Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What All the Hard Work is For

When I started this blog, I wanted a place to put down my real thoughts about many of the ridiculous and painful aspects of motherhood. I was perplexed by the parade of gag-me-with-a-spoon, saccharine sweet, isn't-it-great takes on motherhood. I wanted to have somewhere to write down my silly, crazy daily thoughts on the entire experience of mothering two small children. I wanted to laugh.

Sometimes I go back and read my posts, though, and I think, "Damn, I was borderline nuts when I wrote that."

It's good to have a little sweetness from time to time, right? What did that batty lady that flew around with her umbrella, showing up to solve all the problems of misguided children used to say? Ah yes. A spoonful of sugar...

Tonight, I had my spoonful, and I thought I would share it here. Because as nails-on-a-chalkboard painful as it can be at times, you have moments like this that break your heart into pieces and remind you why you did it all in the first place. And that, given the chance, you'd do it all over again. And again. And again.

And again.

reading from rosana v on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sing With Me

Fuck Gymboree. I'd had my fill of the bacteria parachute that the children scamper under while the parents stand in a circle, holding the edges to create a giant forcefield of nastiness. I'd had enough of Creepy the Stuffed Clown who the poor, unlucky soul running the class had to actually speak through as if he was a real person, making the whole I'm-smiling-but-you-can-see-my-sad-sad-soul clown experience even weirder and more depressing. Fuck force-feeding my toddler some fake learning experience in the form of padded tunnels in jarringly bright primary colors that instead of awakening the mind, stuns it into catatonic submission.

I'd rather just sit on the floor and play blocks.

Ok. That's a lie.

Fine, I'll admit it. I wasn't quite ready to just completely give up on organized play with my kid. Come on. I live in the suburbs. I stay at home (at least part-time) with my kids. It's my job, my duty to embrace and expose my children to the ultimate useless, yuppie baby, headstart crap, right? I mean, what if I don't take a music class? Or a baby gymnastics class? J might never reach his full potential in life. And it will be all my fault.

My. Fault.

I just know, in my heart of hearts, that given the opportunity to bang on a lollipop drum, shake some maracas and have some other toddler drool on him will give him that edge to really go for it in life.

Maybe Gymboree wasn't for us. Maybe a music class instead? I mean, he does like drums. He head bangs whenever any music comes on -- even Bob Marley. I can tell he really feels music. Yeah.

And off we went. We hit up a music class in an area near our home known for its zip code. You know. One of those keeping-up-with-the-Joneses places. They are filled, I mean filled, with yuppie baby nonsense. It's something like 764 places per square mile where you can sing, dance, do yoga, climb, and magic-o, presto emerge with a well-rounded 2-year-old that does backflips while simultaneously speaking French and Chinese.

Dropped M off at preschool and headed straight to the class. We arrived early. As in no one was even there yet except the teacher, who greeted us in standard kiddie-play-class lingo: "HIIIIIIYEEEEE! Good morning to the both of you. And who do we have heeeeere?"

J stood there, frozen. He'd never seen anyone so...excited. With him rendered utterly speechless, I was forced to do his dirty work. "Heellllo. I'm Jack." (In kiddie-play-class communications, it is always important never to use your own voice, but to always, always speak through the child.)

We sat down in the mirrored, padded room and J immediately went to work on the instruments. A few minutes ticked by. No kids yet. Holy shit. Were we the only ones in this nightmare? I could feel the teacher getting squeakier by the moment, her energy level directly proportional to how high her voice got. The higher and more manic the voice, the more fun we were having.

F-U-N. Fun.

The class started with only the two of us, but within a few minutes a mom, two kids and nanny showed up. Thank GOD.
Then a couple more moms and kids showed up. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now we're talkin'.

And so we sang. And danced and leaped and twirled.

Or, rather, I should say I did all those things -- by myself. J ran around the room at full speed, occasionally throwing his body onto the padded floor and bursting out in giggles that I have to admit, were pretty contagious. No real interest in participating no matter how engaged I was. And let me tell you, I was mutha fuckin' engaged.

I kept glancing out of the corner of my eye, like every 1.16 seconds, hoping he would see just exactly how much fun I was having. Crazy fun. As in my eyes had bugged so far out of my head from singing (screaming) "Polly Put the Kettle On" I was afraid they might not go back. And I had a headache. Now that's crazy. Fun.

No dice. And there I was. Selling my soul to the devil and singing my heart out about frying up some imaginary egg while shaking my little egg shakers up and down, up and down, up and down. "Shake it to the left and shake it to the right!! Shake-a, shake-a-shake!!!"

I wasn't the only one either.

In an effort to engage us all, the teacher's singing and movements had become what can only be described as completely insane. Wild jumps and scary monster jazz hands that reminded me of what happens to cute little Gizmo if you feed him pizza after midnight. Plus,what toddler needs to hear a soulful, sexy growl in the middle of "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain? "She'll be-aaaaaa......coooooooomin' 'round the mountain when she comes..." Rrrrrrow.

Still, can't deny the efforts of someone who is is willing to jump out of her own skin to get little kids excited about music.


After what seemed like an eternity of shaking, twisting, running, yelling off tune and begging my toddler to please, please, please come to the circle only to be snubbed with a mocking cackle here and a condescending blow kiss there, it was time for class to end. We took it down a notch with a soothing round of bubble blowing (and bubble eating, if your name happens to be J). We bid each other adieu in song. J farted. Class was over.

Smashing success. Is there any doubt we're for sure coming back next week?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I Love My New Camera

My favorite gift from Christmas was a new camera. Like a real one that can do all the fancy focusing tricks and everything. I still don't know what the hell I'm doing, but I do know I can actually take decent pics of my kids now. Managed to capture two amazingly glee-filled moments of the two of them during our trip to the Bahamas.

True love...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Pools

“NOOOOO! I don’t want to go on the lazy river!!”

“Come on, honey! It’s so much fun! We’re going to float along and we’ll hold hands with Daddy and Jack from their tube.”

“No, it is too bumpy and scary.”

“Sweetie, I’ll be right there holding you.”


“Ok, fine…If you go down the lazy river, I’ll give you chocolate.”


Bribery. That’s what I’ve resorted to in order to get my oh-so-serious and oh-so-cautious preschooler to try new things.

We escaped the brutal East Coast winter temperatures for five days over New Year’s, trekking to the Bahamas and staying at the resort monstrosity known as The Atlantis. Water slides, water parks, and yes, oh yes, lazy rivers. A no-brainer vacation for a family with kids under five, right?

Sometimes things aren’t quite as simple as you think they’re going to be.

My child is sensitive. And, high-strung. And, cautious. And shy.

In other words, she freaks out over stuff like her “R”s not being quite right. She thinks deeply (well, as deeply as a 4-year-old can) about her relationships with other kids at school. She won’t say “Hi” back if you greet her, but will instead give you a look that says, “Can I crawl into a hole now?” It’s taken her two full years of coaxing to get her to feel comfortable in the pool and to – miracle of all miracles – dip her face in and blow bubbles.

As her mother, I struggle to know when to push her to jump over these hurdles and when to accept that they are part of who she is…and even look at them as character strengths rather than defects that will get in the way of her living a colorful, fulfilling life.

Throw in the whole mother-daughter element: The fact that she looks like me, makes the same facial expressions as me, and even has a tiny mole on her hip just like me and you have the perfect storm for a mommy-projecting-high-expectations-on-child situation.

Still, despite all these similarities, she is not me. Or is she?

There are pictures of me around M’s age hiding behind my mother’s skirt at a wedding. Not engaging. Not laughing. Not friendly. Hiding. Terrified. Shy. My mother has her arm around my head, holding me to her.

There are stories of my first weeks in preschool. Not making friends easily, wanting to play by myself. The most notorious story from that time is how my mother walked me into school one day, introduced me to another little girl, and pulled out some toys for us to play with. Knowing my tiny, Asian mother, this was done in the sweetest, gentlest way possible. Still...

My mother did gently nudge and encourage me, but for the longest time, she let me be me. I stayed shy and cautious into elementary school, though I was never made to feel bad about it. If I wanted to hide, read books in our dark basement instead of playing outside, or write stories about fairy princesses, no one ever said I should be doing something else.

And yet, M isn’t exactly like Little Rosana either. She makes friends. She loves school. She plays with other kids all the time. But, that shyness, that cautiousness, that sensitivity, it’s there. I see it because, well, you easily recognize traits you have yourself – especially the ones you don’t like that much.

It’s not easy being a shy, sensitive kid. It can quickly spiral into (gasp!) lack of confidence. I don’t want my child to feel like her default answer to trying new things is “Nope. No can do,” which is how I often felt as a little girl.

Then there’s this story. I was 9. My mom signed us up for swimteam. Being from another country, she wasn’t sure what to expect, but thought it would be a good idea to get us involved in some team sports.(I have to give her credit for not just thinking outside the box, but leaping out of it on this one. Thai people don't do swimteam.)

Legend has it, she looked at the notice on the bulletin board at our public pool, advertising a “meet,” and thought we were going to attend some sort of meeting or orientation. She filled out the paperwork and we showed up early Saturday morning thinking we were going to get an introduction to swimming. There, we were greeted with whistles, team chants, the firing of a start gun, and kids swimming furiously up and down roped-off lanes in the pool.

Any kid would panic at the uncertainty of the scene unfolding, but I thought I would die right there on the spot. I remember the anxiety filling my throat, my eyes opening wide as the coach approached us. I needed to lay down.

“Come on! We need another swimmer for the 9 to 10-year-old girls!” the young coach said as he grabbed my hand.

The next thing I knew, I was literally jumping into the pool and flapping my arms around like a bird, hoping my manic movements were somehow, some way propelling me forward. There is a picture of me gasping for air with a desperate arm shooting out of the water.

I didn’t even have a proper swim team suit.

But I finished. Third out of five. For the first time in my little life, despite the fact that I was petrified to the point that someone probably should have checked for my bathing suit for chocolate swirls, I didn't run.

And, I wasn’t half bad either.

From that point on, things done changed for Little Rosana. Not entirely and not overnight, but over time and with baby steps. So, what did she grow into? What became of that shy little girl? I'm happy to report, she is an adventurous, well-traveled, independent, friendly, fun-loving woman who still gets a little shy around new people. Not bad.

So, when I get that burning sensation to push M to do something, tell her she’s being silly or overdramatic, or minimize her feelings, I have to remember how I felt at her age. All I have to do is keep giving her opportunities to grow while recognizing she is who she is. Her shyness, cautiousness and sensitivity can also be wonderful traits that fuel a creative spirit and keep her from doing stuff like running headfirst into oncoming traffic.

So, back to the lazy river. M sucked it up, took one for the team (twice!), and didn’t even want the chocolate afterward. Still, enough was enough for my girl.

“Mama, I really, really don’t want to go on the lazy river again.”

“That’s fine, sweetie. You don’t have to,” I said as I wrapped the striped towel around her shoulders and pecked her on the cheek.

"Maybe when I'm bigger I'll like the lazy river more? We can try it again when I'm just a little bit older?"

"Sounds like a plan, honey. Sounds like a plan."