Friday, January 30, 2015

Tying the emotions to the memory

Right now, my son remembers lots of stuff. He remembers what we did for his birthday last year and he remembers being in his Nana's wedding when he was two. He remembers games we used to play and trips we've been on. But, he doesn't remember what he had for lunch at school.

That's probably because my son doesn't have any emotional involvement with his lunch.

It will be several years before my son starts losing his memories, and it will be even longer before we figure out what his first memory will become. But the research shows that it will probably be tied to emotion. Making our memories emotionally meaningful in some way, means that we will hold onto them longer.

Scientists are currently using this information to help patients with dementia, but I think it could easily be applied to children as well. Here are a few ways to help your children tie their emotions to their memories.
  1. Talk about them. Ask them how they felt about an event or an activity in their lives.
  2. Look at pictures. The visual images help bolster the connections.
  3. Share your own emotions. Sometimes children have a hard time putting the right names to how they feel, so give them the vocabulary to help them label what they feel.
What do you do with your children to help them hold onto their memories? Share your tips in the comments.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why cookbooks are awful

This weekend, I am getting rid of the majority of my cookbooks. I'm beyond fed up with them.

Let me explain.

For my 100 challenge last year, I tried out 100 new recipes to add to the repertoire of yummy dishes my family already loves. Friends and family learned about the challenge and sent me cookbooks. And after a year of flipping through them, this what I learned:
  1.  The trendier the cookbook, the worse off you are. I think that most families (especially with children) have a picky eater in them. And I really do not like having arguments at the dinner table. Yes, my family will try something new, but there are limits: I had one cookbook that touted 10 recipes that included chard. Chard. We were not going to eat that.
  2. The do ahead cookbooks waste your time. Yes, there is something great to be said about doing prep work ahead of time. But, cookbooks that have you clocking in 90 minutes of prep work before you even start cooking need to go away.
  3. Most of the cookbooks today are filler. If you already know how to cook, you really don't need a 100-page section of the cookbook telling you the basics. For some cookbooks, recipes are an afterthought.
  4. Cookbooks are expensive. I would often only use one or two recipes out of a book that cost $28. So each of those recipes cost $14. Not worth it.
Here's how I kept my sanity throughout the project.
  1. I looked for recipes online. Sites like gave me access to thousands of recipes that were tried by actual people. And, I could search by ingredient to make sure that the recipe contained something that my family would eat.
  2. Chopping on the weekends. I did prep work for longer recipes on the weekends, but I kept weekday meal prep time to under 45 minutes so we could eat at a decent hour.
  3. Make your own recipe book. If I did find a recipe in a cookbook, I just copied it into the binder where I keep of all our family recipes. No need to keep that extra book in the house.
  4. Be realistic. You can't serve new dishes every night of the week. Limit it to two. Otherwise family members will revolt.
I'll be dropping off all those extra books at my local book swap shop this weekend. (Think of the shelf space, I'll gain!)

So, only one question remains: What's for dinner tonight? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sharing the pain

Every delivery story is different. Mine involves my husband looking at some monitors and telling me when I was having a contraction. (Thanks, honey. I knew that.) I figured he was just nervous and didn't realize what he was doing. At no point of time did I want to throw him out of the delivery room.

But according to the hospital staff that gave us the tour of the birthing center, lots of women do ask their husbands to leave the room. And that might actually be a good idea. It turns out that women who don't feel a strong sense of intimacy with their partners, might actually experience more pain during delivery.

And more pain is not something women need during childbirth.

For women who do feel rewarding intimacy with their partners, the story is not that much better. It turns out that men in the delivery room - at best - have a neutral effect on relieving their partner's pain.

And yet, knowing all that, I am still glad that my husband was there. It was a big moment for all three of us - him, me and our son. And that is what I remember - not the pain.

Share your delivery room experience with me - were you glad your husband was there or not? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stalking your children with technology

We had a sound/video baby monitor in my son's bedroom for the first two-and-a-half years of his life. Through that little camera, I watched him sleep, kick out of his blankets, sit up in his bed, and even saw the time our cat ended up in his crib and meowed out for help when she realized she was trapped.

When we moved we didn't install the camera in his new room. And since then, I haven't missed it.

But I realize there will come a time when I have to start monitoring him again: When he gets his own cell phone.

Unless something major changes between now and the time my son is old enough to have a cell phone, I am pretty sure monitoring his use of it will be inevitable. There will come a time when I, like the other parents in this piece from the Sun-Sentinel will find a tech company that allows me to monitor texts, calls and online access.

But here's what I think I may do a little differently:
  1. I'm going to tell him that I have a way to monitor him and why I am doing it.
  2. His phone will have a curfew.
  3. We're still going to have ongoing conversations about privacy.
  4. We can reopen the conversation about monitoring and privacy when he is old enough to date.
I don't want to be one of those parents who abuses the monitoring technology, but I do want to make sure I am there to discuss moments when he makes a misstep.

Do you currently use an app to track your child's cell phone use? What do you like about it and what do you wish it did differently? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The highs and lows of marriage

I like being married. I still get little thrills sometimes when someone refers to me as "Mrs. Markman" or when I get to introduce my husband to people. There is a security in being united to my husband who is not only the love of my life, but my best friend.

He's mine. I'm his. It's nice.

And marriage is good for you. The Economist recently took a look at the relationship between health and marriage, finding that the longer a couple stays married, the better health they tend to have overall. They even point out a "protective effect" to married peoples' health that kicks in once couples reach old age.

It's good that I have something to look forward to, since I am evidently going through the unbearable time of middle age. As this Pacific Standard article points out, being married during this time of my life means living "in socially isolated domestic units, each consumed with the nearly impossible task of balancing work and family, made bearable only by having a close friend in the trenches with us." The article points out that with so many pressures from work, older parents, children and social pressures, middle age is a difficult time and those of us who are lucky to be married to our best friends have a slightly more tolerable middle age.

I don't buy into that line of thinking. It's too depressing. Is there stress and daily pressures? Yes. Should there be more workplace equality and better work/life balance and more educational opportunities? Yes. But, I'd like to dwell on the positives: I have so many things to be thankful for in my life right now. And the big one is that I get to share it all with my husband.

What do you feel has been the hardest year of your marriage? Did middle age have anything to do with it? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The risks of independent children

When I was little, I walked everywhere: To school, to my best friend's house, to the park across the street and to the park a few blocks away. Sometimes my brother was with me; sometimes he wasn't. As I got older, I walked more places: To the store to get milk, to the theater to volunteer as an usher and sometimes I just walked for exercise.

Was my Mom worried about me? (Probably.) But, she let me walk anyway. And I learned how to navigate my small world and get myself where I needed to go.

So, I was naturally concerned after reading this article about parents who are being questioned by Child Protective Services for letting their children walk to a park that was a mile away. Most states have laws preventing minors under certain ages from being left home alone, but few laws cover behavior outside of the home. Are children safe navigating familiar areas like parks without parental supervision? 

Think of your own children: I am sure we can agree that your child's sense of personal responsibility is different from his or her classmates. Yes, laws matter and the neighborhood you live in also play a significant role, but the question remains:

Do you let your children walk places on their own? Why or why not? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Did you really earn that grade?

My son had a spelling test the other day (never mind that he is only four). He came home with a lollipop and a reward report saying that he spelled all his sight words correctly. Except: He didn't.

He misspelled the word "this" as "these." I didn't point it out to his teacher, but I did talk to my son about it. I wanted to make sure he knew how to spell the word correctly and the difference between those words.

I thought of that minor grading flub again after reading this article in the Atlantic about grade inflation. Education experts have been taking a look at grades assigned throughout United States' colleges and universities, only to find students are earning better grades overall, even though actual performance hasn't changed. In other words: More students are receiving an A without having earned it.

The article discusses several factors for the grade inflation, including speculation on non-tenured professors trying to retain their positions: Students tend to stay away from hard elective classes and if the class size is too small it would be cancelled, so professors may improve grades to keep their classes around. And then you have those "intangible" classes like music, art and writing, where there are no exact answers. They are simply harder to grade.

But this is at the college level. For us, I want to make sure that my son is able to retain the information he is learning now. Since I don't want to re-test him (how awful would that be - having your Mom re-quiz you after dinner?) I'll just need to pay closer attention. Is he talking about what he learned in our family dinner conversations? Is he using his sight words in sentences? Can he read them in his books?

Most parents these days are involved with their children's homework. Do you feel like your child is being graded fairly? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nobody knows you like Facebook

As previously mentioned, I am not a Facebook user. (And, for the record, I have no problem with people who are avid Facebook users as long as they understand the site's policies.) I know how the site works as I used to have to monitor my company's account. When I did the monitoring, I had lots of internal conversations about data tracking with my bosses. So, I was very intrigued to read how well Facebook knows who you are with just your "like" data.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University have discovered that they were able to cobble incredibly accurate personality assessments on Facebook users just by looking at the information they liked. Using personality data mined from thousands of volunteers, the researchers created a computer model that associated liking certain companies or causes with various personality traits. It can read your data and tell you what type of person you are.

You can try it out here.

How accurate are we talking here? More accurate than people. Participants in the study also asked friends and family members to complete a personality sketch of them. In many cases the computer that evaluated Facebook likes was more accurate.

Even more surprising is the little amount of data the model needed to be more accurate than humans: It only needed to analyze 10 likes to outperform a person’s coworker, 70 likes to do better than a friend or roommate, and 150 likes to do better than a parent or sibling.

Maybe friends and family aren't paying close enough attention to all those posts of yours.

Who could give an accurate personality profile of you? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, January 16, 2015

To avoid divorce, stay away from "professional listeners"

Let's take a mental break today.

Someone combed through the U.S. Census data and used information from the American Community Survey to determine which professions had the highest marriage and divorce rates.

It turns out that these days health professionals (dentists, optometrists, physicians) are the most likely to be enjoying wedded bliss (while hopefully also enjoying successful careers).

On the flip side, those who listen to people complain all day (bartenders, social workers, therapists) have some of the highest divorce rates.

I'm not saying you should break up with your postal clerk fiance to seek out a long future of family meals with a farm product buyer. But in a time where more and more people are delaying marriage, it is interesting to see who young people are settling for.

Is your profession listed on the most likely to be divorced or married list? Tell me why it deserves/doesn't deserve to be there in the comments.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Looking for a few good books

My son's school is having a book fair this week. Of course, we will go. I have fond memories of school book fairs when I was little, and they haven't changed much. You look through the catalog, go through the tables at the fair, buy your books and stay up late over the weekend reading them all so you could trade books with friends the next week at school.

Or, at least, that's what it was like for me.

As mentioned before, we are a reading family. There are lots of studies citing the benefits of reading. This latest one - which was funded by Scholastic, but it reiterates information found in studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics - encourages parents to read to children more often to give them the framework they need to become independent readers later on in life. The study indicated that the number of children ages 6-17 who read for pleasure has decreased in the last few years.

Whether that is true or not (remember, a book seller funded the study), the study made me think about how to inject more book time into our days (mostly our weekends). Every night, I get to read several books to our son, but I'd like to include story time more often throughout the weekends.

We've read to our son since his infancy. (Yes, talking to babies is better, but sometimes it is hard to hold one-sided conversations for extended periods of time.) But I now think the type of books we read matters more. I'm starting to mix it up a bit to include more complex stories with bigger vocabulary words for him to absorb.

So far, we've been trying Peter Pan (the real version by J. M. Barrie) and the Tollins books, but I'm always looking for more. What more complex books do you recommend for little boys? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dad needs balance, too

When my husband and I married, my uncles had a plethora of advice for my husband, which boiled down to this statement:

Happy wife; happy life.

I've asked my husband, and he says the statement is basically true, however, his well being is definitely important to me. And it turns out that there is an easy way to help him maintain his happiness: By encouraging him to spend time with our son.

The Academy of Management Perspectives is releasing a new study indicating that the best way to retain their top male employees is to let them spend more time with their children. The study concludes that fathers are starting to feel the strain of the  elusive work/life balance that mothers have been feeling for years.

Longer hours at work + rushed nights at home = unhappy parents of either gender. And unhappy people aren't as productive. (Why has it taken so long for companies to figure this out?) Although the majority of men do not experience the same stigma about parenthood that working Moms do (the mommy track), they still feel stressed out trying to balance work life with family life.

My husband has a job that he truly enjoys, and I've been trying to save time with cooking and other chores so that we have more time together as a family. But what the study has pointed out is that he needs to spend time with our son, not with all of us.
    Which made me come up with this handy reminder:
    For a happy dad; have him spend time with his lad.

    (Needs work, I know.) What fun activities does Dad like to do with the kids? Let me know in the comments.

    Monday, January 12, 2015

    A curfew for your devices

    My son got a new electronic device with all his Christmas loot. It's like a Fitbit for kids, so it tracks his physical activity throughout the day and gives him rewards and games to play. It's a great little device and he is excited about it.

    My favorite part of the device is that I can turn it off. Not just with the off switch, but by setting the times that he is at school or should be asleep, ensuring that he won't be able to play with it when he is supposed to be focused on something else.

    I appreciate companies who have learned that parents want to monitor electronic device use throughout the day.

    But what about those devices that parents can't put restrictions on through their settings? Like televisions and smartphones. The journal Pediatrics has published a study indicating that children with smartphones in their room sleep less at night. The study focused on children in fourth and seventh grades and found that children who slept near smartphones got 21 minutes less sleep than those who slept in a smartphone-free bedroom. (For comparison: Children with televisions in their bedrooms got 18 minutes less sleep than those in TV-free bedrooms.)

    The study also indicated that there may be a relationship between devices and bedtimes. Those with smartphones and televisions in their rooms had later bedtimes (by over a half hour) than other children.

    So, let's forget about the television part of the's my question: Why are smartphones in children's rooms? Yes, if your child has a smartphone, than ideally, they should be responsible enough to turn it off at night, but we know how tempting phones are. I know lots of parents who make children hand them over at bedtime and give them back in the morning. Giving smartphones a curfew makes sense to me: Blue light has already been shown to mess with our melatonin levels, so remove it from the equation and everyone sleeps better.

    Of course, it's hard to set a good example for our children, when parents take their phones to bed with them. But that is a post for another day.

    What time do you put electronic devices to bed at night? Share with me in the comments.

    Friday, January 9, 2015

    Tips for equality in parenting

    Describe the workload involved in being a parent. Are you listing out the physical tasks you help your child with (getting dressed, brushing teeth, reading bedtime stories)? Or are you thinking about the mental workout (worrying about them when they are away at camp, remembering their measurements, sizes and all their friend's names) as well? Did you remember to list all those ancillary chores that keep the household running smoothly (laundry, cooking, mowing the yard) and gives them a healthy and safe environment to play?

    It's a lot of work. For anyone. And while it is duly documented that women (even full-time working women) have handled the bulk of this workload, I appreciate that men are trying to step up more than men of previous generations. (Is it still equal? No.)

    But then, I sometimes come across an equal parenting study that is incredibly insulting to women. For example, there is this recent Finnish study which discusses a group of working men who are willing to move meetings to pick children up from daycare and turn down advancements in their careers to consider the family unit as a whole.

    As if either of those tasks pushed anyone over the bar for "equal parenting."

    And then there is this line:
    The study does not explore the subject of how much leeway mothers give to the fathers for participating in an equal share of domestic chores and childcare.
    Let's just move on.

    I've written previously about my distaste of using the term "active" to describe fathers, but I've never given advice on how to make parenting tasks more equal. So here we go:
    1. Make sure both partners understand all the tasks/chores/responsibilities within the household (everything covered in that opening paragraph.)
    2. Let the partner who isn't doing enough try more chores.
    3. The other partner stays silent.
    It seems simple, because it is. You can ask your partner to do something, but you can't then give them instructions on how to do it. The best way to learn how to take on more parenting chores, is to just do it.

    What parenting chore do you wish your other half would do more of? Tell me all about it in the comments.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    Why your baby isn't sleeping

    The short answer: Because your baby isn't tired.

    "But," you say to me, "He was tired at this time last night and it's been more than four hours since his last nap. He should be tired."

    He's a baby, not a clock.

    Maybe that sounds harsh. I do not intend it to be. I'm just trying to save you some heartache.

    When my son was a baby, I read all that wonderful research about sleep training and not letting the baby sleep too long and trying to put him on a schedule to understand the difference between night and day.

    And then, I realized my son was a bear. And as a bear he would stay asleep for a really long time. And that those books relied on averages. And that everyone's circadian rhythms are different. And, most importantly, that he was not a clock.

    Most new parents do not realize that a baby's sleep patterns vary within the first few years of life. Drastically. Just because your baby was sleeping through the night for a week doesn't mean that it will continue into next week. (I know that is depressing. I'm sorry.)

    But there is hope. Eventually, their sleep pattern emerges. And then you only occasionally run into problems. Like the time my four year old left his bedroom at 11 pm to come talk to me because he was bored. Clearly, he wasn't tired. And after laying in bed for three hours he had had enough. But, I rocked him a bit and put him back to bed anyway. I reminded him that his body needed rest (and so did mine). He was groggy in the morning (more so than normal), but the next night he slept better.

    Is your sleep pattern normal or are you all over the charts in how much sleep you get at night? Share with me in the comments.

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Traditional families in the game of Life

    Santa brought us the board game Life for Christmas. I hadn't played that game since I was a child, and I was genuinely surprised at the amount of changes to it: The careers are different, there are lots more action cards and it is much harder to go into debt.

    I have fond memories of playing Life and ending up with lots of children. There was a particular round in which I had more children than there were spaces in my plastic car, and I had to lay my little pink and blue pegs down between the seats. In the old version of the game, you either landed on a baby space or you got one via a chance card - and I seemed to get them all.

    The newest incarnation of the board game makes children a choice. The board design comes with a family path, so you can decide to try and have children or not. 

    The entire game makes for some nice conversational openings: Stop on the marriage space and talk about how some people never get married or how some people fall in love with someone of the same gender. Stop on the family path, and talk about the way families looked different - not all children have both a mommy and a daddy; some children have lots of siblings and step families.

    But it turns out, my son already knew about those topics. By talking with his classmates at school, my son has already determined what recent reports are showing: Less than half of U.S. kids live in a "traditional" family. (The report defines a traditional family as children living with heterosexual parents who are in their first marriage.) My son tells me about his friends who only have a mommy, or who live with their grandparents, or who live with their daddy only part time. He understands that every family is different.

    I like the game of Life, and although I haven't been able to win it because my son keeps ending up with all the money somehow, we'll keep playing. And talking.

    What's your favorite board game? Share with me in the comments.

    Monday, January 5, 2015

    Happy New Year - How's your marriage?

    As much as I love the holidays and the great excuse it gives me to celebrate, I am glad that they are over. The inside decorations are put away, I promise I'll take down the outside ones as soon as it stops raining, and I am looking forward to seeing everyone back at the office again (it was getting a little lonely).

    It's January. And it's time to think about my marriage.

    I'll explain: There was this study that was released right before Christmas, indicating that a quarter of British couples saw the holiday as the make-or-break point for their marriage. Granted, the study was funded by a divorce firm, so there are issues with that. But, if you think about it, holidays can be very stressful for couples: Being home together for extended periods of time, visiting with family and the celebration not living up to expectations.

    A week later another study emerged claiming that the first week of January was the start of "divorce season" as couples make more inquiries about divorce in January than any other month of the year. The study claims that couples who come in the first week of January were usually only "holding it together" to get through the holidays.

    Rather than get depressed by all this news, I thought I would look for ways to strengthen my marriage in the new year. Of course, I will need my husband's help with this, but it's definitely a cause near and dear to both our hearts.

    Here are some things I've been thinking about:
    • Our weekly lunch date. My husband and I are lucky enough to work a few blocks away from each other, but during the last few weeks, I've had to cancel these lunch dates. That has bummed me out big time. These need to stay on my calendar.
    • Date nights. My husband and I don't go on enough dates. But we really need to take the night off from our son and do something fun as a couple.
    • Getting away. Last year we took a large vacation as a family, but the year before that, we went to Jamaica - just the two of us. And every moment of it was wonderful.
    • Making time for each other. This sounds much simpler than it is. But, I need to find time to focus on him in the evenings and do something we both enjoy (watching TV doesn't count).
    I love my husband. He still needs to stay out of my kitchen, though.

    Are you and your spouse up to trying something new in the New Year? Share it with me in the comments (as long as it is G-rated.)

    Friday, January 2, 2015

    What's your 100 for 2015?

    This is the third year of my 100 challenge.

    In 2013, I read 100 books.

    In 2014, I tried out 100 new recipes.
    Admittedly, I had a hard time with my challenge for this year. I wanted to do something that I loved, was good for me and I could see the results of.

    And then it hit me while talking with my sister-in-law. She and her husband were visiting us over Christmas (to dote upon their precociously wonderful nephew). We were relaxing/recuperating after roller skating (side note: That was so much fun - I totally need to do that more often) and talking about what was new in our lives.

    She talked about her very cool new job and this incredibly ambitious project she is working on to consolidate online learning resources at a major university. My brother-in-law (who is one of the smartest people I know) told us about an in-depth exhibition he has assembled that correlates major astronomical events to literary masterpieces throughout the ages. I mentioned my wonderful job and this blog and briefly talked about my beloved and often neglected podcast.

    And then I knew what I wanted to do: I need to relaunch my podcast.

    So, there you go: I'm going to focus on my podcast again. Writing for this site has become second nature to me; it's time for me to spread the love to my other site and see what I can do with it. 100 posts = 2 posts a week. Totally doable.

    Happy New Year!

    Forget resolutions: Try 100 of something. Let me know what your challenge is in the comments.