Treating my phone addiction with clocks

Do you remember life before you had a smartphone? I barely remember.

I got my first iPhone in 2010 when I was in grad school studying social cultural anthropology. I needed an audio-recorder for doing interviews and a way to take quick notes in the field for my research. I decided to splurge on the iPhone 3G, which was the previous year’s model when I bought it.

It was probably the most life altering purchase I have ever made.

Before my iPhone, my Samsung flip phone was almost always dead. I would only text the bare minimum because I didn’t understand how T9 worked and typing out messages on a 9 digit keyboard was excruciating. When my phone was charged and turned on, the voicemail blinky light would always be flashing. I never checked my voicemails because I had to enter a passcode and most of the messages were just from my dad saying, “Hi, it’s dad. I’ll try calling you again later.” I remember feeling so irritated when I checked my voicemail that I lost 2 minutes of my time listening to that message.

Image result for samsung flip phone

Now, I waste dozens of minutes per day just checking the homescreen of my phone to see if anyone has contacted me.

I used to be hard to reach; but when I was with you, I was with you.

Now, I’m quite punctual in responding to people. It bothers me to have an unread notification – and if I read it, I have to respond because otherwise I’ll forget and that person will think I’m ignoring them. But I’m distracted when I’m in the flesh.

I used to manage a full-time university course-load and a part-time job. I used to hang out with friends daily, date, read books for pleasure, scrapbook with my mom, and watch TV with my brother.

Now, I take care of a one year old, clean up after 3 people, maintain this blog (and we know that I’m pretty infrequent with that), and check my phone. I rarely read entire books for pleasure anymore. I hardly find time to cook. And I’m horrified to say that my husband and I can spend entire evenings sitting next to each other both looking at our phones.

Something had to change.

When my brother was visiting, he noticed that my phone would send me notifications for absolutely everything: “The University of Calgary (my alma mater) retweeted the Calgary Herald”; “Sally Stranger posted in Mom Group”; “You took 6789 steps today!”; “Have you played 2048 recently?”. It was too much. My phone was buzzing every few minutes, and I’d look at it to see if it was important. But all that brain power, all that distraction for interruptions that I didn’t even care about was sapping me of my time. My brother suggested I turn off all notifications and when he said it, I looked at him like he had three heads.

“You can do that?!”

“Yeah. Just go to settings.”

It was seriously mind-blowing to me that I had the power to affect incoming information like that. Such a tiny action and already my smartphone dependency was becoming more manageable. I turned off notifications for every single app except iMessage, Hangouts and Messenger, because I wasn’t quite ready to become the kind of person who is hard to reach, especially being abroad. And let me tell you, it has been liberating! The impact was immediate – I was looking at my phone less. I was spending less time on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter because they weren’t constantly asking for my attention.

A few months went by, and I adjusted to this new freedom, but my phone still felt a bit too much like an appendage. It was always at my side. It was my best friend, in a way, because it was my support system – linking me to my friends and family back home in Canada. I was constantly pressing that home button and looking at the home screen, like a nervous tick.

I went to my friend Sarah’s house for a playdate and I asked out-loud what time it was, motioning for my phone. Sarah looked at her wall (not her Facebook one, her actual wall) – there was a clock there. A great big clock with a white face and black hands. And this blew my mind. A clock? On the wall of your living room? Like as decor? Is that a thing?

And then it dawned on me that the next stage of separation from my phone was to no longer treat it as my watch.

I used to wear a watch, before DK. After he was born, I found it impossible to transfer him from my arms to his crib without his head chaffing on my watch, so I took it off and began relying on my phone for the time. I put my watch back on.

I used to have an alarm clock on my nightstand that glowed red digits in the dark. But one day I spilled water on it and it died. I had started charging my phone next to my bed, you know, in case someone got in an accident in the middle of the night and I got a phone call. And so my phone easily replaced my alarm clock, my night-light, and my bedtime-reading all at once. I bought a $14 alarm clock on Amazon with big red numbers so I could see it without my glasses on in the middle of the night and not have to check my phone for the time, inevitably seeing middle of the night notifications. I started turning on my lamp for my bedtime reading.

And I bought a $10 wall clock to hang in the space between our kitchen and our living room. Next to it I hung a Gilmore Girls-inspired poster, “In Omnia Paratus”, which means “Ready for Anything”, and a painting of a girl with her nose stuck in a book, as reminders of what I wanted to make time for. And I check the clock – all the time.

I still have a long way to go weaning myself from this life-changing technology. I don’t want to go back entirely to the way things were before I had a smartphone. I think I’m a better daughter, friend, sister and wife when I’m reachable. But I do want to stop putting everyone else in the wide world of the internet on a higher pedestal than my son, my husband and myself.

My next steps to cure myself of my smartphone dependency are to move its night-time charging spot off of my nightstand. Reading on my phone late at night keeps me awake. I know it keeps me awake. Scientific research knows it keeps me awake. And yet, night after night, I decompress from the day lying in bed staring at a tiny glowing screen in the dark looking at Taylor Swift gifs on Tumblr.

Next, I need to determine a resting spot in the house where I will keep it during the day instead of always within arm’s reach and allow myself to check it a specific intervals. The thought of it makes my palms sweaty, which is why I know it needs to happen. Perhaps perching below In Omnia Paratus will be a good spot for it – and then I really will be Ready for Anything because my mind won’t be buried in my phone.

 

 

 

Food Fights with a Baby

My little guy has been really tough to feed solid foods. He’s all about the boob. Which was fine until he lost weight and his pediatrician said, “He needs more calories. Milestones. Milestones. Milestones. Formula. Milestones. Calories,” or something like that…that’s what my spinning freaked out mom-brain could hear during the visit as my thoughts went to the extremes.

Getting him to eat was a struggle. He wouldn’t drink ANYTHING but water out of a bottle. He’d just spit it out, “What is this POISON?!”

I made him so much food that he wouldn’t touch and I was very frustrated. “He’s so PICKY”, I would vent to my husband. “This is your fault. You’re picky, so he’s picky.” I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first, so it’s definitely not my fault.

In addition to the calorie intake problem, he wasn’t pulling up to stand on his own and I was stressed out about that. I was trying to motivate him, putting toys in front of him, cheering him on – but he wouldn’t do it. He’d just cry and crawl away, finding another toy to play with. “Low muscle tone. Physiotherapy. Calories. Calories. Physiotherapy. Low Muscle Tone,” said the pediatrician. And I freaked out anew.

I try to keep DK away from screens as much as possible, but in a screen-filled world in Silicon Valley, that is a major challenge. DK is transfixed by screens. He loves them and is drawn to them like mosquitoes to a light. One day, I had to work on some things on my laptop. So I put the laptop on the coffee table, I sat on the floor, and I began typing away. Of course, DK wanted to see what I was up to, so I was encouraging him to pull up to stand to the coffee table to see. Again, cheering him on, “C’mon DK, you can do it! Pull up! Pull up!,” and he quickly began whining and lost interest. Oh well. Back to my typing.

I heard him babbling away behind me, I turned around to look – and he was STANDING against the couch, with no help or encouragement from anyone. In fact, he did it when I wasn’t even looking.

And then it dawned on me….DK does not like to be pressured. This should have been obvious to me, because I know someone else who hates pressure-cookers. Me. As soon as I know someone has expectations of me completing something, I lose all interest. If I tell friends about a project idea that I’m working on before I’ve actually finished it – I lose all interest in doing it. It’s like as soon as someone says, “Ooh good idea, I can’t wait to read it! I’m like…”Nahhh, I’d rather work on something else.”

Sure enough, as soon as I stopped encouraging him, pushing him, challenging him, he started standing up and cruising around on everything. So I took this newfound and pretty-obvious-to-probably-everyone-but-me wisdom and I applied it to mealtimes.

If DK thought I wasn’t looking and was busy with something else in the kitchen, he would pick up a tiny piece of chicken and he would eat it. This discovery floored me. Of course he didn’t want to eat when I was shoving food in his face going, “Eat it. Eat it. Eat it.” There’s no way I’d open my mouth either if someone did that to me.

Around this same time, I was reading, “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King. In it, there’s a chapter on eating (GREAT book by the way). They write,

“There’s actually a scientific explanation for picky eating. Little babies put everything in their mouths, but around age two they become cautious about new tastes. That caution protects the freely moving toddler from the danger of eating poisonous things. In fact, we’re a species of picky eaters, since historically the pickiest of toddlers survive to reproduce. Picky eating is in our DNA!”

I realized that I was pushing so many new tastes and textures on the poor kid, trying to find something that he would eat – that he was just shutting down all food into his mouth probably on instinct.

And so I had to change my attitude.

First, I started by deciding firmly that our son was not a picky eater. That was no longer a label I would give him. People tend to gravitate towards the labels that we give them so that they feel a sense of belonging. I did not want DK to find his identity among the label of picky eaters as he got older.

Second, I had to re-think what I thought of as “baby food”. I thought home-made was best and that I would fail if I gave my son a premade purchased pouch. And when I did give him a pouch once, he just squeezed it everywhere and made a huge mess, so I wasn’t looking forward to trying that again. But I also couldn’t get my son to eat anything off a spoon. He only has 4 teeth, so while he loved eating anything crunchy (crackers, cheerios, teething rice rusks), my husband and I worried at length that he would choke on the food we were eating. I was also concerned that the food I prepared for my husband and I at mealtimes was too sweet or too salty. I was stressing so much on the quality of what I was trying to give my kid that I wasn’t giving him much at all. I kept reverting to breastmilk as the only safe option. I had to change my attitude to accept that an exclusive breast-milk diet at 13 months old wasn’t going to be healthiest for him long-term and that any food that he will eat (within reason) is better than high-quality homemade food that he won’t eat.

Third, and on a similar vein, I had to accept that it’s okay that he sucks some of his food out of a pouch instead of eating it off a spoon. I had this ill-conceived notion that  my baby should eat purées with a spoon, because otherwise he’s learning to eat food the wrong way. But guess what? He loves sucking Apple Carrot purée out of those pouches while in his stroller. It’s the best way right now to get him to eat fruits and vegetables. I had to change my attitude to accept that first, he needs to get used to the flavours and the textures and then he will get used to a spoon. A few months later, and he eats his purées off of a spoon and even spoon feeds himself.

Fourth, I had to change my attitude and accept that mealtime with a one-year old will mean complete outfit changes for us both and a bath every night. It’s a messy disgusting stage, but he’s learning and I need to let my kid play with textures, and experiment with his food, make a mess and get some food into his mouth. I now accept that my best friend is a steam mop and I am not the only mother who loathes wiping down most of her kitchen three-times per day, but we do it because we love our babies and they need to experiment in order to learn.

Fifth, we had to make enough time for mealtimes. My husband and I are not the kind to lounge over meals. We eat and we move on to other things. But we’ve learned that our son can take an hour or more to eat enough. We thought him throwing food on the floor meant that he’s full…but it really doesn’t. It’s just play and exploring food and he will usually eat more of something else if it’s offered to him. Accepting that mealtime can include some playtime has made it a more enjoyable hour that I spend with my son and he actually eats until he’s full.

Sixth, I had to accept that he’s going to be wasteful while he’s learning textures and flavours and that’s okay. I hate wasting food. I feel so guilty throwing stuff down the garburator or swept off the dustpan into the garbage. But it happens, and I’ve put my energies into making sure that I waste less food when I eat/cook, so that my son can throw a quarter cup of cooked chicken on the ground and I’m no further behind. Soon our city will be delivering our new compost bins, so that will be wonderful in also dealing with the food-waste-guilt.

Last, I shared my worries and dislikes with my husband. I told him that I hated mealtimes. I told him that I dreaded them. Somehow, confessing that out loud to him made me realize that “hated” and “dreaded” were perhaps too strong as words. He sympathized with me and said he disliked it too, but he hadn’t realized that I equally disliked it. Once he realized we were both equal haters, he stepped up to feed DK more often and give me, my clothes and my hair a break so that we were both doing equal time on the front lines of the food fight.

Prior to these attitude changes on my part, mealtimes were a stressful, anxious, dreaded affair. But now, I actually find them to be a fun way to engage with my son over food. So what if I have egg in my hair at suppertime? So what if I had to change my pants three times today? It’s a phase and it too shall pass. And the great development is that my son is gaining weight and is eating a lot more both in quantity and variety without all the added pressure from me to eat enough, eat quickly, eat cleanly,  and eat it all.

When I think back to how I did things before I’m like…duhhhhhh of COURSE he wasn’t eating!!!

Good Judgment

Emergency Preparedness with a Toddler

Recently wildfires swept through homes in Northern California – leaving residents fleeing for their lives. The same week, the South Bay had a 4.1 magnitude earthquake. I started to feel uneasy with how relaxed I am about natural disasters. Non-profits will be there meeting our needs, right? The Trump Administration and the California government will be effective at handling the emergency, right? Google will be prepared and they will have extra food and water for everyone who shows up to campus, right?

The fact that these were some of my assumptions show how laughably unprepared I am for disaster; and the Bay Area has a real chance of having a really bad earthquake. As these thoughts sunk in, I began to panic. Would I be prepared? How would I handle things and take care of the needs of a toddler if shit hit the fan and we had to evacuate quickly or hunker down at home for days without electricity or running water? Of course, my mom-friends had similar fears and one of them re-blogged Silicon Valley Toddler’s amazing blog post about earthquake preparedness with toddlers. I cannot praise this post enough. Everyone should read it. And then when they are done, everyone should purchase their earthquake survival kits using her affiliate links while they slow clap for her thoroughness of thought.

I read her post at 11 pm one night, which was a mistake because I was awake until 1 am stressing. However, it DID get my butt in gear and get my shit together for earthquake preparedness.

I did have enough water in my house, having stocked up a few weeks before when reminded during the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. However, prior to reading her post, this was my earthquake kit:

I hadn’t even CONSIDERED that I might need to carry this thing with a toddler in my arms. Impossible. It’s awkward. It’s heavy. Oh and the lid pops off if you carry it by its handle. Useless.

It was also in my basement cellar. Which is dark and creepy on the brightest, bluest days let alone during the apocalypse, and not particularly accessible in an instant if we ever needed to leave during an emergency due to fire or flood or gas or earthquake damage.

Contents wise, my earthquake kit wasn’t a complete disaster…but it was definitely missing a few key items to be able to survive off-grid for 3 days.


Some of the items were definitely good to have around: 30 water purification tablets, some cord, a hatchet, lighters, a poncho, soap, insect repellent, a whistle and compass, garbage bags, a deck of cards, earplugs, and a combination lock.

But then I have some items that, with a toddler, are completely ridiculous:

  • 15 wipes. 15. 15 is better than none. But I need a LOT more than 15 wipes to get through 3 days of an emergency.
  • 3 (? Why 3?) decks of cards and no toys or books to comfort DK. 
  • 3 flashlights that are all out of batteries and no replacement batteries.
  • Candles but no candle holder. What, am I going to hold this in my mouth? Craft one out of mud in an emergency?
  • Insect repellent but no sunscreen (hello, California!).
  • Tylenol but no Infant Tylenol.

Additionally, I was missing key things like: food, diapers, a vessel to purify water using my purification tablets, a change of clothes for everyone, a blanket, a crank-operated radio, a knife, and a way to carry it all that wouldn’t be super inconvenient if DK and I had to leave home and meet my husband elsewhere.

Silicon Valley Toddler’s post also reminded me that we are out and about a lot, and we had nothing in the car.

In light of all of these oversights, here are the actions I’ve taken to get our family organized in the event of a natural disaster and we need to live off-grid for a few days.

  1. I bought a backpack. This one was on sale and is actually a really handy one to have around because it folds into a tiny pack. Technically a useless feature, since it should always contain our car-emergency kit, but it was on sale and not a bad addition to our home. It’s not the sturdiest of materials, but it will be fine for our car-kit. 
  2. I replaced all the batteries in our flashlights.
  3. I added a copy of DK’s favourite bedtime story, Goodnight Moon, and a small stuffed toy to provide some comfort to DK at a scary time.
  4. I added in some foil mylar blankets and some handwarmers. Yes, I bought the bulk packs. Technically we only need 3 blankets…but 10 fit in my backpack and I figure in an emergency, maybe there will be other neighbourhood children who need blankets and these can help.
  5. I added a multi-tool.
  6. I added an entire pack of wipes.
  7. I added 10 diapers in the next size up.
  8. I wrote the combination for the combination lock on a piece of tape and stuck it to the back (it won’t be much use to my husband if the combo is in my head!). I’m not sure if a combination lock will be all that useful, but I have one and it’s small and maybe it will be useful at an evacuation centre(?).
  9. I added a candle that I don’t have to hold.
  10. I added some glowsticks.
  11. I added some replacement double A batteries
  12. I replaced my all-natural clove and lemon hand “sanitizer” with some real hospital-grade Purell hand-sanitizer. I don’t want to be wondering in an emergency if my clove-lemon gel sanitized the fecal bacteria on my hands. I just want it to work.
  13. I added a pad of paper, a pencil and a Sharpie marker.
  14. I added some energy bars. I chose the ones with the longest shelf-life…
  15. I added my house first-aid kit which includes: Gauze, non-stick gauze (for burns), bandaids, tape, an ice-pack, alcohol wipes, first aid suture kit, gloves, travel sunscreen, solarcaine, Tylenol, Tums, Advil and Benadryl
  16. I added some clothespins, because they are just handy to have.
  17. I added photocopies of all of our important documents: passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, green cards, tenant insurance, car insurance, health insurance.
  18. I added a sippy cup with a straw for DK because he loves straws.
  19. I added a waterbottle since my water purification tablets are completely useless without a vessel.
  20. I added some cash in small bills and a chequebook.

Additionally, I took some further steps:

  1. I put all of our important documents in one place in an easy-to-grab zippered pouch. My husband and I decided that in an emergency in the middle of the night, I would grab our son and he would grab the documents (unless I’m unable to get to our child and then obviously my husband is in charge of that too).
  2. I put some old shoes under our bed. In an earthquake, windows can shatter and we might be sleeping when it happens. So having shoes at the ready for our bare feet is important.
  3. My husband and I decided on a secondary safe-place that we would go to if we can’t be at the house due to fire, flood, gas or structural integrity. This way, if my husband is at work, he knows where we might be if we are not at home.
  4. I moved our emergency kit to our front hall closet so that it is easily accessible.
  5. I ordered a secondary survival kit for our car. I chose the same one that Silicon Valley Toddler recommended based on her research. It comes with an awesome backpack, which I’m going to put our house-kit contents in, and then use the contents for our car-kit. Silicon Valley Toddler decided to put her primary kit in her car because she’s either out and about in her car, or her car is parked outside the house. My husband and I share a car and he takes the car to work 2-3 times per week. So while it is possible that DK and I will be out and about in the car when disaster strikes, it is more likely that we will be within walking distance of home, so I decided to put our primary kit in the house and our secondary kit, which is also my husband’s at-work-kit, in our car.
  6. I added a change of warm clothes for each of us to the car kit.
  7. I put a recurring calendar reminder in my phone for the second Monday of the month every 6 months to check my earthquake kits and add or subtract as necessary.

I did all this during a few days of my son’s afternoon naps, and YOU CAN TOO.

Hopefully this is all time and money wasted…but I’ll certainly be glad to have spent the time and the money if disaster does strike and the worst happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magazines for babies?

I used to get Highlights magazine in the mail as a kid. Reading the articles and stories was the highlight (pun definitely intended) of my month, especially the Goofus and Gallant cartoon. I felt so grown up, getting a monthly magazine – just like my mom who got Canadian Living and Chatelaine. 

So when I saw an ad for Highlights Hello, a magazine for 0-2, I was intrigued and clicked on the ad (good job btw Facebook on the targeted ads…). I thought, “This is silly. Babies don’t need magazines…DK would just eat it. He doesn’t know the joys of receiving mail. Probably a waste of money.”

But….It was $35 for a 12-month subscription and Highlights Hello promised an indestructible, washable, plasticized magazine just the right size for Devon’s tiny hands and with stitching instead of staples in the seam. They also promised that if I wasn’t satisfied with my first issue – they would refund me my money and cancel the subscription. I figured $35 for 12 indestructible books can’t be beat, so I took the plunge and signed us up. A few weeks later our first issue arrived!

It included a welcome magazine for parents about reading to your baby as well as the little magazine for DK. 


He is obsessed. He loves playing with paper but so often I end up picking bits of shredded soggy paper out of his mouth – but this magazine doesn’t have that problem, so he can play to his heart’s content! This has been his favourite toy this week. He’s constantly flipping through the pages, swatting it on the floor, gumming it with his mouth – and so far it is indestructible. 


The stories and games are cute and can be read/taught at different levels, so we can go back and re-read at different ages and get different things out of it. 

I also love how there are pictures of real babies in the magazine instead of just cartoons. Devon loves seeing pictures of other babies but I can never find board books at the library that incorporate real life images, so this magazine is also great for the pictures. 


I think the subscription is worth it and I can’t wait for our next issue to arrive! Devon is excited too…he just doesn’t know it yet. 

Going to the library with a baby 

When you wake up at 4 am with a baby, by noon you are ready for a stiff drink. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing with my son and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to stay home with him everyday – but one can only take so many hours of pass the toy back and forth before needing some additional stimulation.

I try to keep us pretty scheduled as I am a planner by nature. Every morning around 9 am we leave the house. Most days we just go for a walk.  I take DK for a 5km loop around our neighbourhood that passes two parks, the library, a grocery store and a Starbucks (and yes, I almost always stop for a English breakfast tea latte). 

Once a week we head into the library to take out some books. 

Sculpture outside my local library

I love the library. I’ve loved it since I was a little girl and my mom would bring me to choose books to read for the week. As much as I love it, however, I find the library overwhelming. You could read ANYTHING. When shopping for books at a bookstore, I am limited by my available spending money. But at a library…I can take out as many books as my little heart desires (and that I can feasibly carry home). I can read them front to back, skim them, or return them unread. 

With children’s books, I could conceivably take out a hundred picture books a week and manage to read them all, but DK would quickly lose interest.   As DK is 7 months old, it doesn’t really matter what we read together, as long as we read. I get into the children’s section and I’m paralyzed. How do I choose? 

All this freedom is exhilarating but I’m also trapped by the possibilities and often leave empty handed, unable to make a decision. Does anyone else experience this?

And so, I’ve begun to take books out by theme. DK is learning to make the “deh” sound, so the first week I took out 5 books about ducks. 


Then, one morning that week we went for a walk at a local park with a duck pond and looked at ducks. We played with his rubber duck, we sang songs about ducks (5 little ducks) and we quacked. We looked at a picture of Donald Duck. 


Basically, any way I could bring up the word duck in our play, I did. 

Week two, I took out 5 books about dogs. On our walks, whenever we saw a dog I’d point at it and say, “look at the dog!” 

We sang “BINGO” and “How much is your doggy in the window?” too many times. We went and visited our friends with dogs so DK could touch and smell them. 

It’s week 3 now, and today we took out books about pigs. We have plans on Thursday to go for a walk at Rancho San Antonio to Deer Hollow Farm where I think we will see a pig. DK also loves the This Little Piggy rhyme and we have a toy pig to play with. 

I like doing the theme because it helps me stay focused at the library and it also challenges me mentally to come up with new games and activities that fit within the theme. 

Some ideas I have for future themes are:

  • Grandmas (grandma’s coming to visit)
  • Trains (stop at the Caltrain station and see the train go by)
  • Airplanes
  • Trucks
  • Cats
  • Cars
  • Birds
  • Gardens
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Boats
  • Fish

There are a million options!

Would this method work for you? Which themes would you try?