Painting Smiling Faces

Catching up on the events of the past month or two, in late October I attended an annual Halloween party at the Mercy Center in the Bangkok neighborhood Khlong Toei. Mercy Center, founded by a Catholic priest who has been a longtime fixture in the surrounding slums, provides extracurricular activities and ongoing education for local children. The Halloween party is pulled together by several business owners associated with the American Chamber of Commerce.

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This was the second time I volunteered and this year I scored the assignment of working the face-painting table. While we had lots of face paint, our tools were limited and the children had high expectations: Zombie! Dracula! Ghost!

As you can imagine, over time the ghosts started to look more like vampires and the zombies started to look more like children with green faces. I was thrown for a loop when one girl asked to be a butterfly. It wasn’t until I looked at one of the face painting kits that I realized that there was a picture of a girl with a very elaborate butterfly on her.

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Regretfully, I hadn’t the tools to make her as beautiful a butterfly as on the package, but she seemed pleased with the results. I tried my best and next year will be sure to bring some proper makeup sponges (instead of just using the random foam sponges we had access to) and brushes.

Still, it was a fun time and the 300 or so children seemed to really enjoy themselves. It is neat that there are so many people who come together to create these sort of opportunities for children.


Happy Birthday to My Mother

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, so this morning (because of the time zone difference) Tawn and I called her. As my parents age, I realize that they will not be around forever. This, combined with listening to the drama-filled stories of friends about their families, makes me appreciate what good parents I have.

While not perfect, they have been supportive and encouraging throughout my life. When I was a child, they set regular routines and clear expectations of behavior. While punishments were not harsh or unreasonable, breaking the rules has predictable consequences. Raised in the American Midwest before starting a family in California, my parents instilled typically conservative, Midwestern values that they summed up with time-worn sayings: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. A penny saved is a penny earned. Waste not, want not.

There were times when this conservative approach to life chaffed. When I wanted a particular new toy or didn’t have the popular brand of jeans and was reduced to wearing Toughskins, I didn’t appreciate their thrift. But when it came time for college and they paid for the tuition so I didn’t have to take on student debt, I saw the wisdom of their ways.

To this day, my parents lend supportive ears. When I face challenging times, they listen, nod with understanding, and wait to be asked for their opinions. Even when invited, their opinions are conservative, rarely intruding very far across the “you should do” line. Instead, they acknowledge that life can be tough at times and then generally encourage me to tough it out.

One thing I most appreciate about my parents is that our family is free of any psychological games. As I listen to other people talk about their families, I can see behaviors and actions that could keep a psychologist in business for decades. My parents raised us without using guilt or goading, without projecting their own aspirations on their children, and without seeing us as competition for their spouse’s affections. Drama was something reserved for the television and our viewing of that was tightly restricted.

Perhaps such a life, like the rolling fields of Kansas, is a bit boring by some accounts. But it also provided a steady, stable environment in which to grow and – another of my parents’ sayings – to reach my full, God-given potential.

Get Them Started Early in the Kitchen


One of my friends with whom I regularly cook, has an almost three-year old son who loves to play in the kitchen. A favorite activity is to open the spice drawer and pull out each individual jar and pretend to pour it onto the stove. This was great fun until the lid of white pepper came off and spilled all over.


Later, he sat with Uncle Tawn, using a pair of tongs to pick up appetizers and move them from pull to another. All fun and games until I caught him picking up a spear of asparagus, briefly chewing the end of it, and then putting it back on the platter!

I’m glad he enjoys cooking so much, though. When he grows up to be a famous chef, we’ll be able to say that we knew he was destined for the kitchen, even when he was just a little fellow.

How about you? Were you welcome in the kitchen when you were a child? I remember being in the kitchen “helping” when I was no older than kindergarten and I was scrambling my own eggs by six or seven years old.


A Weekend with the Kids

We have several social circles in our life here in Bangkok.  One of those circles is with Tawn’s high school friends, most of whom are married and are starting their own families.  Many of those friends are making a concerted effort to involve Tawn and me in their children’s lives.  Last weekend we spent two days with three of these families – a total of four children under the age of four – at a “family friendly” resort in Cha-am, a beach town about three hours south of Bangkok.

Both afternoons we spent time in the pool, which thankfully was located so that it was in the shade.  The weather was pleasant with a nice breeze, and all of the children enjoy the water.  The experience was interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which was a chance to observe some of the differences between Thai and American parenting styles.


Saa with her 10-month old daughter Jaeda (in pink) and Kiri, the 7-month old son of another friend.  I debated for several minutes before posting this picture, one of a very few on this blog that show me shirtless.  (And, I’m sure you’re hoping, something that remains a rare sight!  LOL)


Saa and Kiri.  The following afternoon, the weather was just a bit cooler and breezier and when we put Kiri in his inflatable rocket, you could tell he was cold because his upper lip was shivering.  It was very cute, but kind of sad, too.  Eventually he warmed up a bit.  In the background, I supervise as 3.5-year old JJ pulls his little sister around the pool.


This photo is of Job, Saa’s husband, going down the water slide with JJ.  There’s a bit of a story here that illustrates some of the differences in parenting styles.  Of course, I’m making broad generalizations, but Thai parents tend to be much more protective of their children.  For example, Jaeda and Kiri are both just at the point where they have the strength to stand and Jaeda can even take a tentative few steps if she is holding onto something.  But they never have the opportunity to fall because someone is always holding them or reaching out to catch them if they lose their balance.  The American style is more inclined to let them fall, pick themselves up, and try again.

Now, the first day we were in the pool, JJ decided after about 10 minutes that he didn’t want to wear his floatation devices and wanted to move from the 45 cm-deep pool to the 80 cm-deep pool.  He is pretty comfortable in the water and even in the deeper pool his head was still well clear of the water, so that was okay.  After about an hour, he decided he wanted to try the slide and kept riding with his father.

The next day, everyone else was still lounging about upstairs so JJ and I went down to the pool together.  After a few times down the slide, he decided he wanted to go down by himself.  I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m not sure his parents would like this…” but I waited at the end of the slide to catch him if he had any trouble.

By the time his parents came down to the pool along with everyone else, JJ was going down the slide again and again, each time on his own and each time with no troubles.  Sure enough, Saa was a bit surprised, but to her credit quickly realized that her son was able to handle himself without any trouble, although she did have to lecture him about not cutting in front of people who were waiting for the slide!


Later the first evening we were at the pier for a seafood dinner and JJ fell down and (ostensibly) scraped his knee.  I didn’t see any broken skin but he insisted on having a plaster with blue elephants on it, applied to the injury.  Before the plaster, he was holding an ice cube to the injury and then had great fun dropping the ice cube down his shorts leg.  His mother did not find this as amusing.

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One recurring theme for the weekend was that every time we got Kiri and Jaeda near each other, Jaeda would crawl over to Kiri and try and hug and kiss him, although with her fine motor skills still under development, it looked more like a mauling.  Kiri didn’t like the attention, which Jaeda found greatly amusing.  Good for her, taking rejection lightly!  In this series, Kiri’s mother, Tao, tries to wrangle the two for a group photo.


Eventually, Jaeda caught Kiri at an unguarded moment and was able to plant a kiss right in the middle of his face.  That was the end of our attempts to get a picture of them together!


Job and Saa with JJ and Jaeda with Uncle Tawn in the background.  Not sure why Jaeda was trying to raise the roof.  JJ is currently attending an international preschool where the primary language of instruction is English.  Nonetheless, he wasn’t very forthcoming in English and we communicated mostly in Thai until late the second day when he did start using some English.


In attempting to set up the previous family photo, JJ kept laying down to avoid having his picture taken.  So I rotated the angle 90 degrees and got this photo, which I think is kind of an interesting one.


Tao with her son Kiri.  Somehow, I didn’t manage to get a picture of her husband Pai.  Kiri took quite a shine to me, as he seems to like being lifted up in the air and then dropped down suddenly and I was the only one who would do that again and again and again.  Have I mentioned that my left shoulder has been sore since last weekend?


Group photo: Tawn with Jaeda and Saa; me with JJ; Tawn’s friend Jaa with her daughter Nam Ing; and Tao with Kiri. 

I’m glad we had the opportunity to spend more time with Tawn’s friends and their children.  It is important for them to be exposed to a wide variety of people and while their parents all speak English well, having the opportunity to learn to speak with a foreigner is good for the children. 

In fact, in the days since our return, Tao called Tawn to say that she’s enrolling her son in an infant swimming class and was wondering if Uncle Chris might like to come along.


Bangkok Children

When I moved here just over five years ago, only one of our friends in Bangkok had a child and she was just an infant.  In the years since, there have been a profusion of births, giving us plenty of uncleing opportunities.


Friends Tao and Paii gave birth about three weeks ago to a baby boy whom they’ve named Kiri, a very distinguished, older sounding name.  His little nose is as cute as could be!


While at the hospital to see Kiri, another couple showed up with their daughter Jaeda, who has the most adorable cheeks.


Jaeda’s brother JJ, who will turn three on Valentine’s Day, is much too clever for his age and is already adept at playing games on his father’s iPhone.  Dad seems very unconcerned, though.

JJ attends an international preschool so is learning both English and Thai.  I’m told that he asks after me quite a bit but has always been very reserved in person.  Finally, after the visit to the hospital we went to his favorite place – “Funarium”, an indoor playground.  His parents took a break while JJ and I climbed the jungle gym, slid down slides, and had a fun time.  Along the way I managed to scrape a big chunk of skin off my right elbow!  By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted and JJ seemed to have finally opened up and would call to me “Loong Chris!” – Uncle Chris – if I failed to keep up with him.

Innocence Lost

This is a story of innocence lost.  It is also a story of hope.

Five years ago, when I moved to Thailand, Tawn’s father established a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to me.  He acknowledges that I exist as a part of Tawn’s life, but he doesn’t want to know anything more about me and he doesn’t want me involved with his life.  I’ve made my peace with that.

The story of hope is that while Tawn’s father isn’t warm and cuddly towards me, plenty of other members of his family have been.  Over the eleven years we have been together, Tawn has introduced me to many of his relatives and I’m friends with what seems like half his cousins on Facebook.  Of all these relatives, one family in particular – an aunt and uncle in Los Angeles and their three sons – have been particularly welcoming, ever since Tawn first brought me to dinner with them some eight or nine years ago.

I keep up with those cousins, their wives, and children (who are about the same age as my eldest niece) as regularly as I do the cousins on my side of the family.  Especially with regards to the joys and challenges of parenting, I follow along, offer my support and encouragement, and laugh at the pearls of unvarnished truth that tumble out of their children’s mouths.

And that is where this is a story of innocence lost.  One of these “first cousins once removed” is eight-year-old Jessica.  She’s just a little too sharp for her own good and is ceasing to believe in the things that make childhood such a magical time.

On Sunday, Jessica lost a tooth.  As her father tells it, before she went to bed she started questioning the existence of the Tooth Fairy.  Last November when she lost a few teeth, she wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy asking for a photo of her.  Thankfully, her father explains, the Tooth Fairy produced the evidence in a future visit.

Tooth Fairy Receipt

When Jessica’s father went to look under her pillow Sunday night, he found this note asking the Tooth Fairy to sign her name in receipt of the tooth.

So while I get the joy of being a part of Tawn’s extended family, it seems that at least one of them is growing a bit cynical with age.  And it isn’t Tawn’s father I’m talking about.

Should Your Kids Be Free Range?

It is interesting when something you encounter in the news dovetails nicely with a thought you’ve already been thinking.  Such was the case yesterday when I heard an interview on NPR with Lenore Skenazy, who wrote an interesting article called “The Myth of Online Predators“.  Here’s an excerpt:

Is letting your kids go online the same as dropping them off at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop in fishnet stockings at 3 a.m.?

A lot of parents think it is. Or maybe worse. My husband and I took our time letting our oldest boy, who is 13, start his social networking, though that was because we were worried it was like dropping him off at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop to do his homework—we figured it would never get done. But the towering fear that the second a kid goes online he or she becomes cyberjailbait turns out to be way off base. According to new research, the danger online is teeny-tiny unless your kids are running into chat rooms, typing, “Anyone here like ‘em young?” and posting photos of themselves licking lollipops. Naked.

Free Range Kids Recently, the lengthening days have got me thinking a lot about my childhood and how my childhood seems very different than those of children today.  I used to play outdoors all the time.  I remember riding my bicycle up, down and around the block.  My first elementary school was three blocks from home and I was walking there on my own in first grade.  In third grade I transferred to a school six or seven blocks away and was walking there on my own, too, and allowed to ride my bike within maybe a mile radius of home.

I remember my parents telling me about potential predators and what to do and what not to do.  But they never sheltered me, kept me locked up inside, or refused to let me leave their sight.  The result?  It may be hard to scientifically prove, but I can trace my self-confidence, creativity, curiosity, independence and adventurous spirit to that shove out the screen door, that admonition to turn off the TV and go play outside.

“But things are different today,” you might say.  “Crime is so much worse than thirty years ago.”

Statistically, though, that isn’t true, especially with crime against children.  For more detail see this article in the Journal of Social Issues, but here are some interesting facts.  Note that the statistics are current through 2006, when the article was published.  More recent statistics confirm the trend.

  • From 1990 to 2006, substantiated cases of child sexual abuse went down 53%.
  • Physical abuse substantiations declined 48% between 1992 and 2006.
  • From 1993 to 2005, sexual assaults on teenagers decreased by 52%. The subgroup of assaults by known persons decreased even more dramatically

Across the board, crime in the US is at the lowest level it has been since 1970.  Source

All this gets to Skenazy’s larger point, which is that it is crazy to limit our lives – or our kids’ lives – based on fear of a wildly remote danger.  It seems to be part of a growing culture of fear, something that isn’t a very beneficial development for the United States.

Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.  Source

The reading is interesting and thought-provoking.  Skenazy has a blog and has just released a book titled “Free Range Kids: Giving Our Kids the Freedom We Had without Going Nuts with Worry“, so there is plenty of reading to do.

What were your experiences growing up?  How are you treating your children and why?  If you don’t have children, how are your nieces/nephews/friends’ children being treated?  Smothered by overprotection or allowed to run amok with no supervision?