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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lessons from the Tiger Mom

My apologies to you sixteen loyal readers of this blog. Undoubtedly, I’ve been a bit remiss in writing. Between nursing headaches (weather fronts wreaking havoc in the cornbelt), not dusting the house, and resolving to be a diligent organizer of tax receipts in 2011; apparently, I’ve also been ruining my kids by coddling them. Anyone heard of Amy Chua, aka, The Tiger Mom? If you haven’t, you might want to join the discussion. It’s great fun. Check out these two disparate point of views if you're so inclined: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior and In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom  These are GREAT articles, so if you don't have time, save for later... (BTW, remind me to take lessons on book publicity from Amy C.)

The Chinese Mother. Pushing her kids to relentless practice of math and music to achieve excellence clearly beyond the American couch potato. But is it too much? (Statistics say suicide rates among the Chinese teens run highest.) But who can't help but be a bit envious of the over-achievers? They’re like, so smart. And good at stuff. Ms. Chua argues that perhaps Westerners spend too much time working with their kids on things like “sports.” Hmmm. I don't even fit the typical Westerner mold. As I read her article, I, of course, was wondering how my kids would fare in a Chinese household. But now I know they'd barely make it in a typical Western household either! They'd be like "Practice shooting baskets? Why?" As a matter of fact, a request to unload the dishwasher seems to be grounds for calling 911. I could just see it. "We have a possible child abuse case on our hands. The mom just ordered the Pots and Pan cycle." Gheesh.

The bottom line is - it's tough, no matter if you're a Tiger Mom, or a domesticated tabby cat. You want your kids to be their best, so you tend to push. The question of the hour - how hard? I, myself, have looked at my daughter in askance* for receiving a minus on an "A." Maybe it's just because I see her doing things like posting comments on Facebook...while working on a tough math assignment. Those are the times my Tiger comes out. But I must admit, more often than not, it's the kitten that comes out...because gosh, that's how I was raised.

I love how my friend Amy, mother to FIVE, explains her mothering skills to her eldest child when she complains of a particular injustice that doesn't seem to come down to the younger siblings. "Don't you see, Lexi? I'm not gonna screw up the younger kids." That's good stuff.

Here's a revelation: Parents aren't perfect. Whether you push your kid to be the best soccer player in the world, study spelling words with them until midnight for six months out of year, or you let them achieve the highest levels in Assassin's Creed, who cares? I truly believe, that the very best we can do, at any time, for any reason, is love your kids with all your heart. Period. I think Amy Chua would agree with that.
Happy kids. Tired dog.

*See my son Cole for this definition.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How many times in a day?

We all remember the follies in the day - the things that went south. But how many times do we think about all of those little moments that we are delightfully amused? Having trouble thinking of some? Here are some examples:

  • Succumbing to the persistence of the 9-year old who wants to watch Marmaduke.  Then giggling all the way through the movie...and a few days afterward. (Who can't laugh at a farting dog?)
  • An aha! moment in which you decide to either demolish or paint your kitchen orange.
  • A remark by your hubby. You're both reminiscing on those years of marriage when the babies were young - and how stressful they were! "What?" says hubby, with his sly smile. "I don't remember it being particularly stressful?" No, I don't suppose he does. But at least now, his remark sets me laughing...instead of crying.
  • A study in the WSJ informing me that adding more cheeseburgers is good for one's cognitive health! (Something about a B12 deficiency....yada yada yada...) I'm quite certain I've lacked in cheeseburgers my entire life! I knew it....I just knew it.
  • Recognition of a word like "supercilious." Don't know it? Think Mrs. Olsen in Little House in the Prairie. Wow, that dates me, doesn't it? Or Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada. Or Professor Snape in Harry Potter. Get the idea?
  • A Fleetwood Mac song.
  • Reading a poignant passage from a book or a newspaper that so clearly brings home a point, you are compelled to share with the world. Like this one from Roy Peter Clark in Writing Tools:  "The best work calls the reader's attention to the world being described, not to the writer's flourishes. When we peer out a window onto the horizon, we don't notice the pane, yet the pane frames our vision just as the writer frames our view of the story." Brilliant. He also precautions - beware of the writer who dwells in hyperbole...unless he's using it to be funny. I'm starting to drone, aren't I?
  • Being told by your often sullen teenage daughter, "Mom, look! I'm happy!" (That's verbatim, and without her usual scathing sarcasm.)

Tonight on the way home from a stimulating tax appointment, we found ourselves amidst a snow shower. Besides the fact that it had not been predicted and it was getting a bit slick, I found myself mesmerized by the snowflakes and the tranquility of the snow-covered fields. Instead of being put-out by the weather, I felt strangely at peace, enjoying the sight before me.

That's when I started thinking about all these moments. In addition to the tranquility, a bit of gratitude transcended. Anyway, I highly recommend going outside, right now - becoming transfixed by the snow shower and making a list of all those moments that made you happy. Hope you don't melt!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Power of Prayer

A new year. A fresh palette. A chance to sharpen the pencil or drudge up an old dream or two.  The Kramer's rang in 2011 with great optimism  -- we had actually celebrated until midnight by attending a party with each of our children blissfully kidnapped overnight.

But 13 days in and fate seems to be messing with my resolution to be happy. My vivacious and jocular uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer and is fighting for his life. Doug's aunt passed away this week. I can't bear to think about some of things happening on the national scene. And winter didn't pass us over after all. Oh - did I mention that my new swimsuit came in this week? Yeah, well. Imagine my jubilation after a glance in the mirror, sporting my new bathing bottoms. I wasn't jubile.

Okay, perhaps I need to set aside my Johnny Raincloud umbrella. However, I can't deny the sadness I feel about my uncle. But the truth is my uncle isn't a sad kind of guy. So I've prayed and prayed. And thought about all of the times he made me laugh - and there were plenty of them.  Actually, just thinking about his laugh, makes me laugh.

He's the uncle that really didn't want to look at a photo album, unless he was in plenty of the pictures. He was the uncle who would come up with ridiculous comic routines with my dad...Once posing as a successful (or was it a not-so-successful?) high school football coach:

"Coach Jensen, do you think should allow your team to be smoking on the field?"

"Sure, Ron. We find it relaxes the players..."

My mother remembers these routines becoming tedious and somewhat of a bore. But I remember my cousins and I laughing hysterically at the comic genius' of our fathers. We must've been 8 or 9 at the time.

Apparently, Uncle Stew has started to feel a little better - surely everyone's reciprocating the positive vibes and energy he's had on everyone's life. And I'm going to keep remembering the fun memories and praying for the good to come.

Tomorrow Doug and I will attend his Aunt Mildred's funeral. Again, we need to remember the fun and pray for the good...maybe that should be my mantra in everything.

Hello 2011.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

True Grit

Rooster Cogburn's got nothing on the men in my house. Okay, perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement. What the heck. Rooster's merely a figment of author Charles Portis's imagination - and characterized by the late, great John brilliantly brought to life by Jeff Bridges. Either way, the topic of "grit" is an intriguing one. Is it innate? Or learned? We can talk nature or nurture all day long, but I can tell you one thing. If my kids were raised by me, solely, they still might not know how to cut their own meat.

The other night I talked the family into getting off our lazy winter butts. So we took a trip to the Wellness Center instead of watching TV.  Once into a friendly game of basketball (girls against boys of course), Cole took a hard pass from his father - directly in the nose. It was a bleeder - a good one too. I was cupping my hands to keep it from going all over the gym floor. But do you think our little trooper cried? Not one tear. He's a little strange like that - a little proud of his wounds. (Last summer Cole couldn't wait to show me how he scraped the hell out of his leg after his first real "slide" in baseball.) When the kid cries, it usually doesn't involve physical pain. Now, this isn't something I would've taught him. Most certainly it comes from his full-blooded stoical German father. Remember the line, "There's no crying in baseball"? Well, in Doug's world, there's no crying. Period. (What a shock when he married the likes of someone like me - who cries almost as much as John Boehner. Almost.)

I think grit can be taught from different positions. My dad told me a story once about his own father taking him out to shoot a rabbit. My dad kept missing him. My grandfather was suspicious of his son's poor aim, so he kept at my dad to get the furry little animal. The point, of course, was "to make a man" out of him. But my young dad couldn't seem to find the rascally rabbit. When Doug takes Cole out to shoot their ever-growing collection of guns, they design all sorts of fancy targets  - (Sunny Delight bottles, milk jugs, green bean cans, etc.).  I'm happy to report that Cole is vehemently opposed to harming any living animal. No bird or cat has ever been injured.

If that isn't true grit, I don't know what is.