Monday, January 31, 2011

Will Our Kids Have a Voice?

Let's face it, we are a society that loves its technology.  We are literally and figuratively connected to our devices which such ardor that most people cannot survive a day without their phone at the ready, or <gasp> no internet connection.  We text.  We tweet. Mommy bloggers, like me, rely on the computer and high speed access, to share our daily musings, rants and raves with the world.  So why I am so concerned with the topic, when I am clearly among the vast majority, who have made technology a cornerstone of my existence?

Well, I am just not convinced that my relationship with technology sets the best example for my children. Many of us try to limit the amount of TV that our kids watch, and monitor their computer time carefully. We have rules in place about what video games they can play, and what websites they can visit. We are attempting to teach them that technology, just like everything else, in moderation, can be an informative and entertaining accessory in the wardrobe of our lives. But our kids will learn the most from what they observe through us. If I am perpetually checking my email on the iPhone or silently scrolling through Facebook at the breakfast table, my kids are learning from an early age that this silent, non-verbal form of communication is a constant companion in our lives.

On a recent family vacation, complete with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, I sat on the floor playing with the kiddos and happened to look up around the room.  From a child's perspective, I saw that I was surrounded by a room full of people completed entranced by a device in front of them.  Everyone tuned into laptops, kindles, cellphones - not a single word uttered amongst them.  I thought to myself, "I wonder if this is how they (the kids) always see us?".

My first clue to the potential effects of this is evidenced in Little Diva's choice of words when she wants me tell something to Sweet Hubby. Instead of saying, "can you call Daddy?", she asks, "can you send Daddy a message?" She sees that we are trending more toward using texts to keep in touch throughout the day, rather than speaking to one another on the phone.  This worries me.

A recent article in my hometown newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, cites that "texting has superseded face-to-face interaction as the most common manner of daily communication between teenagers ages 12 to 17, according to a study of the Pew Internet and American Life Project published in April." Surely, this cannot be good for the social and intellectual development of our teens.  I would bet that the average teenage vocabulary has significantly decreased in recent years.  Texting does not give our kids the chance to use speech creatively and eloquently.  It does not teach them how to interpret body language and use non-verbal cues and inflection to express themselves.  It does not teach them how to use one of our most powerful and complex attributes, the human voice.

If our children learn to devalue communication, then do they, by default, begin to devalue personal relationships?  How does this affect their judgement when faced with the tough choices that they will have to make as teenagers and young adults?

I fear, that worse yet, children become desensitized to real human connections, and within this social isolation, trend toward potentially pathological behaviors.  Obviously this is worse case scenario, a sort of techno-armageddon if you will.  But, even on a smaller scale, I do wonder if some of the whackos that are crawling out of the woodwork these days, have suffered from a lack of social interaction caused by the omnipresence of non-personal communication.

So how do we as parents foster a healthy, yet restrained relationship with technology?  Unfortunately, I don't have an answer, only more questions for myself. And a challenge to myself to set a better example, so that my kids see that we all have a real voice.  That thoughts and feelings should first and foremost be expressed verbally, face-to-face.  I am thinking about my own "check your phone at the door" type policy, where the phone is used for necessity and not for entertainment, making sure that our children do not ever feel that some device is taking attention away from them. I am so curious to hear how other parents feel about this.

I have also included a link to the article I mentioned.  It is about a group of teens who are "bucking the trend" to be techno-dependent.  That, at least, is somewhat encouraging.  But also quite telling, if kids themselves are starting to see that there is a problem.  Read the entire article here: Berkshire Teens Bucking the Techno Trend.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Like Taking Candy From a Baby

I used to scratch my head at the saying, "Like taking candy from a baby." I wondered to myself, "who in the world would give candy to a baby?"  Then I had a second child.  Suddenly is it crystal clear to me why you might slip your baby a lollipop (of course the "safe" kind with the loopy handle) every once in a while.  Because it works!!

The tipping point was when the evil demon out to get me nice lady at the eye doctor gave Little Diva a lollipop, as usual, the visit before last. With both girls strapped into the car, off we went but The Baby is no dummy. She was well aware that Little Diva had something both delightful and off limits, and SHE WANTED IT.

Well, the next time we found ourselves at the eye doctor, I was faced with a dilemma. Do I try to convince Little Diva that she shouldn't have a lollipop because it would be too upsetting to The Baby, do I become a sucker, I mean, get a sucker for The Baby, or do we listen to her scream for the next half an hour in the car? Well, we had a lot of errands to do, I had a migraine coming on, and basically, I AM a sucker. So The Baby had her first lollipop. It was a glorious afternoon of relative peace and quiet there in the back seat, and in the shopping cart, as we finished off the day's duties.

It is one of many things about my parental approach, that seems to be a little softer this time around. In some ways, I think my more relaxed attitude has helped me deal with what I find to be a challenging balancing act of life with Little Diva and The Baby. It is also almost essential because Little Diva will negotiate each and every point, so I recognize the importance of choosing your battles.

Of course, I am not a big fan of Kids On Sugar, and Little Diva is already high-energy and addicted to sweets, so that bit of indulgent behavior on my part is rather infrequent, but with other things, I try to stay pretty easy. For example, I don't stress over having the perfectly coordinated outfit on either of my kids when we leave the house. Usually we are lucky if the socks match. I should point out, though, (to satisfy anyone who might have the Department of Social Services on speed dial out there) that safety is one area in which I refuse to compromise. I think you can be flexible in your style without sacrificing the well-being of your kids.

So are things different for you with your second (or third, fourth, etc) child? I would love to hear about how other mommies out there feel about it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yay for Daddyland!!

Okay, I get it.  Daddies are just way cooler.  Even on our worst days, when Sweet Hubby walks into the room, either of the whining, moping or otherwise just miserable kiddos, turns into a ray of sunshine.

Yesterday, I had an appointment in the city, so we made the trek downtown (which thankfully only took half an hour despite the "horrible weather conditions"), where Daddy was going to take a little break from work to spend an hour or so with the kiddos.  You would think I was taking them to freaking Disneyland!! Little Diva's usual on-going questioning about "What are we going to do today? What's our activity?" was replaced with "How much longer? Are we there yet? Where is Daddy?"

When we got there, Little Diva immediately ditched me and started to "help out Daddy at work". The Baby nearly jumped from my arms straight into his.  It was probably their favorite hour of the week.  They hung out in a Food Court and ate pizza!

When I came back to get them, Little Diva begged, protested and even tried to negotiate her way into staying with her daddy.  It was a long car ride home.

So what is it in the Daddy DNA, that makes them Superman in our kids' eyes? Of course, Sweet Hubby is totally awesome, but I think there is more to it.  It might be that, in our case, they spend a lot time with Mommy, so Daddy is more of a novelty.  It could also be that the Daddy persona is strong and comforting.  Daddies do cool things like playing the banjo and ice-skating.

Another thought is that kids are really listening when we Mommies say things like "I can't wait for Daddy to get home",  "We have to wait for Daddy for that",  "Hopefully Daddy can fix it" and so on. I guess we kind of perpetuate the idolization of Daddy in that way.

I am happy and lucky that my kids love their Daddy so much, and even if I have to be the bad cop once in a while, it is worth it to watch them all together.  Besides, at the end of the day, even if Daddy is home to read a story, and tuck them in, they always need Mommy for that very last goodnight kiss.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gadgets, Widgets, Whozits, Whatzits?!

Over the years, I have had an on again, off again relationship with a very well-known and prominent entity.  His name is Technology.  You see, when I was young, <sputter, sputter, cough, cough>, Atari was about as cutting edge as could be.  In college, one of my roommates, freshman year, had a computer.  So we all took turns composing our papers in DOS and running to the computer lab, floppy disk in hand, to print them out.  By my senior year, the lab was becoming a bit of a scene.  The "World Wide Web" was still in its infancy and I was among the first of my friends to get into MUDs and whatever else, I can't even remember.

After college, I got my first AOL account and started using EMAIL!  I felt really cool.  But not long after that, I kind of lost touch with my techno-side.  I was having far too much fun being a footloose twenty something year old to veg out in front of the computer. And I did not need it for work, so I did not drive on the Information Superhighway and kind of missed that boat for a while. A year or two later, I taught computer skills to middle schoolers, so I did figure out Yahoo! and URLs. But that was the extent of it. Eventually, I started to use the Internet, email and worked on a computer more regularly. But I have always felt a step or two behind my savvy contemporaries.

So here I am, writing a blog, and I see that I have a lot to learn.  I look longingly at some of my favorite mommy blogs, and see graphics, and cool logos, all kinds of banners and buttons.  I realize that I really have no idea what I am doing.  But as a dedicated student of the Art of Blog now, I am learning that all those neat things you click on are called Widgets. Great name, I think.  Or are they Gadgets?  Whatever. I promise I will figure it out.

I added the Followers widget over there on your left, so that you can click the Follow icon, and become part of a (very few) elite who actually like to read what I write on a regular basis when you really have nothing better to do. Hopefully you will join me on this journey as I join the ranks of mommies out there who have apparently been paying attention during the Technological Revolution.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Age Difference

So Sweet Hubby and I have a kind of, whatever will be, will be approach towards pretty much everything, and it was no different when it came to the non-planning of how to space out the age difference between our kids. So with no particular strategy in place, we ended up with two girls, almost exactly 4 years apart.

I often wonder if a different age gap would somehow make life a little easier in any way.  Would it somehow equalize the very different, and often conflicting sets of needs of Little Diva and The Baby?  And then I remember my favorite adage, "the grass is always greener on the other side." Of all the proverbs,  I can relate to this one the most.

With that in mind, it's just best to concede that there are pros and cons to every situation.  Here are a few things I have noticed.

A four year old looks lovingly at a new baby and understands what it means to be a big sister.  On the flip side, she is also quite ticked off when she realizes that she waited nine months for a playmate that can't even hold her head up yet.

Your preschooler has many diversions that allow you time to tend to the needs of a baby.  Unfortunately, many of these diversions come with 1000+ tiny pieces that always find their way into shared living spaces and pose serious health and safety risks.

An older child can get dressed, zip her coat, put on her hat and mittens and if you are really lucky, tie her shoes.  However, a baby will hide said hat, mittens and shoes, and you will spend the better part of half an hour searching for them while the older child reminds you that it is "time to go NOW, MOM!"

Big kids will entertain your little ones with singing and dancing while you work on your blog try to get a few things done around the house. The bad news: your baby can sing the Best of Both Worlds before she can sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Having a baby around teaches your older child patience and responsibility. But it can also give them leave to be a little bossy and a wanna-be disciplinarian. You have to nip this in the bud and make sure your big kid leaves the discipline to you.

A baby can start to know has she wants and needs before she can verbalize them (see my previous post about screaming), and this can frustrate an older child who just wants you to make the baby happy.  The older child may even mimic such behaviors to get what she wants or get attention.  Fortunately, a big kid will usually listen when you encourage them to redirect the baby into some other activity that does not involve shattering the eardrums.

Naps are pretty much on different schedules when your kids are 4 years apart. If your older child even naps at all, you can be sure it will not be when the baby is sleeping, therefore eliminating any and all chances for mommy to have some alone time to eat bon-bons shower. This can be good for some individual bonding time with one child at a time though, something that the older child will really crave.

Older kids often have some or many activities outside of the house. These activities almost always take place at the aforementioned baby nap times. This has proven to be a challenge for us, and usually results in a pretty grumpy baby being carted around to get the big sister to her activities on time. I am still looking for the upside to this one.

A few other awesome things:
When you big kids is starting to learn to read, baby style board books are a great way for them to learn sight words so they can entertain the baby at the same time.

Big kids are really proud of doing things like putting shoes on the baby, and helping them get their coat on and off. Getting little tasks like that off your plate gives you a few extra precious moments to find your car keys, or jot down a quick list for the store, because you will never remember what you went there for if you don't write it down.

A big kid is fiercely protective of their little sibling.  They will be quick to notice if the gate is not closed or the baby has found one of the Polly Pocket outfits and stuck it in her mouth.

A few things you just have to deal with:
The big kid will always try to pick up the baby and carry her around the house. It totally reminds me of Olivia when she brushes her teeth, moves the cat, gets dressed, moves the cat again, etc. Olivia
Now that The Baby is a little heartier, and Little Diva is a little more coordinated, I don't intervene every time, but it is still nerve wracking.

The baby is always going to want to play with toys that are not age-appropriate because Leapster and magic markers are way more interesting than Little People and the Shape-O.

So as they continue to grow, I cannot wait to see their sisterhood blossom. Just like Little Diva, I cannot wait for the day that they can really play together.  I don't really know if that day will ever come.  By the time, The Baby is old enough for tea parties and dress up, Little Diva will probably want to hang out at the mall, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Five Guilty Mommy Pleasures

Last night, I went to the movies.  By myself. At 10:35 PM.  It was probably the single, most relaxing experience I have had in months.  It made me realize that we mommies have to carve out time to indulge ourselves in our guilty pleasures.  And we can sometimes find them in strange places.  With that in mind, I started thinking about the things I like to do, so that next time I can find a little free time, I will know how to use it.

1) Going solo to the movies.  Let's face it.  Watching a movie is really not a social experience anyway. Unless you are, like, fifteen and sitting in the back row, but I am a little past that now.  It is liberating to show up at the theater and get as much popcorn, candy and soda as you wish, without being judged by your companion.  Assuming, of course, you can second-mortgage the house to pay for the stuff.  And then drift into the anonymity of a dark theater.  No pressure to offer your opinions on the previews.  No obligation to glance poignantly at anyone during special moments of a film.  Going to the late show on a Sunday night offers even more solitude. Perhaps even an empty theater if you are lucky.  Then you can watch the movie like it is your own private showing, as if you were Annie or something.

2) Hitting the drive-through on my way home with the kids asleep in the car.  I sit in the driveway and eat in relative peace. Sure, the food is not so great, but when you do not have to catch flying sippy cups, or force feed broccoli, it seems like ambrosia. Now that I can stream Netflix on my phone, I can even catch a movie at the same time.

3) Ikea's SmÃ¥land (otherwise known as free babysitting for your 37"-54", potty-trained child for 60-90 minutes).  I also try to time this to coincide with The Baby's nap so I can sit in the restaurant with a coffee and a good book, while Little Diva bosses around plays with kids her own size for a while. Show up there while they are having the Kids Eat Free promotion, and you can get a free meal out of it.

4) The extra long shower.  Actually, Sweet Hubby taught me this one.  Apparently, the longer it takes to bathe yourself each day, the longer you can escape from the children and enjoy relative tranquility while your spouse deals with breakfast and arguments over watching Elmo vs. Barbie.  Special tip: the roar of the hair dryer drowns out crying, whining and the Barney song.

5) Grocery shopping alone. Until I had to shop with two kiddos in tow, I never realized that doing shopping by yourself can very refreshing. It is also usually much less expensive when you do not have to pick up the random box of Teddy Grahams and the six pack of Organic Chocolate Milk because of the cute cow on the package. I also actually enjoy being able to keep a running tally of my costs and sort through coupons as I go, and having The Baby within arms reach makes that impossible.

So that is pretty much it. As you can see, my life is filled with thrills and adventure.  I would love to hear how others get their guilty pleasure so I can add it to my arsenal.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Houston, We Have A Screamer

Despite her inclination toward high drama and exuberant conversation skills, Little Diva was a mellow baby and toddler. I observed more than one poor mommy in Walmart giving up on a cart full of Fruit Loops and Sunny D, to shepherd their bellowing child out of the store before someone called D.S.S.  And I would silently count my blessings.

But as I am quickly learning, they break the mold after every child, and no two are ever the same.  In our case, The Baby is a screamer.  I have to admit, I am not always sure how to deal with it.  I AM sure that I probably don't always do the right thing.

For example, I was on the phone a few days ago making an appointment for Little Diva.  The Baby was babbling in the background and I apologized to the Lady on the Phone for the background noise.  "Kids, you know, ha ha." The Baby decided she really needed to be heard. She started SCREAMING. Really, really loud.  Well, I did what any responsible mother would do.  I busted up.  I couldn't help it.  Yes, it was embarrassing, but it was also really funny.  I could not get a word in between the screams and it made me laugh.  Well, this of course, just made things worse.  It encouraged Little Diva to get in on the action.

Most of the time, though, I am not laughing. It is a painful experience to feel like you are subjecting your child to torture every time you strap them into the car, take them shopping with you, or put them down for a nap.  Other times, I wonder if The Baby is attention-starved and screams to get her fair share. Is she suffering from Second Child Syndrome and trying to compete with high energy Little Diva?

It is most likely just her way to communicate.  She has found a voice. A very high pitched, eardrum-shattering voice. In some ways, I am happy that she is starting to express herself verbally.  A few words come out now and then, so we know she kind of gets what is going on around her. That is really cool.  So the screaming is part of her unique journey and I am wondering if Xanax ear plugs should be a part of mine.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

So What's For Dinner?

Little Diva is easy to please when it comes to dinner - as long as you are offering Mac-n-Cheese, spaghetti and meatballs or chicken nuggets. Fortunately, I have stumbled upon the realization that she seems to like slow-cooked, shredded meat. For that reason, this Yankee Pot Roast is usually met with a reasonable amount of willingness to eat. The Baby will eat anything (and everything), but this is particularly good for her because of the array of meat and vegetables. Her favorites.

Best of all, as I mentioned in my last post, you can enlist the aide of the kiddos to help get this one into the pot. I let Little Diva sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, throw in the vegetables, and mix and pour the liquid in. Somehow, she is more excited about eating food that she has helped to prepare. Of course, other days, like today, she has no interest in helping at all and STILL wants those darn nuggets. Oh well!

Anyway, it's great for a snowy day, and is easily adapted for a slow cooker if you want dinner done when you get home after a hectic day. I usually buy Chuck Roast when it is on sale at the grocery store buy one, get one free, then throw it in the freezer. Traditional Yankee Pot Roast usually calls for potatoes, too, so feel free to add along with the other vegetables if you like. I prefer to serve this with mashed potatoes on the side, because I find the potatoes too bland when they are cooked with the roast. This recipe yields approximately 6 servings.  Enjoy!

Yankee Pot Roast with Root Vegetables

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 (2-3 pound) boneless chuck roast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups beef stock (or broth)
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1-2 chopped plum tomato
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
3 parsnips, peeled and cut lengthwise, then into 1 inch pieces
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle roast with salt and peppers. Add roast to pan, browning on all sides (about 8 minutes). Remove from pan. Add onion to pan, and sauté 8 minutes or until browned. Return roast to pan.  Add garlic cloves.  Combine broth, ketchup, and Worcestershire, pour broth mixture over roast. Add tomato, and bring to a simmer.
3. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for  2 1/2 hours or until meat is very tender.  Add carrots, parsnips and turnips, cover and bake an additional 40-45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Can I survive another snow day?

The cries of mommy defeat resound loudly throughout the social media News Feed. "What?! Another snow day?"  "This is ridiculous?" "What are we going to do now!?"

We are tea-partied out, and having my own two here for 4 out of 5 days this week is enough. I don't want Hannah, Carly, Zak and Cody here all day again also. So now what?  Here are my top seven favorite ideas to beat the boredom:

1) Get outside! Sure, this may seem like the obvious one, but try taking your little ones out with a shovel and spend a couple of minutes helping out a neighbor with their shoveling.  You can even have your littlest one help by scattering some rock salt (provided yours is not the kind who will eat it- mine is, so that is out)

2) Build a blanket fort - get out lots of lightweight blankets and/or sheets and start creating.  I find that using clothespins helps to get the thing to stay put.  We have had ours up for the last two days, and it provides a great distraction.  You can play pirate ship, space ship, or bear cave. Lots of fun!

3) Make a music video.  Pull out the camcorder, and set up a stage.  Get your little ones dancing and singing, then watch it back with them.

4) Feed the birds!  Pinecone and peanut butter bird feeders are a classic, and give you the chance to get back outside again to hang them up.  Even though there are not a lot of birds who stick around in the winter, the little guys who do will appreciate it.

5) Start cooking.  Kids love to be in the kitchen.  Choose something easy.  I like Pot Roast because once the chopping is done, it is fun for kids to throw the ingredients in.  I will share an easy pot roast recipe here.  Then work on a salad. And then brownies for dessert.

6) Do your chores - together.  I am consistently guilty of taking a snow day, myself, from doing things around the house.  Yes, it is much harder to get things done with the little ones underfoot, but try to pull them into "grown-up" tasks like laundry, cleaning the bathroom, mopping the floor.  They will be thrilled with the challenge and feel quite important.  Just be prepared to accept that the job might not be done as "perfectly" as you would do it yourself. And also, be sure that you don't let them handle harsh chemicals - vinegar and water is a safe choice.

7) Find out what is open.  Since school around here shuts down at the first sign of a flake, the road conditions are fine and we can get out of the house to have an activity.  Check out your local indoor swimming spot, bounce house place or even the library.  In fact, your local library may have free passes to some of the museums around.  When you live in an area that has access to daily deals like Groupon ( or Living Social (, you can stock up discounted admission to some of the fun local activities.  Be on the lookout! If all else fails, try the play land at your favorite fast food place or stop by the pet store to visit with a puppy.

If you manage to survive the day, get dinner on the table nice and early, and wind them down with a good, hot bubble bath.  Once the kiddos are in bed, it will probably be time to tidy up the gigantic disaster that has become your house, and then you might even have a little time to yourself.  Maybe to surf the web, and say, look for real estate in Florida??