Two Wonderful Girls. One Day At A Time…

Archive for August, 2009

Making Her Way To The Real World

Recently, a colleague and I were discussing the joys of parenthood. When trying to sum it up, he had an interesting quote: "it’s fun to be around little kids because they don’t realized what a messed up place the world is". It wasn’t a bitter quote–both he and I have done well for ourselves and certainly can’t complain about life. That said, there are many ills about the world and how people treat one another that makes all of us a little cynical about the things and people around us. But when you are a child, you are effectively protected from that. Everyone treats you like you’re important. Everyone loves you. Eventually, you grow up and learn that the world can be a tough place and people aren’t always considerate and people aren’t always putting you first. Sometimes it’s unintentional (people get busy and don’t realize what they are doing) and sometimes, it’s malicious. Losing that innocence is more painful than the discovery of no Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. Those are all lessons that you know will be learned, but doesn’t make it any easier to handle. And you’re never quite prepared for it to happen.

Last week was a crazier weekend than usual. While I was busy trying to close out a long arduous project that was on the homestretch, we happened to have a couple of "social" engagements planned for the day. Now our weekend calendar isn’t quite what it was before the kids came along. If we do anything now, it usually revolves heavily around the kids or the kids majorly change our participation at these events. Saturday, we had one event of each type: a morning picnic as part of the local "mom’s club" that Cherise belongs to and an afternoon engagement party for our beloved nanny, who is planning to get married next year. In some ways, I was stressing this weekend. I would clearly be distracted by work–how could I enjoy things when deadlines were spinning around in my head? As it turns out, as in most cases, the lessons of fatherhood come when you least expect it and I got a double-dose of knowledge that day.

At the picnic, we watched a professional juggler and then enjoyed a feast of delicious food. Afterward, Cherise went off with Robyn while my Dad and I took Iris, who wanted to play a beanbag toss game. We walked over to where two young girls (maybe 8 or 9 years old) were in charge of the game. I stopped short of the game and Iris said "come with me". I said "no, you can do it. You don’t need me." I was being the good father, encouraging my daughter to show some independence. Well, she goes up and talks to the girl who was holding the bean bags as well as the prizes. She seems really nervous about saying anything until the girl says something to her, which seemed like offering her a prize without even playing the game. I see Iris decline and then the conversation ends and Iris walks back towards me. "What happened, Iris?" "She asked if I wanted a prize and I said ‘no’." "Don’t you want to play the game?" Iris could only respond with a sheepish "Yeah." Obviously, what we had here was a failure to communicate. This is when the Daddy gear kicks in. y’know, that temptation to run to the closest phone booth, turn into Super Dad, and save the day for my little girl who was clearly bummed about not playing the game. Like every dad, I love when I can be the hero.

But then I realized that I’d be fixing the situation, but not the overall problem (plus, with cell phones, it’s really hard to find a phone booth). Iris needed to be more assertive and I wasn’t doing her favors by bailing her out. "Iris, if you want to play the game, you have to let her know." Iris paused, thought about it, and said "Come with me". I gritted my teeth, ignored my heroic intentions, and said "No Iris. If you want to play the game, you need to ask yourself." She thought some more, turned around, and went back to the game. I exhaled a sigh of relief, glad that she didn’t just give up, and then watched intently. She then proceeded in intense negotiations with the 8-year old. After about 45 seconds, I saw the girl go behind the wall where you had to throw the beanbags through. I then saw three beanbags come out of one of the holes. Iris picks them up and puts them back through the holes. But each time, the girls behind the wall keep throwing the beanbags back. Suddenly it became the frenetic back and forth and Iris is having the time of her life. Apparently, this was the game Iris wanted to play. I couldn’t help but think that Iris’ satisfaction of the game was enhanced by the fact that she negotiated for it. At the end, she did take that prize ring but the greater prize was the victory of having stood up for want she wanted and as a father, I shared in that prize. It’s true what they say about discretion being the better part of valor. Super Dad could wait for another day–my kid can handle herself.

That afternoon, we went to the engagement party and Iris and Robyn drew a lot of attention from the adults. After all, she did look very cute in her dress and her shy demeanor makes her an even more enticing target. In fact, Iris has gotten into a routine with adults, always playing the shy little girl with doting strangers and giving morsels of cute responses; enough that they don’t give up trying, but not so much that think they’ve won. The girl has it down to a science. The same goes for kids her age–she practically plays hard to get with her friendship at times. But something changes for older kids. Iris always seems to really vie for their approval. That afternoon, when the food was ready, we sat at a table with three very sweet girls, aged 13, 10, and 7. They were very polite, well-mannered and open to chatting with us. Iris was enamored with these girls. She listened intently to every word they said, whether it was to us or to each other. You couldn’t even get Iris’ attention because she was so entranced. Then, while the girls were talking amongst themselves, Iris loudly interjected "At Summer Camp, I made a superhero costume with a cape!" It was irrelevant to the conversation the girls were having and was kinda rude, but it was rooted in something so sweet that I was taken aback. She really wanted these girls to like her and hoped they’d be as excited about her Summer Camp experiences as Cherise and I have been. Cherise looked at me and smiled, both of us proud of our little wallflower that had worked up the courage to share her exciting experience with her new friends. Our girl was coming out of her shell. But part of me was mortified, not offended by her rudeness (I do feel bad about that) but rather recognizing that, unlike adults, many girls of that age will not respect or appreciate what toddler does at Summer Camp. I remember being that little when I would share something that seemed so important to me, but the "big kids" would dismiss me in a cruel way that would scar me for years. I attribute my general shyness to incidents that happened when I stuck my neck out like Iris did, only to have it chopped off. While I know parents shouldn’t project their past traumas onto their kids, I wanted to run over to her, pick her up, and hug her and remind her how important she was to me and that I’d always think her superhero costume was the most important thing in that world. After all, as her dad, that’s my job. But I just waited and watched, very interested but very restrained. Then something unexpected happened. The eldest girl asked "what’s your favorite part of Summer Camp?" Oh my goodness, she’s actually playing along! Now I was ready to go over and give the 13-year a big hug (which might have come with other issues). There was only one person more shocked than me–and that would be Iris. As my little girl froze in awe, Cherise stepped in to re-ask the question and Iris did finally kinda answer the question. But her less-than-spectacular attempt at moving from monologue to dialogue didn’t hurt her enthusiasm for these girls and her quest for their approval. I couldn’t help but think that, while the tough lesson was averted, it was only a matter of time before she’d run into this situation again and the girls wouldn’t be so nice.

For days after that incident, I kept thinking about it. Late at night, after everyone was asleep, I’d be working on the computer when that whole incident would enter my head. And I’d smile at the naivete. And I’d shed a small tear for its impending doom. And I’d get up, walk over to Iris’ room to just look at her lying in her bed, completely asleep and still believing the world is a place of acceptance and love. And I came to realize that her "naive" childhood vision of this world of compassion and optimism actually does exist. It exists in this house as long as Cherise and I foster it. It exists in every moment we share as a family. And whatever lesson she learns outside our front door, my job is to make sure she never forgets that the nirvana that’s been painted for her will not fade like Santa or the Easter Bunny, but rather remain as an unconditional asset of the love I have for her and her sister–and that they will have with me. And with that, I’d head back to my late night work and once again feel good about the mutual benefits of the relationship between fathers and daughters.

Iris A.K.A. Five Year Old Sarah

Robyn seems to get most of the attention these days, attracting passersby with her bright eyes and big smile. But while we’ve been busy helping Robyn learn to walk, Iris has been busy learning more advanced things, and all of a sudden Iris has gotten a lot more brave than she‘s ever been. She loves to pretend she’s her friend’s older sister Sarah, who’s five years old. (This is fabulous because then she shows us all the things she can do by herself – like go to the bathroom or get dressed. Yay!) Here are a few of her brave new experiences:

First Swim Lessons – she went from an extreme fear of even tiny splashes of water anywhere on her face, to slowly blowing bubbles, to now putting her face in the water and kicking. Oh, and she wants to be a swim instructor and scuba diver when she grows up. Thank you Kendra at Little Swimmers Swim School!

First Concert – The Walnut Creek Family Theater Festival is a fabulous annual summer event, complete with free outdoor performances and crafts, and a few ticketed indoor shows. Iris and I snagged the last few tickets to see a rock band called the Sippy Cups – an amazing hour long concert for just $5! Iris was mesmerized and didn’t move from her seat, and was entranced by their acrobat named Sippy Anna. After the show Iris got Anna’s autograph on a puppet, and even gave her a big hug! Anna and I were both completely surprised.

First Trampoline – a gift from her beloved Koka, this is Iris’ favorite way to burn energy, and our couch is much happier too.

First Summer Camp – sounds crazy for a 3yr old to be in summer camp, but it’s really just a two week morning day camp at Heather Farms Community Center. I was very unsure about how Iris would adjust to a new place without her favorite teacher Shaena. In fact on the last day of preschool she asked if Shaena was going to be at her new school. (uh, no?) But Iris found a favorite teacher on the first day of Camp – can you guess her name? Sarah, of course. And it was a nice transition since 4 of the kids were from Iris’ preschool too.

Robyn, meanwhile, quietly learns from just watching Iris. She is now walk/running, and does things before I get the chance to show her, like when she climbed up her sister’s step stool to the sink, waved her hand til I turned on the water, then got her hands wet and rubbed them together and dried them with the towel all without any instruction or help from me. She has also suddenly learned a few signs:



    Bunny rabbit (after seeing one hop through Tata’s backyard)


    All done

And when we say kick or clap or goodbye, she responds immediately with the action, even if we weren’t talking to her. Second kids are so easy – we don’t have to teach her anything at all!

One Year with Two Kids: A Story of Basketball Defense & Our Crab Girl

Long before I became a parent, I was given an explanation about parenting in terms of basketball defense. "Sandy, having one kid is like running a ‘press’ defense. Everyone on defense goes after the same person on offense and it’s practically suffocating. Having two kids is like playing man-to-man where each defender has to keep track of each offensive player and as long as you cover your man, you’ll be fine. And once you go beyond two, it’s zone defense. Just stay in your area and prepare for anything. And pray." It’s been a year since Cherise and I switched from Press to Man-to-Man defense. While Robyn’s arrival wasn’t the mind-blowing life upheaval that came with Iris’ arrival since, to extend the analogy, we had never played basketball before her arrival, it certainly was the dawn of a new era.

There have been the obvious challenges, like calling Iris "Robyn" or calling Robyn "Iris". I usually catch myself mid-name, which has led our children to adopt the names "Iryn" and "Roris". I’ve since come up with the strategy of referring to them as Thing 1 and Thing 2 (Dr. Seuss, anyone?), though Iris and I still debate who is Thing 1 and who is Thing 2. Also, there’s simply the idea of operating on two wavelengths. With Iris, you can have sophisticated conversations, but need to manage the irrational attempts at logic. With the second, you need to decipher monosyllabic sounds and expressive pointing to understand what the heck they are referring to. While I don’t envy Cherise’s challenge of having to deal with this constantly, I’ve personally enjoyed my smaller daily dose of this dichotomy.

Since we were both second children, Cherise and I always joked about the merits of the younger child. One thing it has truly helped us with is accepting that second children can be very different from first, especially as time goes on. Both of us had older brothers and our needs as children were much different than theirs. I freely admit that I was much more of a pain in the butt to raise than my brother was. He really was the superstar growing up and I was pretty much inconsistent, something I would eventually get over but not without a great deal frustration suffered by my parents over the years. I don’t feel too guilty about it–my parents got off easy with my brother and I was just evening the karma out. But there was a lesson in all of that: the secret to raising me that my parents sorta figured out was to not treat me exactly like my brother. When they applied the same principles that worked for him on me, it often ended badly. When they shifted strategies, it worked. This has been a lesson that I’ve applied to managing employees for years. You just can’t treat everyone the same way and expect them to perform. So when we brought Robyn home, I was determined not to assume this was Iris. I kept four letters in my head to remember this–RINI. "Robyn Is Not Iris". Twelve months later, I’ve discovered that sometimes you don’t need an acronym when the differences are so obvious. Alas, Robyn has an all-new mystique. I keep insisting that she channels her easy-going late grandfather (Cherise’s father) whereas Iris channels her moody but loving late grandmother (my mother). The contrast already makes for a fascinating household drama. I also realized RINS ("Robyn Is Not Sandy"). So much for the lessons of being a second-born. Robyn is a free-spirit and a bit of a daredevil, unlike her ultra-cautious dad. She’s also the aggressor, coming up to her sister and randomly pinching for no reason, as opposed to her dad who took most of the sibling abuse. Robyn’s pinching is so impressive that she has adopted the nickname "Crab", which leads me to often say "Hey Crab-Girl!" any time I walk into a room and see her ("My Name is Earl" fans will appreciate that one). As we pass each milestone, there is the inevitable urge to compare the two at similar stages and I’ll admit that I do use Iris as a benchmark. But it’s more to understand how to cope with each increasingly complex milestone that comes along rather than set expectations on exactly how they should occur. Of course, this would all be a lot easier if it happened exactly the same for each kid. Alas, where is the fun in that? I’m incredibly grateful for the new experiences that Robyn brings to us every day, even as we learn to understand Iris every day. It’s all part of the roller coaster ride that is parenthood. But even so, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll stick to my friend’s "Man-to-Man" and lay off the attempt to play Zone. That said, I may still resort to prayer…

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