Saturday, April 30, 2016

Not bad

This year has been so wonderful for M.  His first grade teacher is amazing: she understands him, differentiates for his gifts, and has taught him so much, both academically and beyond.  Under her teaching, good days have been the rule instead of the exception.

Earlier this week, M came home from school bubbling with excitement.  His teacher had asked him to stand next to another student who had been having trouble keeping his place during their class readers' theater.  She trusted him to discretely help his classmate without losing his own place, and without detracting from the show overall.

His exact words as he shared his special responsibly: "I don't think I'm one of the bad kids in the class anymore!"  

I'm thrilled for him, but sad that he had to think he was ever a bad kid in the first place.  I guess you're bad if you can't pretend to learn the alphabet along with your classmates for two whole years, after you're already reading novels in your free time.

Only bad kids are not content to spend 3 weeks "learning" a number that they already know how to multiply.

If you can't sit silently through the same mind-numbing circle time questions every day, you must be bad.  (What day is today?  What day was yesterday? What will tomorrow be?  This would have entertained him for a few weeks at age 3.  But by kindergarten, he got no more out of those daily questions than you or I would.)

Poor kid.  It's not that we don't value classroom skills.  It's not that we don't see the point of lining up, waiting your turn, raising your hand, or being a good listener.  It's not that we think he's a special snowflake who should never have to be bored or sit through a lesson he wasn't interested in.

It's this.  That five days a week, for two years, M was told he was bad for something that he couldn't change.  He was constantly getting time-out, losing his sticker, or moving his bee because he was left with nothing to do for hours at a time but entertain himself.  And his teachers refused to change anything to meet his needs.  It was easier to just punish him dozens of times a day.

It's a rare adult that can sit through hours of redundant lessons (or meetings) without something to distract himself. I've seen plenty of adults pull out a phone after less than 15 minutes of something they already know.  M had to sit through it for 7 hours a day.

Why didn't I take him out of school?!  I regret that. I also could have transferred him to my room last year, instead of sticking it out in his classroom.

I thought he was learning self-control, but there could have been other ways to learn it that wouldn't have been so harmful to him.

Now I know better.  I will not make that mistake in the future.  We've seen how good he is with a teacher who lets him work at his level.  He is not a bad kid, but there are teachers have the power to turn him into one.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

First ever cup noodle

M's never had Cup Noodle. He was so excited to discover one he wasn't allergic to.

(It's actually a note shaped like a cup noodle.)

Who thinks of this stuff!?  Amazing!

Friday, April 22, 2016

M-isms today

Me: Can you read that sign?

M: Which one?

Me: That one, there.  Do you see that tall thingy?  Over by the pond, the pointy tower thing...?

M: The obelisk?

Me: ...

This happens every day.  M's vocabulary is outrageous.  What the heck kind of 7-year-old is throwing out words like obelisk? 

Then today after school, he asked why he never gets to make cool stuff, like sew a homunculus.  What!?   

Because he somehow retains everything he reads, he has known much more than I do- about certain topics- since he was 4 years old.  But lately there's been a shift. It used to be specific things that he knew more about: ancient gods, presidents, dinosaurs.

Now it's the opposite. Yes, I'm still "smarter" overall, because I have 25 years of life experiences over him and the general understandings to go along with the book knowledge.  But now it feels like there are just specific things that I know more about.  Math, essay writing, high school Spanish...

But he's the smarter person between us, and that feels weird. His vocabulary is better.  He learns faster and remembers more easily.  He knows more "stuff", like national flags and capitals.  If we went head to head in a trivia contest, he'd win.

Obviously, he couldn't go off to college tomorrow, or take over my job. He's still very 7 and has so much to learn about life.  It's a touchy job to teach and train a kid like him.  Give him a few parenting books and he could probably do it better.  But I am up for the challenge.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A maze by any other name

Thai nicknames are weird. 

I've known people named:
Potae (a kind of snack food)
Estée (after Estée Lauder)
Almost every individual letter of the alphabet 
Speck of dust*

There are, clearly, no restrictions. Anything goes. But Thai nicknames aren't used like American ones- changable, casual, mainly used with friends and family.  

Thai nicknames are chosen at birth and used almost exclusively throughout a Thai person's life.  It's not on your passport or your bank account, but most of the time, it's the only name people know you by.  Believe it or not, plenty of elementary school kids can't spell their real name.  If you're lucky, they know what you're talking about when you ask them.

Our boys both have "Thai" nicknames.  M's is a derivative of his real name, and we use it about the way people might call their son Robert, "Rob".  Thai people use it, which is fine.  We like it either way.

But L's... It's weird.  It's not a form of his real name.  Whim picked it just before he was born, and somehow it just never fit.  Maybe it's because I love his real name so much, but I can never bring myself to use it.  Whim, to his credit, tries it work it in every few weeks.  And Whim's sister uses it exclusively, so his Thai cousins will use it (once they can talk).  He uses it for Thai class at school, but that's about it.

For the last year or so, he's asked if his nickname could be Maze.  The kid loves mazes; his brain probably looks like one.  He probably wants an actual nickname like everyone else.  And Maze is no worse than half his classmates' names.

But, while I could handle it as an "American Nickname", (like how some American people have odd nicknames like Scooter or Tiger whatever) I can't bear the thought of it being his true Thai nickname.  It would be on his school report cards, his social media accounts, his wedding invitations.... 

I would have a son named Maze.  Hopefully I can put it off a little longer - like until this summer.  Maybe by the time we're back in BKK, he'll have moved on.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The home stretch

It's the home stretch, and we are barreling toward the finish. Spring break is over, and the end of the school year is in sight. 

Fifty-three days until we fly out, and yes, I'm counting.

The other day I happened upon a family on IG who were documenting the adventures of their own year away from home.  They are traveling though Asia with their two sons, currently in Thailand, and basically living our dream in reverse.

There's another account I've been half-following.  A picture-perfect family, with deep pockets and beautiful children in designer clothing, that travels from beach town to beach town all over the globe, posing in grassy fields with ice cream cones.  They have been fun to watch, but it has been more like a movie than anything else. Their life and their travel, as gorgeous as it is, is nothing like ours will be.

But this new family, they have pictures of cheap street food, kids complaining about long walks, sweaty bus rides.... It's real life, just not at home.  Our year is going to be exciting, and special, and full one once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for Whim and the boys.

But it's also going to be long drives with bickering kids in the backseat, frustrating grocery store trips looking for safe food for the kids, and pinching pennies like we do at home. So this real, non-#goals IG account has gotten me more exited than anything else.

That, and having our car issue settled once and for all! (Thanks a million M&M!)

Monday, April 11, 2016


This beatiful boy.  His heart is so big.

He recently came though a difficult time at school, where -despite being the sweetest child- he became the undeserved target of group-think bullying.  Day after day he endured exclusion, teasing, and friend after former friend leaving his side because "there must be a reason everyone else is doing it" until, in the end, only one sweet girl was still calling him a friend. 

The teacher allowed the others to ostracize him, to set future dates when they would "be friends again" and then allowed those dates to be pushed back weeks at a time.  They constantly talked about him as if he wasn't there.  They pretended they couldn't see or hear him. They would ask, "L?  Who's L?" when passing out papers.  They would throw his mat or math book back on the floor after they'd all been put away. All because one troubled child in the class was allowed to "express himself" and learn to "work through his issues".  L never once fought, called names, whined, or paid back.  

Finally, after the offending boy held him under the water in the pool during PE, I talked to his teacher.  Before then, I had expressed concerns, but allowed her to deal with it her own way, knowing that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and that we all had trouble with friends from time to time, growing up.  I didn't want to be a helicopter mom.

After the pool incident, I spoke freely.  While everyone had strived to make school a safe place for the traumaed child (the bully), no one was protecting L.  School was no longer a safe place for him emotionally or physically.  I also talked to the boy, myself.

Happily, most of the class re-accepted him as a friend as soon as the teacher intervened.  She apologized for not knowing how to deal with the situation, and praised L for his constant maturity and kindness throughout the situation.

She recounted how one day, during his free writing time, he had made a card for the whole class, with everyone's pictures and the words, "Even if you don't like me, I still love all of you, and I love Jesus the most."

I wish I could say those words came from me, but they didn't.  Maybe from discussions in past, but not regarding the current situation.  Every time he shared stories from school, I could barely contain my outrage. I never spoke against the bully, but prayed for patience with him, reminded him that he wasn't alone, and mostly talked to him about how to maintain his self respect.

I told him to NEVER again ask the other kids when they would be friends again, to hold up his head with dignity, and to find other people to play with until they came around.  That's it.

He has this love for people who don't deserve it. He's such an example.  Thankfully he endured that trial, made it through, and is surrounded by friends again.  As he should be.

Then the other day he came home from school with tears in his eyes, telling me about a book he had read at the library.  "It's called The Giving Tree, but it should be called The Loving Tree"! I cringed.  (I once loved this story, too, but as I have grown and become jaded, it has lost it's shine.)

I told him that I didn't like the way the man in the story took everything from the tree without any regard for her feelings.  The tree may be loving, but the man is so selfish that I don't like to read the book.  

Far from conceding to my point, L looked at me like he didn't even know me.  "Mom!  She was HAPPY that he was happy."  And I got it.  He is the tree.

Shame on me.  I have tried to change his selfless, loving nature into a jaded one like mine.  He has a gift of genuine love for other people.  That is a beautiful thing that I need to honor.  Yes, it leaves him open to experiencing hurt at the hands of others.  But the good that can come from it is vastly greater.

At five years old, he cares more about refugees, bomb victims, and starving children than most adults.  I'm not saying that in smugness, as in I-taught-him-to-be-more-compassionate-than-you.  He's much more compassionate than I am.  He is compassionate in spite of what I am.  His heart is a gift from God.

Kidzania (the food)

Luckily for me (or luckily for Kidzania) my opinion of fun places to visit is not very heavily influenced by what food is available there.

We know we cannot expect to easily find safe food for the boys while we're out, and we plan accordingly.  We ate lunch before we went, but now that we've been there, I see that we could have just as easily packed sandwiches.

The food at Kidzania was garbage, really.   McDonalds, Coke, junky snacks in the factories, and endless desserts from multiple bakeries...  It didn't bother me, as we had no plans to buy.  (Although we would have happily overpaid a little for some healthy options, just for the fun of it. Alas, we saw none. We are not their main demographic.)

One father we kept running into complained that it was indoctrination.

The kids get to bottle a coke, they become loyal coke customers for life.  A subliminal adverisment.

Same for Oishi green tea, Koh-Kae  peanuts, Meiji milk, and the prepared shopping lists that the shoppers could use at 7-11, full of junky snack foods.  They are all sponsers, and their logos are everywhere.

But I disagree.  The boys already see Coke everywhere, and they think it's cool, even if they've never had it.   They were thrilled to make their own bottle, and will happily display it on their shelf, without ever thinking of drinking it.

As for the Meiji milk, luckily it's the brand we already drink.  The boys both opted for plain while they were making them, so they could enjoy them afterward. 

And they were surprised to hear, during the Rosa ketchup-making factory session, that their ketchup contains no color, flavor, thickeners, or preservatives.  Hmm... We may have found a new brand of ketchup!  We've already got two bottles.

We ran out of time before they got to be sushi chefs, but I wonder if that would have been another safe option.  If we do decide to go, we'll have to find that out ahead of time.

Kids are influenced by food advertising, but they are influenced much more heavily by their parents.  I had no problem with all the junk in there, because it's nothing but a reflection of all the junk out here.

Kids who usually avoid junk food can avoid it just as easily at Kidzoona.

Kidzania (the place)

I can't help myself.  I've already posted on FB, IG, and my family website about this place, but apparently it's not enough.

M is still asleep, Whim is out for the day, and I have already talked L's ear off about it all morning... but I still feel this urge to rehash it all one more time.

A parent of one of my students gave us the tickets as a gift.  I know we would never have gone otherwise.  It's pricy, and I thought it was just a glorified version of all the other ball-crawl kid zones.  

As hot and rainy as it is here, there is quite a niche for indoor kids play places. And Bangkok is full of them.  Molly fantasy, kidzoona, imaginarium, funarium...  Basically, take a variation of the word "kid" "learn" "play" or "fun" and mix it with a zany ending, and we probably have one.

But Kidzania was incredible.  It's a kids' world.  The boys got to work at all sorts of businesses, earning money at each shop.  It's is all part of the economy within. 

For example, they could earn 8 "kidzos" working in a optical shop, or pay 5 kz to have their eyes checked.  Kids can pay to get a makeover or work at the salon to earn a salary.

Whim and I joked that we appreciated the "no in-app purchases", but it was true.  You can't buy the currency for your kids- they earn it.  And all the jobs they do to earn money are things they'd want to do anyway.

Changing tires on a real car, using real tools.

Working at 7-11.  They got to use the scanner to scan the other kids' groceries, just like a real checkstand.

Working at the hosptial, which had real endoscopy equipment, a (lifelike, but fake) body to operate on, and an ambulance.

Designing a car with the features they want, using a simple computer program.

I was amazed at every turn.

Some of the most exciting jobs cost, rather than earned, kz.  Scaling a building using real climbing gear, making real food (in a restaurant or a factory), and going through the secret agents' laser obstacle course.

But since it's all in kz, and they are earning money every time they participate in any of the jobs, they can truly do anything they'd like without worrying about the cost.  At the end of the day, the boys each had over 120 kz and they had tried everything that appealed to them, without worrying too much about saving.

They each opened a savings account and got an ATM card, which they can use next time we go. 

And there's the rub.  We're already talking about the jobs they want to try next time.  Places like this are expensive!  But this one, I have to admit, is actually worth it.


Friday, April 8, 2016

L's kindergarten career day

It was kindergarten career day today at ICS, and L went as a video game designer.

He wrote and memorized his speech while he was out with pneumonia last week.

Hi, my name is L and I'm a video game designer.  Game designers wear casual clothes.  They write code and design video games.  I want to be a video game designer because I love and like animals and I'm going to create games about saving animals."

(Whim tried to get him to consider wildlife photography instead, but he knows what he likes, and he likes coding).  

I'm proud of him.  He really stood out from the crowd of kids who picked their costume based on what they had in the toybox and wanted to do their career because they "like it", or "it's fun".  He put a lot of thought into his speech, and it and it showed.

I can just see him in 15 years, working in his own games, still sporting a Star Wars t-shirt.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Central Eastville

Today was a holiday, and this morning the boys had a casting call for a possible commerical.  (Fingers crossed!)

Wednesdays Whim plays at the new Central Eastville, so we decided to make an event of it and hung out downtown all day. 

The boys brought card games, so when we needed a break (read: aircon and some water), we'd hang out and relax at Fat Gutz Saloon.

The atmosphere was great and the music was amazing. ;)

The rest of the day we spent checking out the mall, just the three of us.

We did a mini train ride, hit up two playgrounds, visited the arcade, and explored a topiary labrynth. 

It felt like we were on vacation, as we flitted from one amusement to the next.  But since it was all free (except 100 baht in arcade tokens) it was a vacation even this frugal mom could enjoy.

The boys were great- well behaved, grateful for each new activity, satisfied with enough, and not overly crazy or silly. 

It's always so fun to do something out of the ordinary!  Tomorrow's back to school, but we can all feel Songkran on the horizon.  Two more days.

Monday, April 4, 2016

No Brazil day

M came down with a fever this afternoon. It's nothing serious and I'm not really surprised- he's been slowly recovering from his recent bout of pneumonia since he got out of the hospital Thursday, but he hasn't seemed quite 100% yet. 

Tomorrow is his Brazil day celebration at school, though, so I expected major disappointment when I told him he would have to stay home.  He took it well. Or, more realistically, he didn't have the energy to be bummed. {Note: He had spent all Sunday morning telling me about the cable cars at Sugarloaf, and even spotted a structure on a construction site that "looked just like the Christ, the Redeemer statue" as we drove to church. This day was a big deal.}

So he spent the rest of the evening reading quietly in my bed. As I tucked him in to his own bed at the end of the night, he complained that he felt weird. He muttered, pitifully, "I think I'm experiencing ennui."

Awww. Poor boy.  Words are his whole life. He's probably been waiting for months to say that.  And when he finally got the chance, he was too sick to enjoy it.  Fitting though.  You can't exactly proclaim it with exuberance.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Here for the Gold

M's third quarter after-school drama class put on their culminating musical performance yesterday afternoon: Here for the Gold.

There were about 55 kids involved, from first to seventh grade, and after an awesome audition, M was lucky enough to score a {little} speaking part as a narrator. 

The director did such a great job of getting everyone involved- tons of solos, acting roles for the older kids, narrators, a special dance number for several of the girls, pantomiming the stories the narrators told.  Almost everyone got to do something special.

Plus, throughout the whole show (which was set up like a webcast recording studio- v. cool, with up-to-the-minute pop culture references and hashtags) whoever wasn't upfront was on the risers, performing the "podcast's" musical numbers.

M loved it. Afterward I asked him what his favorite part was, and after a minute of thinking, he laughed and said "All of it."

Truthfully, I could see fatigue settling in about 40 minutes into the show- he was barely over his pneumonia, and they'd had a full dress rehearsal immediately beforehand, so he'd been going for over 2 hours at that point.

But the final number was enough to perk anyone up.  They sneakily slipped on colored finger flashlights, flipped the house lights off, and wowed us with a musical light show.

I'm a sucker for the "moment", and this was it.  You could see it on the kids' faces.  They were so proud.

I'm so thankful for opportunities like this for my kids.  The stage is one place where being a talker with too much energy can be a valuable thing.

Finally Feingold

One of the first things I wanted to do when I knew we'd be in the States long-term was to join the Feingold program.

The Feingold diet is basically how we have tried to feed our boys the last 4 years: no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners.

There is no official program available for people living overseas, though we can still be members.  A large part of the program is a pair of books outlining exactly which store-bought/restaurant foods are ok, and they are a US based organization, so that information is localized.  I have wanted to sign up for years, but could never justify the cost (until now).

Anyone can be 100% feingold (stage 2) safe by cooking 100% of their food from scratch with safe ingredients. But we don't.  We do our best to avoid any artificial additives and read every label.  But it's impossible to know for sure. We miss out on a lot that might be ok, and sometimes still have trouble with things that should have been fine.

This week I registered, and I am so excited. Thanks again, mom! There is a (pretty quiet) forum that seems to have a wealth of information, ripe for the searching.  And I haven't gotten access to the members FB group yet, but I know that will be a great resource, too.

We had the books sent to my mom's and will be able to use them as soon as we arrive. In the meantime, I will have the ebooks.  I hope to familiarize myself with them enough that it won't be too crazy the first time we go shopping.

My only concern is how much "junk food" is approved.  The Feingold diet isn't a health food or weight loss diet, and it isn't intended to be.  It's just food that won't give the boys reactions.  So they could technically have sugar cereal, potato chips, pop, TV dinners, and popsicles every day, as long as it's all approved.  

I know I don't have to buy anything just because it's approved.  But I have to admit, I have liked having an easy out keeping us clear of store bought junk all these years.  I'll just have to be honest that yes, you could have that food, but no, I don't want you to eat it.

And as people so often tell me, a little bit of junk food now and then won't hurt them. Now, as long as it's Feingold approved, I can finally agree!

Pneumonia progress

At this time last year, L had just gotten out of the ICU.  He was admitted to the hospital for breathing problems/pneumonia/asthma six times last year. And M was always right in there with him (though thankfully, never quite as bad.)

This year, only once. Progress!

We are better than we were at managing it.  They are stronger and healthier than they were.  I have a good feeling they will grow right out of this issue, and I am confident than several months of fresh, clean, sea air will do them a world of good, too.  

In the meantime, L got a new pair of shoes and suddenly looks older.  Ah, ah, ah!  Two more months of five, if you please.