We Are Both Right

Best Part About a Kindle? No Paper Cuts

Kindle Fire © Amazon.com

My two older children each got a Kindle Fire for Christmas. So far they have been reading on them. Sort of. © Amazon.com

The myself from five  years ago would be horrified with the myself from today. While I was never one to shy away from the latest gadgets and gizmos, there was one aspect of my life that I considered tech-free and let me tell you, it was sacred.

Books.

I swore (undoubtedly on one of my many piles of tomes) that would never (EVER) read a book on one of those newfangled devices. Books weren’t just about reading, I would passionately cry. Reading is a tactile experience — books were all about hearing the page turn, smelling the ink, tripping over the stacks that I had accumulated next to my bed and behind the couch and in the sunroom.

But then I started talking to people who had e-readers and they made a convincing argument. With an e-reader, you read more, they said, because a book was always at your fingertips. No more heading out to the bookstore or the library — if you needed something to read, just fire up the device and away you go. As someone who had lapsed on my reading a bit (rotten kids) for lack of free time and lack of opportunities to actually go and get books, an e-reader sounded like a promising solution.

So I soon found myself relenting, and three Christmases ago, my husband bought me a Sony Reader. Despite it’s limitations, I was sold — totally. So much so, that for my past birthday I got a Nook Color. And it’s true, I am reading more (I’m spending more too, but that’s a story for another day).

When it came time to have the big pow-wow with Santa about what to give the kids for Christmas this past year, we were all in agreement. Nook Colors, just like their mom. I was partial to the Nook simply because it allowed you to borrow library books and share books with friends electronically. And with three people suddenly in possession of e-readers, I figured my credit card could use a break. But then Amazon announced their new Kindle Fire. It did everything the Nook Color did (including library privileges and the ability to exchange books with others) and more for $50 less. Santa’s on a budget and not brand-loyal so Kindles it was.

The kids were thrilled with their gifts, and so am I. And they are reading more. Sort of. We’ve had to come to a compromise. See, when I first got my Nook Color, the first thing I wanted to do was see what a book looked like on it. When my children opened their Kindles, they wanted to see what Angry Birds looked like. Understandable, but I keep telling them that when they were originally conceived, Kindles were strictly for reading, not for shooting birds across a landscape at some rascally pigs (hence the name e-reader and not e-save-the-pride-of-some-annoyed-animated-birds).

I got a lot of blank stares in return, so to that end, we’ve come up with plan. They are allowed to play games and stream (approved) videos on their Kindles. But for every minute they do that, they have to spend a minute reading. It’s been working well so far. My daughter has read about five books so far and my son is about halfway through The Hunger Games (a copy he borrowed through the Kindle lending library). They certainly have played their fair share of apps, but they are also using their Kindles for good — my husband and I told them they could get a small pet like a hamster or guinea pig and they’ve been using the devices to research the best options.

Hmmm. I wonder if there is such a thing as an e-pet. Much less messy.

Suzanne’s house is e-reader free (although she did purchase her first apps for her phone recently!) so I think I’m going to take all of these piles of books and bring them to her house.

Are Kindles Really for Reading?

reading with child

E-readers might be the new thing, but books are still king in my home. What is your child reading from these days? ©Horton Group/stock.xchng

Times change. And so do a mom’s opinions.

While I may have been Mrs. Anti-technology, my-kid-isn’t-touching-a-PS2*-and-especially-not-at-the-dinner-table just a few months ago, my stance has kind of softened since then.

It’s true that my four-year-old daughter is the reason I finally downloaded Angry Birds to my smartphone (to keep her busy during her brother’s basketball games). But she alternates between that and a math app that guides her through addition and subtraction.  And yes, my nine-year-old did get a netbook for Christmas — from his grandparents. But at least now he can check his fantasy football scores without monopolizing my desktop all day Sunday. And Monday. And Thursday. (Wish I had a netbook.)

So I’ll admit, handing them a screen of their own has its perks. There’s also no denying that their generation will have to be e-literate. I consider this an orientation to all of the gizmos that we can’t yet imagine which will be running their lives, making them toast in the morning, and walking their dogs Jetsons-style.

But that’s as far as I’ll go. Some things just have to stay old-school — for now at least. Like books.

What’s up with the Kindle Fire/Nook Color gadget that all the (other) kids had on their holiday wish lists?

A reading tablet, a book disguised as a screen? Sounds pretty crafty to me. Trick the kids into reading. I dig the concept. Except that’s not exactly how it pans out.

From what I gather, the latest generation of e-readers are more like a textbook with a comic book tucked into the center. You know, the ones that kids our age used to hold up in class while trying to look studious. At least that’s the picture that came to mind after I asked one mom on Christmas Day if the new gadget her daughter was toting around was a sneaky way to get her to read more. (Wink-wink. Mom-conspiracy in play.)

“No, not really,” she said, coming clean. “There’s so much other stuff on there — e-mail, apps, whatever — that she’s not purely in it for the books.”

Ahhh. So I see.

A Kindle’s not really for reading, after all.

They fooled us again.

How about you — are you quick to respond to requests for any and all technology with your kids? Or are you kind of holding back like me, staving off the screens with a invisible force field?

*Feel free to edit out my ignorance on the PS product line. I don’t even know if PS2s are handheld. Maybe I should ask Amanda. She’s way more into tech than me.

The Stuff Legendary Gifts Are Made Of

Holiday memories come in all shapes and sizes. ©We Are Both Right

Childhood memories fascinate me.

I love to ask my children what their first permanent memories are — things like the earliest point in time they can remember, what they were wearing or who they were with. My daughter’s is from last year’s vacation in California. My son’s earliest memory is playing with plastic dinosaurs in his room.

So no sooner than the first Christmas decorations appeared and pushed the Halloween candy into the clearance aisle, I was inspired to poll everyone I know about their most memorable holiday gift as a child.

The best reaction I got was from my husband. In less than a second he was telling me about a blue hockey helmet with a white cage that he went to the store a few days before Christmas to pick up with his dad. He brain-dumped so much detail on me about that Christmas that I felt giddy for him.

It made me recall the Christmas when I (or maybe it was my brother) got a magic kit. Even though I can’t remember whose name was on the tag, I have vivid memories of playing with the retractable wand and pulling a rabbit from a top hat. Also memorable is the year I got an electric Brother typewriter with the correct tape built in! Geeky, but oh so prophetic for this writer.

Still, the holiday that stands out most in my mind is the year that my brother was born just three weeks before Christmas. Now before you jump to any sappy conclusions, my kid brother is merely an accessory to this memory. (Sorry T., I know you thought I was about to publicly make up for my wrongs.) Anyway, that was the only year that my extended family let my mom off the hook for the huge family dinner that she usually prepared for 30 every Christmas Eve.

Instead, we celebrated a quiet evening at home with just our immediate family. We were lucky enough to have Santa stop by for his (her) cameo that evening, although I don’t remember any of the gifts he brought.

What I do remember is the gift I received from my maternal grandmother that year. It was a mushroom crate — the wooden, woven kind, held together with wire. There were two in fact — one for me and one for my sister — each with red gingham fabric sewn to fit inside the crate and draped over the sides to make a doll cradle. When I placed my favorite doll inside, it hugged her as snugly as my newborn brother in my mom’s arms.

The simple things.

For his own reasons, my nine-year-old also remembers his sister’s first Christmas. He was five and the unexpected jealousy following the ending of his only-child reign had just about worn off.

His big gift under the tree that year was an Xbox 360 (can you say parental guilt?). But the part he forgets (phew!) is that when we plugged it in that day, we quickly discovered that it had been used and broken, and then repackaged. My little guy (and his deflated dad) didn’t get to play with it until a big box store made good on Santa’s damages.

I wonder if it’s “the thing” he’ll tell his family about one day in so much detail that they feel like they were there with him. Or maybe that memory is yet to be made.

How about you — any big holiday surprises from childhood that still make you smile?

It didn’t take Amanda long to remember that special gift she wished for… and got!

That’s my iPad! Mine, mine, mine.

Forget planned obsolescence. It looks like technology manufacturers have thought of one better.

Just put your saved-all-my-latte-money-and-rewards-points-to-buy-this iPad into the hands of a toddler and it’s all but guaranteed that you will have to buy another sooner rather than later. Whoever thought of that plan is genius.

At least that’s what I’m thinking after reading about all the new apps and attachments that are coming out just in time for the holidays. Can you say crayon stylus?

Even the Brookstone catalog that arrived in the mail today has an iSomething accessory for kids on almost every page. Everything from a toy helicopter, sing-along microphone to spy robot offers the bonus of being operable via Mommy’s iPod, iPhone and/or iPad.

In other words, they are forcing us to share. Whether we like it or not.

Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I like to keep my pricey technology to myself. My children have plenty to keep them occupied that they don’t need to be half-owners of the phone, iPod or laptop that my husband and I just about managed to get ourselves into. It’s bad enough that our three-year-old iPod got corrupted over the weekend. I don’t think a preschooler who likes to rip it off the charger had anything to do with it, but it pains me nonetheless.

How do you feel about sharing your technology? Are you happy to hand it over once and a while? Or is it just easier to get them their own (and hope it doesn’t break too soon)?

One last question, and I guess this is my underlying hesitation about the whole thing: Do kids really need all this technology at such a young age? Sure, it’s how they will grow up, but does every toy have to be an app?

Best of: Reasons Why You’re the Meanest Mom

mean mom glanzerr©/stock.xchng

Sorry kid, if you want to go outside, you'll need to put your coat on. glanzerr©/stock.xchng

There’s an interesting little aspect of parenting that no one tells you about. Your kids may love you, but it doesn’t mean they have to like you. Especially when you are in “mean mom” mode — telling them not do something that they want to do or making them eat their vegetables or coming up with some other ridiculous “mom” rule that is completely unfair in the oh-so-silly interest of keeping them safe and healthy.

You know what we mean. One chilly morning last week (34 degrees fahrenheit), Amanda’s 11-year-old son stormed off to the school bus stop in a huff because she made him put on his coat. The horror! What’s next? A hat? Some gloves?

And that’s not all! Here are some more seemingly-obvious little rules that we’ve actually found ourselves uttering and, according to our kids, make us the meanest moms that ever lived. (Please save your phone calls to the authorities until you have reached the end of the list.)

  • No bare feet on the dinner table. (No feet on the table period.)
  • No using your little brother as a ball.
  • Your test is a week away? Great! Start studying now.
  • Jell-O is not a fruit.
  • Yes, you have to take a shower every day.
  • The ceiling fan is not the same as the monkey bars and should not be treated as such.
  • Please stop jumping on the trampoline, um, I mean couch.
  • The dog is not a horse.
  • No more slap shots with the hockey puck down the hallway.
  • You’re nine now, it’s time to use a fork.

We know we aren’t alone. Share your favorite “mean mom” moments in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

“Trouble in Toyland” — Playthings You’ll Want to Avoid this Holiday Season

You’ve made your list and checked it twice but is what you (or Santa) planning to give the child really as safe as you think it is?

Twenty-four seemingly (and not-so-seemingly) innocuous toys have had the dubious honor of being listed in the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s “Trouble in Toyland” report, a survey of toys that don’t meet the standards of safety set the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other health organizations.

While the list isn’t exhaustive, U.S. PIRG shopped a host of toy stores, malls and dollar stores in September and October 2011 nationwide, looking potentially dangerous toys. Using CPSC recalls and other regulatory actions as their guide, the group searched for toys that “posed a potential toxic, choking, strangulation or noise hazard.”

“Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons is still the leading cause of toy-related injury,” said U.S.PIRG’s Nasima Hossain. ”Between 1990 and 2010 over 400 children died from toy-related injuries, but more than half choked on small parts, balloons or balls. While most toys are safe, our researchers still found toys on the shelves that pose choking hazards and other toys that contain hazardous levels of toxic chemicals including lead.”

Toys on the list include a variety of playthings that appeal to kids of all ages including including an Elmo cell phone, a Hot Wheels stunt car, a Tinkerbell watch, a Hello Kitty keychain, a toy-sized Honda motorcycle, and a Whirly Wheel. The full report is an eye-opener, and will certainly give you pause the next time you go toy shopping.

“Parents and toy givers need to remember that while the CPSC is doing a good job, it doesn’t test all toys on the shelves.  Consumers should also remember that toys that are not on our list of examples could also pose hazards,” Hossain said. “The message of today is clear. We cannot, must not, weaken the most basic safety rules that protect young children, America’s littlest consumers.”

For me, seeing a toy that we own on the list (the Fisher-Price Elmo cell phone) was a good reality check. I looked at the list never expecting to see something that is in our own toy box, but there it was, listed as a noise hazard. Are any of your child’s toys on the list? Have you ever bought a toy, only to discover that it isn’t as safe as you would have assumed?

If you come across an unsafe toy, you can report them to the CPSC at www.cpsc.gov and towww.saferproducts. gov or by calling 800-504-7923.

Safe shopping!

#OccupyMomandDadsBed

The #OccupyMomandDadsBed movement may be coming to a bed near you. ©We Are Both Right

It’s official. Our kids are staging a revolt. Their 1% wants to occupy 99% of the parental bed.

When Amanda wrote about the pint-sized bed partner who kept her awake all night (on vacation no less), I felt her pain.

In the case of my house, it looks like our two protesters are determined to kick me and my husband out of our bed every night. Literally. Kicking, punching and all of their other late-night and early morning unconscious flailing that leaves us cowering for cover.

But if we actually retreat — like when we threaten to go into their beds — they stick to us like glue. So I think what they really want is full access to our big bed with the comfy duvet and two parents to cuddle (even if we’re both hanging on to the last one inch of the pillow top with bloody noses). Nothing like being well rested.

We are dealing with two adults, two children and in the worst of times, a dog. It’s a big bed but the extra bodies that are getting longer by the month make it a tight squeeze. Not to mention that since they were little, my kids’ preferred sleeping position is laying perpendicular to me and my husband, so that he has feet pounding his chest and I get a head butting my face.

Still, say what you will about the parenting debate on co-sleeping, I don’t mind it enough to put an end to it. When they were babies, I didn’t encourage cosleeping. I was too afraid of rolling over a little arm and having all those blankets and pillows around them. It wasn’t until they were walking and in beds of their own that I allowed it to happen.

I know, I know. We should have broken this habit long ago. It is a valid point, especially because the path to our bed is now entrenched in their subconscious minds.

But my working mother’s guilt has rationalized it as bonding time. (And sometimes it feels so good to roll over and nuzzle the back of my “baby’s” head.) Anyway, we figure that by the time they find their way to our bed (usually between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.), we have already logged the minimum hours of sleep a parent needs.

So we let them off the hook. My husband jokes that we should just make ours a double-decker king size bed and retreat to the upper level when they invade.

But like I said, the occupiers want to take what we have and expect us to stay along for the ride. *Yawn* And so the #OccupyMomandDadsBed movement grows.

Any of this going on in your home?

Our Two Cents: Holiday Shopping on a Tight Budget

holiday shopping on a budget

There's still time to get creative when holiday shopping on a budget. ©Kym McLeod /stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m already thinking (and fretting) about Christmas shopping for the kids because our budget is tighter than ever this year.

My husband’s been out of work since the summer, so we’re just getting by with the basics. Still, I can’t imagine not being able to make the holidays special for our kids (ages 3, 4 and 7).

Obviously, there will be fewer presents under the tree this year, but I still want all three of them to have a memorable Christmas and at least get some of what is on their wish lists.

Any tips on how to do that on a budget?

–Christmas on a Shoestring

Suzanne: Seeing how far we can stretch a dollar is almost a prerequisite for parenting in this economy, so where Amanda and I leave off, I’m sure our readers will pick up with tips of their own.

For starters, I’ve found that a lot of planning goes a long way. I can say from experience that last minute shopping is what really does me (and my budget) in. This year, I took about ten minutes to brainstorm one day and jot down some ideas and how much each item would cost. I have my target range, and as I’ve been spotting sales and finding coupon matches for additional savings, I’ve been pouncing on the opportunity to cross another thing off the list.

My latest find is the Dora motorized toothbrush I scored as a stocking stuffer for my daughter (while she was sitting in the shopping cart in front of me) when it was on sale and before my coupon expired next week. And even though it’s just a toothbrush, it’s something she’s been wanting and will be excited to get — even though it’s a run-of-the-mill item I would have to buy for her anyway. And that can be another strategy that might work for you. If there’s an outfit or shoes your child really, really wants, maybe you can justify it as a Christmas gift and something that meets a basic need at the same time. This also works with gifts like “A Day with Mom” coupon where each child is promised a special day just with you doing their favorite thing (riding go-karts, ice skating or going to the movies — which means that it does triple duty, first as a Christmas present that doesn’t have to be paid for upfront, secondly as a special treat to look forward to over the winter, and also as a chance to do something that might otherwise not be in the budget).

Another favorite holiday shopping strategy I’ve been on top of this year (and again it requires some advance planning to accumulate items over time) is taking all of the $10 cash coupons that come in the mail from stores like Kohl’s and Bobs, and finding gift items in those stores — basically for free. I love crossing something off my list and writing a budget-friendly $1.97 price tag next to it. Just sign up for e-mails at any of those store’s web sites, and like the Facebook fan pages of shops on your hit list so that you can get deluged with special e-mail sales, coupons, and online codes that you can apply strategically as the holidays approach.

Of course, there’s more to life than shopping. So budget or no budget, the most important thing we can teach our children is the real meaning of the holidays we celebrate. Try to take some time in the weeks leading up to Christmas (or even on the holiday itself if you want to fill the time with something meaningful rather than focusing on what is or isn’t under the tree) and go with the family to a Ronald McDonald House or community center where you can all brighten the day of people who would want nothing more than to feel a little holiday spirit themselves. Have the kids bring a holiday book and read it to younger children or seniors. It might just be the most memorable holiday tradition of all.

Amanda: Suzanne’s got some great tips, some I already employ and some I’m going to have to start doing. Toothbrushes for everyone!

My big thing about shopping, aside from scouring the sales and using coupons is to see where I can get money back. It’s not a lot but it goes a long way, especially during the holiday time when I’m spending more than I normally would (even if it’s a little more). So whenever I use a credit card, I make sure it’s one that gives me cash back in some form. I always shop through sites like Upromise and ebates that give money back on every purchase (the former deposits the money in a 529 account for your kids, the latter sends you a check every quarter).

Keep track of what you spend too. If you shell out $19.99 for product A at store B and then a week later it’s $5 less, head over to their customer service desk and see if they’ll give you an adjustment. And don’t be afraid to ask if a store will honor competitors coupons and prices too.

Many stores now are offering layaway, a program that lets you pay off an item upfront for a small charge — usually around $5. If your child wants a toy that costs $30 and you just don’t have that to spend right now, you can give the store $6 a week for about a month — a lot easier on your weekly budget.

Good luck! I hope the new year brings you happiness and prosperity!

*****************

What are your best tips for holiday shopping on a budget? We’d love to hear your advice, and if there’s an area where you could use double the help, let us know at advice@wearebothright.com.

After-School Jobs Are Worth More Than A Paycheck

Hopefully my kids will have it all together on the school front, so they can get a taste of what's to come when they head out into the working world. © Kriss Szkurlatowski /stock.xchng

Any day now, I should be ready to retire. Because if you count the years since I first started working at age 13 — as a library clerk (who wins the prize for nerdiest job ever?) — I’m just about there. Come to think of it, there were a few babysitting gigs before that, so maybe I’m closer than I realize. But the point is, I’ve been working for, well, forever.

Could that be the reason why I’ve been feeling burned out lately? Makes sense.

But do I wish that I had waited to enter the working world until I was an adult? No. The truth is that I probably wouldn’t be as marketable as I am today if it weren’t for these first jobs. Not to say that scooping ice cream and mopping floors at the pool club snack shack set me up for the career path I’m on now, but that’s where I learned everything I know about manual labor, looking busy, customer service and not being above any job — all things that have come up time and time again in my working life (oh, and at home too.)

So when I’m thinking ahead to whether or not my children should have after-school jobs while they are in high school, the answer is as definitive as punching a time clock. As long as there are no other issues to contend with (failing grades, living in the middle of a cornfield with no employers within 100 miles, etc.) my children will be pounding the pavement just as soon as we can call them teens.

I won’t expect them to log long hours or work throughout the entire school year. But I do want them to get a taste of what it is to find and hold a job way before they become entitled new graduates with zero working experience thinking they are owed $80,000 in their first job out of college.

Maybe they will learn how to answer a phone, deal with difficult people (other than their parents), and get through the tedium/delirium of checking car passes at a security booth a few hundred yards from a beautiful shoreline packed with lucky stiffs who have a day off. Because character building activities like these are the only way to define the random jobs available to kids.

Whatever it is that they do, even if they don’t realize it at the time, will be teaching them what it takes to earn their keep (not to mention why they better shore up on those basic skills in order to get the job that affords a few weeks vacation every year so that they too can take a paid day off to sit at the beach).

If they’re lucky, my employable children will actually bring home a paycheck in the process, which they would ever so carefully spend on things that warrant the time they put into earning them. (Are those $125 jeans worth it when you have to pour two weeks pay into them?)

Even if they weren’t pulling in minimum wage or anything at all, it would still be a good job in my book. My son already has a plan for his community service requirement in high school, and somehow I don’t think coaching the youth sports he loves now will be quite as painful as unclogging a frozen ice cream dispenser five minutes before closing — paid as it may be. That’s a good lesson to learn too.

Besides, if my children never have the experience of waiting tables, polishing the high school basketball court, hosing down floors in a pet store or filing charts, they won’t have those great stories we all love to tell about our first jobs. Like the time when their mom had to break up a fight between old ladies in the library, going for the same periodical…

Amanda says she’s not letting her children work while they’re in school. I respect her choice, but now who are my kids supposed to barter ice cream sundaes for deli sandwiches with?

It’s Not Their Place in a 9 to 5 World

©shho/stock.xchng

When my kids are in high school, their job will be to hit the books, nothing more. ©shho/stock.xchng

Remember high school? I do. I remember it being an awful lot of work. Every year I took a full course load, not to mention the after-school activities I participated in. From junior year on, I also worked at a local restaurant. I worked as a waitress mostly, but did other things too.

Until I turned 17, I worked no more than four hours a day, 20 hours a week and no later than 10 p.m. Once I turned 17, right before my senior year, the rules changed quite a bit. I could work longer shifts and more of them. Vacations from school didn’t mean vacations from work and Friday and Saturday nights were filled — not with dates or outings with my friends but with order slips and cash register receipts.

It was a good job (I stayed at it until I graduated from college) and I made a lot of money. Money that helped me purchase my first car and pay for college and the prom and buy whatever it was I needed. I learned responsibility and gained some independence. For the most part, working as a teen was a great experience for me.

Still, when it comes time for my kids to work, I’m not sure I’ll be so fast in signing their working papers. My son is only 11 now, so maybe I’ll feel differently in a few years, but I think I’d rather him focus on school while he’s in high school — his studies, his extra-curricular activities and his (sigh) social life. I may change my mind once I have to start footing his sure-to-be-expensive teen-years bills, but I think that our kids have to grow up so fast as it is, why not give them a little more time to just be young.

Having said that, I don’t want my kids spending their time playing video games or surfing the ‘net or doing whatever it is that will be popular five years from now. If they aren’t working they should be studying or playing sports or doing something goal-oriented. Down time is OK, but I do expect them to be productive in some way. I don’t think that will be a problem, they are totally overscheduled right now, I can’t imagine that will change much. And to me, that’s how the younger years should be spent.

Let me be clear, I am not against my kids working entirely. I would welcome any of them to get a summer job or take on some odds and ends, here and there — babysitting, snow shoveling, lawn mowing and the like — just nothing that requires a regular commitment, nothing that might take away from their most important responsibility — being a teenager.

What do you think? Did you work an after-school job? Do your kids? Will your kids?

Suzanne says as soon as her kids are old enough, they will enter the workforce. I know where I’m going when I want a scoop of ice cream!