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Entries in children (20)

Thursday
Mar202014

A Child is not a Punchline

Life hack: it doesn't take a lot to be a great parent. More than praise, techniques, attention and all of those important things, the primary ingredient in being a great parent is simply wanting to be a great parent.

Today, at an undisclosed location and event, let's call it "shmockker shmractice," I sat with a group of parents and watched children do stuff. One of the children was mine because, hello, I love children but I don't sit around and watch kids all day.

Wait. I'm a teacher. Yes, I do, actually.

"Pfft, well, I guess we can write off the World Cup."

::snickers::

"I guess I should tell him the point is to actually kick the ball."

::more laughter::

First, let me admit.

Guilty as charged.

But also? Feeling guilty about being guilty.

Over the past year, I've made an effort to nix sarcastic remarks about my children. I rarely did it in earshot, but I'd do it when I thought they couldn't hear me.

You might say, Duh, that's funny. Everybody does it.

My children as a punchline, even if the joke is mine, is not an energy I'm ready to accept. So, I'm trying to stop. I'm making an effort to say nice things about my children whenever I can. Maybe people think that's stuck up.

Wrong.

It's called gratitude.

Everything that is wonderful about my children was already there the moment they were born. The only thing I did that sustains the awesome rests on not messing up the awesome. The compliments I spout about my children are not compliments about me. They are truly about them

I theorize that people make fun of their children to other parents because they see it as a form of self deprecation. Some of the best comedians today are masters of this. As an audience, we feel relief because we feel vulnerable most of the time and it terrifies us. Then, here's this guy or gal who's making fear into something funny, so, hey, this putting yourself out there, warts and all, is not so bad.

When it's done "right," self deprecation can inspire people to be braver and more open about who they are. Self deprecation when it's done "wrong," though, looks like this: I am going to say shitty things about myself because I feel bad about some aspect of myself. I will say these bad things because if I say them first, well, then, maybe you won't say them. If I say them in a funny way, then I can join in the laughter first instead of being laughed at. I'm afraid to be wrong. I'm afraid to feel foolish. I will hide that fear here in these jokes.

Oye. This is not healthy.

Furthermore, you are wrong. There is nothing worse or more shitty about you than there is about any of the rest of us. You are fine. Those bad things you're saying about yourself aren't even apparent to the rest of the world. Many times, we only notice them when you point them out.

Back to the children, though. Because it's always about the children. I think people say sarcastic things about their children's behavior or performance because they're accustomed to self deprecation as an expression of insecurity.

Most of us give a lot of lip service to the idea that we know our children are not extensions of ourselves. This most of us excludes my mother, who I recall said exactly, "you are an extension of me" to me at many points in my life. Yes. Seriously. They call Chinese American moms "Tiger Moms," but they don't realize that tigers are indigenous to the Asian subcontinent. Indo-Pak moms wrote the Tiger Mom manual. Chinese moms just stole that noise and mass produced it at a more affordable rate and had a better marketing plan. Like they tend to do. 

Cerebreally, we know that children are not extensions of us. They are their own beings with their own personalities, desires and dreams. On a gut level, though, we forget that. This forgetfulness is most apparent when our most vulnerable moments are relived.

Like watching the kid play organized team sports.

Or competing in a spelling bee.

Or being in a play.

Or swinging a golf club in front of an audience. 

Or anything that might have produced failure anxiety in us as children. 

In those moments, we become our children, and so we engage in this false self deprecation.

We make jokes about how they're never going to play in the World Cup (btw, who says you get to decide that based on one lousy practice, buddy?). Or how they definitely don't have a career in art based on some picture they brought home.

We say these things because we think, it's my kid.

But. Here's a thought: he or she is not your kid.

Oh, relax they're not the mailman's either.

That child is their own person. She belonged to herself from day one. You are responsible for her. That is not the same thing as ownership. If it were, there wouldn't be two separate definitions for these words in the dictionary.

Making fun of this child is not self deprecation. It is plain, old deprecation. And that is simply unkind.

You have the honor of helping children unfold into the human they are destined to be. They will grow into a being that is wonderful and amazing, and all you have to do to make that happen is to let it happen. Beleive that they are good, wise and wonderful from the onset. Stop worrying. Stop trying to control them. They're not lions that need to be tamed.

They are the epitome of human perfection. Children are ALREADY perfect. We erode this perfection when we neglect to acknowledge it. We slowly destroy it by imposing our own fears upon them and assuming that thier destinies hold for them what ours held for us.

Be kind to them. 

Kindness is tricky to implement. Sometimes, kind means buying them stuff, many times it means NOT buying them stuff. Sometimes, it means saying yes, other times it means saying, NO WAY. Sometimes it means acknowledging their disappointment, often it means helping them move on from it. 

All you have to do is not mess this perfect thing up by saying or doing too much.

The to dos are simple.

Say nice things about them both when they can hear you and when they can't hear you. Do it. All the time.

Frequently show gratitude for how capable and lovely your children are.

Don't give in to the easy bonding moments of tearing them down a little. A few bonding moments at shmocker shmractices might be lost here or there, but I think that's okay. I reject the notion of bonding over unhealthy expressions of vulnerability. When I look at my kids and I see them for who they are in all of their freaking majesty, and I am not even being hyperbolic there, there is no belly laugh born of sarcasm that can compare to giving in to that feeling.

As a mother, I want my chldren to see that feeling of recognizing their innate greatness when I look at them, and I can't get to that feeling if I'm too busy hiding my fears behind the quips that insinuate these children are one step above bumbling puppies.

I want my children to see their greatness reflected in my expression when I talk about them or look at them. As a teacher, I want your children to see this in your eyes, too: because I'm telling you the moment they see that, it will make all the difference in every way. For all of us.

Saturday
Mar162013

Helping

My music is a time machine.

Put the earbuds in.

Turn up the volume.

The world of this moment disintegrates into the infiniteness of the universe. Time goes faster. I’m thrust into the future. I’m me, but maybe more… maybe less. It paints reality with a subjective brush — dark colors or light… it depends on the fuel in the machine today. The notes. The rhythm. The words.

Today, the time machine is set to high speed and forward. Time machines are especially convenient in this way. Propelling you past the moments you couldn't care less for… towards being “done” and past the wisdoms that imply journeys are esteemed over destinations. Case in point, I’m scrubbing the children’s bathroom.

The agenda today was to clean my own bathroom. Uno. One bathroom. Not two.

I was scrubbing the shower and the children were impressed by my fervent commitment to clean. A moment of inspiration hit them and they announced their intentions to clean their bathroom, too, because they wanted to “help.” I smiled to let them know that they are sweet and good and kind to think of their mother. Then, I went back to scrubbing as the music that is now a little older than I feel comfortable with did the task of making time move faster.

And then there was screaming. “My AIIII-YZZZ!!”

I paused my time machine and turned around to find my dear daughter grabbing a hand towel to wipe her eyes down. “MAIIII AIIIYYYYYZZZZZ!!!”

People who are good in emergencies know one thing that people who are not good in emergencies do not know. 

You must keep calm. 

No matter how much despair promises to crash upon you, for God’s sake, keep calm. I’m good at emergencies. My daughter is not. And before we discuss the thirty year age difference, know that I have always been good at emergencies. Even when I was seven. My theory is that every human being needs to express a certain amount of drama in a lifetime. I express mine in little doses all day and my daughter who is an extremely calm person in her every day life expresses them when she gets soap in her eyes.  

 “Am I going to go bliiiind? OWWWW!!”

“Of course not, it’s just soap. Hold still.”

“Do I have to go to the hospital?!!”

“No. Hold still, I have to rinse your eye.”

“BE CAREFUL.”

“I haven’t raised you so far without being careful… now… hold… still… and STOP touching your eyes.”

“I think I need a doctor!!”

“You do not need a doctor. You need to hold still and stop touching your eye.”

And through all this, the three year old is yelling in the background like some sort of narcissist, “Mama, you have to come see the baffroom, I cleaned it so well, we’re helpers.”

So, we take care of the soap in her eyes and when she is moderately calm, I ask her exactly what kind of soap caused her to eyes to burn. Between you and me, I’m worried about the fact that she used the crazy scrub free bathroom cleaner spray that probably has some chemical in it that would, in fact, cause blindness or, even worse, result in a trip to the emergency room that would require me to change out of my bleach stained yoga pants that are reserved for bathroom cleanings. To my surprise, she takes me to the kitchen and hands me dish soap.

My first thought is to pat myself on the back for getting that free and clear brand that doesn’t have anything but plain old soap in it. 

My second thought is, “Oh, shit.”

As a dishwashing expert I know this: dish soap means a lot of bubbles. Mounds of bubbles. Dish soap is made for washing dishes as the name cleverly implies. It is not particularly suited to cleaning bathrooms. Speaking of small doses of daily drama, I feel the drama queen within me practicing vocal exercises like an opera diva in a green room. Then, I remember. 

“We’re going to help.” 

They are good, sweet and kind to help their mama. 

I park the girl on the couch with a washcloth over her eye because she insists that her eye still hurts which I know is absolutely untrue. The boy takes me to the bathroom which, my friends, is not clean. Like, at all. It's a mess of dirt and bubbles and reminds me of this party I went to in Cancun back in 1993 where they sprayed foam from the ceilings or something crazy like that. It’s a beautiful shower stall streaked with soapy residue. It’s a floor smattered with water, dust, toilet paper and bubbles. It’s a rug with… is that…what the hell… toothpaste?

A mass of light brown curls fall over his eyes, and he looks up glowing, “See?! Clean! Just like you do.”

I want to tell them both that this isn’t clean. I want to say, "Never, ever do this ever again!"

I feel the strong urge to let them know that they didn’t help me, but instead have created work for me. No, more importantly, they stole the hour I planned on using to finish a book before they’re dad got home. I want to. So very bad.

I don’t.

Because I’ve been here.

I’ve wanted to help someone and made a mess of things. I’ve been all good intentions with toothpaste on the rug and dirt and soap and toilet paper smushed on the floor. I'm not sure what that metaphor is about, but the answer may well still be in Cancun. Today, my children get a pass. One day, I will prepare them better. One day, I’ll teach them how to clean a bathroom. I’ll explain that intention isn’t enough.

Not today. Because while it isn’t enough, intention is necessary. The hope of us all lies in good intentions and in this damned bathroom with dish soap streaked on its stalls and toothpaste smeared on the ceramic tiles, and this mess isn’t just a symbol of all of my children’s love and good intentions — it’s a symbol of all of our good intentions. Yours. Mine. Today, my inner drama queen will have to wait for the moment she steps on a lego or a matchbox car (because that’s clearly evil). Today,  she will bask in intention and process.

No matter how terribly wrong the result.

Monday
Nov122012

Epic Battle: Ninjas vs. Burqas

 

 

This is rad. I hope that if you ever have a question like this that you ask me. I think it shows initiative and a deep sense of compassion to want to say and do the right thing. Also, four year olds are hilarious.

So, let's talk abount ninjas versus niqabis. (A niqab is the veil part that goes across the face and a niqabi is an Urdu slang term for women who cover their faces.)

With absolutely no disrespect to my face covering sisters in Islam, I can totally see the ninja-niqabi connection.The subtle differences in clothing are difficult to ascertain, especially for a four year old.

But the question isn't why does a four year old think a Muslim woman with her face covered is a ninja because that's an honest and obvious comparison. We are more concerned here with how we can make this a teachable moment.

1. This.is.SERIOUS.

Put your hand over your mouth, turn your head, pretend you're coughing and get the laughter out of your system. While this situation is hilarious (did I tell you about the time that N. thought Taye Diggs was Barack Obama?), it's important to turn this moment into an opportunity to develop compassion for the different. Laughing with your child is great, but it's important to make sure it's not distracting.

What to Say: "Other than those face coverings, what else looks like ninja clothing? Don't ninjas have swords? Aren't their clothes tighter?" My response to N.'s misperception regarding our president was something to the effect of "Are that man's shoulders as broad as the other handsome guy you saw at the DNC?"

2. Down with Shame!

There is nothing wrong with a child confusing a woman with a veiled face for a ninja, so don't make them feel bad for saying that. Ignorance is not the biggest obstacle to the elimination of bigotry. It's shame. People often feel shamed for making a mistake and then they fight that shame with anger, actual bigotry and denial. 

What to say: "You're right, what she's wearing is very similar to a ninja's mask, but she's not a ninja -- that's called a burqah and what she's wearing on her face is called a niqab." At this point, most children are going to ask another question. If they're under six and don't ask any more question, this is like the sex talk-- just answer what they've asked and don't go any further. Give them the minimum amount of information so they don't feel overwhelmed or worse bored.

3. Identify simple lessons in the opportunity.

Geography is super fun, so try explaining the disparate geography of the ninja and the niqabi. Use it to distract from topics that will likely lead to an incredibly controversial discussion on the constructed cultural concepts of modesty, patriarchy and the Western objectification of Middle Eastern women. And why they're called "Chinese stars" when ninjas originated in Japan.

What to Say: "I definitely see how that veil reminds you of a ninja mask, but did you know ninjas originated in Japan and the veil's history is in the Middle East?"

4. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another.

And also how you and I are going to save the world together. Let's bring home the point that everyone has different ways of expressing their feelings about clothing. This is a great opportunity to discuss relativism (how much should people cover) and acceptance (how much business do others have in telling people what to cover).

What You Can Say: "Would you go to the grocery store in your underwear? Why or why not? Do you think I would? Why or why not?" Okay, don't say the "why or why not" thing. Do explore with your child the different ways that we determine what is okay to wear and what is not. Move a step further by exploring the issue of how we feel about someone else bringing their determinations from another country. I know this is a tough topic, but that doesn't make it less important. Remember that while your child is their own person, you do have a right to present your beliefs within the context of a value system you've chosen to implement in your home.

5.. It's really just a piece of cloth over someone's face. Mostly.

Here is something to consider: men who ascribe to the practice of Islam which mandates face veiling are required to grow beards that are of a certain length (no longer than a clenched fist) and must wear their clothes in a certain way (for example, the cuffs of their pants must not go below their ankles). And, in my experience, the husbands of women who cover their faces generally adhere to these rules stringently. They never seem to make it as topics for debate on TV or the Internet. Why is that? Something for you (and your child depending on their age) to think about it.

What to Say: I don't know. I just felt the need to throw this last one in there. You do what you want with it!

The thing of it is that a person who wonders (worries) about approaching a cultural misunderstanding with grace has nothing to worry about in the first place. Asking ourselves questions about how we can coexist and be sensitive to difference is an important skill that you can only model by doing.

If you have any questions for me, always feel free to tweet me or post a message my Facebook Community page.

 

Monday
Nov052012

Election Day is Coming. And I Decide to Brainwash My Child.

As the presidential race comes to a close, I'm proud to say that both of the children have grown in their awareness not only of the election, but some of the issues, as well. At my Babble Voices Blog, Native Born and Raised, I explain how I tried to teach N. the difference between Republicans and Democrats and how that was a colossal failure.

We value ideas because they are, wait for it, valuable to us. Many times, we choose one set of values over another because we believe that what we have chosen is superior to the alternative. Not all the time is about superiority, but most of the time is. So, when I explain politics to my child, no matter what I say  or what my intention is, I color that presentation with the passion of what I believe to be both just and true.

You can read the whole post here.

Also, many thanks to Nijamatics for the DOPEST MASTHEAD EVER.

Tuesday
Aug212012

Parenthood: 7 Myths I've Let Go of on My Seventh Anniversary

Carriage Ride through Downtown Memphis: Happy Seventh Birthday to My PrincessYesterday was my seventh anniversary as a parent.

I was thirty when I became a mother. Thirty years old is that age where you know a lot of stuff. You're your own person. You know how the world works. You know the rules.

When I first met Tariq at nineteen, I told him I wanted to send my children to boarding school. I know. I KNOW.

My reason was that boarding school was prestigious. Also, it would make my children stronger and "networked". Shut up. I think I was coming out of of a period of time where I read a lot of early twentieth century English literature.

When I became a parent, I became the poster parent for attachment parenting, though. We co-slept, I nursed, no television before two, no stroller, baby sling only, no fast food before three, constant attention... preschool didn't start until four and that, too, because there was a new baby and I was really, really tired.

Prior to preschool, I couldn't leave my daughter with anyone besides my mother for more than a day, so, needless to say, boarding school was out.

Look, becoming a first time mother was absolutely incredible.

I was proud of myself. Within a few weeks of parenthood, I had been flexible enough to understand that there is a distinctness between the idea of how I envisioned parenthood and how I actually practiced parenthood. Some things, you have to do to know what you really think they're all about. This is absolutely applicable to someone not having children and being 36. I have no idea what that's like. I have very clear ideas of what I think that should be like. It involves Paris, Italy and Spain, waiting tables for food money but spending it on incredibly beautiful shoes instead.

Being a parent constantly pushes at my notions of the ideal parent-child relationship. I've come to realize that the most tension between children and their parents (even into adulthood) occurs as a result of someone clinging too tightly to the ideal and not making peace with the real. 

When my daughter was born, I thought it was my job to teach her about reality. The same was true for my son. I have come to realize, of course, that we teach each other. We have been placed in one another's lives for a reason and that, as it is in all things, there is a balance of what we can offer to one another. Some days, I nurture my children and teach them value of love and respect. More often than not, though, they teach me those things and so much more. Like, nothing... and I mean, nothing, gets purple permanent markers out of a cream colored sofa. 

1. When I became a mother, I thought it was my job to make sure my children were good, decent, people who were kind and compassionate. I now know that children are born kind, compassionate, good, wise and decent. They stay that way when I treat them that way. The trick is to be what you expect from others. Want nice? Be nice.

2. As a new mother, I thought that I had to do everything in my power to protect my children from any and all harm. I have learned that it is inevitable that my children will come to harm. Something bad will happen to them one day. I can be wary, I can be wise, but I cannot protect them forever. I can only remind them that they are powerful enough to survive harm and that when they feel they aren't -- I will hold them up. I will be there. I can spend my time constantly watching our backs or I can spend my time feeling the joy of being together. I can't do both.

3. I once thought that children are a reflection of their parent's behavior, values and actions. I think parents can exert great influence over their children's actions and choices to an extent. I beleive that my children's actions are a reflection of how they perceive my integrity, though. If I want them to emulate my behavior, I must make sure that my behavior is grounded in good intention, well thought out values and integrity. I also must ensure that I never expect from my children more than I expect of myself.

4. Children are the charges of their parents. I have learned that you are in charge of you. I am in charge of me. Our connection is not based on power or hierarchy, but upon mutual respect and trust. Children aren't different. In an ideal scenario, I trust that that my child will do the right thing when presented with the facts, and my child will trust that I am telling them the truth when I present them with what I believe is the truth. I may not be correct, but I am doing my best to be so. That matters more. The greatest punishment either one of us can undergo is to feel that we have lost the trust of the person we love.. even if for a moment. 

5. I used to believe that children crave discipline and consequences the way I crave a McFlurry on a 100F Memphis afternoon. Actually, children crave respect. It's not consequences that they need to thrive and grow, it's accountability. It's the knowledge that they matter, that what they do matters and when they don't do what they're supposed to do -- like any valuable member of a community -- everyone feels the consequences of that. Showing someone that what they do matters is respect. People who feel respected require little discipline from others.

6. The Chimpmunks are horrible and will completely destroy any hope that my child has good taste in music. I still think this might be true. Children will like what children like. We can fight it or we can try to see the value in what they like. Maybe if we do that, they'll make an effort to like what we like. I plan on trying to pitch Bob Dylan as an antidote to the Chipette's version of Bad Romance. Pray for me.

7. Parenthood is full of crazy opportunities to be sarcastic and funny about our kids. But I will not do this to their faces or in their hearing ranges one day longer. This is difficult. So.difficult. Because I'm horribly sarcastic. The thing is, I don't ever want my children to be someone's punchline. I don't want the responsibility of teaching them that it's okay for someone to make them a punchline. They're not punchlines to anyone's jokes. They are my most incredible treasures. Addendum: if you and me are on the phone and they can't hear us? I'm totally making fun of them.

 

What about you? Are there any myths you've had to let go of when it comes to children?