On Screen Time and Sanity

I've never been an anti-screen mom. I actually remember asking a seasoned mom friend one day when my first was around 20 months old, "So when do kids start actually watching TV?" 

I'm all for free play and creativity and building blocks and jumping on the trampoline, but in case you haven't noticed recently, children are awake for many, many, many hours each day. And sometimes momma needs to shower or make dinner or answer three e-mails without someone whining in her face about more fruit snacks.

Enter: The Fire Kids Edition Tablet. Also known as: What Did We Do Before That Thing? My oldest son Everett doesn't nap anymore, but we have a set "quiet time" every day from 1-3pm. Lately, we've nestled into a pretty sweet routine: he does art projects at the kitchen table with a lollipop for the first hour, and then reads/plays games for the second hour. With access to over 13,000 age-appropriate videos, books, educational apps and games, he never runs out of fun and interesting things to explore. 

My favorite features: parental controls (a must when your preschooler is using technology!), a daily time limit setting (we keep ours at one hour a day), a crazy durable case (for when your kid accidentally drops it down the stairs), and the one-year subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited that comes with your purchase (a collection of tons of amazing content curated for kids 3-12). 

If you (or Santa, or Grandma) are still looking for a gift idea this holiday season, I can't recommend The Fire Kids Edition Tablet enough. It's $99 (and comes with a two-year guarantee!), but it will also keep you sane on long car rides and rainy days and can you really put a price tag on that?

No. 

We can just call this a gift for everyone. #winwin

Here are some of our favorite books and games to explore!

Book Recommendations by N'tima:

  • Goodnight Moon (Ages 1+): This classic is so loved in our home. Both of my daughters request it to be read nearly every night before bed, and adore the attention to detail that this little book slowly and quietly demands. The simple pictures, repetition, and sing-song wording makes this story a toddler favorite.
     
  • People (Ages 3+): People is a beautiful introduction to young children on the rich diversity that is in our world. It shows children how cultures are different all over the globe and how needfully colorful those differences make us. It is presented in a fact-based, unbiased way, and emphasizes that though we are different, we all share this planet, and breathe the same air - which is a profound message in and of itself.
     
  • The Wonderful Things You Will Be (Ages 2+): This gorgeous illustrated and poetic book is a testament to the unconditional love we have as parents for our children, no matter who or what they become. I love that it is written with the imagination of a child, and brings to life the magic of that childlike wonder. I shed a tear or two every time I read it to my girls.
     
  • One Love (Ages 2+): One Love is a charming book that was adapted from Bob Marley’s popular song by his daughter Cedella. It uses his fun lyrics combined with darling illustrations to capture the beauty in love, service, and community. It teaches our kids that we are big enough to make a difference if we can come together as one. The message throughout is simple, but weighty.
     
  • Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon (Ages 2+): This sweet book is about loving yourself and embracing the parts of yourself that are not “perfect.” It has been a fun way to teach my little girls to practice self-confidence, determination, and positivity in spite of their quirks, and how to respond to bullies if they ever encounter them.

App Recommendations by Anna Jordan:

  • There’s A Monster At the End of This Book (ages 2-5): This is the interactive version of the well-known Sesame Street book. In this book, Grover is terrified because he reads that there’s a “monster at the end of this book.” On each page he sets up roadblocks to keep the reader from moving ahead. My kids love to click on all the knots to untie them or knock down the bricks in order to turn the page. Of course, there’s not really a monster at the end of the book. It’s just “loveable furry old Grover.” Grover narrates the story, so it’s a fun book for kids to do independently. We first discovered it on a plane ride from Los Angeles to Chicago when my son was about 3 years old. He “read” it countless times and giggled through every read!
     
  • Breathe, Think, Do (ages 2-4): Monster from Sesame Street is having trouble, and you have to help calm him down. He has five different areas of struggle. For example, Monster doesn’t want to go to bed. The narrator provides instruction on how to help monster calm down and go to sleep. First, you tap monster’s tummy to help him calm down. He breathes s l o w l y (my three year-old was frustrated by this at first, but then the app also helped her calm down) and changes color from red to light blue (indicating that he’s calm). Thought bubbles appear, and you have to pop the bubbles to help him come up with a solution to his problem. This game is a great learning tool (based off the Sesame Street Belly Breathing song) that helps kids learn how to calm down and think of solutions to problems. My kids have loved to tap monster’s belly and pop the bubbles. I’ve loved referencing belly breathing when things get stressful.
     
  • Daniel Tiger’s Grrr-ific Feelings (ages 2-4): My kids are all big Daniel Tiger fans, so it’s not a surprise that they’ve gravitated towards this particular game. However, like the show, this game is educational, simple, and fun. The game focuses on Daniel, and there are four different game elements that all center around feelings. My girls love the sing-along game (probably because it is most like the show). They click a picture and sing along with one of the well-known feelings songs. My 18 month-old really isn’t old enough to navigate a touch screen, but she loves to sit next to her sister and “play” this one with her. Each of the four games in this app are very easy, and the instructions are clearly narrated.
     
  • Cut the Rope (ages 4+): This game is legitimately challenging. It’s engaging and fun (and kind of addicting). We have some pretty specific screen time parameters at our house, but my five year-old would play this for an hour if I let him. Let’s be honest, if I had the time, I might play it for an hour. The levels range in difficulty, and the players have to earn stars in order to advance. The premise is exactly as it sounds: there’s a little green frog character called an OmNom. You have to feed him a piece of candy that is tied to a rope (or series of ropes) – cut the rope in order to get the candy into his mouth. When my son was four, he could complete many of the lower levels without assistance. Now he’s more adept at strategy and has better spatial awareness, so he can advance further independently. However, off and on he will have to call on me to help him get past a certain level… and then I’m sucked in forever and have to make extra coffee to manage my OmNom feeding stress. It’s actually really fun, and it’s a great bonding activity for our afternoon quiet time when the little sisters are asleep.
     
  • Toca Lab (ages 5+): The Toca Lab is a virtual science lab that introduces kids to the periodic table of elements in a really clever manner. Each element comes to life, makes funny noises, and then responds to different experiments in the lab. You can pour dry ice on them, spin them in a centrifuge, boil them, split them apart, etc. As a mom, I can see the clear educational elements at play; however, my five year-old isn’t really grasping the significance of each of the actions. But he is able to follow the periodic table and understand the similarities and differences of the elements as he interacts with them in the virtual lab. The directions on this game are not very clear, but my son has enjoyed figuring out how the app works (perhaps there’s a lesson in experimenting there too!). Also, at different times, the elements yell “Toca Boca!” – if you’re anything like we are you may never stop saying that phrase.

We're all going to be traveling over the holidays and would LOVE to know what's keeping your kiddos occupied on the screens these days. Feel free to leave your book, video, and app recs in the comments! 


This post was sponsored by Amazon, a brand that all of the C+C writers regularly use and love. We legitimately do not know how our mothers survived Christmas shopping without Amazon Prime. Thank you for supporting the brands who occasionally contribute to the growth and success of Coffee + Crumbs! 

You Won't Have to Tell Me

I’m surprised no one brought it up. None of my friends. None of my family. Not even the social worker. As we moved forward in this process, I steadied myself to hear: Are you trying to fill a hole in your heart by adopting a child?

The question is valid. I’d ask it if I were on the outside looking in. But maybe it’s because I am on the inside that I even think about asking?

I’m not trying to fill a hole in my heart, for that space will never be filled this side of heaven. But I am obeying a call to let my broken heart fill the space in this child’s life, space she does not even know needs filling.

***

I sit five feet from the far corner, facing the door in a straight backed chair upholstered in a soft tweed grey. The room is an intentionally soothing cream. Photographs, surely from extensive personal travels, frame the walls around the mahogany desk and bookcase. She sits across from me with pen poised and a notebook on her lap. All the questions. All my answers. The hour comes to an end, and she begins to summarize this first session.

“Often times, people struggle when issues from their past prevent them from moving forward with decisions or with life in general. But you’re doing all the right things. You're honest about your fears and feelings. You’ve taken normal life steps and continue to move forward.” She tilts her head (in what I’m wondering is a trained counseling skill), “You seem okay.”

I nod. I’ve been at this grief thing long enough to know big transitions bring up big emotions, and I made the appointment thinking I’d just touch base with someone before we travel.  

“I know you said you wanted to make sure you were doing okay before your upcoming adoption, but I don’t think you need to come back, unless a specific issue pops up.”

So … first and last session?

As for specific issues — where would I start? My desire for affirmation, my frustrated outbursts at my family, the it’s-such-hard-work communication in my marriage?

I swallow the tears gathering in the back of my throat. If I opened my mouth to say the most pressing issue on my heart, “I just miss my mom …” we would need another hour for me to sit here crying. Instead, I purse my lips, smile, blink hard, and nod.   

“I’m so glad you came in. And if you want to talk about anything specifically, I’m always here. But if you’re looking for reassurance, I don’t have any concerns about you. I don’t see any issues.”

Another head tilt and she says, “Unless you tell me otherwise.”

I catch the ball she throws in my court and tuck it in my purse, thank her with a handshake and a smile and walk out the door to my car; I drive through blinding tears until I reach my house.  

***

I’m listening to a message from a friend, one who happens to be a licensed social worker. We don’t converse. We just leave messages (tis’ the season of motherhood that we’re both in). Although we don’t live close to each other, she’s walked by my side through this entire adoption journey. As I’m preparing to travel across the world to add a member to our family, she asks, “How are you feeling — really feeling?”

I leave her a short reply: I’m excited and happy. Those are the emotions everyone wants to hear, right? And of course I am those things. But I’m also scared. Honestly, I’m just dealing with a lot of fear.

In her return message, she pointedly asks, “Tell me: what is at the root of your fear?”

***

I sit facing her desk in a beige linen arm chair. She faces me and the door, her hands interlocked on the desk between us. I am getting married in a few months, and I read that big transitions can bring up big emotions, so I called up a counselor at the hospice center to schedule a meeting. I thought I should talk with someone to get through any unresolved issues before I pack up the life I’ve always known, move away from the tangible memories of my mom, and connect myself to a man for the rest of my life.

“It’s okay to be angry,” she says with an empathetic smile, tilting her head, as if to get a better angle into my soul. Forceful tears hurl themselves against the back my eyes but I don’t let them fall. I don’t dare speak.

She unlaces her hands, pounds on the desk and says, “It’s okay to say ‘DAMMIT, this isn’t fair!’”

My parents never swore — ever. So this profanity from an older adult shocks me. (All these years later, I get her completely. But at the time, I didn’t know what to do with it.) Because it had been almost two years since my mom died, I didn’t expect to still feel this raw.

“It’s okay to have these emotions. It’s okay to let this out.”

Our time is up and I smile through a shaking face, “I do. And I will. Thank you.” I pull a tissue from the box on the corner of her desk, turn around, and walk out the door.

The tears fall in torrents the second my foot hits the asphalt.  

***

The root of my fear?

She’s a good enough friend I don’t rehearse my message. I just start talking.

“I fear the unknown.” I pause. “Maybe it’s not fear, actually. But I am just so sad for her. She’s going to grieve and I know — oh God, I know what grief feels like. And my heart breaks for this child.” My voice begins to waiver. “She doesn’t know those were foster parents — she just knew them as her parents.”

***

Dear Child, once we get through this initial transition, there may come a day in the future when you find yourself freshly grieving your birth mom or your foster parents, people I know nothing about, save through them, you came to me.

There may come a day when you want to cry or rage and grieve over the hurt you feel over missing the people in your life you don’t remember, a culture, your birth country, and a life you can only look at in pictures. Our griefs are different, yet I know the hurt doesn’t always leave for good.

No matter how nice your life looks on the outside, and how much you have healed on the inside, very real and suddenly intense emotions sometimes find their way to the surface. And, like me, you may not always know how to say, understand, or accept them.

I cannot fix your hurt or change what was. Nor will I wait for you to know how to tell me.

God chose me to be your mother, and I already know.


Photo by Emily Gnetz.

Introducing: The Year of Creativity

Let’s be honest: being a mom doesn’t always leave room for creativity. It’s hard to think about art — about words, metaphors, and drawing threads that weave meaning and memories together while tantrums and diapers are competing for your time. So often, too often, the tantrums win.

But what if you stopped and took a good, hard look at the creative potential hidden underneath that pile of laundry over there? What if you decided that this was YOUR year to come alive right alongside those late nights, early mornings, I-love-you-so-much-I-could-burst and please-do-not-come-out-of-your-room-until-you’re-ten moments?  

If you’ve been waiting for the “right” time, we have exciting news: the right time is right now.

This is your year to shine. This is the time to unveil your creative soul and see it not as the thing competing with motherhood, but as the very thing helping to sustain motherhood.

We know this is possible because we've done it.

We've been writing for Coffee + Crumbs for more than two years in the midst of pregnancies and adoptions and colic and miscarriages and moves and transitions and doctor appointments filled with hard news. We’ve put our words down on paper both in the midst of the process and in the memory of it. Making time to write, to think, to dream, to wrestle with the weight of motherhood and shift it around from one tired hip to the next has often been the soul care we've needed to refocus our eyes on what is beautiful and good.

N’tima re-lived the painful early months of motherhood, when she balanced colic and post-partum depression, and in the process told millions of mommas: it is not just you. Katie wrote through her son’s autism diagnosis, and it was the experience of writing that showed her the difference between living in fear and choosing faith. April let her heart break on paper with her stories of miscarriage and adoption and growing her family in a way that was painful but ultimately perfect. Earlier this year, Anna wrote about running a marathon in honor of her son's birth mother—which, we just learned—inspired a reader across the country to run a marathon herself last week (26 miles for 26 people who've made a difference in her life, INCREDIBLE). 

Every Coffee + Crumbs writer has a story like this: a moment when words brought conviction or helped our tired eyes see the long view, not the short one. We haven’t written in spite of motherhood; we have written because of motherhood.

And now, we want to share what we've learned with you. We’ve designed The Year of Creativity for your art, for your vision, for your creative spirit.

The Year of Creativity is a twelve-month journey to empower women to pursue creativity alongside motherhood. The C+C writers have been busy crafting monthly lessons that include reflections, writing prompts, creative exercises, digital gifts, and monthly artist interviews where you’ll hear from women doing exactly what we all want to do: live creatively while raising babies at the same time. While the content is certainly impressive, we anticipate the best part of YOC to be the community itself. Our hope and dream is to develop a beautiful group of creative mothers ready to build one another up, keep each other inspired, and, ultimately, become online BFFs (like all of us). 

If any part of your heart is whispering, "I need this," - we hope you say yes to this invitation.

(And if your husband hasn't bought you a Christmas gift yet, feel free to e-mail this link with "hint hint" as the subject line.) 

2017. Let's do this. 

Ready?

Head over to The Year of Creativity page to get started!

Losing by Comparison

I know that there’s nothing to be gained by comparing myself to someone else, especially where mothering is concerned. But there’s a new mom in town who is just so damn happy about the whole business that I can’t seem to help myself.  

Like most first-time moms, Happy New Mom has fully immersed herself in all things baby, but with a confidence I’m not sure I ever had. I can still vividly remember the feelings of fear and failure that dominated my first days (ok, months. FINE, years.) with my oldest. Diaper changing, feeding, bathing, soothing, swaddling … when my colicky baby presented me with the opportunity to meet his basic needs, he also presented me with the opportunity to freak out. And I took it. Every time. But not Happy New Mom; it all comes so naturally to her.  

I watch her as she clutches her baby to her chest, and her smile spreads from ear to ear; her joy is palpable. Meanwhile, I’ve perfected the art of hiding from my children. It’s a powerful combination of providing television and individual cups of dry cereal, followed by my very slow and very silent retreat to the other room. (That’s some hard-won Mom Wisdom right there. You’re welcome.) When they do find me, approaching with arms outstretched like an army of tiny zombies, I try to demur, citing a lower back that has been crying out for mercy for the past month.  

I watch Happy New Mom settling her baby, just so, into a darling pink stroller, doing laps around the house when the weather is too bad to go outside. Down the hallway, past the staircase, through the play room, skirting the kitchen, around and around, tireless, her baby content with the simple routine. Meanwhile, I assemble mountains of toys and activities for my children, but no matter what I do I’m met with the same response: “We’re bored! Can we watch a movie?” And for some reason, this feels like a reflection on me. Sure, kids, let me just grab the cereal.   

I watch Happy New Mom as she rocks her baby before bed, sharing a story (or two! Or three! Or four!) while feeding a bottle, tenderly shushing and patting, and finally snuggling into bed with baby wrapped in her arms. Oh yes, they co-sleep. Of course they do. Meanwhile, I’ve invested significant time and effort into keeping my children out of my bed at night. I start by pretending not to hear their cries exploding through the monitor while I gently nudge (swiftly kick) my husband to attention. I’ve been known to hiss “We don’t negotiate with terrorists!” when night waking becomes too much for me. And I religiously lock (and bolt, and chain) our door … just in case.  

So, who is this Happy New Mom, you ask?

She is my two-year-old daughter, Macey. And the tender loving care she gives to her new plastic baby is giving me a complex.  

***

Mothering did not come naturally to me. Heck, it’s not natural to me now. Six years in, this lack of mastery is something that I’ve made peace with. But I’ve become a bit … sensitive … about it lately.

See, I’ve spent most of the past six years in limbo, treading water as we decide where our family is going, waiting for the right time to make plans for the next stage of my life: the stage where I’m not home with my kids full time. With so many factors to consider - Would we have another baby? Would my husband get that promotion? Wouldn’t it be easiest for our children if I stay home until they all go to school full time? - I rarely thought about what I needed. I guess I thought that I needed to be ready for whatever everyone else needed, and that we’d get to me eventually.

But after another long, sick, isolated winter, it became clear that waiting to see what we were going to do next wasn’t working for me. So I applied to graduate school and was accepted to the program of my choice this spring, about three years ahead of schedule. I started school this fall, and I’ll be working full time in two short years.  

I’m thrilled! This is what I’ve dreamed about forever! It’s the first step in the next stage of our lives!  

And yet.

It doesn’t feel the way I thought it would. I thought I would feel excited, joyful, and triumphant, finally free from everyone else’s needs and from a role that never seemed like a good fit anyway; instead, I feel a nagging discomfort that’s hard to pin down.

I feel it when we interview nannies, and the sweet girl in front of me says that it’s her calling to take care of young children. Bless it, I think, it’s not mine. I feel it when my son’s preschool teacher suggests some simple routines to help my children curb their naughty behavior, and I burst into tears. Because I’ve been trying — and failing — to implement these very same routines for the past six years. I feel it when, completely drained at the end of a long weekend at home with the kids, I think to myself I can’t wait to go back to school tomorrow! And — apparently — I feel it when I see my two-year-old daughter tirelessly, lovingly, tenderly care for her plastic baby.  

I thought it would feel like I’m moving forward, and I know that I am. But I can’t stop thinking about the thing I’ve left behind. And no matter how many times I remind myself that I’m raising my banner in victory, in celebration for a difficult job well done, I look out of the corner of my eye and all I see the white flag of defeat.

Some women thrive in the role of taking care of small children full time, and that is a beautiful thing. I wish I was one of them. I’m not. And deep down, I know that that is okay. But right now, in this time of transition, it doesn’t feel okay. Instead of embracing what I’m becoming, I feel like I’m admitting that I’m not who I tried so hard to be. And, as so often is the case with parenting, there’s not much I can do but sit in the discomfort of this stage, trusting that everything will feel different with enough time and distance.  

And until then … maybe I can hide that damn plastic baby. 


Guest post written by Andrea Burkly. Andrea is a career woman turned stay-at-home-mother turned full-time-graduate-student. Before she spent all of her time writing papers on psychoanalytic theory, she wrote lots of essays on motherhood which you can find on her blog, The Me in Motherhood.  She was part of the cast of Listen to your Mother in Chicago in 2014 and 2016, and her work has been featured previously on Coffee + Crumbs. Much to her surprise, she currently lives about two miles from where she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with her amazing husband, two wild boys and one darling daughter, and a dog the vet appropriately deemed “very strange” during his last annual checkup.


Photo by Emily Gnetz.