Friday, August 28, 2015

My Parenting Recipe Disaster

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His words shocked me to the core and I stood trying to process what I just heard. How can something so trivial have such a piercing effect on me? I heard his verdict and I simply refused to believe it. I knew deep down he didn't mean any harm but I took serious offense and felt unsure if it was something I could recover from.

"I think you put too much chicken meat in this. It's overpowering", my father spoke after he tasted the chicken soup straight from the boiling pot.

Too much?! How can it be too much? I've made this a million times and everyone always says how much they love it! Don't you enjoy how much flavor it has?

Before I saw what happens next, I woke up with a lingering feeling of self-doubt and wondered if it was more than just about the soup. It's never just about the soup is it?

Original Image from Wikimedia Commons

I know its strange that I can feel this way about a soup dream but let me further explain. My dream involved my 'Sopas', the Filipino Chicken Macaroni Soup, which I'm known to be an expert on. I pride myself in making really good sopas and have always done my best to replicate my grandmother's version (which to me is the best, of course!). This is one comfort food that I know I cook damn well and, considering how I consistently work so hard to perfect it every time I make it, you can pretty much expect that any criticism of my soup will crush me one way or the other. 

Once I narrated it that way it became clear that my dream simply translated for me remnants of the hurt I felt when my husband 'critiqued' my parenting style the previous night. I took offense in what I 'heard' him saythat I'm too intense, that I expect too much from our 8-year old and seem to forget that he's just a child, that I'm always angry and might just be driving our son away, that I never seem to know when to just walk away to cool down and let things go.

I knew he made sense but no one enjoys being criticized or corrected on something that you swear you're an expert on. As a matter of fact, my first thought bubble was "How dare you?! I'm more of the expert between the two of us and you can't judge me on the basis of what you witness for only a few minutes!" After occupying the same job position for years and having a huge chunk of your identity be defined by it, surely it would hurt to be told that what you're doing is not working. Most of all, for someone who just has a natural tendency to believe that going all out and taking things most seriously are the only routes to achieving success and then be told that her performance is less than stellar and is clearly not producing the desired results, is a painful blow to the ego. My ego. My mommy heart.

But I can't and won't resign from this job. Motherhood doesn't work that way. I know I'm very good at this, just as I know excellent sopas when I taste it. I just have to stop over-complicating things and go back to the basics. Just as is true for my soup, I have to focus on parenting as a source of comfort, a no-fail source of a sense of home, a warm embrace of love. 

So yes, I'm learning that sometimes less is better and knowing when to stop might actually create a better experience and produce something more palatable. It's not going to be easy for me to step away, relax and know when to stop giving and expecting too much. But I have to remind myself that there is wisdom in restraint and that the real end goal to parenting is not perfection but simply unconditional love. 

Highly skilled and seasoned cooks are those who are not constrained by set recipes. The great ones are those who can improvise, adapt to the conditions and ingredients available to them and still come up with something remarkable yet wonderfully balanced. I'm humble enough to admit that I'm not there yet as a parent but being open to critique and swallowing bitter reviews are always good first steps. I'll never quit and I know I won't ever tire of trying because there's an undying certainty within me that this is where my heart resides. This is what I'm meant to be.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Real Reason Why This Mom Hates Homework

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"I'm surprised at the amount of homework my third grader has! Is it just me??"

"I need some alcohol to deal with all this!"

My son just started third grade two weeks ago. Barely two weeks into the school year, I’ve already read Facebook posts from parents of the other third graders complaining about the amount of homework these kids are given. I get it, believe me I do. I would much rather go for a root canal than sit with my son and lecture him on what needs to be done NOW instead of later and that he needs to do it PROPERLY and never sloppily. I wish we could just sit side by side peacefully watching our respective favorite YouTube videos, or have him play Minecraft while I research where I could pitch my writing to. But no. I have to dread 4 p.m. every week day and brace myself for frustration and tears (and I’m not admitting whose they are).

In spite of this daily struggle though, I still won’t go so far as to say that we’re faced with an unreasonable amount of homework. I’m aware of the 10-minute rule as endorsed by the National Education Association. This means that depending on the child’s grade level, starting with 1st grade, there should be a maximum of 10 minutes of homework per day and this increases as the child goes up a grade level. Therefore, 2nd graders should only have 20 minutes of homework, 30 minutes for 3rd graders and so on and so forth. Yes there have been days when my son definitely had to work way beyond the 30 minute mark. But there were also days when he was done within 20 minutes or less. Time limits aside, the real reason why I don’t feel justified with the complaints is because I’m coming from my own perspective as someone who was educated abroad.

Growing up in the Philippines and attending a private Catholic school from elementary to high school, I can confidently say that I had way more homework than what my son is dealing with. From as early as first grade, we had a different teacher for each subject matter and there were days when it felt like there was homework assigned by each teacher. We just had to deal with it, organize our schedule, and be accountable.

Original (unmodified) Image by Grigory Kravchenko via Flickr Creative Commons

And herein lies the crux of my argument. What I resent most about this whole homework situation now is not the volume of the work required of our children, but the expectation of the current school system regarding the level of parental involvement. I wish I could say this is all imagined and merely subjective perception. But when the school repeatedly says that 'parental involvement enhances the child’s academic success', one can’t help but take that as something that’s extremely open to various interpretations. What kind of involvement? How much or to what extent? Though I'm certain the school wants us to encourage our children to work independently and to not lose sight of the fact that homework is meant to give the children more practice at home, I still can't help but feel that what we have now only fosters helicopter parenting. It definitely has that effect on me and I know it's harming both me and my son.

From the moment my son enters the door in the afternoon, I start sounding like a drill sergeant. We both go through his bag, his folders, his journals. We both go through instructions. I help him review. I ask him questions or dictate items to be answered. God forbid there is some craft project that needs completion, which then naturally forces me to become even more hands-on than with his usual daily assignments. I really don’t understand it and definitely don’t recall my parents doing the same to me and my siblings when we were young. We had homework and dealt with it ourselves, with my mother taking pride in the fact that not once did she have to tutor any of us.

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking that it’s my fault, that I’m the one who has to stay away and control my impulse to hover. I acknowledge that and know that letting go of the reins is something I need to address. However, if I let go or step back even just a little, is this to say that the other parents will let go and step back as well, hover less, hence leveling the playing field? Or would my decision to let go and be less involved simply put my son at a clear disadvantage academically? As a former overachiever and a recovering perfectionist, it’s a risk that’s not so easy for me to take.

So yes, I hate homework because it brings out that side of me I swore I’d never be as a parent. It brings out nothing but ambivalence in me as I do the dance of balancing involvement or support with trying to teach my child accountability, autonomy and self-discipline while still have him excel in all that he does. This current norm of hyper-involved parenting reinforced by the education institutions is driving me insane and makes me ask myself on a daily basis existential questions such as how far should I go, what can I change to make this better for everyone, or am I being a good parent with the choices I make? 

I suppose the only logical thing for me to do right now is to experiment. Clearly I need to define for myself just what 'parental involvement' means and start implementing what is necessary, no matter how painful it might be in the beginning. If the school won't spell it out, then we as parents need to decide what works best for our families, what is the healthiest and most beneficial for our children not only in the short-term but mostly for the human beings they need to become in the future. I need to remember that my parents standing back never made me feel unloved and that I still did pretty damn well in school. Most of all, parents need to remember that our success as parents lies not in our children's academic success or 'perfection', but in their level of resilience. Let's not be that group that raised a generation of cripples.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Romantic's Guide to Meteor Showers

Ever since I can remember, I've always been fascinated by anything celestial. Outer space is simply a topic I can never grow tired of, so my excitement over news of meteor showers should not be a surprise to anyone who knows me. After all, I've been waiting to see one all my life.

Growing up in the Philippines, I've never had the privilege of witnessing this celestial event. There was always something that kept me from viewing and it could be anything from the event being too late for my bedtime, or I didn't hear about it, it was too cloudy or stormy, or it was just impossible to see because I was in the Southern hemisphere. All these frustrated me and so this time around, when all the conditions seemed ripe, I vowed not to miss it. 

I marked it on my calendar. I made sure to stay informed on the best hours for viewing. They said the Perseid meteor shower this year would be very visible since it would be a dark, moonless night. Add to that the fact that I live in the boonies so there's not much light pollution to compete with. I felt optimistic to the bone and was giddy at the thought that this would be my lucky night!

The first time I stepped out last night was around 10 p.m. I went to our front porch, looked up, kept looking up until my neck got strained. Nothing. No shooting stars. Regular stars were abundant and I still felt happy and blessed to have such a stunning view of the constellations from my front yard. But tonight I wanted more but it wasn't there yet. So I stepped back inside and tried to keep myself awake as best I could. I read that the peak viewing time would be around 1 a.m. central time and so I watched a movie and set an alarm.

At exactly 1 a.m. I grabbed a chair and sat by the window of an upstairs room on the front of our house. From there I had a good view of the vast sky. While waiting for my light show to begin, the romantic in me kicked in (as it always does, 90% of the time) and realized that this experience has a lot of parallelisms with falling in love.

Perseid Meteor Shower 2012
Image by: Tucker Hammerstrom

You have to be in the right place at the right time. You can wait and stare and strain your neck looking out for this rare event, keep yourself awake, consumed by eager anticipation, but if you've got the time or location wrong, you won't see a thing. You simply won't find it. As is true with Love, a graceful confluence of different elements is necessary for everything to work out. 

You have to decide if you really want it. Most often than not, seeing a shooting star means staying up really late and at least for me, that requires serious effort and dedication. Patience is also certainly required because you don't know exactly when and where you'll see it appear. Last night, I almost gave up but I kept telling myself that I'm almost 42 and have never, ever seen a single shooting star all my life. It was time, I knew I wanted it badly and was certain I'd only regret it if I didn't try at all. The same is true for love. It's never easy and only those who are sure of what they want and that they really want it are bound to find it. Love demands dedication and sacrifice.

It's rare, but if you miss it, don't beat yourself up. It will happen again. On the slim chance that it doesn't, at least not within your lifetime, then remember that there are other important things to keep you busy. Remember that you can still beor actually already are—a complete person even without your meteor shower sighting, or a romantic relationship for that matter. 

Enjoy it while it lasts and just be in the moment. You know that when you see a shooting star it's fleeting. This is why you just have to keep your eyes on the sky, enjoy the experience and the privilege of witnessing this rare event. Embrace that the promise of forever and constancy are impossible in all things. The sooner you accept this, the deeper the joy you might derive in every moment.

The special ones, the truly bright, distinctive ones, will take your breath away and will leave an impression that could last forever. Last night, I felt truly lucky and blessed that the very first one I saw streak across the sky was a large and bright one. It almost seemed like a fireball that dissipated just as quickly as it appeared. I was beyond fascinated and I know I'll never forget that magical sight. Sometimes some of us get lucky too with the people who love us and with whom we build relationships. Sometimes we cross paths with remarkable souls who are not that easy to forget and change us forever. Treasure that and treasure the fact that though it might have been fleeting, loving and being loved by such exceptional people are enduring gifts. As for the forgettable ones, well, they were still there for a reason and if anything, at least they must have been entertaining...somehow.

Did you enjoy last night's light show? Did you get into a romantic mode as well? If you want to watch the Perseid meteor shower, you might still catch it tonight. You may not see as much, but I've read you can still get lucky! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Building a Case for My Friendship With Taylor Swift

Today I've decided to come out. My husband has always thought it was pretty obvious but I was in denial for a long time. It's not because I've been completely ashamed but I've felt it was kind of inappropriate given my age and the stage in life I'm in. For God's sake I'm an almost 42 year old married woman with an elementary aged son! But I've thought about it and realized that whoever has a problem with it is entitled to their opinion and it only says something about them and not necessarily about my preferences or character.

I am a Swiftie. A Taylor Swift fan.

It all started out innocently, with me enjoying some of her ballads from years ago and then a few upbeat songs here and there. I think what really did it for me was her song We are Never Ever Getting Back Together. It has been my perfect treadmill-jogging song for the longest time, but then one thing led to another and I ended up clicking on her other YouTube videos. I believe I reached the point of no return when I heard Blank Space and heard her sing "Cos darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream". I was hooked and turned into a certified fan. I mean, gosh darnit! I wish I had come up with that line myself! I now totally want to make a wall decal of that and stick it on my walls!

One might think this Joy-Taylor combination seems weird and I admit on the surface it looks that way for sure. We are very different after all.

She obviously has lean and long, neverending legs. I have....legs that function, let's leave it at that.

She loves cats and has two of them. I think cats are evil.

She clearly has a very colorful love life and a long list of ex-es. I have one ex who I ended up being friends with so I can't really write an angry song about him now, can I?

She has countless fans worldwide, with 61.8 million Twitter followers and God knows how many other millions listen to her music. I'm still struggling to become at least momentarily viral after six years in the blogosphere and seven on social media. How sad. 

She was born in 1989, when I was old enough to have her. (Just old enough, but definitely not mature enough). 

But Taylor, oh Taylor, you and I can still be besties, cant' we? We're really not that different and let me prove  this to you.

We're both overthinkers and overanalyzers, with brains constantly bombarded with fears and neverending anxieties. I heard you say that in one of your interviews and I gave you a virtual high five!

We're both writers and though I wish I had written half of your hits myself, I invoke my not-so-interesting life as my solid excuse for not being able to do so. 

You and I both have connections to Nashville. (A for effort, right?!)

Finallyand this is the most important similarity of alllook at you with a hat. Adorable!

Image by: Jana Zills

But see!....I can wear a hat too!!

So what do you think? Send me an email, a Twitter or Facebook message so we can meet up for drinks or something? I'm a good listener, I promise, and I bet I can be your best 40-something year old friend!