Teaching Our Kids to Love Fully in an Unfair World

Today, a bird slowly died in front of my children. The impact against our sliding glass doors was deafening. Housebound by a winter storm, the kids and I quickly abandoned our hot chocolate in our rush to discover that a bright crimson cardinal had struck the glass. It now lay helpless in the snow.

Be honest and don’t construct a cover-up. What’s been seen can’t be unseen: I watched, helpless to intervene or make my kids unsee this tragedy. The suffering we were witnessing elicited, “Mom, let’s help it!” “Should we bring it inside and nurse it?” “What do we do?” “Poor bird.” Our 12-year-old’s large eyes were brimming with tears. Her younger brother couldn’t look away. I wanted as badly as my kids to watch this bird miraculously fly away. But the cardinal grew still and we, silent, mourning the loss of an innocent bird.

Show sensitivity and respect for their particular attachments: Unlike adults, children fall in love fearlessly, without baggage. Maybe it’s toys as much or more than the people surrounding them they cherish. In the case of my children, it was their stuffed animals—each complete with name and personality.

As enjoyable as it was for me to witness the creative powers at work in my children’s play, I knew that the depth of attachment would create a storm of trouble if any of these animal kingdom favorites were lost. After all, these were real as flesh and blood friends in my children’s world. On many occasions, we did come close to losing a stuffed friend. At the grocery, in the airplane, on the sidewalk, silently fallen out of the stroller.

In every instance, the look of shock and pain in the affected child’s eyes was a small step into the brutal world, where fierce affection is often accompanied by sorrow, a pain equal to the love.

Read in full at Houston Family Magazine.

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Filipinos Finding Each Other In Washington, DC

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I published a personal essay about my childhood in the Philippines in Story|Houston a few years ago. But recently after moving to Washington, DC, I found myself frequently walking past the well-positioned Embassy of the Philippines. It got me thinking about the Filipino-Americans living around me. Although I grew up in the Philippines, I later lived the expat life with my husband (and eventually, kids) in Germany, Dubai and London. Did Filipino-Americans in Washington, DC feel lonely like I sometimes felt as an expat? Did they long to be with others who ‘get it’? Maybe they’d been away from the Philippines so long, immersed in American culture, that they felt detached from their homeland and longed to refresh their understanding of Filipino customs and culture. If so, how did they find each other to reconnect and enjoy mutual refreshment?

The point is, it takes a long time to carve out a place in another country enough to call it home. When you are with others to learn from, to commiserate with, to exchange stories and experiences with, it’s going to be a little bit easier. Gathering with others who share the same ethnic background could set things right.

This article I wrote for Taste.Company shows where this line of thinking took me. Special thanks to Editor Jenny Dorsey and Executive Director Jason Tengco of National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). Read in full here.

5 Ways Teens Changed My Parenting Style

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Parents of young children sometimes live under the illusion that if they parent well, they’ll be spared the challenges common to the teen years. It’s what I personally hoped for when my little ones were young. But as my kids grew and changed, I realized I needed to, too. Here’s what I learned along the way.

I learned to approach beloved family traditions with flexibility.

We raised our kids with the expectation that every Saturday morning started at the local coffee shop. It was a tradition we all enjoyed and looked forward to until my kids suddenly sprouted into teenagers and wanted to sleep until noon.

Instead of taking a hardline approach, KidsHealth professionals recommend flexibility when it comes to family activities. “Think back: You probably felt the same way about your mom and dad,” they advise frustrated parents.

Demanding rigid adherence to family activities will likely backfire, creating a tense situation — exactly the opposite outcome desired. So instead of an unyielding “always” tone, try the posture of “sometimes.” Then identify those family activities on the calendar that rise to the “mandatory” level and let the rest go.

I learned to accept a fluid dinner hour.

It’s long been my ambition to eat dinner around the table together, but things grew to a new level of helter-skelter with high schoolers coming and going amidst sporting events, invitations from friends and other commitments.

As life bulges to unprecedented levels of busyness, stick with family dinners whenever and however possible says clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting. If one teen must be absent, carry on with the rest of the family. If a partner is out of town, make the effort to gather the teens on your own.

The humble dinner hour provides a level of connectivity with teens that’s been tied to better grades, lower levels of depression and suicide attempts and less experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex, says Markham. Furthermore, teens who eat dinner with their families show a healthier approach to food, writes Cody C. Delistraty in The Atlantic. Wherever your family dinner comes from or however awkward your conversation may seem, Markham insists it’s worth being intentional about eating together around the table.

Read in full on ParentMap.

 

Blogging Improved My Child’s Writing- Maybe It Could Help Yours

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“I’ll only pay attention to your argument and how effectively you state your case. I don’t care about spelling, grammar or punctuation,” I said. My son’s shoulders relaxed. I could sense him exhaling the tension. Friction between us over writing assignments abruptly came to a halt and I could breathe more easily, too.

My son’s weekly assignment quickly became a hit because it released him to write freely without fear of messing up. Spelling in particular had paralyzed him but now he wrote, unrestrained. I also let my son choose the topics that interested him, so long as he defended his position on the subject.

Since I gave him control over the topic, he owned his work in a new way. He felt energized and motivated. It was still an assignment, but it felt less like ‘school’ for him. In fact, it went so well that I gradually nudged him towards two, sometimes three, posts per week.

Read in full,  Review, Texas Home School Coalition, pg 19.

My daughter’s teachers stood up to my helicopter parenting. I’m so glad they did.

My daughter's teachers stood up to my helicopter parenting. I'm so glad they did.-3-1Because sometimes, parents are too close to the situation and lack perspective.

“Schools have a lot on their hands, and surely, one of the greatest challenges for teachers and principals is dealing with stressed, over-reaching parents who, like me, can’t see the bigger picture. What ostensibly counts as supportive parenting can sometimes inadvertently disadvantage a child. That mother who volunteers in their daughter’s classroom every single day for years will smart when a teacher finally says: no more. That father of a kindergartner who arrives unfailingly at lunchtime to cut food into bite-sized pieces would do well to listen when a wise official suggests they let their son figure it out like  his classmates. Those parents who fight to have their gifted child skip a grade may find themselves being told something similar to what I heard: ‘Bad idea. She is where she needs to be.'”
Read in full on The Week.

My Italian Holiday Taught Me to Drink Aglianico and Celebrate the Everyday

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“Our leathered, weather-beaten landlord left fresh figs, tomatoes and lemons when he stopped by. He couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Italian so we talked with our hands and figured things out. When we were walking to the beach one afternoon, we saw him zipping down the street—shirtless—in shorts and flip-flops on his Vespa. This was his life. He looked over the Mediterranean every day, from whatever point of town he happened to be in, his full head of hair flying in the wind. This old Italian man, with his figs, tomatoes and lemons and view was a rich man in many ways.”

Read in full on Paste Magazine.

I was late to pick up my kid once. I’ll never do it again.

I was late to pick up my kid once. I'll never do it again.

“He’s 16 now, but he still remembers that day. When my kid hurts, I hurt myself, too. My absence at the end of the school day didn’t match my words at the beginning when I said I’d be waiting for him when school let out and summer began. This experience crystalized for me that punctuality is essentially making good on a promise. I was accountable to my 7-year-old, and it crushed him when another mom instead of his own showed up. My actions had inadvertently communicated that he was less important than my work, when in fact, my noblest work is wrapped up in being his mother.”

Read in full on The Week.

Through the Sand: A Driving Lesson From Dubai

Image 7-10-17 at 3.54 PMRead in full at The Manifest-Station. “I posed a million-dirham ($272,260.72 into today’s US dollar) question: “Do the children of Dubai play in sandboxes?” Our family, newly transplanted from the Washington, DC area where sandboxes had provided our children with hours of fun in earlier years, mulled over this question the summer we moved temporarily to the desert metropolis of Dubai. Even with all of Dubai’s development, if one catapulted high enough above the impressive skyline, Dubai seemed not too unlike one massive sandbox with ribbons of various roads lying thickly near the coast and rapidly thinning out in numbers the further away from the sandbox’s edge of the Arabian Sea, until only interminable sand remained.

The subject of driving, however, quickly claimed our attention as it rapidly morphed to the level of top priority. This critical arena of living required quick-study because learning this new turf involved navigating Dubai’s roads, roads which often betrayed the foundation they were laid upon: sand.

Continue reading “Through the Sand: A Driving Lesson From Dubai”

Our Nomadic Lifestyle Was the Best Gift We Ever Gave Our Kids

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My husband and I were living in Germany when I became pregnant for the first time. I had no idea back then how our daughter’s birth overseas would be the beginning of a family narrative that would shape my children’s lives so distinctly.

I received my doctor’s hearty approval—Kein Problem! — to vacation in Tuscany two months before my due-date. With great expectations, we joined our old German friends, transported to Florence in their sleek black Mercedes. Perhaps my doctor would have felt regret a few days later had he witnessed my husband and me standing in the wrong queue at the spectacular Il Duomo. We believed we were in line to see the cathedral, not climb to the top of the dome.

So it was, at 7-months pregnant I found myself climbing the notoriously winding, narrow stairwell of the Il Duomo. Four-hundred sixty-three steps with baby inside. It was claustrophobic. The air was stale. The thickness of other sweaty human beings clambering to the top pressed unforgivingly into my personal space: my rounded belly. Back on solid earth, I thought of what would have happened had I gone into labor then and there, in that tight, dank, ancient stairwell. I’d taken a risk, but since everything had turned out well, I was overjoyed to have that glorious view over Florence forever printed in my mind.

The mysterious relationship between pregnant woman and her unborn child is elusive. I was going on with my unorthodox life, carting my little unborn daughter along, unmindful of injecting a spirit of adventure in her.

We grew to be a family of four and lived for a short time in Dubai. Arabic music delighted us and we acclimated to the call of worship punctuating the air throughout the day.

Read the full story on SheKnows.

#Happenings: Recap of NYT Modern Love event and more…

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What’s going on with me? Writing is a slow, difficult journey–always. While I have been writing, revising, editing and submitting essays here and there and everywhere, I’ve also been learning, listening, reading and growing in the art of the writing craft. Going forward, I’m going to be sharing resources and various things I’m learning here with you. So, let’s get started!
Last week, I attended the The New York Times Modern Love event featuring Editor Daniel Jones interviewing the witty columnists Ada Calhoun and Mandy Len Cantron. As a fan of the column and writer myself, it was the highlight of my week. Ada and Mandy provided lively and entertaining banter about love and long-term relationships. Their recently published books are expansions of their essays, published by NYT Modern Love (look them up!).
The popular Modern Love column offers amazing writing and thoughtful perspectives, all owing to the genius of Dan Jones, who curates the column. And if you enjoy podcasts, I heartily recommend subscribing to the exceptionally well-produced Modern Love podcast. #NYTModernLove #love #loss #redemption
On final thing. I do have essays pending publication and I can’t wait to share them with you!