Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dear Phonemic Awareness

Dear Phonemic Awareness,

You are the process through which a beginning reader learns to thread phonemes (the smallest unit of sounds in words) together to make words.  This usually begins in early childhood, and is a practice that continues through later years in literacy development.

My timeline for this process was a bit different as an immigrant to this country.  I came here at the age of nine, just finishing third grade in my native country.  Over that summer, I attended a summer school class that taught me the alphabets, the days of the week, the months of the year, colors, shapes, and your run-of-the-mill preschool curriculum for English learners.  Then I entered fourth grade, barely speaking any English whatsoever.  Believe me, you don't get anywhere only knowing what day and month it is.

My fourth grade school had a pull-out program for English learners, and it was called Phonics Class.  Seriously, for the longest time, I thought it was called 'Funny Class'.  In my defense, having had no training in the English language or any phonemic awareness, for that matter, it was hard to distinguish the difference between the two.  But it was in this class where I learned the sounds of the alphabet.  With that knowledge, I began to read early readers such as Frog and Toad and Amelia Bedelia.  Even now, when I come across these books, I get the Warm Fuzzies because I remember how proud I was to be able to read a book all on my own.  I didn't necessarily understand all the words in the book--but enough to get the gist of the story--and besides, that was not the point.  The point was: I could read!  But how much context was lost through not understanding some words?

The next time I really thought about phonics again was in graduate school, where in a Reading Education class I learned all about the backlash against phonics instruction.  The argument is that learning to read through only phonics results in learners who do not necessarily understand the words they read, and reading would just be 'going through the motions' of saying aloud the words.  The newer model, called Whole Language instruction, teaches reading via context with emphasis on the meaning of words.  As it turns out, educators began to believe that teaching reading through both Phonics and Whole Language models more effectively provides students with a variety of reading skills to become proficient in word identification, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. 

My experience learning to read English was much different than that of my kiddos, since for all practical purposes, their first language is English.  There's no extra hurdle of learning an entire new language on top of reading and comprehension.  Dear Daughter began exploring phonemic sounds in preschool, and began reading in kindergarten.  On the same track as his big sister, Dear Son is just on the verge of being able to read simple words by himself.  One day, we were walking in a parking structure, and DS announced, plain as day, "That word is 'park', and that's 'level'."  I was pretty shocked to hear him read those words.  So there really has been some phonemic activity going on in that noggin of his!

Immediately after that, we bought a set of magnetic letters for him to make words and help with this new endeavor.  We would make some rhyming words that focused on the differences of beginning sounds and same ending sounds.  Or we would make words simply by exploring each phoneme in them.  Soon, I started leaving messages on the board to see if DS can sound out the words.  To my surprise, he could read many easy words, and even some harder ones with help.  I've written phrases such as 'Happy Friday', 'Cat in the Hat', and 'Hop of Pop', which he could read pretty well.  Some longer ones, such as 'It is almost summer' and 'Mouse visits Bear', he needed some phonemic cues to read entirely.  Of course, I grinned from ear to ear when he read to me what I wrote in the picture above!

To further illustrate the positive effects of phonemic awareness, here is an account of siblings having fun with each other to pass time in the car.  As with many other hilarious backseat convos, this one had me doing my best to keep my mouth shut.

If you are familiar with the show The Wonder Pets, then you know the catchy tune that goes, "Linny, Tuck, and Ming Ming, too, we're Wonder Pets and we'll help you..."  Well, for whatever reason, the kiddos were singing that song one day, and somehow they decided to sing in alliteration: replace the first sound of each word with the same sound.  So this is how it went...

They started with consonants: "Let's do T, so it's 'Tinny, Tuck, and Ting Ting, too'; let's do B: 'Binny, Buck, and Bing, Bing, too'; how about Z? 'Zinny, Zuck, and Zing Zing, too'."  Then they moved on to blends (voiced combinations of consonants) such as pl-: 'Plinny, Pluck, and Pling Pling, too' and gr-: 'Grinny, Gruck, and Gring Gring, too', followed by diagraphs (voiceless combinations of consonants) such as sh-: 'Shinny, Shuck, and Shing Shing, too' and ch-: 'Chinny, Chuck, and Ching Ching, too'.  (Of course they don't know the difference between blends and diagraphs, but the fact they used many of them showed that they do have a grasp in phonemic awareness, and DD obviously helped out with choosing many of the sounds.)

So they went on and on, singing and giggling after each one.  Over and over.  They were practically going through the entire alphabet and sets of consonant blends and diagraphs for the beginning sound.  And all  I could think of was: please don't do the letter F, please, please, please!  I did not want to go into why not, right then and right there!

And magically, they didn't.  Even at later times when they'd sing the song again--thank goodness.  Sometimes a car ride is just not the right place or time for a vocabulary lesson!

Ironically, the kiddos are now learning a new language: my native language.  They've completed a year of weekly lessons at our local Chinese School.  DD has mastered the 37 sounds that blend together to make words in Chinese (in Zhuyin form), and DS has learned many songs and knows how to write simple words in Chinese.  And as the Chinese language is a completely different language in phonemes, syntax, and semantics from English, it requires a whole different set of skills to learn it.  How interesting life presents itself: even though times and circumstances are different, our kiddos are going through what Dear Husband and I went through when we first came to this country: learning a brand new language (albeit slowly and not 'for survival').

I keep hoping that one day I will see a very nice message written back to me on the board from the kiddos.  But all I've gotten back from DD is 'Happy Monday' or 'Happy Tuesday'; um, a little imagination would be nice.  And all I've gotten from DS are Pokemon character names.  Um, yeah.  But I give him props for trying to spell, and Mama can always keep hoping, right? (Bonus: check out the cool snowman on a sled they built out of letters in the bottom right corner; Imagination: check.) 

So, Phonemic Awareness, I believe that you are an important step in mastering the skills of reading and comprehension.  It is also nice that the kiddos can find entertainment just by using you in a sing-song they created in the car.  So cheers to you and your process in my kiddos' journey in reading and writing.  But I get to sing The Wonder Pets song to myself with the F sound and giggle because, unlike the kiddos, I reap the rewards of both Phonics and Whole Language instruction on that one, baby!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Dear Birthday Girl

Dear Birthday Girl,

I cannot believe you are nine-years-old today!  I hope you liked your birthday treats thus far: your surprise bedroom door streamers, your surprise morning birthday balloons, and your surprise scoop of ice cream breakfast!

Merely a decade ago, you were an unattainable dream.  After many tears and lost time, medical procedures and interventions, you were the little miracle that came--naked and trusting--into my arms.  You proved that I really was meant to be the one thing I desperately wanted to be: a mom. 

When you were one, you smiled.  I mean, you SMILED.  All the time.  At everyone.  It wasn't until your moody brother came along that I realized how much you loved to smile.  We used to marvel at your ability to capture people's hearts.  You'd look at someone sitting at another table at a restaurant, wait for that person to meet your gaze, and then you'd cock your head to the side, and give a smile that said, "Hi!  I'm having a great day; are you?"  Instead of grownups trying to get a smile out of you, you were the one doing that to grownups.  Your smile is a summer breeze that sweeps and tickles the cheeks of people you love.

When you were two, you started to talk, and you've been talking nonstop ever since.  But not only did you talk, you used words like 'scrumptious' and 'famished' at that age.  Food wasn't just 'yummy' and you weren't just 'hungry'.  Little Miss Drama Queen always convinced and persuaded like no other.  Your words are disco lights that twinkled and twirled, making everything sparkly-er than their normal selves.

When you were three, you became a big sister, and my biggest helper.  You were so understanding that you'd willingly go upstairs by yourself, and go down for a nap while I was busy with your baby brother.  Moreover, not that you ever showed any jealousy when he arrived, but I always reminded you that no matter how much I seem to be involved with your new baby brother, you must always remember that I loved you first.  To which your smile told me that you were 'okay with it'.  Your wisdom beyond your years is my lovey; its warmth and softness forever comforting me.

When you were four, you sprouted a love for sounds and words.  At school, you began to learn the sounds of the alphabet.  You were taught to say the sound and then a word that began with that sound.  Your favorite one--one that you'd say over and over during your bath time--was 'puh, puh, puh, pi-gu' ('butt' in Chinese).  After which you'd burst into belly giggles: those short, staccato hiccup-y laughs that bounced off the bathroom walls and into our hearts.  Your love for words and reading is the giant leap of a prima ballerina: reaching, effortless, grand.

When you were five, you began a journey of music appreciation with the violin.  Beginning with a 1/8 size violin, you learned the rhythms of Mississippi Hotdog; Grasshopper, Grasshopper, I Stop and You Stop, and Wish I Had a Motorcycle.  Even though all of these rhythms eventually were replaced with complicated names of notes and rests, I'll always remember them fondly, because your then tiny hands and fingers made these rhythms come alive for my ears.  Your perseverance with music is the roots of an old tree, seeping deep into the earth, anchoring.

When you were six, you began to survive a full day without me.  As you entered First Grade, you would leave the house and go to school for more than six hours at a time.  During which time I'd fret about whether or not you would use the school restroom, whether or not if you could open your lunch container, and whether or not you'd get on the right bus to come home.  After all that worrying, I'd come to the realization that I really missed you.  A school day was a long time for a little girl your age, and Mama had some getting used to with the separation!  Your independence is my shelter from a storm.

When you were seven, you learned how to ride a bike.  You had spent an entire summer riding a two-wheeler scooter, and by the time you tried a bike, you just rode, and balanced, and went.  Next thing I knew, you were riding a bike.  Just like that.  Now if only learning how to drive could be that easy for you.  Or, rather, if teaching you how to drive a car could be that easy for me.  Either way, I still have seven more years to brace myself for that.  Your ability to surprise yourself and everyone around you is a lovely picnic in the park!

When you were eight, you began formally learning my native language as you attended Chinese school on Sundays.  I was never the 'good' Chinese mom who made sure her kids spoke Chinese at home.  But there came a time when we knew that learning another language can only be beneficial--besides the fact that both your parents speak it--so long as you were willing.  Daddy's goal for you and your brother is that you learn enough Chinese to be able to order your favorite foods in a restaurant when you are older.  I couldn't agree more, because you'd be missing out on so much if you couldn't order those specials on the wall!  Your Chinese is a chrysalis, awaiting the transformation into a butterfly.

And now you are nine.  Nine is a very special age to me, because that was when I uplifted my roots in my homeland and moved to this country.  Although you are in very different circumstances than when I was nine-years-old, I see the nine-year-old me in you.  Crazy as it sounds, I think she and you would be BFFs if that was ever possible!  I wish that the quantum mechanics of the time-space continuum would stop playing tricks on me; what happened a decade ago flashed by in the blink of an eye.  My Miracle Baby Girl is now nine-years-old

All week long, I've been singing the song, My Girl, by The Temptations, in my head: I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day; when it's cold outside, I've got the month of May; I guess you'd say, what can make me feel this way?  My girl, my girl, my girl, I'm talking about my girl. Yep!  My Girl!

So, Birthday Girl, today is your day!  Have a blast sharing your ice cream sandwiches with your classmates.  I can already imagine your smile when your friends wish you a Happy Birthday.  I know you will keep bringing sunshine to cloudy days because you haven't stopped smiling since you began.  And remember, My Girl, that Mama always ever loved you first.

Happy Ninth Birthday!

With all my love,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dear Cultivation

Dear Cultivation,

You are the brilliant process of creating beautiful gardens and healthy vegetable crops, but one that takes much effort, luck, and fine tuning.  As with everything in life, you summon a lot of hits and misses.

Gardening has become a yearly routine for me over the past few years. Since we moved to the burbs, we now actually have real yard space instead of a four by four patch of grass.  And now that the kids are older, I can actually redirect my motherly duties and extend services beyond my own offspring to that of species in the kingdom Plantae.  

Where we live, plants come alive beginning March (if we're lucky) and go into hibernation around October, after which is it just as bleak, wintry, and lifeless as can be.  That is perhaps why we take advantage of the warmer weather by diving into outdoor activities and focusing on cultivating our yards and gardens.

People who know me know that I strive to have a green thumb.  Last year, I received a gardening tote with tools as a gift.  This year, I received many types of ready-to-plant bulbs, young plants, and young flowering trees as gifts.  I also got a shiitake mushroom log that will grow mushrooms for 3 to 4 years.  And I even snagged a handsome handmade gardening box--on legs so I don't have to bend over--for vegetable gardening in my backyard as a gift (how awesome is that?).  Needless to say, now that it's May and warm, I'm ready to cultivate.

So it seems the rest of the world had the exact same idea as I did this past weekend: go to Home Depot.  I went there to buy all my Bonnie potted vegetables ready to go into the soil (because I'm not with it enough to start from seed early in the spring).  It is probably because it was the hottest day of the this entire month, and the heat prompted people to think about the beautiful plants and flowers that thrive in the summer.  Man, the store was so crowded.  I picked out my herbs, vegetable plants, annual flowers, and even a perennial bush while I perspired through my shirt and dripped sweat down my face.  Dear Daughter and Dear Son were ever so patient in the heat.  DD helped me pick out the prettier geranium color, and DS had only one request: he wanted to plant corn.  Since there was no Bonnie potted corn, we bought seeds.  All I can say is I wish myself luck with that.

Last month, I received a variety of bulbs, berry plants, jasmine, olive, and flowering potted trees in the mail as gifts.  I did the best that I could potting them into what I had available at home.  The dozen or so strawberry plants went into a large pot with enough potting soil for the time being until I could find a better home for them.  They immediately began to grow and sprouted beautiful green leaves, but I knew that they were spaced too close to each other and I needed to replant them, fast.  After some research, I bought a strawberry planter, and very gingerly dug the roots out and transplanted them into the strawberry pot.  (Picture a well-intentioned and gloved horticulture surgeon at work.)  A few days later, all the new sprouts wilted, one by one.  Imagine the horror and frustration for me.  I'd like to believe it when people tell me that the plants will regrow themselves as long as the roots are buried. But I'm so not hopeful that I bought another Bonnie potted strawberry plant just so that my strawberry planter won't be barren and make me feel guilty about all strawberry plants that I killed.

I also planted the bulbs that came in the mail according to the instructions, but none of them have grown the width of one hair.  They're just buried in the soil, dormant, or dead for all I know.  Thank goodness the rest of the plants that came in the mail are thriving well, or, at least, not dying.  To further illustrate my streak of bad luck, I had bought a beautiful potted hydrangea plant back in April and planted it in our yard on Earth Day.  Unexpectedly, the low temperature of the very next night was all of 28 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  Within a few days, all the blue and purple delicate flowers turned brown and the green leaves wilted.  It looked as sorry as neglected and decapitated dolls all sprawled on the wasting ground.  So much for celebrating Earth Day.

To watch a live bulb do nothing is disappointing.  To watch a live plant die leaf by leaf, flower by flower, plant by plant is devastating.  The amount of time I stooped down to seek new green sprouts on those strawberry plants and dead buried bulbs have been excessive, and I know that no amount of begging or pleading would make them decide to come alive.  As I wait, any hope I have become exponentially inversely proportional to the time that has passed. 

But it seems like my thumb cannot make up its mind what color to be.  I've had great success caring for my orchids.  I have the most beautiful rose bushes on my street because I take the time to prune them a few times a year.  I grew tomatoes and parsley in my backyard to supply ingredients in the salads we eat at home.  The tulip bulbs I planted last fall unearthed into the most gorgeous beauties, much beyond what I could have ever imagined.  And the annual flowers I plant each year flourish all throughout the summer.  So it's not like I don't have success with plants.  So.

The thing with cultivating a garden is that much of it depends on past experience, some luck, and a whole lotta trial and error.  I hauled home five large bags of potting soil for my garden box, and bought herbs, greens, string beans, and peppers, and I just did the best I could given what I know about spacing, placement, and sun requirements.  I've no idea how they will grow, and only time will tell.  Besides the herbs, I don't even know what the grown vegetable plants will look like, much less how they will bear fruit.  I could Google it, but finding out firsthand is one of the most fascinating things about cultivating the vegetable garden (of course, until I run into a problem of some sort).  Watching them 'do their thang' will be like watching my tulips sprout, bloom, and wilt earlier this spring; and like a little kid doing something for the first time, I was so excited.  And that will give me the knowledge of their life cycle for the next season and beyond.

Whatever does not work this year will get another try next year.  In fact, I already have grand(er) plans for next year.  I'm going to rip up some grassy area for more planting space.  I'm going to start from seeds early, right around spring break.  I'm going to have a better idea of what can go into the garden box and what should go into the ground.  And I'll know what variety of tomatoes will grow well.  For me, the most fascinating thing about caring for plants is that all they need are sunlight, water, and perhaps some plant food or good soil, and they will keep growing and bearing fruit all on their own.  Each day there is a change, a measurable growth.  Each growth adds to the cultivation of my mind about the natural stages of plant growth and knowledge required for successful gardening. 

Now that I know better, I write a note to self for future reference: do not plant in the ground until after Mother's Day, and never transplant anything with thin, fibrous roots.  And although I'm not holding my breath for new strawberry plant leaves, I do see brand new buds on my half-dead hydrangeas.  There is still hope left in them yet!

So, Cultivation, whether for a beautiful garden or a young mind, you're one in the same.  You require patience, work, prior knowledge, and a great deal of experimentation to get it right.  You present failures in order to meet success; you demand effort in order to bear fruit.  You are indeed an enigma: one that makes me want to get better results with each trial.  If nothing, won't you help me sprout a corn plant for DS?  We even have the perfect spot picked out for it already.  We just sowed the seeds yesterday, so will you work your magic for us, pretty please?


Friday, May 18, 2012

Dear Sunscreen

Dear Sunscreen,

Now that it is warmer and the UV index is steadily climbing its scale, our need for you has returned.  You again reside permanently on the bench right by the front door.  However, you are another item on my Love-Hate Relationship List.  I love that you protect our skin from harmful UV rays, but I hate slathering you on and how you feel on my skin.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am sun-phobic.  It's not that I want to stay fair like all of 'my people'; I have skin so light my legs can reflect sunlight and cause a traffic accident, so some color would actually be nice.  I just don't like being in the sun for any more than 'a little while', especially without sunscreen.  I also don't like the feel of the sun's prickly heat on my skin (but Dear Husband adores that 'warmth-on-skin' sensation; you can imagine how our vacation outings go: I seek shade while DH strolls leisurely in the sun.)  I fear the possibility of a sunburn; I imagine how the UV rays are making the DNA in my skin cells mutate or speeding up that inevitable wrinkling process.  In sum, I use sunscreen in the summer the way I use lotion in the winter.  Slather, rub, repeat.

However, the OCD in me makes me very particular about the textures of things I touch.  I prefer the feel of certain lotions over others, and I must immediately wash off anything I cannot tolerate on my hands.  I definitely have hypersensitive tactile issues; is there a clinical term for that?  (Don't ask me how I cook; that can be another post all by itself).  Thus, the texture of sunscreen?  Cannot stand it.  Whether it's titanium dioxide, zinc dioxide, or avobenzone (the three available ingredients in the US that protect from both UVA and UVB rays), I don't like the feel of them.  They all feel greasy to me.  I simply cannot stand the feel of sunscreen on my hands and between my fingers.

As a parent, I am even more worried about the skin on my kiddos than the aging skin on myself.  I attack my children with sunscreen they way policemen would attack an offender with mace.  Every year, we take pictures of the kiddos on the first day of school when we are all out on our driveway waiting for the bus.  It has occurred to me that every year, the pictures inevitably show me in action, putting sunscreen on the kiddos.  There I am, slathering and rubbing, and faithfully justifying that I am putting on this invisible shield to protect my children's baby-soft skin from the evils of the sun's invisible rays, as I mutter and complain about the yuckiness of it all to myself.

DH loves to tease me about how I have brainwashed my kiddos about the use of sunscreen and the dangers of the sun's rays.  His favorite story about Dear Daughter is when she was about five-years-old.  She and Daddy were playing outside on the driveway.  She was playing with a ball, and somehow the ball rolled away.  DD started to go after it, but then came to a screeching halt of all a sudden, as if she was met by an invisible fence.  DH realized that she stopped right where the shade ended on the driveway.  She looked up at her daddy and said, "I don't have any sunscreen on."  To which DH didn't know if he should laugh or cry.

More recently, now that my Dear Son has turned five-years-old, he has also internalized my issues with the sun.  One day, we were running late, and I was not able to slather him with sunscreen before the bus came to pick him up.  I quickly told him to not stand under the sun the entire time the class played on the playground.  They don't stay out that long anyway, so it's probably okay, I told myself.  Later that day, I went to his school to help with the Book Fair.  I sat in the gym where it looked out onto the playground through two emergency exit doors.  I spotted him, and hoped that he would look in through the doors and see me.  He never did.  But he kept standing in front of the doors with his back to me every now and then, repeatedly.  It took me a little while to realize that the area right outside the doors was in the shade.  He remembered what I said and kept taking breaks in the shade!  That's my boy!  Brainwashing: successful.

So in order to alleviate my tactile intolerance issue, now I buy waterproof sunscreen for the pool, and lotion with sunscreen for everyday use.  The lotion with sunscreen has a texture that I can tolerate much better on a daily basis.  As for the waterproof ones for going to the pool, just that first hurdle I must jump over is enough to keep me from wanting to go to the pool at all.  I must put sunscreen on 80% body surface of 3.5 people.  Just. Kill. Me.  I've tried the spray-on ones, but you still have to rub it and spread it evenly to make sure all skin surfaces are covered, not to mention the fumes are nauseating.  After I do slather and rub waterproof sunscreen on to myself, the kiddos, and the back of DH, we're ready to go, but I then feel like a newly greased pig ready for roasting.  Did I mention I cannot stand sunscreen on my hands?  Now it's all over my body!  #@$%!

Oh, here's one more success at good training on my part for using sunscreen.  DH is now an expert at putting it on my back or the kiddos' backs.  On one occasion a long time ago, he experienced the wrath of my sunburnt-back because he missed some areas while applying sunscreen on it.  Let's just say he never made that mistake ever again.

If I have made myself seem like a sunscreen freak to you, well, it's because I am.  Only my fellow heliophobes would understand me.  And only my fellow OCD sufferers would understand my love-hate relationship with sunscreen.  But I guess I feel like this is something important enough for my kiddos to remember.  I don't want them to make the mistake that I did as a child: slather on baby oil and stay under the sun in hopes of tanning.  I didn't tan: I burnt to a crisp.  Just thinking of the times I've done that makes me think stupid, stupid, stupid.  Plus, sunburns are painful, not to mention they cause wrinkles.  Scientific fact.  Sweariously

So, Sunscreen, I will continue to use you because I have to, not because I want to.  But I appreciate your function in slowing the process of aging and preventing the occurrence of skin cell mutation.  Thank goodness DD is now old enough to slather you on herself and I just have to endure the lesser amount necessary for DS.  Okay, I admit that if a cool summer breeze is present, then the sun's warmth on my body while I'm at the pool can be quite fabulous.  But only if I have you all over my body.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dear May

Dear May,

If August is a blur, then I must see you a little too clearly.  So many things happen that are just the opposite of August: they are not only set in stone, they are also irreplaceable, unchangeable, and quite monumental, if you ask me!

On the last month of the school year, too much is going on!  In August, my calendar was empty and waiting to be filled.  In May, my calendar is already filled, but now has extra end-of-the-year events to tag on.  I looked back on my August post, and it's quite amazing how far we've progressed, how much we've learned, and how quickly this year has gone by.

If you or anyone in your life is in school, then your year is really dictated by the school year.  Since my life is run by two school-aged kids, my 'year' is really from the end of August to the beginning of June.  Year 2012 is really more specifically 2011 - 2012 or 2012 - 2013.  And that is a big difference.

Back in August, my kiddos were just entering a new grade, going into a new classroom, and meeting a new teacher.  Everything was unfamiliar, somewhat  foreign, and a bit awkward.  It took weeks and months to get used to new friends, new routines, new bus experience/route and new work.  There were some fears, some tears, some anxiety, and some trepidation.  And by trepidation I mean on my part, because we as parents worry about how the kids will fare, since we've all been there and done that, and know what it's like to be in their shoes.

Once comfortable, the later months become much easier, when everything just falls into place all on their own.  Finally, in the last month of the school year, the once timid, meek kiddos in August are now accomplished, wise, and at-ease students.  They have an entire school year's worth of experience under their belts.  They can tell you that they've learned, because they are that much smarter.

In May, along with the regular school year schedule, we place several more items on the calendar.  Teacher Appreciation Week; end of school-year field trips; end of music school-year recital, end of school-year Open House; preschool graduation ceremony.  These all help celebrate the end of a learning period, where we can look back and see progress, friendships, and confidence made.  It is clear that we've made concrete strides. 

With the end near, summer comes as a transition reward.  I always look forward to summer vacation because it means lots of relaxation, lots of sleeping late days, and lots of no schedule days.  Planning things to do for the summer is always fun, too.  I have so much in mind to do with the kiddos: we'll do our art/science/writing projects; soak up some sun with outdoor activities, since, well, it is summer; meet up with friends near and far for play dates; cook up a storm in the kitchen, and picnic like that's the only way we eat our meals. 

Moreover, May is the time to begin gardening projects, one of my favorite warm weather things.  I get to buy and plant annual flowers, vegetables and herbs, and even a few perennial plants.  Just thinking about the possibilities is overwhelmingly exciting!  The kiddos also begin to be eager beavers about wearing short-sleeves and shorts, and going sockless in sandals and flip flops.  This transition period is delightful, because we have yet to feel the prickly heat of the summer, and have yet to be bogged down by having to water those precious things we planted earlier. 

So all that end-of-the-school-year stuff on top of two birthdays and Mother's Day makes my May very, very busy.  In fact, I look at my calendar and I wince.  All those dates filled with writing in black and white that must take place--no ifs, ands, or buts!  As much as I couldn't stand to see the blurriness in August, at this point, I'm ready to see the blur of summer again.  Yup, I'm fickle that way. 

And that's the Way Things Work.  Blurs become clear, and clarity blurs yet again.  This continuing cycle keeps us moving forward.  It keeps us from becoming too content or too assuming; the newness of each beginning keeps us on our toes, while the well-oiled-machine of the end make us proud of our accomplishments.  And as they cycle, we continue to ride the Waves of Life, up and down, up and down.

So, May, now that we're halfway through you, I'm seeing as clearly as ever.  I cannot believe I'm saying this, but I'm ready to take off my glasses and get a little shut-eye rest come summer.  Rest is good.  When we feel accomplished, rest is the best.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Dear Mothering

Dear Mothering,

You have been at the top of my 'skills' list on my non-existent resume for nine years now.  In fact, there is very little else I know how to do, since all I've done in the past decade was to be a stay-at-home mom.  With Mother's Day so close to my birthday each year, however, I always feel like I'm double dipping in May.  Two consecutive weekends of celebration always makes me feel a little bit guilty.  But thinking back over this past year, I decided to tell myself that I deserve every little bit of recognition as a mom, even if it just so happens to be close to my birthday, neither of which was in my control anyway.  So here are my Top Ten reasons why my mothering skills ought to be celebrated.

10.  Last November, I received a call from Dear Son's school nurse telling me that he fell, was okay, but seemed a little quiet.  I said I would come pick him up.  Not knowing that we would end up in the ER for the next five hours (for a rapidly progressing concussion), I walked out of the door, but just on a whim, decided to go back and pick up DS' lovey, Bluey Bear.  That was probably my smartest move as a mother for the past entire year.  It was what made our ER visit--as scary as it was--just that little bit less scary for DS.  #motherlyinstinctsavestheday

9.  There are certain things that only mommies do, at least in my house.  Adding to all the Mommy Magic (boo-boo-kissing and feel-good-hugging) items on the list, I am the only one that trims the kiddos' fingernails and toenails, and I am the only person who personally pulls out loose teeth.  For the precision, timeliness, and efficiency these jobs require, only I--and no one else (ahem)--am capable of completing them.  #itakeallthecredithere

8.  Having been the Chair of our PTO Healthy Snack Program at DS' preschool this school year, I have gone to the market and bought fresh fruits or vegetables for all the students of the school, once a week, for every week the school has been in session on Thursdays.  Along with the Healthy Snack AM and PM Team of parent volunteers, we prepare the foods (wash, cut, and portion) for the children.  I have transported more fruits and vegetables in my car this school year than the weight of a baby elephant.  #imakathesnacklady

7.  By allowing DS to come over to our bed should he wake up at night, I suffer from bed-battle-wounds.  A foot in my stomach or a slap on my face is almost a guaranteed occurrence.  Dear Husband gets fewer injuries because, let's just say, DS has a keen sense of smell even when he's asleep.  #mygiftforsmellingnice

6. I really should score big Parenting Points for the conversation that I have been concocting in my head--the one I have to have with Dear Daughter--probably sooner than later, and all the hours I have spent on articulating this particular chat that I know DH will be as far away from as possible. #wishmeluck

5.  Now come the easy reasons: in the last year, the numbers of hours I spend cleaning this place I call home: scrubbing the toilets, vacuuming the carpet, mopping the floors, dusting all surfaces, and running loads of laundry (but not folding--I ain't Superwoman)...  The number comes to 936,000.  Granted, that's in seconds.  But that's the time my life is dedicated to that stuff I do, only to have to do it over and over and over and over again.  #andagain

4.  Since we're still on that topic, the next logical reason is the number of dishes I wash, with or without the help of my dishwasher (usually without, unless we have company): a gabazillion plus one.  #neverendingtask

3.  Next, the number of times I have had to hand wash poop-stained underwear in a day THREE TIMES IN A ROW because Miss Stingy doesn't want to throw away beyond-gross underwear.  #shehasissues

2.  With the proper amount of water, sunlight, and air, I grow an abundance of patience that always get used up no matter how much is put away for rainy days.  #avirtuethatisneverenough

1.  And finally, my proudest self-imposed restriction as a mommy: that I purposefully own the fewest number of knickers as a way to ensure that everyone in my family always has clean knickers to wear.  I'm the only one who ever runs of out clean underwear.  #ohthesacrifices

Believe you me, these reasons are not meant to boast my mothering skills.  Every mother in this world has her own set of skills to raise her children.  Every mother is worthy of endless celebrations of being a caretaker not limited to only once a year.  Every mother is a giving soul that knows of no self more important than her children or family.  This, in essence, is just my cheat sheet so that I can enjoy my Mother's Day brunch without feeling like I don't really deserve the attention.  Because in our giving role, it is often easy to forget that it's okay for us to receive, too.

So, Mothering, I am proud to have you as a set of skills that continues to make me a better person, a more dedicated caretaker, and a very deserving Mom.  I will keep my cheat sheet in mind while I celebrate the one day of the year that makes me special because of my day-to-day job.  You really are my proudest accomplishment in the last nine years, even if it's only on that non-existent resume.

Happy Mother's Day to all Moms!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dear Thirty-Something

Dear Thirty-Something,

This will be the last year I can ever include myself in your age group, since I just had a birthday that leads to the end of this fabulous decade.  It's okay: I'm actually not sad about the arrival of this birthday, since I spent most of last year thinking I was already 39 when I was still 38.  So it's like living a whole year all over again without feeling a year older!  (Yes, it's true that by this age, numbers get really muddled, and a 'ballpark' works so much better!)

A week before my birthday, gifts began to arrive.  I received things that I really love and even from unexpected people.  I was giddy days before the real day.  Honestly, I'm a middle-aged gal who is still a little girl at heart.  To this day, I still wake up on my birthdays excited for the entire day.  My logic: get excited first, then lament the age addition the next day.

On the big day, just like everyday, the first thing I reached  for--even before my glasses--was my phone (and even the phone alarm clock sounded lovelier on my birthday).  And there, I saw birthday wishes from the dearest of friends from afar.  Thus began a smile that would practically last all day.  Next, I had kiddos jumping into my room shouting 'Happy Birthday, Mommy', followed by hugs and kisses all around.  Dear Husband had a nice day planned for us; it was going to be a fun and busy day.

This decade was filled with endeavors.  I spent most of my twenties trying not to get pregnant, and then spent much of my thirties trying to get pregnant.  And it became a my first decade of mothering.  I was lucky enough to fully experience the journey of pregnancy, birth, and raising little humans I get to call 'my daughter' and 'my son'.  It was a time of leaving my career and becoming a stay-at-home mom.  It was the end of Friday date nights and couple life in general.  It was a special period of adoration and doting upon two remarkable miracles who, with pudgy cheeks and thigh rolls, were cute enough for me to willingly bid farewell to any real, satiating sleep in my life. 

DH invited my Bestest People to a brunch to celebrate.  We ate, and laughed, and ate, and watched the kids play, and ate, and complained about how full we were.  Then we ate some more dessert.  Then we carried our bulging tummies to the mall playground where the kids shook out some wiggles.  Later, at our home, I received birthday gifts that made me feel like my Bestest People frosted buttercream icing directly onto my heart.  The thoughtfulness of the gifts were beyond anything I could ever describe.  It's like they somehow scoped my brain, decoded my nerve impulses, and knew what was going to make my heart dance wildly.  My cheek muscles were still working hard, but I didn't even care if they were creating more laugh lines or crows feet.  I think I almost knocked a person or two over from hugging while thanking.

The thirty-somethings are full of possibilities.  We have finished schooling, thank goodness.  We have become financially stable.  We have built a home, a family, and a sense of self--enough to pass our beliefs onto our children.  We have grown up.  We are now able to put the kiddos' others' needs before ours, go out of our ways to make the kiddos others happy, and think ahead enough to seem like we know what we're doing as parents grownups.  And, we still have lots of things to look forward to and many years of possibilities ahead of us. 

Then we moved onto the birthday cake.  Candle, singing, shutter-clicks, forks scraping plates, coffee, more smiles.  I breathed in deeply to capture all the magic around me; it felt like I was being sprinkled with fairy dust and I was twirling and sparkling in the midst of it all.  My cheek muscles were working overtime by now.  More hugs, farewells, waves goodbye.  My special day was like a sweet perfume still lingering in the air even when the source was gone.

A decade is a long time.  I am proud to have survived the early childhood years of my kiddos.  On this end of being thirty-something, sleep has finally returned to my peaceful nights.  I am beginning to have more time to do thing for myself.  The possibility of date nights is almost a reality again (in fact I have four months to work on Dear Son so that I can go to a concert--first one in a decade--as a part of my birthday present from DH).  I can even think about returning to the workforce again when the both the kiddos will be in school full time when I actually turn--gasp--forty.  It's the end of an era as well as the beginning of another.  

Night fell.  Still running on adrenaline and high from excitement, I sat in bed with my laptop, trying to unwind.  My cheeks ached from smiling, my tummy was still full from all the eating, and my heart swelled with a rush of peace and comfort.  I managed to thank DH for a most memorable and special day before he drifted off to sleep.  I finally signed off--after staying up way to late--in order to face another Monday, another week.

So, Dear Thirty-Something, even though I'm on the last rung on your ladder, if you look hard enough, through the age spots and sagging skin, you will still see the little girl in my eyes, because her spirit will always be my guiding light.  I promise to make the most of this remaining year in your age group before moving on to the next decade.  Perhaps I can even attempt something wild and crazy before I fall 'over the hill'.  And if I ever look tired or feel too old to you, just look for the twelve-year-old's twinkle in my eyes.  She'll be there.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Dear Headphones

Dear Headphones,

You are undeniably one of the best purchases that has been made and entered this home in years!

Even as hesitant as I was to use music players, those little music-playing devices have invariably invaded our household.  Dear Husband has an iPod; Dear Daughter owns a Shuffle; Dear Son possesses an iTouch; I sort of keep a Nano.

Dear Husband has a large music collection. We probably have something in every musical genre, including a large collection of classical music (a subject DH 'unofficially' minored in back in college).  He often gets into a mood where he'd blast a favorite artist or album for everyone to hear.  A few of his favorites are something by The Boss or Beethoven or one of the Lost (TV series) soundtracks.

As a part of learning to play the violin, Dear Daughter is required to listen to her Suzuki violin pieces often.  To facilitate that process, DH put those pieces on my Nano so that DD can easily listen to them while she reads or plays.  When she's not listening to classical music, however, you can bet she is listening to one of her tween pop idols (picture Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, or Miranda Cosgrove) on her Shuffle.  

Dear Son, interestingly, began his infatuation with pop music at a young age.  By age two, he clearly preferred fast tempo hip hop music over anything else.  Turn on anything by Black Eyed Peas and he'll be bopping his head and dancing to the beat.  Anything short of dance music he'll consider boring not upbeat enough to listen to.  Thus, he scored several music videos as well as other hip hop songs on his iTouch.   

The kiddos also love the music they hear on Just Dance Wii games.  So much so that Daddy bought them the 'clean' version of the songs from Kidz Bop.  Oftentimes when I'm downstairs, I'd hear shuffling, stomping, and very happy feet above my head.  So They Think They Can Dance. 

But sometimes there's the need for earphones.  There are times when loud music cannot be tolerated.  Like when DD is practicing her violin; when DH is watching an important game; or when I just need a moment of sanity.  However, DS' ears are so small that the earbuds just do not stay in his ears.  So Daddy looked around for over-the-ear headphones.  He found a nice one for DS.  But since we play Equality here in this house quite a bit, Daddy felt compelled to buy DD a pair of equally nice, comfy headphones, too.  This way when the package comes, no one feels left out.

Before he clicked the 'checkout' button, however, he felt kind of left out.  DH went on to search for a nice pair of 'cans' (as the professionals call them) for himself.  But before he bought them, he came and asked me for my opinion.  First he gave me a Headphones 101 course on the different types, fits, technologies, and brands on the market.  But all I actually processed in my brain was his last question: Do you think I should get the 'open back' ones or the 'closed back' ones?  To which I answered: um, the 'closed back' ones.  He smiled and said he thought the same thing.  Whew!  Am I glad I picked the right one since I wasn't going to be able to explain why I picked it!

So a few days later, the headphones came.  Everyone tried on their headphones, and OH MY GOODNESS THE SWEET SOUND OF SILENCE!  I had three happy people under my roof: one bopping his head up and down, one listening to music with a smile on her face, and one admiring the function of the 'closed back' feature.  It got so quiet around here I had to walk over to check on DS every so often to make sure he was still awake and breathing.

Here is one extra gift the headphones have brought us.  DD has since reached the age of being self-conscious, and refrains from dancing or singing in front of people.  DS, on the other hand, is still clueless, which means we are free to hear him sing along with his headphones on.  Picture a five-year-old--who hasn't masters all his sounds yet--singing a fast hip hop song like it's a tongue twister.  And you try to refraining from laughing out loud.  Better yet, ask him a question when he has his headphones on, and he'll answer you like you're the one hard of hearing. 

And if you're wondering if I feel left out by not getting any headphones, the answer is a resounding NO.  Because the PEACE AND QUIET I get from everyone else owning headphones is my best gift of all.  Before these headphones, my kiddos would not shut up stop talking.  EVER.  DD hasn't stopped talking since she turned two.  DS' high pitched shrills that loosen your earwax--so mismatched for his gender--are a daily gift bestowed to us.  But, alas, these headphones have come to my rescue.

So, Dear Headphones, you are no doubt the best remedy I've found for non-stop, continuous, high-pitched, staccato, sometimes-singing, sometimes-shouting, sometimes-wailing, always in-your-face, often doused-with-a-string-of-'whys', rarely stagnant, and never--EVER--non-existent, chatter boxes.  Even if it's just ten minutes of bliss to my ears, I'll take it any day of the week and twice on Sundays.  I adore you, and I hope you adore my three loves' ears just as much.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dear Zero-Sum

Dear Zero-Sum,

Somewhere along my young adulthood, I adopted you as my philosophy of life.  Not in the sense of 'one gets more and so another gets less', but more 'for every gain there is a loss'.

Of course, it is not without reason that I have this theory.  You wouldn't know it now--with my stable and happy life with my family--but to say that I had an unstable childhood is quite an understatement.  As a result of, um, circumstances, I had lived in at least four different homes from birth to age five; attended five different schools between first grade and twelfth grade; lived in two different cultures and spoke two different languages by the time I had two digits to my age.

All this moving and living with different people and in different countries on top of other emotional tolls were indeed unsettling for me, to say the least.  As my life became more stabilized and established in young adulthood, I began to believe that the good relationships I developed with Dear Husband and a few Dear Friends were 'making up' for the transient life I lived as a child.  I found the stability that I craved, and so my early losses were countered by my later gains.

That is not to say that my adult life has been without bumps in the road.  A very blissful marriage was jolted by years of infertility.  Financial stability was rocked by lengthy unemployment.  Personal relationships were tested by anger, rejection, humiliation, and distrust.  But for each obstacle, we always bounced back, so for every loss, there has been a gain.  Somehow it all evened out.  Zero-sum.

Many events throughout my life validated this philosophy.  Recently, even a few minor incidents reminded me of my zero-sum theory once again.

A few weeks ago, I was putting on my gas permeable contact lenses in a hurry.  After I put them in, I immediately let go of the stopper in the sink and rinsed off my contact case.  Only to realize that one eye is still blurry.  Oh, nooooooooo!  That contact did not go onto my eye!  My heart sank.  I was sure that it went down the drain.  I wished with all my might that maybe I'd find it on the counter somewhere.  Please, please, please, please, please!  It turned out that someone was looking out for me that day; the contact was behind the faucet, laying quietly on the marble counter.  I thought about all the hassle this recovery saved me, not to mention the cost of buying a replacement.  I thanked the Gas Permeable Contact Gods and vowed to make sure I could see clearly before rinsing off anything ever again.

A week later, I accidentally dropped the same contact into the sink, concave side down.  That little sucker suctioned onto the sink surface.  The curvature of the sink and the bevel of the contact lens must have matched perfectly, because for the life of me, I could not get the lens off the porcelain sink.  Instead of doing what I did the last time this happened--turn on the water and let the contact float up--panic took over and I used my fingers to squeeze it up.  Snap!  That little, tiny piece of plastic chipped and broke.  (I'll just summon your imagination as to what my reaction was at that moment).  My giant gain of not flushing that contact down the drain was matched by my moronic use of force to pick up that godforsaken piece of plastic.  Zero-sum.

Do you catch my drift yet?  Well, I have another pertinent story for you.

I have been blogging for about nine months.  For nine months I wrote about stuff.  I never seemed to have run out of things to say; there was always something I felt so passionate about and ready to write my fingertips off.  Truthfully, I even surprised myself that I could sustain a blog with two posts per week for this long.

In this vast blogosphere, I recently met an intriguing writer named Kim at Amommaly.  I was drawn to her writing because it is completely real, utterly raw, and spills over with emotions of every kind.  She and I chatted on Twitter, and one day she asked me if I ever thought about buying my own domain for my blog.  Well, up until then, I really hadn't.  She told me that she did because she didn't want to spend so much time on writing a blog that really wasn't 'hers'.  So that got me thinking.  After some extensive research, I decided to do it--get my own custom domain.  The whole process took place smoothly and without a hitch (I've read some horror stories about everything that could have gone wrong going wrong).  And in the end, I have my own custom domain--no more blogspot.com.  Yay, me!  Just think of it--a blog to call all of my own!  Thanks, Kim!

But where's this story going?  Well, as soon as I bought my domain, my muse went into hiding.  All the stuff I wanted to write totally and completely vanished.  The moment my blog was my own, I lost my writing mojo.  I walked around and sulked for days wondering what the heck I was going to write next.  I squeezed my brain so hard I swore it was leaking out of my ears.  Zero-sum, my friends, zero-sumThis is not the time to play hide-and-seek with me, muse!   But in all fairness, I am extremely happy that I own this thing that you are looking at.  And my muse isn't really gone--I just have to find her.  And I know she'll be back with a fury. 

In the end, I think my theory is simply one very important reminder: that we should never take anything for granted.  When things are looking up, we should not forget to be thankful and still work hard for what we've got.  When things are not going well, we should keep those chins up and know that things will get get better, because my zero-sum philosophy says so.  Because it all evens out

So, Zero-Sum, I do believe in you.  I like that you make my life decorated with ups and downs, but still steady and ultimately in equilibrium.  C.S. Lewis once said, "The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before."  How painstakingly wise and utterly profound!  I can only hope to be able to feel that way when I am old and gray.  But in the meantime, what goes up must come down.  Balance.  And you've got to be right, because from the looks of this post, I got my mojo back.