Babysitter monitoring idea

I know I can’t be the only one who’s seen a really good babysitter and wished I could let her employers know how lucky they are to ahve her, or, even more upsettingly, seen a babysitter doing something so bad that I wished I could warn her employers. The problem is that unless you know the family, there’s virtually no way to know how to contact the parents, short of following the babysitter home.

The good people at The Opinionated Parent tipped me off to this interesting service from Basically, you sign up with the site, and they give you a license plate to put on your stroller so people can log in to the site and send compliments or danger reports about your babysitter. Read the Opinionated Parent post about it for the details (and to sign up to win a free membership to the service).

I think this raises some interesting issues. To me, putting a license plate on your stroller is so much better than doing a nannycam for all involved. It’s clearly better for the babysitter, because who wants to be videotaped at work without her knowledge? Plus, great nanny skills can be noticed and complimented. And I think it’s better for the employer parents, too, because it gives them a way to get confirmation of their feelings about the babysitter in a more professional way.

I can see two interesting issues with this service. The first is that it doesn’t do anything for people whose babysitters are not out and about in a stroller. And if you do use a stroller all the time (like people do her ein NYC), you still have no way of knowing what’s happening in places and situations in which the stroller isn’t there. So users might not be comfortable with that. (To me, it all goes back to following your gut and not hiring someone you don’t feel good about in the first place. And if the license plate helps you calm down general fears so that you can listen to your gut about that particular babysitter, then that’s great.)

The more interesting issue I can see is what will happen if parents get reported to themselves for bad caretaking behavior! I think we’ve all done things that someone else might construe as bad caretaking. So how are you going to react if someone emails in about something “bad” you’ve done? I’d hope I’d be able to look at it and use it as a reality check (Was it something actually inappropriate that I shouldn’t do again? Or just an immature or stressed-out reaction to loathesome child behavior that I won’t repeat anyway? Or was the reporter off-base?). But if I doubted my own parenting skills, then this could open up a can of worms for me personally.

What do you think? Personally, I think it’s the best solution I’ve seen yet for a situation that has so many inherent problems and sticky issues but is also really high-stakes. But it’s not perfect.

Q&A: How not to grow crazier as we grow older

Here’s a question for a Friday from Caro:

“This is only tangentially a parenting question, but it seems likesomething you and your readers might have thought about, or might be
able to help me think about.

Right now, I know three women in
their sixties who are each dealing with–or in massive, obvious denial
about–Personal Issues that have clearly been building up for decades
and are now crashing down on them and the people around them in huge
ways. They are in vastly different situations (details are personal and
don’t matter much here), but each of them is in an emotional, physical,
or relational state where, in her thirties, she never would have
expected or wanted to end up. The common thread seems to be failure to
deal with problems as they arise–failure to even recognize them as
problems until they are out of control.

question: What can we–women, mostly, here–moms with plenty going on
to distract us from taking care of our long-term mental and emotional
health–do now to make sure we don’t wake up at age 60 and suddenly
realize we’re a mess? How can we make ourselves *see* the things that
these three smart women I know (and many, many others, I’m sure)
somehow ignored or missed for years and years?

to be so vague (too vague?). Am trying to steer away from the specific
situations, as I think this is actually a widespread phenomenon with
women and transcends the individual details.

Hope that makes some sense. Would love to discuss this with you and/or other Moxie readers.”

Yeah. Oh, so yeah. And I’m betting everyone else who’s been interacting with family this summer is processing this on some level, too.

For me, this question is really personal. I was so invested in external appearances for so long. And I’d gotten myself into a truly insurmountable (with the energy and strength I had at the time) situation that has taken every ounce of honesty and strength and heartbreak I have to get out of. So I definitely understand bad decisions, the slippery slope, misunderstanding your own needs, and then inertia and/or denial and/or fear.

For me the solution was ruthless, brutal honesty, combined with some truly freaky spiritual experiences that left me feeling like I was being taken care of even in the midst of chaos. The freaky spiritual experiences are not a replicable model for everyone (although, honestly, I never thought the kind of strange stuff that happened was going to happen to me, so how can I say that they couldn’t happen to everyone else?), but the honesty is.

I also think some sort of goal-setting might help. On an email list I used to be on (Hi, enu, Num-Num, and Pennifer!), we used to all post our New Year’s resolutions. Then the next December, someone who’d kept them all would send them back to the list and we could look and see how we’d done. It seems like a semi-public process of setting a course for yourself and then checking to see how well you were doing might help keep you from driving into the ditch totally. But, as with most things, it would only work if you were super-honest and took it very seriously. Because you could go along for years focusing on the surface things without really looking at where you were going as a human being. Unless you’re brave enough to set some sort of life goal in the style of choosing your own epitaph and working toward that goal.

The other alternative is to start calling our friends on things when we think they’re making bad decisions. But I just don’t see that happening on a wide scale. Also, people who were really invested in denial would just ditch friends who were too honest with them.

So, hey, I don’t know. Personally, I think I’m on the right track for the first time in a looooong time. But what would it take to derail me again? You can be reasonably together while your kids are little and still end up with too many cats and a boyfriend who writes bad checks once your kids leave the house. And how do you disentangle yourself if you’ve let things like your health get away from you? You can’t just call Clean House to come clear out the clutter in your arteries.

What do you guys think? Do you suspect that you’re struggling with things that could eventually overtake you? Or do you have some way of keeping yourself honest? Or do you even think about it? Miraculous transformations as well as cautionary tales always welcome.

Q&A: grandfather surfing naughty sites

Rebecca writes:

“Frankly, I can’t believe I’m asking this question, for so many reasons. One is that I have a vague feeling that I’m being naive. Second, it’s embarrassing to ask about porn. But here goes.

I just discovered that my father in law spends a great deal of his time on the internet watching porn videos, photos, etc. I discovered this because we were staying with them for almost a week and were allowed liberal use of their computer. I am an email and Google junkie so I spent time checking messages and Googling things like where I could find an urgent care center in Albuquerque for my 4-month old with an ear infection. Anyhoodle, my FIL’s version of Firefox shows you the most frequent Google searches when you begin to type in the URL bar. And that’s how I found that the most frequent search is a porn site.
This lead me to a slightly unethical search of his internet history. And *that*
lead me to promise myself never to look at his history again, a) because it’s so clearly none of my business, and b) I don’t want to know any more than I know now, considering I want to continue the lovely relationship we currently have.

My question is this: is there any reason to be concerned for my daughter’s safety? My gut tells me that I don’t have anything to worry about. But my gut also tells me, as I’m the child of a rape victim, that you really and truly never know. The statistics are there to prove it.

My daughter spends maybe one weekend every month or two with her grandparents, largely with us around as well. But my husband and I do occasionally go out to dinner while we’re visiting them (in NM, we live in TX) and leave the baby with her grandfather and

The porn habit seems to be a daily event, from what I can glean from the history. It seems that he checks his email and watches some porn. My feeling is that sexual desires, even the raunchy ones, are perfectly, beautifully normal. Meeting your needs is also perfectly normal. But something about daily dates with porn on the internet plus caring for my baby makes me squeamish.”

Boy are there a whole lotta issues in this question! Let’s start with the issues directly involving your daughter. I am NOT NOT NOT an expert on sex or sexuality or porn or sexual abuse. But it’s my understanding that sexual proclivities don’t cross. So a man who’s looking at porn of adult women is not interested in little kids. I’d hazard a guess that the majority of men who would definitely cross the street to check out Playboy would be absolutely repulsed by the idea of a little kid in a sexual way. So, in your situation, I don’t think I’d be concerned about your FIL hurting your daughter directly.

However, that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be hurt by accidentally being exposed to porn. Showing kids pornographic and sexual material while they’re still children is a form of sexual abuse.(and it can be testing/prepping behavior if the person is intending to molest the child.)  Even if your FIL would never ever intend it, the fact that you could get to it so easily when you weren’t trying means that any kid using his computer could get their easily, too, without trying. Your daughter’s going to be at the age pretty soon when she’s going to want to do Neopets or that penguin game or whatever, and she’ll want to do it while she’s visiting them, and probably show it off to her grandparents. Two misplaced clicks and she’s seeing something she really shouldn’t be seeing.

Here’s the part of the post when I’m supposed to talk about whether porn is good or bad or whatever. Personally, I think it’s damaging to the people who make it more than to many of the people who use it. But I know people on both sides of the issue who work(ed) in the porn/sex industry. Some say it’s degrading and coercive; others say it’s empowering and liberating. I think for users it can be harmless in some situations, but extremely damaging in others. Using porn if your partner doesn’t know is, to me, a problem. And avoiding your partner in order to use porn is a very very serious problem.

The other aspect to worry about is addiction. If he’s doing it every day, then he could be addicted. If he’s choosing porn over other activities, that’s definitely addiction. As with other addictions, it could cause him to act irrationally, but the bigger issue is the isolation there’s going to be between him and the people he’s distancing from (by using the porn) and hiding it from.

I’m wondering if there’s a problem in your in-laws’ marriage. If it’s something physical, maybe they’ve chosen porn for your FIL as a way to live with it as well as they can. If they haven’t chose the porn together, though, this could be something that’s going to come out and be a problem. And you may end up having to deal with some fallout.

So, to recap this super-long post: The porn could be a problem either for your FIL alone, or for your FIL and for his marriage. So just be prepared that it could blow up and involve the whole family. Or perhaps it’s just a pragmatic way of dealing with some physical side effects of getting older.

Your immediate concern should be making sure that your daughter doesn’t see the porn. The most direct way to do this is to make sure your FIL keeps it where she can’t see it. You shouldn’t have to have this conversation with him (I cannot think of a conversation that could possibly be more awkward between FIL and DIL!). Instead, get your husband to mention it. He can use the computer and pretend that he came upon the sites, and say something like, “Dude, can you hide your porn? What if my daughter sees it??” and it’ll be one of those nudge-nudge Guy Things. And if your FIL is a decent guy he’ll rush to shield your daughter from anything too old for her, and problem solved.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and trust your instincts. It wouldn’t hurt to reread Protecting the Gift. And good for you for poking around to protect your baby.

Anyone think I’m totally off the mark? Other opinions? Experiences? Anyone worked in the sex industry who wants to comment? Agreement?

PQotW: Letter to your kids

Ooh–my first Philosophical Question of the Week from a reader. Joyanna poses the question:

“My husband and I are about to go on a week’svacation without our 3 kids ( ages 8, 6, and 20 mos.) from whom I’ve never been
away for more than one night, three times, ever. 

While I’m totally excited for the trip and totally
confident they’ll do fine with Grandma and Grandpa and Nanny Aunt for the week,
I’m thinking a little about Worst Case Scenario, plane goes down, whatever, and
that I’d like to write a letter for my kids to read Just In Case, and for them
to refer to as they grow up.  I wonder what your readers would include in
such a letter… what would be your best advice to your children if you knew
they wouldn’t have you around as they grew up… what would you leave them

That’s a tough one. On the one hand, it would be tempting to lay it all out there: “I loved you more than I ever thought I could love anyone, and becoming your mother turned me into a real person.” But is that too much to lay on a kid? I don’t know. Maybe something like “My greatest joy was being with you and watching you become who you are.”

As to advice? Hmmm. “God is real. Trust your instincts. Look for the helpers.” That might cover it for me.

This last weekend while we were on vacation in a rural area, I realized how much I hope my kids grow up with a love for being out in nature (tough to do in NYC). But I don’t know if that can be effectively conveyed in a letter.

What do you guys think?

Q&A: Toddler punches himself in the head

Kirsty writes:

“My son is 16 months old and he just started punching himselfin the head this past week. I find it really upsetting and disturbing. He
punches himself when he seems  frustrated, tired or isn’t getting
what he wants. It can be only a couple times a day or countless times a day. At
first I told him not to do it but I am afraid that might make him do it more. I
am trying to just ignore it but fear he might not stop and will always use this
method of “coping”. I asked a couple friends if their children did
this and they said yes. But I’m not sure its to the same extent of my
son. What should I do? I really don’t want him to be self destructive.
Please help!”

First rule of Toddler Fight Club: There is no Toddler Fight Club.

Sorry–couldn’t resist.

Seriously, though, I hate this stage. It’s as annoying as any other, and scarier than most. I mean, why, why
is your/my/her kid punching himself?? It just doesn’t seem normal. And
yet it is, apparently, because so many kids do it. Both of mine went
through a form of it at around that age, and my office-mate’s daughter
is just starting to come out of a phase of slapping herself (she’s 2).

suspect that it’s yet another manifestation of the fact that kids that
age can’t express their feelings as well as they want to, and don’t
really know how to process them. So the punching or slapping is just
another way they release the tension/excitement/anger/frustration/joy
because they don’t know what else to do with it. It’s like their bodies
need to get out that emotion and energy, so the bodies make the limbs
do things that don’t make sense to adults.

I don’t think there’s
any cure for it (other than taping your kid’s hands to his sides with
duck tape), but I’d suspect that kids who can communicate better
(either because they’re early talkers or because their parents teach
them sign language) and who are super-active (to release the physical
energy) do this less. and that some kids just don’t do anything like
this at all because they just don’t.

Can I get some data points on that?

(And if you’re interested in teaching your kid sign language, I’ve heard rave, RAVE reviews about the Signing Time DVDs, or you can use the excellent and free ASL browser from Michigan State University.)

D-MER, or feeling crappy when your milk lets down

This just in from the “Who Would Ever have Suspected This” Files*:

“Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex

Defining D-MER:
What It Is

DysphoricMilk Ejection Reflex is a newly recognized condition affecting
lactating women that is characterized by a brief surge of dysphoria, or
negative emotions that peak before the milk ejection reflex, or
letdown, and then dissipate quickly after the milk release.

How D-MER Presents:
What Mothers Feel

The negative
emotions, or dysphoria, that a mother with D-MER experiences often
manifest “in the mother’s stomach” – a hollow feeling, a feeling like
there is something in the pit of the stomach, or an emotional churning
in the stomach. Mothers report varying types of emotions ranging from
dread to anxiety to anger, these emotions fall on three different D-MER
spectrums which are described in more detail below. The common thread
between the D-MER spectrums however, is the wave of negative emotions
or dysphoria, prior to letdown, that then lifts within another 30-90
seconds, and then usually repeats with each letdown.

A key piece of D-MER is that a mother with D-MER feels absolutely fine except just before her milk starts to flow….”

Ho-ly crap, people. I had no idea. I’m guessing right about now those of you who nursed for more than a day or two are either shaking your heads in surprise like I am, or reading this with your mouths open because this happened to you. Apparently all kinds of women have D-MER, no matter how easy it is for them to nurse, how soon their milk comes in, etc.

If this looks like you or someone you know, read the whole story at the D-MER website. Since this is such new information (and how did they even put it together?–I can’t imagine that most women with it would talk about it, because we’re not usually allowed to say anything even remotely negative about how we feel during breastfeeding), please go take their survey about it.

The tagline of the D-MER website is “Because Breastfeeding Shouldn’t Make You Feel This Way.” Seriously.

* Actually, it was an IBCLC (lactation consultant) who sent this to me. She herself had it with each of her kids, but had no idea it happened to other women!

PQotW: Smuggling coffee into a hospital

This Philosophical Question of the Week is for Neil:

Your friend is in the hospital for a few days for a chronic condition that’s serious but not life-threatening, and has nothing to do with short-term nutrition. The coffee and food at the hospital are so bad that he’s starting to get depressed. Do you smuggling him in some better food and coffee? The doctors have disallowed it, but he’s allowed to drink the hospital coffee and eat that food, so there’s no health reason for him not to have a decent cup.

What would you do?

Q&A: Dinner time–How’s it getting done?

Katie writes:

“I’d love to hear from some of your readers on how they get dinner timedone.  It seems life was more organized in the past, but after a job
change for one and increased responsibilities for others, it’s not
unusual to get home until 6:30.  So, by the time dinner gets made,
we’re often not done eating until around 7:30ish and it used to be we
were close to an 8:00 bedtime but with summer it’s more like 8:30, but
the evening feels rushed.  I know that left to our own devices we
wouldn’t eat dinner right before bedtime, so it seems a little wrong to
do it to our son.  So, probably the answer is to look at our schedules
and get someone’s jiggled around to getting home a little earlier (even
6 routinely).  I’m also concerned that having bedtime slip towards 8:30
just seems to late on a routine basis for a 2 1/2 year old (gets up
around 6:30 or 7:00).  He’s getting a little inconsistent on the

Before we start talking about this, let’s remember that some of this bedtime stuff is cultural. In some parts of the US, people work 8-5 so it’s realistic to have kids in bed at 7:30 or 8. In NYC and other areas no one’s at work before 9 and no one’s home before 6:30 or 7, so parents would never get to see their children if they went to bed early. (Remember that book that came out a few years ago advocating that all kids have 7 pm bedtimes? Ha.) My Egyptian coworker finds it hilarious that I put my kids to bed so “early” (between 8:30 and 9 in the summer) because in Egypt everyone stays up until midnight and they sleep in later in the morning.

So it seems like it makes the most sense to look at your family situation and your kid’s sleep sweet spot and use that instead of some external measure of when your kid should goes to bed, because, as usual, one size does not fit all.

But, on to meal prep. I think you’re going to have to shift the emphasis off of starting from scratch when you get home from work. That leaves you with tons of options, though. Many of them are going to involve doing prep either the night before or a few days ahead. For instance, you could chop all the vegetables and protein the night before and leave them in containers in the fridge, then as soon as you get home start the rice and toss everything in to stir-fry. You’ll be ready to go in 20 minutes. Or you could start using a slow cooker so you can slap everything together in the morning and it’ll be ready when you get home. A countertop grill also cooks really quickly, so you could prep everything the night before and grill it up in 10 minutes when you get home. Or you could cook big batches of things on the weekend and reheat them for dinners throughout the week.

I really think the key is planning the week’s meals in advance. And figure out who does what prep when as part of that plan. Because once the prep is done, the execution doesn’t take very long (especially if you have helper appliances like slow cookers, rice cookers, countertop grills, etc.).

Readers, what are your favorite do-ahead or time-saving meal ideas?

Selfish logistical issue

Can you guys help talk me through this?

Background: I have two cats, Alex Rodriguez and Blossom (Princess Blossom Pepperdoodle Von Yum Yum), both of whom are around a year old.

My catbox has always been in the bathroom, under the sink. But this is getting to be untenable for a few reasons: 1. The pipe under the sink makes it impossible to have a covered catbox so it’s just standing there open, which leads to 2. Blossom kicking litter out when she scratches. So I’m constantly having to sweep up litter from the bathroom floor.

Is there a way for me to stop the litter-kicking problem while still having an uncovered litter box? There’s no other space in the bathroom to put the box. Otherwise, where can I put the litterbox that I can cover it? I’m thinking the kitchen hall sort of near the bathroom. Remember that I’m in an NYC apartment that’s approximately 750 square feet, with two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Also, is there any truth to those self-cleaning cat boxes?

Also, for the two people who sent me cat-related questions two weeks ago: I have no idea. I don’t even understand my own cats! (Which is pretty much the point of cats.) I’d take your cats to the vet to get them checked for UTIs, which is what I’d do it one of my kids started peeing or pooping in the wrong places with no other major changes going on.