Friday, January 24, 2014

A lesson in being gentle

A week ago I posted this ( on kimchi mamas.  It was a brutally and painfully honest account of the type of parent I have let myself become but most importantly about the type of parent I want to be and that my daughter deserves.  

It was hard to write and post.  Partially because writing it down made it in some way more real; real in the sense that I am aware of how I am behaving and that I know it is wrong.  And partially because it meant putting myself out there to be judged, although I sincerely doubt anyone can judge me more harshly than I already judge myself.  

So yes, I let myself become the sort of parent that snaps at my kid, is too tough, and is sometimes downright mean.  But I have not been that person for two weeks now. 

And I have remained yell-free, calm, and mostly the parent I want to be through a big move, a new puppy, and financial woes.  

Last night I had a lesson in being gentle.  Bedtime has historically been a tough time for us.  Last night was no exception.  I could feel the tension rising.  But I realized at some point that Aria just needed to talk.  So we talked; maybe only 15 minutes and then she was ready to settle.  But before she did, she told me how happy she was that I listened to her. 

Curious, I asked her if she had noticed a difference in the amount of yelling I had been doing.  She gave me one of those huge grins of hers and said that yes, she had and she liked it much better.  According to her, I'm almost ready for the BIG challenge.  That sounded rather ominous to me so I asked her to explain.  Apparently it's another two weeks of being peaceful and gentle; these first two weeks according to Aria have been a practice run.  But the best part and an inspiration to continue on my journey to be the mom she deserves is what she told me I would get if I failed.  Two kisses and a hug.  Aria is clearly far advanced in the art of gentle discipline.  I am clearly one lucky mom.  


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More on Kids and Computer Science

Ok, so last week I was talking about Max's new found love of circuitry, and mentioned teaching computer science to kids. I thought I'd come back to that today.
Max doing some Computer Science while the bunnies play
So what do I mean? Do I plan on sitting kindergartners down in front of a computer and teaching them C++? Well, no. That would be a little silly. But computer science is more than just programming and programming is more than just writing code. There are great reasons to get kids started early and you can do it without gluing their eyeballs to a screen.

What is Computer Science?
The fabulous folks at Wikipedia call computer science "the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications." I love that definition because I find it both to the point and delightfully vague. Computer science (CS) is not just programming computers. Much like the scientific method is a thought process, not just the act of doing experiments, CS is an approach and style, not just the act of programming. 

The truth is, CS is hard to define for me, because it's so ubiquitous. You know some CS. When you do a Google search you're using it. When you're planning out an efficient route for your errands, explaining consequences to your kid, or organizing your photos, you're using computer science. Sure, real study of CS is going to require a computer at some point, and you'll write programs too. But we need to move past the vision of CS as something that only happens at a computer terminal by highly technical geeks. CS is for everyone. 

Where is Computer Science?
Oh, man. It's everywhere! Sure, it's in your computer, but that's too easy an answer. It's also in your phone, your car, your doctor's office, the traffic lights, TV shows, music, art, sports, and your school. Every social media page, website, shopping portal, news feed, and, yes, blog, is backed by CS. It's even in your coffee maker and thermostat. All these things are controlled or directed by CS. Then sure, we can add computers, printers, software, video games, cameras, scanners, etc. to the mix as well. These days it can be harder to find things without CS connections!

Why Should Kids Learn Computer Science?
Did you see how I said it was everywhere? To me, that's reason number one. Let's face it, computers aren't going anywhere. Now, they may look very different by the time our kids grow up (I'd be surprised if they didn't!) After all, if you took an iPhone back to when I was a kid, you could probably claim sorcerous powers. Between quantum computers and the internet of things, the face of computing is changing right in front of us. We've also been through a lot of computer languages in the last 40 years. Who knows what language the coding of the future will be in? But the underlying thought process and methods are what really make up CS and will translate to whatever our kids are using decades from now. 

Whatever Max ends up wanting to do, I bet he'll need some CS background. Seriously, it's hard to find a profession these days that doesn't either require or encourage some CS knowledge. So, if we know that they will need it later, why not start young? We all know how fast kids pick things up, and CS is no exception. We shouldn't be waiting until college to get them started on subjects they will so clearly need. I'm not saying every little kid needs to be an expert programmer by age 8, but exposure is key. They need early and often introduction so it's not some geeks-only subject that they couldn't possibly understand or enjoy; it's just another important tool like math, science, reading, and writing. Plus, and here's the best part, computer science can be really fun. It's what we use to build games, after all. Talk about a subject tailor-made to be enjoyable! 

And here's some facts...
I very much enjoyed doing the Hour of Code with some of my students last month. This was an event promoted by and it was great. It's a movement to get kids (and adults!) to try CS. Even just for an hour. You can do it too! They address better than I did why this is important and I encourage you to check out their site. Here's a few of their facts to whet your appetite:

  • By 2020 the US will have 1.4 million new Computer Science jobs, but only 400,000 new Computer Science graduates. That's 1,000,000 person gap!
  • Those unclaimed jobs will account for $500 billion dollars in wages. Yes, billion. With a B. 
  • 67% of CS jobs are not in the tech sector - this means using CS in other fields
  • CS is the fastest growing field, but less that 2.4% of college graduates get a degree in CS
  • Women in particular are missing out: they now account for 57% of Bachelors degrees, but only 12% of CS degrees
  • 9 out of 10 schools don't offer computer programming
  • The majority of states don't even count CS classes toward High School Graduation requirements

Alright, clearly this is a subject near and dear to my heart. We need to get past the conception of CS as something hard, or only for geeks, or only for boys. All our kids need some exposure to it. Now, I'm not saying we need to get silly here. Kids need to do art, play, get dirty, and run around. They need activities and toys that connect them to nature and the earth and other people. But they also need activities that get them ready for the world. Sometimes that means reading, sometimes math games, sometimes messy science experiments, and sometimes learning some early computer science. I'll be back with ideas of how to do that. 


Friday, January 10, 2014

Touch and Go

A few weeks back, I weeded out the clothes that Aria refuses to wear.  She was left with 4 pairs of pants, 4 tees, and 2 dresses.  None of it is what I would consider cold weather clothing.  In fact, much of it is what I'd consider more suited for summer.  She stopped wearing her Bear Paw boots a few weeks back as well.  I was so excited when I found those boots. It meant I could stop worrying about her poor sockless toes.  She hasn't worn socks in almost a year. So when she suddenly told me that she couldn't wear the boots anymore, something about the sole coming up just enough to irritate her foot, my heart sank.  She's been wearing some hand me down Keen sandals for the last few weeks.  They're good shoes, but again, something more appropriate for summer. 

I have two pairs of nice winter boots, brand new, just out of the box sitting in our apartment but the minute Aria tries them on, she is just as quickly trying to rip them off her feet.  Last week is also when I handed Lesley 10 pairs of handmade undies that I bought for Aria.  She did like them for a bit but one day she woke up and she couldn't stand the feel of them.  If Aria isn't going to wear them then I'd at least like someone to get use out of them.

Maybe something was in the air these past two weeks because 2 of the 4 pairs of pants Aria was willing to wear joined the reject pile as well.  I cried that day.  I know, it sounds absolutely ridiculous.  Crying.  Because of pants. 

But as I added those two pairs of pants to the massive pile of reject clothing, I couldn't help it.  There in that pile were the long sleeve tees, the dresses, the leggings, the sweaters, and hoodies that I had bought in the desperate hope that Aria would wear them.  At first, I just bought what I thought she might like, then only what she had tried on and approved...but I've learned that it doesn't really matter and that clothes that she tries on and approves is just as likely to end up in the reject pile as clothes that she doesn't.  I wasn't crying over the pants as much as I was over the overwhelming and defeating feeling that I am incapable of making my own daughter comfortable.

I feel like a failure. 

The growing pile of clothes is a visual reminder of my failures.  

We had a small success yeaterday.  Aria really wants to learn ballet.  I knew the clothing would be a challenge for her.  But I signed her up because she wanted it so much.  This morning as she pulled on the tights it was too much for her, she crumbled onto the floor pulling at the tights and wailing.  I told her she didn't have to go, that we wouldn't be mad but of course the problem wasn't that she thought she had to go, the problem was that she WANTED to go; but she wanted the clothes to feel right.  I can't say I blame her; I like my clothes to feel right too.  

I tried to hold it together but it's been a long few weeks.  Her sensory issues are harder to manage and I am at the end of my rope; I don't know what to do for her anymore.  I started sobbing.  My heart was incredibly sad for Aria, sad that something as simple as clothing can set the mood for her entire day, that it can potentially stop her from experiencing things she wants to experience.  She did go and she did great but like everything these days it was touch and go.  I left my name and number with the lady at the desk in case Aria had a meltdown in class.  

I've been doing a little research on sensory processing disorders and things are starting to make sense.  Her desire for huge bear hugs that take her breath away, the way she digs her legs under my body at bedtime, her trouble staying still and focusing, her anxiety, her struggles to fall asleep and stay asleep, her love for pillow nests... I didn't know what she needed but Aria has known all along and has sought the things that calm the sensory overload and bring her comfort.  

She starts OT soon.  All my hope hinges on the success of OT.  I'm never going to understand her struggles; I'm never going to know what it feels like to worry if the next sensation will bring pain and discomfort, but I'm hoping I can learn to be the support she so desperately needs. I love this photo of Aria.  This is what I want for my child.  Dancing, experiencing life without her clothes holding her back.

Anyone else have a sensory kid?  How do you support your little one?


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Circuitry for kids (and adults too!)

Ok, when we're thinking of toys for kids, most people's minds don't jump straight to things like circuit building. Not even at my house! Trains, Legos, and dolls are always near the top of my mind. Max is a train fanatic, the whole family enjoys Legos, and well, we make dolls.

But this year for Christmas, this great Snap Circuits Jr set was on Max's list and my wonderful Aunt and Uncle sent it for him. In the joy of Christmas morning, he looked at it, said "cool!" and "thank you" but then swung back to his Legos. It was about 2 days later that we actually opened it up to play with, but then he was hooked.
I see a bit of Evil Genius shining through here. 
We worked through the first 4 projects together, looking at how the circuit needed to make a complete loop to work, how switches worked, what the resistor did. He was really into it. He got the concept a lot faster than I thought he would, though in hindsight it makes a lot of sense. Max has been building train tracks for years, and a good train track works just like a circuit. It needs to be a complete loop, but can have junctions and points that lead off to stations and features. I just had to convince him that sidings wouldn't work and he was off and running.

He said he was hungry, so I left him to go make lunch. Midway through cooking he screeched and I whipped around. No need to be alarmed, though; it was a squeal of glee that he'd gotten the motor and propeller working on his own! He kept right on going through projects without me, then started making up his own circuits. We discussed the difference between connecting things in series and in parallel. We talked about why batteries run out.

This is the first circuit he built on his own (expanded from one in the book). You have to launch the fake candy from the Cut the Rope game into Om Nom's mouth, then the sound of his mouth snapping shut triggers the sound sensor, which completes the circuit and plays a little victory song through the speaker (with a resistor added so it's not too loud). So proud!
Eventually he went back to trains and Legos, but he's returned to the set often and with the same level of excitement. He was feeling limited by the number of pieces, but discovered you can bridge connections with steel wire, so now he hoards paper clips and bits of wire to expand his creations. Which is pretty awesome, honestly. I suppose we'll have to get him an expansion set for his birthday. I heard the buzzing of the motor one evening as I was doing dishes and asked what he was doing. He nonchalantly told me his dinner was hot so he'd built a fan to cool it a bite at a time. And indeed he had.
The Max-designed dinner-cooling fan.
These are a million great reasons to learn the sorts of Computer Science/logic/engineering skills that playing with circuits can teach, which maybe I'll circle back to another day. For now, let's just agree that it's pretty cool that something so educational can be so much fun. I really do love the Snap Circuits set, but if you want something a little more grownup or fancy or modern, check out these other cool new products and kits! Then, when you're ready, go dive into the world of Arduino and get your geek on!

Circuit Stickers are exactly what they sound like: a way to make real, functioning circuits on paper (or just about any surface) using stickers! Just imagine what kinds of projects that opens up!

When you're ready to do more, go get yourself a Circuit Scribe. These pens have conductive ink which let you literally draw out your circuits, then watch them work!

To go a step farther, check out these real, working electronics ready to assemble on a piece of paper:
Wired explains just how that's done. 

There so much great stuff out there! And there's room for both all-natural no-tech toys and these awesome STEM-skill-building goodies in my kid's life. Hopefully yours too!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Puppy love

After much deliberation, we decided it was time Aria got a puppy.  We did our research and decided we wanted a beagle or beagle mix. 

We kept our eyes on to see if any rescue dogs meeting our specifications popped up.  Two days ago a sweet four month beagle mix suddenly popped up at the oregon humane society.  Phil immediately ran up there to put a hold on her and we all visited her yesterday.  We kept it a secret from Aria. We told her we were just going to help socialize the puppies. 

During the puppy visitation, the oregon humane society worker mentioned adoption.  Aria looked up and whispered, "adopt?"  From her face I could tell she was confused and hopeful but trying hard not to get too excited.  When we finally told her that she was the proud owner of a little puppy, she beamed.

Aria named her Tootsie.   I am excited to watch their relationship grow over the years.  


Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Happy New Year everyone! How am I always surprised at the arrival of New Year's? I mean, it's always a week after Christmas, and yet every year I'm surprised when it shows up. I think I maybe get so Christmas focused (especially gift making) that when I shake it off and emerge on the other side, I realize I haven't given New Year's a single thought. However, as a mom of a little one, we don't do all the much to celebrate. Sometimes we are awake for the big 12:00, sometimes not. Sometime we toast with something, sometimes not. It just doesn't factor as a big holiday anymore. This year I was thrilled to be heading over to Mom's for board games and dinner. We had a blast!

But then there's the other part of the New Year's tradition: the making of resolutions. Everyone asks if you're making them, and I've shied away from doing so for many years. This year, however, I'm actually making one. I am resolving to try to care less about what other people think. I know that sounds a little odd, so perhaps I'll explain.

I am not perfect. This is not shocking, since none of us are. But since I am not perfect, I make plenty of mistakes or choices that someone else might not agree with. And human nature means these things are pointed out to me. Often repeatedly. And then I obsess about making the wrong choices and get all stressed out about it which leads to more stuff that will be pointed out to me and stress me out and and and and ... you can see where this is going.

So, I either need to stop making any decisions that people will have problems with (impossible), or get people to stop commenting on my life (also impossible), or not care so much. I'm going to try not to care so much. It would be easier if it was people I didn't like, or bad advice, or something, but it's not. It's usually good advice from good people. But it's sometimes impossible to follow, goes against what I believe, or completely contradicts the other good advice I've gotten.

It's also over quite a range of topics. How we're raising Max is one. Every parent out there knows that from the moment you mention having a child you get a never-ending stream of advice from everyone in the world. If your friends and family don't have enough to say the media will gladly step in to boss you around. The same is true for diet, general health, wardrobe, career choices, financial decisions, etc.

For example, I am overweight. This is true. But this also seems to mean that I'm announcing to the world that I need nutritional advice. I'm really glad your vegan/raw/vegetarian/paleo/atkins/no-carbs/dairy-free/low-fat/gluten-free/organic/heart-friendly/free-range/etc diet works for you, but that doesn't mean it's the right choice for me. So I'll gladly listen to how great it's been for you (and really mean it when I say that's great), right up until you say "you should try it" and then I'll either wander off or change the subject.

And yes, Max sometimes talks back (he's 5), or whines (he's 5), or runs around going crazy (did I mention he's 5?), and I'm very happy that your child does none of those things, but that doesn't mean I need a lecture on what I'm doing wrong. He's a kid. A great kid actually, and if I need advice I'll ask.

Because here's the thing about all that advice: I have a tendency to hear it not as help, but as criticism. And that's a me thing. I know you're trying to show you care by offering all these ideas, but I mostly hear that you think I'm doing it wrong. Which hurts. Freinds and family, please don't feel like this is about you. It's not - it's about me. I love you guys, I just need to listen my inner voice more.

So my resolution is to try and let all that flow over me without taking it personally. We're all different and what works for some doesn't work for all. I'm just going to try to tune out of other people's words a bit, and tune into my own inner voice a bit more. I may not have all the answers, but I'm doing pretty good. We're all alive, happy, and healthy over here. So the best way to manage my stress going forward is to care less about those outside voices.

I think we could all stand to listen to ourselves a little more and the outside world a little less. And yes, I see the irony of me giving advice to listen to less advice. What can you do? Human nature again.

Love you all! Happiness in the New Year!