Moxie Mom On Life and Kids

MOXIE MOM on Life & Kids

Electronics Widow

We have three iPod Touch owners in our household these days. I am not one of them. And when I pick up my (paper) book to read (turning paper pages) while everyone else posting on Facebook, playing Flood, or whatever else it is they’re doing, I feel hopelessly old fashioned. And disgruntled. And worried that screen time will forever drown out books, even though everyone in our house is a good reader.

It’s not that I don’t spend time on the computer or Facebook or email — I do — but I grew up, as you surely did, in an era when you talked on the phone or you went outside or you read a book. Sure, our generation had TV. And my parents fretted about it. But according to the New York Times article, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” TV doesn’t have the same impact on the brain that multitasking with several technologies does. The article explores the lure of electronics, the effects on kids’ brains, and kids’ ability to focus. It’s worth reading. It’s also overwhelming. Are we raising children with brains unable to focus, concentrate, or listen? Will their adult brain capacity, like I imagine their standard of living, be lower than ours. Or just different?

When your kids are little, it’s easy to monitor what they’re doing with technology. But once they’re older, whether they own the technology or not, it’s much more difficult to know what they’re up to (and if you think you know, you might have your head in the sand) — the pull of friends’ houses, for one, or the time at home on their own while, if you’re like me, you’re grocery shopping in peace. You can bet they’re not doing their homework. Well, my daughter will be doing it. The boys I know, including mine? Not so much.

And yet, despite my Luddite sensibilities, I know the impact of not allowing your kids access to modern technology when everyone else has it.  It becomes the forbidden fruit, the reason your kid hangs out at other kids’ homes, even those kids who aren’t really friends. According to one parent I know, your kid is out of the social loop if she doesn’t own a cell phone. Not good, she says. I didn’t know.

I’m a big believer in balance, but once the technology enters your home, the slope is as slippery as they get (watch out), and despite all good intentions, your idea of balance becomes skewed indeed. Constantly tricky.

Who knew there would come a day when watching TV together would be considered quality family time? How quaint.

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iPod Arguments

My kids bickered all weekend about electronics—specifically about whether Ty is worthy of receiving an iPod touch for his upcoming birthday in November (birthday wishes start early in our house). Yesterday, I was so fed up, I took him to a movie for some forced separation while Leah stayed home with Dad. How did we get here, I asked myself?

A couple years ago, we—I, rather—promised Ty an iPod for his eleventh birthday, back in the day before we knew what iPod touches were (had they even been invented yet?). We had given Leah a nano for her eleventh birthday and it only seemed fair to give Ty the same.

But now that Leah owns a touch—a refurbished first generation gadget that she bought off the Internet with her own money—and Ty’s friends own touches and play games incessantly, Ty has decided the lowly nano is not worth his time. He’s told us straight out if we give him one, he will return it and contribute his own money to upgrade to a touch.

This weekend, while Leah was upgrading her cell phone (on her own dime), she mooned over the latest touches at Best Buy. Then she came up with the bright idea that she would deed her touch, which works just fine, to Ty and we would give her a new, fourth generation touch for Christmas, because she is older and more responsible and more deserving.

Ty was open to the idea at first when Leah proposed it on Saturday, much to her acquisitive delight, but by the next day, he’d realized she was using him to get herself a new touch, while he, whose birthday is looming, would wind up with a second-hand, old touch that doesn’t have the speakers Leah so badly wants. And now so does he.

They argued. Even as we explained that no one was guaranteed a touch.

As the parent of a teen and tween, I yearn for the electronic world to slow down. The ever-evolving smartEverythings drive me bonkers because they’ve got my kids in perpetual I-need mode. Never mind that their parents are frugal beyond reason, modeling living within one’s means every day (are we setting them up to rebel by going into credit card debt by age 20, I wonder?).

Case in point: I am still using the same cell phone I bought three years ago, to Leah’s horrified amazement, because, guess what?, it still works and why should I upgrade just to upgrade, even if it’s for free? Honestly, how many discarded cell phones does the world need, and who cares whether you can go online while out on a run? (I have this feeling I’m in a minority of about ten.)

In the midst of our culture’s (at least on the West coast) eco/recycle/buy local/eat local/eat at home/staycation kind of sensibilities, our electronics industry is operating on a different model, and it has created a frenzy with our kids. All that money saved on hotels? Gone, I suspect, on games and gadgets. (If I read “there’s an app for that” one more time…)

This NYT article, “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online,” paints a dismal picture of the invisible time spent on electronics, mostly online, and the difficulty regulating it as kids get older and more independent. It doesn’t address the wish-frenzy syndrome, but certainly that is part of the picture, as most parents of older kids have experienced. But perhaps most pertinent, the article shows me our wired future. I can’t get my head around it.

We don’t know how the birthday iPod is going to resolve itself yet, but we’ve declared a moratorium on the topic. And I’m trying not to feel like a 20th-century Luddite when I tell Ty to close out of Green Day’s You Tube videos and put on a, gasp!, CD of theirs instead.

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Road Trip Peace

I am one of those Luddite parents that believe in staring out the window on road trips. Or playing word games or listening to books on tape or, you know, just talking. (I draw the line at Brady Bunch singing.) Needless to say, our kids have never watched movies in the car, and we still don’t own a portable DVD player — we are perhaps the last (American) family on earth without one.

And yet, on our recent road trip, we were totally wired. I didn’t even realize it until after several hours of silence in the car. Ty was busy on his DSi playing shoot ‘em up games, while Leah was in the front seat (to help with motion sickness, she says) with her iPod Touch and all its available apps.

You know what? I love the silence. No fighting at all. (It helps that Leah is now in the front seat). I mean, really, who needs the requisite bickering that goes with road tripping?

When I wasn’t driving, I sat in back with Ty and read The Girl Who Played with Fire while he busily punched buttons. Once in a while, a pang of guilt would wash through me for not making him shut down and focus on a landmark in the distance or interact with the rest of us (but since we weren’t interacting, what did it matter?), and then I’d keep reading and get deeper into the plot and forget all about him, while Leah played her apps and Curt focused on the road.

Apps, apparently, are it. I didn’t really know it until last week when my mother-in-law sent us an article from the New York Times on good apps for kids on road trips (for next year, I guess).

Uh. Am I supposed to know what apps my kids are using? There are apps with sexual overtones? Really? (Okay, geez, I’ll start checking.)

Judging by the number of articles in the NYT, apps are the new wave, and my daughter is riding the crest. Ty is begging for an iPod for his birthday, and I suspect he’ll be riding that crest soon, too. But little kids are onboard as well. I found another NYT article with a list of recommended apps to keep your 3-year-old from melting down, probably in the grocery line. When my kids were 3 and 4, apps didn’t exist, and honestly, I’m grateful they didn’t, all of 10 years ago, even if I did suffer the indignity of tantrums. Something about 3 and 4-year-olds not needing electronic input — and the word “tranquilizer.”

But, yeah, I have to admit, I do love the new silence in our car. What took me so long? Tranqilize away.

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Life with a Kitten, continued

I fear we may have created some bad habits. We make Milo sleep in the bathroom at night. Every night. And now we can’t imagine how we will transition him to sleeping somewhere, anywhere else in the house (his choice) besides the bathroom. He now knows—learned quickly, it turns out—that when all the lights are off and he’s locked in the bathroom, it’s time to go to sleep. And he does it quite dutifully. Who can complain? The first night he meowed for about ten minutes, but every night thereafter his meowing decreased, till within three days he didn’t meow at all. If only babies were so easy.

Milo on basket

But now it’s a month later, and we’re still carting his litter box and water/food bowls upstairs from the kitchen every night and wondering if we’ll have bathroom sleeper forever. We’re afraid if we don’t put him in the bathroom, he’ll sit outside Leah’s door and meow until he wakes her (we’ve seen him plant himself there after she goes to bed and try it). Corralling him might not, at first glance, seem like a big deal, but the downside is we’ve taken to holding it in the middle of the night lest we awaken his yowlie highness, and we find ourselves tiptoeing past the door in the morning. Most mornings, Curt succeeds in creeping down the stairs at 5:30am without waking Milo, but at 6:45am I have no such luck. Now I’ve developed the new habit of whisking him downstairs to feed him before he wakes the rest of the house.

Milo playing with paper

Who knew a kitten could create such changes? While we can’t resist cuddling him—and we think his fascination with flushing toilets is hilarious—we all agree his meowing is a bit much.

And like a guilty parent, I can’t help comparing his loud ways to our late Leon, who never meowed about anything, not even when he was hungry. The most you would get was maybe a friendly fur rub around the ankles. Milo, on the other hand, sits at his bowl and aims his small, pink mouth upward to issue forth a cacophony of caws until you respond.

The vet’s advice at Milo’s last vaccination appointment? Ignore the meows to avoid creating a bad habit around demanding food. Only feed him when he’s not meowing at you.

“Sort of like not giving in to a toddler’s tantrums,” I commented.

“Just like a toddler.”

Only I thought I was done with toddlers.

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Dinner Successes

For some reason, I have been raking in the compliments on dinner menus this week. Truly, I have never experienced this phenomenon in all my years of parenting, and I have grown a hardened shell when it comes to comments on dinner.

Normally, the first thing I hear is, “I won’t eat that. I can’t stand [fill in the blank].” Or “I hate [fill in the blank].” Sometimes there’s just a teary face on one side of the table as the dinner attendee thinks about how hungry he’s going to be because he doesn’t like the menu. Another attendee tends to be loud about what she won’t eat, and while her feedback bothers the other adult in the family, it only registers with the cook when that other adult complains.

However, compliments on the food do register. They’re just so surprising.

Don’t know if there’s much of a secret except unwittingly appealing to a kid’s palate. The other night it was vegetable fried rice with lots of teriyaki sauce and oil and scrambled egg mixed in like the Asian restaurants make it. The kids told me it was as good as Supon’s veggie friend rice, which we had just eaten a couple nights before. I’m pretty sure that was the compliment of the decade. And all I was trying to do was use up the extra rice in the fridge.

The next night it was breakfast for dinner, which we never do, and I have no idea why because it was such a hit. Note to self: breakfast for dinner often. Throw a simple frittata in the oven, fry up some breakfast sausages, convert a melon into fruit salad, and you’ve got yourself a happy family. Actually, I think you could just serve breakfast links and they’d think you were Julia Child.

Last night? Leftover spaghetti sauce converted into a casserole with a lot of mozzarella cheese. Who knew it could be so easy? But here’s what I heard: “We have been having a lot of good dinners this week. They are yummy.”

I couldn’t help basking in the glow of satisfied, complimentary kids. I guess positive feedback does make a difference. And here I had thought I was immune. 

Now the trick is keeping the streak going.

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