Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

… and one dumpster-diving afternoon (along with a few Asahi beers, countless bowls of popcorn, and one set of plans downloaded from this mama’s etsy shop.)

Finn’s gift this year was a kitchen. A cardboard kitchen.

I’ve been planning to make this since before he was born, so smitten am I with the idea. A genius mother in Philadelphia, also living in a small apartment and on a limited budget, wanted to build her daughter a kitchen using recycled materials, but without tools or a workshop. Enter corrugated cardboard–incredibly strong and incredibly available. Her design uses no glue, but instead some clever little joins that slide together.

Matt was more than skeptical the whole way through. From exploring the back stairs of area shopping centers to cutting and measuring without a proper straight edge, he thought this thing would fall over the first time Finn used it (and was both graciously and happily proved wrong … so far, anyway.) It took a bit longer than we expected, but I, at least, gladly joined the ranks of parents who spend Christmas Eve putting together their childrens’ presents.

We had some hearty laughs along the way over the thought of our Hong Kong friends who would never in a million years make their children cardboard kitchens, much less the cute crafts I recently saw made out of toilet paper tubes. (!) We even considered putting a Miele label on the oven, just to make it fit in to brand-conscious Hong Kong.

The kitchen is far sturdier than we expected, and Finn, I am happy to report, has been busy cooking ever since. He first offered me some make-believe pancakes about two weeks before Christmas, and I knew the time was ripe for this little kitchen to enter his life. With wooden eggs, yogurt cups, anchovy tins, and a blossoming imagination at his disposal, you just never know what he might serve up.


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Actually it’s for anyone, but only the Lutherans are likely to have a copy of The Lutheran around …  I have an article in there about spiritual needs during pregnancy and ideas for alternative showers. I’d like to invite (encourage!) you to join in a discussion at The Lutheran this next week if you have suggestions, stories or other thoughts to add. Also, if you look at the article online, there is a list of suggested readings/music/prayers along the right-hand side of the screen. It’s not very obvious, so you ‘ll have to look for it.

And to give a little back story, this piece was born out of conversations with several friends about what they loved or lacked during their own pregnancies. Erinn Tubbs, a friend from our church in Hanover, is the one who first mentioned to me the movement of “mother blessings” and other alternative showers. During my own pregnancy, I was blessed to be supported materially by a very generous shower held by our church and numerous meals after Finn’s birth, but also spiritually from my EFM (Education for Ministry) group. A passing conversation with a church member’s daughter led to thoughts about the church’s lack of comfort with Mary’s physical pregnancy. She was married to a pastor, and often made seasonally-inspired stoles for him to wear. She always got great feedback about the stoles until Advent came along. She portrayed Mary with quite a bump, and got not one comment about the stole.

And–full confession–currently in my own church, we do absolutely none of this. I am part of a mom’s group and have known several pregnant women, but my only contribution to encouraging any sort of spiritual reflection has been in personal notes and gifts. So I know from experience that this can be hard to start if it’s not already part of the culture. My hope is to talk to the other women in the mom’s group about what we could incorporate into our celebrations for the pregnancies and babies.

I’d love to have you join the conversation!

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We had a scary situation this weekend. It wasn’t that bad–no blood, no emergency–but for a moment we had a glimpse of what life could be if that scary “A” word–autism–entered the picture. This particular condition, with all the publicity it gets, has captured our imaginations as the worst thing that could happen. I’m sure each generation has its thing–what it looks for, analyzes, agonizes over–and for this generation of parents, it’s autism. For good reason, I might add–with 1 in 150 kids in America diagnosed today, and the way it challenges our expectations of relationships–no wonder it scares us.

So Finn woke up from his nap Saturday seemingly awake but refusing all interaction. He sat on the floor away from us, resisting eye contact or touch of any kind. It was breathtakingly scary–he was so withdrawn and inward-looking that both Matt and I wondered “Is this how it starts? Is this the beginning of a journey we don’t want to take? Will this day be forever frozen in our minds?” We couldn’t even acknowledge our fears until much later that evening, after he had mostly come back to us. He seemed distant to me the rest of the day, actually, but was completely himself the next morning and ever since.

We suspect that Finn is fine, that he had a bad dream or was in the middle of a sleep cycle and needed to awaken more fully. Or maybe he felt sad and was just trying to understand it. He walks around stomping his feet and proclaiming himself “Happy,” but there’s no song, after all, about what you do if you feel sad or how you know it.

So yes, we watch Finn run up to kids on the playground, eager to share his ball and to say hi and we suspect autism is not an issue for him. But of course, you never know, and even this momentary fear has started me thinking about the nature of parental anxiety, and what it means for our children when we take our legitimate responsibility of observation and awareness too far, to the point of constantly looking for something to diagnose, something that is wrong.

I have to admit I’m uncomfortable with how quickly we can descend into this place of anxiety, where anything is a potential symptom. Not that parents shouldn’t be alert to potential problems–of course not. We have friends whose observation and persistence in the face of doctors who wanted to wait and see has gained their child untold advantages. By obtaining an early diagnosis of a prenatal stroke, his physical and occupational therapy began that much sooner, while the brain is still developing and forming. Clearly this sort of attention and recognition of a problem is exactly the job of parents.

But there is an alternate world of “parenting” out there that offers only an addict’s relief for our trembling fear. Shelves of books promise to provide a full night’s sleep, a beautifully-behaved child and a high IQ to boot. They compete with websites, blogs, forums and parenting magazines, which offer the consumers’ solution: buy the right products, the best toys, the safest equipment, and everything will be fine. These solutions, of course, only foster more anxiety–any temporary comfort quickly subsumed by a new study or a tragic story. It is not a far stretch to say that the anxiety produced by those shelves of parenting books and endless hyperlinks–read or unread–robs us of the confidence and ability to look inside, listen to our instincts, think rationally or even pay attention to our particular child with his or her particular needs, temperament and personality.

In this alternate world of parenting, one moment can indeed spiral into a diagnosis–and it’s only a short walk from there to the realm of “what did I do wrong and how can I fix it?” It’s so tempting to think that even in the face of an uncontrollable world, we can control our child’s world. But we parents are only stewards, not saviors.

The truth is that our children are born into an imperfect world to imperfect parents. They are full inheritors of the human condition–sadness, bad dreams and failures included. I remind myself of this– that, in the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, both Finn and I are dust, and to dust we will return. It is a strange grace to remember, but grace nonetheless. Finn belongs to God before he belongs to me.

Yes. This is my theological answer, but my everyday, lived answer I’m still working out.

On that day when we felt stricken with fear–and in the days since–we wondered if Finn was indeed on some sort of cusp, and if so, was there anything we could do to bring him back? Could we, by sheer force of love and physical presence, hold him to us, not let him slip away? Maybe so, and we have certainly been quicker to pick him up, quicker to bring him into our bed at night, quicker to cuddle.

I think that holding him when we feel scared is not a bad start. Ironically, it’s the quotidian acts of parenting that most relieve me from the anxiety and the idea of parenting. Because the other side of this anxiety is that I do experience God in the work of parenting, in the creativity and the guidance required, in the mundane duties and the selfless love. The dailiness and constancy calm me, give rhythms and patterns to my prayer.

Ideas like “being present” and “being mindful” may be much talked about and written upon, but never have they been made so manifest in our lives as when Finn entered in, casting a hazy spell which blurred everything except counting 10 perfect fingers and toes over and over again in a strange rosary of parently bliss.

And these days, walking at a toddler’s pace and cleaning something for the millionth time–these are the disciplines that shape my days. Accepting my lack of control over how often the milk is spilled, when the diaper leaks or where he throws a tantrum helps me to accept my lack of control over the world. And when I choose to read a novel instead of a parenting book, I’m accepting my limits and somehow accepting Finn’s limits too. I know that we both have–and will continue to have–bad days. And I know that whatever issues do come up for us–whether it’s developmental delays now or reading problems later–those issues, diagnose-able or not, don’t have to define us.

I know that none of this is any kind of hedge against the terrifying possibilities of life. But that’s the point–reading endless articles isn’t a hedge either. I have certainly found valuable resources in a few parenting books, and I wouldn’t advocate throwing them out. But sometimes–more often than not, I suspect–the healthy thing to do is to shut the books, stop googling lists of symptoms (as I spent Sunday morning doing) and simply be with my child. Or knit a few rows, letting my control over yarn soothe me. Or make pancakes, which has never yet failed to nourish myself, my husband or my son. These little acts of creativity, of life, help me to hold onto the “already” in the midst of the “not yet,” giving me a glimpse of the Kingdom right here in my kitchen.

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morning light

Each morning after breakfast, I stack dishes on the kitchen counter and Finn enthusiastically pushes and pulls his step stool to the sink, calling out “dee-shes” over and over. He grabs his little cup and bowl from his cabinet and clambers up, excited to pour water back and forth, to rinse, to splash on his clothes.  It’s a sweet time, and not just because I’m successfully accomplishing a chore and entertaining my child. It’s that the light is so uniformly lovely at that time of day, and because I have such a view of all the life going on around and below me.

There’s the woman across the way who hangs up shirts to dry, and the woman a few floors below who waters her balcony full of plants each morning. There’s the uniformed school boys lining up in St. John’s courtyard, listening to a man exhorting them into proper behavior. I have no idea what he says, but the “lecture tone” comes through loud and clear. There are retirees filling the sportsground with tai chi and qi gong.

This morning there was the men’s half of a wedding party spilling out of a highly decorated car, and then doing it over and over again as the videographer shot different angles. There are people walking briskly to work, and babies with grandmas who just amble along.

There’s a temple next door to us, and though we can’t see it, we frequently hear chants, rising up to our window and inviting us to pause for a second and pray along. I have no idea what these Buddhist monks say when they chant, or what they are thinking about or aiming for, but it never fails to remind me of that verse about our prayers rising as incense. There’s plenty of incense lit at this temple too, and on feast days the smell reaches our window, twenty floors up.  And though our prayers aren’t so public or loud as the monks’, I like the idea of them getting caught along the way, stopping in someone’s kitchen window and nudging towards silence or towards thankfulness.

Hope you all have some morning light today, and something that nudges you towards prayer.

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Just wanted to pop in quickly and let you know what we’ve been up to the last few weeks. After a great visit with Nana D (Matt’s mom) we’ve spent the last week preparing for that time-honored ritual among overseas expats … the long summer holiday at home.  We’re heading back to the States today (leaving HK at 4 in the afternoon and arriving at LAX two hours earlier). This is how we’ve been getting ready: 

1. Swimming. Mainly at our pool, but going to the beach too.  The water is really the only place to be once the thermometer hits 30, after all.  Plus, the pool is the only place where Finn is at a disadvantage by crawling, so he’s actually been walking! (Not on land yet, though.)swimming  The biggest advantage of swimming, however, is that it tires him out like nobody’s business, which = long naps and long nights.  Both of which allow us to do….

2. Laundry. loads and loads.  Seriously mad amounts of laundry. Last night we kept setting the alarm clock so we could get up and switch the machine from wash to dry, or throw in another load. I have this crazy goal of having everything we take with us be clean, and everything we leave here (including bath towels and bed linens) be clean. Five weeks in a hot, closed-up apartment is just too long to leave dirty stuff to smolder, but this is one logistical feat that makes me understand why people hire full-time helpers.     

3. Scheming. Planning. Making lists. Packing. Weighing. Repacking. 

4. Crafting. I’m putting together a grab bag of toys (ie, post-it notes and stickers) to keep Finn busy on the plane, and wrapping each one to prolong the excitement. I couldn’t find any puppets I loved (or were worth the cost!) so I made these out of an old pair of socks: puppets

And this–Finn’s farm mat.  I took some of his favorite animal photos, laminated them and put velcro on the back. Then made this felt horizon to play with them on. farm mat For a boy who loves his velcro and loves his animals, we’re hoping this buys at least, oh, 15 minutes.  Our seatmates hope so too.  

See you on the other side of the Pacific!  If you’re the praying sort, we could use a few today. walking with papa

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I’ve been feeling a bit whiny lately about the Hong Kong government’s decision to close all primary schools/kindergartens/nurseries, etc. It means that most other classes and playgroups we attend are closed as well, and now they’ve closed our building’s beloved playroom, along with all the government-run indoor playrooms. And before you think I’m too much of a spoiled brat, remember that in HK there are no such thing as yards, and very few expanses of grass for kids to run around in. There are great playgrounds, but they almost universally have no shade and have a black rubber ground surface, which renders the area and the equipment so hot that they are virtually unusable this time of year. So, we’re back to the stairwells, playing in the lobby and going to the beach whenever it’s not raining. (Admittedly not a bad back-up option, though the rain clause is important.) 

I had been feeling whiny, that is, until I remembered two things about Hong Kong that make dealing with diseases a little bit different. My Hong Kong culture/history book puts the population density here as 35,700 per square km (numbers differ–this one represents the northern side of the island and Kowloon put together, but doesn’t include the mountains or New Territories.) This is right up there with Mumbai, Karachi and Beijing. New York’s population density, on the other hand, is 17,400/sq. km, London’s is 4761/sq. km, and Tokyo’s is 13, 416/sq. km. 

The other aspect is just due to the character of Hong Kong, as a metropolis in transit. As opposed to NY, London, Tokyo or other “world” cities, which, in my admittedly unstudied opinion, see themselves as the center of the world, with all things coming there, HK really sees itself as the hub of the world–all things pass through here.  

Put those two things together (extremely high density and constant international transit) and you have a territory that is extremely vulnerable, and still traumatized by the memory of SARS. I’m still not convinced that closing schools and playgroups was necessary, but I do understand why they made the decision they did.     

Now we’re just praying that my mother-in-law shows no symptoms of illness when she arrives at the airport tonight, nor do any of her seatmates, either of which could land her in quarantine.

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So here’s a quick rundown of household activities Finn and I do together (see yesterday’s post for how I got started doing this):  

Teeth and hair-brushing: Finn rarely gets the right end of the brush on his head, but he does love to do it and especially loves to come over and brush my hair hit my head with the brush! He’s pretty good with the tooth brush, though he thinks that twisting his torso means he’s moving the brush back and forth.  

Sweeping: He bangs around his little broom while I sweep under the table (and then he picks through the dust pile, scavenging for food scraps!). Every once in awhile he gets the right motion, and soon I’m going to put a masking-tape square on the floor, (a la Tim Seldin) to give a visual reference for where to sweep the dirt. (One “Montessori” thing I haven’t yet tried is devise any games meant to help him practice the skills used in the real activity. But I’m thinking that a little game with sweeping buttons into the masking-tape-square might be useful in helping him get the sweeping motion down, with a larger target than dust.)   

 Wiping: If he finds a cloth he wipes off every surface he can find, cleaning things I’m quite confident he’s never seen me clean (because I’ve never cleaned them!). So I give him one if I’m dusting, or spot-cleaning the floor, or otherwise wiping something down. We have pretty clean chair and table legs, thanks to him.   

Kitchen: We recently purchased a step-stool from Ikea (go Bekvam!) and it’s the perfect height for Finn to stand and watch me wash dishes, wash vegetables, etc.  I don’t let him up there when I’m doing anything with the knife or at the stove … our kitchen is so small that he could easily reach both counters from the stool in the middle. But he loves to watch and play in the water, and he helps too … I hand him a lettuce leaf, he dips it in the water, and then places on a towel to dry. Of course, the clean lettuce often gets mixed back in with the dirty stuff, but that’s ok. It’s all clean in the end.  


Laundry: He actually is a help with the laundry. We have a front-loader in our kitchen, so I pile the clothes in front of the washer, then he puts them in, one at a time. It’s funny–he loves doing it, but he doesn’t have a long attention span for this one–he’s done about halfway though and wants to shut the door. Finn unloading the dry clothes is about the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. He takes things out, one at a time, and places them in his little walker-cart, which he then wheels to the sofa and unloads. (Ok, so, full disclosure: this takes a lot of direction from me, and he’s only interested in one load and his load consists of maybe four washcloths. But still, he likes it and he’s learning. and it’s so darn cute.)

 Montessori emphasizes “process not product” and I try to remember this when I watch him spend a very long time picking out those four washcloths and dropping them deliberately in the cart, then taking them out again and then back into the cart. He’s not interested in the product of an empty dryer, he’s interested in the process of taking something out of one place and setting it in a new place. 

 I think this explains why learning to eat with a fork is so much less frustrating for Finn than I expected.  He’s perfectly happy to hold the fork, make an attempt to stab something, then eat with his hands for while, and then try again with the fork. He frequently picks up food with his hands and sticks it on the fork’s tines himself. We keep waiting for him to get upset at his lack of success, until we remember that to him, he is succeeding. He’s ultimately getting the food in his mouth, and he’s learning how to use a fork, and again, the process seems to be as satisfying to him as the product. 




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