Category Archives: Parenting
I’m in the middle of season 3 of Breaking Bad, and it’s definitely a compelling show. All the actors really are as great as you hear, the writing is very tight and doesn’t rely on Idiot Plot elements, and the show can be beautiful to look at. But sometimes it can be downright scary, the stuff they do!
In just a dozen or so episodes, I’ve seen such shocking images as:
- Baby wrapped up in multiple blankets before being buckled into car seat
- Car seat straps wide and loose with no visible chest clip
- Crib with bumpers and tons of fluffy blankets under and around the baby
- Propping a baby on her side instead of back sleeping
- Smoking in the baby’s room
Oh, and there’s been some milder stuff like drug use, murder, rape, decapitation, and dissolving a human corpse with acid.
Even though it can be disturbing at times, I’m definitely hooked! I’m kind of curious whether Walt will go back to cooking. And of course, I’m on the edge of my seat about the pool fencing – when are they going to show us that already?! Or are we going to see that fancy high tech system they talked about? They are such teases!
I like to think I’m a pretty good parent, but I admit I really fall down on limiting screen time. I think the cause is twofold. When I’m desperately trying to pay the bills or handle raw chicken or something, I use the TV or computer to occupy the kids and keep them out of my hair. On the other hand, when I’m finished with pressing tasks and get some leisure time, I sure as hell ain’t the mom who says, “Hey, let’s go for a bike ride, that’ll be fun!!!” Nope, I’m right there on the couch or in front of the computer myself.
Being me, I decided to do something radical, rather than attempting to moderate our daily habits. Yesterday was our first weekly screen-free day. The children awaited it in terror. I wasn’t exactly sanguine myself, but I wanted us to spend a whole day doing other stuff, interacting with each other (gasp!), and prove to us all that we could live without the idiot boxes.
I prepared by planning to abandon many chores. I was ready not to get much done, as I helped the kids find fun stuff to do outside their normal routine. And part of the point was to spend time together after all, so I gave myself permission to leave the Christmas tree half-denuded, the floors unvacuumed, and to put off bill-paying till today.
The other preparation was a list of screen-free activities. I wanted to have a set of options at hand for the inevitable, “We’re booooored!” moments. Since we’re all used to plopping down and being entertained by pixels, I realized I might not be able to come up with good ideas on the spur of the moment.
Here’s what I did with the children yesterday:
- Played Crazy 8s and War
- Played Monopoly
- Read The Hobbit aloud to Chloe
- Read a bunch of different books to each other
- Baked brownies
- Went outside and rode bikes and climbed a tree (I watched)
Here’s what the girls did without me, while I cooked, cleaned, and ran the household:
- Played with toys
- Found old flip phones and played pretend with them for an hour or more
- Practiced riding a bike without training wheels (up and down the hallway inside!)
- Colored with markers
I confess, to get them to be nice and play with each other while I prepped dinner, I did tell them I needed to get dinner all set before we could bake brownies, and so they needed to stop whining and fighting (an activity not at all confined to unplugged days) and let me work uninterrupted for a while. Normally I avoid using any kind of food reward for the kids, but since this was an activity as well as a treat, and I was doing something unusually challenging, I relaxed that rule a bit.
All in all, it was successful. We spent time with each other. We learned that as alluring as TV and Minecraft and Facebook are, we can survive without using them at all! This in turn has inspired me to be more vigilant about limiting screen time on a daily basis. Once we all got through a whole day without this stuff, it makes it easier for me to say, “That’s enough for today, you can find something else to do.”
I plan to keep doing this, and I learned a few things I’ll use in the future. First, we need a couple board games Claire can play. I plan on picking up Trouble, and maybe another preschool-friendly game, if I can find one that isn’t too annoying. Second, planning an outing would be a very good idea. If I had arranged the schedule differently, we could have hit the park for two hours and really gotten more physical activity and used up more time! Third, this is a great way to encourage reading. Chloe’s a good (heck, Gifted™ ) reader, but she resists reading at home. It took until the evening for her to pick up a book on her own and just read to herself for entertainment. It’s a good indicator that I need to cut off her other entertainment options at a certain point to make room for reading in her life.
I encourage everyone to give this a try. It’s really good for bodies, brains, and relationships. And the cold turkey aspect helps set us all up to be less attached to our devices, which is a vital skill in the modern world!
At the end of the day, the house will still need to be cleaned. There may be some areas that are visibly cleaner than they were this morning. Or not.
Here’s a blow-by-blow description of why.
Task: clean up. The first part is to get random detritus off the counter tops and the top of the fish tank, putting it all away (preferably not just shoved in an 18 gallon Rubbermaid bin), and wiping off the dust, dirt, and inexplicable sticky stuff that is found under all the things.
Here is a Christmas wreath of yarn and pom-poms, lying on the kitchen counter. It was made by number one daughter a couple years ago. She was overjoyed that it was put into service as the official front door wreath this year. Sadly, the white-hot temperatures that develop between our southern-facing dark green front door and the glass storm door quite handily melted the hot glue holding said wreath together and bits began falling off. Daughter was devastated, so the wreath can’t be simply thrown away. It needs to be refurbished and hung in a more climate-controlled location.
So, I obtain the glue gun and glue sticks (luckily located for other projects last week. Well, the glue gun was, and the extra glue sticks were not found at that time, but were located later, when the same sewing basket was rifled once again in search of the foot pedal to the sewing machine. The foot pedal was nowhere to be found, but the previously absent glue sticks had warped in from a dimensional rift. So that was lucky for today.)
While waiting for the glue gun to heat up, I pick up the next item cluttering up the counter. It’s an information form about pictures taken at preschool. I sit at the computer, find the web site, sign in, and try to decide if any of the pics are good enough to spend money on. Then call the photographer and leave a message. By then the glue gun is hot, so I glue bits back onto the wreath. I have no idea how the teachers originally succeeded in gluing he hanging loop on the back, and in my attempt, I manage to burn my fingers as well as adhere the photography information sheet to the back of the wreath.
So that represents about 30 minutes of work, and two items I’ve tried to clean up have progressed about 75% toward actually being off the counter top and put somewhere sensible. And they’re stuck together.
Every additional stray sheet of paper, toy, UPS package, and decoration brings with it a high possibility of involving similar calendar transfers, contact list additions, e-mails, phone calls, repairs, cleaning, input from other adults, children, or bureaucracies, reorganization of the space into which I wish to put the thing, and/or disassembly and deposition into the recycling of some form of package, box, or bag.
So, at the end of the day I’ve done an executive assistant’s worth of filing, calendar management, and contact maintenance, several crafts, some mending, de-cluttering and reorganization worthy of a TLC show, and enough box handling to qualify me to work at UPS. And the house looks about the same.
Finally, I’ve started adding things to my To Do list as I complete them, and including each step of a task as a separate entry. “Clean kitchen” gets replaced with neatly checked-off entries such as:
take recycling out to garage
take overflowing garage recycling out to curb container
realize in a panic that it’s recycling day and sprint curb container down to curb as truck pulls up
wave sheepishly at truck driver
At the end of the day, my To Do list is immense, and almost every item is checked off! My house still looks about the same. But at least I know the answer when I (or anyone else, should they dare be so reckless) wonders what the heck I did all day!
This is an original, self-authored, extemporaneous opera by my children. Actually, the entire performance lasted for about 30 minutes, but I only managed to record a bit. I trimmed it down to the highlights and transcribed it for your entertainment. I couldn’t suss out a couple words, but you’ll get the gist. The hilarious, hilarious gist.
I Hate You – The Opera!
When you’re at school
I miss you
I love you
I miss you
I love you
I miss you
I love you
Well sorry – I have to go to school
It’s not an option
Sorry, I can’t expel myself
I’m so sorry but I won’t hear it from you
I don’t really like you
I was lying
I _______ you
And I don’t like you singing
And I hate you
I’m sorry, but I’m not
I’m not sorry- eeee
What are you doing walking like that?
That’s the creepiest walk I’ve ever seen
The only people that do it are maniacs.
So why are you doing it?
I don’t like you anymore
‘Cause you’re the stupidest girl in the whole wide world
I am actually advanced in school
You take that!
And I’m smarter than you
I am not s-
You are not smarter than me
I’m smarter than you
I don’t like your stuff
I like my own stu-uuuuf!
Well that doesn’t mean that I’m not smart
You’re not smart
In fact, I’m really advanced
I don’t like your smart
I don’t like your _____
I don’t like anything that you love!
I’m sitting here looking at my daughter’s fourth grade reading log. Starting on day 1 of school, the teacher decreed that students must read for at least 20 minutes each day, keep track of the reading in their reading log, and turn it in with student and parent signatures affixed. The log requires Chloe to fill in the title of her reading material, along with a code designating what type of reading material it is. Then she needs to record how many minutes she read, as well as the pages she read, and both of us need to fill in comments about the reading at least once a week.
Looking at this reading log literally makes me feel like crying. What better way could a teacher concoct to make children hate reading? I have loved to read since I learned how. Right now I’ve got two books on the “front burner” and three on the “back burner,” meaning there are two books lying around which I tend to pick up and read at least a few times a week, and a few others I started but got distracted from for the moment. I had to start using the library instead of my Kindle because I was spending way too much money on books without realizing it. I’m a reader! And my voracious reading has delivered concrete benefits like high test scores and a massive vocabulary, so no one can argue that the way I read or what I’ve chosen to read isn’t academically useful.
And I don’t read log-style. I read what delights me at the moment. Sometimes the delight comes from satisfying curiosity or tackling a challenge, and sometimes it’s just getting on board for an easy ride with some fabulous characters. If I had to fill out that log each day to document my forays into Botswana with Mma Ramotswe or my visits to the eldritch New England of H.P. Lovecraft, I would probably start avoiding books. I would procrastinate reading, because it would have mutated into a chore. One with tiresome bookkeeping responsibilities. Would the stories enchant me and make me lose track of time and place when I had to quantify how long I read? My heart feels heavy when I try to imagine this scenario.
So how much heavier are the hearts of kids who still stumble over new words and are just starting to taste that fluid reading skill which delivers one into a new world, rather than merely presenting words on a page? My child already gets frustrated sometimes when she misreads and has to go back to figure out a sentence, or when she comes upon a new and idiosyncratic proper noun. She doesn’t need a taskmaster standing over her shoulder reminding her what a chore reading is on top of it all!
For now, I will be filling out Chloe’s reading log. I will write down whatever number the teacher has said is the minimum for that day. I will not refer to the clock when I do so. I will discuss with Chloe what we read, and jot down one of her comments on the log, along with one of my own. I want her to interact with this poisonous document as little as possible. Later, when the teacher has learned to know and love Chloe, I might discuss with her my concerns about the reading log. I don’t want to be a parent who launches the first week of school by shoving an Alfie Kohn essay into the teacher’s face. So we’ll be on the down-low for now.
The one good thing about this reading log is it did make me think about how much we read, and realize I would like to expand reading time. But I won’t be setting a timer – well, maybe I will, for the TV. Limiting TV, keeping good books around, and sitting down to read with my kids will be my approach, rather than treating books like overcooked Brussels sprouts that must be choked down.
(By the way, if you want to test your vocabulary size, check out this cool site.)
I don’t have too much of a problem with the Lego Friends line. I don’t mind that it has lots of pink and purple pastels, and the themes seem perfectly nice for the most part. A tree house, cool car, vet clinic, home, and cafe are all pretty normal settings that don’t necessarily scream “You’re a girl – stay in your place!” (Sure, the beauty shop is a little iffy, but then again, I have to admit my girls spent an awful lot of time doing their ZhuZhu Pets’ hair when they were given a salon for them.) My biggest problem with the Lego Friends line is that the segregation exacerbates and may be used to justify Lego’s marginalization of girls in their other toys. (And it also tends to exclude boys from playing tree house or vet clinic, which seems unfair.) Sure, girls can play with Lego sets that don’t include female figures, but I think it’s better for girls to have the option to play with figures that are “like them.” And Lego’s more adventuresome sets don’t offer that.
For example, Lego’s Airport set comes with five figures. There’s one female. Guess what her role is? Yep, flight attendant. Similarly, Lego’s licensed movie products tend to fail the Bechdel test just like the associated movies – The Avengers set has one woman, the Star Wars set has one woman, The Pirates of the Caribbean sets have up to one woman, etc. One brighter spot comes with the Harry Potter sets, which may actually include more than one female figure, and offer an array of female hero and villain figures across the line.
Meanwhile, the Lego City sets make a few stabs at equality by occasionally including one female figure. Which I do appreciate. But how come the boys are guaranteed someone like them in every cool action-oriented set, but girls will be lucky to find such a set with one female character, and more than one is out of the question?
Recently, when Chloe decided she’d rather have a police set than a Friends set, I came up with my own solution. I’ll demonstrate with her latest set – Raptor Chase.
Step 1: Get yourself a cool Lego set. This one comes with two dudes.
Step 2: Go on Ebay and buy a set of female minifigure heads. And/or some female hairstyles. Like so:
Step 3: Now you can do home gender reassignment on your Lego guys. Chloe chose to have one man and one woman hunting raptors:
My girls have a lot of fun exchanging heads on various Lego sets, playing with different hairstyles, and inserting more females into the narrative of Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars. They tend to play with a mix of male and female figures, but use more females than those that come with the original play sets.
At one point, Chloe was considering the pirate-y looking lady head. I approved, saying, “She looks a little bit mean, but like she can get things done.” Chloe responded, “Yeah . . . like you!”
I’ll take that as a compliment.
Would you be surprised to learn that Time Magazine published an article criticizing bed sharing and staying with a baby or toddler until he’s asleep? Me neither. Would you be surprised that the “science reporting” involved was pathetic? Me neither. How about the fact that the story is framed in an inflammatory, accusing manner? Not a shock, huh?
This was back in 2008. Time put out an online article with the headline How not to Get Baby to Sleep. The article reports on two different areas of study, but discusses them in tandem to make its point: If you’re present when your baby falls asleep, or bring them into your bed, you will cause significant sleep problems. This in turn is “associated with an increased risk of being overweight and having emotional and behavioral difficulties in adolescence and adulthood.”
The referenced study discusses parents being present when the child falls asleep, taking the child into the parental bed, and giving food and drink upon night waking, and describes these actions as “maladaptive parental behaviors” . (I don’t know if the study authors are just presumptuous, judgmental jerks about cosleeping, or if “maladaptive parental behavior” is an actual, defined term of art in this field. Regardless, I felt like I needed a barf bag nearby for use every time I read it.) Of course, the first two “maladaptive” behaviors are common practices of attachment parenting. According to Time, these behaviors “led to disrupted sleep — bad dreams, short sleep time and delays in falling asleep — in children of preschool age.”
The clear message of the Time article is, “If you cosleep, you’re causing your child’s sleep problems and probably dooming them to a fat, stupid, anti-social adulthood.”
The problem is, the cited study actually comes to almost the opposite conclusion:
Findings support the hypothesis that maladaptive parental behaviors develop in reaction to preexisting sleep difficulties. Further, early sleep difficulties are more predictive than parental behaviors in explaining [bad dreams] and foreshortened [total sleep time] beginning at age 50 months. Results are interpreted in light of early emotive/physiological self-regulation problems. . . .
When controlling for early sleep factors, most parental behaviors no longer predict future sleep disturbances ([bad dreams], [total sleep time]) or remain predictors only in interaction with prior [sleep onset] difficulties.
The study found that it first appeared that cosleeping and staying while a child falls asleep might be causing sleep disturbances, but when they controlled for early sleep difficulties, it showed that parent behaviors had almost no effect on sleep problems. The one effect that remained was that taking a child into the parental bed upon night waking was associated with a sleep onset time of more than 15 minutes. So if you’re really concerned that it might take your toddler 16 minutes to fall asleep instead of 14 minutes, you might want to worry about that.
(And actually, given that the study relied on questionnaires filled out by parents, how reliable is this? How do parents who aren’t present at sleep onset determining the time until sleep onset? I think the results would be better summarized as “When parents are absent at sleep onset, they assume their kid fell asleep faster.” Who would have thought that it seems shorter when you’re downstairs watching Game of Thrones than when you’re in the dark, singing “Toora Loora Looral” for the twelfth time in a row!)
But it’s not good marketing to write an article that says some kids are born worse sleepers, and that parents wind up lulling them to sleep or cosleeping more often, but that there’s nothing you can really do about it. People want to have directions on how to fix infant and toddler sleep problems, and the ammunition to judge those smug, freaky AP parents who don’t let their babies cry themselves to sleep. Subtle, equivocal results just aren’t sexy.
And this speaks to the larger issue of the diminishing quality of science reporting. In a recent episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Steven Novella pointed out that every major news article got the “Did dinosaur flatulence warm the Earth?” study totally backwards, no doubt because it’s a more charming, clickable headline if dinosaurs farted themselves to death, regardless of what the science actually says. He also mentions being interviewed and having reporters feed him quotes. They didn’t care what their expert source actually thought or what the evidence showed – they just wanted a ventriloquist’s dummy with some letters after his name to mouth their preconceived angle on the story.
Luckily, Emily at Double X Science has a good checklist to run down when you see a showy “science” headline: The Double X Double-Take Checklist for Reading Science News is a great list of suggestions that will help you avoid being taken in when science journalism goes to the dark side.
I suggest you keep that checklist (and possibly that barf bag) handy whenever Time addresses attachment parenting.