THE BOOK OF KID: the origin story

Standard

BookOfKidCoverI didn’t write THE BOOK OF KID. My daughter’s third-grade class did. I just published it. Their teacher, Ms Diamond, asked her students to give their parents some child-rearing advice. And it turns out they have a lot to tell you (spoiler alert: they want you to get off Facebook and play with them.)

It started as the classroom project for the school auction. I thought I’d get involved. After all, I like books. And I had a printer. Match made in Heaven.

The kids made a list of stuff they wanted their parents to know. For example, my daughter wanted me to know that “Just because we are little versions of you, doesn’t mean we act like you.” Which is interesting, because we look nothing alike.

From their list, each child picked one snippet of advice as the caption to a picture they drew. The picture was then traced onto foam, which became the cut for a color print. Then each 8.5″ x 11″ page was bound accordion-fashion into a book. The winning bid for the book was $800.

Since the class made two copies of their print, I had a complete set which was then scanned and put into a book-book with the rest of the students’ advice. I have to say, it’s really heartbreaking, and if I had a little more editorial control, I might have sat them down and said, “So let’s start with all the stuff your parents do that you really like.” Because it’s not so pleasant to realize how much your kids notice. Like, how often we’re on our phones or how often we complain about someone else.

Because the impetus for the book was a fundraiser, it only seemed right that the royalties from the sale of the book would be donated. We discussed it, and the students were given three options: 1) the money would go to their school; 2) the money would be donated to the middle school that many of them will attend in sixth grade; or 3) the children would donate the money to another elementary school in Oakland Unified School District.

To make the decision, Ms. Diamond didn’t just ask for a show of hands; she made them write opinion pieces. What were the pros and cons of donating money to the neighborhood middle school? The kids had to address tough questions that accompany any gift. What would the school spend it on? What if the kids wanted the money to be spent on computers but it went to something more boring, like school supplies?

After a month of discussion, each child wrote an essay and read it to the class. A blind vote was taken. The winner? Another elementary school in Oakland. Stay tuned to figure out which school will receive the royalties generated by the book sales.

The book is available on Amazon and Create Space as well as Diesel Books and Pegasus Books.

OH, and here’s what some superstar grownups had to say about THE BOOK OF KID:

“A great reminder for parents of kids of all ages: Kids are taking notes every time we swear, check our phones compulsively, or say something negative about someone else. This book is an inspiration to be the best role models that we can be. Moreover, this advice from children to parents mirrors what research shows is best for them; sometimes kids really do know best!”
Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents 

“The Book of Kid is evidence that kids hear and see and know more than we sometimes give them credit for. This book is chocked full of sound advice from kids to parents, advice that will help us be our best selves and also the parents our kids need. Read this book and then go play, listen, hug and challenge your kids. They’re begging for it!”
Kate Hopper, founder of Motherhood & Words & author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers

“This little book has the potential to transform lives – if parents follow the sage advice in these pages, relationships can improve, children will thrive, and the benefits will radiate out into the world with positive repercussions for generations to come. I highly recommend this book for parents of young children everywhere.”
–Nina Lesowitz, co-author of the bestselling titles Living Life as a Thank YouWhat Would You Do if You Knew You Could Not Fail?; and The Grateful Life.

“If you don’t want to wait until your child grows up to find out how you could have been a better parent, read this book of heartfelt and surprising third grade wisdom. These children know better than many adults what is really important. Their beautifully illustrated jewel of a book has a prominent place in the waiting room of my child psychology practice.”
–Lucinda Cummings, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

“Listen to your children, Put down your phone, swear less, don’t bad mouth family–easily the best parenting advice I’ve ever read, and straight out of the mouths of funny, honest, wise kids.”
Ann Imig, founder of the national live storytelling series, video-sharing company, and acclaimed book LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER

Vacation Responder: Maternity Leave

Standard


Belly
Going to have a baby? Then you know how much planning needs to be done. You have to figure out the registry, get on the preschool waiting lists, and research 529 plans. The more work you can do before the stork comes, the better. Like this ready-made maternity leave email responder. Its tone has “frazzled new mom” written all over it. For bonus points, in place of the name of the person to contact in your absence, substitute the name of someone from two jobs ago to really give that authentic feel of a woman on the verge of being on the verge.*

Hi [NAME]:

I have just had a baby and will be on maternity leave for the next three months, partly because that’s all the maternity leave I have been given and partly because I have no idea what it means to have an infant that needs to be fed every two to four hours and I’m pretty sure that three months off is all the time anyone needs. In truth, I’m composing this email responder in anticipation of going into labor and having a baby because I hear that they can be pretty time-consuming but I have a hard time believing it. How much trouble can something be that only eats, sleeps, and poops? I don’t know. Really, all I know that a baby eats every few hours but I don’t realize yet that “every two to four hours” really means that if my baby is one of those babies that eats every two hours than I will spend forty-five minutes feeding said baby, twenty-five minutes putting said baby back to sleep, five minutes eating KIND bars, twenty minutes pumping so I can drink some wine tonight, fifteen minutes nodding off on the toilet and the remaining ten minutes on Facebook before it’s time to feed my baby again and if my little bundle of joy is the kind that eats every four hours I don’t realize that that doesn’t really mean four hours on the dot the way a parking meter expires. It’s more like four hours between breakfast and snack and two hours between snack and lunch and every fifty minutes during hours in which I am trying to sleep.

Look! I haven’t even had the baby yet and I am already writing in stream-of-consciousness run-on sentences!

So, if this email requires some attention before 2016, please email [THAT POOR PERSON WHO HAS AGREED TO TAKE ON YOUR WORK NOT REALIZING THAT YOU ARE NOT COMING BACK TO WORK].

Similarly, if you are placing a bet that I will not be coming back to work, please email [PARENT OF THREE WHO IS ROLLING EYES AT YOUR NAIVETE]

* this is not to imply that all new mothers are frazzled incoherent messes. I’m just speaking from my personal experience in which I was so tired that I opted for general anesthesia when my wisdom teeth  were removed just so I could get an extra nap. 

God–What’s There To Say?

Standard

firstcommunionA week from today my daughter will make her first communion. It’s a big deal. I know it’s a big deal. But I’ve only been Catholic for a year. I feel a little awkward attending classes with my daughter, trying to guide her through something that I myself don’t quite understand.

There’s so much I still don’t know. For example, am I supposed to genuflect every time I go into the pew at Mass or just the first time? Can I still use my rosary even though the cat ate one of the Our Father beads? I don’t know.

And for her—do we need to get a veil or something for next week? Or white gloves? We haven’t covered that yet.

I have no nostalgic anecdotes to share with my daughter. I don’t have that story that begins, “When I was your age” or “At my first communion” because our experiences are so different.

In my RCIA prep classes no topic was off the table. We talked openly about our feelings toward the church’s stance on marriage. We talked about the implications of having a Pope Benedict versus a Pope Francis and how it made us feel as parents to join a church that we felt still had to answer for the scandals brought to light in recent years.

I came to the church from a place that needed to take the doubt and cynicism that I had harbored for many years and reconcile it with the good feeling I had when I came to Mass. My daughter comes to church because we bring her there every Sunday.

So what I am going to tell my eight-year-old about what it’s like to be Catholic?

Two weeks ago we sat a table in the cafeteria across the parking lot, where we have the Faith Formation classes, filling out worksheets, sounding out words such as “chalice” and “Eucharist.” She was doing the little dance she does when she’s excited about something, wiggling a little from side to side. This was different from when we did homework together, something had shifted. We weren’t working in tandem anymore. A part of her mind was someplace else, a place I don’t have access to.

We were sitting in the green-tiled room that is so familiar to her. She had her first Easter egg hunt there at St. Augustine’s in that room. At Halloween, she paraded around the tables with her brothers. Last year during one of my RCIA classes, the family decorated Christmas cookies there, baked in the ovens in the cafeteria’s kitchen. This is her home. A place that keeps the figurines for the Nativity scene in the basement and has an organ in the balcony, and she knows this because we come to decorate the church several times a year. In November there’s an altarcito where we put out a picture of Grandpa. In October there’s Bless the Pets day when we bring the cat (to be forgiven for chewing on the rosary).

For her the church is very simple. The Pope is a nice man in a white hat. The God she knows is Social-Justice Jesus, who hugs lepers and reminds us to be nice to people. This is the community that she knows—this is the community she is going to join.

I watch my daughter. She’s glowing from the inside out, chewing on her lip. Her eyes are shining. And as she hums to herself and spells “communion” with three m’s, I realize that I don’t always have to be the one who teaches. She doesn’t always have to learn from me. That maybe this time I am learning from her and her idea of the church.

Y is for You

Standard

YThis is what kills me. “You” are “you plural.” And no one knows how that happened. You were a cell. You divided. And now you have two noses and four arms and twenty toes.

One of you wakes at the slightest touch. The other of you can fall off the bed and stay asleep.

One of you likes baseball. The other of you likes to figure out what markings make which word.

One of you was born at a pound and a half.

One of you has lots of pictures from when you plural were in the hospital because you’d always open your eyes.

One of you just got your first bee sting.

One of you wants Italy to win the World Cup.

One of you is speedy quick. Unless we’re talking about baseball reflexes.

One of you is rolly and slow. Unless we’re talking about baseball reflexes.

Both of you can tell time better than your sister. Who is three years older.

One of you could live on plain pasta.

One of you likes radishes, guacamole, and prefers Sevillano olives to Niçoise.

And yet, you share the same DNA.

Life at Our House

Standard

©DeluxePhotography2012This year I decided to do something different with our Christmas cards (in addition to actually mailing them).

You see, I just couldn’t send out a blank card with our family picture in good faith. It shows you what we look like, (sort of, it’s actually from Christmas 2012) but it doesn’t give you the faintest idea of what we’re like. See how quiet, still, and fully dressed we are? Yeah. That never happens. We cling to this one photo with the idea that we could be like the clean and quiet, fully-dressed people in the photo and you could put a card like this on your refrigerator and be fooled into thinking that we look like this, but really, this photo is a bold-faced lie. True, we do smile a lot, but we’re also a lot stickier, stinkier, and more naked than any Christmas card could (or should) convey.

So I thought I’d have our family answer the 10 questions that James Lipton asks his guests at the end of each episode of Inside the Actors Studio. If you’re a fan, you know that these questions were adapted from Bernard Pivot questionnaire. If you’re not a fan, you can either take my word for it or look it up on Wikipedia. Or you can decide you don’t care. Doesn’t matter. These 10 questions give you an idea what it’s like to be in the Kovac household in 2013 in a way that a family photo cannot.

Here goes.

1. What is your favorite word?
Michael: Yes!
Chiara: My favorite word is Oompa Loompa.
Wagner: (to Janine) Your favorite word is “Mama.”
Chiara: (to Wagner) Your favorite word is “L-o-o-o-v-e and kis-issssses.”
Michael: Can I have another bowl of cereal?
Janine: Let’s go on to the next question.

2. What is your least favorite word?
Chiara: My least favorite word is…that’s really hard. Hey, wait—what are you writing down? Why do you need our favorite words and our least favorite words?
Matt: Kumquat.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Chiara: What does that even mean?
Janine: It means, “what helps you be imaginative and what helps you think of God.”
Chiara: Um… my brain?
Wagner (pointing to the laptop): Are these letters of the alphabet? Is ‘W’ here? ‘W’ is a letter of the alphabet.

4. What turns you off? (Rephrased to: “What makes it hard to be creative?”)
Chiara: (in the doorway from under a blanket) People who are really loud and make it hard [for me] to think with my brain. (to brothers) Come here and be part of the dragon. Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year!
Boys: (chanting under blankets) Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year!
Chiara: Be careful! Don’t step on the kitty!

5. What is your favorite curse word? (Rephrased to “What do you say when you are mad?”)
Michael: Stinky Face!

6. What sound or noise do you love?
At this point Janine is following her children around with a laptop, yelling questions at them. She walks in on a game of “Let’s Pretend to Cook the Cat” in which Wagner is the cat and the guest bed is the oven. Janine decides that she loves the sound of laughing children.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?
The children are still playing their delightful game, but Janine is afraid it might quickly devolve into sounds she hates: children screaming. Mannheim Steamroller’s “Carol of the Bells” is a close second to screaming Kovac children.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”)
Michael: A fireman!
Chiara: A teacher who teaches ballet!
Wagner: I want to be a arch-ee-ol-oh-gist.
Michael: Yeah, I want to be that, too.

9. What profession would you not like to do?
Chiara: A sea diver! It seems dangerous.
Michael: A fireman!

10. What would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Chiara: Welcome, Chiara!
Michael: Welcome, Michael!
Wagner: You mean Jesus?
Janine: Yes, Jesus. What do you think Jesus will say when you go to Heaven?
Michael: Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! I made it out of clay!
Wagner: I don’t know what Jesus will say but I think it will be something not what I think Jesus will say.

That pretty much sums it up. Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy New Year! See you in 2014.

Empathy for the Mompetitor!

Standard

In the most ideal of worlds, I would be able to completely rise above the mompetitions and still feel sisterly toward their participants without any hint of derision or condescension. 

But let’s be honest. They still irk me. However, this post does help.

The competitor of all competitors, the “Mompetitor” is that mother who engages you through a series of questions about your child. And then she one-ups you with the stories of her child’s precocious development. If your baby said his first word at eleven months, hers spoke at nine months. If your daughter was potty-trained by twenty months, hers trained herself at fifteen. If your kid performed at Lincoln Center at age twelve, her kid played Carnegie Hall at age ten.

I’ve met Mompetitors at the park and at the grocery store, but I didn’t expect to meet one in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit during the twins’ hospital stay. However, rather than brag about how her baby was bigger, better, and stronger than mine, this Mompetitor made it a point to emphasize how her baby was sicker and weaker. How many days were we in the hospital? (Ninety.) Her baby was in the hospital longer. How many surgeries did my babies have? (One each.) Hers had more. How many infections? How many blood transfusions? And so on. As if her situation were more serious than mine and therefore warranted more attention.

I found the Mompetitor to be irritating and annoying. Worst of all, I couldn’t shake the notion that really my babies were sicker and weaker. All of a sudden I was sucked into the “mompetition” and the only way I knew how to handle the situation was to walk the other way when I saw her. I could label and validate my feelings of irritation and annoyance, but it didn’t make them go away. And labeling and validating the Mompetitor’s feelings of superiority just made me more irritated and annoyed.

So here’s what I did about it.

Gratitude

Standard

I’m a huge fan of gratitude. So much so that I edited an online gratitude journal for the Greater Good Science Center for the better part of two years. (The journal has now morphed into this cool research project.)

Here’s the original NICU gratitude post:

The nurses at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley knew who I was before I’d even stepped onto the floor. Not because my boys were born at just 25 weeks’ gestation and were the youngest in the NICU. Not because, at 1 pound 12 ounces and 1 pound 9 ounces, my twins were the smallest in the NICU. The nurses in the NICU knew me because of our Aunt Rita.

“Tell your Aunt Rita ‘thank you’ from us,” nurses said to me, over and over as they stopped me in the hall or came by the twins’ hospital room. “What a wonderful person!”

Aunt Rita remembers birthdays and sends thoughtful gifts for no particular reason. She and her husband host a family reunion every summer at their home in the Midwest. know that she’s wonderful and fabulous but I couldn’t figure out how these Berkeley nurses knew that, too.

For the first month of the twins’ lives, they were in such critical condition, that each boy had a nurse standing at his bed side around the clock. The nurses showed me how to take my sons’ temperature (which had to be done every four hours), change their diapers (which were smaller than an iPhone) and touch them without over-stimulating their tiny underdeveloped nervous systems (with one hand resting firmly on the top of the head and the other hand firmly on the soles of their feet—no pats, no strokes, no light brushes).

These were the kind of details I posted in our private blog for family and friends. The day the boys were born I’d recounted brief details of the birth. When Aunt Rita saw the post, she sent a huge edible bouquet to the staff at the NICU. There were stems made of carrot and celery sticks and flower blossoms carved out of pineapples.

“Thank you to the doctors and nurses who are taking care of my nephews,” the card read.

“That bouquet was eaten in about twenty minutes,” one of nurses told me. “Even the kale.”

The metaphors for gratitude belong to a family of “moral accounting” metaphors. We say

we have debt of gratitude or that we pay our thanks. We say, “I owe him a thank-you.” Appreciation is earned. (Incidentally, many of the same metaphors are used for forgiveness: “Iowe him an apology.”) Moral accounting metaphors are often subconsciously used in bribe and reward reasoning, and ideas about sacrifice, guilt, punishment, and judgment of others. Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons would have said that Rita’s thank-you was freely given (one of the kinds of gratitude that makes us feel the happiest, for both the “thanker” and those who are thanked).

Wait, there’s more! It’s all here.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Standard

The garden metaphor is one of my favorites. I don’t want to use it ad nauseam, but I kinda hafta, in the account that it’s so cool.

Reposted from Raising Happiness, which offers science-based parenting advice:

I was so sure we were going to beat the odds. Five months into our high-risk twin pregnancyand I was the picture of health. The twins were doing great. We’d found a doctors’ group that specialized in high-risk pregnancies and we were in good hands. Our increased effort to build our village meant lots of play dates with friends and mini-vacations to visit family. My husband and I even made time for regular date nights. This “positive thinking” thing was definitely paying off.

But then two weeks before the end of the second trimester and three days before Christmas, a routine ultrasound showed signs of premature labor. My doctor immediately admitted me to the hospital for mandatory bed rest and medication to help stop the contractions. One week later the contractions started again and the twins were born via emergency cesarean section. Matt held my hand during the surgery and then he followed the boys the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. Michael (Baby “A”) weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces at birth. His brother Wagner (Baby “B”) was born at 1 pound, 9 ounces. They were 12 inches long.

If I had looked at the goals I had set up for myself during this risky pregnancy (carry twins to 32 weeks, avoid extensive medical intervention, have fat, healthy babies), I had failed at all of them.

But then I used my fancy garden metaphor. Read the rest here.

Dumping on your friends? Or Building a Village?

Standard

If you’re following along at home with your own copy of Raising Happiness, this what I got out of Chapter 2 with a little help from conceptual metaphor analysis.

 

“I want to keep the news of our pregnancy to ourselves for a while,” my husband Matt said. “This is a private matter and it’s a scary situation. I don’t want to just dump it on people.”

I strongly disagreed with him. Given what the doctors had predicted, we were headed for rocky times—a month in the hospital for me and at least that much time in the hospital for our twins once they were born. This was not the time to keep news to ourselves.

People often talk about abstract concepts—patience, control, power, news—in terms of an object metaphor. We say, “I lost my patience.” “They grabbed control.” “He throws his power around.” Wekeep secrets and give news, as if it’s something tangible such as a ball just hand over to someone. (“Here, take this news. I don’t want it anymore.”) And negative events are often framed as having weight, as in: unbearable news or the burden of bad news. Heavy sorrow.

“Doctors tell us there’s a 50/50 chance that the twins won’t make it,” Matt reminded me. “I don’t want everyone to know that we’re expecting and then have to give them bad news. They’d all feel terrible for us and then I’d feel responsible for unloading on them.”

“We can’t do this all by ourselves,” I countered. “And I don’t want to hide our troubles from our friends and family.”

That’s the short story. Matt was wrong. I was right. Only I didn’t say to him that way. I said this way, in the rest of the blog post.

Putting On My Own Oxygen Mask First

Standard

This is Guest Post #1 of 10 from Christine Carter’s Raising Happiness blog. You can read the full post here. In fact, you’ll have to, since I’m only posting a teaser here on my blog.

In August 2009 I discovered that I was pregnant with twins—a rare, 1-in-25,000 kind of pregnancy in which the twins shared both a placenta and an amniotic sac. The protocol for this kind of pregnancy is to monitor the mother and babies twice a month. If the mother is still pregnant at 28 weeks, she is admitted into the hospital until the babies are born.

A normal pregnancy is 40 weeks, but for a monoamniotic/monochorionic pregnancy such as mine, the best-case scenario is that the babies are delivered around 32 weeks’ gestation—the point at which the risk of the twins dying from prematurity is less than the risk of dying from umbilical cord entanglement in the womb. Babies born eight weeks early may still need help to breathe and eat. Although many do quite well, they are still at risk for learning and behavioral problems later in their development.

You don’t have to be a cognitive scientist (as I am) to know that in the face of scary and uncertain circumstances humans often act irrationally. I knew I was asking for trouble by Googling search terms such as “mortality rates for preemies.” But I did it anyway. I learned about horrendous fetal birth defects that I never knew existed and found entire forums of scared mothers.

The truth of the matter was that I had stumbled upon tragic circumstances that were actually quite rare and none of them had anything to do with monoamniotic pregnancies. But the more I read about these worst-case scenarios, the more probable it seemed that they would happen to me.

Cognitive scientists call this the salient exemplar effect—a memorable or tragic event makes such a great impact we assume that it happens more frequently than it actually does. For example, (statistically speaking) terrorist attacks and plane crashes are quite rare when compared to other accidents or acts of violence. And the likelihood that a terrorist attack will cause a plane crash is even less likely. Yet the tragic events of 9/11 frightened many people into thinking that air travel was riskier than actually is.

Left hanging? Read the rest of the post here.