You Can’t Fake Passion–Even When You’re Good at Something

By Alice Kuo Shippee

Inspired by my kids’ amazing elementary school, The Knowing Garden, I’m embarking on a series of passion projects. At their school, students have an hour each day to work on a project of their choice; it can be to create (make something new), innovate (improve something already existing), or educate (teach others). Their personal interests are fostered & their journey of inquiry supported by the adults in the community. The teachers help them structure their research & dig deeper with questions; parents might have something to offer in the way of experience or skills. I have always been inspired by how children so clearly know what they’re interested in; they have many questions about the world, & usually their only problem is deciding on just one on which to focus.

Last year, my husband & I worked with Tom Pitner of Zen Four, a life coach. For three months, we explored in particular our “competencies” vs. our “preferences.” Turns out, they’re not always the same thing. As a mom, I have to be competent at a lot of things; & anyone who is a parent knows that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean that we want to do it. But often, our abilities become equated with our preferences–to the people we work with, to our partners, to ourselves. In many workplaces, we will get assigned a task, we’ll do a great job on it, & then we’ll find that we get assigned that task over & over again–without any question of whether or not we want to do that task. Leadership thinks, “Hey, she was awesome at that! Let’s have her do it again next time!” That’s the smart choice for them, right? Pick the person who’s going to do the job well. And as employees, we are flattered to be picked, & we keep doing that task. In fact, because we’re no dummies, we get better at it every time; soon we’re not just doing it well, we’re hitting it out of the park! Now we’re REALLY associated with the success of that task, so the cycle continues.

But so many of us have had the experience where we start asking, “Ugh, why do they keep having me do this?” And we joke with each other, “Don’t do it too well, because then they’ll keep asking.” And resentment builds, especially when someone else who doesn’t do the task well then isn’t asked anymore & they don’t have to do it. None of us would purposefully fail at a task we know we can do well, so we just keep doing the cycle.

So, what I came to understand in my life coaching was:

COMPETENCE β‰  PREFERENCE

ABILITY β‰  PASSION.

Just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should do it.

But we get trapped into it–sometimes by cultural norm or our upbringing. How many of us make these “should” statements to ourselves?

“If I can bring homemade cookies to the bake sale, I should. I shouldn’t do store bought.”

“If I can do my own taxes, I should. I shouldn’t hire someone to do them.”

“If I can go to the party, I should, even though I think I’m coming down with a cold.”

Really, though. Why? Why should you?

Now, we all know that we have to do shit we don’t want to do ALL THE TIME. And we adult & just do it. It’s BECAUSE we already do this that the idea of occasionally asking oneself, “Am I passionate about it?” is important.

If you are passionate about baking, then by all means, bake those artisanal Snickerdoodles. It’s baking with a passion that brings you & others joy. You gotta be honest if you’re just trying to impress someone or trying to avoid guilt because you’re impressed by someone who bakes & you wish you would care about it as much as she does.

Are you passionate about doing your own taxes? Does it make you feel empowered & financially abundant? Then do it. If not, pay H&R Block & get over it.

Are you passionate about dressing up & going to that party? Then go! If not, I’ll bet $100 that your friend would much rather you go home & take care of yourself & not spread your germs all over the appetizer table. Real, emotionally mature friends would rather that.

Our ENTIRE lives can get filled up doing the things we happen to be REALLY GOOD at & yet DON’T want to do. Since we have so many tasks that we can do, should do, & must do, let’s all try to cut at least just those things that we can do, should do, & DON’T HAVE TO DO. That will allow us to carve out just perhaps a few hours a month to do the things we LOVE, that we also CAN do.

I always love a good matrix, so here you go. Copy this on a sheet of paper & fill it in with 2-3 items in each box.

So, for me, it looks something like this:

So guess what I have spent most of my time doing…Yup. The meh stuff. And, this explains why, no wonder, I’m usually really deflated around dinner prep time…

TIME FOR A SHIFT.

I still have to feed my kids. I still have to organize my home. But can I do ever so slightly less of the things that fall into that lower right quadrant, so that maybe I can do just every slightly more of the things that I’m passionate about it? I think so. But that means asking for help!

For example, I have recently been enlisting the help of my friend Suzi of Summit Organizing to help me purge my closets & garage. While I can do it myself, I lack the enthusiasm for it. I want my house to be clutter-free & organized, & I actually am good at organizing, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to put into it. This is where a pro can make all the difference! She comes with all this positive energy & provides the moral support I need to do a task that otherwise just drains me, even though I intellectually can do it. And in having her help, I can retain my own emotional spirit to put into my passions!

So maybe for you it’s hiring a babysitter for a couple hours a week that you will DEVOTE to your passions ONLY. Maybe it’s hiring a housekeeper. Maybe it’s finally getting your kids to do some of the chores they’re perfectly capable of, but you have to let go of them doing them as perfectly as you would. And if anyone tells you you’re “lucky” to have a sitter or a housekeeper, you tell them it’s not luck, it’s a choice. You do have to pay those people, after all. And in choosing how to spend your money, you’re also choosing how to spend your time.

I think that the emotional advantages & disadvantages of our choices show up in the matrix something like this:

And when you really think about the quality of the life you want, those emoji faces pretty much say it all. There will be frustrations & challenges in every box in that matrix, but they will be met with a certain energy & will that is what you carry around with you all the time. Let that be at least something better than meh. ❀

Special thanks to the women of Raise Your Vibe Tribe for helping to light my fire. More on that & them in another post!!

 

 

 

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How to Stop Being a Human Checklist & Losing Your #@*%& Mind Every Morning & Night

I just recently saw this hilarious meme online, & I thought, OMG, how do they know?marypoppinsbatman

Clearly, it’s a universal that getting out the door is a pain in the ass. Or if you’re our family, getting out the door/into bed/out of bed are all a pain in the ass. For awhile, I sounded something like this every morning from 7:30-8 AM:

Hey, babes, let’s get dressed.

Time to brush your teeth!

Did you find your socks? Please go pick some socks.

Get the bowls & spoons, please, & start eating already!

Where are your socks?!!

Go get your water bottle & fill it!

We gotta get going!

Put your freakin’ socks on!!

Do you have your homework? Put it INSIDE your backpack!!

You get the idea. I’ve been a Human Checklist, an exhausted robot that repeats herself day & after day. We have been a family that sends all three kids to school in the morning for THREE YEARS. You wouldn’t know it by the way we were functioning. There was a LOT of wandering around in the mornings, as though every day was the first day we’ve ever gone to school. And truthfully, I was yelling regularly. Not angry yelling–just Is Anyone Even Listening/ Am I Invisible Yelling. Because louder worked sometimes. But mostly it just got me so adrenalized that after drop-off I had to sit in my van & just breathe for about 15 minutes.

Logistically, there are about 15 separate tasks each child needs to do every morning before we leave for school. With three kids, that would be 75 things I’d have to remind them, if I only said each task once to each kid. So, I was probably really saying/yelling 150 things in that hour after waking up, which is a crap way to start any dIMG_0356ay.

But guess what works better than yelling? Actual checklists.

So now, instead of rattling off an increasing louder list of every single thing they need to do, I just say, “Do the checklist.”

Nothing but, “Do the checklist.”

Before becoming a mom, I was a high school teacher. One of the basic life skills I tried to teach my students was how to make a list & check things off. List-making helps your child to be more organized, efficient, & independent. You’d be shocked at how many 18-year-olds leave home without this ability & habit. True that some people are just not natural list-makers (my husband, ahem), but it’s not a difficult skill to learn. It just takes practice, & kids as young as five can do it.

Repeat after me: “My liberation depends on their individuation.*” What that means is that your sanity & ability to move fluidly from one thing to another depends on your children’s ability to know by themselves what they need to do. Yes, they do need reminding & guidance, so the checklist is the bridge between YOU needing to tell them everything & their eventual ability to know & do it without prompting. Stop being a Human Checklist.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a reward chart. This is a very important distinction to make. I do not believe in reward charts, gold star stickers, or prizes in general, & especially not for doing self-care tasks. As a high school teacher, I saw what happens after years & years of children doing things because of the “carrot or stick” approach: they don’t respond to either after awhile. And with a reward system, there always comes a punishment, even if that punishment is just not getting the reward. And with that system comes a lot of weird emotional baggage about whether or not I am a “good” or “bad” child. Honestly, that is all irrelevant to learning how to do these tasks.

These are “Skills to Practice,” as they are labeled on my own checklists. If we are really emphasizing to our kids that working hard on something is the most important–not just in terms of effort but in terms of what actually makes us better at something–then just practice the skills. Kids don’t need a prize for that–as you can see when they willingly & eagerly practice their soccer drills or pirouettes. And as they get better, that becomes its own reward. A child who does tasks for stickers now is a student who only works for the grade later, & who becomes an adult who believes he is entitled to some sort of pat on the back every time he does what he should be doing anyway–or craves that external feedback in order to feel good. Let’s face it, I don’t get a prize every time I do the dishes–nor do I need one or I think I should get one.

If you haven’t yet read Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, & Other Bribes, I highly recommend it. It will explain a lot about why adults, as well as kids, are burnt out & uninterested in learning after a lifetime of the “carrot & stick.” And if you’ve been using a reward/punishment system in your household, & you want to explore ways to move away from it (because it’s exhausting & ineffective), check out Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards & Punishment to Love & Reason. And if you want to read a book that focuses on adults & their motivations, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us is fantastic.

HOW CAN I MAKE SURE THE CHECKLISTS WILL WORK?

1.Consider making the list with your kid(s) together. Sit down with pencil & paper & ask them, “What are the all the things we do in the morning to get ready for the day?” People commit to what they co-create. If you know your kid is resistant to what you suggest, then start there. With very young children, you can make the list as you go through the tasks in real-time.

2. Introduce the checklist with enthusiasm–not like you’re making them eat brussel sprouts. “Hey, this is going to make our mornings go so much more smoothly. And it’ll help you remember to bring your Show & Tell item!” The way to implement any new habit with kids is to go over each item with them the first time you introduce it. Then walk them through it for the first couple days or a week, depending on your child & his or her developmental abilities. If your child is 7 or older, they will probably really enjoy checking things off, & after about a week, they’ll go to the list on their own.

3. Revisit the checklist when necessary. If your kids seem like the list isn’t working for them, then sit down & revamp the list together. Maybe the list doesn’t make sense to them because of the order of actions. Maybe your child would respond more to little pictures of the actions. My children added on tasks that we realized should be on there, so I recently edited the lists & reprinted them.

4. Let older kids help younger kids. The kids who can read (Miss Almost 10 & Miss Almost 8) can do checklists very easily. I listed the actions in the order they usually take place in our home, but you can edit it for however you prefer to do it in yours. The girls help Mr. 5 by reading each item to him, & he checks it off. This is great for reading & fine motor practice & cooperative learning & leadership, by the way, if you care about those things.

5. Stick to the checklist. What I mean by that is if you’re really going to use the checklist, then DON’T revert to calling out the individual tasks. Say, “Do the checklist.” Or, “What is next on the checklist?” But don’t BE the checklist!! Your kids will eventually figure out you’re just going to repeat, “Do the checklist,” & they will develop the sense to go do it themselves.

OUR FAMILY’S CHECKLISTS

(You can go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/aliceinmamaland/ to download Numbers files! I couldn’t upload them here.)

So in my search for a more efficient, peaceful morning & night, we made three checklists. I slipped each into a plastic page-protector sheet, clipped it to a clipboard to which I attached a dry-erase marker with a ribbon.

The Good Morning! Checklist: I have hung it on a very not-fancy tack that is on the wall in the foyer, which is also near the stairway they use to come to the kitchen.AIM Good Morning Checklist 3 Kids.jpg

The Welcome Home! Checklist is on the flip-side of the Good Morning! Checklist. For years, I had been chanting, “Shoes in the basket! Hands in the sink!” when we’d disembark from the van. But as the kids have gotten older & have backpacks & paperwork & lunches & snacks & everything, the chant didn’t cover all the bases. So again, instead of saying every single task that needed to be done, I just say, “Do the checklist” if they need prompting.

AIM Welcome Home Checklist 3 Kids.jpg

And finally the Get Ready for Bed! Checklist. This list hangs on a wall between the bathroom & the bedrooms.

AIM Bedtime Checklist 3 Kids

 

I will forever be stumped by the resistance to bedtime & tooth-brushing. The difference between children & adults can be summed up as those who hate to go to sleep & those who can’t wait to. I shake my head & tell my kids, “Every single night of your lives, we have gone to bed. Every. Single. Night. There has never, ever, ever been a night that we haven’t gone to bed.” And they laugh & laugh at me like it’s the funniest, weirdest thing they’ve ever heard.

Well, we’ve been doing the checklists for about four months, & these have been the easiest mornings & nights we’ve ever had, even though we are busier than ever. Good luck, & let me know how they work for you!

*Thank you to Tom Pitner, inspiring life coach, of Zen Four for this mantra!!!!

 

 

 

 

Just Ask Alice: Poop Problems & Perfection–Helping Your Constipated Kiddo

So I’m starting my series of Just Ask Alice Advice Posts!

What better place to start than with poop? This is, after all, a parenting blog, & poop is prevalent at times & places we’d never expect. And my kids swear poop is always funny. (I’m not so sure, but I’ll just roll with it for now. My goal is to rein in their hysterical responses to anything remotely scatological by the time they’re in, say, college? I don’t think I’ll have much luck, though, because their dad still thinks farts are legit humor, & he’s 40.)

Did you know there is such a thing as an ideal poo? We usually know when it’s anything but normal, but we probably didn’t take a real interest in poo until our first kid was born. That is when you look for the color, consistency, & frequency, hoping it will give you some sign as to whether or not you’re a halfway decent parent. And if you’ve ever had a baby, toddler, or kid of any age who has had even ONE difficult bowel movement, then you will not laugh when I say that my husband & I have breathed huge sighs of relief & high-fived over a successful (ie: uneventful, totally normal, no tears) poo. A No-Problem Poo is not to be taken for granted.

So our youngest has always had a longer eat-to-evacuate time than our two others. The issue has seemed to be that his poops seem to be harder & more solid, less that perfect poo consistency that gut specialists describe as “smooth & soft.” I swear he must have a turn in his colon that is a 45-degree angle, but I have no idea how to verify that. He is our only child who doesn’t poop daily. At one point, almost 5 days went by, & I was doing super scary poop math in my head. When he finally did go, it was like my little baby was reliving the birth experience from my point of view. The amount of pain he was in was alarming, & the size of the resulting product was what my husband refers to as a “man poo.” He has taken photos. I will spare you.

So if you’ve never had to evaluate a poo for perfection, here are a couple charts I’ve sourced from online. There is something called the Bristol Stool Chart, & it was created by two researchers at the University of Bristol (I’m sure the university is delighted to have a poop chart–not a planet or a peace prize–named after it). “Normal” means “easy to pass.”

BristolStoolChart

Our son would not poop for several days, & then he would birth this enormous Type 2 poo. How have we solved this issue without any medical interventions? With just a simple one-to-one combination of aloe vera juice & apple or white grape juice.

You can buy aloe vera juice at Trader Joe’s for $7.99, which is a great deal. Sprouts & Whole Foods both carry the same exact size in a different brand for $12. (None of them are marked organic, so I’m assuming they’re not.) Aloe vera juice has a very mild, slightly tart taste on its own.

traderjoesaloevera

So, to try to stay as organic/non-GMO as we can, we try to make sure the juice we mix with is. This is one of our favorites: Trader Joe’s Organic Unfiltered Apple Juice.

traderjoesapple

My friend’s dentist did recommend that white grape juice is less damaging to teeth, so we’ve tried that too, but the combo wasn’t as much a hit with our son. We think the sweetness of the apple offsets the slightly tart aloe vera better.

We usually do half & half with every serving for our little dude, so he gets this combo at least twice daily. When he has it regularly, he poops without any drama, & there is a shorter “colon transit time.” We have noticed that a few days skipped means a return to whatever it is his colon usually does.

Doctors also advise more fats in the diet to help with softening stools, such as adding in avocadoes & coconut oil. We did notice a difference when we were overseas & eating oiler foods that his stools were much softer & he had no problems passing them. And conversely, we noticed that when he drinks a lot of almond milk, he gets more stopped up.

Here are a couple great links about poop health for the little ones & for adults.

Hope this helps for anyone who has a little one who suffers from difficult poops. This also works on adults! Here’s to happy bathroom time, ‘cuz that should be a basic in our lives!!

If you want to help your children be able to identify their stool types & discuss gastro health with you, this visual seems great for the little ones. You could post it inside a cabinet in your bathroom, & they could report back. πŸ™‚ Because, hey, they might as well have a chart, if they’re going to talk about poo anyway!

~Alice XO

chooseyourpoo

Happy Year of the Monkey 2016! Modern Traditions with Chosen Family

IMG_9373I recently read that traditions are great for kids, because they get to anticipate a series of events & activities that happens in the same sequence year after year. The anticipation is what creates the excitement, but in a different way than doing something new. Knowing that a holiday follows the same template annually is how years become connected to each other and how we become part of the larger story of our culture & family, generation after generation, and how we reach into the past & into the future, holiday after holiday.

CNY2013

CNY 2013, Taipei. We lived in Taiwan for a year, & this was the only time I got to spend CNY with my family since I left for college. It was very special. Here we are with my beautiful mom.

Since leaving home at the age of 17, I’ve only spent one Chinese New Year back in Taiwan with my family. It’s a big deal to not be there, because it is the equivalent to America’s Thanksgiving as the holiday you go home. Traditionally, a woman would move to live with her husband’s family after getting married. Chinese New Year was the one time of year she got to return to her own parents.

 

 

So, I’ve had to create traditions I could do without family. When I was single, I often sent out combo CNY/Valentine’s cards; I loved that the color red was symbolic for both Good Luck & Love.

CNY2008

CNY 2008.

But the only tradition that has stood the test of time has been an annual dinner with my cousin Lily & good friend Christina. My cousin is a year older than me, & we have been besties since we were old enough to write snail mail to each other about Duran Duran & the boys we liked. Christina & I have known each other since she was in 8th grade & I in 9th. She moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2003, & we have had some ridiculously great times together (FUN = red wine + chocolate + convos). I’ve also lived with both women, & in doing so, I really think we’ve forged friendships that are as close as family.

In 2008, we met for dinner at a restaurant called Hunan Taste on San Vicente for Chinese New Year. Then we did it again the next year. And the next. We wore red, gave each other hong bao’s, ate double orders of Crispy Walnut Shrimp, & talked & caught up. These two women are among my closest friends, & having this one night we meet without question has been comforting to me in a really fundamental way. In a life & world without many traditions I find meaningful, this one is something I can count on. I think our commitment to this one dinner somehow reminds me that I’m important to them; that without family around, someone is still watching out for me.

IMG_9385

CNY 2016.

We’ve had this dinner without children. Then with one, my first. Then with two. Then with three, & four. We used to eat dinner at 7 PM, like normal adults. But with the addition of babies, we started eating at 5 PM. It’s actually great, because the restaurant isn’t busy, & we leave just as it starts filling up.

I’m still surprised every time I go to a Chinese restaurant, & my parents or grandparents aren’t the ones at the helm, ordering the food. When Christina, Lily & I go, we’re the grown-ups now, with our own parents far away both physically & metaphorically. Our kids are like cousins to each other, & these women are “home” to me. I feel an abundance of luck when we’re all sitting around the lazy-susan, circle table, wearing our requisite red, catching up, & trying to keep the kids busy & happy & fed. This year was the first year two of us met up without the third. But we plan to do a make-up dinner, because I’m pretty sure breaking tradition–even a modern one you made up yourselves–displeases the ancestors. πŸ˜‰

IMG_9375

CNY 2016.

The restaurant changed hands a couple years ago, & now it’s called Hunan Tasty. We laugh about the “y” that was added to the sign, the letter showing up darker in blue than the rest of the words. I think that’s what it’ll always be like, if we’re lucky: Little changes will happen when we don’t expect them, but we’ll keep showing up to laugh about them together. ❀

Chinese New Year Fun Facts: Dragons or Lions? Can’t tell the lion dancers from the dragon dancers? Here’s a little tutorial!

What modern traditions has your family created–especially if family is far away?

~Alice XO

Not Fixing Her Feelings About Friends: A little talk after bedtime.

The girls have been in bed since 8:00 PM. At 8:30, they were still talking, so I stuck my head in & did that loud whisper, “You’re supposed to be sleeping!” Around 8:45, Zara came into my office & said, “Mama, I’m having some feelings about friends.”

I’ll be honest: My first thought was, Right now?! During my Me Time?!

Wallace QuoteBut I pulled her up a chair & said, “Okay, tell me what’s going on.” And then she told me about three frustrating incidents she’s had at school & at playdates. There were many overlapping topics, including: 1) classmates who quit playing a game because someone was a vampire, 2) wanting to be the doggie but being told no, 3) her suspicions that two friends were lying, & 4) her mechanical stuffed puppy being monopolized by someone. It was a lot for me to follow when my brain had already been switched over to Adult Time.

But it was incredible to listen to her verbalize not only what happened but how she felt about things. And I think I’m getting better at this parenting thing, because I just looked into her eyes & listened. For a long time. At least it felt like a really long time, because, you see, I have this “fix it” trigger that usually compulsively needs to be pulled. I start thinking in solutions & actions, & I start suggesting & advising. Well, I didn’t tonight. Maybe because I’m tired? No matter, because not trying to fix it actually helped me to give her enough space to talk. And my fatigue probably worked in my favor, because I’ve been working on this not-fixing-it for awhile now.

When it seemed like she had gotten most of her thoughts out, I said, “I’m really glad you came to tell me all this.” She visibly relaxed & took a breath, & then she shared some more.

One of the incidents was during a playdate from a long time ago. But I realized that she was still processing it, & maybe it was because it was related to similar stuff going on at school. I learned something about her & the pace or timing with which she is going over experiences in her mind & heart. Sometimes, feelings will come up weeks later. Okay, got it. Note taken.

I told her that we would figure something out, perhaps with the help of her teacher, & I repeated that I was glad she had come talk to me. At the end of the convo, no problems had been solved, but she jumped up & hugged me & said, “I love you, Mama.” Then she sort of twinkle-toed up the stairs with a lightness in her step & went off to bed.

I’m thinking in the years to come, the frustrations she has will be different. They’ll still probably involve friends & school collaborations, but they won’t be about sharing a stuffed animal or whose turn it is to be the doggie during pretend play. They’ll eventually be about crazy teenage sh*t I don’t even want to think about right now, but I do really hope that she’ll come to me saying, “I’m having some feelings about friends.” And I do really hope that I’ll be able to put down what I’m doing to just listen, because I am so, so glad she still comes to talk to me.

~Alice XO

 

 

Lunches you can actually do. Packing lunches like a boss. A really tired boss.

I am an ungrateful, first-world, part-time working mom who has bitched about packing lunches full of healthy, fresh food for my private-school attending children, none of whom have allergies or other challenges. I’m amazed the hand of God hasn’t come down & smacked me like they promised it would when I went to a Protestant missionary school in junior high. I deserved it.

BUT! Complaining no more! Instead, I’ve figured out that I can snap a pic of these bentos & get myself a little dopamine hit by posting them. And in the process, I’ve realized I’m not that shitty of a mom.

So here’s a little library of our weekday lunches. I can do this. And I can have a better f*cking attitude about it. Enjoy.

And a huge thank you to Mom Boss, Kelly Lester of EasyLunchBoxes, who shared one of my pix today!!! πŸ˜€ I’m so excited because I’ve been using her lunch boxes since Zoe started preschool!!!

Follow @alice_in_mamaland for more lunches like these … She writes: "I am an ungrateful, first-world, part-time working mom who has bitched about packing lunches full of healthy, fresh food for my private-school attending children, none of whom have allergies or other challenges. I’m amazed the hand of God hasn’t come down & smacked me like they promised it would when I went to a Protestant missionary school in junior high. I deserved it. BUT! Complaining no more! Instead, I’ve figured out that I can snap a pic of these bentos & get myself a little dopamine hit by posting them. And in the process, I’ve realized I’m not that shitty of a mom…. " MORE ON HER BLOG β–Ί https://aliceinmamaland.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/nom-nom-nom-packing-lunches-like-a-boss-a-really-tired-boss/ #lunch #easylunchboxes #lunchbox #kidfood #bento #schoollunch #fitmom #crossfit

A post shared by I'm Kelly Lester. (@easylunchboxes) on

@alice_in_mamaland is up!

I’m on Instagram as @alice_in_mamaland! Come follow me, because I promise pretty pix, cute kids, artsy angles, & honesty as only I know how to do it. Enjoy. πŸ™‚

 

I’m Not a Vegetarian. I’m Chinese!

Have you seen this video yet? Fascinating. And disturbing.

 

It’s the type of thing that I’d comment, “WTF” on Facebook, SMH, & then move on. But nope. Today, I write a blog post because, WTF.

One day when our oldest daughter was in preschool, I got a call from her teacher, Katie.

“Today ZoΓ« wanted to try some of another kid’s turkey, but I noticed that you guys rarely pack meat in ZoΓ«’s lunches. I asked her if she was a vegetarian, & she laughed & said, ‘I’m not a vegetarian! I’m Chinese!'”

Katie & I had a good laugh over that one. Kids. They really show you what they think of themselves.

I’m first-generation, American-born Chinese. My parents are originally from China but spent their adulthood in Taiwan; they immigrated to the United States when they were in graduate school, & we’ve lived both stateside & overseas. My husband is Caucasian, born in Texas, raised in small-town Maine. His family has been in America since the Mayflower. Somehow, despite the differences in our childhood experiences, we two are kindred spirits.

When ZoΓ« was 5 & declared herself to be Chinese & not a vegetarian, I don’t think we’d ever really talked to her about her mixed-race heritage, being Asian or white, or being an American. I think I was a little busy worrying about soy vs. dairy & whether or not My Baby Can Read was going to work (still not sure). When Katie told me what she said, I realized we had never covered the topic consciously or explicitly. And I wondered if we should.

AIM Mixed Race Family

We “Chinese” people. (Photograph by Desiree Asher Photography. I love this photograph. Aw, look at us…)

I subscribe to the belief that “what we focus on expands.” And I have feared that the focus on race in our family might lead to more issues or negativity than otherwise. We’d kind of been operating on the basis of, “You are who you are, & it’s awesome, & other people are awesome too.” Period, no qualifiers.

So, we had a little convo with ZoΓ« that day, & it also came up that she thinks “we” are all Chinese–Daddy included. And I didn’t correct her right away, because I wanted to find out what “Chinese” meant to her. And as only a 5-year-old can, she explained herself in phrases & terms that I didn’t totally get. I think it meant we’re a family, & we are “we.”

Occasionally, the topic of moving to Maine has come up. Max & I always talk about it with a lot of enthusiasm & idealism: It’ll be great for the kids to have lots of nature! They’ll be able to play outside. They’ll love the seasons & the snow! They’ll be close to grandparents. They’ll learn can-do, country skills! No traffic! The cost of living will be so much more affordable than living in a Big City! Max is understandably wistful & nostalgic & longing to give his own children the idyllic upbringing he had in Small Town, America.

But I remember distinctly arriving in Maine the first time I visited there to attend my future sister-in-law’s wedding. I was the only person of color in the entire Bangor Airport. I think I usually wouldn’t notice, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been the only person of color anywhere I’ve been, since I’ve been living in Los Angeles foreverrrrr. It was the same feeling I had when I arrived in Taiwan when I was 12–but in reverse, because there, everyone looked like me (don’t get all crazy: not all Asians look alike alike, just keep reading). I’d never been in a majority population before. The truth is, I’m not comfortable with either end of extreme homogeneity. I’ve always been most at home in a really diverse environment like the one we live in now–populated with people of many ethnic backgrounds: whites, Hispanics, Asians & blacks from all different countries.

So, I told Max, “I don’t want my children to grow up in a town where their mom is the only person of color.” It would mean that the kids would be the only mixed race kids. I’m all about kids growing up feeling unique & having challenges that they overcome in the name of building character, but I remember very clearly what it was like to be one of three Asians in my elementary school in an area that is now ironically very Asian. Sharon Yamamoto & Mike Arai were both great at sports, which pretty much cements your social status in a Southern California suburb. I was not. I deeply felt my differentness in the 1970’s & 1980’s when Christie Brinkley & Cheryl Tiegs were the epitome of beauty. My only role model was newscaster Connie Chung. And the only other Asian women I saw on TV played prostitutes & refugees (you remember: M*A*S*H). So, in fifth grade, I decided I was going to go into broadcasting. Made sense.

And deep inside me, I don’t want my children to be led to believe that their non-white side is lesser than their white one. It’s very easy for this to happen, regardless of the model minority stereotype that comes with being Asian. America–& the world–has a long way to go with race relations. There are deeply ingrained prejudices that underlie the attitudes of the people that will come into contact with our children–their relatives, their teachers & coaches, their friends, their friends’ parents, their college admissions officers, their potential employers–attitudes most people won’t talk about, & when they do, it’s usually in a “political correctness be damned” kind of way, which really just means rude & self-righteous. Furthermore, our children will come in contact with attitudes that seem to represent people, but not through people–through social media & the news.

In ZoΓ«’s class recently, the topic of Donald Trump’s racism came up. A student said, “If Donald Trump becomes president, he says he’s going to deport all the Mexicans.” Now keep in mind, this was said in the context that Trump’s views are actually repellent & wrong, but there was something about just those words that brought a real pall to the energy of the room. For the one Mexican-American child in the class*, I wonder how that felt for him. I think I know how it did, because for the 9-year-old me, it would have felt yucky. And I would not have had the words to express that feeling–or my indignation, or fear, or disgust, or bewilderment. As the parent teacher in the room that day, witnessing this discussion, I said, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” Because over my dead body.

Whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit it, prejudice is invisible & ubiquitous. That is what was so disconcerting about the video above. Where do children get these ideas? Most likely they are not consciously & explicitly taught them by their parents, though some may be, horrifying as that is to many of us.

And the teacher & parent in me always asks, “What can we do about this?” How can we raise kids not to have these prejudices about themselves & others? And if your own children are mixed race, how can you raise them to honor & celebrate all the components of who they are?

And I wonder, what would the kids in our community say if asked the same questions in that video, with a black doll, brown doll & a white doll? And for my kids, none of those dolls represents them either.

ZoΓ« is 9 now, & she knows we are not all Chinese. I’m not sure when she discovered or determined that. I’ll have to ask her. I’ll report back.

* ZoΓ«’s class has 5 kids in it (more about that another post when I will toot the horn of this amazing progressive school), & the breakdown is three Caucasian-Americans (one is half Iranian), one Mexican-American, one Amer-Asian.

 

 

Weekly Dinner Planning for the Mom Who Hates Cooking

So, we just finished watching the first season of Worst Cooks in America. We love this show because:

  1. it shows people learning from the basics,
  2. the contestants are really supportive of each other, even on opposing teams,
  3. the chef coaches really believe the contestants can learn how to cook.

After watching a few shows, my kids said to me, “Mama, you aren’t even as bad as them.”

This, my friends, is a huge vote of confidence, because I hate cooking. And as much as I try not to say anything, my kids are well aware of my nemesis.

Well, let me rephrase & reframe: I hate being interrupted while cooking. I’m not good at it, I don’t have a natural talent for it, & I have 20 other things I’m more interested in improving in my life. Being interrupted while trying to follow a recipe is torture.

I’m more of an “assembler.” I like making salads, sandwiches, omelettes, & lasagna. I trust myself & semi-enjoy putting a bunch of things together, but I have neither the attention span nor the acumen for actual chemistry & multiple steps that overlap.

So my approach to feeding my kids has been, for the last 9 years, avoid it. At all costs, avoid cooking. Order in. Warm up frozen food. Assemble cold items. Serve cruditΓ©.

I obviously have a problem, but I have a bunch of other problems that seem to have solutions with more potential than me actually learning to cook or learning to like cooking. Not even the $25,000 prize on Worst Cooks in America makes me the least bit interested in doing what it would take to win in.

One of my major obstacles is planning ahead; I don’t (see “my approach” above). So when I don’t have any plans, I then have to make decisions on the fly at the last minute when three kids are gathered around my behind when I’ve got my head in the freezer, looking for options. By 5 PM, I have decision fatigue, & I can’t possibly make one more choice. I have on occasion told my kids with great enthusiasm, like it’s a treat, “Yes! Go ahead & just eat snacks! It’ll be fun!”

So our family is about to embark on a brand new adventure: Tonight, over dinner that my husband has prepared, we will plan out our dinners for the coming week. I found this very awesome form online, & thank you to ‘Chelle from her site Getting Sorted Each Day As It Comes. I like this form because it has three lines for each dinner, which I’ll use one each for protein, veggie, & carb. Then all the items are listed on the right in an actual column for the grocery shopping (another thing I dread). Some forms online look cute but have cloud shapes & paragraph forms for lists–nope.

weekly-meal-planner-page-1

Dinner smells good up there. My husband is a pretty good cook. Wish us luck. I’ll let you know what happens.

Seriously, Picking Preschool (Part 1)

Couldn’t stop laughing & loving this post by Dan Hon on Medium, called, “It’s Preschool Open House Season, Motherfuckers.” This is how parents actually think & talk, just in case anyone was wondering.

After seven years & three kids, we are done with preschool this year, believe it or not, but for anyone searching, here’s my sincerest advice from my experience as a teacher & as a parent:

Find a place where your kid can be an actual f*cking kid–where everything about being a kid is celebrated & channeled into a joyful learning adventure. Pick a school that has teachers who specifically love children ages 3-5 & think that childhood is a magical, wonderful time that shouldn’t be rushed through. Pick a school that doesn’t shame & label & pick kids out to be victims or perpetrators. Preschool *is* a big deal–but mostly for the reasons that we all forget: it is the first place other adults’ voices will enter your child’s consciousness & become part of their own inner voice. Choose those voices carefully, because the inner voice follows us into adulthood.

Am I good?

Am I trying hard?

Am I kind?

Am I strong & brave?

Am I curious?Β 

Am I heard?

Am I worth listening to?

Will someone come help me?

Am I able to solve problems?

Am I resilient?

Your child’s preschool teacher will be the first one besides *you* who answers these questions in your child’s mind. Worry less about what your child will learn in preschool than who their examples will be.

RPS140528 10And when it does come to the actual learning part that you are going to worry about, do yourself & your kid a favor & do not pick a place that is actually kindergarten or first grade, where they’ll be doing worksheets & academics. Preschoolers should be touching, smelling, playing, getting messy. They are natural scientists if you give them sand & water & bugs & nature. They are natural empathizers & justice seekers if not every single interaction they have with peers is judged & monitored. They are natural learners if you give them an environment rich for learning–which is one that appeals to all five senses & that was designed with them in mind. Look for a preschool that is run & designed WITH KIDS IN MIND. The best environmRPS160115 133ent for learning may not look like you expect it to.

For example, we want things to look tidy & neat, but if it always looks like that at a preschool, then it means the kids don’t actually get to touch & play with the materials. We want things to be sanitary, but if it always looks clean, then it means the kids don’t get to make any messes. We want things to look modern, but sometimes it’s the old-fashioned toys that use the most imagination.

RPS11 197So if you go to preschool, and the wooden blocks are covered in paint, & the sidewalk outside is covered with chalk drawings, & all the artwork that the kids do actually looks like kids did them–you’re on the right track. If the water & sand toys look like they’ve actually been in water & sand, & the crayons are broken & worn down to nubs, then you’re getting close. If your cIMG_0135hild goes to touch a toy or picture that is hanging at his level, & the teacher says, “Of course you can touch that, honey,” then it’s a good sign. If your child spills the paint or knocks over his cup, & the teacher says, “DonRPS160115 141‘t worry. We’ll clean that up together,” then it’s a really good sign.

Now, if you’re wanting your kid to be reciting times tables by the end of preschool, then these tidbits are not for you. If you’re wanting your kid to start off school by loving it, then consider these things. And stay tuned for my next installment on Picking Preschool!

PS All three of my kids have attended Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA. It’s a truly special place conceived & designed & grown with children in mind. The owner, Linda Shannon, has combined a variety of teaching methods such as Montessori, Reggio, & Waldorf with a humanist, constructivist, whole-brain, whole-child approach that focuses on how the preschool neurobiological system works & on developing empathy & self-awareness. More on this in another post! Thank you to the Northup, Quinn & Bottura families for their beautiful kiddos in the pictures I took & posted here.