February is Just the Absolute Worst

February is my least favorite month of all of the months. It’s kind of tongue-twisty to pronounce and it’s spelled with that weird little “r” and it’s always cold and gray and gloomy and the fun of the holidays are totally over but the promise of spring and warmth is too far away. Also, it’s cold. I kind of don’t like August for similar reasons (too hot) but at least August ends with school days looming and new office supplies.

This February is proving to be just as disdainful as years prior.

IMG_4602

It was very cold when I took this picture because it’s February.

Bob left over Valentine’s Day weekend for New York to spend time with his family. It was a good weekend for him to go and he returned with chocolate so I can’t really fault him for leaving me with three kids during what is supposed to be such a romantic weekend. Also, this was the temperature the morning he left to travel home so it’s not like he escaped to Bora Bora without me.

IMG_4670

Additional proof that February is just ridiculous.

Upon Bob’s return, the Washington area received about an inch of snow and then everything was closed for days. The kids logged six hours of school last week. That was it. School was closed again on Friday because it was cold outside. It was closed for cold. But classes are held inside, presumably where it’s warmer, so, whatever. That seems like some fuzzy math to me.

I actually don’t mind the occasional snow day but when you have so much absence, it just throws everyone off schedule in dramatic fashion. It gets a little Lord of the Flies around here since you have the free time of summer but the inability to go outside because it’s February instead. Everyone is trapped. At one point last week, I found the kids measuring items around the house with tape measures and I was impressed with their initiative and eagerness to learn math until I realized they were just measuring things so they could snap the tape measure back in place quickly in a race to see who took their own eye out first. In summary, routine is king.

And, because February is not done yet, this past weekend, we received a lot of snow. I watched it fall from the confines of my bed where I fought off some terrible stomach indignation for two days. It was awful. Just… really bad. I couldn’t sit up at all until yesterday afternoon.

Saltines and Gatorade. Suck it, February.

Saltines and Gatorade. Suck it, February.

I’m feeling marginally better today. Enough to get the kids off to school after a two-hour delay, although I can’t guarantee the quality of the contents of their lunch boxes. I’m still kind of hazy in the head. Also, I’m not sleeping well because I anticipate that this illness will make its way through the other members of the family with speed so I slept with one eye open last night listening for the Cough of Doom that signals a barfing kid. Henry wandered into our room at 4:15 this morning and I flew straight up out of bed and yelled with alarm, “ARE YOU GOING TO THROW UP?” I’m a bit on edge. Thanks a lot, February.

Only five more days until February gives way to March. Five more days. A lot more things could go wrong in five days.

Advertisements

Dissonance

One of the few times Bob and I really seem to notice our age difference is when we discuss music. Bob’s musical tastes seem to have peaked around 1978 and have remained there for decades. When we were first dating, he used to play Jim Croce and the Eagles and vintage Billy Joel (not the River of Dreams Billy Joel from MY youth). I’m not arguing for music superiority since I listened to Vanilla Ice, Wilson Phillips and Bell Biv Devoe in high school and certain Celine Dion songs can still make me cry. So, it’s not that. It’s just that we basically have a complete disconnect on what we each like to listen to.

To remedy this, for Christmas, I gave Bob a new iPod. This way, he I could download his old person music to his own device and he could play it at his leisure. The very first thing he asked me to download to his iPod was Wings Greatest, a compilation of greatest hits from some band called Wings.

“Sure, whatever, there you go,” I said, as I handed him back the iPod.

I proceeded to watch Bob air guitar and air drum for the next two hours while quietly karaoking to Wings. It was like he had been given 1978 back. He kept trying to hand me an earbud so I could share in the glory that is Wings but I declined.

What I didn’t realize is that all of our Apple products are awesome and smart and advanced and are synced so our iPod and our iPhone and our MacBook all talk to each other all of the time and they were all sharing Wings’ playlist. I discovered this when I plugged my iPhone into our speaker docking station and it started blaring some ancient Paul McCartney/Wings collaboration.

Now, I’m pretty sure there’s a way to create different albums for different users on our different devices but I haven’t had the time to figure all of this out in iTunes. I am easily overwhelmed by technology and also very lazy and I have three kids and so I just hit “Shuffle” when I play my music library.

Also suspicious is that whatever algorithm used by iTunes when you hit shuffle seems to favor Bob because my phone plays an inordinate amount of Wings Greatest (sometimes one song right after another) when it’s supposed to be “shuffling” through Dave Matthews or Katy Perry or Pearl Jam. (Also, despite an extensive music library, the algorithm also plays that one Ho Hey song and the Frozen ballad over and over again until my ears bleed.)

The shuffle feature must be broken. Or, Wings is playing a joke on me.

Here’s what we’ve been listening to lately. (Well, everyone but Bob. Bob is still listening to Wings.):

I hear this song and pretend my deck isn’t coated in ice. Joshua Radin, ft. Sheryl Crow, Beautiful Day

We listen to this song when we’re having a rough day and I can feel the frustrations mounting in my brain. The kids and I turn this up really loud and jump around the kitchen while the floor shakes. It works out the issues. Also, this would make an excellent addition to an exercise mix. (If one knows how to do that sort of thing.) Bleachers, I Wanna Get Better

I listen to this song and think of Millie. It’s about a brave woman. Esmé Patterson, Bluebird

When I had to have my laptop serviced, the Apple guy made sure all systems were working before I walked away from the Genius Bar. He pulled up iTunes and played this song and I was kind of embarrassed and I’m pretty sure he was judging me because he looked like his musical tastes were much cooler than Carly Simon and then I awkwardly explained how great the movie Heartburn was but he was twelve so he didn’t really GET IT. Carly Simon, Coming Around Again

Are you listening to anything good lately? And, don’t say, “Wings.”

The One About All the TV

My kids watch a lot of Disney Junior. As a result, I do too. My favorite Disney Junior shows (don’t pretend you don’t have a favorite) in order of preference:

1. Doc McStuffins – Doc is plucky and adorable and intrepid and I find Loretta Devine’s voice extremely soothing as Nurse Hallie. Bob and I have watched enough episodes now, that we tend to add Doc-speak when diagnosing our own children. Like, Charlie has “bad attitudeitis” or, Millie is suffering from “needs-a-naposis.”

2. Sophia the First – Sure, Sophia can be a little grating in her near constant perfection and her step-siblings can certainly be accused of affluenza but her dress is purple and purple is big with the toddler set around here. Even Henry loves this show. Plus: Tim Gunn.

3. Handy Manny – I’m pretty sure Manny was Disney Junior’s first really big superstar, even if this show is not in heavy rotation anymore. Henry and I watched episode after episode of Handy Manny and I’m kind of sad that Charlie and Millie aren’t that into him. I do hope though, that Disney makes a huge series finale that ends with Manny and Kelly in a passionate embrace.

The Disney Junior shows I find tough to tolerate:

1. Jake and the Neverland Pirates – All of my kids adore this show. It’s fine, I guess. But, I seriously can’t stand the non-aminated bearded pirate band that plays at the end of every episode. They’re creepy. And, their music is terrible.

2. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – I fully appreciate that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, with its near constant focus on the alphabet and basic math and MousekaTools, probably prepared my kids for Kindergarten better than any preschool ever could but I still find the show totally annoying. The music, the colors, the animation; all of it. Not a fan.

IMG_1766

Millie’s love of anything purple goes way back.

From the very first time Bob and I plopped a one-year-old Henry down in front of an episode of Bob the Builder so we could eat dinner uninterrupted, we have allowed the presence of an alarming amount of screen time in our home.

I did not grow up watching a lot of television, a combination of strict parental control and a definitive lack of available programming. I can remember watching Dukes of Hazzard, The Lawrence Welk Show and, on occasion, Sesame Street on a TV set up in our basement, which captured a signal via a rabbit ear antenna.

But, this isn’t a “back in my day” screed. Because I’m not sure that if my parents were parenting four kids today, they wouldn’t use technology the same way we do. New era, new rules. But, screens are absolutely everywhere now. My kids can watch YouTube videos on my computer, play games on my phone, download movies on the Kindle and watch hours of on demand programming on TV.

We have relied on all of these devices and all of these screens to deliver entertainment straight to our children when we weren’t able to, or didn’t want to, entertain them ourselves. Screen time is perfect for that! Screens keep my kids occupied when they wake up hours before the sun rises. Screens keep my kids engaged when I have a project to finish. Screens comfort my kids when they are not feeling well. Screens help ease a rough nap reentry. Screens help my kids complete their homework. Screens make snow days pass with ease. In summary, screens are the best!

But, screens are also kind of the worst. All of those movies and TVs and Kindles and computer games are loud and they’re always on and they eventually became the DEFAULT SETTING around our house and Bob and I were not happy about this at all. One day, we realized that we were actually supposed to be the ones in charge and so we eliminated the problem. Towards the end of last year, we banned weekday screen time in our house. Gone. Just like that. It’s the best parental power shift we’ve ever initiated.

The Screen Time Problem was really two-fold.

First, the noise. I have a totally undiagnosed, completely minor sensory disorder and find a lot of background noise to be problematic. My brain gets easily overwhelmed when life gets super noisy. Like, when multiple children all ask me a different question at the same time. Or, if I’m trying to help one kid do homework and the other kids are hollering. Or, if I’m trying to make a complicated dinner and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is blaring in the background. My brain short circuits and the noise becomes intolerable. Bob, post-stroke, suffers from the same problem. We know kids are loud. That’s a given. We can’t change that, short of a muzzle. But, we had to do something about all of the background noise adding to the already loud household din.

Second, the maintenance and management of all of those devices were driving Bob and I absolutely crazy. Just the sheer hours of our day spent selecting channels or switching DVDs or charging the Kindle or finding the lost remote or monitoring YouTube channels. The kids would argue over what show to watch, whose turn it was to have the phone, why this kid got computer time and this one didn’t. It was kind of maddening.

So, while I’d like to say our big decision to cut off electronic time was driven by our deep desire to give our three children the gift of their imagination, it really wasn’t. It was mostly us being totally fed up with the ceaseless, relentless noise combined with all of the discarded DVD cases strewn about the family room.

As someone who grew up surrounded by books, this is just the best.

As someone who grew up surrounded by books, this is just the best.

Our kids, understandably, did not agree with our screen time stance. I would wake up on a Tuesday and find Charlie wandering aimlessly around the house, confused why the bright box in the family room wasn’t on. Millie would weep every evening when we wouldn’t let her watch TV in the last half an hour before bedtime. Henry was the only one that begrudgingly took to this new life plan. Many mornings and afternoons, I would find him perched by the fire, reading.

Enforcing our new screen time policy hasn’t been super easy on us, as parents, either. There’s a lot of time to kill between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. I’ve had to dig a little deeper to find activities and projects that will pique the kids’ interest. But, that’s okay because that’s kind of my job right now. We have rediscovered a plethora of forgotten toys in the past few months from Lincoln Logs to Duplo blocks to puzzles to Bruder trucks. After school, we’ll clear a big space on the family room rug and drag a bin up from the basement and the kids PLAY. They fight too, because of course, but they PLAY. With their brains and imagination and everything. It’s magical.

And, our TV Time Rule is not absolute. Bob and I are, frankly, easily swayed to let the kids watch something here or there. Our policy is flexible enough to allow for a small amount of strategic screen time during the week. The amazing thing is that it is then viewed as a treat by the kids and tends to hold their attention longer which is the whole point of screen time in the first place.

We’ve also found that since we watch a lot less TV during the week now, that the kids expect to watch a lot less TV during the weekend. Less screen time has become our new normal. Our new DEFAULT SETTING.

It is the best. Really. Like, we’ve found the ultimate MousekaTool.