Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I don't want to be a sexy pirate

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It takes place in my favorite season, I love seeing all the children dressed up in costumes, the candy is plentiful and everyone is happy. My wonderful husband takes our son trick-or-treating and I dress up and hand out candy at the door. But here's the thing:

I don't want to be a sexy pirate.

Many people have written about this topic before, and it used to not bother me. But I'm a mom now, and my son asks questions.

There we were, looking at a wall of potential costumes, and my son pointed to the adult female ones. "Look, Mommy. You could be a pirate." I took a look at the woman in the tight leather bustier, barely-there skirt and thigh-high boots. Nope. Not happening.

I told my son I wanted to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland, because that is probably my favorite story of all time.

He pointed to the wall at a "Sexy Alice" costume. I told him I would get my costume elsewhere.

I get it. I do. Halloween can be a fun, liberating time for adults. But I never want to dress in a way that embarrasses my son later in life when he looks through family photo albums. (I have plans to embarrass him in other ways later on.)

But maybe my more demure Alice costume will actually get me more attention. The Wall Street Journal had an article a few months ago about dressing outside the norm to get the most attention. So the person in sweat pants shopping in the high-end store received more attention from shopkeepers, because they assumed the shabby person was more confident than someone who dressed up for the store.

If that holds true outside of shops, then my non-sexy Halloween costume will be noticeable around all the sexy police officers and nurses. In any case, I will be happy playing Alice for a day.

What was your favorite Halloween costume as a child? Share with me in the comments. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who are you talking to?

There are certain things all parents get used to: Lack of privacy, interrupted sleep, toys underfoot and (at least in our household) excessive talking.

I've become quite used to my son talking to himself. I will stand in the doorway to the family room and eavesdrop on entire conversations he is having with his toys. Or I will silently giggle as he hosts his own talent show in the bathroom mirror. And I definitely get a fluttery feeling when I hear him telling his stuffed monkey a bedtime story. I am used to hearing his voice carry throughout the house. He reminds me of those people having a loud phone conversation in public. Those people trip me up, because it still takes me a minute to spot the earbud and realize the person is not talking to me. It's the same with my son: He is talking, but not always to me.

But listening to my son all day has made me think about who I'm really talking to with this blog.

Turns out, it's lots of people:
  • My Mom. This may seem obvious given the title of this blog, but I know she reads my entries (just as I read hers). I love it when she texts me her thoughts on the subject of the day. 
  • My husband. He has a love/hate relationship with my blogs. He likes the content and that creating my blogs makes me happy, but he doesn't like the time I spend on them away from him.
  • Friends and coworkers. And oddly, not just mine, but my Mom's coworkers, too. (Hi!) I really enjoy seeing comments from friends, especially ones I haven't talked to in a while.
Mostly though, I'd like to believe that I am talking to other parents like me. The ones who are just trying to figure out this parenting thing as we go along. So when I link up on sites like Mom Blogger's Club or BlogHer, I feel more connected. (Let's face it: Nobody wants to go through parenting alone.)

Besides, it's good to know your audience, because talking to people is getting more complicated these days. 

Who would you want to talk to more often? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What's your stress hour look like?

Most nights, when I get home from work, I immediately start cooking dinner. The first hour after I get home is a bit of a blur: There is food to prepare, people to greet and those morning chores to complete (if I didn't finish them earlier). If I can get dinner on the table by 6:45, then it is a really good day.

But the family dinner is important to me, so I am OK with taking on the responsibility most nights to make sure it happens.

That particular hour of the day - no matter what may have happened during my time at work - has become my most stressful hour. I find it more stressful than mornings and trying to get out the door on time.

And yet, I have it easier than a lot of mothers. I work a fairly regular schedule, so - barring traffic - I get home at around the same time each night. I also have a large repertoire of recipes that my family eats (although I like to find new ones when I can). Some mothers aren't so lucky.

My challenge now is to find ways to make my most stressful hour of the day a little better. Here is what I am trying:
  • I'm not the solo decision-maker on meals anymore. In addition to letting my son choose dinner one night a week, I am requesting that my husband also tell me at least one meal that he wants to eat during the week.
  • Prep work on the weekends. I try to spend some time on Sundays chopping things for the rest of the week.
  • Meal planning around my faster meals. I have an amazing recipe for chicken enchiladas, but it takes more than an hour to make. Clearly, that is for weekends only.
  • My crockpot: Dump. Heat. Eat.
  • Lists. No big surprise here, but in addition to my weekly lists, I've started making myself daily lists of any dinner prep I need to accomplish in my mornings (like starting the bread machine.)
  • Mise en place.
Will these things make me feel a little less rushed? Hopefully. It's worth a shot, right?

What's your most stressful hour of the day and what are your tips for getting through it? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Do you like number one or number two?

I recently went for my annual eye exam. My vision is poor, even without all that blue light at night, so I try to be as good to my eyes as possible. I have a good rapport with my eye doctor; she is amazingly gentle with the battery of vision and pressure tests and she understands why I giggle during the main vision test (thanks, Brian Regan).

But let's talk about that vision test for a moment. I like it: It's simple: Do you like number one or number two? That's it. Two choices. And I take a lot of comfort from that.

You see, there is a breadth of research available on how having too many choices can make you miserable. The research on this is intriguing: We are always second-guessing ourselves, hoping that we didn't miss out on a better choice than the one we picked. There is so much anxiety around the decision-making between two good choices, that it can make people miserable.

And this is what I try to keep in mind when I give my son a choice. Asking a four-year-old to choose between two really excellent options causes anxiety, the same as it does in adults. Granted, I don't want to make decisions for him by giving him an "obvious" choice and a "awful" choice, but it is something to keep in mind. This is why I am less likely to give him more than two choices at a time (do you want to go home and build with Legos or do you want to look at Halloween costumes at the store?) I'm trying to allow him to make decisions in his life without overwhelming him.

And I think he is picking up on this, because I see the same behavior from him when he plays. When he wants my attention, he'll give me a choice: Do I want to watch the monster truck show or help him build a pirate ship? And I make the choice and we are both happy. (Even though I sometimes still wonder if the other choice was secretly better.)

How many decisions a day do you muddle over after making them? Share the pain with me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I want to teach my child to be...

I talk a lot on this blog about things that I try to teach my son: cooking, healthy living, to be a nice person and safety. Like most parents, I have this list in my head of important life lessons I want to pass down to him.

What I didn't realize is that almost all parents have one lesson at the top of their list: Responsibility.

A recent Pew Research study reveals that most parents, despite differences in ethnicity, income and politics, all want to raise a child that others can count on. Being a hard worker and helping others rounded out the top three traits we want for our children.

That's great to know, but how do we develop those skills in our children? Here are a few tips that have worked for us so far.
  • Let them do it. When my son makes his own sandwich for lunch, he tells me that it tastes better. Yes, it takes him twice as long and there is a mess that he has to clean up, but he's learning to do things for himself. This is great, because I don't ever want him to call me at work during his teenage years to tell me he is hungry.
  • Make it part of the routine. My son has certain tasks (getting dressed, brushing teeth, packing book bag) that he has to accomplish in the morning. Once he does those, he has free time to play before school. He learns to get himself ready, and I'm free to do my own chores in the morning.
  • Involve them. Chores are a family matter. My son was super excited the first time I asked him if there was anything he needed from the grocery store. He actually thought about it for a while before telling me he thought he was low on toilet paper. I showed him where we keep the spare rolls. He takes my question seriously, which means that he is thinking about our family as a team.
  • Communicate the rules clearly. This is one we need to work on in my family. We need to keep the rules consistent and clear. It's no fair to keep changing the rules of the game without letting everyone know.
What about in your household? Do you have any tips to add to the list to develop responsibility? Tell me in the comments. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Taking a page out of a millennial's book

A few weeks ago, my son and I went through his bookshelf. We pulled out all the books that he identified as "baby books," and ones that he didn't want to read. My little guy can read lots of words by himself now, and although he hasn't moved on to reading himself full books yet, I want his shelves to be ready for him. So, we said good-bye to the "I Love Daddy Because" or "Count to 10" books and took them to our second-hand bookshop.

I love bookshops...not bookstores, but small bookshops. They smell like paper and the shelves are a mess and if you have the time, you could easily lose a day there. As a parent I don't have that kind of time, but I did zip through the children's section and pick up a few new stories for my son.

Every night before bed, he and I read together. It's one of my favorite parts of the day. He goes to the library with me on weekends and we pick out new books to try. He complains that my books don't have any pictures. We are a book family.

And we're not alone. The lovely folks at Pew Research completed a study concerning library use which found that millennials are a book-loving bunch. It turns out that 88% of Americans under the age of 30 have read a book in the past year, compared with 79% of people older than 30. (This data kinds of puts my 100 book challenge in a completely different perspective for me.) But that news is encouraging as well. I want my son to grow up within a world of books.

So, we'll keep visiting our library and our second-hand book store. I admit that occasionally, I think about getting a Kindle or other device to have access to more books. But then I can't get over blue light or the loss of paper and the feel of a book in my hands.

What can I say? I'm old school. What's the last great book that you would recommend to a friend? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Stay out of my kitchen

I like to cook. It is one of those skills I came by through watching my mother (thanks, Mom) and with a lot of practice in making meals when I was younger. It is something that I enjoy, find challenging and try to share with my son.

When I'm just making a regular dinner on a weeknight, however, I want everyone to stay out of the kitchen.

I didn't know why this was. I mean, we have a nice large kitchen with lots of counter space, so I am not cramped. But, if I am cooking dinner after work, I prefer everyone to be out of the room.

Then I read this article on mise-en-place and it all made sense: I want you out of my kitchen because you make me feel unorganized.

The practice of mise-en-place is the almost military precision of chefs to have their ingredients and tools on hand, and their steps so well organized that they could preform them while blindfolded. It's kind of like when you watch the Food Network shows and everything is pre-chopped and pre-measured and all the chef/host has to do is add the amounts to the pans and stir - that staging is part of mise-en-place. When someone is in my kitchen with me, I have to work around them. And I don't like navigating around people while trying to remember my next steps.

Wait a minute. Did you just hear that? I think that was a gasp of joy from my mother, because being the amazing cook that she is, she is probably excited that I've come across this topic. In fact, she probably has a book on mise-en-place for me to read.

But back to that link: The NPR piece on the topic doesn't just apply to cooking, it discusses chefs who are applying the concept to their lives. And I can get on board with that.

My life is made up of routines. They can be flexible, yes, but for the most part, my morning routine, bedtime routine and night routines are the same. I know what I will be doing and that predictability is comforting.

Turns out that it is comforting for children, too. So even when I have to tell my son what the plan is going to be every night (even when it hasn't changed in years), he takes comfort in knowing the next steps, the next ingredients.

These days, my life is all about order from chaos. And getting more sleep. And getting dinner on the table every night. (And, seriously, having people stay out of my kitchen.)

Do you like company while you cook or do you need to focus? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Looking for room(s) to spare

Sometimes I ask my son about the house he would like to live in one day. He tells me that he wants a big backyard with a fence to keep him safe (that's my guy!), lots of good sidewalks for riding bikes, a slide instead of a stairway (don't ask) and three rooms just for him.

That last part makes me laugh: He wants one room for his bed, and two for just toys.

In our current home, we have a "family room." This is different than the living room. Toys are not supposed to be in the living room. (Side note: Sorry, Mom, for all those times I dragged toys into the living room of your house on Saturday mornings.) Our family room contains the bulk of our books, lots of my son's toys, a desk for him and my desk. It's a wonderful space for him to play and for me to still be nearby when he needs me. And, honestly, it's my favorite room in the house.

So, it interested me to learn that parents in the U.K. are giving up master bedrooms to their children because they want them to have more space to stretch out, play or study. Part of me understands these parents' desires: I want my son to have plenty of space to play without feeling like he is confined. But I'm not ready to give up the master suite yet.

For now, I am happy that we are able to give our son his own room and that we have a spare room in our house for us to share. This is for several reasons:
  • Since he is sibling-free, I want him to know what it is like to share a room. He can't kick me out of the family room. It's our shared space.
  • As mentioned above, the shared room keeps toys out of the living room and makes our home look neater overall (or so I like to think).
  • I can still send him to his bedroom when he needs to calm down a bit.
I know that lots of adults would love a room of their own (hence the rise of the man cave and men in a room by themselves.) Do you have your own separate space in your home? What do you use it for? Tell me all about it in the comments.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September edition of the name game

On August 12, my mom sent me a seemingly random text message that said:
I named you after Lauren Bacall. Cool. Babe.

First of all, can we just pause here to recognize how suave my Mom is? She's a pretty crafty chick and an amazing woman. You should check her out.

(Also: my dad says that he named me after Lauren Hutton, but that info isn't really going to do this post any good, so let's move on.) 

The text seemed random to me, because I don't pay much attention to the news and didn't know that the actress had died. When I learned that info a few hours later, I felt a little sad and started reading more about the life of that "cool babe."

And that's when I learned that Lauren Bacall's real name was Betty.

All of this is really just another excuse for us to talk about names again and how much influence they have over our lives. This piece by The Atlantic does a nice job of conglomerating multiple studies on names - from how they influence others' perceptions of us to how we like things that with names similar to our own (yes, really).

It made me wonder if my life would have been different had I been named Betty. I don't know if I could have pulled off being a Betty. Not that there is anything wrong with that name, but Bettys require a certain level of sauciness that I associate with Archie cartoons, Betty Boop's shimmy and a svelte Jurassic-era next door neighbor. That image doesn't gel with my pigtails-on-the-weekend mom lifestyle.

If you could rename yourself tomorrow (without all the government paperwork) what name would you choose? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, September 15, 2014

We've all got the blues

When I did my 100 book challenge last year, I would occasionally (and accidentally) get a large print book from the library. I'd crack it open, see all the large typeface and think, "Wow. That's kind of nice."

My husband, who has perfect vision, would claim to be able to read the book from across the room.

What I'm saying is that I don't have great eyesight, so I try to be really careful with my vision. And that would explain now why I am starting to avoid blue light at night.

You are all familiar with blue light - it's the ultra bright light that emanates from our computer screens, tablets and smartphones. It's what makes our devices so easy to see in the dark. And it is really messing up our vision.

Most of us are already aware that we are supposed to restrict screen time at night, but maybe we don't understand why. It turns out that the light that falls on the blue spectrum actually inhibits the production of melatonin. And, as we all remember, melatonin is that wonder hormone that helps us sleep at night, as well as lowers our risk of developing certain cancers.

And this is what I think about now when I see my son hold an iPad 6 inches away from his face. What is all that bright blue light doing to his eyes?

Hooked on blue light already? Here are some steps we can take to combat the effects:
  • Cut back on night use of your devices. Yes, I know this is hard, but try.
  • Consider buying different bulbs for your rooms - ones with blue light in the rooms you need to wake up in (the bathroom) and ones with amber light for those you need to sleep in (the bedroom).
  • Put your device in bedtime mode to dial back the blue.
Maybe just try it for a week: No device use two hours before bedtime. See if you fall asleep faster and sleep better or not. It could be an interesting personal experiment. 

What time do you put your device to bed at night? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Negotiating a game of Calvinball

Like many other very cool people, I am a fan of Calvin & Hobbes. And because of that, I know the rules of Calvinball:
  1. You make up the rules as you go along.
  2. You can't play the game the same way twice.
Before I had a child, I thought this was the whimsical invention of a genius storyteller. It made me laugh. Then I had a son, and now he is at the age where he is ready to play Calvinball.

Although we don't formally call it Calvinball (but we probably should), it operates with the same rules. My son makes up the parameters of our games as we go along and I'm fairly sure there are different rules every time. Since he is still fairly young, the rules are usually in his favor: "I get to move my cars before you and they have five flame engines." Or, "I'm going to ask you questions and you have to give the right answer or you're out."

It's a process.

And it turns out it is a necessary process.

Scientists say that experiencing play changes the connections of neurons in the brain. Those connections are necessary for navigating complex social interactions. So, when we play together we learn in a different way than we learn in a classroom.

The good news is that there is a very easy way to encourage this brain building in our children: Free play. At school, my son has lots of opportunities to play with other children his age so they can negotiate their situations. learn how to work together and figure out how to deal with different personalities.

And at home, I've given my son unstructured free time, but now that he's a little older, it's time to break out the Calvinball.

Wish us luck!

What do you do to ensure your child has enough time for free play in the day? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Taking back my lunches

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how we are all eating more and more meals by ourselves. When it comes to lunches, that doesn't really bother me. What bothers me is that I am eating those meals at my desk.

Once upon a time, I used to leave my desk every day for lunch. I would find a quiet spot - outside when it was nice - and eat, relax, soak up some sun, people watch and read. (This is one of the ways I was able to complete my 100 book challenge last year.)
These days, I am spending my lunch hours listening to others talk during a meeting, hoping that I remembered to put myself on mute so that others don't hear me crunching on carrots.

Well, I am taking back my lunches.

Like all things, though, this will require some baby steps. So I am shooting for three lunch breaks a week away from my desk. Here are my rules:
  • It doesn't have to be at lunch time. Since I work with lots of folks on the opposite coast as me, I understand that we only have so many overlapping hours during the day. I am OK with taking an hour break away from my desk at a later time in the afternoon, if needed.
  • Human interaction is important, but not the goal. Sure I have my almost weekly lunch date with my husband, and I'd like for at least one other of those lunch breaks to be with another friend or coworker, but it's not a deal breaker.
  • Be outside whenever possible. I don't need the vitamin D lecture from my doctor this year.
As I read more and more about how busy we are (except for me, I am totally not busy), and read more information about how we are taxing our brains to the detriment of our creativity, I know that something in my life has to change.

So, why not start with lunch and see how it goes?

What about you? Do you break for lunch every day or do I need to tell you how many germs are living on your keyboard? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

There's a Lego underfoot

When I first lived alone, I was mildly afraid of the dark. I would hate investigating weird noises by myself and refused to leave the perceived safety of my bed in the middle of the night.

As a mom, I am afraid of the dark for a completely different reason: I am pretty sure I am going to step on a Lego.

And those bricks hurt.

The last few months have been really good for Lego. The company has recently become the largest toymaker in the world. Although the company is cautious (Christmas is still a few months away and could make or break the company's year), they must be doing something right. (I have yet to meet a dad who didn't enjoy playing with Lego bricks or got excited about playing them with their children.)

There have been some major developments with Lego and my family in the last few months, too:
  •  I took my son on a "date" to the Lego store. He was so excited, he couldn't speak. (That's huge for us.)
  • He gave up the last of his Duplo blocks because he only wants to build with the "big kid" sets now.
  • My son wants to become a master builder.
And I am fine with all these things. I was never into Lego building when I was little, but I will sit down and help him follow the instructive guides or explore the cities he has created with his own imagination. My husband, on the other hand, is really excited that our son has entered this new phase of childhood.

Education-wise, yes, there are lots of studies out there on the bricks being great for motor development or creativity or teaching engineering skills, but what I really care about for my son is that they are good fun.

Now, if anyone could help me get the song from The Lego Movie out of my head, that would be truly awesome.

What toys are your children totally into these days? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Shhhh...Let me enjoy the quiet

In about an hour from now, I will be in the car. I'll have dropped my little guy off at school for the day, gotten back into my car, and will be sitting in traffic.

And it will be absolutely silent in my car. It will be wonderful.

I'm not crazy. I didn't miss all those studies that were published a month ago claiming that adults don't like to be alone with their own thoughts for more than 6 minutes. I just think that maybe there is a flaw in that study - like a major group that may have a statistical significance on the results: Mommy bees.

I accomplish a lot in the mornings: Exercise, chores, bear poking, blogs, cat maintenance and I usually even match my clothes. I'm a bee. I'm up. I'm ready to do stuff.

But, by the time I hit my commute, I find that I have been buzzing around so much that I am ready for some quiet. I used to listen to podcasts and get myself ready for the day. Now, I just sit in the quiet of my car and enjoy being with myself.

I know I am not alone in this appreciation for silence. I've seen other women at the doctor's office or waiting in line at the post office (where nobody is talking, but everyone is sighing). We are without children for a few minutes. We have peace and quiet. We are enjoying it. These are the same moms I see on social groups trading jokes about wanting to just be able to use the bathroom alone.

I'm right there with you ladies. Well, I would be. But for just a few minutes, I'd like to be alone with my own thoughts.

Do you enjoy the quiet or does it drive you crazy? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 5, 2014

How long am I supposed to run?

I would not describe myself as a runner. Runners tend to try races and talk about branching out to trails and go through sneakers much faster than I do. But, I do run for exercise. And, although I do not enjoy it, I would say that I have tolerated it more than most other exercises.

But, I am really tired of the conflicting information on it.

For example, I run for about 33 minutes. That's a thirty minute run, with a three-minute walk for a cool down. I don't stretch beforehand (because lionesses don't stretch, so why should I?). In that time, I cover somewhere between 2.5 to 3 miles. I'm not pushing myself - it's dark at 5 am, and I don't want to trip.

And now I read that I could extend my life by three years with as little as five minutes of running per day.

Please read that sentence again. (I'll wait.) No, that is not a typo. That is five minutes.

First of all...who runs for only five minutes? It takes me longer than that to get ready for a run. Secondly, what kind of long-term gain am I getting from that? Sorry, son, I can play tag with you, but only for five minutes at a time.

I need to stay on my toes, people. I run not just because it is good for me, but because I want to keep up with my son. He says he wants to run as fast as mommy one day - and that praise is better than running any race.

So, here's the part where I try to forget that I ever read that study. And stick to my routine. Because I've had lots of conversations with my son about exercise. And non of them focused on the time it took. Just the benefits.

How much exercise do you think you are getting every day? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Families interrupted by work

As soon as I got pregnant, two things started happening right away:
  1. Other mothers started telling me pregnancy- and child-related horror stories. (Seriously, why do women do this?)
  2. I was treated a little differently at work.
In fairness to my employer at the time (which is different than the company and great team I work with now), I don't think it was all intentional. But, it did become a game of "spot the differences" between me and my coworkers: My superiors didn't want me to travel (even though I was well under 35 weeks at the time), they used a "mommy brain" excuse to keep me from taking on more projects (even though I had never used that excuse myself) and were generally overcareful with me.

After I had my little guy, I was subjected to the same rigorous conditions that my other coworkers were: Expectations to be on call 24/7, late nights and additional workloads. And that was a nasty transition for me. If they had to treat me differently at all, I would have preferred it to be after I had my son and during all those sleepless nights.

Turns out a lot of mothers have issues with advancing their careers once they have families. (This isn't news.) We have lots of anecdotal evidence and studies to support that. But this piece on the cult of overwork hurting families really hit home for me. The piece cites several studies including the Pew study that reported 51 percent of mothers finding it hard to advance professionally after having a child when only 16 percent of men felt the same.

So, it's time for both men and women to start taking back our home time. You remember what that is right? The time that you cuddle up on the couch with your loved one and watch a movie without glancing at your phone to see what work emails you need to answer. The time that you spend not thinking about that project you have to do tomorrow because you are fully engaged in the UNO game you are losing to a four-year-old. The time that you remember that you have interests outside of work.

What do you wish you had more time in your day to do? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Won't you be my neighbor?

When I was little, we spent a lot of time with our neighbors. The teenage daughter was our babysitter, the older son cast us in the adventure movies he liked to direct and we would go over to their house for parties often.

As we moved and I got older, I knew less about my neighbors, culminating in my next door neighbor waving to me in a supermarket and me snubbing him because I didn't recognize who he was until much later. (Dear neighbor: Sorry about that!)

I know I'm not the only one who doesn't know her neighbors. But, it turns out that the decline of the neighborhood community is negatively affecting our health. People who have wider social networks - which include neighbors - tend to live longer, healthier lives. This long article by Maclean's casts a wide net of information on how relationships with our neighborhoods have changed over the last few decades.

That article sounded familiar to me - because we are becoming less trusting of our neighbors and because we have full schedules we are less inclined to get to know the folks next door. I, for one, couldn't pick my neighbors out of a lineup.

But there may be hope for me yet. And it's because of my son.

Because we have a community pool, we've been exposed to lots of the other families we live near. Maybe we don't have a talking relationship, but we generally keep an eye on each other's children and nod our hellos.

And, because my son is a talker, he naturally wants to talk to everyone in our neighborhood, and he will occasionally invite the neighbor's grandson into our backyard to play. So, maybe he is my key. Maybe it's time that I'm not just friendly with strangers but with the people next door as well.

What about your neighborhood? Do you know your neighbors? Would you even want to get to know them better? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Traveling companions are better than apps

We recently took a 10-hour drive to New Jersey for a family reunion. (Not in one day. That's craziness.) This trip went significantly better than the last really long car trip we took because of several things:
  1. I wasn't the only adult in the car with my son. My husband was able to come, too.
  2. My mother (thanks, Mom!) came with us as well, so our son had his favorite traveling companion in the backseat with him.
  3. Electronic devices.
When my son got bored of using his LeapPad, he asked for the iPad. When he got tired of that, he asked to play games on Nana's Kindle. Granted, he did other things in the car as well (drew pictures, played games, told us stories), but because he was cooped up in the car for so long I relaxed my normal limited media use rules.

When we returned from the trip, I started thinking about my media rules and wondering (once again) if they are too strict. And then I read this study from the folks at UCLA, which shows that children who spend a significant time staring at electronic devices have difficulty reading other people's emotions.

What this is really about is social interaction. (Which, when you are in a car with people for 20 hours in a span of five days, is not really a problem.) But I think I'll leave our rules in place for now. My son gets less than the recommended 2 hours of screen time per day, and most of it is educational. Like many parents, I'm striving for that balance of integrating technology into his life without it becoming his preferred gateway to communication (as in, I do not want to receive text messages from him if we are in the same house.)

Any tips for distracting children while you are in the car would be greatly welcomed at this point. We are about to take another long trip in a few months, which means I should start planning now. Tell me in the comments.