Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Think Therefore I Blog

I want to briefly explain why I post here once or twice a week:

I was standing in the laundry room, taking clothes out of the dryer, folding them neatly and placing them into the laundry basket. I paused to sniff one of my sons’ warm shirts and thought, "The smell of this new fabric softener really brightens up my day." I instantly thought: something has got to change; I've hit rock bottom. Is that all I’ve got to look forward to? Fabric softener? I’ve lost my way. I need a lifeline. I need to climb out of this hole.

As a writer I was stalled, or blocked, whatever you want to call it. My first book was published in 2004, and since then I’ve had 2 kids and I got paying jobs. I got laid off from one of my day jobs in 2009. I was drifting, sinking in fact. So, I started a blog.

I had to write about something I know. I'm home all the time with kids, what do I know...? The mom blog was born. My husband thinks I'm cracked, but I know I would be really crazy if I didn't have the outlet and discipline of it. It’s also energised my writing career. I've finished a draft of book two and am also writing on occasion for print publications and online. I also teach writing. I do other bits, too. All this and full time at home with the kids; am I tired? Yes. Short on funds? Yes. However, I'm much happier--and it's not because I changed fabric softeners.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Tiger Mother in Me

There’ve been visceral reactions to news of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (Penguin Press) written by Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua. I was, however, not so much horrified by her techniques, as wondering if I could apply them effectively.

From http://animals.howstuffworks.com/mammals/tiger-info.htm
My 5 year-old was doing his homework recently: tracing letters and colouring in pictures. At the end, I have to review and sign it. I looked and said, “You weren’t paying attention. I know you can colour in the lines when you’re interested.” As the words came out of my mouth, I thought: is colouring in the lines too much pressure? If I show my displeasure about this, will he feel bad about himself?

After learning about Amy Chua’s book, I felt a little better. At least it wasn’t a birthday card, and I didn’t throw it back in his face telling him it wasn’t good enough. It was homework – it has to be good. Right?

I wonder, if I took it to the extreme, if I ensured that they practiced musical instruments until perfect, would they become neurosurgeons? Would Zach practice piano until he got a piece right if I threatened to burn his toys? I think he would just say, “Burn ‘em,” and walk away.

My stance has always been that I don’t have control, I just try to set limits – really wide limits—within which they operate. But when it comes down to it, I don’t want anything interfering with school work. For example, for sick days I need empirical evidence such as throwing up or high fever before anyone is getting to stay home.

How does she do it? How does Chua get the high standards, the obedience? Screaming and threats, it seems. Apparently, she managed this with one daughter, but the authoritarian approach didn’t work with the other. The child rebelled.

Obedience: Do I want my children to obey? Or do I want them to develop critical thinking skills and creativity? I’d love them to obey, but what I really want to engender is a love of life, an ability to think independently, creativity, and a certain amount of street smarts. Note-I also want achievement at school. Because...well, because I’m a nerd at heart.

I’ve had Asian friends in high school, and I lived in Asia for a while as a teacher. I’m familiar with the work ethic, and I know that sometimes it can be no fun being an Asian-American teenager. My friend in high school was told that she was not allowed to date UNTIL SHE FINISHED COLLEGE. They wanted her to wait until the end of law school, but she negotiated down. Did she stick to this? Not entirely, she's a human female after all. But she wasn't boy chasing or wasting any time on the phone with them. Did her parents relent in the end? Yes – she got to openly date someone during her junior year as an undergraduate at an Ivy League school.

It’s a balancing act between the tiger mother and the tiger cub in me. I think it is for Amy Chua as well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's Not Ninja Time

One rainy, winter afternoon...

Max is two, so I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying at first: “Is no nina time...is no nina tiiiiiime!”

He ran out of the living room, fleeing his 5 year old brother, who was flailing dismembered cheese sticks like nunchucks and making funny noises. Max clung to my legs, shivering. “Is no nina time!”

I turned from the sink, “What’s going on here?” 5 Year old kept flailing the cheese. “Are you going to eat that or what?” I asked, sternly.

His brows were knotted. “No. It’s ninja time!”

The 2 year old screamed, “Is no nina time!”

Aaah, that’s what he was saying. “Ninja time? How do you know what a ninja is?”

“I saw it on TV.” He flailed at his brother.

“Have you gotten a hold of the remote again? Where is the remote? ... Zach, it is NOT Ninja time.”

Max, still clinging, said, “Yeah, Zach, is no nina time!”

“Why are you scaring your brother?”

“Because...” He pulled the cheese taught between his fists.

“OK, give me the cheese.” I reached out for it, but Zach dodged, turned and ran.

“Enough with the ninja,” I yelled into the livingroom.

Slowly, Max let go of me and made his way back to the living room. Receding, I could hear, “Is no nina time, OK Zach? OK?”

I gave ‘em about 45 seconds before they were out in the kitchen again.

...45 seconds later...

Max came running out of the living room, through the dining room and back to me at the sink where I was trying to wash dishes, yelling, “Is no nina time!”

Zach followed Max out of the living room at speed, like the CIA trained nunchuck expert he clearly is, “It’s ninja time!” He lashed Max with some cheese.

I turned off the tap, “It’s is NOT ninja time, Zach! Eat the cheese or give the cheese to me, I don’t care, but stop waving it around the place. What happened to the train set we set up?”

“Max destroyed it. There are tracks, like, everywhere! All over the living room.” I flinched. Zach sounded just like me, using the Valley-girl “like” I picked up sometime in the 1980s. “That’s why it’s ninja time!”

I peeled my gloves off with a sigh. “I’ll go help you set it up.”

I shepherded them out of the kitchen and back to the living room where I did, indeed, find train tracks everywhere. “Ok, guys, pick up the pieces, come on...”

It was ninja time for the rest of the rainy afternoon indoors, the train set never got set up again properly because of Max. I stopped them killing each other several times. I bribed with popcorn and oranges. Nothing worked, nothing brought down the level of madness. Except sleep, glorious sleep.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mom, Interrupted

After dinner on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and on Saturday mornings, I leave the common living area by slipping out the hall door, up the stairs and into my bedroom. I get comfy, set the lighting, balance the laptop on my legs, and start typing. Like most humans, I spend the first 30 minutes or so messing around on email, facebook, twitter and so on. I start in on a project (an article, a blog post, my novel, whatever). I ease into it, loosing myself, knowing nothing but the words, not thinking just typing, getting into “the zone”, and then—

Knock, knock

I look up. There’s a small scraping sound at the door. The knob is being turned, tentatively. I furrow my brow and purse my lips because I know that there is a five year old out in the hall.

From bed I shout: “Go away.”

“But mom, I just want to tell you something.”

“Not now, I’m working. Talk to Daddy, he’s in charge.”

“But I want to tell you something. It’s just a little thing.”

I sigh deeply, a burning feeling of annoyance in the centre of my chest. I place the laptop safely on the bed, peel myself off the cushions, and go open the door. “What, darling firstborn?”

Five year old looks up at me with impossibly large, dark blue eyes. They search me, trying to determine my level of impatience. “Why do you, like, always come downstairs and have coffee and then come up and work in the morning times, like, everyday?”

“I don’t do that every day, I do that on Saturdays. One morning a week that daddy is in charge. Now, that is not an urgent question, get out of here.” 
From http://www.psych.usyd.edu.au/psyche/optical/12.html

He scampers away.

I close the door, return to my bed and get settled under the laptop. I keep writing the sentence, and then—

Knock, knock

“WHAT??” I shout from the bed.

“Mom...I need your help. I can’t get my zip up.”

“Go ask Daddy.”

“But I’m cold...he can’t hear me...”

I roll my eyes and make a hard, forced frown with my lips that gives my cheeks a funny chipmunk look. Laptop off, get up, go to the door, open it. There stands five year old, half naked.

“Here.” I zip him up. Rub his hair. “Now, get out of here and don’t bother me again. I’ve only got two hours.”

“What are you doing?” He peers around me and into the room.


“On the computer?”

“Yes, now go.” I try to close the door.

He sticks his little hand out, stopping the door before it meets the frame. I notice that I have to clip his nails. “Can I play a Computer game?”

“You know better than that. Get out of here.”

“Just one. The one with the Australian animals. Putting out the fire.”

“Huh? You can play later. After I’m done. Get out of here and leave me alone or you won’t play on that thing again this month.”

“Oh...OK...” Five year old turns and backs away, capitulating. As he turns, however, the door to the dining room downstairs bangs open. Two year old stands in the doorway below, looking both forlorn and angry at the same time. Through the wooden mesh filigree of the banister rails he spots me in the doorway of my bedroom on the top floor.

“Oh, crud.” I back away and try to close the door as quickly as possible.

Two year old, alarmed, calls, “Mammy!”

I turn the lock. If two year old gets in, he’ll climb the bed and start pounding on the keyboard. It’ll be mayhem.

I hear clambering up the stairs on all fours. ‘Where the heck is my husband?’ I wonder about now.

Two year old starts pounding on the bedroom door, “Mammy! MAMMY! I WANT MAMMY!”

Guilt creeps up on me. It’s starts at the small of my back and works its way up my spine, leaving a dark shadow at every vertebrae. Following hot on its heels is an even worse feeling: resentment. This one swoops in from above my right side. It’s a bright yellow colour and settles on my shoulder, laying like a chunk of lead I fear I won’t be able to lift on my own.

I huddle on the bed, under blanket and laptop (the combination of which is making my thighs sweat). I start tapping away at the keys, slowly, building in intensity, thoughts in my head fighting their way through the noise of the kids at door yelling for me. I don’t like ignoring them. It’s difficult. But this is my time.

Eventually, after what seems like years but is probably only 60 seconds, husband arrives at the door and ushers our crazed offspring away. The yelling recedes down the hall and is then muffled by the closing of the hall door to the dining room. I continue typing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Roundup

How was your 2010? I hope it was good and that 2011 brings you happiness.

My 2010 was, on balance, good.

Financially, it was not good. If any of you made a fortune, big or small, in 2010, share it with us in the comment section, below--I’d like to know how you managed it.

Professionally, it was good. I was awarded an arts grant in March, started my blog in July, was appointed fiction leader at a local literature centre in the Fall, got a new literary agent, completed the first draft of my second novel (working on the second now), was featured on mamapedia.com twice, wrote a feature for an Irish newspaper and was asked to submit more, got included in an upcoming literary festival, and did other stuff, too, but these are the highlights.

My father passed away in May. You must think I’m nuts or heartless for thinking 2010 was good, but I’m so happy and grateful that I got to spend the last week of my father’s life with him. I flew home to Florida alone, and without the distraction of children just sat in the hospital room with him every day, until his last.

My kids made it through 2010 intact. They’re always a worry as they spend a huge amount of time bonking each other on the head and pushing each other face down onto grassy lawns, so I always wonder will one of them not make it to see a new year. They did. I’d like to take the credit for keeping them alive, but I suspect chance had more of hand in it than I did.

2011 started as I hope it means to continue: Family together; friends over on New Year’s Day for a visit; me on the computer doing a little writing.

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