Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Demise of the DS

I have a secret. Well, it kind of feels like a secret. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, Z1's Nintendo DS, the one we bought just 3 months ago, got really wet. He accidently left his water bottle open in his bag and the water spilled all over it. We tried to dry it out and even replaced the battery but it won't power on. The DS is over. I had mixed feelings about getting the DS in the first place so I was also feeling ambivalent about it's destruction. Maybe “good riddens” but also “what a waste of money!”

What surprised me most about the whole situation was that Z1 was totally nonplussed. When he first got the DS, all he wanted to do was play it. I was placing all kinds of time limits and working out all kinds of deals with him about how and when he played it. But true to his dabbler nature, he moved on after a while finding intense pleasure in dot-to-dot puzzles (which he has since abandoned).

On the one hand, I was happy that he wasn't broken up about the destroyed DS but on the other, I was annoyed that he couldn't care less that it was ruined. I blamed it on the fact that it's his nature but my good friend pointed out to me that the DS is a very social kind of video game system. It's made to play with others. I mean, that's what I've noticed these days about video games: it's not one guy holed up in a room with his games. It's a community of gamers. I used to hear my nephew talking to my other nephew, who lives all the way on the other side of the country, strategizing about a certain video game they were playing.

So once again, I found myself really having to take a look at our homeschooling and assessing it. The one thing that lacks is a community. A real homeschooling community that we can count on for support and that we belong to.

Now homeschoolers are quick to point out that there are plenty of opportunities for real socialization for a homeschooled child. If you understand what socialization is, you realize that traditional schools do not really offer children opportunities to really socialize. The interaction is forced (based on age) and controlled (based on the need to teach and/or manage large groups of people at one time) but at least, at the very least, it's interaction. So while I started to think that the solution to our lack of community might be school, I know it's most likely not. But then what is? I don't know.

My secret is that I don't have the unflagging confidence that other homeschoolers have, that Z1 is socializing enough and getting all he needs in that respect.  (Even writing that feels like I'm breaking with the ranks).)  I don't think Z1 gets enough consistent time with other children. He's fast outgrowing story times and most of his friends are in school all day. With one income, we cannot afford to do 32,000 different classes in hopes of forging connections or interacting, either. There are tons (and I mean tons) of things to sign kids up for in the city. Some are geared towards homeschoolers (homeschooling "schools) an learning centers and some are just general but we have to come out of pocket. And for me, living right outside of the city, I have to consider the cost of getting into the city (both economically and physically). We've joined the YMCA, which is great because he gets to do all kinds of things with different teachers and the cost is low. Often, however, the other children know each other from school or (this is really the one that makes it difficult) the groups/classes are never consistent. What that means is that he might do Pike 1 Swimming with one group of kids and do Pike 2 Swimming with a totally different set. He doesn't get to know the kids and I don't get to know the parents. We go, take the class, mind our own business and go home. There is little to no connection. At least if we were a traditionally schooling family, we'd have that connection. The fact that we all belong to the same school community connects us. No matter what homeschoolers say, school is a community, forced or not.

Don't get me wrong: I have tried and am trying doggedly to make strong connections with other homeschoolers, build a community based on homeschooling. If folks can build even a temporary community based on traditional schooling, certainly I can find or build a community based on non-traditional schooling. But honestly, everyone seems too busy. If it's not forced, it seems like it won't happen because given the option, folks will opt out of making real connections. And I have to be honest: my pride gets in the way. I push and really try to have playdates and get-togethers. If one suggestion doesn't work, I'll try another. But I hate to feel like I'm begging folks to hang out, pleading with folks to build community with me, imploring folks to see the importance of it all. I start to wonder what is it that everyone else is so busy doing that I'm not. Why do I feel such a void and others don't? Doesn't this lack of community and connection bother anyone else? What's wrong with me?

Let me be honest again and say that I had felt this way for a long time in my own personal life. A real inability to form close connections that stick. I had decided that I would stop trying and the closest thing I had to a girlfriend (you know what I mean by this—a real soul sister) was my blood sister. Only recently has this started to change and so it gives me hope that it will change for homeschooling too if I just keep going and accept the situation as it is right now knowing it won't always be this way. I mean, I'm really holding on here. It seems like I'm making headway, meeting homeschooling folks, getting somewhere, and just as I start to get excited about it, something happens (kids get enrolled in school, folks move away or just stop communicating) and I'm back at square one.

A part of me knows that this struggle to really connect is something that society at large is dealing with especially with all the social media available now. People are just too busy to meet and visit. Even a phone call seems to be too much for people to muster. I get that I have made the conscious decision to live counter to our prevailing culture and any time you do that, you find yourself isolated until you find folks who've made similar decision. And I know they exist—just not where I live. I know that this would probably not even have been an issue if we lived in another place. But we are not in a position to move (and how do you figure out something like "is there a real, cohesive group of  homeschoolers here before you move anyway) and so I'm just focused on attracting like-minded folks to me.

Well, it seems that perhaps if Z1 had some friends to play DS with, he might have been more upset about it's demise. Before we bought the DS, I didn't even know how I'd feel about him and a bunch of his friends sitting around playing DS instead of running and jumping and playing physically. But what I have learned from the DS experience is that eventually, I can trust that Z1 will go do something else. I actually know that most kids, given ample space and time, will only use the DS as one way to spend their time.

The DS has also reminded me about this darn socialization issue. When I tell others that I'm homeschooling and they respond that they couldn't “do that” to their kid because their kid is too social, I don't even know what to say. I just nod and say, “It's not for everyone”. I'd like to put on a brave face and stand in defense of homeschooling, bold and emphatic like other homeschoolers (many homeschooling bloggers and message board posters) but yeah, it gets isolating and it's one damned good reason to think long and hard before anyone decides for or against it. You've got to do your research and figure out what you can deal with and what you cannot. Because to say that it gets really intense around here sometimes is an understatement because Z1 relies on me to play with and do things with him a lot. We get a lot of face time. And sometimes, just because I'm a human being, I want to be left alone and I wish he'd go find someone else to play with. But there's isn't any one.

Anyway, I'm looking to sell all the accessories we bought for the Nintendo DS Lite so if you need a case for yours, chargers, extra battery, etc., etc., I have it for you. ;)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Does how you keep your house really reflect your self-esteem?

Photo Credit
I think I was reading Shay's blog (BlackGirlinMaine--really well-done blog by the way) and she mentioned the book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.  I don't know but I'm always looking for "daily books", you know, books with an entry for every day of the year.  Maybe it's a holdover from the days when my family used to do morning devotions with Our Daily Bread (and later I did it on my own with Campus Journal which no longer seems to be in print.)  Anyway, I really enjoy Simple Abundance and I want to purchase it (right now it's on loan from the library).  The entries are not necessarily deep or heavy (especially compared to the books on Buddhism and meditation that currently sit on my altar) but they are thought-provoking and (perhaps this is why the book appeals to me so much) down-to-earth.  Practical.  Little reminders to find the joy and pleasure in life.  To get back to your authentic self.  And revel in it.

Today's entry focused on housekeeping, i.e. how we keep our home:
How we care for our home is a subtle but significant expression of self-esteem.
When I read this, I kind of balked and/or smirked and thought that how we care for our home is more so an expression of how much energy/time we have.  I got on the defensive--even though I keep a pretty clean and orderly house.  When most people visit, they say they feel comfortable and at home.  Now, my house would never make it into any home decorating magazines.  None of our furniture matches and many of our pieces and decorations we have because someone handed it down to us or we bought what we could afford (usually second-hand).  But I try very hard to keep the house tidy.  I have a housekeeping schedule that I try to stick to and while the windows could certainly use a good cleaning, I am meticulous about keeping the bathroom and kitchen especially very clean.  I never go to sleep with dishes in the sink and I sweep the floor every evening.  

Does this show that I esteem myself highly?  I am 100% sure that failing to do these things definitely does not make me feel good about myself.  But is that a good thing?  Some days, I am so tired and stressed that I really do need to let it go.  Instead, I feel just terrible about myself for not doing them.  Like I am not complete if I have not done the chores I set out to do that day.  And I drag myself to do them.  Where's the self-compassion?  Where's the self-love in that?

I also realize that my penchant for a neat and organized house comes from the fact that I grew up in a house that was the opposite.  Things were always scattered everywhere.  It was always cluttered.  And my mom, who suffers from severe asthma, had a very difficult time keeping it clean.  So my drive to keep my home this way comes from a serious psychological need to distance myself from that chaos and establish for myself a surrounding that I can enjoy being in.

So I don't know . . . what do you think?  Is your housekeeping a reflection of your self-esteem?  Or is it just what it is? 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I wasn't sure when I'd get this book from the library. I was probably number 386 on a list of 400 library patrons who'd put this book on hold.  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the much talked about memoir by Amy Chua in which she chronicles how she raised her daughters according to the "Chinese model" which is the opposite of the deeply flawed Western model.  

I think the most interesting thing about this book is that Chua was born and raised in the U.S.A.  From the outset that means that she doesn't have firsthand knowledge of what the Chinese model is.  Nor does she have intimate experience with what it yields or where it comes from.  She does have some evidence, at least, in the person of her father and her youngest daughter that the Chinese model which she holds as the pinnacle of good parenting, didn't and doesn't always work.  Yet, she nobly forges ahead to demonstrate how Chinese parenting is superior to Western parenting.

Chua is careful to note that Chinese parenting is really just the type of parenting that is extremely hands on and controlling--authoritarian.  Children do what their parents say and that's the end of that.  Parents set the goal and children achieve them.  There's no negotiation.  No choice.  And, apparently, no fun.  Chua, it seems, systematically thwarts her children's chances at having a fun childhood inserting piano and violin practices during vacation and long into the night.  For her, fun seems to be a luxury her children can't afford and don't deserve.  

It was almost painful to read some parts of this book.  I think the most heart-breaking scene for me is when Chua is chiding her elder daughter Sophia about some rice that the dogs got a hold of and scattered all over.  Sophia, who usually quietly and calmly puts up with her mother's controlling and over-driven personality blows up (finally) and tells her mother not to take her anger over her little sister Lulu's rebellion on her.  Why?  Because being 13 is tough.  Sophia says she knows this firsthand.  Chua has no clue whatsoever that her daughter found being 13 tough and at this point, the girl is 16.  I mean . . . it really struck a serious chord with me and sent a pang of pain through my body.  So focused on the goal, the dream, the vision that you ignore the persons who are sacrificing to make your vision reality.  I know about that.

At the same time, I get it.  The stereotypical Western parent is lax and does let their kids do whatever they want to do and quit when they get ready.  They don't push their children enough and they let their children run the show.  But I think that the pendulum shouldn't swing too far in either direction:  it shouldn't be control and manipulation and threats to get the desired behavior.  Just as it shouldn't be giving in all the time and having no defined limits for kids to get the desired behavior.  Each of these scenarios sends children mixed messages about if they are loved because the love that's bestowed is conditional upon the behavior.  And as Chua showed in her book, the Chinese model doesn't always work although, depending on personality, it can (potentially--Chua's daughters are not yet grown at the time the book was published).

I will say I admire Chua's gangster though.  I can't think of anything I want my kids to do so badly that I would drive 2 hours to and fro every Sunday to practice or sit for 5-6 hours at a time to do. I mean, I have to give her her props.  She studied the music right along with her children and really put in a lot of effort and energy, physically and emotionally to force her kids to play the piano and violin not just well but excellently.  And I believe in excellence but I'm not sure if I'm willing to pay the price, namely a tense and cold family life where everyone is on eggshells.  Chua was.  It's all about priorities.

So the big question is did Chua raise daughters the way she did for their sake or for herself?  For a long time in the book, Chua had me convinced it was for the good of the girls but as the story progressed, I had to change my tune.  She kept manipulating and controlling even after she saw it was just no good for her second daughter.  Their success at piano and violin she felt was a direct reflection on how good of a mother she was.  Nowhere in there did she seem all that concerned about her daughters' well being.  Forget happiness for a moment.  What about health?  

Chua chalks it all up to being true to the Chinese model.  But the Chinese model exists because it is a different society.  A society where very few can make it--only the very best.  The only way parents can give their children a leg up in life is if they make them to be at the top no matter what.  A look at immigrant parents reveals that they were in a very risky and precarious situation where it was sink or swim.  So they had to work doggedly to make it.  Nobody was giving them a hand up.  The odds were stacked against them.  They simply translated that mind state and work ethic to raising their children.  It was necessary for survival and making it in a new land.  Chua has already made it here and admits to it. Her life is quite solidly middle class so it's not a survival issue here.  Had her daughters never been concert pianists or violinists, they still would have had an excellent chance of leading successful lives.  Plain and simple, it's an ego issue for Chua.  An ego trip (I have to point this out) that would not have even been possibly if Chua was not solidly upper middle class.  She was tossing out numbers for gowns and teachers and talking about family vacation and such . . . these are things that Chinese parents/newly immigrated parents would not be able to do.  They simply would hope that they would set it up so that if their grandchildren would like to, they could.  (But I understand Chua not wanting the grandchildren to jack up the upward progression with mediocrity and a lackadaisical attitude.) 

I get that children will want to give up when something gets challenging.  But, especially in raising Z1, I know that if I show a bit of disappointment when he is ready to give up, he will suck it up and try.  That is how important it is to him to please me.  And at 5 years old, it's very easy for me to manipulate this deep desire to get him to do things.  I mean, the things I want him to do I believe are for his own good but I don't know, I want to bring my children to do things not to please authority but for that things merit.  I think about trying to teach Z1 to count  money and how I kept hitting a wall.  A few months later, he got really interested because he wanted to start buying things.  Teaching money became really simple and he's really gotten the concept.  I know this probably won't apply to everything but I think it probably applies to the majority of things.  The problem is I am not patient enough to wait.  And I need to control these things too, so it can happen when I think it should not when it's the "right" time.

So I struggle with my own inner Tiger Mom.  Raising two Black boys in this world, I'm 100% sure I want them to excel academically and I definitely want them to master an instrument.  They don't have to become concert violinist or pianists but I want them to really excel at an instrument.  I know that part of that has to be talent but honestly, I believe you can make up for lack of talent with hard work.  And so I do push my kids to work hard.  I push them when they say they can't (and I know they can), I challenge them and I insist they can't give up.  I believe in them with my whole heart and so I push them. I do agree that it's challenging to know when to back off but I want to think that my common sense and my gut will tell me when I really need to let it go.   It's something I meditate on a lot.  I also realize that much of my drive and work-ethic is derived from my own parents Nigerian parenting which is similar in flavor and execution to Chinese parenting.  Mediocre never, ever cuts it.  

Anyway, I get the sense that Chua has  a lot of inner demons she's struggling with herself and so I can't be too critical. If children are your karma, or rather, a way to work out your karma, Chua did and is doing a hell of a job for better or worse.
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