair of pediped footwear of their choice from any of pediped’s three signature collections, Originals®, Grip ‘n’ Go™ or Flex®. From Kushies®, ten winners will each receive an adorable purple Hugbug from Kushies award-winning Zolo® toy line. The sweepstakes starts July 28, 2011 at 12:01 am EST and ends September 07, 2011 at 11:59 pm EST. To enter, click here

Coleman (you know, the cooler makers?) Freebie Fridays

Tomorrow, Coleman is launching the second "Freebie Friday" at 12:00am Pacific Time. The giveaway, which lasts only 24 hours, is for 10 Coleman Instant Tents, which set up in 60 seconds or less! Personally, I'd rather have all of my toenails pulled out with a rusty pair of pliers than do anything that necessitates a tent, but hey, if you're into camping, this might be right up your alley! To enter, click here

In conjunction with the giveaway, Coleman's offering a coupon for $1 off Coleman Repellents so that you may enjoy a bug-free camping trip and/or summer. Every little bit of prevention helps.

Gool Gel n Cap $250 Spa Gift Certificate Giveaway

Cool Gel n Cap, the makers of a slightly goofy-looking yet effective first aid appararus for when your kiddos need an ice pack on their heads, is sponsoring a contest on their website and Facebook page. The prize: a $250 certificate to a local spa located where the winner resides. No proof of purchase is required to enter this contest  - all you need to do is either 1) share your experience with using the Cool Gel n’ Cap, 2) explain how the product will be of good use to you or 3) explain why you think you need a Cool Gel n’ Cap in your household. Gotta imagine there won't be a ton of entrants (really, are there lots of folks out there using the Cool Gel n Cap, right?), but who knows? Worth writing up a creative blurb for the chance to score a facial and a massage...... To enter, click here.  


Posted by Colleen on July 27, 2011

Two of my hugest celeb crushes are on Tina Fey and Jen Lancaster. (Is that weird?) Seriously, if I ever get approved by the Make a Wish foundation based on my recurring case of writer's block, my wish is totally going to be a cocktail hour with these two hilarious ladies. 

If you don't read Jen Lancaster's blog, Jennsylvania, you're missing out. Go read it, and you're welcome. (Just remember to come back...I can spend hours on it.)

Jen's hilarious, but she sometimes puts up serious posts that are spot on, like this one.

I wrote a response to the Casey Anthony verdict for YourTango's LoveMom blog in which I tried to shed some light on Casey's situation as a young single mom. I have faith in our justice system but no law degree, so I can't freak out or comment intelligently on what happened. But I will say that I think it's terrible that Caylee isn't with us anymore, and I know that one way or another it's Casey's fault. Casey's not going to prison since the jury found her not guilty, but as the public's pretty much condemned her to a life lived under a cloud of hatred, and hopefully that will amount to justice in itself.

Unless, as many are predicting, our reality tv-obsessed, unlikely celebrity-creating, whacked out society decides to throw money her way. Which is where you come in.

Jen's post sends out a call asking Americans to join together in a boycott of anything giving Anthony financial gain for the death of her daughter, and I'm signing up. In the capitalistic society in which we live, sometimes the most powerful way to vote is with your money, and I would like to ask all our readers to make it a point to avoid putting blood money in Anthony's pocket.

Don't buy the book.

Don't see the movie.

Don't even turn Liftetime on the week her made for TV movie airs. (Anyone else predicting Jennifer Love Hewitt?)

Whether or not Anthony killed her daughter, she definitely didn't save her. Don't let her get rich for failing her daughter. I'll end my post with Jen's words.

"But if there's no audience, there's no money.

Think about it, won't you?"


Posted by Janna on July 26, 2011


I just got home from taking my 15-month-old in for a well-baby checkup. And like I said, wow.

It was absolute hell.

We arrived just in time to be drenched by a downpour as we crossed the parking lot toward the office. Then, as I signed in I heard everyone's fave F.Y.I.: "We're a little behind schedule today." Great.

I sat down and the kiddo started to play with some toys. Then, he decided it would be fun to bang his hands on the wall like a maniac. I went over and tried my best to redirect his attention. At this point, my usually low-key baby boy threw his first full-on temper tantrum.

I tried everything. I really, really did. I rubbed his back. I held him and swayed. I whispered soothing words. I tickled his feet. I bounced him on my knee. I offered him something to drink. I sat down on the floor with him and tried to sell him on reading a book or counting beads on an abacus. He wasn't having it. And the crying grew louder and louder. People were staring.

Oh, did I mention he just figured out how to run this week? Yeah, that's a key bit of info, considering what happened next...

In a split second, my kid jumped up and ran full speed through the waiting room, Tasmanian Devil-style. Before I could grab him, he pushed two kids, knocked over an empty stroller, and pulled a lady's diaper bag off of a chair and dumped all of the contents onto the floor. I got more than just stares after all that...I got tsk-tsks and heads shaking. I got the dreaded smile of pity that says, "Poor you. Too bad you can't keep that kid in check." *sigh*

Finally, I was able to scoop up the little monster. I held him against me and guess what? His diaper leaked. All over me. *double sigh*

I finished changing his diaper and clothes just as our names were called (By the way, we had been in the waiting room for over an hour. That was not cool.) They took my boy's vitals and stats and set us up in a room. Five seconds later, the nurse returned with shots. I braced myself for more bloodcurdling screams.

She administered the shots and just as I suspected, the kid freaked. To make this experience even more special, my darling baby reached down mid-scream and grabbed each of his band-aids...

It was the riiiiiiiip heard 'round the world.

Cue more screams. Louder screams.

The doctor came in and saw the look of defeat on my face. I guess that's why he didn't complain when I couldn't keep my boy from pushing away the stethoscope or trying to wriggle off of the exam table. He didn't fall off, but he fought me the.whole.time.

The doctor wrapped up our visit with, "Well, Mrs. Meeks, your boy checks out just fine. I'd say that's a pretty perfect visit to the doctor, wouldn't you?"

Wow. I need a drink.


Posted by Colleen on July 26, 2011

My amazing cousin Kate is getting married next month, and this weekend I'm flying to Chicago for her bachelorette trip. Shenanigans are sure to abound.

I'm Katie's Matron-of-Honor. (Gah..."matron." What an ugly word. It's like the name "Hulga." It makes me feel frumpy just saying it.) I am beyond excited about this honor, and I'm even more excited that Katie asked each of her bridesmaids to find a black cocktail dress we love to wear to the wedding, rather than making us each spend a gazillion dollars on a frothy confection that will just take up space in our closet. (Fist bump, Kate.)

This isn't the first wedding I've been fact, I'm pretty sure it's my fifth, but I feel like I'm missing one in my mental roll call. And I've been on countless other bachelorette trips. As I'm getting ready for this weekend, though, I'm reflecting on how my maturity level has evolved since I first entered the realm of bachelorette parties about a decade ago. (Ouch.)

When I was roughly "21" (sorry, bouncer man) and prepping for a bachelorette party, I remember thinking thoughts along these lines:

  • Does this pushup bra push up enough?
  • I hope we remember to take a group picture in the bathroom!
  • Do we have enough decorations with penises on them?
  • ZOMG we should make the bride wear a tutu because that's THEFUNNIESTTHINGEVER!
  • Okay, NOW my pushup bra pushes up enough. But where am I going to stash my keys? (Lightbulb!)
  • He is so.cute. Which one of us gets to kiss him?
  • Is my skirt too short? Cause I can make it shorter.
  • These stillettos are FIERCE! Sure, I may break my ankle, but hey, if they get too uncomfy I'll just take them off! Because going barefoot in a bar isn't trashy at all.
  • I have TWENTY BUCKS! How many beers can I get with that????
  • The bar closes at THREE? Then what???

Now that I'm 31 and packing for the trip, here's the thought process:

  • A weekend without my kids! Wahoo!
  • Wait...I'm really gonna miss my kids.
  • Can you tell I'm wearing Spanx with this dress?
  • I hope my kids are okay without me.
  • These shoes are perfect with this dress...but the heels may get really uncomfortable if we go dancing. Maybe I'll just wear the flats.
  • My husband is gonna feed my kids nothing but junk food and I'm going to come home to diabetic gremlins.
  • Oooh, before we go out dancing, let's do something fun like take a painting class! (Stop laughing. We're really doing that.)
  • I can't wait to spend some good quality girl time. I hope we get a chance to talk.
  • Gah, I'm gonna have to remember to pump before we go out so my boobs don't explode.
  • Let me make sure I have enough cash in case we have to take a cab...
  • My husband better text me a ton of pictures of the kids.
  • The limo's picking us up at 1am? Gulp...maybe I can take a power nap in the bathroom.

Whew. I'm so glad I'm not 21 anymore.

But who am I kidding? I'm not that mature. We're gonna party like rockstars. And I promise to post pictures.

How about y'all? How has your party style matured, other than having the financial means to splurge for the fancy drinks?


Posted by Colleen on July 26, 2011

Dear Duchess,

Congratulations on the wedding. You looked lovely. I didn't get up to watch it -- hello, three kids -- but, as I don't live under the rock, I feel like I got caught up pretty quickly. Leading up to the wedding, as you ran errands, you looked beautiful. As a bride you were stunning, and I've been really impressed with what you've worn since then. I think your style is flawless, and I love that -- odd headpieces aside -- you don't feel like you have to push the envelope of normal fashion in order to be fasionable. It works. And I'm impressed. And grateful, because I know you have a solid influence on fashion, and I'm really grateful that your influence balances out that of, say, Lady Gaga. Yin and Yang and all of that.

But girlfriend, I just read an article that said you are bringing back nude hose. If you're wearing them, then this is the truth. And I've seen pictures. Kate, I have to tell you, I feel personally betrayed. The fact that you are donning them in public is the butterfly flapping its wings that will cause a hurricane of stockings to descend on women the world over. I'm sure this time next year I'll own a few pairs, despite how wholeheartedly I rejoiced when they went out of vogue. Who am I to argue with fashion? And let's face it, Kate, you're fashion. 

I just thought it may be worth asking you to abort this mission, for the comfort of moms everywhere. Sure, I don't work in an office, so I may be able to dodge this trend for the majority of my week. I wear jeans most days, and I generally only get dressed up on Sundays. But by the time I've wrestled all three of my children safely across the hot parking lot and into the church building, I'm usually a hot mess. (I mean this both literally and figuratively.) The addition of hose, suffocating me with their clinging ickiness, will only put me into a worse mindset...a mindset not properly suited to worship. Do it for God, Kate. Take off the stockings.

Women who wear stockings are more likely to commit crimes, I'm convinced of it. Moms whose legs are free from these nylon tethers will be better parents. We'll be more happy and patient. Hose will bring women to violence, Kate, or at least a painful level of constant irritation. To cut this trend off at the pass would be a humanitarian effort, Lady. Think of all the discomfort you could singlehandedly alleviate by simply refusing to wear hose.

In the name of compromise, I suggest that you begin using Jergen's Body Glow. Like nude hose it banishes the pastiness of an untanned leg, won't run, and doesn't feel like a parasite trying to consume its host. I'll be one of the first to support your cause. Or perhaps sclerotherapy for the masses? I'd be happy to be your poster child. 

Please? PLEASE?

Your palest friend, unable to don stockings without immediately running them,


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Posted by Colleen on July 24, 2011

(Colleen originally published this piece in Your Tango's LoveMOM blog, for which she's a regular contributor, but it's so awesome, that we wanted to share it with y'all here in case you missed it there!)

My husband and I seem to parent our children differently based on their genders.

I read a post by blogger Janelle Harris today in which she discussed the difference between she and her boyfriend's parenting styles. Harris's tween daughter wanted a piece of candy, and in order to shut down the back-and-forth debate that ensued when Harris said no, the boyfriend just took the candy and ate it, making the argument a non-issue.

This made me laugh, because I immediately identified with the boyfriend. My oldest daughter was seven when my husband and I had our second child, so for a really long time, she was an only child. The two of us parented her very differently—he was a pushover; I was the strict one. Sure, sometimes I resented this dynamic, but I grew to accept it. He caved when she batted her pretty blue eyes, and I swept in with a punishment. It amounted to a fairly balanced approach as a unit, and we all knew what to expect. She'd push the limits, my husband would try to look stern, she'd put on her "Daddy's Princess" face, and I'd have to come in to regulate as my husband melted. Why It Helps To Play Good Cop Bad Cop When Parenting

Sure, the boyfriend's response in Harris's anecdote was a little on the jerky side. But it was immediate, conclusive, and, let's admit it, rather funny. Like I said; I'm usually the strict one. Momma doesn't mess around. But I stopped mid-chuckle, because suddenly Harris's story brought to mind another situation, one in which my toddler son (the addition who dethroned Daddy's Princess) was hell-bent on getting a Hershey's Kiss before dinner. Ever conscious of my children's nutritional intake, I steered him toward an apple.

He wasn't having it. He handed me back the apple, trotted his diapered behind right back to the pantry, and retrieved the Kiss, which I'd made the rookie mistake of placing back within his arm's reach. I took a breath and braced myself for the battle sure to ensue. Kiss in hand, he waddled back to my side…and wrapped his pudgy little arms around my leg in a ginormous hug. He threw his head back so he could look up at me, smiled broadly, and in his baby English, said, "Mama. PEEEEASE?" And before you could say "heartbreaking," the foil was scattered across the floor and my son was delightedly licking his prize from his fingers. From the living room drifted a single word from my husband: "Sucker."

What happened to our dynamic? My husband, ever ready to yank my son from whatever height he is precariously navigating and give him a timeout once back on solid ground, is still totally at my little girl's mercy. (If you need proof, let me just say that there may or may not be photographic evidence of my manly man playing a fantastic board game called "Pretty Pretty Princess," in which wearing pink-colored bling is most definitely involved.)

As best as I can identify, our parenting styles were affected by the introduction of a tax deduction with a Y chromosome. My husband and I seem to parent our children differently based on their genders, a tendency I never expected, being the enlightened and empowered woman I am. ("Roar" and all that.) Once we had both a boy and a girl, though, this tendency became obvious. My husband is very quick to regulate when it comes to my son, and when I asked him why he thought this was, he explained it like this:

"I was raised to treat women right. My mom had me opening doors for women when I was a kid, and my dad took teaching me how to be a good man really seriously. But it's a man's job to take care of women—not that you need me to take care of you, babe, just because I want to, because I love you—so I want to teach our son that, and I want to treat our daughter like a lady, too. I guess that's just how I see my job playing out."

OK, I get that (and thanks for teaching him right, mother-in-law!)

So what's my excuse for being harder on my daughter and a softie with my son? Is it due to the fact that my parents are Yankees and my husband hails from the South? That my dad was a military Colonel, ensuring that I'd have a bit of a hardcore streak? Is it because I was one of three girls and my husband was one of three boys? You got me. I'm a writer, not a shrink, and I'm doing my best to figure out this parenting thing as I go along. I'm just really, really, glad that I'm not always going to have to be the strict one anymore.

Let's just wait and see how the dynamic changes when my daughter thinks she's ready to start dating. That should be interesting.

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