Making it rain

I put my kids in a pole-dancing class.

Mama’s little hustlers.

My son is receiving in-home occupational therapy for his specific cornucopia of issues.  Some of his biggest issues (for me, anyway) are troubles with his proprioceptive and vestibular senses.  That’s a fancy way of saying that he doesn’t have a sophisticated awareness of where his body is and what it’s doing.  Those few really big words sum up what I’ve known and haven’t known about my kid since he was tiny.  I remember coming out of the grocery store one day and watching him fall down yet another flight of stairs and saying, “I know all kids are clumsy, but there is something not right here.”  When he lost half of his face to gravel during a riveting game of Duck, Duck, Goose, we finally called an OT.  (This is after he got 20 stitches in his head, coming out of the tub, after undergoing a CT scan for falling off a bunk bed but before severing his Achilles by walking through the living room.)

Anyway, part of the treatment for these issues is to give him more (and more specific) sensory input than he’s currently getting.  We are supposed to encourage him to do ‘heavy work’.  Heavy work is pretty much what it sounds like–work that will put strain on his joints which will, ideally, help his body understand where it is and what he’s doing.  Most kids get this stuff from everyday play.  They run, jump, kick, whatever, and their bodies sort it out.  Some kids don’t.  My kid doesn’t.  He needs more.

I’m wondering now about the fit between all of his various little issues.  You know how, in the Simpsons, Montgomery Burns is said to have every single illness in the world but that they all work together in perfect harmony in order to keep him alive?

Well, I’m just thinking now about how my kid’s sensory issues play off one another to keep them all thriving.  When he was little, my kid would cry when other kids came within ten feet of him.  From birth, I think.  I remember having to leave countless activities, because he wasn’t having it.  He charmed the pants off adults, but loathed spending time with other children.  (He likes kids now.  Kinda.)  I was thinking the other day, while watching some tiny little kids practice jumping together at the playground, that maybe my kid missed those critical experiences.  Maybe because of all the crying around children stuff, he didn’t practice jumping as much as he should’ve.

It doesn’t matter.  It’s not too late to catch up, and I certainly did the best I could’ve.  He did too.  So whatever.  I enrolled him in a pole dancing class.

In his short seven years my kid has attempted and dropped out of the following sports: basketball, soccer, kung fu, rugby, and gymnastics.  He’s also given surfing a go.  I won’t say he dropped out of that.  He’s still definitely keen to get back on the board, but we have to wait until the weather improves.

Knowing what I now know about how his body and mind work (or don’t) together, I feel a bit more compassion when I see him struggle through an activity.  Today I sat through his pole dancing class (okay, it’s not actual pole dancing.  It’s called aerial silks, and it’s really cool, and it’s taught by a guy with a blue mohawk) and only part of me shrivelled up and died when I saw the teacher say, “Straighten both of your legs” and my kid had no idea how to accomplish said task.  The look on his face said, “Wait.  I have legs?”  But whatever.  That’s his issue.  What’s yours?  We all have them.  At the end of the class, I talked to the instructor (note to self: next time talk to the instructor FIRST).  He interrupted my spiel by saying, “I can see there’s a disconnect between what he hears and what he can do, and that’s fine.  He’ll either get it or he’ll fall.  He’ll probably learn quickly.”  I dunno.  Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

The point here is that knowledge really is power.  A year ago, I watched my kid in basketball and was horrified by how he appeared on the court.  There was all this, I’m embarrassed to say, shame with the way his body moved.  And it made me incredibly sad.  Here we are a year later, and his movements aren’t a whole lot better, but I get it now.  We all get it.  The kid is working hard.  Good for him.


Cow, bitches

I’m learning Mandarin.  Reluctantly.

My kids have been learning Mandarin for four years, and I’ve managed to sidestep the entire process by farming it out.  I thought it was all going swimmingly, but then we tried to put the boy in a class with some other homeschooled kids, and I quickly realized that my kiddos were behind.

They’re behind because you can’t expect someone to learn a language by taking a one-hour class once a week.  But we aren’t really in a financial position to put them in more classes.  Plus, since they’re homeschooled, they suddenly detest having to sit in a class full of kids and stare at a white board for an hour.  They cry.  A lot.

It doesn’t make sense for me to buy into the idea that traditional education isn’t for my kids but then stick them in a traditional class once a week.  I kinda set them up for failure there.

So my choices were boiled down to: take them out of Mandarin or learn Mandarin so that I could supplement at home.

I’d have taken them out if only we hadn’t already been at it for FOUR YEARS.  Estelah started learning when she was 2.  Their accents are gorgeous.  Must.  Stay.  In.  Mandarin.

So I took them out of their classes and now the three of us take a class just by ourselves.  The kids think it’s freaking hilarious that I’m in their class.  And that I don’t know jack.  On my first day, I was supposed to say, “I am Mama.”  It came out, “I want a mama.”

But–as the teacher started collecting the materials, both kids started whining.  “It’s over??  But it just started!”  They asked to go back the next day.  And since then, they’ve been reading and writing Mandarin at home every day.  Soooo, it’s working.  So far.

Learning a new language was not even on my long list of fun things to do this year.  But isn’t that just what having kids is all about?

I want my mama.

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Ugh.

I was going to lie and pretend I got my inspiration for this post from someone other than Dr. Phil.  But I’m not going to, because I hate lying more than you hate Dr. Phil.  Look, I think he’s as ridiculous as you do.  The irony of. . .him doesn’t escape me.  I love when he’s telling folks he’s here to be an emotional compass for them, while being pretty quiet about the fact that he lost his license to practice psychology.  He sells snake oil, and I know that.

But he also has some really thought-provoking sound bytes.  To me anyway.  You can keep hating him, and I’ll keep watching him.  As my six year old would say, “Different strokes for different folks.”

Anyway, the other day I overheard said infamous psychologist telling someone something along the lines of, “You have got to demand of yourself the very highest level of functioning possible.”  He said this to a woman who was suffering, in a baaaaaad way, from OCD.  I’ve dabbled with OCD a bit myself.  Not the way people like to say nowadays, like, “Oh, I’m so OCD because I like my forks lined up the same way!”  Look, nobody else is going to say this to you.  So I will.  Requiring order in your cutlery doesn’t make you OCD.  It makes you a person who likes your forks lined up the same way.  If it makes you angry that they’re not lined up the same way, that still doesn’t mean you have OCD.  It probably means you should get out more.  OCD is a serious mental illness/brain disorder that causes a loop in your thinking that is extremely difficult to break.  It means panic, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, loss of the ability to function.  You joke about your forks and you own your “OCD” because it’s not destroying your life.  Because it’s not OCD.  Stop it.  Real mental illness shouldn’t be trivialized.

Oh man, I’m way off course here.

Anyway, Phil said that you have to demand of yourself the highest possible level of functioning, and that’s going to be one of those sound bytes I take with me.  I like the idea that there is no specific goal that you should be meeting, but dammit, you should be behaving as well as you possibly can.  I really like that.  I need to think on that some more.

Spring is here in Hong Kong, and good lord, the clouds have rolled in. In February, a cloud descends upon the city that doesn’t dissipate for months.  The mist is wet and swirling.  There’s no sense carrying an umbrella, because the water is not coming from the sky downwards.  It’s just the air.  There’s no escaping it.  Mold grows on everything.  Dehumidifiers run nonstop all day long and although I empty buckets of water from them, it doesn’t appear that I’m making any progress whatsoever.

Hong Kong springs are bleak.

I’d decided this year to not fight it, but rather to embrace the shit of spring.  I borrowed a ton of books, bought a few extra pairs of yoga pants and invested in the season pass for Dance Moms.  (Shut up.  At least I own my low-brow tendencies.)  I likened myself, at one point, to a bear in hibernation.  And I was doing fine.

Whenever I’d get bored, I’d find some really complicated recipe and cook it.  When the kids seemed cagey, I’d find some really complicated project to do with them and we’d do it.  I thought I’d nailed it.

And then I realized that, when the weekend rolled around, all I wanted was to be left alone with my book and my yoga pants.  Putting on a bra seemed tantamount to hiking Mt. Everest.  Backwards.  While watching Dance Moms.  Every word that came out of my husband’s mouth was suddenly the stupidest fucking word ever uttered.  When he poured hot tea into a plastic jar made by the hardworking children of China and then tried to feed said tea to my kids and I lost my shit and declared that ISN’T IT NICE THAT ONE OF US HAS TO CARE ABOUT THE FREAKING TOXINS BEING LEACHED FROM THE PLASTIC INTO THE DEVELOPING GONADS OF OUR OFFSPRING WHILE THE OTHER ONE CAN PAT HIMSELF ON THE BACK FOR MAKING A POT OF TEA, I knew it was time to trade in the yoga pants for something more respectable.

Or maybe it was when I started giving one-star reviews to all the Goodreads books that my friends were all five-starring.  This book, I wanted to tell them, is shit.  There is nothing readable or enjoyable or sound about this book.  My kid could’ve written this book.  While hiking Mt. Everest.  Backwards.  While watching Dance Moms.  You miserable shit.  CARE MORE.  TRY HARDER.  DEMAND BETTER.

When you suddenly realize that you have the highest fucking standards in the room, while you’re still wearing yoga pants and watching Dance Moms, it is absolutely time to go outside because you have become a Ted Kaczynski-like asshole.

So, today I went to the library and the park.  This week I will go to my 6 am yoga class.  In the swirling, misty, shitty air.   I will demand, from myself, the highest level of functioning possible.  Because that’s what it’s all about.  And that’s how you prevent yourself from sliding, backwards, off Mt. Everest, while watching Dance Moms.

Bring on the summer.


Deliberation

On Fridays, a babysitter comes at noon.  She hangs out with the kids for about an hour and a half and then she takes them to their father.  The idea was that I’d spend this time working.  And then when I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be possible for me to continue working, the idea was that I’d spend this time being me, maintaining some kind of outside interest so I didn’t wither into a shell of a human being.

What I actually do is I head to the library, and I sit surrounded by books and lists, and I plan our next week of homeschooling. When I’m done with that, I check the internet for craft projects that relate to our current unit.  When I’m done with that, I plan out our meals for the week.  When I’m done with that, I head to the grocery store, buy the things we need and head home to cook.  While I cook, I research various learning disabilities.  I make appointments.  I read research on education and parenting.

When I was a kid, all I wanted was to become a professional.  I wanted to be a doctor.  For a brief second, I wanted to be a lawyer.  I wanted to write.  I wanted to heal.  I wanted to travel and learn and grow wild and free in my downtime while becoming increasingly more educated and disciplined in my work.  I never planned for a husband.  I never considered children too seriously.

My husband first told me he loved me when I was seventeen.  That night is burned into my memory, because I didn’t ask for it.  I didn’t expect it.  If we’re being honest, I didn’t even want it.  He was supposed to be a fun project.  Never was he meant to be an eternity.  But once it was there, well, there it was.  Once it was said, it was real, and I’ve spent the last eighteen years protecting it and cultivating it.

I thought good families were a luck thing.  I thought you either got one or you didn’t.  You either wound up in one or not.  It’s true as a child.  You get what you get, and you don’t get to choose.  You cannot, despite all of your efforts, control the direction your family flies.  You’re at their mercy.  I guess I thought that was true of an adult family, too.

It’s not.

I didn’t dream about this husband until I got him.  I didn’t think I’d give up everything to raise good children, but here I am.  I came into it haltingly, questioning, even resentful.  I’m only recently relaxing into it, paying it its dues.

I used to equate being a good mom with being a shell of a human being.

My kids are good people.  They’re really, really good people.  They hold hands, they share secrets, they have long conversations using big words to describe the love they have for the world around them.  My kids are not always wholesome and sweet, but I get a lot of compliments on them.  I used to think it was an accident that I got those good kids.  I get now that it’s true I’m lucky to have them, but I also traded in just about everything else to make them.

When my son was 2 and my daughter was 1, I started filling out applications for post-graduate study that one would day, I’d hoped, light the path towards me becoming a nurse practitioner.  I thought I could have it all.  I thought I could keep up with the cloth diapering and the organic pureed baby foods in my down time.  I thought I’d done the baby thing, now I could do the professional thing.

And then I read something that opened my eyes and hit me hard.  It was that quote about how you can have anything you want, so long as you’re prepared to sacrifice everything you have.  And I knew then that, even before I’d ever read that quote, I’d already made my choice.  I absolutely could have gone to school to become that one-step-from-a-doctor that I wanted so desperately to be.  But I couldn’t have done it and raised my kids the way I wanted to.

And I wanted to raise my kids more.

I had some Dr. Phil show on in the background today as I was fixing dinner, and I heard him say something about how everyone has kids for different reasons.  Some have them to tick the box.  Some have them to fill a need.  Some have them because they want to change the world.

I don’t know why I had kids.  I think I had them because of hormones, if I’m honest.  My ovaries screamed at me each month until I finally gave my uterus what it wanted.  That’s the nitty gritty.  But if I can go back now and retroactively give myself another reason for having kids, I suppose I’ll take the ‘change the world’ reason.

There’s no right or wrong, and I don’t mean to make it sound black and white.  I don’t mean this to be a “I have good kids because I don’t work.”  I don’t think that’s true.  I’m just saying that a few years back, I realized I was at a fork in the road.  I knew I wanted two really, really big things, and I got the sense that it wouldn’t be possible for me to do both of them as big as I wanted to.  So I chose.  And I invested.  And it’s starting to feel like the right choice.

On Fridays, I spend my free time planning for the week I have ahead.  And I do it because, for the most part, it brings me joy to teach my kids.  It might not always work out, but for now, I do believe that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

I don’t know where I got the idea that women who give all of themselves to their children are doing it wrong.  I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to celebrate that this might actually be the thing that I’m good at.


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