We assume that moms know the morning hustle of the household with kids; brush teeth, eat breakfast, put on fresh clothes, do hair, grab the diaper bag, kiss foreheads, etc. But do we assume that daddy knows them as well?
In many homes, the answer seems to be no. At least that’s what blogger Doyin Richards found out when he posted a photo of him styling his daughter’s hair while toting his other daughter in a carrier.
The photo of Mr. Richards that went viral online features him aptly managing his vital role as a dad. In the photo, Richards is holding his 6-month-old in a baby carrier while styling his 2-year-old’s hair. Sometimes many forget that there are many tasks dads can do – and in many cases, would love to do.
Richards originally posted this photo with an article titled, "I Have a Dream" on October 15, 2013, though just this week it has been making ripples again. Perhaps its resurgence suggests people aren't ready to stop talking about this issue of differing expectations for the genders.
The funny thing is, if it were a mom pictured instead of a dad, no one would really care. Clearly, women and men are not considered equal in the home yet – not even close, if photos like these cause such a stir. Actually, to me, the photo seemed pretty everyday, and I was shocked to hear that there has been some negative comments about it.
The movement for equal rights has made great strides of progress in the workplace. Just talking to women who had babies in the 70s and 80s makes me realize that the areas of maternity leave policies, pregnancy discrimination, and accommodations in offices for pumping breast milk have improved significantly since their childbearing days. Sure, there's still room for lots of improvement, but we've come a long way from women having to pump milk for their babies while hiding in a bathroom stall.
Another important frontier for gender equality is in the home. Sure, there are many tasks that naturally fall to the mother or the father respectively, and that's okay. We need to focus on our perceptions though – that's what created the controversy around his photo. Dads being deeply involved with their kids should not only be normal, it should be completely expected. It seems like that's what Richard was conveying when he shared this photo and article.
When I was growing up, my dad was very involved in the daily grind at home. My dad relished participating in just about every aspect of parenting my sister, brother, and me. I remember countless nights when he meticulously, patiently combed through my ever-tangled hair. We would even put little foam curlers in occasionally for a special curly 'do the next day. He did thousands of loads of laundry, fished out bugs from the backyard swimming pool so we could go swimming, helped us smother sunscreen all over before going out on a beach day, rocked and sang me to sleep when I wasn't feeling well, and millions of other minute tasks I've now forgotten.
Thank God he did all these things, too – because when my mom passed on suddenly when I was 10, stepping up with all the domestic activities wasn't a completely foreign concept. Yes, taking everything on alone was challenging, and thankfully we had lots of help from family and friends, but my dad did a good job keeping things going, since he had significant experience taking care of us while mom was still around.
Now that I'm a parent, my home life also highlights the value of both parents in raising kids. My husband is always involved with caring for our 9-month-old daughter. From day one, he has woken up to change diapers in the middle of the night, wiped tears, kissed bumped knees, spooned fed rice cereal, sang nursery rhymes, became an expert with the booger-sucking tool, pushed the stroller, etc.
I wouldn't expect anything different. No one should. Dads are incredibly patient, loving, nurturing – just as much as moms – especially when given the opportunity. Sometimes, because of our social stigma against it, there's some hesitation for them to jump in – but if encouraged, dads readily dive in to all the ups and downs of daily parenting. The journey is full of challenges – but it's always worth the effort.
Good parents are those who are engaged with their kids every single day. They are those who do their hair, hold their hand to cross the street, and wipe their noses. Hopefully, that's both dad and mom. It's so much easier, and more fun, when it's a team effort.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.
While kids can make us laugh by saying the darndest things, a disturbing video of a cursing toddler went viral this week, placing a teenage mother in hot water for what may have been a teenage prank by a guest in her home.
If there is a moral to this story it’s, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
The child’s 16-year-old mother came forward on TV to explain that a friend of her teenage brother made the video while she was in another room and unaware of the activities, CNN reports.
Of her child, she says, “He's a smart little boy. All that cussing that he did, he doesn't do that. Somebody told him to do that. My son doesn't do that. I don't allow it."
The young mother added, "Everybody that thinks I'm a bad mother, I'm not. I'm a good mother to my son. I teach him a lot. He's very smart."
There is a lot more to this story involving ongoing gang violence in the Omaha, Neb., suburb and other family issues that, coupled with the cussing toddler video of the two young men goading the toddler into repeating obscenities, resulted in the toddler and his teen mom being placed into state care, along with the mother’s 12- and 15-year-old siblings, CNN reports.
What an awful mess.
Gang issues aside, toddlers being goaded into behaviors that would be inappropriate for an adult have become so common online that I believe this is more a case of bad “punking” than bad parenting.
Many people view a child swearing or performing some rude adult behavior hilarious.
I thank my lucky stars that we lived disconnected aboard a sailboat and without a video camera during the stage when our first two boys each failed to correctly pronounce the words "dump truck." I'll let you guess how they mispronounced that second word.
Many adult parents choose to post their cussing kids on video making this same mistake or repeating off-color remarks they have overheard an adult exclaim.
What many of these videos demonstrate is that it’s a dangerously short distance between accidental swearing and turning a toddler into a parrot who cusses like a sailor. And there are plenty more with parents proudly coaching their kids to recite obscenities.
Seeing the videos, I could not help but groan at the memory of our son Avery, now 14, who could not say the word "sit" properly as a toddler. It rhymed with "sit," but he kept slurring the the first syllable.
“Grandma, I wanna sit in your lap,” came right out in church one Sunday, at the top of his lungs, flooring the congregation and sending the alter boys into fits of giggles.
Therefore, I am grateful not to have been a young mom with cellphone toting contemporaries in the house.
There are so many hilarious moments involving kids and language errors that parents can post without profanity providing the punch line.
In 2008, when my son Avery was seven, we had the privileged of meeting Mr. Linkletter when he visited our city on a book tour for “How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.”
Afterward, I got to sit down with him and chat a while. I told him some stories of my own childhood bloopers and those of my four sons.
Linkletter winked and said, "Kids are the mirror we should look into more often. You're lucky to have so many. You'll never miss an angle!"
If we want our kids to grow up to be funny in a positive and endearing way, like Linkletter was aiming to do, then we need to take a hard look at how these videos reflect on us as parents.
Celebrate and commemorate in video the best of what children do, or risk not being able to face yourself in the mirror when they are grown.
As parents, we want our kids to understand the value of being healthy and part of a team. Whether or not that includes organized team sports is up for discussion.
My family loves sharing sports. From watching the Super Bowl together to finding an obscure cycling race on TV, we enjoy the competitive spirit that sports bring to our home. However, just because we love sharing sports, doesn’t mean my husband and I are on the same page of the playbook when it comes to whether or not our sons should play team sports.
“There is no ‘I’ in TEAM,” is a phrase many team sports advocates seem to refer to as a positive reason for supporting kids in team sports. It supports the opportunities team sports provide to work together with others and look beyond yourself for the greater good of a larger group.
My husband Robert and I are facing off this month over team sports vs. team building activities for our kids, especially when it comes to our own sons.
I love sports. I love teams. Healthy bodies and minds and team building are all great with me, just not when they become a soul-crushing misery that causes a rift in the family.
I believe team building and character come in many forms that have nothing to do with taking a lap.
My husband’s concerns run deeper than just teamwork. Looking at his own family’s poor fitness and health, as an adult Robert became an avid sailor, runner, and surfer, and he has since failed to get any of our four sons into “his sports.”
His fear for making sure our boys remain fit is a big driver for him to sign our sons up for team sports, perhaps hoping they will listen to a coach when they won’t listen to Papa.
Right now, my husband and I are debating about team sports specifically for our son Avery, 14. Avery is in the gifted programs in math and science, lean, ascetic, with shoulder length blond hair, and a passion for the video game League of Legends.
It seems that Robert’s MVP is our eldest son, Zoltan, 20, an A student and a crew team star for Virginia Commonwealth University. He runs 12 miles a day before dawn, rows 5K after that, works in a gym at VCU, and wins gold medals in national competitions.
However, I am quick to point out that there was a time during high school when Zoltan quit the rowing team and refused all other sports in favor of hanging out with friends, gaming, and girls.
Our next oldest son, Ian, 18, an Old Dominion University freshman, has trained in Gracie Jiu Jitsu since freshman year of high school.
He trains for seven hours a day now, and my husband still rolls his eyes saying, “It’s not a sport. There’s no team. There’s no cardio.”
Having trained myself in this sport, I would love to see my hubby on the mat with Ian for an hour and then tell us there’s no cardio involved.
Last fall, my husband once again morphed into Tiger Dad, put his foot down, and demanded that Avery and our youngest son Quin, 10, each join a team or have one picked for them.
A week later, Quin handed his father Lego League and Mathlete registration forms all filled out and asked for him to sign the permission slips.
The second Robert’s signatures were on the pages, Quin did a fist pump and said, “Please note these are both teams. I’ll be out on my bike. Later!”
It was very hard not to smirk as my spouse grumbled, “That’s not what I meant.”
Avery picked rowing like his oldest brother and was happy doing the workouts and learning to use the oars for his tryout.
Then the coach informed him he was “too lightweight” and not muscular enough for the task, but would be coxswain, the “brains of the boat.”
Avery went to practice daily for a month. One day I arrived early to pick him up and saw that the team already had a coxswain his age.
That meant Avery was stuck sitting in the motor boat with coach, carrying the water bottles.
Still, I didn’t say anything, thinking he was “paying his dues” and building character.
A week later, on the way to practice, he broke.
“I’m mainly an A student. I play cello in the orchestra. I bike all the time. I read,” he demanded. “Why am I bothering when none of it counts?”
I think that the problem here for Avery is that there is no “I” in his team sports experience. Sports should be an individual choice made by the child with parental coaching. It’s not a win if the player hates the game, the coaches, and him or herself for not succeeding.
I am continuing to help our sons look for team opportunities in both sport and other areas. I tell them daily that as a family we are a team. The goals are the same, even when the coaches disagree on the plays.
I’m in the driving stage of motherhood. With three kids, I spend so much time behind the wheel that the driver’s seat of my minivan has molded to perfectly fit the shape of my ever-expanding behind. Because I work from home, and am thus freed from punching a time clock or being chained to an office chair, I drive not only my children, but everyone else’s too. Seldom is the day when I pull up to the curb of the junior high and pick up only my own kid. Usually one or two other teens tumble into the back as well. And although I occasionally resent being everyone’s go-to gal, driving around a gaggle of girls does present fabulous eavesdropping opportunities.
Usually, the kids forget I’m there, since I am, after all, only the bus driver. I hear snippets of conversation about friends, teachers, and classes. More importantly, I catch the rhythm of their banter. Hearing the jokes, sarcasm, and even the slang is a great help in later interpretations of my own kids’ conversation. The pecking order also becomes obvious by listening in.
But the most interesting rides are those times when I am driving only one of my three children. Twice a week, my teen and I spend an hour and a half together driving back and forth to her evening fencing lessons. There is something about being cocooned in a moving vehicle that encourages confidences. Freed from the inevitable interruptions and comments of her younger siblings, she talks. And talks. Sometimes she relates her triumphs and tragedies, or tells me of her hopes and fears. But mostly, it’s the little things that we don’t have time to talk about in our busy days; like the scoop on schoolwork or the latest drama with her friends.
My middle child, a tween, views car time with mommy as the perfect opportunity to unload every sad and negative experience she’s had since our last talk. These diatribes are usually accompanied by copious crying on her part – and the desire to cry on mine. However, when she hops out the van and slams the door, she is usually smiling, relaxed, and happy. This pouring out of her troubles seems to make her feel great, while leaving me exhausted and in need of a nap.
My son views our car rides as the time for twenty questions. I welcome conversation, but it can be difficult to formulate an answer to esoteric queries such as “If God made everything, then who made God?” while navigating traffic.
Although I have been known to complain about the cost of gas, the wear and tear on the van, and the feeling of being an unpaid chauffeur, I know this won’t last forever. Soon my kids will have their own keys to the car and I’ll be out of the driver’s seat. And, without the use of illegal spy technology, I’ll be out of the loop, too.
But for now, I’ll keep my job as Driver in Chief. The pay is terrible, but the benefits are terrific.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.
A new study that will be published in the next issue of "Developmental Science" reports that parents who engage in one-on-one conversations with their children, and emphasize vowels and different sounds within words, are much more likely to help their children's language development now and in the future.
This research differs from previous studies on the effects of talking to your baby in that it identifies the social context and type of speech patterns that also make an impact on your child's ability to learn language.
"What our analysis shows is that the prevalence of baby talk in one-on-one conversations with children is linked to better language development, both concurrent and future," said Patricia Kuhl, co-author of the study and co-director of University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.
Not just any baby talk, researchers say, but talking with exaggerated vowels and a raised pitch of the voice. For example, parents cooing "How are youuuuuu?" elicited more babbling – the forerunner to speaking actual words – in researched babies, and it was most effective when one parent spoke to a child individually.
I spend most waking hours around my son William, 1. We have lots of "conversations" throughout the day, mostly involving me talking to him. These studies can be both inspiring and intimidating to new parents, as we try to discern the best path forward in teaching our children. William and I interact one-on-one for most of our waking hours. So, the big question this study poses for me is this: what am I actually saying to him all day long?
According to the study's first author Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, "Some parents produce baby talk naturally and they don't realize they're benefiting their children. Some families are more quiet, not talking all the time. But it helps to make an effort to talk more."
I will say that there is little to no quiet time in our house on a normal day. I sing while we dance, I read books, we race toy cars across the floor while I make "Vroom, vroom!" sounds, he climbs over things and yells. So what do we actually talk about? And should I adjust what I say?
Reading through the study briefing, I was inspired to audit what I actually discuss with my toddler on a given day. Turns out that I am a total smart aleck most of the time. I realize that there are a number of instances each day when I talk to my toddler more like a little adult rather than cooing in his direction. More specifically, I often talk to him jokingly, like a member of The Three Stooges. "Oh, a wise guy, eh? Why I aughta..."
According to the study, parents should also be exaggerating vowel sounds in words. OK, so how about "Ooooooooh, aaaaaa wiiiiiiiise guuuuuuuuy, eeeeeeehhhh?" More like that?
The study also explains that it's important to build a back and forth conversation with your child.
According to Ms. Kuhl, "It's not just talk, talk, talk at the child. It's more important to work toward interaction and engagement around language. You want to engage the infant and get the baby to babble back. The more you get that serve and volley going, the more language advances."
When I read that insight, I can't help but think – back and forth like what? Like Laurel and Hardy? Am I the straight man in the duo, or is it the stone-faced kiddo trying to decipher what the heck I am saying?
Despite my innate smart aleck – mocking my potentially constructive one-way cooing conversations with my little one – I do have a serious interest in raising an exceptionally verbal child. It's just that my sense of humor has carried me through most of the challenges and lessons in parenthood so far, so my eagerness to build my son's language skills through baby talk will undoubtedly be combined with jokes and the occasional wise crack on the side.
We do have meaningful conversations, even if I am the only one speaking English at this point. I encourage him to talk as much as he is willing. He regularly communicates ideas through sounds and hand gestures, and he is speaking with me now in his own way. And he definitely has a budding sense of humor, making faces and playing the crowd whenever he gets a laugh. I look forward to nurturing his language and comedy skills together.
This study has inspired me to work on how I interact with him and engage him in direct conversations on a daily basis. I do want to make sure that what we are talking about is meaningful and caring.
But a few jokes thrown in can't hurt, right?
Before casting stones at actress Candace Cameron Bure for advocating the Biblical role as a 'submissive' wife in her new book, "Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose," moms should check with their kids to find out who’s viewed as the boss of their house.
"I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work,” says Ms. Cameron Bure, according to a recent interview with The International Business Times.
The former star of 1990s TV series "Full House" married ex-NHL player Valeri Bure in 1996, and is the mom of three children.
“The definition I'm using with the word 'submissive' is the biblical definition of that,” says Cameron Bure in her IBT interview. "So, it is meekness, it is not weakness. It is strength under control, it is bridled strength and that’s what I chose to have in my marriage."
Having seen a TV interview with Cameron Bure on her book and her support of wives being both "submissive” and "meek" toward their husbands, I was so aggravated I nearly lost my cool when our youngest son, watching over my shoulder, judged me as “second, behind Papa.”
“Well, Pop is the boss here except when he’s not home or asleep, and then you’re in charge,” my son Quin, 10, said with a shrug. “It makes sense. Somebody’s got to be in charge.”
My proverbial glass house, now full of cracks, groaned ominously around me as I stared at the child who had just calmly lobbed the rock of perception at it.
Being the mother of four boys, for me at least, has always meant a deep sense of responsibility to raise them to be men who respect women as equals in both rights and intellect.
This statement from my youngest came straight from the parenting book of revelations.
My response was along the lines of, “What? What house do you live in?”
“The one where Pop’s the boss,” he said flatly. “What, you didn’t know that?”
I suppose Cameron Bure may be on to something when it comes to the way moms re-prioritize the importance of being seen as “the one in charge” in order to just get things done under parenting pressure.
In the same way Kate was submissive to Petruchio in Shakespeare’s "Taming of the Shrew," women and men who want to have a career working at home while raising multiple children, and keeping both the familial and marital peace, pay less attention to wearing the mantle of command than who’s wearing clean clothes to school today.
My husband, while intellectual and modern in many ways, lives by some very old-world Eastern European male-female role interpretations passed down by his father, who was very strict.
We spent years fighting over absolutely everything until one day he said, “Look, just say ‘Yes, Dear’ whether you agree or not and do what you want. I just can’t stop myself from being this way so you’re just going to have to work around me.”
It has only taken me 20 years to manage that trick about 50 percent of the time, but that seems to have been enough to put me in second place in the minds of the boys.
I wonder how many "bold" moms are seen as "meek" by their kids when they are not choosing to be biblically correct, but rather parenting using the age-old “Don’t fight in front of the children” mantra.
Therefore, the kids see moms as second in command, when she’s leading from behind like Kate in "Taming of the Shrew," or more recently the matriarch Maria Portokalos in the film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
When Quin gets home from school he’s going to watch the scene between mother Maria (played by Lanie Kazan) and daughter Fotoula "Toula" (played by Nia Vardalos), in which Maria explains how power is not always where we think it is in a family, saying, "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants."
For me the words "submissive" and "meekness" were so powerfully negative, they drowned the message Quin got from seeing the interview with Cameron Bure, which is: make a marriage and family work by minimizing conflicts between the heads of household.
If nothing else, Cameron Bure’s views should motivate moms to make sure the "Taming of the Shrew" is on their child’s reading list so someday we can put to rest our big, fat issues over who’s in charge and focus on enjoying the stories of our lives instead.
A new Old Spice commercial and the “Mom Song” gives the mothers of boys a good laugh at their own expense, plus the chance to reflect on being careful what they wish for as with attractive scents come girlfriends and a loss of proprietary parental rights.
In the commercial a series of moms sing a lament over the fact that their sons have morphed into men, laying the blame on Old Spice spray deodorant. As one mom sings:
"Oh I didn’t see it coming but it came in a can
Now my sweet son sprayed into a man"
No matter which product your son chooses, deodorant is one of those mile markers that send a mother’s mind reeling.
“My son is becoming a man,” is a scary phrase for moms. For me it stems from that old wives’ saying, “A son’s a son till he takes a wife, but a daughter’s a daughter for all of her life.”
This Old Spice commercial plays on that angst a mother gets both from the transition to deodorant wearing by her son and the ensuing loss of him to “another woman” in the form of his girlfriend and later his wife.
Three of my four sons have entered the dating world with mixed results and it all began with the Old Spice that still appears on their dressers.
Mark my words, as soon as your son cares about how he smells, there’s a whole lotta girl issues coming up fast on the horizon. This commercial is funny because it’s true. Parenting a teenage boy at some point inevitably becomes a battle over good scents.
In our home, I’ve found it generally shifts in the middle of middle school from demanding a boy to shower daily to running from the eye-watering overuse of store-bought, sprayable products.
When our oldest of four sons, Zoltan, now 20, reached puberty he was not interested in how he smelled, but everyone around him was very much affected by his apathy.
So I decided to do some retail therapy to solve the problem by picking several deodorants at the store for him to try.
I was glad he went with the Old Spice “classic scent” that I remember my grandfather and favorite great-uncles wearing. They were true-blue traditional Old Spice kinda guys – old school, rugged men who fished, sailed, did woodwork, and gave big bear hugs.
For the past seven years, Old Spice has been the exclusive scent here (other than shampoo) until Zoltan went to college and came back a defector to Axe, sparking an all-out, name-calling deodorant war in our house.
I am perfectly serious about this and so are they.
Their deodorant suddenly became an identity crisis.
Ian, 18, and Avery, 15, banded together as the ones “keeping it real” as “Old Spice dudes,” while Zoltan has been called a traitorous “Axe hipster.”
Quin, 10, worships Zoltan and in solidarity asked me for his own Axe deodorant stick. Because he’s too young I am going to have to see if they make soap.
Then the house will be evenly divided in what I have dubbed the “Daft Funk” battle.
As a mom and a journalist, I really can’t publicly take sides in a product battle. I’m just happy they’re all fighting over deodorants and not the same girl.
Yale Law professor Amy Chua, dubbed “Tiger Mom” for advocating a strict Chinese parenting style in her first book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is back again to drive parents further from inner peace about their kids.
In her new book, co-written by her husband Jed Rubenfeld (also a Yale law professor), “The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America,” the authors claim some cultural and ethnic groups – primarily Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons – have innate qualities that make them more likely to succeed in life, according to a review in Forbes.
“That certain groups do much better in America than others – as measured by income, occupational status, test scores and so on – is difficult to talk about,” writes Ms. Chua and Mr. Rubenfeld, who check two of their own racial success boxes as Chinese and Jewish. “In large part, this is because the topic feels so racially charged.”
As a self-proclaimed “Kung Fu Panda Mom” of four sons ranging in age from elementary school to college, I want to say thanks to Chua and Rubenfeld for that input.
Also, I want to return the favor by adding a few more animals to their parenting ecosystem. When I was a new parent, Chua’s books would have made me crazy-angry or panicked about my parenting being viewed as inferior by other Tiger Mom-types (and dads).
As a mom who’s been doing this for 20 years, I have attained inner peace about my kids and when their goals take an unexpected path or fail to meet benchmarks set by authorities.
However, I have had to be a whole lot more than just a Tiger Mom to raise four unique, talented, brave, compassionate, and successful sons over the past 20 years.
When my sons slack, I have to decide if taking them by the scruff of the neck like a tiger cub and shaking them will produce the desired effect, or if I simply need to be a cricket – chirping softly in their ears.
Sometimes, it’s a big old panda bear hug that’s needed, and sometimes I need to snake around their worries, or even outfox them.
As a result of this menagerie approach to parenting, our two older sons are both in college, dean’s listed and with scholarships. One is the crew team star athlete, and the other a blue belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, paying his own way for his training by cleaning the dojo and teaching children and adults self-defense.
Our high school freshman is being a bit of a gamer geek at the moment, but he plays cello in the orchestra and I’m sure after I serve as a bit of a herd-dog to keep him on track, he will do just fine.
Therefore, reading about Chua and Rubenfeld’s latest effort made me want to share some parenting advice with them. Sit with your kids and watch “Kung Fu Panda.” On repeat.
Because I doubt a Tiger Mom would do something so frivolous, I will distill the entire parenting message via this dialogue from the film between Master Oogway (an ancient tortoise) and Master Shifu (a red panda).
Oogway, the wise old tortoise, is counseling Shifu, who is completely beside himself with the frustration that a portly, undisciplined, seemingly inept, panda named Po has been selected to be the Dragon Warrior to defeat the deadly Tai Lung (a snow leopard).
Oogway: My friend, the panda will never fulfill his destiny, nor you yours until you let go of the illusion of control.
[points at peach tree]
Oogway: Look at this tree, Shifu: I cannot make it blossom when it suits me nor make it bear fruit before its time.
Shifu: But there are things we *can* control: I can control when the fruit will fall, I can control where to plant the seed: that is no illusion, Master!
Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.
Shifu: But a peach cannot defeat Tai Lung!
Oogway: Maybe it can, if you are willing to guide it, to nurture it, to believe in it.
My youngest son Quin, 10, likes to know what I’m writing about and he’s keenly interested in why I’m looking up Kung Fu Panda quotes.
I told him about Tiger Mom.
“Kids need confidence to do things,” he said. “Like, I want to be a scientist so I know you need trial and error. Fail equals win because then you know what’s not working.”
From a little panda’s lips to Tiger Mom's ears. “Fail equals win” in parenting. No kidding.
I grew up seeing handwritten notes as expressions of love. My mom worked long hours so she often left small, square papers on the bed for my sister and me to find. Sometimes it was just a smiley face, other times she simply wrote the words “love you” in ordinary ballpoint pen, but it was more than enough.
Starting in elementary school, my mom requested I write notes to my grandma who lived a few hours away. What I loved the most is that Grandma always wrote back. The excitement I felt when I looked in the mailbox and saw a letter in my grandma’s shaky letters never disappeared.
Even in college when there were tests to study for and social gatherings to attend, I took time to sit on my narrow bed and read my grandma’s letters the moment they arrived. By studying her handwriting, I could almost tell how she’d been feeling that day. In the end, her manuscript became barely legible. Those notes are now treasures.
I’ll never forget when the guy I was dating my senior year in college had a family emergency and had to take a sudden trip home. Sometime during the middle of the night, he’d dropped off a handwritten note telling me why he had to leave. A handwritten note of this nature from this particular guy seemed like a really big deal, and I felt incredibly excited by it. I tucked it away for safekeeping not knowing that note would be the first of many special letters from my husband.
The words, “I’m proud of you,” from my dad written in his signature black felt-tip pen, birthday notes from friends containing funny memories, and cards from my former students written in precious kid penmanship are all lifelines I can’t bear to throw away.
But I have to tell you, my greatest lifelines have come from my youngest daughter, Avery. Around the time I woke up to the fact that I was missing my life, my daughter was learning to write words. As I took small steps to be more present in her life, she began writing me love notes. Although I’m sure the timing was purely coincidently, these powerful visuals fueled my steps to let go of distraction and perfection.
I began to banish the “hurry ups.” I stopped skipping the goodbye hug that I thought we didn’t have time for. I looked into her eyes when she spoke. I even paused for 30 seconds during the frantic morning lunch-making process to place a sticky note in the lunch box.
One day I put a yellow Post-It note on her sandwich not realizing there was a blank one attached to it. When I cleaned out her lunch box that night, my note had multiplied. I cried when I saw she’d written the same thing as me.
“I love you Avery”
Throw out a line – it has a way of coming back to you.
I reached up and stuck my daughter’s note on the cabinet where the sandwich bread was stored as a source of daily encouragement. A few days later, I posted another one of her notes in the pantry where the cereal was kept, then another in my clothes closet where I got dressed, and another on the bathroom mirror where I brushed my teeth.
“I love you so much. I will love you for my hol intier life.” (whole entire life)
Wherever I turned, there were my signs of encouragement shaking me from my hurried, distracted, perfectionistic, and tech-obsessed state.
It’s been three years since I began my Hands Free journey, but my daughter’s lifelines are still posted. Now they are not so much for encouragement as they are reminders – reminders that time is fleeting.
Because the backwards letters have disappeared.
The floating letters have become grounded on stable lines.
The untraditional spelling has become traditional.
Letters are no longer gigantic, but rather small and dainty.
But the love, the love is still there.
Throw out a line – it has a way of coming back to you.
Now that you know how important the handwritten note is to me, you will understand why this next part of my story had to be included. You see, a few weeks ago, I received a message from a dad who’s been packing a note in his daughter’s lunch box for nine years. Garth supplied me with a link to his story that was published in The Richmond Times Dispatch. I share two portions of the article that made a tremendous impact on me:
By the time Emma was 8 or 9, she had come to expect those notes. On mornings when she beat him downstairs only to find a note-less lunchbox, she’d actually come to him looking for the note, he said.
“That’s when I realized, this is something that really matters.”
After having a cancerous tumor removed, Garth came into the dining room to find his daughter ripping up the napkin:
Heartbroken, he thought he’d done something wrong.
Turns out Emma had been saving her napkin notes in a little black-and-white composition book. Opening the pages, he saw strips of napkins – only the parts he wrote on – neatly glued to the pages....
When her father got sick, however, “I was really worried. I really wanted to have a piece of him with me,” Emma said.
Today, she still keeps some of her notes, but not all.
“I mean, they are napkins, so they do get thrown away,” she said matter-of-factly.
Emma acknowledges that she tries every day to wait until lunchtime to see what her dad wrote. Occasionally, when she grabs a snack out of her lunch bag, she peeks.
“It helps me to have something to look forward to,” she said. [source]
I couldn’t believe it – a self professed “computer guy” who loves his iPhone wrote to tell me he writes “Napkin Notes” to his daughter as a means of staying connected throughout the busyness of life. And he called it, “something that really matters.” Garth told me it is his dream to leave a legacy for his daughter by telling as many people as possible about the power of a handwritten note in a lunchbox.
Throw out a line – it has a way of coming back to you.
Garth and his Napkin Notes have been a persistent thought in my head these days. He is currently recovering from another surgery related to his kidney cancer and perhaps as a means of sending goodwill to Garth, I’ve been doing my own version of the Napkin Note. As you know, I am a lover of the Post-It note, so Garth has inspired me to take 30 seconds to tuck a colorful square inside a guitar case, on a pillow, next to a plate of scrambled eggs, or in a coat pocket on a chilly day.
All I have to do is imagine the smile on the face of the one who discovers it and I feel good too.
They have a way of creating connection despite the busyness of life.
What calms a child’s school-day fears can be found in the smiley face above the letter “i” or in the curve of an imperfect heart.
What creates hope in the heart of a weary waitress can be scrawled on a napkin and left on the table.
What makes a friend feel beautiful can be written in a neon-colored Sharpie and stuck on the windshield of her car.
What brings our distracted mind back home can be a stick-figure family drawn beneath a giant yellow sun.
What we believed in and how we loved can be seen in our own handwriting 50 years from now, even after we’re gone.
What really matters in life is literally at our fingertips – at our fingertips.
So grab a pen and anything you can find to write on, my friends.
Throw out a lifeline.
Watch love multiply.
And may it come back to you when you least expect it, but need it the most.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rachel Stafford blogs at www.handsfreemama.com.
Anne Lamott is one of my rabbis. I know Ms. Lamott is not Jewish, but over the years she has crafted a homespun theology that is kind and wise and downright sensible.
In her latest book, “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair,” Lamott tells readers we live “stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching.”
Hope, meaning, and repair are in the details of life. When I was younger, I used to fixate on the big picture and get overwhelmed. Here is what I tell my children when they start to get anxious: Take life in 10-minute increments. It will give you the time to notice the fine, intricate parts that create a life.
Lamott’s book is also a response to the first anniversary of the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. To that end, Lamott does not hesitate to tell her readers that life is grim, the world is a mess, and, quoting the writer Barry Lopez, “[all] that is holding us together is stories and compassion.”
A number of years ago, I was at a school meeting in which the principal asked what we, as parents, hoped that our children would get out of Jewish day school. We went around the room and most parents said that they hoped their children would be happy and satisfied with their lives. I love the sentiment, but I don’t want my children to be happy and satisfied all the time. How will they help to repair the world if the never get fed up with the poverty, hunger, racism, and all of the other maladies plaguing our world?
I want my children to be compassionate, and then I want them to be even more compassionate. But coupled with that, I want them to be optimistic. In my mind, an optimist doesn’t close her eyes and wave away the bad and the ugly in an “everything is going to be all right” way. That feels empty to me. An optimist takes Lamott’s stitches and makes something of them. “You have to keep taking the next necessary stitch, and the next one, and the next,” she writes. “Without stitches, you just have rags.” That’s the kind of belief in the power of good that I’m taking about.
And God bless Anne Lamott for bringing up the overly sensitive child. I want to say this as clearly as possible: There is no such thing as being overly sensitive. I know what I’m talking about. People call me overly sensitive all the time. The overly sensitive child is the fifth child in the Passover Seder. Nobody says it better than Lamott when she writes, “Almost everybody worth his or her salt was a mess and has been an overly sensitive child. Almost everyone had at one time or another been exposed to the world as flawed and human. And that it was good, for the development of character and empathy, for growth of the spirit.”
When Anna was little, she told me that she couldn’t stand it when people were angry with her. My guess is she felt misunderstood when a friend or a parent berated her. As the overly sensitive child grows up, she never quite gets over the events that made her sad in childhood.
And then there is the quandary of what you say to people when they ask you how you are. You don’t want to open a dam of feeling and possible sadness, so you say you’re fine even though your child may not be faring well in school or your elderly parent is having trouble remembering your name. Things are so perfunctory in our society. But like the great teacher and spiritual counselor that she is, Lamott’s good news on the subject is that “if you don’t seal up your heart with caulking compound, and instead stay permeable, people stay alive inside of you, and maybe outside of you too, forever.”
When I said the Kaddish for my father eleven years ago, I was determined to keep him alive in my heart by not missing a day of prayer. Sometimes I brought my kids to minyan in their pajamas. There was Adam shuffling around the chapel in his Scooby-Doo slippers. Anna sometimes participated in the service with her friend Jackie, whose mother was also mourning her father at the same time I was. We called them the “Ashrei” girls because they opened the evening service with the ubiquitous Psalm of David.They were overly sensitive children in training.
Like this startling world of ours,children don’t always grow up the way you expect them to. Love and beauty have infinite forms. Once again, I summon Anne Lamott to explain “that we are shadow and light.… We are raised to be bright and shiny, but there is meaning in the acceptance of our dusky and dappled side, and also in defiance.”
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at TheJudyChronicles.com.