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Just a Reminder

Fussbucket has moved to a new web address: http://www.fussbucketblog.com

All the original posts from here are now located over there too, as well as new daily posts.If you have an email subscription, it is very easy to re-subscribe to the new site. I hope you’ll take just a moment to do that. And if you have us bookmarked, take a sec to change the address for Fussbucket in your blog folder.

Hope to see you at our new digs

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Fussbucket is Moving!

by Stacey

Thanks to the kind people at BlogHer, Fussbucket will now be hosting ads! But in order to make it all work, we had to move the site to a new address. So please follow along with us!

If you have us bookmarked, please change the address to: http://www.fussbucketblog.com

If you’re receiving email or RSS feeds, you’ll need to subscribe again. There are links on the new site to facilitate that simple process.

You won’t need to register to comment on the new site, so I’m hoping you all will keep right on commenting. The site looks and feels mostly the same as our comfy, old site here on WordPress. Thanks much to the folks over here.

One last thing, none of this would have happened were it not for the tenacious brilliance of Kristin, our tech guru. Thanks so much to her. She’s a coding, widget wizard.

I really hope you’ll join us at Fussbusketblog.com. Oh, and if you run into any problems over there, please let us know. You can email me at: stacey@fussbucketblog.com.

Cheers!

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Monday, Nov. 19th

cake_21.jpg  Happy Birthday Chris!
xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

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A Sucker’s Game?

by Stacey

Over the course of their life, kids cost parents a fortune. More than you may realize. More than you might want to know. So if you don’t want to know, start singing la-la-la and skip on down to the next post.

According to this special report on the cost of kids (ooh, a special report!) in Business Week magazine, parents with some cash to spend will shell out about $300,000 on their kids by the time they turn 18 years old. That doesn’t include college tuition. Say what? Thanks to Salon’s Broadsheet for the tip.

The Agriculture Dept.’s latest survey found that households in the top-third income bracket (with average pretax income of $118,200) will spend $289,380 by their child’s 18th birthday—or about $17,000 a year (in 2006 dollars).

The largest expense is housing, according to an article in the report. A USDA survey found that housing makes up about a third of expenditures for parents, given that people often seek out more space and good schools. Health care is also sucking up more of parents’ hard-earned cash given that premiums and co-payments have been rising, says USDA economist Mark Fino.

Indeed, the USDA survey is probably understating the cost of raising kids. Considering extras like sports equipment, summer camps, private school, Disney vacations, and a full-time nanny, raising a child through age 17 could cost $1 million or more. Some parents throw extravagant birthday parties and won’t hesitate to buy their kids the latest video games and cell phones and splurge on Spanish and painting lessons.

It gets worse. There’s a whole bunch of additional expenses that the survey left out, including, ummm, college tuition. Hello? “According to reports from the College Board, a private four-year college runs an average of $23,712 per year (up 6.3% from the 2006/07 school year), while a public four-year college costs $6,185 (up 6.6% from last year),” the article says. “The ‘good news,’ says the College Board, ‘is more than $130 billion in financial aid is available.'”

Then, after college, many parents are welcoming their children back home until they find a job. In fact, 25% of employed parents have kids aged 18 to 29 living in their home at least half the time. Parents contribute $2,200 annually (on average, in 2001 dollars) to children aged 18 to 34, according to a 2003 University of Pennsylvania study. This transition to adulthood “is a very risky period,” says Arlene Skolnick, a visiting scholar at New York University and research scholar at Counsel on Contemporary Families.

Parents live in fear that their children will not acquire the skills they need to earn at least a middle-class salary, the article says. “Children that earn a bachelor’s degree stand to earn over 60% more than those with only a high school diploma, the College Board says. Over a lifetime, the gap in earning potential between a high school diploma and a B.A. is more than $800,000, it says.”

Then kids go on to have their own kids and some decide not to work, (ahem, like me) so they can stay home with their children and spend even more money. “Studies have estimated that indirect costs, such as foregone earnings, oftentimes exceed direct costs, especially if one parent has to drop out of the workforce,” says Fino at the USDA.

On top of all that, growth in wages for U.S. workers has been minuscule or stagnant, while inflation has crept higher. Average hourly earnings rose just 0.7% last year after declining in 2005 and 2004, versus the peak annual growth rate of 4.1% for 1972, according to the Labor Dept. Meanwhile, prices for food, energy, and other goods keep rising, as measured by the 3.2% rise in the consumer price index last year.

It’s information like this that just might make some people think twice before having kids. Everyone tells you about the sleep and the tantrums and the runny noses and you don’t believe it will actually happen to you or at least that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as they say. But when it’s written down in dollars and cents, it’s hard to deny.

It’s costs such as these that make 28-year-old Bahar Zaker in Syracuse, N.Y., want to put off having kids, maybe forever. “We can’t imagine how we would manage the costs of kids,” says Zaker, who has been married for three years to a philosophy professor and is finishing her thesis on French surrealist art at the University of California. One big hurdle for her is the price of education, and she questions whether it pays off. “The costs of education are going up, and you’re not always sure the value of the education is going up with them,” she says. But she also admits that not having kids is a lifestyle choice. “We both like to travel,” she says.

Yeah, well so did we. The article ends with the hope that the government or some other “savior” as the writer puts it, will help families with all this financial burden.”Everyone who wants to may join the paid labor force, but almost no one gets a family wage or enough help from government to defray the costs of raising children,” says Phillip Longman, author of the book The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It (Perseus Books Group, 2004). He figures the critical moment will emerge during the next decade, “as millions of Baby Boomers start crashing past the boundaries of old age, and as today’s teenagers find themselves saddled with massive student loans, rising taxes, and growing frustration over the difficulty of forming or affording a family.”

Until then, as Longman puts it bluntly: “Child rearing is fast becoming a sucker’s game. Though the psychic rewards remain, the economic returns to individual parents have largely disappeared, while the cost of parenthood is soaring.”

For more:
Here’s a debate on whether or not it’s worth the cost.
Here are some tips on how to make ends meet.
Here’s an article on great places to raise kids for less.
Here’s one on how to go to college for free.
Here’s another on entrepreneurs targeting parents.

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Pregnant in a Bubble

by Stacey

The pressure on pregnant women to protect a growing is fetus is mounting, according to this story in the LA Times. Pregnant women should not only avoid alcohol, illegal drugs, and smoking, but pesticides on fruits and vegetables, pollution in the air, life stress, and even the flu.

In other words, if you’re pregnant you should wrap yourself in organic cotton, carry a bushel of organic produce wherever you go, breathe only filtered oxygen, and exist for nine months in a healthy, blissful meditative state.

What women eat, touch and breathe during pregnancy now appears to be more important to their babies’ health than anyone ever imagined. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that fetuses are surprisingly susceptible to outside influences, such as food, environmental chemicals and pollutants, infections, even stress. Under this theory — called fetal programming — babies are born not just with traits dictated by their parents’ genes, such as brown eyes and olive skin. They may be born with a tendency to develop asthma, diabetes or other illnesses based on what their mothers ate and were exposed to during pregnancy.

Right there I’m beginning to suspect this article is going to scare the bejeezus out of people. And if you’re not scared, you can at least feel mighty guilty that somehow you are responsible if your child is less than perfect.

For example, the article makes an interesting point: there seems to be a link between a pregnant woman’s diet and childhood obesity. “[R]esearch has shown that pregnant women with diets high in fat and sugar give birth to children who are more likely to become obese, perhaps because their fat cells are “programmed” in utero for later obesity.” But the writer can’t leave well enough alone, so she adds: “In short, the daily experiences of a pregnant woman may be far from benign.”

Sigh.

The article says that scientists who study adult conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma, schizophrenia and infertility are now becoming interested in fetal programming. By understanding the origins of susceptibility, they hope to understand how such diseases might be prevented. “People are realizing that maybe they’ve been looking at the wrong time frame for the role of environment and disease,” says [Jerry Heindel, a biochemist and scientific program administrator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences], who developed a program at the institute to study the fetal basis for disease.

Contamination of fish with very high concentrations of methylmercury from industrial sources has caused clusters of severe birth defects in several places around the world. But more recent research, including three large epidemiological studies, suggests that even methylmercury concentrations commonly found in the United States can cause subtle changes in the fetus, such as lower IQ and decreased cognitive performance in childhood, [Philip Landrigan, chairman of the department of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City] says.

I don’t doubt that methylmercury could be problematic. But I do wonder, how do they know what the baby’s IQ would have been if the mother had not eaten the contaminated fish? And as for decreased cognitive performance in childhood, are the kids mentally disabled? Or are they just acting like my son who sometimes mumbles unintelligibly to himself?

Other studies have linked low levels of the vitamin folate and increased levels of the amino acid homocysteine with an increased risk of schizophrenia. In a study published in January in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers found that high homocysteine levels in the third trimester doubled schizophrenia risk in the offspring, perhaps by altering brain structure or function or through subtle damage to the placenta to reduce oxygen delivery to the fetus.

I don’t even know what homocysteine is. I don’t know how to get it and I certainly wouldn’t know how to get rid of it if there’s too much of it at the end of my pregnancy.

And increasingly, scientists fear that fetuses and young children may be harmed by pesticides and pollutants that, at the same level, cause no measurable harm in adults. For example, some common pesticides are thought to be so-called endocrine disrupters, chemicals that change hormone function in utero and can affect reproductive organ development and function later in life.

Okay, eat organic food whenever you can. I can get behind that. But air pollution? Not sure what you can do about that besides move if you live in a city with a lot of smog. Or try not to breathe too much.

A study in the March issue of Human Reproduction found that women who ate more than seven servings a week of beef during pregnancy had sons who were more likely to have poor sperm quality as adults — possibly due to the hormones fed to cattle.

More than seven servings of red meat in one week sounds like a lot. But then how much is safe? Three? Two? None?

And then in case you weren’t already feeling utterly in despair…

Some aspects of fetal programming seem almost beyond anyone’s control. Infections from particular viruses, bacteria or parasites are known to cause birth defects. But studies even suggest that getting the flu while pregnant might be harmful (it’s linked in several studies to a higher risk of schizophrenia in offspring). And a pregnant woman’s emotional trauma from such events as job loss, divorce or the death of a loved one has been shown in several studies to increase the risk of birth defects and autism.

Advising pregnant women is difficult, the article laments. Landrigan advises people to think about which chemicals to use and store in their homes and whether to buy organic foods and nontoxic products. “This is all about empowering people with information,” he says. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

That’s not to say that Heindel and other fetal-programming experts are suggesting pregnant women take every possible precaution for fear of dooming their children. Such research is in its infancy, and many questions and controversies remain, Heindel says. And he adds: Diseases are caused by a combination of genes and environment or by many factors that collude.

No, no, of course we don’t want women to freak out if we tell them that maybe their unborn child will develop schizophrenia if they stand at the bus stop too long every morning or eat non-organic saltines instead of whole grain wheat toast every day to combat nausea. We’ll just write a big, splashy article about it in the newspaper.

Look, I’m not against being cautious while pregnant. I think most of us know that prescription drugs could pose a risk to a developing fetus and for that reason pregnant women generally try to avoid medications. Most of us don’t drink at all or severely cut back our alcohol intake while pregnant and we don’t do things like ride unicycles or race cars while carrying a fetus.

But in this new world of fetal risk research where everything from eating fish to catching a cold could potentially harm a growing baby, the advice to pregnant women seems to be long on caution and short on facts.

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The Open Post

by Stacey

Last week I went to a lecture on parenting by Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and author of the book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” which I am now reading. She was funny and insightful. Here are some quotes I jotted down in my notebook:

“Effective parenting feels like neglect and overcontrol.”

This may sound like some backward, barnyard, messed up parenting advice, but I actually think she’s right. For some time now I’ve had the sense that somehow, we’re doing this whole thing wrong. Our kids are overprotected, overindulged, and overscheduled. We obsess about their every emotion and fear that if they don’t master some obscure skill, they’ll never get into college. We drive them hard and exhaust ourselves in the process. We do this because we love them, but is this what parenting is really all about?

I think her point is that we’re mistakenly getting too involved in matters that aren’t our business, such as our kids’ social lives or their experiences in school. And we’re not doing enough to make sure our kids do the right things, like show us respect and do chores around the house.

“It’s good for kids to be bored, frustrated, and unhappy. It’s really good for kids to have a crabby, unenlightened, uninspired 4th grade teacher. It’s good for kids to have a shallow, bossy, slutty best friend. It’s good for kids to be cold, wet, and hungry for more than one and a half minutes.”

This got a lot of laughs, but her point is well-taken. We shouldn’t bubble-wrap our children. They need to experience real life. Nothing harsh or awful. Just real. Real consequences, real people, real disappointments, and conversely real accomplishments instead of receiving lavish praise for every little thing they do.

“We treat these very capable children, who have never been deprived of anything, as if they are handicapped royalty. It teaches them that we think they aren’t capable.”

We should let them be ordinary, she says. And we should let ourselves be ordinary too. This reminds of a funny conversation I had with Kristin one day about parental fatigue. “I’m tired of orchestrating your fabulous experience every single day,” she said, as if talking to her kids. “Go find something to do. It’s just a day.” I think Wendy Mogel would agree.

“Children are like seeds that come in a packet without a label. Our job is to water them and feed them and to pull the really big weeds.”

What do you think? Is micro-management good for kids even though it’s tough on parents? Or do you want to loosen the reins a bit? Let them “fart around and do nothing,” as she puts it. You know where I stand.

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Happy Halloween!!

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Have fun trick-or-treating!

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