We love summer in our house. Trips to the pool, fun camps, late, lazy nights followed by even lazier mornings, and the occasional camping trip or visit to grandparents sprinkled in. But, as a parent, I am hearing a lot more about the ‘summer slide,’ where a kid actually loses a portion of his or her learning over the course of the summer. This puts me in a tough spot. I want summer to be fun and relaxing, but I also don’t want my daughter to be shedding what she learned during the school year.

This is where a grandparent can really step in and make a difference. I got the idea watching how a neighbor of ours is using our app, DoubleScoop, with his grandfather. He is going into second grade and learning simple math. His grandfather is sending one math problem over the app, and the boy answers it and sends it back. And there are lots of fun ways to draw smiley faces, stars, whatever, to make it more fun. And the boy says it’s like getting mail!

I think this is a brilliant idea. When I ask my daughter to do something like a math problem, or write a story, I am met with a scowl and a whine. But if Grandma or Grandpa do math or writing using technology, it’s the greatest thing ever for her. So here’s my plan. My dad is going to send her some math every couple of days. She’ll figure it out. I won’t have to worry about it.

My other plan is to have Lydia write and illustrate a story with her grandmother. They can each write a short section, send it off, then the other person will illustrate it. I think this will be a great way to help my daughter write more and be excited about it. I’ll let you know how we do, and share some ideas for types of math problems and story lines.

So, you get the call. Your grandchild had her first peanut, or in our case, piece of a peanut, and she is in the ER. She’ll be ok – several doses of epinephrine and some steroids finally brought her head size back from Great Pumpkin to 21/2 year-old little girl size. And maybe you’re thinking, well, I’ll make sure to have some cream cheese on hand when I am making my own toast with peanut butter. 

Not so fast. As parents who witnessed the 6-hour experience first hand and have no intention of EVER going through it again, we were motivated to make sure our kitchen was absolutely and totally peanut-free. The doctor and allergist were clear. Next time, we may not be so lucky. (We didn’t think we were so lucky, by the way, but yes, it could have been mush worse). But for the grandparents, who weren’t there to see her cough and swell, some of the transition was more difficult. 

We had three main points to get across to our grandparents. First, when we were around, there couldn’t be any peanuts near our young daughter. While I know our grandparents would never mean to use the same knife for their peanut butter and her cream cheese, habit often takes over. And, cooking with two toddlers running around can often muddle things up. Second, we had to always have an inhaler (she also has asthma), epi-pens and Benadryl with her. It was hard to remember at first, but has now become a habit. Finally, we had some new limitations on where we could eat. Asian food, especially Thai, was out. Also, she couldn’t eat ice cream from an ice cream store. This is because of the potential for cross-contamination between flavors. And yes, there is some irony here given that I work for a company called DoubleScoop.

Six years later, we have never had an incident. And I think our grandparents believe that our strict rules make sense, rather than result from neurotic, new-age helicopter parents. We are certainly those parents, too, but not when it relates to allergies. If you do have a grandchild with a severe allergy, please take care to follow the parent’s lead. The end goal is obvious. You want the parents to feel comfortable with your grandchildren spending time with you. Both sets of our grandparents made us feel confident that our child would be safe with them, so we make sure our kids spend a lot of time with them. 

PS. I’ll write follow-up blogs about one crazy treatment the grandparents suggested we pursue for the peanut allergy, and what we are doing now!

One way to make the time go by on a road trip

Car door of Prius after kids have covered it in stickers

For the last 5 years, our family has mostly driven to visit grandparents in New York and Los Angeles. After 3 trips to New York, and around 10 trips to Los Angeles in our Prius, I think I am becoming pretty darn good at managing long drives with young kids. I have even driven solo to Los Angeles in one day when my girls were 3 and 6 years old. (‘Did you all wear diapers?’ a friend asked). So here are a few things I have learned that might make your upcoming trip a success. Or at least, less painful.

1. Embrace screen-time. Yes, you can do it. You can spend 30 hours in a car reading books out loud, playing word games, and finally getting around to teaching your daughter how to crochet a pot-holder. We did this. And it knocked the wind out of me. After our 2nd trip, we caved and bought a DVD player. My kids were entertained and I was able to listen to a book on CD in the front half of the car. We also found that our kids watched videos for about a quarter of the trip, choosing to play ‘family’ with dolls or read or draw for the rest of the way. So it wasn’t all that bad.

2. Minimize stops. This is key. It may seem like it doesn’t make a difference if you make a ‘10-minute pit stop,’ but it does. Mainly because, with kids, a 10-minute stop doesn’t exist. Of course, sometimes you have to stop, but too many stops really do slow you down. Our Prius is helpful since we really do stop less for gas.

3. Pack a lot of food. We have tried stopping at different places vs. packing food, and found the latter works best. It is much faster and healthier to bring your own grub. If you do need to stay overnight somewhere, that is a good time to go out – but it is worth it to research restaurants ahead of time and have a plan. When I drive alone to Los Angeles, I have breakfast and lunch bags for each of us next to me in the front, and can toss a meal to a kid in the back as needed.

4. And be careful what food you pack. Yogurt tubes seem like such a great idea…until your 3 year old starts squirting them all over their car seat. And it takes a long time for that smell to go away…

5. Be a little indulgent. Road trips are long, and, if you are going through deserts or cornfields like I do, there’s really not a lot to see. So we do let our kids watch videos, have snacks they don’t usually get at home, and, well, we let them stick as many stickers as they want on their window, pictured above. My husband sold his car recently, and said ‘It took me two hours to get all the stickers off their doors.’ I thought, ‘It took us 4 trips to LA and 2 to NY to get those windows just right.’’

I’m planning a couple trips for our family and truly look forward to both the drive and our destination – grandmother’s house. And once we’ve made it, and the kids have tackled their grandparents, and I have paid out whatever bribes needed to stop the kids from fighting in the backseat (that sometimes helps, too), a break from the kids is only that much sweeter.

Wild Cherry Life Savers

June 12, 2012

I went to my older daughter’s end-of-school party the other day. I was a little sad that she was getting old so quickly, but had fun anyway. Right after an all-grade Bollywood dance – pretty awesome, I should add, to watch 100 second-graders dance on a sunny morning to Indian rhythms – she slipped a red Starburst in my hand. ‘I won it and I know how much you like red candy.’ I smiled.I love red candy (refer to my post about Red Vines), and I blame my great Aunt Marie for my vice and the currents of red dye flowing through my veins. My great-aunt Marie never married. Instead, she chose to help her younger sister, my nana, raise her three boys. Then, she assumed the role of grandparent to all of the boys’ grandchildren. She lived just a few minutes from her sister her whole life, so a visit to my grandmother was always a visit with my great-aunt, too.

Great-aunt Marie took grandparenting to another level of indulgence. As several of her nieces and nephews have commented, we don’t believe she ever won a game of CandyLand, go-fish or crazy eights. She always let us add the half&half and sugar to her coffee. When my grandmother and great-aunt took us to an amusement park in Chicago when we were older, they had a problem. They couldn’t possibly let my brother go on the triple loopty-loop roller coaster by himself, but of course he had to go. So Marie, at somewhere near 70 years old, gamely rode the most insane ride I have ever seen. She truly looked like she would pass out when she tottered off the ride.

But one of the most clear memories I have is the Life Savers candy. Whenever we first saw her during our visit, we would run toward her and start rummaging through her large purse. Tucked away between tissues and a change purse were always 2 packs of LifeSavers – usually Butter Rum, Rainbow or, when I was lucky, Wild Cherry. And it was the most exciting thing for a kid from a low-sugar home to find these treasures, and eat them all to myself. I truly do love cherry candy, but I think more than that it takes me back to my time with my exceptional great-aunt Marie.

Facebook for kids? Four reasons my daughter won’t be joining.

There’s been a lot reported this week about Facebook possibly allowing kids under the age of 13 to join. The news raises a lot of interesting questions, and certainly had me thinking about whether I would let my 8-year old girl sign up.

The most compelling reason I read encouraging me to get her started was to start to ‘learn’ about using social media responsibly. Facebook, and all social media, is a fact of life, and the best course of action is to equip her to deal with the realities of our technology-driven world. A runner-up was Chicago Tribune writer Scott Kleinberg’s take that “Facebook should use its social networking monster of a platform as a way to get kids excited about homework and in a way that makes Facebook as necessary as a textbook. It should be the de facto place for teachers, parents and kids to go to learn with and from each other.”

But ultimately, the points against introducing young kids to social media are winning me over. Here are some of the insights that really got my attention:

1. My daughter simply isn’t developmentally ready to group-share online. Sarah Fernandez, a contributor to Parentables.com, writes “Most kids under age 13 are trying to figure out how to interact in face to face social situations still, and it’s important that they build those skills and don’t bury themselves in the computer to socialize.” My own child is still learning how to navigate group play-dates, let alone a social network. Interestingly, during the last year, she increasingly asks ‘can we just have one family over?’, reminding me how she still struggles with groups of 3 or more girls at the same time. Imagine a social network.

2. I want to control the ads my daughter sees. At least a little. Several articles have mentioned that allowing younger kids to join will increase the marketing base of Facebook. I can’t imagine that Facebook will block marketing messages and external links to kids. And what Facebook and the marketing world thinks is appropriate for my 8-year old might be very different than what I think is appropriate. James Steyer of Common Sense Media commented in an article in USA TODAY that “Big tobacco was very, very smart in trying to create brand loyalty starting at the very earliest possible age. That’s why they created Joe Camel. We shouldn’t be trying to build brand loyalty among 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds.” I tend to agree.

3. Maybe I don’t want to share my space on Facebook. Heather Chapman, Special to CNN, hit home when she wrote “Speaking of playgrounds: Facebook is mine. I connect with adult friends on there, and sometimes we say things that aren’t appropriate for kids. I don’t want my son to see my name tagged in a picture that says “It’s wine o’ clock somewhere!” and I wonder how much of a barrier I could put between my account and his if they’re linked.” I actually like Facebook, and appreciate the ability to keep in touch with faraway friends. But I admit how I use Facebook would probably change if my daughter and I became ‘friends.’

4. I don’t want to add more ‘helicoptering’ to my to-do list! Several people commented that an advantage to linking kids’ accounts to parents is that parents would be able to monitor everything the child has said, as well as patrol their ‘friends.’ As a mom, this sounds like a lot more work. Teens are sending 80 texts a day already, so how many Facebook posts would that be for me glance over? I also don’t like the idea of placing my child in a situation where I have to snoop on her constantly.

Social media is a part of our lives. But the question for me isn’t whether or not my daughter should be on Facebook, but when. And younger than 13 just sounds too young for me. Until then, she can call her friends, use Skype or snail mail with her grandparents, or, dare I suggest, just go out and play.

DoubleScoop brings kids and grandparents together


This is it. As many you you know, we soft launched in March (see my blog post “DoubleScoop
is about to launch
“) for friends and family to try out DoubleScoop . Well, hundreds of active users and thousands of wonderful photos, drawings, voice recordings and text messages later we learned a lot. We exterminated several bugs, made some updates and now, TODAY, we’re officially launching DoubleScoop!

So what’s new and exciting this time around?

1. We made it easier to set up an account. We also added a toll-free phone number in case you or a family member needs a hand getting started. If you don’t feel like walking your mom through the process, let us do it! We’ll be kind and helpful, I promise.

2. It works even better on PC and Mac computers. We had a few hiccups at the beginning, but now DoubleScoop is running faster and should be even easier to use on a desktop or laptop computer.

3. And it works better on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. We switched a few things around to make it easier for young kids to use independently. This means that I can comfortably throw my iPhone (in its protective case, of course) in the backseat of the car, and my 4-year old can find DoubleScoop – yes, that’s why it’s a big ol’ ice cream cone icon – choose herself as a user, and share the news of the day with her grandparents.

And what hasn’t changed?

DoubleScoop still lets young kids and grandparents keep in touch by drawing pictures, exchanging photos, recording voice messages and songs, and typing stories. And now that our family has been using it for a while, I appreciate it even more since my two girls are able to communicate with her grandparents every day or two without me having to find a convenient time for everyone, or having to look over their shoulders to make sure there is no Viagra or belly fat ads popping up while they email. In fact, I don’t have to do much of anything – they send messages while I cook dinner or drive them to the pool. And they all seem to love it.

So that’s today’s pitch for DoubleScoop. Give it a try, and let us know what you think.

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