TIME health

77 Expiration Dates That You Should Know

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Keate Barker

A handy keep-or-toss guide to 77 foods, beauty products, and household goods

Certain items in your house practically scream “toss me” when their prime has passed. That mysterious extra white layer on the Cheddar? A sure sign it needs to be put out of its misery. Chunky milk? Down the drain it goes.

But what about that jar of olives or Maraschino cherries that has resided in your refrigerator since before the birth of your kindergartner? Or the innumerable nonedibles lurking deep within your cabinets and closets: stockpiled shampoo and toothpaste, seldom-used silver polish? How do you know when their primes have passed?

With help from experts and product manufacturers, Real Simple has compiled a guide to expiration dates. These dates are offered as a rough guideline. The shelf lives of most products depend upon how you treat them. Edibles, unless otherwise indicated, should be stored in a cool, dry place. (With any food, of course, use common sense.) Household cleaners also do best in a dry place with a stable temperature. After the dates shown, beauty and cleaning products are probably still safe but may be less effective.

Food

Beer
Unopened: 4 months.

Brown sugar
Indefinite shelf life, stored in a moistureproof container in a cool, dry place.

Chocolate (Hershey bar)
1 year from production date

Coffee, canned ground
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 1 month refrigerated

Coffee, gourmet
Beans: 3 weeks in paper bag, longer in vacuum-seal bag (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
Ground: 1 week in sealed container

Coffee, instant
Unopened: Up to 2 years
Opened: Up to 1 month

Diet soda (and soft drinks in plastic bottles)
Unopened: 3 months from “best by” date.
Opened: Doesn’t spoil, but taste is affected.

Dried pasta
12 months

Frozen dinners
Unopened: 12 to 18 months

Frozen vegetables
Unopened: 18 to 24 months
Opened: 1 month

Honey
Indefinite shelf life

Juice, bottled (apple or cranberry)
Unopened: 8 months from production date
Opened: 7 to 10 days

Ketchup
Unopened: 1 year (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
Opened or used: 4 to 6 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Maple syrup, real or imitation
1 year

Maraschino cherries
Unopened: 3 to 4 years
Opened: 2 weeks at room temperature; 6 months refrigerated

Marshmallows
Unopened: 40 weeks
Opened: 3 months

Mayonnaise
Unopened: Indefinitely
Opened: 2 to 3 months from “purchase by” date (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Mustard
2 years (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Olives, jarred (green with pimento)
Unopened: 3 years
Opened: 3 months

Olive oil
2 years from manufacture date (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Peanuts
Unopened: 1 to 2 years unless frozen or refrigerated
Opened: 1 to 2 weeks in airtight container

Peanut butter, natural
9 months

Peanut butter, processed (Jif)
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 6 months; refrigerate after 3 months

Pickles
Unopened: 18 months
Opened: No conclusive data. Discard if slippery or excessively soft.

Protein bars (PowerBars)
Unopened: 10 to 12 months. Check “best by” date on the package.

Rice, white
2 years from date on box or date of purchase

Salad dressing, bottled
Unopened: 12 months after “best by” date
Opened: 9 months refrigerated

Soda, regular
Unopened: In cans or glass bottles, 9 months from “best by” date
Opened: Doesn’t spoil, but taste is affected

Steak sauce
33 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Tabasco
5 years, stored in a cool, dry place

Tea bags (Lipton)
Use within 2 years of opening the package

Tuna, canned
Unopened: 1 year from purchase date
Opened: 3 to 4 days, not stored in can

Soy sauce, bottled
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: 3 months (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)

Vinegar
42 months

Wine (red, white)
Unopened: 3 years from vintage date; 20 to 100 years for fine wines
Opened: 1 week refrigerated and corked

Worcestershire sauce
Unopened: 5 to 10 years (after this time, color or flavor may be affected, but product is still generally safe to consume)
Opened: 2 years

Household Products

Air freshener, aerosol
2 years

Antifreeze, premixed
1 to 5 years

Antifreeze, concentrate
Indefinite

Batteries, alkaline
7 years

Batteries, lithium
10 years

Bleach
3 to 6 months

Dish detergent, liquid or powdered
1 year

Fire extinguisher, rechargeable
Service or replace every 6 years

Fire extinguisher, nonrechargeable
12 years

Laundry detergent, liquid or powdered
Unopened: 9 months to 1 year
Opened: 6 months

Metal polish (silver, copper, brass)
At least 3 years

Miracle Gro, liquid
Opened: 3 to 8 years

Miracle Gro, liquid, water-soluble
Indefinite

Motor oil
Unopened: 2 to 5 years
Opened: 3 months

Mr. Clean
2 years

Paint
Unopened: Up to 10 years
Opened: 2 to 5 years

Spray paint
2 to 3 years

Windex
2 years

Wood polish (Pledge)
2 years

Beauty Products
All dates are from the manufacture date, which is either displayed on the packaging or can be obtained by calling the manufacturer’s customer-service number.

Bar soap
18 months to 3 years

Bath gel, body wash
3 years

Bath oil
1 year

Body bleaches and depilatories
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 6 months

Body lotion
3 years

Conditioner
2 to 3 years

Deodorant
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 1 to 2 years
For antiperspirants, see expiration date

Eye cream
Unopened: 3 years
Used: 1 year

Face lotion
With SPF, see expiration date. All others, at least 3 years

Foundation, oil-based
2 years

Foundation, water-based
3 years

Hair gel
2 to 3 years

Hair spray
2 to 3 years

Lip balm
Unopened: 5 years
Used: 1 to 5 years

Lipstick
2 years

Mascara
Unopened: 2 years
Used: 3 to 4 months

Mouthwash
Three years from manufacture date

Nail polish
1 year

Nail-polish remover
Lasts indefinitely

Perfume
1 to 2 years

Rubbing alcohol
At least 3 years

Shampoo
2 to 3 years

Shaving cream
2 years or more

Tooth-whitening strips
13 months

Wash’n Dri moist wipes
Unopened: 2 years
Opened: Good until dried out

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Family

This Chart Shows Most Americans Agree with Pope Francis on Spanking

Pope Francis Leads Mass With Members Of The Institutes Of Consecrated Life
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis speaks during a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 2, 2015 in Vatican City.

Spanking isn't all that controversial for most parents in the U.S.

Pope Francis angered child abuse activists this week when he suggested it was ok for parents to discipline a disobedient child with a smack “if dignity was maintained.”

The comments, apparently in support of corporal punishment, fly in the face of consistent research that’s found spanking has essentially no positive effect on children and may actually harm them in the long run.

Still, as it turns out, spanking isn’t all that controversial for most parents in the U.S., black or white, high school dropouts or college graduates.

More than three quarters of men and 65% of women in the United States say they support giving children the occasional “good, hard spanking,” as TIME highlighted in parenting feature The Discipline Wars.

Sources: Child Trends’ original analysis of the General Social Survey 2012

The numbers are only marginally lower than in 1985, when 84% of men and 82% of women said they supported the practice.

Views around the world are somewhat mixed—43 countries, including Francis’ native Argentina, ban corporal punishment. Still, all of North America and most of Western Europe either explicitly allow it or have no laws on the books.

But even supporters of the occasional spanking draw the line somewhere. The father who prompted Francis to discuss the issue in the first place, for instance, said he would never try to “humiliate” his child. In his remarks, Francis said that parents should only “correct with firmness” when it is done “justly.”

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TIME society

How My Dad’s Brain Cancer Finally Convinced Me to Quit Facebook

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why

xojane

Facebook has an average of 864 million active daily users, but as of a month ago, that number was reduced by at least one person—me. And every time I tell someone that I hit the “Delete My Account” button, it’s like I’m making some shocking confession.

“Why?” most ask incredulously.

While there is no one answer, the tipping point was my dad’s recent diagnosis with stage four glioblastoma—brain cancer.

I got my dad’s news in the middle of October when he had quite suddenly begun experiencing symptoms. His wife took him to the ER where doctors later discovered a large mass in his brain.

My dad and his wife have been together for 19 years. He moved in with her and her two young daughters—much younger than me—after my parents divorced when I was 15. I often daydreamed about what my dad’s life must have been like with his new family. But I didn’t have to wonder once I finally visited their home many years later and saw all of the family photos around their house: posed pictures of the four of them all in black T-shirts and khakis, pics of them in formal wear on a cruise ship, candids from holidays past.

He had obviously built a strong relationship with his stepdaughters, particularly the youngest. And it would be her face I was left staring at on Facebook after my dad’s diagnosis. She changed her profile photo to a picture of her and my dad, which felt like a punch in the stomach even though I knew logically that it wasn’t about me. I clicked on her profile at least once a day to see if she had changed it.

In order to further pick at the scab, I took to Googling her name with my dad’s name. I found out they had done a 5k together a couple of years ago and that when she played soccer in high school, my father and her mother were listed as her parents.

I told all of this to my therapist, who did not respond the way I had hoped.

Instead she said, “I think you should block her on your Facebook feed.”

I cried when she said that because something in me craved the tortuous feelings that came from clicking on this girl’s profile. But I was prepared to do it. However, when I started thinking about it—really thinking about it—I realized that her profile picture and updates weren’t the only things I was discontent about being on Facebook.

My therapist says that Facebook comes up in sessions with her clients on a daily basis, and I can see why. It offers us innumerable opportunities to compare our own lives with the lives that our Facebook friends choose to present to us. And I say “choose to present” because it hardly ever offers the whole picture. Someone announces her new job but fails to mention she was fired from the last one. Other people overstate their financial status, relationships, how perfect their kids are, or just how amazingly fun and interesting their lives are in general.

So after some reflection, I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why I ultimately quit:

Being on Facebook gave me a false sense of community. I’d been kicking around the idea of getting off of Facebook for awhile but would excuse the fact that I was still on it with exclamations like, “This is the only way I still keep up with some people!” But if someone isn’t even worth an email, text, phone call, or postcard, are they really worth me “keeping up with” on Facebook? And can that even be considered keeping up with them?

For me, Facebook made me feel like I had this village of support around me, but it was essentially a form of voyeurism. What I needed to do was return some emails, send some texts, reach out to people—and not just “like” their status update about having pancakes for brunch or comment on a picture of their kid’s latest dance recital.

I needed something real. I needed someone to see me with puffy eyes and unwashed hair and baby-food-stained sweatpants while I drank boxed wine and watched Gilmore Girls reruns. I needed someone to hit the metaphorical thumbs-up sign on that picture, and I needed to do the same for other people.

It made me feel sad/annoyed/jealous. Seeing the photos my dad’s stepdaughter was posting of the two of them together—memorializing him like he was already gone—was killing me. Then there were the complaining vaguebookers, not-so-humble braggers, and myriad other photos, links, and updates that were bumming me out.

Plus, I didn’t like feeling bad about myself for not having a new job or new dog or freshly blown-out hair or a perfectly Pinterest-ed party to photograph and post on Facebook. Or, perhaps most importantly, a picture of me and my dad looking and feeling healthy.

It was a time suck that distracted me from the present moment. I would find myself mindlessly scrolling through a high school acquaintance’s 200-photo album of Disney World photos and then looking up to realize I’d let a whole hour pass doing something I didn’t consciously even want to be doing. What else could I have been doing with that time that would be way more enjoyable for me?

So what does life after Facebook look like?

I have friends telling me they wish they could do the same thing. Newsflash: They can if they really want to. But I know how they feel. For the longest time, I’ve felt like I needed permission to do something as simple as quitting Facebook. So I finally gave myself the go-ahead.

I’ve had more interactions with people via email, text, phone, and in person. I think some of the people that have reached out to me think I’ve suddenly unfriended them on Facebook, but regardless of the reason, it’s been nice to actually have one-on-one chats with folks about what’s going on in their lives and in mine.

I have more time. Last night after my three-year-old and her eight-month-old sister were tucked into bed and the dishes were done and the comfy pants were on, I slow danced in the kitchen with my husband and cried into his shoulder (I’m still a bucket full of emotions). I’ve also finished two and a half books, sent out thank-you notes for Christmas presents, and figured out how to properly shape my own eyebrows. And I’ve learned I need to find a hobby.

I still don’t know if I made the right decision, though. So I ask you: Have you pulled the plug on your Facebook account? If so, what was the tipping point for you? If not, have you thought about it? What’s stopped you from quitting?

FYI, if you’re looking to take the plunge: Save yourself the time and trouble of looking for the link on your Facebook profile page and just google “Delete Facebook account.” You want the first link that pops up. You’ll have the opportunity to download a copy of your info—all the photos and such you’ve uploaded to Facebook—and then you can either deactivate or permanently delete your Facebook account. I opted for the latter.

Jen Harper wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: These Texting and Social Media Habits Could Sabotage Your Love Life

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

How Workplaces Can Combat Pregnancy Discrimination

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Having a baby shouldn't put Americans' jobs at risk

As a mother of a young child today, I know much has changed for mothers in the workforce since my mother and her mother had children. But there’s one thread that ties our narratives together – a subject that’s too often fleeting in the broader discussion of working moms: the discrimination women experience during pregnancy, and after they return to work.

Every year, thousands of women file charges against employers for acts of pregnancy discrimination. In fact, charges of pregnancy discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) actually increased by 71 percent between 1992 and 2011.

What does pregnancy discrimination look like, exactly? It occurs when an employer treats a job applicant or an employee unfavorably due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. It could involve refusing to hire or promote a qualified individual because she is pregnant, firing a woman because she missed a few days of work to give birth, or forcing a pregnant employee to take unpaid leave. Sure, this behavior hurts pregnant women and their families, but it also hurts employers: In addition to breaking the law, these companies may be failing to retain some of their most highly qualified employees – losing out on their skills and productivity.

The bottom line is that women comprise a significant proportion of the nation’s talent pool, and when their contributions are constrained by patronizing and outmoded notions of what motherhood should look like (even well-intentioned ones), our workforce, our economy and our families suffer. At present, women serve as the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American households. In other words, women’s sustained participation in the labor force is critical to the economic security and stability of millions of individual families.

And yet, here we are in 2015, and some employers still view child-bearing and employment as mutually exclusive activities. Just last year, the EEOC announced a $30,000 settlement to a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit a woman brought against her former employer, Triple T Foods in Arkansas, which fired her the day she announced she was pregnant. This is only one example of the $3.5 million the EEOC recouped in damages for victims of pregnancy discrimination between 2011 and 2014.

We have a long way to go. But we’ve made progress in some ways. For example, just a generation ago, many women left the workplace when they became visibly pregnant. In the 1960s, almost half of women who worked during their first pregnancy left the workforce by the time they were about 6 months pregnant. Today, only about 12 percent do.

And we’re certainly better off than we were. In 1908, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Muller v. Oregon, upheld a state statute restricting the number of hours per day a female employee could work and thereby set a precedent for paternalistic laws intended to “protect” women from the hazards and indignities of the workplace. While the Court acknowledged that the statute treated workers differently on the basis of sex, it also found that that a woman’s “physical structure” and “maternal functions” justified such unequal treatment.

Although the precedent established in Muller had unraveled by the late twentieth century and its discriminatory assumptions are no longer formally codified in law, they still permeate the cultural expectations surrounding women—especially pregnant women—in the workplace. These expectations can affect women even before they enter the workplace. Pregnant women face discrimination at job interviews and face much greater discrimination than other workers with short-term disabilities who may need minimal accommodations. For example, in a survey funded by the W.K Kellogg Foundation, 69 percent of respondents who reported being denied a pregnancy-related accommodation felt that their employers had honored similar requests from coworkers with other limitations or disabilities.

Knowing that this culture exists can and often does discourage women from requesting accommodations from or disclosing her pregnancy to her supervisor. In the same survey, more than half of respondents reported needing scheduling accommodations for prenatal visits and the like, but more than a quarter reported failing to request such an accommodation. That’s a shame, because the truth is that employers should be able to accommodate these requests with minimal expense and inconvenience.

How do we ensure that women who work during pregnancy are treated equitably, and begin to break down this discriminatory culture? That requires a combination of more progressive employer policies coupled with a set of robust legal and regulatory protections. At the federal level, women are protected by laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but there is more we can do.

In June, at the White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama called for federal legislation that supports pregnant workers. Some states like Delaware and Illinois have taken the lead and passed their own versions of the proposed federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

The EEOC has stepped up, too, releasing new enforcement guidance last year to clarify the applications of the PDA and the ADA, as they apply to pregnant workers. This guidance “requires that employers treat women affected by pregnancy or related medical conditions the same way they treat non-pregnant applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” This means that employers have to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers if they also make such accommodations for other employees who have a temporary disability. The EEOC’s notice also includes women who undergo fertility treatments, are nursing mothers, or are discriminated against based on stereotypes and assumptions about motherhood.

Outside of government, workplaces across the nation are already teeming with examples of managers and employees alike who are dismantling outdated assumptions about the needs and abilities of pregnant workers, as well as the responsibilities of the employers who hire them. Combining statutory and regulatory protections with voluntary actions by employers can amplify this groundswell of progress. From the classroom to the board room to the factory floor, we see daily evidence of the powerful alignment of workplace policy, statutory protections and individual determination in ensuring that women can, in fact, do and be just about anything.

Building a workplace culture that aligns with the demographic realities of today’s labor force allows employers not only to stay on the right side of the law, but, as a growing body of evidence suggests, shows that employers can still do well with their bottom line by treating all of their workers fairly. After all, support for pregnant workers doesn’t simply benefit this generation of workers; it’s an investment in generations to come.

Latifa Lyles is the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

How to Build an Epic Snowman

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Do you want to... build a snowman? Here's how to do it like a pro

It takes more than a corncob pipe and a button nose to make it truly magical (and lasting). Tom Day, whose team won the 2014 Budweiser International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colorodo, says not to haphazardly roll snow. Instead, tightly pack it in a trash can, then flip it over, to create a stable, dense base that you can sculpt into a rounded shape using a kitchen spatula. Next, form the torso and head balls. (These you can roll the old fashioned way.)

But before you stack them, make sure Frosty is toppleproof: “Scoop a small indent of the base ball so that the torso ball can nest on top, and lightly spritz with water between the balls to help them adhere,” says Day. Repeat this process with the head ball. When building your snowman, remember 3, 2, 1. (Base, 3 feet high; torso 2 feet high; head 1 foot high.) These proportions create an impressive six-footer.

It’s also smart to pick a shady spot. Then hope that Mother Nature cooperates with temperatures that hover near or below freezing. So you can run and have some fun now before he melts away.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Parenting

Why Amish Kids Are Happier than Yours

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Mark Wilson—Getty Images

...and probably more obedient.

Modern parents face tons of advice – a lot of it conflicting. New research seems to come out daily, and new experts are always spouting new ideas.

The Amish, on the other hand, hold onto old ways, with limited technology and a simple life. But Amish families are also marked by strong bonds, as novelist Serena B. Miller recognized as she did research for her historical novels about the Amish community. And she found Amish children to be “obedient and
content… and remarkably happy.”

Here are five secrets parents can learn from the Amish, as offered up in Miller’s new book: More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting.

  1. Extended Family. One big hallmark of Amish culture: children grow up not just with their immediate family, but in a broad network of people who know and care about them. And that network doesn’t have to be perfect to work. “Family,” Miller writes, “even flawed families with eccentric relatives—is important to a child’s wellbeing.”
  1. Imperfect Hospitality. The Amish nurture community by welcoming a steady stream of guests into the home. But they don’t try to have everything perfect before guests arrive. And they don’t apologize if things aren’t just right. They know that “most people care a whole lot more about being welcome than the condition of your home,” as Miller writes. And it’s an attitude that teaches kids to live without shame.
  1. Hands-On Skills. Amish make sure their kids have hands-on skills, even if they also have a higher education. And, those hands-on skills can build perseverance, attention to detail, and confidence that can help kids succeed in any other part of life.
  1. Practical Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a crucial aspect of Amish homes, where it is practiced daily, and seen as a way to show respect to loved ones. It also, Miller observes, provides Amish children with “a sense of security,” because in a climate of forgiveness, they know that “making a mistake is not the end of the world.”
  1. Creative Boredom. You might think that because the Amish world isn’t filled with technological devices, Amish kids would be more likely to get bored. In fact, the opposite is true. Because Amish kids don’t have a TV show or game to turn to if they feel a twinge of boredom, they have more opportunities to “use their own creativity to amuse themselves,” Miller says.

Ultimately, all Amish parenting is rooted in the faith at the heart of Amish practice. The Amish aren’t known for trying to convert people, but for the integrity of their lives. And as one old Amish man who Miller interviewed observed, “From what I’ve seen over the years, that is also the most effective kind of parenting.”

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TIME Education

Going Back to School With My Teenage Daughter

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

It wasn't easy for my daughter to have her own college experience while I sat behind her in geography class

Walking into the college classroom on the first day of the semester, the young woman in front of me introduced herself to those sitting around her and smiled. She then looked over at me and said, “Mom, I’m not going to help you with this class. You’re going to have to do this on your own, I’m sorry.” I don’t remember even asking.

Earlier that week, Stephanie—the youngest of my four daughters—and I were sitting in a courtyard at our school, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, when she told me that she was dropping one of her classes and needed to add another. I told her I was taking geography and since she needed that class as well, we could take it together.

She gave me ‘the look’ with a resounding No. Then she changed her mind: Yeah, ok.

There is nothing quite like attending college with your daughter. For all the difficulties of getting your children educated, nothing is more challenging than trying to educate yourself at the same time.

The journey started years ago, when our family was living in North Carolina. I was a stay-at-home mom with hopes of returning to school once Stephanie started kindergarten. Eventually, I wanted to become a teacher. My dream was that my daughters and I could go to school together during the academic year and have family time during the summer.

Then plans changed. Getting divorced and raising four daughters alone is not easy, but I decided to go back to school anyway.

It would be very slow-going—I was behind. Algebra wasn’t even on my high school transcripts. So I found myself in community college, taking middle school math, three levels below the minimum college algebra class required to graduate. But I didn’t give up. I enjoyed it. Going to school became my place to go to invest in myself while still having time for a young family.

At the same time I was taking those math classes, my oldest daughter Amy, an 8th grader, complained about the new teacher in her own math class. Her regular teacher had a medical issue, and Amy was having trouble understanding the substitute, an older man who told long, drawn-out stories that made no sense. So I suggested that we talk to him and see what we could do to help the situation. She agreed.

I had just come from my math class earlier that morning and felt I could handle this. We walked into the room and there was my college math professor sitting at the desk looking up and smiling at both of us. Amy looked mortified. — No! How could this be?

The two of us were taking the same class, which may have been embarrassing to Amy, but I thought it was great. I was happy to be with my girls and be in school.

He proved to be an amazing teacher. He set the two of us up in friendly competition. In the evenings, we would sit together and go over her homework. Amy looked at math as a puzzle and I turned his stories into a method that helped her see how to do the problems.

In her class, he would tell the students that Amy’s mom had gotten an A on her homework—and wondered what Amy could do to beat her mom. He got the class interested in the game. She knew my grades before I did, and it made her feel special. He turned that around and did the same in my class, and students would ask him about my daughter. It was fun. More importantly, we both learned. As a side benefit, it brought us closer.

We later moved to Arizona and Amy signed up for the high school marching band. Erin and Courtney—my other daughters—went to middle school and also signed up for band. Stephanie was in second grade. And I applied to Arizona State University.

Then reality hit.

Marching band for Amy included early morning practices at 6 a.m., Friday night football games and competitions every Saturday all across Arizona. Middle school involved field trips, teacher meetings and homework. Elementary school was filled with more field trips, class parties with baked goods and after-school activities. And I had a full-time job, I never signed up for classes at ASU after being accepted, and college went on the back burner.

The years flew by. One by one, daughters moved out, leaving Stephanie the last one at home. She started taking courses in high school that satisfied college credits. Since I was not working at the time, I decided to go back and finish what I started.

I went to my local community college to learn about my options. Stephanie came with me and together we looked at my transfer credits from North Carolina. Her face dropped when she saw my grades. The adviser and I looked at her and I asked what was wrong. Mockingly she said, “Mom, really? One B? Out of all those A’s? Why?” She couldn’t believe I had received good grades. Apparently my daughters thought I had made up my grades in college to ‘inspire’ them to do well in their classes, since that’s what moms do, you know! So I signed up and dug in.

Graduating with honors with an Associate’s of Arts Degree, Stephanie sat in the audience—she was just four credits short of graduation.

In fall 2012, we both transferred to Arizona State. I chose to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Stephanie chose to be a photography major at the Herberger Institute. But when Stephanie visited Cronkite and saw pictures on the wall by photojournalism students, she decided to change majors.

As a mother, I tried to stay out of her way, planning my classes on a Monday-Wednesday schedule after finding her classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She needed to have her own college experience.

But at the same time, there were moments when my daughter and I were peers. We laughed and cried during midterms and final exams. We rolled our eyes at difficult professors and homework assignments that made no sense. I also felt better connected to my other daughters and their educational experiences.

Stephanie took the fall semester off this year and spent time in Oregon and New York visiting two of her sisters. She plans to start at ASU again this January, and she should graduate next fall, having studied photography, journalism, and art history. Her goals are to get a master’s in anthropology and to work for National Geographic.

Graduation should come this spring semester for me, as there is one core class I need in order to finish. Stephanie and I have become each other’s biggest supporters and I couldn’t be more proud of all of our accomplishments. My daughter Courtney graduates this spring as well. Erin was the winner, having already graduated, but 2015 is our year!

Sandy Balazic is a single mom, a mini-doxie fan, an in-depth reporter for Cronkite News, an intern for NBC Sports Radio 1060AM and a soon-to-be graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Health Care

Battle Over Paid Surrogacy Opens New Front

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The bill is personal for this New York senator

In many states, hiring a woman to carry and give birth to a child for you is illegal. But democratic New York Senator Brad Hoylman is fighting to change that in his home state. On Wednesday, he and the New York State assembly re-filed a bill called the Child-Parent Security Act to legalize compensated surrogacy in New York, and provide protections that ensure surrogates are entering into legal agreements and there’s no question that the intended parents of the child have full rights.

For him, the issue is personal and political.

New York forbids compensated surrogacy and is the only state where criminal penalties can be imposed on people who enter into a paid surrogacy agreement. That means that couples who want to use a surrogate to have a child that they’re genetically related must travel to a state where the practice is legal in order to do so.

That’s what Hoylman and his husband David Sigal did. Their daughter Silvia, now 4, was born via a surrogate in California, where compensated surrogacy is legal and parental rights are established prior to the birth of the child. “It added a lot of time and expense and uncertainty to having a child as a gay couple,” says Hoylman. “California has codified legal protections for surrogate families, and I would like to see that replicated in New York.”

Twenty-two states allow the practice and four states—New York, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey—as well as Washington, D.C., forbid it . The remaining states don’t have any rulings on the matter, meaning it’s technically not illegal but there are no laws to protect people should something go wrong, such as legal arguments over who has parental rights.

“I’ve had reports of surrogate children being born in New York illegally,” says Hoylman. “It’s a bit of a wild west scenario.”

Paid surrogacy, whether in one’s home state or elsewhere, is still costly. Basic fees for a surrogate mother can range from $32,000 to $40,000, with medical bills, legal fees, finding an egg donor and paying for insurance on top of it. For couples who travel out of state for a legal arrangement, there’s the added cost of travel throughout the pregnancy. All told, out-of-state surrogacy arrangements can cost around $100,000 on average.

One of the reasons many states are still wary of paid surrogacy is because of a 1988 ruling in New Jersey over “Baby M.” In a traditional surrogacy scenario, a woman named Mary Beth Whitehead agreed to be the paid surrogate for William and Elizabeth Stern, whom she found in a newspaper advertisement. But after giving birth, Whitehead changed her mind and tried to take the child back. Ultimately, the court gave custody to the Sterns, but Whitehead was given legal visitation rights. After that, paid surrogacy was outlawed in New Jersey, and others followed suit.

But thanks to in vitro fertilization, surrogacy today looks very different than it did a decade ago. Experts now recommend gestational surrogacy, where a surrogate fetus is implanted with an embryo made from donor sperm and egg—as opposed to tradition surrogacy, where the surrogate is inseminated with sperm. In the latter case, the carrier is genetically related to the child. Hoylman’s bill does not endorse that form.

Hoylman’s bill establishes the concept of “intended parentage” so that regardless of how a child was conceived, intended parents get rights. For example, in many cases, if a lesbian couple has a child via a sperm donor, the non-biological mother must adopt the child, something Hoylman says women find “embarrassing.”

For now, Hoylman says he has to prove that compensated surrogacy can work in New York.

“I was in the delivery room with my daughter and not everyone has that vantage point,” says Hoylman. “I am mindful that this is a longer term project.”

TIME Parenting

6 Sneaky but Scientific Ways to Help Kids Learn

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Parents want to teach kids the skills they’ll need to lead happy, productive lives. But we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, acknowledges this “time famine” at the outset of her book, which is filled with evidence-based ways to help kids learn the skills they need. Here are a few of her suggestions. Chances are you’re already doing some of them. Now you can rest assured that research supports your methods, and maybe you can try a couple of new things. As Galinsky says, “we teach best when we are learning.”

  1. Play games backwards. For example, “Simon Says, Do the Opposite.” It’s the classic with a twist. If Simon says, “Be quiet,” the kids should be loud.

Why:
This helps kids practice inhibitory control, an important executive function. Executive functions also include focus, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. These skills predict academic success at least as well as IQ scores.

  1. Talk about feelings. Encourage your kids to talk about how they feel (She’s sad and frustrated that she left her new necklace at Grandma’s and won’t be able to get it back until next week. She’s also envious of her brother, who remembered his necklace.) Speculate about how others might feel, whether it’s in real life situations (Another driver cut you off, and that made you angry, but maybe that driver was having a terrible horrible no good very bad day) or in a book (Alexander was disappointed when the shoe store had exciting striped sneakers for his brothers but only white ones for him.).

Why:
This helps kids learn the skill of empathy. Kids who are able to understand what others are feeling and understand their intentions have smoother transitions to school, college and beyond because they can see others’ point of view.

  1. Tell Stories. Read. Talk about what you’re reading. Read to your kids, or ask them questions about their books. Tell stories. If you go to a friend’s house, encourage the kids to tell the story of the visit later. Family life is filled with what Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley call “business talk.” This kind of talk usually uses simple vocabulary and conveys what an adult wants from a kid. Storytelling and discussion of books uses richer language and is called “extra talk.”

Why:
It promotes good communication skills. In a survey Galinsky conducted, employers were most concerned about employees’ verbal and written communication skills. Extra talk correlates positively with academic performance. Of course, it might also be pleasant.

  1. Choose toys that have no point. Lego bricks, not sets. Or break up sets after the thrill wears off and see what your kid can make. Guide instead of taking over. (“It doesn’t seem to fit here? Where else could it go?”) Don’t wrest the brick from her hand even if you know you could make something cool.

Why:
This kind of play promotes object, space, and number sense, skills that help kids make connections. Information is easy to come by in the age of Google, but it’s of limited use if you can’t make creative connections.

  1. Write Out the Fights.You probably don’t feel like pulling out a notebook when the kids are fighting, but try Galinsky’s approach, supported by research and tested on her own kids. Collaborate with your family to:
  • Identify the dilemma.
  • Determine the goal
  • Generate a list of solutions. Go beyond your typical solutions.
  • Think about how these solutions might work, and not just the ones that were your idea.
  • Pick one and try it.
  • After you’ve tried it, discuss how the solution is working and either tweak or change the plan.

Why:
This process models critical thinking, which Galinsky defines as “[T]he ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions, and actions.” Life is packed with decisions to make and problems to solve, but in the short term, good critical thinking skills might help your kid judge when a friend is influencing him to make a mean-spirited or dangerous choice.

  1. Praise effort — not talent or intelligence. Instead of saying, “You got that problem right. You’re so smart,” say “You worked hard on those problems and you figured them out. That’s great.” Talk through how they deal with challenges and praise persistence.

Why:
Kids who receive this kind of praise are more likely to take on challenges. They have a “growth mindset,” which means that they see their abilities as something they can develop. This sets the stage for a lifelong interest in learning.

TIME People

81-Year-Old Discovers His 61-Year-Old Son Through Long-Hidden Letter

The letter was from a woman claiming to be the mother of the son

Throughout his life, Tony Trapani wanted to have kids.

As might then be imagined, when he met his son for the first time on Monday – Trapani is now 81 – it was quite an experience.

Trapani was cleaning out his Grand Rapids, Michigan, home after his wife’s death when he came across a letter she’d hidden in a file cabinet. Sent in 1959, the letter was from a woman claiming to be the mother of Trapani’s son.

“I have a little boy,” the letter read. “He is five years old now. What I’m trying to say, Tony, is he is your son. He was born November 14, 1953.”

That little boy is Samuel Childress, now 61. Childress said that his mother told him she’d sent the letter to his father but gave up hope of ever hearing from him.

Trapani suspects his wife hid the letter because of their trouble conceiving a child. “Why my wife didn’t tell me,” he told Michigan’s Fox 17. “I don’t know. She wanted children. She couldn’t have any. She tried and tried.”

Childress, who grew up in Pennsylvania, said, “Just to know him now is so important to me. It’s going to fill that void.”

The family plans to have a paternity test performed to make sure of the results.

This article originally appeared on People.com.

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