Friday, March 26, 2010

Come and Take It. . . 2010 version

Reeling from the mainstream media bandwagon surrounding various greening efforts, and feeling near constant societal pressure to "reduce, reuse, recycle!," including listening to First E sing the Jack Johnson song of that name over and over, the grump in me has had enough. I am just going to go ahead and say it - sometimes I NEED plastic bags.

These thin, rustling symbols of environmental irresponsibility have an important place in family life, especially when you have very young children. I am tired of not having one around when I need it, and of getting the stinkeye from a checker for purposefully not using my own bag because I need to replenish my diminishing home stash. We do lots of nice green things, what with the green products, the shopping locally, fixing leaky faucets, turning off of lights, waste-free lunches for the girls, unplugging of things and such, and yes, we do have our own reusable bags. Which we use most of the time, I swear, with all the smug self-satisfaction I can muster at the checkout stand.

But dang, y'all, do I have to give up plastic bags entirely. . . really?If plastic bags are eliminated, what will I use to . . . clean out the cat box? Cart home baby and toddler clothes soaked with fluids (and sometimes solids, let's be honest) I don't want seeping around in my bag? How to . . . wrap up a diaper on the go, especially if it happens to be a cloth one? Pick up after the dog on a walk? Pick up dead birds, snakes or cucarachas, or the cat's vomit after she eats a bird/snake/cucaracha?

I supposed I am expected to come up with some washable, reusable option for each of these messy little chores, or purchase a compostable item made from corn or something to fill the gap left when plastic bags finally disappear. In addition to the fact that I have neither the time nor the organizational skills to sketch out a specialized enviroplan for grody everyday situations, buying things leads to another source of guilt - excessive consumerism.

A few weeks ago I bought some adorable "non paper towels" and wipes as well as some reusable snack bags from the darling ladies at Curly Cupcakes, so I'm really trying here. But I spent over $30 on this stuff, and that was with the discount I got from a listserv. What of people who cannot afford to purchase a cute little resuable dirty diaper tote (aka a "wet bag") or biodegradable doggy do bag made from corn (assuming this product even exists)? Is the elimination of plastic shopping bags further proof of the clueless snootytude of the green movement? Are poor people just supposed to use their hands to scoop the poop? Not have a dog? There is a lot to think on here.

God Bless Target. It's a safe bet that Texas will go blue before Target stops offering those lovely, commodious, red and white plastic bags. Thank you, Target, for everything you have given to me and my family. Not the least of which is an unending source of cat box sanitation tools.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Dude, I thought YOU were watching her!?. . . "

It's March in Austin, when there are daily opportunities for free fun involving crowds, much of it kid-friendly. The Zilker Kite Festival, SXSW, the Rodeo, St. Patrick's Day festival . . .with a crowd comes the opportunity to lose your kids. Or to think you lost them. Or to blame your spouse for losing them.

I speak from experience. Last year at SXSW's family showcase at Auditorium Shores, we were enjoying a blissful sunny day of watching E dance in the kiddie mosh pit and chasing 1-yr-0ld S around. I went off to play with S in a non-crowded area, leaving JP in charge of E. When I came back, he was engaged in talking with a friend at the edge of the pit. I waited a respectful 20 seconds and then said, "where's E?" Actually, I think I might have said "WHERE THE F@#$ IS E, G-D IT?!!!" To which he responds "right over there" and points casually at the seething nest of wildly dancing children. I squint and scan. NO E. Freakout ensues, police are consulted, friends go flying in all directions on the grounds. . . E is located about 7 minutes later, crying in the lap of a wise mom who told her to stay put and that her parents would find her eventually. Turns out she'd gone off looking for me in the opposite direction and walked all the way over to the fence line. Jeez. Pretty much the worst parenting moment to date.

Since that horrible day, we've implemented a few checks and balances that not only have prevented either of our little adventurers from disappearing again, but have made us calm and happy in crowds and while traveling. Here's my list, particularly targeted for the preschool set:

1. Adult Accountability. At all times, whichever adult is "in charge" of whichever kid needs to be clear that he/she is in fact in charge and that this assignment doesn't change unless you say some magic words, even if three other people, one of which is the other parent, are standing there with you. Crowds, especially parties, tend to create a false sense of security in that everyone thinks "someone must be watching them." This is especially important when managing more than one critter. And this seems obvious, but. . .at least one of you has to stay completely bone dry sober. Relaxed inhibitions + slower reaction time = well, you know.

2. Mobile Phone Photo. Before you head out, take a full-length photo of your child using your phone in whatever he/she is wearing that day. If it's cold, take one with coat/hat and one without. Have them stand next to something for scale. This way if they get lost, you can instantly email that photo to everyone and anyone who might be able to help you search, and you have an up-to-date picture with exactly how your child looks on that day. Hey, it worked on that commercial with the college kids and the little lost dog, right?

3. Take advantage of "Tag a Kid" or similar festival resources. At the Austin City Limits music festival, the grounds incorporate a booth where you can sign up your child for a security band. Before we had children, we used to joke and say this would be better as "Tag A Drunk" in order to keep track of loser roommates and boyfriends with a predisposition for passing out, but now I totally get it.

4. Make your own ID. In the wake of the SXSW 2009 debacle, I spent about $50 on some custom-printed wristbands with child's first name and both of our cell phone numbers. You could also just write a cell phone number on a plain band, or with a Sharpie on their arm, and if you are worried about chestermolester types establishing rapport by reading your kid's name off of her wrist you could leave off the name. I have never tried those electronic kid-locator devices, because they seem lame and are expensive, and most of the places where we are in crowds are too noisy for them to work anyway. You can also write names and your contact info on their shoes, in their pockets, backpacks, etc., but I like the wristband because not only is it easy to see, it kind of reminds the kiddo about why it's there.

5. Teach kids the rules. Even a 3-year-old can understand: (1) stay close to mama and daddy, (2) don't run off, and (3) if you do get lost, find a mama with kids or a police officer and tell them "I am lost. Please call my mama." We play games with this now, and I take every opportunity to reinforce the three main rules. For example, when we are out and see an officer or security guard, I point him/her out and tell them that is what you look for if you get lost. We ask questions like "How can you tell if someone is a police officer?" "What does a police officer wear?"

6. Get involved. Meet your "neighbors." If you are at an event with lots of kids and parents, chat up the people around you and by gosh do not feel bad about saying, "hey, uh, your little dude is way over there by that tree." Also, attending events with friends who have kids of the same age is great for keeping them in check. I have found that E is much less wander-prone if she is with a little buddy.

7. Give clear boundaries within which they have freedom to roam. This worked great with E and her little friend W last weekend at Jo's. Jo's is a crowded outdoor coffee shop/venue with a big parking lot, cars coming and going, right off a busy street. Right when we got there, we showed them where they could and couldn't get to and can you believe it, they listened. We were there for at least an hour and they only needed a couple of reminders.

8. Bright clothing. Seems obvious, never thought of it until I almost went crazy searching that outdoor crowd for my little E dressed in her hipster muted browns and greens.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Yes, this is a gross post. Sorry. Just remember it's here so when you get that dreaded email from the school nurse about lice in your kids' class, you can come back to this.

We learned all about lice a couple of summers ago when E came home from a day camp with some critters. To be fair to the camp, it was a very lovely dance and theater camp, but they tried on/exchanged costumes and hats all day. Recipe for licedisaster right there. I spent a lot of time researching and trying out different things, even paying $10 for some Australian lady's online handbook about "Living Lice Free." I'm grossed out just typing that.

Anyway, here's my magic list on prevention and treatment. Since that awful experience a couple of years ago, we've dodged the cootie bullet everytime it's come up at school. And lest you think it's only my kids' hippie school that has a lice issue, last year Eanes (the fancy Austin district) had a rampant lice EPIDEMIC.


There are a lot of natural prevention products out there (Fairy Tales is my favorite), but in addition to the obvious (don't share hats, jackets or combs), there are some simple and inexpensive options for prevention. I do some or all of these things when we get "The Email" as well as after a break (holidays, summer) at school when kids have been traveling, hosting relatives, etc.

* Use tea tree oil shampoo and conditioner. You can just add a few drops of tea tree essential oil to your regular shampoo/conditioner. Lice also hate lavender and coconut.

* Use a leave in conditioner or hair gel. Coating the hair makes it hard for the critters to stick to the hair shaft. You can also put some tea tree oil in this.

* Don't wash hair every day. It is easier for lice to attach to squeaky clean hair. This is counterintuitive, I know. But true fact -super clean kids get lice easier than dirtier kids.

* Put long hair in a ponytail and braid it. Finish with a good spritz of hairspray.

* My coworker swears by this one: dab a bit of tea tree oil/lavender around the base of neck. Use caution as some kids are sensitive to direct essential oil application.

* Check hair every day after kids come home from school - if you can catch them before they have a chance to lay too many eggs, eradicating them will be a lot easier.

* DON'T use Nix or other poisonous treatments "just in case!" They kill only live bugs, and there is no point in using these highly toxic treatments if there is no evidence of lice. That would be like taking a massive course of antibiotics because you heard a kid at school maybe had strep. If you are just freaking out and need to do something, anything, cover hair in coconut oil, put a plastic cap on and leave it there for 3 hours. That will smother whatever live bugs might be in there and also act as a repellent. And make hair really soft and nice smelling!


* First, stop freaking out. Your kid is not dirty, you are not a bad parent. It's not the school's fault either. Now that you've got that out of the way, let's move on.

* Like the overuse of antibiotics, the overuse of lice poison (Nix, Rid, and prescription stuff) has resulted in ever more resistant critter strains. Not only are they harsh on hair, the environment, and little neurosystems, the chemical treatments just aren't working anymore. Same thing with the home sprays. Lice aren't like fleas or ticks. They can't live more than 24 hours without a host, so you can just wash bedding, car seat covers, and clothes in hot water, soak combs/brushes in alcohol, bag up stuffed animals and pillows for a few days, and vacuum the daylights out of your house. If you can't help yourself, just use the hair poison ONCE, and then rely on daily manual nit removal, or a follow up nontoxic treatment.

* Even CVS and other mainstream drugstores nowcarry nontoxic treatments that work better than the poison. Cool Cuts for Kids (on Bee Cave) carries the "Fairy Tales" line, which has a treatment mousse that is supposed to kill live bugs but also dissolve nits, making it easier to remove them. I have not had to use this yet, but I have heard it works great. We have a box in the cabinet just in case.

* Once lice hatch, the new bugs (called a "nymph") are not able to reproduce for 7 days, which means if you (a) initially kill the live ones using whatever method you prefer (and please consider NOT using the toxins), (b) remove nits and any nymphs that might hatch out every day for a week, (c) wash clothes and bedding every day in hot water, then (d) use a follow up nontoxic "smothering" (covering the hair in coconut or olive oil for 3 hours) or other method about 5 days after your first treatment, then you're probably good.

* What is a nit? It's a very tiny little egg that is stuck to the hair shaft with a powerful "glue." If it brushes out easily, it's just dirt or dandruff. If you have to use your fingernails, it's a nit. Google images to help you see what they look like before you get started.

* Have two different people help with nit removal and to do the hair in sections. It's really hard to see those tiny little things.

Good luck.