Alicia Castelli


Protecting kids from themselves is a challenge

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Is it possible to curb a child’s natural curiosity, especially when it’s combined with a terrifying lack of impulse control?
We have a seven-foot tall cabinet in our basement and have caught our two youngest, 4-year-old Keira and 6-year-old Ethan, trying to climb it to reach things on the higher shelves inside.
We’ve very clearly explained the danger of this.
My mother was babysitting recently and Ethan decided to climb the cabinet. Sure enough, it fell over on him despite furniture cups under the front corners to further stabilize it.
Thankfully, Ethan wasn’t hurt, but I’m sure he took several years off my mother’s life. He managed to wiggle out from underneath the cabinet before my mom even got to him.
Why must children learn so many lessons the hard way?
It seems perfectly clear to me that if you say, “Don’t climb on that because it could fall over and hurt you” that the child would, well, not climb on it.
I understand children, especially boys, develop impulse control during their late teenage years, but I’m on a quest for a way to hasten that process.
As a reporter, I write way too many stories about tragedies involving children that could’ve been avoided if the kids had managed to curb their curiosity and control their impulses. In the past year, at least three such stories were about children who died as a result of their activities.
Thankfully, the cabinet doors were closed when it tipped over. I’m assuming Ethan’s body was directly in front of it and kept the doors from swinging open and dumping wooden puzzles, games and other toys on his head. He could have been very badly hurt.
Instead of appreciating the severity of the accident, I overheard Ethan and 10-year-old Ryan making “flat as a pancake” jokes about it.
Where’s the line between trying to acquaint children with consequences and creating phobias that will require therapy later in life because you’ve scared the crap out of them in attempt to get them to take safety warnings seriously?
I’d like to hear how other parents are dealing with the whole “Don’t stick the fork in the electrical outlet because…” aspect of parenting. What works for you and what hasn’t worked? How forceful is too forceful a warning? How to teach consequences without creating a child terrified of his own shadow? Which lessons do you let them learn the hard way and what circumstances require adult intervention? Bubble wrap them from head to toe? Actually, I kind of like that one…


Spring choir concert is less stressful

Posted by Alicia Castelli

The spring choir concert for my son’s school was this week and I realized how much I preferred it to the Christmas concert season.
My son is as big a music lover as his parents and joined his school choir last year. (This year, the fourth-graders get to learn how to play the recorder but I think I’ll save the joy of that experience for another time…)
Christmas is an incredibly busy time with jobs, school, church and the requisite concerts. The school has a Christmas concert, the church has one and even my daughter’s daycare center hosted a Christmas concert this year.
I love everything about Christmas – particularly anything I know will create fond memories for my children. So we attended all the programs and were – guiltily – relieved when that round of activity was over.
I was sitting in the local high school auditorium the other evening thinking about how enjoyable the annual spring concert experience is simply because it is the only item on the agenda, as it were. Or maybe it’s the hint of spring in the air, I don’t know.
There’s no scrambling to arrange pickups and modify work or school schedules to accommodate three concerts at two different locations. My mother handled Ryan and my husband handled the other two. All I had to do was get from school to the concert on time.
Plus, the spring concert is in the evening so my husband was able to attend as well.
We divided our two youngest between the grandparents so we wouldn’t have to worry about sibling squabbling during the show and sat back and relaxed.
All four elementary schools performed and my son’s was first. I smiled and sat up straighter and watched him scan the crowd until a big smile spread across his face as he spotted us.
“Hi Ryan!!” my 4-year-old daughter called out, thankfully not too loudly. Six-year-old Ethan was waving like a maniac as well. Ryan was under strict instructions from the choir teacher NOT to wave from the stands, but he saw us.
One of the choir’s songs included hand motions and involved pointing toward the audience and Ryan was CLEARLY enjoying pointing at his family as the song asked whether the audience wanted to be mules, pigs or fish.
I don’t know what I enjoyed more, seeing how much the kids had improved in just one year, or having my daughter sit on my lap and pretend to direct the choir as she waved her hands around. Judging by the chuckles coming from behind us, Keira entertained more than just me.
Ethan, who sings constantly and avidly denies doing any such thing, had eyes riveted to the stage for quite a while considering the concert took an hour.
Keira, too, began quietly singing along with a few of the songs she recognized – and some she didn’t but that was cute, too.
It was just so stress free that I found myself really enjoying it rather than being distracted by the two younger one’s behavior, whether I would get out of school on time and how we’d all find seats together in the auditorium since we all arrived at different times.
At the end of the show, all four elementary choirs and a middle school guest choir came together for a grand finale which earned them thunderous applause from the packed auditorium.
A great show, a short wait in traffic, a bed time snack and then a quiet house for the rest of the evening made for a very nice day.


Food battles no fun for parents

Posted by Alicia Castelli

All kids go through a phase where, for some reason, they seem to hate food. Being me, I hit the Internet looking for answers.
The most logical was the theory that very young children control very little about their environment, but around age three to four, they realize they can control what they eat. Let the battles begin!
Our oldest went through a phase where it seemed like all he would eat was macaroni and cheese, hotdogs and cold cereal for the better part of a year. He would turn up his nose at anything else and the loss of desert wasn’t enough of an incentive to get him to try anything.
Ryan has turned into a very good eater who will try just about anything and likes just about everything. He’s absolutely skin and bones, but so was I as a kid. The child grazes nonstop and still eats breakfast, lunch and dinner so I’m not too concerned about him.
My youngest has been a good eater since birth and has shown no hint yet of battling for “control” by arguing about food. Except for a tendency toward vegetarianism which makes me worry about her protein intake, I’m not losing any sleep over her, either.
Which brings me to my middle child, Ethan.
He started out as a great eater, but these days I’m not quite sure how Ethan manages to stay alive. He’s great about eating breakfast and he’s fine, not surprisingly, with snacks. Lunch and dinner, however, are another matter.
For the past couple of years I’ve tried to introduce more natural and organic foods into my family’s diet. One of the first things I did was switch from margarine to butter.
Ethan used to love macaroni and cheese, but now he won’t touch it. He says it tastes funny because of the butter. This is the same child who will scarf down buttered rice or buttered noodles and ask for seconds. He also loves toast. I’m not sure what kind of chemical reaction he thinks is taking place in the macaroni and cheese pan, but don’t even bother putting it on his plate.
Always a huge fan of fish sticks, Ethan recently turned up his nose at fish fillets.
“They’re the same thing as fish sticks, just in a different shape,” I tell him.
“I don’t like them!”
“You haven’t even tried them!”
“I don’t have to – I know I don’t like them!”
Butter and rectangle-shaped foods are obviously out.
While he loves dipping carrot sticks in Italian or Ranch salad dressing, duck and cover if you try to give him cooked carrots. Actually, I agree with him on this one.
Previously a broccoli and a mixed vegetable eater, now Ethan picks out the carrots, lima beans and peas and refused to touch broccoli. He tries to escape the green beans, too, but I draw the line at serving him mixed vegetables and having him reduce it to corn.
Butter, rectangle-shaped foods and any green or orange vegetables are out.
If it’s meat, it better be a hot dog or hamburger. Since hot dogs barely qualify as meat, that leaves hamburgers as Ethan’s only source of meat in addition to fish sticks. Occasionally, he’ll eat fried chicken.
Butter, rectangle-shaped foods, green and orange vegetables and most meats are out.
If it’s a new food, like beef stroganoff or stir fry or lasagna or lamb –don’t even think about it.
That doesn’t leave a whole lot except sugar. Withholding dessert if he doesn’t eat results in MUCH whining but that’s a non-negotiable rule so we have MUCH whining with virtually every dinner.
Ethan was a bit late starting this phase. In fact, it started about the time we moved from southern Ohio to Cleveland so maybe that whole “I don’t have any control over anything” theory has some basis in fact.
All I know is I cannot get this child to eat much of anything so suggestions from other parents struggling with food issues are welcome.


Valentine’s Day love – with stickers

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Valentine’s Day was especially sweet for me this year since I had a fistful of handmade valentines from my kids, each one cuter than the last.
All three of my kids gave me valentines from the boxes they bought for their classmates so before the big day even arrived I was the proud owner of two G.I. Joe valentines and one Tinkerbell valentine.
My 10-year-old also made two valentines, one for me and my husband to share and another for our new kitten, Waffle. Ryan even took the time to punch holes around the edges and thread pipe cleaners through. I’m trying hard not to take it personally that Waffle got twice as many stickers as we did…
From 6-year-old Ethan I got a valentine booklet that had pictures and little Valentine’s Day poems inside. He also cut out and colored a second valentine for me. Unfortunately, he wrote in orange and colored in blue so I have no idea what it says, but I love it just the same.
Four-year-old Keira finger painted a valentine picture covered with swaths of my favorite color, purple. She also made a more traditional valentine for me at daycare.
I had to work on Valentine’s Day, but we spent the morning sledding at a local park with the kids before indulging in hot chocolate and a hot lunch.
I absolutely love the hand-made things the kids bring home from school – especially when it involves their handprints or, on one memorable occasion, a footprint.
Not only do I have a physical record of how they are growing physically, I have a record of how they’re developing mentally as I watch handwriting and spelling improve.
Since I can’t save everything, I’ve taken to photographing the artwork and crafts and saving only a special few. The photographs of their work then go into scrapbooks – something I can pass on to them when they’re grown.
In the meantime, I get to spread out my sticker-covered and painted valentines and read the messages from my children that let me know they were thinking about me and they love me.


Mom cashes in on birthday

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Birthdays aren’t something I particularly care about these days since I’m fast approaching the point at which I don’t even want to admit my age.
I discovered, however, that my kids care quite a bit which was really touching. After a few seconds of a sappy, “awwww – they do care!” Mom moment, I started to plot how to use it to my advantage.
Mornings are hectic. I’m on my own in the morning with three sleepy, frequently cranky children who are in no way motivated to get to school or daycare quickly.
I usually dread mornings a little bit because I know at least one of them is going to give me trouble – whether with getting dressed or brushing teeth or getting buckled up in the van – one of them will give me trouble.
“Happy birthday, Mommy!” 10-year-old Ryan said first thing. He gave me a big hug, immediately followed by 4-year-old Keira. Six-year-old Ethan was still sleeping.
Ah ha! I love those moments.
“Do you know the perfect way to start Mommy’s birthday?” I asked all three once I’d roused Ethan.
“No fighting this morning,” I said in my cheeriest voice. (I’m grumpier than Ethan in the morning so this was actually pretty hard for me to do.) “No whining, no arguing on Mommy’s birthday. Eat, brush your teeth, get dressed and get your shoes on without my having to even ask!! That would the BEST PRESENT EVER!”
I ramped up the enthusiasm. I was practically giddy.
Imagine my pleasure when Keira interrupted my shower just to show me what a big girl she was for getting dressed all by herself for my birthday. It was completely worth the blast of cold air to think I had one dressed already.
Imagine my surprise when Ryan not only got dressed, but made his own bowl of cereal and then poured cereal for Ethan and Keira, too.
Imagine my utter shock when Ethan got dressed and brushed his teeth without a whiny fight. Seriously – complete shocker on that one.
All three of them gave me exactly what I wanted for my birthday and I only had to ask once.
It wasn’t that they got themselves ready for school. It was that they all did it after only being asked once. Once.
The icing on my cake? Not a single argument or whine was heard in my house that entire morning in honor of my birthday.


Son helps Mom study for a change

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Turnabout is fair play.
I have been quizzing my son, Ryan, for quizzes and spelling tests for several years.
This year, I get to quiz my son, Ethan, as well.
As a first-grader, Ryan really liked this time with me. He also felt very grown up having homework and tests to study for at school. The older he gets, however, the less he wants to be bothered with homework.
Ethan has pretty much felt that homework is a bother from the beginning.
While I really enjoy studying with the boys, they would much rather play video games.
In my house, however, homework and studying comes first. Period.
Ryan’s enthusiasm for being quizzed on his spelling words is particularly lacking. Especially if we’re going over words he initially struggled with for a second or third time.
“I know that one!” he’ll say.
“Good. Prove it,” I’ll say back.
After a long-suffering sigh, Ryan usually complies. Or flees. But he always gets good grades on those spelling tests!
I recently returned to school myself and I try to grab study time whenever and wherever I can.
I have two science classes with labs this semester which means lots of work, quizzes and exams. And reading. Lots of reading. My anatomy textbook alone weighs more than Ryan.
It’s the beginning of the semester and I’m usually very tense and apprehensive at the beginning of the semester, but then I settle down into a study groove after a week or two.
I have my first quiz in my anatomy and physiology lab this week. In order to accommodate the on-campus classes, I have to work Saturday and Sunday nights. I already work Monday nights so study time is hard to come by.
Imagine Ryan’s initial surprise when I asked him to quiz me while I finished getting ready for work last weekend.
At first, he struggled with pronunciation, which was no big deal because I do, too.
He switched to spelling the more difficult terminology, which actually helped because it forced me to concentrate on the vocabulary I was learning in another way.
“Skip that one,” I said, admittedly more than once. “We’ll come back to that.”
After I’d gone through everything once with Ryan, he went back to the questions I didn’t get the first time through.
With a few hints, I got through those as well.
Ryan started quizzing me a second time on the words I’d skipped.
“I know those now,” I said.
A delighted, and somewhat evil, little smile spread across his face.
“Good,” he said. “Prove it!”
Turnabout sucks.


What I do for love

Posted by Alicia Castelli

I hate reality television. Deeply and passionately.
My own reality is something I prefer to escape from. I have no interest in watching other people try to deal with theirs.
I have found, however, that I will do pretty much anything for my kids.
Which is why, eight seasons in, I found myself watching “American Idol” last year with my son…and actually looking forward to it this year.
Ten-year-old Ryan is in his school choir and longs to take guitar lessons. He loves music.
His 6-year-old brother, Ethan, is constantly singing little made up songs despite his offended insistence that he DOES NOT SING. I don’t think Ethan’s even aware he sings ALL THE TIME.
Four-year-old Keira loves to sing and dance almost as much as she loves books and baby dolls.
I, of course, knew about American Idol but I’d never had any interest in watching it before. Ryan learned about the show at school after hearing his friends talk about it.
That’s how I found myself recording the final couple weeks of last year’s season and using them as rewards when Ryan behaved – private time with mommy watching Idol.
This year, all three kids are loving it and I find myself seriously getting a kick out of watching the tryouts and getting caught up (against my will) in the back stories of the people on the show.
What I enjoy more than the show itself is watching my kids’ belly laugh reactions to the horrifyingly bad tryouts, their rapt attention and applause for the talented tryouts and their snickers whenever the show “bleeps” out the bad words of the disappointed.
Ryan’s favorite judge is definitely Simon – both for his caustic wit but also, I think, because Simon is brutally honest and never apologizes for his opinions.
Hmmm….Reminds me of someone I know…..


Birthday party madness

Posted by Alicia Castelli

I find myself in the midst of a conundrum lately. Birthday parties for kids.
When I was young, I got a birthday party with friends when I was 8 and again when I turned 16. They were at home with a limited number of friends and that was it.
Having a big to-do for a child’s first birthday seems to be par for the course and we did that with all three of our own children –complete with smash cake.
What I struggle with are the frequent invitations to very young children’s birthday parties.
The rule is everyone in the classroom gets an invitation or the invitations don’t get passed out at school. That way, no one’s feelings got hurt.
This wasn’t the case when I was young.
If my feelings were hurt because I didn’t get invited to someone’s birthday party, that was too bad. Life wasn’t always pleasant and I had to learn to deal with that.
Problem number one is that most “party places” charge by the head, usually eight or ten children. There are very few classrooms that small so you either invite the whole class and pay quite a bit more, or you find addresses and mail invitations.
Thank goodness for student directories. We mailed the invitations to our 10-year-old’s party which we held at our home. Pizza and a movie. They had a blast.
Problem number two with these parties is I have no intention of paying $250 or more to have a birthday party for my children, yet they go to these expensive outlets and come home wanting the same thing.
My kids are getting a lesson in “life’s not always fair” at a very young age because I refuse to spend that kind of money on a party for a 4-year-old. If I was going to spend that much money, I’d rather spend it on gifts or taking the family out for a birthday dinner.
Problem number three is we are limited in how many of these parties each child can attend in a year because of the cost of gifts.
How to choose which parties to attend?
My daughter’s entire preschool class was invited to a birthday party the first week of school. She didn’t even know the child in question.
How deep are the friendships among 4-year-olds and 6-year-olds? How can I tell the difference between a real developing friendship and my child just wanting to go to the party because everyone else is going?
My daughter was invited to two parties in January alone. (A little tip – find a toy on sale and buy several for your child to give for multiple party invites.)
When did these elaborate parties held at special venues become the norm?
I tend to make decisions about these parties on a case-by-case basis and continue to keep my kids’ parties family affairs until they are at least 8 years old.
I would like to know how other parents deal with the ever-growing industry of children’s birthday parties.


Reward system seems to work

Posted by Alicia Castelli

I may have hit upon a successful way of keeping the kids in line that focuses on rewarding positive behavior rather than using discipline as a deterrent.
A friend recommended it as she’d had quite a bit of success with it herself with one of her four children.
Since I, too, have one child for whom no punishment eliminated undesirable behavior in the long-term, I decided to give the reward system a try across the board rather than try using it for just one of the kids.
Basically, if the kids earn five smiley faces on the calendar in any week, they earn a reward. The rewards are free and usually consist of time alone with either Mom or Dad.
Four weeks in and I’m still amazed at how well this is working for all three children despite the range of ages. My 9-year-old is as interested in one-on-one parent time as my 4-year-old is.
I also like this because it prepares the children, in a way, for real life. If you do a job well, theoretically you are rewarded with a promotion or a raise, etc. Why not start that kind of mentality with them now?
If you do your job well, which is to behave, follow the house rules, do well in school and complete your job list for the week, you will be rewarded. An allowance alone didn’t suffice. Time alone with Mom or Dad seems to be working like a dream.
Our oldest saved up two weeks worth of smiley faces and spent Sunday afternoon downtown with his father listening to author Neil Gaimon speak.
I took the two youngest to the Halloween USA store and bought their costumes. That’s money I would have spent anyway but it felt like a reward to them so I ran with that.
There have been trips to the library and the park which are free. One week I let the kids each pick a sugar-coated cereal that I would otherwise have NEVER let inside my house. They were darn near perfect that week! Sometimes the reward is 20 minutes alone with me at the end of the day after the other two are tucked into bed and sometimes it’s one of them getting to go grocery shopping with me while the other two remain at home. It’s really all about face time.
These days, threatening to erase a smiley faces gets pretty instant obedience. The built-in bonus is the kids aren’t striving for perfection – they only need five a week. There is room for error, otherwise it would never work.
Plus, we give a smiley face based on overall behavior for the entire day. One or two bad moments doesn’t negate a smiley face. Serious issues like getting in trouble at school or hurting each other immediately mean the loss of a smiley face.
It sounds so simple and kind of silly, but it’s working. I just hope it continues to work until they hit those teenage years when the reward will be time away from Mom and Dad.


New discount health card available in Lorain

Posted by Alicia Castelli

LORAIN — Mayor Tony Krasienko announced Monday the city is endorsing a discount card that could save users an average of 38 percent on their prescriptions and higher percentages on lab tests and imaging services.

“This will mean significant savings for the uninsured and the underinsured,” Krasienko said at a press conference.

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