Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kids and TV: A Bad Mix

Is it any wonder American kids are overweight, have ADD, don’t read and are lagging behind most other countries in academics when one-third of our nations youngest children – babies to six-year-olds – live in homes where the television is on almost all the time? According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, one child in five under the age of two has a TV set in their bedroom. When I was a kid, I had to go to the living room to watch TV. I didn’t know I had it so hard.

I admit being more than a little bit sensitive about this now that Ally is three and is absorbing everything she sees like a sponge, including what she sees on television. Lately, she’s been more into her princess videos where she can imitate the singing and dancing. We used to let her watch Noggin network (Dora, Maisy, Miffy, etc.) but not so much anymore, now that she’s discovered life is more interesting if you’re descended from royalty. But I do observe her “zoning out” when she’s watching her videos and that kind of worries me. On the other hand, it’s encouraging to me that she loves to be read to; even if my wife and I are watching something in the evening, she’ll pull a random book from the shelf and ask us to read to her.

I’ve also been influenced by philosopher Doug Groothuis’s writings on the subject of television, especially the appendix to his book Truth Decay, reprinted on his blog here. A brief excerpt gives a good idea of where he’s coming from:

Television promotes truth decay by its incessant entertainment imperative. Amusement trumps all other values and takes captive every topic. Every subject-whether war, religion, business, law or education must be presented in a lively, amusing or stimulating manner. The best way to receive information interpersonally -through the 'talking head'- is the worst way according to television values; it simply fails to entertain (unless a comedy routine is in process). If it fails to entertain, boredom results, and the yawning watcher switches channels to something more captivating. The upshot is that any truth that cannot be transposed into entertainment is discarded by television. Moreover, even off the air, people now think that life (and even Christian ministry) must be entertaining at all costs.

I agree with just about everything he says and yet I still watch. And if I watch, how can I tell my daughter she shouldn’t? I know as an adult, I am better able to discern and filter what I see more effectively than she can. But I still can’t help feeling like a bit of a hypocrite when I tell her she can’t watch something (which, thankfully, she doesn’t ask for very often).

Quoting from the article on kids and television:

[A] generation of parents raised on TV is largely encouraging the early use of television, video games and computers by their own children, often starting in infancy.

These parents say TV teaches how to share and the ABCs when they do not have the time. Television provides time for parents to cook or take a shower. They use screen time as a reward or, paradoxically, to help kids wind down at bedtime.

What better way to learn your ABC’s or how to share than to read about it or see it acted out in real life? And, given Groothuis’s observations about TV’s hyperactive display of images, I don’t see how watching television before bed helps kids wind down.
“It’s just background noise,” said one Colorado woman who has a preschooler and who keeps the TV on most of the day.

Unfortunately, with a preschooler, there’s no such thing as “background noise”. They pick up so much that’s going on around them, even things we grown ups miss. I’m amazed at some of the minor incidents much Ally remembers from months ago, things I’d forgotten about until she brought them up again.

I’m hoping to become a better example when it comes to TV watching, and will also try to provide an alternative. I recently received the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons in an ambitious attempt to get Ally started on the road to reading books, not that I mind reading to her. The book was recommended to us by some friends of ours, and I’ll let you know how “easy” the lessons are. I hope I don’t become one of those parents who expects his child to be picking up Joyce and Shakespeare by summer’s end. You know, the kind that have the applications to Harvard already filled out. I just want to see how it goes and I promise not to teach while the TV is on.

Monday, May 22, 2006

An afternoon at Tarara

Went to Tarara’s Winds and Wine Festival on Saturday. This was kind of a spur of the moment decision helped along by the nice weather in the afternoon. Tarara is the closest winery to us, so a lot of planning isn’t required to head out there. We arrived around 4 which gave us two hours to watch kites, taste wine, eat some food and enjoy the music and surroundings.

While Tarara puts on a lot of these festivals and their marketing makes them a large presence in Loudoun County, their wines, in my opinion, are decidedly average. For our $12 admission fee, we got their standard tasting (usually $5) which included three whites, four reds and a rosé. Among the white wines, the most appealing to me was their Charval, and almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc. While I’m not much into white blends, this one is pretty good and makes for a nice, unpretentious deck wine. However, I can find better values for its $12 price tag. The Pinot Gris was my wife’s favorite, but I think there are better ones, even here in Virginia. (Barboursville makes a nice Pinot Grigio.) The less said about their $20 Viognier the better.

Tarara still makes their Wild River Red, which is a unique blend of several varietals with a little bit of blackberry, resulting in a sweet dessert wine, served chilled, that pairs well with chocolate. Their Cameo, the rosé, made from Pinot Noir, is a nice, not-too-sweet blend that would pair nicely with spicy Thai food. Finally, I found their Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon unremarkable, with possibly the latter showing the most promise. Perhaps their reserve tasting (for $5 more, which you had to pay to taste their Chardonnay) would have put their better foot forward, but we opted out.

In other news, Ally has made peace with the moon bounce. Last spring, we went to a church picnic where they had set up a moon bounce, which has become de rigeur at such events. Naturally, we thought she’d love it but in fact she was terrified. We’d never seen her cry from fear as much as she did when she came face to face with that air-filled monstrosity. I think the experience left her with conflicting feelings. Here was this thing she was supposed to enjoy, and she saw other kids playing in it, but she just couldn’t help being scared. Every time we’d see one, we would try to encourage her to go in, to no avail. Okay, everything in its own time.

So, we get to Tarara and there’s the dreaded moon bounce, surrounded by eager kids in their stocking feet waiting their turn to hop around in 1/6 gravity. We took Ally to it, and at first she wanted no part of it, opting for the monkey bars and slide instead. Then, we asked her one more time if she wanted to go in. To our amazement, she said she did. Now, she’s done this before, only to get cold feet when it came time to enter the inflatable bête noir.

Not this time. She eagerly took her shoes off and went right in with five other “little” kids. I think this helped her, not having to share space with “bigger” kids. She had a blast, of course, and one more fear has been conquered.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

New Jersey adoption story

Schuster Will Meet Their Baby on Mother's Day
Fred Schuster won't be showing up for work at the hospital here for two weeks. Instead, he and his wife will be traveling to China to pick up the little girl they have chosen to adopt. They leave from Newark tomorrow on a 14-hour flight that will take them to Beijing.

Canadian Adoption Story

Love knows no bounds
Love makes a family strong and binds people together.

And that's something every child deserves to experience unconditionally.

"Whether it be biological, through fostering, local adoption or international adoption, every child deserves the love of a family," says Krista Dolan.

It's love the Dolans are happy to share. This past October, the family of four welcomed a new member into the fold. Lily, now 19 months old, was adopted from China.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why is this girl smiling?

Because, after a successful week of potty training, mommy took her to the Disney Store to buy her a special Little Mermaid sippy cup. So she can drink more juice. So she can go potty, etc.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

ER's Dr. Weaver: Adoptive mom on a mission

I think my wife and I have seen every episode of "ER" for the past ten years. One of the main characters, Dr. Kerry Weaver, portrayed by Laura Innes, has been part of the cast since the second season. She epitomizes the modern type-A manager: driven, prickly, complicated.

Fortunately, Innes seems a bit more down to earth than her character, as evidenced by this article which discusses her real-life role as a mom to a Chinese daughter and her involvement in recruiting potential bone marrow donors for a national registry. Finding a bone marrow match can be particularly hard for adoptees who have no way of contacting their biological family, where a match would be most likely.

"Mia is perfectly healthy, thank heavens," Innes says. But she has stayed in touch with other families with Chinese daughters and, several years ago, learned about a child named Kailee Wells, who had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia and desperately needed a bone marrow transplant."

Tissue type is inherited, so a donor is most likely to be found among people of the same race and ethnicity," Innes says.

For more information, visit the program's Web site,, and click on the "Thanks Mom!" section or call 314-773-4734.

Nebraska adoption story

Many miles, Many Smiles
When Tony and Jodi Miceli show off their new baby to friends and family, people can't help but comment, "She looks just like her mommy!"

Remarkably, she does. Even though Cecilia Bao Miceli was born in China and has only been with the Micelis for a little less than a month, "Ceci" resembles Jodi with her full cheeks and eyes that squint into small slits when she smiles. And smiling is something the little baby does quite often.