Monthly Archives: May 2011

“Let ’em Do It”

The wisdom of a grandmother…

I like to consider myself at least aware when it comes to teaching my children practical life skills. I am by no means a pro at it. I don’t follow a systematic approach at ensuring they have accomplished a certain set of skills at a specific level by a particular age. Every child is different, after all.

peeled orangeMy youngest, who just turned two, loves oranges, and tangerines—which he calls ‘baby oranges’.  I used to peel and cut the oranges for him. Then I started cutting them without peeling them and he does a pretty good job at eating the edible part and throwing away the peel. He used to throw them straight off the table, but has learned to aim for the garbage can instead.

At dinner recently, he was eating when he noticed some tangerines in the fruit bowl on the table. He was sitting next to my mom, and reached for the ‘baby onange’.  She peeled off a little patch and gave it to him to peel the rest.

His face completely lit up at the challenge, and he spent the next few minutes carefully peeling his baby orange. He didn’t mind that he had to work a bit before being able to eat it. He seemed very pleased, in fact, and had a great time accomplishing a task all by himself.

It’s great to have an outside source now and again to remind us how much our children are capable of accomplishing, and inspiring them to reach for the sky… or at least for the fruit bowl.

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The Summer Plan

It is my first “summer” with my kids, in that for once, it is their first summer in a place with such defined “seasons”. From the time my husband and I started our family, we lived in Bangalore, which has fairly mild weather year-round. Another reason is that, with my daughter having experienced her first year “away at school” this past school year, she img_4416would be home for the summer.

I had been thinking about it for a few weeks, how to maximize on our time together and make it as fun and also as educational as possible. Such a great number of thoughts and ideas came into my head that my brain temporarily fritzed from the sudden overload.

Okay, goal number one: take things one step at a time.

I realized that I needed to get my thoughts and ideas in order a bit and not expect too much of them … or myself. After all, it was summer!

I asked my two older children what they would most like to do and to learn over the summer, their top three choices. A few days later, I asked them the same question again, to see if things had changed. If their interests had changed over the space of a couple days, it would not be likely they would have the inspiration to stick with it all summer long.

My son remembered exactly what he had told me he wanted to learn, in the exact same wording and order. He even let me know which months he wanted to learn what things: “How planes engines turn around you can teach me in July. I can learn how cars go in June, and in August, I want to learn how bullet trains go so fast.”

My daughter didn’t remember exactly what she wanted to do, but came up with a couple new things, and then recalled the other ones as well. For some time she had been asking me to teach her to sew, so that went on the list. At the start of the year, she said that she wanted to memorize 50 scriptures, and repeated that. She also asked if she could learn more about plants and look at leaves under a microscope. Lastly, for a month or so she had an idea of going out to meet people, sell chocolates or kids’ products, and raise money for a good cause. This went on the list as well.

I also had a few goals for them for the summer, such as Allen completing his school year, Jessica getting familiar with her times tables, and both of them learning some basic Spanish and, of course, adding in baking projects for fun.

I roped my husband in as well and asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a bit of time on the weekends to give them some basic guitar lessons.

Once we determined what we had in mind for the summer, we made a chart together (well, actually, a power point: Jess & Allen’s Summer 2011 Plan) that went from June through August and brought in each of the desired projects or goals. On the chart, it is broken down one month at a time into weekly goals, such as practice Spanish together on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Do a baking project over the weekend. Pull out the microscope on Mondays. Google airplane engines, and look for corresponding youtube videos, on Wednesday, etc.

Treats are always fun and exciting as “carrots” at the end of each project and to celebrate the reaching or completion of goals. For us, it seemed like a fun thing to look forward to something extra special at the end of each month and we put that on the chart as well.

 

My kids are still young and “simple joys are holy” for them, which makes it easier to think of both summer projects and special ways to celebrate.

The Way It Worked

It wasn’t a plan. It wasn’t actually even something I really wanted to do at first. More than anything, it was necessary at the time.

I enjoy being a mom. I enjoy teaching my kids. In fact, I had every intention of educating them at home. After all, my mom had done it, why couldn’t I? There are all kinds of pros for home education, such as being able to teach your children according to their particular learning style, recognizing their talents and proclivities in order to help them build stronger skills in those areas, being able to spend more time focusing on areas that need a bit more attention, and many more!

I never had much practice in early childhood education. I felt that those who teach younger children need a certain skill set that I personally lacked—an enthusiastic and playful nature. Once they reached a certain age, I was confident in my ability to teach. I was privileged to have friends and other experienced mothers who spent a lot of time with my daughter during that “early education” stage. They gave me flash cards, fact cards, math dots and storybooks; they referred me to some great educational websites; they taught my daughter songs and verses.

It was August of 2010 and my daughter, Jessica, had reached the stage that I was actually comfortable in teaching. She was in the middle of second grade, and was doing remarkably well. Then everything changed. We had been in the planning-to-move-across-the-world stage, planning to make the big step in November, when we were suddenly—and somewhat rudely—informed that my husband’s visa would not be granted, because I was not living and settled in my home country.

“Moving as a family sometime at the end of the year” rapidly changed to “moving with my kids as soon as possible”. Once we arrived in the States, it was necessary for me to gather as much “proof” as I could of the fact that I was here to stay.

The plan was, in fact, conceptualized on the way from the airport to my parent’s house, as my dad drove and I began to doze after a 28-hour journey without sleep. He mentioned that my sister was very happy with the school she sent her kids to, and that he would be happy to cover the tuition fees for that first year for my daughter to attend. My first reaction was, “No, Dad. We couldn’t ask that of you.”

A few days later, I met my sister and she told me also how great the school was. My dad repeated his offer and we met the teacher and principal of the school. Within two weeks of arriving in the States, my daughter was enrolled at Faith Baptist Academy, and we had our first “proof” towards my husband being able to join us. In the meantime, my father drove her to school on his way to work. My sister looked after her in the afternoons until my dad was able to pick her up in the evenings.

My husband was able to join us within two months, and Jessica’s education at FBA continued.

Yesterday evening was the school’s awards ceremony. My daughter had been sick pretty much the whole last week of school and barely finished her last test on the last day, a few hours before the ceremony. I wasn’t exactly expecting what took place, nor was my daughter.

Jessica, with her teacher, at the awards ceremony

Jessica, with her teacher, at the awards ceremony

She was actually quite embarrassed and reluctant to step forward time and again to receive certificates for the highest scores in nearly every subject, and the highest GPA in the school. I kept having to encourage her to go up, whispering to her to please smile, and assuring her that it was almost over.

At the end of the ceremony, a few friends and acquaintances came up to congratulate my husband and me, as parents, mentioning that we must be proud of our daughter and that we must be great parents. All I could think of was: it really wasn’t us.

It was my dad, who made it possible for her to attend.

It was my sister, who took care of her so many afternoons, on top of taking care of her own kids.

It was my friends and co-workers from India who spent so much time teaching her from the time she was just a baby.

It was the great and inspired teachers at the Academy who pour their time and effort into every child who attends, and has attended, that school.

And it was Jessica, who woke up early every school morning, overcame her timidity at meeting new people, learned the new study skills needed, and applied herself to keep plodding along until the year was done.

Most of all, it was God, Who gives gifts and talents to everyone, as unique and varied as each individual is. Some children might “walk away” with awards; some might not receive even a tiny bit of recognition, but each one is special and gifted in His sight, created for a unique and divine purpose. Our task, as parents, is to encourage our children, love them, pour into them as much as we can, and be open to new opportunities, even if it isn’t what we originally had in mind for them. Who knows? It could be something even better.

(Photo taken by Joel Rockey)

Heredity, arachnophobia, and knights

My mother’s stories were just the best, especially when she told us stories of when she was a child growing up. Most of the stories were very funny, and some were exciting or scary. One story I remember that she would tell was when she was a child and went to a camp. She woke in the morning to a gigantic spider, right at the foot of her bed. She said that she had never seen a spider so large, and she did not know whether to scream, or quickly jump out of bed; so she just stayed there, frozen in fear, rooted to the spot. I do not remember what happened next; I think perhaps one of her sisters or one of the other campers “rescued” her.

Besides hearing the previous story more than once, my older sister shared with me a dream that she claimed was recurring. She discovered two spiders (daddy-long-legs I think) and began to pester them. Then the spiders began to grow, bigger and bigger; once they were bigger than her, they started to chase her.

My own experiences with those eight-legged-often-hairy creatures started quite young as well. I was on a friend’s front porch, waiting for her to come out and play, and saw a spider climbing up the wall. Absent-mindedly, I began creeping my fingers towards it. The spider stopped, and before I could react, it turned around and raced up my arm! Another day, another front porch, I noticed a spider with something funny on its back. I touched the little ball with a stick, and suddenly there were tiny spiders crawling everywhere. It was the spider’s egg sack. I was horrified, to say the least.

As much as I tried to get over my fear of spiders as I grew, the whole “mind over matter” thing just didn’t work in regards to spiders. I see a spider, I get a “euky” feeling all over (a.k.a. the shivers) and I call the nearest knight in shining armor to rescue me.

We all know that some things are hereditary: looks, height, metabolism, etc. “It’s in the genes.” They say. Many other things are “adopted” by children, such as a mother’s mannerisms, or their father’s particular gait.

Raising my children, I have noticed that my daughter thinks a whole lot like me. I have obviously never told her how my thought processes work, yet seeing some of the things that she does, and listening to her speak, when she lets me know how she came to a particular decision or mindset, I realize, “Wow. That’s just the way that I used to think when I was young.”

Mindsets, or the way the mind operates, then, seem to be hereditary as well. Of course, my two sons (though younger so I can’t really tell for sure) don’t seem to think quite the same way as I do. On the other hand though, watching them and their natural penchant for trying to fix things and figure out the way they work—that’s their daddy to a tee.

A family friend used to joke that my siblings and I were all afraid of spiders because our mother was. Who knows? Maybe it is true.

I thought to put it to the test. Is fear hereditary, like looks and thought processes? I decided that from the time my children were very small, I would only say positive things about spiders. After all, there had to be something good about them. Let’s see, they kill mosquitoes and…they kill mosquitoes, and they kill mosquitoes. I could not quite say that they were furry and cute, but I did make every earnest attempt to be positive about spiders upon every mention, and I was sure never to cry out for a knight in shining armor when my children were around.

Nevertheless, my two older children showed every sign of the same arachnophobia that I had. I had the highest hopes of them being brave and fearless at the sight of various insects, arachnids and rodents. Yet when I saw them running for help because of an ant, I wondered if perhaps it was a hopeless cause; maybe I would have to resign myself to the fact that there was nothing I could do.

Two children in search of bugs

Not always scared--Jessica and a friend searching for bugs

My youngest son was at the crawling stage. He crawled everywhere. He was headstrong and fearless. I happily discovered just how fearless he was the evening that I found a ladybug crawling up my pant leg. I picked it up and showed it to my three kids. The older ones kept a safe distance, but the 15-month-old poked it, grabbed it and was about to taste it as well when I came to the little insect’s rescue. We took the ladybug to the porch and set it on a plant. Back in the living room, I saw a spider, one of those little hopping ones, making its way across the floor. My kids spotted it too. The older ones made a wide berth around it, while the youngest crawled straight up to it and picked it up. He squeezed it and dropped it and picked it up again.

I came to two great conclusions:

  1. Fear doesn’t necessarily have to be inherited
  2. My son is going to be a knight in shining armor

Is It Too Much?

One thing I didn’t thoroughly consider when starting a family was my desire for peace and solitude—not all the time, but every once in a while is a nice thing.

Usually I’m fine with the conversation and playful prattle. Even the occasional argument isn’t that hard to handle when nipped in the bud.Three kids on a swing

But every now and again I have one of those days, the days where you wonder, “is it too much to ask?” for just a few moments of silence? For the chance to cook dinner without having to run out to answer the holler of, “mommy, he bit me”, and then a moment later submit to being “base” while they are playing hide and seek in the house. For the chance to sit down without my sons seeing it as an opportunity to jump on me and play rough and tumble?

We were now in the backyard. My daughter led her brothers on a campaign to find the ants beneath the rocks; of course, like any good general, sending them ahead and shouting instructions from a safe distance.

I surveyed the scene and saw the opportunity for a moment of silence. I tiptoed around the blossoming plants to the swing and there I sat, listening to a song on my phone.

“Come. Sit. Swing. Sit.”

Oops, apprehended by the troops. My youngest had noticed me and wanted to swing too. I sat him up next to me, and he held my phone and listened to the music with me.

My daughter ran up and sat down too. She held my hand while the youngest cuddled in my lap.

Allen decided to take down the clothes that were hanging.

One song passed, and another… and still it was quiet, peaceful. I realized that I don’t have to be alone to find peace, and truly, nothing can bring a better sense of love and completion than a cuddle from a child.

Teachable Moments

Aiden had just woken up after a solid nap on the couch. He always sits up straight away, and usually calls out “mommy” or “daddy”. This time he decided to set off in search of one of us. I intercepted him mid-living room and scooped him up for a cuddle. Today’s cuddle was uncharacteristic of him, mainly because he doesn’t usually cuddle. He’ll immediately want to get down and head off in search of excitement…or trouble. I valued the cuddle all the way to the bathroom where we both exchanged glances in the mirror between him and me. I planted a couple kisses on his head while I pondered the fact that even though he probably looked more like me than either of his siblings, it was funny how he didn’t seem to bear much of a resemblance to me either. Mainly just our chin, except for the characteristic dimple in his; someone once saw that dimple and pegged him as a future lady’s man. I’ll keep him mine for as long as possible though.

Aiden on pottyI sat the little guy on the potty and at the same time he started talking excitedly, “Moto! Moto! Noise!” The other day he had been calling the same thing out again and again and I had no idea what he had been talking about. This time I guess I was a little more in tune and I realized that he was referring to the central heating, which had just kicked in with a low hum that reverberated in every room of the house.

I told him it was the heater, that it makes the house warm. “Heata, sad,” he said, making his pretend pout face. Was he scared of the noise it made or was he really concerned about the inanimate object? I said, “Don’t worry; the heater isn’t sad. It’s just doing its job.

“Heata, sceaming,” was his next observation, along with a helpful, high-pitch “E-ee-ee-h” sound.

I decided I had better explain it a bit more clearly, lest he forever equate heaters with screaming and sadness. I reached up and patted my hand on the vent in the bathroom, I told him that was where the warm air comes from. He responded by repeating the word, “vent”.

I repeated that it warms up the house and then he said, while sitting still, looking half awake, “wow”. His wow sounded as half awake as he looked. Then he must have realized that he needed to sound a bit more enthusiastic. He sat up straight, looked at me, smiled and said, “Wo-oo-oow” in a sing-song voice that rose and fell in cadence.

Pouring into kids is a great thing. Sometimes you get the half-hearted “wow” and sometimes you get the “Wo-oo-oow,” but being open to teachable moments will always open up opportunities, sometimes with surprising results, which will be held deep inside, by the parents and the children, or the teacher and the students. And sometimes we even get a cuddle to go with it.

Mother’s Day Mindset Change

I know I haven’t been a mother for all that many years, but I already had in my mind what I considered the “perfect” Mother’s Day. It would start with a sleep in. (Every good day starts with sleeping in.) I would wake at my leisure and be “surprised” with coffee or chai, courtesy of my husband. He would then offer to take the kids out and I would have some “me time” for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon, we would go out together to a park and play. The kids would be extra obedient and cheerful, and there would be no arguments, power struggles, or other “downers” to dampen the great spirit of the day. The day would end with my kids getting into bed without me even having to remind them once about changing their clothes or brushing their teeth. It would end with me kissing them good night and them saying how happy they are to have me as their mother.

Needless to say, reality was very different. With my husband’s job, he was gone from 4:30 in the morning until past noon. No sleeping in; no leisurely morning. But that didn’t mean the day was not special.

I woke and heard my daughter in the kitchen. She ran to the room and saw that the little guy was waking up.

“Aiden, don’t wake up mommy!” She ran back out. She ran in again and saw that I was awake.

“Mommy, happy Mother’s Day. Where is the hot chocolate kept?”

“We don’t have any left.” Her face fell and her shoulders drooped.

“Is there anything else you like to drink? What kind of juice do you like best?”

“Water is good.” I replied.

Allen started laughing. “Water isn’t juice!” The day had begun.

At breakfast time, Allen ran up to me, “Mommy, here’s your Mother’s Day gift.” He had a huge smile on his face as he stood there. “It’s me!” He added. I gave him a hug and said that’s the best gift ever.

My dad (whom my kids call Paca) offered to take the two older ones to church. I jumped at the offer. They were happy to go, yet I still faced the usual power struggle with one of them just getting them out the door (long-standing issue… “I don’t know what to wear.”)

I put on a video for the little guy and decided to clean. Cleaning in a (somewhat) empty house equals music, which always lifts my spirit. I lined up my favorite songs on my playlist and got to work. Kodak moment? My son, just turned two, began singing along with my all-time favorite song, “Who Am I” by Casting Crowns. He would finish every line, and he’s in tune!!!

Everyone arrived home within ten minutes of each other, and found me still cleaning. There was a shuffle of action and whispers and I was presented with a few gifts for Mother’s Day. All this past week Jessica (and sometimes Allen too) would disappear into (my mom) Maca’s room and the door would be locked for up to an hour at a time.

The result? Well, for one, my initial plan to wait until my daughter is seven or eight to teach her to cross-stitch is no longer valid. Mother's Day gift, a cross-stich "Happy Mother's Day"

Mother's Day gift from Allen, angel earringsAnd my son presented me with angel earrings, which he had also made with Maca. They are beautiful! (The scans can’t do the subject justice; you can’t scan their faces when they gave me the gifts; their smiles and hugs were the best gift of all.)

The day wasn’t perfect. There were a few heated discussions and I had to intervene. There were a couple disappointments. There was a challenging moment or two.

But there were also highlights, such as sitting on the backyard swing in the afternoon, Aiden cuddling up to me after waking up from his nap, telling him a story about a bunny—which he of course converted into a story of his own, about a racing car.

Or Allen running up to me and grabbing my hand at the park, “Come mommy, let’s run down the hill together!”

And, at the end of the day, as I prayed for the night with them, Jessica cuddled up to me and said, “You’re such a cuddly mommy. You’re such a good mommy.”

It wasn’t a perfect day (what parent ever gets a perfect day?), but it was a great day, and I couldn’t ask for more.

Mother’s Day Dedication

I had a plan… Yes, another one. Well, this one has actually been in the works for a while. It was a website. Specifically, it was a parenting website. I was so serious about it that I purchased the domain 15 months ago … And subsequently did nothing with it.

Well, not completely nothing. I have been storing up parenting posts, which is why I haven’t posted much on parenting lately on my other blog. I have been saving them up for the time I would finally launch my site.

So yesterday (yes, always last minute) I thought of a Mother’s Day gift for my mother: launch the parenting site, and dedicate it to Mom.

Of course, I didn’t factor in technical difficulties (a.k.a. personal lack of knowledge in troubleshooting web design issues). I spent hours yesterday with one attempt after another, only to wind up extremely frustrated.

I chatted with a friend who is a web designer and after lots of back and forth (thanks, Arthur) and considering different options, I would like to present my “positive parenting” blog! Yes… yet another blog. Enjoy, and please join our page on Facebook (positive parenting)!

Now, background aside, it’s time for my Mother’s Day dedication.

Grandmother reading book to granddaughter

Mom, reading to Jessica, who was two at the time

I think the greatest thing about my mom was that she was a mom. We were her “career”. I can’t remember how many times Mom said that what she always wanted most was to be a mother and to have kids. We were her primary focus and her first priority. Home-schooling six children could not have been an easy feat, but she did it, and so well that while we were growing up, many of our peers would comment on our general knowledge or our vocabulary (“I didn’t know that was a word!”). It wasn’t all textbook education. Everything was a learning experience so that I often didn’t even know I was “being educated”. It was just absorbed as a part of daily life.

Sometimes one of us would say something and mom would say, “You kids are so smart!” sincerely surprised, as if she had nothing to do with it.

“You told me that, mom.”

“I did?”

Learning was just part of everyday life.

Another thing she said often was children are little people. In other words, you can’t treat kids like some lesser form of humanity just because they are smaller and younger, and sometimes annoying or a handful. She lived that saying too. She treated us as “real” people. Maybe my opinion wasn’t heard that often with six of us siblings all vying to be heard, but I know it was respected and understood. I was never belittled with sarcasm or contempt.

Today, as a mother of three (I’m halfway there, mom!) I sometimes compare my parenting to hers. I’ll ask her a question about how she would deal with a certain type of behavioral issue and she’ll say, “You guys were just such good kids.” I know that wasn’t always the case.

Mom was just a mom. When we made mistakes or had issues, she would treat them as little hiccups in the overall scope of life.

If there was one parenting attribute I could develop more, (well, there are actually a lot of things I could work at, but this is a very important one) it would be emphasizing the positive, in situations, in life overall, and especially in my children. There is just so much good in our children, and so many great attributed that can be honed, skills and talents and interests that can be developed.

My kids, your kids, our kids deserve the best! And the best we can give them is positive parents who help them develop into well-rounded, successful and happy individuals.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing mothers, a big hand to all you great fathers too… and a special thank you to my mother, to whom I dedicate this positive parenting blog. I love you, Mom!