Archive for February, 2014

DON’T Fall in to the Gap!

Communication Breachproceed with caution
By Just Add Kids Founder, Paula Herrmann

Good grief, is all I can say.  I’ve seen the fallout of communication gone bad when the choice mode has gone from talking face-to-face or on the phone, versus communication via your fingertips (texting, emailing, messaging).  I made, perhaps, a bad decision.

Last week, I spent a great deal of time addressing the real challenges we parents face with keeping our kids safe from online predators. I went to an informative presentation on the subject, I dialoged about it on Facebook with other concerned parents, I found out that my son (seemingly from everything he told me) was a target…I even wrote a blog about it:  Read more…Creeper Alert: Proceed with Caution. I have not, and probably will never move on from that subject. Peeps, it’s here. It’s our reality. I’m living it. My kids are living it. If you are not there, your kids are either too young, or you’ve decided not to open that can of worms. If you choose the later, I applaud you, at the same time, I don’t know how you will be able to contain them. Our world of technology in your hands will somehow get to them, whether that is at school, or just within their social circles.

There are times, as a mom, that I wish I were raising my children in a different decade. I know each had its own challenges. However, digital technology is rapidly changing, so that puts a unique responsibility on us parents raising post-millennials. We have to keep the pace…more work for us. But we have to prioritize it, because it is, afterall, our job to keep our kids safe.

I talk “mom” talk. You and I, for the most part, can relate to each other. I may not be in the throws of plugging electrical outlets with security plugs anymore to avoid little curious fingers getting zapped; or using safety gates on entry ways and safety latches on cabinet doors to guard our babies and toddlers from potential harm. Our household has (and I say this with a bit of melancholy) grown out of those stages. We’ve moved on from communicating to our littles by sitting down and teaching them the A, B, C’s verbally and visually, and learning examples of items that start with A, B, C, etc. Instead, I’m directing my son and daughter to jump on our school district-backed online program “First In Math”. My 17 year old, learns her opera music, many times, by accessing professionals’ recorded performances on YouTube. That former example, with the ABC’s may be done using a LeapPad or some other early learning digital technology tool. My point is, we still all have something in common, the responsibility of raising children. Teaching them, disciplining them, caring for them, loving them, etc.

Unless you are a mom, I’m sorry,  you don’t get what it means to be a mom. You don’t understand ALL of the balls we juggle. You just don’t. Whether you are a stay at home mom, a work from home mom, a part-time, over-nighter, mom. We’re all unique, yet we have that one common thing that binds us, we’ve given birth (of course, unless you adopted or are fostering, which is cool)…our kids health and well-being is up to us.

One thing that I’ve tried to reiterate with my kids, especially as you know, my kids are older (10, 11, 17, and now I have an adult child 19) is that while texting or posting on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever might be the popular mode of communicating, sometimes you just have to pick up the phone and call. Yes, talk to someone. Most of the time, it’s a time-sensitivity thing that would make calling and getting instantaneous information the reason why calling is what needs to be done. And as most of know from experience, sometimes the written word in text doesn’t quite translate the way it was intended.

Case in point: we have (well, now “had”) a technology service provider. Someone who had installed this computer, added a (hardcore) firewall device with service subscription., provided patch service, etc. a year ago. She’s extremely knowledgeable in her field. Okay, so we did not hit it off from the get go, but, you know, I can totally appreciate a person for their passions that differ from mine. She said to me in our initial meeting, “My mind works like a computer” and I said “Mine works like a logo”.

I’ve had to reach out to her a just a handful of times, whether it be to let her know that some important websites I need to access frequently  were coming up blocked and I needed them unblocked, to when I informed her that we were switching our internet provider from Time Warner Cable to AT & T U-Verse. She nearly blew a gasket with that switch and sent me her typical long response with links to podcasts and articles as to why something was right or wrong. What I think she didn’t get was that she didn’t have to ever prove to me that her suggestions (more like commands) needed all that supporting “evidence”. I believed her. I trusted her expertise.

I am notorious for leaving extremely painful voice mail messages. She’s long on dialog (which always came off a bit condescending) and emails. Oh. My. Gosh.

Anyways, we’ve approached our renewal time on services/subscriptions and I have some questions for her, which I decide I’ll ask via email (I don’t have to click thru to the podcast or article cited) but, if I called, I’d be subjected to Lord knows how long of a phone conversation on a Sunday, my only day off. Namely, some services she quotes this would be billed at 30 minutes, that would be billed at 45 minutes. We’re suppose to sign a 2 page contract. Okay. I have a few questions, one being…what does 30 minutes/45 minutes equate to in dollars? I see no dollar amount per hour mentioned in the contract or in any of the back and forth emailed correspondences.

Long story, short(ened). Whatever, however, I asked my questions, she obviously took them in a manner that wasn’t intended and she FIRED me/us as a customer. What. The. Heck?! An email subject lined “I am sorry” (explaining I think she misunderstood my message, let’s resolve this) and a voicemail saying the same has not been returned since Monday.

Here’s probably a perfect case of a situation that might have gone differently had I called. Would I have been able to predict that? I don’t know.

I’m just gonna let it go. I do have a problem with people arrogantly communicating with me. Yah, I get you’re smarter than me. You let me know that. Maybe it was easier to get that via email than verbally.  Now our communication issue has become a “security” breach, as well.

Thanks for sticking with me through this rant. Sometimes you just gotta do it.


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Jeepers Creepers

Creeper Alert! Proceed with Caution                  
Written by Just Add Kids Founder,
Paula Herrmann

My post on Facebook read like this:

“Parents, PULEEEEEZ, take note! A friend posted this on her Facebook page a couple of days ago, and with her permission, I am sharing this “lessons learned” story with you all…
“P, my 4yr old has been extremely tired for the last 10 days …or so…I chalked it up to the fact that he has been sick & his body has just needed more sleep then normal or maybe he is growing….WRONG!! Last night kids tucked into bed…devices turned off…no more T.V. & lights out by 10pm…I then went to bed myself…I don’t know why but at 1:30am I awoke…maybe I heard a noise or maybe it was finally a Mother’s intuition kicking in…first stop…the boy’s room!! & sure enough…P had his iPad & was watching Netflix!!”. Read more… Are you kidding me!! No wonder he has been SO tired!! I don’t how long this has been his routine…but I can tell you…all devices are now in my room when lights go out!!

This is one mom’s story, and probably countless others that don’t have a clue.

A few months back,  as many of you know, I was on a quest to get to know my 11 year old daughter’s iPhone a bit better. Things had run amuck! For the most part, I thought and still think she was safe. You can read more here:
Today, that same daughter, Miss 11 year old, broke a rule. She brought her cell phone to school. I called the school, explained a bit, and asked that she call me, the assistant administrator confiscated her phone, and we are going to continue the talk that we briefly had this morning about a presentation I went to ,while I was putting her hair up. (she heard what I was saying, she was a captive audience).

Last night I attended a presentation,”The Dark Side of Digital Technology”, presented by special agent, Eric Szatkowski. I had heard about his presentations in the past (vaguely) and thanks to my friend who had attended this very same presentation at Prairie School a few months back, I had a little more knowledge about the dangers that lurk out there and took some (not enough) action steps to protect my kids. Because THAT’S MY JOB…to protect them. I’ve given them iPhones, iPods, access to iPads, Wii, laptops, you name it. I might as well just have opened the front door and let some creeper child predator take ’em.

I’m going to be frank, like it or not, mom/dad. First and foremost get your under 13 year old kids OFF OF FACECRACK. They lied to get on. Terms of Service on Facebook states you must be 13 or older. I stuck to my guns with mine. Were they happy? No. Did at least one of my kids do it anyways? Yes. One of them did, and got busted and punished.

I should’ve known, but learned also other sites/apps ie: Twitter, MeetMe, Instagram, Snapchat, Minecraft Realm, etc. are not to be used by kids under 13. They are gateways to predators (ever see that ongoing chat box on Minecraft? Oh, I’ve ignored) But, oh my gosh, we are going to have one unhappy household here.

In fact, we don’t have a happy household, as let me tell you what my 10 year old son told me as we discussed this all at the dinner table. He HAS BEEN THE TARGET of (what I’d describe as) a predator on Minecraft. Some player pulled him aside in a private chat. Whatever conversation ensued, that started out textbook “You’re a great player”, ended up asking my son where he lived. Pretty bold, eh? Son said he closed the chat down, saying he knew it was wrong and proceeded to pound on him in the game. It’s scary, folks.

I will choose to not be the cool mom in an effort to save my kids from being a victim.

Here’s how Agent Szatkowski opened the presentation…we need to “keep pace with the technology, because it keeps changing”. I can tell you from experience, there is indeed a difference between when my 19 and 17 were just entering the realm of texting/mobile phone usage, getting online, etc. and what I’m dealing with only a few 8 years later with my younger two.

It’s not that the kids shouldn’t have some of these things. There are ways to use them safely. Szatkowki describes that your child goes into a contract with you, the parent. We’ve given them these devices and they MUST USE IT PROPERLY and USE IT WITH RESPECT.  There needs to be full understanding by both the parent and the child what the potential of these devices, apps, websites are, as well as what the boundaries are. And as parents we need to check in. There needs to be open communication. The kids need to know that they’ve been trusted to use digital technology and if they go out of bounds, there are consequences. This is all done in love. I mean you do want to keep them safe because you love them. Right? Or the other choice is to look the other way/let ’em loose. Szatkowski stresses the need to let your child know you love them by telling them. That sounds easy for some of us. But, is it said?

One thing that rang true with the countless number of cases, Szatkowski brought up and I quote…”nobody thought it could happen to them”. There was a  boy in the audience, probably 11ish, with his parents on either side of him, didn’t think his dad’s friend would force him to watch pornography. (Do you let your kid watch YouTube? watch the crap scrolling at the bottom, it’s sick) He wakes up with nightmares, thinking someone’s watching him all of the time. This was his neighbor. His mom could barely contain herself when this brave young man shared his story. I was choked up and tears welled up in my eyes.

Mom, Dad, (um, Me)….stay on top of it. It’s easy to ignore the “gateway to the world” we’ve gladly given the keys over to our 11 year olds, our 10 year olds, and 4 even our year olds. Can they be responsible to hold the key to their own safety? I think not!

I can’t change the world. But I am responsible for change in my home, my world.

I am in contact with special agent Szatkowski and will post his future public presentations here and on our website’s calendar.

Here is another presentation/training, as they are calling it. You don’t have to be a parent of an adopted or foster child. (I asked)! Though some of the content will be tailored to those parents/families.
Here’s the link to Social Media and Foster Care/ Adoption Training on March 25th:

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Love Me Some Fun

fabric-heart-stilllife.jpgHappy Mom-Time,  Sometimes.
by Just Add Kids guest mom blogger, Colleen from SE Wisconsin

I am a 41 year old single mother of three fabulous kids. I don’t have much, I struggle, and I lost a lot with the end of my last relationship. I have no regrets and I love my life, and like any mom I do anything and everything possible for my kids. They come first, they are my heartbeat.

Early in the summer of 2013 I began to date again, a wonderfully kind, caring, loving man, Scott.

We eventually planned a getaway to Florida, he wanted to take me to Disney World and I was thrilled at the thought of a vacation, a little break from reality. During the weeks leading up to our vacation, I would fantasize of walking hand in hand with Scott on the white, warm sand.  Days where my son with autism drained me, I would keep thinking about sandy beaches. Days where I struggled with their father trying to make arrangements for him to watch his son D, and being told  no he wouldn’t….well, I’d stress, get depressed and wondered if I would ever get a vacation. My sister stepped up and volunteered to take time off of her job to care for my kids. Now, for some reason, days before Scott and I are to depart for Florida, my kids dad decides he will let them stay with him. Odd, yes, but…ok.

There I was, 41 and in Disney World for the first time ever, and with the love of my life. I couldn’t be happier, feeling spoiled, relaxed, and like a princess! We spent our first hours walking hand in hand just thrilled to finally be away together. It’s been less than 24 hours since I hugged my kids goodbye, and the phone calls from their father begin. (My phone is at the bottom of my bag as I have no interest in outside communication, but the mom in me knows I must dig for it because it may be my daughter).
Colleen and Scott pic 2  Colleen and Scott pic 1

He calls and calls, I keep answering as well as responding to the texts he is sending between calls. Our daughter has a toothache….he calls to ask me to find a dentist. There I stand, in the middle of Disney World, upset that I am not at home to care for my daughter when she needs me and stressed and furious that she is with someone who has no idea how to care for her, even with the simple and basics. He keeps telling me what he needs me to do from the hot park where I stand dripping sweat and no access to any info. How can I find a dentist? Call insurance. Make an appointment for today. Find a sitter for D. Wait. What? I want to help my daughter, but what???? How can I make appointments for you? How can I make calls from here when I don’t have the insurance book of phone numbers? How can I talk to you even, I can barely hear myself in this loud park?!!

This goes on all day….and into the next day. Scott is doing all he can to help me, to calm me and even says he will get me on a plane home to get to my daughter. What a thoughtful man. All I dreamed of for months was walking the white sandy beaches, swimming in the waves, sleeping on the beach, and drinking fruity frozen drinks with this sweet man, Scott.

I call my sister who had volunteered to watch my kids and she assures me she will check on them, find a dentist, and get my daughter to an appointment and keep D with her all the while.

I love my sister. Wow! So now, feeling slightly less stressed, I throw on my black dress, and Scott and I enjoy our fine dinner followed by wine on the beach, listening to the ocean, looking up at the stars….holding hands.

Vacationing as a mom, we never really get away. So enjoy the moments when you can, they are priceless and all the more appreciated.

Finally, have a wonderful Valentine’s Day with the ones you love most. I know I will! Cheers!

Colleen pic 1

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So What?

Sochi!Olympic logo
Written by Just Add Kids Founder, Paula Herrmann 

What the heck? I knew the Olympics were to start on February 6th, but I thought it would be the opening ceremonies, and not Women’s Snowboarding Slopestyle competition, which is being introduced in these games. L O V E  I T!  Only it’s a bit funky, (thankfully not as much as the hotel accommodations there I hear) for me. Not typically one to get hung up on deviating from tradition, it’s a bit odd not kicking things off with the long-awaited, always awesome spectacular event.

So working while watching, I’ll give you day one play by play. What other surprises do we have in store? Hope Putin keeps his shirt on!  Well, I guess that wouldn’t be a surprise. Read more…

Next on the television broadcast is Team Figure Skating….another new competition in these games! Surprise? So many empty seats. Typically at any figure skating competition, the place is packed. Why, I wonder? Because the games haven’t “officially” kicked off, you know, in traditional terms, post opening ceremonies? Maybe terror threat? We’ll see how the stands look in other events. Not a surprise? Scott Hamilton’s excitable commentary and Team Russia is in first place (well, at this point…too early to call!). Personally, I’d put figure skating in the top 3 of my personal faves. I simply cannot wait to see Jason Brown compete. He’s a 19 year old figure skater from Highland Park, Illinois whose Twitter profile describes himself as “Just a kid who loves to skate…and happens to have a ponytail!”

And speaking of hair….another of my prized athletes is Shaun White. Having shed his nickname the Flying Tomato, his red long locks, and sportin’ a mature, nice looking “do”, he’s been injured and checked out of the Men’s Snowboarding Slopestyle. Guess we’ll have to wait for the Half-Pipe. Wonder if it’ll be his for the taking, or if his reign of excellence and amazing heights are over? Hope not.

Not too much of a surprise for me that I didn’t get much into the Women’s Mogul competition…and that’s a tradition for me. Not a fan of hitting a mogul on the hill personally, and as of late, you can get that thrill driving on Highway K in Racine County, west of the interstate. I do admire the athleticism of those skiers though.

Well, that’s all for the pre Opening Ceremony Olympic coverage compliments of me. Thanks for tuning in.

Wait! Want more? Tune into this…. Crystal family makes homemade luge track! Wheeee!

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