Do I Really Want My Child to be Unique?

We all say we want our kids to be special and unique and to be themselves. But is this really true? What if their true selves are jerks? Or rude little punks? Should we let them be “themselves” then? If I am honest with myself, what I really mean (other than “civilizing” the primitive cave-man out of them) is, “Be yourself within these socially acceptable parameters.”

A few months ago, my MIL and I got into a rather heated argument on whether or not I would allow Cookie Monster to wear sparkly necklaces to school (the necklace symbolizing all “feminine” accoutrements such as dresses, heels, jewelry, etc.). My MIL was adamant that allowing Cookie Monster to wear a Mardi Gras necklace to school was cruel because I would be setting him up for teasing and mockery. That it was OK for him to be playing with these dress up items in the safety of our home, but that Cookie Monster doesn’t know any better and it was my job to make sure he knew what was and was not acceptable.

I think I nearly blew a gasket.

My MIL was shocked that I would let Cookie Monster go to school with the Mardi Gras necklace on. She said she would talk to Hapa Papa to make sure that didn’t happen. I was honestly surprised that the Mardi Gras necklace would be such a big deal. But to my MIL, it symbolized all the ways that children can be cruel and she couldn’t understand why I would knowingly allow my child to suffer. I was furious that my MIL would want me to suppress Cookie Monster’s natural inclinations in order to “fit in” and why she wanted to instill my son with fear about what others thought of him.

Both of us (well, I can’t speak for my MIL, but this is what I think was going on) were so riled up because of two main issues:

1) The cruelty of children (and by extension, society at large) towards anyone who is non-conforming – particularly in proscribed gender roles.
2) The desire to let our children grow up to be themselves without feeling shame about what they wish and who they are.

Now that I have had several months to cool off, the reality is not so cut and dried. After all, I may not mind Cookie Monster going to school with a harmless (to me, at least) Mardi Gras necklace, but would I be so nonchalant if he wanted to go to school in a hot pink tutu?

If I let him and he got made fun of, should I warn him? But then if he changes his mind because he doesn’t want to be teased, have I failed him and turned him into someone who cares overly about what other people think? Or is that just a glimpse of the Real World where there are always consequences (good or bad) to our actions?

If I didn’t let him, would I be crushing Cookie Monster’s pure little soul and forcing him to conform to what American society deems socially acceptable for males (a VERY narrow band, incidentally)? Would I be providing fodder for self-loathing and therapy in the years to come?

Where would I draw the line? If I did allow him and it was not allowed at the school, would I make a big stink about it so that my child would be free to be himself? What type of lesson would my kids learn if I did make a big deal? That they should fight for what they believe in? Or that rules were meant to be flouted if they made my kids feel bad or “oppressed”?

Hapa Papa says I’m a hypocrite because I am fine with Cookie Monster doing things that seem girly, but I seem far more ruthless about not letting Gamera do those things. Incidentally, that is full of crap because I let Gamera do PLENTY of “girly” things – I just don’t want her to play with Barbies for you know, reasons. Scientifically backed reasons, by the fucking way. Not that I think you’re a bad parent if you allow your kids to play with Barbies. I think the majority of little girls who play with Barbies grow up to be awesome, empowered women. It’s just my personal preference. Backed by SCIENCE. (This dig is aimed more at Hapa Papa, who reads my blog, more than any of my other readers.)

I don’t mind Gamera playing with her baby doll, but I don’t exactly go out of my way to encourage it, either. I supposed I don’t exactly encourage her to play with cars, planes, Legos, and blocks, etc. either, but I approve of it more so. What is so wrong with her playing with dolls? When I think about it, it’s super cute how Gamera puts her “baby” in time out, has her baby cry and need hugs and band aids, and breastfeeds her doll when it is hungry. She’s using her imagination to nurture and take care of her baby. That’s a wonderful thing!

Have I bought into the lie that anything to do with the home or traditional gender roles is bad?

I don’t think so. I am fine with her dressing up as a “Prin-us” (how she says, “Princess.”) with heels and sparkly everything. I am even fine with Cookie Monster doing so. (I bought some sparkly Hello Kitty shoes in HIS size because I knew he’d be so crushed if he couldn’t fit in them and would watch Gamera enviously when she wore them. That way, I also get more mileage out of them for Gamera, too.) I love it when she and Cookie Monster cook in their toy kitchen or push her cars in her toy stroller.

Sigh. Sorry, I think I rambled a bit there and I’m too tired to go back and edit this into a more coherent piece.

At any rate, how do I balance the two seemingly conflicting desires of wanting my children to be who they are yet not suffer from their peers? I suppose I have no control over how their peers or society react to and treat my children so I will just have to help my kids be as themselves as possible. I hope I have the wisdom to know when to intervene and when not to. Seems way more complicated than when I was growing up. Back then, our parents just threw us to the wolves.

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Presumed Guilty

An incident happened at the pumpkin patch the other day and I can’t get it off my mind. In fact, it has made me a little glum thinking about it. Here’s what happened:

Hapa Papa, his mother, and I took the kids to a local farm/pumpkin patch. They had a pit filled with dried corn kernels and Cookie Monster and Gamera were just getting in to play. A few minutes in, a woman comes and asks me if Cookie Monster is my son. I said, “Yes.” She said that Cookie Monster had lifted his shirt full of corn kernels and poured it down her daughter’s mouth, choking her.

My immediate reaction was to apologize and then called for Cookie Monster to come over. Thank goodness my MIL was there and she said, “I don’t think he did anything.” When Hapa Papa heard as well, (he was in the midst of getting Cookie Monster to come over, presumably to be punished) and also said, it couldn’t have been our boy. When I stopped to think about it, I, too, didn’t think it was Cookie Monster. After all, he had just gotten in the pit and I was pretty sure I didn’t see him go anywhere far or be gone long enough to cause mischief. Plus, it didn’t sound like something he’d do.

Well, that mother was indignant and huffed, “I have it on film. I have a picture of it on my phone!” So, I asked politely if I could see the picture. She said, “I have it on the phone. I saw him do it!” I responded, “I’m sure you did. But I would just like to see it.”

She shows me a picture of a kid in a blue shirt almost the same color as Cookie Monster’s but I don’t see him anywhere. I said, “I’m sorry, where is my son? I don’t see him.” She points to the shirt and says, “See! That’s his pony tail right there!”

Cookie Monster does not have a pony tail (or whatever little mullet pig tail thing the kid had). “Oh, that’s not my son.” The woman says, “Yes it is!” and points to the same boy playing in the pit. “That’s not my son.”

“Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry!” And with that, she slunk away.

Now, I’m not upset at the woman for thinking it was my kid. Shirts are the same color and there were a lot of kids. I’m just glad she had a picture so I could “see” it for myself. I don’t think it was racially motivated (you know, all Asians look alike) because the “guilty” kid was a white kid and Cookie Monster definitely does not look white.

No, I’m upset with myself for so quickly assuming that Cookie Monster did something bad. I’m upset that I didn’t stop to think whether or not the incident was plausible or in character for my son even though I was pretty sure I had been watching him and didn’t see him do anything wrong. I am upset with myself for assuming Cookie Monster was the bad guy even though he wasn’t. I am SO GRATEFUL my MIL was there to call BS.

I get it. I know why I immediately apologized. Who wants to be the parent who thinks their little monster can do no wrong? But the opposite is no better. I don’t want to be the parent who always makes my kid out to be at fault even when he isn’t. I want to think better of my own son and to defend him when appropriate. I don’t want my default to be, “What did my kid do?” Because Cookie Monster is a good kid. He can be a pain in the ass and disobedient, but in general, he’s a very good boy.

Thank goodness I didn’t get a chance to yell at him and ruin his good time before asking for proof. I’m also grateful that I wasn’t a complete jerk to the woman and asked her politely to see the pictures. I’m even MORE grateful Cookie Monster proved to be innocent.

My boy is a good boy and I should do well to remember it. My heart hurts that I was so quick to forget.

What Is Love?

Every time I have a conversation with my mother-in-law about love and the nature of love, I come away astounded. For some reason, she thinks that she is not a loving person because she is not affectionate (eg: she doesn’t hug, kiss, or whatever) and doesn’t really think of the kids too much or worry about them when she’s not here. She claims she is a cold person because she is not like my mother, nor is she like the grandmothers and mothers on television.

Each time she says that, I respond with, “You know that television isn’t real, right?”

I know. I’m an ass.

It pains me to hear my MIL tear herself down this way. Not because I’m such a great daughter-in-law (I’m not. I’m utterly terrible.), but because it’s such a lie!! Despite what she thinks, my MIL is a very loving and kind person. For example:

1) She dutifully attends birthday parties, etc. even though she HATES dealing with people and strangers. She is very self-conscious and absolutely CANNOT STAND being at the parties – but she comes anyway. After a few years of this torture, I’ve finally relented and have ceased to force her to attend. We end up having a smaller, family party that includes her, and have a bigger party for ME. (Let’s face it, it’s not really for the kids.)

2) She goes out of her way to come visit us from LA every few months or so. I mentioned how she hates being in public, right? She also has a veritable menagerie at her house and it’s difficult for her to be away that long from all her pets. This is a BIG DEAL.

3) Every time she comes up, she brings a small little toy for my kids. I used to hate the toys she would bring. (Mostly because they were all made in China and you know, the toys would likely be radioactive or full of lead or something.) But I got over it when I realized every single toy she has brought is always the toy that all the kids who come over to our house fight over. ALWAYS. She is the toy whisperer.

4) Every time she comes, she plays with the kids, tells them stories, brings them stickers, and the kids adore her and adore playing with her. She walks with them to the park, shows an interest in their lives, and is generally present.

My MIL says that because she is not physically or vocally affectionate with the children and isn’t exactly like my mother, that she’s a bad grandmother. But that is so stupid because no one is asking her to be MY mother. We’re asking her to be present with my kids – and she IS. I try to explain to her that I don’t care about what she says or hugs, etc. It’s what she DOES that is most important. It’s her TIME with the kids that is conveying love to my children – and vicariously, to me.

You see, on the outside, my father seemed to be a very loving person. He was effusive in affection, always hugging, kissing, holding hands, calling me (and my mother) his sweetheart, his love, his precious. He bought presents – sometimes very lavish, and threw big romantic gestures. All the while, he was unfaithful to my mother multiple times with various women. He abandoned our entire family for years at a time. He stole and lied and physically threatened our family. He robbed my uncle and my cousins of their inheritance (not to mention my brother and I). He paraded his mistress in China around to his family, telling them she was his new wife (he was still married to my mother), claimed God blessed him with another son (did I mention he was still married to my mother?), and tried to convert his family to “follow Jesus” and become Christian. (I find that the MOST foul.)

Despite his many proclamations of “love,” I had never felt more unlovable in all my life.

This is why I don’t care about flowers or gifts or romance. I mean, it’s nice. I’m not stupid. But to me, I find most of these gestures meaningless. I far prefer my boring, day to day love with Hapa Papa. I know we mock each other all the time and pretend we don’t want to spend time with one another. (Ok, that’s not so much pretend, but it’s not unpleasant to spend time with him.) But ultimately, I know, deep in my cold, dark heart, that Hapa Papa is utterly devoted to me and the kids and the rest of his family (including my own). I know, because every day, he proclaims it in all the tedious minutiae of working, washing dishes, and taking care of the kids. Every day, he is present and HERE, sacrificing his time and energy for us.

Do you know that Hapa Papa has no free time for himself? He is always working or with the kids. His free time is his daily 2-3 hour round-trip commute. Even though he loves sports and would love to watch all the various games on TV, when he comes home, he focuses on the kids and plays with them, gives them a bath, reads them stories, and puts them to bed – even during playoffs. After which, he does more work.

His two indulgences? Sports stats and watching Suits (of which there are only thirteen 1 hour episodes a year).

Even when I give him free time to do whatever he wants, he usually naps or gets a haircut. (See, I’m not entirely cruel.) Every now and then, he hangs out with his friends. Sometimes, I practically have to force him to get out of the house.

I think he’s crazy. I practically beg to go out and play with my friends or spend hours reading books without any thought at all.

He never complains.

Now, I realize that just because someone doesn’t have a life doesn’t mean it’s love. Nor does having a life mean it’s not love. My main point is that love is not so much the sweet words and romantic gestures. Love is time served and hard work. You know, like prison. But a prison made of love.

And now, your earworm for the day. (How is that for a segue?) You know it was already in your head just from reading the title. You’re welcome.

Creating the Family I Always Wanted

I can remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted four kids. Up until that moment, I had always assumed I’d have two kids, a girl then a boy, about four years apart. (Funny how that is exactly the order in my family. What can I say? I lack imagination.)

It was June 2006 and I was in Taiwan for a family friend’s wedding. I was at my Second Aunt’s house, which was at the end of a cul-de-sac and directly across the street from my First Aunt’s house. A bunch of my cousins happened to be home and just between us cousins, we were already a small gang. (I have twelve cousins on my mother’s side and only two much younger cousins (like a whole generation younger) on my father’s side.) We were going out to see Superman Returns and I realized we had about six people going – and it was all family.

I suddenly had a pang of such sadness. Because I grew up in CA and they grew up in Taiwan, I missed out on so many family activities. I’d only seen my maternal grandparents less than ten times in my entire life. I felt as if a huge, integral part of my life had been stolen from me and I realized that my family had been so alone and lonely.

My paternal cousins were in Texas and I think I saw them twice in my life at that point. Plus, they were babies at the time. Not really that exciting. My paternal uncle visited us only twice that I remember (all before 1989) because he and my father had a falling out. My paternal grandparents, although they were with us a lot when I was younger, also stopped visiting and stayed in Texas. I rarely visited them.

Basically, the only family I had in CA was my maternal grand-aunt, my mother, and myself. My brother was on the East Coast and my dad was who-knows-where in China. I felt adrift and cut off from my family – no real knowledge of either side’s history and stories.

Right then and there, I knew I wanted four kids. That way, even if all our family was in another state or country, they would at least have each other. They would be an automatic party of four wherever they chose to go together. It would be beautiful and they would love each other and never fight and live down the street from one another. Plus, at least one out of the four kids would take care of me in my old age, right? RIGHT?!

Anyhow, I know in reality, there will be hardships due to a large family (least of which is affording all of these children and their activities, etc.) but I KNOW it will be worth it. I see my family as a way to redeem all the lousy suffering I went through as a child in a broken home with a violent and inconstant father. Thank God Hapa Papa is in no way violent, always faithful, and a wonderful father.

Now obviously, creating a family is more than just birthing lots of babies. (If only it were that easy!) I try VERY hard to make sure that even though our family is spread out all over the world, that we make connections anyway.

Since Hapa Papa’s family is in LA, we try to take a big week long trip to LA every year so his brother and sister can see the kids. We fly up my mother-in-law at least once every 2-3 months so she can get to know the children – which is a big deal since she can sometimes be a recluse. (They LOVE her. She always brings the BEST toys.)

Even though my brother is in DC, we have promised to see each other at least twice a year. They’ll fly out here once and we’ll fly out there once. Of course, there are tons of pictures and videos flying back and forth in the wireless phone ether. My kids LOVE my nephew and talk about him all the time.

My grand-aunt comes over to help babysit when I have doctor appointments and is present at parties and family events. And of course, there is my mother who comes over almost every weekday to play with the kids. She is the most constant person in their lives other than Hapa Papa and I.

As for my paternal cousins, they adore the kiddos from pictures on Facebook and have been so vital in re-connecting our families with their unbridled love and enthusiasm. And speaking of Facebook, that has connected us more to Hapa Papa’s family in Hawaii as well. We even have found out that his cousin lives in SF so we get to see them every now and then, too!

Finally, because the majority of my maternal family is in Taiwan, I am attempting to visit Taiwan every two years or so – or at least, every time I have a new baby. My grandfather is still alive – and I very much want him to meet the kids more than once. He’s in great health, but you never know.

This is all just a rambling way to say that it’s not so much having the babies that is important to me – it is the closer family feeling that I’m trying to capture. I know not all families are close and happy like they show on TV and Hallmark ads, but if I can get my family to look a little more like this happy fiction, then I will have done my job.

I want my kids to feel connected to people other than themselves in this world. That there is a whole web of people they are related to – and that anywhere they go, they have that net to fall back into. Now, I just need to see if there’s a way to connect to Hapa Papa’s family from Ohio. 😀

What about you? How do you go about creating a close family?