Why I don’t want to be “Fat Dad” anymore

The reality is that I am not happy being fat. I don’t like the way I look in the mirror when my clothes are missing in action. I don’t like getting winded when I do regular tasks like walking up stairs, picking up my kids, or moving in general. I don’t like hating how I look in every picture I take, because my face, or stomach, or side, or legs look huge.

With my kids, I am notorious for saying that I am “fat” nonchalantly in a funny, self-deprecating way. I often tell them “Don’t be fat like daddy!” as a warning of what can happen if they eat too much and don’t exercise. I do all of this, but I can see I am sending mixed messages. I often say this with a smile and a confidence not befitting someone who actually regrets his life choices.

The reality is that I am not happy being fat. I don’t like the way I look in the mirror when my clothes are missing in action. I don’t like getting winded when I do regular tasks like walking up stairs, picking up my kids, or moving in general. I don’t like hating how I look in every picture I take, because my face, or stomach, or side, or legs look huge. Mostly, I hate this feeling that this is how I am supposed to look since I am getting older.

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“My greatest fear is that my sons listen to me, look at me and decide that it is perfectly normal to grow increasingly unhealthy when they get older.”

My greatest fear is that my sons listen to me, look at me and decide that it is perfectly normal to grow increasingly unhealthy when they get older. They will just jokingly tell their kids what I tell them and think that being overweight and making terrible eating choices is their right and privilege as a man. I think about what James Baldwin said about children being terrible listeners but never failing to do exactly what their parents show them. I can honestly say I have been a terrible example regarding health, eating and fitness. I know that continuing down this path is a death sentence at worst and a life of health complications and burden upon my family at best.

Black men develop diabetes at rates eighty percent higher than white men and are almost twice as likely as white men to die from heart disease.  The rates of cancers and kidney disease are also astronomical when compared to the broader population.  While there are socio-economic factors that contribute to our negative health statistics, I believe the major factors at play are poor eating habits and lack of meaningful daily exercise.  We can control what we consume. I can control what healthy foods I eat and what poisonous processed foods I avoid.  I have allowed myself to establish a dangerous pattern of not caring about the nutritional value of my food, as long as it satisfies my taste buds, while I sit and mindlessly eat and drink.

“Black men develop diabetes at rates eighty percent higher than white men and are almost twice as likely as white men to die from heart disease.  The rates of cancers and kidney disease are also astronomical when compared to the broader population.”

My father passed away suddenly last year of a heart attack.  He was just 61 years old.  He had been overweight for years, but was in great shape most of his youth going into early adulthood.  It was after he became a father that he started to gain weight and eventually stopped working out like he used to.  The thing I think about over and over is the fact that when my father was my age he was not as close to how heavy I currently am.  He gained weight over time, but not as drastically or in the dimensions that I have.  If I don’t make a significant change in my habits then I may not even make it to the age he was and I know that would deeply affect my family and would not be a way to truly honor his memory.

So I have decided to make a change. I am committing to losing 100 pounds by Thanksgiving Day (November 23 this year). To do this I am going to cut out sodas, processed fruit juices, junk food of all kinds and processed foods in general. I will commit to drinking large amounts of water weekly, working out at least 20 minutes per day, walking everyday as a routine, and consistently eating healthy throughout the months. This is my #ThanksgivingChallenge and I am excited to start this! This is for me, my sons, my wife, and for anyone else who needs to make a change but is afraid to start. Walk with me on this journey and let’s see where we end up on the other side!

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter and Instagram @RealRickMcCray.

Staying Connected When Your Family is Far Away

If, like me, staying connected to long distance family and friends is important to you, here are a few tips for maintaining a family connection even when you are miles apart.

Growing up, the majority of my extended family lived within a ten mile radius of my childhood home in southeast Queens.  In the late 1950s, after a brief stay in Manhattan, my grandfather and grandmother settled in St. Albans, Queens after leaving North Carolina along with millions of other Black people fleeing the segregated South during the Great Migration.  My grandmother died before I was born.  However, my grandfather stayed in the house he raised his daughters in until his death in 2010.  My mother and her sisters stayed close, and raised their families in the surrounding areas in Queens and Long Island.  As kids, almost every Sunday, we gathered at my grandfather’s house to eat his food and run wild in his house.  There was never a shortage of sitters or playmates.  Looking back, it was a fact of my life I just took for granted.  When I left home for college, I couldn’t have anticipated that I was leaving that time of my life in the past.

To my surprise, the typical American only lives eighteen miles from their mother with close to 20% only living a couple of hours away.  However, those with college and professional degrees are more likely to live father away due to the pursuit of job opportunities.  This was true for me.  After college, I moved to D.C. for law school and ultimately met and married my husband. We chose to stay because the job opportunities and cost of living were more amenable to the lifestyle we wanted to live than my hometown in New York.   While we are fortunate to live close to my husband’s family, most of my family is still several hours away.  When we had children, I knew I’d have to improvise to give my children the same strong sense of family I had when growing up in Queens.   If, like me, staying connected to long distance family and friends is important to you, here are a few tips for maintaining a family connection even when you are miles apart.

1. Video Chat

Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, Apple’s FaceTime, Tango and other apps make it easier than ever to have face-to-face time with long distance friends and family.  While this seems like the most obvious choice, setting objectives, like story time, for these face-to-face calls  can make them even more special.  My children love to show their grandmother artwork they’ve created or share other milestones they wouldn’t be able to share on a voice call.

2. Pen Pals

When I was a kid, my father used to travel a great deal, and he would send me postcards from his destinations. It used to make me feel so special to get mail “like a grown up.”  Similarly, my kids LOVE getting mail.  Every so often, their karate school sends encouragement postcards and when birthday time rolls around, they love to check our mailbox for birthday cards.

If your long distance relative is willing, a great way to stay connected is to allow your kids to send handwritten letters.  It can be even more fun if your child has a cousin or child relative who is also writing age because they can write each other.  You can find great kids stationary on Amazon that allow your children to create personalized notes.  Writing can also be more intimate which allows your child to develop a special bond with their long distance relative.

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3. Recordable Storybooks

Recordable storybooks allow a friend or relative to record themselves reading a story book for your child. Hallmark has a line that you can purchase in the store or on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  They are great because your child can listen to them any time they want and as much as they want.

4. Blogging/Social Media

When I had my eldest son, I was totally smitten.  Like most new moms, all I wanted to do was talk about him and take pictures of him.  When he was about three months old, I started a blog through Blogger doing just that.  Initially, the blog was intended just for friends and family, but after awhile I caught the attention of other mommy bloggers and developed a community.  Either way, it was a great way to stay to connected with long distance friends and family on my little one’s milestones and my journey as a mom.  Now, blogs can be password protected so they allow you to choose your audience.  If you aren’t interested in writing, social media can be another way to share updates and photos with family and friends.  Just make sure you are aware of privacy practices and standards and be sure not to share sensitive or personal information.

If you aren’t interested in sharing on the web, email based sites like Dropbox, Snapfish and Shutterfly allow you to send images online to specific people.  My best friend has never posted a picture of her daughter online but she regularly sends photos to friends and family via Dropbox, email and text message.

What about you, family? How do you stay connected with long distance family and friends?

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

 

Thinking Outside The Box: An Inside Look at Homeschooling

Our families are among one of the fastest growing demographics in the homeschooling community making up an estimated 10% of the homeschooling population. I had the opportunity to chat with Kristina Brooke Daniele, extraordinary homeschooling mom and creator of For Love of Education, a blog chronicling her and her family’s homeschooling journey.

In 2015, the National Home Education Research Institute estimated that 220,000 African American children are currently being homeschooled.  In fact, our families are among one of the fastest growing demographics in the homeschooling community making up an estimated 10% of the homeschooling population.  Research has demonstrated that our journey to homeschooling is unique.  While many Caucasian families cite religious or moral reasons for their choice to home school, African American families often cite frustration with the traditional education system.  This frustration stems from everything from a perceived culture of low expectations for our children to prejudice amongst their peers to the systemic exclusion of African American contribution to American history.

Whatever the motivations, homeschooling is yielding positive results.  The National Home Education Research Institute reports, “[w]hile controlling for gender of student and family socioeconomic status, homeschooling students yielded 42 percentile points higher in reading, 26 percentile points higher in language skills, and 23 percentile points higher in math than if public schooled.  This summer, the Bush family, a homeschooling family of eleven from Boca Raton, Florida made headlines for their incredible academic achievements which includes two teenagers with master’s degrees and a mom who is an architect and attorney.  Stories like these are not uncommon but are these results typical? What does it mean to “homeschool” and is it a realistic goal for “the rest of us”?

I had the opportunity to chat with Kristina Brooke Daniele, extraordinary homeschooling mom and creator of For Love of Education, a blog chronicling her and her family’s homeschooling journey.  She shared her journey to homeschooling and valuable lessons she has learned along the way.

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Q. For those that don’t know, tell us a little about homeschooling.  What is it?

[F]or my family, homeschooling is what feels like the most natural way to educate our child in a holistic way. We focus on skills-based learning and mastery and then utilize that in a way that is reflective of living an actual life. With homeschooling, learning happens beyond the “classroom” through a more hands-on approach. It’s both academic and play. It is not structured.  It is child-led.

Q. What made you decide to homeschool your child?

Honestly, it’s something that I knew that I wanted to do because my educational background was so diverse and untraditional. My mom focused on educating me at home even when she enrolled me in school. I always had access to advanced materials in a variety of subjects. We went to museums and cultural events and traveled a lot. I was never happier than when I was learning on my own, immersed in my environment. In 7th Grade, my mom enrolled me at Columbia Prep, a private and academically vigorous school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. There, [my] teachers challenged me academically, and as I moved to the high school, I was given more freedom over my academic choices. I still hated going to class, but I enjoyed the control.  In college, I did best in the courses that did not require me to go to class but rather allowed self-directed learning. Many of my courses were independent classes that were designed based on my interests.

In 2004, I became a high school English teacher and received a first-hand look at what the public school system in New York had to offer. [I found] there are limited chances for children to learn from each other and few opportunities for the inclusion of things in which children are actually interested.  Schools created a dangerous social hierarchy of group thought and didn’t respect individuality or creative expression.  Teachers are tired, underpaid, overly stressed, and scapegoats.

So, when it came to my daughter, I wanted to give her the kind of education that I wanted for myself, and even more so I wanted to provide her with a flexible option that could change as her needs, wants, and interests evolved. At two, she was already inquisitive, and I did not want to hinder her love of learning.

I wanted to give my daughter the kind of education that I wanted for myself, and even more so I wanted to provide her with a flexible option that could change as her needs, wants, and interests evolved. At two, she was already inquisitive, and I did not want to hinder her love of learning.

Q. What steps did you have to take to homeschool your child? Certifications? Curriculum planning? State requirements? Annual Cost?

We began homeschooling in New York. New York requires a lot of paperwork, and it differs by county. You must register your child for school at five. We had to submit an Intent to Homeschool and an Individualized Education Plan. Ironically, the IEP is more than I ever had with my high school students because there was no actual curriculum when I began teaching. You must also have your children tested in accordance with state rules.

We moved to Arizona and things are much different here. First, you can delay formal education until the age of eight (which we opted to do based on much research). Once you decide to homeschool, you file a Letter of Intent with the county, and that is it! No seriously, Arizona is a homeschooling-friendly state and not only do they make it a bit easier, but they also provide homeschoolers with many resources.

Ah, curricula? Honestly, I am a bit of a curricula hoarder! I have TONS of material on my computer, in four-inch to six -inch ring binders, in folders, on bookshelves. Everywhere. I research a lot. I spend a lot of time finding things that interest my daughter and incorporating them into how we learn.

[As far as cost], some years I spend more than others. You can do a lot for free. The key is to research, join groups either online or offline, and be open to change.

Q. Is homeschooling largely autonomous or do you have to follow a specific structure as mandated by the state?

In Arizona, it is autonomous. It can be in New York, too, but you must adhere to the state/county standards. Check with your state to find out the regulations so that you avoid any issues. While we have pretty much free rein in Arizona to educate the way that we see fit, I need a guide to ensure that I am working towards a finish line. I use New York’s state standards still because they are a bit more challenging than Arizona’s standards. That is my start point. My daughter is ten.  I print off the standards for middle school and use that to guide us in determining what we will be learning. I do not care about grade per se because they are not organic. My daughter reads on a tenth grade level, but her reading comprehension level is on a lower level. However, she is on grade level (fifth) for math. So using grade standards would not help. I just ask, “what does she need to know by the end of middle school?” [Then], I plan accordingly.

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Q. For many, when you picture homeschooling, you conjure up an old fashioned image of a stay-at-home mom raising her children in a rural, religious environment isolated from the modern world.  How would you dispel those myths? How do you keep your child socially engaged?

There is nothing wrong with the traditional, religious method of homeschooling if that is what one chooses to do. That is how many of our grandparents and great-grandparents were educated. Those who associate homeschooling with fundamentalist ideologies and extreme forms of punishment haven’t been paying attention and are willfully ignorant about what homeschooling is in reality. Much of that can be accredited to what is often portrayed in movies or on thoughtless TV shows. That is not homeschooling but rather neglect and abuse. They are not synonymous, and they are not mutually exclusive.  It happens in both homeschools and institutional schools.

In truth, there is a grave misunderstanding about what it means to be socialized. Socialization refers to being immersed in one’s culture. It is about exposure to the different aspects of society. So I ask you, how does that happen while children sit in a classroom for six to eight hours a day? When do they play? Think about life? Wonder at the mysteries of the sky or play in the dirt? When do those children get to meet the Lyft driver from Japan who has been here for two years and is excited that your child is learning his language and tries to teach her as much as he can in a ten minute ride? When do those children get to attend a First American drum circle? Or ride the subway and wonder how fast they are going or how trains work? When do they get to talk to the conductor? When do they go to a restaurant and listen to a story about living in a concentration camp from a senior woman who just wants to talk? When do they go to a museum and attempt to recreate a Van Gough as they sit next to an out of work artist who explains each brushstroke? When do they attend or perform in a dinner theater performance?

Many children in traditional schools are not socially engaged. They are hiding, coasting, and out of fear, conforming. Put them in a setting outside of school, and many of them struggle to hold conversations with people outside of their age group or immediate social group. They find it difficult to make friends, or to ask questions, or to make decisions because at school those things have been structured for them. At this point, I need proof that school is the best place for children. Period.

Q. Are you able to work?

I work more now than I did as a teacher. I have two jobs and  up until very recently, I was also running a business. I am lucky (or crazy) because I work from home. It’s hard and exhausting, but I am getting the hang of it thanks to several planners and insomnia.

On another note, you do need to ensure that your lifestyle will work for homeschooling and that you are willing to make changes as needed. If you have to work outside the home, then you need to have a plan in place. If your child is a “spirited child” as is my daughter, you need to have some behavior strategies in place. If you work from home, you need a clear division of time and space.

Q. I know you have experience as an educator. I would imagine a deterrent for many parents considering homeschooling is that they don’t have experience as an educator or perhaps they don’t even have the credentials of a traditional educator (e.g., a Bachelors and/or Masters degree). Do you think this is a reasonable barrier? Do you think someone without a background in education or advanced degrees can be a successful homeschooler? What qualities do you think make for a successful homeschooler?

While I have a Bachelor of Science in English and a Master of Science in Teaching Adolescence Education Grades 7-12, you do not need a degree to homeschool. Think of it this way, if you don’t have faith in your ability to research or relearn concepts after your elementary school education, then why would you trust the system that educated you to educate your child? With that said, what you need is patience (which I promise you will develop over time), a library card, personal homeschooling goals, the ability to research, two or three homeschooling families that you can speak to and maybe get together with, and determination. Respect the process of learning and trust that you know what is best for your child. Allow you child to speak his/her truth and be prepared to revamp when things don’t work.

You do not need a degree to homeschool. Think of it this way, if you don’t have faith in your ability to research or relearn concepts after your elementary school education, then why would you trust the system that educated you to educate your child? With that said, what you need is patience (which I promise you will develop over time), a library card, personal homeschooling goals, the ability to research, two or three homeschooling families that you can speak to and maybe get together with, and determination.

Q. What criteria would you use in determining whether your child is a good candidate for homeschooling?

[H]omeschooling is only as good as the parent. Children are flexible. Most children do well in homeschooling because individualized learning takes into account their strengths and weaknesses. Have a plan for what you are doing (not a lesson but just a general idea of what you are trying to accomplish). As long as they are engaged, they are learning.  I think there is a method for every child as long as you are willing to look for it. You have to pay attention to your child. It’s important that you know your child’s learning style. Take a parenting course or read some books about different learning styles and teaching methods.

Q. If you can, can you speak to addressing the needs of multiple children? How have you seen homeschoolers manage the needs of many children of different ages?

While this is not something I struggle with (the joys of an only child), I am in a homeschooling group with several large families. The older children help teach, the younger ones, and I’ve seen it help. Also, young children learn a lot from just being around others who are learning. Even with an only child, I can tell you that it is important to have a system set up that is conducive to your family. Trial and error is the only way!

Q. Have you encountered any obstacles or setbacks? How did you overcome?

When I left teaching, we took a rather large pay cut and trying to survive on one income was hard in New York. It’s why we moved to Arizona, but things were just as hard out here. We almost put her in school while I worked to get my business off the ground and my husband looked for a job that wouldn’t suck his soul out through a straw! Money issues are the hardest, and they trickle down into the actual fabric of the marriage, so my husband and I were fighting a lot.

Then, of course, there are issues with balance, hormones, self-doubt, and lessons, curricula, and projects that completely bomb.  Academically, my worst mistake was with math. I shied away from it because it wasn’t my strongest subject, but I relearned as I was teaching. We developed a strong skills set together. I realized that my worry slowed her down. I thought that I needed to drill math facts, but this year I made the decision to push her to her grade level and we have been VERY successful!

I’m not the best at handling my stress, but we roll with everything. My daughter knows that we are real people who problem solve, negotiate, and restructure for the best possible outcome. We talk honestly about what is going on. We create a safe space for our daughter, and she shares how she feels about what is happening.

Homeschooling is becoming more popular, but don’t do it just because you have heard a lot about it. It is hard and stressful and requires a lot of trial and error. You have to be ready to let go of all notions of “school” and focus on learning. They are very different. If you do decide to homeschool, be kind to yourself. It takes a little time to find your groove!

Q. Can you recommend any organizations for support or resources?

I don’t join homeschooling organizations because most homeschooling organizations are religious, and I am not. Look for local homeschooling groups. Meet with them and find one that suits your needs.

Here are some helpful places:

Websites:

Magazine(s):

Books(s):

Q. Any last words of advice to those considering taking this journey?

Honestly, homeschooling is becoming more popular but don’t do it just because you have heard a lot about it. It is hard and stressful and requires a lot of trial and error. You have to be ready to let go of all notions of “school” and focus on learning. They are very different. If you do decide to homeschool, be kind to yourself. It takes a little time to find your groove!

Find out more about Kristina Brooke Daniele and her family’s journey at http://forloveofeducation.com.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Reducing SIDS: What You Need to Know

On October 24, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated sleep recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment. Here is what you need to know.

Our babies are twice as likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than babies in other communities. While many factors, including access to newborn education, adequate newborn furniture and bedding, and other socio-economic concerns, could be the blame, it is clear we must take affirmative steps to address this issue.

On October 24, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released updated sleep recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment.  Here is what you need to know:

1. Put your baby on his/her back to sleep.

To reduce the risk of SIDS, infants should be placed in a supine position (on the back) for every sleep by every caregiver until the child reaches 1 year of age. If you’re like me, I’m sure you have a Grandma or Auntie who will readily tell you that you slept on your back in 19-whatever and you turned out perfectly fine.  The thing is, now that we know better, we need to do better.

2. Use a firm sleep surface, and keep soft objects and loose bedding away from the infant’s sleep area.

According to the AAP, infants should be placed on a firm sleep surface (e.g., mattress in a safety-approved crib) covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft objects.  In addition, the crib, bassinet, portable crib, or play yard should conform to the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  Also, make sure that the product has not been recalled.  If cost is an issue, many local organizations provide low-cost or free cribs or play yards for families with financial constraints.  One organization, Cribs for Kids, has partners all over the United States.  Just pop in your zip code!

As mentioned, when dressing your crib, stick to a fitted sheet. Soft objects such as pillows and pillow-like toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, bumper pads and loose bedding, such as blankets and nonfitted sheets, can obstruct an infant’s nose and mouth. Believe it or not, swaddling does not reduce the risk of SIDS. There is a high risk of death if a swaddled infant is placed in or rolls to the prone (tummy down) position. According to the AAP, “infant sleep clothing, such as wearable blankets, [are] preferable to blankets and other coverings to keep the infant warm while reducing the chance of head covering or entrapment that could result from blanket use.”

 3. Avoid overheating.

The AAP provides, “infants should be dressed appropriately for the environment, with no greater than 1 layer more than an adult would wear to be comfortable in that environment.”  Signs of overheating include sweating or the infant’s chest feeling hot to touch.

4. Share a room, but not a bed.

The AAP recommends that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface designed for infants, ideally for the first year of life.  The AAP stated, “there is evidence that sleeping in the parents’ room but on a separate surface decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50%.” The safest place for an infant to sleep is on a separate sleep surface designed for infants close to the parents’ bed.  With my boys, I was a big fan of the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper.  They have a mini version if you are tight on space. I found this sleeper particularly useful while nursing and recovering from my c-sections.

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5. Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.

The AAP notes that studies have reported a protective effect of pacifiers on the incidence of SIDS.  The protective effect of the pacifier is observed even if the pacifier falls out of the infant’s mouth. Go figure!

6. Give your baby supervised, awake tummy time.

According to the AAP, “supervised, awake tummy time is recommended to facilitate development and to minimize development of positional plagiocephaly” (that flat spot on your baby’s head).  You can find really cute tummy time mats/toys on Amazon and at Toys R Us that make tummy time far less burdensome on your tiny humans.

7. Breastfeeding is recommended to reduce SIDS.

According to the AAP, breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of SIDS. The AAP recommends moms breastfeed exclusively or feed with expressed milk for at least 6 months.

8. Avoid smoke exposure, alcohol and illicit drug use during pregnancy and after birth.

There is an increased risk of SIDS with prenatal and postnatal exposure to smoking, alcohol or illicit drug use.

9. Get regular prenatal care.

There is a lower risk of SIDS for infants whose mothers obtain regular prenatal care.

 

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Kicking it Old School: Challenging Your Kids to Be Screen-Free

On October 21, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for media use. Here are few old school ways to help cope with reduced screen time while not sacrificing the “break” media provides.

On October 21, 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced new recommendations for media use. Here is the quick and dirty:

  • For children younger than 18 months, the AAP recommends avoiding use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, the AAP recommends limiting screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, the AAP recommends placing consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

In conjunction with HealthyChildren.org, the AAP also created a Family Media Use Plan Tool, that allows parents to come up with a healthy diet of media depending on their age.

While these recommendations are a highly-anticipated update to the stringent media use recommendations of the past, if you are anything like me, they are scary.  Sometimes plopping my kids in front of the television or electronic device provides a well-needed respite after a long day at work, or a chance to use the bathroom or take a shower without my kids constantly asking me what I’m doing or what I plan on making for dinner.  The thing is, although my husband and I set limits on screen use in our house, I always feel guilty watching my kids zone out in front of a screen instead of engaging in the world around them.  No matter how educational I tell myself the program is.  Here are few old school ways to help cope with reduced screen time while not sacrificing the “break” media provides:

1. Solitary Toys and Screen-less Electronics

Did you know they still sell Rubiks Cubes?  While its popularity was a little ahead of my time, I still remember my older brother losing hours trying to figure out that little cube.  A few years ago, my eldest received one as a gift and despite the inevitable frustration, he loved it.  Solitary toys like the Rubick’s Cube are often a great way to engage an active mind.  While my youngest isn’t quite as interested in solving the cube, he loves Magna Doodles and Etch-A-Sketch which also allow him to work independently and still engage his mind. Our kids also enjoy toys like Simon and Flash Pads which are electronic but screenless.  Both are puzzle games and boost memory skills.  We regularly pack these toys for long car rides or for appointments when waiting quietly is an expectation.  The funny thing is, they are so rare, they usually attract a hoard of kids around them who would rather play with the old school toys than their own iPads!

2. Coloring/Activity Books

The great thing about coloring and activity books is that you can really find them anywhere and to match any budget.  Before a long car ride, I load up on a few from Target, my local grocery store or chain pharmacy but you can load up at places like the Dollar Tree for even less. My kids really enjoy Highlights Hidden Pictures, Look and Find Books or Where’s Waldo which give them a chance to work towards a goal.  You can find more academic geared activity books at Barnes and Noble. B&N also has drawing books which are great alternatives to coloring books for older kids. Crosswords and Sudoko for Kids are also great if your kid is up for a challenge. I usually find those at my local grocery store in the magazine isle or check out line.

We also have a 4-drawer plastic storage cabinent in our kitchen, that I purchased for $15 at Target, that I try to keep fully stocked with crayons, markers and construction paper.  I’m a little ashamed of how many times my husband and I have said “go draw something” but you’d be surprised at how well it works.  They love drawing.  They even created a comic book together.  If you’re kids need a little more direction, give them an assignment (e.g., a picture of Grandma or a snowball fight).  I call a wall in our house the “Art Gallery” and regularly display their work to show my pride.

cori_middle_school_reading

3. Books and Journaling

A few summers ago, I read Baratunde Thurston’s book “How to Be Black.” While I enjoyed many aspects of the book, one take-away was his amazing mother’s commitment to encouraging his education outside of school.  She would take him on trips and give him independent reading and writing assignments.  Totally taking a cue from Baratunde (my kids will thank him one day), I regularly assign my kids reading and writing assignments.  This summer, my nine year old read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate and had to write weekly essays on themes and reactions to the book.  I made sure to listen to them on audio so I could engage with him about the books, but I also found awesome questions on google prepared by other teachers and parents (I believe Ivan also had discussion questions at the end of the book).  If I needed some “me” time or had to get something done, I would just ask him to go to his room or sit at the table and work on a prepared assignment.

With my six year old, it wasn’t quite as easy.  He is at the age where he still works better collaboratively so independent assignments tend to tire him out.  For him, I assigned short reading assignments (thanks, Google) or created mini-scenarios and asked him to write reactions to them.  For example, the assignment would ask him how he would help a friend who was being picked on by other members of his class or require him to create a list of things he would do to prepare for his new baby brother.  These short assignments were less taxing on him but still allowed him to work independently.

4. Scavenger Hunts

I work from home a great deal.  While I try to get the majority of my work done while my kids are sleeping or at school, sometimes they are wide awake and ready to be entertained.  When I know they are going to be at home and I know I may be distracted for a block of time, I coordinate a scavenger hunt throughout the house.  I hide toys and household items in safe places, compile a list of the items and give it to them to find.  When they were smaller, I confined them to one room but as they have gotten older, I spread things out throughout the house (leaving a few places – like Mom and Dad’s room – off limits).   If you’re like me, just don’t forget to make a mental note of where you hid things. I learned that lesson the hard way.

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.

Let’s Talk About Discipline

I am constantly questioning my discipling decisions. I want to raise strong men and in doing so, it is important to me they understand the consequences of poor decisions. Here are five things I have learned to ask myself when deciding whether I made the right choice.

I am constantly questioning my discipling decisions.  I want to raise strong men and in doing so, it is important to me they understand the consequences of poor decisions.  I want to get it right so I can prepare them to make better choices in the future. Here are five things I have learned to ask myself when deciding whether I made the right choice:

1. Was my decision made in love?

My father passed away this year and at his funeral I told a story about the last whooping he gave me.  It began after my sister dared me to stick my head in between the iron bars on a staircase in our childhood home and stupidly, I accepted.  To make a long story short, it involved Herculean strength from my father, Country Crock butter, screaming from my mother, lots of crying (mostly from me), and finally, a spanking.  

While I remember very little about the pain of the spanking,  I remember how scared everyone was around me, including my father.  Although my father could have chosen a different approach to disciplining me, the spanking was calculated.  He wanted me to understand the severity of my actions and never do it again.  He acted out of fear but he also acted out of love.  Sometimes we react emotionally to our children’s behavior.  That is okay.  As long as we take a moment to make sure they understand the action we are taking is also in love.  

2. Did I include my co-parent in my decision?

When my eldest son was younger, I would get upset with him for talking to his mother about “man” things.  I felt certain conversations were not appropriate for him to have with his mom, and I would tell him as much when we were in private.  My wife hated this because she wants our sons to feel like there is nothing they can not speak to her about.  By making it seem wrong to talk to their mother about certain subjects, I was limiting their relationship with their mom.

Everyone disagrees at some point while raising kids.  However, in most situations, it is safe to assume that both you and your co-parent have the best interests of your children at heart.  My wife understood I was doing what I thought was best.  However, we had to come to an agreement to ensure our boys grow into emotionally healthy young men.  Although it would be unrealistic to discuss every action you take with your spouse, it is paramount you check in regularly to make sure you stay on the same team.

3. Am I taking advantage of teachable moments?

I cringe when I attempt to resolve a frustrating moment with my boys by yelling, “Because I said so!”  That phrase doesn’t do anything to help my boys understand the reason why they should do the right thing.  My goal as a parent is to raise extraordinary men of good character.  I don’t help them get there if I am just asking for rote actions without purpose.  That would only last as long as I am in front of them.

In each mistake, there is an opportunity to learn.  Although discipline is important, be sure to take the time to explain to your children why they are being punished. Help them understand the mistake they made and why it is important to make a different choice next time.

4. Was the punishment just?

As father of three, I’d like to be fair.  However, I have learned that fairness isn’t always guaranteed.   As an example, when my children fight. My eldest always faces tougher consequences because as the oldest and largest, he has the potential to really hurt his younger sibling.  While my eldest may rail against the fact that I am being harsher with him, the reality is that the circumstances warrant it.

When I discipline my sons, I try to assess the circumstances and react accordingly.  Being just as a parent does not mean you have the exact same answer for every situation; it means you make the best choice based on the situation.

5. Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?

My children are incredibly inquisitive.  As a result, they are constantly challenging boundaries.  It is a gift and a curse. We want our sons to question the world around them.  At the same time, it would be much easier on my wife and I if they didn’t question everything.  I’ve been guilty of punishing my children out of frustration.  However, if I send my son to his room and when he returns, we are both questioning why I sent him, then that was probably not the right move.  

As of this writing, I have been a dad for a little over nine years.  I have made about 10,043 mistakes.  While I am proud of the job I do as dad, I have had moments where I could have been better.  I think its crucial to our growth as parents to constantly ask yourself, if faced with the same decision tomorrow, would I take the same action?

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About The Author

Rick McCray is a maRAMrried father of three amazing sons. He is also a proud graduate of Duke University where he holds a BA in History and African/African American History, and Howard University School of Law. He is also a regular commentator on the In The Black podcast.  Rick is passionate about our history and helping to educate our community concerning the great contributions of people of color to the world. You can find Rick on Twitter @RealRickMcCray.

Encouraging Lifelong Fitness in Kids

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. The activity should include aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening. As working parents, it is often difficult to find the time or energy to get your kids active. Here are a few tips on getting your children active.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.  The activity should include aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening.  As working parents, it is often difficult to find the time or energy  to get your kids active.  Here are a few tips on getting your children active:

1. Make it fun.

The best way to get your children active is to make it fun.  As a kid, I used to LOVE playing outside. I would spend hours riding my bike, climbing trees and playing tag with my neighborhood friends.  I didn’t call it exercise; I called it play, and I almost never got tired of it.  Nowadays, there are so many distractions that can keep our children from developing the joy of active play.  It’s easier to plop your kids in front of the television or put an iPad in their hands than to worry about their safety outdoors.  What I have learned from my own children, however, is that they still have that innate desire to play.  Even if they don’t say so, I can tell by how often I have to stop them from running through the house and jumping on their beds.

Where possible, allow your children the opportunity to get outside.  Invest in scooters, bikes and skates – just don’t forget a helmet! If your child isn’t interested in toys with wheels, go exploring through your neighborhood allowing your children to get moving with a purpose.  My youngest loves to search for acorns.  He also loves it when we take walks through our local park and I let him lead the way.  If you have a child with a competitive spirit and you’re up to it, challenge him/her to a short foot race. I regularly race my kids to the car in a safe parking lot or up a short flight of stairs.  If you’re like me, you’ll lose, but at least it will get their heart rate up and encourage that love of active play that they will carry into adulthood.

2. Enroll in active extracurricular activities.

Since my boys were three, they have been enrolled in martial arts.  While we initially chose  karate for the discipline and self-defense, we quickly learned about the endurance and strength it takes to practice the art.  Each lesson starts with a work out that includes obstacle courses, running, push-ups, jumping jacks and squats.  By practicing martial arts, my children are engaging in over an hour of aerobic exercise and strength training each week.

As your children get older, the world of athletic extracurriculars will expand.  Whether it’s basketball, lacrosse, football, dance or karate, extracurricular activities allow your children a fun and productive way to get moving! Boys and Girls Clubs and other community centers make extracurricular activities affordable for any budget.  They also enable you to take a break while your children’s instructors do the hard work!

3. Walk when possible.

As a former city kid, I always had opportunities to walk.  So much so that I dreamed of the day that I would be able to drive.  I started taking public transportation alone when I was ten and that was pretty much my primary mode of transportation until I was 18.  Now, as a resident of the suburbs, it isn’t always as easy to stay active.  I can drive pretty much everywhere and the longest walks I get are across a big parking lot.  I find it increasingly important to find opportunities to walk when I am able.

Whether its parking a little farther away from the grocery store or waking up early to allow yourself the time to walk your kids to school in the morning, you can find a way to squeeze in that extra exercise for you and your child.  I knew a mom who lived far away from our elementary school but would park a few blocks away just to get a walk in with her daughter each morning.  She was always sweating when she arrived but her and her daughter looked energized and ready to start the day.  If walking your kids to or from school isn’t an option, you can encourage your child to get in extra steps by avoiding short cuts.  Take the long way to the produce section of Target or park on the opposite end of the mall when taking a trip to Macy’s.  Even if you have a tendency to rush, allowing yourself the extra time to take your time will have lasting effects on the health of your children.

4. Don’t use bad weather as an excuse.

I have been guilty of this one myself.  If it’s raining, cold or too hot, I am tempted to take an ‘L’ on the day.  However, just because you are stuck indoors doesn’t mean you can’t get active.  With the surge of indoor play areas like Pump it Up, Sky Zone and Monkey Joe’s, kids have the option to jump and play for hours in the safety of the indoors.  In addition, certain dancing and sports video games allow children the opportunity to get active while staring at a screen.  If indoor play areas and interactive video games aren’t in your budget, you can also get your children active at home.

I asked Certified Fitness Professional Troy Brown of Tru2Fitness, LLC for advice on getting your children active indoors.  Troy recommends encouraging your children to do push-ups and squats to work their upper and lower body.  If space permits, he also recommends jump ropes for aerobic exercise and resistance bands to build strength.  Troy also notes that everyday household items can be used as weights for more strength training.  A 16oz bottle of water is 1lb and a 24oz bottle is 1.5lbs. With some creativity, you can design a quick workout plan that can get you and your kids active even on a rainy day! You can follow Troy on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest @tru2fitness for more great tips on how to get active!

5. Lead by example.

“Adulting” is hard.  After a long day of work, I usually want to put my feet up, bury my nose in a good book and check out.  Likewise, some weekends, I would be perfectly content to just curl up in my bed and binge watch mindless television.  The thing is, my kids are always watching.  If I want to set a good example for them, I have to practice what I preach about healthy habits, including exercise.  For Mother’s Day 2014, I bought myself a brand new bicycle. What started off as a few circles around the block, turned into a lifestyle for me.  I grew to adore cycling.  It wasn’t long before I started taking my kids with me on my bike rides through local parks and our neighborhood. They absolutely loved it!

During the off season, I joined our local gym to stay in shape and made sure it had a kids’ space designed to keep them active while I work out.  The space has a jungle gym and trampolines.  They love it so much they ask me to go to the gym.  This helps hold me accountable because my kids notice when we haven’t been in awhile.  Family friendly gyms like the YMCA and Lifetime Fitness offer opportunities to get active with your kids. My husband regularly takes our boys to the Y for Open Gym to run around and shoot hoops. For them, it just feels like play but they all come home sweaty with calories burned.

 

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About The Author

Faye McCray is anMcCray_AuthorPhoto (1) attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For HarrietMadame NoireBlack Girl NerdsBlack and Married with Kids, and other popular publications.  Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon.  Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.