Friday, December 30, 2016

Parenting Month 74: New environments

The highlight of the month has been two weeks in Thailand. We have had a desire to make sure that our kids experience a world that is different than the upper middle class suburbia we live in.  In contrast, our family in Bangkok, Thailand is in the middle of a city of 8 million people and is a place where wealth lives side-by-side with poverty, much different than the U.S. where we are very segregated economically.

Jumping on the boat at the pier
Someone jumping onto a riverboat before it leaves the pier

T experienced a number of new experiences.  He used a river boat that was a means of transportation (not just a tourist boat), he rode a tuk-tuk (2 stroke engine powered tricycle-cab), and walked down a street market daily.

Wai phra at the local street market
Wai Phra to a monk on the street market on Petchburi Soi 5
Dodging traffic on a Soi
Letting some cars go by in the morning street market
Our general approach to raising our children has been encouraging competence. This has included skills such as woodworking, using tools, and generally toys that involve building. But we also want to include social competence, meaning that they can function in a world different than the suburban upper middle class world we live in.  So on this trip we did some normal tourist things like going to the malls and temples, but we also did things that were closer to how life was lived, like going to the local street market every day to get food for breakfast, or traveling by river boat on commuter boats (as opposed to the tourist boat). We taught him how to read maps for train and boat, to practice social curtesies with everyone, and to become more aware of his surroundings. 

He obviously stands out. The very casual dress compared to school kids, the fact that he bounces along as he walks would make him stand out even if he was not speaking english. And in social status conscious Thailand, this particularly makes him stand out as many service personnel have gotten used to not having their curtesies returned by those of higher social class, so my six year old stands out from greeting everyone he interacts with properly.

When I was in Afghanistan, I had spoken frequently with a former CIA officer on a range of topics. One day he commented that I was someone who could go anywhere in the world and learn to interact with anyone. Now, that is not true, I spent much of my growing up years just trying to reduce how much I got yelled at instead of building competencies, and I was still getting used to being in a place where it was acceptable to act when lives were in danger. But being a parent, I can think about what it would take to actually be such a person. And that would include learning to function in new environments, with new social rules and requirements, and new patterns of life. Even now as someone this young.

We hope that he will experience three cultures growing up: the U.S., Thailand, and China. And that this could be a springboard for being the type of person my colleague talked about. 

Riding a river boat on the Chao Praya river
Riding a river boat

Thailand 2016 Trip anecdotes part 2

  • T playing with a 4 year old Thai girl. They do not have a common language, but one of their games is to whisper in each other's ear. 
  • Realizing that said 4 year old has never colored (with crayons) before.
  • Said 4 year old trying to quiet down A's tantrum by shushing her. 
  • We think that she likes the fact that there is someone in the family compound that is younger than her. 
  • Our go to method for shortstopping a two year old tantrum, get her singing. A sang alot this trip.
  • People on the BTS train offering us their seats because we have young children with us. This happened every single time. (Except Christmas Eve, which is why A singing was so exceptional that night.) 
  • I got a lot of exercise carrying around A in a ring sling.
  • The boys went to see Rogue One. This is T's third movie in a theater.
  • At my father's one year remembrance, T was told to watch the door and greet (wai) everyone who came in, and he did. 
  • T going to the street market on his last morning to give food to the monk, and chatting with the monk after the blessing. 
  • I don't think I'll get used to being greeted by 'sawasdee pii' from professional adults ('pii' refers to someone older, I'm used to using it to refer to older kids, not adults)
  • A likes to pass the time by singing songs she knows from daycare or YouTube videos. Our soundtrack from the vacation is highlighted by Everything is Awesome, the LEGO Movie theme song by The Lonely Island 
  • T passes time by singing songs from school. We are starting to suspect that he is making up lyrics for the songs. 
  • On the trip back, we had to walk a long way between gates to catch a connection, A saying to T "keep walking" (they had been watching Finding Dory on the plane, Dory's catch phrase is "keep swimming") 
  • Waiting at O'hare for the last leg, A was singing and dancing in the waiting area. Completely inappropriate for a 2 year old who left grandma's house over 24 hours ago. 
  • A woke up around 2 AM for her morning concert. Which is when I am writing this.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thailand 2016 trip Part 1

  • T 6yrs old.  On encountering turbulence.  "This is fun!"  By the end of a flight which included an aborted landing due to a wind shear alarm, he threw up. 2yr old sister was not far behind.
  • By the end of the D.C. -Tokyo leg, commentary from other passengers, if they are this agreeable when tired and uncomfortable, they must be wonderful children from day to day.
  • Tokyo airport play area. We meet someone we know and our kids play for a while.
  • 5:30 in the morning wake up to roosters crowing. 2 yr old had been awake since 3 and thinks she has company in her morning concert. She knows that roosters say Cock-a-doo-doo 
  • First of many trips to the next soi (small street) market over to get morning breakfast. T learns to give food to the local monk. The next day we find out that the monk we picked can speak English. Wai phra becomes our daily ritual and we are usually not rushed by others waiting their turn so we can talk with the monk.
  • Cousin has a piano. That means T has daily piano practice. 
  • Visit great-grandma. T is getting the wai for hello thing down.
  • By the third morning T and I have made the first trip with just the two of us. T has learned to wai and say sawasdee khrab to every vendor we buy something from. We have gotten a discount from one vendor who knows that a 6 yr old boy is learning how to wai phra. People ask about his mother. Random people want to say hello. We get freebies when we buy things in the morning market.
  • Take train and boat to go to Museum of Siam. They are closed for renovation for the month. Major fail. T thinks that the boat trips on the river express boat were really cool. Maybe not so bad.
  • Go to Kasetsart to give a talk. The guy picking me up from the train station asks what am I wearing so he can recognize me. Thailand is in morning so everyone is wearing white or black, including me. I suggest my green bag is more identifiable.
  • Change the morning workshop based on the conversation over the drive. Three hour workshop, with two hours created as we go. It did not completely fall apart. Everyone learned a lot. 
  • Faculty member teased because we were talking about exchange programs, and she is thinking about what her daughter will do. Said daughter is currently 5.
  • Conversations at a couple of universities focusing on the difficulty in teaching programming to engineers. Everyone is relieved to know that they are not the only ones. Conversation then moves to how some places are trying to improve it.
  • This morning's market run was with grandma and granddaughter, but without grandson. Everyone asks what happened to grandson. We do not get our usual freebies. We can now put an economic value on the difference in cuteness between a very well behaved 6yr old boy vs a shy 2 yr old girl.
  • T and I go without mommy and sister to Siriraj medical Museum. We get to see actual hearts, lungs, etc in various states of health, including smokers, gun shot victims, stabbing victims. We are pretty sure that is unique in his first grade class.
  • Shop girls love T. Museum staff girls want pictures with him.  Maybe we should charge for the privilege.
  • 2 yr olds having a get home by __ spell means we can define an effective radius that we can have dinner if we want to go out.
  • Go out for a late dinner that involves taking a boat. We get recognized by a family that was on the boat with us this morning.
  • Lunch, I find a table with a sleeping A while everyone is finding lunch at a food court. Lady comes over and tries to help wake up and feed A. (If you did not know, Thai girls rival Japanese girls in their attraction to things cute, and my kids count when they are with us)
  • Christmas Eve on a very crowded BTS system with lots of tired and cranky people. A is sitting in a sling and is singing away happily. Most people are too tired to appreciate how cute that is, but there were a few.
  • Tired T, very happy to take a trip in a Tuk-tuk. Includes laughing at another family who was also crammed in another tuk-tuk and a motorcycle riding Santa Claus.