Sunday, November 25, 2018

Movie review: "Ralph Breaks the Internet"

I'm a Disney fan...yes I am! I love all things Disney (or should I say almost all) and was among the many who were eager to see the sequel to the beloved "Wreck It Ralph" movie.
But as much as I love Disney, I also love being objective in my reviews and I must say that the latest "Ralph Breaks the Internet" didn't quite do it for me...
While the characters are noteworthy and the ingenuity of the movie is quite commendable, the story line and quality plot just weren't there, in my opinion.
I appreciated how the immensity of the internet and the undeniable social media influence were described but I thought the movie was very low energy, a little bit slow and definitely too convoluted as far as the story goes...
While the viewers are led to believe that there is a clear goal, the essence of the story is lost in the process and the message that the writers attempt to convey just isn't convincing.
The movie revolves around Ralph's and Vanellope's friendship and his unwavering desire to make her happy and nurture their relationship. They travel to the unknown (to them) internet world in an effort to purchase a broken piece for Vanellope's game, which has jeopardized the fate of "Sugar Rush" and all its inhabitants. But their trip to the internet proves to be more challenging than they expected when they realize that they have to pay for this piece and have to figure out a way to make money.  In the process, Ralph becomes an internet sensation that makes viral videos, she ends up wanting to move to a more exciting racing game that lives online and Ralph turns into a weird insecurity virus which threatens the well being of everyone involved.
In between all that "mess", there is a funny cameo by many of the most popular Disney princesses, which is probably the funniest part of the whole movie but seemed out of place with the rest of the story and an almost too obvious effort to push an agenda that not everyone might agree with.
I won't lie, I was a little sad that this movie wasn't amazing but I did enjoy the funny puns, colorfulness, classic characters and the creativity of the topic... it just wasn't that great! It might be a little too complicated for kids under 6 or 7... just my opinion...
This one gets 2.5 out of 4 stars from me... I really wanted to love it...but I didn't! :/

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lucky 13!

"You never see the hard days in a photo album, but those are the ones that get you from one happy snap shot to the next."
The quote above is one I heard in a movie and even though such movie came out before I even met Iggy, it really stuck since the moment I first heard it because I feel that it really applies to relationships and life in general. 
Iggy and I have been together for almost 14 and even though most of the time has been blissful, there have been many hard days, some of which I wish I could erase from my memory but I know that somehow have been the ones that have made us stronger and more resilient. 
Pictures don't show the difficult when Iggy lost his job and we ended up losing our house, or that time in 2009 when we ended up in marriage counseling because we were too stubborn to give in or accept our mistakes, the countless times I have felt misunderstood or the times where I have been hormonal and he has felt misunderstood.  There are no pictures of the times when we have lost loved ones and succumbed to pain and sadness, or pictures of our messy house when neither of us has had the energy to clean it up. There are no blog entries or Facebook posts about disappointments, anger, hurtful words that are said, sadness, doubt, frustration or jealousy but those hard times and feelings are definitely the ones that have gotten us from one happy snap shot to the next and for that I am SO grateful and blessed because that's what marriage is really about for me. 
It's about knowing that even when times get hard and days are dark, we will stand by each other and make it through; it's about being sure that we will always come out stronger on the other end, it's about growing together, laughing together and crying together... with God always in the middle. 
Today I feel so lucky to be able to celebrate 13 years of marriage with the man of my dreams, the one that has loved me through thick and thin (literally... LOL!), the man that got on this ship to stay and the one who will hold my heart until the very end...
Thank you, Iggy, for jumping with me from one happy snap shot to the next...I can't wait to keep exploring the world with you and enjoying the beautiful life we have created! 
Today I loved you more than I did yesterday and definitely less than I will tomorrow. You are my dream come true and from the day you came into my life, I have felt like the luckiest girl alive!
Happy Anniversary, my love! Lucky 13!
Hold on to your hat... we're just getting started! 
Here some some "happy snap shots" of us! 

2005- 2 weeks after we met
November 2005- Our Honeymoon in San Francisco, CA

July 8th, 2005- Our court wedding
November 18th, 2005- Our church wedding

A random kiss
During one of our trips to Paris

London 2015
October 2018

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Movie review: "Bohemian Rhapsody"

When my mom was 7 months pregnant with me, she attended a "Queen" concert in Venezuela and growing up she always recounted the chaotic yet exhilarating experience of her friends guarding her belly and her being scared because I wouldn't stop moving and bouncing during the whole concert.  She always joked that I was a fan of "Queen" even before I was born because ever since I was a little girl I enjoyed blasting the tunes of Freddie Mercury and company and knew pretty much the lyrics to every one of their songs so naturally when this movie was announced I could not contain my excitement. 
I once saw a meme that said "Never trust a person who doesn't sing along to Bohemian Rhapsody when it comes on the radio" so by those standards everyone in attendance at last night's showing of the movie is most definitely trustworthy.... ha! what a great experience was to watch "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the theater.
The movie revolves around the life of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the famous band "Queen"; it starts out when he offers to replace the recently retired singer of the band "Smile", which he followed on their college gigs, and it ends with Freddie's famous Live Aid performance in 1985.
The movie tells the story of how "Queen" became famous and how their best known songs came to be; it also tells a bit about Freddie's family life and his romantic relationships as well as the overall dynamics between the band members.  The story is told very gracefully and the actors do an amazing job at embodying all of "Queen's" members, family and friends but the actor that plays Mercury definitely puts out the most salient performance of all. 
Aside from the plot line, which is pretty great, the music is just incredible and the movie delivers goosebump kind of moments throughout when songs like "We Will Rock You", "We Are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" come on.
The movie is rated PG-13 and a lot of my friends have asked me if it would be appropriated for kids under 13.  While I do not think the movie featured any outrageously inappropriate scenes, there is some foul language, gay scenes, unspoken drug use and sexual innuendo throughout so every parent should make his/her own decision about what their children should or shouldn't watch. I personally wouldn't have a problem taking Olivia to see it and probably will take her but I acknowledge the fact that not every parent might be ok with letting their tween aged kid watch "Bohemian Rhapsody".
I thoroughly enjoyed "Bohemian Rhapsody" and will probably watch it again more than once.  I will give this one 4 out of 4 stars, it was beautifully executed, it was compelling, casting was on point and of course the soundtrack was amazing!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The pain of rejection

According to several studies, "researchers found that the same areas of our brain light up in an MRI machine when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. That's why rejection can feel like a punch in the gut, or a knife to the heart; you're literally using the same part of the brain as when you hurt yourself physically"- I find that little bit of information mind boggling but believable nonetheless and also a very good explanation as to why as humans we have such a hard time dealing with rejection and such need to belong or feel like we fit in with someone or somewhere.
I've never been a "popular" girl but I've also never craved "popularity" and my personality sometimes is everything BUT likable, I get it, we can't possibly be liked by everyone. As I get older, I care less and less about what people think of me and more about how to be the happiest and most real version of myself without hurting anyone.  I will admit that finding that balance between genuineness and political correctness is very challenging and most times I fall short on either end...but I try!
With that said, an adult mind is VERY different than that of a child and I've learned (the hard way!) that even when I want to save my kids from painful experiences, sometimes they just have to go through them to learn the lesson and become thicker skinned.  Is it easy? Absolutely not...but most times we all learn so much about people and our surroundings in the process and I believe that makes all the pain so much worth it.
Some of you might remember THIS post, where I spoke about "popularity" and how people always seem to be involved in some unspoken and unhealthy contest that ends up hurting relationships more than it helps them. Well... sadly I seem to have too much to add to that topic and this time my anecdotes deal with rejection and plain cruelty that I often observe among children as young as Gaby.
A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered for a school event where the kids participated in a DJ Dance Party; as Gaby's class enjoyed the music, I noticed she was wandering alone and not really hanging out with any of her classmates; I know Gaby enjoys some solitude at times, but I consider her to be pretty sociable so this did not seem like herself. A while later I noticed that a couple of girls were waving at her and calling her to come towards them. As Gaby walked excitedly towards her "friends", I saw how these two girls handed her their trash and signaled for her to go throw it in the garbage can. I continued to observe the episode, which was followed by Gaby running back to where some popcorn and popsicles were sitting for the kids and then running back to the two girls to deliver some snacks to them.  Right after Gaby handed these two girls their snacks, they both sped off and left Gaby standing alone in the middle of the field.  She looked around to see if anyone was watching and just continued to wander alone until the party was over, often attempting to join other little groups and failing every time because apparently everyone was too busy doing their own thing. I thought the episode was a bit awkward but I carried on and didn't even mention it to Gaby.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't like to blow things out of proportion and I could have perceived the whole thing erroneously.... it happens..and kids will be kids...
Fast forward a few days and Gaby randomly makes a comment: "Mom, why am I so ugly?". Imaginary alarms started sounding off in my head and I froze for a minute.  My quick reply was "WHAT?" and she looked at me and said "I know I don't have many friends because I am really ugly and kids at my school don't like ugly people!" I thought of a millions things to say to her in that instance but for some reason I couldn't find the right words, because I knew that "you're one of the most beautiful girls I know" coming from mom wasn't going to cut it. I dug a little deeper only to find out that Gaby was being systematically rejected by many people in her class and targeted by what I can best describe as a "bully". I had been noticing for days that Gaby seemed withdrawn and quiet but I didn't think much of it because she is normally very taciturn; this was definitely different though, this was hurting her and for the first time in a while I didn't know what to do or how to make that pain go away.
Unfortunately things continued to escalate and this same person that was promoting the "Gaby rejection" randomly attacked her by yanking a book out of her hands, throwing it on the ground and subsequently kicking it far away from her. Neither Gaby nor I knew how to handle this situation because 1. We're not used to random acts of violence, 2. We're not violent people, 3. We like to assume the best of people and 4. We'd never dealt with this before. I decided to write an email to the teacher, who will hopefully keep an eye on the situation; I've also been praying a lot about it and I know God will always keep my child safe.
Aside from the school happenings, I've also noticed that several moms from Gaby's class (some of which I consider close) often organize playdates and outings and Gaby is never included or invited and while I don't take it personal, I know Gaby does and it hurts her a lot.  As much as I try to explain to her that not everyone is nice all the time, she still struggles with this and I struggle too when I can't find the right words to make her feel better.  I know rejection is painful and I know that rejection is also normal in many situations; I know kids need to learn to deal with rejection because it's part of life but knowing this, doesn't make this situation any better and that makes me sad!
I'm also a realist and I know that my child might very well be the "problem"; maybe she's not that friendly? maybe kids are drawn to more outgoing kids? maybe she's not likable? who knows.. I still can't justify kids being mean to other kids and I believe us parents have a huge say on that.
If you have children, please teach them to be kind; teach them that their actions have consequences and tell them that one look, one word, one day can make or break a person's self esteem. Talk to your kids about lending a helping hand, about ways to boost other people instead of putting them down, about how to be themselves without hurting others in the process and especially about the often unshakeable pain of rejection...

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Happy 10th birthday, blog!

October 26th marked 10 years since I started this blog, 10 years since the moment I decided to plaster my thoughts all over the internet for anyone to read.  Back then I had just become an American citizen and one of my first posts was about me voting for the first time in my life.  Ironically enough, my first time vote happened during a presidential election in a country that wasn't where I was born...funny how life works!
Anyways.. I remember doubting myself about starting this blog, wondering what was so interesting about my life that would prompt anyone to read whatever I was writing; because while the purpose of this blog was (and still is!) to document my kids' childhood and our family life, the truth is that once you put something online, it's out there for anyone to see...
With time I realized that my life isn't all that interesting but rather just similar to the lives of my readers...and that's precisely what makes it interesting... finding people who can relate to my posts and my personal anecdotes has given a whole new meaning to this blog and every comment and private message I receive is greatly appreciated.  In 10 years, this blog has seen a major name change and tons of different directions in regards to my writing and posts...
With the years, the frequency of my posts has decreased but the emotion I put into every piece I write has done just the opposite.  Once someone told me that bloggers are "egotistical", this same person went on to say that whoever keeps a blog has nothing better to do than to presume about his/her life and while I admittedly took minor offense to that comment at the time it was made, I have now come to the conclusion that negativity comes in many shapes and if being a blogger makes me self-centered, so be it! I certainly hope, however, that anyone who reads my blog knows that being presumptuous is the last thing on my mind whenever I post something.  My intention has been and always will be to pour my heart out in hopes of making this journey called life more enjoyable and empathetic.  So today I celebrate this blog, all of its followers and the blessing of persistency that has allowed me to keep it up for 10 whole years!
Thank you to everyone who has ever stopped by this corner and anyone who has left comments or sent messages throughout these 10 years!
Happy Birthday, blog! 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Protecting our children in the online world

A few months ago I wrote this post regarding Internet Safety for children, where I exposed some of my concerns regarding the dangers of the internet and shared some useful guides on how to protect our kids from online predators.
My girls (9 and 11) have cell phones, I know a lot of parents don't agree with giving their young kids a phone but it's what works for us and I'm confident in my decision to do that.  With that said, I know the internet is a dangerous place; it's both a blessing and a curse and that is precisely why us parents need to stay on top of things when it comes to search engines, phone apps, social media, etc. Just like the internet makes it easy for our children to find useful information,  it is also so easy for a child to get caught up on the bad stuff found online; whether it's because they unwillingly come across inappropriate material or because they consciously seek it out, “the online world is like another high street for kids, and you need to be in it and parenting in it.”
Cyberbullying is one of the most prevalent issues when it comes to children and the internet because it is so easy for someone to be a "keyboard warrior" and take advantage of the person on the other end. Every day more and more children are suffering from depression and even committing suicide because of issues with cyberbullying and other internet related issues.  Online predators are also a real thing and they prey on children of all ages; that's why I urge every parent I know to read the following resources which I have found incredibly helpful when it comes to helping my children navigate the online world.
Whether your child has a phone (or any other device) or not, be aware that every child that ever comes in contact with the internet is at risk and there will never be enough vigilance to fully protect them from all the risks associated with it.
I will link two of the most helpful guides I have read lately, I hope these can help you as much as they have helped me:

A Guide to Protecting Children’s Privacy Online
A Comprehensive Cyberbullying Guide for Parents

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cruising with Disney- Part 2

This post is a continuation of my comprehensive review of our latest Disney Cruise.  Part 1 can be found here if you care to read. 
I will continue reviewing each of the main categories and at the end of the post, I'll write about whatever wasn't "perfect", because even Disney makes mistakes... 
* The Staterooms: We stayed in an ocean view family suite, big enough for the 5 of us and pretty spacious by cruise ship standards. The room had a queen size bed, a bunk and a wall bed and it fit all of us pretty comfortably.  There was a large porthole window (pictured below) and a double sink bathroom divided into a shower-sink and a toilet-sink combos; this was genius because it allowed for more comfort as well. Our stateroom was located on deck 7. It was perfect. 

* Castaway Cay: Our cruise had two stops, one at Nassau, Bahamas (which I won't even address) and another one at Disney's private island "Castaway Cay".  This private island is located in the Bahamas and is basically paradise; it is such a beautiful place with crystalline blue waters and tons to do.  We had such a great time at this place and the girls even went snorkeling. The beach experience is much more enjoyable when it's done Disney style; there are tons of beach chairs and umbrellas, bars, restaurants, characters, sailboats, water slides... you name, it's there.  I would probably make this the only stop for a 3 day cruise and make it longer as well.  Such a great time!

* The Overall Experience: If you're a Disney lover, this is definitely the cruise for you.  It is slightly more expensive than other cruises (we paid $3000 for a family of 5) but it is so worth it. The customer service is beyond compare and (almost) everything is done right. The overall experience is incredible and we will be sure to cruise with them again! I am so thankful for a great time and feel so blessed to be able to take my kids on these fun vacations. 

What wasn't "perfect" about the Disney cruise?
Even though the list of "issues" is short, it is worth noting in order to be objective:
  • Halloween Activities were poorly planned: There was a trick or treat event through the ship and it was very poorly organized.  There were tons of kids asking for candy and only a few stations with very few staff passing it out. The activity was scheduled to last 30 minutes and it was so chaotic that people were starting to become hostile. I would suggest either scrapping the activity all together or having at least 5 times as much candy. 
  • The constant "up selling" was a buzz killer:  I get it, Disney is in the business of making money but the up selling throughout the cruise is a bit extreme. I feel like people pay enough money to go on these cruises so I don't see the need to constantly pressure people to spend even more. 
  • Some Youth Counselors are not cut out for that job: I had a couple of run ins with youth counselors who didn't seem to like kids.  They had issues with the fact that Oliver needed to be escorted to the bathroom and many seemed annoyed at the amount of children at the clubs.  I believe that type of job should go to people who genuinely love kids and crowds. 
  • Family Karaoke Night was a bomb: Some of the members in our party attempted to sing at karaoke night only to be told there was not enough time.  The event is scheduled to last 30 minutes but it is not properly organized; they let everyone sign up to sing without regards for time and when the 30 minutes run out... too bad!  I think there should be someone "policing" the sign ups a bit better so that everyone gets a chance or at least is told that they likely won't have time to sing their song.  I sat through excruciatingly painful singing voices (some sang more than one song) only to be disappointed when members of my party didn't get to have a turn. Terrible planning. 
  • Pool deck floors: the pool deck floors are horrible quality; they got scorchingly hot and were extremely slippery, both which are safety hazards.  I know there are paving materials that are much better for this type of setting; ones that don't get hot and are anti slippery.  I think Disney ships should feature better pool decks to avoid people slipping and falling or getting their feet burned. 
  • Safety protocol for some events is not up to code:  speaking of safety.. one of the members of our party was a firefighter and she couldn't help but notice the fact that during some events like the firework show, there were several code violations such as emergency exits being blocked and not enough entry/exit points for such large crowds.  Considering the Disney Dream has a capacity for 4000 people, these things should be looked at seriously to avoid any tragedies. 
With all that said, we still enjoyed cruising with Disney and will most definitely do it again.  Reserving your cruise 12-18 months ahead of time will represent significant savings and will also make planning much easier. I cannot wait to do it again!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Cruising with Disney- Part 1

To celebrate Oliver's 3rd birthday, we recently went on our 3rd Disney Cruise; it was a short 3-day cruise out of Port Canaveral on the Disney Dream ship and everyone had such an amazing time. 
It's not secret that I am a huge Disney fan and I thoroughly enjoy everything they make and this cruise wasn't the exception but in an effort to be an objective reviewer I will point out details about different categories of our trip. 

* The Ship: As I already stated this time we sailed on the Disney Dream (we had previously been on the Disney Wonder, which is smaller). The ship is very well maintained and very easy to navigate. It features several bars and lounges, an adult area with a pool and adult only bar, two family pools with a clear water tube/slide, a splash pad for younger children, a sports area with mini golf and a fenced in basketball court, a movie theater, a stage theater and three major restaurants besides a large buffet area and quick food service area.  It also has several shops, ice cream stations, a nursery and several kids' clubs for all ages. There are plenty of restrooms around the ship and every detail is well thought out.  The ship is usually decorated depending on the season and cruises have themes; this time a year is "Halloween on the High Seas" so there's Halloween decor all around and it's all as cute as ever! The kids got to dress up and they chose an "Inside Out" ensemble, which they totally rocked (pictured below)

* The Food: During the day, there is a huge buffet area that opens until 3pm as well as several quick food service areas that remain open all day. The food variety is great and the quality is mostly good.  For dinner, there is a restaurant rotation assigned to each guest and noted on the "Key to the World" card; it consists of a combination of letters where each one represents the first letter of the name of the restaurant you are scheduled to have dinner each night. You are to follow that rotation throughout the cruise to ensure you're dining at the right place.  There are two seating times (6:15pm and 8:15pm), which you get to choose when making your reservation. Dinner is always the best part of the day because the food is incredible; with endless options and a very tasty menu you are bound to find your favorite meal. I enjoyed incredible steaks, fish and a variety of my favorite foods and dessert. Yum!

* Entertainment: Disney is in the business of entertainment and they sure know how to do it well. On this cruise there were several featured shows ("Beauty and the Beast" and "Believe" were the main ones) as well as endless character greetings, dance parties and random music acts throughout. 
There are also tons of activities each day, all of which can be easily found on your daily "Cruise Navigator" page or even on the Disney Cruise app (will talk more about the app later). 
"Pirates in the Caribbean" night is a big one on the cruise; everyone gets Mickey pirate bandanas and dresses up as pirates (this is totally optional). Then there is a pirate show on the main pool deck and fireworks at sea, which make for great experience for everyone on board. There is never a dull moment on a Disney Cruise. 

...this post is to be continued.....

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

He's 3!

My handsome, sweet and amazing little boy is turning 3 years old today and life with him has been such a fun ride!
Oliver completely turned our lives around and even though I do a great deal of complaining, I wouldn't have it any other way because he is such a blessing to us and so much fun to be around.
He amazes us every day with his brightness, his love and his overall amazing personality and sense of humor.
At this time, Oliver is ALMOST fully potty trained (he still has poo accidents throughout the week), he knows about 70% of the alphabet, knows the lyrics to some of his favorite songs and is very involved in all our family affairs, often helping me with cooking, grocery shopping and even laundry and cleaning...he's quite the charmer!
Aside from turning 3 today, this is also "weaning week" since I plan to be done with breastfeeding in the next few days; we have reached an amazing milestone in this department and I am really proud to have made it this far!
Oliver's favorite TV show is "Masha and the Bear", which he first started watching in Russian until we noticed he was watching it in a language that wasn't English.. ha ha.. He loves dancing, singing, jumping and running around; he's such a ball of energy and seriously gives me a run for my money!
His favorite toys are animal figurines by Schleich, which I seriously recommend to anyone who has kids this age, they are the best; he takes his animals very serious and I love watching him play with them at all times.
He recently started attending his sisters' school and even though he didn't instantly love it, I'd say he's doing pretty well since his class only has 8 children and his teachers are absolutely loving. Oliver is so loved by everyone around him and I feel so lucky to have him in our lives and the fact that he is surrounded by so many wonderful people.
This year we will celebrate his birthday by taking him on a 3-night Disney cruise; he is so excited to go on it and keeps telling everyone he's going on the "Mickey boat"; I can't wait to see his sweet face when we're actually on the will be the best!
Oliver we love you so much and we wish you the best of birthdays.  Thanks for being who you are and for being so loving; your random "I love yous" always make my days and you give the best hugs and kisses.  I feel so lucky to be your mother and I can only hope that we can make you as happy as you make us! I thank God every day for choosing me for you! Happy 3rd birthday, little man!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Homework or "home punishment"? Why I think homework does more harm than good!

**Disclaimer: this is an opinion piece and while I do refer to some published studies and well known authors throughout my post, it is based solely on my personal experience with homework**
I recently attended a school open house packed with lots of "useful" information and when the subject of homework came up, the presenter said "homework is checked for completion and not for accuracy".. mmm.. excuse me?  You mean to tell me that my kid is "wasting" two hours a day on homework so someone can mark it "complete"?  Talk about busy work to get a check mark!
I have always had mixed feelings about homework and have spent a great deal of time doing thorough research about the effects of homework on children of all ages and while you might be tempted to think that I'm one of those bitter moms whose kids struggle with homework and that's why I might hate it, that is certainly not the case, my kids are actually rocking school and rarely ever complain about homework.  My views on homework have certainly changed through the years as I see my children growing up and developing study habits that don't necessarily come from doing homework every night, hence this post...
One of my all time favorite authors is Alfie Kohn, who famously writes about human behavior, parenting and education; he believes (as do I) in constructivism in which the learner makes meaning rather than absorb information; where things are taught in context and for a purpose....key word PURPOSE!  Kohn published an interesting book titled "The Homework Myth", where he points out that there is no research that fully supports that assigning homework of any kind or any amount is ever beneficial to children in elementary school... I happen to agree!  While I do believe that some sort of activity that promotes discipline is necessary, I don't believe that homework is such activity.
I have seen my girls (6th and 4th grade) come home from school exhausted only to sit for another hour (or two!) to do pointless homework...things like making a rainbow with spelling words, or doing a word search of 50+ words and doing math worksheets that are completely unrelated to what they're being taught in class... really?  I find it idiotic to a point for a child to have to do this mundane, non productive activities after she has spent 8+ hours in a classroom supposedly learning.  Some people would argue that homework is a great way of reinforcing what was taught..but if reinforcing is so necessary then it leads me to question whether or not the material was taught correctly. And then I go back to the "homework will be checked for completion but not for accuracy" idea, so if that's indeed the case, how can a teacher know that the student actually learned what she was supposed to?
I clearly remember one instance back when Olivia was in 3rd grade and struggling with a Math lesson; as I was helping her do her homework I suggested she discuss it with her teacher to make sure she was doing it right, to what she quickly replied "oh, my teacher doesn't have time for that!"... surprised, I replied "what do you mean?" and she went on to explain that her teacher never really checked the homework, and when she did and something was wrong, she never explained it because she was simply "too busy" making sure everyone had DONE their homework! That memory still blows my mind and the sad part is that I have many other similar what's the point?
Many studies suggest that homework in elementary school is completely pointless because for young children time is better spent by playing outside, getting involved in sports, having dinner with family, making friends with their neighbors, playing an instrument, why are our elementary children "punished" with unsurmountable amounts of homework that do nothing but promote negative feelings towards school in general? If you want your child to develop good habits and foster discipline, why not get her involved in a sport? why not encourage her to read books that would spark her interest and actually expand her vocabulary? why not plan an educational and fun family outing that would strengthen family ties? I can think of so many other ways to promote discipline and stimulate children to be better and do better and homework is NOT one of those ways.
And don't get me wrong, I get that some kids do need to complete exercises that are repetitive in nature and knowledge needs to be drilled into their brains, but I don't believe ALL children need that, therefore the ones that don't, end up being "punished" with homework, a learning method that I consider completely obsolete and unproductive.
My sister is a 1st grade teacher and her case for homework is that it can be a way to measure the involvement of parents in their children's education, I happen to disagree with that assessment, because the idea that a parent is "involved" simply because they make it a point to "force" their children to do pointless homework doesn't make sense to me.  My own mother never did homework with me and I like to believe that she was rather involved in my education and my life in general, so the point becomes mutt with my own experience. I must also point out that I attended schools that had mostly "no homework" policies and I consider myself a well rounded and disciplined individual regardless of whether or not homework was part of my academic life (it wasn't, by the way!)
There are other studies that suggest that the amount of homework given should vary by grade, with an average of 10 minutes per grade (so a child in 2nd grade would get 20 minutes, a child in 3rd grade would get 30 and so on)... I find that pointless too.. why try to fill a time quota just to meet the requirement of giving that child homework regardless of her needs?
I know that this homework topic is very controversial and there are powerful and insightful studies on both sides of the argument, however I stand by the idea that homework (especially the mindless, pointless, repetitive kind of homework) does more harm than good; it makes the children exhausted, it shortens their time to do other more productive and enriching activities, it fosters negative feelings towards school, it affects family dynamics and keeps them occupied but not stimulated.  I wish all teachers and school administrators came together to look at ways to improve the system, I wish they all took notes from other more successful educational systems around the world such as the one in Finland where students score significantly higher in aptitude tests and key areas such as reading and math.  And while I don't suggest that some kind of educational activity shouldn't be part of a student's daily routine, I do believe that the kind of homework kids get these days isn't very beneficial in the long run.

Lastly, I'd like to share this article titled "Is too much homework bad for kid's health?", which explores the negative consequences of excessive homework on kids' mental health and suggests that the quality of the homework assignment is key and definitely way more important than the quantity.

What are your thoughts on homework? How much time does your kid spend doing homework on a daily basis?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Terrible 2s and......horrible 3s?

I'll admit it, as a mom I always want to think my kids are the best behaved, the smartest, the kindest, etc.. you get the point, moms want to believe their kids are perfect...or at least pretend they are, right?  If your answer is "no" then you're probably from another planet... mmm.. just kidding.. or am I? LOL!
Raising kids had been a fairly "easy" and attainable task until life threw a curve ball and sent us Oliver; to say that I struggled with the reality of an "unplanned" baby would be an understatement, but if you've read my blog before you probably already knew that... having a 3rd baby was very, very, VERY hard for me both physically and emotionally. 
Even though I love my boy more than words can say, a part of me just wasn't ready for him and I still question whether I am cut out for this "mom of three" thing... I guess God thinks I'm a real badass! 
It's pretty common to hear people talk about the "Terrible 2s", which is a stage in which toddlers struggle between their reliance on adults and their need for independence; it is said that most kids around the age of 2 will start to be rebellious and hard to deal with.. 
I'll be honest and say that I was pretty lucky with my girls when they were that age; they were pretty good about listening, avoiding meltdowns and following directions overall... I was truly blessed!
When I had Oliver, I'd always hear moms saying "oh! boys are so much worse, you'll see", so I was naturally bracing myself for some hell.. But 2 came and went (he'll be 3 in 9 days) and besides the potty training ordeal, Oliver has been basically an "angel" up to now.  He never tried to climb out of his crib, doesn't do public tantrums, doesn't throw food, doesn't climb on things and even though there has been the occasional school biting and scratching, he has never really been trouble...until now!
I won't say that he is bad because that certainly isn't the case, but he's definitely giving us a run for our money with how hyper and needy he has become in the past few this the start of the "Horrible 3s? why doesn't anybody talk about what's to come after the "terrible 2s"? In my experience, the 3s have been more challenging than the 2s could ever be.  Not only are children way more agile by the time they hit 3, but they are also more aware of their environment, have more knowledge overall, a more extensive vocabulary and way more argumentative power and an undeniable persuasion capability. 
Oliver isn't even 3 yet and he already thinks he's the boss of everyone.  He is becoming increasingly more defiant and demanding and way too opinionated for my liking; I'm definitely afraid of what the 3s have in store for us.  
I'd like to know if I'm the only mother of a 3 year old who thinks this age is worse than the previous one.. or is it always the case that kids just get more difficult with age? (LOL!).  I'd like to know how I can tame this little rebellious boy of mine without hindering his desire to express himself and discover the world.  I find it very difficult sometimes to balance my motherly authority and my children's freedom of expression.  Do you struggle with this too?  Where do you draw the line?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Life is not a "Popularity Contest"...but how do you teach that?

A few days ago as I picked up the kids from school I noticed Gaby had been crying; she seemed to have freshly shed tears in her eyes and her demeanor was sad, so it was obvious to me that something was up.  As much as I talk to my children, I also try to give them space so I waited until she felt like telling me about her affliction. She told me about a girl in her class, who she considered a close friend, that had invited a few girls to her house after school to celebrate her birthday but didn't invite her.  Gaby was surprised that most of her close friends had been invited but she had been left out and that made her very upset. Even though I felt sad, I quickly mentioned her own birthday celebration and how she had to select just a few people since it was just a small get together. While my response seemed to do the trick, there was one comment made by Gaby that really struck a nerve. She said "I wasn't invited because I am not popular!"..mmm.. what??!  I'd be lying if I said that thought didn't bug actually mortified me.  Isn't it too early for my 9 year old to feel that way? How can I tell her she's wrong when she might be right?

Fast forward a few days and Olivia comes home saying all 6th graders had been invited to run for class representative within the school's student council. She was excited at the prospect of running a "political campaign" but assured me that she was only doing it for the fun of it because she "knew" only the "popular kids" had a chance of winning. At the risk of trivializing her feelings, I told her that 6th grade student council wasn't really a big deal but the fact that the word "popular" came up again really annoyed me and made me concerned.  

After giving it some thought and even trying to remember what it was like when I was in school, I realized that the fact that life often feels like a "popularity contest" is undeniable and the constant competition harms children and adults all the same.  I clearly remember many occasions when I have felt excluded by people who I consider friends; the sting I have felt when I log on Facebook only to see school moms doing wine nights or play dates where neither my kids or I have been invited or even considered prospective guests, maybe because we're not "popular"? or maybe we're not THAT important to be part of a group?
So if as adults sometimes we have a hard time dealing with rejection and often feel this looming popularity contest happening pretty much every day, how can we expect kids to deal well with all those feelings? How can we teach them to be themselves and work towards self actualization rather than acceptance?

The other day one of Olivia's good friends, who happens to be one of the most beautiful girls I know, made a comment to me that went something like "my smile is so ugly!" and she went on to talk about how uncomfortable she felt smiling in pictures because she didn't feel she looked pretty enough. Her comment shocked me because #1 her smile is clearly amazing and #2 she is incredibly concerned about her looks because she believe she doesn't measure up to the standards society sets up. This conversation got me thinking about how there is a constant need for acceptance among children and in the process many of them lose their essence and forget who they are or why they do what they do. 
I've heard of kids in school being bullied because they are too tall, or too fat, or too short, or too thin, or too studious or maybe too lazy. I've heard my kids referring to some cliques as the "popular kids" and I see it in moms too, every day.... I hate how everyone is constantly trying to outdo one another, to impress everyone, to be liked at all times... it's exhausting... it really is! 

So I want to teach my children that they are not in this world to impress anyone, that they won't always be liked by everyone and that even though it feels like it at times, life is NOT a popularity contest and they have to be that change agent if they want to see a difference.  I hope God gives me the wisdom to make my children understand that they are unique and incredible and their only concern should be to be the best human being they possibly can be, without minding popularity or trying to outdo people at all times. 
I want that pretty young girl to know that her smile is amazing and she should be proud to show it in every picture.  I want Gaby to understand that if she doesn't get invited to someone's house, she's still awesome and that doesn't mean she's not liked. I want Olivia to run for student council simply because she believes in herself whether she wins or not and to always have the resilience to do it again every time she feels like it. 

Life is too short to get hung up on that invitation you didn't get or that race you didn't win! I am happy to be who I am and how I am and I want my children to learn that...the sooner the better! :)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Back to School 2018-2019

'Tis the season for "Back to School" craziness, the time when kids get back to their routine and parents try to get it (and keep it) together again!
Between uniforms, school supplies, lunches and school open houses, I am usually exhausted by the time the first day of school rolls around...this year was no exception and Olivia starting middle school added an extra layer of stress to the mix.  
This year we also decided to switch schools for Oliver and we registered them at the girls' school; after a year of picking them up at different places and different times, we figured it'd be much easier to centralize everything so fingers crossed it was the right move for our family. 
The girls were excited to go back to school for the most part but they weren't too happy about waking up at 6am to get ready or lugging things around; I also wasn't too happy about making school lunches and looking at a million calendars on a daily basis but I guess it was time so we have to focus on the task at hand. 

Olivia was incredibly excited to start 6th grade; for some reason the prospect of switching classes and having multiple teachers really excites her.  On top of it, she now gets to wear her "big girl" uniform so that's the cherry on top.  She looks so grown up already.. I can't believe she's only 11! Good luck in middle school, Olivia!

Gaby is starting the 4th grade and she is looking forward to befriending the new kids in her class; she is the kind of girl that does everything in her power to make the newbies feel welcome so I am sure she will take it upon herself to make sure everyone is happy, especially the new kids. 
She was a little sad that her best friend ended up in the other class and there were some tears shed when the class lists came out, but I am sure it's nothing a few playdates can't fix and she knows her friends will always be friends even if they're in different classrooms. Can't wait to see what you learn in 4th grade, Gaby!

On the first day we were able to walk Oliver to his classroom and the whole drop off was a hot mess; as excited as he was to be his new school, when he realized he wouldn't be in the same classroom as his sisters he lost it and started screaming and holding on to us for dear life.  Being a third time mom I was kind of expecting it but it was still bittersweet to leave him with tears in his eyes.  Of course when I picked him up he was happy and had even made a couple of friends which he already knew on a first name basis! Go Oliver!  There are only 8 kids in his class (4 boys, 4 girls) for 2 teachers so I guess that makes things a little "easier".... or so I hope. 
In the potty training department, he had a couple of poo accidents but the teachers didn't seem fazed at all and one day one of them even told me that all 8 kids in the class had pooped their pants simultaneously (what!?)... I'm just glad my kid wasn't alone, I guess! LOL! 

All in all we all had a great first week and the kids are so happy to be back in school and with their friends again. As a mother, I am looking forward to seeing them thrive and learn new things. I love when they come home from school excited to tell me about their day and when they wake up happy in the morning full of hope and joy; this is what I live for!
I pray that God remains in my children and that the Holy Spirit continues to light their path to wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord!
God Bless my children and all the kids going back to school this season! May this be another wonderful year in the life of our family!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Potty Training success!

About a year ago I wrote this post about my failed attempt at potty training Oliver, who at the time was about to turn 2. I had read somewhere that 23 months was an "ideal" age to potty train so I set out to conquer this dreaded task. I, of course, failed and became incredibly frustrated considering I had successfully potty trained our 2 girls at 22 months and 30 months. Potty training was never a challenge for me and I mistakenly thought it would be just as easy with Oliver....WRONG!!
Many of my friends had warned me that potty training a boy was a bit different and "boy were they right!". I tried and tried incessantly for the next few months (not continuous months!) and it just wasn't happening... It was like Oliver was completely oblivious to the fact that he eventually would have to do away with diapers and be like every other person who pees and poops in a toilet.
At one point the whole ordeal was affecting my mood and making me question my motherly abilities.. I know I was taking it way too seriously but I was just done with changing (and buying) diapers... I knew I had to let it I did!
Summer rolled around and the pressure was mounting again because I enrolled Oliver at the girls' school and he just HAD to be potty trained come school time (August), so I basically had 10 weeks to get this done. Around mid June I decided to "pull off the bandaid" and just do it! We took off the diapers and it just "clicked" for him; within a couple of days Oliver was peeing on the potty consistently and we got through the weekend with almost no accidents; granted we had to take him to the potty constantly and just remind him that he HAD to go.. and he did it every time...I was so happy!
So we basically spent the next few weeks helping Oliver master the art of the potty and between random pee (and mostly poop!) accidents, he was officially out of diapers and ready to take on the world!
I won't lie, it wasn't an instant thing and I feel like he struggled much more than the girls ever did.  There were worse days than others and even though he was (mostly) willing to go along with potty training, I spent a good part of my summer cleaning pee puddles and wiping poop off his butt.
Around mid July he was already sleeping in underwear and even asking to go potty on his own.  We bought a little urinal on Amazon and even though he rarely used it at first, it ended up being a hit and he even learned to pee standing!
The poop part was (and still is) a bit more challenging...he has random accidents throughout the week and it's still a work in progress but I am confident he will master it in no time.
Even though it has been 2 months since Oliver has been out of diapers, it took me this long to finally believe it and write this post.. I didn't want to jinx myself because it was an uphill task for us.
Some of the things I learned this go around are as follows:

  • Every child is different! (duh!)
  • Potty training a boy is much more challenging than doing it with girls
  • Potty training cannot be forced! (double duh!)
  • Kids have their own timeline
  • Pull ups suck! (mostly!)
  • There is such a thing as spending all day cleaning pee puddles
  • Toddlers can POOP! (uggh!)
  • No matter how long it takes.. potty training will eventually happen!
I am happy we have FINALLY gotten over this hurdle and that Oliver won't be in diapers forever (ha!). I am thankful for my husband and my girls who were instrumental in potty training our stubborn boy and I can only hope he sticks to the plan and does well at the potty while in school.  I pray that his teachers are patient and understanding when things don't go right and that he can feel supported and encouraged to do better and better every day!

Monday, August 13, 2018

A new love affair...

Following my disappointing visit to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, my husband insisted I join him on a work trip to Buenos Aires. His constant business travels have allowed him to accumulate some airline miles and I was miraculously able to make arrangements for someone to stay with the kids so I said "why not!" and finally visited one of the destinations at the top of my bucket list. 
I had always wanted to travel to Buenos Aires for many reasons; first off my father was born there and he has spent a great amount of years convincing me of how wonderful it is and many people had told me about the strange appeal that city has; I was definitely curious to experience that Argentine charm for myself and it did not disappoint. 
I will refer to my trip to Buenos Aires as the start of a new love affair; I was in awe of how beautiful and modern the city was and also of how welcoming everybody was, the whole experience definitely exceeded my expectations and I was nicely surprised. 
Buenos Aires is like a Latin version of Europe; most buildings are reminiscent of classic Madrid constructions and I even saw some of Paris in the streets of this amazing city.  Everything is clean, organized and grandiose and on the second day I was ready to move there...I seriously loved it so much!
I was able to experience the Buenos Aires life style first hand since I happen to have so many friends that live there who were kind enough to show me around while doing it the "local way"; I visited amazing restaurants, modern shopping centers, rode the metro, hailed some cabs and walked an infinite amount of steps around the beautiful streets of Buenos Aires (my watch says I walked about 30K steps per day!)... I am officially in love with this city and my only regret is that I didn't travel there sooner... I can't wait to take the kids there soon and maybe stay a little longer. 
In addition to the beauty of the city and the kindness of its people, our trip was particularly cheap since currently the Argentine Peso is down in the dumps so our dollars went a long way; I could eat a succulent filet mignon for less than $10 or have a scrumptious piece of cake for less than $2, so needless to say I was happy to visit during this time. 
Also it happens to be winter time in Argentina (hello South Pole!) and the weather was perfection; it never went over 60 degrees or below 50 so I was happy to be able to wear my favorite jacket every day (LOL!)..they say that the weather has a lot to do with how one perceives a place, so this probably boosted my experience even more. 
My favorite place in the city was Puerto Madero also known as Buenos Aires' business center; most big companies are found in this area and the building are incredibly modern; the whole place is beautiful and it is nothing short of great even when compared to cities such as New York, Berlin, Los Angeles or any other major city in the world. The metro system (Subte) is very efficient and well maintained and also CHEAP! There are beautiful shopping malls, magnificent churches, sublime buildings, delicious restaurants and everything else I could want in a city. 
Here are some pictures of my brief visit to Buenos Aires, a place I hope to go back to and one that jumped to the top of my list in just one visit.  I love you, Buenos Aires and I know this is only the beginning of a beautiful love affair!