Monday, November 29, 2010

Admitting Fear in the Land of the Brave

Several years ago I met a woman who is amazing… the type of woman you hear Oprah describe as fearless.  The type that you stand back in awe and wonder, “How does she do it?”  The type of woman you admire.  The type of woman you may want to be.  Not just Wonder Woman, but Wonder Mom!  A breast-feeding-run–my-own-business-with-one-hand-tied-behind-my-back-mom.  Nicchi’s is a natural parenting expert, an advocate, a coach for healthy lifestyles and (drum roll please) she admits to being scared.    What?  Gasp!  Scared?
What is it about our society that admitting we are frightened is just not okay?  We can scream at our kids, slam down the receiver on a telemarketer, drive like a maniac and act crazy, angry at our spouse for minor infractions of our self-imposed rules.  Admit we are ever scared?  No way!
What’s there to be scared of?  Global warming?  Thankfully--not happening here today in 30 degree Minnesota.  Cyber bullying?  Only if your child has access to a phone, computer or iTouch.  Oops, maybe no problem.  Terrorism?  No job?  Crime?  ARGH!!!!  Maybe we have something to fear, but is it fear itself?  Author and therapist, John Friel, PhD has said that beneath the surface of all that communal and personal anger is much more: shame, guilt, hurt and yes, fear. 
As parents, I’m convinced we are given an extra helping of child-related fear.  Am I really that mad the sixteen year old hasn’t cleaned her room?  Perhaps underneath the annoyance is the hurt that they didn’t listen (insert: appreciate our efforts), and FEAR that we have given birth to the next star  of Hoarders.  Do I really care that they hate my vegan, organic basil cookies, or do I fear that my secret Milk Duds and PopTart addiction will soon be found out by my every-so-healthy friends?  Is the anger really about the college kid driving my car on icy roads at all hours?  Do I care about a dented fender, or do I fear a dented offspring?  Am I afraid I am going to come up short as a parent/ daughter/ friend/ worker/ wife, or am I just in a monthly bad mood?
I’m supposed to be the optimistic one.  Looking on the bright side has its benefit, but you can get burned from too much sunshine without a cloud of realism.  Sometimes, it’s OK to be afraid.  There are scary things out in the big, bad world and we fear for the child in ourselves and those we have birthed.  So, I look to Nicchi’s blog and reflect that yes, I can look fear in the eye, acknowledge it and leave my “crabby” on the shelf.  Wow!  I do feel better!
  what i did this week that  scared  me...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        By Nicchi Hirsch
1-was more generous than usual
3-asked for help
4-trusted my Faith
5-showed up
6-followed through
7-asked for humility
8-stepped in
9-faced it
10-and as a result, felt So.  Much.  Better.

And you?  What did you do this week that scared you?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Embracing Our Family Differences

Please take a moment to reflect on the article below from Saumya Arya Haas from the Huntington Post.  As a first generation European American married to another first generation Indian American, the thoughts she shares really spoke to me. Our household had a get-together the night before Thanksgiving jokingly referred to as the real Indians and Pilgrims: Bollywood songs, veg and non-veg dishes and an eclectic group of friends trying to beat one another in the latest board game. Such a mix of food music, culture and experience would have rarely been found twenty years ago. What a loss! Thankfully, this is the new America! This is the new family normal. This is wonderful. I hope you enjoy Saumya's thoughts as much as I did, and forgive me for continuing with the Thanksgiving theme!

A Hindu Ameican's Thanksgiving

I have an immigrant's dream: a Better Homes and Gardens Thanksgiving dinner. One perfectly choreographed meal of American bounty and perfection. This photogenic fantasy meal represents something else: proof of my worth. Although I was born here, I used to feel I came up short on this most American of holidays. I am vegetarian. I am American, but there is no turkey on my table.

What I really want on Thanksgiving is to be accepted, embraced and appreciated: by my family, and more vaguely, by my country. Cooking my heart out may or may not be part of that.

It's ironic, since this is an immigrant's celebration. All I know about Thanksgiving is the primary-school, construction-paper-Pilgrim-hat and beneficent-Indian version. That's the other kind of Indian, a point which caused no end of confusion to my childhood. As with most things, I am woefully ignorant of the historical truth (if there even is a truth at all), so I've cobbled together my own present-day version -- a Hindu Thanksgiving. But I'm Hindu in an American way, so it's really a Hindu-American version, which of course, is really just American.

We create the community that we want to be accepted into. It is already there, before us, if we can just pause and let ourselves see it.

I grew up in a Hindu home that was open to any and everyone in our Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood-at-large. At Thanksgiving, my house today is as confusing, chaotic and lively as my childhood. But it's not "turkey day." Traditionally, we make lasagna. I'm not sure how that started. But it's perfect: an Italian dish, a Hindu cook, an American table.

I also make the whole, expected, shebang: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, about four different kinds of pie and chai. My family would rebel if there was no chai.

My family experience of being Hindu is deeply rooted in inclusiveness, social equity and community service. Chai-party values, if you like. Giving is part of being thankful: We acknowledge our own bounty and share with those who have less. This year I am achingly aware of those who have less, those who struggle to put everyday food on the table. I can't imagine the anxiety that Thanksgiving, with all its demands of abundance, must bring to those who have no abundance. I am shamed by my shallow vision of perfection.

Bounty is not only the material: it is the strength of our hearts, the power of our intellect, the wisdom of our traditions, the poetry of our being. Community is the communion of sharing these things. Sharing means giving as well as receiving. We are intertwined; our actions reverberate and echo and come around again. No one only gives or only receives.

Everyone brings something to the table.

On Thanksgiving, I have been surprised by unanticipated guests, interesting food, odd drinks, badly-behaved pets, talented teenagers, amazing stories and conversations both warm and contentious. More than anything, I have been surprised by the thrill of the unexpected amid the familiarity of ritual. My expectations are always challenged.

I have to surrender my image of perfection. The reality is far messier, but it is warm and real, unpredictable and delicious. It is the abundance at my table.

There's pumpkin pie on the table and chai on the stove. This is America, after all. We create our own truth, if there even is a truth at all. We are all poor in something. We share with those who have less. Everyone brings something. We are imperfect, real, enriched

The article in it's entirely can be found at

Friday, November 26, 2010

I'm Bored: Well Have I Got Ideas For You!

I don’t know about you, but am really feeling like a lump after the Thanksgiving feeding frenzy.  Am wondering how to avoid the Black Friday craziness at the malls, but still find something fun to do with my family over the next three days.  Came up with a few ideas to share with you.  They don’t cost much, if anything, and beats hearing “I’m bored.”  Enjoy!
1.    Bake cookies, or take the fast and easy way out and add frosting and sprinkles to purchased ones.  You can also have the kids decide what’s for dinner and let them help cook.
2.    Go to an indoor playground.  Invite the other parent, have coffee and TALK! The Eagles Nest in New Brighton, Maple Grove Community Center and Edinborough Park in Edina are all great Twin Cities Metro options.
3.    Call a friend and meet at a park.  Even babies in strollers are fine, if bundled up, if the temp is above zero.
4.    Go rollerblading or strollerblading.  If it’s not too icy, you can go around the Twin Cities lakes, or try out the Metrodome for an indoor option.
5.    Try bumper bowling.  There are coupons online and in the Happenings/Entertainment books that make this a cheap fun option for ages five and up.  I love the bumpers, because then even I can look like a pro!
6.    Explore your local wildlife park.  In the northern Minneapolis suburbs Springbrook Nature Center and Silverwood are great options.
7.    Go to the zoo.  The Como and Minnesota zoo have indoor and outdoor choices.   
8.    Grab your bike helmets and go for a bike ride.  You can even do this in the winter if the streets have been cleared and it’s not icy.
9.    Organize a Kid-Swap with friends. They take your kids for a morning and you take theirs for an afternoon.
10.  Go to a local museum.  The Minnesota History Center or Gibbs Museum is a great to show the kids how things use to be.  The Minneapolis Art Institute is free and is next to the Children’s Theatre.  Rush tickets are half price and if the kids aren’t too tired after the museum, it’s a perfect add-on.  Get in line a half an hour before the show!
11.  Go ice-skating at the Depot in downtown Minneapolis.
12.  Have a movie afternoon. Rent a couple of good kid’s shows, make some popcorn and snuggle up with blankets and enjoy.
13.  Stop down at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market.  They are open until Christmas and even have hot coffee and cocoa.
14.  Cut your own tree at a Christmas tree farm. 
15.  Try Horseback riding or a sleigh/wagon ride.  For an easy short option, try the Forepaugh’s area in St. Paul or down by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
16.  Visit a farm and see all the farm animals, you maybe be able to feed and pat some of the tamer ones.  Emma Krumbees in Belle Plain has a nice one that is perfect for smaller kids.
17.  Take a day trip to a historic town.  Red Wing, Afton and Stillwater are fun year round!
18.  Try winter camping at Baker Park.  They also have fun family classes and year round campfires.  You can even try a campfire in your own back yard!
19.  Have an indoor picnic lunch.  Let the kids help pack their own, break out the picnic basket and spread out a blanket.  We have even put on shorts and sunglasses.
20.  Smile! Get out the digital camera, let the kids take some pictures, download them and create a slide show.  You can also give them the video camera, and have your own Oscar-winning production.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Did You Have To Go Up a Size?

Note to self, husband. There are certain things better left unsaid, especially to a young woman! I don't know why, but keeping a foot out of your mouth with family can sometimes be near impossible. Let's add in hormones, holidays, personalities, and good intentions: a recipe for major up-to-the-ankle insertion.

Daughter number two, back from college, is on the couch cuffing her jeans in the latest (I think) style. Small talk is flying, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is blaring in the background and my husband and child are bonding.

Husband: "That's the new look huh?"

Child #2: "Yep."

Husband: "Cool. Maybe I should try it." Conversation is going well. He's showing engaged interest. They've established eye contact. Wow!

Husband (now confident): "So, did you have to go up a size?" WHAT?

Child #2 two stares. Smiles fade. Husband not sure why, but like a cornered animal senses danger.

"What? Thanks a lot for noticing I needed a bigger size."

Husband (Man who has given impassioned and applauded speeches before crowds of hundreds begins stuttering): "No I only meant, um, uh, to roll them…um…up." Gulp. "I didn't mean you had gotten fat. Just thought you needed a bigger size."

Oh please quit while you're ahead. Just stop talking. Like they said in When Harry Met Sally, it's already out there. Duck, cover and run! Husband senses my thoughts via the marital mind-meld.

Child #2 standing up and stalking out of the room: "Fine. I know what you meant."

Conversation over.

He meant well, but risking sounding like a sexist, I think it's a guy thing. Blessed with little cultural crap about dimpled thighs and pouching tummy fears, for him weight is just a fact. Like eye color, a middle name and his eternal hope for the Vikings: what you weigh JUST IS! Reminiscent of the year he joyfully gave me a 3x sweater for Christmas, or the time he insisted I needed to go to the club more, he just doesn't get it. If you love me, pretend I am a size 2.

I don't know if it's a gender thing, a family thing, or a culture thing. We all have our sore spots. We assume if our family loves us, they'd know our insecurities and avoid them. In family there is no balding head, directionally challenged outing, or burnt pasta. All is good in happy family land and kind denial rules. So as we head over the river and through the woods for the Thanksgiving meal at Mom's, am preparing for a bit of gravy and salt with the inevitable foot that comes with extended family love fests. Remembering to step lovingly over the landmines of self-doubt, I always can follow it up with a piece of humble pie.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to Choose a Kindergarten; The Lazy Post for a Pre-Thanksgiving Day!

The house isn't clean.  Dogs bark.  Child in wetsuit, snowshoes and a face mask is ready to hit the frozen tundra for his next adventure.  Child number three is at high school, paying less attention to the teachers than the iTouch hidden in her uniform pocket.  Offspring one and two are working and finishing up exams. 

The freezing rain is on its way, and I have fifty people showing up in seven hours for a party of the Pilgrims and the real Indians (you'll get it if you check out my last name!)  So, am taking the easy way out and posting an oldie but goodie article I wrote in March.  It was carried in three local papers, including the Asian American Press:  How to Choose a Kindergarten Program.  Enjoy and get that house cleaned-pack up the children-load the car-make the turkey for the holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Tips to choose a kindergarten program

Columbia Heights, Minn. (March 4, 2010) – Spring is nearing and now is the time that parents must begin to register their 4 or 5 year-old for school. Kindergarten is often a student’s first step into the world of formal learning, so finding the right program for a child is an important decision. With private schools, public schools, half-day and full-day programs, how can a parent decide which kindergarten is the right for their child?

Mrs. Cara Miller, a kindergarten teacher from Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Columbia Heights, provides several tips for parents.

“Based on research from top educators, we know a kindergarten should be age appropriate, encourage self-esteem, cultural identity, individual strengths and independence,” states Miller. She continued by saying that teachers with a background in early childhood education and child development can best provide a child what they need. Additionally, research shows more consistent, positive, long-term, academic outcomes for children enrolled in all-day kindergarten. “It’s clear that these kids in all-day kindergartens do better throughout their entire school career,” she added.

According to Miller and The National Association for the Education of Young Children, here are 10 signs of a good kindergarten program:
• Children are playing or working on projects with other students. They are not forced to sit quietly for a long time or merely wandering the classroom.
• Children have many different things to do throughout the day (i.e. singing, reading, coloring, and puzzles). All children may not be all doing the same thing at the same time.
• At times teachers teach individual students, small groups, and the whole class.  Instruction is not limited to the entire class all at the same time.  The class size is small enough that children receive individual attention.
• The classroom is decorated with children’s work and brightly colored materials.
• Children learn in the course of their regular class activities. Reading books, taking attendance, and serving snack are all meaningful learning experiences.  Enrichment programs such as computers, music, art and foreign languages are offered.
• Children work on projects and have long periods of time to explore subjects. Filling out worksheets is not the main educational activity.
• Children have an opportunity to play outside every day that weather permits.
• Teachers read books to children throughout the day.
• Curriculum is adapted to the ability of each child.
• Children look forward to school. Parents feel safe sending their child to kindergarten. The care before and after school, if used, is safe and comfortable for the child as well.
While there are numerous kindergarten programs available in the northern suburbs, it’s important to explore a family’s options.  Private schools may offer tuition assistance, so income is not a barrier to many area schools.  For example, Immaculate Conception Catholic School waives registration fees for new students and offers generous tuition assistance to many school families.  Parents who do not attend a kindergarten open-house event should ask to visit a school and kindergarten program during the day.  Schools that embrace the philosophy of individualized teaching, a calm, safe environment and offer an all-day program can often provide the best opportunities for your kindergarten-aged child.
Cara Miller teaches at Immaculate Conception Catholic School.  Immaculate Conception Catholic School is a private Catholic school located near 40th and Central Avenues at 4030 Jackson Street Northeast in Columbia Heights, educating students from Pre-K through the eighth grade. Located ten minutes from downtown, ICS offers affordable tuition, extended-day morning and afternoon child care, tuition assistance, fine arts, athletics and Spanish language instruction.  Free busing is available for families residing in the Columbia Heights School District. The school is currently accepting enrollment for the 2010-2011 school year.  Mrs. Cara Miller is a former preschool teacher, and current director of the kindergarten program at Immaculate Conception Catholic School. She received her degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from Saint Catherine’s University in St. Paul.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Turkey Trots

Great!  Back again to being the late one. 

You know what I am talking about.  The parent who gets the date- event-time-location wrong, or is caught in traffic- lost- stuck in a meeting- keys locked in the car- ALWAYS LATE.  You either ARE that parent, or have watched with pity (subtext: disgust) as that certain person slinks in the side door.  You don't know, but we slink because we're  praying no one notices the tardiness, especially our own lovely kid!  Well he noticed.  They all noticed.  Unfortunately, my husband was in tow and noticed as well.

Eight minutes late for the first grader's two minute Thanksgiving play.  Although I walk into the hall, excited to see all the parents still lined up, I realize within seconds that the time was magically changed.  Unfortunately, husband and I were only one of two families that didn't read the teacher's new memo.  Enter the 6 year old wearing a crumpled construction paper turkey perched on his head. One look at the LATE ONES and he bursts into tears. Another couple tries to ease our embarrassment with, "It was on our fridge for 2:45 too!"  Thanks, but neither the hubster nor the kid is buying that one. 

So, today I get to face up to the fact that even with a lot of time and practice, sometimes I stink at the job of motherhood.  I make kids cry, I lie about seeing every moment of their sporting event, and I have been known to doze off during a dance recital.  You know, as parents we have been given the oldest "practice child" to screw up.   Some how, I had always hoped that by number 4 I'd get it right.  Well the boy with the speech about the turkey waddle will tell ya:  it just ain't so, and he's the fourth practice model.

As I stood wiping first grade tears with the sleeve of my coat, I realized something.  Even though times are changing  I still haven't caught up.  We are all just works in progress and for that I am thankful.  So for today I can be nicer to myself and realize I'm not the only one under construction.   So, counting my blessings gets easier, and I still can say with a straight face, "Better late than never!" 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone out there in blog-land, and take a minute to be thankful for what we are becoming, and remember you're never too late.