Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dear Breathe

Dear Breathe,

You are something we do unconsciously, reflexively, and for survival.  And because we are land animals equipped with lungs, we inhale air.  And while we are submerged in water, we hold our breaths.

Unless one hasn't learned how to hold one's breath yet.

I just spent the last six weeks teetering on the edge of Motherhood Heartbreak accompanying Dear Son once a week to swim lessons.  The entire experience left me weaker, stronger; crazier, saner; drowning, surviving; and suffocating, breathing.

DS detests putting his head in the water at the swimming pool.  It scares the living daylights out of him.  You can say it's a defense mechanism, because until he learns how to hold his breath to go under water, he's going to stay the hell away from it.  But all around us at the pool, kids of his age or younger are bobbing their heads in and out of the water and swimming like fish.  They make it seem so easy.  So I was that parent last summer who thought: just dunk his head in the water, and once he experiences being under water, he will be okay.  I was wrong.  Water got into his nose and I made his fear drastically worse.

You really can't blame him.  We've all had water up our noses before, and it's not a pleasant feeling.  It's rather a shocking, stinging sensation.  And the burn of chlorinated water is not something my very sensitive child would love to have up his nose.  But I do realize that he will probably not learn how to hold his breath under water before he experiences some stinging and burning sensations first.

This summer, we enrolled the kiddos in swim lessons.  Dear Daughter has been swimming well enough to learn different strokes and rhythmic breathing.  We also wanted to help DS get used to the water so that he won't be so afraid of putting his head in.  Little did I know that the very first thing the instructors asked the kids to do were head bobs (lowering their heads in the water)--something that all the others did pretty easily, but left DS completely undone.

For six weeks, DS struggled as he tried, failed, and recovered from his fear.  I, the mother sitting on the side of the pool watching, held my breath for him for long periods of time, sometimes forgetting that just because I stopped breathing doesn't mean that he will hold his breath.  I watched as he practiced a back float--the bobbing water splashed over his nose, startling him as he sank into the water.  He doesn't know how to hold his breath in there.  I watched as he performed backstroke arms and kicks--his instructor would look away and allow his nose to fall below the water, scaring him as he drops down below.  He doesn't know how to hold his breath in there.  Each time it happened he would panic and burst into tears from the fear and the sting.  Each time my heart would shove itself up to my throat, cutting off what little air there was for me to breathe as it is.

After each time he experienced the horror of water in his nose, my mind begged to leave that room filled with nauseous chlorinated vapors.  I desperately wanted to take my quivering child out of there and go outside for fresh air, warmth, and far away from the drowning sensation we were both experiencing.

But I stayed.  I stayed and watched him break down after each mishap.  He turned and looked at me with tearful eyes that pleaded for me to do something to stop that stinging discomfort in his nose.  I stayed and watched his tiny body shiver uncontrollably because his skinny body--void of any insulating fat--is trying to gain what warmth it can muster from shaking itself.  And, I was that mother who went to the side of the pool over and over, again and again, because her child needed comforting, wanted help blowing water out of his nose, and required help asking the teachers 'to not let go'.

The lowest point of these swim lessons came at the middle of the six-week course.  By this time, DS could put his head in the water while wearing goggles and pinching his nose.  My heart was hoping with all its might that DS would be able to complete the next skill without much ado, which was going down to pick up a puck from the bottom of the pool.  What inexperienced swimmers find confusing, however, is when one tries to go down, one's body naturally wants to float.  I think that opposing motion confused DS, and he panicked and choked and gulped lots of water in this process.  My heart dropped--like the very puck he was retrieving--right down to the bottom of the that pool.

The acoustics of an indoor swimming pool plays tricks on your ears.  I first realized the discrepancy when DS waded toward me as he totally lost it; what I saw on his face did not match what I heard.  His frenzied cries came across as muffled whimpers, as if the chlorinated air suffocated his desperate wailing.  Or perhaps it was my own pounding heart dulling his shrieks.  He then started to gag as all the air and water he swallowed tried to come back up.  But then the vast space of air in the high ceiling room decided to amplify those heaves, bouncing every wretch that came out of his gut and echoing them into every corner of the pool.  They were loud enough that everyone probably stopped and looked, but I wouldn't know, since I was so distraught trying to seem sensibly concerned without totally losing it myself, right then in front of him.

I told him he was okay, even though he wasn't.  I told him he did great, even though he failed miserably.  And now I was admittedly playing tricks on his mind. 

But the great thing about children and their resiliency is that they move on.  As soon as DS leaves the swimming facility, he has already forgotten all the choking and gagging that just happened and is happily going about his day again.  All the while his poor Mama is still traumatized, for hours and days afterwards, and just can't bear to imagine what will happen during the next lesson.

But what did happen is DS eventually could do unlimited head bobs, albeit while pinching his nose; he could swim independently on a noodle, scooping with hands and kicking with feet; and he could float on his back.  Basically, he was able to do the skills where he didn't have to hold his breath under water really well.  And each time he accomplished a skill, he turned around and smiled his Bestest Smile at me--so full of pride and joy--that you'd never know he was defeated and sobbing just minutes ago.

Those smiles mended my torn and tattered heart.  They told me that we were both going to be okay.

While I knew that he wasn't going to pass to the next level, I was so proud that he made so much progress.  And that he never once refused to go to lessons or wanted to quit. 

Quite honestly, I know that this phase will pass.  DD was the exact same way at his age, and now she is swimming like a fish.  I know that it takes time, a certain developmental maturation, and more exposure to water in order for DS to learn how to hold his breath under water.  It seems natural for those of us who know how, but, like riding a bicycle--until you know how to do it--it just seems like such a difficult thing to master.

And I do realize that while we struggle with this particular area--and it seems like such an easy feat for other children--DS performs well in other areas to which I might not even give a second thought.  But these six weeks was an experience that drastically took DS and me both out of our comfort zones--kind of like fish out of water (ha!)--and tired me out with my instinctive maternal reflexes kicked up into overdrive.

So while we breathe air in and out in order to survive, we do just the opposite in water in order not to drown.  Similarly, in order for me to see DS through this learning process and survive it, I must remind myself to continue to breathe, in and out, while he learns just the opposite in the water.   

The irony of it drowns me.

So, Dear Breathe, I hope it won't be long before DS learns the ins and outs of you, for I fear that I won't have much air left in me to respire.  And I know that there will be plenty more occasions where I'll have to deliberately and actively inhale and exhale as I watch my kiddos learn more new and scary things.  Please just make sure to kick in every now and then--in case I forget--so that I won't suffocate as I continue my journey as a devoted Mama cheering on her kiddos from a distance, among the crowd on the sidelines. 


Friday, August 24, 2012

Dear Jitter Glitter

Dear Jitter Glitter,

You are one of the neatest things I have come across lately.  So neat--that I just have to share you with everyone!

Last week, we had our parent-teacher conference with Dear Son's kindergarten teacher.  It was an exciting event; DS would get to see his teacher and classroom, and I would get to send off my baby to kindergarten (sniff, sniff) in the same room Dear Daughter had for kindergarten four years ago!  As we trotted down the primary wing hallway, DS spotted a large cut-out picture of a squirrel a the entrance of his classroom.

"Is that Scaredy Squirrel?" asked DS.

"Why, yes, I think it is!" I answered, rather excitedly.

You see, we had just finished reading two Scaredy Squirrel books.  DS participated in our local library's summer reading club, and he got to choose a free book.  His selection was narrowed down to two books: one about severe storms, and the other, Scaredy Squirrel.  He finally picked the weather book, but I offered to find and borrow the Scaredy Squirrel book so we can read it at home anyway.  The librarian found us two of them!  It turns out that this is a series written by Melanie Watt, a Canandian writer, who humorously tells about the many anxieties of Scaredy Squirrel and how he overcomes his fears and OCD tendencies in each of his 'problem areas'.  The bottom line of these books is: baby steps.  And boy, can I relate to that!

As soon as I saw that Scaredy Squirrel was going to the kindergarten theme, I was already feeling quite comforted that DS would start off the year with something familiar.  As I've mentioned how DS usually takes awhile to get used to a new environment or new situation--familiarity is always a Good Friend.

We toured the classroom and then sat down for a quick chat.  The teacher gave me DS' folder and went through the contents.  One of the items she pointed out was a poem attached to a clear pouch of confetti with Scaredy Squirrel's picture on it.  She called it 'Jitter Glitter'.  Here is the poem:

Jitter Glitter!

The night before school is exciting and fun.
There are always so many things to be done.
Your clothes are ready, your backpack is too.
Your classroom is full of fun things you will do.
Lots of questions go through your mind,
All types of thoughts of every kind.
But sometimes we all get the jitters down deep.
And that makes it hard to fall fast asleep.
So I've made this Jitter Glitter for you,
Full of promises for the whole year through.
On Sunday night when you lay down you rhead,
Sprinkle the glitter under your pillow in bed.
The glitter will help you sleep through the night.
 And wake up in the morning fresh and bright
 I'll place the glitter under my pillow, too
Because I am so super excited to see you!
Sweet Dreams!

She explained to DS that he can read the poem and put the pouch of glitter under his pillow on Sunday night to help him with his First Day of School jitters.  Wide eyed, he nodded at her, and took her words very seriously. 

I couldn't help but think to myself how incredibly wonderful and thoughtful this little poem and beautifully-made confetti pouch are.  If you have or have had a five-year-old, you would know how seriously they take to such symbolic items.  And this goes so well with the Scaredy Squirrel theme--to tell children that it is normal to feel anxious about something all the while providing a means to help them feel less jittery about it.  And that it's okay to take baby steps.

That very night, DS put his Jitter Glitter under his pillow.  We discussed that on the real night-before-school, we will open the pouch and actually sprinkle the confetti under his pillow and maybe share some Jitter Glitter with the rest of us.  We read the poem and he went to sleep--probably thinking about how that Jitter Glitter is going to work, which definitely put some wonder and anticipation into his special sleep that night.

"It worked!" DS proclaimed the next day.  He was happy because he believed.  

Every night since then, the would carefully examine his Jitter Glitter, and we would read the poem together, and he would fall asleep intently, and rather quickly, I'd say. 

DS starts school on Monday.  I tend to overestimate his comfort level--he was still apprehensive at his mini-kindergarten session--but he has come a long way in his separation anxiety journey.  DD will be riding the school bus with him and be able to show him where to go upon arrival at school, and that will be sure to put me more at ease.  We'll definitely put that Jitter Glitter to good use Sunday night.  And, yes, Mommy is going to need some of it, too!

And if you have youngsters who might be a little jittery about the first day of school, or any other seemingly 'larger-than-life' events coming up, make your own Jitter Glitter and a poem to go with it!

So, Jitter Glitter, how marvelous you are and what a great honor it was to meet you!  Now I think the world of DS' kindergarten teacher to have used this awesome idea to help children ease their First-Day-of School anxieties.  Along with Scaredy Squirrel, you open up this school year for DS in the most gentle, encouraging, and comforting way.  (Baby steps, I'll remind myself as I watch my own baby begin kindergarten.)  You are a blessing that will help ease DS' anxiety in more ways than anything I could have said or done.  And I know that both DS and I will be smiling come Monday, because, in you, we believe.

Have a Good Night's Sleep before the start of school!


P.S. We also look forward to reading all the books in the Scaredy Squirrel series!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dear Back-to-School

Dear Back-to-School,

This school year, the jitters I have about you are not associated with the kiddos.  They are, rather, all about me.  (Surprise, surprise.) 

In the past, just before school starts, I get fretful about everything.  The new teachers; the new schedules; the new materials; and how the kiddos will fare adjusting to everything.  This year, for the first time, Dear Daughter and Dear Son are both in the same school!  Since we've been through the drill with DD, everything this year regarding DS going to kindergarten seems so much easier--we already know the school, the rules, the community, and most of all, the spirit with which the school encourages students to learn.  Simply, we love our school.  DS has waited for years to attend the same school and ride the same bus with his big sister.  And DD will take good care of her little brother on the bus and at school--I'm confident of that.

So why am I anxious?  Well, let's rewind back to January of this year.  I started teaching a new Toddler Class at the kiddos' Chinese School on Sundays.  The school decided to open a new class mid-year, for kids ages two to three.  I knew it was going to be a challenge since it was a brand new class, but I love kids and I knew I would be capable of teaching it, so I accepted when the school board approached me.

I spent the next few months with my friend, Google, looking for all the ideas I can find on teaching a foreign language to wee little kids.  You see, when one begins teaching a class with no prior materials, it's called 'starting from scratch'.  It's like pulling things out of thin air.  It's like performing a magic show.  Abra cadabra!  Lessons come together with my magic wand.  Crafts and games (such as ones pictured above) are found beneath my magic cape, and audio/visual aids pop out from my magic hat.  The thing with teaching kids of such young ages is that most learning is absorbed through fun and play.  There's no textbook or workbooks.  You talk, you sing, you play, you dance, and you smile a lot. 

But this seems to have been my lot in life in my teaching career.  My first teaching position was as a Science Lab teacher for first and second graders.  It was a brand new position, again with no prior materials, curriculum, or mentor.  I had thirteen classes come through my 'lab' twice a week.  The hiring principal was impressed with my science background from college (read: medical school fail).  The principal first offered me this Science Lab position, while casually adding that I could choose a homeroom class if I wanted, but this would be challenging and she would provide all the resources I needed to teach it.  I was Miss Goody Two-Shoes and I took the challenge.   

That first year of teaching was the hardest year of my entire life.  

This Science Lab was created so students could learn with hands-on experiments which promote critical thinking skills.  Which means every lesson required materials for experiments.  I began with an empty room/lab for nearly 300 students.  Nary a textbook nor one single manipulative.  Um, yeah.  I was at the grocery store buying materials in bulk most days after school.  I may have cried every day after school for months.

Sure, by my fourth year, teaching Science Lab was a piece of cake.  I had perfected my lesson plans, and mastered my 'teacher character'--sort of like getting into character to act for a role.  Each morning, I'd step into my 'teacher skin' and peel it off when it was time to go home.  I found this concept incredibly helpful when it came to classroom management--because so long as I was 'in character', I was able to find all the extra patience in the world (that my 'good teacher character' would possess) and find ways to face challenging kids.  I wasn't reacting to kids as my exhausted, flustered self, but as my 'effective teacher' self.  That concept pretty much saved my life when I discovered it a few months into that first year.

But when DD came along, I quit my teaching job and became a SAHM.  And I left the school--and the teacher who took over my position--all my precious lesson plans.   

Lucky bastards.

Fast forward to the present.  I did have a wonderful time teaching the toddlers last semester.  We really had a lot of fun.  While I first worried about not having any curriculum or guidelines to follow, I actually quite enjoyed having the freedom to teach what I wanted to teach.  Spending time with the children allowed me to mold and adapt to their needs when it came to choosing subject matter and activities to use.  In those 17 weeks, I accrued a good set of lesson plans.  Since there is always room for improvement, this year, I have twice the amount of time to teach a comprehensive curriculum.

And so the planning begins.  I've switched on my Teacher Radar, meaning that when I'm out and about, anything and everything I see become ideas for activities or projects for a lesson.  I've sketched out the main concepts and themes to teach, and once the big picture is outlined, then the weekly planning will become much easier.  Most importantly, I won't be nearly as nervous as when I first started this position.  Thank goodness for that.

Additionally, I have one more year before both kiddos are in school all day, at which time I will be compelled to find a full-time teaching position and return to the workforce.  Yesterday, we took the kids to their school's Meet the Teacher Hour.  I looked around the school and saw all the hard work the teachers put in to get their classrooms ready; all their time spent on making their students feel welcomed and belonging to this safe learning environment; and all the enthusiasm they genuinely showcased for the upcoming school year.  And I had a flash forward panic attack.  

If and when I do return to teaching full-time, it will be another 'even harder' hardest year of my life.  Because if it's not, then I'll be doing something wrong.  I'm really not sure how all that will pan out, but right now, I am going to focus on my Chinese School class and have some fun with my wee students first.  I know it helps with getting myself ready to go back to teaching anyway.

To be quite honest, I can't say that I didn't have any jitters about the kiddos going back to school.  I woke up way early today as it is DD's first day back.  I faced school-day-morning-madness with grace and style and had DD ready for the bus early.  Only to find that the bus came ten whole minutes earlier than scheduled, and I was only able to snap one terrible picture of DD getting on the bus.   

Total Back-to-School Mommy Fail.

But DS starts kindergarten next Monday, so I will have another chance to re-photograph the kiddos and their 'bus poses' just so I can have a memory of their first time going on the bus together.  


So, Dear Back-to-School, as the kiddos begin their transition with you this week and next week, I will have mine in a few more weeks.  I have a little more time to make good use of my Teacher Radar and to prepare for a smooth start myself.  I know that as anxious as I am about it now, as soon as I see their adorable little faces, I will naturally respond with my smile and greet my students with a very special Ni Hao.

Happy Back-to-School, everyone!


The Mommy Mess
Linking this post with TheMommyMess here.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dear Blogging Seed

Dear Blogging Seed,

You were always there.  Deep within me, waiting for the best time to sprout and come to life in my world.  You were planted in April 2009 as this following piece was first written after a trip to Target.  Yes, a trip with a story that I just had to put into words and share with my mommy friends on Facebook.  So, from the vault, I dig you out to share again, here and now, unedited from original copy except for paragraph spacing.  You were titled 'Lost' in Mommyhood.  (Dear Son had just turned two at the time.)


There are things you mentally prepare yourself for before you become a mommy: the sleep deprivation, the messes that come with children, the occasional temper tantrums.  Then there are things that get lumped into the “I’ll-cross-that-bridge-when-I-get-to-it” group.  These are the things that make you curse whatever comes to your mind at the moment, but look back with a nostalgic “been-there-done-that” when talking to other moms or soon-to-be moms.

Today, we went shopping at Target despite the annoying rain.  Some things we needed couldn’t wait until the weekend (cat litter was one, and the stench made me go out).

DS was wearing his new Crocs that were pretty loose on him.  I kept an eye out for them the entire time we were at the store.  As he flung his feet around in the cart, I had to pick up a shoe here and there several times for him.

We braved the rain to the car, and as I proceeded to put DS in his car seat, I realized that one of the Crocs is missing.  I unloaded the cart, and there was no left shoe to be found. All I could think of was OMG.  What am I going to do with one shoe?  Of course I’d have to go back and look for the other one.  For one moment I thought about leaving DS in the car, as he was already strapped in, while I would run back and look down the check out aisle.

But then, of course, I knew better than that, so I take him back out, shoeless (I was not about to lose another shoe), and we go back to the store.  No shoe at the Customer Service desk, and no shoe at the check out aisle.  No shopping carts around me, either, so I fast walk with a 27 pound shoeless toddler in tow, back tracking the way I shopped the store.

Now, my mind is racing with the events of what happened just ten minutes ago as if you pressed the rewind button on the DVR.  It suddenly occurred to me that the shoe could have fallen under the car as I put DS in the car.   Of course, I was at the VERY back of the store when that thought entered my head.

Walking back to the front, at least I was met with very sympathetic looks from the lady behind the customer service desk as well as the check out clerk.  By the time we exited the store, the rain was coming down even harder, but I was drenched not with rain, but my own sweat.

I approached the car and there was a little blue clog sandal right behind the back wheel. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or laugh.

This totally reminded me of the incident that happened a few months ago at Costco.  DS was very attached to a toy cell phone.  He took it to bed and everywhere we went.  I was so fearful of losing that phone that I went on ebay and bought the exact same one as it was already discontinued from the stores.

After shopping at Costco, I loaded the car and put DS in his car seat, and I realized that his phone was nowhere to be found.  I know I gave it to him as I unbuckled him to get him out of the car.  Then I had no recollection of the phone, which is very unlike me; I am usually very good at keeping track of these things.  I was furious that I would have to actually use the ‘backup’ just two days after possessing it.

In a panic, I take DS back to the store, put him in a shopping cart, and begin to walk through the entire store to look for that darn phone.  Costco is, after all, a warehouse, and it took a good 10 minutes to even walk through the entire place, all the while thinking I’m going to get home late and miss Dear Daughter’s school bus and how she’s going to panic that no one is home.

Nearing the exit, I was about to give up and whip out the new phone for him, and then I realized that I went to the customer service counter first to make a return.   There, he was playing with the credit card swiper thingy, because he can’t see one without pushing the buttons on it at least once.   Sure enough, the phone was sitting right next to the swiper thingy.

A huge sigh of relief exited my chest, and the world is all good again.  DS had his phone, and we can go home.  I told myself that those 15 minutes of panic and running around the store like I was a chicken with its head cut off could take the place of my workout that day.

Even just a few hours later now, I can look back on these incidents and just smile about it, but at the time, I swear that in my mind I cursed everything I could between moments of panic and searching.  But really, I was cursing at myself.  At how I could be so careless about these things that ultimately would just make my own life miserable.  These things that you try so hard to be careful about just creep up on you and make a rainy day even worse.  But in the end, I didn’t flush $25 down the toilet because I lost a shoe.  The world is good again, and we can go home.

I’m telling myself that there will be many more incidents of these ‘lost’ episodes in the years to come.  And I will cross those bridges when I get to them, again.  DS is now pretty much over the toy phone, and has moved on to a mini tin Nemo lunch box that I bought from the clearance section of Party City for his birthday party.  He goes everywhere with it. And I am very much resisting the temptation of visiting ebay in search of a mini tin Nemo lunch box...


That was a piece of writing that came from a deep frustration that I needed to put into words and share with people that could relate to it.  That was the writing that started it all.  Even though this seed took over two years to germinate, it eventually sprouted and you are looking at the product right now.  The product is my voice, using words, telling stories.  It is my outlet, a campfire around which people gather to commune and share.  It is my coveted space.

Writing has always been a part of my life.  I wrote song lyrics in my native language when I was young.  I wrote throughout school, in and out of classes, from high school through graduate school.  I want to unearth some other old pieces by digging deep into the vault.  And if I ever locate any of it in that dusty, unfinished basement of ours, I may even be able to share the roots of this growth here.

So, Dear Blogging Seed, you were the impetus that started this blog.  Even though I can tell that your style is somewhat choppy and unpolished, you were still the blueprint of my voice, the drive behind my writing and sharing, and the desire to connect with others .  It is incredibly humbling to revisit you; you really bring back memories of early mommyhood, and reveal my measurable improvement in the practice of writing.  Yes, I can look back and laugh about the stories now, but your presence is what allows me to do so.  These sorts of memories are what I hope to reread and relive years down the line, from these posts, on this blog.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dear Violin x2

Dear Violin x2,

As your photo above announces, I have just begun life as Mommy-of-Two-Violinists.  While the siblings will share a common instrument to appreciate and teach and learn from one another, what I see ahead in my life now are: twice the daily practice time at home, twice the weekly private lessons, twice the weekly repertoire classes, twice the tuition, and, most obviously, that I will be the one schlepping two violins to all these places.

My Dear Daughter began her journey with the violin at age five.  It was a brand new experience for the both of us.  I knew nothing about the instrument, but I did fall in love with it the first time I touched her tiny violin.  I decided to learn to play it alongside her, since the Suzuki method requires a huge parental commitment in learning and teaching students at home anyway.  I inherited a student violin around that time, and began my own quest with the instrument as an adult.  I learned from DD's classes and went home and practiced.  What a great bargain, since, by tagging along, we were getting two lessons for the price of one.  Well, sort of.

Four years later, DD has soared beyond my abilities in playing the violin.  While I progressed faster at the beginning, DD overtook my pace a year ago and I've only been able to help her with music theory and guide her home practices.  Let's face it: I don't practice everyday.  I used to, but more recently, something called writing has gotten in the way of daily practices.

DD started playing violin with a fury of perfectionism at work.  If she made a mistake, she'd start the entire piece over.  That practice eventually went away, but it was clearly a struggle for her at the beginning.  I remember the tears and frustration and the moments of insanity--on both of our  parts--during the early days of violin with her.  I understood her frustrations--believe me--because I played it, too, and the violin is a difficult instrument to learn.  But getting around her rooted personality was even harder.  Now that Dear Son has embarked on this same journey, I had hoped to make his initial experience smoother because I have learned a thing or two from my Violinist #1.

I will never forget the excitement and pride DS displayed when he brought home his rental violin for the first time.  He has been watching and listening to his big sister play for the last four years, and now it's his turn.  On the first day, he played his violin five different times.  At his first lesson, he was brimming with joy when the teacher commended his bow hold.  We started off on the right foot.

But I knew that the tears were destined to come.  DS asks just as much of himself as does DD of herself in everything he does.  I've got my work cut out for me.

Last night, we were all tired after a long day out.  I knew that DS was dragging by practice time, but he still wanted to do it.  It was also the day that we moved onto a new rhythm lesson.  He had previously mastered the 2/4 key signature, and could play two quarter notes or a half note in a measure.  The new key signature was 3/4, and he had to play both a quarter note and a half note in a measure.  Between his fatigue and the new material, I saw him skid down that slippery slope of frustration, and finally the tears began to flow.

I make it a point to not continue any practicing if and when tears show up.  There's no point in playing with tears because practice should be constructive.  You can't learn much when you're frustrated, and I don't want my kids to associate playing the violin with negative feelings.  We were both so tired, and I was this close to calling it quits.  Finally, I asked DS to stop playing until he could calm down and not cry each time he didn't play the beats correctly.  It was just not working, and he started to cry even harder.

In my tired stupor, I suddenly knew what to do.  I just had to offer him some Mommy Magic!  I pulled him towards me and sat him on my lap.  I told him he needed a hug and a surprise.

After rocking him for a few seconds, I gave a him a surprise squeeze.  He smiled.

I told him that the squeeze will help 'push' out his frustrations.  More hugging; another squeeze.  He chuckled. 

One last hug; a final squeeze.  He laughed.   

All gone? I asked.  Yes, he agreed.

We tried playing again, and he did it!  Magically.  And the smile he wore on the day he played violin for the first time appeared again.  He played many more times and finally understood how to play the 3/4 key signature rhythm.

Mommy Magic saved the day. 

For the first time in his short experience with the violin, DS hit a bump in the road, and for the first time as his home mentor, I was able to repave his path.  With DD, I didn't know how to stop her tears in a constructive manner right away.  It wasn't until later that I incorporated some Mommy Magic in the form of games and imaginary play into violin practice for her.  I feel badly that I couldn't have been as understanding for DD at the beginning of her violin practices.  But, the upside is that I now have the experience and music knowledge to better help my Violinist #2. 

For the first time as his home violin mentor, I feel like I did something really good.  This is not a pat on my own back, by any means.  But, you know when you do something as a parent that makes your child feel really good because he or she feels accomplished and successful?


So, Violin x2, if anything, you will have made me a better parent for learning how to help my kiddos and finding that extra bit of patience to do so--not only in violin practice--but Life in general.  DS came to me today and asked for some Mommy Magic.  After I 'squeezed' him, I also gave DD an extra hug, just because.


All is good.

Until I have to spend twice the amount of fretting and worrying over two kids' violin recitals and concerts from now on.  Somebody help me.


P.S.  This post is inspired in part by one of Studio 30 Plus' Weekly Prompts this week: 'the first time'.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dear Homemade VBCaTFR

Dear Homemade VBCaTFR,

Third time's the charm!  I've finally figured you out.  My trial-and-error recipe for Vietnamese Beef Cubes and Tomato Fried Rice is finally good enough to share.

At our favorite Pan Asian restaurant, we always order this one particular dish every single time.  But the restaurant is too far to frequent, so I finally decided to see if I can replicate it.  A few online recipes and three tries later, I think I've got it.

Vietnamese Beef Cubes is also known as Vietnamese Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac), named for its method of cooking: shaking.  It is commonly served with Tomato Fried Rice (Com Do Ca Chua).  In combination, every bite is a burst of flavor so sensational that you can't help but wonder how the dish is made.  My final recipe for the beef cubes is adapted from RasaMalaysia's version. 

Ingredients for Vietnamese Beef Cubes:
  • 1.5 lbs beef cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes (I use a short rib cut of beef)
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1.5 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

 Cooking Method:
  1. Marinate beef in all ingredients for at least 1/2 hour, and up to a few hours.
  2. Heat pan over medium-high heat.  Add 2 tbsp cooking oil.  Place beef cubes on pan in one layer.  Allow the meat to sear on one side for 2 minutes before turning them over.  (Sear in two batches if necessary, using 1 tbsp oil for each batch.)  Shake the pan or flip beef cubes over and cook for another minute or so.  
  3. Transfer beef cubes and gravy to plate or bowl.

Ingredients for Tomato Fried Rice:
  • 4 cups uncooked rice, cooked slightly dry, or use day-old rice (I like to make enough for two meals; you can always cut down to 2 or 3 cups of uncooked rice for less rice)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp minced garlic (depends on how garlicky you like it)
  • 4 to 6 extra large eggs, beaten (depends on how much eggs you like in your fried rice)
  • 1 6 oz. can tomato paste (I used half a can; use up to the entire can, depending on how much tomato flavor you like)

Cooking Method:
  1. First, scramble eggs with some cooking oil.  Remove from pan.
  2. Add 1 to 2 tbsp cooking oil to pan.  Add minced garlic and stir-fry for about 10 seconds (do not brown).  Add rice and stir-fry to coat rice with garlic and oil.  (Do not use very sticky or soft rice because the tomato paste will make it too wet and sticky.)
  3. Add tomato paste and scrambled eggs and stir-fry to mix evenly.  
  4. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve beef cubes over tomato fried rice.  I always like to serve this with a vegetable dish as well to balance the food groups and colors of the dish.  

(Note: The oyster sauce, fish sauce, and soy sauce can all be found in Asian markets; also, the better cut of beef you use, the better flavor and texture your dish will be.)

I don't normally make Asian dishes with strong flavors, as I like natural flavors of vegetables and meats.  But every now and then, I crave such flavorful foods because they are so good.  These tend to be the recipes I share more often, since they are deemed to be 'special' since I make them less frequently.  I do hope you enjoy this dish if you decide to try it.  (If you already make this dish and can improve this recipe, please let me know as well.)

So, Homemade VBCaTFR, you've now made it possible for me to enjoy this dish without driving an hour to the restaurant that serves it best; I no longer have to be at the mercy of a restaurant chef for this delicious awesomeness.  And the best part of it?  The kiddos both give it a big thumbs up and asked for seconds!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear Epiphany

Dear Epiphany,

You are invariably a rare yet welcomed insight.  While sometimes you are as simple as realizing for the first time that Snoopy is a beagle (a famous one belonging to my Better Half), other times you can be both powerful and life-changing. 

I had an epiphany last week; it was associated with how we oftentimes have different expectations for ourselves than for others, and my epiphany helped me realize how to remedy that difference.

Last week, I read a stunning blog post about imperfection from a child's point of view.  I couldn't stop thinking about it.  It made me realize how much I've always striven to be perfect in many things I do.  While that can be a good thing, the demand for perfection can also lead to fear, helplessness, and despair when perfection is not achieved.  The post also made me think hard about my children and their perception of imperfection and its negative connotations.  Most of all, I wondered what they were learning from me.

You see, I like pretty things.  I like to bake and meticulously decorate cakes and cookies, cook dishes that please both the mouth and the eyes, and make craft projects that are beautiful and as close to perfection as possible.  If there's any doubt that I cannot achieve perfection, I probably will just not even try it.  Because it would not be worth the effort.  Put nicely--I know my limits; not-so-nicely--I give up even before I try.

This is certainly not the way I'd like my children to tackle all the things the world has to offer them in the future.  In fact, as soon as I imagined that they are struggling with the need to be perfect, I had already begun a speech in my mind for them.  It would go something like these bullet points:
  • Perfection is not the goal; your personal best is more important.
  • Nothing is perfect; no one is perfect; perfection does not exist; it is all relative.
  • Perfection is subjective; what is perfect to one is not necessarily perfect for another.
  • Imperfections in life are valuable in hindsight; we should learn from them.
  • Perfection challenges commonality, but imperfection builds character.
  • It is okay to make a mistake (one that I already tell my kiddos often).

Then, I soon realized that I never tell myself any of these things.  I never give myself the logical reasoning why being a perfectionist may not always be in my best interest.  Although I am able to sensibly tell others these opinions, I've never once tried to tell myself the same.  I've never stepped outside of my own self and held myself to the same standards as I hold for the people I care about. 

It dawned on me that we often don't hold the same expectations for ourselves as we do for others, and this is why we are often so hard on ourselves.  So my epiphany made sense to me: in order to really listen to ourselves, we must heed the advice that we would give to the people we love, care deeply for, or really trust.  In order to tell myself the reasons why I should not shun imperfection, I should listen to the things that I would tell my own children; I should step outside of myself and see myself as someone I love, care deeply for, and really trust. 

In that blog post, another reader presented me with a challenge--to intentionally do something imperfect--just to have that experience of letting go and making that unwelcomed mistake.  I knew it was going to be a very hard thing to do.  But in order to be a good role model for my children in the future, I knew that I had to start letting go.

The next day, I made friendship bracelets with Dear Daughter.  I had to learn the different patterns first in order to teach DD how to make them.  Let's just say that it's a good thing that making friends does not necessarily involve friendship bracelets, because I wouldn't have any friends.  I've never made these before, and I let out more sighs than I could count in the process. 

I first learned the Simple Diagonal pattern and showed it to DD.  She went to work on her bracelet while I then learned a more difficult V pattern to make one for Dear Son.  While keeping that challenge in mind, I still had to start over X number of times because I had to learn the pattern first.  About half an hour later, I got the hang of it and started to really see a pattern, although I hadn't even made it past one inch yet.  But do you see those imperfections in the picture up there?  Are you proud that I didn't undo the entire thing to start over to make a perfect one?  (I so totally would have.)

In the meantime, DD took her time and worked really hard on her bracelet, with minimal frustration.  I was really proud of her.  When she showed it to me, I was even prouder.  Because she didn't let the imperfections bother her.  She could tell that her braiding tension was uneven, and the pattern was not perfect.  But it didn't matter.  She had fun, and then went off her merry way to go play with her little brother.  I, on the other hand, kept staring at the two odd stitches on my one inch of bracelet, and was too flustered to continue.

That night, I told Dear Husband about our bracelet project and was pleased to announce that our DD did not share my perfectionist behavior (at least in this crafty area).  But he very wisely pointed out that neither one of us were perfectionists at her age--and look at where we are now.  So somewhere along the line, we allowed the need for perfection to enter our thinking and behavior.

For me, my tendency for perfection is usually driven by the fear of 'not being good enough'.  I overcompensate by doing my darnedest to 'get it right'.  Yet by aiming higher, I fall deeper when I don't reach my goal.  But now, I need to help my children strive to do their best without an internal struggle for 'being perfect'.  It's a fine line to walk, and a difficult thing to balance.  And I know it's going to take a lot more than making a few friendship bracelets. 

So what are some areas about which you are hard on yourself?  Aspects of your personality?  Behavior?  Now just think about what sort of advice you would tell your own children, siblings, BFF, or someone you love about it.  Can you apply those same suggestions to yourself?  Does it seem more effective that way?  Do yourself proud: do what you would have someone you love do.  Love yourself first, and then heed your own advice.

So, Epiphany, you were indeed quite an eye opener.  I've spent most of my life as a good friend to others, being a good listener, and giving honest, from-the-heart words.  This time, you allowed me to see that I need to hear my own advice instead of having a different set of expectations for myself. For that, I am grateful that I found you with the interest of my own children in mind.


P.S.  This post was inspired by my friend, Kim@Amommaly and her post, Bag of Imperfections, as well as its comment threads.  Thank you, Kim, for your story, and Cindy, for your challenge.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dear Random Things

Dear Random Things,

You are the best that I could come up with for today's post.

Last night, my eyelids wouldn't stay upright, and my brain felt like melted Jell-O swooshing around inside my skull.  Being on summer hours is, you know, so hard.  My missing alarm clock and inability to surrender to sleep is making me zombie-er by the days nights.  In attempt to write a post, I suddenly remembered that '25 Random Things About Me' meme on Facebook a few years ago, and I thought with a few edits, I can turn it into a Top Ten Things You Don't Know About Me list.  So here it is, and I apologize for this pseudo post.

10.  I have three atomic clocks at home, and during the 99% of time that they work, they take the guesswork out of 'what time is it?'.  #youknewaboutmyocd

9.  I've always been a year younger than my classmates because I skipped eighth grade.  Which meant I just turned 13 to attend high school and 17 to go off to college.  While now I think that was too young, I'm grateful because when I look around, I can't imagine anything different because I didn't skip eighth grade.  And even better, I'm now the youngest amongst my group of friends.  #lastonetoturn40

8.  I have one slightly droopy eye because of nerve damage caused by Bell's Palsy.  It is more apparent when I am tired.  It's a wonder why both my eyes don't droop because 10 months prior to the second occurrence, I had another bout of Bell's Palsy on the other side.  The chances of that happening are miniscule.  #whycantiwinthelotteryinstead

7.  I water down all the juices I drink.  If I'm out, I wait for the ice to melt first.  Not only does this suit my taste buds better, I get twice as much more beverage.  #cheapskateandhighmaintenance

6.  I have recurrent nightmares about my appearance.  Like beyond-exaggerated ginormous zits, loose or missing teeth, stuck contact lenses, and haircut or haircoloring fails.  #narcissistorparanoid

5.  I used to teach 280+ children each week (I taught Science Lab to primary grades), and I knew every single one of their first and last names. I was big on names.  However, that was a decade ago.  I'd be lucky if I can get all their first names now.  #losingbraincellsbytheminute

4.  I have white coat hypertension, which means high blood pressure when one see a doctor (in the white coat).  Which means I have high blood pressure when I get my blood pressure taken.  It's a bit of a problem, don't you think?  The nurse always looks at me dubiously when I tell her that I have anxiety with sphygmomanometers.  And then she tells me to relax.  Which always bumps up that reading by another ten points-- top and bottom numbers--over the already too-high reading.  Who can relax on command?  An anxiety-ridden patient getting her blood pressure taken, apparently.  #ihatethesoundofthatvelcrostrap

3.  I have one real compulsive behavior since I was very little.  As a passenger in the car, I tap my finger when I am between two fixed points.  These fixed points are usually the broken white or yellow lines on the road, or they could be space between two trees, parked cars, what not.  So as my car is moving forward, my finger goes tap-tap-tap when I think I am precisely in between two fixed points.  Is there any point to this?  No.  Is there any point to any compulsive behavior?  #rhetoricalquestion

2.  These days, I like to give myself temporary belly button lifts.  As you know, pregnancies and aging are not kind to your belly button.  This is what to do to remedy that, temporarily:  1) Stand in front of a mirror.  2) Place your pointer finger about one inch above your belly button.  3) Gently press and lift at the same time.  Voila.  There's your fabulous, pre-pregnancy belly button.  Doesn't it look like it's only 20-years-old?  #justdontletgo

1.  When all the stars are aligned, I can belch like a mofo.  But I could just be lying, because no one has or will ever see or hear it.  #exceptmyluckyDH

And there you have it.  Do we have anything in common?

So, Random Things, we have just shared things about me that people didn't ask to know.  But they read it, so maybe it wasn't totally useless.  Whaddaya say we have a bet on how many readers will actually try the Temporary Belly Button Lift just to see if it works?  People, it works.  (Temporarily.)

Happy Friday!