Sunday, November 26, 2006

10 is the New 15 As Kids Grow Up Faster

Zach Plante is close with his parents — he plays baseball with them and, on weekends, helps with work in the small vineyard they keep at their northern California home. Lately, though, his parents have begun to notice subtle changes in their son. Among other things, he's announced that he wants to grow his hair longer — and sometimes greets his father with "Yo, Dad!"

"Little comments will come out of his mouth that have a bit of that teen swagger," says Tom Plante, Zach's dad.

Thing is, Zach isn't a teen. He's 10 years old — one part, a fun-loving fifth-grader who likes to watch the Animal Planet network and play with his dog and pet gecko, the other a soon-to-be middle schooler who wants an iPod.

In some ways, it's simply part of a kid's natural journey toward independence. But child development experts say that physical and behavioral changes that would have been typical of teenagers decades ago are now common among "tweens" — kids ages 8 to 12.

Some of them are going on "dates" and talking on their own cell phones. They listen to sexually charged pop music, play mature-rated video games and spend time gossiping on MySpace. And more girls are wearing makeup and clothing that some consider beyond their years.

Zach is starting to notice it in his friends, too, especially the way they treat their parents.

"A lot of kids can sometimes be annoyed by their parents," he says. "If I'm playing with them at one of their houses, then they kind of ignore their parents. If their parents do them a favor, they might just say, 'OK,' but not notice that much."

The shift that's turning tweens into the new teens is complex — and worrisome to parents and some professionals who deal with children. They wonder if kids are equipped to handle the thorny issues that come with the adolescent world.

"I'm sure this isn't the first time in history people have been talking about it. But I definitely feel like these kids are growing up faster — and I'm not sure it's always a good thing," says Dr. Liz Alderman, an adolescent medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. She's been in practice for 16 years and has noticed a gradual but undeniable change in attitude in that time.

She and others who study and treat children say the reasons it's happening are both physical and social.

Several published studies have found, for instance, that some tweens' bodies are developing faster, with more girls starting m*nstr*ation in elementary school — a result doctors often attribute to improved nutrition and, in some cases, obesity.

While boys are still being studied, the findings about girls have caused some endocrinologists to lower the limits of early br**st development to first or second grade.

Along with that, even young children are having to deal with peer pressure and other societal influences.

Beyond the drugs, s*x and rock'n'roll their boomer and Gen-X parents navigated, technology and consumerism have accelerated the pace of life, giving kids easy access to influences that may or may not be parent-approved. S*x, violence and foul language that used to be relegated to late-night viewing and R-rated movies are expected fixtures in everyday TV.

And many tweens model what they see, including common plot lines "where the kids are really running the house, not the dysfunctional parents," says Plante, who in addition to being Zach's dad is a psychology professor at Santa Clara University in California's Silicon Valley.

He sees the results of all these factors in his private practice frequently.
Kids look and dress older. They struggle to process the images of s*x, violence and adult humor, even when their parents try to shield them. And sometimes, he says, parents end up encouraging the behavior by failing to set limits — in essence, handing over power to their kids.

"You get this kind of perfect storm of variables that would suggest that, yes, kids are becoming teens at an earlier age," Plante says.

Natalie Wickstrom, a 10-year-old in suburban Atlanta, says girls her age sometimes wear clothes that are "a little inappropriate." She describes how one friend tied her shirt to show her stomach and "liked to dance, like in rap videos."

Girls in her class also talk about not only liking but "having relationships" with boys.

"There's no rules, no limitations to what they can do," says Natalie, who's also in fifth grade.

Her mom, Billie Wickstrom, says the teen-like behavior of her daughter's peers, influences her daughter — as does parents' willingness to allow it.

"Some parents make it hard on those of us who are trying to hold their kids back a bit," she says.

So far, she and her husband have resisted letting Natalie get her ears pierced, something many of her friends have already done. Now Natalie is lobbying hard for a cell phone and also wants an iPod.

"Sometimes I just think that maybe, if I got one of these things, I could talk about what they talk about," Natalie says of the kids she deems the "popular ones."

It's an age-old issue. Kids want to fit in — and younger kids want to be like older kids.

But as the limits have been pushed, experts say the stakes also have gotten higher—with parents and tweens having to deal with very grown-up issues such as pregnancy and s*xually transmitted diseases. Earlier this year, that point hit home when federal officials recommended a vaccine for HPV— a common STD that can lead to cervical cancer—for girls as young as age 9.

"Physically, they're adults, but cognitively, they're children," says Alderman, the physician in New York. She's found that cultural influences have affected her own children, too.

Earlier this year, her 12-year-old son heard the popular pop song "Promiscuous" and asked her what the word meant.

"I mean, it's OK to have that conversation, but when it's constantly playing, it normalizes it," Alderman says.

She observes that parents sometimes gravitate to one of two ill-advised extremes — they're either horrified by such questions from their kids, or they "revel" in the teen-like behavior. As an example of the latter reaction, she notes how some parents think it's cute when their daughters wear pants or shorts with words such as "hottie" on the back.

"Believe me, I'm a very open-minded person. But it promotes a certain way of thinking about girls and their back sides," Alderman says. "A 12-year-old isn't s*xy."

With grown-up influences coming from so many different angles — from peers to the Internet and TV — some parents say the trend is difficult to combat.

Claire Unterseher, a mother in Chicago, says she only allows her children — including an 8-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter — to watch public television.

And yet, already, they're coming home from school asking to download songs she considers more appropriate for teens.

"I think I bought my first Abba single when I was 13 or 14 — and here my 7-year-old wants me to download Kelly Clarkson all the time," Unterseher says. "Why are they so interested in all this adult stuff?"

Part of it, experts say, is marketing — and tweens are much-sought-after consumers.

Advertisers have found that, increasingly, children and teens are influencing the buying decisions in their households — from cars to computers and family vacations. According to 360 Youth, an umbrella organization for various youth marketing groups, tweens represent $51 billion worth of annual spending power on their own from gifts and allowance, and also have a great deal of say about the additional $170 billion spent directly on them each year.

Toymakers also have picked up on tweens' interest in older themes and developed toy lines to meet the demand — from dolls known as Bratz to video games with more violence.

Diane Levin, a professor of human development and early childhood at Wheelock College in Boston, is among those who've taken aim at toys deemed too violent or s*xual.

"We've crossed a line. We can no longer avoid it — it's just so in our face," says Levin, author of the upcoming book "So S*xy So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood."

Earlier this year, she and others from a group known as the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood successfully pressured toy maker Hasbro to drop plans for a line of children's toys modeled after the singing group P*ssycat Dolls.

Other parents, including Clyde Otis III, are trying their own methods.

An attorney with a background in music publishing, Otis has compiled a line of CDs called "Music Talking" that includes classic oldies he believes are interesting to tweens, but age appropriate. Artists include Aretha Franklin, Rose Royce and Blessid Union of Souls.

"I don't want to be like a prude. But some of the stuff out there, it's just out of control sometimes," says Otis, a father of three from Maplewood, N.J.

"Beyonce singing about bouncing her b*tt all over the place is a little much — at least for an 8-year-old."

In the end, many parents find it tricky to strike a balance between setting limits and allowing their kids to be more independent.

Plante, in California, discovered that a few weeks ago when he and Zach rode bikes to school, as the two of them have done since the first day of kindergarten. "You know, dad, you don't have to bike to school with me anymore," Zach said. Plante was taken aback. "It was a poignant moment," he says. "There was this notion of being embarrassed of having parents be too close." Since then, Zach has been riding by himself — a big step in his dad's mind. "Of course, it is hard to let go, but we all need to do so in various ways over time," Plante says, "as long as we do it thoughtfully and lovingly, I suppose."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Our Latest Adventure

As I've mentioned before, I am over a 'Keepers At Home' group at our church and this past Saturday we took them to Pigeon Forge, TN. to a place called 'Wonder Works'. What a neat place it is! If you ever have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it. Oh, and be sure to stay for the 'Hoot and Holler' dinner show too!

Here are a few pictures from our trip.

This was our group of girls. We also had four siblings (brothers), 9 moms, and 2 dads! Notice that the building is UPSIDE DOWN!

Girls @ WonderWorks


Below are some pictures I took of some really cool art displays they had...

WonderWorks Art #2

WonderWorks Art #3

The two pictures above were displays hangning on the wall. Notice how they are in 3-D! Makes me want to jump right in!

WonderWorks Art #1

I just thought this one was really cool.


Notice in the next three pictues how the mess of twisted metal actually forms the shadows on the wall! Way too cool!

WonderWorks Art #4

WonderWorks Art #5

WonderWorks Art #6

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Secret Santa Must Give Up Hobby of Giving Cash to Pay for His Chemotherapy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For 26 years, a man known only as Secret Santa has roamed the streets every December quietly giving people money. He started with $5 and $10 bills. As his fortune grew, so did the gifts. In recent years, Secret Santa has been handing out $100 bills, sometimes two or three at a time, to people in thrift stores, diners and parking lots. So far, he's anonymously given out about $1.3 million. It's been a long-held holiday mystery: Who is Secret Santa?

But now, weak from chemotherapy and armed with a desire to pass on his belief in random kindness, Secret Santa has decided it's time to reveal his identity.

He is Larry Stewart, a 58-year-old businessman from the Kansas City suburb of Lee's Summit, Mo., who made his millions in cable television and long-distance telephone service.

His holiday giving started in December 1979 when he was nursing his wounds at a drive-in restaurant after getting fired. It was the second year in a row he had been fired the week before Christmas.

"It was cold and this car hop didn't have on a very big jacket, and I thought to myself, `I think I got it bad. She's out there in this cold making nickels and dimes,'" he said.

He gave her $20 and told her to keep the change.

"And suddenly I saw her lips begin to tremble and tears begin to flow down her cheeks. She said, 'Sir, you have no idea what this means to me.'"

Stewart went to the bank that day and took out $200, then drove around looking for people who could use a lift. That was his "Christmas present to himself." He's hit the streets each December since.

While Stewart has also given money to other community causes in Kansas City and his hometown of Bruce, Miss., he offers the simple gifts of cash because it's something people don't have to "beg for, get in line for, or apply for."

That was a feeling he came to know in the early '70s when he was living out of his yellow Datsun 510. Hungry and tired, Stewart mustered the nerve to approach a woman at a church and ask for help.

The woman told him the person who could help was gone for the day, and Stewart would have to come back the next day.

"As I turned around, I knew I would never do that again," Stewart said.

Over the years, Stewart's giving as Secret Santa grew. He started a Web site. He allowed the news media to tag along, mostly because he wanted to hear about the people who received the money. Reporters had to agree to guard his identity and not name his company, which he still does not want revealed.

His entourage grew over the years, and he began traveling with special elves. People like the late Negro Leauges icon Buck O'Neil, who handed out hugs while Stewart doled out $100s. NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus will join Stewart this year in Chicago when Stewart hands out $100s in honor of O'Neil, the first African-American coach in the Major Leagues.

They'll give out $100,000 between Chicago and Kansas City. Four Secret Santas who Stewart "trained" will hand out an additional $65,000.

Doctors told Stewart in April that he had cancer of the esophagus and it had spread to his liver. He has been lucky, he says, to get into a clinical trial at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. But the aggressive chemotherapy has stripped away his appetite and energy. He's lost about 100 pounds, but has held onto his white hair.

The treatment costs more than $16,000 a month, not including the cost of traveling to Houston every two weeks and staying there for five or six days. He now has two months off, but returns to treatment in February.

His insurance company won't cover the cost of the treatment, which has left him concerned about his finances and his family.

Now, his mission is bigger than handing out $100 bills. Stewart wants to speak to community groups about his devotion to kindness and to inspire others to donate their time and money.

"That's what we're here for," Stewart says, "to help other people out."

(story courtesy of

The Best Fireworks Show Ever!

I wanted to blog about this back in April, but I couldn't figure out how to get the video on here until now. I hope this will work. Let me know if you can or can not see this.

This is from this past April, our 11th anniversary to be exact! We took the kids to see 'Thunder Over Louisville', which is part of the kick-off festivities for the Kentucky Derby every year. There were over 800,000 people there... with only port-a-potties for ALL to use! I won't even tell you how unbelievably disgusting THAT was! Let's just say that the next time we go, we'll hopefully be getting a hotel room right on the Ohio River where we can watch the fireworks from our room so we can use our OWN facilities when needed!

But THIS is the most awesome part, the fireworks finale. They were playing every patriotic song you can imagine while all of this was going on. It was so awesome!

Be sure to watch the entire thing (it's only a little over a minute long). It was so loud that we could feel the pounding from the fireworks in our chests! No wonder the song says, 'With bombs bursing in air'!

*You'll need RealPlayer to view the fireworks finale. If you don't have it already, you can download it for free here.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Ok, I Have a Real Problem

Hello, my name is Christy and I am addicted to junk food!

I don't know how to overcome this problem, but it's a big one. Do you know that instead of eating eggs and toast for breakfast, like the rest of my family did this morning, that I would rather eat 2 (or 3 ) Little Debbie snack cakes and a glass of Minute Maid juice (after everyone is out of the kitchen so they can't see me of course)? ACK! Something is definitely wrong here. SOMETHING has got to be done. I am supposed to be LOSING weight, not putting it back ON!!!

I still have another 65 pounds to go. I did only have 55 to go just a few weeks ago! See what turning 31 and having so many babies and a tubal does to your body? 10 pounds in just a few weeks?! I'm most definitely sure eating 17 boxes of Little Debbies a week and avoiding exercising like the plauge had nothing to do with it!

UGH! Can anyone commiserate with me? Can anyone help me? Can anyone come and do my grocery shopping and cooking for me?!

I KNOW what to do and I KNOW how very much better I feel when I'm eating right and exercising and actually fitting into my clothes. Not to mention all the things I've been reading lately about how healthy eating and exercise can help lower your risk of cancer, among all those other dreadful diseases none of us want to end up with.

I need a good swift kick in the rear. Anyone care to volunteer?

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Went and Got Myself Hit, Oh Yes I Did

Don't worry, it wasn't bad at all, but, I'd really prefer to NOT have a trailer hitch hole punched right through my front bumper. Perfect square. Pop! Right through it. How did I manage this you ask? Well, actually, I was sitting perfectly still. There were two cars ahead of me and we were all waiting to turn onto a highway when for whatever knucle-headed reason the first guy decides to start backing up, which made the lady in front of me start backing up. You see where this is going, don't you?

I saw it happening, but just didn't have time to react other than to lay on my horn, which did no good.

Ah well, such is life, right? You know, I've been doing some pondering about my less-than-stellar days lately and I have to confess, in the grand scheme of things I truly THANK my Lord and Savior for every bit of it. Shocked? Well, let me tell you why I'm thankful for an overflowing potty and a truck backing into me...

We have a 32-year-old friend who, without a miracle healing, will soon leave behind her two young children, husband, parents, siblings, and friends all because of a trip to her doctor back in June for an upset stomach that turned out to be Stage IV melanoma cancer.

Another homeschooling mother from the Five In A Row boards recently stopped all treatments for the breast cancer she was diagnosed with back in the spring. She also has two children.

Remember our friends who had the triplett boys? Their paternal grandmother, who is not even out of her 50's yet, was just dianosed with lymphoma and the doctors are unable to operate.

Because there once was a man named Job who was having a really, REALLY bad day. Within the span of one day he lost all his oxen and donkeys to the Sabeans who also, by the way, killed all but one of his servants who were with these animals.

WHILE HE (the one lone servant) WAS STILL SPEAKING, another messenger came to Job and told him that fire fell from the sky and burned up all his sheep and THOSE servants, except for this one messenger!

WHILE HE WAS STILL SPEAKING, another messenger came and told him that the Chaldeans came and carried off all Job's camels and killed all of THOSE servants, except, of course, for this one lucky messenger.

WHILE HE WAS STILL SPEAKING, of all things, here comes another messenger telling Job that all of his sons and daughters were killed when a freak wind came while they were all in the same house and knocked down all the walls on top of them!

All of this... losing all of his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, servants, and his children... all in ONE DAY! And do you know what Job said?

"The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised". In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Whoa. I love my Lord and my Savior with all my heart and I know that He alone holds our future in His hands. But there have been a couple of times where I have, GASP, felt mad at God and even gave up believing He would actually come to my rescue or help me out with something that only He could fix.

But when I step back and look at the big picture, you know what? I have no reason at all to complain. God has been very, very good to me and I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that if Job can survive all that he did that I can make it past a little water. If Jesus can be beaten and hung on a cross just for ME, then a little hole in my bumper is the least of my worries.

What if it were *me* who were diagnosed with inoperable cancer tomorrow? What legacy would I leave my children? What would my husband always remember about me? Now THAT is something worth devoting some of my time and energy to.