Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Future In My Rear View Mirror

My wife and I spend quite a bit of time in our Honda Odyssey. When we had our 4th child, no single sedan could hold our family, so the minivan was our only option. In the many miles that have since traversed, I am always reminded of the future that I see in my rear view mirror. I look back and I see our youngest buckled in safely in his baby car seat, our next youngest in his booster seat, the two older boys getting so tall that I can hardly fit them in the same view. What a blessing I feel as I start up the engine each time, realizing how precious a cargo I hold. Every time I get in the minivan with my boys, I realize that the future sits behind me. What will these boys do? All of them will effect so many lives during the decades that stretch before them. I cherish every moment with them and I hope to see them in my rear view mirror for just a little longer time. No matter what speed I drive, I know that the time will go by fast.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

30 Year Reunion

A couple weeks ago I attended my 30 year high school reunion. It brought back so many good memories of growing up in Santa Clara. Back in the 60's and 70's it seemed like life was so much simpler and less stressful. Of course there was just as much stress back then, but I was in elementary school and my parents kept us sheltered from the stress. That's really what a parent's role is - to create a nurturing environment for the children to learn, grow, and thrive. It's like a farmer that tends the soil, removes the rocks, prays for rain, provides water/fertilizer, and watches out for bugs. My parents immigrated to the US from Taiwan in their mid-age, so that us children would have a better life. My father was a professor, while my mother baby-sat to provide for the family.

At the reunion, the old friends have less hair, more weight, and poor eyesight. They gave us name tags with small fonts, so everyone was leaning in and squinting to read the name on the name tags. "Oh my - it's Mark!" as someone finally recognizes the person in front of them. We laughed, we shared about our families, we cried for the ones that had already passed away. Yes, I guess we are getting old enough when some friends are beginning to pass away. Lots of mid-life crisis with divorces and career changes. I have had my share of losses with my brother and parents passing away since the last reunion. It's true that no one is immune to calamities and each life has its share of good as well as bad times. It was great to see old friends, because we know now how special childhood can be when your parents create a nurturing environment for you to grow. We have our own children now so we know that life isn't stress free, but we also work hard to provide a safe place for our children to grow.

The Buchser High School Class of '79 will always have a special place in my heart. It was great to see old friends and laugh.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My 3 year old is smarter than me

My wife and I try to feed our boys nutritious meals and snacks. Low sugar, no saturated fats, low salt, organic fruits, whatever we can do to find the best foods for our boys. I have been trained well to always read the labels and not be fooled when the package says "0 gram of trans fat per serving." Apparently the manufacturers are rounding to zero for very small serving sizes, because there are trans. fats in the package, just not enough to quantify per serving. We allow them to have sweets, but not too much. Our rationing of sweets has of course resulted in creating sweet-toothed monsters in our boys. Whenever, they are at a birthday party or after game snack, to say they binge on sweets would be an understatement. My wife and I are trying to find a healthy balance, so that we do not go overboard.

Today my 3 year old wanted to have a juice box. Well, I told him that he could only have one today and that he would need to eat lunch first. he agreed and ate a good sized lunch. In the afternoon he was whining and wanted to have another juice box. I mentioned to him that he already had one and that we agreed to one a day. I also made up a story, as parents are prone to do, that if he had another one it would make his tommy ache. My 3 year old, clearly smarter than I am, said "I want my tummy to ache." I couldn't win the argument, so I gave him another juice box, after which he said to me, "hey my tummy feels fine."

But I want the blue one!

I'm surprised that I have not written about this topic in the past, as it occurs daily. We have 3 self-powered scooters at our house. Unfortunately for me, they are all different in color. My 7 year old was riding the blue one and my 3 year old wanted it. I told him that there were 2 other scooters available for him to ride. But of course, "I want the blue one." No amount of reasoning or convincing could deter my 3 year old from getting his hands on the blue scooter. I made all kinds of promises to my 7 year old to give his younger brother the blue scooter. You can play on the Nintendo DS, you get a juice box, you can be a good big brother etc... Well finally, with a lot of reluctance my 7 year old agreed and dropped the scooter about 3 feet away from his little brother, at least to have a little victory that his little brother had to walk to the scooter. Less than 5 minutes later the little brother was no longer interested in scootering, blue, yellow, or any color for that matter.

My wife and I try to buy 2 or 4 of the same exact things whenever we pick up new things. The scooters unfortunately came at different times, so we could not coordinate the colors. It doesn't really matter, because whatever your brother has is always better than what you have, so I must have it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Potty Training - One Last Time

My youngest son turned 3 in April and my wife and I have been too busy to potty train him. It actually takes a lot of coordination to potty train as you can imagine. If you are training a 3 year old and have to run to pick up one of your other children, then there is always the chance (highly likely) that there will be an "accident" in the car on the way to the baseball practice or at the person's home where you are picking up one of the other brothers. You see, potty training is a home activity. You need to be able to access a potty within 3 seconds and 10 feet if possible (maybe 20 feet). For a child that has in his whole young life always went potty whenever and where-ever he wanted, distance and time to a toilet is not high on his list.

As parents you are on the clock, constantly reminding yourself to either ask or take the potty trainee to the toilet. An empty bladder is a good thing. Modern society has of course invented the "pull up" diaper. They are elastic waisted so the child feels like he is wearing briefs, but just in case he has an accident there is no spillage. We love pull-up diapers even if they are a bit more expensive and don't hold as much "stuff." You have to call the "pull up" diapers as "underwear" and NOT diapers. Because if you call them "diapers," then you child will not know that he is being potty trained. It's a very complex process, which every parent will eventually have to go through, but the reward is oh so wonderful. We have four boys and have only been out of diapers as a family for about 6 months during that 11 year span. I'm not complaining, just presenting the facts.

Yes, I do dream of a time when I don't have to change diapers any more. If I am fortunate to become a grandfather, I will not volunteer to change the diaper - I've done my share. I have changed diapers in all the usual spots, and also at the baseball game in the stands, at the ski lodge all bundled in thermals and ski bibs, in the car (of course), in the plane, on a ship, you name it. Don't get me started on the times when the diaper has slipped off the bed due to the diaper-ee fussing and my natural instinct to grab a falling object - only to realize that that was not a good idea. Oh the stories I have...

I am counting down the days...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Climbing Half-Dome At Yosemite

I took my oldest son up with a friend and his son to climb Half-Dome at Yosemite National Park this week.  It was the first week of summer vacation for our boys and one of our neighbors, who happens to love hiking, invited my oldest son to Yosemite with his family.  He asked me to come along so that there would be one dad for each of the boys during the long hike in case anything happened.  Well I have been running all year, about 2 miles every other day and thought I was in good shape.  The Half-Dome hike is 8 miles each way starting from an elevation of 4000 feet and ending at an elevation of 8500 feet.  I was winded after the first mile, but there was more.  My son and I somehow walked, crawled, and climbed our way up to the foot of the "cables" at Half-Dome.  The final 600 feet of the ascent requires you to hang on to cables on the side of the rock to get to the top of Half-Dome.  I think of myself as a risk taker, but on this day both my son and I were happy to say - "I think we'll just rest here at the foot of the cables, while you and your son make it up to the top."  I am now more impressed than ever of anyone who has trekked the 8 miles up the mountain and had enough energy and guts to climb up the final 600 feet with only your hands and a cable between you and the Yosemite Valley floor.  My survival instinct kicked into high-gear on that ledge and I really learned something new about myself.  I'm not as big of a risk taker with my life as I would have thought.  

We started at 6:30am in the morning and made it to the Half-Dome cables at around 12:30pm.  We rested there to about 2:00pm, while our friend and his son climbed the cables up the top of Half-Dome.  Coming down was easier, but not by much as our energy and our knees were about spent by the time we reached the Yosemite valley floor at around 7:30pm.  13 hours of hiking in one day was easily the toughest thing I have done physically.  Our friends want to do it again with our younger sons when they are old enough.  At this moment, as I try to recover from the muscle pains that linger, I am happy to have the memories of making it up to the cables and happy to be back on the ground safe at home.  Now if I can just get up out of my chair....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Speaking Chinese to My Boys

My wife and I came from Taiwan when we were very young about 7 years old.  As such, we do not speak Chinese to each other, or we would sound like a couple of 7 years olds talking to each other.  Even though our conversation typically is not all that deep, English is still our means of communications.  We debated about speaking to our 4 boys English only, since Chinese is our heritage and we felt very guilty that we weren't doing more to pass on that heritage.  With our 4th and last child we decided to give it a go and speaking Mandarin to him at home.  To our surprise he has grasped it beautifully, which made both my wife and I feel even more guilty that we did not make the effort with the other boys.  Well all of that changed for me when my wife came home excited that she had found a Mandarin tutor for our 3 other boys.  At a mere $70/hour, which was noted as very reasonable, the tutor would come to your house and speak with one child at a time in Mandarin.  The rate is much higher if we wanted all three to participate simultaneously.  $70/hour!  That was enough motivation for me to start speaking Mandarin to my boys at home.  My wife is not convinced that it will be affective, so I told her that after one week, if the experiment was ineffective/non-productive, then we can reconsider the tutor.  Last night I tried to speak only Mandarin to all my boys, with a lot of empty stares by at me "huh?"  I'm not giving up that easily.  This morning the boys said "jouw", which means "good morning" to me and I am once again encouraged that little by little they will pickup the Mandarin.  Even if I have to pay them $70/hr to listen to me, it would be worth it.  

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our Scootering 3 Year Old

Our 4th and youngest child turned 3 years old in April.  We are obviously busy with our boys since it is Little League season and 3 out of 4 of them are on teams this year.  Our youngest should have been potty trained by now, but we have been busy and a bit lazy.  Potty training is always a bit messy as you can imagine.  We bought a whole box of "pull-up" diapers, the kind that acts like a normal pair of underwear, but also works like a diaper as well.  Our youngest tells us now that he has gone pee in his pull-ups.  It's a good first step, but not exactly the peeing in the potty that we were hope for.  The timing is a bit off, and he doesn't quite understand that he should tell us when he "wants or is about to" pee and not afterwards.  No worries, he is becoming really fun.  We brought him to a parents night at the local elementary school and he was scootering around like a pro.  Since he has 3 older brothers, he has been scootering on two-wheels since he was 2 years old, so we really didn't notice how odd that is.  All of the other kids and parents were amazed to see a tiny 3 year old flying around the school yard scootering and balancing on 2 wheels.  Everything is accelerated in his life, because he mostly hangs around with his older brothers.  He can hit a baseball and throw pretty well for a 3 year old.  He seems to be growing up so fast, and even though we would love him to be out of diapers, there is a part of us that realizes it is our last one and a new chapter in our lives to be out of diapers as a family after 11 years!

He is certainly more advanced in somethings like baseball and scootering, but he still has the wonderful mind of a 3 year old.  The other night I rented several DVDs for the long Memorial Day weekend.  I named them off and one of the movies happened to be "Oliver Twist."  I asked the boys which one they wanted to watch first.  Our youngest said, I want to watch "all-of-the-toys."  

My wife and I are cherishing the moments with our toddler as our oldest prepares to "graduate" from elementary school next month.  It goes by so fast.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What To Make For Lunch

I'm surprised I didn't write more about this earlier, since it is a daily ritual of my wife and I.  What to make for the boys for lunch?  Our 1st grader cannot take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches due to some of the kids at school with nut allergies.  Take takes a whole option off the plate unfortunately.  We end up giving them turkey or egg salad sandwiches most of the time, but honestly I don't know whether they eat it or just through it away.  They use to bring back the sandwiches and I told them they that they needed to eat them and not bring them back.  So now I am left to wonder if there is landfill nearby filled with uneaten turkey and egg salad sandwiches.

The other trick with having 3 boys who need lunches is remembering their individual preferences.  You're probably thinking that we spoil our children, because who cares what their preferences are.  That's partially true, but the bottom line for us is that we want our boys to eat.  Being picky is a luxury we have in America.  One does like cheese, one doesn't, one wants Mayonnaise the other doesn't, one likes oranges, but does not like apples.  Yes, your right, I think we do spoil our boys.  At the end of the day, my wife knows that our boys will eat when they are hungry.  Our oldest is a good eater so I pack him a big lunch.  Our youngest is extremely picky, so it's usually half a sandwich and some snacks.  Somehow they are growing, so I know that they must be eating something.  Maybe they're trading up during lunchtime for something they like, which is completely okay with me.  As long as it isn't just chips and candy bars, of course.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Math Wars

I have been spending most of the day and evenings learning about the various math textbooks available for K-5 graders.  Our school district is going through a new math textbook adoption cycle, which will be for the next 7 years.  Frankly, I was not that concerned about it, but my wife began to do research.  You see, my wife is much more detailed and focused than I am.  When she focuses on a topic, she wants to know everything about it, but unfortunately when their are actions to be taken, that is when I enter the picture.  "Have you seen what is going on with the Math Adoption at school?"  "Nope, I think it will be fine" I respond.  "No, you need to read this and I want you to call the Superintendent and the School Board and attend these meetings...." she responds.  So you see, I have been spending the last two weeks doing just that.  I know more about math textbooks and the process of adopting a new textbook, than I ever wanted to know.

I am on our elementary school's site council, so I felt it was my duty to help address some of the issues with the particular "controversial" textbook that the committee chose.  Being the go between when you have teachers/staff on one side and parents on the other is no small task.  It's like those police negotiators that wear a bulletproof vest and enter a bank to negotiate for hostage release with the bank robbers.  In this case, the stakes are much higher.  Mine, my wife's, and our children's reputation in the community are on the line as I attend board meetings and present my thoughts.  The good thing that came out of this process is a realization of just how many parents care about the education of their children.  Not all, but many parents have spent hours and hours researching the various textbook curricula and the data supporting the teaching methods of other districts around the country and the world.  

At the end of day, however, I know that our boys are going to do just fine in Math no matter what textbook they choose for the district.  The reason I know this is that I'm sure we will supplement ourselves any shortcomings as well as provide outside tutoring if necessary.  We are a very privileged community and I am more worried about those family's will special financial or learning difficulties that may not be able to make up for curriculum shortcomings with additional tutoring or summer programs.  At the end of the day, it is for those parents and families who cannot or unwilling to speak up for themselves that I must present their cases to the board.  I remember when I first came to America and I could not speak English.  It is a good thing that my parents always taught us to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.  It is a good reminder of our responsibilities.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Baseball Season Once Again

This year we have our 3 older boys on separate little league baseball teams.  Our 11 year old made it into Majors, putting a lot of effort and stress on himself during the tryouts and we are thankful that he is on a very good team.  As my wife and I attend all (ok, most) of the baseball games, it is a constant reminder that for boys, athletics is still one of the major sources of self-esteem.  When they do well, they are happy and confident, and when they don't, they are distraught and self-doubting.  I wish this was not the case, but sadly in our society their peers, the community of parents (not all, but most), and even dad (yes, me) sometimes gets so wrapped up into doing well, that we forget that it should be for the love of the game and to have fun.  The boys realize this and are so stressed, when they are not doing well or in a hitting slump.  It is so important for my wife and I to stay positive and encouraging, while not down playing the importance of sports to our growing boys.

At their age, I was a skinny boy and young man, so I was mostly engaged in cross country running and tennis.  I often tell my boys that they are so much better at sports than I was.  It doesn't seem to help much, when they mess up.  Who wants to hear that they are much better than their middle-aged dad, when they just want to be a good player among their friends now.  Oh well.  My wife and I will continue to help, make a lot of mistakes in how we communicate and nurture them through childhood, but hopefully we will all emerge at the other end with a strong relationship and our boys knowing that "whatever happens in life, you can always come home to people who will love you for being you."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Pirate Party

Our 6 year old turned 7 on January 29th.  He wanted a pirate party with 10 of his friends.  My wife got on the web and found a whole treasure trove of ideas and props for a pirate-themed party.  We borrowed some stuff like Jolly-Roger flags and fold-out parrots, and bought some other party decorations.  She bakes a pirate cake and things were going really well.  Then the 10 boys showed up.  Talk about energy.  We have 4 boys at home, so I thought I was pretty immune to noise, but I was wrong.  Oh I forgot to say, that it was drizzling outside, so we had to stay indoors the whole time.  Musical chairs resulted in two boys balling as they bumped each other onto the ground.  Cannonball balloon stomp resulted in at least two upset boys because their balloon cannonballs where not the same size as the other boys.  One boy decided to climb onto a chair and flipped it over, cracking the top in half.  I was amazed at the amount of energy being unleashed in our family room.  After a couple more activities, the boys started to calm down a bit and everyone seemed to be enjoying the party.  Then we had cake and hotdogs and filled them up with Sprite and they were off again.

After all the boys were picked up by their parents, the house was a bit of a mess - but it was quiet.  You would think that having 4 sons, we had seen everything that could happen at a birthday party.  I am still amazed at the amount of energy in the room from 11 little boys (our son + 10 guests).  Next year, pool party - outside.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Children are so adaptable

We had a wonderful holiday season with many friends and family members spending time at the house.  Since we moved back into our remodeled house, we have been trying to catch up on all of the dinners and lunches we have owed others.  It has been a warm season of visiting with family members and just catching up on life.  As the years go by, and the hair gets more grey, I find that maintaining close relationships among all of the other responsibilities is getting harder.  So it was just so nice to slow down and rekindle relationships with the close people of our lives.

During one of our visits, our 2 year old managed to break his arm in two places.  How does a 2 year old fall 3 feet off of a play-structure and land in sand, and still break his arm??? It just showed me that no matter what we do to protect our children, things are going to happen.  After the initial trauma of x-rays and putting on the cast, he is doing great and has already adapted to life as a left-hander.  He is running around and just having a great time with a full arm cast under his sweatshirt.  Children are so adaptable.  I am just so impressed that he is just going about his ways and really doesn't notice much that he cannot use his right-hand for 4 weeks.  I wish I could be that flexible.  It is nice to know that in this difficult economy, our 2-year old has nothing else to worry about except how to climb unto his brothers bunk with only one arm and no ladder (we removed the ladder to keep him from going up high).  Oh to be a child again.