Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Date Night

Dear Date Night,

For us, you are almost as rare as a blue moon--you happen as often as actually receiving a non-telemarketing call, or as effortlessly as finding a picture of oneself one actually likes.  In a word, you are our definition of "scarcity." 

It has never been in our tradition to hire a babysitter, and we don't have family close-by.  I have trust issues and just never bothered to fight my kiddos' separation anxiety for anything but school.  If we wanted to try a new restaurant, we went as a family.  Come vacation time, it was always the four of us.  My one-and-most-trusted caretaker was my SIL, who selflessly helped me with caring for Dear Daughter during the first few years after she was born.  Alas, my SIL married and had her own children.  She and my MIL live about an hour away, so on very special occasions, we have asked them to come babysit for a night out (a count representable by the fingers on one hand since the birth of Dear Son).  And we're okay with that.  I've never felt like I needed more one-on-one time with Dear Husband, although when we do have that chance, it is very special. 

Last Friday, the kiddos' school had its annual Student Lock In (no, not "lock down"), where teachers volunteer their time to babysit entertain students from the time school is out until 9 PM, while raising funds for a local charity.  As this is the first year both kiddos are in the same school together, this was our very first opportunity to take advantage of five hours of no-kiddos time.  We were not sure if DS would be up for it, but having heard his sister talk about how much fun it is, he wanted to join.  And because this was for both a charitable donation as well as precious alone time, we forked over the hefty "suggested" price for the Lock In.

And I shouted to DH, "DATE NIGHT!"

At first I thought we would have a relaxing, nice dinner (with mandatory alcoholic beverages) and call it a night.   But then DH texted me the option of some movie and dinner since we had the time for both.  I opted out of the movie until I realized that it was the new Ryan Gosling movie--with the added bonus of Bradley Cooper.  Well, that's a no-brainer.  DH's man crush serves us both well.  For the record, I enjoyed the movie; it gave me a lot to think about.  To quote DH telling me what the movie is about, "It's about fathers and sons."  Eye candy and role-defining motion picture, check and check.

We had dinner in a busy restaurant next to the theater, where I had my obligatory margarita.  Salt-rimmed and lime-wedged.  There were no kids' menus, small boxes of crayons, or sheets of coloring placemats.  I ate my dinner while it was fresh and warm, we had uninterrupted conversations, and I went to the restroom flying solo.  The two empty chairs at our table spoke volumes: even though it was quite a refreshing experience to dine just the two of us, I missed my two crazy kiddos.  And that'd be why I checked my phone every ten minutes to see if either one wanted to come home early.

Not surprisingly, the kiddos had a grand time.  They're already talking about next year's Lock In.  Unbeknownst to them, we also talked about our future getaways when the kiddos are older.  The possibilities are enticing, although reality is another contender to face.

And don't be fooled by this post's photo, where a gal has a little fun romanticizing about Date Night.  There were no flirty, open-toed heels on my ill-prepared, winterized feet or designer clutch for my bucket-load of essentials.  I wore my unsexy round-toed Keens with socks and grabbed my all purpose shoulder-strap tote filled with diaper-bag-worthy contents for an unfashionable date.  I dropped off DS at school and raced off to meet DH for the early movie, who made more of an effort than I did: he was date-ready with his spring linen blazer.  I'll have to do better next time.

As we wrapped up a great night of fun for everyone, DH declared what he got out of that night to me.  Not a plan for the next date night, or how amazing DS was for not missing us.  But one I couldn't help but smile back at him sweetly yet roll my eyes inside my head: 

DH:  You know what they should make?
Me:  Who?  What?
DH:  They should make an Ocean's 14 and add Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Leonardo DiCaprio to the cast.
Me (*straight-faced*):  Mmmm-hmmm.

I'm very proud of DH's security with his masculinity.  



So, Dear Date Night, I think it'd be nice if you were to visit more often, especially as the kiddos get older.  But for now, each and every occasion to be just-the-two-of-us is so very special.  And this time, we have the school teachers and staff to thank.  It really was a rare and fabulous night--thank you!


Friday, April 26, 2013

Dear Parent-When

Dear Parent-When,

There is solid reasoning for people saying, "your life will be forever changed" as soon as you announce your pregnancy.  Your "parent" friends start to tell you all sorts of anecdotal warnings and cautions while you still dreamily bask in the joy of New Parenthood.  No matter how much one tries to prepare oneself, reality doesn't truly set in until one is on the other side of it.  I've been on that side of it now for about a decade, and here is my #TopTen list of You-Know-You're-a-Parent-When:

10. When you begrudgingly willingly deal with bodily fluids or solids of another person besides yourself.  On an hourly or daily basis.  With the occasional Regurgitory or Diarrheal Surprise. #BabiesAreCuteForAReason

9. When you grumpily give away your last bite of favorite food as your child looks longingly at you your food and innocently asks you for it.  This is a real toughie, and you don't always oblige.  But when you do, you unmistakably make a mental tally of it (you know you do!) for future negotiations.  (Read my remedy to this on my other blog--go ahead, it's only 57 words long).  #TheRealMeaningOfSharing

8. When you repeatedly experience Every Parent's Pain: that you'd trade places with your sick child in a heartbeat.  Because it would actually be less painful that way than to watch your child in that miserable state.  #WishfulThinking

7. When you realize that you're in for a Lifetime of Worry.  Of course, these worries change over time, from religiously counting constipated non-poopy days to the first bus ride to the first date, but then continues onto your own children's parenthood trials and midlife crises.  #AFatefulAbyss

6. When your subconscious daily goal is Finding Balance in everything: helicopter parenting vs free range parenting; attachment parenting vs Babywise parenting; organic-no-sugar-no-artificial-anything diet vs chips-candy-cookies-fastfood-pop diet; structure vs flexibility; drills vs creativity; Tiger Mom vs Ostrich Mom... etc.  The list can go on and on.  #ModerationIsKey

5. When you start feeling guilty about the undesirable genes you've passed down to your progeny, be it your migraines, allergies, or you-name-it condition/disorder/syndrome.  This is not something you actually think about when you wanted to start a family, but the power of DNA is undeniably unforgiving.  #UncannyResemblanceToAFault

4. When you stop dreaming for yourself and start dreaming for your children.  There comes a time when Focus invariably shifts, possibly in the form of setting up a college fund or helping to choose your child's high school or college courses.  It also happens to coincide with the time you begin to feel old.  (Read my poem, Shifted, on this topic--go ahead, it's only 33 words long.)  #TheGivingTreeInRealLife

3. When you realize that your Parental Affects are more universal than those you instinctively have for your own children: that you hurt when any children hurt, and that you smile when any child is happy.  You grasped it in the horror of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and you felt it in the laughter of children--whom you don't even know--celebrating a birthday on a picnic blanket at the park.  #YourBadgeOfHonor

2. When you realize what being a Role Model means: "be the person you want your child to be."  This is when you learn to shut your potty mouth, start to demonstrate acts of kindness and expressions of empathy, and actively become an upstanding citizen of the community.  Because you want your children to do the same and hope that they will share their lives with equally compassionate people in the future.  #DoAsIDo

1. And--for better or for worse--when you come to the conclusion that parenting doesn't get easier.  You keep thinking that when your child reaches this milestone or that age, that things will get easier.  Well, they'll continue to throw you curve balls and give you unexpected surprises--they're good at that.  New challenges arise when old obstacles fade, and better battles are fought when previous conflicts are put to rest.  As soon as you get your sleep back from New Parenthood, you will no doubt begin to lose sleep over other things, namely every miniscule-tiny-little-teensy-weensy-itty-bitty detail about them, which makes you wonder why you ever wanted to become parents in the first place.  But the truth is: easier doesn't always mean better, and that we're all on this path of Parenthood to continually find improvement within ourselves for our children. 

And it's a challenge for a lifetime.

So, Dear Parent-When, I should denote you as Version 1.0 because you are my first #TopTen on this topic.  There will be others down the road, since, like I said, I'm in this for life.  So of course you shall allow me the opportunity to vent list more as the challenges come.  There are many more that I am expecting, lurking just beyond the horizon that seem to be smugly snickering at me.  Well, I'll get to them when I get to them.

Care to share your Parent-Whens?


Friday, April 19, 2013

Dear Co-Reading

Dear Co-Reading,

We all know your importance in a child's literary and language skills development.  You are a practice that I have done with my kiddos since they were months old.  Whether we are reading a book together at bedtime, or reading the same book together separately, Dear Husband and I are always on board to help the kiddos explore the joy and gratification of reading.

The sun never  rises from the west.  The seasons never  go out of order.  I never tell my kids to stop reading... er, except for when I committed to read To Kill a Mockingbird with Dear Daughter.  Ahem.  Last school year, the kiddos' school put together a booklet about its staff and teachers.  DD found her current teacher's page and read that her favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird.  Because she loves her teacher dearly, she was instantly intrigued by this book.  And because her reading level makes this book appropriate for her, her teacher indicated that it would be fine for her to read it if  DH and I both think it's okay content-wise--which we do.  So I agreed to read the book along with her so that I can answer questions were she to have any.

Bang! And we're off.  DD reads books the way one devours one's favorite food: fast and furious.  The number of books and pages she reads puts us to shame.  Granted, she must read for school and for homework, but DH and I both wish we had the time to read the equivalent of a fraction of the contents in her reading log.   But as for co-reading, DH has actually accomplished this with DD for the entire Harry Potter series, which, in and of itself, is quite a feat, for the both of them.  They bonded over that experience in ways I won't be able to understand until perhaps one day I can do the same with Dear Son.  To Kill a Mockingbird would be the first book I'd co-read with DD.  It seemed like a doable deed; that it was less than 300 hundred pages and a book I remembered loving made it seem like a goal I can accomplish.

In the picture above, the book on the left is my copy--from high school.  If my memory serves me correctly, we read it second semester of 9th grade.  The one on the right is the most current edition we borrowed from the library for DD.  If there is one possession that DH and I are proud of, it would be all of our books.  I still have about 95% of books I've ever owned or read since high school (and since college for DH).  (The 5% is because we lost a box of books during our move from college, when I noticed my Norton Anthologies from college literature courses were missing.)  This means that I have all the literature books we read in high school that I remember not understanding very much--books by Dostoyevsky, Ibsen, Joyce, Faulkner, Hesse, Turgenev, Hardy, etc.  I honestly don't know what teenagers can get out of these books, since they have had so little life experience to even begin to relate to their themes.  Which is why one of my recent goals is to go back and read many of those books again to really see what I missed back then.  And To Kill a Mockingbird was already one on that list. 

"Where are you in the book?  STOP reading the book!"  I asked and demanded of DD.  I became frantic if it seemed like she was whizzing along while I desperately tried to keep up.  We were on par, mostly, for the first quarter of the book, and we'd ask each other where we last bookmarked on a daily basis.  Unfortunately for DD, she was assigned Tom Sawyer  in one of her classes, and had to put our book on the back burner.  She was not happy.  I have finished the book and I'm ready for her questions.  But, wow, did this process ever remind me why I loved this book so much even as an innocent, young teenager.

Not-so-random fact: I never forget a face or a number.  I have excellent memory for names and dates.  And even though I've started to notice a slight decline in those areas due to an annoyance called Aging, I know that I am still pretty sharp.  Movies, however, are a mystery to my memory bank.  I can watch a movie and just months later watch it again as if for the very first time.  Unless I've seen one multiple times, I won't be able to tell you any details at all.  In a way, it makes watching movies sort of fun, since I get to experience the climax or twist all over again.  Well, it turns out that it's about the same with books.  I really didn't remember details of To Kill a Mockingbird at all, other than the names Atticus and Scout, and very faint memories of the black-and-white movie starring Gregory Peck.  Granted that the last time I read this book was over twenty years ago, but you'd think one can remember the basic plot.  Not I.  It was literally like I was reading it for the very first time--except knowing that I really liked it the first time around.

I plowed through the book because it was so good.  I loved Scout's narrative: her innocence, her point-of-view with practically no "adult"-erated filters, her tomboyish obstinacy, and the way her character shines at the end when she finally meets Boo Radley.  It is the Good of Atticus and the Growth of Scout and her brother that help me replenish my trust and belief in humanity.  That very positive feeling is what people thrive on and what brings out the benevolence in us, and ultimately contributes to making our world a better place.  I'm still on a high--a good kind of booking-finishing  high--from having read this book, having had 39 birthdays, being married with 2 children, and still not enough life experience.

Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in the 60s about life in the 30s.  If people like Scout and Atticus had it in their hearts to know that people are people regardless of their skin color in the 30s, and that people knew it was the right thing to do to end segregation in the 60s, and--while I'm not claiming all racial discrimination have been eliminated--we are now living in a much different world today... then there is more to be accomplished.  Like Scout says--"There's just one kind of folks.  Folks."--I believe that people are people, and that folks who love each other can be together and have a family and nurture children without stigma and limitations.  We're in the midst of it now (although New Zealand is way ahead of this country), but I know that one day we will look back and think: hmmm, we had to overcome marriage equality back then, and we don't even bat an eye now. 

Furthermore, in the wake of having just reread this book, it is disheartening to come to terms with evil in this world even among all the Good.  As Miss Maudie explained,
"Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 
And that's exactly what the evil of the Boston Marathon bombings did: kill and hurt innocent mockingbirds who were in the act of accomplishing a dream or watching a loved one do so.  But in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy, it is quite clear that Good persists.  It persists in the people who finished the marathon and ran straight to hospitals to donate blood.  It persists in the front line rescue teams and even onlookers who risked their lives to save others.  It persists in the love shown by people all over the country and all over the world who immediately began to send prayers and positive thoughts to Boston and everyone affected by the tragedy.  The Good prevails, even in the face of despair.  Because there is a Scout or an Atticus still alive in the grace of humanity. 

DD is now splitting her reading time between To Kill a Mockingbird  and Tom Sawyer.  She cannot wait to finish our book in order to discuss it with me.  I know that there will be so much that she will not understand at this moment, but this won't be the last time she'll read it.  When she reads it in middle school, high school, or beyond, she will gain something new each time.  But this time, she will have planted a little seed, one that I am confident that will sprout into a flower reflecting her belief in Goodness and Humanity. 

So, Dear Co-Reading, this first experience with DD has been incredibly eye-opening on so many levels for me.  Not only has reading To Kill a Mockingbird impacted me with thoughts on current events and issues, but it will also allow me to share valued notions of Character and Integrity with my DD.  Truly, the joys of reading increases exponentially when one can share thoughts and discuss book-finishing highs.  And whaddaya know, I've just downloaded Tom Sawyer onto my Kindle (and it's free!).

Happy Reading!


Friday, April 12, 2013

Dear Murphy


Dear Murphy,

It seems to me that you get us with the notion of your Law every chance there is.  Sometimes you can be pretty merciless as you declare to us, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."  Today, I share my current Top Ten Cases of Things Gone Wrong:

10. The one day you decide to buy a glass jar of milk from a specialty dairy farm for twice the store brand retail price so that your child would find it appealing enough to drink more milk is the day he takes one sip of the milk and says, "I don't like the taste of this milk."  #YouHaveGOTToBeKiddingMe

9. The one time you open your big mouth to chime in on a basketball game by you and your husband's alma mater to remark how well the team seems to be doing at half time is the day your husband decidedly accuses you of being responsible for its loss because you usually never care enough to say anything about any sports games MUCH LESS THE WOMEN'S FINAL FOUR one.  #SorryHoney

8. The one occasion you roll up your sleeves to bake for a special event is the day you forget to add one ingredient (sugar or vanilla extract) which makes all of your cupcakes completely and utterly defective.  #Really?Seriously?

7. The one weekend morning you are able to sleep in and make up for all that stress and sleep deprivation from the long week is the morning your children are all up earlier than rise-and-shine on a school day and are partying-like-it's-1979 in your bed.  #PunchMeInTheFace

6. The one day you have a very important appointment but foolishly cram in one more task on the computer before leaving to make it right on time is the day you start the engine of your car and the gas warning light shines a little too smugly at you.  #CursingLikeAMimeInsideTheCar

5. The week I see my tulips emerge from the ground after the last snow is the week I discover they've stopped growing because ravenous creatures of the wild have been feasting on their tender shoots like it's an all-you-can-eat Spring Bulb Brunch .  #ShooFurryChompersShoo

4. The moment you are ready to sit down at the computer to get working is the time you see 7 Facebook notifications, 23 unread emails, 11 Twitter mentions, 4 repins, and 5 Google+ invites all screaming at you from across the 50 tabs you have open on your browser.  #PrioritiesPeople

3. The every.single.time your child gets a 104 degree temperature out of nowhere is always the hour your pediatrician's office closes on a Saturday afternoon and the next available appointment is 42 hours later.  #DefineOpportuneTime

2. The one night your child wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom (yay for not peeing in bed) is the night he misses the toilet and you find yourself on your hands and knees at 3:38 AM wiping pee off the floor.  #AimItOrTameItLittleMan

1. The final time you declare Spring has arrived because it is April and the rest of the world is already in shorts and tank tops and you've already put away your winter coats is the week where you'll need your snow boots yet again because Mother Nature is schizophrenic in my part of the world and is gracing us with a forecast of snow.  #ItsAprilForCryingOutLoud

And by you I mean me.

So, Dear Murphy, I hope you are getting a kick out of your doings.  Cuz someone has to find such nonsense meaningful.  But I'll forgive and forget if you bring Spring on by and make her stay.  I am way too depressed from days and days of rain and cold.

Because of course, the moment she comes and stays is the day I'll begin to sneeze and itch like there's no tomorrow. 


P.S.  I have been under severe spam comments attack on this blog.  I don't want to turn on word verification for the sake of my readers who comment.  I don't want to moderate comments because that generates twice the number of email notification for them and me as well.  So if you comment here frequently and have been receiving email notifications to posts you have commented on, please unsubscribe (right from the email itself) to the comments on that post.  I apologize for that extra step, but it will save you from more annoying spam comments.  Meanwhile, I carry on whacking them spam moles.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dear Kindness

Dear Kindness,

You are like a little sachet of glitter we carry inside our hearts.  Sometimes we sprinkle it on people we care about.  Sometimes we find glitter all over ourselves and smile bigger because of it.  We never run out of it, because if we dig deep enough inside our hearts, you can always be found.

When we are the recipient of such glitter, what we feel is a warmth we call Joy.  It can be exuberant, fierce, euphoric, simple, or quiet Joy.  Most of the time, the Joy I find is from within my home--well, I do spend most of my time as a SAHM.  Dear Daughter might give me a hug I wasn't expecting, Dear Son might voluntarily do a chore, and Dear Husband might notice and compliment my hair pulled back in a ponytail (not often, but it can happen).  But recently, I experienced such Joy from people outside of my own family that truly touched me so.  And when I say I experienced, I mean I was showered with glitter. 

Starburst pomelo
Last weekend, just as we were about to leave the house, I heard the doorbell.  It turns out to be a package delivery for me.  Totally unexpected.  It was from a dear friend from college (whom I haven't seen since).  She and I got reconnected on Facebook and have been in touch for many years.  Two Novembers ago, I had been re-introduced to the fruit called pomelo (Chinese grapefruit) by DD's Chinese School teacher.  I hadn't eaten this fruit since I was a little girl back in Taiwan.  I found it at Costco and just loved it.  I posted a picture of the fruit after it was peeled to show how much it looked like a brain with all its white fibers, but how unexpectedly beautiful and tasty its pink flesh was.  My friend then asked if I've ever had any sumo oranges since we were talking citrus, but I didn't think I had ever even seen it around here.

More than a whole year passes and I received a large box of sumo oranges from my college friend (they are seasonal and often backordered).  Seeing her name and her note on the box made me feel entirely Joyful.  She just rained glitter all over me.  She loves sumo oranges and wanted to share its exquisite taste with me.  With me--over halfway across the country.  My heart was bursting with gratitude.  I collected the glitter she tossed my way and carefully put it in the sachet in my heart, for they will come to good use at a later time.  And if you've never had sumo oranges and can get your hands on some, do it.  They are delectably sweet, silky, and meaty (largest of the mandarin citrus).  They have a signature bump (topknot) on them, and are extremely easy to peel.  We have all been enjoying the fruit over the last week.  Every time I peel one, I wonder what I have done to deserve such Goodness.  (She's the same friend that sent me coffee not too long ago, and I've sent her nothing but mass-produced holiday cards--*hangs head in shame*).  Thank you so much, my dear friend, for bringing sweetness to my doorstep, my taste buds, and my grateful heart.

Next, there's nothing quite like dancing in the glitter of Words from Children.  And by children I mean the ones I teach.  We've always heard that saying, "Be the person you want your children to be."  I strive to be a kind person so that my kiddos will store extra glitter in their sachets to sprinkle, too.  But when glitter is tossed my way from children I have never met, it makes my heart swell even more with Joy and Amazement.

One day I substituted for a fifth grade class.  As the students came into the room all at different paces, a girl came and greeted me: "Hello, my name is Ingrid*.  What is your name?"  I introduced myself, and then she proceeded to say, "I want to welcome you to our classroom.  I hope you have a really nice day today in here."  I was so pleasantly surprised, because that was just the nicest thing a student can say to a substitute teacher in a classroom she had never been in before!  Yesterday, as a sixth grade class was shuffling out the door, one student turned around before leaving and said to me, "Thank you, and have a nice day!"  Kids have busy lives--changing classrooms in the hallways, engaging in their work in school, and processing all kinds of information inside their heads.  That they stop for a moment during that chaos and say those simple words to me or other teachers is what makes this world a kinder place.  These simple words can bring smiles to people's faces, make the ambiance of an entire school, and become the seed that grows into "I had a really great day today."  These children are full of heart, and their glitter is magically contagious.  Thank you, children, for spreading kindness in your schools and in your lives. 

Lastly, my blogger friend, Lisa, at Expandng, wrote a post just for me.  For me--because I asked.  Lisa makes these beautiful visual boards on her blog as do other bloggers I follow.  I never knew how to do that, so I had asked if she would share how to make them.  Lisa wrote a whole tutorial on how she creates visual boards with step-by-step details here.  You see, I know how long and how much effort it takes to write a post, and I usually don't even get "technical" (I've done the Happy Dance for just inserting a slide show and an audio file--woot woot!).  She freely and willingly tossed her glitter my way, as well as the ways of all her readers, and we are grateful.  Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your Tech Savvy and your time; I can't wait to create my first visual board! 

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?
All of this reminds me of a book that I have been recommending to my friends on Facebook: Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.  It is a wonderful picture book to express the meaning of kindness and compassion to children--and adults alike.  If you've read this book, you'd know what a wonderful message it espouses; if you haven't read the book, check it out at your library or bookstore.  It's definitely worth the trip. 

So, Dear Kindness, whether you are in the form of filling someone's bucket or raining glitter down on a friend, you are a source of Love.  Be it as small as uttering "thank you" to something more substantial such as a generous donation, you elicit feelings of delight, gratitude, goodwill, and hope.  And we sure can all do with a little more of those things in our lives!  So even on a bad day when I feel like I have no more glitter to toss, I will tell myself to just dig deep.  Because I'll always remember the feeling of twirling in the glitter someone else showered me. 


(*name changed for privacy.)