slice of life · technology

Surf City Water Tower

What did our parents do — in the days before smart phones to provide instant gratification — when we wanted something? Did they plug their ears while listening to us cry? Ignore us? Tell us to toughen up? Or maybe it was some combination of all of those things…

Last week, we vacationed in Topsail, NC with my cousins. Despite seven people — two of whom were under two — living in the same house for a week, it was a relaxing vacation. We ate in most nights, but decided to head to dinner the final night we were in Topsail so we wouldn’t have a clean-up job after dinner since we had a lot of packing ahead of us.

On the way out of the restaurant, Ari noticed the island’s old water tower. He was captivated by it. He said, “Tower!” over and over on the drive home that night.

The next morning, Ari called “Tower!” many times. On our way off the island, we pointed the water tower out to him and said, “Say, ‘bye-bye, Tower’.”

“Bye, Tower!” he called as we drove over the swing bridge off of Topsail Island.

That should’ve been it… but it wasn’t. He called out for the water tower several times on Sunday.

“Remember, we said good-bye to the Tower when we left Topsail,” I reminded him.

“Bye, Tower,” he repeated sadly.

By yesterday afternoon, Ari continued to call out for the Tower. That’s when I googled “Surf City Water Tower” on my phone. Not only did multiple images of the water tower come up, but there were even two videos! I showed the photos to Ari. The images made him smile with delight. Then, I showed him the videos. He watched them with complete contentedness.

Today’s Tuesday. Now Ari is grabbing for my phone saying “Tower! Tower! Tower!” The last thing I want to do is look at photos and watch videos of some old water tower. However, doing just that is my consequence for using my smart phone in this way in the first place.

siblings · slice of life · technology

Naughty Moments


This morning, I asked Isabelle to watch Ari while I went upstairs to brush my teeth. Whenever I’ve asked this of her in the past she has played with him. Today she had another idea.

On my way back downstairs I heard voices, but they weren’t my children’s voices. She turned on the TV! I was infuriated since I don’t allow TV before school. I thought about tiptoeing downstairs and catching her in the act, but I worried she would’ve heard my footsteps and turned it off before I walked into the room. So I called to her from the staircase, “I hear the TV and want to see what you’re watching.”

Isabelle looked so guilty when I entered our great room. Thankfully, she was only watching “The Cat in the Hat” with Ari who was standing right up against the TV screen, which is NOT a good thing if you’re in charge of your baby brother. (Reasons I don’t like her to watch TV when Ari is around.)

I punished her in a way that benefitted me. No KidzBop in the car this morning! (BTW: I listened to the Beatles Channel, which was delightful.)


Ari started climbing onto the couch a few days ago. Thing is, Ari doesn’t just sit on the couch like a normal kid. He walks back and forth on the sectional. Also, he likes to stand in place and wave the quilt, which hangs on the wall, in a way that makes me cringe every time.

Perhaps the funniest part of Ari standing up on the couch (to touch the quilt) is that he knows he shouldn’t be doing it. He smiles as he touches it, makes eye contact with me, and then says “no-no” as he grabs the material and gives it a shake.

slice of life · technology

Grasping a Childhood

This morning, Facebook provided me with a look back of everything I’ve shared on this day. On February 6th, 2013, I shared an article called “How to Miss a Childhood.” If you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, or care for young children, then please read this article now or after you finish reading this post. (Whatever works best for you. Please take the time to read it because it’ll change the way you live.) The premise of the article is simple. PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE so you can witness the little people you’re lucky enough to have in your life.

Anyone who’s read this blog for awhile knows I don’t allow phones or tablets at the dining table at home or in a restaurant. Much to the dismay of my parents (Hi Mom & Dad!), I keep my cell phone on vibrate unless I’m awaiting a phone call from a doctor. I limit my six-year-old’s media consumption to one hour of television — at most — per day. Screen time for speech- or phonics-related games might be up to another 45 minutes, but she’s doing them alongside me so I don’t think of it as true screen time.

I am by no means a perfect parent, but I try — really, really hard — to be a good parent. Like everyone, I fail more than I succeed.

Enter Baby #2 back in September. I have to admit, I’ve been on my iPhone a lot more since Ari was born. I turn to it during feedings to keep myself from falling asleep. Seeing as Ari eats every three hours, I’m on my phone a lot more than I need to be.

I reread “How to Miss a Childhood” while feeding Ari this morning. If I am being honest, then I have to admit I have been attending to the buzzing of my phone more than I should. More people text me than ever before. (I detest the immediacy of texting. I resisted it for a long time because the urgency of it seems ridiculous to me. However, I have succumb to the technology since so many people want me to use it.) In addition, my email inbox is fuller than I’d like it to be. As a result, I am on my phone way more than I should be.

Bedtime Tonight. Look at his little hand on my shoulder. Would I have noticed his hand if I were on my phone? Probably not.
Bedtime Tonight. Look at his little hand on my shoulder. Would I have noticed his hand if I were on my phone? Probably not.

Rereading “How to Miss a Childhood” encouraged me to put my phone down more often today. Instead of checking Twitter or reading articles from The New York Times after each of Ari’s feedings (He has to be held upright for 20 minutes because he’s a spitter-upper.), I sang to him. You can’t sing to your child when you’re reading! Singing to him allowed me to look into his eyes. I saw his face brighten each time I sang a tune he enjoyed. I also had a clear lap, devoid of a device, when he spit up on me — twice!

I’ve gotten in the habit of giving Isabelle my full attention. I’m not distracted when I’m with her. I only check email or send a text in her presence if there’s an immediate need. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram when she’s around. Even though my son is little, I’ve come to realize he deserves my presence right now.

This evening, I rocked Ari to sleep in his glider. He smelled of Alimentum, Aquaphor, and Aveeno Moisturizing Soap. It’s an odd combination, but I inhaled his scent and savored it. He’ll only be little once, I told myself. I have to stay present because you don’t get a second chance at parenting your child.

slice of life · technology

Big Teddy’s Adventure

I dropped Isabelle off at preschool on Friday morning along with my mother-in-law.

“You take eye-oh-leht,” Isabelle commanded.

“Violet?” I asked.

“Yes, take her,” Isabelle clarified.

Violet is a talking purple puppy. She’s not exactly the kind of stuffed animal someone in their late 30’s wants to be caught with while they’re attending a conference for a weekend.

How about I take Big Teddy again?” I asked.

“No, eye-oh-leht,” Isabelle said.

“But Big Teddy wants to go again.”  Did I just say that?  I can’t believe I’m bargaining to take a different stuffed animal, I told myself.  That’s because I want something less obtrusive.

“Okay, you take Big Teddy,” Isabelle replied.


* * * * *

The wifi wasn’t working well when I arrived at the Highlights Foundation on Friday.  I worked for awhile, but then decided to take Big Teddy out on the adventure I knew Isabelle wanted him to have.  I created a digital story for her using Storyrobe and hoped it would be received more favorably than the still picture collage I sent six weeks ago.  Here’s what I sent home via e-mail:

My mother-in-law e-mailed me back to inform me that Isabelle watched the video three times.  My heart soared! The fact that she watched it again (and again) made it worth the hour I spent shooting the video, writing the story, and piecing it together with Storyrobe.

preschool · slice of life · technology

The Case for Tweeting in Preschool

Tweet About Your Day - Raising a Literate HumanI used to be one of those kids. You know THOSE kids who didn’t give their parents a full answer when they asked “What did you do in school today?” Granted, I was more forthcoming than most of my peers probably were with their folks, but I distinctly remember filtering information from them in elementary school.  (By the time eighth grade came around, my mom was driving me 32 miles round-trip to school daily so I had no choice but to spill the beans about my day.)  I cannot recall why I didn’t tell my parents everything, but I just remember withholding information.

Isabelle’s personality is quite different than mine. This makes me wonder if she’ll tell me everything or nothing.  (Remember, I was in-between when it came to reporting things!)  If last week is any indication of what’s to come, I have a feeling she’ll tell me half-truths.

You see, last week I sent Isabelle to half-day day camp at the school where she’ll attend preschool.  It was my attempt to get her comfortable in her new school building.  (Sadly, she won’t be returning to the lovely Waldorf school we went to the past two years since the distance was too great for me to drive while writing a book.) While I was interested in knowing how she coped being in a new place and whether or not she initiated potty breaks (She did… whew!), I also wanted to know what she did.  Maybe it’s because she’s three or maybe it’s because of her Apraxia, but I couldn’t get a true sense of what was happening from her.  For instance, I asked her, “Did Jeannie read you a book today.”

“Yes,” she replied.

“That’s good.  Did you like it?”

“Yes,” she said.

“What was it about?”

“Beards,” she declared.

“Beards?” I asked. (I knew last week’s camp had a pirate theme, but I had a tough time believing the teacher read a book about beards to the kids.)

“Yes, beards,” she replied confidently.

“Hmmmm… do you remember the title, the author, or the illustrator’s name?” I queried.

“No,” she said.

The next morning I asked Jeannie, the teacher, “Did you read a book about beards yesterday?”

“No, I read Talk Like a Pirate.”

“Oh, I said.”  I pointed at Isabelle, “she said you read a book about beards.”

I recounted this to my husband who insisted that pirates do have beards, so that wasn’t too far off.  Fine, I’ll give Isabelle credit for this one, but I really didn’t know what she read, which meant I couldn’t engage in a conversation about the book with her.

Some of Isabelle's creations from her week at "pirate camp."
Some of Isabelle’s creations from her week at “pirate camp.”

The rest of the week went like this.  Isabelle would tell me something (e.g., I played with Robin.) and, if I was lucky, I would find out what really happened at some point (e.g., She played with a boy named Quinn.  There aren’t any kids named Robin in her camp group. Apparently Robin, “Wobuhn,” is easier to say than “Quinn.”).  This makes me think that I’m not going to have much of an idea about what’s happening in her classroom once preschool starts if the teacher doesn’t send home a weekly newsletter. (Please, please, pretty please let there be a newsletter.) And that’s when I got to thinking… wouldn’t it be great if her teacher tweeted snippets of the school day out to parents?  For instance, at the end of a lesson, she could tweet what they did.  She could tweet the kids’ discoveries.  She could tweet the kids’ drawings.  She could even tweet a couple of questions for parents to ask their preschoolers at the dinner table.

But then I came back down to Earth.  There is no way that I can walk into my daughter’s new school and demand that my daughter’s teacher tweets with the kids on day one.  For one thing, that would be like me telling her how to do her job.  Second, it would encourage what could turn into an unhealthy amount of technology exposure to the children.  And third, no teacher wants a fellow educator telling her to take on more work when she had a lot of other things on her plate.  Therefore, I will keep my mouth shut.  But if I ever see a suggestion box, then I think I might put this one in it since it would help me, as the parent of what is shaping up to be a partial reporter, to engage my child at home.

Jewish · slice of life · technology

Getting Ready for Shabbat

Check out the other slice of life stories at
Check out the other slice of life stories at

I’ve been wanting to try out Educreations for awhile now. I finally made use of it today as I prepared Isabelle for Shabbat.

I was so hopeful for using this app. However, it’s impossible for me to embed the lesson I created, using the embed codes on my PC and iPad, into this blog post. (Not sure who to blame: WordPress or Educreations. Or maybe both!) Anyway, if you click on the link below, you will get to hear and watch the slice of life story I created alongside Isabelle with Educreations:

Shabbat Prep


OBSERVATIONS · pre-writing · technology

A Toddler, an iPad, and a Stylus

I can only get Isabelle to practice her pre-writing skills with crayons when she’s in the mood to do it. She prefers to scribble with as many colors as possible rather than doing something structured. I can’t exactly blame her. After all, she’s three!

So on the first of two snow/ice days this week, I took out my iPad and stylus with the intention of getting her to draw lines from left to right. We talked about taking turns with the stylus (which took a few minutes to get down-pat). After several minutes of giving her a chance to practice using the stylus, by doodling in my Noteshelf App, I got her to do something more structured.

I drew a green “x” and a red “x” on the page. Then, I changed the color over to gray. From there, I showed her how to start on the left (because green means go) and how to stop once the stylus reached the right side of the iPad (because red means stop). It took several tries (gotta love the “undo” feature in Noteshelf!) for her to get it, but eventually she was able to zoom across the page with the stylus.

Practicing left to write line movements was much more enjoyable for Isabelle than doing it on paper with crayons. However, I’m concerned about doing this all of the time for two reasons:
1) Regardless of the fact that we live in the 21st century, I believe she needs to learn how to write properly on paper.
2) She doesn’t need to press as hard on the iPad, with the stylus, as she would have to press on a piece of paper. Doing too much practice on an iPad might impede her paper/pencil use once she gets to school.
Like so many other things, I have a feeling this needs to be about balance.


OBSERVATIONS · technology

Instantaneous Pictures on Instagram

I realize I'm one of the most boring Instagram users out there.
I realize I’m one of the most boring Instagram users out there.

The three of us were out to dinner this evening when a group of high schoolers, in semi-formal attire, sat down at the table beside us.  The girls had wrist corsages so I assumed they were going to a high school dance of some sort.  Once they decided who was sitting in which seats, they sat down and within a minute silence fell over the table. I was shocked. Would my toddler be noisier than a group of high schoolers? I was shocked by the silence so I turned my attention from Isabelle’s crayon artwork to the high schoolers.  You know why they were so quiet? They were all checking Instagram!

A minute or two later, the “conversation” started.

“Can you believe she’s wearing that?” (She shows phone to the whole table.)

“Did they really go to the Capitol to have their picture taken?!!?” (Shows phone to people sitting near him.)

“I can’t believe you posted that!” (One guy says to his buddy down the table.)

Instagram user names were called across the table so the others could type them into their phones and check out what their classmates were posting.

For the next half hour, ’til their meal came, very little conversation was happening between the kids at the next table (who seemed nice despite their tech obsession). They were on their phones almost the entire time. They seemed to be more interested in what everyone else was doing as opposed to the people they were with.

My heart sunk. So I turned to Marc, “I can’t imagine growing up with Instagram. They’re looking at photos taken a few minutes ago across town. Remember when we were kids and would go to a dance? We took pictures with film and were excited if we could get the pictures back two days later!”

Marc laughed. “It’s a different generation,” he said. Then he paused, realizing we weren’t that much older than these kids.  “Well, maybe not a different generation, but things are different. Just think, in 13 years, that’s going to be Isabelle.”

“Oh please!” I said. “I can hardly picture her going to Kindergarten. Forget about dances and Instagramming everything!”

I know things are vastly different than they were growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. Childhood and teen years weren’t exactly a cake-walk back then. But, man, I cannot imagine having everything scrutinized by everyone else the moment something happens.

I also know I’m not saying anything new. I’m not writing anything that hasn’t been written before.  I’m just yet another mom who worries about the way technology is going to impact her daughter’s future. Will she do things to make herself happy or will she do things in an effort to impress others?  I hope it will be the former, not the latter. I feel like part of my job is going to have to be to make sure to balance the inner and outer self so she grows-up well-adjusted, happy, and self-confident.  That’s not exactly a small undertaking, is it?

OBSERVATIONS · slice of life · technology

Reflections on Screen Free Week

Hi.  My name is Stacey and I’m addicted to technology.  I check my iPhone too often.  I am on my computer way too much.  I do not know how to unplug unless G-d commands me to do so.

My neighbor planted strawberries for Isabelle. I taught her how to water her strawberry plant, as well as the herbs in my herb garden, last week.
My neighbor planted strawberries for Isabelle. I taught her how to water her strawberry plant, as well as the herbs in my herb garden, last week.

This pretty much sums up my “Screen Free Week,” which I knew couldn’t be devoid of screens since I needed to prepare for a professional development session I’m leading tomorrow.  In addition, going off the grid for an entire week is really challenging in the 21st century.  Though I did have some successes.  They were:

  • I watched very little television all week.  In fact, I stretched every morning without turning on the television.  Thankfully the weather was nice so I got to listen to the birds chirping.
  • I read more books to my daughter after nap time since “Sesame Street” was not an option.
  • I spent more time outside with my daughter.  [One day we went outside three times (each time we were out for about an hour). ]  I even taught her how to do some weeding!
  • I read almost all of Word Nerds, which is one of the most fantastic books about teaching vocabulary to elementary school students.  It’s written by inner city school teachers, which might be the reason I connected with it so much.  I’m looking forward to reviewing it on Two Writing Teachers soon.
  • I resisted the temptation to click on breaking news alerts every time they appeared on my iPhone.  Though watching them was a way to keep me connected to the world since I wasn’t watching the morning news shows or the evening news.
  • I previewed a lot review copies of picture books that had been piling up in my office.
  • I stayed off of Facebook and Twitter.

There were some low points to the week:

  • TVs were on in medical offices.  Thankfully, I had a book with me so I tried to tune it out as much as possible.
  • 40 minutes on an elliptical rider is a long time.  I turned on the TV each time I got on the elliptical this week.  I felt as though I were naughty for watching “Martin Bashir” and “House Hunters,” but I had to do it to keep myself moving.
  • I realized I check my phone too often.  Even though I said I’d only check email three times a day, I checked it more often.  I don’t think this is about self-importance.  It’s almost like a nervous habit.

I couldn’t truly unplug last week, even though I wanted to. It feels reasonable for me to put a vacation message on my e-mail when it’s Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover and I stay away from screens for religious reasons.  I didn’t feel as though I could put a vacation message on my e-mail for Screen Free Week.

My semi-unplugged week made me realize I need to find more ways to unplug and not just when G-d commands me to do so.  Reducing screen time in the 21st century is really tough.  (Apparently, I’m not alone in this struggle.  Click here to read an article by Nina Badzin who is trying to reduce her iPhone usage.)  However, if I want to continue to notice moments like the time my daughter “read aloud” to her stuffed animals, then it’s incumbent upon me to find ways to become less attached to the technology that holds such a strong grip on me.

media · picture books · technology

Doug Unplugged: UNPLUG & READ Blog Tour

dougunpluggedDoug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino was of special interest to me due to the lengths we’ve gone to in the past few months to reduce Isabelle’s media consumption.  As soon as I read it, I adored the story since it’s about a robot, Doug, whose parents plug him into a computer each morning so he can learn about the world around him.   They think he will learn lots of facts and therefore become “the smartest robot ever.” His parents head off to work, informing him that he’s going to spend the day learning all about the city.  But, as Doug learns facts about skyscrapers, trash cans, and taxi cabs, he spies the city from outside his home’s window. Therefore, he does the unthinkable: he unplugs and soars flies outside (using a jetpack, of course) in an effort to learn about the city by experiencing it.  He goes into the subway system, walks under the turnstile (Caution: Make sure to tell your young readers that they shouldn’t be jumping turnstiles and riding for “free” just because Doug does!), and listens to the screech of the subway trains.  He uses his jet pack to fly to the top of a skyscraper and looks down to experience the city from a different vantage point.  He gets his feet stuck in cement, learns how to hail an taxi, and cools off in a park fountain.  But most important, he makes a friend in a city park who he learns to play with. Doug’s life became enriched by experiencing the city live rather than by learning about it from a computer.  To me, one of the morals of this story is that while technology has the potential to enrich our lives, it’s important to take time to unplug so we can concentrate and live life in the way in which we want.

Now that the weather is warmer, my daughter and I have been going outside to play at least twice a day (three outdoor stints if time permits).  Sometimes we play together on her play set.  Other times we dig around in my herb garden. I watch her run up and down the hill in our yard.  Occasionally, we touch the shrubs or brown leaves that remain in the yard from last fall.  Some days I steer her SmartTrike and narrate as we take a walk.  We have no set plan when we go outside.  I take many of my cues from her.  And together, we live a simple existence outdoors.

Doug Unplugged reminds me of the importance of taking the time to  experience life away from a screen every single day.  On Monday, Screen Free Week, the annual celebration from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) begins.  I’m hoping to pick up my needlepointing and also spend more times outdoors with a book, my writer’s notebook, and my sketch pad.  We live in a world of dings notifying us whenever a friend is trying to reach us, there’s breaking news, or for a myriad of other things.  While I’ve declined nearly every app on my iPhone to send me “push notifications,” I find myself being pulled away from personal time outside. It’s my hope to unplug, like Doug does in Doug Unplugged so I can once again appreciate the world around me.  Perhaps Screen Free Week will help me lead a more purposeful existence by allowing me to cut back on media and technology so I can create an environment that has a healthier balance between screens and non-screens once Screen Free Week ends.

Random House Children’s Books is issuing an UNPLUG & READ Challenge during Screen Free Week.  It was inspired by Doug Unplugged, which is a must-read in today’s world that values communicating through devices rather than face-to-face interactions.  If you know kids (or teach a class of children) who need to unplug, reading Doug Unplugged is a great way to start a conversation about the importance of experiencing life first-hand and the value of human interactions.  Children must learn the value of living in a three-dimensional world so they can connect with others not to something.  If we don’t teach children the value of unplugging and learning from life experiences and each other, then many children are going to feel very empty, despite their media connections, in the years to come.

Giveaway Information:

  • Many thanks to Random House for sponsoring this giveaway. One commenter will win a copy of Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino.
  • To enter for a chance to win a copy please leave a comment on this post about Doug Unplugged, media and children, or unplugging for Screen Free Week, which starts this Monday, April 29th.
  • All comments left on or before Tuesday, May 7th at 11:59 p.m. EDT will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Wednesday, May 8th. I will announce the winners’ names at the bottom of this post no later than Thursday, May 9th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Random House will ship the book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you only leave it in the e-mail field.)

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post.  Dana Murphy’s commenter number was selected and therefore will receive a copy of Doug Unplugged.  Here’s what she wrote:

Stacey – bless your heart for posting this. First, it sounds like a wonderful book. But more importantly, I want this book as a reminder to myself to PUT THE PHONE DOWN. I try to not be attached to my phone, but I catch myself barely listening to my kids sometimes as I’m reading emails. Terrible. I’m getting my hands on this book and I’m NOT doing that anymore!! Unplug. Yes, indeed.

Related Links:

4 Days - Doug Unplugged_4