Even The Losers

There is nothing wrong with losing. A loss is like a mistake – they happen so we can learn from them. Duh. Of course with boys, or more like – my boys in particular, they’ll repeat the same mistake about fifty times before they have me wondering if they might possibly be insane.

When the boys were five and three, we used to play a memory game. The first to get the correct answer would get a point – five points to win a round. Although we played several rounds and there was no prize, neither of the boys could stand losing. The loser would throw a complete tantrum in the fashion of John McEnroe minus the tennis racquet, and entirely miss the point of the game, which was to exercise their feeble memory. They needed to learn how to cope with disappointment.

So I took them to Toys R Us, spent an hour there testing out a bunch of cool toys and didn’t buy them anything. Afterwards, we went to Dunkin’ Donuts and came out with nothing but an ice coffee for mommy. Nope – no donuts either.

It seemed like a reasonable plan to teach them that they don’t always get what they want. Ultimately, however, they learned that it’s better to go to Toys R Us with daddy – he’s a sucker. While to this day, they’re still rather sore losers. It’s all daddy’s fault.

At the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby, my husband was so irate that nobody from our pack won anything that he rallied up all the other dads and determined that next year, we were doing our own derby race. “Screw them!” He yelled, as we gathered up our losing derby cars. Knowing that Samu would mimic his dad and say, “screw you,” instead of thank you on the way out, I told them right then and there that there was no way in Hell I would organize a Pinewood Derby race. Not without beer, anyway.

Honestly though, the boys weren’t upset, they knew it wasn’t all about winning. But daddy?

In the movie, Searching For Bobby Fischer, the chess coach (played by the tea horking Ben Kingsley) says a quotable line, “To put a child in a position to care about winning and not to prepare him is wrong.”

I should’ve listened to Gandhi and prepared the big guy. My bad. I’m not joking when I say he’s the biggest child in our house. There are times the three of them go at it – calling each other names, smacking heads, punching blubber and kicking each other’s butt, like literally – that I have yell, “Daddy! Really?”

In my opinion, girls are better at losing. I’d like to believe it’s because we’re patient, positive thinkers but the truth is, we’re scornful. We never forget, as opposed to boys and their single cell memory. Go ahead, ask a boy any question about school, what they did, what they ate, their mom’s name – and 80 percent of them will say, “I dunno.”

So given the resiliency of children, it’s befuddling to see parents protecting their kids from the pain of losing. You can’t lose without getting hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t worth it – not everyone can be happy. Not everyone can be the winner.

But what’s important to remember is, there’s a difference between being The loser and being A loser. And even those, get lucky sometimes.

 

Little child, Medium Child, Big child

Little child, Medium Child, Man child

 

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Practice Fight

“You can only fight the way you practice”
― Miyamoto MusashiA Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

At the same time, you realize what a person practices in the way they fight. Headstrong and reckless? Cold and calculating? Honest and admirable. We all encounter foes and obstacles – it will never cease. No matter what preventive measures you take, life is about fight.

If it’s not people, it’s disease. If it’s not the government, it’s the weather. And should you be fine with all of the above, you still have to contend with supermarket cashiers. Plus their supervisors. Don’t even bother with Wendy’s. It makes you wonder how this nation has an obesity problem when you can’t buy food without stress.

But you can’t fix insolence. You can’t “fix” anything, really. You just have to keep on going. While people grow less ambitious and more aggressive, curb their compassion and become unbearably imposing, you realize to your despair, that you can’t change the scenery, only the way you see it. It becomes what you make of it – that’s how the quote translates to me.

There was a pivotal time in my life when I started saying yes to everything. Jobs, outings, committees, meetings – you name it, their invitation was accepted. Of course, a lot of them were a waste of time, but my father used to tell me over and over, “do more research” and I figured that’s what he meant. In actuality, he was referring to my dates, but whatever.

In the end, the research paid off. After saying yes to everything, it became clear what work was worth the effort; which person would stand with you; what beer would give you the squirts. Now, I can tell what a person is conveying – despite what they’re saying. Sounds deep, but it’s easy because it’s usually bullshit.

Since it’s my turn as a parent, the practice I’ve been trying to instill is – not quitting. If it were up to my boys, they’d quit everything in an hour. Initially, when it’s fun, they’ll fight each other over it, but when it becomes a procedure – they’d rather pick their nose. To their defense, they do have some monumental boogers.

So, when they ask me, “How long do I have to do this?”

The answer is, “Forever.” And then they’ll gasp and I’ll add, “Or until I die,” to which they appear hopeful. Totally void of remorse. It’s disturbing.

With time, maybe they’ll get the big picture. If they learn one thing out of being tenacious, I hope it’s commitment. It seems to be a fading characteristic these days. I give them the whole shpeel, good things come to those who don’t quit, when the going gets tough, the tough get enemas, and they look at me like, “huh?”

They are confused for the moment. For instance, all the lavish weddings they’ve been to, they think that the only couples who actually marry for love – are gay. “That’s why they’re on the news – because they’re so happy.”

Might have a point there. Or they could be confusing the word gay. Either way, I should give them credit because they are genuinely children – and fight like ones, too.

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Beating up Daddy. Again.

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Lucky Number Seven

Well, seven – times eleven, actually. Apparently, in Japanese custom, turning 77 is a milestone age that should be celebrated with grand fanfare. My mother, however, a typical Aquarian eccentric, threatened to disown me if I planned any kind of birthday bash for her 77th. She is too humble, you see, to be the center of attention. So, I’ll honor her here, and spare her the embarrassment and she can smack me upside the head the next time she sees me in the street.

Seriously, in New York, you’re better off fighting in the street. If you fight in your own home, neighbors call the cops on you.

Then again, I hardly fight with my mom. It’s not because we’re gal pals or I’m that good Asian daughter. No, it’s because I know I’ll never win. Never. My mom has a sharp tongue, a very rogue sense of humor and unbounded energy that seems to get more out of control the older she gets. The woman walks a minimum of three miles a day and when she was snowed in she climbed up and down the stairs of her apartment building.

Who does that, right?

While I can’t claim that her charm is nurturing or supportive – she has been responsible for presenting the truth in life changing ways. If you don’t deserve praise, you’re definitely not going to get it from her. My mom rode the same elevator as Mick Jagger once and when he doubted she knew who he was, her response was “Sure I know who you are, you were in The Beatles.”

Only she could stump a Rolling Stone.

She’s not a big woman, she’s not a loud woman but she does have presence. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. She taught me everything about being a performer – about respecting the stage and your audience and your art. Most importantly, she taught me not to insist. In the land of pushy Americans, that’s a tough thing to teach.

Finally, she’s an American herself. Yes folks, she went back to school and became a Naturalized Citizen. Her classmates are young enough to be my children (if I were a teenage mom). I’m proud of her and deeply respect her persevering character. Hopefully, she’ll read this post because if I told her this in person, she’d ask me if I’d been drinking and smack me upside the head.

Asian moms.

Humble Happy Birthday.

My mom with my sister

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Roots, Radicals, Reese’s Pieces

As a full time mom, I get to chaperone a lot of the school field trips for my boys’ class. I get a kick out of them. While getting to know my son’s classmates and teachers is a huge perk, the real bonus is in watching them act like monkeys who escaped from the zoo.

Recently, we went to the Queens County farm, where they took a “Colonial Kitchen” workshop in a farmhouse. During the presentation, these 4th graders learned about life in the Colonial days – how children did chores all day, ate after all the adults were finished, married early, caught on fire easily and hardly had sugar.

No sugar?!

Kids and their priorities. They were put to work during the workshop, cutting the farm’s fresh vegetables, making cornbread with molasses (remember, no sugar), churning butter from cream. When it was all done, only two kids actually finished their cups of soup – the rest preferred to finish off their 30 oz bottle of Gatorade and barbecue flavored chips.

You only live once, I suppose. Fresh food isn’t a novelty to them when we have three supermarkets in a five block radius who all sell organic produce.

Damned kids – I thought the soup was delicious and had two helpings – screw them. Then again, it was a mere five degrees outside and the class voted to go see the frozen cow while the soup cooked. Dumb cow.

In the end, what I learned was – I could never work on a farm. But somebody has to. Somebody has to know how to grow potatoes. I mean out of the 28 kids in the class, only one knew that flint rock and steel was a way to start a fire. And he wasn’t even a scout.

It’s sad when you think about it, how little city folk know about surviving and how even less they can pass on to their kids. I could teach my kids how to get anywhere by subway but outdoors, I couldn’t guide them to the North Star unless there was a huge white arrow pointed to it. But at least I know it’s crucial to find it if you’re lost.

These kids? Well, the instructor asked the students what sweeter they thought replaced sugar in Colonial days, as a hint she said it starts with an M and rhymes with glasses. All the kids searched the furthest corner of their 4’x5′ brain and one kid stuck up his arm like he was having a stroke.

“Peanut butter!”

I clawed at my face and thought, we’re all gonna die.

See - Men do belong in the kitchen

See – Men do belong in the kitchen

 

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Encouragement vs. Rewards

I need to put a sign around Samu’s neck that says, “Do Not Give”. Either that or dress him up like Shrek’s Puss n’ Boots so folks know that his pleading eyes and innocent smile are just his conning devices to get over on them. If he’s offered a reward – he’ll do anything. As a matter of fact, he’s actively searching for Avonte Oquendo, the missing autistic teen, not because he’s worried about the child but because he wants the reward money.

My son – the six-year old bounty hunter.

Honestly, I don’t know how he got that way – I don’t bribe my kids, even in tough situations. Say if we were invited inside the Bronx Zoo’s monkey house, I still expect them to be well mannered – not climbing the walls and flinging poop at people. Of course, reality is they WOULD be climbing walls and flinging poop and if they didn’t, Samu would surely ask me for two-hundred dollars as a reward for refraining. That’s his going rate right now, two-hundred dollars. If he manages to find the missing teen, he’ll raise his fee, no doubt.

It doesn’t matter because I’m not paying him. One, because I’m broke and two, he’s lucky I don’t beat his ass for extortion.

While I understand the importance of rewards and praise, I have to take into account that achievements also have standards. I’ll tell them it’s great that they finished their homework in a timely manner but if it looks like they wrote it with their left foot, I’ll make them rewrite it. Oh, yes – call me Mommy Dearest, but what’s the point in writing a letter if nobody can read it?

Besides, when they bring home a comment from their teacher how their work has improved, their pride shows and I know it was worth being the handwriting gestapo.

Experience is the best teacher and so in teaching them the value of encouragement vs. rewards, I had them cheer on the runners of the New York City Marathon last Sunday. I explained that the marathon is about the distance between our house and Legoland in Yonkers. They were impressed but what shocked them was the thought that all those people ran the marathon just to do it – and not win a prize.

“Can’t they at least get two dollars?” Samu asked.

Why they get two dollars for running a marathon when he gets two hundred for passing an audition is beyond me. Bounty hunter. Extortionist.

After seeing the marathon runners for themselves, however, I think they see achievement in a less materialistic sense and a better light than before. Perhaps encouraging them to make fart noises through a big plastic trumpet and screaming at the top of their lungs when the runners went by had something to do with it. I just hope somebody finds that missing kid soon.

The Extortionist

The Extortionist

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Twilight of Tween

We have graduated to “tween” status with Zuki’s 9th birthday the other day. Wish I could say it felt like only yesterday I brought him into this world but to tell the truth, I didn’t do anything except lie on a table while my doctor cut me open, piled my guts on top of me to yank the sucker out. More to the point, it doesn’t feel like yesterday, it feels like nine friggin’ years ago. It’ll probably be another nine years before my boy finally remembers to put underpants on, but what the heck, that’s what moms are for – making sure little cracks are covered.

I tried to refrain from using the growth years terminology, like “terrible twos” and “punk-ass teenagers” but I have to admit, it does help when there’s no logical explanation for your child acting like an asshole. My parents didn’t have any of that, they’d just say, “it’s brain damage.” It did wonders for my confidence.

My introductory lesson to tween-hood came when Zuki became fixated on a pleather jacket (that’s plastic and leather, no Stevie Nicks). We bought it because it was the first time he ever expressed any interest in clothing that didn’t have a superhero plastered on it. Of course, he still wears his shirts and pants backwards. He takes a full two minutes to put his socks on because he forgets what he’s doing by the time he gets to the other foot. And I mentioned how he forgets underpants, right?

But when it comes to this pleather jacket, he’s like a different person. He got chalk on it the other day and went ape shit screaming, “OH MY GOD, I GOT CHALK ON MY SLEEVE.” Meanwhile the corners of his mouth were caked with tomato sauce. Then this morning, he left for school with his jacket zipped but his fly was wide open.

The things that used to make him happy are history and are being replaced by big kid things. No longer a child but not a teenager; too old for toys but clueless with fashion. I’m beginning to see the twilight of tween and I can’t see why I ever thought twos were terrible at all.

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At two and then….seven years later

 

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Sibling Priority

Zuki did it. He got his little brother into his school. A big thank you goes to our Parent Coordinator, who among other miracles, made this dream a reality. After two years of looking for a way in, sibling priority overruled zoning – now both my boys are in the same school.

I admit, the past two years and three weeks were great for the little guy in the other school. He made really good friends, learned from excellent teachers and a developed a keen system of singling out the nicer lunch ladies. But there’s nothing like having siblings in the same school. If I had to describe how full my heart felt, seeing my two guys entering the schoolyard together, I’d say it was like an MSG heart attack. Damn you, House Special soup!

Three days in and Samu was already ecstatic that he had music class. With a real music teacher – who also taught Zuki. So I asked Samu if the teacher knew he was Zuki’s little brother.

Samu said, “Yeah, he knows – he said, Zuki is a nice boy.”

And I sighed because any time a teacher had my younger sister after they taught me, they’d say something like, “Better not do what your big sister done.”

Samu studied my smiling face and said, “You know what I told him? I said, No he’s not! Ha, ha, ha, haaaaa!”

As I watched Samu’s scrawny legs take off, still laughing with that toothless gap of a mouth wide open and succumbing to his nervous tick of punching himself in the stomach, I thought how much Zuki is going to love bumping into his wretched little brother in the hallways. Just love it, yeah.

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Half or Bi?

Japanese people call mixed race people “half.”

Just “half”.

In western culture, we’ll say the half that is pertinent, like “Oh, Broomhilda there is half Japanese, half human…” but I’ve never heard Americans refer a mixed race person as just “half.”

Recently, my Japanese friend used the term “half” and I interrupted with the insight that the current, politically-correct term is “bi-racial.” She looked a little skeptical, wondering if the term “half” was actually derogatory.

I explained, it’s the glass-half-full terminology because really, the person isn’t devoid of half a culture – they encompass it. Like a Long Island Ice Tea. When in doubt, always involve a cocktail metaphorically.

As a Japanese-American, I used to relate with my bi-racial friends in feeling displaced. In a tale of two cultures, with neither side eagerly claiming you, the only group that’s truly family is the same bunch of misfits as yourself. But for my two guys, a majority of their friends are bi-racial, which caused a stranger to do a double take when he took a group photo of us. I could see his gears turning and asking, who are these Asian moms with Black, Hispanic and green-tinted children?

The green ones – that would be mine. It’s what you get when you mix olive with yellow.

Anyway, my boys just recently tapped into their Japanese lineage after meeting my cousin from Japan. Up until then, Samu thought himself as “white” and I thought I’d need to pull a Dave Chapelle “Racial Draft” to clean his rose colored glasses. Inadvertently, my cousin stirred a dormant curiosity in his Japanese half with the enticement of “gasha gasha” – the capsule toys from those coin-cranking vending machine thingy.

They were amazed because the gashapon machines at home spew out shit. It’s usually a single piece of plastic that my boogers can intimidate. But the toys from Japan – a mini-flash light with Super Mario images, little Lego-like dinosaurs, a teeny Thomas engine (with cargo car) that cranks and goes. And all of them…work.

So now, my boys want to learn Japanese and go to Japan. Not to ride the Bullet train or eat real Ramen or test their ability to withstand an average Tokyo earthquake – no, they want to go there with a suitcase full of quarters and collect gasha-gasha toys.

Wonder if I can convince them we’re actually Canadian.

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Driving Instructor

It’s hard to believe my baby is in the fourth grade. He had a very tumultuous two years, not just with school but with family as well and despite all that – he passed. He’s grown up in ways I didn’t think possible – strengths that only ordeals can shape. In that sense, you have to appreciate people who try to fuck your shit up and force you to prove that you don’t go down that easy.

For the first time since these boys started school, I was the nervous wreck on the first day – Zuki was ready. His group of buddies were standing in the line that was his class and he couldn’t be happier. When I took my fiftieth picture of him standing in line, he was thoroughly annoyed.

Z in yard

Stop with the pictures, Mom!

At the end of the week, he successfully brought home his homework assignments, the appropriate notebooks, pencil case and yes, his head too. A full week of school and no lost items. A far cry from the days he came home in his undershirt because he left his shirt “somewhere” in school.

From the boy who had no interest in doing anything but watch a movie, now he wants me to sign him up for the school orchestra and chorus in addition to the Hip Hop and Ballet classes he’s already got.

“Any other lessons you want to take this year?” I chided.

A light flickered in his eyes and he folded his hands as in prayer to plead his request, “Pleeeeease – can you teach me to how to drive?”

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The Plan

By the time I was eight (Zuki’s current age), I already went through three career changes. It was nurse, stewardess and actress – in that order. Notice how the work load gets lighter? I’m a born slacker, what more can I say – that was “the plan.”

Then again, anyone who’s ever worked with actual actresses know that they’re the biggest psycho-maniac control freaks – after  stewardesses and nurses. In a way, you can say I actually fulfilled my dreams.

So it was no surprise to me, when I took the boys to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum, that they were enamored with space travel and decided right then and there, they wanted to be astronauts.

The museum guide said, “Okay then, you’ll have to study really, really, REALLY hard in school – because you have to be smart to be an astronaut!”

As we walked away from the bubble-buster, the boys took my hand and said, “Yeah, we’d rather be in the Navy.”

Then we took a tour of the submarine. The small – cramped – like-Manhattan-apartment-space – cramped submarine. Three weeks, no shower – smell the glory.

We emerged to open sky and fresh air after twelve minutes of the submarine tour and again the boys took my hand to say, “Yeah, maybe we’ll join the Army.”

Three career moves in under two hours. They beat my record.

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