Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanks for what?

This Thanksgiving we tried a new tradition.  Our friends Jeff and Tara created a practice where everyone goes around the table and shares their past year's worst thing.  Each sharing is followed by everyone raising their glass and saying, "Praise God!"  (to read Tara's fuller explanation, read here)

I wanted to try their ritual because I feel like I'm raising 3 entitled brats, kids who think there's no God who loves them or justice in the world because they don't own a summer home, the right clothing or any of a whole bunch of other accoutrements.

I realize much, if not all of this, is our fault--when you choose to live in a wealthy suburb where it feels like the vast majority of folks earn more or own more (even if that might not be true)--how can we not expect our kids to grow up feeling this way?

We hoped that exposing them to a month in China would help, but it didn't.  They still feel like we're big meanies who won't give them what they think they need.

It seems to me that a damaging consequence of privilege is feeling like God has abandoned us or no longer exists if we don't get what we want or life doesn't go the way we think it should.  So I wanted to implement a mini-course in training our children to praise God in all circumstances.

I didn't know how my suggestion would go over with my parents and sister's family.  At first, they were open, but when I explained it further, my sister said, "You want us say 'Praise God! My father-in-law died???"

When you put it that way, it doesn't sound so good, does it?

At my church, there's a stream of folks who would say that, who believe that we should praise God FOR everything, good or evil.

I'm still not there.  So far, I can't bring myself to praise God for my friends' cancers or broken marriages or my inability to control my anger or my tongue.

"We're not praising God FOR his death," I said, "We're praising God IN his death.  Because God tells us to praise IN ALL circumstances."

So we gave it a try.  We praised God IN:

  • death and mourning
  • poor health
  • bad math grades
  • unreconciled relationships
  • disappointed dreams
  • broken world affairs
  • not achieving what we hoped to achieve
We ranged in age from 7 to 79.  Everyone had something to say.  And even though it felt bad at first to shout "Praise God!" with lifted glass to the tragedy of my brother-in-law's Dad's death, it still felt right to somehow affirm that God is good in the midst of that.

My nephew suggested that we go around after the sad round with the best thing that happened.  So we did that too.  And it was striking that even though there were a bunch of personal successes among us, for the parents in the room, our best moments came in seeing our kids thriving.  

So even if my kids are entitled, even if they're ungrateful, even if I want to kill certain ones like I did last night when there was a meltdown about going to bed AFTER I let everyone watch Captain America against my better judgment. . .

Praise God! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Show must go on. . . even if your Pants are Falling Down!

"I think Ren's losing his pants," whispered Scott as we watched Annie Get Your Gun for the 2nd time in one weekend.

I looked over to my boy dancing on stage and sure enough he was grasping his pants with one hand while trying to wave his other in unison with everyone else while singing "I got the sun in the morning and the moon at night."

In horror, we watched as he'd let go, raise his arms, and then quickly shoot his hands down again to yank up his pants.

But give my boy credit.  He kept singing and dancing with a big grin splayed on his face despite the periodic clutching at pants.

Scott and I couldn't stop laughing.  There's something about an upbeat song and a son losing his pants before 500 spectators that just has to be enjoyed.

Parental mortification happens to us on a regular basis and comes in all shapes and sizes.  Our family incidences include:
  • a kid forgetting how to play piano in the middle of a piano recital (come to think of it, that's happened to more than one kid more than one times)
  • the whole Somerville pool being evacuated because someone pooped during swim lesson and then finding a poop smear in my kid's bathing suit
  • a 4 year old screaming and lying on the floor outside Sunday School kicking at me 
  • all of our kids running in the opposite direction of soccer balls, baseballs, pretty much anything round or that's meant to be thrown, and looking in all directions OTHER than the ball
  • the same kid who lost his pants this weekend looking like a frozen deer in the headlights on stage, barely singing, dancing or waving his arms (read here)
And I'm not even writing about my own behavior that's caused everyone, including me, mortification!

But the gift we receive from regular bouts of mortification is parental pride.  Because almost always, it takes a little mortification to achieve anything.  Falling down, failing, being mediocre, feeling humiliated are usually necessary steps towards gaining skills and eventually excelling.

Two falls ago, Kai-Kai played Maid #1 in My Fair Lady.  Her only line was "Professor Higgins, may I take your coat?"  And that darn Professor Higgins forgot to bring his coat on stage so her one line made no sense because there was no coat to hand off!

She hates it when we joke about that story.

"It wasn't your fault!" we protest.  "And you dealt with it great!"

But receiving no coat at her only line seems to have wounded her deeply.  

Since then, she's played the shopkeeper in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a government official in Annie, and this year, Frieda Wilson, the hotel keeper's wife.  She's gone from one line to 17, and has sang a solo line or even verse at every show since.  She's blossomed in confidence and grace.

Ren-Ren didn't get into the first play he auditioned for and as mentioned earlier, looked like a deer in the headlights in his first show. 

Because I served as a volunteer coordinator this year, I was invited to Cathy, the director's party.  I've never talked to her before, but when she saw me, she called out across a crowded room, "Can you believe how far your kids have come?"

I reminded her of Ren's frozen deer imitation in Little Shop of Horrors.

"Finally!" Cathy shouted, "A parent who has an honest assessment of her kid!"  

Yup, that's the thing with us Tiger moms--we have honest assessments of our kids weaknesses and failings--too much so often.

But Cathy's right, both my kids have drastically improved on stage, and the confidence they've gained has led to being different kids in school as well--not nearly as quiet and shut-down.

After the show, we asked Ren what happened.  "I had such a quick change and I couldn't get my tie on right so I forgot to zip and button my pants."

Wow.  Big oversight.

As if to make us feel better, he said, "At least I had knickers underneath--I kept thinking I should take my pants off, do you think anyone would have noticed?"

"Ren, believe me, if you had stripped off your pants on stage in the middle of the show, everyone in the audience would have noticed."

Whew!  Just dodged a bigger bullet!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our Saga towards a Black Belt

This past weekend was momentous--Kai and Ren in 4 shows of Annie Get Your Gun and Ren's black belt test.  Tonight I'm going to write about the latter.

Tae kwon do has been, to put it mildly, a battle.

If I've been a Tiger Mom in any sphere, tae kwon do is probably it.   I've pressured him.  I've forced him to do it.  I've made my son cry.  My mother, who doesn't believe in bribing kids for anything, has bribed him with $50 for the red and brown belts with a bonanza of $100 for the black belt.  And for 2 women who really could care less about anything athletic, that's a lot of Tiger Momming and Tiger Po-Po-ing.

Ren at 14 months, able to get to sitting,
not able to walk for 3 more months
A neurologist once called Ren a boneless chicken breast he had such low tone.  I began worrying when he was 6 months and all he could do was lie there.  His sisters had been able to get themselves to sitting by then, so I mentioned it to our pediatrician, who of course told me not to worry.

Three months later, he could sit if we put him in sitting position, but still couldn't get himself there by himself.  The pediatrician then agreed that we should look into early intervention.

That took awhile to start, so by the time he was 11.5 months and still unable to get himself to sitting, I was really worried.  When Carol, his early intervention therapist first showed up, she taught me the simple trick of placing toys by his sides, cajoling him to cross his mid-line.   Within a week, he could get himself to sitting.


Since then, it's been a journey.

By the time he was 4, he was too "normal" to qualify for any help, but clearly not "normal" by "normal" kid standards.  The last physical therapist we saw on the government's dime said in parting, "Keep him active because he's not going to want to do it on his own."

So we've forced our son to learn gymnastics, swimming, skiing, snow-boarding and tae kwon do.  Everyone of those accompanied with tears, shouts and accusations that I'm a really really mean mommy.

Extra-curriculars are a privilege for his sisters.  With him, they're mandatory.

Ren after his first lesson with "Sir"
I liked the idea of martial arts because any half-Asian boy with the potential of being painfully skinny or seen as a wimp could use a martial arts boost--seemingly the one cool manly Asian activity in our culture.

And Ren was pretty enthusiastic.  He went in for a private lesson with Tom, known as "Sir" to the kids, who taught him the first 6 basics, and gave him the outfit.

But by his blue belt in 2008, he was ready to quit.  Belts came farther apart.  The moves were harder.  He felt bored.

It didn't change the advice we'd received so long ago, and it was clear he wasn't going to replace tae kwon do with any other physical activity--hence more cajoling, arguing, shouting, tears and "you've come too far to quit now."

By the time he earned his brown belt, we were adamant.  "You don't come this far to not go for black belt!" Scott was Tiger-dadding along with me.

The fateful day finally arrived Saturday, 5.5 years after Ren received his white belt--the morning after he opened in Annie Get Your Gun, and 4 hours before the next show.

My parents are here for Thanksgiving (first time I'm with them in 29 years--read here), and came early to catch the show and the black belt test.

The test took 2 1/4 hours--poor Baba was snoozing during much of it.  The kids performed their forms individually and sparred at the end.  The girls were ferocious!  Ren and his partner a bit more cautious, but Ren impressed us all with his spin kicks.

When the test was over, Sir said some wonderful life lessons including
Getting your black belt and then quitting is like getting your driver's license and never driving a car again. 
Tae kwon do is a sport you can grow in for the rest of your life--you'll never get cut, you'll only be encouraged to improve

And best of all:  
When you received your white belt, I said the next time I tie a belt around you will be when you receive your black belt.  Now I want you to come forward, hand your brown belt over and I will tie on your black belt for you.
Wah!!!  I had forgotten he said that 5.5 years ago.  

Watching Sir tie Ren's black belt after years of practice, perseverence and pain (mostly mine as I argued with Ren about going to tae kwon do) made me all teary.

And today, the first tae kwon do class since receiving his belt, Ren couldn't wait to go--to show up as a genuine black belt.  

I guess he's decided to drive that car now that he's gotten the license.  

Good for him!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chinese Thanksgiving, Hawaiian Style

It's Thursday, so this post is published on Patheos.  Click here to read it!

29 years ago Mama burst into tears at our dinner table. “This is our last Thanksgiving together as a family.”
I rolled my eyes as only mature 17 year old seniors can, “Oh Mom. . .”
But she was right.
I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my parents since then. . . until now.  My parents flew in from Honolulu this morning.
So much has changed.
Growing up, Mama called us orphans because we had no extended family in Hawaii.  So my parents invited all the “orphans” they could find for Thanksgiving.  Never far from Mama’s ideal was the old Chinese manse, with hundreds of rooms filled with hundreds of distant relations where great uncle Chou or second cousin on my father’s mother’s side is only several courtyards and raised doorways away.
First we had to clean.
Because Mama’s a pack rat with clutter piled everywhere AND she raised her kids to follow suit, our home on Thanksgiving morning was almost as inhospitable to orphans as anything Dickens imagined.
Heaps of stuff had to be put away.
Gecko droppings and eggs had to be vacuumed off the curtains and end tables along with the termite wings from the last flying termite flurry.
The piano and teak wood furnishings had to be dusted and polished with Pledge.
Unfortunately, all four Tuan kids suffered from cleaning paralysis.
We moaned.  We groaned.  We took lots of breaks.  Amazing how interesting an article about the Cold War found underneath the pile of laundry can be when you’re 10!
Our whining, our sloth, our bad attitudes inevitably led to Mama standing with hands on hips warning, “You don’t want me going on the warpath.”
But we couldn’t avoid it.  Soon she snapped, berating us for all the messy irresponsible ways we led our lives.  Truly responsible children put their toys away.  Children who want to go to college, make a living and not become bums on the street should not find their two months old homework wedged behind the Chinese lamp.
Mama felt extra stressed because she was also chopping vegetables for six different Chinese dishes while roasting a turkey with Chinese sticky rice stuffing and packing away her papers and bills mounded on the dining room table.
It was just too much for one woman to handle.
Where was Baba during the chaos?
I can’t remember.
Probably at his immaculate university office, blissfully writing physics theorems on his chalkboard, not thinking twice about whether he should have any role in house maintenance.  He certainly wasn’t vacuuming or dusting or protecting his children from the screaming banshee Mama had become.
By dusk, when Baba arrived with Chinese visiting scholars and New Kapahulu Chop Suey’s fish balls with gravy and chow mien, our house looked presentable.  The lone bottle of wine for 20 adults had been uncorked along with eggnog spiked with (literally) a few drops of rum.
As our fellow orphans filed up the thirteen stairs to our doorway, leaving their shoes outside Hawaii style, Mama still furiously cooked while ordering her daughters to pass around macadamia nuts and Chinese pizza (scallion pancakes).
Most years, we didn’t pray or give thanks before our meal—Baba called himself an apostate and Mama went along.  So as soon as we filled our plates, we kids retreated to the family room to watch TV and play games while the adults chatted in the living room.
By 1 am, as our last guests clambered into their cars, my family stood in our driveway practicing the Chinese custom of “song ren” (sending people as far down their trip as possible) waving goodbye as they drove away.
This year, my sister’s driving up from Philly with her family of 5.  An even dozen will sit around my dinner table, and we will pray and give thanks to God.   Baba re-committed himself to Christ when I was in 8th grade, Mama followed along and now we’re a veritable family of Jesus freaks.
I’m hoping I won’t go on the warpath, not because I don’t regularly go on the warpath (raging outbursts being something passed down the female line) but because my very neat husband won’t allow me to be the packrat I was raised to be.
We won’t have any “orphans,” but the addition of 2 husbands and 6 grandchildren, (including my 2 teens who will be more than happy to roll their eyeballs at everything I say) means our house will have that nice crowded feeling, an American version of a Chinese manse.
My Thanksgiving meal includes nothing Chinese other than the white rice my sister wants, and we’ll serve a far higher proportion of alcohol/adult, but just like growing up there will be far too much food.
We have no gecko eggs or termite wings, no fish balls with gravy or visiting Chinese scholars.  But for the first time in 29 years, I will gather around the Thanksgiving table with Mama and Baba again.
I’m thankful.  Very thankful.

This was first posted on What She Said

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why my Thighs won't be in our Christmas Picture This Year

Well frankly, all you ladies know exactly why, and most of you gents as well.

Last night I checked my yahoo account where I do all consumer transactions so I don't get junk in my work/personal email account.  And I saw that Shutterfly's 40% off sale on Christmas cards ends TODAY.  Now that's extremely annoying because I'd been watching for Shutterfly to announce its sale so I could know when to make our Christmas cards.  But either I missed it, or they are marketing so that poor schmoes like me fly into a pre-Christmas frenzy just to get that deal.

We send out almost 500 Christmas cards--I want that 40% discount.

So while watching Glee with the kids I started working on our card.

In some ways it was easy.  Last summer, when our family went home to Hawaii, we all took a surfing lesson.  I had surfed 4 whole times growing up.  Scott had a surfing lesson with a sort of ex-flame of mine that went badly (wonder why?) and the kids had never surfed at all.

It was excellent!  

Mama's photo showing us learning on land first--my
 thighs are almost unnoticeable here--they look much
better lying down because the fat can't sag to the knees

After the lesson, when we got back to the shop, a photographer approached us and told us that he'd been taking pictures the whole time, and for a mere $20/person we could get the photos on a CD.  Even though my photo-holic mother was sitting on the beach and had been snapping away at us, she had no tele-photo high-faluting camera like he did.

He scrolled through the pictures and they were so great that my miserly and frugal soul wavered.

Then he said he'd give us all the pictures for $80 and Mama (who's not frugal) said she'd pay for them, so we have 160 glorious shots of my family surfing.

For 80 bucks, we knew what was going to be on our family Christmas card.  Scott wanted shots of all 5 of us.

But last night, scrolling through the pics and uploading them to Shutterfly, I just couldn't do it.

I can't display my thighs to 500 of our nearest and dearest friends.

My kids look cute.  My girls, thank God, have inherited Scott's long legs.  Scott looks studly.  I look like a stumpy-legged-beginning-to-paunch middle-aged woman heading towards the inevitable in my favorite cartoon that I wrote about in "Asian Aging":

It's happening.  Haven't hit menopause yet (TMI I know, sorry), but those surfing photos show where I'm headed.  After not wearing glasses my whole life, I even now have progressive lenses and I already have frizzy hair.  All I'll need soon is to cut my hair shorter and get that sweatshirt jacket.

Last night I created 9 different Christmas cards using various Hawaii photos and 4 surfing photos of Scott and the kids--but none of me.

When I showed my work to Scott, he called me names and told me I was forsaking our family unity--and then he refused to include his surfing photos if I didn't include mine.

So neither of us will have surfing photos in our Christmas card.   Because I'm just not going to do it.

But if you're really curious, you can read about our surfing adventure (and even see my thighs) here.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Ma mere, Kathy

Kai-Kai has a family album project due tomorrow and just showed it to me.

Here's what she wrote about me (without the accent marks because I don't know how to put them in the text)

Voila ma mere. Elle s'appelle Kathy.   Elle a 46 ans.  Elle est la femme de Scott.  Elle est petite.  Elle n'est pas grosse.  Elle est brune foncee.  Elle a les yeux bruns.  Elle est penible, mais elle est intelligente.  Elle adore fair les magasins et manger au restaurant.  Elle n'aime pas regarder les matchs a la tele.

Not being a French speaker, I could still figure out most of the things she wrote, but penible?

"What's penible mean?"  I asked.

"She is a pain in the neck," she responded.

"No really, what does it mean?"

"She's a pain in the neck."

"You wrote that about me?"

Lots and lots of giggles to the point of bending over.  Then she translated the whole thing:

There is my mother.  Her name is Kathy.  She is 46 years.  She is the wife of Scott.  She is short.  She is not fat.  She has dark brown hair.  She has brown eyes.  She is a pain in the neck, but she is smart.  She loves to shop and eat out.  She doesn't like to watch games on the TV.

"I wrote it when you were being mean to me, and I was running out of adjectives because you were #6 on the list."

Great.  Not only am I a pain in the neck, but I was #6 on the list after Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Andy, Auntie Michele and Dad.  (Much giggling about how I was #6)

"You were #6 when I wrote the paragraphs, but you're #4 in the book."

#4, #6.  Guess who I'm thinking est penible?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jesus and the Helicopter Mom

On Monday, I led our church’s Mom-to-Mom group through a Bible study on the helicopter mom of the Bible.  Guess who?
No, not Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob—she sure helicoptered, but she also was so dysfunctional with her strong preference for one son and scheming against the other that I didn’t think she was very helpful.
IMHO, the helicopter mom of the Bible is (drum roll please. . .) Salome, the mother of the disciples James and John, the wife of a prosperous fisherman, Zebedee, and (some think) the sister of Mary, Jesus’s mom.
Salome, with 2 strapping fishers-of-men by her side, strides to Jesus, kneels down and asks him a favor.
Jesus asks, “What is it you want?”
“When you come into your glory, would you please put one of my boys at your right and the other at your left hand side?”
When I go before Jesus on behalf of my kids and he asks, “What is it you want?” how do I answer?
Right now I want one child to respectfully ask me to help obtain “Annie Get Your Gun” costumes and props rather than handing me a piece of paper and saying, “Here’s your list.”
I want another child to break through shyness, make deep friendships and overcome math and a math teacher who doesn’t seem to teach.
And I want yet another child to obsess less about make-up, clothes and thinking she’ll have the perfect life if she gets into HYP (Harvard-Yale-Princeton as she calls it).
I want all 3 to flourish, to discover and use their gifts on behalf of a broken world, to love and be loved.
But most of all, I don’t want them to suffer.  And that’s what I think is at the heart of the hovering helicopter parenting style.
Fear that our children will suffer.
We fear that if we don’t:
  • Follow Sears, Brazelton, Ezzo, or whoever the latest parenting guru’s advice to the nth degree our kids won’t attach, have healthy self-esteem, or grow up God’s way.
  • Set up the right playdates, or socialize with the right moms, or get our kids in the right social groups our kids won’t find the right friends and will end up bullied or ostracized
  • Get our kids into the right schools or activities, they won’t get into the right college, where they won’t meet their right spouse, or get prepared for the right job, where they can’t afford to live in the right suburb which will lead to the right pain-free life.
Jesus says to Salome’s request, “You don’t know what you’re asking—can you drink from the cup I’m going to drink?”
“We can!”  all 3 reply.
Jesus looks at them with sadness, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
The cup Jesus talks about is the cup of suffering.  The same cup Jesus begs God three times to take away in the garden of Gethsemene before he goes to the cross.
He knows Salome, James and John will all drink from that cup of suffering.  In the gospels, Salome shows up again at the foot of the cross watching Jesus die, and then at the tomb bringing spices to anoint Jesus’s body.  James will be the first disciple to be martyred.  John will be the last disciple to die after seeing all his friends martyred first.
Jesus came into his glory and kingdom while hanging on the cross.  And 2 nameless thieves hung on his right and left side.
Isn’t that a bummer?  When we go to Jesus on behalf of our children, ultimately asking that they won’t suffer, his answer is NO.  They’re going to suffer and there’s nothing we can do to prevent that.  It’s a dangerous world out there, and all the hovering I do won’t keep my kids safe.
Yet ironically, our kids are safest by Jesus’s side.  So somehow teaching our kids how to suffer well, how to transform their pain rather than transmit it, how to forgive or turn the other cheek may actually be one of the most central tasks of our parenting.
There are a couple things Salome did well.
  1. She followed Jesus herself
  2. She released her kids to follow him also
She released her kids to leave the family business to follow Jesus.  She released them to a whole new mission in life.  She released them to suffering and death, but through their suffering the world was never the same again.
What do you say if God asks you, “What do you want?”
What do you fear?
How do you release your kids to the future they’re called to?
This was first posted on What She Said

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rookie of the Year!

Last night Scott and I made a point of attending the swim team banquet with Ling-Ling .  We both missed her Foreign Language Award ceremony last spring because we of work commitments.  Ling had said it was OK, that she wasn't getting any special awards so it wasn't a big deal, but then came home saying, "Um, I think you guys should have come, I was the only kid who had no parents there."

(Let me just pause to stab myself in the heart.)

Swim team has been a bit of a saga (read about it in Faking RobynT-P-edSports Mama. . . Not).  
Ling's awakened every morning at 4:15 a.m. to be picked up by 4:40 to swim by 5.  After following the bad advice of her YMCA swim coach to not swim with the high school team last year, she started this year as a sophomore.  As an extremely shy and introverted girl, she felt totally insecure about joining late.  Everyone else had already made friends and she was odd girl out.

But she kept showing up for practice.  She kept swimming.  And because she actually can butterfly (a stroke I've never even learned!), she swam butterfly in 2 events every single meet.  She's improved her swim times.  She's made a lot of cheerful acquaintances, if not actual friends.  Most importantly, she's been a part of a team.  

The swim meet in Sudbury that took an hour to drive to and from--in rush hour

At the Winchester Country Club, 39 girls with great toned arms in teeny dresses and teenier skirts revealed their "Secret Swimmer" status and gave each other their final "Secret Swimmer" gifts.  They sat together while parents drank wine and commiserated about 4 a.m. wake up times.

I had a great time despite the woman next to me saying, "They let you in with jeans?" pointing at my skirt.  "They usually kick you out for wearing denim!  You can't wear anything like that here!"

We went to the banquet not knowing what to expect (as made extremely clear by my neighbor's comments).  Ling thought she might letter, but lost the scoring sheet so didn't know if she'd earned enough points.  But no matter what she achieved we wanted to support Ling.  And after doing the dump run fundraiser, the ovarian cancer fundraiser, and paying for all sorts of swim paraphernalia, I wanted the one free parent meal (paying $30 for Scott).

So imagine our surprise and delight when she not only earned a Varsity letter but also "Rookie of the Year!"  The coach praised her for giving her all, and always being willing to jump in and compete in whatever the coach threw at her.


How did my spawn actually achieve such athletic glory?

First quarter sophomore year, I got a C+ in PE.  Mama looked at that grade, laughed and said, "PE is the only area you're allowed to get a C."  I pulled my PE grades up to the B range for the rest of the year, but student/athlete I was NOT.

I'm the 4 year old kid who Mama put in ballet because I was such a klutz.  She hoped ballet would teach me some grace.  I became more graceful--neighborhood kids incessantly teased me that when I walked it looked like I was dancing--but I was still a klutz.

I walk into sofas and doors and walls.  I shut my trunk on my pinky while telling a friend how bad I am at knowing where my body lies in space.

I may be a Chinese Tiger mom who got her only high school C in PE.  I may embarrass humiliate myself and my daughter by wearing denim to the Winchester Country Club.  I may still have not a single sports bone in my body.  But I'm sure proud of my girl.

And so glad she doesn't take after me.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Help was so good--why can't I remember it?

2 weekends ago, all 3 kids went on a church retreat which meant Scott and I were alone [raucous cheering and whooping].  I enjoyed many blissful activities including several hours each day to read.  I dug into Ling's banned books (click here to read about that). 

All day Sunday I re-read The Help, which I had read a couple years ago.  It's just my kind of book--chronicling the stories of Black maids in Mississippi in the 1960s.  Even though there's been controversy around the book, with questions around a White woman writing in the voice of Black women, and a White character mobilizing Black characters rather than Black characters mobilizing themselves, I still loved it.

So I couldn't wait to see the movie.  A month ago, I played hooky from work, kids and life to see a matinee.

Just me, myself and I. . .  and a crew of senior citizens.  Very senior senior citizens.  They rolled in with wheelchairs and nurses.  The whole movie long, their beepers went off, their nurses scurried to and fro to take care of them, and they squawked, "WHAT DID SHE SAY???"

I had to laugh.  The whole reason I was sneaking off to the matinee was so I could enjoy the movie without my kids squawking and fighting and asking, "WHAT??  WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"

But I didn't care.  I wasn't responsible for the senior set.  I could just enjoy the movie.

During the movie, I kept thinking, "This is different from the book!  The director really changed things!"

Yet re-reading the book last week, I realized the movie was actually incredibly faithful to the book.  I just didn't remember anything from the book.

Re-reading, I flipped through pages in awe over various characters and scenes and dramatic moments.  So many were in the movie.  So few were in my mind.

Apparently I have a lot in common with the senior set with which I viewed The Help.

Although this all makes me worry I have early on-set Alzheimers (something my father constantly worried about by the time he was my age--so even that might be genetic), there's a huge upside to losing my memory.  I can now look forward to re-reading, and re-reading, and re-reading all my favorite books without the hardest part of reading--finding a book I love.

I'll already know I love the book, but won't remember anything about it.  I can enjoy each book as much as the first time.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Pleasure of a Banned Book

A week ago, I took away Ling's library books, banning her from reading them.

Growing up, I read whatever I wanted.  Mama, believing that nothing led to academic success more than avid reading, censored nothing.  So I read everything, including junk.

I read literary junk--Harlequin and Regency romances, soon learning that reading the last chapter of each book while standing by the rack at the library gave me everything I needed to know including the satisfying romantic conclusion.

I read sordid junk--sitting on my bed next to my best friend in junior high, we flipped through stacks I had borrowed finding all the sex scenes and passed them back and forth to each other.

Each time we checked out books, Mama felt she had to protest to the librarian, "I don't approve of what she's reading!!!"

I even read violent and sordid junk.  Ironically, Mama picked out the worst of these at tag sales and mailed them to China where we spent my 9th grade for Baba's sabbatical.  She sent 424 books to Beijing in 1979, determined her kids would keep reading even if there were no available English books in the country.  I read The Godfather on Thanksgiving Day.  I read a gay porn book.  I read a book on Roman coliseums that detailed how Romans got zebras and lions to rape women.  I learned a lot.

My dear aunt, so instrumental in leading me to love and follow Jesus, did not agree with Mama's philosophy.  The summer after 4th grade when we visited for a month and I was in the throes of Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" books, she would only borrow one a week for me, telling my cousins that she wanted me to read Christian books instead.  As a bookaholic who finished my latest Little House book on the first day, I was forced to read her Christian novels in my spare time.

They were terrible.

One series chronicled the lives of twins Ted and Terrie.  Ted, the devout brother and an enabler, constantly rescued Terrie, a pretty “bad girl” who was always drawn towards wild boys, cool clothes, and forbidden adventure.  By the end of each novel, Terrie would have experienced some terrible consequence to her sinful desires (although never pregnancy, STDs or bodily harm, which seem like the real consequences for those sorts of temptations), and would come back penitently to Jesus.  Of course, her repentance never lasted long, because by the next novel, off she was again, chasing something worldly that would lead to her sorrow.

So why am I, a product of free reading banning books in my home?

Because my oldest child is also a bookaholic and doesn't have time to read.  Between 4.5 hours of homework a night and waking at 4:15 a.m. for swim practice, she doesn't have hours to immerse herself in alternate worlds, and she doesn't have the discipline to resist peeking into the towering stack of library books on her desk.

I warned her each time I found her lying on her bed with a book, so engrossed she didn't hear me come in, and looking up with a start and a guilty face.  I told her I would take away her books if she couldn't control herself.  After all, dieters should get rid of all junk food, and alcoholics should get rid of all booze.

But she couldn't help herself, so I took away the books a week ago.  They're sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor.

In my spare time--believe it or not I have more than my daughter--I've been digging into her stash.

So sad for her.  So fun for me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What's so bad about FUGGs?

"Today was a good day," Kai-Kai said when I picked her up from play rehearsal, "Today was a gold medal day!"

"Wonderful!" said I, imagining a 100% on a test, an A+ on an essay, or maybe even a lab project with a big gold star plastered on the "good work" board, "What made it so great?"

"Today I had my brand new Uggs, my Northface jacket and my LL Bean backpack.  Finally the exact right pieces for school."


For those of you who either live in sunny Hawaii/CA or under a rock so are unaware of the most important teen fashion trend of the past decade, Uggs are those furry boots that Uma Thurman made famous a long time ago.  They are the footwear de rigueur of the middle school set, and even middle aged moms.  Pity those of us who live in cold weather and for months are consigned to bulky ugly footwear just to keep warm.

My girls longed for Uggs, not because they're beautiful or warm or comfortable, but because they're in style and "every girl in Winchester wears them."

The also cost, at minimum $150/pair.  There was no way I was paying that sort of money for girls whose feet grew an inch every six months.  I won't pay that sort of money for myself and my feet haven't grown since my last pregnancy.  Even more, because they're suede, you can't actually wear Uggs in snow or slush--which is a lot of the time you need boots in the winter in New England!

3 or 4 years ago, I found FUggs (Fake Uggs) at BJs Wholesale Club for $38/pair.  The miser in me still felt like those were a bit expensive given I did most of my boot shopping for kids on Sierra Trading Post (the best place for activewear and sundries at deep discount), but I swallowed, bought them each a pair and wrapped them up for Christmas.

The screams and shouts of joy warmed the cockles of my heart.  The happiness lasted for months with hardly a complaint about their fakeness.

It became a yearly ritual, buying FUggs.

But in the past year or so FUggs lost their glamour--they became seen for what they are, fake.  They don't have that Ugg label on the back of the heel.  They don't leave the Ugg prints in the snow from their stamped plastic bottoms.  Friends look at your feet and know you're an imposter in the middle school world.

Last year, an adolescent psychologist talking about parenting middle school kids, said the reason all the girls need Uggs and Northface jackets is they have so much going on in their brains, they're so sure that everyone's looking at them and judging them, that if they wear the right uniform, they don't have to worry--they can relax about just one thing, and getting just one thing off their minds is a huge relief.

That stuck with me.  So when I flew to CA for my uncle's 80th birthday last December, I asked my mom to take me straight off the plane to the Northface Outlet, where I bought every one of my kids a jacket.  I wasn't going to buy one for my son because he never talks about the latest fashion, but Mama insisted I include him and then threw in $ towards the jackets as her Christmas present to the kids.

Not bad.

But I still held out against Uggs because I'm not going to plop down $150 on feet that are still growing.  And even if they stop growing, I'm still not going to plop down $150.

So Kai-Kai, who's been babysitting up a storm ever since turning 13, decided to save for her own Uggs. It didn't even take her that long.  Scott took her to Nordstrom's on Sunday and she spent her own $180 on chocolate brown Uggs that look just like the picture at the top.

And finally, after years of FUggs and insufficient clothing, she could walk into 8th grade with the proper uniform and not worry about it.  I'm glad she saved and got what she wanted so she could feel good about herself in middle school.

Good for her.  She had a gold medal day.

Kai-Kai with her LL Bean backpack (as we're leaving
for China 2 summers ago)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kicked out of Trick-or-Treating

Last night I was excluded from trick-or-treating.

As has been our tradition for many years, we had folks over for chili (click here for my world-famous recipe), sweet potato cake and ginger molasses cookies.  My goal?  Shove healthy food into kids before they dive into their candy bonanza.  It hasn't worked for the 12 years we've been doing this, but I'm always one to keep trying strategies that are proven failures.  As Scott loves to quote to me in so much of our parenting, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Of course, in some of the faith traditions to which I belong, the fact that we celebrate Halloween and I've led my children into the devil's holiday means I have just proven that I'm not trustworthy to be a minister.  Of course, in the larger Boston university culture in which I minister, the fact that I might not consider celebrating Halloween because I believe evil spiritual powers do exist makes me even more suspect.

So why do we love Halloween?

  1. Because it's fun.  It's fun for the kids.  It's fun for the grown-ups.  You get to wear funny clothes. And how many times do families genuinely have a lot of fun together?   I take comfort in the fact that Jesus seemed to be a guy who liked to have fun and got killed, in part, for that penchant by more religious folks.
  2. Because it's the best time to meet your neighbors.  There is no other holiday when you go to your neighbor's doors and greet one another with big smiles.  As neighbors stand in front of lit jack-o-lanterns wearing funny hats and passing out candy, I love the smiles, the greetings and the well-wishes.   
  3. Because it's a time to be generous.  Apart from showering friends with chili they don't eat, it's also a time to shower neighborhood kids with substances that will rot their teeth and grow their bellies but give their hearts joy. 
When we lived in Somerville, we lived on a "Halloween" street.  Our neighbors decorated out the wazoo.  The former owners warned us that we'd need bags and bags of candy.  The first year I bought 9 and ran out within 45 minutes.  We had to take the candy our kids' AND their friends' had spent the last 45 minutes collecting to soothe the masses.

A Harry Potter Halloween--3 witches, Dobby, an
adorable bat and a tiger
But gone are the days of Tinker Bell, princess and adorable little bat costumes.  My kids have gotten big.  Both girls decided they were too "mature" to trick-or-treat anymore.  Ling, as a 10th grader, kept telling Kai she was being ridiculous--that 8th grade was the last year she could trick-or-treat and she should do it.  But Kai was adamant.

Ren told me he wanted to trick-or-treat with his friends, but did nothing about it.  Running far behind this year, I sent out invitations on Sunday and we got a full house!

By the time everyone arrived, we had a hot dog (Ren), a dwarf, 2 mad scientists, a convict, a monster, and 2 guys in camouflage (including a dad).  Then the 2 girls drew mustaches on their faces and Kai-Kai decided to "supervise" the boys as they trick-or-treated.

"Do you want me to come?" I asked Ren.

"Noooooo," he said, "Kai-Kai is coming, she'll watch us to make sure we behave." (all spoken with the utmost respect as you can imagine)

So Scott and I sat with fellow parents eating chili, sweet potato cake and ginger molasses cookies.  Ling handed out candy while working on her homework.  Kai "supervised" the boys who had a grand old time trick-or-treating in 38 degree weather.

The kids might not have eaten much chili, but doing Halloween this way over and over, even if I'm excluded from trick-or-treating?  Completely worth it.