A Statistic Waiting to Happen

With the sun shining on our backs, my children and I were trying to grab a little bit of shade in the picnic table area of Lake Fairfax’s Water Mine as JavaDad stood in line to grab us an early dinner.  We were trying to squeeze in a little bit of summer fun — after a summer that felt swallowed up far too much by my two surgeries and recoveries.

At a table immediately across from us was a young family with a boy who looked to be about 3, and an 8-month-old baby who was so sleepy she kept nodding off, and yet apparently so hungry she kept waking up, trying to gnaw on a French fry she clutched tightly in her fingers.  My children and I were delighting in watching this scenario and I kept looking off to my right to monitor my husband’s progress in obtaining our food, so it took me a while to register that the heaving sobs coming from the left were not from a baby, but a boy.

A young boy, who I started to realize, appeared to be alone.

Although a sign clearly stated the area was for “Temporary dining only!  30 minutes maximum!” there were coolers and towels and other items abandoned by people enjoying the slides and lazy river of The Water Mine.  Another family had been eating at a table off to my left and I had thought the cries had been associated with them.  But now, there he sat, a boy bigger than JavaGirl and smaller than JavaBoy, crying his heart out.

And no parent to be seen.

No one was in line at the food area behind my husband.  No one else was hovering near the picnic area.  No one seemed to care about this boy crying.

Having exchanged friendly banter with the mother of Sleeping Baby, I asked, “Have you seen any adults around this boy?”  She realized she hadn’t either and she went over to talk to him as did I.  (Java Kids were mere feet away, in clear view.)

It was a little  hard to understand him, between sobs and a bit of a language difference, but the garbled tale was that he was five years old and he was crying because somehow his older brother had caused him to lose one of his swim shoes.  This caused a big problem and it “embarrassed” him (his words).  For some reason the entire family was swimming without him now.  It was unclear whether he was saying his father “kid” (kidded) him or “hit” him during the incident.  We asked if he was on time out and he said no.  But at this point, he had been sobbing his little  heart out sitting on his own for 20 minutes.  His father and brother were apparently riding the lazy river, a circuit that allowed only an obstructed view of the picnic area about every six minutes.  He said his mother was “with the baby.”  Apparently that was all the supervision his family felt a five-year-old needed in a crowded water park that was at or near its capacity of 760 patrons.

It just so happened that father of Sleeping Baby had seen a blue water shoe when they were getting out of the pool, and he ran over to find it — it was indeed Crying Boy’s.  Wow, I can tell how hard his family looked — you know, while gleefully tubing past on the lazy river.

At this point JavaDad came to our table with our food so he watched our kids while I took Crying Boy towards the lifeguard station with the idea of having them call out for his family on the loudspeaker.  This also happened to take us mere feet from the exit — imagine if I had been a pedophile instead of a concerned citizen.   Just before I reached the guard station, his father happened to get out of the pool and approached us.  I asked the boy, “Is this your father?” and he said yes and happily reached towards him.

Not once did the man ask me who I was or why I had his son by the hand.  Nor where the missing shoe had reappeared from.  No, he simply took his son by the hand and walked off.  I was frankly too stunned to speak, though I would’ve like to have given him a peace of my mind.

I later asked my husband, “If you ever saw a stranger holding one of our kids’ hands in public, how would you react?”  I’m not even certain his answer is publishable.  The fact is, he would first freak out, and then ask questions.  Crying Boy’s father did neither.

All night tonight I have thought about how easy it would have been for me to have walked out the door with that child if I had wanted to.  He talked to me.  He trusted me.  He held my hand.  Somewhere, out there, I hope his family is as restless about this as I am.  Playing the “what if” game.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, every 40 seconds, a child goes missing.  He so easily could’ve been one of those statistics.

First Wheels

As a mom, there are some things that come naturally, and there are some things that definitely do NOT.  Teaching my kids to ride a bike is one of those things.  I wasn’t even aware I was supposed to be teaching my kids to ride a bike yet.  For whatever reason, my parents didn’t teach me to ride a bike at the “normal” age — I didn’t learn until 5th grade.  Now, this may have something to do with the fact that my mother is a bit legendary in her klutziness (which I inherited) and I have a searing childhood memory (prior to my sister’s birth, so I had to have been a toddler) of me sitting in a seat on the back of her bicycleand her running us along a chain link fence and me having a very painful, very bloody knee and screaming and crying inconsolably on a sidewalk somewhere.  That could have something to do with it.  A little.

No, I stuck to my tricycle and my Big Wheel and I think I was quite happy in my non-bicycle-riding status until two things happened.  1) There was going to be a bicycle rodeo in the fifth grade. 2)  All my girlfriends were starting to ride their bikes to Woolworth’s to buy lip gloss.  Neither of these activities were things I wanted to be left out of.  At this point my parents were separated but I believe my mother decided my father had the responsibility of teaching me to ride my bike.  This was probably wise on her part because my memories of it are awful.  It seemed to be a series of collisions and bruises and scabby knees and moments where I was certain I would die.  The only positive part was my pink Barbie bike with a banana seat, pink and white streamers, and a basket.  Which I am sure would mortify any self-respecting fifth grader these days.  I don’t think they even make banana seats any more, do they?

The point of this bit of self-revelation is to show you just how ill-prepared and how emotionally scarred I was in this area when it came to the chapter of parenting called Teaching Your Children to Ride a Bike.  JavaDadwas no help.  According to him, he just woke up learning how to ride a bike at some age.  Big help there, buddy.  So a couple of years ago when my son’s preschool teacher’s end-of-the-year scrapbook included pictures of four-year-olds riding bikes, I came home and said, “Oh my goodness honey, we’re supposed to be teaching him to ride a bike!!”  And JavaDad rolled his eyes at me as if I said, “Oh my goodness honey, we need to do the chicken dance!”

Because I somehow became Her Royal Highness, Purchaser of All Things, I had to select the bike, though my husband was probably much more qualified.  Since it was consignment season, I thought how easy, I’d just pick a bike that looked high enough at the next sale, and get it at a good price.  I had no idea there were different wheel sizes for goodness’ sakes!  I was looking for a blue, green, or red bike about yay high.  Yay high being a technical term, of course.  Some wheels were gigantic, some were itty bitty.  Some bikes had training wheels, some did not.  I finally settled on a blue bike that had little wheels but I hoped not too little, and training wheels.

JavaBoy was ecstatic.  He couldn’t ditch the trike fast enough.  Pedaling down the cul-de-sac was great, pedaling back up (hill) not so much.  But he was determined.  Sadly, it was tough for me to keep up with him (I was so worried about the multiple driveways) and also entertain his sister, two years younger, who didn’t want to be pushed along in the Kettler tricycle, didn’t want to pedal a tricycle, and didn’t want to just run back and forth behind him (neither did I, really, but that’s beside the point).  So his bicycle lessons were few and far between.  The logistics were too tough and weekends always seemed so busy or the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

Flash forward to today.  On a post-birthday visit to Toys R Us, we took JavaGirl to redeem a gift card, when we wandered by the bike section.  “Let me just try something out,” I said to JavaDad.  ‘I just wonder, maybe she’d do better on a bike instead of a tricycle…”  And so we tried her on a few bicycles and once we found one the right size, although she struggled, indeed, she pedaled it with more enthusiasm than she did the tricycle at home.  JavaBoy, meanwhile, whipped around us in loops on a larger bike.  We finished what we came to the store for, but at home, we reassessed the bike situation.

A neighbor had given us his son’s bike — a larger two-wheeler, which we had been hanging onto for when JavaBoy was ready.  JavaBoy is not yet ready to have the training wheels off, but was definitely ready for a larger bike.  Would our daughter go for his smaller, blue bike?

At first she was a little afraid, but she actually pedaled it better than in the store.  Better than JavaBoy did when he first got the bike, even though he had been the champion trike pedaler.  She could do it, but she almost seemed reluctant to.  I knew just what would make her heart sing — a bell.  Since I had to go get training wheels for the other bike, I had already made up my mind to get her one when she sidled up to me and asked, “Mommy, can I have a ding-ding bell?”  I leaned down and kissed her and told her I would go to the store right now to get her one.

JavaBoy accompanied me to the store.  We picked out his training wheels, a bell for his sister, two cup holders (as I have grand visions of all of us biking to the library and the pool), and then a bell that he could earn as a treat for “when (I) learn to ride without training wheels.”  He proudly carried his bell to the register.

Once everything was assembled at home, JavaGirl announced they were having a bike race and took off, not even waiting for her brother.  Ding-ding-ding. You could hear it going up and down the cul-de-sac as her brown hair flew under her pink helmet.  Sure, she still gets stuck, but she’s got her brother to help her out.  Two kids, learning to ride their bikes together.  No bloody knees, no terrifying memories.  Maybe it’s not quite “on time” but they’ll get there and they’ll have fun doing it.  Once they have the hang of it, I’m going to get myself a bike again.  Probably not pink.  And I guess it won’t have a banana seat.  I suppose I’m too old for streamers now.  But  I’m definitely getting a bell!

Get Your MOO On and SLURP Up Some Freebies

Have a  little fun this weekend:

July 10

  • Get a Free Meal!  It’s Cow Appreciation Day at Chik-Fil-A  http://www.cowappreciationday.com/  Dress as a cow and get a free combo meal!  No costume, no problem, they have a downloadable starter kit for you!  Be sure to read the FAQs for the full rules.
  • July 11

  • Free Slurpee day at participating 7-11 stores as that is the actual day the chain was “born.”  The cups may be mini cups or 7.11 oz cups.  Enjoy!
  • Don’t forget to check the Summer Fun Guide for more fun things to do.

    Local Reading Program Really Pays Off

    Ice cream, admission to The Water Mine, a game of bowling, a round of miniature golf — these are just a few of the things this year’s Fairfax County Public Library Summer Reading Program participants can get for free by completing the targets set for their age group.

    The program runs through September 5 and encourages kids preschool through sixth grade to read 15 books.  (Younger children may have the books read TO them.)  Kids in grades 7-12 read eight books.  In my experience, they allow children even younger than preschool participate, because the ultimate goal is to develop the habit of reading or being read to — so no need to leave out that younger sibling.  The young readers record the books read in a log, which you can pick up at the library or use one of the forms from the Summer Readingweb site.  We prefer going to the library, first of all, because we love going to the library, but also because it makes it a big, festive occasion.  The kids walk up to the SRP booth, staffed by student volunteers, and give their name and receive their very own reading log.  The printed reading logs include two bonus coupons, one for a free student ticket to a Nationals game on Sunday, August 9, and one for a free DC United ticket with purchase of one Adult ticket for a summer game at RFK (must be purchased in advance of the game).

    JavaBoy and JavaGirl have enjoyed selecting their books for the reading program, particularly since they knew that once they completed their 15 books, they would get their coupon books, which provided lots of fun adventures last summer.  We immediately selected some books and started reading right there at the library and then checked some others to take home.  JavaBoy (5) is learning to read, so we’ve devoted part of the list to books he could read to us, and then we read some books to him.  JavaGirl is 3, so we read books to her, but after we read them, she tried to “read” them back to us.  JavaBoy also wrote most of the book titles on the log himself, so it became an exercise in writing as well — good practice for Kindergarten.

    Today we picked up our coupon books — which JavaBoy has been quite anxious to do.  Memories of going to water parks and getting ice cream cones and free watercolor kits were dancing in his head.  This is what we found in this year’s coupon book (with many thanks to all the sponsors):

    (Note:  in MOST cases, the coupon is for the reader, i.e. someone 18 or under.  Also, most of the coupons are specific to certain stores/locations, I’m not typing out all the fine print, just giving you an overview.)

    • $2 off a $5 purchase at specified library book sales from The Friends of the Library
    • Free game of bowling – AMF
    • 1 free adventure – Shadowland Laser Adventures
    • Buy one admission, get one free for the reader – The Water Mine
    • Free soft serve cone – McDonald’s
    • 20% off one item – Borders
    • $3 off half day row boat rental at Riverbend Park
    • 1 free child’s pass to Colvin Run Mill
    • 1 family pass to any George Mason University Varsity Club football game – GMU Varisty Club Football Team
    • 1 free 5×7″ color enlargement – MotoPhoto
    • $4 gift certificate with $6 min. purchase – Aladdin’s Lamp
    • 1 free admission to any RECenter in Fairfax County – Fairfax County Park Authority
    • 1 free after 3pm admission with one paid after 3pm admission M-F – Splash Down Waterpark
    • Free kids ice cream- Cold Stone Creamery
    • Free Mini Seed Starting Kit -Green Spring Gardens/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • Free gift -Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • $2 off admission – Mount Vernon
    • 1 free session at Wakefield skate park – Wakefield Skate Park
    • 1 Free ticket to a men’s basketball game and a women’s basketball game at George Mason University – George Mason University Athletic Department
    • 1 Free round of miniature golf (x2) – Lake Accotink/Lucky Duck Miniature Golf, Oak Marr, Burke Lake Park, Jefferson Falls, Fairfax County Park Authority
    • 1 complimentary child’s meal – Old Country Buffet
    • 1 free doughnut – Krispy Kreme
    • $2.50 gift certificate – Clay Cafe Studios
    • Free gift -Huntley Meadows Park/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • Free Giant Ready to Eat Cereal 6 oz-20z pkg – Giant
    • Free Back Pack – sponsored by The Rappaport Companies
    • 40% off one item – Michael’s
    • Free gift -Ellanor C. Lawrence Park/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • Free laminated animal track ID card – Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • Buy a large one-topping pizza gt a medium one-topping pizza free – Domino’s
    • Pay $24.99 +tax any day through Nov. 1, 2009 – Six Flags America
    • Free ticket to a men’s soccer game and a free ticket to a women’s soccer game any match in Sept. – George Mason Athletic Department
    • Free child’s admission to Sully Historic Site – Fairfax County Park Authority
    • Half-price tractor wagon ride at Frying Pan Farm Park -/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • One small cheese pizza free with purchase of a regular size Coke – Jerry’s Subs
    • Free brownie – Chik-fil-A
    • 1 free token for range balls with the cash purchase of one token – Burke Lake Golf Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
    • Clean Fairfax and all the regional libraries are listed as sponsors.

    So just in case my Summer Fun Guidedidn’t provide you with enough ideas for keeping busy this summer, running around and redeeming those coupons should keep you hopping!  Every time you redeem one, you get the added benefit of linking the reward to reading, “Gosh, we’re having so much fun at this water park today because YOU read all those great books!”  I really love this program because it gets the kids excited to go to the library (I really build it up beforehand — we have a countdown until the program starts), they feel a lot of pride in walking up and signing themselves up, and they look forward to selecting the books that they want to “count” towards their list.  They don’t want any old book, they really want special books for some reason.  Then we have so much fun redeeming the coupons and if I’m having a particularly blah Mommy day, I flip through the coupon book to see if there’s a mini-adventure in there we can embark upon — even just going out for a brownie at Chik-fil-A can become an adventure if you choose to make it one. 

     The reading doesn’t stop after they have picked up their coupon books — we pick up the “keep on reading” logs from the library and keep recording what we’ve read.  Even today, as soon as the kids got their coupon books, they begged to go look at more books and JavaGirl brought me at least four to read to her and JavaBoy used his own library card to check out another book on his own.  That’s the ultimate payoff!

    Fruits of Summer

    fruits2I have been enjoying both the fruits of the farm we belong to and the great loss-leaders some grocery stores have been running (4 pints of blueberries for $5 – yum!).  Every time I run across a great deal, I find myself day-dreaming that I will somehow turn into Martha Stewart or Bree Hodge and whip up several festive dishes with these fruits — some jellies, pies, and whatever else  you can do with them — but it never happens.

    No, our dirty little secret is that we like our fruit just plain.  Washed and raw.  Sometimes the kids will eat it in plain non-fat organic yogurt.  (I did not develop the same tastebuds they did, so I at least have to either have French Vanilla non-fat yogurt or sweeten the plain with Splenda.)  But give them a bowl of fresh fruit and my kids are happy as larks, and I keep asking myself, isn’t this what parents are striving for?  Should I mess with their love of a healthy snack by creating pies and such?   Is it okay to be “boring” and just eat the fruit fresh and not do anything more creative than a fruit salad with it?   This year I didn’t even make my dip for strawberries (see below) because I don’t need the extra calories and I figure there’s no need to get the kids started on bad habits.

    We practically have to ration out the fruit in our house — JavaGirl went so wild over the blueberries that her poop turned blue.  Every time I turned around, she was trying to get into the fridge for more blueberries.  (She’s like this about broccoli, too.)  Since they entered the house, she has asked for them every meal and today I had to prove to her that I was giving her the very last of the blueberries by showing her the empty container.  They wiped out the strawberries, too.  Thank goodness for a sale on watermelons and heaven help me tomorrow when they realize I got cherries on sale!

    So far, the only big plan I have for fruits is to learn to make my own jelly this year.  I realized that the jelly I’ve used in my kids’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has high fructose corn syrup, an additive I’m trying to cut out of our diets and thought that maybe the most economical way to have jelly in the house that didn’t contain unwanted additives was to make my own.  (JavaGirl really LOVES PB&J sandwiches!)  I even got so far as buying pectin yesterday — only to discover today that the box I bought had expired.  (And if you have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them!)

    The only other big fruit plans will be in September, when we will pick apples and make homemade sugar-free applesauce (yum!) and probably one apple pie for JavaDad as those are his favorite.

    How about you — are you enjoying the fruits of summer?  Do you have a particular fruit specialty you make each year?


    Totally Not Healthy But So Yummy Dip for Strawberries (and other fruit)
    introduced to me by my friend Mike S.

    • Sour Cream (I have used low-fat for this)
    • Brown Sugar

    Basically you mix in the brown sugar until you achieve a beige color, taste and add more if you think it needs it.  Chill. You will not believe how incredible this tastes.  Serve in a pretty bowl, surrounded by strawberries.