Parenting with Avatars, Part II

Lately, Ethan refuses to allow the family to play a Wii or PS2 game in peace.  Instead of running away as seen in my first blog post, Parenting with Avatars, he now has enough strength to engage the girls in full combat.  He clings to my leg as I try to race down Kyra on the Wii Active Sports Obstacle Course.  He tackles Kyra and tries to yank the Wii controller out of her death grip.

If I strap the nunchuk onto his leg and teach him what buttons to push on the controller, he gets stage fright. He’s loving his moment in the spotlight, but he has no idea what to do.

Mostly, he throws such a ruckus that we give up our game.  I guess I would too if everyone was having fun, except me.

The solution emerged unexpectantly we hile we helped my sister-in-law Alice get married this past weekend in Washington, D.C.  One evening as I put finishing touches on Alice’s wedding program, laughter erupted in the next room.  The hardwood floor beneath my feet quaked from a stampede of little feet.  I could hear my nephews, nine-year-old Matthew and seven-year-old Jason, chanting, “Go Kyra.  Go Ethan.”

Their mother, my sister-in-law Kay, handed me a beer and said, “You’ve got to check this out!”

I was determined to print Alice’s program that night, so I kept saying, “Okay, I’ll be right there.” Finally, Thomas grabbed me by the shoulders and led me away from the laptop, across the kitchen, to the living room where Kyra, Ethan, Jason, and Matthew twisted right and left on the balls of their feet in front of a stage of avatars.  It looked like the “walk it out” hip-hop move I had tried to master on the Wii Michael Jackson The Experience, except they had no controllers in their hands.

Kay pointed at the lead dancer, a glamorous red head decked out in a short body hugging dress and gladiator boots, and said, “Kyra picked out that avatar all by herself.  I don’t even know how to do that yet.”

“Mommee, look!” Kyra squealed in delight.  “I picked a princess.”  Stunned, I looked at Thomas and he raised his eyebrows.  He had been trying to get her interested in girly stuff from the day she was born.  They’ve had intense negotiations where he would ask, “Do you love Daddy?”  If her answer was “No” then he would say, “Fine, I’ll get you Princess Jasmine for your birthday.”  She’d start crying and saying, “No, don’t say Princess.  I want cars and trains only!”  He’d tease her with “How about Princess Aurora?  Cinderella? Mulan?”  She’d throw her arms around him in a state of panic and repeat, “I love you” over and over until he stopped saying her most hated word.

While Kay, Alice, Thomas, and I danced with the kids, I studied this phenomenon: Kinect, a next generation gaming experience that could not only entertain and educate kids spanning two years of age to fifty but also keep them active and inspire confidence to venture beyond their comfort zone.

In seconds, it was clear that everybody was having fun and nobody was getting left out.  In minutes, the whole extended family sweated a full workout.  In days, I appreciated not having to hunt for missing controllers or buy new ones because the kids got them too sticky. In a week, we had mastered complicated dance moves with Dance Central and with Kinect Adventures! water rafted some of the world’s steepest rapids.

I don’t know how I missed the hype on this controller-free, battery-free, cable-free, motion-sensing, body and voice tracking gadget that rolled out in November 2010.  Priced around $150, Kinect seemed affordable enough.  Only you also have to own the Xbox to make it work, so now you’re talking about a total of at least $300.  And that doesn’t include the cost of the games and the fact that I already owned the Wii and PS2.  So, nope, I wasn’t going to purchase the Kinect anytime soon.

But the educational possibilities of this device is certainly mouthwatering.  Microsoft announced in December that soon Windows PCs would feature Kinect technology.  I couldn’t wait for a Kinect tutor.  Virtual futuristic learning for my kids.  And for me (shh, don’t tell anyone), designing my own Superhero suit in Tony Stark style.

If you own Kinect, here are some suggestions from Kinect and Your Kids:  What Works, What Won’t:

  1. Mount the Kinect camera box above your TV, as high as 6 feet if possible.
  2. Manually adjust the camera to tilt down a bit.
  3. Demarcate the play area somehow to avoid injuries.

If you don’t, does this gaming technology sound appealing?

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No Guests at Our House, Please

You wake up at 7am to make coffee for your husband and dress your oldest for Kindergarten.  You get them out the door, then settle down to get some work done.  Usually, you only have time to check your email before your toddler wanders into your lap.  He says, “I’m hungry Mommee.”

In the kitchen, he doesn’t like any of the options you present.  He tosses his milk across the room splattering smelly stains across the dining room rug.  He smears applesauce on his placemat and paints it on his hair.  While you’re cooking him breakfast, he knocks over the Nestle Quik Strawberry Powder.  He cries for Sesame Street.  He says, “I’m mad.”

An hour later, his tummy full, his body bathed, you settle him on the couch with his favorite stuffed animal.  You try to meet a deadline, but he keeps crying for you to play with him.  He drags his toys into your room and lines them up beside your laptop.  He climbs up onto your chair and starts to doodle on your papers.  Before you know it, he’s dropping paperclips down your shirt.

Fine, you promise to play with him.  He’s holding your pinky and walking you up the stairs to his train table.  You trip on DVDs that he’s ripped out of cases, navigate through a maze of riding toys that you now regret purchasing.  The family room that you and your husband tidied last night is littered with all the now unfolded clothes that you hadn’t had time to put away, Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snack wrappers, half-eaten GoGurts, and all the toys that the kids are supposed to put away into two specially designated storage bins before their bedtime.

You don’t know when he had time to make such a mess.  And boy, are you mad that your daughter taught him how to help himself to snacks out of the fridge and pantry.

By the time, you are upstairs, you’ve got bigger problems.

This past week, you had tried some tips from “Why Kids Should Clean and What They Can Do?” and “Lessons in Cleaning House.”  You gave each kid a responsibility chart and taught them how to do some simple chores like put the silverware away, set the table, and tidy their room.  The kids thought chores were fun and each day they competed with each other to see who could clean their room faster.  And then you agreed to host a party tomorrow, so that a rigid deadline might get the house in order.

But somehow, maybe in the middle of the night, the kids undid all of your hard work and actually quadrupled the mess.  All those books that you patiently showed your toddler how to place on his shelf are now strewn across both their rooms, the bathroom, and down the stairs.  The Legos that he had helped you sort into bins based upon size and color had been dumped in their beds.  They had also broken into your scrapbook room and tore up your expensive paper.  Stampin Up! Markers were uncapped and bleeding onto the carpet.

Messy House, Messy Minds” has you worried about a research study that stated “household order taps a more fundamental characteristic of parents or households, such as maternal industriousness, planning ability, or conscientiousness, that gives rise to both orderliness and better reading skills in children.” Meanwhile, your husband seems to complain all the time that he can’t think because the house is such a mess.  The two of you simply can’t keep up with your kids’ combustive superpowers of mayhem and mess.

Just when you are about to give up because there is no way you can sleep tonight from the mountains of cleaning to be done and work commitments due.  Just when you remember why you never invite guests or throw parties since your toddler started to walk; you climb into your daughter’s bed and pull the covers over your head and discover a scrap of your expensive paper, where she had written “I love you Mommy” over and over.

Have you discovered the kryptonite for your kid’s super ability to create mayhem and mess?

If You’re Doing Nothing on Valentine’s

I was never one of your anti-Valentine types.  Before I got married, boys wined and dined me from morning to night.  Sometimes, I had breakfast, second breakfast, coffee, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and dancing booked months in advance.  Thomas wooed me with candlelight dinners he whipped up in his kitchen or a panoramic view of woods and rivers glittering in moonlight as we sipped cocoa on the edge of a cliff.

Even after we had kids, Thomas always made sure my Valentine’s started with an enormous box of fresh flowers that somebody delivered to the house.  We usually got a sitter and enjoyed a quiet dinner together and a movie.  Sometimes, I surprised him with a weekend away from the kids.  But in recent years as our kids got older and the bills started stacking up and our days became packed with school concerts and ballet and swim lessons, I started telling Thomas not to do anything for Valentine’s.

I’m not sure when I lost my expectation for elaborate Valentine adventures.  Sadly, I got practical, I guess.  Valentine’s is expensive, especially in Alaska when you are far away from family.  Not only do I have to expend weeks of energy searching for a sitter willing to watch two kids for an extended period of time (one time I asked my husband to take care of the arrangements and we ended up bringing the kids with us), but the kind of adventures I wanted (snow machining, snowboarding, ice climbing, summer plans to photograph bears at the McNeil River) cost a ton.

My mother used to tell my dad not to do anything for Valentine’s Day and then got upset if he really didn’t do anything for Valentine’s.  I don’t play that kind of game, but Tuesday’s show, Love and Relationships, got me thinking.  Have Thomas and I tangled ourselves in parenting and forgotten about the point of Valentine’s Day?  Do we do enough throughout the year to express our love for each other?

Dr. Susan Newman recommended: “We get caught up with our children and forget we have a partner… One thing you can do is to say every night after the children are in bed, we are going to sit down with each other and talk about something else.  You can make it a time to have a cup of coffee.  You can make it a time to have a glass of wine, just the two of you, talk about your day, talk about what’s bothering you. But make it a rule, it can’t be related to the children.  It has to be related to the two of you.”

After our kids are in bed, Thomas and I would honestly rather watch our DVR shows or play PlayStation or read a book than talk.  We’re exhausted from sleep wars, screaming kids, and tidying up a house that seems eternally in a tornadic toy mess.   We’re trying to unwind from our day, not wind ourselves into a possible argument.

Lately, it seems like we get into a fight every time we try to talk.    Maybe, by the time we squeeze in “talking,” our patience is thinned out and as taut as a drum.  On the show, Les and Berneice Kelm claim they never argued in sixty-four years! While I don’t quite believe that’s possible, the Kelms are right that as you grow older, it’s a different kind of love.  You have to take care of each other more.  Everybody does have to give a bit.

The Kelms interview reminded me that I had asked the attendees of my wedding shower to write us marriage recipes or any advice they have about staying married forever.  I’m not sure why I haven’t read them yet but I figured what better timing than now, on Valentine’s Day, when Thomas and I are not doing anything.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Let your children know how much you love each other every day.
  • Think about meeting your spouse’s needs before your own.
  • Remind yourself that attitude makes a difference.
  • Say you are sorry.
  • Keep your memories green.

What are some of yours?

Chutzpah

Last Friday, Thomas and I received an email from Kyra’s school announcing a Brown Bag Concert series every day the following week.  I noticed that four of her classmates were performing.   As we brushed our teeth that night, I remember telling Thomas that I felt terrible.  First, I was clueless about whether there was a sign-up sheet or how students were selected.  Second, I had started to teach Kyra piano for about a month fairly informally on the weekends.  And most of that time, we would get into fights because she insisted on figuring out the notes on her own.  Third, having hated performing as a child, I couldn’t believe that I felt Kyra was missing out on something.

Thomas said, “Well, I didn’t know about the concert series either.  Besides, I would never perform if I didn’t have to.”

“Me too!  So why am I even upset that Kyra isn’t performing?”

He laughed.  “Is she even ready?”

“No,” I said.  “We’ve been kinda goofing off with the whole piano thing.  I wanted to make it a fun thing.  So we haven’t really had consistent lessons.”

“Well, there you go.  Why make things stressful?”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, twisting floss tighter around my finger. “But, I can’t help feeling like I should’ve done more.  You know with her piano lessons or preparing for the concert.  I’m worried that she’ll miss out on an experience.”

Unwinding the floss, I continued, “But then, I always hated my mother for making me perform.  All the stomach aches, stage fright, obsessing about the mistakes I made in front of the whole world!  No, it’s better this way.  I’m happy that she doesn’t have to suffer through all that and I’m relieved that I don’t have to stress about her performing.”

Thomas just shook his head, “You are so confusing!”

When I picked Kyra up from school on Thursday, she grabbed my hand and asked, “Mommee, how come my friends got to play the piano and I don’t?”

“Do you want to ask your teacher?”

“Okay!” She pranced off to her teacher’s side.  I helped her get the words out and nearly shriveled when I heard the teacher say, “There was this big sign-up sheet in the front of the school.”

Before I could apologize, the teacher said, “You know what?  Robert decided not to do perform tomorrow, so if you want, you can have his slot.  Or even better, you can always play the piano during show and tell.”

Kyra drifted off while the teacher and I explored various options.  So when I put Kyra’s jacket on and asked her what she wanted to do, I was surprised to hear her say, “Play tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I want to,” she said without any hesitation and then chased after her brother.

That night, she ordered all of us to sit down and be her audience.  On her first run through the song, I heard a few mistakes and tried to play along, but she snapped at me, “No, Mommee.  Don’t touch the piano. Now, sing.”

We tried.  But after a few attempts, she said, “I play by myself.” And that was that.  She ate her strawberries and said she was going to bed, “I’m ready.  I’m good.”

Thomas and I looked at each other with apprehension.  She had a tendency to start the song, stop, turn to her audience and say, “I made a mistake.”

In the morning, she practiced the song one more time repeating it three times.  I told her she only had to play it once, but she insisted, “No, I like three.”

Then, my baby girl was off to school and I didn’t see her until the show.  She lounged in her teacher’s lap, cool as a cat.  No fear.  Not even in need of any Mom or Dad hugs.

When the music teacher announced her surprise performance, she ran up to the piano and climbed onto the bench.  Then with legs swinging back and forth, she played it through once and paused to check out her audience.  Then repeated the song two more times.  The music teacher winked at me because we had talked right before the show and after hearing Kyra’s attitude the night before, she told me I was in trouble.  She said she was exactly like Kyra when she was little.

Kyra performing piano

Kyra finished off her performance with a flamboyant bow to the cheers and applause from her entire school.  I watched Thomas’ face and saw him beaming proudly at his daughter. I bet I was even more transparent.

We still can’t believe the chutzpah of this girl.  Whatever might be the source of her audacity, we agreed that this moment was one of our proudest parenting miracles.  The next morning, for the first time ever, she cleaned up her room without anyone asking!  Maybe kids innately know when they have achieved something on their own and it’s a major boost to their confidence?