Monday, November 16, 2009

Three months

and counting. Cannot believe I have left it this long. Granted I have been slightly busy, but that is no excuse. I will update this space with an entry about our middle child as soon as I do some "research" on middle children to figure out exactly what is happening with him. There is something to be said for having an even number of children. (But don't get any ideas Michaela.)

New post coming soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Will Never Yell at My Kids Again*

I have vowed on more than one occasion to not yell at my children. It usually follows some outburst that was instigated by my children's annoying habit of doing the opposite of what I think they should be doing at different times during the day. Then dad feels bad and says he shouldn't have done it and in all seriousness makes the vow again.

And, of course, the children then sense the weakness and immediately chime in with something like, "Yeah dad, you shouldn't yell at us. It is scary."

"Now wait a minute, the REASON I was YELLING in the first place...." and then I remember the minute-old promise.

Michaela and I decided from the start we would not spank and so neither of us hit the kids. (We may each have one mulligan.) That leaves using our organizational skills to plan out an orderly schedule in which everything has its place and time and the kids are clear about all the rules and are encouraged to follow them by a complex program of positive reinforcement.

HA!

We are getting there and I think we will ultimately get there, but in the meantime can I shout at them? I mean, it feels soooo good sometimes -- especially when I shout something so logical and obvious I think I may have finally had a breakthrough with one of them. But I know it is wrong. I don't know why, but every fiber of my body says I shouldn't shout at my children.

So I looked it up and found two pretty good articles. The first is from The Guardian and is titled Loud but not proud. It basically says that researchers at Harvard Medical School found that shouting at kids DAMAGES THEIR BRAINS! WTF? I can handle a little emotional trauma that sneaks out when they see their shrink during their mid-life crisis, but brain damage? That's not fair. My favorite quote from the article:
There's an American saying that shouting at your children to obey is like using the horn to steer your car - and it produces the same results.

Of course since it is an article written about parenting it is written for mothers and goes on to talk about maternal isolation or something, but that's a whole nother post.

I found another article that gives concrete steps to avoid shouting at your kids at Wedding Magazine (really?).

I was encouraged by one of the last headings, "But sometimes shouting can be good for them!" until the last sentence.
Shouting also helps children to express their feelings instead of bottling them up. But never shout at young children.

How old is young? One I hope because I don't yell at Amalia.

Anyway, here is to not yelling at our kids anymore. Please, comment and let me know your yelling stories and if you have managed to get by with minimal yelling please tell me how. If you have a lot to say on the subject you can make a post on my blog. I just have to figure out how to do it.

*I mean it this time!



Monday, July 27, 2009

Single Parenthood Part II

Well, it is getting harder. Working full time and taking care of the kids and dealing with all the other dramas daily life brings is starting to take its toll. I can definitely do it, but I find myself staring off in to space a bit more often. I need to get a better routine down for the kids. I hope to hell they eat fruit at the babysitters because I am having a hard time on that front.

TRYING TO BREAK ME DOWN
This morning was a particular downer. The kids were in a fine mood, though Amalia has become a tad more whiny than she was the first week (she is sick so I will let it slide). In fact, all three kids were on medicine last week. Anyway, this morning I was dreading all the things I had to try and do today while getting the kids fed and dressed. Elliot threw a tantrum over something or other, his brother didn't help things and Amalia was being one and throwing her food everywhere. But it was in the car where Isaac, age 5, took psychological warfare to the next level on his dad. He must have sensed blood.

Out of nowhere he says:

"Dad, how old was your daddy when he died?"

"Sixty-two."

"Why didn't he live to be 100? (I somehow let slip that most people live to 100 to stop Isaac from worrying about dying. What do you tell a five-year-old about dying? That wasn't in the manual. Not one of my finer parenting moves.)

"He got sick, sweetie."

"Did you cry when your daddy died?" (You little, bugger. Why are you doing this?)

"Yes, I cried when my daddy died." (Now avoiding eye contact by looking out my window.)

"How old were you when your daddy died?"

"Thirty-one."

"How about me?"

"You weren't born, yet, sweetie." (In fact, Michaela was about six months pregnant with Isaac (our first) when my dad passed away.)

Short pause, and then Isaac goes in for the kill.

"It's sad your dad didn't get to see me." (Easily the absolute biggest disappointment of my life thus far -- granted, I've had it pretty good.)

"Yeah, he would have liked you guys a lot."

"Maybe when I am older I can be a daddy."

"You would be an excellent daddy." (And I hope your kids do to you exactly what you do to me -- good and bad)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Single Parenthood

No Michaela hasn't left me, yet. She has gone to London for 10 weeks to study as part of a new business venture and I will be taking care of the three kids. I will post some of the experiences the kids and I share, and maybe someone can benefit from the mistakes of a sometimes-ignorant-but-hopefully-not-dangerously-so father.

Disclaimer: Two days before Michaela was set to leave, a friend from high school posted to facebook that her husband was about to deploy for another six months (presumably to Iraq or Afghanistan). If I sound like I feel sorry for myself in any of my posts, it is not my intent and I really don't. I am fully cognizant of the fact that a 10-week-tour to London in no way compares.

First off, the kids are Isaac 5, Elliot 3 and Amalia 14 months. Isaac can read some, swim, dress himself and as he proved to me this morning, get everyone's breakfast ready. This is in addition to his previously mentioned technical prowess with regards to DVD players and PSPs.

Elliot can read his name, dress himself (a little better than Isaac at times) and thinks he knows how to swim. In fact, he can swim, but only as far as he can get on one breath. He hasn't figured out how to get his head above the water to breathe. This is a huge problem at the pool because he will just jump in with no fear and I need to jump in to save him. Annoying.

Amalia can walk and climb and loves to jump in the swimming pool as well. She can say some words and can be pretty clear through grunting and pointing about what she wants. She also takes no crap from her brothers.


The Departure

We decided to drop Michaela off at the domestic airport and she would take the bus to the international airport -- the idea being that would give her some time to calm down before boarding the airplane. Fat chance.
The goodbye got off to an awkward start as I had parked in the bus lane and when the driver pulled in, he interrupted our emotional farewell by laying on his horn. Anyway, once back in the car, boys were crying and I had a headache -- a nightmare for me since I get about three headaches a year. We decided to head to the club for an ice cream. The ice cream turned into the boys playing Lego Star Wars on the club Wii and our first day was nearly in the books.

The First Night

I decided to let the boys sleep in my bed. Amalia had fallen asleep in the car (which started a nice run of kids falling asleep in the car at night) and I made the transfer to cot very professionally. It is not as easy at it sounds at our house. When I pull in to the driveway, I need to immediately start trying to mitigate the sound of our eight dogs barking and yelping like there is no tomorrow. Amalia missed out on the gene that lets the two older children sleep through the barking. A mixture of Tom Petty on the stereo and a quick exit from the vehicle and "shushing" of the dogs did the trick.

After I got the boys in bed (after brushing their teeth -- they had to remind me), I was feeling quite proud of myself. Then I looked into the bedroom and Isaac was crying but not making any sound. He had found a little baby toy that played "You are my Sunshine," and said the part -- "you'll never know dear, how much I love you" reminded him of his mommy. Of course, Michaela read my facebook post about this in the airport in Kuala Lumpur during her changeover just as she was calming down. Oh well.

Moving Forward

Amalia has been great so far. She literally does not cry unless she needs something or is pointing out something I have forgotten. The way I plan on managing the three of them moving on is to go slow and give us plenty of time to get places and do things. When we rush I tend to lose my patience as a father. Another thing I am going to try not to do is tell them they have to be better for me because Michaela is not here. I am well versed in the way of the guilt trip and am trying hard not to become a practitioner.

There will be posts coming more often. We had a cracking time at the zoo on Saturday where the kids got to play with a police officer's handgun. Great fun.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Techno Kids

When Michaela and I had our first son, I vowed I would never let him beat me at basketball. I know, of course, my aging and his maturing (maturing sounds way better than aging) will eventually cooperate to put the matter beyond my control, but I think a father should stay the alpha male for as long as possible. What I had never given any thought to, however, was my son surpassing me in the area of technology.

I am not an MIT graduate or anything, but I do fancy myself pretty technical when it comes to computers and computer-related gadgets. I have always said my generation will be the first senior citizens who play video games in the old-folks home. I can design basic web-pages
(www.taiwanpokertour.net) and get all my cameras, cell phones, psps, laptops, etc. up to date with all the latest software and whatnot. So, I never thought I would have to worry about having to work to stay ahead of my children in this field.

Then came Isaac.

I do not think my wife will mind (and if she does, she will have to comment below) that I think Isaac has already surpassed her to an extent when it comes to technology. He has been able to
use my digital camera (zooming, switching between video, camera and gallery, and [most importantly] not dropping it) since he was three years old. In fact, he used it on our last big trip to the states and the last picture on it was the one his mother took before she dropped and broke it.

The last time the family went to England was another eye-opener. Michaela flew with the three children by herself a few days earlier than I. We spoke every day on Skype and finally it was my turn to fly. As I was eating lunch at a restaurant before catching a taxi to the airport, my cell phone rang.

"Hello."

"Hi Dad. When are you coming here?" was the reply from Isaac, four years old at the time.

"I'm on my way there today. Let me talk to your mother." It was not unusual for Michaela to call on Skype and have the boys talk first.

"Mom! Dad's on the phone."

"Isaac, not now. I am busy." This I thought was a tad unusual. It was not like I had called her, she had called me. The least she could do was come to the phone.

"He wants to talk to you."

"Oh, Isaac."

Finally. "Hello?"

"Hi Michaela. Why did you call if you didn't want to talk?"

"Oh my God! I thought he was just joking."

It turns out Isaac had gone on to his grandfathers computer and called me on Skype with no one's help. This scares the crap out of me.

How are we as parents supposed to exert any kind of controls over what he reads or watches or gets into on the Internet? How far can we go and still be good parents and not stuffy, over-protective Footloose parents?

All these questions popped into my head a couple of weeks ago as Isaac was watching Scooby Doo on my PSP. I looked over and he had started Star Wars instead by accessing the main menu and the memory card.

"Isaac. I said no Star Wars. And how did you know how to change it? I never showed you that."
He said fine, he would change it back. And then a couple of seconds later he looked at me and literally said.

"Dad. Nothing can stop me."

Insert expletive here.

NOTE: It has been a long time between posts. I am going to try and be more on it, but kids, work, husbandry, and 'other' are taking their toll on the spare time.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Nice Party

Anyone contemplating throwing a child's birthday party and trying to choose between a house party or a restaurant party, I here and now declare my preference to be a restaurant party. No clean up. No dishes. Love it. It is a load off my shoulders to have there be no mess. I feel incredibly guilty watching Michaela clean up after a party.

As for the party, I think everyone had a good time. The rain held off long enough for all to enjoy the paddling pool and squirt guns. The food was decent and the Taiwan Beer is always good. The best part is there was enough space for the kids to play and run amok (needs to be a mountain restaurant not a normal restaurant) and the adults could talk and hang out. Getting taxis up the mountain in a timely manner was a bit of a problem and there was, unfortunately, one trip to the hospital.

Amalia had a good time though she was naked for most of the party. In fact, very few clothes were worn by the assembled children considering we were in a restaurant of sorts. Thankfully this trend did not extend to the adults in attendance.

I've attached a photo of Amalia with her and her brothers' babysitter, Yi Mama. They adore her. Also, there is a picture of the family with new haircuts (except the blonds) and a video.

The video is of Isaac playing with his friend Liam in Chinese. Liam's father is English and his mother is Taiwanese. It is not the bet illustration of kids speaking Chinese as they are talking about absolute nonsense, but it is a start. I am forever trying to get the elusive Brennand-boys-speaking-Chinese video. The hunt continues.





video

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Gathering Storm

I will update this blog at the end of the day. Today is Amalia's first birthday party and I am sure it will be representative of most of our Taiwan get-togethers.

On the foreigner side, as with any gathering, there will be quite a mix of people from several non-Taiwan countries. It is Michaela's job to get everyone to mingle. On the kid side, I have put Isaac in charge of making sure all his friends have fun. He has taken this to mean he must tell their daddies if they do something wrong.

On the Taiwanese side, we are having the party at a traditional restaurant on the mountain that grows its own food and animals -- though I hope the seafood is bused in. It is run by a very nice man who is great with the kids. My job is to shave and get a haircut and take some photos. We'll see if the weather holds.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where are my kids from?

This was meant to be part 2: Playing with Taiwan Kids, but I kind of went off in another direction.

Sometimes I feel like my children are nomads. Imagine a foreign family living in America legally for 13 years that have three children born and raised in America. The children speak fluent English and go to local schools, but no matter what they do they can never be American. More than that, imagine if everyone who saw them for the first time said something to the effect of, "Look mom, a foreigner!"

That is the situation we find ourselves in in Taiwan. I believe it is as good an illustration as any of how cultures can be fundamentally different, but assigning right and wrong values to either is, well, wrong. It is what it is.

All of my children were born here in Taipei at a local hospital. They rested in tiny cribs in the nursery next to all the other cute little infants who had just been born. The "otherness" started from the very first day. They were obviously different -- not just the color of their skin, but the fact they had their grandfather's hair -- none! Nurses and other infant's relatives would stop by our room to see the kids and speak with us.

Within the first two weeks of their lives, all of our kids were introduced to their baby sitter -- the Great Yi Mama. She has been their Chinese/Taiwanese mother and the boys owe their language to her. She has taught them Chinese and Taiwanese from the very beginning.

But they are not Taiwanese. No matter how you slice and dice it they just aren't. Should they be? I don't know. It saddens my wife sometimes, because in school the kids will matter-of-factly say the boys are foreigners and they will insist they are Taiwanese. I am fine with it, but if the same thing happened in America I would be mortified.

So where are my children from? I don't really know. They have spent more time in England than America, but they follow the Seahawks and Mariners. They have British passports, but that was just what was more convenient at the time. I will get them their American passports this year. They can recognize Barack Obama from a mile away, but that's because I followed the election so closely.

We are trying to strike a balance between instilling pride in America and England so they can be OK with not being Taiwanese without getting jingoistic about it. I would like them to find an attachment to something, but I don't think we can force it.

When they play here in Taiwan with local kids, they are different. Play times with new acquaintances usually start with a few shouts of, "Look a foreigner!" Then children will sometimes start to play with them after about 10 minutes -- usually with the boys chasing them. The boys are shy about speaking at first sometimes, but after about 20 minutes they are playing like nobody's business. In our neighborhood, the kids are pretty well-known so they don't need to go through this as much anymore. Everyone knows they speak Chinese so they play pretty naturally together.

While I sometimes contemplate these issues, and Michaela and I go back and forth, a funny thing has occurred to me -- our kids don't care.

They play with everybody, go to anybody and fear nobody. While I am sad they may never feel as patriotic as my wife or I about their home country (whichever it is) they have a chance at something few have. No matter how open-minded or liberal one is in his views about the world, few can really look at everyone, no matter where they are from, and not have some preconceived notions based on their own heritage lurking somewhere in the background. My hope is that a side-effect of this "national homelessness" will be this ability.

I've attached some photos to illustrate the point. These were taken in Malaysia this year when my wife took the three kids to visit her dad who works there.

NOTE: I should have included facts and things and maybe useful links to this post. I will try harder in the future to be more informative.















































Monday, May 11, 2009

Taiwanese and Children

The Taiwan people love kids. No one hesitates to stop and talk to the boys (and Amalia) and it is a feeling that is pervasive through all walks of life. Rich people, poor people, white collar, blue collar, young and old -- everyone loves kids.

Now I know people in America and other western countries love kids, too. What I am talking about is how openly this manifests itself in everyday life. It is not just western babies, but all kids. I am sure ours get some extra attention because of the novelty, but the sentiment is ubiquitous.

My favorite is when we go by construction sites and the builders will fawn all over the kids, or trips to the supermarket are another highlight. We can go shopping sometimes, and the nearest stranger will take our child(ren) around the store while we can shop in peace. In the third part of this riveting three-part series, I will talk about how this has affected the boys' attitudes toward strangers.

I have heard similar statements about Brazilian culture with regards to attitudes toward kids. In fact, we went to a Brazilian friend's house here in Taipei last year and saw first-hand how affectionate they are with kids. So what is it? What makes it more acceptable for these cultures to publically show affection for other people's children? It is most certainly a combination of factors including both the homogenistic nature of the people and the extended family homes. 

It is not uncommon for grandarents, parents, kids and sometimes even aunts, uncles and cousins to live under one roof. Moreover, some kids live with their parents into their thirties. This is one aspect of Taiwan we would definitely miss if we were to leave.

This is a picture of Elliot as a baby. We were at a bus depot in the south of the island when the man in charge decided he would take Elliot off our hands for us. I can't remember how long Elliot slept in his arms for, but I am pretty sure he was awake when the man took him from us.





Saturday, May 9, 2009

Song and dance man

Once again Isaac will be singing today with his classmates at another cutesy public performance. Elliot has been roped in this time which will mean certain destruction for the stage and any other props involved.

I have mixed feelings about the boys doing stuff like this, though they seem to thoroughly enjoy it. On the one hand we are pulling them away from lounging around the pool in the 90-degree weather, on the other hand they have been there for several hours and are probably showing signs of sun stroke.

I wonder if this fascination with kindergarten song and dance is a Taiwan phenomenon or if the states has the same attitudes? The performance today is a "McDonald's Party for Mother's Day." A bit better than the shopping mall grand opening of two or three weeks ago, but not much.

It will be another day of the boys being mobbed by their adoring fans. They are in for a huge shock if we ever move back to England or America and they must blend into the crowd. Here, no matter where we go, the boys -- and now Amalia -- are poked and prodded and picked up and carried around. The Taiwanese love babies and dote way too much on ours. We should start charging for pictures.

When we traveled back to the States a few years ago, I think Isaac was relieved but a bit miffed that he didn't get extra attention from everyone.

I will update this post with today's video a bit later, hopefully.

Also coming later will be a more in-depth post about the trials and tribulations of taking three foreign children out and about in Taipei.

It will be in three parts: 1. Taiwanese and Children; 2. Playing with Taiwan kids; and 3. (Our children's) Attitudes Toward Strangers.

In the meantime, here is the video from the last performance.



UPDATE: No new video coming. Isaac and Elliot both cried and said they wouldn't go on stage. So much for "thoroughly enjoying" it.




Friday, May 8, 2009

The World's Most Dangerous Book

It reduces the toughest women to tears. 

No matter how aware one approaches a reading of the book it is guaranteed to cause convulsions of despair. I can proudly say I have never cried reading the book myself, but only because I refuse to read the whole book at one time. I also find reading parts of the book with a cartoon voice helps.

The book is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. It tells the tale of a mother who sings every night to her son;

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my baby you'll be


Anyway, the boy grows and his mom keeps sneaking in to sing him the song and hold her baby in her arms. Long story short, boy gets big -- mom gets old. She gets sick and son visits her and she ... she can't finish the song. (Hold on a second, there's something in my eye. I think it is a centipede or a flea.)

Son then holds mother and sings:

I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living
my mommy you'll be


He goes home, stands at the top of the stairs for awhile and then heads into his baby daughter's room and sings her the song.

The mom is obviously dead. Who the hell writes a story like that? As if being a parent isn't emotional and trying enough, someone has to add that into the mix. (I believe Auntie April bought that for us!)

Anyway, in the course of writing this I did extensive research on the author (wikipedia) with the hopes of saying something witty like, "he didn't even have children," but it is even worse. The real story is even more depressing than the book.

Munsch's wife delivered two stillborn children in 1979 and 1980 and Love You Forever was written in the aftermath. Additionally, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and manic depression (http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/publications/factsheets/bipolar) [reference is from Wikipedia] He and his wife eventually adopted three children so the story has a happy ending. Munsch's background and the circumstances surrounding the book explain the emotion it can stir in parents. I honestly knew none of that 108 words ago.

In the end I actually think the book is great. The best children's books, ultimately, are the same as the best "adult" books (that sounds bad). They elicit real emotion reflexively. 

Watch my mom and wife struggle through this book with the kids in the video below. My poor mom had never read the book before. She didn't know what was coming!









Thursday, May 7, 2009

Well said

I take Isaac out of school three days a week so he doesn't have to take a nap, and we walk around or he comes to my office and gets in trouble. Today we were enjoying the 90-degree weather and walking around doing errands, and I was singing -- making up songs about what we were doing.

"Dad, stop singing. You're driving me crazy."

"You know, Isaac," I replied. "One day you'll miss me singing." (God, I sound like my mother -- in a good way.)

"What?"

"I said, one day I may not feel like singing anymore. Maybe I will be too old, or unhappy, or who 
knows. You'll miss days like this when I walked around singing."

He thinks about it really hard and says, 
"OK. Sing, dad."

He walked around the other side of a tree and didn't see me sipping my ice coffee.

"Dad! Why aren't you singing?"




Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Top five father responsibilities

Fathers have loads of issues with which they must deal everyday. We need to make sure we don't neglect our five most important jobs.

1. Do not let your child get seriously injured through an act of father stupidity.

My biggest fear before having children was that my child would be hurt because of some silly thing I had done. Lord knows I have suffered many avoidable injuries in my time, but at least none were the fault of my parents. (At least none I remember anyway.) I have very nearly violated this rule several times, but aside from one broken wrist (which was entirely Isaac's fault) we have managed pretty well. He did suffer a needless injury once that was not his fault, but I was not present, so I can live with that. A mercury-filled thermometer broke in his mouth when he was a few days old. That was a fun phone call. We were very nervous with the first.

2. Answer every question.

The first couple of years after kids start talking, the questions can get a bit much, but I am glad I hung in there. After answering every question as honestly as possible for the first couple of years (to a fault), we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. Sure, Isaac doesn't believe in unicorns, but at least he knows arachnids only have two body parts. (An easy lesson in a house with as many spiders as ours).

3. Build stuff with sons and daughters.

This is hard for me because I am mechanically-challenged, but kids should see at least one parent doing repairs around the house. I have even noticed the boys copying my frustration levels when they pretend to fix stuff. I like overhearing them say things like, "This stupid bolt won't turn -- ah!" and then turn to a different plastic Bob the Builder tool. I may as well use Bob the Builder tools because unless something is unplugged, I will likely not be able to help resolve the problem.

4. Foster a positive relationship between son and mother (protect him from nagging).

I think all good blogs are controversial to a degree, so I thought I would start on just my second post. I know from only my own personal experience that moms and wives can, on occasion and usually with good reason, be a little critical of the men in their lives.
They nag. God, they nag.
And it makes it even worse for me when I know they are right. Nevertheless, dads must protect their boys. If you can do it by making sure your son does not err too much, then great. I find setting part of the house on fire as a distraction when Michaela starts in on Isaac for not finishing his breakfast by 7:00 a.m. works best.

Side note: My mom used to wake me up at 6:00 in the morning when I would come back from college and nag me about not doing the dishes and THEN she would call me at college early in the morning to nag about stuff. (Not that I have any suppressed emotional damage from it or anything!)


5. Have a beer, relax and make sure your kids listen to good music.

If you do not drink, I certainly do not recommend you start. A beer now and then, though, I find is well more-deserved than it used to be in college. Along the same lines (leisure time) make sure your kids develop good taste in music. I don't believe in making them worship what you want them to, but God I hate the Wiggles! I am proud that Isaac's first favorite artist was the Black Crowes. From the time he was two he would begin asking for them as soon as we got in the car. Elliot is a HUGE Queen fan. He can sit for an hour watching live Freddy Mercury performances.








Welcome to Taipei Dad

This is my first attempt at blogging. I decided to start a blog because I have an extra ten minutes a day when I have nothing else to do, so why not fill that time? I will post family pics and the like, of course, and will accept and disseminate any and all fathering advice for discussion. 

I live in Taipei with my British wife and three half-American, half-British children. I split my time between my family, my business, my new business and my wife's new business and now blogging. I am pretty sure at least one person will read this blog because I read his blog so he must return the favor. Hopefully all dads will one day read the blog (once content has been added, of course) -- especially those who are raising kids overseas.