DIY: Monogrammed Gift Bags

Kids’ birthdays are so special; not only for the birthday child, but for everyone attending. In a recent attempt to wrap four birthday gifts for four different children, I found myself in the aisles of Target trying to find four unique gift bags. No luck. So, I thought I’d try my hand at a quick and simple DIY project: custom gift bags for the birthday kids. Here is what the finished product looked like:

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What I used:
– solid color gift bag – I used red
– assorted colors of construction paper, contrasting to the color of your bag
– tinsel
– glue gun
– pencil
– scissors

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Instructions:

1. On your construction paper, sketch the first letter of the recipients name. You can use a stencil, but I think freehand block or bubble letters add more character.

2. Go over the lines with hot glue, a few inches at a time, and then follow over the hot glue with the tinsel.

3. Cut out the letter slightly outside the perimeter of the tinsel.

4. Centre and glue the letter on the gift bag.

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And, voilà! A custom monogrammed gift bag that will be unique and special for the birthday child!

Caution: Toddlers love arts and crafts. You can involve your children by asking them to help you draw the letters on to the construction paper, decorate the letters, and using a glue stick to glue it on the gift bag. Use of the hot glue gun and scissors should always be done by an adult. 

Eight Ways My Kid has Made Me a Better Person

1. I am less finicky about cleanliness. Everything is everywhere – often times minutes after I’ve cleaned. Why do I even bother tidying the house when I know those deadly sharp wooden blocks will end up under my feet anyway?

2. Nothing surprises me. Yesterday I found a sock in the cutlery drawer. This morning I found a diaper on my face. Luckily, it was clean. The sock, not the diaper. 

3. I am able to focus better. I can ignore extraneous sounds, such as high-pitched shrieks, that might deter one from the task at hand. My child enjoys grabbing my pant legs and pulling them down as I prepare dinner. Doesn’t phase me.

4. I am more patient. Some days, it takes 45 minutes to get my child to put on his shoes to take out the garbage. A task that would literally take me 45 seconds to do on my own. But, really, I’m home all day anyway, so it’s not like I have much else to do.

5. I am less wasteful. The 5-second rule has turned into the 5-day rule. This applies mainly to Cheerios.

6. I am more religious. I find myself saying OH MY GOD! at least a dozen times per day. This is a 12-fold increase from my pre-baby days.

7. I am able to prioritize better. He’s down for a nap! What shall I do? Eat lunch. Shower. Bathroom. Make dinner. Fold Laundry. Unload dishwasher. Load dishwasher. Clean the apartment. Sleep.

Sleep, it is.

8. I have a greater appreciation for the small things.

  • speaking a complete sentence without interrupting myself to stop my toddler from endangering himself
  • watching television, specifically HBO
  • listening to normal grown-up music
  • eating meals with cutlery
  • drinking coffee while it’s hot and from a normal mug instead of a plastic travel mug
  • using the bathroom with the door shut
  • taking long showers
  • making a phone call
  • using my iphone, ipad, or laptop without fear that it will turn into a very expensive chew toy
    And, perhaps most importantly,
  • my own mother – who raised three children with no nannies, grannies, cleaning ladies, or any other help. Hats off to you, mom. 

Mom Goggles

There is a strange, North American phenomenon that has recently been brought to my attention. Mothers have an inflated and unrealistic view of their children; moms think their kids are the smartest, cutest, and most amazing little creatures to ever set foot on this earth. These mothers are wearing what I call ‘mom goggles’.

These rose-colored glasses cease to exist on the other side of the world.

In Eastern cultures, the glasses are smudged, chipped, and a bit fogged up. In some cultures, parents are not easily impressed by their child’s success. Rather, every “A” is a “why not A+?” And so, I was raised without someone to sing my praises. Am I completely and utterly psychologically destroyed and void of any self-confidence? Absolutely not. In fact, my husband will tell you that I’m a bit of a know-it-all, with enough cockiness to spare.

I often look back and thank my parents for their efforts to keep my head out of the clouds and my feet planted firmly on planet earth. It helped me become a hard-working person; every achievement and accomplishment was not seen as the end, rather it was seen as a stepping stone for even more success.

And, yet, I knew my parents were proud of me. I didn’t have a smother to shower me with compliments, but the tears rolling down her face and the heartfelt embrace I was congratulated with on my graduation day spoke volumes more than a million gold stars would have.

So, as I raise my son, with a South Asian background in North America, I am conflicted. Do I shower him with great jobs to build his self confidence and provide positive reinforcement? Or, do I hold back, hoping to scaffold his learning by encouraging him to continue to strive to achieve success?

Moderation is key. A little bit from column A and a little bit from column B. That’s what my gut says. What do you think?

If you are interested in reading more about the effects of ‘over-praising’, you can read articles by Alfie Kohn and Lauren Lowry

Fourth Trimester Bodies Project

Words cannot describe how awesome I think this is. But, I’ll give it a shot anyway.

The 4th Trimester Bodies Project gallery brought a smile to my face. It is filled with images of pure, boundless, and complete love. I see a child’s joy-filled laughter. I see connection of souls. I see pride, vulnerability, and a sense of purpose. I see a mother’s beautiful heart.

And so many beautiful bodies.

A woman’s ‘fourth-trimester’, postpartum body certainly doesn’t align with society’s notions of beauty. I am ashamed to say that less than two years ago, I would have referred to the bumps and bulges, the stretch marks, and sagging skin as unsightly. Now, 14 months of motherhood has left me seeing clearly. I can see that every bulge, bump, and mark tells a tale of a woman’s selflessness. In an extremely superficial and egotistical world, acts of selflessness are extremely rare, and, therefore, extremely noteworthy.

It makes me so happy that Ashlee Wells Jackson has taken on this project. It means our children are growing up in a world where a woman’s body is not just an object of sexual desire. Rather, a woman’s body is telling of her life story: unique, remarkable, extraordinary.

The future looks promising.

Mommy in the Mirror

The evening sun dips down, lighting the sky to a beautiful shade of scarlet and making the water shimmer alongside The Embarcadero. We are out for another stroll enjoying the stunning view along the port side. Mommies with strollers, joggers, and pet parents with their dogs are a common sight in the evening. In the distance, I see a woman – distraught and overwhelmed. Her baby’s screams are audible, her desperate pleas are not. Her face is unfamiliar to me, but the scene is all too familiar. It’s as if I’m looking in the mirror, only a few short months ago.

Her baby finally begins to settle as we pass her. I look her in the eye and smile politely. It gets better. I promise. 

I heard these words from a stranger when I was the distraught, overwhelmed mother bouncing a 5-month old on the street. And, for me, it made all the difference.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people walk this path each evening. Many will stop and acknowledge the beautiful bundle of joy in the stroller with a smile, coo, or a few sweet words. Few will stop and acknowledge the mommy behind the baby. So, this is for you, mommy in the mirror.

Every little pudgy, adorable roll on your baby’s arms and legs is because of you.
Every giggle and toothless grin on your baby’s face is because of you.
Every look of wonderment and awe in your baby’s eyes is because of you.

You have given everything – your sleep, your body, your career, your marriage, your life – to this child. And, you, mommy, are doing an amazing job. It’s the nights you are spending nursing him every hour that have made up every single cell in his beautiful little body. It’s the hours you spend playing, singing, and dancing with him that makes him giggle, smile, and learn about this brand new world he’s in. And, it’s your unconditional, unwavering, endless, and prolific love that makes him feel safe.

When he cries – no, screams – you feel like you aren’t doing anything right. You feel if all eyes are on you. You feel like a horrible mother because you can’t get your baby to stop crying.

Please. Don’t.

Your baby is crying because he wants to be held close to the greatest love of his life. He wants to smell your skin, be caressed by your gentle hands, and feel the love that radiates from your body. He wants to be comforted by the warmth of the best home he’ll ever have. Can you blame him?

It will take a while, but he will soon learn that your love for him is unconditional, unwavering, and everlasting. He won’t feel as scared and lonely when you aren’t holding him. He’ll want to explore the world with his own tiny, two feet. And, then, it will get better. You’ll get your body back, your sleep, your marriage, and your life. I promise.

How My B.Ed. is Making Me a Better Mommy

Not too long ago, when I was a childless, smart-ass teacher, I would scoff under my breath at the sight of frazzled parents struggling to entertain their children over summer vacation. For 10 months a year, I managed a classroom with 25 children; how, then, was it possible these parents were so challenged with their one or two children for a few short weeks?

And then I had a kid.

There is only one of him, but I am completely and utterly exhausted by the end of the day. This got me thinking: what’s different? How did I manage to run a classroom with two dozen little munchkins without dropping dead by noon?

Once I became a mom, I stopped being a classroom teacher. My training and experiences as an educator were a distant and foggy past that had been overshadowed by sleepless nights, emotional and physical exhaustion, and overwhelming joy and love that inevitably come with being a new mother. As my toddler begins to sleep longer stretches at night, those faint distant memories are becoming more clear. As such, I’ve begun viewing my day with my son no different than a day in my classroom.

What’s different? I’ve incorporated some of my teaching strategies in my day-to-day parenting practices. I don’t expect a miracle overnight, but I am already seeing some progress in the right direction. My day seems a little less hectic and more predictable, and, consequently, I am a little less exhausted and definitely more engaged.

I’ve always felt that sharing and collaborating with others is the best way for ideas to grow and evolve. Here are some of the ‘teaching’ practices I’ve incorporated into my day-to-day routine:

1. Structure

I have been building routines with my son since he was born. It has undoubtedly been a painstaking process; but, 14 months in, I am finally starting to see its benefits. My son wakes up, naps, eats, bathes, and sleeps at about the same time each day. The structure in our day helps eliminates power struggles and helps my son “look forward” to activities. This leads to a more cooperative child. Since much of my training and classroom experience dealt with older children, clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham’s work on building Routines for Toddlers and Preschoolers has been particularly helpful.

2. Discipline

As my baby transitioned from a stationary infant to a walking running toddler, his sense of adventure and curiosity has really begun to show. While strangers may find his antics quite amusing, when the safety and well-being of my child is at stake, I know I’ve got to put my foot down. I’ve tried some classroom-style discipline, and I am surprised at how responsive my 14-month old has been.

a. Non-Verbal Communication
– A stern, displeased look is often more effective than a constant rambling of NO! NO! NO!
– Proximity: walking over to my son when I see him doing something I have asked him not to
– Hand gestures, such as an open palm to indicate “Stop!”, help children associate meaning to words. This is why baby sign language is so effective. 
b. Positive Reinforcement
– Expressing (verbally and non-verbally) my approval when my son does something correctly instead of expressing displeasure when something goes wrong.
– Phrasing requests in a positive way: “I love it when you put your toys back in the box. You are so good at cleaning up. Let’s all work together to clean up before dinner.” This tends to be more effective than what most of us mommies would say: “Clean up time now. Hurry up, it’s almost time for dinner.”
– Expressing gratitude when he successfully follows direction. 
3. Play-Based Learning
– Ensuring our daily schedule involves both indoor and outdoor exploring opportunities
– Opportunities to integrate music, movement (dance), and other forms of creative expression
– Being a participant (not a leader, nor simply an observer) in my child’s play
– Allowing for freedom to explore his environment (this one has been the toughest as a mom; I can’t help but be protective of my little explorer!) 
– Reflection: spending a few moments to explicitly think about my child’s play experiences of the day.
– Share (with my partner, or anyone willing to listen) my child’s successes and challenges, and collaborate with other parents. Other parents bring their own set of experiences and skills to the parenting table, and we can all learn from one another. 

4. Differentiate Instruction

For grownups, instructions are almost always verbal. This is silly because not all of us adults are auditory learners. Some of us learn best by seeing or doing (visual or kinaesthetic learners). Similarly, children learn a variety of different ways. Instead of repeating instructions again and again, I try to convey my instructions in a variety of different ways to help my son better understand what I am try to communicate.

Only 27% of people use their formal education on the job. I’m one of them. While being a classroom teacher and being a mother are two very unique and different experiences, I am finding there are plenty of transferable skills that I can use to ensure that my son is getting the best possible version of me. Similarly, when I get back to the classroom, I know I will have a whole new set of parenting strategies that will make me a better teacher than I ever was before I began this beautiful adventure.

Mexican Quinoa Salad

I am a huge fan of Mexican food! The flavorful and aromatic medley of beans, vegetables, and spices is a delight to all the senses. I tossed this salad together this morning for lunch; I am pleasantly surprised, and thought I would share!

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Mexican Quinoa Salad

1 cup whole grain quinoa
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup greenpepper, chopped
1/4 cup cucumber, chopped
1/4 cup tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1 ripe (but firm) avocado, cubed
1/4 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup black beans
3 tbsp chunky salsa
1/4 tsp fajita spice
Cilantro, for garnish

1. Rinse quinoa. Add water and salt, and bring to a boil. Let it simmer covered for 7-10 minutes, until quinoa is cooked. Fork through cooked quinoa. Let it cool.

2. Toss together all ingredients (including cooled quinoa) in a large bowl. Serve chilled.

Baba

If my son could talk, I am certain this is how he would wish his dad (‘Baba’) a happy birthday.

Shortly after I was born,
You held me so close and dear,
Whispering soft sweet ‘angai’
Into my little ear.

Then a few months passed
And I learned to sit and crawl,
You showed me how
To put on my hat and throw my ball.

When mummy’s birthday came,
You picked out a perfect little gift from me.
With so much love and care
To show just how much she means to me.

Now I’m walking with my little feet
Up and down the hall.
You watch me run and play, Baba,
Ready to catch me when I fall.

You will blink and before your eyes
You will see that I’m turning two;
Beaming proudly, standing tall
Saying, “Look, Baba, I tied my shoe!”

Another blink and I’m sixteen
In the drivers seat of a car.
Don’t worry, Baba, I’ll be safe,
But, I won’t be home by dark.

Just yesterday, with a single arm,
You held me with so much ease.
Now look at me, Baba,
I’m almost six foot three.

Today you lead the way
And I try to keep up with you,
But, Baba, there will come a time
When the reverse will be true.

But no matter how big I may be,
Always catch me when I fall,
Never stop leading me,
And teaching me right from wrong.

I may not always listen, Baba,
I may not be the perfect son,
But, you will always be my hero
When all is said and done.

Whenever I say “That’s my Baba!”
My heart fills with pride.
Forever, I will love you.
Forever, you will be mine.

Happy Birthday

I hear giggles as happy children catch bubbles, and mommies and daddies watch their babies play. As I gently place the last cupcake on the tray, I am suddenly overcome with emotion. I am so happy that it almost hurts.

Dear son,

Today is your first birthday. Every year, on this day, for the rest of your life you will celebrate the passing of another year; of course, as you grow older you’ll choose to celebrate in different ways.

Through your early childhood, these birthdays will be filled with giggles, balloons, cupcakes, and hugs. As you grow older, these birthdays will be an “opportunity” for your mom and dad to spoil you. I am trying not to imagine what your birthdays during your teens and early 20s will be like. The thought terrifies me. And, then, when you outgrow those crazy years (sooner than later, I am hoping), you will be where I am now. Your birthday will be a day of reflection; a moment to think of the people and moments that have forever changed you.

But, for me, your birthday will be exactly the same every year. Your birthday will bring an uncontrollable smile on my face, tears to my eyes, and fill my heart with pride and love. It will be a playback of each and every day I have loved you – from your silly giggles, to your angry shrieks, to your playful grins – every single moment is captured so carefully in my mind. These precious moments will be preserved and cherished in a way that no piece of technology could ever capture and save.

You are growing so quickly. I just brought you home from the hospital – how did you learn to walk already? How did you learn to give me kisses, and call me mama? In one short year, how did you manage to steal my heart away with your little toothless smiles and that wide-eyed ‘peek-a-boo’ face? And, how have you managed to turn this once confident and level-headed woman into a teary-eyed blubbering mess who is desperately trying to keep it together?

Every year, these same questions will run through my head.

Every year, they will leave me baffled.

One thing, however, will change every birthday. My love for you will grow. Even though, at this very moment, I don’t think it’s possible for me to love you any more – tomorrow will come, and I will be proven wrong. Again.

This year, and every year, I will say a silent prayer. I hope you stay this way forever, my son. I pray that you will always learn as you do now, with an insatiable curiosity and desire to explore. I pray you will always smile as you do now, wholeheartedly and with pure happiness. I pray you will always laugh as you do now, freely and without fear. And, most importantly, I pray that you will always love like you do now, without holding anything back.

I love you, my baby. Happy Birthday.