iPad vs. child

For years now I’ve been exploring, questioning & writing about children & screens, especially around the time of Screen Free Week. Again, Screen Free Week is upon us (it actually started today–we’ll start tomorrow, promise)! What a better way to welcome the (slowly) improving weather than by putting down our devices for a bit & exploring life beyond our screens! In celebration (& hopefully to offer some inspiration), I thought I’d reflect on how my family’s interaction with technology has changed over the years & share a parenting fail that provided me with a wake-up call…

Things have drastically changed in my house since T’s arrival in this world. When T was born, we had a desktop computer & I had a laptop for law school. We had a TV. We did not have cable. We did not have smartphones. We did not have handheld devices aside from our not-so-smart, basic mobile phones.

So as I started learning about babies & screen time, it was an easy enough parenting choice. The TV stayed mostly shut up in its cabinet. There were no apps to tempt us.

When we moved halfway across the country, we ditched our old tube TV. (No, this was not the 90’s… this was 2011!) The old desktop stopped more or less working.

But what we lost in size I gained in handheld power. We had recently upgraded the laptop so I could avoid having to take the bar exam on paper… Seriously, terrifying thought! With law school & the bar exam behind me, MFA Dad took over. I acquired an iPhone. Eventually I got an iPad, too.

T was older, and as he exited the toddler years, we loosened up a bit. We now allow some videos: a mix of Netflix cartoons, documentaries, a few movies (everything from Frozen to Lego Movie to Episode IV of Star Wars to Sponge Bob in 3D, which is a story unto itself).

We haven’t yet had to set time limits. When T was younger & we were more strict, he never saw a screen he didn’t like, no matter what was on it. Now that the mystery is gone, it’s a bit easier to quietly manage his access. I don’t anticipate this will last, though… We haven’t yet entered the world of video games…

What I’ve learned is that my use of technology will prove to be heavily influential in how T views & uses technology in the future… And let’s just say I have a lot of room for improvement…

T & I had a quiet night together while MFA Dad had a rare Friday night out with one of his best buddies. I was looking forward to spending the evening with T. I meditated on the train ride home & prepared myself for parenting with awareness & compassion (as opposed to parenting under duress, which is how parenting after work sometimes oftentimes feels…). I was feeling relaxed, focused & ready for an enjoyable evening with my energetic little guy. 

And things were going well. We had a lovely dinner together. He sat mostly still & ate all of the chicken taco salad I had quickly thrown together (with the help of some tortilla chips). T then made himself dessert: a mash-up of frozen blueberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, plain yogurt & cinnamon. We were chatting & laughing. It was one of those (rare) magical parenting moments.

He was so cooperative. I thought, why not get get a jump on the weekend chores & get his help planning meals for the week ahead. (I like trying to include him in the planning as a way to get him invested in this family activity, hoping we’ll be able to more easily cajole home into helping with food prep & eating. It sometimes works, but usually it makes no difference. Oh well, I keep at it…)

We use Plan to Eat for meal planning, so I grabbed my iPad. Things continue to go swimmingly & I get some input for meals & snacks.

But then things start to turn…

T asks me (very sincerely), “Why are you such buddies with your iPad?”

Shit…

But he doesn’t stop there… Oh, no…

“I think you’re better buddies with your iPad than with me.”

Heart, in pieces.

Young children are astute. T recognizes that I have a relationship with my iPad. He also recognizes (& painfully pointed out) that my interactions with my device interfere with my relationship with him.

If I’m completely honest, I use my iPad a lot. It’s the way I connect with people (via email, messaging, Facebook, FaceTime, etc.). It’s the way I connect with myself (through meditation timer & apps, yoga videos, journaling & blogging). It’s the way I take care of household chores (meal planning, cooking, finances, shopping). And it provides entertainment (Netflix, PBS, etc.).

T, who can’t yet read, has no idea what I’m doing on my iPad unless it involves looking up a Jangbricks Lego review for him to watch. (Strangely entertaining, by the way.) Our lives are so intertwined with technology & it is so difficult to create & keep to boundaries when, really, we use our devices to manage everything from birthday parties to grocery lists. Not to mention our jobs! 

Since that fateful Friday night when T schooled me, I’ve meal planned in his presence again. I told myself I’d do it on pencil & paper, but, nope, iPad… It’s just so darn efficient when time is at such a premium.

So what is the appropriate way for us to use technology in the presence of our children? I don’t have an answer & I fail daily. I think eye contact is a start. I’m trying really hard to put down the device & make eye contact when T (or anyone) is talking. It’s kinda lame that I have to remind myself of that, but it’s the hard truth. 

This Screen-Free Week, I’m aiming low… Take my cue from T, who likes to do stuff with his hands, like IRL. Maybe play Uno. Make eye contact with my boy.

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Mother-birthday (Or, these boots were made for carrying, chasing, working, running…)

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T was due six years ago today. Today, two weeks before his sixth birthday, I am wearing the same boots that I bought that winter when I was pregnant with him (…when my feet were just a bit wider than they had been previously…).

Since that time, I have carried him in these boots. Walked hand-in-hand with him in these boots. In these boots, I have watched him run & laugh. I’ve chased him in these boots. We’ve had adventures in at least two states in these boots.

I have rushed to school in these boots. I have rushed home from moot court practice to T in these boots. I passed the bar in these boots. In their better (less scuffy) days, I sat in the courtroom in these boots. I met with clients in these boots. I now rush to work & back (always trying to maximize my time with T) in these boots.

At least, I’ve done & do all these things in the late winter/early spring, a short window when it’s not too cold or warm for wearing my boots. It’s a time of uncertainty, really. When will the ice melt…the snow stop…the rain start…the temperature tick upward..the plants go in the ground…?

The two weeks after my due date was a time of uncertainty in a season of uncertainty. I know so much more now. Today T is a person with a fun sense of humor & a kind personality.

But I still like to commemorate that time of uncertainty. I like to marvel at my good luck & laugh at how green I was. But this year, especially, I need to remind myself that in times of uncertainty we can be strong (as I was during the waiting & then the long labor) & adapt (as I did with a newborn T in the house). The truth is, it’s been a really trying 12 months, with highs & deep lows. T has brought me much light, but it’s still been difficult.

So this due date anniversary is my little celebration. An empowering reminder of how I was before T came screaming into our world & how far I’ve come. It’s my mother-birthday. I will continue to be strong & adapt.

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Five years of parenting (& living!)…

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Five years ago, I was over-pregnant (almost 2 weeks past my due date) & our labor was just beginning. I went to an acupuncturist for the first time, desperate to get things started after trying just about everything I thought might help or at least wouldn’t hurt.

I was afraid.

Afraid of labor. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the changes to come.

I was also probably afraid that I’d never sleep again (thankfully I was wrong on that front, though I didn’t sleep for a long while & sleep still isn’t the same…).

Labor was amazing (afterward, hormones coursing through my veins like a wonder drug, I told my mother it didn’t hurt a bit) & amazingly difficult (it lasted days, not hours, & did involve a fair amount of pain).

But all that seems like a long time ago now.

My now four-year-old, soon-to-be five-year-old, has changed me in so many ways. Really, he’s thrown my life into a tailspin.

And yet, not.

I’ve managed to maintain my identity in the ways that matter most to me. I still pursue my work with passion & integrity.

But, despite the technical difficulties involved in achieving “work-life balance,” I feel more… well… balanced. As I’ve been working on my next post on self care (coming soon… promise!) I realize that balance is about more than leaving work at a particular time or having scheduled family time on the weekends. It’s also a mental game.

There are work stressors & home stressors. In the past 5 years, life with T has taught me that managing those stressors is really a key in finding life balance. If I can leave home stressors at home, I can be more productive at work. If I can leave work stressors at work, I can be a better parent & partner & person.

I wasn’t always able to separate out these two stressors (& I still fail a lot). I’m a focused person, so it’s always been easy to fall down a rabbit hole of activity & stress. I didn’t exactly feel like I was living at those times & I was less than healthful & a poor partner.

Law school (especially 1L) will make just about anyone crazy & I jumped down that rabbit hole (more like a worm hole) quicker than my partner could say “why did I move across the country to be abandoned by my law school wife?” (Sorry sweetie!) Then T came along & suddenly I was wondering why I was trudging down a path I didn’t create (journal, advocacy group, research assistant, moot court, clinic, etc.). Did I really need to do all this stuff? I decided I didn’t. I chose two activities & threw myself into them to the extent one can with a newborn. I gave myself (most) weekends off for the first time in my life. I had a home life! (Note: This is not career advice for current law students! I have trouble contemplating the tough market you are facing right now!)

T (or life with T) has helped me to prioritize & compartmentalize in a way that has been liberating. Even though I have more responsibility & the stakes are higher, I am more relaxed. I feel like I am living in a way that is abundantly more fulfilling.

Thank you, T. And happy almost birthday.

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The Problem with “Me Time”

Does a cup of chai, a good Russian novel, and a cozy blanket constitute "me time" or true self care?

Does a cup of chai, a good Russian novel, and a cozy blanket constitute “me time” or true self care?

Happy (Very Belated) New Year! I thought now is as good a time as ever to try to get back into the blogging “habit.”

I never imagined when I embarked on my journey toward better self care (see my last post, way down toward the end) that blogging would take the hardest hit.

Focusing on self care has led me down other paths & now (maybe? hopefully?) back to blogging. I have been thinking about self care a lot & I feel I finally have something to share here in a series of posts about how we (anybody, but specifically mothers & even more specifically, outside jobbing mamas) can take better care of our individual selves.

So what is this “self care” I am blathering about? I did not I invent the term, but I’ve discovered it recently & it seems to describe perfectly the journey I am on right now.

Self care is, in short, my attempt to create a less ego-centered version of “me time.” Call it a cheap word trick if you want, but it’s working for me as a way to reframe the concept in a way that I need it to be reframed.

I have consistently resisted the culture that glorifies “me time” … especially the innocent-seeming-but-really-insidious version: “mommy me time.” I hinted at my dislike of “me time” a little here, but I wasn’t able to truly articulate my feelings because, well, I hadn’t given the topic enough thought. I’ve also tried to make “me time” work for … me… but it didn’t stick. What can I say, the term & the concept just rub me the wrong way. (I’m sure I’m in the minority here, so please share your thoughts on “me time” in the comments!)

After spending a couple months mired in trying to figure it out, I can now say this: I think the ego-driven competition (& it IS a competition) for “me time” is consumerist in nature & results in an unhealthy division of the self that drive us away from those that are closest to us, namely our children & partners.

Whoa… That’s a hefty sentence, so let me start to unpack my thoughts a bit.

When I say “me time” is an ego-driven competition, I mean that I two ways. There’s the more literal meaning: Our culture (& more specifically, the world imagined by advertisers) is competitive, pitting one Lululemon-see-through-yoga-pants-wearing mom against another. Who has the time (& money) to eat at the trendiest restaurants? To have nails & hair done stylishly? To be decked out in the hippest wardrobe?

“Me time” is this sort of fungible good that we all want more of (even if we can’t quite define precisely what we want or need as unique individuals). We’re trained to desire the time (& money… but that’s a post for another day) to pursue what makes us feel good now. What makes me “happy” in the moment. What distracts me from my real life & responsibilities.

And because “me time” is fungible, we get this idea that we can swap or “buy” (more of) it with time we might otherwise spend on other activities (including sleeping). And because we want more “me time” we might start to resent activities (playing trains on the floor, cooking, working, etc.) that really aren’t fungible.

Parents, of course, are typically in the red when it come to time, so it’s no wonder that the idea (or dream) of “me time” has a certain cache among moms (& dads). Thus, even subconsciously, we start to compare our toil-a-day lives with others… others who often seem more put together than ourselves:

So-and-so friend (or worse yet, “so-and-so blogger”) always seems to find time for “me time”! What gives? I can’t even shower before I head off to work, let alone go to a yoga class, go out to eat with my girlfriends, get my hair cut or even run a comb through my damned hair!! WTF! There must be something wrong with me! No, it’s that my partner is unsupportive! Yes, and my child is a monster who has destroyed every last semblance of my individual being!!! Argh!!!

You get the picture.

And, yes, I have experienced some version of all of the above.

… Not pretty.

Ok, so that’s the literal, keeping up with Ms. Jones, competition. It gets me nowhere really fast & I’m guessing it’s not really helpful for anyone.

But there’s another way the search for “me time” is a “competition.” And it’s an internal competitions of sorts.

Think about what “me time” really is… Ok, duh, it’s time for “me,” but who or what is “me”? It seems to me (ha!) that the “me” in “me time” is an abstract ego that is really nobody at all.

Yikes!! (I can’t believe I’m actually writing about ego… I hate Freud!)

Seriously, that mythical “me” searching for some equally mythical “me time” is not me. I actually don’t know who she is. I don’t even know what she wants to do with her hypothetical “me time.” But guess what? Who ever she is, the minute I start thinking about finding or creating “me time,” she starts vying for my attention & tries to dominate my sense of self.

In other words, the ego-centered “me” is competing with my partnered-self, my mother-self, my daughter-, sister-, granddaughter-, friend-self. My worker-bee-self, my homemaker-self & my bookmaker-self.

Wow! I have a lot of selves!

And in a sense, they’re all competing for my attention & time in any given moment. But there’s no denying that these are the selves that make me who I am. And there are probably others… some a bit buried (like my music-making-self).

It’s difficult… ok, it’s impossible to be all of these things at once. I need help managing all these selves in a way that works for me & those in my little circle. What I don’t need is some new-gal-self in town trying to push the others aside in a quest to push her own superficial agenda.

I need a self-manager-self, not another self trying to dominate the others. Plus, this “me time”-grabbing self seems kinda selfish. She never wants to do anything with my son or spouse. Sometimes she wants to hang out with a girlfriend or two, but usually she wants to engage in solitary activities & spend money. She cares more about how I look than who I’m with or what I’m actually doing.

And sometimes, when she’s around & not getting her way, she starts complaining about my son & spouse. She complains about having to work. She gets jealous easily. She tries to turn me (us?) against them.

Frankly, she’s a bitch.

I don’t need the drama & so I’ve decided I don’t need “me time.”

So there you have it, why I’m anti-“me time.” In my next post I’ll tackle why & how self care is radically different from “me time” & is eminently superior (in my not-so-humble opinion). Plus, I’ll share how & why I have MFA Dad to thank for my self care epiphany.

How about you? Have you ever questioned our society’s elevation of “me time” above many other kinds of “time”? Or do you love the idea of “me time” & does this post want to make you scream?

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Mean city streets, you win.

I quit.

I don’t quit many things, but today I quit cycling.

OK, cycling is not quite a normal topic for this blog… unless it is… I promise I won’t spend too much time on the non-parenting stuff. (Also, be forewarned: There may be swearing in this blog post.)

Not-so-big-secret (though this blog has been anonymous since its inception… the job-related need for anonymity has lessened, so…): I live & work & play in Chicago.

Yes, land of the massive Divvy bike share & more than 200 of miles of bike “lanes.”

Despite being named a top cycling city, I still quit.

You see, no army of blue bikes, no quorum of bike lanes can make Chicago friendly to cyclists.

I’ve been cycling in the city since we moved here over two years ago. I take my son to school on the bike. I go to work many days out of the week on my bike. I do my grocery shopping on my bike. MFA Dad & I have date nights on our bikes. … You get the picture: Obnoxiously smug cycling family. (Ok, we’re not really smug about it; far too humble for that crap.)

Until tonight. This one is done.

Why do (did) I ride? I’m a busy mama with not even a minute to think about exercise, let alone do it. Except if I ride my bike everywhere. Then I can move my body and get shit done, which is awesome! Yes, I love the environment & it makes me happy to keep my car off the road. But there’s a bus route around the corner & the train isn’t far away… so, yay, environment!

Today I realized that I love to move my body but can’t deal with the stress cycling in Chicago causes me. “Hard core” cyclists, including MFA Dad, might call this a cop-out. When cyclists quit riding, that’s a win for cars, for poor infrastructure, for assholes. All that is true.

But here’s the thing… I’m a competent, safe cyclist. I haven’t so much as fallen off of my bike since I started riding in this city. Yet my commute to & from work feels like a minefield. In fact it kind of is a minefield: I’ve changed my route more than once to avoid danger zones, which I only know to be danger zones after someone dies in a terrible accident or is otherwise injured by a less terrible accident.

Riding on the Lakefront bike path is almost relaxing, especially when its 25 degrees outside & there is hardly anyone on it. But there’s the little problem of getting to & from the path via city streets & riding home in the dark, which is alright when it’s packed in the summer but lonely & scary when there’s no one else there.

So, for me, the stress isn’t worth it. The mini-heart-attacks. The constant vigilance required to, you know, stay alive. The animosity I feel aimed at me. The honks & yells.

It’s not so much the safety as it is the panick-inducing state cycling causes me. Mayor Rahm Emanuel can’t fix this one. (Unless he can find a way to make drivers & cyclists play nice together… I’ll be waiting!)

MFA Dad asked me today if I was feeling a bit of PTSD from a near-miss I had last week. Probably. And that is no way to live. (Being a lawyer & a mom & a primary bread-winner is plenty stressful enough, thank you!)

Of course, there are many people to thank (I couldn’t quit this alone!). The asshole talking into her phone, slowly turning right into my path. The cabbie who buzzed me trying to squeeze between me & another car at an intersection, literally making me scream in fright & then accusing me of “road rage” because I let out said scream (& a few choice words) in an out-of-breath & panicky tone due to the heart attack he had just given me. No thank-you-asshole-roll-call would be complete without also thanking my fellow cyclists, who not only make drivers hate “us” even more but who have also cut me off, yelled at me, played chicken while riding the wrong way in the bike lane, buzzed me, and nearly caused many an accident in my general path or vicinity.

So I’m queuing up my iPod & finding a good book… Tomorrow I start commuting exclusively by train & brainstorming other ways to get this busy body moving in a more relaxing way.

It sucks that this is my response to the biking situation in this city. But I only bike because it (ostensibly) makes me feel good. I’m not making a political statement when I get on my bike. I’m just listening to my body. Maybe someone will convince me I am wrong. Or maybe my mental state will change & I’ll be able to handle the stress of riding again one day. But for now, it doesn’t make me feel good or strong… it makes me feel like a frazzled mess.

Which leads me to the mama-parenting thing…. I have to find a way to deal with the stress thing. Cycling took care of part of the problem very efficiently (physical movement & health) but created another (stress & panic). So now what? I’m working on a couple of posts about self care as I explore this problem. I feel there is some barrier to taking care of myself: Is it simply a matter of math (not enough hours in the day)? Is it an ugly manifestation of “mommy guilt”? Is it something deeper?

I need both a mental & a practical solution to this problem that has vexed me almost since T was born. So far, I don’t have either…

(And I realize the need for self care is universal & that we all have various obligations that complicate our ability to find the time for the activities that we need to function as individuals. But mothers in particular—and I’ll be exploring this in an upcoming series of posts—have notoriously not only short-changed ourselves but also complicated the very idea of self care…)

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Goodbye Halloween, goodbye candy

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Is it possible to care about food & let your child enjoy a “normal” Halloween? (And by normal, I mean filled with candy…)

I haven’t figured it out yet & I suspect that each year (as T grows) will be a puzzle to be solved in the moment.

Last year, the Switch Witch came to collect most of T’s candy. T kept a small bowl of candy, which lasted a week or so. He received a small gift in exchange for “sharing” the rest with the Switch Witch. (We threw away the rest… after selecting a few pieces for ourselves.) Last year, T hardly knew what candy was, let alone did he have a “favorite.” Last year, he was content to trick-or-treat on just our block & pass by the really scary houses.

This year is different.

He loves M&Ms (as a rare treat). He planned to trick-or-treat with friends. He was afraid of nothing… the scarier, the better (including our own “scary” jack-o-lantern pictured above). He’s already started planning costumes for next year.

So this year we’ve changed it up. All the candy he could eat. On Halloween.

The rest we are sending to troops abroad. Right now it’s living on an upper shelf of the pantry.

That’s it. Done.

He went a bit crazy last night. (Though I was proud that the last “candy” he chose was a box of raisins & he acted as if he had been saving the best for last.) In the end, he complained that his tummy hurt him & he didn’t appreciate the fact that I subjected him to a thorough flossing before bed.

I think this is all compatible with a healthy food philosophy. It’s not ideal, perhaps. But the world isn’t an ideal place & learning to navigate it (& its pitfalls) is part of the game.

Goodbye, Halloween. And good riddance!

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Follow-up on mommy guilt

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So I realize that my post On mommy guilt sounded so sure & confident. I intentionally wrote it that way. I don’t think I can tackle mommy guilt if I’m wishy-washy. I don’t think it helps to think about mommy guilt while entertaining doubts.

But, nothing (no matter how objective we try or pretend to be) is fool-proof. I was reminded of this (painfully) yesterday.

T & I both had the day off (woo-hoo federal holidays!). The day started out on an emotional note: We dismantled T’s toddler bed (formerly his crib) to make room for a real bed.

The crib was a gift from my law school friends & I have vivid memories of putting it together by myself when I was 8 or 9 months pregnant. (That whole nesting thing…)

Then all of a sudden, here I am, handing my four-year-old the hex key to take out all of the bolts, which he did quite handily.

He looked at me like I was crazy when I teared up just watching him work away.

So, yeah, that’s the kind of morning it was at my house.

We had a dream-like day together, going on a nature walk, cooking & cleaning together, carving jack-o-lanterns, reading books, learning about organs.

Then after dinner, he said it.

“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.”

He wanted to be with me.

And I thought to myself: I don’t want to go to work—I want to be with you, too.

Ouch.

Truth is, I can only pull off one of these mostly-perfect days once a quarter, if that. So, really, he wouldn’t want to be with me day in & day out.

And this morning, he was excited as we left for school.

Though I’ve done a pretty decent job at banishing mommy guilt, I am often reminded of how precious & important time spent together is for him & for myself.

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