The screen time that’s worth sharing with the next generation

Being a working mama means that the hours between getting home and bedtime are short and concentrated. Face-to-face interactions are maximized and concentrated, dinner is cooked and eaten, books read, and several laps around the kitchen are all in order to fill that narrow space. So those rare Friday nights when we all relaxed are coveted by all.  The kids’ birthdays are coming up in a week and we anticipated having several family visitors this weekend – but unfortunately the warm winter’s joy (i.e. illness) prevented our meeting. But the flipside was less preparation for all of us and a phone call to the local pizzeria for some nice pie!

After a tiny but decadent dose of pre-dinner chocolate we all dove in on the pizza, with a side of salad for good measure, sat, chatted, giggled, and ate cheese and crackers, while little L and his Naniji played several games of “pop-up” — a generic version of the game “Trouble” (Parcheesi).  Naniji got all the sixes and L none, so the victories were a bit one-sided to say the least.  Little R was true to form — refusing to sit in her booster seat and instead getting into daddy’s dinner chair with the handles. In that chair, up and down she climbed, asking “Yes?” as she stood up. . .  No, R. Then came the singing of Jingle Bells. She sang one line, I the next, and on we went as we traded the strangest facial expressions. Sigh and love and joy.

The piece de resistance prior to R’s bedtime brought into play T and my family’s movie pastime of childhood, which also happens to dovetail with our daughter’s obsession with the song “So Long, Farewell,” to which she affectionately refers as “Cuckoo.”

Yes, we watched The Sound of Music.

There are some screens that are totally worth it, that not only take you back but also bring your family together into new versions of that history and take your kids into your childhood. Then when they’re the Sound of Music they take you even further back into history and remind you that history happened not so long ago and so many things from then still resonate now.

I still remember the coo of my little brother singing “Edelweiss” with a lilt and a squeak (only to hear my daughter singing it similarly just a few months ago).  Our utter joy watching the Lonely Goatherd.  The way my family members have adopted the songs, sung them together, gone on pilgrimage to Salzburg, sat in utter silence as we watched Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews work their magic. Ah the lighting, the glorious lighting, camera angles, beauty of the faces, frames. So familiar and loved.

We started the movie experience tonight with a jump ahead to “So Long, Farewell” — I wanted R to see it before I took her up to sleep. She was bouncing the whole time. Oh the glory of seeing my daughter see the kids sing “cuckoo” in person — she watched gleefully and started to join into the music, moving her hands and waving goodbye along with them. I simply can’t believe she’s going to be 2 in just a few days.

After that, Little L, my husband, and our au pair (who had never before seen The Sound of Music) went back to start the beginning of the movie. I spent this time upstairs singing “So Long, Farewell” to Little R and reading “Brown Bear” and falling asleep myself. L came up after intermission, intent to see the rest of the movie, but immediately fell asleep.

When I was growing up I never made it past the wedding scene. I just watched till then and thought the movie ended there. Didn’t quite get the bit about them wandering through the mountains.  I’m wondering how far we’ll go with the movie with Little L and if we’ll make it through all the historical parts we can teach him.  But I can’t wait to bring other parts of my musical theatre-obsessed childhood into the picture. We’ve watched Mary Poppins but in the pre-comprehension state. Interested in reintroducing it.  And My Fair Lady. Hello Dolly. Oh my, so many fun times lay ahead of us!

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Parenting? That’s kid’s stuff!

Header 11-2-2015 copy

Now manners? That’s another story.

There’s nothing like encouraging early childhood developmental milestones to remind a busy lady and hapless parent that she still has some capabilities in life. And some room for improvement.

Latest es-kid-pades in our house? Little L – who will be 5 in January – has a new love for three new activities – balance biking, building, and reading all by himself. I thought it’d never happen and suddenly he does all three things at once. Oh yeah, and he’s listening. a LOT.

Of course, it’s not all wine and roses (er . . apple juice and daffodils?).

Heard a few weeks ago during routine play: “NOOOO!!!!!! It’s not WOR-KING!!!!!! AAAAAAGGGGH!” Tears. Lots of tears. Flailing.

L was converting his “Lego Creator” plane into the helicopter. Compared to 5 months ago when he’d give up on Lego in a huff, this time he was painstakingly following the instructions to make this little tiny creation. No sooner had I taken a break to nuzzle with my 19-month-old daughter R when I heard the blood curdling scream, the horror-stricken rendering of my older child’s utter fear of failures in life. And all this for a mini Lego set. The pieces just weren’t fitting together as he expected.

Well surprise surprise, it’s one thing to be able to live vicariously through a child — many times pure bliss. But this time coming in as the big strong adult also can make you feel pretty grand. Never fear, son, Mom is here!

I know what you’re thinking. Don’t DO it, mom! First of all, you’re not letting him explore the toy, learn his mistakes, figure it out.  From his point of view it was all, “Don’t DO it, mom!! You’re messing it up! It’s all falling apart!”

Yes, I probably should have let him struggle through the thing a bit more but I think there are some times when you can intervene, especially if your kid has been trying his utmost to fix a piece for the past 15 minutes. We don’t need every minute to be innately frustrating do we? And I was pretty impressed with is zest for Legos — didn’t want to quash that.  So mommy stepped in and  used her spatial skills to fix the pieces, and he went back quietly on his way to completing the creation.  Some things just must be done.

And then there was this week with Legos.  Far from wanting to follow the instructions, L was giddy with laughter as he willfully veered away from the instructions as he built his tiny alligator. “Look, mom! He has SIX EYES! Isn’t that silly?”  Oh the joy.

Just in case you're not sure what you're looking at, this is an Alligator with many eyes and rocket launchers. And he spins.

Just in case you’re not sure what you’re looking at, this is an Alligator with many eyes and rocket launchers. And he spins.

Sigh. it’s always a fun adventure. And then there’s my little girl R who screeches “It’s MINE!!! i want it!” for nearly everything when all of a sudden the next moment she is quietly telling me she needs to go potty and is proud of herself for washing her hands and grabbing the soap “I needa da sooooap . . . ” She’s a pistol one moment and then the next she is nuzzled up to me, throwing her cheek against my chin and averting her eyes from the gaze of onlookers.  So tweet, my little bird, you are!

And then there’s the room for improvement for mom — my latest adventure in NOT doing right is when I answer the phone.  About 50% of the time when we answer the home phone it’s a solicitation from someone looking for the “head of the household” or the “person responsible for the electric bill.” Excuse me! I have a name and unfortunately no you’re not going to talk to the head of the household. But as the phone call sets my temper aflame I’m immediately aware that if I react rudely I’m not only giving myself hypertension, but I’m also (more importantly) setting a very bad example for my kids about how to talk to strangers on the phone. I need to work on the task of warding off phone solicitors without looking like the grouchy old mommy that I sometimes am.  Any advice on how to proceed?

Time for bed and to enjoy sleepy time. Every day gives opportunities for improvement. At least I can rest assured that there always will be another unsolicited call where I can learn to practice my manners.

Posted in Personal

Finding time to be me and not mom

Motherhood's a long road. Don't forget to get time to yourself!

I just got back from rehearsal with my choir — yes — choir. It’s been just under 5 years — essentially since the birth of little L, that I have not performed in choirs (or a cappella or musical theatre . .. you get the idea). But before then . . well, let’s say that doing choral music was a most essential part of my life, interrupted only by residency and then yes, bearing children. The two great commitments of my life that demanded no interruptions. Honestly, I can’t believe that so many years passed, and so quickly at that.

Lucky for me, I have the unflinching support of both my husband T and our fearless au pair M, who share none of my reservations of my leaving the kids without me on a Tuesday night.  They handle things beautifully and I came home from rehearsal today to find the house quiet and cool, and even though I tried to nuzzle up to the family to sleep I found myself sleepless — but fortuitously also with time to blog, which I always cast as a rarity in my life these days.

New moms – never fear, you will get time once again to be yourself and to explore your interests.  And it comes sooner than you think — for me it came even before Kindergarten, even though little L has commitments every day after school. (Can’t really believe that one already but there it is — art class Monday, swimming Tuesday, Soccer and Violin Wednesday . . with such a busy schedule we tried not to occupy the rest of the week!) Here are my tips for working moms if you can manage them:

  1. Remember your passions. Ever since I gave birth I’ve known little about how to use my free time effectively. Usually if I have a free 30 minutes I fall exhausted onto the couch, don’t turn on the TV because I don’t want to make time there, and then I set to rearranging something– like cleaning our cluttered office or filing papers or emptying dishes or doing laundry.  The next time you have that 30 minute break, take the time to think about what it is that you want to do with your time and prepare yourself mentally, so that the next time you have 30 minutes you can just get started with that interest. Start doing the research, contacting people you want to connect with to pursue these interests, so that you can get started with them sooner.
  2. Get help if you can. I’m not afraid to ask for help — from relatives, from my partner, and am fortunate to have someone helping in the household — which I realize is not always the case. But if you have a passion and want to make time from it, take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the everyday (which never end, spring into summer into fall into winter and back into spring again). Think about what the time commitment will be and what the gains will be, and then see if you can figure out a way to make it work.  There are times when I dread the schedule addition and hope all is well, but suddenly 1 week and then 2 and then more weeks pass that you are pursuing this commitment, and yes it can work!
  3. Make things easier for yourself. I’m an all-from-scratch kind of mama. I know, not always typical for us working moms, but I am starting to realize just how much I make things difficult for myself by demanding fresh cooked meals of myself for every day.  Not only does it make me exhausted, but if it takes a long time to get dinner on the table the kids get hungry bellies and there’s lots more to clean up afterward.  I compromise now by mixing up pre-prepared and home cooked stuff, maybe getting a prepared entree and making my own side veggies or salad from scratch, and as a family we are simplifying ingredients and meals.  Coming up with a plan and a repertoire also can help you all get on track regarding health.  We are all now on a health kick involving sticking to green veggies, brown rice or quinoa, egg white, and lean proteins, and light fruits. Sticking to this diet makes shopping much easier and makes it a lot easier to focus when preparing meals.
  4. Don’t guilt-trip yourself. In fact, enjoy and relish that time that you have alone away from work and as an adult pursuing your interest – or even your dreams. Do not be ashamed that you are taking 2 or (gasp) 3 hours to do something that you and you alone are interested in. Your kids will love you for it and you will be able to stay more sane in other aspects of your life if you can have your me-time.
  5. Be engaged with your family when you are at home. Getting time to myself during the week means that I also have to be fully engaged when I am at home with the family, being mom. This means even more hard work and focus while at home. But staying off the screens and focusing on interactions and the here and now with kids and partners and other family and friends means a lot of fulfillment. And I, a consistent multitasker — truly feel a balance and fullness of life on and off mom-duty.
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Loving the little notes when powered down

So in the last few minutes before I return home to my now powerless, sunlight and childhood energy-driven household, I just want to take a little time and be thankful for everything around me and all the things that losing a few days worth of electricity makes  me think about.

First, the bigger issues – like the fact that we are so fortunate to have loving communities around us and people who care for us and want to help out, and that we can extend this help to other people, that we have our health and well being and ability to help give this to others, that we have a Supreme Court that knows how to make the right decisions that support human rights. . . I could go on.  But this post will continue to be a stream of consciousness.

After a rather short but fierce thunderstorm on Tuesday night, we lost power for now what is going on three days.  Not quite sure why I picked Tuesday night to go grocery shopping, but as I stared out of the local Whole Foods, rapidly trying to pay my bill at the cash registered, I saw the sky go black and the winds pick up and what seemed like a river flow through the parking lot.  I paused for about 15 minutes and waited till the storm passed – to be interrupted by phone calls from my parents ordering me NOT to go outside and notifying me that my dad had picked up little L and they were waiting outside the house for the storm to die down. Of course, I immediately began to hear my son (terrified of the storm) screaming in the background,  that he had to go bathroom and hearing my dad rush him out of the car and into the house.

By the time I got home L was already changed into pajamas (having been drenched through his path outside) and I got to hear my mom tell the tale of her sitting on the porch with my daughter little R. They were prepared to watch the storm from there until they felt the winds picked up, so very quickly they rushed inside and slammed the door!  Exiting my car, I noticed that my already jungle-like mass of tomato plants was completely awry, though it mostly survived, and while we hadn’t lost any trees debris from large trees was everywhere, and I came to find that a large 2-foot thick diamter tree had fallen across one of the roads outside our development.

Major roads have been closed, no power many places, and lots of notifications from the power company that they’re working on the problem – but it was pretty big, I don’t begrudge them the delays! In the midst of it all we pretty much held it together. And I learned a few things – here are 10 of them.

1) It can be fun to live life without electricity: The kids enjoyed reading time and me entertaining them by plunking a Chopin Mazurka on the piano – about 1/10th of the speed and accuracy with which it probably should be played. And they loved playing outside and eating an endless supply of boiled hot dogs and rice this week.

2) Ice works: I stopped at the ice store Wednesday and picked up two enormous bags of ice and used my chemistry class memories to create an ice bath in the coolers, and ended up partially freezing some of my normally refrigerated items, my concoction worked so well.

3) Who needs electric lights when you’ve got the sun and candles? We slept and awoke with the cues of natural light, and opened the windows.  Hot nights since the wind wasn’t blowing but otherwise a very refreshing wakeup!  And I realized I don’t need the lights I turn on in the house nearly as much as I use them.

4) People really care: My parents and our au pair pitched in so much – helping with picking up the kids, washing dishes, dropoffs, etc.  And then yesterday, still lacking power, we were fortunate to have a former teacher of mine who is now a friend lend me a generator so that we could hook up the fridge and freezer again.  Lucky people we are – as a family together, all taking care of one another, and with loving people who helped us.

5) Coconut butter is awesome: For the past 4 days we’ve been breakfasting on bagels toasted over the stove in coconut butter. Totally yummy. You should try it.

6) Very thankful for indoor plumbing. Life would be very difficult without this!  Cold showers I don’t mind at all, so heat is not a necessity, but plumbing . . .

It’s all part of loving the little notes in life – something I remember from my time singing with the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum – my college choir. Our director Jim always told us to “love the little notes” and not let them get lost in the midst of the pieces we were singing.  Good advice which I continue to take, especially when I think of these trials that hopefully will not become more significant matters, nuzzle my kids and reach to grab their heads as I contemplate the joy of the moment, and get up each day to experience the magic again!

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Mrs. Mom takes a vacation

When was the first time that you were away from your kids?  After 4+  years of parenting, I am currently experiencing my first weekend away from both of my two young chickadees, and off at a conference in Chicago!  And guess what . . .  I miss them.

Amazing how it’s so easy to get enraptured in the professional connections that this conference affords and get to meet people doing so much and so actively within the medical community – and with the larger area of children’s health and well being – and then suddenly think of my 1 year old daughter squeaking “I yuv you” over the phone to me early this morning.

Can it be that she is experiencing a few days of life without her mommy, while mommy is pumping and saving up milk for the little one?  Is she enjoying her naps with daddy and bonding time . . just the two of them?  An overwhelming sense of both freedom and envy overtakes me as I think of her cuddly body and her smiles, and how I miss the musical adventurous storytelling of my son. Bet he is negotiating right now with his grandmother about how many books he will get to read for bedtime.

Strangely, this quick weekend jaunt which I thought would be quite lengthy turns out to be almost complete, and soon I will be gathering my son from his own Chicago visit and heading back home. What will the reunion be like?  How different my kids will be after this time of separation, brief though it may seem!

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