Your opinion needed

This should not come as a shock to any of you but I offered the dissenting opinion on a hotly-debated child safety issue at

Come on over to today to share your take on the controversy.

My feelings won’t be hurt be if you disagree.

But I may hold it against you forever. :)

Photo: Southwest Airlines

The Kindergarten Dilemma–To Enroll or to Hold Back?

(Originally published at Mile High Mamas).

With summer break on the horizon next week, I can almost say I survived my daughter’s first year of kindergarten.

And am fretting about my son’s entrance into it.

Why would I do such a thing when he is only 3? The reason is simple: I already feel pressured to make major decisions on his behalf. When he was born in July of 2006, I figured he was well within the range for the mid-September cut-off for when he could attend school. I enrolled him in our local preschool last September and he has loved it. He has learned all the sounds of the alphabet and is at the top of his class of 3 to 5-year-olds in math.

It’s a good thing, too because I am counting on him doing our taxes in a few years.

He still has one year left of preschool and then I planned to enroll him in kindergarten the following year. Until the peer pressure began.

“Do you really want him to be the youngest in his class?”
“He will be at a huge disadvantage if you don’t hold him back.”
“I held my child back and have never regretted it for an instant.”

At first, I was puzzled. Why would I hold him back when he is progressing nicely? At a recent parent-teacher conference, his teachers told me his fine motor skills still need developing (normal for a 3-year-old boy) but intellectually, socially and athletically, he is thriving. I shared my worries with them and they said it should be a personal decision based on each child.

“So, if I did hold him back to do three years of preschool, what would I do with him that third year?” I queried.

They didn’t have an answer and acknowledged that he would probably have intellectually outgrown most preschools by that time.

So, call me crazy but isn’t that what the next stage a.k.a. kindergarten is for?

We all want our children to be well-adjusted and ready to enter kindergarten. Of course, I’d love my child to be among the smartest in class but at what cost? Holding him back and running the risk that I am delaying his development? Is making the wrong decision going to cause angst, failure and ammunition for future therapy sessions?

I volunteered in my daughter’s kindergarten this past year. Those who were 6 years old often outperformed their younger peers. The smartest girl in my daughter’s class is also the oldest–and is bored most of the time. The teacher spends much of her day scrambling to find more challenging materials for her. Would this girl be better served in a classroom that engages and challenges her?

Conversely, a friend informed me that a teacher told her that out of the three kindergarten classes at my daughter’s school, only 66 percent of the students are moving on to first grade. If this is true, that means 34 percent of the kids were not prepared for kindergarten and will be repeating it next year. Our school’s assessment test scores are higher than most surrounding schools and we are not considered a high-risk area. But am I alone in finding this a staggering statistic?

I miss Mrs. Garcellano’s kindergarten class. I played house. I had snacks. I kissed my first boy at recess. I plugged the toilet. Those are my kindergarten memories, and what fond ones they are.

Well, most of them. :-)

If we build it, please don’t come

I had never attended a community forum until last week. It likely stems from the fact that I’m Canadian and nobody really cares what a foreigner has to say.

Unless we end our sentences with a cute little “Eh.”

But this time I was invested: It was the third and final meeting about a neighborhood park near my house. My city has a glorious thing called a land development code that requires developers to donate to a fund. Our neighborhood’s nest egg has $1.7 million and they plan to build a park on 15 acres of undeveloped land.

The city planners had carefully implemented suggestions from the previous two meetings and overall, people seemed pleased. The park will consist of tennis courts, basketball, horseshoe, an inline skate park, a custom rock feature for climbing, playground equipment, small picnic shelters and a pot at the end of the rainbow.

Sorry, no leprechauns. That would be too good to be true.

Construction will likely begin in the fall and the park will not be completed until summer of 2010.

Watching the city’s PowerPoint Presentation was fascinating but the Q&A that followed was a lot like NBC’s Parks and Recreation.

Except a lot less funny.

Q: What do we do about the den of coyotes that live above the park?

A: Don’t feed them. They are not your pet. Look menacing and they will leave you alone.

Q: Have you considered putting in a Fitness Course? (This question was posed by my beloved fitness-queen neighbor.)

A: This is a neighborhood park, not a large community one. We will have lots of benches and shade. Just sit down and chill out.

Now, let me be clear: this is our park and not yours. I made the mistake of mentioning the possibility of writing about it and I was burned at the stake. “If you write about it, people will come” my neighbors seethed.

Evidently, they did not see Field of Dreams. All that is required is for us to “build it.” There is no writing clause whatsoever.

But consider yourselves warned.

The “Open Mouth, Insert Foot” Mom Blog Disease

So, remember that minor uproar I caused a couple of years ago when cocaine was found at my daughter’s preschool and the parents were not informed?

Well, let’s just say I don’t exactly win any popularity contests with their administrative staff.

I vowed I would lay low when Haddie entered kindergarten. I would be one of *those* parents–the gracious, low-key kinds. You know, the ones that blend in and people like them.

My vow lasted…well…less than a week before she was supposed to start school.

In my defense, I had no idea the person to whom I was ranting on the phone was the new principal.

And no, I’m not thrilled that she now wants to recruit “passionate parents like me” to further the cause and speak at the various boards.

I barely joined the PTA due to lack of time and now to be embroiled in this?

Come on over to read my latest saga and hear some of the hate mail I received when my article was published in the newspaper. Oh, and be sure to weigh in on what’s going down at your area kindergarten.


My daughter will start kindergarten next Monday. I dreamed of this day during those sleepless nights with my colicky newborn. I envisioned how I would drop her off with a hug and a kiss each morning and spend my day pretending to be human again.

I thought I might even take a shower to celebrate.

I registered Hadley a few weeks ago and my reaction was very different from what I had imagined: I was annoyed.

I’m not perturbed with her or the school but rather the entire system. I had originally enrolled her in full-day classes. Those children have all the benefits of extended learning designed to further their young minds both creatively and academically.

But then the recession hit and the financial fall-out ensued. My husband and I started our own web development business during it all and we decided we could not justify the extra cost incurred with full-day kindergarten, along with paying for our son’s preschool.

Our situation frustrates me. Why, in what is professed to be the public school system, are we paying for these services? Emphasis has been placed on preschool and there are fantastic programs such as the Colorado Preschool Program to supplement families who cannot afford it.
There are no such programs for kindergarten in Jefferson County, the largest school district in Colorado. A failed mill levy has left the district with more than $30 million they need to cut over the next three years and kindergarten is one of the casualties. They hope to resurrect this mill levy in a couple of years because they desperately need the funding.

Denver Public Schools, on the other hand, has broadened its lineup of half- and full-day preschool and full-day kindergarten programs to more than 80 schools. They offer full and partial scholarships.

If preschool is important, how much more exponentially imperative is kindergarten? I was surprised to learn kindergarten is not even mandatory in the state of Colorado.

Neighboring Jeffco elementary schools announced they had received state funding to provide free all-day kindergarten. Ours was the exception. Many of my friends forsook our school to open-enroll their children elsewhere.

Of course, there are some parents who prefer half-day kindergarten for their children. I get that and I’m not saying it is for every child. We don’t want our children to grow up too quickly and in the end, these children will eventually get caught up. I know better than anyone the importance of teaching our children in the home.

But why do we hold our public schools to such a low standard, professing that the most important teaching should be in the home anyway? Yes, teaching them in the home is imperative but if that’s all that mattered, wouldn’t we all just homeschool? My point is there are so many more measures and programs in place for preschool than kindergarten and that just seems backward to me.

Many teachers and parents attest there is a large gap in first grade between those who do full-day kindergarten vs. those who do not. Kindergarten is much different than the carefree days I spent in Mrs. Garcillano’s classroom in the late 1970s. Many children these days have already had two years of preschool. They’re already starting to write and read. They’re ready to learn.

Jeffco mom Larkin Harmon eloquently summed up this kindergarten gap by saying, “The sad truth is that it shouldn’t be called, ‘no child left behind,’ it really should be called, ‘no child gets ahead.’”

My daughter will receive a mere 2.5 hours in the classroom a day juxtaposed against her peers who will get 6 hours. Add in breaks or a recess and she will be lucky to spend 2 hours in the classroom. Now, I’m not a math wiz but exactly how this hours constitutes a “half day” is beyond me. This is less than most preschools where half-day ranges from 3 to 4 hours. Across the country, the majority of kindergartens are a minimum of 3 hours.

The Early Childhood Education Department at Jeffco claims the 2.5 hours was dictated by the school’s principal. The principal says it was Jeffco’s directive.

Either way, the result is the same: some children are losing out.

Update: This story ran last week in various Denver Post YourHubs throughout Jeffco. Reaction was mixed. Some agreed with my stance, others (and I do quote) said “kindergarten teachers are an over priced Nanny who ‘teaches them.’ Trust me I know. I had kids in all day kindergarten in Jeffco (what a waste of my and tax-payer money).”

Could you survive a TV-less summer?

Our television recently died.

Well, six weeks, four days and 12 hours ago if you’re counting (which is what I thought my husband would do).

I know this would send many people into a panic but let me assure you we still have two other televisions–one in the basement and another tucked away in our bedroom. Both rarely get used due to their locations. The television in our family room had become as much a part of us as the family pet.

Except we don’t own any animals.

We did, however, feed our television daily. Sometimes several meals a day. We formed the habit of turning on the children’s cartoons as they ate breakfast. Out of laziness, it would sometimes remain on for a couple of hours as we went about our day. We would turn off the television for the often-insipid daytime programs but then would bring it back to life during our favorite Primetime shows.

We currently cannot afford to replace that television so discussed the possibility of bringing the television from our bedroom into the family room.

Until I proposed the unthinkable: to do an experiment and not watch TV for the summer.

To clarify, I wasn’t proposing we cut out our television-viewing habits completely, just limit ourselves and not replace the one that we watch 95% of the time in the most convenient location.

Out of the four of us, my husband probably watches the most television and has gotten into the bad habit of falling asleep in front of it. The kids need their early-morning Dora the Explorer fix like some adults need their caffeine. I probably watch the least but am not without my own sacrifices: I get a lot of work done when my children are plunked in front of it.

I feared the backlash would be similar to when we weaned Haddie from her binky at the ripe ol’ age of 18 months (think: heroin withdrawal). Do you know what, though? Six weeks, four days and 12 hours into (but who’s counting?) we’re surviving. In fact, I’d even say we’re thriving. I can’t say I will ever become one of those anti-television zealots because, welp, I need my Matt Lauer fix. And I cannot discount the educational value of television, as my daughter Hadley demonstrated when she was about to turn 2.

For several months, I had been incessantly reciting 123s and ABCs wherever we went. She would occasionally list off the occasional number just to shut me up but really, she was more focused on becoming am alphabet prodigy. One day we were in the car and I attempted to teach her how to say she was “2 years old,” in honor of her birthday at the end of the month.

She gave me her typical teen-aged “Why are you bothering me, Mother,” look and then casually blurted out, “1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.” I stopped, shocked. “Did you just count to 10, Hadley?” She repeated herself, this time throwing in the number 11 for good measure. Showoff.

I was practically jumping for joy! Finally, all those countless hours of teaching her, of slaving over her growth had finally paid off! I had a glimmer of hope that I was making at least some difference in her life! Bursting with pride, I wanted acknowledgment and gratitude for my efforts. “Hadley, who taught you to count to 10?”


The economic downturn hits home

If I were to look back on 2008, I would it was the year of ebbs and tides. Our little family has had a multitude of blessings and not a day has passed that I did not feel infinitely blessed. That I kissed and snugged them. That I laughed at their antics and marveled at who they are becoming.

But this has also been the year of job stress.

Jamie’s consulting gig recently came to an abrupt halt when his client (who has been past due on hundreds of thousands of dollars) declared bankruptcy. To make ends meet, Jamie’s boss had been paying him out-of-pocket to keep him around until other clients pulled through but guess what: bankruptcy is a deal breaker. Not being able to make payroll, they had to let Jamie go. They will bring him back when new clients sign on. But with the problematic economy, we don’t know if/when that will happen.

A little summary of 2008:

February–Jamie thrown under the bus and laid off by incompetent Senior VP. Receives three-month severance.
March–Applies for Unemployment Insurance. Company denies it. Goes to court vs. former boss. Jamie wins the case it was determined he was let go without just cause. Company realizes the problem was with former boss, not Jamie. She is fired.
April–Jamie starts great consulting gig.
October–Up for VP position with stock. Then came the economic downturn. Pending clients refuse to sign on until the market changes. Small company feeling pressure.

And then there is the now. This time around, I am not in as much shock. I just feel tired and worried he will not be able to find anything in this crummy economy. I don’t care if he makes the big bucks. I just want security.

Is there even such a thing anymore?

Jamie’s parents dropped a bombshell: they want to sell their house and move to Utah. Fortunately, everything is on hold and we are relieved. If they were like many in-laws, I would willingly show them the door. But they’re not. They are the most important people in our lives and I don’t know what we will do without them. Our two main reasons for being in Colorado were them and a good job.

This recent development has expanded our job searches to out-of-state.

This is a tough one for me to say. I love Colorado. I love our home we have slaved over. And I love our life most of all. Of course, moving is a last resort but I keep reminding myself that a house is just a house and we will find friends and adventure anywhere we go.That if we are going to move, now would be a great time while the kids are young. I just hate the uncertainty.

On a positive note, recent developments have not affected our Christmas spirit. On the contrary. The lights seem so much brighter, my children more delightful and the true meaning of the holiday burns deep. It hasn’t been about focusing on what we do not have but rather, what we have. And we have a lot. I only need to turn on the news to see there are many people much worse off than us.

This Christmas, I will be counting my blessings.

Your Opinion: How do you handle problems at your children’s school?

I love teachers. I have many good friends who are teachers and out of all the professions on this earth, I think they are among the most praiseworthy.

But I am having problems with teachers.

Because of my admiration, I always thought I would be the Teacher’s Parent Pet. You know: that go-to person who volunteers at every opportunity and who is loved and adored by all.

It ain’t happening.

It started last year when a little thing called cocaine surfaced on the playground at my daughter’s preschool and parents were not informed. I only found out because I read about it in the Police Beat. My issue was not with the teachers but with the way the administrative staff handled it and I ruffled more than a few feathers. I still feel I was justified but in so doing, I became one of those parents in their eyes.

And I hate that.

Another issue surfaced last week when I drove by Starbucks with my daughter and her friend.

“That is where we get coffee every day!” Haddie announced.
“Who gets coffee?” I asked.
“At preschool. We have a Starbucks center where we get our morning coffee! It’s the only way to start our day!”

I am adamantly opposed to drinking coffee. I fully realize that millions of people are partakers of its caffeinated goodness but for religious and health reasons, my family refrains. And I try to teach my children the same principles.

I haven’t said anything to the teachers and probably won’t. I rationalize it’s not like a liquor store and most people don’t take issue with drinking coffee. Even so, it just seems inappropriate to teach 4 year olds that they cannot start their day without it.

Which brings me to my next point: Hadley will be entering kindergarten next year. The teacher is rumored to be a nightmare. She is close to retirement and taught older children most of her career before she got “dumped” in kindergarten. She is notoriously cruel, yells at the kids and I have several friends who have pulled their upset children from her classroom to attend another school.

Not exactly the way I want my daughter to begin her education.

Would you do anything? The school has an interim principal who is allegedly not willing to address the problem. Several parents at preschool are worried about it and proposed we write a letter but I am hesitant because I don’t want to start my daughter’s education by ruffling feathers at her new school.

And so my question to you is this: where is the line? I empathize that schools are trying to appease so many different backgrounds and belief systems and I know they put up with a lot. I want to show support but I also want what is best for my children. What conflicts/issues have surfaced with your children’s education and how did you handle them?

(Originally posted at Mile High Mamas).

Career vs. Stay at Home: How Did You Decide?

I was contacted a couple of months ago by a book publisher. I know. Me.

The email appeared as I was being forced to get jiggy with my daughter and her favorite movie, The 12 Dancing Princesses. As I strained to read the email’s contents, Hadley reprimanded me I was not “keeping form” with my pirouettes. This, from the girl who performed an impromptu solo at her dance recital.

The query came from a leading publisher in the outdoor industry. The company was looking for someone with a travel writing background to write a guidebook on hiking with children in Colorado.

I went through my mental checklist:

Hiking? Love it.
Children? Have them.
Colorado? Live there.

It was the perfect fit! Or was it? After the initial euphoria wore off, I sat down to weigh the pros and cons of accepting an assignment of this magnitude. And after a lot of self-reflection, my answer was no.

This still floors me. Ten years ago when I was hot on my career path, I would have jumped at such an opportunity.

Well, except that I was single and living in Utah so I likely would not have been a viable candidate.

When I got married, I made the decision to stay at home with my children. It was not something I always dreamed of doing but it was the right choice for me. My transition from a wanderlust life to a stay-at-home mom of a colicky newborn was not a smooth one.

But after four years, I have finally come into my own and have a pretty great gig. I freelance part-time from home, drag my kids on a new adventure every day, shower once a week and blog about poop. I am living the dream. Or at least my dream. And right now, I just don’t want to take on a gargantuan new project to mix everything up.

Women’s libbers say we can have it all. I do not believe that we can have it all at the same time. Life is give and take. For me, I cannot immerse myself in my career without falling short in other areas. This is not a pessimistic approach or a judgment against those who chose their careers over staying at home. This is my reality and I would not change it for the world.

Well, except for being forced to do all those pirouettes….

(Originally published at Mile High Mamas).

When you are not instintively maternal

I have a good friend at boot camp, Linette. She is in her late-30s and is funny, sweet and successful. She also chose not to have children.

Now, for some women this is not puzzling to me because they are just not “kid people.” But Linette is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and selflessly helps children in need.

I finally asked her about it one day and she responded, “Even though I love kids, I just never felt that maternal instinct to have my own and I thought that was an important part of the process.”

I could relate. Ten years ago, having children was the last thing on my mind. And being Mormon where most women seem to be born breeders, I was an anomaly. I wanted a career. I wanted to travel. I did not want to be tied down. I find it ironic that the thing I spent the entirety of my 20s running away from is that which has brought me the most joy in my 30s.

But I have never been that woman to coo and paw over other people’s babies. Newborns in particular freaked me out and I have always felt more comfortable with older children. When Hurricane Hadley was born, Jamie and I anxiously gazed at her and simultaneously queried, “What now?” To make matters worse, she was a tough, colicky baby and though I loved her, I never really felt bonded to her for the longest time.

Jamie and I felt strongly we are supposed to have three children so when it came time to get pregnant, I did it without much enthusiasm (as opposed to Jamie who has always been gung-ho over the baby-making process. :-) The next 40 weeks were filled with some excitement yet mostly apprehension that I would give birth to another Hurricane who would level me as Hadley had.

But the moment Bode was born and they placed him in my arms, I felt it. That moment so many mothers talk about – when they instantly fall in love with their new baby and feel that bond. I remember thinking, “So this is what it is all about.”

We are on the precipice of getting pregnant again. Last week at church, I grabbed someone’s infant to play with him – something I rarely do. And as I gazed down at that slobbering face, those burgeoning cheeks and sumo arms, I felt it: that maternal instinct. For the first time, I felt absolutely overwhelmed that I wanted a final child.

As Jamie and I snuggled in bed that night, I relayed my experience to him.

“Well, congratulations Amber. It sounds like your maternal instinct is finally kicking in.”

“Yeah, and it only me took four years and two kids to get it!”

Near-death drama

It has been 12 years since the day I almost died.

I seldom reflect upon it anymore, nor have I really written about it. Well, except for when I poured out my soul for an essay contest in college, only to win an honorable mention. I suspect I would have taken first if I’d have actually died. Nothing like tales from the crypt….

Memories of my accident came back to haunt me in consuming flashes last week on our way home from a trip. A semi-truck did not see our SUV and changed into our lane. I do not want to think what would have happened if my husband had not been quick to react. Shaking, I looked over to the right-hand side of the car at my sweet boy who would have received the brunt of the impact. Once again, I was reminded of what a simple blessing it is to be alive.

It was March 1996 and my friend Heidi and I planned to ski at Park City Mountain Resort. I was the Executive Director of PR for our student government and had been heavily promoting this student-sanctioned ski day. And so what better way to publicize it than to skip school and do it?

I had intended to clean out my car but didn’t have time so we threw our skis in the backseat and grabbed some fast food instead. We were driving on the I-15 gabbing away when we encountered a slow-moving semi truck in the middle lane. The left-hand lane was blocked, so without hesitation I moved to pass the semi in the right lane.

That was when it happened.

Without seeing us, the semi changed into my lane, sending us reeling across the three lanes of traffic into the median. We bounced off it in a deadly pinball game, only to land underneath the back tires of the truck. It proceeded to run over the backseat of my car and spew us back out onto the median.

This is the account the witnesses gave. My experience was very different. I felt the initial impact and knew we were spinning. But then there was light. It wasn’t something that I saw but rather, it was something that penetrated me to my core. I lived an eternity in those few seconds that I could never even try to describe other than to say I have never felt so divinely protected.

When we finally stopped, there was a long pause as we sat in stunned silence. I chose to break it.

“Heidi, I don’t think we’re going skiing today.” Hilarity ensued. We surveyed the damage. The semi’s tire tracks were merely three inches from my seat, completely destroying the back of the car where our skis were located.

“I’m sure glad I didn’t clean my car today.” More laughter.

Within moments, a trauma nurse and police officer were on the scene. “These girls are delirious,” they prescribed.

I didn’t have heart to tell him we were always like that.

Eventually, they had to call in the jaws of life to get us out. We were rushed to the hospital and were miraculously given a clean bill of health.

Well, minus some inevitable bruises and whiplash. The next day when I was limping around my apartment, someone asked how I was doing.

I looked pointedly at them before blithely replying, “I feel like I’ve been run over by a semi.”

Duh. :-)