How Do I Change My Child’s Summer Eating Habits?

My husband doesn’t believe me. “How can we spend $300 on groceries and have nothing left by Tuesday!,” he laments. I get it … I wouldn’t believe it either if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. But I have seen it; every day this summer, my boys have eaten enough to feed a small village. And they’re still hungry!

I sat down with no-nonsense, Dallas-based nutritionist Caroline Susie, RD to find a solution to my problem. An award-winning, self-proclaimed “dietitian by day, foodie by night,” Susie frequently appears on NBC DFW, Fox 4 News, WFAA and more to share her honest and logical approach to health.

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Hi Caroline! My children are eating everything in sight this summer. Should children follow the same three meals/two snacks schedule recommended for adults?
Absolutely! The most important part of creating healthy eating habits in adults and children is keeping a regular eating schedule. There isn’t a “most important meal of the day;” it’s consistency that’s key. Your children should expect to eat every two-to-three hours from breakfast until dinner. This will keep their bodies properly fueled and safe from crashing. Just like adults, if they don’t eat enough earlier in the day, they are prone to overeat later.

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How can I tell if my child is going through a growth spurt, or if he is just adopting the bad habits of eating too much/too often?
What I would say to you is that you can’t know for sure. However, if your child is eating on that three-meals/two snacks schedule, he should be full. There are a couple of factors at play here: making sure the meals and the snacks are balanced and making sure the portions are adequate.

In order to create the sensation of fullness, each meal and snack offered needs to be a combination of fiber and protein. This could be an apple with nut butter, yogurt with berries, “ants on a log,” homemade trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, low-sugar cereal), string cheese and a pear, cheese toast, oatmeal with peanut butter, deli meat with cheese and fruit, etc. If your child is really going through a growth spurt, offer larger portion sizes of these foods instead of letting him eat more frequently.

Also be mindful about where your children are eating. If they are used to plopping in front of the TV and grazing all day, they’re probably just eating out of habit or boredom. Make sure meals are served at the table and not in the living room. This has nothing to do with keeping the couch clean and everything to do with establishing practices of mindful — and, therefore, more satisfying — eating.

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When we’re talking about portion sizes, how much does the average child need?  Young children should get three-to-five ounces of whole grains, 1½ cups of veggies, 1½ cups of fruit, two-to-four ounces of protein and 2½ cups of dairy per day. Eatright.org is a great resource for parents who want to learn more. My best advice is to serve your children the same food you eat; their plates should look like mini versions of your own. Model good eating habits in front of them, and — even if it’s not immediate — it will eventually make a difference.

Any tips on getting them to eat those aforementioned veggies?
Please don’t force your children to eat anything. I get that it’s tempting, but don’t even use the “just try one bite” rule. Serve their meals with a safe food (something you know they’ll eat) on the plate, and just keep introducing the vegetables alongside it over and over again.

Always talk about color when you talk about food with your children. They are not interested in what is “healthy” or “good for you,” but telling them that blue foods help their brains or red food helps their hearts is pretty cool. Also, don’t rule out the possibility that you may just have a total pain-in-the-butt, picky eater. That has nothing to do with you! You did nothing wrong. If little Timmy won’t eat his veggies now, he will one day. Just stay consistent and quit worrying about it.

How often should I be allowing treats?
I think it’s completely fine for a child to have one “treat” (sweets, fried foods, chips) every day. As long as it’s a healthy portion, introducing one treat a day can help lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship with sweets/unhealthy foods. If you don’t demonize treats, your children will learn how to incorporate them into their balanced diets. They only become a problem if the portions are too large or if they are enjoyed too frequently.

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Should I close the kitchen after dinner, or is that messing with my children’s ability to trust their own hunger?
As I mentioned earlier, predictable meal times are very important. However, if you have increased your child’s portion sizes and he is still waking up hungry in the middle of the night, you may need to add a bedtime snack to the schedule. Same rules of protein/fiber meal balance apply.

Should my children take a probiotic daily? And how important is dairy?
Probiotics certainly can’t hurt, but they’re not doing anything yogurt can’t do. As for dairy, I’m a big believer. It’s an important vehicle for calcium and vitamin D, and there are now studies linking children who drink milk alternatives with being shorter than their milk-drinking counterparts. People need to quit believing “Karen” on Facebook spouting dairy myths and instead consult the experts. Osteoporosis is a childhood disease with adult consequences.

If your children aren’t milk drinkers, try mixing in chocolate powder. Or how about making a fruit smoothie, mixing milk into their oatmeal, or finishing dinner with a pudding cup?

If we notice our child is putting on extra weight, how should we handle that?
You don’t. If your child is putting on some extra weight and his pediatrician is not concerned, just continue to serve him healthy foods on a regular schedule. He is most likely about to go through a growth spurt.

Keep offering balanced meals and snacks at predictable times. Stay active as a family, and have some fun! You don’t want to make the weight an issue and risk triggering an unhealthy relationship with food.

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How much exercise or physical activity should our children get each day? Should we get them to “workout “ — creating that lifelong habit — or just play?
Whether you are a child or an adult, everyone should “play” for 30–60 minutes each day. Model this healthy behavior and make it a priority in your life. Explain to your children that you’re going to yoga or spin class because that’s what you love … that’s your “play.” Speak to them in these terms, and show them that you do it because it’s fun, not because it’s an obligation. It will make a difference to them.

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Get Caroline’s Must-Have Snack List, Trader Joe’s Staples and “Just Tell Me What To Eat” Meal Plan here.

Also:

Have you ever tried Recipe-Free Cooking?
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What I Wish You Knew: My Child Has A Life-Threatening Food Allergy

By Guest Blogger Heather Elise Duge

A few bites of a scrambled egg changed our lives forever.

About six years ago, I had just finished feeding our baby and put her down to play. The moments that followed are a blur. I remember my husband calling for me to come quickly. Our baby looked unrecognizable — hives all over and facial swelling to the point that her eyes had closed. I remember praying the whole way to the hospital, begging God to not let it get any worse. As we pulled in, her lips had swollen to double their size. She struggled to breathe. Epinephrine saved her life that day.

And just like that, we were thrown into a whole new world of life-threatening food allergies … a world that involves lots of learning and navigating as we go … a world where we live with the jarring reality that one wrong bite could be fatal.

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Before we left the hospital that day, the E.R. doctor diagnosed her with anaphylaxis, gave us an EpiPen prescription and warned us not to give her any new foods until testing. But I didn’t realize what I ate could affect her, too. After a few bites of trail mix one day, I kissed her on the cheeks, and every kiss left a hive. Testing revealed it’s not just egg. She also has severe allergies to peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, mustard and shrimp.

Fast forward a few years, and I was pregnant with our baby boy. He underwent testing at four-months old, and — to our surprise — no food allergies were revealed. I was so relieved. But we knew in the back of our minds that he was more likely to develop them. Nearly three years went by and still no allergies, until a few bites of a peanut butter pretzel at a friend’s house changed our lives again. He vomited.

My husband was at work, so the three of us jumped in the car and headed to the hospital, just in case. I knew the drill — if the reaction involves two bodily systems, grab the Epi. It quickly progressed to hives and swelling. My shaky hands dug into my purse for my daughter’s EpiPen as I swerved to the side of the road and reached back to inject it into his thigh. The next thing I knew we were in the E.R. with my swollen and pale toddler hearing the doctor repeat those familiar words, “You saved his life today. Don’t ever hesitate to use the EpiPen.

And just like that we had two children with life-threatening food allergies.

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Food Allergies Are On The Rise
Unless someone has a child with food allergies, I don’t expect them to know the ins and outs of it all. That’s why education and awareness are so important. That’s why I’m writing this article. One in 13 children has severe food allergies, and 75% of these cases occur in children with no prior family diagnosis. Each reaction can be different and range in severity, but those with food allergies must always be prepared.

Chances are you already go to a place (like our church) that ensures a nut-free environment. Chances are your child will probably know someone with food allergies and could save a life. It happened to my sister, who has sesame and tree nut allergies, when she reacted to unlabeled sesame flour in a restaurant’s tortilla wrap, and her college roommate knew how to use the EpiPen.

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Cross-Contact Is Like Playing Russian Roulette
Reading food labels has become second nature to us (who knew Chewy SweeTARTS contain egg?). You may notice some foods labeled with “may contain peanuts” or “made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and egg.” That equipment may or may not be cleaned thoroughly enough to avoid a rogue almond or sesame seed making its way into the wrong food. On top of that, each manufacturer can change its protocols at any time.

The U.S. has become better about labeling for the top eight allergens, but other foods — like sesame — can be tricky. Since sesame allergies are on the rise, legislation to include it in the top allergens has been passed in some states. Texas has yet to do that. Foods like crackers, cereals, bread and more may contain sesame and be labeled under “flavoring” or “spices,” as a teen’s father found out the hard way after watching his daughter collapse on a plane from eating a sandwich with unlabeled sesame in the dough.

Eating out and avoiding seven different allergens is hard, so we cook a lot. Thank goodness my husband has found he really enjoys cooking, and we all love the result. Our favorites so far are made-from-scratch pizza and donuts.

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Kids Are Learning To Be Their Own Advocates, But They’re Still Just Kids … 
A child with food allergies has big responsibilities. At age three, both of our children learned to recite their list of allergies. They know how to use their epinephrine auto-injectors. I’ve heard them describe their allergies to friends and why they can’t eat certain foods. They are both very aware and cautious, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still just kids and need support and guidance from others on this food allergy journey.

Kindness Truly Does Go A Long Way
I remember thinking I knew we had to find the good that could come out of this. After six years, I’ve come to realize that the silver lining is watching our children learn what empathy means, like when teachers prayed each morning for a reaction-free day and taught the students, by example, what it means to put others before yourself. Or when a staff member in the lunchroom went above and beyond to make sure lunchtime was safe and enjoyable for her. Or when a neighbor with a cake business helped me frost my daughter’s homemade birthday cake. Or when a friend’s pinata broke open at her birthday party, and my daughter could eat all the candy. Or when a boy in her class took it upon himself to be the “peanut police” every day at lunch. Or when that same boy’s mom wrote to me at the end of the year to tell me that eliminating allergens had made them more creative with food, and that she was grateful to find healthier alternatives. Or when our neighbor threw safe candy with a sweet note over our fence. Or when moms asked to bring safe cookies for their child’s birthday because they wanted my daughter to be included. Or when moms in charge of a special day at school made sure she could eat all the snacks. Or when a sixth grader planned an allergy-free treat section at our school’s pumpkin patch. To say our kids are grateful for these acts of kindness is an understatement. And in turn, they have learned to think of others before themselves, knowing how it feels when others sacrifice so they can be included.

Allergy-free treats at pumpkin patch

I Rely On God In A Whole New Way
I get the question from mom friends all the time, “How do you deal with knowing that one mix up could be tragic?” The short answer is Jesus. I’m on my knees in prayer much more than I was before this diagnosis. The reality that a lick of peanut butter or a sesame seed could take my child’s life forces me to rely on God in a totally different way.

We Never Leave Home Without Our EpiPens
We are told to always carry two EpiPens with us. Because there have been times when one is not enough. But sometimes even three is not enough, in the case of Natalie Giorgi who unknowingly ate peanuts in a Rice Krispies treat.

For the Debbs family, their son Oakley is the driving force behind a campaign, Red Sneakers For Oakley, to educate others that epinephrine — not an antihistamine — is the only medication that will treat anaphylaxis. Oakley had always been vigilant to avoid nuts and experienced only a few mild reactions before one Thanksgiving when he unknowingly grabbed a piece of cake containing nut extract. His parents were not prepared for what was to come.

In “Lessons from a Teen Food Allergy Tragedy,” Dr. Robert Wood, director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center said, “Epinephrine needs to be given promptly in the event of a reaction; the longer it’s delayed before being given, the greater chances that it won’t work.”

Sometimes food allergy parents may seem overprotective. But here’s the kicker. If we get it wrong, we don’t get to hit the reset button.

 

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Heather Elise Duge is a freelance writer for pediatric hospitals in the DFW area. Before her first child was born, she was a writer for Children’s Health and story producer for a documentary, “Children’s Med Dallas.” Heather enjoys volunteering, teaching preschoolers at Sunday school and spending time with her husband and two children. 

 

Want to know what life is like for other moms? Read our “What I Wish You Knew” series:

What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son In America

torsha

What I Wish You Knew: Life For Refugee Mothers

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… In Which I Try To Sun Myself In The Backyard While My Children Play

The news has been devastating lately, and this weekend I needed an escape. Since I still don’t feel comfortable going anywhere while Coronavirus is lurking, my own backyard “escape” was the best I could do. Bad idea … bad, bad idea.

With my beach towel, glitter pool float (makeshift pool chair) and sunscreen in hand, I set out for the backyard. “I have good news, boys!,” I declared. “Go ahead and fill up both pools, get out all of the sprinkler toys, and let’s have a little water fun in the backyard! Mommy’s going to get some sun, and y’all just have a good time. There’s only one rule: don’t get Mommy wet.” I felt very confident that I was a super-fun mom until my five-year-old, who at times can be more mature than I am, said, “That’s a terrible idea, Mom. Someone always gets sprayed in the eyes with the hose. Everyone gets mud in the house, and we’ll all have to take baths.” “Oh phooey,” I thought. You see, I describe my parenting style as “I live and breathe for you. You’re all I think about. I would die for you in a heartbeat. Now get away from me.” I thought water fun would occupy them for hours and leave me basking in the glory of the sun. I was wrong.

Once I convinced everyone that my plan was pure genius, I poured myself a big glass of Sauvignon Blanc and headed outside. I found the only unoccupied spot approximately one foot away from where my golden retriever likes to do her business. The Beverly Hills Hotel this was not. However, with my ‘60s playlist and the smell of suntan lotion, I felt like something right out of “The Graduate,” a tanned sun goddess who had just returned from the tiki bar.

Now, the sun isn’t usually my thing. I’m not what you would call a “beach person,” and I have a history of lasting approximately 10 minutes in the heat before waving the white flag. I’ve often wondered what people actually do at the pool or beach all day long. It’s a slap in the face of the modern advancement called air conditioning, if you ask me. But with the retro tunes and the drink in my hand, I was beginning to understand the strange attraction people have to the sun. “Maybe it’s time to get out some baby oil,” I thought to myself. “Who cares if I end up looking like a fried pickle? Life’s too short!” Don’t worry, I came to my senses and realized life would be a lot shorter if I marinated myself in baby oil.

My youngest came over to me out of concern. “Take off your top,” he said (He’s three). “What!?,” I said. “Take off your top, or it will get wet,” he insisted. I talked him down, but I worry about him in college with a line like that. About that time, I see something flying through the air towards me; it’s a gift from my oldest son, a large black beetle wrapped in dirty underwear. I honestly didn’t want to know where either came from, so I politely declined the gentleman’s gift.

While dealing with the tighty-whities beetle, I hadn’t noticed that my youngest had turned my pool float into a wave pool. Apparently he had found delight in shaking the float over and over as to watch my fat jiggle. Awesome. I no longer felt like a sun goddess, which was good because about that time I had to play defense. I saw a soccer ball fly right past my head just in time to hear my middle son yell, “I’m the king of wet balls!” I didn’t even have the chance to giggle before I looked over to see my youngest using our concrete patio as a urinal. “Nooooooooooo…,” I yelled with fear and disbelief in my eyes.

As I was explaining to my three-year-old why we don’t relieve ourselves on the patio where we like to eat, my middle son noticed ants on the fence behind me and waged a full-on war. It wasn’t bad enough that he was ending them with the hose’s brutal jet function, but he was yelling insults while doing it. “Nobody cares about you” and “You were NOT invited to the party” were two of my personal favorites.

I tried to salvage my day in the sun, and I headed back over to my pool float. My oldest ran past me and cut me off, jumping onto the float. At that moment, my middle son’s attention shifted from ants to brothers and he yelled, “Hey dump truck! Don’t steal a lady’s comfortable spot!” I decided right then that if nothing else came from that day, that I was still winning because of my son’s chivalrous gesture. Now we’ll work on his vocabulary.

I’ve learned my lesson, and I won’t be sunning in the backyard anytime soon. The next time I need an escape, I’m going to an adults-only pool. From that day I took away nothing but a headache and a boy-shaped tan line on each leg. My tan lines don’t exactly scream desirable bathing beauty, but they do mean I’m loved. I’ll take that.

Did You Know You Are A Constellation?

For much of my life, I have struggled with the feeling of being “too much” … too many things. I have felt as if there were too many facets to my personality, too many conflicting interests and preferences. My empathy often extends to both sides of an argument, and my opinions constantly change based on my research and discussions. I know no person is static, but I have always fought hard against the gut instinct that I just didn’t “fit” anywhere.

 

This week as I was reading something written by therapist and Co-Founder of Motherlift, Morgan Myers, LPC, of East Dallas Psychotherapy, something struck a chord with me. Myers believes that each person is a constellation. She says that we “aren’t strictly one thing. We can be any one of the stars in the constellation, depending on the day, the mood, the fact that we’re hungry or tired. It can vary depending on the life stage. All of it is you. If we can view ourselves as constellations, we can loosen the grip on who we think we should be, and just be.”

 

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Morgan Myers, LPC, of East Dallas Psychotherapy

When I step outside my insecurities, I can see how the stars in my personal constellation work together to create me. I need each star — even if they may be in direct contrast with one another — to create my whole person. So why do I keep fighting to extinguish all but one star?

 

I believe it’s because we live in a branded world. Identity — a perfectly defined identity — is sold as the key to success. From theme songs and logos to endorsements and catch phrases, we are taught from an early age that people are characters, not complex beings. People in business become the brand, and it is integral to the sell. In that way, I find myself adapting to the various roles in my life by showing each group of people only the most appropriate “star.”

 

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site

 

Myers says we do this because we’re all looking for belonging. “We, as a culture, have an unwritten list of what we think is appropriate in our life stages, in our social circles, etc. We’re all trying to measure up, when all we really want is to be acceptable.”

 

We are accustomed to pigeonholing each other, says Myers, and we do the same disservice to ourselves. “You may say, ‘I’m not the kind of person who’ or ‘I don’t know why I did that; that wasn’t me!’ Well, it’s all you. When you finally accept these parts of yourself, you can free yourself. You can make unconventional choices, be spontaneous and still be fully authentic. It is SO FREEING!”

 

Myers likes to look at it like this: She says our identities are comprised of our ideal selves (our potential) and our shadow selves (our limitations). These are two equal parts of each person’s identity, but we choose to showcase and highlight the ideal self. “The ideal self is the ‘most appropriate star’ you talked about,” says Myers. “It’s how we want to be perceived; we like this part. We applaud our ideal self on Instagram, and it is something to be celebrated. But it’s not alone.”

 

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site

 

The other part, the shadow self, tells us about our limits and is an essential part of our existence. “Parker J. Palmer talks about how we walk a path, and sometimes the way closes or the way opens. Often we blame ourselves when the door closes. Sometimes we think we just need to try harder. This can become shame,” says Myers.

 

In her own life, Myers has overcome fighting her shadow self and has landed in a place of rest. “I always wanted four kids,” says Myers. “I loved the idea of a big, full house. But when I had my two girls, I was hit with deep postpartum depression. I have slowly come to terms with this ‘way closing,’ and after many years of processing my shame about my limitations, I have begun to own it. Once I owned that ‘star in my constellation,’ I felt freer. I can now embrace what I do have in my family. I can be honest about my limitations. I can even join others who have the same limitation. There’s grief in recognizing my limitations, but there’s also a deeper rest in myself.”

 

If we’re looking for a deeper rest and acceptance of our own selves, Myers insists that we stop the all-or-nothing thinking. “This kind of thinking boxes us in, telling us we’re only one thing … and, dammit, we’d better live up to that one thing,” she says. Instead, she suggests we combat this thinking with “and” statements:

 

I can love my family and not want more babies.

I can be an advocate for racial discrimination and enjoy the blessings I do have.

I can be a good friend and make a mistake in the way I communicate with them.

I can love my husband and feel dissatisfied with how I’m treated.

I can have a strong faith and have doubts sometimes.

I can meet my children’s needs and meet my own needs.

I can, I may, I can be …. and, and, and.

 

Another variation of that is “I may” statements. “Instead of ‘I should’ or ‘I shouldn’t,’ try ‘I may,’ says Myers. “Give yourself at least 2–3 options. ‘I may decide to go out with friends even when I haven’t seen my kids all day, or I may decide to stay home.’ ‘I may go back to school, or I may decide to wait, or I may decide not to go at all.’ It sounds simple, but when you feel limited by your circumstances, your past experiences or your ‘shoulds,’ then ‘I may’ really opens up the world for you.”

 

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Myers reminds us that we can be more than one star, and we can make mistakes. “Your constellation will have some contradictions,” she says. “If you have time, draw a constellation. Now put at least 20 stars on your constellation, each one labeled with a quality you possess, good and not-so-good. Allow for contradictions. You might begin to notice some themes about who you are.”

 

Through exercises like these we can begin doing the challenging work of discovering our true identities, so that we may bring their light to the world. If we are gentle and honest with ourselves, we unlock — and, better yet, accept — who we are.

 

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Morgan Myers, LPC, of East Dallas Psychotherapy

Want to read more about how to become a better person? How to give your children a better future? Try our “What I Wish You Knew” series:

 

“What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son in America”

torsha

 

“What I Wish You Knew: Life For Refugee Mothers”

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What I Wish You Knew: I’m Raising A Black Son in America

In my suburban community, the white mothers I know are overwhelmed and disgusted by what they’ve seen on the news this week. We’ve seen grown black men and women being murdered in front of our eyes, and we feel helpless. But what we don’t see is that each one of these victims was loved and cherished by a mother whose worst fear has been realized.

In this new series, “What I Wish You Knew,” I’m asking various mothers to tell their stories, and I’m hoping to become a better person and a more active participant in change. I recently interviewed Torsha Tomlinson, wife of Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and a mother of two, about what it’s like raising a black son in America.

Tell me what it feels like when you hear on the news that another innocent black man has been killed or threatened? What goes through your mind?

It feels like betrayal over and over again. There is a flurry of emotions: anger mixed with anxiety, sadness, fear, hopelessness, and an overwhelming desire to do something about it. Every time I hear about yet another unarmed black man being killed and the smear campaign begins along with the despicable explaining away of the unnecessary loss of another black soul, I’m reminded that the lives of people who look like my son are not valued. I’m reminded that to some people, my son’s skin color makes him a target and there’s nothing I can do about it. I cannot change his skin color.

When I see the mothers of these men and hear their cries, I find myself drowning in feelings of inadequacy and anxiety due to my inability as a mother to protect my son from this. Prayers for his continued protection go through my mind. Unrealistic thoughts of keeping my son safe at home with me forever and ever run through my mind. Then I prepare to sit my children down and explain it all to them so that I can ensure they hear the truth from me before hearing lies elsewhere.

What have you seen to be the reaction from your white friends? What do you wish they understood?

First let me say that people who I previously thought to be my “friends,” who had no reaction to the repeated injustices of people who look like me and my children, are no longer my friends. The white friends I do still have in my life are very supportive and genuinely want to help facilitate change. They are honest with themselves about their own privileges and what they see happening to people of color. My white friends are disgusted by all of this and afraid for their own white children to be growing up in a world full of such hate.

They are struggling, just as I am, to try and explain all of this to such young, innocent minds. They have a strong understanding that an injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us. But they do still feel helpless and lost at times … clueless as to what they can do to make it better … afraid to speak out for fear of being attacked, ridiculed or judged by their white friends and family.

I understand that fear and I respect them for knowing and believing that doing nothing makes them at the very least an accomplice to racism even if they aren’t racist themselves. My white friends have a desire to take some responsibility for ensuring that we don’t inevitably leave these same problems behind for our children‘s children to continue to have to deal with. I wish everyone understood that.

How old is your son, and how do you explain all of this to him?

My son is nine years old and for his own safety and the desire to want to keep him safe, we don’t sugar coat any of this with him. Although we never show him any of the graphic images in the media, we do make sure that he is very much aware of what is happening to women, children and men all over America who look like us. We have been honest with him about America’s history and its lingering effects. Knowing the history allows him to understand the why. This is something I think is missing in schools and in people’s homes.

I get it! Parts of America’s history are rough, unpleasant, brutal and even heartless at times. But when you know better, you do better! Tolerance and understanding of another group’s plight only comes from learning the deep-rooted truths about their history. We are doing everybody a disservice by always sweeping the ugly parts of our history under the rug. Not discussing and teaching how we really got to this point is part of the problem.

We teach our son that there are good and bad people in the world from all walks of life, and that a person’s skin color alone does not make him or her good or bad. We spend a lot of time building him up. Developing a healthy self-esteem for our son is very important to us knowing that he has to go out into a world that wants to bombard him with negative images, narratives and portrayals of people who look like him.

We also believe that representation matters, so we go out of our way to ensure he sees, meets, reads about and encounters black men of color in a positive light. We want him to know that his life matters, has worth and value, regardless of how the world around him perceives those who look like him.

Tell me about the conversations you and your husband have had about keeping your son safe.

My husband and I had to start having these very scary and difficult conversations with our son when he was eight years old. Honestly, at first, it was a source of contention between us because although I felt like it was time, my husband was completely against it. Rightly so, he wanted my son to have the privilege of remaining an innocent, naive child for as long as he could without having to comprehend such grown-up issues.

However, the more we kept seeing incident after incident occurring in the media, we knew that even though he was so young, educating him and preparing him to have to walk through life as a black man was vital to his safety. As black parents the longer we waited, the more at risk our son would be. My husband and I realize that it is inevitable that our son will one day face discrimination, so we agreed to never stop talking and teaching him how to handle it in ways that will ensure he will always return back home to us safely.

When he’s out riding his bike or playing with friends, are you worried?

Due to the current environment and, frankly, the shift I’ve seen roughly over the last three-and-a-half years, my son has not been outside riding his bike without my husband or myself with him. This is simply due to fear that the police could be called on him by people who think he looks suspicious or doesn’t belong here. It’s simply not safe, not worth the worry, or the chance of a terrible irreversible accident occurring like what has happened to too many other brown boys.

What has your son said to you?

This is all very scary and confusing for him. Grasping the concept that someone who doesn’t even know you and who you’ve never done a single ounce of harm towards could dislike you, wish ill will toward you and want to cause you harm is very difficult for him to understand. We honestly weren’t aware of the effects the lack of justice served in all of these cases was truly having on him until an incident occurred a few months ago.

He was having issues at school with another student for months and never once said anything to anyone about it. When things finally came to light we asked him why he let it go on for so long without coming to us, and he said that “it was because the other student’s father was a police officer and that he was afraid he’d do bad things to our family since cops can do anything they want.”

I cried a million tears in that moment. I hated how these awful killings being allowed to occur with no justice being served were shaping my child negatively and instilling fear in him. I was not okay with that. We have had to put a lot of energy into teaching him that not all cops are bad and that no human is perfect! We remind him that most cops are the real heroes that dedicate their lives to keeping us safe. Most importantly, we remind our son of how unfair it would be for him to be judged by the bad actions of others, so we will not take part in unfairly judging all officers by the bad actions of a few.

What is said when you discuss these tragedies and our culture with your black mom friends?

The overwhelming topic of almost all of our discussions is fear … fear for our husbands and children. There’s also an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. We are tired of this! We are tired of talking about it, fighting it and having to prepare our children for it. We watched our moms and grandmothers go through this same exact fear for their sons and husbands. They watched our great-grandmothers deal with the same fears, and so on and so forth back too many generations to count.

We fear that our children and grandchildren will still be dealing with the same thing. We also discuss the hurt and disappointment some black mothers feel toward their white friends who choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. We share our struggles with the idea of a “friend” who breaks bread with your family, sleeps over, attends birthdays, whose children participate in extracurricular activities and play with your children, and claim to care about your child and family, yet he/she displays such indifference for what is happening around the country to people who look like your family. The appearance of desensitization and blatant disregard to death, murder, injustice and unnecessary loss of black lives displayed by some of those white “friends” is flat out shocking.

What do we take for granted as white moms?

There are many things I could touch on pertaining to the things white moms take for granted but I’d like to focus on the number one thing that I am currently struggling with. I would imagine that just like all moms you love your children and want the best for them. You want them to live out a full and happy life like the rest of us. Most moms struggle with the idea of our children growing up and getting older. We’d keep them babies forever if we could. But I’m not sure if white moms fear their white sons simply getting older could lead to them being killed. I doubt white moms ever worry that simply growing up could come with a negative perception toward their sons and could cause them harm.

I am the mother of a sweet, caring, shy, baby-faced, nine-year-old brown boy … a boy who is quickly growing every day into someone who will be viewed as just a threatening and intimidating black man by people who have zero regard for the real content of his character. I would imagine that white moms are proud when their sons grow tall and start to fill out into handsome young men. Black moms know that same height and size on our sons paired with their blackness can cause fear and intimidation that could lead to their deaths behind the hands of fearful and bias officers.

There are studies and statistics that show that, in general, black boys over the age of 10 are judged to be less innocent than white boys. A 2014 study found that black boys are seen as more culpable for their actions within a criminal justice context than white boys. Research also found that black boys as young as 10 years old were significantly less likely to be viewed as children than their white peers. My son is weeks away from turning 10, and the thought of anyone considering him to be, punishing him as, treating him like, or expecting him to behave as an adult is scary and absurd.

What do black moms wish white moms would tell our children when these tragedies occur?

Tell them that wrong is wrong regardless of whom is at fault. No one is perfect, not even police officers. Ensure that they know a person’s skin color doesn’t automatically make them guilty or at fault. Make sure they understand that in America we have a judicial system for a reason, and that no one’s life should be taken over a pack of cigarettes, an evening jog, a counterfeit $20 bill, failing to signal, a pack of Skittles or a toy pellet gun.

Human life has to be viewed as more valuable than that. Realize that you ignoring these acts of injustice and not addressing them in your own home reads as disregard for human life and is teaching your children to do the same, which keeps us in this perpetual cycle generation after generation. So even if you choose not to tell your children anything when yet another unarmed black man has been killed by law enforcement, your reaction or lack there of will inadvertently be a lesson to them anyway.

What can we do to help fix the problem? Posting on social media is one thing, but how do we ignite actual change and save lives?

This systemic problem was rooted into the very foundation that America was built on over centuries and centuries. Unrooting it and getting rid of it will not be an easy task. Stand with us! Speak up & speak out! We need allies who understand that this problem is everyone’s problem.

Honestly, black people are not responsible for centuries of unwarranted violence against them, so I truly feel that the onus should not solely be on us to fix it. I believe you can help by first acknowledging there is a problem. You all live in the same world we live in. You witness the same things we witness. You have heard our cries and complaints forever. So a good place to start is to stop denying the facts of racism in this country. Then begin addressing the views and teachings in your own homes with your families, children and within your circles.

Educating your children is most vital. Stopping the spread of hate and division to other generations is key. Expose your children to positive images, books and representation of people of color. Encourage your family to get to know people outside of their own race if they don’t already. That is the most organic way to cultivate understanding and tolerance for those that are different than us. Educate your friends who you hear spewing evil and hate towards people of color. Stop being afraid of losing your white friends for speaking truth to power. If they are down with hate, ask yourself why you are friends with them in the first place. Understand that simply not being racist isn’t enough. We need you all to be anti-racist and instill the same into your children.

 

What I Wish You Knew: Life for Refugee Mothers

We each have a unique story, though our stories often go untold. We’re intelligent enough to know we can learn from one another, but we stay in our bubbles because it is comfortable. I’m guiltier than most, with my busyness as my shield. If we took the time to just ask the questions we really want to ask and truly listen to the answers, our empathy would not only change us, but change our children as well.

In this new series, “What I Wish You Knew,” I am asking various mothers to tell their stories, and I’m hoping to become a better, more empathetic person and a more active participant in change. I recently interviewed Stephanie Giddens, founder of Vickery Trading Company, about her experience getting to know and working alongside many refugees in the Dallas area. What she has discovered may surprise you.

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VTC Founder, Stephanie Giddens

Giddens founded Vickery Trading Company as a way to help refugees in her community by “equipping them for long-term success.” She hires refugee women and pays them fair wages to sew clothing for the Vickery Trading Company brand. Employees receive training as professional seamstresses and instruction in American workplace behaviors and expectations. They are guided through the resumé-building, application and interview process and, as VTC graduates, given job placement assistance. The women are also trained in ESL, reading, handwriting, and typing before they leave. In other words, they are given a chance to succeed.

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Dress by Vickery Trading Company

Stephanie, what do you think the majority of people would be surprised to learn about refugees?
Refugees are not illegal immigrants, migrants or asylum seekers. While there are millions of refugees that claim the Islamic faith, the majority of refugees in the world are Christian. Also, to date, no terror-related activities in the U.S. have been performed by refugees. ZERO.

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What is the challenge like for these women, many of them mothers?
It’s different in all countries, but for the Rohingya community, for instance, their government comes to their villages to kill or capture many of the men and boys before sending the women and girls to refugee camps. Only 1–2% of all people in the refugee camps get resettled, and they are completely reliant on relief efforts.

Their first step is to be named official refugees by the U.N. After that, a lottery system determines whether or not they will be resettled. On average, refugees — the lucky ones who get resettled — spend 8–15 years in a refugee camp.

If they are chosen to resettle in the U.S., they undergo multiple health checks and security screenings with eight different government agencies. Once here, the refugees must find a way to repay the airfare and are given 90 days to learn English and get a job. Many of these women come from cultures where the women don’t work, so we try to give them sewing skills they can use to work from home with their children.

One of the most challenging parts for us is that these women were never taught how to learn. Many of them have spent the majority of their young lives in camps and have little-to-no education. The Rohingya women don’t even have a written language, so there is no way for them to translate words to English.

They struggle through all of this so that their children may receive an education and have hope for a different life.

What do they think of us?
It’s funny because when I was first beginning this business and interviewing women — of all cultures — they would always ask me if my three children had the same father. I finally got up the courage to ask why they would ask such a question. It turns out that the only impression they get of American culture in their homelands is from what they see on TV and in movies, which are not the greatest examples of morals and family values.

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What have you learned from them?
They love so well. If I even have a headache, they bring meals to my door. The Muslim people groups really know how to slow down and celebrate life and the people in it. They are a communal people, and there is always a feast, a festival and a reason to celebrate.

If we don’t have the time to volunteer or the money to donate, what can we do to help these mothers?
We can model an attitude of inclusion in front of our children. Our children will see us if we smile and say hi to the women in the hijabs. It will register with them.

We can choose to go to a playground in a refugee neighborhood instead of the ones in our community. We can let our children play alongside the refugee children and show them that Americans are kind.

We can stop the cycle of fear that affects both their community and ours. The American mind has been trained to see a hijab as equaling terrorism, and the Muslim refugees from Taliban-laden communities have been taught that Westerners are the enemy. Oftentimes, they are afraid to engage with us, and surprised when we turn out to be friendly.

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What do you want people to take away from this piece?
Be willing to look at someone differently. Be willing to see someone as a human and not as a political case or a statistic. You would be so surprised, and your life would be so much richer.

 

Our Utopian Summer Schedule

I’m just going to leave this here so history may show that the Riney Summer of 2020 began with unwavering optimism on behalf of its production manager. Stay tuned …

I love using Canva (FREE!) to design my schedules, chore charts, etc. I find the process helps organize my thoughts and proves to be therapeutic. Do you enjoy creating schedules for your family, or do you prefer spontaneity? I prefer the idea of spontaneity, but, also, experience has taught me that I’ll probably end up spontaneously throwing in the towel if I don’t have a schedule.

What works well in your home during the summer?

Summer Schedule

Always Remember

Every year, our family enjoys spending Memorial Day at the Carry The Load Dallas Memorial March. This year looks a little different with a drive taking place of the march, but the end result is the same: bringing awareness to the real meaning of Memorial Day Weekend.

Barbecues, swimming and spending time with loved ones this weekend are beautiful ways to celebrate how fortunate we are to have the lives we have, but we wouldn’t have these lives or freedoms without the men and women who sacrificed theirs. We hear that word “sacrifice” so frequently that we can become desensitized to its actual meaning.

It means never seeing your baby’s first steps, never taking that dream vacation, never seeing another sunset, never hugging your mom again. I want my boys to understand this and feel the gratitude deep in their bones.

We are a patriotic family, and that will never change. I am proud of this country, and I am honored to be an American. I will always remember.

My Favorite Mom Hack: Recipe-Free Cooking

I am not a chef. I wouldn’t even consider myself a cook. This is why the daily plight of feeding a family of five dinner gives me heart palpitations.

Though I am admittedly obsessed with reading cookbooks and watch Food Network religiously, I hate following recipes. Trying to keep three children entertained while following along and executing a recipe is just too much to ask. So, here’s my secret to getting dinner on the table every night: I just cook the things.

Once you have some basic kitchen skills and a rudimentary understanding of ingredients that work well together, JUST. COOK. THE. FOOD. Quit overthinking this cooking and meal planning thing. You don’t need to spend the only free time you have making a freezer full of casseroles and slow cooker “dump meals” (which, by the way, can we please as a caring society collectively rename?!). You don’t have to spend hours meal planning. You don’t even need a recipe or a plan of any sort. Here’s what you do need:

-Spices
-Herbs
-Olive Oil and butter
-Lemons, limes
-Garlic, onions
-The ability to sauté, use an oven, boil pasta, and slice, dice and chop!

Now, take all of that knowledge and walk into the grocery store without a list … Exhilarating, isn’t it? You’ll want to know how many dinners — and, therefore, proteins/veggies/grains —you need. For instance, if I’m making 4 dinners I know I need 4 proteins, probably 6-8 veggies and 2-4 starches/grains, depending whether I’m making a pasta or not.

Now, buy what is on sale. I learned to do this the hard way. I would come to the grocery store armed with a list of ingredients based on fun, new recipes, and meanwhile I would completely miss out on the fact that salmon or steak was hugely on sale that week. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …

Next, make your combos. So, let’s say salmon is, indeed, on sale. Now, I know that salmon goes well with asparagus and brown rice because I like to dine out. If brown rice is too expensive but pasta is cheap, I will put together some sort of salmon, asparagus, lemon pasta. Meal one is done!

Let’s try another one. Let’s say sausage is on sale. Sausage works well with peppers, so I’ll make that combo from brown rice, onion, peppers, and broccoli. Once I get in the kitchen, I’ll figure out what I want to do with it. I might throw the sausage in slow cooker than morning with the peppers and onions. Or, if it’s a crazy morning, I’ll just sauté or roast everything together and toss it over the rice. I’ll add my spices based on my mood. There are no rules! Just cook the food.

Once you cook like this for awhile, you learn to love it. The heavy weight of meal planning, shopping for ingredients and following instructions just lifts from your shoulders, and you’ll actually enjoy cooking again. At first you have to learn to trust yourself in the kitchen, but you’ll get more confident the more you do it.

You’ll save money, time, and — most importantly — headspace. Food should be fun, not just another thing “to do.” Now go cook some food and enjoy your life!