Screen Time Fight Play-by-Play

Round One — Kyra patiently circles Mommee.  “Can I play computer?”  she asks.  “Can I watch TV?  Can I play Wii? Can I play with Mommee phone?” Freezing rain pounds on the windows reminding the fighters that there will be no respite from school, errands, or outdoor play.  Mommee and Kyra collide with combos.  Finally, Mommee tries, “How about we practice piano instead?” Kyra resets and says, “Okay.”

Pings and pangs echo through the house.  Referee Ethan leaps in and hits a note here and there.  Mommee works for the takedown.  Just as Mommee has Kyra in a seated position, Kyra points to her piano book and says, “But Mommee, it says ‘Listen to the CD and point to each clef as it is named.’”  The last time we played a CD was maybe ten years ago?  Mommee ponders her next move.  “There is no CD player in the house,” Mommee tells Kyra.

“But Mommee, can’t we play it on the computer?” Kyra scoops up and dumps Mommee, who’s quickly back up.

Mommee runs her fingers up and down the front of the desktop, “Oh no, I don’t think this computer comes with a player?”  Ethan is becoming restless.  He wants action.  Mommee pushes on the front panel and nothing opens.  (Note: This is a new computer as seen in Raising Techno Addicts and Mommee has never operated it before.)

“There’s no way we can play this CD,” Mommee says.  The ref is about to award it to Mommee, when Kyra knocks Mommee off balance.  Her little finger stretches in for the kill and she presses on a precise point on the panel where the DVD Drive tray pops out.  “Yes, there is,” she says triumphantly.

We are one hour in. Kyra has several songs from the CD memorized and she asks Mommee to play some of the songs on the piano with her.  Ethan quits.  Mommee defeats Kyra or maybe, it’s a draw?

Round Two —While cutting celery for a stew, Mommee hears giggling wafting out of the playroom.  The kids were supposed to be upstairs playing trains.  Mommee is stunned with a quick right hook.  How did they crack the password Thomas had set on their computer?

Kyra and Ethan do not hear Mommee closing the distance.  Kyra asks Ethan, “Okay, which fish is blue? This one?”  Ethan points at the computer screen and says, “Yes.”   Kyra says, “Good boy.”  The seal on the computer rubs his tummy and says, “Delicious!”  Ethan repeats, “Dee Li Cious!”

Mommee looks for an opening to drag Kyra to the mat, but gets distracted.  The computer announces that the kids successfully completed a game with the learning goal of “Geometry: Level One.”  Before Mommee can react, Curious George appears in a park beside a lake.  The kids drop in rocks or pine cones or twigs and learn how weight and size changes the amount of water in the lake.

Mommee paws a few punches and circles.  “Did you ask Mommee if you can play the computer?”

The kids giggle.  “But Mommee, its PBS!”  Kyra jabs back.  It was one of the sites we bookmarked for her.

She clicks on the “Info” link which displays: PBS KIDS PLAY!, an educational subscription service that provides kids with skill-building games.

Mommee surfs around the site until she finds a Progress Chart displaying six different skill sets:  Creativity, Healthy Development, Language, Literacy, Math, Science, and Social Studies.  Under Social Studies, Mommee clicks on “Rules and Fairness” and the Berenstain Brother and Sister Bear smile on either side of a “Chore List.” Each bear has a bucket attached to a scale and Kyra has to figure out how many hard and easy chores to place in each fairly. “Hanging up clothes.  Ethan can do that,” Kyra says.  “Take out trash.  Wash the car. Those are mine.  Wash dishes…uh, where’s MaMa Bear?  I want to give you a chore.”

Thomas pokes his head into the playroom, while Mommee shucks off a takedown and turns it into one of her own. “Oh, honey.  We didn’t hear you come home?”

“See, Daddee?  It’s good for kids. It’s edumacational.”  Kyra lands a massive left upper cut.

“I don’t know how Kyra found a free trial of these learning games, but you gotta check this out.  It’s so cool!”

Thomas shakes his head and announces Kyra defeats Mommee via TKO.

Tell me some clever things your kids have done to win screen time?


Kit, Kat, Kick

“Oh, I’m Skippy Kyra Jones,

With a mind of my own,

And I’ll bounce on my bed for hours.

I know I’m a cat,

But forget about that…”

Kyra sings the last song from Skippyjon Jones and tosses it off the side of the bed. Strands of her long black hair tickle my nose.  I kiss her warm little head, nestled in the crook of my right shoulder.  She reaches for my face with her lips and plants a kiss on my nose.

“Pointy Kiss,” she giggles.

I look forward to this time of the day, where warm beneath a comforter, I get some one-on-one time with my kids mixed with a dose of education before I tuck them to bed.

Ethan is supposed to be in the crook of my left shoulder, but lately, he doesn’t seem interested in anything but food.

Ever since Halloween, Ethan’s first words in the morning to me are: “Kit Kat?”  And when that doesn’t produce results, he runs into the kitchen and tries to put away the silverware in our dishwasher.  He has seen Kyra receive a Kit Kat for doing house chores, so he figures that that might butter me up.

Eventually, he gives up and demands, “Snack?” When I offer him nutritious stuff like rice, meat, and vegetables, he stamps his little feet impatiently.  Sometimes, he will drag a chair over to our pantry and help himself to Kyra’s lunch items: boxes of organic juices or fruit snacks.

Fortunately, he hasn’t learned how to open these products, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve failed as a parent in teaching my child how to eat right.  Sure, after enduring several tantrums, I eventually get him to eat what I cook.  But this boy is extremely selective.  He throws out the rice and vegetables and only consumes meat.

I consulted my sister-in-law, Kay, who is a mother of two boys, seven and nine.  She always has an answer for any problem you might be experiencing.  Been there, done that.  I love it!  So, she suggested not stocking the pantry with products I don’t want my kids to eat.   When shopping, teach them how to read nutrition labels.  For example, she won’t let her boys put anything in their cart that lists sugar as the top three ingredients. Also, set up rules, like you can’t eat dessert until you finish your fruit.

Finally Kay said, “Try explaining that certain foods are ‘brain foods’ that help them become smarter! And kids need more brain food than grown-ups because their brains are growing.  Kids seem to like the argument that they are more special than grown-ups anyway!”

I couldn’t wait to try these out, except my first challenge I realized was weaning myself and Thomas off junk food.

“So, where did your brother go?” I asked Kyra.

She wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “I don’t know, Mommee.  I love you.”

“I love you too,” I cooed.

“The girls are sleepy,” Kyra said as she closed her eyes.

As I started to relax in her embrace, I heard tiny feet pitter pattering down the hall to my bedroom.

“Mommee!” Ethan cried.  He thundered into the room and leaped onto the side of my bed so that his baby face could loom above mine.

“Time for bed, Ethan.”

“Uh,” he grunted and pointed at his mouth.

“No, Kit Kat,” I said wearily.  He had bounced mercilessly on my stomach when we started to read books, begging for candy, even though earlier today, he had succeeded in manipulating half of one out of me.

“Uh,” he insisted.  This time, he opened his mouth as wide as he could inches from my nose.

With disbelief, I could smell the chocolate oozing from his gut.  This was not a hungry innocent boy asking his mom to feed him.  This was a triumphant two-year-old, who got his way.  He either charmed one from Daddy or figured out how to get inside our baby proof cabinet where I had hid the plastic pumpkin heavy with their Halloween stash.  And instead of secretly swallowing it so that I was none the wiser, he actually wanted me to know that he could circumvent my rules!

As we get ready for next Tuesday’s topic on nutrition, please share with us how you get your kid to eat healthy?

Kids, Craters, and Cliffs: Part II

We pulled into the empty parking lot at the Pioneer Ridge trailhead.   A symphony of snores rose from the backseat of our truck.  Thomas and I looked at each other and started to laugh.

The trailhead wasn’t more than 30 miles from our home, but it had taken us five hours to get ready. “I’m exhausted,” I admitted to Thomas.

“Me too!” he said.

The kids had been a terror that morning.  Ethan had scaled my bookshelf and smashed a ceramic figurine that was very important to me.  When we asked Ethan to say sorry, he had furrowed his eyebrows, pointed his index finger at us, and defiantly said, “No.”

Kyra knocked over her bowl of cereal, splashing milk all over my suede dining chair.

Then, the two of them fought over a sealed plastic cup of diced peaches on my couch.  “Mommee, we made a mess but I cleaned it up,” Kyra said as sticky syrup dripped down between the cushions.

“Time to go hiking!”  As soon as we woke them, they both started to complain.  Kyra didn’t like the gloves Daddy put on her.  Ethan refused to wear his jacket, hat, or gloves.  He also felt he was too old for the backpack carrier.

Fortunately, I had packed three different styles of gloves, so Kyra found one that put her in the mood for hiking.  “Come on guys,” she ordered and started running up the trail. Ethan decided if Big Sister thought this was cool, than he did too.  He allowed Daddy to gear him up and ran after his sister, “Wait for DeeDee (Little brother in Chinese.)”

I pulled out my camera and started to shoot a video.  This was Ethan’s first time hiking on his own two feet.  He was the late bloomer in the family for falling in love with the outdoors.  We probably traumatized Ethan at one-month-old, when we nursed and changed him on the edge of Mount Healy while Kyra rolled cars down the steep trail towards his face, screaming “Whee!”

Ethan waddled up to the first log step.  It took him a long time to crawl over it.  When he finally stood up, the dried leaves on the trail made his footing unstable. “Wooooah.  Help me Mommee.”

I was still filming, so my husband gave Ethan a hand.  He looked up at his father pitifully and said, “Help me Daddee.”

But when Thomas asked him whether he wanted to sit in the backpack, Ethan said, “Nope.”

I lingered behind, enjoying this scene: Father and son walking hand-in-hand.  My daughter a brown speeding blur up ahead on the winding steep trail.  Leaves embellishing their bodies with glints of gold.

This was how we adventure travelled now.

When I caught up to my family, Thomas struggled with stuffing Ethan into the backpack carrier.  Kyra sat on a fallen tree with her arms crossed.  “I need some snacks.  I need energy.”

A nearby trail marker indicated that we had only gone 200 feet.  The first of four picnic tables, which offered panoramic views of Marcus Baker, Denali, Mount Goode, and Knik Glacier, was about 11,000 feet away.  I handed each kid a bag of organic fruit snacks and hurried us along.

When I had hiked this trail with my friend Erica and her dog, we fell several times on the slick muddy slopes and barely reached the first picnic table perched on the side of Pioneer Ridge around 2,000 feet in elevation.  So, I had my doubts about bringing the kids.  I guess I am not as brave as my mother who took us everywhere no matter how kid unfriendly or dangerous it was.  But Thomas convinced me that it would be fun to bring the kids.  And I thought, maybe, we could capture that Christmas card photo that showcased why we call Alaska our home.

About half a mile away from our goal, Ethan freaked out.  We changed his diaper and fed him, but instead he just cried harder.

“That’s it.  We’re turning back,” Thomas announced.

“But, we’re so close.  You can see a twenty-six mile long glacier up there!” I said.

“Let’s go!” Kyra yelled.  Reluctantly, we turned her around and my little trooper insisted on leading us down in a similar fashion to the way she led us up:   No tears except when Thomas or I got in front of her.

Later, after I swallowed my disappointment, I realized that in Kyra’s eyes, she successfully led the family up and down the highest mountain she’s ever climbed before.  Even though she fell every few steps, she bragged about her collection of rocks and twigs and how climbing this mountain was better than school.

How do you adventure travel with your kids?  And have you been disappointed or surprised with the outcome?

Kids, Craters, and Cliffs: Part I

Before we had kids, Thomas and I saved every penny for adventure travel.  On our first date, I captured his heart with stories of mountain climbing in the Lake District and backpacking through Europe in search of Holy Grail sites.   He hooked me with tales of eating fried scorpions and frogs that poured down from the skies in China and scuba diving in Phuket.  The year before our marriage, we trekked the Inca trail through the Andes to Machu Picchu.

We moved to Alaska with plans to summit Denali and jump off helicopters strapped to our boards.  One month after we settled in Eagle River, I got pregnant with Kyra.  Over margaritas (don’t worry, mine was virgin), I remember crying to the Conaboys, a young couple we met on the Alaska ferry, that I had ruined the adventures we planned together.

Fortunately, the Conaboys didn’t seem to mind babies or pregnant ladies.  And Thomas reassured me that he would strap the baby on his back so we could continue to travel.  In photographs, it looks like I snowmachined, snowshoed, fished, hiked, and camped my way through those long nine months.  Somehow, like DJs, we managed to beat match Kyra into a single and couples-without-kids crowd.

One day, I’m sure Kyra will ask me questions about some of the photos in her baby album.  Decked in a pink dress, five-month-old Kyra crawled among a pile of snowboards in an Alyeska cabin rocking with Air force pilots.  Gore-Tex overboots nearly up to her hips, eighteen-month-old Kyra teetered across Ruth Glacier towards a Cessna 185.

Either I was in denial, afraid that adventure travels had to end with parenthood. Or I had forgotten that my mother made it work.  She was proud of being the kind of mother that never went anywhere without her kids.  Every summer, my parents, my brother Jon-Jon, and I road tripped through nearly all the national parks in the United States and Canada.

My dad would watch nervously as MaMa photographed us on the edge of cliffs.  She would march up to park rangers and demand, “What’s the most thrilling adventure you can offer?”  And if their answer was too boring, she searched for unnamed caves that we could squeeze into.

My shelves are lined with scrapbooks capturing our horseback rides down narrow trails carved into canyons or frightened faces as the raft we clung to disappeared into white waters.

To this day, my dad claims that MaMa nearly killed us in Death Valley National Park, “You know your mother.  Leap first, then think.”

The four of us slid our way down reddish orange slopes of a 600 foot deep volcanic crater.  What seemed like a few minutes to get down turned into an excruciating steep return trip involving hours of taking a step and sliding backwards.  I remember dehydration, hunger, and panic.   My dad spread-eagled on the silt and sediment, dying beneath a desert sun.

I’ve always considered this story an example of why it’s not advisable to take kids on some kinds of adventures, until my godmother gave me an extraordinary gift: a tape cassette my mother had mailed her more than twenty-eight years ago.  Without a tape player in the house, I had to spend a lot of money just to digitize the recording.  But what MaMa preserved was priceless.  To the nine-year-old Leslie, Ubehebe crater was not a near-death experience.  Jon-Jon and I sounded excited, triumphant.

Jon-Jon:  My father fainted in there.

MaMa:  Almost.

Leslie:  Well, we called him and he wouldn’t answer. Then, after a while, he raised his hand.  I was the first one to be up.

Jon-Jon: I was the second one to be…third one to be up.

MaMa: What Daddy was doing down there?

Leslie: Lying on the floor.

Jon-Jon: Sleeping.

Leslie: Sweating.

Jon-Jon: My sister had to go all the way down to get our stuff, climb up, with the camera and the purse!

Leslie: That’s why I’m very tired after that.  And that’s how…

MaMa: Were you scared?

Leslie: No, I wasn’t scared because I knew I could get up.

Jon-Jon: I was scared too.

MaMa:  I was scared.  I thought I would never make it up there.

Leslie: I was just sweating real hard. I even saved some rocks and I had to carry them up while I run up.  Some boys took the easy trail.

Perhaps, all the risks MaMa exposed us to made me the woman I am today. To put us in the mood for tomorrow’s addition of “Family Travel,” tell me some crazy adventures you’ve taken your kids on?  And whether it was worth it?

Parenting with Avatars

When our garage door rumbles open, my kids and I race down the stairs and try to greet Thomas before he has even climbed out of his truck.  Kyra runs circles around my husband and sings, “Daddee is home. Daddee is home.”

I can barely hold onto squirmy Ethan as he leaps into my husband’s arms.  By the time he steps through the door, the kids have plastered him with kisses and his tummy is teased by something yummy wafting from the kitchen.  Then, we all sit down together for a meal (no toys or technology allowed at the table, no T.V. on as background noise) and start our family time by asking each other how our day was.

This routine has become a family tradition until Thomas bought me a Wii for my birthday.

I imagine there are days when Thomas pulls his truck into the garage and hears a thunderstorm of feet from above.  He makes his way into the basement and nearly trips over Ethan frantically trying to put on his shoes.

“Daddee is home!” Ethan might say in relief as he clings to Thomas’ legs.  He babbles in baby talk about how he tried to stop the madness by grabbing hold of our ankles and got shoved rudely aside.  Thomas comforts his son while faintly he can hear his girls laughing hysterically and screaming, “I’m gonna beat you!”

The boys climb the stairs warily and peek into the living room, where the girls have taken over.  Long hair damp with sweat tossed in all directions. WII nunchuk in one hand, controller in the other, flickering like butterfly knives in our hands.  “Hi Daddee!” we say without taking our eyes off the T.V. screen, where our avatars are paddle surfing or kickboxing or running an obstacle course.

Ethan points his little index finger at us and Thomas laughs.  “Who’s winning?” he asks.

“Kyra, of course!” I say through gritted teeth.

My five-year-old daughter loves to challenge me in on Wii Active Sports.  A strange game, I would think for a toddler to enjoy.  But lately, after we get home from school, she insists, “Mommy, let’s exercise.”

I don’t think I taught her that word.  But I do know that she has seen me squeeze in a workout during Ethan’s naps and somehow convinced me to allow her to operate the controls in between each exercise, which evolved into Kyra becoming my workout partner and coach.

“Go Mommy Go!” Kyra says as her little feet easily carry her across the finish line.  Then she collapses on the floor in laughter.  “I win. I win. I win.”

When she’s done with that and I’m still huffing and puffing, she says, “You can do it.”

Thomas and Ethan settle down on the couch with a snack and add their cheers.  I can feel my face heat up.  My thighs are burning and my heart pounds so loud I wonder if everyone can hear.

I turn to Thomas and plead, “Can you finish this for me?  I gotta start dinner.”

He smiles and says, “Nope.  I’m good right here.”

My husband doesn’t seem to mind that dinner is served late.  We still have our intimate family dinner and Kyra and I got our Mommy and Me time.  However, I hope I’m not sacrificing any child development with my desire to shed some pounds.

The idea that my daughter and I can raft or water surf in our own living room is pretty cool. I do have to be careful about answering the phone during a game.  One time, Kyra erased my avatar and all my profile settings!

I am a closet gaming geek, so perhaps I’m a bit more flexible with my kids and video games.  But  I do feel a bit better that experts have recommended WII games like Baby and Me as one of the top 10 cool tech toys for kids.

As the WII is predicted to become the bestselling console in the holiday season, I would love to know whether other parents play video games with their kids.  How do you turn it into an educational or social development experience?

This is the first post for “Love and eMotion.”  Many thanks to my friend Laurie Register for coming up with this snappy title.  It’s important to me that this blog serves the community and makes a difference in your lives, so let me know whether you have any questions or topics you’d like me to address.