Screens and Books

Earlier this week, I took Max and our 5 year old neighbor to the library for baby story time. There were about 50 people crammed into the little room, though, and Max said no thank you to that. At 16 months, he's sort of at the upper end of the age range for that particular program anyway. I will start taking him to the toddler program soon. We tiptoed out of the room and went back to the children's section, where both children did nothing but swipe screens and mash keyboards despite my best efforts to get them interested in books.

I despise the computers that are set up in the children's rooms. The toddlers are drawn to them like moths to a light, but are unable to interact in any meaningful way. At best, they navigate to some sort of tv program with overly shrill character voices screaming about the color yellow. THE SUN IS YELLOW! CLICK THE YELLOW SUN!

After all that, the book about colors is very boring to Max, I suppose. My neighbor was basically doing the same thing, on an iPad that was mounted to a little security post. App to app to app....she never found one she liked or could navigate herself and she didn't want me to help her. Swipe, swipe, swipe. That was the actual activity she wished to engage in.

I abandoned the idea of reading together in the library and just picked some books out to take home.

I was observing some 4th grade students in a classroom many years ago, coincidentally in a school that is right down the street from where I currently live. When I asked one of the boys what he was doing on the computer set up in the back of the room, he said "I click this button and it teaches me things." I asked him what he was learning. He shrugged, and went back to clicking "NEXT PAGE" without so much as glancing at the text. He had also learned to hit the Escape button to get out of the program when he failed to answer the correct questions and the "NEXT PAGE" button wasn't there.

M works for an educational software company, and I know there is much more that goes into designing and developing a good app for kids, including a lot more attention to accessibility to language and disabilities. (Also, many things have changed since 2003.) I'm definitely not opposed to kids using technology....I'm just frequently disturbed with how it plays out in real life.

Once we got into the car, the kids were both excited to read their books, and as the other children came home they were eager to page through the collection of books we had checked out.

My strategy for picking out books is to browse a section and just pull out a few books that appeal to me at first glance. If I like them, I look up the authors and see what else they have published and might go and find that.

This week I found "Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives" by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. This book is pretty simple, but informative. In addition to giving some good facts about how many babies certain animals have, or how many sets of antlers they grow, it offers a good explanation of how to calculate averages, and how an average does not necessarily represent a consistent and regular pattern over a lifetime. For instance, reproduction often peaks during a particular phase of an animal's life, or growth accelerates during youth but slows as they age.

Next time I will look for "Pick, Pull, Snap!: Where a Flower Once Bloomed," also by Lola M. Schaefer, and the Over and Under series by Kate Messner.


Life with Three

I can still vividly remember the first car outing we took as a family of five. Well, I can't remember where we went, but I do remember loading up the kids, adjusting all the latches and seat belts, losing and finding and losing shoes, and involuntarily sucking in my breath when I finally shut the door because it didn't seem like everything was fitting. And of course, the crying. We have very loud children.

M and I were laughing but also agreeing that we would never go anywhere, ever again.

I was thinking about that today when I was loading up the kids...bikes, helmets, overnight bag, snacks, water bottles. I babysit the neighbors a few days a week and everybody is a different height and weight, so I have a revolving collection of car seats and boosters depending on who will be in the car. I know which ones go with latch and which only work with seat belts and when Max's rear facing seat has to be in the middle, which is a pain for getting him in and out, but works better for getting everyone else buckled. I have all these tricks now...keep shoes off Max until we arrive at our destination as he flings them all over the car. Books and magazines make the best entertainment and do not require charging.  TMBG's "No!" and pretty much anything by Raffi appeals to both children and adults. Put Max in the car first and then load it up so he doesn't wreak havoc in the house.

It definitely still takes a minute, but it feels like a totally normal part of life now.

Just like the conveyor belt showers at the end of the day, and buying 3 gallons of milk every week and not being able to legally book one hotel room anymore.


Spring Break!

Laurel and Marko's schools are both closed this week, which is great fun, but also, whew a lot of energy in my house. This morning I took them to a new-to-us playground and on a hike down a creek bed. Everyone had fun on that part of the excursion and I can see us going back to that park a lot this summer. Then we had to go grocery shopping, which was fine for the first 20 minutes or so and excruciating for the last 10. I got that stupid race car cart which is impossible to push around without knocking over the old ladies. The boys loved it at first, but at some point Max decided he only wanted to steer Marko's steering wheel and they can squeal like little pigs when they are fighting. Laurel whined the entire time about not getting to ride in the race car cart, as if she would even fit in there if she tried. I haven't even been grocery shopping in like 2 months because I started ordering them and you just have to pull in next to the store and they load your car for you. But I remembered why it is definitely worth the $4.95.

Tonight we went full-yinzer and ate dinner at Primanti Brothers. Cousin Sam had some extra baseball tickets so M took Laurel and Marko, but we met up for dinner beforehand. We planned to go to the Peruvian chicken place, but they were closed, unfortunately.

Other noteworthy events of the day include Max saying "I love you" to me at bedtime and the kids putting away all of their laundry, without being asked.

We've been having "family meetings" once a week where we discuss problems our household is having and try to come up with solutions. I recently read this quote by Richard Branson (super rich business guy with an inexplicably bad haircut): "Train people well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough so that they don't want to."

Obviously my kids are not employees, but I've been thinking about all the skills and practice I want them to have while they are kids and I can sort of guide them through it, and also trying to treat them like valuable members of our family whose opinions we respect. There is so much that is just faster to do yourself when it comes to household stuff, but I want my kids to know how to make a bed and sew a button back on and cook mashed potatoes that aren't lumpy and rally neighbors to a cause and negotiate a good price on something. We're starting with laundry and dusting and scrambled eggs. They are catching on to the laundry.


Toddler Time

Max is a delight. I think he's everyone's favorite. Laurel, who dislike waking up under any condition, happily eases out of sleep if we send Max into her room to give her a hug in the morning. He laughs when he farts. He laughs when we make fart noises. He laughs when we put him in bed at night to be tucked in, a funny little chuckle that tells us he had a good day and he's good and tired and it feels so nice to lay down. (And then he sleeps for 12 hours, waking up only once to drink a cup of milk. Hallelujah!) He gives really great hugs. He loves cucumbers. He recently started looking at books quietly on his own when he's in his room while the rest of us are getting dressed. M and I have enjoyed parenting him through this first year and almost-a-half, which is not to say the other two were harder, just that we have more confidence now.  Most mornings, M gets up with Max at 5:30 or 6 and they eat breakfast together. M never sets an alarm. Max just wakes up and starts shouting "DAD! DAD! DAD!" from his crib until M goes and picks him up. I pretend to be asleep, but really I'm laying there listening to them talk to each other while M makes coffee and slices up bananas. It's one of my favorite things.

But some days I feel a little guilty about the things I can't do with Laurel and Marko because we have a toddler in tow. Every single trip out of the house is complicated by all the stuff you have to take along for Max. (The epi-pen and benedryl first aid kit plus diapers and a change of clothes.) I always try to stay home during his afternoon nap time, which often interferes with potential playdates with school friends or outings that take the whole day. In wet spring weather, he goes directly for every mud puddle, plops right down into it and starts drinking it...if I let him out of the stroller at the park he walks way too slow, but if we want to go at the pace Laurel and Marko prefer, he ends up being trapped in the stroller. He spends a lot of time dumping containers out so that he can use the container as a ladder. It's not unusual that we find him on top of the piano. He's a total basket case by 6:30 and wants to go to bed, which is right smack in the middle of the time the rest of us would rather be eating dinner. I seem to miscalculate this every single night. When he was a baby, he definitely got dragged along with the rest of us, but now that he is a toddler, he seems to be setting the tone.



Laurel is getting a knitting lesson from Marlene, our neighbor who walks her to school each morning. Laurel has been desperate to learn. Several other girls from school have been getting together for lessons from one of the moms. They show up with shaggy balls of yarn that have been knit and unraveled, knit and unraveled. Occasionally, one of them triumphantly shares a completed project...a scarf or a headband. They are only in first grade, so I'm impressed. I taught myself when I was about 20 years old. At the moment, my broken finger is nagging me too much to demonstrate. Marlene kindly offered to come over and give some lessons. I've been chopping up cabbage for slaw in the kitchen, trying to stay out of sight so they wouldn't lose their focus. I can hear Marlene's firm and gentle voice, but I hear almost nothing from Laurel.

Laurel's one of those naturally redshirted kids, all my kids are actually. With an early November birthday, she's one of the oldest children in her class, among the first to read and most of the skills of first grade come very easily to her. I've been concerned about this because when things are challenging or don't come very quickly to her, she gives up. She has a quick temper so this often happens in a very dramatic fashion. But with this knitting thing, she's so motivated to learn that I can see her moving through that frustration, coaxed on by Marlene's insistence. Marlene's mother taught her all the domestic arts...crochet, knitting, sewing, embroidery. I never met her mother, but I can sense Marlene channeling her.

I hope this doesn't sound too creepy, but one of my favorite things about this stage of parenting is eavesdropping on my kids when they are off playing or learning something. How they act outside of my direct sphere of influence tells a lot about what I have actually taught them.