Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Ultimate Question

I always wondered how I would deal with the big questions my children threw my way. When Kai was about two, he asked why spiders have eight legs and we have two. It was this moment when I realized how easy it is to offer all variations of living as the work of god, rather than say evolution or species variety, or just plain old science.

A few weeks ago, however, when visiting our LA family, all of their fish came down with Ick, killing each one over the course of the weekend. When we returned home, Kai, rightly curious, asked about death. He wanted to know the obvious that we all want to know--what does it mean to die? I considered all the possible ways to address this issue and settled on following the advice of his preschool teacher--just answer the question, nothing more or less. I answered that our bodies stop working.

"Mommy," he asked, "when are you going to die?"

I tried to quell his fears, while also choking back tears, and said that we would all live a very long life and die when our bodies got really old. He then looked up at me with those earnest hazel eyes and said, "Are me and you and daddy all going to die together?"

I dodged the bullet for another week, before he started the line of questioning again. This time asking specifically what it means to die, to be alive, and then he busted out with "Where do we go when we die?"

I considered the magic of that question--one that creates wars, relationships, community, and fear. I imagined the feeling of certainty that surrounded me when I held my grandmother on her deathbed and felt her body turn cold that there was more than this. Not an intellectual feeling, but a purely emotional connection to more than we are. And so I drew on that feeling and explained that some people believe we go to heaven to be with all of our family and friends and others believe that we go to the source and our bodies feed the earth making it grow. I added, "Let's say that me and daddy live a long life and then we die--"

"No, mommy," he interrupted, "we are all going to die together."

"Ok," I amended, "let's say me and you and daddy all die together, when we go to heaven, we'll be with grandma and poppop, and baba and grandpa Fema."

He hugged me tightly and I wanted to cry, considering all the bad in the world that I am trying to shield him from. And how lucky he was to have lived on this earth for 3.5 years without the knowledge that he would one day perish. Eddie and I still try to shield him from as much worldly yuckiness as we can--he knows nothing of the Japanese earthquake, the cloud of radiation headed our direction, the tsunami; he knows nothing of war and bad guys (save the occasional reference to pirates from his school buddies), but I know that soon, too soon, he will. And all I can do as he gathers this information is to hold him close and remind him that we are all in this together.

Friday, August 27, 2010

On letting go, a little

Many of you remember that Kai screamed like a mandrake for his first 10 weeks. I carried him close to my chest in whatever contraption suited me that morning and walked for miles trying to soothe him. When not walking, I stood, bouncing him, attempting to evoke the womb he seemed to miss so intensely, wondering why on earth people congratulated new parents. I was exhausted, with sore nipples, and massive bags beneath my eyes. Eddie and I could not have a conversation, let alone comfort each other with hugs. And my entire family was 400 miles south of San Francisco, offering a keen eye and the advice to get over our hippie bubble of a city and move home.

On one of those epic walks, I entered Glen Canyon, a eucalyptus and redwood shaded canyon that sliced through the southern part of San Francisco. This canyon is a favorite for local Glen Park families to walk dogs and kids, and actually experience nature in a city. Here in the canyon there are coyotes (7 at last count), snakes, poison oak and mud, as well as owls, hawks, native trees, and a meadow with a homemade swing.

With Kai in his Ergo (I believe those were the days when I had just learned I could nurse and walk), I sauntered down a bumpy trail, arriving at a concrete slab of a building surrounded by toys, rocks and trees to climb and logs set out in a circle around a campfire. In the structure, children giggled, wailed, and sang while Kai slept, finally. A woman emerged, tall and sturdy as the Sierra Mountains and inquired about Kai's age. She approached with the confidence of a seasoned mother, admitting she missed her college-aged sons, who were both in SoCal (an interesting link as I missed my parents down there as well). I cannot remember what advice she offered, but I remember feeling like this was a special woman, and I had just happened upon a special place. That was when I first met Mame, the director of Glenridge Nursery School, a 40 year old co-op preschool.

For nearly three years, Eddie and I have attempted to woo Mame into allowing Kai to join her magical school. Everywhere we turned friends were talking about this preschool, admitting to Mame's wisdom and love as well as how much work it takes to be in a co-op. And when Kai finally turned two, we embarked on a half-hearted preschool search, knowing full well where Kai should be going.

On a particularly glum afternoon, when Eddie and I were moaning about the distance between ourselves and our family, we received an email saying we had been accepted to Glenridge. My heart plummeted to my belly. We did it!

Today I will walk Kai through the canyon for his first day at Glenridge. I will pack a lunch. And watch him take his first step towards independence--though he has asked me to stay with him, and I will, today. Mame's entire mission is to prepare children for the independence of kindergarten, and anyone who knows Kai (and me) knows that we need some lessons on that front. So, as he travels through his next adventure, into school and new friends and negotiating with big kids and falling without me there to pick him up and eating lunch elsewhere and singing songs and reading books and learning that he is not the center of everyone's universe (just mine, and Eddie's) and being the little guy and not having friends and being included and planting a garden and hiking and climbing trees and dressing up like a rock star and building a train track and wiping his own bootie, I will have to trust that he will share with me what I need to know about his day and be able to begin retaining his own memories about his life. And I will have to trust that letting go, albeit a little, is healthy for us both.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Googling Community: How can we give our kids a shot at rich lives?

Dear Google,

As I watch the first tsunami waves batter the Hawaiian coast, I ponder the planet my son Kai will grown up on. Despite the devastating (and frankly overwhelming) reality of our globe saying F*** you to her inhabitants (um, have we always had this many earthquakes, tsunamis, and natural disasters?), Kai will be faced with a technologically rich universe that hurts my brain to ponder.

Sure, I am just as internet addicted as the next person--I blog and tweet and update my Facebook status, and make iPhone apps and, and, and. And yes, our computer (or "Puter puter" as Kai calls it) is the literal centerpiece of our flat. But I am starting to notice an alarming pattern that unnerves me: the lack of human interaction.

It began when I was researching my Kauai book and I'd meet with innkeepers and when asking them a question they would refer me back to their website. Now, it is one thing to be busy/lazy/uninterested, but it is another thing entirely when a human being is standing in front of you and you can't be bothered to answer her question.

It seems in the almost three years of Kai's life things have gotten even worse. I had to learn of my niece's birth on Facebook. My mommy friends blog to tell me their kids are walking, talking, spitting up, and some even show the intense photos (and videos) of their deliveries on their blogs for all to see. We now communicate through cyberspace in alarming rates. Moms spend more time texting on the playground than hanging out with their kids. Why not, if we don't consistently scavenge Facebook, blogs, the newspaper, Twitter, etc then we are missing out on, well, everything. But what message is that sending our children? Each other? Hint: If you are sitting on my couch and texting someone else constantly, I start to think what I have to say doesn't matter.

Now I understand (and would love to hear from you) why and how technology helps us--I mean your fricken phone can tell you the last time you nursed on the left or turn off your oven for you. But I don't get how we have suddenly forgone human interaction for internet connections. Don't we all feel more lonely, isolated, and just downright dirty when we spend the day searching and searching for something, anything? And in the end, are we better, more satisfied, humans because of it?

If this is where we are today, I can't begin to imagine how devoid of community and connection Kai's life will be. And I for one, now that he is awake, plan to turn off the computer and show him I enjoy him. How about you? I dare you.

Concerned Internet Addict

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Family Friendly San Francisco iPhone App Launches

My iPhone app -- Family Friendly San Francisco -- was just released this past week and is published by Sutro Media. It's available through iTunes (by searching "San Francisco travel Michele Bigley") or by clicking here (or copying and pasting this link into your browser):

If you are an iPhone/iPod Touch devotee, please feel free to download it and review it (and give me feedback). It's well worth the price of admission. (Hey, you probably spent more than this on a cup of Starbuck's this morning, and this app will last much longer..... You get free updates for life!!!!)

If you don't have either an iPhone or iTunes, but you have friends in SF or traveling to to the Bay Area, please feel free to forward this email to them. I'd be eternally grateful. (So will they -- it's quite good.)

What the heck is this app all about?? It has 100 "essential" entries and hundreds of photos -- entries about places to see, things to do, reliable eats, toy stores, bathrooms with changing tables, playgrounds, parks, beaches, touristy, hidden gems, and SF originals. I've included places that both parents and kids will appreciate. They're all sortable with filters for cost, distance (GPS), and neighborhood. Fun and utilitarian. Plus, I highlight places that mom and dad will dig too--cafes, breweries, you get the picture. Early analytics suggest it's being used as much by visitors as locals. Another 100 entries are on the way.

Keep your eyes open for my next iPhone app: Family Friendly Napa/Sonoma, which, of course includes wineries the kids will love as much as mom and dad.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Impermanence

The river of yesterday is not the same as the river of today. The river of this moment is not going to be the same as the river of the next moment. So does life. It changes continuously, becomes something or the other from moment to moment. Urban Dharma

The other day, Kai, Eddie and I were wandering around downtown San Francisco. An unseasonably warm evening brought hordes of shoppers and weekend frolickers out to play on the Embarcadero ice rink. After enjoying dinner at Taylor's Automatic Refresher, we began our trek back home.

As the BART train approached, Kai handed me the new toy train he had been clutching since we scored it at Chloe's Closet that morning so I could carry him onto the train. Almost as if I were outside of my body, I watched Kai's toy spin and roll from my hand, to the floor, to the edge of the landing, teeter for a moment and then spill onto the tracks. Of course for my own memory's cinematic pleasure, the train rolled in at that exact moment.

To see the shock, realization, and terrible sadness wash over my child's face as that day's favorite toy disappeared beneath the "big loud choo choo" as he calls it was torture. My slippery finger caused this ache, these gigantic tears, the wailing. Yes, as we entered the toy crushing train to ride home, Kai cried a new cry I had never heard. One that reached inside and mourned something that no longer is. And there was nothing to distract him from this pain.

After my guilt stopped hogging the spotlight of this event, I saw that this lesson in impermanence wasn't all bad. Since I cannot shield Kai from the perils of existence for much longer, I feel relieved that his first major understanding of the flow of life wasn't a real trauma.

And of course his memory of that day's river has already flowed miraculously to a new waterway, with a fresh toy to adore. Until that one, like all other things, is lost.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Balanced Perspective: Why we Travel With Our Children

This morning we woke up--after a five day trip to visit family in LA--and Kai asked why we have a mini-house. He wanted to know why we didn't have a bigger house like his cousins Zach and Alec. After swallowing my tears, I scavenged through my brain to consider how to answer this innocent two year old question.

Of course it was easy to say that we didn't have as much stuff as his affluent cousins; or that we cannot afford a gigantic house in the San Fernando Valley; that we would rather spend our money on traveling and eating well and his college fund than on a mortgage that would leave us house poor.

But the real answer was harder to explain to a child. Why don't we have what other people have? Why don't we live in a house with a squat toilet like the people we saw in Thailand? Why don't we live with fifteen people in two bedrooms like some families in Mexico? Why don't we live in a mud hut and clean our floors with cow dung? And yes, why don't we live in a multimillion dollar abode with every toy known to man?

And this brings me to why we travel with our children. If all Kai saw was the million dollar houses in LA or San Francisco, he would compare himself to others and always search for something that may be unattainable. Not to say that we travel to third world countries to feel better about our relative affluence, but on some level if we do not show our children that we live a very luxurious life compared to the people around the globe, we will end up with children who believe they deserve everything-- possibly without appreciating what they already have.

All I could do this morning to answer Kai's query was hug him and remind him that we have all we need in our "mini" house, which is actually a rented flat in San Francisco. We have more than toys, more than fancy appliances and too many bathrooms; sure we have one bathroom, hand me down furniture, paint peeling off the walls, and loud upstairs neighbors, but we also have a world view.

I just hope that as Kai gets older and begins comparing himself to others with the vengeance typical of youth that he will have a balanced place of comparison. In the end, that is all I can afford to give him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mommy and the Boobas

I never thought I would still be nursing my son, Kai when he could say, "I want boob-a." Of course, he is two and not say, seven, an age that some cultures nurse their children until. But still, as a toddler he no longer easily fits into my lap or is able to sleep spooning my breast. Rather, he curls up like a cat to get his fix, squirms and kicks, twists and kneads, until there are days when I understand why moms wean their children.

However, I have never been so glad to be nursing as when we recently traveled to Thailand. To write about the benefits of nursing a toddler on a 25 hour plane journey seems a little redundant. You can easily imagine how we were calmly able to deal with uncomfortable sleep, air pressure, boredom, and hunger (even kids hate airplane food). But the real benefits of nursing came from Kai having his favorite brand of comfort while we were in a new, often overwhelming, place.

I was able to nurse him through the mental Chatuchak Weekend Market as well as during a very bumpy speedboat ride to Ko Phi Phi. When jet lag had him turned upside down, he could have booba to help him fall back asleep at 3am. And when the overly friendly Thai ladies would grab him to say hello, or try to force him to eat all varieties of sweet fruits, he could instead latch on and feel more comfortable.

Sure, I got looks as I walked through the airport, with Kai in the Ergo, content to nurse. People laughed, pointed, and some even tried to touch my breasts. But to be frank, I get the same stares here in San Francisco, so that didn't bother me.

What really reinforced my ability to nurse was seeing how easily Kai can travel, adapt and take in a new frenetic culture. Surely it is not all because of the boobas, likely mommy and daddy play a part as well as Kai's nature. But I like to think that nursing has helped mold Kai into a good little traveler.