conversations with Mina (episode 1)

February 2014

I: Mina, you’re so good at sharing.

Mina: It’s hard when I’m mad.

I: You’re right…

Mina: Only happy kids can do it.

Papa & I: You’re so right.

Mina: It’s not nice when you don’t share.

Papa: Yeah, it’s hard when you don’t have enough…but it’s okay, we always do what’s right.

Mina: Bad people don’t share. I’m not bad people; I’m good people, right Papa. I share!

Happy Birthday, Bambalina Mina

DSCF9064 DSCF9190 DSCF9198 DSCF9252Photos:  Jeff Nakahara, Jeff Nakahara Photography (http://www.jeffnakaharaphoto.com/)

Our Bambalina Mina is now 4!! (We had a nickname for her in my womb, “Bambalina/o” meaning “little child” in Italian, as we kept her gender a surprise until her birth.)

4 years since that most magical and empowering moment of my life: giving natural birth to this wonder of a being. It feels like a flash yet I know these past 4 years have been filled with countless moments of surprise,  doubt, wonder, fear, giggles, tears, reflection, insight and always always love. Learning and growing in love.

There’s a part of me that misses the baby Mina, the toddler Mina, these stages seemed to have passed too soon. This part of me wants to hang on to every detail, record and remember every tender exchange, capture and carry them with me at all times, and even wish to trap time so I can have this moment last a little longer, but I know that’s neither possible nor the point.

One day, Mina says to me, “I don’t want to be 4, I want to stay a baby…Mama’s sad that I’m growing up.”

I was taken by surprise and quickly realized how my seemingly innocent expression of missing Mina’s babyhood was taking a toll, affecting her energy, her being. How unfair and selfish of me, “I love you just the way you are, Mina!”

I can neither control nor cage time, change, or love (and I wouldn’t want to anyway). Buscaglia says, “There is no stopping it, no holding it back; there is only going with it. ” I don’t want to hold her back, but I regret that my words were doing just that. Only by letting go, can I truly be free to engage in the moment. Every age, every stage is different, each with special discoveries and newness of becoming. I choose to welcome, embrace and celebrate each new day of our family life.

All the moments we’ve shared as a family are lived through each of us, growing through them and being changed by them.

Change is inevitable and so beautiful; it is proof that we are most alive.

Mina, now 4, is full of life, eager to learn and understand her world as she sees it, so brave and independent to do everything, “I can do it all by myself!” she constantly says with attitude. When she was still a baby, one of her earliest expressions was, “Mina do!” She’s the same little stinker, just a bit bigger, and sharing more of herself. Lucky for us.

At her 4-year wellness checkup, she greeted her doctor with, “I have a stethoscope, too, a real one!” (which she got as one of her birthday gifts). And when I asked if she wanted to hold my hand for the shot since she forgot to bring a friend (she always has one stuffed animal with her), she paused only for a second and shrugged, “No, it’s okay, I’m 4 now, I’m fine.” Not a cry, and she later explained to the receptionist, “It hurt just for a bit and it was gone.” She’s becoming such a big girl and quite social. I’m so proud of her and so grateful to be a part of her happy life!

And her new greeting to anyone she meets now is “Hi, I’m 4!!!”

Mina’s First Day @ Tiny Tots

I’m realizing it’s been 1 year, 5 months, and 10 days since Mina’s first day at Friends & Me: Big girl, Mina @ Friends & Me

17 months…528 days…12,672 hours…760,320 minutes. Wow.

But these numbers don’t carry any meaning other than the obvious and inevitable passing of time.

What carries meaning is Mina and her moving, growing, changing self.

Mina graduated Friends & Me on March 13, 2014. Since then, we’ve explored swimming and art classes; our first long road trip from NorCal to Jackson Hole, about a 14-hour drive across 3 days, involving Mina’s first hotel stays (she loved loved the Nevada hotels, especially the swimming pools and endless fun of jumping on beds); her first sightings of bison, antelope, ground squirrels, deer, and countless stunning birds; and her first sleepover at her cousin’s.

She’s growing up to be quite an individual with wit, whimsy, and spunk. And a whole lot of sweet.

One of my favorite moments from this summer: On August 3rd, we make a toast to us and our “moving, growing, working together” kind of love, “Happy Anniversary.”

And Mina celebrates, “We’re all married now!!!”

In that instant, we laugh and melt because she is so us. We feel and live love; love breathes and smiles in every exchange, and she’s already learned to share these tender gestures of love with us. A sweet peck on our foreheads, soothing strokes of her small hand on our shoulders, and even a silly swoon after our kisses (my favorite!) 🙂

Thank you, Miss Mina, for your sweet spunk. You surprise us, inspire us daily with your curious mind and mindful eye. You remind us to pay attention and notice the wonders around us. I am ever grateful and honored to be given this chance to be your Mama, to be part of this family I only dreamed of.

3 years flew by but with such force to bring out the best in me, in us. What a ride, what a rush of magical moments after another, and we’re now “firmly plantedandgrowing” as this family that’s just perfect for me.

We are such a gift, such a wonder to me.

we love. we are loved. with all its flaws and magic intact.

Another month’s escaped me since I first drafted this post…no more “Save Draft” for more edits, touch-ups.  With less time to write (let alone edit!), I just need to let the words out and let them be.  Just love them as they are, as I do my Mina.

==

It’s been 2 months since my last post, 2 months since Mina’s first day of Friends & Me class.  Where does the time go?  Days, weeks, months just move too quickly…Mina is surely growing up too fast!  I can’t catch up to do the thing I really want to do: WRITE!  I just have to make time! Just Do It, right?

Today, I was touched by this quote:

“The best advice I’ve ever given — I hope — is that which I gave to my son when he was growing up. He said, ‘I don’t have any friends. How can I get some friends?’… I told him two things. I told him, ‘In order to get a friend, you have to be a friend…’ And also I told him, ‘There’s a place in you that you must keep inviolate. You must keep it pristine, clean, so that nobody has the right to curse you or treat you badly. Nobody. No mother, father, no wife, no husband, nobody.'”  – Dr. Maya Angelou

Makes me wish I was given this gift of advice when I was young but more greatly, makes me happy and proud to be able to share Maya Angelou’s advice with Mina (when she’s older, of course!).  I daydream about all the wonderful things I hope we’ll get to share as mother and daughter, as us as a family.

I’m not fooling myself; I am fully aware it won’t ALL be happy, breezy times.  There’ll certainly be challenging times beyond anything I could ever imagine now, but I hope I’ll be able to live through them with love and grace.

I smile thinking about all the wonderful things we already share: hugs & kisses, tickles & laughter, stories & poetry, even demands & tantrums.

Motherhood has been by far the most amazing gift ever, especially because I get to share this magical journey of parenting with the love of my life.  We have our moments.  He breaks my favorite bodum cup. Honey! I break our special artwork mug.  Sorry!  He runs my delicate new top in the dryer.  Again!  I nag at him.  Sorry…

Yet, even in the most annoyed moments, we know that it is just that, MOMENTS.  It’s fleeting, only momentary, never here to stay.  Even at the height of our annoyance, we each know, without a doubt, that we love and that we are loved.

Our love is never harmed or touched, only opens to reveal the unfathomably resilient unconditional love.  It’s like what Maya Angelou’s saying.  Our love is what we keep inviolate; we protect, keep our love safe and whole, with all its flaws and magic intact.

Big girl, Mina @ Friends & Me

Wednesday, March 20, 2013.  Mina’s first class of Friends & Me.  Two complete hours away from Mama, Mom, Mommy! Yup, sometimes that’s how she calls me, exactly in that order!

As we enter the classroom at 9:15 am, she jumps right in, exploring the different tables of fun activities: drawing, stamps, and floam as they call it (looked like flowery foam).  Her body language is excitement, curious, and free.  She pays no mind to the other kids, just so focused to check it all out, without missing a thing!  When a bigger boy starts to cry emphatically for “Mommy,” Mina looks concerned.  I worry that this would set her off, too, but I really  had nothing to worry about.

“Bye-bye, Mama will come back, ok?” I say, and she repeats, “Mama come back,” with a smile.

9:40 am.  Some quiet time at Starbucks with a hot vanilla latte in one hand and Joan Didion’s book in another; I’m a happy mom.

10:37 am.  An hour has never felt so long, so stretched beyond reach.  This time away from Mina, the world seems to crawl when any other time, it seems to sprint.  A girl close to Mina’s age on a date with her Mom, giggling as she makes different animal sounds.  Makes me smile and I can’t help but miss my Mina.  I wonder what she is doing right now.  Busy-busy Mina, I can just see her exploring every activity, every toy, observing the teachers and kids, taking mental notes of every detail.  She really doesn’t miss a thing!  I can picture her goofy smile, her tender eyes, her sweet gesture of “share-share/junban-ban ne.”

I feel like the best part of me is missing, or at least, far away.  Yet, I know she is learning and laughing to her heart’s content.  Today is my first baby step of learning to let go.

Letting go.  This busy girl deserves all the space and freedom to explore this world of hers she so adores and loves, even if it means a fall or two.  I need to accept and embrace the fact that I cannot protect her all the time, I cannot catch her every time.  She needs to be able to do that for herself.  I need to let her.  I need to toughen up and not be so afraid for her.  I’m not doing Mina any favors or service by being overprotective or overbearing. Note to self: So sometimes, I need to keep my distance.

Sipping my latte, I start Didion’s Blue Nights.  But my mind is wandering and wondering, distracted with thoughts and pictures of Mina.  I can’t concentrate…not fully present…disrespectful to Didion to say the least.

I also feel the urge to write.  Record these thoughts and feelings pouring out of me.  So the lure of a quiet date with my book and latte quickly wears off and I know I have to go find something to write on.  The backside of those Google maps lying around in my car would be perfect.  And here I am spilling it all out.

10:57 am.  Perfect time to head over to pick her up.  I can’t wait to feel her small hands gently tap my back when she hugs me.  A tender “I love you and I knew you’d be back” hug.

I still have time to learn to let go.  Not just yet but one baby step at a time.

♥ Happy Birthday Bambalina ♥ Big 2 ♥

Before Mina was born and before we knew the gender of the baby at birth, we had a nickname for the baby in my womb: Bambalina, an Italian name that means, “little girl.”  We loved the sound and rhythm of that name. “Bambalino, if it’s a boy,” we joked. Now, our Bambalina Mina is 2! So fast yet so distant, she’s grown and changed so much since we first met her two years ago.

We see each of us in her. Her calm attentiveness is my husband. Her stubborn defiance, me. Her endless curiosity and sweet playfulness, us.

She is our perfect and precious gift. We love you, Mina Marie!

Big 2 and big kiss to Hello Kitty!

BRAIN POWER

I came across this fascinating, insightful, thought-provoking video on Facebook. In moments like these, I am in awe of the power of social media (thank you, Students Rebuild!…you really never know who you’re reaching, whose minds you’re growing!). This 10-minute film echoed and reaffirmed many of my thoughts I’ve shared here on parenting and mindfulness, like another nod from the universe.

I will pay attention to the tickled glances and coy smiles, take notice of the petty annoyances and profound nuances, and pause to interact with loving intention, attentive adoration. I will fill each day with meaningful exchanges of love. Because “every interaction counts.”

Favorite quotes transcribed here:

“As we said, a baby is born with 100 billion neurons, but those quadrillion connections, they’re not there yet.  Those connections [in a child’s brain] form at a very rapid speed during the first five years of life, at 700 to 1,000 new synapses per second.  Those connections are created through every interaction a child has, and are important because they form the architecture of the brain.  So every time you talk to and engage with a child, you are literally growing a brain; connecting the different parts of the brain, which allows for new ideas, insights and creative thinking.  So each moment of eye contact, each new word exchanged, each time you make a child laugh, you are strengthening these connections [in that child’s brain].

So how do we nurture both these growing interconnected networks to set a course for a better future? By paying attention to what we are paying attention to. Attention is the mind’s valuable resource. Every interaction counts.”

a perfect walk in Bodega Bay

a perfect walk in Bodega BayI love watching Mina and Papa together. Here, they share a perfect walk in Bodega Bay. Picking a flower or two  for Gaga; talking to a worm, birdies, and doggies along the way; all the while, holding hands and commenting on all that’s “pretty,” one of Mina’s favorite words.

I love to watch their playfulness, laughter, chitter-chatter, and even slapstick silliness. I love their closeness as daddy and daughter, which I respect and honor from a distance. Knowing Mina shares a special bond with her Papa makes me happy and proud beyond words. Something I never shared with my Papa (I know it’s never too late…something I hope to share with my Papa, too). Something I always dreamed for my child.

Each of our own relationship with Mina is just as important as our bond as a family. No, it’s not a competition, I know that now. Mina needs and deserves the space, time, support, and love to explore all of her relationships because each is unique with its own gifts and wonders.

I have to say, I’ve learned so much already from watching Mina and Papa together. We can all learn and grow from each other, only if we want to.

to spank or not to spank – part 2

Since writing to spank or not to spank – part 1, I’ve had the chance to delve deeper, think harder, do some research, get some facts, and engage in thoughtful discussions with my husband and friends who are also mindful about such matters. The more I read and discuss, the clearer I see, the firmer I stand on this issue for our family. One realization after another, I’m connecting the dots, trusting the flow of thoughts to a clearer state of mind. I’m committed to this thing called mindfulness.

The last time I swatted Mina’s bottom, it was over her diaper but I also accidentally slapped a part of her bare leg. As soon as I swatted, I knew immediately it hurt a little more this time, and she cried. This was the first time she cried from my slap. The few other times, she’d either smile or stand still for a second, say “gomenasai,” and go back to playing. This time was different. I knew instinctively that she was crying out of shock; she was scared and couldn’t make sense of what had just happened.

Even hours later, out of the blue, she’d start crying; not her usual tantrum or pretend cry, but a visceral cry, with an expression on her face I had never seen before, that I didn’t recognize. Mina wasn’t herself that night and it really bothered me. I was shaken inside and intuitively knew right then that I had made a huge mistake, that something had to change. I talked to my husband that night, and went to bed with a heavy conscience.

The next thing I knew, I was writing, to examine the emotional distress and make sense of the intense regret. Ideas from How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen sparked insights into our family culture, questioning my instincts and assumptions. And here I am, still thinking deeply about this.

I was spanked as a child (though I don’t remember much of my childhood). I grew up in a house where domestic violence was a norm. As a child, I had hostile tendencies; when I didn’t get my way, I used to bite, scratch (with nails, deep into the flesh), or throw things (even hard, breakable things), but I had never made the connection between my aggressive behavior as a child and the aggression and violence that surrounded me.

Our family history is not new to me; I’ve thought about, struggled with, reflected on, and questioned it for most of my teenage and adult life, but what’s new today is Mina, and how she is affected by the surfacing of such subconscious habits that are rooted in my family history I carry with me, at times unbeknownst to me.  I’m realizing that to recognize and control them will require constant mindfulness.

I’ve spanked Mina out of impulse, instinct, and tradition. Not anymore. I’m not going to let history repeat itself. I’ve worked too hard, fought too long to arrive at this place of mindful existence just to let history barge in whenever it pleases.

Everything I do, I say, I choose has an impact on Mina.

Everything Mina does, Mina says, Mina chooses is part of her developmental process and growth.

Every action and reaction, in effect, shift her developmental trajectory in varying degrees, directions, and dimensions.

“What do I want Mina to learn, to develop?  Do I ever want to stunt, or even risk stunting her development in any way, big or small? Do I want her to endure any negative developmental issues because of my habits?,” because studies have found that “physical punishment increases the risk of broad and enduring negative developmental outcomes.”1

When I ask myself these questions, after learning the scientific findings, spanking in our family ceases to be a question or a debate. No exceptions, no fine print. It’s simply unacceptable to me to gamble on Mina’s well-being with greater risks for aggression, depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse, even if it’s merely an association. Also, “no study has found physical punishment to enhance development.”2  In other words, when we spank, we expose our children only to risks of negative developmental issues (no positives for consolation).

And finally, regularly spanked kids “may be more likely to engage in domestic violence and child abuse as adults.”3 Wait. Stop! That statement is referring to me; I’m the case in point. I’m more likely to engage in aggression because I grew up around aggression. No. Definitely no. I choose to break this vicious cycle of violence, and start a tradition of non-violence with our family, because I never want Mina to think aggression and violence are answers to conflicts, or anything for that matter.

When researching online, I came across comments like “I was spanked and I turned out fine” or “It worked for me” in support of spanking as a form of discipline. Then I read an insightful counter to such arguments that made real sense to me. “We’re constantly discovering new risks associated with the act of spanking — like increased anxiety and a number of other mental-health problems — which makes the ‘It worked for me’ argument outdated,” says Catherine Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in New Orleans. She points out that in the past kids breathed their parents’ secondary cigarette smoke, rode in cars without seat belts, and lived in homes with lead-based paint. “Research has since shown these things to be unhealthy for children, and spanking is no different,” she says.” Here is the link to this balanced article in its entirety: “The Great Spanking Debate”  When we choose to spank despite all the scientific findings, I think we’re just being stubborn, selfish, indifferent, or lazy; in essence, we’re choosing the easy way out, and neglecting to put our children’s best interests first.

Articulating it this way, these words and ideas resonate deeply and clearly. I can no longer ‘wing it’ by completely relying on instincts because there’s too much at stake here, namely Mina’s well-being. I’ve come to realize that my instincts are not only innate but also shaped by culture, tradition, media, and other external stimuli that I may not be aware of. No assumptions; everything, every little thing deserves close examination to make conscious choices for what’s best for our family.

Ironically though, those same instincts picked up on the visceral pitch in her cry, and I knew in my gut that what I had done was not only regrettable but more importantly, irrevocable. My husband was the one who reminded me to recognize that I was able to intuit Mina’s visceral cry and pursue, not disregard or ignore, the nagging gut feeling to arrive here: a deeper understanding of myself and our family. “You need to give yourself credit,” he said. I know he’s right. I need to give myself credit, but it’s not always easy. Yes, I’m proud; don’t get me wrong, I’m not proud that I’ve swatted Mina, and I wish I could take it all back but I can’t, and I need to live with that and move on. Today, I’m proud of this conscious choice I’ve made for us as a family; an important step in consciously building a family culture that’s right for us, that we can be proud of.

I’ve learned and I’m learning that above all, I just need to be present, because everything I need to learn is here in this moment. Not in the past nor the future, but here in this very present moment. Thank you, Pema Chödrön, for these wise words: “This very moment is the perfect teacher.”

to spank or not to spank – part 1

To be honest, I’ve spanked Mina on her hand or bottom on a few occasions (3 or 4 times to be exact), but after each slap, my conscience feels heavy with shame, for days. In those moments, I’m completely convinced that I’m a bad mother and I can do nothing to stop the tears of a failure. I feel guilt and disgust dig at the core of me. This needs to stop.

When I was back home in Tokyo a few months ago, my Mom lectured me on spanking as a necessary form of discipline to teach Mina what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. That piece of advice lingers in the back of my mind. She’s raised 3 kids; maybe I need to respect that and listen to her. Her advice translates to a voice in me that questions my ability to discipline her otherwise: “If I don’t spank her, Mina will end up a spoiled brat.” I don’t really believe this; it’s just my insecurity feeding justifications. I can’t buy into them.

Impulse is another factor and I’m wondering if that impulse is rooted back to my own childhood, making spanking all the more familiar to me.

I’m realizing that spanking weighs too heavy on my conscience. It doesn’t sit well with me, at all. I don’t want to punish her anymore. There is a difference between punishment and discipline, and I don’t believe punishment to be a valid form of discipline.  If I’m against punishing a teenager, why would I even think to punish a toddler? It makes no sense!

I don’t want my style of discipline to evolve inadvertently simply out of fear, familiarity, impulse, or history repeating itself. I want to be conscious and consciously choose my way to be, in this case as a parent. I need to find another way to discipline, to communicate with Mina in a way that I can teach her to learn, not fear, and in a way that I can be proud of.

I want to consciously build a family culture and language that nurtures love, peace, respect, curiosity, responsibility, integrity, equality, mindfulness, because these are the virtues we value most. Writing this, having arrived at this intention has given me clarity. I have no space, no tolerance for punishment or violence in our family. Not even a slight slap on the hand. No exceptions, no fine print. This cycle of punishment stops now. I make this pledge to Mina, to my family.

I need to be realistic, though, and be kind to myself. Just like any change, especially behavioral, it won’t happen overnight; it will take time, patience, practice and perseverance. I’m pretty confident I’ll never spank Mina again, but I still need to unlearn my impulse to use a certain tone, raise my voice, or react a particular way, especially to superficial matters like messes and crumbs; and learn a constructive and compassionate way to teach and communicate with Mina that I can be proud of. I’m prepared to learn, to practice, to grow and change for the better. And even if I were to mess up with a slap or regress to old habits, I need to quiet the urge to judge or criticize, and be kind, forgive, and love myself. I’m only human and I’m learning to become a better one. I keep coming back to this quote by Pema Chödrön, “This very moment is the perfect teacher.” Indeed. All I can do is stay focused and pay attention to this very moment, my perfect teacher.

This insightful article triggered many thoughtful reflections on family, happiness, and life; a MUST-READ!! How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

A quote from page 3, Create a Culture: “Ultimately, people don’t even think about whether their way of doing things yields success. They embrace priorities and follow procedures by instinct and assumption rather than by explicit decision—which means that they’ve created a culture. Culture, in compelling and unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems. …In using this model to address the question, How can I be sure that my family becomes an enduring source of happiness?, my students quickly see that the simplest tools that parents can wield to elicit cooperation from children are power tools. But there comes a point during the teen years when power tools no longer work. At that point parents start wishing that they had begun working with their children at a very young age to build a culture at home in which children instinctively behave respectfully toward one another, obey their parents, and choose the right thing to do. Families have cultures, just as companies do. Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.  If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.”