Friday, September 30, 2016

Mommy says yes to books

Earlier this week, I wrote about my struggle to incorporate math into the bedtime story routine. (Still working/not working on that one.) Part of that struggle comes from the fact that I have always enjoyed reading more than math. So, I am always on the lookout for a good book deal.
Books on shelves = one of my favorite things

Before my son was born, I visited a bookstore that was having a going-out-of-business sale and quickly snatched up tons of books that my son wouldn't be able to enjoy for many, many years. After my son was born, I quickly discovered my local used bookshops so that we could pay significantly less money for the books he wants on his shelves. And of course, the library's staff knew me by name when I came to pick up my weekly online order.

I would like to think that I would put all this effort into my getting my child books whether he was born a boy or a girl, but researchers are finding that gender differences may play a role in how much money a family spends on books. The (somewhat small) U.K. study believes that parents are spending more money on books for girls than for boys.

But I have many questions about this study. Are parents really buying fewer books for their sons (which would indicate boys are less interested in reading) or are girl's books more expensive than boys or non-gendered books (a thing we know happens).

I am not sure of the answer. What I am sure of is that parents are paying attention to the idea that reading at home is important, no matter what your gender.

And that makes me happy.

What's the last book you bought for your son or daughter? Tell me the title in the comments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Embracing your inner slob

I like a neat house. I am not the type of person who cannot sleep if the house is messy, but I will make sure to give it a thorough clean on the weekend when I can devote some real time to doing so. When my home is clean, I feel more calm and rested in it.
Look at all those shelves!

I have been in other people's homes where I have been uncomfortable with the amount of things around me. (Maybe I have "stuff claustrophobia.") I can vividly recall a bizarre episode of visiting a friend's home in college and being slightly lightheaded over the sheer amount of stuff on the floor (he acted like it was a really low shelf), and then going into shock when I learned he had free-range pet ferret. It was hairless. (Let's never talk about this again.)

But the point is that he was happy living like that. There are loads of television shows and books about de-cluttering your home and your life and teaching organization techniques. I know that I have spent a considerable amount of time brainwashing my son into my line of thinking so he now believes that shelves and drawers and order are the best things ever. 

Now I need to teach him that not everyone lives their life that way, and it's OK.

Because, sometimes "messy" is needed. And maybe it's good for us to remember that and let everyone find their own state of organization. I will make sure my son learns that day. For now, he still has to pick up the Legos from his floor.

Who does the majority of the picking up in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mom, can you read me a bedtime word problem?

I know we've talked about math before, but we are going to talk about it again.

When my son goes to bed at night, we read books together. We used to have this deal where he would read to me and then I would read to him, but he reads now as part of his homework time after school, so he gets to relax and listen to me read at bedtime.
I'll need my Texas Instruments graphing calculator for this.

So we go on book adventures, where we visit the past with time-traveling treehouses and learn snarky behavior from Tollins creatures and learn about magic from Hogwarts (yes, I know he was a bit too young for that one, but we stopped after the first book).

I love our story time.

And, once upon a time, I would get updates from this wonderful site called Bedtime Math, which would send me a math problem described as a story for my son to figure out the answer. I really meant to incorporate that into our bedtime routine, but I never got around to it.

Researchers, however, are starting to wonder: Why not do math at bedtime? Why not put the same focus on math as we have put onto reading? Why not do both?

I agree, it is a lovely thought, but after we are all snuggled together and get through our story, I can't see myself bringing pencil and paper into the equation.

Maybe I should try it before the story.

Do you incorporate math into your child's bedtime routine? Tell me how in the comments.

Monday, September 26, 2016

An update on those tracking devices

So two weeks ago, I wrote that I had stopped wearing my fitbit. My timing was interesting, as this week, I've read a long-term study showing that wearables that measure fitness don't actually help people lose weight.
Pictured: Not my feet

Admittedly, most people who buy their wearable understand that. Most people who buy the device are just hopeful that it will act like a reminder that they need to move more often or will help them track their movements throughout the day. But they may become (like me) discouraged when faced with the evidence of how little they actually move in their day.

So, what does work? The key is that you have to find your own motivation and use that. For one person, it might be so they are fit enough to play with their children, for another person, it might be to look great for a cruise, for another person, they may just want to look good for their partner again.

How you find your motivation, however, is a completely different story.

Do you wear a fitness device? How do you feel about it? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Smart like Mom

My husband and I are smart about different areas of life. I've always been happy about that, because I think we round each other out nicely - I know stuff he doesn't know and vice versa. I remembered being elated about our intelligence balance when we had our son, because I imagined all the various ways we could teach him what we knew.

But that was before I learned that children don't listen to their parents. And that researchers now believe that children get their intelligence from their Mothers. (Sorry, Mom! and Thanks, Mom!)

As implausible as it sounds, science has been able to link intelligence to the X chromosome (of which women have two) and also been able to track the genes coming from the Mother as going to the cerebral cortex (Dad's genes go to the limbic system, so you can thank him for your hunger pangs and basic emotions.) 

Wait. So, I'm the responsible party for my son's intelligence? That's a lot of pressure. 

I guess it is good for me to remember that intelligence comes from both nature and nurture, so there will be plenty of opportunities for my husband to pass on his knowledge as well.

What area of life do you know more about than your spouse? Share your expertise in the comments.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Learning how to play at recess

Every evening at dinner I like to ask my son what he did at school. If I am lucky, I will ask the specific enough question to get him to tell me about an actual event that happened (instead of getting the "I don't know" or "it was good" stock answer). I love it when he tells me about his day, and it is worth it to figure out the right series of questions to get him to talk about it - suddenly a whole world of information will come out of him and I get lots of insights.

One area that I would love to learn more about is what he is doing at recess.

Recess is a hard area for me to ask questions about. I can ask him who he played with or what area of the playground they were on, but from that point, we get a little stuck. He either doesn't know or doesn't remember the names of the games they were playing or they were spontaneous games made up by him and his friends and don't have a name. (And the rules are so hard to follow, I think he is just playing Calvinball.)

So, I was interested in this article by the Atlantic making the case that schools need to teach children how to play at recess. At first glance, it is a little insane: Recess is supposed to be unstructured free time for children to get out their energy and socialize. Why would we bring adults into the mix? But after some additional findings that the semi-structured atmosphere (teach the game, set it up and then leave children to it) reduces discipline issues and gives the adults who monitor recess better tools, it makes a little more sense.

I will keep asking my son about recess and see what stories he will eventually tell me. I've told him how when I was a little girl my school had a parking lot for us to play in and no playground. He didn't seem too impressed.

What games did you like to play at recess? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Staying home when you are sick

I was trying to concentrate at work, when I heard it. A phlegmy cough. Then a pause. Then that cough again. Someone in my office was sick.

I admit to being guilty of this myself - going to work while sick. I have rationalized this because I think "it's just a cold," that I can "work through it" or that I have an important meeting I can't cancel on, but the truth is that I shouldn't be working while I am sick.

Fortunately, I am able to work from home when I am ill, so at least my coworkers don't have to hear my cough, but the point of this is that I shouldn't be working at all.

I should be resting, especially because I am a parent.

As parents, we rarely have time to ourselves when we are healthy, never mind when we are sick. Parents are on-call for family life responsibilities at all hours of the day and night. Shouldn't we want to be at our best for that? Shouldn't it be a priority to take the day off to get better and back in the Mommy game faster? (I don't even want to think about those stay-at-home parents or homeschooling parents right now who have zero days off.)

Working while sick is a huge problem in the U.S., and I need to re-train my brain to let myself heal and not keep plugging away while my nose is plugged up.

I hope I'm up to the challenge.

Do you still go to work when you are sick? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, September 19, 2016

I don't watch enough TV

My husband and I don't have enough shared television shows. This is entirely my fault. I don't pick up new shows very frequently and so there is often a dearth of entertainment for us to watch together at the end of a long working day.

I cannot pinpoint where my reluctance lies. There were a few shows that I watched that didn't get picked up for additional seasons, and that bummed me out. There is also the fact that I try to limit the amount of television that I watch overall. And, honestly, sometimes I am just not that interested in getting hooked into the lives/drama/story line at a time of the day when I just want to relax.

But, as I've recently learned, the couple that watches television together, talks more. In a somewhat small, yet interesting, study that revolved around couples and TV, researchers found that watching television shows together creates a shared social world that couples can discuss. That discussion helps them form a stronger relationship bond.

At this point, I should probably apologize to my husband for not watching enough TV with him.

But, here's the thing: There are other ways to get that shared social world bonding experience, including having a shared friends or by going to movies and other activities together.

So, maybe I don't have to pick up some new shows. Maybe I just need to find more ways to connect with my wonderful husband.

What shows do you and your spouse love to watch together? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Saying good-bye to my fitbit

I'm not wearing my fitbit anymore.

A few months ago, my fitbit stopped recording my data. I was alarmed and upset as I tapped away at the screen only to stare into an empty, unlit space. After a long period of time on the charger, several internet searches and a pulled apart paperclip, I got it up and running again. Those blinking lights followed me around my day, recording my every move.

Last week it crashed again. Specifically, it crashed about 600 steps into my morning run. The next day, I was able to get it up and blinking again, but I haven't worn it since. I have spent more than a week without the data telling me that I don't walk enough and that I don't sleep well some nights.

My son asked me where my fitbit was and I told him it was in my desk drawer and that I was done wearing it for a while. 

"But how will you know if you get all your dots for the day?" he asked.

"I won't. But that is OK." I told him.

I realized that lately the fitbit wasn't motivating me to move more or sleep better (and I'm not sure how I could have accomplished fixing my sleep). In fact, it has been making me feel worse lately. So, off it goes.

Maybe one day I'll wear it again, but for now, my wrist feels much lighter.

Do you have a way to track your movement throughout the day? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Spending too much time alone

Like most parents, sometimes I just want to be left alone. You know, just for a few minutes. Long enough to read a few emails, or take a bath or write a blog post. But, I think most parents wish to be left alone because we all know that it is a short-term situation. Eventually, we will be surrounded by loud noises and chaos and faces with peanut butter on them.

Life is good to us that way.

But, there are people who are terribly lonely. People who just want someone to talk to them for a little while, which is why this in-depth piece on loneliness by the NY Times is so hard to read. Because it turns out that talking isn't enough.

It helps - don't get me wrong - talking is important. But there is an actual need for one-on-one physical interaction that still isn't being met. And, although the article is focused on seniors who live alone, I am sure that there are lots of people who could use more social interaction within their day.

What am I learning from all this? Well, it makes me realize that I need to maintain my hobbies that put me around other people. In fact, I may need some new ones - just in case.

Do you have hobbies that give you social interaction? Tell me what they are in the comments.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Inviting fright at nighttime

When I was in elementary school, I bought a book for myself at the Scholastic Book Fair (which has been a thing in schools for forever). It was not my usual genre of book, though. This one was a book of spooky stories. I can still recall the ghostly figure on the cover and a few of the stories within. And, I am also sure my parents can recall me crying in the kitchen, too afraid to go to sleep, because I was fairly certain I was going to be visited by ghosts in the middle of the night. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)

I've never been big into scary stories or movies. I am not sure I can pin it all back to that book, but let's just say that they are not my thing.

So, as a Mom, I notice that I tend to veer my son away from scary stories as well. For example, over the summer we read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone together. He loved the story. He begged to read it again. It was magical. And he knows that there are more books, but I won't go into the second one. For starters, I know that I read the first book with him a little earlier than I should have. Also, I know that the scary factor in the second book is accelerated. And, I am not sure he would be into that.

But, am I being fair to my son? A recent survey points out that about one-third of parents don't read their children books that seem too scary. I can understand why: No parent wants to produce nightmarish scenarios in their child's head at bedtime. And most parents know what their child's thresh hold is for scary stuff.

It's important to introduce villains into stories, but maybe villainy has a sliding scale.

As for my son, I still think he is too young for the second HP book - maybe next year. And, depending on what he can handle by that time, we might read that book in the middle of the day with the lights on.

Does your child like scary stories? Tell me which ones in the comments.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Change of heart over a name

A friend of mine is going to give birth to a boy in just a few weeks, and she has no idea what she would like to name her baby.

"Do you have a short list of names that you like?" I asked her.

"Sort of," she said. "I'm kind of hoping to get some inspiration when I see him."

Although my husband and I had our son's name picked out before we went in for the first sonogram, I can understand the pressure: Picking out a name for your child is hard. There are so many questions: What if other people have trouble pronouncing it? Or spelling it? Or what if you accidentally pick a name that is suddenly wildly popular and your child ends up in a class with three other children with the same name?

But all of the trepidation around baby naming is good practice for parenting in general: You go with your gut, and you sometimes still get things wrong.

How wrong? Well, it turns out that one-fifth of UK parents regret the name they chose for their child. The good news is that there is a way to fix that. I am often reminded of my classmate in eighth grade who asked his parents if he could change his name for his birthday (and was granted his wish). Or of all those classmates who I realized went by their middle names when their full names were announced at graduation.

People's preferences change. The important part about baby naming is still the same: Go with your gut.

If you could have changed your name when you were younger, what would you have changed it to? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Turning the pages on books

When we moved into our new home, I swapped all the shelves in the house around, giving my son a few extra sets. The result is that he has a full wall of books. Sometimes I hang out in the doorway of his room without him noticing me, and I watch him select a book from one of his shelves and snuggle up with it. (That's not weird, right?)

My son does do a lot of e-reading for his school assignments, and I am OK with that, because he still checks books out of the library and we hit up the used bookshop often. I have won the battle of paper books trumping e-books in our household.

But it looks like I may not have needed to be so worried. Most households, it turns out, are still using paper books over e-books. Yes, there is a growing share of people reading materials electronically, but maybe lots of folks out there are like me - tired of using a screen all day and preferring to read words on paper.

Maybe the numbers will shift over the next few years, but in our household, print is still king.

Do you have a good book recommendation you could share with me in the comments? Thanks!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

He's got his Father's eyes and his Mother's algebra skills

As mentioned on this blog before, math and I have had a rocky relationship. I try not to talk to my son about it though. He is still young enough that I want him to acquire his own likes and dislikes at school. (So far: He doesn't like music class, but all the rest are fine. That makes sense to me - my son has never been much of a singer.)

But back to math.

In a surprising turn, math ability is somewhat genetic. Yes, really. Parents who have excellent math skills are passing those skills down to their children. Researchers have found a correlation between parental math skill and children who are inherently good with numbers.

Admittedly, more research is needed, as it is difficult to separate out genetics from home environments, but it is a promising idea. I would like to think that just as I enjoy reading with my son at night, that there is a family out there doing word problems together before bedtime.

How were your math skills in school? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

You are probably doing timeouts all wrong

The last time I put my son in a timeout, I told him to go to my room. This was because every time he has been sent to his room, he still has plenty of fun distractions in there and he doesn't seem to mind as much, so it didn't really feel like he was getting the point of timeouts.

It turns out, I might not be getting the point of them either.

I was not consistent in my use of timeouts, and that is a mistake that a lot of parents make. Sometimes parents give up on the concept completely, which is a shame, as they are considered to be an effective element of the parental toolkit. Timeouts are so effective, in fact, that the reason we do not see more research done on them is because the research that was already done on them has been so conclusive and thorough, that nobody wants to continue to study them.

But, new parents need to know how to use timeouts correctly, so here is how science tells us that timeouts are effective:

  • Timeouts are for 2- to 6-year-olds
  • Timeouts should be tied to certain behaviors only - not as a response to all behaviors
  • Timeouts should be issued consistently in response to the negative behaviors
  • Give one warning (and only one warning) that lets your child know that they will next get a timeout - unless the kid is hitting, then timeout should be the immediate response
  • Two to five minutes is plenty
It all looks so simple, yet it is so hard to do consistently. Most parents get stuck as they let timeouts be the catch-all response and don't tie it to one or two things at a time.

As my son is now six, we've had to move onto the next big item in the parenting toolkit: Removing privileges. I may need to go look up the research on that one, as I am probably doing it wrong, too.

Are you using timeouts correctly? Tell me in the comments. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Redesigning the school year

My son has caught me in a technicality.

The problem is that I told him camp lasted all summer but he knows that summer lasts through most of September. I failed to tell him the difference between "school summer" and "seasonal summer."

So, as we have started back to school, he will occasionally (and wistfully) tell me that he wishes he was still in camp "for the whole summer."

Clearly this is all my fault.

Like it or not, I can't control his school schedule. And, although I am glad that his school recognizes that sleep is important and doesn't start until after 9 am, the hours are not very friendly toward working parents. Like so many before me, I struggle with work/life balance and school hours and vacation days.

So, what would school look like if we could redesign the system? Would it favor longer hours to support working parents? Would it favor a year-round format to lower the "forgetfulness gap" that happens in math and reading over the summer? Or would it even resemble school at all?

That is the question that The Atlantic recently posted, and got some very interesting responses in their latest series on schools.

So, what would the ideal school schedule look like for your family? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, September 2, 2016

My son's sugar intake is affecting me

A few weeks ago, my son greeted me after work with this perfectly ordinary statement: "We had cotton candy today at camp!"

I instantly winced. I didn't wince because of all that sugar in his little teeth or because he probably had a sticky spot somewhere on his clothes that I would find later. I winced because I have read all those studies that children's behavior is not affected by sugar, but parents' behavior is.

It's hard to break the vicious cycle that follows: My brain believed the sugar=hyper myth for so long, that I will now start over-analyzing his actions to try and find not-so-great behaviors that support what my brain already believes and then we will all have an unpleasant evening.

But, I walked away from that cycle and decided to cook dinner instead. Which was a much better choice for me, as I don't want anyone in the kitchen while I cook. I was able to stop focusing on the sugar and focus on not burning dinner.

I will just have to retrain my brain. Do you think repeating "sugar does equal hyperactivity" one thousand times would help?

Do you find yourself paying closer attention to your child's behavior when they eat candy? Tell me in the comments.