Let's Talk About Screens, Baby*

*With apologies to Salt-n-Pepa

Ever since I miserably failed at not letting my tiny people watch TV (Ironflower was 7 months old and teething, The Wiggles were the only thing that stopped her from howling. It's been downhill from there), I have at least tried to limit their screen time.

Unless they were sick. As there is nothing better to me when I am ill than a Law & Order: SVU marathon, I've always let them watch too much TV when they are sick.

But TV is not, and has never really been, the problem.

I originally started this post almost 2 years ago, when I was still blogging regularly (and I could still think of my children as tiny. Ironflower now has at least an inch on me and Lovebug is almost as tall as I am.) At the time, I had just discovered that the children were sneaking their Kindles into their rooms when they woke up in the middle of the night.

The consequences of that little rebellion were painful for all of us.

But of course screens eventually came back, if for no other reason** than Ironflower and Lovebug have laptops for school now. The new system involves severe guilt tripping and punishment for anyone who uses screens when they're not supposed to. There's also a list of requirements before you
can even ask for screens, which boils down to:  
Sometimes I feel like most of the parenting I do involves whether the screen list has been followed, because it's very rare that any of them just decide to ignore the list and play. Ironflower will sometimes, to read or draw, but even that it is becoming more rare. And Lovebug and Hugmonkey can play (unlike some children I've met), but they don't as much as I'd like. 

So I'm looking for suggestions that have actually worked in real life, not Parenting magazine life. Got any? 

**I'm lying. Their father didn't want to give up video games and I didn't want to give up TV or social media, either. Plus, it's the 21st century and we are not Amish. 


Bigger Kids, Bigger Problems

Ironflower and Lovebug's preschool teacher used to say that to me, as I dragged a screaming toddler (or two or three) off the playground. In those moments, I had no concept of what she was saying, so focused was I on just getting all the kids strapped into the car.

It popped into my head when I was at yet another pediatrician appointment with Ironflower and there was a screaming baby. The poor baby was very new and had clearly just gotten a vaccination. The screaming stopped so abruptedly that Ironflower was confused. "Pacifier," I said, "or maybe the mom is nursing for comfort." Ironflower nodded sagely before gripping my hand during yet another coughing fit. Poor kid got pneumonia in December and has been dealing with repeated colds ever since; they have now diagnosed her with asthma.

Which cannot be fixed with a pacifier.

Or a piece of chocolate.

Or even a nap.

Most of the time, I really love where my kids are now. I love the conversations we have, the jokes they make and the fact that I never have to strap them into car seats. I love watching them develop responsibility, especially when it means I don't have to get up early Saturday mornings to fix them breakfast.

But there's something to be said for being able to fix your kid's problems with a small piece of silicone*. Or by getting up early to make breakfast.

When a classmate doesn't want to be your kid's friend, or when your kid is struggling to learn how to read, fixing gets a lot more complicated.

Of course, later you don't even get to fix the problem. If you're lucky you might get an assist, or at least hear about it after the fact. Ironflower sobbed about math the other day; apparently she panics during tests and then she makes stupid mistakes and now she believes she will not get into advanced math in seventh grade.**

I barely have an assist here. Sure, I gave her some ideas on calming down during tests. But I have no control over whether she'll use them or whether she's placed in advanced math.*** AND THAT TOTALLY SUCKS BALLS.

THIS is why I miss my kids being little and this is what I want to yell to every frazzled mom of toddlers, past me included.

*I just had to Google what pacifiers are made out of , I'm so far out of the baby stage. 

** I was kicked out of advanced math after seventh grade for screwing up the mid-term, despite the fact that I got an A on the final. Not that I'm bitter, but I did point out to Ironflower that this was way more humiliating than not getting in at all. Oh, and I think I also mentioned that not getting into advanced math did not mean she wouldn't get into college. 

***I happen to think her math teacher is delightfully competent, so there's no way in hell I'd even try to over-ride her recommendation. 


Better Than The Atticus Finch*, I Suppose

So recently I saw someone who called herself "The Willy Loman of Blogging". This was on a mostly anonymous forum that I visit when I'm not reading a good book, so I can't really give her (and I don't even know for sure that it was a her) proper credit, but I want to be clear that I did not think of it myself.

For which I am very, very sad.

My perception of Willy Loman - from a cursory experience in high school - was that he was a man out of his time, careerwise. And thus he felt like a failure. (The descriptions I just read on the interwebs are a little more nuanced and detailed, but I still stand behind my 16 year old interpretation.) 

I have felt like the Willy Loman of blogging for years now.

Back in the dark ages when I started blogging (also known as 2005), people blogged for many reasons, but none of them included making a full time income. I blogged, as did many of the people I read then, as writing practice.

When I started mommy blogging in 2007, perks existed, but it wasn't an industry. Having 2 kids in 15 months, quitting teaching and needing a way to write again, mommy blogging saved my life. All my friends were still working, the moms I met at the park seemed totally unfriendly (I have no idea if they were, I was so tired, frazzled and hormonal that I thought everyone seemed unfriendly). Back then, most people's blog posts were about embarrassing or triumphant moments of parenting, not the latest movie/gadget/toy/food/whatnot that the blogger was being asked to review positively.**

I tried to keep up. Sort of. But I didn't want a full time job and I was already cranking out crappy articles for extra cash. And, you know, there were 3 kids to raise.

When the kids got a little bigger, I tried to throw myself back into the changing landscape. It was not a good fit for me. Plus, I felt uncomfortable telling stories about my kids when they started being able to tell their own stories about themselves.

Blogging got even more uncomfortable after I realized many people I knew locally were reading. It's hard to write about a distressing/disturbing/odd/funny experience with another parent when everyone wants to know who that parent is.

(BTW, if you're reading this, it was never you. I promise.)

The truth is, though, is that I miss blogging terribly. I miss how free I felt in the olden days, snarking and whining and ranting in my own little corner of the internet. I miss the people I used to read and I miss the people who used to read here (although I think I'm still friends with most of them on Facebook). Like Willy Loman, I miss how things used to be.

Fortunately, my life isn't being written by Eugene O'Neill (or Harper Lee). I can accept that the blogging world has changed. I can accept that I can't change it back. I can accept that continuing to blog like it's 2007 means I'll be toiling in unpaid obscurity forever.***

Hell, I even have permission from my kids to write about their lives, as long as I don't use their actual names. I did point out that since I use my actual name it won't be hard for people to figure out who they are, but apparently our small town has already convinced them that everyone always knows their business anyway. They just don't want to be search-able by their future college friends and employers, it seems.

Anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying that I'm back. I'll be blogging like it's 2007, which means that:

  • There will be swearing.
  • There won't be very many pictures because I'm too lazy to watermark shit. ****
  • It's not all going to be about parenting, as I've recently developed several new TV obsessions.
  • There won't be any useful advice unless it's in the "What Not To Do" category. 
  • I will keep using footnotes, because I love them. 
  • I started tutoring part-time and I do a lot of volunteer crap at my kids' schools and I'm launching a real website at some point soon so I have no idea how often I'll be posting here. 

*Atticus seemed so cool until I read the reviews of Go Set A Watchmen. I won't even read the book, because as much as love Harper Lee, I don't want to think about my beloved Atticus being in the Klan. Nor do I want to create a Klan type outfit of old time mom bloggers to bring things back to the way things used to be in the blogging world. 

**Look, if companies wanted honest reviews, they'd pay a premium to all of those prolific Amazon reviewers and reuse their comments. They wouldn't need to pay bloggers and/or give them free stuff. I'm also not saying that any bloggers, including myself, try to trick readers when they post about the latest movie or product. But only mentioning the positive stuff is definitely an omission many of us make. As my mom always said, "Lying by omission is still lying." 

***As far as this blog goes, anyway. But most people don't actually make money from their hobbies, so I'm not going to feel bad about it anymore. 

****I warned you about the swearing. 


In Which I Still Do Not Quite Meet Paul Rudd

I have had a crush on Paul Rudd for twenty years now (ever since Clueless). It intensified when I moved to Kansas City; he's from there and is apparently very cool and down to earth when he goes back home to visit. He usually goes to a bar where my friend works and the whole staff loves him. I probably could have met him there, except that whenever he went back to KC I was back in NJ visiting my family.

On Thursday, I got slightly closer to him when he hosted a screening of Ant-Man that we got to go to in NYC. He totally lived up to my crush expectations (ie he's just handsome in person and he was funny and charming).

Sadly, the intro was brief and the movie started soon after.

My boys are way more into superheros and comics than I am, but thanks to my aforementioned crush, I'd say we were all equally excited to see the movie.

Lovebug, at 9, was riveted during the entire movie. He didn't even finish his popcorn, which I don't think has ever happened before. The (imaginary) science and the action scenes were perfect for Lovebug. Plus, there were a lot of jokes - even within the action scenes. The action scenes and the humor within them got 6 year old Hugmonkey to pay attention. He's usually not very into movies - he lost interest during the final fight scenes of  The Karate Kid recently - but he was pretty good during Ant-Man. I found the movie family-friendly, as far as plot, language and violence level go. A lot of times, especially with live action family friendly movies, I find that I get bored. I didn't with Ant-Man and neither did Hot Guy.

My only issue (well, besides the fact that there could have been a few more shirtless Paul Rudd scenes) with the movie was that the only people of color in the movie (excluding a cameo by Falcon) were criminals. They were funny and basically harmless criminals, but criminals nonetheless. Which I wouldn't necessarily have a problem with, if there'd been even one other named character of color who wasn't a criminal. Even on Orange Is the New Black there are portrayals of people of color who AREN'T criminals. But this is a greater Hollywood problem, and while I wish Ant-Man had broken the mold, I'm not going to dismiss the movie because of it.

Our whole family loved the sense of humor in the movie and the way it linked to other movies in the Marvel franchise. I freely admit that I didn't get a lot of the references, but Hot Guy and the boys did and they were very excited about them. The action sequences and special effects were incredible. Paul Rudd was awesome (that's a totally unbiased assessment, by the way). We had an excellent time and I think you will too.


Going To England

Writing this post makes me sympathetic to that guy who didn't call me after we went on a couple of fabulous dates, then was hurt I wasn't friendly when I ran into him.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry I haven't called  written in way too long.

I was busy. And confused about what direction I wanted to take the blog. But I never stopped thinking about you blogging. I have a dozen unfinished posts in my drafts poster as proof. I even have a handwritten draft that I wrote for Hot Guy's 40th birthday. In April.

Thinking that with some minor tweaking I can have it ready for our anniversary next week. 

Because even though not-blogging made my life a little less hectic and made me a little less stressed out, I've been unhappy without it.

Note to people who don't know who this is: This is Lloyd Dobler from 
the movie "Say Anything". Which is a classic you should
see right away. In this scene, he is trying to get his girl back.

In all the times I imagined living out the boom box scene of "Say Anything", I never thought I would be Lloyd. And yet, here I am, trying to regain the attention of my blogging muse and my readers. Though I also sort of feel like Diane, trapped crying in my bedroom while blogging stands out in my yard and let's me know it hasn't gone anywhere.

I think not-blogging has not been good for my mental health, because I have spent the last 10 minutes trying to identify whether I feel more like Lloyd or Diane. Obviously it doesn't matter, because they both wind up (spoiler alert) going to England together in the end.

Which means I too need to go to England, if going to England means blogging again. Which it does.


Happy 9th Birthday, Lovebug!

Dear Lovebug,

      I haven't blogged in a long while, but you've inspired me. You are such a great kid; though with all the maturing you've done this year it seems more appropriate to call you a young man. You are so responsible and helpful.

Though you do still love Legos. I love how you build things according to the directions, then let them morph into new objects. You've started to teach your brother your Lego building tricks and I love listening to the two of you build and play together. You also still love to draw comics; I love how you write little stories in each birthday card you make.

Your newest passion is electronics. You've gone from building snap circuits to attempting actual circuits and I'm pretty sure you understand Ohm's Law better than I do. I can't wait to see what you do next.

This year you started karate and were chosen as the first student of the month at your karate school. Your focus and strength in class have impressed everyone around you and put you in the leadership program very quickly. I love watching you in class.

You still love basketball and I think that's where I've seen you grow most of all. Last year it was hard for you to handle disappointments during games, let alone getting bumped and bruised. This year your rec team had to face a travel team that played VERY aggressively and not only did you handle some serious bruising without a tear, you had a positive attitude the entire time.

You have such a mature sense of humor. It may be a little too mature, but you can really make me laugh. And if all that wasn't enough to make you "Captain Awesome" (your video game name these days), there's also the way you excel in school and are so good to your siblings.

I am so lucky and proud to be your mom,


Evolution 2015

I always write a New Year's post. Always being a relative term - I only checked for the last two years. So I know I wrote a New Year's post in 2012 and another in 2013

I stopped checking for older New Year's posts because I knew they wouldn't be as good as those two. 

I really like those two posts. 

(It feels weird typing that. Not sure if the weirdness is from how rarely I like what I've written or from how rarely I admit it.)

Anyway, I'm still a big fan of small, actionable steps instead of huge goals. Also, the older I get, the more I feel the need to cherish the moment and to find the joy in each day. 

For many years, "love myself more" was one of my New Year's resolutions. But it never occurred to me to have "love my friends/parents/spouse/kids" as a New Year's resolution. It's not that I've ever been a perfect friend, child, wife or mom, either. It's that I knew my imperfections with my loved ones weren't because I didn't love them enough, but because I needed better strategies to cope with stress or I needed to be more expressive or whatever. 

And I've finally realized that the same thing is true with myself. I do love myself. I just don't know how to do it in the best way. I haven't paid attention; I use the same strategies I used 15 years ago. Except they're not making me feel better anymore. 

 Evolution is my word for 2015. 

I always wind up screwing up resolutions anyway. Even last year's, which were designed to be attainable. I didn't take my writing more seriously, I didn't teach the kids how to make me the perfect gin and tonic and I didn't even cut my damn hair. 

But mainly, because my relationship with myself needs to evolve. Sure, I love myself. Sure, I try to practice self-care when I'm stressed out. My problem is that my self-care strategies are habits, not joys. 

Also, to be honest, my relationship with blogging and writing needs to evolve too. As does my relationship with exercise, because it can't just be about reading on the elliptical anymore. 

I'm not going to write all of my small, actionable steps here (aren't you relieved?) but I do promise to check back in with my progress. At least on December 31st, 2015. 

So, do you have a word for 2015? Or some resolutions? Or do you skip over this aspect of the holiday? 


While You Were Busy (volume 2)

All the news parents can use. . . . . this week.

1. This is the greatest explanation for why your kid's math homework looks different than your math homework.

2. Boys may be meaner than girls. As someone who spent 8th grade being tormented by a group of boys every day in social studies class, while simultaneously being bad mouthed and excluded by the girls she thought were her friends, I'm not sure what to think about this. Except that I dread my kids going to middle school.

3. More bad news about middle school. Kids need to move and play; even if they don't consider themselves "kids" anymore. An adult tried to survive a day of middle school and found herself falling asleep and not being able to focus; I could barely stay awake the first time.

4. Alfie Kohn, one of the first and best people I read when I went back to school for teaching, has a great blog in The Washington Post about how we're killing our kids' love of reading. It's long, but if you skip to the end you can read his suggestions for how to fix it. Basically, let your kids choose what they read and don't enforce a time limit.

5. The Huffington Post did a nice summary of 10 things we learned about kids' health this year.

6. This is older, but I just read it so I'm including it. It's basically a guide on how not to be a dick if you notice a child who has a difference of some kind.

7. Okay, this doesn't have anything to do with kids. It's each state according to Google auto-complete and it's pretty awesome. Though I'm not thrilled with the "bad" descriptor for New Jersey.

8. Your parenting style does not affect your child's IQ. Or so one study says. Of course, a high IQ doesn't guarantee success anyway.

9. Does your kid lie? Time magazine has suggestions on how you should handle it. Let it be stated, though, that while their methodology worked with our older two kids, it completely failed with Hugmonkey.

10. If you don't understand why people are protesting, or somehow believe race has nothing to do with the recent deaths of young African-American men and boys, then please read this mother's perspective.