I read a recent post on Kveller on why parents should take fewer photos of their kids. It's an interesting list of suggestions of when you should take fewer photos and why. (Will you really ever look at it again?) It also suggests, as I constantly remind my husband, that it's OK to purge the horrible, blurry, can't-even-tell-what-it-is photos before you organize them on your computer.
But one issue that's never mentioned is that if you are taking photos of your kids, you aren't actually watching your kids. At a Mother's Day event at my older son's school, I was astonished at how many moms were watching their children through the lens of their phones/cameras. At a Thanksgiving event, it was amazing how many parents sought to get unobstructed views for their camcorders but weren't actually watching what was going on. (To be fair, it's not just about parents and kids – I also noticed the same thing at a concert I attended a few months ago.)
Sure, I want photos of my adorable children doing amazing things that I can look at in five years and remind them about the event. I want to be able to share (though not in a public space, but that's a topic for another post) with my nearest and dearest. However, I want to be there. I want my children to be able to see my eyes, not the backside of my phone. I can't resist one or two or three, but at some point, I think we should all put our phones down. The memories will be there even when the hard drive fails. Our children may realize that we are taking photos of them, but I think that they'd much rather – at least while they are young – have us in the moment with them.
–Posted June 18, 2013–
Actually, my question is about a second concept, also: do you look like you are having fun with your children? I've spent a lot of hours in Gymboree and Music Together classes and honestly, I cannot believe how many people look like they would rather be doing just about anything else.
The truth is that there are certainly other things that might be occurring to us while we watch our children select instruments or go through the play tunnel for the eighth time in four minutes. But there is a time and a place, right? Will we ever regret having spent too much time with our children? And if we're committing ourselves with time and money to attend a class with our children, then shouldn't we be there completely?
I have the fortunate circumstance of working a bit less than full time, so I have been able to attend classes with each of my sons during the day as well as in the evenings and weekends. What's interesting is that the weekday classes often include adult time – in that the parents, many of whom are not working – view those events as opportunities to interact with other adults. The evening classes seem to involve a lot of people who want to do something but are kind of tired, and the weekend classes sometimes involve treating the activity as another errand to check off a list. (Obviously my sample size is limited – so these are just my observations and shouldn't be treated as a representative sampling.)
Is this always the case? Of course not. But I have to tell you that if you see me looking bored with my children at any time, just poke me. In fact, PLEASE poke me. I would never want them to think that I don't enjoy their company, even if I am mentally adding a few things to do to list while I spot them on a balance beam. (Nobody is perfect.) And if you want me to poke you if I happen to notice you pulling out your phone or losing your focus, I will. We can't be on all of the time for anyone, but it's always nice to give it our best!
–Posted June 15, 2013–
Like many readers of this blog, I grew up with superheroes…the classic DC and Marvel comics heroes, some of whom had their own cartoon programs. But now I've noticed signs up in preschool classrooms, declaring that rooms are "superhero free." What's gone wrong?
In late May, an unidentified preschool sent out a note to parents requesting that children not dress in superhero costumes because their behavior, while dressed in them, was inappropriate. There are posts and opinions and redacted copies of the note available online. I've spoken with several parents about it, and I don't understand.
Children can behave inappropriately, no matter what they are wearing. Sure, I'll be honest and point out that my children are more likely to run rather than walk around the house when they are wearing their very own Powercapes. But they are no more likely to hit each other or throw things than they are at other times (which I am pleased to say, is not very often). And the children that I see wearing superhero themed clothing do not seem to scare other children with some unintended threat. Mine do not run away from someone dressed like she might have superpowers.
Are we too quick to want to blame some outside influence that we can claim not to be able to control instead of monitoring our own children more closely? That's what I tend to think. The children aren't watching superheroes hit each other or poke or bite or kick. At least, I don't think that is what they see. Superheroes may pose one obvious problem — they always beat the bad guys, and the bad guys are unquestionably bad. I realize preschoolers aren't ready to learn that the world isn't binary, but they will need some guidance on that point eventually.
If it were my children's classes that had particular problems with superheroes, I'm not sure what I would do. I dislike saying that there are different sets of rules at school and at home, but I want to respect the decisions made by administrators and teachers. Is anyone facing this scenario, and how are you dealing with it?
Yes, I am of the generation – as you probably are, too, dear reader – where "dude" was a part of our vocabulary for a time. It did not replace every noun or pronoun, but for many years, it was unusual to have a conversation in which it wasn't uttered at some point by someone. And I thought I had banished it from my vocabulary… until I needed to express frustration in front of my kids.
My language has never been too colorful although I admit that it's because my filter works pretty well, not because I don't have the occasional unpleasant thought. You know something dramatic has happened when something comes out of my mouth that isn't something I'd want to hear from my children. However, for some reason, when I see bad driving, the word that comes out of my mouth is "dude."
It is terribly funny to hear my children re-tell a story about a bad driver to my husband and start out by saying "Dad, we saw a dude on the road today." That means they heard me shout "Dude, use your turn signal" or "Dude, you don't have the right of way to make a u-turn" or something to that effect. What is nice is that when they explain what happened, they repeat the important part – like how the driver didn't pull over for an emergency vehicle and what it means – that the driver thought his convenience was more important than others' safety. They don't focus on my reaction.
Is it too early to talk about driving skills? Probably. But is it too early to teach them that we all need to be patient and aware of our surroundings and kind (but not to the point of yielding the right of way when it is likely to confuse others – a personal pet peeve)? Not at all. Should I be teaching them that a verbal reaction is inappropriate? Maybe. Perhaps, though, it's reasonable that the tone of voice is the key, not the word choice.
In the past week, we were at multiple outdoor festivals. Sure, the weather didn't agree with us, but what's a bit of wind from preventing us from admiring musicians and artisans and having ice cream?
At the first festival we attended, we needed to buy tickets for food. There were no rides, much to the disappointment of the boys. Happily, there was live music and that was enough to cheer them. When we were ready to leave, we found that we still had two tickets in our pockets. We found a parent with a young child – probably between the ages of our boys – and had our older son get the attention of the parent and offer the tickets. He understood that we were not going to use them and that we wanted to give them away rather than to sell them or to throw them away.
At the second festival we attended, we needed to buy tickets for rides. There was live music (Rocknoceros, no less) and we ran into friends and the weather was a bit more cooperative. I was on a train ride with our younger son and someone came up to us and asked if we were Rocknoceros fans. I realized our son was wearing one of their t-shirts. (In fact, both kids were. He and my husband were in line for a child-sized roller coaster.) I said yes, and then the woman explained that they were Rocknoceros fans, too, and asked if we wanted their extra ride ticket. Oh, goodness, thank you kindly, I said. When we disembarked, our younger son and I explained to our older son what had happened. See? I remarked. Doing a good deed does encourage others to do the same. We are sending the message and someone's receiving it.
What was funny about the whole thing? We wound up with that ticket plus one more leftover. Rather than purchase one more (the rides were all three tickets or more), we gave away that ticket plus another. It turned out that our neighbors were in line, about to purchase tickets, so we gave the tickets to them. Hopefully, we've both already decided that the other family is decent and kind, so we could have found some stranger, I suppose. It may be a higher level of tzedakah to give to someone you don't know, but I think the kids got the idea.
Sometimes, school is school and getting through the reading and packing lunches and making it to the bus on time is all we can handle. We love to talk about what's going on but it's easy to be less than inspired by the every day. Every so often, though, we have one of those moments where we realize that our son is getting more than just a good education at Gesher Jewish Day School.
One of those moments was during a Chanukah dinner at synagogue. Our son was so thrilled to sing Birkat HaMazon (the grace after meals) with a crowd that he practically drowned out the rabbi. Our rabbi was obviously pleased to have such a good helper and, had my son a firmer grasp of the words, might have asked him to help. As it is, he's still learning and there are some words I can't convince him he has wrong and we'll have to wait until he can read Hebrew well enough to confirm my instruction.
Another of those moments was when we were at friends' for a seder and he just started belting out songs. He was hungry and it was late, but he obviously enjoyed talking and singing and contributing to the seder experience.
And another one of those moments was at the wedding we attended recently. The band started playing the Black Eyed Peas' song "I Gotta Feeling." I have to admit that I'm much more likely to listen to the news than music, but I know the song. We was astonished when the band started to play it and our older son jumped up and started singing. Then we realized that he was singing not the lyrics we know (Tonight's going to be a good night) but the alternative that he sings at Gesher on Friday afternoons: Shabbat's going to be a good night. He had no idea that the Shabbat lyrics are not the original version and is pretty convinced that his music teacher wrote the song himself. What struck us is how much joy he has experiencing Shabbat with music and how joyfully he belted out the song. It was after a late dinner and he was both tired and energized. He really did jump up – that is no exaggeration.
This was one of those gasp, hand over your heart kind of moments when you realize that your child is connecting with something big. On one level, it's just a pop song with some cute alternative lyrics. On another, it's my five-year-old, looking forward to Shabbat because of how beautiful it is. There are certain songs that I cannot sing without memories of the NCSY Motzei Shabbat kumzitz – the end-of-Shabbat sing-a-longs that we had after havdallah. My life is not a success story according to the youth group, but the idea of being part of something big, something where Shabbat meant something to everyone around me – that I keep. And my son already has a taste of that.
My husband and I were in London for Purim one year and we found a synagogue at which we could hear the megillah. For holidays in college, when I wasn't home, I was able to attend local services and run into my professors. But it's different with children. I don't feel like we can just drop in anywhere.
It's true that when we are visiting with family, we may not find ourselves at services, but when we want to, there are different criteria. Now it's not just important to find someplace, it's important to find a place at which we can all find some meaning. This means that I look for something for children, something more than just babysitting. I look for someplace where I am treated as a person and not just a mom. I look for someplace with a sanctuary with multiple exits in case the 3-year-old isn't able to follow the instruction to keep just a bit quieter.
If we're traveling, though, then no matter how hard we may all try, we're not at home. The service may be similar or even practically identical, but it means something to be praying with your own community. Of course one can argue that any synagogue is full of our community, but I still find it isolating to be someplace where everyone does not know my name (a poor paraphrase of "Cheers," I know, but please indulge me). The glances and nods across the sanctuary, the understanding that if one of the boys decides to make a run for it (and "it" can mean just about anywhere), there is someone who will recognize him and slow him down, the knowledge of whom to ask for candy (because there is always someone)… those things mean home as much as anything else.
Does this realization hit everyone when they have children old enough to have friends at synagogue and to be able to wander around a building without constant supervision? For a very long time, I felt like my parents' synagogue was home even when everything about it was wrong. Then I realized that while along ago it ceased to be a spiritual home for me, I still attended because it was my parents' community and that meant something. It's only now that we have found our own community that I have rediscovered the richness of belonging again. Maybe for an introvert like me, it's even more important to be part of a community. For the mean time, I hope we've found a place where my kids will grow up with the same sense of community and belonging that I did as a child, until they find their own home – geographic, spiritual, or whatever else.
Sometimes we forget how much our children learn by the examples we provide. Sure, we are acutely aware of this when something comes out of our mouths that we wish had not – but we have plenty of opportunities to provide positive examples, too.
This morning, my younger son and I were waving goodbye to the Gesher bus, taking my other son off to school. As we were watching, one of my younger son's three-year-old friends came running. His dad was behind by a bit, but I think he saw us there and decided to let the little one run. The friend then fell and skidded a bit on his knees. We brushed him off and determined that nothing was bleeding while his dad caught up. He did, however, want a hug from his dad.
As sometimes happens, the hug made the tears flow. So, I dug into my purse and pulled out an antibacterial wipe and an adhesive bandage and had my son offer it to our friend and his dad. We stayed with them until the bandage was on and our friend was smiling again. Then we all entered the JCC together. Our friend thanked us on the way inside.
I am the person who always has ibuprofen and bandages and a safety pin – it's how I justify carrying around a purse that's halfway to a tote bag. It's partly because of all those years in Girl Scouts, too! The fact that I had those things with me was not the important part of the morning. It was that my son learned that you offer help to friends, you check to see that they are OK, you comfort them, and you don't leave their side.
It's hard to communicate these ideas and values to a preschooler, but it's easy to ensure that our behaviors naturally teach them. I am sad that our fiend suffered a small scrape but I think we're all just a little bit better for handling it together.
At this point, our children are a bit too young to be volunteering for anything themselves, except to help a teacher carry supplies around. (Remember the days when cleaning the chalkboard erasers was a treat?) However, I've been thinking about the message we send to our kids about our volunteering roles.
I'm active in a handful of professional organizations, but my kids don't really see that. It's rewarding and interesting. I know that it's good for my career but it's not as if I can show the value of career-relevant volunteering to my kids, although I did show my older son my name on a list of editorial board members of a journal and he was very excited.
I volunteer for various activities and try to make it to my kids' classrooms at the JCC and Gesher but it's not easy to fit in with work. In a twisted sort of way, I wonder if there isn't a competition about who shows up at school the least. This is something to which I don't want to claim bragging rights. I think some people are appalled when they hear that I drop my older son off at the bus stop by 8 and pick him up after his after school care after 5. I could drop him off and pick him up and spend 2 more hours with him each day. Of course then I couldn't work as many hours as I do, let alone have the flexibility of being available when most of my colleagues are available.
Do we working parents feel the need to defend not being involved as other parents (or moms, in particular) by making sure others know that we work hard? Isn't it implicit that we've made choices – sometimes tough ones – and we cannot be in two places at once? Do we really assume that if we aren't volunteering daily, that others think ill of us or that we're routinely making bad decisions? Being wholly available for my kids in the evening means that work can't routinely replace bedtime reading. It's like the working vs stay at home mom dilemma is magnified once kids get to school and some moms are known by all the children and some are known to a smaller group.
Not knowing other classroom parents doesn't mean that I'm never there. It doesn't mean that they are never there. It just means that our paths don't cross often. I really do try not to make assumptions about anything, and I hope others do the same with me. No matter how hard we try, we can't all lead exactly the life we want. It's like the story of the fellow who asked the great sages Shammai and Hillel the same question – if they could teach him the laws of Judaism while he stood on one foot. Shammai said he was a fool and Hillel explained the primary rule is to love your neighbor like yourself and that the rest is commentary. Hopefully we get the big things right and digress in our execution of the details.
I would love it if my children always treated their books nicely, but let's be honest – it requires a bit of reminding to keep spines from being cracked and pages from being ripped and pop-up features from being popped up and ripped off forever. So, I am very glad to purchase books that I know they will love so that they can be encouraged to treat them well but that we wouldn't have to replace at the library.
What's the problem with this? Well, it just made for an amusing birthday story. My uncle asked my now three-year-old what he would like. He offered a few ideas, like a gift card to a toy store or to a bookstore. First I pointed out that we only go to the big box toy stores for diapers but that we spend our dollars at the independent stores. That was partly because I know have a stack of gift cards to toy stores and nothing on our wish lists. For some reason, I feel less offended by spending money at chain bookstores. Anyway, I asked my son if he wanted to buy some books. He responds, "I like the library. They have a lot of books." I couldn't even get him to name a book that he wanted, although I know that he does have favorites. It was really funny.
It does raise an interesting question about supporting independent and local stores vs box stores. We do try to make it to farmers' markets instead of picking everything up at the grocery store, and of course there are quality issues at play there, also. Should it somehow be different when I think about bookstores? I guess not. I do like one near my office in Alexandria, and I try to go there whenever I need advice from a real person about what a child of a certain age might like. We like local restaurants – even if they are small chains – though I suppose going out to eat is a decision in itself. And we're kind of snobby about certain toys (only Lego brand bricks will do, for example) even if there are alternatives that, for some reason, are less problematic.
Does this make it harder for people to buy gifts for our kids? Are we serving as a filter because of our shopping decision, and if so, is that really a bad thing? I'm not sure, though this spring, with birthday parties every weekend, I am thinking about it. Any ideas or suggestions? Do you make different decisions based on the type of item?