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Kids learn from watching what their parents do. This isn’t rocket science, but researchers have found that the adage applies to sleeping, too. According to a new study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the longer a parent sleeps, the longer their children will, too. Also, children slept longer when parents were more confident about their ability to help children fall asleep.

Researchers think that, when parents learn about how their sleep schedule affects their kids, they can get kids to sleep longer.

“Our results also may suggest that individual parent behaviors do not reflect a ‘family lifestyle,’ but rather that parental sleep is directly linked to child sleep irrespective of others behaviors,” explains Corinna Rea, M.D, an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and attending physician at Boston Children’s Hospital. In addition, this increase in sleep duration had no direct correlation between screen time, daily activity or screen time limits.

It makes sense. We used to like sleeping in. I can remember when my older daughter was really little she would wake up at the crack of dawn calling for us. We would tell her no, it wasn’t time to wake up. It was still nighttime. She would eventually go back to sleep, waking up at a respectable 8:30 a.m. Today, my little one will always go to sleep early if I go to sleep early. She takes longer to fall asleep if we’re all up — even if we’re not making any noise. I find that she stays up later when I start getting upset that she’s not falling asleep.

Today, both of my kids get the requisite nine to 12 hours per 24 hours that doctors say “promotes optimal health.” Sure, in the summer or over a holiday break that means they are up later and wake up later, too, but I guess I can’t complain as long as they are asleep before I am!

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Getting Alone Time

My family is on the therapy train right now, including couple therapy for me and my husband. He’s a really nice guy — the couple therapist. He has us reading a lot and doing plenty of homework and exercises. For instance, we learned to listen to each other (or should I say re-learned), handing a scrap of carpet back and forth. (If you have the carpet, you have the floor.) We had to take a quiz to find out our love languages. We initiated “time outs” where everything stops and we disengage immediately if we find ourselves heading towards a fight. I won’t sugarcoat it, though. This is real work. I dread going each week to the point that my vestibular migraines, which have settled down a bit, flare up on the way to the office.

Last week we spent a lot of time talking about the reason we started going as well as the need to build up intimacy and friendship. This culminated with the therapist asking us what we did together as a couple. We looked at each other and started rattling off our days. Before we could get to the end of the very long lists — work, driving the kids to sports, helping the little one with homework, cleaning up after dinner, beach club meetings, helping at the school store, being the president of our beach club, Girl Scout meetings, teaching religion — the therapist commented on our lack of alone time. “What do you do to nurture your relationship,” he asked. “Where is your alone time?”

The answer is complicated. We have two kids, we both work and we both volunteer. Our kids are very involved in extracurricular activities. When they are home and we are home, too, the girls want to be with us. For example, last Saturday we ate dinner together and had a family game night, playing Quirkle and Rummicube. It was a lovely evening, but when we were done and the kids were in bed my husband went one way and I went upstairs to listen to an audiobook. Even our occasional outings are shared with other people. If we go out we typically go out with friends. A party here. A dinner there. We rarely if ever do anything one-on-one. Yes, we occasionally try grabbing lunch together, but it’s rushed. He’s got to get back to the office within an hour, and I’m typically distracted thinking about the story I have sitting on my desktop or the webinar that’s starting at 2 p.m.

After listening to our excuses, the therapist gave us an ultimatum of sorts. Unless we started doing things just for us, WITH just us, it didn’t really make sense to keep seeing him. He told us yes, we could learn to mediate our arguments better, and our individual therapies would help us continue working on our own issues and problems. However, without alone time — the glue that binds couples — we weren’t ever going to get to the place we want to be.

We walked out after the session, rushing back to work. (We even go to therapy during the work day because it’s nearly impossible to get out at night during the week.) Later on as we were lying in bed, we talked about it. We didn’t realize how little time we spent together as a couple. We didn’t know that — between kids and work and other responsibilities — we were living in the same house but living parallel lives. While this arrangement might work for some couples, it obviously isn’t working for us anymore. Hence, the therapy.

That was last Tuesday. Since then, we’ve been trying to spend more time together. It isn’t easy. We took a few walks at night. We’ve gone to Trader Joe’s together. We sat in the car for the 15 minutes before my little one’s soccer game with my husband reading our latest homework assignment out loud. We grab snippets of time here and there whenever we can.

So what’s the future going to hold? I don’t know. I don’t have anything pithy or smart to say, especially since I know we’re only at the beginning. We have a very long, very steep road to go down. I will say that our actual walks have been lovely. It’s so nice to move along together — literally and figuratively. I find myself looking forward to grabbing our dog’s leash and heading out into the cool night air. I feel hopeful.

I also feel determined. As the old adage goes, marriage, like life, is not a destination. It’s a journey. Here’s hoping that we make it to the end together one day at a time.

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Every year we spend a lot of time thinking about Halloween costumers. This year my little one had one request. She wanted to be something unique for Halloween. She thought about it and decide on a witch vampire, whatever that is! She took apart two costumes, using pieces of each, making herself look like a cross between Dracula and the Witch of the West. She wore her creation this weekend to a local Halloween event, skipping the makeup because she wanted to surprise everyone with the whole package at her school’s Halloween parade the next day.

It was a warm day here in New York for the safe Halloween event. The thermometer topped the 70 degree mark. The costume, which is thin and gauzy, was perfect for the weather. Then, later that day, a storm came up. The rain poured down and the temperature dropped significantly, plunging into the 50s by day-end. Before heading to bed — and contemplating a fight about wearing a coat over her dress the next day — I asked Little Girl if she would consider wearing something a little warmer on Halloween. The weather was supposed to be cool, starting in the 40s, I told her. It was also supposed to be windy. She agreed to look at what we had in our giant costume bin.

I brought down a few options from the attic. A warm, one-piece Pegasus, a funky spider that came with a hat and a one-piece cat costume. She resisted, turning down all three. I asked (well, begged) her to at least try them all on. She outright refused the cat, and nixed the spider, but as soon as she had the Pegasus on, she fell in love. It looked adorable on her, too.

The costume has big silvery wings, a long rainbow-colored tail and a sparkly horn. She slipped her hands into the armbands and started running through the house, her “wings” flying behind her. She loved it, she said. But then she stopped, her face contorted with fear. “What if everyone makes fun of me?”

My first instinct was to grab her and hug her. My second instinct was to ask her why anyone would do that. “It’s a little babyish, and maybe people will be mean,” she explained. Sigh. We sat down and had a discussion about people who tease and why they don’t matter. We talked about being true to your own needs. We hugged and talked about what she liked about the costume. (“The tail is so soft, and I wouldn’t have to wear a coat tomorrow.”) We talked about how one of her best friends was wearing a unicorn costume that she made herself and she wasn’t afraid of being made fun of. After discussing it for a bit, my brave girl decided she would go with it and be the mythical creature.

It all worked out well. I was so proud to see her walking in the school’s Halloween parade, wings out, horn held high. As I expected, she wasn’t the only one wearing a fanciful costume. And she was warm! Later that day she told me that everyone loved her as a Pegasus. All her friends asked to pet her tail and rub her wings! See, I said. No one would ever make fun of such a cool costume. I wish I was telling her the whole truth. However, I know that — if she was a different, less likeable child — she may have caught some flak from the popular kids. And that is way scarier than I would like to admit.

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Ahh, technology. I have covered the topic of kids and television (and in recent years screens) many times. You can read some of that work here and here. My stance mirrors that of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — less screen time, more play time –  so I wasn’t surprised when they came out with new recommendations this week, which include:

  • Kids younger than 18 months avoiding all screen media
  • Those 18 to 24 months of age should watch high-quality programming (if anything at all) and watch with parents
  • Children ages 2 to 5 years should be in front of screens for no longer than one hour per day and co-view with their parents
  • Kids over 6 should have “consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health”

I also love the AAP’s other suggestions: Media-free time together with the family, and media-free locations inside homes such as bedrooms.

Monitoring and limiting my youngest hasn’t been too difficult. My older daughter just turned 13, though, and I feel like we’re fighting a losing battle. She has an iPhone and a Chromebook, which the school supplies. They use the Chromebook at school in place of text books. This means that the kid is on and off that screen for up to seven hours a day. Homework is done on the Chromebook, too. The kids video chat with each other to work on projects and all the work is on their Google Drive. Then there’s the texting, FaceTiming and other social interactions that take place on the phone. It feels like she is always staring at a screen. What’s a parent to do?

I must admit that I was one of the parents who was thrilled that we give out Chromebooks at school. What a great idea, I thought. Now…not so much. I wonder what all this screen time is doing to my kid’s brain. (After all, I, like many parents, read the NY Post article about screens that call them “digital heroin.”) And yet it is nearly impossible to take the screens away. Kids don’t call each other on the phone. Their phones are the main venues for social interaction. So what’s a mom to do?

I’m going to read the AAP’s guidelines with my kids later on. I’m also going to sit down and, as a family, create a media plan using the AAP’s interactive, online tool. Finally, I am going to tell my daughter she needs to disconnect from her phone for at least an hour when she gets home and enforce the screen ban that’s already in place: No screens after 9 p.m. We’ve been lax about that when the day turns into night and she’s still working on her homework or chatting with friends. We never wanted to be the parents who kept their children from social interactions. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Review: Urban Market Bags

My little pouch full of Urban bags.

My little pouch of Urban Market bags.

“That is so cool.”

The 20-something cashier at my local market was staring down as I took one of my new bags out of its little pouch and unfolded it. She was amazed that such a big bag came out of such a little one. I watched as she loaded all of my groceries into the aforementioned “cool” bag, happy that I finally, finally have a set of reusable bags that work!

About a month ago the folks over at Urban Market Bags sent me a set of their bags to try out. I was skeptical. I have a lot of reusable bags. A lot. I have bags for grocery stores, clothing shops and produce. My go-to bag has to be one my oldest made in nursery school. It’s a big burlap bag stamped by my then-three-year-old. I have others, but they get dirty and rip. None are all that fabulous. What could be so great about another set of reusable bags, I wondered? And then I started using them.

From the moment I took them out I was hooked. The three-bag  set arrived tucked into the drawstring pack, which is 5-inches tall and 3.5-inches wide. I opened the drawstring and took out three bags, each 26-inches tall and 12.5-inches wide. (There’s also a six pack of bags. Those bags are 22 1/2 by 11 1/2.) All of the bags are made of nylon, which means they are machine washable. They looked big enough to handle what would normally go in a big brown paper bag, but would they hold up? They certainly have. So far, I can’t say enough about them.

Since unpacking them I have used them and refolded them many times, putting them back into their little pouch, which I keep in the door cup holder of my car. It’s so nice having my bags in one small place rather than all over my trunk. As I saw when I first took them out, they are big enough to stuff a lot of groceries into yet aren’t difficult to lug around. For instance, the handle never digs into my hand. They are also better than my other bags because they conform to the shape of whatever is in them. I recently used them at a local home store, filling them up with bulky and odd-shaped items and my little one was able to carry it to the car.

My little one carrying her sister's birthday gifts from a local home store.

My little one carrying her sister’s birthday gifts from a local home store.

So what’s the only drawback? For most, it’s going to be the price. My three-pack costs $28. The six-pack is $40. Those prices don’t include shipping. That said, would I pay $28 for another three bags? Absolutely. They are easy to remember and carry into the store since they are always staring at me when I open my car door. They are also really comfortable to use. Most important, they hold a lot of stuff.

I figure it’s a matter of looking at it from a long term perspective. If you go to a store every day for a month — and really, who isn’t in a store or the library or somewhere you need a bag on a daily basis — the bags end up with a cost of about $1 per day or $.33 each. Amortize that out over a year and they run you about $.08 a day for the pack. Completely and totally worth it, especially if you live in a town that charges for bags, something that’s coming sooner than you think.

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Review: Kid Kanteen

Insulated and it matches our new backpack!

Insulated and it matches our new backpack!

It’s back-to-school day for many of us in the Northeast so I thought I would do a quick review. I received this nifty Kleen Kanteen Kid Kanteen last week. It’s the first time I’ve used a stainless steel water bottle in a few years. We stopped using them because the ones we had weren’t meeting our needs. First, if you added ice to the plain stainless steel bottles there would be so much condensation on the outside that they soaked backpacks. The ice never lasted too long, either, which meant your water was warm in an hour or so. Finally, the stainless steel tops were difficult to open — especially when little hands were involved. We switched to a silicon-covered glass bottle, which I love but isn’t school-friendly, so I was thrilled to get this one in the mail.

The new Kleen Kanteen we got is vacuum-insulated. This means much less condensation. In fact, I didn’t see any this morning as I was packing up lunch, and it held its own on the beach! The bottle also ships with a BPA-free plastic cap, which is easier to open and hopefully won’t leak. (The company says the loop cap is leak-proof.) The nicest part is that the water inside actually stays cold! You can put ice in the bottle and expect it to be there at the end of the school day. It even stays cold after a day on the beach!

I have to see how the paint stands up to my little wrecking ball, but overall I am very happy with our new water bottle. I plan on getting one for my big girl soon. Yes, it costs $22.70 on Amazon, but, considering a regular bottled water is $1.50, we’ll be saving money after 15 uses and doing our part for the environment.

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Today I logged into Facebook and, as usual, right on top was a Facebook memory. A photo from 2012 captioned, “Gorgeous day on the boat.” It features my husband, my daughter, an old friend and her son. It didn’t make me happy, though. It made me incredibly sad since I am no longer friends with that person — or her family. I clicked through to look at the other photos Facebook wanted me to remember. Looking at them hurt. They reminded me that I lost someone who was like a family member. Four someones, actually.

One photo was of my friend’s kid and Little Girl making faces in a mirror. Another was my friend’s husband lying on a raft. Another photo was of my older daughter beaming, sitting next to my friend’s son and her husband.

Yes, all of the photos remind me of the loss my whole family suffered when that friendship died. The worst part is I am not exactly sure why it died. I have an idea, though.

For the past two years I’ve been spending every moment trying to climb out of hell (or working when I felt well enough) so it wasn’t that I did anything that you would think would end a friendship. We didn’t fight. We didn’t have a disagreement. I didn’t call her names or ruin her favorite sweater. When I look back I remember all the good times — and those good times comprised about 99.9 percent of our time together. And yet she cut me out of her life. I think it was because I was behaving co-dependently.

I come to this conclusion after discussing it (a lot) in therapy and reading and re-reading every single email and text I sent her over the past three years. While I uncovered one thing I did — blogging about something that her husband did — at the time she told me she was upset, and it was over. I took the post down and apologized immediately. It wasn’t a friendship killer. No, instead, I think it was a handful of texts and emails we exchanged with me bemoaning her interaction with a girl we both knew. While the girl-in-common often acted unkind and childish — she always had to prove that she was the better friend — my reactions to their interactions were wrong.

For instance, one time I complimented my friend on a bracelet she had on. The mutual friend immediately piped up, “Oh, I have one, too! We got them when we went away together! They are our friendship bracelets!” I shouldn’t have taken the bait — even though what she said was something that would normally come out of a teen’s mouth instead of a 30-something woman’s — but I did. I felt jealous and sad and upset. Later, I brought the comment up to my friend, saying how upset the girl’s words made me. She told me that they were absolutely not friendship bracelets, and that she didn’t know what the girl was talking about. She was buying one and the other girl decided to buy one, too. However, she shouldn’t have had to say a word because I never should have been upset by it to begin with.

Another time the mutual friend went on and on about how her child and my friend’s child FaceTimed every morning. That they were so close. Again, it made me feel less-than. I got hurt. I felt threatened. Basically, I felt that if my friend (or her child) liked the other girl (or her child) more than me I was worthless. Sad, isn’t it? Especially since my friend told me time and again how special our relationship was and how she didn’t confide in that girl. She and the girl weren’t the same type of friends we were. Looking back, I feel ashamed and sad. Why did I have to question my friend? Why couldn’t I feel confident in her love and friendship?  The evidence was there that she cared about me a lot, but even if it wasn’t: The other girl’s relationship with my friend had nothing to do with me!

Those are just two examples. However, I can see now that many of the conversations and interactions tied to that other girl brought out my tendency toward co-dependency.

Childhood Strikes Again

What is co-dependence? Well, it’s something that happens when you grow up in a dysfunctional home. WebMD has a great definition: “The first step in getting things back on track is to understand the meaning of a codependent relationship. Experts say it’s a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity.

My therapist first brought up the concept based on some other work I was doing. Soon after, I found a website that had a more complete description of the problem and it hit me. I was co-dependent and I never even knew it. The biggest ah-ha moment however was when, after going through an “Are you co-dependent” questionnaire, I saw how many times I answered yes. (Keep in mind that I took the questionnaire at the beginning of the summer before starting to work on it in therapy. My answers would be very different if I took it today — at least on many of them. Undoing years of co-dependent feelings takes a while.) Here’s the questionnaire as well as my answers from four months ago:

1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments? YES

2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you? YES

3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem? NO

4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you? (Not lived with but dated.)

5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own? YES

6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home? YES

7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends? YES

8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be? NO

9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others? YES

10. Have you ever felt inadequate? YES

11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake? YES

12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts? YES, YES, YES

13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake? YES

14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts? YES

15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done? YES

16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss? NO

17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life? NO

18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help? YES, YES, YES

19. Do you have trouble asking for help? YES, YES, YES

20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them? YES!!!

Since realizing I have a co-dependent personality, it’s like a weight has been lifted. Things are so much clearer. Now, if someone excludes me or someone isn’t kind — guess what? — I don’t assume it is because of me! I don’t attach any feelings or emotions to their actions. My self-worth isn’t tied to what people say or do — or don’t do. And since I don’t think that I need to do things to get people to like me, I only do things that I want to do. If I am kind, it’s because I want to be not because unconsciously I feel like I have to be.

Today, while I am sorry I lost my friend, I am so glad I learned a lesson. I am glad my eyes are open to who I am and the tendencies I have. I know it will take a while longer to be completely done with my journey, but I am looking forward to continuing to grow and watching my current friendships blossom — and making new ones.

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Phasing Out Flossing?

As a journalist, I get lots of press releases that pop into my inbox. This week I was inundated with folks reacting to and pitching stories about an Associated Press investigation about flossing. Seems the AP story says there is “little proof” that flossing is beneficial. This blows my mind!

One of the reasons I went ahead and got Invisalign braces is the fact that I would get huge chunks of food caught in between my back teeth. It was so annoying. It was also affecting the health of my gums. I flossed all the time, but my gums would still occasionally get irritated. Now that I have the aligners I floss even more frequently since food stuck between teeth plus aligners equals pain. So do I agree with the new no-floss recommendations? Heck no!

I read an excellent story on Slate about the flossing debacle. I highly recommend it because it looks at the whole idea of medical studies and how most are sponsored by the product or company that is being investigated. Even that author, who decided that maybe she would ditch flossing, ended her story with a question from her husband: “What about the food between your teeth?”

And that’s the rub. If you stop flossing you stop removing the little pieces of vegetables, meat and fruit that get caught in your teeth. Not to mention seeds, popcorn kernels and ground up carbs. Forget the health of your gums for a moment. When you leave that stuff alone it ferments and rots, making your breath smell awful. That said, I intend to keep flossing. How about you?

 

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Review: Dr. Eureka

Those pesky balls are tough to control!

Those pesky balls are tough to control!

The folks over at Blue Orange Games — the manufacturer of our other favorite game, Doodle Quest — sent me Dr. Eureka a few months back. Although we’ve played it many times over the summer, this is the first chance I’m getting to review it. In three words: We loved it!

The game is designed for kids and adults ages 8 and up, but we’ve played it with kids as young as six. (The six-year-old actually did better than some of the adults!) The company describes the game like this: “Players pass colorful molecules between test tubes to match the pattern on a challenge card, building both cognitive processing and dexterity skills. Play it alone or at a party with friends, Dr. Eureka is your best bet for some crazy molecule juggling fun!”

What does that mean? Everyone gets three little plastic tubes and six colored balls — two of each color. The game also comes with 54 cards that show different variations of the little balls sitting in the test tubes. For instance, it might have no balls in one, four in another and two in the last tube. When a card is flipped over, everyone has to work as quickly and carefully as possible to duplicate what’s on that card without touching the balls or letting them drop.Do either and you’re out of the game! The first person to match the pattern on the card wins.

What I love about this game is that it makes you think. You’ve got to think about how you can best move the balls from tube to tube in the fewest number of steps. Do you pour four of them into one tube and manipulate the other two? Do you try and work from the bottom? The whole process might sound easy, but moving those balls from tube to tube is much more challenging than you’d think! Your fine motor skills definitely get a workout. “The tubes are so narrow,” was something one of the adults actually said out loud!

We’ve played it about four or five times and have not gotten to the end of the 54-card deck, but I do wonder if there are any additional permutations (and add-on packs) that we can buy. In the meantime, it’s definitely one of those games that everyone can get behind. Good clean summer fun — just make sure you play in an area that doesn’t have a lot of furniture. Those little balls tend to roll far if you drop them.

 

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And the Award Goes to…

The dust-gatherers now gathering dust in my office.

The dust-gatherers now gathering dust in my office.

My kids are 12 and 8. They have been playing sports since they were little. They aren’t superstars. And yet we have more than 20 trophies sitting in our home. Trophies that take up room, gather dust and are pretty much meaningless.

We’ve got trophies for kindergarten CYO basketball, our beach club’s swim team, the National PTA Reflections contest, a first grade soccer tournament and cheerleading. Last month the girls and I cleaned their rooms. All those trophies ended up sitting in the hallway of our upstairs. The girls didn’t want them cluttering up their shelves. Mommy, they said, we don’t need them. No kidding, I thought. No kidding.

I have been against giving out trophies since we got the first shiny plastic and stone monstrosity complete with a little soccer ball. (That one was for participating in a local peewee soccer program that didn’t even have games!) My biggest complaint has always been that trophies should be for real accomplishments. Big wins. Amazing feats of prowess — academic or athletic. You don’t need a trophy to commemorate ten weeks of kindergarten sports skills classes!

I’m not the only one who feels this way. For instance, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison created a firestorm last year when he posted on Instagram about taking away trophies his little ones got. The photo was accompanied by this post: “I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues”

I totally agree and wish others did, but alas, I am in the minority. For example, a few years ago I ran our elementary school’s Reflections program and I championed phasing out the trophies. We could give out ribbons and medals, I said. It would be cheaper, I said! It didn’t fly. The trophies were ordered, and I silently cursed the fact that I would have another four of them in my house. (My kids tend to do well at those types of contests.)

But I digress, as usual. When my kids handed over their shiny loot I took to the Internet to find out if I could recycle them. Yes, I discovered, there are companies that will recycle trophies, but I couldn’t find any close by. Today I posted on Facebook and a friend sent me a link about a place WAY out east that takes them and refurbishes them for charities. It’s about an hour away from my home, but it may be worth the trip just to get them out of my sight. In the meantime, I know I am blessed that my kids are able to be involved with sports and contests to earn trophies at all. There are many children who don’t have the same opportunities. Does that earn me a medal?

What’s your take on trophies? I’d like to know.

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