why I’m considering cutting the cable

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on what is crashingly obvious to anyone who isn’t a cable television executive: as iPads, Netflix, Apple TV, and Google TV become more popular, their ease of use makes the clunky cable remote glaringly outdated in its lack of user friendliness. Watching “Thomas and Friends” requires three steps using Netflix on the iPad; watching it on Comcast requires five steps– plus navigating ten menus if you don’t know what channel it’s on. The WSJ points out that for an industry losing market share, this is bad business: 

technology improvements are important for an industry that suffers from a poor reputation among consumers, who have long bemoaned rising cable prices and poor customer service.

However, when it comes to my own TV remote, I have a bigger bone to pick with Time Warner than its lack of smooth interface. Whenever I do a search for some of our household’s favorite shows, I am presented with a list of alphabetical titles that I would prefer not be seen by my children. To wit: if I want to tape an episode of “The Backyardigans,” I first have to scroll past


“Super Why” calls up


and if I want to watch “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” admittedly itself not the family-friendliest of programming, I have to first bypass


I have a few problems with this. One is these films’ tendency to make up compound words for no reason: “bigbouncyboobs” is as ungrammatical as it is distasteful. The other is that I have three kids, one of whom can READ. 

So block these titles, you say? Well, there’s my real problem. I HAVE. These are not shows you can actually watch in my household. But their titles still show up in a list of available shows. And according to Time Warner, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that. While the customer service representative I spoke to was very understanding of my concern, she informed me that while channels could be blocked, there was no way to remove the titles from the show list. 

I think that answer is unacceptable. And I’m seriously considering moving to a Netflix-based TV experience, for less than $10 a month, which has everything my kids would want to watch, and my husband and me too, with two glaring exceptions:

morning news shows (me)
evening ball games (him)

I’m curious: have any of you cut the cable cord? Are you happy with your decision? 

And should I take this Time Warner battle to the streets? 

how to potty train: wait until they’re way past ready

Stop the presses- my daughter is potty-trained, and I forgot to even tell you, it happened so quickly. Once I totally gave up on it, that is. 

It was three months ago that I reported on my total lack of progress on that front, seventeen weeks or so in, despite charts and DVDs and M&Ms and promises of a new Barbie, and anything else I could think of. Maggie is one stubborn kid. I got all kinds of advice from you all: don’t make such a big deal, make a big deal, buy pretty underwear, use this online method that is guaranteed to work… and after trying all of those methods for about five minutes each, I decided to wait. Walk away. If there’s anything I’ve learned after three kids, it’s this: try to get them to do something before they’re ready (read: at an acceptable age, developmentally), and you’ll battle for months. Wait until they’re way past ready to do something (read: at least a year older than is socially acceptable), and it will take five minutes.

So wait I did. I told myself that the right trigger would appear, and when it did, it would make potty training effortless. Maggie was closing in on three years old- it wasn’t a matter of her being able to do it, it was just a matter of her giving a poop. If you see what I’m saying.

Back when Dr. Phil was a show you could admit to watching, which might have been all the way back when he was on Oprah,  I remember the good doctor talking about “currency,” and how it was a tool for successful parenting. Here’s how he explained it:

You have to determine your child’s currency. Currency is anything that when presented during or immediately after a target behavior will increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring again. 

Every child’s currency is different, Dr. Phil said, and you just have to figure out what your kid’s currency is. Charts worked for Seamus. M&Ms worked for Connor. Maggie was proving far more difficult– not even promises of a Little Mermaid Barbie could sway her. I decided to table all toilet talk until I could figure out what mattered.

It was a week or so later that I sang this song, absentmindedly, while moving the unused Pull Ups to the back of the linen closet. 

I’m a big kid!
Look what I can do!
I can wear big kid pants too!
And I can pull them off and on!
Mommy, wow!
I’m a big kid now!

If you were born before 1995, you know this song from the old Pull Ups commercials- and thanks to me, it will now be in your head for the rest of the day. But Maggie had never heard it. “What dat song Mommy?” Maggie asked, ears pricked up. “You sing dat again.”

I did, then told her that I could probably find the video on YouTube, and quickly did: 

It was only after Maggie had watched it a few times through that I realized: HERE WAS MY CURRENCY. When she asked to watch it a fifth time, I told her she had to make peeps or poops on the potty first, and my God, you have never seen such a cooperative bladder.

This video was all it took to potty train Maggie. Within three days, she was out of diapers entirely, with nary an accident to her name, and all it took was playing this video for her a hundred times.

If you’re potty training, try the YouTube. Maybe it’ll be your kid’s currency, too.

Barring that, you can tell your daughter she can’t go to ballet class with a diaper on because the ballerinas won’t let you wear one under your tutu. That also worked pretty well. 

What’s your kid’s currency?

"there is no more powerful antidote to the pressure to be perfect than a mom who can burp the alphabet."

Today, a guest post from Rachel Simmons, whose book The Curse of the Good GirlRaising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence is newly out in paperback. At my sons’ school recently, the principal was talking about the popularity of potty humor among boys my sons’ age. “Of course they’re going to do that, but it’s of paramount importance that you, as a parent, not participate,” she said, to many nodding heads. And I was sitting there thinking: Really? Cause my “toot” material (what we call passing gas) always kills at dinner time. And they also love it when I burp and then blame them. Am I not supposed to do that anymore?

Here’s a honest-to-goodness expert saying that a mom who can burp the alphabet is the very best kind– because that’s a mom who will teach her daughter it’s okay to be imperfect. Just the message I needed to hear today! 

Breaking the Curse of the Good Girl: 5 Ways Moms Can Help Girls Be Themselves
By Rachel Simmons

1. Get in touch with your inner Goof
Girls of all ages say they’re most in touch with their true selves when they’re being silly, crazy, loud, or goofy. By late elementary school, your daughter is likely to hear peers deem silliness “lame” or “immature;” these girls perceive that acting older will make them cooler. When girls shut down silliness, they restrain themselves physically. They begin disconnecting from who they are in order to try to be something they’re not. Step in to fill the void and keep silliness alive. Whether it’s singing in the car at the top of your lungs, dancing like no one’s watching in the kitchen, or making ridiculous faces and noises, just do it: let go of the “be perfect” rules and dork out together. There is no more powerful antidote to the pressure to be perfect than a Mom who can burp the alphabet.

2. Say no and speak up
Your daughter lives in a world that tells her Good Girls are nice 24/7, no exceptions. In a peer culture that avoids conflict, girls don’t get permission or learn skills to say no. These are crucial muscles you want your daughter to have: the ability not just to know what she’s feeling, but to act on it. Think about the last time your daughter heard you speak up and challenge something or someone. Show her how it’s done: assertively and with respect. Warning: expect embarrassment. I used to want to throw myself under a bus when my mom sent cold French fries back to a restaurant kitchen for re-heating. Fifteen years later, I sent them back myself — and thanked my Mom for the permission she gave me.

3. Get comfortable with your limits
Good Girls are expected to be flawless: not a hair out of place or math problem wrong. All that pressure can make a girl terrified of mistakes. The next time you screw up, gauge your reaction and consider the example it sets. Find your sense of humor if you can. Barring that, avoid labeling yourself in front of her (“I’m such an idiot”) or making sweeping predictive statements (“I’ll never get this right”). Point out the silver lining of your mistakes (there’s always at least one). Show her errors aren’t the end of the world. Bonus point: Take healthy risks with or in front of her. Anxious about that first spinning class? Worried about that next leap at work? Take it, and tell her about your nerves. Even if it doesn’t pan out, she is watching a mother who’s willing to fail. No one makes it big by playing it safe, and your example will give her permission to take the risks that yield the most exhilarating rewards.

4. Be a little selfish
The Perfect Mom culture is suffocating. It suggests truly good mothers put everyone’s needs before their own. But the rules of being a Perfect Mom are directly at odds with the example most women want to set for their daughters. Laurie’s 12 year old confronted her. “Mom,” she said, “Why don’t you go to that dance class you want to take? All you do is take care of us.” Laurie was horrified. “What kind of example was I setting? That my life is all about everyone else?” She made it a point to take the class — even if it meant not being there to drive every carpool shift or help with homework. Letting your children down isn’t easy, but the long-term, big picture message they get is: I’ve got a mother who takes care of herself and leads a balanced life. In other words, one of the best gifts you can give your daughter is to 
take something for yourself.

5. Share Your Feelings
Myth: Just because girls have lots of feelings means they’re really good at knowing and expressing them. Truth: Not only do girls often struggle to know what they’re feeling; many describe feelings as nuisances that make you look lame or weak, just like boys! Girls who communicate their feelings let others know what they need and are less likely to lose control over their behavior. What you can do: use emotion words in front of your daughter to model your comfort and build her own emotional vocabulary. Say how you’re feeling (remembering to leave out the stuff daughters shouldn’t hear, like “I am feeling really angry at your father”). Ask her how she’s feeling. Instead of asking, “How was your day?” try “How are you feeling?” If she says “Fine,” say, “Fine-happy? Fine-worried? Fine-excited?” Knowing and saying how you feel is a powerful channel to our true selves, not to mention successful relationships.

© 2010 Rachel Simmons

Could you go a week without yelling?

I have an essay in this month’s Redbook magazine on the week I spent attempting not to yell at my children. The Redbook website has it posted under the heading “How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids,” and I only wish this essay told you how to do that, because then I would read it and maybe learn something. 

I did not stop yelling at my kids for a week. I did, however, yell less, and I figured out a lot about when– and why– I yell.  (It’s not random; I have my triggers.)

I took this challenge about two months ago, and wrote then– as I was about to begin— that I was a yeller who, at least, felt bad about it. After taking this week-long challenge, and reflecting on what I’ve learned over several rewrites, I think I can say I’m a recovering yeller. Now my kids, on the other hand? The three of them tend to express their every thought at Dora-the-Explorer volume; and as one of my favorite humorists, James Lileks, has pointed out, Dora sounds like she was raised in a metal foundry.

Don’t your eardrums bleed a little just looking at her?

I don’t want to reproduce the article too much here, but these were a few of my takeaways:

–the more I multitask, the more I yell. (Do one thing at a time.)
–the earlier I am awoken, the more I yell. (Go to bed twenty minutes earlier, Mama.)
–the more I insist on adherence to very specific standards, the more I yell. (Quit while I’m ahead.)

How about you? Are you a yeller? Are you trying to cut back? Any tips?

when your baby turns three

Maggie is my youngest. Today is her third birthday. I find that hard to comprehend, and more than a little sad. I am thrilled to be done with diapers, done with nasty sippy cup innards and bottle liners and snapping a hundred snaps every time an outfit change is required. I am sorry to really not, under any normal use of the term, have a “baby” in my house any longer.

As luck would have it, I also had my yearly visit to my gynecologist today, and with it the usual questions about family planning. “Are you done having children?” he asked me, gently, and I responded, “Yes. I mean, probably. I mean, I think so. My husband thinks so. I mean, I do too. Most of the time. You know, if I could wait five years and then try for one more, maybe I would, but I can’t, so I think we’re done. Probably.”

I said the same thing last year, and I will probably say the same thing in October of 2011. I could have another. I probably won’t. Three feels right for us. That being said, if I ask you if I can hold your baby, and I swoon over her so completely you fear for my sanity, cut me some slack. I love babies, and it’s a good 25 years before I get a grandchild. Hmm. Now that I think of it that way, I may reassess.

At least three is still very, very little. Three is young enough for lots of cuddle time and holding hands and fitting together in the comfy chair. Three is the age to giggle at how cute they are, and then the next moment, be floored by their insight and maturity.

Three feels just right to me. Happy birthday Maggie.

Giveaway winner! Diane from Boston, you’re the winner of last week’s “What Do YOU Love?” giveaway. Your kids will receive their very own copy of Animal Mastermind Towers from Pressman Toys. That was fun, hope to do another giveaway soon…