Archives for June 2013

My Kids, My Phone, My Limits

Yesterday afternoon the annual talent show was held at my daughter Hannah’s school. This year she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Other kids sang, danced, read poems, showed off hula hoop and pogo stick skills, played various instruments, and told jokes, among other things. It was a delightfully eclectic group, and as ever I found myself enjoying the talents of the elementary school students more than I anticipated.

While the students performed, their acts were recorded for posterity. Parents and grandparents kneeled in the aisles with their cameras, smart phones and even their tablets. And on the sidelines, some of the older students also held up smart phones and iPods to take photos of their friends. Seeing these kids with their devices actually surprised me. My daughter’s school only goes up to grade five, so the very oldest students are only 10 or 11 years old. Somehow it seems a little bit young for that kind of technology.

Hannah, who is eight, likes to tell me how outdated my views on these matters are. “All of my friends have iPods,” she says. “Everyone but me. I’m the only one without my own iPod or iPad or phone.” Now, I don’t believe that she was really the only kid in grade two last year without her own mobile device. However, I do know other kids her age who do have their own iPods or iPads. I also know that many kids spend more time playing video games or using the computer than my daughter.

I do allow both of my kids to use my iPhone or tablet periodically, and they also gets some computer time. Hannah, in particular, recently got her first email address, since she’s now getting old enough to read and type her own messages. It would be untrue to say that my kids don’t get to use these devices at all, ever. On the other hand, the truth is that I do put some pretty big limits on my kids’ screen time, especially on phones, tablets and computers.

jacob hiding and playing on the phone

It’s possible that I’m a little hypocritical with the limits I place on my kids. I have an iPhone and two tablets, and there are two computers sitting on my desk right now. I get a lot of screen time in my daily life. Often, I’m reading on my tablet, doing something on my phone or working on my computer at the same time as I’m declining my kids’ requests to use these devices themselves. I don’t place the same limits on myself that I place on my kids. I’m okay with that for the most part.

I’m an adult. I’m more or less fully-formed as a human being. My kids, on the other hand, are still developing. There are proven negative consequences of kids spending too much time in front of a screen, including obesity, behavioural problems and sleep disturbance. It’s true that I would probably be healthier if I spent less time in front of a screen myself, but I look at this in the same way as I look at alcohol consumption. I can make an informed choice for myself. Until my kids can do the same thing, I’m going to limit their exposure.

It’s also true that I have a job that requires me to use a computer and a smart phone. When I do let my kids watch TV, I try to do it judiciously, and use that time to be productive and get some work done. I’m not about to give up my computer or phone at that moment, so for practical reasons their time on the computer or on my smart phone is limited. I also don’t really want my kids to mess with my technology, which is another reason that I don’t let them use it all that much.

In a few years my daughter will likely be going out into the world unsupervised more often. She’ll be walking to and from school by herself, and maybe other places, too. I know that a lot of parents give their kids their own phones once they’re spending more time out in the world on their own. I understand that impulse. It very well may have been why the older kids at Hannah’s school had phones of their own. I like the idea that I could reach my daughter – and she could reach me – anytime that we’re apart. I’m not there yet, but I can see that when I get there I may be re-considering my technology limits.

For now, I still believe it’s in my children’s best interests to limit the amount of time they spend connected to technology. Maybe it makes me the mean mom, but I can accept that. As a child of hippies, I grew up with limits that my friends didn’t. While my friends were eating chocolate, I had carob. And while they carried fruit roll-ups to school every day, I had fruit leather or actual fruit. I turned out okay, and I’m sure my kids will, too. Plus, I have to give them something to tell their therapists later in life, right?

How much time do your kids get on your computer, phone or tablet? Do they have devices of their own? At what age will you (or did you) get them their own phones? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

At the End of Grade Two

kid art painting boat“Can you tell which one is mine, Mom?” My eight-year-old daughter Hannah and I are standing in front of a bulletin board in the hallway outside her split grade one and two classroom. The bulletin board is filled with pictures of boats. They are all very similar, as if they were all copies of the same photograph. At the same time, each picture is different – a unique reflection of the young artist who created it.

“Did you put your name on your picture?” I ask. About half of the pictures have the artist’s name on the front, and if such a clue is obvious I don’t want to overlook it. My daughter shakes her head no, so I go back to examining the pictures. Which one carries Hannah’s artistic fingerprint? Which one bears her unwritten signature?

In about three seconds I have my answer. There are some 21 or so pictures on that bulletin board, and most bear the wobbly and creative strokes of children. One stands apart, and I don’t have to ask who drew it. It could only have been my daughter.

I’ve written about my daughter the artist before. I’ve shared how, as a four-year-old, her love for drawing and painting blossomed. I’ve discussed how I can look back at the countless works of art she’s created, and see her story written there. I’ve boasted about the way I am continuously gobsmacked by how my daughter has embraced her art, and cultivated a talent all her own. A talent neither of her parents share. A talent she has pursued with a relentless dedication that leaves me in awe.

My daughter wasn’t just handed a gift. She has worked tirelessly to improve her skill. When her artwork stands out from the other kids in her elementary school class, I know that it’s because she takes it seriously. She spends hours trying different techniques, experimenting with different ways to draws eyes, noses and mouths. She draws and re-draws the same thing over and over, until it’s perfect. She plays with different media, and can never (no, never) have enough crayons, markers, pencil crayons or paint colours. Sometimes I wonder if I could have been as good as her, if I had spent as much time as she spends on her art. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be, though – words have always been my domain. Reading and writing my passion.

Hannah is getting older, though, and I see a shift happening in her. As we stand in that hallway, I point to the picture I know is hers. She says, “How did you know?” I say, “Because I know you work very hard at your art, and I could tell that someone worked very hard on this one.” She looks at me, eyes wide. “Do you think it’s good? Do you think I made a good picture?” I squeeze her arm, and give her the best answer I can, which is, “Baby, I’m your mom. I think pretty much everything you do is amazing. What really matters is that you try your best and have fun.” She pauses, considering, and says, “But I think other kids are better than me.”

My daughter is starting to consider how other people view her work. She’s evaluating the quality of her efforts, and comparing herself to others. This makes me afraid. I worry her dawning self-awareness will cause her to set aside something she loves. I’m afraid that my daughter’s new-found self-criticism will suck the joy right out of making art. I’m at a loss as to what to say, and how to say it.

I don’t want to tell Hannah that she’s good. While I feel that’s true, I also believe it’s not the point. If she loves making art, it shouldn’t matter how “good” or “bad” she is. What do those words mean, anyway, in something so subjective? I’ve spent so much of my own life doing things (or not doing things) to make other people happy. It took me a long time to realize that was a losing game. I think assigning a value like “good” to Hannah’s work might put her on the same path towards doing what she thinks is pleasing, rather than what feeds her soul.

I try to say the things I think a supportive parent would say. Things about how she loves to draw and paint. Things about how everyone loves receiving the gifts of art she so generously bestows. Things about how there will always be someone who is better than us, and someone who is worse than us, and so we need to make decisions for ourselves. I work and work to build her up without resorting to empty praise or comparison. I stumble over my words, while inside my head I’m screaming you are the most brilliant child ever! Because of course I think she is.

For today, I seem to have made my daughter happy. She comes home and draws another boat picture just for me, using her pencil crayons. Her head bends low over the paper, and the small pink point of her tongue sticks out the side of her mouth as she concentrates. Little lines form along her brow as she works, her face serious, her focus laser-sharp. Every so often she pauses, brushing her hair out of her eyes, running her hand back and forth across the pencil crayons trying to choose the perfect shade of blue. Finally, she is satisfied, and she darts up to me and drops the picture in front of me before running back to the coffee table to draw something else. She is wholly immersed in art, and she doesn’t have time for an elaborate presentation ceremony.

On Thursday my daughter will finish grade two. She will pass through yet another milestone on the road to adulthood. I will probably cry a little, and wonder where the time has gone. I will marvel at how she is painting the picture of the person she is becoming. Every year, it’s a little clearer. Every year, the lines are a little bolder, and the composition is more complex. Even so, my hopes and wishes remain the same. That my firstborn can find joy in the act of creating, that she can pursue the things she loves simply for her own happiness, and that she’ll let me come along for the ride.

You’ll be able to recognize me. I’ll be the one wearing a wistful expression, and carrying a big pile of drawings and paintings, like the treasures they really are. The artwork that my daughter creates relentlessly, passionately and fearlessly. The artwork that reminds me of what she’s like, today, at the end of grade two. This child of mine, my own most amazing work of art.

Becoming my Mother

mom knitting

My mom and me in 2007

When I was growing up, my mother had this habit of calling things not by their current names, but by the names she knew them as when she was growing up. For example, she called KFC Ernie’s Kentucky Fried, because apparently a local franchisee attached his name to his stores. Sears was Simpsons-Sears. And the intersection where my grandparents lived was not 96th and 128th, but Sandell and Townline. As a young adult, especially, I rolled my eyes at her. I couldn’t remember any of these names, so clearly they were hopelessly outdated, and my mother should get with the program. This week I had my comeuppance.

I was listening to the radio when the traffic report came on, mentioning an accident in my hometown of Abbotsford, British Columbia. It’s been almost 20 years now since I left to move 45 minutes West, and I haven’t called Abbotsford home since. In the intervening years, the community has changed in many ways. One of the ways that it’s changed is that they decided to re-name one of the major corridors. The connecting streets that were previously known as Dahlstrom Avenue, Nelson Avenue and Hazel Street were re-named George Ferguson Way about 10 years ago, in honour of a long-time former mayor. When the radio announcer talked about an accident on George Ferguson Way, I growled and shouted, “You mean Nelson!” And then I promptly realized that I am becoming my mother.

I am not so old, yet. At the same time, I have reached a point when I sometimes identify more strongly with the past than the present. Memories from 20 years ago are often easier for me to recall than events that happened last week, or even yesterday. I will never forget my childhood address (34858 Clayburn Road), but I can’t remember the number of the apartment I lived in when I was first married. I can still recall the names of most of the kids I attended elementary school with, but people I spent hours chatting with at a party last week blur in my mind very quickly.

Someday soon, I imagine myself referring to a restaurant, store or street by its former name, while my own daughter rolls her eyes at me. I see myself doing the other thing my mother used to do, too. Things like mixing up my children’s names, or telling one kid about an upcoming family get-together four times, but completely forgetting to tell the other. Things like squinting at new technology with the eyes of someone who would rather not deal with this innovation. Every day, I am getting closer. Every day, I am doing more of the things that I once laughed at my mother for, but that now are starting to make sense to me.

Yes, I am becoming my mother. It really was inevitable from the start. All that I can do now is try to accept it as graciously as I can.

Have you had moments when you realized you were becoming your mother (or father, or some other former role model)? I’d love to hear I’m not alone.

On Lacking Focus

blogging and focus

Sometimes I worry that my blog lacks focus. I think about fabulous bloggers that I know who write about one thing, more or less. Whether it’s food, photography, environmentalism, parenting, fitness, product reviews, politics, fashion or what-have-you, there are people who do a much better job than I do of sticking to a central theme or topic. I think it benefits them, as well. Their readers know what they’re coming for, and they know they’re going to find it.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about what my focus should be. I can’t come up with one. I have some loose themes that I often stick to, mostly because they reflect my personality and where I am in my life. Call it crunchy granola suburban mom in search of a greater sense of purpose and presence. That’s too broad to be a focus, however. On top of that, even that broad categorization is too confining, sometimes. My mind is a big place – vast, in fact. It only makes sense that my blog should reflect that.

Still, I wonder. I wonder if writing would be easier if my choice of topics were more confined. I wonder if I’d receive more accolades, or have more readers, if I wrote for a targeted audience and worked all my search engine optimization magic. I wonder if I’m being overly self-indulgent, by telling myself I simply cannot be confined. I wonder why I chafe so much at imposing more structure on my blog, when I’m such a fan of it in every other area of my life.

I think, perhaps, that last wondering provides the answer. My blog is like my safety valve. It’s one of the places that I don’t have to be ordered and focused. It’s a place where I’m allowed to ditch the structure, and nothing all that bad happens. My kids don’t suffer if my blog lacks structure. Dinner still gets made. My work still gets done. The dishes still get washed. Everyone still gets to school and back on time. I’m at a point in my life where I have a whole lot of responsibility. This blog is a space where I can just be me, not Mom or Employee or Environmentalist or Wife or Responsible Adult. Because the truth is, while I wear all those hats, they don’t always fit me.

Recently, I’ve made a decision. I am re-claiming this space, and owning my lack of focus. I’ve ditched my blogging schedule. I took down my “Advertise Here” buttons. I have eased up on my podcast, interviewing truly fabulous people when they cross my path, but not scrambling to find guests when they don’t. Most importantly of all, though, I’ve given myself permission to just let things happen, instead of making this one more space where I try to impose structure, whether it’s needed or not.

Maybe what I’m saying is that I am trying to accept myself as I am, by accepting my blog as it is. We may not always have focus, but we’re both still pretty good. In any case, the only opinion that truly matters in the end for either one of us is my own.

Sometimes I worry that my blog lacks focus. More and more, though, I’m totally fine with that. More and more, I’m choosing to believe that small is beautiful, whether we’re talking about my blog or my life. More and more, I’m remembering that I’m living my life for me, and that comparing myself to other people is just not helpful at all. Those other bloggers are awesome in their way, and I’m awesome in mine. I don’t have to share their focus to be okay. I’m okay already, just as I am.

My Happiness List: June 2013 Edition

It’s been a couple of months now since I blogged my last personal happiness list. I’m feeling like it’s time to re-visit it, and remind myself about the things that are going well in my life. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

kid art happy list happiness

My Happy List

  1. The first baby carrots and raspberries are now ready in my garden.
  2. My four-year-old son’s pride about his music class certificate of completion.
  3. Listening to my eight-year-old daughter practice her song for the school talent show (she’s singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”).
  4. The books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
  5. The return of True Blood to my TV.
  6. New sunglasses.
  7. Long, sunny days, perfect for after-dinner trips to the playground.
  8. Home renovations that are kicking off in earnest this week.
  9. All the parts for my new wardrobes, waiting in my garage.
  10. The broccoli plants that are starting to grow in earnest, and which I will soon be enjoying.
  11. A work get-together today with my fabulous VancouverMom.ca teammates Chris Pilkington and Bianca Bujan.
  12. The Peaceful Parenting Mini Retreat I attended this weekend, which I’ll be writing more about soon.
  13. The way my daughter reminds me every day about our annual tradition of getting Slurpees on the last day of school (the only Slurpees we ever get, in fact, hence her excitement).
  14. The way my son insists on talking to the monsters every night, telling them, “I will always protect the world!”
  15. Good chocolate.
  16. Feeling on the same page with my husband.
  17. Kids’ artwork, covering my house.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Podcast: Raising Sexually Intelligent Kids

strocel.com podcast marnie goldenberg sexplainer parenting sex edOne of the most awkward parts of parenting, for me, has been talking to my kids about the birds and the bees. Over more than eight years of parenting, I’ve had ample opportunity to do it. I’ve always done my best to share accurate information, in simple terms, without doing too much editorializing. But I’m mostly just making it up as I go along, and I’m not always sure I’m doing that well at it. This is why, when I had the chance to interview Vancouver blogger Marnie Goldenberg I jumped at it. On her blog, sexplainer, she makes it her mission to help parents raise sexually intelligent kids.

I had a lot of questions for Marnie, and she gave me a lot to think about during our conversation. We talked about her background, and how her passion for sexual education developed. We talked about the challenges parents face when talking to their kids about sexuality. We addressed some of the concerns that many of us face about how our increased connectivity through smart phones and social media impacts our kids, as well as issues around easy access to pornography. Marnie also shared her tips to help everyone raise savvy, smart kids, who make good choices for themselves.

If you have questions about talking to your kids about sex and sexuality, you’ll want to listen to this podcast. And really, who among us doesn’t? I think every parent feels out of their depth sometimes, whether we’re sharing lessons with our kids about sexuality or table manners. I don’t know about you, but I can always use a few more tools in my parenting toolbox, and Marnie shares many of them during our podcast.

My podcast with Marnie clocks in at just over 40 minutes, and I promise it will be 40 minutes well-spent. So choose a time when your kids aren’t around (unless you’re in a place where you want to answer any questions that come up), relax, and let the sexplainer work her magic.

If you enjoyed my conversation with Marnie, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Creating Routines: Digging in the Dirt

Crafting my Life Creating RoutinesFor some time now, I’ve been running a monthly series on that’s all about creating positive routines. Each month I set one goal with the aim creating a more purpose-filled life. If you’d like to join in and take some steps to create better rhythms and routines in your own life, I’d love to hear how you’re doing it.

Last Month’s Recap

In May, I committed to daily journaling, listing what I did that day that fulfilled me, and what I’d like to do differently tomorrow. The point was to stop spending so much time focusing on what others think about me (or may think about me), and more time focusing on how my life is working for me. I did it exactly twice. It felt good, but I fell off the wagon pretty much right away. However, I also took on some other things this month. One was spending more time cleaning, and creating more order in my space, which was very positive. Another was setting aside some time to play games with my son that he enjoys on the days that he’s at home and his sister is at school. That was also very positive. Finally, I cut myself some slack with my blogging schedule. So, there were good routine changes – just not the one I’d planned at the outset.

creating routines crafting my life

Creating a Routine for June

This month my garden is starting to produce. There’s spinach, strawberries, and the first little baby carrots. My corn is popping up, my potato plants are large and leafy, and I am dreaming of an abundant harvest. Every time I head outside, I see something new. I also feel more grounded and centered after doing some digging in the dirt. But I don’t spend as much time in my garden as I would like. I have the time – I just don’t always do it. To that end, here’s my goal for June:

  • Spend at least five minutes in my garden every day, unless it’s pouring rain.

My hope is that by spending at least a few minutes in my garden every day, I’ll feel better and my garden will benefit. I’d also like to model getting outside more for my kids. I think this could be a win all the way around it I manage to pull it off.

Start With Small Changes

One thing I’ve learned on my journey towards a more purpose-driven life is that change happens best in small, bite-sized pieces. That’s why I’m once again choosing something that should take me only a few minutes a day. I may be busy, but I can find a few minutes a day to build a better life. I invite you to take on some small changes as well. What could you do to improve your daily rhythm or overall mood? And, what’s holding you back from doing it? Create a new routine, and leave a comment so that we can cheer each other on!

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