Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area


The Safety Dance

Posted on Jun 17, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

The Safety Dance

Yesterday a slew kids were playing on their teacher’s computer during summer camp — one of them called out “FACEBOOK!” To the poor teacher’s horror, her FB page had popped up, photos and Wall posts and all, simply as the result of a kid clicking around on her browser.  Ugh. The afternoon was filled with fits of laughter from kids screaming, “Maestra has a FACEBOOK PAGE!,” to the hum of nan-er-nan-er-nan-er.

Now, I’m not a super security freak when it comes to online safety for my kids. La Gringa and I have worked building, managing and monetizing online communities as long as they’ve been around. (She didn’t get the name Yahoo! Sheriff for nothing.) All along, we’ve had a simple philosophy: teach the kids to utilize the web properly and we won’t have to use security measures to block out content. We put rules in place: browse the web at-will, but you must (a) use your laptop in a public place in the house (b) you may not watch video of any kind (c) you may not click on an ad of any kind (d) you may not speak with someone online of any kind with the exception of sites like Club Penguin that we trust for kid-centric communication.

You are freaking out, aren’t you? I bet you are. And so did my friends at BitDefender. And so did some moms in Chicago who sat shocked as I told tales of not using parental controls on my kids’ computers. Just hear me out.

I want to teach my children to understand fully what the power of the Internet means. I want them to learn to scope out dangers, understand potential hazards and learn to manage risks online. I am convinced that my children are smarter than I, and will figure out any barriers to entry I put before them to keep them from online dangers. We as a family decided to face the fears, point out the dangers and teach our children to respond appropriately to them. I am right there with my children when they call out, “Mom, a pop-up ad! Mom, they are selling me something! Mom, look!” And I do, I look and show them the little X box at the top to remove the ad, and we discuss what they did to get to the place online where they’d be subjected to such things (Sports Illustrated is famous in our house, as you can imagine).

One major pitfall for us has been Search. I’m beginning to understand that Search is wildly imperfect and that despite Yahoo! Search being a default on my kids’ computers, it does have danger. They are old enough to spell and type in the search bar for terms; however, they are not mature enough to know what results pages can render. And 6-year-olds misspell often. So a search on  C3PO (Star Wars is an obsession in our home), can result in a kid typing just “C3” which results in Cleveland Communities for Christ. Fine, right? Not so fast, it actually links to a Facebook Fan page which in turn links to photos, people and more.  An easy search on my son’s version of spelling “Korea” came up with results for “Karreena,” a sultry, scantily dressed Bollywood actress. Clearly, my Learning Through Transparency model doesn’t work for search.

I continue to push back against over controlling my children’s presence online. I want them to learn rights, wrongs and potential dangers online. If I constrict their web so intensely, I worry that they’ll explode with obsession when they learn that their version of the web has been so small, so protected, so unrealistic. At the same time, I am learning, day by day, that there are pitfalls to this philosophy and as my children age, the needle will have to move on just how  wide I let them explore.

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Confessions of a Non-Reading Mom

Posted on Mar 4, 2010 in Featured, Motherboard |

Confessions of a Non-Reading Mom

Before I had children, I had a notion about what a mom should be — cuddly and kind, strict and forgiving, lenient and understanding. I visualized myself teaching my children to walk and talk and count and, of course, read. I saw myself working with pride in the children’s classrooms teaching other kids to read as well as my own were sure to. My children, of course, would be voracious readers, and I, at the helm, leading them through the aisles of Hicklebee’s famed children’s book store.

As we all know by now, all of our fantasies of parenthood don’t come true. I turned out to be a mom that didn’t read much with her kids. Sigh. Blame it on the exhaustion of being the mother of twins, push it off on being too worn down, cast the responsibility on the babysitter… Somehow, after all my visions of what kind of parent I’d be, I wasn’t the one to foster reading in my children.

Reading to my children somehow became a burden. It annoyed me that they pushed the pages to get to the next one, interrupted me with question after question, went on tangents unrelated to what I was reading. I tried in vain to imitate Mr Toad’s deep throaty voice and Ms. Spider’s high-pitched tone.   It flat-out annoyed me to read with my kids. I felt horrible about it. Awful, actually. I felt like a mommy failure. I needed help.

I went to the library and spoke with a woman at the Biblioteca Latinoamericana in San Jose, a library with one of the foremost bilingual collections in California. She told me to read the newspaper outloud to the kids. She told me to read Time magazine, read People magazine, read anything to the kids. She gave me permission to not read Dr. Seuss. I stood in front of this stranger and cried. Just read, she said. Read for my own joy and the kids will absorb the magic of words and reading. The angst I had over reading children’s books that were not enjoyable to me was coming through to my kids. What they needed, she taught me, was the feeling that mommy enjoyed reading — they needed to see me value reading and how reading envelops every part of society. That woman, that precious librarian, changed my life.

The first thing I did was start reading signs and headlines in the car to the kids. I read recipes outloud and my kids loved every second of it. I read the Yahoo! front page headlines outloud. And in Spanish, I read anything I could find. Most books were children’s books, but that’s about my reading level in Spanish. I started to see my children engage me in reading and from that I gained inspiration to read further.

Step two was to find children’s books that worked for the whole family.  The problem was that I had a slew of Disney-esque books or See Jane Run boardbooks (or rather: bored-books) — each of them less inspiring than the next.  I needed to fix this ASAP. My sister-in-law had bought books from a little company called Chinaberry and I thought I might be able to find interest in some of those books. I spent hours pouring through their website  finding alternative books that I found interesting. There were stories of native American children, of world cultures. There were books of children’s poetry that I found simply incredible and sweet. I found Goodnight Moon in Spanish, which was super fun for me to read with the kids. I bought Heather Has Two Mommies but it made me feel uncomfortable, so I ditched it. I found a book about Amelia Earheart and a wonderful book about buildings called Iggy Peck Architect. In finding books that interested me, I found that my kids were more interested in reading with me. That was a huge relief.

My third step was to acquiesce my mommy responsibilities in reading with the children. My partner @La_gringa took over the role of reading to the kids before bed. It turned out beautifully — the kids and @La_Gringa love this ritual.  My stepdad took it upon himself to buy a series of books he had enjoyed reading to his kids 30 years ago  (the great Ferdinand was one) and the kids know that Granddad will read to them whenever they visit. My mom sat with the kids while they learned to read in preschool and then kindergarten. Unlike me,  her patience for sounding out syllables was unwavering. The village had stepped in to raise up my children where I lacked.

The kids are now in first grade, are biliterate in Spanish and English, reading fluently in two languages above grade level. Most of their reading is non-fiction, which I find fascinating, and all of their exams are solely in Spanish. This week they both received  Accelerated Reader awards for earning over 90 percent on their tests — they were two of only 10 first-graders in their school honored. Despite me, these children have a passion for reading.

Teaching my children to read was so much harder than I ever dreamed. We had to adapt: Dr. Seuss was out,  Thomas the Tank was replaced with a how-to-build-a-train type books, written by people a lot less famous. I wasn’t the one that taught my children to read, but I did find a way to show them a respect and love for language. Last night my children listened as I read them a recipe — Sea Bass, olive oil, teaspoon of sea salt — while they retold a story from a Magic Treehouse book. The smells of the kitchen and conversation mutually engulfed us in the beauty of words.

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