Pretending to sleep

Lucy pretending to sleep

A quick post about juicy, chubby cheeks that stomp around the house all haughty.

Toddlers are funny. Lucy’s been our third one now, and you could say we notice a pattern in behaviour. The smugness, the desire to be pantless, the hilariously melodic turn of phrase. They are priceless alright.

I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if toddlers think they are actually running the world. Delusions of grandeur. They have no doubt on anything. They are passionate about everything. Lucy exhausts and delights us in equal measures. Just for fun I call her Kim Jong Il. Since she’ll be our last, I’m really savouring how unique and special it is to have a toddler.

Perhaps the most amusing thing about them is the way they are so emotional. Their outrage is as adorable as their gregariousness is irresistible. Our middle boy Jackson was quite chilled out as a tike, but the two girls have been assertive.

One of my favourite things about them is the way they play with words, as though they are notes on a xylophone. You say it like this? Well, I say it like that!

¡Viva el espíritu del niño! It rests in all of us.

3 Things Parents are Missing About Cell Phones #parenting

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user mtsofan

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user mtsofan

A sound you’ve been hearing for months, perhaps years now? One of them is the noise of hand wringing that all of us moms and dads are engaged in about what seems like the parenting question of the day:

When should I get my child a cell phone?

I dare you to find a parenting magazine or blog that doesn’t have a writer or editor assigned to this topic on an almost indefinite basis (see here and there for some recent ones). Morever, it’s hard to argue with the heat the issue generates, since cell phones are incredibly expensive and afford a child with the capability to do things you may have been put into a straight jacket for even suggesting just twenty years ago.

I start to have a problem, however, with all of the articles, blogposts, and pronouncements parenting ‘experts’ and your next door neighbour are offering when the message is laced with arrogance: I believe this, and I do that, so it means I’m a better parent than you. It really reminds me of the lead up to our family’s first-born.

As idealistic, alternative-minded, young parents, my wife and I succumbed easily to the philosophy of a ‘natural’ birth. This would have been fine were it not for the fact that we consumed pamphlets, books, and advice from our mid-wife more as proverbial kool-aid than objective information. We were actually duped into believing that having a natural birth made us, well, better people.

Alas, this is what parenting entails, especially when you are privileged enough to have a whole host of #FirstWorldProblems as my family does. So, since I can’t beat ’em, I may as well join ’em.

This post is partly out of hoping to fulfill a demand. As a parent and teacher whose family and professional lives are more intertwined than most (I teach in a school community in which I live; my own kids attend my school), and being a person (like it or not) whose image is inextricable from that of shiny gadgets (“Mr. Lee, did you invent the iPhone?”), I get asked the cell phone question a lot. It follows me like an echo through a corridor. I usually greet this question with a small dose of irritation, and a large dose of squirminess, and most of my responses begin with, “It depends…” I’m not here to tell you my answer; I don’t have one. I have, however, noticed that there are three things most parents consistently fail to consider.

1. It’s not a phone; it’s an internet-enabled mini-computer.

This past year, I tried purchasing a non-smart phone for my mother who was tired of the iPhone she was carrying around because it could simply do too much. Finding one was a herculean task. We call these mini supercomputers ‘cell phones’ much in the same way we call Count Chocula ‘breakfast’. It is a misnomer. But language is a powerful thing (see point 3 in particular).

2. The cost doesn’t end after the purchase of the hardware.

Most parents are still living in a time when getting your kid that desired item on the Christmas list is something you buy, wrap up, and present to the child: my work here is done. I’m not trying to say parents don’t understand that voice and data plans cost money, but many fail to even remind their children: “I didn’t just buy you a $500 toy for your birthday. I bought you, like, a $5000 toy.” I feel like many are missing out on a fantastic financial literacy moment here.

What’s more, especially as a teacher who invites students to bring their own devices to class, the number of times I see kids with shiny gadgets but no funds to purchase apps, music, etc. is a sight I’ve grown accustomed to. In this situation, why wouldn’t you jailbreak or find illegal means of accessing content? Don’t blame children for being the supposed generation that doesn’t want to pay for stuff. This is almost 100% an adult issue.

3. Most of what can be done on a smart phone can be done on an iPod Touch.

I feel like this is one of the perfect examples of how fast technology is moving in our time. I meet many parents who demonize the capabilities of cell phones for children, while failing to notice that they bought their kid an iPod Touch or similar device years ago. I couldn’t believe my eyes recently when I listened to a parent haughtily declare how she would “never let my child have a cell phone like so-and-so” while simultaneously seeing her boy thumb away on a 4th generation iPod Touch. For crying out loud, many adults don’t even have a smartphone that powerful! You can forgive anyone for missing this exponential development in mobile technology, but you can’t give them a pass if they’re simultaneously pompous about it.

What are your thoughts on the cell phone question?

Ninja Training Tip #49

Stormshadow from GI Joe, Lego Ninjago, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; it’s all about ninjas in my house of four – uh, I mean – three children. I have absolutely no idea how this happened. Every now and again, I get a bit Sensei on the kids and impart some Familylee Ninja Wisdom. Do you do anything similar and fun in your house/school/organization?

original CC licensed photo via Haiku Deck app

original CC licensed photo via Haiku Deck app

We are not sugar cubes: A love letter to my daughter

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user madpoet_one

Let me brag about a couple of things which I think are worthy of boastfulness, though others may think are horrifying.

First, I live very close to the school that I ply my trade in. Very close, as in, I could probably sneak out at any time, race home, put on a blue spandex suit with a big red ‘S’ on my chest, come back, and people would think there was a phone booth outside the school.

Second, my eldest of three children, Yumi, has recently begun attending the same building as a student. She’s in grade 4, and she’s as jubilant about this as a squirrel who has found a Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar.

One of the best things Yumi and I do is ride to and from school together on our respective bikes. It’s a special thing. I shudder to think that there might eventually be a time when feeling the wind brush back our eyebrows while coasting on our mountain bikes together will be an unappreciated endeavour. Sometimes I even find myself getting choked up, cruising behind her while watching her  little body, capped off with a mushroom-like bike helmet, bobbing up and down. She tries to talk to me and tell me about mundane moments of her day, and most of the time I have to yell, “Tell me later, honey, I can’t hear you!”

It’s been interesting to observe others’ reactions to Yumi and I. It’s perhaps a sign of the times.

The first reaction is surprise that we ride to school in the first place. Everyone burns gas to get to their destinations, you know. I’m not trying to jump on my high horse here; I understand that most people are captive to our bizarre, sprawling infrastructures, that context is king, and that everyone’s family decisions are often based on circumstance. It does concern me, however, that many people seem to have simply discounted travelling to school by foot or by pedal as an option. Like it’s Cherry Cola or something; it doesn’t exist any longer.

Another response I’ve received is one of mild horror when people realize I sometimes allow my daughter to walk/ride to school by her lonesome. The distance is 900 metres. That’s half a mile. We’re talking 984.252 yards.

Once, on a rainy day in September, I actually had a stranger admonish me for riding home in the rain with Yumi. I was flabbergasted. Are we sugar cubes?

I don’t think they realize I’m trying to raise eagles, not budgies.

At this point I have to step off my soapbox in the interests of: a) preventing blograntism, and b) keeping this post for what it is.

This post is a dad’s love letter to his daughter. I adore eating pho with you on our lunch dates at Sweet Basil. I treasure getting a glimpse of your face in the hallways. And I get all fuzzy in my stomach when we’re cruising around the streets together, ringing our bike bells.

drawing by Yumi Lee

Mike Stories

Mike Stories are stream-of-consciousness oral stories we tell in our family. It all started over a year ago when Janet was trying to console Jackson after some sort of skinned knee or such incident. She sat our little boy on her lap and told a story about a little boy named ‘Mike’ (everyone in the family knows it’s Jackson but we all suspend disbelief).

We now have close to a hundred Mike Stories in our iTunes library. The kids listen to them every night as they go to bed. I’ve thought about sharing them on a blog, or putting them in the iTunes store as a podcast, but have resisted doing this because I just can’t see how anyone else could find these random stories of ours interesting. They are often nonsensical, and full of so many in-the-know jokes to be utterly irrelevant to anyone who doesn’t use our bathtub. Besides, perhaps it’s one of those things that are just for us.

Some of our titles include:

Mike’s Rainy Day

Mike Meets Winnie the Pooh

Mike Goes to School

Mike’s Trip to the Chinese Mall

You get the idea. Esoteric really doesn’t cover it.

If you’re looking for a new project/activity to do as a family I highly recommend this. Apart from being massively (and unexpectedly) gripping for the kids, we’ve also seen the impact they are having on literacy. Because of our Mike Stories, my children think it is normal to be authors of texts. They don’t see themselves only as consumers, but creators as well. In addition, you wouldn’t believe how much Mike Stories are enhancing my children’s vocabulary, understanding of narrative, and oral speaking skills. The greatest thing of all being that serendipity really brought all of it on. We didn’t plan this. There is no curriculum. We just go with the flow. It’s more jazz than classical.

Bring some spice to your bedtime routine and try this out. It’s pretty cool when your kid says his favourite author is a member of his own family, and when you collectively develop a whole parallel narrative to the life you lead together.

I’m a Dad

coast of Borneo

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user angela7dreams

I feel so fortunate that even a small amount of parents and parent advocates read this blog. Although it never fails to flummox me that anyone would look to me for any piece of advice on parenting, I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin as a ‘daddy blogger’. That’s because I’ve started to realize that this space is as much one where I ruminate on fatherhood as it is a place in which I contemplate education. After all, aren’t the two roles essentially one and the same? I don’t know about you, but I don’t really distinguish between me-the-dad and me-the-educator. Sure, the apple of working in an institution can bring different rewards and challenges to the orange of one’s own living room. Still, from the second that my first born began sharing the same oxygen with me, I intuitively knew that the pedagogy driving my classroom practice would invariably interlope with that which propels my life as a dad. I will never buy the claim that producing offspring makes a teacher better than his/her childless counterpart. That’s ridiculous. But I do subscribe to the notion, however trite, that we should always seek to educate as we would parent, and parent as if we were educating.

Thoughts on SOPA, PIPA, Piracy, and Democracy

Overheard in my classroom the day many sites went #blackoutsopa:

Boy 1: Dude, did you hear about the Google page today?

Boy 2: Ya, it’s so cool. Booooo! SOPA!!!

Girl 1: What’s SOPA?

Boy 1: The government wants to stop us pirating movies ‘n’ stuff.

Girl 2: WHAT?!?! Boooooooo!

Boy 2: Ya, I need to pirate stuff!

Are there more difficult teachable moments to enact than Wikipedia going black? As Clay Shirky reminds us, SOPA and PIPA are less about piracy and more about democracy. For my students, however, it’s challenging to take the conversation meaningfully in that direction. They don’t perpetually juxtapose a world of share, send, download, and upload  with one where we sat on a couch waiting for an old white guy to tell us about what was happening in the world. They don’t know that latter world. It’s a History Channel episode.

The ability to pirate video, audio, and gaming content means a lot to them, however. Want to see a group of kids collaborate like a pride of lions stalking buffalo? Ask them if they know how to get movie x or game y for free.

Yes, it’s so important that we engage students in learning about CC licensing, intellectual property, and the ethics of the internet. And, yes, most young people today are grossly ignorant about these issues. But, no, the best way to do this is not by wagging one’s finger like so many Just Say No educational videos. And, no, it’s not the kids that are the problem.

All of us adults are conveniently looking the other way when we pretend that swiping the credit card for the hardware is the end of the transaction. We’re also turning our glances when we say we are against downloading the Harry Potter movie yet will work that Xerox machine in the copy room until you can cook an egg on it.

Now, to get off my own soapbox and back to that teachable moment…

Do you know what made it a lot easier to have a discussion about SOPA and PIPA in my class? The fact that my students post regularly to the internet, comment on one another’s work, receive comments from the far reaches of the globe, remix work, share links, and honour CC licensed work.

I asked the students how they would feel if their ability to do all of things was restricted, or even taken away, without debate or a tribunal of some variety. The room went silent for a minute which felt like an hour, but we proceeded to have a rich discussion about democracy without ever mentioning the word itself.

I know they still care much more about whether the next Eminem song will get on their iPods, but at least we were speaking about something we really know, not just have heard of.

You may be able to stop people from sharing their creations, but you can’t unlearn the power of the act itself. Stop SOPA and PIPA.