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.

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.


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 ( [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.)


"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.