Screen Time

When I was pregnant with Laurel, there were lots of things I worried about. I was convinced that vaccinations and formula would irrevocably damage my baby. And I definitely wasn't going to let her watch tv until she was 5. Or maybe never. Our pediatrician, a wise and unflappable man, made some very good arguments about what the research actually tells us about vaccines, and was simultaneously supportive of breastfeeding while staying on top of our slow-to-gain-weight babies. But mostly, he taught me what to get worried about and what to let go.

My kids watch tv, and despite my original ideas about children's television, I'm actually rather impressed by some of the programming available. Marko is definitely learning the alphabet from Superwhy. Martha Speaks has a great approach to robust vocabulary instruction...pretty much what I learned in grad school! Wild Kratts frames each episode with a focus on an animal's unique adaptations so it's not just random facts about animals. And we are also pretty fond of the David Attenborough narrated nature programs as something the entire family will watch together, although nature can be shockingly harsh sometimes.

So, tv isn't killing my kids after all, and it was time to let them - well Laurel anyway - get a tablet. We bought her a Kindle Fire for her birthday and she really, really loves it. A lot.  I resisted this purchase for a while, but then I thought about the fact that in a few short years we are going to have to give our kids cellphones and better to build good habits and ingrain some internet safety practices while we have more control.

What I like about the Kindle Fire is that you can create different profiles and the parental controls are pretty easy to use. I've been browsing the amazon app store for free stuff and the selection of ebooks and audiobooks that are available from the library's collection. I do the downloading and then approve which content she can see from her profile. So far, I like Monkey Word School Adventure and Starfall and everything else I looked at was utter crap. These apps are definitely supporting the kindergarten standards she's learning in school. It's basically worksheets that provide immediate feedback and saves me the bother and bore of drilling her on sight words and phonics patterns. I'm still figuring out the Overdrive app for ebooks and audiobooks, but it's definitely better than borrowing those little PlayAway things from the library.

But beyond using the Kindle to read and listen to books and practice basic skills, I want Laurel to be able to use technology the way M and I do...to learn about things that interest us and solve problems we face in daily life (like what to do with the 85 pounds of saurkraut sitting on my kitchen counter right now!). I also use the internet to stay in touch with faraway friends and family, and to share my thoughts with the world (as I am doing on this blog post). But once you open up access to an internet browser, you are entering this whole other world. We're still trying to figure out how to give Laurel some freedom to use these tools, but still monitor what's going on with them. Because she's 6, after all. She really likes taking a video of herself talking and I think it would be cool for her to do a little podcast. She checks the weather app and I downloaded the school lunch menu so that she can check that independently.

The best I can figure is that she can read and listen to books on her own, but the other stuff has to be done alongside one of us. 

I'm still a big fan of old-fashioned, paper books and always will be. Especially for little kids. When I watch Marko and Laurel page through the National Geographic encyclopedias we have, I can see that they are interacting with the information in a way that is very different than screen based information. And I get a special thrill from how worn and soft the pages are of our favorite books. But there's definitely room for both.


Real Life, Misc.

The other day, Marko was trying on our glasses. When we couldn't find them later, we asked them where he put them. "On the table without the sausages," he said, completely seriously.  Well, ok, then. Two days passed as we checked all the tables that did not have sausages. Eventually I found them in a small hamper where I throw clothing that needs to be mended.

Laurel recently learned the phrase "Waking up on the wrong side of the bed." And truly, this girl does wake up cranky almost every day. I'm trying to help her figure out ways to ease into her day. I think self-care is probably a really good skill to learn. Although, I wonder about this because I definitely spent at least a decade of my life working too hard and partying too hard and being completely oblivious to self-care, which led to many, many mornings of waking on the wrong side of the bed. But it was also a time that provided the most intense pleasures and pain and learning experiences. We formed life-long friendships and collected crazy stories and dared to do things that well-rested people would have said no to.

I kind of miss that.

I'm wrapping Christmas presents right now. That's kind of insane because it isn't even December 23rd yet, which is usually when we start thinking about shopping. But this year, we have a plan and a budget because with a lot more humans to take care of, you have to watch your money more closely if you ever want to do anything fun again. Also, when the third baby is about to arrive, you remember vaguely that it will be hard to take a 5 minute shower for a month or so, let alone do anything else.

I panicked over not raking the leaves up last week before it rained, but then a big wind came and blew them all away. Anything left was basically mulched into the grass by the force of the wind. So, sometimes it's better to wait and see.

I'm still working on the Road Safety Audit committee and we are banging away at getting some of the recommendations approved. And funded. And actually constructed. It is extremely tedious to work with multiple boroughs and Penndot. But one thing I've recently observed is a complete failure by most drivers to stop at a stop sign. Almost everyone coasts and yields. When I learned to drive, we were told to brake completely, count to three, look in all directions and then go. Is this a Pittsburgh thing or an everywhere thing? I'm trying to think of ways to get people to stop completely.



Our girl is six!

I love seeing the ways she is drawn to certain activities. She loves making art and will spend hours or days working on a series. She's creative with her use of materials, often layering paper and cloth or bits of trash from the recycling bin. She plays around with attaching things in different ways. She doesn't ask first, how to do something. She dives in. Sometimes it's messy.

Her knife skills are improving and she can help with chopping fruits and vegetables.

Last year at this time she wouldn't even ride on the balance bike, but a friend's birthday party at the Wheel Mill - an indoor bike park near our house - helped her gain some confidence, and by spring she was riding a two wheel pedal bike with no training wheels. She ran a race and got a trophy for first place in her age group. She runs through the woods so light on her feet that even M is impressed. She can climb up and over anything and when she jumps down from something high, she reminds me of a cat. Wednesdays are her favorite day of the week because that is the day for gymnastics class.

She learned to read. Her penmanship still needs work, but she spends lots of time writing. She leaves us notes, grocery lists, copies of her daily schedule and stories. I often find post-it notes around the house, labeling various objects. She reads short books on her own, but also is really into listening to audio books - which for some reason we all call "books on tape" even though none of them are ever on a cassette tape!  We read chapter books to her before bed. We've read nearly the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series together this year.

She loves listening to the classical radio station and asks us lots of questions about things she hears the DJ's say.

She started kindergarten. Even though she was attending a public Montessori school for the last two years that was a "big kid" school in many ways, this seemed like a huge milestone. She started at a new school right in our neighborhood that has a pretty heavy environmental focus. Her interest in animals and plants has deepened and I learn a lot from her. She lost two teeth. She became a regular customer for a few vendors at the weekly market and handled lots of transactions completely on her own.

We moved her into her own room when cousin Sam moved out. I think it's really good for her to have her own space, away from Marko. She still sneaks into our bed some nights, though.

She still talks all the damn time and is quite forward and friendly with anyone she meets when we go around town, friend or stranger, child or adult. Our annual ice cream social was the highlight of her summer and she went door to door to invite neighbors. She is quick to find playmates, but she doesn't have anything like a best friend. She can have a quick temper, with us especially. She stomps and throws things when she's mad, and has a very low tolerance for anything she perceives as unfair. She's a great big sister, maybe a little too bossy sometimes, but is right there for her brother when he needs her.

When I think back six years ago, to the weeks and months when she first came into our lives, her Laurel-ness was apparent from the beginning. It's so obvious in retrospect, but I remember all the daydreaming and wondering that I did about what she would be like once she was out of the baby stage. But in so many ways, she was telling us who she was even back then.

Our job as her parents is not to train her to be a certain way, although that is sometimes tempting to me, but rather to help her be the best Laurel she can be. Now that the early labor-intensive years of hands-on parenting are more or less over with her, we are easing our way into the next stage. It involves more emotional pain on my part, because it means letting her make her own mistakes and sometimes these are hard to witness. But sometimes those mistakes lead to such incredible growth or take her in an unexpected direction, and it makes me look forward to the years ahead.

Happy 6th birthday, Laurel!


Baby Books

Do people still fill out baby books for their kids? My mother recently shared the one that her mother wrote for her, and I've been browsing through it. The cursive writing is difficult for me to read. The voice is very much that of my grandmother, and the notes range from the typical recollection of first steps to musings on personality. I could imagine what it was like to parent my mother, which was a little bit weird to think about. I don't have baby books for my children, but I suppose this blog is one. It would be difficult to look back and see exactly when they lost their first teeth, but I can certainly tell you what it was like to live with them at various stages. And perhaps more interestingly, how I have changed as a person in that time frame.

Marko has been very challenging lately, so I went back and read my posts about Laurel at this age and low and behold, they contained many of the same themes. Messes. Yelling. Illogical demands. Yesterday we were trying to get things ready for Halloween. M's family always comes over for trick or treating and to celebrate his mother's birthday. We cooked a big batch of tomato sauce in the tradition of his grandfather and did our best to straighten the house and finish various errands. At one point, we heard Laurel shriek, "He's naked!" and sure enough, Marko had stripped down entirely and was parading around the living room. You could tell he felt great being naked. It then took another hour of power struggle before he was fully clothed again, because I'm trying to get him to dress himself. I know he is capable of doing this, because he does it sometime. But I'm not sure he always sees the point of getting dressed. I tried a sticker chart for a while, but he just isn't motivated by extrinsic rewards. If you try to bribe him with a tv program or a piece of candy and he doesn't feel like complying he just says "no I don't like tv" or whatever.

I think he is getting some molars right now. He weighs 29 pounds, up a few from his last check up in July. He fits in almost all of his clothes from last winter except his shoes. Laurel was much louder, but Marko is funnier and sillier.

He hurt his leg last week and went through a strange few days of crawling on all fours. He's started to walk again so I think the doctor was right in that it was a sprain or a strain or something not too awful.

He does not like to go to bed by himself. He tells everyone about the dinosaurs that are in his room at night. We have given up for now, and just let him stay up until we go to bed. I put a gate on his bedroom so he can stay in there and read books or play quietly with the lights on until he's ready to fall asleep. I think maybe he's just not tired until 9 o'clock or so.