Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Trains are wonderful—but sometimes don’t they feel too big? Kids love miniature trains, and luckily the Bay Area has several places to ride them.
TrainTown Railroad in Sonoma: For those who feel most miniature train rides are over before they start, check out TrainTown’s four miles of track! The 20-minute ride incorporates a brief stop at a tiny town and petting zoo, going over bridges and through everyone’s favorite: tunnels. “TrainTown was perfect for my son,” says Linda McCabe of Windsor. “He was unable to handle being in lines at a young age. The lines at the post office or bank made him go into meltdowns, so I knew Disneyland was out of the question. TrainTown had just enough for him to do and see, the lines weren’t overwhelming and he had a great time. We went there about five times or so when he was a tyke, and I would highly recommend it for families with small kids.” The train is handicap-accessible, and there’s also a small collection of amusement park rides. Established in 1968, this place has been wowing kids for almost 50 years. www.traintown.com
Redwood Forest Steam Train at Roaring Camp in Felton: These steam engines are historical 1890 narrow-gauge locomotives, some of the oldest still running in America. Plus, seasonally you may ride a full-sized Thomas train: “That was like Disneyland to our son!” says Carol Siner Spiess of Pilot Hill. http://www.roaringcamp.com/steamtrain
Redwood Valley Railway in Tilden Park, Orinda: Ride a cute steam train through beautiful redwoods, now on weekends from 11 to 6, weather permitting, and in summertime all week long. Additionally, the Golden Gate Live Steamers run a miniature train on Sundays from noon to 3, a short distance below the Redwood Valley’s loading station. See website for more.www.redwoodvalleyrailway.com and http://www.goldengatels.org/
If you can go farther afield, a miniature train rides a short track in Folsom (“the only 12-inch gauge railroad remaining in the U.S.,” says the website). http://www.folsomvalleyrailway.com/
See model trains (no riding except if you are a N-scale human) at the Golden State Model Railroad Museum in Point Richmond. Open Wednesdays and weekends, but trains only run on Sundays. Check website for more, http://www.gsmrm.org/.
Also check out the Walnut Creek Model Railroad Society, described as the most mountainous track, which makes for fun amphitheater-ish viewing. http://wcmrs.org/
Of course, Sacramento’s California State Railroad Museum is required for any families with train enthusiasm. “The train museum in Old Town is awesome! I took my son Dally when he was almost 5, and he especially enjoyed the train cars that we could walk through ... and I loved looking at the historic menus in the dining cars!” says Newcastle resident Erin McCabe. The museum contains an impressive snow sheds display and a vast Thomas the Tank Engine play area for the smaller set. “It’s a beautifully designed place where you can get the feeling of the size and power of a train. They have docents dressed as porters to answer questions,” says Oaklander Judith Offer. https://www.californiarailroad.museum/
Oaklander Gene Anderson recommends the Western Railway Museum outside Suisun City. “I especially love it because it has working equipment and has gear from both the Key System and the Sacramento Northern Railway,” he says, noting that his grandfather worked for the SNR. The Bay Area’s incredible Key System of streetcars was dismantled in 1948; today you can ride some of those cars at the museum and think how cool it would’ve been to jump on the trolley and be downtown in minutes. http://www.wrm.org/
You can also ride full-sized trains at Niles Canyon Railway; Sacramento resident Jennifer Mason Wolfe recommends the Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir (sleep in a caboose!); there’s the worrisome-named Skunk Train in Fort Bragg; a sweet, old-fashioned mini-train at Casa de Fruta (where you can also pan for gold) in Hollister ... and let’s not even get started on Napa’s Wine Train (but kids may not appreciate the “turned” grape juice).
Erika Mailman is a Northern California freelance writer. Reach her at Erikaeditor@cs.com.
Saving money isn’t very fun. It can be difficult to see the far-off goal of what you’re saving for.
Saving money for a summer vacation can be especially difficult. With such a fun goal on the horizon, putting money aside can be like collecting sand one grain at a time so you can build a sandcastle.
This summer, my family is going on vacation to Europe for four weeks, and we saved for it in two big ways—putting money aside for it since November 2016, and cutting our travel costs immensely by swapping houses for most of the trip.
A vacation savings account
We started by putting money into a savings account dedicated to the trip. We’ve been doing this for a few years already with automatic transfers from our checking account each month, but we stepped it up late last year.
As a freelance writer, I’ve dedicated a monthly paycheck from one of my clients to the vacation account. I’ve also tried—not always successfully—to deposit another check from another client each month.
The account allowed us to pay for much of the trip upfront. A travel agent helped us find a deal on a flight-hotel package in February, when reasonable rates were still available. We paid a deposit on the package, giving us until June to save for the final payment that’s due then.
We also booked rooms in two hotels in cities we’re visiting during the trip for a few days, so those rooms were paid for in February. We also paid in February for a deposit on a waffle-making class in Brussels.
One difficulty of saving in winter for a summer vacation is that the trip seems so far off that it’s hard to be enthusiastic about trying to put money away early. It’s delayed gratification at the extreme.
But that’s what helps make it a little easier to save for. It’s such a fun goal that I’m spending months reading guidebooks and listening to podcasts about the areas we’re visiting, which is making the savings easier to put aside.
The biggest way we’ve been able to make this trip affordable is by swapping homes. Through a home exchange website, we’re exchanging homes with a family in the Netherlands for almost three weeks.
After paying the site’s annual membership fee of about $80, home exchanges are free. Using another family’s home is saving us at least $3,500 in lodging.
Every time we go on vacation, one of the biggest costs is housing. We’ve rented vacation homes from homeowners and stayed in hotels, and housing always end up being the second-biggest expense after transportation.
A home exchange allows us to cut out almost all of that from our vacation budget, except for a week before the exchange that we’re spending elsewhere in Europe. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for years, and finally a newspaper story about a father going on a trip to Europe with his child persuaded me to get moving on it.
It took us about a month to find a family in Europe that was a match. What took me a little while to figure out was that finding a home in a similar situation to ours was key.
We live in a Bay Area suburb and can be in San Francisco on BART in 45 minutes. San Francisco is a very popular tourist destination, and promoting our home in an exchange as being 45 minutes outside of the city is a high selling point.
Our home exchange is with a family who lives about a 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam. That exchange makes much more sense for us than with a homeowner in central Amsterdam. It’s a fair distance for each family.
We’ll cook in their kitchen—which will save us money—and we’ll be there long enough that we won’t feel like we’ll have to constantly be on the move to see exciting sites as we might if our time was limited. It can be a relaxing vacation to enjoy another culture at a leisurely pace.
That’s one of the main things I want my daughter to get out of this summer vacation. Saving and paying for much of it months in advance should only make it that much easier.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist who specializes in personal finance writing. This will be the first trip for his daughter, 12, to Europe, and hopefully not her last. Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronCrowe or read his personal finance blog about family finances at CashSmarter.com.
A colleague and I were chatting the other day about workplace challenges. He mentioned some conflicts he is having with a perpetually cranky co-worker and said, “Well, she’s a single mom and I know that’s hard.”
Wait a minute! I’m a single mom and I am rarely cranky.
Eighteen million children are being raised by single mothers. That’s a quarter of all children residing in the United States. Interestingly, in the research I did for this article, I could not find a common definition for the term single mother. The most comprehensive, and logical, is: an unmarried woman raising children. But some commentators said it could mean women whose children were born out of wedlock or widows who do not have the assistance and support of a husband. In fact, I read a posting on one website stating that a woman who is divorced is not a single mother, because she is co-parenting with the children’s father.
I am divorced
Although I am a single mother, I hate to identify myself that way. My five children were not born out of wedlock, nor am I a widow. I am divorced. Even in this day and age, when more than 50 percent of American marriages fail, the label single mother, especially when it is associated with divorce, is perceived negatively. It makes me think of the scorned women of 1930s movie melodramas, like Stella Dallas. Even in the 1970s, no good mothers on television were divorced. Lucille Ball was a widow in every incarnation of her sitcom. In the original storyline for The Brady Bunch either Mike or Carol Brady was divorced, but when the show aired, both were widowed. And even though Mary Tyler Moore was a divorced mother in real life, her character, Mary Richards of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, was a never-married career gal. Today’s TV moms are still rarely divorced. Those who are, are struggling or working hard to reconcile with separated spouses.
My friend Lynn is a widow. People in her world are solicitous and gracious. They offer to clean the leaves out of her gutters, paint the trim on her house and mow her lawn. I remember sitting with a group of Lynn’s friends discussing how we could support her. Although everyone knew I was alone, no one offered to help me. There is a perception that widows are more deserving than divorcees. And Lynn agrees. Her first marriage ended in divorce. “People treat me so differently now as a widow than they did when they found out I was divorced. That’s why I was reluctant to let people know.”
Less than supportive friends
The day my husband moved out, I sought solace from the woman I thought was my closest friend. We had known each other for more than a decade. Our children, constant companions, were close in age. We spoke on the phone daily, sharing the intimate details of our lives. We took power walks every evening after dinner. But the day I told her my marriage ended was the last day of our friendship. She did not speak to me for six months. When we finally reconnected, I asked her why she cut me off. “I think that’s when I started a new job,” was her response.
Like the co-worker I mentioned earlier, sometimes people just don’t realize what they are saying. (I’m changing some names in this next story.) As a family, we have always been active church-goers. My children attended Sunday School and youth group weekly. When the pastor asked for help organizing an ice cream social, I was one of the parents who volunteered. At the end of the evening he acknowledged all of us; “I’d like to thank the Smith Family, the Wilson Family and Susan Yem for organizing this event.”
I was really hurt that he did not recognize my children and me as a family and I let him know, “We’re a family, too.”
Just a few weeks prior to this event, I overheard a mom in that same church’s lobby telling a friend, “We’re taking John home with us tonight to sleep over. After all, we are the two-parent household.” John (again, not his real name) is being raised—quite admirably—by his single mother.
A universal snub
The snub is deeper, almost universal. I just read this headline on nbcnews.com : Auto Insurers Charge Single Women More. NBCnews.com quotes an actuary with the Insurance Information Institute who says, “married people are less likely to be in an accident.”
And even when communicating good news about great accomplishments, that reference to being a single mother or being raised by a single mother gives the news the air of this happened against all odds.
When I am asked to describe what it feels like to be divorced, I usually use this example: Take two pieces of construction paper, glue them together and let them dry. Now try to pull them apart. They may come apart, but they will not look the same as they did before you glued them together. Add to this insensitive comments made by friends and colleagues and it is difficult to not feel diminished. And this is why I am reluctant to call myself a single mother.
Susan Solomon Yem is singleminded about raising her five children to adulthood. She’d like to hear your stories about single parenting. Contact her at email@example.com.
On a rainy Saturday in January, Kelley Gonzales and her mom, Chris, donned their raincoats and freshly painted signs, took BART from their home in Concord to Walnut Creek, met up with other students from Kelley’s church youth group, and participated in the Women’s March, two of the more than 10,000 people who swarmed the suburban city for that act of peaceful protest.
Kelley, at 16, was not the youngest by far. Many teens were protesting and marching throughout the country that day. It followed on the footsteps of the days after the 2016 election, when many high schools saw student walkouts in protest of President Trump’s election. These were not at just “normal” activist high schools such as Berkeley High, but those in the affluent suburbs, such as at Miramonte in Orinda, Acalanes in Lafayette and Northgate in Walnut Creek.
Student protests and activism are at a high point not seen since the 1960s.
“I just had to show my displeasure at Trump’s election, and feel empowered by other women,” Kelley said after the march. “Most, if not all, of my friends felt the same way and many of these people aren’t real ‘political.’”
Still, many of these protesters are just young teens, and it begs the question: What should a parent do ensure their teen’s safety, and what happens if a parent doesn’t agree with their son or daughter’s views?
Margie Ryerson, an Orinda-based family therapist, has some thoughts on the matter—especially because she saw first-hand an interesting dynamic in her own family. A close cousin who lives out of state was what Ryerson called “a worrier.” She kept her daughter close, and her daughter gave up many activities because she was sensitive to her mom’s fears. But at the same time, she made fun of the situation and could tease her mom. Eventually, when she was a senior in high school, her mom came to grips with how she had to let go and deal with her own fears without sacrificing her daughter. “They have always had a close relationship, even back then, due to a lot of understanding, caring and communication,” Ryerson says.
And that is the key: communication and trust. Ryerson says that teens often complain that their parents don’t trust them when disagreements arise. Parents need to emphasize that this is not the issue (although it may actually be part of the issue!) and try to get their child to understand it’s about their own parental worries and anxiety. It’s very true that their child may not be able to exercise judgment at all if external situations are at play, like unexpected violence or panic.
There are ways a parent can help their child “be an activist,” whether that means protesting or giving money to a favorite charity, and that is by the tried-and-true parenting behavior, modeling. Chris Gonzales did this with Kelley at the Women’s March. If a parent can’t be there, instruct teens how to get out of harm’s way if a protest turns violent, as one at UC Berkeley did recently, and keep in contact with the parent via cell phone.
If a child or teen sees a parent act responsibly, it will make an imprint on how they handle their own situations. However, it’s also important that a parent let the teen know of the ramifications of social activism. If a student will get detention for walking out of school on a day of protest, they must let them know that’s the consequence.
The parents must also be aware of peer pressure, Ryerson says. Do they really feel strongly about a cause, or are they just doing something because their friends are? Open the lines of communication and find out how the teen really feels. Maybe that parental support will give the teen the courage to say, “Nah, that’s just not my thing.”
The hardest aspect of living in an era of social activism is when a parent and teen disagree on the topic. Many times a parent will prohibit any sort of activity on the teen’s part, which will just make the teen rebel more, Ryerson says. That doesn’t help anyone. One important way to deal with that situation is by talking it out, again opening those all-important lines of communication, and know that as a young adult, our children are becoming their own person, and we as parents must respect that.
“Children are not our clones,” Ryerson says.
If fear is truly a factor in keeping a parent from allowing a child to participate in rallies or protest marches, then perhaps a compromise is the solution: Allow the child to write to their congressperson or senator, or to put up flyers for the rally, or be of service in another way. But ultimately, the parent has to get to the root of their fears, and come to terms with them.
Like Ryerson’s cousin, they may find that all will be well, and a better relationship will ensue if they let their teen follow their heart—responsibly.
April is such an ideal month for bike riding—it’s not too hot and not too cold. Family bike rides are a serene way to spend time together while getting exercise and seeing the sights of the majestic Bay Area. However, most parents of young kids and toddlers aren’t too keen on the idea of riding with their kids through city traffic and other roads shared with cars. Thank goodness there are plenty of family-friendly bike trails just a car ride away from home. These trails, used by walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and dog walkers alike, are safe from oncoming cars and are generally mostly flat or easy hills, nothing too strenuous for new riders. Be sure to share the road, stay to the right, and use a bell to alert other trail users when passing. Helmets as always, water, sunscreen, and a picnic lunch round out the experience. Here are the best spots for a leisurely bike cruise with kids either tandem riding, in a bike trailer, or on their own bikes.
Bicycle Sundays on Cañada Road — San Mateo
Every Sunday, Cañada Road from Filoli entrance to Hwy 92 is closed to all traffic except bicycles! Imagine, a whole road full of families bicycling without worry of cars and trucks! Joggers, hikers, skaters, and strollers are welcome too. The event is subject to cancellation in the event of bad weather, so call ahead of time before making the trip out there. www.smcgov.org (650) 361-1785
Iron Horse Trail — Walnut Creek
Spanning from Concord to Danville, the Iron Horse Trail is 20 feet wide and follows an old railway line no longer in use. It will take riders near shops and eateries, including a delightful gelato spot at the southern end of the trail. www.ebparks.org
Sycamore Grove — Livermore
Livermore’s backyard has a very accessible trail for riders. Pay $7 to park and enjoy almond orchards, wildlife, and winery ruins. This is a rustic trail with no places to stop for snacks or a playground, so it’s for more mature riders like middle schoolers and teens. www.larpd.org
Coyote Hills — Fremont
Five minutes from Newark, Coyote Hills Regional Park features the Alameda Creek Trail. This 12-mile trail goes from the eastern shores of the bay to Niles Canyon. If that’s too much, do the 3.5-mile paved Bay View Trail, which has lovely scenic views. www.ebparks.org
Bay Trail — Crockett to Emeryville
This huge trail hugs the shoreline and passes through the Richmond and Berkeley Marinas. Ride all or some of it, but keep in mind it is busy on the weekends. Berkeley riders can just head over to Caesar Chavez Park in the Marina and do the large paved loop there. Richmond riders will enjoy a few spots to eat, and the Rosie the Riveter museum is nearby.
Golden Gate Park — San Francisco
It goes without saying that this park is an amazing place to ride. Drive to a spot and cruise around. See the magnificent landscaping and architecture while enjoying smoothly paved paths! Nice weather brings lots of crowds on weekends, so sneak over there during the week for maximum enjoyment.
Stafford Lake Bike Park — Novato
Bikes are huge in the Marin area. A quick Google search will show dozens of links to bike-oriented recreation and events throughout the county. One of the best for families is Stafford Lake. The park has several different bicycling areas for all levels of riding experience, but best of all, it has a kids learn-to-ride area where kids can get confident without being in the way of more serious adult riders. Parking and bathrooms make this park a perfect choice for kids. Marin is serious about bicycling, so this park is only one of many areas ideal for bikes. To learn more, start with www.Marinbike.org and go from there! Stafford Lake info can be found at www.marincountyparks.org.
Haley Reen is an East Bay-based freelance writer.
Music brings people together, giving us joy in all types of settings. Singing with your child is not only fun, it helps young children’s brain development. Try using shakers so children can follow the beat or finger actions. Like stories, songs build children’s vocabulary and help them hear that words are made of different sounds.
“I Got the Rhythm,” by Connie Schoefield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Bloomsbury; 32 pp.; $16.99; ages 3-7). A young African American girl snaps, claps and taps as she takes a walk with her mother to their local park. This fun picture book shares the contagious delight of moving and grooving. The sound effects encourage audience participation, and the joyful illustrations will make young readers want to get up and dance.
“Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs and Stories from an African American Childhood,” by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Schwartz & Wade / Random House; 173 pp.; $24.99; ages 2-10). This comprehensive collection celebrates the oral tradition of African American communities, sharing a dynamic range of songs, rhymes, and stories. Explaining that “our earliest toys are our hands, feet, and voices,” McKissack encourages readers to try these songs for themselves. Parents, teachers and children will want to dip into this volume time and time again.
“Old MacDonald Had a Truck,” by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban (Chronicle; 40 pp.; $16.99; ages 2-6). Local Bay Area author Goetz makes his debut with this lively twist on the classic Old MacDonald folk song--a sure hit with young readers who love cars, trucks and construction vehicles. The bouncy text encourages singing along, with “a DIG DIG here and a DIG DIG there.” Great fun!
“Sing with Me!: Action Songs Every Child Should Know,” by Naoko Stoop (Holt / Macmillan; 32 pp.; $16.99; ages 0-3). With its simple, classic nursery rhymes and warm, sweet illustrations, this is a perfect volume for new parents--reminding them of old favorites like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Down by the Station”. Simple instructions for hand movements add to the fun, providing support and guidance.
“¡Pio Peep! Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes,” by Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy, and Alice Schertle, illustrated by Vivi Escriva (Rayo / HarperCollins; 64 pp.; $15.99; ages 3-7). This delightful collection of nursery rhymes and songs celebrates the Latino oral tradition that spans cultures and continents. The original Spanish rhymes are paired with English versions that are not direct translations, but rather “poetic re-creations”, creating lively rhymes that work well in both languages.
“Rock-a-Bye Romp,” by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani (Nancy Paulsen / Penguin; 32 pp.; $16.99; ages 0-4). This sweet lullaby expands upon the classic nursery rhyme “Rock-a-bye Baby,” adding silly twists as the baby first lands in a bird’s nest, and then atop a pig. The tumbling babe comes to a final rest in the mother’s arms, creating a warm and endearing ending in the nursery. Ashman captures the rhythm and tone of the song in her new verses, making this perfect for singing along.
“Trombone Shorty,” by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Abrams Young Readers; 40 pp.; $17.95; ages 4-8). Trombone Shorty’s trombone was taller than him when he was little--and it was so big that it almost knocked him over! Rich collage illustrations and real-life details bring Troy Andrews, his hometown, and the New Orleans musical traditions to life.
“When the Beat Was Born,” by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (Learn about DJ Cool Herc, the Jamaican DJs who inspired him, his enormous speakers, and the origins of break dancing. Modern illustrations invite the reader into the Bronx dance parties that birthed hip hop music.
“Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin,” by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Scholastic; 32 pp.; $16.99; ages 2-6). Swooping rhymes mimic the music of “a chamber group of ten.” The book is a joyful celebration of the beautiful sounds, sights, and emotions of the ten instruments that play a classical concert.
“Charlie Parker Played Be Bop,” by Chris Raschka (Orchard; 32 pp.; $15.95; ages 1-4). Read this book out loud, and the rhymes, rhythmic sounds, and dancing fonts evoke music. Ch
arlie Parker plays his saxophone, while silly objects like lollipops, bus stops, and dancing shoes accompany the percussion sounds. The joy of jazz comes alive for the reader and listeners.
Allyson Bogie is the librarian at Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, CA and loves visiting her local public library with her two young children. Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian at Berkeley Unified School District. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.
The Woods Are Yours
Many parents don’t know that every fourth grader gets a free annual national park pass. Signing up takes seconds at www.everykidinapark.gov—you print out a paper pass that you take on your first trip to exchange for an official one. If you visit a site that charges entrance fees per person, the pass admits up to three adults and all children under 16 accompanying the fourth grader. If the site charges vehicle entrance fees, basically anyone that can cram into the car with the fourth grader gets in! So really, this is a pass for the entire family. The pass became effective last fall and lasts until Aug. 31 of this year. Because it covers seven governmental agencies besides the national parks system, from anywhere in the U.S. you are within a two-hour drive of a participating site. Make this the year you show your family Yosemite or Muir Woods or the Pinnacles! As if this invitation to nature isn’t wonderful enough, Amtrak also offers fourth graders discounted tickets: 75% of when an adult buys a full-price ticket. Visit Amtrak to learn more.
Take Kids to Work
Give your kids the day off of school on April 27 and show them what real work looks like! Now in its 24th year, Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is more than a “career day,” according to its sponsoring foundation bearing the same name. “Exposing girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives does during the work day is important,” writes Carolyn McKecuen, executive director, “but showing them the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, and providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future… [are keys] to their achieving success.” For worksheets your child can do, go to daughtersandsonstowork.org.