Saturday, March 24, 2012

Television

Disclaimer: this post is probably a bit more strident than my usual posts. In case you're wondering: yes, I am stressed about finding new childcare for Kermit, and yes, I am pissed off about the quality of care that I see around me. And yes, I am unbelievably tired of people dismissing science because it isn't convenient. I could write this same basic post about climate change. I could write it about evolution. I could write it about vaccines. But instead, I'm writing it about television for toddlers. Just because it's the issue that's pissing me off this week.

FACT: The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no television whatsoever for children under the age of two.

FACT: Studies have shown that television is an extremely ineffective teaching tool for very young children. Anything they learn from a television show, they learn much more rapidly and deeply from live interactions with an actual person in the real world.

FACT: Studies have shown that lots of television viewing by children under age two slows down the acquisition of language. Even when it is only on "in the background." Even when the child "doesn't seem to be watching." (Additional studies show that very young children who appear absorbed in playing with toys while a television is on in the background still look at the television, on average, every 20 seconds).

FACT: Additional studies have noted a correlation between television watching among very young children and later problems with attention. A correlation between television watching among very young children and increased childhood obesity. A correlation between television watching among very young children and physical changes in how the brain develops. Some of these effects might be related to the type of television show, or the total time spent watching; these types of variables need further study. What is known, definitively, is that these correlations are real and observable.

FACT: Despite what you might read in the comments sections of many articles outlining the AAP recommendations or discussing the above studies, it is actually possible not to show your toddler any television shows. Yes, even if you also have an older child. Is it difficult? Maybe. But it is possible. No physical laws of the universe need to be violated in order for a child to reach the age of two without having seen Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer.

FACT: "My kid watched tons of television and still does well in school" does not disprove these studies. "I know someone who watched tons of television and was speaking in full sentences by 9 months of age" does not disprove these studies. "Back in my day, our television was on for 16 hours a day and I still turned out fine" does not disprove these studies. Anecdotes and scientifically rigorous data are not the same thing. They do not cancel each other out.

Having said that...

OPINION: If you're home with your child and you're trying to cook dinner or do some other household chore, you might sometimes rely on 30 minutes of Sesame Street to peacefully occupy your child while you work. This reliance on television as distraction tool can ease the challenges of being a busy parent. I don't blame you at all. Anyone who judges you for 30 minutes of PBS is an idiot. Those thirty minutes of Sesame Street will not keep your child out of Harvard. Your daily interactions with the child (reading books, going to the zoo, building with blocks, exploring the park) are going to completely dwarf the effects of thirty minutes a day of Elmo. But let's be clear: those thirty minutes also won't make your child smarter, even if it is "educational" television. Use the television for a moment of peace if you want to, but do not kid yourself that it is doing your child any good. It's not what I do, but to each his own.

OPINION: I'm willing to give that "out" to busy parents. Parents are always multi-tasking between two jobs: taking care of the child and running a household. And sometimes the "running the household" job requires that you back-off from the "taking care of the child" job for a minute or two. You're a stay-at-home mom and you need to move a load of laundry and you need your hands free to do it and the laundry room is hazardous for your child? Go ahead and use the television if you want to. You're a working dad and you need to cook dinner for your family when you get home and it is not safe to hold your one-year-old while cutting up and sauteeing raw chicken? Go ahead and use the television if you want to. You're tired at the end of the day and you don't have the energy to play with trains for the millionth time today and instead you want to curl up on the couch with your child and watch a Disney movie with him as a special treat? Totally reasonable thing to do on occasion. Your child, your choice.

OPINION: I am far far less forgiving if you are a child care provider. If you run a day care, your only job during business hours is to take care of the children. Using television to do your job for you is laziness, pure and simple. DO NOT give me some bullshit about how it is educational. DO NOT explain to me that the children "don't really pay attention to it anyway" because honestly, that just makes you look even dumber, because if you think the children aren't watching it, why the hell is it on? DO NOT argue with me about the wisdom of the AAP's recommendations, because you are not in any way qualified to be making the decision to ignore the scientifically-based advice of a medical association, particularly for other people's children. DO NOT attempt to make me feel like the weirdo for being informed and insistent about this issue. And most of all, DO NOT LIE TO ME ABOUT IT. Do you turn on the television? Occasionally. How often? Sometimes. For how long? A little while. Giving answers like these make you sound like you're hiding something, and it just makes me hate you even more for wasting my time.





This post dedicated to the many daycares that we visited that were such idiots on the issue of television that they made our decision not to entrust them with Kermit's care so much easier. Like the daycare with the 40" television dominating the playroom where the children spend most of their day. And the daycare provider who casually told me that they turn on the television "hardly at all; just for an hour in the morning, and then two hours more in the afternoon." And the daycare provider who told me that there might be something wrong with my child if he got "too distracted" by a television that was just on "in the background" while he was "supposed to be playing," because she couldn't fathom any other reason why I would object to the television being on in the first place. And the daycare provider who said, without a hint of sarcasm, "How do you expect your child to learn the alphabet if you won't show him Sesame Street?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Universe Smack-Down

Worst. Week. Ever.

Here are the highlights:

First, I found out that after barely three months at my job, which I've been absolutely loving, it looks like they're going to be restructuring some things and I'm 95% sure that I'm going to be laid off within the next month. Not just me, but my entire organization, as the company decides to totally change emphasis. My manager expects that our entire team, including him and his manager, are all going to be laid off. There's still a small chance that it won't happen, but it's very slim. Ugh. I was so relieved to finally be off the job market, and now it looks like I need to get out there again. Also, this once again forces us to put all new house plans on hold. In the mean time, I haven't actually been laid off yet, but I'm spending each and every day at work surrounded entirely by scared and demotivated people who are all just waiting for the shoe to drop, and it is incredibly depressing. Ugh.

The very same day that the layoff rumors started circulating, I went home to discover that Rosie, the nanny who has worked for us for more than three years, needed to talk to me. She hurt her back a little while ago, and had been waiting for some MRI results to know whether it was serious or not. Her doctor had finally called her, and the answer is: yes, it is fairly serious, and constantly lifting and carrying Kermit is making it worse. Her doctor ordered her to quit her job immediately, start physical therapy, and hope that the therapy will be enough to improve things, or else she'll need surgery. Rosie is hopeful that she'll be able to return to work in 6-8 months, but in the mean time, we are once again without childcare.

To be clear: this is much worse for Rosie than for us, who now needs to figure out how to survive for at least 6 months without income. But it sucks incredibly for us as well. As long-time readers may remember, we have had awful childcare luck over the years. Awful. As I've said many many times, I find the uncertainty around finding reliable high-quality childcare to be the absolute worst thing about parenting. The thought of needing to find someone else, on short notice, has me incredibly anxious and depressed.

It might seem like there is a slight silver lining: if I do get laid off, we won't need childcare, so just staying home with Kermit will save us some money. But, we've lost all childcare for Kermit immediately, but I have not yet lost my job, so being under the threat of layoffs is quite possibly the absolute worst time for me to be absent from work for childcare reasons. Also, even if I do get laid off, I have no idea when it will happen. My manager has given us a likely time frame of "sometime between next week and September," so going without childcare for now because of the possible layoff isn't really an option. And, I will presumably be looking for work immediately if I do get laid off, and it is very difficult to really look for a job while taking care of a needy toddler.

So... my mom is flying in on Sunday to help out. She bought a one way ticket, but I don't think she'll be able to stay for more than a few weeks, just until we line up some sort of childcare. And I'm not sure how this is going to work out, because my mom has back problems as well, so she's not sure that she's going to be able to handle all day care for Kermit, either. Also, I tend to get claustrophobic when I'm stressed out, so it is less-than-ideal to be adding yet another person to our cramped house right when I'm feeling more stressed out than any time since my grad school qualifying exam. If I do get laid off, I'm going to crave space to deal with it more than anything else, and I'm not going to get it at home.

Also, our furnace broke this week, because I clearly didn't have enough to deal with. And Kermit is teething his molars, which is making him cranky and clingy and also gave him diarrhea, leading to the worst diaper rash of his life, which isn't helping. And LL, possibly sensing the stress in the house, decided that even though he skipped the Terrible Twos, he doesn't want to miss out on all the fun, so he has become an absolute terror at home. Defiant, petulant, argumentative, contrary, all just for fun. Oh, and Kermit is still not sleeping, so I'm dealing with everything while also sleep deprived.

So far, not really enjoying being 35.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

500 Days Later (Subtitle: The End)

Hm. Five hundred days come and gone. I made this list back in October of 2010, and now here I am, 500 days later, 35 years old. My executive summary: I didn't do too bad, and the list itself was hugely helpful in general. Here are the details:

1. Have two happy kids. (Done!)

2. Finish my PhD. (Done!)

3. Own a new (bigger) house. (Nope. We've taken a deep look at our budget and finances, priced out what we think we can afford, identified where we want to buy and what we want in a house, and then we looked at the market and ... there is no inventory available. All that stuff you've been reading about a buyer's market and tons of extra inventory and foreclosures flooding the market with houses? Doesn't apply in our area. I'm hoping things pick up in the spring.)

4. Work in a job that I enjoy. (Done!)

5. Bring both kids to visit my parents at least once. (Done!)

6. Bring both kids to visit my in-laws at least once. (Done!)

7. Pay off all debt except the mortgage. (Nope. I still have two small undergrad loans. We have the cash on hand to pay them off right now if we wanted to, but the interest rate on the loans is pretty low and I'd rather keep the cash to use towards an eventual house downpayment. Soon, though. I'm getting rid of these stupid loans very soon.)

8. Lose all pregnancy and fertility treatment weight from both pregnancies. (Nope. At the time when I wrote this, we were talking about 30 pounds. I still have 14 to go. I actually gained a pound in the last 100 days, thanks to the daily latte habit that came with my new job and my total lack of sleep and my lack of time to exercise.)

9. Breast feed Kermit for one year. (Only made it 5 months, two less than with LL. Depressing.)

10. Cook dinner at home 5 days each week. (Done!)

11. Read 10 fiction books. (Nope. I only made it to 3.5. Still, that's 3.5 more fiction books than I had read in the previous 1,000 days, so let's call this one a semi-success.)

12. Learn Objective-C. (I was making progress on this one, working during Kermit's naps. But then I accepted the job offer, and realized how much crap I wanted to do around the house before going back to work, and I started using nap time for all of those things, and then I actually started a job, for which I didn't actually need Objective-C at all, and I totally stalled out.)

13. Learn perl. (Minorly done! Did I learn perl? No. Did I learn two different languages on the job in the last three months? Yes. Which was kind of the point of this one, so I'm declaring success.)

14. Have permanent assigned "homes" for most objects in the house. (Nope. Need that bigger house.)

15. Update work wardrobe. (Done!)

16. Shower every day. (Close enough for now.)

17. Wear makeup every work day. (Done!)

So... out of seventeen goals, ten of them got done. Five were partially done (debt, weight loss, breast feeding, books, Objective-C). Two didn't come close (the new house and the organized house). That's not too bad, really.

Now, for the meta-discussion about the list itself. Five hundred days was a pretty decent amount of time. Long enough to allow me to put some fairly major things one the list, but short enough that I didn't lose focus.

I'd like to do this again. A few of the things from my previous list I plan to carry over (like buying a house and losing weight), a few I should probably carry over just to maintain them (like cooking dinner and wearing makeup), and I have a whole bunch of new goals that I'd like to add to the list. But I need to find an appropriate length of time. Part of why 500 days was cool was that I was counting down to my birthday, but 500 days from now is ... nothing special at all. Maybe I'll wait a month and then make the next period 700 days (slightly less than two years) and count down to my birthday again. But two years seems too long. Thoughts?