Jan 31, 2011

Good Read - A Walk in the Rain with a Brain

If you read my novel article for Working Mom, you'd know that I don't exactly break into a song and dance with cartwheels when people ask me how each boy measures up to the other. Who's smarter. Who's quicker. Who's better. It.. well... bugs me. It really does. My personal favorite? Middle-aged lady bending over to be eye level with Mak and Tato (for extra impact I guess?): "Soooooo.. which one of you is the good one and which one is the bad one?" Oh, wait. I think that deserved a cartwheel. Maybe even a song and a dance.

Which is why I love Edward Hallowell's children's book: A Walk in the Rain with a Brain. Dr. Hallowell, teacher, psychiatrist and advocate for children with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder writes: I originally wrote this book for my three young children. I wanted to teach them a wonderfully liberating truth: no brain is the best. It is crucial that children do not start believing an insidious myth most people throughout history grew up believing: that only a few people are "smart". That belief has held far, far more people back than lack of brainpower ever did.

The story line is a bit odd but the message is unbelievably powerful. Lucy, a little girl, walks outside on a rainy day and spots Manfred, a brain. As they wander about looking for his head (I warned you didn't I?) she asks him to help her become smart. Fred said with a start, "Everyone's smart! You just need to find out at what!"

There's more! There's more!

No brain is the same, no brain is the best. Each brain finds its own special way.

You can slide, you can read, you can run - whatever you do make it fun!

We're all smart inside.
And no brain should hide!
What we each need to do,
As we grow, me and you,
Is try all that we possibly can.

This one's a keeper.

Jan 26, 2011

Mom, what's a geometrical paradox?

I'm remembering this old song and video because Whitest Boy Alive is playing Manila this March. How many years hence, it is still one of the coolest, geekiest things I've ever seen. Take a break and watch. See how it can literally make your skin creep and crawl, but in a good way.

So now, in case your kid asks you, What's a geometrical paradox? you've got your answer.

Jan 22, 2011

The Birds, the Bees and The Cannibal

Tato: Mama, why did you eat me and Mak?
Me: Whaat?!
Tato: You ate me and Mak and we stayed in your tummy until the doctor got us out.
Me: I didn't eat you and Mak.
Tato: So.. how did we go inside your tummy?

Awkward silence.

Mak: Tato, hurry! Pororo's on TV!
Tato: Yay! Bye, mama!

Arghh. I hate that. I knew the questions would come sooner rather than later and I sort of already knew what to say. I knew the drill: act normal, age-appropriate, at their level, just the facts. We may have been sidelined this time by a show about the adventures of a little penguin but these little minds need to know. At the very, very least that doctors don't save helpless little children from baby-eating mamas.

I'll be ready next time. I better be.

Cartoon c/o Cyanide and Happiness (click on image to see better)

and a happy little reminder that kids are way smarter than we think

Jan 16, 2011

Parenting Workshop with Dr. Honey Carandang

News of this workshop was shared by a friend and so I thought of spreading the word here. Please check out the flyer below. Hope everyone's having a good weekend with the family!

Parenting is Nation-Building

Parenting nowadays is not as simple as it was before. There are more stressors that impact on our families such as the internet, computer games, exposure to violence, the emergence of non-traditional families due to separation and overseas migration, challenging school and workload, and even heavy traffic!

We now need to make more informed decisions and learn to parent with mindfulness.

We are inviting you to a whole afternoon of listening, learning, and sharing as we discuss parenting across the different stages.  This workshop is open to all who are taking care of children including single parents, teachers, social workers, counselors and even those who are now parenting their parents.

Together, we can work towards building fully functional, healthy families which can serve as the foundation of our beloved Philippines.

To build a solid nation, we must start with our families. So come to

Parenting is Nation-Building
with Speaker and Facilitator
Ma. Lourdes “Honey” A. Carandang, Ph.D.
February 17, 2011, 1-6pm 
Club Filipino, Greenhills

Workshop fee is P4,000. To make sure you have a slot, a reservation of P2,000 must be paid on or before January 28, 2011. For further details please call 5699726 or 7210498, or email mlac.institute@gmail.com

*Proceeds will go to parenting workshops for poor families in Pansol, Daang Tubo, and Marytown, Quezon City.

Jan 14, 2011

So Have You Watched RPG Metanoia?

Remember, I did a little plug in anticipation of the opening of RPG Metanoia? So have you watched it? We did, and loved it! That includes thumbs up from both Viva Mamas and our little brood. Paul Daza from Spot.PH loved it too. What a heartfelt review.

Well, it's the weekend and you can still catch it. Go! Word from Ambient Media's creative director himself: RPG's cinema run has been extended. It continues to play at SM North Edsa, Mall of Asia and SM Megamall. Wooohoo!

Jan 12, 2011

Mother Superior

Amy Chua with her daughters. Photo from The WSJ.

There's a column in the Wall Street Journal by writer Amy Chua that I've been going back to for the last 3 days because of the reaction it's been getting on its comment thread. It's entitled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Really, that is the title. I want to give her cheeky editor a high-five. Thank you Bambi for sending the link. Interesting is an understatement!

So far, the column has garnered more than 3000 comments, and counting. Lots of not-too-happy commenters there, many of them Asian, particularly Chinese. Some of the comments I'm reposting here:

Xiao Chen:
I'm glad my mother didn't raise me up like this. She's always just wanted me to be happy with what I decide. If I've made a wrong decision or a mistake, she encouraged me to clean it up and right my wrongs. So what if your daughter can play the Little White Donkey perfectly, she could have been doing something more productive with friends, while developing her social skills and gaining her perspectives at the same time. Like the old Chinese saying, "One would find a teacher among three friends". I sincerely hope that you will allow your daughter to have more play time. No boyfriends, no dates, that part I can understand. But no sleepovers, no school plays, no A minuses? You have gotta be joking. So you are just trying to shove your kids into the stereotypical mold that we are trying to get out of -- nerdy, anti-social, cold, nonathletic, etc
How about taking your daughters to the Salvation Army or Wheeler mission, to give back to the society? We are by far one of the worst groups in regards to charity work and donations.
And no, not all Chinese mothers are like this, and thank God!

Anieh Yohbadad:
I never thought I would say this, but Ms. Chua should be ashamed. Asian American young women have an abnormally high suicide and depression rate, and according to those who study the phenomenon, most of that has to do with fascist parenting. It is utterly irresponsible and, frankly, disgusting, to ignore that in a piece highlighting and promoting that style of parenting. I sincerely hope that her daughters get counseling and help if they need it (and based on this piece, they just might).

Richard Chin:
This article should be titled "Why Psycho Mothers Are Superior." There are weird people in every culture, and trust me, this woman is not normal in any culture.

Of course, it's best to read the article yourself and see how it strikes you. I'd really like to know if you think ordering your kids to get straight A's (A- unacceptable), or motivating your child with statements such as hey fatty, lose some weight constitute superior parenting. Her style of parenting may  produce people who make lots of money, corporate-types, academics, doctors, lawyers, and music proteges. But while it's great to be rich, work in a top-tier corporation, be a doctor or lawyer, there is more to life... What if your child wants other career options? What about loving your work and being happy and fulfilled? 

Look at her explanation as to why Chinese children in America never, ever get Bs. 

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.
And if the child is a little emotionally vulnerable to  being excoriated, punished and shamed? Perhaps that's just not acceptable as well. 

Another thing that glares at me: I think Amy Chua holds little value for creativity, imagination and inspiration. The kind of sparks that hit a young Bill Gates when he was allowed to play with computers, Martin Scorsese when he  watched his first good movie, Michael Phelps when he hit the pool, Jose Rizal when he created his first comic stories, Einstein when he was allowed to layoff rote memorization to figure things out for himself.  

Me, I believe in imagination and creativity. Yes, kids have to learn to persevere and persist. Definitely, life can be a struggle and kids need to learn how to deal with it and work hard. But no, I am not "overriding their preferences" as Mother Superior prescribes so that they can "learn to love" what they are "supposed" to.  

It is possible to put in a good days work, even struggle with it, but at the end of the day, be happy about it. Because we chose our own path. Because we were inspired to get there. Not because a strident, perfectionist, screaming mother told us we should.

Jan 10, 2011

Boy Oh Boy

Coming off a long, long silence with a mouthful about life with twins as I know it. Its a long, long one. Thanks (or no thanks!) to my favorite family editor and her one-thousand-plus word assignment for Working Mom's December issue.

We are all aware of the saying about life sometimes throwing us curve balls. We are also told we have a choice to simply swerve or hit them back like there’s no tomorrow. I don’t like curve balls. They come flying at you when you least expect it, and just as your life is going exactly as you’d hoped.

But that’s exactly what came my way when I was diagnosed with an advanced stage of breast cancer shortly after Miguel and I were married. My life in the next few years was nowhere near anything I had ever planned. My suddenly ‘cancer-charmed’ life involved the drastic but decisive removal of one breast, high-dose chemotherapy cocktails, dates with doctors that are just too many to count, a sudden complication where the surgeon was forced to remove an ovary and a stark realization that I may never have any children in my lifetime.

Peas in a pod

While most newly-wed couples make life-changing decisions and make strides to start a brand new family, I took some steps backward. Every day for five years I swallowed a tablet that gave my body a better chance to fight the cancer. Deep down I also knew that every day that I took it I was possibly reducing my chances of ever having children. It is strangely ironic that the one word a cancer survivor dreads is the exact same word a mom-to-be dreams of. Positive. I hoped really bad that I would one day defy the odds. That is exactly what happened just weeks after I got the “baby green-light” from my doctor. But there they were. The two blue lines. Pregnant. Weeks later , on my first routine ultrasound, and after I smugly thought nothing could surprise me anymore, life threw me the best curve ball yet. I was expecting twins.

I wish I could say that I was instantly overjoyed and ecstatic the way Miguel was. Minutes into that “shocker-of-a-checkup” he had already embraced a life with twins. My mind was on overdrive. Two strollers, two car seats, two cribs, two yayas!? I was in a state of shock. I knew that there were risks involved simply from it being a multiple birth. I was also well aware there were other issues to deal with. The sudden surge of estrogen many of us breast cancer survivors fear like the plague would be double the level as a direct result of carrying two. I also worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope with the challenges of mothering twins. Being a new mom seemed frightening enough. Two in one go seemed so much more than I could take on.

Luckily, carrying two babies was as easy as a pregnancy with multiples could ever be. There were discomforts but no major complications. Both boys were ideal weights and sizes (for singletons!). Some of my favorite photos to this day are moments captured during ultrasound. Like a game of Twister they would be elbow to forehead, butt to butt. I especially love the one with one foot right smack on his brother’s cheek. One boy giving the other a boot. A definite sign of things to come.

When that day finally came and I held Mikael and Matteo in my arms, I knew I was ready. Mikael was a spitting image of his dad. Matteo looked like me. Life was very good. It was also very fair.

Mothering Multiples

The first few months were nothing short of crazy. The logistical nightmare of a mom breastfeeding two starving infants with one breast is everything you would imagine and more. Sleep deprived though deliriously happy, there were many evenings spent cradling one in my arms while using my foot to rock the other in his bouncer.

When they were two years old, I enrolled them in a gym class. I was your typical first-time mom eager to let them try new things. As expected, they loved the class. On the final day each child was asked to stand up in front of everyone while the instructor said a little something about each child. Everyone would cheer and the little gym rat would get a little gift for completing the class. When it was the turn of one of my sons, the gym instructor started with something like “M is a happy, energetic boy. He learned how to tumble and use the balance beam before his brother…” and went on and on. My jaw dropped to the floor and I was thankful only for the fact that they were too young to understand and cared about nothing else but being handed the prize.

I went home and tore up their “graduation” certificates. They would never get the chance to read them. They needed, and will always need to be recognized for what each can do without diminishing the other. It is easy to fall into that trap with twins but I wish people would see that they are not each other’s yardstick. More importantly, I hope they grow up knowing that.

“Mama?” Mikael asked once. “Who do you love more? Me or Teo?” “Mik, Mama loves you both very much. And I love you exactly the same.” “Oh ya.” Mik said. “I love me and Teo the same too”. And they really do. So, yes, they do fight like cats and dogs but the bond is so strong, so palpable that when its just the three of us, there is no mistaking I am the third wheel.

Oh, Brother!

One day one of them came to me and asked “Isn’t it I’m the handsome one and he is the smart one?”Secretly seething and wondering where in the world he got that, I told him “I am your mom so I think you are both smart and handsome kids.”

I have come to accept that I cannot isolate them from a world where people tend to compare. It is human nature, after all. We do not live in a bubble nor do we want to. I am preparing myself for many more of these in the years to come. As for those that have had the chance to know them, it is easy to see how wonderfully different they are. How wonderful they each are. And I want them to grow up knowing that.

I recall once asking Matteo: “Can you bring me the book Rainbow Fish? Let’s read it for bedtime.”
“I have to ask Mikael if we can borrow it.”
I remember distinctly that that book was given to both of them.
“Huh? Why do we have to ask permission?”
“Because if the book has animals they’re his and if it has dinosaurs and cars they’re mine.”

And I instantly got it. In my illusions of a perfect world they would just throw everything they ever received to the pot, and it would be communal heaven. But in their own real world where they are made to share so much more than usual, they need to own things. They need to say ‘This is mine’. At times I find their favorite books and toys hidden from each other under each of their own beds. I am amused but understand how serious it is to them. And I respect that. They are five. I am thirty-something but I learn so much more from them.

Uncoupling the Twosome

Today, they are enrolled in one preschool but attend separate classes. The separation wasn’t a walk in the park in the beginning but we now all see the wisdom in it. They have their own teachers, their own friends, their own time, their own space. Matteo took “his” friend home once and I will never forget the heartbreak evident all over Mikael’s face. He got over it eventually and has had a few of his own friends over as well.

Another thing we’ve had to deal with is having only one child invited to a birthday party. I took my cue from the boys and ignored the first few invites until I figured they were ready. Matteo went to his first party while Miguel and I spent the afternoon with Mikael. Matteo was reluctant at first, Mikael seemed like a lost puppy without his brother but everyone - including us - had such a refreshingly good time. When it was Mikael’s turn, he backed out in the last minute unable to deal with leaving his brother behind. A week ago he finally went on his own and just as we assured him he would, he had a blast. Miguel and I are realizing more and more that we need more moments like that. They aren’t always the most cooperative about being separated but we will keep trying for their sake - and for ours as well.

Last year they celebrated their birthday together with a small group of friends in one of their favorite spots. The next day, they had a little party in each of their classrooms. The big grins on each of their faces that day were one of the widest, brightest smiles I have ever seen. I remember looking at each son thinking: His celebration is all his. His friends are his own. He gets that chance to shine alone.

And I understand completely how important this is, especially for two little people who had to elbow each other for room from the get-go. And I think they are blessed. They get to have it both ways.

And as a life ridden with curve balls go, mine isn’t anything I had ever envisioned. I have slashes and scars and missing parts but I walk holding one boy in each hand and have never felt more whole. I know that I am the most blessed. I have them both.

Jan 5, 2011

Extensions at the Lopez Museum

I love it when there's something culturally significant going-on just a short walk away from home. Yesterday I took the kids for an afternoon field trip to the Lopez Museum, particularly because I guessed their latest exhibit would have something that appeals to a 21st century child's aesthetic sense.

Amongst Jose Rizal's handwritten letters, the Juan Lunas, Hidalgos, Saguils, Bencabs and Manansalas, lo and behold…

Street Art! Click, click, click on photos to enlarge.

Obviously, the curators here are not a stuffy bunch of people. Very forward thinking Lopez Museum. Props! Pilipinas Street Plan (PSP) was responsible for the street art assemblage, which was inspired by an old Philippine map from the Lopez library collection.

The (kidrobot or kidrobot-esque?) vinyl toys represent graffiti which seem to be "creeping-in unnoticed from the street into a museum environment." That's what the brochure says and it makes sense to me. I also guessed right: among the kids favorite sights was the PSP installation. They love kidrobot dolls so that was actually a no-brainer. We hope PSP gives the Keys kids another art course this summer. Please.

Zero In: Extensions runs up to April 20, 2011. Plataporma, Rock Ed and Maya Munoz also contributing greatly to this very engaging exhibit. For more details, you can call the Lopez Museum at 631-2417.

And look…

museum-sanctioned, DO-IT-YOURSELF graffiti. Hello Little Banskys!

The little girl took up a lot of space. She was thinking Mar the Fish needs a friend. Haha! It was a good way to start the year. I've already said it, but again, Happy New Year crickets!