Friday, December 9, 2011

To Game or Not to Game, That Is the Question. Or is It?

Remember the Nintendo era? I have fond memories of spending hours curled up playing Mario and watching my cousins take each other down in Mortal Kombat. Back then, there were a limited number of games on the market. You’d play for a couple of hours, then got so sick of the game that you moved on to something else.
And if you didn’t get off on your own, your mom would shove you in a coat and shoes and take care of that for you.
Maybe it’s because I grew up with one television channel, no computer and very few video games, but monitoring screen time in my house wasn’t really a problem. I have more memories of my grandmother telling me to stop playing in the creek than to step away from the TV. These days, it seems like I spend half my life dragging my kids away from the computer and back into real life.
Video Games Aren’t Doing Our Kids Any Favors
There’s been a huge amount of research done in recent years on the effects of video games on our kids’ growth and development. What our parents deemed harmless entertainment when we were kids is turning into a global problem. Video games are being linked with poor social development, childhood obesity, falling grades and the early onset of addictive behavior in children.
In other words, they’re so busy spending time sitting on their butt in front of the computer screen that they’re not out there doing anything else!
As a parent, it’s my job to make sure my kids eat right. That they get their homework done. That they have the opportunity to develop socially, make friends, expand their horizons. I dedicated hours to playgroups, dance classes, pool time, school events and teaching my kids how to read. Now that they’re thinking for themselves, am I really going to cross my arms, sit back and say, “My job’s done. Go ahead and do whatever you want.”?
I don’t think so.
Be Their Parent, Not Their Friend
“I can’t get my kids to stop playing video games!”
Get a dozen parents together and that’s the complaint you’re going to hear, over and over again. All their kids want to do is play video games. They just don’t seem to want to do anything else. Hours upon hours their little darlings fritter away in front of the big screen while their parents gnash their teeth in the background because they don’t want to go outside.
Here’s the thing. Saying you can’t get your kids to stop playing video games is like saying you can’t get your shoe to go on your foot. Of course you can. You’re the parent. Unplug the Wii. Disconnect the modem. Take the Playstation controllers. Limit the number of hours your kids spend in front of the computer and TV screens each day and stick to it. If they can’t play video games, they’re going to have to find something else to do.
It’s kind of like eating brussel sprouts. They don’t have to like it, but it’s something they can live with.
It’s Easier Said Than Done
For those of you rolling your eyes and thinking, “It’s easy for you to say,” I’ve been there. My husband is an avid gamer, and when the kids were little I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the amount of time they spent playing computer or watching TV. It was okay for a few years. They still went outside to play tag, still spent hours at the pool, still nagged me, day in and day out, to go to their cousins’ house to hang out.
As they got older, however, getting them outside got a lot harder. My oldest buried himself in video games, started dropping out of other activities, spent hours in front of the computer when his friends came over-if they came over at all. All three of the kids would whine and complain when I turned off the computers and the TV and tried to get them to do something else. Before long, video games (or in my daughter’s case, the TV) were all my kids could talk about.
Something had to give. I started cracking down on the amount of time the kids spent playing games and watching TV. I signed them up for swim classes and after school activities, and started kicking them outside on a regular basis.
I implemented a firm policy that those who complain when it’s time to turn off the video games don’t get to play them again until mom’s good and ready to turn them back on.
Sure, video game marathons still happen. When my oldest has friends over, I’ll let them geek it up for a few hours. On days I have to work and they’re bored out of their minds I’ll lift video game restrictions, just to keep them entertained for most of the day. I try not to grind my teeth too far down when they’re home with dad, who lets them computer it up whenever they want as long as their chores get done.
But these are special events, and the kids know it.
It’s been an uphill battle, especially in light of the fact that my husband continues to game as often as possible. We’ve argued more than once about me telling the kids to turn off the computers and find something else to do. It’s a fight I’m determined to win, however, because I’m seeing a difference.
In a world without video games, my kids spend more time with their friends and with each other. They’re learning problem solving skills that have nothing to do with swords or shooting people in the head. They’re discovering new interests; they’ll start Tae Kwon Do next month, and I’m tripping over Yu Gi Oh cards every time I turn around. My oldest is celebrating his first marking period in middle school on the honor roll. My youngest is learning how to read.
They’re making friends, learning valuable social skills and setting the stage for a bright future that has nothing to do with spending days hunched like a mole over a computer screen.
Yesterday was early dismissal day. The kids came home early from school yesterday and immediately broke out the Uno cards instead of making a mad dash for the computers, the television or the Wii. It brought a tear to my eye.
How do you manage video game time at your house?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Is the Glitz Really All There Is? Christmas?

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it. I go a little crazy at Christmas. The stockings. The stuffing. The crinkle of Christmas wrap in my hands. I love it all.
What I don’t love is the never-ending wish list I hear from my three little angels. Suddenly, the same kids who make me feel like I’m pulling teeth to pick out a birthday present start sounding like a walking, talking ad for Toys R Us. Through most of December it’s all about Santa and presents and what they’re going to get when they unwrap their presents Christmas Eve.
I try and teach my kids to be sweet and grateful throughout the year. To say thank-you and understand that no one actually HAS to buy them a present. I understand that they’re kids, and we as a culture stress the awesomeness of getting presents come Christmas. Which is the only reason I didn’t curl up in the corner and die of embarrassment when my four year old daughter innocently asked my aunt where her “big” present was when we went to their house for Christmas. I’m fighting an uphill battle, but it’s one I’m determined to win.
I want my kids to see what I see at Christmas. An entire season in which people, some for the first time all year, take the time to think of someone other than themselves. There’s a reason the Salvation Army is out collecting at Christmas. It’s when people are most likely to give, not because they know they should, but because it makes them feel good about themselves, the world and their place in it.
But how can I show my kids that when they’ve got Toys R Us ads cramming the awesomeness of the newest video game down their throats? Especially when (and I’m the first to admit it) we’ve spoiled them over the years, without giving much thought to what it would mean in the here and now?
I’m making a start (I hope) by stretching our wings to teach my kids charity at Christmas. For the past few years we’ve sponsored a little girl in Honduras through Children International, and adopted an angel from the angel tree. If I have cash, it goes into the Salvation Army basket. We’re cutting back on the amount of useless “stuff” we buy them each year, instead teaching the small joys of the season-making cookies, driving around to look at the Christmas lights, making paper chains instead of buying advent calendars to count down to Christmas.
I can’t help but feel like it’s not enough. How do you teach your kids to appreciate the true spirit of Christmas?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Up and Moving This Winter

With all the publicity childhood obesity is getting these days, I find myself keeping an eagle eye on my kids’ waistlines. Especially because my daughter inherited the family tendency to be short and chubby, poor kid. Getting them out and moving in the summer is easy. Between the pool, the park and a yard full of cats, nudging them out the front door is a piece of cake.

Cats. Best bribe to go outdoors ever.

In the middle of winter, when there’s a foot of snow on the ground and the wind’s whipping so hard you lose feeling (everywhere) between the front door and the car, it's a WHOLE different story! Getting them to go outside then is more like fruitcake than Devil’s Food. It’s distasteful. Hard to swallow. And nobody else in your family wants a piece of it.
Deep in your heart, can you really blame them?
So now you have an entire winter spent inside, bored kids climbing the walls and the television and computer conveniently placed as a clever distraction. Don’t talk yourself into just turning on the TV and letting them go. Here are 10 tips to keep your kids up and moving when the snow starts falling down.
1)      Pick up a membership. Anywhere. The YMCA and the Children’s Museum of Play are responsible for 90% of my sanity during the winter. It keeps them entertained, gives them a place to run and gives us all a fighting chance to get through the cold weather in one piece.
2)      Get them involved. Dance. Basketball. Swim team. Karate. Chances are, there’s someone near you that offers any and/or all of the above. Take advantage of it.
3)      Have playtime daily. There’s not a kid in the world that doesn’t love to play tag or wrestle in the living room. It’s a matter of taking the time. Sure, it’s going to cut into your schedule, but isn’t having healthy, happy, tired kids worth it?
4)      Make an obstacle course. Build an obstacle course around your house and time the kids as they go running through it. Change it up daily.
5)      Kids’ fitness videos are your friend. There have been a lot of mornings that have found all four of us crouched on the floor doing yoga. Mommy & Me Yoga and other, similar programs are a great way to let your kids expand their horizons, stretch their muscles, burn some energy…and let you get in a workout at the same time.
6)      Put a mattress on the floor. They’re going to need to jump on it. Trust me on this one.
7)      Have a dance party. Turn off the television, put in a CD and see what happens.
8)      Stock up on NERF shooters and fun noodles. The chance to stalk their siblings through the house is practically irresistible. Kids love to play with each other. Save your pillows and give them the safe tools to do it.
9)      Invest in a Wii. Video games aren’t my favorite solution, but even I’ll admit that Wii boxing makes you break a sweat. Just make sure it’s something that keeps them up and moving.
10)   Get out. Find an indoor playplace. Hang out at Chuck E. Cheese. Go out running errands. Just getting out of the house, even if you’re in the car as often as not, is going to help them burn energy and keep those little legs pumping.
What’s your best advice for keeping your kids moving when winter rolls around?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kids and Guns: Child’s Play? Or a Disaster Waiting to Happen?

The first time I pulled my kids out of a game of cowboys and Indians, the neighbors thought I was crazy. When I confiscated any water gun that wasn’t bright orange and see-through, my relatives looked at me like I was nuts.
My kids have heard the “Guns aren’t toys, and they shouldn’t be treated as such” so many times, they could recite it in their sleep. These days, they just roll their eyes in my general direction.
No, I’m not one of “those” people. I’m not going to stand outside and picket a gun store. The whole “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” thing? The right to bear arms? I’m right there with you.
Heck, I live in a part of the country where it’s totally kosher to skip school the first day of hunting season. People near and dear to me have, against my better judgment, wandered out into careers in law enforcement. I definitely appreciate the value of a good firearm.
But accidents happen. But you can’t predict the unpredictable. But kids act without thinking all the time. And that’s how people get hurt.
Kids Don’t Always Differentiate Between Toys and the Real Thing
I’m a firm believer in nature over nurture when it comes to behavior. Especially behavior around a firearm. Kids who spend their entire lives around actual, honest-to-goodness, could-go-off-and-kill-someone guns learn caution at an early age.
Kids who spend their formative years pointing plastic guns at each other’s heads are going to have to be re-taught when the time comes to use the real thing.
While we’d love to think that our habits change with the situation…they really don’t.  I was reading a post from a mom the other day who’d always been comfortable with toy guns. She freely admitted, however, that she’d made the rules expecting toy guns to be the only kind her kids would be around.
It was a decision she regretted when her son pointed an (unloaded) pistol at her head.
Maybe I’m a Little More Irrational Than Most. But I Have My Reasons.
Let me backtrack just a little here. I don’t allow firearms in my house. I don’t have them. I don’t allow people to bring them into the house. I’ve been known to have conversations with the local police on the front steps because I didn’t want a gun in the house where my 1 year old, my 3 year old and my 5 year old running around. (My neighbors were interesting. Don’t ask.)
Those are my house rules. Keep it in mind if you come to visit.
However, I’m also looking around for a firearm safety course for my 10 year old to take this summer. And his brother and sister will follow in his footsteps at some point after that. When I’m fairly certain they can follow directions well enough not to get themselves killed.
Contradictory? Not as much as you’d think. I learned how to shoot a lot earlier than that. (What? Just because I don’t like guns doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use them!)  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like curiosity and carelessness are the foundation behind just about every gun related accident in the country today. It’s my hope that by teaching my kids that guns aren’t toys and should be handled with respect from the very beginning, I’ll never get the phone call that one of them put a bullet in another kid because they were messing around.
What do you think? Do you allow your children to play with pretend guns?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Who Picks Your Kids' After School Activities?

Studies have shown that after-school activities are an important part of this complete childhood. They make them into responsible citizens, teach them the value of teamwork, blah de blah de blah blah blah.

I’m not disagreeing. I’m a big believer in getting kids involved. My calendar can tell you all about it.

Recently, however, I ran into a bit of a parental moral quandary. The kids are talking about wanting to take tae kwon do at the local YMCA. I’m all for the idea. Martial arts will, I believe, go a long way toward teaching them discipline, respect and how to defend themselves…all MUCH more applicable, from a practical point of view, than learning how to macramé.

I just have NO idea where we’re going to squeeze it into our schedule.

Something’s gotta give. The question is, what?

Feeling Selfish Here…

It would be so much easier if they could just get a job...

Personally, while I love the scouting program around here, I think the kids would get a lot more out of martial arts. It’s nothing personal. They have great programs. The leaders are amazing. The kids are making friends. I just feel like I spend more time doing paperwork and going over schedules than actually getting down and dirty with the kids.

To be fair (and the reason I’m waffling so badly), it’s not entirely their fault. Scout activities happen on the weekends, for obvious reasons. That means any weekends find the kids split in three different directions. While Princess C can go on her merry way, the boys need a parent along as often as not.

That’s easier said than done around here. If I’m not working on the weekend I usually have a to-do list as long as my arm, and the kids are paying the price. While we still get in plenty of family time on one end of the day or the other, late mornings and afternoons are pretty much shot.

Princess C's been waiting for a new Brownie sash for the last two months, because we can't get to the Girl Scout store. We completely missed fundraisers, and next weekend will mark the third Tiger event in the last 6 weeks my youngest has had to miss because neither his dad nor I are free to go.

Granted, the last month has been insane, but still.

Tae kwon do would be easier for me. Selfish, but true. Except for testing, there are no weekend hours. I can drop the kids off at practice and pick them up (and use the hour in between to put in a little gym time of my own). Which makes me wonder if I’m leaning so heavily in favor of trading up for them, or for myself.

The kids love scouts. Absolutely love it. G-money’s been waiting for two years for his chance to get in on it. It doesn’t feel fair to pull him out when he’s just getting started, but we’re not going to be able to do both. And I’m at a complete loss, so let me ask you. How do you pick and choose your kids' after-school activities?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Do Your Kids Trick-Or-Treat?

Shall we trick-or-treat?

Moving from the country to the city, I’ve found this question is a lot more complicated than you’d think. When we lived in an urban area, the answer was easy.
Hell no.
I didn’t know my neighbors, my neighbors didn’t know me, and I wouldn’t let my kids eat anything that came out of their houses if my life depended on it. We had a small Halloween party each year (mostly us and the candy cauldron) and that was that.
Then we moved, and things got a lot more complicated. Suddenly, we knew our neighbors. The block around our house was enough to guarantee a full haul by the end of the night. Most of their friends went into the city to trick-or-treat, so there was no point in having a party. No reason not to let them go, right?
I said yes to trick-or-treating last year, and it wasn’t too bad. This year, though, I’m having my doubts.
First and foremost, it’s freezing outside. Literally. There are already several inches of snow on the ground, and the wind has been whipping every night this week. Nothing about that says, “Let’s say no to sitting inside with a cup of hot chocolate and ‘It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ and go running around outside in a bunch of skimpy costumes for an hour or two instead.”
Maybe I’m just too spoiled to living down south, but if you have to freeze your tootie patootie off for a bag of candy, it just ain’t worth it.
Then there’s the candy. I love candy. I love chocolates. I love Starburst. I have the almost overwhelming urge to sing the Hallelujah chorus when someone brings a bag of Smarties home. So I am all about the Halloween candy. 
But there's a catch. There's always a catch, isn't there? I know most of our neighbors, but not all of them. Which means like every responsible parent, I check their candy when they come home. And like every responsible parent, I end up throwing half of it away, even though it’s probably perfectly fine, because it might have been tampered with. The twist at the end of the Smarties was a little loose. There was a tiny tear in the wrapper on their Tootsie Pop.
At the end of the day, it just doesn’t feel worth it to me. But the kids’ costumes are awesome. So maybe we’ll go out after all.
Where do your kids go on Halloween?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Are Your Kids REALLY Too Sick for School?

All right y’all, time for some brutal, unrestrained honesty. Who out there has ever pretended to be sick (or pretended to be sicker than they really were) so they could hook school? Go on. Raise those hands high.
We’ve all done it. No point in even pretending like we haven’t. And, surprise surprise, our kids are doing it too.
The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Send him to school? Or let him stay home with the pillow pet? Decisions, decisions...

 What Is Sick, Anyway?
My kids get sick. A lot. If it’s not asthma or allergy related it’s the flu, or a stomach bug, or some weird food allergy that I won’t find out about until six months later.
With as often as my kids are legitimately sick, you’d think my first instinct would be to keep them home. A lot. With their allergies, however, there are more mornings they wake up feeling icky than not. Half an hour later, they’re fine. So we had to come up with very strict criteria for what constituted “sick” in terms of staying home from school.
If they’re…
·         Running a fever higher than 99.5 degrees Farenheit
·         Throwing up
·         Wheezing and/or having trouble breathing
·         Complaining of a sore throat and swollen glands
·         Coughing too hard to speak
·         Sporting a new and/or spreading rash
·         Suffering from a bout of diarrhea that has them in the bathroom more than twice in the hour it takes them to get ready for school
·         Screaming in pain
·         Too lethargic to dress themselves and get to the table
·         Showing signs of pinkeye or some other fun communicable disease
…they get a free pass for the day.
If they’re ambiguously complaining they don’t feel good but don’t have signs of any of the above, we have a deal. They go to school. If, by lunchtime, they don’t think they can make it through the rest of the day, they know to go to the nurse and have her call home. I’ll come pick them up, no questions asked.
Don’t They Just Take the Freebie Jailbreak and Split?
I think I’ve had to pick a kid up at school at lunch exactly twice-and one of those was when Princess C fell asleep at the lunch table in the middle of the cafeteria. Usually, by the time they get to school the monstrous aches and pains and sniffles that made them miserable all morning disappear. By lunch, they’re so wrapped up in whatever they’re doing with their friends that coming home to mom sounds more like torture than a fun way to spend their afternoon.
Take the Fun Out of Staying Home
If you’re having trouble putting your foot down and sending them to school when they start complaining they don’t feel good, try taking the fun out of staying home.
You don’t have to crack the whip and make them do housework all day. If they really aren’t feeling good, that’s just not fair. I found, however, that by making my kids stay in bed all day instead of being allowed to get up and play when they start feeling “better”, and by restricting games and activities to books, movies and toys they can play with in bed (read: No computer or video games), they didn’t really want to stay home when they weren’t sick.
School’s just more fun.
Note: Feel free to restrict activities judiciously. My oldest son and the Wii were inseparable the week after his surgery. Ear infections are allowed to get up and play while they’re waiting on the doctor. Do what you feel is right for your kid.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is Quality Time Just Another PBS Special?

I love Mondays that kick off with a great debate. Don’t you?
This Monday’s debate was staged over at A Dad’s Point of View, hosted by author and radio show host Bruce Sallan, and focused on the myth that quality matters more than quantity when it comes to your kids.
His point of view? That you can’t plan when your kids are going to up to you. Quality time is a myth created by PBS to make you feel better about not spending enough time at home.
Mine? That quality time absolutely exists, it can be planned, it does you both good, and it’s something that you and you alone are going to make happen.
The Argument for Quality Time
Before you can argue for or against quality time, I think you need to define what, exactly, quality time means to you.
Healthy Parenting defines quality time as time spent doing something that’s meaningful to both the parent and the child. I’m inclined to disagree.
For me, quality time is when my kids have 100% of my undivided attention. 
It was pointed out that as a work-at-home parent, I have more time to spend with my kids than the average Joe. Unless I’ve run screaming from the house (not as unusual as you might think), I’m usually rolling around somewhere. They know they can find me. They know where to find me.
But being a work-at-home parent isn’t the same as being a stay-at-home parent. On top of a six to eight hour workday, I spend most of my day with one eye on my Facebook and email via my Crackberry. (Okay, HTC Ozone SmartPhone. You know what I mean.)
I have the freedom to take off and take the kids to dance, but I’m usually taking notes on a project while I’m there. The laptop comes with me to the doctor’s office, and I’ve been known to bounce back and forth between Twitter chats and reality while waiting for swim lessons to be done.
The moral of the story? Even though I’m home most of the day, I’m still not as there for my kids as I could be. That frustrates them sometimes, and spurred my firm belief in the importance of quality time.
Life Lessons for Working from Home
When I first started working from home, my younger two hadn’t started preschool yet. (They’re first and third graders now. Ay yi yi.) Someone, and I wish I remember who, gave me the best advice about working from home I’ve ever heard.
She said, “Give your children your undivided attention for the first hour of your day, and don’t work through your lunch break. Have an established quitting time. Stick to it, and just be a mom until it’s time for bed. That’s the only way you’re going to get anything done without making them feel like they’re being ignored. You can’t afford the therapy bill.”
In other words, even though I was going to be there, the quantity of time I was going to have to be the best mom I could be was going to be limited. I needed to be sure I was working plenty of quality time into my day to balance that out.
Quantity Matters…but Quality Does Too
Picture this. You’re married. Your spouse spends nine hours a day at work. They have an hour commute to and from. They get a good…let’s say eight hours of sleep a night. That’s nineteen hours of their day already swallowed between work and sleep. Give them an hour to get up and get dressed in the morning and an hour at the gym, and that leaves…what? Three hours?
Now, imagine they spend those three hours on the computer playing video games with their friends instead of hanging out with you. How’s that going to make you feel?
Quantity time is necessary for stability, but if you’re not getting any quality time in there your kids are going to feel about as loved and appreciated as you would if your spouse was blowing you off for World of Warcraft every night. They need times when they have your undivided attention.
If they’re always coming in second to your to-do list (and I know, oh, I know, how easy it is for that to-do list to swallow your day), they’re going to think they come second to you.
And that’s why quality time matters.
What are your thoughts? Does quality time exist? Or is it just something PBS made up to make moms feel better about sliding back into the workforce?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep Kids Busy on a Rainy Day: Bringing the Movies Into Your Living Room for Under $20

There’s something magical about the movie theatre when you’re a kid. Maybe it’s the big screen. Maybe it’s how tiny you feel in a room that seems to go for miles in every direction. Maybe it’s the movie posters that cover the walls.
It might have something to do with the popcorn, candy and soda around every turn.
Whatever it is, the movie theatre’s a rockin’ place to take your kids on a rainy afternoon. And by the time you’ve bought tickets, candy popcorn and paid for the gas and the dinner out, that fun ain’t cheap.
So it’s raining outside. The kids are climbing the walls. You’re down to your last $20. That’s the point where you decide the movies are a complete bust, hand them the fun noodles and tell them to beat each other senseless, right?
Eh. Maybe not.
The theatre might be out of the question, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring the awesomeness into your living room and keep your kids entertained for the same three hour time block you’d have killed sitting around the movies and your local McDonalds.
Step 1: Pick the movie. What do your kids want to see? If there’s something you have buried at the back of your movie cupboard that’s best, but if you’ve seen everything you have a hundred times you can either pick a new release ahead of time and order it through Netflix or, if you don’t have Netflix, you can rent a movie from Amazon for the day for under $3.
Step 2: Pick up some popcorn, a two liter of soda and a frozen pizza or two from your local grocery store. Or some pizza poppers, or some hamburgers and a bag of fries, or whatever your kids like for a “special” dinner when they’re out and about. Whip it up in your own kitchen.
Step 3: Set up the living room to their “theatre” specifications. My kids like to set up their living room trays on the floor, then drag out the chairs we take to the drive-in (yes, I still have one of those) and a pile of blankets and pillows and set it all up in front of the television. You might prefer to sprawl blankets out on the floor, or set the kids up on the couch. It’s entirely up to you.
Then serve up dinner, cut off the lights and settle in for the fun!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pour Me a Mimosa, September's Finally Here

Want to feel like the worst mom in history? Talk to someone after September 1st whose face still lights up when she's talking about having her kids home for the summer.
I love my kids. I do. I love having them home. I love making them dinner. I love taking them swimming and hiking and out to the video arcade. I love watching them race go-karts and teach each other how to play chess. And come the end of July my mental clock starts ticking down until the day I get to feed them breakfast, kiss their sweet little faces goodbye, and put them on that big yellow rolling thing that’s going to whisk them away to a full day of education, entertainment and, hopefully, enjoyment…someplace else, for six precious hours a day.
1)      School keeps them busy. Do your kids demand that every second of every minute of every hour of their day be filled with…something? Let me TELL you.
My boys, my boys are happy enough to putter around the house during the day. My daughter’s a whole different story. She’s not happy if she doesn’t have a project in her hands. And since she isn’t always good at coming up with those projects on her own, guess who she counts on to fill her day?
At school she has an entire curriculum sitting there waiting to keep her little hands filled from the time she gets to school until the time she gets back on that bus to come on home, and we’re both okay with that.
2)      Early bedtime. Oh, c’mon. You knew it was coming. We’re all bedtime slackers here. There’s too much to do to put the kids to bed early in the summer, and let’s face it…it’s kind of nice having them sleep in until 8 or 9 for a change!
That said, you gotta get some grown-up time in somewhere. And since I’m the antithesis of a morning person, that “somewhere” is after the kids go to bed at night. Why, last night, after I put the kids to bed, I poured myself a glass of wine, grabbed some chocolate, and…sorted socks. Two months’ worth of socks.
On second thought…'s almost here...
3)  Getting back into a routine. If I wanted to get up every morning, go to work at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time every night, I wouldn’t freelance for a living. Knowing the kids will be in school from 8 am to 2:30 pm every day, however, does wonders for my ability to set up SOME kind of schedule for myself, instead of trying to juggle work, housework and a few hours of sanity around the pool, the library and whenever the heck the kids happen to go to bed.

4)      Step away from the video games. Want to know my guilty little secret? I try and work when the kids are in school or in bed, but I’ve been known to put in my fair share of 10-12 hour days. As a mom whose kids liberally hock giant loogies on the word “nap”, keeping them all occupied long enough for me to write more than 2 or 3 words at a time gets a little tricky.  

I’ve been known to cave, waive video game and television restrictions and let the kids go nuts all day long as long as they’re occupied and out of my hair.

When they’re in school they don’t get home until 3, have at least an hour of homework (yes, all of them), have to eat dinner, take a bath and, somewhere in there, go to dance/band rehearsals/scouts/swimming lessons. Even if I let them spend every free minute they had in an afternoon glued to a video game (which I don’t), they still wouldn’t spend more than an hour or two slow-roasting their retinas in front of the warm glow of their computer screen.

5)      Having them around other kids. I’m not gonna lie. I have an open door policy when it comes to the kids’ friends. They’re happy when there’s a houseful of people, I’m happy when they’re happy, and I have as much of the neighborhood as possible in and out of my house all summer long.

But there are some parents I just don’t know like that-mostly the ones I only see at school functions or Girl Scout dinners. We say hello, but when the kids ask if they can have a sleepover in the middle of July we all get that “deer in the headlights” look as we realize that we have absolutely no idea how to get ahold of each other.

The rejoicing that takes place when these guys get back together in September can make even the best parent feel like Scrooge. Trust me on this one.

What’s your take on going back to school? Throwing a party, or counting down the days until June rolls around again?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Do Audiobooks Really Teach Our Kids to Read?

Those of you who know me know that unless I’m at work or at the pool with the kids, I usually have my nose stuffed in a book. Kindle book. E-book. Paperback. Hardcover. Comic book. Doesn’t matter, I love them all. My oldest shares my devout passion for the written word, and my youngest is still learning how to read, so them I understand.
My daughter, however, is something of a conundrum to me. She likes to read, don’t get me wrong, but if given the choice reading a book isn’t what she’d prefer to do with her free time. If she has to read, she’s more likely to reach for a non-fiction book or a book of short stories than a chapter book.
I get it. Everyone has their own reading preferences. There are days I don’t have the patience to read an entire story from beginning to end either, which is why I’m STILL in the middle of the second book of the Dresden Files and the first of Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein, but my books of short stories are falling apart. It’s her passion for audiobooks that I can’t quite wrap my head around.
Princess C LOVES audiobooks. She’ll sit for hours in the living room and listen to the Scholastic audio books on the CD player, and the Ramona books on her iPod got her through our last car trip. With her penchant for listening to stories, however, I worry that she’s missing out on the benefits of actually reading the words off of the page.
With that in mind, I turned to Summer Moser, owner of Summer’s Stories out in Indiana, and asked her for her take on the audiobook vs printed book debate. She’s a mom and a bookstore owner, she has to know a couple of things about books, right?
I was really surprised by what she had to say.
You can read the entire blog post on my blog over at Clever Copywriting, but I’ll hit the highlights here. Bottom line, not only do audiobooks teach kids to really enjoy books by separating the need to sound out and understand words from their enjoyment of the story, they also teach them the ebb and flow and nuances of language and pronunciation that you just don’t get from reading the words off the page.
So are audiobooks as good for our kids as “regular” books? Absolutely. Not that we shouldn’t still encourage them to read, but it’s not the end of the world if they’d rather listen to a book on tape every now and again.
What’s your take on audiobooks and teaching our kids to read?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kids and Babysitters: Work-At-Home Mommy Fail, or the One Best Thing?

Today I did something that I’ve managed to avoid doing for the past few years: I asked a friend to watch my kids for the day so I could work. Here’s my question to all of you out there. Is this a work-at-home mom fail, or a better solution for everyone?
On One Hand…
When I started working from home, it was because I wanted a way to slip a little more flexibility into my schedule and spend time with my kids. And yes, to keep the little monsters out of daycare. Until that point we’d had some great sitters, but we’d also had some pretty awful ones. So the idea of being able to work at home while the kids ran around the house was a good one. And for the last five years, we’ve made it work.
Oh sure, there have been plenty of weekends when I’ve had a full plate and I’ve “asked” my husband to keep an eye on them for the day so I could sneak out and write an article in peace. But he’s their dad. That’s what he’s there for. And since we both work from home, I consider that fair trade for all the days I’ve sat in the children’s museum or in a booth at Chuck E. Cheese (or, on one memorable occasion, under a tree at the wading pool) with my laptop on my lap trying to write so he’d have a quiet house in the middle of the afternoon.
Because really, when you’ve got three kids, when does quiet really happen anyway?
Looking back, there may have even been a couple of times the kids were sent to grandma’s or my sister-in-law’s to play for the afternoon so I could have a couple of hours of peace to wrap up a project. But for the most part, I’ve managed to run herd on the herd while still getting it done. Until today.
Today, my to-do list was so overwhelmingly long, with the promise of having to prep for days off in the not-too-distant future lurking overhead, that I cracked. I needed eight uninterrupted hours, so I asked a friend if she’d keep an eye on them while I got some things done. No, it’s not quite the same as hiring a babysitter. And I’m taking her kids tomorrow as fair trade. But a small part of me can’t help but point out that by sending them to a “sitter”, I’ve caved on one of the most important caveats of being a work-at-home mom: Staying home so the kids can too.
On the Other Hand…
There’s always an on the other hand, isn’t there? On the other hand, being a work-at-home parent isn’t the same as being a stay-at-home parent, and anyone who tries to convince you that it is either doesn’t work full time and can squeeze their work hours around their kids’ nap and bedtimes or is still fairly new to the game.
The simple truth is, when I’m working, no matter where I’m working, my full attention isn’t on my kids. Sure, I keep an ear out for blood. If we’re out and about I make sure to pop my head up every once in a while to make sure they’re doing all right. But the real focus of my attention is on the screen in front of me, and I sometimes feel like they’re missing out because of that.
When I’m working, even if I’m sitting right there, I’m not really engaging with my kids. I’m not reading with them, even if they’re curled up on the couch reading right next to me. I’m not coloring with them, even if they’re sitting at the table with their coloring books and crayons only a foot away from the USB connector on my headset. I’m not playing ball with them, even though I’m sitting in the grass keeping a half an eye on the proceedings while I type up this week’s blogs.
While that’s okay some of the time, I don’t want that to become the norm. Which is why I try so hard to keep them out and about and actively engaged in something while I’m trying to put a dent in the day’s to-do list, why I try to make sure I do as much work as possible when the kids are in bed, why I’m totally cool with it if they want to have company over to play during the day so they’re not solely entertaining themselves…
…and yes, why I think it’s a good thing for parents who work from home to get a sitter every once in a while so that someone’s out there giving their kids their undivided attention when they can’t.
Parents, what do you think? Would you hire a sitter for your kids if you were working from home?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Asthma, Inhalers and Allergies, Oh My!

The calendar might say we're well past the beginning of summer, but the wad of pollen in my back yard says that spring is still sticking its nose in here and there.
For most people, that means fun filled months of swimming, camping and kicking the kids out the door every chance they get. At our house, that means it’s time to take out stock in Benadryl, because I’m going to spend the next three months doling out more sneeze-blockers-in-a-cup than the average pharmacy. And getting used to having an inhaler-shaped lump in each pocket. And turning down party invitations because the kids are sprawled across the living room with the nebulizer mask in one hand and a box of tissues in the other.
Okay, that’s a little overdramatic. Ish. But when you have three kids with seasonal allergies, two with mild asthma and one with a deep, personal attachment to the bright orange plastic on his inhaler that leads to it needing to be sprung every time things just start getting good, spring takes on a whole new meaning.
Living with Asthma
If you’re one of those parents who has had a kid with severe asthma since the day they were born, please stop by the comments section and tell me how you do it. Mr. A, my oldest, is the king of respiratory infections, but post-surgical pneumonia last year kicked the mild asthma he’s had since he was a baby into full gear and it’s driving me insane.
If you’re new to the asthma game, however, I’m happy to share the teeny, tiny handful of information I’ve got in my hands (and am using to keep my sanity afloat).
Rule Number One: Never will I ever leave the inhaler at home.
I don’t care if they’ve been perfectly fine for months, you’re only going to be gone for an hour and there isn’t a trigger in sight. The next attack is sitting there. Lurking. Waiting for the minute you drop your guard.
Yes, I speak from personal experience. Last year, our local Broadway League put on “Wicked”. I packed up Princess C, her godmother, her godmother’s husband and her favorite auntie and we braved the elements to check it out. She’d been healthy for months. Her asthma never kicks up when she’s not sick. Want to guess what happened in the car on the way home thanks to a quick jog down a cold street?
Rule Number Two: Using an inhaler and/or nebulizer without decongestants, antihistamines and whatever else you’re using to control the triggers is a waste of your time.
Don’t just accept that your kid has asthma, no matter how simple that diagnosis might seem. Understand what causes it, then take action to prevent while you treat. Otherwise, you can mainline steroids and albuterol until the cows come home. It doesn’t matter. You’re still going to be doing it again two hours later.    
Rule Number Three: Don’t assume that the doctor knows what they’re talking about. I adore my pediatrician. As a matter of fact, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve adored all my pediatricians. But nobody knows your child better than you. If something doesn’t feel just right, don’t be afraid to push. Pick up the phone. Ask annoying questions. A good doctor won’t mind, and a doctor that minds won’t matter.
Rule Number Four: Be willing to change your plans. Asthma attacks happen. Usually at the worst possible moment. Almost always when you have someplace else you need to be. Be willing to change your plans so your child can get the rest they need when their asthma’s acting up. That way you have one asthma attack a day instead of four or five.
Rule Number Five: LEARN. You are your child’s best chance of managing to have asthma and a life at the same time. Learn. Understand their condition, what triggers it, how you can tell they’re having an attack and what brings it back under control. Then plan accordingly. An ounce of prevention can go a long way toward helping them learn to live with asthma instead of watching their childhood pass them by.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fourth Grade Graduation-Not as Think as You Dumb It Is

Yes, I did it. After celebrating the glory of my fourth grader walking across the stage and receiving his diploma, bidding elementary school a fond farewell, I took him out to lunch. And I taught him a bar game. Couth? Probably not. But it impressed the hell out of every other fourth grader in the room (and most of the adults) so I figure I can write it off as a valuable life skill.


Fourth Grade Graduation-Not as Think as You Dumb It Is
You know, once upon a time I thought that elementary school graduation was dumb. The same can be said about middle school graduation. They were just brief stopovers on the way to the main event, right?

This morning, sniffling back tears while the kids sang some random song about saving the planet (something having kids who are actually going to need it one day has given me a WHOLE new perspective on), it all suddenly made sense. This isn’t a celebration for them.

This is for you.

This is your reward for every time you thought about strangling them because you got another note home from the teacher that they didn’t turn in their homework.

Gratitude for every sleepless night you spent sitting up with them putting together the science fair project they forgot was due. At 9 am. The next morning.

Public recognition of the fact that you have gotten up every morning, Monday through Friday, rain or shine or three feet of snow, rolled that small, unwilling, protesting body out of bed, slipped its limp arms and legs into pants and a shirt, slapped together some random something for breakfast and walked out the door and down to the bus stop before your first cup of coffee.

This is a moment of triumph you can look back on when you’re reading notes from their middle school teachers that they didn’t turn in their homework, paying through the nose for lost/broken locker locks and wading through page after page of text for answers you could have in five minutes if the school would let you use Wikipedia.

Congrats, Mom and Dad, You Did It

Fourth grade graduation is tangible proof that your little guy or gal is on their way to becoming a responsible adult, and since they managed to walk away with a diploma in their hand instead of an invitation to come back for another round, you’re both doing something right. So congrats. You made through another milestone.

Kick back, relax and enjoy the summer. The easy years are over. This might be the last break you ever get.