Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Family Rehab

“You plan great retreats for InterVarsity, I think it’s time you planned an equally terrific family retreat,” Scott said last week.  Despite my bleary, congested, achy, fevery condition, I thought he was right.

As an IT manager, he said our family needs a “re-boot.”

As an InterVarsity campus minister, I agreed that our family needs a “retreat.”

But Kai-Kai, as she stood at the whiteboard serving as scribe, decided what our family really needs is “rehab.”
"White-boarding" our family

I wanted to spend time planning an excellent retreat, but as we looked at our calendar, we’ve already booked every weekend with various events.  So it’s going to be a rolling retreat/reboot/rehab with not as excellent planning.

Friday night we started off celebrating Ren’s birthday, with “Kung Fu Panda 2,” followed by dinner at a Thai restaurant using 2 of my “Buy with Me” coupons.  Fun and food are crucial to good retreats, might as well include them in rebooting and rehabbing!  

At dinner, we went around the circle with everyone affirming Ren.  Because it was his birthday, he got 5 rounds.  We had to remind kids that backhanded compliments don’t count  (ie. despite being incredibly annoying, Ren. . .).

We then did 2 rounds for everyone else.

Unfortunately, Ren started feeling sick during the meal, so we couldn’t end his birthday or our day’s worth of retreat/reboot/rehab with my version of the Cold Stone Creamery Mudpie Mojo (coffee ice cream, hot fudge, peanut butter, peanut butter cups, oreos, heath bar crunch & almonds all smushed together).

The next morning, over my take on Le Peep Skillet Potatoes (potatoes, onions, bacon, whatever veggies you can find in the fridge topped with cheddar cheese and 2 fried eggs), we started honing in, first with the question “What makes our family awesome?” once again going around the circle so everyone had to respond.

Here’re some of our ideas:

·      Good swimmers
·      Food dudes
·      Hospitable
·      Work hard outside the home
·      Pray together
·      Generous

It was encouraging to see that our family, in such dire need of retreat/reboot/rehab still has some strengths!

We then started on “Where can we grow in awesomeness?”  We didn’t get through much, but some ideas included:

·      Cooperate
·      Improve response to mood swings
·      Support each other
·      Helpful
·      Value individual relationships more
·      Less attached to our electronic devices

At that point, Kai was invited to swim with a friend and we didn’t have the heart to force her to spend the rest of the day with us, even though I had 5 Groupons to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that expire today.  Despite how Ling and Ren thought the Museum was incredibly onerous, I was happy that after 15 years in Boston, I finally got to see it.

A good start to rehab.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The (Almost) End of Birthday Season

Ren at 14 months

Today Ren-Ren turns 11—Happy Birthday Ren!

You may have noticed that I seem to have written a bunch of birthday blogs lately, namely Kai’s birthday, and Ling’s birthday .  That’s what I get for bearing 3 kids all in the spring.  Between March 3 (Scott’s birthday) and May 27 (Ren’s birthday) all 5 of us, plus 3 grandparents and an uncle were born.

Despite today being the last birthday, birthday season isn’t over yet.  We don’t even have a date for Ren’s party—with Ling’s birthday only a week earlier, I can’t plan his until hers is over, and by then I’m already running behind.  Good thing he always wants a pool party and the water’s too cold until mid-June!

Our rapid succession of birthdays is all because Scott and I listened to Nancy, Ling’s godmother and my supervisor at the time.  She said that spring was the best time to give birth.  Why not spend maternity leave in warmth with minimal clothing between baby and breast?  

We believed her, and fertility being the only thing that’s come easily in our marriage, had 3 kids on first or 2nd try.

The gender of my kids is just about the only thing I’ve gotten exactly as I want it.  First, I wanted a girl, probably out of rebellion against my parents’ overweening fixation on sons to carry on the family name.  I wanted a daughter with whom I would share a special mother-daughter bond, not completely remembering all the screaming tearful fights I had with Mama.  And Ling was born.

For #2, I wanted a girl because I loved having sisters, even if we competed to the death and I never wanted to be seen with them growing up.  I wanted Ling to have a sister and for her sister to have Ling.  And Kai was born.

By #3, knowing this would most probably be our last child, I wanted a boy because I wanted something new.  And Ren was born. 

Although I love my father, brother and husband, as well as a multitude of male friends, I didn’t understand just how much I could love a male until Ren.  In all other male relationships other factors adulterate my feelings, but when Ren first smiled (a continuation of the bonding problem I wrote about), nothing marred the fierce mother love that whooshed through me.

So happy birthday Ren-Ren!  

I tried hard to break the Chinese misogynistic son fixation, but fell in love with you anyway.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why can't Moms get sick?

I’m sick.  

After boasting about how I rarely get sick here in "I'm torturing my kids", I have now caught a terrible cold with aches, pains, rivers of snot and sore throat.

I blame it all on Ren, who insisted on jumping in our pool this past weekend when it was 60 degrees.  He said he wanted to be the first to jump in, so even though I pointed out that 5 minutes at 55 degrees means death from hypothermia, he was undeterred.  (And yes, we own an inground vinyl swimming pool—why New Englanders would want a swimming pool that can be used 2 ½ months of the year beats me—it came with the house)

When I blame his cold on jumping in the pool, he claims that he already had a stuffy nose, in which case, why would you jump into a 60 degree pool??

This school year we’ve had a run of great health—not one kid has missed a day of school until Tuesday.  Tuesday morning Ren woke us up at 1:38 a.m. because his throat hurt so badly and he couldn’t breathe.  Despite knowing it was only a cold, we let him stay home from school because he was coughing up his guts and sounded horrible. 

Because I don’t want to give any positive reinforcement towards unnecessarily staying home from school, I told him he couldn’t have any screen time if he stayed home.  He could sleep, read or clean his room.  When a kid has a fever or throws up, I let them watch movies all day, but a cold?  Fuggedaboudit!

By Tuesday afternoon, I knew I was succumbing, and now I’ve completely become immersed.  I feel so bad that I actually feel a little guilty for not giving Ren more sympathy.  Of course, after a day home, he’s totally bounced back and just jumped into the pool again (which is now 66 degrees).

I feel so bad I skipped the gym both yesterday and today, wanting to get some extra sleep.  But then both mornings, despite my closed door, each child of mine had to visit at least twice and ask why I was in bed. 

There’s no tolerance for Mama being sick in this household.

Scott says it’s my own fault that I don’t just go to bed all day, that I could make different choices and not worry about everyone else’s needs.  But that’s pretty hard when kids barrage me with questions all day long.

Mama lying in bed all day? 


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dang! I did (or didn't) do it again!

(A follow up to yesterday's post Practicing for the SATs)

I just took today's SAT question of the day:

If x + 2x is 5 more than y + 2y, then x-y=

a.   -5
b.  -5/3
c.  3/5
d.  5/3
e.  5

It's basic algebra (and a word problem) and I still got it wrong. . . twice!!  I seriously need some math remediation.

Last night Ling and I went to the high school to the PSAT prep session where she could pick up her scores from her practice test and get pointers on how to take standardized tests.   We learned that Massachusetts has the highest test scores in the nation.  We also learned that the cut off to be a National Merit Scholar in MA a year ago was 222 (equivalent in SAT jargon of getting 3 710s), while in Wyoming, it was only 200.

As I expected, it was a Kaplan marketing gig.  Because our town has a deal with Kaplan, she can get online prep, normally $149, absolutely free!  Not only that, but if we sign up by the end of May, we can get $200 off Kaplan's College Prep Advantage (only $799), or Premier Tutoring (only $1,099).

Despite the marketing hype, it was helpful to rethink what lies ahead for Ling.  The good news is that she did pretty well on her practice exams even though she said she guessed half the time--but as Kaplan and all SAT prep courses point out--educated guessing is good strategy.

I'm relieved that it looks like she's a decent test taker, even though all the educational research out there says that SATs are only correlated to freshman year college grades, so it seems like a lot of hoops to jump through for something that colleges supposedly are taking less seriously.  

But because we're joining the rat race of looking for colleges, I'm sure she'll sign up for some sort of SAT prep program sometime in the future so she can reach for, as the Kaplan lady said, "Superlative scores!"  Maybe she'll get there, maybe she won't.  I think she'll go to college no matter what.

Meanwhile, I got get cranking on my math skills!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Practicing for the SATs

I’ve previously confessed that I’m a personality test junkie.  Who knew I’d become an SAT junkie as well?

A month ago, the high school sent out an invitation for a PSAT prep session along with all the good reasons our student might want to take it.  Even though Ling’s only a freshman, the reasons seemed compelling enough that I forwarded the e-mail to Scott and Ling, and all 3 of us decided to go ahead.

We had to go to the Kaplan site to register for the prep session. I’m convinced Kaplan's created a racket because there were a zillion options they offered, all of which seemed to cost $900.  About the only freebie was receiving a daily SAT question.  Ling and I thought that seemed reasonable, so she signed up, and a few days later, hounded by Kaplan emails, so did I.

SAT daily questions, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1.     According to women’s health magazines I’ve read at the gym and dentist’s office, doing puzzles and challenging our brains is an important anti-Alzheimers/anti-aging practice.  Now every day I get to participate in my own battle against dementia.
2.     As my aging brain petrifies, some questions stretch me to think again, using brain cells that haven’t been used since graduate school.  This actually feels good, like a gentle workout each morning.
3.     Because I’m batting 1000 on the verbal questions, I feel like I’ve improved and grown throughout adulthood, feeding the achievement junkie within

Of course, at least once a week the question of the day brings me to my knees.  Having avoided almost all math other than balancing my checkbook since calculus in high school, I’m batting about 500 with the math questions.  That might be good for baseball, but it isn’t good enough to get into Northwestern again. 

I actually scored higher in math for my PSAT, 3 SAT attempts, and GREs, but my brain has obviously decided that those skills were solely important for taking national standardized tests, and no longer retains the ability to process basic algebra or math. 

Here’s the question that brought me to my knees both times I attempted it:

If s=1+ 1/2 +1/4+1/8+1/16+1/32 and t=1+1/2s, then t exceeds s by:

a.     ¼
b.     1/8
c.      1/16
d.     1/32
e.     1/64

I just couldn’t get it right, even after clicking on the wrong answer 2 times.  (And only clicking randomly because the answer I kept coming up with wasn’t offered among the choices—that’s bad, when your answer based on an easily made mistake isn’t even offered!)

And forget about the probability/reasoning questions.  I'm batting 0 on those.

Turns out Ling was the only freshman who took the PSAT practice exam. 

Who looks like a Tiger Mom now?  (Or like a mom who was too easily persuaded by a high school email).  But who cares?  Please excuse me.  I need to find today’s question so I can head off to work happy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tiger Moms vs. Barbie

Once I learned how to see the stats on this blog, I became addicted to following how many folks are reading, from where, and with what frequency.  So here’s the latest:

Hits           Post
365            Are Chinese Mothers Superior 
176            Finally read the book
162            Big Kathy/Little Kathy

Tiger Moms win, but Barbie is slowly but surely making progress! 

In fact, when I just googled “Barbie Princess Cakes” my blog post was the last entry on the 1st page. 

Hmmm.  I suspect those who read the Tiger Mom articles might be very different from those who read about Barbie with her head wrapped in Saran.

Today I’m not making a Barbie princess cake for Ling’s birthday party even though my post on those cakes raised a lot of nostalgia in the family.  Her friends demanded another cupcake decorating contest.  So chocolate and coconut cupcakes are on tap, along with virgin pina coladas, pizza and Caesar salad.  Plus yeasted waffles with fruit and whipped cream for breakfast.

Time to cook!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Can Tiger Moms practice Indifference?

(This post continues a series on the spiritual discipline of indifference, read #1, #2, #3.  And picks up on posts about Tiger Moms, read #1, #2, #3, #4)

Ling's 1st recorded smile after baptism
Ling-Ling, my oldest child, turns 15 today. 

Scott cried when she was born.  Our roommate Gini said, “Wow, she’s so much better than a bird!”  (referring to her pet parakeet Bing who I did not love). 

I just felt dazed and distant.   While I felt more attached to Ling than Bing, the actual emotional content wasn’t that different.  

Through the next several weeks that dazed distant feeling persisted, making my sister worried.  She said, “Don’t you just love and adore her?”

Not wanting to lie, I said, “Sure, I guess.”

And then Ling-Ling smiled. 

I can’t remember exactly when the first smile happened because I thought it was gas, but somewhere between her third and fourth week of life, my baby began genuinely smiling—responding to our smiles with her own.  Tickles, little “boos,” any attempts to get her attention, began to arouse first small upward crinkles at the edges of her lips, and then soon, ear-to-ear grins. 
As Ling’s smile developed, I morphed from a somewhat dispassionate caretaker to a lunatic lioness of a mother.  Her smile invited me to love her.  A ferocious passion for this baby came roaring out of me, leaving me winded and gasping throughout the day.  Now I could croon endlessly over her, every word, gesture and caress completely authentic.  Just thinking about my love for her would make me cry. 

            So is it even possible for a mom to practice the spiritual discipline of indifference towards her children?

            Here are several thoughts:

1.     It’s God’s will that parents love and attach to their children in powerful ways. Indeed, there’s a reason we call God Father, or Jesus uses the mother hen metaphor for himself.  Our kids’ perception of God as parent is often tied to their view of us.  A very scary thought.
2.     It’s God’s will that parents advocate and watch out for our kids.  If we don’t, who will? I’ve chosen to work part time throughout raising kids (realizing it’s a huge privilege to have that choice), largely because I knew others could minister to grad students at Harvard but no one else could mother my 3 kids.
3.     It’s God’s will that our children join God’s mission of “being blessed to be a blessing” to the world.  For Tiger Moms like me, realizing God’s will for our child may not look like our will for our child is HARD. 

And that’s why we need the prayer of indifference.  As we seek to be indifferent to everything BUT God’s will, we can release our kids to God’s care rather than our overweening hopes and desires.  My spiritual director keeps reminding me that my kids belong to God, not me, and that God has ultimate responsibility for their well being. 

So I’ll attempt to pray the prayer of indifference over hairstyles, clothing choices and all the other crap that happens in parenting, but love my kids with all the lunatic lioness love this Tiger mom can muster.

Ling, thanks for making me a mom by coming into this world.  Happy Birthday!  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Indifference, Celebrity and a Bean Dip you can’t be Indifferent to

(This is post #3 in a series on the spiritual discipline of indifference.  Read #1 and #2)

I’m generally relatively indifferent to celebrities although I like to gawk at them like anyone else.  A fun benefit of living in NYC was having random movie stars film throughout the city.  I got to watch Nicole Kidman run through a rain machine at the bottom of our street way back when all I knew about Nicole Kidman was that she had a very famous boyfriend, Tom Cruise, who watched her film and hugged her between takes. 

The exceptions to my celebrity indifference are my favorite authors and famous chefs.  When I found out Madelein L’engle attended my church in NYC, I would surreptitiously glance at her throughout services, too tongue-tied to seek her out, not wanting to look like the groupie I actually was. 

Every year she offered church members a $50 4 week writing class and donated the proceeds.  I finally took it, and Madeleine helped me get over the severe writer’s block I had developed as I tried to write my dissertation.  Her advice?  Write.  Don’t think.  Just write!

Madeleine was kind enough to let me use her air-conditioned office the next summer to write my dissertation, and then to speak to our Columbia student fellowship the next fall. 

Susan Regis, who’s a friend of a friend, is a world-famous chef.  I run into her periodically at friend events, and although I try to remain calm and not appear too worshipful, I fail miserably.  She cooked for my friend Julie’s 50th birthday, and I just hovered at her elbow, watching her every move.  My friends, watching my star-struck visage, all commented how I looked like I was in heaven.

On last week’s women’s weekend, the one thing we definitely weren’t indifferent to was Susan’s fava bean dip, which I brought along.  This dip is the best tasting, healthiest, most amazing bean dip ever.  For the past couple months, I’ve been making it almost every week and indulging with veggies, although it tastes even better with tortilla chips or great crusty bread. 

My version is faux because I can’t ever find fava beans, so use Susan’s suggested substitute—lima beans.  Now I hate lima beans.  I’ve never served them willingly to anyone.  But the dip’s so good I had to try it with the limas and it’s still delicious.

Susan says you need a Vitamix quality blender to make this dip smooth, and she’s right—with a Vitamix, the dip will come out seamlessly smooth and green.  So far, I’ve refused to spend $500 on a blender just to make this dip, but I have to say I’m tempted.  The bean dip killed our brand new Cuisinart blender last summer, but the new Kitchenaid has handled it thus far.

Enjoy—this is a dip you could serve any world famous celebrity who drops by.

Fava Bean Dip
Susan Regis

2 pkg  (small box type) frozen fava or lima beans
handful of parsley
handful of basil
½-¾ c olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
zest and juice of ½-1 lemon
salt to taste

-blanch beans in boiling water for 4-5 minutes
-add parsley and basil in boiling water for 7 secs.
-drain and add beans, parsley and basil to a bowl of ice water to cool.
-in Vitamix or any heavy duty blender (susan says the blender is key to making
the dip come out smooth) blend beans, herbs, garlic, lemon juice, zest and olive oil in small batches until very smooth. You may need to add a few drops of water if it seems too thick. 
-transfer to a bowl and add extra olive oil if desired. 
-garnish with basil leaves and drizzled olive oil.

Note:  Because of how I get my lima beans, I end up with about 32 oz. of lima beans (about 1 1/2 recipes).  I use 2 lemons for that amount.  As you can see, measurements are approximate--just put in quantities you like.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Happy Saints and Indifference

(This is the 2nd musing on the spiritual discipline of indifference.  Read #1)

I love this picture of St. Ignatius I found online and that it comes from happysaints.com! 

A student had told me that she thought the discipline of indifference came from St. Ignatius of Loyala.  At my women's weekend away last week, I Googled Ignatius and indifference and found a lot of materials which I shared with my friends. 

When we weren’t debating my friend’s qualities for eHarmony (read here) or stuffing our faces with delicious food or being treated to a massage by our hubbies, we argued about indifference.

Here’s the conclusion from a pdf I found online:

Ignatian Indifference Brings Spiritual Freedom

For God’s love, for Christ’s Love I should be willing and prepared:

To be Rich or to be Poor
To be clever or to be dull,
To be handsome or to be ugly,
To be strong or to be weak,
To be attractive or to be repulsive,
To be educated or to be illiterate,
To be healthy or to be sick,
To be active or to be jobless,
To be considered or to be forgotten,
To be loved or to be ignored,
To be Successful or to A Failure,
To be honored or to be despised,
To be rewarded or to be passed over,
To be popular or to be unknown,
To have friends or to be lonely,
To live long or to die soon.

On neither can I set my Heart• • •
In both I can equally serve God
Each is a gift of God,
And as such of equal value.

This only truly matters
To lovingly choose whatever God Wills
And to generously carry it out,

He loved me into existence,
Because in Him I am, I move, I live.

The left side of the column ensnares, but the right side of the column hurts!  It’s pretty hard to be indifferent to either.

Most of the debate came over whether God wills suffering—is loneliness or disease really God’s gift?  Does God really see both sides having equal value?

But as one who’s spent a significant chunk of her life trying whole-heartedly to follow God’s will, I can say definitively that following God doesn’t keep you from experiencing the right column rather than the left.  In Christian language, the right column is called “the way of the cross.”

To make matters worse, when I’m experiencing the left column, I can spend an awful lot of time feeling guilty rather than enjoying the gifts of God.

That's why I love the idea of a website called happysaints.com!  Given that most of those saints were martyred or suffered in terrible ways, to characterize them as ultimately happy feels encouraging!  Because God promises joy whether you find yourself living on the left or the right.   

Maybe the spiritual discipline of indifference to everything but God's will is the path towards receiving the gift of God's presence and joy no matter the circumstances.  Maybe someday I too will be a happy saint!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Spiritual Discipline of Indifference

You can run but you can’t hide.

For the past several weeks, God and I have needed to talk about my attitude problem towards a set of decisions Scott and I need to make.  As I wrote about yesterday in “Tempted to Join eHarmony,” Scott and are polar opposites on almost every spectrum that exists.  That makes decision-making especially hard. 

But like Jonah of whale fame, I ran around avoiding the conversation with God.  Last Tuesday, after a morning cancellation, I had 2 free hours that I just knew would be the opportune time to have a heart-to-heart with my Creator. 
What did I do instead? 



Printing of some documents I need for the Team Days I’m leading with my ministry team.

It’s amazing how much ministry, Bible reading, and even prayer you can do all while avoiding talking to God about what really matters in your life. 

I printed a document Adele Calhoun had sent me after our spiritual retreat on discernment with leadership groups.   They use this method with their elder board.  I want to help my ministry team become “kinder and gentler” because most of us are on the edgy, opinionated, plunge into debate side of the spectrum, and I want to welcome and attract staff who aren’t like us. 

So I read the document and half way through it talked about three kinds of prayer necessary for group discernment:

1.     The prayer of trust:  that we would know and trust that dwelling within God’s will is the very best place to be.
2.     The prayer of indifference:  that we would be indifferent to everything but God’s will.
3.     The prayer of wisdom:  that we would hear the wisdom of God’s will

The prayer of indifference??  Like Jonah’s aha moment as he sat in whale vomit, the prayer of indifference hit me between the eyes.

I’m indifferent to nothing!  I have a thought, opinion or passion on just about every subject under the sun.  In fact, this is part of why Scott gets so frustrated about our decision-making process.  I care about everything, and he points out that I can’t get everything I want by making a decision all by myself, let alone compromising with him!

Indifference is a hard word.  It seems antithetical to what humans should be.  Elie Wiesal says that indifference is the opposite of love, not hatred.  But in the prayer of indifference, we pray that we will be indifferent to everything except God’s will.  Jesus teaches us that the top 2 commandments are:

1.     Love God
2.     Love others

So unlike a Buddhist prayer of indifference where we detach from all things, the Christian prayer of indifference would be one where we furiously attach to what God wills, but become indifferent to everything else.


I haven’t yet gotten to the place of actually praying that prayer yet, but at least I’m thinking about it.   Which is probably better than avoiding God by just doing e-mail.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tempted to join eHarmony

I’m feeling tempted to sign up with eHarmony.
Not because I’m ready to find another husband—I’m very satisfied with the one I have.  But because I’m just slightly addicted to personality tests and eHarmony is one major personality test!

This past weekend I went on a girls’ weekend with 5 friends to celebrate a 40th birthday, and one of the tasks was signing her up for eHarmony.  It took at least 2 hours and we only got about 70% through the whole thing. 

Of course, it’s a lot slower answering questions when your friends constantly debate every response because we’re all convinced we know you better than you know yourself!  On top of that, it was tricky to figure out how others would perceive our friend in light of the larger eHarmony population which we assume tends to be slightly less educated than a group where 3 women have doctorates, 2 from Harvard. 

A big debate was whether “intelligence” should be a top 4 characteristic.  After all, despite how extremely brilliant my friend is, many of her other character qualities actually outshine her brilliance (which is saying something), her kindness, her loyalty, her courage.  But stack her up against everyone else and everyone decided intelligence should be up there.

We clearly were over-thinking the test.  

But the more questions we answered, the more I wanted to see what eHarmony would say about me—and who eHarmony would think should be my future soulmate. 

I’m curious because I’m almost 100% sure no computer program would ever match me with Scott.  We're polar opposites on almost every spectrum out there.  He’s an ISTJ, I’m an ENFP (on the Myers-Briggs for those not yet initiated into one of my favorite personality tests, one in which I’m even a certified trainer!).  He’s from Maine, I’m from Hawaii.  He’s conservative bordering on libertarian, I’m liberal bordering on socialist.  He’s White, I’m Chinese.  The list goes on.  

About the only things we have in common are a steadfast love for Jesus and that we both like foods from every culture and nation.

Frankly, anyone without both these character qualities would have been deal-breakers for me.   When I found myself broken-hearted at age 26, I made myself at least look at guys as possibilities. In the most subtle way I knew, I asked any single guy, “What do you like to eat?”

Almost all of them said, “Oh, I’m a really boring eater.  I’m a meat and potatoes guy.  I don’t eat vegetables.”  At that, I crossed them off my list.

The first time I ate a meal with Scott, we were in a group of 10 new InterVarsity staff at our staff orientation.  Independently, we both ordered spinoccoli pizza at Uno’s.  I was too broken-hearted in that moment to feel a spark, but I tucked away the fact that Scott ordered spinach and broccoli on his own.

Months later, when we weren’t yet “officially” dating, we drove my sister back to Brown University and ate at a Thai restaurant near campus.  He thought the curry was the hottest thing he’d ever had as he sweated and gulped water.  My sister and I weren’t similarly affected, but the fact that he enjoyed the torture of spice was a good sign.

eHarmony had questions on spirituality, but none on food.  I think they need to revise their whole algorithm.  Maybe they should hire me to help them.  That way, I can take the test!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Success, Suffering and Miracle Gro

Early success is like putting Miracle Gro on your character defects.” 
--Michael J. Fox @ HIMSS conference in February

Michael J. Fox, aka Marty McFly in "Back to the Future" to my kids, said this great quote at the conference Scott attended in February.  

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Clearly Michael J. Fox has been through both a lot of early success and a lot of suffering since his Parkinson's diagnosis.  Scott was hugely impressed by his words, his sincerity, and his humor.

Some years ago, my colleague Greg Fung spoke about suffering.  He said suffering gives us capacity to receive good things in life and the character to appreciate them. Using Britney Spears as his foil, he pointed out how her early success and riches seem to have harmed her.  That without the maturity that comes from dealing with disappointment and hurt and betrayal, she hasn’t seemed to have the capacity to steward the great things she’s been given in life.

Britney was a great example, because when I talk to my kids, they want everything she has--fame, fortune, celebrity, plus good looks.

I’ve wondered how to think about this in parenting because we spend our lives trying to prevent suffering in our kids’ lives and wanting them to experience a lot of success.   So when we prevent suffering or encourage too much early success in our kids’ lives are we pouring Miracle Gro on their character faults?

I guess this is why the whole “natural consequences” view of discipline makes sense.  When kids suffer the natural consequences of their bad behavior, the suffering helps them, we hope, to not make the same decisions about their behavior in the future.  One book said the kids should suffer from their problem behavior, not the parents!

I love the idea of natural consequences.  Figuring them out and implementing them is whole other deal.   Especially because the real consequences and suffering of bad behavior often lies far in the future. 

Take sibling issues for example.  Here’s my dilemma:
1.     The girls, caught up in their own worlds, stopped wanting to interact with their brother about the time he stopped being the most adorable little toddler boy on the planet.
2.     He, hurt by their indifference, found that the best way to get their attention is to annoy them.  When he annoys them, he gets a lot of attention, all negative.  But in his worldview, it’s better to get negative attention than no attention.
3.     They in turn, become more mean, more dismissive and more exclusionary
4.     He, in turn, becomes more annoying.

It’s a big gigantic horrible cycle.  Four years ago, when I told the pediatrician that Ren had figured out the best way to get his sisters’ attention was to annoy them, she sighed, “Once that pattern starts, it’s pretty hard to stop.”

As they get bigger, the shrieking gets louder.  And I’m the one who’s suffering.   I now totally get why the Grinch was so surly, “Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise!”

My kids don’t care when I warn them that the natural consequence of their terrible meanness could be estranged relationships when they’re grown-ups.  And frankly, they don’t believe me because they know I too was horrible to my siblings and adore them now.  And my abused younger siblings seem to still like me.

I have no wisdom here.  What’s the natural consequence of bickering and fighting other than an insane mother who said two days ago, “Go ahead, kill each other for all I care.”

To which a child said, “You do care.  You would care a lot if we killed each other.”

Yup, I would. 

I sure hope all this suffering will lead some some capacity in the future for good things.  Until then, the bickering is putting Miracle Gro on all my character faults.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

More on the Chinese Water Torture

(A follow up to I’m Torturing my kids)

“How was it?” I asked Kai-Kai when picking her up from her latest session with the Chinese water torture, aka as YMCA swim team.

“OK.  The coach said it was a really hard workout.”

“But you survived!  That’s great!  How does your body feel?”  

I don’t know if she can sense it, but for all the whining and complaining that happens before swimming, after 30 minutes of “dry land” and 105 minutes of swimming laps Kai jumps into the car emanating a Zen Buddhist sort of quiet calm.


“Wow, after an intense workout you’re not feeling that great endorphin rush?”

“No, I just feel normal.”

I’m not content with this.  I want her to make the connection between exercising hard and her Zen  demeanor afterwards.  “So you feel like you always feel?”

“Well, I feel normal, unlike how I feel all bloated after I’ve eaten two pounds of chocolate.”

“And normal feels better than that?”

“Well yeah.  But I guess I feel bloated most of the time.”

Aha!  So “normal” isn’t that “normal.”  Normal actually feels good.  I knew it!  My Chinese water torture is working even though no one will admit it.

It’s gotten better.  All 3 kids were infuriated that that they missed swimming on Sunday because our Cana meeting took too long.  Ren begged to swim yesterday instead of tae kwon do because he missed it on Tuesday for the 5th grade “Sing Fling” and “I like swimming more.”

Of course, I’m also instituting the Korean brown belt torture on him.  He says he’s ready to quit.  But he’s only 2 stripes and 5 months away from his junior black belt.  We’re forcing him to get his black belt because:

1.     You don’t come this close only to quit (what my doctoral advisor said to me after I’d passed my proposal, created my survey instrument, but hated working on my Ph.D. with a passion).
2.     He’ll always regret not getting his black belt (the reason I kept working on that darn dissertation—“I'll feel like a failure the rest of my life if I don’t finish?”)
3.     He’ll always blame me for not pushing him to finish his black belt if I let him quit.  (I had no one to blame but myself at the age of 30)
4.     He’s going to feel so proud of himself for reaching that milestone.  No one will ever be able to take that achievement away from him.  (Hmmm, not so sure that’s true for me—after finishing, my relief was immediately replaced by “Now will I feel like a failure the rest of my life that I’m doing nothing with my Ph.D?”)

I think I’ll pay for a week of theater summer camp to mitigate the week of tae kwon do torture that will follow. 

It’s not easy to enforce both Chinese and Korean tortures on my kids.  It takes a lot of shuttling and a lot of trying (often unsuccessfully) to control my temper.  But when I sense that Zen Buddhist calm or hear the excited babble about the latest tae kwon do game, it feels worth it.

I’ll take that kind of “normal.”

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Joy of Kids Reading

None of my kids were early readers, and this really stressed me out.

With my son, we wondered if he would ever read at all.  When he was in 2nd grade his teacher said he was obviously bright, always worked hard, always was on task, but still could barely read. 

At his IEP hearing, the special ed coordinator looked at us like we were crazy, pointing out that he scored average, high average and even high high on his tests.  On the decoding test, the teacher assumed he’d be done in 5 minutes since the test stops at first mistake.  25 minutes later, he was still going.

But the kid couldn’t read!  The only suggestion anyone gave us was to bring him to vision therapy.  Given that these same special ed folks missed a test result on his 4 year old test that should have given him services, I wasn't happy that their only hope was something I was going to have to pay a lot of money for.

I thought our first appointment with the developmental optometrist would take the standard 10 or 15 minutes.  Two and a half hours later, after Catherine had made Ren do every single thing one could imagine with his eyes, she scored his visual dexterity at 10% for his age group, exactly his reading level!

After 6 months of therapy, Ren could sort of read.  He also could sort of hit a ball with a bat without any practice during those months.  Vision therapy worked where nothing else did.

Now all 3 kids can finally read and I can breathe a tiny sigh of relief.  

So here's the joy part.  On Sunday, Kai wanted to make another batch of deviled eggs with the last of the Easter Eggs, but wanted it to look pretty.  I suggested she pipe the yolks using the cake decorating kit I bought for Barbie birthday cakes (which you can read about here). 

Lo and behold!  As a 13 year old, Kai actually READ the directions and figured out how to pipe egg yolks ALL BY HERSELF!  I did nothing!

And they came out gorgeous, as you can see here:
My mother-in-law's deviled eggs recipe--super amazing!
(Recipe's included below)

And then yesterday she made chocolate cupcakes solely because she wanted to practice piping frosting.  

These also came out pretty terrific as you can see here:
Joanne Chang's Flour Chocolate Cupcakes with
Crispy White Frosting--pretty good

Two things you’ll notice from all this:
1.     It's very hard to keep one’s weight down when one’s daughter is constantly making delicious deviled eggs and chocolate cupcakes.
2.     I actually figured out how to take pictures and upload them to this site.  My own cooking creations don’t merit that work, but my daughter’s sure do.

And all because she learned how to read. . .

Mom MacLean's Deviled Eggs

(My mother-in-law's deviled eggs are to die for--even if you don't love deviled eggs.  Unfortunately, we don't have proportions for anything, just the ingredients, so if you have leftover Easter eggs--go for it!)

Hard Boil eggs (Put them in water, bring to a boil, turn off heat, cover, let sit for 10 minutes--should come out without the green ring around the yolks)

Slice in half, take out yolks

Mash yolks with:
Mayonnaise (good quality, we use Hellman's light)
Worcestershire Sauce, a dash or two
Dried Minced Onion (this is the secret ingredient)
Dried mustard
Dried (or fresh) chives

Spoon into egg white halves, or if you're adventurous like Kai, take out that cake decorating kit and pipe away!