We Are Both Right

Making Less of a New Year’s Resolution

© Billy Alexander/ stock.xchng

If you’re reading this while doing five other things, just stop for a minute.

Because I have to tell you about a new year’s parenting resolution that you (and I) might actually want to keep. It’s quite simple, and therein lies the challenge.

Do less. That’s right. Do. Less.

Are you squirming yet? If you are a Type A consummate multi-tasker like me, I bet you are.

Because you have probably already resolved to have your post-holiday mess organized by January 2 (if you haven’t already achieved that goal). You might have also vowed to start the new year by doing more of everything else — more home cooking, more exercise, more saving.

So to consider doing less — I know, it sounds crazy.

But let’s face it, as parents, we don’t need new year’s resolutions that add pressure to an already bloated daily agenda. So maybe if we can adopt the attitude of “only so much can fit in one day” we might be able to achieve our other goals at the same time.

Think less is more.

More quality time with the children. More living in the moment rather than being bound by an agenda. More of the important stuff like actually sitting and playing with the kids, while doing nothing else. No folding laundry, no checking e-mails, no paying bills.

Less running errands on the weekend (maybe more big, once a month shopping trips instead), less planned activities, and less house cleaning.

Up until now, that’s been nearly impossible for me to do. But after burning a batch of chocolate chip cookies last night, I decided that it was time. Not exactly the life-changing moment that makes for a revelation, but it was enough for me.

I started making those cookies with my daughter before dinner. As the first cookie sheet went in, I pulled together dinner. Before sitting down to eat, I threw another batch in the oven. Then I put away the leftovers, cleared the table, made a mental note to load the dishwasher for the third time today, slid in the third tray of cookies, let the dog out, switched the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and logged onto the computer to squeeze in a few minutes of writing.

It was shaping up to be a banner day until I heard my husband run into the kitchen and bang the smoldering cookie sheet down on the stovetop. Oops.

None of this would have even happened — since it was supposed to be my first day back at the office after the Christmas holiday — except that we got snowed in. Instead of calling it a bonus day and just kicking back, I kicked it into high gear and tried to squeeze every last ounce of productivity out of the day.

But just as those cookies got burned to a crisp, so did the point of multi-tasking in my mind.

I realized that there wasn’t a point during the day where I focused on any one thing. And instead of feeling good about all that I accomplished, I felt like I had cheated myself, my kids, my work, and my sanity.

So for 2011, and hopefully beyond, my parenting resolution is to give my children my undivided attention as often as I can. I will consciously try to live in the moment, not always anticipating what’s next on my to-do list. I will let myself enjoy things for what they are and not for how far they get me. I will be less frustrated and more realistic in my goals. And I will find a really good maid/cook/housekeeper to do the rest.

Here goes nothing…

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I’m hoping that by sharing my new year’s parenting resolution with you, I might actually keep it. Post your resolution here, and Amanda and I promise to hold you to it. For more ideas, check out Amanda’s list of resolutions for 2011.

My Parenting Resolution for 2011: Breathe. Just Breathe.

© dkmhl/stock.xchng

© dkmhl/stock.xchng

It’s easy to second-guess yourself as a parent. Find room for improvement. Every second of every day we make decisions — some big, some small and some that could easily go the other way.

I shouldn’t have yelled. I should have been more firm. I should have said yes. I shouldn’t have been so quick to say no. I should have spent more time with them today. I should have taken time for myself. I should have made pancakes for dinner instead of picking up fast food. I should have treated them to pizza.

I should have read her “just one more chapter” and I should have played that Wii game that he loves even though I’m awful at it. I should have sent them to bed earlier. I should have let them stay up until the next commercial break. I should have let her break the eggs into the bowl even though I know she’ll leave some shells behind. I should have taken him to the park. I should have gone down the slide myself — that would have made them laugh.

I wish I could do today all over again. I shouldn’t have any regrets.

I think the key to being a successful parent — or least a parent you can be proud of, is to be flexible. Because the choice you made yesterday, might not be good today, nor may it apply to the child in question. Parenting is fluid and ever-changing. In order to keep up, as parents we need to be too.

And that means letting go and not dwelling.

So this year, instead of making a list of specific parenting resolutions (I’ll save those for my personal list), I’m going the general route, tweaking my parenting philosophies, rather than my actions. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!

Do.

Read.

Imagine

Create.

Photograph.

Smile.

Apologize.

Forgive. (Yourself.)

Hope.

Hug.

Snuggle.

Kiss.

Ask.

Listen.

Believe.

Stop.

Go.

Play.

LOVE.

See you on the other side!

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And as 2010 comes to a close, so does Where We Meet Week (which was closer to two weeks, but you get the idea). Come January 3, Suzanne (who made a parenting resolution of her own) and I will be back to disagreeing with one another. Got a topic idea you’d like to see us debate? We’d love to hear about it!

A Vacation Without Kids Sounds Great! (Sniff) (Sniff) Really!

© rogewainer/stock.xchng

© rogewainer/stock.xchng

Forget disagreeing with Suzanne, when it comes to vacationing without the kids, I’m at odds with myself.

My base reaction? It’s a great idea. I’m all for it. In fact, I’ve gone away on vacation quite a few times without them and had a wonderful time. In the decade that we’ve become parents, T. and I have visited Las Vegas, gone on a cruise with friends, stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast while we took a cooking class and gone on a heavenly four-day trip to a beach to Jamaica where we spent our days doing nothing but sitting. All activities that our kids would want nothing to do with, I’m sure.

Each time I come back relaxed and recharged and happy. I shout less and I am definitely more patient and understanding.

And I love having time alone with my husband. We have complete conversations (yes, about the kids, but still), eat meals without being interrupted and just be together. We can do whatever we like — long car rides, sitting on the beach, coexist in silence — it’s heavenly.

So what’s to feel conflicted about?

Oh the guilt. I swear, there is a Jewish grandmother lurking inside of me somewhere.

In the days leading up to our trip, I just feel so bad. Guilty about leaving them while we are off going someplace fun, guilty about leaving them in general. What if something happens while we are gone? What if they miss us? What if we miss them?

Obviously we do a lot of advance planning. So far, each time that T. and I have gone away, they’ve been cared for by one set of grandparents or the other, either at our house or at one of theirs. Before we leave, I spend countless hours preparing a book of information about each child, their routines, their medical histories, their likes, their dislikes, and fun places they might like to go. I fill the fridge with meal and food and I make sure that every article of clothing that they own is washed, folded and put away. I anticipate any need or want they might have while I’m not there and try to take care of it, or at least provide instructions on how someone else could take care of it.

Basically I parent for the days we are gone ahead of time.

Thankfully, the second I step in the airport, my guilt dissipates. You know what is a vacation for parents in and of itself? Flying without your kids. Trust me.  And as someone who is always so incredibly sad when vacation is over (OK fine, I cry), nothing lifts my spirits more than knowing my kids are waiting for us when we get home.

And the kids? As far as I can tell, they could care less that we are gone. They miss us of course, but when you are spending your days with your grandparents and not your shrill of a mother, well that’s a vacation too.

Basically, we all end up just fine on the other side.

Have you ever vacationed without your kids? Suzanne has. But not without consulting her lawyer first. So happy to have a friend as neurotic as me!

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Mommy and Daddy Will Be Right Back — From Vacation

It took a while for me to be convinced that going on a parents-only vacation was a good idea. Seven and a half years to be exact. Plus some arm-twisting. And a visit with an attorney.

Yes, this is the same mom who has brought her children to day care since they were newborns. I can justify being away from them for work. To leave them behind so I can go on vacation, purely for my own enjoyment and indulgence — nope, that’s just plain selfish.

Or so I thought.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have always valued spending quality time with my husband. Going on a couples-only vacation is a glorious idea. Uninterrupted conversations. Eating wherever and whenever we want without considering the 8 o’clock witching hour and spills on white tablecloths. Wandering through a museum at our own pace. Sitting on a beach without chasing after Crocs being pulled out by the tide.

And then my mind would jump right to thoughts of my kids wondering why mommy and daddy have been gone for so long. I didn’t want to have to explain that we were ditching them for a weekend. I didn’t want them to miss the fun things we would do while exploring a new city.

I felt guilty — so guilty that I allowed the idea of a fun vacation with my husband to be cancelled out by the imagined disappointment of my children.

This had been tugging and pulling at me for years, until last December my husband made the decision for us. We were going away for a long weekend. Without the kids. By plane. Hours away. His surprise Christmas present to me. Non-refundable.

Behind my smile, my breath was caught in my throat. My mind was racing. We needed to make an appointment with an attorney. Sad to say, but that was my first thought — before thinking about what I would pack, where would be staying, when were we going.

I couldn’t get excited about the trip until we had each signed a Last Will and Testament, appointing guardians for our children. It’s something we should have done seven years earlier, but the thought of both of us getting on the same plane without them finally got me to the point where I had to make the difficult decision about who would care for our children in our (permanent) absence.

And then I joined the ranks of parents who go on vacation without children — and actually have fun. The kids didn’t seem to mind the idea of staying at grandma and grandpa’s house for a few days. We promised to bring home gifts, and call every day (and night).

©Fran Marie I. Flores/stock.xchng

The trip itself was great — and I expected nothing less. It was also nice to discover that my husband and I were naturally in sync about the balance between missing the kids and finding something else to talk about. We enjoyed a self-guided tour of historic homes; lingered over twenty-five cent martinis during a two-hour lunch; and stayed out late taking in the nightlife. In between were calls made to the kids, and talking about how we’d love to return with them to enjoy some of the area’s family-oriented activities.

The experience was so great in fact that we’re doing it again this winter. It’s about to be booked — a parents-only vacation to a warm beach destination with another couple who have buried enough of their guilt to leave their children for a few days.

Now if I could just come up with a good answer for my son who keeps asking: “Can I go wherever you’re going?”

Amanda’s always been right about the benefits of parents-only vacations — I just wish I had listened sooner.

Naptime on the Go

Tell me what you think of this scenario. And be honest.

I had just pulled my cart up to a cash register at Target when I looked down and realized my daughter had fallen asleep, her head resting on my quilted pocketbook. In S.’s trademark style of talk ’till you drop, she had been chatting away about Strawberry Shortcake until she wasn’t anymore.

If this was you, would you:
(a) pay for your stuff and get home as quickly as possible so that your child could finish naptime in the comfort of her own bed
(b) tell the cashier to suspend the order and head back to the toy aisle for some undercover Christmas shopping, letting your child nap as you go

Me? Well I saw this as a golden opportunity. A chance to multi-task. A way to get Christmas shopping done that didn’t involve lining up spare relatives for babysitting.

I kept shopping. Does that make me an efficient mom or a selfish one?

Depending upon how you answered, this next confession might really sway your opinion of me. Because to be honest, cheating on naptime is more of a routine for me than an anomaly. I have never made it a special point to be home for my children’s naptimes. Our family is way too short on time to block out the hours between 12 and 2.

© We Are Both Right

But that’s never stopped my kids from fitting in a daytime nap. Both of them are adept at sleeping on the go. In the car. At the movies. In a chair at a restaurant. On Daddy’s shoulders while the tuba section of a band marches by.

Sometimes I feel bad if they’re in a particularly odd position or if there’s lots of noise around. Otherwise, I make them as comfortable as possible, figuring that if they were able to fall asleep, it can’t be that bad.

Because we’ve been so lenient on the whole subject of when to nap and where, and it hasn’t damaged our children (in any apparent way), I do find myself snickering when other parents make a big deal out of cancelling plans because their child’s naptime came sooner than expected. Or that they have to leave a party because the only place their overtired child will sleep is in their own crib.

Maybe I’m smug because I think, that in some small way, my liberal approach to naptime and keeping kids on a schedule in general will ultimately make my children more flexible. Maybe they’ll have jobs which regularly take them across time zones. And maybe they’ll even thank me for it.

It’s a good thing Amanda and I are on the same page about naptime, otherwise we’d never see each other.

Penciling in Baby’s Afternoon Nap

I have always been in awe of the ability of my babies and toddlers to fall asleep anywhere and under any circumstance. The car. The highchair. The stroller. The supermarket cart. The movie theatre. At a wedding, complete with a throng of people, a DJ and booming speakers. It’s like once their energy gauge hits empty, the body shuts down for a little while, taking some time to refresh.

If could snooze the way they could, I would be a very well-rested mom.

While my older two are long past the nap stage, we are right in the throws of it with my 19-month old. (And I hope to stay in the throws of it for years to come.) Every day, at 12:30 p.m., after he’s eaten his lunch, he takes a two-hour nap. Except when he has woken up in the middle of the night for three hours and ends up falling asleep at 10:15 a.m. and naps until 3. Or when he dozes off for 20 minutes while watching Elmo’s world at 9:45 a.m. for no apparent reason. Or maybe we are quite involved with our block-building and I don’t get to put him up until 1:15 p.m. And sometimes I have to go to the store, and he’ll fall asleep in the car at 11:30 a.m., wake up when we get home, and then go back to sleep again at 3 p.m.

But still, every day at 12:30 p.m., after he’s eaten his lunch, S. takes a two-hour nap.

Not really.

The fact of the matter is, while I would love it if he took a nap every day at 12:30 p.m., and on the majority of the days he does, things happens. We have shopping to do and people to see and life to live. And while I do believe that routines are important in a toddler’s life, I also think that schedules need to be flexible.

© cema/stock.xchng

© cema/stock.xchng

I have three kids and husband and a host of responsibilities. It isn’t fair to everyone and everything else to make the world stop so S. can get his daily respite at the appointed time. Is his nap important? You better believe it (for him and me). And if we are home, he’ll take one. If we aren’t he still will — wherever we are. But I’m not going to come home so he can snooze in his crib.

There are days where he will miss his nap altogether — because of our schedule (maybe we are on vacation or out running errands) or because he simply isn’t tired. I’ll put him in his crib and two hours later, there he’ll be, happily playing with his toys as I left him.

Now I’m not going to name names or anything, but I know quite a few people who disagree with me. And that’s fine. But I feel bad for them. Because 1 o’clock rolls around and they need to go home because the 2-year-old has to take his nap. Or suddenly it’s 7 and the fun has to end because it’s bedtime. And truly, these kids need to stop whatever it is they are doing because they get are getting cranky. I can’t blame them for any bad behavior — every day, their whole lives, they’ve taken a nap at 1 p.m.  There is no flexibility. No room for a non-nap day.

Life is unexpected. I think the key for us is this — when baby needs to nap, he will. Wherever.

Is your child on a rigid nap schedule?

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Once again, Suzanne and I find ourselves on the same side of this issue. In fact, I’m a little bit in awe of her ability to make extraordinary use of her children’s naptimes.

Who Else to Celebrate But an Infant on Christmas?

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The Christmas holiday is all about celebrating the birth of a very special baby — one who was brought gifts from afar. To consider celebrating my baby’s first Christmas without gifts to give would seem strange. Very strange.

So when the subject came up among a group of moms early in the year, I was surprised to hear a consensus among them that it wasn’t necessary to buy Christmas gifts for infants. Or at least new ones. Wrapping up something that already belonged to baby — just to get the effect of opening a present — was something they had done and planned to do again.

I tossed that one around in my mind a few times. But I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Of course the baby has no idea what is going on. But at the same time, who can resist finding something special to mark the day with? Babies don’t know the half of what’s going on around them any other day of the year, but yet we still painstakingly decorate their nurseries, buy cute clothes and sing them songs. We take photos and log milestones. Someday it will mean something to them.

And with toys or books to be found for a few dollars each, there’s really nothing to gain by trying to cut corners — especially on Christmas of all days. Even in the worst of times.

Our son’s first Christmas happened to coincide with my husband suffering a debilitating accident, losing his job, and deciding to put our house on the market after we had spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy gutting and renovating it. Still, even with all that stress and a super tight budget, there was no way we were going to let the first time we celebrated our most favorite holiday with our son go unmarked. And it was the same way when my daughter was born — minus the other drama.

When we set out to buy each of our children their first Christmas gifts, we knew that whatever it was wouldn’t make a dramatic impact on baby then and there. Not like a four-year-old spotting a dollhouse or a new bike under the tree, and running down the hallway in excitement.

Even so, we wanted to mark the occasion with something special. We finally decided to choose something that was more of a keepsake, so each of them could enjoy and remember it in later years as a first Christmas present from Mommy and Daddy.

For L. it was a Lionel train that now chugs around our display every year. He unwraps it from its yellow box and loves to remind us that we gave it to him when he was a baby.

Meanwhile, S. wears her little sapphire earrings that Daddy bought especially for her first Christmas and she doesn’t miss a beat in explaining exactly who gave them to her when asked. (Mommy had also given her a few special toys that she still plays with, but clearly Daddy is the hero here.)

I guess what I am trying to say is that it really does matter — at least to me. Buying Christmas gifts for my babies is just one of the many privileges I have as a parent. And I’m never missing that opportunity for anything.

I’ve seen the presents piled under Amanda’s tree, so I know she can’t resist buying Christmas gifts for her little ones either. And so Where We Meet Week continues…

What’s Baby’s First Christmas Without Presents?

I can’t think of any greater cause for celebration than welcoming a new baby to the family. And (in our house anyway) there is no bigger holiday every year than Christmas. Put the two together and what do you get?

Quite a lot of everything. Especially presents.

We’ve celebrated three baby’s first Christmases now, and each one was so incredibly special. Especially because all my infants were at very different stages of their development when December rolled around. C. was just three months old, A. two weeks shy of her first birthday and S. a nearly-crawling 7-month-old. And in their own ways and levels, they enjoyed season, I’m sure of it.

© We Are Both Right

© We Are Both Right

Even though my babies might not have understood what happened during their first holiday season, everyone around them was just so excited. By the holiday itself, yes, but also by experiencing it with someone who never has before. And while the littlest family members may have found it odd that we had a tree in the living room and we played with crinkly, colorful paper and sometimes wore funny-looking hats, they always seemed to enjoy our whirlwind of activity.

And yes, in their own way, the gifts.

It never occurred to me to not give my babies gifts for Christmas. I guess on some level I knew that they would be none the wiser if Santa skipped their house for the first year, but certainly I would know. And in the case of the latest (and final) baby’s first Christmas, which was celebrated in our house last year, the siblings would know. If Santa had not given S. anything at all or given him things that he already owned, you better believe that his big brother and big sister would have noticed. And been quite vocal about it.

What’s celebrating Christmas with kids without presents? And shopping for baby toys is one of my most favorite activities ever. So what if the tiny recipient would rather play with the box (or look at the box in the case of newborn C.)? I’m not saying you have to clear out the toy store, but two or three choice offerings (or in my case, ahem, nine or ten) is just fine.

Did you buy your little one gifts for baby’s first Christmas?

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You know who else can’t imagine baby’s first Christmas without gifts for her family’s newest member? Suzanne. Read her take here.

On the Road Again…No Entertainment Necessary

© Chrysler

© Chrysler

When my husband T. and I decided to buy a minivan nearly two years ago, a few weeks before our youngest child was born, my two older kids were unbelievably excited. Like jumping up and down, cheering, high-fiving, getting along with their sibling, overjoyed.

I was happy about the purchase too, but I couldn’t figure out where their enthusiasm was stemming from. We were buying a minivan, not an ice cream truck (how cool would that have been?), a fact I reviewed with them more than once. I never knew kids could be so invested in a car.

Anyway, the big day arrived and off the four of us went (nine months pregnant, I waddled) to the car lot where we picked up our newest vehicle. We settled into our seats and T. and I expectantly turned to our sweet children, waiting for their celebrating to really begin now that they were actually sitting in our new wheels.

Heh.

They were sitting in silence. Not pleased.

Apparently, when our kids heard us say “minivan,” what they actually heard us say was “minivan entertainment system with built-in DVD player, headrest speakers and dual swivel LCD screens.”

Trust me, we said minivan. I don’t think I’ve ever said “dual swivel LCD screens” until just now (and technically, I typed it).

Not to go all “back in my day we walked six feet in the snow uphill both ways and we liked it” on you, but unless we are driving more than two hours (and mind you, that’s two hours after we spend an additional two hours in the car getting past the bridges and tunnels that connect the region where we live to the rest of the country) then my kids can read, or play video games or gasp! talk to their parents. (And honestly, we have to be in the car for at least an hour — the car ride to grandma and grandpa’s house before I allow them to break out their DSs.)

I just don’t see the need for some form of entertainment when we are driving, especially when we aren’t going very far. (And trust me, with the way I get lost,  I’m entertainment enough. Plus, I sing along to the radio and of course I’m awesome.) I want my kids to see where  they live. To be aware of what’s going on. To see how their community changes and stays the same, even in the short time they’ve been on the planet.

And when we are on vacation, I want them to see where and how other people live. We talk about the difference in locations, how where we are compares to our town and the major metropolis closest to us. We look at the homes that people live in, the stores they shop at and the schools they go to.

Besides, what’s a road trip without a few heated rounds of License Plate Bingo and I Spy?

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As it turns out, when we go on long car rides with Suzanne and her family, our kids are all miserable together. Where We Meet Week continues, as Suzanne explains why if Jack Kerouac didn’t need a portable DVD player, than neither do her children.

Look Out the Window. The World is Your TV.

© We Are Both Right

John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac got by without the portable DVD player. And so can my kids (and I).    

When another mom asked Amanda and me recently where we stood on the subject of portable DVD players on car rides with kids, we each responded with a number. It represented the minimum number of hours our kids would have to spend in a car before being eligible to watch TV during a trip.    

Eight was my answer.    

My husband and I have done our fair share of road trips with the kids and have been on both sides of that number.  

Twenty-three hours in the car with our son when he was three was the longest.  I think we watched Wiggle Bay twice and maybe a snippet of Finding Nemo on my husband’s laptop, but otherwise he was busy looking out the window and fishing with the magnetic pole I surprised him with as we were leaving the house in the wee hours of the morning.  Filling the gaps were letter searching games, 20 Questions, and quizzing Daddy on how many dinosaurs he could name in thirty seconds.   A break (or three) at rest stops carefully selected for the presence of a Dairy Queen and we were good.     

In the three years since my daughter was born, our car trips haven’t been as long.  A few times a year we take a weekend trip about four hours from home.  It’s punctuated with a ferry ride at either end, but the same rules apply.  No portable DVD players.  And we certainly don’t own a car equipped with headrest monitors — not that my son hasn’t sat in a dreamy state in a fully loaded minivan on the floor of a car showroom on more than one occasion.    

Between this and my ban on handheld video games, you might think I’m willing to sacrifice my sanity before I give in to an electronic babysitter. But that’s not quite the case. 

I am at the ready with my credit card when it’s time to swipe the TV monitors on board an airplane.  In fact, my husband insists we only fly airlines that offer in-flight satellite TV.   Amanda knows what I’m talking about.   When our families took a four-hour flight together two summers ago, we couldn’t reach into the row in front of us fast enough to activate the TVs where the three older ones were sitting together.  Nobody cared who was paying for it.  We just ran those cards through as quickly as possible.   And that’s because we didn’t have the option of singing Kumbayah and searching for license plates while flying through the clouds and worrying about the tolerance level of our fellow passengers.    

But as soon as we landed, and set out for the driving part of our trip, those kids were busy with everything but portable devices (well OK, maybe they had a little fun with the walkie-talkies — when the could pry them away from their CB-calling fathers).  As we spent hours driving through a national park, they searched for wildlife that they would never see in our neck of the woods.  We chugged up to elevations where snow was still piled high in July.  There were cabins to spot and streams to follow along the road.  And then there was always an hour or so of cartoons to satiate them when we returned to the condo at night.  

It’s not that I’m trying to prove a point that my kids don’t need TV.  We certainly don’t live a TV-free life. 

It’s just that when we are somewhere new and there are things to soak in and experience, that’s what I want them to be doing. My ulterior motive — and the reason I’m priming them this way — is that we will soon take a road trip that will be the grand-daddy of them all. 

My husband and I did a coast to-coast-and-back-again road trip over three weeks before the kids were born.  In a few more years (when our youngest is in first grade and the oldest is in sixth) we’ll set out to prove that with good old-fashioned creativity, a family road trip of any length can be managed without bringing along the TV. 

 

Amanda and I agree where it really matters, like how to keep SpongeBob out of our cars.  See what she (unconsciously) promised her kids and didn’t deliver.