Why Pokémon Go is Better than your Fitness App

Every year after the holidays people vow to hit the gym and make it “the year I finally get healthy.” Not many of us follow through on that.

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“Getting healthy” isn’t that much of a motivator. “Getting sexy” generally works better, but so few of us still follow through.

Admit it. Exercise is hard.

Much of this is due to the high initial cost (carving out time, committing to that time until it becomes routine, buying gym clothes/membership, etc.) and the low initial payout (feeling like shit because you’re so out of shape, comparing yourself to others in the gym and finding yourself wanting).

Certain things can encourage people to get outside and walk- owning a dog, having a walking buddy, etc.- but the fact remains that most of us don’t. It’s boring.

Enter Pokemon Go, the new app that has millennials out walking en masse. While most of my generation is bemused, oblivious, or downright hostile toward this new trend, I took it upon myself to be at the forefront of a cultural shift for once. It started out as something fun I could do with my daughter. Not only do I recommend playing it with your children, I recommend playing it for yourself.

I’ve gotten more exercise in the past two days than I have all year. My feet hurt. I’ve been outside running around with my kids. I’m not the only one. The game has convinced many people who would otherwise remain indoors to go out and experience the world. People with depression and social anxiety have reported that the game has been immensely beneficial.  My daughter, who is more than a little inclined to hang out indoors and play with her iPad, is requesting to go to the park several times a day. With so many people out walking, one shelter is even asking for volunteers to take dogs for walks while catching Pokemon.

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How does the game motivate you to exercise?

All games employ some kind of reward system. If they didn’t, no one would play them. Rewards come in the form of leveling up, access to new items, upgrades, etc. Reward systems can make or break a game. They have to motivate the player to continue playing consistently over time (games like Farmville have this down to a science). The brain doesn’t really differentiate between tangible and digital rewards, either way it releases happy hormones.

This is where Pokemon Go excels compared to all of your fitness apps that merely track steps and other data. It rewards players for physical activity. I’m going to start with the most concrete example:

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These are all my Pokemon eggs. See how they each have “km” next to them? That’s kilometers. That’s how many kilometers I have to walk until that egg hatches. Today I got a 10km egg, which means I have to walk 6.2 MILES until it hatches. And no, riding in the car doesn’t work. If you go too fast the distance traveled is not counted. Bicycles are fine.

The game also contains PokeStops. These are blue markers around your neighborhood that can be spun for rewards when you’re in close enough proximity. They are generally located at interesting local landmarks- sometimes they are neat little places around town that you might not have otherwise noticed.

 

PokeStops have a cooldown time of about five minutes, which means you can’t stand in one spot and spam them. It’s better to find a location with several in close proximity because the first will be refreshed by the time you’ve hit all the others. My local park has five PokeStops forming a nice loop. For the past several days there have been people cycling between the PokeStops at my park, collecting their rewards and continuing on. Most of these are millennials that you wouldn’t usually see outside at a park on a Monday morning.

This is what my downtown area looks like:

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Lots of PokeStops! I hate going downtown because parking is limited and that makes transporting the kids really difficult, yet today we went early after dropping off my son. We walked around, stopped at a local cafe, played in the grass, and played in the fountain. Oh, and yes we also caught Pokemon. The servers were having issues at the time so we didn’t get to do much hunting, but our enjoyment being outdoors hanging out made up for that. I can say that I never would have gone downtown at 8:30am on a Wednesday with my kids in tow if not for this app.

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The next time you play Candy Crush or Farmville or whatever other mobile app is popular, considering downloading Pokemon Go.

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It’s Been One of Those Days

Weekdays I get up at 6:45am and the children are woken at 7:15. Saturdays we can sleep in somewhat, as OT doesn’t start until 10am. Little Man, however, decided to wake up at 6:40 this morning. He’s congested so it looks like another cold is in the works. I make him waffles and go back to bed.

Shortly thereafter he barges in asking for a nose wipe. Usually I’m able to extricate myself from the baby/bed and get up quickly enough so that I can shoo him out before his voice and the light of the iPad wake up the baby or my husband. Today he inexplicably decided to turn on ALL THE LIGHTS to announce his entrance, leading to mass chaos. Baby was woken up early, which throws off her whole nap/feeding schedule and leads to gems like this.

Getting out the door was rough, but that’s nothing new. LM crapped his pants right before we had to leave but at least I figured it out before putting his shoes on and taking everyone out to the car. So that’s a win.

OT went okay. As usual I spent the entire time trying to keep the baby away from the two doors lest she get brained. This consists of me sitting next to one door, block her, turning her around ad nauseam, then switching chairs when she goes for the door on the other side of the room.

Leaving OT sucked. LM is obsessed with going to the bathroom after we leave, but I have yet to figure out exactly what he wants. On the days when I’m carrying the baby in my arms we can’t go because I can’t set her down. Last week we left before using the bathroom and he had a tantrum than continued through lunch. This week we went to the bathroom. He couldn’t explain to me what he wanted. He just took off his shoes and whined incoherently. We washed hands and left, but that led to more requests for the bathroom. Dragging a heavy three year-old with an infant strapped to your chest is no fun. I know my husband needs sleep but I need help with this shit.

Went to lunch. Tried a new place. That went okay, even if they had nothing for the kids besides fries. Whatever. I’ve given up trying to get the older kids to eat real food. The baby slept through lunch but woke up at the very end. Fries temporarily placated her but the real wailing began in the car. She was hungry and cranky. The other kids were quiet as they had ice cream and for once didn’t drip all over themselves.

Got home. Got baby and V out of the car. LM was screwing around inside. I tried to carry too much because the baby was wailing inside and LM was still outside. I was doing my best not to spill the leftover ice cream and knocked over my full soda, though thankfully most spilled outside and not in the car. It’s not even 12:30.

Communication is More Than That

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Little Man hugging a pack of strawberries he picked out.

I feel like we’ve hit some sort of turning point with Little Man, though I can’t explain exactly why. His speech has gotten immensely better over the last year. He actually passed his annual vocabulary acquisition goal in school after only four months. It’s more than that though.

In the beginning there were only nouns. Nouns are fine and dandy, but they’re not always helpful. What if you don’t know the word for something? What if you’re trying to say something related to a feeling? Or something that happened? Being able to ask for cheese by saying “cheese” is not the same thing as having a conversation. It’s one-sided and only works with caretakers who give a damn what you want. The world isn’t like that. Nouns are good, but we needed more.

Early on in the school year there was an incident on the playground. My daughter is in TK so we play on the Kindergarten playground before school starts. While there are a few toddlers here and there, my son, being three, is big enough to play on all the equipment with the five and six year-olds. In the beginning it was really rough. Sometimes girls would chase him around, calling him a baby. He couldn’t talk so that’s what he was to them- a big, cute baby. They violated his personal space with hugs and were shocked when he shoved them away. I intervened a few times and they stopped. The boys would run by and knock him down, completely unaware that they had even done so, and my son had no proper way to respond.

One time a boy ran by and knocked off Little Man’s hat. He stood there, shaking with indignation, and let loose a tirade of gibberish at the offending boy. His target also stood motionless, completely oblivious to what was going on and why it was directed at him. Since his words were having no effect my son attempted to hit. I blocked him several times while doing my best to talk him down. The yard lady came over and asked what was going on and I had to explain. My son was trying his best to use his words, but they did no good as they were indecipherable.

School means more interactions with peers and it has lead to an increase in aggressive behavior. I’ve told ABA to work on functional language. He needs something to say during altercations. Something that can be understood.

Move.

Stop.

Leave me alone.

Go away.

Nouns are not enough. He needs to be armed with language that can convey how he feels.

“Stop” was picked up after one session. He loves the word now and uses it frequently. I had to tell my husband to respect that. Tickling him and he asks you to stop? You better stop. Obviously things like diaper changes and brushing teeth still have to be done, but at least now he knows what to say. ABA is working on “move” now. I imagine that one will be mastered soon as well.

 

I don’t know if this has given him a new sense of self-confidence or if it’s just a natural development, but I’m seeing more complex requests now. On our last trip to Costco he said “turn around!” I almost didn’t catch it, as I’m so used to tuning out the constant barrage of nonsensical talk from both kids, but I did. It was the first time I’ve heard him use that phrase. I backed up the cart and tried to find what it was he was so interested in. He wasn’t very helpful in that regard, but I eventually I found a forklift that may have been the source of the request. I identified the new machine, as well as a pallet-mover, and we continued with our shopping.

It makes me think we’ve reached a new stage in his development- one in which he has greater control over his own life. Communication is key to autonomy and it is wonderful to see him gaining the ability to make himself understood.

 

Stuff I’ve Pulled out of the Baby’s Mouth

 

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  1. dog hair
  2. black plastic screw
  3. tan bark
  4. lint
  5. kitty litter
  6. paper
  7. a mini corndog she somehow got out of the trash
  8. used kleenex
  9. charging cables
  10. shoes
  11. leaves

I love it that she’s crawling but just everything is going into her mouth. Ugh!

Autism Milestone #34

He can now tattle on his sister.

“V push.”

Not much, but it’s enough for me to go on.

LOL Vomit

A year ago we went to a birthday party for one of V’s classmates. The kids enjoyed playing in bouncy castles and eating pizza. After the cake was served and the children had begun consuming their treats the birthday boy vomited. After he’d been cleaned up I expressed my concern to the mom and told her I hope he was feeling alright. She laughed, waved her hand nonchalantly, and said “it happens all the time.”

I barely had time to contemplate how often a kid must puke before his parents begin to shrug it off when my own son started retching. I raced over with a plate and managed to catch most of it. At the time we blamed it on too much sugar and an involuntary reaction to the birthday boy’s own display.

Here we are, a year later, and I’m in almost the same position as that mom. Little Man vomits. Sometimes it’s when he’s sick, but more often than not nothing appears to be wrong. It usually happens within a few hours of going to bed. I hear him crying and I know. It’s a particularly freaked-out cry. He hates the mess. I do my best to quickly strip him, shower him, get him dressed and put him back to “bed.” If he vomited on his sleep mat I can just change it but if anything gets on the carpet I have to convince him to scooch away from the door and the wet spot.

It’s crappy because I don’t know what causes it and therefore can’t prevent it. Vomiting is no fun for anyone.

It also means we may have to cancel everything. School and therapy all have policies regarding sick children- fever/vomiting in particular. While LM’s vomiting is often unrelated to illness, we can’t exactly wait it out before deciding to cancel. Everyone gets paranoid when it comes to vomiting.

My husband thinks it’s related to having too much sugar. This does seem to be a common factor at least some of the time. I’ve figured out that he can have pizza and ice cream at Costco, but not hot dogs and ice cream. The last time he puked was particularly bad. He had two dum dums prior to bedtime. All of dinner came back up that night and he vomited multiple times (it’s usually just once). Maybe it’s a particular combination of things that sets him off.

Hopefully one day he can tell us or I can figure it out.

Last Child Syndrome

V’s first year seemed to drag on forever. I was new at being a parent and a stay at home mom. Somehow I managed to be both bored AND super busy at the same time. Life revolved a lot around naps. When V started walking and talking it felt like the fun part had begun, so when I had Little Man I couldn’t wait to get past the baby stage. Just give me a one year-old! His first year seemed to fly by and I was grateful. V required the bulk of my attention. I blinked and Little Man was a year old.

Baby K is different though- she’s my last child (barring unforeseen consequences). I want to cherish her baby phase because it’s going to be my last. But her first year is zipping by! Next week she’s going to be eight months old. My little girl is getting bigger every day. As much as I hate being tied down with milk-drunk infant asleep on my lap, I’m absolutely loving it.

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I’m going to miss this.

Why I’m Embarrased to Host

I’m not exactly a neat freak. While I enjoy clean and well-organized homes, my own is rather cluttered. Having kids exasperated this by about 500%. Going to playgroup at other people’s homes is a special kind of torture.

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It’s not just the cleanliness- everything is so tasteful. Walls are painted and adorned with artwork. They have a shelf of…I don’t even know what you call it- decorative crap? Like pictures and fake plants and maybe a figurine? Lemon water sits chilling on the kitchen counter, along with some fine cheese and a selection of local organic fruit.

I’m both envious of their aesthetic and anxious about what the hell they’ll think when it’s my turn to host and they see this:

A trampoline and yoga ball. Pillows thrown on the floor by the kids, because who needs a trampoline when you have couches? White patches all over the walls leftover from speaker installation. A makeshift changing table placed on top of IKEA furniture. A towel draped over my husband’s spot. Cat litter in the living room because I have nowhere else to put it.

I’d like to blame it all on the children, but it’s really not their fault. Yes, many of the women in my current playgroup are first time parents. They have not yet hit the baby-proofing stage, nor the “toys all over the god damned house” stage. But I’ve also seen homes of women with multiple children. Still tasteful. Still well-decorated. It just looks like someone barfed toys on the floor and left. You can still make out the beautiful home underneath the toys.

My home has always been focused on function over form, and the clutter is so bad that I feel I’m perpetually one step away from descending into full-on hoarders madness. Having kids just made the clean up even more difficult. Instead of going through stacks of papers and trying to get rid of unwanted stuff (why do I have a receipt from 2006?), I have to spend my time cleaning up after them. It’s a neverending battle with entropy and I’m constantly on the losing side.

I wonder if a coat of paint and some fake ferns would be enough to fool everyone.

Advocating for my Daughter

I understand my daughter. Probably better than anyone. So it really bothers me when other people either don’t understand her, don’t respect her wishes, or both.

My husband is big on physical and verbal affirmations of affection. It crushes him when our daughter runs away screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” when he wants a hug, or if she doesn’t want to say “I love you.” His relatives are the same. There is an unspoken rule in society that your children and their children must love you unconditionally, or at least act like it regardless of how they feel.

My husband is a good father, but for the first few years of her life he was working while I stayed at home. When he was home he was often tired from work. He slept in or played games. He wasn’t attentive when she was trying to show him something. As a SAHM mom I can do that because I spend all day every day with her. He can’t. There wasn’t much of a relationship there in the beginning, and so she shyed away from him and favored me. He’d ask for hugs and she’d deny him. She denied most people. And he was hurt. He pushed harder- guilt tripping (”you’ll make Daddy saaaad”) or issuing threats (”no story unless you say you love me”). Which is entirely the wrong way to go about it. I’ve told him that the harder he pushes the worse it gets. Build a relationship and let her come to you.

I have always tried to be respectful of my children’s bodies. They have a say in what makes them comfortable. If my daughter doesn’t want a hug or a kiss then I won’t pester her for one. She is not my property. Her body doesn’t belong to me. My job as it relates to her body is simply to make sure its physical needs are met. Bathing. Feeding. Tending to wounds and illnesses. Wiping asses. Making sure she doesn’t get hurt. It is not my job to make sure she gives people hugs.

There is one thing she absolutely hates and I have no idea why. She hates when people call her to FaceTime. As a toddler the phone was engaging enough that she enjoyed such chats. For the past three years she’s run screaming out of the room when I’ve asked her to call a relative. People get disappointed and say “it’s okay, I guess we’ll call back later.” The problem is that later is never good. She HATES this activity.

Birthdays are the biggest problem. Grandparents expect to get a phone call. I usually resort to sending them a card made by her, or if I can get one, a video of her saying “happy birthday.” Many times I can’t get a video as she doesn’t like being told what to do, even if it’s phrased as a nice ask. Sometimes I can’t get a card. One year I had to fake cards because she just didn’t want to do it.

Her birthday is the worst. I feel her pain. The last thing she wants to do on her birthday is stop what she’s doing and talk to random relatives. It doesn’t matter whether or not she likes them. She loves her grandparents! She just doesn’t want to talk to them on the phone. Some people have gotten a tad better, asking when it’s a good time to call rather than just calling outright. But the problem is that with four sets of grandparents and two aunts who also want to chat, that’s SIX times she has to do an activity that she HATES. Even after three years of her screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” they continue to try. I’m sorry, but that’s not a nice thing to do on her birthday. People want to wish her well and completely disregard the fact that she hates it. That they are actually ruining her day bit by bit.

I’ve recently started advocating with our family for my autistic son. After some really horrible interactions I sent a nicely worded email about how they need to interact with him if they wanted to have a positive experience. Elopement had to be discussed. It felt weird. For some reason it’s against social code to tell people how to treat your child, and my husband’s side of the family gets bent out of shape if I so much as send them gift ideas for our children for Christmas (I don’t demand they buy specific things, just tell them the kids’ sizes and let them know what they’re into). But it had to be done and the response was actually pretty positive.

My daughter just had her birthday. Phone calls started coming in and I was getting texts asking for a good time to call. After several phone calls and my daughter repeatedly screaming and running out of the room I decided I’d had enough. If I can advocate for my special needs son then I why can’t I do the same for my quirky daughter?

I crafted a mass text and tried to be as polite as I could.

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I hope I got my point across politely. There are so many things that society expects us to do and we continue to do them without thinking, even when the effect is the opposite of what was intended.

*Originally posted on my Tumblr.

Quirky

That’s the word my preschool teacher used to describe my daughter. At the time she was not the topic of discussion- that would be my son, who had been recently diagnosed with autism. The teacher was talking about how she would have caught it once he joined her class the following year, especially as his sister was so “quirky.” This is a teacher I love. Someone who respects her students and their individuality.

I was an odd kid. I’m an odd adult. My husband thinks I have Asperger’s. I don’t know if I do and it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that both my daughter and I march to the beat of a different drum from most of society. Traits are there. Maybe not enough to get a diagnosis, but still there. When my son was first diagnosed and we went through the seemingly endless number of evaluations I kept finding myself answering questions thusly:

“Does he reject new food? Is he a picky eater?”
“No, but his sister is.”

“Does he have a difficult time with transitions?”
“Well, all kids do. His sister is probably worse than he is.”

Sometimes I feel like autism is spread throughout our household in various ways. My son is sensory-seeking and has no major health problems. His autism mostly takes the form of various developmental delays: speech, abstract concepts, social cues. I have self-diagnosed as having sensory processing disorder. It has been amazing to be able to have an identifier for how I feel- why I hate being touched, why I hate certain textures/flavors, and why I lash out verbally when the noise is so overwhelming that I can’t take it anymore.

My daughter is very intelligent. But early on we noticed a lot more oddities in her than we did with our son. Lining up toys. Things having to be exactly a certain  way. Obsessing over letters.

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The above is her handiwork.

One time I caught her bawling because a book wouldn’t say upright on a shelf. Books were supposed to be upright! She held it up with her hand, but then she couldn’t walk away because it would fall. So she just stood there, hand on book, completely losing her shit over the situation.

But she was very intelligent and that allowed me to help her get a handle on some things. I found out that explaining things in detail ahead of time could prevent a lot of problems. If something set her off it was impossible to calm her down. If I explained X was going to happen at Y time she was fine. “Tomorrow Mommy is going to sleep in. Don’t wake me up. I put yogurt on the bottom shelf of the fridge for you. It’s already opened, you just have to peel back the foil. Don’t wake me up. I will make you waffles when I get up.” And because this event was scripted, she screamed at her father not to make her waffles when he got up early. “No! MOMMY GAVE ME YOGURT! NO WAFFLES!”

Transitions for activities were horrible and explaining time was difficult. Kids have no concept of “two days from now.” Not at that age. I bought one of those pocket calendars that teachers use and printed out my own cards for daily activities. Playgroup, doctor visits, school, birthday parties, family visits, etc. were all on there. Instead of obsessing over something for ages (like a grandparent visiting in three weeks) she could clearly see it on the calendar and get a feel for how long a day/week/month was. It helped immensely, and it was only later that I found out many parents use such methods for their autistic children. When my son’s therapists first started coming to our house they asked if it was for him. I have a teaching credential, so scaffolding her learning has just come naturally.

Which leads me to question the whole “neurotypical” thing. Back when we first started our journey into the ASD world, the therapists told us that “we’re all on the spectrum somewhere.” It sounded like something you’d tell to parents to make them feel better, but maybe it’s true. One of my friends is a speech therapist. She tells me that the parents often exhibit the same qualities as their children, just on a much more functional level. The parents themselves are eccentric, or hyperfocused, or quirky, and their kids demonstrate the same behaviors, just like 100x more.

It’s enough to make you question why we’re shoving people into these categories in the first place. I recently watched this TED talk where Jon Ronson described flipping through a copy of the DSM at his friend’s house and immediately finding out he had four different brain disorders. If you look at anyone hard enough you’re going to find things “wrong” with them. Autism itself used to fall under the category of childhood schizophrenia. It’s diagnostic net is now so wide that it captures 1 in 68 children. That’s a LOT. One of the struggles of the adult autistic community is getting people to view them as different, not broken. Do we really think that 1 in 68 children is born with a malfunctioning brain? Or is it more likely that this is just a normal variation on the bell curve?

*Originally posted on my Tumblr.