Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Screen-Free Week, Part II

A week without any screens of any kind, did we survive? It really wasn't as dramatic as it could have been, first off. Did I miss the television (that we use to view videos)? No, the kids didn't really either, unless you count Arthur, who asked me about 12 times to watch a movie. The rest of them were absolutely fine, busy and entertained. Did I miss my computer? Yeeeesss! and no. The reflex to turn it on and "do stuff" was strong, as it was for my older children. One felt the need to "do research" (so we went to the library), the other kept needing just a minute to "get a guitar tab," (so he practiced more of the songs he already knew after 2 of those incidents.)

It comes down to having habits that are questionable, really. Do you need to run to the computer every time you have a question? Search engines are mighty entities, I will be the first to admit. I'm watching "The Tudors" and I want to know more about Henry VIII. I can look it up, in the blink of an eye, and get pictures too, I love it! When I have a child with an odd condition in the middle of the night, I google it to see if I should go to the ER. Now, without google, I would have instinctively felt and known if something was serious enough to merit a doctor, and I still do, but the security blanket of being able to read words concerning the condition written by "an expert" is too difficult to resist. When I was at the bowling alley, holding a 3-year-old with a bloody chin the other day, I knew right away he would need stitches, now. I did not grab my i-Pod (no-touch) and ask how many inches long the gash needed to be before it needed fixing. I went to the ER for stitches. Besides, who wants blood all over their i-Pod?

We had a fabulous week. We went to the museum, the library, to the playdate/silk-dying event with our Waldorf homeschool group , and brought home two of the children from that wonderful home. Our seven children played and played and drew crazy pictures for over 24 hours, almost non-stop (I had to make them turn out the lights at 1am!) And we're talking about teens, who supposedly "need" a screen to survive, to be cool, to entertain. Nada, just card games, jumping on the trampoline, playing some sort of troll/pirate/zombie thingy and drawing. They helped out a lot with dog training too.

We read aloud, baked hot cross buns, played lots of board games with the younger ones, but did not learn gin rummy or take many walks, it rained most of the week. Eggs were dyed, music was played and things were hammered in the garage. For our weekly knitting night, Lily and I listened to "Gilda Joyce" on CD instead of watching something on video. I think it was one of our best knitting nights ever. We had a fire in the fireplace and the speakers connected to her i-Pod. 

And my promised updates during the week? Did I mention how busy we were? I forgot about Wednesday's, besides it did not feel right to have the computer on when I was telling the kids "no." I also became very involved in knitting five little gifts for five munchkins' Easter baskets and by Friday, I was almost at the deadline! I hope your week was as pleasant as ours!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Screen-Free Week

This is our first year to try a truly screen-free week,  and the biggest challenge it could have been until now. My two older children have just now arrived at a point where they are using the computer on a regular basis for blogging, research and one beloved game. It is not going to be easy for any of us to tear ourselves away from screens of all types for the five days of a schoolweek we are pledging to undertake. (Hope I don't need the undertaker or men in little white coats by next Friday.)

This is an exciting endeavor. If I truly believe that we could be doing so much more for every hour we do not spend on the boob tube (now someone will probably take away my family friendly status for that, but what a great term!), the i-Pod or the computer, and not only that, but that doing so is detrimental to physical, spiritual and mental health, then this should be a week rich in meaningful activities and enlightenment. 

I'll be giving two updates, one Wednesday, one Friday. Now if it seems awfully  counter-productive, counter-intuitive and just plain hypocritical to blog about screen-free week...well, you are right. I had thought to skip blogging this week, but I am allowing for two posts in order to share our experiences, any insights we may garner and to provide inspiration for others thinking of following the same path soon. Remember, it does not have to National Screen-Free Week in order for you to put this into motion in your house (and if you turn off all screens, no one will be able to tell you you've got the wrong date.)

I plan to take advantage of the extra time to: read aloud with my kids, dye silks at our Waldorf homeschool group, take longer walks on the shores of our muddy creek, teach them how to play Gin Rummy, and use the memberships we have to two different museums. We will also dye Easter eggs and get ready for the weekend's holiday.

Enjoy your week!

Date Night Extraordinaire: Thank Yous!!!

It was a Friday. This is our normal night to go out for a little "us" time, just the two of us, we call it date night. Sometimes we go to dinner, sometimes we take a sandwich to the park, sometimes we wander around the library or a bookstore, maybe have a drink and a chat and head back home. This time we had a destination...Chicago, alone! So there we were, downtown, strolling happily through the pouring rain, stopping in for a bite to eat or for whatever took our fancy, and it could not have been a better two days.

Having time to be together, with (almost) no agenda and no one else talking to us was simply marvelous. We felt like a young couple again, even if we look nothing like that description, and we could act like it, holding a hand, an arm, stealing a kiss in the rain. 

Thank you to my parents, for taking on the huge organizational task of being free and willing to watch the children on a weekday, not an easy feat when you are working, not to mention the overnight, taking them all roller-skating and feeding them royally.

Thank you to our neighbors who kindly agreed to watch our doggie at the very last minute, he and we are so lucky!

And thank you to the French Consulate for giving us an appointment at a convenient time on a Friday, making life ever so much easier.

Our original reason for returning to Chicago was in order to pick up my first ever...French passport! I have had dual citizenship for a number of years, but this was the first time I had applied for a passport. The practical side of having it: to get through the CEE lines in airports when entering Europe, the sentimental side is that I've always wanted a red passport too. The blue one is a beauty, and the French one is magical.

Chicago was like a second honeymoon. I found a mystery hotel through bidding on one of those hotel websites for the lowest price available in a few different areas of the city. We were very fortunate in landing a lush hotel at the heart of the city, one that has fantastic sound-proofing and perfect service. We had a peaceful, restful night, and still woke up to downtown outside our front door. 

As for yarn shops; I kept it down to a dull roar and only stopped in one: Loopy Yarns on Polk St. If you are remotely interested in yarn, knitting or crocheting, you need to make a stop here when next in Chicago. The yarns are luscious, the staff is the nicest and friendliest in the world and it would have been easy to spend an entire day or night there just browsing, thinking and dreaming yarn.

We had delicious fish at 3pm in a restaurant/bistro in the Jeweler's Building, a place whose top floor once housed a speak-easy frequented by Al Capone. Friday night we ate at an Indian place, Gaylord...beyond belief fabulous, and Pierre even ate with his fingers when I told him that was the only way to properly taste Indian food, what a great sport.

We managed to find one bike shop for Pierre while we were wandering around Uptown. This was a new area to us, and it was exciting to see the many African and Asian stores, restaurants and hair salons. I was this close to having my whole head braided, I've always wanted to. Now even more, as so many of the wonderful clients I serve interpreting are from Africa and have the tiniest, daintiest braids, sometimes all gathered up in a pony tail. Besides, I have the hair for it. Alas, time was growing short and we had to choose our last adventures. We took the time to walk for as long as we could back downtown. I did not make it all the way, but the bus was handily available.

Knitting...there was so much time to knit! Bus and train rides around the city, waiting for a bus, the little time we spent in the hotel room. Knitting all the way home in the car was second only to seeing my munchkins again; having them jump into Mama's arms one after another, sweet kids.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Simplicity Parenting: Step 4: Discipline

Simplicity Parenting: Step 4: Discipline

This, says Kim John Payne, of "Simplicity Parenting" is the hardest of the four steps. (Yeah, well he clearly does not have the book problem we have in our house). In my own little nutshell (please don't go there, it is early on a Saturday morning), this is what it comes down to: simplifying our message and being mindful of our true intentions.

He begins with an example: interrupting, or how to stop a child from interrupting when an adult is speaking to someone else in three easy steps. Payne explains how to do this, beginning with continuing to speak to the first person for increasing increments of time; 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 45 seconds, 2 minutes...until the child has understood two things: 1) Any request submitted when interrupting has one answer: no, 2) When you turn to them, after they wait patiently, they will have your undivided attention, which is their ultimate goal anyway, from the time they wake up in the morning until they close their big ol' eyes each night. Why do they interrupt in the first place, when they know they may receive an impatient reaction from a parent? Because they will get some attention, even for 3 seconds, and as that will fulfill their need for attention, they will do anything to get it, and take what we give.

It comes down to quality, like fine wine. (No, don't give the wine to the kid, drink it while you are learning the technique). You might think you like wine while drinking Goone's Farm, and you may not like the taste of the good stuff right away, but if you give yourself time and small sips for long enough  there will be no going back. You will grow to appreciate the taste of something better, your life will be enriched. The same goes for chocolate, in case wine is not your cup of tea. For children it is the same, when they realize that they will be given your full, undivided attention, they will be willing to wait for the quality time, with your full attention as the prize.

Next up: the number of requests we make of our children each day. He asks of families that he works with; "how many requests do you make of your child each day?" "Oh, 12 or so." And he answers: "try 237." "No!" "Yes." We make too many requests of our children, so many that they end up not taking us seriously and not responding. (Steiner was a proponent of not talking too much in the presence of children. Keep things simple, keep the wonder alive by not interrupting their space with  too many words.)  Payne's solution; halve the number of requests we make of a child, then halve it again. You must be willing to embody your request, to become it to the point that you mean it and they know you mean it. In Payne's words: "It must be like God saying to Adam; 'PICK UP THAT PENCIL.'" You must be prepared to live with the consequences of your words as well. If you say "no outings for a week", are you ready to stay home for a week? When our demands, like our expectations, are real, mindful and necessary, they will be taken as such by our children. 

My old solution of randomly giving out "no screen time for a week," "no allowance", which, I will admit to sometimes giving in on, has been changed to a more doable one with real intention behind it, and with real benefits for all concerned. For example, for sibling out-of-control fighting, instead of me taking sides, which will always be unfair for someone, the two involved are sentenced to doing chores and/or spending time together for a certain amount of time, we begin with one full day. Funny how, with me as the bad guy, they end up creating a great bond between them. I sometimes add extra chores; chopping wood for the older ones, playing a game with one of their younger siblings for the middle ones.

See? It really is very simple, all of this. The first person to simplify, always comes back to oneself. Quiet your thoughts, think through what it is you hope to accomplish, if not in life, then at least at this very moment. Ask if this is really what you want. Ask if it is really, truly necessary, then proceed to ask it of your child, and do it like you mean it.

And the Winner, of the Mother-Ease Cloth Diaper Cover, is...

Jen, of Ancient Hearth, a really great Waldorf homeschooling blog, full of ideas, information and written with love.

Thank you to all who participated, and to all who support cloth diapering. And here is to those who are thinking about trying cloth; go ahead, you will love it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Adults Have ADD too, We Call it "Multitasking"

Quote from Kim John Payne's lecture on Simplicity Parenting. That would explain why I have not yet announced the winner of the diaper cover from Motherease (I will do so tomorrow), but that is not the reason I have not posted anything interesting this week. I have, in fact, been concentrating my efforts on two things. The first is the sweater I have finished knitting for Pierre and have been working on all the little finishing touches; (grafting the armpits, stitching and steeking (which means to slice through my beautiful stitches, right down the middle of the sweater in order to form a cardigan, it was the first time and it took me about three weeks to actually pick up the scissors, weaving in a million ends, making the skull patch that will adorn the left shoulder, and putting in the zipper, my least favorite and very last step. Second, but not in priority, of course, (really!) my children and their schooling, we've had a wonderful week of chemistry, time outside, stories from the Grimm Brothers, measuring and planning for a building project and drawing together.

The reason you have not seen any other a mystery. The photo I posted yesterday or the day before DID show up when I hit "view blog" the first day. Last night I realized that it had disappeared, like the others on Monday. Luckily the kids were in bed, because I had a few choice words that I would otherwise have been forced to keep all bottled up inside..."breathing in, I calm my body..." (Thich Nhat Hahn).

Next up: the last bastion in the four-step process of simplifying parenting: discipline.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Photos Gone Awry

It's Monday, maybe that explains the three pics I just put up that are showing up as empty links. Maybe it's something in the air or in my fingers...I just crashed the family computer earlier this morning with a virus from a page for the kids' lesson for today. Sigh. (And don't tell anyone, but at least it wasn't my own computer, hurrah!)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Simplicity Parenting: Step 3: Screens of all Sorts, or What Else Could I be Doing?

That sums up my main gripe about tv time, and computer time and gaming time and the rest of it. What else are you missing out on when you are stuck in front of this completely engaging and compelling thing with a screen? Sure, you were out for a walk at some point in the day, and you did your school work, your chores are done, but could you not be outside playing or practicing an instrument of making up some lovely world in your imagination?

As I was driving to the Waldorf conference a couple weeks ago, I thought about the difference between Arthur, six going on seven, and his older siblings at his age. Granted, Arthur is not the same as any other child in the family, and I would not wish conformity on anyone, but it does seem to me that he does not play the same way, with the same utilization of imagination and creativity. What was different about the environment he is growing up in as opposed to the one when the first two were small? Number of siblings, older children in the house, age difference, and...a game console. Could this be it? Could the very presence of the dang thing be causing my little Arthur to beg to play it every day and be encouraging him to use the "b" word?

I believe what I discovered at the conference was both a yes and a no to this question. Opening up the door to technology and screens in one's house is a little like peeking into Pandora's box and letting it all go. However, the lid is still on its hinges and you have the remote to open and close it and decide at what times it is appropriate to do so. I think we can make good use of technology (it does have its benefits) and still live a mindful, balanced life. The key is remaining mindful.

The amount of screen time an average child is exposed to is staggering, close to 10 hours a day for children ages 8-18.  When parents questioned the statistics presented, we were directed to an asterisk explaining that some of these ten hours a day were simultaneous. Playing with a cell-phone or i-pod or Nintendo while watching tv is given double time. Perish the thought.

Texting was an interesting topic too. I'm not too up on the problem because no one in our house texts. My kids do not have cell phones (because your mama is a dinosaur and convenience is not everything). Here is the thing: texting provides an instant rush, a little high comparable to getting a gift. Each time you text and someone texts back, it makes you happy. It is quick, easy and immediate, it is addictive.

One last observation of Payne's; he worked in refuge camps in different war-torn, poverty-stricken countries. He found, of course, that the children suffered from post-traumatic-stress-disorder of the severest sort. They were jumpy, lost interest in things quickly, had sleep disturbances and did not react normally to temperature extremes (like going outside in a t-shirt in very cold weather). He later set up a practice in London, and then in the US, and was astonished to see the same pattern of behavior in normal to affluent children in the western world. His diagnostic; all of the pressures, from schedules to too much stuff, along with excessive screen time, was waging a war on today's children. An invisible, non-intentional war, but causing the same effects on children nonetheless. 

We have everything, we can offer our children everything, let's just remember to dose it and not forget the gifts of quiet times, nature and boredom.