Empathy - Let's Make Sure Our Kids Understand What That Means

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So you're probably wondering why I chose to highlight a picture of Dan Rather in a blog posting about kids and empathy. A few weeks ago, an article in The National about Dan Rather titled Working Class Hero caught my eye. In his essay, Dan Rather shares his views on how a lack of empathy is contributing to the divisiveness in this country. Rather was a child of the Depression. He learned the meaning of empathy through witnessing and experiencing hardship: seeing others around him lose jobs, lose homes, be hungry. It was also during those times where he witnessed acts of kindness. He saw what it meant to put oneself in the shoes of others with humility, and without judgment. Those with so little, helped those with even less. Empathy played a key role in bringing communities together during a time of great hardship, and that made America a stronger, more united nation. 

A few days later, as I was taking care of daily house chores, I took a moment to watch Addie and Taylor playing one of their favorite pastimes, family. I was intrigued by their roles, and asked them what they were pretending. Here's the scenario they explained to me:

  • Dad passed away from lung cancer at the age of 55.
  • Mom (played by Addie) is now a single mom of 4 kids. She has a high schooler, middle schooler, 3rd grader and baby. 
  • The oldest, the high school boy (played by Taylor), helps babysit his 3 younger siblings. He also happens to have a girlfriend named Katie Hunter. (I found the detail of him having a girlfriend, and having a first and last name for her adorable). 

They told me what they were playing very matter-of-factly. I, on the other hand, had a knee jerk reaction, which thankfully I managed to keep to myself.  That's so sad! Why are they pretending the dad died?! It's such a depressing situation! They should pretend something normal, something happy... But as I stood there by the stairs, watching them play, it dawned upon me that my kids were putting themselves in the shoes of others, and I remembered Dan Rather's article. In essence, they were practicing empathy. These days, it seems that many in positions of power and wealth, especially in the current government, could use a lesson or two on empathy.  Blaming problems on others, especially those that are victims of discrimination, or those living in poverty only divides us more. As a parent, and as a concerned American, I encourage you to read Dan Rather's essay. Maybe more empathy is what this country needs right now. And as parents, we need to do our part by demonstrating empathy, and making sure our kids understand what that means. 

 

 

Three Books that Have Changed My Life, for Good

Last fall, I hit a rough patch. An emotional rough patch. It was unexpected, felt like it came out of nowhere (although in hindsight, signs of it had been creeping up on me for about 2 years through flashbacks I kept ignoring). Eventually, I lost the "shoving the flashbacks under a rug" battle. Physically, my body broke down. Emotionally, I hit a low. I was dealing with the repercussions of not seeking help and healing from emotional trauma I had suffered as a child. Thankfully, I got help. And during that time of healing, the three books below served as my compass, map and North Star. 

Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution, by Brene Brown

The title of this book caught my eye at the library. I definitely wanted to "rise strong" again. But given I could barely make everyday simple decisions without breaking down in tears, "rising strong" felt like a distant and faraway concept. This was my first Brene Brown book. If you don't know who Brene Brown is, here are two facts: 1) Oprah is a fan of hers, and 2) you can see Brene Brown's talks on TED. Brene is a research professor, and studies human emotions such as vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. At the end of the day, life is always going to throw us curveballs, and this book gave me an emotional roadmap for processing and moving on from hard moments in life. What I found very helpful was how Brene provided tools on dealing with curveballs, rather than trying to define for us what's hard - whether we had an argument with our spouse, didn't get the promotion we were hoping for, and the list goes on. This book lived up to its title, and finishing this book was a milestone in my journey of healing, and rising strong. 

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

This book caught my ear at a Sunday sermon at church. The Pastor shared Marie Kondo's idea of only keeping items in your house that bring you joy. What sounded at first like an absurd thought turned out to be pure genius. Initially challenging to execute - as with anything that's behaviorally different than what you're used to, the methodology was a game changer for me - it's changed my life for good. One of Marie's observations is that when you start to implement her methodology of tidying up (an intense form of de-cluttering), it feels like your quality of life gets better, and more success comes your way. She's right. The best part is I haven't had to clean my closet since I implemented her methodology 6 months ago, and I never will have to clean it again. It really is magic. 

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho 

A friend had given me this book years ago. I forgot that I had it, until one day, I found it in my drawer. Was it coincidence that I found it immediately after reading the works of Brene Brown and Marie Kondo? After reading The Alchemist, I think not. The Alchemist inspires us to go after our dreams, our "personal legend" as he calls it. When we choose to pursue our personal legend, life conspires in our favor. There are signs and omens all along the path, as well as people who cross our paths that are there to help us reach our dreams. As with any journey, there are obstacles. And sadly, many people never pursue their personal legend - as they allow other things in life to get in their way. For me, this book was an omen telling me that I will create my personal legend of being a writer. A blogger. A children's book author. A storyteller. Reading this book just might be the jumpstart you need to pursue your own personal legend - and what a gift that is. 

I'm going to end this blog post explaining why I provided the context I did at the beginning. I shared it because at our lowest points, if we have the strength to seek help, and have the good fortune of having a support system of some sort, that time can be a time for us to make a change for the better. The kind of change that feels like a renewal of sorts. It can set us on a new path, a better one. One that helps us realize our potential, and what we want to do in the lifetime we have on this earth. I experienced a new clarity after reading these books, and if you take the time to let these authors speak to you - you may feel that your life has changed too, for Good. 

My Kid Loves Herself, and Here's Why

I am 6 years old. I am in first grade. I am smart. I eat well. I love myself.

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When I read those words my daughter had written one evening in her journal, I couldn’t be happier. To know that your daughter has self-love, and a strong sense of confidence is invaluable. At first when I read those words, I chalked it up to how she's wired.  We got lucky, very lucky. Our daughter is just a naturally confident girl, and doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem issues that plague way too many girls in this country.

It’s funny how things unfold though – you’ll see what I mean shortly.

The night before, it was Daddy’s turn to stay with Addie before tucking her in and saying good-night (Frank and I alternate each night). While Daddy was sitting next to Addie in bed, Addie was lamenting about her age, something she often does, as she’s one of the youngest ones amongst her friends. "Being young" might not seem like that big of a deal, but in her mind, it's comparable to being "the smallest one" or "the one who's always picked last for sport teams." She has an August birthday. And in a school system where the cutoff for the year is the end of September, she’s usually one of the youngest in her class. So all her friends are starting to turn 7, and she still has to wait a bit. Since she was feeling down about herself, Daddy gave her a pep talk... which I'll elaborate on in a bit. 

Rewind a few days back, I was at the Library of Congress attending the 2016 inauguration of the National Ambassador for Young Children's Literature, Gene Yang. For those in the DC area, this is a bi-annual free event open to the public that I highly recommend, as it was such a privilege to hear both Gene Yang (an energetic, funny and inspirational force), and the outgoing ambassador, Kate DiCamillo (her words are a gift to us all), speak. After the event, I stopped by the gift store, and bought Addie a Writing Journal. What I liked about it, was that on every page, it had a suggestion at the top on what to write about, which I think is very helpful for young writers. 

So now back to that evening where Daddy gave Addie the pep talk, it just so happened she couldn't fall asleep that night and came downstairs looking for me. I happened to remember then that I hadn't given her the Writing Journal yet, so I let her know that I had something special for her. I gave her the journal. She immediately asked if she could write in it that evening. My first instinct was to say no, because it was late, and a school night, but I saw how excited she was about the journal, and decided not to take away from that moment - and I told her that she could write in it for a few minutes before going to bed. 

The next evening, when I came into her room to close her curtains, she told me she loved the journal so much, and she thanked me for it. The topic on the first page was, "Write about yourself." I asked her if I could read what she wrote, and this is what I saw, "I am 6 years old. I am in first grade. I am smart. I eat well. I love myself."

I told her I loved that she had written in her journal, and that I loved what she wrote. I quickly went to find Frank and tell him how lucky we were to have a little girl with such confidence.

Turns out, I was a little bit wrong in attributing Addie's strong sense of herself all to her personality. Frank shared with me that during his pep talk with Addie the night before, he reassured her, and reminded her of the goodness she brings to the table. Even though she was only 6, she was definitely just as tall as all the 7 year olds, if not taller (she's always been on the taller side for her age). And even more importantly, he reminded Addie that she's got a lot to love about herself. She's smart. She can do everything her 7 year old classmates can do, if not more. She eats amazingly well, has an impressively sophisticated palate and is always willing to try new foods. She's very kind and thoughtful. That night, Daddy reminded Addie that she has a lot to feel good about. And those words, not only cheered Addie up in the moment, but permanently added to Addie's evolving sense of herself in a beautiful, positive way.

Remind, your daughter/son, always, of all the reasons they have to love themselves. It does make a difference.

I'm a "good" parent

The other day, my daughter came home, and shared with me what she had learned about buckets, and how to fill them. Buckets not in a literal sense, but as a metaphor for the basic human need to be on the receiving end of positive gestures. Her teacher/counselor, had taught her class that everyone has a bucket. To fill someone's bucket is to offer a kind gesture of some sort, such as complimenting a person, thanking them, or doing something nice for someone. My daughter had chosen to fill my bucket. Considering she was told she could fill anyone's bucket (including her classmates or teacher), I was touched that she chose to fill my bucket. Here's the note that she wrote me: 

Dear Mommy, You are a good mommy. You are cool. I Love you. From: Addie

Dear Mommy, You are a good mommy. You are cool. I Love you. From: Addie

Now you would think that getting a note like that from your child would be "good" enough. But I couldn't help honing in on the fact that she wrote "good" mommy. Not "great" mommy. Why did I choose to dwell on that word? Of course on the outside I made sure she knew how much I appreciated having my bucket filled (I thanked her, I hugged her, and told her how lucky I was to be her mommy), but on the inside, there was some turmoil going on. Am I not great? Don't I strive to be a great mommy? I didn't leave my career to become a stay at home mom to become a "good" mommy... 

So as my brain went down this dark, critical, pretentious path, I kept asking myself, what my definition of being a "great" mom was, and why had the phrase "good" mom given me such a knee-jerk reaction. Then, thankfully the rational side of me kicked in, and I decided to approach this from a thought exercise lens and think about "good" vs "great" from Addie's perspective. If I put myself in my daughter's shoes, what would I think of Mommy? Let's see. 

My mommy gives me hugs in the morning when I wake up. My mommy is always telling me to hurry up and get ready so that we won't be late. I hate it when she brushes my hair and says it won't hurt but it hurts A LOT when she's brushing out the knots. She nags me about wearing my mittens and not zipping up my coat. She gets annoyed when I forget to put my library books in my backpack. She gets cranky if we're running late and she has to drive a little faster so that we make it to school on time. I love that she's always there to pick me up from the school bus. She makes me do my homework first before playing with friends. Just this past week, she decided I can only play with friends Monday and Friday afternoons during the school week. Why can't I play with them everyday? She's always telling me to practice my piano, or read, or practice Chinese, or do math problems. I hate it when she yells at me for crying. She says crying doesn't get me anything. But sometimes I'm just tired and frustrated, so I cry. I love it when she stays with me at night. I feel like I can tell her anything. I'm glad she doesn't work anymore so I get to see her more. I love my mommy very much.

If that's what she's thinking, then I'll take "good" any day, because there are definitely moments throughout each day that I'm not quite reaching the bar of being a "good" mom. And then there's the simple fact that my job isn't to be a "great" mom all the time, that'd be like giving her all the candy she wants at the candy store. So, it turns out I feel good about being a "good" mom. It doesn't hurt that Addie gave me credit for being a "cool" mom, too. 

 

 

Carpool buddies and car games

I don't carpool much. Part of the reason is that I drive a small car that just seats two in the back. I believe I'm the only stay at home mom in the neighborhood that does not haul the kiddos around in a minivan (to their dismay - their dream is a simple one: for mommy to get a minivan). My husband though drives a Honda Ridgeline truck - which can fit 3 across in the backseat. So on occasion, I swap cars with him so that I can carpool. Today, I learned a lot while carpooling. The topic was car games. It's always satisfying to learn something new, and the added bonus was that for the entire drive, my carpool buddies made my heart smile. 

We picked up Addie's friend Jay. He hopped in the car, and we were off to drop my daughter and him off at summer camp. Addie and Jay started chatting when Addie mentioned, "Oh no, I think I missed the porter potty." Then shortly thereafter, I hear Taylor yell out, "Porter Potty!" I realized in that moment Jay was probably trying to figure out what my kids' fascination with porter potties was all about, so I gave him some background context.

"Earlier in the year when I was potty training Taylor, he couldn't hold his pee for very long, so I started finding myself in lots of porter potties. Soon, every time the kids saw a porter potty, they'd yell out, 'Porter potty!' So we turned it into a car game. If you're the first person to spot a porter potty and call it out, you get a point. Each porter potty equals one point. The person who gets the most points by the time we get to our destination wins."

In response, Jay told us about the car game he plays. "It's called the alphabet game. You have to find words that start with each letter in the alphabet, and you have to go in order. So first you find a word that starts with A. Then B. Do you know, one time we made it through the whole alphabet all the way to Z???!!!"

"Wow," I responded, thinking about the difference in the types of car games we play. 

"Jay! Jay! Excuse me! Jay! Do you play the red car game?" That was my 3 year old trying to get Jay's attention. It probably sounded more like this, "Jay! Jay! Coos me! Jay! Do you pway the wed caw game?"

Here was Jay's response. "What did Taylor say?" I noticed every time Taylor spoke to Jay, I had to translate. Jay doesn't have any younger siblings, and I can tell he isn't used to the speech patterns of a 3 year old. So I explained that red car game is just like our porter potty game, except you get a point every time you see a red car.

"No we don't play that game. But we play the addition game. So you pick a number, let's say 5. And then you have to find two numbers that add up to 5. You can look at license plates, signs, anything that has numbers on it."

"Wow." That's me, of course, once again thinking about the lack of educational qualities of our games.

"And we also play the number game in the car. You have to find numbers in order, just like with the alphabet game. For bigger numbers, like 22,  you can find each number separately like 2 and 2 to make 22. But if you find 2 and 2 next to each other, you get to skip the next number, 23, and move onto finding 24. Oh, and you can't use the numbers you see in the car. That would make it too easy."

"Porto potty!!!" Taylor yells out. 

Now I'm well versed on car games. All different kinds. Makes me look forward to hanging out with my carpool buddies. 


Surviving Summer Travel with Toddlers

We just came back from a fabulous week-long vacation in Cape Cod. This was our first vacation with the kiddos where we didn't have family traveling with us - or at the destination upon arrival - which meant no helping hands around. I'm relieved things went well - because going into the trip, the thought of not having any breaks from my 5 and 3 year old for 7 straight days scared me. Here's what we tried that worked well - and allowed Frank and I to have wonderful moments all week long with the kids, and without the kids.

vacationtraveltips

1)      Tire them out! Here's why: For many of us, sleep arrangements typically change when traveling (the kids are either sharing a room or a bed). That means lots of opportunities to talk and not sleep, which over time, results in ridiculous crankiness. We packed the days with lots of physical activity (a.k.a. Fun!): multiple trips to the beach in one day (some days once in the morning and then once after dinner before sunset), biking, day trips like our whale watching venture, playgrounds, etc. Our goal was for them to pass out by 8PM - which then meant Frank and I had 3 hours to ourselves each evening. 

2)     Always have a "carrot" in your back pocket. I used the carrot in front of the horse method, in other words, bribing with forethought. I tried to plan things so that we could get the kids to move onto the next item on our agenda without tears. For example, ice cream always came after the beach or pool, not before. The playground turned out to be an excellent carrot to be offered at the end of the day (made leaving the beach and pool much easier). 

3)    Supply your kids with entertainment. Portable dvd player (and lots of DVDs that we borrowed from friends). Leapfrogs. The iPad. It wasn't just technology though. We brought Usborne workbooks and activity pads. If you haven't heard of Usborne books, then get to know them - because they are all about engaging your kids through travel friendly activities (all you need is a pencil or crayons, and their books often come with stickers). Fun ones to check out: Fasion Designer Summer Collection and Lots of Things to Find and Color. When we needed downtime, in lieu of a babysitter, this worked great. 

4) Don't overschedule the day, roll with it. While we certainly kept ourselves busy, we also allowed ourselves to take our time getting out of the house, and made sure to keep activities that required getting somewhere by a certain time to a minimum. I find that having to get my kids some place by a certain time increases the likelihood that I will yell at my kids ten fold. Why? "Mommy, I need to go potty." "Mommy, I forgot my bucket." "Daddy, I spilled my milk." Terrible 3's = Everything is, "No, I don’t want to!" I could tell the not overscheduling strategy worked when by the end of the week, I realized that I had yelled at my kids only twice. Twice. The whole week. That's a record (in a good way) for me. 

5) No guilt allowed. We broke house rules. We enjoyed our wine and beer every night. Give yourself a break. It’s Ok. You’re on vacation. 

The Tig - Enjoying life to the fullest

I love The Tig because it celebrates the finer things in life - without arrogance, or disdain for the ordinary. I'm also a fan of Meghan Markle, the creator of The Tig, an actress who's currently on Suits. She's someone who has not just settled for Hollywood fame, but instead continues trying to make the world a better place. Her most recent role as UN Women Advocate for Women't Leadership & Political Participation is more than admirable. Enjoy, as I do, The Tig.

The only bowl your kids will need

I've tried all different kinds of plastic bowls before. An annoying challenge I ran into is seeing how some of the plastic bowls slip and slide when my kids were trying to eat out of them. Plastic is good for the little ones, but if they're too light and don't have some kind of rubber on the bottom, they're slippery little fellas. So that's when I was overjoyed to discover the oxo tot bowls

These oxo tot bowls have three great features:

  1. They have rubber bottoms. No more slipping and sliding.
  2. They come with lids, that kids can put on and take off themselves. Kids didn't finish their meal, and it's something they'll eat later? Pop the lid on, put it in the fridge, and you're done. No need to transfer into another bowl. Also great for packing snacks in lunches. 
  3. BPA, phthalate and PVC free as well as top-rack dishwasher safe

I'm not the only fan of these bowls making my life easier, and helping with making my kids better independent eaters, check out Cricket Circle's recommendation of these bowls

Keeping lunch warm (and cold)

If you've ever wanted to pack your kids warm lunches, but aren't sure what containers work well, I've got two recommendations below. Being able to pack room temp finger foods AND warm lunches has given me a lot more options when packing my kids' lunches. Anytime we've got leftover pasta, fried rice, chicken noodle soup, etc. - it's one less lunch I have to prepare. I also have more options to make fast lunches that taste much better warm, like scrambled eggs or quesadillas. And want to keep the lunch cold, like yogurt topped with fruit and granola? Works great for that too. 

Older kids, ages 5+: Thermos foogo food jar 

The thermos foogo food jar has a twist top, and does an excellent job of keeping lunches warm. I recommend this one for older kids because younger kids have a harder time with twisting off the top themselves (which I realized when co-oping in my son's pre-school class). 

 

Younger kids, ages 2-4: Think food container

 
 

The think food container is one that younger kids can open and close by themselves. It doesn't keep lunches as warm (or cold) for as long as the thermos foogo food jar does, but it's good enough. I've learned from my son's preschool teachers the importance of young kids developing good eating habits early on - and part of that puzzle is giving kids lunches they can open and close themselves. For those of us with toddlers, I'm sure you've witnessed the intense desire to be independent via "I want to do it myself!!!" rampages. Well, your toddler will be satisfied with being able to lift and close the flaps on the lid of this container - thus one step closer to fostering independent eating. 

Carol Shen, blueberrymom.com blogger

I love learning from other women - hearing their stories, learning from their life experiences. But usually the women that get the chance to tell their stories are the famous ones - celebrities, corporate executives, women whose career choices have propelled them into the public eye. But most of us moms aren't famous - and we have just as much to share, just as much to teach even if we are never in the limelight. So this section is a chance for us to hear their stories, our stories. 

Before I ask others to share their stories - I'm starting with mine. 

carol-shen

Life's curve balls

We lost our first pregnancy at 23 weeks. When we went in for the second trimester sonogram, all we could think about was finding out if we were going to have a boy or girl. Instead, we left with terrible news: the baby's heart had not formed properly, the baby was missing organs, including its pancreas, and the positioning of the organs it did have were reversed. We were devastated - I cried a lot for many months. Turns out what happened to us was an anomaly - 1 in 20,000 chance. We were fortunate in that there was no genetic cause that could be found. Eventually we were blessed with two healthy, beautiful children. Our daughter's middle name Hope is in memory of our first child. 

Parenting challenges

Having the patience to be a good parent. It takes a LOT of patience to be a parent. Why? The list is long... all the hard questions I get from my daughter, all the Why? questions I get from my son, all the spills and messes to clean up (bloody noses, pee accidents, projectile vomit, spilled milk), all the times I use adult logic on my kids and am then frustrated when they don't behave the way I expect them to. Then there's the whining - it's incredibly annoying. And the potty training. It's like moving - it just sucks.  I thought I was a patient person before I became a parent. Apparently, I'm not that patient. 

This got me through the tough times

Kids that sleep through the night = happy parents. Kids that don't sleep through the night = cranky parents. Sleep books that helped me teach my kids how to sleep through the night, and fall back asleep on their own: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth and The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight by Kim West

Why I'm a stay at home mom now

I always thought I'd be a career woman. It's easier said than done though, especially if you choose to have kids, and your spouse works full-time as well. I had no idea how challenging it would be to juggle home ownership, two careers, two kids and a dog. When our most recent nanny's husband was diagnosed with lung cancer last spring, and she was no longer able to work for us - I found myself not wanting to find another nanny.  I was done finding nannies to raise my kids - I wanted to raise my own kids. In life, you can't have it all - it's all about making choices that's best for you - so I was OK with taking a break from my corporate career in exchange for more time with my family, and a more manageable pace of life. 

Parenting bliss

So many moments during the day. Taylor: He makes my heart sing. He's got the best dance moves. He makes me laugh, all the time - he's a goof ball at heart. He's a cuddler, and knows how to sweet talk his mommy with compliments. He can't pronounce the s in front of a consonant, so it's, "Mommy, you (s)mell nice." Addie: She's my strong, curious, crazy independent girl. She takes such wonderful care of her little brother. She asks very insightful questions all the time. Whenever I get mad at her (usually it's for doing something I specifically asked her not to do), she gets upset as any kid would normally do - but then moves on by drawing me a picture or making a card for me to show that she's sorry. Her maturity and thoughtfulness never cease to amaze me - my girl will change the world for the better, and I'm already a better person for being her mom.  

Morning routine

My husband leaves the house at 7AM, so I usually wake up to a good-bye kiss from him. Now that Addie is in Kindergarten, and tardies are real, I have to get her to school on-time (unlike with Taylor who's in preschool 3 mornings a week). I'm better at being late than being on time - so mornings feel chaotic for me (throw in my son's potty training, and it can turn into a hot mess).  I'm working on making mornings feel less chaotic, here's what's helped:

  • Making sure Addie picks her outfit out the night before. 
  • Starting the morning with ME time, if I'm lucky enough to have any. Before the kids are up it's all about me: blogging, catching up on e-mails, taking a little extra time to do my hair. Feels good to start the day focused on myself. 
  • Giving myself interim morning deadlines. 8AM - kids need to be up. We have a chime clock at home that plays a song on the hour - which works well as my audio cue. 8:15 - kids need to be dressed, have their teeth brushed, and be downstairs at the breakfast table. 8:45 - kids need to start putting socks and shoes on, and I need to do Addie's hair. 9AM - once again audio cue from chime clock, and it's time to get in the car to get Addie to school by 9:15. 

Between 8:15 and 8:45 I pack my kids warm lunches and get about a half breakfast in me. I try to leave the house each day looking somewhat presentable - meaning 5 minutes worth of make-up and hair. And then there's remembering to the let the dog out. No coffee for me, since it kills my stomach. If I need a caffeine kick - it's tea. 

What I miss

Talking to my husband without being interrupted by my kids - which explains the importance of date nights! We get a date night in once a month, and during the week we try once a week to treat an evening at home as our "at home date night."

Indulging

Having time to shop at the mall, alone. Getting a mani/pedi or drinks with girlfriends. Taking my daughter up to NYC for the weekend. Making photo books after a trip. Heading to Italy every 5 years with my husband (we went there for our honeymoon, and have a made a promise to ourselves to go back every 5 years). 

Life wisdom

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou

About me

I call Northern Virginia home, although always a Northern California girl at heart. My parents were first generation Chinese immigrants - and I grew up speaking Mandarin at home. Because my dad worked in pharmaceutical sales, we moved around a lot. I've lived in Indiana, Hawaii, Shanghai and major cities in California - including LA, San Diego and San Francisco Bay Area. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Psychology. After college, I took a chance on love, and moved out with my then boyfriend and now husband of 10 years to the DC region. While he pursued his pharmacy and business graduate degrees, I obtained my MBA in the evenings while working full-time. I've always worked in HR related fields, most recently as Director of Learning and Development at CEB. I worked full-time until my daughter Addie was 3 and my son Taylor was 1, then worked part-time for 1 year, and last summer decided to be at home full-time. While I gave up my corporate job, I continue to serve on the Board of Directors of The Reading Connection - a non-profit whose mission is to help at-risk kids in shelters become lifelong passionate readers to help break the cycle of poverty. I'm looking to start my second career as a blogger/writer - with my first gig beginning this summer as a guest blogger for WETA's Start with a Book and Reading Rockets sites. 

 

"Mommy's going to jail" threat

Yesterday, on the drive back from ballet class, my daughter started yelling, "Mommy - Taylor's taking his arms out of his seatbelt!" And sure enough, at a stop sign, I whipped my head back to see his chest and arms free from any restraint. 

So I did what any good mom does who fiercely cares about the safety of her child. I used fear to threaten my child back into appropriate behavior. "Taylor! Get your arms back under your seatbelt! If a cop pulls me over now, and sees yours arms out, he's sending me to jail!" 

Then it got quiet. Really quiet. I wasn't sure if my threat had worked, so I asked my daughter if his arms were back in - and she confirmed that indeed they were. So just as I was about to give myself a parenting pat on the back for figuring out how to ensure my son never goofs around with his seatbelt again, I hear whimpering noises. Sniffle, sniffle. 

"Mommy," Taylor whispers, "I don't want you to go to jail. I would really, really, really miss you."

He really did say really 3 times. And then he started bawling - as if he wasn't going to see me for a very very long time. His sadness permeated the car. My heart skipped a beat, while my stomach churned. 

I spent the rest of the drive reassuring him that Mommy's not going to jail. I had no idea that my just recently turned 3 year old would take my threat so seriously - and knew what going to jail meant. I asked him, "Do you even know what jail is?" And he nodded yes.

Did I chuckle when I told this story to my husband? Yes. Did I feel bad that he was bawling in the car as his toddler brain imagined what life would be like without mommy? Yes, very much so. Was I secretly happy that he'd really really really miss me. Yes. Do I think that my threat worked? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not. Parenting's complicated. 

 

Writing thank you cards - evolving etiquette

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Across the last few years, my "thanking others" approach has changed. I used to be pretty diligent about writing thank you cards following my kids' birthday parties, Christmas, Chinese New Year, and I'm sure the list goes on for all of us. But then life got busy. Very busy. Had two kids, was working full-time. And the part of my to-do list that said, "Write thank you cards," became one of those annoying to-do's that added to my stress level - partly because writing thank you cards can be time consuming, and partly because I felt constrained by outdated etiquette rules when it comes to thanking others. 

I didn't like feeling that way. Thanking others shouldn't feel like a chore. It should be an act of genuine appreciation. So I decided to evolve my approach. Gone are the days that I diligently write thank you cards to every parent that attends one of my kids' birthday parties. 

Instead, I did the following:

  • Gave myself permission to not have writing thank you cards be my only way of thanking others.
  • Became more strategic in who I thank and how I thank them. I now use a variety of means to thank others, which I'm sure many of you do already, such as text messaging, e-mails and e-cards. Technology not only allows me to thank others more efficiently, but I would argue it allows me to make my thank you's much more customized and personal. And of course, there's thanking others over the phone, and in person. 

How I thank others using text messages, e-mails, facebook, and e-cards (see photo gallery below for examples): 

  • I love sending a text message with a photo of my child wearing their new outfit, playing with their new toy, or in a short and sweet video simply saying thank you. It makes our friends and family happy when they see how much we're enjoying their gifts. A thank you over e-mail or facebook can suffice just as well. Given a timely e-mail thank you vs. a late hand written snail mail thank you - choose the e-mail, and consider yourself done.
  • I subscribe to Hallmark's e-card subscription service, Smilebox. It probably takes just as much time for me to put together an e-card as it does to handwrite a thank you card, but it saves me a trip to the post office. Sending an e-card with a photo slideshow or video never fails to pleasantly surprise grandma and grandpa. 

How I prioritize who I write thank you cards to:

  • I prioritize those that matter most to me - or those that I know who'll appreciate the gesture. And yes, that means not taking the time to write thank you cards to those that I know I'll never see again. It's nothing personal, it's just that I know 9 times out of 10, the feeling on the receiving end is mutual: I got a thank you card - recycle bin. 

And one day, if needed, I'll manage people's expectations: "I don't do thank you cards..." 

  • My friend Tracy threw a fabulous Halloween themed birthday party for her daughter last year. It was a big party - lots of guests, lots of presents. At one point, she spoke to all her guests, and said, "I don't do thank you cards, but know from the bottom of my heart, I am so grateful that each and everyone of you came to celebrate my daughter's birthday. Thank you, thank you, thank you." It was sincere, refreshing, and in that moment - she was done with her post-party to do list. 

I have a suspicious feeling that Ms. Manners wouldn't approve of this post... but I'm not here to please others. I'm here to help us, very very busy moms, take back time for ourselves. Think of it this way, I'm pretty sure dads don't have "writing thank you cards" as a recurring item on their to-do list. If you haven't already, give yourself permission to express your gratitude through other means than thank you cards. So here's to thanking others more efficiently without sacrificing thoughtfulness, and taking pleasure again in the act of thanking others.