Teaching healthy habits without "You think I'm FAT?!?!"... - Mothering Forums

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Old 04-28-2011, 12:00 PM - Thread Starter
 
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(Sorry, I don't know how to make this short!)

 

My step-son ("DSS", almost 12, lives with us) has always been very short and solidly-built.

 

His parents split up when he was a baby.  I've known him, in one capacity or another, since he was 3.  Until he was 7, he spent more-or-less equal time with his parents.  Both had decent-sized houses with fenced yards and other kids around, to play with.  DSS seemed pretty healthy:  He didn't look chubby and he kept up with his peers, in active play.

 

At 7, he moved with his Mom to a large, urban area, far away.  He spent little time with DH.  His Mom could only afford tiny apartments (so small DSS didn't even have a bedroom) and playing outside required driving to the one, big city park.  In a year, he grew pretty overweight.

 

At 8-1/2, he moved back with us (for reasons that had nothing to do with his weight!!) and, since then, has been on a roller-coaster:  During the school year, he's active, eats reasonably and slims down.  Then he spends 7 weeks with his Mom each summer and gains 15-20 lbs., which not only looks alarming on a kid well under 5' tall, but it's alarming to think about:  2+ lbs per week seems like a lot, with no sudden bursts of height to go with it.  I know the effort it takes an adult to lose over 2 lbs/week.  When he comes home, he's embarrassed to put on a bathing suit.  When his friends are all playing outside, he'll try to talk someone into doing something sedentary with him; or he'll fake tripping or spraining an ankle, to cover for the fact that he's too winded to keep up.

 

DH and I have instinctively felt we shouldn't discuss DSS's weight gain with him openly, or put him on a "diet".  He has enough on his plate, always being half the continent away from one of his parents.  We don't want him also worrying that the people raising him think he's "fat" and want to "fix" him....Especially since DH and I are not perfect health nuts, ourselves!  DSS got his build from his Dad, who is nearing 50 and has a busy life, making it hard to find time to exercise.  To me, he looks great, but it wouldn't hurt him to lose a few pounds.  And I pretty much blimped out with both of my pregnancies and took a long time, slimming back down.  (I'm still working on it and my youngest just turned 3!)  But DSS does see me exercising regularly and sees us both eating a pretty healthy diet.

 

So, we make sure DSS participates in sports.  We make ALL the kids (my teenage twin sons live with us, too) go outside and play or ride bikes, if they're sitting around inside too long.  We do active things with them - sledding, swimming, hiking...  We don't limit sweets and snacks so much that the kids try to hoard them, but the norm is having no sweet drinks (even juice), empty carbs (chips, crackers), sugar cereal, ice cream, doughnuts, etc. in our house.  And we talk about healthy habits in general terms.  For example, "Yum!  I love smoothies, too.  But, even though they have some healthy things in them, the reason we like them so much is because they're so sweet.  Can you believe this bottle - that looks like one serving - is actually meant to be two servings?  So, if you drink the whole bottle, you're getting more calories and sugar than if you had a Coke!  So we need to think of it as the treat it is, not think of it as a healthy alternative to a glass of water, with lunch."

 

Yet, lately, it seems harder to gently guide DSS and not discuss some awkward issues more overtly:

 

1- This year, it sounds like his Mom had to work, during his Spring Break visit.  She let him bring a friend from home, to stay with him for the week.  We think one of the issues during the summers is DSS spending a lot of time alone at his Mom's, while she works, and pigging out while he plays video games.  This Spring Break may have been similar.  DSS came home wanting to eat twice or three times as much as usual.  And it doesn't seem like genuine, consistent hunger, as if he had suddenly started puberty and needs more calories.  If we have a normal meal (say, chicken, brown rice, a veggie and salad), he eats normally.  But when we had pizza, he announced which 6 pieces he wanted, before he even started eating.  (Normally, he'd eat 2 pieces.)  Or, when we had cheesy pasta, he kept going back for more servings until I finally said, "Boy, I could eat carbonara all night, too!  Maybe we should both let our stomachs rest a bit, to see if we're really hungry, or we just like the taste of it.  After all, if we leave some, we can have leftovers for lunch."

 

2- My twin sons are mildly Autistic and more-or-less on DSS's maturity level.  They've been among each other's best friends since DSS was 4.  But the twins are 4 years older and built like their Dad - tall, thin, athletic.  They started puberty a few years ago and they're long-distance runners.  In short, they can eat twice as much as DH, still be hungry, and never develop an ounce of visible body fat!  (Grrr!)  Lately, if we're eating foods DSS really likes, he pouts if it appears that the twins have been served larger portions than he has; and he seems determined to get seconds, if they do - or even outdo them by asking for for thirds.  If it's a (rare) dessert, I can avoid the whole issue.  The twins don't need dessert any more than anyone else does, so they get the same amount DSS does.  Period.  But, in terms of protein, healthy carbs and calories, the twins' bodies simply need more than DSS's - especially if they ran 7 miles that day!  But I introduced that idea to DSS once and you would have thought I banished him to sleep in the crawl-space because he's only my step-kid!  I don't want food to be associated with love OR denial, at our house.  I just want it to be food!!

 

So - if you made it all the way through this - should DH and I continue as we have been?  I.e., Set a good example, but leave it for DSS to figure out on his own that if he practiced healthy habits AWAY from home, he'd avoid the embarrassment he feels, when he's obese?  Or, should we be more direct with DSS about

* Accepting that different bodies have different nutritional needs (and his body, like his parents' and mine, is small...); and

* Recognizing that the weight-gain at his Mom's - and the yo-yo effect, every year - is unhealthy for him, and he has the power to prevent it?

If you think we should be more direct, give me the words!


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Old 04-28-2011, 10:29 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Jeannine View Post

So - if you made it all the way through this - should DH and I continue as we have been?  I.e., Set a good example, but leave it for DSS to figure out on his own that if he practiced healthy habits AWAY from home, he'd avoid the embarrassment he feels, when he's obese?  Or, should we be more direct with DSS about

* Accepting that different bodies have different nutritional needs (and his body, like his parents' and mine, is small...); and

* Recognizing that the weight-gain at his Mom's - and the yo-yo effect, every year - is unhealthy for him, and he has the power to prevent it?

If you think we should be more direct, give me the words!


First, I think you guys have done a really great job with a difficult situation. Kudos!

 

Second, he isn't "away from home" when he's at his mom's. He's at his other home, where there may be a lot of emotional stuff going on. Eating to make up for a lack of love, or from boredom, or from mild depression could be going on. He may not have healthy options there. His ability to eat healthy when you often serve things like chicken and brown rice and salad is completely different than his ability to eat healthy if she leaves Kraft Mac and Cheese in the cabinet for lunch and picks up burgers for dinner. So no, I don't think you should tell him to eat differently than he does at his moms because I don't know if that is even an option for him. I really wouldn't push the idea that he is to blame for what food his mother buys or that the fact that the whole set up is a mess.  I don't see him having a lot of power. Yes, it is hard on his body. Him feeling guilty about that isn't going to help.

 

Third, we have talked about how different bodies have different nutritional needs, but we backed it up. At the time, I was doing WW and figured out what different members of my family would need to maintain or loose weight. The surprising thing about it was that they could all eat far more food than I ever would have guessed. Teen boys need a ton of food. If you are going to go down that path, do your research first. Figure out what he needs based on his not just his height and weight, but his age and gender. It really is a freaky amount of food. and that way you can just focus on facts.

 

The only real idea I have is to teach him to cook. You could focus on foods he likes and meal planning, and subtly work in nutrition lessons. And you could make him his own little file of favorite recipes to take with him when he goes to his moms. I really think arming him with ability to make his own food is his best bet for when he is at his moms.  It might help.

 

Is there any way to encourage activity while he is there? A Wii fit or something? I feel sorry for a kid left with nothing to do all day but eat. I'd gain 2 lbs a week too!


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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Old 04-30-2011, 05:40 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by Linda on the move View Post

First, I think you guys have done a really great job with a difficult situation. Kudos!  Thanks.

 

Second, he isn't "away from home" when he's at his mom's. He's at his other home...

Point taken.  It was careless wording, when I wrote "away from home" and esp. inappropriate, when addressing a forum of mothers!  I DO recognize that his Mom's is a home to him, as well; just as DH's house continued to feel like a home to him, when he lived far away from US.  I meant to convey the more global idea that ANY time he's away from the menus/routines/expectations he's used to, with us - whether he's with his Mom, Grandma, friends or at school - there are choices he has the power to make.

 

For example, my MIL tries to show love and have fun with the kids by making crazy desserts together, preferably enormous banana splits.  And, IAW her generation, she believes juice is critically healthy and important for kids and pushes it like veggies.  But just because she offers these things and would happily let DSS consume 1,000 calories and risk a sugar coma (j/k) this way doesn't mean he has to.  He can stop at one glass of juice and build reasonably-sized banana splits.  Or, at school, he could toss the lunches I pack him and use his allowance to buy ice cream or other junk.  Though no one would stop him (well...they would, but if he said he'd eaten his lunch first, I don't know that anyone would verify it...), he can choose to exert self-control and not take advantage of the freedom.  (For the most part, I think he IS good about this.)  In a couple years, when he's in HS - with the luxury cafeteria - self-control will be even more important.  

 

And at his Mom's...    

   

...He may not have healthy options there... I don't think you should tell him to eat differently than he does at his moms because I don't know if that is even an option for him. I really wouldn't push the idea that he is to blame for what food his mother buys or that the fact that the whole set up is a mess.  I don't see him having a lot of power...

 

Obviously, I can't be sure, but based on DSS's different habits, after spending significant time with her and things he says - pointing out items in the grocery his Mom always buys, or mentioning favorite dishes she makes, or things they do together - it sounds like she IS concerned with healthy food and discusses it with him, but A) She has some misguided ideas, such as frequent smoothies being super-healthy and not necessarily a snack in their own right, but a drink to accompany food; and B) She hates to tell DSS no, about multiple servings (and even if a dish is healthy, 3 plates full of it may not be...) or impulse buys, from candy and treats to souvenirs, fad toys, etc.  And I can understand her wanting to be the parent who always says yes, when she sees so little of him.  But, as at school or with Grandma, he does have the power to exert reasonable self-control, even if no one makes him.  I would never suggest that he try to influence his Mom's shopping or cooking habits.  First off, DH and I don't criticize his Mom, to him; and secondly, you're right - you can't expect an 11-yr.-old to feel responsible for changing his Mom's habits.

 

ALL THAT SAID...  

 

Yes, it is hard on his body. Him feeling guilty about that isn't going to help.  I think you're right.  This is the bottom line.  We don't want to make him feel bad about himself, on top of everything else.  Although I didn't struggle with being overweight at his age, if I HAD, I probably wouldn't have been mature enough to handle a direct discussion about it constructively.  I would have felt criticized, or ugly.  We don't want that for him, and there probably AREN'T any words that would let us address things directly, without hurting him.  

 

It's just hard, watching the yo-yo thing every year and knowing how tough that is, on his body... and thinking about the impulses and habits he'll need to unlearn, when he's older and on his own (i.e., no one will EVER be around to say "Why don't we slow down and save some for lunch tomorrow?")

 

Third, we have talked about how different bodies have different nutritional needs, but we backed it up. At the time, I was doing WW and figured out what different members of my family would need to maintain or loose weight. The surprising thing about it was that they could all eat far more food than I ever would have guessed. Teen boys need a ton of food. If you are going to go down that path, do your research first. Figure out what he needs based on his not just his height and weight, but his age and gender. It really is a freaky amount of food. and that way you can just focus on facts.

 

I took your suggestion and looked up http://www.bcm.edu/cnrc/bodycomp/energy/energyneeds_calculator.htm .  Yes, regarding my teenage sons, it is, indeed astounding!  But, I suspected as much, from the change in our grocery bills the last few years!  And I'm sure once DSS hits puberty, he'll also grow some and need more calories.  But right now, he still needs under 2,000.  I think I'll table this discussion until he's older.  While it's a great idea - to make nutrition a factual whole-family study - I think DSS would still feel very sorry for himself, about his lot in life, if he learned the twins each need almost twice the daily calories he does!  

 

The only real idea I have is to teach him to cook. You could focus on foods he likes and meal planning, and subtly work in nutrition lessons. And you could make him his own little file of favorite recipes to take with him when he goes to his moms. I really think arming him with ability to make his own food is his best bet for when he is at his moms.  It might help.

 

I LOVE this idea!  Thanks!  And he is very interested in cooking and likes to help DH and me do it.  But I'd never thought before about focusing on things he can do all on his own, or sending a "favorite recipes" file with him, in the summer. 

 

Is there any way to encourage activity while he is there? A Wii fit or something? I feel sorry for a kid left with nothing to do all day but eat. I'd gain 2 lbs a week too!

 

We have a Wii Fit here, but next to the "more fun" Wii games, it doesn't really get used unless an adult is there and suggests it.  DH has thought about signing up DSS for some sort of sports program out there, during the time his ex is at work, but she'd never cooperate in taking him and would certainly complain to the court that he was trying to control her P/T.  

 

We HAVE decided to go out there to visit him for a week, right in the middle of his summer time with his Mom (of course, her visit was adjusted so it doesn't cut into her # of weeks with him).  We hope this will help a lot of problems, from him missing us, to blowing off his summer reading assignments, to all the brain-washing about us from his Mom, as well as breaking up the long period of poor health habits with a week of camping, hiking, swimming and running around with his brothers.


 

 


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Old 04-30-2011, 02:58 PM
 
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Wow, it sounds like you have some tough work set out for you.  I have a similar situation with my DS, who is 11 1/2.  Just a question-

 

Are you sure he has not started puberty?  I only ask because my DS has been into it for months (like, BO, pubic hair, mustache, growing taller, etc) and it happened much earlier than I expected!  

 

I only have a minute, but my DS is overweight probably by 30 pounds.  Until about 2 1/2 years ago, he had been pretty skinny.  A few things happened that screwed it all up: 1) I had always been very careful about letting DS decide how much to eat.  (I'm overweight, and I know a lot of it has to do with how I was forced to eat food as a child.)   Well, DH (DS#1 stepfather) was a finish your plate no matter what kind of guy, and despite my protests, used to get DS to eat his whole plate.  Grrrr!  2)  Both DS father and me are overweight, so he may have some predisposition, which is why I tried to be careful about how he ate.  Grrrrr again!  3)  We spent a lot of time eating crappy food, and I did not encourage him to go outside enough and I let him play way too many video games inside.

 

So... I basically told DS #1 (who is aware that he's bigger than his friends) that we needed to focus on him not gaining more weight, but not to really focus on losing.  It's hard, because he has started puberty, and I'm sure there are times he really is hungry.  I didn't say, "OMG, you're huge!" but, I was honest about it with him.  I said, look, we both weigh too much and it's not healthy.  We need to exercise more, and eat healthier.  I 2nd the idea of having him help you cook.  You may also just need to stop him from eating too much.  As in, when he announced he was getting 6 pieces of pizza, simply say, "You can have 3, and if you're still hungry, you can have fruits or veggies."

 

In our house, I've really worked to learn how to cook healthier food, and we just joined a CSA.  We involve our DS in 1 sport a season, whatever he picks, but he has to pick at least one.  There is NO video games during the week after school.  Only on the weekends, and I limit the time.  Otherwise, he has to go outside.  The kids around here are big into Nerf guns, and they run around re-enacting their video games.  "But no one's outside!" is met with, "Take your journal to a park and write."  Etc.  The only food I let him have limitless is fruits and veggies.  If he gets a huge serving of dinner, I have him put 1/2 back and let him finish his plate.  We wait a little bit, talking at the table, and if he's still hungry he can get more.  We are talking about doing a couch to 5k training.  He has asked for free weights, but I've been nervous to get them because I'm afraid my toddler will hurt himself, so I'm looking into getting resistance bands for him.  We have 2 dogs, and he has to help walk them every day.  He is also nervous in him swim trunks this year, so we bought a rash guard shirt (like a swimming t-shirt which has SPF, Lands End has them for about $20) and matching trunks, and now he's VERY excited about going swimming.  We talked about how the more activity he does outside, the less he will gain.

 

Good luck Momma!  I know it's hard, but it's not like he needs to "drop the weight" as much as preventing more gaining and getting used to a sedentary lifestyle.    


Mom, wife, full-time student.  And tired.  DH, DS#1 (9/99) and DS#2 (9/09), and 2 dogs.

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Old 05-02-2011, 09:49 AM
 
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a couple of other thoughts about talking about food with kids/teens:

 

We talk about eating to satisfaction -- that place where you are comfortable but not stuffed, and about checking in with yourself during a meal to see if you are still eating because you are actually hungry or eating because eating fun and the food taste good. I'm hoping that by actively working on teaching the kids to tune into their bodies, they'll develop life-long skills.

 

We don't label foods as "good" and "bad" but we do talk about how some foods we can eat lots and lots of, and other food need to be eaten in moderation. Although most kids really do get the idea that no body needs seconds on desserts, foods made with whole fat cheese or white flour fall into the same category. Simple starches like white flour hit our system in such a way that they often just make us feel hungrier,  never giving us a feeling of satisfaction. And regular cheese is just a hunk of fat. Most kids know that cheese comes from dairy, and they may even know it has protein in it. But it is a food that needs to be eaten in moderation, unlike low or non fat diary products.

 

Foods that I encourage my kids to fill up on are fruits, vegies, low fat meat, low or non fat dairy, whole grains.

 

Food that I encourage my kids to eat in moderation are sweets, nuts, cheese, white flour, regular pasta, high fat meats, etc.  I think it's harder for kids to understand that some main dishes, like pasta, aren't things that we can just stuff ourselves with.

 

We've also worked on the idea of healthy fats vs. unhealthy fats, and how having a MODERATE amount of healthy fat with a meal is really good for us.

 

We are having pizza tonight, and it will be homemade with LF cheese, turkey pepperoni, etc. We will also have a big salad with it.


but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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Old 05-06-2011, 10:06 AM
 
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Does he have a bike or something else that he can use to get out and around at his mom's house?  Is there a pool close enough to the house to ride to? When I was that age close enough meant within 5 miles or so one way and that is really not too far for a kid that age to bike if they are used to having the independence to go long distances.  If he has no way to get around on his own then I suggest buying a bike online and having it sent to his mother's house.  That way he has options for at least riding around the neighborhood.  If there is a pool within riding distance you can probably purchase a season pass for him to use while he is there.  If there is a Y in the area maybe his mom would be willing to drop him off there for a day program on her way to work if she doesn't have to foot the bill.  Some Y's have really fun programs for kids of all ages to encourage activity.  They also often have a teen area where kids can just hang out and youth membership options that can be purchased for long or short periods of time.  Parks and Recreations departments sometimes have activities targeted to kids in all age groups, including teens and that may be another thing to look into.  She may be open to suggestions if your husband brings it up with her as something that your son is becoming embarrassed about and offers some solutions that will be relatively easy and cost free for her to get him to. 

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Old 05-10-2011, 05:50 AM - Thread Starter
 
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We talk about eating to satisfaction -- that place where you are comfortable but not stuffed, and about checking in with yourself during a meal to see if you are still eating because you are actually hungry or eating because eating fun and the food taste good...  I think this is the bulk of our issue.  And I get it.  A few months after the 1st time I gave birth, I was at a restaurant where we *always* ate, with my then-in-laws.  I had *always* ordered the same thing, gotten full after about half of it, then my FIL would pick off my plate and his wife would scold him.  Every time.  Except, I looked down and realized I had eaten the entire plate and I would've continued eating, had there been more.  I had NO IDEA whether or not I was still hungry.  There was just no sense at all, one way or the other.  So, for the 1st time in my life, in order to have a body I enjoyed living in, I had to put a lot of conscious thought into what and how much I ate, instead of just following my instincts.  No fun!!!  But I think that's what goes on with DSS.  Whether he's bored at his Mom's, surrounded by high-fat/high-carb food, or using food to stave off rotten feelings about all the pressure to choose a favorite parent (that's another thread), I think he comes back from her place having completely lost his sense of whether he's full.  And if I thought it was no fun to compensate for that in my twenties, imagine how un-fun it is for a kid!

 

We don't label foods as "good" and "bad" but we do talk about how some foods we can eat lots and lots of, and other food need to be eaten in moderation. Although most kids really do get the idea that no body needs seconds on desserts, foods made with whole fat cheese or white flour fall into the same category... Foods that I encourage my kids to fill up on are fruits, vegies, low fat meat, low or non fat dairy, whole grains... Food that I encourage my kids to eat in moderation are sweets, nuts, cheese, white flour, regular pasta, high fat meats, etc.  I think it's harder for kids to understand that some main dishes, like pasta, aren't things that we can just stuff ourselves with.  Yes!  I talk about these things all the time.  I think, overall, DSS thinks it's as annoying as being told to floss, or being made to correct careless answers on math take-home tests.  But I'm sure, on some level, he hears me and will retain the info. over time...

 

We are having pizza tonight, and it will be homemade with LF cheese, turkey pepperoni, etc. We will also have a big salad with it.  thumb.gif


 

 


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Old 05-10-2011, 06:07 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Does he have a bike or something else that he can use to get out and around at his mom's house?  Is there a pool close enough to the house to ride to? When I was that age close enough meant within 5 miles or so one way and that is really not too far for a kid that age to bike if they are used to having the independence to go long distances.  If he has no way to get around on his own then I suggest buying a bike online and having it sent to his mother's house.  That way he has options for at least riding around the neighborhood.  If there is a pool within riding distance you can probably purchase a season pass for him to use while he is there.  If there is a Y in the area maybe his mom would be willing to drop him off there for a day program on her way to work if she doesn't have to foot the bill.  Some Y's have really fun programs for kids of all ages to encourage activity.  They also often have a teen area where kids can just hang out and youth membership options that can be purchased for long or short periods of time.  Parks and Recreations departments sometimes have activities targeted to kids in all age groups, including teens and that may be another thing to look into.  She may be open to suggestions if your husband brings it up with her as something that your son is becoming embarrassed about and offers some solutions that will be relatively easy and cost free for her to get him to. 


These are good suggestions.  Thanks!  

 

We are Y members and spend a lot of time there.  When DSS was younger, he spent summer days at the Boys & Girls Club while his Mom was at work and it sounds like, when he was alone, it was chiefly when she worked nights.  Last summer, evidently she decided he was old enough not to go to B&GC "camp" (daycare)... and that's the summer he gained the most weight.  So, we should look up the closest Y and let DH's ex know that she can drop off DSS to hang out there, on her way to work.  It stinks that he won't know any kids there, but maybe she'd let us enroll him in one of the week-long camps for kids his age and he could meet some people that way.  We could spin it as, "Camp will be cheaper if we pay for it, since we're members," to distract from any idea that we're "trying to control" her parenting time.  It might work.

 

I know DH would not be comfortable with DSS riding his bike anywhere.  DSS's Mom lives downtown, in a very big city.  I know different parents have different thoughts about what's safe with this type of thing, but I agree that DSS shouldn't be roaming around his neighborhood by himself.  He's not a teenager yet, and he's very small for his age.  Plus, he doesn't have friends there to hang out with...to call for help if he has an accident...to help figure out what to do if they take a wrong turn and get lost...  You know? 

 


One woman in a house full of men:  my soul mate:    or... twin sons:(HS seniors) ... step-son:  (a sophomore) ... our little man:   (a first grader) ... and there is another female in the house, after all:  our
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