Category Archives: parenting

Zen and the Art of Slicing Virtual Fruit

I recently got the Fruit Ninja app a million years after it came out because it was free in the app store because I am a cheapskate like that. My toddler son, of course, quickly discovered this new game and wanted to play with me, so we sat, him in my lap, the iPad in his lap, slicing fruit.

He opened up a new game in Zen Mode, which is, I guess, just a bunch of fruit falling down that you have to slice for a while (which is, in a nutshell, every game mode in Fruit Ninja). However, my son decided to take this Zen Mode and turn it into legitimate, infuriating Zen practice. Every time I would try to slice a fruit, successful or not in my attempt, my son would quietly pause the game, and restart it. Over and over, he did this, and I found myself inexplicably frustrated beyond proportion. Why would my son not allow me to just cut the stupid fruit as it popped up on the screen?

And then I realized, how appropriate for a “Zen Mode” game. Every time I gave into my impulses (impulses conditioned over decades of gaming) to cut the fruit, to mindlessly perform an action without any real cause, reason, or understanding, my son would start the game over. “Again!” I could hear him say in an uncharacteristically gruff voice, forcing me to sit in meditation, watching the fruit fall, resisting the monkey mind to act and simply let the fruit fall.

If you have Fruit Ninja on your electronic whatchamacallit thingy device, I suggest trying this. Set your device on a stand, where you can see it clearly while seated in (half-)lotus position. Open Zen Mode. Let the fruit simply fall. Refuse to take action. Resist your monkey mind. If you are as restless and deluded as me, you will find this non-activity immensely and disproportionately difficult.

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Emotional hostage

There are those times when, as a father and as a man, you need to grit your teeth and do the right thing. I was faced with that decision tonight. So I gritted my teeth, picked up my bag, and told my wife that I couldn’t handle my son’s cries, and I was going to take a walk. She smiled, gave me a kiss, and told me to have fun.

So here I am now, huddled in the Barnes and Noble down the street, hiding from my son’s current meltdown.

Perhaps, this is not one of my finest moments.

You see, my son has taken me emotionally hostage. It all started a week or two ago during our morning commute. While driving my wife to work, I heard a sound that freezes any parent’s blood. I heard my son choking. Loud gagging sounds struck me from behind like a club to the back of the head. I panicked. “What is he choking on?!” I asked my wife. She glanced to the side out of the corner of her eye.

“He’s just choking himself for attention. It’s no big deal.”

“What?!”

Sure enough, ever since then, whenever he wants attention, my son stuffs his hand into his mouth and starts gagging. Over the course of the last year, I’ve learned to filter out most of his sounds. I learned to ignore most non-essential crying (to save my sanity) within the first six months. I especially learned to tune out whining — that high-pitched, carefully rehearsed screech when I won’t let him climb into the toilet. I was Tough Dad, impervious to his attempts to break me. My wife, still full of that crazy hormone cocktail that makes mothers fall in love with their babies on first sight, suggested that we give in just a little, just to make him happy. I didn’t. I stood strong.

But my son knows that despite my Tough Dad exterior, I love him fiercely. He knows I would fight rabid dogs hand-to-paw for him. I would kill hordes of Nazis to save him. And so, he knew that the only way to get my attention is to make himself sound like he’s in danger, to activate my father instincts.

Thus, the choking.

My wife, on the other hand, now mostly pregnancy/labor hormone free, knows the game. Raising four siblings from infancy does that, I guess. She assures me there is nothing wrong. He simply has found my weakpoint and now he is exploiting it. Hard.

And so here I am, tonight, hiding. We had put him to bed and despite being tired, he didn’t want to sleep. So the minute we close the door, the gagging sounds begin, drowning out the sound of my breaking heart.

My wife shakes her head when she sees me start to bend. “He is in no danger,” she tells me again. “It is all just an act.”

Then the crying shifts. It’s not the usual whining, I’m-tired crying, or the very forced, carefully calculated fake-crying. It is howling, a primal scream that he only makes when he’s hurt. My blood pressure is spiking. My wife is nonplussed, playing Disgea on her Nintendo DS with headphones over her ears.

I am in agony. The timer goes off. My wife goes in to check on our son. The crying immediately stops when she walks in. But after singing a lullaby and walking out, the choking and screaming starts all over again.

“He’s not –?”

“He is not in any pain or any danger. I checked. No fever, no illness. He’s faking everything,” my wife reports.

I am sitting on the couch, alternating between covering my ears and putting my head between my knees. My son continues to scream his I’m-hurt-please-cry. My stomach is in knots.

You spend your entire life after your child is born looking for those signs of humanity. Not just life — the crying and pooping that indicates he’s still alive. You start looking for those markers that say “I am human!” The first time your child laughs or genuinely smiles is magical. When your child experiences his first thunderstorm and he clings to you, your heart melts. And when you first betray your child during his vaccinations and he stares at you, begging for an answer as to why you let these shots happen, it demolishes you.

But deception — it is amazing how quickly a child exhibits deception. And, when your child first hides something from you (say, a piece of paper he wants to eat) because he knows he is not supposed to have it, it deeply disturbs you. For what could possibly be more human than trying to deceive another human being?

His cries are reaching a fever pitch, something almost alien. It is not real, and yet it sounds real and it most definitely feels real. His level of acting is devastating. My son, who can barely put together sounds to make rudimentary words already knows how to lie to his father. As I try to block the horrible sounds out, I remember The Vaccination Incident. We are even, I think through gritted teeth. I don’t feel bad about that anymore.

“I can’t take this,” I say. My wife laughs, my dear wife, my Tough Mom of a wife. “I’m going for a walk,” I inform her.

She gives me a kiss goodbye. “Have fun,” she says as I walk out the door, my tail tucked between my legs, my Tough Dad costume torn to shreds on my son’s bedroom floor.

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Why do people hate honor students?

Recently during my morning commute, I saw a bumper sticker ahead of me that read, “My Dog is smarter than your honor student.” Aside from the interesting capitalization (why capitalize “dog” over “honor student”?), I started to wonder what it was about American society that drives people to affix hard-to-remove stickers on their primary modes of transportation declaring their belligerent attitudes towards honor students.

I’m not so much interested in why people brag about their children being honor students; parents bragging about their children is nothing new (especially if your parents are Asian like mine). What’s much more interesting is the cottage industry that has sprung up around the dismissal of honor student achievements (by comparing them to dogs) or downright threatening honor students (such as the bumper sticker that reads “My kid can beat up your honor student”). It’s understandable if someone grows annoyed at the constant bragging of peoples’ honor students (though think of the last time you actually saw an unironic declaration of pride for their child’s honor student status as a bumper sticker – I can’t remember either). Maybe they say a flippant remark or make fun of them to their friends. But something drives a person to pay money to buy a bumper sticker and then take time to actually put it on the bumper of their car because they hate honor students so much. This is a significant amount of effort to declare one’s opinion about honor students. And certainly it says something about our society when such a cottage industry can exist (and thrive).

Social critics in the United States often accuse our society of having a strong anti-intellectualism streak. Do these bumper stickers prove them right?

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A (humorous) meditation on death, loss, and fatherhood at two in the morning

It sounded like a cross between gagging for air and a forced, scratchy cry. My wife and I immediately jumped out of bed, sprinting towards the baby’s room. We flung upon the door and snapped on the lights. My wife pulls my son out of the crib. Normally a heavy sleeper, he is completely motionless.

“No no no no no no no no no no no no no no,” we stammer continually. I force my finger into his mouth, trying to detect any sign of breath. His eyes flicker open and he cries once, more out of annoyance than anything else.

“Oh, thank God,” I say, breathing in deeply. He wriggles in my wife’s arms, elated that both of his parents wanted to play so badly, they had waken him up (rather than the other way around).

“Want to stay up a bit with him, just to make sure he’s okay?” my wife asks. I nod. We take him back to our room, where he crawls over us, clapping and laughing.

I have had several brushes with death before. Once, while swimming in the ocean, a massive wave overpowered me, and the undertow dragged me across the sand, holding me under the water and unwilling to let go. I finally popped up for air and staggered to shore, bruised and cut. Another time, while hiking up a waterfall, I watched my friend lose his grip and slide uncontrollably towards the bottom. We watched helplessly until he thankfully caught hold of a root sticking out of the waterfall’s rocky face, from which he climbed back to safety. Another time, I collapsed while hiking up a hill towards a Buddhist temple in Korea. My mind realized as my whole body contracted into a ball, tingling and unable to breathe, that perhaps I might die. I was oddly at peace, but remembered that I had just started dating my first girlfriend (and future wife) two weeks ago, and she would be furious that I died while away and that maybe I should fight for life instead of giving up. Lucky for the both of us, I was spared.

This brush of death (or the perception thereof) was something wholly different, a completely new monster. I have rarely felt such a mind-numbing, awful terror that gripped my brain and heart and lungs with so much ferocity. At the birth of my son, I wondered if I would ever be one of those parents who would jump into a burning building to save his child. The thought seemed so foreign, so difficult to comprehend. At that moment; I got my answer. I would have done anything to hear my son cry again, even take my own life. There was no question.

I contemplate this new feeling, equal parts awe-inspiring and terrifying. My wife and I are silent as my son climbs on our legs and arms, a solemn assembly of parents who had just experienced (if only briefly) our new, absolutely worst nightmare.

Then we heard the sound again, loudly, outside of our window. We looked at each other.

“A cat!” we hissed together. Relief floods into our faces, then embarrassment. My son giggles, as if to gently laugh at us. The clock reads 2 a.m. I’m just glad it’s the weekend, because (as predicted) my son decided to stay up for two more hours before going back to bed.

“Oh, my son,” I whisper into his hair as I hold him close. “I’m so glad you’re okay. You have no idea. But seriously. You need to go back to bed.” He patted my cheek condescendingly, then crawled away to play with a ball of yarn.

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Following adventure

My son crawled swiftly over to the bookcase and started pulling out books one by one and throwing them onto the floor around him. I shook off my shocked expression and swooped in, grabbing him and pulling a copy of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy out of his mouth. This had never happened before; ever since he started crawling, it seemed every day was a new episode of the What Can I Put Into My Mouth Show. I looked grimly at the bookcases as my son wriggled and protested. I would have to reorganize them so that all of the important, valuable books were on top.

My personal library is the closest thing you can get to peering into my soul. It’s developed organically over the years, collecting into a certain order developed over years of tinkering. Now, I would have to redo it all if I didn’t want my son gnawing on my 1950 edition of an RLDS Book of Mormon or the books I “borrowed” from my father’s library. Somehow, it felt like desecration to me, another significant part (and loss) of my life in upheaval from the arrival of my son.

That’s really what parenting is about, drastically reorganizing your life to make room for another. Somehow, marrying my wife was much easier — we meshed our libraries together with very little overlap and yet with great mutual interest. My wife has since then read (and been horrified) by my copy of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and I’ve read her copy of The Chronicles of Prydain series, which I had never heard of before I met her. Deciding to get married was a conscious choice on our part, made because we felt we were pretty compatible with each other. There was little reorganization.

But a baby — you don’t get to choose a baby. How I wish sometimes that my baby would sit still and look at his picture books with me. We could, father and son, sit on the couch together, reading books and exploring the world through literature and words and stuff. But no, he likes to climb on things with relish and crawl into trouble, a perfect foil to his adventure-adverse, neurotic, acrophobic father.

(If we were hobbits, my son would be an adventurous Baggins, while I would be a deplorable, cowardly Sackville-Baggins. Shameful, I know.)

A horrible thought crosses my mind. What if I hate what he likes to read, or worse yet, what if he doesn’t like to read at all? What if I introduce him to the things I love — Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender, board games, or CBC’s Wiretap — and he hates all of them? What if he likes other things, like sportsball statistics and cars and other testosterone laden activities?

My son is still wriggling under my arm, crying out angrily now, as I stand in front of the bookcase while this terrifying alternate-possible future flashes before me. I take a deep breath and put him down. He looks up at me. I smile at him. The answer seems simple, if difficult. I’ll just have to make room on the bookshelf for books on sportsball and cars and rock bands. And maybe I’ll have to overcome some of my more adventure adverse, neurotic, acrophobic (and really, lots-of-things-phobic) tendencies to hang out with my son. I let out a deep sigh. I can compartmentalize phobias, right? Right?

My son is tugging at my pants, as if to say thank you. I know it’s ridiculous — to think that my baby not only has the cognitive ability to understand the turmoils of an uncertain, nervous parent but also to read my mind — but the delusion is comforting. I pick him up, and lower my forehead at him. He bumps mine with his and laughs.

“How about this book?” I ask, pulling one out. “Look, this is a monkey — wait a second, that’s a picture of a chimpanzee, but it says ‘Monkey.’ Chimps aren’t monkeys; they’re apes! This book is wrong!”

My son patiently sits for a couple of minutes as I furiously page through the picture book for more inaccuracies. Eventually, he wriggles out of my grasp and crawls away, off to find something else to climb and some new trouble to adventure into, and I follow behind him, nervously, close behind.

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We are all a bunch of babies

Parenting, I admit, has made me incredibly jaded.

Specifically, parenting has made me jaded towards children (babies, especially). But it has also made me jaded towards humanity as a whole, too, which is a feat considering I had managed to maintain a cheery, upbeat attitude towards humanity until now.

Actually, let me back up a bit.

Our culture tends to fetishize children. We ascribe a certain type of wisdom to children, one which can pierce through the guile and treachery of adulthood, revealing the heart of the matter. We argue that they are pure and innocent, that they are wildlife preserves that deserve the most utmost protection from anything nasty, even though the very world we’ve brought them into is the epitome of just that sometimes. Our Church culture, especially, promotes this fetish, mostly because of scriptural stories of Jesus saying we should be like little children, that heaven is made up of little children, and just in general being very protective about little children.

Now, I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t like children. I’m pretty sure he loves all of the children, like he says. But now that I am dealing with a child every day of my life, I have begun to wonder how Jesus actually thinks of us.

I cannot wait until my child grows up. I do not understand how parents can look back on these years with any kind of affection or wonderment (maybe I will later, but I cannot see it now). These past three months have been one of the most difficult months of my life. I rarely get more than four hours of sleep. My train of thought is generally interrupted at least once every thirty minutes by a wail that could chill the blood of a Nazgul. There are large stretches of my life where I am at the mercy of this baby, feeding him (and thus rendering myself useless; it is incredibly hard to do anything without hands), changing him, dressing him, bathing him, playing with him.

Meanwhile, this child could be termed as ungrateful, if he could even feel the difference between ingratitude and gratitude. Babies are a bundle of nerve cells and a very strong, healthy id. Everything the baby does involves him communicating to me that he wants something and he wants something now. He will scream until he gets it. And sometimes he doesn’t want anything. Sometimes, he is just tired, and all he does is scream. He can’t seem to calm himself down; I need to step in and soothe him and reassure him, and even then, he will struggle in my arms and scream at me as if it is all my fault. But eventually, he will calm down, and he will smile and coo at me as if the past hour scream marathon never happened.

There are many times in the day when I will stare into the eyes of my son. I love him fiercely, something that hurts physically sometimes, as if all the emotion in me is squeezed tightly in a vice. I will defend him to the death, if I have to, and perhaps my love will even reanimate me as an undead ghast in order for me to continue protecting my son. It’s that strong.

But there’s always this underlying baseline of frustration. My son begins to scream. I call out to him, let him know a bottle is forthcoming, and he only screams harder. Sometimes, he’s too busy screaming to even notice that I am trying to feed him. What a baby.

Yes, I stare into his eyes and think, This is how God sees us. We are a bunch of babies, a pack of humans that are bundle of nerves and very strong, healthy id. We scream and cry and howl and that’s all we do. I’m sure of it; we are a bunch of babies. And therein lies the predicament God finds himself in. “Come, let us reason together,” he says. Instead, we just scream at him harder, because there is no reasoning with a baby.

Babies are rarely cute. Well, my baby is cute (this has been empirically proven), but most babies I just don’t find that cute anymore. Maybe it’s that lingering baseline of irritation. Maybe constant exposure has taken the shine off of it. But babies are not cute. Babies are infuriating. Babies are ridiculous. But, very importantly, babies represent potential. Unlimited potential.

I’m excited for when my baby grows up. Then I can say, “Come, let us reason together,” and he’ll say, “Just keep the heals coming dad, then we’ll talk,” because we’re playing games. We can talk about religion. I can tell him about my experience and tell him about folklore and language and he will understand. Someday, he will be my equal and peer. He will develop from a screaming id to an adult, with passions and interests and sorrows and joys. We will share them together.

Within us lies a powerful potential as well. God did not create us with the intention of using us as his mere playthings, and I don’t think he really desires us to stay babies. He wants us to be like children, because children hold potential. They are a wellspring of opportunities that unfold slowly over time. God wants equals, peers which he can share creation with. He wants us to reason with him, to converse with him. He wants us to understand as he does. The problem is, we’re sometimes too busy screaming to realize that. But that’s okay; he’s patient. He can wait. He realizes that sometimes all you can do is wait for your child to stop screaming and notice that the nourishment is already there.

There will be 7 billion people on this Earth by the end of the year. 7 billion mouths to feed, 7 billion mouths screaming at God for something. God resides in yonder heavens on a golden throne of holy fire, but sometimes I wonder if every now and then, as he sees us, wailing miserably and selfishly, he feels like he’s in hell.

I am only just beginning to understand you, o Lord, as well as my own imperfections. Forgive me of my screaming and tantrums, for I know now what I do sometimes. Hopefully, it’s a phase, and I’ll grow out of it.

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Quick Lessons on Parenthood

Parenting is exhausting work.

Parenting is exhausting work.

1. Expensive doesn’t mean best

We have to feed our kid on formula (for medical reasons, before the breastfeeding evangelists jump all over us), and finding the right formula was a nightmare. Everyone kept saying we should buy Enfamil, considered to the best (and very expensive because of it), but it actually made our kid very gassy and his poop very runny. When we ran out of the Enfamil that our hospital gave us in the middle of the night, I ran out to Safeway to buy some formula. I bought the Safeway brand of formula instead because I am a cheap, cheap jerk, and lo and behold, a lot of our kid’s digestive problems disappeared!

Marketers target parents relentlessly (mothers, in fact, were one of the very first targets when modern advertising came about after World War II), and it works. Despite my Scrooge-like heart, I still felt awfully guilty buying what is considered to be a cheaper (in quality) knock-off brand. Luckily, when we brought this up with our pediatrician, she just rolled her eyes and assured us that, like everything else in America, pretty much the quality of the formula is all the same except for slight variances. Find the best one for you, and if you’re lucky enough to have a baby who loves the cheap stuff, count yourself lucky.

2. Swaddling is very important for getting a good night’s sleep

Apparently, kids have no motor control whatsoever, and so they will flail about without really wanting to. The first month or so, our kid would wake up constantly for no real reason, screaming and then falling asleep soon after. Unfortunately, the frazzled parents were not  falling asleep as quickly as the kid, and our sleep (and sanity) suffered. Eventually, my wife started swaddling him very tightly (but not too tightly) to prevent himself from jerking around involuntarily and waking up. This small trick can do wonders; one time, the kid kept screaming at me as I tried to put him to bed. I swaddled him tightly like my wife showed me and as soon as I tucked the last corner in, he promptly fell asleep for several hours. It was magical.

3a. You will become very annoyed and angry and that is okay if you deal with it constructively

There are times when my kid is a holy terror. He will scream at me and I will take it incredibly personally. I know this kid has no idea what he’s doing; screaming at me is his way of getting my attention. Still, as a parent, you can’t help but think that your kid is criticizing you, that his screaming is his way of telling you, This is all your fault!

“I’m doing my best!” I will sometimes plead with him, but he is unmoved.

Before having a kid, I wondered how any parent could do something as horrible as shake their child. Now, I understand that if you don’t tell someone that this is a Very Bad Thing, they will most likely naturally shake their child. Sometimes, your child can just be such a jerk. You sacrifice so much sleep, so much time, doing things like wiping up poop and rocking him to sleep, and he is still screaming at you because it’s all your fault.

This is really normal stuff. It horrifies people who aren’t parents, and I would venture a lot of parents try to suppress it, but babies can be incredibly, rage-inducingly frustrating. Our pediatrician explained to us that we could expect anywhere from two to eight hours a day of crying. Bring your cell phone to a workday. Set an alarm that goes off every hour or so with a recorded sound of a crying baby. It gets annoying enough when all you have to do is turn off your phone’s alarm. It’s worse when sometimes, you will run through trying to feed a baby, burping him, changing his diaper, holding and cuddling him, singing to him, and then take him for a walk and he is still crying. Apparently, sometimes babies cry just because they are bored. The entire time, you’re fretting because you’re afraid he might be sick. It’s awful, stressful, and you haven’t slept for more than four hours straight in three weeks.

My wife and I are super lucky that she has great maternity leave benefits and that we are financially able to let me stay at home and help. We don’t know how people do this alone. We also used to feel incredibly guilty when we would desire so viscerally to punch our baby in the face (“I don’t know how I can love someone so much it hurts and yet be so incredibly angry at the exact same time,” my wife observed once). It relieved us to know that this is a natural response (exacerbated by sleep deprivation and general exhaustion). Now when I want to punch my baby in the face, I pass him off to my wife, and vice versa. When she goes back to work and my son hits one of those crazy crying spells where nothing seems to solve the problem, I will lay him in his crib and listen to some music before returning back and trying again. Or maybe drive him over to his grandma’s house.

3b. You can’t do this alone very well

When the baby was born, we lived with my parents for three weeks. We were reluctant to go. Being the first grandson, my mother absolutely adored him. Her presence in helping to change his diapers or feed him or bathe him or just take him away from us when he was screaming his lungs out (nothing he does can be less than adorable to her) helped us keep our sanity.

Still today, my mother will call every now and then with the sole, express purpose of seeing if she could take our son for the day and give us a break. Parents, family, and friends are indispensable when raising children. Finding a community that will act as a safety net is vital. When you have a kid, there’s a tendency to turn inward, to surround yourself with the tight cluster that is your new nuclear family. In my opinion, the nuclear family is the worst idea ever. Build on your extended family; build an extended network of people you can rely on (and in turn, you can provide services to them; it works out well). We asked my best friend Quinton to be our son’s godfather. We’re Mormon; we don’t have a godfather tradition, but we decided to start one anyway because we felt it important to connect our son to as many people as possible. That way, if the worst happens, he will never be alone, and we never will be either.

4. Caffeine is my friend

I’m not at an addict, I swear. But sometimes, I just need a strongly brewed jar of yerba mate to drink before I can go into the day. I’m happier and pleasant. My child’s screaming turns into sweet, sweet music and I will laugh giddily as he spits all over my shirt. Raising a newborn is exhausting work. I have never felt more tired in my entire life, not even on my mission. You don’t realize it, but after about a week, you are constantly operating beneath your normal baseline. Sometimes, using a pick-me-up, whether it’s dark chocolate or going for a quick run, is necessary to keep yourself from ripping out your hair.

5. Baby clothes are the dumbest concept in the world

I don’t really believe in pants, but that’s beside point. Baby clothes are dumb; who are they trying to impress? Whenever it’s my turn to take care of the baby, the minute he urinates all over the clothes on his back (and he does this a lot), I’ll strip him naked, slap a diaper on him, and swaddle him. Just as good as clothes, but way less complicated. I did not realize how often I would be undressing my son to change his diapers, but there it is. When you put him in baby clothes, changing his diaper is an ordeal. When he’s swaddled, it takes me less than a minute. My son has outfits that have buttons and clasps and all kinds of complicated mechanisms to make him look “cute.” But it’s not like I’m going to let him borrow my car and take girls out on dates anyway, so for now, he will look like a pupating glow worm.

If it worked for Jesus, it’ll work for my son.

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