Friday, February 28, 2014

The Attack Of The 'Boxing' Master

I've always been quite domesticated, even when I was much younger.  I never enjoyed going out too much, especially when I know it's going to be loud, crowded or that I'd smell like cigarette smoke and end up with a migraine at the end of it.  No thanks.  I've also always been comfortable with housework and enjoyed cooking and most of all, organizing.  

But I never realized the extent of this domestication until last night.  As our family was having dinner, there was just one thing on my mind and that was my excitement to tell my husband about the 'project' I finished for the day.  I told him I had done something involving one of our closets.  I wanted to build some suspense so I didn't bother to elaborate.  Instead, I told him and my son to finish their meal and go upstairs so I can show them.  I felt like a proud school kid about to show off her artwork to her parents.  Or maybe a middle-aged man about to shock her wife with a new blazing red sports car sitting in the garage. Either one will do.

Anyway, as soon as the dishes were put away, we all headed upstairs so I can show them what I had done.  I decided to finally organize my husband's shirts. Color-sorted and nicely folded in bins.  I just couldn't stand it anymore how, every time my husband pulls out a shirt, everything else on top of it got messed up.  It was something my toned-down OCD just couldn't bear any longer.  So, I took some extra bins and put an end to the stacked-shirts problem. 

But I didn't stop there.  I went through other spaces in the house that I could tackle with whatever strength I had and whatever my extra containers can handle.  It's all that could excite me these days.  Organization.  It's what's been on my mind for about a week now and frankly, I've enjoyed obsessing about it. Sorting, purging, containerizing. But the truth of the matter is that I suspect this isn't simply about battling clutter.  (It never really is.  Is it?)  

Upon deeper reflection, I was ready to admit that this is about control. Recently, I've been feeling that a variety of things in my life are beyond my control.  It's as if, left and right I'm surrounded by circumstances or realities that I can't change in spite of my efforts; or things that I just know are not for me to change and no amount of steering would matter.  And because I don't like this sense of loss of control, and to a certain degree, powerlessness, I turn to things I have control over.  Things

My need for a sense of order definitely translates beyond 'things' and when I clean and organize my space, I know it's my way of seeking some semblance of order in order to fight the sense of chaos that I feel is nibbling its way through aspects of my life.  My categorizing things and containerizing them is my way of asserting power and maintaining control.  It's my own way of stepping on the brakes and feeling that I can somehow slow things down enough for me to catch my breath, think things through and once again be comfortable enough to go with the flow.  Whatever figurative 'mess' I feel I can't clean up around me, I turn to some corresponding physical mess to clean up and put my energy into instead.  It becomes both a distraction and a source of comfort, albeit superficial.  I know this and there is no need to judge me.  It's either that or you'd have to bear with me snapping at you or worse, have me bite your head off.  Your choice.  Just don't say you've not been warned.

I don't know how long this feeling of powerlessness and frustration will last.  I know it will pass.  I've been here before.  In the meantime, I still have a few more closets and cabinets calling my name.  They will be my friends for a while as they give me sanity while I make them look pretty.  That's a good enough deal for me.

What activity do you turn to, either as distraction or source of comfort, when you feel a sense of imbalance or powerlessness?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Six-Year-Old Is Learning 'Bad Language'

Something horrific happened twice this week.  Perhaps I'm being a bit melodramatic here but I'm sure a lot of you can appreciate and understand my sense of horror, especially if you consider yourselves strict grammar freaks.

Twice in the past four days, I heard my six-year-old use ain't in his sentences. You can call me a purist or a prescriptionist when it comes to grammar and I won't argue.  Just don't insist to me that using such a term is proper, let alone acceptable in my household or my family, unless of course your objective is to be disowned.  

I'm pretty sure it's now clear to my son how I feel about his use of this term. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, it might as well have been profanity escaping his lips. With my dilated eyes, gaping mouth and then quickly followed by a resounding, "What.......!!!!!!!!", I have no doubt my disapproval left no wiggle room for misinterpetation.  And did I mention there was a long litany that followed, which I'm sure clarified my reasons just before his six-year old brain got overloaded?

First, I asked him where he learned it from.  Is he around friends from school who speak like that?  Is it a t.v. show he watches?  A song perhaps?  Or maybe a game or YouTube video game tutorial that he constantly views?  He said 'no' to all of the above and just told me he doesn't know anymore. Personally, I'm betting on the t.v.

Then, of course I had to explain my utter disapproval.  I told him that it's grammatically wrong; that instead of saying 'ain't', he needs to say 'am not', or maybe 'isn't'.  He told me that he knows all this, which all the more made it slightly unforgivable.  I told him that he does not have any excuse to not speak properly because English is his first language; we are sending him to a good school; we come from a long line of well educated people who will never tolerate such language; and that most of all, nobody in our household speaks that way.

I have no judgement of people who speak like that as long as they are either using it for some literary purpose and maybe humor, or if they have an excuse for not speaking any other way; that is to say, that it's something they grew up with or was socialized towards, and perhaps did not have the opportunity for good education.  In other words, they don't know any better.  But for years, I have taught my son to live by Maya Angelou's 'When you know better, you do better'.  He has no acceptable excuse and I expect him to do better.

I also told him that some people deliberately speak that way just because they think they're being 'cool', when in reality they just sound stupid.  That's all. And I don't want him to sound stupid because he's not stupid.  He has no excuse to not do the right thing.

You might say that I'm being too strict or unreasonable.  But I would disagree.  Grammar should be taken seriously. Language rules are there so that we can best express ourselves. Grammar is also part of one's presentation of self. One's credibility does not only begin with how one appears, but also with how one speaks.  Can you really expect to be taken seriously when you can't speak your own language properly and appropriately? Being articulate and eloquent do not only make you sound and seem pleasing. They also reflect the degree of attention to detail you give to your speech (and / or writing).  

In other words, it's a choice you make between being disciplined and being sloppy.  If I spend time teaching my child to be organized with his things, his toys, shouldn't I also apply myself to teaching him organized and disciplined thought and speech?  When I supervise my child during homework time to make sure he is not careless with answering questions, nor sloppy with his handwriting, doesn't it make sense for me to also reject sloppiness with speech or grammar in general?

I've heard time and time again that in parenting, consistency is key.  I'm a firm believer in that.  I also believe that, though it's easier to always compartmentalize, I'm afraid we can't do that with parenting or socialization. What we say and how we act are magnified in a child's eyes.  And what we try to teach in one aspect needs to carry over other areas as well in order for them to have a better shot at successfully learning something.  Most of all, most often than not, we socialize our children based on our own socialization experiences as children.  I was raised believing, among other things, that formal education is important, discipline and attention to detail are valued, and speaking 'properly' is expected.  As such, I am doing the same to my child.  Some people might perceive this is snobbish, elitist, discriminatory or all of the above.  But I'd like to point out that what I'm teaching my son are expectations or standards we have of him and ourselves, not of other people, nor the practice of judging others.  As I quoted above, when you know better, you do better.

I know that language evolves and rules do change.  But for now, I don't believe that it has changed enough for 'ain't' to be widely accepted as the right way to contract 'am not', 'is not', 'do not', etc.  It's just NOT.  Period.

Have you had similar experiences with your children?  What 'bad language' have you caught and were you able to nip it in the bud?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Fruits Of Thom's Tree

On February 9, just two days ago, our blogging group PBAU lost one of our dearest members, Thom Brown.  According to his daughter, it was unexpected but it was a peaceful passing and he had his wife by his side.  

I never got the privilege of meeting Thom personally but I have always considered him like a father figure in our group. He is a professor of Psychology in Utica, New York and perhaps it's partly due to this academic background that made him and his posts all the more relatable to me.  But more than that, I have always found his writing so full of grace and wisdom. He loved writing about his family, treasured memories from years past, and of course his musings on teaching or education.

There is one series of posts though, that is just so representative of Thom.  I believe that all of those who know him and follow his posts would agree that his signature lies in the Tree.  As a matter of fact, it's been repeatedly called and I believe should now be officially referred to as "Thom's Tree".  

Copyright © 2014 Thomas G. Brown

You see, there is a tree right by Thom's office window and he takes photos of this beautiful tree from the same angle, at around the same time of day almost everyday. Then he shares through his blog and Facebook page his favorite photo for the week, and this collection of photos started in 2010.  I encourage you to check out this magnificence here.

So as a way of remembering and honoring Thom, I decided to dedicate this post to him and his tree.  I want him to know that his postings were not only beautiful to look at, but also spoke of lessons that will always guide.  As someone who also loves looking at trees and finds them to be so full of grace and poesy, I truly believe that he could not have chosen a better subject.

Thom, these are, to me, the fruits of your Tree...


1.  Acceptance of Change

No two photos of his Tree are exactly the same and the changes of course become even more apparent with the change of seasons.  And as a viewer or audience to this Tree, we know this.  We accept it.  It just is and always will be the truth. Thom's photos reflecting the subtle changes in his Tree highlights the reality that change is a natural consequence of the passing of time.  We cannot control it, and are only left to experience it.  It may look sad sometimes that the tree loses its leaves or is simply all covered in snow. But we accept that it's the inevitable and still are able to believe that the tree will endure; that it will remain graceful.

2.  Resilience (creates beauty)

For three years, Thom has shown us how this Tree has withstood the changing seasons and even the harshest weather conditions.  But I can't help but see strength in it, and I think I speak for most of us when I say that there is undeniable beauty in this tree.  I believe that the knowledge that this Tree has survived so much and that so many of us have witnessed it adds to its beauty.  And I think resilience does that to any of us.  We ache, we suffer and we survive.  And each challenge that we conquer gives us more strength, more wisdom, more compassion.  Aren't these the very same things that make one remarkably and authentically beautiful and memorable?  For me, Thom's Tree reminds me of all that; that resilience gives character and brings with it the gift of real beauty.

3.  The Value of Stillness and Consistency

Consistency helps produce the results we want to achieve.  If Thom had kept shifting angles or perspectives, the series would not have achieved the desired effects.  The reason why it has been so fascinating is because Thom allowed us to witness even the subtlest changes to his Tree.  Moreover, his discipline in photographing the Tree is what gives the series its unique character.  Thom knew when to be still.  It was just an ordinary tree and yet he knew when to pause and REALLY see.  If he had taken this Tree for granted and did not bother to be still, we would not have enjoyed this gift. Isn't this also a good reminder for us that we need to take time to pause and enjoy what surrounds us?  Beauty is everywhere but you need to be still to be captured by gratitude and be able to hear when beauty speaks to you.


Thank you, Professor Brown, for the privilege of learning from you and knowing your spirit through your writing.  Your humor and wisdom shall be missed.