For Heaven’s Sake

What could be the very one thing that gives us ongoing growth and development–like sunshine and water are to flowers and plants?

I say it’s curiosity that have children grow like weeds. Did you notice I say “children” only? Most of us, the adults, seem to stop growing at one point. Maybe, that’s why we call ourselves, “Grown Up”, like we we are done, baked, cooked. No need to grow because we have already grown.

I can probably save one hundred dollars per week by putting a dollar in a jar every time my three-year-old charge asks WHY–that’s how often he asks “WHY, Hsiao-Ling?” I realized lately, when I give him an answer to his why, I might actually stop him from being curious. Another way the adults squash children’s curiosity is telling them “You don’t need to know this right now”–as my husband shared with me how his father had always said so whenever he asked WHY.

Me: Mary is coming to babysit you on Saturday.

Little Boy: Yea. Is Mary not going to see her grandpa? (Mary’s grandpa passed away two weeks ago)

Me: No. He passed away, remember?

Little Boy: Oh, he went to heaven.

Me: (not saying anything)

Little Boy: Can Mary go to heaven to see him?

Me: Maybe later.

Little Boy: Why not now?

Me: (looks at the little boy’s mommy)

Little Boy’s Mommy: Well, honey, Mary can’t go right now.

Little Boy: Why can’t she?

Little Boy’s Mommy: Because heaven is a place you go when you pass away.

Little Boy: Why is it?

Little Boy’s Mommy: That’s the way it is, buddy. (then turns to me) I am not ready to have this conversation yet.

Conversations like this sometimes could be hard for grown ups (just wait when children ask questions about sex). WHY?  Could it be we think we have all the answers (or, we think we need to have the answers)? How can you being curious when you already know the answers? Could you grow, or allow others to grow, if you already know the answers? And, how could being curious use us as parents? What impact would it have in our children’s life when we are willing to be in the not knowing?

Me: I heard your bed was wet this morning.

Little Boy: I peed peed in my pant.

Me: I thought you had your pull-ups on at night time.

Little Boy: I did. I just had a lot of pee.

Me: You sure had lots of it.

Little Boy: It’s just an accident, Hsiao-Ling.

Me: What can you do when you have an accident like that?

Little Boy: (looks at me) Clean up?

Me: (smile) You mean you help me to clean up your accident?

Little Boy: No, it’s not your mess, Hsiao-Ling. You don’t clean up my mess.

Maybe, one of the benefits of being in the wonderment to discover our children’s view about life is allowing our children to come up with their own answers to life…. that they learn to be responsible for their own actions, including accidents (which some of the adults still think you can’t be responsible for accidents–“It’s not my fault. It’s an accident!!”)

P.S. I am meeting up with a group of people this weekend, and engaging in a conversation about curiosity. Here are some questions that get you start thinking:

#  What are you curious about?
#  What have you always been curious about?
#  What are you not curious about?
#  How is life different when you are being curious or not being curious?
#  Where is choice?

Enjoy the ride!!

“Oh, You Are A Babysitter”

Matilda (Bluefairy Sarang)

I finally had a chance to finish reading “The Nanny Diaries” and watched the movie.  Despite some negative reviews, I found the movie reflects some views that are factual. I don’t mean those views are true. What I am saying is that they are based on someone’s experience, and are as valid as mine, even though my Nanny career is completely not like the one in the book/movie.

It can be frustrating sometimes to deal with people’s reaction when I say “I am a Professional Nanny”, and they respond, “Oh, you’re a babysitter.” (Didn’t I just say “Professional Nanny?”). After I clarify that a Nanny is not a Babysitter, I then get this long “Ohhhhh” with a particular facial expression, followed by “So that’s like a babysitter who gets a lot of perks, right?”

It really makes me laugh how people could not hear the difference between these two words, “Nanny” and “Babysitter”–they don’t even spell the same, or sound the same!!

If it is going to be up to someone to transform the view of what a Nanny is, it would be up to me, or us, the Nannies. Some of us do see being a Nanny as a job, rather than a career. A job that you would do before you land a career. And, there are people like me who are serious about being a Nanny. So serious that I feel the need to put a word “professional” in front of the word, “nanny”, hoping that people would respect for what I do. After all, title is quite important, right?

My dear husband said to me after watching the movie, “You should share your Nanny experience, so people know not all nanny-employer relationships are like that.”  True, not all are the same. I am not sure, however, if I write a book about my experience of being a Nanny, it would be “sellable”. It seems to me that people are drawn to dramas, rants, complaints, other than inspiration, or say, the good news.

I was interviewed by an ABC News 20/20 Primetime producer. She was working on a project that involves nannies and their relationship with employers. When she asked me how the conflicts were usually resolved between me and my employer given that I was raised, and came from another culture, I said, “If I experience any conflict, I always ask myself what am I reacting to. It is not my place to judge how my employers raise their children. Part of my job as a Nanny is to listen and carry out what is important to the family. If I don’t agree their parenting style, I would communicate that and not let it be a conflict between us. The conflict happens when I am being righteous about how they should raise their children. This doesn’t allow any room for dialogues or conversations.”  She said, “Oh. Huh, let me call you back.”  I have not heard from her since.

Maybe she got too busy and forgot to call me back. Maybe my story is too good to be true. It’s just not juicy enough to sell.

A Tiny-Weeny Teaspoon And That Giant Iceberg

I thought I was clear.

Clear about what my life purpose is. Clear about what I could give back to community, and the differences I have been making. But, as I listened to and moved by Mr. Gordon Starr, who was one of many involved in The Hunger Project thirty something years ago, shared how his life has been impacted since he created a promise for the world, I began to hear myself saying “What you have been doing is not enough… You better go out there and “make” something happen soon.”

It was like Mr. Gordon’s differences-making is Golden-Platinum level, so-and-so’s is Sliver, and that person is Coper, and this person is Bronze. Mine? Under the microscope of comparison, mine ended up to be something like “Paper”, or “Cotton”.

Surprisingly, I found out I was not the only one felt “not-enough-and-I-better-do-more” in the audience. In the mindset of “not-enough-and-better-do-more”, making a difference becomes a competition, result driven; rather than simply an inspiration.

A friend of mine once used an analogy of a teaspoon and an iceberg for what making a difference could be. “There you are, all you have is a teaspoon to chip away a giant iceberg. Day after day. Week after week. It doesn’t look like you are ever going to level that iceberg. And you know you probably won’t. The worst part is, you won’t even see it leveled in your life time. Still, you wake up in the morning, have your teaspoon ready, and off you go. Chipping away that iceberg.”

It is logical to give up, and move on to a seemingly smaller iceberg. Though, what matters might not be the size of the task. It is the commitment that one chooses to honor regardless of how it is going, or how it “should” look.

Ah-ha, there it is. The “should” creeps in when I least suspect. As a Professional Nanny, I thought the laughers, the kisses, the hugs, the “I miss you last night after you went home, Hsiao-Ling” are just too small of an iceberg to believe I am making a difference in the world of a child. If I were to make THE difference, I “should” do something BIG, right? But, I am, after all, JUST a Nanny. How am I going to make THE difference anyway?

Gee, no one is going to win in this not me, not enough, can’t do monologue.

I teared up, again, watching Jamie Oliver’s reality show, “Food Revolution”. When the DJ finally admitted, “It is not about Jamie Oliver. It’s about us. It’s about he health of our town.” I realized, it is not who is digging down the iceberg. Of course, you think being Jamie Oliver would make the task easier; though, he has been meeting many obstacles that I wonder if it is even possible to transform the status quo.

As Jerome Downes, a Landmark Forum Leader, once said (excerpted from the Bangkok Landmark Forum, November 2009):

“It is really possible to create your life, and have a magical life. When I die, I won’t die having a reputation associated with money because my life is not about that. Landmark [Education] is not about that. I like money. I know how to make money. It’s not a big enough game for me.

Contributing, finding something to contribute, being able to contribute transformation for people is what inspires me. We, the Landmark Forum
Leaders, don’t want to be known as good speakers – we want to be known as people who can contribute something that makes a difference for people.

If you have a chance to look back on your life, you’ve got to ask this
question: “What difference have I made? Was my life just about what I wanted,
or did I contribute and make a difference to others?

I’m going to tell you the secret pathway to happiness. Find something you
can contribute. While the world may tell you that money is going to make
you happy or material possessions are going to make you happy, do not be
fooled. Whatever it is to contribute, to make a difference – that can make a
difference in your life.

Here is your homework assignment. Go make the world work. Get your
family to work. Get your company to work. Get your community to work. Get
your country to work.

If it’s not you, who is it going to be? If this is not it, when is it going to be it?

I invite you to sort out your life right now. Choose what your life is going to be about. Who you are is a huge opportunity to make a difference.”

Have you got your teaspoon ready?

Out of The Trap

A mother I worked with once shared with me how guilty she felt about not been able to spend enough time with her new born and with her oldest child. She was also afraid she was beginning to resent her children. “I want to hold him, but I cannot… I don’t want him to start a bad habit of wanting to be held every time he cries… I need a break… I am a terrible mother. How could I say I need a break… how could I resent my children?… I shouldn’t even think that…”  Through her teary eyes, I saw a mother who loves her children deeply, and at the same time overwhelmed in her attempt to get her parenting job done.

Is it any easier for me who cares for other people’s children?  No, actually, it is not any easier.

“J.J. is crying. Hsiao-Ling fix it”. J.J’s two-year-old sister said to me with a frown. J.J. has been crying for ten minutes since I put him down for a nap. God knows, I really wanted to “fix” it. Hold him, rock him, give him a pacifier. Just do whatever I can to “fix” his cry so my heart could stop flinching. “It’s OK (who am I kidding, right?). J.J. is having a hard time going nite-nite. Let’s wait for another 5 minutes.”  Five minutes has gone by, and J.J. was still crying. “Fix it, Hsiao-Ling, fix it!!” Now the sister is starting to cry.  As I tip-toed to J.J.’s bedroom, he “magically” stopped crying. Whew!!

You would not believe the thoughts that went through my head during that didn’t-seem-to-end-5-minutes: I should go in there… no, I can’t… he just want some attention… if I go in there, I might spoil the baby… but just this one time… it’s ridiculous that I will spoil babies if I pick them up every time they cry… what if he doesn’t stop crying… I am going to ruin his life… is it time yet… I should know what to do…

Yes, I “should” have known, as a Professional Nanny, as someone who is trained in child development, and work with children most of my life, I should know better, right?

I am trapped in the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts”, can you tell? I am “shoulding” myself all over…

What I should know is what the experts say about caring for babies, and raising children: do this, don’t do that; follow these tips, but not those. Of course, some instructions work, and some don’t. Regardless how effective they are, as a parent (or a caregiver), this is probably always in the back of your mind, “Is this the right thing to do?/Am I doing the RIGHT thing?/Am I doing enough?” (Though, I am not a parent, but I experience this with my father every time when I speak with him on the phone).

What if, the overwhelming, the frustration, and the upset of being parents is caused by traditional notions of what it is to be a parent (Ah, the trap of shoulds, and shouldn’t)? And what if, it is those notions, beliefs, ideas and points of view, not children’s behaviors, shape – often negatively – our experience of being parents?

My friend’s daughter, S, just turned seventeen. When she was four, she wondered off while her mother, M, was in the Best Buy store. M was panic at first, then became frustrated. “How could she do this TO me? I just told her to stay next to me… why can’t she just listen?”  By this time, M was upset, and mad. She thought, “I am going to teach her a lesson.” M slowly walked towards to the exit door as if she was going to leave. Just as M walked by a cashier counter, she saw S!!  S thought her mother was walking out, she cried, “Mommy! Mommy!”  As they both settled back in the car, M found herself telling S how scared and worried she was, and S should never do that again. M even drove to Walmart, and pointed out the “Missing Children” poster–doing all of it, to teach a four-year-old, and hoping she would understand what she had done. S did not say a word, just sobbing. Suddenly, M realized a distance was created between them. She stopped talking, looked into Sarah’s eyes, immediately, she knew S did not mean to misbehave. M asked S, “I really don’t know what to do right now. How could I be with you now that would make a difference?” (Mind you S was only four years old at the time) S looked at her Mommy, quietly said, “Unconditional love would make a difference now.”

The nature of the default roles and responsibilities of parents is often the driving force in relating to children, which is so automatic that we don’t know that we don’t know it limits us in relating to children as human beings. Trap, isn’t it?

The possible way (I say) out of the trap is to realize you are trapped, and that you are trapped in the trap that you are in. This realization could be the key to experience peace, freedom, and ease in the roles of being parents.


Do You Have Any Children, Ma’am?

This question used to annoy me because what’s not being said is “If you don’t have one, you will not understand”, or “You will know when you have one, so wait till you have one, then you can say whatever you want.”  Basically, shut your mouth, and keep all the advice to yourself unless you are a parent yourself. 

I thought I was no longer hooked by that question till last week when two police officers came to my door because I reported our upstairs neighbor. The toddler had been crying for thirteen hours straight (Yes, you read it right, 13 hours) with thumping and yells. I finally called 911 and Child Protective Services.  Is it because I could not tolerate children’s crying, or tantrums? No, not at all. I have been in situations that tantrums lasted for more than an hour (or days—yup, the adult-style usually lasts longer, don’t you think?).  It was the strident noises with the child’s howling that had me concerned. I was concerned for the child’s and the parent’s safety and well-being. 

“Do you have any children Ma’am?” That was the question the police officers asked me after I told them what happened. Apparently, the police officers thought I was not being understandable—I would have IF I had any children. Explain to me, though, how could anyone being understandable, and not alarmed when heard a human crying for 13 hours straight (unless you are in a traditional Chinese funereal that hires people to cry for 24 hours)? “That is what toddlers do. They throw tantrums, you know, and the parent had to yell to stop the child”, the police officers stated.  

Really? Does that make it reasonable for anyone to yell because they are children?  

I started to think about the stuff that we, as adults, would say or do to children just because “they are children” (or “they are my children”). Don’t jump into the conclusion that I would not understand because I don’t have any children. What if, what’s driving the parent-child relationship is not the biological factor, but the ROLE?  As my friend, Robert Gold, a father of two, responded to an interview, How to teach your child respect,

“In the roles we take, what is being created isn’t respect, it is the roles …the “I” as a parent have something to teach “you” the child … “I know what is best!”  If you can hear yourself in this, then you are being the role, “parent”, and not being in relationship with your child, being an equal, not as a friend, rather someone who is deeply committed to the interests of another human being who happens to be young”. 

Regardless of the biological element, it is the roles that enforce us to say or do to a child, and we don’t even realize it.  What I love about Robert’s statement is that I don’t have to be a parent (to be in a role) to relate to a child, and I am moved by the possibility of relating to a human being free from the constraint of roles. 

Robert continued in his reply,

“My oldest son was probably around 8 or 9 years old.  We were over at a friend’s house and a sports event was on the TV. I was offered a beer.  I opened it, took a sip and Barrett (my eldest son) said, “Dad, you are driving!  You can’t drink and drive!” I looked at my son and started to have a conversation that we weren’t leaving for several hours. He shook his head, “Dad, you are not supposed to drink and drive!”  At which point, I took my beer, with only one sip taken, emptied it in the sink and threw it in the trash. 

Could I have had a conversation that the effects of alcohol wear off in one hour?  Sure I could.  Could I have said, oh don’t worry about it, you don’t understand what alcohol is? I could have had many conversations, all of which would have been in the role of “I am the parent and you are the child”, etc.  Instead, the beer wasn’t important.  My son telling me what I should or shouldn’t do was respected, regardless of the accuracy of his concern.  What happened was I respected his point of view.  I am not sure if I looked ahead in the future [that moment] to see how my actions would influence him in the future, maybe … [just because] as creating the opportunity of being related to my son, I often looked at how every conversation shapes his reality.  Did I have that foresight, maybe, but even if I didn’t, I respected his concerns. 

Move ahead ten years … Neither of my sons drive if they have been drinking.  In fact, the whole community of parents wanted/want my sons to be friends with their sons and daughters so that they can rely on them to be designated drivers.  How do they know?  They just do!  My youngest refrains from drinking, just so he can take care of his friends.  I didn’t have a conversation with him about drinking and driving, and yet, he, just like his brother, is sought after as a great influence by other parents. 

Did I plan on my sons becoming role models?  Of course not.  There is just something available when they have been dealt with in a primary relationship as a human being, equal in what is important to them.  Free from the constraint of being treated as a second class citizen, with nothing to rebel against”. 

Next time, when someone asks me, “Do you have any children, Ma’am?” I would be gleefully answer, “No”.  

What would your life be like when you honor and respect another human being from being IN relationship, rather than from the roles that you are?

Dear Nanny…..

I have received several “Dear Nanny” types of messages in my email inbox lately. Here are a couple of them: “What’s wrong with teaching good behaviors? Isn’t your job as a Nanny to teach a child to behave appropriately? Like teach them to say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Please’?”  “Children are savages. They need guidance, and rules; otherwise, they will be manipulative, and out of control. It’s our job to teach them so they can be successful in school, and in life.”

I appreciate the commitment of having children grow up to be responsible, and productive. However, the basis of these comments seem to be coming from the notion that childhood is preparation for life, childhood is a time when he is molded into a human who will then live life, and that childhood is a period of preparation (see John A. Taylor, Notes on an Unhurried Journey).

To respond the comment that my job as a Nanny is to teach children how to behave, I first have to examine the word “Teach”. If “Teaching” is giving answers to children, i.e., telling them what to do, what not to do, or instructing them as if there are answers or a fixed reality in the world, then no, my job as a Nanny is not TEACHING. My job is not even to manage and control a child’s growth and development. Through my observations and experiences, the highest state of learning is often through exploration. You can say that we learn not because someone tells us what to do, but through a process of discovery—finding answers for ourselves. 

One of my commitments as a Professional Nanny is CREATING opportunities that allow children to develop the capacity that is already within them. What does that look like? It might look like asking questions, presenting situations—questions and situations that leave them to explore and discover answers for themselves. Confession: there are many times I do have an urge to give children the answer or take over the situation simply because the view that children are lacking of something, and I must “teach” them how to. 

What else does CREATING opportunities that allow for development look like? It’s quite interesting that the definitions of “develop” suggest that something is already there (capacity): come into existence; take on form or shape; grow, progress, unfold, or evolve through a process; be gradually disclosed or unfolded; become manifest. Maybe the way photographers develop a snapshot could provide an insight. They process a material in order to make an image visible. The image is already captured, and with solutions and chemicals (think “creating opportunities”), the picture will emerge regardless.

What if my job as a Nanny is just like a photographer—presenting opportunities or say setting up environments that allow what is already in children to be expressed and developed? What if they are already turned out? I see children are born with love, joy, contribution, and many other qualities. There is no need to TEACH children how to love (or be joyful, be responsible, be contribution) because they are love. My work is to give them the opportunity to express who they are. If who they are is love, then give them the opportunities to express love—kisses, hugs, giggles, whatever that may be. If who they are is responsibility, then give them the opportunities to express responsibility—picking up toys or choosing which shirt to wear in the morning.  A child is a human who is living life through expressing who he/she is!!  As John A. Taylor says the best, “How much heartache we would save ourselves if we would recognize the child as a partner with adults in the process of living, rather than always viewing him as an apprentice.”

Creating An Extraordinary Relationship

(Taken from “Connected e-newsletter, By Sandy and Lon Golnick)

If we were to consider that creativity has more to do with allowing something to be than with getting something to be (i.e. doing something to make something happen), we bet that we would experience more of the freedom, ease and joy that is natural to relationship.

We don’t have to do much to have our relationships be ordinary, with ordinary disappointments, upsets and frustrations. But most of us are working so hard to change those things that we have failed to notice that change is natural, that things change quite naturally. Many of us have failed to notice, or may have forgotten, that if we let something be, something else soon follows. And we may have forgotten that the way we demonstrate that we are indeed letting something be is simply to communicate it, to tell the truth about it and whatever it is we’re experiencing at the moment.

Allowing (creating) our relationships to be ordinary – when they are that way – is the entry to having our relationships be extraordinary. It is extraordinary to let an ordinary relationship be the way it is rather than try to fix it or change it.

Extraordinary relationship includes ordinary relationship and yet is not limited to it, because it also includes that which is outside of ordinary relationship. But what is extraordinary cannot be seen while we are focused on [changing] the ordinary.