Bag man

Ever circle something on the calendar in anticipation of doing whatever you wrote down? Vacation, wedding, class reunion? It seems so far away at first, but the day kind of sneaks up on you. It happened to me recently when I was carrying out my daughter’s bags for her week-long, sleep-away camp with school. Don’t ask me how Fifth Grade Camp can sneak up on you; I mean the name of the camp is something measurable – fifth grade comes after fourth grade and all that.

Nevertheless, there I was, literally holding the bags wondering where time had gone! It seemed just like yesterday that I was holding a car seat being taught how it works in the valet area of Beaumont. Now I have a week’s worth of clothes – I’m guessing two weeks by the weight of it – a sleeping bag and pillow in my hands. I hand everything over to the guy in the designated truck; he slaps the appropriate piece of duct tape on it and off it goes, with hundreds of other kids’ bags, to an adventure that I’ll be lucky to hear stories about.

For more than a year, our oldest did a lot of hand-wringing over camp. She knew she was going, but the thought of leaving home for a week was more than she could handle some days. Other days, she was counting down the days excitedly knowing she’d get a break from her little sister (and maybe her parents).

We went shopping, stocked up on what was on the list. At every turn, we sold her on how fun it was going to be. The neighbors, who went to the same camp when they were in fifth grade, told her how much fun she’d have and that once she put her head on the pillow that she’d be out cold. You see, our daughter has always had a little bit of an issue falling asleep, so it was good to hear that she wouldn’t have trouble falling asleep.

The anticipation grew. As camp got closer so did the anxiety. But through talking, texting her friends that might be in her cabin, and knowing she would be away from school, she really started to like the idea of being away from home. So did her sister who took full advantage of being the only child for a week.

The big day came; she bounded from the school and onto the bus. Just like that, no big deal. We flooded her with hidden notes in her bags and she wasn’t wanting for mail at mail call; in fact, she received the most mail in her cabin. She met a new friend from another elementary school who will be going to the same middle school next year, so she’s looking forward to seeing her next school year.

Camp was filled with firsts: first time holding a bald python, a bearded dragon and touching a turtle. Honestly, all things I thought she would never do. They played games that taught teamwork, even if she didn’t know it. She learned a lot that week, but I think her biggest lesson was also our biggest lesson – she’s growing up and isn’t our little girl anymore. Well, she is but in a much more mature package.

My dad always said time flies, and I finally understand what he means. I’ve looked for the pause-on-life button, but there isn’t one. Trust me our youngest would have found it so she could be the “only” child a bit longer.

I guess what I’m trying to say is enjoy the ride.

– Jim Pesta is a past Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

The Tooth Fairy trap

tooth fairy trap

My son lost his tooth recently. It was the first one to come out, so it was kind of a big deal, especially since his twin sister had already cashed in six of her baby teeth.

He’s a creative little boy, always building “machines” out of paper, laundry, bits of string and whatever toy pieces he can cobble together. The contraptions never actually work, but in his imagination, they are mechanically perfect.

So, when we were getting ready for bed and making sure the tooth was in a spot for the Tooth Fairy to find, I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting it to get a lot more complicated, but it did.

I noticed that instead of brushing his teeth, he was very busy on the floor of his room. I asked what he was doing and he replied with a mischievous grin, “I’m making a trap for the Tooth Fairy.”


As if the anxiety of sneaking into a kid’s room at night to keep up the act of a mythical being just so they can have a magical childhood isn’t enough, we go and add this bit of trickery to the mix. I had a flash image in my head of me as Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, easing over and under lasers.

I tried talking him out of it. I asked how he would feel if another kid caught the Tooth Fairy and she couldn’t make it to our house. Or, what if the trap was too hard for her and she just didn’t want to try to get his tooth? And worst of all, what if she couldn’t find the tooth in the trap?

None of these questions phased him. He just nonchalantly shrugged and said, “If I catch her, I’ll let her go in the morning.”

What. A. Poophead.

I even tried “helping” him build the trap so I could be in on the job.

It didn’t do me any good.

I kid you not, I was down on the ground, very nearly with my head on the floor trying to see into this trap to find the tooth.

Nope. Between the carpeting, papers, dirty sock, pajama pants, crane, toy shark cage and roughly 17 clothespins, I couldn’t see a thing.

It was time for the Hail Mary: Let my husband figure it out when he got home that night. After all, he’s an engineer.

When he walked in the door, I briefed him on the situation and showed him a photo of the target holding the asset. (I’ve always wanted to talk military!) He took one look at the photo and said, “So where’s the tooth?”

I just smiled.

We crept down the hallway, careful not to wake either kid. My husband hit the floor when he got into our son’s room. He saw what he was up against, and with great courage, tried to access the trap. Keep in mind, there’s no way to set off this trap. The tooth was merely buried beneath a pile of crap in our kid’s room and we had to extract the tooth and leave the money without tearing the thing apart or waking him up.

After a few minutes of trying, my husband came out of the room empty-handed. Looking at each other, we burst out laughing, which didn’t help us keep things in stealth mode. This is so typical of our son.

Pulling myself together, I crawled into the boy’s room, determined to complete the mission. Face to the floor, I dug through the trap. The pile of the carpeting and rustling of papers made me nervous. The kid shifted in bed. Then, suddenly, there it was! I grabbed it and scurried out.


My husband took the next part of the mission leaving two gold dollar coins and even sprinkling a bit of glitter on the floor to look like there was a struggle.

Mission accomplished. Now, just 19 more teeth to go.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Learning while we laugh

child jumping in puddle

Sometimes in this fast-paced world, we parents get caught up in making sure our children have all the skills they need to succeed—to the point where we over-schedule and stress our children and ourselves. From organized sports to lessons in language, art or music, not to mention school and educational apps or games, it can become overwhelming!

Here’s some great news: Good old-fashioned play has a multitude of benefits and involves lots of learning as well. Through play, kids model what they see, work out conflicts, build physical mastery of their environment, generate new ideas, and problem solve.

Sometimes unstructured play is thought of as not being as useful as lessons and classes, but it is actually essential to creativity and building perseverance and tolerance of boredom. When we are bored, we get creative and explore our environment, searching for something of interest. Educational television shows, websites or applications are fine in moderation, especially if you watch together and talk about what you see and learn. However, free-flowing, unstructured time is a must for both parents and kids.

There are lots of ways to make learning fun that don’t necessarily require set-aside time. Beyond the more obvious learning aspects of a toy or game, you can teach your kids to be curious and explore dramatic play or unexpected/silly play. Be creative and see what fits your family.

  • Take a walk together and explore a local park or even your neighborhood. It can be an open-ended exploration or set up like a scavenger hunt or I Spy. Really look around and see what you notice. Interesting flowers, scampering squirrels, crunchy leaves underfoot, piles of snow to climb, puddles to stomp in—all year round, there are things to appreciate and learn about, right outside your door.
  • Cook or bake something together and talk about all the ingredients (their different tastes, smells and textures) and how they combine to make the meal taste good. Practice using different units of measurement. You can even make cleanup fun with lots of bubbles, fun music, and good-smelling soap. Kids love to help and will have a sense of mastery and enjoyment over doing something we may take for granted. As they get older, they can help more and more, and can even cook (and clean up) the whole meal when they are old enough. Now that is a joyful moment!
  • Use sidewalk chalk and draw outlines of each family member on the pavement. Measure heights as well as hand and foot sizes. You can even make silly pictures out of the outlines.
  • Have races and use a stopwatch or timer to see how fast everyone can hop on one foot, run, walk, crab walk, crawl, walk backwards. Chart the times on a graph to teach graphing and comparison skills.
  • In the store, play I Spy for items you need. Have your children help find items in reach. Have them guess how much something costs and see who is closest to the actual price. Let them check items off your list. At the grocery store, have them help you pick one new healthy food to bring home and try; pretend you are curious scientists learning about the new food, and sampling its taste.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, Center for Human Development and Ted Lindsay Foundation HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s

The biggest challenges single dads face and how to overcome them

Silhouette of man holding baby

Most single parents didn’t set out to raise their children alone, but according to Pew Research, the single-parent household is the most prevalent today. In 2013, 17 percent of these custodial single parents were men. That means we need to start looking at the special circumstances of single fathers in addition to those that all single parents face.

Higher expectations

It isn’t just a myth that men usually clock more work hours than women; according to Harvard Business Review, it’s a statistical fact. Studies show that 29 percent of working men living with their children work more than 50 hours per week, while only 9 percent of women do the same. Unfortunately, these expectations usually don’t go away when a man becomes a single father.

As a single father, you probably feel the guilt that comes along with not spending enough time with your children. That’s completely normal. But it may help you to know that most studies show that quality time beats out quantity time in almost all situations. Make the most of the time you do have together and try to let yourself off the hook for things you can’t control.

Men don’t ask for help

According to Psych Central, there are several reasons men won’t ask for help, but the fact is that as a single parent, getting help from others is vital. Not only do single parents need help with afternoon care and rides to school, but a good support system could mean the difference between burnout and healthy self-care.

Single parents need to be cognizant of mental health and how it can affect their children. The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety and sadness all play a big role in the state of our mental health. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing. Your need to feel in control should take a backseat to your need for a healthy and happy home and family.

Setting boundaries

Discipline is one of the main struggles of single fathers according to the National Center for Fathering. While dealing with guilt from several factors—such as having too little time to spend with the kids and possibly from a relationship that ended—single dads can find it hard to set the necessary boundaries children need to flourish.

Boundaries, however, are vital in a parent/child relationship. Children who have set rules to follow grow up to become more productive citizens. Fathers can establish these parameters by clearly outlining what is and isn’t acceptable behavior at home and at school. While this will be different for all households, fathers must remember that consistency is the key to any disciplinary methodology. Broken rules should always have consequences.

Financial burdens

If you have recently lost a spouse through death or divorce, you may have lost, along with them, a second income. This means your budget tightens while the need for your children to spend time with you increases. This is a battle that usually doesn’t get any easier, but it can become more manageable. A lot of single parents find it helpful to speak to a financial planner to discuss their options since second jobs are not usually an option.

No one will ever tell you that single parenting is easy. It could be the most difficult challenge you will ever face, but also counted among the most rewarding. Just remember to take care of yourself, try to let go of the guilt and make the time you have with your children memorable.

Daniel Sherwin is a single dad raising two children. On his personal blog, he aims to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.

Time to celebrate reading

Boy reading to his stuffed animals

Modified image. John Morgan, Flickr. CC license.

March is National Reading Month, a time when schools across the country celebrate and promote reading. However, reading and literacy can start as early as birth. In fact, researchers state that promoting early literacy is in direct correlation with reading success when children enter school. That means it is never too early (or late) to encourage reading.

This month, find time to read and have fun with your children. Here are some reading activities you might like to try together. To make this extra special, make a tic-tac-toe board and have your child choose nine activities from this list. Put them in the squares and mark them off as you complete the activity. When they get a tic-tac-toe, create another game.

  • Read books from your child’s favorite author.
  • Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2) by reading a book of his every day this month.
  • Record number of books or pages read for the month.
  • Visit your local library.
    • Introduce your child to the children’s librarian.
    • Get a library card in your child’s name. Check with your library to see when a child can get his own card. Some libraries have a guideline that a child must be able to write his first and last names legibly.
    • Spend extra time there and really look around to see what is offered.
  • Make a “reading place.”
    • Get a large appliance box and decorate it as a special area for reading.
    • Read under the covers with a flashlight or headlamp.
    • Make a tent with blankets over chairs as a special reading place. Use flashlights or headlamps to see.
    • If you have the space, decorate a special corner or area in your home for a reading space.
  • Bring reading to life.
    • Change your voice for the different characters in the book.
    • Dress up like the characters when you read your child’s favorite book.
  • Read as many different genres as you can.
  • Read and make a recipe from a child’s cookbook.
  • Get a book on drawing and learn to draw something new.
  • Read about things they are interested in. If they are interested in animals, visit a zoo.
  • Have your child read a familiar book to a pet or favorite stuffed animal. Reading aloud to a non-judgmental furry friend can improve reading skills and confidence.
  • Meet an author.
    • Some bookstores and libraries invite authors to speak and read aloud to children.
    • Get a book signed especially for your child by the author.
  • Read something other than a traditional book.
    • Listen to an audiobook. You can even follow along in a printed copy if you’d like.
    • Order a magazine for your child to come in the mail.
    • Comic books and graphic novels are unique options.
  • Read together at bedtime.
    • Take time to snuggle and read to your child, even after your child can read.
    • Start bedtime early or extend it by 5 to 10 minutes for extra reading time.
    • Read a chapter a night from a favorite author.
    • If your child can read, take turns reading a page.
  • Other literary-supporting ideas
    • Play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
    • Play rhyming games.
    • Let your child make up a story and tell it to you.
    • Plan a scavenger hunt in your home, with a book being the prize at the end.
    • As a parent, model reading for your child.  Let them see you read everyday.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Cold weather comfort food

vegetable soup with bread

During the cold winter months, our natural inclination is to seek foods that will warm us and “comfort” us. Don’t let the shorter days and colder air temperatures drive you into hibernation mode! Fight the urge to stock up on simple carbohydrates by increasing fiber and nutrient density with more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. When making comforting soups and chilis, try these tips to pack on nutrition not pounds.

Substitute leaner protein

  • Use ground turkey or chicken breast instead of ground beef in chili recipes.
  • Use dried beans or lentils instead of meat to add low-fat protein and increase fiber, thereby increasing satiety.
  • Substitute leaner turkey-based products—like turkey Italian sausage, turkey pastrami, turkey pepperoni—in place of higher fat beef or pork versions.
  • Substitute shrimp or scallops in a soup or make a seafood gumbo instead of chili.

Fill in with lower-calorie ingredients

  • Cut the starchy ingredients in half (i.e, rice, noodles, potatoes) and double the low starch vegetables.
  • Serve a green salad with low-fat dressing as a first course to fill the stomach before getting to the more calorie dense foods.

Turn up the heat

  • Add a little spice to your recipes. Experiment with different seasonings to excite the taste buds and provide satisfaction without added calories. If you’re unsure of which spices to combine, there are many pre-made mixes from companies like Mrs. Dash and McCormick that do the work for you!

Try this hearty soup the next time you want a warm, comforting meal; it’s a favorite in my house and I hope it will become a favorite in yours too!

Lentil soup with sausage and kale


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound turkey Italian sausage
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • ½ pound Cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 baking potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
  • 3 or 4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and discarded, leaves shredded


  1. Place a large soup pot over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  2. Remove sausage from casings and add to hot oil. Sauté sausage for 3 to 4 minutes, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks and browns.
  3. While the sausage is browning, pour the lentils onto a light-colored plate and sift through looking for any small stones.
  4. To the browned sausage, add onion, garlic, mushrooms, potato, rosemary, thyme, pepper and tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the stock and 2 cups of water. Turn the heat up to high and bring up to a bubble.
  6. Add the lentils and the kale. Stir until the kale wilts then turn the heat down to medium.
  7. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender.


Makes 6 servings. (Serving size equals 1½ cups.)

Each serving counts as 1 protein, 1 starch and low starch vegetables.

Nutrition analysis per serving

Calories:  330

Fat:  8 g

Saturated Fat:  2 g

Trans Fat:  0 g

Cholesterol:  40 mg

Sodium:  520 mg

Carbohydrate:  41 g

Fiber:  7 g

Sugar:  6 g

Protein:  27 g

– Christine Licari, RDN, is a registered dietitian with the Beaumont Health Center’s Weight Control Center. The Beaumont Weight Control Center offers cooking demonstrations to the community. View a list of current demonstrations here.

Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray and

Preserve that smile: Tips for finding the right dentist for your kids

child getting teeth cleaned

Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, so finding a good dental home is paramount in achieving dental health. Much like well-visits with a pediatrician, regular dental check-ups should be a priority. And starting dental care early can help promote a positive life-long dental experience.

Getting started

Referrals are very helpful when choosing a dentist and a good place to start is by asking your pediatrician. Friends and family with kids can also be good resources. If you’re looking specifically for a pediatric dentist, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has a great search feature by location.

Both family dentists and pediatric dentists can see pediatric patients. However, a pediatric dentist received two additional years of training pertaining to pediatric dental needs and psychology; he or she may be better prepared to address pediatric-specific dental issues including thumb-sucking.

It is a good idea to consider location as well, especially when your child is new to the dentist and may need to go more frequently than every six months. Once you have some recommendations, it is a good idea to visit the practice to get a feel for the atmosphere before choosing a dental home.

Office environment

While credentials may be of utmost importance to parents, a child’s first impression will be the waiting room and staff they meet upon arrival to the dental practice. An office with books for kids to look at and cheerful imagery will go a long way in reducing anxiety. Some small things like a step stool in the bathroom, no cavity clubs, positive reinforcement treats/stickers, and sunglasses to wear when under the bright lights can make kids feel welcome too.

Ask questions to find out who will be cleaning your child’s teeth; regardless of whether it is the dentist or the hygienist, make sure that person has experience with kids of all ages. Ask how he or she responds to a child who has some anxiety at the dentist and if you think your child may fit that bill, plan ahead and see if there is anything you can do to prepare your child. Determine what is included at the first visit and how frequently the dentist typically sees a child. Inquire as to what imaging studies may be routine and how often they are recommended. Finally, ask how the dentist handles after-hours emergencies.

As we observe pediatric dental care month, take the time to find a dental home and protect your child’s smile for years to come.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.


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