Saturday, November 28, 2015

Give the Gift of Parent Talk

It's that time of year, and finding just the right presents for your loved ones can be challenging!  Did you know that you can give the gift of a Parent Talk membership?

For a friend, family member, neighbor or co-worker with kids, membership in PT will mean so many things -- access to museum passes, PT events, lectures, playgroups, retail discountscommunity support and more.  You will also be giving the gift of memories-in-the-making.

Kids and parents alike enjoyed Elmo Story Time at Parent Talk's Playspace earlier this year.

Just email with "PT Gift Subscription" in the subject line.  You will receive an email response with a form to fill out with various payment options. Send in your reply and relax a little, knowing that at least one item on your gift list has been taken care of!

Along with shopping for gifts, another thing that typically happens at this time of year are requests for charitable donations.  And every year, you dig deep and give to a few good causes as budget allows, while you leave a bunch of remaining requests "for next year."  Parent Talk may have fallen into the second category of "maybe next year" giving.  But donating to Parent Talk need not take an extra penny out of your pocket.  

AmazonSmile will give 0.5% of the purchase price of qualified items to the charity of your choice.  When you think of all that Parent Talk has done to enrich the lives of you and your family, why not make PT your charitable choice?

At Parent Talk's annual Barn Babies event, children have an opportunity to hold and touch baby animals, such as at the duckling Touch Tank.

Just go to  Under the search box at the top of the page, there is an option to change the supported charity. Choose Parent Talk, then shop as usual!  Your shopping experience will stay the same, including the price.  Well, one thing may change -- the added satisfaction that comes from making a contribution that supports PT!

About the author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Giving Thanks for My Parent Talk Village

"It takes a village to raise a child." - African proverb

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My babies, Kiera and Padraig, in 2011.  Photo credit: J+R Photography 

I remember when the first wave of panic set in. My husband told me that he had a five day work trip right after we closed on our new Needham home. Images of eight-month pregnant me, sitting defeated on our living room couch next to our 21-month-old daughter, surrounded by countless unpacked moving boxes, filled my mind. Thankfully, my godmother from New Jersey swooped to the rescue and stayed with us that first week and helped me unpack. But it made me wonder, what had we done? Why did we move away from our village in New Jersey?

Moving had never been an issue for me before. I moved from Singapore to Illinois for college, then to New Jersey upon graduation, and then to Massachusetts for my husband’s work. But the move of merely 9.1 miles with 1.5 kids, from the South End in Boston to Needham, was terrifying. Aside from a few of my husband’s colleagues, we did not know anyone (or, technically speaking, I did not know anyone). Yes, people comforted me with, "You will meet people when your kids are in school." But how was I going to survive being isolated in the suburbs for the next three years before our firstborn entered kindergarten?

“You need to join Parent Talk,” my husband’s colleague’s wife stated matter-of-factly. So I did.

spooky 2011.jpg
The 2-year-olds from our playgroup with friends, nicknamed the "Bigs," at Spooky Walk in 2011.

It was a slow introduction to Parent Talk, just because getting out of the house with two kids (a 2-year-old and an infant) by myself was almost impossible. So, as a start, we attended PT's family events (e.g., Frosty’s Festival, Story Time with Elmo) to maintain the critical one-to-one adult to kid ratio. Then, we graduated to the PT parenting lectures which gave us a few more tools to add to our parenting toolbox. And the YMCA discount for Parent Talk members was phenomenal! It pretty much made up for the membership fee, assuming we made it to the gym. And then we hit the jackpot -- Playgroup.

We were arbitrarily assigned to one of several playgroups based on our daughter’s age. This meant that we were coming into a playgroup that had started two years ago, and had grown to include 20 to 30 families. Not intimidating, right? But after I sent the initial awkward email introduction about our family, there was an immediate response. "Hello. Welcome to our playgroup. Like you, we are all in the trenches. It does get easier. We meet at the Playspace or Perry Park every Friday morning. Join us."

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The "Bigs" a few years later with younger siblings, the "Littles," at Spooky Walk. in 2015.

The relief I felt was palpable. No pressure to host others, no pressure to attend every playgroup gathering. Come as you are, when you can. After my kids and I got into the swing of these weekly Friday playdates, an interesting thing happened. These were not just playdates for my kids, they became my playdates too.  

What an incredible group of moms, dads, caregivers and kids -- generous, kind, fun, creative, organized, intelligent, and honest. This group was a source for vacation ideas, contractor recommendations, recipe swaps, and sharing parenting ups and downs. This was group parenting at its best, as we exchanged candid and valuable information. We worked at Parent Talk Sales together, attended family events (Memorial Day Picnic at DeFazio Park, Spooky Walk), volunteered for meal trains, socialized at Moms’ Nights Out (and Away!), and there were even a few poker nights for dads. Through life’s best and worst moments, we have been there to support each other.

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Mom's Night Away, Portland, Maine, 2015.

It has been a little over four years since our family moved to Needham. We honestly thought we would head back to New Jersey when the appropriate job opportunity for my husband came up in the New York or New Jersey area. The PT playgroup changed that trajectory. Our playgroup has morphed into our extended family. My husband and I no longer feel the need to move. We know in our hearts that Needham is home and this is where our family can grow roots. And it all started with Parent Talk.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to Parent Talk for helping me build my village.

About the author
Joyce McCafferty is an unexpected stay-at-home Needham mom. She is so glad that her husband chose to relocate to Needham because that one choice set into motion so many wonderful events

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Thanksgiving holiday is the perfect time to take a moment to consider and share all of the things we are thankful for. If you have your own story of gratitude for the Parent Talk village, an experience, PT's offerings, events, or anything else, please share it with us with the Comments section below. Or join us on on Facebook and Twitter, beginning your story with "I am thankful to Parent Talk for . . . " and tag it with #Thankful4PT.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Gift Guide for Needham Winter Marketplace

Local shopping, quality products and home-grown businesses all in one place and just in time for the holidays.  What could be better?  A gift guide, of course!  The Needham Winter Marketplace is a great way to get ahead on your holiday shopping list, and this gift guide will help you plan your shopping trip so that you can make the most of your visit.

Women in Your Life (Sisters and Best Friends)

Beautycounter's Lip Sheers are bestsellers for this clean cosmetics company.  Twig is my sister's favorite shade for everyday wear.

"look at me :-)" by Rosemarie Voegtli

B-Buckled's sparkly belt, made with elastic to change the look of a simple black dress, is an ingenious solution to the "too many parties, not enough outfits" problem of the season.

Hamilton Grace offers gorgeous, hand-made jewelry like its medium-stone drop earrings.  This is the perfect pair for my statement-piece-loving best friend!

Other Women in Your Life (Daughters, Nieces, Tweens and Teens That You Love)
Rebeccah J's leather bracelets are a great addition to your favorite girl's jewelry box -- not too edgy, but not too subtle either!

Do you know any kids who are missing camp or who are just looking for some cozy and cute winter wear?  Camp Headquarters has you covered, with adorable PJs, lounge pants, hoodies and other items adorned with cheeky prints.  I am getting my niece the doughnut print pajama pants!

Stella & Dot table display by Ricki Benjamin

Try the Stella & Dot pave wishing bracelet for a teenager you love.  It is classy enough to steal for yourself, and the delicate setting is perfect for any girl.

Parents and Grandparents

Hughes Photography offers portrait sessions for families, and the photographer knows how to work with kids, so the pictures turn out perfect.  You can surprise your in-laws with a portrait of the grandkids or gather the whole clan for a photo shoot for the ages!

If you want to honor your parents with an adorable memento, you can go to The Kids' Place to personally decorate a serving platter, and even use your kids' own hand prints.  This is a gift they can actually use when you celebrate special occasions together!

"Wibble, wobble" by tiffany terry

Men (Husbands, Fathers, Brothers)

Golfers will love the golf carry-all and travelers will appreciate the tie case, both by R. Scott and featured by Ame & Lulu.

My husband has sensitive skin that reacts to a lot of products.  I am thinking of buying him Rodan + Fields' sensitive skin treatment from its Soothe line this Christmas.

My dad likes to throw everything in the dishwasher, which results in a fair number of rusted or warped kitchen utensils.  I might take pity on him and pick up the Cutco can opener for his stocking.  It's a dishwasher safe, ergonomically designed can opener with a lifetime guarantee that makes me feel like even he can't break it. 

Your Friend with a New Baby

Barre3 offers amazing classes that are perfect to build up the core of a woman recovering from pregnancy (and to de-stress moms and kid-free women, alike)!

"training" by teammarche

The Artful Educator features stimulating and gorgeous alphabet wall art, while Inklings creates delightful pillows for a nursery or kid's room as well as personalized note cards (I am itching for the watercolor baseball design).  

How I wish I had known about myBibzy when my twin droolers (and spit-up champs) were born two years ago.  Its onesies with built-in three layer bibs minimize laundry and outfit changes and streamline life when you need it the most.

The Younger Set (Kids under 10 Years Old)

Needham's new toy store and meeting spot, Architrave, has high-quality wooden trains and accessories that are a must-have for any growing collection.

Books about empowerment from Inspire Our Kids are sure to bring out the good cheer in our little ones.  I am also planning to scoop up the Yoga Pretzels card deck for my aspiring yogi first-grader and the Tales from Old Ireland book with accompanying CD for our endless hours in the minivan, both from Barefoot Books.

"Eagerly" by mliu92

Ribbon Candy's DIY necklace and bracelet kits are the perfect gift for your creative boy or girl, especially during the winter months when crafts are the ticket to getting through your day!

Treat your daughter to Madley's coordinating mother-daughter necklace sets.  My daughter and I have the red and white plaid set for the holidays, and I have my eye on the Hailey for an elegant all-seasons alternative.  The Evie is perfect for anyone who cannot wait until summer!  Also, there is now a new offering for moms and their boys -- matching necklaces and ties.

Madley's accessories for kids, designed to match with Mom, also look good on their own.

Gracious Hosts of All of Those Holiday Parties and Family Gatherings

I have given Zinnia Designs' simple but brilliant zip code dish as a coin or key receptacle. Perennial Designs' gorgeous flower arrangements never grow old and are the perfect addition to any host's table or entryway.  I am coveting Westborough Wick's Home for the Holidays candle, always hand-dipped in a mason jar for a classic, rustic look and scent.

About the Author

Joanna Noon is a Brookline native who loves living in Needham with her husband and five children.  She worked in education before becoming a stay-at-home mom.  Joanna is a longtime member of Parent Talk and is excited to serve on the Parent Talk Board as Membership Co-Chair.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Light Up the Holidays -- Make a Lantern for Needham Lights

Come join Parent Talk and friends this Sunday and create lanterns for Needham Lights!  A lantern-making workshop will be held in the Dover Caryl Community Center on November 15, 2015, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., and again on Saturday, December 5, 2015, at one of Parent Talk's craft tables inside Needham Town Hall.  

Child at Parent Talk's craft table during last year's Needham Lights lantern-making event.

Light is something we cherish in the winter and something we use in our holiday celebrations, so it is only appropriate we come together in early December for the annual Needham Lights event.  Many of us are trying to create holiday traditions for our children -- not only to give them something to look forward to, but also to imbue the season with meaning.  

Needham Lights offers us an opportunity to provide our children with both a fun and entertaining activity and a symbolic one.  By coming together as a community, we are showing our children that they belong to something greater.  By taking part in the Luminary Stroll, they can see for themselves the beauty of many lights joined together in one effort.  This may seem abstract for little ones, but let's not forget how impressionable and perceptive they are!

Crowd gathers outside Needham Town Hall for 2014 Needham Lights.

We hope you will include Needham Lights in your holiday tradition this year.  The multi-faceted event takes place on Saturday, December 5, from noon through 8 p.m.  Parent Talk will have craft tables inside Needham Town Hall from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and there will be live entertainment and a fire show outside.  There will also be promotions at local shops around the town center, and finally, the chance to light up the town during the luminary stroll!  

About the Author
Liza D'Hemecourt is the Community Relations Chair for Parent Talk, following her previous role as Blog Coordinator.  She taught kindergarten and first grade before becoming a stay-at-home mom in Needham to her two children.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Creativity and Flexibility Can Help Work-Life Balance

Never in a million years did I think I would want to leave the world of full-time work to be home with my kids.  "Yes, I'll be back.  I am not the type to stay home,"  I would tell friends and co-workers before my maternity leave.  Well, we all know how perspective can change after having children, right?!

After working in university admissions for six years, I had my first child.  I went back to work full-time, but I started having second thoughts.  I approached my supervisor about a part-time schedule.  Unfortunately, my plan was rejected.

I started to loathe the stress of dropping off my baby at daycare and commuting to work.  I was feeling like my priorities had dramatically changed.  Thoughts such as, "Why am I sitting here at work when I could be hanging out at the playground?" frequently went through my head.

"Morning  Commute - 43:365" by diveoffice

Around that time, I put my head together with a colleague who was in a similar situation and we proposed a job-share.  Through various tweaks, compromises and shifting responsibilities, we convinced our manager that we could effectively implement the arrangement.

With three days in the office and two days at home, I loved living in the worlds of a stay-at-home and working mom.  However, although I felt lucky to have such a fantastic job-share, I still wanted even more flexibility.  After having my second baby, I bumped into a grad school acquaintance who was working as a college counselor.  This career had always been attractive to me due to its part-time flexibility.  She connected me with the company owner and a few months later, I took on my first clients.

"Meyer Gate, Harvard Yard" by Ik T

My first year as a college counselor was a whirlwind.  Not yet ready to leave my admissions job, I was driving to and from Harvard Square three times a week, picking the kids up at daycare, and then going back out at night and on weekends to learn the ropes of college counseling . . . all while nursing a baby.  I no longer had the patience for office politics and my priorities shifted to spending even more time at home.  So, halfway thorough the year, (and with much angst) I let my job-share partner know of my plan to go full steam ahead with college counseling.  Leaving the security of a guaranteed paycheck made me nervous, but my desire to own my schedule trumped my concerns.

Three years later, I have never looked back.

Sometimes, I feel like my life is crazier now.  It was so efficient when my work fit nicely into three full days at the office, versus now having to fit my work into what seems like tiny time slots throughout the day.  An hour of TV for my kids equals time to answer two parent emails and edit one student essay.  Other nights, after spending my whole day as a stay-at-home mom, I have to head out for two student appointments at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., only to arrive home at 9:30 p.m. and get back on the computer.

"@ Work @ Home" by Dylan

Even though it can be crazy, I truly do have flexibility to make my own schedule.  Last week, I volunteered in the lunch room at my kindergartner's school.  And on a day when my three-year-old daughter's school is closed, I can take her to a play date and go to work at night.

On top of all of this, I have added another job to the mix.  You see, college counseling is very quiet from January through June.  So, last February, I got the itch that I needed to be doing something more.  I signed up as a Stella & Dot Stylist, which I love.  The beauty of this new gig is that I can put as little or as much time and energy as I want into the business, all while feeling very entrepreneurial and empowered.

Ricki Benjamin with her two children, Sage and Jonah.

Now I have three jobs -- College Counselor, Stylist and Mom.  And while I don't think that I have found the magic formula for work/life balance, I do know that I am never bored, I have work that is fulfilling, keeps me on my toes, and snugly fits into a "flexible schedule," while spending significant quality time with my family.

About the Author
Ricki Benjamin lives in Wellesley with her two children (aged three and five), husband, and dog.  She would love to connect at any time on college counseling/admissions, Stella & Dot, advocating for a job-share or creative schedule, and finding time to work out with a young family.  You can say hello to Ricki at her Stella & Dot display at Parent Talk's Winter Marketplace this month.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  This is the first of a Parent Talk Matters Blog series on parenting styles.  Keep your eyes open for future blog posts that we hope to share from the perspectives of parents who have different approaches to finding a balanced life with kids.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why Choose Homeschool?

Do you want to spend more time with your kids?  Is the cost of your child's schooling getting you down?  Do you want more control over his or her education?

Without knowing much about it, I used to think of homeschooling as backwards and a little antisocial.  I thought it was something only "kooky" people do.  Now, as a parent, I understand why families may choose to educate their children at home.

The number of those choosing to educate their children at home is growing.  In 2007, there were 1.5 million kindergarten through grade twelve home-educated students.  In 2011, that number rose to  almost 1.8 million.  One estimate of homeschoolers in 2013 found 2.2 million home-educated students.

"Homeschool Days at Zoar Village" by Chiot's Run

Why are more parents choosing to homeschool?  A U.S. Department of Education survey of homeschool parents found that
  •  91 percent are concerned about school environments;
  • 77 percent want to provide a moral education;
  • 74 percent are dissatisfied with schools' academic instruction;
  • 64 percent want to provide religious instruction; and
  • 44 percent want a non-traditional approach to education. 
Parents in the homeschooling community also often mention a desire for more family time.  Other reasons include the high cost of a private school education, special needs, and the ability to customize lessons for better learning.

"Crowned Conchs" by FWC Fish and Wildlife Institute

My husband (who has an Ed.D. and works in education) and I discussed many of these reasons while deciding how to educate our three-year-old child.  I now homeschool my son during the week, and take him to a language school on Saturdays.  I love our time together, and would not change it for the world.  He seems happy, smart, and is developing on pace with, or ahead of, developmental milestones for his age.  That said, my husband and I will likely enroll our son in a preschool next year.  We view these early years as time to experiment and learn what works best for our family in the years to come.

With homeschooling, I enjoy the freedom to decide when, how, and what to teach my son.  I am constantly amazed and amused to see the world through his eyes.  I feel privileged to spend this time with him.  We grow our bond as we learn and create new memories together.

"Homeschool Fun" by Chiot' Run

Wondering if homeschooling is for you?  Check to see if the questions at the beginning of this post apply to you.  In addition, here are a few more:

  • Is your child missing something in his or her current education  that you think is important ? (Example: particular philosophy, morality, religious point of view, unconventional lesson)
  • Does your child have special needs, physical or mental issues that are better addressed at home?
  • Is your child being bullied or experiencing unhealthy peer pressure at his or her current school?
  • Is your child's school is unsafe?  (Example: security issues, drugs)
  • Do the instructors at your child's school treat him or her fairly?
  • Is your child making adequate progress in his or her current learning environment?
  • Is your child being adequately challenged?  If not, would he or she benefit from a more customized education?
  • Do you want your child to have more one-on-one instruction?
  • Can you afford to send your child to the school of your choice?  If not, are you happy with the available alternatives? 
  • Do you want more opportunities to bond with your child?

Your family will probably have additional, unique considerations to think about, that make sense for you.  Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts is a good place to start looking for more information.  Also helpful is Metrowest Homeschoolers, which runs a listserv for homeschooling parents to share advice and organize group activities. 

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home-mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

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