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Oct 24 2014

Why I Go Phone-Free for 40 Minutes a Day

By at 9:42 am

Why I Go Phone-Free for 40 Minutes a Day

I walk a loop around a two-mile stretch of a neighborhood near mine in good weather. It’s uphill for the first half, downhill for the second. Sometimes a friend joins me. Sometimes my husband joins me. Sometimes my daughter joins me. Most times I go alone.

Until a few weeks ago, I always brought my phone with me.

Like most people these days, my phone goes with me everywhere, every time I leave the house, and wherever I am in the house. It feels like protection somehow, even if I just use it to check Facebook every five minutes (or fewer). I like knowing my kids can get to me anytime. I like knowing I can check emails right away, that I have access to, well, everything, at a moment’s notice. But I’ve always told myself I bring it on my walks in case of emergency. One time I wasn’t feeling well and, using the phone, my husband was able to come get me. Another time, it started to rain suddenly so I was able to call for a ride. See, I defended to myself, the phone is necessary. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 18 2014

Mom Invents App to Make Teen Call Her Back

By at 1:53 pm


It’s the oldest trick in the book. Teenagers see “Mom” appear on the caller ID and they forward the call to voicemail–with the cellphone that Mom paid for! Well, one fed-up New York mama came up with a pretty sweet solution.

When her son refused to return her calls, Sharon Standifird worked with developers to create an app called “Ignore No More” that shuts down a kid’s phone unless he calls mom back and gets a password.

If you’re already worrying about how you’ll ever stay two steps ahead of your kids’ social media and Skype usage when they hit their teens, then this app is a godsend. “Ignore No More” is available for $1.99 on Google Play and is coming to iPhones soon. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 1 2013

From the Department of Rude: A Memo on Smart Phone Use at Shul

By at 9:46 am

I have a hard time staying away from my iPhone. Too often my phone is on the table during lunch with a friend. I’m drawn to it while standing in line or whenever there’s two minutes to spare. Trust me, I’m not proud of my attachment to the thing. In my defense, I at least draw the line at using my phone inside the walls of a synagogue.

It seems that not using cell phones in shul was once standard practice among all synagogue goers from the most frequent to the occasional bar mitzvah attendees. I’m afraid those days are long gone. At a family “Tot Shabbat” service I recently attended at our Conservative synagogue (where the laws of Shabbat are technically observed) I noticed several parents and kids playing around with phones. During the dinner that followed, I saw some of the younger tots distracted with iPads.

It was disheartening. Read the rest of this entry →

Apr 18 2012

Don’t Text Around Your Kids

By at 9:39 am

mom texting ignoring daughterOK, here we go again. Cell phones. But this time it’s texting, not talking, that is pushing my buttons.

Please, don’t take this as a personal criticism nor a judgment on all moms, all over, all the time (and I do mean you, Tamara.) I am addressing the effects of texting on your kids as I see it. I will, however, point out that I have over 100 years of parenting experience (How old is that lady? you ask. I am referring to the total ages of my children.)


Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 25 2011

Sorry iPhone, I Was So Wrong

By at 10:57 am

Taken on my iPhone.

Often, if you think about it, we expect more from our children than we do from ourselves. “Tell her you’re sorry,” we tell our kids post-whatever-the-latest-problem-was, expecting them not only to feel badly about what they’ve done, but to have the natural inclination toward grace and equanimity as opposed to pettiness and grudgery. And I don’t know about you, but I can be pretty petty and grudgy, and I’m allegedly an adult. Like you, possibly, I also hate to admit it when I’m wrong.

So here goes: I. Was. Wrong. And. I’m. Sorry.

I wrote a post here about the ills of smartphones. I hated the little know-it-alls. I hated the way they reduced their owners to Pavlovian puppies who jumped at their little buzzing noises to check stupid e-mails. I didn’t see the need to immediately Google various idiocies.

I’m not sure if I would have gotten a smartphone had destiny not intervened. And by “destiny,” I mean “my dumbphone falling out of my sweatshirt pocket and into the toilet.” My husband likes to tell people that this is the fourth time this has happened to me. The more I think about it, though, the more I am convinced that it is only the third time. So there.

So we went to Verizon and I showed the unusually nice and well-informed guy there my phone. “Can I get another one of these?” I asked him. He looked at me with the look you reserve for someone who tells you that they can’t get their computer to work and it’s largely because they haven’t turned it on, i.e. “I don’t think so, Most Clueless Person Ever.” Apparently, my little dumbphone was discontinued right around when Charlemagne came to power. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 2 2011

Friday Night: The Difference Between Babies & Cell Phones

By at 11:53 am

baby on cell phoneI took my six-week old daughter to synagogue for the first time last Friday night. My husband and I deliberately sat in the back of the congregation. At first, the baby sat contentedly in her car seat as the beautiful melodies of Kabbalat Shabbat filled the room around us. After L’cha Dodi, the rabbi began to speak. As he did, two things happened. The first was that my daughter opened her mouth and began to cry (I don’t usually like sermons either, so she clearly got that from me). The second was that someone’s phone rang loudly in a jaunty ring that would have seemed right at home in a beachside margarita joint, but less so in a religious service.

As I extricated my child from the car seat and prepared for a swift exit into hallway exile, the usher swooped down on the offending phone user and reminded her that cell phones should be turned off in a religious service. The usher then followed me to the door and held it open for me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, gesturing toward my poorly-mannered baby.

“Babies bother me a lot less than cell phones,” she said with a kind smile.

As I left the sanctuary, I thought about her statement, and her mentality made sense to me. After all, babies don’t have a ‘vibrate’ button (if they do, PLEASE email me ASAP and let me know where I can find it).  But more importantly, babies’ cries need to be attended to…and more often than not, contrary to the way we behave, those of a phone do not.

Back in my dating days, I remember one dinner with a guy…let’s call him ‘Jeff,’ since that was his name. It was a first date, and we’d been set up by a friend, in a rare deviation from my JDate recidivism. We went to a Japanese restaurant in the Village, and talked about his recent travels and mine. On the date Richter scale, it was much like the recent New York earthquake – comparatively benign.  Until, out of nowhere, this guy I’d just met whipped it out. Right there, at the table. Read the rest of this entry →

May 24 2011

Can You Say Kaddish For a Cellphone?

By at 11:45 am

How I loved thee!

Back in LA, I was incredibly low-tech. I never had an iPod. I would read books that required actual page turning. And my cellphone was much the way I expect to be 50 years from now–crotchety and decrepit.

So, when I’d see other people whip out their Smartphones to email or text or to find the nearest Starbucks because why should anyone have to drive four blocks in one direction when they could achieve caffeinated nirvana by only driving two in the other, I would roll my eyes.

I’ll admit, I was secretly jealous. I envied the LA masses with their gadgets, and I wanted my finger on the pulse of all that is hip, too. More than the iPod or Kindle, I yearned for a Smartphone. I fantasized about being able to check email while sitting at Starbucks (Grande Vanilla latte and delusions of Grandeur for Sarah!) I wanted to download apps that monitored baby poop frequency, and create personalized ringtones that would make me look edgy and badass (I was thinking a little Gangsta Rap would be nice.)

The Smartphone would be my magic portal, freeing me from a daze of dirty laundry, and subpar cooking; a safe haven from power struggles with the kids–tantrums (theirs), meltdowns (mine), and way too much time spent in front of the TV (ours). Come what may – this phone would keep me sane, connected 24/7 to my real life. My dream phone would make me feel young and au currant because in reality, my screen was scratched, paint chipped, powering down on a whim like a narcoleptic. (And my phone was even worse.)

So when B. called my bluff and said he wanted to move back to Israel, I agreed to go on one condition: we would get Smartphones. That way, I could be on gchat or facebook all the time – constantly in touch with friends and family back home. I wanted quick and dirty email access so I could send pictures back home to Beeka and Bakah (my dad and his wife…) I wanted to download a kindle app so I could read books in English without having to expend energy — heaven forfend! — flipping pages. And let’s be real: I wanted to look all high-tech and whatnot, whipping out my sexy Smartphone and strutting around in high heel hooker boots, way more “LA Woman” than I ever was back in LA.

Thus began my codependent relationship with Shmulik the Smartphone. It was love at first sight: Within seconds of charging the battery and turning him on, I had changed his settings to English, and downloaded Tupac Shakur’s California Love for my ringtone. Whither I goest, he went – through the fields, to the coffee place, to the Hader Ochel, and beyond…Chatting, texting, always connected to my life back home.

And our relationship wasn’t all about looks and cool apps or the fact that he vibrated – although believe you me, Shmulik had that going on. Because no matter how homesick in the Homeland I was, I had Shmulik – and because I had Shmulik, I had Aimee, and Crystal, and Jeff, and Corey, and David, and Alex, and Elana, and Michelle, and Chris, and Beeka and Bakah, and so many others that live on the other side of the world, with me every second.

Until the day Shmulik drowned. In the toilet. Because there is no app to get rid of my inherent klutziness and pathological case of mama brain.

I tried everything to bring Shmulik back to life. I opened him up, and took out his battery, simcard, and SD card. (He felt so light lying there in the palm of my hand, just an empty shell.) Then, I placed him lovingly in a bag full of rice because I had read somewhere that this can sometimes save a drowned cellphone. It didn’t. And I shook my fists and screamed to the heavens…“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (Because the first stage of grief is denial.)

B. rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a baby. It’s just a cellphone.”

Enter the second stage of grief: Anger.

I hurled Shmulik’s corpse at B. I shouted. I cursed. And I cried hysterically, while B. looked around for the nearest escape route. (Seriously. In that moment, I done Mel Gibson proud.)

And while I know in hindsight that I may have (just a little bit) overreacted, the thing is, it wasn’t “just a cellphone.” Shmulik was my lifeline–my fast-track to LA from like, a million light years away. And as I try to figure out my place here on the kibbutz –in a home where my daughter straight up refuses to speak English (I swear, it’s like she reads my posts on Kveller and knows how much this upsets me), in conversations where I wonder W.T.F. is happening, like all the time when B. is talking to his mom, or the preschool teacher, or the doctor about something related to our kids in Hebrew, where I am perpetually lost in a heavy fog as I try to figure out a strange word in the middle of a joke, while everyone else is laughing at the punchline.

(At least Shmulik had a Hebrew/English translation app. May he be of blessed memory.)

Mar 29 2011

Cell Phones and Sorgenmeisters

By at 3:22 pm

Carla's daughter playing with the phone.

We love phones in our house.  As I sit here writing, I’ve got a house phone and my cell phone by my side.  My daughters love to play with theirs—our toddler “calls” her Bobe and Zayde to ask for more “special cookies” (that would be toddler-talk for Hamentaschen), and our infant loves chewing on the plastic pink phone.  It all seemed perfectly innocent to me.  Until I read the news.

First I see this piece in the New York Times about a 14-year-old girl who texted a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend.  They eventually break up, he shares the picture, and it goes viral.  Within hours virtually every kid in town with a cell phone has seen it.  Three teens who were involved in spreading the photo were eventually charged with disseminating child pornography.

After an initial spike in my blood pressure, I calmed myself down.  I’m no expert in mothering, but I feel fairly confident that I can teach my daughters not to send or post naked pictures of themselves.  (Mental note to self: take down picture of toddler sitting on the toilet that I recently posted on Facebook.  Be sure to save it for Bat Mitzvah slide show.)  Anyway, I convinced myself, this sexting business is clearly an anomaly, as it made the front page of the New York Times. We’ll be fine.

Next I turn to the Boston Globe, which has posted an article about teens who are sleeping with their cell phones under their pillows so they don’t miss any “important” texts, such as a break-up between friends. Apparently some teens are sending and receiving as many as 30 emails and text messages when they should be sleeping. Instead, they’re nodding off in class, and getting sick and depressed.

Now, I know we’re years away from the dangers of cell phones, but I’m nothing if not an anxious Jewish Mama, and I freaked. What will I do?  How will I deal with this? I’ve worked hard to manage my own technology addiction—what if it’s genetic? What if my girls spend their teenage years with phones glued to their ears? What if we become that family that texts each other from the next room, instead of actually talking to each other? What if my daughters have no social skills and never find a meaningful relationship and never give me grandkids, all because I never took the time to teach them how to use a cell phone properly??

I lept into action.  I found my copy of Wendy Mogel’s “The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise a Resilient Teenager” and immediately began searching for her advice on limiting cell phone use.  While frantically scanning the pages, I found this instead: “Yiddish has a specific phrase to describe a person who spreads gossip about things to worry about: sorgenmeister.”

Sorgenmeister.  I like the sound of that. And even more importantly, I like the concept.  Our society, and especially the media, has become one big sorgenmeister, warning parents of the dangers at every turn.  Escalators are staircases of death!  Nonorganic mattresses?  You might as well spritz your baby with pesticide each night!  Bath toys are nothing more than happy little homes for all the nasty poo bacteria in your bathroom. And cell phones—well, give your kid a cell phone, and the next thing you know she’s basically an insomniac porn star. Parents beware.

I must confess that I too have been guilty of sorgenmesitering, like the time I forwarded an article about the dangers of humidifiers to my local Mommy list-serv. (Apparently the Mommies didn’t enjoy being sorgenmeistered, or so I surmised from their responses.) Needless to say, I’ll be limiting my future posts to questions about plumbers and how to get my infant to sleep past 5 am.

And, to you, Mr. Sorgenmeister, I say, ENOUGH!  I shall no longer play your little games. You can try to scare me, but I will not fall prey to your scare tactics. We will ride the escalators with wild abandon and rub our faces in our non-organic mattresses, and by God, my girls will have cell phones someday, if for no other reason than because Mama wants to remind them not to talk on the phone too much—did you read the latest research on cell phones and brain tumors?

My Hang Up? Judgemental Grandparents

By at 12:30 pm

Sarah at home on the kibbutz, on her cell phone. Take that, grandparents!

Renee Septimus isn’t the only grandparent out there who thinks that moms and dads should get off their cell phones and enjoy being with their children.

Just last week, my dad was in Israel and said the same thing.

“When I see parents on their cell phones ignoring their children, I say something. “ He said.  “I tell them ‘Pay attention to your child for Heaven’ sake.’”

I leveled him with a look – a look culled from hours – ok, days – of lost sleep. A look shaped by the never-ending worry of being knee-deep (well, neck deep) in the ever-loving moment of parenting a preschooler and a toddler. A red-eyed look. A deep-socketed look. An “I haven’t slept for the past, oh, I don’t know, almost three years, and there are days when I forget to brush my teeth and put on deodorant, and my husband and I haven’t spent more than an hour alone together since I was pregnant with our first-born, and could someone please pass me a double shot latte and a bottle of wine, and what the Hell am I going to make for dinner tonight, and Imma cut the next person who tells me how to raise my childlook.

LOOK. If my kid is playing with matches and licking dog poop off of a lead toy while sitting in the middle of a busy intersection, then sure, tell me to get off my cell phone and pay attention to my child. No, really. I may be (finally) having a little adult interaction with my best friend who lives on the other side of the world, but I want to know if my kid’s in danger.  Because believe it or not, my priorities are pretty intact.

But otherwise?  Give me a break.

After all, Dad, you get to give the kids back to me when you’re done playing at the park or having a very earnest discussion about how the wheels on the bus go round and round.  (Lest we forget.)   You get to go home and have a quiet dinner, or eat at a restaurant that doesn’t have a kids menu and crayons.   You don’t have to sleep with one eye open, waiting for the inevitable wail.

Deep down I know that this too shall pass. But it’s hard to be Zen when you’re only sleeping two or three hours a night.

And surely Dad, you remember the crushing exhaustion of a croupy 2 year old. You must remember the midnight and two am and four am parades to the potty. You know what it’s like to be judged by grandparents who are sure they know better (and probably do know better, but that isn’t the point.)

And if you had had a cell phone back in the day, maybe you would have been on it commiserating with someone who understands.

Sarah was a regular LA girl until she uprooted with her family to Israel and moved in next door to her mother in law. Find her other blog posts here.

Leaving Sexy Back..And Other Lessons From ‘Sexting’

By at 11:02 am

This weekend, the New York Times ran a story that, if you have teenagers, probably made you want to steal their cell phones, burn them and give them tin cans on a string to use instead.

The article told the terrible tale of a 14-year-old eighth grade girl in Washington state who, in a moment of attempted sexiness and extreme naivete, texted a naked photo of herself to the boy she’d hoped would be her boyfriend. In less than 24 hours, the photo had rocketed through the whole middle school, humiliating her and leading to three kids being charged with dissemination of child pornography.

The article is being emailed around as the quintessential cautionary tale of the digital age. The story encapsulates so many of the ills that plague our modern society, and preys into the ever-recurrent fear of parents: You Are Living A Childhood Completely Different From Mine, And The Trouble You Can Get Into Scares The Hell Out Of Me. Every generation is scared of the trouble its children can potentially get into.  You don’t think moms in the early 1900s felt this way when their little girls stopped wearing bloomers to the beach? With each generation as we speed ahead technologically, though, it seems as though the gap becomes more and more extreme.

I don’t know about you, but my kids don’t have cell phones, and at this point, I’m not even sure that they both know our home phone number. I’m also quite sure that both boys have no desire whatsoever to see a naked girl (they’re not even big on many of the ones who keep their clothes on).  In short, on a certain level, my kids are (thankfully!) way too young to have these problems.

But they’re only too young for the moment, sadly enough. It’s never too early to teach the following points, explicitly and through example, so as to (hopefully) ensure that your kids never think something like this is okay.

Bullying Is Wrong…All The Time.

Yes, it’s important that your kid learn how to say please and thank you and be nice to other people. That’s a given. But it’s entirely possible that in some situations, it may be your kid who’s the bully. This is a really hard concept for any parent to get their mind around – the idea that your little sweetie may be the one who is making a fellow kindergartener’s life a living hell.

I actually know this one way too well because one of my sons  — whom I happen to think is a great guy — was apparently being a real jerk to his cousin in the carpool on the way home. Now admittedly, many people seem to think there’s a sibling/family exemption to bullying. There isn’t.  He and I talked about it. Apparently, it didn’t make a difference, which was even harder to admit.

But then I went into more of the reasons why it’s not okay, i.e. the things you’d think would be self-evident, like if you care about someone, you don’t want them to be hurt or feel bad, and even if they can be occasionally annoying, you can’t hurt their feelings. That seemed to ring more of a bell. And now he’s a perfect child. Well, not really, but better. I also told him that every time crap goes down, he loses some Lego. Some combination of the two of those things hit home.

Create an environment of empathy.

Apparently, it is also not self-evident to kids that they are not the center of the known universe, and that other people’s feelings can actually be just as valid as their own. Establishing an environment of empathy is a two-track process: ask and exemplify.

Ask: Ask what happened at school and listen to the answers. When the dramatic saga of Charlie-hit-Justin-and-got-a-time-out is recounted, ask how your kid thinks Justin felt, and how Charlie felt.  Also, ask questions when you’re playing at home with the kids. When you’re reading a story, stop reading for a second to ask how the characters felt at a certain point, and why. Give the kids the opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes: it may not even occur to them otherwise.

Exemplify: Let your kids see you call your sister to ask if she’s feeling better, or if there is any way to help her out. Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing (“My friend Abby just had a new baby, and she’s probably really busy – so I’ll call her to see if there’s something I can do to help out, like pick up more diapers when I go shopping.”). This is the more implicit part of the education. You’d be surprised how much kids ‘get it.’

If your kid can empathize with other people, the chances of them doing something thoughtless to hurt someone else are less. Read the rest of this entry →


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