We spent the last part of the girls’ spring break in the Mojave National Preserve.
Camping is a big deal for me. Like skiing, it’s not in my vocabulary. I can only “rough it” so far — especially now that I’m older (and supposedly wiser… it makes me wonder sometimes). What we did before was not remotely close to camping in the desert in low temperatures and gusty wind conditions. And no bathrooms. Or showers.
I need my showers.
Did I mention no bathrooms? They were vaults. Outhouses with toilet seats inside that lead straight down into a hole. Where everything drops. No flush.
I flashback to our Yosemite trip, where the vaults were nowhere near desirable. I would hoist Sam and Jamie over it and pray they wouldn’t fall in.
I’d have to say – I was at the edge of my comfort zone, just about to lose my footing.
I had panic attacks. I lost sleep and I had toilet nightmares. I looked to Immodium as the solution. I wanted to back out many times.
But we were going to do this. I took a deep breath, and prepped my “vault bag”.
I bought a portable shower and a privacy tent, which was quite the entertainment for my fellow moms.
We camped at Hole-in- the Wall, an area that got its name from the uneven cooling of lava and ash from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The oxidation of iron in the volcanic mater is what makes some of the rocks look red. And all toilet humor aside, I will admit it was beautiful.
We took a hike on Ring Loop Trail, and Jamie almost ran into a snake (no kidding).
The kids climbed boulders, and took in the wildlife. Sam loves nature, and her energy and positivity was contagious, especially to Jamie. The girls did some crafts and completed a badge or two (including the National Parks’ Junior Ranger patch!)
And we were in excellent company. I wasn’t the only mom with vault nightmares — but we made the best of the situation and lived to joke about it after.
It was also because the vaults weren’t as bad as we’d expected (except for one instance when I had to clean it in its worst state. I am forever scarred). So it was tolerable, even at 2AM in the morning when Sam would need it.
The weather conditions were rough though. The winds howled all night and snapped a tent in half. The ranger said the next morning that it shifted to 45mph and were considered “perilous”. Gee, thanks. A lot of us didn’t sleep due to the noise and the movement the wind was making on our tents, thinking they’d collapse at any minute.
So all in all, it was quite the experience. And all I can think of is: I survived. In between laughing fits, my friends ask why I put myself through all of that. Were we crazy to go despite all my concerns and apprehensions?
I only had one reason.
My little adventure-seeker and nature-lover could not be bribed (yes shame on us – we tried) to go anywhere else. Sam really wanted to camp in Mojave. She researched about it, read about it, and even proposed a presentation of the trip to her teacher. She was excited. And she got Jamie excited about it too. My timid Jamie, who hesitates through new experiences, jumped straight into this one. All thanks to her big sister’s infectious excitement.
I can’t deny this was a good experience for them (once we flush all those concerns down the drain). I would never in a million years, think to offer this to them though, but now we’ve opened new doors to explore.
My girls are the only people who can push me to the limits of my comfort zone and beyond. It amazes me how far beyond my comfort zone I’d go, to give them a chance to experience these unique opportunities. Parenting has definitely taught me to “suck it up” and “weather” it out, in a manner of speaking.
And I survived! Sleep-deprived and muscle aches in tow, I surprised even myself.
Oh Motherhood. It changes you in ways you can’t explain. And you don’t realize it until it’s there… or until the next morning when you feel your (my) aching back.
I cannot begin to tell you enough how much Sam loves Girl Scouts. She says it’s because she gets to do so many fun things and learn. And it is true — our troop is quite the active one with a ton of activities on a regular basis. She has most of the patches and badges to show for it too.
I’ve to admit: never in my wildest dreams would I have thought to go camping and sleep in a tent — but thanks to Sam, we now have that experience under our belt.
She claims it is one of her most favorite activities thus far, and would love to do it again (eeeep).
Her other favorite thing to do is sell. Be it Fall Product (nuts, chocolates or magazine subscriptions) or cookies, selling “a lot” motivates her. Everyone tells me she has a knack for it (it’s true —her Mindprint results show a high score on interpersonal intelligence.) And when I ask her why she wants to sell “a lot”, she says it’s because she gets to do more fun things. That is after all the essence of the program.
A portion of the girl’s sale is given to the troop to fund the supplies and activities the girls decide to do. It’s everything from community service to just plain fun. On top of that, each girl gets a personal incentive depending on the volume they individually produce. The prizes are cumulative, so the more she sells the more she gets, be it a fancy item or Girl Scout cash (aka OC Bucks or Cookie Dough), used towards items or activities offered in the program (such as camping!You get where this is going). Sam gets to pick every prize at every level.
After last year’s attempt at cookie selling, Sam was able to earn enough Cookie Dough to buy her Brownie uniform and a little stuffed toy for Jamie. Last Fall, Sam opted for most of the cookie dough incentive, and the top prize: Tickets for 2 to see Frozen Disney on Ice.
My husband has said time and again that if we really wanted to see the show, then we could just buy the tickets (Of course, him being the ever thrifty, practical gift-giver, we probably wouldn’t have watched it out of our own pockets!). Even at a lower goal, she would’ve learned what she needed to learn anyway.
I don’t disagree, but I also see the value of her earning her way to what she wants. Girl Scouts is girl-led, so she makes the decisions herself. It’s usually a question to the parents as to whether or not we are willing to support that goal. Sam has the advantage of having her mother as a 2 on the Enneagram, so really — HOW could I say no?!
With a lot of hard work and support from friends and family all over the world, Sam got her Disney Frozen on Ice (we bought Jamie a ticket).
She also got the added bonus of being recognized as the Service Unit’s top seller for Fall Product 2015.
Fast forward to Cookie Season 2016.
Our troop leader asked the girls for their goals and Sam put hers down: 2500 Boxes of Cookies. Why? Because the Council was going to give the girls and a parent a VIP experience at Disneyland.
I freaked out (silently of course). How on earth were we going to do 2500 boxes of cookies?! A girl we knew said they did it with 42 booth sales (selling outside supermarkets, each shift lasting 2 hours). 42?! There’s no way I would stand outside a grocery store for 84 hours doing that!
After the meeting I had a chat with Sam. I wanted to see if she really understood what it entailed to sell that many cookies. I tried to talk her down to 1000, with still a decent prize of watching Cinderella. She sold over 800 last year, so it seemed doable with a reasonable amount of booth sales.
“Don’t you just want to try for 1000 first Sam?” I said very calmly.
“But mom. That’s YOUR goal,” she said. “2500 is my real goal and this is my cookie business, right?”
Was my mouth hanging open? I don’t remember.
“Sam, I want to know — what happens if you don’t make 2500? It’s just quite a big amount.” My fear was that she’d fall apart if she didn’t reach it and it would hurt her self-esteem.
She was silent in thought and then eventually responded, “It’s okay. Then we’ll try again next year,” she said with quiet confidence. So matter-of-fact this child. “But mom… we WILL try, right? We’ll really REALLY try?!”
Everyday I preach about how doing their best (and knowing they’ve put their best effort into it) matters more than high scores or the perfection of their activities, because I believed that would come naturally if you gave it your all. And here it was, echoed back at me in a perfect example. Nothing could’ve been clearer.
It was a good wake-up call for me to see that our biggest hurdle wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, but that I was afraid to try. And like I told my husband, this wasn’t about us. Because of her age, she definitely needs our help. It would have to be our goal too.
I’ve been told it’s a good problem to have a highly determined, self-motivated child who knows what she wants. And so here we find ourselves in the midst of selling 2500 boxes of cookies.
Sam openly and fearlessly declares her goal to everyone. Mostly they give her praise and wish her luck, and then they look at me with wide-eyes, as if to say, “you’re crazy!”. Some have verbalized it and some have alternatively said “you’re an amazing mom,” — which I think is a kinder version of what’s in their heads.
I smile and shrug it off, because when I look at Sam, other people’s opinions don’t faze her one bit. And because she is so “brave”, she’s gotten many “cookie angels” that have gone out of their way to help her succeed. It’s completely heart-warming.
We’re out everyday knocking on doors and asking everyone we know.
People have said no and Sam takes it in stride. We’ve gotten doors slammed in our face too, but she just moves on to the next door. She’s even asked our servers at restaurants and people we meet crossing the street. “Hi, do you want some girl scout cookies? We have them in the car.” And so make it a point to always carry Girl Scout cookies with me everywhere I go.
She has Jamie selling to her friends and teachers at school, because Jamie wants to help Ate reach her goal (also, Sam promised her a prize if she did).
Sam’s responses amaze me.
At the ballet studio during idle time someone said, “I’d love to but I didn’t bring cash“.
Sam replied, “Well, we’re here again next week. Would you like me to bring you a box then so you could have your cash?” She took note of their cookie choice and waited for them to come back that very next week.
Some have said they’re not ready to buy yet, and her response was, “That’s okay. Maybe when you’re ready to buy you’d like to get a box from me?”
I wonder where she learned it because I don’t recall teaching her that.
At Celebrate Leadership, a Girl Scout fundraiser, Sam was paired with the CEO of a large marketing firm. Sam had gotten a purchase commitment from her, and when we went to the office to deliver the cookies, the CEO took Sam around to meet people and asked them to listen to her sales pitch. All I had to do was watch (and make sure we took down the right orders).
I learn so much from my own daughter. Her independence, her drive, her patience and perseverance… the way she handles everything just leaves me in genuine awe. She’s grateful for every opportunity regardless of the outcome. And she constantly monitors her progress so she knows how much further she needs to go. She is trying with all her heart.
My own heart bursts when I see her do what she does. And I am extremely grateful at all the love, support and generosity people have shown towards her. It takes a village to raise my Sam!
With two and a half weeks done, I still worry we won’t make it. Sam chips away at the numbers slowly but surely, and has made cookie selling a part of her daily routine. On Friday, the booth sales start and hopefully it’s the boost we need before the season ends on March 6.
It seemed like she knew what was going on in my head because one night as we were going over the numbers and checking how much more she needed to sell on average, she said reassuringly, “It’s ok Mom,I know we can do it. I just have to believe in myself.”
It was baffling. She would feel bad and go to bed with a low-grade fever; but come morning, she was her perky fever-less self again. There was a cough, but like the pediatricians tell you — it’s best treated with natural remedies like honey, a humidifier and a warm steam bath, all of which I was already doing.
And if Sam’s condition wasn’t already worrying me enough, my paranoid husband (who claims he is the most logical person in the family — #yeahright) kept nagging me about administering a cough or fever medicine. Everyday he’d say “she’s not getting better, why don’t you give her medicine.” And everyday I’d reply, “children without a fever of 102 F don’t need the medication. It’s better to let their bodies fight off the infection.” I understand he was worried too, but I’ve to admit the constant questioning didn’t help my fragile state of self-doubt.
Following the usual protocol of waiting three days, I finally called the nurse hotline Monday night. Her fever broke twice the night before and I thought she was ok, except she went to bed with a fever again that Monday, and I couldn’t shake the feeling something else was up.
As it so happened, I was on the phone with the nurse-on-call when things took a turn for a worse. Sam threw up (it was the worst kind of throw up I’ve ever seen), spiked a fever of 103.8 F, and the top of her lips discolored. The nurse told me to get Sam to lie flat on her back and I lifted her shirt to watch her breathe. I said could see an outline of her ribcage as she did that, and after that he instructed me to take her to the E.R. straight away. Apparently, that means the child is working too hard to breathe and something is wrong.
It was the most horrible seven hours in the E.R. I’ve ever had, but I will save the drama for the complaint center. To make a long story short, Sam needed an x-ray and that confirmed her pneumonia. We got the antibiotics and instructions to visit her pediatrician in two days’ time.
On the outside, I think I held it together well (uhm, I did stress-text and email a couple of friends in the wee hours of the morning — oops). But on the inside I was an emotional mess. Apart from the lack of sleep and many unanswered questions (because ER doctors really don’t have the time to hold your hand and chit-chat), I was trying to come to terms with my own emotional state. My self-doubt was through the roof. For someone who’s constantly with Sam day and night, I couldn’t believe I missed such a severe condition. What symptoms did I read wrong?
When Jamie contracted pneumonia, I may not have known it was that but I knew from the sound of her breathing, high fever and limp body that something was wrong. Apart from the high fever, Sam never exhibited any of the other symptoms.
While Sam showed signs of continuously getting better, I was in a silent emotional turmoil for days. I couldn’t sleep at night because I worried she’d relapse. I worried about Jamie as well — she was the one most exposed to Sam, and the E.R. doctor said to “bring her in” even if she just started to cough or develop a fever.
Finally Thursday came and so did the pedia visit, which turned out to be more for me than for Sam. When our doctor walked in Sam and Jamie were gamely laughing and dancing in the room, so it was clear she was fine. I however, needed my hand-holding.
I replayed the series of events from the first cough Thursday night to our E.R. trip Tuesday early morning. We went over the x-ray and she pointed to one small spot which was cloudy, which was quite a different “diagnosis” from the E.R. doctor’s who said it was in both her lungs. But nevertheless, she assured me no matter how acute or severe it was, the treatment program would’ve been the same. Bacterial pneumonia reacts with antibiotics, and since Sam was responding to the medication and her swab results for viruses came out negative, they knew it was the correct course of action.
But the bigger question I had was what could’ve been done differently to avoid it. It was bugging me that I was totally blindsided by what happened. I felt I could’ve done something better. And it terrified me that all my life I grew up believing and understanding that pneumonia was a deadly disease, and now my daughter had it.
The pediatrician — bless her soul — re-assured me and said, “Everything happened they way it was supposed to happen. You couldn’t have known any sooner than you did.”
If we had come in Monday morning with no fever, she (or another doctor) may have sent us home with the same treatment plan I was already doing (Honey, humidifier etc.). We may have still ended up in the E.R. that night, because it took that long for the bacteria to “present” itself the way it did. The E.R. experience was unfortunate, and while it wasn’t ideal to make us wait five hours for Motrin (which I could have brought myself), it was also a sign that Sam wasn’t too critical (as it is the nature of an E.R. to handle urgent life-threatening cases first). And, the pneumonia wasn’t so bad that Sam wasn’t confined.
The pedia also said that usually kids don’t die from pneumonia. It’s because the pneumonia makes them act differently from how they usually would (extra tired, trouble breathing, etc), and, “a responsible parent like yourself would do something about it right away.” I won’t lie; it helped she called me a responsible parent.
I wanted to cry. And hug her.
Whether or not there’s a medical explanation to counter or affirm what she told me, I don’t know. It did it’s job in the self-doubt department though, and after weeks of constant worry, I found myself breathing normally again.
Except of course, Jamie started coughing and had a low-grade fever the other night.
So without even batting an eyelash, we were back at the doctor the next day. Jamie had no fever, she wasn’t coughing and she was totally fine. I actually felt silly being there, so I told the pedia about our two-week pneumonia episode. She smiled (probably also thinking I was silly) and said it sounded like Jamie just caught a new bug, but she definitely didn’t contract pneumonia. While that was a relief to hear, I still wasn’t pacified. “How will I know this doesn’t progress into pneumonia?”
“Well, we can’t guarantee it won’t; but you’ll be able to tell if it does,” she said.
Sick children don’t make the daunting task of parenting any easier. I always wonder if I do enough or if I do too much, and I never have the answer. The outpatient events of the last three weeks have served as a reminder, that sitting still and listening to my gut are still the best course of action. We must believe, as “responsible” mothers, our instincts will send just the right amount of alarm bells needed to know what to do and when to do it.
I don’t exactly remember how or where or when I learned this; but I was told that a key parenting strategy in minimizing conflict and full-blown tantrums, was to give the kids a choice. Granted, we parents have the daunting task of disciplining our children, the struggle to get them to listen and obey and follow what we say is very very real. And I don’t know about you, but with me it is a constant battle.
The theory of allowing kids to choose was reinforced by Jamie’s Montessori school teachers. It is in fact the very foundation of what Maria Montessori build her curriculum on, and it is a principle that teachers consistently apply in every aspect of this particular school.
They believe that the kids are better behaved because they have the freedom to do and explore — at their own pace, in their own way. They are treated with respect and guided through developmental milestones, but always somehow, they’re always given a choice as to how their day will play out. And as a result, they say, the children develop a mutual respect for each other, learn the proper way of working and behaving, and eventually, develop independence.
So when conflict arises, let’s say one child wants an activity that another one already has, the teacher talks to him child and presents a choice — to wait patiently for his turn, or to do something else first. It shows respect for their classmates and teaches patience.
In a situation where a child hurts her classmate (intentionally or unintentionally), the teacher pulls the oppressor aside and gives her a choice — she can apologize now, or sit quietly and come back when she’s ready to apologize. It shows respect for both their feelings (because some kids aren’t ready to apologize right away), but it also teaches them that no ill deed will go unnoticed, and there are consequences to their actions.
As I reflected over the last six and a half years of parenthood, I realized that I subconsciously applied this technique towards the girls (occasionally). I remember telling Sam that she could sit quietly in the room while I put Jamie to sleep, OR wait and play outside until I could come back out to play. And I definitely use it on them when we’re deciding on what activities to do, and even what to wear.
Though it is sometimes to my detriment (I’ve had a parent at Disneyland come up to me laughing because she said my daughter’s pants were put on the wrong way, in case I didn’t know back from front. She probably didn’t think much of me then but I let it slide, because Jamie didn’t want me to fix it.), I let these things go.
However, I struggle with the situations where they really don’t have a choice. Going to school, doing homework, eating the proper meals, and going to bed at a certain time, are examples.
“Oftentimes”, the directress said, “it’s about giving them the illusion of the choice.”
Kids just need to feel they’re in control of the situation. By doing so, they go through a process of self-awareness and self-discovery. And though they know the world is governed by rules that we need to follow, it’s still important to give them the freedom to act a certain way, and to choose how to handle it in their own means.
Going to school? On weekdays, it’s part of the routine. The choice comes in how I drop them off. Do we use the drop off zone or do I walk them to their classrooms?
Homework? Definitely a non-negotiable. But if I beat it into them, homework becomes a chore and a struggle. If the kids are given a choice though as to which they would like to do first (or in the case of Kumon, how many packets they want to finish in a day). There is a little wiggle room too as to when they’d like to complete it, but the end goal is the same, they need to finish ALL of their homework.
Sharing? The rule in our house is: you can choose what you want to share. Those that you don’t want to share, you need to keep and play with privately.
Apologies during conflict? Not everyone is ready to say sorry right away. And the choice is the same as it is in school, but the apology needs to be said eventually.
In principle, I get it. I want to do it. In reality — I haven’t gotten it all quite figured out just yet. I know, because there are still meltdowns and struggles and tantrums that sprout out every now and then. But I do try quite hard to present the illusion of the choice. And beyond that, I try to consistently use some principles of my own:
Explain. I always ask the girls to explain to me the “why” behind the rules. Why do I ask you to hold my hand when crossing the street? Why do you need to eat your carrots? Why is it important to do your homework? I hope that with me doing all the asking and them doing all the answering, they train themselves to think that way in the long run.
Avoid Sweeping Generalizations.“Because I said so,” or “Because I’m your Mom” are phrases a desperately try to stay away from, despite how easy they are to say. In one of Coach Pia’s #BetterMe seminars, she advised that kids need to distinguish the rule from the parent. If they understand the rule and why it is in place (hence, the “explain” bit), then the parent’s authority is respected.
Tell the Truth. Instead when the girls ask “why”, I try to give them the truth. And it’s taken some creativity on my part too but I’ve found that it’s worked to my favor.
Collaborate. Now that the girls are very much more opinionated and they understand more about what happens around them, I like to include them in the rule-making. We agree on the consequences, and we agree on the choices at hand. So on occasion, it’s just a matter of me reminding them of the choices we agreed on.
Be “Open-Minded”. Sam came home from school one day and said she learned this term from her teacher. Lately I’ve come to realize that it goes both ways. As much as I ask her to be open-minded and to hear what I have to say, I also have to be open-minded and try to see and understand things from their perspective. And the whole process is truly an eye-opener, at least in my experience.
Prep. When it’s time to leave, I always signal several warnings, and we count down. It helps ease the transition as to what to expect (either that or use the Time Timer! It’s awesome). We also talk about what our day will be like and what to expect. Sometimes I write it down for them to see.
I love it that my kids have minds of their own. I can see how it will benefit them in the future, and I definitely (silently) encourage it. It doesn’t make my job as a parent any easier, and it requires a lot of creativity on my part too (no wonder I’m exhausted everyday!). And even though I collapse at the end of every day, somehow I’m reassured by the fact that slowly they are confidently beginning to thoroughly think for themselves. I can only hope it’s a step in the right direction — for all of us!
It’s in all our flyers, memos, homework folders and parenting discussions. Teaching a child to read is important. Make them love reading? All the more.
Admittedly I took this notice for granted. Not because I didn’t agree, but because I didn’t know it any other way. I grew up reading and loving it. My grandfather would take me to the book fairs and buy any book I wanted. I collected so many books in my grade school years (and I still have them by the way!). My husband said I wouldn’t read books, I’d devour them.
So when the girls came along, it was the most natural thing for me to teach them to read at an early age. And it remains to be an intrinsic part of our daily (nightly) routine.
I’m no psychologist, but to me, early reading was essential in learning and developing. I was under the impression all parents thought that way too, until I started volunteering in both girls’ classrooms. Then I realized why these memos were being sent out.
Not all parents give as much importance to reading in the early years. I think they took it for granted too, except in the opposite manner. We all acknowledge reading is essential, but not many realize that teaching babies and toddlers to love reading is beneficial in so many ways in their later years. Some parenting philosophies say, what’s the rush? They’ll go to school, they’ll learn to read then, and all will be well. But a non-profit organization called Read Aloud 15 Minutes, shows that’s not the case when it comes to reading.
Maybe it’s also because of the preconceived notions that reading is boring and a chore. It takes away from the child’s natural desire to play and explore. Personally, I could never understand how reading wasn’t fun!
Fortunately for us, we’ve managed to make reading both fun and an integral part of our day. And as March is March is National Reading Awareness Month, I thought I’d keep with the theme, and the mission of the organization to get more parents to read with their kids more often. Here’s what we do with the girls:
Let them choose the book to read. This instantly gets them involved and interested. Sometimes, it’s a game. When I’m trying to teach a specific theme or topic though, I “seed” the choice in their heads earlier on in the day.
Point and pause. One of the things I learned from Your Baby Can Read was to point to the word as you say it. I’ve done it so many times that the girls have picked up on it too. Jamie underlines what she reads, or circles it.
Also, pointing gives the eyes direction. In a book filled with colorful pictures and words, it’s hard to tell what to look at first. Jamie, my visual learner is more attracted to the pictures than the words. So I give her time to scan the image, “read” into it, and then we work on reading the words for each page. It’s also a great comprehension tool, as she can describe how the story plays out (in her own words).
Repeat and repeat. Yes, you are a broken record.But I realized that when they’re younger, the first time you read the book, they’re simply absorbing everything. It’s a lot. So you read it again, and this time, they start to chime in and show they understand. The third time, they’re already picking up what the words look like as you point to it and say it out loud.
Read above their grade level, says Jamie’s school directress at a parenting talk. Doing so, opens up their comprehension skills, introduces new vocabulary and gently builds reading stamina.
Read what you love(d). The girls are always fascinated when I pick up a book and say “I read this too when I was little.” Somehow the history behind it and the memories attached to it make it more interesting than it really is. Whatever it is, they’ll read it with me nonetheless.
Read anything. To practice, I make Jamie read the street signs or building signs, and words she’s never heard of. And her role is to tell me when we see it so I know where we’re going next. We also read books in different languages.
Make the iPad a friend. I have to say: the iPad is not the enemy! We like to give the girls a little iPad time all the time, on the condition too, that they use it on reading apps like RazKids and Endless Reader, for example. RazKids is a reading program that is approved by the school community too, which is a great thing to have the current technology work towards your goal.
Read Aloud says, “A child is never too young to learn that books are fun, engaging, and something that your family values.” I couldn’t agree more.
You may have some tips of your own, and I’d love to hear them (and use them too!). How do you encourage your kids to read everyday?