We turned off the TV

Two things I know about myself: I am inherently lazy; and I am predominantly grumpy.

Sure, I can be motivated and cheerful, but it’s a fight. As an insomniac, I’m also usually tired and the extra effort required to overcome my natural grumpy laziness takes even more energy. So it doesn’t happen first thing in the morning very often. Which sucks if you’re my kids. (And probably my husband.)

My kids wake up happy! and excited! and energized! and all things exclamation pointy! I wake up grudgingly. It’s not always actual waking up, just a change from being angrily awake in bed to being angrily awake not in bed. Add to this mix the fact that Luke is an early riser, and you have a recipe made for watching morning TV.

Over the years, each time my kids plugged into early morning TV I felt a pang of guilt. For the longest time I kept the programming to the PBS variety, and it made it feel alright. “It’s OK if they watch a little Arthur or Martha Speaks before school. They’re learning stuff. And, mmmmm coffee.” But “a little” was actually “a lot” and eventually the shows were not of the PBS variety.

So we slid down the slippery slope of children’s programming, and soon my kids were watching obnoxious TV shows and were acting obnoxious accordingly. As much as I’d like to deny it, the truth is that they watched hours of TV on most days. We don’t have to leave our house for school until 8:20 or so, and with Luke’s love for 6AM, you can see how the hours might accumulate.

It does not take a parenting guru to see the correlation between my kids’ behavior and their TV consumption. The change in them is pretty immediate. Happy children sit down in front of the TV, cranky children walk away from it. Every time. Something had to change. But to take away morning TV meant that I would have to step up my game. Did I want to do this? While they plugged into their thing, I plugged into mine. After taking care of breakfasts and lunches, I’d sip coffee while catching up on Facebook. Technology ruled our mornings. Any change was going to be rough on all of us.

And then, just like that, I had enough. It was a typical weekend day. Beautiful outside. I decided there would be no TV. Sally balked but then quickly busied herself with her toys.

Sally plays

Luke balked, then fought, then complained, then cried, then fought, then complained, then tried to sabotage Sally’s fun, then fought, then complained, then cried… This went on for five hours. See, not only did I say no TV, (or any iDevice,) but I also insisted that he entertain himself. No, Daddy would not play soccer and no, I would not play games. Mom and Dad were busy.

Five hours. It took five hours for my 7.5 year old to figure out how to play without the help of technology or the undivided attention of an adult. Five hours where he tried to spread as much misery as possible. Somehow, my husband and I stuck it out, not knowing if it would ever end. We paid him as little attention as possible, knowing that, for him, negative attention is just as good as any.

After those five terrible hours something amazing happened. Luke noticed his long ignored Legos. Both kids played with Legos for hours – in between snacks, fights, and meals. The day closed with both kids happy.

That night I told the kids there would be no TV in the morning. We hid the remotes, the computer mouse, and the iPad just in case a sneaky early riser “forgot.” The kids were surprisingly accepting of the morning’s dearth of technology. They never even asked. They played. I certainly couldn’t go sit at my computer, so I busied myself with chores I normally leave until after they’re off to school.

Is this what it’s like to be one of those nice families? 

OK, so that’s one day. Surely this will get hard. That night we again told them there would be no TV in the morning. We again hid all the things. They again didn’t ask. This time, we played several rounds of Uno together. The kids were DELIGHTED. So much so that I felt like the world’s worst mom.

Look how happy my kids are just to get a smidge of attention from me in the morning. Holy shit have I sucked for all these years!

It’s now been nearly two full weeks of no TV in the mornings. This means no computer time for me too, and I have to muster up a lot of friendliness before I’ve finished even my first cup of coffee. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it’s made. Just starting our day with a little more effort helps us all have better days. Leaving the house for school requires so much less reminding, rushing, and nagging on my part and involves so much less complaining on theirs. They haven’t been asking for much afternoon TV either. Will things change when the weather gets colder? Possibly. I hope we land somewhere moderate. Things had really gotten out of control for a while there.

Could I have done this as successfully years ago? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t see much point in looking back though. There were a couple of years when survival was the name of the game. I’m happy to report that we did indeed survive them.

Many of you are probably thinking, “Of course things are better! And yes, you were a shitty parent all those years!” Fine. Judge away if it makes you feel good about yourself.

But for anyone reading who is thinking, “I could never do it. I need that morning TV time for my sanity!” I have something to say: That’s OK. I needed it too. And then, one day, I didn’t.

Pin me: We turned off the tv

 

Sorry, Gotta Go!

We’re always the first to leave. I cut short outings and parties and gather my troops while we’re all still having a great time. See, I pre-empt misbehavior and meltdowns. I’ve dragged my kids kicking and screaming out of too many parks, parties, and pools, and I’d like nothing more than to never have to do it again.

My kids get hungry, tired, overwhelmed, and overstimulated. While your kids happily play together for the 5th consecutive hour, not noticing that it’s already 7:30 and dinner hasn’t been served, I can see the wild look developing in my kids’ eyes by hour 3. I know what’s coming and it’s not pretty. Regrettable things will be said. Repeatedly and loudly. I’d rather you not witness that. I’d rather you not see me have to physically restrain my unrestrainable boychild. I’d rather you not see me roll my eyes at the pitiable tears of my girlchild.

If possible, I’d like you to think that we’re a nice family. I’d like you believe that my daughter isn’t almost always crying over something or other, and that my son isn’t always a hair-trigger away from a meltdown so staggering in its suddenness and violence that it can only be compared to a tornado.

If I stay too long, you’d see my daughter stub her toe or bump her head. You see her cry her big tears and frown her perfect big frown. And then you see me barely care about it and assume that I’m a colossal jerk. And I might be. But what you don’t know is that my daughter stubs and bumps something so often that if I stopped to genuinely care about it every time, my entire family might starve to death and would certainly never have a clean shirt to wear. Her tears are a constant companion. At some point, eyes must be rolled. Call me when there’s blood.

If I stay too long, you’d see my son talk back to me and say things that are stunningly obnoxious and rude. You’d hear my teeth-clenched, low-voiced warnings – much like a snarling cat. (I’d save any yelling until we’re safely in the car.) You’d think that he’s out of control. You’d think that his parents are deficient in some, or many, ways to have a child act that way. And we might be. But unless you have a child who falls far on the spirited end of the temperament spectrum, you just don’t understand. I lead our lives with one wary eye on him at all times. I can tell when it’s coming and I’ve gotten pretty good at heading him off. I can corral and get us out of there before there’s a full volcanic eruption, just a few ashes burped up into the atmosphere. Let me leave you thinking that’s as bad as it gets.

When I do a good job, our party companions don’t even know that the tides have turned for my family, just that suddenly we’re departing. They might catch some attitude coming from the kids, but they’d never guess at what would happen if I don’t get us out of there immediately.

Ironically, it’s my kids’ inability to behave as well as your kids that make us great dinner guests. Go ahead and invite us over! I promise that we’ll never be the guests who overstay our welcome.

Mommy Dating

This is an updated version of a post originally published in May 2010.

We moved to a new town the spring my son was 15-months-old. So began my adventures in mommy-dating. I hated mommy-dating, but without a job to go to I had no other way of meeting new people. If you’ve never had to mommy-date, consider yourself lucky.

Mommy-dating is just like real-dating, except the scene unfolds at the playground, (or supermarket, library, museum, etc,) instead of a bar. I paid a little more attention to my appearance, and Luke’s, making sure we were both at least mostly clean. Ever on the hunt, I’d scan my surroundings for “attractive” moms.

What makes a potential mom-friend attractive? First, her kid’s age – no matter how cool a mom of a 6-month-old seems, there’s no way she wants to hang out with my wild toddler. Next, she needs to look kind of like me (effort-wise) – I’m not going to be bffs with a fancy mom. Finally, the hover test – if she lets her child roam more than two steps away from her, game on. So, with my sights set on new mom friends, I hit the “singles” scene.

Just like real-dating, I had to put myself out there: I made eye contact; I was approachable; I was friendly; I visited the same places again and again, so I could see the same moms again and again; I made idle conversation with everyone; I introduced myself; I asked for phone numbers. All of this was entirely against my inherently unfriendly nature and I found it exhausting. Worst part: I had an unreliable wing-man. Luke could be completely disarming, or he could throw sand in your kid’s eyes. I never knew which Luke I’d get until it was too late.

In many ways, I think real-dating is less awkward than mommy-dating. With real-dating, the whole pick-up process is expected and normal. Between moms at the playground it’s odd. It’s weird to go from chatting idly about the kids in the sandbox to, “Sooo, maybe I can get your number and we can do this again sometime…?” Truly awful. I’d come home from the park depressed because I hadn’t plucked up the courage to get cool mom’s number, and she hadn’t ask for mine. I’d go weeks hoping to run into her again.

That first summer I was able to set up a number of second dates. You know, a time to see if there is any real chemistry. I was unsure how to navigate these second dates, and several of them were pretty uncomfortable. At what point in a potential new relationship do you show your real self, not the charming version who picked-up this mom? How do you release your real personality? All at once? Or slowly, over time?

I decided to ease it out. I quickly found that these new moms fell into one of two camps: those who thought I was funny, and those who thought I was horrible.

Through this process of dating and personality slow release, I was able to build a new circle of friends. My mom friends. And then I moved. Now with two kids, aged 7 and 4, I find myself in the lonely trenches as a “single mom” once again. Dating as an older mom is completely different from back when I had just one toddler in tow.

Gone are days filled with library story times and baby swings. Instead, my potential mom friends and I have busy schedules filled with school commitments, sports, and homework. The kids of my potential friends have friends of their own, whose moms I imagine always hanging out together. Before, I worried that a new friend’s child matched mine developmentally, so she wouldn’t be shocked by my kid’s 2-ishness. But now the kids have to actually connect and like one another. I have to date the entire family!

It’s a slow process, made slower by the fact that I’m not nearly as desperate as I was a few years ago as a lonely mom of a toddler. I don’t cruise the pick-up scene like I used to. I wouldn’t even know where to find it. But, if I meet you and like you, and your kids are of approximate age and sex as my kids, and our kids show any interest in playing together, you’d better believe that I’ll be asking for your digits and that I’ll be overly excited next time I run into you at Target!

Mommy Dating