Lorenzo has woken up with a fever. I felt it straight away when he got out of bed and hugged my legs to say good morning. His shoulders felt too hot – even for a warm summer morning. The thermometer proved me right. The paediatrician says it’s just a passing virus. I only hope it’s not the coronavirus. We’re vaccinated, but still: nobody wants to catch Covid.
The day gets turned upside down, together with my plans for this newsletter, for other work I expected of myself. We replan, regroup. Nacho has a busy day – and a deadline. Alejo, our friend who’s visiting, has a deadline. I have a deadline too, but mine feels more flexible and I take the first, longest shift with Lorenzo.
We paint. The watercolours go everywhere: on Lorenzo’s face and pants, on the floor, on the bathroom door. I get in the flow after a bit and create some stick children. I contemplate, briefly, whether I can learn to draw at my age. Then Lorenzo is ready for something new: we clean up and move on to puzzles. One of them pictures a submarine with an octopus as the captain and a purple jellyfish that Lorenzo insists is also an octopus. It is a complicated puzzle. Lorenzo does it several times. He gets frustrated, I help a little, he goes on to redo it. He gets bored. We play with his wooden blocks. We build a train, an office, a swimming pool. We design some scenes: a father, Nacho, working at his computer. Children jumping into the pool. A train full of animals. We move on to the books. We read The Gruffalo’s Child (twice, only half-way through, Lorenzo finds it less gripping than The Gruffalo), skim through What Can You Do With a Color? and I carefully guide him through Clotilde Perrin’s precious Inside the Villains flap book, which Lorenzo tries to break apart every time he opens it. He soon gets bored again. It’s 11am and the day is long.
Lorenzo asks for a music video and I concede. We made it two and a half years without handing over a phone or sitting him in front of a cartoon, striving to meet our self-imposed ideals. Except once at New Year’s, when a family friend insisted on showing him some educational cartoon he said was “good for children”. I don’t know if I was angry with our friend or with myself, but I did completely remove the name of the cartoon from my memory. Our idea was to minimise regular use of screens since he depends on them quite a bit for our many video calls with family and friends. Too, we realised that Lorenzo melted down after watching recorded videos of friends (and often after having to say goodbye to those we were video calling), so we decided it was easier to avoid cartoons for as long as we could.
Now, a guilty secret: I love cartoons. I wasn’t so fond of them growing up, but they became part of my self-care routine as an adult. Whenever I have a hard day, I look for a cartoon to relax, smile, and maybe even cry. A part of me can’t wait to sit down with Lorenzo and simply watch cartoons together. I think I day-dreamt about it even when I was pregnant with him. So at some point today, I say: shall we watch a cartoon? Lorenzo has no clear concept of what a cartoon is, but he gets excited as I pick up the laptop. He sits patiently next to me as I go to Netflix and select something I enjoy that he may also like. Madagascar, first. No, I have selected incorrectly. He wants something else. To my dismay, he refuses all my suggestions, one after the other. He asks for music videos, and we end up with Cocomelon, but he remains unsatisfied.
He starts asking for eggs. A video of eggs? I type something into Youtube and a child-friendly, aimless video comes up that I find I am too ashamed to link here: an egg cracks open and reveals another egg and then another one, and eventually an animal comes out. Lorenzo is mesmerised.
Initially, I feel shame over allowing my son to watch a video at all. But then this! A video with no overt educational value! As I examine my feelings further, though, I realise that I am sad that Lorenzo and I may not like the same cartoons. I had never thought of that. And he is young, of course, you may say, things will change, you may well enjoy cartoons together one day. But this feeling showed me something wider, a slight inflection in how we might develop our future relationship. It is not only possible but rather likely that our tastes will differ: of places we call home, of cartoons, of food. And it is OK, of course, but it is a sobering idea.
Now, if you were expecting me to get into the literature about screen time, I must say there are plenty of well-researched stories doing a great job of it. For example, journalist Melissa Hogenboom, whose book The Motherhood Complex I am reading and will tell you about soon, wrote this thoughtful piece that links to some of the pros and cons of screen time. As Melissa (who is a member of this community, by the way!) says in her piece, children can learn new words from TV, for example. And while the negative effects of too much screen time are serious and include obesity and less creativity, I swear by the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for infants and children. Based on worldwide research, the guidelines emphasise the importance of getting the right balance of moving, sleeping and sitting to be healthy. Every aspect, even sitting around, is good and necessary if done in a balanced way.
I’ve made it to the end of the day and I’m writing this. The egg video helped me in some unexpected way. Being flexible can be hard, but it is important.
I would love to hear from you about screen time and cartoons! What cartoons can you suggest for a toddler to enjoy?! Asking for a friend! 😉 Do you manage to be flexible around screen time? Did the pandemic make it harder for you, did your child’s screen time go up? How have your judgments about your choices softened or changed during challenges? I’d love to hear from you: below this article, as usual.
What I’ve been reading
“Just as a newborn thrives on your tender voice – and the soft hugs and kisses that come with it – without having to understand the ‘I love you’ that you whisper, your grandpa, who no longer understands the words you utter, will too. Just as you praise a toddler for trying to help around the house and ignore the mess he makes in the process, you might want to compliment your mother for her lovely singing, not fret about her no-longer-lovely cooking.” This tender article in Psyche magazine lets us reflect on the end and the beginning of life, and how much we can learn from childhood when accompanying people with Alzheimer’s disease. “None of this will bring someone ‘back’. But in the absence of an Alzheimer’s cure, we can at least change the way we think and approach the disease.”
What I’ve been listening to
This two-part podcast broke my heart and taught me so much about the dangers of judgment when it comes to foster care. Unsafe in Foster Care is an investigation that journalist Deepa Fernandes, a member of this community, did for Latino USA on Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the largest child welfare agency in the U.S., and what happens when the system that is meant to protect children is biased against poor households, dominantly Black and Latino. Deepa tells a troubling story of a child whose premature death was not inevitable and asks tough questions of the system currently in place. Please don’t miss out on this.
What I’ve been watching
This cartoon on how to accompany loved ones who are grieving. “Let them be in pain,” says US psychotherapist, writer and grief advocate Megan Devine. She quotes educator Parker Palmer: “The human soul just wants to be witnessed.” By acknowledging somebody’s pain we leave them space for their grief. (I spotted this thanks to Maria Popova’s Brainpickings.)
Who’s been inspiring me
Journalist Malaka Gharib of NPR’s Goats and Soda (who is also an amazing illustrator) got two 14-year-old girls to interview author Charles Kenny about his book on the future of humanity. I love the idea and I love the questions. Like this one: “Being a cis white man, do you think you might be pulling your optimism from personal experience more than reality?” Well done, girls, I need to work on my interview technique and learn from you. Thanks to Tanmoy for sharing the article!
What members have been saying
There has been a very interesting conversation following last week’s newsletter on why we judge parents. Lynn, a member, said on Twitter she was “not sure it’s just parents that we judge. I think our judgment has mixed roots: false sense of control, wishful thinking, over-confidence in ourselves …& jumping to conclusions. No room for curiosity!” Viviana said that maybe one way to stop judging others was to “learn how not to self-judge oneself.” Patricia spoke about outdated concepts that older generations hold and how that can create judgment within families, while Catherina wrote about the role that schools play in teaching us to become judgmental. “If you don’t do the things the way the teacher says, you are wrong and in trouble,” she said.
Finally, Richard pushed my thinking even further. He wrote: “That universal tendency to judge other parents you wrote about today has a dangerous side – when the parents are of a different race or class. Back in 2010, Chris Gottlieb, a great lawyer who represents parents accused of abuse or neglect, wrote a column that is similar to yours – in her case about how having a baby gave her new insight into what is regularly done to her clients.” What Richard says is very important – especially in the light of the “Unsafe in Foster Care” podcast I link to above. Watch this space for a follow-up story on how judging parents can have dangerous effects.
With love and care,
📣 Catherine McNamara, a member of this community, edited and improved this newsletter with lots of love, logging in from Maryland, USA. Thanks, Catherine! (If there are mistakes, they are my fault, not hers!)