Entering the 3DS Zone

After much indecision and comparing notes with other families, we finally caved and bought our son a 3DS for his 9th birthday. I had been against this for a long time. Mostly because both my husband and I really don’t like computer/video games: we don’t play them and didn’t want to encourage our kids to spend even more time in front of screens. After all, when they go to friend’s houses, they get ample opportunity to play. Also the sheer cost: even the 3DS was a lot more money than we usually spend on any one kid’s item.

But he wanted one really, really badly. He wanted something electronic he could call his own. Also he’s very cute and persuasive. However, I also saw this gift as a huge opportunity to reinforce a few rules and for added oomph on the bribery and punishment front. After all, I can give but I can also take away (or at least threaten it.) Does this make me a mean Mom? Probably but too bad.

So the following rules have been drawn up and drilled in. In fact, he’s even signed them. It’s a contract now. We’ll see how it goes!

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Our Beautiful Mess

For a while now, I’ve been pondering writing a blog post about stuff. All the stuff. How there’s just so much of it. Everywhere. And about the futility of trying to erase, structure or organize the stuff because it just multiplies, rearranges and disperses itself liberally all over the place, no matter how hard or how often you try to tame it. I was going to describe how the stuff makes me feel like I am out of control, unable to master it with the necessary formulae and discipline.

How every couple of months I go nuts and, armed with a trash bag I hurl sweeping armfuls of the stuff – no matter if it’s new, old, missing parts, Lego parts, home-made, store-bought, homework, artwork, party favor, more Lego parts, Happy Meal made-in-Taiwan piece of crap, even more Lego parts, plastic, paper, metal, recyclable, animal, mineral – into the bag and haul it off to the trash. Often several, large, misshapen bag loads before the overwhelming urge to trash everything gradually settles and the guilt creeps in. Was that wasteful? Did I “accidentally on purpose” just commit a cherished something to an early demise? Haven’t I really just made room for the next inexorable influx of stuff?

But I’ve had a change of heart.

I took a long hard look around my home, taking in every room, and I realized something. This mess, this unruly, chaotic mess, is our mess. It’s a complete reflection of our lives, replete with activity and creativity and disorganization and projects and presents. It mirrors how we are constantly on the move, producing, consuming and creating.

It’s a beautiful mess. And it makes me smile.

I’ll still try to organize it, filter it, minimize it. Sure, I’ll do a sweep from time to time to get rid of stuff no longer played with or used. Probably before birthdays and Christmas. But I’m not going to treat it like the persistent enemy, anymore. I’m not going to let it guilt or shame me.

It’s our beautiful mess.

p.s. Have you tried the A Beautiful Mess app? It’s very nifty. You can add doodles or scribbles to your photos. Here’s one I made earlier!

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p.p.s Also worth checking out, Jason Mraz’s A Beautiful Mess. I love it.

On Sheryl Sandberg, Daughters, iPads & a More Equal Future

I have always disliked computer and video games, but a recent comment by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, blew my mind.

Computer and video games are anti-social, violent, moronic, brain-sucking time-wasters, in my humble opinion. I have always limited which games my kids get to play on the computer, iPad or iPhone, and how long they play them. I find the way they become so absorbed in these games to be scary and disarming. I particularly dislike the maniacal, ugly creatures they become when you tell them “time’s up.” I am the anti-computer game Mom. Sorry kids.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Sandberg, author of the much-discussed book “Lean In,” was talking at a breakfast organized by the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA). With passion, grace and chutzpah, she discussed what’s holding women back in the workplace, how female entrepreneurs often get shot down by VCs who fear them having children, how women shouldn’t be criticized for being bossy. But, for me, the defining moment came when she was taking questions from the audience and a woman from RunKeeper stood up and introduced herself as a software engineer.

Sheryl applauded her, and went on to state that, to achieve greater equality in the years to come, we absolutely need more women software engineers and computer scientists.

“Give your daughters iPads,” she urged. “Encourage them to play computer games. Gaming is a gateway to coding.”

Businesses, governments, entertainment, education, communication, financial and healthcare systems all fundamentally depend on software engineers. Software engineers are, in essence, coding our future.

Today, the average software engineer in the US earns $90,000 a year, which is substantially greater than the average teacher, nurse, accountant, HR manager or sales associate. Software engineers are in huge demand. According to a Forbes article: “The BLS [US Bureau of Labor Statistics] expects a 30% increase in the number of software developers by 2020.”

So maybe I should be rethinking this whole computer gaming thing? For girls, says Sandberg, computer games are the best entry point to an interest in science and technology. And consequently, the route to a well-paid, much sought-after career where they can earn not only as much as the guys, but also reconfigure the potential for women at the companies and organizations that are redefining the future.

But how do we get from Angry Birds, Bejewelled and Where’s My Perry to there? How do we encourage our daughters to become more interested in computers, coding and science? Someone asked me my opinion on Twitter as we were digesting Sandberg’s words in real-time. How he could encourage his daughter? I scratched my head, thinking about my almost six year-old and her fascination with all things Transformers.

“Talk to her about how the things she loves to play with are designed and made,” I suggested, making it up as I was going. “From toys and computers, games, TV and movies, to iPads. Discuss how these things have changed substantially since when we were kids, and talk about the people who made it happen. Have her imagine what amazing things could be built in the future—even by her.”

It’s a pretty steep order, especially if your daughter doesn’t seem to have a natural skill or interest. A New York Times feature published this week examined this very topic, stating:

“Researchers say many factors contribute to girls’ reluctance to pursue computing as early as elementary school, including discouraging parents, inadequate resources for teachers and a lack of exposure. Studies have shown that girls imagine computer scientists as men working alone in a basement and can’t relate.”

It seems to me that computing and software coding could do with some major re-branding to make them appealing, even fashionable. How cool to be the person that designs and develops the devices, games and apps that most of us cannot live with out? How cool to be the animator behind the next, great superhero(ine) movie? Heck, kids, we wouldn’t be able to even text each other without coding! It’s that cool! And, while we are at it, why are there not more female Transformers?

So the next time my daughter asks to play on my iPad, chances are I’m going to say yes.

(Got an hour to spare? Then watch the video from NEVCA’s breakfast with Sheryl Sandberg here.)

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