Mom + Camera + Cute = Internet?

Is it a meditating rice field worker? a chick semi-hatched from its shell? a six year-old who busted a globe in half because he was pretending it was a soccer ball and is now trying to be a comic? (“Take my picture! Take my picture!”)

It will be a cold day in hell when my little guy cooperates for a “decent” photo in the traditional sense. Tongue stuck out, eyes shut tight, face covered — most of our pictures of him consist of that.

Fred also now gets “Facebook” and “blog,” and seems to make the connection that Funny Fred + Mom + Camera = Facebook or Blog. The other night straight after his shower he tied his leopard print towel around his neck and flew onto his bed arms and face first as if he were Superman. I pulled out my camera, with the intention of capturing this funny moment but not of posting him and his nakedness anywhere. At the sight of my camera, though, he had instructions:

“Oh…can you please not put my picture on Facebook? I don’t want people to see my butt.”

“Don’t worry, I’m definitely not putting this on Facebook.” I reassured him.

“Oh, wait, wait – ” Fred scrambled to find his Osh Kosh B’gosh underpants and pulled them on. “Okay, now you can put me on Facebook!”

Well, despite his pleas, I’m not going to put him and his undies up on Facebook. I love that, in some abstract way, he has some sense of what Facebook and blogs are. I love how Fred’s now entered my internet world and is a somewhat active participant in it, sometimes suggesting topics and photos for my blog. But how do I explain to him why I don’t want to upload certain photos of him? How do I tell him that, actually, where I spend time telling my stories is not the safest place in the world? At six his time on the computer is still very much limited to the reading program his teacher has put his class on and to the periodic game playing on pbskids.org. So maybe this conversation can wait. After all, at school he just heard the lecture about people who touch children in the wrong places. How much fear do they need to make room for all at once?

I do wonder, though, if Fred will grow up in a generation where personal stories and photos on the internet are second nature, where privacy means a different thing than it did when I was growing up. When I was 15 my modes of communication with friends consisted of the telephone and folded up handwritten notes passed during class; how I’m going to navigate Fred’s teen years and cyberspace, I have no idea. But anway, I won’t think about that just yet. For now I’ll just enjoy my little guy for the ham that he is, and I will show him off with discretion ūüėČ

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecilyand Caitlin

Mothering, Memories

Something must be in the Mother’s Day Eve air because it seems that everywhere I looked this week mothers were talking about memories and growing children and their accompanying bittersweet emotions.

Some wonderful articles and blog posts on the subject that I found these last few days:

(1) Letting Go of Your Kids, Little by Little

This is Alice Bradley’s recent column in Redbook magazine. As many of you may know, she is the author of Finslippy. It’s a quick read about the “different” boys she’s had from infancy to now. Alice’s son is just a year older than mine, and I nodded in recognition in some places while I had to hold back tears in others. It looks like it may be less than a year that my son might stop wanting to hold hands with me.

(2) Three is a Magic Number

Aging Mommy writes a lovely post about the bittersweet feelings she experienced when she saw that her 3 year-old daughter was able to wheel her shopping cart around the market and do quite a good and independent job shopping herself.¬† She writes: “I was bursting with pride and at the same time practically wanting to weep – because once again, I was reminded of the fact that she is changing so much and so quickly and these days of her being just three will soon be gone too.”

(3) With Love, Mom

Good Day, Regular People shared with us another mom blogger’s idea of writing letters to her children and having them professionally bound for her children. Commenters chimed in with their own wonderful ideas of how they pass their legacies to their children.

In a related post in February, I wrote about Writing My Family’s Memories.

There are a number of ways I’m trying to preserve our family’s memories and stories but I’m afraid I’ve been going about it in a completely disorganized away. I have several handwritten journals, a Word journal, this blog and a private blog that I wrote in 2007-08 which I plan to restart, and folders and folders of Fred’s drawings, worksheets, etc. I have half a dozen blank photo albums and two boxes of scrapbooking supplies. I even have a huge bag of squares I had cut out from Fred’s baby clothes and some fantasy that I will actually make a quilt out of them one day. (Yeah, right!) At the rate I’m going, I’m afraid I might be spending my empty nest years putting together these things! What are you all doing to preserve the memories??

(4) Six Words on Why Moms Matter

In a project to raise awareness of mothers around the world who live in extreme poverty, Women ONE2ONE, in partnership with Smith magazine, are inviting readers to compose their own 6-word memoirs on why mothers matter.¬†To submit your own 6-word memoir, click on the title Six Words on Why Moms Matter above. My 6-word memoirs: “She will sacrifice anything for her children” and “Loves her children more than herself.”

(5) And finally, while I didn’t win Kate Hopper’s haiku contest with my poem about, ahem, leaking, the lovely and talented Pia at The Crack and the Light did with a stunning poem about what she didn’t know about motherhood. So I’d like to end my post here with her haiku, which amazes me with its beauty and simplicity in how it captures, in 17 syllables, exactly how it feels to be a mother:

My heart left my chest
In tiny jeans and t-shirt
Walks around, exposed

It’s a Cruel, Cruel World

Almost every night for the last six years I have lain down with Fred as he drifts off to sleep. Some may question the prudence of this, but, seeing how my days of cuddling my little boy are numbered, I don’t mind snuggling with him for 15 minutes each night. And lately, as a newly minted six year-old, he’s had alot on his mind, and it’s during these 15 minutes in the dark that he shares his deepest thoughts and burning questions with me. Take this conversation from last night:

“Mommy, there are some people who ask you to do something and they say they will give you something if you do it and then you do what they ask you to do but you don’t get what they said they are gonna give you even if you do what they tell you to do.”

“Uh – can you say that again-”

“Yeah, yeah, it happened to me,” he nodded without having heard me.¬†“once.”

“Oh, good,” I said, relieved that he can use a real life example and help me to decipher what I understood to be an important revelation to him about the human condition. “Tell me what happened to you.”

“Okay. Pretend this is me, okay?” and he holds up one finger on his left hand. “And pretend this is the other person, okay?” He holds up a finger on his right hand.

“I am playing on the swing. Then this person comes over and says, ‘Hey, I wanna play on the swing.’ And I say, ‘NO.’ and he says, ‘Well, if you let me play on the swing I’ll give ya some, uh, I don’t know, let’s pretend – some, some¬†candy.'”

“And what did you do?”

“I gave him my swing, of course. Then later when I went back to the cafeteria¬†I waited and waited. And then – oh, it doesn’t matter anyway because it’s not good.”

“You mean he never gave you the candy?”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s not good because the candy is not good for you?”

“Yeah.”

“And that’s why it doesn’t matter?”

“Yeah.”

“He lied, didn’t he?”

“Yeah.”

“Did that make you mad?”

Fred lets out a long, drawn-out sigh.

Aaaanyway,¬†it doesn’t matter. But next time someone wants something and asks me to do something and says he’s gonna give me something to do the thing¬†he wants me to do,¬†I’m not gonna do it.”

And so at the ripe old age of six Fred got suckered for the first and, according to him, the last time. Last week he learned that just because your friend Ronny invites you to his house for his birthday and gives you the name of the¬†7 mile-long main¬†street where he lives,¬†it doesn’t mean you are actually invited because Ronny’s mommy never gave an official invitation to this mommy.¬†In time he will also realize that one of his best girl friends¬†Kara is beginning to¬†distance herself more and more, simply because her other girlfriends¬†are telling her that boys are stupid and she shouldn’t play with them, a worry that has been troubling¬†Kara’s mother. It breaks my heart that part of growing up also means being forced to let go of that kind world his Mommy and Daddy told him about. “Be nice,” “Be respectful,” we tell him. Fred tries to be these things, but is realizing too soon that not everyone goes by¬†the same rules.

Now Fred is beginning to learn about the way life works outside of his home, in that big space where Mommy and Daddy don’t have a whole lot of power to make everything just right. I do hope that in all these discoveries of real life and people and the way they work,¬†though, Fred will also remember the time Helena wrote and hand-delivered to our house a get well note when he fell off his bike, and the time Jack shared half his cookie with him even though he was hungry enough to eat the whole thing himself. Yes, my baby is growing up. And as long as he’ll let me, I’ll snuggle with him and let him know there’s a safe and happy place to go home to, no matter how cruel life gets.

Don’t Let the Cyber-Turkeys Get You Down

Years ago, when the word “blog” was about as much a household word as, say, “widget” is today, a friend of mine encouraged me to start my own blog. Michael was an African-American expat in Asia and he wrote a popular blog on his travels and experiences. He glowed when he talked about the friends he had made on-line, friends who even sent him food and other gifts from as far away as Australia (ahem, hint hint). I listened to Michael with incredulousness. He used his full and real name on his blog! He even had photos of himself and his wife! “But I don’t want people to be mean to me,” I had said, memories of my mother’s friend’s daughter teasing and calling me a “cry baby” at age seven resurfacing quickly. “Oh c’mon,” Michael had responded. “You’ll have to be pretty famous before people care enough to start being mean to you.”

Venturing into the internet, to me, is like walking into the ocean. You roll up your pants, inch slowly into the clearness and feel an immediate jolt of cold. Then you wiggle your toes a bit, dig them in and out of the sand and feel the heat of the sun on your back. Before long the cold is forgotten and the temperature feels just right, and you walk in a little further. You walk and walk until the water is about to reach your pants and you can’t roll them up any higher. For now, this is the signal that this is as far you’ll go. For now.

In the three years following that conversation with Michael I would start and stop five blogs. The first three were password protected. The first two were shown to no one but Max. The third and fourth were shown to friends, none of who returned to read them again. Then toward the end of February of this year, I made the plunge. I listed my blog on a small handful of blog directories. I released Gingertea12 from her duties and used my real name. Suddenly, I wanted people to see my blog and I wanted to hear from them. And hear from them I would, slowly and gradually. The comments have been positive. In fact, some would make me so happy that my heart would feel close to bursting, making me realize, this is what I have been wanting to hear from my mother all these years! Blogging really is better than therapy.

And it is this feeling of sunniness, this myopia that cyberspace is a universe of warmth and virtual hugs, that makes me tread further into the ocean of faceless communication. I frequent parenting forums and I get hooked into the debates of the latest parenting news that make the headlines, parenting practices, and parenting beliefs. I am astonished at the level of emotion that these arguments generate – emotions that blur a poster’s ability to respect fellow posters or writers – and many times I finish reading the comments feeling more agitated and angry than satisfied at having discussed an issue thoroughly.

A couple of weeks ago I came upon an essay written by the writer and journalist Delia Lloyd. She had written a guest post on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog about her ambivalence over her current roles in her family’s life. It is an honest story that so many mothers who have never felt 100% sure of their decisions can relate to and it is one that isn’t tied up neatly at the end. To my shock, commenters sprang on her hurling judgmental remarks with words like “self-centered” and “get over it.” I saw the word “puke” in one comment. I added my comment and Delia was kind enough to write back. See? There is a human being behind every comment, blog post and article.

Of course, those of you who read Motherlode may say, well, the New York Times’ Motherlode is itself the motherload of parenting vitriol. And like a masochist I do go back for more, checking out the posts regularly, and commenting when a topic resonates with me.

Then last week one topic surfaced which I felt strongly about. I typed a quick 50-word response and was shocked to find that, within the hour, a commenter had responded to me, calling my attitude “inane” and going so far as to say that I was damaging my son’s potential. He then slipped in one final sarcastic comment to ridicule – the cherry on top of his foaming at the mouth – that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. But I got it. His point was not simply to disagree and offer another viewpoint; his intention was to put me in my place for expressing an opinion that differed from his.

I recently found, through Delia Lloyd’s blog, an article on this type of cyber-bullying. The comments to this piece are varied, as readers offer their own theories for why people bring adulthood debate to the level of 5th grade playground tactics. My personal opinion is that we now communicate invisibly and, just like road rage, it is much easier to feel a sense of protection when your target can’t see you (and you can’t see him/her) and can’t really hold you accountable for what you say. The internet gives us the freedom to, for once, not feel restricted in the face-to-face obligations of good manners and respect. We get to go back to being 5th graders without the threat of detention or a call to our parents. Being mean and one-upping someone gives those who are unhappy with themselves a temporary feeling of power that perhaps they wish they had in other parts of their lives.

Since last week I had decided to take a break from Motherlode, perhaps for good. It wasn’t because of the comment that I received, though it was the last straw on top of several months of accumulated disgust. I’ve got so much to read on-line and so much to do and so little time in which to do it all. Just like in face-to-face life, I feel too old for the nonsense, and as much as possible I’d like to choose the company that I keep – people who make me laugh and think through intelligent and respectful conversation. I know that I am also still in the honeymoon stage of blog writing and I will continue to come back to this to get my fix of intelligent communication and cyberhugging. And if the day comes when someone besides SPAM wants to be nasty? Then I will think, okay, I have made it; someone thinks I’m important enough for his/her attention.

My Identity as a Writer – Blogger

After falling a bit behind schedule last night I eventually got Fred into bed, and by 9:30 he was breathing steadily and sleeping peacefully. I adjusted his blanket, softly ran my palm over the top of his head, and stepped quietly out of the room. Just a quick check on my blog and e-mail, I told myself, and tonight I’m going to watch the first half of Gran Torino which Netflix delivered well over a week ago. Max had already seen this on the plane at some point so I was on my own with this one.

At 9:32 I log onto my computer. Quickly scrolling down through Facebook I see that my friend Meg has posted something about Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution petition to improve school food. “Put the badge on your blog!” the thumbnail shouted to me, just as I had plans to soon hit the power off on my computer to go hang with Clint Eastwood. “Oh, alright,” I respond silently. It’s for a good cause, after all, and it’ll only take 15, maybe 20 minutes at most.

I click, toggle, blog, and publish. Next to me I hear a click-click-press. Max, who sits about four feet away from me and was doing client work, is logging off his computer. In my peripheral vision I see him head out the room. A few seconds later, I hear a sudden onslaught of voices, music and special effects. The sounds of the t.v. while I am at my computer are unfamiliar ones to me, because normally Max and I watch together.

I toggle back and forth among my three (non-work) e-mail accounts, blog stats page and Facebook, as if an important e-mail, surge in page views or clever status update could pop up while I was momentarily checking one of the other. I also begin this – my next blog post – even though my mind really isn’t capable of anything creative or coherent right at this time. I glance at the little digital clock at the bottom right of my screen. It’s now 10:57. How is it that an hour-and-a-half has already passed? So much for Gran Torino. Each day that I keep this DVD, Netflix is making money off of me.

Sigh. So I continue to read, comment on other blogs, and write.

Eighteen hours earlier I had woken up so tired from one too many nights of trying to cram writing, reading and hubby time into my few free hours each night, and I told myself that today, I will go to bed before midnight. But by now the clock is reading 12:08. So I log off and drag my sorry feet upstairs, feeling down once again. I have accomplished nothing. I didn’t lay a finger on the laundry. I didn’t organize the bills. I didn’t pack Fred’s school bag. I didn’t read my book. I didn’t watch my movie. Now the house is quiet, and when I reach the top step I will see the bedroom dark, and I will have missed another chance to say good night to Max. In the far reaches of my imagination I wonder, will I wake up one day to realize Max has taken up with another woman (or, perhaps, his own blog), so used to my spaciness will he be?

Not all nights are like this, but enough days and nights have passed like this to make me think that I don’t like feeling this way. I don’t like living inside my head. I don’t like being practically sewn into my computer chair. I don’t like feeling like I am sometimes inhabiting a different world from that of my son and husband.

But is it just blogging? Is this not also the ailment of many a writer? The distraction, the tendency to be constantly drafting inside one’s head, the inescapable discomfort of wanting to be at your computer or with your notebook over anything else, the irritation that swells when interrupted by a client’s request or a child’s cry.

A year ago I took a fiction writing class with the writer Masha Hamilton. In the class Masha, an acclaimed novelist and mother of three, talked about the universal guilt that mother writers feel on a regular basis – how they are driven to distraction by their urge to create, how they struggle to balance this with their need to be present with their children and spouses.

And yet when it is writers who feel this struggle there is something almost worthy about it. If we change the word “writer” to “blogger” there is something almost sick about it. We think of the preoccupation that comes with conscientious blogging as an addiction, something that destroys us and those close to us, something that happens because we have lost grip on our priorities and sense of reality.

But what compels me to blog is the same thing that compels me to write. In fact, I took Masha’s course because I wanted to write, not because I wanted to blog. I began blogging as an exercise in discipline. I needed to commit to writing on a regular basis, and I switched from my Word document to a blogging interface in large part because WordPress is such a prettier notepad on which to write. And perhaps there was a part of me that wanted the affirmation of an audience or a community, and I didn’t want to be at the mercy of a faceless editor to get that affirmation.

As a novice blogger I really had no idea how to get this audience, and I was content with having my friend Kathryn as my sole reader. And then the more I blogged and the more blogs I read, unexpected things happened: readers came over, and they left comments or e-mailed me. They liked what I wrote and responded with encouragement. Some even returned for more and passed my link on to their friends. I realized, then, that I was no longer writing to a faceless audience. I felt an incredible surge in energy when I received this kind of feedback. My motivation to write increased, and I felt lifted by this new community of like-minded mother writers. In a short span of time, I had built a very small but warm community of readers and – dare I say – friends. I began to gain more confidence and even pride in my words and my ideas, and this spurred me to keep writing.

At around the same time I began my blogging, I was also taking a creative non-fiction writing class with Kate Hopper. In the class we explored the question of “Why now?” What causes us to write what we do, now? And I began thinking. Why have I felt such a need to write, or to blog? The answer would come to me over the course of my writing. Throughout my life I had not spoken up. There could have been a number of reasons – class, gender, race, genes, environment. I was a first generation American in a blue collar immigrant family and I didn’t dare utter a word of English until I was seven. I was brought up to be a good girl who didn’t rock the boat, who didn’t take up space and who didn’t impose on others with her thoughts. But that was then. Today, after a lifetime of feeling stifled, I have finally given myself permission to take a turn, my turn: my turn to have a voice, my turn to take up some space. And I thank writing – and blogging – for allowing me to do that.

You are My Sunshine

The lovely Alexandra, over at Good Day, Regular People surprised me last Friday (a very warm and sunny day) with this sweet Sunshine Award. She is the kind of blogger and¬†blogger¬†friend that those mom-blogger-haters don’t believe exists in cyberworld, but I – a very normal kind of blogger who showers (most of the time) and who also has lots of flesh-and-blood friends – can attest that she is indeed real. She’s an eloquent and thoughtful writer and loving mom (I can tell from her writings) and a thoroughly warm and supportive friend. She popped into my blog one day and since then has breathed air into my sometimes¬†deflated tires and kept me¬†going. I’d give this award back to her, but it’d be kind of silly I suppose (she already has one, naturally).

So I’d like to now pass this award to three other women who do the same – who cheer me up with each piece of writing, who encourage me to keep going with my own writing. We all know how scary it can be to share our words, and I owe my brave first steps to them:

Alex, at Late Enough

She is a fellow Yankee transplant to the south but so much funnier and more interesting! We have lots in common like the fact that we are both feminists and had wanted a girl but ended up with boys (and we wouldn’t want things any other way), we both believe showers are an annoying stumbling block to our day, and she went to medical school while I dreamed about going (straight Cs in chemistry was kind of the wake-up call). She is my morning coffee and I check her blog before I dare look at my work emails. Also, she’s my first cyberfriend, the one who made me think, “Wow, really? Someone is actually coming back to read my blog, simply because she wants to??” She is so funny and warm and generous.

Kate Hopper, at MotherWords: Mothers Who Write

Kate is a teacher, published author and¬†editor over at¬†my favorite on-line literary journal Literary Mama . I took her writing course MotherWords this spring and I was surprised at how incredibly – and I mean incredibly – warm, supportive and accessible she is. I loved her class and I hope to continue working with her in the future. She’s doing important work to give mother writers the voice they need to get heard in our still male-dominant literary world and I think she is Ms. Sunshine all around.

Kathryn Dilenschneider at The Tea is Always Greener

Not only is Kathryn my cyberfriend, but she is my flesh-and-blood friend!! We lived within 30 minutes of each other in Japan, and it is funny to think that we had first met on-line through a few posts on Babycenter. If there were a platonic version of match.com, we’d be on the commercial. It’d go something like this: (Me): “After a string of screwy girlfriends, I swear I had sworn off friendships. Backstabbing, gossiping, sleeping with my husband, I didn’t want anymore of it. And then one day a friend recommended goodgirlfriends.com, and that’s when I found Kathryn. Not only was she nice, and funny, she told me outright that she had never even seen my husband without his shirt off [and this is an actual quote], she loves my son, and she made me her blogging buddy and became the first friend I shared my blog with.” That is a big deal because it is¬†so much scarier to show your writing to your friends than it is¬†to¬†new people who don’t know you.¬†

Anyway, I did not meant to turn this into a Sally Fields Academy Award speech but how else can I show off my friends??

Thanks again, Alexandra. Have a wonderful, sun-shiny day ūüôā

What No One Ever Told Me…(and in honor of National Poetry Month)

 

A kitchen baster
my vagina becomes for
bath water so warm.

 

I read this haiku to Max yesterday and he thought it was gross, even though I had the sensitivity to arm him with plenty of warnings. Granted, I had to get a little graphic because English is not his first language and I had to tell him what a baster is and what it does. He does cook, so¬†it turns out he knew what a baster is. But he’s a man, so I guess he just never associated it with my vagina.

Five years ago I got out of our hot and deep Japanese bathtub one night only to find myself leaving a trail of quarter-size puddles on the bathroom floor. What the – ?! Where the – ?! And then I realized: water was coming from inside of me. GASP! I was leaking, from down there! Up to that point I had read about hormones crashing, nipples leaking, hairs falling, pee escaping, but no one had told me about this, that stretching the birth canal would equip me with this absolutely useless and annoying ability.

This is a haiku I submitted for my fabulous writing teacher Kate Hopper’s 3rd annual haiku contest. This year’s theme is “What no one told me.” Surely you have some golden nuggets! If yes, please click here to enter your haiku!

When You Don’t Agree with your Parenting Partner

Ten years ago Max and I met at work in Tokyo. He was in the sales department and I was a part-time American staff member. Stolen glances, accidental brushes against each other’s fingers, pseudo language lessons, all of that culminated in a fine international courtship and then marriage. Nearly 9¬†years later, we are still together, language and cultural barriers and all.

But of course, because marriage wasn’t challenging enough, we decided to build a business together at the same time that we decided to raise a child together. Friend after friend after friend has said, “I don’t know how you do it. I would’ve killed my husband/wife by now.”

To be sure I don’t know how we did it. Though I will reveal something that usually surprises people: working together is the easy part. It’s the parenting together that had sometimes pit us against one another.

As a non-athletic person, the closest I have ever come to teamwork is playing the Milton Bradley version of Family Feud. But even then it wasn’t teamwork really; my teammates relied on my expertise on top 10 American factoids to answer¬†survey questions and one’s smarts alone are what counts. Not so when it comes to team parenting, where one parent’s “smarts” can be another parent’s loss of power. Take for example one memorable, straw-that-broke-the-camel’s back argument when Fred was 6 months old.

Me:¬† What’s that you’re giving Fred, fish?

Max: Yeah. What’s wrong with it?

Me: Well…

Max: What’s wrong with it?

Me: I don’t think you should be giving him fish just yet.

CRASH. Dish of fish flies into the sink.

I had stayed home that first year because in Japan I had a one-year maternity leave (and PAID), and in the absence of my husband who was chained to his company 14-16 hours a day, I had to do what I needed to hold down the fort. In time, this meant developing my own system of doing things, reading up on the latest in childcare from solid food feeding to vaccinations, and simply building a very strong intuitive sense about my child that was made possible by being with him 24 hours a day. It didn’t take long for one partner to become more of the “expert” than the other when it came to matters of the home. Despite comments to the contrary,¬†I knew that Fred’s small tummy rumble would mean trouble 2 hours later on the school playground. I knew that allowing him that first taste of chocolate milk would spell disaster for the next 3 years. And yet. I learned in time that sometimes I had to bite my tongue for the sake of my marriage. I couldn’t call all the shots, I know. I had to let my husband find his own way and style of parenting. The trouble was, when to speak up and how? And when to shut up?

We’ve struggled so much over differences in parenting styles, the origins of which would be traced back to the way our parents raised us. The problem is that we never talked about it, because we took our own parenting styles for granted. How naive we were to think that just because¬†we both loved Grey’s Anatomy and sushi and even worked so well together in business that we would also be on the same page when it comes to¬†child discipline? So we never talked about it, and the shock would come the first time we see the other person lose his/her temper,¬†dismiss a wrongdoing, or serve the “wrong” food. Hey, you’re breaking the rules! Hey – you never told me the rules.

So one day, after many months of disagreeing (fighting), I sat down and decided I was going to approach our parenting project just as I would a work project, and I would talk to my husband the same way I would talk to a colleague (without screaming). I wrote a parenting policy statement. Goals. What is our mission in raising Fred? Rules. What is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, for both child and parent? Solutions. What do we do if any of the rules are violated? No, we never really followed this but it was a trigger to finally have a dialogue about parenting. Using the document lowered the emotional temperature of our shared responsibility and translated it into a language Рthat of business Рwe both could speak with some level of reason.

It’s been a long six years in terms of becoming true partners. Dealing with our differences meant dealing with our childhoods, our weaknesses…in other words, the cliched baggage that now seeps into the way we parent. It’s been a tough road that we’ve been able to stay on because the one thing stronger than our differences is our love. But we both have the same goal – to be happy in our family and to be the best parents we can be – and that at least is a compass we both can follow.

Have you had parenting differences with your partner? If yes, how did you deal with them?

Happy Birthday

…to my mom, who turns 70 today! She is the most private person in the world and it would freak her out to know that I¬†would¬†blast her birthday wish out in cyberspace (not that she can quite put her finger on what “cyber” means), so I thought I’d compromise and embed the wishes within the post.

But I’m feeling guilt today because I feel I didn’t do enough.

I never know what to get my mother, because she insists she has everything. When I was growing up she  criticized the gifts I gave if she felt they were a waste of my savings and would tell me to return them. Since then I have learned that the only gift she feels worth having is some cash, or, of course, a phone call. 

I finally decided to order her some photos of Fred, but a botched printing job left me without photos and little time to come up with something else she would like equally as much. So on Sunday I had Fred draw a 9 x 12 birthday card on construction paper. He took advantage of some Chinese (my mother’s native tongue) characters he’d just learned at his Chinese language program, and on his own initiative and to my surprise, he wrote in Chinese, “I love Grandma.” The plan for later this evening is for him to call her and sing a Chinese poem that he recently learned.

On Monday I¬†put Fred’s card and a gift card to her favorite department store into a Priority Mail envelope and had it shipped up the east coast for more than double what it would have cost had I planned better. On Tuesday as I was driving Fred home from school I prepped him mentally to make a phone call to Grandma today (because he hates talking on the phone).¬†“It’s important, Fred, because” – and that’s when it hit me – “Grandma is celebrating a big birthday tomorrow. She’ll be turning 70.”

My friend C. and her brother had a family reunion in Honolulu for their father’s 70th birthday. My cousins in California had rented out an entire restaurant to throw a bash for their parent’s 70th, complete with microphones and gifts made of gold. Presentations were made and professional photographs were snapped. And then there’s me. All I did was send a card and a gift card. I should’ve planned better. I should’ve done more.

It isn’t like I wasn’t thinking of my mom. I have actually been on the phone with her and my dad these last several days, trying to help them¬†iron out a last minute tax emergency they had run into. For my 10-page writing assignment that I submitted yesterday to my writing instructor¬†I¬†had written about my mother. She was definitely on my mind, and on the phone. Somehow, the fact that she was about to celebrate a major birthday milestone didn’t register deeply enough.

I know that¬†part of this¬†is the fact that we don’t make big deals out of birthday “milestones” in our family (aside from that very first one). Turning 16 or 21 or 40 is the same as turning 17 or 22 or 41. They’re – we’re – understated when it comes to celebrations and we have a small family. Part of it is because (and I know this may sound weird) we don’t truly know how old she really is. They didn’t keep birth records in her town in China, and up to now she’s been estimating her age. But her passport says 1940 and for the most part we go by that. But a big part, I know, is that I think I am just accustomed to receiving, as a daughter. It doesn’t help that we live several states apart. If they were even 50 miles away, we’d do dinner tonight. We’d visit in person and do something special. But when it’s my birthday, despite the distance,¬†there will be a 10-lb package delivered to our door, three days in advance. It will contain items – clothing, food¬†– that my mother has spent the last three months shopping for. My birthday is something she thinks about and begins working on months in advance. I do believe that, if she were my daughter, I’d do the same. Her birthday would be a big deal. It would be cause for celebration. Its planning¬†would rank right up there with client work, housework, my personal writing.

And then I think…what would I expect for my birthday, from my child? Would I be looking for a spa weekend, or a bouquet of flowers, or a¬†cashmere sweater? How happy I was this past birthday when Fred drew a card for me with his best handwriting, “I love you Mommy!” and when he got so giddy the morning of my birthday simply because it was my birthday. On that day I felt like the luckiest woman alive, to have the love of my two guys, to be blessed with such an incredible little boy.¬†As a mother¬†I¬†never¬†forget the gift of¬†motherhood, and to me I already received the greatest gift I¬†could ever get, 6 years ago in the delivery room.

Maybe this is¬†what my mother¬†meant when she told me to return those material gifts all those years and just pocket the money. As a fellow mom, I¬† know she doesn’t expect anything from me except a phone call and to know that I remembered. But as her daughter, I just wish I had done more…not because I believe she needs another sweater or necklace but because I am equating attention with priority. My husband and my son are my central points of focus in life now, and I know I have given my mother¬†a backseat, a supporting role in the background while I¬†will always¬† be her front and center.¬†So, I wish I had done more…because I¬† know that with each passing birthday, I will¬†be getting fewer and fewer second chances.

When Children (and even Adults) are Shy

We were waiting for a table for brunch yesterday when a little boy started talking to Fred. “Hey, what’s your name?” he¬†asked. Fred took a¬†sideways glance at him and didn’t respond. The little boy kept trying to make conversation, and finally Fred came over to me and buried his head in my stomach.

“Hey, he doesn’t want to talk to strangers.” The little boy’s mother snapped.¬†“You should be like him, Christopher. He knows. Don’t talk to strangers.” His mother’s voice was sharp and she went on and on. But the boy was sweet, and I always appreciate when other children are willing to put themselves out there. So I walked over to him and¬†tried to do some small chit chat. Christopher waved at Fred and introduced himself to him.

“Christopher! He doesn’t want to play with you, okay?”

I thought about how this would make Christopher feel,¬†so I¬†quickly said to him, “No, it’s not that. Fred is just really shy.” If Fred had 20 more minutes with Christopher, they’d be playing together, and they’d have a ball. Once Fred warms up, he is incredibly fun and generous.¬†I also felt the sting of the mother’s tone and words, whether real or imagined. My boy isn’t cold. My boy isn’t snobby.¬†He’s just shy.¬†And sometimes he just wants his personal space.¬†

I¬†had grown up shy too. And I remember being misunderstood often.¬†I used to be amused and bewildered at the things people said they thought about me – that I was really confident, or that I didn’t seem like I needed anybody, or that I was so good and pure and innocent. I’d wondered where they had gotten these ideas, and then one day I figured it out. When you don’t reveal yourself to people, they will color in your portrait for you.

The fact that I could eventually grow out of it (in many though not all situations) makes me wonder if my shyness was not inherent, and that I had changed because my environment and circumstances changed. I know for a fact that the moment I had started to fill out a bit, the moment I started to look more like a 17 year girl¬†instead of a teenage boy with stunted growth, that I became less shy. In fact, by the end of my senior year, a male classmate said to me, “What do you mean you are shy, you are the¬† most UN-shy person I have ever met in my life!” Which, to me, was another surprise. All those years of being the quiet girl and here is a guy talking like I was Julie the cruise director.

And years later at work I would literally be called Julie The Cruise Director. I¬†was the one who¬†organized all the office parties, the one who always kept her office door open. Flash forward more years and I walk into my son’s kindergarten classroom one day to have the teacher¬†say, “Hey, how would you like to be Class Mom?”¬† (To which I respond, “Sure! Uh, what’s a Class Mom?”) So alot of years have intervened, and now “hey how are ya” rolls off my tongue without any effort whatsoever¬†(unless I¬†haven’t had a chance to¬†wash my hair and I don’t want you to look at me too long, and then I just retreat behind my baseball cap visor and pretend I don’t see you). But now another thing has changed too: the way I look at others who are shy.

Take, for example, a Japanese mother at my son’s school.¬†Her son and Fred play so well together and I would like to get to know her better as she seems like a quite nice and interesting person. Except that she never talks to me unless I talk to her. I am always the one initiating conversation. She¬†responds every time, but I get the feeling that if I stop initiating, she’d stop talking. And I wonder, is it me? What is wrong with me? Am I annoying? Do I look gross? (She always looks good.) I asked Max, who is Japanese, and he said,

¬†“She is probably¬†shy, because she’s the perfect mother type.” Okay, my husband does not speak English as his native language, and you can see how being married to an American who is very picky about words can lead to some big misunderstandings. But I have learned over the years to not jump on him immediately.

“Um, what do you mean by “perfect mother”? Do you mean that she is too perfect to talk to me?”

“No, I mean that she cares about appearance, she has to appear perfect, and she is self-conscious about her English, so she is scared to talk to you.”

Oh.

How quickly I have forgotten what people used to think about me when I didn’t talk. That is why I would scoff when they thought I was “so confident.” HELLO. If I were confident I would talk to you, I would laugh with you, I would share my opinions and not worry if they sounded stupid. I would open myself up to you without the aid of vodka or wine,¬†intoxicated by my own confidence alone. So if I don’t talk, it is me, and not you, but it is not because I am¬† cold, or snobby. It is because I am not sure if you’d like me as your friend. But I am so happy that you are making the effort and I would love it if you don’t give up on me.

How clearly I do remember that now. How I need to remind myself of that when I meet new people. And how I want you to keep that in mind the next time your child wants to play with my child, but he is not immediately ready to say yes.