Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Who had the worse night last night?

Waking up my son for school in the morning is better than the theater. There could be over-the-top goofiness and slapstick antics that is fun to watch (in small doses), or there could be the tears, accusations and casting of curses that you normally find in a Greek tragedy. Or it could be both.

No matter what the situation, between the bouncing around or the statements of "I'm the tiredest boy who ever lived in the whole universe," I always try to ask my son how he slept. On his good days, he will tell me that he slept fine; on the Greek-tragedy days he will tell me that he only slept for an hour and it is mean that I've woken him up so soon - don't I know that little boys need 9-10 hours of sleep at night?

The boy doth protest too much, methinks. But at least he knows how much sleep he should be getting.

Overall, it's a good thing that I am asking him, as we parents sometimes project our own sleep quality onto our children. Have you had a stressful week at work and aren't sleeping as well as you normally do? Then, you will tend to think that your child isn't sleeping well either. Get a new mattress and have the best sleep of your life? Then you will think that your child has been getting enough sleep, too.

So, I ask my son how he slept. And I will ask him if he dreamed. And I will do my best to make sure he goes to bed on time.

Who gets the least amount of sleep in your family? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What made you stop reading?

My son and I are at the bookstore. He is super excited. He has been dragged around on chores with me all day: Car wash, food shopping, photo pickup, department stores and several other places. As a reward for his super helpful behavior, I told him that I would purchase him the book we are missing from his Magic Tree House series.

At the bookstore counter, he proceeds to tell the check out clerk:
  • Why we are there
  • Why he was missing book number 8
  • What had happened in the series so far
  • That he hopes we will read the book when we get home
We read the book later that day in one sitting, which is good, because he hates breaking up one of his Tree House books into multiple sessions.

I can't say I blame him. I really enjoy reading my books in one session (or at least several long sessions) as well, but I know that most people find it hard to find time to do that. 

I've read that publishers are now trying to determine how long we have to read our books before we put them down again. As more people read electronic books, publishers are tracking reading habits. That's right: How much of the book you read, when you stopped reading it and even how long it took you to finish a book on your reading device is all being captured by publishers to try and create a better (more profitable) book.

But here's the thing: I read paper books. I like them for their feel, their smell and the fact that I stare at a screen all day. There is something in the act of turning the physical page that makes reading more enjoyable for me. So unless publishers are going to start following me around, I guess my reading data is somewhat secure.

Do you prefer to read physical books or do you prefer your e-reader? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Living by your own technology rules

Think about all the rules you have for your child's use of technology. Do you have rules around when they can use it? Rules to prevent bullying behavior? Rules around oversharing information online? Rules about the rooms of the house it can go into?

How many of those rules are ones that also apply to you?

In a study from the University of Washington, children speak up around their household technology rules and the results are in on what they want: No hypocrisy. Moderate use. No oversharing.

It's sounds simple enough: Children want parents to follow their own rules. That means that parents should not be using their phones at the dinner tables either. Or they shouldn't be texting while driving. Or they shouldn't be oversharing information about their children on social media, especially without permission.

Social media wasn't around when I was a kid, so I don't have the context of how it would feel to have my Mom or Dad post something embarrassing about me online. But that is a very real scenario that a lot of children are tired of.

I know that it is hard to practice what we preach, but this is one of those cases where I can see the kid's point of view. Technology rules in the household should be applicable to everyone. (My Mom had to call people to give them embarrassing details - thanks, Mom!)

What is a technology rule that you have in your household that you find it hard to follow? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Where did you meet your match?

My Mother set me up with a guy once when I was in high school. He worked for her, and at the time I didn't realize I was being set up. It was well-intentioned, I have no doubt, but ultimately very weird and awkward for me. So let's not talk about that.

At some point, I tend to ask my married friends how they met their partner. And then they get to tell their origin story. Most of these tales have been honed over the years of the relationship to become coherent stories. I like the long and winding versions much better than the quick-and-dirty statements like, "we went to school together," or "through a friend," or "in a bar," or "at work." Although each of those statements is still true, the longer versions tell me more about the couple overall.

A lot of couples' beginnings are starting to sound alike, as there are far fewer ways that people are now meeting their significant others. That's right: We are all becoming dependent on friends, bars and the Internet for our future partners. There's a very nifty chart on that link that tracks the various ways that people have met their spouses over the past 50 years. Who are we not relying on for a love connection? Parents, church and school.

The tracking of how we met the love of our lives is definitely a small piece in a much larger picture of people getting married later in life, moving far away from home and not looking for support from their hometown communities (church and schools). Which only leaves one question:

How did you meet your significant other? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Learning to sleep well in childhood

When we brought our son home from the hospital, we decided to have him sleep his first night in his crib in his own room. We felt so wise in our decision, believing it to be important to teach our son that he sleeps in his room and we sleep in ours.

Our son, however, decided to start cluster feeding, so I was up with him all night, holding him. 

But in all the nights since then, he has only slept with us two times: Once when we took a nap together while laying on my bed. And once when we were on vacation, and he was so exhausted and mixed up that I let him sleep in the same bed as me (which actually ended up being on top of me, teaching me the important lesson to not soften on my principles).

Have there been nights where he asks to climb into bed with us after a bad dream? Yes, but I lead him back to his bed and tuck him in. Does he sometimes ask me to lay in bed with him at night? Yes, but I remind him that he sleeps best on his own. (And that Mommy snores a little.)

Now that my son is six, I realize that it has been a long time since he has asked for company at night. That is a good thing as recent research suggests that children need to learn how to sleep well by age 5. Most children learn self-soothing techniques to get themselves back to sleep as toddlers. The ones that still struggle with sleep are more likely to suffer from attention issues and have emotional outbursts in the classroom.

What's a parent to do? Prevention is the key. Yes, you can of course comfort your child when they are sick and just want Mom or Dad nearby, but the goal is to refrain from bad habits that prevent children from learning how to fall back asleep on their own. The golden rule of sleep is: Everyone needs to sleep in their own room.

What age did your child stop asking to sleep in your bed? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Worried about my generation

I spent a weekend at the beach with my girlfriends recently. And what I learned from them gave me hope: They reported that their children (mostly teens) were well behaved, not interested in dating or other risky behaviors and are quite academically inclined.

A few things about all this:
  1. If this trend continues, this will blow my theory around my son turning goth and against me right out of the water.
  2. This is pretty representative of how most teens behave today - as in, better than their parents behaved.
Do you want to have some scary fun? Try going to this link and entering in your birth year (starting from 1972 and younger) to determine if you behaved better or worse than today's teens. (Hint: The answer is probably worse.)

For example: In my birth year, I have learned that when I was a teenager, I was vastly more likely to know smokers (true), people who drank (true) and who became teenage moms (true) than teenagers today.

Suddenly, I have a lot of hope toward the teen my son is going to become.

How did your teenage years stack up? Tell me in the comments?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Another reason why my son isn't listening to me

My son and I have a deal to help him get through his school morning routine: If my little bear completes his tasks early (dressed, teeth and hair brushed) then he is allowed to play on his iPad. This gives me enough time to make his lunch and do my hair and make-up.

I have noticed that when time is up, I need to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention. Simply calling him when it is time to leave for school doesn't work. I am used to this and have accepted it as the only way to fully get his attention away from Fruit Ninja.

So, it was good to learn that my having to physically get his attention is quite normal. Evidently, we tend to go a little deaf when focusing on highly visual tasks - this includes time spent on our mobile devices. This bout of temporary inattentional deafness that he has makes me feel better. It reassures me that he's not ignoring me in the morning on purpose.

What tasks do you get so engrossed in that you are unable to hear other people talking to you? Share your list in the comments.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The ultimate breakfast wars

It is Saturday. My son and I are in the kitchen and I am teaching him how to make scrambled eggs. I watch him as he stands on a stool near the stove, mimicking the moves I showed him earlier with the spatula. "Look, Mommy! I am swooping the eggs and they are coming out fluffy."

The eggs he makes are perfect. We devour them and clean up together, with only a few comments on my part that the best cooks in the world know how to clean a pan as well as they know how to cook in one.

This is breakfast. This is cooking. And there is no room for excuses. After reading this article discussing how many  millennials have stopped eating cereal because it isn't as convenient as other breakfast foods, I want to make sure that my son has the basics down. The basics for our family include cooking and cleaning up afterward.

I've written before about the importance of learning to cook. But I never considered that people might not expend the effort of cooking because they didn't want to clean up.

Now I know. And I'll make sure to include that in my teaching repertoire.

Up next: Pancakes.

What breakfast foods do you avoid because they aren't convenient enough? Spill the details in the comments.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

For better mental health, let the tears out

As mentioned earlier this month, I am not afraid of a good long cry. There are certain places where I do my best not to cry, like at work. I try to suck it up and let the tears out later when I won't be interrupted. Fortunately I have a wonderful job right now that doesn't cause me tears.

My son is young, so he is prone to tears whenever he doesn't get his way in life and for him the location doesn't matter. There are two versions of his crying: The unhappy fake tears that he still displays when he thinks something is unfair, and the real ones that he sheds when he is really in need of a way to let his emotions out. (Both hurt to watch.)

When he is done crying his real tears, I try to remind him that it is good to cry and that crying is a good way to let out his unhappy feelings. I let him know that crying makes us feel better, as long as the tears are real.

Science backs me up on this one (thanks, science!) Tear researchers (wow - that's a thing?) state that people who cry are generally more stress-free overall (because they let the negativity out) and that they are often more secure in their emotions.

So, go ahead and cry when you need to. You may feel better and stronger overall. And, you may be sharing an important lesson with your children in the progress.

When's the last time you had a good long cry? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Putting your trust in your nose

Just like my mother, I have a sensitive nose (thanks, Mom!) I can smell all the smells - the good, the bad and the ugly. Because of this, I tend to avoid people who wear too-strong perfume or aftershave, and my very sweet husband seeks out my opinion before changing personal hygiene products to ensure they won't bother me (thanks, Love!).

So here's the thing I've never tested with my sensitive nose: Whether or not I think my enemies stink. This might be because I don't have a list of enemies or even a list of people I dislike enough to sidle up next to and get a whiff of.

But researchers claim that there may be something to the old thought that we think our enemies stink. In a small study, they found that people perceived stinkier smells coming off clothing belong to their enemies than the clothing of close family and friends.

Does this mean we should trust our noses in life? Maybe it is as simple as that. Or maybe someone just needs to take a shower.

Do you have a sensitive nose? Tell me all the smells that bother you the most in the comments.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Measuring a life makes it less enjoyable

I've just woken up my son for school. He looks at me with blurry eyes and his hair is sticking out in every direction. He even still smells like sleep; to me, he is perfection. He yawns and asks me if I ran that morning. I confirm that I did and he immediately taps my fitbit to congratulate me on all my dots.

I wear the fitbit every day, but I am pretty lax around the information it provides me. Generally speaking, I do want to move more and sleep better, but I don't beat myself up about it if those things do not happen.

My son wants a fitbit. He thinks it would be fun for us to compare dots at the end of the day, and he thinks he can get more steps in than me. (I don't actually doubt that he can.) Part of me wants to get him one (the sleep data alone would fascinate me for hours) but the rest of me thinks it is too soon.

And now that I read that the measurement of an activity makes it less enjoyable makes me want to hold off even more. Recent studies suggest that the more you spend looking at your data around a specific activity equates to less enjoyment of that activity overall. I can partially understand the unappeal: If I know how badly I am doing at something, why would I want to continue?

But the rest of me wants to argue: What about the days that I am doing really well at something? Those few days where I am killing it, I really enjoy the extra piece of motivation in my life. Whether it comes to finishing one of my challenges, or looking over how going to bed earlier affected my sleep data, I really like having access to that extra piece of information.

It makes my day.

Is there something in your life that you track regularly but don't enjoy? Share it with me in the comments.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Could your weight be affecting your memory?

I know a lot of things that affect my memory: My ability to concentrate on one thing at a time, the way I initially experience the memory, the amount of sleep I've had, and whether or not I've just entered a room. But I had no idea that my weight could affect it.

In a small (but scary) study, researchers found that people with higher BMIs had lower scores on memory tests. I know that this may not be the tipping point that drives someone to a healthier lifestyle, but it has definitely gotten my attention.

Memory is important to me - I consider myself to be the keeper of my son's memories to the point where I've kept a journal of his life for the past five years. (That sentence seemed a little stalkish when I typed it; I assure you it is not stalkish.) The thought that I might have the chance to improve my memory and my health at the same time really appeals to me.

Do you ever worry about memory loss? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Correcting the doctor's mistakes

I had a visit with my doctor in January and at the end of the visit, he told me that I was due to see him for my annual exam in March.

I knew this wasn't true. I recall the last time that I saw him was right after Thanksgiving. I remember us talking about holiday plans. I pointed this out to him, but he was adamant that I was due in March.

Upon leaving I double-checked with the nurse (who checked with the computer) and verified that I didn't need to come back in until November.

This minor incident reminded me that although I absolutely adore and trust my doctor, he is human, too. And I should be double-checking his work.

In fact, we should all be double-checking our doctor's work. In a recent survey, researchers found that parents were catching errors made by hospitals. A lot of the errors were not small scheduling ones like my example, but larger issues that could have resulted in a longer hospital stay for a child.

The study was small, but serves as a good reminder for parents: You know your child best.

Are you already in the practice of double-checking your doctor's work? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why I need my Mom to talk to me

I have a girl's weekend at the beach twice a year. It is a relaxing, wonderful time. We work on photo albums, read, catch up on each other's lives and enjoy too much good food. I'm trying to get my Mother to go with me next time and I may have finally won her over.

I want my Mom to join me for several reasons. Some of them are selfish (I would like the one-on-one time with her), and others are more selfless (I think she deserves a break from her everyday responsibilities). I am not trying to dictate her life, but I recognize that I am pressuring her to join me. (Sorry, Mom!)

Pressuring my Mom is something that I am going to have to look out for. She is by no means old or unable to make decisions for herself. She is a vibrant and amazing woman and I am lucky to have her in my life (thanks, Mom!) I will need to be sensitive to not fall into the trap that so many adult children my age fall into.

Mom, I will try very hard to not make decisions for you as you age. But you've gotta do your part and talk to me.

In this extremely honest article in The Atlantic, aging parents share a range of emotions when it comes to their adult children making decisions for them: Annoyed, grateful, stubborn refusal and patronized. The key point in the article is that communication is paramount. We should learn to ask our parents what they want in life and if we have our own ideas, we should present them and take a step back to let the ideas sink in. And parents - for their part - should tell their children what they want and be open to new ideas.

And that brings me back to another reason why I want my Mom to join me at the beach this year: I want to keep the lines of communication between us wide open.

Do you take care of your older parents? What is the hardest part for you? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Do I have to eat this?

At the beginning of every month, I plan out all the meals that we are going to eat. For the whole month. I do this for a few reasons (meal planning, to ensure we aren't getting repetitive with our dinners, and to allow myself a few nights off from cooking each week). And I am painfully aware that as I plan out the meals there will be a number of dinners my son will not want to eat. Chicken tikka masala? No way. Pulled pork sandwiches? Not happening. Chili? No, thank you.

And that is fine by me, because there are a lot of dinners that I know he will enjoy. As his palette changes he will hopefully even enjoy more and more foods. Ideally, what I would like is for him to have happy memories of his Mother's cooking.

This is especially true after reading that about half of all Brits hate their Mother's cooking (but still significantly rate their Father's cooking as lower). They are polite about it - evidently they are suffering in silence - but the truth remains: They don't want a home-cooked meal by Mom. One of the biggest complaints? Mom's meals are too repetitive.

As a working Mom, I can say that it is really easy to fall into a culinary routine. I went through an entire year of 100 new recipes to try and combat that. I've also learned from my own wonderful Mother who regularly devours cookbooks and tries out new recipes - you've gotta keep things fresh in the kitchen.

Yes, my tried-and-true classic recipes have their place. And those are the meals I am secretly hoping my son will request that I make him when he is an adult and visiting me over a holiday. But overall, we should keep in mind that variety is the spice of life.

What's your favorite dish to make for your family? Share it in the comments.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The cure for unrequited love

My son is in love with one of my coworkers (well, as in love as a five-year-old can be). Whenever he visits my office, he gives her lots of hugs, tells her secrets and brings her chocolate from my candy drawer. She adores him and gives him lots of attention, playing her part in his little crush.

As much as he claims to love her, I am sure that he will one day grow out of his crush and eventually fall in love with someone else and even have his heart broken a few times. I've always thought that falling in love and getting your heart broken are just a part of growing up. But it doesn't have to be.

A recent essay in Aeon discusses the concept of having drugs to fix our broken hearts. The idea behind this medical fix isn't just for the pangs of unrequited teenage love, but for those people who suffer from obsessive love and depression over a series of years.

But the question remains: Would you want to fix a broken heart with medicine? Is it better to be inspired, moved, motivated and heartbroken by your emotions or better to not be a slave to them at all?

The answer is personal, of course, but it is interesting to think about a future where advice to heal a broken heart like "time heals all wounds" could be replaced with a little pill.

Would you be interested in taking some medicine to mend a broken heart? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The science that sticks

I listen to a podcast on my way to work called Stuff You Missed in History Class. It touches on people I've never heard of before, takes a much deeper dive on stories that may have only gotten a paragraph in my history textbooks and offers up a lot of non-U.S. history, which I thoroughly enjoy.

The particularly pleasing thing about the podcast is that they usually center the episode on a person's life, instead of an overall event. I find it much more engaging to hear about the people behind famous movements, policies or historical events than the actual event itself. The podcast reminds me that history is alive and it is very human.

I've been thinking about all this as I was reading this study in which teens performed better in science after learning that famous scientists - like Einstein and Madame Curie - struggled in their careers. I remember when I was in school and the nuns would talk about famous scientists - we would get a list of their achievements without any other context. I can definitely see the appeal in learning that the people behind the lists of awards and achievements struggled along the way.

We have all heard so many stories about the starving artist or struggling musician that we forget that scientists are people, too, and their stories are just as engaging (if not more) than the science they've produced.

And maybe humanizing science - even just a little - is a good way to help make it stick.

Did you enjoy science class when you were young? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

When Mommy needs a good, long cry

I had a bad day. Things didn't really go my way at work and they weren't going that well at home either. There comes a point where you really don't want to hear your family's critiques about the new recipe you just rushed home to prepare for them; you just want them to eat it.

My usual behavior when that happens is to try and shake it off and focus on the positive. But it turns out, that behavior is probably killing me. A group of studies recently revealed that when parents try to suppress their negative emotions and emphasize their happier ones in front of their children, they tend to feel worse overall.

And I don't need to feel worse overall.

I understand the benefit of telling my son when I've had a bad day or let him know when I am not happy, but I am not sure how to tell him that his behavior is making a rough day even worse. For one thing, I don't want him thinking that his behavior is the cause of my unhappiness (when it might just be the last straw in a long day), nor am I convinced that he should think that he has such a strong sway over my emotions.

So what we are left with is a scenario in which I need to get rid of my negativity before bringing it into the house and letting it amplify at home. (Any negativity that is created inside the house is another story.) I used to use traffic as a way to help with this. Maybe on the really bad days I need to start taking the long way home.

How do you let out your negative emotions? Tell me in the comments.