Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Parenthood: Week 167 – A Friend In Need

“Can you text Angie, so we can play?”

The combination of Ollie’s awareness of technology and the fact that Ollie asked me to set-up a play date reached a new level of cuteness.

Toddler play is often described as parallel. This means that two toddlers will play near each other but not actually play with each other. For example, often when Ollie asks me to play blocks with him, he simply wants me to sit next him and play something as he plays with his blocks.

This has been changing in the past year and we’ve been seeing much more interactive play. At first I started noticing this when we went to the park and Ollie and Angie would chase each other around or wrestle each other. This is really cute to watch. At other times when Ollie has friends around, he will often ignore them and simply do his own thing.

My excitement about Ollie's growing awareness of his friends became frustration and sadness as I realized that because of schedules, I just couldn’t get together a play date for him with Angie last week. Once upon a time, I was enough of a buddy to play with him when we went to the park or a play space but now he was asking for a peer.

I had time with Ollie, so I was going to make the most of it even if I couldn’t get a play date together for him. I took him to the Skokie Exploratorium, a really fun indoor play space.

We got there right as they opened and what I feared happen. Instead of running around, he stayed close to me. I encouraged him to go into this climbing/slide jungle gym and he told me that he had gone in there with Angie. Then Ollie asked me if Angie was going to play with him today. Instead of answering him, I told him to show me how he did the slide and he went and climbed up into a maze of tubes.

From the top of the slide structure, I heard Ollie giggling and then he came down the twisty slide followed by another boy. He was at least six years old, and looked like Ollie, sharing the unique mixture of features that comes from being half-Asian and half-Caucasian. He said “Hey Ollie, let’s do that again,” and Ollie, giggling, followed the boy back up into the structure.

For the next hour, this boy and Ollie played together. The chased each other, built with blocks together and ran around the Exploratorium. A couple times, Ollie came up to me, needing a break or a snack and the boy politely asked me “Is Ollie okay?” He spoke with a clear understanding that Ollie was younger than him and that Ollie sometimes needed me to speak for him, but it didn’t phase him that he was playing with someone so much younger than him.

I’m not sure what connected between Ollie and that boy. Maybe it was the fact that they were both half-Asian and saw part of themselves in each other or maybe it was the fact that they happen to be interested in doing the same activity. What I do know is when they both needed a friend, they were there for each other.

Sometimes I feel sad when Ollie doesn’t want to play with me, but watching Ollie play with that boy, I couldn’t have been happier and more proud.

Friday, August 26, 2016

To Be Asian-American: Being Asian On Campus-Part 2

“I’d like to talk to someone about feeling uncomfortable seeing groups of Asian people around campus.” 
“Okay, can you come in next Tuesday at 1pm?”
I had sat in front of the phone trying to figure out what to say. I rehearsed different phrases and ways to express how I felt. After ten minutes, I decided to just pick up the phone and say whatever came to mind. I was surprised at the straight-forward way I expressed my feelings and I was shocked at the kindness of the person who set-up my appointment.

CAPS: Counseling And Psychological Services at Northwestern made their presence known from the first day of freshmen orientation. When I moved into my dorm, I table tent with information about CAPS was prominently displayed.  I heard the advice that since every students had a number of free sessions, so you might as well come up with an excuse to go and get your monies worth.

In the wake of student tragedies across America related to psychological issues, Northwestern University, like many colleges in our country actively promoted and supported counseling and psychological services like CAPS. While most people didn’t talk openly about going to CAPS, whenever these services came up in conversation people expressed gratitude that this service existed. It was this atmosphere and lack of stigma that gave my the strength to pick up the phone and later go up the stairs from the health center and enter CAPS.

I stumbled through my first session not really knowing how to describe my problem and my feelings. The psychologist didn’t really say anything and didn't validate my feelings verbally. At times there were silent pauses that I filled not because I had anything meaningful to say but rather because of a desire to curb a feeling of social awkwardness.

I felt like I was trying to prove that I needed help from CAPS and I felt like I was trying to convince the psychologist and myself that I had a problem with working through. At the end of the session, I wasn’t sure what I had gained from the experience.

The psychologist asked me if I would like to talk to someone on a weekly basis and I said that I would and he said he would set me up with a graduate student and he would help guide her work with me.

Every week for the rest of that school year, I met with a counselor at CAPS. I grew to appreciate having a stranger to share my thoughts and my feelings. It was liberating knowing that I didn’t have to worry about my words leaving the room. My sessions would start simply by my counselor asking me how I was doing. I would talk and once in a while she would ask clarification questions. Sometimes I talked about my racial issues, and my feeling about those groups of Asian people and during other sessions it never came up. She didn’t give assign me any books to read or really give me an advice, she simply gave me the space to work through my thoughts and feelings.

Over time, those groups of Asian students stopped bringing up negative feelings inside of me. I don’t know why. Maybe by talking about my feelings it allowed me to really feel them and once that happened I could let them go. I’m not sure.

One beautiful spring day after a session, I walked out of the health building, felt the sunshine in my face and through the blinding sunlight, the sky looked a color blue I had never seen before.  I saw a group of Asian students walking across the street and I smiled at them.  As I walked, I whispered to myself, “I’m good.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

Parenthood: Week 166 - Dropping A Nap

There’s a feeling of bliss when your little one locks into a routine. You know when their naps are and they go to sleep and wake-up around the same time. Life is predictable, parenthood seems manageable, birds sing more in tune and Donald Trump is more entertaining than depressing.

Than things start falling apart. Usually it’s centered around one of the most dreaded phrases in early parenthood: “dropping a nap.” When parents hear this phrase they are immediately are filled with a feeling of great sadness and foreboding.

Newborns pretty much sleep most of the time and as they grow, naps become formalize (for most babies). Whatever number of naps this is, they get set into a routine. As babies get older, they drop these naps to two, one and then eventually [shudder] the naps disappear altogether.

When children drop naps, it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a transition that can take weeks. One day the baby has three naps, the next it’s two, two again, and when you think all is settled on two, the child goes back to taking three naps.

You may think, that this lack of naps is a good thing. If you’ve ever hung out with parents of babies and toddlers, they often center their entire schedule (and existence for that matter) around a nap schedule. This severely and significantly hampers and limits, social outings. On one level, the fewer the naps, the more freedom you have as a parent, however the downsides to dropping naps is significant.

One of the most ludicrous parenting suggestions is “nap when your baby naps.” This is a great idea as long as you don’t have to worry about laundry, cooking, work, bills, errands, and um . . . adulthood. Parents have to rally through their exhaustion and get tons of stuff done during their children’s nap times to maintain life and sanity.

Each nap that is dropped means less time to take care of essential things (like going to the bathroom).  If this lined up perfectly with the children’s growing independence, which requires less of parents undivided attention, we’d be set, but it doesn’t. A baby doesn’t drop a one and half hour nap and immediately gain the ability to play independently for that period of time. In reality, you maybe get ten more minutes of independent play, which is unpredictable and erratic.

Ollie is currently in the process of dropping his daily afternoon nap.  If he doesn't take an afternoon nap, he often falls asleep at some point, like in the car, and goes to bed easier.  However if he takes an early afternoon nap he's in a much better mood in the evening, easier to manage, but goes to bed later in the night.  Combine this with end of the summer and beginning of the school year madness and it's quite a challenge to manage.

I'm eager to get back to a routine, even if it only last a couple weeks.  Maybe he'll hang onto this one nap for a little bit longer and maybe he will drop the nap completely.

I'm getting tired just thinking about that possibility.

Friday, August 19, 2016

To Be Asian-American: Being Asian On Campus-Part 1

I first noticed them in the dining hall. They were always in that back right corner at a long table, a group of Asian students eating together. Then I started to notice other groups of Asian students around campus. They always seemed to be enjoying each other’s company, often with matching t-shirts or jackets.

I was aware that Northwestern University had a significant Asian-American population. That’s one of the reasons that I chose that school. I knew this was important but I didn’t know why. When I got to campus, much like how I socialized in high school, my group of friends was more related to marching band. I got to campus, had a great band camp experience the week before school started and that was my social group (which later expanded into my fraternity).

During the first couple weeks of school, I didn’t go to the various Asian student organization meetings. I was busy with marching band practice, and I had my group of marching band friends.

One of the wonderful things about Northwestern’s marching band at that time was that it was a cross-section of the campus. The band included students of all majors and many students of color.  It was a mix of Caucasians and students of color that felt right.

As I noticed these groups of Asian students sitting together in the dining hall and moving around campus, I started feeling uncomfortable. I was invited to their meetings, and it was my choice that I didn’t go to them. However I still felt excluded and it was this feeling of not being part of this group, that chipped away at my pride in being an Asian-American.

Every time I saw a group of Asian students together, it reminded me that I was Asian. I hated this reminder. This insecurity built a superiority complex. I felt better than them because I was “integrated.” I had white friends, I didn’t need to just hang out with other Asian people.

Like I discussed in last week’s post, Caucasian students would ask me about these groups and I chafed at the question. “I’m not one of them, I don’t know.” This community of Asian students who associated with each other because of their racial identity, were people I did not want to see. I didn’t know why at the time, I just wished that they would go away.

Every time I saw a group of Asian students together, I felt anxious and tense, but it passed and I forgot about it until another encounter. And then one night in the cafeteria, I got stuck behind a group of Asian students in line. They were speaking in Mandarin, I understood most of what they were saying and I felt annoyed at their happiness and laughter. I sat with my marching band friends and instead of joining in with the regular jokes and conversations I was sullen, trying to calm myself down.

We left our table as a group and exited the cafeteria. As we were heading toward the door of the dorm, another group of Asian students were congregating at the door talking and unaware that people were trying to pass (which is a very common thing for college students to do). As my friends worked their way through the crowd, I followed and started feeling nauseous and felt the heat of rage taking over my body.

Without saying by to my friends, I rushed off to my dorm room and dove into bed, my face buried in my pillow. Laying there in the darkness, tears welled up, but refused to release. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I didn’t know what to do, but in that moment, I realized that I needed help.

I sat up, went to my desk and turned on my computer.  In the glow of the computer screen, I saw a table tent, which had greeted me when I first moved into my room.

It read: CAPS - Counseling and Psychological Service.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

Parenthood: Week 165 - The Rudeness of Toddlers

“Hey man, watch this. You see that girl over there? She is almost never excited to see me. She usually gives me a skeptical ‘who are you?’ Here we go . . ANGIE [arms outstretched]!”

With a big a smile on her face, that three year-old, who has known me all her life, who doesn’t always show me that she is excited to see me, gave me a big hug and let me pick her up and spin her around. That completely melted my heart.

I know that Angie likes me. Every time I play with her, she is receptive, I’ve held her many times in her life, and she’s comfortable with me. Like many toddler she is still learning the social customs of greeting people so there have been times when I’ve enthusiastically greeted her and she’s looked at me like I’m crazy or simply walked away. Then five minutes later I’ll ask her is she wants me to read a book to her and she’ll crawl into my lap.

As toddlers get older, their emotions and feelings develop. Smiles get bigger, the laughs get louder and their anger gets more intense. Their faces, voices and bodies become more expressive and subtleties in emotions begin to emerge. In addition, toddlers develop the ability to perceive the emotions of other people, which directly affect the way that they emotionally respond to the world around them.

While all of this development is going on, we as parents continue to teach these toddlers social customs. It’s important that toddlers learn how to greet people, show gratitude and to leave a social situation appropriately.

Social customs often asks us to put aside our own emotions and feelings. For example, if you are feeling depressed and anti-social, you are still suppose to fake a smile and say “hello” when somebody greets you. Even if you don’t like somebody, it’s expected that you will say “thank you” to them when they do give you something.

Now trying to teach social customs to a child who is learning how to genuinely feel and express their own emotions is difficult. I don’t want my son to be rude but when he’s sad that we are leaving somewhere and he doesn’t want to say bye to people, I understand. He’s dealing with how it feels to not want to go and then I’m asking him be polite a say goodbye. Sometimes that’s too much to ask.

I don’t love the fact that being polite in our culture sometimes means that we mask our true emotions and feelings. It’s one of those compromises we make to be social animals, but I want to make sure that Ollie understands that this compromise should never invalidate his feelings.

When a toddler is being rude, it’s not that they are uncaring or that their parents aren’t teaching them how to be polite. Often it’s just too much for that little human being to handle at the moment. 

Embrace how genuine emotional expression is with toddlers. It doesn’t feel great to not get a polite greeting, but if they don’t feel like it, I’m okay with that. Because I know when I get a hug like Angie’s, it’s real and from the heart.

Friday, August 12, 2016

To Be Asian-American: Pride

Throughout my life, white people have asked me why members and racial groups needed to have affinity groups, celebrations and organizations. There are no Caucasian affinity groups except for the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis which are universally treated with disdain in our society, so why do racial and ethnic groups get money and resources?

It’s about pride.

Pride in one’s race is a positive connection to one’s racial identity that is constructed through a feeling of belonging, and positive associations.

When people are asked to list what groups they identify with some choose gender, other choose their career and other’s strongly identify through sports or the arts (e.g. “I’m a Cub’s fan).

For most people of color, race is high up on that list. A person can choose to shed their love of the Cubs, and let that identity go, but people of color cannot let our race go. Whether we like it or not, for people of color, race is part of our identity that society does not let us forget.

Many of the reminders of racial identification are positive. When an Asian-American student asks me about my heritage, I feel a wonderful connection with the student. When I eat Chinese food with my family, I feel at home, and when my son asks me to read a book that feature Asian characters, it warms my heart. Unfortunately, many of the reminders that I’m Asian come from awkward conversations, ignorant action, and racist comments.

When you have this part of your identity, that you do not choose, that you cannot hide, taking pride in it is an act of spiritual self-preservation. When people of color do not have pride in their racial identity, it manifest in problems that affect all of society and our shared greater humanity.

A little Asian boy who is ashamed of the shape of his eyes because of jokes other students make, may develop internalized self-hatred. This could manifest into something as innocuous as spending all of his weekend playing videos games or as destructions act lashing out through violence at others.

It is a complex and difficult thing to develop pride in one’s race. While I was never ashamed of being Asian, it wasn’t until I was in college that I felt a true sense of pride (I’ll get into this more next week).

To have pride in one’s race as a person of color is to embrace the part of your identity that for so long in American history was a mark worse than a Scarlet letter. It is this history and our present racial struggles that require deliberate and thoughtful actions.

It's hard for me to fully understand the need for affinity groups to help build racial pride.  It's a very complicated issue with many different layers, so I understand my Caucasians friends and colleagues who don't get it.

So here's what I got for my white allies:  People of color meetings and racial pride activities aren't including you because we don't like you.  There are conversations that help us build pride and feel supported that cannot happen when you are in the room (this is not something we blame you for, don't feel bad).  The more we can do this, the better we can feel about our racial identity and the more open we can be to having conversations with you and building deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Be supportive of our racial pride.  This isn't a reflection of racism, this is about us learning how to love ourselves.  If none of this makes sense to you, that's okay.  I still don't understand cottage cheese.  The effort you make to understand and your trust is meaningful.

Thanks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Parenthood: Week 164 - Toddler Outings

Taking a toddler out on an outing is an act of faith.

It’s a risk/benefit calculation that is often balanced heavier on the risk side. It is an act that is rarely easy and leaves parents drained, demanding recovering time after the outing that is often never available.

Let’s say that your child is exciting about the outing. That’s fantastic and a big help. However it is very likely that in the time pack the diaper bag and make sure everything you need for the outing is in the car, your child has started playing with a toy and no longer wants to on the outing. This only makes the struggle to get your kid to go to the bathroom, and put shoes on even more difficult.

A lot can go wrong during an outing. Tantrum can happen at any time. Meltdowns can still occur with the best managed outings. Things sometimes go as planned, but often do not. As an adult little differences and adjustments in plans aren’t a big deal but in a toddler’s mind, these changes can be earth-shattering.

If you tell a three year-old that you are going to a certain exhibit in a museum two weeks before going, they will remember and ask you about it every day. If you go to that museum and the exhibit is closed, things can get bad fast, REALLY bad. Sometimes experiences really click with kids and sometimes things don’t. It’s really hard to know what will work and what will not. Even activities that work five times in a row are no guarantees for success because of how quickly children’s brains develop.

You almost have to go on an outing being prepared for a train-wreck and be okay with the fact that things might not go well.  There’s a really good chance with a toddler that you will come home asking yourself, why you bothered trying to get your kid out of the house.

There’s a couple things that keep parents going and pushes out of the house. First off, you can always try again. If you got to an art museum and your child pees in his pants and asks to go home repeatedly, this doesn’t mean that the next trip to the same museum will be as bad.

People playing slot machines know they are going to lose most of the time but the possibility that they will hit the jackpot will keep them going. The same is true for outings with toddlers. A lot of stuff can go wrong, but a lot of things can go right and as difficult as toddlers can be, when things click (which is the case for most of the time), it’s worth it.

The most important thing to remember when your child is throwing a tantrum in a public park is that your children will eventually appreciate your efforts.  They will understand at some point how hard you worked to expose them to new and exciting experiences. This will inspire your children to make the same effort with their children.

It’s hard and sometimes, I just give up and stay in the house with my son, instead of taking him out of the house. That’s okay too. There’s value in quiet time at home. You got to pace yourself and not overdo outings for your own sake as a parent and a human being.

It is brave to take your child out on an outing.  So be proud of your efforts.  The possibility of a tantrum is hard to face, but the world is pretty amazing.  Get out there.  It'll be worth it.  It may not feel that way in the moment, but it will later and for the rest of your life.

Friday, August 5, 2016

To Be Asian-American: The Classroom Full Of Caucasians

A couple of years ago one of my friends showed me a class picture of his daughter’s kindergarten class. Every single child in the picture was Caucasian and blond. His daughter who is also white has darker blond hair, closer to brunette so she stood out. We laughed at this photo together.  I figured that my friend might laughed because the idea of living in such a racially homogeneous community seemed so absurd compared to his background and the way that he valued diversity in his friends.

I laughed for a different reason.

Growing up in a suburb of Seattle, there were always other minorities in my classes. I was never the only Asian student. As a child, I thought this was how it was for all children in America. As I grew older, I came to realize that this wasn’t the case and I made sure that the colleges that I applied to have a racial diversity in its student population.

At that point in the development of my racial identity, I knew that it was important that I was in an environment with other racial minorities, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t strongly identify with Asian culture, I didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese and most of the time I wasn’t close friends with my Asian classmates.  Having classmates who were students of color in my classes gave me a sense of comfort and safety. I didn’t fear Caucasians students but I knew that I was less likely to experience overt racism if I wasn’t the only person of color in the room. It’s similar to the fact that some men are less likely to make a sexist joke if half the people in the room are women.

Having other students of color in the class was an important check on my own interpretations of comments about race. There have been times in classes when a students said something that I initially thought was racially insensitive but after talking to other students of color, I realized I was overreacting and there were other times that if not for other students of color, I would have overlooked racially insensitive comments that required further discussion.

I laughed at that picture of all white kids, because it felted preposterous and kind of scary. It felt like something of out an SNL sketch. I have never been in a classroom with that racial make-up. This has to be a joke. How could a classroom this white exist?

These classrooms do exist in America and there are schools that have 100% white students. This is not necessarily a reflection anything negative about these communities. However for myself and my son, this lack of diversity is something that I could not feel comfortable with as a child, and that I feel is unacceptable for my son.

I feel blessed that Ollie’s school puts a priority of diversity and that last year; there were multiple layers of diversity in his classroom including racial diversity. Ollie knows that there are differences in hair and skin color, but he doesn’t talk about this with shame but rather with curiosity and pride because there are people in his world and in his class who are like him.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Monday, August 1, 2016

Parenthood: Week 163 - Leaving The Cring Kid On The Sidewalk

Ollie was upset the entire car ride to his toddler cooking class. I had to get up Ollie from his nap before he had woken up and the transition from the crib to the car did not go smoothly. He cried and pouted in the car. I explained where we were going and that he would enjoy cooking class once he got there, but this didn't helped.

Luckily we found street parking only a couple doors down from the play space that was hosting the cooking class. Ollie had stopped crying but he was still upset. I had to fight him to unlatch the car-seat and immediately after he crawled into the front seat. I somehow managed to him out of the car and when I put him down on the sidewalk, he plopped down on the ground.

I asked Ollie to hold my hand and he refused. When I tried to hold his hand, he pulled it away from me and tried to swat my hand away. When I attempted to him up, he went completely boneless and when I talked to him, he just screamed at me.

The weather was warm, the high 70s, it was a wide sidewalk with minimal foot traffic, the sidewalk was clean and we were five minutes early to the cooking class (and even if we got there a little late, it wasn’t a big deal). With all of those factors in play, there was no reason that I couldn’t let him throw his little tantrum and wait him out.

When Ollie was a baby and he didn’t want something, or didn’t want to go somewhere, I would just pick him up. He couldn’t really fight me very well. His feelings were simpler and based more on impulses. As a toddler, things have gotten more complicated. Ollie now has much more developed reasoning abilities. The world makes a lot more sense to him so he can enjoy things on a deeper level. At the same time, the world is now more confusing and this can cause different levels of distress.

Beyond the emotional issues, there’s a safety concern. Picking up a flailing one year old that doesn’t want to be held is a lot easier that picking up a three year old in full tantrum mode. When Ollie goes boneless (or limp as some people call), I fear that by holding him one arm or trying to pick him up when Ollie has twisted himself into certain positions, I might hurt him. Also, the possibility of picking him up when he’s upset and have him fight me so much that I drop him has led me to often just letting him sit there until he’s ready to move on.

Emotionally, it’s better to let the toddler calm down and come when they are ready as opposed to forcing them to move. Also, if the tantrum goes long and it means that they miss something they enjoy, this will be far more motivating than your words.

The problem is that I can’t leave Ollie in the middle of a parking lot. When we are leaving the house and he doesn’t want to come with us, we can walk out the door and stand in the front yard until he decides to join us. It’s not quite as safe to do this in a busy retail store.

In this situation, Ollie was safe pouting in the middle of the side walk, so I stood there, and surfed the web on my phone, keeping one eye on Ollie, periodically checking in on him, asking him casually if he wanted to go to cooking class. He kept saying no, so I would walk away and watch him from a distance.

People walked by. One mother with a toddler of her gave me some supportive comments. Another older couple concerned that Ollie was abandoned, looked very worried until I waved over to them and they smiled, instantly understanding the situation. Most people walked by pretending not to notice like people at a party, when a couple is getting into a fight in the corner of the room.

After about ten minutes, Ollie agreed to let me help him into cooking class. Once he found his seat at the snack table, he was fine and he had a great time at cooking class.

Raising a toddler can be a battle, but sometimes it's best not to fight. I have no shame in letting my son tantrum in public as long as he is in a safe situation. I know it makes some people uncomfortable to see this.  It would be heartless to not feel uncomfortable seeing someone of any age upset to the point of tears.

Know this: toddlers learning how to self-sooth through tantrums and understanding that tantrums are not a productive way to communicate benefits all of society. If kids don’t learn these lessons as toddlers, tantrums will continue into adulthood in the form of negativity, disrespect and immaturity.  So if you want to avoid raising a kid with Donald Trump-like characteristics, when you can, let your toddler make a scene and give them the space to work it out.