The young woman sitting across from me at the dinner table talked enthusiastically about her research at the MIT Media Lab. She was involved in designing prosthetics that would enable a person to climb a mountain or run a marathon. She was also graduating the next day from MIT and on her way to a masters program clear across the country to study mechanical engineering. Only 14 percent of engineers in this country are women and my niece is one of them.
My nephew graduated the day after his sister and is off to college to pursue his dream as a video game designer. At the other end of the table, Anna is telling my sister-in-law about her internship shadowing a cardiologist. She’s been scrubbing in to observe procedures like putting in pacemakers and defibrillators. “And you don’t feel like fainting when you see all that blood?” I ask in disbelief. Adam is excited to start a research internship in a lab studying stem cells.
These kids alternately awe me and make me weepy. When did they become young adults with interests and expertise so far from my own area of knowledge? When did I stop becoming my children’s primary confidante? Their first line of defense? I don’t write to their teachers anymore about this or that or send notes that they have to sit out recess because of a cold. They advocate for themselves. I watch Anna explain to a server about her severe dairy allergy. I used to do that stuff.
My role as a mother is undergoing a radical realignment and I’m not ready. I’ve known that my kids would only belong to me for a finite period of time. They’d grow and want to stumble into the greater world on their own. What young adult wouldn’t? I did.
So it was with great reluctance and more than a bit of trepidation that I let my children take the train down to Manhattan to stay with their respective friends for the weekend. I know there are kids younger than they are that literally travel the world by themselves. I also know that my kids are more than capable of taking trains and catching subways on their own. They’ve spent extended time away from home at camp and on school trips abroad. But this was a new adventure for them, navigating New York City on their own. Adam told me not to worry—in New York you’re never lost for long. You just count. I wasn’t concerned that he’d get lost, I was hyper about him looking like he was lost.
There are books written about parents like me. The classic on the subject of the overprotective parent is by Lenore Skenazy. She wrote a book called Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry. After her book came out a few years ago, she was on the Today Show with her then nine year-old son whom she allowed to navigate the New York City subway system without a cell phone. It was jaw dropping for me. I thought about Skenazy when I interrogated my almost sixteen year-old about his pending maiden voyage on the Times Square shuttle. He shrugged me off and said he took the T in Boston. And then I remembered he’s the kid who debates at school and speaks Spanish fluently. My niece the engineer backpacked through Europe after her senior year in high school. At her college graduation dinner she told us a story about dusting off her French to ask a hotel concierge where she could do laundry. And my computer science nephew will likely be acquiring skills to control a drone someday.
It’s thrilling to watch this generation put down a stake in their future. But does that future include me as a mother? Friends with grandchildren assure me that there’s a Round Two in the mothering game and it’s even sweeter the second time around. One friend went so far as to tell me that if she had known how wonderful grandchildren were she would have skipped having children and gone straight into grandparenting.
I have no doubt that my niece, my nephew and my own children will have a great impact on the world. Like any experienced chess player, I can see the endgame already. And my part is to let go and wave goodbye after each milestone. The other day I was helping Adam through some disappointing news. I sat on the edge of his bed and he said that he felt like a five year-old. I told him that sometimes we need to feel like a little kid to be nurtured.
For the moment, though, I’m going to pretend that the only changes I have to cope with in the near future are to wave goodbye at the train station and cheer on my niece and nephew for receiving their diplomas.
Facebook’s little photo-sharing app just became a video-sharing app too. Whether they’re using Apple or Android phones, Instagram’s 130 million users can now simply pick whether that image they want to capture is better static or in motion, then click on either the little camera or videocam icon. If they go with video, they can capture up to 15 seconds (no looping over and over as in other video-sharing apps like Vine). The filters that have always added to the fun in this app are there for video too (13 of them for it), and they can pick the frame they want to use to represent that little video on their profile or wherever they share it. If their shooting isn’t very steady, there’s a pretty amazing feature called Cinema (for now just for iPhone 4s and 5) that stabilizes the video for them.
Everything else about this new addition is a lot like the photo part of Instagram – which is almost more about illustrated conversations than mere photo-sharing. “We’re still committed to making sure you have control over all of your content. Only the people who you let see your photos will be able to see your videos,” wrote Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom in the IG blog. And we ConnectSafely folk have written a straightforward, 5-page parents’ guide to Instagram that tells you how to help your kids keep it fun and constructive (we’re in the middle of updating it as I write this). Here’s coverage of the video announcement at TechCrunch.
Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of the summer season, is upon us June 21 this year, at 05:04 Universal Time, or 1:04 am on the U.S.’ east coast, 10:04 pm, June 20, on the west. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a summer solstice celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.
An easy way to celebrate Summer Solstice, whether your gathering is a large one or a cozy one, is to make Summer Solstice cupcakes.
Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.
Summer Solstice cupcakes
This recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round
Makes 20-24 cupcakes
1/2 cup butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour, sifted first and then measured
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.
3. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture, and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Bake for 25 minutes.
Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.
This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?
Happy Solstice to all!
Parents these days enroll their children in lots of enriching summer camps and classes. Lucky kids. And other lucky kids just putter around their homes or yards pretending. "Let's pretend" were the words that commenced most of childhood play for generations. With rich imaginations children created exotic and fantastic worlds in which they were the main players.
Empty packing boxes became all kinds of little shops and vehicles. A line of chairs in the dining room became a bus or train. A bedspread thrown over a sawhorse became our tent on the Amazon. In our own attic was a box of fancy dresses, suits, hats, and old jewelry. We became Mom and Dad or duke and duchess.
I have nothing against the kind of "enriched childhood" many parents are trying to create. I just don't want kids to miss the richness that comes from their own unique imaginations.
When I see the Kindergarten children in a school where I'm the psychologist with baskets of dress-ups in their play area, I am grateful. This may be one of the few places where these developing minds get to exercise the capacity to imagine. Too often these days children's imaginations are hijacked by television or by toys that require a specific story line.
As children we often had as much fun making our toys as we did playing with them. When I wanted to play secretary, I spent an entire afternoon making a typewriter from a little black box and circles of paper that I carefully cut out, labeled with appropriate letters and glued on the box. When we wanted a swimming pool we spent a whole day digging a hole, placing a tarp and running water. All for about 30 minutes of splashing. Our mother had suggested the location of the "swimming pool" and a few days later a big lilac bush was planted there. (Guess mom had a little imagination too.)
Children still have these impulses and with a little unstructured time will organize an activity, create, and pretend. My daughter was one of those children who absorbed all the tape and cardboard in the house into her creations. One year I gave her a shoebox filled with tape, scissors, cardboard, etc. as a Christmas gift. She loved it, managed to use it all up in short order and continued to gather the tape from her parents' secret hiding places.
I became convinced that one of the ways we encourage imagination is by tolerating messes. Sometimes the imagination of my children resulted in chaos in the living room, where every stuffed animal and piece of doll equipment became part of some elaborate setting. I must confess that it was often tempting to just let them watch cartoons because it created less mess. On the other hand the mess created from too much media can be in their heads rather that on the living room floor. Much harder to clean up.
Some children are natural directors in pretend plays. "You be the princess, and you be the horse and you be the dad." My daughter was one of those directors, and to be allowed to play with her and her friends she would tell her little brother, "You be the monster". It's hard to know what impact her training had on him, but there were times when he played that role too well. Fortunately he escaped the type casting and is now the most wonderful grown son a mother could want.
Toys that have multiple uses and, even better, time in the great outdoors can spark the "pretend potential" in children. I hope every child gets to make mud pies at some point in their childhood. Even pretending with them can help. I'm certain that our now grown children became the creative cooks they are because of the hours we spent pretending to be restaurant patrons and ordering wildly exotic dishes.
One of the best friends of imagination is boredom. We have to let kids be bored every now and then and let them find inspiring materials around to create their own fun. In these critical times we need rich imaginations to solve our many problems and equally important to bring joy and laughter into the world. Even if it means more messes in the living room — it's a small price to pay.
This video of twins playing with rubber bands has been stretching across the Internet the past few days, so why haven't we at Modern Parenthood posted it yet? To be honest, we've been too busy geeking out to the twins and their rubber bands to actually do something productive.
With the video finally paused, no easy feat considering the psychological tug of a baby's laugh, not to mention the laughter of two babies, we're ready to do our job.
This is clearly the most infectiously funny video since the 2008 four laughing babies video which has more than 3.6 million views.
So just what is this video? Simple explanation: twins plus rubber bands equals laughter. Explanation with a Les Miserables paraphrase: To watch these little laughing persons is to see the face of God.
Oreos, the dunkable chocolate cookie with a crème épaisse center (we joke), is getting a limited edition flavor makeover for summer. What did the bosses at Nabisco decide on? Watermelon Oreos — this is happening.
“We chose Watermelon because it is a fun, summer flavor that goes great with the Golden OREO cookie,” Oreo spokesperson Kimberly Fontes told Time.
While Ms. Fontes seems to be excited, Oreo's social media accounts, known for brilliant marketing stunts like the Super Bowl power outage ad released on Twitter, have been mum about the newest edition of their cookie, at least on the Internet. Rather than tweet, Instagram, or post a Facebook status about the limited edition product as they have in the past for other makeovers like the orange colored Halloween cookie, Oreo's social media managers have only recognized the existence of the new Watermelon Oreos in responses to comments originating from fans, which, by default, are not displayed front and center on social media pages.
So what are Oreo eaters saying about the new Watermelon Oreos? On Twitter, responses range from, "These sound heavenly," to "i looked up 'abomination against nature' in the dictionary and there was a picture of watermelon oreos." In the one tweet that actually mentioned @Oreo, Twitter user Mark Hodgson said he highly recommended the summer edition Oreos, to which the official Oreo Twitter handle, three days later, replied: "@markasrx You're one smart cookie ;)"
What few mentions this reporter could find on the cookie's Facebook page came only as a generic sounding reply to fans of the page who asked where they could find the new product.
In separate comments, fans Cali Julz and Carrie Asmann asked, respectively, "Where are these watermelon OREO's at...pls say soCal ;)" and, "Watermelon oreos where can we buy them??"
The person behind Oreo's Facebook account gave the same response to both women: Though that person answered the question, the answer sounded like a canned response aimed at any and all questions about the new Watermelon Oreos: "Hi! – We have good news! We are making Watermelon Oreos! They are a limited edition product available at Target while supplies last! Thanks!"
Other responses to questions about sales locations were personally addressed to those who queried the cookie maker.
Perhaps the brand is avoiding direct mention of the new flavor because other organizations, mainly media organizations, that have polled their fans on social media about thoughts on the new Watermelon Oreos have been met with criticism.
KPRC Local 2, based in Houston, asked Facebook fans if they would buy a bag of Watermelon Oreos. The post was shared more than 600 times and received almost 400 comments. A quick glance at the comments and you can conclude that, at least for the fans of KPRC Local 2, Watermelon Oreos are not a hit.
There was a deluge of comments containing one word, "Eww."
Still, the cookies have only been sold at Target since June 10 and we don't know if the negative reactions on KPRC's post and seen across the Twittersphere are knee-jerk reactions to the idea or from people who have thoughtfully considered the merits of Watermelon Oreos based on an actual taste test. Only time will tell.
Increasingly, digital media are just part of the rhythm of everyday US family life, a significant new study of parents of young children indicates. The study, “Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology,” conducted by Northwestern University’s Center on Media & Human Development, surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 2,300 parents of children 8 and under about how media – both “traditional” and digital – inform and fit into their everyday lives and parenting. The authors found that “78% report that their children’s media use is not a source of family conflict, and 59% said they aren’t concerned their kids will become addicted to new media,” according to US News & World Report.
What’s most on parents’ minds (Source: the “Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology” report).
What does concern those parents is the impact of lots of screen time on kids’ health – “the negative impact screen time has on kids’ physical activity levels. More than 60% said video games result in less movement by their children, with similar proportions saying the same about TV, computers and mobile devices,” US News reports. The authors themselves wrote that parents “are more likely to find a positive than negative effect of media and technology on many of their children’s academic skills.”
Family media use very individual
But it’s so individual from family to family, both the report and author, professor and tech parenting expert Lynn Schofield Clark indicate. Dr. Clark, who attended the release event in Washington, had an important take-away: “We don’t all experience media in the same way.” For some families in some neighborhoods, for example, staying inside playing video games might be safer than playing outside.
In her post about the report in PsychologyToday.com, she points to what I think of as an ideal approach to parenting where media’s concerned: “an ethic of respectful connectedness,” Clark calls it. “To the extent that media can help parents and family members to stay connected and to remain respectful of who they are and where they’ve come from, media can be seen as useful and helpful in relation to family goals.”
Less is better? It depends
So far in the digital age, our society tends to believe less media is better, but “not all parents can engage in the kind of concerted cultivation activities hat tend to make media use lighter,” Clark writes. Families “may face economic, health, language, or job- or transportation-related challenges…. ‘Helicopter parenting’ and concerted cultivation are rooted in the idea that young people can achieve and improve their lives through participation in existing societal structures, whether that’s school, sports or the arts. But while families facing greater economic challenges hope that these things will help, they don’t trust that they will [emphases hers]. They look to their families, neighborhoods, friends and communities to help their children develop the resilience they will need to face the challenges of racism, prejudice, and structural inequalities.”
Clark cites the view of Prof. Vikki Katz at Rutgers University, “who has studied Latino immigrant parents and their children” and said at the conference that “it’s important not to pathologize families who have economic struggles. They have the same goals as the rest of us when it comes to wanting the best for their children and in their hopes for the ‘American dream,’ and those of us working in areas of policy, research, and industry need to seek to provide support for them on their own terms.”
Some other interesting findings
- Tablets not babysitters: I’ve often heard it said that, when parents are busy, they just hand kids a smartphone or tablet. Not true. This study shows that they’re “more apt to turn to toys or activities (88%), books (79%) or TV (78%). Of parents with smartphones or iPads, only 37% reported being somewhat or very likely to turn to those devices.”
- Early media independence: Lots of parents use media with young children, the authors report, “but this ‘joint media engagement’ drops off markedly for children who are six or older.”
- Parenting no easier. These parents use digital devices a whole lot, but most (70%) “don’t think they’ve made parenting any easier.”
- Socio-economic differences: Families with incomes of $25,000 or less are more likely than families with incomes of $100,000 or more “to turn to TV for educational purposes” – 54% vs. 31%, respectively. It may have something to do with language, I think, that the researchers found that “lower income parents are also more likely to think TV has a ‘very’ positive effect on children’s reading (23%, compared to 4% among the higher-income group) as well as their math and speaking skills.” The authors add that “similar differences are found in parents’ views about the positives and negatives of computers as well,” which makes me wonder if “computers” means the Internet.
- Media time management. Professor Clark recommends that, instead of asking how much screen time is too much, parents might “think about teaching time management” so they can learn develop their own self-regulatory skills. And Prof. Barbara Fiese at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, encourages “healthy habits in the whole ‘family ecology’” of which media is just one part, Clark reports.
The Northwestern researchers divvied the various kinds of media environments that parents have created for their families into three buckets based on quantity of screen time: the 39% of households that are “media-centric” (11+ hours of screen time/day, with children spending 4-5 hours a day on-screen); the 45% that are “media-moderate” (spending just under 5 hours on-screen/day, with children spending just under 3 hours); and the16% that are “media-light” (generally with higher levels of income and education and spending even lower amounts of time with screen media, with children spending under 1.5 hours/day on-screen).
What does all this say about parenting these days? To Lynn Clark, it suggests that “parents will have to prepare children for a world that requires intentional effort as we seek to maintain the bonds that matter most to us.” I’m with her on that and, if I can riff on it a little bit: Successful participation in social media (not to mention school, work and all social spaces in our kids’ futures) is conscious participation. It’s both social literacy and media literacy – a “respectful connectedness,” as Lynn put it, online and offline. It doesn’t only defeat bullying and other anti-social behavior, it develops the kind of protection that’s preventive and permanent – with our children all the time and all their lives – critical thinking and resilience. And we know from the research that it increases academic as well as social success.
June 17-23 is National Pollinator Week. It’s a week to celebrate and educate about pollinating animals, such as bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and others, which are extremely vital to our ecosystem. Pollinators support much of our wildlife, lands and watersheds. Nearly 80% 0f the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products require pollination by animals.
RECOMMENDED: 22 summer salads
There are so many simple ways to welcome pollinators into our home gardens and other outdoor spaces. In addition to helping the earth’s ecosystem and food supply, you’ll also experience the fascination and wonder that comes from observing the animals you attract. Here are a few ways to get more involved:
Check out NWF gardeners’ favorite plants for attracting pollinators.
Make a quick and easy bird feeder to attract and observe birds.
Enjoy beautiful nature during Pollinator Week and throughout the year!
RECOMMENDED: 22 summer salads
If you grew up in the 1960s or 1970s, it seemed like there was a spaceship launch every week. A rocket was followed by a plume of smoke, and off the brave astronauts would go into the unknown, possibly bumping into God.
Launching a spacecraft is one thing. Bringing it safely back to earth is another kind of business. Launch and reentry have been on my mind quite a bit this past month when Anna returned from her first year of college.
As Ken and I launched our girl into higher education last August, the venture made nervous astronauts out of the three of us. It was a bit of a bumpy start, but that did not last too long and soon enough, Anna was orbiting her new world 300 miles away. She had a successful launch and last month, we all had to reverse course for her to reenter our atmosphere.
Depending on your perspective, this return was either a setback or a simple change of venue. I’d say it was a little of both. Just as spacecraft reentry can be a very tricky business, so is getting your college freshman acclimated to home life again. Note that when an object enters the earth’s atmosphere it experiences a few forces, including gravity and drag. Gravity has a natural pull on an object and will cause the object to fall dangerously fast. Think of this as your college freshman reluctantly comes back to home life, reacting to the natural yet disturbing force of your parental gravity.
Moving back home can prove to be a challenge for college students. The earth’s atmosphere contains particles of air that a falling object hits and rubs against as it descends to the earth, causing friction. The object experiences drag or air resistance, which slows it down to a safer entry speed.
You and your returning freshman will have your own version of friction. True enough, your child will experience drag and air resistance, but in the end will not be happy to adjust her life to a safer entry speed. Again, take a lesson from physics in understanding that friction in relationships is, at best, a mixed blessing. In addition to causing drag, it also causes intense heat.
In researching the particulars of space-shuttle descents, I came upon some physical realities that make reentry safer, and in the case of a college student returning home for the summer, a bit smoother. Any astronaut will tell you that reentering earth is about attitude control. In the case of space flight, this is not a psychological term, but instead refers to the angle at which the spacecraft flies. I submit that similarly adjusting one’s view of welcoming your college student back home also has to do with attitude control. You and your child are in your own private descent back to family life, and how you adjust the angle of your relationship is the key to success.
Don’t make a rookie mistake and think that loving phone calls and happy Skype sessions while your child is at school will translate into a seamless transition back home. In reality, we parents are the ground crew to our children’s ongoing launches. You and I both know that she’s still under heavy parental support, but it doesn’t feel that way to a daughter who has been in charge of her own schedule for the past nine months. Your child believes she is a high-flying adult living on her own.
We can cull further lessons on our kids’ return to home life by understanding the descent of a space shuttle. In order to leave its orbit, a spacecraft must begin the process of slowing down from its extreme speed. The parties, the 2 a.m. pizza call, the constant flow of company, all of that comes to a screeching halt back at the ancestral home. Just as a spacecraft flips around and flies backward for a period of time to slow down, your college student will need to thrust her life out of orbit to return back to your home base.
The descent through the atmosphere can be a bumpy ride. Once a spacecraft is safely out of orbit, it turns nose-first again and enters the atmosphere in a position akin to a belly flop. The nose is pulled up to what is called an angle of attack, which stabilizes the descent. The lesson to learn here is that friction is inevitable and even necessary to guarantee a safe landing.
Landing a space shuttle today is a lot different from landing one of the Apollo missions, of my childhood. In those days, the astronauts returned to earth in their command module and made a dramatic splash in the ocean. Today’s shuttle lands more like an airplane and glides into a landing strip, deploying a parachute to slow it down.
In the end, does the reentry of your college student look like the big splashdown of one of the Apollo missions or is it the smooth computer-assisted glide of a shuttle landing? We’re still working it out at our house, and the return back from dorm living vacillates between the two, feeling as mysterious as the heavens.
While waiting for my older son to arrive at Boston’s Logan Airport late the other night, I saw a young father wheeling an overburdened luggage cart, his wife a few feet behind him, a sleeping toddler in his pajamas in her arms. I remember flights like that: for many years when our kids were young we flew from Boston to Oregon for a beach vacation with their cousins and grandparents. Those were l-o-n-g flights and we carried many a sleeping or cranky child in our arms through airport terminals in those days.
In some ways I’m glad those days are over – they look exhausting; they were exhausting – but I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy for those weary parents, too. I’ll be 60 in a few months: my older son just graduated from college and the younger one from high school. They’re turning pages, but so am I, and I regret that I’m much closer to the end of the book than I was during those interminable flights to Oregon, diaper bag under the seat and squirmy toddler on my lap.
Early on in their lives I sensed time would pass quickly. As any parent knows, the days and nights can pass very slowly, but the years fly by. That’s why I was determined to find work that would give me the ability to be home as they were growing up. I was terrified that if I didn’t I’d look back one day and realize I missed it, that I was stuck in traffic during their Little League games, or on the road at a business meeting when their teeth fell out.
It wasn’t obvious to me when they were young, but fatherhood is a lifetime commitment. Their problems change, their needs evolve (mostly they become more expensive), and their expectations of their parents become harder to discern, but in many ways children never stop depending on you no matter how old they are. Even when I’m feeble and, heaven forbid, dependent on them in some way, they will, I suspect, still have expectations, even if it’s just that I should live to see another day.
Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, seems awfully contrived, a boon to florists, retailers, and greeting card manufacturers that has more than a whiff of obligation about it. But what parent wouldn’t be at least slightly pained if their children let it pass unnoticed?
Few parents I know took the job, if one can call it that, so they could collect their children’s appreciation or because they wanted to be the object of a national holiday. (Some fathers, like the father of our country, get a whole day to themselves; the rest of us have to be content sharing the glory with several million other people.) But I’m probably not alone in thinking that my kids take a lot for granted. We all did when we were growing up; our parents’ hard work and sacrifice is something we could only appreciate when we became parents ourselves.
So, I will open the cards and the gifts and be truly grateful for them. I’ll miss my own dad and be grateful for all he gave me, too. But mostly I will be grateful for the privilege of being the father to two fine sons, even if they sometimes call me “Pete.”