Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twists and Turns in the Game of Life

They say life imitates the arts, but what about board games?  I spent an enjoyable afternoon playing The Game of Life with the kids.  While I do feel quite a bit of nostalgia for the old school car with the pink and blue peg people, I have to say that the new and improved game is pretty darn cool.  Each player gets a "credit card" which you enter into a little machine that keeps track of everyone's accumulated net worth and life points.  So much cooler than fake money!

The board is broken into 4 different life areas:  Learn It, Earn It, Love It, and Live It.  We all decided that we should go through Learn It to get an education, which would maximize our potential salaries later on.  All good, and a great real life lesson I thought.  

But then, Guinness accidentally took a short cut through Learn It, didn't get a college degree, won the lottery, was on the cover of a magazine, doubled his $100,000 investment in a business venture, bought a sports car and mansion, got married, and had twins.  We laughed him for skipping college (he kept saying he was going to go back to Learning and get a college degree - until he won the lottery), but he ended up winning the game with 4 times as many points as the rest of us.

Cayman and Ellington, both frivolously spent their money on expensive sports cars, but at least they got their college educations!   And they came in second and third, respectively.  And I, cursed with rolling ones, basically took the equivalent of 7 years to graduate.  Because we had set a limit of 10 turns, I never made it through the Earn It section to get any promotions in order to reap the benefits of my education!  I took a risky gamble on a business venture and lost.  So I ended up dead last, severely in debt.

What type of life lessons is Milton Bradley trying to teach us!?!?

Well, not much from the content of the game, but great lessons about sportsmanship and empathy from the playing of the game itself.  Guinness and Cayman were so patient with Ellington, helping him to read the cards and telling him how to enter amounts into the machine.  And Ellington felt so bad about me being left behind in Learn It while everyone else moved on in Life that he kept crawling into my lap to give me hugs, promising to come back and "save me".

I really hope life doesn't imitate The Game of Life - at least this particular round.  But I suppose better that than any round of Clue:  yes, I can see my kids trapped in a spooky mansion trying to track down Colonel Mustard killing Miss Scarlett in the billiard room with a candlestick.  

Come to think of it, that's a pretty fun game!  I think a trip to the toy store is in order....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Halloween Done Right

They say Halloween trick-or-treating ranks among the top ten favorite childhood memories for American adults.  It is certainly one of mine.  As with most memories from childhood, the good and the bad blend into one glowing feeling of warm comfort, brushed hazy from nostalgia.  

Back in the day, the Halloween season usually started at the beginning of October for me, my brother and my cousins, when a large box of home-made costumes would arrive from one of our aunts.  One year I was a medieval princess, complete with a conical hat and scepter.  One year, we received a box full of different colored capes, so we supplemented them with store-bought vinyl superhero costumes.  Forget what Edna Mode told Mr. Incredible; any superhero costume can only be enhanced by a brightly hued cape.  Didn't you know that Wonder Woman had an optional hot pink cape?  The color may have clashed with the red bustier and boots, but it worked for me!

This year, with Halloween falling at the end of the school's mid-term break, I decided to take the kids back to the US for a proper Halloween trick-or-treating experience.  Yes, the expats celebrate it in Hong Kong.  But it's either a party at the American Club or you hit a handful of houses in your small neighborhood.  And yes, they did it before we moved to Hong Kong, but they weren't old enough to really get it.  To enjoy the cheap thrills of scary decorations, to curse the cold clamminess of condensation on your cheap plastic mask, to get caught up in the greediness of collecting and hoarding as much candy as possible (maybe stealing some from your unsuspecting younger siblings or cousins), to give in to the gluttony of stuffing as much candy as possible in your mouth before your mother can stop you.  Was your Halloween not like this?  Not that I'm encouraging this type of behavior, but it's just one of those classic childhood experiences that everyone should have.

And what an experience it was!  My brother, Yung, lives in one of those densely packed suburban neighborhoods where you can hit 100 homes in one and a half hours.  They close some of the streets down to traffic so the kids can safely run around like sugar-crazed maniacs.  And the neighbors go all out with the decorations.  Taped up Halloween posters and jack o'lanterns?  You'd be pegged as the new neighbors who just don't know yet.  Fog machines and spooky music played out the windows were de rigeur.  One neighbor had the motion-detector coffin that popped out a vampire at just the right moment to startle out delighted shrieks from our merry little band.  Another neighbor made a mini-maze out of hanging black tarp with Halloween decorations at every turn.  Cayman got so distracted that she walked right by the old crone/neighbor handing out the candy at the end of the maze.  One neighbor, I kid you not, covered their driveway with a truckload of mulch and recreated a graveyard with crooked old tombstones and body parts sticking out of the ground!

But the highlight of the evening was the house with a child-size figure of the grim reaper with the skeletal face and scythe.  It was strategically positioned at the corner of the front walkway and slowly turned back and forth tracking the people walking up to the front door.  It looked and moved so realistic that Yung called me over from the end of the driveway to check it.  As we were waiting for our kids' turn to ring the doorbell, we stood there marveling over this realistic figure.  Was it plugged in?  It even makes sounds.  Right as we were about the touch it, the kids in front of us cleared out of the doorway, and the little grim reaper silently turned and walked off with his group!  Probably thinking to himself, "those old folks sure are clueless!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Scratch, Scratch. Does Your Head Feel Itchy Too?

They say it never rains but it pours.  So true of Hong Kong.  And I'm not talking about the driving rain and howling winds from Typhoon Koppu.  I'm not talking about the fact that our driver has been out sick with flu-like symptoms, leaving me trying to find and hail empty taxis from the school pick-up line (very rare) in the pouring rain (near impossible).  Nor, am I talking about the fact that a typhoon signal 8 was recently hoisted.  (For those of you Stateside, this means that school will be cancelled tomorrow.)  Exactly what we need after a week of school closure due to the swine flu.  If I receive a notification for Virtual School tomorrow, I may have to have words with someone.  I don't know who that someone is, but words I will have.

I am talking about a type of school notification that is, if you can believe it, so much worse than another Virtual School announcement.  Oh, some schools send home notices on pretty pink paper, as if the cheerful pastel color will lessen the horror.  Sometimes the school nurse calls, as if the human touch will lessen the pain.  And sometimes you just notice the head-scratching yourself.

Yes, I am talking about the H-bomb.  Head lice.  

Ever since Guinness started preschool six years ago, we've received the classroom notice at least twice a year.  So far, we've been like Muhammad Ali, miraculously ducking and weaving to avoid the lice threat.   But every time we get the notice, the reaction is always the same.  I find it not unlike the stages of grief: 
Denial.  It's probably just a birthday invitation, right?  Come on!  It's on pink paper....
Anger.  What!  But we just got a notice 3 months ago!  I'll bet they didn't even clean the classroom!
Bargaining. Just let us escape it one more time, and I promise I will stop being lazy about bringing the kids in for regular haircuts....
Depression. Who cares?  I'm not going to do anything.  We're just going to get another notice again anyway.
Acceptance. My head feels itchy.

So, no, we were not able to dodge it this time.  I got the notice about head lice in the class while I was still at school.  The nurse hadn't had time to check the rest of the students before the end of the day.  Of course, my head immediately started feeling itchy, so Idecided to take the little one down to the nurse's office to get it checked out.  And with an expert diagnosis in hand, I quickly realized that there is a fine line to tread between making sure your kids don't feel self-conscious about anything and teaching them a little discretion.  Because, to take a line from our lice shampoo pamplet, "head lice are ... generally considered to be socially unacceptable."  This I am thinking as Ellington cheerfully tells three different teachers about the bugs on his head, and how he got them from one of his friends, but now Mommy is going to wash his hair with medicine to kill them.  And as he and Cayman cheerfully and loudly chat about it on the public bus going to the local pharmacy (since I never was able to hail down a taxi from the school pick-up line, in the pouring rain, with children with headlice).

Hey guys.  You know how it's okay to like your zoo animals underwear, but you shouldn't show it to everyone?  Well, let's not talk about the bugs right now.  Okay?

And nonononono!  Seriously.  Get your head away from me!

And so the fun begins.  It took 2 hours to get everyone's hair washed, treated, combed, dried, and re-combed.  We had to strip everyone's beds.  We had to rewash all our towels.  All our stuffed animals and throw pillows are sealed in garbage bags.  Everyone is forbidden from sitting on our couches until we can vacuum them tomorrow.  Perhaps I am overreacting.  But as you know, I have issues with bugs, whether they be microscopic ones crawling around inside my pillow, sesame size ones crawling around my child's head, or tropical size ones crawling around my house.  

I've gone through my hair with a fine tooth comb three times and didn't find a thing.  But, I swear!  Does anyone else's head feel itchy too?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Virtues (or Lack Thereof) of Virtual School

They say homeschoolers are a different breed of parent.  I completely agree.  In fact, I would go so far as to call them certifiably insane parents.  Yes, I said that, and you can take that to the bank.

The kids' school was closed by Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection for 7 days in response to "an upward trend of in student absences due to flu-like symptoms."  Don't even get me started on over-reactions, or this will be whole different kind of post.  We were notified of the school closure around 7:50 pm last Monday evening and a collective groan swept across American households in Hong Kong.  On Tuesday morning, we were notified of the start of the "Virtual School" program where teachers would email assignments to the kids to complete each day at home, and a collective shriek of horror swept across American households in Hong Kong.  No, we don't want our kids to lose an entire week of school.  But NO! we don't want to teach our kids ourselves.  That's why we enrolled our kids in school - because we aren't certifiably insane homeschoolers.

Because this is what "Virtual School" means.

Each day, Guinness, now in third grade, had to read 20-30 minutes and keep a reading log.  Easy peasy.  Then he had to play a couple math games on the computer.  Even easier peasier.  By this point, he was usually starting to get a little restless, so I let him take a snack break.  Luckily the games are on the computer so it didn't take long for me to talk him back into work.  And then each day he had a different specialist assignment like a science crossword puzzle or a pattern project.  Still easy peasy.  Except by then, Ellington was usually done with his homework and had moved onto computer games or was watching tv, and Guinness would decide that now is the perfect time to tell me just how unfair life is.  Every day.  

And then each day, he had to write a minimum two paragraphs about some special time that he has spent with his family or friends, or about a special place.  Which should be easy peasy.  But of course by then, he was so irritated with me and with life in general that nothing could be considered special, so he had NOTHING to write about!  Every day!  On a good day, we would sit there staring at each other until he caved and started writing.  On bad days, we would start to yell at each other until he caved and started writing.  And I won't even mention the Chinese homework, because the bad attitude (on both our parts) involved in getting that done is not unique to Virtual School.

Cayman, now in 2nd grade, had to read 20-30 minutes every day and keep a reading log.  Except her teachers decided against providing a simple reading log form and let the students be creative in making their own.  Anyone who knows Cayman also knows that her creativity knows no bounds.  So just making her reading log took 30 minutes, after which she needed a break before she even began the actual reading.  

Then she had a writing assignment.  We were given the choice of doing something simple like writing a list of words or doing something more challenging like writing about a special moment.  This is where I made a critical Virtual School rookie mistake.  I chose the challenging option, thinking that over the course of 7 days, I could help her brainstorm and write about catching frogs over the summer.  Do normal homeschooled kids go storming to their room in tears over a writing assignment?  Because Cayman did.  Every day.

And math games.  Call me a bad parent, certainly a horrible homeschooling parent, but I just cannot take playing Top It (like War with playing cards, but adding two cards together to determine the winner) over and over.  Every day.

Even Ellington had homework.  I had to read to him for 10-15 minutes every day.  We have an entire library of children's books in our house, so this should not have been a problem.  Except Ellington loves dinosaurs.  And we had to read the same two dinosaur library books over and over.  And he asked the same question over and over.  

Why did the diplodocus have spikes on their back?  Well, like I told you yesterday and the day before yesterday, it was probably to protect him from the dinosaurs who wanted to eat him. Why did they want to eat him? Remember from yesterday, and the day before?  Because some dinosaurs are meat eaters.  Why are they meat eaters? I already told you yesterday.  And the day before.  That's the way they were born.  They have to eat meat.  Just like you.  Let's move on....

Ellington also had writing work to do.  And even there, my little spirited child gave me pause.  I found a website that would allow you to choose the words and it would create D'Nealian style handwriting sheets.  The first day, I let him practice his name.  The second day he chose to work on his teachers' names.  The next day, he choise random words like vitamins and trees.  Today he decided to move onto more interesting words.  Bum bum, pee pee. No potty words.  Penis?  No.  Toilet. Oh fine!

And some day,  my kids will post on Facebook about how they always help their kids with schoolwork and how I never helped them with theirs, and how awesome they must have been to have done everything on their own.  And I'll just refer them back to this post and refresh their memory.  It was all good until Virtual School.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flies, Honey, Vinegar, and Opium

They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  I've been trying to teach this concept to the kids for years now.  At first, it seemed like a useless cause.  Forget about the behavioral lesson, I had to stop to teach them what idioms and metaphors are.  

Why would you want to catch flies?  I thought flies were bad.

No one is really trying to catch flies.  It's a metaphor.  I'm using an example to show that you'll get better results if you ask nicely than if you demand things in a rude way.

What's vinegar?

That smelly sauce that I like to dip dumplings in.

I don't like vinegar.

Well, neither do flies.  So if you wanted to catch them, you're better off using honey.  So in this case...

I thought we didn't want to catch flies.

No, not really.  Remember what I said about metaphors?

Do you have to use honey?  Could you use sugar instead?

I guess you could use anything sweet.  Basically, all I'm trying to say is to ask for things nicely.

I like honey.  Can I have some honey on my cereal?

It's been a lesson in patience for me.  It must be the Chinese in me to try to use an idiom rather than to just come straight out and say "you'll get better results if you ask nicely."  I remember my dad always prefacing things with "you know the Chinese have a saying..." and then spouting off a whole bunch of nonsense, like "swallowing raw and skinning alive" (which I think ultimately refers to plagiarism) or "pricking your thigh with an awl" (which refers to studying hard).  Thanks Dad, that made things a lot more clear.  

BTW, I'd like the record to state that my dad was not trying to teach me to study harder and stop plagiarizing....

Anyway, I've been trying to teach the kids that throwing temper tantrums won't get what they want.  Hitting each other, or me for that matter, won't help.  Ask nicely, with a "please."  And if I say "no", temper tantrums and fits won't make me change my mind, they will just make me angry and I'll probably end up putting them or their treasured items, or both, in the penalty box for a while.

So, over the past couple months, Ellington started picking up a bad habit of pinching me to get my attention.  At the dinner table, he would interrupt conversations, and if I didn't immediately answer, he would pinch me.  Hard!  To teach him that this was unacceptable, I would make him wait 5 minutes after the pinch before talking to him, and if he threw a tantrum, I would add more time to the wait.  

It took a couple weeks, but the lesson finally came to fruition today!  During dinner, Ellington started to interrupt a conversation I was having with Guinness.  When I didn't respond, he picked up my arm and started kissing it up and down like a little Cassanova.  Talk about high grade honey!  How can you resist that?  I broke off mid-sentence, looked down to find him staring at me soulfully through his long eyelashes, and exclaimed "what a nice way to let me know you have something to say!  What did you want to tell me?"

Guinness meanwhile started squawking (rightly so) since I hadn't finished my conversation with him.  Sorry!  There must be some Chinese idiom or proverb to cover this.  I think it goes "honey may attract attention, but opium keeps it."  Good luck finding a drug more potent than Ellington's juicy kisses!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The. Best. Summer. Ever.

They say childhood is wasted on children.  I'm not so sure.  Regardless, I did my best to give the kids an idyllic summer vacation and am hoping that, as adults, they'll look back and remember this fondly as "the. best. summer. ever."  I think I did a pretty good job, if I may say so myself.

I could tell you about the countless hours I spent researching and selecting the perfect summer camps for them this year:  Stanford soccer, baseball, and even video game camp for Guinness; Stanford gymnastics camp for Cayman; science and art Camp Galileo (highly, highly recommended for anyone in the Bay Area - ask me about it!) for Ellington; Brooks Summer Camp for all three in Boston....  I could tell you how patiently I've been applying and been waitlisted for the Stanford Sierra Camp for 7 years and finally got a spot this year.  Or how I took the kids to a Jason Mraz concert and sat just 14 rows from the stage!  Every kid should be so lucky.  Despite all the planning, or perhaps because of the planning?, the kids probably enjoyed the unscripted moments the best.

My own summer vacation was pretty good too.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to say who truly had the. best. summer. ever.  Me or the kids:

I had a two-hour massage plus body wrap plus facial at the Qua Spa at Caesars Palace.  And while I was caked in mud and wrapped in Saran Wrap, my therapist gave me the best foot massage ever.

We got to swim in the neighbors' pool, and their dog Marley got to jump in and swim with us!

I got to canoe on a beautiful Tahoe lake, whose natural peace and serenity was only broken by Danielle's and my laughter as we paddled ourselves in continuous circles (compulsories, if you will) while unsuccessfully trying to figure out to navigate the damn thing.

We got to go on a catamaran boat cruise, where we pushed our counselors into the lake, where they met a mermaid who gave them a pack of Skittles that magically stayed dry in the water!

I spent a kid-free week in Hilton Head with my college roommate, Nicki, going on daily 7 am sunrise beach walks and enjoying healthy, chicken nugget/pizza-free meals.

We spent a mom-free week with Puo Puo and Ah Yei and got to watch Transformers 2, even though it's rated PG-13!

I went to my friend Albertine's wedding in Minnesota, danced up a storm, and hung out with all my college roommates en masse for the first time in 2 years.

We went to New Hampshire with Yeh Yeh and Nai Nai and hiked the Lost River Gorge where Yeh Yeh got stuck in the Lemon Squeeze and lost his cell phone!

I went for 10 mile walks in the Minute Man National Park.

We went frog hunting in the creek in Yeh Yeh and Nai Nai's back yard and, in one day, caught 35 frogs that we kept in the neighbors' kiddie pool.

I had dinner at Osaka, my favorite sushi place in Las Vegas, with my friend David and had the best uni in my life - it tasted as sweet as ice cream and virtually melted in my mouth.

We had dessert at Richardson's Farm in Middleton, MA, where we got to see baby cows and had home-made, cotton candy flavored ice cream that literally melted in our mouths. (16% butterfat!)

We may never agree who had the most fun.  But we do agree to thank Michael, who slaved
away to fund our vacation.  Although who knows?  With two kid- and wife-free months in Hong Kong, it may actually have been Michael who had the best. summer. ever.  

Friday, July 10, 2009

Camp Rock Sans The Jonas Brothers

They say there is nothing sadder and more pitiful than a sick child.  I say there is one thing sadder and more pathetic by far - the parent of said sick child.  Especially when said child is sick from days 3 - 6 of the 7 day Stanford Sierra Camp for which said parent has been on the wait list for 7 years.  To say expectations were high would be an understatement....

Amazingly, expectations have been met and, in many cases, surpassed.  I had two days of carefree, child-free, non-stop canoeing, kayaking, hiking and tennis.  The kids were running around with their counselors, chanting their group chants, doing their own hiking and kayaking, learning about fragile ecosystems with some mermaids and magic sprinkled in.  They had a story hour while I went on the adult-only lake cruise with wine and cheese.  They had a puppet show while I listened to a guest faculty speaker.  It was glorious.  Every family camp should be like this.  

And if you have to be cabin-bound with a sick child for three days, it could be worse than being in a three-bedfoom cabin at a lakeside family camp - with Internet access!  As Ellington takes his second nap for the day, I am sitting out on our deck and typing, while watching the sailing regatta challenge.  No regrets there - you have to be at least an intermediate-level sailor to participate and having failed 2 midterms and barely passed the sailing class at Stanford over a decade ago, on the windless Lake Lag no less, I am still considered beginner, dammit!  However, I do have regrets about not being able to watch the staff vs guest volleyball tournament - I had high hopes it would be a live re-enactment of the volleyball scene from Top Gun.  At least on the staff side - some of those college kids are fit like only 20 year olds can be.  But I digress....

The moral of the story is:  If you are a Stanford alumni and have not yet begun applying for the Stanford Sierra Camp, start now and you just might get off the waitlist before your kids leave for college.  If you are not a Stanford alumni, hook yourself up with one now.  This is a summer camp every child, and parent, should experience. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Never Understood Modern Art

They say parents should support their children's creativity by encouraging and praising their artwork, regardless of whether or not it is actually "good" by any normal standards.  Wow, Ellington, look at all those scary looking spiders you drew!  Oh, that's our family - even better.  We have really crazy hair, don't we?  And so many arms and legs!  

But what do you do when your child brings home a crazily phallic art sculpture made of a long paper towel tube topped by a particularly bulbous plastic cap?  Why, you proudly carry it around Times Square (Hong Kong) and then help her find a permanent place to display it on her bedroom nightstand, of course!

That is actually a friend's true story.  But I'm kind of surprised that none of my children have brought home any arty phalluses yet.  Which is not to say that we haven't had any close encounters, just not of the home-made kind.

Take the velcro banana toy I bought for Guinness when he was about two and a half.  I know, you're thinking that anyone is just asking for trouble if they choose to bring home a velcro banana toy.  But really, it's part of a whole velcro fruits and vegetables set.  It comes with a plastic knife, and the kids can pretend to cut up the food and put them back together.  Most of them make sense and are quite normal.  

Then there's the banana.  The banana has a removable peel.  The three pieces of peel each have a dot of velcro on the top and bottom of the peel to hold them to the inside banana.  The inside banana on the other hand, has a thing strip of velcro that completely rings each end about an inch off the tip.  You know where I'm going here.  

So, that evening 6 years ago, Michael came home and was greeted by two excited kids playing with their new velcro food set.  Guinness was diligently cutting up the orange and cauliflower.  Cayman, meanwhile, had denuded the banana and was waving it around in her fist.  At a couple months shy of one, she was still in the mouthing stage where most of her toys eventually ended up in her mouth.  You know where I'm going here.  

Now coincidentally phallic junk art is one thing.  But you can't tell me that toy designer that didn't know what he was doing....

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Be Girls

They say parents should expose children to toys that are stereotypically meant for the opposite gender, ie let boys play with dolls and girls play with toolsets.  That way they can grow up more free of gender role stereotypes.  I say that's all fine and good in theory, but in practice, I have to admit that those gender stereotypes were based in some pretty solid fact.  

When Guinness was between 1 and 2 years old, I remember standing at Toys R Us in front of the Little Tikes toys trying to decide if I should buy him the play kitchen or the play workshop.  I only had space for one or the other, and it was a tough decision.  I knew he liked manipulating objects and thought he would really enjoy hammering plastic nails and screwing those chunky screws into the boards.  But I also wanted him to engage in creative play with a kitchen.  Plus the accessories!  We could get pots and pans and dishes and food!  Ice cream, sushi, pizza, fruits and vegetables held together by velcro.  Endless possibilities, but I digress.  I ended up choosing the kitchen and was not surprised to face Michael's complaints about me trying to girly up his son.  But I was determined that my future daughter-in-law would thank me for raising a boy who would be helpful around the kitchen.

Seven years and two additional children later, and I have long since given up the good battle. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't force him to drink.  Regardless of the different toys we had around the house - and we had alot - the kids naturally gravitated to their own favorites.  Guinness played with the trains, Cayman played dress up, Ellington played violent make-believe games with his plastic animals.  

I was thinking about this today when I took the kids to the toy store to let them spend some of their hard-earned allowance.  It was so amusing to watch their respective decision-making process.  

Cayman gravitated to the doll section.  Thankfully she has no interest in Barbies, so I don't have to worry about body image issues yet.  She is fully in play mommy phase and sat in that aisle for no less than fifteen minutes trying to decide which baby doll to get.  I tried to work it out logically for her by breaking down the possible features and going from there.  Do you want one that speaks and moves?  One that actually drinks water and then pees?  One that you can wash in a bathtub?  How important are looks, accessories?  Tell me what is important to you and I will pinpoint the two best dolls for you to choose from.  Help me help you....  No, she couldn't articulate what she was looking for and just kept picking up box after box.  I suspect that she is like me and enjoys the shopping process as much playing with the actual purse, I mean doll, at home.  

Guinness really wanted to get a Star Wars light saber, but was taken aback by the hefty price tag.  At HK$390, that was going to take a pretty big chunk out of his savings and he knew it.  He went back and forth, back and forth.  Everything was about the money.  I wish it wasn't so expensive!  How could it cost more than that huge Nerf gun?  Maybe I should get the Nerf gun instead.  But no, I really want that light saber.  Do you think it's worth $390?

Ellington took one look at the same light saber and decided to get it.  And that was pretty much it.  $390?  Irrelevant.  If you asked how much money he has, he would tell you either infinity or googolplex.  When Guinness seemed to be deciding not to get the light saber, I suggested that maybe he shouldn't either because he wouldn't have anyone to play it with.  But no, that wasn't a problem.  I could tell he knew he was going to be able to play fight with someone at home regardless.  I just didn't know if he was anticipating that his siblings would use a cardboard wrapping paper roll, or if he was planning to sneak up on his unarmed victims from behind....  

In the end, Guinness decided to get that light saber.  We got home and Cayman fed and washed and dressed her doll over and over for two hours.  Guinness and Ellington battled with their light sabers for two hours.  Surprisingly, no one got hurt until Cayman joined in at the end and promptly got whacked in the nose. 

As far as getting accolades from my children's future spouses?  At this point, I can barely get any of my children - boys and girl alike - to bring their dishes to the sink, let alone wash them.  They probably wouldn't recognize a sponge if it hit them in the face.  And if it ever really comes down to their helping in the kitchen, I can almost guarantee that they will get him in the face by a sponge thrown by their future spouses.  What is this wet, spongy material you threw at me?  Oh, it actually is a sponge.  How 'bout that?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cell Phones - The Next Great Debate

They say the average age for children to get their first cell phone in the UK (where rates are cheaper than the US) is 8 years old.*  Hmmm...Hong Kong also has cheap cell phone rates, and Guinness is 8 years old.  So, OH MY GOD!, even if we get him a cell phone now, he can only be average, and it is certainly too late for him to be ahead of the curve!  What kind of parents are we?

I really am considering getting Guinness and Cayman their own cell phones.  Michael, of course, thinks this is absolutely ridiculous.  But sometimes I think he's too out of touch with the kids' needs (read: my needs).  My internal arguments thus far:

PRO - The kids now have conflicting schedules and I can't be in more than one place at once.  So, they would be able to reach me anytime to be picked up from an after-activity or a play date.

CON - The kids would be able to reach me anytime, including times that I would have preferred to be incommunicado, like when I am at the spa or at lunch with my friends, or when I am hiding behind a locked bedroom door.

PRO - Cell phones have GPS tracking capabilities, so if they ever got lost or separated from us, we'd be able to find them.

CON - OK, I read that in an online article.  I actually have no idea how that type of technology is used, and wouldn't truly be able to find them if they were hiding in a closet in our house.  My knowledge of GPS is limited to Hertz's Neverlost lady telling me to take a left turn in 50 yards, and then passive-aggressively scolding me for missing the turn by telling me that now she has to "recalculate the route."

PRO - By giving them their own handsets and pay-per-use SIM cards, we would be teaching them responsibility.

CON - Guinness is guaranteed to drop his phone at least twice on concrete flooring within the first hour of owning his phone and will use up all his minutes in one phone call. 

PRO - They'll have their own games to play while we are waiting around in random places so they won't ruin my game statistics, and it will leave me more time to check my email and update by Facebook status.  

A winning argument if I've ever heard one!  Now that I think about it, I think Ellington needs his own phone too....

*Survey completed by the Personal Finance Educational Group

Friday, February 20, 2009

25 Random Things

Rules:  Once you have been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you.  At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged.  You have to tag the person who tagged you.  If I tagged you, it is because I think you'd have some interesting things to share.

(To do this, go to "Notes" under applications in Facebook, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

25. I always drag my feet in following a trend.  Sometimes it is because I'm lazy.  Sometimes it just takes that long for me to get used to the look of certain fashions or the sound of new music.  I picked up Survivor and American Idol late in their first seasons.  I still wear pointy-toed shoes.  And it's taken me weeks upon weeks after receiving my first 25 Things About Me tag before writing my own.

24. People usually think I look younger than I really am.  At the age of 18 and again at 22, I was offered a 12 and under child's discount.  The first time I was vaguely offended and declined.  The second time I eagerly accepted the fraudulent discount.  However, my appearance seems to be catching up with and surpassing my age at last.  Last week, I met someone who was surprised to learn my real age and then told me that it must be because I "dress kind of old."  Maybe it's the pointy-toed shoes.  I'm going shopping tomorrow.

23.  I've been mistaken as my husband's daughter on two separate occasions.  However, it is unclear if it is because I looked so young or because he looked so old....

22.  I've been mistaken as a Filipino helper more times than I can count.  It usually happen during pick up at school.  I think it is because I always wear jeans, t-shirts, and flip flops, weather permitting.  One time I went to the Immigration Office with our helper, Josie.  The guy behind the desk thought I was the helper and Josie was the employer.  That pretty much made Josie's week.

21.  I am also regularly mistaken for being Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese - usually by people of that respective ethnicity.  If I were an actress, I could make millions as the Asian female response to Lou Diamond Phillips, playing any Asian ethnic role. 

20.  Supposedly I am 100% Chinese, but I have suspicions that my grandmother or great-grandmother had a little somethin-somethin on the side.  How else can you explain my supposedly 100% Chinese father's naturally curly hair and hairy legs, and the fact that he is always mistaken for an Italian when he travels alone in Europe?

19.  I love reading.  No matter how late it is, I have to read at least half an hour in bed, or I won't be able to fall asleep.  I've read all of my favorite books at least 10 times.  If I find a great book, I can rip through it in less than 24 hours.  Then, upon finishing the last page of the book, I will immediately flip back to the first page and start all over again at a slower pace.  And I derive an equal amount of pleasure with that second reading.

18.  I pretty much enjoy all genres of books, but I particularly love romance novels.  I prefer discreet covers, but I am not ashamed to buy a bodice-ripper cover.  However, I have never read a book with Fabio on the cover.

17.  I also love chick flicks.  Give me a teeny bopper flick over an Oscar contender drama any day.  High School Musical 3 was one of my favorite movies last year.  Thank God I have kids to take with me!

16.  At one point while we were living in California, we simultaneously owned four cars for just the two of us.  Our neighbors seriously thought Michael worked at a car dealership.  At that time, I accidentally hit every single one of those cars while trying to park or pull out of the garage with one of the other cars.  I was pregnant during many of those accidents and I still argue that it was the hormones that screwed with my normally excellent driving skills.

15. One of the things I miss most in Hong Kong is driving.  Especially singing while driving.  When I go back to the States, the first thing I do is strap the kids n the car, turn on the radio full blast, and go joy-riding for at least an hour with no particular destination in mind.

14.  I also miss Barnes & Noble and Target.  I could spend hours in those stores, happily browsing around.  Part of their allure is the fact that they both usually have Starbucks retail outlets in them.

13.  I am completely addicted to Starbucks.  And it's not even the caffeine.  For years, I visited Starbucks to order a grande soy steamer, which is just warm soy milk.  Acknowledging it was ridiculous to pay over $3.00 per cup, I tried bringing in a carton of soy milk to work and heating it up in the microwave.  But it just wasn't the same, and I admitted defeat after 2 weeks of misery.  Of course I am not addicted to my grande skim latte.  But there are much worse vices one could have, so I don't fight it.

12.  As a junior in college, I got one of three A+ awarded in an economics class willed with both undergrad and grad students.  I actually think I got that grade because of one specific office hour visit with the professor when I wore a sundress with a loose, low cut bodice.  At one point during the meeting, I bent over to get a pencil out of my backpack and looked up to find him staring down my cleavage (I had one back then before the three kids).  I swear it wasn't planned!  But in retrospect, I should have worn that dress around campus a lot more.  My grade point average would have thanked me for it!

11.  I always wanted to be a writer, but I am too lazy to actually finish anything.  Once every could of weeks is about as frequent as I can get with my blog, and I don't even want to say how many entries I've started but never gotten around to finishing.  In fact, I'm doubling this Note as a blog entry.  That's how lazy I am.

10.  As a child, I once told my dad that I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up so I could wear suits to work.  My dad then suggested that Century 21 real estate agens also wore suits, so maybe I should add that to my short list as well.  I ended up working in product management at Internet companies with casual dress codes.  The only times I've had to wear suits were for job interviews.  Now I am a Hong Kong tai tai/Filipino helper who only wears jeans, t-shirts, and flip flops.

9. I used to believe that everyone had one special talent, that if only they could discover and nurture it, they could become one of the acknowledged "bests" in their field.  I lived in terror that my life would pass me by without discovering my talent, or even worse, that mine would be something like "best garbage collector in the world."

8.  I only have the wherewithal to take on one self-improvement project at a time  Last year, I started tennis and am now completely addicted.  This year. I'd like to begin guitar lessons.  Somewhere deep down and unacknowledged, I think I have a secret fantasy of becoming a rock star.  This must be my form of a mid-life crisis.

7.  I have a secret desire to lose enough weight to be disparagingly called a waif and have random busybodies on the street tell me to eat a Big Mac.  However, I've finally come to terms with the fact that I love food way to much for this to ever happen.  If they ever brought back those diet pills with the tapeworms, I would seriously consider them for at least a minute.

6.  The first time I ever described myself as "fat" was in the 6th grade.  Some genius public health program required that everyone in class be publicly weight.  I did not actually think I was "fat" at 80 lbs, but all the other girls were lamenting their weight, so I did too.  When our daughter was born, I promised myself that I would teach her to have a positive body image.  Her early nicknames, Chubby Too in utero and Chunky Butt as a toddler, are probably indicators that I need to work a little harder at that.

5. Michael and my parents are family friends, and we've known each other since I was at least 9 years old.  We started dating during my sophomore year in college.  Despite our jokes, there is no proof that money, goods, or other financial incentives were ever offered by either set of parents for us to begin dating.

4. I used to always give Michael a box of much needed socks and boxers for Christmas, and he would always give me a completely unnecessary but much anticipated new cell phone. I think I got the better end of that deal.

3.  On a regular basis, I try to remind myself of all the things I love about and am grateful for in Michael.  He is solid and dependable.  He's a great father who can make the kids giggle at the drop of a hat, yet still be able to scare them straight with one stern look.  Not least on the list is the fact that he lets me read in bed with the light on, even if he's trying to go to sleep, and he keeps the light dimmed when he gets ready in the morning so I can sleep in.  Now that is true love.

2. The last time I kissed Guinness goodbye in front of his friends, he didn't say anything but looked so uncomfortable that I made a mental note to not do it again.  However, he is still fine with holding my hand in public, and I treasure the feel of his warm little hand in mind.

1. I honestly believe that a hug from your kids every day will keep the doctor away.  And every kiss will add an additional day to your life.  Luckily Guinness, Cayman, and Ellington are willing (at least at home) to give me so many hugs and kisses (fish kisses, piggy kisses, butterfly kisses, Eskimo kisses....) that I just might live forever.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Someone shoot that fiddler on our roof

They say that traditions are a valuable way to keep kids grounded and help them feel like an integral part of society.  I say traditions are just a way to force parents to keep doing things that originally might have seemed like good ideas, but maybe not so much anymore.  

Like Christmas presents from Santa?  Three gifts seemed so cute when Guinness was 1 and the gifts consisted of a stuffed animal, a sippy cup, and a ball.  Still reasonable when Guinness was 1, Cayman was 6 months old, and the gifts were two stuffed animals, two sippy cups (you can never have too many!) and two other assorted, small toys.  It is absolutely ridiculous now that the kids are 8, 6, and 4.  Hamster cages, Wii games, Legos and six other assorted, relatively expensive toys from Santa, plus one each from Mom and Dad, plus one from each of them to each other.  Our Christmas went from a tranquil Norman Rockwell scene to a Jackson Pollack explosion of strewn gift wrapping paper.  But the kids all know that Santa always gives three gifts each. It's a tradition.

I  just finished baking 80 heart-shaped sugar cookies to staple to the kids' Valentine's Day cards.  It's an early night for me to finish by 11:00 pm.  I must be getting good at this, because last year I was still baking after midnight.  Fortunately, Ellington's teacher specifically asked that we not send in candies or cookies as some kids have food allergies and cannot be depended upon to self-regulate.  Next year, I'll be baking 120 cookies, so I'll probably be back to my midnight baking sprees.

Why?  Tradition, of course.  I blame Hallmark for turning this into a kids' holiday of exchanging Valentines to classmates they don't necessarily love or even like.  Last year, I intercepted a card Cayman wrote for a frenemy that actually said "I hat [sic] you" and had to explain why that might not be appropriate, especially on a Valentine's Day card.  I continue to blame Martha Stewart for convincing me that store bought treats are tacky.  And I blame Williams-Sonoma for tempting me with adorable but time- and labor-intensive decorating ideas.

Of course, I blame myself for being such a sucker.  A couple years ago, I decided to go part-time after the Christmas holidays.  Valentine's Day was the first holiday I could throw myself into for the kids.  The night before, I sat in the family room with reams of red and white tissue paper and spools of ribbon around me, putting together candy bombs for Guinness and Cayman to hand out at school.  (Ellington was still in daycare at the time and the choking hazards would definitely not have been appreciated by anyone.)  Michael came home, took one look, and just asked "Why?"  I replied, "Isn't this why I went part-time?  To do more for the kids?"  He thought about it for a minute, said "Actually, yes."  Then went off to play computer games while I continued to sort, gather and tie.  I didn't mind at the time.  I only had to make 30 total and I was doing it in front of American Idol anyway.

And that started the Valentine's Day tradition of homemade cards and treats that I just can't get myself out of now.  The kids came home from school today asking when I was going to make the Valentine's cookies.  "Do I really have to?" I whined.  Yes, I whined.  The response was pure bafflement from them.  Of course Mommy has to make cookies to go with the cards.  It's a tradition.

At least the kids were all old enough to make their own cards this year, though quality control was an issue.  

Ellington started out by stuffing blank paper into envelopes.  Luckily I intercepted them and explained why it might be nice for him to draw a picture on the paper and sign his name before stuffing them into the envelopes.  He did eventually make a couple more creative cards.  One of them had a bunch of little pom poms with googly eyes glued on them.  I was so tempted to write in "I only have eyes for you", but decided to let him keep his creative integrity.

Guinness spent too much time on the first half of the cards, with long messages written in secret codes inside. When we ran out of envelopes, he wrapped them in colored tissue paper.  Of course, these were for the boys in his class.  The girls' cards consisted of sloppily folded pink construction paper with "Happy Valentine's Day.  Love, Guinness" scrawled in pencil.  That's it.  I supposed I should be glad for his innocence.  I am sure I will rue the day his priorities get reversed and the girls get all the time and attention.

Cayman's cards were elaborate pieces of artwork, with cut out hearts and crunched up tissue paper flowers.  Then at the end, she counted her cards and realized that she had forgotten someone.  "There are 20 kids in my class, but I only made 19.  I think I'm missing a girl.  Alex, Alexandra, Jaik, Samara....  Who did I miss?  Who did I miss?"  "Hmmm...could it be a silly girl named Cayman?"  Silence.  "Oh."

One more holiday tradition over and done with.  St. Patrick's Day is coming up and the thought passed through my mind that I could do some fun stuff with Guinness.  The beer, I mean.  And the kid too, I guess.  I heard there is a great recipe for Guinness flavored ice cream....  But do I really want to start another tradition that I will be stuck with for the foreseeable future?  Nah!  Thank God we are not Irish!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Deep End of the Ski Slope

They say you have three kids so that any one can be expendable.  Well, based on the incredulous reactions I get from others whenever I say that in front of my kids, I think I actually might be the only one who says that.  But my bluff was called yesterday.  I lost Guinness, or rather, he lost me, when we were standing less than 15 feet away from each other.

I was picking up the kids from ski school yesterday afternoon and was directed to a nearby station where they were selling class pictures.  Cayman was walking right next to me, and I thought Guinness was on the other side of her, but it was really just another kid in red.  Red, as it turns out, is really popular in ski wear.  Next year, I just might dress the kids in a slightly less popular color like puce.  

The place was teeming with kids, parents, and instructors, so I wasn't worried at first.  He isn't the type to wander off by himself, and he was carrying his skis, so he couldn't have gotten far anyway.  But as time passed, the crowd started to thin out out, and there were fewer kids, parents and instructors, and more scary, bearded, sketchy looking people.  I wouldn't say that I started to freak out, but at times like these, your mind inevitably replays every child abduction movie and show you've ever seen.  Ransom, Deep End of the Ocean, Without a Trace.... 

Michael had been with Ellington, bringing the car around.  I was hoping Guinness had some how bumped into him and was waiting in the car.  No such luck.  So we left Cayman and Ellington in the car (with responsible adults!  We were down one, so they weren't expendable anymore), and spread our search out into the rest of Whistler Village.

By now, the scenes were flashing through my mind like lightning.  There is always that moment of irony when the parent passes right by the child, so I started memorizing things just in case.  That guy with the van with the tinted windows shut the door right as I was approaching?  He looked a little sketchy, so I gave him the gimlet eye so he knew I was onto him and took careful note of his license plate number.  I saw an adult holding hands with a child wearing a red ski jacket and started speeding up to catch them.  Realized that it would take more than 10 minutes to bleach Guinness' black hair blond and slowed down.  Wig!  And sped up again.  

At one point, I checked my phone to see if Michael had texted me that he found Guinness.  It was 4:44 pm.   Holy crap, I didn't need to see that!  (As many of you know, the number 4 is considered unlucky in Chinese because it sounds like the word for "death").  I started to wonder when we should involve the police.  Luckily, I had in my hands a photo that was just taken of him that morning - the darn cause for my losing him in the first place!  I could already read the newspaper headlines, "Child Abducted from Whistler Ski School, Mom Busy Shopping", and was just about ready to prepare my grieving mother's plead, when I got Michael's call that he found Guinness.  

As it turns out, Guinness had dropped his skis just as we set off to the photo station.  When he looked up, Cayman and I were gone.  I can just imagine how the noise seemed to get louder for him and the crowds and colors started to swirl around him as he spun around looking for me.  Well, that's how it goes in the movies.  He waited about one minute and then told an instructor that he was lost and was taken to the ski school office where they texted Michael and then waited and waited and waited for him to check his phone.  And once Michael found Guinness, he took another five minutes comforting Guinness and bringing him to the car before he called me.  All told, Guinness was "lost" from me for just under an hour.

Lessons learned:
-Make sure your children have memorized your cell phone number (which Guinness has), and then check your phone regularly in case someone actually tries to contact you.  Unless you know it is near 4:44, in which case you should wait a couple extra minutes between your phone checks.

-If you are picking your kids up from a school or an organized activity, check the main office first, as that is generally the "lost and found" station for both kids and inanimate objects.

-Once you have found your child, let him cry an extra minute or two while you notify the other parent who is frantically searching for the child and spare her from falsely accusing sketching looking men with dark tinted vans.

-Dark vans with tinted windows should be avoided if you don't want to look like a sketchy child abductor. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

One hen, two ducks, three Pokemon battles

They say the average human being only uses 10% of his or her brain.  I want to know, does that estimate include all the useless trivia that is clogging up my brain, or am I even worse off than the average human?  

I took the kids for our regular "one hour walk."  It actually ends up taking about two hours at the kids' pace, but they would freak out at the thought of a "two hour walk", so the little white lie continues.  It is supposed to be our chance to hang out, get some extemely light exercise, breathe some slightly less smog-filled air, and basically spend some quality time bonding.  Today, I found myself ignoring the kids' chatter and, instead, chanting a little ditty I had to memorize in 7th grade in order to trade seats in Industrial Arts class.

One hen
Two ducks
Three squawking geese
Four limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pairs of Don Alberto's tweezes
Seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys sitting on an ancient sacred crypt of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic, old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul and stall around the corner of the quo, the quay and the quivery at the very same time.

Why I remember this but still haven't fully memorized my home phone number of two years, I do not know. The useless stuff is there, burned into my brain, using up precious grey cells and squeezing out important information that I could use in real life.  It is far too late for me to do anything about it.  But I do worry about my kids' useless information.  I wouldn't mind if they knew things like that kid from Jerry Maguire.  Maybe as doctors, they might need to know that the human head weighs 8 lbs. 

But what, in twenty years from now, is Guinness going to do with all the useless Pokemon facts he has knocking around in his head?  Is anyone going to care that he can rattle off the name of every Pokemon by type, evolutions and favorite attacks?  "Mommy, guess what Torterra evolves into?"  "I don't know.  Aquadoodle."  "No, trick question!  Torterra doesn't evolve into anything!"  Why can he memorize all these details, but not be able to name 10 animals in Chinese - after having taken two years of Chinese class in school?

How can Ellington not be 100% sure of his letters yet, but be able to use the word "capice" properly after having heard it once in Alvin and the Chipmunks?  Well, grammatically properly, not necessarily a how-a-four-year-should-talk-to-his-mother properly.  "Mommy, I want you to wipe my bum bum now, capice?"  "Yes, I do capice.  And no, you can wipe your butt yourself, you little stinker."

Meanwhile, Cayman doesn't seem to have her own font of trivia.  Of course, she's good at a lot of things, just none that lend themselves to spouting off random bits of information.  
Art, gymnastics, swimming.  Reading, writing, arithmetic.  Emotional manipulation and subterfuge.  Hmmm...I guess she'll do okay in life.  

Friday, January 2, 2009

Visitors Beware!

They say that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  I think that definitely goes for a visit to Casa Chen.  Oh, we'll tell you that we have a free guest room.  And as we give you the tour around the house, you will see that the master bedroom and the kids' bedroom  both have en suite bathrooms.  So you might assume that you will have private use of the guest bathroom.  Well, you know what they say.  Don't assume or it will make an ass out of u and me.  In our case, you will just have to see one of our kids' asses.  

Just this afternoon, Michael's cousin Mike was taking a leisurely shower when Ellington burst through the locked door (our kids have ways....), quite anxious to use the potty.  Well, they're both boys, and to be honest, Mike would have been at a slight disadvantage if it came down to an argument.  So, he made no demur and then stood by helplessly while Ellington sat down on the potty and started to go number two.... He's just lucky Ellington didn't ask him to wipe his butt afterwards, is all I have to say.  :-)

Actually, this is just cementing the close relationship between Uncle Mike and Ellington.  In the middle of Mike's stay with us in Las Vegas a couple years ago, we traded the twin bed for a queen, and told him it was because Ellington had accidentally peed on his original bed.  To his credit, Mike didn't even blink.  But for the record, and in Ellington's defense, I have to say that it was just a joke and Ellington had not peed in the bed that day.  Though this doesn't necessarily preclude his having peed on any bed or on any floor in the vicinity any other day.... 

So come on out and visit!  We've got a free guestroom and bathrooms to spare.  But may we suggest that you take really hot showers so the steam can help preserve your modesty?