Thursday, March 25, 2010

Right-sizing Easter Traditions

Easter is just around the corner. It's supposed to be a time of rejoicing. However, with Easter only a week away, I am elbow deep in pointless checklists. What's on my to-do list this Easter, you ask? Here are just a few things I tend to fuss over:
    [✔]hair appointments
    [✔]matching outfits
    [✔]obnoxiously oversized baskets
    [✔]elaborate meal preparations
    [✔]family photo appointment
    [✔]hefty investments in greeting cards
Note that none of these items bear the slightest relevance to the purpose for the special day.

And so, I find myself in a new season. Learning. Breathing. Growing. Putting things back into perspective.

We're going to scale back our Resurrection Day celebration plans this year. We're going to redirect our energy towards the real reason for the season. We're going to bring our focus back into balance. We'll be right-sizing our traditions, and the first step in our overhaul plan is a simple recognition of one man who gave His life so that we all could have eternal life.

The girls will still decorate eggs and participate in a hunt or two. The Easter egg hunt is a great illustration reminding us of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

I'll let someone else take over this part of the story:

(On Good Friday, Jesus died. Hallelujah!)

And really for us, celebrating doesn't get more purposive than that.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Transformative Living

involves one of these

in these dimensions

to contain all this.

So at least it looks like I'm pulling it all together.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Too Many Toys

Our family room doubles as a playroom (or maybe it's the other way around). At any rate, now that we share our living space with the girls, Teddy and I are tired of watching toys terrorize our living room. A mismatched-plastic-princess-slipper graveyard is buried beneath the couch. A talking, pooping, vomiting half naked doll is crammed in a corner. A primary colored VTech move and crawl ball that no longer moves or crawls is stowed in the ottoman. We are tired of watching our living room overran with toddler shrapnel.

So, we did what any responsible parents would do. We invested in pastel colored toy storage furniture to clear the clutter. We've sorted, donated, reciprocated, and rotated. However, rather than fostering organization, the bins seem to be the destination place for miniature toy procreation. The more we tidy, the more they multiply. But just what is driving our excessive toy collection?

On problems with clutter and toy consumerism, one Illinois mom blogged about the issue of too many toys and framed the discussion in a broader context of Global citizenship. She put it this way:
... more often than not, kids don't enjoy the plastic toys and you have to beg them to play with them. The only F.P. product he's absolutely loved was his small piano (4 notes) and his bubble mower. Otherwise it's been worthless plastic kid crap that took endless resources to make and mold that ends up being so disposable at the end of it's short life, it ends up getting donated and re-sold for pennies on the dollar. Disposable-ness & cheapness goes along with so easy to buy, so difficult to get rid of.
Is this a matter of American consumerism? We have too much because we buy too much?  Is my Fisher Price clutter a play and learn metaphor for global landfills?

Teddy and I are minimalists.  Our home is about 1200 sq ft., we have no cable, no form of gas guzzling transportation, and neither of us own a cell phone.  The only reason we own a microwave is because it came with the house.  Money is tight and we don't purchase many toys, so Deborah's perspective, though broad, may be too far a reach for my small scale toy dump woes. A more conclusive probe was needed.  So I looked to a recent discussion with my five year-old.

In the car ride home from school today, Sadia lamented, "Mom, I'm the only one in my class [of five year olds] that doesn't have a Nintendo DS."

This is what she clamored for.  A super sleek, super sharp, super expensive game console that is the modern equivalent of the Gameboy popularized when I was a kid.

Like my parents did with me, I too had deprived Sadia of access into the "in-crowd" by not buying her the toy.  With children of my own, I have a better understanding of my moms decision, born out of principal rather than financial means.  Raising children of substance is the crux where difficult decisions are made and overpriced gadgets don't make the cut.  But initially I reacted to Sadia's experience with feelings of guilt. 

I know what it is to feel like the only have not in elementary school. It is an extremely isolating experience. While the rest of my peers accumulated the latest gadgets and a reciprocal boost in popularity, I fell further and further behind the approval curve. Sadia felt left out at school and that resonated with me. I wondered whether her mounting toy collection stemmed from my own latent desire for her to fit in.  My "brown" daughter already stands out on campus as it is.  Could more stuff make this reality less upsetting?  Is this growing toy problem driven by feelings of guilt?

On this issue of guilt, Deborah Bohn, co-author of a blog called Babyzone, shared a few insights from Tom Limbert of Standford University's Bing Nursery School of Child Development Research and Training here.  According to Tim, sometimes our kid's plethora of toys IS a byproduct of guilt. He writes:
Believe it or not, another common reason parents cite for buying tons of toys is because they feel they ought to. Peer pressure induced by visits to other children's homes often sends mothers running to the store for more junk.
When I heard that Sadia was the only kid in her class without the video game console, I felt like the worst mom in the world. No mother wants her daughter to feel left out, and comments from friends and family like, "You've got to get this new toy and that new gizmo!" or "She doesn't have a DSi?" can have the same isolating affect.

But blaming well meaning family for my overindulged children is far too easy and frankly just does not get to the heart of the matter. I am extremely grateful for my children's grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family. My purpose here is not to question their love and support. So, I decided to probe more closely at the problem of too many toys.

If I am honest, then the real source of guilt driving my over-consumption of toys stems from my own efforts to occupy my kids attention while trying to balance a family, work, school, and personal time table.

On dealing with the guilt brought on by feelings of parental inadequacies, Michael Grose, Australia's parenting educator and author of the blog Parenting Ideas wrote:
Let’s face it, parents can find plenty of issues to feel guilty about. Leaving children in child-care, long hours spent at work, and even discipline measures are common sources of guilt.
There really is no end to the stream of guilt I experience as a working mom.  My kids are at school from 8 to 4 Monday through Friday.  As soon as we walk through the door, my kids give me a quick recap about their day while I'm busy preparing dinner.  By the time dinner is finished we're pouring over Sadia's homework, and then well into the bedtime routine.  Perhaps if the toy is fancy enough, shiny enough, or new enough it will put me more at ease about these compromises.  But fancy, shiny, and new only goes so far, and my kids grow disinterested with the toys.  It seems like the more toys they have, the more whineyer they become.

I suppose the toy my kids really want, is me.  Unfortunately, I have yet to master being fully present for my kids while meeting the demands of managing a busy household piled on top of the pressures of navigating work and school responsibilities. Sometimes I use my summers off as a rationale for my compromise during the year.  I can always make this time up during my two and a half months off.  Or, still maybe it's easier to make the latest toy accessible, because it appeases my own feelings of guilt for not spending more time with my kids.

From this perspective, my toy management issue is really a quality of life assessment and the matter of too many toys pales by comparison.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom! Wait, that isn't chocolate....

Well, it looks like "Simona Pooplooza" kicked off  2010 with a bang.  The event coincided with Valentine's Day this year.  While Teddy and I relaxed in bed a little later than usual and exchanged Valentine's Day gifts, Simone made a Valentine's Day deposit of her own in bed.  It looked like chocolate.  She had smeared the tell tale signs of the brown stuff everywhere.  Tiny, curious handprints covered her body, crib posts, and linens. Its aroma wafted through the air and invaded my nostrils.  Wait...., that isn't chocolate.  It was the $#!t... LITERALLY.  I'll spare you the pictures, but the cute, hand-picked crib bumper that once lined the safety rails?  Gone.  The once adorable, matching Abby Rose bedding?  Off to the incinerator.  Got any recommendations for a new toddler bed?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blogging for Healthy Hearts

Hello Blogger Community,
Did you know that coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks, is the leading cause of death for American women?  It's an alarming fact that can't be ignored.

Over the next two weeks, my students and I will raise funds and awareness for the American Heart Association, to help fight heart disease.  Will you help us reach our fundraising goal of $100? 

Click on the link, donate a buck or two, and join us in saving lives!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Anna Quindlen On Being a Mom

I got this email from a good friend and colleague today.  Anna's insights expressed here really resonate with me and I wanted to share them with my mommy-blogger-friends.
All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow, but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathr oom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.
Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now.  Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations.  What they taught me, was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all.
Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.
When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.  I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he de velopmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.
Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the 'Remember-When-Mom-Did' Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, 'What did you get wrong?' (She insisted I include that here.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?
But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night.
I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.
Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.
As I read this post I wished I was less of a doer and more of a be-er.  I wished I was the kind of mom that treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

I always here people talk about living in the moment.  More often than not, this concept escapes me.   How terribly impractical it sounds.  Now however, as I try to remember the quirky way Sadia dished a school yard experience at the dining room table last night, ironically I can't even remember that cute little thing she did that made me fall out of my chair laughing.   I remember us all gathered at the table, but the vision goes black at that comedic moment Her mannerisms brought the whole house to a halt and all I can remember is trying to stick to the bedtime routine.  Sadly, I was more focused on finishing her homework and less on the personality that was evolving right before my eyes.

Tonight I will lend more of my present self to my children's shovels, picks, extra hugs, kisses, and all other tricks they may take up to excavate my humanity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This isn't Kansas Anymore Toto

I couldn't let the landmark event from the Wizard of Oz go without a mention.

Today's weather forecast: Rain? Yes. Thunderstorms? Likely. Hail? Probable. Tornado??????????????? YES???!!!

Apparently a tornado touched down in various locations throughout Orange County today. You can read more about our weird weather here.

Following the tornado, a National Weather Advisory Warning blew through Orange County Schools like a..., well, like a tornado. The warning was prompted by an uncharacteristic storm moving through the area..., and perhaps this incredibly trendy street embellishment had a little something to do with it, no?
(Photo borrowed from the Orange County Register)

SIDEBAR: Sunset Beach residents certainly have a flare for the dramatic (smile).

I know this because at some point between English and Science class a very unfriendly all-school alert came blaring from the PA system:

Will all students and teachers return to their classrooms. Do not proceed to PE. Do not go to the library. Return to your classrooms immediately and close your doors.

Here's the trivia question for the day: What do you get when you cross an all-school alert to close doors and stay away from windows with a classroom full of mischievous elementary school kids? Well, if you're playing along at home and you guessed a wave of curious faces suctioned cupped to the nearest available glass, then you win the gold star for the day. My students were so eager to get a glimpse at whatever transpired outside my window, that they completely ignored all cautionary warnings and vied for any Hot-Cheetos-scented, fog-covered spot they could find at the pane.

No actual images of the phantom twister surfaced on the web, so I asked students to describe what they remembered from their own first-hand experiences.

One account of note, reported lots of flying debris, and a young lady wearing red sparkly shoes and carrying a little dog.

On a serious note Californians don't see weather like this too often, so find a comprehensive list of tornado safety tips here.

Clearly, the site's credibility can be measured more by what's missing from the safety tips, rather than what's included in them. Noticeably absent from among the suggestions are oldies but goodies:
  1. clicking your heels together three times
  2. and saying, "There's no place like home."

Sunday, January 17, 2010


When I posted the previous blog, Don't Quit back in October, there was no way for me to predict how frequently I would need to cleave to the principles espoused in those 24 lines of text.

I've been overwhelmed by a lot of pressure over the last four months. I've juggled family, spiritual growth, work, school*, and personal time, which is to say nothing of efforts to wrap my brain around the sheer insanity of the crisis currently plaguing our world. Juggling it all is like juggling heirloom ornaments. With so much going on in my life, some things were bound to drop. Sadly, my spiritual life and my blog were among the casualties and a palpable difference in the quality of my life resulted. I ran on empty, suffered from the damage (most notably an energy deficiency), and am now reflecting on the lessons I've taken away from the experience.

That brings me to point of this post. What you're about to watch is a science demonstration vlog carried out in class last week. It is a great metaphor for my recent bankrupt life. Here we're learning about basic scientific principles related to air pressure. What you don't see in the video is the third investigation, where students decided to reduce the water content inside the can to one teaspoon. The impact was far greater than that of the first trial. Imagine me in place of the Pepsi can.

I've slowly started to progress towards regaining balance, having a healthy caution about extremes, and re-establishing my personal time with God. Thank you to those of you who have (virtually) stopped by from time to time to offer an encouraging word. I realize that my problems pale in comparison to the tragedies faced by countless others. I have a blessed life; the problem is I want more. I want to feel like I am truly living my life and not just surviving, and I don't want to sacrifice my spiritual life on the altar of professional gain.

*I enrolled in Cal State Fullerton's Master Program last Fall.


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