Jun 26, 2010

Hitting Those Books Again

I'm in a lovely book club, with some favorite friends. Coey and Mrs. B of The Literary Stew formed the group a few months ago, just in time, as I had gone back to reading Books For My Pleasure--not just Books For The Children and Books In Aid Of Parenting or Books About Rising Above Your Shitty Past/Self, a.k.a Buddhism With A Trademark. When the kids were, baby-babies, it seems all I could comprehend were Babycenter, Babble, Malcolm Gladwell, Ken Robinson, Alfie Kohn and the like. Goodbye Murakami.

I though it serendipitous the first novel chosen for our book club was Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. That was actually the one and only piece of fiction I was able to enjoy during my reading dry-spell of sorts. I loved it then, and I loved re-reading it. Made me cry in the same parts... as well as in some new ones. The boy with autism in the book is one of my all-time favorite young protagonists. You get a rare chance to see into his mind and understand his feelings (yes, people with autism have feelings) thanks to the author. It's no surprise that Mark Haddon used to teach special kids. He must have been a great teacher.

Coey was in charge of picking our next book and she chose another winner: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The first half waxes philosophical quite a lot. I took her words in by sipping it slow. Barbery had some sentences that were just so beautifully thought-out I would read them several times over. Sometimes I'd think, did she mean this or that? For the record, she has the most erudite and profound explanation for why Japanese spaces are made more poetic by sliding doors. Who knew? But I agreed! Renee is a wonderfully unique protagonist, but Paloma... oh the young, angry, suicidal Paloma! I have a soft spot for the Palomas and Holden Caulfields of this world--fictional and otherwise. If you have read The Catcher in the Rye and meet The Hedgehog's Paloma character you may catch my drift. The second half is when the plot thickens with some good old love and romance. Then it ends... sigh... bringing tears of shock, then melancholy and--oddly--a creeping sense of joy.

Now I wax philosophical a bit myself and think... this back-to-the-books stage marks a milestone for me as a mother. Yup, a mother. Apparently, I'm more settled about this parenting business. No more pressure to read so much Crucial Research as if to acquire some sort of Parenting PhD from the University of Google, Amazon and Powerbooks. That pursuit still interests me a lot, and yet, here I am, when I can enjoy an evening like this....

After enjoying Geronimo Stilton, Fancy Nancy and some funny Silverstein poems with the kids, they are sound asleep. Pappy is watching downloaded TV--without me, his usual viewing partner. Not this night, because I am reading The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Set in postwar England, the old haunted Georgian house in the book is so imposing, so menacing, it's practically the main character--haunted by past trauma and hurt... haunted by a sly, freaky, cruel little poltergeist. There's a sense of foreboding in every page, even in the cheerier parts. To ease the night time jumpiness it gives me, I read it with a glass of wine. Nice. I had fiction-and-wine night, for heaven's sake. My cup just freaking runneth over.

Jun 24, 2010


Nothing says Lovely Innocence than a smocked dress. I am relishing these days when my chicha-pachicha still wears little girl smocking.

Pictures from Monica Baretto for Ines Moda Infantil. If you're in Manila, more sweet Ines dresses available at 2A Kensington Place, 1st Avenue, Bonifacio Global City. 9:00am to 5:00pm (Monday to Friday) 856-7631.

Jun 19, 2010

Phone Pal

Macdaddy and I are still on the road. We're home-bound in a few days. I keep my mobile phone open 24/7. I want the boys to know they can reach me if they need to. So I was hardly surprised yesterday when I received an "urgent" text message in the wee hours of the morning.

(via MacYaya's phone, 3:32 a.m. my time, 6:32 p.m. his)
Mak. Hi Mama. Is it night time there?
My reply. Hi. It's the middle of the night. Super early morning.
Mak. Here it's the start of the night.

Back to bed. Thankful for technology.

Jun 17, 2010

360 Degrees

This is where MacDaddy and I had our first-ever date.  It technically wasn't a real date (and I think I reminded him that way too often that day).  So it seems kind of cool actually that we would find ourselves here on our very last day in this amazing city.  Fourteen years later. Officially on a date this time. With two four-year olds waiting for us back home. 

Jun 13, 2010

Where Soul Lives

We found it. In seafood gumbos and praline pies. In three hundred year old oak trees and one hundred year old recipes. In creole plantations and slave cabins. In mint juleps and mango daiquiris. In jazzy tunes and the good ole' blues. In steamboat rides along the Mississippi river. In beads and bosoms (and bare behinds!) on Bourbon.

And then, of course, there's the other "soup" for the soul.

It took us three plane rides and twenty-six hours to get here from home but we think it was well worth the trek.

Jun 11, 2010

Seeing Stars

Stars is dropping a new album called 5 Ghosts this June 22. Yaaay! Reminded me about how Chicha and I love singing out Elevator Love Letter. And well, I let her hear Fixed from 5 Ghosts and she likes that too. We likey very much...

Oh also, another one of her mama's old favorite Stars songs is 14 Forever. I'm putting that on rotation again. Ten thousand drunken kids in a field can't be wrong, the song must be beautiful or they wouldn't sing along. And if sometimes the kids seem a little sad, it's cause they're saying goodbye to the youth they think they had...

It's kind of cool how the little girl here at home gets the band that sang Bitches from Tokyo, Your Ex-Lover is Dead and Take Me to the Riot. Or... it's kind of scary.

Jun 6, 2010

Are You Raising a Praise Junkie?

First, a shameless plug. Grab the June 2010 issue of Working Mom. I wrote an article about Singapore Math. It's quite the school buzzword these days, so I attempted to explain what it's about. There are tips on how you can incorporate Sing-Math concepts at home. Better than drill-and-kill methods, I promise. I also did a feature story on the effects of too much praise on children. Shocking but true: it breeds future underachievers. My draft of the article is posted below. Version polished by my lovely editor you can read for P120. But hey, that comes with the entire awesome Working Mom package!

It’s hard not to say, “good job” every time my daughter shows me her latest artwork or when she writes her name quite legibly for a 3-year-old. She has also started to read and I am impressed whenever she recognizes signs we pass by. I can’t help but pile on the wows--“wow, you really read that!” as I throw her a matching you-are-so-awesome-kiss.
There should be nothing wrong with letting my daughter know how proud I am of her early achievements. Children are told how much potential they have so they can rise to challenges and they don’t settle for mediocrity. We also want to build their self-esteem, right? This is why we tell them they’re so smart or they’re so galing. We put surprise notes in their lunchbox to tell them “you can do anything!” Then there are the star charts and reward stamps for every little task accomplished.

When Saying 'Good Job' Turns Bad

But if we pay attention to the growing body of research, we’ll see that too much praise and rewards can do our children more harm than good. US researchers have studied scores of middle and upper school underachievers -– from notable schools, with very involved parents –- who were once precocious youngsters. Parents, teachers and other adults couldn’t help but notice these early achievers so they got more than their fair share of good-jobs, stars and rewards.

Then on their way to middle school, all that praise backfired. How? As they realized that not everything comes easy. Handwriting needed a lot of practice. Scoring a goal was a struggle. Math wasn’t as joyful to learn as reading. The new teacher wasn’t easily impressed and had higher standards for good work. In middle school, challenge and failure hit them like ten-ton bricks.
Praise vs. Encouragement

Experts say, as children mature, encouragement is what we should emphasize—not praise. There is a difference between the two. But first, consider your child’s developmental stage. Babies and toddlers do benefit from praise directed at independent exploration. In a study of 24-month-old children, researchers observed how mothers responded to their toddlers while attempting a challenging task. These same families were invited back to the laboratory a year later and the children were tested again. Researchers found that the 36-month-old children who were most likely to tackle challenges—and to persist at a task—were the ones whose mothers had praised their independence at 24 months. The same results were seen among toddlers whose parents praised them specifically for proper behavior.

As your child turns into a preschooler, there’s a need to adjust your approach. It’s now time to reign-in the praise as you enter the world of big kids. Careful also with what you praise them for. If your child begins to display prodigy potential and you heap on the “you’re so smart” or “you’ve got the talent” – you could be setting her up for future underachievement. Because no matter how intelligent or talented any child is, she is bound to struggle with certain things. Someday, something will not come easy and instead of trying harder, a child whose ego has been over-stroked may opt to just… opt out.

The classic case of the underachiever—they’re afraid to do anything that could make them fail and lose the high praises they have learned to crave. Many underachievers are actually praise junkies.

Kids can also get the message that it’s either you’re naturally good at something or you’re not. They can be conditioned to think that if it doesn’t come easy or “naturally” there is no point in trying. You’ve probably heard “but mom, I just really suck at math!”

Positive Conditioning

To condition your child to face challenges with a positive attitude, use encouragement instead. Developmental Psychologists Jennifer Henderlong Corpus and Mark Lepper of Reed College in the US have analyzed over 30 years of studies on the effects of praise on children. They give us guidelines on how to do it right:

  • Be sincere and specific with your praise. Praise only if you really mean it. Even young kids can sense insincerity or pandering. When praise is deserved, don’t say things like “you’re a genius!” Instead say, “You’re already learning how letters form words. You’re starting to read. That’s good!”
  • Praise kids only for traits they have the power to change. To the same child above, you can say “the more you try to read other words, the better you will get, until you can read a book on your on.” Forget saying, “you’re so smart.” Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck explains, “emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no recipe for responding to a failure.”
  • Use descriptive praise that conveys realistic, attainable standards. Saying “I like how you use different shapes and textures in your collage” gives your child useful feedback. Her work was acknowledged and at the same time, you taught her what your standards were for a good collage. Saying, “you’re amazing!” or “that’s a masterpiece!” is not only vague, it can send the message, “I expect nothing less than a Picasso-level masterpiece missy!”
  • Be careful about praising kids for achievements that come easily. Once it’s well established your child has mastered a skill, temper down the praises. My daughter rightfully earned praise the first few times she revealed her reading precocity. After that, I had to stop the wows for every road sign she decoded or every book she devoured all by herself. My daughter once said, “Mama look it says e-le-va-tor.” I was tempted to say “oh-my-gawd you’re only three and you read that with no visual clue of an actual elevator!” Instead I just gave her a bright smile and said, “Yes that sign says elevator.”
  • Be careful about praising kids for doing what they already love to do. Your kid is a Lego brick master? Let him know you’re happy he works hard to build his creations every now and then. Do not call him Mr. Fantastic Future Engineer or tell him he’s “just awesome” every time he builds something. Yes, no matter how awesome his each-and-every Lego creation truly is.
  • Encourage kids to focus on mastering skills—not on comparing themselves to others. If you will dish out the occasional good job, emphasize the effort rather than the outcome. Your daughter won the Gold at her school’s Math Olympics? Do not to harp on the fact that she bested other kids. Social comparison praise develops poor losers. The motivation should be doing your best or improving your self—not clobbering the competition.

A Certified Genius Speaks

Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.” A tad over-dramatic maybe, but Einstein was obviously very smart. The point is, whatever he achieved he had to work hard for. The Theory of Relativity did not just magically pop out of his head. Years of study, struggle and labor were involved.

We bring up Einstein’s work ethos because how we praise our children can make or break their ability to persist. Developmental experts believe persistence can be cultivated by using intermittent reinforcement. Washington University biologist Robert Cloninger explains, “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

Praise should not be withheld at all costs. It’s one way we show our kids we’re proud of them. As a motivating force it is quite powerful, but it does lose potency when overused. Use it way too much and praise can kill persistence--and even little Einsteins need persistence to make something out of all their potential.

Jun 4, 2010

When Choppers Fly

MacDaddy took this picture a few months ago in a pretty little town we stumbled upon by chance. I like this photo. One, because I don't usually like to leave things to chance. (and its a good reminder that I should!) And two, because I love that this could very well be me and MacD in a few decades. Less of the coif, less pounds, hopefully. But you get the picture.

Eleven years ago, MacDaddy and I promised to have and to hold from that day forward. We also promised to go on adventures together. And we did. But then the boys came along after six long years and I was hooked, in love, deliriously happy and perfectly contented with staying put. I couldn't even think about leaving them for a night. I guess you could say I became that "hovering" kind-of-mom. Ahh there, I said it. Hi. My name is Nana. And I am a chopper mom.

I left for a weekend eight months after they were born. The temptation of watching my favorite band was too hard to resist. The trip was quick and relatively painless. I felt brave enough the year after that to go on a two-week trip. While MacDaddy and I were away, I called home a lot. I worried a lot. But I also managed to enjoy a lot. When I got home and found out Mak had a fever I cried all night - guilt mode on turbo - kicking myself for leaving and not being there for them. Let's just say this chopper was temporarily grounded for a very, very long time after that. Later (rather than sooner) Macdaddy and I went on a trip with his family. The boys happily checked in at their own hotel moved in with my parents. I called home so much MacDaddy said our phone bill could have paid for extra plane tickets. Still, we all had a blast in the end. The boys included. False starts, bumpy rides aside, the chopper learned to fly again.

Some tips and two cents:

Involve them in the planning. I know it appears heartless to be yakking about a trip they aren't taking, but the boys enjoy helping out while I search online for possible hotels and places to see. That and think of the extra lessons they get in geography. "Mama, I only like the room with that bath tub." "Mama, can you climb the Eiffel tower like Spiderman?"

Bring out the baggage. I leave empty suitcases lying around the hallway a week before we leave. A chance to air out the luggage, condition their minds and better prepare everyone (me included). The boys' bags are brought out too so they're reminded they're going on a little adventure of their own as well.

Prepare an Itinerary. Let the kids keep a copy. That way they know where you are, what you're possibly up to and when you'll be back.

While away, call, text, e-mail or instant message. I have a sneaking suspicion this is really more for the parent than for the child but hey, whatever helps ( and dare I say all of the above ). It's a great and fun way to keep tabs and stay in touch.

Come home with tons of pictures and stories. Self explanatory. They'll have tons for you too.

Be grateful. For grandparents who are only too happy to babysit, for aunts and friends all set to entertain them in your absence, for yaya who looks after them, for the husband who can still manage a smile after the phone bill arrives and for the coolest kids in the world who understand.

on the road, on the phone:

It's that time again. I'm nervous, wee-bit guilty about missing the Mak-Tatos' first day of school but excited and absolutely psyched for this year's "we- time" . We've picked a pretty city by the bay with some family to see, a brand new place to explore that's oozing with good music and food and a little side trip to the city where our own little story began. An adventure promised. This chopper is ready for take off.

Jun 1, 2010

Snippets of Summer

We like the things that summer brings
It brings the sun. It brings the heat.
It brings the things we like to eat.
Summer brings so many things.
Summer brings us rides on swings!
We stay awake and think of things...
the happy things that summer brings!
-from Summer by Alice Low

Goodbye, Summer of 2010. That was fun.