An Analog Childhood in the Digital Age

My 20s were spent moving around, for one reason or another, and refusing to put down roots. Before always-on GPS, before the social media boom. If my parents hadn’t heard from me in a day or two they had to send my sister and her friends to hunt me down. Case in point: my phone died and I just didn’t charge it one weekend. It was nice to not deal with text messages or phone calls. So my sister — four friends in tow — showed up at my apartment at 11:00 PM one night saying “Hey, call Dad.”

Fast forward to today: Facebook is either greedy enough to sell your information or mismanaged enough to allow your information to be “inappropriately obtained” by political firms working to install a fascist government in the White House. Google pays so much attention to where you go and when you go there that it changes your home and work locations when you go on vacation (our AirBnB in New Orleans a few years ago). Your Alexa/Cortana/Google Home/Whatever are always on and have probably recorded every argument and case of bad indigestion ever since they were connected to your WiFi.

I deleted my Facebook account some time ago, primarily because it felt pervasive. It was everywhere. Covered everything. Everyone. The idea of needing to utilize this one service in order to maintain social connections felt… uncomfortable. I didn’t like the ads that were following me. I didn’t like the idea of strangers being able to look me up. Facebook is more than a phone book. They don’t just see your phone number, but your photo, friends, and whatever else you shared when you were drunk at 2am. Even if you lock down your profile and friends list, Facebook still retains the details.

But collecting user data better allows companies to serve the user!

They want to sell you things. To make money. When was the last time you saw an ad on Facebook for something that truly changed your life in a meaningful, positive way? Now, when was the last time you saw an ad for that thing you were looking for on Amazon? Yeah. I struggle to put down my phone. Just like I struggled with getting off social media. I’m not about to trot out some holier-than-thou argument to get you off Twitter. I love Twitter. If that’s your thing, get on it. But my connection to and use of social media — of the internet — needed re-balancing. I think everybody would benefit from an honest evaluation of their technology usage.

What kind of always monitored world is my kid growing up in? And how do I instill healthy, balanced technology use in my child?

I love technology. Quinn and I use Alexa, Siri, and Google daily. We use location services. GPS. We have a Nest thermostat (that Quinn snagged for free when we switched power companies, score) and smart light bulbs so we don’t have to get out of bed when we forget to turn the lights off. We drive an electric car that comes with an app that lets us see where it is, what the battery charge looks like, and even set the heater before we leave for work from our phones. We have our eyes on those solar roof tiles when we buy a house.

Well-designed technology, in a perfect world, is seamlessly integrated, highly intuitive, and minimally invasive. Thermostats that learn your schedule and mind the weather. Solar and renewable energy. Robotic surgical assistants. Serving the user. Building connections. Not selling users a lifestyle or trading personal information for dopamine hits. There’s no precedent for how the technology we currently favor will impact social or emotional development in young children. I guess I’m going to have to make it up as I go.

I want Ben to be comfortable with technology — but there’s not really any doubt he will be. What kid born in America after 2000 isn’t? But how to I keep him from becoming obsessed with it? I see so often. Small children using tablets while at dinner or at the grocery store. Phones being used as a pacifier or a substitute for interaction and conversation. I get it. Sometimes you want an easy way out. I’m here for that. It’s about survival, about getting through the day. I bribed Ben with my phone for the first time a couple of weeks ago during a too-long wait at his doctor’s office. I let him watch Moana, his current number one. And I was granted a grim glimpse of the future when I put it away: a full blown gimme-gimme tantrum. Oh hell no. I guess playing with phones is going to be off the table for the foreseeable future.

That’s okay. We have a huge yard.

The only comfort he finds is in the bottle

My kid has a problem. He can’t give it up for anything. The only comfort he finds these days is at the bottom of a bottle. He won’t take the damn Elmo doll, blanket, t-shirt, or pacifier. He can (and does) use straws and open cups with surprising ease. But oh, the bottle! His dear. His beloved. I, most embarrassingly, am his enabler. Poor Quinn, who only occasionally reminds me how much I’m not helping when I give in to a bottle tantrum, has more discipline in this area — which admittedly kind of irks me.

I would give ANYTHING to trade the bottle fixation for a pacifier. I would even start nursing again if it meant he would stop whining for a bottle. Those eight teeth would be WELCOME at my breast if it meant no more whining. The bottle has, for now, become the only way I can get him to give me enough space to do dishes (which, reminder: he can undo the “kid-proof” safety latch now) and pick up the socks he somehow leaves in every corner of the house. He DOESN’T EVEN WEAR SOCKS. Unless he’s been at daycare. What the hell?

The guilt I feel over acquiescing comes and goes because, as always, whatever hangups or issues Ben has with attachments can be traced directly back to me a solid 70% of the time. On one hand, I am a survivor and will do what it takes to get us through the day. On the other hand, I recognize the need to think long term and demonstrate good habits and healthy coping mechanisms for Ben. Show me a parent who has never lost their temper and I’ll show you a child that probably spends their life locked in a soundproof dog kennel. How awful is that, even though he’s barely 18 months, I already worry that I’ve somehow ruined my kid for life?

I don’t know how to tackle the bottle habit. What I do know, though, is that Ben has been regularly pushing the bottle aside more quickly than he used to; he doesn’t carry it around like he did up until a month ago. He appears to be either outgrowing it or weaning himself — something he also did with nursing and regular bed-sharing. Which gives me hope, but also a bit of worry. Why are parents put under so much pressure to sleep train and night wean and lose the pacifier and potty train so quickly? Have humans evolved so much that an 18-month old is capable of emotional regulation?

I’m not going to answer that question, because the answer should be resoundingly obvious. What’s not obvious is why some of us struggle so much to shake this pressure when our logical side knows it’s bullshit. Quinn and I have never been the super competitive, baby must be sung the alphabet seven times a day type of parents. We have tried (sometimes impatiently) to allow Ben to hit the usual milestones in his own time. He stood up a bit later than his age-mates. He only has a handful of words and signs at 18 months. But he’s happy. He’s larger-than-life happy, full of shrieking laughter and hugs and giggles and cuddles. I hope that counts for something. It does in my book.

 

The sleep thing, part 1: bedtime

[Note: I still think sleep regressions are largely bull dookie, but for those of you curious how I tackled Ben’s recent refusal to sleep, here’s a quick update to this recent post.]

Here’s the thing about sleep.

There’s no universal standard for sleep requirements. Science says, generally, that 8 hours (give or take, of course) is what you should shoot for. Science also says that we should sleep in split shifts, like our ancestors may or may not have. Science also also says that sleep is a construct and we’re all of us always asleep because we’re actually all plugged into simulations, kind of like in The Matrix.

Well.

Anecdotally, my father sleeps less than five hours a night. I am a split (read: terrible) sleeper, usually awake for an hour or more in the middle of the night. Quinn sleeps as many hours as his schedule will allow, but has trouble falling asleep when he first goes to bed. It seems perfectly logical to me that our kid would have this same struggle.

What I have tried:

  • Cry it out
  • Pat and settle
  • Ferber method
  • Gerber method
  • Method acting
  • Graduated extinction
  • Matriculated extinction
  • Whatever, none of it works

What I haven’t tried:

  • Rum, per my mother-in-law’s insistence “That’s what we always did!”

Ben will scream for HOURS if left alone. Going in to check on him just pisses him off even more. It never occurred to me that some kids have to be taught how to go to sleep. As a concept, I will tell you I am seriously struggling with that. Who needs to be taught how to sleep? Human children, apparently.

What’s working for now:

  • A solid bedtime routine
  • Melatonin at bedtime, per pediatrician’s instructions
  • Cutting out tv time before bed

But the bedtime battles. Those are, for now, almost entirely under control. A solid bedtime routine and melatonin supplements, per Ben’s pediatrician. Gummies that taste like blackberries that he is very into, and liquid for nights he’s being a butt about it. A bedtime routine isn’t something that I had given much thought to, because bedtime was always the easy part — until a couple of months ago. At that point we decided to just… let him stay up. His mood wasn’t affected by late bedtimes, so we didn’t see the harm in it.

Except to, you know, our sex life and general non-parenting hours in the evening.

Anyway, bedtime is simple: TV off at 7:15. Melatonin. Bath. Jammies. Snack. Play or read. Cuddle. Bed. By night five, he was falling asleep mid-story. I plan on weaning him off the melatonin gradually starting in the next week or two, as the idea of long-term use if not strictly necessary makes me uneasy. So bedtime is a breeze now, but he’s waking up in the middle of the night again. Mornings are groggy, angry messes. Daycare drop off is one big meltdown.

I feel like I’m running hurdles but the hurdles are too closely together. When I’ve just barely cleared the first one, my feet are already bumping up against the second. The first hurdle gets knocked over when I attempt to clear the second hurdle too quickly. This is an uneven metaphor, but it’s close. I can only overcome one hurdle successfully at a time. This is a pain in the ass for me; I like to get everything done all at once, or I’m afraid it will never get done.

Ben’s bedtime was the first hurdle. Mornings are next, then daycare drop offs. The biggest hurdle, night wakings, is the final hurdle — for now. Wish me luck. Send coffee.

 

Go the F to sleep

Ben has discovered that he can not only play peekaboo, but that he can magically vanish from adult sight when he covers his eyes. The shrieks that roll out of him — along with the way he throws his arms wide to announce his sudden reappearance in the world — are by FAR the most incredible, “It’s worth it” thing I’ve experienced in his short life. Not just that these little laughs are his, but that he has learned how to make himself laugh in such a way. It’s a gift, being able to find such humor in the world. Sure it’s pretty easy when your life is eat nap poop play repeat, but still. It is glorious and adorable and ALMOST makes up for the new 10:00 bedtime he’s been given to the last week or so.

[Note: I know, I KNOW, I can hear you admonishing me now: children that age NEED 27 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT and if they don’t you MUST absolutely TRAIN them to sleep. I have my own opinions of sleep training (specifically that my kid is too stubborn and dramatic for it to work), but if it works for you and nobody has gone blind from the stress, well la dee dah.]

Oh, wait, did you think this was going to be a #humblebrag #mykidisawesome post? Oh, you.

Ben is 18 months old. He has never been a terrific sleeper, but hey, neither am I. For the past week or two, bedtime has turned into an absolute meltdown of hell raising proportions. I’m of a mind that, if Ben staying up is going to happen: fine, I can roll with it. The worst part is that on the nights he stays up late he’s not even in a crabby mood. No tantrums (unless, you know, I lay him down in his crib), no whining, no utter and complete destruction of my already poorly kept home. He just wants to hang out on the couch and maybe read and play a bit.

AND GET THIS.

He’s not even pissy the next day. I swear. He wakes up at 7:00 sharp, ready for a few minutes of cuddling before he wants to go straight to the back yard with our two dogs. (We have a long, straight, open yard with just enough trees and sticks to make it interesting.) Eats well. Naps well. Our pediatrician doesn’t seem overly concerned. Considering the sleep strike has (so far, thankfully) had virtually no negative impact on his development, attitude, or appetite, “some people just need less sleep,” she told me.

We’ve tried sleep training in the past, but it’s always failed for one reason or another. Turning bedtime into a nightly battle sounds to me like a surefire way to ensure even more nightly battles. At least when you’ve got a kid as headstrong as Ben. As me. As his daddy. It was the same way with transitioning to table foods. We didn’t push, didn’t fight. We kept it conflict free. Now he eats like dream and is open to trying just about anything we hand him.

It’s funny how the things we find most annoying in kids become traits we admire or aspire to as adults. Stubbornness. Persistence. Independence. The drive to explore, to scream with joy, to love and hug and cuddle freely. The need to take things apart and figure out how they work. Sure, he’s a pain in the ass NOW and I sometimes can’t handle the kicking, flailing tantrums because No, you can’t play with scissors, but in five years? Ten? Twenty? If I play my cards juuuust right, those things annoy the shit out of me now are going to make for a pretty awesome adult.

Cross your fingers for me.

P.S. Sleep regressions are bullshit code for “most kids take years to learn how to consistently sleep through the night because of all the the growth and development they are undergoing. Stock up on coffee and xanax.”

P.P.S. Shit. Sorry. #mykidisawesome

All the ways I’m a bad mom

This post was originally published on Medium when my son was, oh, 9-months old. Dedicated to the woman that had the nerve to comment when she saw my baby happily and quietly chewing on my keychain while at the grocery store.

His socks never match

His feet are huge so I’m buying new socks every few weeks (which is about how often his clothes get washed anyway because for some reason babies need huge wardrobes), but I can still never seem to find a matching pair. Ever. So he goes to daycare in mismatched socks every. Single. Day.

He will wear the same clothes two days in a row if he doesn’t get dirty

Look. He doesn’t care if he’s wearing the same outfit as yesterday. If there are no food or bodily fluid stains, and it’s not covered in dog hair? I’m probably too tired to change him

out of

the shirt he slept in. I promise he doesn’t care.

He only sleeps, like, 8 hours a night most nights

Our pediatrician assured us that as long as he’s his normal, happy self on only eight hours of sleep, there’s nothing to worry about. Except, you know, everybody else we know that has a baby or has ever had a baby — their little ones always get an average of 30 hours a night. I am a little bitter about that.

I get really annoyed when he whines and I can’t figure out why

He could care less about baby sign language. He loves to talk. It’s fun. What’s not fun? This also means he’s proficient in whining. There are only so many songs, games, toys, bottles, naps, and cuddles we can do before I run out of ideas. They say that you learn to “speak” your baby’s language and develop an understanding as to what they mean with certain cries. This is, in my experience, largely bullshit.

He sleeps in our bed half of the night, almost every night

He goes down in his bed, easily, without struggle but — invariably, due to my inability to night wean him, by the time he wakes up at 3:00 AM, I am too exhausted to wake up enough to go through a whole bedtime routine again. And, shame on me, I refuse to let him sob hysterically all night. So he comes and cuddles with us. He’s not always going to like having us around, and it doesn’t really bother us too much, so it’s hard for me to care re: the weirdly divisive nature of the bed-sharing opinion world.

I don’t like giving him baths

They take too long and require so much prep and ugh, is the water too hot? Now it’s too cold. Is he shivering? Come on, you like baths. No, you can’t crawl around naked you’ll probably poop on the rug or something. Let me just put this towel in the — yep, you pooped.

Sometimes I rock him to sleep

Like the cuddling in bed thing: he’s not always going to need us or want us around. He’s so small and undeveloped. His systems aren’t as sophisticated as an adult’s are. He still needs help sometimes, and that’s okay. I’m not going to begrudge a helpless child their need for comfort. I’m pretty sure we aren’t ruining him forever by showing him he’s loved and safe.

We let him use a pacifier even though he’s 9 months old.

He doesn’t need it to sleep, but he does like having one around. Eh. This is a pretty minor transgression.

(Note from 18 months: Ben gave up his pacifier completely, cold turkey, not long before his first birthday.)

I let him feed himself

Have you ever watched a baby try to master their fine motor skills? He will grab two fists full of baby cereal and shove both of them in the general direction of his mouth in an effort to consume any of it. It’s messy and takes a long time to clean up but it’s funny so I give myself that little thing.

I had wine (and sushi) during my pregnancy

Once a week, I had a glass of wine that I measured on a food scale, added iced to, and sipped over the course of an hour (or two, if I was really dragging it out). I also ate sub sandwiches and sushi a few times. How old does a kid have to be to try sushi?

I need time away from the noise sometimes in order to be a better parent

This is one of those things about parenting that doesn’t seem to be talked about: you cannot possibly be fully prepare for the depths of exhaustion that come with never getting a break. That’s not something everybody is equipped to handle.

The first time I heard about the baby blues was the morning I was discharged. The nurse on rotation took me aside and told me, in the most gentle voice, “Don’t worry too much when it hits. It happens to everybody. Just take care of yourself and call your doctor if it becomes unbearable.”

My baby can’t live his best life if his mom isn’t living hers. If I’m going to be able to give him the best care and support I can, I have to be able to give myself those things first. So maybe I’m a bad mom for not giving up my personhood in favor of orbiting around my child like a sun and it’s planet.

My baby doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he likes to follow along.