The Hunt for a Nanny – Part I

_1070702I didn’t know where to begin interviewing a nanny, having never hired help to take care of Cy before, but here one was sitting on my porch. She had come recommended, but was slow to move, slow to insert herself – she seemed shy and had little to say for herself unprompted and few questions beyond when she was to show up for work and how much we would pay. I understand shy. I can give a little grace around shy. So I just started talking about us: what we’re hoping for, what Cy is like, what we could be flexible about, and hoped more useful clues would reveal themselves with time.

The conversation wasn’t much to go on, so I told her she could shadow me with Cy for a day and do a trial week, and we’d see from there.

So the next day she showed up, and over the course of our time together, we began to break the ice. Cy can be a handful, so, knowing she has a 6-year-old son, I asked if he was easy to take care of. She said he just watches TV and when anyone tries to talk to him, he doesn’t respond.

Hmmm, I thought. I too can plunk Cy in front of a TV and I don’t have to pay 300 baht a day to do it. But I resolved to keep an open mind. And though she was slow to really get in there with Cy and try to interact with him, she was supremely helpful and took initiative with other needs around the house, so I really did want to give her a chance.

Then she asked me if I planned to have more kids. I said we hadn’t decided yet.

“Do you plan to have more children?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “They’re too much work!”

Well that’s an honest answer.

After the trial week, I called to let her know we were still interviewing other people. She hung up on me. So the hunt continues…

Little by Little



Momma Chat: There and Back Again

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I might be doing a number on the trust I’ve built up between me and Cy because now as he enters toddlerhood, I’m having a hard time not laughing at his frustrations. When he cannot get his toy car to balance just so on top of the stack of four toy cars beneath it, when he cannot get a large plastic box to fit inside a small cup, or when he cannot lift the object that happens to be three times his size, I struggle to keep a straight face as I calmly acknowledge, “Yes baby, I know, that can be so annoying.”

Yesterday he got so mad that he had to bend down to pick up his toy car that he yelled and bent down to swipe it away.

….

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We’ve been having a great time on mama & Cy adventures traveling around lately. Bangkok was such a refreshing change of scenery for both of us (though parts of it–like riding the BTS (sky train)–might have been a bit overstimulating for Cy, so it’s good it was a short trip), that we came back with renewed energy and enjoyment in our every day.

I was always so surprised to find how helpful everyone was, upon seeing a mama alone with a baby. Everywhere we went, people gave us their seats, plied Cy with treats and goodies and friendly faces, and offered their help.

We went to this cafe, with this amazing window:
_1070712I had heard it was open from 6 am to midnight and served breakfast all day, so I went to get us some breakfast to bring back to share with Toby at the hotel. It was a 10 minute BTS ride, plus a 20-minute walk in the Thai heat, so by the time we arrived, I was sweating and Cy was grumpy. I hoped to pick up pastries, but it turns out the breakfast they serve is continental and all the good stuff on their menu is for lunch and dinner. After a bit of confusing back and forth, I settled on some Thai larb burgers, but the staff, knowing I had been looking for pastries, found a few for us and tossed them in for free.

Amazing generous things like that, all the time.

Then we went to Doi Mon Jam, a scenic mountain area in northern Thailand, with views like this:

doimonjamand it was full of sight-seers and tourists…and everybody was coming up and trying to take pictures of Cy.

Now, normally, when people want to take a picture of Cy or hold him, they do this polite thing called “asking permission.” Not so here. People would sneak up on Cy while he was busy climbing rocks or poking at flowers, and without even asking me, they would swoop in and grab him and hold him up to their face while they yelled at their friends to “quick, quick, take a picture!” with Cy squirming and squawking to be let go or given to me.

WHO DOES THAT?

And not just a handful of weird tourists. I’m talking almost everybody there. It’s like children aren’t actual human beings but rather novel public commodities that anyone can just help themselves to. Not to mention it’s a bit nerve wracking for a mom to just stand there as random strangers literally snatch your child from right in front of you.

It’s so funny; the world of cultural differences from right within a single country.

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Anyway, one other benefit of living here is how cheap it is to get hired help, and Toby and I have hit a wall where we really need to carve out a few hours a week to ourselves (some time for us as individuals, and some time for us a couple) because we really haven’t been doing that. And we’re running ourselves ragged. We really need help.

So we’ve caved and started looking for a part-time nanny to help out for a few hours a few days a week. I interviewed one today and discovered I have no idea how to interview nannies. (What do you even ask? Um…are all the kids in your care still alive? Check, ok good to go!)

We’ve made Cy the priority up until this point, and we’ve tried to keep up with the other things that are important to us, but bit by bit they’ve slipped away and we need to remedy that. There are priorities besides Cy (and a basic functioning household), and though I’m sure it will always be a balancing act, we need to make sure we make our priorities our priorities too._1070776

Thing I Love About Cy: When we go outside to play, he has developed a habit of reaching down to touch the pavement and say, “Haw?” to check to see if the ground is hot and therefore he needs shoes. And when he really gets his groove on, he shakes his head back and forth to the beat of his inner drum.

 

Momma Chat: Just a Little Rosy

photo-5Things got a little crazy last week. I was laying in bed with Cy when I noticed he seemed to be running a fever. I texted Toby about it and he responded with something like, “He always sleeps hot.” But I was quite sure it was a fever. It happened to be just a couple of hours after I had started a course of meds for myself that weren’t really supposed to be taken while breastfeeding but my doctor had recommended because I’m allergic to penicillin. I was worried that Cy might be allergic to this new medicine, and Google told me I should get Cy to the doctor at signs of fever. So the next day we went to see his pediatrician, who wasn’t available until the afternoon, and I stopped taking my meds in the meantime just in case. The doctor said it was not the meds, but it might be dengue.

– Let me just interject here because this is the part where my stomach bottoms out and my face turns white because dengue is known as “break bone fever” because it makes you feel like your bones are breaking. And it can be comparatively mild in children, but if you get it again later, any subsequent infections can lead to a hemorrhagic fever. It’s passed by mosquitos. There are lots and lots of mosquitos in Thailand. –

The doctor gave us meds to treat the fever and said it was a little too early to tell. Come back in two days and we’ll test for dengue.

Those were among the more anxiety-ridden two days I have experienced in recent memory. Was it dengue? Was it wrong and still related to something I was doing (my meds, which I had resumed taking)? And what would I do if it were dengue? (Moving to another country had indeed crossed my mind.) Cy needs to run outside and play, live his life in fresh air. How can I protect Cy from every mosquito to cross his path?

We went back to do blood tests. We had to swaddle the poor boy and he watched and cried–not thrashing, or angry-complaining…just totally submitting himself to this new torture–as they inserted the needle, drew blood, switched it out for an IV, and then bandaged it on. The whole thing probably took 5 minutes, but all I could do was sit there and talk to him, stroke his hair, and wish to God there was any other way. I hate needles. I once,as a full adult in college, had a nurse give me a Daffy Duck bandaid after getting blood drawn because I hate needles so much. I hate them even more when they’re any where near my boy.

After two hours of waiting, the results for dengue came back negative. Talk about relief! But we still didn’t know what the problem was. The doctor still insisted it wasn’t my meds, and predicted we would soon see a rash.

The rash came, and thus we learned it was roseola. A common childhood disease, relatively mild, and the rash only lasted a couple of days and then it was all done.

photo-4And I still called pest control to come rid our yard of mosquitos. Because dengue.

All in all, it was probably a relatively minor episode and it’s just my mama-bear brain that blew fears out of proportion, but part of what made this experience so hard was feeling so trapped. I have already been feeling tired and run-down, and a little homesick (mostly just because I’m tired of it being so hot here all the time and tired of worrying about mosquitos when Cy wants to play outside all the time). I wanted to move home. I wanted to go back to Santa Barbara where the weather is always perfect, there’s tons of fabulous play groups Cy could join, there’s mountains he could roam, and gorgeous parks and beaches to explore.

I told Toby that if we lived in Santa Barbara, I’d take Cy to the beach all the time.

“No you wouldn’t,” he said. “You’d be at work and Cy would be in daycare and we’d spend the weekends scrambling around trying to get stuff done.”

He’s right. In Thailand, we can afford for me to take a career hiatus and focus on raising Cy with both of us at home. In the U.S., I would have to work. And while I’m battling heat and mosquitos, I can also get fantastic healthcare for Cy at $15 a visit (without insurance), have a maid come once a week, and be there for all the important and unimportant things in Cy’s life. I feel trapped. And it’s easy to view a different situation with rose-colored glasses, but the truth is, there’s lots of ways to feel trapped.

photo-8And I realize now too, that while I love being able to be home for Cy, it’s a challenge because I’ve never been a routine kind of person and children live in routine. I’ve never lived in any place longer than 4 years since I was 13 (And we’re bumping up on the 4-year mark now–we HAD said we’d come for a year, maybe two, and then we’d see. Well we’re still here.) Except for when I worked at a magazine publishing company, I’d never lived the same daily routine longer than a 10-week quarter since I graduated high school. I live by whims and caprice. I’m disciplined about getting stuff done, but on my own clock, not the one ticking on the wall.

So. This is my opportunity to grow. To realize this about myself and see how I can approach it mindfully. I can’t escape the trappings of this life, but I take advantage of its advantages and I think maybe a change of scenery will help. So we’re going to Bangkok for a week. There will be a big aquarium, and parks, a children’s playground, good food, shopping, and maybe even a boat ride or two on the Chao Praya.

Who can complain? Not I, said the spider to the fly.

Thing I Love About Cy: He loves tipping himself over backwards. When he’s on the bed, or on grass, he’ll slowly lean back with this look of great anticipation on his face, until gravity wins and he falls over and giggles like a fiend.

Little by Little



A Momentous Week! 09.10.14

cover-a My book, The Yellow Suitcase, is now on sale on Amazon, starting Sept 10! Here is the back cover copy:

In a sleepy riverside town in the heart of Thailand, Ae Lin, a former Bangkok bar girl determined to put a painful history behind her, pours her passions into her new coffee shop and her resolve to create a life of her own making. But the past comes to find her in the form of an estranged and angry sister who insists she fulfill one remaining family obligation: to visit and pay respect to their dying father – which is the last thing she wants to do. As Ae Lin grapples with the desire to flee and the pressures to return, she meets Sai Kyin, a refugee from Burma, who had no choice but to leave home and all he loved behind. Prompted by the guidance of Luang Paw, a rather unconventional Buddhist monk, the stories of Ae Lin’s and Sai Kyin’s traumas converge as their memories unfold, in a tale about what happens to the fallen and what it takes to heal.

The Yellow Suitcase is an exploration of the devastating effects of dark family secrets where the lines between victim and perpetrator, and innocence and guilt, become increasingly blurred. The novel offers a poignant and heartbreaking portrait of the deepest kinds of betrayal, and a thoughtful rumination on forgiveness, healing, and the power of truth.

Click on the link above (the book’s title), or the button in the sidebar at right to order your copy today!

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In other big news, Cy became a one-year-old today! We of course celebrate a person’s birthday, but now I kind of feel like parents need to be celebrated on birthdays too–for managing to keep their kid alive that long! Haha, I’m kidding of course, but it sure does feel like a personal milestone.

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Speaking of milestones, Cy just took his first real unassisted steps yesterday, the day before he turned one! He had taken a couple at my mom’s house a few days before, but he was really for real walking yesterday. I’m excited and also trepidatious as I’m sure now I’ll really have to start running after him, with all the new kinds of trouble he’ll find to get into. He’s also started clapping his hands, putting them together in a wai (the Thai way of greeting) when we say, “Sawatdee krap,” and dancing when he hears music or any kind of beat. His dancing is so cute, especially when he adds a little extra butt wiggle.

To celebrate his birthday, we took him for his first trip to the zoo. His eyes were saucer-wide. I think his favorite part was feeding the animals.

We fed sheep:

sheepAnd a giraffe:

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An elephant:

elephunkAnd….a jaguar, ’cause why not.

jaguarHis eyes were so big and serious when he was feeding the elephant in particular. I’m not sure he even processed seeing the whole elephant; I think he might have only been aware of this long hairy trunk coming at him. But he was undaunted.

I can’t wait to take him again!

Thanks for stopping by this week and sharing in our celebrations! Join in for more fun around the world at Communal Global and Little Things Thursday!

Little by Little



Momma Chat: On Doing What It Takes to Get Done

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The other day, I had Cy perched on the edge of the kitchen sink to “help Mama” do the dishes. By help, I mean I let him run his fingers in the water, splash around, and dip his fingers in suds while I tried to get the dishes done. I stood behind him so he wouldn’t fall off the sink, and interspersed my rendition of “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” with refrains of “No, don’t put your fingers in the dirty dishwater; that’s yucky” and “No, don’t pull on Mama’s plants,” meanwhile taking pauses between dish sudsing to discourage his hand from inserting suds in mouth or reaching for the glassware._1070442

Might be someone would call CPS on me. But knives were well out of reach, no glasses were harmed, boy was entertained, and dishes got done._1070444

It’s actually a little frightening amazing how many borderline bad idea things I do to keep him entertained and keep my household from disintegrating into crisis (and keep my sanity intact)._1070445

I sit him up on counters (with my body as a guard), I let him make veritable messes (of my choosing), and I let him explore things that aren’t exactly toys (under supervision, of course), if it’ll keep him occupied and happy while I make coffee and a bowl of cereal, put away laundry, respond to any urgent phone calls or emails that can’t be done while he’s sleeping, or do any of the other million little tasks that pop up in a day.

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I was reading a blog post yesterday that called bunk on the piece of parenting wisdom that says “it gets easier.” The author argued that it doesn’t get easier; it just gets different. You just trade in one kind of hard for a different kind of hard. At first, I disagreed. When Cy was less than six months old, taking care of the house (or my work) and him at the same time was impossible. He was what you might call a “high needs” baby. He needed my undivided attention almost constantly, so almost everything I did aside from child care was done when Toby finished work and could help with Cy. I scaled back everything in my life to the bare minimum.

Now, I can do so much more with him. I can run short errands with him if he’s in a decent mood, I can include him while I take care of small easy tasks, and I don’t need to be his entertainer nearly so much as when he was younger. I mostly supervise while he manages his own play.

But it’s all relative: I can do so much more than I once did, but still not nearly so much as I need to or would like. I still have to wait for evenings and weekends for many things; living my own personal life on the fringes of a day or week. And sometimes it drives me insane with impatience and frustration.

A couple days ago was one such time. I was itching to continue working on the final details of getting my book published (i.e. copyright registration and getting the ISBN), I was bored because Cy had been unusually clingy all day wanting me to read him the same books 7 or 8 times apiece, Toby had an unusually busy day, and I thought I would save us time by going to pick up dinner. Long story short, I got stuck in the worst traffic this side of Shanghai, Cy cried in the car almost the whole way (nearly 30 minutes each way) and I couldn’t do a single thing about it, I ran into several problems with the food, and I didn’t end up getting home until after 8, so we were still trying to eat dinner when I should have been getting Cy a bath and into bed. Turns out, my idea to “save time” took more than twice as long, and I still didn’t get anything done. Sometimes my impatience leads to really poor choices
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But with the hard comes this other thing: resilience. Once Cy calmed down after the trauma of the car ride, he was all smiles and giggles again. I couldn’t help him while we were stuck in traffic, but I did help him get over it afterward. With each new hard you encounter as a parent, you (try to) learn and devise new and creative ways to be who your child needs you to be. Might be that things are easier now than they once were. Might be that being a mama makes me a stronger person than I once was.

Thing I Love About Cy Today:

from "The Further Adventures of A Little Mouse Trapped in a Book" by Monique Felix

from “The Further Adventures of the Little Mouse Trapped in a Book” by Monique Felix

Cy’s new favorite book is one that used to be his dad’s – all images, and no words. It’s about a little mouse who gets trapped in a book, but as he tries to nibble his way out, he discovers a whole ocean just outside the book. The book begins to fill with water, so the little mouse builds a boat and sails away. I narrate the story for Cy and every time we get to the end, I say “bye-bye mouse!” and Cy opens and closes his hand, waving goodbye to the little mouse.

Momma Chat: The Fun Really Starts at the End of the Fourth Trimester

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Having a 10-month-old (almost 11-month old!) baby is the most fun ever. I mean, obviously, there’s been lots of fun times up until now, but suddenly almost overnight it seems, Cy became just stoked on life.

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This photo is just begging for a caption.

They say “9 months in the womb, and 9 months out of the womb” for a baby to really develop, and in Cy’s case it was totally true. All the battles and worries of the early days just one by one resolved themselves (regardless and possibly in spite of many of my efforts). The sleep drama ended, he weaned himself off pacifiers, the swaddle, almost all sleep aids (only nursing left), and is even now starting to request solid food instead of breast milk for some meals. (If I could talk to my earlier mom self, I would tell her to stop worrying so damn much. But then I know she probably wouldn’t listen anyway.)

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He’s curious, engaged, loving, and fun. I wish I could tell you about all the times he’s made us laugh with his funny faces, perfectly timed declarative noises, and exuberant display of personality.

And he can suddenly do so much more now: standing strong on his own; climbing up AND down the stairs (and furniture); saying a few words like Mama, dog, mam-mam (a Thai word for food), house, and ball; understanding simple directions; helping me brush his teeth; or peeling fruit to help Mama infuse her iced tea.

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He has this game he likes to play, where he’ll grab a few items (like a couple of his toy cars), and he’ll sit by a ledge or shelf or the threshold of a door and, one by one, place the items on the shelf, and take one down, and place another one. Like organizing, but by the guide of principles only he knows. I wonder what he is thinking while he does this, but then, as I describe this now it occurs to me: perhaps he’s just copying Mama, as she goes about the house sorting items by some generally indiscernible whim.

Where he was clingy and fussy before, he’s now growing in independence and sense of self. It’s like he was a baby bird cooped up, often squawking, in the nest, and then suddenly he stood up, peeped over the edge of the nest, and discovered he could unfold his wings. He’s been taking off ever since.

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Before Cy was born, I used to ask Toby or my parents what they looked forward to most about Cy. To answer that question myself, I always imagined reading together, taking trips to the zoo, baking cookies for him and listening to him talk. I couldn’t wait to hear what he would say. Now, I realize what I really was looking forward to was having a relationship with my son. I was looking forward to loving him.

I loved him from the beginning, and every moment since, but it started as a little seed of awe and wonder. And out from that planted seed came one tiny, thin little vine sprouting, pushing through the mud and dirt and rain, finding the sunshine. Somehow, without my knowing or noticing, it’s become this multi-petaled flower, with new dimensions continually unfolding and unfolding, getting deeper, denser, and fuller…and I know it’s only just begun.

Such purple prose, I know. But I don’t know how else to put it. The more I get to know this little guy, the bigger he grows my heart.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: The way he waves goodbye–by reaching out and grasping.

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CHECK BACK HERE ON FRIDAY FOR MY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!

Scenes From My Week 08.06.14

I’d like you all to meet Lian._1070232

His mama is my neighbor, and she so graciously let me take pictures of this precious little angel baby.

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This is his guardian protector. He does a good job.

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I’m so thankful to have a mama friend so close by too! It makes such a difference; so much less lonely. I just can’t wait to get to know little Lian too.

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He’s got some big footsteps to grow into.

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But loving hands to hold him.

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And toes just begging to be nibbled.

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They sure do make a beautiful couple, don’t they?

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned I had some big (for me) news to share…Well, I just want to say: I will be making my announcement THIS WEEK! Check back here on FRIDAY and I will let you know what bee’s been buzzing around in my bonnet! I can’t wait–hope you’ll be half as excited as me!

In the meantime, join the party at Communal Global & Little Things Thursday!

Little by Little



More Beautiful

newborn

More Beautiful

There’s a scar, an itchy little gray line from where he came
Flab, a touch of saggy loose flesh that won’t shrink
Hair loss
Tired eyes
And breasts that have fallen from grace.

And still I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever been.

When little fingers intertwine in my hair
and examine the contours of my lips, I feel beautiful.

When I hold him close and hum

When I slow dance him down to sleep

When we snuggle to read a story

When he smiles at the sight of my face
I am the star that kisses the crescent moon at dusk
The sparkle of evening sun on the rim of a glass.

When his head nestles against my chest and I kiss the top of his hair,
I’m the cover of Vogue, the Leibovitz, the image on the gallery wall.

When he crawls in my lap
to blow raspberries on my breast
and tries to eat my nose

I am more beautiful than I have ever been.

Beautiful is measured not in body shape or fashionable jewels
but in glittering moments
Gauged not by what looks back at me from the mirror,
but in the totality of who I am because of him.

I carry myself like the world is mine
Because I am his.

It doesn’t matter what I look like
I feel the most beautiful I’ve ever been.

I am more beautiful than I’ve ever been.

I am more beautiful than I have ever been
because I became his mother.

samui

I wrote this piece several months ago for a project between several collaborators that was supposed to come together in time for Mother’s Day. I haven’t heard anything since, so I think that project probably died on the vine, so I decided to go ahead and post this anyway.

Momma Chat: On Picking Battles, not Balls

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My son and I had our first fight. Well, I’m not sure if you can call it a fight when one party can’t verbalize more articulately than “Thee thaa! Pbbbllttffft!” (Then again, maybe that’s about as articulate as some fights get…) Anyway. It was very distinctly different than any disagreement that has arisen between us before because he very clearly got angry at me and looked at me in a way I hadn’t seen him look before.

I should have known we were off to a bad start when he woke up at 6:30 (about half an hour before I would term it a godly hour) and I brought him into the bathroom with me. I placed him on the bath mat and he looked up at me with a cheeky grin, took one look at my grump face, and his smile just fell right off his. Oh I felt so bad about that! That should have been my hint to turn my attitude around. But it wasn’t.

The next order of business was to change his diaper, which was full of poop I could smell from where I stood. Now, Cy has hit this phase where he HATES having his diaper changed. Ever since he got real mobile (so, since about 6.5 months, thus about 1.5 months of this), every single time we try to change his diaper, he squirms, wriggles, rolls, and crawls his way to freedom, and if we try to pull him back or otherwise continue the diaper changing process, he squawks and cries. Most times, we can try to distract him with something fun. If that doesn’t work, or if I’m doing it by myself, I’ll just try to get the new diaper on with him wriggling about. But lately, he’s getting even more ornery about it and it’s getting harder not to get pissed at him. I’m so beyond sick of this phase.

On the morning in question, his diaper was full of poop, and as soon as I took it off, he scrambled out of there, with me desperately trying to chase after him with the wipes before he got poop all over the guest bed, walls, and clothes. I was trying to wipe him down. He was trying to play with a brush he wanted to drop off behind the bed, but it got stuck. I was trying to clean his balls. He was trying to get the brush. He started crying. I was not sympathetic.

And then he started shrieking like he was in pain. That’s when he gave me The Look. I immediately stopped touching his bits. I took him to Toby afraid he was actually hurt. Toby, barely roused from sleep, replied, “He’s just annoyed.”

“Well, but he cried when I touched his balls.”

“So stop touching his balls.”
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It was ridiculous and not pretty, and soured the whole morning. And then I had coffee.

And that’s when I realized there are two times a day in which one should never pick a fight.

One is right before bed because you dwell on all these emotions of EPIC PROPORTION…only to wake up in the morning and realize you were being ridiculous.

The other is before 7 a.m. because coffee. Once you’ve had coffee, you realize those emotions of EPIC PROPORTION were silly after all.

_1060731But I’m still hoping you’ll tell me this phase passes soon.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: How excited he gets when we read his bedtime story together. As soon as he sees me pull out the book, he flaps his arms, curls up, and coos, ready to listen.

 

Kids, Tech & Gadgetry

_1060698It might be a bit early to start thinking about our house rules regarding technology for Cy, seeing as how the fancy gadget that’s really blowing his hair back right now is Dot’s clicker—a little plastic button that pushes onto a piece of aluminum and makes a popping sound. He likes to pop it with his gums. On the other hand, maybe it’s never too early, as technology already infuses his life: he sees his parents on their iPhones probably more than he should, kindles are on the family bed, Dad is at work on his iMac most of the day, we Skype with family half the world away, and we have a couple of “emergency” go-to video/flashy things to play for him when we really need to calm him down and nothing else is working (like, say, on a flight). There’s no divorcing technology from his life unless we turn into Luddites ourselves, but as it’s our connection to loved ones and it’s how Toby makes a living and supports the family, the gadgetry is here to stay.

What got me thinking more about this topic was reading this post by Sarah, from Memories on Clover Lane. She’s been in the trenches for twenty years, and I respect her views. She’s probably a bit stricter about technology than I am—I don’t view technology as inherently good or evil; it is we who must be mindful about our use of it—but I do plan to be stricter about Cy’s use of technology than I think might be necessary, at least to start with, because it is always easier to give than to take away.

Toby and I began talking about what goals we’d like to have regarding technology, figuring that’s the best starting point to guide what rules we make. Here’s some of what we came up with:

First, we want Cy to be able to use technology with ease, to be familiar with it, and to be able to navigate his way around the web, software, and devices so he can pursue any interest he might have. Because it is going to be a part of his life (and certainly a part of whatever job he might have), he needs to know how to manipulate it. Cutting it out of his life for fear of the pitfalls, I think, just becomes a wasted opportunity to provide him with proper guidance. Kids today appear to be “digital natives”, but my experience in teaching (from disadvantaged kids in Thailand, to university undergrads in America) tells me that they are in sore need of guidance. For example, they know how to punch in words for a Google search, but they are lost when it comes to keyword search logic, evaluating source credibility and legitimacy, and finding what they’re looking for efficiently. In today’s world, I think what you know is becoming less important than knowing how to find it out. So we want to encourage his use of technology, as well as guide him in how to use it effectively and appropriately.

However, our second goal for Cy is that we want him to be able to exist without technology. We want him to be able to put it aside and enjoy other pursuits where he can be out in nature, play a real musical instrument, or make something with his bare hands. We want him to experience boredom and how it can become the mother of creativity. We want him to be able to just BE, without constant input. We want him to be able to focus without technological distractions. And we don’t want him to hole up in his room, not interacting with his own family, or choosing to socialize with friends digitally instead of in the “real world.”

Here’s some rules I’m toying around with:

–I like the idea of restricting use of gadgetry to communal areas (like a family office, or the living room, for example).

–I also like the idea of keeping ownership communal until certain ages. I haven’t worked this all out yet, and I’m sure the popular gadgetry will have changed by the time this is relevant, but, hypothetically speaking…

–I’ll probably let him have his own kindle once he gets into reading chapter books because we travel a lot and I’m not interested in schlepping a huge library everywhere we go. On the scale of Potential Disaster, I think kindles are probably on the low end.

–The smart phone stays communal maybe until he can drive. I know the current trend is to give them phones quite young, maybe even around the time they’re 10. I just can’t for the life of me come up with a reason he would need his OWN phone that young. A family phone that he can use for whatever apps he might want should cover it until he makes it to high school at least.

–And the computer or laptop stays community property until we give him one as a graduation gift from high school so he has one to use in college).

–I also like the idea of limits being purpose driven. Instead of setting arbitrary time limits on how long he can use the computer, for example, it seems to make sense to set it around the purpose for which it is being used. Once the purpose is met, it’s good to go take a break and do something else.

But it’s not just about setting limits. It’s up to us to create opportunities for better alternatives. A big part of why kids are so “addicted” to their phones today is because they don’t have the same opportunities to be social, exist in public spaces, and explore the world freely with age mates that they once did. (Danah Boyd documents this well in her book, It’s Complicatedwhich is a really great read on teen social media use AND she provides the PDF available for free to download on her website.) So if we want him to “get offline,” we need to allow him time and space to have unstructured interactions with his friends, where he can unwind and play without adults watching his every move, so that he doesn’t have to turn to social media as his only outlet for being social.

That’s something that I think is much easier to accomplish here in Thailand, or in Europe, where there is easy public transportation and teens are welcome in public space, than it is in suburban America, where you need to drive to get anywhere and teens are viewed with suspicion by many. I remember as a teenager in suburban California, I would come straight home after school and spend hours on the phone with my friends because I couldn’t drive to go hang out with them in person, and there wasn’t really any place for us to go even if we could get there. I didn’t want to be on the phone; it was just my only option. I certainly would have done my homework more efficiently if it meant I could have had some time to unwind with my friends too.

And my third goal for Cy is to make him aware of how his actions online affect himself and others. This gets into a sticky issue about kids and privacy. Toby probably guards privacy more fiercely than I do. I believe Cy’s privacy is important, but that I reserve the right to revoke it if I feel Cy is going off track. I feel conflicted about what my responsibility as a parent is—to what extent is it my responsibility to oversee or monitor what he does and how he feels if it could lead to harm to himself or someone else? I want to say that it’s our job to just provide the foundation of good values and moral behavior, but I feel it’s also my job to protect him where I can. Would I second guess myself if something awful happened that I could have stopped? To what extent would his mistakes be mine too?

Boyd’s book offers an important perspective though: that kids need privacy, without the freedom to make their own choices and mistakes, they will be hampered in their moral development and growth as independent human beings. Moreover, they crave privacy, and the more you crowd them, the more they will turn to secretive measures to achieve it. If you don’t extend your children trust, you will undermine the relationship you seek to build with them.

American culture is particularly risk-averse, and as an American, I battle this within myself too. I know from my own experience, how important it is to take risks, how freeing it is and how much growth it engenders. But it’s one thing to know one should let go, and another to face the prospect of risk and danger with one’s child. I think that will be one of the biggest challenges for me as a mother: forever navigating the balance between guiding and letting go.

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How do you see your role as a parent? How do you approach technology with children?

Also: HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY to all my fellow American and Canadian mamas!

Thing I Love About Cy Today: When he’s happy about something, he flaps his arms and grins really wide.

P.S. Sorry this is such a long post! It’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past week. (And trust me, it could have been soooo much longer!) Also, I’m going to try to participate in Little Things Thursday as regularly as I can, so it’s likely that I’ll shift my Momma Chats over to Tuesdays, starting next week. Thanks for stopping by and hanging out here in this space with me!

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