Sunday, December 30, 2012

Not Bad for Digital Parent

Bad Mommy Alert:  My kids play video games and spend a lot of time on the computer and I am okay with that.  It is kind of my fault, too.  As babies, I sat their rockers in front of the television tuned in to the Food Network to calm them down when they were restless and I needed to free up my hands.  As toddlers, they had some of the first generation Leap Frog electronic readers and they were both each reading fluently by age three.  When they started using our old desktop computer, they practiced doing hard reboots because they got tired of calling me to fix it when the computer froze up on them.  The trend started early and I have not done much to stop it.  They have been through Nintendo DS's, a Wii, an XBox, iPods, desktops, laptops and now tablets.  My kids are not at all unique in this area.  Every family on our block has probably had the same history, but the way we view this development is possibly different.

When we get close to a gift-giving event like a birthday or Christmas, they ask for game store gift cards or iTunes downloads.  When we go to a restaurant, they want to ask the waitstaff if the place has good WiFi.  When we got one of the first generation DVR's a while back, it was my oldest son that was the first to figure out how to use it.  When I first received my tablet and programmed a pass code on it, my other son figured out how to unlock it because he thought I needed help setting it up.  Little did he know I locked the darn thing to keep him from messing with it.  Needless to say, that idea back fired and I had to come up with more creative ways to keep my kids from toying with my electronics.

None of this should be a surprise when you consider what I do for a living.  For years, I have been a campus  technology coordinator in a local school district and my husband was a computer engineer for as long as I can remember.  It is a no-brainer that some of the computer jargon and shop talk we did at home was bound to rub off on my boys.  There was once a time when they played with stuffed animals and plastic action figures, but those days are gone now that they are rapidly maturing.  Video games, through consoles and gaming sites, have taken the top spot as their most desired form of entertainment.  I have learned from numerous editorials and talk shows that this is supposedly a horrible thing, or at the very least I should be concerned enough to be concerned.  Too much video gaming is going to melt their brains and make the liquefied cells ooze from their ears and nose.  They will morph into mute zombies and begin grunting requests for food and water because they are too obsessed with meeting or beating a high score.  Oh, and at some point I should notice mushrooms growing under their arms because they will begin to ignore their personal hygiene in exchange for more precious minutes online.

This has not happened yet, but I assure you as the ever diligent hovering mom I will take action if any of the above scenarios begin to occur.  I will smack their hands away from the game controller or mouse and stick an old fashioned book in front of them.  Better yet, I will get their fingers counting with an abacus while recording repeating number facts on a school house chalkboard.  That's how I will know I am raising well rounded children.  Um, yeah right!  Who am I kidding?  When my kids go to their game room to play video games, I get blocks of uninterrupted peace to do whatever the heck I need to do, whether it is cooking or making a phone call or just reading a book.  They are being entertained by something they control when I need everyone out of my hair for a few minutes of quiet.  That's pretty bad, huh?  I tend to disagree.  I hear other picture perfect new age moms declaring how allowing your children too much time to play video games and surfing the web makes you a terrible mother and your ineffective parenting will eventually cause your children to develop into anti-social underdeveloped cavemen that will not know how to relate to other people and issues in the "real world".  This blanket assumption by the critics is that these pro-digital parents (I just made up that name) are detached, hands-off and using these gaming devices as babysitters.

There is indeed a balance to achieving an ideal digital playground environment (yeah, I just made that one up, too).  When they go to some of their favorite websites, they are actually reading and learning stuff that I fully admit to never having an awareness about when I was their age.  Just today, my oldest son researched an how-to video on his own about ways to keep his shoes looking clean and new with a mix of household items.  He is also learning sketch art techniques from an art site online.  Both of my sons are learning how to play guitar through a series of YouTube videos that explain it on a beginners' level.  They learned their multiplications tables through a math video game site that their teachers suggested.  Even when they are playing your run of the mill mundane video game, they are still using problem solving skills to achieve whatever cyber task is in front of them.  This is supposed to be a bad thing?

My knowledge came from books that were already ten years passed their date of relevance by the time they made it to my desk.  These days, my kids don't have to wait for new knowledge.  It is updated more times per day than we will ever be aware of thanks to the split second distribution efficiency of the world wide web.  Of course I don't let them online to navigate through the wild on their own. I fully monitor the sites they visit and the household laptops stay in a common place of the house where either myself or my husband know exactly what they are doing online at all times.  They are calm and engaged and their brains have shown no signs of melting at this time.  When it is time to unplug from the digital devices and return to Earth from gaming heaven, they have a slew of real live breathing human friends to run around and play with on a daily basis.  My hubby and I spend many evenings and weekends having old school family time with the boys to keep our bond strong.  The healthy balance between their online world and their real world is still very much in tact.

I say all this at a time when there is great sorrow in my own digital playground environment.  I am in danger of losing a very dear friend and her name is Samsung.  We have been nearly inseparable for the last two years, so you can understand my attachment.  She has kept me entertained on a daily basis by providing up-to-date information, the latest books and the occasional laugh when I wanted to catch up on episodes of my favorite sitcoms.  She has been an unfailing devoted friend that tucked easily into my purse when I was on the go.  However, I became worried when I noticed in the last few months that she was not processing things properly and her memory was slowly failing her.  She would freeze up and forget what page of a book she was sharing with me.  Then she started to forget my favorite songs and so on.  As I type this, she is currently unresponsive despite my best efforts to restore her to her previous self.

This development comes just days after I almost lost my other good friend, HP.  I am pleased to report that HP was out of commission only temporarily and is functioning properly today.  But right now, my thoughts are with dear sweet Samsung as she struggles to stay with us.  I am seeking professional help tomorrow and will remain positive in hopes that it is not too late.  I acknowledge that sharing sweet Samsung with my children (er, to play video games) may have been too taxing on her aging self.  There are only so many sessions of Angry Birds one can take.  In the event that Samsung does not survive, I will wait the obligatory mourning period before I try to replace her.  Please keep sending positive and healing thoughts our way for as long as you can...or at least until I pay off some holiday shopping bills and can afford a newer faster replacement for sweet Samsung.  Let's hope she pulls through, because mamma needs her toys too :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

...And We'll Have Fun Fun Fun

You know how people always make generic statements about wanting to do something fun?  Better yet, they ask at whatever event they find you and ask if you are having fun.  Fun is defined in different ways by anyone you ask.  Fun for my hubby might include watching a Two and a Half Men marathon in his old ratty fraternity shirt and underwear, with old school Al Green tunes playing on a loop in the background.  Fun for my boys might include stuffing their faces at a pizza buffet, then burping the alphabet and going a couple of days without having to shower.  My definition of fun varies from day to day, depending on my mood and stress level.  When stress is high, I look for quieter activities that give me some alone time, like going for a long slow run and reading a good book on my back patio.  On lighter days, I look to do anything that connects me to friends and loved ones, like a Tex-Mex dinner with dessert and margaritas with girlfriends.

Recently, my cousins and I had an all-girls weekend away at a beach condo, leaving kids and hubbies and responsibility behind for a mere 48 hours.  I was tired from a killer work week and the threat of a looming thunderstorm made me long for a quiet weekend indoors, clad in my favorite pajamas.  However, the weekend with my cousins had been planned for weeks and I did not want to pass up an opportunity to hang out with these ladies I saw too little of already.  I have a bad habit of getting lost in my own fog (work, household, etc.) and tend to shy away from anything that gets me off my schedule.  Anal?  Yeah, just a bit.  I come from a family of almost all women, so a family gathering of any sort turns into an automatic hen session and I admittedly don't always play well in those situations.  The weekend with my cousins turned into a lighthearted nostalgic visit with women that I grew up with like sisters.  We ate seafood and chocolate and drank wine, while watching back-to-back airings of the Sex In The City movies.  We stayed up late talking about absolutely nothing of importance, giggly and silly like we had no cares in the world.  It was fun.  Simple as  It made realize that I wanted (needed) more of it.  So why the hell was I resisting it?  What was holding me back?

I wanted to have some fun.  It was almost like I had just read a billboard on the side of the highway that said "Fun: Go Out and Have Some".  It weighed on me, made me want to schedule it on my Google calendar and then check it off my to-do list.  I don't know why having fun suddenly became such a priority.  Wait a minute.  Yes I do.  Fun was something this household had been unable to shamelessly pursue in the last year and a half.  So many more serious issues had been pushed to the forefront and our simplest desires had to be squashed because of us being in a perpetual state of survival.  We have slowly moved from under that dark cloud as 2012 came to a close.  Hubby is enjoying good health and has a new professional opportunity that is something he probably wouldn't have given a second glance if it had not fallen into his lap and demanded his attention.  The way his face lit up as he went over the details of his new project was infectious and made me want to harness that lightness in his spirit for later use.  As long as this venture continued to have that affect on him, I would continue to support it, no questions asked.  He was not seeing it as work, but instead as something fun.  He was inspired by it's possibilities and the joy it would bring him.  Who am I to argue with that?

I get two glorious weeks of winter vacation every year that allows me time to do all the Christmas shopping and holiday partying that I would ever want to do.  Believe it or not, I usually don't party much at all during this time.  The colder weather usually draws me indoors to either some TV time or to quiet hours reading cheesy romance novels from some of my favorite authors.  Many of the holiday party invites that find their way to us through email or snail mail get declined because I am too tired and lazy to make it out the door.  This year was different.  Whether it was a simple lunch with girlfriends, a book club gathering or a weekend away with my cousins, I wanted to do it.  No lame excuses of being too tired or too busy would suffice.  I wanted to get out and have some fun.  I wanted the same for my guys, too.  Hubby spent time with both friends and extended family in the last few weeks, making such a notable difference in him.  He spends so much time on a daily basis worrying about the "what-ifs" of his new reality that I forget what he was like when such heavy issues like health and medications did not burden him so much.  He needs some fun, too.

When I do sit down and think of my goals for the new year, the list will be much easier to pen than previous years' lists.  It is simple.  If it does not bring me or my guys joy, then it won't make it onto my list of priorities.  I want a new and more functional kitchen.  I want to run more Saturday morning 5K's.  I want to sit at Starbucks and sip coffee with my mom.  I want to read juicy novels on my back patio.  I want to stay surrounded by positive people I really like and dump the negative people that make me stray from my true self.  I want to go on weekend road trips and not worry about the laundry pile waiting on me when I return.  I want to have more mommy/daddy date nights in the middle of the work week.  I want to go to yoga class once a week and actually get better at it.  I want to (finally) finish some of my short story ideas, let others read them and get some honest feedback, good or bad.  Whew!  That list is long, but it all can be done.  The things that bring me joy are so simple and attainable, but for the life of me I cannot figure out why these things tend to get pushed to the back burner.  If I try harder to get out of my own head and just live for the fun of the moment, then maybe I will get more of these "tasks" accomplished.  It might be then when I finally grow into the woman I always thought I could be and might figure out what her purpose in this crazy world is after all.  She still has not yet emerged, but I have a feeling she will make her debut soon.

Monday, December 17, 2012


This update is to make you all aware that I have officially lost my mind.  My husband would argue that my good sense was gone a long time ago, but that is a debate for later.  By random chance, last month I read an article on Runner's World encouraging runners to engage in a month-long running streak from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  It is supposed help us casual suburban weekend warriors combat the weight gaining effects of holiday eating habits by staying active during a month when we traditionally take it easy and indulge in fattening comfort foods.  In order to participate, you simply have to make the commitment to run a minimum of one mile everyday during the streak.  Crazy, right?  I thought so, but still I was intrigued.  Something pulled me in, slowly making me think this would be something worth trying at least once.  One mile per day did not seem too taxing, and I was already in the thick of my fall/winter racing season.  It did not seem too far fetched to run one mile everyday for one month.

True to my cowardly nature, I did not plan to tell anyone about my streak so I would not have to face any judgement in case I failed or decided to quit before that mission was accomplished.  Seems like I am always planning ways to give myself an "out" in case Plan A falls through.  Thanksgiving Day came and went, as did the official start of the Runner's World holiday streak and I did not make it out for a run.  Thankful that I had kept my big mouth closed, I quietly chose another start date that would launch my own personal running streak.  This start date would coincide with a countdown of sorts, spiraling to a date more significant to 40th birthday.  This date is in January, meaning I would have to start my streak no later than December 1st.  Since it was my 40th, the streak would need to go longer than 30 days in order to have a better ring to it.  So it was decided.  I would have 40 days of consecutive running to celebrate my 40th birthday.

I have harped so much about my birthday that you would assume I was a showy person where this annual event is concerned, but that would be inaccurate.  Normally I celebrate very quietly by running the Chevron Houston Marathon or Half-Marathon (it falls on my birthday weekend every year) and then pigging out on red velvet cake and pizza with my guys.  It is our little tradition and anything that deviates from that would feel wrong.  However, something about being 40 feels different .  I wanted to welcome this new decade with a bigger bang than usual.  Why not do something really out of the norm just to prove I am the badass that I always claim to be (at least in my head).

As I write this, I am about half way through my 40-day streak.  Yes I am still crazy, but there are no running related injuries to report.  The biggest obstacle has been squeezing in a run before the sun sets each evening.  This means I have to make sure I leave work early enough to make it home before the darkness falls around 5:30pm.  On days that I have some energy, the runs average around 3 miles.  On other days when work has me drained, I stick with my one mile minimum.  On those one-miler days, I drag my mini-running partner (my oldest son) along to keep me company.  He is always the best running companion because he couldn't care less that mom had a rough day.  He just wants to get out of the house and yak about all the adventures of a day in his life as a third grader.  It is always a welcome distraction and helps me get over my drama of the moment quickly.

If all goes as planned, my 40 days will conclude on January 9th.  This will allow me to have a couple of days rest in time for the Houston Half-marathon on January 13th.  Since I am doing that event on behalf of the Todd Krampitz Foundation (a Run For a Reason charity), I want to try to have a decent race performance since I have blabbed to enough people that I am doing it.  If you want to help, there are two ways to do so.  You can go to my fundraiser page to make a small donation that will benefit the foundation's efforts to spread organ donor awareness.  The second is to keep posting positive messages to me here or on my Facebook page between now and January 9th to encourage me to keep up the streak.  This is my small way of giving thanks to God for a healthy body and mind, allowing me the grace to do the things I love.  It was just a short time ago when ill health threatened to take that away from my family, so I count this blessing with a grateful heart.  Thanks in advance for your support!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Duality of the Black Runner Girl

The divas and I participated in the RunGirl Half-Marathon this weekend and the weather was unseasonably warm, even for a Houston December morning.  Temperatures started out in the low 70s and rose into 80s by the time I crossed the finish line.  Speaking of which, it took a rather long time for me to cross that finish line.  By the time I did finally finish, I was badly dehydrated and defeated.  All the long runs and preparation leading up to this race were fairly good.  I actually felt rested and strong on race morning, toeing the start line with a tiny bit of cockiness that is not the norm for me.  However, the humidity left me wiped out and I pretty much gave up the fight somewhere around mile 9.  It was a run/walk/shuffle blur from that point on to the finish line.  Hey, at least I finished and claimed another medal, right?

As bad as this race was for me, my less than stellar performance was not what was at the forefront of my mind that morning.  The RunGirl half is a women's only race nestled in the wooded beauty of a park not far from my house.  Most of the faces in that crowd of 1000 runners are familiar to me from my running group, the local triathlon club, neighbors and random faces from the general area.  This race is one of my favorites because it always feels like I am running among friends.  It is very comforting to endure those tough challenges with friends.  The problem is that most of those friends do not look like me.  I am black, African American, a woman of color or whatever other politically correct title you choose to describe my ethnic make up.  My running friends are every race under the sun, but only an extreme few are black.  This is my concern and has been for a long time.

After all these years and numerous races, I still find myself searching the crowds for other brown faces in hopes that the numbers would have increased with each passing event.  The race this weekend was no different than previous ones.  In a crowd of nearly 1000 fit and fierce runner girls, I was able to count a little over 30 or so black women.  Of course there were probably more than that, but the fact that I had to go several minutes on the course before running into another African American female was a bit disheartening.  When I do run up next to one of these ladies on the course, I feel the strangest urge to say hi or make contact in some form to let them know I am here too.  I make the same assumption that they are searching the crowd of faces in search of me as well.  As corny as that may seem, it makes perfect sense when I and the other black women make eye contact at the local events in some silent affirmation that we are right where we belong and we are not alone.  

I am actually a member of Black Girls Run!, a nationally recognized running group created to encourage women of color to network and increase our numbers in the running community.  Sadly, the group meets at running venues that are more than 20 miles from my house, so I have never made the effort to meet up and run with them in person although I am up to date with their events and promotions.  My plan is to change that really soon.  I want to network with this group and find out if their experiences resemble my own.  Do they sometimes feel the duality of being a black runner?  Do they feel a longing to see more black women on the race courses, all while bonding and building relationships with other non-black runner friends?  Do they too feel a sense of responsibility to spread the good news about running's virtues to their black non-running sisters?  My husband is an avid cyclist who has numerous black male and female cycling partners he can point to within his circle of friends, so it baffles me why our women continue to shy away the sport of distance running in such large numbers.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not lacking for companionship at all.  My current running buddies are the truest examples of what loyal friends should be.  They have stood by me through the good, the bad and the really bad.  If it were not for our common running hobby, it is unlikely that we would have ever crossed paths at all.  This is part of the reason these friendships are so precious to me because I recognize how rare these deep connections are, no matter the race or ethnic backgrounds of the individuals involved.  I also have equally close relationships with my black girlfriends that go all the way back to my childhood roots growing up in a predominantly African American part of town.  Of all my black girlfriends from the old neighborhood, college and my adult years, I can only count a mere 4 or 5 that run on regular basis.  Yes, I have encouraged them to give running a try.  Yes, I have shared my endless running stories of challenge and triumph in hopes that it would lure them into this sport I love.  So far, it has not worked and I am not sure why.  The area of town where I live is fairly mixed ethnically, but the running population is not.  It is doubtful that my white running buddies have ever noticed this lack of diversity but it continues to scream at me, daring me to try to change it.  I  do see my black sisters in huge numbers at the gyms and at various local sporting events, but the black woman running continues to be an enigma.

By now you already know I started a running club at the high school where I work.  My Go-FAR run club girls are Hispanic and African American and we still get strange looks from the neighborhood folks when we take off on our weekly runs.  It is as if they have never seen black and brown young women taking their fitness seriously, and maybe that is true on some levels.  I am deliberately trying to plant a seed with these young girls so the "lone black female" phenomenon I have experienced in my running days may be a thing of the past by the time these girls introduce running to their daughters.  I know without a doubt that I am passing on some good habits to my run club girls, but I still want more.  I need to make an effort to encourage their mothers and grandmothers to get involved as well.  Heck, I am already older than most of their mothers and probably not much younger than their grandmothers (gasp!).  I started running in my adult years, so why can't they?  What if I started my own chapter of Black Girls Run! on my side of town?  What if the number of black women running increased dramatically over the next generation?  Will I pat myself on the back for having made a small positive impact on the running community or will I shake my head at how long it took me to realize I had that kind of influence?