Our 6:30am alarm has not rung yet when I hear a pitter-patter of feet crescendo into our bedroom. Ethan and Kyra giggle as they climb under our covers and arrange themselves on each side of me. They compete to plant the most kisses on my cheeks. Pudgy arms grab my face and ears. Their bodies pressed like cellophane against mine.
Kyra says, “I love you, Mommee.”
Ethan says, “No, I love you Mommee.”
I manage a groan, since I had a productive writing session last night and only got two hours of sleep. But my face is stretched in bliss. What a wonderful way to wake up in this love sandwich, as my husband called it.
After they warm their toes and fingers in my bed, Kyra asks Ethan if he wants some Go-Gurt and the two of them race off to the kitchen. I listen for their return, to pull me out of bed and get them milk or tear open their Go-Gurts or referee a fight, but its day four of Kyra’s Spring Break and my Kindergartener has decided she’s going to give Mommy a break.
I hear her talk gently to Ethan the way I might talk to him, “Jei Jei (Older sister in Chinese) will open for you. Okay, don’t make a mess. Now, let’s go watch some T.V.”
So far, each day progresses in this fashion where Kyra pretends that I’m not home and she is Ethan’s babysitter or teacher. Sometimes, she pokes her head into my office just to inform me that they are travelling the world. They both have a suitcase in their hands and I ask her where they are right now. And she tells me Australia. Sometimes, she has miraculously tamed my son into house chores. They put the silverware away, pick up the toys scattered in the living room, clear off the dining table, tidy up their rooms.
Ethan is, fortunately, completely in love with his sister. He will do anything that she asks. Well, most of the time. With her home, he no longer sits in my lap or cries if I don’t give him 100% of my attention. Of course, they do fight at least a few times a day. But overnight it seems, Kyra has matured. She tells him “sorry” or asks him to say “sorry” to her. She takes great pride in being able to solve problems without needing to trouble me.
This phenomenon occurs even on days that we head into town. In the car, she tells Ethan to play the quiet game. “Okay, whoever is quiet until we get home, gets to play with Mommee’s phone.” If I get sleepy and have to pull to the side of the road, she starts to sing a song. It goes something like this:
Mommee, you are the best. The best. The best.
You are the best in the whole wide world.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
I love you more than anything in the whole wide world.
You are amazing.
You are beautiful.
You are terrific.
You make me soooo happy.
Then, she says, “Okay, Mommee. When you’re tired, I am going to sing you this song. Is it working? Are you awake? Can you drive home now?”
It’s every parent’s dream, right? That one day your kids can take care of you or at least make your life easier? I just had no idea that this dream might come true when my child reached five instead of sixteen!
I don’t think it’s due to any magical parenting skills here, so is this a natural thing that occurs when kids turn five? Has this happened to you?
Lately, Ethan refuses to allow the family to play a Wii or PS2 game in peace. Instead of running away as seen in my first blog post, Parenting with Avatars, he now has enough strength to engage the girls in full combat. He clings to my leg as I try to race down Kyra on the Wii Active Sports Obstacle Course. He tackles Kyra and tries to yank the Wii controller out of her death grip.
If I strap the nunchuk onto his leg and teach him what buttons to push on the controller, he gets stage fright. He’s loving his moment in the spotlight, but he has no idea what to do.
Mostly, he throws such a ruckus that we give up our game. I guess I would too if everyone was having fun, except me.
The solution emerged unexpectantly while we helped my sister-in-law Alice get married this past weekend in Washington, D.C. One evening as I put finishing touches on Alice’s wedding program, laughter erupted in the next room. The hardwood floor beneath my feet quaked from a stampede of little feet. I could hear my nephews, nine-year-old Matthew and seven-year-old Jason, chanting, “Go Kyra. Go Ethan.”
Their mother, my sister-in-law Kay, handed me a beer and said, “You’ve got to check this out!”
I was determined to print Alice’s program that night, so I kept saying, “Okay, I’ll be right there.” Finally, Thomas grabbed me by the shoulders and led me away from the laptop, across the kitchen, to the living room where Kyra, Ethan, Jason, and Matthew twisted right and left on the balls of their feet in front of a stage of avatars. It looked like the “walk it out” hip-hop move I had tried to master on the Wii Michael Jackson The Experience, except they had no controllers in their hands.
Kay pointed at the lead dancer, a glamorous red head decked out in a short body hugging dress and gladiator boots, and said, “Kyra picked out that avatar all by herself. I don’t even know how to do that yet.”
“Mommee, look!” Kyra squealed in delight. “I picked a princess.” Stunned, I looked at Thomas and he raised his eyebrows. He had been trying to get her interested in girly stuff from the day she was born. They’ve had intense negotiations where he would ask, “Do you love Daddy?” If her answer was “No” then he would say, “Fine, I’ll get you Princess Jasmine for your birthday.” She’d start crying and saying, “No, don’t say Princess. I want cars and trains only!” He’d tease her with “How about Princess Aurora? Cinderella? Mulan?” She’d throw her arms around him in a state of panic and repeat, “I love you” over and over until he stopped saying her most hated word.
While Kay, Alice, Thomas, and I danced with the kids, I studied this phenomenon: Kinect, a next generation gaming experience that could not only entertain and educate kids spanning two years of age to fifty but also keep them active and inspire confidence to venture beyond their comfort zone.
In seconds, it was clear that everybody was having fun and nobody was getting left out. In minutes, the whole extended family sweated a full workout. In days, I appreciated not having to hunt for missing controllers or buy new ones because the kids got them too sticky. In a week, we had mastered complicated dance moves with Dance Central and with Kinect Adventures! water rafted some of the world’s steepest rapids.
I don’t know how I missed the hype on this controller-free, battery-free, cable-free, motion-sensing, body and voice tracking gadget that rolled out in November 2010. Priced around $150, Kinect seemed affordable enough. Only you also have to own the Xbox to make it work, so now you’re talking about a total of at least $300. And that doesn’t include the cost of the games and the fact that I already owned the Wii and PS2. So, nope, I wasn’t going to purchase the Kinect anytime soon.
But the educational possibilities of this device are certainly mouthwatering. Microsoft announced in December that soon Windows PCs would feature Kinect technology. I couldn’t wait for a Kinect tutor. Virtual futuristic learning for my kids. And for me (shh, don’t tell anyone), designing my own Superhero suit in Tony Stark style.
If you own Kinect, here are some suggestions from Kinect and Your Kids: What Works, What Won’t:
1. Mount the Kinect camera box above your TV, as high as 6 feet if possible.
2. Manually adjust the camera to tilt down a bit.
3. Demarcate the play area somehow to avoid injuries.
If you don’t own a Kinect, does this gaming technology sound appealing?
You wake up at 7am to make coffee for your husband and dress your oldest for Kindergarten. You get them out the door, then settle down to get some work done. Usually, you only have time to check your email before your toddler wanders into your lap. He says, “I’m hungry Mommee.”
In the kitchen, he doesn’t like any of the options you present. He tosses his milk across the room splattering smelly stains across the dining room rug. He smears applesauce on his placemat and paints it on his hair. While you’re cooking him breakfast, he knocks over the Nestle Quik Strawberry Powder. He cries for Sesame Street. He says, “I’m mad.”
An hour later, his tummy full, his body bathed, you settle him on the couch with his favorite stuffed animal. You try to meet a deadline, but he keeps crying for you to play with him. He drags his toys into your room and lines them up beside your laptop. He climbs up onto your chair and starts to doodle on your papers. Before you know it, he’s dropping paperclips down your shirt.
Fine, you promise to play with him. He’s holding your pinky and walking you up the stairs to his train table. You trip on DVDs that he’s ripped out of cases, navigate through a maze of riding toys that you now regret purchasing. The family room that you and your husband tidied last night is littered with all the now unfolded clothes that you hadn’t had time to put away, Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snack wrappers, half-eaten GoGurts and all the toys that the kids are supposed to put away into two specially designated storage bins before their bedtime.
You don’t know when he had time to make such a mess. And boy, are you mad that your daughter taught him how to help himself to snacks out of the fridge and pantry.
By the time, you are upstairs, you’ve got bigger problems.
This past week, you had tried some tips from Why Kids Should Clean and What They Can Do and Lessons in Cleaning House. You gave each kid a responsibility chart and taught them how to do some simple chores like put the silverware away, set the table and tidy their room. The kids thought chores were fun and each day they competed with each other to see who could clean their room faster. And then you agreed to host a party tomorrow so that a rigid deadline might get the house in order.
But somehow, maybe in the middle of the night, the kids undid all of your hard work and actually quadrupled the mess. All those books that you patiently showed your toddler how to place on his shelf are now strewn across both their rooms, the bathroom and down the stairs. The Legos that he had helped you sort into bins based upon size and color had been dumped in their beds. They had also broken into your scrapbook room and tore up your expensive paper. Stampin Up! Markers were uncapped and bleeding onto the carpet.
Messy House, Messy Minds has you worried about a research study that stated, "household order taps a more fundamental characteristic of parents or households, such as maternal industriousness, planning ability, or conscientiousness, that gives rise to both orderliness and better reading skills in children." Meanwhile, your husband seems to complain all the time that he can’t think because the house is such a mess. The two of you simply can’t keep up with your kids’ combustive superpowers of mayhem and mess.
Just when you are about to give up because there is no way you can sleep tonight from the mountains of cleaning to be done and work commitments due. Just when you remember why you never invite guests or throw parties since your toddler started to walk; you climb into your daughter’s bed and pull the covers over your head and discover a scrap of your expensive paper, where she had written “I love you Mommy” over and over.
Have you discovered the kryptonite for your kid’s super ability to create mayhem and mess?
I was never one of your anti-Valentine types. Before I got married, boys wined and dined me from morning to night. Sometimes I had breakfast, second breakfast, coffee, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and dancing booked months in advance. Thomas wooed me with candlelight dinners he whipped up in his kitchen or a panoramic view of woods and rivers glittering in moonlight as we sipped cocoa on the edge of a cliff.
Even after we had kids, Thomas always made sure my Valentine’s started with an enormous box of fresh flowers that somebody delivered to the house. We usually got a sitter and enjoyed a quiet dinner together and a movie. Sometimes, I surprised him with a weekend away from the kids. But in recent years as our kids got older and the bills started stacking up and our days became packed with school concerts and ballet and swim lessons, I started telling Thomas not to do anything for Valentine’s.
I’m not sure when I lost my expectation for elaborate Valentine adventures. Sadly, I got practical, I guess. Valentine’s is expensive, especially in Alaska when you are far away from family. Not only do I have to expend weeks of energy searching for a sitter willing to watch two kids for an extended period of time (one time I asked my husband to take care of the arrangements and we ended up bringing the kids with us), but the kind of adventures I wanted (snow machining, snowboarding, ice climbing, summer plans to photograph bears at the McNeil River) cost a ton.
My mother used to tell my dad not to do anything for Valentine’s Day and then got upset if he really didn’t do anything for Valentine’s. I don’t play that kind of game, but Tuesday’s show, Love and Family Relationships, got me thinking. Have Thomas and I tangled ourselves in parenting and forgotten about the point of Valentine’s Day? Do we do enough throughout the year to express our love for each other?
Dr. Susan Newman recommended: “We get caught up with our children and forget we have a partner… One thing you can do is to say every night after the children are in bed, we are going to sit down with each other and talk about something else. You can make it a time to have a cup of coffee. You can make it a time to have a glass of wine, just the two of you, talk about your day, talk about what’s bothering you. But make it a rule, it can’t be related to the children. It has to be related to the two of you.”
After our kids are in bed, Thomas and I would honestly rather watch our DVR shows or play PlayStation or read a book than talk. We’re exhausted from sleep wars, screaming kids, and tidying up a house that seems eternally in a tornadic toy mess. We’re trying to unwind from our day, not wind ourselves into a possible argument.
Lately, it seems like we get into a fight every time we try to talk. Maybe, by the time we squeeze in “talking,” our patience is thinned out and as taut as a drum. On the show, Les and Berneice Kelm claim they never argued in sixty-four years! While I don’t quite believe that’s possible, the Kelms are right that as you grow older, it’s a different kind of love. You have to take care of each other more. Everybody does have to give a bit.
The Kelms interview reminded me that I had asked the attendees of my wedding shower to write us marriage recipes or any advice they have about staying married forever. I’m not sure why I haven’t read them yet but I figured what better timing than now, on Valentine’s Day, when Thomas and I are not doing anything.
Here are some of my favorites:
• Let your children know how much you love each other every day.
• Think about meeting your spouse’s needs before your own.
• Remind yourself that attitude makes a difference.
• Say you are sorry.
• Keep your memories green.
What are some of yours?
Last Friday, Thomas and I received an email from Kyra’s school announcing a Brown Bag Concert series every day the following week. I noticed that four of her classmates were performing. As we brushed our teeth that night, I remember telling Thomas that I felt terrible. First, I was clueless about whether there was a sign-up sheet or how students were selected. Second, I had started to teach Kyra piano for about a month fairly informally on the weekends. And most of that time, we would get into fights because she insisted on figuring out the notes on her own. Third, having hated performing as a child, I couldn’t believe that I felt Kyra was missing out on something.
Thomas said, “Well, I didn’t know about the concert series either. Besides, I would never perform if I didn’t have to.”
“Me too! So why am I even upset that Kyra isn’t performing?”
He laughed. “Is she even ready?”
“No,” I said. “We’ve been kinda goofing off with the whole piano thing. I wanted to make it a fun thing. So we haven’t really had consistent lessons.”
“Well, there you go. Why make things stressful?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, twisting floss tighter around my finger. “But, I can’t help feeling like I should’ve done more. You know with her piano lessons or preparing for the concert. I’m worried that she’ll miss out on an experience.”
Unwinding the floss, I continued, “But then, I always hated my mother for making me perform. All the stomach aches, stage fright, obsessing about the mistakes I made in front of the whole world! No, it’s better this way. I’m happy that she doesn’t have to suffer through all that and I’m relieved that I don’t have to stress about her performing.”
Thomas just shook his head, “You are so confusing!”
When I picked Kyra up from school on Thursday, she grabbed my hand and asked, “Mommee, how come my friends got to play the piano and I don’t?”
“Do you want to ask your teacher?”
“Okay!” She pranced off to her teacher’s side. I helped her get the words out and nearly shriveled when I heard the teacher say, “There was this big sign-up sheet in the front of the school.”
Before I could apologize, the teacher said, “You know what? Robert decided not to do perform tomorrow, so if you want, you can have his slot. Or even better, you can always play the piano during show and tell.”
Kyra drifted off while the teacher and I explored various options. So when I put Kyra’s jacket on and asked her what she wanted to do, I was surprised to hear her say, “Play tomorrow.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“I want to,” she said without any hesitation and then chased after her brother.
That night, she ordered all of us to sit down and be her audience. On her first run through the song, I heard a few mistakes and tried to play along, but she snapped at me, “No, Mommee. Don’t touch the piano. Now, sing.”
We tried. But after a few attempts, she said, “I play by myself.” And that was that. She ate her strawberries and said she was going to bed, “I’m ready. I’m good.”
Thomas and I looked at each other with apprehension. She had a tendency to start the song, stop, turn to her audience and say, “I made a mistake.”
In the morning, she practiced the song one more time repeating it three times. I told her she only had to play it once, but she insisted, “No, I like three.”
Then, my baby girl was off to school and I didn’t see her until the show. She lounged in her teacher’s lap, cool as a cat. No fear. Not even in need of any Mom or Dad hugs.
When the music teacher announced her surprise performance, she ran up to the piano and climbed onto the bench. Then with legs swinging back and forth, she played it through once and paused to check out her audience. Then repeated the song two more times. The music teacher winked at me because we had talked right before the show and after hearing Kyra’s attitude the night before, she told me I was in trouble. She said she was exactly like Kyra when she was little.
Kyra finished off her performance with a flamboyant bow to the cheers and applause from her entire school. I watched Thomas’ face and saw him beaming proudly at his daughter. I bet I was even more transparent.
We still can’t believe the chutzpah of this girl. Whatever might be the source of her audacity, we agreed that this moment was one of our proudest parenting miracles. The next morning, for the first time ever, she cleaned up her room without anyone asking! Maybe kids innately know when they have achieved something on their own and it’s a major boost to their confidence?
Last night, Kyra busted me for tossing a bright blue conchiglioni (giant pasta shell) she painted at school.
“Mommee, why did you throw my art away?”
I had always dreaded the day my daughter might ask me this question. According to reporter Michael Tortorello, I am a hoarder, not a chucker. I framed the first time she ever drew a circle, a car, our family. We saved every doodle from Kyra’s first month in Kindergarten when she was obsessed with drawing hog creatures from the iPhone app Angry Birds. Every year, we bought mugs or aprons or tiles adorned with her handprints. Our walls and refrigerator are covered with her paintings, sketches, marker scribbles. My file cabinets stuffed with the ones that weren’t on display. Even my window sills are lined with scraps of paper that I couldn’t part with simply because she embellished it with “I [lopsided heart] Momma!”
Sure, I tossed items that would decay, were repetitive or too cumbersome like life-sized cutouts of my daughter. The majority of the time though, I tended to hoard rather than chuck. My grandmother was a famous oil painter and art teacher in China. My mother made a living as a commercial artist and in her free time wrote a book, painted watercolors, designed greeting cards, and shot stunning photographs. It seemed like they saved everything I created and instilled in me love and confidence for artistic expression. I wanted to do the same for my kids. Besides, educators stipulate that displaying a child’s artwork will boost their self-esteem.
What I didn’t anticipate was the sheer volume of “art” my daughter brought home through years of daycare and pre-school. Kindergarten simply avalanched my imperfect system. Daily she brought home stacks of paper: construction or lined, assignments or free-time doodling, letters or envelopes. Sometimes, her brother would find her stash and rip them to shreds. Other times, the two of them would create “gifts,” strips of paper adorned with expressions of love for Mom and Dad, which they would scatter about the house.
To make matters worse, I knew I needed to create more art with my son. So far, I had only one of his creations that he created at hourly care — a thin 16 x 20 sheet of paper curling with paint on my window sill. Most days he is home with me and doodles on my notebooks and papers. He often points at this painting and says proudly, “Dee Dee painted it.”
I can just imagine the magnitude of his terrible twos, a world-is-collapsing-fit, if he found this painting in the trash. Panicking, I had fished Kyra’s conchiglioni out of the trash and asked her what it was. She explained that it was her crab and quickly forgot about the whole incident as she listed all the Alaskan animals she learned at school.
With the conchiglioni proudly displayed on our crowded shelf, I tucked her into bed and spent the next few hours browsing for creative storage options. S. Jhoanna Robledo suggests sorting the art with your children: “Make four piles: one for display, one for storage, one to send, and one for the trash.”
Kindergarten teacher Joanne Walker recommends taking photographs of the ones that don’t make the cut. If I could get organized enough to do that, then I would collect them in a coffee table book, one of several ideas Tortorello recently reviewed. Or even better, force myself to try Dr. David Burton’s idea of sorting my children’s art into two boxes: the permanent one which holds selected works spanning 5-10 years and the temporary one for recent creations.
Have you tried any of these ideas but still remain a “hoarder”?
This month, my inbox flooded with friends and family urging me to read Amy Chua’s book excerpt, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. Over dinner, Thomas kept asking me, “Have you read it yet?”
A week later, he tried to peak my interest with: “Our friends are really offended by Chua. Did you know she even received death threats?”
Finally, he summarized the story for me, hoping to engage some discussion, but I remained as quiet as the eye of a storm.
Maybe, because I never ever want to be labeled as a “Tiger Mom” or worse “Chinese Mother.”
When Kyra was born, I vowed never to parent like my parents. No four hours of piano practice a day. No rules about how my kids can’t date until college or go to prom or watch T.V. No demands that they must get As and pursue career choices as a physician or lawyer. And definitely no wooden spoons (for hitting little hands) allowed in the house!
Unlike Chua, I didn’t think my parent’s legalistic cultivation was a gift. American born and rebellious against my parent’s customs, I proudly resisted anything Eastern or Chinese.
We showered Kyra with kisses and hugs and constantly told her we were proud of her. We let her watch her favorite cartoons. When she talked about the future, we said she could do anything she wanted. I even told Thomas, I would be thrilled if she became a professional snowboarder! By three, she had settled on becoming a race car driver and that is still her number one choice today.
Meanwhile, she blossomed in academics, outdoor sports, art, music, and picked up languages intuitively. Hey, the Western style of parenting is working, I thought.
Until, my best friend started to ask me questions. Michelle is a Head Start Preschool teacher, pursuing a master’s in Early Childhood Education. Lately, she’s been interviewing me for an assignment on how culture influences parenting techniques.
“So do you think academics is more important or art?” she asked me over the phone as I waited in the hall for Kyra to be dismissed from her after school Chinese program.
“No, you have to pick one,” she giggled. “I want to see how well you know yourself.”
When I didn’t answer, she nudged me further. “Think about what Kyra does to please you.”
We’ve known each other since four years of age, so instinctively I knew that Michelle was teasing me about our dinner last month at a Chinese restaurant. Just after tea was poured, Kyra announced to the whole table that she wanted to do her workbook. With my dad, aunties, uncles, and Michelle’s parents beaming at her, she pulled out a math workbook from her backpack and started to wow her audience with additions and subtractions at levels well beyond her age. Embarrassed, I tried to distract her with my iPhone. “Here, why don’t you play a game?”
After a few minutes of “screen time,” she nudged my aunt sitting to her right, handed her my iPhone and said, “Pass this around.”
Soon the whole table shouted praises: “Kyra, you are so smart. You are writing sentences already? You know how to use notepad? How old are you?”
“Okay, fine!” I paced furiously in the hall. “She pleases me with academics. However, I want you to know that we’ve also enrolled her in swimming and ballet and I started teaching her piano.”
She laughed. “That’s good! I just wanted you to see if you knew that sometimes your parenting reminds me of your mother. But, don’t worry, you are a great mom.”
My ears burned and I nearly dropped the phone. Am I unknowingly slipping into my traditional Eastern upbringing? Wait, let me explain why Kyra had a math workbook in her backpack. Her preschool teacher had recommended her for the gifted program and I heard from other parents that these books would help her feel more comfortable with the entrance exams.
Then Michelle asked, “Next question, are you going to force her to practice piano a certain number of hours a day like your mom?”
“No,” I said heatedly. “I don’t know. I gotta go.”
Before I had a chance to think about her question, Kyra’s Chinese school teacher let out the class and approached me. “I was wondering if you could play the piano for our Chinese New Year concert.”
She did not wait for an answer, but hurried me into the classroom and asked Kyra and the other girls from the class to rehearse lines from the Feng Yang Flower Drum song. While they danced and waved drumsticks above their heads, the teacher described the introduction, conclusion, and transitions she needed me to compose. Kyra repeatedly threw her arms around me and hugged me hard.
I guess I had my mom to thank for starting me in piano lessons at the age of four and pushing me to perform and compete. Now, I could do something for my daughter that not many other parents could. I didn’t turn out that bad, did I?
You would think that growing up in Southern California, I would be a seasoned disaster preparedness mom. Earthquake drills were a constant affair at school. We stocked cans of food and bottles of water in our garage. In my college dorm, a 6.7 earthquake threw me across the room when my bunk bed toppled over. My roommates and I nicked our bare feet on picture frames that had shattered on the floor.
But I also had a mother that completely freaked out at the slightest ground movement. She would scream hysterically (even if it was just a massive truck driving by), shove my brother and me under our thick oak kitchen table, then throw her trembling body over us. My father would just laugh and laugh. I would watch his round belly jiggling under his red robe and worry that the house was going to crush him.
In some of the worst earthquakes we lived through, my mom booked us a room on the Queen Mary because she thought that being on a boat would be the safest way to survive the aftershocks. Huddled with our friends and family on the deck, I peered through binoculars at the land mass worrying that at any time the earth would swallow up the rest of the world.
Shortly after Kyra was born, I felt a tremble ripple through my log cabin walls. The hair on my body stiffened. I fought every nerve in my body to calmly ride this earthquake through. I was not going to frighten my kids like my mother did. Besides, it had taken me hours to get Kyra to sleep and as you know we don’t wake a sleeping baby unless it’s an emergency. I gripped the edge of my desk and listened to the creaking of the wood and the clinking of my china and that thunder in my ear that seems to crescendo until I’m no longer sure if it’s the earthquake or a manifestation of all my fears from my childhood.
My knuckles turned white. I could see my heart pounding through my chest. And still the earthquake wasn’t passing. I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran down the hall, swooped up Kyra, and curled up beneath her bedroom doorframe. Pressed tightly against my chest, her heartbeat calmed me down and soon I realized that the birds twittered outside again, maybe even laughed at me the way my father used to tease my mom.
Fortunately, Kyra had no clue that her Mommee freaked out.
With tomorrow’s show in mind, I wondered what kind of disaster preparedness mom I was going to be as my children got wiser. Over dinner, I decided to talk to Kyra and Ethan about earthquakes. I asked Kyra if she had any earthquake drills at school.
“Nope. Mommee, tell me what an earthquake is.”
“Well, it’s when the earth suddenly releases energy that causes the ground to shake and our house to shake too.”
Kyra licked the spaghetti sauce off her lips and said, “I like earthquakes.”
Ethan said, “Me too.”
“Sometimes though earthquakes can hurt people. Buildings can fall down. Do you remember that scary 8.0 earthquake in China? Lots of kids were in school at the time. Some were kindergarteners just like you and their school fell on them.”
“Did they die?” Kyra asked.
“Some of them did. Many many people died in that earthquake.”
Kyra thought about all of this for a moment. I started to get nervous. Then she smiled and said, “That’s okay Mommee. I like dead.”
“Yes, dead makes me happy,” Kyra said as she twisted her fork with noodles.
Ethan said, “Me too.”
Either my kids did not understand what “dead” meant or I had done such a good job in explaining death to them that they weren’t scared of it. Kyra leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Her eyes spun with such delight and she danced in her seat. Ethan tickled her and the two of them collapsed into laughter.
An hour later, I tried again, “Kyra, do you know what an earthquake is?”
She squeezed her eyes shut as if she was thinking very hard, then said, “It’s when people die.”
“Well, earthquakes don’t always cause people to die. Just sometimes…” Oh god, was I making this worse? I picked up Kyra and held her in my arms. “Uh, are you scared of earthquakes now?”
“No!” Kyra said firmly.
Ethan ran towards us and pointed at his chest which displayed an enormous red “S” and and said, “I’m Super Man!”
Clearly, I wasn’t very good at explaining the big bad world to my children. But at least, they weren’t scared of it. And somehow, I didn’t want to mess with that. Do you think that’s okay?
Kyra ran into the kitchen and said, “Mommee, he spilled juice on the computer.” Grabbing a towel, I raced Kyra into their playroom and caught Ethan finger painting juice on the case of the desktop (the same brand-new computer that only survived two months in our home and was featured in Raising Techno Addicts and Screen Time Fight Play-by-Play.)
Thomas scolded Ethan while I cleaned off the computer and perched it high out of our kids’ reach. It didn’t appear as if juice had seeped into the case, but we let it “dry.”
A week later, we held our breath and turned it on; about ten minutes later, Kyra pronounced, “The computer is dead.”
She didn’t cry or get upset at Ethan. She simply accepted that these things happen. I wished I could grieve in this way about all the losses in my life both big and small.
It’s been a tough year beginning with the passing of Thomas’ father in January from a railway accident and ending with my grandmother dying in her sleep just a few days before we were flying to California to see her.
I remember when I told Kyra about her grandpa. She jumped into my lap, grabbed my face and said, “I am not sad, I’m happy. Kyra die and then Kyra see Grandpa and Jesus.”
Death was not a new subject for her because my mother’s photos are on her wall. Before bedtime, we often talk about how Grandma Auxilia, whose looks and personality Kyra inherited, would protect her from monsters.
Nonetheless, my relatives told me that Kyra was too young to understand death. So, after Thomas’ dad died, I read her a book called Tell Me More About Eternity by Joel Anderson. The Children’s Ministry Leader at our church had recommended to me. Anderson starts with “It was a very special day for two people. One person was very young. The other was very old. Somehow they both knew this day was to be one of the most important days of their lives.”
For months, this book was Kyra’s favorite. She made me read it every night before bed and through two story lines one about a baby being born and an old man entering heaven, Kyra asked me many questions.
I’ve heard that grief is a teacher. It’s been seventeen years since my brother died of cancer, and sixteen years since my mother died of the same disease. And only now am I starting to comprehend that death is the same journey as birth.
By the time I told her about my grandma, I was pretty sure that Kyra understood what “dead” meant. “Great Grandma died?” she asked me, blinking with her big eyes.
“Yes, Mommy is sad.”
She smiled, then closed her eyes and pursed her lips at me. I leaned in and she kissed me on the nose. Then she asked, “Mommee, can you show me a picture of great grandmother so I can remember her?”
As we clicked through photos of the first time Kyra or Ethan met their great grandmother, I gazed at the excited bright eyes of my children and wondered whether sometimes they were our teachers, too.
How have you explained death to your children?
IN OUR FLAGSHIP blog, Love + eMotion, Leslie Hsu Oh gave us an honest glimpse inside of her family's life. She revealed the often funny, sometimes intimate and always thoughtful moments as she raises a family in a modern world - the theme of all these posts.