Archive for the ‘Alicia’s columns’ Category


When the cat’s away…

Posted by Alicia Castelli

How do my kids act when I’m not around? Isn’t that a question for the ages? Over the years, I’ve heard the adage that who you are as a person can best be shown by how you act and the things you do when no one’s looking. It’s an interesting thought. I’ve tried to teach my oldest child, Ryan, that lesson.

My friend up the street has two children right around the same age as mine so our kids are practically growing up together since they play together almost every day. Sometimes they’re at my house and sometimes they’re at my friend’s house.

We joke about how rotten our kids can act at home, but when they’re at someone else’s house they’re usually little angels who immediately do whatever they’re told. There’s a lot of truth to that, actually. Children feel safest at home so they’re bound to do the majority of their “testing of the rules” at home with their parents than elsewhere. You never know how someone else’s parent is going to react, so they tend to be on their best behavior.

Imagine my surprise when I learned by son Ryan was up the street playing and my friend had to discipline him. The nice thing about my friendship with my neighbor is that I trust her implicitly when it comes to disciplining my kids if they need it when they’re at her house. She’ll bring the hammer down or put them in time-out or whatever is needed. My kids understand this. When they are at her house – she’s the boss. Her kids understand that about me when they’re at my house.

There is a toy out there comprised of tiny balls that lock together or stick together in some so kids can construct animals or buildings or whatever catches their imagination. Apparently, my son had his younger brother, Ethan, pinned to a bedroom floor and was forcing these tiny balls into Ethan’s mouth.

Choking hazard aside, I get recall information every week that shows many products coming into the country are still in violation of the lead-based paint standards. Then there’s the possibility of internal problems if the little balls aren’t completely smooth and Ethan accidentally swallowed some.

My friend was livid and yelled at Ryan. A lot. My friend is probably one of the mellowest people I know so the fact that she yelled at him must have really made a huge impression on Ryan. My friend said she could just see Ryan shrink as she explained all the dangers of what he was doing to him.

Ryan quickly became concerned about his own parents’ reaction if my friend’s was so extreme and, lip trembling, asked if my friend was going to tell me what happened. She told him she wouldn’t – that he’d been punished enough. Of course, she did tell me and I agreed that the fear she instilled was enough of a punishment and I’d let it go. No harm, no foul – but I’d keep a closer eye on Ryan’s interactions with his brother for the time being.

I even laughed a little as my friend described Ryan’s reaction to the unexpected tongue-lashing. So while I was extremely disturbed to learn Ryan had done something he absolutely had to know was dangerous and wrong, I was pleased to know that even when my kids aren’t home, I have someone I trust to watch over them and yes, bring the hammer down when needed.


Dentist visit sparks interesting conversation

Posted by Alicia Castelli

I recently took my kids to the dentist which is always a little nerve-wracking for me and for them. I worry about the cost while the kids worry about pain.

Our oldest, Ryan, has had several cavities filled already and was hoping for a clean bill of health this time. We ride him all the time about not brushing long enough and I’d threatened to make him pay for his fillings if he kept refusing to brush properly. (Occasionally, I am not the best mother…)

It was also 3-year-old Keira’s first visit and she was nervous. There are a lot of great books for kids on going to the dentist, and a couple of the children’s shows she watches have dealt with it as well so I wasn’t too worried about her. I’d spent two days talking about it and reassuring her it would be fun.

One hour later and I got the news: Ryan had two very small cavities – a vast improvement over the root canal plus two cavities he had last time. Our middle child, Ethan, was 2-0 with no cavities. The big news of the day was Ethan’s – his first loose tooth!

Keira refused to let “Mr. Thirsty” (the saliva sucky thingy) in her mouth, but she gripped my hand and giggled during her cleaning. Keira, too, was cavity-free.

The kids raided the treasure chest for foam planes and fake teeth and sugar-free suckers while I took care of the exit paperwork. I love our dentist because every single staff member is super nice and works hard to put kids at ease.

The kids walked out with their treasures, new toothbrushes, dental floss and small tubes of toothpaste. Ryan was a little dejected, but perked up when I reassured him he wouldn’t have to pay for his fillings.

Ethan was fixated on his loose tooth. I could see him wiggling it and trying to feel behind it for the new tooth.

“What’s ‘permanent’ mean, Mommy?” he asked about the new tooth.

“Permanent means the new tooth will last-”

“Sharks only have baby teeth,” Ryan interrupted. “When they lose a tooth it never gets replaced.”

“Well that’s not-” I tried…

“Sharks have BIG teeth!” shouted Keira.

“Yes, they-” I started…

“What’s ‘permanent’ mean!” asked Ethan.

“Permanent means once the new tooth-” I tried again…

 “Birds don’t even have any teeth so they don’t have to worry about it,” Ryan said.

“Tweet, tweet!!” Keira shrieked.

 “I want to know what ‘permanent’ means…right…now!” Ethan said.

“Tweet, tweet!! I’m a birdie with nooooooo teethies!” Keira said.

“Did you know that a chimpanzee is stronger than a full-grown adult male human?” Ryan asked.

At that point I busted out laughing which, oddly enough, made the kids laugh and then quiet down.

“Permanent means your new tooth will last the rest of your life if you take care of it,” I told Ethan.

“I will, Mommy! I will…but if I don’t and it falls out – will the tooth fairy give me more money ‘cuz it’s a permanent one?”


Water, water everywhere

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Someone will need to explain to me the fascination young children have with water because I don’t remember being afflicted with this myself.

All three of our kids seemed compelled to engage in soggy “experiments” involving pretty much anything they can get their hands on and a sink full of water. Bath time can be worse – especially with bubbles.

Our oldest, 9-year-old Ryan, is of a scientific bent. I still remember turning my back for a few minutes only to find 3-year-old Ryan had spread sugar and flour throughout the kitchen to make it snow. Then he added water to see if he could make the snow turn to ice. Did I mention we had one of those sink hoses? Yeah. It did not turn to ice.

Then there’s Ryan’s most recent experiment involving water, corn starch and red food coloring. Thank you, again, Aunt Erin for the book of 703 experiments you can do with things you find around the house.

Ethan, our 5-year-old middle child, is more of a problem during bath time.

“Tidal wave!!” I heard from the bathroom the other night. I had foolishly thought to unload the dishwasher during Ethan’s bath. I run for the bathroom but even though it’s less than 10 feet away, alas, I am too late.

Speechless I stare at my son who is stretched out full length in the tub on his stomach. He is throwing himself backwards and forwards and laughing hysterically as “tidal waves” slosh over the sides of the tub.

The heating vent for our bathroom is at floor level in front of the vanity.

“What’s going on in the bathroom?!” I hear my husband yell from the basement. Water had run down the duct work and was dripping into the basement.

When Ethan and 3-year-old Keira get a bubble bath, you can bet there will be a bubble fight and it will result in a wet, bubbly mess on the floor.

Keira is just as bad about experimenting as her older brother is. Her favorite ingredient, besides the water, is the foaming hand soap we got to encourage hand washing.

We put a special child-proof ball thingy on the bathroom door to keep her out. Heaven help us if we forget to shut that door because she’s recently learned how to work the lever that closes the sink drain.

“What’s going on in the bathroom??!” I heard my husband yell from the basement. Keira and her friend were playing in her room so I wasn’t exactly in a hurry. Until I saw the bathroom floor. Someone had closed the sink drain, filled it with water and foaming soap for bubbles and added bath toys for good measure. Then they left the room and left the water running. No one ever confessed, but I have my suspicions…

 Then there are the “flushing” experiments with the toilet. For the record, Qtips are flushable while disposable razors are not. A combination of the two with some cotton balls and Dixie cups thrown in for good measure will result in complete blockage.

While I like the creative thinking my kids exhibit, I’m getting a little tired of the extra laundry and plunging. Lessons learned? Don’t turn your back on them for a second and buy the cheapest rug possible for the bathroom floor.


Has children’s TV changed for the better?

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Children’s television is quite a bit different from when I was kid. I grew up with “Sesame Street”, “The Electric Company”, and “Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood”. While “Sesame Street” is still around and Mr. Rodgers is in reruns, the sheer volume of children’s television programming these days is staggering.

There are at least two 24-hour cable channels dedicated to nothing but television programs for very young viewers. One such channel, Noggin, even uses that in its slogan, “It’s like preschool on TV.” Noggin airs the name of the upcoming show and which developmental areas the show is targeting. Sprout is another such channel.

While it’s tempting to debate how much, if any, television is good for children (google “tv watching good for kids?” and you’ll see wildly differing opinions), my purpose this week is to tell you about something my 3-year-old daughter does while she watches television. Yes –  our kids watch TV.

We are big public television fans at our house, but we’ve also become huge Noggin fans. Our 3-year-old and 5-year-old watch several of the programs. “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!” is the current favorite. Close seconds are “Dora the Explorer,” “Go, Diego, Go!”, and “Blues Clues.”

I remember singing along while I watched “Sesame Street” and I remember believing the characters were talking to me and were my friends. “Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood” perfected the art of engaging the viewer in this way. Dora, Diego and “Joe” from Blue’s Clues are also doing something right if the sound of my daughter watching television is any indication.

“SWIPER, NO SWIPING!”, “THERE’S THE CLUE!”, “RESCUE PACK!” are frequent outbursts in our living room along with much hopping about and waving arms.

She is completely engaged and she is learning. She not only knows her colors, she’s beginning to understand how to mix primary colors to get other colors compliments of “Blue’s Clues.” Thanks to Dora and Diego, she’s taken to blocking doorways with outstretched arms and won’t move until you say “Habre!” which I’m assuming is the Spanish word for “open.”

She also counts in Spanish and knows the Spanish words for several colors. She counts (mostly) to thirty, she knows her shapes and she is learning to identify the letters of the alphabet as well as numbers. While my husband and I can take some of the credit for this, we can’t take it all. For starters, neither of us studied Spanish in school.

Our daughter just lets herself get completely immersed in these shows and I love hearing her talk to the characters and “help” them along. Even funnier is the sight of her pantomiming climbing or swimming –  another Dora feature designed to get kids on their feet and moving, even while watching television.

So yes, the face of children’s television has changed – probably forever – and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.


Reporting is not always easy

Posted by Alicia Castelli

A bright little girl was killed in Elyria recently during a struggle over a handgun. She was a straight-A student at McKinley Elementary School who loved to read, draw, dance and sing. She was a month shy of her 9th birthday.

I reported her death, I talked to her mother the day the girl died and I reported on a prayer vigil held for her family. I have three children of my own, including a third grader, and I had to put that aside while I did my job.

This was, sadly, not the first time I have had to report on the death of a child and it’s not the first time I’ve had to interview a grieving parent. It was, however, the first time I’ve had to do it since I became a parent. It’s harder now. Your perspective about most things is forever altered when you have children. Now you can be hurt in unimaginable ways. You’re vulnerable in a way you weren’t before.

The thought of anything hurting my children is literally paralyzing. It’s what keeps me up at night and it’s the fodder for my worst nightmares. I cannot imagine what the mother of that little girl is going through. She grieves for her daughter, but also for her 10-year-old son who pulled the trigger.

I had to take a break after talking with the girl’s mother and I had to take another break after I finished writing about the child’s death. More than one person asked me with horrified expressions why reporters try to talk to family members when someone dies. My response was usually something along the lines of “It’s part of the job. If you don’t want to do that, don’t do this job.”

It’s by far the worst part of my job, but the truth is that by interviewing the mother about her daughter, I was able to make that child real for people who’d only known her as a name and a set of circumstances.

It’s the reason I talked to the mother. It’s why I do this job. It was my privilege.


Fantastic book for young kids

Posted by Alicia Castelli

I don’t think I’ve ever written a column about a book, but my children’s reaction to something I recently read to them was definitely column-worthy.

I checked “17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore” by Jenny Offill out of my local library and read it to my kids as they ate their evening snack right before bedtime. This was a horrible mistake but I couldn’t have known it at the time.

As experienced parents know, you should have at least twenty to thirty minutes of quiet time at the end of the day to help ease your kids toward bedtime. Reading to young children is critically important. A nice bedtime story to quietly end the day is a nice transition to sleep.

This is NOT the book for that. This book is hysterical which resulted in slightly hysterical children right at bedtime. Not good. The book, however, was excellent and I must recommend it to anyone with elementary school aged kids. I’m not sure who laughed harder –  our kids or my husband and I.

The little girl in the book has lots of great ideas which have disastrous results which lead to the list of things she’s not allowed to do anymore.

My husband and I lost it when we saw the drawing of the exasperated mother dealing with her daughter’s refusal to eat the dinner she’d prepared.

When the girl gets the idea of “a sad story” about a mother plunging into a volcano (of mashed potatoes –  the illustrations are fantastic), our purple-faced eldest child literally slid off his chair he was laughing so hard. Our middle child started choking on his snack because he was laughing so hard. Our youngest dragged her arm through her snack because she was laughing so hard.

I’m quite sure all three of our kids have had that very same fantasy about me at some point during their young lives. Their little faces were filled with hilarity and those all-or-nothing belly laughs that only little kids are capable of filled the kitchen.

I had to pause during the reading to catch my own breath at one point because I was laughing – in part at the story and in part at my limp-limbed laughing kids and husband.

I finished the book and immediately my kids demanded I read it again right that second. This is very rare. It took a good ten minutes to calm them down afterward. Laughter is wonderful medicine, but it gets kids worked up.

I don’t want to spoil any more of the storyline but trust me when I say this book is a must-read for parents and for kids. Just don’t read it right before bedtime.


Preschoolers don’t have any boundaries

Posted by Alicia Castelli

Let’s talk about boundaries and preschoolers. Basically, there aren’t any. Young children literally believe the universe revolves around them and that doesn’t change much until age twelve or so. And it doesn’t change much even then.

 Our youngest, 3-year-old Keira, is very curious about everything mommy does, wears and says. While flattering, it can lead to trouble.

She’s a girly girl and likes to play with my makeup. Expensive makeup is one of the few indulges I allow myself. Keira is not allowed to touch it.

I came home the other afternoon after grocery shopping and our oldest, Ryan, “presented” Keira to me with sweeping gestures and much fanfare. She had her Easter dress and fairy clothes on, a tiara and some inexpertly applied makeup. I wasn’t sure if Ryan helped her or not, but I dutifully told Keira how beautiful she looked.

Satisfied with her accolades, she skipped off to her room. While putting baby shampoo away in the bathroom, I noticed my makeup bag was on the counter. It appeared to be streaked with foundation.

Gripped with suspicion and growing dread, I checked inside. Sure enough, everything inside the bag had little smears of foundation on it and my eyeliner had shrunk considerably. The mascara was still open and my blush was shattered. My one splurge, my one selfish extravagance had been defiled. Seriously –  this makeup is all natural and very expensive. I was furious. Did I seriously have to lock everything of mine away for safekeeping? Do my children lack any respect for the rules (Don’t touch mommy’s things)? Was it impossible for me to have anything nice just for myself?

In the grand scheme of things this probably isn’t a big deal. Little girls emulate their mothers and Keira’s fascination with makeup is perfectly natural. Her first tentative steps into all things feminine should be handled gently. I was, however, royally ticked off. She has her own play makeup and knows better than to touch mine without asking. We’ll save the “Where was your father while this was going on?!” for another column.

The answer to all my angry questions, of course, is yes. Yes –  it’s impossible for me to have anything nice for myself right now because my children are young and kids that age are completely self-absorbed. If they’re curious about it, they are going to grab it.  Yes –  I have to lock anything away that I don’t want broken until they are older and have learned respect for other people’s things. And yes –  they lack respect for the rules. Rules annoy them and they don’t like having them. They’re young and still learning about rules and consequences for actions.

After quizzing Ryan and Keira closely, I have no idea what happened. Clearly someone had been in my makeup. It was all over Keira’s face. Whether it was Ryan’s idea or Keira’s will never be known. I guess the lesson about boundaries is this –  never leave a 3-year-old to her own devices for more than three seconds.



Daughter is part Ninja when it comes to bedtime

Posted by Alicia Castelli

I’m fairly convinced my 3-year-old daughter, Keira, is part Ninja.

She’s usually a pretty good sleeper. When we moved to Cleveland, we bought a regular twin bed for her and put up a bed rail. It took a few days to break her of the habit of falling asleep on my lap, but eventually we were able to put her to bed and let her fall asleep by herself.

Much like our oldest child, Keira has never slept through the night. She usually wakes up once or twice. We’ll comfort her for a few moments and then back to sleep she goes.

Lately, my husband and I have been waking up in the morning to find Keira has snuck into our bed during the night.

All kids regress on certain developmental skills so this is not a big deal to us. We tell her every night that she must stay in her own bed all night and every night she solemnly promises to do that. About three times a week we find her in our room in the morning.

I’m a very light sleeper so the fact that Keira has managed to wiggle her way under the covers and curl up next to me without waking me up is impressive.

What’s more impressive is the way she sneaks up on me in the living room.

I was watching TV around midnight the other night and I nearly jumped out of my skin when suddenly someone said “Mommy!” right next to me.

My sleepy-eyed daughter was standing less than a foot away, glaring at me and I hadn’t heard a thing. Like I said –  Ninja.

“I want you to go to bed,” she said with arms crossed and a cocked hip. Seriously, the only thing missing was an impatiently tapping little foot.

“Let’s go back to bed,” I sighed and picked her up.

 “Go in your room!” she insisted.

“I’m not going to bed yet,” I said. “You sleep in your room.”

This started a small tantrum which was nipped in the bud when I threatened to shut her bedroom door.

For the next hour, my daughter called my name every few minutes to check if I’d gone to bed. I was tired by now, but determined to outlast her. Eventually, exhaustion won and she fell back to sleep in her own room.

What freaked me out is that I never heard her coming. Her bedroom is less than 15 feet from the living room. We have creaky hardwood floors. I was watching TV, but I hadn’t been engrossed. When this little girl is upset or she wants something, believe me, the whole world knows. “Quiet” is not a word I would ever use to describe her.

The Ninja thing apparently only kicks in on quests for illicit snacks and attempts to get out of sleeping alone. I fear her teenage years. I foresee alarms on the doors and windows….


Four Christmases make for happy kids – stressed out parents

Posted by Alicia Castelli

The Christmas madness is over and my husband and I could not be happier. The kids got a lot of what they wanted and we managed to visit the whole family.

Every year we insist “next year we are not going to travel this much” and then, of course, we do just as much traveling as the year before.

We had hoped that moving to Cleveland would eliminate a large part of the traveling because my whole family is here. My husband’s family is in Pittsburgh, but they are great about gathering everyone together at once when we visit.

Oddly enough, this year my kids ended up with four Christmases. While the movie “Four Christmases” in theaters now deals with the stress of visiting divorced parents, ours is just a result of extended families that are spread out and have busy lives.

Our kids opened presents at our house Christmas morning and then we headed to my parents’ house that afternoon. Two gift fests in one day was a bit much and we put some very cranky kids on a sugar- and present-high to bed that night with a sigh of relief.

Two days later we headed to Pittsburgh for the day. Since my husband’s family is large, the kids had about eight gifts each to open there. They had a blast and we decided to stay late and drive home after dark hoping they’d fall asleep in the car.

They did fall asleep but unfortunately, when we hit the last toll booth the change in speed and sound in the car woke up our middle child who began to cry. Loudly. For the next 15 minutes. That woke up the other two so when we got home at 1 a.m. we had three kids who were wide-awake. Not good. Note to self: When going to Pittsburgh, plan to stay overnight or arrive very early in the day and leave at dinner time so the kids are ready for bed when we get home.

The next day we had our fourth and final Christmas at my brother’s house which was, mercifully, only a 40-minute drive. Usually my whole family gets together on one day but that didn’t work out this year. So our kids had four Christmases.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it lengthens the holiday season which is hands down a favorite time for kids. On the other hand, it lengthens the holiday season which is one of the most stressful times for adults in every way possible.

Like most parents, my kids’ enjoyment comes first so four Christmases it was –  travel and all. And we’ll probably do the exact same thing next year.


Birthday parties at home may save money, but not your sanity

Posted by Alicia Castelli

We decided to keep expenses to a minimum for our son’s 9th birthday and have his party at our house. It’s small, so we limited the guest list to eight kids. I expected four or five might accept. All eight accepted which made me happy for our son.

We also had one guest’s younger sister come to play with our daughter. Then the day before the party, my brother called to say he and his wife were coming with their two boys. Three other family members who didn’t make it to the family birthday dinner earlier in the week were also coming. We had thirteen children in the house and eight adults.

We have two boys and I’d like to think that over the years I’ve learned a little something about how their minds work. Apparently at birthday parties, (or perhaps any gathering of four or more third-grade boys), their minds are all about destruction.

Don’t get me wrong, every child there spoke to the adults with respect and a few even remembered to say “please” and “thank you.” I’m not all that concerned about table manners at a birthday party anyway. I was a little taken aback by the noise. I sent the kids upstairs to our sons’ room until everyone arrived for pizza. I found myself glancing nervously at the ceiling, watching for cracks and raining drywall. A quick trip upstairs revealed the boys chasing each other up and down the length of the bedroom and throwing each other on the beds. Others were jumping from bed to bed, or jumping off the beds onto each other in an airborne attack reminiscent of the WWF.

I calmed the boys down, explained the “no jumping on furniture or each other” rules and sent them downstairs for pizza. And cake. And rootbeer.

My son opened his presents and the kids headed to the basement with popcorn for the movie. Ahhhhhhh. One and a half hours of pure quiet.

I had about 25 to 30 minutes after the movie ended to fill before parents would arrive for pick up. I assumed the boys might play video games or check out the birthday presents. I was mistaken. We were back to WWF. With balloons. I guess the boys thought that whole “no jumping on furniture” only applied to beds.

Then I found I had to covertly smuggle the balloons upstairs because I was getting a little nervous about how worked up they all were as they chased each other around the rec room hitting each other on the head with balloons. Then I openly demanded the balloons when they started hitting each other in the face. The noise level was once again deafening.

The party ended, the guests went home and my husband and I went downstairs to clean up.

Yes, the kids had been loud. Yes, they’d been hyper. Yes, I’d had to intervene several times when they got too worked up. I had expected all that. I did not, however, expect the mess we found in our basement.

The floor was literally wall-to-wall popcorn, much of it ground into the carpet. We found popcorn boxes crumpled and shoved underneath the couch along with smashed juice boxes. We found wet stains on the carpet from crushed juice boxes in the middle of the floor. Thankfully the carpet is brown and juice was clear. It won’t stain, but it needed to be scrubbed to avoid bugs and odors.

The couch, too, fell victim to juice boxes and popcorn. It took my husband nearly an hour to clean the room. I was surprised that I felt a little shocked.

As a kid I had parties of my own and went to other kids’ parties. Never –  and I do mean never –  did it occur to me or to anyone else at these parties to throw trash and food on the floor. I don’t want to be one of “those” parents who freak out over a little mess. I work two full-time jobs right now so believe me, my house is messy. I think I was more shocked at the lack of respect for someone else’s home. Certainly these kids were old enough to know better.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old, but we will definitely think twice before having another birthday party at our house.