A Mother who had Time to Play

This will be my sixth year as a mother, and still Mother’s Day has never felt like my day.  Since 1994, the year my mother died of liver cancer, I have dreaded a holiday that used to be my favorite.

Weeks before Mother’s Day, my brother and I would start planning an elaborate multi-media handmade card, which always had to be bigger and better than the year before.  We wrote poems, stitched quilts, painted watercolors, crafted origami…all hosed with plenty of glitter.

Mom made things extra difficult for us because she couldn’t wait until Mother’s Day to see what we were up to.  She enjoyed sneaking up on us and trying to get a peek.  And if she succeeded, then I would insist on starting a new project, even if it was the night before Mother’s Day.

When my dad begged us to stop this ridiculous game, both my mother and I simply said, “We can’t help it.”

Mother’s Day was not only an artistic challenge with a splash of espionage but the one day my mother let me pamper her, while she made the other 364 days of the year an exciting adventure.   On a weekday, she might pick us up from school and drive us straight to a movie theatre where we watched two or three films in a row and feasted on buttered popcorn and hotdogs for dinner.  On summer break, while Dad dozed in the passenger seat, she might drive super-duper-fast on bumpy dirt roads.

She held herself to a standard painted on a wood plaque in our kitchen:

I hope my children will look back on today
And see a mother who had time to play.
There will be years for cleaning and cooking
But children grow up while we’re not looking.

She also had a way of showing up when I was in distress, as if an invisible Bat-Signal alerted her whenever I needed rescuing.  When I was in college and my brother was battling cancer, I remember once waiting for the elevator to arrive and tears welling up in my eyes because a mean boss had just chewed me out.  Just when I was about to give up on the elevator, the doors had opened slowly and my mother and brother stepped out, wiped away my tears, and told me to quit instantly.

I think what makes Mother’s Day tough on me now is the magnifying lens I hold over my own parenting.  I wonder how my kids will see me.

I worry that they see a mom that cries all the time.  Even my two-year-old has started to ask, “Mommee, are you sad?”  He would rush over and kiss me on the nose and ask, “Feel better?”

I worry that they see a workaholic.  My five-year-old said to me the other day, “Mommee, you go work on computer and we will watch T.V., okay?”

I worry that they might prefer an hour with the iPhone over an hour with me?

Sure, there are days when I take them on adventures like dog mushing and snowboarding, but are they enough to counterbalance the days I rely on technology to educate them?

And then I feel even worse that I recognize these faults and haven’t had time to do anything about it.

I wonder when Mother’s Day will stop reminding me of all the ways I have failed to be the mother I had.  When I look through all those handmade Mother’s Day cards she had saved, I noticed how many times I raved about how this was my “most favorite” day.  Maybe, I won’t start enjoying Mother’s Day until my children write me a card with that sentiment.

Unfortunately, I don’t think they will ever feel this way until I achieve mom’s standard of being the kind of mother who had time to play, a challenge made more difficult by technologies like iPhone apps, iPads, Kinect, and the Wii.

How do you compete with these technologies to be a mother who had time to play?

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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?

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.