don’t beat yourselves up about how much tv your kids watch

Every year the same meme circulates in my newsfeed and every time I see it I shake my head: Kids Don’t Remember Their Best Day of Television. The picture is of two small children standing at the foot of a lake, the water sparkling before them, the seats of their pants just dirty enough to imply a good romp in the woods. It’s an idyllic scene, to be sure, but the fact remains: I doremember my best days of television.

Who of a certain age doesn’t remember Winnie and Kevin’s first kiss in The Wonder Years? Or has no recollection of snuggling up on the couch to enjoy Tony and Angela’s antics in Who’s the Boss? The Olsen twins cute as buttons in Full House? One of my strongest childhood memories is of watching Moonlightingwith my father, the plot lines and romantic tension between Maddie and David a sliver beyond me, but boy did I feel mature in the attempt to follow along.

Screen time is a major parenting issue for our generation. Warnings abound about the perils inherent in its excess and there is much to be heeded in them, especially because the rise of hand-held, personal electronic devices has made screen time something more isolating and opaque than it used to be.

Kids these days are often looking down. Allison Slater Tate has written convincingly about the new terrain we are navigating as parents in this regard. How will we deal with it when our children routinely ignore the simple pleasures around them – a river, a bird – in order to send emojis to their friends or catch the latest installment of some YouTuber playing Minecraft in Australia?

And yet, I have long wondered if we are taking the screen time backlash a little too far…

You can read the rest of the piece here, at The Guardian.



Oh but I do!

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facebook ‘memories’ a double-edged sword for parents

It’s the first thing I see when I log onto Facebook: “5 years ago today.” There he is, my oldest son, now all long limbs and tween angst, looking cherubic on his first day of school. He’s smiling for the camera. I remember it well: smoothing his hair down, bursting with pride. And though I know the timescale to be accurate, I’m still taken aback by it. Five years ago? Five years that have whipped by me like scraps of paper in a westerly wind.

I remember my son’s first day of school, but what I remember most about that day, which Facebook prompted me unexpectedly to revisit, is what’s not in the picture. It is lying on the obstetrician’s table hours after I sent my firstborn on his maiden voyage through the school gates, craning my neck to get a better view of the ultrasound screen. There was the sound of a second baby’s heartbeat and the sensation of stumbling out of the doctor’s office, numb with the realization that I would be moving from two children to four.

The tag-team effect of those two moments made August 11th, 2010 a remarkable day. But the truth is I hadn’t thought about either event in a good long while or considered, with the advantage of hindsight, the way in which they had entwined themselves in my mind. Not until Facebook jogged the memory for me. So I re-posted the picture, adding an updated caption about the discovery of my twin pregnancy, which was something, due to shock or superstition or both, I hadn’t gone public with at the time. Sharing the “memory” in my newsfeed felt a bit like reliving history. It also felt a bit like re-writing it.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at The Washington Post.



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the haircut

The woman standing over my daughter is about to work a miracle. She’s swivelling the chair from side to side, assessing the damage and using a tone perfectly calibrated to keep us both from panicking. I’ve sunk into a strange calm by this point, anyway. Now that I’ve gotten us here, now that it’s out of my hands.

“Well,” she says, “it looks like somebody’s had an adventure this morning!” And my daughter does that thing with her face—eyes to the side, lips curled at the corners—the thing she does when she’s half embarrassed by, but half revelling in, the attention she’s drawing.

They were expecting us at the salon, I didn’t have to explain it again. A small mercy. We were ushered towards the back, as several different people, at several points on the short walk, smiled smiles somewhere between pity and been-there-done-that.“It’s going to be fine!” They said. “It’s only hair!” They said. Of course it’s only hair, I thought, but that didn’t stop my stomach from filling with lead when I saw the great big wad of it balled in the dresser drawer, dead and mousy-looking where once it had shimmered with light as it swung from my daughter’s head.

They hid the evidence, the two of them together. This is how I discovered my daughter was herself complicit, that it wasn’t just her twin brother wreaking the havoc. She was the one who showed me where it was. “Where’s the hair,” I kept yelling, “where is it?” Because for several moments I couldn’t quite process what had happened, and without the physical product of their little escapade, the whole thing seemed vaguely impossible. An optical illusion: half of the hair hanging straight, as I remembered it, on one side of her head, and half of it missing, chopped into haphazardly, stair-stepped in a way that made her resemble a victim of extreme circumstance or the fashion trends of the eighties.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



double trouble


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no comments

“The comments are a shitshow.” This from a friend on Facebook, a warning perhaps or an expression of vicarious disappointment. “I read the first one and threw my phone across the room.” This from a friend of a friend, a name I don’t recognize. They are commenting on a thread of an article I wrote, one in which I’ve been tagged.

Whenever I publish an essay on a popular website, I share the link on social media. Then I click on the little notification icon—on Twitter, on Facebook—and amidst the outpour of support, which I drink up like a warm cup of cocoa, there is almost always some mention of how dire, how diabolically offensive the on-site comments are. I tackle topics such as my marriage heaving under the weight of small children, or my failure, at 37, to have achieved financial independence—the sort of topics, in other words, that tend to elicit a more unforgiving breed of response.

I wouldn’t know how bad the responses are myself, because I don’t read them. I have a policy, put firmly in place the day my first New York Times piece went live, which boils down to one simple, non-negotiable rule: never read the comments. No matter how tempted you become in the flush of the moment, no matter how thrilled you are with the finished product. No matter how loudly curiosity scratches at the door.

I didn’t create this policy based on personal experience; I hadn’t been spooked by the ghost of comments past. In fact, that New York Times essay was one of the first I had ever published. The placement was a coup for me, a writer still wet behind the ears. I was trying to start over in my mid-thirties after years of being a stay-at-home mother.

The policy instead arose from watching others. Weeks earlier I had seen a blogging acquaintance of mine skewered in the same column. 277 comments, the majority of which revolved around what a selfish, suspect person she was. Her crime? Wanting more kids than her husband and daring to say so out loud. It was a glaring red flag for me: I could relate entirely to this woman’s plight. I had lived it myself, except while her situation remained unresolved, mine had already come to its conclusion (twins), which was the very subject of the essay due to appear.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Vela Magazine.



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the virtual aunt

I’m putting my daughter to bed, but her twin brother is still in the next room, waiting. I hear him chattering away, as he dances a toy elephant across the floor. He’s not talking to himself, though, my sister is with him. Well, technically, she’s some four thousand miles away in Vancouver, Canada, while we are in Glasgow, Scotland, but, virtually, she’s right there. My phone is propped against the bookshelf, the perfect angle for surveying the scene. My son is interacting with her as if she is sitting, flesh and bones, in the very same room.

We are regular partakers, my sister and I, in the phenomenon of the FaceTime babysitter. For me this kind of video messaging hasn’t just been a luxury, a vehicle for allowing an aunt to bond with her nephews and niece across an otherwise vast ocean. There have been moments, periods of time, where my sister’s virtual presence has been nothing short of a lifeline. Such is the way when you have two babies and only one pair of hands, only one set of eyes.

Back when their afternoon nap was the fulcrum of our day, we used to speak to her several times a week. I would put the twins in their high chairs at around noon; my sister would be getting ready for work, dawn breaking in Washington, D.C. They would choose the jewelry that best suited her outfit, oohing and ahhing over the various bracelets on display, as I cut crusts off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my laptop offering a comprehensive view of the kitchen. And then I would haul one toddler up to bed, while she would occupy the other, bound safely in his seat, and nap time would proceed smoothly, a staggered affair, instead of the manic free-for-all it became when I was on my own.

My sister has been heavily involved in my children’s lives from the beginning. She is a devoted aunt, to say the least, but she is also a woman with a job that takes her all over the world. The two of us have not lived in the same town, in the same country even, since 1999. Our relationship has been conducted through the channels of whatever technological means have been in the ascendency. Hours-long phone calls via special long-distance plans, Skype, when it was a novelty, and now the holy grail of instant visual access: FaceTime.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



all eyes on auntie g


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evolution of a reader

You start when he is two months old, you know it is important. All the experts say so, all the articles. Read to them, read to them incessantly. Do it early, the earlier the better. He seems like an alert baby, this one, wide-eyed and curious. The way he bats at his toys, the way he tracks your movements with a searching, soulful expression. Maybe all babies are like this, you aren’t sure. He is your first. You project onto him constantly—thoughts, feelings, skills—as if projecting will make it so.

Your mother sat with him when he was one week old, just home from the hospital, a sliver of a thing, and read him Pat the Bunny in that special sing-song voice you remember well from your own childhood. “Judy can pat the bunny,” she said, as your son stared into the middle distance, head lolling. “Now YOU pat the bunny.” She took the baby’s starfish hand, the nails still peeling from the wetness of the womb, and rubbed it purposefully against the fluffy bunny. And you couldn’t tell if it was ridiculous or adorable to be reading to a baby so new.

All the same, a couple of months later, you decide it is time to begin. Every night, every night without fail. Your husband gives the baby a bath, and then you coo at him, a steady stream of chatter as you stuff limbs into a sleepsuit covered with teddybears or rockets or stripes. You prop him up against you on the bed and read two books. Always two. Sometimes Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Sometimes Here Are My Hands. Sometimes you channel your mother and read Pat the Bunny with just the right intonations. You take it for granted that your son sits still at this age, that he tolerates the books without crying, when what he really wants is his milk. None of your other children will be so patient.

By the time he is one, he can pat the bunny on his own. He seems to understand you now, he has words himself, a bevy of animal sounds and an assortment of other babbles that mean something, finally. The floodgates of communication have opened; reading has become blissfully interactive. Your son loves books. You tell your family, your friends, anybody who will listen: “He loves books!” This makes you proud, as if it is evidence of an impressive feat of parenting or genetics. But of course he loves books, the shelves are lined with them, the house is strewn with them. Reading is your go-to childcare activity.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.


reading at one


reading at nine

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the hands-off grandma

My mother recently came to visit me and my family for ten days. Here is a list of the things she did vis-a-vis my four children:

Played with them, if asked.

Gave them snacks and sweets.

Talked to them.

Bought them gifts.

Hugged and kissed them.


And here is a list of the things she didn’t do:

Bathe them.

Dress them.

Prepare or serve any of their meals.

Help them with their homework.

Put them to bed.


Based on these lists, my mom is what you might call a “hands-off” Grandma—or Bubbe, as she is affectionately referred to. She loves her grandkids. She enjoys spending time with them, in small doses. She cares about their well-being and what is happening in their lives. But she is not interested in participating in the grunt work of raising them: the tasks that include bodily fluids and flailing limbs, tears and stall tactics and four outfit changes in as many minutes. In so far as it is possible to engineer, my mother, at 70, is looking to experience the good bits associated with young children, the fun bits, and not the slog.

For her, this is the line between what it is to be a grandparent and what it is to be a parent. This is the privilege you earn with the prefix “Grand.” “I’ve done my time,” she says, and she certainly has. She is the mother of three children, across eight years and two marriages. She did everything for us as we grew up—playdates, parties, projects—everything. She watches some of her friends “grandparent” in a way she finds unappealing, women, she says, who are attempting motherhood all over again. “I have my own life,” she reminds me, with perfect kindness and accuracy. “I don’t need to re-live having children through yours.”

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



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is culture the reason my kids don’t listen to me?

My kids don’t listen to me. Or, rather, they listen to me, but rarely the first time and rarely without protest. Everything, it seems, is up for negotiation in our house, no matter how clear or firm I think I’m being. “You can’t have a snack.” But why? “It’s time for your bath.” But I don’t want one! “Lights out now.” But I’ve got 10 pages left! The other day I threatened to pull the car over when my 4-year-old wouldn’t stop kicking the back of my seat. And then I did, swerving into a side street more abruptly than I intended, and he looked at me with wide eyes and promptly started kicking it again.

My mother has long believed that for young children to listen to their parents they need to fear the consequences. I yell at my kids when they get out of hand, and to my own ears I sound like a banshee, but it doesn’t necessarily scare them into submission. I take away privileges (no iPad, the horror!), but it doesn’t ensure the offending behavior won’t be repeated. Even my husband, with his objectively stern manner, doesn’t intimidate them enough that they don’t talk back.

How do you command respect as a parent? This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, because I am increasingly convinced that I don’t. It is through fear? Is it through discipline? Is it through quiet authority?

I consider myself a disciplinarian, but of course, if I were an effective one, my kid wouldn’t still be kicking the back of the seat after the fifth time I told him not to. I set boundaries, I enforce them; I am not, in other words, a pushover. And yet, at the same time, there must be some Gestalt to my parenting that is inherently non-authoritarian, something that fails to trigger blind obedience, that says to my children: the conversation is not closed. Not really.

You can read the rest of the article here, at The Washington Post.




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what my twins taught me about gender stereotypes

I have girl/boy twins.

Aside from discrepancies in their sleeping and eating habits, they were treated virtually the same for the first year of their lives. Yes, we had blue and pink blankets, onesies swirled with flowers and onesies peppered with firetrucks, but such is the reality of the day-to-day with twins that, as babies, they often wore whatever was to hand. They dipped in and out of a common collection of age-appropriate toys. They ate and drank from a shared set of crockery, the designs of which were both traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine. They were read the same books; they were spoken to and praised in comparable ways.

And then, poof, somewhere around their first birthday, it was as if the gender fairy flitted into our house and waved her magic wand, dusting them both with stereotypes. All of a sudden, my girl twin started ferrying around the toy chest’s lone baby doll, tending to his manifold needs as much as her rudimentary coordination would allow. At the same time, my boy twin became absolutely obsessed with smartphones. He keyed in numbers and toggled buttons with gusto. He had a strange reverence for wires and the act of charging.

Here they were, at 1 year old, poster children for the power of nature over nurture when it comes to typical gender play. The writing, it would seem, was on the wall.

But was it?

You can read the rest of the essay here, at The Washington Post.



they both wear superhero costumes; they both wear dresses



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the kitchen is closed

Children, damn them, they need to eat. Every day. Multiple times a day. It sounds simple enough, one of those straightforward facts of life. But there is nothing simple about my children’s relationship with food. They always want more of it, without ever quite wanting what it is that I have available. Their insatiable appetites and focus on certain food groups to the exclusion of all others is nothing less than an albatross around my neck. It is my Sisyphean rock. The meatball I keep pushing up the hill that rolls right back down again…uneaten.

I will never truly understand the plight of the parents of bird-like children. The ones who pick delicately, listlessly at the contents of their plates, before asking to be freed from the prison that is the kitchen table. The ones who skip lunch or “forget” to ask for a snack. In our house, “nack” was among the first words ever uttered and “nack time” has not once passed by unnoticed. Blood sugar levels plummet to precariously low levels if more than a couple of hours go by without a top up. Dinner is getting earlier and earlier. One of my kids asked me to make it at 3:45pm the other day.

My husband and I recently put up double doors between our kitchen and our living room as a way to stuff the dam of our children’s constant demand for food. For in the absence of a physical barrier, they have been known to swirl in and out of the kitchen at will, eddies of unquenchable hunger, no matter what time of day it is, no matter when they have last been fed (No, you can’t have“breakfast dessert”). Out of sight, the theory goes, and therefore out of mind, because if the little buggers so much as see snack-food or sweets, they need to have it. And if they aren’t allowed it, they start to beg. And then they beg and beg and beg some more.

You can read the rest of this post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



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