Thursday, December 31, 2015

Parenting month 62: Culture, community, and raising children

The major milestone this month was the passing away of my father.  As the funeral was in Thailand, I had gone without the kids. We also had a small memorial service in the city where I grew up, so we took a week there.  It is probably the most intensive exposure to Thai culture that my kids have had to date. (My son had gone to Thailand as a infant, so he would have been too small to remember anything.)
Robes for gifts
Robes for an offering
One problem with living in Pittsburgh is a relative lack of diversity compared to other big cities. And one consequence is that there are not many Thai.  One estimate I heard at one gathering that there were about 40 Thai families in the Pittsburgh region. (Not counting students, who are considered transient) and only about half interacted on a regular basis. So we have been essentially raising our kids as Chinese, where we would have a reasonable number of other Chinese kids around for our kids to learn Chinese together.

To prepare for the service at the Thai temple, we subjected our kids to a crash course in Thai greetings and courtesy via YouTube. One thing my son (an introvert) can handle is curtesy, so he picked up on that and handled himself as well as can be expected for a Kindergartener who does not spend time in a Thai environment. He greeting people with a wai, and when it was time to perform his role in the service, he did his part (doing things alongside daddy is also something he can do). My daughter is also well behaved toddler in public, and performed admirably for a toddler girl, presenting a charming and well behaved face to the world.
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Wai before pouring out water
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Watering a tree

The main result of the trip was a lot of time spent with old friends, mostly a mix of Chinese-American and Thai-American families, now with children.  And we talked about the raising of children (and sometimes grandchildren). We talked about choices that we make, our kids personalities, and how they are different and lead to different challenges and opportunities. While I do have conversations about parenting in Pittsburgh with other parents at our kids school, day care, activities, and with others in community organizations I'm active in, the big difference with living in the place you grew up and being part of the mobile generation like I am is that those conversations are lacking in much of the context that comes from growing up in a community.

The conversations I have with other parents tend to be about immediate issues.  Getting in school, participating in activities, dealing with health issues. But the things that I talk with my wife, long term issues of guiding our children's growth in the context of their specific personalities, affinities, and strengths is done just with ourselves. But returning home, the conversations include how the personalities of the children compare to the personalities of the parent (current and past). And the conversations are more long term. How our children's personalities will help or hinder them in the future, and how it impacts how they deal with the world around them. And how to prepare them, not just what can be done now, but over the years to come.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One year of taekwondo

Our son started Taekwondo soon after he turned four. We have had the fortune to be able to spend a lot of time doing activities with him, and being fairly competent ourselves, but also realized that there were things missing that we (and daycare) were not filling. One, we wanted him to be engaged in something physical and two, we wanted him to be engaged in the world apart from us.  At this point, while he was a very happy, engaged, curious, and reasonably empathetic child, he also was an introvert (not terribly surprising as both parents are as well). In his case it showed as shyness in the presence of new people, and no assertiveness of will (although this may be attributed to lack of attachment in things,) So we were looking for something that engaged him physically and grew his confidence in interacting with others. There are two sales pitches for martial arts for yourg children,  one is that it installs discipline and an outlet for rowdy, physical kids. That was not our problem.  The second is that it installs confidence. That was our goal.

Knife hand strike
Knife hand strike in Songham 2
We went to a relatively new school that was part of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) . The impact of being fairly new are that it was still fairly small and it had not generated any black belts yet, so the first benefit was he got a lot of individual attention.  The first times he went he looked but did not do anything, which was expected. The school staff spent a lot of individual time with him talking to him and getting him comfortable. In the meantime he observed what was happening.  Eventually, he got onto the floor and started participating.

The first benefit we saw was increased confidence. Taekwondo represented a set of skills that he could learn and be competent in, and his attention span helped greatly here. He dealt with the instructors and interacted more freely with the other kids than he did before.   A few months in, he had an interview with a prospective kindergarten, and he warmed up to the staff much easier than he had to any other adult (e.g. Day care staff) before. (He usually took 3 months to warm up to new day care staff, either new hires or for when he moved rooms). The curtesies of the school have helped him navigate everyday life in interacting with adults.
Bowing before forms
Bowing before testing
The second benefit was concentration and focus, T always had a good attention span, his day care noted that he was a child who stayed in place while the chaos of preschoolers moved around him from activity to activity. Taekwondo added a long term focus onto this, coupled with his natural attention span, meant that the forms and patterns were something he could develop competency in. So, in contrast to the usual criticism of youth Taekwondo as being merely moving limbs, he learned to put power in his moves. And having an object of focus has helped in his usual shyness and tendency to freeze in public view.

jump front kick in line sparring
Jump front kick while line sparring

The other thing we are looking at in the school is how the older kids are like. Once we figured out that T liked this, and we were in this for the long term, we wanted to know who would be influencing him. In a martial arts school, this would mean the kids who reach black belt and become assistant instructors themselves. We have had some interaction as some of the teens have started assisting with classes. But my real interaction has started when I started taking Taekwondo myself. The classes are small, as it is only  two years old, but you see the teens supporting one another, and also you see the older ones, who are approaching the black belt ranks, taking seriously the role of encouraging the others, it was a different experience to have a group of teens providing encouragement to an adult (me) in my first month.
Line sparring
Line sparring

One other thing that we are looking forward to is that as the years go on, he will know people in his life who have taken this path before, and unlike sports heroes, these are people he knows in the flesh. In addition to Masters level black belts he will meet in the course of his training, he knows people with black belts or equivalent in various disciplines, and people who compete at the highest levels. So the people he sees on YouTube or in other media are real people, and represent something that can be realistically aspired to.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

21 questions to ask a child about daddy

T (5 yr old) decided that it was wakeup time. Note that today is a Saturday, and this was his school day wake up time.  So I decided that if he was going to wake up, he would (1) eat breakfast and (2) play 21 questions (

1.  What is something daddy always says to you?
I don't want to play that game

2.  What makes daddy happy?
Not fighting with T. (Note: fighting refers to the morning routine of waking t up, eating breakfast and getting to school)

3.  What makes daddy sad?
Fighting with T.

4.  How does daddy make you laugh?
Tickling T

5.  What was daddy like as a child?
Crawl a lot. When you (daddy) was really little you did not know how to walk.

6.  How old is daddy?

7.  How tall is daddy?
51 inches (T is 40 inches)

8.  What is daddy's favorite thing to do?

9.  What does daddy do when you're not around?
Working or doing ATA (Note: taekwondo)

10.  If daddy becomes famous what will it be for?
I don't know

11. What is daddy really good at?
Pushing LEGOs together

12. What is daddy not very good at?
Playing piano

13. What does daddy do for his job?
Type letters

14. What is daddy's favorite food?
Turkey (Note: Thanksgiving was last week)

15. What makes you proud of daddy?
When daddy draws in the lines

16. If daddy was a cartoon character who would he be?

17. What do you and daddy do together?

18. How are you and daddy the same?
We are both boys

19. How are you and daddy different
I (T) am short and you (daddy) are tall

20. How do you know daddy loves you?
Daddy reads to T

21. Where is daddy's favorite place to go?
ATA (taekwondo school)