Put the Technology Down.

This morning, I came across this article posted by a friend. In short, it summarizes what I’ve been fearing and experiencing first-hand for quite awhile now, the damage of too much technology, specifically tablets and phones.

The article hit home because I have spent the last week watching my one-year old daughter walk over to where my tablet/computer/phone is, optimistically point to it, and begin crying hysterically when I refuse to indulge her need, or as I tend to call it…addiction. I have seen and heard this before in different ways, too, from other children.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like human beings are no longer bowing their heads to religiously pray to a god or gods but instead are bowing heads to zombify themselves into technology. The youngest generations are becoming the most consumed by this, and it’s affecting the youngest millennials in an extremely dangerous way.  They think they can multitask with technology because they’ve been doing it so much, but they’re not as productive as they seem to think they are.

Despite the car accidents and dumbing down of people through technology, what drives me crazy the most is the extremely unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle many people are creating for themselves when they choose to allow the technology to take over. I know parents who drive themselves mad trying to stop their children from consuming sugar, fat, etc., yet they have NO problem with their child sitting 2-4 hours a day watching t.v. or sitting on a tech device playing games and/or watching videos. What gives?

When I began teaching, one of the most mindblowing things I heard was that many middle and high school students fail physical education because they don’t want to participate. As a Gen Xer, I don’t  understand this. P.E. was the class we WANTED to be in so we could let loose and move around. Nowadays? It’s changing. Many kids don’t want to get up and move. Instead, they’d prefer to sit and text their friends in other classes…and take their F.

What’s the solution? Adults reading this? Put your phones and tablets down after reading this, and get up and do something. Show your children, grandchildren, etc. that you can not only take control of your technology, but you are not PROMOTING that lifestyle. I actually have taking many backhanded compliments over the past few years that I don’t sit still very much. Not only do I find that insulting, I find it hysterically ironic. It’s not that I can’t stop moving, it’s that the people delivering the insult can’t start moving.

Regulate your own time on your technology, and help kids do it, too. I have set a goal of no more than 1 hour a day, and I am getting better about staying off social media and using it more to write (not text) and compile thoughts during that time. Granted, I still spend about 15-20 minutes on games, but that’s my allotted time. After all, I have kids watching me, and my habits will shape theirs.

Addressing the Mouse in the Room

You’re coming to Orlando? Awesome! It’ll  be great to see you. However, can we address the mouse in the room for just a second?

See, I work…every weekday pretty much, and when I’m not working at a job, I’m working on keeping a schedule that doesn’t drive me or my family insane. So when you say you’re coming to Orlando, I completely and totally get that you are on vacation with your family………………………………………………………………………………..but my family isn’t.

So please don’t be upset that I can’t take a day off of work and $400 or more out of my checking to join you at one of the most crowded places on Earth. And please don’t be upset that I can’t stay up or out until even 9pm on a weeknight because I get up at 5:30am for work and not to get ready for a day of rides and parades but to stress out and deal with issues already in my email inbox.

And please understand that while I get that you can show up late to when we do meet, I can’t stay out longer (see previous paragraph) due to your very flexible vacation schedule nor is it guaranteed that I can meet last minute even on weekends when sports, birthdays, and any non-work related event tends to be scheduled.

Aaaaaand, just in case I can make it out to where you live during my vacation, I, too, will visit you, but I am also on vacation touring the sites and enjoying my time off with my kids. I’ll keep the same ideas in mind when contacting you when I am on vay cay.  After all, when you decided to come to Orlando, most of it was to get away and spend time with your immediate family along with a day to see us. That’s the same way I enjoy spending mine.

Ending the Mom Guilt

In August after much huffing and puffing, my husband, son, and I welcomed our new daughter and sister to our family. The first time I became a mother, I experienced an undeniable bond between myself and another that cannot be compared to any other relationship I’ve ever had. My need to protect my child is unwavering even after 8 years, and that protection now extends to his sister.

While this need to protect is shared with our children and, to a certain extent, our spouses, this protection does not often include ourselves. It should. More than any other group of people I know, moms need to know that they can win at motherhood. Sadly, so much information is thrown at moms with children that many feel crushed under all of it, and with postpartum depression a real and present threat in our world, it can be a big problem.

…And then comes the guilt. Feeling guilty is hard enough because we know we have or might be hurting someone. Feeling guilty because you feel like you’re emotionally scaring an infant is devastating, and oh! there is so much to feel guilty about! Breastfeeding or bottle? Work or stay home? Spank or not? Day care or homecare? Day care or family member? Cry herself to sleep or rock? Vaccinate or not? These are all serious decisions to make, and it is necessary to point out two important things. First, some of these decisions are already made for new moms, i.e. being unable to make breastmilk or not enough. Second, some of these decisions produce a chain-like reaction to another decision, i.e. going back to work means less breastfeeding and more pumping instead.

If any mother made it through ANY of these decisions without feeling a drop of guilt, please email me your secret ASAP. Oh, and write a book about how you did it, sell it, and never work again. Our society is so good at throwing guilt because of our incredible ability to compare nearly everything we have with what everyone else has. Kay Wills Wyma writes in her book, I’m Happy for You (Sort Of…Not Really,) about the idea that once we have children, a whole new Pandora’s Box of comparisons opens up to us, increasing guilt and jealousy in our lives. These two emotions of guilt and jealousy lead to an even uglier problem with new moms, judgement.

Mothers are extraordinarily good at judging each other, and here’s my theory as to why. When we feel badly about a decision, we make because it causes us inconvenience, pain (emotionally or physical,) or guilty. Because we feel one or more of those, we find that judging a mom who is making the opposite decision might momentarily take away some of our bad feelings because we’re throwing parts of these at someone else. It works, but it’s not a permanent solution, and it turns some moms into rather awful human beings. In fact, some moms never fully stop judging because the more often done, the longer the bad feelings stay away.

So how do we keep the guilt away?

I’m no expert, but there are a few strategies I’ve tried that seem to help, and there are a few I am slowly starting to try.

First, you do not, I repeat, DO NOT have to take the unsolicited advice of family or friends. When prepping for a new baby, we already do a TON of research AKA advice on products, strategies, situations, etc. Much more advice is often unnecessary and can be counterproductive. Though often given out of concern and love, to a sensitive mom of an infant, it can often appear haughty and comparative. Personally, I haven’t had to deal with it much, but when I have, there are two particular ways to address it. One is to be politely assertive and respond with something similar to “I appreciate your suggestion, but this is working fine for us.” If one persists with this advice, you can always kick it up a notch and provide evidence from the research you’ve done that supports your decision that’s being questioned in the first place. Consider something like “you know, I thought about that, but then I read…” It’s hard to argue with a pediatrician or another credible source.

Recently, I have also begun questioning some of the advice provided in articles without definitive proof. Case in point? Parents magazine recently ran an article questioning swaddling. While they speculated about potential problems, no hard evidence was given, so I paid attention to the “don’t” and “do’s” such as making sure the child can’t pull the blanket near his/her face and continued with my swaddling. Along those lines, question the audience of the articles along with the evidence. In the last month, two different articles about breastfeeding versus formula emerged. The one appearing in The New York Times looked at the harsh reality of the possible harm of overselling breastfeeding while another columnist for the Kansas City Star sung the praises of breastfeeding and how it saves the lives of many infants. While each looks at a different side, the Star article pushed the benefits of breastfeeding in many poor countries and the other looked at issues in the U.S. However, just looking at the headlines can create stress for moms of infants, and the truth is that the pendulum always swings back.

I am a working mom, and I wish I could stay home with my daughter. However, financially, that would create more stress than going to work in most cases. In addition, going to work makes it possible for my family to take vacations and visit family who live out of state. As a teacher, I also feel confident that when my kids ask why they were in day care or home care while I worked, I can answer that being in day care offered a great chance for them to learn to socialize with other children and adults. I can also say that my job helped other children gain confidence in themselves academically. The idea of looking at what we do have instead of what we don’t helps us cope with our decisions.

One of the hardest situations for a new mom to deal with is not producing milk or very little. Infants need to eat. It doesn’t matter if it’s milk or formula. The most important decision is to FEED your child one of these. If an infant is gaining weight in a healthy way, that’s the accomplishment. In addition, above all else, if your child is safe and loved, isn’t that the most important “food” you can give him/her?

Overall, we have to feel confidence in our choices as mothers of infants. While some advice should be strongly followed when it deals with SIDS, abuse, anger, and medicines, other advice is personal preference. Don’t feel badly about muting the latter, We make these hard decisions because we want to do what’s right for our family. Using love to make our decisions will get it “right” every time.

What Happens When a School Reads

As the sun begins to set on my first year at my current school, I can’t help but think about the new experiences and wisdom I’ve already gained. However, one particularly glimmering piece of this place shines brightest in my mind. This is a school that reads.

When I say “reads,” I don’t mean constant hammering away at the students by telling them what they must finish reading and by when. I don’t mean cramming books they couldn’t possibly understand down their throats just to brag to the community that it was done, and I don’t mean that the language arts teachers are given a Herculean task and forced to get SATs scores up through silent reading.

The challenge that any school faces today regarding literature is sad but simple. There’s just too much entertainment out there to compete with reading. Previously, I worked at a private school where the white flag was raised in this battle. The librarian was let go, and every single book was removed from the media center to make way for high-tech learning labs devoid of any suitable literary replacement. The result? The love of literacy is down to a few grains. Language arts teachers frequently reduce the amount of required class novels. One particular individual recommended doing away with all summer reading because “they don’t read anyway.” Administrators made cracks during meetings that emails were “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read.) The school climate affected me, too. I rarely read, and when I did, I found myself reading BuzzFeed and bulleted-listed pieces. My love of reading took a colossal hit.

Then I entered my new workplace, and I felt as if I was slipping back into a familiar and comfortable place. I was encouraged to join the faculty literacy committee which is made up of teachers from all subject areas who enjoy discussing upcoming book celebrations, an entire week of celebrating literacy, and the student AND teacher rewards for reading. The media specialist frequently started her turn at both faculty and literacy meetings with “we are a school that reads” and after seeing how ultra-competitive teachers were about their own reading points competition, I fully believed her.

As I near the end of this first year, I am floored by the effects of this mentality. Nearly every one of my classes asks me at some point about the current book I’m reading. They also enjoy not only asking me for book recommendations but freely offering me recommendations, too. Several of the books I’ve read this year were loaned to me by current students. Their eyes light up when I talk to them about particularly pivotal parts. Every one of my classes becomes silent for twenty minutes a week when they take out their chosen books and quietly read.

In addition, I am now one of those competitive teachers in the book point challenge, but I find myself straying to read lots of books outside of the books with tests. I’m trying new authors, talking to colleagues about books again, and finding that written words can bring people together. However, my absolute favorite gain of being a part of a “school that reads” is how it is rubbing off on my child. He is developing a love of reading from sitting each night and reading with his family. We often talk about what we’re each reading and what we like about it. Last year, he had no favorite authors because he merely read for the competition. Now he knows who Jeff Kinney and Raina Telgemeier are because he keeps asking me to help me find more books by them, and he eagerly participated in the book character parade, which he had little to no interest in last year.

This is the school where teachers from all subject areas are encouraged to join the school’s literacy committee and allow their imaginations to merge and plan a week of celebrating all books; banned, comic, non-fiction, and, of course, novels. This is the school where the media center specialist plans a different celebration of a particular kind of book each month among the rows of bookshelves and computers, keeps the media center open late twice a week for kids to have more time to find books, and arranges for carts of books to come into rooms when the media center is closed for testing. This is the school where the students understand that reading what they enjoy and expanding their personal book choices is just part of the school atmosphere. This is the school where students know the power and magic of reading because the administrators and teachers do, too.

The Discomfort of Good Films

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times published an article detailing why so many people are unwilling to watch Steve McQueen’s 2013 Oscar-nominated film, 12 Years a Slave. Surprisingly, looking at the ugly side of humanity’s history makes people uncomfortable. This current idea of not watching “uncomfortable” films raises a reoccurring question. What is the purpose of film?

Stephen King likes to categorize some of the books he reads as “junk food reading.” In the same fashion, there are more than enough films that emerge every year that we could cram into a “junk food watching” category. These are the films we watch to escape our everyday lives.. Our super men and long-legged women give us that needed eye candy and sugar high that often brings the necessary adrenaline for the day.

However, much like the junk food culture of this country, we have begun binging on these films and leaving those with more substance and necessary digestion behind. As a result, we are bulging with useless ideas and conversations about these films. Few to no intelligent discussions take place after watching a superhero movie aside from those who question how many civilians were killed while the two stars took turns throwing each other into occupied office buildings. So should it surprise anyone that most Americans have seen none or few of the Best Picture nominees every year?

It should. These are the films that could inspire us to think deeper, and 12 Years a Slave is no exception. The director, Steve McQueen, is the same that gave us Shame hidden behind a much-needed NC-17 rating. I remember sitting in a crowded theater watching Brandon (Michael Fassbender) in one of the early scenes, and I was both titillated and shocked. Now THIS was a good film! But when the final scene ended, I tightly clutched my sweater and avoided eye contact with everyone as I left. I felt dirty and sad and couldn’t figure out why. During the ride home, I figured it out. I felt the way Brandon did, and I was awestruck that a film could do that.

(Spoilers ahead)

Watching 12 Years A Slave took discomfort to a whole new level.  I looked away. I cried. I hurt. I connected. My ruler for measuring how much a film affects me is if I think about it for at least five seconds every day after. This is one of those few, and it’s always the same scene. When Solomon is literally hanging on for dear life and not one of those seeing him even blinks an eyelash his way, I thought I’d lose it. I couldn’t look, but I did. I couldn’t breathe, but I did. I couldn’t imagine, but it was there. This scene, as awful as it was to watch and as quiet as it was, spoke volumes. McQueen can serve up harsh ideas, and he knows they’ll give our stomachs a run for their money. But it’s needed.

Weeks after I saw the film, I talked with family and friends who had seen it, and every time, it all came back to that one scene. That scene that shows us exactly how hateful people can be. It’s the power of seeing discrimination of any human being to the highest level. It’s horrifying to know that people are capable of this type of atrocity, but it’s ongoing. That’s why people need to see these types of films. This type of slavery has ended, but others have not. People are hurt every day by those who say they love them, those who say they are religious people, and those who say they have no choice. The indifference that emulates from Solomon’s fellow captives and even Solomon himself in previous scenes intensifies the idea of helplessness. What do we do when we have no voice? What happens to those we love when we have no voice? What happens to these films if no one hears their voices?

Films are made to tell stories, and these stories shouldn’t always result in a feel-good attitude about every aspect of life. Stories explore humanity and every aspect of it. McQueen’s films do not always show us the sunshine in humanity, but they do show us how people endure the darker sides of who we are and what we are capable of doing to each other. This creates awareness and perspective, two ideas in very short supply today.

Ray Bradbury once said “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” This is true of high-level films, too. The junk food films we are consuming regularly are creating an aversion to films for thought. Films like McQueen’s need a place in our world, and perhaps we need to start exercising our minds more by watching them.

The Damage of Being “Aliterate”

Every year, I come into the high school where I currently teach and help host an open house.  Every year, I meet potential ninth graders as they walk through the halls accompanied by their parents. Every year, I count the times I hear the common parent reaction of “my child doesn’t like to read, and neither do I!”

In a world where leisure time is used less and less for reading, I find myself in waters slowly becoming more and more turbulent, especially when sailing through literature. In the last five years, I have seen more of the classics I’ve always taught being challenged by parents over the most unusual ideas. Books like Dracula cause kids to take drugs. Mark Twain was a racist. Zora Neale Hurston advocated Ebonics in her novels.  Upon further addressing these claims, I’d always discover that the parent had either read only a sentence or two of the novel or never even cracked open the cover.

As a parent, I completely understand the need to protect a child and monitor the academic material, but if I’m not actually reading the material, do I really have a right to question it? Wouldn’t it just make more sense to understand it before launching a campaign against it? Keeping with this parent perspective, I find it even odder that while many have no qualms about questioning Twain, Golding, or even more contemporary authors such as Hosseini, they tend to hesitate when preventing these same children from playing Assassin’s Creed or accompanying them to see We’re The Millers.

Speaking out against a book that a person has never read sounds sadly similar to bringing an unloaded gun to a shootout. Loss is inevitable. Even worse, the loss is due to total ignorance. The individuals and groups who attack books without ever reading them unknowingly change their own argument from that of whether or not a book should be read to whether or not ignorant people should be heard. Personally, in today’s world of so little time, I just won’t spare it on the willingly uneducated.

However, the greatest loss is that of the student’s reading experience. If he/she refuses to read the book and develops an unfounded argument for not reading it or the parent does, it reinforces the idea that reading creates dangerous ideas and should be avoided. I’m sorry, but there are enough adults and children refusing to read already. Do we need to add to this number? Examining this deeper, one can also observe the problem of people not discussing what they’ve read in order to hear other people’s perspectives and outlooks from reading the same words. Taking the Bible, for example, many read it, but few interpret it the same way, and I, for one, am very glad of it. Otherwise, we’d live in a very different world.

A possible solution is hard to visualize because the odds are against the intelligent. With fewer and fewer people reading, common literary connections are not made as easily as they were twenty years ago. Even technology such as the Kindle or apps like iBooks are not improving this as hoped. Parents, teachers, and other adults who interact regularly with young adults need to show them how to be a responsible reader. Reading a book with a child and discussing it can bring much insight and interpretation as well as an expanded vocabulary. As we soar into the 21st century skills, we need to not lose sight of the skills of perspective, social intelligence, and understanding, all of which can be found through reading and studying literature.

Brutal Honesty About Lying

Over the last year, the amount of usual change around me roared into a tornado of confusion, sadness, and pain. But when the dust settled, understanding and self-reflection stood strong and gleaming. If I wanted to rebuild my world and show my son the love and caring he so badly needed to heal, too, I needed to figure out my role in that storm and how I could stop it from happening ever again.

Throughout my thought-process, one realization hit me over and over again. I lied. A lot. And it began early on. I’d lie to avoid hurting someone, including me. I’d lie to avoid confronting an awful truth. It worked beautifully because so many people don’t care whether you lied or not but only that they felt good as a result of what you told them. Many self-absorbed people are like that. They could care less about you, and that goes for figuring out if you’re a liar or not. Some people don’t really care to hear your problems, especially if you somehow ask for their help, so lying about being “ok” or “good” gets them right off the hook. This was so common during the worst week of my life, and I vowed never to do that to anyone.

When making the transition between lying and honesty, there’s more than a few bumps in the road. One I am currently struggling with is my passive aggressiveness. I don’t want to hurt people, so when I want to address and issue with them, I choose the seemingly less harsh route. Being passive aggressive can be even worse because the intended effect on the receiver intensifies. Instead of using social media to exclaim “thanks to all my true friends this week!,” I should have just told someone that she disappointed me during one of my toughest weeks, and she wasn’t being a very good friend. Sure it would  have hurt her, but my  honesty would have created a direct, unavoidable link between my naked emotion and the person who needed to see it.

As I got better with this, some of the results were interesting. Some felt that I shouldn’t have felt hurt or upset by their decisions, and this was truly ironic. No one can tell you that you’re wrong for feeling the way you feel. However, people can lie to themselves by doing that quite well. For example, if a friend tells me that I’ve hurt him by isolating him, I can always say back that he’s wrong because I didn’t do that. The person wrong in this case is me because I’m reinterpreting his feelings, and I have no right to do that. What I must do, taking a page from Harper Lee, is walk around in his shoes for a few moments and consider his perspective. This, I feel, is one of the largest ideas missing from our society at large.

Perspective is only gained by practicing it regularly, and some angles on situations cannot be gained any other way, including honesty. When we put ourselves on the receiving ends of things, we not only gain that perspective, but we understand how avoiding the truth can hurt someone because we become empathetic. However, empathy only comes through sympathy, and sympathy requires us to understand what it’s like to be hurt. It’s cyclical because those who deny to acknowledge others’ perspectives deny themselves empathy which clouds honesty.

A second bump on this road is the fear of being disliked. However, I already knew some people disliked me, so being honest with them didn’t carry much risk. What does is when you’re honest with those you  love, but I already saw the results of this. My best friends were always honest with me, and I actually loved them more for being that way. I was used to being questioned or, once in awhile, criticized for decisions I made. I have learned to go to these cherished people first because they often save me time and pain. If it wasn’t for their bluntness, I would be climbing out of holes much more frequently. Those who don’t want to hear my perspective and honest thoughts are not particularly welcomed in my circle of intimacy anymore because they already created shields against it.

My closeness to God has been my best result of this honesty because when I reveal my true self, I can see where I need to improve and, on occasion, celebrate. I enjoy my enlightenment on my humanity and my challenge to become a better me. Coincidentally, the honest people I surround myself with are my closest companions on this adventure.

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