Screen Free Week 2019: A family affair

Splinter-worthy phone as motivation

Happy Screen-Free Week 2019!

Well, it’s the night before the official start to Screen-Free Week & I thought I’d give a shout-out for what has become an annual tradition for my family… okay, well for me, anyway.

We’re generally a tech-light family, but I still use my phone too much & my son can turn into a zombie with too much tech, so checking in & taking a break is healthy for us.

My eldest is now 10 years old & fully collaborates. Today, we had a discussion about what we could & could not do on our devices this week. Playing music? Yes. Stare at the screen while listening to music (which my son actually does)? No. Texting, unless it’s really important? No. (Note to self: The fact that he said it means I text too much!) Email: Same as texting. Minecraft? No. Sudoku? No. The new Avengers movie?! Yes!! (Were not purists or perfectionists!) Podcasts & grocery lists are gray territory for now.

It’s actually fun to get his input & get him invested in the endeavor. But, seriously, this is more about my tech use than his, which is pretty minimal. And I appreciate that he sees my flaws & helps me become a better person & mom.

Plus, this year I’ve had extra motivation to cut back on my tech use: I dropped my phone & cracked my screen (almost) beyond use. (In fact, my first attempt to use the phone as I’m used to using it resulted in a glass splinter. Fun.)

I once dropped this very same phone in the toilet & that ended up being a wonderful experience (one that I think forever changed my use of tech…). Seriously! My phone sat in a baggie full of rice for a few days. It was completely off limits. And it was great.

So, while I of course cursed when I dropped my phone at the playground (on the concrete, not the spongy play area) & saw the damaged I’d caused, I was actually secretly glad when someone at Apple told me I’d have to send in my phone to get a new screen. Plus, this all happened just before Screen-Free Week & I figured I’d get a head start “detoxing.”

Imagine my disappointment, then, when the woman helping me at the store informed me that the body of the phone was too damaged for a screen replacement & they had a suitable replacement phone available in the store. Ah, well! I’d have an opportunity to practice fortitude in the presence of a shiny new thing.

Which I did, but mostly because I had no case or screen protector & I wasn’t about to make that mistake again!

Signing off for the week & hoping you get some tech-free time, too!

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Happy Mommy-versary To Me

Ten years ago today, uncomfortable & swollen, I had hoped I’d meet my eldest child. I’d have to wait two more weeks for childbirth to become a reality & thus learned my first parenting lesson: nothing goes according to plan, but there is beauty & sweetness in the letting go.

Of course, at the time, there was less letting go & more anxiousness to meet my baby. Still, I during the two weeks of waiting, I took long walks, ate spicy food (even when it made the deli workers uncomfortable for fear I’d spontaneously go into labor in their restaurant), went to the movies.

And here we are ten years later. Poof! Lots of chaos, lots of busyness. Fewer long walks or trips to the movie theater (especially to see adult movies).

So how will I celebrate? With a trip to the ob-gyn. You know, to deal with the ongoing postpartum issues so many of us mom’s deal with quietly & on our own.

Maybe I’ll also celebrate by going to bed early. By taking the time to make my favorite tea. By breathing in my office, completely alone, for a few minutes of silence. I also hope to find some time to listen to my children. To hear about their days. To hear about what’s exciting. And I hope to share a smooch with my partner.

I’ll try at least.

Because, as I know, nothing will go as planned.

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The best intentions lead to disappointment

Waves crashing in my path…

Okay, perhaps my title for this post is a bit dramatic, but maybe you know what I getting at… Sometimes when we expect too much or expect something very specific of others, we will be disappointed. And sometimes we can avoid that disappointment by simply letting go of our expectations.

To wit:

I have a ritual on my commute home from the office. When I’m about a block or so away from home, I take a few consciously deep breaths & I attempt to prepare myself for the impending reentry into full-on home life.

I think my kids are swell & yesterday I had no problem, after getting off the bus, imagining their sweetness. I looked at the moon (which is coming earlier & earlier on these crisp fall afternoons…) & just breathed. I imagined the pleasant evening that awaited me. I couldn’t wait to be reunited with my family!

Then my phone buzzed with my partner’s special ringtone. “U coming home soon?”

Well, that was a buzz kill. No matter! It seemed snarky, but I was sure he didn’t mean it to sound that way! Another breath. Ah…

Onward to warm domestic bliss!

I walked passed the neighbor’s Halloween decorations (a life-sized Freddy Kruger, some mutant baby dolls, a two-headed snake skeleton… you, know, the usual…), and there was my house, a soft glow emanating from the windows, welcoming me home. It seemed even more inviting for its absence of gore &, instead, the tame decorations my son had excitedly set out.

Upon opening the door, my son ran to greet me. Then he announced his sister (who was toddler-running at me) was being annoying. “She keeps crying!” he complained. On cue, she turned around and ran, crying, to bury herself in my mother-in-law’s legs. My partner barely looked up from dinner to say hello. My son begged to continue our game of Risk & stomped upstairs when we said “not tonight.”

It was late. I should have seen this train wreck coming from miles away! But instead I was blissed out on some hodgepodge of the best moments of the last week or so. I was focused on my own expectations, as if the world (or at least, my tiny corner of the world) was somehow obligated to match my own state of mind.

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to seeing my family. It’s just that wrapped up in my own thoughts, I hadn’t allowed for them to be as they were. Just as they were, in the midst of the messiness of family life.

Midway through dinner, as my partner gently guided my son through his own big emotions (& after I had snapped at him, somewhat annoyed), I realized my error.

This was exactly where I wanted to be in that moment. These were the exact people I needed to be with at that time. All of us, together. No matter our moods. No matter our challenges. No matter our flaws & human-ness. It was perfect.

Later, my son told me about how, as the water drained from the bathtub, he realized that anger can really stick with you after the moment has passed. He said he had let his annoyance with his sister linger & ruin his dinner. When he told me this, I could see that his whole face & body had lightened. The anger had drained out of him with the bathwater. And I fully let go of my own anger & disappointment (& my expectations), too.

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Being a sleep iconoclast: a caveat (or a few…)

Moon rising, bedtime coming.

I wrote (here & here) about my personal experience with sleep training & why I have settled on a more relaxed approach to my youngest child’s sleep. In retrospect realize that some of what I have written in those posts could come across as daunting if you’re new to the idea of not sleep training. Being a sleep iconoclast may seem like a big undertaking or a sacrifice. It is & it isn’t.

I’m also acutely aware that my ideas about sleep are, well, just not all that popular. On a local parenting chat group, I am usually the lone voice respectfully advocating for a gentle approach to sleep.

But choosing to take a hard pass on sleep training isn’t a bigger sacrifice than any other approach to nighttime parenting. Here’s why…

First, to clear up any possible misconceptions about choosing to not sleep train: Sleep is important.

It’s damned important.

For you. For me. For your children. For my children.

We all function better with more sleep. Not only that, quality sleep is essential for health.

I get that. Which is why I wrote about how I make sure to get (just about) enough sleep.

I have to admit that I am lucky in that I am not doing this parenting thing alone. I have a partner. He doesn’t breastfeed our daughter & that makes our equitable parenting relationship a bit complicated in terms of nighttime parenting. But he will get up in the middle of the night to hold, rock, or bounce the little one if nursing isn’t required or if I’m just too tired & touched-out. He will get up early with her so I can sleep in. And, now that she’s older, he takes on full nighttime parenting duties.

I readily admit to nighttime frustrations. I don’t get angry about it, but sometimes the baby’s needs drive me crazy. Sometimes, not getting a nice stretch of sleep, when I need it the most, is (I readily admit) more than a little disappointing. Sometimes, turning over to nurse one. more. time. is simply beyond my physical & emotional limits.

Sure, in those moments the baby often won’t go back to sleep for my partner. But even 15 minutes of uncomfortable bodily autonomy is usually enough for me to regroup & get through the rest of the night.

I also shamelessly take advantage of my parents’ & in-laws’ willingness to take the baby off our hands in the early morning if they’re around or we’re visiting them. Even an hour or two of solitary sleep can be a glorious breakthrough.

When we visited my folks a few months ago, M’s sleep was understandably disrupted. (I mean, is there anyplace as exciting as Grandma & Grandpa’s house? Disneyland has nothing on the grandparents in our family.) I heard someone awake in the kitchen. I honestly don’t even know if I put pants on. I just took the baby, grumbled something like “take her,” & crawled back into bed. Alone.

And here’s the big bonus of not sleep training: it’s a lazy parent’s paradise. You don’t have to count wakings. You don’t have to note the time. You don’t have to track the number of times you’ve tried to put baby down in her bassinet, crib, bed, whatever.

You don’t have to worry if you’re “doing it right.” You just have to do right by your baby or child. And yourself.

This is about relationships, not rules.

I have read blogs & “experts” recommending specific (& completely arbitrary) rules, like don’t let the baby fall asleep nursing initially, but you can nurse them to sleep after 2:30 am… Or some such nonsense. (How does this possibly make any sense for a small person?!) Who needs the stress of parenting according to someone else’s rules, especially in the middle of the night? (I’m not going to link to the site advocating this particular rule because it also advocates for something called “extinction,” which is a version of sleep training that calls for a lot of crying & I very strongly disagree with the advocacy of such approaches. That’s one approach where I draw the line in my own parenting.)

Finally, being a sleep iconoclast means you can always try something new if your current routine or set-up isn’t working. Tired of walking down the hall? Bring baby back into your room! Bed sharing keeping everyone awake? Use different sleep surfaces or rooms! Tired of rocking baby all night? Try putting him down! There is no “right” solution or set-up, except one that is safe & works for your family.

Give any change a few tries. If it’s not working but is where you eventually want to end up, just take a break & try again in a week or two or three.

We have done a bassinet, our bed, a crib, & a mattress on the floor with our youngest. We currently are trying to transition (again) from me nursing her to sleep to nursing & passing her to her dad so she can work on falling asleep on her own.

So, not sleep training doesn’t mean you have to hold your sweet babe for every nap & bedtime until she’s 4 years old!

Babies & toddlers are adaptable if we are willing to work within their practical limitations & needs. And they go through so many changes that you’re bound to eventually catch them at the right time to tweak things.

At least temporarily. Remember, sleep is not a “milestone” with a linear timeline. There will be set-backs & disruptions.

But there’s also nothing wrong with being honest with yourself about your own needs & then hacking a solution that works for everyone. It’s possible, even if it’s a winding path. (And even if every night is not perfect. And even if your still somewhat tired some days.)

What questions do you have? Have you tried sleep training but felt uncomfortable or disappointed? Are you already a tried-and-true sleep iconoclast? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

And next (& maybe last) in this series, I’ll tackle the dreaded night weaning.

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My rainbow “baby” is two!

I am drinking a mimosa & eating waffles with my hands (no syrup). The guests have left. Our newly-minted two-year-old is napping. And father & son are cleaning the latest Lego disaster in the basement.

“Baby” M is two. We had a very small brunch party to celebrate her birthday. (Hence the waffles & mimosas…)

It was too hot to bake & we don’t have air conditioning in the kitchen, so I made a chia seed pudding & we cut up an obscene amount of fruit & called it a birthday party. (I stuck M’s two birthday candles in blueberries, which I thought was terribly clever but was actually just completely ineffective.)

M’s grandparents respected my no-pink request & M also got a much coveted pink baby-doll stroller from her auntie & uncle (to whom I made no such request). The balance worked perfectly & M is very happy. Oh & her grandpa bought her a ton of balloons, which blew her mind.

Life is fun & slow with a two-year-old. I had forgotten that. She is a scientist, observing & figuring out how her world works. Through experimentation, she is discovering her preferences & inclinations & abilities.

Today she realized, as we sang “Happy Birthday” & said her name, that she is loved by her tribe.

But she also needs me. A lot.

She does love her family & friends. I plan to exploit this love for others (& her newly-developing, though cautious, independence) to take better care of myself (& my vegetable/herb garden) in the coming year. (And she can help with the garden care… as long as she stops picking green tomatoes…)

I also remember that the year of two is really when my babies stop being babies. There is now no denying the changes going on, the little child emerging from all of that delicious baby chubby-ness.

I have to respect that process, which takes constant reminders to myself. Reminders that my old tactics may not work. Reminders that her memory is stretching backward even as races forward. Reminders that new activities & challenges, gently introduced. And reminders that I need to gamify our tough moments.

Right around the 2 1/2-year mark with my son, I started to do more, like read books & make homemade kombucha, even while I was clerking for a federal judge.

Sometimes I recall those times & wonder who that person was. But then I remember starting a new job. And then the heartache & depression that came with pregnancy losses. Then the intensity of infancy with M And I try to cut myself some slack.

My inertia is just starting to come back.

And that’s okay. I’m realizing that there is truth to the old wisdom about the seasons of life. Life is not a linear journey & I can respect the place I am in now. I can do a lot but I can’t do everything at once.

So, can we all cut ourselves some slack? Hug our babies (even the big babies) & our loved ones & just be? Be gentle with ourselves & with them? And with our neighbors & others? (I struggle with being gentle with myself & others… it’s a work in progress…)

Our energy does not come from nowhere (thanks, high school physics!), so let’s find our sources of energy & recharge. And maybe we’ll have some energy left over to share.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that for better or worse, this season will pass. More literally, this summer will be over in a snap & while summer can be stressful for us parents (what with juggling childcare & camp & actives), breathe & enjoy it. Even if for only one moment.

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What *do* I do with myself?

I am kid-free for a wee bit & so, I poured myself a beer (just about the only cold drink to be had in my very warm house… yay, summer?) & figured I’d do some “out-loud” strategizing about this blog & my writing life.

I’ve said it before: I love writing this blog. And there are so many interesting conversations going on right now about mothers & women & working & parenting & birth. And I have so many drafts floating around in various states of disarray (not to mention the many more ideas floating around in my head).

But I also have an busy family & a demanding day job & an active pro bono case & a long to-do list (I’m still going to write that will & finalize a budget so we can “snow ball” attack those law school loans…) & some semblance of a well-rounded life (though that last one is debatable these days…).

Which is to say that I don’t have much time for writing.

Which is sad.

It’s sad because I think it’s important that moms who work outside the home have a voice & speak up. (No, I don’t pretend to speak for all “working moms” but I think I can present at least one small slice of the experience.)

Look, I love writers. I married one. I have dear friends who are parents & writers. As in professional-with-published-books writers. I know how hard they work. I know how hard they work to juggle their writing & their families. But I don’t always feel represented by writerly writers who write about “working mothers.” (Ditto actors.) I know that’s unfair. I know that’s judgmental. Sorry.

So… I still keep my blog alive (though I realize it’s often barely on life support) because I think it’s important for moms with 9-to-5’s to be a part of the conversation. I suppose that’s why I (along with many others) get so giddy when someone like Anne-Marie Slaughter writes about what it’s like to participate in a grueling but fulfilling career while raising a family. Or why my law school’s local alum group hosted a discussion of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In when it was first published.

All moms are busy. “Working moms” are a different type of busy. And that different type of busy makes it especially difficult for us to participate in discussions of motherhood & work & equality.

I do know that the fact that I don’t publish often or maintain my blog in a way to make it pretty or more public affects the number of folks I can reach. But for those of you who stick with me & still read my posts, what would you like to see me address here? More on sleep & attachment parenting? Breastfeeding & pumping? More on career & cultural issues affecting “working moms”? Book reviews? Biology? Travel with kids? Equitable parenting? Cooking & food? Miscarriage & loss? Anything else?

And now, I hear my lovely family returning, so, until next time!

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Metaphorical motherly musings on Mothers’ Day

I spent a lot of time holding & cuddling my sleeping “baby” (aka, the toddler) yesterday. She wanted “mama” all day long & slept next to me for her nap & in my arms at the beginning of the night. When she was taking her bath, I heard her calling out “mama… mama!” sweetly as I stole a few minutes of solitude in the kitchen.

As I lay staring at her in the afternoon light during her nap, I thought of a tree.

I want her to be mine. Forever mine. But I know that’s not what motherhood & childhood & life are about. She’s no more mine than my partner is mine. She is no more mine than a beloved tree.

The most I can I hope for is to be a part of her core. Like the seed that (I imagine) forms the core of the rings of a tree. She will, I hope form her self around that inner core.

The core will, naturally, become more distant to her outward appearance & the self that she presents to the world, but it will still be there.

My job, is to be loving & stable, so that her core & the inner rings that are forming right now, are as solid as possible.

And that core is not only my work, my job, but also that of the others who are central to her life right now. That is the motherly work of parenting. So, whether you are a mother, father, brother, sister, cousin, grandma, grandpa, uncle, aunt, babysitter, nanny, friend, your work is important. Happy Mothers’ Day.

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Screen-Free Week 2018

So, I’m writing this blog post on the first day of Screen-Free Week in an attempt to convince you to give up (or scale back) screen time for yourself & your family this week.

I’ve been participating in (& writing about) Screen-Free Week since at least 2012. I’ve been reading about screens & kids for even longer.

I’ve been honest when Screen Free Week hasn’t gone as planned. And I’ve been honest when my own use of tech has interfered with my parenting. Lately, I was reminded of how my kids are quietly paying attention to my use of my devices when my son asked if I read books! (I do & was able to list at least three recent books I had read… Phew!)

Lately, we’ve achieved (more or less) solid parameters for our son’s use of screens, while learning hard lessons about how our rules clash with those of his friends.

If you’re curious what a tech-lite house looks like, our current rules are:

  • No screens during the school week or when we have other things to do.
  • Our oldest can watch his own show for about 30 minutes each day Friday-Sunday.
  • He can watch more if it’s with a parent on a topic that’s more-or-less of interest to everyone (baseball instructional videos, music videos, documentaries, etc.)
  • If he wants to look something up on YouTube Kids, he does so with an adult present.
  • We indulge in family movie night & Star Wars & Marvel movies at the theaters!

We’re trying to make screen time more of a family activity than a babysitter. That has meant sitting down to watch Boss Baby episodes with him & cooking to the soundtrack of Voltron or reviews of Lego sets.

Some of his friends play video games & use tech with more freedom (& less adult supervision), which makes navigating acceptable limits more tricky. I don’t want him to be a social outcast because of our rules, but I want to give him tools for navigating the Internet, which can be unsafe territory for kids.

It’s a work in progress. And our rules will change as he grows& changes.

For Screen-Free Week this year, I’ve asked him to help police my use of screens. It’s going to be hard when life seems so tethered to devices (calendars, email, work, recipes, money management, etc.) We agreed to no iPad time for him this weekend. But I’m taking him to see Avengers: Infinity Wars on Sunday. Seems like a compromise but overall a win-win.

Signing off until I report back! (And so I can pay attention to a very important little league baseball game!)

I hope you’ll join in the fun (especially if the weather in your neck of the woods is as spring-like as mine)! Let me know in the comments if you do!

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Birth & systemic racism

The recent New York Times article, Why America’s Black Mothers & Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis, by Linda Villarosa, is required reading if you care about birth, mothers, babies, families, women, race, equality, feminism, healthcare, or any-or-all of the above.

And if you don’t quite understand what institutionalized racism is or means, this will be an eye-opening read. The implications are shocking & sure to shift the way you think about the impact of systemic racism.

I don’t even want to summarize the article here because it’s just so compelling that you really need to read it for yourself.

Please do.

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The hardest thing about being a parent

“Noooo! Start the next chapter!”

As I was doing bedtime with the kids last night, I suddenly realized what for me has been the hardest part of being a parent: It’s the feeling that you’re never doing enough.

I don’t mean that in an abstract, perfectionist-y kind of way. I mean that literally my children are always asking more of me.

T (my oldest) was dragging his feet getting ready for bed tonight & wasn’t ready (despite lots of gentle prodding) until “lights out” time. Which meant there was no time for reading. Except I know that no reading really sucks, so I told him I’d read to him for a measly 5 minutes. When that came to an end (&, really, I’m 99% sure we went past 5 minutes because, I’m a sucker & love reading to him…), he pleaded for more time. This, despite the fact that he ran out of time, I still read more than I said I would & should have had no time at all.

Now, some authoritarian-minded parents might tell me, with some kernel of truth, that I’m reaping what I’ve sown. In other words, I didn’t stick to the firm limits I had set, so of course he’s going to ask for more!

But I know that bedtime without reading just doesn’t work. And he was none the wiser to the fact that I went over the 5-minute limit I had set. I simply said, “time’s up!” & shut the book.

And had we had time to read for an hour, he would have still asked for more. That’s just how my kids work. And I suspect I am not alone.

I live in a universe that is the exact opposite of the beautiful Neil Young lines: “Will I see you give more than I can take? Will I only harvest some?”

To answer (your entirely rhetorical) questions, Mr. Young: No, I will see them take more than I can give! No, they will not only harvest some. They will gladly take it all.

Or, at least it feels like that sometimes.

And then I start to wonder: Okay, even if it is not just my kids, is it just American kids? Western kids? Kids with some amount of privilege?

Am I doing something wrong? (Well, to answer that not-entirely rhetorical question: Yes. Plenty.)

Or is there something else going on?

Babies ask for the moon & the sun. Hold me. Feed me. Love me. Rock me. Show me. Touch me. Help me. Comfort me.

In the beginning, they take all we can give & more. It’s instinctual. They beckon us with a yelp or a cry. Then with a smile or a coo.

I never questioned the necessity of those asks. I just gave.

Yet, at some point I started to construe those asks, those demands on me, as selfish.

At 21 months, I’m definitely not there with M (my youngest). At 9 years, I’m definitely there with T.

But why? What changed? And, when?

Nothing’s really changed, but everything has. He’s pulling away, developing into his own individual identity. But when he needs me…. It’s like a rubber band pulled taught & then released; man, it snaps back with a vengeance.

He needs those moments when we’re both at ease & open to each other & alone. And, thirsty & in need, he drinks them up (as do I, honestly). (To wit: laying in his bed with a book we both adore, unconsciously leaning towards me until we’re in full-on cuddle mode.)

His needs are real. And while he’s at an age where I can say “no” or “later” & expect him to understand, at least in normal circumstances (like an average bedtime), I have to still find a way to fill those needs.

And I think that’s where I struggle. Especially with a young toddler who is still at an age where limits are difficult, to say the least, it can be difficult to manage & navigate their needs while not completely neglecting my own needs as a human being.

But what I’ve come to realize is that the demand for “more” is real & does not mean that my children are particularly selfish.

I’m simply playing a constant game of catch-up, trying to figure out how to meet their needs in developmentally appropriate ways. That’s the really hard work. The true challenge & calling of being a parent.

What do we offer to our children to harvest?

More lyrics, this time from Beach House: “It won’t last forever. Or maybe it will.”

I hope it will. At least, I hope that my relationship will persist with my children to the extent that a small part of them will always need me. I realize the upheaval of adolescence is just around the corner, really, with adulthood to follow. I hope to be there every step of the way with something to offer.

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