My Love For You Is Greater Than My Happiness

Here were the facts:

  • We had 10 hens.
  • Half were laying and half were retired (or should be).
  • We agreed 4 needed to leave us this Fall.
  • I had a friend who was looking for a companion for her lonely bantam who was orphaned by a predator. She could care less about the eggs. She wanted a pet hen.

That faithful morning I went into the coop with the kids.

“Which one shall we bring?” I asked as I stepped into the chicken area.

“One of the bare-necks.” They said almost in unison. They were the chickens without names. We ran around trying to catch one of the three but they were fast and wild.

Then I came to Silver Mist. She was the sweetest, friendliest and most docile hen we’ve ever had. Whenever I went into the chicken yard to feed them, Silver Mist was the first one there to greet me. She was also one of the few laying hens.

I looked at her. Two red and raw callused spots on the top of her wings caught my eyes. She was also the most pecked in the coop. Then a lump swelled in my throat so I could barely speak. My heart ached even as the words were coming out.

“There is Silver Mist.” I said gesturing to her.

“No!” They chorused. “Silver Mist is our favorite. Not her.”

“Just look at her.” I said quietly. We all knew about the pecking and the spots were hard to miss. No one said anything for a while.

“Alright.” My eldest said solemnly and with determination. It was said with such clarity, the other boys did not protest.

We placed her into a large paper bag we bought our bulk rice in and set her on Jing’s lap. She settled in. The boys coddled her and said softly, “Good bye Silver Mist, we’ll miss you.”

As I drove, I looked over at my son and saw his mouth quivering. “She would make a good pet hen.” He said tenderly after a while. “The other ones were too wild to make good pets.”

“She will be well cared for.” I assured them.

As a mom, it’s challenging to identify just when exactly does a boy grow to be a man. This moment would be one I will remember.

And my journey in all of this?

It’s learning to let go. If my eleven year old could, I could too.

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When mom is done.

6 p.m. Thursday evening. Dinner is a vague and unpleasant thought. Cameron complains of back pain. Jing Wen just threw his pencil down in retaliation of homework. My two younger ones just devoured a bag of Barbara’s All Natural Cheese Puffs … so, I didn’t feel too guilty … but I still knew they were hungry. My husband whispered to me, “El Taco?” I sat down in front of the kids as they were playing a card game… just about to announce that we were going out for Mexican, this came out instead: “I am feeling sad… and frustrated. It’s dinner time and I have nothing cooked, I don’t even feel like cooking right now. Daddy’s not feeling well and I feel really lonely. Lonely doing dishes by myself, taking out the garbage, and it feels like lately I haven’t gotten any support. There was a point when you were all very helpful. Then I noticed these days, when I ask, everyone says “no”. But people still need to eat and need clean clothes to wear. So, I do it, even when I am tired. But today, I just can’t do it anymore.” I stopped there, wiping away my tears. Burian came up behind me and patted me gently on the back. Clayton gave me a hug. “So, what are we going to do about dinner?” I asked. “I’ll cook dinner.” Jing Wen announced with great enthusiasm. “I’ll make a noodle stir-fry.” And then they were off. To keep this story short and sweet, I’ll just list what they decided to do: They prepared and made dinner, cleaned the bathroom sink, washed and dried a load of laundry, did all the homework including the extra credit, took out the recycle, fed the chickens and collected eggs. Jing Wen even read “Harold and the Purple Crayon” to Burian. And after they were all cleaned and tucked into bed, they all hugged and kissed me goodnight. A friend once asked me, is this considered guilt tripping the children. And I answered, “No, that would involve manipulation and ego.” How would my children be able to understand what’s going on in my world, if I didn’t communicate it in an age appropriate way? How else would they learn the affects of their actions or inactions, in the world (or their home)? What I share with them, I share with sincerity, authenticity and no attachment to an outcome. Their solution was above and beyond anything I’d imagined, but they tend to do that when I let go of expectations.

I speak to them with trust in my heart that they have positive intentions and they truly care about me and the well-being of the family. By letting them know where I am, they learn to listen, to be compassionate and to build confidence by showing me, and especially themselves, that they have the power to change the world, one step at a time.  
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Unexpected First Day of School

A week or two ago. my eleven year old drew this on the calendar … Sept 6th, the first day of school. It will be an adjustment, I thought. 6:40am this morning, I hear shuffling and voices in the kitchen. I stayed in bed as long as I could… when I got up at about 7:15 (okay, it was an adjustment for me), I found a shocking surprise … my eldest had made breakfast. My middle son started a load of laundry. Everyone was packed, brushed and ready to go. They were waiting for… me. “We have plenty of time.” I said. “We could leave at 7:50 and get there by 8:10? “It always takes longer, mom. I want to leave at 7:30. I want to be the first one at school.” “Yeah, me too.” Said my second. “How about 7:45, I don’t want to just wait in the parking lot. The school may not be opened.” “7:40. I don’t mind waiting in the parking lot.” Sigh. What an odd turn of events. I conceded and left at 7:40am. We were one of the first families there. I was reaffirmed by a few things: 1. Expectations have no hold on reality. Anything can change. Be here, be now. 2. What I perceive as my children’s issue… may very well be my own. 3. I have so much to learn.
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Not Summer School! … 10 Steps to the same page

It’s exciting when school ends for the boys because it means, I too get to sleep in on a weekday morning. I too have a fairly relaxing week, filled with jaunts to the creek, u-pick farms and road trips. So when I heard that my son was recommended to go to summer school, I was a bit disappointed.

When he found out it was four days a week, not one … well, you can imagine how devastated he was. How could I convince him to do something when I was not all that excited either? As a parent, I saw the pros, he would learn to read and spell better, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to sell to a 10 year old.

“Don’t they have prizes and gift certificates for you?” I asked hopefully.

“They’re just bribery.” He said sulkily.

Of course, it is moments like this that my child shows me what he’s learned when I am not paying attention.

I knew I wasn’t going to make him. There would be no point. Getting him to comply to one action does not ensure future actions nor does it build connection. So,  this is what I did instead.

Step 1: inquiry. What is going on in his world?

“What is it about summer school that upsets you?”

“You told me it was going to be one day a week.” He glared.

Step 2: Get on the same page.

“So you’re disappointed to find out it will take more days?” He nodded. “You’re upset because you think I might have lied to you?” He nodded again.

Step 3: Clear the smoke. If there are any misunderstandings, straighten them out.

“I promise you, Jing Wen, I knew it was four days, that’s what I remembered telling you, and I would not have told you otherwise.” I was so grateful our trust bank was full. Even though we were not agreeing, I knew our connection remained strong. Then I consoled, “I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding.”

Step 4: Get further understanding of his plight. There is a positive intention behind every action.

“What would you lose if you went to summer school?”

“I can’t sleep in.” He grumbled.

Step 5: Make rapport.

“Tell me about it.” I agreed readily.

“Then why do it?” He pressed.

Step 6: Okay, I got his attention, state my case.

“For me, some of the coolest and most interesting things I’ve learned were through reading. I hope you would be able to read and to read in joy. That’s why I’m not going to make you. But I would like to ask: how else can I support you?”

He replied with silence.

Step 7: Organize our thoughts.

“Here, let me write this down. Tell me what you would gain from going to summer school and what you would gain from not going. Just so we can see clearly how our choices are going to affect us.”

“I get to sleep in, have my mornings to play, eat breakfast and go to the bathroom.” He listed.

Step 8: Reassure that you understand and get the facts straight. Humor helps.

“All those are important things. I like to take my time in the morning too. What if I told you that I will support you by making sure you have a nice breakfast before you leave. Also remember, when real school is on, you leave home at 8am. For summer school, you leave home at 9:45am. There’s lots of play and bathroom visits you can do in 1 hour and 45 minutes.”

He smiled in spite of himself.

“What would you gain if you went?” I inquired. He didn’t respond but I could tell he was listening. I waited for a moment then continued, “I can think of a few things: you will read more fluidly and spell correctly. You will be able to understand better what you’re learning in school. You will be able to do your homework with more ease. You can enjoy books to read even when dad and I are busy.”

Step 9: Remind him and myself of what’s important.

“I just care about you and I want you to be happy. Enjoying the richness of books and reading is just one way, it’s one of my ways. I’m open to learning yours and I’m open to any ideas you have on how I can support you.”

He still looked grumpy but I said all I needed to say. And I respected that important decisions need time to digest.

Step 10: Give him space.

Two days passed and I did not bring it up again. One night right before bed, he came over to me with his homework folder and said, “I have homework to do.”

“Would you like for me to help you?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said grumpily.

I was happy he even brought it up, so I was not going to press on his attitude. We did his homework together and we read.

The next night, he brought his homework to me again. This time, there was no attitude.

By the third day, we were breezing through the homework and reading Sounder together… it was a book I had always wanted to read as a child and knew he would enjoy (based on his love for Where the Red Fern Grows).

My parents didn’t read to me when I was a child. They didn’t even speak English. But what I’ve learned is when we know the past, we can bow to it, make peace with it, learn and perhaps do something different because we can.

I’m so pleased to spend these moments reading with him. When I am old and grey, I shall look upon this old tattered book and remember crying with Jing Wen next to me.

I don’t know how he is going to do for the rest of summer school. I can’t know such things. What I do know is he came to me, he listened and we are still connected.

 

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Never Bored

School ended. I wondered and worried, for a moment, what were we going to do this summer, with three boys and limited financing?

When I was little, my mother rarely allowed me or my brother to take extracurricular activities or summer camp. Food, shelter and savings were the priorities for this immigrant family. But somehow my brother and I survived. We built forts, made paper puppets, cooked, watched T.V., practiced yoga and pretended to be kung fu students from the Qing Dynasty or reenact our favorite Back to the Future scenes. It was loads of fun. The experience taught me that what I get out of life has nothing to do with what I can buy, but rather what I do. Here is just an opportunity to pass that knowledge to my children.

My husband and I agreed to tag team childcare and work. So when he is at work, I stay with the children and vice versa. (I know that having this option is a blessing in and of itself.)

I asked myself what I was passionate about right now so I could share that with my children. It was learning Chinese. So we started a very simple class on Chinese language. Integrating art, writing and stories. It was a big hit.

Cameron built an animation machine so the kids could create their own animation. (Please remember, these are boys.)

Jing Wen wanted to do archery this summer. So Cameron built an archery range for him in the garage. Everyone who wanted to shoot was instructed in safety and etiquette.

We went strawberry picking the first sunny day. When we returned home, we worked together to blend, freeze, dry and bake them until there was hardly anything left for the fruit flies.

Then there was the down time, in which they wasted not one moment.

I don’t think there is going to be any trouble this summer filling our days with activity, creativity and play.

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