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A knowledge-free zone!

By
July 27th, 2016



These kids. Ha!

Olivia and two friends were in the back of my car as we were driving somewhere. For some truly unknown reason, I started to hear them discuss the answer to eight times three. That developed into some exchanges about who knows their multiplication tables.

Then Evie said, "Wait! It's summer! Why are we talking about math?"

Jaycie: "Yeah! Who even brought this up?"

Olivia: "Yeah! We're not in school! This is a knowledge-free zone!" I don't even need for it to be summer for me to feel that way sometimes.

I entered the conversation and started pop quizzing the girls on multiplication. Because it was a game, they competed to answer first.

When I did the twos and threes, they were disdainful. "Um, the threes are so easy."

It was pretty funny to see the blank stares and pauses, though, when I asked what's 12 x 12. I could see the gears turning.

To my surprise, Olivia called out the answer first. This is truly amusing since Claus quizzes Olivia every day on her times-table. She HATES it. HAAAATES it.

On a good day, she'll cooperate reluctantly. On a bad day, of which there are more than we care to recount, there's obstinance, fussing, and eventual time outs.

And now she's proud the work paid off. Look how fun math is.

These nine year olds. So cute. I love talking with them. I love that they readily accept me as part of the conversation. I've got to absorb all this now before people turn into surly, secretive teens!

Sleep overs again!

By
July 24th, 2016



Towards the end of my job on the morning shift, I disallowed Olivia from having friends sleep at our house. They stay up so "late" and there's always the need for several reminders to go to sleep and stop playing/ talking/ laughing/ watching TV.

The latest the girls have ever stayed up is around 11 p.m. Then they wake up so dang early, and make more noise. They're excited to be together so they get up at 5 or 6 a.m. What the heck?

Anything past 8 p.m. was too late for me because I needed my sleep and to maintain my rigid schedule. Now that I'm off mornings, I lifted the ban.

Olivia was very excited, and truthfully, I was too. I enjoy domesticity and being part of normal family life.

Evie was the first girl to sleep over in a long time. Olivia was thrilled. They are such good girls.

After dinner, Olivia asked me to come to her room and hang out with them. Yay! I'm invited to be part of the Girls' Club! This is so cool.

They were quietly drawing and coloring on her bed. I curled my body around my daughter and watched the kids while we chatted intermittently. We weren't doing much of anything, but we were still doing so much!

My heart was swirling with contentment to be awake and simply near my daughter and her friend. It was so amazing.

Chronic fatigue acted like a blanket, and it dampened my entire being, most of my waking hours. I appreciated kid-time before, but it's so much more vibrant when I'm feeling alive and energetic.

She's nine, and I'm totally here for the experience. Gratitude.

Cake and candles at Ice Palace

By
July 22nd, 2016



For Olivia's ninth birthday, we had her party at Ice Palace. I know I've been blogging about several different way  we've marked the occasion, but it wasn't by design that we stretched her festivities out for weeks. It was a matter of timing and scheduling.

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So this day was the official party with friends. There has to be a cake-and-candles day, right? After going through a couple of other ideas, in the end, she wanted Ice Palace.

Oh, Ice Palace. How noisy you are for old ears.

Non-skaters.

Non-skaters.

On the plus side, it was fairly simple, and a great way to beat the summer heat.

A bunch of little girls tired themselves out on the ice for hours while we parents watched and chatted. I swear, I feel like my parents, who I thought were so boring sitting on the side when I was a kid and they wouldn't come swim/ play/ participate. I get it now, Mom.

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When you buy the party package at Ice Palace, you get pizza and soda. The kids remind me of gazelles at the water's edge before an alligator surfaces. They were at the table for ten minutes inhaling the pizza, and then they disappeared in a herd back to the ice, because they loved it so.

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I have proudly made Olivia's birthday cake every year for the past eight years, except this one! I'm so sad I broke my streak, though I had a good reason; I was terribly busy in the lead-up to the party.

We bought a cake and while it was pretty, the candle stole the show. It was a musical flower candle that played a tune as the petals spun in a circle. So much fun!

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That was a great few hours. I love that Olivia loved her day!

Sea Life Park a great way to spend a birthday

By
July 20th, 2016



For Olivia's ninth birthday gift, we took her to Sea Life Park where she swam with a sea lion, watched a dolphin show, and cavorted with winged friends in the aviary. It was so much fun!

16-4-3 Sea Life Park_Sea lion_Mom Liv pool

The sea lion tour started with a little briefing about the difference between sea lions and seals (sea lions can "walk" on their flippers, have ear flaps, and are noisy), where the park gets its sea lions from (California), and other fun facts about the life and care of these pinnipeds.

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We were in the water learning about this, while the trainer brought out the sea lion and had it float past us so we could all see and touch the body parts she was teaching us about - big flippers, external ears, coarse fur mottled with algae.

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Olivia was thrilled when it came past her. Part of being a mom is enjoying seeing your child's reaction, and sometimes I think I spend more time looking at her face than I do the actual event itself.

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Sure, I love animals and I adore being near this creature, but it was so neat to see Olivia's wonder and joy at being so close to it. Maybe this is the kind of moment that inspires a lot of young visitors to become marine biologists or environmentalists.

After we captured our photos with the sea lion and concluded that very memorable swim, it was time for us to explore the rest of the park. We like all the exhibits and took in the famous Dolphin Cove show, which features Atlantic and Pacific Bottlenose dolphins and the hybrid, Kekaimalu, a Wholphin.

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The Wholphin is the only one of its kind in human care, and as the name implies, it's half whale, half dolphin. False Killer Whale and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, to be specific. She was born at Sea Life Park on May 15, 1985.

Olivia saw an aviary that she wanted to check out, which opened in September 2013. If you enjoy birds, you will love this, as we did.

16-4-3 Sea Life Park_Aviary_Mom bird head

In the Manu Aviary, you can interact and feed about 400 lovebirds and cockatiels, which are all extremely friendly and very skilled at begging for bird seed. When you walk in, there are staffers who hand out bird seed lollipops, and instruct you to simply hold your hand out to get the birds to land on you.

Claus with birds eating his hat string.

Claus with birds eating his hat string.

They do poop at will, though for the half hour we all spent in there, we didn't get bombed. Surprise, huh?

"The aviary was created during a time when the park was looking to open value-added, interactive elements to the park that would allow guests to get closer to the animals.  The original thought was to have lorikeets, which are popular at many mainland theme parks because they are colorful and drink nectar out of cups.  But loris are on the Department of Agriculture restricted list because they are not indigenous to the islands.  So instead of bringing in birds from the mainland, SLP decided to buy cockatiels and lovebirds from a retiring local bird breeder. So yes, while these aren't technically seabirds, they function as a way for guests to interact with birds and develop an appreciation for them, which enhances the Park's mission of education and conservation," explains Scott Kim, who works with the Park.

It's such a charming time. It was the surprise highlight of our park visit, actually. The little birdies are so cute and colorful.

Bird butt. One landed on my iPhone as I was going to take a photo!

Bird butt. One landed on my iPhone as I was going to take a photo!

Birds have been a part of Sea Life Park since its opening in the 1960s. The park today does not collect or train birds, but it will accept hurt or sick sea birds brought to the park.

It has a Seabird Rehabilitation Center where, each year, hundreds of seabirds are taken in and treated for injury, exhaustion, dehydration or illness - that includes broken wings, cat or dog wounds, fishing line entanglements, and fish hooks.

The goal is to heal and release the bird back into the wild. Sometimes, the birds who come are so young, the staff needs to teach them how to fly again!

Sea Life Park is the only place where someone may bring an injured seabird 24 hours a day, seven days a week - even in the middle of the night. That's quite a commitment to caring for our native Hawaiian species.

More at http://www.sealifeparkhawaii.com/.

 

In memory of Barbara Surwilo

By
July 18th, 2016



A friend of mine, 75 year old Barbara Surwilo, died this weekend. She was technically the mother of my childhood best friend, Steph May. But I consider Barbara a friend, too - or more accurately, like another mother.

1980? Rocky Hill, CT, in front of the Surwilo house: Barbara Surwilo, me (ugh), Steph, Robin, Lance Morton, Lisa.

1980? Rocky Hill, CT, in front of the Surwilo house: Barbara Surwilo, me (ugh), Steph, Robin, Lance Morton, Lisa.

It's interesting how a fleeting period of time with someone can leave a lasting impression on your heart, as she did for me. I spent about four years of my elementary school life in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, where her middle daughter, Steph, and I were stuck together like glue.

Steph, me, Robin

Steph, me, Robin

Small in stature - maybe five feet, tops - Mom Surwilo was an intellectual giant, with an indefatigable personality that persisted after a cause until she won. Brilliant, she held doctorates in biochemistry and endocrinology, and worked as an environmental consultant and longtime politician. She was Rocky Hill's first female mayor.

She juggled career and family perfectly. Mom Surwilo had her priorities straight. Every bill she supported, every cause she advocated, was for love of family - and the knowledge that keeping her family safe meant keeping other families safe.

That's what I remember most about her: her nurturing motherliness. She had three daughters; the younger two were a year older and younger than me, so we formed a tight trio and are close to this day. The eldest, Lisa, got stuck with babysitting us.

Mom Surwilo opened her house and her heart to me, this wayward Chinese kid in a 1970's, very European Connecticut. I was probably the only Asian kid in Rocky Hill.

I spent so many nights sleeping over the Surwilo household, she laughingly proclaimed she had a Chinese calabash daughter. What I remember most is passing long summer days playing in their backyard, picking raspberries off the bush, swimming in their pool so much my hair got crispy and brittle (it'd have turned green if I were blonde.)

Mom Surwilo took me camping with them, let me visit for a month after my parents moved away from Connecticut, and acquiesced to Steph and Robin's pleas for me to accompany them on a RV trip across the country.

I have my own mother and I love her and appreciate her dearly, but Mom Surwilo was an excellent complement to all the things my Chinese mother is not. An effervescent Italian in a very Italian community, she was open, loud, and expressive. She was life itself, and drew others to her by virtue of her incandescence.

Both women taught me by example how to own my power. My mother did it in her quiet way, forging a career in showbiz at a time when that wasn't done for Chinese women, and earning a master's degree at an Ivy League university (Columbia), which still isn't that common for people in general today.

Mom Surwilo did it entirely differently. She got atop the bull that was life, rode that bad boy for way more than eight seconds, and only stopped when the bull got tired and asked to take a rest.

Most people live in fear; she lived with ferocity. Many spend their lives timid; she was tenacious. She was something to behold. I was lucky to be in her presence, to know this woman, to be embraced in her circle.

I loved going to her house. It was boisterous where mine was still. Mom Surwilo was the neighborhood mom, the house where all the people dropped in to visit, where all the neighborhood kids zipped in and out of doors yelling and screaming in delight. She'd interrupt a weighty conversation about the planning and zoning commission to occasionally holler at us to shut! the! door!

She was a little bit like the stereotypical mother of Hallmark channel shows - the kind that sits her daughter down and has an uplifting talk after a disappointing day at school or after a boy breaks her heart for the first time.

Here's a story about my moms that illustrates it:

When I was in seventh grade at Kamehameha Schools, I was doing my homework for Mrs. Lindblom's English class. (Remember that yellow book of grammar, anyone?) I was very good at grammar.

My mother walked in my room nervously and asked me in one big breath, "Doyouknowabouttheperiod?"

I couldn't believe she was asking me this. This was like, so Mrs. Smith's third grade? Impatient to finish my work, I said, "Yes?"

My mom seemed relieved. "The period. You know about it?"

"Yes," I repeated, puzzled as to her sudden and remedial interest in my English class. She left in a hurry.

Later, when the school year ended, I flew to Connecticut to spend a month at Steph's house. I missed my friends so much.

I remember lying on her living room couch with the worst stomach ache ever, which lasted for days. Pills didn't help much. And then came the blood.

Mom Surwilo attended to me, and then her eyes lit up amusedly when I told her what happened in the bathroom. She laughed and told me about menstruation, which I already kind of knew about from reading "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." But I got the endocrinology end of it.

It wasn't until a long time later that I put two and two together. Yeah, it was Mom Surwilo who coached me through The Change, while my own mom happily avoided any topics of uncomfortable discussion involving reproduction.

I'm disappointed that cancer took away a vital and vibrant woman who could still do so much good. In her last year, she decided she was going to get her real estate license. It wasn't at all about the practicality of it, as it was about the act of continuing to live, to pursue dreams, to expand that ingenious mind of hers.

I cried and felt sad for days after I learned of her passing. I feel sad for her husband, her daughters, her grandchildren, her friends, her community. I feel sad for me, because of what she meant to me.

Then I realized she was showing by example once again how to best live: to give it all you've got until you reach the finish line, and then to surrender with grace and dignity, surrounded by what matters most in life - the people you love, who love you back.

I love you, Mom Surwilo. Thank you for everything.

More on Barbara Surwilo at http://www.courant.com/community/rocky-hill/hc-rocky-hill-barbara-surwilo-obit-0716-20160715-story.html.

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