Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fun Halloween Activities For St. Louis Kids

With Halloween just around the corner. St. Louis parents are on the lookout for fun, Halloween-themed activities to do with their kids.  Whether you're in the mood for super-scary or just some plain old fun with pumpkins, check out this list of can't-miss Halloween activities around St. Louis.

  • Visit the St. Louis Zoo for St. John's Mercy Children's Hospitals Boo at the Zoo Nights, which take place nightly from 5:30-8:30 through October 30.  For a small admission fee ($1 off for a child in costume), you can enjoy the zoo's "non-scary, kid-friendly Halloween experience."  Everything will be lit up and newly decorated, and there are tons of fun things to do.  You can go on a Night Hike, listen to Fireside Stories, enjoy Cackling Chicken Strips and Scary S'mores at Lakeside Cafe, and much, much more!
  • The Not-So-Haunted-House at the ever-popular Magic House in Kirkwood is also a great option for families of young ones who don't want anything too scary.  Storybook characters from more than 15 children's classic tales will "haunt" the museum, and a "Haunted Trail" will be set up for older boys and girls.  Costumes are encouraged and the event is free with regular admission ($8.75, 1 and above).  The Not-So-Haunted-House will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 29-31, and the Magic House will have special extended hours on all three of those days.
  • The Jumpin' Pumpkin Jamboree continues at Eckert's Family Farms this weekend October 30-31.  Ride a wagon out to the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkin, and enjoy live entertainment, pony rides, make-your-own-scarecrow, and plenty of other fun children's activities.  The Jamboree takes place at the Belleville, Millstadt, and Grafton Farms.
  • We are lucky in St. Louis to have lots of neat pumpkin patches to visit this time of year.  Rombach's Family Farm in Chesterfield has a great pumpkin patch, with no admission fee or fee for parking and lots to keep you busy and get you in the Halloween spirit.  Stuckmeyer's Farm in Fenton isn't quite as fancy and doesn't have as many pumpkins in it's fields, but they have a huge, fenced-in children's play area with playgrounds, tunnels, mazes, and all sorts of fall fun.  Again, no fee for parking or admission.  For a list of more area pumpkin patches, visit the PumpkinPatchesandMore.org (and scroll way, way down to the bottom of the page).
  • Many local cities and shopping districts are hosting their own Trick-or-Treat Walks in the upcoming week.  There will be a Halloween Walk in Downtown Kirkwood on Thursday night from 5-7, Trick or Treat on Main will take place on Historic Main Street in St. Charles on Friday from 3-5, and Trick or Treat in the Central West End will take place on Saturday with both trick-or-treating and a costume parade and contest.  Trick-or-treating events will also take place at many malls and libraries; check your local one for details.       
  • Fright Fest at Six Flags is always a scary, heart-pounding experience.  If amusement parks are your thing, you'll love this one.  In the daytime, younger visitors can bob for apples and have kid-friendly fun, but when the sun goes down the event is usually best for older kids who like to be frightened . . . 
  • There are lots of haunted houses around town too, but most are probably a little too scary for younger audiences.  Visit this link if you have older kids or or looking for some grown-up Halloween fun.
Happy Halloween!

Photo credit:  Flickr

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mary Fallin and More Mommy Wars: Does Motherhood Make You A Better Political Candidate?

I'm watching The View right now.  Yes, that's pretty much how I keep up with current events these days . . .

And a discussion of how sad it is that these contentious ladies are considered a credible news source by so many aside, they do have a habit of talking about topics that interest me.

Today, the topic up for discussion is Mary Fallin, the Republican candidate for governor of Oklahoma.  Fallin's Democratic opponent, Jari Askins, is also a woman, so the state of Oklahoma is poised to elect the first female governor in it's history in next Tuesday's election.

Usually, voters would be casting their votes based on their preferred political party, their conservative or liberal leanings, their understanding and assessment of the candidates' qualifications and experience. 

Unfortunately, this race seems to have been reduced to yet another battle in the mommy wars.

In a debate last Tuesday, Mary Fallin stated that her experience as a mother of six (four of whom are stepchildren) makes her more qualified to lead the state of Oklahoma than her unmarried, childless opponent.

It's a pretty simple statement.  I think that many women who have raised families or who are in the midst of caring for young children would agree that it is an exercise in patience, leadership, and compassion, and that you learn all sorts of things about time management, how to motivate people, how to handle delicate situations, how to broker peace agreements. etc. 

I could go on and on about the skills acquired in motherhood, and yes, I do personally believe that experience as a mother can be a valuable asset for a woman in other aspects of her life.   

But . . .

The fact that you learn a lot as a mother isn't really the issue here, nor is it the reason why Ms. Fallin's statement has received so much publicity.  By playing the "mom" card, and more specifically by saying that a woman who hasn't had children is less qualified, the Republican candidate has really put her foot in her mouth. 

Feminists are up in arms over the notion that in the year 2010 a woman's worth can still be defined in terms of her marital and reproductive status.  And even people who agree that motherhood provides her with valuable experience have trouble with her assertion that this experience is more valid than the outstanding (albeit childless) resume of her opponent Ms. Askins.

For me, I believe that bearing and raising children is an integral part of many women's identities.  Motherhood alters your life and changes your perspective.  It grounds you and knocks you on your ass simultaneously.  And unfortunately, it is often dismissed in our culture as less important and less valuable than so many of the other (most often paid) endeavors that women pursue.

Motherhood should be a valid point on a resume.  Raising and caring for our next generation is important work with the potential for huge long-term impact.  But just as women shouldn't be penalized for being mothers, we also shouldn't be penalized for not being a mother.  One isn't better than the other. 

Women are a diverse group, with different strengths, passions, and interests.  We are united by our ability to have children, but we don't need to be defined by it.

Ms. Fallin should be welcome to cite her experience raising her family as one small part of who she is and why she is a better candidate.  I disagree with feminists who claim that motherhood doesn't or shouldn't impact your professional identity at all.

But suggesting that Ms. Askins is lacking simply because she has never had children is taking it too far.  Life is full of choices and trade-offs, and women have come a long way in the past few decades in ensuring that we have the right to make our own choices and choose our own trade-offs. 

Fighting amongst ourselves over who has made the right or the best ones isn't going to help women anywhere. 

Fortunately, getting elected as Governor just might.  My best wishes for each of the two women, mother or not, as she heads into election night. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Talking With Children About Death

My father-in-law passed away a few weeks ago. 

We knew he was sick, but we were not prepared for the end to come so soon.  And really, who among us is ever prepared for the end to come at all for someone who has been such an integral part of our lives . . .

It isn't the first time that I've faced the death of a loved one.  But it is the first time that I've faced it with children, particularly one very astute six year-old who understands things far beyond her years.

So when we realized that the end was near, I knew that I had to talk to her, and explain to her, and answer any questions she might have.

This would have been easier had I known the answers myself . . .

As it stands, I decided to do a little research.  I googled "talking to kids about death" and came up with some obnoxiously self-righteous articles from psychotherapists who claim to know everything and expect every child to be the same.

There seemed to be way too much emphasis on what you shouldn't tell children.  I'm a pretty big fan of open lines of communication, and attached parenting in general. 

At four, my daughter knew how her baby brother was going to come out (and had a very vague idea of how he got in), so this didn't seem like the time to be holding back information. 

Like I'm going to take advice from these people about what to say to my child, a child they've never met.  None of their ideas and suggestions seemed relevant to our situation.

So being the huge fan of books that I am, I turned to Amazon.  I found a couple of children's books that looked decent (not too saccharine and not too dumbed down) and one for adults that at least appeared intelligent.  But in the midst of hospital visits and making sure my kids were cared for and preparing for a funeral in less than 48 hours, I never managed a trip to the bookstore.

And that turned out to be just fine.

I've always loved the saying that"you are the expert on your own child."  I like to read and do research and get ideas from other parents and even experts on all sorts of parenting issues, but in the end, only I know what is right for my family. 

This time was no different.

In the end, I just talked to her.  I told her honestly what I knew, and I told her that there was a lot I didn't know.  She had lots of questions, but none of them were the questions I expected. 

We as adults often seem to project our own grief and emotion and fear of death and the unknown onto our children, when they are processing the entire experience quite differently.  As in many situations, if we just ask them what they're feeling and follow their lead, parenting can be made quite a bit easier.

I've compiled a short list of what I've learned from my own experience in talking with my daughter, so that other parents can get some ideas to think about if this situation arises in your family.  Everything here may not work for you, but at least it's a place to start.
  1. Honesty is the best policy.  Children, even at very young ages, are a lot smarter than most of us give them credit for.  They can tell when mom and dad are sad, or when there is tension in the air.  Smiling and telling them that everything is okay will only confuse them more.  Be honest.  If you're facing the loss of a parent, tell them that you are sad and scared.  It's a normal human reaction for you, and an important learning experience for them. 
  2. Don't leave them in the dark.  When I started leaving my children with my mom, and spending a lot of time at the hospital with my husband, I knew it was time to explain what was going on.  Not telling kids doesn't protect them; it blindsides them.  You don't have to share every detail with them--you probably shouldn't--but show them respect, and acknowledge them as an important part of the family with feelings that matter just as much as the grown-ups.   
  3. Talk less, ask more.  Parents have a habit of talking too much.  Chances are, your children will have lots of questions.  Let those questions be your guide.  "What do you want to know?"  is an easy way to get the conversation started.  For example, my daughter was very interested in the details of the wake and the funeral, and wanted to know precisely what was going to happen and why.  We ended up talking a lot about rituals and customs and celebrating the circle of life, all things I probably wouldn't have brought up on my own.  She was also fascinated by the details of how and why he got sick, and what caused his body to stop working.  Her interest in the technical aspects of the situation instead of the emotional aspects intrigued me, as it gave me new insight into her personality and the way her mind works.   
  4. Avoid the sleep metaphor.  This one isn't mine--I read it somewhere--but I think it makes sense.  If you tell a child that the loved one in the coffin is "sleeping," they may be afraid to go to sleep for fear they'll never wake up.  This goes back to the issue of honesty; they aren't sleeping, so why tell children that they are . . .
  5. Be open to the wisdom of children.  In talking to my six year-old about the meaning of life and death, I found myself wondering who was learning from who.  Many of her questions astounded me, but what amazed me the most was her simple acceptance of death as a sad but necessary part of life.  
  6. Admit it when you don't know.  "Mommy," my daughter asked, "If his eyes stay in his body, how will he see us from heaven?"  Ummm . . . . I found out the hard way that it's quite difficult to explain the concept of bodies and souls to your child when your own belief system isn't clearly defined.  Death forces us as adults to confront issues that we push to the back of our minds in everyday life; children force us to admit when we ourselves are struggling to find the answers.  If you don't know, tell them you don't know.  But then involve them in your quest for answers.  For us, this means a renewed conviction to attend church regularly.  For you, it may be something very different.  Don't feel like you're supposed to always know the answers; instead make it a learning experience for both of you.
Have you faced the death of a loved one with your child?  How old were they?  How did you handle it?

Photo credit:  http://www.cebix.net/photos/misc/002.jpg