Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
Experience the Allure of the Medieval World (photo: Hearst Castle)
Boys and girls love castles and the allure of the medieval world’s knights, swords, tapestries and unicorns. From the Bay Area, you can make a short trip to get the feeling of a European castle by visiting Calistoga’s Castello di Amorosa and San Luis Obispo’s Heart Castle.
Castello Di Amorosa (“castle of love” in Italian) is built to appear as a 13th-century Tuscan structure, open every day except Christmas for enveloping yourself in a bygone era and — darn, parents, sorry to break the news to you — wine tasting.
With your admission fee, you receive a map, tasting of five wines and free ambling access to the two upper levels, including the fabulously titled Knight’s Hall, where your children get a special coloring page to do while you taste, as well as their own glasses of premature wine (grape juice).
If you wish to see the lower levels of the castle, you must take a guided tour, which includes the Torture Chamber, Armory and Grand Barrel Room.
This impressive 136,000-square-foot, fully ADA-compliant structure, replete with drawbridge, sits on 127 acres. The story behind it is fascinating; owner Dario Sattui adores Italian medieval architecture, having owned a castle near Florence, a monastery near Siena and a Medici palace (!) in Tuscany. He wanted to create a very authentic castle here in the Napa Valley, importing builders from Austria, Italy and other countries to help him realize the dream using ancient methods. Construction began in 1995, and nine years later, only the underground portions of the castle (well, that consists of 80 underground rooms!) were completed. The visible parts of Castello di Amoroso then took shape. The complex includes a chapel, a dry moat, battlements, five towers, a frescoed Great Hall, secret passageways — and even a “partially destroyed” tower in an effort to look like the castle had been involved in battle. The basement torture chamber contains a real Iron Maiden. In 2007, the doors officially opened for business.
After touring the castle, bring your picnic blanket and eat on the grounds of nearby V. Sattui, one of my favorite wineries (and owned by the same vintner). If you don’t wish to pack your own sandwiches, you can avail yourself of the wonderful deli there.
One note: Strollers are not permitted at the castle. See the website for more details on wine-tasting options and other information: castellodiamorosa.com. Don’t forget to click on “Blog” to read some wonderful accounts of Mr. Sattui’s passionate commitment to this project. Admission: ages 5-20, $15; adults, five tastings, $25; and six tastings (including reserve wines), $35.
Hearst Castle, roughly four-and-a-half hours from San Francisco, may require an overnight stay, but it’s so worth it. Built by revolutionary woman architect Julia Morgan for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the castle is so huge that there are many different tours, with separate ticketing, to see it all. Hearst pillaged Europe to bring back treasures for this 165-room home. In some ways, the outdoor areas are more impressive, with 127 acres of gardens and walkways (and, long ago, an open-air zoo) and, of course, the iconic 104-foot-long Neptune pool, which is now temporarily closed for restoration. But! See instead the indoor Roman pool, where Hearst and his Hollywood pals once swam into alcoves adorned with statuary and cobalt-blue tile. Castle elements really come into play in the refectory, or dining hall, which sends you back into the Middle Ages (or Hogwarts) with banners, tapestries and an outsized fireplace, and the Gothic Suite, where some of the most treasured collections are kept. Suggestion: Before you go, read up on Julia Morgan’s history as the first woman student at Paris’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, persevering two years to gain admission there among the men. Morgan pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in building. She rocked.
Tickets start at $25 for adults and $12 for ages 5-12. Tickets are free for ages 5 and under. Visit http://hearstcastle.org/.
*A final note: Children are not permitted to visit Sam’s Castle in Pacifica, but arrange for a sitter, and take a tour. It’s only open one day a month, so plan ahead: http://www.sammazzafoundation.org/the-castle/overview/.
Erika Mailman is a Northern California freelance writer. Reach her at Erikaeditor@cs.com.
I was recently diagnosed with a condition that has a significant impact on me. It is not life-threatening, but it is annoying to have to pay such close attention to my health. This is the latest in a series of concerns that reminds me that it’s tough to get sick when you’re a single parent.
Several years ago, there was a particularly virulent strain of flu infecting scores of people, including my son Paul. He missed a week of school as he suffered through aches, chills and fever. One morning as I was heading out the door to take his siblings to school, Paul came down the stairs speaking gibberish. He had become dehydrated and was hallucinating. It was pretty frightening. I didn’t want the younger kids to be late, but I also did not want to leave Paul alone. Fortunately, my neighbor was still home and came in to watch Paul while I drove the others two miles down the road to school. I was very happy that I did not succumb to the flu that season. In fact, I remember telling myself, “I cannot get sick.”
Don’t Get Sick
We are a reasonably healthy family. During their growing-up years, other than annual checkups, our visits to the doctor were pretty rare. There were occasional trips to the emergency room for stitches, sprained ankles and twisted wrists. Jake got a concussion playing lacrosse that kept him in a dark, stimulus-free room for seven days.
Aside from my annual visits to the gynecologist, my medical (and dental – oops) care was minimal. And those annual visits may not have been so annual. Every few years I would schedule a physical but, more often than not, cancel it or give the appointment to one of the children. A colleague chastised me for this lack of self-care. I don’t like getting scolded, so I finally kept one of those appointments.
I remember exactly where I was when the nurse called with my test results — in rush-hour traffic. She told me I had a lot of calcium in my blood. I thought that was a good thing. Shouldn’t we all have a lot of calcium? Not in our blood. It was an indication of parathyroid disease. I had never heard of parathyroid disease, so I asked Jake, who was riding along with me, to look it up on his phone as I continued to drive.
Once Is Not Enough
Parathyroid disease is resolved by removing a portion of the impacted gland. My surgery was on Valentine’s Day that year. While the parathyroid lives close to the thyroid, it is actually unrelated. However, during the operation, my doctor biopsied some growths he had previously observed in my thyroid and discovered that I had cancer.
Thyroid cancer moves slowly, and my doctor promised me my particular type would not kill me. Six months after the first operation, I had another to remove my thyroid and almost all of my parathyroid (the disease had not corrected itself with the first surgery).
I shared very few details with my children. I did not want them to worry. My daughter, who thrives on drama, did get a little carried away in her concern for me though.
I was fortunate that the cancer I had did not require radiation or chemotherapy. Life could return to normal quickly for us. But these surgeries — and one more unrelated one I had during the prior year — revealed to my family that Mom was vulnerable, and this mom does not like being vulnerable.
Taking Care of Mom
The child who knows this best is Jake, my youngest. Before we moved to San Francisco, Jake took annual trips from Boston to the Bay area to visit his oldest brother. They share a summer birthday. The year he turned 14, I dropped him at the airport and went home to do a thorough housecleaning. Unfortunately, two hours in, I slipped on the wet bathroom floor, dislocating my knee and hitting my head on the side of the bathtub. I ended up in the emergency room, where I got 12 stitches and a new pair of crutches.
Jake felt terrible that he was not there to help me. He is here now, and the only one of the kids I have told about my new diagnosis. While we don’t talk about it much, and he does not appear to be overly concerned, almost every day he shares a link to information he has found about my condition. And he makes sure I take care of myself. I worry that I am burdening my youngest because he is the one who is geographically closest; but I should overcome my reluctance to tell the others. Just as I was their primary caregiver when they were children, they are now mine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Graphic novels are a huge hit, but did you realize that they bolster students’ confidence and reading skills? Kids enjoy reading them, and this makes them want to read more. They also build a sense of story structure, character development and vocabulary. Here’s a selection of new graphic novels to share with kids this fall.
“The Great Art Caper,” by Victoria Jamieson (Henry Holt/Macmillan; 64 pp.; $7.99; ages 5-9). The second-graders’ classroom pet, George Washington the hamster, continues his adventures with friends Barry the bunny and Sunflower the guinea pig, this time saving the students’ art show from sabotage by the mischievous mouse Harriet. Young readers new to graphic novels will love imagining the secret life of their classroom pets.
“Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True Story of Earth,” by Don Brown and Dr. Mike Perfit (HMH; 112 pp.; $18.99; ages 9-14). This engaging nonfiction graphic novel explains a wide range of earth science, including the Big Bang, the formation of landmasses and the development of different life forms, all the way to modern climate change. The illustrations and brief text make the complex issues accessible, and the groundhog’s banter with her worm friend adds essential comic relief.
“One Trick Pony,” by Nathan Hale (Abrams; 128 pp.; $14.95; ages 8-12). Hostile aliens have devastated Earth in search of technology, but Strata and her friends stumble upon a cache of robots, including a super robot pony. Determined to protect her family and friends from the wrath of the alien Pipers, Strata leads the aliens on a wild chase in this fast-paced sci-fi adventure.
“Real Friends,” by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (First Second; 224 pp.; $12.99; ages 8-12). In this graphic novel memoir, Shannon Hale focuses on the trouble she had figuring out friendship issues throughout elementary school. The format is perfect for this audience — blending images, short text and visual storytelling to help young readers see just how hard friendship issues really are and understand some ways through them.
“The Sand Warrior,” by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller and Boya Sun (Random House; 256 pp.; $12.99; ages 10-13). This complex fantasy launches a new series, 5 Worlds, as young sand dancer Oona Lee finds the courage, wisdom and skills to save her planet and friends from destruction. This epic quest will appeal to fantasy lovers who will want to read it carefully, gleaning many clues from the interweaving storylines. Outstanding visual feel to the many worlds, with characters of many sizes, shapes, and skin tones.
“Star Scouts,” by Mike Lawrence (First Second; 192 pp.; $14.99; ages 8-12). Avani Patel is having trouble in her new school, but life becomes much more interesting when she’s abducted by a cheerful blue alien named Mabel. Avani joins Mabel’s group of friends in their Star Scouts troop as they earn badges in teleporting, jetpack racing and “xenoscatology” (yep, identifying alien poops). Kids will love the adventure, humor and especially Avani’s spunky character, as she discovers that she doesn’t have to fit in to find friends.
“Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt,” by Ben Clanton (Tundra; 64 pp.; $7.99; ages 6-10). This is a terrific graphic novel for beginning readers, with cheerful Narwhal who’s determined to be a superhero. Narwhal’s superpower turns out to being a true friend, especially when his best friend Jelly is nervous at every turn. Adorable and charming, perfect for kids who’ve moved beyond Elephant & Piggie.
“Swing It, Sunny,” by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Graphix/Scholastic; 224 pp.; $12.99; ages 9-12). The book is set in the 1976-77 school year, and Sunny is starting middle school after spending a summer with Gramps (in “Sunny Side Up”). When her big brother Dale is sent to military boarding school after getting into trouble with drugs, Sunny worries about him. This poignant narrative authentically captures a young tween’s family struggles and developing friendships.
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian for the Berkeley Unified School District. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.
Teaching children to sustain the earth that they inherit comes along with eating local, seasonal foods. It is a teaching moment to take them somewhere near their homes where food is grown and allow them to see how much work goes into each bite they enjoy. Having a child go through the process of picking, washing, hulling, macerating and baking a strawberry pie really makes every bite count. I find my children are more apt to try a new food if they get to choose it, and that goes double if they get to pick it and help prepare it as well.
Having a backyard garden is a great idea, but not everyone has space or time for that. U-pick farms are a wonderful way to get fresh local produce with a learning experience built in. Customers go with baskets and buckets (some wheelbarrows are provided) and reach into the earth for their dinners. Kids can help with the low-hanging fruit and ground items like strawberries and beans. They will see how corn grows tall, how beans grow on their wily vines and how each meal eaten came from hard work, lots of water, weeding, plowing, sunshine and the extreme care of farmers within the community. The picked produce is warm from the sun and smells of the earth. It doesn’t get more authentic than that.
Many local U-pick farms have special dates and times where customers may come and pay by the pound to take home freshly picked produce. Oftentimes, these places will make an event of it and have a jam tasting or have fresh eggs and other items for sale as well.
It is also in poor taste and, in many cases, prohibited to “sample” the produce as it is picked. Farmers appreciate that families wait to weigh and purchase their bounties before eating. Most farms are also cash only.
Dogs and other pets are not permitted to come along on the adventure due to the need for food cleanliness and safety.
Lastly, as these are working farms where there is real and very expensive and dangerous farm equipment, most farms have strict policies against children exploring, playing, climbing trees, or climbing on tractors and trucks. If a branch of a fruit tree is broken by climbing children, this is a detriment to the farm’s livelihood.
Be sure to get sun hats for all and clothes to get dirty in. Pack a cooler with ice if traveling far with delicate produce. Make a game to see who can pick the most, or spot lady bugs while picking. Talk about colors, smells, flavors and recipes, and brainstorm ideas with the children to get them excited to eat the produce. Follow favorite farms on Facebook, or check them out on Yelp before going to see who has what. Always call or email to check who is open and when before making the drive. From Petaluma to Brentwood to Pescadero, here are just a few well-reviewed local U-pick farms, with many others to explore with a quick web search.
WHERE TO GO
3175 Sullivan Rd., Sebastopol
Annie’s Happy Farm
2017 Walnut Blvd., Brentwood
925-513-8495 • www.annieshappyfarm.com
Swanton Berry Farm
25 Swanton Rd., Davenport
Farmer’s Daughter Produce and
Northwest Corner of Walnut Blvd. & Marsh Creek Rd.,• Brentwood • 925-634-4827, www.farmersdaughter.farmvisit.com
Coastaways Ranch U-Pick
640 Hwy. 1, Pescadero • 831-469-8804 www.swantonberryfarm.com
4606 Suisun Valley Rd., Fairfield
Haley Reen is an East Bay-based freelance writer
Once summer rolls around and school lets out, kids find themselves indulging in several fun-filled activities, and school is quickly forgotten. Summer reading is an effective routine to help prevent kids from sliding down that slippery slope of learning loss. Reading for fun could develop into a lifelong habit that will not only help with gaining knowledge but will also aid in acquiring important life skills such as empathy, acceptance and gratitude. It is not very difficult to find the right book for even the most reluctant reader. The expert curators at SmartFeed have put together an extensive list of books encompassing different genres for kids of all ages.
Find below a few of the highly recommended book titles. The complete list of summer reading books can be found here (https://www.thesmartfeed.com/staff_picks/summer-reading).
Guess How Much I Love You (Ages 1+)
Little Nutbrown Hare sets about to show how much he loves Big Nutbrown Hare but he always seems to be one-upped by his parent’s unequivocal love for him in this true classic for the littlest readers.
Steam Train, Dream Train 1-2-3 (Ages 2-4)
Perfect read-aloud book for little kids with trains, counting numbers from 1 to 10 and cute animal antics.
My Heart Fills with Happiness (Ages 2-4)
A comforting book for little ones (and grown-ups) that tells about the little things in life, when shared together with loved ones, that bring us the most joy.
The Thank You Book (Ages 4-8)
Piggie is feeling grateful and is on a mission to thank everyone, but Gerald is worried that Piggie will forget to thank someone very important...find out who that is in this last book of the wildly popular Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems.
We Found a Hat (Ages 4-8)
Two turtles are in a pickle when they stumble upon one hat that looks good on both of them. Young readers will enjoy the hilarious turn of events in the story, which ends with a wonderful resolution to the conflict.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker
The inspiring story of Hiawatha, a brave Mohawk warrior, and his spiritual guide, the Peacemaker, who are crucial in bringing about peace and unity among the five warring Iroquois nations during the 14th century.
Pax (Ages 8-12)
Set against the backdrop of a war and its terrible consequences of loss, suffering and separation, this story of an unconditional and loyal friendship between a boy and his fox is heartwarming and emotional.
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer (Ages 8-12)
City girl Sophie Brown is learning the ropes of life on a farm, which her father inherits from a great-uncle, where she ends up learning to care for and protect a flock of chickens with superpowers! Written in an epistolary format, this book will be a delight for middle-grade readers.
Roller Girl (Ages 9-12)
Themes of girl power, teamwork, perseverance and friendship feature heavily in this graphic novel that revolves around 12-year-old Astrid, who is gearing up to perform in her first-ever roller derby bout even as her best friend for life seems to be slowly drifting away from her. Will she able to save her friendship from imminent doom? Will she forego her dreams for roller derby?
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal, this book tells the story of Luna, a young girl who is raised by the Forest Witch after she is offered up as part of an annual sacrificial ritual to protect the people of her homeland. An enchanting story interwoven with fantasy, magic, friendship and love, tween and teen readers will be thrilled by this book.
The Sun Is Also a Star (Ages 14+)
Two strangers who are brought together by fate end up falling in love with each other. As cliché as this sounds, it’s the beautifully written coming-of-age story of how they come to realize they are meant for each other that will captivate the hearts of young adult readers.
Parents and teachers sometimes wonder if listening to audiobooks helps children develop reading skills. If you don’t have a book in front of you, are you really reading? In order to look at this question, we have to understand the complex processes that are involved in reading.
What happens when we read a book? How does the story come alive in our minds? What helps us understand the information the author is trying to convey?
Reading definitely involves decoding skills — making sense of the string of letters and shapes on the page. These skills are very important for children, but they are not the whole picture.
Understanding the story, thinking about the author’s message, using imagination to make a movie in your mind — these comprehension skills lie at the heart of what it means to be a reader. They’re what bring kids back to books again and again.
These broader comprehension skills come from recognizing the words used, understanding the story structure, and connecting the story to your experiences and knowledge. It’s important to recognize that reading is a thinking process, and that much goes on beyond decoding the individual words. The question then becomes: If these are the elements that impact comprehension, how do we support children developing and maintaining these thinking skills?
Audiobooks allow children to focus on the key skills of understanding words and the overall story, and this helps develop their deeper comprehension skills. This happens when children listen to audiobooks on their own, not just when they listen and read.
As a third-grader told me last week, “When you read you have so much in your head. When you listen, it’s easier.” One of her classmates added on, saying, “The audiobook reads the book really fluidly, so it’s easy to understand what they’re saying. They’re really expressing the story. They don’t just talk.”
In 2015-16, WestEd conducted a research study in Berkeley that examined the impact of audiobooks on literacy skills for second- and third-graders. Students listened to a selection of stories each week, without reading the books at the same time. They were just listening and enjoying the stories. Students were asked to listen three times a week at school (each time for 20 minutes) and twice a week at home (again for 20 minutes).
The results were clear and remarkable. Students who listened to audiobooks on a regular basis developed stronger reading skills — attaining 58 percent of their annual reading gain in just 10 weeks. In the study, the students who listened were three months ahead of the control group. How did they do this? Let’s look more closely at the component parts of reading development that the study measured.
Students who listened to audiobooks increased their reading comprehension skills three times more than their counterparts. Their vocabulary gains outpaced their control group counterparts by seven times. All of this made students want to read more. We see this in their increase in reading motivation by four times, relative to their control group.
As a teacher and librarian, this study confirms exactly what I’ve seen with my own eyes. When students listen to audiobooks, they are more engaged, they understand stories better and they WANT to read more. This is because audiobooks help them develop their vocabulary, give them access to more complex text and help them create a fuller mental picture of stories.
As a parent, I’ve used audiobooks on long car trips but I’ve also used them at home. When my daughters were younger, we would listen to an audiobook while I prepared dinner and they colored at the kitchen table. Other children I know enjoy building with Legos while they listen to an audiobook. Listening can also be relaxing at bedtime.
Listening to audiobooks provides essential support to the development of reading comprehension. But even better, it helps readers young and old discover the rich world of stories.
By Susan Solomon Yen
Our most memorable summer vacation as a family was a cross-country trip from Boston to California. We landed at LAX and visited all the Southern California landmarks — Hollywood, Universal Studios and Disneyland — before heading north to San Francisco where our oldest son had just moved. It was two weeks of family togetherness. Well, we certainly appeared to be together, but the truth is my husband and I were already living apart.
Even though his home was 30 miles from the children and me, he often visited on weekends. This was not the only time we traveled as a family during this tumultuous period. I think he was still conflicted and maybe a little guilty about leaving us. Perhaps these shared vacations were his way of saying he wasn’t ready to abandon us completely. If the children had any expectation that Mom and Dad were getting back together because we were on a vacation, they did not reveal it.
Shortly after returning home, we legalized our separation and within the year began divorce proceedings. Since then the vacations we have taken have been separate.
Traveling on Our Own
One of my proudest moments as a mother took place when I was still married. My husband, who was on a trip to Asia, had a stopover in Paris and asked me to bring the children and meet him there. Our three oldest boys were two, four and seven at the time. I was nervous about making this trip, but I had been to France before and spoke passable French.
The boys and I spent four days on our own. In one of those “what was I thinking” moments I even let the seven- and four-year-old walk to the patisserie for bread and chocolate by themselves. It was pre-9/11.
Several years later the children and I took another solo trip from Boston to California. The two youngest and I clocked 1,600 miles on a rental car traversing south to north again.
But I am a nervous traveler and I’m not very adventurous. I also had to work during that season when my kids were on school break, so for my children to truly enjoy summer vacations, I had to ask friends to include them in their own plans.
For two summers, my daughter went to New Hampshire with a large family who somehow managed to squeeze her into the car amidst luggage, toys and water gear. My youngest son, Jake, went to Michigan for six weeks with one of his best friends. In later years, he flew on his own from Boston to San Francisco to join his oldest brother in a celebration of their shared birthdays.
From Visitation to Vacation
While I missed my children, I did not worry about them while they were away. We communicated often and I trusted the families they were with. I wish I could say the same about the trips Jake took with his dad. By the time we divorced, most of my children were independent college students. Only Jake was still at home and still connected to his father. Unfortunately, our communication had just about completely broken down. When he took Jake on vacations, he did not tell me where they were going or when they would return. Needless to say, I was not comfortable with this and eventually the visitation agreement was changed.
San Mateo-based family and marriage therapist Sarah Proemsey encourages parents to respect each other and to keep those lines of communication open. “I think it is important for parents to continue to function as a team when it comes to parenting. That means making some decisions together because you are keeping in mind the needs of the child.”
Proemsey continues, “Having the stage set for healthy communication allows the child to be a part of this process, which will increase their feelings of safety.”
And I would add, confidence in the parent who is traveling with the child. “When divorce is in the picture, it is even more important for the parents to exemplify respect and cooperation for the good of the family. Having this healthy system in place is fundamental and makes it easier to do things like vacationing with trust,” says Proemsey.
Time and Travel
It took a while to choose which week to travel this summer. Jake has a summer job so probably won’t be going anywhere. He will once again celebrate his birthday with his brother, but they live in the same state now. I’m going to San Diego with my daughter. Their father? He’s in Paris again—with his new family.
By Tracey Sutherland, cPNP
Trauma Nurse Practitioner, Boston Children’s Hospital
Self-balancing scooters, commonly referred to as hoverboards, became wildly popular in 2015, when several manufacturers developed similar versions and marketed them in the United States and around the world. Right from the start of their popularity, safety issues were identified, leading to significant consumer concern and soon after, thousands of recalls. There have been several deaths directly linked to the use of hoverboards, whether related to injury while using the board or fire while recharging. Emergency Departments, pediatric as well as adult facilities, around the world began to see an acute elevation in hoverboard injury. Falls from the boards lead to concussions and more serious head injuries, fractures, internal abdominal injuries, hand injuries, and even death.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Committee (CPSC) launched a safety investigation and linked the hoverboard’s lithium-ion battery pack to the source of the fires. They developed a voluntary safety standard and urged suppliers to only import and sell those boards that were certified by the CPSC. This helped make the newer versions of the hoverboards much safer, however, safety issues remain and not all the boards have been certified to CPSC standard. Fatalities related to uncertified hoverboard fires have occurred as recently as 2 months ago in the U.S.
Due to the increase in hoverboard related traumatic injuries, the Department of Health in several countries has recommended a minimum age of use as well as restricted where the hoverboards can be used. Some cities in the U.S. have banned their use on public streets, restricted use to bike lanes or have implemented speed restrictions.
What does this all mean to the consumer? Can a hoverboard be used safely? If you’d still like to enjoy the use of a hoverboard, here are some tips to follow to keep you and your family safe:
Before being a parent, I would never have imagined how challenging it would be to dress my children. I don’t mean putting little legs into leg holes, Im talking about that ominous collection of special circumstances that eliminate so many kinds of clothing items from the possible pile. Between the school dress code, my personal dress code for my children, my youngest’s sensory needs, my budget, and what’s on the market, there are a lot of limits on what I can buy for my kids to wear to school. Sometimes I look in envy at kids in their uniforms, but then again I know my own kids would fight me on the uniform every single school day if it were part of our curriculum. Shopping is complicated with two kids, a tight budget, special needs, and a lot of rules, but I do it! I am sharing my wisdom with other parents who are at their wits end trying to find quality clothes their kids can and will wear for school.
My top tip is to shop off season in the next size up. Kids are going to keep growing. They will fit in even the biggest clothes you buy, eventually. If a favorite online retailer is having a clearance on parkas and winter boots this month, that’s the time to buy! Get those things you know will be perfect next winter or even the winter after that.
My next tip for parents of girls, especially rowdy girls like mine, shop for jeans and shorts in the boys section. I can’t be the only parent who squirms at the length of most shorts in the girls department. But boys shorts come to the knee, and boys jeans are tougher and more durable. The boys department also has more to chose from in the shirt department for parents who, like me, have strict rules about characters, logos, extra distracting bits of flair on the clothing, and impractical sleeves and necklines. With a solid polo shirt and a denim scooter, and no one will be the wiser that the shirt came from the boys section.
My most utilized tool is definitely thrift stores, consignment stores, consignment apps, and other parents with older kids! Kids grow so fast sometimes they don’t have time to ruin an outfit before it is too small, and most parents I know have a pile in the garage of outgrown stuff. Get a bunch of families together, bring the piles, and it’s a free for all with everyone going home with new stuff and getting rid of the old. What doesn’t get taken can be donated to children in need within the community.
There are a few new online options for the thrifter crowd. Poshmark, Thread Up, and Tradesy are all consignment apps. If your kid loves a specific type of shirt and it’s discontinued or hard to find, these apps allow users to search by name brand and size for items. The discounts are huge and some items are even brand new with tags still on, most are very gently worn. I recently bought a whole summer’s worth of shorts and tees for sixty bucks!
Some parents need to touch and feel things before buying, and some kids need to have a choice in the clothes they wear or they may refuse them. In those instances, brick and mortar thrift stores are the best option. The Bay Area has quite a few, and they are clean, organized, and have quality gently used items. Here are some favorites:
Thrift Town — Richmond
El Sobrante boasts the best thrift stores in the Bay, because Thrift Town stores are kept meticulously organized. The prices are unbeatable, a dollar or less for many things. One drawback with these stores is that the merch is as-is. It can be pulled, stained, or missing buttons, or smell bad. Always check first, there are no returns! Sign up for their VIP program for even more discounts.
3645 San Pablo Dam Rd., El Sobrante. 510-222-8696.
Kelly’s Corner — Laurel Heights
This store has lots of great reviews online. In addition to the used kid’s clothing, they also carry some baby gear and toys, and do awesome gift wrapping! They carry local artist’s products too.
3901 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. 510-531-6810
Bird and Bean — Berkeley
Bird and Bean is a little more upscale than other stores on this list, but they have a variety of price points, and lots of sample sale items from brand names that are usually too expensive for many families.This store has items that are more unique and stylized than the average kid’s clothing store. Elmwood is a cool neighborhood to stroll and this store also hosts a toddler music group.
3212 College Ave., Berkeley. 510-328-6485
Kids Are People Too —Castro Valley
This store is a gem, especially because the owner, Sharon, is great at her job. Meticulous about what consignment she accepts, shoppers can be sure they will not find items with rips, stains, or missing bits. Customer service at this spot is A++, and prices are right.
3326 Castro Valley Rd., Castro Valley. 510-247-1258
Monkei Miles —San Francisco
Monkei Miles is a refreshing burst of bargains in one of the most expensive cities in America. Here, guests will find brand names ranging in price from Old Navy to Mini Boden. This store is on trend yet affordable, and everything is EUC ( that means Excellent Used Condition!)
1523 Irving St., San Francisco. 415-650-3031
Bloom — San Rafael
This shop is not only a great place for shopping, they donate professional wardrobes to unemployed women so that they may interview and work with confidence. There isn’t much in the way of baby clothes or kids clothes, but there are on-trend and upscale brand items for teens, which is almost unheard of in the thrift world. Seriously, these are used items teens would actually be willing to wear! Everything is pressed and clean, the store is beautiful, and the customer service is great, plus parents might find treasures too.
1557 4th St., San Rafael., 415-453-1694, www.bloommarin.org
Haley Reen is an East Bay-based freelance writer.
Is a screen-free summer possible? Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family, offers some tips for reducing the amount of time kids spend with their devices this summer:
Crouch, a senior strategist at the John Templeton Foundation, wrote about his philosophy on technology and kids in his new book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.