the top 10 choking hazards for kids

I usually scoff at fearmongering parenting articles, but this article on dangerous foods for kids in this week’s New York Times is a must-read. If you’re half-assed about cutting the grapes or the hot dogs up before feeding them to your preschooler, you should read it. If you think you can feed them whatever as long as you’re “right there,” and then they’ll be safe, then you should read it. 

You may be surprised, as I was, to read that popcorn is considered by many pediatricians and other experts to be the absolute worst of the no-nos. (We have a big bag in our pantry right now.) That’s why these experts are pushing for the FDA to start labeling foods that are choking hazards as such. Think that’s overkill? I might have also, but Dr. Gary Smith, the lead author of the pediatricians’ policy statement, makes quite a point: 

“You have a SuperBall that by government regulation has to carry warnings telling people it’s a risk to young children and you can’t market it to them, yet you can have the same identical shape and size gumball and there are no restrictions or requirements.” 

You gotta admit, that’s idiotic, since the gumball is DESIGNED for your kid to put it in his mouth. I mean, that’s its reason for existence. And if the popcorn had a “choking hazard” label on it, I probably wouldn’t have it in my house. Or at least save it for when my youngest was already gone to bed.

Read the article- but here are the top ten foods considered most dangerous to children UNDER FIVE (not just babies):

  • hot dogs
  • peanuts
  • raw carrots
  • chicken with bones
  • hard candy
  • meat
  • popcorn
  • fish with bones
  • sunflower seeds
  • apples

I have routinely offered my two-year-old many of those things. Some of them, I never even considered hazardous. 

Dr. Smith says these things shouldn’t be given to kids under five at all:

  • raw carrots
  • marshmallows
  • peanuts
  • popcorn
  • hard candy
  • gumballs
And those quarter-size slices you make in your toddler’s hot dog? That’s MORE dangerous than doing nothing. Slice them down the middle lengthwise first. Cut grapes in quarters, not just halves. Give your kids flat lollipops instead of ball-shaped ones.

And if someone does choke, do the Heimlich, and call 911 immediately. 

May it never happen to our kids.

time to go home

I’m in Los Angeles this week– the last trip I’m going to take on this book tour, it seems, or at least the last that will take me away from the kids for more than 24 hours. I have had a lot of fun. Even a cross-country flight can be wonderfully relaxing, when you don’t have a two-year-old along who skipped her nap. 

But I am pretty sure it’s time for me to go home. How do I know? I was at the airport yesterday with time for breakfast, although on only about four hours’ sleep. I sat down at this coffee counter thingy to get some fuel. When no one waited on me after 5 minutes, I set off for greener pastures at a restaurant further down the concourse. Ah, yes. This was it. 5 minutes later, no one had waited on me here, either. I impatiently reached for my iPhone, time-killer of all time. My backpack was not at my feet. It was not on the chair across from me. It was not there. No wallet, no phone, no laptop. No boarding pass. Heck, I could have gone to LA without the suitcase, but not this backpack.

I sprinted back through the terminal to where I had previously visited, and there it was. Thankfully, no one had reported it to Jack Bauer. By then, the plane was boarding, and no relaxing breakfast for me, but I had learned my lesson.  Or so I thought.

Six hours later, I’m standing in a half-hour line at the car rental place. My backpack, which I now know better than to set down, is getting awfully heavy. I’ll just put it down on top of my wheelie suitcase, I think, and push them both through this line. Great idea.

My suitcase is not next to me. It is not behind me. It is not anywhere that I can find it.

I have left it on the car rental shuttle bus.

I got it back. To my chagrin, this did NOT seem to be something that happened very often. Multiple walkie-talkie conversations were required. But when that same bus came back with its next load of passengers twenty minutes later, there it was.

And so, I have concluded, it is time for me to come home. If I’m this bad at traveling alone, I shudder to think what happens the next time I have the three kids in tow. 

actually, May is the cruelest month

This week, 65 families who were on the wait list for a “coveted” NYC public kindergarten got acceptance letters in the mail. Their kids were in! Shouting, rejoicing, dancing in the streets.

The next day, they got calls from the Department of Education. Whoops, our bad. Your kids didn’t get in. Wailing, cursing, crying out to the gods.

There are so many things about this story (in the Wall Street Journal) that cry out for further investigation. There were SIXTY-FIVE families on a waiting list for one kindergarten? Was that the whole list? Or were these sixty-five just, you know the first in line? Out of three or four hundred? 

And why this kindergarten, those of you not from NYC may ask? Why not just send them somewhere else?  Because of what author Jonathan Kozol calls the “shame of our nation… a national horror hidden in plain view.”  There are some really good public schools in Manhattan. There are many more failing ones. And so our children are not guaranteed a decent education in our public schools. In my neighborhood (the Upper West Side) there are two schools everyone wants their kids in, and hundreds of families fighting tooth and nail for those spots. That’s why there are at least 65 more children who want to be in this one kindergarten this fall than there are spaces.

The families who were put through the wringer this week (“infuriating and negligent,” one mother called the error) have been offered spots in a brand new kindergarten, one that is being created in a nearby intermediate school. Why is there room at this intermediate school? Because it’s being SHUT DOWN for being so terrible. Let’s hope this new beginning will be something different. But it’s certainly understandable that these parents are wary of their kids being the guinea pigs.

There’s plenty of fodder here to mock the hovering neurotic New York parents who are freaking out about where their kids are going to go to kindergarten. But I’m on their side. It’s a terrible situation to be in, and we, as a nation of mothers, shouldn’t put up with a public school system that can be so shabby.  

child labor: not all bad

This past weekend, the sun was out, and the kids were inside. Fighting. I opened the door, (gently) pushed them outside, and told them to go play. 

After thirty seconds, more bickering from outside. Then shrieking. The only thing to do in such cases is separate, and so I grabbed the loudest of the three (Seamus).

ME: Shea, I’ve got a really important job I need you to help me with.  
This gets his attention.
SEAMUS: What is it Mommy?
I have no idea. 
ME: The important job….the incredibly important job… that I need you to help me with… is…

I cast a glance at our filthy back door.
ME: I need you to spray some Windex all over these windows. 

I swear, he thought he had won the lottery.

He used almost an entire bottle of Windex on four windowpanes, but I was willing to let that go, because 1) he was so happy he was humming to himself, and 2) he was cheerfully doing a task I had been avoiding for weeks.

A few minutes later, Connor came over (he can sniff inequitable treatment a mile away).

CONNOR: Mom! Why is only Seamus getting to clean?

Why, indeed. I sent Connor out to the front porch with a bucket of Ajax and a brush.  His sister was not far behind.

Here my children were, scrubbing a winter’s worth of grime off our porch chairs, and thrilled to have the privilege. 

Seamus, having finished the back door, came out to check his siblings’ progress. “Dis fwoor is FILFY!” he shouted, and got down on his hands and knees. 

 I would never have considered ordering my children to scrub the porch floor. It was filthy, but I was just planning on living with that. To my surprise, my three kids worked for over an hour to make everything spic and span, and there was not a cross word exchanged the entire time.

Next time they bicker, we’re attacking the basement. 

whatever, weird guy

Lately I have been really laying on our 7-year-old son to leave our 5-year-old son the heck alone. Connor is a typical pain-in-the-ass oldest child, and I can say that because I was one myself. There is nothing Seamus says, no opinion he holds, no song lyric he burbles that Connor does not attempt to micromanage into something just a little bit better. This drives Seamus absofrackinglutely nuts. And you can hardly blame him.

We all went out to dinner on Saturday night, and after Connor sent Seamus into paroxysms of rage three or four times, my husband forbid Connor to say another word to Seamus for the rest of our dinner. To my great surprise, this worked, and Connor spent the rest of our time there doodling on a napkin.

It was only when we got home, and Connor left the napkin behind on the kitchen counter, that I got a look at what it said: 

absoloutly toldly not true
no you didn’t
whatever weird guy

Connor had figured out a way to assert that whatever Seamus was saying was absolutely, totally not true, without saying so out loud.

My God, I’m proud of him.

And I’m going to give this a shot the next time I have a fight with my husband: pull out the napkin, and start writing. Whatever, weird guy.