Written on October 31, 2013 at 3:13 pm , by Paula Chin
This morning I put the finishing touches on a set of wings for my 12-year-old, who will be trick-or-treating as an angel alongside her BFF, the devil. [Note: The wings were made out of cardboard covered with folded flat-bottomed coffee filters, which look amazingly featherlike.] I’m lucky that she’s a good kid—sweet, smart and so far immune to the usual tween-teen problems. She’s no mean girl, nor is she bullied. Her good friends include boys as well as girls. She doesn’t obsess over clothes, hair or having a thigh gap. She thinks Miley Cyrus is silly and kind of dumb.
Which brings me to the latest Halloween costume outrages of 2013. That is, Julianne Hough partying in blackface as Crazy Eyes from Orange Is the New Black and Florida dudes Greg Cimeno and William Filene, who decided it would be “f—ing hilarious” to dress up as George Zimmerman and a murdered Trayvon Martin, then posted pics of themselves on Facebook. Julianne was needlessly insensitive and racist—and she’s since apologized. The other two went way beyond that, making a mockery out of a profound tragedy, and they still don’t get it.
I don’t know whether I’m going to talk about this with my daughter tonight as we plow through her chocolate stash. She doesn’t need the ethics lesson, and it all seems so obvious. Blackface, or yellow or brown, is never okay. Making fun of someone’s death, not to mention one so fraught and controversial as Trayvon’s, is never okay. But clearly there are folks who haven’t gotten the memo, and I’ll probably drive home the point to her anyway. Are you in with me?
Written on October 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm , by Paula Chin
It’s an absolutely heartbreaking story—yet another youth, in this case 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Winter Haven, Florida, commits suicide after being relentlessly bullied online for months by her classmates.
But this time there’s a new twist to the lurid headlines: The local sheriff arrested two girls, ages 14 and 12, charging them with felony aggravated stalking after a message appeared in the Facebook feed of the older girl that read, “Yes Ik I bullied RECECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF” [translation: “I don’t give a (expletive)”]. The girl’s parents said someone had hacked into her FB account, but the sheriff isn’t buying it. In fact, he says he’d put them in jail if he could for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
You may think he’s gone way too far. Or you may feel he’s right on the mark. Either way, the sheriff has turned the spotlight and focused it on parents and their culpability when it comes to cyberbullying. When you stop and think about it, this has been the elephant in the room, the unspoken, taboo topic amid all the tragic teen suicides in the news: To what degree are parents to blame when their children become taunters, tormentors, emotional abusers and worse?
Normally in this space we chat about things moms should discuss with their children. Perhaps this is a topic we should start talking about with each other.
Written on June 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm , by Paula Chin
Like many grownups, I loved Sesame St. as much as my kid did, especially the adorable Mr. Noodle—that bumbling, rubber-limbed sweetheart of a clown, living in his own little world-within-Elmo’s World (accessible only by the window shade), trying so hard with his supremely silly process of trial and error to figure out how life—and its dizzying assortment of gizmos and gadgets—works. (“No, Mr. Noodle! Put your feet on the pedals!”)
I’ve followed the supremely multi-talented Bill Irwin in the years since—Tony-award winning Broadway performances (both as mime and dramatic actor), movie and TV roles (Rachel Getting Married, CSI serial killer)—and still love him. So did my daughter Natalie, now 12; she just didn’t know it.
That’s why I took her to see his recent stage show, Old Hats, a vaudeville variety mash-up of clowning, comedy, music, theater and dance. There were floppy shoes and baggy pants, spaghetti-wrestling and hobo pathos, a live band with subversively witty tunes. And, after all these years, Mr. Noodle in person! Nat loved it all.
Art at its most creative and ebullient. Something you and your kid can never get too much of. Something you never outgrow.
Old Hats Irwin (right) and David Shiner.
Written on May 31, 2013 at 3:57 pm , by Paula Chin
There was recently a blessed event in our family—the wee hours arrival, several weeks overdue, of a healthy baby girl. Big brown eyes, hair on the wavy side. Mother doing fine. When we got the news, my daughter Nat was so overjoyed she ran through the house jumping and shouting, “A girl! I knew it! I’m naming her Cookie!”
We drove to Pennsylvania that night and headed straight for the barn. Not yet 24 hours in the world, the foal was adorable, impossibly leggy, sweetly fawnlike. That is, when we could steal a glimpse of her. Shortcake, being a good mom, kept shifting around uneasily, placing her big old self between us and her baby, nickering softly in protest. In the glow of the flashlight, I saw a ginormous smile on Nat’s face, a look of pure, radiant joy. Her dad and I had to drag her back to the house and to bed, where she blissfully nodded off as John told her about the birth—how it happened overnight, as it usually does, how he found the foal that morning, standing wobbily as she nursed, her coat fluffed and dry.
In the morning we slipped into the stall and put a halter on Shortcake so John could steady her while we cuddled with Cookie. So soft and plush, like a puppy! Nuzzling her forehead, she smelled faintly of fresh hay. While touching her is delightful, it’s also a job someone’s got to do; foals are skittish, wild things, and they have to get accustomed to being handled before they get too big and strong. Nat eagerly signed on, hugging, kissing, and stroking Cookie head to hoof every chance she got.
Nature is a great teacher, but her lessons have been harsh as well as happy. At 12, Nat has already had to say goodbye to three horses—Ramona the Appaloosa; Peaches, the palomino she used to ride with cousin Mandy; Charlie, the pony she learned to canter on. All had to be put down because of age, illness or injury, and all are buried on the farm, on a gentle rise by one of the trails, deep in the ochre-colored earth. We pass them every time we go riding, as we did that afternoon, and I always get a bit sad—and worry that Nat does too. (Then again, when she was little I used to run to the pet store to buy a lookalike Betta fish so she wouldn’t know hers had died.) When I asked her about it the other day, she said that while their deaths were hard at first, it’s not so much anymore. She does know, though, that when the time comes for Nina, the black Lab she loves more than anything, she will cry her heart out for a long, long while. But for now Nat has Nina, she’ll watch Cookie gambol and grow, and all is well. Matters of life and death—my not-so-little girl is learning them, just as she should be.
The burial ground, where Peaches, Charlie and Ramona rest in peace.
Written on May 17, 2013 at 10:51 am , by Paula Chin
Archie has been pretty quiet lately.
Archie is our magnificent 1897 Steinway upright, which I bought soon after my daughter started piano. Because I shared a sitter with a neighboring family, Nat would watch when their two kids had lessons; when she was 4, she asked if she could start them herself. I was delighted—I believe all kids should study piano and learn to read music, at least for a couple years. In elementary school, I took back-to-back piano and violin lessons (like Nat, it was my own choice; I didn’t have a Tiger Mom). And so it went—scales, chords, etudes, Ode to Joy, Fur Elise, Tarantella, Pachelbel, the standard child’s repertoire. Piano performances with other kids, where Nat and I sometimes played duets. I hadn’t touched the keys in decades, but once we got Archie I fell in love all over again (Chopin! Brahms! Beethoven! Joplin!) and connected with the joy and sorrow in the music in a way I never could as a tween.
It was hard work for Nat. It was also a wonderful process of discovery, accomplishment, pride. And it was fun. When we got the refurbished Steinway we learned the tradition was to name it after the model number—in our case, a Model R. We lived with it for a bit before we decided it was a He. But we couldn’t come up with a name that fit. The old guy wasn’t a Robert, Ricky, Raul, Reggie, Rocky or Rudy. Finally, one day in the car Nat piped up from the back seat. “I got it!” she said. “R-chie!” Brilliant, if I say so myself.
The pieces got longer and harder; so did Nat’s homework assignments. I had to cajole and nag her to play. Month after month, I could see her patience fading. She wanted to get practice over with rather than working on those difficult passages over and over until they flowed under her fingers. I gave her the option of quitting, no blame, no shame. She said no, but she never played on her own. So finally I made the decision for her, and after 7-plus years the lessons ended. Both of us were more than a little teary. We miss our wonderful teacher Elizabeth, (as do our cats, who would lay at her feet during lessons), but we are now dear friends and will stay in touch. I’m using the music money on concerts, plays and exhibits, exposing Nat to as much art as possible. And I’ve told her to take good care of dear old Archie after I’m gone, so he’ll be there for her kids—and for her to rediscover, just the way I did.
Written on May 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm , by Paula Chin
I spent the past couple months binge-watching Friday Night Lights—all 76 episodes of it. I’d heard how great it was, but c’mon—high testosterone teens playing football in Texas? Not my thing. But one cold winter night I called up the pilot on Netflix. I was smitten—with gruff, beleaguered coach Eric Taylor, his plucky, resilient wife Tami, the high school hijinks, the tragic accident at the big game. Never has small town life–in all its ordinariness and glory–been so wonderfully captured. FNL is about so many things—the bittersweetness of growing up, dreams fulfilled and shattered, the blessings and burdens of our loved ones, issues like class and race. It’s warm, funny, heartbreaking, exhilirating. Just like real life.
I felt only slightly guilty indulging myself night after night while my 12-year-old, Nat, slouched over her homework. Not that my addiction escaped her. One evening she asked what I was watching and why I loved it so much. Then, when I had finished the incredible 5th season finale (Kleenex pls!) she asked if I would rewatch it with her. We’re now finishing up the first magnificent season, and it’s been an amazing bonding experience. Not surprisingly, Nat’s big into the Taylor family drama. Mr. and Mrs. Coach bicker and fight, but their marriage is as solid as it gets. Daughter Julie is a smart, petulant 15-year-old in the throes of first love. No doubt Nat is watching Julie looking for clues and cues to her own future—and enviously eyeing Julie’s locker at Dillon High (Nat’s school doesn’t have them). Like me, she’s even grown to like football…well, kinda.
What shows have you and your tween bonded over? Do you have a huge crush on Coach, like me?
Written on April 19, 2013 at 9:51 am , by Paula Chin
The other week I was walking my daughter Natalie and her friends home from their middle school play to a sleepover at our place. Actually, I was bringing up the rear about 10 feet behind them – a barely seen, and certainly unheard, third wheel – as they chattered and giggled and OMG’d! the way 12-year-old girls do.
It’s here. That strange stage when your kid is starting to move out of the mommy orbit but still needs you close at hand. “Go away/come closer” is what my friend used to call it when our girls were little and having major meltdowns. This is the tween version, and it’s kind of caught me by surprise. Not so much Nat growing up and eventually away, but a shifting beneath my own feet, my own sense of self. While I’ve never defined myself by motherhood, being a hands-on, always-there-for-her parent – a single one at that – has been a huge chunk of my identity for a long time. Suddenly, new spaces are opening up, and I’m not quite sure how to fill them.
But I took a great first step over spring break, flying away to my first “just me” vacation in ages while Nat stayed with her dad. The journey (the last leg by turboprop!) was to the white heart of California’s Mojave desert. Talk about wide open spaces. It was fabulous, full of friendship & solitude, good conversation & vast, still silences, and … infinite possibility.
Plus, a funny thing happened once I returned. My girl and I, always the best of buds, are closer than ever.
I know a lot of you have already been where I’m going. Tell me your stories!
Written on October 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm , by Paula Chin
Thank goodness my kid is only 11, so I’ve got another 7 years before panic time. But like a good Girl Scout, I like to be prepared, so when Family Circle decided to do a story on buying your teen’s first car, I grabbed the wheel so I could get a little driver’s ed myself.
I live in Manhattan, where it’s not so common for parents to have cars, much less for their teens to be driving them. But I happen to have an economical, ultra-reliable Honda Civic coupe that I tool around in for shopping runs and weekend jaunts. The engine still purrs and I don’t put much mileage on it, so I figure it could be my daughter’s first car once she turns 18. Plus it’s got so many dings and scratches that it won’t matter how many more she adds.
Her dad is as frugal as I am, but laughs at me about this, since my beloved Honda will be a hoary 21 years old (!) and probably too much of junker once our girl starts driving. Turns out he’s right. Writer Rick Newman’s piece in the November issue of Family Circle taught me—among many other things—that as solid as my Honda seems, it doesn’t have the requisite 6 air bags (2 in front, plus 2 side impact and 2 side curtain bags) to be safe. Plus, it’s not hefty enough to offer the best protection in a crash (you want at least a midsize sedan for that). In fact, his guide on buying a good used car is so smart and succinct that I’m tearing it out and filing it away for the year 2019.
Did you find the story helpful? Any tips you would add?
Paula Chin is a senior editor at Family Circle.
Written on September 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm , by Paula Chin
I grew up in L.A., thoroughly Chinese-American—Chinese food, parents and relatives who spoke Cantonese, Chinese-American Christian churches. So it was a big shock when my mom told me and my older brothers that she was half-Mexican. I was 13 years old, and it had never occurred to us that she was anything but 100% Asian. True, she has olive skin, a strong brow and cheekbones, and deep set, double lidded eyes. She looked different than my aunts and other relatives, but we never noticed. We simply saw her as more beautiful, more exotic.
There was more to mom’s story. She had been abandoned as an infant and adopted by a Chinese couple (the orphanage was right near the house they used in Six Feet Under). Her brother and two sisters were adopted as well.
I don’t remember what prompted her to finally tell us, but I do remember my reaction. First, confusion. “So Uncle Bob isn’t a blood relative? Grandma and Grandpa too?” Then outrage. “How could you not tell us all this time? Didn’t you trust us?” I came to understand why Mom kept it secret—a mixture of shame, a sense of protectiveness toward the only mom and dad she ever new—but it wasn’t necessarily the best strategy. As Elizabeth Foy Larsen points out in her piece in the October issue of Family Circle:
At first thought, it can seem sensible to keep your own counsel. You have a right to privacy, and there certainly are things your kids really don’t need to know. But the truth has a way of revealing itself, and when that occurs in an unplanned way—a relative blurts it out, a conversation is overheard—there can be lasting damage. A child who stumbles onto a parent’s lie is very likely to feel betrayed, or at least more skeptical about everything he’s told from there on, according to a University of San Diego study. “There are some kids who will feel deeply hurt for a long time,” says Gail Heyman, Ph.D., who conducted the research. “They’ll think, ‘If she lied about that, what else isn’t she telling me?’”
My hurt and anger quickly faded, and I’ve completely forgiven mom for her, well, let’s call it a sin of omission. And sure enough, once we knew the facts Mom could tell us all sorts of stories she had kept quiet about, which drew us closer.
Still, I’m doing things differently with my 11 year old. Full disclosure here–once I knew about Mom, I became determined to adopt a child of my own; my daughter is from China. Anyway, she pretty much gets the complete lowdown (age appropriate, of course) on what’s going on, past and present, in my life. And when she hits those crazy teen years, I plan on being honest about my own, missteps and all. I just have to make sure I don’t commit the sin of TMI.
What about you? Tell us your stance on coming clean with family secrets in the comments below. And read more about sharing family secrets here.
Paula Chin is a senior editor at Family Circle.
Written on June 28, 2011 at 5:05 pm , by Paula Chin
Awhile back I was standing in line at the library when a book spine with a big smiley face cookie caught my eye (I love black and whites, hence the attraction). Turns out the book was Happy At Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy, by Richard O’Connor. It’s a snappy little primer on minimizing the unnecessary misery we create for ourselves so we can maximize the upside, with a very simple formula to do that: 30 minutes each of exercise and meditation daily. Plus before going to bed, thinking of three things that made you happy that day or that you’re grateful for. O’Connor suggests doing this with your spouse–you’ll learn some amazing stuff about each other—but since I’m a single mom I started doing it with my 10 year old. And we’re learning a lot about each other. Sure, I figured she’d love going to the Apple store on a class trip (yes, she’s already a tech freak), but who knew she’d say “Snuggling together on the sofa watching the Next Food Network Star with you, mom”? It’s pure quality time, a super de-stresser, and a good preemptive move to the tween/teen sass, moodiness and madness I know I’ll soon be in for.
Written on June 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm , by Paula Chin
These days, charity no longer begins at home. My daughter, who will graduate from elementary school next year, has been learning all about how to give back since her kindergarten days. It started with buying goodies at school bake sales to raise money for the homeless. Then came donations of gently used coats for the needy in winter. These days, she’s been making bracelets to raise money, collecting donations for victims of the Japan earthquake/tsunami, even logging steps on her pedometer so Modell’s could donate to the same cause. In other words, it’s second nature to her, almost part of daily life, and I love that. Yes, I could quibble about how charities and fundraising is so in that it becomes a kind of perverse who-can-do-the-most-good competition, but I won’t. I’m just delighted that in age when parents gripe so much about the awful directions kids are heading or the lackluster education of public schools, something is right in the world. Her heart is wide open, she’s compassionate and eager to pay it forward, whether it’s giving money to a subway street musician or donating her old books and toys to neighbors or Goodwill.
Written on June 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm , by Paula Chin
No, I don’t mean the “See, what did I tell you?” or the I’m-your-mom-so-I-know-better variety. I mean the really good kind, the invaluable life lesson that helps your kid grow…
I just got an email from my daughter’s 4th grade teacher, telling me how in recent months my girl has blossomed from a “quiet, behind the scenes” student to one who always raises her hands, is jazzed to share her thoughts and opinions, dares to be different, and is brimming with confidence. Wait, there’s more! This coming of age coincides with a big surge academically, including one of the highest scores on last weeks math test (please, let me gloat a little), mainly because she’s asking more questions, pushing herself harder when she doesn’t understand something–you get the picture.
So after passing the happy news to her dad, I sat back, reflected a moment, and gave myself a little pat on the back. At my worst I can be a tiger mom, holding her to exacting standards, scolding her for sloppy or lazy thinking, making her play that piano etude 5 times until she gets it right. And I’ve lectured her over and over on the value and rewards of hard work and not backing off—to the point of overkill, I’m sure. But now my girl is blossoming, and what a joy to behold. Sigh. Guess I may have been doing things pretty much just right. Like many moms, I was being too hard not on my daughter, but myself.