Archive for ::Maternal Musings

To Play, or not Play?

At first glace of the article’s title in this week’s New York Times Magazine (Taking Play Seriously), and a quick read through of the first page, I really became excited about the prospect of some real scientific ‘findings’ and hard fact research about the high correlation between childhood play and developmental success as a direct result. Though the (long) article does to some extent conclude how important imaginative and creative play is for a child’s cognitive, behavioral, social and physical development, some sources of research for this piece argue differently – Read for yourself and you’ll find some interesting observations made by a variety of scientists on this subject.

As a parent living in this 21st century, knowingly wary that the overscheduling of ‘enrichment’ activities we convince ourselves (and by extension, our peers) is good for our children – I stop myself each time it’s ‘sign-up’ season and wonder if  I really AM doing the right thing for my children.  I want them to avail of the myriad of classes and opportunities to develop their skills and interests with all that is around us in the metro-regions and affluent towns our overacheiving families live in.  Piano will help her with her mathematics.  Art allows for his creative side to emerge (and help with handwriting skills!).  Softball is great for instilling teambuilding skills.  Yes, of course all this is wonderful. I boastfully tell my friends sometimes that this time I’m cutting back on ‘x’ or ‘y’ activity – and luckily, I have to admit, I have rolled back – a bit.  I mean, what are you supposed to do when your kid says, “Mama, I’m tired of all these activities – I just want to play”.  So we cut back- a bit – and now we try to make more time for impromptu playdates with friends from school and the neighborhood.  I think it has made them happier?  But even arranging and scheduling these playtimes is a chore in itself!  We have to book out 1, 2 or even 3 weeks sometimes, to find a time to play with a friend.  So, while they wait for their scheduled playdates (kids just don’t really go out into the streets and play with the kid across the street anymore – too many child predators, speeding teens in cars, or worse out there – so we are inhibiting our kids further, from being truly in ‘free play’) what do we do?  Encourage them to play by themselves or with siblings – kids find doing things independently almost too difficult these days too…why? We did?  Perhaps again, because we’ve structured their activity time too much and they cannot play endlessly on their own as they await direction from their adults on how to proceed with play and activities?  Many kids then fall into the TV trap – while many of us responsible parents limit TV watching strictly, (some parents admit unwillingly that their kids do watch a bit too much TV….) it still ends up being a ‘filler’ for down time, post school stress de-tox or as a treat after completing homework.  So, where does that leave us?  Just read the article – it’s as detailed and comprehensive as you’d want to get!

 

From the New York Times Magazine – February 17, 2008)

Why Do We Play: Taking Play Seriously
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A Dose of American Culture.

Just read this most ‘laugh out loud’ piece at the NYT – about the obsession with food; activities and overplanning, and losing sight of what is really important in the lives of these kids.  Perhaps many will relate.  Others may feel they too are guilty, but how does one extricate from this?  And then they will be those who just shake their heads in vain.   It is just another example of how much American parents are caught up in catering to their childen’s whims and what they think is the ‘done’ thing because everyone else is doing it. 

Was chatting with some friends on this topic recently and we all reflected similarly…Has life become over complicated?  In another life, another time (or not!), our behavior would have been mocked, and today people strive to emulate.  Gone are the days when kids would just walk out the front door, play in the streets (heaven forbid they do that now in this ‘who knows who will come by in car and swipe your kid off the street, etc…) and eat from meal to meal, vs. needing a snack in between, or just even have a simple birthday party without it becoming a 3 ring circus event!  But many of us are inextricably part of this rat race – and are guilty for fueling the fire so to speak.  Many of our children’s lives are super structured with afterschool classes, weekend meets, activities, music lessons, enrichment programs…when we see our friends children involved this way, we too feel, “Hey, they’re like me, shouldn’t my child be participating?”  And while the kids themselves may enjoy it, is it not up to the parents (at least during the younger years) to make some of those decisions?  Going to school and perhaps doing one special activity or club involvment a week seemed to suffice when I was growing up in an uber competitive New England  town north of NYC…And with all the work, I remember still being ‘stressed’….can’t imagine what our kids will go through in the coming years if we continue at this pace. Simplicity and simple pleasures seem a distant memory…Incidently, am reading another same topic book, “Madness of Modern Families” by 2 UK authors….it is a more in depth humorous account of the crazed ‘parenting’ frenzy of the 21st century. 

Anyway, thought this article was hilarious, all things aside.  Best lines: “Cupcakes the size of softballs” and “use the small foods as calming pellets? .”  Enjoy!

Op-Ed Contributor – New York Times

Will Play for Food

Published: October 27, 2006

Ridgewood, N.J.

Cartoon above by:Chip Wass

 

ENOUGH with the organized snacks.

When did this start anyway? I’m at my 7-year-old’s soccer game. The game ends and this week’s designated “snack parent” produces a ginormous variety pack of over-processed chips and an equally gargantuan crate-cum-cooler. Our children swarm like something out of the climactic scene in “The Day of the Locust.”

Do our kids need yet another bag of Doritos and a juice box with enough sugar to coat a Honda Odyssey? Can’t they just finish playing and have some water?

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Urdu, Expats and Angst. Are your children Bilingual?

This post also appears in part on All Things Pakistan: Pakistaniat.com’.

If like myself, you are parents of children growing up ‘abroad’ (outside of countries where Urdu is spoken as a major language), then we probably share a common angst if our children do not or cannot speak our native language.  Having grown up outside of Pakistan my entire life, save numerous long summers during early schooling years and then later, almost bi-annual winters during college and thereafter, I am able to converse and understand spoken Urdu.  It is thanks to my parents, who spoke Urdu throughout my young formative years, daisyeggurdubk.jpgand our visits to the motherland, that I am able today, to appreciate more of my rich culture because I have the ability to communicate and comprehend Urdu.  My wish and hope is that my children too, are able to have this wonderful gift and opportunity.  In the world we now live in, especially for our American/foreign born children, the need for them to have a strong sense of belonging and a positive self-identity in the western societies they live in, is paramount in my opinion.

As a parent of two young children now (ages 5 and 2), my husband & I constantly struggle with the fact that our children are not speaking Urdu.  We think they understand the language in some minimal capacity, but not nearly enough to elicit proper comprehension or more far flung verbal communication.  We (or rather I!) think they are in reality absorbing more than we give them credit for, but the reality is that it is not a two way road (yet).  I am a sincere optimist in this regard.  It really boils down to whether or not we as parents make the exherted and consistent effort to actually SPEAK to each other in Urdu, and therefore with our children.  It has been noted that even in households where parents speak Urdu, the children living abroad either stop speaking their native language soon after entering preschool, KG, etc. or never felt comfortable speaking it at all.  So, if your children don’t speak Urdu either because you as a parent are not using it as the first language of communication in the household, or even if you are, and your children still either cannot or refuse to, I still feel that there is good in continuing to speak.

There are a lot of theories and much evidence that while children may not speak their native language, if they are around it and hear it being spoken, their young minds may be absorbing more than you think.  Language acquisition begins from birth onwards.  Many linguistic experts agree for the most part that the years from birth to before puberty is when the brain is able to absorb the most language, as well as the proper accent and more ‘native-like’ fluency and pronounciation.  This is considered the ‘critical’ or the milder term, ‘optimal’ period for first and second language acquisition.

Psycholinguists and cognitive scientists have debated this ‘critical period hypothesis’ quite enthusiastically (from: “Cognitive Scientists on Bilingual Education”, UPI, Steve Sailer – October 27, 2000):

MIT linguist Noam Chomsky is famous for demonstrating that children are born with an innate ability to learn words and grammar. He suggests caution on the subject but pointed out, “There is no dispute about the fact that pre-puberty (in fact, much earlier), children have unusual facility in acquiring new languages.”

Chomsky’s younger MIT colleague, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, [now at Harvard] author of the bestsellers “The Language Instinct” and “How the Mind Works,” states, “When it comes to learning a second language, the younger the better. In a large study of Chinese immigrants who entered the U.S. at different ages, those who arrived after puberty showed the worst English language skills. Still, this finding of ‘younger is better’ extended to far younger ages. People who began to learn English at six ended up on average more proficient than those who began at seven, and so on.” As an illustration, Pinker points to the famously thick German accent of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who arrived in America at age fourteen. In contrast, his younger brother developed a standard American accent.

Pinker’s arch-rival, Terrence W. Deacon, a biological anthropologist at Boston University and author of “The Symbolic Species,” replies, “I have to agree with Steve Pinker[on this one particular issue]that learning a language early in life can be an advantage for developing language fluency and sophistication.”

I know from personal experience, that languages in which I was immersed or was spoken to during the ‘critical period’ years, are still with me, and seem to possess the ability to speak with minimal non-native accent.  I lived in Thailand until age 14 and also learned French in elementary school (as well as being exposed to French in Laos-French IndoChina- during ages 5-9).  Almost 2 decades later I can still converse to some coherent degree in those languages.  I learned Spanish in my mid-twenties, and many (!) years later, I can barely remember 5-10 basic sentences!  There is something to be said about exposing children at the youngest of ages to more than one language.  The method and order may vary.  On a separate note, I find it quite perplexing, given the evidence, that most [public] schools in the United States only begin to offer foreign language study after adolescence, in middle school or more popularly in High School!  No wonder many who take these courses end up not really becoming fluent or compentent lifelong speakers (I personally know far too many people who are in this boat).

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What’s a Mother’s Worth? (part I)

A tough one to tackle.  Many have tried to quantify this ‘worth’ to no avail.  A mother gives you life. For most, she is a nuturer, a comforter, a healer.  She feeds you, keeps you clean, teaches you your manners, your ABCs.  She disciplines, she cuddles, she reads to you and drives you to school for over a decade.  A mother listens, a mother scolds (and screams, yes we do).  A mother’s eyes well up when she sees her young preschooler sing, “You Are My Sunshine” to her and the other fellow mothers on a ‘Moms’ day at school.  A mother does it all and feels it all – from dawn till…..well, dawn (at least in the early years!)  Even moms who spend a majority of their day outside the home at work do get this opportunity…  Yes, and for the dads out there, while many may be the ‘moms’ of your families, the majority of them don’t have this priviledge of sorts in the fulllest sense of its capacities.

While I had planned to post this on Mother’s Day, the job of being a mother has delayed my posting date.  The following were sent by fellow mom friends. I know you may have seen them fly in your inboxes in recent years, but somehow they still manage to stir you – and make you laugh.  Belated Mater’s Dia. girlwithflowers.jpg

Before I was a Mom

Before I was a Mom I never tripped over toys or forgot words to a lullaby.
I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous.
I never thought about immunizations.
Before I was a Mom – I had never been puked on.
Pooped on.
Chewed on.
Peed on.

I had complete control of my mind and my thoughts.
I slept all night.
Before I was a Mom I never held down a screaming child so doctors could do tests.
Or give shots.
I never looked into teary eyes and cried.
I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin.

I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.
Before I was a Mom I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down.
I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt.
I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much.
I never knew that I could love someone so much.
I never knew I would love being a Mom.

Before I was a Mom – I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body.
I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby.
I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child.
I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important and happy.
Before I was a Mom – I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay.
I had never known the warmth, The joy, The love, The heartache, The wonderment or the satisfaction of being a Mom.
I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom.

And before I was a Grandma, I didn’t know that all those “Mom” feelings more than doubled when you see that little bundle being held by “your baby”…
On a funnier note, the following sent by another friend made me chuckle more than a few times:

Why God made Moms — BRILLIANT Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions!!   

Why did God make mothers?
   1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
   2. Mostly to clean the house.
   3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?
   1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
   2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring
   3. God made my Mom just the same like he made me. He Just used bigger parts.

What ingredients are mothers made of?
   1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
   2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.

Why did God give you Your mother & not some other mom?
   1. We’re related
   2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me.

What kind of little girl was your mom?
   1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
   2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
   3. They say she used to be nice.

What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?
   1. His last name.
   2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
   3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?

Why did your mom marry your dad?
   1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mom eats a lot.
   2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
   3. My grandma says that Mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.

Who’s the boss at your house?
   1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because dad’s such a goofball.
   2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
   3. I guess Mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.

What’s the difference between moms & dads?
   1. Moms work at work and work at home & dads just go to work at work.
   2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
   3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power ’cause that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend’s.
   4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.

What does your mom do in her spare time?
   1. Mothers don’t do spare time.
   2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.

What would it take to make your mom perfect?
   1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
   2. Diet. You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.

If you could change one thing about your Mom, what would it be?
   1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.
   2. I’d make my Mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.
   3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.

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Do you know the ‘muffin top’?

Yes, the muffin top – yumm, you think: that delicious, flavorful topper, the pastry overflow, cascading down your warm, sweet, morning bun?  Well, of course, yumm….but guess again.   NB: and for you Seinfeld know-it-alls out there, it’s not about those muffin tops!

muffin_framboise_nibs.jpg

While playing catch up in a recent phone chat with a fellow mom-friend of mine, I came across an apt description of what many of us baby birthers (but not limited to) have come to live with: the Muffin Top.  Yes, the muffin top.  4notes.gif“Do you know the muffin top, the muffin top, the muffin top…he lives on top of your hips”.  Apparently the newest name given to that excess, bulging fat and floppy skin, oozing over from your trendy low rise, hip hugger pants is known to many as a ‘muffin top’!  Close your eyes, imagine…(or just lift up your shirt and look south). Yikes.

My funloving Australian friend had me in giggles when she described this nouveau body terminology – which I assume may be part of the daily jargon ‘Down Under’ – or it’s been around for a while and I just never knew that there was such an innocent a term for such a heinous a sight.  According to some bloggers out there, apparently the New York Daily News coined the term last summer muffintop.jpg(photo on left, courtesy of NYDN), for something many before us also referred to as the ‘spare tire’, afflicting both genders of society.  Sadly, we both admitted the horrid reality of this unsightly and vivid visual lurking beneath. 

But why are they so visible and noticeable now?  Is it a result of the new fashion trends, where pants and jeans are worn below the waist, coupled with body hugging mini T-shirts made of 2% cotton/98% spandex, which just refuse to stay down, rolling upwards and exposing the muffin top?  Would there even be a muffin top if we wore waisted clothing?  Or is it just accentuating a health concern which potentially afflicts many post-30, post-baby delivery women?  I know it has thrown me in an agonizing state off and on, until I finally felt I should try to get ‘fit’ again, time and effort permitting.  Motivating factor: primarily, to get rid of the ‘top’ and also to improve my long term cardiovascular health, which I’m sure was also going down-muffin, err, hill as I aged.

My first thought on trying to get rid of of that horrible visual, was to do ab work, sit ups, crunches, leg lifts, pilates – you name it.  All of that does help, naturally. But after starting a short one hour (better than nothing) weekly workout at a no frills, home grown, ‘Mom’s Gym’, as it is called, I learned from the instructors that while toning is key, the more important thing is to actually burn the fat away, and cardio workouts are the main ingredient for that. 

Apparently, according to the medical experts, women tend to have more fat bulges on their sides as that is where fat cells tend to mutate because of the estrogen levels in womens’ bodies.  According to the American Heart Association (AHA), elevated waist circumference equal to or greater than 35 inches is one of three components which characterize something called Metabolic Syndrome.  While men are more likely to have heart attacks, the risk for women increases with age – where more than 60% of total stroke deaths occur in women.  The AHA reports that:

Nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease and stroke as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

The American Heart Association has identified several factors that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. The more risk factors a woman has, the greater her risk of a heart attack or stroke. Some of these risk factors you can’t control, such as increasing age, family health history, and race and gender. But you can modify, treat or control most risk factors to lower your risk.

Some illuminating and grim statistics to think about:

From the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

Link to article: The Heart Truth About Heart Disease and Risk Factors

  • Heart disease is the # 1 killer of American women.
  • 1 in every 3 women dies of heart disease, 1 in 30 dies from breast cancer.
  • Nearly two-thirds of American women who die suddenly of a heart attack had no prior symptoms.
  • Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82% just by leading a healthy lifestyle.

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