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A Penny for Mommy's Thoughts Life in CA Mommy Anecdotes

Are We Too Busy?

Quite often, a family in our neighborhood asks me on a whim if my girls can come over to play with her little girl.  Right now?  Yes now.

Quite often I decline (politely) because my girls have one activity or another after school.  I assume she doesn’t keep track of our schedule, because after asking for the nth time, she walked away shaking her head. “Boy your girls are TOO busy,” she commented.  I smiled and waved, “see you tomorrow”, and we went on our way.

From the look on her face and the tone of her voice, I probably came off as one of those “busy” moms who over schedules her kids.  I know for a fact that they’re lifestyle is the complete opposite, where her child has no after school activity whatsoever.  It’s free unstructured play all day long.  She doesn’t believe our kids get enough play time at school, and they’re being worked too hard as it is for them to do anything else after (hence the judgement conclusion).

Her opinion of me doesn’t really matter (Thank you, Discover Your Core), but quite honestly, this “busy-ness” business is an everyday concern of mine.  I constantly ask myself this:  Are my kids TOO busy?

I know there are varied points of view on the topic.  And after going through several links, I found an article on the New York Times that resonated with me the most (click the link to read it if you like!).

Excerpt from the New York Times article.
Excerpt from the New York Times article.

I’m PRO extra-curricular activities.  Sam and Jamie have several of them.  They’re in ballet and Kindermusik — but different days and time slots.  They go to Kumon together.  And then they have their own after-school interests:  Jamie’s are Spanish and Soccer, and Sam’s is Basketball (She does her Spanish on the iPad at home when she feels like it).  As members of the Catholic community, Sam also attends a separate Religious Education class once a week as part of the two-year requirement for First Communion.

When I the kids if they think we’re too busy, they always answer “no we’re okay.”  On days when I feel entirely overwhelmed and exhausted by our schedule, I wonder how that’s possible.  But on the days when things run smoothly, I somehow find the answers to my question.

These extra curricular choices, we made as a family.  The girls were involved in every decision.  And it wasn’t because it was something that I wanted for them but rather, something they were excited to do.  They went through the brochures with us and discussed their options.  Even three-year old Jamie appreciates this process.

Jamie loves soccer.
Jamie loves soccer.

Like any human being, on some days, it takes a little more convincing to keep this commitment.  Other fun things pop up and distract them from it.  But (thankfully) I’ve never had to drag one kicking and screaming.  That tells me that the initial protests are superficial, and once they understand the value of sticking to our commitments, they get excited about going all over again.  I feel it’s just as important for me to show I’m equally committed to getting them there and supporting their choices.

Of course school and homework clearly come first, and we all know this will always be the priority.

Ate finishing up her homework first thing in the morning.
Ate finishing up her homework first thing in the morning.

My smart little Sam sees the extracurriculars as an incentive for her to complete her homework quickly so she can get to them.  New activities are good for her adventure-seeking personality.  She has a productive channel to work out all that energy and thirst for knowledge.

And while I know the Tiger Mom in me can push, I’m also not that hard-core about it.  I want my girls to learn, but I also want them to enjoy doing so.  I don’t have dreams of them becoming the next Tiger Woods in their field (sorry, it’s the only analogy I know thanks to my husband!).  And we only skip class for good reason (an illness or schoolwork for instance).  I put their needs first.   If they need sleep, I won’t wake them the next morning.

...And this is too good to move! ;)
…And this is too good to move! 😉

Contrary to popular belief, my husband and I don’t say yes to every request.  For one it’s costly, and I haven’t figured out how to grow money on trees yet.  Secondly, I’d go crazy shuttling them back and forth (I go crazy enough as it is!).  But more than that, I do believe they need time for the mundane everyday stuff: errands and chores, play dates, toys, and yes, even the electronics.  These keep us busy too but in a different kind of way.

Even if my girls assure me with words, that “they’re ok” and “not too busy,” I still validate this against their behavior, and make the call if I see overtiredness rear its cranky head.  After all that’s said and done, I still adjust where I can depending on their needs.  The health and well-being of the girls come first above all else.

Finding the balance is hard, but it’s also very relative.  One may need more “free play” than the next.  Some may need more structure.  And what may be “too busy” for some, may be just right for others.  It all depends on the parents and the child.

Our days are usually pretty full (I should know I’m the first to feel the fatigue), but it’s not always because we’re running from one class to the next.  I purposely left days “free”, and we get to decide on what fun things we can do together.  Somewhere in between the routine and set schedules we have our own spontaneous moments that are just pure fun (more on that in a separate post).

Random game night over dinner.
Random game night over dinner.

So — are we busy?  Technically yes.  I’m a planner by heart; I like to know what’s next.  So in the eyes of an outsider we really do a lot.  But when I look at my girls, I think they’re right and we’re really ok.  After all, we’re never too busy for each other.

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A Penny for Mommy's Thoughts Mommy Lessons (on Parenting)

My Christmas Experiences as a Stage-Mom (of Two)

Two of the highlights of my busy December were the girls’ school Christmas programs (I think I’m still recovering from both production numbers since I’ve only found the courage to write about it now!).  I’ve figured out why I’d never felt this frazzled in the past, even when Sam was going to preschool in Chapel Hill.  First the obvious — it was one child that had to perform and not two.  Second, the school programs were simple and they didn’t run smack into the height of the Christmas holidays, as we are known to do here in Manila.  Sam’s first preschool was Jewish, and Hanukkah normally falls at the beginning of December.  Her second preschool was non-secular, so the biggest celebration they had was Thanksgiving, and the children sang all of two songs.  Here in the two schools my girls attend the year-end Christmas program is a major production for teachers, children and parents alike!

Jamie the Christmas Elf

At Jamie’s school, the teachers were trying to keep the performance a surprise.  Jamie would some songs every now and then though so I knew a few, and at pick-up I’d catch the older kids at practice.  Each time we’d pass the kids, Jamie would move in tune to the music too.  One morning in December in the middle of a diaper change, I said, “It’s December, Mom will start teaching you some Christmas songs okay?”  And then I started singing Jingle Bells.  I stopped at the phrase “Jingle all the way!” thinking that would be a lot for her to repeat, but instead Jamie replied, “Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh – Hey!”  Aha.  Another song in their repertoire.

Jamie’s teachers would always tell me that she loves to sing and dance, and was really the only one in her class who would consistently perform.  She’d even walk to the front and stand on top of the x-marked spot.  Nonetheless I was nervous about the big day, because — if I know my child — she gets completely conscious when she knows she’s being watched; and I don’t think a room full of parents and cameras would inspire her to perform.  But I hoped, and asked her teachers to video a practice session, just in case.

At home, I did the usual prep work and talked about her big day for weeks.  I downloaded the songs (it was a mad search on the net I tell you!) so that she could practice her moves at home, even if I didn’t know if they were correct.  I tried to get her to do them in front of a small audience, but she’d shy away.

I lost sleep the night before her performance and prayed it would all go well.  Of course I also told myself – she’s not even two, there’s no pressure but that didn’t make the nerves go away.  I was trying to analyze why — and I think I just wanted to get a glimpse of how she is at school.

On the morning of the program, we got off to a bad start.  Jamie woke up earlier than usual, which already gave me the sinking feeling she’d be tired and cranky early.  She didn’t want to eat breakfast either, and put up a fight when I dropped her off at school.  Her teacher had to pry her away from me crying, so I was bracing myself for the worst.  I picked a chair by the front, and crouched below some parents to stay out of sight.  My husband chose to stand at the corner so he could video the performance, but I worried she’d see him and want him to get her.

Then the kids walked out and took their places.  Jamie seemed to know the drill and didn’t show an ounce of fear or shyness.  She even saw her dad and waved hi, and when the music started, she just went and performed!  She sang, danced and did everything that they taught her, and she was as the teachers said, the best elf in their group.

Doing the actions like the other older kids! :)
Doing the actions like the other older kids! 🙂

I was so proud (and so relieved) I started to cry.  At one point she finally saw me (since I would stand in the middle of all the seated parents to get a picture) and cried out, “Mommy!”  I froze because I thought that was the end of it, but instead she looked steadily at me and continued to perform.  I’d meet her gaze and mouth the words so she’d know it was just like how we did it at home.

At the end of the program, Jamie happily climbed into my arms and looked pretty content with herself.  Incidentally, she was also the only child who walked up to Santa by herself to claim her gift.  During the snack reception a lot of the other kids’ parents came up to me and congratulated me on Jamie’s performance.  They asked me how I got Jamie to be so confident, and I really thought about it after that.  For her singing and dancing, I really honestly believe it’s because of Kindermusik.  I think her love for music just took over any kind of self-consciousness.  As for walking up to Santa, well… she just wanted that gift!

Sam the Brightly Colored Bird

In Sam’s case, when we first got the memo about a Christmas play last November, I thought it was just going to be her class performance.  Apparently, the school mounts a big production for all 200 students of the morning session, from prep to the 1st grade.  The play was Alice the Magic Dragon, and Sam’s class were the colorful birds.  Sam got sent home with a script, with a note that said we had to help her practice her line.  There was one highlighted line, which after some research, I learned was her one solo line!

Sam was very vocal about the play, the dances and the songs, so we’d practice them at home and rehearse her line every night.  She memorized it fairly easily (and I’d say her Kumon lessons helped in that aspect!) and tried to add in the right intonations to show emotion.

What was more stressful for me was the costume.  It was the parents’ responsibility and it called for colorful FEATHERSI had no idea where or how to put that together myself without the costume falling to pieces.  I had nightmares of my daughter shedding on stage.  I looked to outsource, but three dressmakers told me they were full for the holidays.  Even Sam’s ballet school (that normally makes costumes) couldn’t accommodate us.  Finally, our assistant at the office volunteered to go on a trip to one of our local markets.  She took one of Sam’s dresses so that they could approximate the measurements and she negotiated it be completed in a few days. That was a huge relief.

Main Photo: She didn't adjust the mic, but made sure she spoke into it.  Inset Photo: Sam right in the spotlight!
Main Photo: She didn’t adjust the mic, but made sure she spoke into it. Inset Photo: Sam right in the spotlight!

Sam’s bird costume turned out better than expected, and when we walked into school the morning of her play, the other moms complimented her on her feathers as she was literally covered in them from head to toe (some of the other birds had cloth feathers and didn’t look as fluffy as she did.  Actually, she looked more like a baby chick then a bird, but she loved it).  During the play, Sam said her one line fairly well (she elicited some chuckles from the audience) and danced front and center too (my kids are smaller than their classmates, I think that’s why the teachers situate them there).  I think Sam gets her body movement fluidity from her dad.  He always said I had two left feet.

I was proud of my little bird.  Growing up in the same school, I never liked performing in front of a large audience.  I was always very self-conscious (I think I still am!), and would rather help out in the safety of the shadows.  Sam performing couldn’t have been easy because I know she also gets self-conscious every now and then, but she enjoyed herself, and loved her chick-look.

I still have tons of photos to sort through (since I snapped the camera every second for every play) and several video clips to upload.  I watch the clips over and over again and they always bring a smile to my face, and admittedly, a sense of relief.  I’m so glad the girls are enjoying, learning and adjusting well.

I was chatting with some mom friends about the stress these kinds of productions bring upon us parents particularly during an already hectic time in the year.  One of my mom friends said that she avoids it and has her child skip the days they need to come in costume or dress up for plays.  She said it’s not worth the effort knowing her daughter might be too shy to perform anyway.  While her feelings and thoughts are valid (I have similar fears all the time), I can’t imagine not giving my girls a chance to work through and experience it.  Whatever the outcome there’s a lesson or two they (and we) can pick up from the entire process and to me that is priceless.  I’d take the sleepless nights, the nightmares and the stage-mom fears twice over if it meant giving them an experience I could never do for them.

Somehow in the end it pays off.  They know that I support them (as evidenced by all the practicing and downloading of songs) and encourage them; and no matter what the outcome would be they know it would be okay.  But they always know I’m excited for them and I hope that they’ll at least try.   I’d like to believe that’s also what pushes them to stand front and center and perform.

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ExperiMOMent Mommy Discoveries

Developing the Fine Motor Skills

I was reading about the five (or four, depending on which group you consult) developmental areas for a child’s development and did my own personal assessment of where Sam falls in each.  Her previous pre-school teachers said in their report last June that her abilities are age appropriate… all I needed to hear really.  I feel that has helped her quickly adjust and adapt to her new Montessori-based pre-school (more on this soon!) where she mingles with the older kids.

Now that I am looking for new things for us to do together on a regular basis outside of school, I realized that the biggest opportunity for us to work on are her fine motor skills.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel that all her current activities — school, Kumon, even her playdates and activities with friends — all contribute to that and the other aspects of her development.  But to be honest, when I consciously think about it, fine motor-skills aren’t exactly my strong suit either.  So in retrospect, I noticed that the choices of our activities tend to consciously strengthen the other aspects more.

I started reading up on fine motor skills and activities that I could do with Sam to focus on developing this in her further (If that makes me a nerdy mom, so be it, haha!).  Note that this is in no way scientific; it’s just our idea of learning fun.

  • More Play-Doh activities.  Art activities in general such as drawing, coloring, painting, and even learning to write should help develop this further; but by allowing Sam to push the play-doh together and pinch it with her fingers should gradually build control and strength in them.  I’ve also purchased several art materials that help build her attention to detail — gluing and pasting small items for instance.
  • My Mommyology Kumon Cut-outsKumon Workbooks.  I found a few workbooks on Amazon for Sam’s age that encourage her to cut, fold, paste, and write.  I realized Sam has never held a pair of scissors up until a few days ago when I ordered a set of child-friendly Melissa & Doug scissors for her to use for her workbooks.  It is actually a fun exercise that helps develop a child’s hand-control.  Since then, everyday she has asked to “cut paper” and we’ve made a few fun things tied together with “sticky tape”, as Sam calls it.  The other workbooks are parked on my Amazon wish list, for easy access in the future.
  • My Mommyology Buttons, Zippers and SnapsZip, Snap, Button, Tie…

    Practice with the Basic Skills Board (and others like it).  This is the next item on my wish list once Sam has exhausted the newness and activities of all the other items mentioned above.  In her new pre-school her teacher mentioned that she enjoyed their buttons and zipper activities, and Sam echoed this activity repeatedly when she told me about her day at school.  I’m quite excited because it will definitely make dressing her up much easier in the long run!

  • iPad and iPhone Games.  Okay, I know this is controversial to some parents, but I’ve actually found that there are a lot of good games toddlers can play on these gadgets that can help with their finger control.  Sam has been adept with the iPod since she was a year old and so now it’s very easy for her to navigate and find the ones she likes.  She paints, draws, makes puzzles, and does all these other things I’ve never seen her do before!  So I find it an amazing tool.

There we have it!  My own ad hoc attempts at fine motor skill development.  Of course we have to remember that she’s also only just turning three, so I don’t expect any of these to be perfected or mastered in the next few months.  I do believe though that exposing it to her this early and making it fun for her to do, will make progress through these skills easier in the future.  Who knows, she may even enjoy crocheting (a high school subject I absolutely despised!)!

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Mommy Anecdotes Mommy Lessons (on Parenting)

Proud Momma Moment

My Mommyology Kumon Honor Certificate
I will FRAME this!

The other day at Kumon the owner of the center Mr. Jiming handed me a cute little certificate showing that Sam was on his Math honor roll.  He proceeded to point out that she was on the announcement board along with the some of the other students, and that it publicly showed she ranked #223 out of 776 kids across North America.

Of course I looked at the certificate like I had just won the lotto.  Maybe this is how parents feel when their kids bring home high grades and medals.  I swear I couldn’t believe that she already had something with her name and the phrase “honor roll” beside it, even before she turned 3 years old.  Now granted that she isn’t competing in the next junior math olympics (and that is no where near any goal or objective I have for her) and all it means is that at her age she has no trouble counting to 100 — it still felt like a big deal.  Well — it is a big deal to me! 🙂

The funny thing was that when she came out and I showed it to her, she was so happy too — “Oh look!  A sticker with popsicles!” and proceeded to remove it and stick and re-stick it all over her shirt.  “I want to eat a popsicle now!”

I realized then that certificates like these are mostly for the parents like me — a re-affirmation that I am doing something right.  It probably didn’t even have to say honor roll, just “passed” for me to breathe a sigh of relief that our diligence and patience was paying off.  For the kids, it’s about the the joy of learning, which if you think about it, is as it should be for any person at any age.

My husband offered Sam a prize for doing well.  He said she could have anything she wanted and she asked for a puppy (I don’t know where she got this idea of wanting a red puppy but it’s been going on for the past few days).  Of course he wasn’t about to buy her one for learning to count to 100.  We’d have to pace our rewards; what happens when she can divide, does that mean a trip to Europe?  A house?!  In any case I was able to salvage the situation and deflect the idea of receiving a prize.  I also realized that this might set a precedent for the future when she develops a “do well and I’ll get a reward” mentality and will start to do things for that reason.  As Jiming said, at this age she should just want to do it and should have fun doing so.

I always make it a point to ask Sam when during the day she wants to do her Kumon.  Inasmuch as I would like her to get into the habit of doing it before she plays, sometimes I find it easier to allow her to dictate her schedule so that she is more committed to finishing faster.  Doing Kumon everyday is work, but at least in that way, it is also still fun and somehow a part of her “play”.  Of course while I commend her for a job well done, I also try to show her that it’s just one of the many things everyday things we need to accomplish.  Hopefully she does not feel my insides doing the dance of joy or hear the majestic Halleluia playing in my head.

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Mommy Anecdotes What's the Difference?

Kumon and My Two Daughters

My Mommyology Kumon
As my husband likes to say, "Oh C'mon!" (pronounced Kooh-mohn)

Both my daughters are known at the Kumon center here in Chapel Hill, but for varying reasons.

Yes, Sam does Kumon, at 2.5 years of age.

A few months ago, the Tiger Mother in my husband (yes, you read correctly) told me to find a way to get Sam interested in math.  Since there isn’t an existing DVD of Your Child Can Add as we like to joke, we looked for a Kumon Center near us and checked to see if she could be enrolled in it.

Jimmy, the owner, did an initial evaluation of Sam one afternoon and said that at first she seemed shy and unresponsive, but when she finally warmed up to him, he could see that she was a very intelligent little girl, and she knew a lot for her age (I think my smile went from one end of the room to the other when I heard that!).  In any case, he wanted us to take it slow with her because she was (is!) still very young, but he’d be happy to have her as his youngest student.

We stay for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Friday afternoon as Sam does her drills, and never fails to impress him and the other moms in the waiting room.  Jimmy said to time her when we do the exercises at home, and when I show him how we do, he is surprised at how fast she goes.  That and, he’s amazed that she will sit through the entire session and do the exercises, only getting up when she is done.  Other children her age he says, spend part of their time running around and are easily distracted.  Of course, this is where the Tiger Mother in me comes to play, because when we do the drills at home, I also make sure that she sits through it and doesn’t do anything else until it is done, and done properly.  I don’t pressure her on time but I am strict about the quality of her work.

Sometimes it is difficult to keep her interested especially when she feels it’s too repetitive for her taste, but that is the nature of Kumon I think, so we pummel through.  I am full of praise when she does a good job, but I also sometimes have to be creative and negotiate. To Sam’s credit, after settling on a suitable compromise (ie “We can watch Sound of Music after Kumon Mom.”), she will go through the rest of the drills without a hitch.

I do worry a lot that she may be too young for it (and I am ready to pull her out and stop at any time I feel that it is stressing her out more than she is learning), but she genuinely likes it.  Surprisingly she’ll tell me everyday that she wants to do her Kumon, and after each session she says that she had fun.  I guess it also helps that when she’s at the center, the assistants play with her as well when they attend to her and turn her exercises into a game.  They too are amazed at her tenacity as well as her skill.

Now as for Jamie…

Naturally Jamie tags along in her carseat when we go.  More often than not she is awake, and so I bring a set of the Your Baby Can Read  cards and we read the words there.  It helps keep her quiet and distracted, without me having to look like a loon dancing all around.  Also for me, it’s making idle time more productive.  So the moms have stared at us as well,  half amused and the other half probably think I am crazy to be teaching my 3-month old daughter to read.

But that’s not all.

You see, when we’re at the center – Jamie chooses that moment to poop.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  And it’s not the dainty feminine kind, but rather the explosive one that causes heads to turn.  Of course I’m quick to point out that it is her (lest they think it was ME who made the loud farting sound!), and I make an obvious motion of picking up her bag and going into a corner to change her.  That’s the other thing, there is no changing table at the center (why would they put one after all) and so I’ve to do it on the floor of the waiting room.  Thankfully she is cute and innocent and of course she smiles after she has done her business, so no one shows that they “mind” when I toss a plastic bag with poop into the trash.  I silently pray that it will not stink up the place (at least while we’re still in it).  I am also quite sure that since I’m the only parent who brings an infant into the center, when they clean out the trash, they pretty much know who left the little souvenir.

So that is our weekly Kumon experience.  Or should I say ritual?

Each time we go I always enter with a lot of pride, a little embarrassment, and at least one plastic bag.