Why I Let My Daughter Have An Instagram Account

I’m pretty conservative when it comes to my kids. I’m the mom who says no. No to the hot new movie that all the kids are going to see. No to the obnoxious, snarky shows on the Disney channel, no to the more risqué shows geared toward older kids. No to walking up to the school alone. No to riding bikes outside of our neighborhood. No to ride-on motorized toys. No, even, to reading Young Adult books I, myself, authored. No. Not yet.

Given this, imagine my surprise—and my daughter’s—when I said yes to opening an Instagram account.

I still remember how startled I was when I discovered, about eighteen months ago, that many of my daughter’s (4th grade) friends had accounts. When I thought of Instagram, images of selfies instantly came to mind, of bikini clad girls and video clips of kids partying, hundreds, sometimes thousands of followers. No way, I thought. No way am I letting my daughter jump into this cesspool of social media. She’s too young. Too innocent. This isn’t something she needs to be doing.

And my daughter, bless her heart, didn’t even ask. She knew. She knew what the answer would be. No, no, no.

So, one short year later, why did I do it? Why’d I do a complete 180 and let my daughter dive into the world of social media? Basically, it boils down to this:

  1. She’s a good kid. She does what we ask of her. She applies herself at school. She does her homework. She works hard at soccer and softball and choir. She helps out around the house. (She reads her brother bedtime stories!) She’s demonstrated a level of maturity, responsibility, and trust that made us feel not only comfortable that she could manage her own behavior on Instagram, but that she deserved the opportunity to try.
  2. It’s the world she’s going to live in. As much as we may wring our hands about the evils of social media, it’s not going anywhere. It’s the world we live in, the world our kids are growing up in. We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend like it’s not happening, but that only serves to 1) isolate us and 2) leave us woefully ill-equipped for dealing with reality. And I don’t want my daughter ill-equipped. I want her prepared. I want her ready. I want her to know what she’s doing. I want her to understand how to communicate, about actions and consequences, intended or otherwise. And the only way she’s going to learn this is if we allow her to explore the world in which she’s living.
  3. She’s young enough and still likes me enough that we can do this together. Two of the conditions of my daughter’s Instagram account are that it’s open on my phone at all times and that I know the password. This means I’m able to see what’s going on—what she posts and what her friends post. I see the pictures, the comments. I see who sends her Follow Requests (she’s not allowed to accept without running it by me first). We discuss who she might want to Follow. We’ve talked about why it doesn’t make sense to have hundreds of Followers, just for the sake of having Followers. We’ve talked about what kinds of pictures to post, versus those that could hurt someone’s feelings or lead to some other consequence.
  4. It’s an opportunity for her to begin expressing her own individuality. And as much as I may wish my little girl could be my little girl forever, the fact is she’s growing up, and growing into her own person. And it’s really kind of fascinating and cool (and heartwarmingly wonderful) to see her creativity emerge, to see which pictures she chooses to post (lots of our dogs and cats, and, just this week, a pic of her reading 43 on 41 after she had the opportunity to meet former president Bush!). It’s also fun to see some of the pages she’s chosen to follow: CatsofInstagram, GreatPyreneesoftheHour, and Imagine Dragons.
  5. And finally, while we’re sure there’s some forbidden fruit in our future, we don’t want it to be Social Media. We don’t want to turn this into some huge, unattainable holy grail. We don’t want her venturing out there on her own. We don’t want her trying to figure everything out by herself. Far better to stand by her side and teach her, than to shut her down because we’re not ready.

So… how’s it gone?

I’m happy to say it’s gone great. Her introduction to Instagram has been a positive experience for her, and for us as mother/daughter. It’s provided opportunities to talk about real-life situations and scenarios, such as inappropriate behavior or pictures, bullying, foul language, premature sexuality, etc. And as much as I dislike some of the content I’ve seen, I’d rather see and know about it, than to not know what was going on. Because of this, we’re able to talk about things we need to talk about. And they’re not just esoteric conversations anymore. They’re concrete, based upon concrete incidents involving people she knows. She comes to me when she gets new Follow requests, and explains why she thinks she should accept—or not accept. She tells me who she wants to send Follow requests to. She’s shown me several pictures/comments on pictures that bothered her, and she’s complained about a few of her friends who are a little selfie happy. One of them she wanted to unfollow, but before she did so, we talked about possible ramifications.

I still say no. A lot. She still can’t watch Hunger Games or Twilight. She still doesn’t have her own phone number. She still can’t read my Midnight Dragonfly books. She still can’t walk to school by herself. And she still can’t sign up for some of the more dangerous apps, such as Kik and Whisper and SnapChat. But because she’s happy with Instagram, she’s not in any hurry to branch out to other venues.

Now, six months into this new world, this No Mom is glad she said Yes.

How to Be a Mom and a Writer: Part I

A lot of moms ask me how I manage to write books and be a mom, a wife, and do all the stuff that goes along with that. Here’s an admission: I don’t do it all very well much of the time. Sometimes I don’t play with my daughter enough. Sometimes I don’t spend enough time with my husband. Sometimes I get behind on work. Almost all the time I don’t sleep enough.

Still, I do manage to write and promote several books a year. How do I do it? I wish I had a really glamorous suggestion, but the truth is the answer for me has been stringent time management.

If you want to write a book, or complete any big task, you have to do two things. First, you have to set goals. Secondly, you have to make a schedule.

Let’s talk about goals, and in the next blog (February 18) I’ll chat about schedules. There are two types of goals—short term and long term. When I’m writing a book, my long term goal is easy—the book’s due date. What if you’ve never written a book or don’t have a publisher-set due date? Let’s chat about that more after we discuss short-term goals.

 2014-02-11 10.40.30

If you look at the above photo of the calendar I have sitting beside my computer, you can see (Maybe, it’s small!) on Sunday I have penciled in SS and numbers. SS is the manuscript I’m working on, and the numbers are the page number I should be on by the end of the week. So each week I have a short-term goal of 25 pages. Each weekday I have a shorter-term goal of 5 pages. My books are about 240 manuscript pages, so that means I can write the draft of a book in about 10 weeks. But I have to meet my goals everyday. That’s where time-management comes in, and I’ll chat about that next week.

Okay, so how do you know how long it will take you to write your book or complete your project?  It all depends on how much time you have in a day and how many pages you can write a day. Let’s say you have 1 hour a day, maybe during naptime, to write. Write for that one hour every day for a week and record how many pages you wrote each day. Average those, and you know how many pages you can do a day. When Princess Galen was a newborn, I could write 2 pages a day. Now that she’s 4, I can do 5. Let’s not even talk about the heady days before she was born when I wrote 10-15!

Most books are between 75,000-100,000 words. How long are your pages? 250 words? If you write 2 pages a day, that’s 500 words a day. You can write 2500 words a week (unless you also work on weekends). That means you need 30 weeks to finish your book. Want to finish it sooner? Write more pages a day.

The point is that if you break a big task, like writing a book, into smaller segments, you can get it done—even if you only have an hour a day!

**Since I’m chatting about writing, I couldn’t allow the chance to go by without telling you that I’m giving away free gifts!

Sapphires Gift

If you pre-order my upcoming release, SAPPHIRES ARE AN EARL’S BEST FRIEND, and send proof of pre-order to Casablanca@sourcebooks.com you get the free gift! Hurry because this ends February 28.

SAEBF13

Shana Galen, Multitasker Mama
I’m Shana Galen, AKA Multitasker Mama (and aren’t we all?). I’m a wife, mom to a four-year-old daughter I call Baby Galen. My parenting motto is, “Keep moving. Don’t pass out. Don’t throw up.” Or maybe that’s my fitness motto? http://www.shanagalen.com

In Pursuit of Perfect

You’re sitting there. Maybe you’re flipping through a magazine or scrolling through Facebook, or maybe you’re at the playground or a group lunch/dinner. You’re sitting there looking or listening, and everything is so…perfect. The women in the magazine are beautiful. Your friends on Facebook are having wonderful experiences, posting pictures of their beautiful families and fabulous vacations, sharing how blessed they are by a new job or home, by a golden friendship or the most amazing, romantic marriage, for some incredible success they’re having professionally, a fabulous review or promotion, a fat raise (or new contract). To the casual observer, you look normal, but inside you’re dying…dying. Because everywhere you look, Perfect is Blasting back at you. Except for when you look in the mirror. Then you see yourself, and the far from perfect reality of your life. And those negative thought start creeping in…you know the ones.

Social Media amplifies this, because so much of social media is a shout-out of greatest hits. We gush about what’s awesome. Fantastic. Amazing! Rarely do we admit to what’s not. Oh, I don’t mean the posts about having a headache or allergies or food poisoning, but the posts where we admit our fears and vulnerabilities. Where we talk about our nightmares, not our dreams.

But there you are, working through the reality of your life, while the barrage of Perfect! around you feels like one gut punch after another.  You want to be happy for your friends—you are—but at the same time, it becomes increasingly hard to feel comfortable in your own skin, when everyone else’s skin seems so-o-o much better. If I’m being honest, being real, here’s my truth:  I smile at the world—I keep that smile pasted so firmly in place—but behind it, way down deep, are all the dirty little secrets, the lifelong messages that play like a broken record through my mind: My legs are flabby. My stomach is too poochy. My butt is too big. The lines around my eyes make me look old. My mouth is too small. My eyelashes are too thin. My chest is too freckled. My house is disgracefully unclean.  My writing isn’t good enough, isn’t amazing. That I don’t have what it takes.  I’m not organized enough. I’m too selfish. I don’t volunteer enough. I’m not a good enough friend.  I’m invisible. I procrastinate too much. I’m not a good enough wife, mother…

On, and on, and on…

Those are my demons, and I fight them. I fight them hard, and finally, I think, after a lot of years and heartache, and a whole lotta love from some very special people, I’m making headway. I’m coming to realize—to accept—that PERFECT is an illusion. Sure there are perfect moments. Perfect days. Perfect chocolate chip cookies. But what I’m talking about is Perfect Everything. It doesn’t exist. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and like the rainbow, it’s always shifting. It dangles out there, tempting us, teasing…taunting, but no one ever really gets there—and anyone who puts on that they have is simply blowing smoke. They want you to think that, they want to think that, because they need it as desperately as everyone else. But it’s all smoke and mirrors…and that’s okay.

I look at my kids, my daughter especially, and I think about the truths I want to teach them, that real happiness comes from inside, that they are beautiful just the way they are, because beauty comes through smiles and grace and kindness, through love and compassion and forgiveness, from giving not getting. That the most amazing gifts are the simplest: laughter and hugs and wet, sloppy doggy kisses, the feel of the wind and the warmth of the sun, a walk through the woods, grass or sand between their toes, holding hands…  That there is no perfect weight, no magic number on the scale that suddenly is going to make life okay. That no one cares if your legs aren’t toned and tight, or if your mouth is small or freckles dot the bridge of your nose. No one is going to turn their back on your because you have thin eyelashes or are a size bigger than you’d like to be. That you’re not going to lose friends because your house is dirty (case in point: my daughter’s room is a disaster area…but seriously, I’m pretty sure that’s never cost her a friend!)  That life isn’t always sunshine and roses, that it can’t be, but that’s okay.  That as long as you have love in your heart, for yourself and those around you, as long you have compassion and empathy and forgiveness, as long as you do your best, everything’s going to be okay.

I have my demons, but if I have anything to say about it, they’ll never sneak up on my kids.

You Posted WHAT?!?

Last week I updated my Facebook status (as my alter-ego, Jenna Mills, not Ellie James—sometimes it’s confusing being more than one person!) with a whimsical anecdote about my four-year-old son’s attempt to give our placid, overweight, deaf cat an appendectomy. At least, I thought it was whimsical. I mean, I found him before anything bad happened. I took the pairing knife from his hand. I hid it again, this time really, really well…I think.  And heck, I’m not even convinced anything bad would have happened, had I not intervened. Surely the cat would have moved if he actually started to cut her. My son is only four. He has a vivid imagination (occupational hazard). He makes stuff up left and right. He tells stories about the spaceship in the clouds over our house, the one he came from and returns to at night, where there are zombies and aliens and storm troopers, and they always listen to him, even if they sometimes take his brain out and make adjustments. Yeah.  He’s four. Four and two months to be exact. But I digress. Kind of.

At the time of my post, I was sitting in a shadowy hospital room, watching my eight-year-old daughter sleep off anesthesia from an emergency appendectomy. (Went to a minor league baseball game Saturday evening, laughed in the rain for two hours before the game was postponed, woke up Sunday morning to a little girl not feeling well, discovered her pain was in her lower right abdomen, off to the ER, they sent her to the OR.) So, there I was, twenty-four hours after eating French fries in a downpour, sitting in the hospital alone, with the silence and way too many ‘what-ifs.’ So I posted the story about my son, who, while I was hurriedly packing for the hospital, attempted to re-enact what was happening to his sister with the cat.

The next evening my husband looked up from his laptop, gave me one of those guy frown/scowl things, and told me he thought maybe we needed to think about what we do and don’t post on Facebook. He used words like drama and TMI, but I don’t remember a ton of detail, because I immediately got defensive. I do remember telling him that my friends love my Jack-stories, to which he made some kind of comment about telling the world our family was out of control.

Ouch.

BUT this isn’t about what he said, whether he was wrong or I was wrong, but rather, about what we post—and why we post it.

Facebook is fascinating. I mean really, truly fascinating. I’ve always been a people watcher. I notice everything, especially minute details. For someone like me, Facebook is the ultimate playground—or psychology lab (my minor in college). I no longer have to leave my house to see the world dance around me. I’ve found friends I lost twenty years ago for no other reason than I moved. I learn all kinds of exciting news, see pictures of kids and pets and far-away places (right now I’m following the story of Poppy, a rescue dog in Australia!). I know when Friend A has diarrhea (yay, me!) or Friend B can’t sleep. I know when Friend C is furious with the electric company or her neighbor or whoever else might cross her path and Friend D is fighting with her boyfriend (because they do it all RIGHT THERE for the world to see. Oiy!) I laugh and I fume and sometimes I cry. Oh, and I get to ask tons of research questions!!

Being a thinking kind of person, sometimes I sit back and reflect on the bizarreness of it all, not just Facebook but the explosion of social media we never even conceptualized five years ago. It’s crazy how much it has changed my life, how, yes, I reach to update my status when hail pummels my house or run to Twitter when I hear there’s going to be a big announcement. And yet, I have many friends who don’t participate in any social media, and those who only lurk.

Why, I wonder. What drives us?  What prompts us to share life’s little moments, some quite personal and intimate, with hundreds of faceless people, to post RIP message when someone we never knew (a celebrity or sports figure) passes away, weather updates, sports scores, to tell 523 people when we have a headache….or when my four-year-old attempts to give our cat an appendectomy.

For me, as a writer, the answer is two-fold.

1)   I’m a story-teller. That’s what I do. I tell stories. Given that, something like Facebook is a natural extension of what I do for a living, with the exception of the fiction versus non-fiction thing.

2)   I spend most my time in my house and my story-worlds. I don’t get out much. I don’t have an office to go to, with other people to hang around with. I don’t have a cafeteria with a coffeepot to stand around and exchange hellos and anecdotes while adding cream and sugar. There’s no hall or cube chatter. There’s no communal TV to stare at with my co-workers when something big and huge happens in the world.

So, for me, social media is my cafeteria. It’s where I go when I want—or need—to talk. Sometimes I’m looking for advice or feedback. Sometimes I’m looking for people to share my excitement or incredulity. And yeah, sometimes I’m looking for a virtual hug. I try not to use social media as dumping ground. I try not to excessively vent or rant (try being the operative word). I steer clear of divisive topics like religion and politics. I try not to unleash negative energy on my unsuspecting friends. I try not to make the people who read my posts sad. I rarely mention when I don’t feel well (with the exception of comical things like when jumping and twirling off the arm of the sofa, after straightening the curtain pleats, resulted in blowing out my knee) But…I do tell stories about my kids, and sometimes those stories reveal flaws in my parenting or coping skills. But you know what? I’m okay with that, because I’ve always been all about being real. That’s how I make connections with others who are traveling the same road as I am. That’s how I survived my journey through infertility. I don’t need anyone to think I’m perfect, because I’m not. But I would like to think someone might find it interesting (informative? witty?) to sit down and talk with me for a little while (ahem…upon proofreading this post, I sorta gotta admit that sounds a little pathetic!).

What about you? Do you have personal  guidelines, protocols, or habits for what you post? Are there things you’d never post, or someone you blocked because you just couldn’t take anymore of their updates?