Friday, September 29, 2006

Kids and food

Sheryl at Paper Napkin followed up on my post from yesterday where I talked about the childhood obesity epidemic.

Sheryl asks the Internet in general: How often do you let your kids eat candy, dessert or sugared cereal? Do you take them to McDonald's, and let them eat chips? How often do you let them drink soda? Do you let them snack in between meals? How much TV do you let them watch? Do you encourage them to exercise a certain period each day? Do you make sure they're involved in sports? How much time do let them spend on the computer or in front of the TV? My inquiring mind wants to know.

Since my comment to her post got way, way too long, I figured it would be better to do a post of my own.

I had an eating disorder as a teenager/20-something. I'm very concerned about NOT passing on that legacy to the girls so we try hard not to make food a bad issue. A recent article in the WSJ talked about the influence mothers have on their children's attitudes towards food and weight. As if I needed more pressure . . .

We also have another issue - my husband is diabetic. Not because he's overweight - it's a genetic issue because his mother also had diabetes. That means that our children are significantly predisposed to diabetes later in life. We're very concerned about helping them be healthy children who grow into healthy adults. We have extra reason to limit the amount of sugar and carbs the kids eat.

We're big proponents of moderation. We figure that if we're too strict, the kids are more likely to rebel when they're away from us or become "sneak" eaters. If they eat healthy foods most of the time and get plenty of exercise, eating dessert a few times a week is perfectly ok.

They get mid-morning snacks at school and an afternoon snack (mostly because we generally don't eat dinner until after 6:30 p.m.) Snacks are yogurt, fruit, goldfish crackers, baby carrots with dip, a small bowl of cheerios, Fig Newtons, pretzels, small granola bars or Nutrigrain bars - apples with peanut butter is a big fave. For lunch my six-year old has been eating two slices of sandwich meat (no bread) with Triscuit crackers, baby carrots and fruit. My 8 year old usually has 1/2 of a sandwich with carrots and fruit.

Studies have shown that eating several small "meals" a day is better than eating three big meals. They have a good breakfast, a small lunch, two small snacks and a good dinner. Sometimes they're hungry before bed and we'll give them some fruit or cheese.

For breakfast we rotate oatmeal (the real kind, not the sugary instant kind), cream of wheat, eggs, cereal and yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit. We almost always have toast with cream cheese or peanut butter and we usually have sausages or bacon. On Sundays, my husband makes us the best pancakes in the world. (Seriously. They're the best. Ever since he started making them, I won't ever order pancakes when we're eating out because they simply pale by comparison to his homemade.)

We don't have dessert every night - maybe a couple times a week or on special occasions. (Like last night - Cold Stone Creamery had free ice cream. Free ice cream is always a special occasion.) When we have dessert, we have relatively small portions. And certain fruits count as dessert - like mango or pineapple - because they're special. My husband sometimes makes fruit smoothies (that we call "fruit soup"). When they get candy in goody bags or on Easter or Halloween, we put some of it away in bags that we keep on top of the fridge. Sometimes dessert is one thing from those bags - often it's a piece of chocolate or a lolly-pop. That's the kind of stuff that some people give their kids every day. But for our kids, it's a treat so they don't expect to have it every day. There's no sense of entitlement to sugar in our house.

We never have soda at home. Sometimes, at birthday parties or on airplanes, the kids get a little bit of Sprite as a treat - that happens maybe twice a year. Otherwise, no soda. This article talks about one of the studies showing how bad soda is for kids. Studies have also shown that drinking diet sodas can increase cravings for calories - apparently the sweet taste of the soda, unaccompanied by calories, triggers a craving. So, basically, any soda is bad for you. (Which stinks because I used to love Diet Coke). Juice is mostly sugar water and milk isn't necessarily good for you if you get sufficient calcium elsewhere. We drink water, almost exclusively.

Dinner is sometimes tough - I'm no June Cleaver and although my husband is a good cook, it's hard to find the time. We do pasta and meat sauce (ground turkey instead of beef), pork chops or ribs, soup, Hamburger Helper, Boboli pizza, roasted chicken from the grocery store, ground turkey with beans, mac n' cheese with chicken nuggets or Tombstone pizza (those last two are kind of last resort dinners when there's no time or nothing in the fridge). In the winter we make chili in the crock pot and eat leftovers for a few days. It's not gourmet stuff but it's fairly healthy and leaves us with time to sit at the table and talk to the kids.

I think the availability of Snack Well foods contributes to America's obesity epidemic - when SnackWell fat-free foods were introduced, Americans got the idea that so long as something was fat-free, it could be eaten with out limit. Now the craze is low-carb diets. Anything low-carb has to be good for you - right? An Australian friend once said to me, "Americans are weird about food. They eat all this horrible "diet" food and avoid the good stuff but they're still fat. Why don't Americans just eat the good stuff but eat less of it?"

As Sheryl points out, though, it's hard to know how much of the "good" stuff (as in, not so healthy but really tasty) is too much. With Supersized meals and outrageously large restaurant portions, Americans don't have a sense of appropriate portion sizing. I'm as guilty of that as anyone - I have a tendency to put too much food on the kids' plates (and my own!). If we're hungry, we'll eat so fast that our brains don't get the message from our stomachs that we're full before it's too late. We'll eat all the food on our plates and then realize we ate too much. Do that enough and you'll adjust to bigger portion sizes. My husband has helped me with this issue by suggesting that I visualize the size of their tummies and look at the food on the plate - the food on the plate taken as a whole shouldn't be a whole lot bigger than their tummies. We also try to remind each other not to eat fast.

We make sure that both girls have at least one after school activity that's physical, like gymnastics. On occasion we exercise as a family - this summer my husband took the girls to the park a lot to practice hitting and throwing a baseball, kicking a soccer ball, tennis and running. Living in the city, it's a little more difficult to get them outside play time because they can't just run out the back door and play with the neighbors like we did when we were young. You have to plan for it and an adult has to be around, which can be tough. We have a pool in our building and go swimming a lot.

TV and computer time varies - so long as they're getting enough exercise and spending time doing other things - practicing the piano, homework, etc. - then they can watch TV when they want to. If we think they're watching too much, we'll tell them to turn it off and go play with something. And they do. It just isn't really an issue most of the time. Also, our punishment of choice is to take away TV and computer time (and sugar) so there are times when they don't get to watch at all, which is just as well.

So, Sheryl, I don't know if this helps at all. There's no magic formula, unfortunately. As I said above, the bottom line is moderation. Lots of the healthy foods with a small amount of treats. Since my kids were toddlers, I've said to them "What's mommy and daddy's most important job?" And they learned to answer, "To keep me safe and healthy and to teach me stuff." After that, they don't fight us when we say "No dessert tonight, we had some yesterday." or "You've had enough mac n' cheese. How about some fruit?" Maybe someday they'll be using the same line with their kids!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thursday Thirteen - Poor Parenting Edition

Thirteen of Jessica's rants about poor parenting
(Warning - this is totally judgmental so if you don't like stuff like that, don't read on).

1. Before I rant about bad parenting, let me say that I am far from a perfect parent. Some of the things I'm going to rant about, I've been guilty of myself. But I'm trying to learn from my mistakes. Some of these parents won't even acknowledge that any of this is their responsibility.

2. Here's a link to a big story in Chicago today. A five-year old girl died after being sedated at the dentist's office. My first thought was - what kind of dentist sedates a child? Apparently, according to my dentist, it's done all the time. Even by the best pediatric dentists. This is because it's hard to do dental work on a squirming child and because they don't want the kids to be afraid to come to the dentist later. Fine. But why in the world are a child's baby teeth in such bad shape that they have cavities to be filled and they need caps?

3. So my rant is this - way too many parents abdicate their responsibility for their kids' dental health. This was a totally preventable death - not because she should have been better monitored while she was under sedation (she should have). But because she should never have been put in the position to need sedation in the first place! There is no reason for a child's teeth to be that bad. My dentist said it happens because parents put their babies to sleep with a bottle of milk. What the f***? Unless you're a street person or illiterate, you KNOW how important dental health is. Every baby care book says you should not let your child sleep with a bottle in her mouth - not only is it bad for the developing baby teeth, it's a choking hazard!

4. Which leads me to my next rant - the childhood obesity epidemic. The FTC is inclined to blame, at least in part, the significant number of advertisements for crap food that are geared to kids. News flash - it's not the ads that are making kids fat! It's the food they are allowed to eat that makes them fat. Parents have to take responsibility for teaching their kids good nutrition and not letting them eat junk all the time just because they want it.

5. My kids watch Spongebob, they see the same ads but they aren't obese. Why? Because we don't let them eat crap every day. They eat good food and learn about good nutrition at HOME so they can make good choices when we're NOT around. At least most of the time. They have desert a few times a week. We let them have candy occasionally. We don't want them bingeing on sugar elsewhere because they never get it at home. In fact, I'm having an easier time controlling my own weight because I'm trying to model good eating habits for the kids. Given the adult obesity epidemic, it wouldn't hurt the parents to eat better, too!

6. We go to McDonalds and other fast food restaurants on occasion. I don't have anything against it in moderation. However, when we go, all four of us split one medium order of fries. (Credit goes to my husband for that - given my absolute love of McDonalds fries, I wouldn't have been the one to suggest it!) Our kids get chocolate milk (usually - sometimes low sugar lemonade) and we never get soda. We never, ever supersize anything. It really makes me mad when I see children - CHILDREN - eating a supersize meal. Or walking around drinking a Big Gulp of soda. There is really no reason for that.

7. While we're on the subject of food - allowing your child to bring sugar to school for a mid-morning snack is not a smart choice. A sugar coated granola bar is NOT a healthy snack. Neither is a bag of potato chips. Same thing for M&Ms. Really. Not healthy. Every year the teachers beg the parents to give their kids healthy snacks - do these parents seriously not understand what that means?

8. Also, allowing kids to eat sugar cereal every morning is not good. Our kids get cereal maybe once a week. (Although - truth be told - if it weren't for my husband making a good breakfast virtually every morning, I would probably give them cereal way too often). Kids need a good breakfast. Too many adults don't eat breakfast and then they say "My kid isn't a breakfast eater." Gee, I wonder why. Moreover, kids need some protein in the morning to keep their energy level constant until lunch. Sugar (cereal, donuts, sweet rolls and juice) in the morning will give them a burst of energy for an hour and then they get the “sugar bounce” resulting in a loss of energy and ability to concentrate. How many studies need to be done that show that kids who eat a good breakfast perform better in school to get parents to understand the importance of this issue?

9. On to another rant - I've talked about this before but it really bothers me when parents take no responsibility to teach their children appropriate behavior. I realize that five year old boys can't be expected to sit still all day. I know that they - and many girls, as well - like to run around and might play rough sometimes. However, if you allow your child to hurt another child without correcting your child, you are abdicating your responsibility. I've controlled myself in the past but if I ever hear another mother justify her son's bad behavior by saying "boys will be boys", I will have to bitch slap her

10. Similarly, it drives me nuts when parents don't teach their kids to apologize. Kids who don't learn to apologize grow up to be adults who don't know how to apologize.

11. Basically, I have a hard time with parents who don't take responsibility for teaching their children. This applies to everything from being able to respond when someone says hello to them (even a child as young as three or four is capable of saying "Hello") to putting on their own clothes to eating well. These are learned skills. Although most schools have a unit or two in nutrition it isn't the school's responsibility to maintain your child's health. And the schools can only do so much to teach kids proper behavior. If the lessons aren't being reinforced at home, they won't be learned. Bottom line - parents are responsible for teaching their children, no matter how hard it is. Ultimately, we all pay for the poor health of other people and their children. Our insurance premiums and health care costs go up. Productivity goes down. It isn't just a personal issue - it's a societal issue.

12. Let me say again that I'm not the best parent in the world. I credit my husband with teaching me to be a good parent. Actually, more than a good parent - an effective parent. It isn't enough to love your kids. That, for most of us, comes naturally. It's the other stuff that isn't easy - denying them dessert despite the begging, telling them that no, they can't have Spongebob marshmallow cereal every day for breakfast. Disciplining them when they behave badly even though - gasp! - it means they won't get to watch TV for a week. (Try that one as a punishment - it's surprisingly effective AND it's good for them.)

13. One of our favorite quotes is from the movie Parenthood. "You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father." I know as well as anyone that babies don't come with an instruction manual. We all have to do the best we can, sometimes on little sleep, sometimes with not enough money or other resources. But there's not one thing I've mentioned in this post that isn't obvious - either from reading the most basic baby care book or the newspaper or just from having common sense.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Out of pocket

I was reading this post by Sheryl over at the ever-insightful and funny Paper Napkin and it made me think of a story that was in the Chicago Tribune this weekend. Apparently, the father of a high school student was peeved that his daughter wasn't good enough to make the volleyball team. He says the school should either have a no-cut policy and let everyone on the team who wants to play or they should provide intra-mural teams. Sheryl's post talked about books being "banned" from libraries and she points out that just because a book is not available at your public library doesn't mean you can't get it through other sources.

See the theme here? Just because you want something, doesn't mean it should be free to you. The "public" (read - taxpayers like me) shouldn't have to fund this one girl's desire to play volleyball and check Judy Blume books out from the school library. (Note: I read all the Judy Blume books and think they're wonderful but if a particular school district decides that those books aren't appropriate for their school library, those interested in reading them can buy them or borrow them.)

Clearly, certain people think that the "public" should support the things in which they want to participate. There are people who think the public library should stock books they like - even if, as Sheryl points out, a group of purportedly rational adults has decided that they don't wish to provide those books. It doesn't mean those books aren't available on or from your neighbor or another library. Similarly, there's nothing stopping the girl who likes volleyball from trying to drum up enough interest to start a volleyball club after school. If there is enough interest, they might find a teacher or coach willing to work with them. If her father really wants to provide her with an opportunity to play volleyball or any other sport, he can enroll her in classes outside of school or hire a coach to work with her until she's good enough to make the team.

Before you assert that I'm against the first amendment because I support the banning of books, read Sheryl's post. I agree with her point - the fact that the public library in your town doesn't carry a particular book doesn't mean it's been banned. If the government burned all the available copies of a book and jailed anyone who sold or read it, THAT would be banning a book. And THAT would be a violation of the 1st amendment (among other amendments, laws, rules, regulations and just plain old human decency).

And although I think all kids should participate in sports, I don't think that all kids should be allowed to be on the team of their choice regardless of their level of ability. Just because I want more than anything to be a Rockette doesn't mean the Rockettes will allow my jiggly butt to dance across their pretty stage. That's life. We don't all get to do what we want to do. We only do our kids a disservice if we pretend otherwise. Again - I'm not saying this girl should give up her dream of playing beach volleyball with Kerri Walsh. I'm only suggesting that her local high school doesn't have to fund her attempt to get better at the game.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The danger of "reply all"

Dear assistant to our daughter's choir director:

If you're going to say something snarky about a child's parents in an email to your boss, you should make sure the child's parents aren't cc'd on your email.

And also, you shouldn't make assumptions about said child's parents based on the comments of a person who lost the child's paperwork and failed to notify the child's parents about the first choir practice until 15 minutes before the first choir practice started (and only because the parents called to ask when choir was starting). Because, you know what? The parents are perfectly justified in being a bit pissed off that the paperwork was lost and that they had to drive like maniacs in rush hour traffic in an unsuccessful attempt to get their child to practice on time.

And also, they had been told by two people over the summer that there was no need for their child to re-audition for the choir. It isn't surprising that they were a bit taken aback when they were told that their child, in fact, needed to re-audition and had missed the auditions. It isn't because the parents think their daughter is too good to be required to audition. They would have been glad to have her re-audition. If they had been told. But they weren't because the paperwork was never sent to them.

If you can't make allowances for our daughter to leave practice early a few times (because she's performing in a professional theater production with a major Chicago theater and has little control over her schedule), that's ok. Rules are rules and we understand that our daughter can't always do everything she'd like to do. There's no need to be mean just because we asked for permission to put choir second to another activity. We probably could have just done it - just pulled her out of practice early and dealt with the consequences later. But we were being up front and honest. We were acting like adults, which is more than I can say for you.

And also - BITE ME.

(Apologies to Kristen for stealing that last line.)

*Update* - We sent an email to this woman and various other people at the choir in response. It wasn't anything like what I wrote here but it was a bit pointed. Right after we sent it, one of the higher administrators at the choir called my husband and apologized profusely. Later, the woman who sent the email left a long and very apologetic voice mail. Although the beginning of the apology went something like "There was an email that was sent." "There was no intention to . . ." (It sounded like the kind of "apology" that reinforces the point of this post that people don't know how to apologize.) But apparently she was just warming up because by the end of the message she said "I beg your forgiveness and hope we can start fresh." You can't really ask for a better apology. There is a get together after today's practice so both my husband and I will be there and I imagine we'll have more apologies and discussions. I really hope we can move forward on a friendly basis.

*Update #2* - We went to an open choir rehearsal last night where parents were invited to listen in. There were apologies upon apologies - everyone from the choir director to the head of the community music school where the choir "resides" to the assistant who sent the email went out of their way to seek us out and apologize. My husband commented that in a way it's good that this all happened. Various people made assumptions about us based on a series of misunderstandings (none of which were our doing). Those bad assumptions would have continued - and maybe gotten worse - and we would have known nothing about it had this not gotten aired out. So, it looks like we will be able to move forward on a friendly basis. As my husband often says - everyone makes mistakes but if there's an immediate, appropriate and sincere apology, the hard feelings dissipate.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Random thoughts

I was reading today's post from Home of the Fringe (about a dream Kristen had) and it made me think of the dream I had last night. I was on the beach somewhere - I don't know where it was but it was really beautiful. Blue sky, bluer water, white sand and rocks jutting out into the water past the little sandy beach. The tide started coming in and I realized that our piano was sitting on the beach near the water. As the waves started rushing up under the piano I was walking away thinking "That was really irresponsible of us to leave the piano there." But, true to form, I wasn't doing anything about it. Although, in my defense, I apparently had a pressing need (having nothing to do with the piano) to get off the beach.

Then I noticed that two women - total strangers - had dragged the piano off the beach and up a grassy hill into a house. They thought it was my house but it wasn't. I thanked them but kept wondering how I was going to get the piano back to our apartment (and why the heck two total strangers would move a piano). I never did figure it out because M Girl came in and woke me up. After a little "bad dream" cuddle time and taking her back to bed, I never did get back to the piano problem. Clearly it worked itself out as our piano was sitting in our living room, looking no worse for wear, when I left for work.

I watched parts of Survivor: Cook Islands last night. Of course I have it Tivo'd so my husband I can watch the whole thing together. I've always loved Survivor (and I'm not a reality show junky, I only like the good ones and not the bad ones). I think dividing the teams by race is an intriguing idea and I'm looking forward to seeing it play out. The little bit I saw in the first episode showed the different groups talking a little bit about their own ethnicity and what it means to them. It strikes me as hypocritical for the "Black, Latino and Asian Caucus" of the New York City Council to ask CBS to cancel the show because it is racially divisive. Hmm - a group of people that have come together in a way that highlights their own ethnicity are saying that dividing by race/ethnicity is racist? It seems to me that certain groups are against any talk about race that they haven't framed to their own ends.

I'm going to a benefit tonight but I really don't want to go. My husband isn't feeling well. My oldest daughter has been fighting a cold that I'm just getting over. It's been a tough week at work and I just want to hang out with my family. But I'm on the board of a theater group that is having its annual benefit tonight and I have to go spend some money. Usually it's fun - it's a blue jean ball so it's not dressy or anything. People actually drag out cowboy boots and hats and there's line dancing and Bourbon Daisy drinks (which are quite yummy). But I'm just not in the mood for a party.

A Girl is in a show this fall. The show started previews last night (previews are basically dress rehearsals that people pay a discount price to watch). My husband and I were more nervous than she was. She says she gets a little bit of butterflies before she goes on stage but she knows they'll go away once she's out there. It's amazing to watch her progress from audition to rehearsal to production. She's so happy doing this - all of it. She loves being a part of the whole process and she's such a professional - at the ripe old age of eight. Yes, I know, I'm a total stage mom. It's hard to explain, without seeming obnoxious, what it's like to watch your child do something that most kids (and even most adults) can't do. She has a kind of confidence that few people have, regardless of age. And she's managed to do well in this industry and not become like Varuca Salt (the "bad egg" and my absolute favorite character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). She's a good kid.

Speaking of good kids - little Miss M is joining the Brownies! I cannot wait to take a picture of her in her little uniform. They don't do the little jumper dresses anymore like we had. Brownies have evolved - check out the pictures of the new outfits here - they have skorts and pants for the active Brownies of today. We have such a crazy schedule that play dates are tough for us. So this will be a good chance for her to spend some time with her first grade girlfriends and do some fun stuff.

She got a Spongebob Squarepants Lego Set for her birthday last week and has spent all her free time since then working on it. I think she's always liked building-type toys but most of them are, for lack of a better word, boyish. We would have gotten them for her but she never really asked for Legos in the past because most of the sets are Star Wars-based and she's not really into that. They do have a line called Clickits that's geared to girls but as you can see from the link, it's very girly (as if boys are the only ones interested in building anything and all girls are interested in doing is decorating purses, picture frames and mirrors). I'm glad that Lego has come out with a building set that's more unisex. M Girl also likes Magnetix which are building sets with magnetic bars and balls.

Ok - enough procrastinating. I have to go act festive and spend some money. It's for a good cause but I really wish that I could do something like watch my favorite shows on TIVO for charity.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Never forget.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Shut up already, Ed!

I have been cursing my internal editor a lot lately. He is really driving me insane. Yes, although I'm a woman, I have decided that my internal editor is a man. If it was a woman, she'd have some pity on me. She would take a vacation every once in awhile. Or at least take a break for a spa day. But no, my internal editor is a type A workaholic who rarely sleeps. Aren't most of those men? I hate generalizations, except when I think they're true.

My internal editor, let's call him Ed (yeah, I know, not very original) sits on my left shoulder (my right shoulder is reserved for the good angel who reminds me to take my vitamins and tsk, tsks when I swear too much.) He sits there and whenever a story idea pops into my head, he takes out this big old fly-swatter and smacks that idea to oblivion. For some reason, he has it in his tiny head that any ideas that aren't fully formed, or don't hold together very well should never see the light of day.

I know, I know - I should write anyway. I should write stuff even if I know it's drivel. Then, in the editing process, I can separate the wheat from the chaff. Find the gold in the dusty gold mine. Shine the diamond out of the rough. (And perhaps I can do that without resorting to cliches.) But mostly my editing consists of hitting the delete button. And that's assuming I actually write anything.

I think about writing all the time. I have several story ideas that bounce around my head. Something comes up and I think "Oh, that would be good for xyz story!" Then I start thinking about the story line and, inevitably, Ed jumps out shouting "That makes no sense! That's not how real life is. And even if you're writing fiction, you have to be logical. No one will buy that premise!" He is deaf to my protestations that I haven't even figured out what the premise might be. That I have to write it down and see where it goes before I can determine whether it's going in the right direction. "Humph," Says Ed. "Go ahead. Write it down but you're just wasting your time. Go play a nice computer game or watch CSI. That's a good girl."

I've read a lot of books and articles about writing. There are some writers who write a first draft that's nearly perfect. I would call them the Mozarts of writing. They are geniuses and I wouldn't dream of comparing myself to them. But most mortal writers have to write and re-write before they get something even close to good. Why is it that I think I should be any different? Why don't I give myself the benefit of the doubt? Maybe, just maybe, even if what I first write is horrible, boring, illogical and poorly written, I might be able to work at it and create something that someone will think is worth reading.

But first need to find a way to stifle Ed. Does anyone have a teeny, tiny muzzle?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Being rich means never having to say you're sorry

Apologizing is a skill that way too many people have failed to learn. A recent series of columns by John Kass in the Chicago Tribune provide an illustration of why people don't learn this lesson. I think it's because parents, in too many cases, don't teach their children how.

For those of you who aren't able to follow the links to the columns, here's the story: A long-time resident of Chicago's North Side was tending her garden when three boys from a wealthy suburb shot her in the face, arm and leg with a pellet gun. The three boys were working as summer painters for the nearby hospital where one boys' mother is a senior vice president. They shot 15 pellets into the woman's yard and fled when her son ran into the building to stop them. The police came and said the boys would be charged with aggravated battery. But the charges were lowered because they (and, I assume, their wealthy parents) convinced the police and prosecutors that it was all a mistake. A harmless prank by boys who "didn't know" they were shooting at someone. The boys were sentenced by a teen "jury" to 25 hours of community service. The woman is so traumatized that she can't bear to be in her garden alone anymore.

But the worst thing in all this isn't that the boys didn't get charged as they should have. (And try to forget the fact that if it was three African-American boys from the South Side, they'd be charged with the highest charge possible and probably tried as adults). The worst thing is that those boys have not apologized. Not once. And neither have their parents. Let's assume that it was a mistake. Assume the boys didn't see her in the garden and didn't know they were shooting at a person. If that's what happened, don't they owe it to her to say they're sorry they made that mistake?

I'm not suggesting that the boys' lives should be damaged by a felony conviction, maybe pleading down to a misdemeanor was the right thing to do. But ONLY if they apologized and made restitution to their victim. Otherwise, they haven't learned the lesson that you have to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Children who don't learn that lesson grow up to be adults who behave with impunity, without regard to how their actions affect others.

My parents never taught me to apologize. I rarely heard them apologize. And when they did it was along the lines of "I'm sorry if you think I did something wrong." Which doesn't count. If they never apologized, you can bet they never made us apologize. I certainly don't recall it happening. No one ever had to take responsibility for their actions. Things "just happened." Everything that went wrong was "an accident." I can't tell you how many times I heard my mother say "Oh, he didn't mean it," when one of my brothers did something totally obnoxious. And even when it was painfully obvious that he did, in fact, mean every bit of it.

If you can never admit you're wrong, you are going to have difficulty apologizing. That's the real issue in my family and one of the reasons that I'm estranged from my father (a long story for another day). He's incapable of admitting he was wrong. Incapable of apologizing. He felt entitled and he behaved that way. If he did something wrong - well, that was just the way it was, why should he have to apologize? If it hurt other people, it was their fault for being so sensitive. Because of that attitude, he's lost a relationship with me, my husband and our two beautiful daughters. And it truly is his loss.

Living where we live and sending our kids to a private school, we have many opportunities to see this kind of behavior in action. The other night we were at a school function, speaking to one of the teachers. We were in the middle of a conversation when another couple walked up and started talking to the teacher. Not once did they look at us and say "Sorry to interrupt." I know that's a small thing in the scheme of it all. But it's an example of people who feel entitled to do what they want, when they want to, despite it's impact on others.

Of course, because the parents don't know how to apologize (and rarely think it's necessary), the kids don't ever learn that skill. I can count on one hand the times I've seen parents make their children actually apologize for hurting another child. Most of the time the parents will half-heartedly tell their child to apologize, the kid doesn't do it and the parents don't do anything about it. What has the kid learned? That there are no adverse consequences to hurting someone else. That you don't have to take responsibility for your actions.

I'm not saying that all rich people are insensitive assholes and that those less monetarily fortunate are saints. I'm just saying that the sense of entitlement that wealthier people tend to have reinforces this kind of bad behavior.

I learned how to apologize from my husband. Among his favorite phrases is: "It's not the mistake; it's how you handle it that counts." Whether you meant to cause harm isn't the point - if you've done something wrong, own up to it, apologize, and fix it if you can. He has taught that to the girls pretty much from the day they could talk. I'll admit, it was hard for me at first. It's still hard sometimes (especially when I have PMS). I'm still learning to get over the urge to make excuses for my behavior. But I want to be a good role model to the kids and a kind spouse, so I'll keep working on it because love means learning to say "I'm sorry."