Blended Family Goodbyes Are Never Easy

Every week, part of my family breaks away.

Most of the kids in our family go back to their other parents’ house for a few days. Even though we’ve been doing this for 11 years now, it hasn’t gotten any easier. The ones that are left behind struggle a great deal with it, including me.

In this Mini-VLOG, I discuss the difficulty with having kids leave, while Leopold showcases his favorite pieces from my wardrobe (and helps me feel better).

It’s quiet around here,

So Called Mom

 

 

Meeting the Dark Side of the Internet

Kids iPhones and ipadsSo Called Mom

Well, it happened.

Milla lost her privileges to all of her screens and all of her accounts. The hardest part was, that none of it was her fault—even though she still thinks it is.
About a week ago, I posted my thoughts about screens and kids. Well, today I did a 180 on that. Why? Because of a sudden need for maximum security.
As far as I can see,  I’ve identified two kinds of damage that surround screen use. The first is the common one: the addiction that comes with too much use, whether it’s social media or video games. Theoretically there’s a straight-forward solution: go outside and play, read a book or use your hands and create something.
The second is more unexpected and much more concerning. It’s made me look to the connective power of the internet as something that is more harmful than helpful. It’s made me question my laissez-faire attitude.

It’s even made me question the way I’ve made some mom choices.

Cutting to the chase: I think my 14-year-old was lured into a teen self-harm group – which is bad enough, but to make matters worse, the group may be linked to some kind of sex trafficking gang or occult. Maybe that sounds like a stretch, but at this point, I don’t care what it is—I just want my daughter as far away from it as possible.

So don’t misunderstand:  it’s  not like we don’t comprehend internet safety, we just never thought the bad stuff would happen to our own kid. But the depth of insanity that I’m going to reveal is enough to make you realize just how much you don’t know. And I hope it gives you goosebumps.  It’s certainly freaked the hell out of me.

So here’s the story: 

Last week, Milla’s internet girlfriend broke up with her. She was devastated, and I helped pick up the pieces. This week, one of the friends in the same group of online friends died. I had no idea this child had cancer, no idea she became a bestie, no idea there was even a circle of “friends” that Milla now referred to as her “family”and no idea just how much that family knew about Milla.
The truth is, I had noticed Milla acting depressed lately and becoming darker and more isolated. I noticed her real friends had completely dwindled—but I thought it was because she favored the online version. For some reason, I didn’t think to question that. I wanted to be open to the fact that we live in a new world, where kids can connect with different people in different cultures. That she was ahead of the curve on this, like always and I wanted to respect her privacy. I tried to put my foot down when I could, but ever so lightly because she was, after all, a 14-year-old girl who was navigating all sorts of stuff—sexuality, friends, trading middle school for high school…all of it. It’s only a stage, I told myself. At least you’re a part of it.

But I don’t know why I thought I was a part of it when I obviously wasn’t.

I was an outsider to a place she was increasingly visiting for answers. I had no idea that she was being swept away. It wasn’t until she was devastated by back to back events –  heartbreak from one “Friend” and the death of another – that I was suddenly clued into something more twisted and dark. 

It was Pippin who stepped in with some critical questions:  

Ok….I’m slow to the uptake. But here was my wake up call.

We looked through her devices and uncovered multiple accounts from a tight group of people who shared images of slashed wrists and made art about death and loneliness. One of them was our beloved Milla—you could literally scroll and see the darkness taking over her originally cheery and artsy account. In scanning through everything, and comparing images and postings, I have reason to believe that there were only a few people, masquerading as a lot more and reeling in vulnerable kids like Milla.  I also suspect that some may have been “killed off” to lure kids in even deeper with an end goal I can only shudder to imagine.  

Admittedly, my initial reaction was to feel paralyzed and shocked.

I tried to Google, searching for some answers.  This was so far outside my realm of experience or that of anyone I knew that I didn’t know where to begin. There was very little at this level—nothing that would help me come to terms with what happened. Sure there was plenty of info about cyber-bullying, but it all seemed oversimplified and centered on hurt feelings—nothing this complex. Then my mind started to spin out, thinking that Milla was very well catfished by that little girl who broke her heart. What if she was a little girl caught up in it too, brainwashed and pressured to recruit other kids?
I understand I’m sounding completely crazy, but with so little information I’m left only with speculation and my own detective work. But wouldn’t you agree that I have enough info though, to make me scour all phones and profiles, delete photos, accounts, apps and block people and phone numbers that aren’t family or known friends? And even so, the devices I’m most concerned about—Milla’s—are sitting, powered off. Those deserve a good cooling off in solitude.

How do any of us really know what they are doing on their social media?

We are caught between letting them find their own way around as we learn to let go, and letting them loose in uncharted and unregulated territories.  It’s the wild, wild west out there, and I had been letting Milla—and almost all of my kids really, explore it solo. I would love to give all of the above the benefit of the doubt, but at the risk of losing my child? No way in hell do I take that risk.
I know this feels like punishment to her. I have reinforced otherwise and tried to reduce all of this to the simple example stated above: It’s time to just go outside and play, to reestablish yourself with your friends, and yes, even go talk to someone professional about what happened—to return to ground zero and rebuild.
If anyone has had a similar experience or any kind of advice, please, please share in the comments below–not only would I appreciate hearing from you, but I really kind of need it right now.
Your personal firewall,
So Called Mom

Using Dinner to Stay in Your Kids Lives VLOG

Hi there!

Here’s a sweet mini-VLOG for today on what our busy blended family does to stay connected with one another.

If you have other tips and tricks to add, please share in the comments below, I’m always open to trying out your ideas.

Thanks and don’t forget to subscribe!

So Called Mom

Why We (over)Film Our Family

film our family so called mom

We have 60 terabytes of family footage.

For the last ten years of our blended family life together, Pippin and I have been recording just about every single movement of every single member of our family. Why?
Because this life is worth capturing. Well, that’s the easy answer – the puffed-up proud mom answer. Because like anyone else, I love the obvious stuff like first steps and birthdays, Christmas and dance recitals. But the real meat of life is located in between those moments.

Such as Jake’s obsession with pulling out his siblings loose baby teeth. Any and all arguments. Emotional transitions from one parent’s house to the other. Getting sauced late Christmas Eve and sitting among hundreds of unwrapped presents. Recording our turtle dying from an overdose of anesthesia from the vet because the dog ate him.

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 5.41.42 PMLife is just so much less staged in these moments, and I feel more connected with the realness, with my kids and my family. These are not Pinterest worthy moments: the house is a mess and the dog is shaking off his smelly wet body everywhere and the cat is eating pizza off the table and the kids are hitting each other and I’m sitting in the center of it all in that moment of truth. You know the feeling? That moment where an inner voice says to you: At one point, this was exactly what you wanted. And better yet: Do you still want it?

These filmed moments of chaos help me say yes. And with some damn conviction.

I wish I could say filming was my idea, but I actually have Pippin to thank. He’s obsessed with recording everything about our family. He claims to “find human interaction fascinating”. He says our family is the test subject—Which he uses to hone his skills on.  “I like to record things that are helpful to other people.  I want to help people in parenting through real life instructional videos.” Full Disclosure:

12799046_568641576638482_7182607379463116633_nAt the beginning of our recorded life together, I was not that keen on being on camera all the time. When Pascal was born, a short year after we met, I was still camera shy—or at least still worried about how I looked on camera. So when Pippin assumed we’d record the birth, it was met with a resounding no. Not when I was the leading lady, huffing and puffing, uncomfortable on my back—with the potential to suddenly not be able to communicate that I wanted him to “turn that freaking thing off.”

But, three continuously recorded years later, things had changed. Leopold’s three camera cinematic set up was in the works before I even made it to the corner suite of the Nine’s Hotel. (Another post for another day, but suffice it to say, Leopold’s birth was less of a How-To guide on birthing a kid, than an intense TMI guide about the discomfort of childbirth. And when we posted that video on Youtube, it probably served as birth-control for someone.

These days I’m totally sold on being filmed at any time of the day, whatever I’m doing.

10730856_370529239783051_348553510128390596_nI now understand his reasons. I think he just thinks his family is the most amazing thing walking the Earth. He doesn’t see the mess of life; he sees family poetry. And if he blinks, it will all be aged out. Whether it’s dancing in the shower, the kids laughing, in the hospital with a broken arm, my yelling at a kid or even bawling my eyes out—it all has it’s logical place in our world together. I would even go so far as to say I get ticked off now when he’s not recording , especially during a critical family moment that we will never recapture.

This is all to give some context about why we film. It’s because to us, these moments matter. All of them. I’ve even thought about setting up a few cameras in the house, to be rolling at all times.

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So then, does this make us a selfie family?

I want to say no, but all signs point to yes. And for the most part, everyone is on board, or at least tolerant. Jake is constantly criticizing us for overusing or “abusing” the cameras. When the camera turns on, Phoenix reduces his personality to resemble day old porridge. Milla dodges questions and MJ slaps her forehead. But on occasion, one of the unwilling participants gives us a gem—a small glimmer into who they are becoming. The rest of the footage is just about how they got there.

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And one of these days, I will be able to sit down and press play. Almost like I get to enjoy my life twice. At least I will never be the mom who says, “I can’t remember.”

I won’t need to remember, it’s all right here.

Aaaand cut,

So Called Mom

Next Post: Letting kids fail

Why I Hate Screens

So Called Mom Climbs out of iPhone 7 Screen straight on I Hate Screens and kids with screens

I really hate screens.

I hate watching my kids stumble around, eyes glued to that screen held so lovingly in their palms. I feel like their brains are being controlled, replacing all my life lessons with mush.

I hate it even more that they learned this behavior from me.

I get so mad at myself and those devices that anytime someone loses one or it gets smashed or dropped in the toilet (no snickering, I know we aren’t the only ones) I throw a secret party in my head. I can’t help it—they have officially gotten in the way of my relationship with my kids—and I have put the obstacle there myself.

I Hate Screens and kids with screens

Saying yes to screens was my worst decision as a mom.

Of course it wasn’t my idea. But it all started when I got a company iPhone in 2007. That Christmas the kids got iPods, their gateway drug.

Somehow I have fallen into the trap of allowing them to trade up for better, faster versions.  Somehow that’s what Christmas or birthdays have become. No surprises here. Happy “7 Plus” Day. See you when you turn 8.

And I pay for it, in more ways than one.

I convince myself that the dark circles under the kids eyes aren’t permanent craters because of late night viewing—because they can’t sleep. And yes, I get the irony.

But I’m just as guilty. Some nights at three or four am, I’m already at it. I feel my way to the kitchen while I respond to an email that somehow I think needs to be answered immediately.

I Hate Screens and kids with screensThese screens feel like they are taking over at least this family’s life. I read somewhere that even Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids have screens—any of them. Could he maybe have known something that we are now learning the hard way: These things are addictive. When I put down my phone, it’s only to look at my computer. If I can’t change my habits, how do I expect my kids to?

Screens dominate our family dinner table.

I Hate Screens and kids with screensThey hijack our conversations. They make stronger bonds with things that are meaningless to our family: videos about kittens or people falling; a stupid comment OR an irrelevant article. Or jokes and phrases that don’t make me laugh because they aren’t even real words. Very recently, I have felt like I need a dictionary like it’s a foreign language. Ghostride the flounce, on fleek dafuq. By the way, POS isn’t what you think it is. It’s way worse. And so far, they do a great job at KPC. It’s a constant game of catch up that I’m confused about, because I swear I’m still hip. But I’m not, because I order these phones to be put away. Now it’s officially me who isn’t joining the conversation, because I have no idea what is going on.

I’ve been known to say awful things like, “Did you know that the number of deaths by selfie has spiked in recent years…” The kids laugh at me: “Is that how you’ll go mom?” I laugh too, because of course I’m a first-hand offender. I have also sought validation in likes and comments from pictures and videos. Even when I confess about this, trying to have a “hey isn’t it funny that we do this and complain about it” conversation, I’m not sure they’ve heard me over their own concentrated scroll. Their eyes and thumbs are so much more connected than mine. At this point in time, they are gifted with this connectivity and it’s hard for me to accept it as being meaningful and necessary, really.

Phoenix Dr Pepper I Hate Screens and kids with screens

Look, I have the ability to end it. Right here, right now.

Everyone give me your phones, say your goodbyes. Into the bin they go.

But the device wouldn’t be the only thing that went in. So would their artwork, their friends, the meaning they have found in themselves, the companion that, even though I hate to admit it, has been the only one there for them late at night when they couldn’t sleep. Also, let’s not be silly and think that this bin isn’t a two way street. Because I’m damn well aware that while all of this stuff went into the bin, the first thing that would crawl back out is resentment. Towards me. What a replacement that would be.

So I let them scroll and ignore, scroll and ignore. Is that the worst thing that could happen?

And, while I’m feeling really guilty here—let me outright admit that I have used screens to babysit them while I’m on mine. “But I’m working,” I say, with 65% accuracy.

So Called Mom Climbs out of iPhone 7 Screen straight on I Hate Screens and kids with screens

I try to challenge our family in many ways, but it’s hard to stop using. I try to lead, but I have come to realize that I’m pretty lousy at the follow up. Here are some of the many restrictions I’ve failed at—and their responses:

A temporary collection bin on the dining table—all phones are to be deposited by 8 pm.

But my phone is also my alarm clock.
I need my sleep sounds app to get me to sleep.

Designate an art time, every day.

But my phone is what records my art—my animation.
I need to watch this video tutorial so I can do the art you want me to do.

You’re supposed to be doing your homework.

I’m using it to look up vocabulary.
The Discovery Channel counts as research.

 

Just put it away, it’s bad for you.

But I’m reading an article on climate change.
You said I should have more friends—so I’m live streaming.

and the inevitable…But yours is out all the time!

I Hate Screens and kids with screens

In a couple of months we are taking a long vacation. I can’t wait to watch their pale Oregon faces get sun kissed. These phones are allowed to come for the trip (they are, after all, cameras too), but they need to stay behind in the hotel. Of course I’ll use the excuse of salt and sand ruining their devices, but in all reality, I just want them to see that there is more to life than what is in the palm of their hand.

Hopefully I’ll be able to follow the rules.

L8R,

So Called Mom

Up Next: The Dirty Truth About Chores