Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Never in my life did I imagine that upon hearing you, I would burst out into uncontrollable laughter.
One day, we were leaving an ice cream shop walking to our car.
Dear Son (singing): I'm sixty and I know it! I'm sixty and I know it!
Me (puzzled): Is that a song?
DS: My friend at school sings this song.
Me: How does it go again?
DS (giggling): I'm sixty and I know it!
Me: Sixteen or sixty?
DS: Sixty. How long will it take for me to be sixty?
Dear Daughter: Um, fifty-six years.
Me: That's a long time.
DS: Oh. (Continues singing). I'm sixty and I know it! I'm sixty and I know it!
We get in the car and drive home. This upbeat song that I had never heard before comes on the radio. Since I was having my 'car ride quiet time' and zoning out, Dear Husband noticed the lyrics in the song.
DH (to me): I think this is the song!
Singer on radio (with naughty tone): I'm sexy and I know it! I'm sexy and I know it!
DS (catches on): I'm sixty and I know it! I'm sixty and I know it!
Me (I snap out of my revery): OooooOooooOooooh!
DD (giggling): Mommy, I don't think he's singing, 'sixty'...
Me: Yes, I know, that's okay (as I burst out into uncontrollable laughter).
Meanwhile, DS is really singing now. I'm sixty and I know it! I'm sixty and I know it! Complete with arm movements and hip action all the while strapped in his 5-point-harness car seat. I wonder where he saw the dance action from? Hmmm. So all the way home, DS sang about being sixty, DD laughed until she wheezed, and I cracked up until I had tears in my eyes. DH even smiled ear-to-ear while driving and trying to keep his eyes on the road.
On a more serious note, I had to think about the significance of this 'new' word in my kids' vocabulary. DS is four, and he has no idea what it means. For all he knows, it's the age of a grandpa. And I'm going to leave it at that because I know for sure that he would never sing in public anyway. But for DD at age 8, it's something I have to address. I asked DD what the word 'sexy' means when we got home, out of the earshot of DS. With a hint of a smile, she told me that she doesn't really know how to describe it, but I can tell that she's heard it before, and that there's a sort of 'off-limits' feel to that word. I decided to think about how to deal with this a little more before diving in.
That night, I googled the song on my smartphone (I admit to not being very pop culture-savvy). Even before actually seeing the video, there was a 'content warning' to which I had to promise I was mature enough to watch it. Oh goodness. So the song turns out to be by LMFAO, a duo of American electro pop singers/rappers whose music is centered on partying and drinking (info courtesy of Wikipedia). While I can laugh at what I'm seeing on the screen, these are the very kinds of things I'd like my kids to not see until at least late teenage years, if that. As the video played in front of me, I then understood why DS was trying to gyrate his hips and move his arms while singing the song. What on earth is he learning from his friends at school?
Then I looked up the word 'sexy' in the dictionary. None of the definitions was age appropriate for DD. DH said that we can just tell her that it means 'glamorous'. But I went a bit further than that. On our second discussion of this word, I suggested to DD that the word 'sexy' usually refers to one's appearance. She agreed. Then I said, "You know how some people dress in ways that show a lot of skin, like tank tops or less? Some people consider that to be 'sexy', but it's not an appropriate way for children to dress, and it's not appropriate even for grown-ups sometimes. But that word can also mean 'glamorous', depending on how it's used." DD listened and smiled, and went along her merry way when I was done. All I could think of was: It's coming up very soon, and I better get ready for 'that conversation' when the time is here.
So, Sixty, I appreciate your comical appearance in our household, but you have also provided an impetus for me to start formulating an important future discussion in my head. As much as I would like to put it off, I know it's not for much longer. It's really not the anatomical/physiological explanations that I dread, but more the social/emotional parts that come along with them. The latter cannot be discussed in a matter or hours or a few sittings like the former. It will take years of struggle between my 'wish to protect' and my 'logic to let go' to come remotely close to completing the discussion with DD, and then DS some years later. Honestly, I don't know how any of this will pan out.
For all I know, it might take until I'm sixty before I know it!
Saturday, January 28, 2012
To grasp a pen,
Ink on paper,
Print or scribble,
Strings words together.
Fingers on keys
On the screen displays.
On smartphones tap,
Fills in the gap.
A worn expression
On one's telling face.
Joy, shock, or sorrow,
Or, simply, grace.
A process in solitude,
To cross sacred boundary.
To learn about oneself,
A journey of discovery.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Dear First Shoes,
I came across the two pairs of you when I was looking for Dear Daughter's baby shoes to pass along to my Dear Niece. When I uncovered you in your tiny little shoe boxes, my heart instantly melted into slobbery goo.
When I see these baby shoes, warm memories gush into my mind. I think of the tiny feet -- no bigger than the palm of my hand -- that fit into them. Those feet are the archetypes of perfection. Soft, stubby toes extending from chubby, thick feet. Smooth and flawless skin, without an ounce of dryness or an inch of roughness. The high insteps, rolls around the ankles, and rounded heels. Feet that begged to be smooched.
Those were the feet that I would hold in my hands and squeeze ever so gently to feel every bit of fat roll between my fingers. I would kiss them and pretend I was gobbling up toes for dessert. I would dig my nose deep in between the toes and take long breaths inhaling that sour, salty, pickled cabbage smell of feet. Ewww, you might say. But not me. The stinkier, the better. Foot fetish? you ask. Well, I only love feet of individuals that had once resided in my uterus. If you're not one of those two people, I'd like to have nothing to do with your feet, thank you very much.
Unfortunately for me, feet don't stay small and cute. DD's feet are so ginormous now that they threaten to inherit my entire shoe collection. Those once fatty toes have turned into slender, elongated ones, so pretty, that they can be in foot product commercials. But the only time I touch those feet are when I clip DD's toenails on her just-showered, spotlessly-clean feet. My nose do not go anywhere near those toes anymore, for fear of passing out. Dear Son's feet, on the other hand, are still small and chubby enough to smooch and sniff... but not for long. I'm counting the days to when his feet will no longer be kissable anymore. I'm hanging on to my last days of feet-sniffing joy.
Foot fetishes aside, these first pairs of shoes also represent memories of another kind that truly should stay with me as a parenting reminder.
When a child enters the developmental stage of walking, everyone is filled with excitement, hope, and nail-biting anticipation. A child toddles along furniture or holds onto a parent's hand to gain enough strength and confidence to walk alone. When the time comes and the child is ready, the parent holds out her receiving arms, wears the most loving smile on her face, and speaks the most encouraging words to the child: Come, sweetheart, come to Mama! Again and again. Until the child masters walking. It's that overwhelming support enveloped by unconditional love that is the very gesture I need to remember to keep alive.
Because the child gets older, and things get more complicated. She masters walking, but still needs to learn to run, jump, climb, and leap. She then goes to preschool and gets progress reports, and is placed as a dot on a scale for literacy, computation, and social behavior, just to be compared with other kids her age. Then she goes to grade school and participates in sports games, contests, competitions, and a long list of activities that are fenced around by measuring sticks, award placements, and winners/losers. In the midst of life's busy days, weeks, months, and years, I sometimes forget to hold out my arms, wear the knowing smile, and say the assuring words. Between juggling homework, school testings, violin lessons, PTO events, and household chores, I sometimes fail to remember to cheer my kids on the same way I encouraged them to take their first steps.
These baby shoes are a great reminder for me. Perhaps teaching the kids a new math concept or the writing strokes of a lowercase letter is a little more complex than holding out arms and smiling, but the symbolic gesture remains the same. And my kids deserve it.
Seeing you, first pairs of shoes, not only reminds me of the warm, chubby feet that used to wobble inside you, but also the way my DD and DS were able to let go of their fears and place one foot in front of the other to walk into my arms. Thank you for bringing back these memories, and I shall remember keep my arms open wide until they are able to walk to me, past me, and finally, on their own. At which time I will miss much more than sniffing their stinky feet.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Dear Kitchen God,
Before you return to The Jade Emperor to tell him of our family's activities for the past year, I would like to offer you your annual treat before Chinese New Year. Your nian-gao this year has a brand new look, yet still every bit as tasty, sweet, and chewy as it always has been.
The legend of nian-gao -- a glutinous rice steamed cake -- originates as an offering to the Kitchen God (who protects the hearth of families) during Chinese New Year. The stickiness of the cake is meant to keep his mouth stuck shut, so that he cannot report bad things about one's family to the Jade Emperor, who then rewards or punishes a family based on that information. Why the Chinese culture created legends with such negative associations is beyond me. But legend or not, and most importantly, I get to buy and enjoy yummy nian-gao at this time of year. And now that I have discovered an alternate way of making it, I will never have to wait for Chinese New Year to eat it anymore.
After I posted a few innovative ways to use a mini muffin pan, a friend shared a Chinese sweet rice cake recipe with me, one that also uses a mini muffin pan. It was made of rice flour and wheat starch, steamed, not baked. I had never had this before, and it was very yummy, but it made me think of a new way to make nian-gao, one of my favorite Chinese sweets, with glutinous rice flour. I had to search around for mini muffin pans that would fit into my steamer, and I did finally find some at Sur la Table, but small ramekins of comparable size would do just as well.
I've always known how to make nian-gao, since I have had a good, basic recipe from a well-known cookbook. But I never attempted it because it takes at least 2 hours to steam (in square or round cake pans). It's such a long process: steam
The recipe is from Chinese Snacks (Revised) by Huang Su-Huei, (a Wei-Chuan Cookbook) but I halved the recipe below. While some other recipes include extras such as coconut milk or sweet red beans, this is a classic, stripped-down recipe. Makes approximately 2 dozen mini muffin size pieces.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cup hot water
- 3 cups glutinous rice flour
- mini muffin pans or small ramekins
- cooking spray
- steamer (I have a stainless steel two layer steamer)
- Grease mini muffin pans with cooking spray (I used Pam Baking Spray).
- Dissolve sugar in hot water. Let cool a bit so it's not scalding hot.
- Add glutinous flour and whisk until mixed.
- Spoon mixture into mini muffin pans.
- Steam on high heat for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on how full you fill the wells). Make sure there is enough water boiling so the pot doesn't burn.
- Remove from steamer and let cool a bit. Use a toothpick to lift each piece of nian-gao and flip upside down onto a plate. (OR, to pan fry right away: place directly onto pan heated with some vegetable oil to pan fry on medium heat. Fry both sides until golden brown.)
So, Kitchen God, since your Chinese New Year offering has had a modernized look, perhaps you'll try to adopt a more contemporary philosophy I've lived by: if you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing. Enjoy your Golden Medallions, and Happy Chinese New Year!
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
You don't fare well for a person like me. Little ones are enough to bring on the jitters; bigger ones raise the mercury in the sphygmomanometer.
Jackets hung on the backs of chairs but drag on the floor make me wince. Handbags placed on the floor puzzle me. Pants that are so long that the cuffs go under the heel of shoes truly challenge my mental state of health. Nicely put, I like to take care of my belongings. Not-so-nicely-put, I suffer from a moderate case of OCD. That is not to say that my house is always clean. But when it's not clean, you'd better bet that anxiety starts to claw at my lazy bum until it hurts enough to do something about it.
On our day off from school, I had lunch with a friend (and all our kiddos) at an Asian supermarket food court. The drill is, we meet for lunch, then walk through the market to get some groceries, buy some bread from the bakery, and then have ice cream for dessert back at the food court. As the kids ate their ice cream, my friend and I started a conversation -- related to my OCD -- about entertaining people at home. She hosts Thanksgiving every year, and her headcount is up in the forties. As I picked my jaw up from my lap upon hearing this, I felt the need to explain that we do entertain, but only one or two families at a time, because that is all the sanity I can handle. On holidays, we have a good dozen people at the dinner table, but it is just family.
Dear Son then handed me his ice cream. I was counting on finishing off his leftovers. I had my knee-length white down jacket rolled up in my lap (since it cannot hang on the back of my chair), so I picked up my handbag and placed it on top of my jacket to dig out my lactase (I also suffer from the Asian dairy curse). I looked down at the contents in my purse and was momentarily bewildered. Hmmm. Why does everything have a tinge of purple? When I touched the zippered bag that holds the lactase, my fingertips registered wetness. Then I looked at the juice box that laid sideways on top of everything and realized that the little foil straw opening was broken. My heart sank the way roller coasters take your body on its first downward dive.
When we left our table after lunch, I picked up Dear Daughter's juice box -- which felt full -- and tossed it into my purse thinking it had not been opened. I could have sworn that the foil opening looked intact at the time. So basically, that box had been sloshing around in my bag for a good twenty minutes, thus showing off its spilled contents in a pool of purplish-red liquid at the bottom of one compartment in my purse. I should have left my jaw where it was. I know the only reason I did not lose it right then and there was because I had a great friend consoling me and telling me a very logical solution: take the bag to a dry cleaner. Because, of course, my bag just took my brain out of my head and stomped on it repeatedly, and mushy brains do not create logical thinking.
As I tried to hold myself together to clean out the pool of liquid, I realized that it had soaked through the bottom of my bag, showing stain marks on the leather and fabric outside, as well as the white down jacket rolled up in a ball on my lap. All the air just voluntarily exited my lungs.
This New Year has not started off well for the OCD in me. First, I washed and dried a load of laundry with a Hershey's Kisses in it, causing streaks of chocolate on every single piece of garment in the load. Then on another occasion, I washed and dried all our winter jackets to realize that DD's lip balm was still in her pocket. (Thank GOODNESS the cap stayed on.) And now this nightmare of a juice box story. You'd think someone with OCD wouldn't commit these crimes, so imagine the horror and the self-blame when they do happen.
So, Mishap, your occurrences not only bring about anxiety and grief, but also the tantalizing reminder that I am aging, and, slowly but surely, losing it. But I do not surrender. In reliving this most recent mishap, it occurs to me that I tossed the juice box into one compartment of my purse, and not the other, with clear intent and will. The other compartment holds my pristine wallet (an anniversary gift), my cell phone, and my Bluetooth earpiece. Without a doubt in my mind, I know my OCD made that happen. Because I always see three words that flash inside my head: JUST IN CASE.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
As you are the object of most kids' games and board games, you can make the lives of young children a bit stressful, to say the least.
When I was little, to say that I was 'competitive' is an understatement. If I lost at playing cards, games, or anything with a grown-up, my lips would pucker up so high they could touch the top of Mount Everest, and that would be followed by hot streams of tears that would roll down my cheeks in amounts equivalent to a year's worth of rainfall in the Amazon. When I played Chinese chess with my grandpa as a little girl, he would always let me win. I knew that he did, and I just played along, pretending I didn't know, while enjoying every single win. La-di-da. The only time that I sucked up losses were when I played with peers. 'Cause we had to be 'grown-up' about it and not be 'babies'. Oh the irony.
Well, it seems that my DNA has regenerated in a couple of law-unabiding juveniles under my roof, and the shoe is now on the other foot...
At the tender preschool age of almost-five, Dear Son plays games with a mind of his own. DS and I played Hungry Hungry Hippos yesterday. After 'ready, set, go!' we both go at the lever that controls the hippos' chomps. I 'chomp' slowly, pushing around the marbles more than landing them in my reservoir. The shoe is on the other foot now, remember? Marbles are gone; DS wins. Round two. This time I chomp quickly since my opponent seems to need a challenge; I end up grabbing more marbles than I intended to. DS immediately uses one hand to lift up his hippo's mouth, and with the other hand, swiftly and unabashedly scoops all the marbles into his reservoir. Just like that. Didn't even blink an eye. I, on the other hand, was dying of laughter inside and trying not to show it.
Next, we moved onto Chutes and Ladders. DS spins the wheel, moves his piece, and takes turns with flawless precision. Oooops. He has to slide down a chute, and he does so begrudgingly. His smile reappears when I slide down another chute. It is a wee bit harder to 'lose' this game since I cannot control the spinner, so DS is clearly more agitated if I'm ever in the lead. Nearing the end, DS lands on the longest chute of the board. Simply, he states, "I don't want to slide down the chute," and continues to take consecutive turns spinning and moving until he wins the game. Just like that. With the best poker face I'd ever seen. I accept my loss as a gracious player, and DS is beaming with pride.
Finally, DS takes out Tumble, a game where marbles are suspended by criss-crossing sticks that are removed one by one, and the object is to let the fewest marbles land in your reservoir. Except when you play with a four-year-old, the object is to WIN, so we try to collect the most number of marbles. That's four-year-old logic for you. With this game, I can 'lose' with confidence because I can choose which stick to remove, dropping none or few marbles. But DS, on the other hand, wants to win so badly that he perceptibly touches all the sticks to see if any marbles move before removing the corresponding stick. And oh goodness, no, we do not speak of the 'ch-' word. Not at all. I just sit back and marvel at his determination and will to win while he turns all those gears in that noggin' of his to do so. That's my child!
Dear Daughter, being a few years older and wiser than her not-so-subtle brother, has come a long way, so much so that I've observed her using some of my tactics when she plays with DS. Interestingly, when she plays with us, i.e. the grown-ups, modesty no longer applies. Sometimes when she plays Wii games with DH and happens not to win, she climbs Mount Everest and visits the Amazon just like I used to. What can I say? She's a Mini-Me. But to her credit, she is showing much more grace and poise about her ways and making me really proud of how she reacts to win-lose situations ever more than before.
Now that I find myself in my grandpa's role when playing with the kids, it's really humbling to be 'on the other side'. It's coming full circle to knowing who you are, when to put your kids' confidence before your pride, and really internalizing what it means to be a gracious loser. Having said that, just don't ever ask my Dear Husband about our on-going Wordfeud games. Remember, with DH, I'm playing a peer, not a child, so I don't have to be the 'grown-up' and a gracious loser. I fret, and rant, and gripe, and groan, and wail, and whine, and do all the shameless things you can imagine when I lose, which is like 9 out of every 10 games with DH. Because I am a sore loser. How's that for playing 'The Irony Card'?
Some say that you, Win, are not as important as playing and having fun. I guess I am not qualified to preach that since, apparently, I'm a tea kettle, and that pot is black.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
You are a treasure, a gift, and a bond that few of us can do without. We face life's ups and downs and our most inner thoughts with you. And if we're lucky enough, we find a 'One Friend' that we hold on to for dear life so that we can continue ours in the most fulfilling way.
I found my One Friend six measly years ago, but it already seems like we've known each other for a lifetime. Our first interaction was at a Costco, both of our families in line waiting to check out. Behind us was a little girl sitting in a shopping cart, and if I weren't partial to my own Dear Daughter, I would have thought that this little girl -- with her big, bright eyes and sweet, innocent smile -- was the cutest child I had ever seen. This little girl has since become my DD's best friend.
And Cutest Little Girl's mom became mine.
Perhaps it was because we were both moms of very children-centered families, or because we came from the same Motherland, or because we seemed to both be afflicted with varying degrees of OCD, we were like two peas in a pod. The fact that our girls were only a few weeks apart in age certainly helped when we would plan classes for them to take and activities for all of us to do. The fact that we both love food also came in handy when we would plan lunch dates and family dinner meets. The fact that we share another culture -- its traditions and foods -- also paved way for our friendship (and tummies) to blossom.
Our friendship eventually became a friendship between two families.
Shortly thereafter, I read a magazine article that described the struggles of a family finding their 'One Family', one that fits theirs like a glove and that they could hang out with often. I immediately clipped that articled and sent it to my One Friend, because at that moment I realized that I had already found ours. When we talk about chemistry and how hard it is to find someone to be compatible with, imagine melding two families together and having everyone jive.
We jive like we're Jitterbugs doing the Boogie-Woogie.
As we muddled through our DDs' transitions to preschool, techniques in potty training, strategies with sleep issues, and challenges with personality eccentricities, we bonded like no other. A few years later, both our second babies were born within six months of one another. Then we held hands and braved through the newborn phase, the sleepless nights, and the trials of raising two kids. We finish each others' sentences about how abnormally-attached our younger ones are to us, about how their independence milestones seem to be much later than that of other children, and about how our older girls seem to be growing up way too fast for our own readiness. The similarities I share with my One Friend are so alike -- right down to our vacation spots and having a peanut-allergy kid each.
Nowadays, when a hostess greets us, and one of us says, "party of eight," you can be pretty sure that it's my family and hers waiting to be seated.
Since my One Friend is probably one of my most loyal readers, I would like to take this opportunity to say 'Happy Birthday!' to my kindred spirit, my trusted comrade, and my One Friend always.
So, Friend, I cannot stress how important you are in our lives. You are the representation of shared experiences, precious companionship, and partners-in-crime. I hope everyone is as lucky as I am to have found a 'One Friend', and perhaps the added bonus of a 'One Family' along the way.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
You elicit such conflicting feelings from me. We just went to Orlando the week between Christmas and New Year Day. And here are my Top Ten reasons for having a love-hate relationship with you:
10. 'The Happiest Place on Earth' turned into 'The Most Crowded Place on Earth' as it is apparently known as THE WORST WEEK OF THE YEAR to go there. So unless it's free, never again will we go during this time. #lessonlearned
9. Vacation is supposed to be a relaxing time away from home. But all the effort in planning, preparation, and packing seems to overshadow any possibility of relaxation. #tiredevenbeforeleaving
8. After leaving the house to go on vacation, I spend the ride to the airport battling panic attacks in case I remember something I forgot to do. #didipackmyxanax
7. While on vacation, the idea is to extend bedtime hours and sleep in, but the kids are up earlier than when school's in session. #pleasegobacktobed
6. And since we went to The Happiest Place on Earth, instead of relaxing, after 5 days of amusement parks, I feel like I trained for a marathon. #motrinforbreakfast
5. Time spent away from home is supposed to be enrichment for the mind and soul, but when night falls, all I really want is my own bed and my own pillow. And my down comforter, and my slippers, and my robe... #youseewhereimgoing
4. The best part of vacations for me is not having to cook (which involves shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning). But after a few days of restaurant and fast food, I long for nothing more than inexpensive, healthy, and homemade food. #ihatemyfickledself
3. You had better get all your relaxing done during the vacation, because you will come home to an enormous amount of dirty laundry, dust and dirt from goodness-knows-where, and an empty fridge. #backtoreality
2. You spend an exorbitant amount of money and fly thousands of miles to take the kids to Universal Studios Island of Adventure, where they get to meet Superheros and drink butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but your vacation photos reveal that the places where they showed their purest, most genuine smiles are... in kids' playgrounds. #kidswillbekids
And the number one reason why I have a love-hate relationship with vacations is:
1. You always need a vacation from your vacation (that you won't get). #truedat
But now that I'm home, I've already started to wonder about the whens and wheres of your next appearance. After all, one simple pro beats all the cons: vacations create memories, ones that will remind each of us the reasons why we were smiling in all of those pictures far away from home.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The start of a cycle,
A new moon, a new year.
A point on a circle,
The promise of a premier.
An unfamiliar stage in life,
A newborn, a newlywed.
Full of potential or strife,
And newfound wisdom ahead.
A collection renders sightings
And events on screens or paper,
Of recent and latest happenings
Or newsworthy blabber.
The emergence of a leaf,
Still shiny and pale;
An unread book's motif
Still waiting to prevail.
The hope of a fresh start,
A journey untainted.
With the old we now part,
And a new to be acquainted.
Happy New Year!