Featured Author and Mompreneur Tackles Childhood Food Allergies Through Story

Tiziana Ciccone (left) with co-author, Franca Linardi

From the title, you might guess that Tiziana Ciccone has a child battling a severe food allergy. Guess again. This weeks featured author and mompreneur is the owner of three private preschools and author of six children’s books. Her decision to address the growing childhood food allergy epidemic comes from her own unique bird-eye position.

When did your passion for writing surface?

I was born on September 8, 1960 in the small town of Chieti in the province of Abruzzi Italy.  I immigrated to Canada in 1962. Since childhood, I have loved to read, tucked beneath my blankets, flashlight in hand, I lost myself in the adventures of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes. My own imagination knew no bounds as I wove my own stories on scraps of paper and kept an adventure journal.

Did you jump right into writing?

As a young woman, I never considered writing as a career, perhaps for fear of failure or simply because it was not a practical choice given the competitive nature of the book industry.  So instead I pursued a career in Early Childhood Education which has brought me incredible success. I now own three private preschools in Richmond Hill Ontario. (www.reggiokids.blogspot.com). In September of 2013 I began teaching part time at Centennial College in the ECE program.

You’ve written some pretty amazing stories. Tell us about your books.

Many of the characters in my books are inspired by the wonderful children I have met and by my own three children who’s childhood years filled my life with laughter and adventure. My first book, Wake Up the Baby’s Coming, was published in 2010. The story came to me in the middle of a sleepless night. Based on events of the night my first son Daniel was born, it gives a comical perspective on birth.

Taziana with her family

Since then five additional titles have been published; The Pancake Princess, Lucinda Queen of Everything, No More Peanut Butter Daniel, Taylor Please Stop Talking and Tooth Fairy Trouble. Some of these titles were co authored with my dear friend and business partner Franca Linardi. We have many other books in various stages of publication.

Our books seek to provide an enjoyable format for children where lessons are not the prime concern. It is our hope that our books, along with many other published works, will help to support a love of reading providing children with rich story lines, lovable character and fantastic setting.

Much like adults, children gravitate to books that entertain and engage them. We hope that our books will create lasting memories.

In the words of my own daughter ~The best memories of my childhood are of bed time stories and the great adventures those books took me on! Liana 22 years old

Your own children don’t have food allergies and yet you were driven to focus one of your books on childhood food allergies. What drove you to write No More Peanut Butter Daniel?

When I first began working in the Early Childhood Education field, in 1981, allergies were rare. In fact we didn’t even have allergy boards and anaphylaxis was unheard of.  So what’s happened in the last 30 years?  In my own three preschools, the walls are lined with allergy alerts; eggs, nuts and dairy as the three most common groups.  At any given time we have upward of ten children with deadly allergies to these foods.

The challenge is how to keep children safe. My preschool environments are controlled. We restrict foods from entering the centres and our menus reflect the dietary restrictions of these children. The true problem is educating others. Even with guidelines in place children still walk in with cookies that contain traces of peanuts. So how do we keep children stay safe in light of these breaches?

It was this challenge that turned my attention to writing No More Peanut Butter Daniel, a story that places the child at the heart of his own safety.  The truth is that when anaphylactic children enter the mainstream of elementary school, and the world at large, they will have to learn to take responsibility for their own safety. As parents and teachers we must educate the anaphylactic child.

Give us a sneak peak into the storyline of the book.

No More Peanut Butter Daniel, was written in response to my growing concern surrounding the rise of deadly childhood allergies. Daniel is a preschooler who simply won’t take no for an answer in his persistent quest to eat peanut butter. Daniel’s mother is always extra careful to make sure he eats foods that are healthy and safe. When his mother warns him not to eat peanut butter until he is older, Daniel just doesn’t listen! Putting aside his mother’s warnings, he sneaks a taste of the forbidden food and experiences an allergic reaction. No More Peanut Butter, Daniel, enlightens parents about life-saving measures and the increasing number of children with life-threatening allergies.

How do the children respond to this particular story?

Having shared this book with over 150 children in our preschool, we have seen an interesting shift. The children identify Daniel with their anaphylactic classmates. They have taken a vested interest in the safety of their friends, imparting this message to their parents.

As a mother of a child with severe food allergies, I would love to buy some copies for my family and close friends of my son. How can we get our hands on this book and your other stories?

No More Peanut Butter Daniel and my other books are available on Amazon.com or through the publisher’s web site at http://sbpra.com/tizianacicconeandfrancalinardi/

Tiziana Ciccone’s Blog: http://reggiokids.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moms, You CAN Avoid Thanksgiving Stress

FACT: Planning Thanksgiving and making it happen will be as stressful as you allow it to be.

Now I’m not saying Thanksgiving – or any holiday – can be 100% stress free, because that’s not going to happen unless you ship your whole family off to grandmas and stay home with a bathtub full of Calgon and a bottle of red. But we moms tend to fall into the trap of chasing perfection and I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of Thanksgiving stress and holiday stress in general comes from our need to have everything just so.

Whether it’s because we’re trying to outdo each other, impress the in-laws, or make amazing memories for our kids, we’re driven to not only put an extra special meal on the table on Thanksgiving Day but also to outperform. Our goal is multiple courses with wine pairings for each, homemade centerpieces and napkin rings, sit down service for 18, a flawlessly executed turducken, and five kinds of pie. Without help. While two or more kids amble in and out of the kitchen.

Look, I like a beautiful table and an outrageous dessert buffet as much as the next girl but am I willing to drive myself crazy to one-up Martha Stewart? Heck no. I’d personally like to be able to enjoy my Thanksgiving along with my family instead of watching from the kitchen while they enjoy the Thanksgiving I created with my blood, sweat, and tears.

That’s why I:

Make It Potluck

No one is going to give you the stink eye for suggesting a potluck Thanksgiving – heck, the truly polite in your circles will already have asked what they need to bring. If you played the martyr and said “Oh, nothing,” then now is the time to call them back and tell them how you really feel. If nothing else, assign guests the easy stuff like mashed potatoes and biscuits, thereby giving yourself time to focus on the hard stuff. Just remember that delegating does mean accepting what you get, graciously, even if it’s biscuits that were birthed from a can.

Make Everything Ahead

Okay, make everything possible ahead. Some things are just plain better day of, but some things… corn casserole, some sweets, etc… are better for the flavors having had a chance to mingle. If you can make it ahead and then freeze it without anyone noticing that it’s been reheated, do it.

Don’t Overclean

Here’s a cautionary tale for you: Before my first child’s first birthday, I cleaned the whole house, top to bottom, including the floors. I mopped! And then right after the party, because one-year-olds aren’t at all neat, I cleaned it all again. Including the floors. You’re probably not going to have as many toddlers at your Thanksgiving, but you will have plenty of cleanup to do in the hours following your once a year feast. In the a.m., wipe down the counters, vac up the pet hair, clean the toilet, and dust if you really need to but don’t waste time wiping down picture frames or, yes, mopping the floor.

Keep It Simple, Sister

Thanksgiving is not the time to see if you’re cut out to be a Food Network starlet. Moms who routinely cook up gourmet fare after work on a Tuesday and have it all plated by 5:30 can ignore this tip, but the rest of us should not use the holiday as an excuse to move outside of our comfort zones. I mean, the turkey is already way outside of most people’s comfort zones so moving into weird territory when it comes to spice blends, cooking techniques, or foreign cuisines during a holiday is a majorly bad idea.

Clean As I Go

If you think anyone is going to jump up and volunteer to do the dishes after the gravy runs out, I have a bridge to sell you. While pots bubble and the biscuits bake, throw a load in the dishwasher and wipe down the counters. Yes, again. Watching new drips and splatters covering up old drips and splatters is just going to stress you out. You may not get a ton of help when it comes to keeping the kitchen clean but at least you’ll have less to do once all the guests have gone home.

Ditch the Aspirational Outlook

You have this vision in your head of what the ultimate Thanksgiving looks like. Unfortunately, you also have a real home, real annoyances, real family, and an oven that smokes on low. I don’t care how hard you plan or how many lists you write out before the big day, something is going to go wrong. Something always goes wrong. Maybe you’re like me that one year the carbon monoxide detector decided steam was the enemy and went off over and over until we finally ripped it out of the wall. Or your in-laws won’t stop bickering. The turkey is dry. The centerpieces could be the star of a post on Pinterest Fail. Whatever.

What I said at the beginning of this post is totally true. If you get stressed out, your kids are going to get stressed out and not have fun and then you’re going to stress that they’re not having fun and Thanksgiving becomes the worst day ever. But if you go with the flow, make a great meal, decorate a little, clean a little, and laugh a lot, everyone is going to have an amazing time. They won’t remember the centerpieces, I promise. Neither will you. What you will remember is how much everyone smiled and how you finally got to be a part of the celebration instead of an unpaid event coordinator.

Which, I can say from experience, is a lot more fun.

A Quick Shiksa Guide to Hanukkah: The Thanksgivukkah Edition

Warning… Proceed with caution, as the author is not Jewish!

All right, admittedly, I am not even remotely qualified as an expert on this topic, but I do make a decent latke and I know at least one story from the Talmud, so it’s a start, right?

Let’s start with the basics – what is Hanukkah all about?

The abbreviated version is this – Greek king of Syria shows up at the Jewish holy Temple in Jerusalem, desecrates the place and dedicates it to Greek gods. A small Jewish army managed to beat a very large Greek army and take back the Temple. Great start, but the Temple needed to be purified, a process that took a week, but they had oil for just one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted 8 days, allowing the purification and rededication to be completed. Hooray!

The 8 days of oil is the source of the symbolic lighting of 8 candles on the Hanukkiah (menorahs have only 7 candles. It’s okay, I just learned this, too), and is why many of the traditional Hanukkah foods are cooked in oil. Did I mention latkes? Because, seriously, they are delightful.

Hanukkah always begins on the 25th day of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, but the auspices of the Jewish calendar are such that the 25th of Kislev could be as early as Thanksgiving (which is why we’re all about Thanksgivukkah in 2013), or pushed out near the end of December. Please don’t ask me to explain that, though, because…well, because I can’t. I hear it involves leap months?

Here are some useful things to know about Hanukkah:

  • it’s got nothing at all to do with Christmas.

  • it’s actually not a major holiday – certainly not as important as Passover and Yom Kippur.

  • I mentioned the miracle of the oil and associated fried foods; you also see a lot of brisket, challah, and kugel at the holiday meal.

  • Hanukkah decorations are traditionally blue and white, but these colors are symbolic within Judaism all year long.

This year, Hanukkah starts on Thanksgiving, something which almost never happens. Aside from meaning that my butcher is stocking both turkey and brisket, this also means a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for crossover holiday foods on Thanksgivukkah. The big winner seems to be sweet potato latkes (check out this how to for the deets), but I’ve also seen recipes like cranberry kugel, pumpkin challah, and even a turkey brined in Manischewitz.

And with that…le chaim! Happy Thanksgivukkah!

10 Easy Thanksgiving Desserts Kids Can Make Themselves

Thanksgiving can be kind of a let down for kids. I’m just being honest here. It doesn’t have the thrill of Halloween and it’s a poor substitute for Christmas morning. Kids aren’t as psyched as us grownups about the prospect of stuffing themselves silly, even when it comes to dessert. The adult dinner table discussions can be pretty boring – even for us adults. And if it’s too cold to play outside? Forget it. Kids can be left feeling like they’re always underfoot and under-appreciated.

I say the best way to get kids enthused about Thanksgiving is to give them something to do. When the holiday treats and tidbits include recipes kids can make themselves the prospect of sitting down to an absurdly early dinner might not seem so weird. Plus, putting kids to work on Thanksgiving actually gets them out from underfoot making the whole process of cooking a ginormous meal a bit safer and less stressful for whoever is manning the stove.

Here are 10 tasty and easy Thanksgiving dessert recipes kids can make themselves that not only are yummy, but also appealing enough for the grownups in your clan:

Classic Rice Krispies treats have never been cuter and it’s not much more difficult – so not hard at all – to turn them into shapes like pumpkins. You can use a mold or just roll them into balls in between well-greased hands. Find the recipe at Food Family & Finds!

Cinnamon crisps start with store-bought tortillas and end with sweet, crunchy shapes that are just perfect for serving warm with ice cream. This is a great easy dessert recipe for kids who are old enough to use cookie cutters but not the stove. Find the recipe at JustJENN!

No bake pumpkin pie? Serve these in ramekins for a classy presentations or in ice cream cones if you’re trying to wow the kids’ table. The consistency is more like mousse than traditional pumpkin pie so it may even appeal to the pickier eaters in your bunch. Find the recipe at La Jolla Mom!

It doesn’t get much easier than no-bake chocolate eclair cake! Instant pudding and Cool Whip come together along with graham crackers and the easiest ganache you’ve ever made in a dessert recipe that is definitely easier than it looks. Find the recipe at This Kitchen is My Playground!

You make the prepared sugar cookie crust for this dessert pizza and then let kids pile on the oh-so-healthy toppings. Toppings that obscure a generous schmear of icing, for those concerned that kids will turn their noses up at any Thanksgiving dessert featuring unadulterated fruit. Find the recipe at Instructables!

Whatever you call it – puppy chow or muddy buddies or something else – pumpkin pie Chex Mix is a tasty Thanksgiving-inspired take on the original. The surprise ingredient? You’ll never guess! Find the recipe at Food Fanatic!

Butterscotch and peanut butter? What’s not to like? Melt it all in the micro for the kid-friendliest experience and, if you want to add a little goodness, swap out the fried noodles for fiber cereal. Find the recipe at Blue Yonder Ranch!

I have fond memories of making chocolate pudding pie for pretty much every holiday as a kid. My mom wasn’t much of a baker or sweets maker, but she could whip up a pudding pie like no one’s business. It’s such a simple, some might say lowbrow treat, but I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t like it. Find the recipe at My Baking Addiction!

This is technically a dessert-side dish hybrid, but I love the idea of jiggly cranberry turkeys so much that I had to include it. This is a great recipe for little kids because they’ll be doing nothing more than using cookie cutters – and what wee one doesn’t love that? Find the recipe at Babble!

Free up stove and oven space by letting older kids make no-bake golden truffles – with just three ingredients, they’re just easy enough for kids to handle but just complicated looking enough to make a splash on the dessert buffet. Find the recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction!

Happy cooking!

 

Prematurity Challenges: Difficulty Bonding With Your Preemie

In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, we’re featuring another guest blog post by preemie mom Audrey. Like many preemie moms, she felt a wide range of emotions in the aftermath of her early births. And she’s not alone – one in every eight babies born in the US is premature. In this post, she reflects on the challenges of bonding with a preemie, which isn’t always simple. Ed. note: This story originally appeared at Audrey’s blog  Ourerleearrivals.com and is reposted here with the author’s permission.

I read this story by The Guardian and Jessica Valenti, which speaks about the difficulty some mother’s face when bonding to their child in the NICU, and could relate.  I personally had a perfect storm of bad complications with my first pregnancy that almost led to us losing her before birth.  I also went into labor at 21 weeks and was told that it would be a miracle if we’d make it to 23.  Through much medical intervention and nothing short of a miracle, she made it…made it past 23 weeks!

Now, I look back though and see how I tried to shield myself from getting hurt the whole time.  I tried not to let myself, “get too attached” because I needed to prepare myself for the worst.  Then when she was born at 31 weeks, I think I was in utter shock that we had made it.  When seeing her in the NICU, she looked like she could die.  Babies all around were hanging by a thread and it’s hard not to think that your baby might not pull through.  Seeing the child with the wires and tubes and alarms…it’s just difficult.  The NICU was full of life threatening events for her that included, respiratory distress, NEC, and sepsis from GBS, as well as a laundry list of other complications.  All of these road blocks also made it a bit hard to bond.

I loved her from the moment I saw her but I just couldn’t let myself bond fully.  While other mothers next to me in recovery had their tiny crying babies…I had a breast pump and a stack of forms to fill out.  While some moms were concerned over what diaper to use, I was fretting over breathing tubes and blood transfusions.  It’s not that the worries of other new moms are stupid…they really aren’t.  I’ve had some of the same frets myself…it’s just a totally different situation and I found myself in survival mode.

I think as women, we visualize, idealize, and romanticize the birth of our children.   I’ve thought about having my own children…being a mother…since I was a child.  As women we envision a baby coming out and being put on our chest, we nurse them, we cuddle with them…and it’s beautiful.  When this is stripped away from you, it does something to you psychologically.

Well, if your experience into motherhood was anything like mine, it was chaotic and scary.  I was rushed into an emergency surgery, I severely hemorrhaged and had to be sedated, and frankly, I don’t really remember too much about her once she was born.  Somebody left a cell phone by my bed and I sort of “morphine-drunk dialed” everyone I knew saying that I just had a baby and she was the most beautiful baby ever.  When they asked what she looked like, I said, “I don’t know…haven’t seen her yet”. 

I saw her over a day later and it’s sad to admit but they probably could have told me any baby in the NICU was mine and I would have believed them.  I had no idea what my child even looked like (It took weeks before we saw her face fully and with the wires and temperature problems…I don’t think we got a true view of her naked till she was well over two months old!).  My husband wheeled me into the NICU and said, “Here is our baby honey”…I looked at her and said, “I love you”.  I did love her tremendously but it took us a long time to bond.  I remember sticking my hand in her isolette and leaning my head against the plastic.  I actually fell asleep…holding her tiny finger.  I think it was a mixture of happiness, fright, and pure exhaustion.  I have stacks of photos of all our family in the NICU by the baby the night she was born but something was missing…her mom!

While other moms got to snuggle with their little ones, I was excited to get the opportunity to take her temperature or change her diaper.  I strongly believe (as well as many studies have shown) that holding your baby is vital to the bonding experience.  I used to cry all the time to my mother that the nurses got to be “more of a mom” to my kid than me.  Maybe it’s silly but I was envious that the nurses got to pick her up and I didn’t.

Once the NICU scares passed and we got to go home, I thought that we could really bond then.  Unfortunately, after an episode of not breathing, we found ourselves back at the ICU and I again was back at square one it seemed…thinking that she still could die.

Eventually, she made it home and I was in desperate need to bond with my baby.  Though we had monitors beeping and still some apnea episodes, I was determined to feel that maternal bond I was destined to have. It’s crazy but I actually told everyone to leave us alone (even my poor mom who just wanted to help) because we needed to bond with our daughter.  Maybe I was even mean when turning people away but I was desperate and really protective.  I was exhausted and run down but by goodness, no one was going to care for her but me!  It took us about month after we got home but we eventually bonded.  I’ll forever remember holding her in my arms as we fought desperately to figure out nursing and she looked up at me and we caught eyes.  Maybe it was in my head but I swore at that moment she finally realized that I was her mother.  At that very moment I fell more head over heels in love with her than I ever thought possible.  I was finally free to be able to show all that love I had been tucking away in my heart.

Due to sensory processing issues, Katherine never enjoyed being held or cuddled which was just incredibly tough for me.  She was the kid who wanted to sit by herself in her bouncer chair.  Recently though, she is enjoying snuggles with her mom which makes me so happy!  I’ve found though that we still work on bonding together.  I just want to throw myself at her in love but she has taught me that love is shown in many more ways that I thought possible.  She is different, my whole view of motherhood is different…and that is okay. Bonding didn’t come as natural with her as it did with my second child who only spent two weeks in the NICU and was able to be held from day two on.  My second child latched on to me from the moment I got her and doesn’t ever seem to want to let me go.  Our two girls are very different in personality.  My second child had an easy NICU stay and there was never the thought that we would really lose her.  I think all of this played a role in the differences I felt in bonding.  I’ve said it before, but in a strange way, though my first child made me a mom, it wasn’t till the second that “I really felt like one”.  I love my children more than I can express and just as each child is different, sometimes you must adapt how you show your love based on your child’s needs.  I cherish the different bonds I have with each child.  I recently had a third very premature child due to a placenta abruption and preterm labor.  He was born extremely sick.  Just as with my second child, bonding wasn’t an issue.  I think I’ve learned to a new perspective on affection and parenthood though.  I’ve learned to surrender my heart fully in spite of the pain.  Having three preemies can bring out emotions in you that you never thought possible. 

 I love how the article says, “But there’s a difference between having love for someone and being able to feel it. I had so much love for Layla that I couldn’t bear to let it manifest, lest she would be taken away from me. I had to slowly, over months, convince myself that she wasn’t going to die after all – that it was OK to get attached.  Slowly coming to feel the love I’ve always had for Layla was inevitable – I don’t believe our relationship could have grown any other way”.  It couldn’t have been put any better!

The article also talks about how mothers shouldn’t feel guilt for not being able to bond right away.  I know I eventually felt some guilt for not being able to bond well but I’ve come to learn that what I experienced was so natural though we shy from talking about it.

Audrey Lee is one of those moms who is inspiring because she not only manages to face crazy challenges, she does so with a cheerful attitude and while looking fabulous (seriously, her latest maternity photos – taken while she was on bed rest, no less – are pinup worthy). Audrey has a day job as a molecular biologist and works nights as an adjunct professor at Marymount University. When she’s not busy saving the world from deadly diseases, she goes home to two daughters and an infant son – all preemies – and a wicked football rivalry with her husband, Chris. In her not-so-copious spare time she’s active in the non-profit organization Preemies Today.

 

When Do They Start Learning?

I was asked this question by a mom several years ago.  Her child was two and a half years old and enrolled in our development play based Cooperative Preschool.  I was a bit taken aback but explained that her child was learning every day.

How Young Children Learn

Young children’s primary pathway to learning is play.  Play supports development in all areas: physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially.  We take play seriously at our preschool because we take children seriously.  We understand how children learn.

Young children learn by engaging and doing.  I have watched kids pick up a rock and pretend it is a zooming car or hop a Lego across the table as if it were a person or a kitty.  Young children use objects to represent something else while giving it action and motion.

In Someone Else’s Shoes

When kids engage in pretend (or dramatic) play, they are experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life.  They learn to take turns, share, and creatively problem solve.  When kids pretend to be different characters, they have the experience of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” which helps them understand empathy.  It is normal for a young child to see the world from their own point of view, but through maturation and cooperative play, a child will begin to understand the feelings of others.  We talk about feelings at school on a daily bases.  Role playing is also a great tool to use when teaching kids empathy.

We often hear our own words reflected in the play of kids.  Kids can do a perfect imitation of mom, dad and the teacher.  I heard a boy in my class say to the other kids, “How was your morning? I’m glad to see you today.” That is one of the ways I greet the kids in the morning before school.  Hearing the little boy imitating me brought a smile to my face.  Imitation helps kids make the connection between spoken and written language-a skill that will later help kids learn to read.

Other Developmental Skills

Before a child can hold a pencil firmly and use it for long periods of time, he needs lots of opportunities to strengthen those pencil-holding muscles.  Play dough, Legos, beads, and even the buttons and snaps on dress-up clothes can all do the trick.

Before a child can understand that a combination of letters stands for a familiar object, he needs lots of experience in making one thing stand for another.  In play, a block can be a cup, or a slide can represent an icy mountain.  Using objects as symbols in play is good preparation for later use of symbols in reading and math.

Hands on exploration and discovery makes children want to learn more.  Problem solving through play builds habits that children will use throughout life.

Pretend play provides your child with a variety of problems to solve.  Whether it’s two kids wanting to play the same role or searching for just the right material to make a roof for the playhouse, your child calls upon important thinking skills that he will use in every aspect of his life.

How You Can Help

You can create a prop box at home filled with objects to spark your preschooler’s fantasy world. Think about including:

  • Large plastic crates, cardboard blocks, or a large appliance box
  • Old clothes, shoes, backpacks, hats
  • Old telephones, books, magazines
  • Items from your recycle bin
  • Blankets or sheets for making a fort
  • Writing material, postcards, notepads, old ticket stubs

Play is a young child’s most critical pathway to learning.  If your child is provided with plenty of time, materials, and support for play, you can relax because *that* is how young children learn.

This was a guest post from Gina Goldstein, Director of Inglemoor Cooperative Preschool. Gina has a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the University of Washington and over 20 years of experience in early childhood education focused on children 2-5 years old. She enjoys listening to parents and working to guide them through various stages and challenges while raising their kids. Often, Gina references her husband and two children as examples in parenting moments during class parenting conversations. She is passionate about play based education, the cooperative school philosophy and working in a supportive environment where families learn and grow together.  

Tragic Death of 13 Year Old Triggers Child Discipline Debate: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Lying cold and naked, face down in the mud in 42 degree weather, 13 year old Hana Williams had no more strength to resist her adoptive parents’ repetitive abuse. It was 2011 when this angel finally found peace after experiencing Hell on earth at the hands of Carri and Larry Williams. In the backyard of the Williams’ Washington home, Hana died of starvation and hypothermia while her mother and seven siblings watched from the window above.

Above: Hanna before and after being abused by her adoptive parents.

In the months leading up to Hana’s death, she and her fellow adoptee Immanuel (the only two adopted of the family’s eight children and both from Ethiopia) were punished repetitively for things including: getting answers wrong on assignments, cutting the grass too short, and not signing correctly (Immanuel was deaf). Both were excluded from holiday celebrations, ‘spanked’ with plumbing supplies and other objects, hosed down outside in the cold, served frozen dinners, and locked for several hours in very small rooms and closets with Bible recordings playing through the doors. At times, they were forced to sleep in the barn and use an outhouse and jury-rigged outdoor shower. Hana was so emaciated due to Carri withholding food that authorities believe malnutrition hastened her death.

Home-schooled and secluded from the public eye, the two children suffered abuse doled out by their adoptive parents with no one to witness it and no one to help. The adoption agency and a few people associated with the Williams’ knew them only as a large, devoted fundamentalist Christian family.

Now three years later, Hana’s case officially closed and justice was served. On October 29th, Larry Williams was sentenced to 28 years in prison and Carri Williams to 37 years for the murder of their adopted daughter.

Was a parenting book behind Hana’s case?

While the Williams case is behind us, thousands of parents around the world remain concerned that authorities have only scratched the surface in the battle against a particular form of child abuse said to be linked to mother and father authors and Christian fundamentalists, Michael Pearl and Debi Pearl. In their controversial book, To Train Up a Child, which was found in the Williams’ home, the couple advises parents on the Christian way (as interpreted by them) to “break” a child’s will. They back their theories and practices with biblical passages that they believe justify inflicting physical pain, often repeated pain, on children. The book has been cited as a potential source for several child abuse cases and unofficially linked to three deaths, including Hana’s.

Excerpt: “As a rule, do not use your hand. Hands are for loving and if an adult swings his or her hand fast enough to cause pain to the surface of the skin, there is a danger of damaging bones and joints. The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage.”

The authors go on to help parents locate these spanking implements at their local hardware store. According to Michael Pearl, such spanking implements as he recommends are “too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone.”

Consistently referencing quotes from the Bible, the Pearls go on to tell parents that in order to raise good children, you must train them consistently until you break them. This can start as early as a the child can start reaching for things.

“At four months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No” with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.”

For the biting breastfeeding child, they advise mothers to pull the baby’s hair or use alternative tactics if the child is bald. And according to the Pearls, you must never give up until the child is broken. While training a three year old,  “She then administers about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, “Johnny, clean up your mess.” He should very contritely wipe up the water.”

To Train Up A Child has been banned from Amazon’s UK site at least once and a member of the British Parliament is pushing to completely ban the book across the UK. Michael Pearl’s response to the proposed ban was telling. He said, “I was delighted to hear that Parliament might ban my book, [because] if they do, I will immediately advertise it as ‘the book banned in the UK’ and…we will end up selling another 100,000 books directly to the UK.”

While thousands of US protesters are similarly urging Amazon and other retailers to take action against the Pearls via petitions on sites like Change.org, the duo continues to claim a substantial following numbering in the hundreds of thousands. According to a Nielsen BookScan, however, only 9,579 sales of To Train Up a Child have been recorded since 2001.

So where do we draw the line?

There is no question that the topic of physical discipline – most commonly spanking – is often the source of heated debate within the parenting community. According to a recent ABC News Poll, a surprising 65% of Americans approve of spanking and 50% spank or have spanked their own children. While on the extreme side, Larry and Carri Williams fall very comfortably within that 65%, as do Michael and Debi Pearl and their supposed hundreds of thousands of followers.

On the topic of Hana Williams’ death, Pearl himself said, “What her parents did is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of No Greater Joy Ministries and what is taught in the book.” A little googling is all it takes, though, to see that many, many parents disagree.

Which is why as a mom, I ask you this: Where exactly do we draw the line? Should it be acceptable to spank a child with your hand? How about with a plumbing tube, a willow switch, or other objects? Who should be allowed to spank and at what level of force is acceptable?

I have never been more curious to hear from other moms what they think about a topic, so please share your feelings about spanking and what constitutes abuse in the comments. To view video coverage on the Hana Williams case, watch the CNN video below.

 

Grieving…Reacting To Pregnancy After Delivering Prematurely

Today’s guest poster Audrey is a preemie mom three times over and not at all shy about sharing her experiences with prematurity. What many people don’t understand is how premature birth affects parents. Even when prematurity comes with minimal challenges, moms can come out of the experience with depression, anxiety, and even PTSD. One feeling many moms experience is guilt for delivering prematurely and for feeling envious toward full-term moms. Ed. note: This post originally appeared on Preemies Today and is being reposted with the author’s permission.

I’m going to talk about something that some women might find awkward, shameful, or completely crazy.  It’s something that many women go though I’m finding.

I’ll speak of it through my personal experience.  I have delivered three very premature babies and suffered miscarriage.

When you deliver prematurely you grieve for the loss of normality.  You grieve for the days you missed where your baby was tucked away…safe inside you.  You grieve for the moments you could have walked around in your cute little maternity clothes while people smiled with you over the joyous occasion.  You grieve for the baby shower…the exciting birth (good exciting).  You grieve for those early bonding moments with your baby.  You grieve for the joyous homecoming immediately after birth.  The list goes on and on…

I know one mom who told me that she grieved over not ever being “pregnant enough” to understand what it’s like to not see your feet anymore.  She said she realized it when she burst into tears one day while her eight-month pregnant co-worker told her how she had to have help putting on her shoes.  It may sound silly but it’s a real, strong, emotion.

It’s probably hard for many to understand why you would grieve for those last uncomfortable weeks and months.  They may not be able to grasp why you still cry at your child’s birthday even when they were blessed enough to survive.

I remember crying while I packed up my maternity clothes after the birth of my first child because I never got to wear most of them.  I remember trying on beautiful work outfits with the fake belly at the store and having the woman tell me to buy big because they would get tight.

The big thing I want to talk about is the emotional response that many premature moms face when they encounter a pregnant woman.

I know for the longest time that I didn’t want to be around anyone that was pregnant.  Seeing their large, beautiful, pregnant bellies brought up a whole load of emotions in me.  It’s not that I was upset with them or wasn’t happy about the baby.  I’m always over the moon excited about new babies.  I think parenthood is the best experience of my life…I’m elated to have others understand the same joy I feel over it.

It’s just a strange feeling that sweeps over you.  It’s not jealousy but rather just this longing for understanding.  I think you immediately put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, “Why was it so different for me?”  I’ve learned years ago that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others but I think it’s just human nature…we want to try to wrap our heads around the unexplainable.  I think that even though we know we’re different…sometimes we want to justify why.

I personally have felt so ashamed for feeling this way.  How can I love my friend so much and yet find it hard to bear being around her when she needs me most?  I would force myself to be there but would feel guilty for trying to compare myself and I’d end up beating myself up over my emotions.

I would feel mad at my body…the situation.

It’s taken me years to get over this…well I’ll be honest that I’m mostly over it.  I’m happy to say that I can attend a baby shower without any real emotions other than happiness.   I think what helped me the most was having a relatively normal pregnancy the second time (though I still delivered early).  I think I was healed some by getting to experience the big round belly and being able to bring my baby home without too long of a  NICU stay.  Then finally with my third child, my family and friends managed to throw me a baby shower before I delivered.  This was the first time I had ever been pregnant at a shower.  I had to cancel my baby shower with my first pregnancy because I was hospitalized.  With this third pregnancy, I almost didn’t make it to the shower at 28 weeks, but we held on just long enough and I delivered shortly after.  I think I found healing in that experience even though it might not sound important to most.  It made me feel normal for a few hours.

What about women who don’t get a chance to try again…who don’t get personal healing through experience?

I think about the difficulty that women who can’t conceive, have recurrent miscarriages, who deliver still, or even deliver many weeks earlier than me, are going through.  How hard is it to bear a baby shower… to not know what it’s like to be pregnant if you’ve always dreamed of it?  In every situation that you find difficult, someone always has different, and many times, worse experiences than you.

I’m finding more and more women who have and who still are, going through these emotions.  You’re not alone.  You can still be happy for someone and still grieve.  And for me…time and prayer have healed.  For those of you reading this that thinks maybe your friend is awful for perhaps avoiding you during your pregnancy, please know that it might be a bigger situation than you realize.  Many grieve alone, in the dark, and in silence.  Do trust that they love you and are trying.

Audrey Lee is one of those moms who is inspiring because she not only manages to face crazy challenges, she does so with a cheerful attitude and while looking fabulous (seriously, her latest maternity photos – taken while she was on bed rest, no less – are pinup worthy). Audrey has a day job as a molecular biologist and works nights as an adjunct professor at Marymount University. When she’s not busy saving the world from deadly diseases, she goes home to two daughters and an infant son – all preemies – and a wicked football rivalry with her husband, Chris. In her not-so-copious spare time she’s active in the non-profit organization Preemies Today.

What Being a Preemie Mom Means

November 17 is World Prematurity Day, and November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Early birth is actually incredibly common in the US, where about 1 in 8 babies is born prematurely. That’s over half a million babies each year. Preterm birth is actually the most frequent cause of infant death in the US. Many moms of preemies develop PTSD and serious depression that doesn’t manifest until after their babies come home. And of course, as the stats show not every baby does make it home. The prematurity journey is different for every family – some are blessed with a relative smooth path while other families seem to end up hitting every bump in the road.

But since I’m a preemie mom and since my work with organizations like Graham’s Foundation has given me the privilege of connecting with hundreds of other preemie moms, I hope you won’t mind if I generalize just a little bit about how prematurity affects parents day in and day out, from Day 1, and the experience of having a preemie in and out of the NICU.

Being a preemie mom means:

…finding out that you are capable of so much more strength, endurance, courage, and commitment than you ever thought possible. Someday, someone will look at you and say “I don’t know how you did it,” and you will think or maybe even say “In my shoes, you would have done it, too.”

…mourning a pregnancy that ended too soon. Missing out on a baby shower. Never really looking pregnant. Or feeling pregnant. And worrying that you’ll never be able to carry a pregnancy to full-term.

Being a preemie mom means:

…cringing when your uncomfortably pregnant mom friends say they wish they could have their babies at 34 weeks or 30 weeks or even earlier, because you would have given anything to find out what full-term feels like.

…coming to the abrupt realization that preemies are not just tiny versions of full-term babies.

…being the only one in the maternity ward whose baby isn’t ‘rooming in’ and having to explain to every nurse, lactation consultant, orderly, and social worker who drops in that your baby is in the NICU – or maybe even in a different hospital altogether.

…then being discharged and having to go home without your baby. It’s heartbreaking. And then your heart breaks again every time you pass a new family leaving maternity while you and your partner are making your way up to the NICU.

Being a preemie mom means:

…understanding that bonding can take place even when touch is impossible. You can bear the pain of the breast pump, even if only freezing milk for later. You can hunch over an isolette to read an endless series of picture books. You can stand in one spot with legs long since asleep cupping the top of your baby’s head with one hand and their bottom with the other.

…having to make decisions about whether it’s time to progress to a more invasive, riskier treatment regimen or it’s time to let go. And signing a lifetime’s worth of surgical consent forms.

…speaking up when you disagree with your baby’s primary or doctor because your mom instincts are telling you something just isn’t right.

…realizing that the baby book you bought when you found out you were pregnant only makes you sad because it’s meant to record an experience of mothering and babyhood so very different from your own.

…finding new milestones to celebrate, even if it is a single gram gained after too many grams lost.

…wanting to tell people who suggest relaxing while your baby is still in the NICU to blow it out their insensitive, ignorant ears.

…holding your precious baby for the first time, a few days or weeks or even sometimes months after birth. It doesn’t matter that there are more wires than baby – it feels amazing.

…ignoring statistics because preemies are capable of amazing feats of strength and endurance that would surprise the statisticians.

Being a preemie mom means:

…googling like crazy. Or staying as far away from Google as possible. Memorizing way too many acronyms.Changing a diaper that’s smaller than a credit card. Learning to suction a trach.

…learning that saying goodbye to the NICU doesn’t mean it’s over. The impacts of prematurity can be long-lasting and far reaching. Even when your preemie is as healthy as a horse, the emotional affects of the NICU will stay with you and with your baby for a long time.

…proudly bringing home a baby who still forgets to breath occasionally, who eats via a tube, and whose future is entirely uncertain, and feeling an intense mixture of joy and fear. You’ve come so far and yet there is still so far to go, but you are home.

…hearing the dinging of alarm bells for months after making the transition home. Sleeping fitfully because you can’t let go of the feeling that the NICU staff you left behind will suddenly call in the night. Or not sleeping at all because you’re standing at your baby’s bedside counting their breaths night after night.

…experiencing the isolation of spending later fall, winter, and early spring camped out at home with few or no visitors. The isolation of not being able to go to moms’ groups or Mommy and Me classes. And the isolation of needing support more than ever while needing to stay away from people.

…finally truly believing with all your heart that your baby is here to stay.

…answering questions like “Why is your baby so small?” and “Why is your baby on oxygen?” And it means that answering the question “How old is your baby?” takes about 10 minutes, if not more.

…accepting a diagnosis of CP or legal blindness or autism and nonetheless feeling grateful – not for the diagnosis but rather because your amazing child is here on this earth to receive it.

…always wondering if there was something you could have done to prevent your baby’s premature birth – or something you did to cause it. Feeling guilty in your heart while knowing in your head that you shouldn’t.

…and finally, being amazed every day by how far your baby has come and how far you know your baby will go! Because you know, as a preemie mom, that your baby has accomplished more and overcome more than you could have ever imagined and this is just the beginning.

Preemie moms, what would you add to the list?

Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids that Don’t Require Pinterest

I love Pinterest as much as the next gal, don’t get me wrong, but honestly, I have a lousy camera and no time to worry about lighting. So, with that in mind, I present to you five super easy and thematically appropriate crafts for Thanksgiving! Woo!

1. Leaf prints – you’ll need paper, paint, and leaves. If you want, you can get all fancy and use a paintbrush, but it’s not really necessary. Take your leaves, and apply paint on the veiny back side. Once they have paint on them, press the painted side onto the paper. IT’S JUST THAT EASY!

2. Toilet paper tube bird feeders – You’ll need a toilet paper tube, peanut butter, and bird seed. Spread peanut butter (or, you know, sun butter would work, too) on the outside of a toilet paper tube. Roll the buttered tube in the bird seed. Slide the tube over the end of a tree branch. Nailed it!

3. Paper plate leaf wreaths – You’ll need paper plates, leaves, scissors, and glue. Cut the center circle out of your paper plate, so you just have the outside ring. Glue leaves to the plate ring. Wanna get fancy? Use the painted leaves from your leaf prints. Wanna get really fancy? Go crazy and glue a magnet on the back.

4. Fancy hand turkey silhouettes – You will need paper, scissors, contact paper (or sub in wax paper and glue), random bits of stuff, a pen, and someone’s hand. Trace the hand on the paper, and cut out the hand shape, being careful to leave the silhouette intact. Slap some contact paper or wax paper over the hole. Stick or glue random bits of stuff, glitter, etc. on there.

5. Paper plate turkeys – This is the most complicated one because you need to know what shape a turkey’s head is. You’ll need paper, scissors, paper plates, leaves, and glue. Bonus points for googly eyes. Cut the paper plates in half. Cut turkey head shapes out of the paper (hint: beaks and wattles). Glue leaves to the half plate. Glue the turkey head on there, too. Put googly eyes on if you want. Or not, it’s cool.

AND THERE YOU HAVE IT! So easy even a kid can do it! So easy that you don’t have to feel bad if they turn out weird! No kidding, here is one “wreath” that we ended up with:

Keep it real!