Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Sunday, July 31, 2005

A paradigm shift in parenting style

I have had a paradigm shift in my parenting beliefs. I am beginning to think that the authoritarian style of parenting actually produces better results. This goes against my instinct as an "attachment style" enthusiast. I am far more comfortable with nurturing, loving and protecting, than with strict, harsh discipline. Which is not to say that I cannot discipline. Oh no. I pride myself in how I reared my first born when his Daddy was in jail. He is strong willed and I prayed and clashed with him until his will was shaped. (Shape it don't break it!)

But in recent years I focused my energy on showering my kids with love and attention. One of the things that Dr. Dobson wrote in his book: The New Dare To Discipline, reinforced this for me...

Question: Look over your twenty-five years of dealing with parents and children. What is the very best disciplinary advice you can offer? What technique or method will help us manage our kids better than any other you've seen attempted?

Answer: My answer may not be what you expected, but it represents something I've observed frequently and know to be valid. The best way to get children to do what you want is to spend time with them before disciplinary problems occur- having fun together and enjoying mutual laughter and joy. When those moments of love and closeness happen, kids are not as tempted to challenge and test the limits. Many confrontations can be avoided by building friendships with kids and thereby making them want to cooperate at home. It sure beats anger as a motivator of little ones.

I'm not saying I disagree with this now. I just think I need to come to center on this issue a little more. The moment I had this epiphany came as I watched my friend tell her son to do something and he immediately obeyed. It struck me that she must be doing something right. My lax ways are creating little monsters and perhaps a little authoritarianism will do them good.

In some Asian communities (though not Cambodian), compliments are rarely given out. If a person is silent, then you can assume that they like what you have done. It's opposite in our society, where silence usually condones dislike (for instance you have over-salted the meal). While I think this is harsh and cruel... look at the results: Asians are (generally) over acheivers. My friend who teaches at an elite test-in school, teaches many Asian students. She says they are starved for approval- and of course very high acheivers. (Please forgive me for stereotyping an entire race here, it's just an example. I know there are exceptions).

So what am I going to do from here? Well, I'm going to start bossing my children around more. That sounds funny I know, but I'm serious. If they get into more of a a habbit of obeying me, then they'll be more quick about obeying in the future.

Oh, and by the way, I have a friend who has the annoying habbit of thinking she knows how to better discipline my children. This is offensive, so as tempted as you are, please don't email this blog to that friend of yours with the little brats. Ha ha.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Joys of Homeschooling

This is the time of year when people all around the country are seriously considering homeschooling for the first time. It's a bittersweet time of year for me since I'll be sending my kids back to school after homeschooling them for two years. That time flew. I know that I may do it again someday, but for now this is the right choice for me.

My kids and I found a book we wrote together during homeschool. It had pictures of the boys doing regular daily activities. As we looked through the pictures it brought wonderful memories to my mind.

I remember all the time we spent together in that cramped little apartment... in the fall playing outside, in the winter stuck inside; but always together. And that's really the most special thing about homeschooling. You bond with your children to the Nth degree. I remember reading to them, cooking for them, playing board games with them, singing the books of the Bible together every day at devotions, field trips to The Butterfly Place, the chocolate factory.

I'll cherish the memory of reading books together... wonderful books like Eragon, A Single Shard, The Whipping Boy, Farmer Boy, Ping, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Dr. Doolittle.

I won't forget our foray's into piano lessons, quilt making, pottery, and other areas that were completely foreign to us. As well as the subjects we passionately love and pursued: football, basketball, baseball.

As I write this I see that it doesn't have to end here. And it won't. But there is something magical about those hours between 8:00 and 3:00 when the world goes off to do it's busy-ness. The neighborhood grows quiet. It's just you and your children learning something new about the world and about each other.

So if you're considering homeschooling, let me assure you, it's a leap you won't regret.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Money and marriage

I hate money. I hate bills. I wish I were rich so I'd never have to worry about it. I used to buy into that B.S. that money doesn't buy happiness. I know it would in my case. I'm generally a happy person. But I'm stressing out about money. Whenever we get a lucky break - a big pay check or a tax refund or maybe my husband goes to the casino and wins a couple hundred- we're always so happy. I'm stressing. It's the usual... bank account overdrawn, bills piling up, running low on food...

That's why I decided I'd had enough. I'd get a job. Even though I believe strongly in stay-at-home mom's. I believe even more strongly in not murdering your spouse. ha ha. No seriously, I should start my job this week with a (somewhat small) pay check coming a week or two after that and of course some work related expenses I need to shell out. Then the stress will ease a little. I'm going to school to become a nurse so the real financial stresses won't ease for a few more years.

My husband and I are financial opposites. We were both poor growing up, but in much different ways. He was raised in the ghetto, but his parents still spoiled him in small ways. He never learned delayed gratification. I was raised in the suburbs but with NO extra money. We never had extras. My parents taught me to handle money well- to save, tithe, never gamble. I also learned to be self-depriving. At my Grandpa's funeral my Dad told stories about him and he mentioned how he carried the depression "in his back pocket". This carried down two generations to me too. It was valued in my family to deny yourself. Like if you're hot, not to buy an air conditioner. If you're hungry, not to splurge on fast food. If you want something, not to get it.

When I met my husband he spoiled me. I felt like a princess. (I still do sometimes). Our financial ways balanced each other. Many times, it has been very good for us. I heard that marriage is like two squares shaken together until they become two circles. I think that's a cute analogy. Obviously we're not two circles yet because I can't live on the edge financially like he does any more. Which is why I've decided split our finances and get a job - so I can have a little more control. I used to pay all the bills, but he controled how much he brought in and our expenses (buying new cars without my consent for example). So I had no control. He's got his own bills now, so he can see for himself when the numbers don't add up.

* * *

I heard about an interesting test to predict a child's future. You put them in a room with a marshmallow in front of them. You tell them that they are free to eat the marshmallow, but if they wait until you come back they will get another one. The children who can delay their gratification will have more success in life. I'd love to test my children. I believe you can teach a child delayed gratification. My husband would have SO failed that test as a kid. But he's got other qualities that balance him - he works very hard, and his natural charm, and street smarts. He's slowly learning the delayed gratification. And I'm learning not to be such a tight wad.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Fertility Treatment News

There has been a major development in fertility treatment. Egg freezing techniques are now a viable option for women. Sperm and embryos have been used frozen for a long time, but until recently, eggs were nearly impossible to freeze because of the high water content which crystalizes and destroys the egg when frozen. The significance of this advance is that women can now freeze their eggs until "Mr. Right" comes along. Also, women with cancer can freeze eggs before the chemotherapy or radiation treatment destroys them. It levels the playing field between men and women because they can both climb the corporate latter without worrying about their biological clock.

However, I am saddened that this now gives women one more excuse to delay motherhood, which is the highest calling on a woman's life. It also gives one more excuse to men to put off supporting the woman in their life becoming a mother. God obviously meant us to have babies before 50, since our fertility peaks at 24. Our younger bodies can better handle the physical stress of child bearing and child rearing! Not to mention the family bonds between generations that are so important. You lose these interactions when entire generations (read: grandparents) have died off.

Also, whether or not this is viable for every woman, subconsciously it plays into women's decision making. "Oh, I can put off kids for a little more. There are so many advances in fertility. I'll be able to have one when the time is right". Then she goes to the clinic at 39, looking for help and her options are few and far between. Women need to be taught the facts at a very young age. As I've said before, they need to be taught the signs of ovulation, how their cycle works. They also need to know that fertility goes downhill after 24 and really nose dives after 35. No matter if you're in good shape, eat right, take care of yourself. Your eggs quality depends mostly on your age and your personal biological clock, which can vary. (If you want to know how long yours is, your best bet is to ask your nearest female relatives when they went through menopause - then subtract ten years from that number and that's a ball park figure for the latest you can get pregnant). It's true that taking care of yourself will enable you to get pregnant and have a healthy baby. But taking care of yourself will not legnthen the life-span of your fertility.

So all you ladies out there, make informed decisions. Be true to yourself!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

No electricity last night

We had a little adventure last night when the electricity went out and stayed off for most of the night. We ate dinner by candle light. That was nice. Every once in a while we heard a neighbor in a family fight run by and we'd go to see what was happening and they would disappear.

After dinner we didn't bother cleaning up because we couldn't really see anything. Wolfie fell asleep. The rest of us trooped to the bathroom together and took turns taking showers and brushing our teeth.

Timmy almost killed our gerbils who had gotten out of their cage. We think our cat knocked the cage over. So there we were in the dark, chasing our two gerbils around the livingroom with our one flashlight. That was an adventure. Thank goodness the cat didn't eat them first. (For those of you who don't know: We have a cat, two gerbils and a rabbit. As soon as we bought the house my inlaws gave us their unwanted gerbils and rabbit. So I guess we're officially animal lovers.)

Then we treked upstairs to go to bed because there wasn't anything else to do. It's the earliest we've ever gone to sleep. 11:00. Yes, we're night owls. Dimitri was loving all the attention he was getting (no TV to compete with so he was the star) and also, he wasn't tired as we usually don't go to bed until at least midnight. So he was difficult to calm down.

I read a book to get us to sleep. My husband, who ALWAYS does this when I read, fell asleep almost immediately. I think it's hilarious. This is why he dropped out of school and falls asleep in church. When he has to take courses for his work he often has to stand in the back of the class to keep from falling asleep. Isn't that funny?

Then there was the issue of the heat/humidity. It was one of the hottest nights ever. I cannot sleep in heat. I don't tolerate it well. (I'm OK with cold). So with no A/C we were pretty darn miserable. I fanned the baby and my husband a little. I slept fitfully until the electricity came back on hours later.

It was fun though. I kept thinking that if we didn't have electricity we would go to bed something like six hours earlier.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

New Hippy friends

I am so excited because today I met some new friends. I met them at the park and they are hippys and I figure I have a whole lot more in common with them than the average person, whether or not they are a Christian.

My one year old walked up to them and started playing with their stuff and so we started talking and they were super friendly. They said they were an informal homeschool group that meets every Tuesday for some fun. There was a young girl just my age that I am particularly interested to get to know. She's beautiful. She's got a boy Brandon's age and she's pregnant.

My first impression of them was of course how different they looked in their long flowing skirts and kinky twisted hair -as if they were black- only they aren't so I'm very curious how they acheive that hairstyle. Most notably they had unshaved arm pits. Tee hee. And one lady - I think she was from out of town - had a cowboy hat on. Ha ha.

We talked about baby slings. I lamented never having had one. They said it wasn't too late. They inspired me to drop by my mother in law's house to borrow hers, which I did and we love it.

They offered my baby a cookie but he just kept crying and we couldn't figure out why until finally we gave him a blue berry and he was happy. I said "I must have done something right" and they said how he wasn't yet spoiled by the world.

I gave the young girl my number and email address. I hope to see them again someday.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Comparing Neighborhood Schools

I went to the parent information center to pick up some pamphlets on the neighborhood schools. Call me obsessive compulsive if you like, but I've compiled an extensive chart on my favorite choices. I would love your comments to help me choose my order of preference.

Arts Magnet pros: Recommended by a friend
Highest MCAS scores, including some advanced scoring,
which the other schools didn't have.

cons: My husband isn't really interested in it

Bailey pros: Recommended by a friend
Good playground and facility
Lowest % low income students
Highest % core classes taught by teachers with Masters degrees (100%)

cons: Lowest teacher attendance (94%)
Highest student/teacher ratio 1:26
Lowest reading and English scores and this DESPITE
the highest % students from English speaking homes

Shaughnessy Pros: Recommended by a friend
The kids want to go there
My husband is most interested in this one
Good playground and facility
2nd best test scores

Cons: Furthest drive
Slightly below average core teachers with Masters degrees
Slightly below average student attendance rate

Washington Pros: Closest school
Highest 3rd grade reading scores and this despite
the highest % low income students
Best student teacher ratio 1:19
Highest teacher attendance

Cons: Highest % Low income students (65%)
Lowest MCAS scores including
abysmal math scores (40% failing MCAS)
No playground and old facility

So, all you people who read and haven't commented, don't be shy. I want to know what you think! What is your gut instinct on the best school?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Stolen? Or misplaced?

My friend recently lost her wallet. She thought it was stolen out of her purse which was in her parked car on my street. Thankfully she found the wallet a few days later. When she first told me about the missing wallet my gut instinct was that it was not stolen. I was a little offended that she automatically assumed it was, just because I live in the city.

I am guilty of that same assumption myself. Maybe that is why I am not quick to judge. I went to an inner city high school and was on the softball team. One day in practice I couldn't find my mit. I looked high and low for it. I just had it and then it was gone. There was a black girl holding an identical mit. I asked her if it was hers. She said it was. Thankfully I didn't accuse her of stealing it, but I did ask her twice. Embarrassingly, I found the mit a few minutes later (under a shirt).

At my wedding one of my out of state friends misplaced her cell phone and came to me, upset that maybe one of my guests stole it. Of course, she found it a little later.

The book of Proverbs says to guard your reputation because it is valuable. I understand that people wouldn't assume something were stolen if they didn't have reason to believe it could be. HOWEVER, in these three incidents, nobody's reputation was on the line here - only a stereotype about a people group or a culture. So I say: End the stereotyping. If something is lost, be slow to accuse people.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Work ethic, to the extreme?

Do New Englanders value work ethic too much? Is that possible? I believe it is and I believe they do. This is a society where an adulterous spouse is more acceptable than a lazy spouse. It's true. Even I would prefer an adulterous spouse to a lazy one. But that is not what the Bible teaches.

Consider drunk driving - a scorned sin. But falling asleep at the wheel - that's an understandable mistake around here. It should not be. In fact, sleep in general is close to sinful. If you get a full nights sleep, you better not admit it, around here.

When I first hung out with my husband's family I didn't know what to make of the way they spent their time. They would just sit in the livingroom for hours and hours. Sometimes watching TV, sometimes singing Karaoke, sometimes just talking, often cooking and eating. It baffled me. It seemed like such a waste of time... but wait... What was the point of life anyway? It is OK to spend time in fellowship with your loved ones, right?

One way I have struggled myself is allowing myself to watch a whole movie at home. Maybe it's just a mom thing. But I'll usually get up throughout the movie to do things around the house. I can't let myself relax through it.

In the Bible, Jesus rebuked Martha for her busyness and instructed her to be more like Mary who took the time to be in his presence. That is the lesson all New Englanders should take to heart.

Bragging about my baby

Do you mind if I brag about my baby a little? He's one, and every time I look at him he makes me very very happy inside. If he's sleeping he looks like an angel. If he's smiling my heart melts. If he's being mischeivious he makes me laugh.

He knows how to say several words: da-da, ma-ma, ball
Also in Cambodian: yeay (grandma), da (grandpa), bawk ("open" as in "turn on the light or turn on the water")

He also know the sign language for water and uses it regularly.

I wish he would continue to grow up bi or tri lingual. That's a stretch though. When he was a new baby I got all excited about teaching him sign language. Water is the only word I did consistantly. But hey, you gotta start somewhere.

I know that babies usually say Dad first - in pretty much every language. (It's my theory that when languages were developing, the word for father arose from babies first sounds. The mothers, of course, already bond with their baby. Calling out to Dad is one of the fist ways baby can bond with him).
Anyway, I was in no way offended when Dimitri said Da-da first. But as the months went by and as he learned FOUR other word on top of da-da THEN I started feeling left out. He's starting to say ma-ma on occasion now, thankfully.

He is a strong boy. We always thought he would be the biggest, since he started out that way - ten pounds, four ounces! (AND natural childbirth!) The nurse in the hospital said that his chest was unusually large. It was only a centimeter smaller then his head. Usually a newborn's head dwarfs his body. Now that he's older and can walk he likes to pick up heavy things and carry them. It's a riot. I've never seen a baby do anything like it before. So of course I've got "strong man" dreams for him. He's got a good gene pool, I'm sure he'll be fine. His Dad's got a huge chest.

He's also strong willed. That will be fun to deal with in the coming months (sarcasm). My first born is also strong willed but I think Dimitri is more so. I first noticed it when he was a few months old. I told my friend then,
that I was tempted to abandon him on a hillside like the ancient Romans -kidding, kidding, of course.


We threw a big "housewarming" party this Saturday. "Housewarming" sounds so tame. Really it was a celebration. A feast. We bought a hundred pound pig and had a pig roast! When they carried it in the night before it looked like a dead body because it's the same size and weight. I know that sounds gross. It was fascinating. It tasted good. It roasted on a rotissary all day and in the evening everyone took to it with forks and knives. There was lots of other good food too. Lots and lots of friends and family came. It was a blast.

The week before we had an impromptu barbeque with some of the relatives. It ended with a fight between my husband and his brother in law who was trying to drive home drunk. My husband didn't let him, but I was horrified that it came to blows in the end. If my church friends had been there I would have just died. After that I didn't really want to throw the housewarming party, but Timmy insisted and I'm glad he did because it was fabulous. It was probably good we had that barbeque last week. It was like a dress rehearsal. We didn't make the same mistakes twice. And of course my brother in law didn't come back.

Oh and the neighbors were looking out the window watching the fight. They must think we're horrible new neighbors. I like what my friend said about that "Well, their opinion of you can only go up from here."

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Buying our first house

So we did it. We bought our first house. Here are some highlights:

At the closing my husband was surprised by a whole bunch of unexpected closing costs. I wasn't as surprised, because there is such a stereotype of that happening. The lawyer probably thought we would just sign away; but my husband deals with contractors for his job so he is used to knit picking numbers. So Timmy (my husband) gave him a real hard time - made him go find a calculator and everything. It was funny.

So all the hundreds of papers are finally signed. We get the keys and we are officially home owners. But you know what felt even better then that moment? It was when I went down to the housing authority to get off section 8 (housing). Because we've been weaning ourselves off government assistance since Timmy came out of jail... first I got off welfare, food stamps, WIC; then we got off Mass Health and the phone discount. The last one - the big one was the housing voucher. So when we walked in and said "we came to get off section 8" and the lady was like "get off section 8?" and we said "yes". That felt so good.

So then we're at the new house, moving in all our stuff. All our friends are there helping us. I'm an athletic person so I like to work hard, but I wasn't able to help much because of Dimitri (our 1 year old). So I did more watching then helping.

At one point I noticed our champagne bottle sitting out, open and empty. I asked Timmy what happened to our champagne and he said his dad drank it. Ha Ha. And he did. And he was smoking a cigar too. We laughed about it. I thought it was kind of cute. "He's celebrating for us." Timmy said. My father in law is older. He doesn't speak much English. He doesn't own a home and maybe never will (he lives with his daughter). He does hard manual labor, but that can't go on much longer. He may not ever taste success himself, so the most he can hope for is for his son to be successful and so I think our buying a house was as sweet to him as it was to us.
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