Screen Fast

screen timeOnce upon a time, I had a four-year-old and a one-year-old and no TV. I also didn’t have a smart phone or a tablet, although I did have a computer. In those days, I had less screen time, and my kids had very little to none. And then things changed.

First, I got an iPhone. A few months later we got a TV again. Then my husband got an iPad, and I got an iPad. Then after three years our phones got old, and we replaced them. And my husband’s iPad got old, and he replaced that. And we were left with functional phones and a functional tablet that the adults weren’t using, which our kids discovered after a while. And on top of that, our kids got old enough to turn on the TV and switch to the kids’ channel themselves.

This summer there was a labour dispute between public school teachers and the government. School ended two weeks early and started three weeks late, which meant that summer vacation was over three months long. Plus, during the last two weeks of the last school year and the first three weeks of this school year no one knew when the children might have to go back, which complicated things. I planned activities for my kids, but in spite of my best efforts it made for a whole lot of time when I was trying to combine parenting and going to school myself and working from home. It was hard – and my kids were only too happy to entertain themselves with TV and tablets and old iPhones.

And I have to admit – it’s pretty sweet when you get to sleep in for 90 minutes after your kids wake up because they’re entertaining themselves. I like that a whole lot.

Screen time for my nine-year-old and six-year-old is different than screen time when my kids were preschoolers. I’m not trying to beat myself up too much, and I’m definitely not trying to judge other parents. There’s already too much judging going on, especially when it comes to technology. We’ve all got to do what works for our families, and some stranger on the Internet is definitely not in a position to decide what that is for you.

Still, I don’t really like where we are now. I don’t like how much time every single member of my family spends looking at screens. (And the irony that I’m looking at a screen as I type this is just the icing on the cake.) Of course, for the grown-ups a certain amount of screen time is required. I’m doing an online class right now on top of working online. But it’s really easy for “working” to turn into “watching funny cat videos”, so I can’t really claim that I use screens only when necessary. I don’t.

I have a plan. This weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada – three days devoted to spending time with family and feeling grateful. And my plan is to have a screen fast. Will my kids be happy? Definitely not. Will I be happy? I honestly don’t know. But I’d like to see how we relate after a couple of days without electronics. I’ll report back and let you know how it goes.

What about you – do you ever set aside time to unplug as a family? I’d love to hear how it went if you’ve done it!

At the Stoplight

I am taking a class at the university’s downtown campus this semester – English 102, Introduction to Poetry. My other class this semester is a math class for prospective teachers, and when I finish these two classes I will be finished with my prerequisites and I will be able to apply to teacher training. The end is in sight. After a good summer semester, I’m feeling optimistic.

I’m not done yet, though, so every Monday evening I make the trek to the city for class. The drive isn’t bad, although the last few minutes of making my way through the downtown core during rush hour can be harrowing. Once I’m there, I spend three hours immersing myself in the world of poetry, parsing lines and words and syllables and punctuation marks for significance and sentiment. They say the devil’s in the details, and that’s never truer than when you’re reading a poem. What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

It’s a question that reaches far beyond poetry, as anyone can tell you. A poem is like a microcosm that contains every other part of life.

Once the class is over I find myself in an altered frame of mind. I’m sifting everything I see, weighing shadows and colours and pedestrian crossing lights, letting it all seep through me, asking it to tell me a story. What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

poetry traffic lightAnd so, yesterday evening when I was stopped at a red light and I glanced to the right, I looked at the scenery with different eyes. Things that I might normally have overlooked, or not noticed, stood out in sharp relief. Every little nuance seemed replete with substance, placed there to tell me something.

I was looking in the window of a shiny coffee shop, a signal of the neighbourhood’s gentrification. Just inside the window, sitting at a bar that butted up against the window was a woman. She was facing me, but her eyes were fixed on the laptop open in front of her. She looked to be about my age, give or take. Perhaps she lives in one of the newer housing units in the area. Perhaps she works or volunteers at one of the local non-profits. Perhaps she was escaping the chaos of a house filled with young children to get some work done now that her partner was home.

The coffee shop door nearest to me, to the right of the woman, was blocked with yellow caution tape, betraying the seedier reality of this street corner in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. Seeing it, I pressed the button to lock my car doors, and then immediately chastised myself. You are perfectly safe, I told myself. Quit acting like a bumpkin.

As I clucked at my own suburban sensibilities, I noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk, his back against the coffee shop window and his legs bent in front of him. He had a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, and he was wearing a red track suit, which was several years out of style and too large on his body. I couldn’t see his face clearly, but he had that look of advancing years that comes from too many cares. Still, it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that the man, and the woman in the coffee shop and I were all the same age, give or take.

We were a strange trio, the three of us, made stranger still by the fact that neither of the other two saw me. There was a clean, well-dressed woman working in a coffee shop that is doing its best to bring life into an area that is long past declining, and well into downtrodden territory. There was a man positioned midway between us on the sidewalk, curled up and just sitting. Maybe waiting. Maybe resting. Probably wrestling with demons I don’t know about. And then there was me, a suburban mom of two, taking university classes in her spare time, wide-eyed and uncertain in the big city.

Coming from my poetry class I tried to parse it all. The caution tape. The shiny glass window. The laptop computer. My locked car doors. The too-big, but mostly clean, track suit on the man. The dirty sidewalk. The smell of late summer and car exhaust and the ocean and urine. The deepening darkness as evening settled into night. The happenstance that brought three strangers within feet of each other for only a few moments. What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

I don’t know what the woman was doing, or what the man was doing. If I’m honest I’m not even sure what I was doing. How can I find meaning in a poem, or a song, or a situation, or a coffee shop, if I struggle to find the meaning in my own mind? What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

And then, before I got too lost in my thoughts, the light turned. I shook my head once, and drove home to my family. I might not know what it means, but I know where I belong. That, at least, is something.

Pizza Crust Pandemonium

I’ve been feeling a little bit sheepish about my lack of blogging. I’ve been meaning to come back here and give an update on what’s happening in my life. I want to tell you all what’s happening with my return to school, my running, the continuing renovations on my house, and just how much tea is in my tea cupboard right now. I will do all of those things, soon. Right now, though, I have something very important to discuss: the pizza crust pandemonium that is sweeping the continent.

I remember that day almost 20 years ago when I first sampled a stuffed crust pizza. At first blush, the idea of putting more mozza inside a pizza crust sounded like genius. I love cheese. The world can always use more cheese. However, when I actually tasted the pizza I discovered that the world did not need this cheese. The stuffed crust cheese did not taste good to me. It tasted different than the cheese on top of the pizza, and the texture was all wrong. I resolved to avoid it in the future.

pizza crust

Picking up pizza, with a totally regular crust

Sadly, in the nearly two decades since that day, the world has not come to its senses. Stuffed crust pizza was followed by a whole lot of different kinds of pizza crust. The worst – and it literally caused me to vomit in my mouth a little – was the hot dog pizza crust, in which weiners are baked right into the crust of the pizza. All that I can say to this is why? I am not above eating a hot dog. I adore pizza. However, because I have good sense I understand that these two foods are best enjoyed separately. Adding two good things together doesn’t necessarily make them better. Sometimes it just makes them wrong. This? Very wrong. Some people may be willing to try it, but I am not one of them.

Yesterday when I was watching TV I saw a commercial for the pretzel crust pizza. Apparently, it’s America’s newest fast food twist. And while it doesn’t hit my buttons nearly as hard as the hot dog pizza, once again I’m asking myself why. What is it about our culture that causes us to take something that is perfectly good, or even great, and try to optimize it? Why can we not just say that pizza is great, and we can accept it for the wonderfulness that it is without constantly trying to mix it up and take it to the next level? Why can we not just be satisfied with awesome, cheesy goodness of pizza?

Some innovations are great, I’m sure. While I haven’t tried a cronut, I’m sure people love them for a reason, and I bet I’d enjoy them myself. And brunch really is the perfect fusion of breakfast and lunch. I also concede that I spend a lot of my time telling my children that you can’t know whether or not you’ll like it until you try it. Sometimes, though, I think can really can know before you try it. Chocolate sauce just doesn’t belong on lasagna. Hot sauce just doesn’t belong on waffles. And crazy crusts do not belong on my pizza.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my advancing age that I am suspicious of these pizza innovations. Or perhaps it’s just that I’ve tried some of them, and I prefer a regular slice of pizza. Eaten with my hands, of course. Because knives and forks are all well and good, but they should never touch pizza. Whatever the reason, I’m a traditionalist, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Pizza is great as it is, so keep your paws off my crust.

Six Years of Jacob

Two days ago my son Jacob turned six. And then I cried. Birthdays are so bittersweet.

My son was super-excited about his birthday. He had been counting down the days for weeks. He told anyone who would listen that he was turning six soon – in twelve, nine, eight, six, three, two days. On his actual birthday Jacob and his big sister announced to strangers at the grocery store, at the toy store, at the park and on the street that today was his birthday. The enthusiasm was infectious. I loved how excited they were.

Still, the bittersweetness of it all overwhelmed me. Six somehow sounds much older than five. On Jacob’s birthday I was forced to acknowledge that I am no longer a mother of little kids. My kids are nine and a half and six now, solidly school age. They are growing up quickly – too quickly. Even at this moment, as I type, Jacob is reading over my shoulder. He’s making out most of the words, and happy that I’m writing about him. There’s no slowing down the train of childhood. It’s only picking up speed as it goes.

Of course, it’s an amazing journey all the same. My children are awe-inspiringly fabulous in pretty much every way. And they are so much their own people, with their own ideas and interests and quirks. Being their mother has made me much better in so many ways.

At six years old, Jacob loves superheroes and Star Wars. He likes to wrestle and crack jokes. He is reading well, and working on his printing. His favourite sport is “all of them.” He alternately adores and despises his sister. The most exciting moment of his day is when his dad comes home. And he still wakes up and crawls into my bed early most mornings. It’s not comfortable for me, but when I ask him to go back to his own bed and he says “but you are just too cozy, Mama” I can’t resist. What’s a little discomfort, in the face of such sweetness?

I guess you could say the same thing about the birthday. What’s a little bitter in the face of such sweetness? Of course I want to take every chance to let my son know how glad I am to have him in my life. And so I order the cake and the candles, stay up late putting training wheels on the bike, and force back the tears in front of him. This is about him, not about me.

Happy birthday, Jacob!

Birthday

Birthday

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Birthday

On Winging Life and Winging Forgiveness

It’s been ages, but today I felt compelled to write a Forgiveness Friday post. Today, specifically, I’m thinking about forgiving is something we have to just wing it in life, which includes forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I volunteer as a peer breastfeeding support person, so I occasionally field calls from new moms who need a listening ear and a little information. What I’m best at, in these situations, is pointing out what is and isn’t normal for a breastfeeding infant. If you’ve never had a baby before – or even if you had a different sort of baby every other time – it can be hard to tell what is perfectly okay and what is cause for alarm. Add in the pressure of being utterly and completely responsible for another person’s well-being when that person can’t actually communicate with you in a truly meaningful way and it really is a recipe for total panic.

Well, at least, I remember being totally panicked myself. Fortunately my kids aren’t any the worse for wear.

As I was speaking with a mom last week I thought about how much of life is spent flying blind. Seriously. Of course parenting is an extreme example, but how much do I really know about gardening or investing or choosing the best melon? And even if I master these topics, there’s always something else to know. The universe is amazingly vast, and I am actually rather small. And so, sooner or later, you just have to kind of wing it and get on with things so that you don’t spend your whole life agonizing. You won’t always get it right, but at least you’ll do something.

14828832674_252fb985b6_kAs I considered how much time I spend flying blind and winging things, I also thought about how little patience I have with myself when I make a mistake. Somehow, I expect myself to do everything well, even when I couldn’t possibly be expected to have mastered a specific task. I constantly tell my children that mistakes are okay, because they’re just learning. The important thing isn’t to do everything perfectly, but to avoid the same pitfall the next time. Mistakes are just learning opportunities, and all that jazz. However, in order to actually learn from something you have to stop self-flagellating long enough to see the lesson. Just feeling bad doesn’t actually lead to growth.

My point, once again, is that I need to forgive myself. However, there’s more to it than that.

When I started out on this forgiveness journey I was focused on defining forgiveness and then executing it perfectly. Of course, this isn’t how life works. You don’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book, you learn to ride a bicycle by falling off and getting back on. Forgiveness is sort of the same thing. You decide to forgive, you do forgiveness as best you can, and you figure out what does and doesn’t work. This is true whether you’re forgiving others or forgiving yourself. And if you’re not good at it right out of the gate, well, that’s to be expected. You’re learning as you go, which is how so much learning happens.

The good thing about forgiveness is that, unlike parenting, you don’t have a helpless infant’s well-being in your hands. This means that it really is all about what works for you. And if the question is whether or not your feelings are normal, or okay, the answer is pretty much always yes. Feelings are just feelings. Anger is just anger. Letting go of it is hard. You will feel that hardness. It is okay. You might not let go of it right away. It is okay. You are okay. You are normal. The key isn’t to be perfect. The key is to avoid this same pitfall the next time. And if not the next time, the time after that. Or the time after that.

Sometimes you have to fall in the same hole a bunch of times before you can actually see it. This is also normal. Unfortunately.

So, while I haven’t been writing about forgiveness, I have been thinking about it, and working at it. Am I good at forgiving yet? I’m not sure. I only know I’m getting better. It’s happening more slowly than I’d like, but it’s enough all the same.

Run Mama Run

I am not what you would call the athletic type. My mother loves to tell the story of how, during the first grade race at my elementary school track and field day, I came in dead last. It wasn’t because I was slow, so much as that I didn’t care to exert myself. I meandered my way across the field, even stopping at one point to pull up my socks. When asked why I didn’t run, I apparently replied, “You don’t have to run, everyone gets a ribbon anyway.”

While you could view this as a cautionary tale exposing the evils of participation ribbons, I don’t see it that way. The truth is, given my shortness I likely never would have placed in the top three amongst dozens of students. I think I likely knew that, so I accepted my fate and decided there was no point in breaking a sweat. And that last part – the breaking a sweat part – is what I mean when I say I’m not athletic. Why run when you can walk, since walking is so much easier and less sweaty?

A few years ago my perspective shifted slightly when I signed up to participate in Run for the Cure. For the first time since my high school gym classes I was running, and this time it was by choice. I found that it wasn’t so bad when I set the parameters for running, choosing my own time and place, and listening to my own music. It was almost liberating, in fact. Nonetheless, once Run for the Cure was over, I stopped. The next spring I considered starting up again, but then I didn’t.

Red and sweaty, post-run

Red and sweaty, post-run

This summer, between work and my school and a teachers’ strike that ended my kids’ school early, I’ve been stressed out. So stressed out, in fact, that I overcame my natural inertia and laced up my running shoes. I started my running app back at week one on June 21, and I’ve been running regularly since. I’m now on week six and going strong. It’s been good. I’ve found it helpful. I even surprised myself when I was at my wits’ end one evening and my first impulse wasn’t to eat ice cream or drink wine but to go running. It’s like I don’t even know myself.

The reason that running works for me is that it’s flexible, and I can fit it around my family’s schedule. All I need is 30 minutes and another adult in the house, and I can go for a run. I don’t need to fit a class that’s happening on someone else’s timetable into my day. I don’t need to get up early if I don’t want to. I don’t even need to have change on hand to pay for gym admission or a locker. I just need my shoes and my music and I’m golden.

Will it stick this time? Will this be the time that I keep on running when the days get colder and shorter? Will I be writing another post like this in another three years about how I’m running again? I don’t know. For now, though, I’m doing this thing for myself, and it makes me feel good. It gives my anxiety a productive outlet, and reminds me that I’m important and my well-being matters. Those are all good things, so for now I’ll keep on lacing up as often as I can.

Just Call me Hermione

I am nearing the end of my second semester back at university, in my quest for my teaching degree. While there continue to be high points and low points, I have gotten into the swing of things. It’s been a struggle to make time for my own schoolwork with my kids on summer vacation, but they’re in summer camp this week so that helps. To quote the opening credits of 19 Kids and Counting (a show I am embarrassed to admit I am addicted to), “It isn’t always easy, but somehow we make it all work.” Mostly.

I had a good inkling that I would do all right in my classes. I have always been a good student. Schoolwork came easily to me from the start. My delightfully neurotic nature helps, because I really do care and want to do well. I get good grades, I raise my hand in class, I work hard and I hand my assignments in on time.

good student hermione grangerWhen I hit puberty my academic success caused a lot of conflict for me. I didn’t really want to be the smart girl, because it didn’t really make me popular. The other girls in my elementary school were often annoyed by me. The boys, when they started to pay attention, were put off by the fact I got better marks than they did. I tried to play it down, play dumb, speak up less, make myself blend in. It never really worked. Looking back I’m glad I wasn’t more successful at making myself into someone I’m not. At the time it was hard, though.

Going back to school, I wasn’t sure I would do as well academically. After all, my brain isn’t getting any younger. I’ve noticed that my memory isn’t what it was when I was 18 years old anymore. I also have a whole lot more going on, with kids and work and a house to take care of.

The good news is that while I might be older, my life experiences have actually proven very helpful. As a parent I’ve had to become much more organized and focused. I procrastinate less, and get things done more. I know how to prioritize, because if I didn’t dinner would never get made. My life is a bit of a balancing act, but luckily I have a lot of experience with balancing acts at this point, so that’s to the good. As a result, I am still a good student.

My daughter Hannah and I have been re-reading Harry Potter together again recently, and the combination of re-entering that literary world and being back at school has driven home for me how very much I am like Hermione Granger. I like to follow rules. I raise my hand a lot in class. And I’ve even found myself reading my textbooks to unwind. On a recent exam, I spotted an error in the answer key. I get my work done ahead of schedule, and talk about what I’m learning in class to anyone who will listen. Typing all of this out I want to apologize for it. I feel that same conflict I felt when I was 13. I’m worried that people will find me insufferable, and they won’t like me.

One other advantage of age, though, is realizing that you can’t please everyone. No matter what, someone will disagree with you, question you, or just plain dislike you. Given that, you might as well just please yourself. So, go ahead, call me Hermione. I can be the smart girl, who is good at school and actually enjoys the academic process, and not apologize for it. In fact, I am that girl, and pretty much everyone who’s ever sat in class with me knows it, so there’s no use in pretending. Instead, I can let my inner geek loose, to revel in academia.

Now, if only I had the ability to get my kitchen to magically clean itself, life would be perfect.

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