Want your kids to be a better reader? Talk to them more

One chilly Thursday morning in January, I dropped my daughter off at her preschool. After saying goodbye to her, I ventured into the Family Resource Room, nestled to the side of the school’s main lobby paneled with wall to ceiling glass. It was there that I saw three women strike up a conversation with each other. All three appeared to be in their mid-to-late thirties with short brown hair and average height. As they talked among themselves I overheard one of them saying that they were a little early for “SMART time,” meaning reading time; hence, that’s why they were waiting in the room.

SMART stands for Start Making A Reader Today, one of the largest and most successful nonprofits in Oregon. Every year, they bring together thousands of individuals into elementary school classrooms to read books to children from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. However, it should be noted that SMART tends to focus mainly on inner city schools, lower performing schools, and schools with a high concentration of minorities and children of color, including African Americans.

The three women continued talking amongst themselves about a variety of subjects, one of which I caught was the perils of obtaining childcare. One woman noted that someone she knew had to take their kid to work once a week because of a babysitter snafu…and the talk went on. As typical as their conversation seemed to be, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “It can’t possibly be that the only type of people who care about reading are white, middle class women.”  Where is everyone else?!? I imagined that if any of them had children of their own, their kids must be at least 15 years old. Perhaps their kids have already left the nest, and they’re feeling lonely. Or perhaps they’re not that old. Maybe they’re just stay-at-home moms who have the means to go volunteer every week at an inner city elementary school filled with African American children, just to make themselves feel better about contributing to society.

Later that evening, I talked with my husband about this observation. Our conversation quickly molded into the subject of storytimes at the library, something I do on a regular basis. He asked me if this racial representation also applies to storytimes. The thought of who attends storytimes isn’t necessarily something that I think about often; it was only when he brought it up that I began to realize that yes—the people who typically bring their children to storytimes are white, middle class women! Most likely stay-at-home moms, sometimes fathers. Oftentimes, they look much older than me. But then again, I look like I could be my kids’ babysitter.

I’m no stranger to literacy. I’ve been reading to my daughter since she was about 14 months old, and now at the age of four (almost five), she is a fantastic reader. She is well beyond the reading level of her peers, so much that her teacher this year was beyond surprised because she is only one out of two children who can really read amongst her 15 classmates.

Of course, I’m not here to brag about my child’s reading abilities, because that would seem selfish. Research has shown that reading to your child at an earlier age sets the stage for their academic and professional development later down the road. It enforces certain skill sets such as critical thinking and analysis, as well as written communication. The sooner the better, they say, so they don’t fall behind. That is why I began when Lily was just a year old, and why I’ve also introduced books to my son, who at 17 months doesn’t appear to be too much into books yet—however, he is slowly starting to engage with them.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, an organization that collects data for educational purposes, they noted in their July 2017 report that about 43% of adults read at Basic or Below Basic levels, as compared to 57% of people who can read at Proficient or Intermediate levels. Digging deeper into this statistic, you might be surprised to find out that Hispanics are part of the majority—41% of them read at Below Basic level, followed by African Americans at 24%. This is really troubling, because a large majority of minorities and people of color cannot read good enough to be able to do basic, everyday tasks such as signing a form, balance a checkbook, compare ticket prices, and use a TV guide to look for certain information, according to the National Center for Education Statistics report.

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At Lily’s school, the evidence is there—roughly 34% of the student population is African American, followed by 30% Hispanic, the rest is variety of multi-racial, Caucasian, and Native Americans. On a global scale, approximately 757 million adults are illiterate. Girls account for the majority of this illiteracy rate, with two thirds of the world’s women unable to read. This is startling because there are many more girls than there are boys in the world, and girls play a pivotal role running the household as well as in the real world. Women can conquer the world by owning their own businesses, doing their own taxes, and managing their own employees.

I’m not saying that educating boys aren’t important—I’m simply saying that the gender educational gap has been long withstanding. We all know that many girls, particularly in the poorest parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Africa, have less advantages when it comes to obtaining an education. And part of obtaining an education means learning how to read. It all comes down to granting independence for girls, and unfortunately, many countries are not ready to do so.

Of course, the problem is not just a global problem. It’s also a United States problem. By the age of five, one third of children entering kindergarten lack the skills necessary to be successful in school, and this number increases dramatically by the time they’re in fourth grade. The disparity comes from a lack of early literacy. Language development is the most pivotal from birth to age three, when babies’ brains are the most malleable because they’re developing fast; hence, vocabulary development plays a role in reading achievement by third grade, according to SMART.

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Reading was a big thing for me growing up—I had a father who was a voracious reader. Despite the fact that we lived in a poor country with limited resources, he read the newspaper every single morning, and he’d read books every chance he got. Thus, I can attribute my love of reading to him. Both of my parents believed in the value of an education, but my dad was key in developing me into a lover of books.

Luckily, the skills that I gained from reading at an earlier age helped me in my English studies after my family immigrated to America. Due to a miscommunication, I was enrolled in a regular classroom, not an ESL class, and it was there that I sat with a volunteer reader (none other than a blonde hair, blue-eyed white middle aged woman whose name I’ve long forgotten) who read books to me as a way to help me learn English (this was after they figured out my lack of English skills and it was too late to put me in an ESL class), and later on, encouraged me to read by myself.

It was that kind of support that gave me the confidence to further learn English on my own. During my free time at home, I watched TV shows with subtitles on, listened to American music on the radio, and read as many young adult novels as I could possibly get my hands on, always with a dictionary in tow. That method proved successful, for I became proficient in about a year and a half. It’s still my preferred method of language learning today—to immerse oneself in the culture and language with as little assistance as possible. I believe that an average person like me has the brain capacity to figure things out when I didn’t have too many resources, like an after-school tutor.

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After the conversation I had with my husband, and the realization about the scarcity of non-white parents showing up at story times and children’s events, I began to question why. WHY are there hardly any people of color volunteering to read in schools? Despite what I do, why am I still a minority, both at the physical level and the cultural level? Are there any underlying reasons as to why this is happening?

I read that the first three years of a child’s life are the most critical for language development. Babies learn from the words that they hear and the touches that they receive from their caregivers. Research has shown there is a link between vocabulary development and socioeconomic backgrounds. By the time they’re three years old, babies from poor families will have heard 30 million words less than their more affluent peers. A Stanford University study found that amongst 18 to 24-month-old children, there is a language gap between the rich and the poor. The rich were defined as those with an average annual income of $69,000 per year, and the poor with an average income of $23,900 per year. The study found that children who came from higher socioeconomic backgrounds understood more words by the age of two than children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The reason why? They speculated that children from lower income families had parents who talk less to their children, hence the 30 million word gap by age three.

“The greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.” – Tina Rosenberg, The New York Times “The Power of Talking to Your Baby.”

Unfortunately, this word knowledge disadvantage continues well into fourth grade. Kids from lower income backgrounds tend to fall behind their more affluent peers, and the struggle becomes harder as they get older. More children continue to fall behind by the time they enter grade school, with minorities and people of color fall into this category the most.

Now, let’s think about this for a second. Is it really true that white, middle class parents talk more to their children or is it because they have the means to hire nannies, and require the nannies to speak and play with their children, thereby relinquishing the responsibilities of teaching their children about language? I may not be rich, but I am aware that “rich” parents are rich for a reason—they work long hours to be able to provide for their families, and unlike their lower class peers, they actually have the ability to hire help. Tutors, nannies, enrichment classes—you name it, they can afford it, whereas low income parents are struggling every day to pay for the bare necessities like food, shelter, and clothing.

It’s not to say that low income parents don’t have the time to talk to their children—it’s how they talk and what they say. Parents who are on welfare typically have multiple children, and oftentimes, their talk involves an authoritative or scolding tone, such as, “Stop hitting your brother!” or “Clean up your toys!”

I’m going to declare right here and now that I do not consider myself part of that trend. As with many parents, my husband and I exhibit a certain level of authority when it’s necessary, and other times, we talk a lot as a family. I’m not a big talker but my husband is, and this was passed down to my daughter. So, while I think there are some truth to the study and the statistics above, I also think that it is not representative of a lot of families in America, especially ones who are minorities. Just simply talk to your children more sounds great in theory, but one must take note of the privileges that rich kids have—being that their parents are more educated and have less children; therefore, the stakes are higher for these kids.

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I wondered to myself –what would’ve happened if I didn’t have a parent who was so into reading? I would’ve become a statistic, a stereotype. Of course, the statistics mentioned above do not reflect wholly on the number of low income parents out there who are avid readers and writers. And my experience at my daughter’s school is in no way reflective of the reality of literacy, but there is some truth to it, I believe.

In a way, I am a statistic, but I’m trying not to become the obvious statistic—that because I don’t make that much money means that I don’t have the time or money to give the gift of reading to my children.

As an adult or parent, regardless of your socioeconomic background, I believe we can ALL play a role in supporting children’s literacy. We need to. Our future depends on it. For birthdays and holidays, instead of giving them the latest gadgets or toys, give the gift of books instead. And instead of going to the mall, a compendium of material things, head to the nearest library for story time—they’re free events that allow children to socialize with each other and hear stories. Finally, instead of simply tucking your child in bed at night, make time to read to them. They say that it only takes 20 minutes of reading each night to a child at least 3 times a week for it to make a difference in their life.

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Every night, we ask my daughter to pick out books—usually 3 books, because that takes up 20 minutes of reading—from the stack of books that I choose based on her reading level at the library. It’s a ritual that we’ve done for years and will continue for many more. As a working mom nowadays, I don’t have as much time to take her to the library as I used to, but I make an effort to go at least once a week for story time and other children’s related events. She gets incredibly excited each time, and I believe it’s a culmination of the hundreds of times that I’ve taken her in the past.

This past Christmas, we gave my newest nephew a book—his first one. Even though he’s only three months old, I’m hoping that his parents will read to him, thereby instilling a sense that reading is important for learning and developing the mind.

Remember that kids don’t care where you get the books from. You can scout the library stacks, go to Barnes & Noble children’s section, browse through Amazon’s enormous selection, or get it at Goodwill—it doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that you are giving the gift of books that matters more. Lastly, when gifting books or reading to a child, it’s important to be as excited as possible and allow them to ask questions. You may not realize it, but kids do model their behavior after you (the adult), so if you’re not excited about books, then why should they be?

Reading sets the stage for future success. We can’t allow kids, especially ones from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to fall behind simply because we don’t talk to them enough or read to them enough. It’s our job as adults to propel them towards common core skills that are going to be useful for them to function in society.

This holiday season I’m not feelin’ it

Growing up, the holiday season was all about Christmas and religion. Out of all my fondest memories, none involved opening Christmas presents or playing with the latest gadgets and toys — after all, this was the 1980s in a third world country. I didn’t have the luxury, and I didn’t know better. Thus, my experiences with holiday traditions involved going to church, and praying a lot (for what reason, I didn’t know — I just knew that it was part of the process of being in church), and family gatherings with foods aplenty. There were laughter as well as tears and grim faces as we all paused to reflect upon Christ’s birth during midnight church service.

It wasn’t until I found myself in a new country, and many years later, as an adult that I started becoming aware of how materialistic our society has become in regards to Christmas. The holiday season became less about being together with loved ones than about the pressure to buy gifts, host parties, and traveling. Everywhere you go, there are “SALE SALE SALE” signs enticing you to buy, buy, buy. Shop until you drop, that’s what they say. It became an unspoken but rather obvious rule to “feel jolly” around the holidays by purchasing things for people, often times without knowing what they really wanted, if anything at all.

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As soon as Halloween hits, that’s when the volcanic eruption of holiday shopping madness begins. Stores begin displaying holiday decor, and everything is bright and merry. It’s funny how all it takes is a few simple string lights to entice me to look at things in a store, and the longer I look at it, the more tempted I am to buy it. And it’s no wonder that I’ve gone through my twenties feeling this way. The pressure to shop for people is daunting. The temptation to shop for oneself is also daunting. It wasn’t until the past few years that I become aware of my feelings towards the holiday season. Right after New Year’s hits, many stores bombards you with all things exercise-related, hence begins the process of pretending that one is going to pursue their New Year’s resolutions. After all, we need to recuperate from the sugar high coma that we’ve been living in for the past two months.

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We all know that New Year’s resolutions are fruitless and that not very many people are actually successful. But still — it’s there. There have been some years when I’ve received offers from credit card companies for a balance transfer or loan consolidation around the beginning of the New Year. I’m not quite sure if this was based on a schedule, or because these companies know that once people look at their bill from the previous month, they might cringe and wonder to themselves, “Yikes. How on earth did I spend that much last month?!?!”

The holidays can be and are quite expensive. It’s even worse when you become parents. That’s what happened to me several years ago. This article from the Washington Post talked about the feeling that I’ve experienced before, as I’m sure many of you have s well — the desire to “get it right.”

“We want our kids to be happy, and sometimes we feel like we must be ultra-organized, forward thinking and creative to make that happen.”

It’s a real struggle and often leads to feelings of stress and exhaustion. This holiday season, I struggled with the desire to provide a certain level of happiness for my kids through Christmas gifts with the lack of desire (and more so the inability) to buy presents. Before we had kids, and even now, it feels like there’s a pressure to act a certain way — to buy presents for the people in your family/social circles whom you only vaguely know, to feel grateful that you are getting something, to feeling like you should be jolly just because the mall is decorated and Santa is visiting, and because you see lights all around.

Last year, we were very fortunate to have a lot of presents donated to us from generous individuals (through an anonymous Winter Wonder program at my husband’s school), and thus, our Christmas involved a massive collection of wrapping paper and goods on the morning of Christmas day.

This year, it’s a little different. Not only have we been disappointed by certain people throughout the year, but also because our financial situation has changed quite a bit. No longer am I looking forward to social gatherings that much because I wasn’t that kind of person to begin with. (I’d be very awkward at a cocktail party). Granted, our income situation hasn’t changed dramatically, but it has changed quite a bit. No longer am I able to buy presents that costs more than $20 each. Every time the temptation to shop enters my head, I’d try to shake it out, knowing that we might as well be in much bigger debt if we succumb to buying unnecessary gifts that people may not like.

What once was an occasion to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth as a tender moment in time became a progression of fruitless spending, a wasteful money venture building up to familial drama. I’m sick of it. Call me a Grinch, but I’m tired of being tempted by lighted displays, baked goods, and sales. I’m tired of pretending to like something when I don’t, and I don’t want people to do the same thing to me either. I feel that the best thing you can do is to spend time with people who actually matter to you — or if none, then pets who are your friends. Because in the end, those who matter won’t judge you based on the presents that you give (or don’t give) and will still like you no matter what.

This year, I am grateful for my little family — what little family I do have, with my husband and children — are something that I truly treasure. But for me, Christmas is not about buying presents for people you don’t know, or going to social events like white elephant gift exchanges, or company parties, or hosting a party of your own. All of these activities create a certain level of anxiety that none of us needs.

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Our Christmas tree
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Ho ho ho it’s a holiday wreath!

Work – Life Perceptions in the 21st Century

How the work landscape has changed in the past few decades

It’s an obvious path — you finish high school, go to college, finish college and then start working. Then you work for a certain amount of years before you get married and have children. Once the children come, what happens next?

I’ll admit, I never gave much thought to the decision on how or who should be responsible for the upbringing of my kids once I have them. Because my path was so typical (as mentioned above) it wasn’t until I had my first child that the thought of going back to work was incredibly difficult for me. The thought of being away from my child for many hours in a day was terrifying, but the thought of not having enough income was also daunting, now that I have another mouth to feed.

At that time, I had the help of my mother. Thankfully, she came to my rescue. She watched my daughter for eight hours a day while I went back to work full time, even though she was still working herself — she did the graveyard shift four days a week at a food production company and came home in the early hours of the morning, babysat my child and slept whenever the baby slept. This was incredibly difficult for her as she was nearing her mid-sixties and almost at retirement age. Luckily, she did retire several months later.

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Whereas I feel like I had a choice to back to work or not, my mom has been working her whole life. For more than thirty years, she braved a variety of manual labor jobs, from being a food vendor, carrying all her pre-made food in two large baskets straddled between her shoulders, to working in a freezing cold environment preparing meals for airlines, she has done the hard work, the kind of work that I simply cannot imagine doing for more than a year. And that is simply because educational opportunities weren’t readily available for her during her youth (we lived in a third world country); hence, when one doesn’t have the education to obtain office or administrative jobs, one ends up doing manual labor that is a test on their physical self.

But for many women like my mom, who chose to go to work, the choice to go to work isn’t so much of a choice — it’s a necessity that is detrimental to their personal life. In a recently published HBR article, written by a professor at ESSEC Business School France, it identified four different perspectives on work-life balance — a hot topic in today’s world.

The author states that our perceptions on work & life are impacted by what you saw your parents do while growing up. Based on what people experienced, they typically fall into one of four categories.

A) Intentionally adopt their parents model completely

B) Intentionally reject their parents model completely

C) Unintentionally adopt their parents model

D) Unintentionally reject their parents model

While I do agree with the findings of the author, I also think that is quite skewed in the scheme of studies. She only studied 78 parents and conducted 148 interviews to people who work in two specific industries — law and accounting (ahem, only people who are middle or upper middle class) and between the ages of 30 to 50 years old. This study clearly does not take into consideration people like my mom, who fell into the “lower income” category for many years and did not have an appropriate educational level to be qualified to work in law or accounting.

Now, it doesn’t take a college degree or research to tell you that the results are clearly and blatantly obvious. While I don’t believe that I fall directly into one of the categories, I do believe that I have had mixed perceptions about work and life balance. Several years ago, when my first child was born, I would’ve fallen into the “Unintentionally reject their parents model” scheme of things. My perception of my parents’ choices to generate income was skewed in the fact that I had more time with one parent versus the other, and I equated that with their level of love for me.

You see, because my mother worked a lot, more than ten hours a day, six days a week (because we were so poor), I saw my father a lot more. He was always around, but there was always a sense of disdain coming from my mom because my dad was what you would call “a starving artist.” He was a poet, a writer, and a comedian (not a professional one though). He could make everyone laugh, write fantastic poems & stories, and be the life of the party, but when it came to making money, he wasn’t so good at keeping jobs. Needless to say, my mom was the more reliable person who could keep on going with her job. It’s the type of tenacity that took me awhile to appreciate.

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The struggle is real

When I was young, I felt a sense of resentment towards my mom because she was never around. This feeling lasted all the way through early adulthood. It wasn’t until I became a working mom myself that I understood the need for her to work — because my dad wasn’t the main breadwinner in our family, she had to be. She was forced to be in a position that wasn’t so typical in our society back then. I don’t think she wanted to be a working mom at all. I think she wanted to be like all the other mothers, her sisters and sisters-in-law, who relied on their husbands to make the money so they could stay home and take care of their children.

So, yes, my perception of work-life balance is truly impacted by what I saw growing up. I knew that I didn’t want to be away from my kids all the time, but at the same time, I enjoyed going to work. I still do. It took me awhile to realize that going to work and being away from my kids is actually a beneficial thing for me and for them, for it allows me the opportunity to provide for them — you need money to pay bills and provide food & shelter, after all — plus, as the cliché mentions “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” I’ve found that I truly miss them and want nothing more than to be with them at the end of the day.

But back to the study — while there were valid points made, I also think there needs to be more studies done to broaden the horizon for work life balance perception from all aspects of life. To only ask a person who makes $80,000 a year whether or not it’s a challenge for them to work all the time is frankly, not great data to rely on, especially for those who only completed high school and are struggling to get by with a small income and a family to raise. To speak only to the privileged is to do a disservice to the underprivileged.

WARNING: price delusions ahead!!!!!

Thanksgiving is almost here. The holiday season is in full swing. A week left until Black Friday. As this infamous day draws near, I thought I should tell you about a recent shopping experience at Macys that might make you think twice about shopping during the holidays.

While browsing the store with my husband, I saw a package of Minne Mouse underwear for toddlers. I have a Minnie Mouse obsessed little girl, and I thought she would love it. The sign said it was 50% off, and on the package, printed clearly was $14.98. So naturally I deducted that it was 50% off from $14.98, making it approximately $7.50. To my surprise, when I went to pay for the item, it rang up as $26, and $13 as the final price.
Immediately I pointed out the error to the cashier. He was not familiar with kids clothing so he went to talk to a sales associate in that department. He came back five minutes later and told me that it is exactly that – 50% off from $26. I was flabbergasted. I pointed out the price tag on the ACTUAL package, and said, “Clearly that is $14.98. You can’t deny that. How is it possible that the price can be inflated that much?!?!” He said, “Sorry, you can go talk to someone else in that department.”
This made me absolutely furious. The problem was not the fact that the item was extremely inflated at the expense of the consumer, but the blase attitude of the salesperson. It makes me wonder a few things:
  • How many of the items sold at Macys (or big box stores) have extremely inflated prices? Hundreds? Thousands??
  • Do customers realize this or are they just looking at the store’s signs and being led to believe that it is a good deal when in fact, it is not?
  • Price anchoring (the process of inflating retail prices to the point where the store marks down the item to 50% or more to allude the customer into thinking that it’s a good deal, when the “after-discount” price is actually just the retail price after all) – how prevalent is it? Apparently, it’s not new. Check out this article.
  • This is clearly and blatantly a way for major retail chains to gain profits during the holidays, by playing on customers’ inability to pay attention to small details, overshadowed by their desire to shop for everyone for Christmas, that they don’t realize how much they are truly spending?
While this particular practice makes me angry, what is even more troublesome is the sales associate’s responses. In my particular situation, the associate’s “Sorry not my problem” attitude is really infuriating. It makes me ashamed to say that I once worked for Macys, way back in the day. It’s troubling that for such a large chain that prides itself on quality and aesthetics that they are not training their employees to respond to conflicts in an enthusiastic and helpful manner.
Perhaps because I’ve worked in customer service for a long time, and I’ve worked at places that have high expectations for service that is the reason why this bothers me so much. Whatever happened to the old philosophy, “The customer is always right”? In my case, I was not making things up just to get my way. My husband and I both saw the price tag as $14.98, so to blow it up to $26 and then discount it $13 is beyond the acceptable ethical grounds of retail pricing.
So this holiday season, I’ve had enough of Christmas shopping. I’ve had enough of deceitful practices of major retail chains. I’ve had enough bad customer service. Besides getting a few items for my kids (not from Macys, of course, and mainly because I want them to have a good Christmas), I’m opting to do something else. To go outside. To be with family. To SAVE MONEY. Because the holidays can definitely make you go broke. It can lead you down the road of paying back a year’s worth of purchases plus interest…and for what? For big retail businesses AND credit card companies to make money off you? No thanks.

Issues with raising kids in a technology-driven world

Let’s face it – not all babies are cute. Except for mine.

Just kidding.

No really, I may be biased, but like thousands and thousands of parents out there, I do feel like MY children are the prettiest, most photogenic children out there…so much that they can be baby models if I want them to be. I call my son “The Mixed Gerber Baby” because he’s half white, half Asian, although he looks more white to me. (Both of my kids took after their dad’s side, physically speaking).

But let’s be real here – I am not going to be one of those pricks who always claims that their child is the cutest or the best of anything, because I’ve learned in the four years that I’ve been a parent that EVERY.SINGLE.PARENT feels the same way about their child. But does that mean that every parent is biased?

“Here, Mom. My love for you.” *by yours truly*

Once upon a time, before you had children and an active Facebook account, you were spammed with baby pictures of your friend’s babies – from the time they were born (those “first moment” photos from the hospital usually gets the most likes, despite their dark, bleary, sterile environment) to their first birthday parties to outings at the park, playdates with other children, etc… you see them all! And you like ’em, right? Or so it seems. But since you don’t have any children of your own, you start wishing that you had children so you can spam YOUR friends with cute baby pictures. Over time, you start developing a sense of jealousy, a certain level of resentment, because it seems like their kids and your friends (the parents) are having fun – everyone’s smiling for the camera, even on those blurry photos. And suddenly, you’re in a zealous pursuit of a child yourself.

Little do you know that all those smiles are the “good” days, masked by the cries, screams and freak-outs on most days. The good days and good moments may be small, but they are worth their weight in gold, because what the parents want you to see is the happy moments of parenting. It makes you want to be a parent yourself.

Then, when it FINALLY happens, you start spamming your friends with your baby pictures, exclaiming how cute they are, and how wonderful they are. That usually happens within the first few hours of them being born. When you finally get home from the hospital, you discover that the first few nights are a killer. The first few weeks are a killer, filled with a multitude of wake-up calls every few hours, cries more piercing than anything that you could’ve imagined, including a mountain of dirty diapers and more stained clothing than you’ve ever experienced in your whole life.

The sleep deprivation sets in and that is when you go online and start Googling “How to…” questions.. such as, “How to feed my baby in a football position,” “How to burp a baby” and “How to tell whether or not my baby is eating enough,” or “How to sleep after you have a baby.” But of course, you don’t share these with your Facebook/Instagram friends right?

That’s what I mean, my friends. In a technology-driven world that we live in today, we are inundated with images of what parenting should be, not what it actually is. I remember seeing a million pictures of a kid whose parent I went to high school with every single day. From the time that he woke up to the time that he went to sleep, it seemed as if his parent took pictures of him at every moment in time. And she shared them a lot. It was okay at first, but after awhile I started getting annoyed… mainly because this kid was just kind of ugly. I thought to myself, “If I wanted to look at an ugly creature, I would just go to the zoo and look at some orangutans.” He was no Gerber baby, that’s for sure.

When I finally had Lily, I also started spamming people with pictures of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if those “friends” of mine secretly hated me and blocked out images of my daughter every time she appeared on their feed. I don’t blame them. I was so incredibly obsessed with my firstborn, and how beautiful she is that I started posting a bazillion pictures of her.

Of course, I still think she’s beautiful these days, but at the age of four, I’ve learned a thing or two about parenting on social media. I learned that there is a time and a place for such sharing. I’ve learned that there’s a limit on how much you should share, and that you should not give a shit about what other people think of your children, but you should be mindful of what your children might think of you. Sometimes, when I’m taking pictures of Lily, she would say after awhile, “Okay, that’s enough.”

And I’d stop.

It is a universally acknowledged truth that once you have a kid, you live your life through your kid. Because why else would you feel resentment and possibly hatred for those who spammed you with images of their children but at the same time you do the exact same thing when you have kids of your own? Also, because once you have a kid, your social life is pretty much nonexistent..or over, for that matter.

But back to my own kids – within the past year or two, I’ve become more aware of how I share pictures of my kids through social media. I decided to put myself in their shoes and asked, “What would they think if they were to see these pictures in the future? How would they feel about me posting all of these photos? Would they be comfortable with it or would they be seriously annoyed with me?” These are important questions to ask yourself, I realized. Not every child wants to be advertised on their parents social media accounts every single day.

These days, I still post images of my kids on my Instagram account, but I’ve slowed down a little. When I was pregnant with James, I definitely slowed down a lot. There were perhaps two pictures related to him – one announcing that I was pregnant, and one right after he was born. I felt that this was plenty. While you yourself may be inclined to post images of every single month of pregnancy (to track your baby bump), I don’t personally believe in doing so, because all my kids need to know is that I did indeed carry them to full term in my belly, hence that is the reason why they are alive in the first place.

Do I think that it’s wrong to share pictures of your kids and your life? No, absolutely not. In fact, I follow a lot of mamas on Instagram, and find them quite lovely. But at the same time, I also feel a pang of jealousy because damn, the fact that they can actually do this on a regular basis means that they either have A) a lot of time on their hands, AKA they’re a stay-at-home mom, thus their husband makes enough money to live on, or B) they’re doing it to make money while being at home with their kids, hence a commercial inspiration, such as product sponsorship.

As for myself, I have the luxury of my husband being able to stay at home with the kids on the days that I work (we have opposite days off) and he’s not a big sharer, because he’s not obsessed with photography like me, and that is perfectly okay. Secondly, I don’t believe in using your kids to make money on Instagram or any other social media platform for that matter. I won’t judge you if you do, but I also believe that if the kids want to make money with their looks then it is their choice, not mine. If my kids ever choose to be a model, then I would be okay with it, as long as they’re not modeling naked.

In the meantime, I do think that it’s our job as parents to be mindful of how our children will perceive us in the future. I want my kids to know that I took the effort to preserve their childhood through pictures, and I’m a big fan of photo books (especially the ones from Artifact Uprising – NOT an ad here! They didn’t pay me to say that!), and I want them to see what our lives were like when they were little, but I also want to keep it mainly in our family. I don’t want them to think that I overshared (“Mom I wish you hadn’t shared that!”) Because the world wide web is what it is – a giant web of information and sharing, who knows where your stuff will end up? Many images are shared across multiple platforms and a lot of times you’d lose credit for it, and it can get altered by whoever gets their hands on the image.

Think about that the next time you share a picture of your baby.

A Typical Day with Two Kids, As Told by EMOJI

I have a great friend – his name is Emoji. Ever heard of him? He’s probably hanging out with you on your phone. He might give you some suggestions on how to communicate when you’re at a loss for words. Just go to your text messages and you’ll see.
Since we are such great buddies, I thought I’d give you a breakdown of how I communicate through the world of emojis when I spend the day with my kids. I don’t know how I could’ve possibly lived without emojis! These guys are amazing!
6:00 AM – 7:30 AM
My kids wake up sometime between these hours. For the six a.m. wake up calls, I usually rely on my alarm clock – the kids. Here’s a comparison of me vs. them.
How my kids usually are in the morning:
My face in the morning, before the coffee kicks in.
7:30 AM – 9:00 AM
Once the kids have a clean butt and clean teeth (myself included), we eat breakfast. For James, it involves a big bottle (as if he hasn’t already drank enough in the past 10 hours), and for Lily, it’s usually a rolling selection of fruit, oatmeal, pancakes, eggs and/or toast, and cereal. As for me, I just eat the leftovers.
Gotta feed your kid better than your feed yourself right? Totally.
9:00 AM – 11:00 AM
On a good day, the kids play by themselves (semi) quietly in a corner.

My son’s favorite thing to do is bother the cat (which pisses her off)…and crawl into the bathroom. He gets a lot of delight from splashing the toilet water.

Sometimes, we even do a little bit of this.

  

On a bad day, both kids are crying about something. And I just want to scream.

Then it’s time for James to take his first nap.

 
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM
While James naps, my daughter blabbers on about whatever…anything and everything…and demands my full attention.
I wish she would do this instead.

1:00 – 3:00 PM

By this time, James has woken up from this nap. We play, go to the park, run errands, whatever…

3:30 – 5:00 PM

On the weekends, it usually means that Daddy is home from work by 3:30 PM. When he gets home, this is what happens.

It’s all daddy for a while…then depending on the day & how he napped in the morning, James might go down for another nap.

5:00 – 7:00 PM
Almost dinner time. That means they play while my husband (or me if he’s working) makes dinner.
7:30 – 8:00 PM
Bedtime!!! That means party time* for mom and dad.
The cycle starts all over again the next day.
*Full disclosure: “Party time” means sitting down on the couch reading a magazine and/or on the computer researching stuff and/or watching old 80s movies like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”

Life’s Tough Choices: The Parenting Edition

Before I became a parent, I made some pretty tough choices…involving where to go hiking, camping, what neighborhood to live in, and what to major in college. I thought I was the shit for knowing how to make those choices. It wasn’t until I became a mom that tough choices becomes really tough, so tough that you think you’re going to be screwed either way.

With that said, I thought I’d share a quiz that I created simply based on personal experience answering to these tough choices. This is especially helpful if you are expecting your first child.

QUIZ FOR NEW, UNPRETENTIOUS PARENTS

LIFE’S TOUCH CHOICES QUIZ

From Freepik.com

Grab a pen or pencil and seriously look through the choices and think carefully, because once you become a parent you will not have the pleasure of reading for more than 2 minutes before you get interrupted by a cry or a scream of some kind. Somebody needs you, and it makes you wonder why that somebody doesn’t care that YOU need help.
 The choice is up to you.

1) Your baby is crying in the background. You’re starving and you need to eat (because you haven’t eaten in 8 hours due to being busy tending to a needy, crying baby). But he won’t let you out of his sight. Do you:
A. Ignore him and eat anyway
B. Pick him up and console him for however long it takes
C. Pick him up and try to eat with one hand while simultaneously holding him in the other arm
D. Scream at the world

2) True or False: It takes you and your spouse 3 nights to finish a 1 1/2 hour movie.

3) Pretend that you don’t have a kid…yet. (Wait a minute, I do this all the time!). Instead, you are an expectant parent who is trying to decide what gadgets and baby gear you might need. Which one do you think you’ll need the most?
A. A “Noise Cancelling Machine”, meaning a machine that cancels out all the cries (every single one!), so the only thing you hear is your baby cooing…and everyone telling you how great of a parent you are.
B. A “Shut the Fuck UP” machine, same idea as above, except this version is more advanced, because it also tells all the people who gave you unsolicited parenting advice to fuck off.
C. The “Rockabye Baby Machine,” one that rocks your baby, sings to it, and even gives her advice on how to choose a good husband. (A similar one already exists here).
D. The “Eye Opener.” No, it’s not makeup but it’s a prong that you can put on your eyes (similar to an eyelash curler) that will keep you awake (or make you look like you are) even when you pass out after being awake 20 hours with the baby.
E. All of the above.
4) Turns out, breastfeeding isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Haha, insert bad joke). You find that you’re running into all sorts of problems. What do you do?
A. Hire a wet nurse. Wait, do they still exists?!?! (You spend about two hours Googling this question on the internet while trying to breastfeed your baby at night).
B. Imagine how you’ll invent a product called a Mooby: it’s a Moby wrap that squirts out milk from your booby on command, or whenever the baby is hungry. Sadly, the male version is not possible.
C. Go to a milk donation bank and ask for some…only to be told that they only reserve donated milk to the most “needy” babies. You can’t understand why because you baby NEEDS milk all the time, so you think it’s a type of blatant discrimination because your baby was actually on time.
D. Continue, despite being uncomfortable/stressed/not having enough milk/having too much milk/cracked, blistering nipples/endless baby crying & fussing/whatever problem you have – no you KNOW that you are a strong woman and can muster this for a few more months.
E. Stop breastfeeding. Go to the store and buy formula. Enjoy feeding your baby for a change. End of story.
5) True or False: Getting two kids out of the house just to go grocery shopping takes almost an hour.
6) You’re at a play date with other moms. Hooray for finally getting out of the house! Someone mentions that she had postpartum depression with her first baby. How do you respond?
A. “Wow, that’s unfortunate. Did you husband give it to you? *hehehe*”
B. Sit in silence. Then get up and leave, silently.
C. “Girl, I’m feeling sad right now! But does that mean I’m going to bitch about it?? Noooo…”
D. Try to empathize with her. Say something like, “My neighbor also had that…now her mom has custody of the baby.”
E. None of the above.
7) When it comes to planning for the baby’s future, would you rather:
A. They become a doctor, lawyer, or corporate exec who brings home the big bucks OR
B. They become homeless and deal drugs after they lost everything in a house fire OR
C. They come live with you when they’re thirty and you’re sixty five and retired, and they ask you to babysit your grand kids five days a week while they go to work OR
D. They stop calling you every year on your birthday because they stopped believing in birthdays. (i.e they joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses).
8) You’re coming up to the end of your maternity leave. Now you need to decide what to do about childcare. Do you:
A. Hire a nanny and/or babysitter to come over
B. Pay an arm and a leg for a daycare facility
C. Enlist the help of your family members…i.e the only one who’s actually available is the worst option, but any option is better than nothing, right?
D. Quit your job, and stay at home. NOTE: Only one parent can do this. And seriously re-evaluate your finances before attempting this option.
9) Speaking of finances, you sit down and look at your bank account and noticed a trend. For the past few months (ever since your baby was born) you’ve been spending a lot of money on diapers. Somehow this is a shock. $300 in diapers in just 3 months?!?! Even with the diapers that people gave you??? That’s insane! What do you do?
A. Consider buying cloth diapers. Then decide that you don’t really want or have the energy to wash those damn diapers every single day because your baby poops that much.
B. Buy the cheap Winco diapers. Only $9 per box of 132? Amazing. Little do you know that it’s worst piece of shit diapers (no pun intended) that you’ll ever encounter.
C. Nothing. You just deal with it. That’s your life now.
D. Look for coupons and sales on diapers. Go to Costco and stock up. Better idea: order from Costco’s web site and have it delivered, because you just don’t have time go there yourself.
10) When is the end of this quiz?
A. One more question
B. Never
C. Now
D. Psych! Next question
11) Is this the end of the agonizing quiz that you’re making me do?
A. No.
B. Just kidding. Yes.

Why having a kid lowers your expectations

I’ve always considered myself an ambitious person. I skipped a grade when I was in elementary school, only to be put back in the regular (where I’m supposed to be) grade when I came to America. My thoughts have always been on the academic side – how to succeed in life with an education, to be the best that I can be. My expectations of myself have always been high. Heck, once upon a time I even thought that I could be a big shot executive at a large business corporation. Those thoughts are now gone, and replaced with “How many poops did my son do today?” and “How long will it take me to advance to a certain skill level in XYZ at my job?”

Ever since I became a mother, I’ve crossed into a different territory, and that is the Expectations Territory. When you’re not a parent you have certain expectations of yourself – things that you can and cannot do. You know your abilities and your desires. You have goals that you want to achieve. Then you become a parent, and you still have goals, but as time goes by, you realize that perhaps those goals need to be taken down a notch, because there is absolutely no way in hell you’re going to be able to go out and have fun every night without a good babysitter (and a good babysitter costs a lot, so that’s why a lot of parents prefer to just stay at home and drink a glass of wine instead – not that I would know…I just sit there and play with my phone), or drink alcohol and not be impaired while taking care of your kids, or finish writing that 100 page thesis in three months.

And hobbies – what hobbies? Let’s talk about achieving the every day tasks, shall we?

For example: it took me approximately an hour today to eat lunch. Not because I’m such a slow eater (which I am, sort of), but because during that hour, I made lunch for my daughter, and while I waited for her to eat, I fed my son a bottle, and then prepped my own lunch. Sounds simple, right? It should just be as easy as sitting down and enjoying a lunch. Not so much in the world of parenting. I took both of my kids to Lily’s room and told Lily to play with her brother so I can eat…because “Mommy is very hungry.” She seemed to understand, but only for a short period of time, because less than 5 minutes later, they BOTH came out of the room, one babbling away about something, and the other one trumpeting along and crying. By that time, my stomach was growling and I was getting grumpy. My patience were wearing thin. Even as I sat and ate my lunch, I still had the sad, eager eyes of my son looking up at me and whining, “Mama, mama”, as if he’s saying, “Please mom, don’t eat. Please mom, I want some more.” Sigh.

It made me wonder how much simple tasks that all of us adults do on a regular basis are taken for granted by those who are not (yet) parents. Eating in peace is one of them. So yes, I decided to eat with some “background noise” (jazz music would’ve been more preferable) and another little human being grumpy at me because I asked her to do something and she didn’t feel like doing it.

This is an example of how much of a pleasure it is to be able to do simple tasks (like pooping, getting dressed, writing, brushing teeth, eating, laundry, etc) without interruption can be. The expectation that one should be able to sit down after preparing their meal and eat and actually be able to enjoy their meal is something almost foreign to me. I told my husband about this dilemma and he looked at me like I was insane. His face conveyed the thought, “You think you can actually SIT DOWN AND EAT in front of them?!?! You’re crazy woman!”

I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing – no, not at all. If anything, having kids brings you back to reality, because as some of us might expect, we tend to live in a distorted reality where we are on top of our game and we get things DONE. This is especially important for ambitious high achievers and planners. But then you have kids, and they throw you a curve ball, so you have to learn new skills like drowning out the noise of a crying baby while eating a meal. Adaptability is key. It is a skill that I honestly don’t think I developed until I became a mother.

With that said, as soon as you lower your expectations, you realize that it’s actually not that terrible after all. It’s not so terrible to be woken up in the middle of the night several times a week (well, actually it is) because it happens to other parents too. It’s not so terrible to be constantly busy, to always have laundry and dishes to do. And it’s not so terrible to have someone who needs you and calls you all the time. When it’s all said and done, you have an audience who knows absolutely nothing about you before you became a parent, so you can be anyone you want to be!

Heck, I hope that when my kids are adults they’ll let me in on their lives and keep me busy with whatever is going on with them and allow me to be part of their world. Except for the sleeping part – I’d prefer that they allow me to sleep more than 4 hours a night every night.

What The Babies Are Saying

I’ve been active on social media for the past decade or so, with the past 5 years being mainly focused on Instagram, or what I call “a hub of photographic inspiration.” And as time goes by, I’ve found a world of photography from mothers who are also creatives (i.e. illustrators, graphic designers, etc), or bloggers who just became mothers, or photographers who are also mothers – any combination of those three interests me. I don’t necessarily fit into any of those above-mentioned categories, but nonetheless I am a mother, and since becoming a mother, I found myself being drawn to those who show their lives through Instagram, with beautiful images laid out in such a way that if you view it in their profile, as a series of square formats, you can see that not only does it serve a purpose aesthetically but also personally.

Now, as my oohs-and-ahhs have subsided over the years, I’ve realized that Instagram is just like a Facebook for photography. As I’ve gotten sick of FB and quit checking it altogether, I am slowly checking Instagram a little bit less as well. Don’t get me wrong – there are still people who I follow on Instagram who are not mothers, but rather photographers, who provides me with inspiration – beautiful images to look at and dream about. But as I’ve looked at a lot of baby & family photos, I tried to step into the shoes of these babies and children who are being photographed and shared constantly on social media. I wondered – if I was that baby, what would I think? How would I feel about my parents blasting images of me all the time, doing different things, putting on god-knows-what awful accouterments on my body that I would not particularly choose for myself, such as these booties?*

If babies could talk, this is what they’d say about us moms & dads (mainly moms) who are living a life through social media.

The baby who hates being photographed:
Moommm get that thing out of my face! I’m currently being busy being a baby…can I just crawl once without you putting a camera in my face? Oh, by the way, I also just pooped. It’s kinda big. Sorry. Can you put that camera down and change me please?

The baby who loves being photographed:
Mom, I know you love these stupid bonnets, and I love getting my picture taken, but seriously!?!  I can’t believe you spent like almost $40 for a stupid freakin’ bonnet that I’m only use (let you put it on me) once…okay, maybe twice in church so I can show people that we live as peasants or Amish folks. This is not the 19th century, for goodness sakes! Buy me a REAL hat. Like a sun hat or something.

The baby who doesn’t care (but is also bothered by something):
Okay, so I have to sleep in a crib. Big deal. I don’t see the point since I can’t walk anyway. But do you really have to take a picture of me laying there wrapped up in a Muslin blanket like a prisoner looking through the slats of the crib like I’m some sort of jailed individual? Come on! I was like, whatever to the baby wrap, but hey – you’re kind of stepping into strange territory here by taking a picture of me that looks like I’m bounded in prison.

The needy baby:
Hey, I don’t appreciate you showing off your boob on social media as I’m busy sucking away here. Isn’t this our private time together?? So what, you’re only showing like half of your face, and I know that showing breastfeeding pictures online is like a total trend right now, but for real – I need my milk. I’m hungry! So drop that phone down and FEED ME.

If you were a baby active on social media, what would you say?

*By the way, $40-60 on baby moccasins is ridiculous. You’re better off just spending that on baby formula…or heaven forbid, diapers!!

When Your Toddler Knows A Little Too Much (and other news)

Hi guys,

Welcome to a new edition of “Kids Say the Darnest Things” where I co-host with “TMI (Too Much Information)” and this time, I’ll share with you things I’ve recently discovered that my daughter knows, also known as “Things a toddler should not know YET (until he/she reaches high school).” Now, I consider Lily to be a very normal, average kid. She weighs about 33-34 lbs (the exact number I’ve forgotten), and is about 39″ tall, with brown hair and brown eyes. She’s this adorable little chub chub.

However, what is abnormal about her is her proclivity towards learning of adult things. When I say “adult things” I don’t mean adult entertainment, porn movies, or sexual positions. I mean, things that adults typically talk about, but not children. For example, childbirth. My daughter is obsessed with childbirth, so much that she’ll take some of her toy pieces and “pretend” to give birth to it by putting it down her shirt, then letting it drop out of her shirt, all the while proclaiming that she’s pooping out babies.

Yep, that’s right. Pooping out babies. All because she witnessed her mom giving birth to her little brother. Mind you, this was not planned at all. Home births are not my thing. I prefer to be in a hospital, with a staff that is trained on childbirth and is there to assist me in all aspects in case something goes wrong. However, my little boy decided he could not wait even 30 minutes, and popped out before we even made it to the car. Before her dad got home and delivered him, Lily saw me on my (almost) knees, leaning over the railing of the staircase and screaming at the top of my lungs. Then she saw what happened afterwards…which was her brother coming out of a spot that is usually reserved for closed door activities.

(And while we’re on the subject of babies, one time she declared that she was going to live to a hundred and have babies when she’s 25… which technically isn’t a bad age to have children, and the babies will come out of her just as easily as toy pieces. I resisted the urge to say to her, “Oh honey when it’s your turn you’ll be screaming a hell of a lot before the baby actually comes out. But I spared her the drama).

This is a story that is made for history books… the history of our family, that is.

Do I want my daughter to know about body parts and how they work at such a young age? Not exactly. I was planning on telling her about childbirth when she gets older, or whenever she asked me about it and is old enough to understand. As with many typical parents would prefer to shield their child’s eyes and minds, I thought that wouldn’t happen for at least another 5 years.

I gotta admit – I don’t feel ashamed about her knowing the female reproductive parts. I don’t want to be one of those parents who shun their child away from talking about what our bodies can do. I want her to feel comfortable talking about it, and learning about it…just not so young. Regardless, she does know now, and that is that. I don’t claim to show her my parts all the time, but I do take her into public restrooms with me whenever I have to go, so before this “incident” ever happened, she had already seen me (partially) naked. She is no stranger to body parts.

Speaking of body parts and what it does, not only does this girl know that boys and girls have different parts, but she also knows that it makes them do the same things differently. For example, the other day, she stood up on her bed, put her hands to her privates, held it there, and said, “This is how Daddy goes peepee.” Then she sat down and said, “This is how Daddy goes poopoo.” I was like HUH?!?! how the heck does she know that??? I grilled her further, asking her how does she know how daddy goes potty and she let on that she had peeked in before. Say waahhhhhtttt!!!!

a real conversation between her dad and I

We are not purposely telling her any of these things, I SWEAR.

In other news, this morning she said, “Mom, will you marry me?” I don’t know if I should be flattered or weirded out by this. After all, is it the fact that women can get married to women or the fact that she wants to “marry” me because she loves me? Either way, I’m a little baffled.

It’s a good thing she doesn’t know how babies are made…yet.