Category Archives: family

How do you stick to your guns when it comes to video games?

I have been arguing with my 9-year-old son for weeks about why we won’t let him play Grand Theft Auto. I kind of blame myself.

He was at an older friend’s birthday party where they were playing games he knows we don’t allow. He texted me from his iPod: “I feel left out because everyone is playing video games I can’t play.”

I was proud of him for being honest and following the rules, so I told him it was OK to try them out with his friends. I didn’t expect him to like them so much. Up until now, our biggest challenge had been pulling him away from Minecraft, which is pretty universally praised as an educational game that encourages creativity and critical thinking.

He had tucked his Christmas cash into his homemade duct-tape wallet, and my son was determined to spend that money on GTA, a game that “EVERYONE plays.”

He kept telling me he doesn’t want to do all that bad crime stuff, he just likes to drive around and play tennis and stuff. Are there really scenic byways and recreational facilities in this violent virtual world that I heard mostly consists of bank robbers, guns, hookers, and drug dealers?

For weeks, he’s been alternating between sweet talking us and screaming at us about why he should get GTA.  He has negotiated and promised, and we have threatened and researched. I don’t like video games and detest guns, so these allure of these games is lost on me. But I read the online reviews from other parents. I watched YouTube videos. I talked to friends who do and don’t let their kids play GTA. And I came to my conclusion: No way.

“Mom, it is not as bad as you think,” my son insisted. “And I know right from wrong. It’s not like I’m going to go out and rob a bank or steal a car.”

He has written too many persuasive essays in third grade, this kid.

My son, like seemingly all boys, likes video games. But he also swims, plays basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis. He’s active. He’s a good student. He likes art and music and jumping on the trampoline. Like all moms, I wonder how much screen time is too much? How damaging are these games to his precious psyche?

Finally, he wore me down. My husband and I took him to Game Stop to ask about the game. The first salesclerk warned me about the mature themes. I asked him about this “just driving around” thing, and he said you really can’t do that for very long.

Then the clerk told us if you buy a used game, you can return it in seven days if you don’t like it or decide it’s a mistake. That sounded like a reasonable option. We went over the ground rules, and our son said he understood that if Dad or I objected to it in any way, we would take the game back with no backtalk. Against my better judgment, I told him he could try it out under close supervision.

Beaming, my son walked up to counter with the GTA case in his hand. A different clerk was there and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You sure this is OK?” he asked.

The conversation began again with this employee. He told us it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the violence, sex, and profanity.  “It’s really the worst game out there for kids,” he said, confirming my fears.

This conscientious clerk directed us toward another game we’d never heard of that he said was just as fun, without the inappropriate language and crime sprees. He backed us up, without knowing how much we needed it.

These guys are the experts, I told our son. They are super gamers. It’s their job to sell games, and they are encouraging us NOT to buy this one.

I reneged on our agreement. I knew I was in trouble. We’re all about keeping our word in our family, and our kiddo was not happy that I broke mine. But I also knew I was right.

Thank you, Game Stop guys for making this mom stick to her guns.

Searching for a needle in a junk drawer

My son pulled a button off the (brand new) shirt he planned to wear to Christmas Eve services and dinner.

No problem. I’ll just head to my organized sewing room and… Everyone who knows me is laughing out loud right now. No such room has ever existed.

But I know I have teensy tiny travel sewing kit here somewhere purchased precisely for moments like this. Medicine cabinet? Nope. Desk? No luck. Aha! The junk drawer(s).

I scrounged through every drawer – you know, through batteries and paperclips and toothpicks and box tops labels I really will bring to school some day and sticky lip gloss with no lids and Christmas ornament hangers – THERE they are! I did find an unused iTunes gift card, some melted Easter candy, and a 9-year-old pacifier, but alas, no needle and thread. (Note to self: Add organizing drawers to resolution list.)

How is possible I can’t find the supplies in my entire house to sew on one button? I had not planned on going to the store on Christmas Eve, but we have time, and H has his heart set on that purple shirt and black bow tie a family friend gave him. I’ll just run out quickly.

Where do you even buy thread besides the fabric store? Because I’m seriously not going there.

I’m delighted to discover your neighborhood grocery store has a small sewing section for people like me. (I am not completely alone in my uselessness!) White thread…check. Needle…who knew there were so many sizes? I’ll take the assortment.

Home again with the provisions, I tackle the project. Of course, these buttons have four holes and are all attached in crisscross pattern, so see I have to replicate that design. Ow, these needles are sharp! How are you supposed to tell where those four little button holes are?

I know my strengths. I know better my weaknesses. My aunt turns out beautiful blankets for every person in our family at Christmas. I have handmade napkins for every occasion, and all the kids have special pillow cases. My mother-in-law made baby clothes for her kids and grandkids.

Me? I took a sewing class my senior year of high school because I needed an easy first period class my last semester. I made a sweatshirt, a skirt, and a blouse. It took me four months.

So I am not one of those wives and mothers who bakes cakes from scratch or hand stitches Halloween costumes. Sometimes I wish I was, but usually I think my family is generally happy with my other cool talents. Right now, what I am is a mom determined to see my handsome son in that shirt. I worked laboriously and managed to mend the shirt without getting any droplets of blood on it. I cannot believe how proud of myself I am.

“You did it, Mom!” my son exclaims.

Yes, honey. Now let’s just carefully slide it over your head without undoing this particular button. There. Perfect. Well, perfect-ish. Whew.

Just a few more gifts to wrap, a stocking to fill, and I’ll have this Christmas all sewn up.

 

Another year on the nice list for Mom

I watched the touching Spanish IKEA commercial that went viral about kids writing two letters – one to Santa, and one to their parents. It turns out the kids asked Santa for lots of toys, but their wishes from their parents were very different. They wanted more time with them, they wanted to be listened to.

I asked my son what he would ask me and Dad for that wasn’t a material thing. He didn’t take long to answer: “I want to know the truth about the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns and all that stuff.”

Not the response I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised giving his growing skepticism. A lot of my friends with kids this age are struggling with how to approach this. (You can read my previous post about this.)

We settled in for a talk. I told him flat out: the Tooth Fairy is not real. And leprechauns, I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. (These leprechaun traps kids make today weren’t a thing when I was growing up. I had never even heard of them until H wanted to make one a couple years ago.)

“So….Easter Bunny?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to reply, with a sigh, but before I could answer, he blurted out, “Do I REALLY want to hear this?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Well, I don’t want to know about Santa!” he said, quite emphatically.

santa package.jpgSo we left it at the leprechauns. And I decided it was time for another Package from Santa. I ordered the package (this is a pretty cool thing if you’ve never done it  (www.packagefromsanta.com), this time editing the letter to reflect his questions. It arrived last night. He squealed when he tore open shiny envelope from the North Pole (Whew! Another year on the Nice List!) and sat down to read the personalized letter.

“I know you’re almost 9 now and you’ve been hearing from other kids that there is no Santa Claus and trying to decide for yourself what you believe. Your parents and I have been thinking a lot about what to tell you,” Santa wrote.

“You said you wanted the truth, so here it is: the magic of Santa is real.” (More squealing.)

“But you’re such a smart boy and ask so many questions that you have figured out a few of my secrets. You’re right, it is hard for me and the reindeer to fly all the way around the globe in one night…and your parents sometimes help me make sure your presents get delivered.”

It went on to congratulate him for this good works and successes during the year and to wish him a happy birthday, which falls on the day after Christmas.

He beamed. He jumped up and down. He was thrilled. He was relieved.

He was not completely fooled.

“So exactly how does Santa get the presents to you guys?” he asked.

To tell or not to tell? He wants the truth. He wants to believe.

So I told him what I believe to be true: It’s all part of the magic of Christmas.

I hope that gets me on the Nice List.

 

 

Five reasons I won’t give up on Forced Family Fun

My husband and dad are watching football for the third straight day. My son and his friend don’t want to do anything except play the Xbox. I’m bored and unsatisfied with our family interaction.

What do I do? Bring out the board games! Plan an outing!

It’s a picture-perfect November day, with blue skies and sunshine to kick off the Christmas season. We’ll go to the Seattle Center, ride up the Space Needle to see the futuristic Santa, then visit the gingerbread houses. Family fun day!

The response from my son?

“I don’t want to go!”

Oh yes, we’re going. This isn’t just family fun. This is forced family fun at its finest.

forced fun biggerThe night before, I had suggested a rousing game of spoons with grandparents, parents, and kids. I heard more than a few complaints about what a dumb game it was. What’s the point? All you have to do is grab a stupid spoon? Lame.

“The point is THIS IS FUN!!!!” I screamed.

After finally getting everyone on board and explaining the very complicated rules of the game (pass a card, get four of a kind, reach for a spoon and don’t be the player to end up without one), we had a great time moving through the deck as fast as we could and diving dramatically toward the middle of the dining room table trying to grab our spoon.

As I was trying to inspire a little enthusiasm out of my son and his friend for my holiday sightseeing plans, I asked my dad if my siblings and I moaned and groaned when it was time for a family adventure our parents thought would be a blast. He just laughed. “Sometimes,” he admitted.

I don’t remember that, but I do remember the family fun – games of Facts in Five (does anyone else remember this old-fashioned, tougher prequel to Scattergories?) road trips filled with endless singing of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” and “The Other Day I Saw a Bear,” and visits my parents arranged to historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Lincoln Memorial.

So no matter how much grumbling I hear, I won’t give up on forcing family fun. Here’s why:

Because it get us off our screens. Whether it’s Minecraft, Facebook, the NFL Network, You Tube, or WordPress, we all spend a lot of time looking at our devices and not really talking to each other. It’s important to step away and have actual conversations and play real games. They always evoke giggles, and laughing together is my favorite kind of family fun.

Because I go places like the Family Fun Center and Chuck E. Cheese. Let’s be serious. These casinos for kids are not a place for family fun. Trying to keep track of the kids, limiting the dollars spent on tokens to stuff into machines that spew tickets, only to wait in line to count said tickets, then wait some more while they carefully redeem them for plastic swords and whoopee cushions is not my idea of quality time. But I do it for you, kiddos.

Because we’re creating traditions. Maybe we whined when it was time to play the classic Midwest card game Rook with my mom’s large extended family, but we always had fun at card tables filled with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at family get-togethers. The night of my grandma’s memorial service, her children and grandchildren gathered together and played the game she taught us, and we now-adult grandchildren have shared it with our spouses and kids.

Because we’re making memories. My siblings and cousins often reminisce about camping trips and fishing outings with our parents. Waking up at 4 a.m. to climb onto my uncle’s small boat for a long, bumpy ride out to the halibut and crab grounds in Southeast Alaska drew some protests from the younger set, but we have fond memories of those times we spent together. Someday, my kids will teach their children the silly songs I sang in the car with them, and I will join the chorus.

Because most of the time, we have fun. The trip downtown wasn’t the best example of that. Suffice it to say I wasn’t the only one who had this great idea. Crazy long lines kept us from the two main things we set out to do, and the kids were hungry and cranky. After one of those Mom-of-the-Year moments when I told my son I was so done with his whining I might not ever take him anywhere he wants to go if I don’t want to go there too, I put myself in time out.

Succumbing to failure, we headed home. My son asked if his friend could spend the night, and my initial thought was no way, not after how you behaved today.

“I really want to play spoons again!” he said with genuine excitement. “I have to admit, Mom, that was pretty fun.”

Forced family fun wins again.

 

 

 

Count your blessings every day

It’s easy to talk about all we’re grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Our family has been trying to make a habit of counting our blessings all year long. The idea was born on a crazy-making day when everyone was complaining and whining. I suggested – ok maybe screamed – that we all take a minute to think about something good that happened that day.

The good thing that day was the beautiful box my son made asking us simple questions: What are you grateful for? What good happened to you today? Easy questions with often profound answers that undoubtedly change our perspective. A few months later, we went to a paint-your-own-pottery place and he decided to make a more durable Gratitude Jar.

We slip colorful pieces of paper in the box and jar and share them over the dinner table several times a week.

I’m often overcome during the reading.

I’m grateful for a sunny day.

I’m grateful for true friends.

I’m grateful there was no traffic.

I’m grateful for my thriving family, my funny son and my sweet husband.

I’m grateful for coffee. I’m grateful for wine.

I’m grateful for music, for books, for laughter, for tears.

I’m grateful for our home, our health, our sense of humor. Especially that sense of humor.

Sometimes we’re grateful for simple things we usually take for granted. I’m grateful for my coat, my umbrella, my dinner on the table, my bed. My son always wants a little more stuff. He’s almost 9 and thinks more stuff would make him happier.

Sometimes he’s grateful for Minecraft. Sometimes it’s the money he got in a card from his Grandma. Or doing well on a math test or having a friend over.

Then he writes something like this, that he’s grateful for happiness, and my heart swells, knowing my message is getting through to him.

h grateful

Granted, sometimes we’re better at it this gratitude thing than others. We have been through our trials this year, as have you all. Some days just suck, as my son says. Many of us are struggling with loss and pain and stress. Others are coping with hunger, joblessness, homelessness, loneliness, illness, addiction. No matter our circumstances, someone certainly is in a worse position. No matter our wealth, someone surely has more.

When I’m down, I look through the piles of paper I’ve saved and stuffed into gallon Ziploc bags, and I’m reminded how bountiful my blessings. So I try – as corny as some may find it – to find joy in every day: A giggle, a song I like on the radio, a message in marker on a pink slip of paper that reminds me someone loves me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

Rushing toward imperfection

My in-laws are early. My hair is wet and I have no makeup on. I wanted to make the pie before they got here, but of course I am out of one ingredient, so flour and sugar are all over the kitchen. My husband is running the vacuum, and my dad is frustrated over computer problems. My son is pounding on the piano and the dog is going crazy jumping and barking over all the excitement. I have to get to the airport soon to fetch my brother, and the sheets for the guest bedroom are still in the washer.

Happy day before Thanksgiving!

This is not the way I wanted this morning to go. I’m not a good housekeeper, and I don’t really bake. But we’re hosting everyone this year, so I wanted everything to be spic and span, as my dad would say, for our out-of-town company. I didn’t strive for perfection, and no one expects it out of me (seriously no one), but I was hoping for more than abject chaos.

I mean, is cool, calm, and collected too much to ask for the day before Thanksgiving? Apparently so.

But here’s the truth. This is kind of me, kind of us. I wait until the last minute to do things, so I don’t have any leeway when things go awry. I laugh at myself so it’s ok for others to laugh along with me.

And in this moment, I am grateful for the noise, because my house is full of people I love. I am grateful for the imperfect morning, because I have the whole day ahead of me to improve upon the way it started.

I have 20 minutes until the oven timer is done. That’s plenty of time to slap on some makeup, make the bed, post a blog, and get to the airport.

Plenty of time.

 

 

Looking past my flaws to find a clearer picture

I do not take selfies.

Cute pic of me and my kid? Love it. Date with my hubby? Of course. Girls’ night out? Sure. But you better believe you’re not going to tag a photo of me and see it show up on my social media with my approval.

And posting a photo of myself, alone? No way.

The last time I had photos taken of me alone was for my high school senior portrait. That was the age of the black drape in the studio, not the on-location photo shoots kids take today for multi-picture graduation announcements.

I love those announcements. I adore photos my friends and family post on Facebook and Instagram. A couple of my friends have done some modeling, and they are just natural beauties behind the camera. If I was ever under interrogation, a threat of a day in front of a camera would be an effective form of torture to get me to spill all my secrets.

In my professional life, I have supervised countless photo shoots, putting the subjects at ease, assuring them they looked great and the reviewing the pictures afterward and knowing I had told the truth. I admire people who post pictures of their bellies after baby, their make-up free faces, and themselves at their most glamorous. I’m inspired by Whitney Thore’s NoBody Shame campaign, and I’m a big fan of Dove’s Real Beauty ads.

But I have never quite been able to get there myself.

So when many people I trust told me I needed a better headshot on my website, Linked In, and this blog, the idea of having my picture taken pretty much made me feel like this:

katherine 2015-28

Fortunately, I have cousin who is a talented photographer who graciously agreed to help. I told her I wanted to spend a total of 5 minutes in front of the camera and the rest of the time catching up.

But Sara’s a pro – and she loves me – so she took me to a picturesque park on a beautiful fall day and spent a long time shooting in a lot of pretty places.

When she sent me a group of 35 shots to review, ( 35!!) I initially cringed. Oh my God, I am fat. Is that a gray hair? I should have touched up lipstick. My eyebrows are too thick. Can you see those wrinkles? And oh my God, I’m fat.

All I saw were the flaws. Sara told me she loved the pictures, and that she saw in them the person she admired: “kind, strong, dedicated, loving, funny, and faithful.”

“I hope you see that person too,” she wrote.

I wish I did too.

Why is it we are so quick to compliment others and criticize ourselves? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” we tell our kids. But we call ourselves ugly, disgusting, fat, without a thought. And we believe it.

It’s taken me weeks to be brave enough to post these photos. After much agonizing (Glasses, or no glasses? Smiling or serious? Far away or close up?) I did choose one for Linked In, but I added it to my profile with the “notify your network” button turned off. I looked at this post dozens of times before hitting “publish.”

It’s not that Sara didn’t do a beautiful job. She did, and she was a great coach.

“Is that a real smile?” she asked a few times.

It wasn’t. I don’t like to smile too big in pictures because I think it  makes my face look even chubbier.

But when she caught me with a genuine smile, I have to admit I kind of liked how I looked, which I’d say is happy:

katherine 2015-14

Plus, thanks for the windblown hair, Sara.

As our feet scrunched through piles of crisp, colorful leaves at the end of our morning together, Sara had an idea: recreating photos we have all taken of our kids playing in autumn’s bounty. I grabbed piles of crunchy leaves and threw them in the air with wild abandon while her shutter clicked. People walking by gave me odd looks, but we were laughing so much I didn’t care.

katherine 2015-34

All photos by Sara Montgomery.

It’s not the most flattering picture, but when I look at it,  I see laughter and joy. I have a wonderful memory of a special time spent with the cousin I love and admire, who helped me see myself through a different lens, imperfections and all.

Hm. I guess I just posted some selfies.