June 13, 2009

learning german

Everyone has their odd little quirks as a parent, the things that you want your children to be interested in because, if you are honest with yourself, you are into them.  Some of us sign our kids up for art classes so that they can learn the joy of expressing themselves through wild finger painting.  Other parents whisk their children off to mandolin lessons because they always wanted to be bluegrass musicians.

My deep dark longing for my children is for them to learn German.  Oh, I know that there are more “useful” second languages for an American child to learn—Spanish may be more practical on a day to day basis and Chinese may serve them better in the emerging economic world, but I love German.  German is often dismissed as a guttural, ugly tongue, but I think it is a charming language of its own.  I like the order of its grammar, its odd tendency to throw any and all verbs to the end of a sentence, and the mile long nouns that make beautiful sense once you decode them.

To this end, I have been speaking to my children and reading to them in a decidedly non-native accent for years now.  My children will humor me by sprinkling their speech with German nouns—Käse, Trinkflasche, Schuhe.  Still I think my older child views our German conversations (if you can call it that when only one person does the talking) as an oddity, as a silly pretend language.  I can still remember the day when, as an 18 month old, he heard another mother admonishing her son on the playground in German. My son stopped playing, cocked his head, and you could read on his face—“They speak our code, too!”

Fast forward another 18 months, numerous Feuerwehr books, and some amusing German DVDs, and my son started attending his first little German language class.  We are interlopers at this class—most of the other children have at least one “actual” German parent, and many will be returning home to Germany once their parents’ tenure in North Carolina is through.  My son seems to enjoy these orderly classes—he sings the little welcome song as he pushes his fire trucks around our living room, and he proudly displays the Eisbär that he made that week, but I’m not naïve enough to think that he is truly gaining in fluency.  What I hope that he is getting from his classes is what I enjoy about taking him there—forging connections with people.  I love listening to the German mamas talk about their children or what they will be doing for the holidays.  I love answering their precisely phrased English questions with my own freewheeling German.  I like being the “odd man out,” and I want my son to experience that feeling and to welcome it and hopefully someday to seek out that same sensation in other cultures and with other languages and with other people.

tips for bringing your toddler to a restaurant

During the first year of our daughter Zoe’s life we made many attempts to enjoy a meal out with her. We found that lunches tended to be a bigger success than dinners because she would get so tired at night and since she wasn’t really eating too many solids at this time she would generally be cranky. We would then spend the entire meal passing her back and forth and taking turns eating while the other one of us walked around the restaurant with her trying to entertain her until we had settled the bill and could finally leave. Hardly an enjoyable experience!

As she got older and started to eat more herself we found that Zoe started to really enjoy eating out and now actually gets excited when we tell her we’re going to a restaurant. Now, at 20 months Zoe is a regular restaurant patron and as long as we go when she’s hungry and bring some stickers or crayons she’s happy to sit through the entire meal. Since we live in New York City and hardly ever eat out mid-week because my husband gets home too late we love that we can now enjoy weekend dinners out without paying a sitter. Also we really enjoy Zoe’s company in restaurants and we feel that eating out is an important thing for her to get used to. Here are some tips that we have learned for taking a toddler to a restaurant:

1) We no longer bring any food for Zoe. We have found that she prefers to eat something different than what she’d usually have –so the bread in the restaurant is more appealing to her than her snack trap filled with bunny crackers or o’s.
2) We try not to make walking around the restaurant even an option –we find this only encourages her to want to get up and walk whenever we go out. Of course if she’s really fussy or the meal is taking a long time we will take a walk with her but for the most part we try to encourage her to sit and it usually works.
3) We’ve found that if we are very enthusiastic about the fact that we’ll be eating in a restaurant she is excited for it and more likely to sit and eat quietly.
4) I try to stash away special toys and other distracters that she doesn’t usually get to play with so that they are exciting to her when we pull them out in a restaurant. Stickers, sticker books, different types of “neat” art projects such as those pens that draw with water, new books with flaps or textures or pop-ups have all been good distracters for us.
5) Finally, eat out often! I think this is the most important thing for getting your toddler used to eating in a restaurant.

ni hao, ma!

My twin girls would be considered Caucasian. If you glanced at them you would see the characteristic light brown hair, blue eyes, and light skin. If you look a little harder you will see that one has almond-shaped eyes and the other olive colored skin. We live in central Wyoming, the state that is least populated and probably one of the least ethnically diverse.

It is difficult to raise children. It is even harder when your children are one-quarter Asian decent. What will they claim as ethnicity on their college application? Being half Asian myself, I always claimed Caucasian – however I don’t have a solid explanation behind the definite check mark on the forms. Nowadays I am able to select a variety of ethnicities, so today I appear as veritable smorgasbord.

My girls often spend time with their maternal grandmother and at times they blurt out Filipino words casually. Then at other times they will say xie xie (pronounced ‘sheh sheh’) in response to receiving an item. While my mother is very much Filipino, she and my father spent over 5 years living in Beijing, China and developed a love for the people, the culture, and the language.

I have a love of travel, which I hope passes onto my girls. At the age of two my girls traveled to the Philippines to meet the Asian side of the family. In a few years we will take them to Australia to meet their extended family on my father’s side. We also have plans for travel to Ireland – a place with roots for my father and my husband. We want our children to be exposed to a wide variety of cultures and respect each of the differences.

I encourage their multicultural linguistics and use the words they are already familiar with but I don’t know how their preschool teacher will respond when they start school in August. I am confident that they will try to communicate with words in Chinese and Filipino. More than likely he/she won’t recognize that the words are from a different language and they may be corrected with the English-form. After all, who would expect Asian languages from my clearly Caucasian looking-children?

June 9, 2009

graduation day at association jeunesse actions mali (aja mali)

 

On a trip to Bamako, the capital city of Mali, Africa, Tea was given a chance to see firsthand how our products for the Global Fund for Children (GFC) are making a difference. I’d like to share our experience with you, so every time you give a GFC tee as a gift or read Global Babies to your child at bedtime, you will feel connected to the groups you are impacting around the globe.

 

 

 

AJA Mali is under the Global Fund for Children’s “Safety” Portfolio. This group provides basic education and life skills training to out-of-school youth, many of whom are serving long-term apprenticeships in the fields of carpentry, masonry, plumbing, metal working, and mechanics. Boys from their teen years to early twenties go through a program in which they learn not only safety on the job, but also how to value themselves and seek help when needed from adults and mentors in their communities. We were lucky to visit AJA on Graduation Day. Below are a few photographs from the event.

A graduate celebrates after accepting his certificate and set of gloves and other safety materials for his apprenticeship.

 

A graduate celebrates after accepting his certificate and set of gloves and other safety materials for his apprenticeship.

 

A smiling graduate receives his certificate and safety materials. A teacher, (right) displays a proud smile.

 

The audience at the graduation ceremony.

 

After inspirational speeches from leaders in the community, the granting of “diplomas” and many proud smiles on these boys’ faces, we departed, with a fulfilling sense that the work we are doing at home is directly impacting these boys in Bamako and countless other children and young people around the world.

Thank you for supporting Tea and the work of the Global Fund for Children and its grantee partners.

 

The proceeds of every purchase of GFC books and apparel goes to local groups just like AJA Mali. To view the latest GFC products and gifts, please visit our webpage at:

For more information on the Fundamental Rights of Children, as laid out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, please visit http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/WelcomePage.aspx

To learn more about AJA Mali, please visit their website at http://www.ajamali.org/

For more information about The Global Fund for Children, or to make a direct donation, please visit: www.globalfundforchildren.org

The Global Fund for Children’s mission is to advance the dignity of children and youth around the world. GFC pursues its mission by making small grants to innovative community-based organizations working with some of the world’s most vulnerable children and youth, complemented by a dynamic media program that, through books, documentary photography, and film, highlights the issues affecting children and celebrates the global society in which we all live. To date, GFC has disbursed $12.6 million in 69 countries to 348 grantee partners.

June 1, 2009

only travel to saudi arabia could explain religion

Traveling around the world with your child is a gift that keeps on giving. Our little citizen of the world has continued to amaze us with her adoption of other cultures into her ways. I adore that she kisses friends hello and goodbye on both cheeks. It pleases me when she answers the question “how are you?” with “nos nos” which is Arabic for so-so. It is entertaining when she looks to a pointy sculpture and exclaims “hey, an obelisk!” It is silly when she adamantly refuses ever returning to Mexico because there are “too many mosquitoes.” A recent conversation with Olivia validated all our past travels and all future travels.

First, let me tell you, fighting for a kindergarten school in San Francisco is quite a battle. Private schools require you participate in a specific tour prior to applying. We, of course, were out of the country for the tours. This left us with the choice of public or catholic schools as our only options. My husband and I are recovering Catholics. That left us with public school. Currently, kindergarten at Olivia’s public school is nearing an end and I felt it was time to shop around for the potential of other school’s 1st grade. Test the waters and see if there was a better option. I woke Olivia up on a Sunday morning and said, “lets go check out St. Brendan’s!” She moaned and groaned and very clearly but politely told me “I really don’t want to go to a Church school.” Perhaps it had to do with my teaching her to say the pledge of allegiance with a “one nation, under science” and ending it with a giggle to each other. Yes, I am thinking that may have been a catalyst. What never occurred to me is that she has absolutely no idea what Christianity is about.

I took her, against her will, that morning to the Catholic School’s open house. Olivia is a very calm, go-with-the-flow kind of girl. On the drive to the school, I was hit with an uncharacteristic barrage of question after question with moments of contemplation between. “Mommy. Do church people go to lunch?”

“Yes Sweetie, people who go to church are like everyone else.”

“Mommy, do church people play outside?”

“Of course Honey, church people are people.”

“Do they study science at Church schools?”

“Yes Darling, it is a school like every other school except for the whole evolution part.”

I could tell I wasn’t communicating to her the normalcy of “church people.” She had a fear of the unknown and every answer I was giving her was making no progress so I went another angle and said to her, “Baby, remember when we were in Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Remember how they went to the Mosque five times everyday and prayed, remember the voices over the loud speaker calling to prayer? Church people are the same as that but they don’t go to a Mosque, they go to a church and they usually only go one time a week.”

With a tone of complete understanding, a true “why didn’t you say so sooner” moment, Olivia said with her voice rising and falling, “Oooohhhh. Like Muslims!” It was all clear to her at that point. And in my mind with a tone of complete understanding, I thought… Wow, how special is it to briefly explain religion that is evident daily and everywhere in our own country with an explanation from a culture so radically different such as the one she experienced in Saudi Arabia. The only way she understood that christians are just people like everyone else was in terms of Islam. I love that. Olivia is truly a citizen of the world.

As I was feeling a inner sense of pride for being able to parent such a unique way, we drove up to the school located next to the Church and Olivia said, “Wow Mom, Church people have nice flowers.”

kids are everybody’s business with the turks

IMG_0254Turkey has the “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to children, even in the metropolis of Istanbul. Turks trust each other with their children and they expect us, as visitors to their country, to trust them with our children as well. Everybody notices children and jumps to help with them, cuddle them or soothe them during a tough moment.

Turks simply love children and have created a culture where it’s fine to express that. The most common form of attention is the cheek-pinching. I’m surprised Grace doesn’t have bruised cheeks from the number of pinches but she has endured it with surprising, well, grace. A maitre’d standing outside his restaurant as we passed noticed her face was dirty and summoned a waiter to bring him a cloth to scrub it clean. As we boarded a public bus heavy-laden with bags and a stroller a kind young woman scooped up Grace, held her on her lap and sang songs to her as if she were her own. On a scenic boat trip up the Bosphorus where Grace quickly became bored, a young man who spoke no English picked her up and read her one of her picture books. She’s been given many pieces of candy from strangers, led away by a security guard museum to show her off to his friends, had shopkeepers adjust her clothing and received all kinds of free food in restaurants from thoughtful waitstaff.

Such lavish attention from strangers is disarming for us Americans, so accustomed to adults in keeping their distance from children unless they are 1) related to them 2) know them well or 3) have some kind of malintent. At first we (Grace included) were a bit taken aback by the attention total strangers would shower on our tiny two-year old. Once we realized the approach was universal and well-meaning though, we relaxed and, as long as Grace still felt comfortable, we tried to be as well. As we head home after two weeks in Turkey we’ll have to readjust to strangers remaining just that, while trying to maintain that caring attitude towards other children ourselves.

creating bonds.

That little beauty is my niece who currently lives approximately 471 miles away from me. I hate that we live so far away, and am upset that we are about to move even farther.

I can’t control where our family has placed themselves, across the nation, and even overseas already as my mother lives in Kenya. I can however, control the frequency of my attempts to make connections and form bonds.

The internet is a wonderful thing – you can send photos, videos and even e-cards to your loved ones with a click of a button.

I plan on using EVERY resource available to me as we leave soon for our relocation to Delhi, but I also plan to try and remain loyal to “real” communication.

When we recently made our dandelion paintings, we stuck one in the mail to the little darling in the photo above. How sweet it was to receive the photo via email of her looking at and touching the painting.

She’s too young to understand that Mia MADE that painting for her, and too young to appreciate that they may very well form a close relationship as they grow up – no matter how far they are separated.

These two girls – my Mia and my niece who we affectionately call “Babybug Ladybug” can indeed form a bond, even across the miles. That is, if we choose to make the effort to keep them in touch.

Whether it be sending each other post cards of their travels, or finding fun things to collect and exchange via the mail … or maybe even keeping an online blog together of their experiences (how fun would that be?) … there are all sorts of creative ways to help keep a friendship and relationship intact even when you are separated physically.

I plan to help instill a relationship between the two youngest girls in our family … and hope to see it blossom and grow as they grow up!

May 27, 2009

learning mandarin

Since my son was born — he’s now two — I’ve been speaking Mandarin to him. My partner speaks Vietnamese to him. I never really thought much about whether to speak to him in English or Chinese; I knew I was going to speak to him in Chinese, my first language.
Once he was born, though, I found myself looking for the right words to say to a newborn! My English is much better than my Mandarin, so it’s sometimes hard to stick to speaking in just Mandarin with him. Through raising him, I’m learning about my own limitations with Mandarin, and surprisingly, learning about my strengths and how quickly things come back. These old school phrases that I must have learned as a child just seemed to come out of nowhere! And Since he’s started to pick up more words, I realized how important it is to keep the language going!
One of the things I’m learning is that, like any aspect of parenting, it’s so important to surround yourself with a community of like-minded folks, or people in similar situations. When we have our friends over, who happen to know Chinese or Vietnamese, we ask them to speak to him in those languages. When my parents visit, of course, he will have a sudden explosion of Chinese words. It’s really amazing.
We’ve also been going to the local branch of our library. We’ve been checking out DVDs of “Follow Jade!” and music videos in Vietnamese. My son definitely likes the Jade videos (who he calls “Auntie Jade”) and though it’s bilingual and targeted towards an English-speaking audience, he still picks up new vocabulary from the segments. The library, especially in these tough times, is such a great resource in more than one way. I’ve also checked out multiple books on raising a bilingual child, and those have been helpful too.
I’m wondering if there are other parents out there raising their kids with multiple languages, and how that is going. Are people considering bilingual or even full immersion preschools to keep the language going? What are some other resources out there for parents raising bilingual/multilingual children?
Momo is a freelance writer and mom of a two year-old.

diapers and laundry and diapers, oh my!

Question from my best friend, Lisa: What do you do about laundry and diapers when traveling overseas?

Answer: Always make sure we have easy access to both!

It’s actually somewhat amusing that Lisa asked me this question. Twelve years ago she and I spent a college summer in Germany where, for two months, our clothes did not once see a washing machine. We were too poor and cheap so, for the entire summer, we washed our clothes in the bathroom sink using dishsoap. I think the dishsoap was Lisa’s idea. We smelled lemony fresh and, for the most part, looked pretty clean.

Don’t think Steve and I are laboring over hotel sinks washing out Grace’s grubby t-shirts, at least not most days. Now that we can actually afford to do laundry the modern way, we do. We always first price out the cost of having someone else do our wash for us. In developing countries like Honduras laundry is a non-issue because it is so cheap to have someone local do the wash (a few dollars/ load). In Buenos Aires this was the case as well, even though our apartment did have a washer. We preferred to spend our time sight-seeing than waiting for a load to finish so frequently utilized the low-cost lavanderia (wash-and-fold) around the corner where the price even included ironing Steve’s shirts!

In more developed countries like Turkey the cost to have someone else do the wash was outrageous. Istanbul surprisingly also didn’t seem to have a single public laundromat. Luckily for us we had rented an apartment from Manzara Apartments and they had a washing machine in their offices they let us use (one of the few good things about this company – more on them in a later post). The washer was tiny though (held about half of what our washer at home holds) and there was no dryer. We just washed the absolute necessities since we then had to trudge a quarter mile home with the wet laundry to line-dry it.

For the most part though, when we travel we are able to do our own laundry because we rent apartments/houses equipped with washers. On our recent escapades in Turkey we rented a house at the coast during our second week. It was equipped with a washing machine and a huge sunny deck for line-drying the clothes. We returned home with suitcases full of clean clothes rather than the usual post-vacation piles of dirty laundry.

One thing we never, ever use are hotel laundry services. Almost always these services are outrageously expensive no matter the country, up to $5/ item. If we’re that desperate we’d rather resort to me and Lisa’s “dishsoap laundry method” than shell out such exorbitant amounts.

As for diapers, we usually try to take enough with us for an entire trip because diapers overseas are almost always imported from the US and therefore very expensive. Diapers aren’t heavy so they don’t add a lot of extra weight to our luggage, and as we use them up they make room for whatever souvenirs we’re collecting along the way.

On our most recent trip to Turkey we found ourselves short on diapers the last day at the WOW Istanbul Airport Hotel. I called down to the front desk to find out where we could buy diapers in the area. I was pleasantly surprised when the kind man on the other end, in very broken English, said they’d send some up. An hour later no diapers had arrived so I called again. This time no one on their staff knew anything about the phantom concierge’s promise to send up diapers nor did anyone even know what “diapers” were. I tried the British word “nappies.” I tried explaining “you know, the thing babies poop and pee in.” I was transferred to six staff members before the last guy asked me to spell “diapers.” I did and he said he’d call me back. Five minutes later, after what I imagine was a lot of frantic googling and then titters when the staff figured out what I wanted, he called me back triumphant: “We do not have any in the hotel.” OK, that would have been nice to know an hour ago when someone else was promising diaper room service. Sadly we found a local grocery store and bought an entire pack of 36 diapers of which we used one. We left the rest of the package behind in our room so if you happen to go to this hotel and need diapers, just tell them you know some crazy Americans left some behind and they’re probably languishing in the hotel’s lost-and-found.

We have yet to find a country that doesn’t have very easy access to diapers and wipes, despite any language barriers. Though often expensive, every corner pharmacy or drugstore around the world seems to carry Huggies and disposable wipes. Too bad for the landfills but good for traveling parents.

the pleasure of to-doing the to-do list

to-do-listFew things are as sweet for this wife, mother and business owner as a completed to-do list. One where every last task is crossed off and the list for tomorrow reads “To Turkey.” I feel more relaxed now than I probably ever will during my vacation.

That’s where I find myself tonight, as we prepare to take off for Istanbul, Turkey in the morning. I’ve never been a last minute person, running around frantically in the final hours before an exam, a big event, or a trip to get everything ready. Instead I run around frantically a day or two before and I wind up with this wonderful window of a few hours just before leaving where everything, yes, everything, is done. Anything that’s not done doesn’t matter at this point. If it was urgent, I did it already. Everything else can wait until I get back and I don’t have to feel guilty about not doing it right now.

I savor this sensation of done-ness in a life typically so planned, so frantic. Is it possible that I plan trips just so I can have those few satisfying hours before of having nothing to do? Perhaps so.

So what do I do? I won’t bore you with the details I took care of to prepare for my absence from my online business. I’ve provided below though my standard checklist of things-to-do-before-leaving, things which apply to just about every traveling family. I hope it helps you create your own quiet moment of done-ness.

Traveling Family’s Pre-Departure Checklist

One week before departure

  • Stop mail, newspaper, diaper delivery, garbage/recycling pick-up.
  • Notify neighbors of absence.
  • Make arrangements for pets including extra food, water, litter, etc.
  • Provide instructions to housesitter/ pet sitter.
  • Provide emergency phone #s to relatives/ close friends.
  • Notify debit/ credit card companies of travel plans, especially when traveling internationally.
  • Get sufficient cash from bank, especially important when traveling internationally.

Three days before departure

  • Laundry for everyone.

Two days before departure

  • Pack. I try to be mostly done with this 24 hours before departure, so I know what I may need to run to the store to pick-up.

Day before departure

  • Last minute trip to Target to buy anything I found we’re out of while packing.
  • Confirm/ check-in online for flights.
  • Print out relevant itineraries, boarding passes, hotel names and phone #s, transportation info, etc.

And now I’ll go cross the last item remaining on my to-do list: “Blog- To-do list.”