Are you planning to tune in? It's on ABC at 8pm (7pm Central). If you watch this snippet from Jon Stewart's Daily Show, one thing's clear: it's not going to be a repeat from the first season. I'm watching.
When Bill McKibben's latest book Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet came out, I was so excited to read it that I immediately put it on hold at our local library, along with about 1000 other people. Yet, as I neared the end of the line, I became more reluctant to read it. Or, skeered, truth be told.
Perhaps you saw McKibben when he appeared on Letterman late in the summer? While I admired Letterman for having McKibben on the show, and giving 11 minutes to an important topic, it seemed to me that what Letterman was trying to say was: Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we will die. While that's not a real quote, Letterman did say something along the lines of "the little contributions we all make don't add up to much." If you haven't watched the clip, carve out 11 minutes in your schedule and take a gander.
About those little contributions not adding up to much... This isn't news to me, or probably you. If you look at the science behind climate change and global warming, it's all pretty frightening. Yet, I put on my big girl pants and read the book. I'm not going to do a real review, but I will say that McKibben continues to give me hope, where other experts often leave me feeling quite hopeless. It's a pretty quick read, and I heartily recommend Eaarth. I will also keep taking baby steps, and making my little contributions to living sustainably.
My kids aren't big into G-rated movies. They find them terrifying. Or at least one does. But all of us still feel that yearning for the couch-potato state after a jam-packed weekend of home work, soccer games, piano practice, cleaning the danged gutters, schlepping to the farmer's market, etc.
Enter the natural history series by the Discovery Channel/BBC called Life (we checked out the DVD series from our local library). Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, its 10 episodes have absolutely riveted us. The stories of the plants and animals they feature are truly amazing. Fish who climb up rock walls, with a little help from a waterfall. Insects who inflate their eyeballs like balloons. Humpback whales crooning for mates. Stunning and diverse plants climbing massive trees to find a patch of sun. Birds, butterflies, bees -- you name it. Although -- be warned. It is about life, and the struggle to bring forth the next generations. So be prepared with your 'Birds and the Bees Lecture: 101' While there's no graphic intercourse shown, allusions to sex are frequent and my kids had a multitude of questions on the subject.
The footage of these videos is absolutely amazing. Each episode weaves together a story of geography, habitats, the species that inhabit and thrive there, the food they eat, and the struggle to procreate and survive. It is gorgeous, astounding and inspiring. We never fail to talk for days about the species we learned about in each episode. I can't recommend Life highly enough.
This seems pretty huge: two government agencies that deal with disease and toxic substances are launching a two-year plan to gather info from the public about chemical exposure concerns. Chemicals in household products, our water systems, the air we breathe, pharmaceuticals, hazardous waste, industry -- how are these affecting our quality of life? The Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry are conducting 'conversations' on chemical exposure in communities throughout the country. They want citizen input. They want to hear about concerns and issues that are impacting YOUR life. This is a chance to voice your concerns and push for an overhaul of chemical regulation.
Salem: Wednesday, June 2, 7:00 pm- 8:30 pm Straub Environmental Learning Center, 1320 A Street NE Contact: email@example.com for more information
Eugene: Monday, June 7, 6:15 pm-7:45 pm Eugene Public Library Tykeson Room Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Hood River: Thursday, June 10, 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm Hood River County Museum,300 E Port Marina Drive Contact email@example.com for more information
Gresham: Sunday, June 13, 12:30 pm-2:30 pm Gresham Library, 385 Northwest Miller Avenue Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Astoria: Sunday, June 20th, 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm Blue Scorcher Bakery Café, 1493 Duane Street Contact email@example.com for more information
There doesn't seem to be a 'master calendar' that lists community conversations in other states, which isn't helpful to our many out-of-state readers. But you could email the CDC at firstname.lastname@example.org and see if they can help you find one. Or if you're really motivated, you can download their conversation toolkit and organize a forum in your own community.
In what seems to be a timely coincidence, CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is hosting a program called Toxic America on June 2 and 3 at 8pm. He'll be focusing on the health and environmental effect of toxins found in plastics. The June 2nd show focuses on a town in Louisiana that has been experiencing problems related to toxic chemical plants for decades. The June 3rd show will be focused on childhood, particularly expectant mothers and their babies, and will feature a woman who's lived plastic-free for over two years. I don't have cable, so I'm hoping this will end up online!
Have a fun, safe, long weekend, and we'll see you back here on Tuesday!
To wrap up this week, I want to share a couple screens we can't get enough of around here. First up is this little screen:
For Christmas, Santa (a true believer in reuse) regifted an iPod Nano (minus the earbuds) and gave it to my 2nd grader. Along with it came a docking/speaker station, which is super lightweight and easily carried from room to room. This little set-up has dramatically changed the mood of our home, as well as the habits of our kids. We loaded up the iPod with fun, favorite tunes for both kids and adults so everyone enjoys the music. And it's on a lot. Now, I like music just as much as the next person, but we seldom ever listen to our CDs anymore. Music! I've missed you! When the kids are down in the playroom, they've got the tunes going and there's spontaneous singing and dancing and toe-tapping. Dance party in the living room? Yes. Music for drawing to? Please. Having this little device allows the kids to feel in control of some part of their media experience, and it's a great substitution for other screens.
But then there are quieter times, when the kids are off at school, and I find myself drawn to another screen...the window in our breakfast nook. I can spend long stretches of time staring out this window, watching this scene unfold just a few feet away:
A mama robin has built a nest, and if all goes well we'll have a bird's eye view of the eggs, the hatching, the feeding and the fledging. Do I feel like I'm wasting time just standing here at the window, observing? No. It's a gift. (And probably better than sitting on my ass reading about Heidi Montag's implants.) We feel blessed to have the opportunity to watch this cycle unfold. We talk about the family, we watch mom and dad swoop through the yard, picking up debris and scratching for food. We wonder when she'll settle in and pop out her eggs. Our fingers are crossed!
Participating in Screen-Free Week now is not nearly as daunting as it was the first time three years ago. We've gotten a grip on our screen time, and my kids will tell you that too much TV can turn your mind and your body to mush. (Brainwashing, anyone?) During these warmer, lighter days requests for screen time are less frequent than during the dark winter months. And thanks to the book Free-Range Kids and my own loosening up, a bigger world has opened up to them that is far more interesting than anything Ruff Ruffman could concoct (though, I must confess, I do like his show).
One of the biggest free-range changes we've made? They get to play in the street. Yes, folks, we've taken back our residential street and will not be intimidated by motorists BECAUSE THEY CAN FIND A NEW SHORTCUT TO TAKE. Obviously there are rules that we've gone over and over, and I sat outside and monitored their behavior the first couple of weeks we tried this out. But my confidence in them has bolstered their own confidence and independence, and they are careful. They watch out for each other. "Car!" As a bonus, my 2nd grader now gets to walk about 1/3 of a mile by herself to visit a couple of friends in the neighborhood -- huge.
I asked my kids to come up with a list of things they'd rather** do than watch television/play Wii/play on the computer:
ride bikes, scooter and skateboard in the driveway and street - throw paper airplanes - play catch with the baseball - pretend battle games - catch (and release) garden snakes - play with the neighbors - make mud soup - build a fort - play Little House in the Big Woods - sandbox - shoot hoops - draw and paint - read - listen to music - dance and sing - play Uno - play Bakugon/Pokemon/Magic - build giant train tracks - write books - puzzles - take pictures - dress up like superheroes - build Star Wars galaxy out of blocks and Legos - play babies - build inventions - play with horses - build cities - play house - build a house - hide & seek - play restaurant - watch the birds - build robots - make an elf workshop - take a nap (really?) - play Legos - climb trees - walk to the park/library/school (with an adult) - bake muffins with mom - play with stuffed animals - make shadow puppets - help make dinner - tell knock-knock jokes
And do you know what I'm going to do with this list? (Wah, ha ha.) The next time they whine about 'being bored' I'm going to hand them this list and say, "But look at all of your exciting options! Pick one!" Brilliant, yes?
** Do I believe they'd rather do those things than watch screen? Not entirely. Screen is pretty seductive. But when they have so many options that they've created for themselves (not to mention the ones they haven't even dreamed up yet!), screen is not always in the forefront of their minds...minds that are probably (hopefully) not turning to mush.
On Sunday, the sun was shining so we plopped the cushions from our lawn chairs on the grass out front, and just sat around reading and soaking up the rays. While I don't want to sound all freaky about this, that afternoon I felt like we were living out our family brand. We are the family that plays together: bikes, hikes, gardens, reads, plays cut-throat Uno and Blokus. Other times, it's like we are a different family. We zone out: each of the kids on their own computers, visiting Learning.com or PBSKids, my husband off watching the Blazers, and me trying to finish that last bit of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution that I'd recorded. I feel uncomfortable when we're all in our own separate media words. I'm usually the one that sets the limits and makes sure we all log out before our brains turn to mush.
After partaking of our weekend media time, the kids almost invariably ask: What can we do? These immensely creative kids who invent games like there's no tomorrow, suddenly are lacking creativity and drive after being entertained by the bells and whistles of the Web. This doesn't surprise me. It fuels my desire to limit their exposure on those rainy, tired days when it seems OK to veg out for a bit.
We live in a media rich world, and I don't want to entirely remove my kids from those influences. Yet it's often surprising how their media knowledge makes itself known.
After reading aloud the umpteenth 'A to Z Mystery' to my 5-year-old, I read the author's note who said he loves to get mail from his readers with story suggestions, then was rather stunned when my oldest said: 'Can't we just email him instead?'
I was equally surprised when my oldest said to my youngest one day, 'Hey, let's go check out bottom.com!' It was a joke. The site doesn't exist, but if it did, it'd prominently feature potty-humor that appeals to grade schoolers.
Both my kids are expert on the monkey bars, and my oldest at the hula-hoop -- two skills I wished I could master, but never did. Back in the 70s, a cousin of mine once described a visit with me and my brother as somewhat lacking: 'All they ever do is watch TV and eat cornflakes.' Ouch! Not surprising then that I never found the time or energy to hoop or monkey successfully.
Earlier in the school year, a 5-year old kid came over for a playdate after school, but kept asking if they could watch a show. Don't get me wrong. This is a nice kid, who seemed at a total loss how to just play. Gosh, it made me sad. Is there a connection between kids having too much media exposure and schools hiring recess coaches?
Kids need to learn the distinction between playing on the computer, vs. real work that is computer-based. When we discussed screen-free week, they wanted to know if my husband was going to be screen-free at work. That's different. And I pay the bills online, etc. But watching basketball and checking the infernal Facebook -- we as role models probably want to tone that stuff down this week. And we'd be fools if we think we can trick our kids in this regard -- as to what is real work and what is play.
If there's anything that seems to have really resonated this week, it's the price we pay as media consuming or abstaining role-models. It isn't easy to find the balance, but moderation is key. I was pleased to learn that the First Family limits their kids' media exposure to just the weekends. Strength in numbers, right?
What are the surprises you've found from media exposure and media limitation?
I constantly have to remind myself that my kids are watching me like a hawk, absorbing my behaviors and often adapting them. This makes for many cringe-worthy moments, but also for some proud ones. Like any other behavior you try to reinforce, you probably won't have much success unless you do it yourself. You can't teach your kid to chew with her mouth closed if you eat like a horse. The same goes for screen. If you're spending most of your time staring at a screen when your kids are around, they will want to do the same. TV is not an issue for me, and I don't have a fancy cell phone that browses the web and receives email (because if I did, I would be looking at it constantly). My screen struggles are right here on the computer.
Several weeks ago I finally hit the wall. I was depressed, sick and unmotivated and trying to find escape online. I'm not sure how much time I was spending on the computer, but it felt like too much. Most of it was reading blogs, and then clicking on a link, then to another link. It was like I was looking for something, some great insight that would help me, what? Figure out how to be a better person? So I decided to put myself on an online diet. Major. Here's what I did:
1) In one fell swoop I emptied out my Google reader and unsubscribed from all of my favorite blogs. I figured they weren't going anywhere, so if I needed them again one day, I could find them.
2) I stopped checking Facebook. I'm not really a big FB user, but I was checking it a couple of times a day, reading all of those status updates from high school people I haven't thought about in 20 years, letting that useless information infect my brain. I didn't miss it!
3) I stopped receiving daily digest emails from a Yahoo! group that I'm really not that active in. Always read the digest, but never really participated -- why bother?
4) I stopped checking news sites, you know, for the latest! breaking! news! as well as People.com and other brain candy sites. I knew far too much about the cast of Gossip Girl yet had never watched the show.
Basically for most of March I limited myself to writing this here blog, checking email and only browsing the web if I needed to research a recipe or something important. And I only did it when the kids were at school. Oh. My. God. It was liberating! It was like an instant energy boost. Well, hello reality! You're not so bad after all! I gained a ton of time and focused on getting healthy and being really present for my family and myself. I was active instead of passive, busy and engaged, and it felt (feels) great.
Little by little I've eased up on some of those online restrictions, but not by much. I just don't feel that compulsion anymore, like some part of my identity is wrapped up in those online destinations, and if I don't go there then I might miss out on something important! But also, I kind of don't have the time anymore. There are yard projects underway and a new exercise class to get to and hikes to take with my mom and baseballs to throw and bike tires to pump up and the list goes on.
I want to show my kids that you can be entertained and engaged by alternative means. You can MAKE your own fun, and for the most part they are really great about doing that. (In fact, they are working on a list of 'things we'd rather be doing than watching television' to share with you later in the week.) When they do get some screen time, they know it's a privilege and they really think about how they want to use it -- what site to play on or show to watch. But ultimately, they have a lot more fun away from it. That's how I'm feeling about the online world these days -- it's a nice place to visit once in awhile, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Do you struggle with computer time? Have you found a good balance between the virtual and real world?
If you asked my kids today, they'd deny ever having had any infatuation with Elmo. Or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Or Dora the Explorer. Any of those preschool-age animated media titans. But they'd be lying. There was a time when they'd practically beg to watch a show, and I'd willingly oblige. If the experts said young kids should watch no more than 2 hours a day, mine would get their full 120 minutes before I switched off the boob tube. Hey -- I watched Mr. Rogers, Zoom, Scooby-Doo, and the Electric Company as a kid -- and I turned out OK, right?! It was easy to justify.
But like many parenting decisions, choosing to let my kids become couch potatoes for two hours a day was a slippery slope. I needed it. They needed it. Like a drug. And that media exposure had costs. Why was it that my kids knew all about Chuck E. Cheese, when they'd never been there? I found that two hours could easily be extended with just a small amount of whining. What's just one more show? Some studies say American kids' screen time averages around 3-4 hours per day, while others report it's as high as 7.5 hours, 7 days per week thanks to 24-hour cable television offerings, increasing access to the Internet and the prevalence of smart phones.
After attending a powerful presentation several years ago by local media expert and author Ellen Currey-Wilson, I decided our family needed to get the TV monkey off our backs, and to participate in TV Turnoff Week (also called Screen-Free Week). For us, it was an exercise is going cold turkey, and I pretty much knew we'd never turn back if we could make it through the week alive. I won't kid you. It wasn't pretty, but survive we did. And screen time, in essence, got kicked to the corner. Once we broke free of daily screen fix, we agreed that it would only ever be an option on the weekends. And because it's used so infrequently, my kids don't often remember to ask if they can watch a show, or play on the computer. Unlike the years when we were Elmo junkies.
I don't know about you. As a parent, I look at my kids each day as works-in-progress and I see all the behaviors we still need to work on. But the media thing? Limiting screen time at an early age was an important and pivotal parenting decision that we got definitively right. What's rewarding and also sometimes surprising? That so much is connected to media exposure: a child's activity level, creativity and imagination, the ability to simply play, self-motivation, the time and desire to participate in nature and be outdoors, how well they sleep, and how well they do at school.
Heather and I feel that TV Turnoff / Screen-Free Week is such an important topic, that we will commit this whole week to focusing on it (this is the week our school participates, while many others tie it to Earth Day and may have done it last week). We'll talk about what our kids do instead of being couch potatoes. We'll be here to motivate and cheer you on if your family is struggling through a Screen-Free Week right now. We'll discuss our important job as role models, and the choices we make to limit our time in front of our TVs, computers and phones.
It is hard work to break the media habit, but the rewards are huge! Most of all -- we hope you'll share your triumphs and struggles, as well as the pay-offs and surprises you've found. And ultimately, how to live in a media rich world in moderation.
Are you in? Struggling right now? What wisdom do you have to share?