September 11, 2009

hard work vs. play and the oxymoron that is ‘labor day’


Labor Day recently passed us all by. The picnics, parades, fireworks , and endless speeches always seem to be interpreted as the final celebration of summer. It’s a day that encompasses hard work and play at the same time; it wakes us up to the reality of another school year, another year of hard work while we barbeque and party to our hearts content . It made me wonder: Are work and play really that different from one another, and should they be compartmentalized as such?
In the mind of my toddler, work and play are one in the same; it is hard work to build a stack of blocks or attempt to color a picture within the lines, but she loves to do these things as well. It made me realize that work, and play both have something immensely important in common with one another: passion. I began to think about the different jobs people in my life have, and whether they were happy in their jobs or not. Those who chose their jobs on account of intense passion for their vocation are extremely happy, while those who simply want a paycheck see their jobs as a means to an end. It made me think of how I want my child to view a job. I want her to be passionate about what she accomplishes in life, to find meaning in her daily tasks. I want her to find a job where she can ‘play hard.’ I don’t believe that a job should be laborious; it should fill the soul.
It’s hard to live by such a manifesto as a parent. I not only have to reach for my dreams, but I have to teach my little one to reach for hers, which might mean she has to take risks, which might mean she falls flat on her feet a few times, and it is quite hard to watch your child, no matter how old, fall flat on his or her feet. I intend to remind myself on this past Labor Day, and the others that will come, that my child is the only person who knows her dreams, goals and aspirations. Whether that means she wants to be a lady on a flying trapeze, a policewoman, a doctor, or social worker…I cannot say. I only need to guide her to listen to her inner voice, to give her the confidence to follow her dreams, like a tiny Don Quixote reaching for stars that everyone else tells her are beyond her grasp.

September 9, 2009

turning one and finding destiny

abacus Our daughter turned the big one a few weeks ago, which meant it was party time!

We celebrated with the usual balloons and birthday cake but we also incorporated a bit of our Chinese and Korean cultures.

One popular tradition when the baby turns one is to try to predict the baby’s future by setting out several objects and letting her pick one. In the past, this might have included items like an abacus to symbolize a career in business and a book to represent a life as a scholar. There’s also thread for a long life.

We decided to have a little fun with it. We set out a microphone for the future American Idol, a push pin for the budding fashionista and/or Project Runway designer, a pencil for the next Hemingway, a golf ball for the future Michelle Wie, a tennis ball for the Venus or Serena Williams-in-training, a stethoscope for a doctor, a spool of the traditional thread, a book and an abacus.

We were at the playground for her birthday party, so we lined up all the objects up on the cement ledge that separates the sand pit from the rest of the park. Then we put our daughter down in the sand, a few feet away. She knew exactly what to do, crawling towards what must have seemed like a bunch of new toys — all for her!

She lunged first for the abacus. She also paused to consider the pencil and to pick up the golf and tennis balls. But then she went back to the abacus. We think the abacus must have looked like the best new toy, the shiny, colorful beads the perfect size for her little fingers, which she could move around and which each made a satisfying clicking sound.

Of course, what that means for her destiny is up to interpretation. Some of our party guests thought it meant she would become an accountant, though another said she could also be an engineer. Or maybe the CEO of some big business.

Given that she showed an interest in not just the abacus, but also the pencil and the balls, I’m hoping that not only will she be brilliant at math (unlike her mama) but also be athletic and a good writer. A mom can dream.

September 8, 2009

Why I love India

You want to know some of the things I love about India?

Colors. Brilliant, vibrant, amazing colors. Fabrics that are spectacular … really and truly … on women that wear this for “daily use.” It is a rainbow of colors just outside my window, on the streets and in the markets.


The sense and respect of family.


The traditions of celebrating – with zest and energy – historical moments, family ties and this country’s story.


The poverty. [I know – you think I typed that in the wrong post, right?] It is consistently there and in my face. I do not go one day without being grateful for my life. [and I wear THIS shirt OFTEN!]

I do not go one day without trying to find some way to teach my children how to be giving and compassionate.


The cheap and easily accessible medication


The ability to quickly and sometimes effortlessly get what you need.  Instead of having to schlep to a bookstore yesterday to pick up the current selection for our book club, I was able to hand over Rs. 200 ($4) to a street vendor and have the book handed through my window while running other errands.


The opportunity to form lasting imprints on my heart.


The fantastic and awesome-ness that comes with having a housekeeper.  Vain, I know, but I LOVE this part of being here!


Fresh produce … that doesn’t rot the instant you bring it home (like the grocery store I used to shop at).


The ability to walk out of our door in the morning and within 10 minutes be at an open air market to buy fresh cashews and gorgeous flowers for pennies.

I’ll post more … as I think of them …

What do you love about where you are?
Commenting is easy … join in the discussion and let me know you’re out there!

September 4, 2009

leaving the nest

school-kidsLast week I let go. Just a little, mind you. But it was for the first time. Annie P started school. Two days a week, she’ll spend the morning with other young toddlers at a Mother’s Morning Out program. Now, I know this isn’t real school. I didn’t send her off on a bus, and she didn’t have to bring any school supplies with her save a box of tissues and a pack of baby wipes.  However, for us it is the beginning.

Not every family with a stay at home parent sends their child off to school this early. But for Annie P and our goals for her, there is no question. It hasn’t come without sacrifice. My husband and I played around with the budget and let the cleaning lady go so we could comfortably do this. I know mothers say they would do anything for their children. If you knew me, you’d know that cleaning toilets fits the bill. As I said, we have certain goals for our child. I should probably pause to clarify what I mean by goals. We’re not those parents with plans to have her quoting Shakespeare by age four and composing original music in kindergarten. However, we do want to give her the chance to do and be whatever her heart desires. I believe one of the keys to this is making the effort to expose the little people we’ve been charged with to new experiences on a regular basis. This builds a passion for life and the willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone.

One of my true dreams for my daughter is that she will see more of the world than myself. I’ve seen more than many and yet not near enough.  My husband and I both agree that we’d rather sacrifice in our own lives in order to show our daughter as much of the world as we can before sending her off on her own. We hope it’s a passion we’ll start and she’ll continue.

And so she started school. I don’t expect her to learn much academically this year. But she will have a chance to meet other children her age. She’ll begin to learn to socialize. And she will spend some time away from the comforts of home. This will make the transition to preschool, and in turn grammar school, an easier one. Going off to college will be a breeze. And perhaps later on, she’ll grab a suitcase and head around the world on her own travel adventure without fear.

This week, as Annie P learns to feel comfortable away from home, I’ll dream of the places she will one day see. Sure, she’s only a few miles away today. But eventually, half a world may be between us. The thought will make cleaning the toilet that much easier.

September 3, 2009

preparing for pre-school; one mom’s plan for her first child

  preschool photo

   Next week my toddler will enter a world that will be quite foreign to her: school, or pre-school to be exact!  Several questions have been running through my brain recently: ‘How do I prepare my little one for the new adventure she is about to venture on?’  ‘How do I give her the confidence she will need in the coming weeks?’  ‘How do I take the fear of something new and replace it with excitement of a fresh exploration to come?’  I believe that these are questions that all Moms deal with, especially when their first born flies from the coop for the very first time. 

                My main goal is to make sure my toddler’s ‘fear of the unknown’ does not disrupt her pre-school experience; I must therefore make the unknown known.   I have read that giving out information is quite helpful in such cases.  I have been talking about ‘going to school’ for quite a few weeks now, building the anticipation like I would do with a birthday or special holiday.  I also have told my little one her teacher’s names and let her know the sequencing of events on days that she will be attending pre-school.  Just as ‘Dora the Explorer,’ (a favorite of my daughter’s), takes out her map and sings out the three places they will adventure off too, I took out a mini map and sang to my daughter: “car, school, mommy-time…car, school, mommy time.”  This explains the sequencing of events in a way that my daughter understands it; she knows that I am not leaving her, that mommy will be back shortly after school is over.  She even sings the song herself sometimes.  I also told my little one:  “Mommy is driving you to school, but your teacher is going to unbuckle your seat-belt.  We need to remember to thank your teacher for helping.”  By letting my little girl know this ahead of time, she will not be caught off guard when the teacher assists her out of the car.    By making these ‘unknown’ events a bit more constructed within my little one’s mind, I am making the unfamiliar a bit more familiar, and with toddlers every little bit counts!

                I will also make the day it-self fun and memorable.  My little one attends an afternoon program, so I am going to make her a special lunch: a heart shaped peanut-butter sandwich, a heart shaped cookie, and I also cut strawberries in the form of hearts as well.   I do this to remind her that she has so many people who care for her, and she is going to meet a lot of new friends on the first day of school as well.  I also let my daughter pick out a special outfit at the store, so she will feel extra special on her first day; this also gives her a sense of control.  And finally, I intend to be extremely calm, especially if any tantrums should arise on that first day of school, in hopes that my feelings of Zen will spread to my toddler as well.

it’s all in the family; my Pernatozzi family reunion experience


It had been a while, 3 years to be exact, since my husband and I had made the trip into Pittsburgh for my grandmother’s mother’s Pernatozzi family reunion picnic. And yes, I said my grandmother’s mother’s side of the family; they’re 100% Italian, so to them the bonds of family, no matter how extended, seem to surpass time it-self. My father, (the Italian one of course), always emphasized the importance of family, no matter how distantly related; this taught me to treat everyone I met like a family member. Now, since I had not been to the picnic for a grand total of 3 years, (considered to be eons for the Pernatozzi side), it was ‘highly recommended’ that I make this trip. Italians can be so persistent! As my husband, 3 year-old toddler, and I drove in late on a Saturday night to attend the picnic, I wondered whether it was worth the extra effort. My answer was about to come.

When we approached the park site, a plethora of images ran through my head: I saw my Uncle Kevin leading the kid’s games like the egg toss or three-legged race. I saw the men gathered in a circle making gestures with their hands as they shouted out strange words like ‘due’ and ‘otto.’ I imagined my Grandmother and her sister swaying and singing along to Italian song, Funiculi Funicula. I envisioned figures in the distance tossing red and green balls toward a fixed target. And I could almost smell the sweet savory scent of smoked sausages through the intense summer heat.

We finally reach the picnic, and it’s as if no time has passed. There is still a spread of Italian sausage, fried eggplant, cheese, fruit and some American fare on the tables. There are still men within a circle playing the Italian hand game of morra. The competitive bocce game remains as distant cousins play games of horseshoe nearby. Dynamic would be far too temperate a word to describe the energy of the day; it was an explosive event full of life and energy. And that’s what I love about the Italian part of my family; they constantly remind me to live life to the fullest, although I think Laura Pausini sings it best in Andrea Bocelli’s song, Vivere,

“Try looking at tomorrow, not yesterday, and all the things you left behind. Oh those tender words you did not say, the gentle touch you couldn’t find. In these days of nameless faces, there’s no one truth, but only pieces. My life is all I have to give. Dare to live, until the very last. Dare to live, forget about the past. Dare to live, giving of your-self to others, even when it seems there’s nothing more left to give.”

I hope we can all ‘dare to live.’

September 2, 2009

through new eyes

IMG_3033This summer, like so many Americans, we made our annual voyage to the beach. For ten days, we planned to soak in the sun, play in the sand, and simply enjoy time away from the daily demands of life at home. Even though I grew up near the beach, I honestly don’t think there was a summer in my childhood that didn’t include a vacation on the water. For people throughout the world, there is something about time at the beach. Life seems simpler, calmer. Stresses melt away with the sound of the surf meeting the shore.  It’s relaxing and exhilarating all at once.
In recent years, our annual trip finds us on the coast of South Carolina, in a small town my brother-in-law and his family call home. My husband Kevin and I chose the beach they live near as our wedding location. Who could ask for a better backdrop for reciting lifelong vows than the edge of life-giving water and the site of the renewing tide? Since that day, Kevin’s family has grown considerably. With a whole new crop of Phelan’s, beach trips have become a mainstay as a way to reunite when school is out and the sun sticks around for a bit longer.  Our special beach is the perfect place.
And so this year we found ourselves headed to the coast with one small difference. We were bringing Annie P – toddler Annie P. Last year, Annie didn’t spend much time in the sand. She was still napping frequently and had just learned to sit. The inside of the beach house and a trip or two to the pool made up her first trip to the beach. Not so this year. As a beach lover, as this trip approached I grew nervous. I am the type of person who can sit from sunrise to sunset, reading a book (or two) and staring out to sea. What if Annie didn’t share my opinion? What if she hated the sand between her toes and found the waves alarming, even downright scary? I prepared as best I could. We came armed with an arsenal of beach toys, sunscreen in many forms, floats, snacks, and even a pair of water shoes in case she simply couldn’t stand the sand. If it took downright bribery, Annie P. was going to hang at the beach.
I’m sure you can guess where this is going. That’s right. All my fears were for naught. From day one, the girl was sold. For ten days we watched her jump in the surf, chase sandpipers, dig in the sand, and run along the shore as fast as her little legs would take her. Unbelievably, we only hit the pool a couple of times the entire trip. I personally found the daily trip to the beach exciting and new, like I was seeing it for the first time.  Through my daughter, I saw the simple beauty and raw excitement the seashore brings. I used all of my senses to take it in, as I knew she was. It had been a long time since I played in the sand. It really is a great time.
Although we were sad when the trip ended, I am pleased with the outcome.  Sure, the toys and snacks helped. But when we returned home, I found the water shoes at the bottom of a bag, seldom used and long forgotten. Beach lovers never mind the sand between their toes.

August 31, 2009

teaching compassion.

The following information is being borrowed from Dyhan Summers, a psychotherapist here in Delhi, who works with expats – singles, married couples, families and children.

She can be contacted via email at

I wanted to share it with you because – no matter your location – I feel it is one of a parents MOST important jobs, to teach your children compassion.  Compassion is not a character trait that can be easily learned once you reach adulthood.  It needs to be fostered, grown and encouraged while your children are still molding into what you’d like to see them become ::

Talking With Kids About Poverty
A.  Actions speak louder than words
1. Be clear within yourself about your own attitudes, feelings and what action, if any, you want to take regarding poverty in India.
2.  Communicate your ideas simply and clearly to your children, i.e. “I don’t want to give money, but maybe we can bring food along next time to give out.”
3.  This is no different than discussing any other sensitive issue with your children.  It must be age-appropriate and put in a way they can understand.
B.  Use real life incidents of street beggars to explore your child’s feelings and thoughts about the poor
1.  Elicit a 2 way conversation, don’t ask “yes” or “no” questions.  For example, if street children are begging, ask your child what feelings come up for him or her when they see that and offer your own as well
2.  You don’t have to have all of the answers, simply raising the issue and giving your child a chance to express his/her feelings is often sufficient
3.  Children need to be validated for the feelings they have, it is important to normalize their feelings

C.  Handling anger and negative emotions
1.  sometimes older children will react with anger, i.e. “that kid is disgusting”.  Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids about the causes of poverty
2.  always make sure your children understand that though these children might look and act differently from them, they are still human beings like us and are to be respected
3.  sometimes making eye contact with a disadvantaged person is an affirmation of their humanity
4  teach your children that is never ok to make fun of disadvantaged children

D.  Taking action as a family
1.  Children will often want to do something, i.e. “why can’t we bring that little girl home with us?”  use this as an opportunity to discuss possibly volunteering together as a family
2.  Explain that volunteering can help a great number of children and is a way to ensure that they really get help
3.  Discuss possibility of children putting together a package of toys and clothes they no longer use for less fortunate children

Teaching Children Compassion

A.  Definition of compassion.  The desire to assuage the feelings of suffering in others.  It is positive, not pity and is a combination of feeling and action
B.  Compassion vs competition; so much of a child’s life revolves around competition in school, sports and video games.  Competition stresses “me” and often works against compassion
C.  teaching compassion begins at home, communicate the benefits of compassion, how it makes us feel better about ourselves and also helps others
D.  be a positive role model for your children.  believe and practice compassion as a family with yourself and other family members
E.  talk about famous heroes – Mahatma Gandhi, MLK, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, etc.  Read kids appropriate biographies.
F.  use stories to bring out compassionate action

SO … what do you DO to teach compassion?

Some of my thoughts on how to easily teach and model compassion.

1.  Sign up to make dinner for a new neighbor, or someone who is ill or has just had a baby.  Instead of simply signing up and delivering a meal, take an extra step and involve your children.  Have them color a note to attach to the meal, or pick a favorite poem or song to write out for the recipient.

2.  Talk often about how we can be kind, generous, affectionate and loving to each other.  I want for my children to have the “awwww” response when they see an injured animal or a sad friend.  I want for them to have empathy and feel the best way is to consistently talk about feelings and how to help others.

3.  Sponsor a child, donate to a local (or far away) charity or collect items from your home to drop off at a battered womans shelter, or home for homeless children.

4.  Sponsor a collection drive amongst your friends.  Instead of gathering simply for coffee and fruit snacks, ask participants to BRING something that can then be gifted to others.

5.  Enlist the help of a savings bank like Preschool Money Manager to help children save, spend AND share their money.

6.  Visit the Kids Can Make a Difference website for some more amazing and quite simple ideas!

August 27, 2009

the thrill of a horseshoe

horseshoeThese days, my children seem to be casting off milestones like they were old clothes. First day of school? Check. Learning to read? Absolutely. Climbing trees? Nonstop. The older my children get, the harder it seems for them to have those novel experiences. In their few short years, these are some jaded kids already—they’ve seen so much, tried so many new foods, been so many interesting places.

On a family vacation to the mountains of Asheville, NC, my children were playing in a field near the cabin where we were staying. Suddenly, my son stopped his digging in the sand, stood up straight, and exclaimed, “What is THAT?” I followed his outstretched arm and had to laugh when I saw what had captivated his attention. Standing in the grass near him was a horseshoe pit.

With all the beauty of the mountains at dusk, the twinkling fireflies, and the gently burbling stream in the background what my son just had to investigate was a horseshoe pit. He carefully approached the sandpit and gingerly picked up a horseshoe and whispered, “What is this?” When I told him it was a horseshoe, he very solemnly declared, “This is something new for me. I have never, ever seen a horseshoe before.”

And then it hit me. I’ve overestimated my child. When I think of special “firsts,” I think on a grand scale. I think of flying on an airplane, riding on a fire truck, or dancing in the surf at the beach. For my son, however, every day can be full of brand new events. Seeing a horseshoe in a field was a genuine thrill for my son and one of the first things that he told our neighbor about when we returned home.

As a parent, I spend a lot of time scheduling events for my children. We have playdates with friends, we go out for pastries in the mornings, and we explore new museums. To keep things exciting, we don’t do the “same old thing” all that often. And I’m beginning to realize that it’s not my children’s needs that I am catering to by wanting to do “new and exciting” things all the time, but it is my own need for the novel. My children are quite content looking for the unusual in their everyday life—the butterfly snacking on the flowering vine in the front yard, the blue fire truck in the town next door, or the horseshoe in the grassy field in the mountains.

August 25, 2009

flying kites into the blue

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Even though summer is winding down, there is always time to fly a kite.  When I was young, my first kite was a replica of Snoopy.   This was  one of my favorite gifts from my father.  Snoopy lasted for about two weeks until he was caught in a tree.

Last week, I relived my childhood and bought Kai his first kite.   When we passed through Point Reyes Station, I picked out a tie dye octopus kite for our flying adventure at the awesome Into the Blue toy store.

Kids and adults have been enamored by kites for centuries all over the world.  Believed to have originated in China almost 2,000 years ago, every country has unique kites.  In Viet Nam where money is scarce for many families, children make kites out of plastic bags and thin strings.   In India, travelers can find Hindu inspired kites at the festival of Gujarat.  Here in Berkeley, there is a magnificent  festival that welcomes some of the world’s largest kites.  There is nothing like looking into the sky and seeing hundreds of kites flying so freely.


Whether you’re big or small, make some time for kite flying in a meadow or beach nearby.

Before flying a kite, you can review the  Beaufort Scale to determine wind speed: