Screen-Free Week 2014: The Successful Failure

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Kids & Technology, The World We Parent In | 3 comments

(Image courtesy hugovk via

(Image courtesy hugovk via

We did it. As promised, we visited upon the children a week without screens.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We had good intentions. Earlier in the summer, we had warned the kids that a screen-free week was coming. We laid out rules and a clear set of exceptions: communications via text or emails with friends would be okay (because “Texting is the New Phone Call”), as would anything related to work for the adults, looking up answers to questions we parents deemed educational or informational in nature (otherwise known as “Asking Dr. Google”), and other necessities of daily life in the twenty-first century. But when it came to entertainment, there would be no television, no computer, no iPod, no tablets. (We don’t have an Xbox or anything of that nature.)

This lasted approximately one half of one day.

The first slip occurred on Sunday afternoon, when the kids asked if they could watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island. We’ve been watching the entire series together over the past year, and the kids are enchanted by this hokey, dated band of misfits who can build anything, communicate with anyone, but can’t find a way off the freaking island. Sometimes the kids laugh so hard they practically fall off the couch. So they asked if they could watch an episode, and I said yes. Oops.

After I realized my mistake, I told myself it was family viewing, so that made it okay. I told myself the same thing when nine-year-old “Emmie” begged to watch So You Think You Can Dance, which we’d just started recording for her the week before. If we all watch it together, that’s family time, right? But that’s it, kids. That’s IT.

Then…twelve-year-old “Jack” hurt his back, enough that he asked me to take him to the doctor–a first-time event. So of course, when a super-active, sports-loving adolescent finds himself restricted to a couch, icing and heating his back for the better part of a couple of days, what are you going to do? You’re not going to read him works of Shakespeare. Trust me, he’s not interested. You’re going to hand him the remote control. There’s no other choice.

So our week wasn’t screen-free after all. But even with these major stumbles, we did achieve a week of much-reduced screen time. The small screens were barely in evidence all week, and the television was on much less than usual. And this is where things get interesting.

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Summer Reading for Kids, Mid-Summer Edition

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in Tips, Recommendations & Warnings | 2 comments

reading is fundamental

August starts this week. August! Just when it feels like summer has only begun, it’s time to squeeze in those last days of digging bare toes into the sand, huddling with ever-taller kids around a fire making s’mores, or, for the kids, stretching out in a hammock or lawn chair reading books assigned by no one.

But finding great books for kids can present a challenge, whether your kid is a voracious reader who’s already plowed through the local library’s summer list, or a reluctant or very selective reader who needs something special to grab her attention. So Uncharted Parent is here to help.

I asked a colleague of mine, children’s literature expert at Gibson’s Bookstore Isabel Berg, for some kids’ book recommendations to pass on to you. What follows is a fantastic selection of older youth fiction and younger young adult titles that should work in general for kids who are about nine to fourteen years old. Consider yourself well supplied for that final road trip or beach vacation of summer.

Happy reading!

Isabel’s Summer 2014 older Youth Fiction/younger Young Adult recommendations

 Realistic Fiction

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, by Dana Alison Levy – Move over Penderwicks, here come the Fletchers! Chronicling life’s daily joys and tribulations over the course of a school year and featuring two dads, four adopted multi-racial boys and various pets, this is realistic fiction at its finest.

Dreamer Wisher Liar, by Charise Mericle Harper – A funny & poignant novel about one girl’s magical and transformative summer.

Counting By 7’s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan (now in paperback) – For fans of Wonder, an extremely moving story of family lost and found. Both a Great Stone Face and an Isinglass 2014-2015 nominee.

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The Summer of “Figure It Out Yourself”

Posted by on Jul 24, 2014 in Domesticity, Growing Up, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 2 comments


Last summer, my kids were my top priority. I’d really begun to see the people they were becoming and how fast they were getting there. I made a point of arranging my schedule so that we could go to beaches, chase an ice cream trail, try canoeing, play with our new kittens, engage in meaningful talks when my son didn’t realize that’s what we were doing, read books together, hunt for Waldo in stores around town and more. For two months, I was able to live in a way that placed them at the center of my life if not daily, then certainly many days each week. They–we–all lived a summer we’ll always remember.

This summer is not like that.

If you’ve been reading along, you know that things are a little different in my house right now. Aside from all of the ordinary obligations of life, I’m still administering my mother’s estate and seeing to my father’s needs. (In terms of time commitment, executing an estate can be like having another job. Who knew?) I’m also dealing with some health issues of my own that have decided now is the perfect time to demand extra attention. So while I am of course not ignoring my children, they do not occupy the singular place in my list of priorities that they did last summer.

To clarify: this doesn’t mean that I throw them into the woods behind the house each morning with a sandwich and a smile and tell them to be back by dusk. Nor do I simply turn on the TV, hand them their iPods and throw potato chips at the couch every time I pass so that they can feed between levels or iMessages or whatever it is they’re doing. They have a couple of camps they’re attending here and there, “Jack” is playing the occasional baseball and soccer games, and there will be a family trip or two. They’re reading; we’re talking.

But for kids who are accustomed to lots of scheduled activities during the school year (perhaps the subject of another post?) and lots of parent-driven fun during the summer, they find themselves left to their own devices–and responsibilities–more often than is their norm. I’m hearing “I’m bored,” more than I ever have. And I think that’s great.

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Soccer & Concussions: It’s Time for FIFA to Set an Example

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Health & Sleep, The World We Parent In | 2 comments

It’s time for professional soccer to change its approach to head injuries, both for the health of its players and, if that’s somehow not sufficient motivation, then for all of the kids, coaches and parents who look to professional soccer for its role models.

Soccer is big in my house. This past month was all about the World Cup for us. We watched “the beautiful game” nearly every day, we bought jerseys, we rearranged our schedules for the U.S., quarter, semi and final matches. I, the former official non-sports fan, even scolded my kids for talking so loudly I couldn’t hear the commentary during Sunday’s final. (I’m not proud of this, but it’s true.) The World Cup is soccer played at its highest level, and this month gave us much to admire: the footwork, the drive, the athleticism, the internationalism.

But the tournament’s enormous international audience saw a dark side of soccer, too: the willfully blind and dangerous disregard by FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, for head injuries sustained by its players during play.

Anyone who was watching can now recite the three most egregious examples of inappropriately treated head injuries during the tournament. Álvaro Pereira of Uruguay, knocked unconscious during an early-round match against England, who then returned to the field to play the rest of the game. Javier Mascherano of Argentina, whose head collided with that of a Dutch player in a semi-final, staggered, was caught by another player as he fell to the ground, then returned to play after only two minutes of medical evaluation. And Christoph Kramer of Germany, who received a vicious if inadvertent blow to the side of the head in the final against Argentina, fell to the ground but then played fifteen additional minutes before he was finally subbed off, supported on both sides so he could walk, with little to no focus in his eyes.

It didn’t require a doctor to see that each of these men needed a proper evaluation for a concussion before being allowed to continue to play. None of them received one. And these are just the most glaring examples from the tournament.

The current structure of FIFA’s rules leaves the call as to whether a player can remain on or return to the field up to the player and his team.

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Family Time, Even If It Kills Us

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Parenting on a Daily Basis | 2 comments

Agree To Disagree

I love summer. The pace of life changes, especially if you have kids. Part of the reason for that is the fact that school is out, of course, but things are different also because the weather is warm, beaches, rivers and mountains are calling, and there’s all that ice cream to be eaten. Summer is a time to change priorities, to steal a little time from work and spend it with friends and family. Engage in favorite activities together and explore new ones. Bond with your kids in the warm temperatures. Feel the love.

Or pull out your hair until school starts as you try to get your kids to agree on what the meaning of “fun” is.

I have two children. He is older, she is younger. He is an athlete who needs daily physical activity, she dances but generally prefers quiet, stationary entertainment. His sense of humor reaches beyond his twelve years; hers is still catching up to her nine (though her understanding of the subtleties of certain kinds of human behavior sometimes surpasses his). He likes his movies with a high level of conflict and drama; she’s easily scared by much of the content in a lot of PG movies. He watches sports on TV almost exclusively; she finds sports dull as donkeys and prefers to stare at as many Disney Channel shows each day as she can get away with.

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Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Growing Up, Parents are People, Too | 8 comments

Four Seasons

I haven’t been away from my blog this long since I started it eight (eight!) years ago.

So much has changed since my last post. An entire season has come and gone. Flowers more delicate than the pioneering daffodils and crocuses have bloomed. Green is everywhere, hiding ticks I’ve plucked out of both of my kids already. A crop of super-sized mosquitoes arrived early and promises to stay until first frost. (Mourn the loss of much of New England’s bat population.) And the surest sign of summer here, road construction, is omnipresent.

It’s also that time of year when parents measure time, and I’m no exception. At a recent bat mitzvah, a kid I’ve known since his toddler days was persuaded to belt out a rendition of “Let It Go,” karaoke-style, and the first cracks of a changing voice were unmistakeable. My own son has outgrown pants and shoes purchased for him just a few months ago. Youth baseball season has come and gone; my daughter’s annual dance recital is behind us.

When snow still was a daily possibility, I had two parents. Now, I have only one. My relationship with my mother was never easy–a parent’s lifelong mental illness creates unceasing, unpredictable bends and twists in relationships–but death throws down a steel barrier, an absolute “stop” sign in the road of even limited possibilities of where a relationship might someday go.

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Something to Read Until I Get Back

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in The World We Parent In | 1 comment

I’m going to be away for a few weeks due to a death in the family. Until I get back, here’s a column I wrote last week for the Concord Monitor about Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chávez’s campaign to “Ban Bossy.”

‘Ban Bossy’ campaign misses the mark

For the Monitor
Thursday, March 27, 2014
(Published in print: Friday, March 28, 2014)

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, and Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of America, want to “Ban Bossy.” They say the word “bossy” is most often aimed at girls and women who exhibit assertive behavior, and this accusation discourages girls from ultimately becoming leaders because they feel compelled to keep quiet in order to be liked.

I want to support Sandberg and Chavez’s campaign. I really do. I understand that language matters and that words have the power to hurt, to hold back and to oppress. I applaud the motivation behind the “Ban Bossy” campaign; how could I not support an effort to encourage more girls to recognize their own capabilities and fulfill their potential? I even get the need, in our attention- deficit era, to condense any message into a hash-taggable, Vine-usable, 10-second-spot-explainable kernel. #BanBossy. Anything more complicated, and you risk losing a significant chunk of your audience.

But crafting a catchy message isn’t enough. That message’s call to action ought to be one that can make a real and positive difference, and that’s where “Ban Bossy” falls short.

(Click here to read the rest of the article.)

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