Monday, February 27, 2017

A lifetime of superheroes

When my son was four, he told me about Batman. He had learned about the superhero from his friends at school and was brimming with the type of facts that get garbled up when children try to teach each other information.

My son loved Batman and wanted all things caped crusader. We eventually got him some books on Batman and some shirts (so many shirts!) then finally let him watch some of the shows made for younger children. Everything was in moderation (at least on our end).

Batman was the first really big thing that my son got into, but my husband and I tried to proceed with caution - superhero stuff is usually way too violent for the preschool set. A researcher (who was previously able to draw a link between the unhealthy effects of princesses on preschoolers) has found that the moral themes of most superhero programming goes over younger children's heads. The part that sticks, unfortunately, is the violence.

When we were at the height of my son's Batman obsession, I admit to trying to get him to love my favorite superhero instead (Peter Parker is a model teenager who maintains good grades, helps his aunt and still saves the world as Spiderman), but my son saw straight through my ruse: For him it was all Batman all the time.

Of course, his love of Batman has faded over time. And, admittedly, I miss the Batman phase. Especially since my son is currently obsessed with Pokemon.

What was your child's first favorite superhero? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Taking a closer look at my firstborn

My son and I are in the bookstore. (We love the bookstore.) He is happily wandering the aisles when he comes across an entire shelf of Goosebumps books. "Mom, I am going to need a few minutes to check these out," he says.

As I walk to another aisle, I notice that the section of the store he now belongs to is labeled as "Intermediate Youth." I swell with pride for a moment, to think about my good reader and how smart he is.

But of course he is smart. He is my firstborn.

There are a lot of studies that show our firstborn children are smart. Of course they are: They have the full attention of their parents, their Mothers probably took better care of themselves as it was a first pregnancy and they have lots of opportunities to model adult behaviors.

And this is where I have to stop, because I only have a firstborn child. There is no second born to compare him to.

But there is me. I am a second born child, a so-called baby of the family. Do I see myself in that role? Not really. I am pretty smart (I'd like to think) and not always up for entertaining people (really more of a homebody), so I am not sure I fit the mold.

But I will agree to this: Children who get a lot of parental attention are smart - no matter what their birth order is. (Also: Thanks, Mom!)

Are you a firstborn child? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Staying in tune with Mommy

I do not sing very well.

I am OK with this state of being, and have no need to torture friends and family members at karaoke or spontaneously start singing during conversations as though life were a musical. (Full disclosure: I love musicals.)

Despite my lack of talent, however, I did find myself singing to my son when he was a baby. It was usually during the middle-of-the-night feeding, where I would alternatively mix between a few soft rock songs that I actually knew most of the words to and a song that I made up with whatever I was thinking about at the moment.

I sang to my son, just as all Mothers apparently do. And that is good, because the singing provides benefits to both the baby and the Mommy. A singing mother gives the baby much-needed sensory interaction, both as an auditory stimulant (even when off-key) and visual (babies gaze at their Mommies when they sing). A singing Mommy helps a baby focus.

For Mothers, the act of singing to their babies helps fight off postpartum depression - giving them a bond with their little one that they may need. So, even if you can't sing, don't be afraid to sing to your baby - they are the least judgemental audience you could ever ask for.

What song did you usually sing to your baby? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Raising the allowance

I like to listen to my son talk about his plans for the future. They include him working as an engineer in NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, yet somehow living next door to me so he can help me cook sometimes. These plans also include him being a marine biologist on the weekends.

When he tells me all about his future, we talk about the type of salary he would be making and how that money would go to pay for all that traveling he is going to do as the JPL is nowhere near our home state.

"You mean you are not going to give me an allowance anymore?" he asks.

And it is a good question, because a lot of parents are still giving their children allowances, even after they have graduated from college. Of course, it isn't really called an allowance at that point, but more like rent help.

I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with getting a parent's help or that I never received rent help before: My Mother was kind enough to pay my first month's rent when I got my first job (thanks, Mom!). However, I think it is a shame that young people who are trying to break into fields where their passions lie (especially the artistic ones) make such little money that they have to rely on their parents until they are further along in their careers.

It must be hard to feel like a full-fledged adult when you still need some financial support from Mom and Dad.

Do you give your children an allowance? How much per child? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Spending time with the one you love

My husband and I try to have lunch together at least once a week. He and I are fortunate enough to work only a few blocks apart, and that Tuesday lunch is a treat. It is wonderful to see him in the middle of a busy working day.

But we can't always make that lunch date. There have been many times when one of us has to cancel and it is really hard to reschedule it (Sorry, Honey!).

The important point is that we try to carve out additional couple time, which researchers say is increasingly difficult to do. Researchers tracked couples' time spent together (exclusively) and with their children across the U.S., Spain and France and the results are mixed. Parents in France and Spain are spending more time with their partners, and parents in Spain and the U.S. are spending more family time together.

While the study didn't make direct correlations, it did indicate that factors like working outside of the home and the cultural norms of the country influenced the time differences. Families in France and Spain, for example, spend about 80 minutes on a meal together. (I don't think I spend that much time on a meal if you include all the time it takes to cook, eat and clean up afterward.)

While this is all great to know, it doesn't provide me with any tips of how to spend more time with my wonderful husband. So, I guess he and I will have to put our heads together over a Tuesday lunch sometime soon and work that out together.

How do you carve out time for your spouse? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Starting the substance abuse conversation

A few nights ago at dinner (heavy topics always seem to come up at dinner), my son asked me why people would want to smoke. We talked about smoking being bad for people's health and all the negative effects it has. He was able to list a lot of them as we talked, but then he pressed a little further. "But if people know it is bad for them, then why do they start?"

I tried to find the language to explain that people will oftentimes try anything to alleviate their stress, but I'm not sure I got out the right words. Also: We were in a restaurant and it was time to eat. The subject was dropped, but I am sure it will come back one day soon, so I am doing research now to be better prepared for next time.

In my research, I stumbled across this article describing how Iceland invested in health and wellness programs for their youth to drastically cut the amount of substance abuse. And it's working. Although the authors and researchers concede that it would be harder to implement in the U.S., there are some key takeaways that all parents can incorporate into their own households:

  • Increasing the amount of family time.
  • Implementing a curfew to keep kids off the streets.
  • Helping children explore activities (sports, music, robotics) in group settings that are supervised by adults.
These seem so simple and yet so complicated, as the schedules of working parents, logistics and money are all huge factors.

But, I think about my son's questions now and how I need to be better prepared to discuss topics like substance abuse. He's definitely worth it.

How do you handle preventative discussions on substance abuse with your children? Tell me your tips in the comments.

Monday, February 13, 2017

To sleep and forget about it

My little bear hears his alarm, turns it off and shuffles out of his bedroom to my desk where I write this blog. He scrambles into my lap, we snuggle and I ask him some basic questions to determine his morning mood.

(Bad mood days are generally turned around by showing my son pictures of cute baby animals or amazing videos of how scientists believed that the Moai of Easter Island were walked into place.)

The first thing my son usually wants to talk about is if he remembers any dreams and how well he slept. We have talked so many times about the importance of sleep and that no one is 100 percent sure of all the functions of sleep. He knows that we think we sleep so our bodies can rest and cells can recuperate and so we can retain what we've learned.

But now I get to tell him that there is research that suggests that we also sleep to forget. (Warning: There is a lot of talk about mice brains on that link.) If this is true - our memories get pruned at night - then it makes sense as to why most people don't have instant recall for everything that happens to them. It is also a little weird: How do our brains know what we need to remember long term and what we need to forget?

I'll add this bit of information to our ongoing discussions of why we sleep (a conversation we often have at bedtime). Maybe if I repeat it all enough times, his brain will choose to remember it.

Does everyone in your household get enough sleep? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Moving your way to happiness

I recently went through my work calendar and made a whole lot of appointments with myself to move more. I figure that if it is on my work calendar I will be more likely to do it, and it will also prevent someone else from getting on my schedule if I show as booked. I then went the extra step (no pun intended) of recruiting someone at work to do this with me. (I have found that accountability helps me stay on task.)

For a long time, I've known that I need to move more in my day. I've struggled with a lot of excuses, but I also know that I am generally focused on the benefits to my weight and energy level. I often skip over the potential boost to my mood.

Because, for most people, getting up and moving around puts us in a better mood.

There's a lot of science I could write about here to back that statement up and there is anecdotal evidence I could provide as well around a time that exercise led to happiness. But, I think we all know that this is a benefit that we don't talk about enough.

It's time to get up and shake off our bad mood. For me, that will be one calendar appointment at a time.

What do you do to remember to move more during your day? Share your tips with me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The price of fame

I don't ever want to be famous. Not that anyone is actively offering this as an option for me, but fame is not on my short list. There seems to be an undercurrent thread of heartbreak and downward spirals often associated with being a celebrity (at least according to all those Behind the Music episodes I watched and all those news stories on former child stars). I aspire to live a quiet life with my family and friends.

And I understand that not everybody wants that life. Still, it was somewhat surprising to read that a lot of young people want to be celebrities so badly that they would give up their family, spouses and even forgo having children.

Which makes me wonder: If you give up everyone to have it all, who are you enjoying your life with? 

I know lots of families (including mine) that emphasize togetherness, education and hard work, hoping that those are the values that children keep when they grow up. I wonder what the magic formula is to make those concepts stick for the long run.

Do you ever want to be famous? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, February 6, 2017

No time like the present

My son is doing his math homework on the computer. Today's lesson centers on the clock. He dutifully types in the time that each clock face represents. Since he is pretty good at this, he whizzes through all the questions.

When he is done, I ask him how long he thinks that it took for him to do his homework. "About 20 minutes," he says. I tell him that it took him less than 4 minutes and point to the clock counter on the screen that timed his work.

He makes a face like he doesn't believe me.

This is one of many, many (many) conversations that we have about time in our household. Because time is a hard concept to figure out - especially the way it seems to speed up during the fun times and slow down when we are processing a lot of information. There is a fascinating evolutionary reason behind all that sensory perception, which you can read about here. I don't recommend trying to explain all that to a six-year-old, though. They just make a face at you.

So, I continue to ask him questions. Like when he comes out of his room after reading a whole book - I ask him how long he thinks it took. "I was only in my room for 7 minutes," he says. I point to the window, as it has been more than an hour and is now dark outside. He makes a face at me. I ask him to tell me all about the book. He smiles.

How do you help your child learn more about time? Share your tricks in the comments.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Reading with your Dad

My son and I are on the couch together. I am on one end reading a book about American mahjong. He is sitting on the other end reading a Goosebumps book. (As an aside: I am completely proud that my son reads the Goosebumps books and doesn't seem scared by them. I was incredibly scared of those kinds of books when I was little. Please don't tell him that.)

Occasionally, he or I will reach out and squeeze the other person's hand or he will change his position so that he is mostly in my lap. And this has got to be one of my most favorite things on earth.

Here's the thing: We are a family of readers. And, although my husband read countless stories to my son when he was little, I was the one who ended up being his full-time reading buddy. If my son wants someone to snuggle up and read with him, he seeks me out.

The important thing is that our son got to experience both of his parents reading to him. Because having Dad read to children improves parenting skills in other areas.

So, we read together. And then we talk about the things we are reading. And then we read some more. Life is good.

Who usually reads to your child in your family? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I'm lucky and I know it

I am lucky.

I am not contest-winning lucky or surrounded by people who hope that my good fortune will rub off on them, but I consider myself to be extremely lucky. After all, I am a healthy woman married to an amazing man and we are raising a precocious and clever little boy in an age of great technology and in a place where we enjoy a lot of freedoms.

Maybe that doesn't fit your definition of luckiness, as you may consider the element of chance to be essential to the idea of luck. Whatever your definition may be, the idea that you make your own luck is definitely true - at least according to psychologists.

You see, people who believe they are lucky are more optimistic in life, enjoy lower anxiety and they are far more open to new opportunities and able to plan better. Luckiness is really a state of mind.

But it is also important to learn how to create luck for yourself - and that comes with being willing to shake things up a bit. This is the reason why my family is always learning how to play new games (by the way: Mom, I am really enjoying playing our version of mahjong!) or why I encourage my son to try new things all the time. "What's the worst that could happen?" I ask him.

(Usually, the worst case scenario involves him eating something with a vegetable in it.)

How lucky do you feel? Tell me in the comments.