The school year has come to an end, and what a year to celebrate many, many blessings to be grateful for and shout out a great big thanks to everyone who made it meaningful and memorable! I’ve been intending and delaying to gather these photos and this blog acts like a cloud in case the drive crashes and I lose all the pictures. It did some years ago so I vowed to keep this digital footprint as a record of these oh so fleeting moments with two growing boys.
We settled on a totally chill, lazy holiday pattern of waking up late, doing a bit of writing and reading exercises for the kids to make up for the sin that is to come — binging on Netflix and games, plus drinking too much bubble milk tea simply because it was there and there were no lines unlike in Manila. We managed the minimum of sightseeing — just enjoying what’s there in front of us although we took the effort to fly to Nha Trang from Ho Chi Minh and suffered the regular flight delays that brought us back to Saigon at 4 am instead of the expected, ticketed midnight. In Nha Trang, we stayed in the quieter part of the long stretch of beach towards the north. Huge tower blocks housing tourists still loomed overhead but the shoreline is not as inundated with bodies as the famous lengthy stretch of sand south of the bridge.
The food, of course, is the best thing about Vietnam as Anthony Bourdain would probably agree, salivating over the plethora of street food that celebrates the bounty of the land. Oh those generous plates of mint and greens that come with everything! That beautifully soft Pho that is not supposed to be pronounced with an “oh” sound but an “uh.” And I have passed on my love for Banh Mi to Joshua and Jimmy but where will we ever get that perfect baguette when we go home. The kids were intrigued by ice cream made on a metal table that instantly freezes fruits, oreo, chocolate powder, together with milk to make thin crepes rolled and slid into cups. The fish with big bones cooked in foil sealing in layers and layers of flavor — the cost is unbelievably low for all these. I wonder and lament how can we get good food so way overpriced in our own country.
What’s not so chill is being the referee between a 9-year old and a 6-year old who are at each other’s throat, ready to kill each other. What’s not so chill is being the only parent there with no reliever. I appreciated my husband’s role even more because it gets too tiring to keep the two apart when they fight. What’s not so chill is losing my temper because I’m sick of the whining and ugly attitude. What’s not so chill is resorting repeatedly to reward and punishment and wishing there was a better way based on intrinsic motivation more than anything else. What’s not so chill is the nagging complaints about flight delay that I just promise them I’ll never make such arrangements and we’ll just stick to one place next time. I’ll probably be tempted to organize another crazy schedule in the future so then I’ll need to remind myself of the three-hour delay and the sleepy eyed, slumping lumps who almost refused to carry their own weights up and down the plane.
Still the best part of the trip for me is spending time with James and bonding with the kids. James solved the problem of Joshua’s PUB-G not being able to update. We were able to listen to James’ reading of the Lorax in celebration of Earth Day at the school where he works. The night time breeze, swinging in the park, flowers that smell divine, enjoying an extra hour with Amani at Jump Arena, riding two grab motorcycles, watching footballers on the sand, creating a temporary masterpiece that can’t be captured by my camera, finding the perfect luggage and Pikachu in the airport — like layers of flavor build up a dish, layers of moments build up our lives. The chill parts still override those that are not so chill.
For Filipiniana fanatics, researchers, history buffs, Mario Feir’s library is a godsend. And I have Tinky to thank for taking me there, which is how most people find their way to this secret trove — by word of mouth. People invite friends to meet a one-of-a-kind guy in a metropolis sorely, painfully lacking in libraries. Mario started collecting Filipiniana tomes when he was living in the States. For 45 years, he amassed an enviable collection — thousands of books, stamps, postcards and when he came back to the Philippines, he decided to open his accumulated treasures to anyone who wanted to study and pore over the stacks. His calling card says it all:
They use a totally different calendar and for them, December 31 is not the last day of the year. It’s an ordinary day that doesn’t end in a colorful bang, at least not in majority of towns that are not major cities chock-full of foreigners. Christmas decoration is even more sparse and non-existent than before (new rules, I was told), so for traditional celebration-averse people, going to China during the holiday may be the perfect cure for the uber-consumerist tone of the season. No matter the rituals observed, it’s still the time for reuniting with family and friends.
We started with the usual welcome by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s families, spoiled by the excellent cooking of Xiao Dan’s mom.
Manila or Tianjin, Joshua must get his football fix. The football club in Dagang welcomed him plus dates with favorite playmates arranged.
We had one ski destination each week sandwiched in between the requisite visa-run to the Philippine embassy in Beijing for the kiddos. Nanshan near Beijing was easy enough for Jimmy and I to enjoy but we left the more professional, technically difficult trails of Wanlong to the true champions of snowboarding — Joshua and Jason.
Four of our previous Hero’s Journey campers were part of a theater group whose performance we were lucky enough to catch and see how much they’ve grown.
The Hero’s Journey is on from January 24 to February 1, 2019 and we had a quickie meeting of partners to discuss the camp. The more important purpose of the visit was seeing Xavier and for Jimmy, it was Evan’s generosity with his Pokemon cards and beyblades that made his day. Samantha knew we were bibliophiles like her so she showed us her stash of beautiful new children’s books from Taiwan.
Mike and Joshua missed each other. Joshua had been wanting to visit Mike in his home and finally it transpired. We discovered it IS possible to have an X-box like experience with a projector but you need a PS4 instead. If you don’t have the video camera, you can use the cellphone but it’s limited to dance. Dance we did with joy and abandon.
Remember the library in Dagang Youtian that we started with a group of moms who love books and wanted to pass on that passion to their children? That group has always been part of an active organization of Youtian moms who planned an amazingly full repertoire to greet the winter solstice (dong zhi). Kids sold and traded products, food and drinks followed by tug-of-war. The Mom who is into Waldorf education told dong zhi stories. Then the community made jiaozi (dumplings). We’ve been having Chinese dumplings for two straight days and this was the most delicious, freshly made with lots of love.
Joshua and Yinpu were kindergarten classmates. It’s hard to believe that they had more years apart than together but they still play so well together. Yinpu’s Mom, Susan showed me Yinpu’s amazing artworks.
It was a blessing in disguise that Jimmy got a fever when we got to the Wanlong ski resort. The temperature outdoors reached minus 23 degrees. Jimmy and I wouldn’t have stood that long skiing or snowboarding but the other pair had two full days in the blue and black-grade slopes. When Jimmy was well enough, we sled down two times a tiny, tiny hill and cowardly rushed back into the warm indoors.
December 29 was Jason’s dad’s birthday and how happy he was to be with his grandchildren. He gave a touching speech before dinner started. It was as good as Christmas for the kids with all the toys we managed to get for the cousins.
Vacation is a series of playdates, but then again so is non-holiday time.
Jason’s sister, Jiang Ping is probably the best teacher for Joshua and Jimmy. They listen to her and follow while I can only learn from the expert.
And the food!!! We had hot pot, barbecue, our favorite street food breakfasts, our favorite rib place, unbeatable noodles and this newly opened restaurant stoked our taste buds for extreme spiciness. This table had a thin layer that looks like wafer solar panels but is used to warm the food. A big piece of waxed paper is placed over the whole table and they pour a mix of seafood and veggies braised in Szechuan pepper and chili. The best way to eat is with your hands so they provide you with thin plastic gloves, one of which was humorously packaged like condom side by side other designs featuring Chairman Mao and Hello Kitty. I really miss China but I’m also ready to go home.
Online photos make it appear our vacations and lives are perfect. The drama is not seen between the photos. A friend of mine occasionally posts pictures of her children crying just to remind everyone, not all is rosy. In this case, what I was taking a break from Manila is what makes me want to go back. I miss having problems to solve, tons of work to do. A part of my mind is with the things I left unfinished back in my country.
But I am truly grateful for the quiet, no-fuss simplicity of this Christmas and New year in northern China. I get to hug and snuggle more with these two in the freezing cold of winter.
Before turning over this book to my sister, I promised some more words from Jessica Lahey to commit to some form of memory bank in case my memory proves deficit for sure.
“One way to keep grades in their proper perspective and help kids gain control of their education is to shift your family’s focus off grades and onto goals. Because goals are self-determined rather than teacher determined, they can be much more useful measurement of success. When kids establish their own goals for learning, they gain a sense of ownership and competence. . . .
. . . . No matter how small or how nonsensical your child’s goals may seem to you, they are his goals, and you should respect that. Even nonacademic, seemingly frivolous goals are important, because the process of setting goals is not about the goal itself, but the grit required to put a name to an ambition and see it through to fruition. Simply taking the time to talk about the things they want to achieve over time shows kids that we respect their needs and aspirations.”
“While scores and grades prioritize grades over learning, there is one aspect of modern report cards that is quite helpful, particularly when done well. Narrative comments and feedback on students’ performance, according to research, are “better than grades at both promoting kids’ self-motiavation to learn and boosting their achievement.” Elementary school teachers do a good job of providing feedback on report cards, but as soon as grades take over from narrative comments as the main method of evaluation, students and parents begin to lose out. “
“Your attitude about autonomy and grades will inform your child’s attitude. It’s that simple. She spends her days immersed in academic competition with her peers, fully aware of the relevance of grades to honor rolls and colleges, so why not be the the one person in her life who doesn’t fuel the raging fire of academic pressure and insecurity? I’d much rather be the person my kid wants to talk to over dinner about that funny thing that happened to his friend after math class, the movie he wants to see next weekend, his hopes and dreams. We have such a limited amount of time with our children as it is, so we might as well enjoy it while it lasts. My favorite view on the value of failing in high school comes from longtime high school teacher Jonathan Shea, who has seen the pattern of try, fail, and try again play itself out over and over:
‘Students recover. People do it all the time. And the failure helps them learn about themselves. First, they learn that people want them to be okay. Second, they learn that they can overcome a problem, but that work and attention are more important than genius or perfection. Students need to fail because this is when they learn to succeed.'”
“If the unpredictability of our own journey is frustrating, the suspense that parents experience as we watch our children’s stories unfold is downright unbearable. Because we can’t possibly know how their stories will end, their failures are all the more acute, immediate, and treacherous; more Shakespearean tragedy than quaint anecdote.
When my children make mistakes that endanger their own happy endings, the bottom drops out of my world, and in those moments there’s nothing I’d like more than to be able to flip to the end of their story and reassure myself that everything turns out okay. Sadly, that’s not how parenting works. We don’t have access to spoilers, and we can’t skim through the uncomfortable chapters in our children’s story arcs in order to skip to the happy ending. Worse, we can’t even know if there will be a happy ending.
What we can do, however, is be patient, and trust in our kids. As I watch my own children make their way toward their denouements and strategize goals that I may not even be around to witness, I have no choice but to focus on the details of their journey. They are writing their own stories, in their own voices, with plot points of their own invention. Their narrative is not mine, and I can’t edit them into perfection.”
Because I am so guilty of everything the book implies I’m guilty of, I’m hoping typing the passages here would commit to memory what I need to practice more.
This is one of the gems I picked up from the Big Bad Wolf book sale and I am rushing to finish it because I want to pass it on to my sister who desperately needs to read it as much as I do. If I could find this in Fully Booked, I’d grab a copy for her.
Okay, so here it goes: quotations liberally lifted to drum into my head, pour into my being. I need to live this not just read this. Imbibe the ideas not just underline them. Apply the concepts, not just highlight the words. From Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go so Their Children Can Succeed:
“I have inadvertently extended my children’s dependence in order to appropriate their successes as evidence and validation of my parenting. Every time I pack my child’s lunch for him or drive his forgotten homework to school, I am rewarded with tangible proof of my conscientious mothering. I love, therefore I provide. I provide, therefore I love. While I know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that my children really should be doing these kinds of tasks for themselves, it makes me feel good to give them these small displays of my deep, unconditional love. . . . My kids will have their entire lives to pack their lunches and remember their backpacks, but I only have a very brief window of time to be able to do these things for them.
There’s a term for this behavior in psychiatric circles. It’s called enmeshment, and it’s not healthy for kids or parents. It’s a maladaptive state of symbiosis that makes for unhappy, resentful parents and “failure to launch” children who move back into their bedrooms after college graduation.”
I know this parent who still helicopters over the son who is nearly thirty years old and to a lesser degree, the other kids who are past forty. This passage from the book makes me understand this phenomenon:
“The parenting pendulum swings back and forth over time, so the fact that it is currently hanging at its apex at the extreme end of the overparenting arc isn’t really anyone’s fault. It’s part of the action and reaction that constitute the history of our species. Early in the twentieth century, parents were instructed not to touch their children at all lest we spoil them, but by the time the nineties swung into view, experts had latched on to attachment parenting, in which we were instructed to sleep, eat, bathe, urinate and breath without ever letting go of our kangaroo-style infants. Sure, the pendulum swung through a sane, middle ground between 1970 and 1980, and I am forever grateful I was allowed to play in its gentle shade as it passed overhead. However, that golden moment of equilibrium was over much too soon, and we began our upward swing toward the place we find ourselves in today.”
So this current helicopter parent I know may not have been a helicopter parent in the 70’s but probably experiencing a backlash — guilt from underparenting the kids when they were young led to swinging the other way towards overparenting when the kids became adults.
It takes more time to teach a child how to clean a toilet than to clean the toilet ourselves, as is the case with about every worthwhile lesson . . . .
It’s easier for me to get velcro strapping shoes for Jimmy than shoes with those pesky shoelaces that takes too much time for him to master. This morning, I stopped myself from helping Jimmy with his shirt buttons and instead watched him do it oh so much slower but on his own.
“. . . . doing what feels good has fostered a generation of narcissistic, self-indulgent children unwilling to take risks or cope with consequences, what will work? What parenting practice can help our children acquire the skills, values and virtues on which a positive sense of self is built?
Parenting for autonomy. Parenting for independence and a sense of self, born out of real competence, not misguided confidence. Parenting for resilience in the face of mistakes and failures. Parenting for what is right and good in the final tally, not for what feels right and good in the moment. Parenting for tomorrow, not just for today.”
“Autonomy and independence are similar beasts, but their roots reveal a key difference. Independence is the linguistic opposite of dependence, but autonomy is something more. It comes from the Greek auto, which means “self,” and nomos, which means “custom” or “law,” so to be autonomous, a child has to have internalized a system of rules for living independently. In order to help foster the formation of this self-rule, parents have to help kids come up with a system of guiding principles so they will be able to problem-solve and think creatively while remaining rooted in tried-and-true principles of behavior. When parents are overcontrolling, kids tend not to think about why adn how they act in the world. Their choice is to respond to our rules or not. When they are given more control over their worlds out of our sphere of our sphere of influence, they are more likely to make solid, rule-based decisions. It’s a win-win situation for parents really, because autonomy begets autonomy. As kids realize they have control over their worlds, they want more control over their lives and become more responsible.”
Above all, keep your eye on the prize: intrinsic motivation. Protecting kids from the frustration, anxiety, and sadness they experience from failure in the short term keeps our children from becoming resilient and from experiencing the growth mindset they deserve.
Encourage competence in your child whenever possible. Watch a child master fixing her own lunch, or listen to a teenager recount the moment he made a goal in soccer practice. Competence and mastery are incredible motivators. Once children get a taste of success, particularly success born of their own efforts and persistence, it becomes addictive. This is the lovely thing about competence: it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
I am not even half-way through the book, so will post another set of passages next time.
Donna and I are hoping to attend the Asia Pacific Democratic Education in India next year. Today, I chanced upon this video on Youtube while I was viewing videos on parenting which led me eventually to this interview about education and the Isha School. Just posting this here as a reminder that when we go to India, we must try to visit the Isha Homeschool. It’s another school I definitely want to include in my research.
“Our social structures have created extremely complicated survival processes. A child’s ability to look at life with utter freshness and involvement is slowly disappearing. It is the duty and responsibility of our educational systems to bring that back. Education can never be a profession – it must be a passion. In the process of education, it is very important to see that the child does not lose his joyfulness, his spontaneity, or his ability to be truthful without any fear of consequence. At the Home School, we are striving to create the necessary platform where education is not about loading the child’s mind with information, but about making the child’s mind capable of razor sharp perception, capable of knowing life in its full depth and dimension. Education is about expanding the horizons of human experience and becoming inclusive. Only in a state of inclusiveness can the empowerment of education become a bounty all of us may cherish.”
These are the videos on parenthood that directed me to the interview above.
And if those videos didn’t get you hooked (like me), here are some quotes from Sadhguru:
For those in China who don’t have a VPN and can’t open the videos because they’re from YouTube, here are some Sadhguru videos from Soku: