Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nearly Extinct: The Jungle Gym

A few days after I wrote about my family’s trip to the ER, a story by John Tierney in The New York Times, “Grasping Risk in Life’s Classroom” sent the clear message that it was time to head back to the playground. Never mind that most of my children’s boo boo’s have occurred at home, the real point of the article was that taking risks at the playground, especially by climbing high, had an “anti-phobic effect.”

Doorknobs in my book are still wily little devices, but monkey bars? Evidently, letting a child test her skills and assess her own ability ten feet off the ground was just the thing.

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” the article states, quoting an article by Dr. Ellen Sandseter and Leif Kennair that was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.

The psychologists conclude: Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.

One object that has been a casualty in the controversial attempts to make playgrounds safer, the article notes, is the classic jungle gym. And its absence is what I noticed most when I returned to the playground scene with my own kids after a twenty year hiatus. Decades of transformation had driven my favorite feature to near extinction.


Not only had there been “parental concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers,” but there was also what Tierney describes as the “most frequently cited factors—fear of lawsuits.”

I decided to take a look at the playgrounds in my area in a quixotic search for the Mount Olympus of my youth, an old fashioned jungle gym.  Perhaps someday we will make a pilgrimage to one of the few parks in New York City whose classic jungle gyms have been preserved, but in the meantime, we took advantage of the heat advisory and dearth of activity at the playgrounds to capture some early morning images.

Along the way, we discovered one place of play whose potential for risk and adventure has remained untouched.

If the video does not load, you can find it on the Lunchboxmom YouTube channel by clicking here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

We Interrupt this Summer for a Trip to the ER

It’s not my imagination; summer brings more trips to the Emergency Room. According to an article from Prevention posted on MSN, hospitals have an 18 % increase in emergency room visits between the months of May and August.

If you’re interested in learning how one might avoid these trips, you can check out the tips from ER and pediatric doctors shared in the article. After that, if you’d like to know how my family ended up supporting the 18% increase, you can read this blog.

While I microwaved some hot dogs, my oldest slammed the bathroom door, believing, incorrectly, that her younger sister would get out of the way.

That about sums it up.

In the blink of an eye, ten feet away from me, in a moment of sibling squabbling, the accident occurred. The door knob, shaped more like a lever, hit the back of my three year old’s head in just the right way to cause a laceration.

One paper towel saturated in blood. Then another. And then a cloth towel. I called 9-1-1 and did a very bad job staying calm. The EMTs arrived and took us to the hospital. A kind nurse assessed the situation. A wonderful physician’s assistant followed up, saying my daughter would be fine, but she’d need some staples on the wound to help it heal.

Ten days, no swimming. And, here, “You’ll need your own staple remover. Most pediatricians don’t have them.”

I do not know how parents remain calm in the face of more serious accidents. I hesitated to even write about this incident because I did not want to suggest, in any way, that the relatively minor distress we experienced compares with the grief and uncertainty other parents may have confronted during trips to the ER.

And yet, there is value in writing about an accident such as ours. In the midst of chaos, tears, and blood, it might be a reminder that simply because the world feels as if it just got turned upside down, doesn’t always mean that it has.

My children are stronger and more resilient than I am in many ways. I braced myself every time I applied the Neosporin to the wound beneath those three staples on my three year old's head, reminded each time of how the injury happened and how vulnerable we all felt.

She, however,  kept on dancing.

This very short video is a glimpse into that mindset. I intend to vlog about broader topics and not my kids in weeks to come, but because this was my first effort using imovie, I thought I’d better focus on participants who didn’t mind a “do-over” when I inadvertently forgot to push record.

If the video does not play, you can access it on the Lunchboxmom YouTube channel.
*on this blogger page, if the image does not load, but the "play button does" try clicking on the play button and image will load shortly after.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some Thoughts on the News

The most recent stories about Leiby Kletzky, the 8 year old boy who was kidnapped on his first independent walk home from camp and killed, the police say, by a man from his neighborhood, touch on a natural worry among parents: could this happen to my child?

A New York Times story, “With Boy’s Killing, Parents Confront Worst Fears” begins with what it calls the “maxims passed down for generations: Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t sit in the last car of the subway train. If you are lost, look for someone in a uniform. If something bad happens, scream! “

But there's reason to look beyond the limited protection these maxims offer to strategies that might reduce our risks, if not our fears.

That’s one of the reasons Gavin de Becker’s book, Protecting the Gift, is worth taking another look at.

I can’t do justice to the clarity of thought, analysis and blunt advice given in de Becker’s book, but two things strike me as particularly important to remember in the context of this most recent story.

First, de Becker debunks the idea that children should never speak to strangers. The book suggests that in fact, children should be taught how to select the right stranger to talk to should they be in need of help. While that sounds complex, de Becker helps us narrow things down quickly by suggesting that women, rather than men, prove to be better choices.

Second, there’s the idea of “looking for someone in a uniform”. The problem with that is that it’s hard to tell the uniform of a police officer from that of a security guard. The suspect, Levi Aron, once worked as a security guard, it’s been reported, reinforcing de Becker’s general assessment of that group.

Politically correct? No.

And nothing will explain the incomprehensible cruelty one human can inflict upon another.

But, if you want to move past the fear and take a look at some blunt strategies, I think de Becker’s book is one of the most helpful books a parent can read. Especially right now. Not only because of this heartbreaking story, but because the schedule of summer often challenges the routines and experiences we've grown accustomed to throughout the school year.

My only other thoughts on this news are those of deep sympathy for the family.

Post Script: I recently heard from a long time friend and reader who lives in Brooklyn. She wrote "I organized a collection in our neighborhood (which borders two of the neighborhoods involved) to plant a tree in Prospect Park in Leiby Kletzky's memory. Planting a tree is a Jewish tradition and the park is used by all communities in Brooklyn so we thought it would be a nice gesture. We are all so desperate to DO something." Contributions to this Prospect Park fund can be made at this site, with "Leiby Kletzky Tree Fund" noted in the comment section.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How Do You Become #1 on Amazon? Ask the Mother of Reinvention

Kelly Lester and
husband, Loren Lester.
It would be one thing if Kelly Lester and her EasyLunchboxes came of age in the thriving world of social media, but what makes her story exceptional is that she first became an inventor and entrepreneur when  Mark Zuckerberg was about 12. Her product then, decorative light switch covers, was made in the United Sates and sold in brick and mortar stores and museum shops.

Her website, was the only game in town back in 1996, when buying a domain name on the nascent World Wide Web felt like riding into an unpopulated frontier: search for switch plates and her company easily came up first.

In 2009, a few years after selling her first company, Kelly started a second. She launched the website.

“If computers had crickets, we heard crickets,” she said. "If you're not on page one or two of search engines, you don't exist."

And so began the reincarnation of a mom entrepreneur. She looked for mom bloggers to do reviews, schooled herself in Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and recently, she got her lunch boxes listed on Amazon. Last week she announced she’d conquered the mighty river of free shipping: in two months her product has became the site's number one selling lunch box.

EasyLunchboxes, containers
and cooler bag.
The story of this second innovation, a single lid bento-style lunch box, began as an obsession. She had three kids in school, three lunches to pack, and no lunch box that streamlined the process. Packing lunches was something she’d done since she was a kid, when she’d toss cheese sandwiches and some store brand Oreos into brown paper bags for her four brothers. For her own three daughters she needed something different.

“I wanted to make the same lunch for all three of them. I wanted it to all be uniformed so I didn’t have to think so hard.”

Using multiple containers (three containers and three girls equals at least nine containers a day) was driving Kelly, “absolutely insane.”

She searched in stores, on Google and Amazon but didn’t find what she was looking for. So she called plastic manufacturers in the United States. Finally she reached a man who told her what she’d need to make her own lunch box.

A mold. And $75,000.

That’s when Kelly turned to China.

She contacted a liaison in America who helped her work with a factory in China and made her EasyLunchboxes for far less than the American quote.

Instead of selling her product in stores, she focused on the website. A few months ago, an associate helped open the door with Amazon. The burden of shipping costs, something that hurts a small business such as hers, has been lightened.

“I can just send them (Amazon) thousands of pounds of product for pennies of what UPS can usually ship.”

Using her own fulfillment service and shipping without Amazon’s discounts costs the consumer $8.95. But it costs her even more.

“People want stuff for free and they want it now,” she said, describing the benefit of Amazon.

Kelly’s sourcing agent has an office in China and one not far from her in California. A third party tests the products. The polypropylene plastic is BPA-free and the cooler bags are tested for lead.

Early in the process, she had to send her shipment back three times until it came back right, meeting FDA standards, but the relationship with her overseas producer has been worth it, she says. Cost was not an irrelevant issue for her, "I'm a thrifty kind of shopper," she said, explaining what she'd look for in buying a lunch box for her own kids.

California is home to another bento style lunch box system also invented by moms but manufactured in the United States. The style is different than Kelly’s single lid system and constructed with what’s described as a durable plastic. The system also comes with a plastic water bottle. But a comparison of a price speaks to the issue consumers and mom entrepreneurs face:

EasyLunchbox system: four plastic containers and cooler bag (made in China): $21.90

Laptop Lunch B630 Bento System 2.0, (made in the US): $39.99

*Both are available for free shipping with Amazon prime.

Lunchopolis, another lunch box system on Amazon and one that has been sold at Whole Foods, explains its manufacturing on its website:

"...although we continually attempt to source manufacturing in either the United States or Canada, we have been unable to find cost effective production. We estimate that if we sourced this product in the United States, the retail price would be more than 45% higher.”

One of the few Lunch box options on Amazon with a similar style but made from stainless steel instead of plastic is LunchBots. A shopper would get one stainless steel container for around the same price as the four included with Kelly's package, but still discover the product was made in China.

Occasionally, the "Made in China" label has been a deal breaker for Kelly’s prospective customers. And, she says, she understands.

“But are you watching your big screen Hitachi?”

There have been times when the cost of working with a manufacturer in China has been steep, however.

“We sold out for three months. They just shut the power grid off." No one knew when it would be turned back on so that the factory could get back to work and finish her order.

“My hair fell out, it was very stressful.”

To avoid that scenario she said she now spends more upfront and maintains a huge stock in the United States.

Jenny (18), Lily (13) and Julia (11)
Having a large demand that can be met, of course, is the whole idea, and it’s one of the reasons she has turned to YouTube to create a series of videos. Filming and editing the video has been a major project for the Lesters, but it helps that she’s an actor, her husband Loren Lester is an actor and director, her brother is a song writer, her 13 year old is a good script supervisor and that Kelly went to UCLA with Sam Harris, a Broadway performer and recording artist. Kelly’s most recent Facebook and YouTube postings feature her two youngest kids, Lily and Julia.

“I would like to influence people to take responsibility for their eating and stop waiting for school lunch programs to get better. It makes me really happy to be able to help people pack healthy lunches for their kids,” she said.

She’s heard from one mother of an autistic boy whose sense of independence was opened up because of her lunch box system. “My lunch box was the simplest for him to use.”

With her first business, Kelly never told people she was making sales calls out of her den in her pajamas. This time around, she says she's made her home, her kids, and her personality "part of the charm."

Before my interview ended, I did take advantage of my time with an original lunch box mom to ask the all important question.

When do you have time to pack the kids’ lunches?

The key, she said, was to pack them at night, sometimes while making dinner.

She tried having her kids make their own lunches, especially as they got older. But, she said, “I like knowing they are taking something of me.....I don’t think I am the best mom in the world but I really want to feed them right, and making cute lunches...that’s not that difficult.”

In fact, making it easy, is what her lunch box is all about.

Being a small business owner, even one who has seized the power of social media, is not different from being one fifteen years ago in one important respect, Kelly mentioned.

It’s still a whole lot of work.

Click here for: Kelly's Webisode with Sam Harris and The Behind the Scenes: see what it takes.

Recently, I was contacted by a mother who had an idea for an invention. "How do you get one made?" she asked. I had no idea, which is one of the reasons why I decided to "do lunch" with Kelly Lester this week.

This is the second in a periodic series, Lunch With, profiles of Lunch Box Mom readers. I met Kelly thanks to Google Alerts, which sends me stories about "Lunch boxes and Moms". For obvious reasons, Kelly is a real Lunch Box Mom. I only stand on them, something she does not recommend with her product.

And in the interest of full disclosure, when my daughters' school asked us to stop using Ziploc bags, I bought a Lunchopolis lunch box, and a LunchBot, and now have two EasyLunchboxes. Given how many times we leave our lunch boxes at school, we seem to need a few extra.

Find Lunch Box Mom on Facebook. And, soon, YouTube, under Lunchboxmom.

Monday, July 4, 2011

American Dreamers

What is the biggest problem facing kids (and their parents) today? That was the question asked of Success Magazine blog readers by relationship experts Richard and Linda Eyre .

Recently, they wrote about their results.

Of the multiple choice options, Peer Pressure, Excessive Technology and Gadgets, Bullying, Entitlement, Drugs and Substance Abuse, Sexual Experimentation, and Sibling Rivalry, A Sense of Entitlement left the other answers far behind, earning 53 percent of the responses compared to its nearest rival, Excessive Technology and Gadgets, at 16 percent.

When the Eyres, who have a book, The Entitlement Trap, due out in October, followed these results by asking if the sense of entitlement was a bigger problem for this generation of kids than with previous generations and who might be to blame, the answers were: “Yes,” it’s a bigger problem.  And no need to look around parents:  it’s our own fault.

Parents, “...give their kids too much, and they set a bad example.”

The responses were similar, the Eyres said, when they posed the questions to an audience in Southern California.

Could it be that the biggest threat to our children reaching their full potentials is one we’ve created ourselves? A crisis made and possibly solved within the family?

Interestingly, the family and its breakdown was one of the most popular answers to another survey, one administered not to parents but to California’s youth, and to a demographic presumably less affluent than the readership of Success Magazine.

This second survey was released by New American Media and the University of California Office of the President back in 2007. The poll reached 601 young people between the ages of 16-22 in one of the first polls to call people exclusively on their cell phones. The results are summarized in a report called: California Dreamers: A public opinion portrait of the most diverse generation the nation has known.

What did these respondents say was  The Most Pressing Issue Facing their Generation in the World Today?

Family Breakdown: 24%

Violence in Neighborhoods and Communities: 22%

Poverty: 17%

Global Warming: 14%

Anti-Immigration Sentiment: 7%

Others responses

Considering one in eight of our nation’s young people lives in California and according to the report,  nearly half of those are immigrants or the children of immigrants, the answers are significant especially as they relate to the attainment of something the report said the generation believes strongly in, “The American Dream”.

These young people, “harbor deep concerns about family stability, cite marriage and parenthood as life goals, and are as apt to define their identity by music and fashion taste as by the color of their skin.

Despite obstacles, they expect to create successful lives for themselves and imagine a more inclusive and tolerant society for one another. This collective optimism represents a unique source of social capital for California, and a mirror of what the U.S. is becoming as a global society. ”

The pressures weakening the family make-up that concern the young people surveyed by New American Media four years ago and whatever forces driving the parental struggle related to the epidemic of entitlement are different.

But they speak to a common idea: in our hope to attain or foster independence in the next generation, it’s the interdependence and functionality of our family life that is foremost on our minds.