Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Little Cosmic Perspective for Mothers

I was watching a documentary on the universe with our space-loving 5-year-old the other day, and it reminded me of this epiphany I had a while back . . . 

Photo credit: NASA

Mathematically speaking, we humans barely exist. The percentage of space we take up is so small as to be statistically insignificant. I'm not much of a math person, but looking at what we know about the universe, I can understand how that is.

Aside from our sun, the closest star to Earth is a little more than 4 light years—or 24 trillion miles—away. Twenty-four thousand billion. There's no way to wrap your brain around that distance. And that's just our next closest star.

And those other stars we gaze at in the sky? They might not even exist anymore. In the time it takes for their light to reach our eyes (which can be tens of thousands of years), some of them have up and gone kaput. We're gazing at something that may not even be there. That blows my mind.

And when you consider that you could fit a million Earths inside our sun, and the next closest star is 4 light years away, and our galaxy alone is 100,000 light years across, and there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe . . . well, my brain just imploded.

So here's little old us—infinitesimal specks on this miniscule blue marble, floating around in the unfathomable immensity of space, for barely blip on the time continuum. 

As individuals in the big picture, we are totally insignificant. Nothings, truly.

And yet, here we are.

And we're so clearly not nothings here in our little corner of the cosmos. As mothers, we are anything but insignificant, especially in the eyes of our children. 

In the beginning, mothers are a baby's whole universe. We are it. They are created inside of us. They know nothing outside of our sphere of being. They need us and look to us first. We are food and shelter and comfort and safety. They have no concept of light years and galaxies, or our sun and neighboring planets, or that they live on Earth, or that even the next town exists.  

Gradually, their universe expands and they find out that there is much more to life than Mama, but for a little while, in their eyes, we are everything

So yes, you are incredibly tiny in this mind-blowingly vast universe . . .

But then again . . . 

metaphorically speaking . . . 

on a microcosmic level . . .

for a short period of time . . 

as a mother . . . 

You ARE the universe.


"Dost thou think thyself a puny form when the universe is folded up within thee?”  

- Imám 'Alí (quoted by 'Abdu'l-Baha in Secrets of Divine Civilization)

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Quick and Simple Way to Help Local Families in Need

If you've been to Wal-Mart this week, you may have seen a purple display from Champions for Kids.

Admittedly, I'm not usually one to advertise something at Wal-Mart—I've made no secret of my love affair with Target—but this program is actually worth passing along.

Champions for Kids, if you've never heard of it, is an organization whose goal is to help kids at the local level. Their core values are simple, but awesome. They believe that all children should have:

Someone who cares. 
A place to belong. 
Hope for tomorrow and provisions for their journey. 

Not just some children—all children. Provisions for their journey. I just love that.

So, Champions for Kids has joined up with General Mills (those genius folks behind Cheerios) and Unilever (which includes the Ben & Jerry's and Breyers brands—who knew? I assumed they just did soap.) to collect fall essentials for local families at more than 1400 participating Wal-Mart stores.

Here's how it works:

You go to Wal-mart, buy something to donate, and drop it in the bin at the front of the store.

It's really that simple. 

The coolest thing is that all donations go directly to families in need in your own community, distributed through local school districts. The Champions for Kids display has some suggested items to purchase, but you don't have to go with those. You can donate any kid-friendly items, so find something on sale and go for it.

And for a little extra incentive, there's $10,000 in prizes up for grabs for the stores with the most donations. And you can report your service projects here for more chances to win.

There's just one week left—the program runs until October 28. So kick off the giving season a little early by offering local kids in need some "provisions for their journey."

And please help spread the word by sharing this post or the website below.

For more info, see:

Disclosure: I am part of a group of bloggers who have been commissioned to help promote the Simple Giving program. But honestly, I'd help promote it even if they didn't pay me a dime. Shhhh. Don't tell. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why We Stopped Using Screen Time as Currency (and What We Do Instead)

"If you don't stop whining, you're going to lose your screen time for today."

"If you keep getting out of bed, you're going to lose your screen time for tomorrow."

"The timer went off a few minutes ago. If you don't get off the iPad by the time I count to five, you're going to lose your screen time for the rest of the week."

This was me, up until recently. Losing screen time was my go-to consequence for misbehavior. But no more.

It's not that using screen time as currency didn't work. It worked like a charm. The threat of losing iPad or Minecraft or Wild Kratts shapes our kids right up 99% of the time. They dearly cherish their screen time.

The problem is, SO DO I.

This is BoyWonder's favorite spelling app. I can't imagine why. :)

When I took away screen time as a consequence, I was punishing myself as much as I was them. Our kids do a lot of creative things, which is awesome, but much of it is loud, messy, or requires my attention or intervention. As a work-from-home/homeschooling mom, I value that time when they're totally engrossed in edutainment. I can get an amazing amount of work done in 30-60 minutes without any interruption.

So I decided we needed a new currency. Then I remembered my friend Paula's allowance system. Hmm . . . could using actual currency be the answer?

We decided to give it a shot. Here's how it works for us:

Each kid has a cup with their monthly allowance amount in quarters, and Mom and Dad have a cup as well. The kids start off each month with their full allowance amount in the cup, but they won't receive it until the end of the month.

The kids have daily things that need to be done by certain times. For example, they have a morning routine checklist that needs to be done before school. It's not an unreasonable amount—just basic prep for the day and a couple of morning chores. If they get out of bed on time, there's more than enough time to do it. Until now, more often than not, they would sleep too late, drag their feet, and I'd have to hound them. Now, if anything on the list doesn't get done before school, we move a quarter from their cup into ours.

Voila! Suddenly they're able to get it all done with plenty of time to spare most mornings. Go figure.

We do the same thing for basic maintenance habits, which—really, for the love of all that is good and holy—should be automatic by our kids' ages. For example, clearing your dishes after you eat. Or throwing away your dirty Kleenexes after you blow your nose. By the time you're ten, you shouldn't have to be reminded of those things. And if I have to go find you to ask you to do it, or if I have to clean up after you, that costs me time and energy. Therefore, you pay me a quarter to do it.

Getting into bed on time has been a big issue around here lately for our older girls. So now, if they're up past their respective bedtimes without a reasonable excuse, they lose a quarter.

We're also using the system for our youngest, who is five, for habits like whining or not doing what we've asked him to do. He's old enough to understand the value of having spending money, so the idea of losing a quarter is enough incentive for him to work on impulse control.

We did practice for a week with giving reminders and letting them know that once we started the system, they'd be losing a quarter for certain things. And so far, it's working well. The kids have lost some quarters, but they understand why. What I really appreciate about this system is that they'll feel the accumulation of their choices at the end of the month, when we count up what they'll actually receive for their allowance. It's a good opportunity to reflect on what they can do differently and start fresh with a full cup the next month.

We've also given them opportunities to earn back some quarters, by doing above-and-beyond kinds of chores, or by catching them being extra responsible. For example, our youngest got himself completely ready for bed the other night without being asked. Since we don't expect that of him, we awarded him a bonus quarter for taking the initiative.

I realize that this system is based on negative reinforcement and behavior modification, and that some parents aren't jiggy with that. I didn't used to be, either. I read Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting" when our eldest child was four, and it made lot of sense to me then. With two more kids and ten more years of parenting under my belt, I have a very different perspective. We use plenty of positive reinforcement with our kids, too, and ideally want them to be internally motivated. We talk a lot about the virtues of responsibility, orderliness, obedience, cooperation, etc. But in my experience, at least in our household, those things aren't always enough.

Is it tacky to tie behavior and habits to money? It depends on how you look at it. We don't pay our kids for basic chores, because those things are expected as members of our household. But we do want them to have an allowance so they can learn to manage money. Losing money for not keeping up with their responsibilities seems like a pretty reasonable life lesson. So tying their responsibilities to their allowance in the opposite way (losing allowance by not doing what they're expected to do as opposed to getting paid to do things they're expected to do) feels okay to me.

And the truth is, losing money is a big motivator, even when internal motivation should be enough. I realized this the other day when we got our water bill, which was a lot higher than we expected. We really do believe in conserving water for the environment, but it appears we haven't been particularly vigilant about it. Getting hit in the pocketbook made us more aware of how much water we're using, so we're more likely to take shorter showers, try to cut down on unnecessary laundry, etc.

Sometimes external motivators—even negative ones—can help us develop better habits. That's the theory behind our new currency. And the best part is it doesn't cost us anything—in fact, the more the kids misbehave, the more we earn. (Yikes, that could get ugly. Don't worry, we don't abuse it.)

And at the end of the day, if it turns out we're totally screwing up our kids with this system, at least they'll be technologically savvy and good at counting change. :)