How to Reduce Stress in a Ten Year Old (And What Does He Have to Stress About Anyway?)

What I do know is that he is a kid for whom “unscheduled” is the highest form of pleasure, that recess and lunch are still his favorite parts of school, and that ten years old is too young to be consumed by stress. Continue reading

Hanging up the iPhone: An Apology, Some Praise, and Five New Rules

Dear A,

We need to talk.

First, I am sorry. When I wrote about throwing away your iPhone, I did not intend to equate you with a 2-year-old tantrum thrower. No way. You are the farthest thing from it.

I was trying to say that parenting gets harder as kids get older, and that a wise teacher once counseled that good parenting sometimes means changing your mind even in the face of strong resistance. I am sorry for how I wrote it. I’m not a perfect mom, or a perfect writer. It’s hard to end an essay. It’s hard to know the right parenting path.

Second, I am proud of you, and of how you communicated with me. You handled yourself with restraint and respect, telling me you were mad at me, and that you would talk with me about it later, privately. You said you worried you would be teased, and that because the story is on the internet, anyone could happen upon it.

Let me set the record straight. You didn’t cry, wail, or tantrum in the slightest when you read the article. You explained why you were angry with me with a calm dignity that most adults (myself included) can’t muster. I admire your maturity, your clarity and your patience.

Being a parent is soul-filling fun. I love being with you. And sometimes being a parent is hard, because you want to do what’s best for your kid and it’s not always clear what that is. So you check your values, you talk with friends you respect, you may even ask your own parents for advice, and in the end you go with your gut.

(Actually, that’s a good prescription for handling difficult choices you encounter at any age.)

I hope you will accept my apology and also my praise.

Now what did you think about the rest of the essay? Do you understand why I am concerned about the amount of attention you give your iPhone? Do you agree that it is super tempting to check Instagram?

I know I tend to be a worrier. But a lot of parents have the same worry. We worry that your generation is falling into an addiction still too fresh to be understood. Our gut tells us this is a problem. All of us are trying to figure out limits on them.

I know you understand some of the dangers. We have talked about the 15-year-old boy from our neighborhood who died because he was looking at his phone when he crossed the street. We’ve talked about the unknown effects of radiation on the brain. You have heard your baseball coach tell of how he helped an adult who fell because he didn’t notice the sidewalk end. We got some chuckles from watching this video of a guy falling into a fountain because of his phone.

But it’s not your physical safety I am most worried about. It’s that I look around and see people—young and old—not talking to each other. It’s that so many people go to their phones when they are bored, instead of anything else: write a poem, go for a walk, daydream. I don’t want that to be you, or your brother, or your friends, or me, or Dad.

So what should we do about it?

I’m not going to throw away your phone. I acknowledged from the start that it has some fine social attributes—like making plans for a pick-up basketball game, or hanging out at the Pier, or just saying Hi. But it can’t take over.

So here’s what I suggest.

1. You may continue to take the phone with you to school in your backpack. I know you like to play games, or take photos, or whatever, on the bus ride home. I’m cool with that. It’s fun. Be sure to text your grandparents and aunts sometimes, too. They love hearing from you.

2. When we are in the car together, turn it off and put it in your backpack. I like to talk with you. And if you don’t feel like talking, we can listen to music. We’ll be sharing the experience.

3. When we get home, put it in the closet, not out on the counter. Out of sight, more out of mind.

4. After dinner, you can check your phone, let’s say for 20 minutes, if homework’s done. Then say goodnight to your phone and put it back in the closet.

5. Here’s the good part. I will put my phone away, too. I want to break the habit of checking for new e-mails every twenty minutes (or more). After the work day is done, mine is off.

I’m not saying this is going to be easy. But I trust that we will get used to it and maybe even be grateful. We will keep each other honest. You are a reasonable and wise person, and I’m guessing you will find these guidelines reasonable and wise as well.

One more thing. When we go on a loooong road trip, you and your brother can turn on the phone and play some games, but if I find you guys looking at the screen instead of Half Dome, we’re gonna have a problem.

I love you to the end of the universe,

Mom

Little Guy, Big Ideas

I took Emmett out of school a little early last week. We were heading to a major orthodontist appointment: At long last, he was getting an expander. “It breaks your jaw,” his father explained to him last week, smiling wickedly. I blanched and gave him an “are you insane?” look, but Emmett’s into gruesome-ness, so he was okay with that.

Have you seen these contraptions? They attach with rings around a top molar on each side of the mouth, with a metal brace kissing the roof of the mouth. We have to crank it wider, about a millimeter or two, twice a day, so that our baby’s jaw will spread out and make more room for his huge teeth, also courtesy of my husband. Meals and snacktime are now accompanied by repeated “chaack!” sounds from Emmett’s throat as he tries to clear food out of its tangled wires.

This expander has felt like It’s been a long time coming. His older brother Aaron had one in the third grade, three years ago, and since then Emmett knew his day would come. He mostly looked forward to the day or two of pudding and smoothies and jello that would accompany it.

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Now the day was here. We crossed the empty schoolyard, Emmett’s pace slowed. He was nervous. He spoke then, so quietly that I had to lean down and cup my ear to hear him.

“It feels like it came so fast. And it’s going to be so fast until I’m off.”
“What do you mean, ‘off’?” I asked. “Until the expander is off?”

He answered without looking at me, looking straight ahead into his future.

“Off to college.”

I don’t tell you this because it’s cute or charming or precocious, but because my gut sank so deeply when I realized, he was dead right. I took his hand and walked through the school door, on our way to the next thing.

 

Read between the lines

My sister and I had a favorite sight gag as kids. Hold up your middle three fingers toward someone, palm facing you and say, “Read between the lines.”

This is something different.

Our eight-year-old is assigned to read 20 minutes every night. And every night, as we open a book to read, he rolls over and says, “You read. I’m too tired.” We try gimmicks – “I’ll read one page (or paragraph, or sentence) and then you read one!” Mostly he refuses, and mostly I give in and read to him. With his school reading scores pretty strong, I justify it thusly: it’s a wonderful thing to be read to, we are building cozy memories.

But still I worry (of course I do). “He must do the assignment! He must improve! He could be reading at an even higher level!” (Trust me, as I write this I am even annoying myself.) I continue to pester him about reading, and he continues to resist.

Then, this morning, a most inexplicable turn of events. On the drive to school, the little guy agreed to help his brother practice lines for the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. Motoring along the palm tree lined Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Blvd., my son who balks at reading The Hardy Boys aloud, eloquently read aloud the immortal words, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?”

He did the entire scene, until he bumped with embarrassment over the word “breast.” It went downhill from there, screeching to a halt at the word “marriage.” He had a problem with saying he would get married to his brother. “Daddy,” he said with no room for negotiation, “you have to say the M-word, cuz I won’t.”

This from a kid who has no qualms spouting words more commonly known by their first letter. Which reminds me, I think he’d enjoy our old sight gag.Image

 

The (Great Big Parenting) Book

As some of you know, I’ve become something of a Torah study geek of late. Weirder still – my sister is now hooked, too.

It’s something I never ever never pictured myself doing. I thought it was for people who, you know, believed that Torah is the word of God, and that we’re supposed to do things because the Torah said so, unquestioning. Not me. Never me. I am a Reconstructionist Jew who sees divinity in the miracles of the universe — like the tides, sunsets, and the way my brain is telling my fingers how to move so I can express my ideas to you. I can get a little spiritual, but don’t begin to tell me that God wrote us a story or that, come Yom Kippur, he is taking names.

So how did I become a Torah Study groupie?

Read all about it in this week’s Jewish Journal, available in print for you traditionalists, too.

 

 

What is God? Not a stick of cheese.

I asked Aaron about what they did in Religious School yesterday, the first day.

“We talked about what God is and isn’t,” he told me. Wow, they start with the big stuff. I felt proud of us Jews, starting off with a bang.

“So what did you say?” I asked, hoping he’d be in the mood to tell me.

“Well,” he said, thinking back to yesterday afternoon, an eternity ago. “I said, ‘God is not fat. And he is 12 feet tall.’ I can’t remember what else.” As I stood there trying not to laugh, and wondering what I’d say to that, he asked me the other big question. “Do you believe in God mom?”

Our first disagreement about God was going to have to do with his height? Or the fact that I don’t think God has any height to speak of, unless we’re talking about the size of the universe perhaps. How to describe the abstract notion that God isn’t a body of any kind at all? Especially when the stories this time of year have to do with a guy taking notes in a book about your behavior.

“I believe in God,” I said. Let’s start with a positive before I start throwing out my caveats. “But not a god that looks like a person. I think God is . . . well, you know that little voice in your head that tells you what’s right and wrong? That’s what I think God is. And also, how roses are so beautiful but they’re also so smart to have those sharp thorns to keep the snails off? I think that’s God, too.”

He was quiet, thinking about all this. Then he offered, “Jessie said, ‘God is not a stick of cheese. He thought some more. “Or a piece of a pumpkin.”

Hmm. Hard to argue with that. Unless we’re talking pumpkin pie, because I’ve had some awfully good pie . . .