Saturday, January 22, 2011

Music is Fun--If You Get to Make It

My sister and brother-in-law are musicians.  Between the two of them, they have a dozen albums, play in multiple bands, and run a recording studio.  Ever since the twins were toddlers, they've been trying to get them in the studio to record a song.  Trouble is, they really didn't want toddlers in there with all that equipment, fragile guitars and lots of other "attractive nuisances" (a real legal term, according to DG).

Now the kids are definitely old enough, at 8, to try music.  Last weekend when we were there, this is what they came up with:

I know, the song is arguably little kid like, but come on! They performed all the instruments (except for rhythm guitar and bass, masterfully recorded by Uncle D).  It was so fun watching T1 go through the song, concentrating on his bass drum, making sure that he hit it hard enough, but not too hard.  His eyes focused on my hand waving down each time he was to hit; he held his mouth in a little, intense smirk, keeping his brain in only one place.

T2 was the consummate lead singer.  When we listened to the playback, she kept saying, "I just want to make sure it sounds perfect."  They did 2 live takes and a couple of over-dubs to put in the lead guitar, snare drum, and background vocals.  What an amazing, creative experience for them.

My brother-in-law is thinking of offering this kind of workshop for kids in the Bay Area.  I say, heck yeah.  Get those kids in the studio.  It's not music class like piano or violin, clarinet or flute, but it's having a vision, creating the components of that vision, and watching it all come together in a finished piece in a few hours. And it's FUN. Kids should be having fun.  And they don't have to be perfect at it to create something beautiful and memorable for themselves.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Supercharged Family Road Trip

Oh, the family road trip.  I remember it oh so fondly wearily from my own childhood.  Mom packed weeks of well-thought out games, books, stories and activities so that we wouldn't lose our minds staring out the window at miles and miles of flat land and a few scattered cows.  Despite all those little extras, things meant to stimulate and occupy a kid for hours, I hated the road trip.  I always got car sick, couldn't really read, was bored out of my mind, and eventually ended up goofing around so wildly with my siblings that Mom and Dad would end up with a one-arm-over-the-seat cry of, "If I have to come back there...." 

Well things are different now.  Welcome to the 21st Century road trip ala Grateful Twin Mom.  Here's how we do it these days.  Wired in.  That's right; you heard me.  Plugged in, dialed in, each with his or her own little screen or headphones.  Not talking to each other--not commenting on scenery--not yelling, crying, or complaining.  T1 and T2 got iPads (for their birthday/Hanukkah/Christmas for-the-rest-of-their-lives) from an extraordinarily benevolent aunt and uncle.  Whole music libraries, math games, Angry Birds (enough said), 5 movies, and 3 chapter books (including A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh) provide enough entertainment for weeks, let alone a few hours up I-5 in one super cool laptop device.  DG and I listen to audiobooks on iPods and occasionally, DG will blast E Street Radio on the satellite radio (loves him some Bruce Springsteen).  But when we're plugged in, it's silent in the car.

Now I know the experts feel that screen time is detrimental for kids (twins are 8 now), especially young ones, and that little brains are marred permanently by too much exposure to video images (whether educational or not).  I know that confined spaces are supposed to provide great, built-in opportunities for interacting--commiseration for the shared cramped experience and all, but somehow, this seems better to me.  No one asks me, "Are we there yet?" or "Can we stop? I'm thirsty."  A well-stocked snack bag, bottles of water, and one or two bathroom breaks and we all arrive at our destination happy, still in love with each other and excited to be where we are instead of weary from the trip.

So I ask you, are a few extra hours of screen time too high a price to pay for such satisfaction on arrival? Will there be increased melt downs because of the change in brain chemistry from too many hours with an electronic device? Are there microwaves and radiation seeping their way into my children's bloodstreams because of extra exposure?  I worry about all of this.  But part of being a parent is letting go of the fear that makes us second guess EVERYTHING and just being.  The supercharged, plugged in road trip is just another way that we are just living. 

And while I wonder how all this will affect my children as they grow, I'm guessing when they're grown and look back on the family road trip, they won't be lamenting Mom's angry voice telling them to be quiet and settle down.  That's what I'm wishing.

Okay, gotta go charge all my electronic toys. We're on the road in 2 hours....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

There's Something About That January Freshness....

Last January, I sat down with 2 friends, and made a list of goals for 2010.  The categories on the form were:

Spiritual Unfoldment

Well Being

Loving Relationships

Abundant Expression (this means $$, I think)

Creative Expression

Other (for me, this is mostly "work", but it's also about integrity)

This list, with  insightful hopeful predictions for my behavior throughout the year, did drive the way I lived my life a little.  I felt like there was some structure to what I was supposed to be doing, and that I had a reference if I found myself, like I often do in times of extreme overwhelm or self-doubt, unfulfilled, stagnant, or anxious.  And while I did not accomplish everything on the list, I did go back and look at this list periodically throughout the year and try to move forward in each of my little goals.

Now, it's a whole fresh, new year.  I love the new beginnings of it--my willingness to start over.  January seems like the perfect time to do that.  My kids went back to school this week, and I don't need to be back on campus to teach until next Monday, so this is my week to do those projections, to finish up those tasks begun last year whose incompletion continually fill me with a pending sense of failure.  And, I'm going to think about what I can do differently this year to make my life more balanced and calm.

So, here goes:

Spiritual Unfoldment:
Last year I vowed to be less concerned about what people thought of me and more caring and useful to others is a selfless way, not just to be noticed for my accomplishments.  I do tend to have such an ego.  I think I want to have the neatest house, the most well-behaved and academically accomplished children, the most romantic relationship, and the most interesting creative endeavors, or at least my mind wants people to think I do. These are really just tricks my mind plays on me to trip me up in a real world.  They're not entirely possible or desireable.

Last year's goal was meant to make a dent in that backwards, ingrained thinking.  I am turning more to the universe, God, spiritual guiding light, whatever you want to call it, to counter the self-grandiose instincts that my mind still wants to lean toward.  This year, I want to continue that same practice.  It really does feel good.

Well Being:
Last year's goals in this category were all about eating and exercise.  I did get a pretty good handle on the eating last year, and the exercise is going pretty well too.  It's just something that I do everyday, not something I need to start again every month, year, Monday.  This is a huge relief, by the way.  I've struggled with weight and body image for years, and to have it be something that occurs in my life more effortlessly is a huge blessing.  I do have to work on everything else in my life that makes me anxious, because if I don't, my tendency is to isolate and shut down, and that means no exercise and excess food--feels yucky, and I will continue to make this a life-long goal.

Loving Relationships:
This is where I need the most work.  I have a significant goal for this year in terms of my relationships with each of my children that I wanted to work on last year, but dismally failed.  I want to spend planned, individual one-on-one time with each child during which they get my undivided attention.  There always seems to be something else that pulls me away from them--like reading (which I love and will steal away to do any time I can), writing, grading papers (and with online classes, this happens in front of the computer screen--definitely not undivided attention to kids), and all the distracting social networking with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.  Not to mention that they are both completely obsessed with Pokemon right now, and I really don't want to hear about how to get past this or that level on the video game.

I do definitely spend time with the kids, but it's always with them together and that means bickering over who's going to pick what activity, song on the radio, snack-food item, you name it.  Constant battle.  So this year, one-on-one time.  Check back on this one....

Also, on last year's goals list, I said that I would say one positive parenting observation to DG everyday.  I didn't do this either.  But it's still a good goal, one that I can realistically say that if I follow through on it, our family life will be infinitely better.  I know that complementing the kids on what they're doing right works wonders to get them act appropriately, whereas nagging has the complete opposite effect.  I'm learning that my nagging pattern with DG is having the exact same effect.  He deserves better.  He's a great dad, and I need to let him know.

Abundant Expression:
I think this is really a buzz phrase for bringing in more in your life.  Last year, this was about money.  Not so much bringing in more, but better managing what we've got.  Budgets are always elusive for me, but without one, or at least some semblance of knowledge of what is coming in and what is going out, I can end up buying things I don't need, thereby creating more chaos in my life.

This year, I'm organizing every cabinet, closet and drawer in the house.  This means I'll have an inventory of what we have and I won't end up buying 3 different sets of Easter hand towels because I can't find the original set I bought. This relates to bringing in more by actually getting by with less.  More then becomes, instead of material things, order, peace, and time to enjoy my surroundings instead of spinning in the clutter.

Creative Expression:
So much belongs in this category: writing, scrapbooking, knitting, sewing, photography, dancing. It's hard to fit in all of these creative hobbies, but this year, I intend to find time for them all, even if it's just a little time on each one. I think it's important to do something creative every day, and while I can't obviously do all of these things in each day, I can knit one row in the scarf for T1, and I can take pictures of the pets with different exposures to learn more about the camera. I don't need to be an expert in any of these activities, but I do want to think, at the end of the day, "I created something today," and that will be enough.

Other (called work goals above):
So really anything can go here. Work wise, I plan to slow down, focus, and cross off 3 things from my project to-do list every day. I love my job, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming.  Three things a day is doable, workable.

Other goals for 2011? Keep commitments, be kinder to others (especially my kids), practice patience.

I don't think these goals are necessarily lofty or unobtainable, and I don't even think they're the kinds of resolutions that I'll look back at next year and say, "Wow! I really didn't do any of this." These are ongoing ways of living that can enhance my day to day life and make each day have a little more purpose. And I'm ready to take on 2011 with purpose.