Weekend in New York

New York city is often on my mind as a destination to take in some culture. We were there in May, sans kiddo, to celebrate my husband’s birthday,  but as is usually the case when we leave our son overnight, the trip was a hasty get in, get out endeavor. When Liam found out we were going there without him, we had a very sad kid on our hands. I had taken him to the city last fall and he loved it and has been asking to go back ever since so I promised him next time.

91MtPDqj-bLThis year turned out to be perfect timing for adding a summer in the city to our family agenda. Liam, who is heading into fifth grade, was assigned to read and write about the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwwiler by E.L. Konigsburg. The book was first published in 1968 and follows the travails of Claudia and Jamie Kincaid who decide to run away from home and inhabit the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week.

After reading the book with him and the accompanying worksheet from his English teacher,  I saw the suggestion to either complete the work by visiting the museum’s website or to visit in person. I haven’t been to the Met in years so I thought a field trip was in order.  Last Saturday morning we left early and caught a train into the city with a few ideas of things to do on our two-day sojourn.

It was about lunchtime when we arrived and we were quite hungry so after checking burgerjoint_neon-signinto our hotel, we headed to Le Parker Meridien which is home to a tucked away burger restaurant aptly named The Burger Joint. We discovered this great little treasure a few years ago and like to hit it up when we’re in the mood for a burger in the city. If you go, have a snack beforehand, because you’ll likely find a line snaking down the curtained hallway next to the hotel’s reception desk that leads into the small restaurant that will guarantee you about an hour wait. It’s worth it.

From there we decided to try our luck at the half price theater ticket window and stood in line until they opened at 3:00 making conversation with a family visiting from Massachusetts. We acquired some very good seats to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the evening and then hopped in a cab to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. This is the first time I’ve been to a memorial of this magnitude for an event that occurred in my lifetime. It’s hard to believe nearly sixteen years have passed since the deadly attacks.

I had visited the memorial pools outside the museum for the first time this past December when I was in the city with my co-workers, but to see it on a glorious summer day with my family and thousands of visitors from the US and around the world was a moving and emotional experience. The museum had exhibits and films that were a testament to the sadness of the events we groped with as a nation that week. I couldn’t help but be transported back to those days surrounding September 11, 2001, and how we sat glued to our television, numbly captivated by the coverage, helpless about what to do.

 

We wandered back uptown after our visit to the museum, full of emotion for the vast number of people affected by the terrorist attacks. The long chain of friends, family, and colleagues who lost someone important in such a senseless and unpredictable way and who would be forever changed.

There wasn’t much time to squeeze in dinner before the show so we meandered into Whole Foods in Time Square and were delighted to find an array of options to get a quick meal. After dinner, as we were hurried to the show I noticed Liam wasn’t next to me and when I turned I saw he had been approached by Mario (of Super Mario Bros. fame) and they were holding hands. I wasn’t planning to take a photo but they looked so sweet. As I pulled my camera out, several other characters swarmed in and I was caught in a dilemma about whether to take the picture because it felt almost like being extorted! I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, though, so with gratitude I handed each of the characters a couple of ones for their time.

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On to the play, which was fantastic. It was Liam’s first Broadway show and he loved it. Every so often I would look over and catch his rapt gaze as he sat forward in his seat. It was definitely worth standing in line to see that look on his face.

On Sunday, we slept in a bit and then headed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for mass, with Cardinal Dolan presiding. He is a wonderful and plain spoken homilist, relating the day’s readings to our current day seamlessly. It was also nice to see the beauty of the cathedral without all the scaffolding as had been there on our last several visits.

From there we hit up Joe’s Shanghai midtown location for brunch where we indulged in several orders of the soup dumplings they are famous for. I wanted to get to Chinatown for a real dim sum experience for Liam but this was a great alternative given we still had to get to the Metropolitan Museum. Something to keep for a future visit.

 

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The Cat in the Egyptian Wing

We decided to Uber it to the museum after lunch and arrived in no time. Just looking at the Met from the street made my heart sing. I had to remember the reason for our visit was Liam’s class project and that I probably wouldn’t get to see many of the paintings I love so much. I barely got a glimpse though as most of the visit was limited to the first floor where the Kincaid kids from the book spent most of their time. The Egyptian Wing, The American Wing, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Greek Arts were the sections he needed to find various objects from the book. It felt like we raced through the exhibits but we spent three hours looking through the bottom floor. At 4:00, exhausted from the weekend, we decided to call it a day.  As we left, I looked up the great staircase and silently made a promise to myself to return on my own next time!

 

The weekend went much better than anticipated. I wasn’t sure what we’d be doing other than a visit to the Met and I was a little nervous there’d be a meltdown or at least arguments along the way. My fears were completely unfounded and we had a great weekend making new family memories.

 

 

 

 

 

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Offline living

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Oh my, it’s been ages! We are officially at summer’s halfway point (at least in my mind) and I should update you on what’s going on here. I don’t know if you remember, but back in May, I decided the family needed a technology break (including me).  I have posted just a handful of blogs since that time because you know, I’m on a break which means everything is happening offline, including writing.

The break from technology has been, overall, a mostly fabulous experience. You know how sometimes you don’t know how stressed out you are until you are sitting on a beach with sand filtering through your toes and then you dig in a little deeper to get to the cool, wet sand and you let out a huge sigh? That’s kind of what it’s been like. To know that you are not going to be fighting with your kid about when to turn off their iPad and go do something outside like you did when you were a kid is just, well, pretty amazing.

I won’t lie. It hasn’t magically been all love and sunshine in our house since we made the decision to go tech free. Sure, there are times I’ve wanted to run away but I think that’s pretty normal in parenting. No one wants to give up on the fantasy of having a child comply immediately with every request to use a toothbrush, clean their room and be presentable (clean) every day, but face it, it’s not very realistic. It’s all about the process of learning to be a human who lives in a world with other humans.

I do feel a bit adrift because while I’m living offline, I haven’t kept in touch with people like the way you feel you do on Facebook. I haven’t posted any pictures to show I’m having a great summer and I haven’t been scrolling through and hitting like on any of my friend’s posts. I’m probably missing out on births and deaths and general milestones in everyone’s lives but on the other hand, I have lots and lots of time to do things I want and choose to do. If it’s important I’ll hear about it.

Speaking of milestones, I managed to hit one myself this summer – I turned 50 last week! I know, I can’t believe it either! It was a beautiful day and I took myself to Edith Wharton’s country home in Lenox, MA to celebrate and it was lovely. My husband treated me to a fantastic dinner when I got home and then I went to bed with a really good book. I don’t imagine I thought that’s what I’d be doing at 50 when I was 25 but it works and life is good.

I’ve had so much more time to read since I checked out of social media (and candy crush). I have breezed through about ten really good books in July alone which is a pretty big deal since I work and parent and all that other stuff that gets in the way of reading really good books. Here’s some of what I read:

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (loved this quirky title character)
  • Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (immigration, class, race, American dreamers, flawed and well-drawn characters)
  • The Sunshine Sister’s by Jane Green (not my favorite of her books but entertaining and I can relate to the unshakeable bond of sisters even if you don’t always see each other)
  • Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (I’ve been anxiously waiting to find out what happened to these characters from Everything We Keep which was a book I stayed up all night reading this past spring)
  • Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. (I found out she wrote her first book at 50 and there you go!)
  • Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser (I had to know why a father disappeared with his small son a few days into their family vacation. It was emotional.)
  • Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (great characters, an interesting plot and a lot of family dysfunction)
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (a humorous, modern telling of Pride and Prejudice)
  • Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy (a parent’s nightmare of losing your kids while vacationing in a foreign country)
  • I Found You and The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (I read her books years ago so now catching up with her current offerings which I enjoyed very much)

As we roll through August I plan to keep on reading and writing offline but at some point, I realize I need to consider a re-entry strategy to the digital world for both my son and myself. If you know of a good book about such a topic, let me know!

Hope you are enjoying the summer wherever you may be.

MC

 

 

 

 

Status update

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A few years ago I ran into an acquaintance at an event. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years but we carried on a conversation as though we’d talked just last week. It went something like this. How was your vacation? The pictures looked fabulous! You kids are getting so big. Congratulations on your new job!

As we walked away my husband remarked that he didn’t know we’d kept in touch. Facebook, I explained. The highlight reel of our lives. Carefully curated for the highest yield of likes. I had to admit, it was weird, the exchange this woman and I had. How did life get to the point that I was hyper aware of what near-stranger/acquaintances were up to? How much unnecessary information was taking up valuable real estate in my brain?

On another occasion I sat around with a group of friends. A similar conversation took place as we asked about various updates we had all posted. We seemed to already know what each other had been up to since we last got together, or at least what we wanted our vast network of “friends” to know. It didn’t feel authentic or spontaneous or real. But as with good friendships, we soon found our way to the real heart of the matter and shared about our aging parents, our issues with getting our kids to do homework, our hard truths.

A couple years ago I gave up social media for six weeks. You know what I found when I returned at the end of my fast? I wasn’t missing out and I wasn’t missed. It was a good experiment because when I did log back on, I wasn’t obsessively checking it throughout the day. It gave me perspective about how much time I was wasting on something that wasn’t really connecting me to people (although it’s suppose to make you feel like you are). I loved getting together with friends and really hearing for the first time, face to face, what they had been up to in the last few weeks.

Since that time, I still struggle with how much social media to use. Sometimes I swear it off altogether and sometimes I can’t wait to post something. There are benefits too because I find out things I wouldn’t otherwise hear about there. I follow a lot of positive thinkers which inspires me. Facebook has become our new community newspaper where we learn about births and deaths and our friends accomplishments.  We can quickly get information out to our entire network or a small group. It has become part of the fabric of life.

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During our technology reset, I’ve stepped away from social media again. I deleted all time-sucking apps from my phone (including games) and I conservatively estimate the time savings to be about an hour and a half a day. It could be more. I’m not going to save the world with the time I’m saving but it’s giving our family the time it needs to re-connect with each other. And I’m finding I really kick butt at Boggle!

We have also been doing a lot of reading on the effects of constantly be connected with technology. It’s pretty scary stuff, how addicting our phones, iPads and laptops are. It has reinforced why this break is necessary and gives us the time to come up with a strategy when we inevitably decide to plug back in.

MC

Some links on our technology reset:

Reset Your Child’s Brain
Glow Kids
Simon Sinek on Millenials and technology (YouTube)

Technology Detox

In my previous post, I hinted at the difficulties I’ve had with parenting a child who is so much different than I was growing up. He is headstrong. I am easy going. He is argumentative and I go with the flow. He is kind and passionate but sometimes a little (lot!) more than I can handle. And I don’t do this alone because my husband (J) is right in the trenches with me but we don’t approach it from the same perspective. So anything I write about the experience is wholly from my perspective which is why I use the word I a lot.

I also feel I am more engaged in finding solutions to the difficulties we experience with our son (L). Is this unusual in family dynamics? I don’t think so. It does make getting to the root of a problem that much harder if you’re not both on the same page. We have traveled a long somewhat difficult path over the last few months with a major melt-down at the end of last summer really being the spark that started the fire. We looked to a family counselor to help us along and we’ve made slow progress in areas only to be back at square one time after time.

The common thread of all the hiccups on our route to becoming a harmonious family unit is electronics and every time there is a big blow up, we can point to overuse of various screens whether it be the iPad, TV, computer or phones. There never seems to be a happy place of balance for us. We live in a digital world or so we are told time and time again and we are confronted with this reality everywhere we go with both kids and adults buried in their screens.

After many months on this roller coaster of a ride, I finally had a moment of clarity. One night last week, a few days after finally taking away his iPad for good after another epic meltdown, I found L hunched over the computer screen at 10:30 on a school night feverishly playing a typing game he plays in technology class. What?! Why?! I had put him to bed two hours before and so desperate for screen time he was unable to go through the night without playing again. He skulked off to bed and I was left stunned in the wake of this discovery but soon shot into action removing cords from all the devices (TV’s included) in our house. It was time to go cold turkey.

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The time had come for a full on technology detox for our household. The seed of this was planted when I read Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria L. Dunckley in early 2016. At that point I found it interesting reading and a sometime-we-might-need this-plan in our back pocket sort of thing. The time had come and boy did we need it now. Unfortunately I acted in haste and pulled all the plugs before talking it over with anyone else. I was a mama bear disturbed from her slumber and you don’t want to mess with her.

I didn’t tell J what had happened prior to pulling all the plugs and how late L had been up the night before and how prickly he was going to be that morning. It was a rough hour or so but I managed to get them off to school and work while I worked at enlisting others in the ban. His teacher and after school teacher were the first line of resources I engaged and they were fully on board although I did choose to allow him to continue technology class for the remaining three weeks of school as well as the occasional movie shown in the classroom. I didn’t want him to feel ostracized or adrift because of the ban but it also limits his exposure as best we can through the next weeks.

The first days of unplugging rolled out without a plan and that was probably a mistake. In Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dunckley suggests a full week of preparing for the ban and that might have made things a bit easier. But I was familiar with plan and knew that I would need to fill in the downtime with other activities and had already started a list of options. We went to the library, Taekwondo and swimming. Friday night we had a sitter (his sister) who was thrown head first into the no technology zone. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy night.

I wasn’t prepared for our first full weekend day though and it was beyond rough. There was a bunch of structured activity – a lacrosse game, bike rides and we pulled out some board games but eventually we hit a wall and there were plenty of tears and fits of anger to absorb which we rode it out as best we could. I cleaned out his room and unearthed some projects he had left undone due to his preference for electronics and those kept him busy some of the time. Legos, an experiment kit, a puzzle. He begged to watch television. Just one movie. Please, please, please. It’s so hard to be unwavering in the presence of his tear soaked face. There was no choice, though.

Sunday was much better and while it required a much higher level of engagement from J and I, at the end of the day we’d had fewer meltdowns and only once or twice did he ask to watch TV. He kept busy playing basketball, creating science experiments, watching his cousin play basketball and a couple bike rides. He even dragged some lumber out of the basement with the idea of building a fort. We had a nice dinner out and no electronics were displayed throughout. It was the first time in a long time that had happened.

I’m not naïve enough to feel we’ve cleared any hurdles yet. But at least we are bringing a little more peace back into our lives. We are joining him on the ban so other than updating the blog from time to time I am removing myself from social media and other internet use as much as possible. I’ve also given up Candy Crush, my little secret addiction in solidarity with him. There is even a $5 fine to be levied against anyone who breaks the ban. If we need to use our phones at home we must announce the reason first or pay the piper.

I started re-reading the book we’re basing the ban on and came to a part where it asked parents to give up electronics (including my beloved kindle). It was fairly ironic because I was reading the book on said kindle. Instead of despairing, I requested the physical book from the library and put down my kindle for the duration. It’s a small price to pay. We’re finishing up week one and I’ll update our progress when I can.

MC

 

 

 

 

Writer’s (un)block

I have been away from the blog for a bit (the post I published yesterday was written a few month’s ago). It has not been an auspicious beginning for me with the new site! I was stumped as to why I had such a block against writing and so instead of ringing my hands over it any longer, I made it as simple as possible and started putting pen to paper for the last two months. It may have done the trick!

Pen Writer Girl Book Writing Notebook Notes
I wrote about anything and everything that popped into my brain. What happened during the day. How I slept. What I ate. Who I saw. It was painfully dry! Then something started happening and I began to wake up early (5:00/5:30) eager to open the notebook and let my thoughts pour out.

Much of the early stuff I wrote was about my shopping ban and things that were coming up for me during this period. I wrote down things I had never told anyone about my finances when I was in my early 30’s, things I was so ashamed of, but the act of putting them on paper allowed me to release them and let go and boy did that feel good! What I learned during my shopping ban will likely make into its own post at some point too.

I was also struggling with some issues that were happening in my life that were leaving me less than peaceful and I knew it was because my recovery effort had stalled. I double downed and got back on track with it. If I hadn’t been writing, it may have taken me longer to figure out what I needed. Also, I began to start each passage with this prayer:

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This returned me to a peaceful mind. I still recite it each morning before I begin the day. I always need to be reminded that I have to turn myself to His hands and stop being the control freak I want to be. Some things are so hard to let go of!

There was/is also a lot going on with the family dynamic and my son’s behavior. I wrote it all out. I created my own prayers about it and included them under the third step prayer that I started each day’s entry with. It really helped! There is much more to say on this topic so I will leave it to its own entry. But, really. Writing these things down and getting them out of my mind was a tremendous help.

So I am cautiously optimistic I may be able to produce more blog content (I am a marketer if that phrase didn’t make that clear) and get on a regular schedule of posting. It really feels good to be writing again!

MC

 

 

Parenting a sensitive, intense child

Like the chronic dieter eager to try every conceivable plan to help reign in their eating habits, so too have I sampled many different parenting approaches with my now ten year old son. From the time he was a highly active infant, I found myself paging through book after book to try to find the answers to parenting, starting with Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. I didn’t really understand if this was they way all kids were or if my kid was just a little different.

Looking back, I can see he was a pretty intense kid. He walked early and from there he was off like a bolt of lightening. He climbed anything that went up and there isn’t to this day a banister that hasn’t seen his backside. My default is to tell him no. Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself. Don’t do that, your not modeling good behavior for the younger kids. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.

When he was four we made a very poor decision. We took him on a 7 day trip to Paris and Rome, wanting to get a travel fix for ourselves and a stamp on our passports. We promised him Euro Disney and thought we could spend the rest of the time visiting landmarks, museums and churches. Like I said it was a poor decision. It was a time when he was becoming fiercely independent. No more stroller, no more holding hands, no more listening.  All he wanted was to run away. Run away from us. Looking back, this was a bit of a farce.

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One of those happy times!

 

I managed to eke out about a half dozen photos from the trip that didn’t make it look like we wanted to kill each other. But by then his intensity was scaring me and I found myself looking around at other children and parents who seemed to be doing this family thing so much better than us and wondering what we were doing wrong. I read many, many more parenting books but did not find any lasting answers.

I kept hoping he’d outgrow this intensity of his. He is an arguer, a negotiator, prone to fits of anger but a sweet kid too. I wanted more of the sweet kid than the other stuff but it seemed to go hand in hand with him. His first grade teacher was wonderful with him and told me how smart and kind he was and how these other traits that get him into trouble will serve him well when he’s an adult. I knew she was right but I didn’t know how I would survive the years in between.

In second and third grade we saw how his personality butted up with those of his peers and I tried talking to him like a little adult about the things he should to do to be a better friend. It worked for a few days at a time but there was never any meaningful change. And finally over that summer between and third and fourth grade, things steadily declined until we finally sought help from a therapist. One of his teachers told me to ask about oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and I quickly googled what it was. While not 100% accurate, it was fairly like reading some of the harder aspects of our child and it was then I realized what we were doing wasn’t going to work. There needed to be an overhaul in thinking and action on all our parts.

To be continued.

MC