November 2006

Follow in the footsteps of this parent and laugh Peanut Butter, Playdates & Prozac: Tales From a Modern Mom, by Arlene Schusteff, Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing Inc., 2006; $12.95.

Peanut Butter, Playdates and Prozac is Deerfield mom and Chicago Parent contributor Arlene Schusteff's first book. This fun collection is a light read for parents of young children-the ones who, as she says, "think of going to the bathroom as 'me time.' "

Fans of Amy Krouse Rosenthal, another Chicago mother-writer, will appreciate the humor in Schusteff's book of essays, lists and real-life vignettes. Readers may be tempted to laugh at Schusteff when she shares stories like the one where she protectively follows her 6-year-old son around the block on a bike ride from the comfort of her minivan, but it's clear that Schusteff is laughing at herself, too.

Schusteff puts herself out there as an imperfect parent and invites us to follow in her footsteps. She makes it quite easy. In fact, just about every parent will recognize a bit of themselves in one of the book's 40 or so pieces. It sounds like a lot, but the book largely consists of short, witty bits in the style of back pages of magazines. The good news is that even the most exhausted parent can digest one of these pieces before collapsing into bed each night. The bad news, however, is that it leaves the reader wanting more.

In the parody, "Reality Television, Mom Style," she envisions popular TV shows with parental riffs. For example, in Schusteff's version of "Survivor" the winner is "the parent still coherent after a weeklong driving trip touring historical sites of the Midwest with the entire family in a minivan with a broken air conditioner and a dog with the runs."

In her short piece, "No Truth, Just Dare," Schusteff poses daunting challenges, such as daring readers to drive in the car with the kids eating McDonald's fries without stealing a few. (This is one challenge I've never managed to meet.) Though your average teen would roll her eyes at such dares, they will have the typical mom LOL. The term LOL, e-mail shorthand for "laughing out loud," is especially fitting because Schusteff's brief humor bits are sure to be passed in e-mails from one mom to another. But don't wait for Schusteff's absurdities to land in your in-box. Go buy the book, and support this local mom. Kim Moldofsky

Guide helps parents analyze the many childcare options The Childcare Answer Book, by Linda H. Connell, Sphinx Publishing, 2005; $12.95 You're heading into the home stretch before your baby's arrival. You've ordered a crib. You've stocked up on onesies. You've spent a Saturday afternoon at an infant CPR class.

But you're in casual denial about the toughest of all new parent decisions: Who should care for your baby when you head back to work?

Daycare center or nanny? Family daycare or au pair? Relative or unrelated babysitter? The options can be overwhelming for new parents.

If you're lucky enough to have a relative willing to care for your child, your choice is easy. In fact, relatives are the most common childcare providers in the United States for kids younger than 6.

If not, your search begins. The Childcare Answer Book, by Linda H. Connell, is structured as a guide through this inevitably tricky process.

Connell, an attorney, approaches the emotionally loaded subject logically, explaining childcare alternatives inside and outside the home, including details on nanny taxes and payroll management. She outlines options for occasional, part-time and backup childcare, and includes specific issues to consider for special needs children, work-at-home parents and single parents.

The financial chapters on government and employer assistance are well researched, and there are detailed listings of childcare resources and referral agencies and Web sites to help identify local providers.

In an effort to head off potential parental guilt, Connell cites a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study that found "in general, the emotional attachment between mother and child is not affected by having the child in daycare, unless the daycare and the care the child receives from his mother are both substandard."

The majority of parents today work. Our challenge is finding high-quality childcare that will keep our kids comforted, stimulated and safe-without breaking the bank.

As you head into the childcare selection process, a guidebook like Connell's is a perfect starting point. And it's a lot less scary than that infant CPR class. Paige Hobey

Book examines the role moms play in kids' sports Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports, by Brooke de Lench, HarperCollins, 2006; $14.95.

Whether you have a little one just starting out in T-ball or a young adult joining the high school basketball team, you know that sports bring an added dimension to family life. In Home Team Advantage you will find some practical advice on how to deal with the many concerns that go along with having a child in an organized sport.

Presented in an easy-to-read format, the book contains plenty of "food for thought" checklists, including how to pick a sport for your child or how to tell when kids just aren't having fun. De Lench's information was gathered from several sources, but her greatest inspiration came from her Web site, This is where she heard firsthand what moms were concerned about when it came to sports.

She talks about real-life worries, such as "Is my son getting enough playing time?" and "Is my daughter being pushed too much?" She offers practical advice on how to talk to coaches and make sure that you are heard. The book also contains information about competition and the damage that can be done when children are pushed to compete before they are ready.

De Lench also focuses on the critical role mothers play in sports. We encourage, cheer and sometimes worry from the sidelines. But de Lench points out that maybe it is time that moms take a more active role as coaches. She discusses ways moms can gain the confidence and the know-how needed to get off the bleachers and get more involved.

It's a good read for moms with young kids who are just entering the world of sports, offering tidbits on how to make sports involvement fun and rewarding. But I think moms of older children would gain the most from her insight. Her discussion of the difficult issues facing young athletes today, such as overuse injuries and steroid abuse, would be of particular interest to those whose children are getting more serious about their sport of choice.

This book helps address many areas of concern to help us with the important job of enjoying our children as they develop as athletes. Maureen Robst


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