50 posts categorized "Media"

Screen Time and Family Screen Policy

January 30, 2014

I just watched a New York Times mini-documentary on China's Web Junkies, and it simply shocked me.

I don't spend much time fearing things, but internet addiction in kids/teens really scares me. Ever since I read a research-based article connecting the Thurston High School shooter to heavy usage of violent video games, I've made a commitment to never allowing violent games in our home. "Using" the internet has all the makings for a serious addiction: easy access, mindless pleasure and a way to fill the void inside. As the video clearly shows, loneliness is both the root and the outcome of craving connection through the internet. If we're honest, many of us parents are already addicted. I know I am on some level. Email and the worldwide web were emerging as I began my career, and I've never worked without the company of a computer. Now I can/need to view my three email accounts from my phone and research anything that pops into my mind. Facebook can be all too tempting, as it does serve as a social medium for staying connected with my friends in town and across the globe. There can be pure joy found in heartwarming messages that come at just the right moment. But, in my opinion, connecting socially online shouldn't happen while your kids are craving your attention.

As busy parents, I don't expect anyone to go offline, but its important to become aware of our usage in the presence of our kids. We are settling the cultural norm by demonstrating our values. If we don't give our kids the deep and genuine attention they crave now, it's all too likely that they will turn to the internet or other addictions when they grow up. If you're following my new blog, you'll know that my family recently drafted our first Family Screen Policy.

Despite his friends getting vastly more screen time, our does son seem very satisfied with earning a limited amount through reading. Our kids are still way more interested in sports, making art and getting outside, but at least now we both have some guidance about when it's allowed. I've also found that I'm walking my talk more now and fighting the impulse to check-in online when the kids are around. Does your family have a screen policy? Have you witnessed or felt addicted to the internet? How important (or challenging) is it for you to unplug?

This is guest post by Darcy Cronin, a mother of three, blogger, and small business adventurer. Darcy became certified as a Simplicity Parenting Coach to help busy families create paths toward meaningful values and more sustainable lifestyles. Follow her blog and sign up for workshops at Darcy's Utopia.

Summer Media

June 22, 2013

In these early days of summer, the kids have been getting up (late) and bee-lining it straight to the TV.  Not even asking us, they'll put on a show, a movie, something else to watch.  Usually, it is of the mindless variety.  So I ask: is there a high-media trend in your household now that "summer vacation" is here?  Will it continue?  Will you renegotiate terms and differentiate summer usage versus school-in-session usage?

WSJ: To Start, Please Don't Call Me 'Mommy'

April 26, 2013

We have talked a lot about the guilt of travel as working mothers, and how exhausting it is to coordinate child care for business trips and conferences. Even when the conference is brilliant, inspiring, rejuvenating, and chockful of connections that will help us down the road -- I can say all those things, for instance, about the one I attended this weekend, the Oregon Writers Colony spring conference -- when we get home there is the inevitable crash back into the family, both literal and figurative. I walked into the door Sunday late afternoon and my five-year-old ran crash into me with a hug; and I walked into the midst of my boys crashing after a little too much sugar from grandpa. They were wired and the house was extra chaotic and I -- oh, I was happy, to see my boys and on a high from the weekend, but this was so much work.

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my room at the Sylvia Beach hotel at this weekend's conference. Blissful.

Since I'm a mother, however, according to a recent and blatantly sexist/is-there-such-a-thing-as-momist? article by the Wall Street Journal, all this is about is escapism.

The WSJ utilized that tried-and-true journalistic condescension, picking out all the very least important bits and turning it into the lede. ("Katherine Stone, a 43-year-old mother and wife from Atlanta, wants to leave her husband and children." [beat] "Just for a few days. On her trip, she will listen to panels addressing issues of concern to mothers, network with other bloggers, and stay in a hotel room that someone else will keep tidy.") Katherine, the mother getting the focus of this condescension is, by the way, a woman who blogs about postpartum depression.

Everyone who goes to conferences (let's be honest) enjoys them a little bit for a few of the wrong reasons. Who doesn't like to stay in a room they don't have to clean themselves? Who doesn't enjoy getting together with colleagues and friends they rarely see except virtually? This has nothing to do with being a parent. And definitely nothing to do with being a mom.

I'll be going to the same conference for which, supposedly, Katherine Stone is eager so she can leave her family behind. Like her, I'm really not that eager to leave them behind; it's just pretty expensive to bring your kids and spouse with you on a business trip where you're going to be working nonstop. This is why so few people do it. I'm also committed to forging partnerships for my magazine and presenting a panel on crowd funding for creative projects.

I'd like to ask the WSJ not to call me, or any of these women, a "mommy," unless actually we are your mommy. And I'd like the WSJ to think about these "mommy" centric pieces, and ask, is it any different for non-parents? Is it any different for men?

Well, other than relieving oneself of the childcare juggle, no. With all respect to Sheryl Sandberg, I really think that the kettle logic and regression fallacies offered by media outlets in support of the theory that mothers are flighty, pleasure-seeking, and unserious when compared to fathers and non-parents is the real problem keeping women from rising through the ranks of organizations.

It's hard enough to go through the second-guessing and priority-juggling when going on a business trip, without a supposedly serious financial newspaper poking fun at you. I'm all for print you know. But not (any more) the WSJ.

Ideas for kids, ideas for all

November 08, 2012

Oregon Humanities is producing an amazing series of videos called "Bring your own," with the concept that we can all bring our own ideas to the table (like lunch!). I connected with this video in particular, because I have been loving the ideas my own children have been developing lately.

When I launch into one of my passionate lectures on life and the meaning of "safety" or "abortion" or "free speech," my kids listen and then come up with ideas of their own. How to look at it a new way. How to fix things. I think I should listen more. I think I should let them make a couple of videos.

Parent Statements: euphemisms of judgement?

July 11, 2012

"My child doesn't get much media", said the mama to me as we watched our kids sit in front of a video, "so he is totally sucked in when he gets it."  I said: "Oh."  I feel like I have heard myself say the same thing of my own child.  

Later that weekend, after allowing my child to have a juice box offered by another child, I said, "My child doesn't usually drink juice," noting my child's high-energy response to the drink, "so he is totally hyper when he drinks it."

As I hear myself saying the above, I hear my unspoken thoughts "your child shouldn't drink juice".  Then, I hear the other mama's unspoken thoughts (or what I assume they could be): "your child shouldn't watch videos".  I had a sinky feeling in my stomach.  I am juding.  I am being judged.  But, it doesn't sound like it, does it?

No doubt you have heard similar statements before.  Maybe you have even made them.  Does it feel judgy only if one is already sensitive to the issue?  Or, this might go into the category of "over-thinking" things.

Time's new cover: extended breastfeeding

May 11, 2012

Everyone's talking about it, so why don't we?  What do you think of Time's new cover?  Are you an extended breastfeeder?  What does this image say to you?  

Hunger Games: have you read/seen it? Have your kids?

April 20, 2012

When our 11.5-year old daughter was picking out a new book at the store a few months ago, she snatched up The Hunger Games.  More often, I feel like I want to tell them what to read.  Less often, I feel like I want to tell them what NOT to read.

I knew nothing of the book, aside from the fact that 3 of my daughters closer friends had already read it and loved it.  "She looooooved this book", my daughter oozed.  Well, ok.  Fine by me.  I know her friends and their families and, though you can't judge a book by its cover, I felt affirmed that the book was fine/acceptable just based on that.  I skimmed the back cover and thought it was curious my daughter was drawn to a fantasy-like, darker book.  I actually was glad to have her branching out of her typical genre of Lauren Myracle's The Winnie Series.

When we got home, she devoured the book in a day.  She did the same the next day.  She begged for the second and third books in the series (buy, not borrow, since there were about 154 holds on each at the library).  We bought them.  She reads them over and over and over again, and then she reads them again.

When we talked about the content, I was surprised I didn't make myself know more: teens forced to kill themselves.  Wow, really?  OK.  Starting to question myself, I started to read the book, but I haven't gotten past page 20.  So, I went to Common Sense Media and read their book review on The Hunger Games

A few weeks ago, The Hunger Games Movie came out.  It is rated PG13, and our daughter is 11.  Well, she's 11 and a half.  Her friends went to see it with their parents on opening night.  Some friends have seen it again since.  Knowing the content of the book, knowing the movie rating, and knowing that seeing things is different than reading things, our daughter has agreed with our decision that she won't be seeing it until she's 13 (she's looking forward to her birthday)!

I have had mama friends who have read the book(s) (in one night, even), and I am curious to hear everyone's thoughts: have you read it? seen it?  has your son/daughter read it? seen it?

"Distracted Driving is an Epidemic": What to say to a distracted driver?

April 16, 2012

Do you talk & drive?  April is National Distracted Driving Month.  A recent survey (*pdf here) tells us that almost all passengers in vehicles where the driver is texting or emailing felt "very unsafe". The survey also shows us that younger passengers (between ages of 18 and 25) are less likely to speak up to their drivers than older counterparts.

I have been a passenger in a cab when I have felt uncomfortable speaking up, even though I know full well "one text or call could wreck it all".  I feel like I am less often a passenger in a vehicle where I feel unsafe, although my husband does have a habit of checking the phone (or iPod, more often) at the stop light.

If you were a passenger where the driver was on the phone, what have you said?  What can we do to encourage more drivers to lose the distractions?  For those of you with children approaching driving age, how to you advise them to drive without distraction?

For more great info: see www.distraction.gov

Social Networking and Kids: Do they mix?

March 18, 2012

In our most recent weekly school newsletter, it was shared that a growing number of elementary students have Facebook accounts, even if Facebook is not to be used by children under the age of 13. From the Common Sense Media website: "73% of 12- to 17-year olds have at least one social networking profile".  Youth have access to the internet in libraries, on phones, or on other mobile devices.  

When we received an email announcing big money for Pixy Kids, a social media platform for kids age 6-12 and their parents, I immediately felt conflicted.  Actually, I might have said outloud: "Hell, no."

Continue reading "Social Networking and Kids: Do they mix?" »

Cell Phone Usage: setting boundaries

February 12, 2012

Children in households across America roll their eyes when their parents say: "when I was your age, I never had a cell phone...", an introduction to a tyrade about how cell phone usage is a privilege, yadda, yadda, yadda.  (If you haven't already, perhaps it's worth visiting the post: "Kids & Cell Phones: yes? no? when? how?")

Our middle-schooler  has been using a cell phone since she started coming home alone afterschool last fall.  When no one else is home, she will go into the drawer where it is kept, retrieve the cell phone, and text us to let us know she is home.  She does not take the phone to school.  She is not allowed to use her phone to text/call friends during the week.

Continue reading "Cell Phone Usage: setting boundaries" »

Now, it's the French parents who are better, says one woman

February 06, 2012

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I've had it up to here (the writer draws a line with her finger somewhere above her hairline) with the Wall Street Journal headlines proclaiming the superiority of one parenting style followed by an entire culture. You'd think the editorial team was on the payroll of a publishing house (the writer begs forgiveness for her snark). They're certainly not nuanced or creative when they come to writing headlines.

Continue reading "Now, it's the French parents who are better, says one woman" »

Of the Great Santa Myth, and Faith

December 21, 2011

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There surely was a real St. Nicholas, of course (who would have given very few of our children the things on their Christmas lists -- his assistance of the needy, the sick and the suffering probably wouldn't have included a Nerf Vortex Nitron or the Disney Fairies gift set), but what we have today is all myth. It's the myth that sits our children on his lap, telling him their deepest desires; it is the myth to whom they write letters and make lists; it's the myth that appears in 1,000 permutations on TV shows and movies this time of year. It's the myth that signs his name on packages under trees and fills the stockings (then turns with a jerk...). it's the myth that gives a darn whether or not your kids are "naughty."

I've always been non-committal about the myth of Santa. My parents, despite the religious background that would seem to conflict with the whole idea of an imaginary present-giver, still signed presents under the tree "from Santa" and perpetuated the idea of a guy sliding down the chimney with a big red bag. I remember, one year, writing a letter to Santa and burning it; the idea, that the ashes would float up to Santa in some sort of readable manner, sure didn't make any more sense to me at five than they do at 38. But, I believe it, willing to take a leap of faith if it meant good things like lacy dresses and baby dolls. By my third or fourth lost tooth, however, I was all skeptic; I asked my parents not to sneak in and leave money under my pillow, no matter what! When they acquiesced and, indeed, I woke up to a tooth still in its place, I remember a little disappointment but mostly relief that the world's logic was preserved. I don't remember it being cold or harsh or sad; just helpful. Now I know.

 With my kids, I offer the story like I do Zeus or Achilles or Noah: a story that no one can be 100% sure of. That some people believe, and others don't. The boys are welcome to believe if they like. Most of those guys dressed up on the street certainly aren't the real Santa. Might this one be? Perhaps. If they want to believe it.

Everett, who at eight renounced God, the tooth fairy, Santa and the Easter bunny as myths all (to my disappointment; I still believe in God), is a staunch non-believer, and not quiet about it. This does not affect his brothers' beliefs at all. On Peacock Lane, the boys confronted a Santa Claus together, and Everett informed the others this was a fake Santa. A little while later, with Everett's attention elsewhere, Monroe encountered another Santa. This? The real Santa, he decided, with no one to tell him incontrovertibly that it was not. Even later, as Monroe had not seen Everett evaluate the man (so as to gather evidence for his reality or lack thereof), he remained convinced the second Santa was the real one.

Tomorrow on Think Out Loud, a conversation about Santa and whether or not we tell our kids "the truth" will take place, and the intro to the post and an email about it had me shaking my head.  "Spoiler alert: If you're a Santa believer, you might want to stop reading right now." Really? If you're a Santa believer, even the presence of doubt in others has you disbelieving? This doesn't work for anything else -- take any religion, ever. Even climate change deniers find a way to discount all scientific evidence that works against their theory. Can a radio show shake a kid's faith?

Not in my opinion, especially if a beloved big brother can't even change your mind. The Santa secret is safe, and here's the thing: it was always safe in the minds and hearts of the true believers. Even, if for just a few more years.

Merry Christmas! (The shopping version)

November 08, 2011

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The Sunday after Halloween was the launch of the holiday shopping season; I found two "toy books" and several other circulars in the paper. I've also been getting a steady stream of holiday-themed catalogs, with a wealth of options from personalized stockings to adorable little-girl Christmas dresses to the always-popular gift for all adult women: fleece-lined slippers in reds and greens. Fancy holiday candies. A needlepoint iPad case? Just the thing!

In Friday's Oregonian was the a&e Holiday Event Guide, with photos of Christmas ships and the Pioneer Courthouse Square tree lighting and the Nutcracker and ads for the Northwest Children's Theater performance of 'Willy Wonka' and -- hilariously -- the 'Festival of the Last Minute' at Saturday Market (Dec. 17 - 24). "Procrastinators Rejoice!" says the ad copy. Procrastinators should be quaking in their boots if they're already reading about procrastination on November 4th.

I've barely finished canning tomatoes and am ready for a week -- just a week -- of not planning for anything before we start planning for Thanksgiving. I'm not ready for Christmas shopping yet, with the exception of having the great comeback to all requests for toy purchases made by my kids: "well, let's put that on your Christmas list, shall we?"

But all these ads and the beginnings of decorations in the stores has got me already stressing about Christmas shopping, even that gorgeous and fun idea from Martha Stewart Living's November issue: an Advent gift chain (for which I had better start shopping today if I'm going to make it happen). I'm not even much of a shopper, but I get bit by the bug about December 19th each year and want to go running around town with a wad of cash. (My cash wads being as they are, this is rarely much of a run.)

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I was shaking my head derisively at all this precocious consumerism when I remembered -- I'd already bought one Christmas gift early (some cozy wool socks for my newest little nephew). And I asked my husband last night for the go-ahead to spend some of the family dime on the Icebreaker friends and family sale next week; for me and for Christmas gifts.

So yes, I do start shopping this early, probably because of all the glossy pretty pictures delivered to my mailbox and doorstep. Insidious! How about you: when do you start shopping for the holidays? How do you feel about the ubiquity of those happy smiling moms with cozy snowflake sweaters in your mailbox or email inbox? Does it make you happy or frantic? What would you rather be doing with your mental energies (if anything) other than worrying that you're already behind on your shopping?

Friday Family Movie Night: Babies and Screens

October 21, 2011

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While it would be a stretch to say my kids' screentime is very limited, when my husband is away (in the military, he's currently serving the second of two one-year tours in Kuwait) the TV is usually off. The boys might watch a half-hour or hour on school days, and usually go on a Saturday morning Pokemon and Ben 10 jag if we're home. There's Friday night movie night -- which we'll skip on particularly exhausting weeks. Of course, I don't have a baby, but when Think Out Loud came on this Friday morning, discussing new AAP recommendations that parents with kids under two limit the TV to zero, I immediately thought back to my very different household when my boys were babies and toddlers; in a word, TV rich.

My husband grew up in a household where TV was on all the time, and his young adulthood, when he lived with his siblings, only reinforced this habit. It's hard to get the TV off in my house when he's around, and more so when the kids were younger and he had the (according to the AAP, highly mistaken) viewpoint that they wouldn't watch the TV if it wasn't meant for them. So, my boys grew up, likewise, to the sound of Law & Order and NCIS and other procedural dramas. I'm going to paraphrase the guest on TOL, University of Washington professor of medicine Dimitri Christakis: this is keeping us all from paying attention to our kids and interacting in the way babies need. "It holds your attention," he said, mentioning studies that show how hard it is for us to see anything else when the TV is on.

I had to laugh, a little, when another caller asked the question I was about to ask (as I washed dishes and listened to NPR instead of interacting with my own kids), is radio just as bad? How about NPR? Christakis kind of skirted that question, by emphasizing the difference between TV and music radio -- it's the visual part of TV that sucks us in.

What we get from this new recommendation is not much different in tone than the message in the SpongeBob study: when we're turning the TV on to get something done, it's not good for the kids. We should be interacting with them instead of setting them in front of the tube. Christakis said that he gets all the time, "but how am I supposed to make dinner if I don't turn on the TV?" His answer: parents for millennia have been making dinner without TV, and with current estimates on how much TV kids are actually watching -- it's four or five hours for many toddlers (a DAY, and I know there have been times when that has been the reality in my house, and it kills me to think of it) -- he asks, "how much of a break do parents need?" Kids this age are, after all, only awake for 10 or 12 hours a day.

On one hand, I agree with a friend on Facebook, who (and I know her son watches little TV, comparatively) took the radio program as opportunity to tell all the parents she knows that they're doing a great job and can just stop listening to the media criticism of the job they're doing (thank you!). On the other hand, I want to agree with Christakis. Really, I don't need that much of a break from my kids. And honestly -- they're fine without screens. They can occupy themselves for hours with sticks and a field of grass, or pinecones and fences to climb, or the room full of Hot Wheels and Thomas trains and dress-up clothes and stuffed animals. I get plenty of break (during which I can wash dishes, do laundry, and make dinner all I want. Yay!).

Continue reading "Friday Family Movie Night: Babies and Screens" »

Phone & Skype: Manners & Etiquette

September 22, 2011

Having family scattered throughout the country and even abroad, we - as a family - have started to video-chat pretty regularly.  Having moved far from her, my eldest has also started chatting on the phone with her bestest friends, also pretty regularly.

Frequently, I will overhear the kid(s) in the other room, chatting with a friend or with family via Skype in the other room, then I will hear my daughter say, "oh wait a minute, my brother needs something," and she will then proceed to go, pick up her toddler brother, tend to his needs.  Under non-Skype circumstances, she would have had no problem letting her brother fuss or go on unattended, unnoticed for any number of minutes.  On Skype, though, the dynamic is different.

Same goes for the phone.  I will hear her sharing news about her first week of school, then: "Stop it!" and "Wait, I need to get something from my sister."

The examples are really endless.  If I were on the other end of the phone/screen, I might be mighty irritated at the lack of focus, all the distraction.  Can't we just have a conversation?  To be sure, there are a confluence of factors here.  First, the other family members not actively participating on the call are likely to be a bit more intrusive during this time, when the other is obviously occupied.  I'm not sure why that is, it just is.  Second, the one participating on the call might want to share every, single bit of detail of our lives in this household.  Perhaps that is the intent in engaging in other activities whilst on a call.

Talking on the phone (and, now on Skype) is another vehicle for our communication, for social interaction.  There must be some "etiquette", some expectations, some code of conduct that tells the person on the other side: "yes, you are important; yes, I do want to talk to you; and yes, I do want to give you undivided attention."

Perhaps, too, it speaks to our society at large and our shorter and shorter attention spans.  That macroscopic question aside, what I'd really love to hear is how your kids are on the phone or video calls.  Are they engaged, receptive, attentive?  Or, are they distracted and easily distractable, even annoyingly so?

TV Study: SpongeBob's Bad

September 19, 2011

There was a study several years ago that made the rounds when my oldest was in prime Nick Jr.-watching age; it was the basis for the AAP recommendation that kids two and under watch no TV, or, failing that, very very little. The study basically found that all TV was bad for little kids' brains, and it didn't matter what it was; Sesame Street, SpongeBob, and Law & Order were all equally brain-rotting, in this study's opinion. This was the inspiration for lots of mama guilt (both personal and universal), and some grumbling about the poor study design; it was, for instance, based entirely on parental report of both quantity and content of TV, as well as the children's resultant behavior and school performance. Were the kids with difficult behavior and poor school performance really watching PBS for two hours a day -- or WWE for six hours a day? And were the guilt-ridden mamas whose kids watched PBS over-reporting the behavior out of some kind of morose ethical code? Causation, too, was an issue; maybe the kids with poor school performance all lived closer to high-traffic streets, or were all suffering from imperfect nutrition. The study, while striking, was hardly clear evidence.

Enter better (if not exactly clear) evidence. A new study from the University of Virginia [pdf link] published in the September 12 issue of the Pediatrics journal showed that it does make a difference what the young children watch, and specifically, preschool-aged children were shown episodes of Caillou (the almost moronically peaceful, sweet show about a little boy shown on PBS) and SpongeBob SquarePants (I think you know). The control group drew pictures independently. There was only nine minutes of the TV, but the fast-paced SpongeBob immediately impacted childrens' "executive function" -- self-regulation and working memory.

The problem wasn't the slapstick content and the ridiculous jokes (honestly, I've grown to appreciate SpongeBob's unusual humor). It was the part that makes me crazy when I'm listening from the other room -- the frequent changes in scene, about every 11 seconds, compared to 34 seconds for Caillou. Researchers theorized that this fast pace impaired children's brain function. It's worth noting that defenders have sprung up to compare this study to one 1970s comparison of fast- and slow-paced episodes of Sesame Street (the control group was read to by parents), which held that pace had no impact on children's attention spans. "...there’s no telling which characteristics of the programs might have affected the children’s thinking," wrote editors on a Bloomberg editorial. "Could it be that the children were slow to settle down and get to work because SpongeBob is funny and they were energized by laughter? As much as we respect all forms of expression, it’s safe to say that Caillou is not particularly funny, and it’s easy to see how kids could turn from watching it to performing serious tasks without needing a moment to recover." And another critical article noted that the survey was statistically flawed; "Compared to drawing, kids in the SpongeBob group did worse when the researchers measured these executive function areas — attention, working memory, and problem solving. But compared to the kids who watched the other cartoon, there was no statistical difference between the two groups of kids. When a researcher says something 'approached significance,' that’s a squishy research term to say, 'Well, it's not significant, but it's darned close.'"

Given the usual skepticism about making generalizations about small groups of children watching two very different programs, this is still something I've long been concerned about, though not with such clarity. My kids had some unexpected response to a zoomy, fast-paced movie made for 3D when we saw it in the theatre (How to Train Your Dragon). I was boggled by how often the scene changed; sometimes the pace was so fast I found myself ducking, or squeezing my eyes shut. It overwhelmed me. On the way home, we endured some of the worst meltdowns I'd seen from my kids -- simultaneously, at least -- in months.

I'm not banning SpongeBob, but it's useful to observe the reactions of my kids to various intensities of TV. Johnny Test, for instance, is hilarious -- but the sound of it destroys my own brain function. If it's on, there's no way I can write anything intelligent. Same goes for lots of Cartoon Network shows (and, let's be honest, Sid the Science Kid, which I've never cared for). I'll keep this sort of content to a minimum for my kids; it's not going to rot their brains permanently, probably, but it's certainly not going to give their brains a rich and nurturing environment for creating positive change in the world.

Friday Family Movie Night: Tangled

September 02, 2011

When Tangled was coming out into movie theatres, I was reading (in a late-night rush) the sassy, beautifully-drawn graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge. In a fit of hopefulness, I decided the Disney movie must be based on the graphic novel -- it, set in the old West, gave Rapunzel a whole different mien. No naive and helpless girl wasting away in a tower, Shannon Hale's Rapunzel is fantastic with rope work (using her hair, naturally) and as handy as MacGyver. She's a cowgirl, and Jack, the male "lead," is an amalgam of the Jacks of fairy tale lore -- and not nearly so fearless and skilled as the heroine.

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Disney

While there are similarities in the two -- Disney's Rapunzel also uses her hair like a lasso, and both handsome rescuing types are thieves seeking to get enormous chips off their shoulders -- this is no competent, fearless, feminist heroine. Nope: this is classic Disney, with the Grimm storyline shook up a lot so that we can make her a princess. Most of the Rapunzel origin stories have the girl's parents cast as poor, ordinary folk (although her savior is typically a prince), and her father, not a king, but a thief, forced by his wife's terrible cravings for greens (variously, rapunzel, rampion radishes, and lamb's lettuce, which grows wild in my garden, mama!) to climb Mother Gothel's wall and steal them. He is found out and the baby, surrendered as punishment.

This Mother Gothel is more foraging naturalist than enchantress, and the mom's pregnant craving is not for spinach-like leaves, but for healing from a terrible illness. The only substance that can heal her is a magic flower, one Gothel has been keeping under wraps in order to remain forever young. (Young-ish -- the transformed Gothel reminds me of Cher in her late fifties.) When the flower is accidentally left uncovered, the good people of Rapunzel's nation find it, healing her mother and embuing the child with the flower's magical powers.

Gothel, learning that Rapunzel's hair is her power as long as it remains uncut, steals her and secrets her away in the fairy tale tower. In order to maintain her evil aura despite depriving her of magic powers, Disney makes Mother Gothel passive-aggressive, controlling and emotionally manipulative. She is the ultimate bad mom. (And, honestly, this makes her much creepier than some simple cackling, potions and curses might.)

Rapunzel is Disney Princess through-and-through. She's got it all: progenic, creative talent (painting and star-charting); enormous oft-blinking eyes; bouncy pastel wardrobe; cute, supportive and intelligent small animal sidekick (Pascal, a chameleon who sounds like a squeaky toy); uncannily winning ways; clever, spunky dialogue.

Continue reading "Friday Family Movie Night: Tangled" »

Friday Family Movie Night: My Neighbor Totoro

August 12, 2011

The second step of my love affair with Hayao Miyazaki is what many describe as his best work, the 1993 My Neighbor Totoro. As with Ponyo, the movie explores -- no, celebrates -- what it is to believe in magic. And yet this is not Disney magic, with wands and tiaras and beautiful flowing-haired-but-nubile teen stars. This is a delightful, screaming, four-year-old magic, the incantation only gratitude and respect, the fairy dust soot and dirt and acorns.

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My Neighbor Totoro
is the story of a family. Father, the eight- or nine-year-old Satsuke, and the three-year-old Mei move to the country, and slowly we discover that they have done so because their mother is very ill, and her hospital is nearby. From the opening scenes we discover that none of these people are made-for-TV; the moving truck is so overloaded that the girls must stay in the back, and their delight about everything is tempered, of course, by the idea that a policeman might see them and give their father a ticket. In an American movie, this would be a judgment; in Miyazaki, it is a celebration. The girls and their father exuberantly tumble and caper into their new home, which would in another context be a dump; here, it is a source of unending joy.

Everything about the father's relationship with the girls is so tender and reverent. When they say they have seen "little black things! Like bugs, but bigger!" he does not assume they were actually bugs. "Soot gremlins?" he asks. The next door neighbor, "Granny," tells the girls that she, too, saw soot sprites when she was a little girl -- enjoying the little Mei, whose hands and feet are somehow covered in soot and who runs right into her, screams and runs away. Everything that the adults suggest comes true, and only the girls can see it; the soot sprites move away when they see that the family is taking good care of the house.

In another scene, the father is bathing with the children, and this becomes natural and masculine; in still another, Father puts Mei on his towel-wrapped bike bar, with Satsuke standing behind him, as they ride to the hospital to visit mother.

The totoros are not encountered until later, and it is Mei who discovers them -- first a baby, then a small one, and chasing these two leads to the enormous totoro -- the titular neighbor. Totoro helps fearless Mei express her powerlessness over her mother's illness, and helps Satsuke believe that her contributions do make a difference -- and gives her someone to care for her when she is putting the weight of her little family on her own shoulders.

It is a beautiful movie, luminous and filled with heart and beauty. Everything is examined with a quiet, soft light; nothing is found wanting. Even when Satsuke lashes out in anger, it is not the sudden flame-and-apology that most children's movies do so pat, it is the complex simultaneous helpless rage and compassion that more true characters feel.

We got this movie on a Monday, and watched it that night, as we had missed Friday movie night the weekend prior. By Thursday, we had watched it five times; each time, it only got better. I love this movie; and so do we all.

Friday Family Movie Night: Ramona and Beezus

July 29, 2011

When Portland learned that Ramona Quimby would be modernized and done up all High School Musical-style (with a Beezus, Selena Gomez, straight from a starring role on the Disney Channel), there was excitement at first -- Klickitat Street, on the big screen! -- and then disappointment. Other than a few establishing shots, the movie was filmed entirely in Vancouver, B.C., where they have all the movie fun. (But at least we get to be Boston in Leverage, so there.) And there was the usual concern about reflecting the book. Would it be faithful? Would it be good?

Well, it definitely wasn't faithful to the book series, at least not in a way that any Ramona fan would deem acceptable. Charming and fun and faithful to the mood and episodic style of the books, though, sure. Though the movie is titled "Ramona and Beezus," it's nothing like the first book of the Ramona series which shares its title. Instead, the book is set roughly in the time of both Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Forever, mashed up, with a Beezus from Ramona's World (15 and spouting French to annoy her sister) and the family makeup from Ramona and Her Mother.

Urbanmamas_ramona_beezus
20th Century Fox

It's this mashup that gives the movie its inner life, and also its contradictions. Ramona is, as in the book series, always screwing up situations because of her active imagination, impatience, and earnest belief in the magnitude of her own actions. She gets angry at her family and squirts an entire toothpaste tube into the sink. She is made fun of at school and exacerbates the problem by trying to crack a boiled egg on her head -- and having it turn out to have been raw. (Oops. And it's picture day.) She hears that the situation with the family's home is precarious, so she starts a lemonade stand to earn money to "save" it.

The central story line from Ramona and Her Father -- that her father has lost his job and is trying without much luck to find a new one -- is here, and is so modern it might as well have been written, well, today. This week even. The romance between Aunt Bea and Ramona's friend Howie's uncle Hobart is darling, if a little obvious (in both versions), but the real sweetness is between Aunt Bea and Ramona; a sweetness the viewer is meant to believe, Ramona needs desperately. Can she afford to live without it? She's odd girl out in her house. Beezus is the responsible older sister -- who, as in the first book in the series, has no patience for Ramona's pestiness, and tortures her. Baby sister Willa Jean is just adorable, even when she's putting applesauce on her head. Dad is achey-breaky-unemployed and mom is working overtime. How's she going to survive without Aunt Bea?

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Friday Family Movie Night: Ponyo

July 22, 2011

I had been sold a dozen times over on Hayao Miyazaki's work before Ponyo came out in 2009; a friend was so enthralled with My Neighbor Totoro that she held a special showing at the Clinton Street. But I was skeptical; I'm not generally a fan of kids' movies that anthropormorphize -- especially, I thought, fish. How bizarre was that? A little boy falling in love with a fish?

Besides, everyone said, My Neighbor Totoro was way, way better. So I put it off, skipping it in the theaters (as I usually do), and always turning away from opportunities to see it on the small screen. Finally, one night, nothing else appeared to strike our fancy, so the boys and I tried it On Demand. I was -- to use an eye-rollingly appropriate figure of speech -- swept away.

When it comes down to it, I do love magical realism, and Miyazaki is such a master of the form that I found I was quickly able to set aside my quibbles with the practicality of boy+fish love (especially at such a young age!) and just fall head over heels for the lush-but-dark world he paints. The boys were no less adoring of the characters and style than I. We all stayed rapt through the very end of the movie, the credits, and then we rewound to listen to the theme song again (Ponyo, Ponyo, tiny little fish! She's a little fish from the deep blue sea!).

Ponyo_noodle_soup
IGN.com

As the movie opens, five-year-old Sosuke finds a goldfish trapped in a bottle. She is, however, one of hundreds of sister-goldfish who are the daughters of a wild red-headed magician and a luminous sea-goddess. Ponyo -- Sosuke's name for her -- is a formidable child, and steals magic from her father to return to Sosuke. This magic, unleashed, creates a universal imbalance; threatening Sosuke, his mother, and father, a sailor who's gone out for an extra trip.

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27% of PBOT budget to keep streets safe for our kids: Thank you, Sam

May 18, 2011

Urbanmamas_katie_alley
 
It's all in a headline, isn't it? That's something I've learned from my two decades as a journalism junkie. And then there's the old saying, "statistics lie." I worked on Wall Street and for a bank selling loans to other banks -- I know from long practice doing and analyzing other people doing so, you can get numbers to say whatever you want them to.

So the above is the headline I'd like to see on Oregonian writer Joseph Rose's piece on how Sam Adams and the Portland City Council decided to spend the "uncommitted budget" -- in other words, the part of budget that's discretionary. It's funded by gas taxes and parking revenue, and makes up about 25% of the overall transportation capital improvement projects funding. He went instead with "Portland Mayor Sam Adams boosts funding for bike projects, but now there's less for paving streets" as a headline and then, in the first few paragraphs, described Adams' statements about the funding (which, for bike projects, works out to 17% of discretionary funds, or 6% of overall CIP funds) at the Alice Awards as having "boasted about what he had done for bicycles." Rose's piece kept up the rabble-rousing bent: "Portland quietly boosted the amount of uncommitted transportation funding it spends on bike projects from just 1 percent to 17 percent – or $2.8 million – in the budget adopted last June. Meanwhile, it slashed the amount allocated to motor vehicle projects by 22 percent... Coming out of the recession, the budget is still bruised. Pothole complaints are up. Nearly 60 miles of the city's streets remain unpaved. By allocating 17 times more of that funding on building bikeways, Adams has left no doubt that he wants more commuters on bicycles."

There are many, many things on which I'd love to see Portland spend its money. And while I understand that Portland's roads are pot-hole filled and it's not nearly easy enough to drive 40 MPH everywhere you want to go, well, when it comes down to it I value the safety of our kids and older citizens more than I do speed. Spending 6% of our budget on bicycle projects (which improve traffic safety, speeds, pollution, noise, and long-term environmental costs for everyone who uses our roads and even those who don't) and another 21% for pedestrian projects (which make our communities more livable and make our citizens healthier and happier -- attracting businesses and invigorating the retail climate and wooing middle- and upper-class new residents), even though these funds come from gas taxes and parking revenue, seems like a sensible and worthwhile investment in a safe and sustainable transportation mix.

Continue reading "27% of PBOT budget to keep streets safe for our kids: Thank you, Sam" »

Don't talk about it, mama!

March 17, 2011

There are a lot of topics that tend to divide parents and get them lined up on two sides of a seemingly uncrossable chasm: take circumcision, vaccination, infant formula. We've found many other topics here that have forged a surprising divide amongst our family, friends or internet community.

But are there some things that just aren't ok to talk about online? I wondered, today, when I came across (first, because Babble emailed it out to parents they knew manage parenting blogs, and then on subsequent discussions among Twitter friends) a post in which a mother reveals that she loves one child more than the other. If you're really interested, I'll let you find it; what I will say is that many, many commenters and my Twitter friends agreed "this isn't something you say on the internet."

I don't know; I believe that, if there's something you feel, even if it's just for a little while, it's ok to say it -- though you will certainly regret it if comments are open and people are sending around links to your post, exclamation points included. And I believe nearly every parent has regrettable thoughts from time to time, as this mama did: do I love my easy baby more than my difficult toddler? Am I a bad parent for thinking coolly of slapping my son? If I had to decide between my spouse or my children, who would I pick? Could I send my eight-year-old to a military school? (I wouldn't EVER think that. No way. Not me. Not even for a second, as I rode home on my bike after he told my sister and only babysitter that he hated her and then... no, not me!)

I may be more liberal than most, as I am after all a nonfiction writer and one that is willing to expose every bloody bit of my inner life, if it serves truth. Even I have some lines, though: I won't write even fiction in which children who are like mine in any way die, and prefer not to cover news items about mothers and fathers who hurt their children. I stear clear of all mentions of my children that are in any way sexualized. I try to never use words about other people like "fat" or "stupid," even poor Sir Topham Hatt's original moniker. I don't believe in calling anyone a "bad mom," even myself, even if I thought for a minute it was true.

What won't you say on the internet? (Be anonymous, or hypothetical, or general, whichever makes you feel safe.) Do you think that it's ok to reveal the sort of thoughts that you feel badly for thinking, afterward? Or do you think there are some confessions that just shouldn't be typed out?

Kids & Lyrics: do they know what they're singing?

February 12, 2011

*thump, thump, thump* are common sounds coming from my daughters' room.  Aged 7 and 10, they love to listen to music and dance along.  It's not unusual for me to walk into their room, find each one standing on their bed, hips swinging, Z100 blaring, and them singing Katy Perry: "Let's go all the way tonight, no regrets, just love....."

If I didn't pay attention to the words, I would think it was so cute.  And, I do.  But, is there something wrong with these girls uttering these words?  Another favorite song references "boys trying to touch my junk, junk".   Gone of the days singing about the moon or rain boots, a la Laurie Berkner.

We are a music-loving family.  There is always something playing in the background.  We don't want to deprive the kids of listening to new songs, pop music.  But, do we have to censor?  The content is just troubling, and - with two young girls - I am always concerned about female stereotypes and demeaning depiction of women and girls.  Do we have to come up with playlists of only approved songs?  Would that limit us to just a few selections?  What are safe, wholesome, but fun & upbeat artists, go-to songs or even radio stations that you'd let your [pre-tween] kids listen to? 

Are you, will you, 'Portlandia'?

January 21, 2011

I've only watched the prior-to-premiere videos, but from what I've seen, urbanMamas resembles Portlandia very much. The new short IFC series -- six 30-minute episodes -- skewers everything we know, love, hate, and are in Portland: even our very own logos (yep, we've got a bird on it, several in fact!). Tonight's episode, up at 7:30, evidently will poke fun at the very Portland practice of knowing very very very much about where our food comes from.

So_portlandia_market
Can I talk? I've got spaghetti sauce on the stove; the pork comes from Tails and Trotters, whose butchers-in-chief I've chatted with on many occasions. The mushrooms come from a buying club and they are definitely local. I canned the tomatoes, and they're heirloom, and from a nearby farm, and I grew the garlic. I'm wearing a thrifted apron and awesome brand-new pants from a free pile (brand-new to me, anyway). I just cut my boys' hair, not too short, in my living room. I'm treading on thin ice, though, by eating spaghetti from a package, avec gluten... it's whole wheat and organic though!

It's fun to make fun of ourselves sometimes, and I'll surely take the first opportunity to watch it (on Hulu?). The ironic thing (or one of them) is that it's really not very Portland to have cable, and even regular cable packages don't include IFC. And I have to admit, I wish a tiny bit that someone who is actually from Portland had written this. [Note, edited: Carrie, as I learned, has lived in Portland for several years, though the rest of the show's writers haven't.] Will Fred & Carrie miss all the truly Portland things to laugh at? Will the comedy hurt? Are they stealing "that's so Portland," the thing we always say to ourselves when we see two guys on tall bikes dressed in hipster-thrift store-Santa suits giving big cans of Pabst to homeless guys on Christmas afternoon, and turn it into "that's so Portlandia"? Will we, as one person who posted on the Facebook page suggests, be truly Portland by already being "over" the show after two episodes?

So_portlandia

note: that first picture is amazingly, everything Portlandia pokes fun at. That's at the farmer's market on a Saturday last fall before Thanskgiving. That woman has an appliqued bird on her sweatshirt. No one is using an umbrella. And they all have their locally-roasted direct trade drip-on-demand artisan coffee in hand...

How & what do your kids play?

January 11, 2011

Over the weekend, while getting the chores done downstairs, I went upstairs to find laundry - clean and dirty - strewn everywhere.  There was also a pillow on the ground.  My daughter stood, with each foot planted firmly a reusable shopping bag, with a broom in her hand.  "What are you doing?!?", my voice elevated and stern.  "I have to keep away from the hot lava, and I am rowing to go to the bathroom."

Part of me wanted to scold her and tell her to fold up the clothes, put my shopping bags where they should be by the door, and bring me my broom.  Another part of me knew exactly what her strategy was.  I used to play hot lava too, throwing all the couch cushions on the ground and hopping from one to another.  Anyone who touched the ground was "dead."

A NYTimes article over the weekend talked about how many of our children today - while they can figure out how to work the newest iPhone app - can't figure out how to get a game of stickball going in the neighborhood.  Kids are unlearning how to play, spending less time outside at playgrounds, not given recess time at school, engaged in structured sports and other extracurricular activities under tight schedules.  Parents are less willing to allow chaos and disorder in the house, more stressed and unwilling to handle kids' volume when playing.

I don't want my kids to forget how to play.  I want to encourage them to make fun out of white paper, an adventure out of thin air, and - sigh! - a fort out of all our blankets and furniture.  I want to hear inspiring stories of play at your house.  Do you feel like your kids sometimes show signs of having forgotten how to play ("mama, I'm bored!"... it happens to us!)?  Are you irritated by the side effects of the most fanciful of play (holy mess, Batman!)?  Or, do you maybe make a game out of the clean-up itself?

Ethical child transport from the New York Times & me

December 12, 2010

Kidicalmass_tourdepie
I know many of us transport our kids by bike through much of the year; many of my closest mama friends (and I) have done such shocking things as bike-while-heavily pregnant, tote a small baby around, put our children between our handlebars in a baby seat, or expose our young offspring to rain, wind and even, rarely, sun (ha) through miles of commuting. Many of you can remember a dozen or a hundred times you've heard another citizen of this city opine on your transportation choices. My favorite (or something) is when a woman yelled at me, "get those babies baptized!" (I had.) I've also had any number of angry men and women shouting about how "that's not safe!" I've been reminded loudly how I forgot to put a helmet back on a youngster after a stop (we stopped and put the helmet back on right away, me shaking from the vitriole of the FYI); I've been asked who's going to take care of the kids when I DIE FROM NOT WEARING A HELMET (I had a hat on, and forgot my helmet, and by the time I remembered it we were too far away from home).

After one of these exchanges I often spend the next 10 or 15 minutes of my ride composing a undeliverable response to those who question my parental responsibility, exposing the kids to the elements and the possibility of death-by-vehicle. My thesis usually looks like this: I believe not only in the superiority of this method of transportation -- which emits zero pounds of carbon per mile and has no regular monthly cost nor incremental cost, saving me thousands each year, and has an infinitesimal chance of seriously injuring any other humans than those aboard by its use -- but I believe in the power and imperative of living one's values. If I am so worried about the health of the planet that I toss and turn many nights, wondering if my grandchildren's Portland will be overrun by refugees from an unlivable California, I can hardly put them into a single-family vehicle (that I can't afford anyway) for the 13-and-some miles of daily commute.

There's a lot more, involving my own vivid fear I'll run into a pedestrian or another car every time I get behind a wheel, and the nausea that I seem to always suffer after driving. But last night, I was thrilled to see on another mama's Facebook stream a link to an official ethical scholar's general agreement with my thesis. The questioner, a Portland, Maine bicyclist with children aged four and one, wondered, "Is it O.K. to take the kids by bike when our admittedly safer, albeit not risk-free, car is available?"

Randy Cohen's answer had its usual twists and turns of humor and extreme examples. ("Different parents tolerate different levels of risk for their children. Some allow their kids to go rock climbing while on fire; others forbid them to leave the house unless they’re swaddled in Bubble Wrap.") But here's the important bit: "There is no universal and immutable scale for your ethical obligation here. But there is a better way to describe your duty: seek prudent, not utopian, transportation...  If you forswear bikes and travel with them only by car, you teach them to do likewise, promoting the sedentary lifestyle that contributes to obesity and other health problems, and you express acceptance of the environmental damage cars inflict even on nondrivers — two disheartening lessons."

I thought it an excellent answer and with his usual non-judgmental acceptance of most of our parental choices. Don't text while driving or biking; don't do either under the influence; wear helmets. If you really believe in biking, work in your community to support better infrastructure for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Now I have a bigger question, though: how do you communicate this to someone shouting at you on the street? I've been composing a PSA video on the topic for some time; independent filmmakers are encouraged to contact me immediately. In the interim, perhaps my usual; a sigh and a deflating of the shoulders; is the best response.

When other mamas are single... on Facebook

Is_single
I was idly browsing my Facebook page in between dishwashing jags when I saw the familiar-but-ironic little heart next to one of my relative's status updates. "___ is single," it read. Though I've always considered her a favorite family member, we don't spend much time together outside of Facebook, and I only met her husband once or twice; I had no idea things were rocky between them, and now his absence at more recent family gatherings looms large.

Only the latest in a recent spate of relationship status changes, it seems to be the vogue among friends and family and people I barely know to "like" such declarations of independence. I've seen situations in which the singleness was quickly reversed (a regreted overly-public blowup after a bitter, alcohol-fueled argument perhaps?) and these make the "liking" even more piercing than it is, in the most straightforward of situations. I can't find myself to "like" anyone's singleness, even if the relationship was especially tortured and obviously a bad one from the start. It seems too much schadenfreude, even if the one on the other end of the sudden singleness was terribly unkind to someone you love.

My relative's status was liked by someone else I like and whose judgment I respect, and I think the generally-accepted Facebook subtext for this is, "the marriage was bad for you." But, as with so many Facebook singles recently, little children resulted from this star-crossed entanglement. I know a bit of what it's like to be a single parent (though all my single-ness is temporary); I know what it's like to have a marriage-with-kids that is rocky. As is often the case with my rawly-single Facebook friends, I want to reach out. I want to act in support of this fellow mama, when things are obviously hard.

But: I never know what to say. I don't want to "like" it, I don't know if public comment under the status update is a better or far worse option. (And what, then, if there's a reverse?) It's so easy to get Facebook grant you a permanent separation. It's a lot harder, slower and more tortuous to do so legally; if one wishes to celebrate singleness, I think to myself, the end of that process is the time to do it.

I know lots of mamas who read this blog have gone single on Facebook, and have gone through the months- or years-long legal process following that social media break. I know others who have watched friends go through it, or go through the up-and-down of argument, separation, reunion, separation, divorce. What is the best approach? Speak publicly now, email, phone, pray?  Or simply wait until... what? If you've liked, or been liked, in situations like this: what resulted? What advice do you have, now?

Kids & Cell Phones: yes? no? when? where? how?

August 20, 2010

As we explore more themes of independence, exploring the neighborhood without parents along and even considering taking TriMet on specific occassions, I have been wondering when is the right time for their own phones?  I am not the only one wondering.  An urbanMama recently emailed:

I'm curious about what other parents have to say about kids and cellphone use. My five-year-old announced this morning (on the bus, while watching a fellow commuter text merrily away) that she can't wait to get her own phone.  I'd really like to hear what parents of older kids have decided, and what their experiences have been. When did your kid get a phone? Why did you decide to get your kid a phone, or not? How did you restrict the use of the phone, if at all?

Children & Computers: how much and when?

July 31, 2010

In our household, the adults are often on the computers: working, updating this website, paying bills, ordering groceries, coordinating playdates, researching dance classes, signing up for sports teams. So much of our day-to-day lives are facilitated by the use of the computer.  So, when asked "Mom, can I get on the computer?" and I respond with "NO", I am not surprised to be met with conflict: "Why?  You're always on the computer..."

My eldest daughter is nine going on ten.  She recently received an evite for a classmate's birthday party.  Had I not happened to let her get onto the computer on a random Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we would have not known about the party, as there were no paper invitations sent home and parents didn't get emails.  It made me wonder: is it the norm now that all ten-year olds have email addresses that they check semi-regularly?

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Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?

July 12, 2010

Monroe_farmersmarket
The thing is, this day pictured here was a hard day, as days go. Many of the days are hard. My sister was babysitting, a rarity for a Saturday, and Monroe wouldn't be left behind while I biked to the farmer's market. It's easier by myself. I can really chat with the vendors, a thing that is always fascinating and lovely; I can buy all the produce and meat and cheeses I want, quickly, and proceed with photographing or browsing; I need never chase or carry or negotiate with a strong, strong-willed child. Monroe cried, fussed, screamed, begged with tears in his eyes and hope in his voice, 'go wif you?" I couldn't resist him, I went, I could barely talk with anyone, I had to rush through my list and never once got to photograph a pile of radishes.

But this picture, as so many of my pictures are, is of joy. And as I look through my photographs I see all my children's personalities, and I see many moments of joy, moments that spark out amongst the hardness. I see much work, but I see love in that work, I see that it is all work that I love, every minute of it. The washing dishes, the gardening and the bread-kneading and the lacto-fermenting, the biking and carrying and chasing children, the bringing to events both minor and major, the "talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution," these are the things I love most!

I have been reading two pieces meant, I am sure, to spark discussion and controversy. The first was a piece in Salon by Babble blogger Madeline Holler. The second -- also written about by Madeline, curiously -- is a cover story from New York Magazine by staff writer Jennifer Senior. Holler spends a lot more of her time comparing her own personal life -- and how hard, indeed, it is -- to the lives of others, specifically the "radical homemakers" of whom Shannon Hayes writes.

Continue reading "Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?" »

The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature

March 29, 2010

Monroe_ipod_touch
I have just negotiated a new quasi-peace in the house -- Monroe, I declare, is no longer allowed to use the iPod touch to play fruit matching games due to tearful angry meltdowns when he gets even a taste, while depriving him wholly keeps relative calm -- when I open the newest issue of Brain, Child. The cover story takes me several hours to begin; honestly, it sounds as bent for artificial controversy ("let's get mommies talking!") as any of the other mommy war-type content that has lately been flooding the journal's pages. Titled "Guilt Trip into the Woods," it starts as all long essays in mothering magazines do: with a little anecdote. Family, consisting of blogging journalist mama, dad and seven-year-old son adopted from Asia (this seems relevant to the writer), must decide where to go on vacation: nature, or New York? They pick New York, kid loves it, can't get enough of Times Square and the 10-story movie ads. He's just not a nature guy, says mama.

She's feeling bad about it, after all; she's been reading and seeing stuff online about getting kids out to nature. The focus of much of her ire is the echo of the headline, Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, with generous distaste left for the National Wildlife Foundation's Green Hour (for which, incidentally, I wrote a blog post last year). But writer Martha Nichols is not a believer. "...perhaps most disturbing for environmentalist moms and dads, I’m discovering that the nature movement—green and forward-thinking as it appears at first blush—looks an awful lot like a conservative message cloaked with some liberal fig leaves." She goes on to explain that she's feeling guilty, in the "morning when there’s barely enough caffeine in my system to cope, NPR seems to pummel me with stories about why our multi-tasking, Internet-chained pace isn’t good for kids..." but "whether nature is the only solution is the question," and though she connects with the concept of loving nature herself -- remember that pine tree I used to climb when I was a kid? she asks -- " long before I finished Last Child in the Woods, I wanted to chuck it across the room."

Sunflower_journal
What comes down to it is this: her son isn't the nature journaling type. "He’s never been one to draw daisies in a journal if I suggest it. Instead he’d sketch a jousting tournament or a new comic strip, no matter how much I burble about the veins of a leaf. Or he’d rip the leaf apart—which for Louv might be just the ticket for a young naturalist—except that what fascinates Nick is the landscape inside his own head." She begins to describe the "fellow believers" of Louv as sectarians, they "present themselves as valiant nature warriors facing a horde of technology Visigoths," they're "nature evangelists," they're "polemical."

Continue reading "The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature" »

Best in mama blogging

January 12, 2010

My_blog_on_iphone
I read Babble's 'Top 50 Mommy Bloggers' with mixed feelings. First, I was pleased that a local blogger or two and many mamas (and one dad) I consider longtime friends -- people who really deserve approbation for years of hard work and amazing content -- were getting recognition. There was ParentHacks, who won the category 'Most Useful'; I really think of Asha as an original urbanMama (in spirit if not in fact), she's been inspiring us for as long as I can remember. Dutch and Wood from Sweet Juniper are so warm, inspirational and creative -- and both eloquent and moving writers -- that I can't imagine any 'best of blog' list without them. (And yes, Dutch's popscycle is on my fave family bikes list.) Citymama used to be a Portlander (she'll always carry our city in her heart, yes Stefania?); Alphamom is generous and sweet and oh yes, stylish!; Mom 101 is so smart and connected; thanks to the fact that my job as a professional blogger started in parenting blogs, I've had the pleasure of meeting, chatting with or working with many of the other top 50 (but no, I can't say that I know Dooce, famous mommy blogger numero uno).

But hey: it's the in-iest of in crowds and the whirlpool of popularity, I feel, misses a lot of the true gems, the sorts of parenting writers who work their craft for no other reason than because they must, who forge beautiful writing in a "build it and they'll come" mindset to which I, too, have come to subscribe. No matter how many come, the castles of words and images keep slowly forming, each at their own pace. In my opinion, Sweet Juniper is the only true, sparkling treasure on Babble's roster; the other mamas I consider gorgeous, pearls of great price were receiving, at best, a few dozen "likes" from the open-for-nominations list Babble began after its editorially-selected rankings were published. Perhaps the soul-startling bloggers aren't great places for Mattel and H&R Block to advertise, but they're quiet and sweet and real.

If I were making a "best of all possible mama blogs in the best of all possible internets" list, it would include these:

  • Sweet | Salty. I discovered Kate only in the past year and we were well-met. Her journey to a mama's joy despite the loss of one of her sons as a newborn has me gasping.
  • Notes to Self. Kyran weaves stories with such mastery that my face is hot with emotion just peeking into one of her blog posts.
  • Secret Agent Josephine. Unfailingly charming and creative, Brenda always makes me smile.
  • Slouching Past 40. Sarah's poetry makes me weep and her parenting writing is so full of stunning sight and insight -- it's to what I aspire.
  • Oleoptene. Well-met in Portland, Mara's eloquent, cerebral musings are worth the time it takes to unpeel their layers.
  • Irene Nam. A Parisienne who writes in English just for us, each post a small gift, a poem. Her photographs sing to me in whispers.
Some of these are nominated on Babble's list; others aren't (you can vote for urbanMamas and me, too, if you're so inclined). It's proof that popularity is not always key to greatness, nor does greatness lead to popularity; it's proof that sometimes the quietest music reaches deepest into your heart.

Family holiday celebrations on Think Out Loud

December 24, 2009

Holiday_dinner_table
It's not Norman Rockwell any more, says the blog post introducing today's local radio hour, Think Out Loud. "In 2008 half as many people got divorced as got married in Oregon — leaving many children switching from mom's house to dad's at some point during their celebration. It means some families welcome their ex's new partner to dinner. It means family, and family scheduling, gets more complicated," it goes on.

Today's show is particularly appropriate for many of us, and dovetails nicely with some of our recent discussions. Topics of conversation included balancing Judaism and Christianity; relationships between adoptive parents and a birth family; Christmas for separated parents and divorced parents; and forging new traditions in non-traditional families. Comments from regular urbanMama contributor nopomama were included in the discussion, and single mama Jennie 7 joined the conversation with some thoughts on negotiating the holidays after her recent divorce.

"When does something you do, become a tradition?" asked the host, and this is sort of obvious (when you do it more than once, probably) but it's a nice way to open the conversation about our own traditions, new and old. What conventional and unconventional customs are your family, Rockwellian or no, doing this year? What would you like to do?

[Think Out Loud's "Family Time" show repeats tonight at 9 p.m. on OPB, 91.5 FM]

Rated G: Does it work for you?

June 10, 2009

As a mama that loves movies, I have been itching for quite some time to get my 4 and 6 year old sons to a movie theater with me.  I envision it as a fun activity that the three of us can do together (the dark theater, the popcorn, the previews!) since my husband couldn't care less about what's on the big (or little screen).  But the problem has been finding a movie that I feel completely comfortable in taking them to.  I never imagined that it would be this hard.  It seems like every "kid movie" out there has some sort of plot line that is over their heads, aimed at entertaining the parents in the theater. 

I just wish that they would make a movie that is truly for kids.  One that doesn't use potty talk as humor (really, it's enough of a problem in our house as it is), teasing, rudeness, or violence.   I've been hopeful a few times in the last year when a couple of rated G movies have been released (WALL-E, Earth), but when I take a peek at Common Sense Media, other parents have commented in ways that have made me decide the movie wasn't for my kids, right now anyway.

Maybe I just need to lighten up and take on some of the rated G movies as having teachable moments.  But I'm curious...how do you handle film content and your young kids? Do you take them to the theater or just say home and watch a video?

When parents go bad, how do you react?

June 03, 2009

There are two stories of parental murder that are in the Portland headlines right now, and while the one involving a dad has a higher body count, somehow the one involving Amanda Stott-Smith seems more horrible by far. Is it that she's a mom? That she survived the ordeal without, herself, taking her life? That it happened right here, on the Sellwood Bridge, on a sidewalk I've biked or walked over dozens of times, and driven past hundreds, thousands more? Is it that her seven-year-old lived while in the water with her dying little brother?

It's so awful that I often must turn from the headlines, turn off the news, stop thinking, stop imagining. Another mama and writer, Nancy Rommelmann, has been following the case closely from a journalist's perspective and I don't know whether to be horrified or to read every single word Rommelmann writes. My two older children are nearly the same age as Stott-Smith's little boy and girl, so I've been reading, and I can't take my mind off the topic.

I write not to discuss the relative horror of what either Stott-Smith or James Gumm have done, but to wonder, how do we react to stories of this sort? Is empathizing useful or self-destructive? Can you bear to know the details? Do you bury the front page in the recycling or do you read it all in awful fascination? Do you feel that knowing the reasons behind such acts of familial destruction can help us better prevent them in the future; or is it better to hand the parents over to the judicial system and stop thinking about it to save our own troubled minds? I find, personally, that my empathy takes over, but when I read something as thoughtful and emotionally gripping as what Nancy's written, I can't help but consider the motivations and terror in depth. And to believe that something healing must come of knowing. What do you think?

Swine flu, oh, what to do?

May 03, 2009

Swinebirdhumaneek! flu has hit Oregon, and after listening to reports on NPR of school closings in Texas and letting my far-too-fertile imagination run wild following the automated PPS phone call last week noting that no schools were being closed... yet, I'm wondering: will they close the schools? If so, how will we cope? We are not a city whose citizens are likely to react amicably to being advised to stay indoors, also, most of us have to go to work, which brings up that nasty issue of parental paid leave.

Has this crossed your mind? Do you think health agencies are over-reacting to the now-so-called "pandemic"? Or are you already keeping your kids away from confined spaces, Joe Biden style? Or are you like me, mama of a child whose cough has gone on for a couple of weeks (but no fever, I swear!), sure that passers-by are recoiling in horror and fear that his cough is swine flu.

In one of the NPR stories, after a student at a high school had a confirmed case of swine flu, the rest of the town began to avoid high schoolers like... well, you know. The plague. Two kids going to the gym with their dad were turned away. The idea that my kids, too, could potentially be given a wide berth in public and turned away at businesses gives me shivers.

Mamas & Blogs & Facebook: is it too much?

April 15, 2009

When we started urbanMamas almost 5 years ago, I was mama to just a teeny little babe who would wake me up at all hours of the night.  After a feeding at 2am, I would sneak downstairs, open up the computer, and check out the feeds I'd read.  I'd devour the stories, gobble them all up along with a middle-of-the-night snack.  Thank goodness Facebook wasn't around then.  I may have never slept.

Through time, I realized it wasn't terribly healthy to be crawling out of bed and catching up on mama blogroll, as it would keep me up for 1-2-3 hours during prime sleeping time.  I went through a period when I forced myself to stay in bed.  I had to resist the urge, that pull into the blogosphere vortex. 

Now that the kids are older, I am on a much more regulated sleep schedule, but I am still drawn to catch up with friends on Facebook or to check out what's the haps on urbanMamas and other favorite mama conversational sites.  I know I'm not the only one!  An urbanMama recently emailed:

I am hooked on Facebook.  I check it 3-4 times a day and love reading updates, new photos, posting status updates and commenting on my friends' walls.  I can't help it, I feel so connected to people miles and miles away.

I also check my blog rounds throughout the day during my breaks from school, our toddler, and all of our responsibilities. I like being a part of these social networks and forum like discussions but I feel like I am contributing to a society more in touch with ourselves, and less in touch with each other.

How do I moderate this habit?  Any suggestions that have worked for you?  When I am not around a computer I am more creative; and when I talk to friends and hang out with them it is so much more fulfilling than messaging or writing comments on their blog or wall.

Is our generation going through a change of communication, what's going on?  How do I balance traditional social etiquette and lifestyle while being modern, wireless, and digital?

Turnoff Week: Ideas to get out and about

April 14, 2009

This year's "turnoff" week is next week, April 20 to 26.  And, instead of being billed as "Turn Off TV Week", the organizers, Center for Screen Time Awareness, is calling the week "Turnoff Week", meaning we unplug from not only TVs, but also videos, games, computers, cell phones, and iPods.

Why turn off?

  • Screen Time cuts into family time and is a leading cause of obesity in both adults and children.
  • In the US and other industrialized nations around the world, screen time use continue to increase every year. 
  • The average daily usage for all screens, in some countries, has reached 9 hours per day.  This is for recreational use of screens and does not include work time.
  • On average, people watch 4 hours of television and then spend another 4 plus hours with computers, games, video, iPods and cell phones

So, what can we do?  Here are some ideas to start:

  • Hit the playground, and invite school/neighborhood friends.  Make it a huge playdate!
  • Find out what activities your school may be hosting.  Better yet, offer to plan and host an activity.
  • Host a session of board game playing at the community center, library, school, or friends house.
  • Check out free or reduced-cost swim sessions at the public pools (Columbia on Wednesdays; Buckman on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; and Dishman on Saturdays.  Call specific pools for details)
  • Gather friends for a short bike ride in the neighborhood.
  • Organize a scavenger or treasure hunt.
  • Check out the urbanMamas calendar for more ideas for fun.  There is something going on every day!

How will you be recognizing Turnoff Week this year?  What activities, if any, are planned at your school?

Need more tips or resources?  Kaiser has a great run down of sample activities, more information, and a screen-time toolkit to learn fun and healthful alternatives.  Check it here.

What is the podcast for the urbanMama?

January 30, 2009

Podcasts are something I should get into, but anything with a "pod" is a bit too high tech for me.  Do you need an iPod to listen to a podcast?

Anyway, I digress.  I surely understand the value of the podcast, if only I could figure it out.  An urbanMama recently emailed:

What are you listening to/watching these days? I am stuck in a Fresh Air and This American Life podcast rut and a Daily Show, FoodTV on demand/TiVo rut. Any great podcasts or shows out there that I should learn about? Especially ones that although topical, aren't out of date in a week? What about good ways to get new music or TV? Anyone tried Hulu? I like TV and have TiVo, but my TiVo is full of George, Clifford, and Martha, rather than interesting mama shows. What are your recommendations?

Halloween treats: Who do you trust?

October 31, 2008

Baking_peanutbutter_cookies
Do you mind if I have a bit of a rant?

As the news rolls in about melamine in children's candy and I prepare to write a book about "inconvenient food," I consider our society on Halloween. We talked last week about all the ideas for what to give away on Halloween, some of us bemoaned the problem of not being able to hand out homemade treats because of scares (for the record, I heard a piece on NPR in the last few years about how there had been maybe two cases in all of history of people getting poisoned/hurt from Halloween treats -- less than chances that a hurricane will rip through our city).

I've given up sugar and am trying to greatly reduce my children's intake, though I let them eat whatever they get given (within reason) by teachers, relatives, friends. But really, my values these days are "prepare food with love" and I can see no love for anything but profit in the contents of the candy aisle (or the cereal aisle, or most of the aisles in the grocery store). My go-to treats are honey lavender shortbread, hazelnut butter cookies, apple pie (sweetened with maple syrup), sourdough carrot cake, and the standby: homemade oatmeal whole wheat bread with lots and lots of butter and honey. Why would I go to the store, buy something I don't believe in that very well could poison you (if the sugar isn't poison enough -- now that I've given it up even a "fun size" bar would give me a two-day headache), just because my neighbors can't trust ME?

I start to wonder if the proscription against homebaked food has gone on long enough. How did our society become this insane place where we trust a corporation unquestioningly but we don't trust our neighbors? How is it that we have grown so ill-confident of our kitchen skills that we don't even dare challenge rules against bringing homemade food to public school? (Let's leave aside allergies for the moment -- that's not the reason schools banned baking.) Damn it, I trust you to know enough about cleanliness not to get my food all poopy!

So I'm going to hand out lavendar shortbread cookies for Halloween today. I'll have an alternative (we have leftover candy on a high, high shelf) because I haven't yet gotten to the place where I want to force my neighbors to trust me. Next year maybe.

When she says: "I'll email you"

September 23, 2008

Previously on urbanMamas, we've talked just a little about internet safety, our kids and mature media, or YouTube as a learning tool.  Not sure what came over us this weekend, but we went ahead and set up our 8-year old with her very own email account: first name [dot] last name [at] gmail [dot] com.  Not too creative, I know.  We let her know she can use the email for communicating with our extended family, who is scattered everywhere, geographically.  We know she has other friends who have had email for a little while, but we know that the majority of her peers don't have email accounts yet.  Our intent is for her to use it strictly for family, and she needs to ask us before getting onto the computer.  We also intend to check her email for her and keep track of her password.

I would love to hear other parents' thoughts about this: when would you/will you let your child have his/her own email account?  What would be some of the parameters you would set for usage?  Have you encountered this in your household yet?

TV Turnoff Week Starts Today: Got Plans?

April 20, 2008

Aen_108 Wow, that snuck up on me.  Today is Day 1 of what could be a l-o-n-g week for kids and families alike.  This year, TV turnoff week runs from April 21st through the 27th, Sunday to Sunday.  We've discussed the TV or no TV issue before, but this is just a week, so (thankfully) doesn't require so much philosophizing! 

Do you plan to turn off your TV this week?  Gonna be hard?  Or are you looking forward to it as a chance to get outside more in the balmy (?!) Spring weather?   Have you warned the kids,  planned fabulously captivating replacement activities, or are you just gonna wing it?  We're a video family, and since the DVD player broke a few weeks back, we've got no choice!  If you need back-up support, there are a bazillion places to turn.  To name a few: the Center for Screentime Awareness (they cooked this 'holiday' up - so love 'em or hate 'em), LimiTV, and, for the hardcore, AdBusters.  And there's always the uM calendar, packed with exciting things to do in Pdx.

This one doesn't happen to be a hard one for our family, but what really worries me is when somebody asks me to avoid the computer at home for a week.  I know my kids would sign our family right up.  We're plugged in but they're not?  Oh, mama, how unfair.

The new Mama Mag

April 04, 2008

5 1/2 years ago when I was expecting baby number 1, I was ravenous to learn about birth, nursing and motherhood. I was turned on to Mothering magazine by my midwives ( I am still forever grateful for their sage wisdom).  I kept my subscription for 2 years.   At that time some of the articles were feeling a bit stale to me and not necessarily relevant to my situation. I was ready for a change.  About the same time I became pregnant with second daughter and reading anything was thrown out of the window.  My mind was mush. 

Fast forward a few years. I am getting pretty comfortable with my place as mama and I feel I can take on a little side read now and again.  I've picked up Cookie which is a nice change to the typical parent mag layout, but really I can't relate to buying couture clothes for my children or redecorating their room in the latest post modern fashion, much less dress myself like a runway model to hit the coffee shop.  A recent article on MothersMovement.org called out such reads as "parentbling".

I can think of many other magazines to fit under this category. And I must admit, I have enjoyed flipping  through the ad filled pages of Parenting and the likes of other gifted subscritions as a substitute for television while I nursed and tried to make it through the day.  I must also admit that at times I actually enjoyed it. I found it interesting to see what parenting in America was "suppose" to be like. I think it helped me relate, or not, to other mamas at times.

Today, my friend turned me on to a new magazine called Wondertime.  I haven't had a chance to take it in too much yet, but it looks like a more down to earth sort of read. The website links to a stay-at-home-dad blog and a mama turned eco-blogger along with ideas on how to celebrate spring and debates on when to buy organic.  I am intigued.  Could this be the right combination of intellect and eye candy?

I have to thank Mothering for the years of compassionate parenting information that I gained. It is still one of my favorite magazines and I would recommend it to all new and seasoned parents. But for those who are looking for a bit of light reading along with entertainment to comlipent their parenting intellect which new Mama mag should a mama grab?  What do you enjoy about the magazines you read?

Think Out Loud: Clinton and the Generational Gender Divide

Join in on the conversation NOW on-line or via phone.  Lisa (Activistas) and Honorable Betty Roberts are special guests on Think Out Loud on OPB radio. The discussion is focused on "talking more about how your own experiences (at the workplace, at home, on the ballfield, in the supermarket aisle) have shaped your political and social views. We might circle back to talk about the election, obviously, but you shouldn't feel that the show is limited to a Clinton-centric discussion." Lisa, you're sounding great!

YouTube as a Learning Tool?

March 25, 2008

It all started two weeks ago with a library book about the Titanic.  Since then, my son has been on a fact-finding mission to learn everything he can about the Titanic, not to be mistaken with the Carpathia or the Californian which were other ships involved in the story of this disaster.  The questions are endless, what are smoke stacks for? Where's the engine?  What are the rudders on a ship? What about the propellers?  How did the ship sink?  Most often, I do my best to explain things using my limited knowledge, but it still does not satiate the mind of my curious 5 year old.  I have come to accept and realize that the best thing to do is to feed his curiosity by encouraging further discovery and exploration into whatever subject matter that seems to pique his interest.  For the Titanic, I used a most unlikely resource (for me) YouTube to help further his understanding to better explain the things I could not.  Who knew that Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On is helping to tell a 5 year old the story of the Titanic? 

I'm curious, do you allow your kids to watch YouTube (of course with parental supervision)?  Aside from the Titanic, we've watch the space shuttle launch, the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Pinatubo to name a few.  Do you use other electronic media?  What about encyclopedias?  With the Wikipedia and the vast "resources" on the Web, do you feel there is still a place for doing research using books?

Comcast Responds

March 07, 2008

Thank you so much, everyone for all your letter writing and complaints regarding Comcast's exposing kids to violent previews.  The corporation responds, and Leah sends her update:

I got a call today from Comcast Executive Escalations - they called to let me know they have now "fixed the situation and will now only be showing family oriented programming previews during daytime hours."  Thank you to all the parents who wrote and called to push this issue along.  Nicely done!

Parents working together to impact change.  Love it.

Comcast: exposing kids to violent previews

March 01, 2008

The other day, Leah emailed us about an issue that accurs in her household:

Our family has Comcast - which comes with a nifty OnDemand feature.  We're not big TV watchers, but our daughter does like Little Bear and Max and Ruby [and it is great to be able to watch those chose whenever she'd like]. To use the service, you go to channel 01. On this channel, you can use your remote to scroll thru and find the TV program you want and hit play and off you go. BUT the whole time you are doing this there is a preview screen running in the corner.  So they play movie preview after movie preview.  And most of these previews are NOTHING I'd ever want my daughter to see. So I have her leave the room, but every once in a while, she sees it anyway. They have explosions, fighting, monsters, scary movie previews that give me the creeps, sexy scenes...the whole thing.

She wrote to Comcast about this problem and she wasn't able to get them to turn it off.  So, she prodded a bit more and found a Customer Service Representative (CSR) from Comcast here in PDX office who will collect individual e-mails on this issue and forward them in bulk to the corporate group.  The more people and organizations that respond/send concerns in, the more likely it is that something will be done. Send emails to: [email protected] and the subject should be: Customer Complaint - On Demand.

Leah says:

Corporate has had a trickle of these complaints and asks "what promotion exactly did they see that was offensive?" They haven't received critical mass of complaints yet.  The CSR has watched the "Barker" ( the ad window that rotates promos ) and knows exactly what we're talking about. The promo loop rotates through completely in about 5 minutes. It is "refreshed" every Thursday for a 1-week run.  And it almost always includes violent promos.  She would like all individuals to send their comments to her, with as much detail as possible about what promo was on that causes concern.

Continue reading "Comcast: exposing kids to violent previews" »

Disney, gender stereotypes: Avoidable?

February 20, 2008

Boy_and_girl Over on Twitter, several of the parents I follow have been talking about gender stereotypes. We were amazed to find that two of our children (Everett, who's five, and a little girl who's four) had recently made the oddly-worded identical statements: "Pretty stuff is for girls, and cool stuff is for boys, right mama?" It's not the worst gender stereotype in the world, of course, but Everett's always enjoyed "pretty stuff" (I have the box of much-loved gaudy buttons and beads to prove it) and, speaking as a girl here, I hate to have us all banned from "cool stuff." (Is an iPhone cool or pretty? But I digress...)

We darkly attributed the identical statements to Dragon Tales, which we find that both of our children watch, and several other parents chimed in about the gender stereotypes promoted by most (if not all) of the children's programming, especially Disney with its princess gestalt. Whether they come across it at home, at school, or on a trip down the grocery store aisle, it's highly difficult to protect children from Disney, and out-and-out impossible to eliminate gender stereotypes from a child's world.

Protectionism definitely isn't the answer, and thus far I've just countered Everett's many cultural influences by working on projecting a couple of good role models and pointing out where stereotypes aren't borne out. And, as I said on Twitter, I spend a lot of time digging in the dirt (lately, I get the feeling that a connection to earth heals all wounds). Where have gender stereotypes surprised you -- and what have you done to counteract them? Want to come dig in my backyard, too?

urbanMamas poster gals for Portland blogging culture

December 13, 2007

Horn-tootin' time! A few weeks ago, Steve Woodward from the Oregonian emailed asking about just why Portland is such a great town for blogging? Turns out we've been ranked the second best blogging city in the nation (behind Austin, Texas: ironically, the originator of the 'keep Portland weird' campaign. Austin has to be first in everything, waaah!). Today the article was published on the front page of the 'Living' section and I was pleased to see both me and betsywhim (who contributes to, like, 30 blogs) representing the Portland blognoscenti. You can find the article here online but it's lots easier to read in print.

We know why we think Portland is such a good blogging town (and I'll quote myself): because Portland is so rainy and, more often than not, you're stuck inside and can't interact at the playground or the beach -- blogging is a way of connecting. It's also because you all are so non-judgmental and supportive, contrary to what we hear in the news and see on Other Cities' Communities. I think another aspect is that writers are drawn to Portland for its literary scene and bunches of us are spilling out our literary guts in blogs. What do you think?

To TV or Not To TV?

November 18, 2007

My daughter came home one day and taught me a playground patty-cake rhyme:  "coca cola....  pepsi....  lemonade...  iced tea...."  I stopped her.  I asked, "What's 'pepsi'?"  She shrugged.  Slowly, she said, "You know.  Pepsi is when you shake some liquid and it explodes."   I was amused.  She had no idea what Pepsi was!  She knew what 'coca cola' was; her daddy drinks it maybe a few times a year.  We have since changed the rhyme to "coca cola.... izze...."  She knows and loves the fizzy izze drink.

Anyway, what spurred this anecdote is an email from Sarah who asks about how other urbanMamas and urbanPapas are dealing with TV and videos in their homes:

We have two boys (an almost 3 year old and a 5 month old) who have never watched TvTV or videos. I really wanted to get them excited about reading and in the habit of amusing themselves with active and imaginative play. My husband and I gave up TV in early 2005 and frankly don’t miss it (we’re not totally pure – we do get our movie fix from Netflix).

I love that my son doesn’t recognize a Coke logo and doesn’t ask for silly toys and sugar cereals that are so heavily marketed to young children. I realize, however, that TV is ubiquitous and I am wondering when (if?) to introduce our older son to TV or DVDs.  Do other parents have this dilemma?  When and how do I delve into this and what TV or DVDs do other urbanmamas recommend?