Monday, January 31, 2011

Battle Hymns and Tiger Moms or how to ensure your book makes the best sellers list!

The self proclaimed, "Tiger Mom" was on the news again this morning and hearing her again reminded me that I had published my last post without completing my thought on the subject. But it has also provided me with another opportunity for self discovery.

The Tiger Mom's method of parenting is to accept nothing but perfection from her children, regardless of the costs, or so it seems. She was not satisfied with an A if an A+ could be achieved.

Today's interview was after a couple of weeks of hearing strong criticism pelted against her from all sides and with all the media attention, pushing her book to the number 5 place on the best sellers' list. So with the criticism has also come a degree of success, at least financially!

But her point in the interviews today were to say that the book was written "tongue in cheek" and to point out that at the end of the book she recanted her insistence on her strict adherence to her rules because her younger daughter forced her to reconsider. Evidently her younger daughter forced her into a very public confrontation and she realized that she would have to make some compromises in her parenting.

Meredith Vieira questioned what impact this type of parenting has on the child's self esteem.

But going with that point, I'm not sure that the "Western" type of parenting really improves our children's self esteem. Our nation is known for high dropout rates, high suicide rates, high teen pregnancy rates. Is this the self esteem we are instilling in our children?

The type of parenting the author describes requires a huge commitment from the parent. When she describes forcing her daughter to practice for 6 hours on the piano to perfect a musical piece, I have to wonder if I have 6 hours a day to spend that way?

Do I have an extra hour a day I could drill my children on their lessons?

Probably.

Am I willing to set aside an hour a day for this? Probably not!

I could also train for a marathon, lose the weight, take on line courses to complete a doctorate, and make a quilt lined with the lint from my dryer!

Part of why I don't do what she describes could be described as selfishness. I am not willing to give up that time. My logic is that after I work all day, do car pool, cook dinner, wash clothes and dishes, that I deserve a break from the day.

But from what she wrote, she does not take those breaks.

What I am glad she is finally pointing out is that her original plan did not work. I've learned the same thing.

What I have learned from parenting is that I had to make changes in the way I lived, because I now had 2 people who watched what I did, and I knew they would either mimic my actions or hold my actions up to prove their point eventually.

I recently heard a speaker whose catch phrase was "Inspire, don't require". I like that.

So while I don't drill my children on their homework, or require they practice their instruments until they reach perfection, I do stay VERY close by while they do their homework, and I am proud if they get at least a B!! I think there is a lesson to learn from the Tiger mom but maybe she has learned some too.

As a result of my parenting, my kids probably won't be the overachievers, the National Merit Scholars, or receive the academic scholarships.

And their mom won't sell millions by writing a book about how to raise children either!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Battle Hymn from me

The Chinese mother who has written the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has kept news stories and bloggers busy this week.

If you have not heard about it, I wrote about it last week also, but to explain a little, Amy Chua is a Chinese mother living in the USA raising daughters in the way she says is a very traditional "Chinese" way, in other words, very strict. When trying to help her children achieve goals, she did not hesitate to resort to almost bullying methods to ensure her daughters' successes.

I asked my daughters, since they have had experience with both an American mom and a Chinese mom, through the foster care system, if their foster mothers were more strict.

Grace told me I was like her foster mother and was NOT strict. For Annabel, anything Chinese is superior right now.

Neither had experienced anything like what the Chinese mother described, there had been never been a time when they were treated badly when they not done their best.

Yet, something happened last Sunday that made me wonder what has happened in their lives. After spending way too long trying to get some items returned, our plans were to shop so the girls could spend their Christmas money. Before we had left home, I had printed coupons to help stretch their money further and the last thing before we left home, I reminded them to get the coupons a couple of times.

When we got to their stores, there were no coupons.

Aaarrggghh! You know the look on my face was not love and kindness and I told them we would just go home, but somehow the way they looked at me made me stop. They looked as if they expected to be hit or screamed at, really they looked quite scared.

I'm not trying to get nominated for mom of the year, but the look in their eyes told me that flexibility was going to be much more important than making my point on remembering things that are important.

I am also thankful for how our technology has advanced because then we could all be happy because I could pull up the coupons on my new phone.

It's really hard sometimes to remember that my girls are "kids". They handle themselves pretty maturely and do a lot better at things than I did at their age. But they really missed getting to have much of a childhood because they had to be responsible. I think it is time for them to get to be kids.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What kind of mom?

Last week I heard two people asked if they had turned out to be the kind of parent they expected to be. Both were adoptive parents, both dealing with difficult issues.

When it happened twice in less than 24 hours, it made me stop and think. I wonder if any parents with biological children are asked this and then I stopped to ask myself this same question, am I the parent I thought I would be.

Long before I became a mom I was sure what type of parent I would be.

My children would always be dressed in the latest styles, with their hair fixed, cute hair cuts of course, and ready for all the many activities I knew we would love to share. There would be ballet classes, piano, visits to museums, theater, and dinners at great restaurants, with witty banter between us. They would have a complete repetoire of cute stories, songs, verses ready to entertain and be willing to do it!

OK none of that is what happened!

What I didn't take into account was everyday life and the fact that kids have their own opinions! I did not factor in that someone has to go to the grocery store, cook the food, wash the clothes, carpool, and take a swipe every now and then at cleaning!

So while I might not have ended up being the mother I thought I would be, I have ended up being a mother who makes sure her kids have clean clothes. There is food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That our home is warm or cool.

And while we don't That more meals are eaten in, rather than out. That something green appears on our plates fairly often.

That I am where I am expected to be. That I will drop off and pick up, or I will stay until they are finished, whatever and wherever it might be.

That I will try to answser any and all questions or find someone who does!

That we say our prayers before meals and before bed.

That church is a priority.

That I will love and accept them and always be there mom.

So it's not how I imagined, it's better!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A great day!

Sitting in front of my computer tonight, I decided I could go one of two ways on what I wrote about. I could write about how I have fallen twice this week, broken a tooth (not related to the falls), and how my new wonderful cell phone already went kaput.

Or I could write about the wonderful things that happened at both the beginning and end of the day.

Hmmmm, falls, teeth, and phones are pretty boring, so I want to tell you about the great things that happened today.

Almost nine years ago I started the process of adopting Grace. It was such a new concept that little was known about the impact or results. No one offered any advice or training on raising a child who was 6 and had been shuffled between foster homes and an orphanage. By the time I adopted Annabel, all the rules had changed and training was required, and had a huge impact on me.

Today I had the great honor of talking to a group of adoptive parents, all of whom are adopting older children! It was wonderful seeing so many people who are eager and anxious to travel to adopt an older child. I am a strong advocate for adopting older children. I'm not sure if others were given the opportunity to adopt my daughters, but I feel sorry for them if they passed. I told someone today that I think my daughters are better than if they had been mine genetically!

Seeing all those families ready to adopt was just part of what made this great. The other part made me feel like Sally Field's Oscar winning speech, "You like me! You really like me!", to have been chosen to even make this talk.

If you have been reading this for long you know I struggle with what kind of job I am doing as a parent and so to be chosen by my social worker and our agency to make this talk made me feel like I must be doing something right!

I've mentioned before how much I love my daughters' school.

They are quick to recognize the students' hard work and successes.

I've received two invitations to come for the quarterly awards ceremony for Annabel, but today was all about Grace!

I love this school, but I have to say, their standards are high and the assignments are hard, so for Grace to get straight A's is incredible! She says it is her first time ever, but I really thought she had done it before in elementary.

I don't write as much about Grace, but Grace is such a wonderful person, I should write more. In so many ways we are so much alike that it is scary.

Grace is a study in contrasts. She will stare at you blankly if you ask her what 2+2 is but then can turn around and tell you the ratio of the pi squared divided by the sum of the average of six million! OK, I can't even make up a good math problem!

She has never been in a hurry in her life, unless she is the center of attention and then can escape faster than most Olympic runners.

She has trouble answering the phone but can hook up a surround sound speaker system to a high definition TV.

She has an amazing ability to notice details about people and does great impressions of them, but has no idea who you are talking about even if you showed her a picture.

She has not forgotten a detail of any book she has read or movie she has seen, but has no clue what I just said to her.

She doesn't mind blood and guts, but she will never be the first responder!

I really did not understand how parents fall in love with their children until I had Grace. She can lower your blood pressure just by being around. She is kind and caring and turning into such a beautiful young lady that it scares me.

Can you tell I am a proud mother?

It's been a great day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Chinese mothers are superior

Just last week I was talking to a friend who has adopted domestically and he was asking if I deal with the usual questions stereotyping my daughters about their Chinese heritage.

I laughed, as of course I hear it often, that "those Chinese people are smart. I bet your girls are smart!" or something like that.

What makes me laugh is that the big difference for my daughters is their mom is white. I know that I do not parent like a Chinese mother. I was not raised by a Chinese mother either. I have no experience with parenting that demands that I achieve a certain level of excellence. I was always encouraged, but it was never demanded.

The article below was recently in the Wall Street Journal. A Chinese friend sent it to me, probably not just to me but all of his Chinese friends.

The article is the subject of a number of blogs in the last few days.

Nothing in the article surprised me, but it did make me stop and think.

I know I could demand more of my children. I could sit beside them while they do their homework and insist that they keep on until they get everything correct or insist that they practice their instruments (neither of whom are currently playing piano or violin!) for hours each day, and restrict all time with TV and video games.

There are many reasons I don't do this, first and foremost, I want them to be as well rounded as possible. But the reason that causes me the most trouble after reading the article is that I do not have the energy, strength, or time to do the kind of parenting the author describes. Let's face it, we like some down time. I know I could accomplish more at night than I do, but after work, preparing dinner, washing clothes/dishes, cleaning up from dinner, checking my email, all I want to do is sit quietly for a while.

The kind of parenting the author describes is much more intense than I want to be. Maybe we have "settled" by having our needs met?

For my daughters, they had between six and nine years of Chinese "parenting" through their foster parents. I know for sure, neither would ever say anything bad about their foster parents. They have an ingrained sense of debt to them. I doubt that either would feel that way toward me, but more importantly, I DON"T want them to feel indebted.

Many times I am told how lucky my girls are that I adopted them. Or what a great thing I did.

That is so not me.

I try to correct the person by reminding them that my daughters gave up everything they knew and with no choices given to them. To me that's a lot different than being the adult making the decisions.

My daughters have noticed the difference in the performance of their peers at school. I love their school because of all the different countries and ethnicities represented. There is a high percentage of Asian students, not just from China, but India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more. Many are first generation Americans, many immigrated with their parents. These kids are the tops in all their classes. They have left my kids behind to already move into the accelerated classes.

Don't ever doubt that I am proud of all that my daughters have accomplished, but a hidden benefit to this school is the peer pressure. For them, it is not to misbehave, but to try their best, to keep up with all the other students at school academically.

That to me is a more realistic example of the world.

While I do have the benefit of my parents being close, I don't see them pushing me to achieve more, the same as I treat my children.

BUT to achieve more, I must compete with my peers, like my girls are doing at school.

So have I just worked this out to make myself feel better for not being a stricter, more disciplined mom? Not sure, but it lets me sleep at night and we get to have fun!

Here's the article. I will be anxious to see what you think about it.


THE SATURDAY ESSAY JANUARY 8, 2011.
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior


Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?

By AMY CHUA

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

.• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

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 when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Brief bedtime story

Last night the forecast was for the temperature to plummet down into freezing after a wonderfully sunny day.

Yesterday was also the day to change sheets, which always results in a lot of "found" items that have fallen between the bed and the wall or even just lost in their beds.

Annabel ended up with her three matching bears and gave them a special place in her bed, sharing most of her small twin size space.

Ollie, the dog, figured it looked like a good place to sleep an positioned himself at the foot.

So at the point that Annabel realized that Nina was giving her the sad, puppy dog eyes, she already had a bed full.

Annabel picked up Nina and put her on her bed, which left her with little space for herself. She was laying right on the edge and falling off if she moved, so she got back out of bed and tried to move Nina over.

Nina, never one to mind biting the hand that feeds her, gave a growl and a mean look to Annabel.

It looked like Annabel was going to be without a place after all her "babies" were comfortable, but she grabbed the edge of the sheet and popped Nina over and quickly jumped in.

Thankfully this worked out and everyone was good and warm besides!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Phone upgrade

Recently I updated my phone. I had a $50 credit because I have stuck with the same company and the same phone longer than any of their other customers.

I wasn't sure what I wanted but had a really slick salesman who knew a great sales pitch and I ended up with the Blackberry Torch.

I'm pretty sure this phone knows I am weak and inexperienced and taking advantage of me!

For those not familiar, it has both a touch screen and a keyboard.

My sister, Lisa has an I Phone. I tried to use her touch screen and I got no where fast! I don't think of my fingers as being grossly obese, but no matter how careful I touched the screen, I always got the wrong letter. Then I could never find the delete or backspace key so I would cancel the whole thing and try again, finally handing it back to her!

I told the salesman this and he immediately knew what to recommend.

He showed me a few of the bells and whistles before I left, but failed to show me how to answer the phone.

It began ringing the second I left the store and by the time I got it out of the case, I had missed the call. My old phone knew I was slow to respond and would always send me a gentle message saying who I had missed that time. On this phone it took me two days to figure out who had called and well into the next week to realize they had left a message.

When I worked for SWBT, now known as ATT, the idea of phones in our cars was being discussed. Obviously I have never been a brainiac and Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and of course, Bill Gates, I am not, because I could not visualize how you could run a cord long enough from your car to whatever part of the city you wanted to travel. I was sure they would all get tangled up.

I know I am behind the times because we still have a home phone! It never rings and if it does, it is always a recorded message asking if I am Maria Escobedo and if not hang up!

So back to cell phones.

I got my very first one probably around 1991, when I started commuting to Denton taking classes at night. It was a big old bag phone and you practically had to have an extra seat just to hold the phone, but I talked on it the entire drive to and from Denton each night. If the limit per month was 500 minutes, I was probably at 1500!!

But that phone provided me with the security I needed to make that trip each night, knowing if I had problems, I could call someone. Not that they would come, but I could at least let them know where I was if they needed to file a missing person's report!

In the last 20 years, wow! That is amazing, isn't it? 20 years of cell phones! I really feel old! Anyway, in the last 20 years I have had quite a few different phones but when I found one I liked, I didn't care how many improvement I could get with an upgrade, I stuck with what I knew.

Now the idea of getting a $500 phone for only $50 was a bargain I could not pass up!

When you used to buy a cell phone, the manual was just a little smaller than a library size dictionary. On this phone, it was a tri fold pamphlet! Who do they think they are kidding! I need step by step instructions on this baby!

Now that I have had it a few weeks and Grace has shown me how to download games and other "apps" (trying to be cool here with the lingo), I have worked up the courage to explore a little on my own. I am also beginning to realize that very few people actually talk on these phones so trying to figure that out can wait.

My daughters take FREE guitar lessons four afternoons a week. I have treasured that time and actually read a couple of great books while waiting on them.

BUT now I have THE PHONE! I sat there the whole hour messing with that phone. I played games, checked email, caught up with everyone on Facebook, and then tried out the app for Pandora.

If you are not familiar with http://www.pandora.com/ and like music, you must check it out. You can choose from a variety of genres or tell it what kind of music you are interested in and it sets up your own radio station and begins to play music you like.

Well about the time I had found pandora the class was finished, so I closed the phone, and put it back in its case.

We stopped at the grocery store and as we got back in the car there was music playing.

I looked at the car radio and was trying to figure out how it was playing without the key turned on. OK, I know that can't work, so I look at Grace, who always has ear phones hanging around her neck, and ready to tell her it is too loud if I can hear it and she looks just as startled as I am.

So while my phone was closed and in its safe pouch, it went ahead and found pandora and started playing. It took 10 minutes or so, but it still kind of creeped me out.

The music was good and I was trying to get in the door with the groceries, a variety of really grungy coffee cups from my office, coat, purse, and an assortment of mail, so I did not take the time to figure out how to turn it off.

I think the phone knew it had me by then and picked up the rhythm and volume. So with the music setting the rhythm, I was able to quickly start dinner, put away groceries, and start a load of laundry at quite a maniacal pace! I almost felt like the phone was saying, "Dance! Dance!". (Is that from an Alfred Hitchcock movie?) I accomplished more with the music blasting than I normally do in days but that's when it went one step too far and thankfully I was not under its complete spell, but it did get the last laugh. I realized I had poured my laundry detergent in the fabric softener container. I knew it thought it was funny, but I had an ally who could rescue me! I quickly pulled the phone off my belt and threw it on the cabinet.

"Quick, Grace, turn it off!!!".

Even though it got shut off, it was still snickering, as my 12 year old was rolling her eyes at my lack of ability to turn off my own phone! Scary!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Learning Texas History upclose and personal

Our trip to San Antonio was planned when the assignment of the edible Alamo was received.
It seemed a shame to try to help my girls build an Alamo when they have never seen it!

The weather here in Texas has not been good for road trips and instead of the snow, like the rest of the country, or the sun, like we are used to, we have had too many days of cold and rain.

You just can't get motivated for a 5 hour drive to arrive somewhere that will also be cold and wet and then come back.

So I watched the weather forecasts and when I saw the break in the weather for two days straight, I firmed up our plans to go.

In the meantime, my sister Lisa, and my nieces, Gillian and Darcey were also here so they decided it would be great fun for all of us to go together!

Travelling with six women is unique, especially since we all are sure we need everything from a posh frock to bicycling apparel for an overnight trip, so each of us packed our usual steamer trunks for the trip. I'm just kidding, but there are a lot of suitcases and other essential bags to ensure everyone has their clothes as well as entertainment! Mine is always the smallest as I tend to forget essentials like toiletries, lately!

In trying to make the hotel reservation I was surprised to find so many of the hotels were sold out and those that weren't, the cost was considerably higher on the day we were to be there.

When we reached San Antonio, we soon found ourselves in a sea of orange, not just any orange, but Oklahoma State University orange. I tried to see if it has a particular title, but their web page just calls it orange!

OSU was playing Arizona in the Alamo Bowl and everyone in Oklahoma had travelled to San Antonio for the game, or at least it felt like it!

We quickly checked into our hotel and were glad to have Lisa, the tour guide, direct us through the streets to the Alamo.

ONLY along the way the people who happened to be hanging out on the street corners looked like several from America's Most Wanted. The girls were scared to death. I have to admit I had not seen quite so many tattoos, piercings, and overall scary looking people in one place, especially while trying to corral four pre-teens/teens through the mobs, and hoping that no one said or did the wrong thing, as I would hate to have to fight them, but I would have!

We made it to the Alamo and if you are not familiar with Texas history, this was an important battle in the fight for independence from Mexico. One of the guards told me they normally have 8,000 to 10,000 visitors each day. That day they had closer to 13,000. If you have never been to the Alamo, it is a fairly small space and in order to keep the line moving, you kind of have to run through it. But close to two hours later, we decided we had a pretty good idea of that part of Texas history and ventured back through America's Most Wanted to the hotel.

If you are planning to go to San Antonio, I cannot say enough good things about the Drury Hotel. I had had problems with their website and without realizing it, had actually made our reservations for the night before at a unbelievably low rate. While they did not have to honor it, they did, and gave me a credit for the no show the night before.

PLUS they provide "snacks" in the evening, and we made our dinner from it, as well as breakfast the next morning.

After our full day of travels and sightseeing, it was decided we would see the rest of the missions the next day.

The four girls had a discussion and voted they would prefer just to leave San Antonio rather than run into any more of the scary people, so we packed and headed to Austin the next day instead.

Outside the state capitol
Lisa's husband is a state trooper whose current assignment is the state capitol. Between he and our tour guide, Lisa, we had a great time exploring parts of the building most people miss.

Lunch with a trooper is much safer than America's Most Wanted!


So the trip was a success and if you read my last post though, you will know the Alamo is still under construction!


Lessons never learned

I have completed elementary school, junior high, high school, a bachelor's degree, and two master's degrees.

For every single assignment for every one of those educational programs, I waited until the night before it was due to really get started on it.

Yes, I admit, I either have the worst case of ADD or I am lazy or because I have always been a very good student, saw no reason to change.

Thankfully there were computers when I completed my Master's Degrees as I would press print as I ran for a quick shower, grabbing my papers off the printer, just in time to get to class.

My parents tried to change me. When a big assignment was due the next day and I was just starting it, they would make me stay up by myself and finish it.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table crying, sure that if I cried long and hard enough, that my mother would rescue me. Now as a mother, I know how difficult that must have been.

BUT the worst part it did nothing to change my behavior! I took a class called simply, "Motivation". It was one of the worst classes I have ever taken and the only way I completed it was to promise myself a new camera rather than pay back my employer the cost of the class!

I think I could have a doctorate, but know you cannot start your dissertation the night before.

Now when I adopted Grace, her first big assignment in 1st grade was a science fair project. She had little English and Dad helped her conduct the experiment before I got home, but we worked together on the poster until too late the night before it was due.

Grace is like me. School is really pretty easy and we both can find millions of things we would rather do and we get good grades, so why change it when it works.

But when I added Annabel to the mix everything changed.

For her reading and writing are still very difficult but more importantly, she stresses over each and every assignment! I mean, from the second the assignment is announced, she starts stressing over getting it done. Now that's not to say she gets it done early, but it does cause her stress and if she is stressed, then I am stressed.

Shortly after the Thanksgiving break, the Texas History teacher gave them a BIG project due after they returned from Christmas break.

There are four choices of how you can portray the story of the Alamo. Annabel decided to do the edible version of the Alamo, which Grace thought sounded easy too.

For the last month I have consulted with every resource known on the many possible products you could use to build an edible Alamo. I called and emailed friends who are good at that kind of thing. My idea of something creative and edible is called dinner! I'm just not skilled at using graham crackers, gingerbread, rice krispie treats, frosting, tootsie rolls, twizzlers, to build something. These were just a few of the great suggestions I received.

So the girls have been home for two weeks and in the last two days Grace opted to do the Lexicon, rather than the edible Alamo. This includes finding a person or subject related to the Alamo for the letters A to Z!!! You also have to write a minimum of 5 lines about the meaning and how it is related to the Alamo.

For Annabel that much writing would paralyze her and she stuck to the idea of building the Alamo out of edible substances.

The project is due on Tuesday when they return from Christmas break.

We started on Saturday and worked quite a while and made pretty good progress.

Then Sunday it sat there without being touched.

I explained very carefully that I was there to help but no one seemed to need it and I was going back to work and they would have to finish it themselves and if they did not then they would be grounded and all electronics would be taken away,etc, etc. One of those speeches that mothers make when they are too tired and should simply walk away.

When I left for work this morning, Annabel was already up trying to do the written part of her assignment.

I apologized and promised to help any way I could when I got home.

Oh, I was dreading it too. We have way too many long, hard nights just trying to do homework, dinner, showers, without trying to build the Alamo and I was dreading having one on my first night back to work.

Around noon I called to check on their progress but no one was home.

That's odd. Did they get finished and now are outside playing?

I track them down at my parents house and Annabel and Grace get on the phone to tell me the great news about their grades, for Grace all A's for her semester average and for Annabel two B's and the rest A's! Wow! That deserved lots of cheering!

BUT wait! There's more!!!

Grace tells me that Annabel got out the assignment and read it again carefully.

For the first time in a month of "working" on this, she just noticed the due date is NEXT WEEK! For whatever reason, Grace had NEVER seen it! She had always gone by what Annabel told her, her sister who has trouble reading English!!!!

At that point all I could do was laugh! My kitchen table will be strewn with parts of the Alamo now until the night before it is due next week and Grace will still be trying to find words for her last 10 letters of the lexicon! I'm really sorry they have to take after me!!!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Christmas and memories

For those of you just joining us, this is the story of my life, sandwiched between my two daughters, who are 12 and 13, our two dogs, my parents, who live next door, and trying to find my place in the middle.

Oh and to explain, my daughters are both from China. I adopted Grace when she was 6 and is now 12 and Annabel when she was 11, and she is now 13.

So this was Annabel's third Christmas ever. For those who have had Christmas all their lives, I think the wonder of it can get lost in the extra work involved in making it happen. But for Annabel, this was the first time that she really "got it" and I am surprised she had any voice left after screaming over each and every present she unwrapped. She has no inhibitions when she is enjoying herself, especially if it is a stack of presents that come with no "strings" attached.

Annabel is used to working to achieve a goal or a prize, but I think for her to receive that much without prerequisites makes it almost unbelievable! Her number one wish was for a golden retriever puppy. I spent weeks trying to fulfill this wish, but in the end, decided we needed a better time to introduce another dog into our family.

I found puppies, but did not want to stress Annabel with the responsibilities of a puppy. I found older dogs, but she was intent on having one young enough to "train". I found lots of other dogs that were extremely cute but I chose to be realistic about our limitations and have assured her that when the time is right we will add another dog, a golden retriever, but probably not a puppy. My sister called this morning and she had found 2 puppies in the Austin area. They were adorable and I let Annabel check them out. They appeared to be sisters and I think the idea of separating them stopped her.

And of course, I read a lot into what my daughters are thinking, but I really think that for Annabel, what happened last night probably had a lot to do with her decision on not wanting the puppy my sister found.

We got home from a quick trip to San Antonio, which is a whole 'nother post, and enjoyed a tamale dinner with Mom and Dad. On our way out the door, I spotted an envelope that was covered with stamps, which happened to be from China.

It was a letter from Grace's foster family with some pictures of her when she was much younger. I love getting to see her as a toddler. In some ways it is very painful that I missed that part of her life, but it is quite evident that she was loved and well cared for.

While Grace enjoys getting these, it is not as important for her any more. Her life is here. She is my daughter through and through and a typical American pre-teen, with her focus on family, friends, and school. She can't read what they have written since it is in Chinese, and is dependent on Annabel to translate.

This brings us back to Annabel.

This was very traumatic to her and gigantic tears streamed down her cheeks.

After only two years of being adopted, it is still too soon for her not to be effected by news from "home".

Annabel's story is more complicated than Grace's.

While all the records are pretty sketchy, it appears that Grace was moved into her foster family shortly after being "discovered" a polite way to say, "abandoned".

She loved her foster family deeply but is also realistic enough to understand that her life is here now and could not remain in China in that family forever.

Annabel on the other hand, from what I can determine, spent her first two years in the orphanage.

Somewhere around the age of two she was discovered by a group of missionaries, is the best that I can determine, close to death at the orphanage.

The group insisted she receive medical care and afterward was placed in her foster family. Here her foster mother worked hard to provide the care and nutrition needed, that if you looked at her now, you would never know anything about her near death experience.

For both girls, their foster mothers provided the love and support needed to flourish, but also made sure they knew and "appreciated" all they had done for them. Each letter from their foster families have reminded them that they saved their lives.

At first I was put off by this, but the more I know about the Chinese culture, I think this is pretty typical. But when you are 12 and 13 you haven't worked through all of this.

To try to help Annabel's feelings, I suggested she write a letter to her foster family and we would get a friend to translate it for her.

I've never been known for making a story short, but I am finally coming back to the point about the dogs. Promise!

Annabel's questions about the dogs were if they were sisters and were they going to separate them.

When I told her I thought they were sisters and yes they would separate them, she decided not to get one.

She told my sister thank you but she did not feel prepared to house train a dog but I think she was more concerned about how the dogs would feel being separated than the joy she might feel from having one of them. She is acutely aware of anyone who is distressed and prays for them regularly. For her, while having a forever family is great it still does not remove the feelings for her foster family.

And it shouldn't. This family was very instrumental in who she is now and I am grateful to them.

I am also thankful that she got to participate in the foster family system, but one of the things no one talked about prior to adoption was the grief these children experience from losing the only family they have known.

I've struggled with publishing this for the last two days and I finally have figured out why. I think I needed to understand my purpose in writing this.

Because Annabel always seems "together" I'm not sure I have allowed her the time she has needed to transition because she has appeared willing and ready to go for almost any experience. But after seeing the huge tears while remembering her foster family I know the wounds are deep and I must provide more support and patience.

So I think this is written to benefit me, to serve as a reminder of this frail, scared, little girl, who whoops and hollers, laughs, runs, and embraces all of lives challenges, and the strength she needs from me to help her.