Friday, April 29, 2016

Returning to pen and paper

I still use pen and paper for a lot of things: Shopping lists, stories for my other blog, notes at work and planning events. Since I went to college when laptops weren't a thing, it still feels more natural for me to take notes with pen and paper than by typing them. Also, I feel that I tend to remember things better if I write them down.

It turns out that my feeling is backed up by science. (Thanks, science!) In a recent series of experiments, researchers found that people who wrote their notes instead of typing them tended to have better conceptual comprehension rates. They also found that people who typed their notes were actually almost transcribing the lectures, whereas note-taking is a slower process, and people have to be more cognizant of what they are writing down. It's that few seconds delay to find the meat of the information that allows note-takers to remember more.

It's important to note that there was no advantage for factual learning (items like names and dates).

So, what does this mean for all those students who are bringing their laptops to every class? It is hard to return to pen-and-paper note taking, or learn to start writing facts out longhand if you are only used to typing. As parents, maybe we need to encourage our children to be familiar with both methods.

Do you tend to remember more of what you type or more of what you write out longhand? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Entering the Minecraft generation

"Is he ready for Minecraft yet?"

That was a text from my sister-in-law shortly after my son's sixth birthday. I pushed her off with claims that he has enough screentime and that I wanted to wait a bit longer.

I think the truth is that I wasn't ready for Minecraft yet.

That is entirely my fault, as it has taken me a long time to really research it. But I have started to rectify that. For starters, I've read through this great long-form article that covers Minecraft's growth from just being a game to becoming a way for children to learn social conventions. (You know, stuff we used to learn how to do on the playground.)

The more I read about the game and everything that it forces children to do - problem solving, introduction to coding basics, learning how to get along - the more I like it.

But the rest of me thinks about the swim lessons that he needs and the outside activities I want him to try and that I want to make sure that a new game doesn't automatically increase his expectation of more screentime.

So, the question remains: Are we ready for Minecraft yet?


Do your children play Minecraft? What are your thoughts about the game? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Is depression becoming inevitable?

It doesn't matter what you are doing as a parent, if you read enough studies you learn that you are parenting wrong. But it is easy to accept that you are wrong as a parent: You have, after all, a constant walking/talking reminder in your life that you are an unfair, mean person and that you are crushing all the joy out of life because you won't let someone play on his iPad and instead keep insisting that he brush his teeth.

You know: Normal parenthood stuff.

But then you read something really scary. This will usually drop into your world after you've had a particularly good streak of bragging how smart your child is. And there it is: Your child is probably going to suffer from depression at some point. And it might be your fault.

Whether it is from lack of play in their free or school time, micromanaged lives or focusing on failure, our children have too much adult involvement in their lives. What's the answer? We need to butt out a little and take a step back to let our children take the lead. Much easier said than done, but hey, we've tried lots of other crazier things with our children over the years. Why not let them be children?

I'm all for staving off depression and taking a step back, but before I do: He still needs to brush his teeth.

How much free time does your child get in a day? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mommy is not an octopus

When my son - usually in a fit of excitement - asks me to do too many things at once, I remind him that I am not an octopus. Although I can see the initial appeal of having eight arms for cooking dinner, dancing with him in the kitchen and going through the 5-7 leaflets in his school binder, I wonder if eight arms would actually be enough. Also: Would it really be eight arms? Or, are two of those arms actually considered legs, and it is really six arms and two appendages used for mobility?

I digress.

The point is that even though we have all learned to become multi-taskers, very few of us are good at it. Yes, I realize you think you are good at it, because you feel productive, but that's the point: You only feel more productive, you actually aren't.

The good news is that if we insist on being multi-taskers - especially with our screentime - science has found a way to help us. (Thanks, science!) The secret is: Breathing.

OK. Fine. The real secret is small periods of meditation that require you to count your breaths before diving into multiple screens, but let's just call it breathing for short.

So, there you go. If you want to watch a movie, text a friend and read an article all at the same time, stop and count your breaths first.

How many screens do you normally use at one time? Leave your magic number in the comments.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Feeling a little ticklish

I am not ticklish.

Let me clarify with a list:
  • I am not a robot.
  • I was ticklish when I was younger, but am not now.
  • I don't remember the point in my life when I stopped being ticklish.
  • This is common. (Google it.)
  • I really am not a robot.
My son, however, is highly ticklish. He has lots of ticklish spots (neck, armpits, tummy, knees and basically all of him when he starts laughing). He yells for someone to stop but then comes back for more. We have to be careful when tickling him to make sure he has time to catch his breath. He is the type of ticklish that is like catnip for his Daddy. 

My son likes to tickle back, which works out well on his Daddy (who is also very ticklish), but causes disappointment when it comes to me. He asks me why I am not ticklish.

I tell him that tickling is an evolved behavior. Other animals tickle their babies to teach them to protect the vulnerable areas of their bodies or because tickling is fun. I tell him that you can't tickle yourself - that it has to be a surprise and it always needs another person. I tell him that people lose their touch receptors as they get older, and maybe Mommy just lost most of hers. I tell him, that I really do not know.

I wish I was just a little bit ticklish. But I am not.

Happily there are lots of things in life that make me laugh, like when my son asks me to hold my husband down so we can both tickle him.

Are you ticklish? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Preparing for disaster

My son is six. So clearly he needs to know everything about tectonic plate movements. I didn't know that six-year-olds were interested in tectonic plates, but apparently they are. In the past two weeks, I've had to find videos on how plate movements cause everything from mountain formations and earthquakes to how they once caused the Beringia land bridge to break apart.

All of this, of course, I didn't know or didn't remember from the limited science that the nuns imparted upon me. But the good news from all this information is that I have also gotten to talk to my son about natural disasters.

Let me explain why that is a good thing.

Talking about earthquakes has lead to discussions around other natural disasters like tornadoes, storms and floods, which opens up the opportunity to discuss how we prepare for disasters. This is a topic that most parents don't like to broach with their children, and I can understand why: I won't let my son watch the news because I think it is too scary for him. But I am OK making sure he knows where we will meet in case we have to evacuate the house and what our family plan is.

What's not so fun is explaining that when a disaster happens people can get hurt. That is a scary thought for children, so I try to remind myself that my number one job has changed: My job used to be to keep him safe. And that is slowly changing to: Prepare him for life - the good and the bad.

What natural disasters have you talked to your children about? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Maybe you won't have to nag your teen for a while

Last week I wrote about nagging your teen into being a safe driver. Maybe you won't need to worry about that after all. As it turns out, we have less teen drivers today than we've had in decades.

I was a late-in-life driver for many reasons. I didn't have a compelling reason to learn to drive - I walked everywhere, didn't have a car and had enough friends in car accidents that I was very nervous about heading out in a killing machine on wheels. But eventually, my Mom got me an instructor (thanks, Mom!) and I passed my test in one go.

There are lots of reasons why teens today are not driving, including:
  • Lack of jobs to help pay for their cars
  • Being open to other forms of transportation
  • Less need for face time with their friends in public places/more friends online
I'm not sure what the trends will be a decade from now when it is my son's turn to learn how to drive, but I find it encouraging. I am happy to play the role of his chauffeur for a long time.

How old were you when you learned to drive? Tell me in the comments.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kissing in front of the kids

I have a rule in my household: You have to kiss me good-bye. I really don't like it when this rule is broken, but I accept that it happens. I enforce this rule with my son and my husband, and, no, I am not kidding about any of this. Kiss me good-bye. Always.

We are an affectionate bunch in my household, and that has had some wonderful results, including having my son surprise me with random hugs throughout the day. My husband and I have no problem showing affection for each other, even in front of our son.

This is good our son - good for all children, really - to see their parents' show affection. Granted, this doesn't always work out in our favor. For example, if our son sees us hugging, he immediately wants in on the hug. There is something sweetly touching and yet somewhat inconvenient about having a six-year-old wedge himself in between two people hugging.

Usually when we get interrupted, my husband and I give him double kisses (in which we kiss his cheeks at the same time) and give him a sandwich hug (he is the filling) until he is done with us. Then my husband and I can get back to our kiss.

How often do you kiss in front of your kids? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Got full-fat milk?

I am a milk drinker.

I am not sure why, but it sounds a little funny saying that as an adult. It's as if drinking milk is exclusive to little kids. But, I drink a glass at least once a day - not because I have to, but because I like it. I tend to stick to 2%, as I left my full-fat milk days long behind me.

When my son turned one, I stopped giving him breast milk and gave him whole milk. Any worries I had about him not liking it were gone within seconds - he loved it. Once he turned two, I switched him over to 2%.

But now I am questioning that decision. Some new research suggests that maybe we shouldn't have abandoned whole milk so quickly. There is evidence to suggest that the full-fat stuff keeps us fuller longer. I'm not saying that I am going to completely switch our family back to whole milk full time, but I am going to start thinking more about the balance of nutrients when I plan dinners and my son's lunches. Maybe it's better to have the full-fat milk life and cut out on the other carbs.

So, my question isn't Got Milk? My question is, what kind of milk do you got?

Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

If you are going to nag your teen, nag them about this

My son really, really wants to start the car for me.

He is equal parts excited and unsure in this request. But excitement quickly overrules everything when I say yes.

He already has my car keys in his hand. He unlocks the car and sits in the driver's seat. He double-checks that I am watching him as he inserts the key and turns it until he hears the engine turn over. His face explodes in a huge grin and he hops out of the car to get into the backseat. On the way to school he tells me that he will be driving soon.

I am actually about a decade away from that reality and (no doubt) a lot will change in my relationship with my son between now and then. We will (hopefully) still have a special bond, but he will (probably) listen to me less. There is one thing that I should make sure is part of our relationship still: My instructions to him on safety.

It turns out that the extra conversations around teen safety and driving are worth nagging about. I can see how parental reminders around paying attention behind the wheel could be seen as nagging by teenagers, but it doesn't matter how that message gets through to them, as long as it gets through. Since I will probably annoy him when he becomes a teen anyway, I see this as a potential win situation.

What driving lesson do you emphasize with your teen? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Getting off the park bench

When it comes down to it, I have two choices.

1. I could sit here on this park bench, which is in the sunshine and giving me a much-needed boost of vitamin D. And I could read my book, which I have been waiting to start for several weeks now but haven't found the time.


2. I could get off the bench and play with my son.

It's not really that simple, since there are the additional variables to consider. How many other children are at the park? I really want my son to practice making friends (or at the very least, start asking children their names, which he always forgets to do because whatever running around game is way more important than introductions and they all end up calling each other "hey you").

If there are other children in the park, are any his age? My son does a really great job of following the rule of "Watch out for anyone smaller than you," but eventually he gets tired of playing with younger children.

Am I supposed to follow the prime directive and observe but not interfere? There are lots of times when my son just wants me to see all the big things he can do now.

Or maybe all these are excuses and I should just get up and start playing with my son at the park. Sure, I am too tall to be on the equipment and he wines like crazy when I'm out of breath and need a break and eventually I have a flock of children I don't know following me around the park, but the fact is that it is better for both of us.

It's true: Children's activity levels are boosted when Mom or Dad join in the game. And, let's face it, I could use the exercise as well.

Guess my book will have to wait. I have a game of tag to start.

What's your favorite game to play at the park with your children? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Who are they talking to?

By now, I think I have mentioned that my son is a talker enough times that I will have to apologize to him when he turns into a teenager for labeling him that way. (I'm not wrong, by the way, he is a talker, I think I have just hit the limit of pointing it out.)

I have always thought of my son as a chatty kid, even after I chaperoned a class trip of his and heard some of the other children talk so much that they barely paused for breath. By comparison my son is actually quite normal in the amount he talks, but since I don't have all those children living in my house with me for constant comparison, he gets labeled as a talker.

But even he has paused his ongoing monologues long enough to notice that there are a lot of people talking out loud in public.

The first time he pointed it out to me, we were in a grocery store. He wanted to know why the woman in the aisle with us was talking to herself, and I pointed out that she was on the phone and using her earbuds. Since then, he points out these people to me with more frequency and often asks me: Who are all those people talking to?

The short answer is that I don't know, but as I accidentally eavesdrop on their conversations, I realize that they are just trying to catch up with family and friends, albeit in an incredibly boring way many people are just narrating their way through the grocery store as their friends are stuck listening to them. (Unless the friend is narrating their way through a different store and this is some sort of weird game I don't know about.)

So who are we talking to? Well, it depends on your age. Researchers have found that while young men call more friends, they are having shorter conversations. And women tend to drop fewer friends over their lifespans so they have more friends to call and keep up with. Both genders tend to call fewer people as they get older.

I, for one, try to stay off the phone on the weekends, considering how much time I spend listening to people on the phone during my work week. Besides, when I have somehow convinced my son to go out and do chores with me, there is no one I would rather have talking to me than him.

Who do you spend a lot of your free time talking to? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, April 8, 2016

All I want is to see the sunshine for a little bit

When my doctor first diagnosed me with a vitamin D deficiency, he told me to go out into the sunlight more often. That advice sounded great in theory, but it wasn't realistic. I asked him when I was supposed to do that during my day. At my 5 am run, the sun isn't up yet. I work all day - even through my lunch time. I am in a lot of meetings and can't wander too far from my desk phone. When I get home, I make dinner and help get my son ready for bed.

Does he see a time in my day where I can incorporate more sunshine?

He conceded the point and told me to take supplements. Problem solved.

Do I wish I could go out in the sunlight more often in my day? Yes. Absolutely. But I am realistic enough to realize that it is not going to happen with enough frequency to solve my problem. At least my doctor was willing to entertain the conversation with me.

It turns out doctors are used to dispensing their medical advice (eat healthier, exercise more, get into the sunshine) but they don't always walk patients through the obstacles that are preventing them from taking that good advice. A recent study in the Annals of Family Medicine took a look at this exact issue - patients often have the motivation to make a change in their lifestyle, but they need some additional help to remove the obstacles.

I think this is true for most people - we need some additional help to get around our health obstacles. I've tried re-arranging my work schedule on my own so that I have a free period to go outside every day, but I found that I would often ignore that appointment with myself. Maybe I need a sunlight buddy who I can be accountable to - someone to take the walk in the sunshine with me.

Either that or my husband and I need to visit the Caribbean more often.

What obstacles are in the way of your health goals? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

He's not really a rebel at heart

My son is in time out.

He is in time out for many reasons which include (but are not limited to), talking back to me, not following directions, yelling and breaking household rules. He may or may not also be in time out because I need a short break from him, as he is having a bad day and driving me crazy and I don't want to yell. Mandatory separation seemed like the safest course of action at this point.

But here's the thing: He's just having a bad day. My son (and I know how lucky I am) is generally really well behaved and super sweet and listens about as well as any six-year-old can be expected to listen. In other words, I am not raising a rebel.

Although I am thankful for that now, a recent study tells me that rebellious children tend to earn higher salaries later on in life. There is some speculation as to why this is true, but the generally accepted thinking is because rebels will be more willing to negotiate themselves higher incomes.

I don't want to encourage my son's rebel side just so he has a better salary later on in life. So hopefully, I can find a way to teach my son how to negotiate without becoming a huge pain in my neck in the process. I already know he has some negotiation skills already. (Can't I have just one more cookie? Mommy, you look so pretty, I just want to play board games with you all day. If I sweep the kitchen, I think I should get at least two quarters.)

In the meantime, for any parents out there who are raising a rebel - there is hope that all that defiance will come in handy one day, and I will be sending out positive vibes your way so that you don't have a mental breakdown. I'll be sending them to you from my room, of course, where I am also in time out.

Is your child a master negotiator or a full-blown rebel? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hanging out with the other butterflies

Recently, my coworkers and I watched a TED Talk by Susan Cain around the power of introverts. After the talk, we all took a quiz to determine where we fell on the introvert - extrovert spectrum. It was fun to see who was a full-blown introvert and who was more of an extrovert.

One thing that we did discuss after sharing our results is that whether you are an introvert or an extrovert you will need some people around you throughout your life. Recent research suggests that social butterflies may have a leg up in retirement over people who prefer their own company. Surrounding yourself with other people doesn't just promote longevity, but helps with better quality of life overall.

This research actually expounds on earlier findings that solitude and loneliness in retirement can have detrimental effects on health - even in previously healthy people.

So, yes, it is important to learn the limits of your own introverted and extroverted self when you are younger, because you are going to need to take those results and apply them to the rest of your life. Whether that means you end up with a large group of people to hang out with in retirement or just one or two close friends is up to you. The goal is to not go through life alone.

Do you consider yourself a social butterfly? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, April 4, 2016

This is how I lost an hour on a Sunday morning

It started with a video link on Twitter.

I normally do not click on Twitter video links, but no one else was awake in my household and I already had breakfast in the oven. So I watched it. After watching the video, I texted a group of my friends and the following exchange happened:

Me: I watched a makeup video on spring looks today (which I see now was a mistake) but the host said "make sure to put your foundation over your ears." I have never done that. Is this a thing?

Friend #1: LOL. I just read that recently too. I have never put foundation over my ears and can't say I plan on doing so. We can have off colored ears together.

Me: Have you all been staring at my hideously off-colored ears this whole time?!?

Friend #2: Yes. LOL.

Me: I feel like maybe I should get some elf ear covers to distract from the color distortion.

Me: WARNING: Do not search for "elf ears" in Google bc you will be faced with the horrors of people who have surgically modified their ear shape.

Friend #1: Hmmmm....I guess in comparison putting foundation on your ears doesn't seem so weird.

Friend #2: Should we also put foundation on our scalps? That's gonna take a lot of time.

Friend #3: I just got out of church. This was the strangest group text ever.

It went on from there for some time. As in an hour of time. Because there were large gaps between the texts, I had time to do other activities. But every time I heard my phone ding, I went over to see what was going on in the conversation.

And this is why I believe that older generations are more addicted to technology (as shown in this piece by priceonomics). Sure millennials send and receive hundreds of texts every day, but their friends don't have children and chores and work going on in the background of those texts. Teenagers can reply instantly. I have to wait for my friends to put down whatever they are doing and find the few seconds to write me back.

It's no wonder I am in love with the sound of the DING!

I should ask a question about technology use in your household, but at the moment I am more interested in whether you put makeup on your ears or not. Either way, leave me a note in the comments.

Friday, April 1, 2016

What's your retirement plan?

I'm only in my mid-30s. I love my job and my current life, but sometimes I like to fantasize about my retirement. My current plans include my husband and I living in a cabin in the mountains somewhere where our son can come and visit us when he wants his family to enjoy some snow.

These plans might change of course, and I know that I have to work hard and save now to get there, but the idea of being able to relax and enjoy life with my husband is the goal.

The reality is that a lot of people are unable to retire, and they work well past their retirement age. For some people, it's because they have to, and for others it is because they enjoy the work. For those who are actually able to retire, there is good news: They are finding that their lives are far better - including more sleep, more exercise and more enjoyment of their favorite hobbies.

I think the key to that study is that the people reporting all the benefits of retirement are the ones who still lead full and enriching lives with their friends, families and activities in life that they truly enjoy.

This gives me some hope. I love the idea that the years with my husband will just keep getting better and better. And that we might one day get our little cabin in the woods.

What's your retirement dream? Tell me in the comments.