Meet the Parenting Program staff: Emily Swan

mom, dad, son, daughter, dog

Emily Swan, group coordinator for the Parenting Program, with her family

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Royal Oak. I am a proud product of Royal Oak schools!

Tell us something about your family.

My husband, Bill, is my best friend and amazing partner in life. We have two children: Matthew (age 6) and Annabelle (age 3.5). We have a 10-year-old dog, Lily, who is a mixed breed. I like to say she is Australian Cattle Dog mixed with the streets of Detroit.

Why did you choose to be part of the Parenting Program?

I became involved with the Parenting Program by receiving Individual Family Support and joining a parent group after my son was born. I often say I didn’t know how much I needed a parent group until I was in one. We have a core of five families from that group who still meet regularly.

I loved my group experience so much that I became a volunteer group leader. I led five groups, including one with my daughter. My husband was my unofficial co-leader and came to all the meetings with me; he was a great support to the dads in the groups. I volunteered for five years until a group coordinator position opened up last year, and I jumped at the chance to get paid for working with the program! I now call myself a baby matchmaker and I have the chance to help the program that helped me so much.

What was your first job in health care?

I am a certified genetic counselor. I worked at Beaumont, Dearborn for 10 years providing cancer and prenatal genetic counseling.

Who or what inspires you?

First responders and medical professionals of all types. The people who rush in when others rush out, the people who provide comfort in uncomfortable times, and the healers who help us recover.

woman ice skatingWhat are your hobbies or special interests?

I am on an adult synchronized ice skating team and we are currently undefeated in our division! My workout of choice is Jazzercise, which I attend in Royal Oak and Troy. I enjoy crafts and geocaching. I am the unofficial Parenting Program staff baker – I love to bake!

What’s your favorite family-friendly destination?

Our family tries to get to Mackinac Island every year, which is a favorite tradition. But really, any city that has a children’s museum is my favorite family-friendly destination. We enjoyed Seattle, Chicago, and Virginia Beach.

What’s your favorite movie? Book?

My favorite movies are “Cool Runnings” and “Love Actually.” My favorite book is a “Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. I read it several times in print and it’s a wonderful audiobook too. It chronicles his experience with the Appalachian Trail and gives history on the trail.

What’s your favorite meal?

Tacos. I haven’t met a taco I didn’t like. El Guapo is my favorite food truck.

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough: it consists of chocolate and caramel ice creams with chocolate chip cookie dough, peanut butter cookie dough and a crunchy chocolate cookie swirl. That’s two kinds of cookie dough in one ice cream!

Share something about you that might surprise us.

I am a two-time national champion synchronized skater. I won the Adult division with Team Elan in 2005 and the Masters division with Allegro! in 2014.

Ways to say “I love you” to your child this Valentine’s Day

hand coloring a heart

We often speak these three little words — I love you — to our children. Recently I thought about how I showed my children how much I loved them on Valentine’s Day. Children may forget how often they hear those three little words, but I can attest to the fact that they will remember many of the things you do and carry that with them into their adult lives.

How do I know? Last week I ran into my grown daughter’s childhood best friend. She asked if she could come over this year and have my husband make his famous heart-shaped pancakes. “Or,” she asked, “Can I come over for your red dinner?” This reminded me of how important these fun things can impact our children as they mature.

Celebrate with food

  • Make heart-shaped pancakes or waffles for breakfast. Better yet, how about making them for dinner with lots of whipped cream and strawberries?
  • Write a note to your child and put it into his lunch bag or backpack, so he is surprised to find a note from you. You can event do this each day for the entire month.
  • Decorate their lunch boxes in hearts and stickers. The kids will feel extra special when they take it out of their backpacks at school.
  • Cut their sandwiches into hearts.
  • Make a dinner with all red foods. Our tradition was spaghetti, red JELL-O, I added a little food coloring to muffins and to top it off, strawberry milk. (Note: We did the same idea in March for St. Patrick’s Day.)
  • Make your children’s favorite dinner or order heart-shaped Valentine pizzas. Many neighborhood pizza shops make them for Valentine’s Day.
  • Invite a child’s friend over for dinner that night.
  • Bake a heart-shaped treat together. It could be a cake that you frost in red or pink, with lots of red jimmies or heart-shaped candies on top. Maybe you make heart-shaped cookies or Rice Krispie treats together.
  • Make fruit kabobs with different red fruits.
  • Make strawberry sundaes together and top them off with strawberries and raspberries.
  • Treat your child to lunch or dinner at her favorite restaurant.
  • Have an indoor picnic together in the family or living room.
  • Have hot cocoa with marshmallows together.

Celebrate with art

  • Using window paint, decorate your child’s window with hearts and messages. It washes off easily. You could even create a window mural together.
  • Make hearts out of construction paper and decorate your house.
  • Write a special poem about your child that expresses your loving thoughts and feelings.
  • Sing and dance to your child’s favorite songs.
  • Paint a picture together.
  • Make a photo collage of your child or family over time.
  • Write a chalk message for your kids to see on the driveway or sidewalk when they leave the house.
  • Make special Valentine’s cards or pictures together and send them out.

Brighten up the daily activities

  • Volunteer at their school Valentine’s Day party.
  • Bring your child’s favorite pet or stuffed animal with you in the car when you pick him up from school.
  • Read your favorite childhood book together.
  • Visit the library and check out books on love or kindness.
  • Write a message to your child and put it into a bottle. Leave it for her to find when she takes a bath.
  • Have a warm towel ready for them when they get out of the bath.
  • Give lots of hugs, kisses and snuggles. Kids never get enough of them.
  • Vow to tell your children how much you love them every day, for the next 365 days.

Playtime fun

  • Spend the day together doing your child’s favorite activity.
  • Learn how to say “I Love You” in a different language and teach it to your children.
  • Give lots of Eskimo kisses.
  • Play your children’s favorite game with them.
  • Play outdoors together.
  • Take your daughter to the salon and get a manicure together.
  • Plan a scavenger hunt around your home with the prize being a book or activity together.
  • Watch your child’s favorite movie or television show together. You can make pink popcorn to enjoy during the movie, too.

Other ideas

  • Send a Valentine card to your child in the mail. Children love to receive mail.
  • Take a family picture and put it in a heart-shaped frame for your kids to put in their bedrooms or special place in the house.
  • Send a voice message to them via phone or leave a message on the answering machine for them to hear.
  • Help someone in need. You and your child will feel satisfied with your act of kindness and it will be remembered.
  • Make a donation or begin a college fund for your child.
  • Buy your child a special treat or toy and have your child wake up to it.
  • Take a trip to the toy department together and let your children pick out something special.

From past blog posts, you may know how truly passionate I am about reading to and with your child every day. I couldn’t let Valentine’s Day go unnoticed, so here is a list of books on love and kindness that you may want to read.

– 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.

Healthy eating strategies for the big game this Sunday

Super Bowl party food

Unaltered image. USDA, Flickr. CC license.

Runner-up to Thanksgiving Day, the football game on Sunday is the second biggest day for U.S. food consumption. Here are game day strategies that will help you walk away with a win.

  • Start the day with a super bowl of your own. Instead of starving yourself all day to save calories, eat nutrient-dense, satisfying meals leading up to the football party. This will prevent you from showing up ravenous and scarfing down everything in sight.
  • Break a sweat. Be inspired by the athletes you’re about to watch and break a sweat of your own. Think of this pre-game workout as good luck for your team.
  • Stay hydrated. Water is important for everyone, not just professional athletes. Stick to water and other calorie-free beverages while watching the game. If you do choose to drink liquid calories, then match every beverage you consume with at least 1 glass of water.
  • Make a game plan. When it comes to social events where there’s food involved, bring something of your own that will fit into your meal plan. A crowd pleaser on its own, chili features protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, as well as nutrient-dense vegetables.
  • Scan the playing field. Before you load your plate, assess all your options. This is a great play to remember any time you are overloaded with choices, such as a buffet.
  • Visualize success. After scanning the playing field, imagine a healthful plate in your head, and then make it a reality. That way, your thoughtful, composed plate that will kick you off to a good start.
  • Use your time outs. Commercials, time-outs breaks between quarters? Think about what you’ve eaten and how full you feel. This may seem silly, but eating while watching a game can make it extremely easy to mindlessly munch.
  • Take calculated risks. It’s the big game day! Of course you are going to eat something you normally wouldn’t and that’s totally fine. But how can you indulge mindfully? Be proactive, identify what you want to splurge on, and make it a SMART indulgence (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). Mindful eating will heighten the experience, increase your overall satisfaction, and allow you to enjoy more.

The Beaumont Weight Control Center

Meet the Parenting Program staff: Cheri Warnock

Cheri Warnock is a Child Passenger Safety Technician at Beaumont, Royal Oak

Where did you grow up?

I’m a proud Detroiter who grew up near City Airport. I’m so happy to see Belle Isle and the downtown area come back to life, since that’s how I remember it as a kid. I’ll always be a city girl at heart, and I limit my time in rural or country settings!

Tell us something about your family.

I’m the oldest of three girls and a typical oldest child – I like to be in charge! All of my immediate and most of my extended family still live around Detroit, so I get to see them often. I’m the only member of the Parenting Program without children of my own, but I do have two sassy orange tabby cats to entertain me at home.

Why did you choose to be part of the Parenting Program?

After 21 years as a corporate librarian/researcher, I was laid off from the only job I’d known as an adult. I knew I didn’t want to go back to a corporate setting. I began volunteering and exploring options in different areas. My best friend has been the Car Seat Education person at Beaumont, Troy for years and she suggested I become a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician and consider joining the team. The role of teacher comes naturally to me (see “typical oldest child” above) and I love being around other people’s babies because you get all the sweet new faces without the diapers and lack of sleep!

Who or what inspires you?

People who give so much of themselves to make the world a better place. The more I volunteer, the more I see people who give countless hours every single week to help other people in so many different ways. The world would be a much different place if people didn’t donate their time in this way.

What are your hobbies or special interests?

When I’m not at Beaumont, I help people organize and enjoy their photos. As a librarian, I want to make sure people know the details of their family photos, have them properly backed up, and be able to get their hands on just the photo they want to find when they want it. Tackling my family photos and adding all the information I knew about them to the digital files helps me enjoy and appreciate the generations who came before me.

What’s your favorite family-friendly destination?

Walt Disney World! I turn into a kid again when I see the characters and the magical details all over the four parks. Being treated like a princess is a great way to spend your vacation.

What’s your favorite movie? Book?

I read about a book a week and couldn’t possibly pick a favorite; I rarely read a book more than once. It’s hard to pick a favorite movie, too, but Gene Wilder’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” is definitely near the top. Who doesn’t want to open a door to a world of edible decorations all around you?

What’s your favorite meal?

I have the tastes of a five-year-old, so pasta is always a favorite. I just figured out how to make Alfredo sauce from scratch. My grandmother’s pierogies were always a special treat, too.

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Mint chocolate chip. Though to be honest, I could eat ice cream every day and find a dozen flavors that will do. Ice cream is my favorite treat!

Share something about you that might surprise us.

When I was laid off from my job, I thought about where I most wanted to volunteer my extra time. I signed up at The Parade Company and have worn the Big Heads (papier-mâché) at dozens of events since. When I’m not in a Big Head, I’m in some other costume making people smile at Parade Company gatherings all over town. Being in disguise helps this introvert interact with people while having lots of fun at the same time.

Coping with Christmas after loss

sad child wearing Santa hat looking out window at rain

The tree is decorated, stockings hung, twinkling lights and vibrant colors are everywhere. Your calendar is full of holiday parties, the to-do list is long, and the music of the season speaks of joy to the world and how it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet all that fills your mind is the void of someone you loved and lost. In the past two years, the Parenting Program team of staff, students and volunteers have experienced some significant, sudden and tragic losses. The Christmas season after loss can bring a tremendous amount of grief, during a time when the general expectation is that everyone is feeling holly jolly and full of the holiday spirit. Everyone copes differently; for some people, surrounding themselves with family and their traditions is a comfort, for others it magnifies the loss.

Here are some tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Some you may love, others not so much. My hope is that you may find something here that makes this difficult season a tiny bit more tolerable, and that there are moments of joy even amid missing those who are gone.

“Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

  • Acknowledge that the holidays will be tough and verbalize this to friends and family.
  • Consider what traditions you would like to keep, and what traditions you may want to change, even if just temporarily.
  • Create a new tradition to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Purchase a candle and when you turn on the lights of your Christmas tree, light the candle in memory of the person you lost.
  • Think about the location of your holiday celebration. Make a conscious decision whether you want to keep it the same or make a change.
  • Keep in mind that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are.
  • Put out a memory box with small slips of paper and pens so people can write a treasured memory. Take some time to read the memories aloud, or invite guests to read them individually.
  • Prepare one of your loved one’s special recipes, or something that was a favorite of theirs.
  • Be honest about how you are feeling, and what you do and do not want to do when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations.
  • Participate in a service project or activity in honor of your loved one.
  • Make an appointment with a counselor or therapist. Maybe this has been something you have putting off, but with the holidays bringing grief even closer to the surface, it may be a perfect time.
  • Consider choosing a few of your loved one’s belongings and gifting them to someone else who is grieving the loss.
  • Visit your loved one’s final resting place and leave a wreath or poinsettia.
  • Ask for and accept help, whether it is assistance cooking a holiday meal, shopping or emotional support.
  • Give yourself a gift. Treat yourself to something you have had your eye on.
  • Focus on gratitude. Even if it is something tiny, make a point to write down one thing you are grateful for each day.
  • If you have children who are grieving along with you, be sure to talk to them about what they may be feeling and consider doing a memorial grief activity or craft together.
  • Say no. If a certain event or gathering just seems too much, give yourself permission to skip it.
  • Don’t feel guilty for the moments of happiness and joy you may feel throughout the season; it doesn’t mean you don’t love or miss the person who is not with you this holiday season.

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director

Twelve tips for holiday toy and gift giving

girl's legs surrounded by presents

How did this year go by so quickly? It’s hard to believe that the holidays are upon us already and, as parents and grandparents, we will be out searching for that perfect holiday gift for the children in our lives. With the endless ideas online, toy department aisles jam-packed nearly to the ceiling, and countless commercials playing to lure you to the store, it can be difficult to select the perfect toys for the children you love. Whether passed to your loved one during candle lighting celebrations or beautifully wrapped with ribbon and bows, let’s make this the safest holiday season ever!

December is Safe Toys and Gifts month. Shoppers are encouraged to consider if the toys suit the age and individual skills and abilities of the child who will receive them, especially for infants and children under age three. Also, be aware of a new toy safety standard under which toys are tested and certified, known as ASTM F963-17. This became mandatory for all children’s toys manufactured or imported on or after February 2018, so look for this on the item’s label.

Here are some other tips for safe gift giving.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the toys be appropriate for a child’s developmental level. Read the warning labels on the package. This helps ensure that the toy will be engaging, safe and can reduce the risk of injury.
  • To prevent choking, discard the wrapping paper and other plastic materials that could be ingested by children. Additionally, purchase toys larger than your child’s mouth. Toys with strings and ribbons are dangerous because they can choke or suffocate a child if swallowed.
  • Toys should not be made of plastic that can break easily. Sharp edges from shattered toys can easily cut or bruise your child.
  • Toddlers and babies prefer toys that are colorful, lightweight and are made with various textures. Also, toys should be washable since children put them in their mouths.
  • Skip the toys with balloons for children under 8 years old.
  • Along the same vein, toys with magnets or batteries should only be given to older children. Batteries and magnets are dangerous if swallowed.
  • Toys that build developmental skills (such as fine and gross motor, language, perceptual skills or cognitive skills) are great for babies and toddlers.
  • Avoid toys that shoot or have projectiles. This is unsafe and can cause eye injuries.
  • Children under 10 shouldn’t be given electric toys that need to be plugged in to operate. Battery operated toys will prevent electrical shock.
  • When purchasing sports equipment such as bikes, skateboards or skates, please remember to buy the appropriate head, face and mouth protection that goes along with it.
  • Avoid toys that are loud and may cause permanent damage to a developing child’s ears.
  • Purchase only toys listed as non-toxic on the label.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has various sites to obtain more information on toy safety. My go-to magazine, Parents, has a guide for purchasing the perfect age appropriate toy.

Enjoy every minute of the holidays with your child.

– 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.

My favorite day in November

Christmas decorations in mall

For most people, Thanksgiving is about family, food and tradition. That’s true for my family too, to some extent. But for us that’s even more the case for the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday is the day that I celebrate my mom and pass on some of things that were important to her to my kids. We embrace her traditions, and we have started some of our own.

Mom passed away almost 22 years ago. We lost her 14 months before my oldest child was born, so my kids never got to meet her. They do know her though as I’ve made sure that she is still a part of their lives.

One day when we especially do this is Black Friday. My Mom loved shopping. She was a master of it. In some ways it was her faith – so much so that when Somerset North opened, she called it “the cathedral.” Where shoppers go to worship. Clearly then Black Friday was a favorite day of hers.

Understand that this was before Black Friday leaked into Thanksgiving (she would not have approved). My mom would get up at the crack of dawn (she usually did that anyway) to be there when the stores opened to take advantage of all the great deals. She taught me to appreciate the value of a good sale, and it was something we did together. The year we lost her, she was too sick to shop on Black Friday, but she made a list and sent me off with my best friend to practice what she had preached. From that Black Friday forward, I’ve continued to shop with my best friend and we started taking my daughter when she was old enough. That kid is now 20 and she is her grandmother’s girl – a shopping superstar practicing her faith on the biggest shopping day of the year.

When we finish shopping, it’s time for breakfast. Yes, I said breakfast. Mom used to say that you had to get done early before the “amateurs” came out. That is when we indulge in a tradition all our own:  Cinnabon. Some years my husband would wake our kids up and bring them to meet me at the mall, but now we pick up a pack of the calorie-laden treats and bring them home to our non-shoppers. Those of us who have been raking in the deals since dawn need a boost, and the others will need their energy for what comes next: decorating!

Another of my mother’s favorite things in the world was Christmas. I think that may be because of the child-like wonder with which Mom always viewed the world. With a sparkle in her eye, even in her 50s, she delighted in the joy the world had to offer. But never so much as at Christmas.

The official start of the Christmas season at my house is Black Friday. Christmas music isn’t allowed on the radio before that day, but starting that Friday we embrace the joyous Noel. We put up seven (yes, seven) Christmas trees, yards of garland, thousands of twinkling lights, and some of my other favorite decorations. My mom’s “Christmas in the City” collection goes on the mantle. We talk about how her favorite pieces were the cathedral and Hollydale’s Department Store. Then there’s my crèche – the one my Mom and Dad got (the very last one!) for me on the day after Christmas, 27 years ago for half-off because I fell in love with its peaceful simplicity. And the only ornament I place on our living room tree: the little green and white angel who represents my mom watching over my family.

After all that hard work, we need some sustenance. And that brings me to my final favorite of my mom’s for the day: good food. Mom was an amazing cook. Every day was a feast and holidays were even more glorious. But she never really ate much at Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t understand that until I took over the family meal when I got married. After spending all day making all that food – I guess neither of us really wanted to eat it. That wore off by the next day, however. Is there anything better than Thanksgiving leftovers?! Our special tradition for the day after Thanksgiving is my Mom’s creation: Mush-Mush. Yes, I know how it sounds, but trust me, it’s delicious. Mom would take the leftover mashed potatoes and leftover broccoli and mash it together in a frying pan with a ton of butter. Frying it up until it was golden brown; it was and still is my favorite thing to eat from the Thanksgiving feast. Now my husband is the one who makes Mush-Mush as he honors the woman who never used the term “in-law” when she called him her son.

It’s almost Black Friday now. As I type this, I’m smiling and my eyes are a little shiny with unshed tears. I love that I have a day that has such strong happy memories of my beautiful Mom. Ones that I can share with the grandchildren she would have spoiled rotten, but who still feel her love. I hope that your holidays are filled with beautiful memories, and traditions – new and old!

– Nicole Capozello, Parenting Program staff