Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Multitasking


One important skill on the resumes of all moms is the talent of multitasking.

We've all been there: change a baby's diaper while using one foot to knock away the garbage that your preschooler just dug out the trash can. Or answer a phone call with the most pleasant voice while giving the death stare to your child gesturing, Don't you dare! Or unload groceries, a sleeping child, and spilled Cheerios from the car while remembering to feed the turtle and put the load of wash into the dryer as you pass them. Except your now-awake child is going through the groceries and spilling more Cheerios on the kitchen floor. You wake up in the middle of the night remembering that you forgot to feed the turtle, and you wake up in the morning to find semi-wet "clean" clothes in the washer.

I find multitasking a burden borne of necessity. One does not do it because it's fun. One does it because too many things to get done. It is done out of desperation and survival.

Sure, it's fun to boast one's ability to multitask because moms rock. Sure, it's also fun to tease DH's multitasking ability because he cannot be on the phone and hear all the words coming out of my mouth. 

But you know what the truth is? I am really not very good at multitasking. Everything I do requires methodical planning and compulsive orderliness. (I know--I am my own detriment, and I see it in my poor DS everyday.)

I cannot have food cooking on the stove and still have things to prep on the cutting board; everything must be prepped before anything goes into the pan. Giada cooks and cuts at the same time, easily. The last time I aspired to be like Giada, food ended up on the floor.

I cannot do a whole lot while listening to music. My brain is wired so that the combination of music and reading or writing actually makes white noise. Sure, I listen to the radio in the car, but you know what I really hear when I'm driving to find a new place? White noise. Which might also be why I never know the lyrics to songs; they're usually just tunes and words like "ceiling can hold-ers."

I cannot hear my children talking at me while I'm reading. Again, white noise.

One thing I can do at the same time (woo-hoo!) is stir the liquid in that pot on the stove with my right hand and scroll through social media updates on my phone with my left thumb. Hold your applause, because too many things to get done. 

And it seems that the older I get, the more white noise I am hearing these days. Age is not very forgiving when it comes to demanding tasks such as taking notes from the violin teacher while playing Word Feud on my phone at the same time.

But now that Winter has passed and Spring has arrived (except the hiccup of an inch and a half of snow blanketing the ground this morning), I have had the energy and urge to get movin' again. When your forty-year-old body is inactive for a period of time, well, let's face it, it gets rusty. When your skin is so saggy because there's nothing underneath to support it, it's time to get shaped up!

Let me tell you about my requirements for working out: 1) It must take the least amount of time from getting ready to workout to working out. 2) It must have the luxury of heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. 3) It must be safe so this old body has no chance of hurting itself. 4) It must allow me to do something else other than just the workout. <Gasp! Did I just demand to be able to multitask? Yes, I did!>

I have an elliptical machine in my room. It meets all the requirements. I roll out of bed and can begin working out within 5 minutes (minimal travel time). No one sees me with sheet wrinkles on my face and bedhead hair (no grooming required). There are handlebars to hold on to so I cannot fall off (safe for the knees and old folk). And I can watch TV or listen to music while running on it (multitasking haven). Whoopee!




Because I used to watch TV as an exercise companion, I'd DVR a season's worth of Grey's Anatomy and watch an episode each time I worked out. Except I'd end up sobbing uncontrollably halfway through the workout and forget about actually having to run. To know how well that worked out, let's just say that I haven't kept up with Grey's Anatomy for a couple of seasons.

So this time, I plugged in my earbuds and turned up the music. Picture me: running rhythmically to my upbeat music.

WITH MY EYES CLOSED.

Cuz I'm still sleepy. And I won't fall off. And I get to really enjoy my music and hear the lyrics.




And when I open my eyes again when the album's over, my goodness, I've run forty minutes and enjoyed tolerated every minute of it and it's over! And I didn't even have to cry or check to see how much longer?! Win-win!

This is absolutely Multitasking For The Win! Semi-conscious exercising while enjoying music and hearing all the words!

But don't let this post fool ya.

In the classroom, I know exactly which students are out in the restroom, drinking water, or at the nurse's office.

All while I'm passing out papers, herding a few stragglers to get started on their work, and teaching a lesson on how to be effective multitaskers.

Ba-bam!



Sunday, March 30, 2014

UP

What's UP?

Spring break is officially over in T minus a few hours. This is how ours went down, er, I mean, held UP.


We drove UP to Toronto, Canada and had a family destination reunion. A first visit for all (eleven) of us, and we were much excited to leave behind the mundane for a change of scenery (and currency).




First and foremost, Toronto is known for its delectable ethnic foods, especially of the Chinese variety. We Yelped the local restaurants and made our tummies super happy. The first place we went to had a beautiful wooden ceiling to go along with the Chinese cuisine. But the dim sum restaurant we went to had hanging chandeliers and giant French paintings on the walls. It was as if the decor justified hiking UP the pricing because French gold-trimmed teapots made better Chinese tea. Nevertheless, we ate UP all the food, sighed in complacence, and stared UP at the ceiling.




As the dutiful tourists that we were, we visited the CN Tower. We went UP and looked at the view of the lake and city. We walked on glass floors and shook on wobbly knees. We studied the height of all famous skyscrapers in the world and sized them all UP.




We also visited Ripley's Aquarium, which we all very much enjoyed. Visitors walked through ginormous aquariums, watching fish of all sorts swim above our heads. Look UP! There's a stingray smiling at us, and a shark showing off all his teeth.




For a week, I had the luxury to stay UP and read. I finished off two books and started on a third. What a total treat that was! I even had my coveted booze accompany me while reading--Kahlua, straight UP!


For this trip, we rented a home to accommodate the lot of us. One requirement UP on our list was free wifi. Well, let's just say that I shook my fist UP at the wifi gods in pitiful desperation because our connection was spotty at best. It's one thing to want to be disconnected while away on vacation, but it's another story when I can't access the internet when I need to. It totally left me all roiled UP. I will never look at wifi connection the same way again. I am home now and I'm whispering sweet nothings to my beloved wifi. I have missed you so!


In addition to yummy foods, we drank UP on my Taiwanese bubble milk tea and Hong Kong milk tea/coffee combo. The bubble milk tea was one of the best I've ever had, apparently a number one brand in Taiwan. The Hong Kong milk tea/coffee combo is from an award-winning cafe, known for its tea and coffee. These beverages are so good that I'd be willing to give UP a meal for each drink. They pretty much made UP for the lack of access to good coffee everyday while traveling.




Lastly, as we were so close, we visited Niagara Falls. The water was not as magnificent as I had imagined it to be, but that is because water flow is reduced by half over the winter season as compared to the summer. There were large, frozen boulders at the bottom of the fall that completely blocked the view to watch the waterfall from an underground tunnel from behind. I guess it wasn't meant to be this time. We did get to look UP at the fall, and stand UP above the fall to see its grandeur. The naturally occurring turquoise colors were beautiful. The moisture and mist at the bottom of the fall were mesmerizing. I just wish it hadn't been so cold and dreary!




Alas, spring break had to end. We had to pack UP, say goodbye, and drive home. None of us are looking forward to getting UP Monday morning and facing reality again. 




But there is one awesome thing to come back to (other than the comfort of our own home and beds): the weather is finally starting to look UP! We will be in the high 60s tomorrow, and believe it or not, all the snow in our yard has melted and I see my tulips sprouting! Woo hoo! It is AMAZING what a little warmth and sunshine can do for the soul! 


Now that spring break is over, Spring must finally be here?! 


Your time is UP, Winter! Ta-ta! Farewell! Goodbye! 


I hope you have/had a wonderful spring break, too! What did you do UP in your neck of the woods?



Friday, March 21, 2014

Little



My Little Guy just turned seven.


My quiet, no-nonsense, highly orderly and deliberate child by day, and silly, goofy, and rambunctious kid by night.


The child uses a timer when he reads. All because he has to log his reading minutes daily for school. Should I even go on? He even stops the timer if he needs to go to the bathroom in between. He doesn't believe us when we tell him he doesn't have to be that precise.


The boy needs a chill pill. Because by-the-books is how he rolls.


When he gets in a silly mood, he will spew out a string of Chinese phrases--all of the inappropriate type (learned from listening to his often-frustrated mama muttering under her breath)--in a thick, tongue-challenged American accent. We, as his parents, naturally try to hold in our laughter and act appalled. I say, You mean I send you to Chinese school and all the Chinese you speak are these? DS, not missing one single beat, recites numbers from one to ten, in Chinese, in the most perfect intonation one has ever heard.


That goof.


They say birth order makes a difference. The youngest of the family comes with a list of behavioral generalizations. As much as we try to stay away from conforming to birth order stereotypes, I still have a hard time letting go of the fact that he's small. Not just the youngest small, but little. DD was always on the high end of the chart for weight and height. DS turned out to be on the low end. He's perfectly healthy; he just has a small frame and stature. He's actually saved us a lot of money since he outgrows his clothes at a much slower pace than DD did.


To me, he always looks younger than he is. He's shorter than most kids in his class. He can wear his shoes forever before needing bigger ones. Even the Tooth Fairy hasn't paid a visit yet--not even once! How can having all his baby teeth in an ear-to-ear grin not make him look little?


DD is tall for her age, and seeing her among her peers makes me feel less concerned about others picking on her. DS, on the other hand, is usually "looking up" at his friends. Being the worrier that I am, I wonder if he needs to work harder to be noticed. Or if he must do more than others to stand out in a crowd.


A parent worries. Whether the worries are warranted or not.


You might remember that we ran out of breath preparing for DD's last birthday morning surprise. Well, I wanted nothing to do with latex and hyperventilation anymore, so for DS's surprise, we strung lights all around his room for an evening surprise. As he stomped upstairs in objection of violin practice, he opened his door to find his room showered with glowing lights. His face turned from utter spite to boyish wonder, all in a matter of split seconds.


We got ya, bud!






My Little Guy is working his rank up in Tae Kwon Do. For his birthday, DH and I decided to get him a belt display rack. We all look forward to filling up this rack with colored belts as we and he gain more confidence throughout this learning process. I need visuals, you know, for knowing that my little one will not be picked on.


This rack is as much for me as it is for him.






Six was the year he finally found comfort in his own bed. It was the year he had the maturity to be introspective about his difficulties during transitions and actively attempted to improve in that area. At six, his smile was an even blend of a contemplative reserve, a trusting gaze, and a radiating beam. I look forward to see what Seven will bring.


If nothing else, hopefully a visit from the Tooth Fairy, at the very least.


Today, I picked him up from school and he unabashedly proclaimed to me in the school parking lot, as if stating an absolute, unmistakeable truth, "Mama, I love you like crazy."






My heart melted into slobbery goo. But not before I said, "You know I'm totally going to blog that, right?"


Happy Seven, my Little Guy!



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Be


Do you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

I was a little girl who rode the waves of an ocean, drifting, not knowing where I'd end up, but not fighting where the currents took me. I washed ashore here, there. I weathered storms and bathed in calm. And in order to survive, I placed my trust in the palms of grownups all around me.

Some of those palms took my confidence and forgot they even had it. Some were not able to do much with it. But some took it and nurtured that trust. I learned how to be more selective later in life, but I never withheld the pleasure of sharing a little of me with the people that came into my life.

I was a crazy child who put a staple in her thumb because I wondered how it would feel to have a thin, sharp piece of metal pierce my skin. As the blood came gushing out, I was stunned by the searing pain and learned that a staple does not belong in the flesh. I played inside a clothe dryer often because it was strangely comforting; I felt like I was being cradled inside the dark, confining rotating drum with a slow, pendulum-like swing.




Then I went to school. There, I learned about the world in a safer manner (without bleeding, the risk of electrical shock, or perpetuating an emotional deficit), and consistency became my new cradle. I could count on seeing my teacher's smile everyday. I could engage with my peers. I looked forward to the challenges of grades and competition.

I loved and respected my teachers, and I was always eager to please them. And the first time I ever wanted to be something ("when I grow up") was in my kindergarten classroom, as I watched my teacher gesture, teach, and lead the children with ease and poise. I thought, One day, that's what I will do, too.




As I grew older, the World told me to be many different things. A journalist, one voice said. A doctor, another whispered. It's a respectable profession and you'd make a good living. The World told me to go to school and get degrees; get married and have children; buy a house and have a job. I did all of these things, and this is what I found out:

I learned that I wasn't cut out for medical school, but being a pediatrician wasn't the only way to work with children. I learned that I have much love for the humanities--a philosophy that brings people together through culture and the arts. I learned that children are kindred spirits and that working with them would teach me how to be a better person and parent. I learned that having my own children solidified how I feel about each and every child being a precious miracle, and that parenting and teaching unquestionably go hand in hand.

I remember who I was before the World told me what to be. I was a girl searching for anchors, and I found them in my teachers, who always provided a safe physical and emotional space for me to grow and reach. They were the grownups that--even in the short span of nine months at a time--treasured me and fulfilled my needs. I was a girl that wanted to parent the way she wasn't parented. I wanted to be a mother and have children of my own to love absolutely and unconditionally; to raise to be kind human beings; and to hopefully send out into the world to be their own.

Now, I  open my palm to children and take their Gifts in confidence.

Now, it's not  "who I want to be."

Now, I am.




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Encouraging

I don't always do the right things as a parent.

I don't always ask the kids to set the table. I don't ask them to take out the trash. I don't have a chore list that they must check off every day or week. I don't hold back from doing things for them instead of helping them become more independent.

I don't expect them to be at the top of the class. I don't demand straight As. I don't ask them to read more minutes than the school's minimum. I don't make them do their homework before having screen time.

I don't speak enough Chinese to them. I don't enter them in music competitions. I don't always put them in summer enrichment camps outside of school.

I don't always have a great selection of clean, folded clothes for them to choose from each morning. I don't always turn in permission slips and school dues on time. I have even forgotten to pick the kids up on an early release day. I don't always empty out DD's Take Home folder and check her school work.




One day in late January, after DD's accordion folder was so overfilled with take-home work that I was embarrassed to look through it, I looked through it. I came across a worksheet that seemed like a New Year Resolution question/answer sheet. But instead of "resolutions," they were more fill-in-the-blanks for what one wants to do in different areas in 2014. Examples: A new skill I'd like to learn; A place I'd like to visit; A new food I'd like to try. It looked interesting, so I read on in detail.

And then I came to one that made my heart skip a beat. I had to read it again and again to make sure I was reading it right.
A person I hope to be more like: 
And her answer:
My mom because she's encouraging.
I read it over and over to make sure that I read the prompt correctly and the answer correctly. I deciphered her irregular cursive strokes to make sure it said mom. And encouraging. And reread A person I hope to be more like.

Then this lump began to grow in my throat and my eyes started to blink faster. 


This Johnny-come-lately mom had to tell her daughter how touched she was reading this response, um, only a few weeks late. Then this skeptical mom had to ask her daughter if she wrote that answer because she couldn't think of anyone else to write about.

DD was gracious enough not to be offended by that question.


Perhaps I seem a little too surprised and overjoyed to read something like this. It seemed sort of no-big-deal to DD. But I am a sentimental schmuck. And a MOM.

The-child-came-out-of-my-uterus-HOW.CAN.I.NOT.BE?


Encouraging. You know what else is encouraging? That DD's words have turned around to encourage me, a parent who seems to actually be doing something right.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Dreams



I just finished an almost-800 page book, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It has been described as a literary piece that comes only half a dozen times in a decade. It is said to be "Dickensian," "sweeping," and "a masterpiece." Numerous essays and reviews have been written about this novel that took twelve years to write.

I will not attempt to write about this book because I cannot do it justice, as other readers/reviewers have. But it did inspire me to think about a particular topic. The novel begins with the protagonist, Theo, telling us how he lost his mother in a tragic accident at age 13. This loss, so overpowering, comes through in his way of grieving her: "I miss her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater." Over the years, he'd dream of her constantly, but
"...only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she'd been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall. Sometimes I spotted her in a crowd, or in a taxicab pulling away, and these glimpses of her I treasured despite the fact that I was never able to catch up with her."
First, these images made me ache for Theo's heart. Then, they made me think about my own dreams, many of them recurring: those fleeting sightings of objects or ideas just beyond my grasp; momentary flashes of emotions lasting only seconds; and the unearthing of feelings that have been buried for decades.


I remember, as far back as age 6 or 7, having the Falling dream. Though I've never "fallen" from considerable height ever in my life, these dreams seem so real. All the elements of falling--the gravitational pull yanking me downward, the acceleration of my fall through thin air, and the panic flooding my entire body--are as palpable as being face-to-face with my Demise. Except I never hit the ground; I wake up instead. That Moment never happens, yet over and over, I wake, stunned, gasping, and bewildered at the authenticity of that chilling sensation.

There's also the Chasing dream. There's danger behind me, and I'm running for my life. Except my legs and arms can only move v e r y s l o w l y. Yet the person chasing me is still running in real time. I just can't run any faster (to save my life). It's as if a film editor accidentally superimposed a slow-mo action scene over a real-time scene. It toys with one's perspectives.

Thankfully, the frequency of these two types of dreams have decreased over the years.

What I have been having more in the recent years is the Facial Distortion dream. Hair falling out by the handfuls. Teeth of odd sizes or colors appearing in improbable places in my mouth. Ginormous zits sprouting where they don't belong. Being unable to remove my over-sized contact lenses from my strangely minuscule eyeballs. Yep, the really weird stuff. I'm either really vain or an overachieving hypochondriac.

Every now and then, I still get the Relive-the-Pain dream. Complete reenactments of childhood memories, like scenes from a familiar play, conjuring--with great artistry and precision--feelings of guilt, shame, and blame in me. I can be a child, an adult, or my current age in the dream, but all the raw feelings of my child-self still come flooding back. The mind remembers things in obscure ways: experiences from way back and deep down still pop up when one least expects them.

On a lighter note, I also occasionally have the Rejection-by-DH dream, whereupon I wake up mad at him because in my dream he had turned his back on me and walked away. I'm not sure how this gets into my head since that has never happened in real life. Like, ever. The poor guy wakes up facing an angry wife with a temper tantrum.

I've been told that I have a dramatic flair for defending (what I "think" is) reality.

Finally, there's the Just-Out-of-Grasp dream. Mouth-watering Peking duck on the table and poof! it's gone cuz I'm lying in my bed and there's no duck in it with me. Or the one where I'm about to get some sort of major recognition in front of a large crowd, and that glorious moment pops like a pin-pricked balloon because oh, I just woke up. I find myself in bed with no applause or glory. Only darkness and disappointment.

So close, yet so far away. Always a moment too soon, or a second too late. 


No doubt dreams are subconscious expressions of one's fears and anxieties, as well as ultimate desires and yearnings, as in Theo's case. Which makes me wonder: why don't we have more pleasant and happy dreams? I cannot think of one dream where I felt warm and happy, complacent and relaxed. (Okay, well, I did have the Baby-Moving-in-My-Belly dream, where I felt overjoyed re-experiencing the feeling of carrying a baby. But that happy feeling soon turned into an OMG-I-CanNOT-Be-Pregnant anxiety and the happiness is all gone.)

So, do we not have more positive dreams or do we only remember the negative ones? Is it because of our conscious suppression of negative thoughts during the day that land them in our subconscious dreaming in the night?


If Theo could control his dreams, he wouldn't be chasing his mother's absence. If I had my way, I would spend less time being a nervous wreck in my sleep.

And eat lots of Peking duck.



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

(Dis)Order


One of our most prized possessions is our collection of books. Ever since college, DH and I never hesitated to buy (albeit used) textbooks and books for pleasure reading (as opposed to renting or borrowing them). Even as starving college students, we'd forego new clothes and sometimes food, but paid for our books and kept them. Twenty plus years of books (except one box of lost books from our cross-country move, which, in fact, contained many of my Norton Anthologies, sigh) means there are bookshelves in every room in our house.

And they all possess a very special trait: proper alignment.

Each book is aligned exactly the same distance from the edge of the bookshelf as another. All the books are flushed against an imaginary line about an inch into the shelf.

I realized DH had a compulsion for such (dis)order, among others, early on. I'd have a friend over who borrowed a book, and DH would know exactly which book it was with one glance on his bookshelf. That tiny little gap left between the neighbors of the missing book or the unevenness of any cluster of books would be all the clue he needed to know which book is gone.

This behavior was so amusing to me that there may have been occasions where every few books or so got pushed in all the way in to the back of the shelf. Cuz there'd be some serious reaction from a dorky mate the Love of My Life. Until I realized that I was the only one that thought it was funny. He really detested out-of-place books. And anyone who caused such disarray of his beloved books and bookshelves.

So the playfulness (on my part) got old and I quit teasing DH. But soon enough, the kiddos came along. Young DD learned very early on how quirky Daddy can be whenever his books were "disturbed." Years later, when DS was mobile and explored the bookshelves, DD would be quick to advise her baby brother not to touch the books. Of course, DS would always give a devilish look to his Daddy, push in a handful of books, and bust out a hearty belly laugh.

Even though he tortured his poor Daddy back then, look who's inherited the Orderly genes now.




It's also not a wonder why DS is our go-to person when we cannot find something in the house.


Over the years, I began to find things from which I craved order. Things that were lined up, symmetrical, or uniform appeared pleasing to my eyes and comforting to my mind. Straight edges and right angles gave me a sense of precision and security. Not that I didn't like creative and spontaneous brush strokes or freehand lines, but without the reference of a grid, I wouldn't be able to appreciate the genius of unstructured designs.

Which is why I utterly obsess over the art of knitting. The rows upon rows of perfect stitches is total joy for my eyes.




The process is methodical, yet can be creative based upon a set of basic stitches to make new designs. The final product is a piece of art, because each and every stitch is placed intentionally and perfectly to yield a pattern.




It is also probably why I love to to bake, as the precision in measurement is an integral part of the probability of a successful outcome. But with a basic recipe of stock ingredients, one can still exercise imagination and ingenuity by substituting or adding new ingredients. Again, chaos among order, creativity among structure.


Interestingly, DD has no signs of such compulsions whatsoever. She may have had some as a little girl, but all evidence points to the fact that she's outgrown it--she just does not need all her ducks lined up in a row. She is by no means very messy or totally disorganized, but she'd be the last person to find something in this house. In fact, she could be looking for something staring right at her and she'd declare--with absolute certainty--its non-existence. I'd say that she got more share of my genes in that department.




However.

Just the other day, I watched a child walk by a wall-to-wall bookshelf and push in books by the handful WITH.EACH.STRIDE. Every length of hair on my body stood up, and I tried, achingly, to hide the horrified look on my face. No one else in the room even noticed or had one ounce of reaction.

This is a fine example of nature versus nurture.

I've inherited DH's compulsion via environmental institutionalization.

We are a hopeless bunch.

Except maybe for DD.

Run, Daughter, run!