musingsponderingsandrants

Parenting, profundities and humour

Fun Free Tuesdays…. — July 13, 2017

Fun Free Tuesdays….

Hello everyone. I am back. Did you miss me? Well of course not. Sorry I have probably lost you. Let me explain.

Yesterday was Tuesday. The first Tuesday of my children’s 8 week summer holiday. Still none the wiser? I will continue.

Now I love having my kids at home. Mostly. But there are some things about having my kids at home that I find really difficult. And one of those things is the constant battle to get them off electronic devices.

Childrens usage of electronic devices is one of those subjects which divides parents. A bit like breast v bottle and letting them cry it out or not.

I am of the camp that believes that electronic devices are inherently ‘evil’. This view is founded on no real evidence at all and is just something my gut tells me. It is probably because my childhood was in the era before computers smaller than the size of a room were invented.

I envy my mother. She had it much easier with us. The TV was our electronic device. We had one in the house. During this fortnight it was permanently tuned to the Wimbledon Championships. My mother ruled the air wave choices.

In the summer holidays once the morning television programming for children ended at around 10am there was nothing else worth watching until around 4pm. Even then the offerings in the morning weren’t great. Has anyone ever in the history of ‘Why Don’t You (switch of your television set and go and do something less boring instead)’ ever done that? I know I didn’t. Mostly because the activities they portrayed as more fun than watching them portray them were either; games involving the whole gang of circa 20 kids which me and my sole brother could not hope to replicate; or craft activities using sticky back plastic. Which wasn’t allowed in the house.

So my mother had no worries that for the vast majority of each day my brother and I would be doing wholesome activities mainly outside. Activities such as playing  under the embankment of the bypass avoiding the local flasher or running each other over on bikes. Simpler times.

Computers made an appearance in my teenage years but the time taken to load Killer Gorilla or Frogger into the computer from the tape player (don’t touch the volume at all) was so long and often unreliable that the pay off was not really great enough for me to bother.

I tired to think what I did all summer when I was Eldest’s age. My mother asserted that I still played out in the street. She reminded me of the American exchange children who came over which was probably the summer I had turned 14. She remembers me rushing outside after every meal to ‘play out’. That wasn’t really what I was up to but I didn’t want to burst her ‘wholesome activities’ bubble….

In other teenage summers I read a lot of trashy fiction. And stole my brother’s afterburner and met my mates up the woods to drink weak beer from tins.

So it is more than likely that my inherent hatred of my kids spending all day on small screens derives from my desire to see them undertaking wholesome activities such as these. Rather than watching other people open Kinder eggs or packets of Pokemon cards. It is highly likely my 13 year old has moved on from this somewhat. I don’t ask.

The upshot is that I spend a lot of time policing electronic usage and falling out with them about it. Setting time limits never really works. The time elapses and then they ‘just want to finish this video’ or ‘if they leave the game now they will be penalised and lose a legendary something or other’ or ‘oh mum everyone else plays solidly all day you know’. Etc etc. I once heard Middlest comment through his headphones that he had to leave a game and in response to his friend’s reply he said ‘I know she is sooo annoying’….

And so during my run up to this eight weeks holiday a thought had been ruminating. The thought that we should have one day a week completely free of electronic devices. Myself included. Thus cutting all time limits and arguments off at the pass.

I decided in their last week of term to float the idea. I was slightly trepidatious if I am honest.

Youngest was very much up for it. This was not really a surprise. Youngest is 9 and has just finished Year 5. As such in the Harrison household she has achieved the age of  i-pod ownership. The i-pod she possess is obviously third hand. And as such is glitchy and of limited use. Whatever. She manages to play a few games such as Word Cookies and an advanced form of that 1980s one with a ball and a wall to knock through. And she can message her friends but only at home when she is on the internet.

As such she is still the one trying to get her brothers away from You Tube for long enough to play in the garden.

Middlest went white. He asked me what on earth he was going to do. I pointed out that this time last year he did not have a phone or an X Box. That didn’t help. Apparently last summer was a desert of boredom punctuated by small oases of fun which had usually cost me over £100.

Eldest was surprisingly very much up for it too. Eldest is old enough to understand that he struggles to moderate his phone usage. And needs help to do so. Of course on a day when I do ‘help him to manage his usage’ by telling him to ‘put the damn thing away for five minutes’ he does not see it quite like that. And we usually fight.

So to him a day totally without his phone would be a day of moderate usage without the arguments. Hopefully.

And me. What about me? To be honest I wasn’t too worried. The kids had reluctantly agreed to me having my phone for calls and essential texts only. I believed I could resist face book and twitter for a day. My main concern was not being able to open the on line version of The Times newspaper Polygon puzzle, which my father had got me addicted to on our recent visit. But I consoled myself with the thought of a ‘double polygon Wednesday’.

So on Monday evening I hoovered up phones and deposited them in my bedroom along with my I pad. All completely turned off.

I came down at 8 am having overslept to find Middlest booting up the X Box. He had conveniently forgotten that ‘no electronic devices’ included his games console. We had a small contratend.

Over the day on which I had deliberately planned no activities which would have set me back £100 certain things happened.

We all overslept.

They all came to my exercise class with me and ran around the field a few times before joining in (at one point we were all doing press ups in a row much to everyone’s amusement) and declaring it ‘quite hard’.

We went to Sainsbury’s for a snack to undo all our hard work and had actual conversations.

Youngest got her adult colouring book out and did an amazing page of colouring.

Middlest survived. He helped me cook the lunch. And enjoyed chopping and peeling carrots. He read an entire book. He tried to argue that I couldn’t afford phone free Tuesday (or fun free Tuesday as he had rechristened it) as I was going to have to buy a book a week. I pointed out that we have a perfectly decent library.

He helped me cook as he was avoiding Eldest and Youngest who, to a plan of Eldest’s devising, were setting up a hot wheels car track out of his bedroom window. This involved much arguing but once they got it sorted much fun. The fun was somewhat curtailed by the window cleaner turning up.

Eldest got out his sketch pad and new ‘How to Draw’ book purchased with the book token he got for winning the Year 8 Art prize and tackled eyes and then did a decent portrait. Even if the ears are too high.

We got our haircut and they all read wholsomely in the waiting area. Youngest regaled me with animal facts from her encyclopaedia during my cut and blow dry.

They went to a friend’s house whilst hubby and I went out briefly and had fun playing nerf gun wars. Youngest and I watched an episode of the Crystal Maze circa 1990 which apparently looked ‘so old’.

They all went to bed happy,

Middlest extracted his phone from my bedroom before retiring to ensure it was charged and ready for an intense catch up as Wednesday dawned.

The others want to add another day.

 

 

Social Pariah? — February 22, 2017

Social Pariah?

So tonight I am in the bad books.

Wednesdays are never a good day. A difficult confluence of clubs and activities means I spend the three hours between 4 and 7 more or less in the car and the kids eat sandwiches whilst I drive from one place to another. Tonight was so tight (it being football training week rather than Cubs week) that I ended up eating chips in the car whilst waiting for Youngest to finish said footie training.

Middlest spends a fair amount of time at home alone and no one gets any help with their homework or bag packing or other such stuff that I can usually be prevailed upon to assist with. For I am a soft touch. But not on a Wednesday. Because Wednesday is also the evening I try to get out to sing. Not tonight though. A late plane saw to that. Another story.

So suffice to say not much ‘mummy time’ is on offer on Wednesdays. And it shows.

Middlest was fine all evening eating his solitary sandwiches and tackling maths revision alone. We did have time to remark that the cress we had sewn yesterday in response to his Science teacher’s homework request to ‘germinate’ something had indeed germinated. (Their current topic is reproduction and, as Middlest stated, there won’t be many practicals so I guess she is trying to bring it more to life, literally and figuratively). She is the teacher famous for the homework ‘please produce a 3D model of a cell’ (in our case cillia, some girl got sperm). She has form. Luckily I am a mum who has time to pop out to get seeds that will germinate easily in less than a week. Not all will be so lucky. The runner bean is still in the airing cupboard…ungerminated.

But after his shower (which was somewhat marred by his brother having used his towel ‘by mistake’ and more over having not thoroughly washed the Rugby Sevens training mud off his body first) his mood had shifted.

I mislaid him. I didn’t notice at first as I was washing up all the sandwich boxes and snack pots and water bottles and sorting dirty Rugby Sevens kit and persuading Youngest out of her shin pads which involved me tugging heartily at socks which seemed by a combination of sweat and rain to have melded to her skin.

But he was absent. I went up the stairs and sure enough he was buried under his duvet at an unusually early hour. Something was amiss.

After some coaxing it transpired that I am the worlds worst mum because I do not allow him Instagram.

Now I recently signed up to Instagram mainly to see what all the fuss was about. And to be honest I still don’t see what all the fuss is about. But apparently Instagram has made it onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs just, and I mean just, above food and drink for any right minded eleven year old.

He also mumbled something about X Box games that ‘everyone’ except him plays and talks about ALL day leaving him out. This from the child who pestered and pestered and pestered for months for an X Box so he could play Overwatch with all his friends. I relented at Christmas and now he has the blasted game no one plays it anymore. Except his brother who seems quite happy with it.

Unfortunately for my children I am the sort of mother who looks at age ratings and follows guidelines. More or less. People with much more knowledge and, let’s face it, time than me are paid to rate these things, I feel it churlish to ignore them.  I had bought him Overwatch at Christmas which is rated 12 here in the U.K. And he is 11 but I did plenty of research first and decided that was ok.

So anyway after comforting the child as much as possible whilst still saying ‘no’ (so not really all that much) and saying ‘goodnight’ to which I got a ‘Harrumph’ in return I decided to re look at Instagram. I was aware that some of Eldest’s friends were on it aged around 10 so thought I may have mis remembered the age rating.

Sure enough Instagram’s own Terms and Conditions state that their site is not for anyone under 13. So therefore I assume that in order for these children to be using it they have lied about their ages. With or without parental consent. Either is worrying.

I remember dimly an e safety talk I went to when a lovely policeman explained about the dangers of lying about one’s age on social media. That the ‘computer’ will think you are 16 or 18 when you are not. How their duty to protect you changes when you achieve such ages. How adverts are tailored based on ages. In short lying about your age is not just immoral but also dangerous.

So it is still a ‘no’ from me.

And as for Titanfall which ‘everyone’ plays that is also a no. I went on you tube and watched some actual game play. The commentator was busy explaining that he didn’t think the gore level was too high as you only see blood with a short range weapon such as a shot gun (!) when his avatar broke someone’s neck. So no blood. But certainly not all that pleasant.

So I will continue to be ‘bad’ mum. He will rant and rail. And I will watch his cress grow. And then so will he.

I won’t share a picture of it on Instagram.

 

Every Cloud…. — February 4, 2016

Every Cloud….

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So on Monday Eldest managed to disable his phone. It was the usual morning chaos. At some point he lost his rag as Youngest had changed his home screen picture again.  And so I heard him say that he was going to change the passcode.

I shouted vaguely in his direction that it might not be such a good idea. We all knew his passcode which he had explained the evolution of to me in such detail that I was never going to forget it. In case he forgot it.

Anyhow out of school him came on Monday brandishing his disabled phone. Apparently he had ignored my advice. In the manner of twelve year old boys. He had changed the passcode. And promptly forgotten it.

After the numerous attempts to remember it his phone decided it had been stolen and disabled itself. I guess at some point phones may become clever enough to distinguish between theft and idiocy. But not yet. Accordingly to husband he must have tried incorrectly at least 12 times with dire warnings of the consequences of carrying on appearing after the sixth attempt. Presumably also ignored.

Husband has spent the two evenings he has been in since trying to un-disable it via his Apple Mac. It isn’t really working. We will have to resort to a shop.

He is not best pleased.

On the up side since Eldest has been phoneless for nearly four days he has rediscovered pursuits other than Terreria.

He has played YuGiOh in break times with actual cards. And played ping pong.

He has devoured two more books in the Belgariad.

He has played with his new remote controlled helicopter enticing his brother away from Monster Legends with ‘Who can fly their remote control helicopter better’ competitions.

He has drawn lots of Manga characters with his new pen from Grandma.

We have discovered that we do not need to be in constant phone contact to survive the school day.

So all in all there is a silver lining. Maybe we shouldn’t bother getting it reactiviated. Oh except for that £15 a month contract….hmmm…

Vicarious Pleasure — November 15, 2015

Vicarious Pleasure

Minecraft_-_Stampy's_First_Home_2

In my last post I mentioned that I am a late adopter, technology wise.

As such my children feel like pariahs. I know how they feel. When I was a child I was not allowed to watch Top of The Pops (unless Mrs Pugh our lovely babysitter was round in which case we did, sneakily) and so on Friday mornings at school, in between bouncing a tennis ball secured in the foot of one leg of a pair of old tights off a wall, I felt at a slight loss, conversationally.

I became an expert in ‘faking it’. Pretending some intricate tights/ ball manoeuvre (that sounds worse then it should) was requiring of my total concentration whilst I absorbed the first TOTP conversation of the day. Thereby allowing me to interject into subsequent conversations. Just enough to ensure my class mates believed I was an avid a viewer as them.

This is a skill that has served me well. Especially in my work when ‘blagging it’ was often necessary. I left the tennis ball at home though…which reminds me we now have an outside wall large enough for this game. I must introduce the offspring to it forthwith.

So where was I? Oh yes. Children. Pariahs.

For instance I resisted purchasing Minecraft for Middlest for a long time. I am sure everyone in the world has heard of Minecraft. If not I suggest you look it up. He pestered and pestered and pestered and pestered and in the end I relented and bought it for the PC for his birthday in August.

And the main reason I gave in was that I was sick of Stampy. Again everyone the world over (well certainly those reading this with kids around eight plus) will know exactly who I mean. Middlest is obsessed with watching his you tube videos.

In case you are not the owner of such a child I will fill you in. Stampy is a man who seems to make his living filming himself playing computer games- specifically Minecraft. He may play others but I doubt he has time.  Stampy does not appear, well only in avatar form (which apparently is a cat), as the films are of the screen he is playing on and he then commentates over the top. I imagine it is actually quite a skill commentating constantly. But I had reached the point where if I heard his slightly high pitched voice ever again I was going to explode.

So I bought Middlest the game and went through the pain of installing it. To begin with I searched Amazon for a CD Rom of the game in a pretty box that he could actually unwrap. You see? Completely behind the times. It has to be directly downloaded from the Internet onto one’s computer. I was able to buy him a piece of paper with a randomly generated string of characters on though. I wrapped it up as excitingly as possible, which wasn’t all that exciting, not really. Anyway I ‘bought the game’ I thought it was preferable that he actually engage with the process, which as far as I can see is like virtual Lego but with monsters (but only on Survival mode- kind of Death Lego), rather than watch someone else play it.

And yet he STILL prefers to watch Stampy. And now a really rather endearing couple who play together. Pat and Jen. Although their names sound like something out of a Ladybird early reader do not be decieved they can hack away at creepers with the best of them.  When I listen carefully I can detect a slight inequality in their relationship. And she is very giggly which annoys me. Tremendously. But otherwise quite endearing. I actually prefer them to Stampy. And at least it shows that IT geeks can get girlfriends. There is someone out there for everyone. But be quick I doubt there are many Jens left in the world.

This way of entertaining oneself is a phenomenon that puzzles me. Middlest is not alone in this house in the partaking of vicarious pleasure in such a way.

Eldest will watch other people assemble, adapt and test drive Nerf guns. For hours. I actually believe he would rather do this than fire actual foam bullets out of his actual Nerf Guns.  He did say once that it saved him collecting the bullets….I despair…  He will discuss the relative merits of the seemingly endless supply of you tube videos of youths testing Nerf guns. For instance he likes the style of a particular guy from Canada but the films are outdated as they get Nerf guns much later than everyone else and so he is always testing older models. And such like. Ad infinitum. Ad naseum.

I once caught them watching other people on you tube open packets of Pokémon cards. The excitement generated in my kitchen diner when one lucky random stranger got three EXs in one pack was palpable. I have heard of younger children watching other children open Kinder eggs on line.

I guess this is an extension of that other phenomenon. I call it ‘bees round the electronic device’. If one child has a personal electronic device other children would rather watch that child play on it, even if that child will not share the ‘go’s, than do anything else. At all. I think I saw this demonstrated once in a TV show (The Secret Life of a 4 Year Old?). The draw of these devices is incredible.

I  have been trying to think of an equivalent from my childhood. And I have failed. I just can’t.

All credit to these people making money out of such ventures. It certainly saves me buying the actual guns, games, cards. But it is odd. Really odd.

Electronics Fast… — November 12, 2015

Electronics Fast…

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So here we go. The biggest bone of contention in my life. Electronic devices. In writing this I feel I am jumping blindfold off a very high cliff into Arctic waters patrolled by polar bears starving due to lack of sea ice….shiver.

I am not in favour of personal devices for my children. I am a late adopter technology wise myself. In fact I still have a phone that I merely use to, well, phone people – well actually I text people as nowadays actually speaking to people is a little passe- but you get my drift.

My children are, according to them, massively under deviced… I am, apparently, the devil incarnate for not ensuring they have the most up to date technology.

Eldest had an I pod touch for his 10th birthday. The others had nothing. Well they had that Wii I mentioned last time. But that is a social affair. And not all that portable.

We had a rule that he could not use the I pod before school or before all his jobs and homework were complete. He couldn’t take it to school as they are banned there. And so during quite a lot of weeks the device sat neglected on top of the bread bin for the whole time. Only being dusted off on Saturdays. And this was fine with me. In case you are wondering the bread bin is my position of choice for ‘confiscated’ items…I think it is something to do with them not being able to reach it when they were three, that no longer applies but psychologically it still works.

Then I had to deliver on my promise of getting him a phone for his start at Senior school where such devices are allowed within parameters. Apparently he would be unable to survive without one. Obviously I did. In fact I survived with 10 pence in my pocket and, in extremis, the school receptionist . And, yes, occasionally it was difficult and I did need to face the wrath of that dragon in the school office but generally all was fine. Maybe schools changed their plans less because they couldn’t really change their plans without ending up with a crisis. They could not arbitrarily decide to cancel clubs, arrange impromptu after school meetings for students, decide that all Year 7 boys should leave school from a different building on one random Tuesday. Etc. So they didn’t.

So I accepted that Eldest needed a phone, to avoid being a stranded. And because Eldest had a ‘new’ phone (actually an old handset of husband’s with a new SIM) Middlest got the I pod touch. Which then gave Youngest licence to commandeer my I pad or the ancient first generation DS, on which, one Christmas, I frightened myself determining my actual brain age and then failing to improve it much. Because Eldest could take the phone to school it came off the bread bin. And before I knew it all three were on devices before school, after school, whilst brushing their teeth, in bed, whilst watching TV etc.

I let it ride. Partly because to re-instate the ‘no device’ rules would require energy and commitment that I currently do not possess. For some reason this time of year makes me lethargic. The recent weather has made it worse. And so I am not even keeping up with this blog never mind tackling difficult and contentious child related issues.

The other reason I let it ride was that, aside from being constantly ignored, it made the mornings quieter. Bad mummy moment…

And then someone linked on Facebook to an article about how over use of electronics is ruining children’s mental health. And physical health. And emotional health. I sort of knew this. But reading the article brought it all home to me. The behaviours that the author said may improve with a reduction (or indeed a total ban) on electronic exposure were ones I recognised in all of them – even the eight year old.

So I sat down and had the conversation. It was a mistake to tell them I had read an article. They hate it when I read articles. Last time I read an article I took all the sugar I could out of their diet and Middlest still has natural yogurt flashbacks…

Anyhow I got round that blunder and managed to get them to agree to the morning ban. The after school ban unless jobs etc are done. And a bedroom charging- up- leading – to- early- morning- play ban.

Already things have calmed down. Eldest has slept better for the last two nights than ‘for ages’.  And he has started de-cluttering his bedroom ready for the make over he wants to do in there. Middlest admitted that he does not miss being awoken by Crashy Road free gift notifications in the middle of the night (!).  And Youngest has got the loom bands out.

So we will be continuing with the ban. My mornings will be more frantic. I will get pestered more. But I think it is worth it. Especially as they can all now hear me when I call up the stairs. Amazing that eh?

TV Dinners — July 19, 2015

TV Dinners

Here I am again…..still on holiday… I have a spare minute or two lounging on the balcony whilst husband gathers lunch…in a hunter kind of way….it makes him feel good….it may only be a very very very hot trip to the mini market a short stroll away but hey ho it if is good for his ego who am I to argue. Eldest has gone too. He needs to learn such manly pursuits sometime.

Middlest and youngest are watching dubious TV. The choice is limited it being Greece here. But they have stumbled across the Disney Channel which seems to play white middle class teenage comedies on a sort of loop. They find it totally hypnotic. It is preferable to the 24 hour doom and gloom on CNN. And anyway it gets them out of the sun for a bit.

I had an idea for this entry which I seem to have lost the thread of. Where was I?

Oh yes I remember. I came on to talk about electronics. Specifically children and electronic devices. But now I have told you that two of my three are currently sitting in front of one I feel a tad hypocritical. But then I have spent all morning in a pool with them playing ball, and races and diving for ‘sinking seal’. So I feel a little bit of me time is in order…this blog is me time by the way. And they are on holiday and allowed to choose to spend some time watching mindless TV, even if it is beset with horrific stereotypes and canned laughter of the worst order.

Scene setting done. One, I am not against electronics per se, two, my children have devices and watch TV, three, not sure but this sentence seemed to need a three….

What prompted this post was a phenomenon I have already observed at home but which has been brought into sharp relief here. And that is the use of electronic devices at dinner tables. What really brought it to a head today though was seeing this at breakfast. Yep breakfast.

Breakfast here is an all you can eat buffet. I have mentioned the queuing for bacon already. But the choices are really quite endless. My point in bringing this up is that it is not a passive affair. One has to get up, regularly in my family’s case, to refill your plate or glass. Luckily the walk from the table we inhabit to the groaning buffet is quite lengthy and goes a small way to compensate for the vast amount of calories on offer.

As such breakfast can be as long or short as you like. It is busy and noisy and in no way refined. As such I see absolutely no need for a child to be watching a film/ playing a game/ searching you tube on an electronic device propped up on the salt and pepper cellars. I find it distressing. Actually distressing.

I don’t really like seeing it at dinner either. Yesterday a group had set the adults up at one end of their table and the four children at the other each mining for something on a separate device.  My only hope is that they were at least ‘networked’ and able to meet up in the virtual world. I think you can do that in Minecraft.

I find this odd. There were four of them around the same age. Even if the adults did not want to interact at all with their offspring surely those offspring could have entertained themselves off line?

Or if the adults were worried that they were unable to sit ‘nicely’ at a table without the use of an electronic kosh they could have been left at home with a babysitter (10 euros an hour here I am told, quite reasonable at current exchange rates). Whose job would have been very easy as I don’t think I saw any of them speak the whole time we were there.

When we eat I like to talk to my kids. Even when they were little they joined in with the meal fully. Yes those meals were not extended three hour affairs and when we went out we made full use of those colouring books and pencils provided at many family friendly restaurants. But they joined in.

This morning at breakfast we ‘discussed’ plans for the day. We talked about possible future holidays. I regaled them, probably not for the first time, with stories of our past trips abroad. I embarrassed them by being overly demonstrative and animated. In short we interacted.

I was saddened to see a little girl sat in a highchair, dummy in in between ‘courses’ watching some kids TV show on her rubber protected I pad whilst mum and dad ate in silence, each on a phone. I guess it is somewhat equivalent to reading a newspaper. Those cliches of men retreating behind their broadsheet to avoid being drawn in. I don’t like books or papers at the table either.

And yes I don’t know the ins and outs of their families. Maybe they hate each other (odd to come on holiday to Greece though in that case). Maybe those children are extremely difficult.

But I see it so much that I cannot believe that to be the case all the time. I just think it is laziness. Or a lack of anything to say. Which is just sad.

Any how rant over. I must be off to save my children’s minds from the drivel they are sat in front of. And anyway I think I hear hubby and eldest returning with freshly hunted packets of processed meat and fried potato products. One must arrange one’s grateful and somewhat awed face. And take off one’s judgey pants…

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