Tuesday, June 10, 2014 | By: Jill

Asher Takes on Moral Monday

Where to start...?

Photo From Winston Salem News

This kid.  He has some ideas. Big ones. One is for a human powered hover scooter. One is for a laser hat. And one is for his school.

The hat and scooter he came up with on his own, I was not involved.

His ideas about schools? Those were his too, but his selective astute listening skills are what sparked this amazing opportunity.

Dan and I have been doing a lot of work advocating for public schools because our great state of North Carolina has been having some problems in that area. I have been working closely with many advocacy groups to ask for funding of our schools.

Asher has been listening.

One day at dinner he started talking about it. My jaw dropped at the way he processed it. I could watch it in slow motion.  "You mean they think....? But why wouldn't....? But how and I going to learn how to ....? Why can't they just...?"  As he talked I grabbed a piece of paper to write down his words.

A few days later, Dan and I were composing our letters to the legislators. I reminded Asher about his great ideas. If I would type it, he wanted to write his letter. That's the trouble with your voice at 8 years old, right? Your thoughts are hindered by the speed of your fingers.  So I typed. He dictated. I asked a question or two so he could clarify a point here and there but there are none of my words in his letter. None.

We sent it to Raleigh. Dan posted it to the FB page of one of the websites. Someone noticed. A lot of people noticed. By 10 PM, someone asked if he wanted to speak at Moral Monday. At breakfast, I asked Asher if he wanted to give a speech. He didn't hesitate, "Would it be like talking on front of the schools? OK."  By noon, he was on the agenda. He got home from school and said, "So? Did they have time for me to do it? Do I get to?"

As we waited for his turn and looked out on the crowd, he didn't really waver. (He did run a few laps and dump some water on his head, but doesn't Phil Berger before he talks to people?)

But when it was his turn, he told me I could stand to the side.

I'm proud. Of his command of the stage. Of not getting nervous when he fumbled. Of his message. Of his independence. And of what is going on in his head.

On the way home, he told me he'd like to get in touch with Google. He thinks they have use for his hovercraft, since they are making driverless cars.

I think he might be right.

For news links:


- scroll through to pic 7

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | By: Jill

Everything is NOT Awesome

A few weeks ago Jacob wrote a letter to the Lego company following a giant tantrum about the Lego catalog and the price of his current wants.  We discussed economics and the free market, and why a set that has 136 pieces would be about $8.99.  Jacob concluded that Legos were very expensive, but he still wanted them.  Since as parents, we are not in the habit of buying toys outside of special occasions, he wasn't getting anywhere with us.  He counted his money, and realized that his allowance isn't that generous, even though he does work for it (another discussion for another day!)  His solution was this:

He addressed and stamped it himself. Given the criminal style of the handwriting on the envelope, I assumed it would either be returned for looking like a threatening letter, or it would just be ignored.

Several weeks later, he received this in the mail.

Initially, I was thrilled that he got a response, but he was surprisingly indifferent. After thinking about it, I think I realized why.

You see, at age 5, it was a big effort to write that letter. It was an excellent lesson in the power of your voice. The power of your word. The meaning behind the pen. But he didn't see the value.

As an adult, I appreciate that Lego probably gets a lot of letters from kids. It would take a lot of work to reply to each specific inquiry with an age appropriate response.  As an adult consumer, I would be satisfied that Lego was  willing to pass my concerns along to the appropriate people. What does that mean when you are a kid? Nothing.

For him, this is a meaningless reply.  His first attempt at communicating through writing didn't get him anything that he could relate to. It is just an explanation of their overhead, which is a concept he can not really grasp. There are so many other appropriate options! Suggest he collect mini-figures since they are fairly inexpensive. Or, tell him you can get directions to different things online, where he can try to use his pieces to build other things. Suggest he buy a few unusual, loose pieces to fix up some things he has already built. Maybe send him one of the 'Lego Builder Club' cards to show you really want him to keep building. Even put the letter on some cool stationary with pictures of different Lego pieces on it. Send him a $1 coupon... I'm sure I would take him to the store if he had a coupon, just to prove a point.

What really happened is that he put a lot of effort into contacting a company that he believed was there for his enjoyment.  And he didn't feel like they were interested in what he had to say, or were willing to offer a solution to his problem.  It won't make him likely to express his opinions in the future.

It's not about free stuff or Lego swag. It's about a company that makes its profits by targeting to this very specific group of children. I mean, I get regular deliveries of catalogs to prove it. That's what started the whole thing. The Lego website uses games to highlight their products, and my kids know every one of them. Lego is full of marketing genius. It's just disappointing that when their targeted customers reach out to them, the company doesn't value them enough to send an appropriate reply.

I'm sure that's not the message Lego wants to be sending to it's youngest customers who have a many years of purchasing Legos ahead of them. I would think that Lego wants Jacob to love their product and think they are worth the patience of saving his money. That letter may convey that message to an adult, but a company in the business of making lifelong toys should have a much better reply waiting for such an honest letter from a young fan.

It feels way more like President Business than Wildstyle, and Jacob's seen the Lego Movie twice. He knows that even President Business changed his ways in the end.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | By: Jill

If I Had One hundred and Ten Dollars...

Jacob: I had a dream last night. (Insert long story about garage, Ninjago, and something about an amusement park with a water slide covered in spaghetti.) And then Daddy gave me one hundred and ten dollars.

Me: Really? That's a lot of money.

Jacob: Yes. I wonder what I would do with it. Well, for starters, I wouldn't buy 110 Sponge Bob whoopee cushions. That seems like not a good use of my money.

Me: (pause...110 whoopee cushions? One whoopee cushion is too many) Right. Good thinking.

Jacob: I know! I could buy you a new car.

Me: Awww, you are sweet. I think a car is a lot more than $110. (insert mental image of a $110 car)

Jacob: I could buy you wine!


Jacob is either going to be the worst car buyer or the best wine buyer.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 | By: Jill

After School Conversation

Is it hard being a grown up? Like, do you have to know how much cream cheese is just right for a bagel?

Does anyone WANT to eat a mashed potato igloo?

Do you have to know everything when you get to high school?

Subtraction is not fun.

When was the pretzel invented?

I know how to hypnotize a chicken.

Did it take you a long time to learn how to work the microwave?
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 | By: Jill

Waiting for Friday

This morning at breakfast, Jacob made an announcement to Dan and I.

"Mom!  If I hang my zipper pajamas on the hook in my door the front facing way, I can just step into them to get them on while they are STILL on the hook!!!"

He was proud. He was excited. He was beaming. He was expecting some sort of award for this amazing revelation. Why have we never considered door hook dressing assistance?

Then he said, "What day is it today?"


"OK, so I only have to wait three more days until I can do this."

You can imagine our confusion.

We pressed the issue.

"Why can't you do it until Friday?"

"Because it's piano lessons on Friday."


"There are no baths on piano days."

True. "And...?"

"I can just get into my pajamas in my room."


"But Jacob, you could go to your room to get your pajamas on any day. Not just on Friday."

At this point Jacob was getting uncomfortable. Dan seemed to have figured it out, though.

"Jacob, are you afraid you will be cold walking from the bathroom to your room?"


"Because you always bring your pajams to the bathroom to get dressed after a bath."


I had to get involved.

"Jacob, you could just wear your towel to your room, and then you wouldn't have to be cold, or wait until Friday."



Dan and I exchange looks.

"OK. Well Friday is not that far away."
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 | By: Jill

Plugging Away

I am irrational about "screentime". 

I realize this. I wish it wouldn't be a problem. I wish it would magically solve itself. I feel like I expend great amount of effort on a daily basis monitoring our screen time policy.   

Officially it is:

Screentime after business 
(business includes, homework, making bed, various chores, practicing piano etc.)

Amendments are:

30 minutes on weekdays
45 minutes on weekends
Weekday choices include: 5-6 educational computer websites or iPad apps
Weekend choices include: same as weekday but also Minecraft, Wii, shows, or Lego.com
Jacob gets Minecraft on odd days
Asher gets Minecraft on even days
You must set your own timer or you lose screentime for today and the next day
No complaining or you lose it

See how simple that is? OMG it takes over our lives.

Scenario 1: MLK day, no school! Jacob is up, has done all of his business, and wants to use screentime before breakfast. I veto that idea. He eats one bite of breakfast, claims he is full, and eats nothing else so he can play Minecraft. He obsessively sets and stops the timer to use the bathroom, talk to me, and so that we can do various errands. It takes him 4 hours to use his 45 minutes, of which he does not complain but obsessively ask me if he can finish it now? Or now? How about now?

Scenario 2: Asher does his homework, which happens to be harder than usual. All of his homework is on the computer. It takes him 45 minutes. I tell him he needs to take a break before he can use his screentime. He then stands outside for 3 minutes before coming in to ask if that was long enough. 

Scenario 3: Asher has asked to start writing in a blog. Jacob wants to email back to Grandma and Grandpa.  On a non school day, I spend 45 minutes with them on different electronics, simultaneously helping them do these things. After, they ask when they can have their screen time. 

I think one part of the problem is our examples. Yes. I text. I email from my phone. I see emails as they pop up. I wax and wane on FB checking up on various far away friends. I realize the impact of this reflection. I am conscious of it. Less blogging. Less texting. Less connection. Less glowworm

But honestly, how can this become just another part of their lives, and not the driving force in their lives? I never have to say, "Time to stop playing outside/reading/coloring." But it feels like I discuss screentime limits 500 times a day.

A friend and I brainstormed some screentime rule options:

  1. Time limit only: 30-45 minutes unconditionally each day.
  2. Time limit with choice restrictions: 30-45 minutes unconditionally each day. Educational choices on weekday, anything on weekend.
  3. Time limit with choice rotating: 30-45 minutes unconditionally each day. Make a list of options, and rotate through them, Monday math, Tuesday Minecraft, etc...
  4. Earn screentime with allowance system. Earn points for jobs/behavior, cash in for money or screentime
  5. Unlimited all the time (reverse psychology? Will it wear off?)
  6. Unlimited on the weekend, 30 minutes during the week
  7. Unlimited on the weekend, none during the week
  8. 30 minutes on the weekend, none during the week
I know something needs to change. 
My attitude (Maybe my attitude would be better if I didn't feel like it was slowly surpassing me, can anyone explain iTunes/Match/cloud/sharing)? 
My rules?
My screentime use? 

Probably some combination of all of those things. Any suggestions?