Written on May 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm , by Christina-TynanWood
I was in a flurry of preparation for a trip to Europe. I had a million things to do. And I was worrying about leaving my 14-year-old daughter Ava home alone for a night while I was gone. (My husband and son had college-tour plans while I was away.) Ava assured me she was excited about getting some “alone time.” But she’s my baby. I was fretting.
In the midst of this, I took a call from some folks at Vivint, a home security company. They wanted me to try their home monitoring system because it was – they said — like some of the “future” technologies I’d covered in “Your Future Home.” It would tell me when my kids got home and let me see who was with them.
If I hadn’t been right in the middle of fretting, I might simply have said, “No thanks! I have to pack.” But as they explained how great it was for keeping an eye on a house when you aren’t in it, I started to imagine my trip with the option to also be a fly on the wall back home.
So I agreed. A few days later, a bright orange truck pulled into my driveway and a team of friendly installers busied themselves setting up a control panel, door locks, cameras, window sensors, and smoke alarms. (Component prices vary; monitoring starts at $50 a month.)
When they left, the only thing that was really noticeable was a touch-screen panel on the wall in the kitchen and the fancy new locks. We threw out our now-obsolete door keys and learned our new access codes. Bonus: I don’t have to worry (not that it had occurred to me yet) that one of my kids will lock themselves out when I’m too far away to help. We each get our own code to lock and unlock the doors. And I can issue a new code right from my phone if I want to let someone – repair person, house guest — in.
I showed my daughter how she could simply push a panic button on the wall panel. “So if there’s a fire or Zombie Apocalypse,” I told her. “Or you cut yourself and need medical attention, push that button and tell the person who comes on the intercom what’s wrong.”
Next I grabbed my laptop and went to the system’s online dashboard. I can lock and unlock doors, arm the security system, and view the video feed from my computer, phone, or tablet no matter where I am – as long as I have an internet connection. I told it I want to be alerted whenever anyone unlocks the door and anytime the fire alarm is triggered. When someone unlocks the door, it also grabs a short video so I can see who it is and if they are alone.
“Hah! I told the dog. “No parties for these teens when I’m away.”
I experienced an odd mix of despotism and maternal affection. But my fretting was gone. Now all I had to do to check on the kids was pick up my phone. That quickly became reflexive. If I miss them, I have a quick look home.
A few days into my trip, I got an alert that the fire alarm had triggered and the alarm system — unable to get a response — had sent the fire department. I looked in on the family room and all seemed well. But I called anyway.
“I was cooking.” My husband admitted. “And I didn’t answered my phone because it was set to silent.” An embarrassing false alarm. Now the fire department knows how reckless a cook he is. But it got me thinking about how inadequate our old fire alarms had been. If there was a fire when no one was home, their annoying chirping wouldn’t have done any good.
On the night my daughter was home alone, I looked in on the house whenever I had a Wi-Fi connection. I mostly I saw empty rooms because the cameras are trained only on high-traffic areas and she was in her room. I frowned at the dog, though, who was making himself quite comfortable on the couch when he thought no one was looking. But at least if the dog was sleeping, all was well.
As I was about to board a plane, I took one last look. And there was Ava, eating pizza, cranking up the music, and — could it be true? — doing homework. She was clearly enjoying her alone time – even while getting some work done.
I decided I should do the same.
I noticed, though, that she had left the front door unlocked. So — maternal fly on the wall that I now am — I clicked a button on the Web portal and locked it. Then it was easy to turn off my phone and enjoy my flight.
Written on May 20, 2013 at 8:45 am , by Lynya Floyd
The other day, a mom friend told me about something unnerving she saw at a teen pool party last summer. “There was an overweight girl there and I watched her wolf down two slices of pizza and a handful of chicken nuggets in about five minutes flat,” she recalled. “I don’t think she even realized how much she was eating and she didn’t stop long enough to find out.”
Moms make countless smart decisions every day to keep their families healthy. Maybe you avoid tossing a tempting bag of potato chips into your shopping cart so your kid will snack on something more nutritious instead. Or perhaps you make sure that half of everyone’s dinner plate is filled with fruits and vegetables. But what about the health choices your kids—like that girl at the pool party—make when you’re not around?
“That girl has a mother who is very conscious of her daughter’s weight, serves healthy food at home and even sends her kid to exercise classes,” my friend said. “But as soon as the daughter is out of her mom’s vision, this is what she does.” And with nearly one in three children in the U.S. being overweight or obese, that teen’s mom isn’t the only one trying to make a difference.
This month, we got expert advice from moms and weight loss experts on how to talk to your child when they’re carrying around extra pounds. Check out “Weighty Matters” for advice on helping your kid make good decisions so you can improve their health when you are (and aren’t) in the room.
Written on May 17, 2013 at 10:51 am , by Paula Chin
Archie has been pretty quiet lately.
Archie is our magnificent 1897 Steinway upright, which I bought soon after my daughter started piano. Because I shared a sitter with a neighboring family, Nat would watch when their two kids had lessons; when she was 4, she asked if she could start them herself. I was delighted—I believe all kids should study piano and learn to read music, at least for a couple years. In elementary school, I took back-to-back piano and violin lessons (like Nat, it was my own choice; I didn’t have a Tiger Mom). And so it went—scales, chords, etudes, Ode to Joy, Fur Elise, Tarantella, Pachelbel, the standard child’s repertoire. Piano performances with other kids, where Nat and I sometimes played duets. I hadn’t touched the keys in decades, but once we got Archie I fell in love all over again (Chopin! Brahms! Beethoven! Joplin!) and connected with the joy and sorrow in the music in a way I never could as a tween.
It was hard work for Nat. It was also a wonderful process of discovery, accomplishment, pride. And it was fun. When we got the refurbished Steinway we learned the tradition was to name it after the model number—in our case, a Model R. We lived with it for a bit before we decided it was a He. But we couldn’t come up with a name that fit. The old guy wasn’t a Robert, Ricky, Raul, Reggie, Rocky or Rudy. Finally, one day in the car Nat piped up from the back seat. “I got it!” she said. “R-chie!” Brilliant, if I say so myself.
The pieces got longer and harder; so did Nat’s homework assignments. I had to cajole and nag her to play. Month after month, I could see her patience fading. She wanted to get practice over with rather than working on those difficult passages over and over until they flowed under her fingers. I gave her the option of quitting, no blame, no shame. She said no, but she never played on her own. So finally I made the decision for her, and after 7-plus years the lessons ended. Both of us were more than a little teary. We miss our wonderful teacher Elizabeth, (as do our cats, who would lay at her feet during lessons), but we are now dear friends and will stay in touch. I’m using the music money on concerts, plays and exhibits, exposing Nat to as much art as possible. And I’ve told her to take good care of dear old Archie after I’m gone, so he’ll be there for her kids—and for her to rediscover, just the way I did.
Written on May 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm , by jtaylor
There’s one location where the majority of my childhood memories take place. A specific space that encompasses most of the good times, heartfelt laughter, terse political debates and parental scoldings for broken curfews. It’s within the family room of my childhood home.
In that room, worn sofas and overstuffed chairs were shadowed by athletic trophies, posters and crooked school photos in cheap frames. Inside its wood-paneled walls, backpacks and briefcases rested on the floor as we checked in with each other after school, after work and after life-events. Even now when I return there, a step into our family room magically transports me back to my past.
These days fewer kids may be enjoying all the experiences I had. Now, according a recent Wall Street Journal article, parents are hiring architects and spending huge amounts of money to create spaces for their teens to ‘hang-out’ at home. They are building fantasy rooms like teen lounges, offices for homework, sleepover spaces and recording studios.The irony is that although the kids may stay home more, the clear delineation of kid versus adult space can create more separation within the home. Isn’t the point of having your kids around you to create the opportunity to build family communication by sharing and creating memories?
A recent study indicated that parents maybe missing the mark. We assume that kids want their freedom, when in fact most teenagers want to talk to and spend more time with mom and dad. Time spent with parents and in particular fathers has been shown to increase self-esteem and social confidence in teenagers.
Maybe the point is this: Instead of putting up walls, we should tear them down around our tweens and teens. We should focus on communicating, listening and sharing in the same space. And we should put effort into creating long-lasting memories that can’t be designed but only experienced together in one room.
What do you think of creating teen ‘hang-outs’ in your home? Post a comment below and tell me.
Written on May 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm , by Christina-TynanWood
As summer gets closer– at least the part where the kids aren’t in school – my panic gets more intense. My two teens are looking forward to having “nothing” to do. And I feel for them. It’s been a long year of math, enforced reading, homework, and high-stakes tests.
But what about me?
I don’t want to spend my summer chasing kids away from screens and worrying that they are rapidly forgetting all the math and science they worked so hard to cram into their brains. I am picturing the wet blanket I am about to become — tossing around pat phrases like, “Turn that thing off and go outside!” “Why don’t you read a book instead 144 texts that all say LOL?” — and I don’t like the image.
So I’m hatching a series of anti-wasted-summer schemes. Here are a few I’m considering.
Apple Camp is a free three-day session held at the Apple Store. If they are set on sitting in front of computers, at least they could learn some STEM skills and meet some other kids, right? These camps are for kids ages 8–12, though, so mine are too old. But maybe yours would like to work with Apple Store employees to shoot footage, create an original song in GarageBand on an iPad, and learn the ins and outs of iMovie to put it all together in a film on a Mac. At the end of the three days there is an Apple Camp Film Festival where campers debut their masterpieces. Move fast though. These are free and fill up fast. In fact, why not sign up to be notified when registration opens here. Registration opens in June and camp sessions will be held in July and August.
A Tablet Loaded with Learning
I know I will cave in to my teenagers relentless badgering for screen time eventually. So I’m grabbing a tablet and installing the YouTube app on the front page. It’s the first thing they they tap when they look at that screen. But I will subscribe to Steve Spangler Science, (see video above) MinutePhysics, and few other smart channels that specializing in entertaining learning from EDU YouTube. That way, at least some of the time they spend in front of a screen will make them smarter.
Let the Machine do the Nagging
Computers excel at marking time. Teens? Not so much. So I plan to offload some of the pestering to the machines. That way, when two hours – or whatever my kids and I have negotiated – is up, the computer will do the nagging and enforcing. I don’t have to use any of my classic wet-rag phrases or deal with the inevitable argument that follows. So, today, while the kids were at school doing their high-stakes testing, I installed the free Norton Family on all our laptops. Now, I can log on from any computer, tablet, or smart phone I have and set a limit on how long that laptop will let my kids stare at the Internet. If I’m worried about what they are up to online, I can also use it to monitor and block specific sites or categories.
Take Control of the Internet
I also use Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app on my phone to control when they can go online and what sites they visit – at least if they do it through my wireless router. Controlling access this way requires a bit more set up and the right router but it’s a great way to set a bedtime – or a designated outside time. And it gives me so much power! When I say, “Shut that thing off and go outside!” and receive, for my trouble, an argument or whining, I just pull my smart phone out of my pocket and kill the machine – or at least everything that’s interesting on that machine – with a couple of taps. And, just like that, everyone is doing what Mom wants — even if that means going outside to “do nothing” – just to I’ll turn it back on.
Written on May 9, 2013 at 6:58 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Age, as they say, is just a number. Yet so many of us still believe that once we register to vote, get married or buy a house, we’re magically teleported beyond the messy social situations of middle school. Not so. Case in point: two women who wrote to me with stories of grown-ups behaving like little kids—or if we’re being truthful, less mature than children.
Mom #1: I offended another mom with a joking comment on Facebook. I apologized twice via FB message, but never received a response and she unfriended me. Now when I see her, she ignores me. I don’t have to be friends with her. We weren’t really to begin with. But I am frustrated she won’t accept my sincere apology. What to do?
Mom #2: I play Bunko with some other mothers who always make plans for their families to hang out together but never invite me. When my kids are in similar situations, I tell them: “You can’t be invited to everything.” But I am really mad at these moms and have no idea what to do.
No matter what, it’s really helpful as a parent to have these moments to remember what it’s like to be excluded and how hard it is to confront people. But the silent treatment? The cold shoulder of the cool clique? What’s next? Arguments over buying the same prom dress?
So let’s get something straight: maturity, no matter how old you are, is about self-reflection. It’s about knowing how you contributed to a problem and being able to speak out when you don’t like something—all while treating yourself and others with dignity. And, as in the cases above, it’s natural to have the feelings these women are having.
What’s not OK (i.e. you’re now acting like you’re 12) is to allow those feelings to control your reactions. So here’s what I advise Mom #1 to do. Apologizing after she realized her mistake was exactly on point. But after the first apology on Facebook, she should have gone up to the woman in person and apologized again. So now, if she wants, she can apologize one more time in person to this woman. If the other mom really is an adult Queen Bee, she will pretend that she doesn’t even know what Mom #1 is talking about or offer a fake smiletell her don’t worry about it, and not mean a word of it. If she’s not an adult Queen Been, then she’ll genuinely thank her and both of them can move on.
But if Mom #1 does offer an in-person apology, no matter what, she knows she did her best and it’ll be easier for her to put this behind her. That’s because managing social conflicts online almost always makes the situation worse and at the least isn’t as satisfying.
Mom #2 has two options. She can decide she wants to talk to the women about it, but then she has to be prepared for the outcome she really may not want: they now invite her to their social activities. She has to ask herself if she even wants to hang out with these people. If she doesn’t then her options are to focus on playing Bunko or leave the group entirely. And this, by far, is one of the great benefits of being an adult. It’s not like when you’re in 7th grade and you have to go to school with these kids all day. You can pick up your stuff, turn on your heels and just leave.
What do you think about how these women should handle the middle-school situations they’ve become a part of? Post a comment and tell me.
Written on May 8, 2013 at 5:44 pm , by Christina-TynanWood
Mother’s Day is coming at us fast. And that means your kids will be buying or making presents for you! That’s wonderful. We all love to get handmade cards or flowers stolen from our own garden. But according to an annual TechBargains.com survey, 73% of mothers would prefer an iPad to flowers. I am squarely in that 73%. But more interesting (since it’s pretty common knowledge that I’m a geek) is that my mother is, too. And she is …well…quite a bit older than I am and not a geek at all. (Telling you her age would only get me into trouble.)
I recently gave her a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 ($179) and it brought with it a surprising side-benefit: It brought us a smidgen closer together. She is having a blast discovering things she likes (Audible, Skype, sending photos to Facebook, NextIssue for magazines, Netflix.com, financial apps, etc.), some of which I installed before giving her the tablet. She likes to go home and explore where no one is watching. And when she’s ready, she comes back for more advice on apps and resources she might like.
Before the tablet, she would come by on a Sunday “for a chat.” It was good to see her but uncomfortable because I didn’t really have time to sit around talking about nothing. Now she brings her tablet, pulls me onto the couch and shares things she has discovered (she is not too old for LOL cat videos) and I share things I like. And it turns out, I have plenty of time to enjoy a good laugh with her. She recently pulled my daughter into one of these laugh fests and the three of us crammed together on the couch to look at silly videos on Grandma’s tablet. My daughter won – hands-down – when it came to knowing where all the wet-your-pants-funny videos were. So we had a pretty good, multi-generational time gathered around a touchscreen.
My point? Maybe asking the kids to help you – even if only with advice or moral support — you get into a tablet or a smart phone wouldn’t be a totally selfish act this Mother’s Day. In fact, maybe all they really need is to know you would like it – and want their advice on what to get. (Though you might want to go armed with some of my advice, too. Teenagers tend to want what other teenagers want. So unless you are a teenager….) Who knows? The tech might turn out to be a good way for you all to connect. (And will certainly make it easier for you to supervise them.)
And don’t underestimate your own mother. Maybe what she really wants is to not be treated like a lost relic of an earlier age.
I wouldn’t take that “iPad” ($499) response in that survey too literally, though. I’m sure you — or your Mom — would be thrilled to get the Galaxy Tab I gave my mother or — even better — a Garnet Red Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 ($219), an engraved iPad Mini ($329), or the ($199) Kobo Arc, an Android Tablet and eReader with an engaging Pinterest-like interface.
You might also like many of the tech goodies I covered (with my husband Dan) in the Dads and Grads Gift Guide in the June issue of Family Circle. In particular, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a great tool to help busy moms — or grandparents who can’t be bothered to own a computer — stay connected and organized. The screen is big (like a pocket tablet) and the built-in pen allows for some old-school-but-digital note taking (with pen and screen) and photo marking.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Written on May 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm , by Celia Shatzman
It’s been almost a decade since my first-born came home and announced she’d be going to the middle school dance, my baptism into the strange “new” world of dating. Now that I’ve crossed almost all the way over (she’s 21 now, the youngest is 19, and they tell me very little about their college romances) I wish I could skip back in time and give myself some of the good advice I came across while reporting Young Love. “Shut up, Sarah,” I’d say. “Talk less. Listen more.”
But back when my kids were entering middle school, I was still fooling myself that my job was to teach them things. How to find what X equals, write a thank you note and even find lessons in the awkward rituals of very young love: What does it mean if he calls and texts? Texts but doesn’t call? Or doesn’t text at all? I kidded myself that I actually played a role in shaping them, spouting well-researched lectures about sex and responsibility and kindness and respect.
In the bumpy teen years that followed, I’ve learned I was wrong. In hindsight, I was pure spectator. Parents don’t shape kids; they simply help them unfold. My kids were learning the hard lessons about hormones and romance in school cafeterias, on Facebook and Skype, and at friends’ houses, giving me just the occasional glimpse into what was happening. The heart of a teen—and yes, even a tween—is a very private place. If they show you even an inch of what’s there, accept it as a minor miracle. Pull up a chair. Listen, don’t preach.
The hardest thing has been watching them get hurt. Nothing prepares you for the night your child cries about being dumped, dissed or just ignored. I never came up with anything better than the hollow phrase my mother always had for me: “This too shall pass.”
But you know what? It’s not hollow, it’s true. It works for teen heartbreak. And for those of us in the stands, watching our kids grow from “OMG, he’s so CUTE” to real love, real commitments, and real life? Watching it pass is one of the greatest shows on earth.
Written on May 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm , by Lynya Floyd
Chances are your handbag is better equipped to deal with a broken nail than a heart attack, according to a new survey. But actress Vanessa Williams says a simple addition could—and should—change all that. She’s teamed up with Bayer HealthCare and WomenHeart to launch Handbags & Hearts, a national campaign to encourage women to stash aspirin in their purse in case of a sudden heart attack. We caught up with Williams, a mom of four, while she was taking a break from her Tony-nominated Broadway show The Trip To Bountiful. Here, she shares five ways we can all make heart health a priority.
1. Know Your Family History
“Both my grandmothers died of heart issues,” reveals Williams. “My mom’s mother died at 64, but my dad’s mother died at 28 of a heart attack. We’ve been hyperaware of heart issues my entire life.” Williams values the importance of family and makes sure to stay close even if she’s all the way across the country. “My children always know that I’m present and available,” says the actress, author and singer whose youngest, Sasha, is 13 years old. “That’s the wonderful thing about FaceTime and texting. If there’s a question, they can see my face, hear my voice, read my words. I’m always available.”
2. Squeeze In A Good Workout
Heart attacks take the lives of 250,000 women each year. “You’ve got to make time for exercise,” says Williams who says showing up for a class at a gym helps keep her accountable. “Or try getting up an hour early for your workout. Or if you want to watch TV, jump on a treadmill while you’re doing it.” Mixing things up also makes her passionate about moving. Right now she’s is all about cardio-kickboxing, a heavy-bag class, yoga and dance.
3. Say Goodbye to Stress
“You can alleviate stress by staying fit, meditating and relaxing, but it’s also a mindset,” says Williams who co-wrote You Have No Idea with her mother, Helen Williams. “If you want to get stressed out, you will. When you feel like you’re losing control of your balance, you have to remember to breathe.” One of her favorite ways to unwind: music.
4. Don’t Buy The Bad Stuff
It’s the easiest way to avoid telling your kids to not eat that candy or that they’ve had too much soda. “If you don’t have it in the house, the temptation is gone,” says Williams. “It takes extra effort to indulge if it’s not as close as the kitchen.” One thing in particular she hopes moms will pass on buying more often: processed foods. “They’re the easiest to prepare, but not the best,” she says. “Instead have the right basics in your refrigerator so you don’t have to reach for processed foods.”
5. Stock Your Pocketbook
“You can lessen the risk of major damage from a heart attack if you take aspirin immediately,” says Williams. But that aspirin has to be readily available and what better place than your purse? Check out the Handbags & Hearts site where you’ll also learn signs of a heart attack that are unique to women and mouse clicks can turn into up to $200,000 in donations for WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease Heart Disease.
Written on May 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm , by Family Circle
Looking for a challenging at-home workout? Well, look no further, it’s right here. You can bring the calorie-blasting benefits of Spinning class right to your living room, den or basement with this indoor cycle by NordicTrack (pictured below). One lucky winner chosen at random will get one for free (web price $1,299).
Just leave a comment below telling us about a workout you’d like to try—but just haven’t gotten around to yet. (Zumba? CrossFit? Water aerobics? A barre class? Running or training for a race? Spinning?) Entries must be submitted by 11:59p.m. ET on June 30, 2013. See official rules here.
And for the inside scoop on getting a great indoor cycling workout, check out our June story “Want to Try a Spinning Class?”
Written on May 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm , by Paula Chin
I spent the past couple months binge-watching Friday Night Lights—all 76 episodes of it. I’d heard how great it was, but c’mon—high testosterone teens playing football in Texas? Not my thing. But one cold winter night I called up the pilot on Netflix. I was smitten—with gruff, beleaguered coach Eric Taylor, his plucky, resilient wife Tami, the high school hijinks, the tragic accident at the big game. Never has small town life–in all its ordinariness and glory–been so wonderfully captured. FNL is about so many things—the bittersweetness of growing up, dreams fulfilled and shattered, the blessings and burdens of our loved ones, issues like class and race. It’s warm, funny, heartbreaking, exhilirating. Just like real life.
I felt only slightly guilty indulging myself night after night while my 12-year-old, Nat, slouched over her homework. Not that my addiction escaped her. One evening she asked what I was watching and why I loved it so much. Then, when I had finished the incredible 5th season finale (Kleenex pls!) she asked if I would rewatch it with her. We’re now finishing up the first magnificent season, and it’s been an amazing bonding experience. Not surprisingly, Nat’s big into the Taylor family drama. Mr. and Mrs. Coach bicker and fight, but their marriage is as solid as it gets. Daughter Julie is a smart, petulant 15-year-old in the throes of first love. No doubt Nat is watching Julie looking for clues and cues to her own future—and enviously eyeing Julie’s locker at Dillon High (Nat’s school doesn’t have them). Like me, she’s even grown to like football…well, kinda.
What shows have you and your tween bonded over? Do you have a huge crush on Coach, like me?
Written on May 2, 2013 at 11:30 am , by jtaylor
I will never forget letting go of my then-toddler daughter’s chubby hand to pick up a gorgeous Barbie doll at a toy store. With brown skin and cascading black hair, she looked radiant and regal in her cardboard home. But my daughter shook her head, excitedly and defiantly pointed at another doll. It happened to be white with blond hair.
“Oh no!” I thought—and said. Holding out my brown arm next to my original choice, I explained: “See, her skin is just like Mommy’s.”
She left the toy store with a board game. No doll. I left the store determined to only buy books and dolls that had faces, hair and skin color that reflected that of my four African-American daughters.
My thought process did not emerge from a negative worldview of other ethnic groups. It came from the realization that my daughters’ self-concept and sense of inner-beauty would be impacted by many factors—some under my control but many not.
That being said, I consciously avoided self-critical remarks about my own physical flaws and theirs. I was very fortunate because my four daughters were jocks who were certainly attuned to and influenced by popular culture but also had healthy body images of girls and women.
Flash forward to last week when I picked up a recent issue of People magazine. I saw it featured the “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” and I had the same sinking feeling that I did in that toy store years ago. It wasn’t anything personal against the choice, but once again reminded me of the importance of our daughters having a strong self-image and being aware of the significance of their own inner beauty. (Especially given the amount of criticism the cover subject received).
As the mother of young women now, I am just as conscious of zingers in the world that may damage their self-esteem as I was in their formative years. The necessity of balancing media, peer and family influences on their sense of self will always be present.
In an ideal world, beauty would not be measured by external characteristics but internal character. Until that happens, maybe the Most Beautiful Person in the World wouldn’t be an actual picture of a person but simply a mirrored pane that reflects the image of the viewer.