Monday, October 31, 2016

The house down the street

My son is fond of telling me that one day he will buy the house down the street from us and then he will be over every night for dinner. "Will your spouse come, too?" I ask. He says that she might or she might go to her Mother's house for dinner. The point is that I am perfectly fine with his current plan to be a presence at my dinner table for years to come.

The really interesting part of this fantasy scenario is that my son is a very likely candidate for home ownership in his adulthood. Over a span of four decades, researchers at the University of Michigan found that children who were raised in homes owned by their parents (instead of rental homes) were three times more likely to own their own homes in adulthood. There are lots of other factors influencing the final vote to purchase or rent, of course, including income and job stability.

My son and I walk the neighborhood and look at the houses. He says he has big plans for his, which includes an indoor trampoline, a slide next to the stairs and a cargo net style climbing wall. Actually, his house sounds amazing; maybe I'll go over there for dinner instead.

What made you fall in love with your current home? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Don't look at me!

My son knows that his body is private. He and I have had the conversation multiple times about the parts of our bodies that we do not share with others. I had to go over all those details again with him recently for Cub Scouts, as it was a requirement for one of his badges.

And yet, my son feels very comfortable in his skin, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I would have to have the conversation with him again. Thankfully, he provided me with an easy opportunity when he decided to run naked from his bathroom to his room, yelling out "Don't look at me!"
Public nudity is best left to statues.

We had the talk again about keeping his body private. But part of me is quite certain that it will happen again.

When we have these conversations, I choose my words carefully. I don't, for example, want him to think there is anything wrong with his body, but I do want to make sure he is not streaking through the house. It's a hard balance to strike, especially because it turns out that preschoolers are able to form negative views of their bodies.

That seemed too young to me, but the research holds up: Even small suggestions about body weight or appearance can stick with a child for a long time. Instead of talking about how a body looks, experts suggest that parents focus on what a body can do.

I like that line of thinking: Focusing on all the wonderful ways we can use our bodies is a great conversation topic for children. The trick is making sure that parents model that behavior as well for our children.

Has anyone been streaking through your house lately? Share your story in the comments.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

All those vacation days...gone

I am fortunate enough to have an amazing group of people who report into me at work. But I am on their case right now: I want them to take some time off. I'm asking them to look at their calendars from now until the end of the year and plug in the days they want off. I am not worried about being understaffed over the holidays or about them taking days all at once - I am worried that they will not use their vacation days at all.

Some people think that if you are taking time off you should be going on a trip. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, some families actually have more fun on staycations. For my team, I am trying to appeal to their ambitiously creative side: Isn't there a home improvement project you were telling me about last week that you are really excited about? Why don't you take the time off to devote just to that?

The point of vacations - as many people know - is that we come back from them feeling refreshed and more productive. And while that is ultimately good for business, it is good for the person, too. I don't want my team to feel burnt out on jobs that they love, just because they don't have enough play time in their days.

This same argument goes toward my husband. I've recently encouraged him to take some time off to spend in the very cool workshop he just built. Granted, I get something out of this too - the furniture that he builds for our house - but I think he needs a few days to work on projects that interest him without interruptions.

My goal is to make sure that all that free time on the table is getting used. Let's see how this goes.

Do you take all your vacation days each year? Tell me why or why not in the comments.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Extending the boundaries of play

My son is looking at me incredulously. "All the way to the edges? Are you sure?"

Yup, I'm sure.
Whose woods these are, I do not know.

We're discussing his new boundaries in the backyard. I've told him that he can follow the woods behind our house all the way to the water without a grown-up. His look of mild shock turns into a wide grin. I ask him how he feels about having so much room for unsupervised exploration.

"Really happy, but a little scared. Mostly happy," he says. He then collects some "things he will need" and disappears into the woods. I head into the house.

I don't mean to write that sentence "I head into the house," as if this is no big deal for me. I am nervous and worried and feel like this is a big step, but it is a step that I need to take to continue to teach my son to be self reliant.

The day after opening the boundaries in our backyard, I read this great New York Times piece on a man who wants to make his entire neighborhood a play zone for children. I think it captures a lot of the fears that parents have: I don't want my child to get hurt, but I want my child to have the fun that I had growing up. I am not sure how those two opposite ideas became linked in all our heads.

When my son came out of the woods that first day, he was dirty and his cheeks were flushed and he was elated. He grabbed some more things and headed back out to the woods to play. I remembered all the times that I went into the woods near my grandparents' house - completely unsupervised. I hope my son explores until he thinks of those woods as a second home. I hope he sees animals back there. I know he will come out with scrapes and bruises. But I hope, most of all, that he has fun.

What bit of your childhood do you wish you could also let your children experience? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mommy, please put the phone down

In my head, I still think I do a good job of not using my smartphone in front of my son. That may or may not be reality: I have been working a lot lately, so I know he has seen me distracted by my phone. But the subject is on my mind a lot: When I am with my son, I should be fully with my son.

This is a struggle for a lot of parents - the phone is an easy way to stay connected to our jobs and to our friends. But it is a horrible way to stay connected with your children. (Notice I said children there. I am pretty sure that once your child has his or her own phone, you will find that you need to stay connected to them via the phone as well.)

My son needs my attention. Sometimes it is audible, "Mommy, come and look at this," and sometimes it is in those quiet moments when he is doing something on his own and I check in on him just to see what he is up to.

Our phones distract us from parenting. And even when our children are little, they can see that we are not fully paying attention to them. That is a pretty strong message we are unintentionally sending them.

Maybe the answer is a time out - for the phone. Put it in a space in the house and don't pick it up for a certain period of time. See how long you can go without it.

Does your phone have a time out spot in your house? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Staying home with the kids

Traffic is what did me in.

I had it all planned out: I left work a little earlier than normal, I had a route home that avoided the major roads and I was excited. I was going to make it to my son's school in time for curriculum night.

There is never enough time, is there?
A few traffic accidents and 35 extra minutes tacked onto my drive later, and I pulled into my driveway. We had just enough time to visit his book fair before curriculum night ended.

He wasn't upset with me - he was happy to get more books at the fair - but I was upset with me. I had really wanted to be there for him.

It is these types of moments that make me wonder if his life might be better if I was a stay-at-home Mom. After all, most Americans think that children are better off with a stay-at-home parent.

But then, I start to think about my job and how much I love it. And how much easier our lives are with two income earners. What would my son's life be like if I was home for him in the afternoons but we didn't have that extra income?

Like most parents I think about the life balance I currently have and always wonder if it is the right one. There is no easy answer.

But who said having children would be easy?

Are you a working parent who wishes they could stay at home with your children? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Love now = love later on in life

It must have been a particularly bad dream.

My son doesn't have bad dreams very often, but this one was awful enough for him to leave his bed, make his way down the stairs and traverse through the dark all the way to our bedroom. I woke at the sound of our door opening. He wasn't crying, but I did let him climb into bed with me for a moment.

After a few minutes, I took him back to his room and agreed to snuggle him for a bit. When I left him, he was mostly asleep, but at the sound of me leaving the room, he said, "I love you more than anyone."

We all want our children to feel loved, and as parents, we spend a lot of time reinforcing that idea. That feeling of safety and serenity is important for children, and - evidently - can affect them for their entire lives.

In a long-term study (seriously - it is a 78-year long study), researchers were able to gather enough data to show that men who come from warm and loving homes have more secure marriages later on in life. By having participants answer questions about their health and relationships for nearly eight decades, the authors of the study were able to track various relationships and men's ability to manage their emotions in a healthy way.

It's amazing to think that hugs can really last a lifetime.

How do you show affection in your family? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Did not; did too!

Throughout my childhood, there was an invisible barrier in the backseat of the car called "The Liberty Line." The naming of this barrier is questionable, I know, but my brother came up with it (I think). The point of the line was that it was the DMZ of the car and the one spot in the backseat that should not be crossed.
Sometimes they are friends; sometimes the cookies crumble.

The problem with invisible barriers is that if they can't be seen, then they don't have to be adhered to.

At this point, I should probably say "Sorry, Mom," and then thank her and my Dad for getting the minivan so my brother and I could have completely separate seats.

Siblings fight. Even the ones who claim to be best friends as adults fought as children. I was surprised to learn how often children fight: One study puts it at once every 9.5 minutes for the 2- to 4-year-old crowd.

Seriously, I am sorry, Mom.

But all that fighting with our sibling is supposed to help teach conflict resolution. The idea is that parents don't take sides and let their children figure things out.

Which is how we ended up with a Liberty Line.

The problem is that at a certain point - let's call it the point just before a physical altercation - parents need to step in. But that is a very hard moment to gauge. And if you don't gauge it correctly, everyone loses.

Siblings are complicated. Maybe that is another reason why I am still happy with just one child.

What kind of compromises did you and your siblings come up with? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, October 17, 2016

It's OK to give up on the peas

It's dinnertime, and I am preparing two meals. I find that I do this frequently enough that I question my sanity, but not often enough that I stop doing it. I would like to prepare just one meal - one that my whole family enjoys, but that doesn't happen every day of the week, so two meals it is.

Here's what I remember about dinnertime as a child: I never starved. I remember eating whatever my Mother cooked (except for those years I stopped eating meat - sorry, Mom!), but I don't recall a whole lot of really spicy foods on her regular menu.

I have a few dishes with some stronger flavors to them - ones that I know my son doesn't enjoy. He may enjoy them one day, but not right now. And that is OK. I can accept that food preferences are mostly genetic. By all accounts, my husband and I didn't develop adventurous palettes until later in fact, one of us didn't like peas until he was in his 20s. Neither of us is a fan of chard.

So, I am not going to push my son into eating what we eat for dinner every night. Should he try something new occasionally? Yes, of course. But if he doesn't like it then we will just wait and see if his genes eventually change his mind.

What food did you dislike as a child that you now enjoy? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Getting rid of the term "tomboy"

My Mother put me in a dress almost every single day. (And looking back over family photos, a large number of them were plaid...) My room was done in a very flowery Laura Ashley pattern (wait - weren't all Laura Ashley patterns flowery?) and my favorite color was pink. I had lots of My Little Ponies and baby dolls and Barbies. I was sometimes referred to as a girlie-girl.
Sorry, Mom. I understand that frogs should stay outside now.

But, I was also a tomboy - or at least that is what people said I was. I climbed trees, tromped through the woods, played with my older brother and his friends, and tried to catch tadpoles in the creek to raise into frogs (about that last one - Sorry, Mom!)

In short: I was a girl. Just a normal girl with interests that varied throughout her childhood. I didn't actually need to be labeled with terms like "girlie-girl" or "tomboy," because most girls have a wide variety of interests. And none of that should be shocking.

There is a beautiful, insightful talk by Christopher Bell called Bring on the Female Superheroes that makes me wonder how much different my life would be if my son were born a girl, yet had all the same interests that he has today. Would I still encourage him the way I do now. Would I be the parent he deserves?

What are your child's interests? Do you spend enough time supporting them? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

We all are suffering from back pain

On the days I do not run, I have back pain. On the days I do run, I sometimes have back pain, but it seems like it is not as bad. My sweet husband helps rub my sore muscles for me, just as I rub his back when he needs it. He generally has tension in his lower back; mine is at the top.

We are not alone in the battle of back pain: It turns out a lot of us are suffering from it. So many, in fact, that back pain has quickly become a sore point (sorry for that pun) in the quality of life of seniors. On the one hand, this makes sense: We have fought off diseases like measles that have shortened our lifespans. On the other hand: Who wants their quality of life deteriorated by back pain?

I am not sure if there is a long term solution, so I will do what works best for me: Not sleep too long (sigh), switch out my pillow every few months and get my wonderful husband to help alleviate all the work-related tension in my neck when I can.

Do you suffer from any back pain? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Vacationing at home

My son wants to know when we are going on vacation again. It is a subject he is highly interested in as of late. It may be because we've had some really memorable ones as a family and he wants to recreate the adventure, but my guess is that he just wants a break from school.
Pictured: Not our home

Vacations are inherently stressful: There is the planning, the details, the sense of failure if something goes wrong, and that pressure of spending quality time together.

So, many researchers are now saying that families should just stay at home. Evidently, staying at home and participating in the activities that everyone genuinely enjoys, like playing board games or going hiking through some woods or spending a day at an arcade, can create more genuine moments of intimacy than a fancy trip to another country could.

I understand all of that. I, for one, am a big proponent of making sure that during vacations we spend time together and apart - just as we do in our every day lives. But I also think that it is important to get out into the world a little and explore.

So, my advice is to take the family vacation that your family wants to take - that means all of you - whether it is at home or elsewhere. Just make sure you don't force your family to spend all your time together. This way, you'll all have something different to share over the dinner table.

Where does your family love to go on vacation? Tell me in the comments. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Would you miss the color blue?

In one of the best pranks I know, you leave out a bowl of M&Ms. Unbeknownst to others, you place a smattering of Skittles directly underneath the M&Ms. Most people who eat M&Ms (at least in my friend circle) do so by the handful. So, all you have to do is wait for your victims to grab a handful of candy and shove them into their mouths, releasing a strange mix of chocolate and tangy fruit all in one go.

The confusion that appears on their faces is priceless.

It's a mostly harmless prank, but it works because you can find M&Ms and Skittles in roughly the same shades of color.

But that may not be true for much longer.

In a recent long piece by the New York Times, more and more food companies are searching for all-natural food coloring substances - including the folks at Mars Incorporated (which owns both M&Ms and Skittles). The hardest part for companies that are making the switch to all natural colors? Making the color blue. It turns out that some natural ways of making blue change the taste of our favorite candies.

But here's the thing: We didn't always have the color blue in our M&Ms. And that was OK. Do we really need blue food? I mean, my candy prank would still work without blue M&Ms.

What's your favorite M&M color? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, October 7, 2016

How much time do you spend with your children?

Sometimes I don't think I spend enough time with my son.

I work full-time (and overtime). So on weekdays, I see my son as I motivate him through his morning routine and from when I get dinner on the table through when I tuck him into bed at night. Weekends are considerably better as we go through our chores and adventures, and are in each other's company for most of the day.

So, it was surprising to learn that some researchers think I am spending more time with my son than the average mother did in 1965

That little nugget of information is hard to wrap my head around. Context, of course, is important, as I have to remember that children were encouraged to go outside and play in 1965. We live in a time where we are not allowed to send children out into our neighborhoods to roam sans parents. We are taking our children with us wherever we go on the weekends, and we are super involved in all their extra curricular activities. Go to any children's soccer game and you'll see crowds of parents cheering from the sidelines - very few children are left to play without their number one fans in attendance.

And all that time we spend together adds up, but somehow, it still doesn't feel like enough, does it?

What would you do with your children if you had more time? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Getting to know your child's teacher

This year, I am going to be better prepared.

In Kindergarten, I wasn't fully involved in the one (and only) parent-teacher conference I had with my son's teacher. I (somewhat naively) thought we would have more than one conference. But we didn't. And I missed my chance.

I missed my chance to learn more about my child's teacher and - more importantly - make sure she had a full understanding of our family's values and dynamics.

Admittedly, that is a deep conversation to have with someone in a 20-minute time span, but this year, I am going in with a list of questions. My questions are going to span everything from homework (what are the expectations for parental involvement?) to the more mundane (why are all your emails in pink/purple fonts?). Clearly, I will have to prioritize before I go in.

But the point of my preparation isn't necessarily for dealing with first grade. It is practice for all the future one-on-one conversations I am going to have with my son's teachers over his school career. One thing has become very clear to me: If our children's teachers know more about family life, then they feel more comfortable reaching out for help.

I don't expect my child's teacher to know my son the way that I know him. But I do expect her to reach out if she has questions or if there is a problem. And it is my responsibility to make sure she feels comfortable doing that.

Preferably not in such a bright color for her email text, but we'll cross that bridge later.

Does your child's teacher feel comfortable reaching out to you? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Morality is very black and white (for children)

Like most parents, we are constantly reviewing the difference between good and bad decisions with our son. This usually happens at the dinner table. "Tell me something good about today," I prompt my son. This is followed by the less well-received, "Did anything bad happen today that you want to talk about?"
Pictured: Thor's original hammer of justice.

Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes, it's complicated.

At least, that is what I thought. My son has a different idea about morality: He lives in a world of black and white moral decisions. To him, the right choice should also be the easiest choice to make.

Now, science doesn't have all the answers as to when we are able to make more complex moral choices (ones where there are extenuating circumstances or those in which temptation plays a key role). That seems to be something we learn through experience along the road to adulthood.

So, I will try to keep that in mind the next time my son actually talks about something bad that happened in his school day. I need to remember his point of view, but still teach him to see the bigger picture.

To sum this all up: If you haven't seen this video of the toddler's answer to the famous trolley ethics problem, you should watch it now. It perfectly illustrates how children view morally tough decisions.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Looking for my green thumb

My mom has a green thumb. I remember her garden in our first house where the watermelons were half the size of my body (granted, I was four at the time). And I remember when we lived at the second house and she grew sunflowers that I couldn't reach the tops of. Even today, she grows vegetables in her home garden and has her grandchildren help tend them whenever they visit her.

I don't have a vegetable garden, but it is something I've wistfully wanted for us to have in our new home: A spot to grow a few vegetables that we can then chop up and eat at dinnertime.

For now, I have a few plants on my back porch (my peppermint smells amazing out there!). I thought I was content to wait for the full veggie garden, but after reading that kids who learn to garden end up eating more vegetables as an adult, I'd like to rethink how soon I want to start planting my crops.

My son has never been a big veggie eater, so if I can get him excited over growing his own food, maybe he'll also get excited about eating it.

OK, maybe he won't get excited over veggies. But, I would settle for him tolerating them.

Do you have your own home vegetable garden? Any tips to share with me?