Monday, November 29, 2010

Early Training

It's never good when one wakes up after only three hours of sleep and then stays that way for at least two more hours after.  I wish I can turn off my brain but when you hear something quite disturbing from your child the night before, you're simply destined to stay awake.

Last night, after story time and we were getting ready for bed, I was surprised that Noah was still in the mood for talking.  So I let him.  Oddly, he gave me details of what goes on in school and for the first time, I got a clear idea of what a typical day looks like when he's in school and I was very happy that my son was able to describe everything to me (after 3months of prodding him).  However, there was one part of his story that caused me discomfort, to say the least.  

Hand Pointers
He was talking about 'the pointer'.  As it turns out, there's a portion of the day when the teacher calls on a student, hands to him/her the highly coveted pointer and then the student gets the privilege of pointing at the calendar to show what date/day it is.  I'm not so clear as to how this whole thing goes but the bottom line is that my son is desperate to be able to hold that pointer.  But then he sadly declared to me last night that he has not had his turn yet.  I tried to console him that maybe it's alphabetical and soon, when they reach 'N', he'll have his turn.  At this point, however, he insisted that everyone has had their turn EXCEPT for him.  I highly doubted this and again, convinced him that he could be wrong and that all he needs to do is wait.  And then the clincher happened.  He suddenly declared, "Oh I know why they don't let me have the pointer!....It's 'cos I'm different from my classmates!"

My heart sank.

There was this big, unbearable lump in my chest that wanted to come out.  My brain was racing.  My fingers were itching to rush to either the phone or my laptop to contact the teachers at 10 p.m.  

I was going to explode and it took every fiber in my being to control it and give my son the impression that everything was okay and Mommy was handling this.  All I could do was pray that my baby was not feeling what I was thinking....that which I've always been afraid of and would do everything to shield him from.

I was beyond shocked.  My first response was, What do you mean you're different?, followed by, 'Everyone's different.  You're different from 'B', he's different from 'C', 'C's different from 'Y', and so on and so forth.  We're all different from each other.  Nobody's exactly the same.  The only important thing is that you're a good person, that's all.'

I don't know what Noah was thinking but soon after, he got over it and was ready to move on to another story.  He did not seem sad, offended or broken.  (Unlike his mother who was a mess internally at that point).  I could do nothing but assure him that I'm sure he'll have his turn and promised him that I will be volunteering soon so I can spend a day in his classroom to observe how things are really done.  

I honestly don't know what to think.  I don't want to assume anything negative at this point but again, the Mother Bear button has been activated and the paws are up and ready to strike.  At the same time, I am well aware that I don't want to antagonize the teachers, that I need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and that solutions or resolutions often surface after much calm rationality.  

I remain optimistic that I will get to the bottom of this soon and find that my son will hold 'the pointer' and have his day.  I know all that can be arranged.  That's the easy part.  What I am most afraid of now is the fact that my son has felt something; that something has surfaced in his consciousness.  I have always known that Noah is a sensitive, receptive person.  That's great!...But that can also be to his detriment.  I mean, how can a three-year old even think those words and mean them in a negative light....that he's deprived of something because he is different???  He could be objectively wrong in thinking that, but is that the point?  Isn't the point that he felt it, perceived it?  That is the part that no one can invalidate.  That's something that can't easily be erased or undone.  One side of me thinks, Well, why would you want to erase it?  It's good for him to know this early that life is not fair and people are neither always treated equally, nor meritocratically.  However, another side thinks,  It doesn't feel right to even partially rob him of his innocence, take away his 'Sesame Street glasses' with which he views the world

In the end, I know my son will be fine.  I still believe that parents are given children they are meant to have, children whose personalities they can (for the most part) nurture.  What confronts me now is the fear, pain and frustration knowing that this is only the beginning.  To believe otherwise will be totally naive of me and will only rob me of the opportunity to equip my child as best I can.  I would bleed for him if I could, but realistically, I can only bleed with him.  I can shield him with every power I have but that would only disempower him.  Though I will always be a mother to him whose primal sense of protectiveness can never wane, I'm afraid all I can really say to the world is





Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Folly


I tried being Buddhist once, you know, just to understand how it is to live a life free of expectations, devoid of wanting things to be a certain way.  Well, here I am, still very much a struggling Catholic, one from whom you'll rarely see glimpses of the Buddha.  

This is one of those things I find extremely difficult to practice.  Buddhists believe in the four noble truths.  To put it simply, they say that (1) life is full of pain and suffering; (2) that suffering has a cause and that is wanting, expecting; (3) that we can put an end to suffering and that is by letting go of our attachment to our expectations, our attachment to results and our desires of how things should be; and (4) that there is a path to ending suffering and essentially, meditation or mindfulness is key; this promotes living in the moment and acceptance among other things. 

Doesn't it make so much sense??  I know it, my heart recognizes the truth in it, my spirit desires nothing but to live it, but my mind is proving to be more stubborn as I had expected.  Old, established brain synapses do die hard...for better or worse, I'm afraid.

I know that was quite a long introduction for my simple admission that I had a crappy early afternoon, after I picked my son up from pre-school.  I drove to the school with a heart full of love and joy, with imaginary birds singing around me while petals magically fell from the sky.  I had just left another doctor's appointment and everything was looking great on my ultrasound and when I left that office, they had to have me sign my release form so that they can transition me now to my regular OB.  It was bittersweet as I have nothing but praise for this medical office and the receptionist who has known me since my first IVF cycle in 2006 even gave me a hug and I told her I will miss them all.  Like I said, I was full of positivity and felt so blessed to the bone.

And then I stepped in my son's school building and waited in the reception area until the teacher summoned us, parents, to approach the classroom door for a quick 'parent-teacher talk' and to pick up our kids.  As I stood there waiting, my mind, my stubborn, psychotic, most-definitely-non-Buddhist mind, began to race...

Do some of the parents already know each other?  Am I getting left out as a parent as I don't really interact with them or bother to chit-chat?  More importantly, is my son getting left out?  Is he making friends at all?  How does he compare to his peers?  Is he doing fairly well?  Do his teachers think he's smart or not?  Do his teachers like him?  Does my son have good manners?  Is he likeable?  Oh I hope he's not socially inept.  I hope he makes friends.  I hope he's not invisible to his teachers.  I hope he's not seen as 'challenging' in class.  I hope he shines in school.    He needs to shine in school.  He needs to do well.  He has to excel.

I know I can go on and on but I know you get the picture.  From innocent questions of a parent wondering, I swung to the other extreme end of the pendulum into the universe of frustration.  As soon as I walked out of the school building with Noah, I found my exasperation mounting.  I was badgering Noah for answers, totally forgetting that I was talking to a 3-year old who can't really tell 'yesterday' from 'last night', let alone enumerate to me in detail what transpired in school a few hours ago, complete with a full account of a who-did-or-said-what-to-whom type.  Just like that, I went from being a big pile of love to feeling like a pile of crap, trying to understand why it appeared as if I was taking something out on my own son.  Poor little thing.  He was probably wondering why Mommy was feeling so angry and frustrated with him.  First I kept asking him about what happened today in school, in full detail, and then I shifted to asking him if he practices good manners in school and getting mad at him for being so shy.

I reached home in a really bad mood, one because of my frustrations with my son, and two, because of my frustration with my self.  I knew I was being irrational.  I knew I was being unfair.  After I took a few breaths and stepped back (mentally), it was clear I was doing what every parent should NOT do and something I even vowed never to do...make one's child feel less than he really is, less loved, less embraced.

I was getting eaten up by my expectations of how my child should turn out...sociable, likeable, intelligent, academically inclined, well-mannered and all those things that make parents proud.  But at this age, at least at this time, I see that my son has a tendency to be painfully shy.  We teach him how to respond to strangers and practice good manners but he doesn't always succeed.  Even when other kids wave and greet him, sometimes he just stares back or worse, looks away.  At times he responds properly to other people but I get frustrated with the inconsistency.  

I think he's a smart kid.  When we talk to him at home and we do activities, we see intelligence.  But will he eventually perform well academically?  I don't know.  I get nervous about this a lot of times.  And what if he doesn't?  I know I will find this difficult to deal with as I grew up busting my a** in school for approximately 20 years!  And then when I start thinking and feeling this way, I get consumed with guilt...guilt for not being open to whatever my child will become and fearing that I may not love him the way I should, that is, unconditionally.

If only I can be very Buddhist about this whole thing.  If only I can practice mindfulness and just be in the moment with my son, seeing him for who he is, loving him however he turns out, respecting and embracing fully his flawed essence.  If only I can detach myself from expectations I have unconsciously and inadvertently set for my child, and just release him to orbit however and wherever life takes him.  

I'm pretty sure the Buddhists are not advocating a life devoid of any direction or goal.  I believe it's not the expectations themselves that cause suffering but the conditions those expectations impose upon others.  It's the attachment to ideas of how things should be, attachment to specific results that causes not only heartaches but scars relationships.  

Every parent wants only the best for their children.  That is only natural.  But it needs to be recognized that wanting the best for someone is different from controlling them or living their lives for them.  When our children came to our lives, they did not ask to be brought to this earth.  They came as gifts to us and there is an unspoken contract that no matter what we end up with, no matter what we are given, they need only one thing and that is to be loved...with as much purity as we are each capable of, no strings, no conditions...just real unadulterated LOVE.

Noah may grow up even more painfully shy than me.  Or he may blossom to be more like his father capable of facing anyone and everyone.  He may excel in school...or not.  He may pursue a career that is not as conventional as my personal preferences.  He may just pursue a trajectory so unexpected that my aged mind may find it impossible to understand.  But what I need to always remind myself is that understanding is not a prerequisite for loving.  And loving always produces beautiful results, sometimes for both parties, and sometimes for one party alone.  Either way, love is never futile.  I hope we can all find peace in that truth.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Personal Superheroes

I finally saw 'Waiting for Superman' this past weekend.  For those who are not familiar with this film, it's a documentary that discusses the education crisis (particularly the failures of public education) in the United States.  

It's quite a disturbing film, especially for a parent like myself who is now beginning to consider our options for educating our child.  It made me think of the countless children, not only here in the United States, but all over the world, who are motivated to get an education and who have ambitions in life, but are stifled by the adult the failures of the institutions that are supposed to look after their welfare, their futures.  The film could not have been clearer in its message that something needs to be done and that we know what steps to take.  Sadly, politics, vested interests and the unwillingness to change a system that is obsolete and ineffective are getting in our way.

I can't help but be grateful for the quality education that I was privileged enough to have access to all throughout my life.  I am aware that not everyone in the world is as lucky as I am and I am cognizant of this every waking moment of my life.  I am also grateful for having amazing mentors who had the dedication to teach, genuinely teach, and see the value in their chosen profession.

I am reminded of some key persons in my whole education experience...people who, in my view, truly made a significant difference in my life.  These are mentors who shared what they knew, shared their hearts and beings, and showed their passion for shaping their students' minds.

Mrs. 3rd grade Science teacher.  She sparked my interest in science, especially in studying the solar system. All my life, I've been deeply passionate about the Universe, Astronomy, Astro- and Quantum Physics, and although these are very difficult areas to comprehend (especially the last two disciplines), my passion for them are enough for me to try to understand as much as I could.  I cannot, for instance, watch any science shows featuring Stephen Hawking, or some of the other theoretical physicists discussing the Universe without getting so turned on, close to the brink of getting cerebrally orgasmic (for lack of a way of describing the awe and excitement I feel).  I think I owe much of this attitude to Mrs. Dimen who made it all so interesting for me at such an early age.

Mrs. Romero...4th year high school Creative Writing teacher.  We had this project or activity called 'The Journal' where we each had a notebook for our personal reflections on topics chosen by our teacher.  I absolutely enjoyed it.  I know some of my classmates loathed it, but I suppose at that stage and age, there was already a budding writer inside me.  I did not always write excellent pieces and I admit that there were times I felt I was trying too hard.  But I always looked forward to Mrs. Romero's comments after she read our entries.  Her comments were always thoughtful and mostly encouraging.  She would comment both on the technical aspect of our writing, as well as give insights into our personalities as reflected by our journal entries.  At that time, it was very important for me to do well, to please her and to prove myself.  Like I said, I know I did not always succeed but it was from this person, this teacher that I first learned that I had some talent in writing...that it was one of the things I can do well.  In one of her assessments, she wrote: "Very good!  Quite reflective!  How about honing your writing skills, Joy? There's a promise in you...Good luck!"

Maybe she wrote a similar comment to the others as well.  But I wish I can tell her now how much that comment meant and means to me!  I still have that class notebook with me until now and I refuse to throw it out.  It will always remind me how important writing has always been to me and how someone took the time to not only teach me the basic skills but also made sure I knew the strengths I can build upon.

Ms. homeroom teacher during my high school senior year.  She was also our Home Economics teacher and I will always remember two things about her.  She further reinforced my love for food and cooking and I wouldn't be who I am now without that!  The other thing is that more than just being a homeroom teacher, she became a real friend and guardian to all of us.  She was like an older sister to us and yet maintained her authority.  She was a dedicated shepherd who clearly took her job seriously and gave it a 110% when it came to looking after her students' well-being.  Towards the end of the school year, I had become quite close to her and would have to admit that she (together with another faculty member, Ms. Quintos) was a strong influence in my choice of a university to attend for college.  I will always be grateful for all the guidance she gave me.  She could have done much less because she was certainly not obliged to do more.  Yet she was one who chose to consistently give more and that always inspired me when I myself became a teacher in the university.

Ms. Quintos...fourth-year high school English teacher.  Yes I owe it to her that I was able to read and appreciate classics such as Dante Alighieri's 'Inferno', and Hermann Hesse's 'Siddhartha'.  But more than her impressive teaching competence and apparent intelligence, what I also remember learning most from her is her dedication to social justice.  If I were to choose just one remarkable learning from this person, one valuable influence that struck me the most and stuck with me for life, it would have to be her teaching us that we are no better than anyone else in the world, but merely different.  On our yearbook, she wrote, "As you are your own person, do not allow people to trample on your dignity and in return never degrade the personhood of another.  Everyone deserves to be truly recognized, accepted and respected in this life."  

Social consciousness, service to others and fighting for social justice are things Ms. Quintos embodied and truly tried to pass on to us, her students.  I will forever be grateful for that.

Dr. Manuel Social Psychology professor during my undergraduate and graduate years at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.  Doc Boni, as everyone fondly calls this man, is someone very down-to-earth and caring.  He was very good in teaching and highlighting the practical aspects of the concepts he discussed in class.  I would have to also say that it struck me that he was someone who took pride in being able to teach his students about life, living with others, and surviving in the world.  

I will never forget one thing he shared in class one day.  It has always stuck with me and it was something I tried passing on to my own students as well (with proper acknowledgement, of course!).  We were most likely discussing the concept of Impression Management at that time and as a practical translation, he uttered these words:  "It's very important to be cute...But after five minutes, you have to be competent."  It made so much sense and sounded so witty that I've always wished I had come up with that one myself!  

Dr. Joy Natividad...undergraduate thesis adviser, too many credentials to even enumerate, great mentor and colleague and friend.  I've had the pleasure and privilege of being this woman's student as well as being part of a research team she headed years ago.  One thing to note is that when you are with this woman, YOU...WILL...LEARN.  She trained me in data processing and statistical analysis and one of my regrets is that leaving the academe shortened my opportunity to learn more from her through the years.  I can still remember the rush I would feel every time we would look at some research data together and try to explain the social behavior or reality behind the numbers/ statistics.  There's nothing quite like it when you know you're about to make an important contribution in your field of study and you have a great mind right there beside you to validate what you've discovered.  And you won't help but respect this woman even more because despite her brilliance and countless accolades, she remains humble and willing to share her knowledge to those willing to learn.  

Believe it or not, she also trained my writing.  I've always had the inclination to be verbose and she never tolerated that. Academic writing, especially scientific papers, had to be precise, clear and gracefully direct to the point.  She taught me that.  She taught me the art of editing my thoughts.  She made sure I learnt that less is more.  

Dr. Clarisse Rubio...last but certainly not the least; true friend and another great mind, mentor and colleague.  She became my professor in graduate school and I remember enrolling in multiple classes under her but in each and every class I took with her, I learned the most important thing of all.  I learned how to think.  That I believe is one, if not, the most important thing one can ever teach another.  I learned what she called 'cognitive mapping', being forced to organize the mental clutter and having the ability to present your ideas concisely and clearly.  This process sounds easier than it actually is, believe me.  It was not something I instantly, easily and painlessly learnt.  It took a lot of practice but it was all worth it...worth the countless objective criticism and humbling evaluations.  The ability to organize ideas, theories, concepts and analyze them so that you can possibly improve on them or articulate them in an even clearer way, or perhaps come up with another original idea or category, is something you can own.  It's not merely an idea that someone else can copy or steal from you, but a skill you can carry with you and translate regardless of the field you are in.  That is priceless!

I had so many other great teachers in my life and to all of them, I say THANK YOU.  It's very tempting to say that most of those who truly made a dent were from the University but that would not be very accurate or fair to say.  I believe that my high school and college experiences worked hand-in-hand in building both my intellect and my character.  One without the other will not equip you enough for the world.  Like I've already said, I will always feel gratitude for the quality of education and educators I was exposed to.  But I will continue to hope and help work for a world where QUALITY education is not merely a privilege but a right for all.  Our children deserve so much more than what our current world is offering them.  

What about you?  Do you feel you are one of the lucky ones?  Who are some of your most remarkable teachers and how have they changed your lives?