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This blog dates back to the spring of 2013 when a new chapter of my life had just begun. My husband and I embarked on an adventure travelling across the continent from our home in Toronto to San Francisco with a newborn in tow. My partner’s work hours were long. I found myself alone, without family and friends nearby during what was the most transformative phase of my life. This blog gave me a space to share the challenges and triumphs of motherhood, connect with those near and far, and, for the first time ever, it also gave me an opportunity to explore a creative side of myself. 

I don’t write as often as I did when I was a stay-at-home mom. The responsibilities of two young children, full-time work, a rigorous Master’s program, and running a household have taken priority. But, the truth is, I miss it. I miss thinking out loud without actually speaking. I miss simply letting the words flow effortlessly and quietly.  

So, here I am. Back at it. 

The blog is no longer entitled “Adventures of a New Mom,” though. This is in part because I don’t think I’m a new mom any longer (though, just as confused as one) and partly because I’d like to write about more than motherhood here. 

Why “Write Brain”? 

According to conventional wisdom, people tend to have a personality or thinking style that is either “right-brained” or “left-brained. “Left-brainers” are the analytical type. They are quantitative and ruled by logic. Conversely, “right-brainers” are creative free thinkers, who are qualitative and intuitive. 

But, the science around this is a bit fuzzy. Sure, some brain functions reside more on one side of the brain. For example, in some case studies, we have seen that damage to the front part of the brain is linked with motivation and planning, while the back of the brain is associated with visual processing. However, there is little evidence that illustrates creativity or logic reasoning residing in one side of the brain in the same way. 

A large scale study from the University of Utah took a look at brain scans of 1000 participants between the ages of 7 and 29 and no evidence of “sidedness” was found. That is, the brain scans demonstrated that activity is similar on both sides of the brain regardless of one’s personality. The authors concluded that being “left-brained” or “right-brained” were more a figure of speech than a reference to describing brain function.

I find this particularly interesting as I’ve always thought of myself as a numbers person. I’m not sure if this identity is one that I have adopted on my own or was given to me by teachers or parents. I dropped music and arts courses (although I enjoyed them tremendously) by the time I was in Grade 9 in order to pursue courses in math and science and eventually a degree in neuroscience. As the years went on, my supposed left-brain self slowly diverged from a right-brain that never really was. Even in adulthood, I made no time in my life to create any form of art and was quite content with merely being a consumer of art. 

It wasn’t until the spring of 2013, when I found myself in a different world — physically, emotionally, and mentally, that I began to create. Everything from mundane musings in the form of a blog post to attempts at poetry and art brought me joy. Real, inexplicable, sense-of-accomplishment joy. I was breaking out of that self-imposed, left-brain mould and it felt wonderful. 

In science, we often speak about how matter and energy in the universe are never created nor destroyed. In some ways, creativity bends those rules. Art creates something from nothing at all. A blank page can turn into a stunning piece of visual art, a moving musical composition, or a captive piece of writing — all of which have the incredible ability to transcend time and space to capture another human heart. This is truly remarkable.

Write Brain is a reminder that it makes no difference whether you consider yourself “right-brained” or “left-brained.” We can all create in some way. For those who find a paintbrush or piano intimidating, I urge you to consider a pen. Write to find your voice and discover your passions. Write to share your knowledge and vent your frustrations. Write to channel your creativity.

Write to create something from nothing. 

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Engineering Teaches Children that Failure is a Part of Learning

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Across the country, educators are striving to embed STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education into their middle and high school programming. Everything from robotics, coding, and engineering design are finally beginning to emerge as a critical component of the 21st-century classroom. The rationale for doing so is sound: the demand for STEM-related jobs continues to grow and employers place a high value on STEM skills.

Science, technology, and mathematics have been a part of the curriculum at both the elementary and secondary level for decades; however, it is only recently that we are beginning to see a spotlight on the “E” of STEM. Largely through robotics and coding, we have begun exposing students to the engineering design process at the middle and high school level.

But, what if we didn’t wait so long to teach our students about engineering? What if we taught engineering very early on — as early as kindergarten?

 

STEM education gives our students an opportunity to develop 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity.

Children are innately fascinated with building. Walk into any kindergarten class and you will undoubtedly observe little explorers taking things apart, tinkering, constructing, and creating. As an educator, this is an exciting process to observe. However, most parents and educators rarely refer to this child’s play as engineering.

But, we really should.

 

The benefits of explicitly teaching engineering in kindergarten classes go beyond the countless math and science curriculum connections. STEM education gives our students an opportunity to develop 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and creativity. However, as a parent and educator, I would argue that the most valuable benefit of teaching engineering is that it changes the way children think about the world and the way they think about themselves.

 

Stanford psychologist, Dr. Carol Dweck, has spent decades researching the way in which people perceive their own abilities. She is responsible for coining the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” that have become ubiquitous in psychology and education. A fixed mindset refers to the notion that one’s intelligence, character, and creative ability are unchangeable, whereas a growth mindset is the contrary. An individual with a growth mindset persists in the face of setbacks, sees effort and hard work as a path to mastery, and embraces challenges.

The engineering process removes the stigma from failure because failure is seen as a natural step in the learning process. A pivotal part of the engineering design process is testing. A nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat moment of truth: Will your bridge hold the weight of the load? Will the robot go through the maze? Will the straw house withstand the wolf’s huffing and puffing?

Nope.

The bridge collapsed.

The robot is stuck in a corner.

The house has toppled over.

…Now what?

A child familiar with the engineering design process knows this not a moment of failure at all; rather, it is a critical part of the testing phase. Because of the lack of success in the testing phase, we are able to evaluate, make improvements where needed, and redesign. We critically assess problem areas in our initial design, we research, we problem solve, we collaborate and then we iterate.

We test again. And, again. And, again.

And, finally, when the bridge holds the load, the robot completes the maze, and the house withstands the applied force, we learn. We learn crucial lessons in structural stability, programming, and material strength. We learn problem-solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. Most importantly, we learn the path to success is paved with failures. This firsthand experience is an extremely powerful one for a young, impressionable mind.EDPHub_Graphic

By introducing the engineering design process in the early years, our youngest students begin their academic careers understanding and internalizing that failure is a natural step in the learning process. These experiences will undoubtedly shape the way they view the world and the way in which they view themselves. Regardless of the path they choose to pursue in adulthood, we will be arming future generations with a resilient mindset that will stay with them long after they leave our classrooms.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post here

The Giving Tree

Yesterday, I read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to my three year-old. I have read this picture book many, many times before — in my own childhood and to my children over the last decade. It’s a very simple story, but I seem to discover a new meaning to the story in every stage of my life.

If you’ve never read the book before, here’s a read aloud:

I remember the first time I read it as a new mother. Months of sleepless nights, feedings every two hours, diaper change after diaper change, inconsolable crying — it was clear the tree’s unconditional love for the boy was a symbol of a mother’s selfless love for her child. She gives her whole self to the boy, piece by piece, expecting nothing in return.

Then, when I had my second child, the story hit a little different. No matter how much the tree gave to the boy, the tree always had more to give. I saw this to be true in motherhood and in other relationships: even when we think we cannot possibly give any more, there is always more to give. Somehow, we are able to summon the strength, the will, and the energy when our children need us.

The boy only came to the tree when he needed something, yet the tree was still overjoyed to see the boy each time. She tells the boy to cut off her branches so he can make a house for himself. She tells the boy to cut down her trunk so he can make a boat for himself. Piece by piece, she gives every part of herself to the boy so that he can be happy.

My most recent reading left me with yet another lesson. This time I did not see the story from the perspective of a mother. I saw it from the eyes of an adult child with aging parents.

I am the boy in the story. I am the child whose parents have given their whole selves just to ensure that their children are happy. I am the child whose parents gave selflessly and endlessly. And, yet, no matter how many days go by without a phone call, they are still overjoyed to hear from me. They are not tall and strong like I remember they once were. They, too, have been giving pieces of themselves to their children for decades, and a lifetime of this selfless love has left them a little weaker and a little more fragile. Yet, despite their aging selves, they are still eager to give more.

But, I don’t want to be like the boy in the story. The boy took too long to realize that happiness was not in material things like money, a house, or a boat. He had already stripped the tree of its branches and trunk, leaving it a mere stump, before he realized that he didn’t need much in life: “just a quiet place to sit and rest.” Despite everything the tree gave him, he never once thought of the tree’s happiness.

At the end of the story, the tree says,

“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy
.

As I read these last few lines, I am reminded that our parents will always want to give. Their joy lies in the happiness of their children, as it always has. However, as adult children, we needn’t always take. There comes a point where we assume the role of the caregiver and we need to give. We need to help care for their branches so they can enjoy the laughter of their grandchildren in arms. We need to help care for their trunk so they can continue to stand tall. We need to think of their happiness, too.

We shouldn’t wait until our aging parents squint a little because their eyes aren’t what they used to be or limp a little because of bad knees before we begin to start thinking of their needs. We need to start thinking of their happiness much before that. Just like the tree, they are wise enough to know gifts and material things do not bring happiness. However, there is one thing that brings them immense joy.

We need to do what the boy in the story finally does.

We need to sit with them. We need to spend time with them. After a lifetime of basking in the warmth of unconditional love, it really is the least we can do.

Ahmed’s Clock and Teacher Education

When 9th grader Ahmed Mohammed showed off his technical prowess to his teacher, his homemade digital clock didn’t quite receive the response he expected. “She was like, it looks like a bomb,” Ahmed told the Morning News. By mid-afternoon, Ahmed was being led by police officers to juvenile detention on suspicion of making a “hoax bomb” and was later released when their suspicions were confirmed false.

“You must be appalled,” a colleague of mine commented over a cup of coffee this morning.

She knows me well. I am terrified as a mother. I am terrified to think that my son, who shares Ahmed’s soft brown skin tone and a name that is likely to be labelled as “ethnic” by his peers, could possibly be escorted to a juvenile detention center for no reason other than the color of his skin. I am terrified at the thought that my son’s ingenuity, innovative efforts, and creativity would be met with blatant racism. However, this in itself is not reason for my appalment. To some extent, sadly, this is a reality I have come to expect.

I am, however, appalled as a science educator. Ahmed’s clock speaks volumes about the state of our current teacher education and training practices, as well as attitudes towards science and technology. Would it be acceptable for a middle school science teacher to mistake a brilliant book review for a threatening letter? Most definitely not. Our educators are expected to be armed with the basic reading comprehension skills to differentiate the two.

Why, then, is it acceptable for a professional educator to mistake a clock for a bomb? Our STEM education initiatives are targeting students, but have overlooked the critical implications of excluding teachers from this education. What implicit message is being sent to the younger generation about the value and importance of STEM literacy when their teachers lack this basic knowledge?

Ahmed’s clock has brought to light important issues that are worth discussing with our children and our policy makers. The hope is that young Ahmed’s unfortunate experience with his teachers and law enforcers will not deter him from the exciting world of science and technology. At least, he has the President and Zuckerburg on his side. As a result of the blunder, Ahmed and his clock may be visiting the White House and Facebook HQ.

Potus

Zuckerberg

Why the World Needs to See India’s Daughter

If the words “India’s Daughter” haven’t caught your attention yet, chances are you may never catch a glimpse of the documentary that sparked the controversy. Recently, the BBC launched a severe, global ban on the documentary about the 2012 Delhi gang rape in response to the Indian government’s request to remove all copies of the footage viewable worldwide. The documentary, directed by Leslee Udwin, who according to some reports is a rape survivor herself, has been criticized for being irresponsible and insensitive.

Having managed to watch it before it was pulled, I can concede that it was neither irresponsible nor insensitive. It was, however, vivid and powerful. The images and words linger and echo long after the documentary is complete.

The interview scenes with convicted rapist Mukesh Singh are the most shocking. As he awaits his death sentence, his expressions remain hauntingly stoic. There is no regret, not an ounce of remorse, in his words. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” Singh says in the interview. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night… Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.”

His words are shocking, yes; but is this the first example of victim-blaming we have heard? Absolutely not.  …read the rest of this article here.

In Thirty-Five Years

Last week, my in-laws celebrated their 35th anniversary. I was in search of a greeting card that adequately reflected their journey, but I wasn’t able to find one. So I wrote one. 

In 35 years…

You fought wars. Sometimes against one another; but, the most valuable battles were fought hand-in-hand, while you faced life’s challenges, endured sorrow, and overcame obstacles. You found strength in two hearts, when one was not strong enough.

You found friendship. You spoke words of encouragement in moments of darkness. You offered solace to thoughts of worry and angst. You gave meaning to the words commitment, companionship, and unconditional love.

You gave life. You cuddled tiny bodies, held tiny hands, and tickled tiny toes. You heard first words, took delight in little laughter, and witnessed first steps. You strove to make yourselves the best people you could be to teach your children good values. You watched them grow into hardworking, intelligent, and loving men.

You learnt to love. You learnt that real love doesn’t sing songs. Real love has little to do with romance, and more to do with compromises, sacrifices, and acceptance. It is unconditional and unwavering. It strengthens and grows with time. Real love puts others above the self and rejoices in simple truths.

You built a life. For 12 785 days, regardless of the conditions life presented, you worked tirelessly to make sure your family ate warm, home-cooked meals. You made them feel safe, loved, and special. You took on the burden of making the right decisions for your family, no matter how difficult it may have been. You created a home that was full of love.

In 35 years, you have created something exceptional. A marriage is more than the sum of all that you’ve accomplished. The days can be counted, but the memories cannot. Your marriage is about the lives you have touched, the values you have imparted, the lessons you have learnt, the examples you have set, and the respect you have earned. For that, you should be proud.

Love

Dear Toy Industry, What About the Boys?

It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that the invisible line running down the middle of toy stores dividing the boys toys from girl toys really irked me. Fortunately, this last year has been the year of change in the toy industry. Sparked by a seven-year-old Charlotte’s letter to lego that went viral, the topic of gender stereotyping on toy shelves and the industry at large has been brought to the limelight. Most recently, seven-year-old Maggie was pictured pouting and unimpressed with a toy alarm clock’s label: ‘fun Christmas gifts for boys’.

Photo credit: Marie Claire Nov 2014

The toy industry seems to be listening. Let Toys Be Toys, a parent-led campaign that grew out of parents’ frustration with the gender-based marketing of toys and books, is working with Toys R Us to revamp their marketing. As a result, new Toys R Us locations in UK do not have any explicitly gendered signs and are stocking toys according to type rather than gender. That means Lego Friends is finally placed with the other Legos, and is no longer being placed with the dolls. In addition, companies like GoldieBlox, Roominate, and littleBits are reminding the veterans in the business that building sets aren’t just for boys. The gender stereotyping that we see in the aisles of the toy store today is one that has developed relatively recently, over the last four decades.

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There has been a great deal of focus on encouraging young girls to explore the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subject areas; so much so, that building, coding, and activities that the previous generation deemed as boys-only is now the “cool” thing to do for girls. I, for one, couldn’t be more ecstatic. Growing up with two brothers, I often enjoyed their “boy toys” more than my glittery, pink counterparts. I wish I hadn’t felt as if I was on the wrong side of the fence whenever I chose to build with my brother’s K’nex set instead of combing my Barbie’s hair.  I often wonder if the gender stereotyping played a role when I decided to drop computer science in grade 12, despite having the highest grade in the class. Even scarier is the idea that these stereotypes have gone on to shape my career choices.

The toy industry is slowly understanding that this generation of young females won’t be pigeon-holed to limiting their toy choices to Easy Bake ovens and Barbies. As this generation outgrows their toys and begins making course selections and career choices, the hope is that we will see the gender gap close in STEM occupations. However, in all of this, I have to ask, what about the boys?

Read the rest of this article on Masalamommas. 

‘Are You Going to Give Him a White Name?’

I am ecstatic to have my writing in the New York Times today: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/are-you-going-to-give-him-a-white-name/

Feel free to leave comments in the comments section of the post. Did you end up giving your child an ‘ethnic’ name, or did you go for something more ‘western’? Was it a non-issue for you? Do you think parents’ personal experiences play a role in the matter?

You Are My I Love You

I am your parent you are my child
I am your quiet place, you are my wild
I am your calm face, you are my giggle
I am your wait, you are my wiggle
I am your audience, you are my clown
I am your London Bridge, you are my falling down
I am your Carrot Sticks, you are my licorice
I am your dandelion, you are my first wish
I am your water wings, you are my deep
I am your open arms, you are my running leap
I am your way home, you are my new path
I am your dry towel, you are my wet bath
I am your dinner you are my chocolate cake
I am your bedtime, you are my wide awake
I am your finish line, you are my race
I am your praying hands, you are my saving grace
I am your favourite book, you are my new lines
I am your nightlight, you are my sunshine
I am your lullaby, you are my peek-a-boo
I am your kiss goodnight, you are my I love you

This beautiful poem was written by Maryann K Cusimano, and can be purchased in picture book format here.

That Boy, This Mama

That little boy,

The one with bright eyes,

Wide and filled with wonder,

Watches ever so closely.

 

When he sees her

Mind her manners and

Speak with love,

He does the same.

 

When he sees her

Confidently swap her apron

For a tool belt,

He does the same.

 

When he sees her

Voice strong opinions and

Stand up for what she believes in,

He does the same.

 

When he sees her

Chase her dreams

Relentlessly,

He does the same.

 

When he sees her

Treat all of God’s creatures

With love and respect,

He does the same.

 

This young mother,

The one with tired eyes,

Kind and filled with love,

Watches him ever so closely.

 

When she sees him,

Gleefully singing off-key and

Dancing about freely,

She does the same.

 

When she sees him

Be honest and

Say what’s on his mind,

She does the same.

 

When she sees him

Turn strangers into friends

With a heartfelt smile,

She does the same.

 

When she sees him

Take on challenges

Without fear of failure,

She does the same.

 

When she sees him

Love wholeheartedly

Holding nothing back,

She does the same.

 

That boy, this mama

A generation apart

Walking, teaching, learning.

His little hand in hers.


Happy motherhood Photo credit: MyTudut / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA