Long Flight, Short Attention Span: the Kindertainment Kit for Little Travelers

Airport Lines

© amomnextdoor, 2013

I recently sat in an airport waiting area and watched an eight-year old girl play contentedly with her fingers, albeit in a slightly bored sort of way, for fifteen minutes. She may have  gone even longer than that, but I was too busy entertaining my iPhone-addicted three-year old to notice. And a three-year old in full withdrawal ain’t pretty.

I always feel like a rotten parent when I hand my kid the iPhone. Yes, it’s so cute how the tiniest one-year old already knows how to swipe and tap. Mildly amusing when the two-year old accidentally calls the Philippines. Only a minor hassle when the three-year old deletes seven apps and all their data. Sort of embarrassing when the four-year old happens to find an indiscreet photo in the camera roll. Really embarrassing when the five-year old reads aloud from the iPhone screen, “Mom, what does l-i-c-k spell?” And a royal pain-in-the-ass when the six-year old throws a temper tantrum because you have to use the iPhone to, like, call someone, then spends the next thirty minutes in jittery, aggressive withdrawal from his favorite video game.

Yes, that’s what we used to call them—“video games.” “App” sounds so innocuous by comparison. I haven’t yet run across the slew of articles titled “Apps Increase Violent Behavior in Children!” Yet I feel uneasy with the amount of screen time my young kids get, when screens are so portable and absorbing. So I decided that for this flight to Grandma’s, we were going to try old-fashioned entertainment. Thumb-twiddling and looking out the window would do for a start, but I was insecure about traveling completely deviceless. So I put together an Airplane Entertainment Kit and decided to use the three-hour flight for beta testing.

Kindertainment Kit

© amomnextdoor, 2013

Continue reading

Fallow

Fallow Field

So it turns out that I don’t write much in the summer. You’ve noticed.

Our family is now fully steeped in its current incarnation: Agent 006 in elementary school, about to start second grade next week, and the Birthday Girl (still three in spite of intervening birthdays which refused to have anything to do with her) in preschool twice a week. With the help of our marvelous babysitter, I manage to extend those few childless hours into a ten-hour-a-week writing practice (not including late nights and “I just have to go to the bathroom” quick ducks into the writing studio for stolen moments with the page).

But somehow children and travel have completely absorbed my time and attention this season, rolled up my writing practice like an old wool rug nobody needs when it’s hot out and the lawn sprinklers call us to summer’s baptism of heat. And it’s impossible for me to feel guilty about it. I know what’s really happening.

Summer is my growing season, but story doesn’t grow on the same schedule as the vegetal world. Travel, my children’s inches and appetites, long, sweet hours at the pool and beach–I can feel myself soaking it all in like the browning of my skin. The fields of my story lie fallow in the summer; the children and I play together in the rich dirt. My fields may look as empty as the pages of my journal or as inert as my blog statistics, but I feel small creatures stirring underground. I feel the bursting of seeds, straining toward the light of back-to-school fall routines. Soon, I will be able to water these fields once more with scattered showers of solitude. With just those scraps of nourishment, and the discipline of the hoe, the stories will grow forth again.

Please stay tuned for these new series of articles, and more, coming this fall:

Little Travelers: Tips for parents and kids on traveling to destinations near and far, exotic and quotidian.

A Writer’s Passage: Wisdom shared from the June 2013 Book Passage Conference for Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, as it intersects with my life as a writer and mother of two.

The Beleaguered Kitchen: Ideas for creating nutritional family meals under duress

Bites from the Magic Apple: Strokes of parenting genius shared

See you soon!

Photo credit: Thanks to Paul Schultz for adding “Fallow Field” to the Creative Commons.

Disneyland for the Fainthearted

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

We have clearly failed as American parents. Our first family trip to Disneyland must honestly be registered as a flop. Maybe it’s because we have supremely sensitive children, who just really don’t go in for the whole “sharks-in-the-water” vibe. Maybe it’s because my Fictional Husband (FH) hates crowds, hot dogs, popcorn, roller coasters and noise. But most likely it’s my fault, my own deeply divided nature. I wore the princess dresses my father brought back from his trips abroad, took ballet, and avidly watched the Disney shorts of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan that he screened on his old reel-to-reel in the downstairs den. But I also played football and basketball with my brothers, and didn’t fail to notice that Disney princesses—with the notable exception of Cinderella—are almost always pictured without feet. So I guess it’s no surprise that my under-inoculated family didn’t jump eagerly into the “Happiest Place on Earth” and emerge with the requisite contented smiles plastered on their faces. Continue reading

Scenes From Singapore

Singapore Parliament House @ the Heart of the City

Singapore Parliament House @ the Heart of the City (Photo credit: williamcho)

Singapore was a very difficult place for me to be. No doubt a huge part of that was being so far from my family. I loved the people I met and worked with, saw and tasted many beautiful and interesting things, but after about eight days away from my children, my body started to fall apart.

Last year it was my children’s bodies that deteriorated. I came home from ten days in Singapore to a daughter with a staph infection on  top of hand, foot & mouth disease, and a son with a burst eardrum. This year a bug bite attempted to attack my entire leg before the excellent medical care in Singapore intervened with a timely shot in the butt.

It was an incredible privilege to be invited across the world to teach a writing camp to young Singaporean writers. The kids were eager, adventurous and welcoming. My colleagues were industrious and intrepid about trying completely new ways of thinking about teaching kids to write.

These consummate hosts went to great pains to introduce me to the incredible sights and especially the exquisite cuisine of Singapore.  Although the relentless urbanity, devoted consumerism and polished presentation of this particular city were not to my taste overall, I did find a great many experiences to treasure during my two visits there. Continue reading

The Smile That Saves

Aside

Honey honey

Honey honey (Photo credit: weirdfishes/arpeggi ( Ashnaa Rabbani ))

The Husband is still traveling (eighteen days out of thirty-one this month, back and forth three times!), and I find myself turning for encouragement to stories I wrote down last year, at this same juncture. Every time dad comes home and then leaves again, I discover anew the big difference between being a stay-at-home parent, and a left-at-home parent.

Number Two demanded eleven time-outs before noon today, and we reached the developmental limits of Five’s long-suffering stoicism just a few hours after that. It feels good to remember how much more impossible it was to be the left-at-home when my kids were Four and One. Here’s a little something from way back when.

Date: Saturday, May 14, 2011

Time: 7:27 p.m. PT; 4:38 a.m. in Dusseldorf

Subject: Hard day

<mamabee@yahoo.com> wrote:

Hi Honey,

I couldn’t do this without my children. Each of them, in turn, sustains me. And this trip, for the first time, they comfort me together. They don’t mean to be a comfort to me, but they can’t help it.

It’s hard when I know that I am scary to my children. I’m not frying-pan scary—I hope you know this by now—but there are days, and sometimes days and days, when I simply cannot find my smile. When I scold my daughter for being hungry, or awake, just because I am tired, or covered in yogurt. Or when Four backs himself into another corner and all I can do is growl in vindicated satisfaction.

But these two children have come into my life to teach me how to live. Let go. Be in the moment. Do less. Say what’s in your heart. Sleep when you can. If you can’t sleep, rest. Step back. Accept forgiveness.

What broke my heart today? The way Four translated for and defended his sister: Mom, she just wants her own spoon. Her advocate. Came up to me and laid his palm on my cheek: Everything’s okay, Mom. Then goes and whispers in his sister’s ear, glancing sideways at me with a look somehow wicked and serious at the same time. And One, not getting the joke, huffing her imitative, infectious laugh.

Me, suspicious, asking: What are you two up to?

Oh, Mom. We’re just planning to poop at the same time.

And then the smile bubbles up inside me, the smile I’ve been waiting for all day, the smile I so desperately needed, the smile that will save us from me.

Everything will be okay.

Love,

Me