Would You Rather Be a Hoarder or Chucker?

Last night, Kyra busted me for tossing a bright blue conchiglioni (giant pasta shell) she painted at school.

“Mommee, why did you throw my art away?”

I had always dreaded the day my daughter might ask me this question.  According to reporter Michael Tortorello, I am a hoarder, not a chucker.  I framed the first time she ever drew a circle, a car, our family.  We saved every doodle from Kyra’s first month in Kindergarten when she was obsessed with drawing hog creatures from the iPhone app Angry Birds. Every year, we bought mugs or aprons or tiles adorned with her handprints.  Our walls and refrigerator are covered with her paintings, sketches, marker scribbles.  My file cabinets stuffed with the ones that weren’t on display.  Even my window sills are lined with scraps of paper that I couldn’t part with simply because she embellished it with “I [lopsided heart] Momma!”

Sure, I tossed items that would decay, were repetitive or too cumbersome like life-sized cutouts of my daughter.  The majority of the time though, I tended to hoard rather than chuck.  My grandmother was a famous oil painter and art teacher in China.  My mother made a living as a commercial artist and in her free time wrote a book, painted watercolors, designed greeting cards, and shot stunning photographs.  It seemed like they saved everything I created and instilled in me love and confidence for artistic expression.  I wanted to do the same for my kids.  Besides, educators stipulate that displaying a child’s artwork will boost their self-esteem.

What I didn’t anticipate was the sheer volume of “art” my daughter brought home through years of daycare and pre-school.  Kindergarten simply avalanched my imperfect system.  Daily she brought home stacks of paper: construction or lined, assignments or free-time doodling, letters or envelopes.   Sometimes, her brother would find her stash and rip them to shreds.  Other times, the two of them would create “gifts,” strips of paper adorned with expressions of love for Mom and Dad, which they would scatter about the house.

To make matters worse, I knew I needed to create more art with my son.  So far, I had only one of his creations that he created at hourly care —  a thin 16 x 20 sheet of paper curling with paint on my window sill.  Most days he is home with me and doodles on my notebooks and papers.  He often points at this painting and says proudly, “Dee Dee painted it.”

I can just imagine the magnitude of his terrible twos, a world-is-collapsing-fit, if he found this painting in the trash.  Panicking, I had fished Kyra’s conchiglioni out of the trash and asked her what it was.  She explained that it was her crab and quickly forgot about the whole incident as she listed all the Alaskan animals she learned at school.

With the conchiglioni proudly displayed on our crowded shelf, I tucked her into bed and spent the next few hours browsing for creative storage optionsS. Jhoanna Robledo suggests sorting the art with your children: “Make four piles: one for display, one for storage, one to send, and one for the trash.”

Kindergarten teacher Joanne Walker recommends taking photographs of the ones that don’t make the cut.  If I could get organized enough to do that, then I would collect them in a coffee table book, one of several ideas Tortorello recently reviewed.  Or even better, force myself to try Dr. David Burton’s idea of sorting my children’s art into two boxes: the permanent one which holds selected works spanning 5-10 years and the temporary one for recent creations.

Have you tried any of these ideas but still remain a “hoarder”?


Please Don’t Tell Me I’m a Chinese Mother

This month, my inbox flooded with friends and family urging me to read Amy Chua’s book excerpt, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior?  Over dinner, Thomas kept asking me, “Have you read it yet?”

A week later, he tried to peak my interest with: “Our friends are really offended by Chua.  Did you know she even received death threats?”

Finally, he summarized the story for me, hoping to engage some discussion, but I remained as quiet as the eye of a storm.

Maybe, because I never ever want to be labeled as a “Tiger Mom” or worse “Chinese Mother.”

When Kyra was born, I vowed never to parent like my parents.  No four hours of piano practice a day.  No rules about how my kids can’t date until college or go to prom or watch T.V.  No demands that they must get As and pursue career choices as a physician or lawyer. And definitely no wooden spoons (for hitting little hands) allowed in the house!

Unlike Chua, I didn’t think my parent’s legalistic cultivation was a gift.  American born and rebellious against my parent’s customs, I proudly resisted anything Eastern or Chinese.

We showered Kyra with kisses and hugs and constantly told her we were proud of her.  We let her watch her favorite cartoons.  When she talked about the future, we said she could do anything she wanted.  I even told Thomas, I would be thrilled if she became a professional snowboarder!  By three, she had settled on becoming a race car driver and that is still her number one choice today.

Meanwhile, she blossomed in academics, outdoor sports, art, music, and picked up languages intuitively.  Hey, the Western style of parenting is working, I thought.

Until, my best friend started to ask me questions.  Michelle is a Head Start Preschool teacher, pursuing a master’s in Early Childhood Education.  Lately, she’s been interviewing me for an assignment on how culture influences parenting techniques.

“So do you think academics is more important or art?” she asked me over the phone as I waited in the hall for Kyra to be dismissed from her after school Chinese program.

“Well, both!”

“No, you have to pick one,” she giggled.  “I want to see how well you know yourself.”

When I didn’t answer, she nudged me further.  “Think about what Kyra does to please you.”

We’ve known each other since four years of age, so instinctively I knew that Michelle was teasing me about our dinner last month at a Chinese restaurant.  Just after tea was poured, Kyra announced to the whole table that she wanted to do her workbook.  With my dad, aunties, uncles, and Michelle’s parents beaming at her, she pulled out a math workbook from her backpack and started to wow her audience with additions and subtractions at levels well beyond her age.  Embarrassed, I tried to distract her with my iPhone.  “Here, why don’t you play a game?”

After a few minutes of “screen time,” she nudged my aunt sitting to her right, handed her my iPhone and said, “Pass this around.”

Soon the whole table shouted praises: “Kyra, you are so smart.  You are writing sentences already? You know how to use notepad? How old are you?”

“Okay, fine!” I paced furiously in the hall.  “She pleases me with academics.  However, I want you to know that we’ve also enrolled her in swimming and ballet and I started teaching her piano.”

She laughed.  “That’s good!  I just wanted you to see if you knew that sometimes your parenting reminds me of your mother.  But, don’t worry, you are a great mom.”

My ears burned and I nearly dropped the phone.  Am I unknowingly slipping into my traditional Eastern upbringing?  Wait, let me explain why Kyra had a math workbook in her backpack.  Her preschool teacher had recommended her for the gifted program and I heard from other parents that these books would help her feel more comfortable with the entrance exams.

Then Michelle asked, “Next question, are you going to force her to practice piano a certain number of hours a day like your mom?”

“No,” I said heatedly. “I don’t know.  I gotta go.”

Before I had a chance to think about her question, Kyra’s Chinese school teacher let out the class and approached me.  “I was wondering if you could play the piano for our Chinese New Year concert.”

She did not wait for an answer, but hurried me into the classroom and asked Kyra and the other girls from the class to rehearse lines from the Feng Yang Flower Drum song.  While they danced and waved drumsticks above their heads, the teacher described the introduction, conclusion, and transitions she needed me to compose.  Kyra repeatedly threw her arms around me and hugged me hard.

I guess I had my mom to thank for starting me in piano lessons at the age of four and pushing me to perform and compete.  Now, I could do something for my daughter that not many other parents could.  I didn’t turn out that bad, did I

To Freak or Not to Freak

You would think that growing up in Southern California, I would be a seasoned disaster preparedness mom.  Earthquake drills were a constant affair at school.  We stocked cans of food and bottles of water in our garage.  In my college dorm, a 6.7 earthquake threw me across the room when my bunk bed toppled over.  My roommates and I nicked our bare feet on picture frames that had shattered on the floor.

But I also had a mother that completely freaked out at the slightest ground movement.  She would scream hysterically (even if it was just a massive truck driving by), shove my brother and me under our thick oak kitchen table, then throw her trembling body over us.  My father would just laugh and laugh.  I would watch his round belly jiggling under his red robe and worry that the house was going to crush him.

In some of the worst earthquakes we lived through, my mom booked us a room on the Queen Mary because she thought that being on a boat would be the safest way to survive the aftershocks.  Huddled with our friends and family on the deck, I peered through binoculars at the land mass worrying that at any time the earth would swallow up the rest of the world.

Shortly after Kyra was born, I felt a tremble ripple through my log cabin walls.  The hair on my body stiffened.  I fought every nerve in my body to calmly ride this earthquake through.  I was not going to frighten my kids like my mother did.  Besides, it had taken me hours to get Kyra to sleep and as you know we don’t wake a sleeping baby unless it’s an emergency.  I gripped the edge of my desk and listened to the creaking of the wood and the clinking of my china and that thunder in my ear that seems to crescendo until I’m no longer sure if it’s the earthquake or a manifestation of all my fears from my childhood.

My knuckles turned white.  I could see my heart pounding through my chest.  And still the earthquake wasn’t passing. I couldn’t take it anymore.  I ran down the hall, swooped up Kyra, and curled up beneath her bedroom doorframe.  Pressed tightly against my chest, her heartbeat calmed me down and soon I realized that the birds twittered outside again, maybe even laughed at me the way my father used to tease my mom.

Fortunately, Kyra had no clue that her Mommee freaked out.

With tomorrow’s show in mind, I wondered what kind of disaster preparedness mom I was going to be as my children got wiser.  Over dinner, I decided to talk to Kyra and Ethan about earthquakes.  I asked Kyra if she had any earthquake drills at school.

“Nope.  Mommee, tell me what an earthquake is.”

“Well, it’s when the earth suddenly releases energy that causes the ground to shake and our house to shake too.”

Kyra licked the spaghetti sauce off her lips and said, “I like earthquakes.”

Ethan said, “Me too.”

“Sometimes though earthquakes can hurt people.  Buildings can fall down.  Do you remember that scary 8.0 earthquake in China?  Lots of kids were in school at the time.  Some were kindergarteners just like you and their school fell on them.”

“Did they die?”  Kyra asked.

“Some of them did.  Many many people died in that earthquake.”

Kyra thought about all of this for a moment.  I started to get nervous.  Then she smiled and said, “That’s okay Mommee.  I like dead.”

“You do?”

“Yes, dead makes me happy,” Kyra said as she twisted her fork with noodles.

Ethan said, “Me too.”

Either my kids did not understand what “dead” meant or I had done such a good job in explaining death to them that they weren’t scared of it.  Kyra leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.  Her eyes spun with such delight and she danced in her seat.  Ethan tickled her and the two of them collapsed into laughter.

An hour later, I tried again, “Kyra, do you know what an earthquake is?”

She squeezed her eyes shut as if she was thinking very hard, then said, “It’s when people die.”

“Well, earthquakes don’t always cause people to die.  Just sometimes…”  Oh god, was I making this worse?  I picked up Kyra and held her in my arms.  “Uh, are you scared of earthquakes now?”

“No!”  Kyra said firmly.

Ethan ran towards us and pointed at his chest which displayed an enormous red “S” and and said, “I’m Super Man!”

Clearly, I wasn’t very good at explaining the big bad world to my children.   But at least, they weren’t scared of it.  And somehow, I didn’t want to mess with that.  Do you think that’s okay?

The Computer is Dead

Kyra ran into the kitchen and said, “Mommee, he spilled juice on the computer.”  Grabbing a towel, I raced Kyra into their playroom and caught Ethan finger painting  juice on the case of the desktop (the same brand-new computer that only survived two months in our home and was featured in Raising Techno Addicts and Screen Time Fight Play-by-Play.)

Thomas scolded Ethan while I cleaned off the computer and perched it high out of our kids’ reach.  It didn’t appear as if juice had seeped into the case, but we let it “dry.”

A week later, we held our breath and turned it on; about ten minutes later, Kyra pronounced, “The computer is dead.”

She didn’t cry or get upset at Ethan.  She simply accepted that these things happen.  I wished I could grieve in this way about all the losses in my life both big and small.

It’s been a tough year beginning with the passing of Thomas’ father in January from a railway accident and ending with my grandmother dying in her sleep just a few days before we were flying to California to see her.

I remember when I told Kyra about her grandpa.  She jumped into my lap, grabbed my face and said, “I am not sad, I’m happy.  Kyra die and then Kyra see Grandpa and Jesus.”

Death was not a new subject for her because my mother’s photos are on her wall.  Before bedtime, we often talk about how Grandma Auxilia, whose looks and personality Kyra inherited, would protect her from monsters.

Nonetheless, my relatives told me that Kyra was too young to understand death.  So, after Thomas’ dad died, I read her a book called Tell Me More About Eternity by Joel Anderson.  The Children’s Ministry Leader at our church had recommended to me.  Anderson starts with “It was a very special day for two people.  One person was very young.  The other was very old.  Somehow they both knew this day was to be one of the most important days of their lives.”

For months, this book was Kyra’s favorite.  She made me read it every night before bed and through two story lines one about a baby being born and an old man entering heaven, Kyra asked me many questions.

I’ve heard that grief is a teacher.  It’s been seventeen years since my brother died of cancer, and sixteen years since my mother died of the same disease.  And only now am I starting to comprehend that death is the same journey as birth.

By the time I told her about my grandma, I was pretty sure that Kyra understood what “dead” meant.  “Great Grandma died?” she asked me, blinking with her big eyes.

“Yes, Mommy is sad.”

She smiled, then closed her eyes and pursed her lips at me.  I leaned in and she kissed me on the nose.  Then she asked, “Mommee, can you show me a picture of great grandmother so I can remember her?”

As we clicked through photos of the first time Kyra or Ethan met their great grandmother, I gazed at the excited bright eyes of my children and wondered whether sometimes they were our teachers, too.

How have you explained death to your children?